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!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

When Backwards Is Forwards

In charting my painfully slow progression towards greater figure skating proficiency I was reminded of something I knew going into this year, namely that in 2017, in order to go forward, I need to learn to go backwards. People who don't skate much may not realize it, but ice skating is all about learning to control your movement on the edges of your blades.  When people first start, they're pretty focused on simply staying upright, and that creates the impression that the key to success is to be centered right on the blade.  But in fact, that's actually skating on "flats".  In order to do almost all the things that figure skaters do -- like crossovers and turns and jumps and spins (the fun stuff) -- a skater has to learn to skate on edges.  The blades have inside edges and outside edges.  Leaning onto them makes the skater move in patterns that are actually circular (or half-circles, known as "lobes").  So the skater learns to skate on both outside and inside edges on both feet, and then adds on additional moves (like turns and jumps) while skating on these edges.

And then there is another complication: learning to do the same things going backwards. All of us have spent the time since we learned how to walk going forward.  We know how to move in that direction -- where to move our feet, where to look, how to stop.  Going backwards is not something we do often; it feels strange; and of course, it is much scarier because we don't have eyes in the backs of our heads.  But much of the challenge of learning to figure skate is that you have to learn to do things in many different directions -- left and right, inside and outside and forward and backward.

The two major goals I'm working on both entail a lot of work on backwards skating in different ways.  First, I'm trying to get ready for my Adult Pre-Bronze Free Skate Test.  This is the official name for the very first, most elementary free style test.  In order to pass it, I will need to demonstrate that I can do the following:
  • forward and backward crossovers
  • two different half rotation jumps - I will be doing the easiest jump, the Waltz Jump, and probably the Salchow
  • a two-footed spin with at least 3 rotations
  • a one-footed spin with at least 3 rotations
  • either a forward spiral or a lunge (I'll do a spiral). Spirals are those pretty, Arabesque-looking moves that figure skaters do.
My other major goal of the moment is my next two ice dances -- the Swing Dance and the Fiesta Tango. Although these two dances are in the same Pre-Bronze category as one that I tested on successfully in March -- the Cha Cha -- I find they are much harder because they are the first two dances that I have encountered that involve switching from forward to backward -- and back again -- during the dance.  The switching is done mainly through a type of turn called a Mohawk that, if not done correctly, can cause the skater to step on the back of her own blade (I speak from experience), and so can feel fairly nerve-wracking.

As I've noted before, one of the unadvertised benefits of becoming an adult figure skater is joining the community of really wonderful fellow adult skaters, most of whom I would never have become friends with otherwise.  Today I got to do part of my practice with my good friend Patsy, who is a far more accomplished skater, and especially, ice dancer, than me.  We decided to work on some back swing rolls and chasses.  As you can see, her extension, the deepness of her edges (the "lobe" she is tracing) and her ability to keep her free leg straight are all way better than mine.  Also, I must learn to look up, rather than at my feet. But if you want to improve, practice with someone better than you, right?  At this time last year, I was still just trying not fall when I tried them.

Here are Patsy and I doing back swing rolls:

And here are back chasses:

Although today, Patsy and I did a lot of back edges and some spirals, in general right now when I practice on the ice, I'm focusing pretty heavily on my jumps (which are really more like hops, but hey, it's a process); my spins (especially the one-footed, which often isn't at the necessary bare-minimum three rotations); and the elements that I find most difficult in the ice dances I'm working on -- backward swing rolls; backward "progressives"; and forward-to-backward 3-turns and Mohawks.  When I finally learn them, there will be a whole host of new backward skills to learn, including backward cross strokes, backward power pulls and -- most dreaded of all -- the terrifying backward 3-turn.  But those are all a ways off, and it is simultaneously helpful and humbling to remember that I have seen children in elementary school who have learned all of them.  For now, I continue the long march towards progress -- by trying my best to go backwards.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Toria, We're Going to Miss You

There are lots of challenges I didn't think about when I started taking figure skating lessons several years ago -- the expense, the incredibly slow pace of progress, the sheer work it takes to master a skill that others make look so easy.  But on the plus side, one of things I also didn't bargain for was gaining a whole new set of friends.  With the very significant exception of my friend and colleague, Laura -- with whom I compare notes regularly and practice off-ice jumps in the hallway to the great amusement of our colleagues and students -- my ice skating hobby has yielded a wealth of new friends I would very likely not have crossed paths with otherwise.

