jo skates

Skating in the key of life

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Mom’s sweater #12: the 70s finale

When I was a teenager, my mom took up knitting. Not just scarves and hats and tube socks, but sweaters with fancy stitches and cables and popcorns. She made each of my sisters an elaborately-patterned, cowl-neck fisherman’s sweater in a tasteful shade of cream. Then she made one for her youngest child, the one who ran around the bedroom lip-synching “Born to Be Wild.”

Here it is, many years later.


And here are some of the wonderful people at the rink who never have lost their wild side either. Thanks to Ari (wild coach extraordinaire) for taking these pictures.

I thought this would make a good final sweater for my “Mom’s sweater project.” I expect that I’ll have a few more skating pictures to post (leopard print top, anyone?) and I hope to keep up with this skating blog. But for now, as my mom would have said, a big thank you for sharing these good skating times with me.


Mom’s sweater #7: Purple reigns

This one was one of my mom’s favorites, the one she often chose when she was going out somewhere. Even in her last year when she was having some trouble getting around, it was the sweater of choice, the one her wonderful caregiver Meifang would help her into so that we could all go out for dim sum.

We all need a sweater like this sometimes: colorful, warm, something that readies us to greet the world outside. And totally washable (cotton), that can be worn over and over again.

In addition to a riotous and yet tasteful pattern of checks and flowers in pink, green, deeper purple, blue, and orange, this one has silver buttons with embossed flowers.  These would have fascinated me as a child; one of my favorite pastimes at a very young age (maybe four or five or six?) was sitting on my parents’ bed playing with a box of buttons that my mother kept for sewing. I would look at them (so many different sizes, shapes, styles!), admire their color and luster (pearlescent, metal, plastic, cloth-covered), and sort them into rows and groups.

Perhaps this was for me the early-sixties version of Pokemon cards? But even better, like having the creatures themselves in front of me, being able to touch their circles and squares, press my fingers into their tiny holes, feel each shiny bejeweled surface.

Maybe this is why I can spend a lot of time in office supply stores, just imagining how I would sort and arrange my desk. And maybe this is why I find a certain fascination in endlessly working and reworking skating edges and turns, arranging and rearranging them into circles, lobes, and patterns.

Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo. So little time, so much to know.


Mom’s sweater #7


A colorful week at the rink!


Mom’s Sweater #5

I had to put on a dress to go with this one: lambswool, made in Hong Kong, with hand-sewn beadwork all over it and hooks and eyes (also sewn on by hand) instead of buttons.  How many hours of labor went into this one? I don’t have a clear memory of my mother wearing it, though I know she must have, to a wedding or other special occasion.

More delicate, more feminine, than most everything I wear–aside from skating dresses. Had I skated as a child, my mother would have enjoyed seeing me in so many fancy dresses. I was, I’m afraid, a bit of a tomboy, the youngest of three daughters and the one most resistant to dressing like a girl. She made me wear a white dress with puffy sleeves and petticoats for my first fourth-grade band concert; it made me feel like a cream puff. Then she gave up. Wool and synthetic clothing aggravated my childhood eczema, so she allowed an all-cotton wardrobe. I favored denim everything, faded sundresses, polo shirts paired with corduroys and khakis in dull colors. Even as an adult I remember her saying “Are you going to wear THAT?” as I headed out to a conference in a too-casual shirt and pants.

My chosen sport was gymnastics, where even the prettiest leotard was soon covered in chalk dust and streaked with sweat; I later took up running, which meant more sweatshirts and t-shirts (this was the era before bright colors and neat-fitting running clothes). My desire for cotton and comfort was compounded by feminism, which I mobilized out of pure self-interest to justify wearing the most comfortable clothing possible. I remember arguing with my sister over whether buying lingerie with scratchy lace on it constituted a form of ideological gender oppression (not in those terms, but you get the drift).

How things have changed. I confess that I have spent hours looking at skating dresses online and I have a closet full of dresses, some of which cost more than my wedding dress (but that was decades ago and that’s another story). In my own defense, some of this came about because of the difficulty I had finding skating dresses for our first Adult Nationals (2010). Everything seemed designed and sized for pre-teens. Since Jim and I were competing in Silver Dance that year and had four compulsories, I had to get several dresses; I wound up wearing the same dress for the Foxtrot and Tango and still joke that that fashion choice is why our scores on the Foxtrot were not as strong as the other dances. (Though in retrospect that doesn’t make sense, since we skated the Foxtrot first; maybe our good scores on the Tango were because I had the guts to wear the same dress???)

