Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Instructor's Masters Test

On Saturday, May 15, 2010, my instructor, Jason Leitzke and six others, tested for their fourth degree black belt in taekwondo. With the fourth dan comes the rank of Master. It represents ten to fifteen years of study. The test was presided over by Grand Master Byong-Cheol Kim. There were several others judging the test including Grand Master Choi, Master Je-Kyoung Kim, Master Lin, and others.

The six others candidates were: Robert Hummel, James Reuterskiold, Ha-Yaun Chung, Cathi Leitzke, Andrea Heikkila and James O'Rourke III. There were two other candidates as well. Jon Cooley was testing for his third dan and William Brown was testing for his second dan. Normally they would present themselves on testing dates designed specifically for their rank, but scheduling conflicts made that impossible for them, so accommodations were made.

The test was administered at World Championship Taekwondo, 18335 NW West Union Road, Suite H, Portland, Oregon 97229. Just like my own taekwondo school in Scappoose, there weren't enough chairs, so I was really glad that I brought my own. I arrived about fifteen minutes early, but there were already lots of people there. It seemed as though about half the crowd was there from Scappoose to support Jason.

They passed out a very nice program with everyone's name, and the schedule worked out in ten minute intervals. First on the list were hand techniques from 10:00 to 10:20. We started a little late, but the masters seemed committed to keeping the schedule, so they kept this bit pretty brief. Grand Master B.C. Kim called out various blocks and strikes, and the master candidates executed all them with power and precision. It really was a joy to watch.

Next on the list were forms from 10:20 to 10:50. This is also the only part during the test where someone made a mistake. An assistant called out the name of a form, and one of the candidates began performing a different form. The candidates performed ten pushups and started again. I don't know precisely how many forms they performed. It might have been as many as fifteen. I don't usually think of forms as being very exhausting because they are not performed with great speed, but the candidates performed all of their forms with great power and precision. They were all sweating and panting by the end of it.

Next on the list was self defense from 10:50 to 11:00. They all partnered up. The assistant called out numbers and the candidates performed the techniques. It was neat. They were just throwing each other to the ground over and over again. I was impressed that they knew this material so well that they could perform the techniques with only a number as promptings. I guess I've only ever had to learn one self defense technique at a time.

Next on the list was kicking from 11:00 to 11:20. They started just kicking the air with some front kicks and some round house kicks - very pedestrian, but then they got some more assistants to hold some targets and things really started picking up. They did all kinds of kicks and combinations. It was very exciting. At the end, the masters called for an endurance test: 100 roundhouse kicks. Jason made some joke about doing a 1,000 kicks. The other candidates did NOT seem to appreciate his enthusiasm, so when it came his turn to do his 100, he actually went ahead and did 200, so then all the other candidates did a second set of 100 round house kicks. They were all clearly exhausted. I've done 100 roundhouse kicks before but not without a break.

After a ten minute break during which the candidates could drink some water, they put on some sparring gear and demonstrated some sparring techniques from 11:30 to 12:00. This was also very exciting. It was hard to keep track of what was going on. Audience members at the front and to be careful not to get stepped on!

Next on the schedule was nun-chucks from 12:00 to 12:30. This was really neat, too. The assistant called out a number sequentially from 1 - 15 and the candidates performed a series of moves with a single nun-chuck while facing the judges. Then they turned around to face the audience and performed all 15 in order. Then they did 15 more with two nun-chucks! A few candidates dropped their nun-chucks a few times, and they didn't all finish at the same time, but it was still a very impressive display.

After a second ten-minute break, the candidates each received ten boards. Breaking was scheduled from 12:30 to 1:00 pm. Breaking is always the coolest part of every test, and this test was no exception. They started with speed breaking techniques in which the held two boards with three fingers of one hand and tried to break it with the other. This gave them considerable trouble but eventually, with some extra coaching from Master Lim, they all got their boards broken.

Then they switched to power breaking. They all seemed really very excited about this. They were instructed to break two boards with any technique of their choice except the back kick. This part was also very exciting and confusing. They didn't really take turns. They fired at will. Boards were flying everywhere. Mr. Jason chose the roundhouse kick, but he broke the boards with his shin rather than his instep or the ball of his foot.

The final breaking technique was to break what ever boards they had left (most of them had four boards left) with the back kick. They all performed very well. I don't think anyone needed two attempts, but when it came to Mr. Jason's turn, Master Lim asked him to use a stepping front kick and the ball of his foot. There was some confusion as to what a stepping front kick is. The kick he wanted Jason to perform is also known as a front-foot front kick or a skipping front kick. He did a great job.

The next item on the schedule was individual speeches from 1:00 to 1:45 pm. Many of the candidates expressed similar sentiments: they never thought they would make it this far; they made some of the best friends of their whole lives while studying taekwondo; and taekwondo has been a character building experience as much as anything else.

