jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life



Gazpacho with lots of tomatoes

So my sons are both out of elementary school, but I maintained my loyalty to their former school’s spring plant sale anyway (a decade’s worth of habits die hard). One of the things I bought was a six-pack of different tomato plants.

Now I know that six tomato plants is too many, even for a family that likes tomatoes. My older son used to just eat cherry tomatoes like candy. As a toddler, I would take him to the local co-op, put him in the grocery cart seat and give him a carton of organic cherry tomatoes to munch on while we shopped. Still, in past years I’ve limited myself to just two plants of heritage tomatoes from the farmer’s market. Plenty.

But this year the combination of winter and the tempting array of tomatoes in the pictures (Big Boy! Super Sweet! Those cool yellow ones!) on the order form was too much for me. And now I am seeing the consequences of my lack of restraint. So many tomatoes, all ripe at once. I filled up a big colander just a few days ago and will need to go out again very soon.

So what does this have to do with skating? Biting off more than I can chew? Too many things to work on? Actually not much, but I wanted to share my gazpacho recipe. It’s adapted from an old copy of The Colorado Cache Cookbook that I got many years ago.

Gazpacho with lots of tomatoes

2-3 big tomatoes
1 cucumber
1/2 c. or more green onion
1 green or red or yellow or orange pepper
2 avocados (I didn’t have these, but it was just fine without them)
1 cup celery (I’m not a fan of celery, so just left this one out too. Just fine.)
Lots of other tomatoes (the recipe calls for 4 cups of tomato juice, but I just threw all these tomatoes into the food processor instead. Slightly chunkier consistency, but really tasty.)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
5 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
a dash or two of black pepper
Chop up the first six ingredients into pretty small pieces (especially the green pepper), then add the others and chill.

Yes, it’s that easy, aside from the chopping. And it’s great for a hot summer day, as if skating weren’t chill enough.IMG_5713



Same old, same old

I can’t believe that we’re well into August now. Time to start pulling everything together for the fall semester (nooooo!). Time to take that drive up north. Time to figure out what to do with all those tomatoes (I’m thinking gazpacho, a perennial favorite).

Skating-wise, it’s time to think about some goals for the new season (or at least for the rest of the summer). I’m sure I will have more as time goes on, but the only goals I can think of for the moment are the same ones I’ve had for a while. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re more inclined to think, like Bruce Springsteen, “Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself.” No one can write exciting songs about boredom (or flick his arm) like the Boss can!

Bruce, I’ve felt your pain, but I’m going to stick to the same old, same old: my clothes, my hair, my face, and my skating routine. So here are some of my practice goals:

  • I’m trying to use both sides of my body more evenly. Now that I have my hips aligned, it is easy to tell when one edge or push is weaker than the other. For instance, Laurie went over my counter-clockwise chassés in great detail this week, pointing out how my inside edge kept moving off the circle.
  • This brings me to my next goal: I need to put my weight over the correct part of my blade on both sides. I have been working hard at this on my left side, but these chassés-in-a-circle revealed that one of the reasons my right inside edge goes a-wandering is that I really am not over the middle of my right skate either. Luckily, understanding this issue on left side has set me up well to correct this right-side problem as well. It’s back to those off-ice exercises–only on the right side!
  • My final goal is to improve my overall posture: making it more about the glutes and less about clenching my hamstrings, and improving my upper torso and head position. Laurie is having me do outside edges without rising on the skating knee: just bending my free knee to bring the free skating into parallel, and riding the edge (you can also do this trailing the free toe). This makes me realize how much I don’t yet trust my body just to hit that correct position; instead, I am still fighting for balance some of the time. The correct position actually feels much more relaxed, especially when I have my upper body position more upright (which feels like I’m leaning back).

The good thing is that I can really work on these three goals regardless of what moves I am doing. I can do this in warm-ups, in all my exercises, and in compulsory patterns. And I’ve been doing a variation of these ideas (in a modified way, of course) off the ice as well.

But wait a minute, are we really talking about goals here?  Given that these are less like recognizable skating achievements and more like enlightened states (almost said “skates”) of being, how will I know when I’ve made progress?

When I first started skating, I thought that I would get a certain amount of expertise and then I could just be “good.” Ha! I didn’t realize that skating is not like stamp collecting (or like Neko Atsume, which, by the way, I have completed: all cats with pictures, all the possible remodels, all the goodies, all the mementos, all mine!)

In skating, getting better means then having to put in even more time to get better still. Ack! When can I rest on my laurels and just spend my time looking at pictures of puppies and kittens (Scottish Folds, so cute) on the internet?

Will Jo ever achieve her goals, or will she simply wind up with chassés that meander off their circles (and maybe adductors of steel)? Tune in for the next less-than-exciting reiteration!




The perils of multi-tasking

Busy weekend! I spent some of my time getting one son ready for camp (forgot registration forms), running another back and forth to an ultimate frisbee tournament (forgot water bottle), taking photos of the tournament players (forgot the sunscreen), organizing drawers (oh, is that where that shirt went!), and trying to get some work done in between (probably better off forgotten).

