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Uh-huh November 27, 2014

Filed under: Long Distance Relationships — acgheen @ 12:00 am

Living across the country from the man you love can be a challenge. For this reason, my fiancé and I set up a routine: a nightly phone call in which to share events from our days, spend some time in prayer, and read a good book. We began (several years ago, now) with the “Harry Potter” series and, since then, have made our way through “The Hobbit”, “Emma”, “Pride and Prejudice” (I think) and most of the “Anne of Green Gables” books. It’s a deeply enjoyable ritual which I imagine will follow us long into our marriage… provided my midnight mumblings don’t prevent us from getting that far.

I admit that one of the reasons I enjoy the practice is that my fiancé has one of those naturally relaxing voices. It’s the sort that’s gentle and soothing (appropriate for a man going into nursing) and I often find myself drifting towards slumber as he reads. Under normal circumstances, this isn’t much of a problem. I slip off to dreamland and he tells me he loves me (despite the fact that I’m oblivious to his confession) and quietly hangs up the phone.

Unfortunately, such smooth transitions have not always been a hallmark of the practice. More than once (especially in the beginning), I fell asleep so stealthily that he didn’t noticed my absence. Instead of hanging up, he read on… and on… and on… only noticing my lack of attention at the end of twenty minutes and fifteen pages of labor. And more than once, I’ve forced him to reread entire chapters as penance for his act of ignorance.

As a method of self-defense, he took to making outrageous statements any time he thought that I might be sleeping. (Insults against Severus Snape are among his favorites.) If I groaned, whined, chided, or threatened him (usually with some made-up spell that left him dangling by his ankles), I was clearly still awake. If not, then it was time to stop.

Sadly, this method only works when I’m solidly in one camp or the other. There is a dreamy state which marks the territory in between waking and sleeping. And, in this delightfully blissful state, I’ve been known to resort to perfectly normal responses which may or may not be adequate indicators of my mental state. Usually, these replies cause no harm to either party and, by the clarity of my voice, he can tell whether I’m too far gone to understand the plot line. At the same time, they can produce what I affectionately refer to as “leverage” – a little something which can be held in reserve until a future date at which it might prove particularly useful.

My fiancés favorite bit of leverage was produced on an evening in which I’d taken a Benadryl before snuggling comfortably beneath my electric blanket. As the story is retold to me, a character in the book had mentioned that sapphires were really too dark to be used for an engagement ring. Noting that there were two on mine, he quite innocently asked, “Is that so?”

Since we had been reading for a while and I was really only catching every other word, I resorted to my default reply and mumbled the words, “uh huh”.

The following evening, my fiancé recounted the story to me as an explanation for his uncontrollable laughter the night before. I was mortified. After three months of research, he had picked out what, in my opinion, was the most beautiful ring on the planet. And in my drowsy state, I had maligned it.

While he promised that I was forgiven (and that the incident would not reappear as leverage), I couldn’t help wondering whether I needed a new default answer: “uh uh”. He now knows that if I’m sleepy enough, I will agree to anything. And that could open the door to unspeakable possibilities.


How My Kidneys Became Justification for Cycling November 20, 2014

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

I didn’t realize there was a problem. My back ached and that was all. It didn’t feel like a muscle problem, but the pain was not too intense. No reason for alarm.

It wasn’t until after dinner several evenings after the pain first appeared that I began to grow concerned. The sensation had grown from occasional sharp stabs to a persistent fire. I tried a bit of Aspercreme, but to no avail. Curled up on the floor wondering when (or if) I would be able to stand upright again, I made the decision that it was time to see a doctor.

As it turns out, that was exactly what I’d needed to do… about three weeks earlier. In retrospect, I had noticed a few minor symptoms of the infection. But since I wasn’t in discomfort, I wasn’t looking for an explanation. By the time I got to the doctor’s office the problem had become one of “epic” proportions. (In fact, the nurse even commented on my unusually high tolerance for pain.)

Lying on my back, with an IV plugged into my arm (a very weird sensation for an ordinarily healthy person), I began to contemplate the conceivably astronomical proportions of my pending medical bill. (One which turned out to be significantly greater on my new “affordable” health plan than it was on my old insurance.) I was fairly certain that the few hundred dollars stashed in my medical envelope wouldn’t cover the cost. As a Dave Ramsey devotee, I knew I’d have to alter my budget to make up for the shortfall. And the answer came in the form of my bicycle.

Truth be told, I love to ride. It’s a great recreational sport – easy on all of the joints which are suddenly showing their age. I make time for it on weekdays as part of my regular exercise regime and ride with the dream of someday competing in a Century. A few mathematical calculations performed after receiving the coverage statement from my insurance company, however, quickly proved that riding could be much more. In fact, if I were to use my bike as my primary form of transport for just two months, the money saved on gas would be sufficient to make up the gap between the money in my medical savings and the clinic’s bill.

I was only a few weeks into my new “ride everywhere” financial scheme when two things became apparent. The first was that I could actually get everywhere I needed to go in the same or, on some occasions, less time than it took me to drive. This was due in large part to the fact that cyclists in my State are not bound to the same laws as motorists. (There is always more than one safe, legal way through a red light!) The result, of course, was that I actually gained some free time each day by combining my workout with my commutes.

