2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Central States Karate Tournament – 2014

Most of Team Spartan that competed at the Central States Karate Tournament.

Most of Team Spartan that competed at the Central States Karate Tournament.

In November, Michael competed in the the Central States Karate Championships. He competed at the 8-9 year old red/brown belt boy level in both form and sparring.

The tournament was held at Fridley High School. It was a great location. It has a “sunken” style gym, which was great for this fairly large tournament. Instead of everyone having to cram around a certain ring, spectators could stand on the upper level and not only have a great view of their competitor’s ring, but could watch what was happening in several rings. Several competitors from Team Spartan were competing in adjoining rings, so we got to cheer for many at the same time.

Michael did really well. He seems to often get his name drawn to be first in form. I still can’t decide if this is an advantage or disadvantage…. He just rolls with it.

041It’s been interesting watching him at each tournament. His first tournament, he went super fast. Another one, he didn’t yell enough. I can’t wait until he remembers to slow it down, sharpen his moves a bit, and get his power yells in (which will force him to breathe). He will be hard to beat when he does! He’s got incredible technique and flexibility. When he kicks above his head, I’m amazed, every time!

He won his first sparring match, but lost the next one. The judges missed some key points for him. Other parents around me said so too, so I know I’m not just biased. I know the judges are human, they are going to miss points… knowing this doesn’t take away the frustration. While it would be fun to be a ring judge, I also think it would be very difficult. They are the ones who often take the blame when points are missed…

054He had some tough competition, and took 3rd in both sparring and form.

After the tournament, I was talking with Master John Lysaght, of USA Karate. He said something to me that I wish I could help Michael understand. As he gets older, has more practice, and matures some, I think he will learn this. John said that when he was younger, his points were often missed, because the judges didn’t see them. He had to learn to make sure his points were scored in a way that they couldn’t be missed. It means being more intentional with the placement of your kicks and punches. It also means making sure they are large enough, and exaggerated enough that not one of the three ring judges could say they didn’t see it. My experience with competing, is that this is easier said than done. Practice, practice, practice…

The next tournament for Forte’s Karate isn’t until February. There are some really exciting things in store for that tournament. I can’t wait! :-)

Ingress – more than a game

What is Ingress? It’s a game from Google. Think Geocaching meets Capture the Flag, or tower defense. It can be played on a smart phone or tablet (that runs either Android or Apple IOS). You must have GPS enabled though, as it utilizes Google Maps.

Sometimes, people like to create pictures with their fields, like this one I made of the Star Fleet emblem.

Sometimes, people like to create pictures with their fields, like this one I made of the Star Fleet emblem.

In a nutshell, there are two teams, The Resistance (blue), and The Enlightened (Green). Each team tries to defend portals (interesting places out in the real world). You can hack the portals for gear; attack them if they have been captured by the other team; and/or capture them by deploying resonators, shields, or other mods to protect them.

The goal is to link at least 3 portals together to create fields. Each field is worth a certain number of “mind units.” At regular intervals, Niantic (Google’s division that runs the game) scores each team. The team with the highest number of mind units is then in the lead. Each team is fighting for domination.

Players can level up as they continue to play. This allows them to use higher level gear to defend or attack portals. Levels 1-8 are earned through game play alone. Levels 9-16 must be earned through earning badges (which are done through increased game play and focus on specific aspects of the game).

What’s great about the game, is that it forces you to get out in the real world. Portals are often sculptures, murals, parks, monuments,  playgrounds, etc. You can’t just sit at home and play this “video game”. You actually have to get out in the real world. It’s a great way to get exercise. Many times,  we have gone to different places and walked several miles to hack, attack, capture, and field.

All portals in the game are submitted by players, it forces you to pay attention to your surroundings. Players are constantly on the look-out for possible new portals. Once you’ve played the game for a while, you start to really notice sculptures, murals, and landmarks to submit. While players are often face down, looking at their phones, they are also quite aware of what’s around them.

This is one of the many cool places we've found while hunting for portals in Florida. It was such a pretty hidden gem!

This is one of the many cool places we’ve found while hunting for portals in Florida. It was such a pretty hidden gem!

Ingress is “played” all around the globe. My husband and I enjoy traveling around the country, as he speaks at technical conferences and training events. We have always enjoyed seeing unique places in each city we visit. Ingress gives us another level to the exploring we already do. A recent addition to the game, is that players can create various missions. This has helped us find even more unique places to visit, as we sought to complete missions.

One of my favorite things about Ingress is that not only does it give my husband, family and I something we do together, but we have also met many people through the game. “Agents” (or players) often meet up to complete operations (such as a giant field over a certain area). We also utilize G+ Hangouts to chat about the game, or other topics. When agents play the same areas over and over again, you are bound to meet them at some point in time. We have met many agents from both teams. Most players are fairly friendly. New friends are just one more perk of the game.