The last item on the schedule was the belt ceremony from 1:45 to 2:00 pm. Each candidate received a new uniform. They jumped into the locker room really quick and changed. They looked really sharp when they came out in their new uniforms. Then they were called forward one by one to receive their new belts. There belts were embroidered with their names. Grand Master Byong-Cheol Kim tied each belt and congratulated each candidate with a bow and hand shake and a hug. Master Lim did all the talking during this portion of the schedule. Grand Master Kim seemed a bit overwhelmed. Master Kim led them in performing the "great bow." He explained it as a Korean custom usually reserved for parents and the deceased. It was performed by kneeling on the floor and bowing the forehead to the floor. All the candidates bowed to Master Kim and Master Kim bowed to all the candidates in unison. It was really very touching to witness.

Afterwards, my friend Heidi said to me: "I really want this in my life." I felt the same way, so that settles it. Heidi and I are going to take our Masters test together in about ten to fifteen years. You're all invited.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Mother's Day Garden Box

I've been dreaming and scheming about building a raised bed to plant a garden in for at least six years now. One thing or another always seemed to derail my plans. Well, this past weekend, I took a break from playing Farmville, and I planted a real garden.

I think it was when my seven-year-old daughter asked me if we could plant the flowers outside that provided the final catalyst to finally launch this project properly. The flowers that she was referring to are the flowers that she brought home from school for me for Mother's Day. Her brother brought some home, too, and she brought some home from her Girl Scout meeting earlier last week, too. So I had three neat little pots of geraniums on the kitchen counter.

And, so on Friday (05/07/2010) after I picked up my children from their day care provider, I dropped them off at the house with their Dad, and I went to my local discount department store to see if they had what I wanted in their garden department. I had drawn up a plan already, so I knew I needed twelve "cinder" blocks and 7 cubic feet of potting soil. The ground around my house is about 95% clay, nothing grows in it. The grass just sort of grows on top of it until it is totally soaked with rain, and then it drowns and moss moves in.

I had a little trouble hauling everything to the checkout stand and loading it in my truck, but I got it done. I was super extra careful to lift with my legs because I have hurt my back so many times. When I got everything home, I was too tired to unload it so I just left it in the truck.

The next day (05/08/2010), my husband caught sight of my supplies in the back of the truck, and he became very grumpy. He hates it when I start projects like this. He was just sure that it was going to look hideous. He really just wanted me to pull the weeds in the front yard, but there is a space in the front yard which is always just weeds, and I wanted to put something there, and this is what I decided to put there. He made me promise to take it out if he didn't like it. As if...

It was very important to me to get this box level because my last project, the sand box, is not level, and I can tell that it is not level, and it grates like nails on a chalk board every time I look at it. The ground slopes just a bit where I decided to plant this box, so there was little digging involved, but really just a little, just enough to disturb a little mole that made a very brief, squeaky appearance. I was really pleasantly surprised with how nicely the blocks went in - one right after another, level, level, level.

The children were supposed to be pulling weeds in the area adjacent to where I was working, but without a dedicated overseer, they slipped away to more interesting activities (running through the sprinkler). My husband was busying himself with the truck, fixing some thing or another. He took a break to check on my progress. He was very grumpy. "This side is further away," he complained. I had no idea what he meant by that. I was too tired. I explained that it wasn't finished and that it was going to have a back. "Nevermind, it's none of my business," he said, and he returned to his project.

I finished laying the blocks and back filled them a bit. I used a rake to smooth out the bark chips all around the box. Adding the bark chips that the box had displaced to the area in front of the box really evened out the slope quite nicely I thought.

I dug out the center a bit more, and started filling the wheelbarrow with the clay I had removed from the site. In all, it only filled the wheelbarrow once, but I think it was too heavy to have tried to move it all in one trip because when I tried to move the wheelbarrow, I twisted the tire right off its rim. It wasn't damaged exactly, but it was flat, so I emptied the wheelbarrow and took it back to the garage.

We have an air compressor for inflating tires, but this tire was tricky because it had no tube inside the tire. Why tires are designed this way? The tire had to make contact with every point all around the rim in order to create a seal that would hold the air. It required several attempts, but I was finally able to create a seal all the way around by wrapping a bungee cord around the circumference of the tire.

I moved the clay in three trips and dumped in the back yard where we have a bit of a low spot left over from my first attempt to build a sandbox. (There were two attempts at that sand box.) Then I filled the garden box with potting soil. I stepped back to admire my work, and I couldn't believe it. IT WAS CROOKED! I had been so careful to make sure the box was level, but I totally forgot to make sure that it was SQUARE! When my husband complained that one side was farther away, he meant that the right side of the box was farther away from the fence than the left side of the box. I was SO ANGRY! I stormed into the house, slammed the door as hard as I could, and kicked him in the shin.

