Monday, December 11, 2006

Brown Belt!

This was a scary test. I missed three of the last five weeks of classes trying to let a foot injury I sustained just before the last test finally heal. It's not easy getting me to stop doing something for so long :D Again, I was allowed to double-test and I was really concerned that I wasn't ready. Brown belt is the the first rank of the advanced echelon and was another cumulative test. That is, I had to do all my forms again, including the one I learned this last cycle: Toi-Gye. I haven't perfected it yet and it's still not ingrained to where I can just do it.

In addition to demonstrating proficiency in basic techniques, I had to do sparring, prepare a ho sin sool (self-defense demonstration) and write a paper about what Tae Kwon Do means to me (see below). Brandon was also testing for brown belt which was a bit awkward because he's always been ahead of me in belt ranking. Master Thomas decided to let him double-test, though, and he was told he could earn his senior brown belt if he could do a flying sidekick over four people and break the blue board. I was one of the people he jumped over so I didn't see the kick, but I heard it! His mom got a picture of it which I'll post if I can get a copy.

It's amazing to think that I'm 4th gup. I even have a title of sorts now: Dan Bo; it means "black belt candidate" and now the kids can call me Dan Bo Rachele instead of just Miss Rachele. When we bow in and out of class, I was recognized by the phrase sun bae nim gae which means "face the senior color belt" but now it's dan bo nim gae. Can you tell I'm totally stoked by all of this? It really does help to attend eight classes a week (four adult, four advanced) and teach another twelve (six tots classes and six kids classes).

What Tae Kwon Do Means to Me

I began training in Tae Kwon Do about two years ago as part of an adult continuing education program run by the local school district near my home in San Antonio. It started out as two classes a week for eight week and I was hooked from class one! Mostly I was excited to have found such an activity on my own, to be the only one in my group of friends in martial arts, to have something that I could work to be good at that was just mine—a personal journey even. What keeps me coming into the dojang four days a week is simple: I find immense relaxation and enjoyment in the practice; I get to teach others and I know I’m doing something to better myself.

I thought initially when I started practicing Tae Kwon Do that it would be a good physical outlet for stress, all the kicking and punching, pounding on bags and pads, sometimes people. But as it turns out, I’ve found it to be less about aggression and more about relaxation. I’m able to forget the stresses in my life for awhile and focus on my training and have fun. I’m actually more energized and alive after a good workout rather than exhausted. Any anger or sadness I might have been feeling usually melt away as I immerse my thoughts into self-improvement. I can go home feeling happy and refreshed, ready to take on the next day’s activities.

Another part of the pleasure I get from Tae Kwon Do is helping others improve, especially the kids. It’s extremely rewarding to see them try so hard and to be able to assist them in their own journeys, knowing that what they learn now at such early ages will give them an edge in the world. I really appreciate the opportunity to be an assistant instructor—not only do I get the chance to teach some of the material and sometimes even run parts of the classes but it keeps the curriculum fresher in my mind which in turn improves my own practice. It’s my hope that I help to make the classes somewhere the kids want to come back to each week.

Overall, though, I love practicing Tae Kwon Do because I know I’m doing something that is bettering my whole person. There are the obvious physical benefits: it gets me out from in front of the computer, gives me a chance to exercise, has resulted in my losing weight and now keeps me in pretty good shape. Additionally, it has helped my mental and spiritual well-being as it requires determination, dedication and a will to improve. It would be easier to just come to class twice a week but I want to be great at this—I’ve found something I want to pursue as far as I can. I now have a focus and clarity on life that had been lacking for a long time. I am confident that the skills I learn and hone in Tae Kwon Do will beneficially affect all aspects of my life.

Today, hundreds of classes later, I have gained a deep respect for this art and those who practice it. I truly strive to live by the tenants of Tae Kwon Do, to be centered and to use my practice as a ground in my life, something I can turn to and enjoy even on my worst days. It gives my life structure and goals to work towards. I am unbelievably fortunate to have found something I love doing and have done well. Tae Kwon Do is a way of life of which I am proud to be a part.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cat Personalities

Cats definitely have personalities. I think people who don't like cats must either a) be allergic b) never spend any time with the cats they've had or c) somehow got scarred for life by some truly angry cat (who was probably pissed it never got any attention). My cats 'love' me as much as cats can, I would think. They miss me when I'm gone. They come to see me or are waiting at the door when I come home. They come in the bathroom when I take a shower and get up on the bed with me at night.

