First Month

Somehow the second half of January has seemed to last much longer than the first. I look at my last post and think, “wow, was that really only two weeks ago?” And yet … I’m not sure we really did that much. I think more it’s been interior stuff, lots of thinking and pondering and feeling. Life as an HSP can get exhausting sometimes, even when everything seems calm on the surface. Plus, all the turmoil in this country right now is draining. Trying to keep my candle glowing against the darkness gets harder some days than others.

We have had some lovely moments. Carl’s sister came and spent a weekend with us. She spent one afternoon playing games with the kids while he and I snuck off on a date, and the next afternoon the three of them made supper (from the kids’ cookbooks) while Carl and I went for (decaf) coffee. The rest of the time we just hung out and enjoyed being together. A lovely family time.

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Wine tasting date! It was lovely. (The wine was good, too.)

We went to public skating this past Friday, and the kids did great and had a blast. Especially impressive considering Joy hasn’t been on the ice since we lived in Albany, and Grace hated (with a fiery passion) her skating lessons the first winter we lived here. They’ve come a long way. And then, as we were getting ready to leave, another mom and her daughter came to skate, and it took me a few minutes, but then I recognized her from my home club. Back in Canton, NY, when we were both teens. We both live here on the North Shore now and we didn’t even know it! It was great fun to reconnect, especially since it was so unexpected.

It was also fun going out for doughnuts and hot chocolate afterward. Skating is definitely going to be a weekly activity for the rest of the season. (doughnuts, maybe not every single week.) Even Carl is thinking about getting in on the action–for the first time ever he’s contemplating getting skates so we can do this as a whole-family activity! I am delighted.

I got very excited, as usual, over the US Figure Skating Championships. This year there was a little more to get excited about than usual–Nathan Chen made history by landing FIVE QUADS in the men’s free skate. And Karen Chen (no relation) was brilliant in the ladies’. Overall, figure skating looks stronger in the US than it has in at least ten years (except for ice dance, which has been strong all along and is merely continuing the tradition of greatness). In a country racked by division and suspicion, it’s beautiful to me to see the diversity, inclusivity, and joy represented by the world of figure skating.

We had our first Family Meeting this weekend, figuring out chore allotment and allowances and basically cementing the fact that we are so not in the little kid stage of life anymore. It was surprisingly fun.

I have been continuing with my French lessons on Duolingo, finding more things about the app that frustrate me no end, but at the same time I’m progressing and getting better, so it is working. I still would hate to have gone into this without at least some prior knowledge of the language, however far back in my past. And I AM getting a proper French grammar book at some point, because Duolingo never explains the rules. As my mother and any other teacher I ever had could tell you, I need explanations.

My fountain pen arrived and I promptly fell in love and never want to use any other kind of pen, and also want to write all my stories by hand again, like I did in the ancient times of my youth before computers were a thing. Even getting my grandmother’s old electric typewriter was a red-letter day when I was younger! But yes, this pen is a joy to write with, and now Carl wants one too.

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Finished Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season and found it, as usual with her books, a blend of immensely frustrating and immensely uplifting and encouraging. One thing I will say, she always makes me think. Ultimately, it has helped me recognize some of my difficulties with having a still mind, and I was able to come up with a few strategies for minimizing the constant noise in my own head, so very worth it. I’m now in the middle of re-reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (Christmas present from my in-laws), and finding that bracing, encouraging, laugh-out-loud funny, and just wonderful. My fiction reading has been less memorable. I dutifully recorded each book, but none of them are worthy of repeating here.

Oh, and I taught the kids to knit.

And now we see what February has in store. Fingers crossed it will bring some snow …

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To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

Olympic Memories

I did finally watch the final episode of Sherlock S3, but I’m going to wait a few days to talk about it because …

OLYMPICS.

I love the Olympics. My parents, living in the foothills of the Adirondacks, went to Lake Placid during the 1980 Winter Games. They couldn’t afford tickets to any of the events, but they said even just walking around downtown, sharing in the Olympic spirit, was amazing. So it’s only natural that I grew up loving everything about the Olympics, as well. I even love the Summer Olympics, but the Winter Olympics are unquestionably my favorite. When I was a kid, I cared about the figure skating and not much else, but now I love it all. Even curling.

