As a few of you know. this last weekend started out rough with our parakeet Volly dying Friday morning. We'd helped hand-raise and tame her since she was a baby and while she wasn't free in the house as much as our previous birds (partly because she had a more naturally nervous temperament and loved interacting with people but got overwhelmed in the Big Wide World, partly because before we didn't have cats roaming loose like we do now) she was cute and cheerful and by far the sweetest-natured of all her siblings. So that was hard and unexpected.
The week since then has been just such a blessing, though. It's been almost comical how perfectly everything worked out.
As I mentioned earlier, I passed the final exam for second-degree black belt on Saturday! :D :D :D
It was a long, crazy, exhausting day. There were about 100 candidates for promotion in all (mostly brown belts testing for their first-degree black belt), which is a medium-ish size, though only three people from my school who made it through to the final exam. This time around, in addition to some fairly recent curriculum changes that were fully incorporated into the exam for the first time, they also were trying some new ways of running various sections of the final exam. So even though the exam itself didn't start until 1:00, we needed to get down to the Cities by 11:00 to run through drills, practice timing, and get other instruction on when and how we were supposed to do what. So we were busy with that until about 12:30, quick break for water and snacks, then lining up to start at 1:00. Exam itself ended at... a little before 3:00, I think? Could've been longer, maybe. The final graduation ceremony, giving out the new belts, lasted a while longer, so we weren't done until a little after 4:00.
Between the exhaustion and stress and the heat (holy cow, it got so hot - just sitting in the audience my mom had to go outside for a while because she got overheated) it seemed to simultaneously fly by in a blur and take forever. It is always fun to do things like that when you have so many not-karate-people relatives in the audience watching, because not only are they really excited by the cool/hard stuff we do, but you get the audible gasps of alarm when black belts do self-defense takedowns and someone hits the mat fast. (Or, in the case of the higher-level black belts, partners are wearing protective gear so that candidates don't have to pull their strikes and most people who don't do karate don't realize that 1. The chest guards are made to absorb exactly those kinds of strikes, and 2. If you hit just right, it can amplify the sound of a kick considerably.)
Also, as usual, in order to pair up for sparring they had everyone line up by height, which put me waaaaay down at the end with the kids who were mostly 10-12. Which meant that, like last time, I had to inform the instructors that I was actually an adult and wasn't supposed to fight the children... XD Fortunately, UNlike last time, this time there was another small woman in the same boat, so that was a lot more fun than ending up paired up with someone twice my size for the exam again, especially since my fight was directly in front of the Grand Masters' table.
So. By the time I finished the exam, I was both thoroughly wiped out and wired beyond belief with adrenaline and relief. I am so, so happy to have made it through. There were quite a few times the last few months when I really thought I might not make it, mentally or physically. But now... I'm a second-degree black belt, and wherever things go from here having come this far and kept going through all of that is something that can't be taken away.
Anyway, after that, vacation started. ^^ I hadn't been able to take much of a break, mentally or physically, for the last four months, and Mom and Nef wanted to take a short girls' trip. I'd also really wanted to do some fossil hunting for my birthday, and the best area to do that tends to be in the southern part of the state, and we were already most of the way there having driven that far for the exam, so our whole family drove a bit further to stay in a hotel near a nature center where I'd discovered fossil hunting is allowed.
We had quite a thunderstorm Saturday night (perfect for washing away dirt and exposing new fossils), but Easter morning was beautiful and clear. After a morning church service, we went to the nature center, talked with one of the staff to get some advice on the better areas, and hiked up to the abandoned quarry. This being the first time I'd tried any organized fossil hunting (though I'd stumbled across a couple on previous trips out west), a lot of the time was just getting a feel for the lay of the land and what the types we were expecting to find looked like in their natural environment, but we did end up finding some quite nice ones. Mostly brachiopods and crinoids, a few others I'm going to need closer looks to identify. Really, really fun and I'm not the only one excited to try it again. (One day I'd love to go on some kind of guided hunt someplace like Montana or Utah...)
After that, the guys had to head back to pick up the dog from the kennel and be home in time for work Monday, but Mom, Nef, and I spent the next few days in the Cities. We went to Como Zoo Monday, which we haven't done in probably 15 years, and had mind-bogglingly perfect weather for it. I got tons of photos with my new camera (will probably put up a few this weekend), both of the animals and of flowers in their conservatory, where they had a gorgeous Easter display.
Tuesday was rainy, so we spent the morning shopping and decided to go to the History Museum in the afternoon - at which point we found out that not only was admission free at the specific time we planned to go, and they had a big new WW1 exhibit (which Nef was especially excited about, since it's much less common than WW2 and she needs more background research for her book) but that evening we were in time to sign up for a special WW1-themed event they had on, where they played a Charlie Chaplain movie with a live band providing music, highlighted some of the history of the era, and let people screen print their own copies of WW1-era posters.
Wednesday morning we went to the Science Museum, where they had a special exhibit on the history of fraudulent/misconceived medical inventions (with a lot from the early 1900s/20s, again fun and useful research for Nef), we got to visit parts of the museum we loved as children, and also alllll the lovely fossils. <3 I wasn't surprised to find that the gift shop had fossils for sale, but I was surprised that the prices were very reasonable. So... I may have gotten a little overexcited and ended up buying half a dozen (plus a beautifully detailed, realistic replica of a velociraptor claw and toe bones, since the chances of my affording a genuine one are zilch XD) for the price I'd normally be able to get maybe two or three, buying them online and paying shipping - with the added bonus of being able to see them in person and select exactly what I wanted.
While we were at the Science Museum, we also ran into my godparents' youngest daughter. My parents knew their family long before I was born, but we haven't seen them in a while - the daughter lives in Kansas City now and was just up here for Easter, so getting to talk to her was a really fun surprise.
Also, the lavender-peppermint lotion/shower gel/shampoo/conditioner at the hotel we were staying at was amazing, and I think I may have to buy all my stuff in that scent from now on.
So yes - very nice to have a much-needed and refreshing break! ^^