Because “resolution” without the “re” is SOLUTION.

Like many people, when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been an on-and-off cynic most of my adult life. My birthday falls five days before New Year’s Day, though, so at some point, I finally thought, Why not turn my personal one-year-older goals into resolutions? Because what are birthdays if not opportunities for introspection and decision-making to move forward with new or refreshed goals, right? Or something like that (says my inner self-help guru to myself).

“Resolution” minus the “re” is “solution,” after all… and that stands out to me. I’m a fan of solutions.

As it turns out, I do well participating in the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. It’s glorified goal-setting that could be undertaken on any random day, sure, but January 1 is as good a day as any, fanfare or no. If we don’t have the motivation to commit to a goal on any other day of the year, at least there’s that day!

“Goals” is a popular word right now, but I want to talk plainly about how there’s a difference between wanting to achieve goals and needing to achieve them. Resolutions, in my opinion, are goals that we need to achieve; we make them in order to reignite the mechanisms we have for growth, self-improvement, joie de vivre… whatever it is that we’re lacking, in whatever way it needs to manifest. Ultimate goals are things like contentment and productivity. Contentment and productivity are good. People who are content and productive are good for society, good for us all.

You might receive advice that’s actually detracting, usually coming from the hearts of well-intentioned loved ones. There’s the old “…but you have to WANT to do it,” which I think is psychobabble for “You have to feel that doing xyz is going to result in personal gratification, or it’s not worth the effort.” I don’t believe this. Some of my greater achievements in life resulted from goals that I needed to pursue, but I absolutely didn’t want to pursue them.

Quitting smoking, for instance. I smoked between the ages of 15 and 23. I only smoked for eight years, but addiction is addiction no matter how long you’ve had it.

I absolutely did not WANT to quit smoking. I loved smoking. Whenever I’d think about quitting, all I WANTED my next cigarette. When I finally committed to breaking the habit, I still didn’t want to. I did it because I knew that I needed to.

Quitting was every bit as excruciating as I thought it would be.

I quit cold turkey, and I never smoked another cigarette. That was 24 years ago. (I think I was successful in part because I suffered through the process without the aid of chemical replacements. This was pre-nicotine patch. There was nicotine gum, but I wasn’t attracted to that strategy.) Suffering for that victory, that solution to the problem of my compromised health, made me value my success even more. If at any point in my smoking cessation journey someone uttered those condescending words in my general direction – “You just have to WANT to quit!” – I would have had to bite my tongue REALLY HARD. I know why I’m quitting. It’s a decision that I made. I don’t need you to tell me that if I just WANT to quit, I’ll effortlessly break my addiction overnight and ride off on a unicorn into a field of flowers and happy little bunnies.

Overcoming addiction of any kind is never easy, no matter if someone WANTS to do it or not.

But I digress. My point is, make a resolution, for the New Year or on any other day. Think of it as going after a solution. Focus on seizing something that will change your life for the better if you capture it. You’re not just making a change (passive connotation). You’re taking action (aggressive connotation). So be aggressive in tackling your resolution. Be a New Year’s resolution badass. Go for it.

Another thing people commonly say: “Do it for yourself. If you do it for someone else, you won’t succeed.” Again, I disagree. I mean, I don’t think this is always the case.

Last year, my main New Year’s resolution was to go cruelty-free… for Ronnie James, my feline fur-child. As Callaghan and I tried desperately to save his life, I told the Wrah-Wrah that I’d make every effort to avoid purchasing and using personal care products and cosmetics made by companies who engage in animal cruelty practices. (Granted, this wasn’t difficult, as I’d already been boycotting a couple of big-name brands for years to avoid contributing to their human rights violations. Boycotting companies that test on animals wasn’t a far stretch from that.)

I did it for Ronnie James. He died five months into the year, but I’m still doing it. For him. For all animals, but first and foremost for him. And doing it for him has kept me motivated to stick to my resolution more than I would were I just “doing it for myself.” In a strange sense I can’t really explain, the act of consciously and continuously striving to remove myself from the cycle of animal suffering at human hands keeps Ronnie James alive.

This strategy of goal-planning works for me, anyway. Everyone is different, but it might work for you, too. It would be worth trying! Dedicate your resolution to someone who deeply matters to you. Make them a promise you won’t want to break, and you might find that it’s easier to stick to your efforts.

This brings me to Resolutionary Road, 2016! I have more than one resolution. Here’s my list:

1). Get more sleep on a regular basis.

2). Improve my French (conversation).

3). Commit to strength-training.

Getting more sleep was my secondary resolution in 2015. Since I failed completely, it’s at the top of my 2016 list. I really, really need to get more sleep. Here, again, is the difference between wants and needs: I don’t WANT to get more sleep. I WANT the opposite… I want more hours in the day. I want to stay up until 3:00am, because for some reason, I’m often possessed by a rush of creative energy at around 11:00pm every night, and I’m afraid that if I don’t utilize it, I’ll squander it. But more sleep is an absolute necessity for my health, so this year, I’m going to try to shut everything down at 10:00pm so I can be in bed by 10:30pm. I get up at 5:30am on weekdays, so this would give me seven hours of sleep IF I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. (Which never happens. But nearly seven hours of sleep would be a great improvement over the four-five hours I typically get.)

I dedicate this resolution to Mom, who always worries that I don’t sleep enough. I don’t want her to worry about me for any reason, because worrying is detrimental to her health.

