Scarier than sharks…

We’ve just bought a second home! It feels very spur-of-the-moment, though it wasn’t . . . quite. We researched online (a lot!) before our recent trip to Key Largo, then met with a Realtor to look at the ten houses we’d culled from our much lengthier list of possibilities. I was particularly excited about two of the houses, just from their MLS listings. As it happened, the house we rented for the week was in the same neighborhood as the house that was my number one choice before seeing any of them in person. Even though our house-hunting day with the Realtor wasn’t until the weekend, we drove the few streets over on our first day to take a look at that one house from the outside. I was particularly curious about  the pool. See, this house was a foreclosure, empty and without appliances or fixtures. We knew this from the pictures. The listing showed beautiful tiled floors, stained wood ceilings, a big, wrap-around porch and open, airy rooms. But no pool, even though one was mentioned in the description. As soon as we got out of the car we found out why (as we were swarmed by mosquitoes)—the pool was stagnant, covered by a deteriorating grid of wood, wire and plastic. BUT . . .

Dolphin Fountain

BUT . . . perched at the edge of the pool was a sculpture—a fountain!—comprised of five dolphins. I should probably mention here that I’ve been obsessed with dolphins since I was a very small child, and it’s still a dream of mine to someday encounter wild dolphins while diving. (I have swum with them, but in a controlled setting, which isn’t quite the same, although I did adore it.) Upon seeing that sculpture, I immediately turned to my husband, hand over heart, and declared, “It’s a sign!”

And so, apparently, it was. After touring the ten houses on our list, the house that I had already started calling “the dolphin house” was our clear favorite. After some discussion of the money we’d likely have to pour into the place to make it habitable (for us and for potential renters), we made a low offer—on June 17th. (My husband joked that I was buying him a house for Father’s Day.) A few days of dickering later, the bank that owned the house agreed to a price much closer to our offer than to the asking price, and we struck a deal. And here’s where the scary part comes in…

We closed on the house less than three weeks after our initial offer! In the interim between acceptance of our offer and closing, I made another whirlwind trip down to Key Largo to spend hours in the house taking notes, notes, notes on everything that needed to be done and bought, meeting with the inspector (it was an as-is sale, so of course we had it inspected!), the plumber, and generally planning out a timetable for everything.

I may well be in over my head now, with everything happening at a breakneck pace, but I’m definitely more giddy than terrified.

Oh, and just an hour after the closing was final, the perfect name for the house came to me:

The Happy Dolphin.

Categories: adventure, diving, dolphins, Key Largo, older women, scuba diving | 3 Comments

Back to the Keys

Our family of four (my husband and me and our two daughters) learned to dive over a spring break a dozen years ago, while the girls were still in high school. Our lessons were in the Florida Panhandle, and for the next few years we limited our diving to the Florida Keys, largely for budgetary reasons. The Keys do boast some outstanding dive sites, including the impressive Pennekamp underwater preserve, lots and lots of coral reefs and numerous wrecks. Then, as our income increased, we started taking our winter vacations in the Caribbean instead: Aruba, Grand Cayman, the Turks & Caicos, Saint Maarten. Oh, and a cruise dive or two, as well, in places like Cozumel. But with the possible exception of West Caicos, we never actually found better diving than we’d first experienced in the Keys. So, after nearly ten years away, my husband and I returned to Key Largo for our most recent dive vacation.

We rented a house for the week practically across the street from Pennekamp Park, which we’d before only visted by dive boat. As we were so close, we drove in to explore and had our first opportunity to get wet with a snorkel off the beach, to take a look at the remains of a Spanish wreck from the 1700s they’ve moved there. Visibility was pretty lousy (lots of tourists splashing around in the shallows) but out at the wreck, in about fifteen feet ot water, it was clear enough that I wished I’d brough my camera to take pictures of the anchor and cannons down there.

Snorkel shot of zebra fish

The next day the in-laws joined us, and on Father’s Day they wanted to take the Pennekamp Glass-Bottomed Boat tour, so we signed up for the Pennekamp snorkel tour over the same time slot. This time a boat took us out to Grecian Rocks, a cool and fairly diverse site with lots of types of coral and fish. It was sloppy for snorkeling, with seas at 2-3 feet, which meant I had to keep blowing out my snorkel (something I’m not good at, at all!) but still a fun trip. Since I can’t dive for beans without weights (too much natural buoyancy, alas), I handed off the camera to my husband, who got several cool shots. Unfortunately, I was the one who spotted a small shark (nurse shark, I think, though it might have been a reef shark—it was moving a little fast for a nurse shark) and by the time I got his attention, it was long gone. So no picture of that. Ah, well.

