Monday, January 31, 2011

Heeere We Go!

Welcome back, Dear Readers,

I hope you had a great weekend. For me, this beginning of a new week will also be the start of my new training program, as I prepare for the green prajioud test and the fall fight camp.

Here's the plan:

Monday: Yoga at lunch, double kickboxing class (Stamina Monday & Level 2)

Tuesday: Running in the morning (interval), weights at lunch (actually, later afternoon)

Wednesday: Double kickboxing class (Levels 1 & 2)

Thursday: Running in the morning (interval), weights at lunch (actually, later afternoon)

Friday: Double kickboxing class (Fun Friday & Neck Kick Class)

Weekend: One longer run (5K to start) or plyometrics or both, depending on how ambitious I'm feeling.

Additional: Sit-ups and push-ups at least three times a week; stretching at least two times per week. Eating healthy most days of the week, and drinking a lot more water.

I'll also be starting to write again in the mornings, beginning with the rewrite of Dragonfly Summer, so I can prepare it for publication. This means getting to bed earlier.

It's an ambitious plan, but I believe I can stick to it, as I have a clear goal ahead and there's room for flexibility. For instance, this week my weight workout will have to be done on Thursday and Friday, as I have lunch plans on Tuesday.

What are you working toward? Any suggestions or comments about my training plan?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fun Friday XVIII: Forbidden Words

TGIF, Dear Blog Readers!

At this point, I am really sorry that I decided to count the Fun Fridays in Roman Numerals. Oh, well.

I haven't had much participation in these writing exercises lately, and I'm finding it challenging to pick a topic each week that will resonate with people. To date, I think the Bus People exercise was the most successful. If you have ANY ideas for future exercises, please feel free to post them as comments or send me an email.

But for today, I still have to come up with something, and I was thinking about forbidden words. Books keep getting banned for using words that are no longer politically correct. While I never think books should be banned or "updated", as they tell us a lot about society and the environment during the time period they were written, there are words that make me cringe.

What word(s) do you wish would be outlawed, and why? What word makes you cringe? It doesn't have to be a hateful word, per se. My mother is allergic to the word "panties" for some reason, and as such, prefers to refer to them as "pants", which has caused a fair share of confusion.

As for me, my word is the N-word, although I think Tom Sawyer should be left just the way it is. I realize rappers have taken over this word as some kind of empowerment thing, but I hate it. I really hate it. I wish everyone would stop using it.

How about you, dear readers? What word(s) is on your hate list?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bad Things

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers.

Why do we continually do the things we know are bad for us? Is it self-sabotage, lack of willpower, or something deeper?

I don't have too many vices, but the ones I do have are deeply ingrained. My number one nemesis is my night owl tendency, which I discussed in an earlier post. It's nearly impossible for me to get to bed before 11:30, which leaves me drained and exhausted most days. In the morning, I hit the snooze button a million times, and once I do get up, I feel like crap, until about 9:30 pm, when I finally start getting some energy. The cycle continues....

Diet Pepsi is another baddie in my life. I spend far too much money on it, and it's bad for my body. It wears away the enamel on my teeth, and God only knows what it's doing to my stomach. I shudder to think! Supposedly it's bad for the bones, too, and my mother was recently diagnosed with osteoporosis, so I might be susceptible. I can "cut back" to two or three cans a day, if I really try, but giving it up all together would be a nightmare. Water is okay, but if I drink too much of it, I feel sick and bloated. Not to mention it's boring. Not to mention I have better things to do than run back and forth from the bathroom all day.

I never met a potato chip I didn't like (well, very few). I'm addicted to long baths, as hot as I can stand. I love to stay up all night and sleep in late on the weekends.

But if I plan to stick to my new workout and writing schedule, which I'll reveal on Monday, a lot of this has to change (but I'll probably still squeeze in my two daily cans of Diet Pepsi).

How about you, dear readers? Are you brave enough to confess the bad habits that you suspect are holding you back?

If you beat a bad habit, how did you do it?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cute Sells

There it was, winking at me from the corner of the table. It was my favorite color. It had an eye-catching title. And best of all, it had a skull.

A skull made of blueberries. Baked into a muffin. How could I resist?

I snatched it up, along with its lemon meringue and fudge cupcake buddies, hoping I'd found treasure. But I have to admit, I had my doubts.

Cute is great when it comes to baby animals. Or stuffed animals. Even a cute guy is fine. But I like my reading material a little less light.

I wasn't expecting much when I cracked open Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke. I'm not into cutesy mysteries with a reoccurring theme...I've stayed clear of the cat ones and the alphabet ones. But these books were free, just waiting to be taken home, so why not? What did I have to lose?

