Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Learning to Skate and Learning to Wait: Who Knew They Were So Connected?

There were some things I knew, or strongly suspected, when I started working on figure skating in my late forties.  I'd need to try to get more flexible (when I started I couldn't even touch my toes); obviously, I'd have to work on balance; and I'd need to carve out time to practice.  But what I didn't know is this: if you want to become an adult skater, you'd better either have reams of, or be willing to work on, the personal attributes of patience and courage.  Patience because there are a whole lot of new skills to learn, and they don't come quickly, especially for adult skaters.  And courage because that ice is hard, and if you were never a daredevil climb-on-everything and go-as-fast-as-you-could kid (I was definitely not) the prospect of jumping, and even going faster than your comfort zone is scary. So, the understanding that has taken quite some time to get past the denial of my brain is that, if I am going to keep progressing in this hobby I've chosen, I need to also accept the fact that I am always going to have to work twice as hard to progress half as fast as I might have forty years ago.  But it's still worth it.

I've been a lot less regular about posting on my skating progress than I meant to be, and that is largely a function of the fact that progress is going so sloooowly (see note above about patience).  But since the year is a third over, I think it's time to assess where things are at, so here goes.  I have three areas where I'm trying to improve this year, and only in one of them (ice dance) do I have anything tangible to show for my efforts.  But I like to think that at least I'm developing character, so here's where things are at right now.

1. Ice Dance: my one clear piece of progress: passed my fourth dance test (the Cha Cha)!  Now I've moved on to start work on two that feel a lot harder --  Swing Dance and Fiesta Tango.  The Cha Cha was the last of the dance patterns that goes only forward; the two I am working on now are skated partly going forward and partly going backward, and the transitions between the two (with a partner in tow) are a new skill to learn in themselves.  Still, I was excited to have passed the Cha Cha and happily, here's the video to show for it. For testing, you dance the pattern twice, and at least at this very low level you can do it on your own or as I have here, with my ever-patient ice dance coach, Russ.

2. Free Skate: The first Adult free skate test Pre-Bronze Free Skate) is a simple affair: two jumps of 1/2 to one rotation; a two-footed spin; a one foot spin, forward and backward crossover and either a spiral or a lunge.  The simplicity is made even simpler by the fact that I passed two of these elements (crossovers and spiral) over two years in ago in a Pre-Bronze Moves in the Field Test.  Yet I'm stuck.  My first jump (a Waltz jump) is more like a hop, and on my second (Toe Loop), I fail to actually make the jump (hop) about half the time.  Spins are only slightly better.  Each has to have at least three rotations, which isn't a problem for my two-footed spin, but definitely still is on one foot. I think the spin will come with more practice (that is, patience), but the jumps have me more frustrated.  Jumping on ice just scares me, and I need to figure out what to do about that to get past this place where I'm basically stalled out.

3.  Moves in the Field: This is the place, where on paper, I had advanced the most, but now my progress is on hold. This is true for two reasons.  First,  I have to catch up a little in the other two areas, and second, the next test, the Adult Silver Moves in the Field is really, really past my abilities.  Every single move on it feels very challenging. My initial hope was to start with some of the less daunting parts like cross strokes and power pulls and spirals, and save the really hard Mohawk sequence and forward and backward three-turn parts for later, but until I get some progress on the very simple jumps and spins I am trying to learn, that's where most of my lesson and practice time and energy is going.

So bottom line, progress is going much slower than I would like, but at least it's going. Happily, my coaches, Melody and Russ, are both unfailingly patient and encouraging so there's that. Hopefully in August I'll be able to take my first Adult Free Skate test, and at least one of my next ice dances.  And in the meantime, I'll keep chipping away, and writing about, hopefully both on a more regular schedule.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year: Time to Break Out the Star Chart

When I was a kid I loved star charts.  When we were little my mom made star charts for us for all those little-kid habits she wanted us to develop, like brushing our teeth and making our beds.  And my favorite thing was getting to put my foil stars on the chart when I did what I was supposed to.  As an adult they gradually morphed into to-do lists, that allowed me to revel in crossing off items (though I almost never have gotten through an entire one).  But I have to admit that, even today, when I have a habit or practice that I know I should do but just can't seem to cultivate, my personal nuclear option is the tried-and-true star chart.  Now that I have turned fifty I have decided to stop fighting this leftover vestige of childhood and use it.  And my coach, Melody, has happily complied, by providing me with a new and ambitious regimen for skating practice.  It's actually aspirational, in that there are things on the list I can't do at all, and much of the list is comprised of things I do poorly.  But you have to start somewhere, and this list is it.  We started this morning during an hour-long lesson, and I am supposed to try to do it every practice session I do.

