Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic skating - IMHO Part II

I had to take some time after last Thursday's men's Olympic Figure Skating final to recover. I was thinking about what I wanted to write to follow up my earlier post when it happened...and I'm still in shock, although many friends remind that I shouldn't have been surprised.

Evan Lysacek won the Olympic Gold Medal by a narrow margin ahead of Russia's Evgeny Plushenko. Plushenko was a poor sport and pouted. And he's still pouting.

I'm going to say this right now: Lysacek outSKATED Plushenko. Plushenko may have outJUMPED Lysacek, but this is a skating competition and not a jumping competition. Interestingly, if it was a jumping competition and you only counted the number of jump revolutions, then Plushenko still loses! Lysacek jumps had a total of 32 revolutions (3Lz+3T/3A/3S/3A+2t/3Lo/3F+2T+2Lo/3Lz/2A) and Plushenko, even with his quad, still had one less revolution (4T+3T/3A/3A+2T/3Lo/3Lz/3Lz+2T/3S/2A). Technically, Lysacek beat Plushenko, not in the air, but at ice level - step sequences and spins. Lysacek's circle step sequence was a full point above Plushenko's (5.10 to 4.10) and Lysacek's flying sit spin was a level four while Plushenko's was only a level three.

Leaving the number crunching behind, Lysacek's jump quality was superior to Plushenko. You need to consider the four parts of a jump - the approach, the take-off, air position and the landing. Just think -flow in and flow out. Plushenko's jumps in the air were often tilted and his landings were scratchy and, at times, lacked flow. Lysachek's jump looked easy because he has perfected them.

Plushenko's behavior since the end of the competition has been disappointing for a past Olympic champion. Even more disappointing was a commentary the next morning on Yahoo! Sports by Canadian champion and two-time Olympic Silver Medalist, Elvis Stojko. Elvis' commentary was that Plushenko should have won the gold medal based on the quad alone. Reading the commentary broke my heart because I always admired Elvis and liked his spunky, athletic skating.

Many have said that the commentary was just sour grapes by Stojko because he never won the gold. That's sad. Elvis railed against the judges and how the system is set up. How, by not automatically giving the gold to Plushenko, we had set the sport back by years.

Thankfully, Elvis wasn't the only former two-time Olympic Silver Medalist from Canada to share his thoughts on the men's event. Brian Orser (who won the silver in 1984 and 1988) said that "given the system today," the right skater won the event.

The sport is different from Elvis' time. Now, each skater has the same number of elements to perform during a 4:30 minute program. If they are smart (and Frank Carroll and Lori Nichols are very smart), they design a program that takes full advantage of the points and then make sure the skater performs each element well enough to gain additional points for the elements from the judge's GOEs (Grade Of Execution). Plushenko didn't do that.

The right skater won the event.

And yes, I think the right dance team won the dance event last night. My American heart was hoping that Meryl and Charlie would win, but Tessa and Scott had the performance of their lives. If you're asking about the bronze medal ice dance team, that's a different story.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic skating - IMHO

Watching the Olympic figure skating is causing sleep deprivation as I'm staying up too late to watch the events. It's been worth it since I'm seeing some amazing programs and enjoy cheering on Team USA. I know the judges are always looked at as an enemy of the skater, but being a judge myself, I can tell you that they want the skaters to succeed because when they skate well, judging is an enjoyable experience.

You didn't hear it during the pairs events, but suddenly we're hearing trash talk by the skaters about how the judges are against them or how all the skaters hate him because he's so good or how if you don't have a quad, you might as well be in ladies' skating. Is it just a way to make excuses in advance?

Everyone knew the men's event was going to be the most competitive event with one of the best field of men I can remember. There were some inconsistent performances last night - maybe because some were more than just a little nervous skating at the Olympics - but there were some incredible programs. I thought Plushenko was technically perfect, but his presentation was painful to watch.

I love a great footwork sequence as skaters show how well they can control their edges and balance. You want to see the skater using their full body, but Plushenko's footwork was mostly arm flailing to distract from his crappy edge quality.

The short program is often referred to as the "technical program" because the skaters have required elements that have to be included. In the short program, technique is what its all about. I have to remind myself of that fact quite often when watching because I'm always looking for the total package of technical and presentation. When I was training (we call it trial judging), I would get dinged when I would put too much emphasis on the presentation.

There is a wonderful judge named Bette Snuggerud who worked with judges in training. At one event, I had a skater marked too low against where she placed and while I thought I was giving great reasons why I marked her low (no presentation), Bette reminded me that it is the TECHNICAL program and that I need to keep that in mind. But she went on to say the one thing that has always stuck with me, that "Dollars for donuts, the skater will not be in the top tomorrow if her presentation skills are weak."  It was the dollars for donuts part that made the lesson stick.

I'm hoping that all the skaters do well tomorrow night, and yes, I'm pulling for Evan over Plushenko because I'm an American and have always thought of him as a nice midwest kid.  Never cared that much for Plushenko and I think it speaks volumes about Plushenko that besides his coach, he also had his publicity agent at the boards during the competition. I've seen skaters have their choreographer or sports psychologist at the boards during a competition, but a press agent? It tells you where his priorities are.

Go Team USA. Kick some Russian butt.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oh, DirecTV, why are you such a mess??

There's nothing quite as painful as switching providers. I had DirecTV for years until Comcast got me to switch with a classic "bait & switch" that was supposed to more affordable. Ha! In the end, I was paying more for Comcast than I ever did for DirecTV. So, I decided to switch back.

I got a direct mail offer from DirecTV that would give me a great package called "The DVR Plus" package. I signed up and got a date for the installation. It was supposed to be pretty simple: just bring in a new DVR and cables and be done with it. I already had the dish, so no need for a new one. They would be coming to my place on February 13th between noon and 4 pm. 