For my second resolution, improving my French conversation, I simply need to speak more French. I have a bad habit of answering Callaghan in English when he speaks to me in French. The divide between my comprehension level and speaking level is now so great that it’s ridiculous! I have no excuses. I just need to speak it more; that’s the only way I’m going to improve.

I dedicate this resolution to Callaghan, obviously!

As for strength-training, I need to make that a regular part of my workout routine. I’m not weak, but I would feel better in a stronger body. Doing pull-ups in my home office doorway every once in a while isn’t sufficient, and shadow-boxing with dumbbells isn’t cutting it, either. We have heavier dumbbells, so I need to start using them.

I dedicate this resolution to Ming, my best friend who died suddenly in 2003. Ming was one of my Tae Kwan Do instructors, and as friends, we developed a brother-sister bond that made him a member of my family. Ming was an extremely talented martial arts athlete, and his work ethic in the do-jang inspires me to this day. Improving my strength so I can be a better martial artist is my tribute to him.

 

Ming and me, 1996

Ming and me, 1996

 

Happy Resolutioning, if you do it!

Body Combat Release 65 – Informal Review!

The latest Les Mills Body Combat choreography launched at our gym on Saturday. (For those who don’t know, a Body Combat workout is a group fitness class consisting of an hour of cardio with choreographed martial/fighting arts moves done to high-octane music. We get a new choreography release every… six weeks, I think…?)

ETA: New releases happen every 12 weeks. Thank you, Izzy!

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-FavThingsMAR2014-BodyCombat

 

So Les Mills released Body Combat #65, and I thought it would be fun to give it an informal review, because why not? I routinely blather about movies, T.V. series, food, cosmetics, pulp fiction, etc., so targeting Body Combat for my blathering seems like the next natural thing to do. I go to this class three times per week, after all. It’s kind of a big part of my life.

I went to class on Saturday with the idea that I might blog about the release, so I activated the voice recorder on my phone and left it on the floor, off to the side. I wanted to be prepared, and I knew there was no way I was going to remember everything we did after just one class if I didn’t document it somehow.

Enough of the pre-blather blather… without further ado, here’s what I thought of Body Combat #65!

(Disclaimer: These are my first impressions, and that includes the music. I may feel differently about all of it after a few more classes in this release.)

 

Les Mills Body Combat #65

Overall impression: Some unexpected combinations and variations in pacing necessitate attention to your mental game. The methodical, slower sequences feel awkward against the fast-paced, high-energy music, and at other times, when given the option to speed up without limitation, you’re again working with the timing. All of this incongruity heightens the challenges expected when learning a new release, and the choreography encourages precision in striking, for those concerned with their technique. This release features some advanced attacks (i.e. flying knee strikes and consecutive jump kicks), power moves (i.e. jump squats and explosive push-ups in the middle of the workout), and High-Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) (i.e. sprint options). The workout is plyometrics- and conditioning-intense.

After Saturday’s class, I went online and found the music track-list (which also gives me a guide for the workout tracks):

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-LesMillsBCrelease65TrackList

 

Here are my “nutshell” first impressions of the actual tracks.

1a). Upper-body warm-up: (Decent song for an opener – “We Came to Bang”)

First impression: Kind of a mind-bender.

Warming up with your basic jabs, crosses, uppercuts and hooks

 

1b). Lower-body warm-up: (Also a pretty good song – “Levels”)

First impression: Robot-like moves? Different!

Throwing roundhouse kicks, side kicks, front kicks, and teeps (Muay Thai push kicks)

(Do my quads usually burn this much during the warm-up?)

 

2). Combat 1: (Decent music – “Ah Yeah So What”)

First impression: They should re-name this track “A million kicks.”

Combination of strikes and kicks, including consecutive jump kicks and lowered front kicks for a major quad burn

 

3). Power training 1: (DISLIKE the music – “Lifting Me Higher”)

First impression: They chose this song because it’s so terrible, we’re being forced to exercise our minds to overcome it.

Endless upper-body strikes; running (including high knees)

It’s only track three and I don’t think I can throw any more hooks…

 

4).Combat 2: (Good song – “Enemies”)

First impression: We need a mat for this? Push-ups, like in the last release!

Combination of kicks and knee strikes, then on the floor for push-ups (including explosive push-ups)

 

5). Power training 2: (Good song – “No Problem”)

First impression: Love this Drum & Bass track!

Running, striking combinations, more running, jump squats in ascending sets

Nooo don’t take away the pause in between jump squats! My legs are done. I’m out.

 

6). Combat 3: (Okay song, but not my favorite – “The Day is my Enemy”)

First impression: This is the capoeira track wanting to be capoeira, but not quite committing to it.

Typical combination of lunges and kicks; atypical pivoting, robot-like pseudo-capoeira move; knee strikes

 

7). Muay Thai: (Decent song – “Party Monster”)

First impression: Muay Thai!

Punching combinations, ascending and descending elbow strikes, knee strikes variations, 4 levels of running man

Flying knee strikes!

 

8). Power training 3: (DISLIKE the first of the two songs – “Heart Bleeds Re-Con & Demand”)

First impression:  They’re trying to kill me with this music. The music is the real test here.

Running, striking combinations, scissors, striking combinations, jacks, running, striking on crack

 

9). Conditioning: (Okay song – “Black and Blue”)

First impression: The kind of ab track that works your neck as well as your abs.