Me, with my dive camera

The next day we checked the weather, which was predicted to keep getting worse for the rest of our stay, so we booked a two tank dive for that afternoon with Rainbow Reef Divers. Mindful of the now 3+ foot seas, I took a meclazine first, and was glad of it! (The worst part of diving for me is sitting on the boat when it’s stopped and rocking.) Our first dive was to a site we’d dived years before and remembered fondly for the great pictures I took and the variety of marine life, the wreck of the Benwood, a ship sunk in 1942. While I didn’t see any turtles or rays this time around, I did see (and take pictures of) a stunning variety of fish. The wreck had shifted some since our last visit ten years ago, due to a couple of strong hurricanes in the interim, but it’s still a great dive. Recommended!

Pair of angelfish at the Benwood

Our second dive was at a site the operators called “Five Caves” (after a bit of dithering—apparently it goes by several names). Again, plenty of fish, some pretty spectacular coral, but no sharks, rays or turtles that we saw, though a few others on our boat reported seeing a nurse shark and a turtle. Both dives were in the 40 foot range, which meant we didn’t have to wait more than the five minute boat ride between them before going back in the water. Always nice, especially when the boat’s rocking that much! My main issues were equalizing on the first dive (as always) and getting back into the boat both times. Climbing a ladder in 3+ foot seas with a tank on my bank is not easy! They did warn us ahead of time to allow plenty of space and wait until one person was up before approaching the ladder, since they’d had at least one diver fall off the ladder during the morning’s dives. Yikes!

Coral at Five Caves

We embarked on yet another adventure during our trip to the Keys, but that will be the subject of another post. Stay tuned!


Categories: adventure, diving, older women, photography, scuba, scuba diving | 1 Comment

One step away from 2nd Dan!

While it did take me several tries to break my stack of 4 boards with a back kick today, I managed it! That was the part of the test I was most nervous about, which is probably why I had trouble. (As Grandmaster Yoon told the kids as they received their black belts after the next round of testing, the reason they have us break boards is to build confidence… and lack of confidence usually means the board won’t break!) Actually, I broke a total of 6 boards today, since I also had to do a special break which consisted of one board with an elbow strike and one board with an axe kick. (Two of my stronger breaks, so not nearly so stress-inducing. Plus, 1 board vs 4 boards…)

I did, however, come away with a very impressive bruise on my left foot. No, not from breaking. (Actually, BREAKING never hurts. It’s the failed attempts that hurt!) I got the bruise from sparring as a volunteer partner during the recommended black belt test (red belt/white stripes going for recommended belts that are red and black). They had to do two-on-one sparring, which necessitated black belt volunteers. I actually enjoy two-on-one, even when I’m the one. But this time there was an unfortunate foot collision based on poor timing that had both of us making faces.

Everything else went smoothly. I got to sit back and watch everyone else’s self-defense skits, since I did mine last night, and I was well-studied on my terminology, kicking combinations, one-step sparring and Hapkido techniques.

So now I can relax until October, when I have to take the same test again to actually receive my new two-stripe belt. Whew!

Now, back to icing my foot…

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Big belt test tomorrow!

Tomorrow morning I test for my recommended 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo. Yes, already! Assuming I pass (big assumption–among other things, I have to break 4 boards with a single back kick), I get to do the same test again in October to actually get the belt with two stripes. Tonight, during the color belt test, I performed my self-defense skit (a required part of my test), which I choreographed and practiced with a fellow black belt. He pretended to be attempting to abduct/car jack me, and I defended myself using my TKD skills and my car keys as my weapons. (I included an impressive face slap at one point that garnered “Oooohs!” from the audience–he was such a good sport!) Tomorrow, things get a little scarier….

Will report back!


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Diving again–at last!

Yes, it’s been well over a year, but I finally had the chance to go diving again! This time was in the Bahamas, with Stuart Cove’s dives. Staying at the Atlantis, on Paradise Island (on my hubby’s bucket list, and since it’s our 30th anniversary trip, I figured, why not? If not now, when?) and this is the operation you book through there. Did an afternoon two tank dive, and both were excellent, I must say! Pricey (like EVERYTHING at Atlantis) but very, very good.

First dive was at DC3 Wall, with the bottom around 50-60 feet and a wall going down more than a mile. I think I bottomed out around 80 feet. Two worthwhile wrecks, both deliberately sunk: a ship and a DC9 plane. Some great coral on the wall, too. I had even more trouble equalizing than usual, alas, but I did eventually get down to the good stuff! Took some good pix, which I hope to post after I get home (left the camera cable behind. Ooops!)

Second dive was a place they call Hollywood Bowl off Goulden Cay and it was spectacular. Ranged from about 15 – 30′ deep with a TON of coral and fish. Saw a small ray and others in our group saw a reef shark, though I missed it. Best coral I’d seen since West Caicos Island. Nearly unspoiled. (Becoming a rare commodity!) Some beautiful parrot fish, trumpet fish, a flounder or two. Cool stuff, more great pix.