And they each have very distinctive behaviors and habits. My baby girl, Copper, has this thing for sleeping on a certain plastic bag, is nuts for any kind of string or cat nip and is always wanting in the garage.

calico cat sleeping on a plastic bag
Copper sleeping on her baggie
Ziegen, my Mr. Cat, is the only one who is at all vocal. He has this habit of having to go eat after any time that I pet him or give him attention. He freaking loves to drink from the tap in the bathroom. He sleeps on his back when he's not sleeping on top of my cabinets.

Ziegen playing in a box with Gavin
Gavin, well I haven't had as much time to learn her eccentricities but in so far, she is crazy for crumpled up paper. She's always going into my paper recycling bin and stealing paper balls. If she hears you crumple up paper, she is all over it.

black cat curled up in a waste basked
Gavin sleeping in my paper bin

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Maybe little pinch?

I love the crab commercial for the Honda Element! The guy who created the crab concept has a whole myspace page about it and also has a 'save the crab' site because now he's apparently out of work. I want a 'maybe little pinch' shirt but he only has 'i pinch' shirts. Anyway, this is one of the best commercials ever.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006


Lasik was the best $4390.00 I've ever spent. As someone who's needed corrective lenses since age 9, it's a wonderful freedom to just be able to see the clock in the middle of the night. My pre-surgery presciption, for contacts, was a -5.75 in my left eye and -6.00 in my right eye. Pretty much I could not see anything clearly past about 12" in front of me. Corrected, my vision was about 20/15.

I had thought about getting my eyes fixed for several years, first when I heard about PRK back in the mid 90s but that always seemed too risky to me. I started hearing more and more about Lasik and how using the laser provides a lot of precision because it's calibrated on a machine and doesn't rely solely on human control.

Towards the end of 2005, I realized I was going to have close to $900 left in my flexible spending account and decided to at least talk to my optometrist about what lasik would entail.

I had my surgery on 12 January 2006 at LaserView, performed by Dr. Tom Walters. I had to be there at 10:30 am for a 12:00 pm operating time. They needed to check my eyes again to make sure my prescription hadn't changed. If you wear contacts, you have to stop wearing them all together as far before your surgery as possible to ensure that the shape of your eyes go back to how they would be naturally. I wore my glasses for about five weeks.

After I got the green light to go forward with the surgery, I started to get a bit apprehensive. What if something did go wrong? Someone has to be in that small percentage who has complications and the pages and pages of possibilities you have to read and sign a waiver for before hand is unnerving. Addtionally, I apparently have large pupils so I also had to sign a waiver that I understood my night vision could become worse because of the surgery.

Well, I decided to proceed and they start by putting all kinds of drops in my eyes every few minutes to numb them. Then they gave me a Vallium. The doctor next marked these black dots on my eyes with a marker but I don't know what they were for.

After about an hour of this, I got prepped for surgery with a hair net and lots of iodine swabbed all over my closed eyes.

The Lasik procedure is a two step process. The first step is for the doctor to cut the corneal flap. I opted for the all laser option so a laser made my flap using the Intralase machine versus a microkeratome blade; this option is about $400 more expensive than traditional lasik but it is much more precise and has better results.

In order to cut the flap, a suction cup type device is placed on your eyeball to keep it open for about a minute so you can't blink. You're told to look straight up at this light and the laser then cuts the flap.

After the flaps have been cut, there's about a 20 minute wait where you keep your eyes closed. It supposedly makes the flap easier to work with for the second step in the process. At this point, you go to another machine, the one that will do the actual corrective procedure.

Again the suction cup device is placed on the eye ball and you're told to stare at a light. This is where it gets a little freaky because once the flap is lifted, you're pretty much blind in that eye. The laser started zapping my eye and it smelled like burning hair, something I didn't expect. Again, it was a very short amount of time for each eye, maybe two minutes. And it really doesn't hurt that much but the suction cup device is uncomfortable.

The amazing thing was that right after the surgery was performed, I could see; it was blurry but things were in focus for the first time! I was instructed to keep my eyes closed for the rest of the day (which wasn't hard since I had the Vallium and just slept mostly). My mom was there to help me out. You have to put in lots and lots of drops over the following two weeks and use steroid drops for four weeks. I was a bit puffy after my nap :D

But now, my eyes are great! My vision is 20/20. I'm very pleased and would encourage others thinking about this procedure to talk to your optometrist. Many places also have financing if you can't afford to shell out a couple thousand on the spot. There was no visible sign that I'd even had surgery and recovery time was less than a day. I was sparring in my Tae Kwon Do class the next night (with protective goggles).

