Category Archives: uncategorized

summer, and swimming, have returned

Okay, I know it isn’t really here until June for most peeps, but:

1) the kids finished their year-end fill-in-the-stupid-bubble test and that’s the end of the “school year” for these homeschooled maniacs.

2) we went for our first swim of the season, woot!

And 3) it’s 90 freaking degrees today.

If that all doesn’t add up to summer, I don’t know what does.

Into the pond!  First Luc….

first swim 2014 1

Then, Sophie:

first swim 2014 2

I love my pond.  Although a friend recently terrified me with stories of the “brain eating amoeba“.  Jesus, like I didn’t have enough to worry about. Thanks a lot, friend-you-know-who-you-are.  Thanks a fucking lot.

Back into the Denial Tower(tm) I go!  I love my pond!

first swim 2014 3

In case you can’t see it, Sophie is giving you a peace sign.

first swim 2014 4

And that’s Luc, floating on his back behind her.  Oh man, there is no way to deal with 90+ degree North Carolina Summer day better than a brain eating amoeba breeding pit spring fed pond.  Farmer’s Almanac says this summer, after that super cold winter, is going to be a killer.  Yikes.  I need to get the air-conditioner set up, stat.

I made the bind on marichyasana D!!

It was a totally crappy Mari D, BUT STILL! I was so surprised! I was just moving through seated and thought, I wonder how far my hands are these days? I actually shouted in surprise when my fingers touched. Sophie rushed over and snapped a couple of super blurry documentary photos for proof….

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Look! Actual finger to finger contact!

Now, I know I’m hunched over something terrible, and my arm is barely hooked on my knee, and oh, my god, please ignore the mess on the floor behind me.

But fingers! Are touching!

For comparison, here is beautiful example of Mari d, not me, obviously

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I would never have thought it possible that I could be in this pretzel shape. Ever.  Never.  My fingers have made a 4.5 year journey to get around my back to each other. There is still a ways to go before the pose actually looks good, and I can only do one side…but, but, I did a freaking Mari D!

Maybe my plateau isn’t as completely plateau-y as I thought.

the post Heisig slump and the trail of discarded japanese learning methods

In Japanese language learning circles, there is a phenomena known as the post-Heisig slump.  By Heisig I mean going through the 2000+ kanji in his Remembering the Kanji as I describe here.  I had read about the slump, various J-learners on forums and blogs talking about feeling lost as to how to proceed after finishing RTK.  I thought I would avoid such silliness.

I didn’t.

Basically, when you get done with Heisig and the kana, you feel like you’ve just learned something big (and you have) but it is totally useless.  I could look at piece of Japanese writing like, say, this one:

…and be able to identify 90% 0f the characters…but read none of it.  How frustrating!  I mean, I can throw down an English word for most of the kanji here but that will give maybe 10% comprehension , especially  considering words that combine two or more kanji, the result of which doesn’t mean what any of its individual kanji mean.  So, essentially zero comprehension.  Heisig gets you to the starting line.

What to do next?  Khatzumoto over at alljapaneseallthetime learned through immersion and by, apparently, jumping into sentences.  Based on the site Anti Moon, where Polish speakers were learning English in this way, he reckoned he would learn 10,000 sentences a be fluent (he got to 8000 or so) and he was.  Way cool.  He later switched to MCDs or multiple clozed deletions as an easier, faster “sentence” (they are basically fill in the blanks in blocks of text) and now says this is his preferred method for various reasons.  I read all this, nodding my head, okay, okay, I’ll give it a go.

I bombed. I tried both sentences and MCDs but got no traction.  I didn’t know what I was looking at, it was like that first look at a 20 stroke kanji—goobledygook.  Disheartening.  Exhausting.  And in learning a language on your own, being disheartened is the kiss of death, because you’ll quit.  I needed something else, I didn’t know what.