We’ve also done a bit of snorkeling, right here at Atlantis. Okay, but nothing to write home about. Camera locked up on me there, so I’m not sure what I’ll have to show for it.

On Atlantis itself: gorgeous place, beautiful rooms and amenities. VERY pricey, and meals are a bit of an ordeal (long lines for breakfast, need reservations–days in advance–for nice dinners). Glad we came, but probably won’t do it again.

Happy diving!

–Brenda 🙂

Categories: adventure, diving, older women, photography, scuba, scuba diving | 2 Comments

Oh, yes, I am!! Black belt achieved!

This time I wanted to post while the experience is still fresh–as in, just a few hours ago. We had to be at the do jang at 8:30am (which is very early for this nightowl) for pictures and announcements and to take our Taekwondo Pledge (which basically states we will only use our powers for Good). Then the testing started. Lots of testing. 5 hours of testing, total, only the last 40 min. or so of which was my belt group. Lots of time to get stiff (I kept stretching) and NERVOUS.

Particularly nervous-making was watching the recommended black belt test, the one I took last time around. Grandmaster Yoon really DOGGED those poor folks! Partly because a few of the kids didn’t have a great attitude, I suspect, but the whole group suffered for it. In total, I believe they had to do three hundred back-spinning kicks… and this was BEFORE they broke their boards! So yeah, we were getting pretty nervous waiting to test for our black belts.

We were last. Apparently this is always true, but I hadn’t know it before. We started with forms (besides koryo, we had to demonstrate several random forms as they were called, to include taeguk sah jang and taeguk pal jang). Then kicking combinations, which went on and on and on until we were getting good and winded. Then the free-sparring, followed by two-on-one and one-on-two sparring. (pant, pant) Then came the dreaded board breaking: 3 stacked boards with a back kick. No, this is NOT easy, and I didn’t do it on the first try. Or the second try. Or even the third try. But then I heard that wonderful “crack” and it felt like the easiest kick of the bunch. (I have a few bruises to show for the unsuccessful ones!)

Then we lined up again and I thought we’d be doing one-step sparring, but no, Grandmaster Yoon wanted us to do another break: kicking combinations down the floor, with a reverse-turn roundhouse break at the end. Also NOT easy, and it took me 3 tries (yep, kicking the length of the room each time, pant, pant) but I broke that one, too. Hard to describe the rush of relief I felt!

After that we were spot checked on Korean terminology and a few of us (including me) were asked to explain what getting a black belt meant to us. I may have sucked up a little with my answer. <g> But I was also perfectly honest! Taekwondo has taught me discipline, focus, self-defense, confidence, stamina and flexibility. (Really–I’m more flexible than I was at age 20, simply because I keep up with it.)

And then we were presented with our BEAUTIFUL black belts! Every single black belt still there congratulated each one of us, and it felt wonderful. I’ll admit it, I’m feeling a little bit full of myself today!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes–I definitely plan to continue. My goal now is to reach 3rd Dan (3rd degree) black belt by the time I turn 60. Wish me luck!


Categories: adventure, martial arts, older women, taekwondo | 3 Comments

Black belt test tomorrow!

Okay, this is it–the biggie! I test for my black belt tomorrow. Scariest part (to me) is that I have to break THREE boards (all at once) with a back kick. I’ve been drilling mercilessly on my forms, my kicking combinations and my terminology. But that board break… you either do it or you don’t, which is scary-making. I’ll report back tomorrow and let you know how I did!

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Wiped out, but proud

I had another belt test this weekend, and it was by FAR the most gruelling one yet. Fitting, I suppose, since it was for my recommended black belt (that’s the one RIGHT before black, with the belt half red and half black).  I obsessed for two weeks over the board breaking, since I knew I’d be expected to break with both right foot and left foot back-spinning kicks. That’s a scary kick at the best of times, flinging your foot up and around at head-height. Getting it wrong doesn’t just mean the board doesn’t break. It means there’s an excellent chance you’ll land on your tush on the mat in front of God, Grand Master Yoon, and everybody. And it’s the one part of the test you can’t fudge at all. With forms and kicking combinations and even one-step sparring, there more than a dozen of us doing it at once, so a flub isn’t terribly noticeable. But with breaking, you either break the board or you don’t.

