Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Technical Difficulties; Please Stand By...

I'm currently on my second pair of skates. My first skates were a pair of cheapo sports store skates, bought before I was married. My then-boyfriend and I wanted to skate at the free rinks in the city parks, so he bought a pair of hockey skates and I got some badly fitting figure skates. We skated before his shows, and I'd skate after work, whenever we had time. And I can't harbor too many bad feelings about them, I had them with me when he proposed to me. They still have the yellow scuff marks from the temporary boards, and I won't ever forget the time I stupidly tried a spiral. Of course I fell backwards, because that's the only way I know how to fall.

But they didn't fit, and when I started skating regularly in them, I suffered terrible foot cramping. I asked my new rink friends about it, and they said it was likely because my toes were curling inside the boot. And they were right. My toes were gripping the insole in terror. I needed new skates.

So I headed off to the skate shop and explained my situation. I just needed a pair to tool around in, but fit me well so I could walk after skating instead of hobbling around the lobby for twenty minutes. They nodded and found me a nice pair of Reidells, on consignment. The nice lady put them on me and had me walk around, which I thought was unnecessary since I never imagined I'd be actually doing anything in them, but they felt more secure than my old sports store skates.

My secondhand Reidells have served me quite well in the two years I've had them. Any issues I've had with them have turned out to be a problem with Me and not The Skates. When I was cramping up going backwards, it wasn't the skates, it was me toe-curling-terror again. I solved that by going backwards for hours. When my heel hurt on rough ice, an insole fixed it. When they hurt bad, I realized I'd been lacing them weirdly; loose on the boot but tight at the ankle. One day I learned to always check the position of the insoles, as I got on the ice and five minutes later felt that my foot was going to fall off.

I started to believe my skates were perfect and I was the one who needed work. I thought I'd be fine in them forever, perhaps. We do crossovers, one foot glides, slaloms and swizzling endlessly, t-stops and now hockey stops (slowly) and still trying to turn around with some iota of skill, but we're getting there. My pinkie fingers have little callouses on them from where I pull the laces, as I like my skates snug at the ankle. I've tripped over the toepicks a lot and had some of my most awful falls backwards in them. My feet don't fall asleep in them anymore, so I can only imagine that they are fully broken in and happy.

Perhaps in some effort to help my turning problems, my Coaches have started me on Inside and Outside Edges. And I can do them pretty good, with my biggest problem being that I could not get my limbs to cooperate; arms going this way, then that way, and free foot starts out at the skating foot's ankle and slowly sticks out forward in a frictionless hokey pokey. But on my outside edges, my ankle started to bend inwards. A lot. Against my wishes. And this didn't feel like the run-of-the-mill Bodily Apprehension, this felt Wrong. I stepped off and tightened my laces. This didn't help, my ankle still fell outside the circle. So I stepped off again and did a full relacing. Still didn't help.

I moved on to doing T-stops again, but just as an experiment I tried a one-foot glide down the length of the rink. I noticed my ankle bending in a bit, which I'd never been conscious of before. Could I possibly be having some kind of equipment problem?

I brought it up to Master Shifu, fully expecting an answer of, "It's you."

"It's you," he said, looking at me. "Your knees are touch together, so you may need to have the blade moved closer to your instep." Actually, he had a bigger, more serious sounding name for it, but I don't think he likes to give me vocabulary words. He never said it again and I don't remember.

Okay, so I'm a little knock kneed. It's why I feel I look silly in a dress, and why I never bought any issue of Seventeen Magazine as I was growing up. My knock knees and my chronic gooseflesh made me a very self conscious teen with limited fashion options. Black tights were my best friend. But I never imagined it would affect my skating.

I vowed to make an appointment at the skate shop to have the situation evaluated, and the blades moved if possible. I need a sharpening anyway, I haven't fallen in a few days. But here's the rub: My secondhand Riedells are still a Beginner skate. I'm a beginner, right? But Beginner skates typically have Vinyl soles, and we're not sure if blades can be moved on vinyl soles. Sure, there are screws holding the blades and not rivets, but the Vinyl may preclude an easy fix.

So, here I am, a Gamma/Delta level adult skater, potentially needing a fancier boot with custom mounted blades. I don't know. My appointment is tomorrow evening. This is just about as bad as a trip to the dentist.

As it so happens, I have a wedding anniversary on Sunday. Twelve years, which is a long time. Joking around with my husband, we looked up the "traditional" gifts for twelve, and we're on "silk and fine linen." I don't want that, and he missed "Leather" (Year 3) and "Steel" (Year 11), so I figure he can catch up by buying me a new pair of skates. I can get him a tie. (Silk.) Stagehands love ties, right?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Edges; Obstacle Course Style

For those my fellow USians, I hope you're keeping cool. It would seem our entire nation has been encased in a heat wave. *cough*climate change*cough*hack* Excuse me. Our little Suburban Paradise is no exception. It's been hot day after day, and I've been falling asleep to visions of tossing dollar bills out the window as I listen to the AC run.

The rink is a nice escape, but even there, the effects of the suffocating heat are apparent. The hockey glass is fogged up and the ice feels a bit softer. But that's not so bad. I can live with that.

This morning I headed out onto our small rink for my group lesson, and there were four small cones out. I thought they had been left there by the Tot class, so I picked one up to carry it off. Imagine my horror when I saw five large zits on the ice under and around the cone. Not quite big enough to be a stalagmite, so it was an ice zit. Every cone was surrounded by zits. The moist air was causing condensation to collect and fall from the ceiling.  I dropped the cone and skated off, inspecting for more. There were lots more.

The warmup coach was kind enough to mention the hazard, and had us skate on the opposite side of the rink. Backwards. Because you have to go backwards.

I push off for some backwards slalom business, and I know my left foot is acting up and my right side is being hesitant, and I can feel myself collapsing into a fearball because I know those zits are out there. They are out there, like mines, and I can't see them because I am going backwards. I feel the back of my blade catch and wobble, and I mentally mark, "Ice zit, just over the second blue line."

Warmup Coach stops us and gives some direction, noting that our feet are doing things they shouldn't, and I'm just wondering if I should say anything about the hazard behind me. Like Jaws.

By this time another lady has shown up, and, god love her, she's chronic at not being aware of herself. I know if we go backwards side by side, she's going to drift into me, and I'm going to trip over the ice zit, we'll both go down together and I'll mess up her pretty sweater as I claw for safety. As we push off for backwards half pump whatevers, I'm listening for her, noting where I am in relation to that second blue line, feeling the Fearball and hoping I have my insurance card.

Luckily this ends. Coach Snape wanders in, and while I did try to practice 3 Turns this week, I was less than successful. I'm wondering if he has some kind of harness apparatus or sparkly green jello for me that will make it happen (maybe a sedative) when he says, "Let's do Edges."

Yes, I'll take that sedative please.

He puts me on the red line and does some examples. "Outside edges."

Okay, for the record I have done outside edges. I've done them around the cones on a public session in a "Hahaha! I'm cheating death!" Kind of way. I also do them when I do forward crossovers, which had become rather daring the night previous when I decided to go for broke and just throw myself into that lean like Indiana Jones avoiding a blow dart. But Outside Edges can be scary. You're just leaning into empty space. Now I had to do them in the formal, "This is an Edge," kind of way, complete with arm and free foot movements.

Of course Coach Snape made it all look quite graceful. When I tried, I not only gave myself a solid push off with my toepick, my arms flew around and my foot flew in front, then I remembered hidden Ice Zits I couldn't see and bobbled it. Hey, I try. Coach Snape was patient, telling me to slow down, do the movements at the top of the curve lest I over rotate, which is funny because I like to see how long I can hold an inside edge, and if I can wrap some appendage around my torso in the process.

So I try again, carefully avoiding the Ice Zits as I slowly move my arms and free foot. I'd toss down that free foot at the first sign of trouble, which Coach Snape interpreted as over rotation. Eventually I figured out how to set up the half circles to avoid them, but I'm still moving my limbs too fast. By now I'm concentrating so hard on the lean, my arms, my free foot, my posture, where I am on the blade, the half circle and the Zits, that when another lady starts stomping on the ice for some reason my head almost implodes.

I resist the impulse to ask her "WHY?!" and keep going.

Snape comes back to me and starts to talk abut turning, when he glances at the clock. Our time is done. I turn to depart the hazardous ice, and to my horror Stitch (who is in town this weekend) has been photographing everything from the hockey glass.

"You didn't," I ask him.
"Oh, I did." He grins.
"You have to delete them."
"Nope. They're funny."
"I have some prime naked baby Stitch pictures. On paper. Delete them."

Stitch sighs and fiddles with his DS, presumably deleting the pictures. I'll need to make sure.

So, watch yourself and your ice this hot summer. The Ice Zits are out there, and they are terrible.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Can't Turn

This statement is not entirely true. I can do a two foot turn from forward to backwards with some fair degree of skill. As I like to say at home, "I can do a 33 Turn!"

But of course, there are no 33 Turns in Real Skating. They are yet another figment of my imagination. I knew I had turns coming, but I was content to go Forwards and Backwards like I was on a perpetual Lazy River. "Turns can come later," I thought. "When I'm ready. My coaches will know."