Melody wisely got me inspired to take on my new and ambitious (for me) regimen by taking me over to Lake Placid with her other adult student, Leslie, to skate in the Olympic complex there and watch some former world champions perform.  Here we are at the rink.

Here's the list, in all its color-coded glory (purple is stuff I can at least nominally do and/or have passed a test on at some point; green are things that I've started working on; and red are things that I have thus far been too terrified or skills-deficit to even attempt).

  • Forward & backward alternating crossovers
  •  Backward inside & outside consecutive edges (I passed a test on these, but if the judge who passed me could have seen me today, she might have retrospectively failed me)
  •  Landing position drill   x 5

Further Skills
  • Cross rolls (forward & backward)
  •  Power pulls (forward & backward)
  •  Three turns (outside forward, inside forward & outside backward, inside backward)
  •  Mohawks (inside & outside )
  • Five Step Mohawk Sequence
  • Backward snowplow stops (two foot and one foot)   
  • Forward T-stops  (left and right)
  • Spirals (forward straight line plus inside and outside edges)
  • Spirals (backward straight line plus inside and outside edges)
  • Lunges (both legs)
  • Bunny hops (left & right)
  •  Spins (1 & 2 foot)  x 10 each
  •  Waltz jumps   x 10
  •  Salchows  x 10
  •  Toe loops  x 10
  •  Loop jump prep at the wall   x 5
  • Pre-Bronze Freestyle test routine  x 2
During today's lesson two of my major obstacles showed up uninvited but vociferously -- my problems with right knee and my fear of falling, especially when jumping.  We started off working on back edges (that is,  skating on one foot going backward leaning to the outside or inside of the blade to go in alternating half circles) and then power pulls.  Then, because my right knee was really acting up we skipped working on spinning (which I do on my right leg) to work on toe loops and introduce loop jumps. 

We were skating during a public session that just kept getting more and more crowded, so after the lesson was over, trying to work on backwards skating with the kids darting around pushing milk crates seemed like a very bad idea. So, not many stars for today. But, the process has begun, and I have a list with which to chart my progress - which I think I will try to do monthly.  Here's hoping for lots of foil stars in 2017!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Winter's Work: Gearing Up for March 11

In skating terms, December has clearly been the most wonderful time of the year.  For the fourth year in a row, I got to join my friends in a fun group number at Leddy Park Holiday skating show.  The first time, four years ago, I had just started taking group lessons. Our group searched high and low for the tackiest holiday sweaters we could find, and I struggled to keep upright through the number. This year we were Blues Brothers skating part of the Rhythm Blues ice dance as part of our performance.  Big fun, but alas, our unofficial videographer, Jon, had technical difficulties, so no video record of our performance.
The Blues Borthers (Patsy, Anya, Donna, Russ, Melody, me and Mary) take to the ice.

The other big December skating highlight was a week earlier on my birthday.  Blatantly stealing from my wonderful skating friend Patsy, I copied her idea from a few years ago and rented out the Leddy rink for a Birthday on Ice.  It was awesome.  Some of my skating friends were in the middle practicing fancy jumps and spins and others took to the ice for the first time since childhood, or for a few, the first time ever.
Jon's contribution to my skating goals are manifold: attending my(and my skating friends') tests and performances; taking pictures and videos of the same; and at least once a year getting on the ice. On my birthday he donned a magical no-falling hat and took to the ice.

Four of my skating friends (all of them light-years ahead of me): Jackye, Sharie, Melody (who is also one of my coaches), and Toria.

