Monday, June 12, 2006

Karate, Kidneys, Kitties: What I've been up to lately (instead of blogging much)

I've had to go easy on the blogging for the last few weeks, and here's why -- for anyone who cares. That is, it will almost all be personal and not directly theological, and if (as I assume) most of you don't care about the details of my life, you should feel free to skip it. No hard feelings.


After dropping about 100 pounds thanks to God and Dr. Atkins, I enrolled in karate last year. My three sons (now 6, 10 and 19) had already been advancing up the ranks, and I'd been watching from the sidelines. I kept thinking that the sparring looked fun, the rolling-around-and-grunting (floor grappling) looked absolutely miserable, and the kata's (choreographed fight moves) looked increasingly insane and impossible, particularly for a confirmed lifelong oaf.

Under the guidance of always-positive Sensei Abe Cerezo, I worked towards my first test. In our system (Cerezo-ha Shito-ryu karate-do), the first test is for advancement from white to yellow belt. Praise God, I scored well enough to skip yellow and advance directly to orange.

This meant I was instantly behind, and had to learn make-up kata's plus new ones, and new moves and facts and Japanese and history and other fun things. So I puttered along, doing what the classes did, whittling away at catch-up-and-advance, quite leisurely.

One night at class, after I'd done some work with a bright young female student, Sensei took me aside. I honestly expected him to give me a friendly but well-deserved chewing-out for being so unfocused and unapplied, and telling me to get serious.

Instead, to my drop-jawed astonishment, he said that I was doing so well, and had it so together, that I could either test for my next belt (purple) or, if I wished, skip that belt and test for the next belt beyond purple, which is blue. He said further that he thought it possible that I'd do so well in that test, that I might actually skip blue and go straight to green, thus actually advancing three ranks in one test.

But, he cautioned me, if I failed the blue-belt test, I would not receive purple. There would be no "consolation prize." In that event, I'd simply have to re-take the test another time.

Well, I was floored, gob-smacked, and otherwise astonied. I consulted with my wife and, in particular, my oldest son Matthew, who had already advanced to black belt. After all that, and with their encouragement, I decided to go for it.

It had a wonderfully focusing effect on me. I now had this large, distinct, and menacingly looming goal bearing down on me. There probably is a spiritual lesson in this, by the way (1 Corinthians 9:23-27). So I worked very hard, both alone and with my two older sons -- Matthew, the black belt, and Josiah, the green-belt-one-stripe who was about to test for a brown belt on the same day.

So the much-anticipated test week arrived, and with it arrived....


I already had kidneys, of course, but here's what they did to me -- sparing you unnecessary specifics and photo's.

I'd recently become a bit uncomfortable, but it was fairly mild, and I assumed it'd pass. But on the eve of test week, I became very and distressingly uncomfortable, in ways I'll not detail for you. I bemoaned the timing, and got myself to the doctor. Our quick guess was unusual but not unheard-of: urinary tract infection. I optimistically began taking an antibiotic.

Briefly put, it didn't work. So I got myself back to the doc. We began a second antibiotic, and considered the possibility that I had achieved another one of those wonderful gifts and prizes you get for being a fifty-year-old man, prostatitis.

When I took the first part of my formal test on Thursday evening, I was in a lot of discomfort, to the point of distraction. I didn't feel I did very well. It was a typical test-situation, in that the things I felt I could do best weren't tested, and some of the (innumerable) facets I hadn't mastered were, instead. But I soldiered on, and Sensei was characteristically encouraging, ordering me to "stop freaking out!" I think the freak-out syndrome is genetic, but I tried to heed his advice.

Well, the next day, along with more pain came blood, which was new and unwelcome. So the doctor saw me again, changed the diagnosis to a fairly firm "prostatitis," gave me some counsel and took another sample to diagnose.

I never considered cancelling the test. For one thing, Sensei would kill me. Not literally, but I'd already delayed longer than he preferred, and I had promised him I'd take it this month. I don't break my promises, God helping me. For another thing, I'd not be any younger, and really don't like to set a precedent of failure or dodging if I can help it, so....