Well, apparently either my Coaches are slacking off or I am, because I had Three Turns and Mohawks thrown at me in quick succession, and both of which were disastrous.

Why is this such a hard concept for me? Well, think of your skate blade. It's long and thin, and it likes to go forward and back. He simply doesn't support side to side motion. It's like your car. The tires are aligned in such a way that he can go forward and backward, with gentle turns.

Turn too fast, and you get this kind of disaster:



And it didn't help that Coach Snape was saying, "You'd be surprised at how easy this is. It can't help but happen."

Yeah, well, once again my Brain Stem started freaking out. I'd line up a turn, get on that FO edge, get my arms ready, and I'd try to swing around, and I'd think, "YOU'RE GONNA DIE!" And I'd just stay there, paralyzed.

I ended that class in severe frustration.

Okay, semi-privates are next. "Master Shifu will surely not do this to me yet," I think.  So we warm up, head on the ice, start normally with stroking and crossovers and life is good.

Then Master Shifu busts out a Mohawk. "We'll do this on the wall," he says.

Oh good, I think. I like the wall.

So we do this on the wall, and I'm wrapping my head around the mechanics of the thing, when he skates away from the wall.

Please don't ask me to do that out there, I'm begging inwardly.

But he does, and it's disaster. And once again I get that paralysis.

Now, bear in mind the lovely lady I'm working with grasped this right off the bat. She's doing mohawks and three turns, and I've been put back on the wall where I'm grabbing the rails for dear life. Every time I try to step away from the wall, I get paralyzed and think "Why can't I do this?"

Eventually I get so frustrated I start to shake, and it's over. Call the lesson done, I have forks sticking all out of me. Master Shifu insists that I'll get it eventually, but with Snape saying, "Oh, it's so easy," and Lady getting it so handily, I feel awful.

I come back later on, where I try again at Public Skate. I get a 2.1 turn on my good side, a 1.5 turn on my bad side, and that Mohawk is nowhere. I try it on the boards, and once again I'm clinging for purchase as my skate slides out from under me, or I land the T wrong and trip myself.

I've taken a few bad falls and come away with some pretty nice bruises. As it turns out, I can take the black and blue kind. What I can't take is a bruise to my ego, and I think that stings more than anything.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Backwards Skating, the Riddle of a thousand years

I can skate backwards. Kinda. And it was a long, treacherous road to say "I can skate backwards kinda."

When I see the kids on the ice, struggling to comprehend the bodily mechanics of a backwards wiggle for the first time, oh, how I ache for them. Because I understand. I understand so heartily.

The Brain Stem, he doesn't like to go backwards. Your body doesn't like it, either. No one can see where they're going, the knees and ankles don't bend that way, and your butt is hanging out there screaming at you, "Do you not like sitting? I know you and I don't get along, but is this really necessary?"

I hated going backwards. I hated it so much I made myself do it for entire public sessions. An hour at a time, backwards. Swizzling or wiggling, it didn't matter. I'd just go backwards, to feel the motion, to get used to the sensation of not really knowing where the hell I was going. Eventually I got pretty good at it, toepick scraping and all, so I decided to try to pick up one foot.

Of course, I did it crazy wrong. I'd straddle some imaginary horse and try and lift up a foot at random, leading to a loss of balance and a general awkwardness. It was so bad, I started thinking, "Well, no one really skates on one foot backwards for any length of time anyway..."



Then I remembered this, and sighed, and went back to work.

Eventually I picked up the right idea. Half swizzle backwards, pick up one foot. As with the FO edge, I did this forever. I still do this. (As with FO edges. Or any F edge.) Rink Pal noted me doing it for the bazillionth time and said, "Gee, you sure are getting comfortable going backwards."

"I'm so glad it looks that way," I clipped back.

I still find the sensation of going backwards disconcerting. Even today, after I was done frustrating myself with turns, I polished off the session with some backwards half swizzles. Fast, while listening and feeling to toepicks. And holding out my arms. And being aware of my posture. And solving some algebra equations in my head while I was at it. I solved the riddle by just heading out there, sighing greatly and doing it.

Because I know that one of a Coach's favorite things to say is, "Oh, so you can do that? Great. Now do it backwards."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

So, how hard is it?

Remember me saying, "gosh, it doesn't look all that hard..." and I'm sure many of you gave me furtive looks through your screens. Well, it isn't all that hard, it's just frustrating. And it's frustrating because once you learn any given skill, there's always someone showing you some way you could be doing it just a hare better. And that little hare ends up tossing you back to square one.

Like forward crossovers. I got those. I could do those with some fair amount of proficiency last year, so I felt like I was walking into this year in pretty good shape.

Heh. Nope. I came into my first class, did a few crossovers, stopped in front of Coach Shape (Stitch had said he looked like Snape, not me...) and smiled, thinking I was ahead of the game.

"That's nice, not bad," says Snape, and then belts out a few Champion style crossovers and says, "But they need to be more like that. Push with the blade of the back foot, not the toepick."

And from that moment on I was forever aware of the constant, nagging, *cross*pick*cross*pick*cross*pick.*  And I tried. Lord knows I tried to banish that pick push from my life, but my brain stem had taken over and was stuck in this mode of, "Get that foot out of there before you hurt yourself."

See, your brain stem is the primitive part of the brain. He's concerned with self preservation. When you're at home, packing up your skates and getting ready to practice, and you think, "Yeah, I'm gonna own this bitch today!" That's your gray matter talking. When you get on the ice and you find yourself hunched over in this quasi ball of fear, sweat and self conciousness, that's the brain stem. He's saying, "You can't be serious."

So, when I was trying to hold an outside edge, leaning over into oblivion where there was no foot to throw down and save me, my brain stem was screaming, "AHHHHH!!!NOOOOOO!!!!STOOOOOP!!!" But I knew holding that edge was pretty critical, so I managed to talk him out of his panic, and now I can hold that edge. Fairly well... well enough to throw my free leg back. On my right side. My left side is constantly playing catch up. Anyway.

Once I could hold that edge, I tried getting rid of the pick, but it was still proving to be quite the challenge. My foot kept ducking, and picking out, well beyond my control. It wasn't until I started taking semi-privates with Master Shifu that the light went on. Master Shifu says, "Do this exercise where you swizzle out," he does the half-pump thing, "then bend your leg forward and let the free leg roll out behind you."

I did that for awhile, and that got easy enough, but when I added that to my Forward Crossover Equation, it just didn't work out. For awhile I'd just stare at my skates thinking, "What the hell.." I knew what it was supposed to look like.  I had some fair grasp of how I was supposed to do it. But I just could not get my body out of Panic Mode, and allow that free leg to just roll out of the way like so much butter.

Around and around I went, carving circles in the Studio Rink, getting caught in my own edge tracks or whatever, my past self tripping up my present self, cursing and sweating, until finally I got some slight roll out.

Proud of myself, I headed to class and showed Coach Snape. "Not bad," he said in his usual unimpressed tone. "But you need to stand up straighter."

And so I tried again, this time standing straight, and all my extension was shot.

Back to Square One.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Where Have I Been?

Well, I've been working a lot. And Skating.

By now, word must have gotten around that Stitch has given up skating. The days were just getting too hard, the complaints too often, and I started to realize I was investing a hefty portion of my resources on something that was making everyone crazy.

Stitch wanted to be around other boys, and do boy things. He asked to join Scouts, and I said yes. And since I'm a "single activity" parent, I let him stop skating. And realistically, there was no way he could do both. Between the meetings and camps and campouts thus far, and Coach Y's insistence "he needs to skate more," I'd have driven myself insane attempting to do both.

Stitch had a good two years of skating. At some point he may indeed come back, I don't know. He came away with some great show experiences, a bunch of trophies, and a slew of friends. Right now he's knee deep in archery, creeks, bugs, camping, pocketknives and dirt. We're marching in the neighborhood 4th of July parade next week with his den or whatever. He's curious about this whole Webelos Concept, as am I. And he can still be a rink guard, which is what he always wanted. At home, we were happier.

 But at the rink, it was a hard few weeks. Between people asking where he was, the well wishers who were saying, "You can't let him quit!" and me feeling bad about the whole thing anyway, the last place on earth I wanted to be was that rink.

But I did go back. And often. And I fielded the questions and rebuttals and people who begged me to bring him back, piecing up my heart as I did so. Let me tell you, it was not easy. Many times I sat in the car in the parking lot, steeling myself before I headed in.

Why was I going to the rink if Stitch stopped skating?

Because I had picked it up. You see, although I wanted to skate, realistically only one of us could afford to at any given point. With Stitch now in a Bear Cub uniform, I was free to don the Lycra. And I did. I signed up for a class, I set to practicing on as normal a schedule as I could manage, and before I realized it, I was in Semi-Privates with a Coach.

Now, before anyone goes perclucking, let me explain.... I've been doing this seriously now for about three months. "Seriously" as in "Actually trying" and not just tooling around. I've lost ten pounds and taken three inches off my waist. (Lady Cluck says I am shrinking, and "hot as hell" in her words.) I can put on a pair of stretch pants and not feel like the daily cattle call at People of Walmart. I actually had to take in my original pair of "skating pants." I'm eating better. I'm not drinking as much. I'm actually getting up in the morning and fucking exercising. I've never done this, ever. I'm actually looking into taking a damn pilates class.

