Wednesday, May 30, 2018

End of May Check-In

I think one way I am going to try to keep myself disciplined about both skating and blogging is to make a new rule that I have to write at least two posts a month — one forward-looking into my goals and hopes for the coming month and one retrospective at the end of the month to see how I did.  Since it’s the end of the month, I’m switching things up and starting this exercise with a retrospective for the end of the month.  I like lists, so I think that is the way I will organize things at least for this one.
1.  High and low: for this month, they came within ten minutes of each other.  I passed my Fiesta Tango ice dance test about 5 minutes after I failed my Swing Dance ice dance test.

2.  Where I put my energy this month: this is a frustrating month for skaters in my skating circle, because our go-to risk closed down at the beginning of May and won’t reopen till mid-June.  There are other area rinks but they don’t have ice time that is as plentiful or as convenient.  So, I’ve also tried to use the month to start to get back on track with a little bit of running (three times a week at a painfully slow pace) and hiking (once a week for the last couple of weeks).

In terms of skating, for ice dance, there is obviously the Swing Dance to still conquer and particularly my back edges (swing rolls and chasses) to be improved. My coach Russ is letting me dip my toes on the next two dances, the Willow Waltz (which I think looks so pretty) and Ten Fox (which will require the learning of a new turn - the outside Mohawk).

For free skating and moves in the field, moves have pretty much been sidelined for the sake of free skating.  My first program, which performed for the very first time in March, has been upgraded by my coach Melody (more about that in my early June blog post), so that it now has two single jumps (waltz jump and salchow) and two single combinations (waltz jump-toe loop and salchow-toe loop) as well as three “hops” (my term) — mazurka, ballet jump and falling leaf. Getting it all in requires more speed, which is very tricky for me.

3.  Improvements and continuing frustrations: on the frustration category one word: spins!  I have SUCH a hard time with them. Although my jumps might only feel better to me, they are starting to come together better.  I think a huge key for me is learning to actually bend my skating knee in the approach to a jump, rather than scratching to an abrupt halt.  Tons of work to do, but progress. In ice dance, I think turns are starting to improve — Inside Mohawks are going pretty well, outside three turns getting a little less sluggish  and outside mohawks, which I had been terrified to even try, seem within reach if I keep practicing.

Since the goal of this post is just to set a marker for where I am at the end of May, I think this is a good stopping point.  The next will cover what’s coming up, and what i hope to work on (and improve) for the month of June.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Win Some. Lose Some, Keep Going

Something I learned in graduate school is that the most interesting people I’ve encountered in life are usually not the ones who race efficiently from Point A to Point B with no stops or detours.  So, I will try to think of today as an opportunity to become a more interesting skater, since today was my first Official Testing Fail.  One of my big goals for this year was to pass all my Pre-Bronze ice dance tests.  I had already done the first (easiest) one, the Cha Cha in fall 2017.  Today was the big day when I would test the other two — the Swing Dance and the Fiesta Tango.  The good news is that I passed the Fiesta Tango; the bad news is that the Swing Dance and I have some more ground to cover together.

It’s a little ironic because the dance that I passed is the one that intimidated me more.  It has a quick Mohawk turn going into the end pattern that I’ve been working on for months, among other tricky elements.  Today, though, the thing that got me more than anything else was nerves, and it really showed in my first dance, when I didn’t keep time well with my partner (my ever-patient coach Russ), and generally skated the whole pattern in a way that the judges accurately referred to as “sluggish”. 

There’s a Buddhist bit of wisdom that can be reasonably paraphrased to the effect that life’s lessons keep showing up till we learn them.  So for today,  I’ll post the video of the one that came together for me here: 

And here’s the one that will help me become a better person (and better skater) as I work on the lessons of gratitude for challenges — along with better timing and backward swing rolls:

Not what I’d hoped to be recording today, but my goal for this blog is to record it all — the good and the bad, in the hopes of capturing what it’s like to try to improve on a skill taken up later in life. Hopefully this post will help me remember that what doesn’t feel good at the time might make me improve in the long run.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

One Down, Two to Go

I've been pretty bad about writing, but a good thing about blogging is that it's always there, waiting to be picked up again.  Back on New Year's Day I set up three goals for the year, and I am excited to say that I've hit the first one.  So, it seems like a great opportunity to record what happened with that first goal, and update on the other two as well.