If you want to join the game, you can go to ingress.com Just make sure you join the right team (that is, the Enlightened). Just kidding. Choose whichever you’d like. Just have fun.

You can read the Wiki link at the beginning of this post for the complete back-story of the game.

Great News for Apple Grande Lovers

I got a great tweet response from Taco Johns today. I’m so excited about it, that I had to share!


















Some people think the idea of a giant sweet tortilla chip covered with apple pie filling, sprinkled with what is basically crushed red hots and cheese might not sound good, but to me, it’s delicious!!

I used to look forward to this little dessert as a perfect compliment to my softshell taco with sour cream. For about a year, I have been unable to get them. This made me a sad panda. Now, I’ll be able to get them again, at least for a little while. I can’t wait!

This has been a public service announcement. You’re welcome! :-)

PS. Thank you Taco Johns for letting me know!


Diamond Nationals – 2014

061Last weekend, was Michael’s 3rd karate tournament, the Diamond Nationals. This tournament brings the best of the best from all over the country (and Canada) to compete. The black belts who make it into the “night show” are competing for a $10K diamond ring. WOW!

I remember back when I took Kung Fu, watching my friends compete in the Diamonds (as we called it). I always looked forward to this tournament, because it brought out the best competitors. The black belts are AMAZING to watch! My favorite are the Musical Forms, Creative Forms, and Creative Weapons Forms. The gymnastics they can do are nothing short of spectacular!

Michael doing his form, Hadong.

Michael doing his form, Hadong.

Anyway, we walked in to the hotel in Bloomington, MN, where the tournament was held. Michael got very nervous about the number of people there! His first tournament, he had very few people he competed against, the second, there were a few more. By the time it was time for him to compete, he wouldn’t talk to anyone, wouldn’t acknowledge his aunt and cousin who came to watch him, and he kept yawning. These are all weird behaviors for him. He is usually very talkative, and his auntie and cousin Andrew are pretty much two of his favorite people in the world! He had gotten plenty of sleep, so he shouldn’t have been tired. He later said to me, “Apparently, when I’m nervous, I yawn a lot.”

Michael receiving his scores for form.

Michael receiving his scores for form.

There were so many boys in his age category, 8-9 year old red belts, that they had to split them into two rings. They tried to make sure boys from the same dojo weren’t competing against each other. There were about 8 boys in Michael’s final group for forms. Michael’s name was drawn to go first. I’m never sure if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. He did a great job, but was still very nervous. He rushed a bit, but hit his power moves hard, and yelled nice and loud. There was some very good competition he was up against.

Once the other competitors went, it was time for judging. Michael’s scores were 9.83, 9.86, and either 9.85 or 9.87. Awesome scores; we thought he was in 4th place by the end of judging. Unfortunately, he ended up as a Finalist, 5th place. He was the last finalist called before 4th. It must have been VERY close between those two positions. While he would have loved to take home a trophy, he now has a plaque to put on the wall by his belts.

Two points white! Michael was white! :-)

Two points white! Michael was white! :-)

After form, it was time for sparring. It looked like the number of boys sparring, was triple those competing in form. They wrapped around 2 sides of the ring. Again, they split them into two rings. Michael’s ring had an uneven number of competitors in it. He ended up being picked for a bye for the first round. The boy he sparred first won his first match, and had repeated reminders that head contact was to be light. That would psych anyone out a bit. Michael went in there, and put up a good fight. He didn’t win, but he didn’t just let the other kid take the win either. The first boy he lost to, won the entire division, so we couldn’t feel too bad about Michael’s loss against him.

Since he lost his first match, he was put in the Consolation Bracket. He won his first match. It was very impressive! He’s very good at kicks, and using them helps him rack up the points.

His 3rd sparring match was for Consolation (4th place). It was a very close match, and was tied when they called time. The next point would win the Consolation trophy. Both boys were determined not to lose. They both kicked (and landed) at the same time. It really could have been anyone’s point. Unfortunately, 2 out of 3 judges’ opinions count. It was 2 judges for the other boy, one for Michael. The call was mistaken, not because it went for the other boy, but because one said 2 points for the other boy, one said 1 point. It was called as two points. Oh well. Michael took 5th place, and received a Finalist’s plaque. That makes 2 plaques for the wall.

Michael and his Finalist plaques.

Michael and his Finalist plaques.

After Michael competed, we went to lunch with his aunt and cousin. Then we went back to hang out at the hotel until it was time for the night show. Grace and I watched some amazing black belts compete for their place in the night show. Wow!

We also watched Michael’s karate teacher, Mr. Hallberg, spar in hopes to make it to the night show. This was not his year, but it was fun to watch them spar!