The second was that I was actually getting much more exercise by riding everywhere than I had when I had set aside specific hours for my rides. (On some days, my workout time was actually quadruple what it would have been otherwise.) In fact, it wasn’t long before my cycling had improved to such a degree that I hardly noticed that I was ascending “THE REALLY BIG HILL” until I was just a few feet from the top!
So here I am, with the medical bill fully paid, and I’m still riding just about everywhere. My only regret is that my kidneys had to be the ones to tell me that this was a good idea! But I can guarantee, I won’t need to be told twice!



An Introduction to Arnis November 13, 2014

The arnis sticks were, like many things in my life, an accident. I picked up three sets in a gift shop in the Philippines – two as gifts and one for myself. Handmade from fern wood, they had a nice look and feel to them. They also gave me an excuse for learning to expertly smack someone with a stick. (A bit like Rafiki or Yoda, but with more class.)

Since my small town doesn’t offer a large variety when it comes to marshal arts, I knew that I would have to find a way to train online. And, since I didn’t have a Dave Ramsey envelope labeled “stupid ideas that I get in foreign countries”, that training would have to come free of charge. Translation: I would look to YouTube and its many “experts” for guidance and direction.

Much to my delight, I did fine several videos on the subject. (If you’d like to view my favorites, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0XSkdcwt_A and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMWGz7Mi-QU) I was able to put together the basics based upon commonalities from each and began my practice. Holding the sticks loosely in my hands, I walked through the motions: simple sequences of strikes and blocks. It felt almost like dancing.

Indeed, some of the videos I’d seen made the use of arnis sticks appear to be more of an art form than a combat skill. The twists and spins (all of which were clearly so far beyond the skill of a beginner as to make me shy away) seemed more like an effort to show off than to actually defend one’s self. (My best guess as an amateur is that they serve the purpose of distracting the opponent and disguising one’s next move.)

After several repetitions, I began to feel comfortable with the motions and sped them up. I could feel the weight of the sticks shift with each smooth movement and the looser my grip became, the smoother the motions grew. I was reminded of the words of Princess Leia in “Star Wars: A New Hope”: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Unfortunately, the same could be said to hold true for loosening your grip. I made a forward thrust, felt the stick slide… and noticed that it was pointing directly at a lamp. In fact, everywhere I turned, the stick was pointing at something.

Uncomfortable with the combination of fragile items and my own less than perfect YouTube acquired skills, I silently packed the sticks away. There would be more skills to learn, but they would have to wait until a nicer day presented me with an opportunity to practice outdoors.
Despite my disappointment at having to quit, I had to admit that there were some perks to moving my future training to the yard. After all, the only thing better than being able to expertly smack someone with a stick is for your neighbors to know that you can expertly smack someone with a stick! (A little fear never hurt anyone!)


It’s All About Patterns: Why I.Q. Doesn’t Matter November 6, 2014

I’ve always had mixed emotions when it comes to I.Q. tests. Most of these have been related to a strong desire to discover that I’m an untapped genius and a deep fear of discovering that I’m really a dunce. Despite that, at the encouragement of a friend, I finally decided to give it a try and downloaded the American Mensa Brain Test App.

According to a Mensa press release dated 16 September 2010, “The Mensa Brain Test provides genuine Mensa questions of the variety used in official Mensa test papers.” This seemed encouraging, since it was likely that if I did well with the app, it was a reflection of my actual mental acuity.

Much to my disappointment, my first test went quite badly. I did brilliantly spotting the patterns in the shapes and in the words, but completely bombed on the math. The result was an I.Q. low enough to be a genuine embarrassment.

Convinced that I really couldn’t be that stupid, I tried again. This time, I did marginally better. I reviewed the quiz and took note of the explanations for each answer. I was at least able to secure an “average” I.Q. rating which, if nothing else, meant that I wasn’t a complete idiot. (Though it did dash my dreams of becoming a child prodigy – a dream which probably should have been crushed by my 30th birthday.)

I set the app aside for several months and thought nothing more of it until I began re-watching the British TV series, “Sherlock”. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but on that particular evening I felt compelled to give the practice test another try.

Again, I got an “average” rating due primarily to the math. In fact, I got nearly every question correct with the exception of the numbers. And that’s when I saw it: the number puzzles weren’t about math… they were about patterns. Patterns with shapes. Patterns with words. Patterns with numbers.

I tried the test again and watched as the I.Q. meter climbed… and climbed… and climbed some more until I was within the range of actual Mensa members. Of course, this could have been a coincidence, so I took the test again several times over the course of the next few days.
Each time, the results were nearly the same. And my heart sank. High I.Q. it seems, isn’t a matter of intelligence, but of observation. It’s an ability to see patterns. And it isn’t necessarily innate. I.Q. can be developed. It’s a party trick.

Of course, I’m not ready to discount the potential that exists in an ability to recognize patterns (particularly subtle ones). It’s easier to learn when you spot the patterns quickly. But just because something is easier for some people than for others doesn’t mean that those people are more intelligent, skilled, or knowledgeable than anyone else. (I had an innate gift for musical expression when I was younger, but no one who has heard either my sister or myself play will argue that I am the better player. Through hard work, she developed the skill and now plays at a level far beyond anything which I will ever be likely to achieve.) Raw ability doesn’t equal prowess. Developed ability does. Hard work and a willingness to apply oneself to learning are what make the difference. I.Q. simply doesn’t matter.


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