I have some pretty awesome memories tied up around the Winter Olympics, too. Like being a flag bearer for the Torch Relay in Lake Placid before the 2002 Olympics. Getting to watch Jack Shea run in with the torch, surrounded by the women’s hockey team, standing there holding the Olympic flag across from my best friend holding the American flag … wow. One of the most awesome moments of my life.

(No pictures from that, sadly. We weren’t allowed to use cameras while we were carrying the flags.)

Then there’s all the pre-Olympic competitions, games, and races I’ve volunteered at over the years (again, growing up an hour away from Lake Placid had some fabulous perks). I never got to shake Jimmy Shea’s hand, but I’ve cleaned his shoes, how many people can say that?!

(If you watch the start of a skeleton event, you’ll see someone at the top run a stiff brush over the bottom of each slider’s cleats right before they go down, to make sure there’s no stray pieces of dirt caught. That was my job at one competition, and I was simultaneously elated at the responsibility and terrified I’d mess up and ruin someone’s run. Thankfully, everything went well!)

I’ve met and mingled with winter athletes from all over the world, serving them in one way or another. There’s a special bond between volunteers and athletes; neither of us would be there without the other. We were always so thrilled just to be able to participate in the event, and they were (almost always) so appreciative of our efforts (some were jerks, but honestly, most were genuinely nice people). Those years in Lake Placid were where I learned to love the sliding sports.

I want to go down a run on a skeleton sled at least once in my life. It looks like the biggest rush I can imagine.

I love the spirit of the Olympics, really. The spectacle of people coming together from all around the world, to celebrate the triumph of human spirit and endeavor over every obstacle and difficulty. I’m not a big sports fan in general, but the Olympics are so much more than sport.

I’m cheering for all the athletes, but most especially Noelle Pikus-Pace in women’s skeleton, the Night Train crew in men’s 4-man bobsled, Team USA in both women’s and men’s hockey, and Meryl Davis & Charlie White in ice dance.

Who are some of your favorites, and what do the Olympics mean to you?

Nationals Aftermath, Men and Ladies

The men’s short program was fantastic. I loved every second. The free skate was a wee bit of a disappointment compared to that (ack, Ricky Dornbush especially. I sat there in my kitchen shouting “No! No! You’re so much better than this! FIGHT!” at my computer screen, but alas, to no avail), but still miles ahead of any free skate in recent years. I was so sad for Adam Rippon, who’s from Clarks Summit and broke onto the senior scene when we were still living in Scranton, and so I have cheered for ever since (for those of you not familiar with Pennsylvania, Scranton and Clarks Summit are right next to each other), but I was thrilled to see the strides Max Aaron had made since last year, and Joshua Farris did great, and we’ve got some promising young blood coming up in the ranks who will be ones to watch in the next four years.

About Max, though – I hope he gets his style figured out soon. You can be a guy on the ice and still be masculine and even a little butch. You don’t have to go all-out Elvis Stojko, but poor Max looked, in his short program especially, as though he were being forced into a suit of clothes completely the wrong size for him. The long program suited his powerful, explosive natural style much better, but he still looked stilted and uncomfortable in much of it. Watch Brian Boitano. Watch Scott Hamilton and Kurt Browning and Todd Eldredge and Michael Weiss and yes, even watch Elvis Stojko, and see how they manage to be powerful and still artistic. Just please, please, don’t become a cookie-cutter skater, Max, because you’ve got so much more than that.

I am not a fan of Jeremy Abbott’s skating, or his appalling tendency to never be able to put two decent programs on the ice at the same competition, or that the USFSA (sorry, USFS – I don’t know why they’ve dropped the “A” from the acronym when “Association” is still part of the official name, and it drives me nuts) and all the commentators overlook his horrific inconsistency and weak skills with “but when he’s on, he’s so on” BUT HE’S NEVER ON ALL THE WAY HE’S ONLY EVER HALFWAY THERE. However, I will say that he did manage to pull it together for this Nationals, and I am politely wishing him well at the Olympics, because my dislike is for his skating, not for him, and I would never wish anyone to fall apart at the moment they’ve been dreaming of their entire lives.

(Yes, I know I’ve left someone out of the men. I’m saving him for the end.)

The ladies. Oh, the ladies.