And I feel better. In fact, I'm happier and more relaxed than I have been in years. I feel stronger, lighter, faster. Just yesterday morning I did a dance step down the city sidewalk in the middle of rush hour, and I didn't give a damn what anyone thought. When anyone at the office starts behaving like an ass, I just smile lightly and wonder when I can work on improving that extension just a scoche more.

So, if anyone wants to ascribe my motivations to the lost aspirations of my kid, go right ahead. Fact is, I'm having an absolute ball. Yes, I could have slunk away quietly into the shadows, lost to the roster of kids that quit. Sometimes I really, really wanted to, but I'd made too many friends to walk away. I'd always loved the sport from afar, and I started to realize that this might be within my grasp. All I had to do was try, and if there's anything I'm good at, it's trying.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What does Stitch Think?

It's hard for me to comment back on the posts, but thanks for all the encouragement. Last night we hit Public Ice on Thursday for the first time in ages, and I actually made a concerted effort at practicing. I did crossovers until my legs were sore, stroking with my free leg back and not to the side, and backwards half pumps. Towards the end of the session, I got really brave and tried backwards stroking and T-stops. (Holding the wall... does that count?) I want to go back tonight.

Stitch enjoys just playing around, and he was all over the place. He made snow with his friends, ate ice cream, and harassed Rink Pal.

On the way home, I felt pretty good about what I'd done. "What do you think?" I asked him. "Think I could do this?"
"Maybe," he was unsure.
"Doesn't seem too hard. Just a lot of practice. Maybe I could be doing back crossovers by the end of summer. Maybe I could compete someday."
He borked. "You? Compete?"
"Sure. Why not? Other adults do it."
"Uuuh, okay..." He really didn't know about this idea.
"Think I could look good in a skating dress?" I polished off that thought with *after you drop about thirty pounds* in my head.
"Please don't do that," I could hear his dread.
"Why?"
"Because that would be embarassing."

On this point, I have to agree with him. I'll need to come up with something reasonable to skate in.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yay, Those People!

I was sitting in the stands last week, reading a million boring things on the Internet and praying that Stumbleupon would finally find something fun and interesting for me to look at. I looked out at the kids skating, listened back to the parents chattering, and I realized how bored I was. Just. Bored.

That looks like so much fun, I thought, watching the kids fly through back crossovers and waltz threes. I wish I could do that.


Parents do a lot of jabbering about "oh, I'd never be able to do it" in regards to their children skating. I've said it a million times myself. It's a favorite topic, expecially when some kid is having trouble.

Here is the script:
"Little Susie is having so much trouble with that *insert troublesome element.*"
"Oh, that's unfortunate. But she's really good at *insert strong element here to reassure fellow parent.*"
"I know, she's just stuck. It's so hard."
"Oh, I know. It's all hard. I mean, I know I could never do it!"
"Me neither!"
*Insert obligatory banter consisting of self-deprecating comments about age, joints, weight, cellulite or any given combination of these things.*

I was crossing the lobby to get a Diet Coke when another mother caught me. "Oh, hey there! How are you?"
"Fine, fine. How is your skater?"
"Oh good. She's on the Synchro team now."
"That's great. They seem to have fun."
"How is Stitch?"
"He's having some trouble with FS4. It's hard for him right now."
"Oh, it's all hard," she said, and I thought, here we go. "He's such a fun little performer, though."
"I know. But it's getting him to work through the hard parts."
"He'll be fine. I mean, I could never do it!" she filled in the script.

At this point I was tired of the script. "Oh, I don't know. It doesn't look so hard. I'd like to take a class."

She stopped laughing, and gave me a look. "You're not going to be one of those Adult Skaters, are you?"
"Maybe. Why not?"
"I mean," her stare hardened and she lowered her voice. "Have you seen those people?"

I shit you not, this was an actual conversation.

"They're nice. I like them." I honestly had no other response to what had just happened. Those People? Really?

She laughed to herself and settled back down into the booth. "Well, just don't hurt yourself."

I walked away, forgetting the Diet Coke. Why not? What's stopping you?

I've talked a big game about joining a class and learning to skate myself. My adult skater friends are always telling me that I should. On Tuesday mornings I watch an adult skater finish up her lessons, and I'm envious. Something always stops me. It could be fear. Could be self doubt. Could be anything, really. Could be that I'm not really believing that I could actually do something like this.

One of my most unforgettable moments with Coach Y was one morning when she was fussing at me, back during the Great Gamma Crisis of 2011. I was pushing back, wanting him to stay in Gamma, and she looked at me and said, "Anyone can do this shit if you have money."

And that kind of shut me up because I realized she was right. Throw enough money at any kid and they'll be doing decent skating, why can't that same equation work for me? And what do I care about those Other Moms thinking I'm one of THOSE PEOPLE? I think they're plenty weird in their own way.

I'm taking lessons in the Summer, and I need a coach to vouch for me to sign up for Alpha. I can do swizzles, forward and back, I can glide on one foot. I'm good at inside edges and still a little leery of outside edges but I can do them if I'm feeling gutsy. I'm better at stopping now, and I'm working on forward crossovers. One of my favorite things to do is Scooter Pushes, really fast. I started trying to go backwards on one foot before my plantar facsitis began crying and I had to stop for awhile. But I got special insoles and that pain seems to be receding, and I'm ready to try again.

I think to some degree all the skating moms are harboring some secret longing to be out there themselves, and having your kid out there can be a pretty reasonable substitute for that. I think every mom standing by the door with her arms out or in or whatever is skating by proxy. Like Munchausen's but more expensive.

Well. I think I'm ready to give it a try. (It doesn't look that hard.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Hospice Weeks

Strange things have been happening lately. I'm busy at the office. I'm busy at home. And somewhere between working, running errands, shuttling back and forth from the rink, cooking, cleaning, and running a home and raising a kid, I got the flu.

Stitch had come down with some mysterious illness for a few days, wherein he ran a high fever and lay lethargic on the sofa. He drank orange juice and slept, and I just blissfully assumed my immune system would function as it always had. He pulled out of that one, came down with something new a few days later which only lasted a day, but by then I was starting to feel awful. I hadn't had a fever in years, I'd forgotten what it felt like. Death. It felt like death, just to clarify that.

I'm starting to feel better. In fact, today is the first day in two weeks in which I've felt "normal." I still have a cough, but it sounds worse than it is. I'm off all the decongestants, so my head is clearer. The prospect of Spring Show rehearsals starting doesn't scare me as much.

That's right. Spring Show. Rehearsals start in a few weeks. I spent two weekends in the lobby during Saturday Classes, measuring and recruiting kids while hopped up on Tylenol and phenyleparine. Parents were ambivalent. After the costuming disaster of Winter Show, some were understandably nervous. I glossed things over as best I could, trying to look as normal as possible.

Stitch, with no immediate competitions on the horizon, is in both the group number for his level and the "specialty group" number. He's rolling his eyes, stating the rehearsal schedule will be too much, but if I know my Stitch, once he's in the thick of things, he'll be fine with it and asking for more.

He passed Freestyle Three the week I was starting to shake and feel numb. He gave me the paper and I was pleased. Change foot spin, still his weakest element, but Class Passing. I've mentioned to Coach many times, "Please. Back Spin. Please." In my two weeks of incoherence, I doubted I made much sense among the parents rushing to pass things.

This past weekend was his first run at Freestyle Four. Again, I'm expecting to be here for awhile. I'm glad to be here awhile for many reasons. He can sit at Freestyle four for a solid year if needs be. This Saturday the coaches introduced the new dance step sequence, which includes a variation on a three turn which left him flummoxed. And his foot was pestering him.

The weekend prior, the one where I was laying on the sofa, feverish, achey and cranky because I couldn't breathe, Stitch reported that his foot hurt. I asked him why. He said he had jumped off some infernal piece of playground equipment and his foot had hurt ever since. He said it hurt in the arch, and it really hurt when he was skating on it. I told him that it would be fine, since I was letting the week be light on the skating anyway, as he was between class sessions. "Just put ice on it. Or something," I think I said, before I retired to take another nap.

But Saturday, his hops were all off, his spirals were non-existent, and he looked like he was in pain. I pulled him over during the break, and asked if it was his hurting foot, and he said yes. "It's killing me," he clarified. So, I asked Coach what I should do, seeing as how she might have some knowledge of Sports Medicine which I do not. She instructed me to try taping it, but to see a foot doctor if it continued much longer. This horrified me, so I went up into the stands, took some more ibuprofin for my two week long headache and prayed for the best.

Tuesday morning we set off for lessons, and he said his foot felt fine. I watched him skate and he looked normal, not in pain. Coach nabbed him and they had a great little lesson which included Loop jumps and some new warmup step which we have dubbed "MoHops."

So, my Flu seems to be gone, leaving only a waning cough behind. If you hear me at the rink, it sounds bad but I feel great. Stitch's foot seems to have healed itself, but I'm keeping an eye on it. "No more jumping from the slide platforms," I told him. "No more tearing up your body at the playground," Coach Snape told him.