No push-ups, since we did them in track 4… a series of “C” crunches and modified bicycle crunches (“cross-crawls”)

 

10). Cool-down (Whatever. I’m done.)

 

 

In summary, I like release 65. We had another class last night, and after a few more, the parts that feel strange won’t feel strange anymore. That’s what new releases are for!

BodyCombatversary!

It’s the last weekend of March. You know what we did last year on the last weekend of March? We went to our first Body Combat class! This is momentous, guys. On March 29, 2014, I finally got off my ass and ended the longest period of inactivity in my adult life. Planners and agendas are useful like that… you can look back and note such things. I love celebrating -versaries of all kinds. There has to be one for everything! Happy BodyCombatversary to Callaghan and me!

The idea of getting established in a workout routine was hard, but it hurt my brain more than my out-of-shape muscles. I’d been sedentary for so long, and out of training for even longer. We’d actually signed up at our gym a few months earlier, but I hardly went because zero motivation. Callaghan had way more determination than I to get to the gym. When I did manage to drag myself there to half-heartedly walk on the treadmill for 20-30 minutes, all I felt was this weird mixture of boredom and accomplishment and more boredom. Like, YAY, I went to the gym, go me! OH NO… I just spent 20 minutes of my life on a piece of cardio equipment. I could have been doing laundry. The struggle was real, folks, as they say. It’s HARD to get back into habitual exercise once you’ve fallen out of it for any length of time!

Then I decided to check out the group fitness class offerings, and everything changed.

According to my 2014 agenda:

–Tuesday, March 18, 2014: I went to a Body Pump class, just to try it. I didn’t hate it, but I never went back. I think I’m too lazy to do Body Pump. The very idea of making numerous trips to the equipment corner and hauling things over to the floor and then having to quickly change the configuration of the weights in between sets and then hauling all the stuff back to the corner at the end makes me feel annoyed (and bored)! Conclusion: I’m not badass enough to do Body Pump.

(Side-note 1: You know who’s really badass? THE PEOPLE WHO DO BODY PUMP IMMEDIATELY AFTER BODY COMBAT. I marvel at all you guys who do the classes back-to-back! When I’m done with Combat, I’m done. I got nothing left.)

(Side-note 2: I really should start some kind of strength-training routine, though. Shadow-boxing with dumbbells in my garage for five minutes once a week ain’t cutting it.)

–Wednesday, March 26, 2014: I tried a boot camp class. It was super hard. I loved it. Conclusion: Yes!

–Saturday, March 29, 2014: I tried Body Combat. The word “combat” on the schedule caught my eye, and my interest perked up immediately. I hadn’t thrown a punch in almost seven years. Okay, I thought. Let’s try this! So I went, and that was it. I was hooked. Body Combat is simple: I go in and follow the instructor’s commands until we’re done, and that’s it. No fuss, no muss, no equipment! You’re in and out and home before you know it, dripping sweat and feeling accomplished.

Overall conclusion: I made a standing date with the gym for Monday evenings and Saturday mornings (Body Combat), and Wednesday evenings (Boot Camp).

There was no reluctance from that point on; I surprised myself with my 180 turn-around. I’d been against the idea of group fitness classes before I even saw the schedule, because even though I really wanted to work out, in my advanced state of workout apathy and gym-self-motivating-brain-cells-atrophy, the notion of committing myself to a workout “schedule” seemed about as appealing as escaping from jail by digging a tunnel with a teaspoon. Sunken deep in my routine of sitting on my ass, I was perversely comfortable in my little prison cell of inactivity.

Of course, doing Body Combat brought back the old obsession with actual training (the sweet science addiction never really goes away once it bites you), and this led to the equipment in our garage. We went out there to play a little late last night. Callaghan took pictures.

Excuse the demon eyes. It was late and we had to use the flash in the dimly-lit garage... plus, these pics were taken with my phone, as usual. I still haven't replaced my camera since my last one died.

Excuse the demon eyes. It was late and we had to use the flash in the dimly-lit garage… plus, these pics were taken with my phone, as usual. I still haven’t replaced my camera since my last one died.

Elbows on the WaveMaster

Elbows on the WaveMaster

Jumping rope

Jumping rope

Elbows on the ground

Elbows on the ground

 WaveMaster, bare fists

WaveMaster, bare fists

Now, we do three Body Combat classes per week and no Boot Camp, because the Wednesday night Boot Camp went away and was replaced by the third Body Combat.  I’m not complaining about the extra Body Combat, though I do miss the Boot Camp! In a perfect world, I’d be able to get away from work one morning a week just long enough to do Suzy’s Core, Cardio & More class (Wednesdays), or Geeny’s H.I.I.T. class (Thursdays). If I’m ever off work on either of those days, that’s where I go! Huge shout-out to those ladies, and to our phenomenal regular Combat instructors and friends Izzy, Rebecca and Amelia, and also to our sometimes-instructors Jessica and Diane!

That’s the best part… in the last year, I’ve gained much more than a higher level of fitness with increased energy, strength and balance. I’ve gained new friendships with other class participants and the instructors, themselves.  I’ve also gained something concrete to look forward to, three times a week (looking forward to stuff is so important if you have clinical depression, by the way). Each time we leave the gym, I can’t wait for the next time, and that is awesome.

Happy Friday, Everyone! =)

I saw American Sniper. Here are my thoughts.