These were my three big goals for 2018 (in black), and some update on what has happened (in blue):

  1. Pass my next two ice dances: Swing Dance and Fiesta Tango, and make some progress on a third, the Willow Waltz.  Been working on the Swing Dance and Fiesta Tango, and am scheduled to take my test for both on May 5. These are the first two ice dances I'm learning that have forward to backward turns in them, and backwards skating elements, so there are lots  of tricky parts to practice over the next three weeks.  
  1. Perform my first-ever solo routine.  I’ll be using the song Moon Shadow by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), and it will be a very modest little number.  But it does have three jumps  - a waltz jump, a salchow and toe loop, as well as a one-footed spin, so if I can pull it off, I’ll be thrilled.  DONE!  I skated the Campion Rink Mini-Show on March 31. The vido is below.  It was a very simple little one and a half minute program, but it included some jumps (still more like hops, but it's progress) and my biggest nemesis to date, a one-foot spin. And to my surprise, I really enjoyed doing it.  My hope is to keep working on it to skate it better, and possibly add some more complex elements as I learn them.

  1. Become competent at the three easiest elements of the Adult Silver Moves in the Field Test and  start working on the final three hardest elements.  The easier elements are: Consecutive Outside and Inside Forward Spiral Patterns; Forward and Backward Power Pulls; and Forward and Backward Cross Strokes.  The harder ones are Forward Outside - Backward Inside three turns; Forward Inside to Backward Outside three turns; and the 8 Step Mohawk.  This last goal is super-intimidating for me, which is precisely why I’ve broken it in half mentally to start by focusing on the easier part.  We’ll see how I do. Between getting ready for my solo and my ice dances, this one has pretty much been jettisoned.  My coach, Melody, has also been very busy with both her own skating preparation, and that of her other adult student, Leslie.  They both just competed at Adult Nationals and did really well. Leslie earned a Bronze medal in her division and Melody won Gold in hers!  Once I'm done with the dance tests, though, I'll be back to working on these in earnest.
Here are Leslie, our coach Melody and me at the Campion Show after the show was over.
In the weeks to come I am going to try, once again, to get more regular on posting, and since there are so many things I need to work on there's plenty of material to write about.  That's it for now, except to say that I am always excited to go skating with others, so whether it is something you want to try for the first time, or you haven't done in a while, or you do way better than I do, let me know if you want to go, please.  Onward!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

All Ice, All Weekend (but no Figure Skating)

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but for the last couple of years, I’ve gotten out of practice.  That’s had all kinds of ramifications, from failure to keep up with blogging to remarkably sluggish turnout of academic papers.  One of the culprits might be my current love of figure skating, because I tend to do that four to five mornings a week, which makes me extremely happy, but as a morning person, this used to be the most productive time of day for me work-wise.  In an effort to become more flexible (I used to not even be able to touch my toes), I’ve also started do a lot more yoga, also in the morning.  What to do?  I came up with an idea, and we’ll see if it works.  I’m using the season of Lent as a way of re-establishing my writing habit.  Since I don’t want to lose my yoga practice, my Lenten resolution is two-fold: every day for the forty days of Lent, I need to do at least 30 minutes of yoga and fifteen minutes of writing.  I did make a special contingency that if I HAVE to miss a day of either or both, I have to “make it up” the next day.  So far, I’ve already had to make up one writing day, but it still definitely is getting me in the mode of thinking each day about writing, and how to fit it in my day.  And so today’s goal was to get back in the swing of blogging, and here I am, typing away.
The next post after this one will be looking at what I’ve done figure skating-wise, since the New Year  began, but for today’s post I thought it would be fun to record the ice events of the weekend which, for a change, had nothing to do with figure skating.  On Saturday, I participated in SMC’s annual women’s only ice climbing day, and Sunday I finally checked off a long-running bucket list goal of participating in the town of North Hero’s Great Ice weekend with the event I’d always wanted to do — skating from the shore across the frozen ice of Lake Champlain to Knight Island.
My friend Paul likes to tell his first year students “Don’t Anticipate, Participate.”  I should have taken his advice this weekend, rather than pre-loading both events with expectations.  I had walked into the women’s ice trip with some trepidation: my friend and fellow student instructor Sophie, who was scheduled to be one of the leaders of the trip had to back out with a broken wrist, and friend and colleague Rai didn’t make it to the sign in on time and had to back out.  Three senior students and friends I had lobbied hard to sign up were going, and I wasn’t feeling particularly competent about the whole thing.  As it turned out, it was a phenomenal day.  The weather was great, the participants — Summer, Victoria and Tova, together with their roommate Roxy and fellow senior Amelia, had such great energy the whole day was a blast.  Best of all, lead instructor Andrea and student instructors Lindsey and Becca were outstanding.
What a great instructor team looks like: Lindsey, Becca and Lead Instructor Andrea