After weeks of antagonism, the two of them seem to have hit it off. Stitch gave him a cookie once after lessons, and Coach Snape seeks him out for mini-lectures about not tormenting me and taking care of himself. It's actually kinda cute, and it makes me happy.

Coach is starting a Spin Class, which Stitch will do. That Back Spin will be fully conquered.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Crystal Blue Persuasion

It's common knowledge that you can't do Figure Skating without Sparkle. The more elaborate, unique, blinged out thing you're wearing, the better. Freestyle dresses have been turned away by Coach because they were not sparkly enough.

But Sparkle isn't cheap. Go online shopping for a figure skating dress, and you'll fast learn that the more crystal a dress has, the price goes up exponentially. A common practice in the Skating Universe is to buy a prefab dress and stone it yourself.

In the not-so-distant past, you could Crystal just about anything using The Device Which Shall Not Be Named. I have only found a few people willing to admit that they owned The Device Which Shall Not Be Named, because ownership of said Device seems to carry a cultural imperative that you create a denim jacket with a unicorn motif.



Nowadays, we use Flatback Crystal and some form of Glue.

Where do you get Crystal? Does it have to be Swarovski? How much do you need to buy, and what color? And most importantly, how do you stick it on the dress?

As it so happens, I've been in the thick of a few projects that are heavy on the Crystal, in addition to stoning a few dresses for my fellow skating parents. So, let's talk about the Crystal Mysteries.

Swarovski, as I've stated before, is quite possibly the most commonly known crystal around. Swarovski used to limit itself to crystal knicknacks, stemware and commercial jewelry, but then it discovered that hoardes of amatuer jewelers like myself were buying up old costume jewelry and prying out the stones to create our own things. (The old style round stones in sew-on metal settings were terrible.) So, Swarovski, smart company that it is, moved in to accommodate us, and now there is a vast array of beads and gems under the Swarovski Elements line.

Firstly, Swarovski Crystal is not a true crystal like quartz or tourmaline or amethyst. It's just leaded glass with a high refractive index, finely cut like a traditional gemstone. But when you facet leaded glass, the results are stunning.

You can buy Swarovski Elements any number of internet vendors, or even a local bead store. Bead stores, however, are more likely to carry bicone and cube shapes, and not the flatbacks needed for costuming. I've found the most unique shapes and cuts on Artbeads, and when I need common cuts and colors I just go to Fire Mountain. Keep your eyes open, always be shopping, always price compare.

Crystal Colors
What color you choose is dictated by the garment. When I'm making Jewelry, I steer clear of A/B (rainbow) Coatings as I find they look chintzy. But for Costuming, they look pretty good. I'd say the most common crystal I see is an A/B Coated one, but don't limit yourself. Swarovski offers an incredible array of colors, coatings, and foilbacked stones. Look around. Spend a little money to experiment. See what others are doing. Collaborate.

Crystal Sizes
Coming from Jewelry, I'm used to measuring my stones in millimeters, but apparently costume design uses some kind of arbitrary numbering system. I found this image, with the various stones and their size numbers next to a US Penny, which clears things up.


I've never gone larger than 5mm. In the right color, a 5mm can pop with just as much drama as a larger stone, and they are cheap.

What truly staggers me is that the only shape of Crystal I see out there is round. Did you know Swarovski makes a wide variety of shapes and facets in the Flatback Style? Doubtless, once you drop below a certain size, no one will know if it's a snowflake shape or a round shape from forty feet away, but all the same, I would imagine it would be fun to have a different crystal style than everyone else. Check out Artbeads' Swarovski Resource Page for colors, wire diagrams, shapes, sizes and a glossary of terms!


Snowflakes in a Rivoli Cut, 5mm AB Coat
About Hotfix
I've never used Hotfix, mostly because I'm too cheap to buy a seperate implement for the express purpose of gluing crystal, but also because I fear burning my projects. I'm not alone in my fear. If you have experience with Hotfix, please speak up!

Gluing them on.
Most people, I've found, use some incredibly toxic and annoying substance called E6000. I personally cannot stand this stuff. It's impossible to work with because the tubes are so much larger than the stones themselves, and you end up squirting way too much adhesive on everything. Or if you try squirting a set amount of E6000 into a dish and try using a toothpick or some other tiny pokey thing to poke the adhesive onto the place you want to glue, you drag tendrils of adhesive all over the garment. And you can kiss that dish goodbye, because E6000 is instantaneously permanent as all hell. Then you have E6000 all over your fingers for at least three days, from trying to wipe away the tendrils. I find E6000 to be the most unforgiving substance in the universe, and since I make tons of mistakes, I use something different.

I use Rosco Crystal Gel. Even Rosco found this surprising. Take a tablespoon of Crystal Gel, put it in a sandwich bag. Nip off the end and voila! Piping bag. Pipe a small dab of the Gel onto the spot you want a crystal. You can even let it sit for awhile, because unlike E6000, Crystal Gel does not start to set instantaneously. You have about five minutes.

I use tweezers to drop stones onto the Gel, and then I give them a little tap on the head to squish them into the Gel. If a little seeps up onto the side of the stone, don't fret. It dries completely clear. If you accidentally smudge the gel, you can wipe it away quickly with a wet washcloth, as the Gel is water soluble. (Unlike the Evil E6000.) Wash your implements before the Gel dries.

In a half hour, the Gel should be dry enough that you can pick up the garment. In 24 hours, the Gel will have cured completely.

I have used Crystal Gel successfully for the past year to adhere crystal to knits, spandex, fleece, stretch velvet and canvas. Because Crystal Gel offers a degree of flexibility, it doesn't seem to mind when the fabric underneath it stretches.

I have also never used Gemtack. If you have some Gemtack experience, speak up!

Do not use Hot Glue. Hot Glue is simply plastic that melts at a low temperature, and if it sticks to anything then you've found the exception to the rule. I got over Hot Glue in the early Nineties, you should, too.

Crystal will fall off. No matter what you use, you will have a failure rate. Even my prized Cherri Chau Crystal Barrette, advertised as being the only crystalled jewelry that would never lose a stone, has a few bare spots. Buy 10% additional stones to cover for failures. Check the garment before and after wearing to see if you've lost anyone. Have a moment of silence for the MIA and Presumed Dead stones, and replace as needed.

Consider Crystal on a Garment as you would Icing on a Cake. The right amount tastes wonderful, but too much or too little is ruinous. Fifty well placed stones can do so much more than a hundred just thrown scattershot at a dress. Make a drawing, lay out the stones before you commit with glue, sleep on it and collaborate with your fellow seamstresses.

Have fun. Don't be afraid to mess up. My beading Stash is replete with failed projects. Without failing, how will you learn what works?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mompetition: What it is and how to avoid it.

(Sorry for the long absence, my day job is suddenly very busy, which is a great sign for our economy. If the arts are picking up, certainly other industries are as well! But it means less posting, apparently. We will return to Sewing Week after this brief interruption!)

From the day our babies are born, us Mothers are entered into the Mompetition Games. How big was your baby? Eight pounds? Puh-lease. Little Elsie was eight and half pounds! You don't know what a big baby is!

As they grow, it goes on. How much are they eating? How long are you nursing? Does your child eat sushi or just chicken nuggets? What growth percentile are they in? Do they know their letters and colors? Oh, pfft. Mine knew the alphabet at six months. And you are teaching Baby Signs, right? We've moved on to pre-algebra, the first grade math program is just boring her. Oh, you're just doing General Education? We're doing the Special Curriculum, we just think it's best for Junior.

Yeah. You know what I'm talking about.

It's annoying as all hell, because no matter what your child does or did or could ever hope to do is certain to be bested by some Goody-Two-Shoes Mom who is defining herself through her child and their acheivements. Even if those acheivements are little more than having the biggest fecal production of the day in the pediatrician's office, this mom takes the spotlight by proxy.

It was Mompetition that drove me from the playgroups early on in my parenting career. I simply could not tolerate the constant inference that my son was somehow inferior because he could not "sign" for water at three months, and that I was an inferior parent for not doing math flashcards at three weeks. After getting the stinkeye for admitting that I had trouble nursing in the early days, I just decided these women weren't worth my time. (Double mastitis? Clearly I had done something wrong, was their implication.)

So for years I operated safely outside the Mompetitor games. I just collected Stitch from Preschool, nodded politely at the other mothers and made a hasty exit. I didn't bother answering questions about diet, study habits or bowel movements.

Then Stitch began Figure Skating, and I inadvertently entered the Mompetitor Olympics.

He's stuck at Freestyle Three? Oh... *insert subtle look*

And somehow your child's inability to master a complex skill overnight becomes a reflection on you. Honestly, sometimes I think I'd rather say that Stitch has a drinking problem than say he's still working through the Change Foot Spin, just because I can't stand that Judgey Look. (I believe my detractors have used the terms "struggling with," which I find to be disheartingly mean. I struggle with separating grocery carts. I am working through forward crossovers, a new skill.)

Conversely, if you have a child who can skate, who really does master complex skills overnight, you're in for a different world of hurt. Yesterday I received a gift of chocolate from a fellow skating mom, thanking me for "being so nice."