Three books later, and I'm addicted. Thankfully, my parents got me an Amazon gift certificate for Christmas, which will feed my Fluke habit quite nicely.

For those not in the know, the Hannah Swensen mystery series features a thirty-something woman who manages to squeeze in some detective work while running her bakery and cafe. Seems Hannah is always stumbling over dead bodies, and someone always manages to convince her that she "really should" investigate. No one ever needs to twist her arm very much. (Although with so many people turning up dead, one wonders why anyone sane would stay in Lake Eden.)

The stories are set in small town Minnesota, with a memorable cast of characters, including a cantankerous feline roommate. And the plots are cute, all right. Sometimes they're almost unbearably trite. The murder victim is either a bad guy or a woman with questionable morals. The murderer is always a minor character that you haven't formed an attachment to. And Hannah, who continuously vacillates between two boyfriends--the bad boy and the boy-next-door--somehow manages to keep her virginity intact. Some pristine kisses are the most either guy is going to get.

There's no swearing. No sex. And very little violence, considering these are murder mysteries. When Hannah gets into trouble, as she invariably does, you know she's not in real danger. Even the discovery of the corpse manages to be cute...and yet....

Something about these books is so compelling that they managed to overcome my initial cynicism. Maybe it's the original recipes, which are sprinkled throughout each story like edible gems. (It's all I can do to stop myself from flipping forward to the next one, but that would ruin the surprise.)

As good as the recipes are, though, I think the real recipe for Fluke's success is another secret ingredient...

Fluke's books are just plain fun. They're fun to read, and you can tell that the author had a hell of a lot of fun writing them. Even Hannah has fun as she goes about her days making cookies, eating too much, and solving mysteries.

Fine literature, they're not. And you won't learn anything from them, except maybe how to make a kick-ass cookie. But who cares? If it's an escape you're looking for, I can't think of any place more appealing to visit than Lake Eden.

Have any of you read the Hannah Swensen books or another series like it? What did you think? And if you're a writer, how do you keep it fun? Have you ever been tempted to write something purely for fun? I'm a writer of psychological suspense, but I have to say I'm feeling the urge. All that dark stuff gets pretty dreary after a while.

In the meantime, I can't wait to sink my teeth into a Cherry Cheesecake Murder.

Oh yeah, did I mention Fluke is a NY Times best-selling author? She's not just slinging cookie dough.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Which one would you want to train YOU?
Hello Dear Readers,

Do you respond best to positive or negative motivation? When you have a difficult task ahead, would you rather someone gently encourage you through it, cheering you on all the way, or scream in your face and threaten you until the job was done?

I'm sure none of us are looking for a negative boss, but what about when it comes to physical training? Tough, nasty coaches--ones that seem to be cut from the same cloth as drill sergeants--are legendary. Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser is the perfect example of a "tough love" trainer, and she definitely gets results. She also gets a lot of criticism for being too harsh. While that show is inspiring, I'm amazed that it manages to avoid seriously injuring the participants.

When it comes to Level 2, KWest muay thai students have both a "good cop" coach and a "bad cop" coach. The good cop still teaches a difficult class, but he is supportive, encouraging, gentle, and unfailingly kind. He wants you to feel positive during his classes and leave on a high--pumped, encouraged, and knowing that you did your best.

The bad cop instills fear. He screams at you, catches you off guard, mocks you if you're slacking (or if he thinks you're slacking), and has no compunctions about hitting you upside the head. Forget about water breaks. Forget about everything, actually. The only thing you can focus on is survival.

My question to you is: which method works best? Which one do you prefer? While I look forward to the positive class and dread the negative one, I probably am pushed harder in the latter. And when it comes to my sport, I have to remember that my opponent isn't going to be kind. The best time to develop a thick skin is before you step into the ring.

But what do you think? Do you have to be "mean" to get good results?

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Minor Setback

Things could be a lot worse.

Welcome back, Dear Readers.

One Minor Setback was the name of my old volleyball team, but I think it's an apt title for this blog post. It's also a timely reminder that, although we may try our personal best to achieve our goals, success is not always within our control.

My kru informed me on Thursday night that I did not make it into the fight camp. No fight camp means no fight in April, and it probably also means the green prajioud test will be postponed until later in the year as well (although I'm trying to convince him otherwise--I'll let you know how that goes).

When he first warned me that I might not make the cut, I was upset. Mostly because he'd told me that it was best to train for the green prajioud within the context of a fight camp, but it's pretty hard to do that if you're not accepted into the camp. And also because I felt I'd more than shown my dedication. I keep applying for fight camps, and I keep getting turned down. It was feeling pretty hopeless.