With their support, I climbed the hardest (as in most vertical route) I’ve ever done, and climbed a simpler one with just one ice axe to have the opportunity to work on footing.
Starting at the bottom of the most vertical climb I've ever done.

Andrea caught this shot of a much more tired version of me almost at the top.

Buoyed by my unexpectedly shiny, happy climbing day, I sauntered into Great Ice waaay on the overconfident side.  After all, I skate many more days than I don’t; what could possibly go wrong?  Michelle was as eager to put on some Nordic skates and tackle the rough ice as I was, and Jon was ready to give the recreation pair of regular skates he’d bought last year a go.  But getting on the ice at the shore, it was hard not to notice that, not only was the ice really rough, it had at least a half inch of snow on it all the way across the lake. Jon was the first to decide that skates were not going to work and switched to microspikes over his shoes.  Five minutes in, Michelle followed suit.  Undaunted I was convinced that through sheer force of will I would get the hang of the Nordic skates and stop nearly falling over the toes every time the front of the blade would hit a particularly big bump.  After I got home I looked it up and discovered the crossing was two miles long; it definitely felt like more as I reaped the karmic reward for every time in the last year I glared at a kid on a milk  crate at the rink for nearly running into me. Today, I was that kid again, slowly creeping along on my  Nordic skates while Jon and Michelle tactfully slowed their march to the Island lest I take a nosedive and need them to backtrack and save me.
A victory moment on finally reaching the shore of Knight Island.

With my patient and wiser fellow trekkers, Jon and Michelle before we began the trek back.

When we reached the island I declared victory, drank my hot chocolate that was there to reward all those who made the trek, and having learned my lesson, donned my microspikes for the much-quicker shoreline march.
Although the weekend’s ice activities were different than those I usually blog about, the lessons were painfully familiar: better to put more energy into action and less into expectations (good or bad); good teachers can make or break and experience; and everything is more memorable when you do it with great people. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Resolutions for the New Year; How Shall the Skating Grow?

This New Year on the East Coast started off with a decided chill.  The forecast for the entire day was below zero, and with no skating rinks open to come inside and warm up, we just had to make the best of it and do a little hike up Mount Philo, followed by a bit of sledding with some good friends.

Tomorrow, though things start back up for real; Tuesday is figures class, where a group of adult learners work with our teacher, Martha, at the meticulous tracings for which figure skating gets its name.  This aspect of the sport was dropped out of mainstream competition in the 1980s, but a few elements are still required in the tests called Moves in the Field, and there is still a specialized form of competition that is based upon them.  Perhaps more importantly, they are incredibly useful for learning “edges” required for just about everything else one does as a figure skater.

Given that it’s January 1, and that I love to make resolutions (they are, after all, the ultimate to-do list), now seems a useful time to recap what I hope to accomplish in 2018.  Like many of my other to-do lists, much of it is pulled off my 2017 list, but hopefully, the second time is the charm.

