jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Carrot cake recipe

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Well, it’s just crazy out there. It has been snowing all day, and the wind has been blowing snow everywhere so that shoveling is futile. It was pretty clear from the time I got up that it would be a good day to do some baking.

I took a visiting speaker out for brunch yesterday, and saw a gorgeous carrot cake in the bakery case of the restaurant. I didn’t get to have a slice then, but have been having visions of carrot cake ever since.

I thought I would do carrot cupcakes and share some with friends (well, whenever we dig out). I realized I didn’t have all of the ingredients for my favorite carrot cake recipe, so would have to brave the elements.

I stepped outside into snow up to my knees! Luckily, it was the soft and fluffy stuff, easy to kick through (and sort of fun to kick around). I walked over to the grocery store and picked up a few items, including a can of crushed pineapple and some cream cheese.

The cupcakes baked up nicely, though I think I had the top rack ones in just a few minutes too long. I brushed the tops with simple syrup just to get a little extra moisture in those (dry cupcakes are the worst).

We had tickets to go see a dance/music performance this evening. I kept waiting for the notification that the performance would be cancelled, but as of 6 p.m. I still hadn’t gotten any notification. My husband wisely suggested that we take the bus instead of trying to drive. After waiting for the bus a while, I checked email and was relieved that the event had indeed been cancelled–about time!

So after trudging home from the bus stop, I made some frosting for a few of the cupcakes. The rest will wait until we dig out. It may take a while, but at least if we are snowed in there are plenty of carrot cupcakes to eat!

Carrot cake

Makes a three-layer cake or around 30 cupcakes.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-3/4 cups grated carrot
  • 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 1/2-cups shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 (9-inch) round cakepans with parchment paper; lightly grease and flour. Alternatively, prepare cupcake pans.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Beat together sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add flour mixture. When this is beginning to come together, fold in carrots, pineapple, coconut, and nuts if desired. Blend until just combined–do not overmix. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool and remove from pans.

Frost with cream cheese frosting or whipped cream/cream cheese frosting.

Cream cheese frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 – 2 cups confectioner’s sugar (I usually use just over 1 cup)

Blend butter, cream cheese, and vanilla in a food processor; add sugar until desired level of sweetness.

Whipped cream/cream cheese frosting

  • 1-1/2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup sugar (or less)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Whip cream separately until stiff peaks form. Beat together cream cheese, vanilla, and desired amount of sugar until smooth. Fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream.

 

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Really?

So it snowed again last weekend, and I had to shovel twice before it all melted on Monday.  Then yesterday I walked outside and there were flurries in the air. It’s supposed to warm up in the next few days, but then they’re predicting another couple of inches of snow this coming weekend.

Really?

Even those of us who say they don’t mind Minnesota winters have had it. We are shaking our fists skyward, bemoaning the futility of it all. Or we are eating chocolate.

Or we are skating, thinking that even if the weather were nicer, we’d be inside anyway.

Okay, so it’s still winter in mid-April here. But at least several good things are going on with my skating. One began with the head weight idea, which I’ve been trying to work into all aspects of my waking life, including as I sit here now at the computer. I have now seen way too many pictures of bad head posture that results in inevitable doom (just google “bad head posture” and you’ll see what I mean). Anyway, I have been working on moving the weight of my head slightly back using my entire upper back and neck (rather than just trying to roll my head back, which did not work). And this seems to be working well not only to align my upper body, but also to place me in a better position overall.

I have better control over my edges. I’m bending my ankles more. And I am even able to relax my often too-tight hip flexors on command, meaning that I can finally sorta get that “flat front of hip” position that both Ari and Laurie have been telling me about. I was beginning to think that was some kind of strange genetic predisposition only granted to those with true talent and ability. But no, I can do it too!

It is not quite the dawn of a new skating day, since yesterday I was working on back cross rolls and had one of those falls that made everyone sympathetic in that way that they only behave when you are over 50. My coach Laurie even texted me later to make sure I didn’t have a concussion.

So okay, ouch. But at least my hip flexors were relaxed! And I was back on today, a little bruised but not too bad.

So here’s a little inspiration: not quite skating, but also balanced on the perfect blend of movement and stillness, gravity/force/momentum

Lesson notes:

  • inside three, cross in front, step forward and repeat on other side. Left side is better, but the right needs more foot/ankle action and more actual curve/turn.
  • forward three, change edge, back three, forward three. Place free foot forward before the back three so you can use it to create more rotational energy.
  • back choctaw, forward choctaw. Work on not pushing forward into the new edge. Make sure you are really using your ankles on those edges–no pretend edges!
  • rockers. Work on getting stronger edges coming out of the rocker.
  • counters. These are confusing, since they are sort of like brackets.
  • progressives in a circle. These are better! But make sure there is not an abrupt jerk when you push from the inside edge.
  • back chassés in a circle. This is to get the rise on the back outside edge.
  • forward three, back outside edge. Think about your ear staying inside the circle to correct that slight lean out.
  • back cross rolls. We worked on getting that real push. Then I fell. Ouch.