Maybe some grammar?  I mean, tell me something about what I am looking at when I stare at Japanese text, please!  Khatz is pretty frowny face on studying grammar (unless you’re having fun doing it) but I needed some signposts, something.  I picked up Japanese the Manga Way: an illustrated guide to grammar and structure, and I highly recommend it.  Short little sections on various grammar points with manga examples, clear break downs, charts, approachable tone, well designed.  This helped.  I can’t read a lot of it at a time without glazing over, but little bit by little bit comprehension dawns.  Repetition helps, too.

Which makes this the perfect book to leave in the bathroom, as each section takes just the right amount of time to get in a bit of Japanese while you’re, um, doing your business.

Here’s an example:

Bite size chunks, well explained.  And since it uses examples from the same handful of manga, in story-order, as you work through the book, you start following the stories as well, getting to know the characters, laughing at the jokes.  The book builds from simple to complex grammar as it goes, and does a good job of explaining the differences between formal and casual Japanese.  Really a very well organized book.

I also picked up a few sections of Michel Thomas’s “Total Japanese” from audible with some credits that were about to expire.  I thought the kids and I could listen in the car.  And we could.  It was okay.  I definitely learned some vocab and some basic sentence structure (for polite, formal Japanese, which is kind of useless for reading manga or watching anime, but there you go) so it wasn’t a loss.

But it was pretty boring.  Not as bad as the Pimsleur we checked out of the library.  That was  torture, we couldn’t get through one disk of that, “TURN IT OFF, MOM!”  But even so, I didn’t end up downloading all the available lessons of the Michele Thomas.  I may go back to it, it’s possible, it wasn’t awful.  But so far I haven’t.  Not sure I would recommend unless you got your hands on a copy for free or super-cheap and had nothing better to do…I don’t know, just listening to straight up Japanese podcasts or whathaveyou might be more useful long term.

Little did I know, leaving Michel Thomas behind would only be the beginning of my trying and discarding various learning methods as I struggled to get my feet under me post-Heisig.  On the road to learning Japanese, there is a lot of road-kill.

Human Japanese, an ipad app, was actually the first thing we tried when we were just fooling around with Japanese hiragana way back at the beginning.  This is a textbook with a friendly tone, easy to understand explanations, and clickable audio files for all the Japanese.  Nice culture notes, too.  We started learning Japanese by reading this one out loud.

But I ended up dropping it.  1) Vocabulary lists just don’t work for me.  Yes, I could enter them into anki and make up my own mnemonics, but it’s too much trouble.  If there is too much friction, it just won’t get done.  And since every other chapter is basically a long vocab list, things ground to a halt.  2) No kanji.  I understand why they did this, but for me, it didn’t make sense.  I knew the kanji and wanted to learn how to use it.  No good.  Although I see they have an Intermediate version now that includes kanji.  But I think I’ve moved on.

But it did seem like for me, trying to go from kanji to sentences or MCDs, a la Khatz, had been too big a jump.  I needed something in between:  words.  After all, a Japanese child learning kanji already has words—she can speak the language.  Compared to that, I had done it backwards (which is fine, I’m not a Japanese child).  Once I zeroed in on this goal (something like,  learn 1000 words!) I thought I had a handle on my next language learning target.  The ultimate goal was learn enough to be able to start reading, and then the reading itself would be the primary teacher.  1000 words seemed like a doable start.

Next I found Memrise, a very cool webpage that uses anki-style flashcard SRS with crowd sources mnemonics for learning all kinds of things.  Including Japanese. People create their own decks and then others pile on and enrich them with photos, audio, funny memes, etc.  I really like the energy of the place and the way the site is put together.  Upbeat and fun.  I thought for sure this was going to do me right.

But I drifted away.  The site seems to load slowly for me, giving a drag to doing reps that was more of a turn off than I thought it should be, but there it was.  Friction is friction.  Also, kanji is not a focus, at least in the decks I was trying out.  Despite liking it (except for the slow loads) I found I wasn’t going back.

