Books, children, figure skating, influences

Lessons From a Pig

picture from kristiyamaguchi.com

When I first heard that one of my long-time heroes, Kristi Yamaguchi, was writing a picture book, I was both excited and nervous. Excited because for one thing, there aren’t enough books out there for kids that feature figure skating. Ballet, yes. Skating, no. Also excited because it was Kristi! I was nervous, though, because excellence in one area doesn’t always translate to excellence in another. Not all figure skaters make great writers, and as a writer myself, I knew I would be hyper-critical.
I shouldn’t have worried. Dream Big, Little Pig is a fantastic book! Instead of what I would arrogantly call typical inspirational tripe, gallant little Poppy taught an important lesson. You aren’t going to magically be good at something and have everything handed to you on a silver platter just because you dreamed it – but if you love something, you should work hard and pursue it despite what other people say, and in that very pursuit there will be satisfaction. Awesome. My sister bought the book for my Joy when Joy just started skating, and I loved being able to read to her about how Poppy kept getting up every time she fell, and how eventually, she started falling less.
So when we heard that Kristi was writing a sequel titled It’s a Big World, Little Pig, we were thrilled. And rightly so, because the sequel is just as charming as the first book. Aunt Lis and Uncle David bought this one for Joy to help celebrate her completion of her first season of skating lessons, and again, it is a fun story (with great illustrations) with an non-sterotypical message behind it. Poppy gets to go to a big international competition, and she’s nervous, but soon discovers that all the competitors, despite being different animals from different countries, participating in different sports, they “all smile in the same language.” I half-listened as Carl read it to Joy and Grace the first time, and I asked when he finished “But did Poppy win?” All three rolled their eyes at me. “It doesn’t say,” Carl said. “That is not the point.”
Oh. Oops.
Not every athlete or actor can turn to writing stories, especially stories for kids, well, but Kristi certainly does. She inspires me to look at my own stories, and make sure I’m not falling into the trap of writing expected tropes, but instead pursue messages I would want my own girls to believe.
And to be perfectly honest, Poppy is a good inspiration to me, too – to not expect magical success, or to expect success to look like wild popularity or medals, but to work hard at what I love, just because I love it.
My big dreamer at her very first ice show (she’s the one in front)


Disclaimer: I am not being compensated in any way for this review, and the opinions therein are solely my own. And my children’s, so far as they have communicated them to me. :-)
children, figure skating, goals, Life Talk

Lessons

WARNING: This post has nothing to do with writing. It is, in fact, mostly bragging on my kid. Because along with being a writer, I’m a MOM, and occasional bragging on my kid goes with the territory.

These two pictures were taken the first time Joy was on the ice. She made either me or my sister carry her the ENTIRE time. Granted, she was a tiny three-year-old at the time, but still, we were SORE the next morning. She has loved watching ice skating with me ever since she was a little baby, but the reality of stepping on the ice scared her to death.
This was her third time on the ice. She didn’t even want to hold my hand by then! She also insisted I show her how to bunny hop. No fear at all, and even the few times she fell, she laughed.
photo by lis hurlbut
First time on single-bladed skates, showing her sister how it’s done.
And THIS is from her first day of Snowplow Sam (that’s the lowest level of skating classes from the United States Figure Skating Association, by the way) in January.

And THIS is last Sunday, when she brought home a certificate stating that she’d passed all of Snowplow Sam, and is ready to start Basic 1 in the fall!
Not bad, for a little over a year. Her first-ever skating show is this Sunday, and my parents, Carl’s mom, my sister and brother-in-law, and possibly Carl’s sister are all coming out to watch and cheer her on. It’s not just about the skating, it’s about finding something she loves, overcoming her fears about it, and excelling at it.
Hmm, maybe there really IS something in here applicable to writing after all …
Hey, have you entered the giveaway yet? If not, go, enter! What are you waiting for?
figure skating, God, Life Talk, philosophy, writing

Sacred Joy

On the second-to-last night of 2011, I unexpectedly got the best gift of the year – two free tickets to see Stars on Ice, my favorite show in the world, in Lake Placid, my favorite village in the world. My mother-in-law, already planning on visiting for the holiday, came out a day early so she could baby-sit the littles; the friend who gave us the free tickets had two others she gave to my mother and sister, so Carl and I met Mom and Lis in the village, had dinner together (served by the Slavic version of Basil Fawlty, though he was more harried than rude, but still – Carl was the first to come up with the comparison and it was so apt), and then went to the SHOW.
It was to flip over.
(I know, groan, but come on, you don’t expect me to get a picture of Ryan Bradley mid-back-flip and not come up with an excuse to use it and make a lame pun with.)