I am THRILLED for Gracie Gold. I think she’s phenomenal. And I really like the sprite-like Polina Edmunds, and I’m eager to see what she does in the next four years.

Mirai Nagasu … I am heartbroken for. Crushed. After everything she’s gone through in the last four years, she finally, finally found her joy on the ice again, she broke through years of uncertainty and discouragement, and oh, she skated so, so beautifully. She made my heart sing.

I understand the decision to leave her off the team. I think it’s the wrong decision, and I wish USFS could admit that yes, part of their decision is political (because it IS and everyone knows it), part of their decision was deliberate to cause controversy and get people watching the skating again (because that plays a role too, of course it does), and yes, part of their decision has to do with the entire season, not just the Nationals. Because by claiming it ONLY has to do with the skating, they’ve left themselves open to the very obvious question of “Then why is Polina, who hasn’t had any senior international experience, on the team instead of Mirai?”

What I cannot forgive USFS for is leaving Mirai off the World team. In men and pairs, they switched the bronze medalists for the silver for the Worlds, and yet the ladies team stays the same. You know what that says to me? Either they have a grudge against Mirai (PETTY), or they’re afraid that she would do really well at the Worlds, and then they’d have to justify the decision to leave her off the Olympic team all over again. Not cool, USFS.

(This routine made me cry. Actually, no. Mirai’s courage and grace made me cry during this routine. She is an amazing person.)

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t hate Ashley Wagner. As with Jeremy Abbott, I’m not a huge fan of her skating. With her, it isn’t so much her problems with consistency as it is I just plain find her boring to watch. She seems to me one of those cookie-cutter skaters I mentioned above, nothing that stands out or makes me remember her or care.

BUT. The way fans have been treating her is atrocious, horrible, and completely uncalled for. She did not “steal” the spot from Mirai. USFS gave it to her. You might think that the decent thing for her to do would be to refuse to accept it, but come on. This is the Olympics. If you were in her shoes, would you? COULD you? I’d like to think that I would be noble-souled enough to give up on my lifelong dream because I felt it was unfairly granted to me, but would I, really? I doubt it. Especially if I really did believe that I had earned that spot through my blood, sweat, and tears over the last few years, and that the two nights that did not go my way were anomalies instead of patterns. And Ashley does believe that.

And no matter what, Ashley is a human being, just as Mirai is, and no human being ever, ever deserves to be treated the way fans have been treating Ashley. I read for myself some of the things said to her and about her on Twitter. Shame on those who would dare speak so to another person. Shame. I may not be her biggest fan, but after reading some of those tweets, I hoped – and still hope – she goes to the Olympics and skates better than anyone has ever seen her skate in her life. That’s what I hope, because I want to see her make people choke on their own hatred by the sheer triumph of rising above it.

And now … yes, I was saving the best for last. I told you I was going to bring in the missing men’s skater at the end, didn’t I?

Watch him. Watch this routine, you guys. Look, I’ve seen Bourne and Kraatz skate to Riverdance – live – and I saw Riverdance on Ice in Lowell, MA a few years back, and both of those were incredible, breathtaking experiences. I have never seen anything like this. Jason, more than anyone else ever, has given me hope that the point system has not killed the joy of skating entirely. I am so, so excited for when he gets his quad, because he is going to BLOW EVERYONE ELSE OUT OF THE WATER. Or off the ice, as the case may be.

And on top of all that, he is a genuinely nice and awesome kid. What more can you ask?

Between Davis & White, Chock & Bates, Gold, and Brown, I am PUMPED to see what Team USA does at the Olympics this year. I think it’s going to be awesome.

Nationals Aftermath, Pairs and Dance

Before I begin, thank you all for your comments and encouragement with regard to my last post. They truly did help, and just the simple act of sharing what I was going through helped as well. I think I can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

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It’s been a little while now since the US Figure Skating Championships (shorthand for which is simply “Nationals” in skating circles), and I believe I can think/speak about them with some coherency by this point.