Not really. I didn't really kick him. I did slam the door really hard, and I really wanted to kick him. It didn't matter that it wasn't his fault. I become irrational when I'm angry. He was still really very grumpy. We had started with three five-gallon buckets that we were going to fill with weeds that we pulled from the flower beds, if we combined our efforts, we probably only filled one bucket. He really wanted those weeds pulled for some reason. I don't really get it. The weeds are just little vine-y things with flowers on them that crawl around under the bushes. Who cares?

That night (05/08/2010), I slept uneasily, worrying all night about the prospect of taking that box apart and rebuilding it, so that I could make it square. I knew that I was too tired to attempt such a thing, but I also knew that if I didn't, then I would hate that box every time I looked at it - just like the sandbox.

The next morning (05/09/2010) was Mother's Day. My husband shooed our children out of our bedroom, so that I could sleep late which was awfully nice of him. When I got up, the children proudly showed me that they had cleaned their rooms. They had done a good job, too. I felt much better. A good night's sleep does wonders for one's outlook. I decided that I would not take the box apart. I decided that I would fill it with flowers, and it would be so beautiful that no one would notice that it was crooked.

I built some dividers for the box from some scrap wood that we had handy, and I took my seven-year-old daughter with me to the store to buy some flower and some herbs. We decided that we needed 24 flowers and ten herbs. We had great fun picking them out. My daughter's favorite was a pink daisy. I talked her into a dahlia even though it didn't look like anything because I think it might be beautiful when it grows up. She picked out a few pansies in different colors and some begonias and a strawberry. I picked out some hens and chicks because my mother used to plant those. For the herb garden we got peppermint, basil, chives, rosemary, purple sage, and some other stuff.

We got home, and we arranged them and planted them. This was by far the most fun - digging in the dirt with my little girl. I told my daughter stories about gardening with my mother. My mother's garden was larger than my whole front yard! It was a vegetable garden, but I remember my mother pouring over seed catalogues and ordering saplings and planting a little orchard when I was young, too.

I was dead tired at the end of the weekend. It didn't seem fair that I had to go to work the next day (05/10/2010). That night the flowers got a little rain, and I took a picture in the morning - hopefully the first of many.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Farmville Tips: Week Two

This week (05/10/10) I continue to focus on the layout of my farm, and I think I've settled on a basic design. I've also been very interested in expanding my farm. I've been using the ribbons to guide some of my goal setting, and I've been using the crop mastery feature to guide my choices on which crops to plant.

As mentioned before, the starting grid is 50 squares by 50 squares. This is enough space to plow 144 plots (12x12) and still have a remainder of 100 squares. If you place all of your plots side by side starting in the southern most corner of the map, then the 100 remaining squares will form a narrow strip along the northeast and northwest edges of your farm. This is the perfect place to plant trees.

I finally decided to organize my crops in areas measuring four plots by four plots. I decided this because the plots measure four squares by four squares and that kind of symmetry appeals to me. It turns out that the beginning farm will accommodate exactly nine of these areas. I planted nine different crops, and I was very pleased with the quilted effect this achieved.

Trees work best along the northeast and northwest edge of the farm because they are tall, and they will block your view of plots that you might plow behind them. Some Farmville farmers do without trees or they only use them as decoration. It is very true that most trees earn fewer coin per day per square than most crops, but I really like trees in the real world, and I want to earn all my ribbons, and I've got this narrow strip of land, so I decided to fill it with trees. I set a goal for myself to plant sixteen trees of each variety. This was pretty easy to do with the market trees, but most trees are only available as gifts, so those trees are more difficult to collect.

It didn't take long before I started feeling crowded. After I bought all trees available in the market, I found that I was ending my day of play with money in my bank, so what could I spend it on next. My neighbors all had buildings, and I wanted to earn the architect ribbon, but my farm was so small, so I finally noticed that spot in the market with expansions.

Expansions are available for FarmBucks or FarmCoins + neighbors. The first expansion requires 8 neighbors. I had that, so all I needed were the coins. I had that too, so I purchased the expansion. It added and area 8 squares by 58 squares to the south east edge and the south west edge of the farm, so I now had space for 196 plots (14x14). I planted them in such as way as to complement the existing quilted pattern.

After harvesting the crops in the center corner of the farm, I deleted the fallow land instead of plowing it. This turned it back into grass. Then, I fenced it in and filled it with the various animals I had collected, and I bought a chicken coop. I placed the chicken coop in the easternmost corner of this new fenced area so as not block my view of the crops around it. (This may or may not turn out to be the best place for this building.)