There are all kinds of alerts out about “acquired attention deficit disorder”: the ways that too many distractions (usually technological) can lead people to lose the ability to focus and complete tasks. So I’m wondering whether trying to schedule college campus visits, answer email (forgot about that one from three months ago still in my in-box!), and write this blog entry (while I’m watching Usain Bolt run really really really fast) will produce a lasting inability to concentrate.

At least they say that exercise is good for the brain. This means that as soon as I learn how to skate without thinking so hard about it, I will be fine. The problem is that these days just doing simple moves can feel like I’m multi-tasking, especially if I try to think about what all my errant body parts are doing.

I’ve got so many issues! There’s my feet (making my left arch short and my right one long). And of course the ankles bending and the knees lined up, and the femur over the middle of the skate, and the glutes engaged so that my hips don’t go back. And there’s keeping my level “Barbie” hips and keeping the front of said hips (or the pelvic “box” or “triangle”) “flat.” And now there’s the making sure my left lower ribs don’t stick out. All this on just a simple edge.

The problem is that I can’t keep even two or three of these ideas going at once without feeling like steam will start coming out of my ears. Luckily, I have coaches who identify the most pressing problem of the moment.

On Friday, mine was getting on edges immediately, rather than setting my blade down on a flat and then rocking over. Ari had me do a new exercise (at least I think it’s new–or maybe it’s one I’ve forgotten!) that involves cross rolls onto an immediate outside edge that goes around in a tight circle. On my lesson I worked on doing this exercise forwards, then backwards.

For now, I have to concentrate on putting my weight directly over my angled blade with a strong foot and ankle position. Then I just have to maintain that strong position. It’s hard to believe it, but in all these years of skating I don’t think I’ve really learned to use my feet in this way before. I have to think really hard about how I set my foot down, but if I get it right, the deep edge just sort of happens without forcing the edge with my hips.

I know that I have written about this before (even posted this picture).


But what has changed is my awareness and control of what’s going on in my feet. By George, I think I will really get it now!

I got some other things to work on, but for now, I will just stick to this one idea. Maybe I will become a skating minimalist. At any rate, I am excited to just have one only goal for the immediate future. Forget trying to multi-task. Imagine Usain Bolt saying “Usain, just run fast!”



Michele and Tam have to hold me up!


Déjà vu

Usually taking a few days off after a hard week of skating is a good idea. Last week I had a couple of rough sessions, including one in which an out-of-control kid knocked me over and I got another bump on the head as well as a bruised elbow. Not fair! I had some knee pain towards the end of the week as well. Nooooo!

So I was happy to take a few days off to meet up with some good friends in Chicago, sans skates. I did absolutely nothing except for a few half-hearted attempts at stretching. Not much walking, either, but a lot of sitting and talking in the Windy City.

I thought I would come back all rested and refreshed. But instead I have felt really, really stiff since I got back. It’s as if my hips are out of whack again. Skating Monday was all over the place, Tuesday barely better. While in Chicago I saw a show at Second City entitled Déjà Vu. This week reminded me of all the tortured positions I used to do when my hips were really out of place. It’s remarkable that I survived!

I had a session with PT Sarah, and she noticed that my left side was tighter than it has been–not just my hip, but my entire side. We went through a series of stretches designed to put things back to rights. I have to work on keeping my lower left ribcage as well as my hipbone from popping forward. We also worked on foot positions (short foot on the left,  slight roll in and spread toes on the right). Sarah did some manipulations on my hip that made me feel more aligned, but also more than a little sore. Gumby I am not!

The bright side is that I think that this is actually a good thing, another reminder not to take alignment for granted. Today I was ultra careful about making sure that my femur was over the middle of my foot. And I worked on not letting my left ribcage (and shoulder) pop forward. Applying some of Sarah’s ideas (getting that left kidney back, using what she calls the muscles of the “underbum”) to my edges has been really helpful. Still working on basics, but everything is getting better.

All this alignment work has made me really appreciative of those balanced and muscular bodies at the Olympics. I know this sounds weird, but I have been totally inspired by those incredibly strong feet that those divers have! My feet now have role models!

Some skating highlights even this week. The first was that two different people asked me about my forward outside and forward inside loops; this means that they are actually recognizable as loops, rather than as wannabe circles! Hooray! The second was that my feet have been pretty much pain-free on the ice. And third, I feel really focused on the ice these days. Even when I’m not necessarily doing things well, I still feel like I’m learning a lot about movement.

So even if this is a bit of déjà vu, I am never going back again!


I’m on top of my femur

I have tried not to repeat any musical selections on this blog, but today I’m going to do it anyway. I include this song in a post last January–repeat! I can’t think of a more appropriate theme song for today’s practice session. But boy, is that ever an awkward title!

I’ve tried to cut these corners
Try to take the easy way out
I kept on falling short of something

I coulda gave up then but
Then again I couldn’t have ’cause
I’ve traveled all this way for something.

So I had this lesson yesterday in which Ari told me I wasn’t putting my weight on the correct part of my blade. My weight tends to move too far back towards my heels, which means that I then compensate by leaning my upper body forward. I have written about the “bobbing bird” effect before, but clearly it keeps on bobbing back despite my best efforts to banish it completely.