Our seats were in the bleachers, but when they did the retakes for tv after the show we were able to sneak down and take the seats of four people who had left. I pulled my camera out of my bag and just started clicking. Kurt Browning was gracious enough to do the majority of his retakes right in front of where we were sitting. My sister and I might have fan-girl squee-ed just a little.

It was a two+ hour drive back to Albany after the show – the weather was hovering between rain and ice through most of the Adirondacks, which meant we had to drive slowly. So what do two people do to keep each other awake on a late-night long drive back home? Well, my sister and I might have done more squee-ing over the likes of Kurt, Ryan, Todd Eldredge, etc, but since it was Carl and I, of course we started talking philosophy.
Philosophy of figure skating? Why, of course! 

Way back in college, I wrote a paper on the debate as to whether figure skating was sport or art. My stupid, stupid English professor gave me a C, not because it was poorly written, but because he didn’t think it was a real issue (note: at the beginning of the semester he told us anything was acceptable as a topic, and cited one of his favorite papers from the previous year, on “Why Blondes Have More Fun). I looked at him and said, “I am a figure skater: trust me, it is an issue.”

He refused to believe me; that is the one and only C I have ever received on any assignment in an English class. And yes, it was close to ten years ago, but IT STILL RANKLES.

Anyway. Carl was asking me about my thoughts on it, and being wiser now, I wasn’t so quick to jump to the defense of figure skating as sport. I told him that I couldn’t really be objective on the matter, because figure skating was so much more to me than anything I could describe.

You see, when I am on the ice, just as when I am writing, I feel I am coming closer to the me I am meant to be (I know this all sounds a little “woo-woo.” Sorry about that), back to the core of who I am, the Louise God intended me to be with all the baggage stripped away. Only skating and writing do that for me – nothing else. It is too close to my heart; I cannot speak objectively about it. Even when I am not skating myself, watching pure, good skating gives me an echo of that. It satisfies me in a way nothing else does, the same way that reading a brilliantly-written book satisfies me even when I am not writing myself.

And I am not a great skater, but when I am on the ice I feel like I am great. I am always pretty sure I look like this:

Joannie Rochette and Sasha Cohen)

Or this:
I want to be Katia Gordeeva when I grow up

And I really look like this:
True story – I got done with this spiral and told my friend who was holding the camera “That was great! My leg was really up there, my head was high, it was an awesome spiral!” She said, “uh-huh,” and handed me the camera. I was shocked to see I had only achieved a straight line – but I suppose I should be thankful at least my head was up and my leg was straight. I don’t always even accomplish that.

Or this:
SELL that final pose, girl!

But that doesn’t matter. Not really. I do my best skating when I am all alone in a rink, with no one around to make me self-conscious. It’s not a solitary act for most, but like writing, it is for me.
And that – because it is almost sacred to me – is why it brings me such joy to watch it done well. Oh sure, the eye candy is nice, too, but skating is unique and special and wondrous simply because, for me, it is an act of worship.
As is writing.
It’s kind of a nice way to end the year, isn’t it, making those connections and getting an unexpected chance to experience that again?
It makes me want to write more, too, and to remember more of what my writing is – not just a hobby or career, but an essential part of me, one of those elements that makes me me, and something that brings me closer to my best, my purest version of myself.
And that is the last bit of philosophizing you will hear from me until next year. 
Happy New Year’s, friends!

figure skating, Life Talk

Christmas is Almost Here

I wasn’t going to post again before Christmas, but I saw this tonight, and it brought back happy Christmas memories for me, and it made me laugh. How could I not share it with all of you?

Besides, you know, Kurt Browning. When I want my kids to know what amazing skating is really like, I have them watch Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, and Kurt Browning. They don’t get any better than this.

Merry Christmas, my friends!