Siham got Best Sport award for trying skating for the first time ever.  Here, Crystal and Julia offer a helping hand.
Now as the year is coming to a close, my sights are on 2017, and the goals I've set for the year between December 10, 2016 and December 10, 2017.  I set a whole bunch of goals, but there are some obstacles in the way.  First, there is my right knee, which seems not to have gotten the message that it needs to be on its best behavior, and full range of motion right now.  I'v started seeing a physical therapist a week ago for that one; here's hoping that it works.  Then there is another major obstacle that will strike in late March.  Every year the Leddy Park Rink closes for about six weeks in May and June, and there is a scramble to find substitute ice.  But this year, the year I've committed to put such a focus on skating, it will be closed for April, May AND June.  Gonna need to do some serious planning to figure out ice time at other area rinks. And finally, there is one that is all my own -- my own fear.  I am way too afraid of falling, particularly when jumping.  It's just a reality that getting better involves a fair amount of falling, and I just need to get over it and take some falls.

So, keeping these obstacles in mind, my next big goal date is Saturday, March 11, 2017.  The way that many skaters progress is through a series of tests.  Since I'm an adult, I get to test in the easier Adult Series, rather than the Standard Track used for kids and teenagers. Right now I'm working on three tests: my Pre-Bronze Ice Dances (there are three of them, and the easiest of the three is the Cha Cha); my Pre-Bronze Free Skate; and my Silver Moves in the Field (this one I've only barely started and will be working on for a very long time, probably well past this year). The March 11 test is the only one set between now and June, or possibly July or August, so I hope to use it.  My hope is to test the Cha Cha Ice Dance and my Pre-Bronze Free Skate.  The Free Skate test includes the following elements: forwards and backwards crossovers; a spiral or lunge, two half or single jumps and two spins -- two footed and one-footed.  The big question is whether I will have two jumps and two spins ready in time, but my coach, Melody, is optimistic.  I'll have to make a decision in a few weeks on whether to apply to test, so will make the final decision then.  In the meantime, right now I'm writing from Virginia and having a one-week hiatus from skating.  Once I'm back in Vermont, I'll head back to the ice and see where I am skating-wise.

For anyone in Vermont looking to do some skating this winter, here are three invitations I'll throw out right now:

Skating is definitely a more-the-merrier pursuit.  Here's the crew that laced up for Birthday on Ice.  The winter has just begun, and skating opportunities abound now!

1. The outdoor rink outside the statehouse in Montpelier!  This is an awesome new initiative this year, and I can't wait to try it out.  If you want to as well, let me know.  Let's make a date and get a bunch of people together to go.
2. Nordic skating on Lake Morey.  Did this a couple years ago with some friends, and it was awesome. Nordic skating is very different than figure skating, but very fun, and the long blades that you put on cross country ski boots glide right over bumps and cracks in the ice.  Assuming the lake freezing this year, who wants to go.
3. Public skating sessions at Leddy and Cairns.  I do a lot of practice skating on early morning ice at Leddy, and Friday mornings in Waterbury.  But Leddy has public ice from 9-11 am M-Th, and 2:15-4 on Sundays, and Cairns has ice from 10-12:30 T-F, 2:40-4:10 on Saturdays and 1-2:30 on Sundays.  While I do unfortunately have a slight complication in the form of work on most of the weekdays (though Monday and Wednesdays are more workable), the weekends are a possibility. So, if people want to set up some skating plans, please let me know!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fifty on Ice: Time for a New Challenge

I don't think I saw this one coming, but it's almost here.  In a couple of weeks, I'm going to turn 50. Since it's going to happen with or without my consent (the only other option being far less desirable), I think I'd like to make the best of it, and try to use the half-century year marker as an incentive to step it up on a hobby that's become a big part of my life: figure skating. While I was co-leading a hike this fall with the Saint Michael's College Adventure Sports Program, one of the participants told me about a man who decided to use each year of his life to see how far he could get on mastering a specific sport or skill.  That idea sounded great to me, so I'm borrowing it.

So here's my goal for the 50th year of my existence: to become a better figure skater. More specifically, from December 10, 2016 to December 10, 2017 I am going to commit to steadily and consistently working on my skating, and to weekly tracking of what happens when I do.

