jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Step it up

Well, not yet. I got back on the ice last week after three weeks off, and it was pretty sad.

I heard a podcast interview with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who was on the International Space Station for nearly a year and a half. He said that after only a week or two in space, urine tests indicated that he was losing calcium and other minerals because his body realized that it didn’t need those weight-bearing bones to get around.

I don’t think that’s what happened to me (though we did spend quite a bit of time in the car). I did spend some time on the elliptical when I had access to one, plus did some hiking and lots of walking in between.

But not skating, so when I got back on I felt like all my skating muscles were offline. So I focused on just trying to keep my hips aligned and my weight over the correct part of my blade. This meant going back to some really basic exercises and trying to do everything as if I were a stick-like creature without the ability to hitch up or drop my hips (which is useful in many ways, but can get in the way of skating).

I just wrote more detail about this, but somehow when I tried to save it things went haywire. So I’ll just load up some pictures and hope for the best as I return to the ice.

 

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Elliptical adventures

Vacation never stops me from thinking about skating! Last week we stayed for a night at Ashcroft, a small town in British Columbia. This town was established in the 1860s by settlers who came in search of gold and wound up establishing a way station for prospective miners. It is one of the driest places in Canada south of the high arctic, and has been the set for filming desert locations in movies and television.

Even tiny towns in Canada have their own skating rink! And curling. What does this say about Canada?

Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve been using my time off the ice to work on more general aspects of fitness, which includes improving my aerobic fitness. I feel like I’m pretty good these days about working on alignment, flexibility, and strength (including core and upper body strength). The one piece that has dropped away in the past few years has been making sure that I get my heart rate up on a regular basis. While I feel like my cardio fitness level is basically still pretty good, I definitely should be building in some deep breathing (I did write “gasping for air” but that sounds a bit too dramatic) back into my life.

While visiting my in-laws in Portland, OR, I used the elliptical trainer, which has way more bells and whistles than my exercise bike at home. I had fun trying to keep up with the different fitness programs on the computerized screen. I didn’t realize that I could burn 100 calories in 6 minutes! (Okay, I know that’s not really true, but what other fantasies can we hold on to in life?)

I also enjoyed trying to rev up my heart rate using the elliptical (less impact than the treadmill). Since I have a fairly low pulse to begin with (usually around 60 bpm), it is a bit of a challenge to figure out how high I should make it go. I seem to have trouble getting past the low-80s, even when I’m–ahem!–gasping for air.

After I stop, both my heart rate and breathing go back to normal fairly quickly, so no worries here about over-exertion in the exercise room. Plus, I keep my slack-key Hawaiian guitar soundtrack on, which as we all know immediately translates to a certain amount of chill.

How will this new-found fitness goal translate into skating terms? In the past month, I’ve tried to organize my practice time on the ice into three different parts:

  1. warmup and basic edges, including progressives, swing rolls, power pulls, cross strokes
  2. turns, loops, twizzles
  3. compulsory patterns (Kilian and reverse Kilian, Starlight, Viennese, Quickstep)

Since I’m not doing a program, it’s important to figure out how to make an aerobic element part of the routine. I should probably start adding in 3-5 minutes of power stroking in there once in a while. I need a different soundtrack!


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Hips are A-okay!

I had a session with PT Sarah the other day, just to check in. My hips are doing pretty well! I still have some stiffness on the left side, but it’s way better. And so we spent more time on trying to get more mobility in both my right ankle as well as my mid-back (which continues to be stiff).

It’s been an interesting process trying to determine which parts of my body could work better in my favor. I started going to physical therapy mainly because of pain in my left hip and foot, but now I find that the right side could really use some work. The right ankle issue is because I have a lot of scar tissue there from an injury many years ago. I have trouble pointing my right foot and doing heel raises on that side. Sarah gave me some ways of stretching the ankle to try to loosen up the motion of the calcaneus.

Basically, we are working on getting some side-to-side motion for that joint, as if the heel bone was fish-tailing side to side. I sit back on my heels with my toes stretched out, try to pull the foot bones away from the ankle, and then work on that fish-tail motion. These were definitely uncomfortable, but they seemed to help.

As I am wont to do, I promptly tried this idea out on the ice too by trying to imagine that my heel bone was moving in the same path as the end of my blade (but away from the rest of the foot). This is a hard sensation to describe, but it makes a big difference in my stability. Basically, it felt like my skating foot is longer on the ice, that my weight is slightly farther back, and that I have more control over my blade.