During our hours of hanging out, Michael asked some random boy walking by if he wanted to spar. For the next 2+ hours, Michael and this boy, Kyle, sparred (with no pads, of course), and hung out. They really seemed to enjoy themselves! When it was time to line up for our seats for the night show, the adults stood in line… Michael, Kyle, a few other kids from Forte’s American Karate, and some other random karate kids were all hanging out. All the sudden, a group of them, ranging from ages 6 to about 11 or 12, sat in a circle. We wondered what they were doing, until one got up and started going around the circle saying, “Duck… Duck….” Apparently, even tough kids can play Duck, Duck, Gray Duck!  That’s what we call it in MN. Don’t even get me started on the Duck, Duck, Goose controversy.

The night show was amazing, and made it well worth the $35 we paid to be spectators for the day. It was a pretty steep price though, for those who only came to watch during the day. They really should have had a reduced price spectator fee for those (such as Michael’s aunt and cousin) who only came to watch the competitors during the day.

Yes, those ARE my two kids sticking their tongues out... Sheesh. Master Forte and his wife were sitting just outside the scope of this picture.

Yes, those ARE my two kids sticking their tongues out… Sheesh. Master Forte and his wife were sitting just outside the scope of this picture.

Besides the amazing forms, weapons, and sparring we saw that night, the coolest part, was that most of Team Spartan (the White Bear portion of Team Forte), sat together. Master Forte, and his wife Laura sat with us too. I enjoyed watching him having as much fun as the rest of the group. There was a great comeraderie that night between kids, parents, and Master Forte.

I think all the kids were inspired to continue to get better at karate. They were even talking about wanting to do a “Team Form”, where they all do their form in unison. That would be so cool! I think some of them were also inspired to take more gymnastics so they could do amazing creative forms too!

I’m excited to see what the next year holds for Team Spartan, and Team Forte as a whole!


MN State Karate Championships – 2014

The last weekend of September, Michael competed in his 2nd karate tournament, the Minnesota State Karate Championships. It was held at the Earle Browne Heritage Center; a nice location with plenty of room for the tournament. This tournament was significantly larger than the first one he competed in last summer.

017Team Forte has grown tremendously. So much so, that the two Forte’s locations have split into two teams (all competing as representatives of their studio). Michael had many friends from his team competing that day. What was really cool, was that all teammates cheered each other on (unless they were competing in separate rings at the same time). The camaraderie I saw that day was impressive!

Michael was really nervous for this tournament, because it was going to be his first time sparring in a tournament. He also knew he went way too fast in the last tournament with his form, and he needed to slow it down. I was so thankful for Mr. Munson, one of the black belts who had previously been his teacher, for being there. He pulled Michael aside and helped him calm down. He told him to remember his yells on the power moves. That the reason for those yells, was to help you remember to breathe, and to take a pause. This would also help him slow down.

The advice helped, because he did a really great job on his form! He ended up taking 3rd place, but easily could/should have had 2nd. Later in the day, one of the ring judges, a Grandmaster (10th degree black belt), complimented Michael on his kicks. He also told Michael that he had him at 1st place in his mind. I’m not sure Michael realized what an honor that was!


Michael is the red belt in the white uniform. Two of the three kids in the corner are friends of his from Team Forte, the other is their little sister.

After forms were done, it was time for sparring. This mama had flashbacks of being about 17, and sparring in a tournament. I got a really hard side kick to the chest that knocked the wind out of me. I had never had this happen before, and started to cry. I was in pain from the kick, and felt humiliated for crying in the ring. My fear was that this would happen to my poor 9 year old son, and there was nothing I would be able to do about it.

Luckily, it was nothing like that! Nowadays, they have head gear and chest pads, in addition to the hand and foot pads we had. The match started, and I was so nervous for him. Then I remembered, or rather he showed everyone, his awesome kicking skills. I think he forgot he also had hands that could be used for anything but blocking in that first round. This worked in his favor though, because points earned with kicks receive 2 points, while points earned by punches are only worth 1. He won his first round. I was so excited for him!

The second round, he found his hands, but forgot about his feet! Unfortunately, when the opponent is scoring 2 points at a time, and you are only scoring one, you don’t win. It was a great match though! I was very proud of how hard he fought, and yet, kept his control. It didn’t even seem to bother him that he didn’t win that round. In the end, he took 2nd place in sparring.

For a larger tournament, I was very happy with how he did! He was so excited by his trophies, that I think he wanted to hold them all day! :-)

Later in the day, I introduced him to Master John Lysaght, from USA Karate. He used to train with Master Forte. I knew him as a parent of a past preschooler. When Master Lysaght asked Michael what his favorite thing about karate tournaments was, Michael said, “Hanging out with my friends. When we are at karate, we don’t just get to hang out.” Fair enough. I’m glad he doesn’t feel so much pressure that he loses his enjoyment of the day. 067

I got to watch Master Lysaght compete with a musical form later in the day. He did awesome! Back when I competed, those were my favorite to watch! Must be my dance background that makes me love forms set to music so much.