Fences measure 1 square by 5 squares, but they can be made to overlap one another in which case they will occupy 1 square by 4 squares. To fence in an area previous occupied by 16 plots I needed exactly 12 fences (3x4). I had to be careful that they did not overlap.

I chose to fence in the centermost area of my farm in order to prevent my avatar (the animated version of me) from walking all around the farm every time I planted or plowed something. I noticed other Farmville players achieved a similar result using bales of hay, but I was planning to fence in my animals anyway, so this seemed more efficient. The effect is identical; you can plow and plant a lot faster if you are not waiting for the little farmer to walk to each area.

Final Layout:
This leaves me enough space to plant 11 different kinds of crops in 180 plots as compared to 9 different kinds of crops in 144 plots. I now have space for 228 trees as compared to 196. The future looks bright.

Next Expansion:
I will not be ready for my next expansion until I have 10 neighbors or 20 FarmBucks. At some point I think I will have to buy an expansion. The final expansion requires 30 neighbors. But, FarmBucks are hard to come by. You only earn 1 FarmBuck each time you level up, so I'm going to keep trying to expand with neighbors until I'm just sure that I can't.

The next time I expand, I'm planning to turn over another area to fences, animals and buildings. It will probably be the northernmost corner of the farm and I will probably buy a dairy barn. I plan to do this again each time I expand. I'm planning to buy a horse stable after my third expansion. Those are harder to build because you need a lot of help from your friends.

Reference Table
Starter Farm12x12 
Homestead14x1410,000 FarmCoins and 8 neighbors
Family Farm16x1625,000 FarmCoins and 10 neighbors
Big Family Farm18x1850,000 FarmCoins and 13 neighbors
or 20 FarmBucks
Plantation20x2075,000 FarmCoins and 16 neighbors
or 20 FarmBucks
Big Ole Plantation22x22 
Mighty Plantation24x24500,00 FarmCoins and 30 neighbors
or 20 FarmBucks

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Farmville Tips: Week One

I'm not sure what inspired me to finally give Farmville a try this week (05/04/10), but I did, and I love it, but my first few days were pretty frustrating. The game doesn't come with much instruction. It guides you through the planting and harvesting of a few crops, visiting a few neighbors and asks you to come back tomorrow for the harvest. I learned a few things this week I wish I had known last week, so I'm offering them up to my fellow farmers.

I love grids and graphs and charts, so the first thing I wanted was some guidance on how to lay out my little plow squares and crops. I couldn't find any help anywhere, but with a little trial and error, I decided that the best way that I could have started was to have just gone totally solid from the starting point. This would have made it possible to eventually plant 144 different crops and still have enough space along the top and the right side for gifted trees and animals.

The Grid:
To be more specific, the starting grid is 50 squares by 50 squares. A crop occupies a space 4 squres by 4 squares. 50 divided by 4 is 12 with a remainder of two, so you can get 12 crops across and 12 crops down with a narrow stip of two squares along the back and right edges of your farm if you just keep building out from the starting point. A tree, a chicken, a goat, etc is one square. A horse and a cow are 2 squares by 2 squares.

I did read a tips somewhere (I forget where) that it is best to put your trees along the back and right side of your farm, so that they don't block your view of your crops. Fortunately, you can move them around if you don't like where they are.

I was totally bummed the first time I came back to my farm and found my crops withered away. I had to snoop around online a little, but I discovered that if it takes your stawberries four hours to ripen, then it also takes them four hours to wither. If you will not be able to check on your farm in the next 8 hours, don't plant strawberries.

Profit margin:
Since I'm just starting out, I'm all about making a lot of money, so that I can plant more crops and plant more trees. I'm less interesteded in earning experience points. I understand that my goals will change soon enough. Anyway, I was harvesting raspberries every two hours all day on Sunday, and it occured to me that it cost money every time I plowed the field after harvest, so I wondered if I was really making as much money as I could be. I set up a little spreadsheet table to divide the cost of the seed by the yield of the crop and I discovered that tomatillos were the most profitable crop I could be planting right now. Tomatillos are a limited time crop to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but they have profit margin of 600% and they ripen in 10 hours, so I can plant them twice a day - once in the morning before I go to work, and once in the evening before I go to bed. They are really a perfect crop for me right now.

Farm bucks v. farm coins:
This was a frustrating thing to realize. When I started, I had a few farm bucks, and I was earning farm coins like crazay, but all the cool stuff in the market place could only be purchased with farm bucks, so how could I earn some farm bucks? The bad news is that there are only two ways to earn farm bucks: (1) you earn one farm buck each time you level up and (2) you can buy them with real money. The good news is that all that cool stuff which appears to only be available for purchase with farm bucks will soon be available for purchase with farm coins as soon as you level up, so you don't really need to purchase farm bucks unless you're in a big hurry to advance through the game.