Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Name that tune!

 Ever been at the rink and suddenly another skater's music comes over the PA system and the music is so glorious that you want to hear more of it--but you don't know the name of the piece or the composer?  What? No never? (well,  hardly ever?)  Meh, it happens to me all the time.  Coach A.  introduced me to a phone app called SoundHound a few weeks ago.  Of course I never have my little celery fone in my pocket while skating, but that may have to change--at least for Free Style sessions where good, unknown to me, music is lurking behind almost each program run-through.

SoundHound works on iPhones and I'll bet there's an android version as well.  You can learn about it here .

So, last night I was at the rink, as is my usual Tuesday evening wont, when a fetching waltz suddenly came out of the overhead speakers.  Of course my phone was locked safely away in the car.  This was during my warm up while my coach was busy with another skater, so I tracked down the coach who's skater was going through her program and asked him what the music was.  He smiled and in a thick accent said "Is Don Quixote by Minki."  Minki?  never heard of him.

 After getting home I started snooping.   First thing I learned was that there was a ballet, composed by Ludwig Minkus, named Don Quixote.  I found the entire ballet on YouTube and after a bit of searching narrowed the music I was looking for down to Act I:  Entrada de Quiteria (Kitri)

Once I had narrowed things down, I decided to test SoundHound:  I played both the entire ballet and also just the Kitri parts over the load speakers to see if the app would ID them correctly.  It locked on to the entire ballet in a flash, even correctly identifying the Sofia National Orchestra.  The actual song I was after took a couple of stabs (I had to crank up the volume a little) but the app got it right in the end.  Not bad for a free app.

I really must be more daring with my little phone.  One never knows when a snippet of great music will present itself.



Thursday, March 31, 2022

Staggering towards the end of the 2022 skating season

Bowie Ice Arena shuts down at the end of April for two months of maintenance; the facility is now over 50 years old and needs a complete rehab--when something breaks in the refrigeration plant, the system is so old that the part has to be custom made.  The current city council is not particularly ice friendly, so the rink staggers on as best it can.  Having said that, we still have above average ice and full sessions, both public and free style, plus lots of hockey action. Full marks to the dedicated rink staff who work hard to keep an old system up and running.  Come to think of it, both the rink and your old diarist need an overhaul--but enough of that.

 The impending shut down means that coach A. and I have just four more Tuesday evenings to get to some sort of goal for the year.  As long suffering readers know, we've been working on the remaining two dances in the pre bronze level since like, forever.  The main hold up is my inability to deal with the "Mohawk of death" that each of these dances contain within their respective end patterns.  My counter clockwise Mohawks are getting more controlled, but at a maddening glacial pace.  Part of the improvement is due to persistence and part due to PT sessions I've been enduring for the past month and a half in an attempt to address lower back issues.

Just to spice things up a bit, Coach A. has introduced me to the Hickory Hoedown.  I think she  was getting a bit bored with grinding through the Fiesta Tango and the Swing Dance.  That, and I secretly think she like country/western swing tunes.  So, in addition to the death Mohawk, I now am addressing the "3-turn of death". 

 Additional goals include working on my back edges (from the Moves test) plus working on inside and outside figure 8s--which I had mastered before the  pandemic shutdown and lost (along with my much needed CC FO 3-turn).  


I have videos showing me doing these figures, pre-pandemic--yes folks, I have proof that I was a much better skater then than now:


These videos are not things of beauty, but at least I could hold the required edge long enough to complete the figure.  With lots of coaching (and PT--Lordy! how I hate doing all those stretches) I have now recovered my inside figure 8.  The outside 8 is still a work in progress but just this afternoon I experienced a slight improvement--I could hold the edge almost all the way back to the origin of the first lobe--might be wishful thinking--we'll see what Coach A. thinks, assuming I can replicate this "progress" at our next lesson.

 So, there we are.  I'm still skating. Yes, the pandemic has taken away some of my skills (such as they are--or were) and I'm dealing with an ever ageing body that works against me rather than with me--I'm jealous of 10 year old girls who are more powerful and flexible than myself.  And I'm crankier than two years ago--but I'm no quitter! One thing I have noticed is that in past, I could comfortably skate a two hour public and then complain to the rink staff that it just couldn't be over already.  Now it hurries me to skate for an hour and a half.  Will I get my stamina back?  Stay tuned and we'll both know.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Slowly cranking back to life

 I haven't posted to this blog since the  10th of May, back in 2019.  In part this is due to the pandemic and in part due to me not really having much progress or novel observations to report.  At the beginning of the pandemic, my ice rink, like many others was completely shut down.  Some rinks were used as temporary morgues.  Ours was in that list but never used for that purpose.  As masks and distancing proved effective and as vaccines were more readily available, the skating world came back to life.  And so did your old diarist.  