 

 

 


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Expect the unexpected

 

Snow storm in April? That is certainly not unheard of in my neck of the woods. Today I rescheduled my meetings in favor of working from home. I was glad to be spared much driving, but I am feeling the effects of multiple bouts of shoveling.

I am not sure exactly how much snow there is out there, but it’s been snowing on and off for about 24 hours. And the kicker is that even though it’s pretty much stopped (I think? I hope?) there is enough wind to blow the snow around so that it still feels like it’s snowing.

I thought I did a nice job clearing the sidewalk (corner lot, arghh!) and the driveway, but after another hour I went out again to face huge drifts. I’ve cleared everything again, but no doubt this will happen again.

Doesn’t this remind you of skating? At the beginning of last week I thought I had this head weight thing all figured out, but today at my lesson I was once again tipped forward towards the ice, with the inexorable pull of gravity working against me.

To be fair, I haven’t done much skating this past week. I had a work-related trip to San Francisco. Warm and sunny, no snow, great food. Sigh.

Anyone up for a trip to Nagano to join the snow monkeys in the hot springs?

The good news is that I am back on the ice. And that my lesson included an additional tip about the head weight thing. I shouldn’t be doing this by tipping my head back, but by putting the head and neck in alignment with shoulders relaxed down the back and lifted chest (though not pushing my ribs forward).

Getting this to where it feels natural rather than strained will be a challenge, kinda like keeping my sidewalk clear. But at least it’s a start!

On a happy note, here’s the lovely Asal, who passed her Bronze Freestyle test with flying colors! Hooray!

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Asal passes her Bronze Freestyle test!

Lesson notes:

  • Inside edges: practice the second half of the edge with a strong hold, then move directly to a power V push with no extraneous movement
  • Mohawk, back edge, turn (practice hold, rise and turn of head)
  • Swing roll: more twist on initial entry. Watch wrists!
  • Outside loop (enter as if for a hooking spin—get that loop smaller!)
  • Head weight is moved back with the entire upper body, not just by tipping the head
  • two-footed rockers, work on getting better edges immediately into and out of the turn, watch that you don’t block yourself with your right arm/shoulder
  • Forward cross rolls: don’t pitch forward
  • Backwards cross rolls: don’t swing shoulders around, movement should be more continuous
  • outside three, back edge (practice turning body, then head)
  • Head weight back is really working
  • Three step mohawk feet together after mohawk
  • Mohawk back outside step forward, cross roll
  • Really work on that cross roll, hips forward, don’t come up and over, cross at shins not at thighs
  • Mohawk, back outside, back cross, back outside three into mohawk and repeat on other side (axis)
  • Choctaw step forward, cross stroke (same advice), tuck behind, PRETZEL
  • Choctaw, back outside three


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It’s all in my head

That title doesn’t mean what you think it does. No, I’m not going skating-crazy, although the term “skatinsanity” does come to mind.

Literally, some of my skating problems have to do with the weight of my head. Laurie pointed out today that one of the reasons I’m not bending my ankles enough is that my head is tipped slightly forward, just enough to bring my weight into the wrong place. To counteract this, I send my hips back.

I have been told countless times to look up, but all I do is get my eyes peeking up while continuing to keep my head down. She suggested thinking instead about rolling the weight of the head back slightly. And what do you know? I was in a much better position on the blade, and was able to bend my ankles like a champ.

As I was looking for pictures of skaters to illustrate this “head weight slightly tipped back” position, I realized that they all have their head weight back! I could find very few pictures of elite level skaters who have their heads tipped forward as I do (unless they are doing it for dramatic choreographic effect, or have some kind of terrible moment that we’d rather not think about).

With their heads in the right place, look at them go!

 

This provides another way of thinking about body position. It especially helps on the transition from back outside edge to forward outside edge. Laurie suggested thinking about not only the head weight going slightly back, but also the movement of the nose “like a rainbow” as I turn forward.

I realize that all these descriptions are pretty strange to non-skaters. But one more before the “skatinsanity” is finished today. When I corrected my head position, suddenly everything got a lot better. My forward progressives were so polished, in fact, that Laurie suggested that I complete the picture by working on my hand position. I tend to droop my wrists (especially the right one) unconsciously, which looks more than a little awkward.  It’s an easy fix, but I haven’t bothered to do it.

As Laurie puts it, having that one strange wrist position is like being in a really gorgeous outfit, but failing to notice that there’s a piece of toilet paper stuck to your backside. Funny!

Okay, some lesson notes:

  • forward outside edges with hips facing forward (not opening outside the circle)
  • swing rolls: push onto new edge without “unfurling”
  • progressives forward and backwards: experiment with rolling the weight of your head forward and back
  • three turn, back outside edge: weight of head back, make “rainbow” with nose
  • Kilian choctaw: rotate core towards right twice (not just arm); don’t need too much body twist if your core is actually rotating.

And a musical selection that is totally unrelated–but I wish I could skate as well as Ben Bliss (what an apt name) sings. Like buttah!


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Skating knowledge

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

–Stephen Hawking

The one thing I will add to that wisdom is that the illusion of knowledge isn’t just about the things that we think we understand through our brains, but also what we feel through our bodies.