Here then, are my three big goals for 2018:

  1. Pass my next two ice dances: Swing Dance and Fiesta Tango, and make some progress on a third, the Willow Waltz.  
  2. Perform my first-ever solo routine.  I’ll be using the song Moon Shadow by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), and it will be a very modest little number.  But it does have three jumps  - a waltz jump, a salchow and toe loop, as well as a one-footed spin, so if I can pull it off, I’ll be thrilled.  
  3. Become competent at the three easiest elements of the Adult Silver Moves in the Field Test and snd start working on the final three hardest elements.  The easier elements are: Consecutive Outside and Inside Forward Spiral Patterms; Forward and Backward Power Pulls; and Forward and Backward Cross Strokes.  The harder ones are Forward Outside - Backward Inside three turns; Forward Inside to Backward Outside three turns; and the 8 Step Mohawk.  This last goal is super-intimidating for me, which is precisely why I’ve broken it in half mentally to start by focusing on the easier part.  We’ll see how I do.
I am sure other skills and goals will surface as the year progresses (the loop jump looms as one possibility; and the ever terrible backward figure eight), but this feels like a good set for now.  Hopefully, there will be lots more posting (with pictures and videos, which are way more interesting) as a way of keeping track in the weeks ahead.  Here’s to another year of skating.  Happy New Year, and as always, let me know if you want to join me at the rink!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Featuring the Protein of the Future: Bug Dinner

On my birthday a couple of weeks ago, I started the blog back up with two commitments for my year as a 51 year-old: to earnestly track my evolution as a figure skater, and to revive, albeit in a smaller way, my commitment to new things.  In the latter category I committed to a New Thing a month, and so this post reports on the first on the list: December’s New Thing, cooking the long-promised Bug Dinner.
Roasted crickets -- served on the side, so that guests could add just the right amount of crunch to their salads.

The idea for whipping up a dinner with bugs as the featured ingredient came from my friend, former student, and almost birthday-twin, Michelle. A strong bucket-lister in her own right, Michelle and I have together taken on various hiking goals in our beloved Green Mountains here in Vermont, service learning in Tanzania, and combating the AIDS epidemic, among other activities.  Michelle’s one of the most imaginative generators of New Thing ideas I know, and we’d been talking about this one for a while.  This year, we took the plunge and scheduled the meal on the day between our birthdays (Michelle was born on December 8 and I on December 10).
Michelle, hard at work on our Cricket Chili.

The greatest challenge, we found, came in sourcing the bugs.  Although theoretically there are a number of types of bugs available — including mealworms and silkworm larvae — by far the most common is crickets, and ultimately that was the mail order option that was most manageable for us. We ordered a pound of cricket meal and a pound of roasted crickets and crossed our fingers that they would arrive in time.
With the crucial bug ingredients ordered we started thinking about the menu, which had an additional twist — one of our guests can’t eat gluten.  This turned out to be not as tough as we expected.  We selected one dish he couldn’t eat — Cheddar-Cricket Biscuits, but the rest of the menu turned out just fine.

Ultimately, we settled for:

  • Tossed green salad with roasted crickets
  • Cheddar-cricket biscuits
  • Cricket chili
  • Cricket-topped gluten-free chocolate cupcakes
  • And everyone’s favorite, Cricket-Chocolate Clusters
Cheddar-cricket biscuits - with Cabot Very Sharp Cheddar (obviously).

Our guests — 11 total — were good sports.  They tried everything, claimed to like most of it, and everyone agreed that the nicest surprise was the Cricket Clusters, which were very much like Nestle Crunch chocolate bars.  For those still holding out objections, let me try one last time to make the case for Bugs (at least crickets) as the Protein of the Future:
  • They’re the perfect paleo food — nothing but protein.
  • They’re gluten-free.
  • Their water and carbon footprints are ridiculously small for a rich source of protein.
  • They’re cruelty-free.  They live a natural life until the day when they are put in a cold place and go into.a form of hibernation (torpor), then are frozen while they sleep.
  • Cricket powder is actually pretty versatile (though it’s kind of gritty and gray — food stylists will need to work on that one), and roasted crickets are pretty much all crunch.
So there you have it.  For the person who’s done it all, offer to cook a Bug Dinner! And Michelle’s and my resolution for the coming year of a New Thing a Month is off to a great start.  Now we have to decide what January will bring.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Back on Track with Keeping Track