All I do is talk to her while the kids have lessons. We talk food, our various craft projects, pets, school, homework, politics, and occasionally, skating. But really, she gets a lot of cold shoulder at that rink, and I think it has a lot to do with how her little girl owns that ice. She's blowing away Freestyle Four at the moment, much to the consternation of a Mompetitor who does nothing but give Other Mom the silent treatment.

As a mom, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of defining yourself through your child. When your child does great things, of course you are proud and want to share that success. It's certainly cool to be the "Mother of the Awesome Kid." But when you fall into that pit, you run the risk of exposing yourself to severe ego damage when your child falters, fails, or even worse, is outperformed by another child. And if you don't think that's going to happen, think again.

What makes it worse is the weird imperative that your child must Figure Skate as a "Serious" Competitor or not at all. ("Your child just does ISI competitions? Pfft, we switched out of that long ago.")

Once you and your child's performance are linked, you simply cannot face those Other Moms with children you percieve as better than yours, nor can you spend enough time around those moms with children who are behind yours in their skillset. Your friendships at the rink are suddenly terribly limited, based on fragile terms, and very often under false pretenses. Is that any way to lead a Social Life?

Other Mom often hung out in the lobby, just doing her own thing, and yes, she did seem a little aloof. But one day I introduced myself and struck up a conversation with her. As it turns out, she's in the lobby because her daughter wants her there and it's too cold in the rink anyway. It had nothing to do with her personality, which is warm, funny and inviting.

So, how do you avoid Mompetition? Just don't buy it.

Whenever someone starts talking smack about another Mom, smile and nod, and gently steer the conversation to something else. If they insist, find somewhere else to be. (The Booth. The Cafe. The Broom Closet. Anywhere.) If you see a mom hanging out alone, say Hi. If you meet a new family at the rink, be nice.

And when you meet a Mom who is making dubious choices in pursuit of their child's skating, simply mind your own backyard, stay out of their way, and try to be a positive influence.

We're just here to skate. No one at the rink is curing cancer or writing a Middle Eastern Peace Treaty. It's just figure skating. Do unto others as you would have them not talk about you when you go to the bathroom.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sewing Trims

Now that we've picked a trim, we have to get it onto our garment somehow. Our friend Sophie is sewing pants. Pants pose a challenge because you have to apply the trim onto a finished seam rather than a panel, and you end up working in a tube.


The trick is Patience, and Pinning. Pins are your best friend. Lay the pants down flat, and lay the trim onto them. Pin it down, being careful not to go all the way through to the other side of the garment.


To sew it down, choose a regular Sharp needle. (They're actually called Sharps, which seems intuitive but whatever.) You'll be tempted to use a clear Nylon thread, like this one.

Sewer Beware! It's clear, but not a great idea!

Be careful. My experience with clear Nylon is that it decays over time, becoming brittle. I have a netted beaded bag that is slowly disintegrating due to a poor thread choice I made. I'd be safe and choose a thread color that is a close match, like this burgundy thread on burgundy lace.



Start at the end, folding over the edge of the trim for neatness. Whipstitch the edge, and start working your way up. For a trim like this, I use a backstitch in roughly 1/4" lengths. For everyone using metric, go two centimeters long. Don't bother pulling the needle in and out, because you're in a tube and you're going to end up annoying yourself. Simply pull the needle staying on the outside of the garment.



Here's a link to a basic hand sewing tutorial with videos: http://cyberseams.com/article/105045/basics/how_to_sew_by_hand_basic_stitches.html

This is a pretty gaudy beaded trim, and beaded trims carry some caveats. They need care. This trim features glass tube beads affixed with cotton thread, which means the little sharp glass tube edges are rubbing against poor cotton thread, cutting it over time. Beads do fall off. Be on the lookout for loosies, resewing them down as you come to them.


See the sharp glass rubbing on that poor thread? It will eventually tear.

For slung sequins, I use a regular running stitch going through the holes of the sequins. If you look here, you can see my sewing threads on this leftover piece of trim I created for Pink Panther.


On the back, it's also easy to see what I did.



When dealing with stretch trims, use the same techniques, but don't pull the threads tight. Leave them a little loose to allow the fabric underneath and the trim to give. When we say, "tack on this trim," we really mean that. Just tack it on so it stays.

Check in with your trimmed garments before and after wearing, especially if they're a beaded or heavy trim. Check for torn thread, loose beads, or floppy bits, and re-sew them as needed. A beaded garment is a high-maintenance garment, and for something that is actually pretty Athletic wear, you need to repair abuse as it happens.

Up next, Appliques and You

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trimmings: What Kind and how to Sew Them

If you've ever taken a trip to your local fabric shop, you've likely seen the rows of carded wacky things that come on strings. They come in all colors, widths, materials, weaves and materials.
I spend a lot of time here.

They can range from a woven heavy metallic thread, to a simple string of sequins, satin ribbon, heavily beaded fringe, elastics, and crystals in metal settings.



Trims aren't just decorative. There are functional trimmings such as hook and eye, zipper, and grommeted trims. In short, it can be overwhelming.


Trims are sold by the yard and very in price according to their make, materials, country of origin, and a bunch of other factors, but the simplest way to judge is by how fancy it is. The fancier the trim, the likely the more expensive it will be.

If you need a long length of elastic in an odd size, the Trims Section is where you look.

What is not a constant is the more expensive the trim, the more tasteful it is. There's a lot of trims that are quite expensive, yet are horrific to behold.


$20.00 Per Yard Seashell fringe for a Snowplow Sam "Under the Sea?" Falling shells as an artitistic choice or Competitive Advantage?

So, how do you choose a trim?

Well, my process starts long before I even enter the fabric store. The music must be chosen first, so with music in mind, I'll sit down with some paper and draw out my ideal costume. What I would like if money were no object, if I were the most talented seamstress alive, what would I create?

Now, provided you aren't too ashamed of your art, take this to the fabric shop. Here, your design is going to get the ax hacking of a paredown as you shop for what kinds of materials are available, how much they cost, and what your skills are capable of actually doing. This isn't always a bad thing. Your design isn't going to get necessarily worse, it's just going to evolve to fit your reality.

With fabrics chosen, take a look at the design and see where a trim would accent, fit and work your design. We need some shiny things on the pants, so let's look.



This is an old pair of skating pants, you can tell by the worn-out knee. But layering Slung Sequins can add some Drama!

Don't be shy. If you walk into a fabric store, lay down some drawing and a pattern and a bunch of fabric, you'll look like a total pro and own the place. Your actions indicate, "Hey! I need some mofo trim here!"



This is also pretty for color and texture.

Unroll a foot or so of what you think might work and lay it on your fabric. Think of it in context of the overall color scheme and theme of the program. Does it work? No? Try again. And again. And again. Mistakes are imperative in the design process. Without knowing what doesn't work, you don't have a firm grasp of what does. Make mistakes.

Okay, so I find one I like best. I know Stitch's leg is 26" long, and he has two of them. I need 52" of this, minimum. I'll buy an additional 6" in case I, yes, make a mistake. It's sold by the yard, a yard is three feet or 36". A yard and a half is too short, so I'll bite the bullet and get two yards.

Next up: How to Sew the Stupid Things Once you Have them!

Friday, January 27, 2012

We Take a Break for a Moment...

A brief Shout Out to whomever was searching for someone to give them, "a hug and tell me it's going to be okay."

These terms appeared in my Search Words this week.

I'm giving you a hug.

It's going to be okay.

Hang in there.

People Ask Me Things: Trims and Stoning

My email this week included this note from the UK, regarding Trimming and Stoning! Let's take a look:

Dear... Um... Stitch's Mum:

In the near future I am going to get some new skating trousers. The plan is:
- Sophie buys pattern.
- Sophie buys material.
- Sophie drives 100 miles.
- Sophie's mum makes trousers.
- Sophie hops, skips, jumps 100 miles home (while driving?)
- Sophie attempts to put some sort of decoration on trousers.

My question is: What would WWWMSLD? I know I can glue gems on but that will likely end in me sticking my fingers together/sticking fingers to gems/sticking fingers to face/etc.

I was wondering if you have an reccomendations to sew-on tye things as I can hand sew? (You should see me with a sewing machine... Who needs straight stitch when you can be... artistic about it? Anything more than 1 stitch per second is way too fast.)

I know people use these types of things but I'm thinking they'll be floppy and not lie more-or-less flat?

Oh, and I tried your tutorial think on how to sew little beads! I used quite-flexible tiger tail (something like that) wire on a hankie for my nan for Christmas! I don't think she'll ever use it to blow her nose on asn she may end up snorting beads... Imagine explaining that to the doctor!

Many thanks-
Confused in the UK

Well, Confused in the UK, your question is actually a bunch of questions rolled into one!

Let me start off by saying that when I visited the UK, I had lunch at a Buttery. As I hail from the American South where Butter is a staple, it was a bit of a disappointment. (Just kidding, I loved the sandwich.)

What I'm reading here is a question on Trims, a question on Applique, and a question on Stoning. How do we buy these things, and what do we do with them once we have them?

What I propose to do is that we break this down into a series of posts on how to trim and accent skatewear. A common practice is to buy commercially available dresses and bedeck them ourselves, so a tutorial would be helpful here.

Let's plan a trip to the Trimmings section of the Fabric Shop first, then learn how to sew on or glue those on. (I've done it both ways.)
Then we'll work with some Appliques. Those can be a lot of fun and a great shortcut.
Lastly, we'll work with Crystals and Stones.