One such friend is Toria, who skated on the University of Vermont skating team, and also majored in physics while she was an undergrad there.  To the good fortune of the Leddy Arena skating community, she stayed in Burlington the year after she graduated, and, among other things, helped run the skating programs for younger skaters.  During that year she also became a regular on our Tuesday night rock climbing adventures at Petra Cliffs climbing gym, and pursued a love of all cats, and of her own Arthur in particular that was so highly contagious I see her as more than a little responsible for the fact that I recently adopted Cat One from another of our mutual skating friends, Jackye.

Sadly for her Leddy crew (and Burlington friends generally) but happily for her boyfriend Sam, and the University of Lowell, Toria is leaving us.  She has been accepted into a graduate program in medical physics, and will be applying her 24-karat intellect to a new course of study.  We'll do our best to lure her back from time to time, but for now, as part of her sendoff, I put together a list of a few of the things about Toria I will miss the most:
1. Her uniquely dramatic landings (lying on her back) when being lowered from a tiring climbing route.
2.  Her amazing hair -- platinum blond, blue and purple.
3.  Her awesome sense of style.  Here for instance, she and Jackye model the crazy cat lady sweaters they wore to my birthday-on-ice party this year.

That's Toria on the left rocking the Christmas cat sweater.

4.  Her incredible skating.  Here are two of her of her favorite things to do on skates.  The first, her split leap, is in all her programs, and the second, her layback spin, is one she has been working on this year.

5.  And finally, perhaps the thing we will all miss the most is Toria's friendly, open and encouraging personality.  In a world that sometimes has a reputation for being snobbish and competitive, Toria always made being at the rink fun -- for everyone.  She will be deeply missed. Good luck in the next chapter, Toria, and thank you so much for your friendship, on-ice encouragement and great sense of fun and adventure; come back and visit and skate with us often!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Whatever Works: Books, and Videos

The year I started this blog, 2010, I had a project that required lots of discipline around time.  That year I did a new thing every week for a year -- 52 in all -- which also meant that I did at least one entry every week.  Having that level of accountability kept me on track, and this time is much harder. So, I'm trying a couple of new things, namely a book (my skating journal) and some videoing.

Like most of my good ideas, these ideas aren't really mine at all.  The journal was my friend Jackye's and the videoing was Melody's.  Almost exactly a year ago I went around to various skaters -- all of them much better than me -- to ask their advice on how to improve.  From Annie I learned that I needed to make the commitment to skate at least three times a week; Joe told me to embrace the parts that scare me most and tell myself that actually I like them; one of my coaches, Melody, told me to look up and work on having "ta-dah!" posture; and Jackye told me to keep a journal and to pick one or two things to focus on each week (like looking up, bending my knees more or better posture).   After a particularly discouraging lesson a few weeks ago Melody shared a video with me made by a skater who tracked her progress on some jumps and spins over a five-year period.  It was inspiring to see how far she came, and made me decide that, frustrated as I may feel now, hopefully someday, I too will have progress to show and will wish for a baseline to compare it with.  So, I am going to start trying to use my journal to chart regularly what it is I am working particularly hard on, and hopefully also some video to show how it's going.

Right now, in ice dance, I'm working on two dances in the "Pre-Bronze" sequence -- the Swing Dance and and the Fiesta Tango.  They introduce some new skills I've still got a long way to go on -- like backward swing rolls, outside three turns, and mohawk turns at the same time with a partner.  Hopefully at a later point I'll be write another post about those, and maybe some video to show what they are.

In the Free Skate realm I am definitely moving much, much more slowly than I would like.  I had hoped to take my first test -- the Pre-Bronze Free Skate --in early  May, but I won't be ready.  The test includes two-footed and one-footed spins (the former I could probably pass, the latter, I couldn't) and two jumps.  For the jumps I'll be doing the very simplest jump -- the waltz jump -- and a second jump -- either a Salchow or toe loop.  With some trepidation, I'm posting this video that was taken last week(and hoping that a few months from now, will post another that is appreciably faster, higher and more fully rotated).  But everyone starts somewhere, so here is step one in the quest to learn to jump and spin.