The present: as of this date, we are still required to wear masks inside the rink but coached lessons and group lessons, various types of sessions and hockey games have been on-going for quite some time.  I picked back up with my long suffering Coach A., and as our rink was to mark its 50th year of service to the community, we were asked to be part of the skating gala to mark the date, 3rd Dec. 1971- 3rd Dec 2021.

 But what to do?  If anything my skating had declined over the pandemic.  I was a much better skater 3 years ago when I passed the Cha-Cha than back in this summer when asked to perform.  Coach A. suggested that we revisit the Cha-Cha as a doable goal for December.  And so we did.  I'm glad we started in summer because it took an age for me to crank it back up to a test worthy quality level. 

Last night was the big do and we were second skaters on the bill.  We were introduced as we skated out and almost before I was ready, the music came blaring out of the speakers.  The intro steps, two patterns of the dance, exit steps and bows to the audience took all of a minute and 18 seconds.  I have had better skates of this dance in practice--blew a couple steps, doubt if most of the  on-lookers caught that.  But I was happy to do my part.

My advice to geezer Ice Dancers is to always partner with a strong and attractive young woman.  In ice dance, 99% of the crowd is watching the female skater.  As long as the male skater stays sunny side up the pair will achieve their goal.  Photo credit:  Bowie Ice Arena.

"Cheers to 50 Years!"

Friday, May 10, 2019

At season's end.

I looked at this blog and noted that my last post was back in January.  That seems like a long time ago.  At the end of May my rink shut down for the annual two months of maintenance.  Yesterday was the first time I skated since the closure.  As per usual for this time of year, I'm skating at a neighboring rink not too far away.  I had a lesson scheduled and I wasn't looking forward to it.  I warmed up by perimeter stroking and when it was time for my lesson I told my coach that my goal for the lesson was to be able to drive myself home from the rink.  I asked her not to kill me. 

So, it seems that I'm in a slump or at a plateau or up against a wall.  Plug in your favorite analogy.  My right forward inside Mohawk is no better than it was six months ago.  I've not made any progress on either of the two remaining pre-bronze level dances that I've been working on since passing the Cha-Cha way back in early December of 2017.  There are instances when I wonder if my skating skills are actually going backwards.  Am I skating with the same panache and zest as when I last tested?  I sometimes wonder.

Am I ready to give up?  Am I ready to admit defeat?  No, not yet.  I'll give it another year and see if I can test at least one of the dances that requires a clean Mohawk in my weak direction.

Yesterday we skated the Fiesta Tango, up to the dreaded Mohawk.  At least I remember the steps.  We then practiced, in isolation, the 6-beat edge sway that leads to the Mohawk and plugged in the Mohawk and the end pattern steps.  I did it semi-cleanly once and kicked her boot on the next attempt.  After that she had me work on the 5-step Mohawk MITF element just to bear down on that element.  I felt like a drunk on a 5-step recovery program.

At the end of the lesson we scheduled another lesson for next week, and I was able to leave the ice and drive home under my own power.  I'm hoping that it can only get better from here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Gettin' hep with the beat.

My lower back was aching yesterday so instead of belaboring my wonky Mohawk, I suggested to coach A. that we work on the beginning of the Fiesta Tango--the day before, during an empty public session, I found myself unable to correctly remember the opening optional steps which she'd taught me months ago.  And so we did; at first me following her a pace behind, then solo with her watching from the boards, and finally partnered.

It was soon apparent that part of my problem was due to timing rather than lousy memory.  The dance starts off with a pair of 2-beat strokes but those are followed by a pair of 1-beat steps and then another 2-beat step during the progressive which leads to the cross in front/cross behind steps.  Those first two progressive steps really seem quite quick, coming on the heels of the slower two beat steps which start the dance.  But, it is this ebb and flow of timing which,in part, gives the dance a tango expression.  This slow-fast-slow timing signature reappears during the end pattern.

I also needed to flatten out the lobe of the progressive and keep it closer to the boards so that I'd not go way off pattern during the cross in front/cross behind steps. 

We next skated the dance to music, which surprisingly helped me rather than being a distraction.  We finished up working on the end pattern which of course features the Mohawk turn.  Once again she bought to my attention the change in timing from the 2-beat LFO stroke through the pair of 1-beat steps which are the Mohawk, to the three 2-beat steps which make up the back progressive.  In an effort to get through the Mohawk, I was slowing the Mohawk but rushing the progressive.  I need to do just the opposite.  In a backhanded way this is good for me since the Mohawk is my weakness.  I must remind myself that I only have to hold those problematic edges for one beat each and then have the luxury of two beats to get through the back progressive with body language which suggests a smidgen of control!