So, Readers; If you have any questions, advice, or stories about your experiences with these Decorative Thingamabobbers, send in your emails now! They will be featured in upcoming posts to come to the aide of your Fellow Skate Moms! Next week we will be educational!

Thanks for the posting ideas, Confused!

PS:

You must have a very nice Mum to sew a pair of pants for you, as when I asked my own sewing mom to do the same for me, she sent me a very, um, polite email back. She sewed two pair of pants and then she was done with skatewear. I don't blame her a bit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ice Moms: This is a Very Bad Idea

So, as it turns out, the show "Kids on Ice" will not really be called "Kids on Ice." Guess what they're really calling it? "Ice Moms." Are you shocked? I'm not shocked.

Read about it here. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/dance-moms-lifetime-ice-moms-285090

I've been reading various mom and culture blogs about the notions of the shows "Toddlers and Tiaras" and "Dance Moms" as Exploitative Child Abuse, and I have to say that, after some thought, I agree with this notion.

But, Skate Mom, aren't Child Abuse and Exploitation strong words to be using?

Nope. Here's why, and here's why you should not watch the upcoming Lifetime travesty "Ice Moms":

You know your figure skating child. You know how many hours they spend in lessons, in practice, doing the same move, over and over. You know how frustrated they get when they get stuck on something. You know how much heart they put into competing, how much they want to win. Agreed, emotions and tensions can run high. The Good Moments are really Good, and sharing them with the world can be a great High.

But, consider this: Imagine your child suffering a devastating loss. When Stitch was in that dressing room, berating himself for an all-too-human lapse in memory, nearly in tears, how horrible would it have been to stick a TV Camera in his face and show this agonizing process for all the world? And do you really believe my positive encouragement would have made it past the editors? Or, looking to make me a monster in search of ratings, they showed only my strong words of "get over it, focus on next time," and left my words of love and encouragement on the cutting room floor?

Imagine your daughter throwing her heart into passing that Freestyle test, giving it her all, and coming up short. You've seen the tears. You've held the little sobbing body. Now, invite a TV Camera to join in. And then you can read about how everyone in the process is a total failure in the gossip rags the next day. How does that sound?

How would you feel if, during a time when you were at your worst, felt your most low, someone, without your permission, authorized a TV camera to show up and broadcast your agony? And there was nothing you could do to stop it?

That's what these kids are being subjected to, and I consider it abusive.

Part of my Parenting Philosophy is to remember how hard it is sometimes to be a child. When I remember some of my "Hard Moments" as a child, I am sickened at the notion of someone putting that on TV.

But that's not my only opinion:

I think this show is going to do nothing but solidify the Mythology surrounding this sport that keeps many from being involved: That you Figure Skate Competitively or you're wasting your time. The Recreational Figure Skater, as I predicted, will have no place in this show, and that's a crying shame. It's leaving out the Adults as the Friendliest Folks at the Rink, the Older Teens who knock you dead during Ice Shows, the Synchro Girls with their snappy swishes of skates moving in unison. Nope. No place here.

We want Singles, and we want them with an "Explosive Dynamic!"

I think this show will give what the general public expects of Figure Skating: The Miniature Dynamo with Unlimited Funds, with the Pushy Coach and a Starry Eyed Mom who misses the entire point of Parenting.

It will not, in any way, present the wonderful positives that can come from learning and excelling in a challenging sport for the Average Kid and their Average Family.

Folks, I'm asking you to Boycott TV Shows that get their ratings from Child Exploitation. This means "Toddlers and Tiaras," "Dance Moms," and yes, "Ice Moms." If someone wants to stuff their house full of crap and eat couch cushions ("Hoarders", "My Weird Addiction") that's their business. They aren't hurting anyone but themselves.

But to put a child's delicate and developing psyche on public display is an egregious offense. I'm calling on USFSA and ISI to come out against crap like this. I have no issue with people raising their children to be Competitive Figure Skaters if that's a shared objective. What I have a problem with is exposing them to the harsh judge and jury that is Reality TV.

Do not watch. Boycott.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is Coach Scary; Redux

My Mother in Law visited recently. And she had lost a lot of weight. She informed us of the obvious success of her recent dieting efforts, and congratulations went all around. This was a battle she had been putting off for some years, and to see her fighting and winning it makes me happy.

When we asked what had influenced her to suddenly diet and lose the weight, MIL cited a recent doctor's visit which was all bad. She knew she had to make a change, and soon. But then she said something that made me laugh: Coach Y.

When MIL was taking Stitch to Summer Lessons, she would sit in the stands and sew, much like me. And one day Coach Y asked her to please take the music CD to the booth. MIL, sighed and said how hard it was to climb the stairs.

Coach Y wasn't having it. "You have a young grandson. You should be in better shape."
MIL whipped out her standard "I'm old" excuse.
Nonplussed, Coach Y revealed that there was only two years worth of age difference between them.

And that did it for MIL. She resolved, pretty much that day, that it was time. She's lost fifteen pounds and is exercising regularly.

We're all proud of her.

And I know she can't wait to finish her diet and go see Coach Y again. Never underestimate the value of a frank appraisal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rockerz Reprieve

As it turns out, people actually do pay some attention to this little blog. After my scathing commentary on the Fancy Guards known as Rockerz, I was invited to try a pair and get my honest opinion. Well, okay. I wasn't paid for my opinion, nor was I paid for getting the opinions of others, but I did get a free pair of Rockerz. Rather, Stitch did, and he's pretty enamored of them.

The packaging is pretty fancy, which I would expect after their expense. The box resembles a box of chocolates, complete with silver tie and label. Open it up, and your Rockerz are tucked inside some confetti.


This confetti will quickly be scattered all over your domicile unless you dispose of it quickly. Learn from my fail.

Stitch took one guard and started doing some weird Conga dance in the living room with it, while Dad and I inspected and measured with the other. Yes, they really do have a wider base; wider by an eighth of an inch or so. Yes, the edges are truly rounder, mirroring the rounding off that happens as "regular" blade guards get old. The tread on them is truly deep, making the old guards seem flat by comparison. They are easier to put on and take off, I've had less struggling with them.


Click to Embiggen

We shrugged, tucked them into the Zuca, and waited for the big test on Saturday.

Saturday morning, we headed out to the rink, I laced up Stitch and sent him traipsing around in the new Guards. He said they were, in fact, easier to walk in. He felt safer navigating the stairs in his skates, and he liked having the "cooler" guards on the boards.

That's well and good, but I snagged them and took them around to other skaters, parents and coaches.

The results were decidedly mixed.

Big Guy Skater, a boy in Freestyle 5 or 6, didn't like them. "They're awful," he said.
"Why?" I asked. "I just need an opinion."
"That wavy design," he pointed. "I don't like it."
"Okay," I thanked him for his time and moved on.

The Synchro Girls, however, adored the wavy design. "It's so cute! I love it!" they passed the guards around. "Does it come in pink?"
"Not only does it come in pink, you can choose the spring color."
They were sold. When I mentioned the price, they looked around furtively for their parents.

I asked two girls heading into freestyle class, but their dad was dismissive of me, saying that they were going to miss class if they didn't hurry.
Apparently he didn't see them attempt to skip class, as they hid behind the ice door and shared an MP3 player until a Coach caught them and shooed them back on the ice.

I asked another boy what he thought, and he looked at it strangely. "Why is it shaped like s seahorse?"
"Huh. I guess it does kind of look like a seahorse."
"Where can I buy them? I think they're cool!"
So I referred him to the website.

A Freestyle 4 girl literally stopped me as I was carrying them. "Where did you get those? They're so cool!"
"Oh yeah? Why do you think they're cool?"
"Because they stick up over the boards, and they have the cool swirlies!"
"They're more expensive than your other guards, though. Do you think your mom would mind?"
"Oh, no..." she seemed convinced.

The Coaches were not too impressed. "It's nice," said one. "But it's a guard."

"I dunno," said another. "It feels flimsier to me." This is weird since Dad and I liked their heft. When we measured, we could see the blade was actually an eighth of an inch higher off the ground than in a traditional guard.

Parents fell into two distinct camps. The moms in fur coats and Prada bags thought these guards were way cool and wanted to know where to find them. Moms like me were shaking their heads and rolling their eyes.

"It's a guard," said one of my fellow costumers. "Do you know how long it takes my son to lose a set of blade guards?"
"Five days?" I ventured.
"Three. No way would I pay that much for something that gets lost in three days."

Another mom handled them while her daugher looked on with puppy eyes. "They're pretty slick," she admitted.
Fellow Mom and I swapped a look. "They're thirty bucks," I said.
"Is anything cheap here?" Mom throws up her hands.

Probably not, but we do have some pretty nifty accessories.

So, what's my Honest Opinion of Rockerz?

They're not all bad. If you don't trust Grandma to buy a dress for your Skater, she can't really go wrong with buying a set of Rockerz. If your skater has worked hard to achieve a goal, pass a test, or win in a tight field, a set of these would be a nice bonus to accompany that victory. As a Gift, they're a nice necessity with a luxury touch.

The packaging helps.