So we spent some time at the boards going over how my ankles and knees are supposed to bend naturally and my hips need to stay in neutral. And then the kicker: I need to keep the top of my femur over the middle of my foot.

If I do that, all will be well. Or at least better. I had trouble doing it during the lesson (couldn’t quite feel it, couldn’t quite maintain it when I did). But then I thought about it and slept on it and probably dreamt about it (though I can’t remember, I was so tired from skating) and today, it worked.

It made everything better. I could actually feel my foot beneath me, and I felt much more stable on edges and turns. It was one of those great sessions in which I got pretty tired (different muscles) but I was so excited about this new development that I didn’t want to stop.

I’m sure I’ve gone over a similar idea on lessons before. But I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the top of my femur lately. Just ask me where it inserts into my hip and boom, I’m right there! (Haha!) It also helps that my left foot is getting stronger and that I can actually engage the ball of my foot without wincing. That’s an awful lot to be thankful for.

Don’t these lyrics sound appropriate?

I’ve tried to cut these corners
Try to take the easy way out
I kept on falling short of something

I coulda gave up then but
Then again I couldn’t have ’cause
I’ve traveled all this way for something.

Some more lesson notes from the last few weeks:

  • mohawk, b. outside three: where are you looking? Allow body to turn, check coming out of three.
  • outside-outside mohawks: don’t cut off entry edge, lean into circle.
  • brackets, more speed/glide, correct lean into circle, turn in free foot.
  • inside three with extended leg, step forward, cross stroke, repeat on other side: after the turn, open body to outside of circle, skating hip feels like its moving backwards to keep from spiraling in; think about lobes, step forward outside.
  • three step mohawk pattern with knee bend and extension on b. inside edge. Don’t touch down!
  • more speed!
  • alternating progressives (big, three to a side); think about energy, don’t cut off last edge, don’t steer edges.
  • swing rolls: change of edge,then transfer weight, don’t let free hip get ahead, skating hip lead (just scissor free leg for swing).
  • learn to transfer hip weight side to side without letting free hip get ahead.

No cutting corners, no easy ways, no falling short. But I’m on top of my femur!


Hip handles and five-minute warmup

So I have always had trouble getting warmed up properly for skating. If I had my druthers, all my skating sessions would be at least 90 minutes long, so that I could spend a good twenty minutes or so doing my stroking, basic edges, and turns before I really have to work at something.

Today I figured out that I could get warmed up much quicker. After only a couple of laps of swizzles and edge pulls, I immediately started working on the most challenging things I have on my plate at the moment: brackets, mohawks, choctaws, loops.

Previously, I’d been saving these elements for later in the session, thinking that I would work up to them. But by doing them first thing, I realized that first of all, they are not necessarily any harder than the other things I’m working on. I also realized that I am a lot fresher, both mentally and physically, early in the session. And finally, I got nice and warm right away because I had to steel myself to do everything. That extra tension does make a difference!

Off with the extra jacket! And on to my latest discovery, which I’m calling my “hip handles.”

I am imagining a set of handles running along that hipbone (just about where I’ve outlined in red).


As I am moving through edges, swing rolls, and turns, I am trying to make sure that my skating hip is traveling at a steady speed over the ice. If I need help with this, I just imagine pulling smoothly on those handles (blue arrows).

Hooray for hip handles! They seem to work better for me than thinking about pushing my hips under me.

Okay, I know that the term “love handles” can be used affectionately in a kinda passive-aggressive way. But we are definitely not talking “love handles” (mine, yours, anyone else’s) here. We are talking body-positive, all-warmed-up smooth hip sailing!


The game’s afoot

I would love to be able to blame my skating uncertainties this week to the blow to the head from our ice dance weekend. I feel like I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week figuring out exactly where to be on my blades. Major case of the wobbles!

But no, the problems are only partly in my head. Mostly I think they are in my feet, which were the subject of interest at my last visit with PT Sarah. We went over how both my feet need strengthening and realignment in different ways.

My arches are both pretty flat, which means that under normal circumstances I would pronate and roll towards the inside of my feet.


But since I have never been one to adhere to the normal. Instead, I tend to walk on the outside of my left foot. If you look at the calluses on the left edge of my left foot (fine, just imagine the dang calluses, okay?) you will know what I’m talking about.

So what’s up? Sarah came up with a very plausible explanation, which is that my left foot has compensated so that I’ve created a kind of artificial arch by rolling my foot outwards. Mere mortals with normal gait and foot alignment could never imagine what this is like, but I seem to have achieved an entirely different state of foot-being. (Not a higher dimension, not the sublime. Just different.)

Okay, back to the point. I have been assigned a number of exercises to help develop my left foot so that I can reconnect with my true archness. These are variations on things I’ve done before, such as the “short foot” and the calf raises I know and love so well. I’m doing a lot to mobilize my big toe (by pressing it down and using the muscles just in back of it to make my arch).

Next session will be about the right foot. Aren’t you excited? Here’s some hopeful pictures until that happy time comes.


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