Somewhere around October-November, we found out about the upcoming film American Sniper. It was set to open on Christmas day. We were looking forward to it, and I liked the idea that two years in a row, the newly released movie we’d see on my December 27 birthday would feature Bradley Cooper.

As it turned out, the movie’s release date got pushed into January, so we didn’t get to see American Sniper on my birthday. Interestingly, though, the holiday movie we did go to see on December 27, Big Eyes, also featured an actor from last year’s birthday movie: Amy Adams! We saw American Hustle (Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper) on my birthday in 2013, and Big Eyes (Amy Adams) on my birthday in 2014.

I like Bradley Cooper. It’s not a crush. I’m not obsessed with him, and I don’t race to the theatre just because he’s in a movie, but I am a fan. I’ve never seen him flounder in a role, and I’ve never seen a film of his I didn’t enjoy or appreciate in some way. Bradley Cooper in a movie usually means that I’m going to like the movie, and this is also true about Amy Adams and a few other actors (Jake Gyllanhaal comes immediately to mind); Callaghan and I are almost always on the same page, which is good. It’s more fun spending money on movie tickets if we strongly suspect that we’ll really like the movie.

So we saw Big Eyes on my birthday, and we enjoyed it, and we continued to anticipate the release of American Sniper. When the day arrived, we went to the theatre with our favorite action-flick movie-watching partner-in-crime, Jason, and I didn’t know what I was walking into. Somehow, I had the idea that the film was about a veteran who was using his lethal military skills for some grand operation in the civilian sector. I didn’t know that I was walking into a war movie. Neither did I know that the story was based on an autobiography/events that happened in the life of a real person.

And I’m glad. I’m glad that I didn’t know it was a war movie, because I generally avoid war movies. Had I known, I would have dropped American Sniper off my to-watch list, and I would have missed out on an incredible movie.

Yes, I know. I’m a Buddhist and a mostly-vegan vegetarian and I’m all about peace and compassion, but I highly appreciated American Sniper. This might seem incongruous, but it’s really not. For one thing, just on the artistic level, I thought it was a brilliant, finely-wrought film. I thought Bradley Cooper gave a tremendous, nuanced performance. I thought Clint Eastwood’s handling of the project was masterful.

Where can I even begin to try to explain my appreciation beyond that?

I guess I should start with the disclaimer that I’m not motivated by politics when it comes to art. I’m a registered Independent, anyway… my political views do tend to lean in a certain direction (if you know me well, you know what direction that is), but there’s a reason why I won’t join a particular party. Also, I generally stay away from the subject of politics on social media sites. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t intend to talk politics here today or any day. I get that it’s hard to avoid politics where this film is concerned, but I’m going to try to avoid the damn politics.

Then I should point out that I’m a combat veteran. I spent six months in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield, Storm and Sabre, from the beginning of December 1990 to almost the end of May 1991. The ground war in January took all of two days, and the whole thing was rather anti-climactic after the airstrikes, but somehow I managed to get embroiled in the only real action American foot soldiers saw pushing through Iraq. I ran Commo (wire, radios) in a segment of a ground ambulance unit, and our convoy was comprised of mostly medics from my Garrison unit in Germany, along with some infantrymen, American National Guardsmen and women, and a few British soldiers. We were ambushed, and it was intense, and I brought that personal history with me going into the movie theatre to see American Sniper, not knowing, as I’d said, that it was going to be a war movie.

Now, about that Buddhist thing, since I know that it’s confusing to many people. I’ve been Buddhist all of my life, and I’ve been a martial/fighting artist for more than half of my life, and no, contrary to the popular opinion of our times, this does not create a contradiction. Buddhism and the fighting arts are not mutually exclusive. If you can understand this, then my admiration of American Sniper shouldn’t seem contradictory, either.

Rather than going into a tedious academic tangent on the principles of eastern philosophy, including the meaning of the yin-yang symbol, I’m asking that you hang with me for a minute here!

Buddhist monks in the Shaolin temple of ancient China were resourceful and inventive. They developed seitan, a popular protein-rich meat substitute made of wheat gluten, so they could avoid eating animals. They also developed Shaolin Kung Fu, a martial art that enabled them to kill with their bare hands and laid the groundwork for basically all eastern martial arts thereafter. What’s more, the full spectrum of the Shaolin martial arts system includes fighting with weapons. The “Buddhist warrior” is actually a thing, and it always has been. I’m not saying that ALL Buddhists are warriors. I’m just saying that warriors in the ranks of Buddhists have existed for ages, at least as long as there have been temples to protect. Long before Bruce Lee, there were the Shaolin Buddhist soldier monks.

Hard to believe that there’s a history of martial arts bad-assery in Buddhism, right?

Enough about me and my background. Returning to American Sniper, I want to talk about the “problem” of the veracity of (every detail of) Chris Kyle’s story. He apparently made some claims in his book that aren’t true. In my opinion, just from my perspective as a literature major, this is normal. Biography/autobiography/memoir/creative non-fiction and, loosely, historical fiction all rely on facts and factual events for the backbone of the stories within, but there’s usually good reason and/or artistic justification for alteration or invention in some places, and authors take this kind of creative liberty all the time.

Take, for example, a staple of children’s literature well-known and loved by most Americans. The Nellie Olson character in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books didn’t actually exist… she was an amalgamation of two real-life figures from her childhood. Because Laura Ingalls Wilder also altered the chronology of her family’s travels (reportedly for the sake of simplicity), she took two classmates from two of her schools in two different geographical locations and blended them together to create the one insufferable character we know as “Nellie Olson.” (The real Nellie Olson was one of the two classmates Laura Ingalls Wilder used to create the fictitious one.)