This has been a much better week, thank goodness. I have been doing my off-ice exercises regularly, and this has helped too. I wouldn’t say I’m completely 100% confident, but at least I’m not feeling stalled out.

Here’s a picture of my forward outside loops, which are improving, I think.

Jo-loops

And a recording of Rostropovich playing Schubert’s Arpeggione with Britten (yes, that Britten), which probably can’t be improved on:

Lesson notes:

  • Two foot rockers: think about axis and where you are facing
  • Perimeter stroking: lobe direction (start progressive later); eliminate kick of right free leg
  • Inside mohawk step forward on inside, inside rocker (two foot okay), step forward, repeat
  • Open outside Mohawks: work on aligned hip position, circles (think about where you are facing)
  • Swing roll, flat, inside, inside mohawk, push back step forward, repeat: hip position over standing foot, rotate into free arm

 


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Satisfaction (as in, can’t get no)

Easy gratification?

Or long-term deferral of pleasure?

olympic-figure-skating9

It should be an easy choice, but it’s not.

On the one hand, I am getting quite frustrated with the way that I feel like I need to revamp my entire way of skating, like, every time I get on the ice.

The way I used to skate (balanced over my skates rather than really on an edge) was horribly, horribly wrong. I have gotten to the point that it actually feels wrong, which I suppose is a kind of progress.

Making things right, however, also is exhausting. I am working on several kinds of alignment corrections these days. One is making sure my weight into the circle, which means that my blade is striking down to the outside of where I perceive my midline to be.

shibutanis

Two is making sure that I am activating my glutes and hamstrings whenever I initiate a new edge. I wish I could figure out a way to make this happen automatically, but it doesn’t seem to work that way for me, especially on the left side.  I wrote about this in a post several years ago when I was describing “skating from the butt“; what I’m finding now is that knowing about it and actually doing it more than 20% of the time are two different things.

VirtueMoir214

Three is feeling steady pressure through the blade down into the ice during the entire edge. I have this tendency to release the pressure in favor of hanging out on top of my skates.

These things are definitely outside of my comfort zone. Plus they are so basic that I can’t avoid working on them.

Perhaps I have come to a standstill? Or reached the point of no return?

Or perhaps it is a turning point?

I used to think the operative words were about not getting satisfaction. But maybe it’s also important to hear

’cause I try/ and I try/ and I try

Will I be around as long as these guys have been? We’ll see.


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How do you spell success?

Hooray, made it through another busy semester (not quite over, but almost). I am counting my blessings.

The other day on a fairly busy session I decided to avoid the crowds by practicing my Shafer pushes in a little section of the center. In case you’re wondering what these are, here’s a video:

So off I push and run right into a little tot! Luckily, she was holding on to one of those metal frames they use for beginners–you know, the kind that the small hockey players grab and then use to ram one another. It’s survival of the fittest around here, I tell you.

She didn’t fall but looked at me, rather puzzled. I expected the immediate intervention of a parent-guardian screaming, “What, you ran into my kid?!!!???” But when I looked around, her supervising adult was busy on her phone and didn’t even see the mild collision. So we both went on our merry skating ways.

Despite these little incidents of terror, I’ve really been enjoying skating. I have been working on the same basic moves, but focusing on several related things.

First is making sure that I am actually always on an edge instead of just balanced over my skate. Sometimes I hit a flat, then try to recuperate the edge with my ankle or knee bend. This mistake usually happens when I change feet–just for an instant, but long enough to throw me off. Laurie reminded me (again) that my new skate actually should be placed on the other side of my midline. If I concentrate on this, it works like a charm!

On certain transitions, such as the back inside to back outside, I have become so used to setting down on a flat that I step inside my circle. I am practicing touching down my new (outside) edge so that it is placed on the ice right beside the other foot, and at the proper edge angle. This is revealing a lot of weird things about my back inside edges.

Second is pushing through my edge so that I get more power. The trick is to feel like I’m actually pushing my foot away from my body, rather than using my foot to push my body forward. You would think this would be same thing, but it actually feels really different if you are on an edge.

Third is thinking about the placement of the axis and different lobes on the ice. Since I have sworn off pushing from flat to flat, this means feeling like certain transitions are retrogressed.