I should note at the onset two things: first, I am not a highly skilled figure skater and second, I have no illusions that I will become one.  I did a lot of pond skating as a kid and some more intermittently on rinks as an adult.  About three years ago I started taking adult lessons consistently and learned some humbling lessons:

  • There are some skills that are way easier to learn as a kid.  Figure skating is one of them.
  • Adults skaters (especially this one) are scared of falling.  Kids are like rubber bands when they fall.  Adults (like me anyway) are whatever analogy encompasses brittleness and easy bruising.
  • To be an adult figure skating is to learn patience.  Tons and tons of patience. One of the classes I am taking is an old-school figures class, where we basically skate on one foot to trace figure eight patterns (or some variant of them).  It took me almost the entire year last year to learn to do the first outside and inside forward eight pattern.  This year, I'm working on doing it backwards, and I strongly doubt I'll get it before the year is over.
  • On the plus side, the satisfaction of learning or mastering a skill is timeless. It may definitely be frustrating that it takes so long to learn skating skills, but it is simply great to be able to do something I couldn't do a year ago.
This is what "patch" figures class looks like -- tracing circles that are hard to see over and over to learn how to skate on the "edges" of the skating blade.  Here, I'm practicing a forward pattern and behind me from friend Jackye is doing a much more difficult backward one.

I have three different teachers (in the skating world they're coaches) who are helping me along this path.  Martha teaches two adult classes I am in, an advanced adult group class on Wednesday mornings and a figures adult group class on Tuesday morning.  Russ is my ice dance coach and we have a lesson in Waterbury (about half an hour away) on Friday mornings, and finally, Melody is my free skate and moves-in-the-field coach who I work with once a week around the other lessons. I usually skate at the Leddy Park Rink, in the New North End of Burlington, and have a group of fellow adult skaters -- some who had illustrious earlier skating careers, some like me, who chose to delve deeper later in life -- who I skate with in early morning lessons and practices.  Ice dancing is with Russ who teaches with his fellow coach and wife, Vera, at the Waterbury Rink. Occasionally I make use of two other nearby rinks, the Cairns Arena in South Burlington, and the Gutterson Rink at the University of Vermont.

Each year my home rink, Leddy Park, organizes a Holiday Ice Show and a late spring show.  For the last few years our adult skating group has participated with a number for the show.  This is from December 2015; this year's will be a take-off from the Blues Brothers.
And here's our Beauty School Dropout (from m the show Grease) spring 2016 number.  I'm sitting in the middle between two much better skaters, Jennifer and Jackye, and my coach Melody, was Frenchie, with Alan (who began ice skating after he retired)

Something I learned from the year 2010 when I resolved to try 52 new things in a year, is that keeping track of them regularly and publicly (via this blog) was a great way to keep me accountable, excited and feeling like I was making progress.  So, I'm trying it again.

Here are the specific goals I have for the time between my 50th and 51st birthdays:
  • To pass the next  (Pre-Bronze Level) three ice dances in the US Figure Skating sequence: Swing Dance, Cha Cha and Fiesta Tango
  • To pass my Pre-Bronze Free Skate test
  • To be able to skate three of the six elements of the Silver Moves in the Field test
  • To learn and perform my first solo freestyle program
A grainy pic from my first ice dance exam.  I've passed tests on the three easiest ice dances so far: Dutch Waltz, Canasta Tango and Rhythm Blues.  The next three are harder, and  incorporate skills like skating with a partner backwards and switching from backward to forward  (and back again) during the dance.

A couple years ago I would have had no idea what most of the words in the above list of goals even meant, which is kind of amusing to me. I probably also means that my boyfriend Jon is right and I am becoming ever more entangled in the little sub-culture that is adult figure skating.  But I think it might be interesting to explain it as I track it, for anyone who, like me, finds exploring the ins and outs of other subcultures interesting.

So, the plan is to post a weekly update, and do a quarterly check-in on how the four goals listed above are going. I try to go skating at least four days a week, and am hoping it increase that in the coming year, so if there are people who've been needing a nudge to get your skates out, or join an adult class, or try it for the very first time, this is your invitation.  I hope to see you at the rink (or help you get there). If you want to come skating let me know!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

January Report: New Year, Big Plans

First blog post of 2016, and the plan is to do one each month in 2016 as a way to record progress (and hopefully not too many setbacks) and the coming month's goals.