Thankfully, Kelly took the time to send me a really nice email explaining his decision. It was so nice that I feel much better about it, and optimistic about continuing my training. Without going into too much detail or betraying his confidence, the reasons behind his decision were basically two-fold: 1) there have been women training hard in Level 2 for much longer than I have. They have been waiting for a long time for their chance to fight. I can't dispute that, and I fully recognize that every woman he chose deserves her spot on the team.

The second reason is that I'm not ready yet. Yes, I have about fourteen or fifteen years of experience, but it's been off-and-on. There were times I was without club or coach, and others when I settled for rec-league level training. It's been a long time since I sparred, and I confess I'm a bit nervous about it. I'm also recovering from a knee injury. I fully accepted these limitations when I applied for fight camp, and was confident I could overcome them with 11 weeks of hard, fight camp training. But is it a good idea to give me more time to train before I fight? Yes, definitely.

The dojo Kelly and I started training at was ran by a man who was a genius when it came to martial arts. He was phenomenally skilled, and very charismatic. But when it came to sending his students into battle, he often didn't seem to put much thought into it. People fought before they were ready. They fought when they were much too young. They fought opponents who were way more experienced. People got hurt. A lot. Kelly is different. His fighters tend to be very well-prepared, if not over-prepared (if such a thing is possible), and as such, even his first-time fighters don't behave like first-time fighters. They don't flail around and panic, pummeling their opponent with out-of-control punches. They're savvy--they seek out weaknesses, and then move in for the kill. While I don't think a coach can make you a fighter--you either have that instinct or you don't--Kelly does very well at honing that instinct in the people who do have it.

So, April will not be my month. October or November will be. The good news is--I'll be much better prepared when the time comes to fight. The bad news is--I'm now looking at almost a full year of brutal training instead of a few months.

I'm going to need all the support and encouragement I can get. Who's with me? ;)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fun Friday XVII: Parables of Paradise

TGIF, Dear Readers! The weekend is almost upon us.

The title of this week's exercise is somewhat of a misnomer. The results probably won't teach us a lesson, but who cares? I liked the alliteration--so sue me.

I realize that this blog is now read by people from all over the world, and many of them live in gorgeous, even tropical, climates. But many of us in Canada and the States are deep into the long, cold slog of winter. With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to talk about our past vacations.

Tell me a vacation story. It doesn't have to take place in an exotic locale--just an anecdote from a vacation you really enjoyed. Set the scene--I want to know how it smelled, looked, and felt where you were. You can tell me about how the food was, or some of the people you met. What was the culture like? Did you ever go back? Did you want to? Who did you go with? Was this person someone you would travel with again?

Let's do some California dreaming on such a winter's day.

I will post my exercise as one of the comments in order to avoid influencing or discouraging anyone. "Stay-cations" are perfectly fine to use as inspiration.

Have fun. See you on Monday.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tragedy on an Epic Scale

Hello Dear Readers! Happy Thursday...we're in the homeward stretch now.

What is it about the Titanic that still captures our attention? I think about all the disasters that happen everyday in our world--earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and hurricanes--disasters that claim far more lives and have more repercussions, but are forgotten soon after (except by the poor people who are still rebuilding and suffering, of course). What it is about this ill-fated ocean liner that makes her so special?

RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world when she set off on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City on April 10, 1912. Just four days later, on April 14, she struck an iceberg and sank at 2:20 the following morning, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people. It was one of the deadliest maritime disasters to happen outside of war.

I rarely talk about my work on this blog, but it was during my day job that I recently got to witness the power of Titanic firsthand. The museum I work for is hosting a small exhibit about our province's connection to the doomed ship. It turns out that thirteen people on the Titanic were Manitobans, and many more have some kind of connection to the voyage: their grandmother had a ticket but couldn't make it, etc.

Our exhibit will be small, especially compared to Premier Exhibitions, Inc's Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, but it's still attracted a ton of media and public attention. I've been working at the museum for almost six years, and can't recall a single press release that got this much immediate attention.

People may blame James Cameron for this, but I don't think it's his fault. This long-standing fascination with the Titanic is why he came to make the movie in the first place.

But why? Why do we care so much? Is it about nature's triumph over man--the ship was referred to as "unsinkable", after all. Or is it the scope of the tragedy, which could have been avoided with more life boats and better planning? The mystery of the ship's location underwater for so many years? That this great disaster struck down the wealthy as well as the poor?

What is it about the Titanic that always keeps us coming back for more? I admit that I'll be seeing both exhibits. And I even liked Cameron's movie. But I'm not sure what lures me, either.

Are you a "fan" (for lack of a better word) of the Titanic? What do you think it is about this particular disaster that continues to fascinate us?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Other Gold

Best friends at the beach
Hello Dear Readers,

This Wednesday's post is not a rant per it more of an observation.