First, the good. And was there ever good. Overall, the quality of skating at this Nationals was better than I have seen in over a decade. Certainly the best I’ve seen since the new judging system was put in place (yes I know it’s been around long enough we can’t really call it new, but hey, I grew up on the 6.0 system and even though I *get* the whole point system it still seems foreign and strange to me, and I have to ask Carl every single time if the scores are really impressive or not, because while I always knew that a 6.0 was awesome, I can’t always remember the numbers here, whereas the engineer can keep it all straight without trying). I was actually excited to watch, instead of watching in hopes that something would happen to make me remember why I love this sport. It gives me hope that maybe, finally, we are starting to get our feet under us again as a skating association.

Pairs is still struggling. It would be nice to see more than just our top team sticking together instead of switching partners every so often. It’s not a square dance, chums. It’s a dedicated, hard, tiring journey. The most important factor in a pair team is trust. How can you build trust when you know that both you and your partner are willing to jump ship at the first sign of trouble? I’m not saying that your first partner has to be your final one, no matter what – Meno and Sand weren’t each other’s first partners, nor were Sale and Pelletier, nor Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, etc.  (Also, I will have you know I spelled those latter two names correctly, the first time, without looking it up.) But it’s a sad statement that the American team that has been together the longest has been together for eight years. That’d be about a starting point for the Chinese.

Having said that, I really do like Castelli and Shnapir, in part because Shnapir reminds me of my cousin Peter (same height and build, same un-self-conscious air, same friendly grin). (Except Peter loves hockey and considers figure skating an insult to the ice, poor deluded lad.) And my fingers are crossed for them to land that quad throw salchow at the Olympics, not because I think it will put them in medal contention, but simply because it’d be awesome.

I thought Denney and Coughlin were all right, but not spectacular, so I wasn’t too upset about them missing the Olympic team, though disappointed on their behalf, naturally. I sincerely hope that Zhang and Bartholomay stick together for at least another four years, because while they might not be able to make an impression on the world scene now, I honestly think they have a ton of potential, and I’d love to see them as honest-to-goodness contenders at the 2018 Olympics.

Ice dance, now … oh my. I stood up while watching Davis and White, because I didn’t think I could take it sitting down. And then I forgot to breathe until they were finished. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to sit in the arena and watch it live. Well, I can almost imagine it, because I got to watch Bourne and Kraatz skate Riverdance live at the ’98 Worlds (shut up, yes I know I’m old), and I’m pretty sure this would have been even better. And that’s something I never thought I’d say. Anyone who doesn’t think ice dance belongs in the Olympics needs to watch this. And if you still don’t think ice dance belongs in the Olympics after watching, then … I’m not sure you get what the Olympics are all about. It’s sport, and more than sport. It transcends sport, and isn’t that what the Olympics are all about? Sport becoming something more, something greater, something that celebrates the human spirit? Tell me this doesn’t do that. You can’t. It’s perfection.

I was thrilled also with Bates and Chock (how can I not root for the team with one partner named Bates?). (Fun side note: there’s a good chance we’re actually distantly related; as I understand family lore, there were two Bates brothers who came to America from England back in the day. One came to NY state and settled in the Thousand Islands region, and became my great-something-grandfather. The other settled somewhere in Michigan, which is where Evan Bates trains and went to college, at least, though I’ve never been an obsessive enough fan to see if that’s actually where he’s from. But still. I totally can claim I have a cousin who’s an Olympian, right?) Their routine was fabulous, and if it weren’t for Davis and White, it would have been my favorite of the competition. Love the Shibutanis as well, not least for the fact that their programs never gross me out over the fact that they’re brother and sister practically making out on the ice (I don’t really like ANY of the dance teams that are over-sexualized in their routines, but it’s especially nasty when they are siblings). Even aside from that, though, the ShibSibs are just plain fun to watch.

I think both our pairs teams and our dance teams heading to the Olympics are going to do this country proud, and if Davis and White don’t bring home the ice dance gold, you’ll be scraping me off the floor where I collapsed in shock and horror.

I realize that I am way too wordy to keep the entire competition to one post, so I’ll do this one now, and give you my thoughts and opinions on the men and ladies in the next.

Happy INDIE-giving!

Funny, when I signed up to join this Blogfest, I didn’t think that I would have already joined the ranks of independent published authors! I expected to still be a “wanna-be.” Just goes to show you can still surprise yourself sometimes.