The reality remains that a lot of us are trying to cut costs and corners where we can, and an expensive set of guards just doesn't fit that budget. "Maybe if they lit up..." one mom mused.

Yes, because heaven knows we need more blinky blade guards.

But here's a bonus: The postcard that comes with them explains that they are indeed made out of 100% recycled material, and they're 100% recycleable. If you can manage to hang onto them for a decent length of time, you're buying a sustainable product. Even if you do lose them, someone who likes swirls is bound to steal them out of the lost and found and they will keep on being used.

So, if you're sold on Rockerz, you can buy a pair from the website, http://www.rockerzskateguards.com/, or by emailing rockerzorders@gmail.com.

For the record, I think the wooden blade guards discussed in the comments in the previous Rockerz post sound like the most badass things ever. I would be more than happy to invest in http://www.badassbladeguards.com/. (Not a real website.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Competition Round #5: A Learning Experience

Sunday was a long day. Too long, in Coach's opinion. We got up and headed out; Stitch went to the Flower Booth and I to the stands to watch. I got to watch the Basic Level kids, the Snowplow Sam Kids, the Synchro Kids, and I gained a deep appreciation for those who man these competitions. These are long days.

I had perched next to the Zamboni door, which had an unmanned Com unit nearby. So, I listened. Skaters got mixed up, music lost, CD's not playing, judges missing, skaters gone AWOL, and towards noon the chatter got punchy. I was enjoying myself, keeping count of the pop songs. Two runs of "Dynamite," Two runs of "Firework," Three for "Tonight's gonna be a good night," and one of "Last Friday Night" which included the alcoholic and sex references. Skater was nine.

I hauled over Stitch for lunch, and we ate peanut butter while the Synchro teams finished. We cheered on the Home Rink team, who did fabulously! I put Stitch in his costume, discovering with some horror that he was still wearing his pajama bottoms. The black pants masked some of the lumpiness, but he still looked a bit lumpy. Leave it to a eight year old boy to forget friggin' underwear. But we weren't alone in the Underwear Mishaps; I counted at least three girls with white peeks on their bottoms. Don't tell me not to look, they're skating away from me on a Spiral. I can't not look.

Coach took Stitch to warm up, and tension started. I put skates on him, and left him with Coach's group of kids, all jumping and hopping. Dad arrived, and we joked about the bad wiring job on the houselights again. I looked from across the ice, and Stitch was clearly nervous. When the kids took ice for warmup, he skated around first, then did his program. And he forgot his spin. I could see Coach fussing at him, but with two other students of hers on the ice, her attention couldn't be focused on him as it has been in the past. He tried again, and forgot the spin again. This didn't bode well.

But he skated first, so maybe he'd remember. He skated out, big smiles, started okay. Backspin was the same as always, high waltz jumps, nice spiral, good Dance Step, bunny hops were too rushed, and he forgot the spin. Horrors! He realized it midway through the three-turn-tap-toe sequence, and threw in a scratch spin, but by then he was totally thrown. Two half flips in a hurry, a two foot spin, and he finished with a shrug.

What elements he did were strong, but once he got thrown, it was over. I went down to collect him, and Coach hit me at the ice door. He can't do things before a competition, he can't work anything, he was tired before he started, she was saying. I didn't argue, but I knew the larger problem had been hit on the head for Stitch. Now I had to be the one to clean him up.

In the dressing room, he was close to tears. "I blew it," he said. "I blew the spin."

"You were fine," I changed his shirt. "You have one more to go. Another chance to get it right."

"I'll blow that, too," he was abject.

"Stop it," I said. "Don't set yourself up for failure. You didn't get it right the first time, okay. That's done. Focus on this next chance, okay? No more negative talk."

I decided to wait on my lecture.

I brought him up to sulk and wait for results, where we watched more skaters. Kwanette kicked it out of the park, as expected. I remained chatty and cheerful, which was hard given Sir Sulksalot. After awhile, we headed down. Second place. Not bad, given the Spin Incident.

Stitch was inconsolable. Not first? The judges may well have handed him a dirt clod. I assured him he did fine, focus on compulsory for now.

So, I handed him back to Coach for Compulsory. She immediately began drilling him on elements and order of things. He said he knew it, but they drilled it anyway.

For warmup, he looked a little more steady. There was a lot of going back to Coach for talking, but it looked a bit better. And he did do better. On the half ice for the judges, he knew the order, he knew the elements, but when it came to polish he came up short. Third, out of a flight of five.

Now he was just angry. He collected his trophy morosely, angrily, refusing to speak. I kept saying how good he skated, that I could tell he gave it his best shot, and I was proud.

But his negative talk ended his day. Selling flowers is a priviledge, and after hearing him say "anything other than first is Loser," I decided he was done. I pulled him out of costume, packed him up, and off we went. Although the Trophies were not first, he held them in his lap all the same on the way home. As we got further away, the mood lightened. Pretty soon we were laughing.

Once home, he started his bad talk again. "It's not first," he looked at the trophies which I'd displayed in the window for the evening. "I wanted first."

"Hey, Stitch?" I decided to bust it out. "You want first? Here's a tip: If you want first, you need to want first Every Day, not just on Competition Day. Every time you get on the ice, you need to think of first place. Because that's what every other skater is doing; wanting first and working for it, everyday. Every practice. Every lesson. Got it? No more hanging on the boards, no more phoning it in, no more drifting off when Coach is talking to you. Everytime I catch you doing it, I'll remind you of third place. Okay?"

"Okay," he was sullen.

"So what did you learn today?"

"Practice when you try, and try when you practice," he said, seeming to repeat something Coach said to him.

"Good. Remember that, and you'll do better next time. Deal?"

"Yes."

"Are we done talking about this?"

"Yes."

"Okay."

And then I ordered Thai.

Stitch and I fought our way through the Sandship in the new Zelda game, with Stitch scared of the Robot Pirate miniboss guarding the bow and arrow. I was not impressed, calling Robot Pirate a "soft touch." Stitch said he was "The Judge," grading me on my gaming skills. When I asked how I was doing, he said I was in third place.

"Third place and I'm the only player? Harsh, Stitch."

"Hey, rules are rules," he said.

After awhile he sighed. "I think I'm starting to appreciate my trophies."

"Good. Because you did a good job today," I repeated, fighting an Armos Statue and parenting at the same time. Kind of similar, in this instance. Both things tend blow up in your face if you're not careful.

We played awhile longer, Stitch giving me pointers. He's actually pretty quick on figuring the puzzles and strategy. We make a good team, he just needs me to take out the bosses. "Mom, mom," he says suddenly with some new urgency.

"What? What?"

"My tooth fell out."

"And that's a good day."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

OMG, a T-Shirt Contest!

Well, the Basic Skills Competitions aren't the only game in town! Xanboni is having a T-Shirt contest!

Most of the skatewear out there is for girls, so I've been wracking my brain to come up with a good figure skating t-shirt for boys to wear. Give me time, I'll come up with something!

Someone asked for a coffee mug with the "Skating Graph" on it, I like the notion of a mug or beer stein, personally...

But if you've ever thought of a witty catchphrase like, "Get a Suitcase for that Spin, you're Travelling!" or "Stop whining, Oksana cleaned the ice with her BEAR HANDS!!" and show some awesome 'shopped graphic of Oksana Baiul doing a layback with big bear paws, now is your chance!

Get involved! Submit your design ideas and we'll have some awesome unique shirts for the rink!

Round #5 is this Sunday!

Sunday is the big day and it's going to be a long one. Stitch has asked to work flower sales with Rink Pal for some pocket money, so we will be there at 8am, and staying as long as he can tolerate working. I'll feed him a lunch at noon, and then he'll compete, returning to the flower booth afterwards to wait for results. I'll watch skaters and count how many times I hear Katy Perry's "Firework" in various bad cuts.


When we're done, we're heading out somewhere nice for dinner. Likely our local favorite Thai place.

We've got a decent showing of Coach's kids in attendance; Kwanette (whom I can't wait to watch) and Big Girl, both of whom are sweet kids and their moms are nice. I had a nice relaxing chat with Kwanette's mom last night, laughing about how she can't sew and I can't knit, skating costumes, and our kid's quirks. It was a marked change from talking to MsV, which always left me stressed and tired.

Stitch worked a half hour of Practice Ice last night, running his program just a few times more before he declared the ice too crowded. It was, and he admits he has a "hard time concentrating" when he has to dodge so many people. But it looks good. There's nothing overtly new in this program. Even the Back Spin at this level is just a "give it your best shot" thing, not an expectation of a finished product like the next level up. All Stitch has to do is get the Exit down and he's got the backspin. Give it time. He's a little nervous, but the Flower Sales has given him "something to do," which has taken the edge off his typical jitters. He keeps saying "I'll do terrible, I'll get fifth place," and so on, but it seems more like he's fishing for encouragement rather than actual doubt. Okay, sure, I'll encourage you.

Me? I've been ready for awhile. We did a "dress rehearsal" Tuesday morning and the costumes looked fine. I've had those done since Thanksgiving. The collar on the shirt flapped annoyingly on jumps, to the eye and to Stitch, so I tacked those down. Kwanette's mom couldn't believe I sewed them from scratch. I explained that given the lack of unique boys skating wear on the market, I kind of had to. And once we're done with them, up for sale they go!

