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Saturday, July 20th, 2013 - 11:05 PM

"Juggler Vain"

Hopefully I'm not actually vain; just trying to come up with a "clever" title.

I went to Grandpa's memorial service today. I got to spend time with family members I don't get to see very often. We had a nice meal afterward. I left a little early because I was quite tired. I was in a weird mood, so I took a three hour nap while running a load of laundry after arriving home. (I expect to win no awards for interesting writing today)

I have gone on hikes, mostly with mom, every week for the last couple months. I was not able to hike today because of the service, but I wanted to do something physical. I chose soccer ball juggling. It has been about five years since I made an attempt to break my record or even to attain high numbers. I am amazed five years have passed, but my blog post dates do not lie! I intentionally let my record stand for a while and have been inventing other kicking disciplines. Each of the fun juggling exercises I developed are engaging and challenging. I'm too lazy to describe those now, but they are far more strenuous and rewarding than the monotony of numerical record breaking.

I decided to finally go for numbers again today, though I did not think it would be a record breaking day. It seems I often return to numbers after significant life events. After five years and many poor health choices, I did not expect to summon the endurance required to achieve more than a couple thousand hits. I had not drinken any water today, was probably dehydrated, felt slightly groggy after a nap, had a slight headache, and was mentally distracted. I always pack fluids for my juggling sessions and drink whenever I feel the need, but once I start on a long volley I can't exactly bend down to pick up a drink! I often imagine having several human or robotic lackeys nearby to wipe my forehead, spritz me with a cold mist, and feed me liquid through a straw... but none of those guys ever show up. How rude! laugh

Juggling takes a surprising amount of concentration mixed with an equal amount of mindlessness. A perfect balance between focus and spacy neglect must be maintained at all times. If I focus too much, I cannot juggle. If I get lost in deep thought or become a mindless zombie, I also cannot juggle. It appears I am concentrating on each kick, but the exercise is mostly mindless and instinctive.

It is weird to consider all the physics and tiny brain adjustments involved. Each kick is different, each step is unique, the ground varies, the spin of the ball changes, the height and direction of the bounce is never the same, there are obstacles, there are boundaries to my juggling area, lights and shadows can be distracting, and many other factors play a part. I have to ignore all that, and most of it fades into my subsconscious. It is an experience very similar to driving across town (or across whole states!) when tired and after arriving wondering if you were dreaming or how you even made the journey. All the curves, directions and landmarks fade out of memory. Your mind and muscles have enough information from past experiences to go on auto-pilot when driving a car, especially along a familiar route. A similar phenomenon happens when I juggle a soccer ball.

I must concentrate FAR MORE on counting kicks than how I kick. I mouth the numbers silently, keep track of hundreds with my fingers, and mentally record each thousand. It seems like counting would be a major distraction, but it improves my performance. Counting makes for a nice mental stimulus to balance all the levels of consciousness.

I cannot think of three or four things at once without epic fail happening. I have to minimize the various levels of consciousness from gaining too much focus - but I don't completely ignore them either. I also have to reserve an "emergency switch" awareness in case I lose my balance or hit the ball wrong. In a split second I must go from auto-pilot to manual mode, jumping and kicking like crazy to regain control. I often think about spiritual things when juggling, another level of awareness I have to limit from gaining too high a percentage of my concentration.

The other SIGNIFICANT conscious level I have to both watch and ignore simultaneously is my physical status. I keep a check on my relaxedness versus tenseness and many other physical factors. I can feel fatigue setting in and I have to consciously ignore it just as a long distance runner does. I feel thirst, have to wipe sweat off my face, scratch itches on my face, swat away gnats at times, sense when I'm about to pass out, etc. I have discovered the ability to continue past the state of feeling like I'm about to faint by doing something inexplicable with my brain, forcing an energy burst or relaxation, whatever is necessary in the moment.

When I am doing well, I can ignore all the physical factors that I am feeling in my body and make subconscious adjustments to keep adequately alert. I cannot juggle without looking at the ball, so I have to retain nearly constant eye contact. I can't stare too intently though and "snap out of it" at regular intervals to avoid going into a mild hypnotic trance. The motion is very rhythmic and mindless, and many times my other levels of consciousness slowly take over the forefront of my mind.

It's a weird set of challenges. No one probably cares about all that, but I figured it would be a good exercise to write what I experience when juggling for numbers.

In spite of my perceived physical limitations and mental distraction, I did very well today. As the numbers climbed, I experienced my normal fixation on numerology. My blood pressure and spiritual stress always increase when I'm in the 600 or 6000 range. I'm always worried I'll drop the ball on iteration of 666, but this worry actually increases the chance it will happen! smileySo I pray that I'll pass the number of man into the number of completeness and seemingly "God's favorite numbers." Once I attain a 7, I can relax again! I also start thinking about whether to get as high a number as I can or to stop intentionally on a number to dedicate toward a purpose. My current record was achieve that way. I intentionally stopped on 7777 to honor God, though I certainly could have kept going.

