Walk Your A.S. Off

For four years, my daughter and I have danced at Lake Area Dance Center. Over the years, we have gotten to know its owner, and primary teacher, Miss Maria, pretty well. We’ve also gotten to know a bit about a disease she has, Ankylosing Spondylitis (A.S.), that makes it painful for her to not only dance, but often do every day activities. Some days are better, and some days are worse. By the end of many nights, it is painful for her to even sit, as her spine gets enflamed easily. She continues to teach dance 7 days a week. Although she tries to hide her pain, I sometimes see her wince during our adult tap class, and I can see the brave face she is putting on for the sake of her students.

As of right now, there is no cure for this disease. Miss Maria takes a plethora of medications and vitamins every day to try to manage the symptoms. She has tried diet changes, juicing, and living a “healthy lifestyle” as many people like to tell her she should do. Nothing helps completely…

She has joined a team (of mostly women) from all over the country to help raise awareness of the disease. I have decided to join her in this effort. The way we are doing this is by joining a movement called “Walk Your A.S. Off.” Teams from all over the world are doing this virtual walk by logging our steps each day. The goal for our team, “Spondy Ladies”, is to walk 1 Million Steps in the month of April.

While fundraising is not required, I am of the opinion that awareness itself isn’t enough. Raising money to help researchers find effective treatments, and even a cure, is going to go so much further than walking and spreading the word about the disease alone!

You can help by joining our team, or by donating. You can donate a flat amount by clicking the link, or by giving me a check made out to SAA or Spondylitis Association of America, which I will mail for you. You can also pledge a certain amount based on the number of steps I take over the month, or a certain amount for making my goal (240K steps is my personal goal for the month). Donations are tax-deductible. Some employers may even match your donation!

Thank you for your support!

*Note: There are several S.A. organizations out there you could choose to donate to. SAA is the one Miss Maria chose, and I did as well. If you prefer to donate to a different organization that researches treatments and potential cures for Ankylosing Spondylitis, your support is appreciated. :-)

Star Systems 2015

One of the photos purchased at the competition.

One of the photos purchased at the competition.

This past weekend, Grace danced in her first competition of the season. This was an optional competition for solos, duets/trios, and a couple of select small groups. Since Star Systems is a smaller competition than most of the others we usually attend, I thought it would be a good opportunity for her to get one under her belt before the main competition season starts. This was her first time ever competing with a solo, and she is competing in the Elite level (called Super Star at this competition). All week, and weekend leading up to competing, Grace went back and forth between being nervous, and excited.

The juniors and one of our seniors competed Friday night, A couple of duets, mini/petite solos, and our hip hop small groups competed on Saturday. Grace and two other teens from Lake Area Dance Center (LADC) competed Sunday night. We did not go any other day, but Sunday. Results though, were great! Many platinum scores and overall placements were given to LADC dancers and groups. Two of our hip hop small group placed first in the overalls, something I have rarely seen!

Grace, Paige, and Niki, all ready to compete at the Elite Level for the first time.

Grace, Paige, and Niki, all ready to compete at the Elite Level for the first time.

We got to the competition at about 3:45 on Sunday, 3 hours before Grace was scheduled to dance. We had plenty of time to get her hair and makeup ready. I have to say, now that she’s older, and can do her own makeup, it’s kind of nice! I did her hair.

From the time we got there, through the end of the night, it was ALL solos. The Shining Star (often called Recreational) division was going when we got there. The solos continued through the Shooting Star (Intermediate) division in all the different styles… Grace’s solo is a tap dance, which started out the Super Star division. There were a couple of dances before her. The one immediately before her was a GOOOOOOD tapper (she ended up getting 2nd overall). Talk about making for a nervous Mama!

My favorite photo of the day.

My favorite photo of the day.

We generally do not watch many solos, just those from our studio, if we are there on those days, or at Nationals.  Last year, we watched the finalists at StarQuest, and were amazed at the dancing! It was a bit scary to think my daughter, a first time soloist, was going to be competing against the likes of those dancers. I tried really hard not to show her how nervous I was for her. She had worked hard, and I knew she was ready. Still, every possible “what if” goes through your head when you are watching your kid do something for the first time. On facebook, I saw a picture that said “Dance like no one is watching… ’cause they’re not… they’re busy checking their phones.” She and I had a good laugh about that! I told her it didn’t matter how she placed, as long as she did her best.

They stayed mostly on schedule. I was surprised a few times when they would have to call dancers over the loud speaker, or say, “We are skipping ahead because no one else is checked in.” I couldn’t tell if it was the studios that weren’t as organized, or if it was the competition company. Maybe that’s just typical of some of the smaller competitions. Things mostly flowed pretty well though.

Grace - Platinum, Paige - Elite High Gold, Niki - Platinum

Grace – Platinum, Paige – Elite High Gold, Niki – Platinum

When Grace went on stage, she gave it her all! She has an amazing prop that lights up. For a second, it didn’t go on. At the same time, she started doing a different part of her dance (which I didn’t realized until she told me afterwards)… She stopped on top of the box for a split second, stomped, and at that second, the box lit up, and she kept going. If her face hadn’t showed that she had “messed up”, it easily could have just been part of the dance. What’s funny, is that she didn’t even know the box didn’t light up… Oh well, mistakes happen. She did so well!!  I was very proud of her!

A few dances after Grace, her friend Paige from her dance team went. Paige’s dance is a jazz dance, in which she makes flexibility look easy! A few dances after that, Ali (their dance teacher’s daughter) went. She did a jazz dance that exudes power. Finally, of the dancers we knew, Niki, from Grace and Paige’s dance team went. She performed a beautiful lyrical piece!