1. Skating. Although it didn't figure into my formal skating goals, in December I did one of my favorite events of the year,  participating in the Leddy Park Arena holiday skating show with some of the friends I've made through the adult skating program there.  Although it only lasted for less than two minutes, it was a ton of fun, and I have to say, I thought our costumes were great.  The performance taught me a valuable lesson, though.  I need to practice a LOT more.  All the moves I thought I had gotten down in practice felt stiff and poorly executed on the day of the performance.  it was fun, but I realized that when you're nervous -- as is inevitable in a test or performance -- you have to fall back on really, really knowing things from having practiced them a whole lot. In December I was pleased because I had gotten my skating up to five days a week, but my plan for January is to get the periods of skating to be longer, with at least two ninety minute sessions in those five days, So, the January goals are: skate at least five days a week (once I'm back in Vermont) with at least two 90 minute sessions in those five days; and focus on the following: the skills of my bronze moves in the field test; the Dutch Waltz; and improving my extremely poor two-footed spin and waltz jump.
These are some of my morning skating buddies at the Leddy rink (Patsy, Mary, Mary, Liz, me and Donna). They've taught me a ton, and inspired me to keep going in both figure skating and ice dancing.

2.  Getting Outside. I did a fair amount of hiking in the fall -- some with the Wilderness Program and some with Jon and other friends.  It's taking a long time for winter to get here this year, but I have an inevitable set of challenges coming my way in January: the Wilderness Program's winter training and leading hitter hikes as a probationary leader.The winter training will happen January 14, 15 and 16 and, weather permitting, will include a day each of snow shoe hiking, ice climbing and mountaineering.  I'm nervous and excited at the same time, and think the February report should be interesting!  In addition, I have high hopes of using the time before school starts and the weekends of January to do some additional winter hiking and cross country skiing, so if anyone else is of a mind to as well, let me know, please.

One of my favorite outdoor adventures from last year was a night time cross country ski with Jon and  our friend Michelle.  Here's hoping for some more opportunities this winter.

3. Rock Climbing.  Between my finger injury and a lot of travel in December, I'm painfully behind on this one.  January will be a month of playing catch-up and the goal is simply to get in a groove of getting to the climbing gym at least twice a week for the month of January.

4. Being Better.  I'm happy to say that my fifty thank you letter project has begun.  First three thank you letters have been written and sent, and I need to send out four more in the month of January to get back on schedule.  The Be Better Book Club is in the process of reading David Brook's The Road to Character.  I haven't decided what my January volunteering event will be, so if someone has an idea, shoot me a message please!

So, that's it.  In a nutshell the plan for the month of January is:

  • Have some hopefully not too scary adventures outside with the Wilderness Program and anyone else who wants to do some marching, gliding or climbing through snow and ice together:
  • Read a make-me-better book, write four letters and spend an afternoon or evening do a good deed;
  • Get back into rock climbing regularly;
  • And skate as much as I possibly can --  looking forward to lots of hours at the rink and hope some friends will join me.
Anyone who's up for doing any of these together, give me a shout.  And feel free to share your New Year's resolutions.  I love reading other peoples' and getting new ideas. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Work in Progress: One Year to Go

I just celebrated my 49th birthday and I can't say that I'm thrilled about it.  Getting older is inevitable but it's not very fun. Joints start to wear out and you start regretting not having worn sunscreen in previous decades, and all kinds of other things like gray hair make their presence known.  But since aging is inevitable, I decided about six months ago to embrace it and embarked on a plan to see how much I could accomplish before I turn fifty. Though I did a remarkably bad job documenting it, I actually did get moving on the plan.  So now that I officially have exactly one year to go, I'm taking a step back, assessing my goals and where I stand with them, and officially re-launching my plan to use the next year of my life to become closer to the person I want to be when I hit fifty.  During the year of 2010 I spent a whole year exploring new things (52 of them, actually), and by the end of it I was more fit, more fun, more well-traveled, had a slew of new friends and a much more positive outlook on life.  This year, instead of dabbling at a bunch of new things, I want to work hard to get to the next level on some of the things I discovered, (or re-discovered), during that year of new things.

By the time I hit fifty I specifically want to be:

1. a better figure skater;
2. a more competent outdoor adventurer;
3. a more skilled rock climber; and
4. a better (more empathic, less reactive, more grateful) human being.

Looking at it, this seems like a strange list.  But one of the few benefits of aging is that you start worrying less and less about what seems correct to someone else, and thinking more and more about what feels right personally.  And for me, these are the things I really want, so they're the ones where I'll put my focus and accountability for the next year.  As with the year of 52, I'll keep a blog, both to keep tabs on how it's going and to invite my family and friends to make their own lists and/or join in on some of the projects going forward.