This is a well-documented fact, and yet I’ve never heard anyone say that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories are meaningless because she “made up” the character or “lied” about the trajectory of her family’s pioneering path, nor have I heard of anyone calling her out on any of the other half-truths, embellishments or omissions that resulted for artistic purposes. I never heard anyone say that because of all this, Laura Ingalls Wilder is not to be trusted or believed, and that the attention paid to her stories is undeserved. I never heard anyone say that the worth of other art based on the books she co-wrote about her life – namely, the world-famous Little House on the Prairie television series – was invalidated by her “lies.” I never heard anyone complain that the T.V. show was “mendacious” because Laura Ingalls Wilder changed some things, omitted things, and flat-out made other stuff up.

We know that she did these things, but we still accept her work as autobiographical. That which wasn’t real didn’t cancel out all that was real. Her story is still her story, and Chris Kyle’s story is still Chris Kyle’s story, and just because Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tone was demure and so many people dig stories about pioneer life more than they dig stories about soldiering life doesn’t mean that by majority opinion, we can have a double standard. If we’re going to call Chris Kyle a liar, then we’re going to have to call Laura Ingalls Wilder a liar for the exact same reasons, and we don’t want to do that, now, do we?

And while we’re on the subject, let’s think for a moment of how Laura Ingalls Wilder “glorified” and “romanticized” how her Pa decided to drag the family into Indian Territory and knowingly illegally squat on the Native Americans’ land, and how Laura Ingalls Wilder plainly recounted her parents’ racist attitudes and sentiments regarding the “savages” (sound familiar?) – have you ever heard anyone lambasting her for this dubious aspect of their “courageous” pioneer life? Neither have I. Needless to say, the storylines in the television series’ episodes conveniently omit any mention or reference to this part of the Ingalls’ “adventures.” Most everyone still loves the show.

But people are sure enjoying harping on Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper for “glorifying” and “romanticizing” the darker sides of Chris Kyle and his story.

Finally, I want to say that it’s interesting how the people shouting the loudest about how Chris Kyle was a lying psychopath (and no hero at all) are the ones who never spent a day in his or any other soldier’s boots. Now, I didn’t know Chris Kyle. I didn’t know him before, during or after his service, nor am I a psychiatrist. For all I know, he could have been a psychopath or a sociopath or whatever other -path you want to call him… but I don’t care. I don’t care if Chris Kyle was the kind of guy who’d help an old lady cross the street, or the kind of guy who’d push an old lady off a cliff. Because what I do know is that combat military training and circumstances change you in ways that civilians can’t even begin to fathom. What you were before is rendered nearly irrelevant. Even emerging from regular old Army basic training (Chris Kyle underwent Navy S.E.A.L. training, which is much more intense), you’re different than you were before you went in.

In basic training, you’re broken down from the inside out, with the whole point being to re-build you into something you probably weren’t before you went in: a killing machine that can be set into action when the circumstances call for it. The mental and physical conditioning you undergo in order to serve in combat is complete. I’m talking about the average person here. Now imagine that instead of being an average person, you were already an expert shot accustomed to taking lives (as a hunter)… and imagine, too, that your military occupational specialty is killing.

Someone’s got to do it, guys. The military is an establishment in which there’s a need for many roles, just like in civilian society, and while all soldiers are required to be conditioned in the basics, everyone has to choose an occupational specialty. Some soldiers are cooks. Others are band musicians. Others work in supply. There are the tankers, the ammo soldiers, the administration office-working soldiers, the morgue soldiers and the medics and the mechanics and the military cops and the JAG (legal) corps and the signal corps, the soldiers responsible for ensuring communications in the field (what I did – my 31K occupational title was “Combat Signaler.”) And so on, and so forth… and then you have the soldiers whose specialty is killing. These are the infantry, the “grunts.”

Regardless of your occupational specialty, though, all soldiers function the same way in combat zones, and again, to reiterate, this is what basic training is for. When thrown into a combat situation, the conditioning deep inside you surfaces, enabling you to automatically act according to the situation, and I’m sorry, but combat situations don’t usually involve making butter, choosing fabric for dresses, or embroidering. Pa Ingalls is not going to bust out his fiddle at the end of the day and make everyone laugh merrily as they sing along to his folksy songs.

When I was 18, I went to basic training and came out different than I was before, because that is what basic training is designed to do. Not only are you different, but you’re also no longer your own person. You become government property, calibrated to respond and operate on a situational basis. The minute you raise your hand and take that oath, the Constitution you’re charged to protect no longer even applies to you. You opt out of those rights in order to protect them. It’s the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for you!

A day or two before Christmas 1990, we were out there in the vast, cold and empty Saudi Arabian desert when we were told that Sadam Hussein had threatened an attack as a “Christmas present” for the Americans lying in wait, meaning, us. We went into high alert for an indefinite period of time. I remember my 22nd birthday very well. I spent the entire day in a foxhole in the biting cold, suited up in MOPP 4 (head to toe chemical protection gear) with a full bandolier of ammo strapped around my chest and my M-16 at the ready, and again, I came out different than I was before, because that’s what happens when you spend hours on end with every cell and nerve of your being waiting to either kill or get killed. Just being in that situation day after day changes you. Even if “nothing happens,” you can’t ever be the same again.