Last night I had dinner with my best friend. We have been friends for fifteen years or more, and she's become like family to me. She's one of the few female friends I've made in this city who has withstood the test of time. We've traveled to Africa and the Dominican Republic together; gone through numerous heartaches and downfalls together; and I'd trust her with my life. She's the kind of friend who always has your back, and I've discovered that caliber of friend is hard to find.

One of the things we discussed last night was how tolerances change when you get older. When I first moved to this city, I was coming from a town where I called a half dozen people my "best friend". I was eager to establish a new circle of friends here, and as such, I wasn't particularly choosy. Over the years, I've had mentally disturbed friends, issue-laden friends, passive-aggressive friends, bossy undermining friends, unreliable friends, and people who were so mean that they can't accurately be referred to as friends. I was patient with all of them, because I felt I needed them in some way. I know better now. It's much preferable to spend time by yourself than it is to invest your energy in a poor excuse for a friend who at some point is going to betray you and/or break your heart.

Even as recently as a few years ago, I had difficulty detecting the good apples from the bad. I'd be able to tell if someone repeatedly made me feel unhappy after I'd spent time with her, but I tended to focus on her good points. "She may be really negative and condescending and tell me how to live my life all the time...oh, and I think she's after my boyfriend, but she did come with me to the vet when my cat was sick." That kind of thing. I hope I've gotten better at that.

The thing is, life is short. And life is busy. There is no point spending what little spare time you have with people whose company you don't fully enjoy. It sounds so simple, but the truth is, a lot of us are walking around with bad friends. I've culled mine, and I don't plan on taking in anymore.

How about you, dear readers? What benefit have you noticed to getting older and hopefully wiser? Or how did you realize that a friend just wasn't worth your time?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Elusive Red Armband... now mine! Yesterday was a very happy moment as I was presented with the red prajioud by my kru, Kelly Westerlund.

Kelly wanted to hold the presentation in between Monday's Level 1 and Level 2 classes, in the hopes of having the biggest audience. He says it inspires people to see someone achieve this goal, and I have had a few people tell me that my journey has made them want to go through the same process. That's an incredible feeling, knowing that something you are doing for yourself can inspire others to do the same.

Kelly was so supportive throughout my training.
I was touched and moved by Kelly's speech--he talked about how hard I'd trained and how I was a long-time training partner and friend. I am so lucky to have finally found a coach as dedicated and honorable as he is.

Wayne is awesome!
Chris told me that everyone cheered as Kelly announced that I'd fulfilled the men's push-up requirements, but I was in a daze at that point. But I did hear everyone cheer when Kelly announced that Wayne had helped me with my training, too, and was glad for it. Wayne deserves a lot of credit--he is always willing to help out anyone who needs it. This is a spirit I've noticed among the Level 2 students.

After the glory and picture taking, it was time for a ninety minute Level 2 class. No chance to dwell on the armband around my bicep as I sprinted and did hundreds of leg checks and push-kicks...but it will take more than that for the glow to wear off.

Thank you so much to everyone at KWest who supported me and cheered me on, to my friends and of course, to Chris, and to all of you here on the blog.

On to green armband training!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Interview With The Predator

When I started training in muay thai, Olivia Gerula was one of the nicest people in the dojo. She was kind, funny, and she even let me "kick" her in the head for a magazine photo. Recently, she was the World Boxing Council's Super Featherweight Champion of the World--not bad for a girl from the 'Peg! But on November 27th in Stockholm, her title was taken away by Swedish fighter Frida Wallberg. Gerula says the fight was unfair--was it? We'll find out in the rematch! But my money's on her.

Q1) How did it go in Sweden?

A1) Apart from the dismal end result of losing in a terrible decision, Sweden was a very good experience, and I look forward to returning soon to fulfill the rematch clause and get back what is rightfully mine! Boxing has taken me all over the world: Paris, Tokyo, Peru....

Q2) What goes through your mind before you step into the ring? Are you ever nervous?

A2) The last thing I hear when I'm stepping in between those ropes is my ring song (Move Bitch by Ludicris), and I'm fired up and ready to go! No nerves--by fight night the work is done and it's time to show what you're made of.

Q3) Hopefully you don't mind me saying so, (you've always looked great) but your body has undergone quite the transformation. What did you do? What is your training regime/diet? Is it difficult to stay in fighting shape?

A3)  Fighting shape is a nice place to visit but I wouldn't like to live there. When I fight I weigh in hard around 127 pounds, really watch what I'm taking in for extra calories, stick to high protein, natural foods, indulge in nothing remotely yummy, up the cardio, drop off the heavy lifting and water water water. I naturally walk around at 135 pounds eating whatever but evening it out with training. It's damn hard to train like I do so I give my body a break between fights.