I surprised myself yesterday, too, when I had my first ice dance lesson in twelve years. Oh, I was sore when I got off the ice, but overall? I felt AWESOME. I expected it to be so much more difficult than it turned out to be. I remembered so much more than I thought I would, and following the pattern, keeping my center, all that – challenging, but nowhere near as impossible as I was expecting. The moral of the story (to imitate the White Queen)? Never hold back from doing something just because you think it’s going to be hard! If you really want it, go for it, and don’t give up, and you might just be amazed at how much you are able to accomplish!

I am so thankful for this opportunity to get back to something I have loved so well for my entire life. Thankful, too, for the opportunity to publish my stories – writing is something else I have loved my entire life. I have dreamed for almost that long about being published, and to be able to achieve the first step of that dream – publishing a short story – is amazing. It is nothing I take for granted.

And neither are any of you! I am truly grateful for all the friends I have made in this little corner of the web. Writing would not be anywhere near so much fun without the community and support we all give each other.

And to show that thankfulness in a little more tangible manner, I’m offering TWO giveaways. One, my short story, naturally!

Justice’s Mask: Cassandra James finds the line between right and wrong blurs when a Loyalist spy is unmasked at her eighteenth birthday party.

This story was a major departure from my usual writing genre, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would love to share it with one of you, too! Edited to add: Alex asked if this was an e-book. Yes, it is! Thanks to Smashwords, it is available in Kindle, Epub (which works for iBooks, Kobo, Nook, Sony, and more), PDF, or even just as online viewing. Thanks for bringing that point to my attention, Alex!

My other offering is a $10. Etsy gift card. I love Etsy, the global marketplace for independent artisans. This is my second year of ordering personalized ornaments for the littles through Etsy, and I think it’s going to become a family tradition! Etsy is now offering gift cards for many shops, which I think makes for a fantastic gift or giveaway.

No hoops to jump through or forms to fill out for these two giveaways – just leave a comment letting me know which one you’re interested in, and next Monday I’ll draw one name out of a hat for each!

Thank you all for being you. You’re all fantastic people, every one of you! And for more wonderful giveaways, check out the Indelibles blog!

Sometimes I Dance on Ice …

Last week after the littles finished up their skating lessons, I had a lovely chat with one of the coaches about starting private ice dance lessons the next week. We came to a mutual agreement, and I walked out of the rink with a mixture of elation and sheer terror.

I love ice dance. It’s been a passion since I was a teenager and took my first test (Dutch Waltz, in a shimmery blue dress with lace insets that I still have and wore for about half my tests, just kept changing the embellishments). From Marina Klimova & Sergei Ponomarenko to Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz to Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto to Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Maia & Alex Shibutani, ice dancers have been capturing my heart and firing my imagination since the early ’90s. I even took up step dancing in college for no other reason than that I adored Bourne & Kraatz’s “Riverdance” routine so much!

Watched this live at the ’98 Worlds. Still blows my mind.

So there’s the elation. The terror?

My last ice dance lesson was in 1999. I was seventeen years old. (It was the Fiesta Tango, in case you’re curious, and one of the few I did not wear the blue dress for: I wore a black-and-red crushed velvet dress that I shared with three other girls that same day – we just kept spraying Febreeze into the armpits and handing it off to the next girl as soon as we were finished. Ah, the glamorous life of figure skaters!)

I’ve skated off and on for fun ever since then, of course. For about a year before Joy was born I was on the ice almost once a week, just public skating, but enough to remember some of my old skills – and to recognize how much I’d lost. Even that, though, was six years ago. And the difference between 24 and 30 is huge. The last time I decided to show my littles how to do a spiral, I propped my leg up on the boards as usual to stretch – and wasn’t sure I’d be able to get it back down. I could barely walk the next day.

So I’m really not sure how on earth I’m going to do this. But I’m going to try anyway. I promised myself a few years ago that I would do everything in my power to take up ice dance again by the time I turned 30. Well, here I am, and here it goes.

This is my year (and week, apparently), for fulfilling promises to myself. First I published a story, and now I’m starting up skating again!

If I miss my usual Monday post, you’ll know it’s because I’m in too much pain from Sunday’s lesson to even type.

Wish me luck!

Six years ago – the last time I was able to do a spiral without pain!

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On the ice with baby Joy – you can see she was tremendously impressed (HA!). I’m expecting something of that same expression when the littles watch me this Sunday!

Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the song I borrowed this post’s title from.