Grace with her dance teacher and choreographer, Maria.

Grace with her dance teacher and choreographer, Maria.

We waited until awards, which were pretty much right on time. We were all SO excited to hear Grace got a platinum score! Paige got an Elite High Gold score, Ali and Niki both got platinum. Ali has been competing at the Elite Level for quite a while, and it was no surprise to any of us that she got platinum and 9th overall (out of 62 dances). The other three have never competed Elite. We were all thrilled by their wonderful results!

I was surprised there were no “extra” or “Judges’ Awards” given during the awards ceremony. No costume or choreography awards were given either. Maybe they only do those for large group dances?

Anyway, this was a great start to the competition season. I can’t wait for the next one!



Twin Cities Rumble – 2015

About half of the group competing in the Mega Team Form.

About half of the group competing in the Mega Team Form.

The rest of the group competing in the Mega Team Form.

The rest of the group competing in the Mega Team Form.

A few weeks ago, my son attended the Twin Cities Rumble karate tournament. This was the first tournament that Forte’s Karate was part of the production (behind the scenes).  It was also the first tournament where they did a Mega Team Form. The youngest member of the team form was about 7, the oldest were in their 40’s. It was very fun to watch this huge group consisting of children, some of their parents, and even three of the teachers compete together. For their first time doing this, I thought they looked very good! They were quite together. They took 2nd place.

Several members of Team Forte with their 2nd place trophy for their Mega Team Form.

Several members of Team Forte with their 2nd place trophy.

After the Team form, we had a LOOONG wait until Michael had to compete again. The Team Forms were first at about 9:30 -10. The black belts go first, so they are ready to judge when they are done… It’s always fun watching them compete – there are some amazing competitors in the circuit! We always look forward to watching  Mr. Hallberg spar!

Michael was supposed to compete shortly after 1, I think it was at least 2:30 (if not later) before his division went. I know we were one of the very last groups there, and weren’t done until close to 4:30 or 5.

Three red-brown belts, ages 8-9, from the same school, competing in the same form division.

Jacob, Mason, and Michael, three red-brown belts, ages 8-9, from the same school, competing in the same form division.

My son’s division is pretty large, 8-9 year old red/brown belts. Michael had just graduated to brown belt, a week or so before the tournament. Because he had already been registered as an advanced red belt, he competed as advanced red. There are very few brown belts in this division, and because it’s red/brown, it didn’t affect where he would compete.

It’s always interesting to watch when kids from our school are competing against each other. In Michael’s age group, there were three. They cheer for each other, but are also trying to win. At the same time, they don’t care when they are beat by a team mate. They are proud of each other’s accomplishments! It makes me feel proud of them to see the great sportsmanship! :-) Michael doesn’t really care what he gets. He just has fun competing.

Michael's kicks amaze me, every time!

Michael’s kicks amaze me, every time!

Michael did a different form than the other two boys. He was nervous, and he rushed it a bit. His technique is great, he just needs those reminders to slow down, breathe, yell, and do what he knows how to do. That advice can’t come from a parent! ;-)  Michael got a medal for being a finalist in form. He didn’t place in the top 4, oh well. His team mates took 2nd and 4th.

They usually end up having to split this large group, at least for sparring. I almost think there would be enough to just have 8 year olds in one ring, and 9 year olds in another. They’d probably still have to split those 9 year olds! Another way they could split them would be to split red and advance red/brown belts. When they split them for sparring, they try to make sure kids from the same school don’t end up going against each other. Occasionally, it does happen, but they try to split them.

Michael did great in sparring! He won his first match. There are two boys from Team Edge that tend to be the ones he goes against for first place.  The scores are always close, and the matches could go either way. While they are always good matches, Michael usually ends up taking 2nd. The parents of both Team Edge boys are great! We always chat, and they are great promoters of sportsmanship with their competitors.

What could have been different

As mentioned above, it ended up being a long day! Registration was kind of a mess. At the time team forms were supposed to be starting, there was still a looong line of competitors waiting to sign waivers and get their admission bracelets. In addition to the participants, were all the spectators… Most of the participants were already registered ahead of time. I’m not sure why waivers weren’t part of the registration process. For dance competitions, a waiver is often sent to the dance studio ahead of time for parents to sign. For the one coming up, for example, a waiver containing a list of participants was sent to studio, and parents had to sign on the line for their student. For other karate tournaments my son has participated in, bracelets were sent ahead of time, speeding up the registration at the door of the event.

Being that this was the first time this particular group has put on this tournament together, I’m sure they learned a few things to do differently, and will improve for next time. I have been a part of putting on large events, and the bummer is when these snafus happen, especially at registration, and scare away potential future participants.

What I really appreciated at the end of the day, was when they split up the group for sparring, they moved our group to another ring. One of the organizers came over apologizing for the long delay. He thanked us for staying, and for our patience. It sounds like there were many contributing factors to the limited use of all the rings they had set up, including that some of the people they were expecting to judge during the day left, instead of staying to judge. In addition to that, they had many more competitors than they originally expected. You can see the problem these two factors together can create.We were very thankful for those that stayed and worked very hard judging and trying to get through all the groups as quickly as possible.

Organizing any event can be stressful. I can’t imagine all the things going on behind the scenes as they tried to make everything flow smoothly! It has been my experience that each time a group puts on a major event, there are bumps in the road the first couple of tries. Each time, it gets better, and things run a little more smoothly, until eventually, it all flows like a well-oiled machine! I expect that this will be the case with this tournament, and these organizers. I hope Michael wants to continue competing long enough to see it get to that point! :-)

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!


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