A few weeks later, the ground war started, and we switched gear from alert to action. We convoyed out of Saudi Arabia to follow the front line through Iraq, destination Kuwait. We were a ground ambulance convoy in our Cut-V’s and Hum-V’s, and we saw and dealt with everything you’d expect to encounter on a battlefield. Then we were ambushed. There were Iraqi snipers. There were detonating landmines. There were casualties. Afterward, there were smoke grenades and medevac helicopters. I’m not going to go into the details of what I did and saw, but you can bet that again, I was a different person by the end of it.

Now, take my modest little combat experience and quadruple it and give it another hefty boost for increased severity. Chris Kyle couldn’t possibly have ended up being the same person he’d been before any of his four tours of combat duty, whatever that may have been. He killed people, as we were all prepared to do, as Navy S.E.A.L.S. were expected to do, and I would venture to guess that he saved many more people than he killed. Whether I “agreed” with the Iraq War or not, I’m grateful to Chris Kyle for his service, and for the service of all men and women in uniform in all the branches of the Armed Forces, regardless of the conflict or the reason for it or behind it, or the duration or severity of it, or the number of times they deployed, or my opinion of it or your opinion of it or anyone’s opinion of it, or anything else.

I’d like to think that if I never lived the experience of being broken down and built back up to human war-machine specs, if I never set foot in a combat zone, if I never mentally prepared to suffer and die under chemical attack or by gunfire or other ordnance, if I never swallowed 12 mysterious pills a day “in case of chemical attack”… if I never lived a day of my life serving my country… I would recognize that I’m not in a position to judge Chris Kyle.

Like him or not, Chris Kyle was a hero. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who voluntarily raises their hand and swears away their own constitutional rights in order to protect yours is a hero, whatever else they may be, and whether they go to war or not. To try to posthumously shame Chris Kyle for being the lying asshole he maybe was is to miss the point of American Sniper. Deriding Eastwood and Cooper for taking part in “glorifying” anything is also an exercise in missing the point.

Aside from all of this, what’s really important here, of course, is that we found American Sniper to be a great piece of cinematic art in and of itself. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper did a damn fine job, along with everyone else who put their energies into the making of the film. I’m saying this, and I don’t even like war movies!

So, American Sniper? We recommend it. It’s not easy to watch, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it “enjoyable,” but it’s an amazing film.

On that (hopefully cheerier) note, Happy Friday, All!

(Here are some photos I took in the war):

 

The first Hum-V ambulances....

The first Hum-V ambulances….

 

Random tank in Iraq

Random tank in Iraq

 

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

 

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

 

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

 

Thanks for scanning them, Callaghan!

Gym Rats: There’s a new poster child for calves-training in town.

It’s surprising how a simple virus can change your body in just a few days.

When I concern myself with my weight at all, I look at it through the lens of the combat sports weight class system. I just prefer to view my body as a tool, as in, what can my body do for me? Could I defend myself using my own body? From this perspective, I dropped from the Jr. Bantam class to Jr. Flyweight within a week, just from being sick. What’s more, I’ve been eating normally for five days now, and I’m still in Jr. Fly. Is this just my new weight class? Should I start re-imagining my fantasy opponents?

But returning to the questions What can my body do for me? Could I defend myself using my own body?  I’ve got my goals set for 2015: I want to make my body stronger, and I want it to be better-versed on the ground. I’ll try to find a place in my schedule for some kind of strength-training, as well as for some basic submission training and practice. I feel like I need to work on the basics. Also, getting stronger will get me my lost poundage back, I’m sure.

Callaghan’s been mapping out his training goals for 2015, too. I’d known that he was borderline obsessed with the whole process, but I didn’t realize to what extent until we were at the movie theatre a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it was on my birthday. We were standing in the lobby when I noticed that he was distracted as I was talking to him.

“Sorry,” he said when he noticed me noticing. “I was mesmerized.” Naturally, I turned to look at the object of his attention. The only thing I saw was this promotional display:

 

thatasianlookingchick-spongebobmovie

 

It took a few seconds.

“SpongeBob?”

“His physique,” Callaghan explained.

I looked at the display again. Then I started laughing. Then I started taking pictures. Because Callaghan was too “mesmerized” by SpongeBob SquarePants to pay attention to what I’d been saying, and come on, how many people can say that about their partners? My husband wasn’t listening to me because he was mesmerized by SpongeBob’s physique.

Later, downloading the pics onto my laptop, something caught my eye as I flipped through them. I looked closer, and suddenly, it all make sense! There it was in all its glory… Callaghan’s biggest gym pet peeve:

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SKIP LEG DAY, SPONGEBOB.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SKIP LEG DAY, SPONGEBOB.

 

Callaghan must have been looking at the proportion of SpongeBob’s legs – especially his calves – to the rest of his body!

I was gleeful with my discovery. I went back to him with the pics.

“Were you mesmerized by SpongeBob’s non-existent calves?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Or were you just mesmerized by his ripped upper body?”

“I was mesmerized by his non-existent calves. Actually, no, I was mesmerized by his ripped upper body. I didn’t even see his calves!”

Okay, well. Whatever. All I have to say is, once again, my partner is weirder than yours.

And SpongeBob SquarePants is now the official poster child for not skipping leg day… especially calves!

You want to know what mesmerized me over the holidays? Iggy Azalea performing “Fancy” with Charli XCX on New Year’s Eve:

 

 

How’s that for random?