Ordering dresses sight unseen, worrying about whether or not said dresses would arrive in time, returning them after they didn’t fit: this has been a crash course in why people spend the money to go custom. I have not yet done the custom dress route myself, but have rediscovered some sewing skills I had not used in a long time. I have also changed my take on lace, sequins, beads, ruffles, and other decorative touches. I used to dismiss them as not my thing, but now I can see how they change the entire look of my movement on ice, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. And perhaps just as importantly, they change the way I feel while I’m skating, and it’s by no means oppressive. I would not feel diminished without them, but they do help me get into character and feel more brave and beautiful. These are special clothes–somebody put a lot of work into them so that they would look a certain way, and I take all of that care out with me onto the ice.

One of my friends at the rink taught me great lessons about skating style. A former Ice Follies performer, Marion skated well into her eighties with grace and flair.  When I was venting about my anxieties before the competition, she lent me some dresses to try out, and gave me a memorable piece of advice when I was trying  out that Foxtrot/Tango dress at a social dance session. I was really uncomfortable in it, since it had a very ruffled double skirt and a very low-cut back–and it was relentlessly sequined. Marion watched me skate around for a few minutes, then whispered to me, “You have to wear it like you own it.”

Marion died last year, and I miss her lovely smile and her greeting: “So how is Jo today?” Looking at this sweater, I am reminded of her as well as my mother: beautiful women who never shied away from beads, color, glitter, and a ruffle–or two–for that special occasion.


Voila! La plus belle Sonia avec moi.

Hanging tough on the ice with Kristen and Marc.

Hanging tough on the ice with Kristen and Marc.

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Mom’s sweater #3 (click on the picture for a larger version)

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Mom’s Sweater Project

I wasn’t sure how often I’d be able to post to this blog once the semester started. But to keep the entries fairly regular, I’ve come up with a plan.

After my mother died, I took a number of her sweaters. She was 4′ 11″ and I’m 5′ 1.25″ (and I am upset when the doctor’s office doesn’t register that quarter inch, I tell you) so they are a bit short for wearing to work. And there are quite a few of them.

Each week, I plan to wear one to the rink, have my picture taken in it, and post it to this blog. This will make sure that I put the sweaters to good use as well as vary my skating wardrobe. This has been black, black, occasional purple, and more black; I have one red sweater that I’ve been clinging to because it’s soft and the perfect weight, but it’s beginning to get holes in it.

The sweaters will keep me nice and warm, especially at Parade, which tends to be quite cold. Both rinks have just been renovated, but the smaller rink that I practice in for most of the season will still be chilly, especially in the Minnesota winters. So I will be able to think of my mother, who was always telling me to put on a sweater anyway.

I watched quite a bit of skating with my mother over the years. She especially liked Michelle Kwan. I remember sending her a copy of Skating magazine because there was a little article about Jim and myself (in the “Adult Corner”) and instead of praising my skating prowess, she told me how much she enjoyed reading the cover article, which of course was all about Michelle. I’m a longtime fan of Michelle Kwan as well, and was happy to be in the same magazine as her–so it’s all good.

Here’s Sonia and me in my mom’s sweater #1 in the newly renovated rink, ready for a new season of skating. (Thanks, Glen, for taking our picture.)


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On motivation and goals

Skating for me on some level doesn’t “make sense”; witness the surprise of some of my colleagues and friends after they read about my competitions in the local paper or our departmental newsletter. There are more efficient and less costly ways of working out, there is little hope that I’ll ever do a triple axel (sigh), and I used to joke that at the rate I’m passing my USFS ice dance tests, by the time I finish my golds I’ll be dead. But most people will acknowledge the importance (and privilege) of having something in one’s life that doesn’t make sense: doesn’t produce some kind of marketable product, isn’t part of a professional profile, isn’t motivated by the desire for public recognition. In some ways, competitive skating has been one huge excuse: I have done six years of competition at the adult level (one with Kevin for Adult Midwestern Sectionals, and five with Jim at the Adult National Championships). Competition has many benefits, such as meeting old and new skating friends around the country and experiencing the rush of performance. But for me the most important reason is that it has allowed me to train as if I were competitive, to have an excuse to put time, resources, and effort into skating for its own sake.

For many people, that expenditure of time, energy, and money isn’t rational (especially without intelligible goals such as a national competition), and sometimes their influence is so overwhelming that I start to give way to it myself. For that reason, I try not to count how many hours, how much money spent on lessons and ice time, how much mental energy I expend on this sport. I recognize how privileged I am not to have to count these things. I never could have done this as a child; competing would have been far beyond the reach of what my family would have been able to afford. But as an adult, I can reserve some part of my life for an activity in which time, space, energy, bodily labor, and human relationships don’t have to be about productivity, commodification, networking, or social status. Skating has its own logic, articulated through those things that exist for their own sake: speed and flow, the curve of edges, the shape and lines of the body, balance, pulse and rhythm, unison. Because they are not always readable to those who don’t skate, they might seem a bit crazy: but in the ice rink these things make their own kind of sense.