Q4) I've read that you make a full-time living fighting--true? If so, are you the only woman in the city who can make such a claim? What do you think sets you apart? How difficult is it to balance your job with your responsibilities as a mother?

A4) I can't answer in regards to any other women in the city; another professional fighter hasn't crossed my path, which doesn't mean they don't exist, but I don't know of them. As far as full-time living = yes and no. At the level I compete I do command enough to be comfortable, however as a personal trainer and a boxing and kickboxing coach I am lucky enough to love what I do and do what I love. It all goes hand in hand and I've forged a career catered around my crazy lifestyle and still find the time for the important things like family!

Q5) How/why did you get started in muay thai and boxing?

A5) I come from a gymnastic and soccer (Still play! Love it) background and at 13 I thought it would be cool to try kickboxing, reasoning that I had strong muscular legs and great flexibility - perfect for kicking people in the head!! When I turned 14, my mom finally relented and let me go to martial arts so I snuck in kickboxing, too. From there I trained in Muay Thai then on to boxing and when I'm done with boxing no doubt I'll be moving on to MMA before hanging up my gloves.

Q6) What special challenges do you feel women experience in this sport? What's the stupidest thing someone has ever said about your choice to be a woman who kicks ass?

A6) Special challenges??? Hmm... honestly I think every fighter, man or woman, has to earn their respect. As a woman in a predominantly male sport, your work is cut out for you and of course there is the issue of mass media coverage, million dollar paydays, and equal opportunity promoters that women's boxing is lacking. Stupidest thing ever said??? Nothing extraordinarily stupid, just comments about why I'd want to mess up my pretty face, and come on... who's going to get upset when someone calls you pretty? I may be a professional world champion boxer but I'm still a girl! LOL!!!

Q7) Have you ever felt like quitting? If so, why and what kept you going?

A7) Nope, never! Not in my vocabulary.

Q8) How do you motivate yourself to train or stick to a diet when you just don't feel like it, or have had a really bad day?

A8) The motivation is strong--it's survival. Every time I step in the ring, I risk both physical and mental injury, and for that reason I train whether I'm hurt, tired, pissed off, broken-hearted or busy. Dieting gets a whole lot easier when that slice of cheesecake might cost you ten thousand dollars if you don't make weight!!

Q9) What gym do you train out of now? Why did you choose that gym?

A9) I train all over. The support of the boxing community in Winnipeg is fantastic and I spread the love between King John's Autobody shop, United Boxing Club and Go Jo gym. As well as all my conditioning out of Shapes and Peguis Trail Fitness Center and the good old streets of Winnipeg!

Q10) What has been your best and worst experience in the ring?

A10) Worst experience: getting knocked out - didn't think it was possible! Sucks to realize I was mistaken. Best experience: five years later beating that same fighter round after round and taking the WBC Superfeather Weight World Title home!!! Pay back's a BITCH!!

Thanks, Olivia! It was great to catch up with you!
Do any of you have questions for her? Stay up-to-date with Olivia's career and upcoming fights on her website.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fun Friday XVI: Be Careful What You Wish For

TGIF, Dear Readers!

For this Fun Friday, I decided to do something a little differently. Instead of a mere writing prompt, let's do an exercise that will help us clarify what we really want to achieve.

This exercise is inspired by an article Martha Beck wrote in January's issue of O Magazine. She tells the story of a few women who felt that achieving a single goal would bring them happiness, but once they had what they wanted, it actually had the opposite effect. One of the reasons for this, Beck surmises, is that the women focused on the noun of the goal (what they wanted) rather than the adjectives of the goal (how it would make them feel).

If you're game, let's begin.

  • The first step is to choose a goal that matters to you. Admit to your real desires, and pick the biggest, most ambitious one.
  • Step two: imagine what your life would be like if you achieved that goal. Create a detailed fantasy about it.
  • Step three: generate adjectives. List adjectives that describe how you feel in your fantasy. Beck advises that this is a simple task, but it is not an easy one, as it "requires you translate holistic, right-brain sensations into specific, left-brain words". The minimum amount of adjectives you must come up with is three.
  • Step four: Focus on anything that can be described with your adjectives. This is where you step away from your fantasy and focus on your adjectives. Maybe those three adjectives bring your goal into sharper focus. Beck gives the example of having a goal of losing ten pounds, but your adjectives are strong, healthy, and confident. Studying your adjectives, you realize that your actual aim is to get fit. Losing ten pounds on a diet might make you thinner, but also a couch potato who doesn't have the energy to leave the house, which isn't what you really want.
So, give it a try, and post your results as a comment...or not. I'll do the same with mine. What did you discover about yourself and your goals? Did you do any "tweaking"?