Birthdays are a great time for taking stock, and in doing that, I realized I’ve let some things slide.  I find it motivating to keep track of goals and projects, but lately, I haven’t been.  So today, I’m recommitting to two things: first, to use this blog to keep track weekly of my skating progress (and struggles), and second to get back into the swing of the spirit of trying new things, which is what I did 52 times in 2010, the year this blog was created.

Therefore, from December 10, 2017 to December 10, 2018 here are my two resolutions:
1. To post on a weekly basis about a specific skill that I’m working on my figure skating
2. Once a month to post about a new thing I’ve done.

To start things off today, I’m taking a look at what has happened in a year — what I’ve accomplished and what I’m currently really struggling with.  So here are The Good and the The Bad.

The Good:
  • Passed my Pre-Bronze Free Style Test (in which I proved that I could do forward and backward crossovers, a spiral, a two footed and one-footed spin, and a waltz jump and salchow (at very simple levels).

  • Passed my first Pre-Bronze Ice Dance Test, the Cha Cha.
  • Started working on my first, very simple solo program.  I’ll be skating it to the Cat Stevens song Moon Shadow.
  • Started working on the easiest skills for my Silver Moves in the Field Test — forward outside and inside spirals, forward and backward power pulls and forward and backward cross strokes.
The Bad:
  • Spins!  For some reason, I am extremely challenged by spinning.  For my free style test I was able to eke out 3 rotations of a one-footed spin, but since I bought my new skates, I seem to have regressed backwards.  This feels like my biggest current block.
  • Jumps.  I am starting to be able to do the three simplest jumps — waltz jump, salchow and toe loop, but still have extreme difficult doing them with any speed or getting higher than a little hop in the air.  Starting to work on foot position for a loop jump as well, but that one is going to be a very long process.
  • Turns at speed in ice dancing. The next two ice dances I am learning, the Swing Dance and the Fiesta Tango, both require a turn called a Mohawk in going from forward to backward.  I have a lot of trouble especially on the Fiesta Tango, doing the turn quickly enough and going into the next position well.
  • Backward edges.  In figures class, I am working on my backward figure eight.  That means I have to hold a backward edge for the entire length of a circle, and I am nowhere near that level of balance, control or speed at the moment.
So now my plan is to report on a skill a week that I am working on — ideally alternating between ones I’m making good progress with, and ones on which I am struggling mightily.  For this week, since today was my birthday, I decided to give myself a little present and start with my favorite skill to work on as a warm-up, forward outside swing rolls. I love the way they feel when they are going well.  My friend Laura is a fellow professor at Saint Mike’s and a fellow adult skater.  She kindly filmed both my forward and backward outside swing rolls below.

Here are the forward ones:

And here is backwards:

In both cases, I need to do a better job of looking up, of fully extending my free (non skating) leg behind and forward, and of pre-bending my knee and ankle before stepping on to the new edge.  But from a control perspective, both have improved a lot. Swing rolls are a key component of ice dance (at least the easier ones that I am learning), so I am happy that these are getting better.

Coming up:
  • Yesterday my friend Michelle and I completed December’s New Thing — cooking with bugs.  Michelle’s birthday was Friday and mine is today, so we hosted a combination birthday dinner featuring roasted crickets and cricket powder. Blog posted coming shortly!
  • Holiday show next Saturday! My “home rink”, Leddy Park, hosts a holiday skating show every year, so next Saturday at 3 pm, the Ladies of Leddy (adult skaters) will be doing our holiday number — Christmas Tango on Ice.  Film to follow next week. 
  • This week I’ll be skating Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and possibly Saturday or Sunday, mostly during public skating sessions — let me know if you feel like joining in!