I switched to iKnow.  iKnow is another SRS flashcard, type site, a little more slick and polished than Memrise, and a pay-for service (cheap, but still).  They have what they call the “Core 1000” meaning, I reckon, the most used 1000 words (it actually goes up to 6000 words).  Learn these, in 100 words chunks, and you will be on your way.  That sounded good, that’s just what I had been looking for.  Sign me up.

And it’s pretty terrific.  iKnow is Anki on steroids.  Each target word has a photo, a sentence or two and high quality audio to go with it, plus they’ll hit you with the kanji, or the audio, or the meaning, or the fill-in-the-blank on a sentence, all for the same word, so you get it from all angles.  The sentences are really useful, as I found myself making links between the sentences (you hear them over and over so you end up memorizing them) and the grammar I was reading.  That was satisfying.  And the app (I was doing this mostly on the ipad) is super fast with friendly little sound effects. (Actually Sophie hates the sound effects and made me turn them off.  I liked them, though.)

I did 200 words, woot.  And then…I guess I got bored.  Getting bored is a big problem with learning a language on your own, almost as bad as being disheartened.  One problem was that after 100 words iKnow deemed I had “mastered” them (yeah, right) and that’s it, you don’t see “mastered” words any more.  Which means I’m forgetting, have forgotten, the words I put all that time into.  That is disheartening.  I mean, I probably sort of remember some of them—but they aren’t being used, so they aren’t going to stick.

The name of the game seems to be get enough Japanese in my head to be able to start reading and then reading itself will be the periodic exposure that keeps me from forgetting what I know.  But putting something in doesn’t mean it’s IN.  Without periodic reinforcement, everything fades.

I thought of keeping my “mastered” words fresh by doing them in Memrise.  But I’m still doing Anki reps on Heisig to keep from forgetting the kanji I learned…add to that Memrise and iKnow…flashcard overload!!!  Not fun!!!  All for a few hundred words!

But what else could I do?  I mean, at this point, I just need to find something and stick with it.  Quit whining and learn some Japanese, already!

Which brings me to Textfugu and Wanikani.

Textfugu is the Japanese textbook created by Koichi of Tofugu, which is a great Japanese culture blog, very funny and interesting.  Textfugu is friendly, funny, with bite-size pieces, clickable audio, and it encorporates kanji.  Plus, there are built in anki decks for vocubulary, Yay!  No vocabulary lists!   All the good bits of the two texts I had already looked at (Human Japanese and Japanese the Manga Way) plus fixes for all the downsides I had had with them.  It’s a for-$$ site, but not too bad, and certainly for the amount of work put in, Koichi deserves to get paid.  I’m on Season 3, and enjoying it.  A fair amount of what I’ve done so far is review from my other various sources, but it’s pulling all the bits I’ve picked up together in an orderly fashion which is nice.  I’m sticking with it so far, we’ll see how far I go.

Where Textfugu aims to teach grammar, Wanikani is the kanji/vocab learning side of things.  It’s another flashcard SRS with 1700 kanji and 5000 vocabulary words, nice audio, funny mnemonics, slick interface, fast response, and pretty charts and colors to keep you going.  It’s very well organized, building on itself in a methodically, easy to understand way.  So far I really like it, though I’m only on level 2.  I would definitely recommend it.

But wait, didn’t I already learn the kanji?  Why would I do this again?

Well, as I’ve said before, Heisig is a solid first pass on a complicated piece of learning.  Heisig gives you the kanji shapes and an English keyword, but nothing on how to pronounce them or how they are used in actual words.  Wanikani fills in both of these blanks.  Bam.  A second pass to add more detail and content to the framework already in place.  Plus it adds those 5000 words (which are usually kanji + some hirigana, or possibly muliple kanji).  Double bam!  Sounds like just what I was looking for.

I do wish it had sentences, like iKnow.  But Textfugu has a sentence deck as part of what it’s doing, so I’m hoping that the sentence side of things comes into play there, making a nice Japanese sandwich for me to eat.