Have a great weekend, everyone. Thanks for being here!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Everyone's a Critic

Hello Dear Readers,

Happy Tuesday. Is anyone else having as difficult a time getting back into the swing of things? All I want to do is sleep.

If you want to be a writer, one of the first things you have to do is learn how to accept criticism. Criticism is not only a fact of life for any working writer--it's essential. Learning what you do well feels great, and can give a much-needed boost to your ego, but learning what you need to work on is much more important. If you can keep your mouth shut, stop saying "...but what I meant was....", and really listen to what your critics have to say, your writing will vastly improve.

Not that all criticism is equally valuable--far from it. If you write enough, and especially if you have some success at it, you will encounter: people who critique just to hear themselves talk (this happens a lot in writer's groups); know-it-all bores who use a lot of big fancy words that in the end add up to nothing; cautious beginners who spout rules from how-to-write books, not realizing that rules were made to be broken; and--worst of all--bitter wannabes who just want to take the wind out of your sails.

You don't necessarily need to choose your critics well (although it's a good idea), but you do need to carefully decide which criticism is worth listening to. Stephen King has said that if five critics tell you different things, ignore them all. But if all five people are saying the same thing, it may be worth paying attention to.

For the most part, I invite criticism of my work. I know it's a sure way to improve my craft, and I wish I had more critics to turn to (while everyone may be a critic, not everyone can do it well). There are a couple of exceptions to this rule--I always get nervous before showing my work to The Boy, because he's a self-proclaimed English geek with a master's degree who can be brutally honest at times. He's been nothing but enthusiastic when it comes to my writing so far, but I still get spooked. However, once he starts telling me what he likes, I get excited and I want to hear what isn't working for him. I just need to warm up first.

The other instance that makes my hands shake is showing my work to authors who are higher up on the ladder of success. I'm always scared that one of them is going to tell me to keep my day job (however, even if they did, I wouldn't listen. After I stopped bawling, I'd continue to write). It's never happened, and some of the city's most successful authors have been unfailingly kind and supportive of my work. But the initial reveal is always a nerve-wracking experience for me. I wonder if Stephen King ever feels this way. Who is Stephen King's Stephen King?

Recently I received some criticism of the most unusual sort. A Grade Five teacher by the name of Vanessa Young-Caimol is a fan of this blog. When I wrote a post asking for opinions on how to start my novel Dragonfly Summer, she decided to open the question up to her students. They were so excited that they asked if they could write to me, and I received their heartfelt letters last week. The result is some of the most charming (and at times amusing) feedback I've ever received on my work.

Some of the students spent more time drawing their name on the page than actually telling me what they thought of the writing, but I can relate--I'm a big doodler, too. Some didn't have time to say more than "I would like to give you some feedback". But I was touched by each and every one of their honest submissions, and I will keep them forever.  If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share one of my favorites with you.

You could make people talk in the first one and in the 2nd one you could use some other things involved like a computer or a desk or a piece of wood and a falling garbage can that hit someone, but I like the 2nd one better because it was more detailed and it had people talking and it had more description of feel and sound and smell.
Unfortunately, that student didn't sign his or her name. I'd like to thank Ms. Young-Caimol's class for sharing their thoughts with me. It's an honor that all of them took the time to tell me what they thought of my work. How many adult authors get to see their writing through the eyes of a child? While I've never considered adding falling garbage cans to my novels, it could be just the thing that story needs.

What was the most striking feedback you ever received? It could be the good, bad, or the ugly.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Limbo Land

Hello, Dear Readers.

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a great weekend. Mine flew by at the sound of light, probably because I spent a lot of it working on a freelance story. I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation!

I planned to ease back into my routines this month, taking some time to get caught up on all the things that were neglected while I finished my novel Dragonfly Summer and trained for my red prajioud (muay armband). However, life--at least when it comes to kickboxing--has other plans.

A new fight camp, which will prepare me for my first fight and the green prajioud test, is set to begin on February 7th. That doesn't give me a lot of time to relax, but I had to apply for it. If all goes well and I'm accepted for the camp, I'll be taking the green test in April, right on schedule.

My kru also created a new class for a select group of students that will focus on flexibility and train us in the muay thai neck kick. When it is? Late Friday nights. Flexibility is something that always needs work, and I love learning a new skill, especially with other people who are dedicated and serious about their training. But needless to say, I'm not going to have much of life for the next few months (which is probably good, because I can't really afford to have one).