I know, I know. These are all things I should have been doing a long time ago.

But instead of berating myself for being a skater-come-lately, I’m going to lavish myself with praise. I did all three things today, and the time flew by! And I didn’t run into anyone. Okay, there were only four other people there today. And I did have a near-miss when only Chris and I were on the ice and both of us were going backwards. But we didn’t collide.

Real edges! No ice casualties! No angry skating parents! Success!

I’m going to have to adapt this Bob Dylan quotation:

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.
to the following:
Jo’s skating session is a success if she gets on the ice and gets off in one piece, and in between she gets on an edge most of the time. And she doesn’t knock over other skaters, especially small children.

 

Lesson notes:
Exercises:
  • Back to front choctaw, inside counter, back touch, repeat on other side. Think curves.
  • Cross in front, tuck behind, forward choctaw, back cross step (outside-to-outside), step forward into correct leading arm, repeat on other side: learn how to change your lead.
  • Inside mohawk (don’t touch down), push to back outside three: work on placement on circle; retrogressing Inside to inside push—you only need 30 degrees of turnout. Try the “reverse lean”: stay on inside but change lean before push.
  • Inside mohawk (don’t touch down, use that inside edge), back inside three (ankles together, not knees).
  • Inside three, step forward, cross in front, repeat on other side.
Basics:
  • back progressives: you are setting your outside edge foot too far into the circle: practice touching down with free foot. Practice “touch-down” exercise (don’t try to do this while doing progressives).
  • back crossovers: these are improved. Keep working on more bend.
  • forward outside three turn, back inside three turn: real edges into and out of the three turn; work on isolating free leg movement so it doesn’t throw you off.
  • forward outside loops: remember to continue to bend and deepen for the second half of the loop–don’t rush this part!

Here’s a terrific version of one of my favorite songs, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” as performed by The Main Squeeze: https://youtu.be/ko5roiJR8EY. 


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No one is alone

If you’ve seen the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, you will know that it’s not always easy to find your way through the confusing paths of life, even in a fairy tale. We hope for heroes and villains, happy endings, and clear moral consequences–but in reality, those neat fictions quickly vanish.

That’s why I find this song so poignant:

The past couple of skating weeks have been a thicket of confusion, with some really good breakthroughs and some very weird and random falls.

To begin with, I took a few days off skating to chaperone a high school field trip to Chicago, which was pretty fun. We went to the Field Museum, where I got to contemplate the hip structure of dinosaurs (legs more upright) and reptiles (legs sprawling sideways). I’ll just share the slides and spare you the reflection on how this makes me think about skating.

But when I got back on the ice, I kept falling down for different reasons: catching the back of my blade (since I once again forgot to point my toe), pushing off just a little too vigorously, and forgetting what I was doing in the middle of a mohawk.

So when the song goes “people make mistakes,” I can really relate. Ouch!

Happily, though, I think some of the soreness is actually due to progress, not just impact. Some of the falls were because I’m actually trying something new and going past my comfort zone (I don’t count the momentary glitch on the mohawk.) I have been really focused on using my core in skating, which means that my hip muscles are actually working harder. Here’s my list of action items:

  • Pushing onto a really good edge, making sure I’m in a good hip position (neutral), with core engaged and without using too much hip flexor.
  • Making sure my edges  remain active throughout their duration (I will write a separate post on using pressure rather than just momentum), which means that I need to be aware of my feet.
  • On my backwards edges, pushing with the knees and not just the feet.
  • Loops (I do love doing these). One of these days I’m going to work up a light entertainment program in which I am a barber shop pole.

Barber_Shop_Pole

So is my skating “good” or “bad” for the world? For me? For my dinosaur-like hips? I’m not sure. Luckily the “good” and “bad” of my skating are (1) not loaded with moral consequences and (2) not a zero-sum game. So I can always enjoy the fact that I am getting better without worrying that someone else is suffering.

The moral: Jo skates, and everybody wins!

That’s why skating is so good for keeping disenchantment at bay. At the rink, no one is alone–or if they are, they feel lucky to have private ice.

And sometimes magic happens. That’s why we like seeing our friends win gold medals at Adult Nationals!

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Sonia and Doug, 2018 AN Silver Dance Gold Medalists!

 

 


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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.