Koichi estimates it takes between 1 and 2 years to get through Wanikani.  I’m kind of hoping I’ll be on the shorter side of that since I’ve done Heisig.  He also says you should be able to start reading some simple things after a few months.  That sounds good.  Japanese is such a huge, amorphous task, having a map and guide feels really useful.  Even more, having a sense of measurable progress seems to be a huge part of staying motivated.  Just diving into immersion and swimming freestyle every day…it was hard to keep the faith that I was getting somewhere.  Khatz talks about this a lot, the intermediate blues.  But I like having this structure to keep me focused and not bored.  We’ll see if it hurts me to have someone hold my hand through the garden of Japanese for a while.

I’ll check back in with updates on my Japanese Project in a few months.

props for an ashtangi?

Ashtanga folk are known, well, for many things, ahem, but one of those things is their typical disdain for props.  For those of you non-yogi types, props are things like blocks, straps, and blankets that yoga practitioners might use to help them get into a pose that they can’t quite manage yet, such as placing blocks on the floor to lean on in trikonasana (triangle pose) if you can’t quite reach.

You can see here that the yogi is leaning on a blue yoga block.  The dog is optional for this pose.

Iyengar, one of Krishnamacharya’s famous students, is known for his liberal use of props and his meticulous attention to alignment—props help maintain alignment when one’s flexibility or strength is not up to the task.  Jois, another of Krishnamacharya’s famous students, and the founder of Ashtanga yoga, valued breath linked with movement over alignment (not that alignment is unimportant, just that it is rated lower on the list).  With all that breathing and movement, props tend to get in the way, so ashtangi’s tend to just modify as best they can and move on.  “Practice and all in coming” and all that.

Lately I’ve been using a couple of blocks to enable my dodgy jumpbacks, since I can’t lift my bottom off the floor high enough to get my body through my arms—blocks give me a couple more inches to work with and apparently my bum can use a couple more inches.  Don’t say anything.

But back in my twenties I did some Iyengar training and used lots of props, blankets, bolsters, straps, the works.  As part of that time I got, for fun, I got one of these:

Look, ma, no hands!

Okay, not one of those exactly, but I just searched the internet and it would seem that the actual thing that I do have no longer exists, or, at least, isn’t on the net, which as we all know, is the same thing.  But the prop-doo-dad  I have has that same sling thingy bit and it attached to the wall or the ceiling, and it also has this padded bar thing and some straps with hooks and caribeeners and shit I can’t even identify.  It’s all black, and has furry bits, and totally looks like some kind of crazy sex toy.  I think this is the product that has taken its place in the market:

aerial yoga, anyone?

Anyway.  Fast forward and I had two babies (no connection to the hanging sex trapeze yoga sling) and we moved from the old farm house we lived in for years pre-baby, and into the yurt, which is half the farm house’s square footage, and, as a result, we got rid of a shit ton of stuff, and put another shit ton of it into storage.  The storage stuff went into this structure Paul threw up using a 20 x 20 carport roof he inherited from his mom’s old place, enclosed with a bunch of doors he got at the used building supply store for $10 a pop.  Into this fun-house structure went boxes, tools, furniture, and all manner of weird stuff and then, of course, because of babies and life and just everything, we forgot most of what was down there.  We started calling it the Mold Pit, because hey, we live in North Carolina and the drainage isn’t great on that part of the property, yuck, but honestly, it kind of got abandoned.  One day we’ll have to address it but for now it sits over there like a scary haunted junkyard full of mold and taken over with honeysuckle and spiders and who know what else?  Probably zombies.

Still, sometimes we  remember items from our previous life, and wonder if we could ever dig said items out.  Then we move on because we know that will never happen.

Back to the yoga sling.  I’ve been thinking about it lately because it seems like a little helping hand for doing hang-backs would be just the thing to help me with the emotional freak outs I tend to get when trying them on my own.