At the end of the day, Mr. Hallberg, Michael’s current teacher, and a 3rd degree black belt, was competing in sparring. Much of Team Forte’s Spartans (the White Bear branch of the team) stayed to cheer on Mr. Hallberg. It was a whole different ballgame with the black belts! They wore head gear, hands and feet, but no chest guard. The hits were much harder, and there were many to the head. The kids seemed a bit concerned, though he did an amazing job sparring! He won the first match, and his minions went wild! Unfortunately, he didn’t win the second match, but he fought hard.

Overall, it was a fun day!

Here are a few more pictures from the day:



Some members of Team Forte with their trophies from the tournament.

Michael with Mr. Hallberg

Michael with Mr. Hallberg


Michael working his form.

Picture This?

Parenting a teenager is hard. We all know about the hormones causing mood swings, attitudes, self-esteem and self-confidence issues. As adults, we’ve been there, we get it. It sucks. It sucks for the teens, and it sucks for the parents. That’s not what I’m talking about today.

Here’s what I’ve been struggling with. I’m going to take you back to earlier this week… Grace had her fitting for her first pair of pointe shoes. This was a big day for her! I think I was as excited as she was! I never got to dance en pointe when I was a younger dancer. Neither of us had a clue what to expect.

I REALLY wanted to document this big day. Anyone from our dance studio might tell you I’m a bit of a spaz when it comes to taking pictures. I joke that I’m the “Stalkarazzi” of our dance studio. I mostly take pictures of my daughter’s group and her friends, but I try to get a little of everyone. Why? Because I enjoy sharing them with the other parents and teachers at the studio. I’m not a great photographer, but I enjoy taking pictures, and I enjoy sharing them.

Guess what? I didn’t take one single picture at the pointe fitting. WHY NOT??? Because my daughter is a teenager.

This year, she is moving up to a brand new Teen Company group at Lake Area Dance Studio. She is dancing with many of the same girls from last year, plus a couple. She’s also in a mixed age tap small group (with the Senior Company group). She’s both nervous and excited about dancing with some of these older girls. I didn’t want to embarrass her by being the spaz with the camera at her first activity with the older girls.

There were a couple points (no pun intended) in the hour-long appointment that I really had to hold myself back. I tried to just enjoy the moment. As she sat there putting lamb’s wool over her toes for the first time, I wanted to document that moment with a picture.

When she went up to the barre, and went up on her toes for the first time, I was so proud! I wanted to capture that moment, that feeling, but I didn’t – at least not with my camera.

As she tried on several different pairs, as she chose the ones that were just right for her, as she went up to the counter clinging to those brand new shoes that she was both nervous and excited to own, I didn’t take one picture. There was even a very sweet moment between Grace and her teacher that I so badly wanted to put in her scrapbook, but I didn’t take the photo.

I held back, I enjoyed the moment. This is not a bad thing. So why is it so hard? Is because of social media? Is it because I just want to remember every moment always?

When the older girls left, and it was just me, Grace, Miss Maria, and another girl she danced with last year, I could have taken some pictures. But… I didn’t. Instead, I just watched…

The only pic of the pointe shoes - one that Grace took when we got home.

The only pic of the pointe shoes – one that Grace took when we got home.

When I got in the car to head home, I was a little sad I didn’t take any pictures. Truthfully, I was not just a little sad, I felt guilty. Don’t ask why, I just do that sometimes for no good reason.

I asked Grace if I could take a picture of her at home with her new shoes on. She said no. Not because she didn’t want a picture in them, but because she didn’t want to get dog hair on her precious new shoes.

Grace said that I should have taken pictures at the fitting. More Mom guilt. That wasn’t her intention. She just wondered why I hadn’t. She’s so used to me being the “Stalkarazzi”, obsessively taking pictures of everything… how do you make that switch? Should I?? Or should I keep on taking the pictures?? If I keep taking the pictures, am I potentially missing out on those moments of just feeling???

The internal struggles of the parent of a teenager…



I just wanted to send a quick “Thank you!” to the employees at Grand Jete in St. Paul. The woman who helped us (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch her name) took the time to not only fit each dancer for just the right shoes, but also took the time to explain proper care of pointe shoes. Who knew there was so much to learn? Now that I know how pointe shoes are made, I understand why you always see them hanging. Makes sense that you need to keep them dry (though gross to think about sweaty feet). ;-)

I especially appreciated how she had each dancer try on a few different types of shoes, even when they thought they had found the perfect fit. I never even knew there were so many different kinds of pointe shoes. There are harder and softer shanks (the part on the bottom), different types of toes (some are more rounded, some more square)… It was a learning process for all of us, but was also a lot of fun. The personal attention really made it special for all the dancers getting their first pair of pointe shoes!


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