Today I had a couple possible stopping points in mind: 9696 and 11111. I thought of 9696 to honor my Grandpa. He lived to be 96, and he was still on my mind today because of the memorial service. I have to ignore these numeric thoughts, otherwise I have a really hard time keeping count (not to mention focus somewhat on my juggling), and a form of superstitious "jinx" or Murphy's Law sets in to cause distraction and inevitable self-defeat.

All that boring story to say a broken record was not attainable today. The sun was going down, and I only had time for one attempt. I didn't conserve enough brain power to satisfy all my levels of consciousness, and a split second of mental fatigue caused me to drop the ball. I am very satisfied with what I got, in spite of the closeness to breaking my record. After 7468 hits (or thereabouts... my mental counter got distracted in the end), I immediately sat down against the wall with a sense of inner peace and thankfulness. Even though my juggling seems a meaningless physical activity, I always feel as though various aspects of my inner self benefit. I am very mindful of God, spiritual warfare, ignoring the flesh, and other somewhat deep realities while kicking the ball up and down. While I never renewed my childhood studies in martial arts, juggling has many similar benefits. I enjoy juggling a lot and consider it a deritive of my former discipline. In fact, when I'm really going at it, I use martial arts techniques and stances against my small, round opponent. It probably doesn't help to do tai chi moves with my arms... but maybe it does! wink This was also the first use of my brand-new white and yellow Adidas ball.

Though I don't think 7468 has special meaning, I dedicate it to the memory of my Grandpa who passed away last week. He's in a far better place, and I look forward to joining him someday. Perhaps I'll see him at the "eastern gate." smiley

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Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 - 11:50 PM

"Invincible Soccer Ball?"

I'll be the judge of that!

I have gone through my fair share of soccer balls. I juggle them with my feet, kick them around on paved surfaces and against walls. I am not kind to them! This kind of rough friction is very hard on soccer balls. I usually have one brand new or nearly new ball in my possession and one or two oldies. I prefer to use the oldies because the brand new ones are very smooth and slippery. The older ones are usually a bit softer on the foot as well.

My good friend Dave is really into volleyball and is pretty picky about purchasing balls. I can attest that money is well spent on a good volleyball. In other words, you generally get what you pay for, and some cheap volleyballs are nearly unusable. Back when Dave and I peppered around and played a few informal games, I realized this sensitive threshold between a good volleyball and a bad one. There was pretty much one brand that was the best, and all the others were far inferior.

Fortunately with soccer balls, you don't necessarily get what you pay for, at least this is what I have found. My opinion doesn't count for much though because I never use them in gameplay. I only juggle. But I might argue that a good ball for juggling is also probably good for games. It might be my imagination, but I have found almost the opposite rule from the volleyball discussion. The cheaper the soccer ball, the more I seem to like it. Some of the cheapest balls are the most consistently made - very round and not too bulgy.

Since most standard soccer balls will not last forever when used on rough pavement, there is no particular reason to buy an expensive one. I am rough on them, so the cheaper the better. After all, I am not thrilled about an annual "soccer ball budget" that buying more expensive balls would require. I buy soccer balls at Target, Ross, Walmart, or occasionally Big 5. I rarely pay more than $10 or $12 for a ball. I am not very materialistic, so I don't care about looks, colors or brands. I can generally tell at a glance if a ball will work for me or not. I do tend to like Adidas soccer balls, as they are especially consistent and smooth in contour. That said, I have never bought a total dud, no matter the brand or price.

My last post about Richard Swanson inspired me to investigate his vision a bit. The primary organization he was raising money for is called The One World Futbol Project. I haven't read all the details, but the basic idea of their charity is to donate high quality soccer balls to people in areas of the world where affordable access is lacking. A soccer ball can literally be a person's dream come true in many countries. Trust me, I know! Have you ever seen those photos of kids with bundles of garbage packed together as a soccer ball? National Geographic even did a story on innovative children and their homemade soccer balls from all over the world. I have seen such balls first hand in poor communities in Brasil! Kids cannot afford a real ball, so they make one by packing and binding trash or other materials using twine or whatever they have handy. If they have access to a real ball, they will repair it many times before getting rid of it, long past what most westerners would consider acceptable for use. Soccer is the primary activity or sport for kids in many nations, and a good ball is hard to come by, especially if you are poor.

One World Futbol Project - Buy One, Give One

The balls that One World Futbol produces are supposedly "nearly indestructible." That is a claim I am WAY TOO CURIOUS to simply read about. It requires tactile feedback. Even though the One World balls are more expensive than what I normally buy, I cannot resist checking to see if their claims are true. They say that one of these balls can outlast thousands of regular balls! Whoa! That would mean I would never have to buy one again! We'll just have to see about that. Even if it lasts 3 or 4 times as long, it will pay for itself.