Here's where each of these goals stand at the moment, and the plan for where I'm going next.

1. Figure skating. When I was a kid we had a pond and skated on it, and I loved it.  A few times as an adult I took some adult group lessons.  But during the year of new things I did a bit more skating and realized that what I really wanted was to not just skate in circles but learn to actually do more.  And now I am.  It's slow, slow going, but it's awesome.  And the more I skate the more I want to skate. This summer I hit my first milestone as a figure skater when I passed my Pre-Bronze Moves in the Field test -- it's basically the test where you show you can skate forwards and backwards, skate on "edges" -- an essential skills for just about everything else, and do a few of the easier one-footed transitions.  It was also the first time I skated all by myself in a rink in front of three judges, which was as nerve-wracking as any grad school exam or defense I'd ever done.

My favorite  skating thing to do is probably spirals like this one.  Now I'm working on doing them on edges (on a curve) and going backwards.

Right now I'm working on three different fronts.  The first is figures -- literally learning to trace the circles of a figure eight in different ways.  It's a lot harder than it looks.  I think of it as moving meditation and on Tuesday mornings I spend a whole hour just repeating the same four-circle pattern over and over until I'm able to do it evenly and follow the tracings exactly. On Wednesdays I have my advanced adult class where I am one of the least-experienced people in the class and struggle to keep up with colleagues, who have been at it longer and are a lot more graceful than me.  And on Fridays I head to Waterbury (about 20 miles away) to work on ice dancing and preparing for my next Moves in the Field test with my very own skating coach, Russ. And I try to skate at least one other day a week.
Such a simple little thing but it took so much work to get there.  "Pass" on my Pre-Bronze Moves in the Field Adult Test.  Now I'm working on the Bronze and the first two ice dances.

Because this is the thing I find the most fun on my list (my boyfriend Jon has actually used the term "obsessed"), it's also probably the one for which I have the clearest picture of what I'd love to try accomplish before my fiftieth birthday. There are basically three ways I can demonstrate improvement as a skater: free style (which includes the jumps and spin stuff); moves in the field (basically all the cool stuff that you see a skater do between the jumps and spins); and ice dance.  So, my goal in the next year is to try to pass the next tests in each of these three areas.  In ice dance there are three "preliminary" (simple, all forward skating pattern) dances I need to pass: the Dutch Waltz, the Canasta Tango and the Rhythm Blues.  In my Moves in the Field, I am now starting to prepare for my Bronze Test, and the final one I'll attempt (if and when I pass the others) is my Pr-Bronze Free Style. So, in a perfect world, before I turn fifty I will have passed all three tests; in a less-perfect world I'll give it my best shot and have gotten a whole lot better from all the practice it's going to take

2. Getting Competent Outside.  This is the area in which I think I've made the most headway largely because of a decision I made in August.  Saint Michael's College, where I teach, happens to have one of the best Wilderness Programs in the country. I discovered just how  great it was in 2010 during the year of 52 New Things when I turned to my students (who happened to be instructors) to introduce me to all manner of outdoor activities from ice and rock climbing to kayaking to hiking. Since that time I've been the Wilderness Program's biggest faculty fan, and have been invited to tag along on some of the training experiences so that by last year I knew enough to be able to be an assistant leader on some of the easier day hikes.  But I was still very intimidated by many of the activities and even some of the equipment.  

So, this year I bit the bullet and formally applied to the program to be trained as a Student Instructor.  I went through the same fall training as the other candidates and was selected to continue on as a Wilderness-Instructor-in-Training with the group of mostly first-years and a few sophomores.  Together we have done our "death march" on Mount Mansfield (where I managed to dislocate a finger and allow our leaders to show off their serious wilderness medicine chops when they reset it in the field). Like the others I was assigned a mentor, senior Meghan Lynch, who taught me to tie knots and pitch tents and use water filters (still not great on that one).  We spent a weekend learning Wilderness First Aid, and lots of other weekend days hiking up mountains and climbing rocks.  I have another semester to go, but if I pass at the end of the year, I will have acquired a whole set of skills I never imagined I'd have, and I have all kinds of plans for using and deepening them this summer.
My fabulous mentor Meghan, teaching me how to pitch this and several other tents.

My Instructor Training Group on our all-day hike on Mount Mansfield.  This picture was taken about an hour before disaster struck and I totally dislocated my fourth right finger.  It was really gory, but alas, I did not have the presence of mind to capture it on film.