The one part of my life that seems to be in limbo is writing. My alpha reader has let me know that he'll have my manuscript back to me at the end of the month, so I'll have plenty to do when it arrives, but what do I do in the meantime? Should I start a new book, knowing I'll need to drop it and perhaps lose momentum in three weeks when the rewrites for Dragonfly Summer start? Should I focus on journaling or writing a short story? Or just relax and take care of other concerns until the end of month, when everything's going to get crazy at again?

I finished reading Anne Murray's autobiography All of Me last night. I'm not a huge Murray fan, but I do like some of her songs, and I grew up hearing her music. Hard to escape it if you're Canadian. Her story--how she went from being a Canadian girl in a small mining town to one of the most successful female singers in history--is inspiring, and it made me itch to get back at the computer. There's no time like the present to keep hacking away at the dream.

What would you do if you were me? And what are you working towards right now? If you're a fellow writer, what project are you working on?

Thanks to the website Flickriver for photo.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fun Friday XV: Superstitious Minds

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

As we approach another weekend, let's flex those creative muscles with a new Fun Friday writing exercise. It's been a while, and though relaxing is fine, we don't want to get rusty, do we? I thought not.

Lately I've been thinking about superstitions. In spite of my extreme optimism, this year started off on a bad note for me. First, I was told by an appliance repairman that my oven could go at any time and is not worth the cost of repairing. Then my hot water tank went the way of the dodo bird, flooding my poor basement again. Of course the common sense-challenged fools who owned my home before I purchased it decided to put up a new wall beside the existing hot water tank, effectively blocking it in and preventing its removal. After a conversion and other charges for relocating the tank, I was out $1500. Ouch. Happy New Year to me. For some reason, my electrical/natural gas bill is also $100 more expensive than usual this month.

The last bit of bad luck? I lost my wallet on the bus this morning, so I'm out another $75 for a new bus pass, plus the $20 of change I was carrying. I was able to cancel my credit card, bank card, and Airmiles before anyone could use them, and I wasn't carrying any cash, so I guess it could have been a lot worse, but still. More expenses I do not need!

So, what do you think? Is this a bad omen for the year ahead, or just a string of unlucky coincidences? Everyone I know seems to believe in some superstition or other. Even my ever-practical mother, who firmly maintains that she doesn't believe in anything she can't have insurmountable proof of, thinks that bad things happen in threes and that Kenneth is an unlucky name.

For this Fun Friday writing exercise, I want to know what superstitions you believe in. Do you get the chills whenever a black cat crosses your path? Believe the fortunes you get in those Chinese restaurant cookies? Feel that picking up a penny will give you good luck?

Is luck real, or just a state of mind?

In any case, please send some good luck my way. Looks like I'm gonna need it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

By Popular Demand

Hello Dear Readers,

One of the most common questions I'm getting lately is: "So, how did your test go?"

Meaning, of course, my red prajioud test, which I sweat over and whined about and lamented and so all went on that journey with me, so of course you deserve the bitter details.

First of all, I was very, very lucky that my kru (coach) was willing to let a fellow kickboxer and friend run with me. As most of you know, the part of the test that most concerned me was having to run a mile in that gym in eight minutes and thirty seconds. I practiced that run several times. Some days it came easier to me. Unfortunately, the day of the test was not one of them.

When I had six laps left, my legs decided they'd had enough. My will was fast to follow. Up to that point, I'd stayed step in step with Wayne, my running partner and pace setter--by his side all the way without much difficulty. But as I lost heart, I started to fall behind. Wayne looked back at me, and I could see the concern in his eyes. "Step it up, Holli," he said. "Push it, push it." I honestly didn't think I could. I didn't think I could run one more step, and I was beginning to make this strange whimpering noise. But Wayne kept urging me on, and somehow my legs kept moving, until the run was finally over.

Wayne was not only able to do the run easily, he was able to talk all the way through it. If he wasn't so damn nice, I would hate him! :) Just kidding--he's my hero.

"Did I make it?" I asked Kelly, and when he said that I did, I hugged him. I almost cried in relief. Wayne and I may have almost ran into each other at some of the corners, but thankfully Kelly didn't hold that against my time, and any confusion was well worth it. I could not imagine surviving that run without Wayne pushing me.

After that triumph, the three minutes of shadow boxing was easy. Kelly complimented me a lot, so that helped. He didn't make me do the flexibility test, because he'd seen me do that portion in a trial test and knew it came easily. (Otherwise, it would have been three kicks above my shoulder in one minute.) Then we moved on to Strength: Core and Upper Body. The moment of truth.