The accomplishment of a particular skating move, for instance. When I am able to move successfully from one edge to another, I feel like I’ve “mastered” something. I pat myself on the back. I keep doing that transition, thinking it is the right way to do something. I go on for years. It feels not just normal (“the way I do things”) but right (“if I did things another way I wouldn’t be able to do them at all”). I invest years in this kind of thinking.

At some point, I realize that I can’t go on doing things in this way. Maybe it’s that I can’t get any more speed, or I can only do this move in isolation. Maybe there’s some kind of pain involved that lets me know that what I’m doing is putting unwanted pressure on a knee, an ankle, a foot.

I start to realize that something’s wrong, not just with this particular move, but with the way I skate in general. A coach will point out that a particular joint (say, the hips) is not moving correctly. Even after working on a relatively simple move (say, chassés in a circle, or back crossovers, or swing rolls, my favorite) I realize that I don’t feel comfortable.

I’m told that the reason I can’t do something is because I’m literally moving the wrong way: my hip remains stuck in “forward” when at some point it needs to move back; my ankle still isn’t bending; I’m not on the correct part of my blade. And being told these things, I try to comply, but it feels really scary. After a few minutes, my muscles are exhausted, and I feel like my brain is trying to manage too many moving parts.

It’s terrifying not just because I’ve ingrained these habits but also because I’ve built up parts of my ego (the “feeling good” parts–oh no!) by thinking that I know how to do something.

So I go home, and rather than cry (there are far many more things in the world to cry about), I write about grunting and screaming in my blog. And I realize that in order to really learn how to skate, I have to let go of the overall illusion that I know what I’m doing.

I watch a few videos (Yuzuru Hanyu, Alexandra Trusova) and I marvel not only at those quads but the fact that their hips move in perfect harmony. And I read obituaries of Stephen Hawking and realize what a master he was–and not just of physics. And I go to bed early and sleep late (spring break, after all) and think about all the skating I’m going to learn today.

 


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Arghhh!

So while I think my skating is getting better overall, I still have trouble getting my hips in line while stroking onto forward edges. As Laurie pointed out today, I tend to strike off by pushing my skating hip forward so that the free hip pulls me slightly off the circle (or facing outwards). Not the best thing for stability or power!

I have had some success (a) making sure my blade is just a little bit farther out on the circle, and (b) trying to push my inside-edge hip forward. But it’s still awkward. We spent most of the lesson just on chassés and barely got to anything else.

So even as I sit here, I am feeling the frustration.

Maybe it would be better if I grunted. There was a N.Y. Times article that said that martial artists who grunted definitely kicked harder.

Or screamed.  Here’s another article about the choice of pillows. Even better, I don’t need a pillow at all!

Lesson notes (am screaming in my mind as I write):

  • Think of edges being more outside the body on the circle.
  • Think of turning as you are reversing the check.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three, cross forward, repeat on other side (get that inside edge after the mohawk to grip right away)
  • forward outside three, push to back outside three
  • creepers down the rink
  • inside three, cross in front, step forward (open hips and place belly button toward center of circle as you are on the inside edge)
  • inside mohawk, pull change, cross in front, back inside.

Here’s an added video from the N.Y. Times “Speaking in Dance” series which apparently uses some backstage grunting.


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Beware of the spread

Still working on those basics! And I am not even talking about basic moves. I mean basic movement.

At my last lesson with Laurie, two things became clear: (1) I am still not rotating my body and checking correctly on my three turns, especially on the right side, and (2) I am still not pushing correctly, especially from the left foot to the right. These things are of course related (as in, one is bad and two makes one worse). But since they involve different muscle groups, I’ll just target one at a time.

First, the upper body twist. Instead of twisting shoulders against hips and rising to the ball of the foot to turn my threes, I was dropping my weight forward and into the circle. Part of this is ingrained habit and part of it is muscle control and strength. When I finally started twisting sufficiently, I realized how underdeveloped my core-twisting muscles are.

In several posts I wrote three years ago, I described having trouble rotating or even turning my head to the right. Since then I’ve realized that this is only going to get worse unless I actively take myself outside of my comfort zone. This means working on and off the ice to make sure that I am actually using all the muscles (including abdominal, back, and shoulders) that are involved in twisting the torso.

I’ve been working on brackets too, and thinking a lot about the muscles that rotate the femur in the hip joint. But firmly rotating the torso is just as important in making these turns happen.

My second back-to-basics correction has to do with pushing onto my right outside edge. Laurie pointed out that I am doing something very strange with my left pushing side; instead of keeping my left side planted firmly over that inner pushing edge, I somehow release that side and even turn the pushing hip and foot out. This results in a contorted position that somehow has disguised itself as a push.

After correcting this, I realized that some of this may come from that misalignment that I’ve worked so hard to correct. The good news is that I can use some of the same techniques (like activating the adductors, and sinking the femur deeper into the hip joint) to get a better position and more stable push.

The bad news is that I can’t let my guard down on this. Constant vigilance! If I do let down my guard, it’s like I settle immediately into a hip position that is a lot like “man-spreading” and just as awkward.

manspreading

It will be a week of core-twisting and “unspreading” for me! Will try to report back soon.