I went to the test Saturday in a good deal of discomfort. That test-day went considerably better -- mostly. (I still beat myself up severely over failing to throw a brown-belt lawyer [really nice guy, but dang!] to the floor during a fun pile-on portion of the test.)

And when the time came for the awarding of belts, I found, to my tearful gratitude, that I had somehow managed to score high enough to skip purple and blue, and indeed advance to green belt, two-stripe.

Then, the next Monday, I passed a kidney stone. End of mystery, and symptoms.


Out of a sad family event came a very happy one.

I had been, not a cat hater, but certainly a cat disdainer. I didn't care much for what I perceived as their snotty, abusive, unrewarding ways, and was uninterested ever in having one infest our house.

And then some fifteen years ago, my wife discovered three little feral kittens in our garage. Mom ran off, and kids scattered within the garage. Armed with leather gloves, Valerie caught them all and put them in a crate. They were tiny, probably very recently weaned. "They're going to the pound, of course," I declared.

Sure, Valerie responded; but if we could keep them a little while, and tame them a little bit, they'd be easier to adopt. (Women can be so devious.)

I grudgingly agreed. Now, since I was home more than she at this time, this meant that I would feed and care for them. We didn't have cat food, so I got hamburger meat and baby food, and fed them.

To telescope the story, they completely won me over, and I converted hard. I said we might keep one... which turned into Well, it'd be better if the one had a sibling to play with; which became Oh, let's not break them up, they're all so great.

So we kept them, got them fixed and cared for, and loved them. The male unfortunately turned out to be an unrepentant house-wrecker, so we did give him to an agency in hopes of adoption, and kept his sisters Prickle and Smudge. They became family-members for the next fifteen years, with their very different temperaments.

Prickle however took ill a couple of years ago. Prickle was such a sweet cat. She was everyone's friend, was a happy presence at every family meeting and prayer time, and just was a dear little cat. We tried a long list of measures to help her, to get her over it, but eventually I had to make one of the hardest family-decisions I have ever had to make, and have her "put to sleep." I may write more on that sometime, but for now I'll just tell you that I shed a lot of tears, lost sleep, and had nightmares over that joyless, lonely and miserable decision, even though I still think it was, overall, the kindest and wisest. But given my temperament, you can easily imagine the kind of working-over I gave myself over that one.

This left us with beloved Smudge who (in cat years) is a very healthy 80, and mostly keeps to our bedroom. So we began considering kitties.

My wife's tales of growing up with a really special Maine Coon-mix cat named Mischief had always tickled me, and after my conversion to cat-lover I began wishing that one day we could have Maine Coon cats, or mixes. Maine Coons, for the uninitiated, tend to be unusually intelligent, personable, loyal, and LARGE.

So, again telescoping, I began searching fruitlessly for mixes, and only slightly more fruitfully for breeders with adoptable cats. (Be warned: pure-bred Maine Coon kitties are expensive.)

We found and were very seriously considering a delightful-looking little cat provisionally named Babette in my old home town of Glendale. The breeder, Susan Hansen, was very helpful in telling us about her and working at the logistics of us Sacramento-bound folks seeing her cat. What a gorgeous cat; anyone with the inclination in the area should consider looking Susan up.

But we renewed some earlier correspondence with Geree Martin of Tabbypatch, in Oakland, California, and found that she had a number of kittens who either were available, or soon would be. So we made an appointment, and all of us except my oldest son went over to meet her kitties.

We were all immediately smitten with a female kitty, who actually began purring and was very interested in everything before she even left her cage. She played happily with my boys, let herself be petted, and impressed us as a sweet, intelligent kitty. She was probably our first choice.

Then there was a male who had actually gone to a breeder as a female. The vet checked "her" out and broke the news that "she" would not be producing any kittens... at least not from "her" body. He had just come back to the cattery that morning, and even though he was a bit disoriented, he was friendly and playful, with classic Maine Coone lines. He was our second choice, mostly....