3. Rock Climbing. Unfortunately, my commitment to Goal #2 has taken a bit of a toll on Goal #3. If you've never dislocated a finger here are three things to know. First, it looks very grotesque to have part of your finger going at right angles to the rest of the finger; second, it takes a long. long time to heal. and third, your ring finger does a lot more work than you give it credit for,  Take it out of commission and you'll find that out in a hurry, especially if you try to climb rocks while it still won't bend. Still, it is slowly, slowly starting to bend again, and my very patient occupational therapist tells me it will heal eventually, even though the joint may look a little swollen for the rest of my time as a mortal.

Jon, showing off his impromptu climbing skills in Southern Utah during last March's rock climbing and hiking trip.  We're headed there again in March 2016.

This means that rock climbing is staying on the list, and I am hoping to get better in three areas before I hit fifty.  First, I'd like to be climbing at a higher level generally.  Right now 5.8-grade top rope climbs are where I'm at, and it would be great to be solidly in 5.9 range before the year is over.  I also want to get better in setting up anchors and being more competent with gear outdoors.  And finally, I want to work on lead climbing and at least try using trad (traditional) gear once before the year is out.

4.  Becoming a Better Person.  Sure, but how?  Actually I already figured out a path on this one, I just need to be more systematic in doing it.  One part has already been started.  About four months ago I started an on-line Be Better Book Club.  We've read two books so far (Pema Choudron's Start Where You Are and Brene Brown's Rising Strong).  It's time to reinvigorate the club, so if anyone reading this wants in, let me know.  Next up in David Brook's The Road to Character.  Second part is volunteering: at least once a month, with a focus on giving back to the parts of my community I appreciate or have contributed to my own growth and development.  Some of the things on that list include helping out on a trail maintenance day (since I love hiking), or a Crag Vermont work day (to thank the community for creating Bolton climbing area) and being a cheerleader/drink giver at a fun run (and being especially enthusiastic to the slower ranks running, the group in which I always belong).  And finally, I am blatantly ripping off an idea from my friend Ginger.  She told me that when she turned fifty she wrote a list of fifty people who had been important in her life and sent thank you letters to all of them over the yer.  Talk about an exercise in gratitude!  I love it, and I plan to do it.

So, there it.  I have my marching orders, and between now and December 10, 2016 to see how far I get.  Anyone who also wants to work on ice skating; adventuring outdoors; rock climbing; or being a better person is more than welcome.  In 2010 one of the best parts of the year was all the people who taught me new things or explored them together with me.  My plan is to blog at least once a month about how things are going and the plans for the next month. I hope lots of my friends and family will be part of the journey with me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Work in Progress: The Power of (Thinking You're) Being Watched

I don't know about other people (though I have my suspicions), but I definitely find that one of the great uses of social media is accountability.  Post something on Facebook and a blog, and the world might not care, but the poster thinks it does. Sure did work for me this week.  After months of inactivity, one post about updates and additions, and suddenly the goals have moved back into focus. And so, happily, there is progress to report, and upcoming activities to invite friends to join. Here's the report.

1. Rock climbing. The unacceptably long stretch of no outdoor climbing finally came to an end on Saturday when two of the Hall-of-Famers of the original year of 52 New Things, good friends Amanda and Josh, joined Jon and me for a day of outdoor climbing in Rumney, New Hampshire.  The tricky part about Rumney is that, unlike top-rope friendly nearby Bolton, where I have climbed outside most, it's all bolted for sport climbing.  This means that, instead of casually walking to the top of the cliff and suspending a climbing rope, someone has to "sport climb" from the bottom, fixing the rope in place with the bolts and pieces of equipment called quick draws.  Then, someone else climbs up and unclips and removes ("cleans") the quick draws and then anyone can climb up while tied to a rope from the top ("top roping").  The lucky part of this is that 1. Jon was able to do the sport climbing on the routes we wanted to top rope, and 2. we all got some practice sport climbing some of the easier routes.
Climbing Frosted Flakes was fine, once Jon had nicely done the lead climb to set it up.

Added bonus: swimming and playing with the slack line Josh brought in the nearby river after we were done climbing. Here are Josh, Amanda and Jon contemplating our next move.