The cool thing about purchasing these particular balls is that "for every One World Futbol you buy, we give a second ball to a community in need through organizations working in disadvantaged communities such as refugee camps, war zones, disaster areas and inner cities." I like that idea. Totally going to buy one. I'll try to be gracious in my assessment of the ball when it arrives. I don't want to get my hopes up that it will be truly invincible. I have a hard time believing that. More importantly, I hope that whoever gets the other one (I buy one, someone else gets one free) will get some good use out of it. And you have to know that if one kid has a ball, it means a whole group of kids will benefit! Sweet!

P.S. Thanks again, Richard Swanson. You got me blogging again! I can't say that it is very rewarding as far as interaction. People don't read blogs much since the advent of Facebook and other social media. But it is rewarding for my own personal processing and growth... as long as I don't waste too much time on it.

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Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 - 2:14 PM

"Richard Swanson, Breakaway Brazil"

Richard Swanson
John Swanson, Breakaway Brazil

I don't feel like I can do much justice to this subject without spending a ton of time collecting my thoughts and editing the snot out of my writing. I don't presently have that kind of time on my hands, so I'll be relatively brief.

Today I was given a link to an epic story, that of Richard Swanson. His life was much more than the few breaths I will exhale to write this post. I learned of his existence, his passion, his soccer juggling journey, and his death all in about five minutes. If only I would have known of him before that.

Richard Swanson set out from Seattle, Washington with the plan to walk all the way to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, for the World Cup. All the while he would juggle a soccer ball and raise money for charity. Talk about awesome! That's about three or four of my own passions and dreams combined. Had I heard about all this before today, I might have made an effort to at least meet Richard as he passed through Oregon. I know I would have experienced significant temptation to do even more... join him in his walk!

It is pretty rare to find a fellow juggler. Well, some of the news articles describe his trek as "dribbling," which is different from juggling. Juggling or dribbling, either method of reaching Brasil is impressive! Only a few times in my short life have I found people to juggle a soccer ball with. Most people want to play a game instead, but I only like to juggle. It would have been an honor to juggle or pass a ball back and forth with Richard as he was passing through Oregon - and to hear a bit of his story firsthand. Of course I also have great appreciation for Brasil, having been there four times. A significant part of my short life story was wrapped up in those trips and the time surrounding them. The idea of walking or driving from Portland to Brasil has also occurred to me. The P.C.T. has immense appeal to get to Mexico, and then on from there. But it was never more than a dream for me. Here was a man living the dream!

The journey was not meant to be, at least, it had a far more tragic end than anyone would have wished. Richard was hit by a truck while still in the Oregon part of his trip. I was very sad to hear the news, almost as if it was a dear friend who passed away. I have enough interests in common with this man to feel this loss more than an average tragic news story. Mom and I were even walking along highway 101 a couple weeks ago, probably where Richard passed by days later. I can definitely see the danger. I didn't feel super safe walking on the nearly nonexistent shoulder. I can't even imagine trying to juggle or dribble a soccer ball in those conditions!

I wish Richard's journey would have been completed. Many, after hearing the story, have casually or officially pledged to help complete parts of his journey. I might not be able to make a significant contribution, but if I can, I might: maybe juggle a couple miles in his honor. Good Lork. 777.

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Friday, February 6th, 2009 - 12:15 AM

"The Cheapest Replacement Part"

Big Douse was interested too
Big Douse was interested in the fixing of the seatpost
(or rather, he wanted to be in the picture).

I wasn't really sure what to do about my broken bike seat. I didn't really want to ride all the way over to the bike shop. It's a major pain to ride without somewhere to sit. Thankfully, my good friend Dave read my former blog entry on the subject and delivered me from my troubles. He offered to drive me to the bike shop this evening. Performance didn't have zip. G.I. Joe's didn't have zip (I refuse to call it "Joes"). Finally, The Bike Gallery had just the thing. I was beginning to think I would have to replace the entire seatpost, which can be expensive. No one had the diameter of post to match my bike - literally no one. The Bike Gallery had the replacement bolt I needed though. So I fixed my bike for a buck! Awesome!

Thanks Dave, for dropping me off at the Smiths' for community group. Thanks, all who were there, for being a continual blessing to me. Yummy hamburger (and Jelly Bellies)! Thanks, Ashby, for bringing your yarn and allowing me to finger knit a rope. I'm amazed I still remembered like a veteran. It has been probably 20 years since I've done that! Thanks, cousin Tracy, for teaching me how to finger knit a LONG time ago at Grandma and Grandpa's house in Gold Beach. Thanks, Wes, for giving me a ride home.

fixed bike seatpost
I know, it's backwards. I fixed it after taking this picture :)
It probably doesn't matter much, but the angle should push from behind (basic physics).

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