Last year felt rushed and awkward. This year feels calmer. Yes, the skillset is harder and not without struggle, but given the light competition schedule and goal of two levels to pass (one of which is halfway done) it feels breezy.
My only concern is Stitch's tooth. He's got a baby front tooth dangling by a thread at the moment, and I wondered last night; if it falls out in the middle of his program and throws him off, will the judges allow a reskate? Or will Stitch have the kahunas to keep it in his mouth and finish? Can I get a picture of Coach's face if Stitch hands her a tooth during warmup?
 
Can I really convince Stitch that a lost tooth is some kind of good omen?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Blade Guards Revolutionize the Way you Spend Money

Did you hear? There's a new Blade Guard in town! It was designed by a skater, so it has to be good, right?

They're called "Rockerz." The "Z" costs extra. Are they really better than your old crummy blade guard? Read the benefits and find out!

Rockerz has a heavy tread, designed to help you keep your grip on wet or slippery surfaces. Anytime someone starts talking about the dangers of slippery surfaces in the context of ice skating, I get the uncontrollable giggles. Besides, if it's raining or snowing outside and we have to trek from one rink to another, take your skates off.

The curved, rocker-shaped bottom allows you to roll through your walk, reducing impact and joint stress. *snicker* Impact and Joint Stress. And how far are you walking, anyway? Does anyone do the local 10K for Charity in their skates and guards?

The wide base helps keep your stability while wearing Rockerz. *snorfle* Stability.

Indented, ergonomic grips allow you to safely grip the guard while putting on or taking off. While I have induced blood dripping injuries on skate blades, it's usually when I forget the guards entirely, not when they're being put on or taken off.

Build your own? Absolutely! Not only can you mix and match the color halves, which most of us were already doing, but now you can choose what color spring you want! Gold or Silver?

OMG THE COLORZ!!

All this for $32 and some change! But wait! If you order now they give you some kind of newfangled Roll Up Towel! This is so much better than that discarded local hockey team towel you picked up out of the lobby and currently use. This fancy towel has an embroidered penguin on it. And rolls up.

These fancypants guards are all swirly and curves, and claim they are "100% Recycleable." That's great, but what I'd really like to see is a guard set that is "Made from 100% Recycled Materials." When you use new stuff to make your stuff, you're missing the point of conserving resources.

Which brings me to the meat of my objections to $35 blade guards; $35 is a skating lesson to most people I know. So, you can spend your money on fancy accessories, or you can, I dunno, actually skate. Considering the pile of orphaned blade guards in the lost and found at the rink, this is a lot of cash to lay down for what I consider an expendable item. This doesn't even include the heartbreak when you consider the time spent agonizing between "Layback Lilac" and "Tangerine Tango," and your lost Gold Spring. (Tip: The Springs rust with age.)

Blade Guards need to Guard the Blades. This is their purpose in life, and I don't think a $35 guard will do it any better than a $15 guard. Same thing with the fancy towel. An old dishrag soaks up water just as good as the embroidered penguin.

I started to qualify the use of these things as, "Well, maybe if you're a high level skater with some pricey blades..." but then I read that these guards "currently" don't work with K-Picks. Oh well. K-Pick people, I guess no "Peppermint Pink" for you. I know you has a sad now. **sad face**

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wrong Ways to Leave a Coach

When I first started out on this adventure, I never understood why Coach hopping was such drama. Now that I've been with a Coach for nearly two years, I totally get why. The USFS Parent's Guide says it's like a Divorce, and they're pretty much dead-on in terms of emotional attachment. But in squicky terms of decorum and manners, switching Coaches is a gray area. You don't want to hurt feelings, but you know you're going to, so people seem to do all sorts of weird, evasive, and sometimes passive aggressive, things to dodge the problem.

Here are some of ways that I've observed Other Parents handling Coaching swaps over the past two years.

The Dissatisfied Customer

As a consumer buying a Coaching Product, this Parent isn't liking what she's getting. What they're getting is Second Place. Or last place. Or any place other than First. You get the idea. Never mind that there are a host of other factors at work at any given competition and skating in general, clearly any loss or failure to progress is the Coach's fault. So, obviously a New Coach is needed. Duh.

The Conspiracy

A Vaguely Dissatisfied Mom is in the stands, and she happens to hook up with another Vaguely Dissatisfied Mom. The two of them start talking, and talking, and watching, and talking, and pretty soon Coach is not only responsible for the Skater's poor progress, we're pretty sure she's delivering nuclear material to Iranian malcontents. Neither of them say anything to Coach, because Coach would just ask them to be Drug Mules, probably. Who knows. Better just leave quickly.

The Slow Withdrawal

They haven't scheduled any private lessons in awhile. They used to have a pretty regular schedule, but now things are up in the air. A few weeks go by, they're rarely spotted at all, maybe at Group Lessons on the Off Day. Another few weeks go by, and then suddenly they're spotted with some other Coach. No one knows why, no one asks. We all just move on.

Magician Mom and the Disappearing/Reappearing Skater Trick

Sometimes some skater drops off the radar for awhile. Just gone. Magician Mom has waved her magic minivan and they stopped coming. Coach asks if you've seen them, and you say no. You just assume they've moved or in some cases hope they've been carted off by gypsies. But no, a few weeks later they reappear. Magician Mom opened her magic minivan and Skater reappeared! With a New Coach! It's magic!

The Surprise

Surpriser just pops up on a lesson day and says, "Well, I guess this is goodbye." Doesn't give a reason or explanation, never gave any indication that she was the least bit concerned or unhappy, just parts ways. Like ripping off a Band Aid. It's okay. No real feelings hurt here, right? .... *crickets*

The Mover

Want to move to a new rink? Clearly, this means a fresh start! Mover believes this method also clears any unwanted and awkward meetings with Old Coach. Because Coaches always stay at their Home Rinks, and never go anywhere else. **snorfle**

The Hopper

This one likely comes with a lot of baggage. Hopper goes from Coach to Coach, never sticking with anyone and always thinks of her kid's private skating lessons as "one-offs." Because she's chronically switching, her kids progress really slowly and Hopper will say it's because she hasn't found the "right" coach yet. Hopper really doesn't fit in with the "Bad Ways to Switch Coaches" list, because she's more a "Clueless Parent" category, but she's worth mentioning because it's just as rude.

Me? If I ever do switch, it will be via Fax. Fax, Voice Mail, or Text Message, these are all the clear winning ways to fire an employee. (This is sarcasm.)

What horrible ways have you seen or heard of when people switch coaches?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Countdown to Round #5

Stitch is getting worked up about this competition, moreso than in the past. I've taken more of a backseat approach to this one, letting Coach and Stitch handle the On Ice things and me just arranging the scheduling and sewing. Apparently I should be stepping in with a bit more cheerleading, as he seems to need it.

Lately he's been carting out his past trophies, setting them and arranging them while wearing the two medals. He looked at the Second Place trophy and called it "an embarassment." Honestly, I don't know where he's getting this from, because it doesn't come from me. I tell him to do his best, and if he doesn't want Second Place, well, he better get it together. No one makes that decision but him.

I talked on the phone with Coach at some length over the holiday weekend, and she reported that during the final days at "skate camp" Stitch did very well. He was engaged and working hard, and this made me happy. She also relayed the disturbing news that Gordon and the Valium Family had left her, taking off for Other Rink and some other Coach.

I was kind of sad at this. While listening to Gordon drive Stitch nutty with his talk of how much better his Tiger Soakers are than Bunny Soakers, the two boys did do well together. Honestly, this wasn't entirely unexpected for me. I'd been listening to MsV rattle on for weeks about "more competitive Coaches" and "will we ever go somewhere with this." I could sense her growing unease with what she percieved as a lack of momentum. I knew why she was going to Other Rink, I knew who she was going with and why they were leaving en masse. MsV had even spent a good half hour encouraging me to follow, stating a bunch of weird things about "Olympic level Coaches" and "getting Stitch evaluated" to see if "he could do 'it,'" but I'd politely declined.

Godspeed, is all I can say.

At any rate, this leaves Stitch as Coach's only Figure Skating boy. (To my knowledge, anyway.) The departure of two boys also thins the field of boys at our rink. At least now I won't have to worry about Gordon's mom actively copying my costume ideas.

I'll finish the bottom hems on Stitch's competition pants this weekend, since the pants I sewed not but two months ago are now too short. I'm getting concerned about skates; while Stitch says his skates feel fine, I'm debating just going ahead and ordering a new pair in the Spring, right after the planned March Comp. He's shot up nearly six inches in the past year, I can't believe his feet haven't grown as well. And the new emphasis on Jumping is starting to take a toll on the boot itself. With a four to five week lead time on boy's skates, it may be wise to plan ahead.

Tonight is Rescheduled Lesson, as neither Coach nor myself wanted to end the Holiday weekend with a 5am wakeup call. Next week we get back on normal schedule, and begin the honest fretting about Competition Day. The weather seems cooperative, so my fears about an event named after Bad Weather are needless.

I think he'll be fine, and his worrying is encouraging to me. A little worry is fine, it riles to blood a bit. Don't lose sleep over it, but worry enough to make yourself prepare, kid.