But we were torn. There was another male, beautiful and with a brown coloration I had particularly been looking for. Also, he was friendly and sweet; but he'd not be ready for adoption for another three weeks. That meant taking one kitty home, risking her having no other kitty to play with, then coming back and introducing a third cat to two strangers in three weeks.

And then was this one other male, but he was very small. The vet said he was perfectly healthy, and would probably be larger than an average cat, but he was still small for a Maine Coon. (We met his sire, and he was huge!) He had a beautiful face, interesting colors, but he was very timid and quiet. He stole my daughter's heart, and sat quietly with her as we played with the others.

Geree offered us a very tempting deal if we would take him as a third cat.

We deliberated fast and hard, and decided that the mix of colors and temperaments could be very winning. So we took all three home.

That was last Sunday, and, with church, took my whole day.

And then this week I've been working a different shift (5am-2pm), working with various crises, not having my usual blog-time.

So that's what I've been up to. Life happened! Pain, pleasure; blood, sweat, tears; more pain; and furry little kitties.


Kim said...

Well, congratulations on the karate thing, Dan! Good on you!

Sorry about the health issues. My hubby has had similar things going on, and I know it's not a picnic.

I love your kitty pictures. We only have one cat; we used to have two, but hubby had to take both of them, a few months apart, to be put to sleep. There's a funny story associated with both deaths. Now, we just have the one cat, and he's pretty snobby.

I hope you're feeling better now.

DJP said...

... I know it's not a picnic.

Well, yeah -- unless you're talking the kind of picnic Stephen King would write about. (c;

And thanks, yeah, I began feeling fine right after The Passing of the Stone. That's the "plus"-side: when it's over, it's over.

Castusfumus said...

As far as reformation goes... this is a kitastrophy!!

Don't tell those guys over at Fide-O

Daniel said...

In Aikido, all the belts are white until you reach black. The black belt is the sixth belt - but there are ten black belts - though you typically only test to the third one - thereafter they are granted without testing.

Interestingly enough, it takes between eight to ten years of solid training (3-5 times a week) to get from "nuthin" to black.

I quit because it was taking too much time away from my family, church and ministry ~ but I sure miss it.

4given said...

Kidney stones... okay, so you got to experience the male version of having a baby. The sad thing is, after the pain of "delivery" all you get to hold is a rock that was stuck in a place it was not supposed to be... women get to hold a LIFE.

I only have my first dan black belt... the kicker? I got diagnosed with MS. But I have learned a whole lot more from that, than I would have learned from martial arts.

4given said...

Boy, I re-read what I wrote, and I sound kinda like a jerk. sorry. didn't mean to.

degvge said...

Congrats Dan. A heartwarming tale - stones'n'all!

God bless,

Annette said...

enjoy those kittens :) I too have a love affair with maine coons. I too have learned...a kitten is WAY out of my price range. Sometime I might inquire though into taking an older cat that can't be used in a cattery anymore....just to see. :)

DJP said...

Yes, do that, Annette. We saw a number of adult Maine Coons up for adoption in various places. We would have been very interested, except we wanted our younger boys to experience the joy, endless curiosity and hysteria that are KITTENS.

Also, there are Maine Coon mixes around all the time -- we just couldn't seem to find any in our timeframe.

And if an adult is your thing, try Google, put "Maine Coon" in quotation marks and add the word rescue. Perhaps there are some in your neck of the woods.
Doesn't have to break the bank!

Student of History said...

I am glad to hear that "It came to pass..." :+) They say all things do, right?

We are a kitty household too with our Tolkien cats, Merry and Pippin. They really are nice creatures.


Libbie said...

Kidney stones and Kittens? You really do read too many pink blogs...

DJP said...

We male bloggers are either too awash in testosterone, or too "pink."

Look, Libbie -- this post has EVERYTHING! EVERYTHING! It has martial arts, it has pain, it has tears, it has a medical mystery -- it has flying bodies, crushing impact, blood, and kitties! It's like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"! A martial-arts chick-flick!

Women. Un.Pleas.A.Ble.