But the yoga sling thing is one of the items lost to the Mold Pit.

What to do?

Well, it turns out we’re going camping next week-end and so we needed the tent. (Because apparently I’m not allowed to bring my mattress and comforter and pillows and sleep hat and why they HELL did I agree to do this?)  Needing the tent meant that Paul had to don a haz mat suit and enter the Mold Pit, regardless of the danger, and find said tent, or else no camping and then the kids would mutiny and go all Lord of the Flies on our middle aged butts and dance around the yurt with our heads on sticks.  Or something like that. Camping has been promised and so camping will be delivered, so help us.

So Paul did it, he went down there by golly, with his machete and his night vision goggles, because he’s brave, and strong, and not allergic and prone to profound and nearly fatal sneezing fits whenever he gets near the Mold Pit like, er, some people.  What can I say, I’m a delicate flower.

But, when he set off, I told him I’d give him a bonus if he could find the yoga sling thingy.  (He waggled his eyebrows and said, “what kind of bonus?”)

And look, he did, he found it!

what the hell is this all this shit? did it really have all these parts?…are those hand cuffs?

On the left you see the pollen crusted bag, and on the right a snarl of black straps and bizarre looking loops and bands and whatnot. It all seems rather improbable now that I see it again.  I do remember hanging upside down from it on a regular basis.  That part was fun.  But how…?

Back to the drop-backs.  In Ashtanga, usually you go to classes where the teacher holds you while you hang back, and eventually drop back (when your hands touch the floor) and, in theory, you eventually do this on your own.  It looks something like this:

i reckon you have to trust the teacher quite a bit to believe s/he won’t drop you on your head, eh?

this one is not a support in dropping back but for chakrasana where you grab your own feet (holy shit)

For some reason when I googled for pics of assisted drop backs, all the images were of this guy, David Robson, an ashtanga teacher who has a hugely successful (so I hear) Mysore program in Toronto.  He also has those big earlobe things, I don’t know what they’re called, plus super amazingly floaty jumpbacks, plus large tattoos. A while back I downloaded his video on floating in one’s vinyasa and spent a lot of the time trying to make out what his giant back tattoo says (maybe it is “mercy”?).  (I remain convinced that it is the earlobe thingies that give him the power to do vinyasa as if he is in zero G.  They constrict some gravity meridian or something, you know it’s true.)  It’s a pretty good video although it did not magically confir upon me the ability to float.  It did make me feel guilty for fidgeting during surys.

Anyway.  As a home practitioner, I have no cute teacher to hold me safely in his muscled and tattooed arms while I have emotional meltdowns while hanging back  Sigh.  So I have to DIY and maybe this old sling thing will have to do the job.  I think it can work.  I will hang back and not fall on my head and soon I will be omnipotent.

Here is where I wanted to put a picture of the sling thing in use, that is, me hanging back held securely in its furry black clutches, but Paul hasn’t installed it yet.  Sophie said, “you could install it, you could use a drill,” and because I want her to feel empowered as a girl I said, “of course I could,” but really I thought, no fucking way, that’s your Dad’s territory.  But never mind the gender issues of power drill usage, because the problem, really, is where can we hang it?  We live in a yurt, the ceilings are 16 feet tall, this is a problem.  But I am determined.  There has got to be a way.  Stay tuned and I’ll tell you if it works.

In the meantime, ponder this….

This pose will be mind.  Oh yes, it will be mine.

sexual assault prevention tips guaranteed to work!

Just in case anyone needs a reminder….

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are commiting a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

That was a Public Service Announcement.  Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

podcast friday

Episode 17 is LIVE.

Only one more to go, that’s right, the big finale conclusion whoop-dee-doo is NEXT WEEK.  And I thought I had it in the can, but then I thought of something else and here I am, rerecording again.  What a waffler!  But hopefully it will make it better….

Podiobooks to subscribe or stream.