I had to be at the do jang at 8:30am for the group picture. I should probably mention here that I am NOT a morning person. Note the time stamp on this post. It’s rare that I’m in bed before 1am and it’s rare that I’m out of bed before 9am. Add nervousness about the test (and a big–unrelated–party we were hosting later that same day) and I didn’t get a lot of sleep. After pictures and announcements, the testing started. My group wasn’t first. Or second. Or third. I started to worry I’d be too stiff to do any decent kicking and tried to stretch a little, inconspicuously, while waiting. Finally, after the second-degree black belt credit test, the first degree kids’ credit test (which they failed–they had to try again later on) and the first degree adults’ credit test, it was our turn. I creaked to my feet when my name was called and tried to hurry to my spot. Yeah, I was stiff.

We started with poomsae–forms. At this level, we were expected to know ALL of the forms we’d learned so far, nine in all.  Our Master Instructor had us do three or four random forms, then the most recent and hardest one, taeguk pal jang.  I was starting to loosen up.  Next we did kicking combinations, any from 1 – 20, again called out randomly.  A few of the kids were having trouble remembering, which meant we had to do some of them several times.  Definitely getting warmed up now.  Next came free sparring, never my favorite thing, but not too bad. Lora and I had fun with it. Then (oops! I’d forgotten we had to do this!) sparring one-on-two and two-on-one.  That really gets the blood pumping, believe me!  Now it was time to demonstrate our one-step sparring, as high as we could go. Lora and I had practiced these together before, including at a two-hour special class, so we did really well, I think. We made it through number 11, then realized everyone else had stopped when the Master Instructor called a halt.

I braced myself for the board breaking, which would be next. Except it wasn’t. Instead, Grand Master Yoon had us pair up and do back kicks countered by roundhouse kicks, up and down the floor, as quickly as possible, until he told us to stop. Several hours later (okay, it was probably about five minutes but it sure FELT like hours!) with all of the black belts cheering us on as we trembled and sweated, nearing the end of our endurance (well, I was, anyway–I had the distinction of being the oldest one testing for that belt….by about a decade), he called a halt.  Then, finally, it was time to break boards.

Yeah, I guess you could say I was warmed up.

I set up, tried not to overthink it, spun, kicked, and broke the board on the first try.


And then we went straight to terminology without breaking a second board. I won’t say I was disappointed, however. (And I did break with my “bad” leg–not the one I’d have chosen, had I been given a choice.)

And now, I have my beautiful new black and red belt, which I will wear with considerable pride!

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Adventures galore!

It’s definitely time I started posting here again, since I’ve had several adventures over the past few months and will be having even more over the next month or so!

Guess I should start with the trip to Grand Cayman over New Years, which involved some good snorkeling and a couple of dives. Pictures to follow, since they’re currently on a different computer. So far, I think Grand Cayman has had the best combination of beach, diving, snorkeling and good restaurants of any Caribbean place we’ve tried, though St. Maarten comes close (and wins in the restaurant department). There are still lots of places to try, however!

We stayed at the southern end of Seven Mile Beach this time and had good snorkeling right off the beach, as well as easy access to lots of restaurants and one of the best walking beaches in the world. I’ll be surprised if we don’t stay there again in the future.

No sharks this time (that I saw–my daughter saw a reef shark) but some relatively unspoiled coral, sea turtles, a ray or two and lots and lots of fish. Also excellent visibility at 30-60 feet. I call that a win!

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Red Belt Achieved!

I feel like I’m finally getting into serious belt territory now!  My “belt class” began with 19 people as white belts, and as of test time we were down to 9, between people missing tests, dropping out or taking (short or long) breaks from taekwondo training. I believe only 7 or 8 of us actually tested–I’ll check the board next time I’m in class.

As you might expect, the tests get more involved as we get closer to black. For this one, we had to demonstrate kicking combinations 13 – 16, our form (Taeguk Yuk Jang), our usual two minutes of sparring, knowledge of terminology (cumulative!) and board breaking. This time around, we had to break TWO boards, the first one with a palm heel strike and the second with a jumping roundhouse kick, with various kicks down the floor in between the two. I’d been stressing a bit about the second break, because my “jumps” in class weren’t very, um, jumpy. I would find myself focusing too much on jumping and messing up the actual kick when we practiced with targets. As it happened, though, I broke the board (both boards) on the first try . . . after a bit of confusion. My sparring partner “crossed lanes” during the kicks down the floor and broke MY board instead of hers with the roundhouse! So, after a moment’s hesitation, I just threw in an extra couple of kicks to get to her board and broke that one instead. No harm, no foul.

For the next test (which we can’t take for at least four months) we’ll be expected to show cumulative mastery of EVERYTHING so far: all forms, kicking combinations and terminology, in addition to one-step sparring techniques 1-10. Plus our NEW form and two more kicking combos, of course. Oh, and we get to spar both one-on-one and one-on-two, which will be something new as well. Lots to learn before February!

Categories: adventure, martial arts, older women, taekwondo | 1 Comment

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