Sometimes, when one door closes, another one opens – with a hard right hand.

Body Combat class was cancelled at the gym last Saturday because of the holiday. Reluctant to miss a workout, I thought, what better time to find a heavy-bag somewhere? It had been so long!

I jumped online and honed in on a Saturday cardio kickboxing class at a boxing gym near our apartment. Going as a walk-in, I could avoid missing a workout and get in a heavy-bag bonus while I was at it. Their web site said to bring your own hand-wraps, so I knew I’d be punching something.

The rental fee for an hour with the heavy-bag walk-in cost for the class was only ten bucks. I was excited. It’d been about six years since I’d touched a heavy-bag, and just as long since I’d taken part in any kind of martial/fighting arts training (Capoeira and Kali were the last. Boxing, Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do and T’ai Chi – many people don’t realize it, but T’ai Chi is actually a deadly form of martial arts – seemed ages ago). The last time I’d climbed into the ring to spar was maybe 2008. My six years away from combat sports felt more like six cat years… that would be 40 human years, which is about how long it felt!

The class was fun, and I did get to work the heavy-bag. I had my old hand-wraps that I’d dug out of storage the previous week, and I borrowed some gloves from the gym. During the hour-long workout, we did cardio kickboxing drills (including punching with weights, which I’d never done before, so that was interesting, and throwing kicks), push-ups, bag-work, partner-work and abs.  It felt great. I felt great.

Until two days later, when I found myself gobbling four extra-strength Advil as we ran out the door to Monday evening Body Combat. Everything hurt. The boxing gym workout had settled into my muscles, and I literally felt it from my neck down. Trapezius muscles? RIGHT, those exist! And to quote Doc Holliday in Tombstone, “Oh. Johnny Anterior Delts, I apologize; I forgot you were there.” Pecs. LATS! Triceps. Abs. QUADS… I felt the intense soreness in my upper legs just walking.

It didn’t help that I’d forgotten to eat something beforehand, either. In addition to the post-workout soreness, my energy stores felt depleted in class that night. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love feeling that kind of pain again, and I still had a great workout!

When we started Body Combat on Saturday, March 29, Callaghan was looking for general fitness benefits, and I was looking to re-gain my skills and get back into shape after being ridiculously sedentary for over three years (NEVER AGAIN). Three and a half months later, I’m feeling immensely better, but I still have a long way to go. There’s the two Body Combat classes and a boot camp class each week, and sometimes I go an extra day to walk on the treadmill. I feel like I should be doing more.

On Wednesday, it happened again… we had tickets to see Def Leppard and Kiss, which meant ditching boot camp class. We made it up last night by doing a Body Attack class at a different gym location. I’d never heard of Body Attack (like Body Combat, it’s a Les Mills International class). It was a pretty good workout!

Here’s a picture of Callaghan and me at the concert on Wednesday night:

 

None of our pictures of us came out at the concert, but here's this, for what it's worth...

None of our pictures of us came out at the concert, but here’s this, for what it’s worth…

 

Happy Friday, All!

What I’m Digging Right Now – March Favorites

It’s the first day of April! It’s time to show you some of the things I loved last month. There was an abundance of “little things” treasures in March, but I chose nine for this list.

Without further ado:

(ahem)

1). A new phone, which means a new camera… and it’s an Android, which means Instagram. Yes! I’d thought I’d forever avoid Instagram, but I actually really dig it now that I have it. I haven’t been that active on it yet, but I will be.

 

Thing 1: That picture in the middle of my Instagram collage is Callaghan's portrait of my parents, and it's my favorite work of his. Thing 2: Yes, I took this photo at 11:00PM, and yes, it's 82 degrees outside.

Thing 1: That picture in the middle of my Instagram collage is Callaghan’s portrait of my parents, and it’s my favorite work of his. Thing 2: Yes, I took this photo at 11:00PM, and yes, it’s 82 degrees outside.

 

The reason for the new phone was the fact that my camera died at the end of February. I needed a camera, and Callaghan and I both needed phones, and Verizon was offering a Buy One Get One Free deal on Samsung Galaxy S4s, and I had additional perks due to my “loyalty status” from my former years with Verizon… so it just made sense. Now I have a camera. It’s good enough for what I like to do with a camera, which is point and click.

 

2). Flowering cactuses!

 

Complete with a Southwest Airlines plane in the background, equally colorful. In fact, they match! haha

Complete with a Southwest Airlines plane in the background, equally colorful. In fact, they match! haha

 

Here are some of the emerging blooms closer to the ground.

Here are some of the emerging blooms closer to the ground.

 

IT HAS BEGUN. Between now and mid-June, the desert flora will display its myriad of flowers – the different species bloom at different times. Many pictures will be taken. How I’ve missed spring here! Our two visitors from France (one is coming in April, the other in May) are in for a treat.

 

3). New glasses.

 

New glasses. Not BCGs.

New glasses. Not BCGs.

 

These are not the ones I got from the V.A. in Austin. Those turned out to be a disaster in every way, starting with an inaccurate prescription and ending with that wrong prescription being put in the wrong frames that didn’t fit. Long story short, I couldn’t wear them. This is why mall optometrists exist. I walked in, made my appointment for the next day, went back for the appointment, and walked out with this new pair of glasses that seem to be perfect. Instant gratification glasses! I mostly just wear them for driving and watching T.V. and movies.