Men are required to do thirty-six push-ups in one minute, while women are only expected to do twenty-four in two minutes. I'd made it clear to Kelly and everyone else who would listen that I would fulfill the men's requirement. Well, doing thirty-six push-ups in the privacy and comfort of your own home is a lot different from doing them while your coach is standing over you, after a hard run. That last push-up was a struggle, but I did my thirty-six in the one minute, and I'm so glad I did. I think I'm most proud of that accomplishment. And Kelly never had to make me do a single one twice (which he does if your form gets sloppy or you start cheating by not lowering yourself enough).

Then it was the sixty push-out sit-ups. Surprisingly, I probably had more trouble with this than anything else on the test. My core is strong, but these push-outs were killing my (very sore) thighs and lower back that day. Still, I got through them, and the sixty squats were a snap.

The next exercise was a set of 10s up with each leg. For those who don't know, 10s require kicking up to ten in a sequence. One kick equals one, two kicks equal two, and so on, so a set of 10s up on each leg means fifty-five kicks per leg. I had two minutes per leg, and I wasn't concerned. I've been doing this exercise since I started kickboxing, and it's always been easy for me. I always finish with time to spare.

"Many people have found this to be the most difficult part of the test," Kelly said. Uh-oh.

"Really? What about the run?"

"The run was your nemesis, but in general, this is the most difficult, because I want power. If a kick isn't hard enough, I'm not going to count it."

Fair enough. With my right leg, every kick counted, but towards the end of my left leg set, my strength started to falter and Kelly stopped counting.





Three kicks went by without a count. By this time, I was beginning to despair about ever finishing the exercise. But I found the extra strength from somewhere, Kelly started counting my kicks again, and it was over. I'd finished early, so I had extra time to recover.

The next part was my other nemesis--completing twenty double-kicks (forty kicks) in one minute. Double-kicks are extremely difficult to do well. You need speed, balance, agility, and strength. Not to mention flexibility. I'm sure I got points taken off for some sloppy kicks at the end, but I made it through the twenty in time. Whew! I hate double-kicks.

Next came pad holding, and I was surprised at all the little things that needed to be tweaked. Each correction Kelly made was worth a quarter of a point, and as you need ninety percent to pass, I was getting nervous.

Kelly then tested me on technique. I was proud when he complimented my hook and uppercut, generally considered to be the most difficult punches to throw correctly (thank you, Robert the Kid Coquette, wherever you are!). I laughed when he expressed surprise at my push-kick. "I thought they'd be a lot worse," he said. "Thanks," I replied with just a touch of sarcasm, and realizing how that sounded, my coach backtracked, "Most people don't know how to throw them correctly, but you do," he said, explaining everything that I'd done well. (Secretly, I was surprised, too--my push-kicks usually suck.)

It was all downhill from there. Hand-wrapping was fine. The three minute round of free format pad work was grueling but fun--Kelly really pushed me. He let me off the hook when it came to bag work, because he already knew what I could do.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life to hear that I'd passed. I'll receive my red armband (that long-awaited armband) next Monday, so I'll be sure to tell you how that goes.

Thanks to all of you for your support, advice, and encouragement. It means so much to me. I will definitely need it as I pursue my green prajioud, which is even more difficult. Take a look!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

Better late than never, right?

Talk about the best laid plans--I did plan to update the blog now and then during my holidays, but time away from the computer was so blissful that I didn't want it to end. However, it's January, it's a New Year, and it's time to get back to work.

Do you make New Year's resolutions?

This has become a tradition that a lot of people sneer at--the same people who refuse to acknowledge Valentine's Day because it's a "Hallmark Holiday". (That may be so, but how can celebrating a holiday in honor of love be a bad thing? If the commercialism bothers you, skip the overpriced chocolate and do something more personal.) There's also the sentiment that you shouldn't wait until the New Year to make a positive change in your life. Fair enough. I know others who make resolutions in September because the beginning of a new school year still signals a fresh start for them, and that's great, too.

But I like making New Year's resolutions. I enjoy reflecting on the accomplishments and failings of the year just past and planning my goals for the one ahead. I am very proud to say that I managed to keep all of last year's promises to myself, which included getting serious about paying off my debt; finishing my novel; and passing the red prajioud test.

This year's goals are:

1) Polishing Dragonfly Summer and sending it off to publishers and agents
2) Training for and hopefully passing my green prajioud test
3) Having my first (and perhaps only) fight, if applicable
4) Beginning and finishing research/outline of new novel
5) Submitting one new story to a contest
6) Starting to write new novel
7) Getting out of debt, once and for all!

They are lofty goals, but I believe they are well within my reach this year. If I learned anything from the previous year, it's that the more you require of yourself, the more you are able to achieve.

What are your New Year's resolutions, dear readers? And welcome back to the blog! Thanks for being here.