Friday, July 7, 2006

Mercy Killing

My cat, Copper, woke me up at 3:30 this morning by scratching on the metal blinds (her favorite method).  I called to her but she was in one of her crazy cat moods.  I got up and she started running around and jumping on counters, very hyper.  I think noticed that my other cat was looking at something on the ground.  I poked it and it felt...squishy.  I picked it up with a paper towel and took it into the kitchen for a look.  It was a skink.  A very mutilated skink.  I thought it was dead but then I saw its little lungs breathing.

I looked it over and thought that maybe it had a chance if it was still alive.  It didn't appear to have an puncture wounds or broken bones (as much as I could tell).  But I watched it for a couple minutes and it really didn't move and it seemed to be in pain.  I decided that I should put it out of its misery.  That's a lot harder to do than I thought.  I took it over to my cutting board and got out my sharpest knife to cut off its head.  I tried several times to do it but I just couldn't.  It was too upsetting.  I don't think I could stand to see its little head decapitated or even worse, if I didn't get it done the first time.

I then remembered a story my mom told me about a bird she found mutilated by the cats.  She couldn't kill it either so she came up with the idea to put it in the freezer.  So I put the skink in the freezer.  I hope it was not a harsh death.  Poor little guy.  Very sad.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Motherboard Woes

About two weeks ago, I decided to get a new harddrive because my main one, an IBM Deskstar 130GB IDE drive, had started making a loud whirring noise and I've been having unexplainable problems with my system locking up. I thought initially that it was overheating, but after getting some new fans—including installing a new fan on my video card along with some heat sinks to the chips—I kept having the problem.

My Gigabyte GA-7VT600 1394 board supports serial ATA so I went to Fry's to get a new drive. They had an awesome deal on a Maxtor 300GB SATA internal drive (Diamond 10) for $99.00. I bought it; installed it; formatted my partitions and loaded Windows XP. It's a great drive and though I know I do not need 300GB (I really don't) at least I can better split things up for organization. So, in order to get my files from my old primary HDD, I would switch the power from my secondary 30GB games drive to the old drive and boot the OS on the old drive then transfer stuff to the new drive. I thought I had copied over everything I wanted but then realized there were a few more files and things to transer.

I went into the case and switched the power between the drives and decided to also see what kind of RAM my system has because I couldn't remember. I pulled out the stick and saw that it is DDR 400, 512 MB. I've also been considering getting more RAM since what I do when developing is have several programs running simultaneously and that seems to suck too many resources for my liking and it's slow. Anyway, when I went to put the RAM stick back in, I managed to put it in backwards :( I turned on my box and immediately smelled that horrible burning smell coming from my computer. I shut it off as fast as I could but the damage was done. I burned up some chip that I don't even know what it does. My box will come on, gets to the RAM test and then the screen goes blank. I can't get into the BIOS or anything. *sigh*

I was lamenting this predicament to a friend and he said burning up a motherboard is a sort of rite of passage. I've been putting systems together and working on computers for many years but this is my first catastrophe. I debated for about a week as to whether I wanted to buy a new mb and processor or just try to replace this one. I ended up finding a good deal for the same mb on eBay: used for $66.00. That's pretty much the cheapest option at this point and I'll have a functioning second system when I do decide to upgrade.

Update - 9 July 2006
I have my machine up and running again. I thought I was buying the same motherboard but ended up getting the one that isn't '1394' which also means it didn't have SATA on board. But I found a PCI SATA card for $11.99 from After yet another WinXP install, it's all good.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Blue Belt Test

Ready for Blue Belt Test
Tonight my Tae Kwon Do school, North Austin Tae Kwon Do, had its quarterly belt test. I showed up early and helped out a bit with the kids' tests since I am an assistant instructor. I spend roughly 16 hours a week at the dojang and I love every second of it. :)

This first picture is of me before the test. Master Thomas' wife took photos of everyone for the Web site first. There's not much to say except that a) I passed and b) I doubled-tested again. I am so stoked! They just decided that blue belt and above can wear black doboks.

So the other picture is of me performing the form Do-San. I was then asked to perform Won-Hyo (for the blue belt part). For breaks, I had to do a front snap kick—I've broken the black board with this kick in class. And for the blue belt portion, I had to break an orange board with a modified roundhouse kick where you hit with the ball of your foot.

Performing Do-San Hyung

Thursday, June 8, 2006


I came across a priceless example of Engrish over the weekend. It was the instructions for this photo booth type machine that makes a drawing of you called Gogh's Workshop; I saw it at the Main Event in Shenandoah, outside Houston, Texas, while waiting for the NIN concert to start. You just have to read it, although my personal favorite phrase is 'Only imagine make feel happy.'