 

4). Body Combat class at the gym.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-FavThingsMAR2014-BodyCombat

 

Over the last few months, I’ve had to face the fact that I’m just not as self-motivated at the gym as I used to be. Add to this the fact that when I join a group training situation that carries even the slightest semblance to martial/fighting arts, I feel as at-home as a bat in a cave… my so-called muscle memory knows what to do, and how to do it… and voilà! Body Combat is an ideal group fitness class for me. The instructor’s mission in life for that hour is to kick our butts. I don’t have to do anything but show up and follow along.

The Body Combat classes incorporate techniques from boxing, Muay Thai, capoeria, karate and MMA, all of which my muscles know and enjoy, even though they haven’t trained in years. The fast-paced classes focus on cardio rather than on form, but I’m loathe to execute the moves sloppily, so I end up getting a fantastic workout as I concentrate on form while trying to keep up (to the extent that my out-of-shape self can safely do. I’m careful to not exceed my limitations). We leave the class completely elated, worn out and drenched in sweat. I love it so much I can’t even tell you.

 

5). True Detective, season one (T.V.)

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-FavThingsMAR2014-TrueDetective

 

Simply stated, this new series right here rather blew our minds. That is all.

 

6). Hannibal, season two (T.V.)

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-FavThingsMAR2014-HannibalS2

 

As The Following continues to hold our eager attention, we’ve added Hannibal to our current series line-up, as the second season began on the last day of February – meaning, we picked it up at the beginning of March. It’s just as darkly sick and warped and luscious and richly textured as season one. What is this fascination with serial killers? Hannibal is so beautifully done. It’s mesmerizing.

 

7). Stila Smudge Stick Waterproof eyeliner in Stingray.

 

Stila smudge stick waterproof eyeliner in Stingray

Stila smudge stick waterproof eyeliner in Stingray

 

Finally, I’ve found a retractable black eyeliner pencil capable of drawing a line that stays where you put it! I’d thought I’d also be able to appreciate it for its status as a cruelty-free product, but when I got home and got online, I found that Stila Cosmetics has been struck from the list of cruelty-free cosmetic companies. The reason? “3rd party animal testing.” *sighs*

 

8). Tourni, our new sunflower.

 

Here's Tourni! It's hard to see him in this picture. He's the slender, yellowish stalk with two little leaves on top, rising up from the center of the pot.

Here’s Tourni! It’s hard to see him in this picture. He’s the slender, yellowish stalk with two little leaves on top, rising up from the center of the pot.

 

I met a new friend for lunch one day in March, and she surprised me with a thin, pale greenish-yellow stalk from her garden. Loosely wrapped, it appeared to be quite frail. She told me that it was a sunflower. Un Tournesol, I thought immediately. His name is Tourni! “Tournesol” is French for sunflower.

I left the restaurant with little Tourni hanging limply over the side of a plastic water cup, his vestige of a root-ball submerged in two or three inches of water. I pondered what to do with him. He looked so fragile. Our balcony is completely shaded; we have no real direct sunlight in which to grow a sunflower.

By the end of the day, Tourni was looking pretty lifeless and pathetic. Unsure of what to do, I left him in the drink holder in our truck for the night while I figured it out.

At the end of the next day, we went to retrieve Tourni from the truck, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. The scant amount of dirt in the cup had absorbed all of the water, and there was little Tourni, upright, happy and spry! He looked like a completely different plant.

 

Alive and proud! I should have taken a "before" picture!

Alive and proud! I should have taken a “before” picture!

 

We brought him in and put him in a pot with some potting soil, both of which we happened to have on hand. He loves the close heat of the truck, so we set him in there during the day. At night, we bring him up to sit on our balcony with the other plants in our growing (ha!) collection.

 

9). Oil-pulling

 

Unrefined, organic coconut oil - the remaining two jars of the three my parents sent home with us at the beginning of March.

Unrefined, organic coconut oil – the remaining two jars of the three my parents sent home with us at the beginning of March.

 

At some point over the winter, an enormous can of unrefined, organic coconut oil appeared in Mom and Dad’s kitchen in California. Dad stirs a teaspoon of it into his coffee every morning. I noticed it when we were there at the beginning of March, and I was intrigued… I’d been reading about the Ayurvedic practice of oil-pulling, and contemplating starting it.

The morning we left, Mom and Dad generously tucked three jars of the oil into our luggage. Dad started oil-pulling that morning, Callaghan started that night after we got back to Arizona, and I started the following morning.

It’s now been three weeks, and so far, I’ve noticed the following two effects: 1). I haven’t had a problem with insomnia since, and 2). my teeth, while never horribly discolored, are indeed much whiter now; many people who do this practice report whiter teeth as a result.

The whiter teeth thing is great, but the sleeping thing? Incredible!

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but what an odd coincidence it is. From Day One of swishing coconut oil around in my mouth for twenty minutes as a part of my morning routine, I’ve been able to drop off to sleep effortlessly. This is unheard of, and it’s been consistent. The only thing I’ve been doing differently is the oil-pulling, so I’m thinking there’s a reasonable chance that there’s a connection.

Whatever the case, I’m going to keep doing it. It’s relaxing, and the whiter teeth are definitely a bonus!

On Callaghan’s part, he says that the quality of his sleep has improved greatly, and his teeth are definitely whiter now.

Okay… that’s it for March favorites! Here’s to spring. =)