After the lesson was over and I was walking out the door to the car, I noticed that my back didn't hurt quite as much.  Who knows, maybe this Tango thing will help work a couple of kinks out as we dance our way to spring!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy 2019

Diaristfamily was invited to  spend the waning days of 2018 with friends in a rental beach house in Lewes, Delaware.  We gladly accepted.  The weather was warm for the end of the year, and for the  most part dry.

We climbed to the "crows nest" (aka roof top balcony of the house) and were greeted by this view of the breakwater lighthouses to the east.

The view to the south presented one of the World War II fire control towers for guns positioned along the coast to protect the mouth of the Delaware Bay.  The towers and guns which were once known as Fort Miles, are now part of Cape Henlopen State Park.
The house was less than a mile from the Lewes terminal of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
Lewes has an interesting historic district.  Lewes was first founded as Zwaanendael by the Dutch in 1631.  Zwaanendael (Swan Valley) was a short lived colony.  The local tribe of Lenape Native Americans wiped out the 32 colonists in 1632.

The Zwaanendail Museum features a status of Captain David Pieterszoon de Vries, leader of the expedition that founded the colony.

The building, which dates to 1931, the  300th anniversary of the colony's founding, features many 17century architectural details.

Sadly, the museum was closed during our visit.

The old part of Lewes has many fine and interesting buildings.  My cell phone camera was almost full and so this post gives  just a  taste.

This house dates to the 1770s.

One of my main objectives while in town was  to see a very early Moth Boat which is supposed to be on display.

Sadly, that will have to wait for a subsequent visit since the museum was closed.
We had booked a table at this restaurant, but over Christmas a pipe burst and the restaurant was closed until further notice--I was not having much luck in this town!  Never mind, we managed to get seated in another place close by.
The next day we took a walk in the state park.  A close up of one of the fire control towers.  Yes, like seemingly everything else in Lewes this was also closed!

A number of these towers still stand on both the Delaware and the New Jersey side of the bay and provided coastal defense for the oil refineries which are located up the Delaware River to the north.

Some of the old barracks still stand.

Guns, guns, everywhere guns.

This 16 inch monster was once on the battleship Missouri.

Don't get in the way.

In addition to the coastal guns, which, BTW, never fired a shot in anger, Cape Henlopen is famous for the surrender of a U-boat at the very end of the war.

Cape Henlopen State Park has large dunes, some of which are close to 100 feet tall.

Your old diarist watches an empty tanker as she heads out to sea.
There's much more to see in Lewes, including a lightship, old grave markers, many more interesting buildings and of course, that  elusive Moth Boat.  I plan to go back, and next time bring along a proper camera.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Still listening for that magic word.

Merry Xmas.  I think just about every local rink in my neck o' the woods has one of these this year.  Another missed merch. opportunity for your old diarist. 
I'm still working on that wonky Mohawk.  I'm still listening for the magic word from my coach that suddenly transforms my RFI Mohawk from hell on blades into a thing of beauty or at least a thing that can be successfully run past the judges.  At Thurday's lesson, coach A. watched my feeble attempts and said "you need to keep your weight, (for the entry edge), back further on the heel."  So I tried that and the turn became marginally more controllable.  Controllable but not great.  When we skate partnered, that Mohawk is still a disaster waiting for the right opportunity to bring me low as I stagger through the back progressive and cross in front steps which follow it.  Anyway, keeping my weight back on the entry edge is something new for me to experiment with.

Yesterday afternoon diaristwoman and I went down to the National Gallery of Art to gawk at impressionists.  Although my lab is closed by the fed gov shutdown, the NGA and other national museums in DC are open through the 2nd of January.  Although they have enough funding to finish out the calendar year, operations are questionable beyond that. 

NB: if you are planning to take advantage of this unexpected opening in the face of the partial shutdown, recall that all of the fed government funded museums in DC are always closed on the 1st of January in observance of New Year's Day.

Afterwards as we walked to Paul's for a bowl of soup and a sandwich, we passed by the sculpture garden fountain.  In winter the fountain is transformed into a small and at times very crowded ice rink.

It was a pleasantly warm, for December, day with little wind.  The ice was quite crowded before the Zamboni came out for a much needed ice cut.

The Zamboni driver laid on a generous layer of water to the heavily rutted ice. This mercifully was given a chance to freeze, filling in most of the deep ruts, with only a few ruts requiring hand filling/hockey puck smoothing before the skating public was allowed back on.

The skaters give an idea of the size of the rink.  This photo was taken just after the rink reopened.  Within a few minutes the rink was once again heaving with people.  I was glad I didn't bother to bring my skates.  Soon after this photo was taken the ice was so crowded that skaters could barely perimeter skate.  Like Rockefeller Center, the idea in the mind's eye is better than reality.
And so, gentle reader, with that I leave you 'til the ball drops.  Smooth Skating and Happy New Year!