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Tuesday, June 6, 2006

NIN weekend

So this past weekend—June 2, 3 and 4—I saw Nine Inch Nails three times in a row: San Antonio (Section 303, Row B, seat 33); Dallas (PIT); Houston (Center, Row JJ, seat 46). This was my third time to see them during the past year, having seen them in October 2005 in San Antonio and March 2006 in Austin as well.

All these seats were damn near perfect. Both times, the reserved seats were at the front of a section, in the center, unobscured and awesome view of the whole show and plenty of room to jam.

Saturday night in Dallas was my first (and last because it was so damn perfect) experience in a mosh pit. We got there about an hour before the gates even opened at 6pm. Once inside, we bought some shirts then made a beeline for the pit to get good positioning. Well, apparently they only give the pit bracelets at one of the venue entrances so we had to haul ass across the stadium then get to the pit. All in all, we had pretty good ranking, about seven people back from the railing. Of course we had to wait about two hours for the first band to start (TV on the Radio who are a lot better than Bauhaus imho). Then Bauhaus didn't start until almost 9:00. Everything started late but whatever.

So there was this dude who came pushing his way up to the front because I guess his friend was there and he brought some beer and hot dogs and then he stood right in front of me! And he was like 6' tall. I was like, I'm totally pwning this guy when NIN comes on. I had somewhat of an idea of what the mosh pit would be like but it was a lot different than what I expected.

When NIN came out, everyone surged forward and, lucky for me, I was in the second row which was perfect! I was right behind the people on the rail so I was getting squished against people and not metal. This picture of Trent is the best one I could get with my damn camera and all the bouncing. I didn't figure out until the next night how to decrease the shutter time. But anyway, OMG it was awesome to be THAT CLOSE. And it was so fun! I totally held my own against all those dudes and stayed right up at the front the entire show. Luckily too, my friend had my back so I didn't get groped or anything.

I thought there would be more actual 'moshing' but you could barely move at all, getting to bounce a little but that's it. It was mostly pushing back on other people and trying not to fall :D I won't ever go in a pit again because it would just be a lesser experience because I can't think of anything that could top this! Trent even got a bloody nose and was bleeding; it was awesome.

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Update 8 June 2006: So after relating this story to a friend of mine, he insisted that I was NOT in 'the mosh pit' because those just happen. I was, for lack of a better phrase, in the squish pit :D

Monday, June 5, 2006

stuff on my cat

This is one of the first few pictures we took of Copper--Baby Girl :D I'm posting this to try out Google's new Picasa picture program that has a 'Blog This!' button and just uploads stuff...I guess? I'm trying it out :D

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Thursday, March 9, 2006

w00t Green Belt

I am so stoked. Tonight was our quarterly belt test at my dojang, North Austin Tae Kwon Do, and I was invited to test for my senior orange belt. I arrived early to practice while the kids belt test was still going on. I felt really strong, confident going into the test—I knew I knew my stuff.

I was called forward by Master Thomas to test with the yellow belt. We went through basic moves, kicks and strikes we're supposed to know. The only thing I messed up on was that he told us to do side block and I sort of blanked out and started doing low block. Anyway, then we did our forms. Mine was Dan Gun, a 21 step form named for the Holy Dangun, legendary founder of Korea in 2333 b.c. Next was self-defense and sparring demonstrations. We are also required to know some academic knowledge; I was asked what "Dan Gun" meant; what Ku Ki Bey Ray means (face the flags, which we do before and after class in respect); and lastly who General Choi Hong Hi was to TKD.

Once finished, we were instructed to sit back down in line. But then the three judges (Master Thomas and the Jo Kyo Chads) started talking back and fourth amongst themselves. To my delight, Master Thomas asked me if I wanted to take the green belt test too! I said, "Yes,sir." and stood up to take my place in line to test along side the blue belts as green is the first Gup of the intermediate levels.

Sliding kicks, falls, rolls, I did it all but was a little nervous that my performance was weak. I did feel pretty good about my form, Do-San, seeing as how I learned it only three weeks ago. But I've been practicing diligently! I think maybe the fact that I held the last step, a horse stance/knife-hand strike, for quite awhile as the blue belts finished their forms probably helped me a lot. We then did the sparring and self-defense required and I got to fall for the blue belt. :D

In the end, I was triumphant, "skipping" a belt in essence and going from Orange to Green. I love TKD so much. It's really the first thing I've learned and practiced that has felt like it's mine. That is, none of my friends or family got me into it—they all ask me about it. Afterwards at dinner, I was asked if I plan to go all the way to black belt. That would be a "yes"!