2. Figure skating.  Ironically, this is the most time-dependent goal, with my test looming in the future on Saturday, August 22.  So of course, this is the goal I did the least on this week, though it's partially not my fault.  I take lessons twice a week, Friday mornings in Waterbury and Monday nights at Leddy Park in Burlington's New North End. But my Friday teacher has been in Scotland, and an evening meeting made me miss my Monday lesson.  In recognition of this fact I hit the public ice time at Leddy on Sunday afternoon.  There were lots of kids and milk crates, but I was able to carve out some space to practice back outside edges -- one of my weaknesses that I will be tested on.

3.  Getting (and getting better at being) outside. Getting the blog back going has been a great incentive to put some summer hiking into high gear. Two weeks ago I did three hikes in three days -- none very taxing, all with fire towers.  They were Spruce Mountain, Mount Elmore and Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire.  All of them got me outdoors with cool people and two of them were in places I'd never been.  Then last week I had another first -- having a whole peak to myself.  A great thing about blog accountability is that it challenges me to be more independent -- if I say I'm going to do something and no one wants to do it with me, I can learn to do it by myself.  That was the case on last week's early morning hike up Stowe Pinacle.  This had the lovely side effect of having the whole top of the mountain to myself. I really like hiking with friends, and the opportunity it gives for long conversations out in nature, but it's been fun to discover that I can hike any time I feel like it since I don't have to wait for someone else to want to join me. Yesterday, though, I was back to hiking with friends, in this case, Camel's Hump with Katie B.    So, five hikes in a little over two weeks; feels like this one is coming back together.
What I didn't know about solo hikes is that it also hones the fine art of taking selfies.  When you're the only one on top of the peak, it's up to you to take the picture.
Katie and I beat the crowds when we did a morning hike up Camel's Hump.

4. Yoga and acro yoga.  I'm feeling a little frustrated that I've fallen so far behind on this one.  Acro yoga is lots of fun, but at least in my case, it's hard to progress because that means being willing to fail before you succeed -- with a partner.  It's one thing to try something and fail ten times all by yourself with no one watching.  But with acro, everything is with a partner, and a spotter as well, so there are two built-in witnesses to the failure.  It's a good way to work on fear of failure and self-consciousness generally, but I definitely find it challenging. Still, I'm doing a little better at making both yoga and acro more regular in my life, so maybe the next post will show some real progress.

No, I can't do this one.  But it sure looks cool, doesn't it? Nick and Ashley were working on this one while Steve and I were doing some more mundane work on "tick tocks" near the Winooski traffic circle.

5.  Becoming a better (more grateful, compassionate and mindful) person.  Some cool developments on this one, particularly the establishment of a Facebook group for an on-line book and volunteering club.  There are twenty members, and it's not too late to join.  We just voted, and the first book we're going to read is Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. I need to write my first couple of thank you letters this week, and figure what this month's volunteer opportunity will be.

What's Next

1.  Rock climbing.  Climbing outside at Rumney was a great motivator to get back to climbing a lot more, indoors and out.  I have a rope and anchoring equipment -- if anyone wants to go to Bolton or Falls of Lana in the next week or two, let me know.  In the meantime I'm also shooting for climbing indoors at least twice a week.  Jon and I usually go on Friday evenings, and welcome others, and if anyone wants to go another evening or during the day, with a little advanced notice that can definitely happen.

2.  Figure skating.  My Friday teacher is back from Scotland, so lessons await on Friday morning and Sunday evening.  I'm also up to do Sunday open skating at Leddy this coming Sunday between 4:15 and 6, and maybe a more expensive (non-public) practice session during the week.  If anyone wants to join, send a message, please.

3.  Getting outside.  Don't think I can do any hiking this weekend, but next week I'm definitely game.  I might join the Peak-a-Weekers on Wednesday night, or do another early morning hike on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday.  If anyone wants to join, let me know! 

4.  Yoga and acro yoga.  No big plans here.  Lots of acro yogis are headed to New York City this weekend for an acro festival, but hoping that people will be up for some pick-up practices in the next week or two. 

5.  The Be Better Book and Volunteer Club is up and running with 20 members!  We're starting with Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron, and the first on-line discussion will be Wednesday, August 27.  Not too late to join, send me a note if you'd like to. I'm also taking suggestions for my first volunteer experience, which needs to be completed by the end of August.