At 3:45 on Saturday, I called customer service to inquire why no one had called or shown up. I was informed that they had stopped by, but no one was home. Granted my condo is a bit off the beaten path, but I was home the entire time. I was ticked off, but they told me that they could do it two days later.

The installer showed up at 3 p.m. Monday and he informs me that he needs to replace the satellite dish because mine didn't work with the HD system. I felt bad for the guy because he had to crawl up to the top of my deck and pick through all the ice on top of the dish. He finished with the dish and then set up the receiver. When he called DirecTV to finish the set-up of the receiver, they informed him he had put in the wrong receiver - I had ordered the non-HDTV DVR receiver. He didn't have that type of receiver with him and the work order that DirecTV had given him wasn't correct and he had installed exactly what they told him to install. I can verify that.

He told me that I would need to straighten it out with DirecTV and that he needed to leave - never mind that he had handed me his cell phone to talk to the customer service agent. I could just call them back on my own phone... Thanks. He had left the old dish on my deck, so when he started to leave, I asked him if he was taking it. "No" that wasn't his responsibility and I would have to dispose of it. (Never mind that I hadn't even needed to have it replaced because I hadn't ordered HD! The old one would have been fine.)

I had to call customer service back. I was pretty pumped up and not in a good mood. I talked with the poor customer service rep that was unfortunate enough to pick up my call. I asked if they could just send me the correct DVR receiver and I could just switch it out. "No, a technician would have to come out to install it." Did I like the HD and would I want the HD DVR? Sure, that would great. "It's only a one time charge of $199." Um, no, on second thought..I don't think so. 

Okay, so I have to have a technician come out. How soon? The earliest date available was a week away (Feb 23rd). Seriously? Don't you have evening installation hours? I do work for a living and my office and home are NO WHERE near each other. No, sorry. 

I asked to talk to his supervisor. He put me on hold for about a minute and then when he comes back on line, he tells me that it would be a couple of minutes for me to talk to his supervisor because he was already on a call. (Hmmm) "But good news," when he had logged off and then back on, installation dates sooner than next Tuesday opened up. Lots of openings Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday of this week. 

So, I'm set to work from home tomorrow morning, so the installer can come out to switch out the receiver. 

I wanted it done ASAP because there is no way I want to live without a DVR. You don't realize how much you rely on it when you don't have it anymore. I can't pause or rewind live TV and excuse me, the Olympics are happening for the next two weeks! I need instant replay and the ability to record something if I can't be at home to watch it live. 

So, DirecTV -FAIL on customer service. 

And what the heck am I going to do with that old satellite dish on my deck??

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Love the Winter Olympics

I love the Winter Olympics, and while the Summer Olympics have their interesting moments, I'm a Winter Olympics girl - 100%.

These next two weeks will find me planted in front of my TV watching the 2010 Winter Olympics. It might be natural that I'm more of Winter than Summer person because of my heavy involvement with figure skating, but almost all of the winter sports athletes are risk takers and their performances will keep me on the edge of my seat *okay, sofa*. 

There are 22 Minnesotans participating in these Olympics. Granted, we are have a couple of athletes who are being claimed by more than one state. Lindsey Vonn lives and trains in Colorado, but we're still claiming her. Pairs skater Mark Ladwig is being claimed by three states - Minnesota, North Dakota and Florida. He grew up in Fargo/Moorhead, graduated from Moorhead High School and now lives and trains in Florida. (Frankly, I don't think North Dakota has a real claim.)

I guess I feel more of a connection with these athletes because I understand their sports (as much as anyone can understand Luge). I think it is so cool that Lindsey Vonn started skiing at the often mocked Buck Hill. The greatest female skier at the Olympics started at Buck Hill!

Skating is a huge part of my life and I'm so blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know many of the skaters competing this year. I'm excited to watch tonight's pairs short program because one of the teams that I've gotten to know will be skating tonight. When the aforementioned Mark Ladwig and his partner Amanda Evora, qualified for the Olympics last month, you would have thought that I won the lottery. 

Two years ago, when the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were at the Xcel Center, many of the volunteers received hand-written notes from Mark, Amanda and the other Florida skaters thanking them for all their work on behalf of the skaters. I was blown away and extremely impressed.  What should also impress you is that they write these notes at every competition they participate in, not just the "big ones."

U.S. Figure Skating selects two International-level judges to serve as Team Managers at the Olympics. It is a huge honor, but also a big responsibility and time commitment. The U.S. Figure Skating Olympic Team Managers for these Olympics are Lorie Parker and Richard Dailey. One of these two will be standing at the boards with the skaters and their coaches during the competition. I know that I'll be one of many figure skating judges watching at home getting excited to see our friends on TV.

The Vancouver Olympics have been impressive so far so don't be surprised if I write several posts on these games. 

But for now, Go Mark & Amanda!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

One Day at A Time

I've done it before so I don't have the excuse that it is impossible.  I also remember how I felt and how much I liked it. Perhaps, I need to listen to the wisdom of the people I work around everyday = take it one day at a time. 

Today, I rededicated myself to...well...ME and my well being. I've rejoined the Saint Paul YWCA and I've rejoined Weight Watchers.  

Six years ago, I lost 55 pounds. I kept it off for about 15 months and then it started to come back as I ignored the work outs and started to think that I didn't have to keep track of what I was eating.  I'm a stress eater, I know that about myself.  Between 2006 and 2008, I was working on my Master's Thesis, working a full-time job and working as the Event Chair for the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships - all at the same time. I gained back about 45 of the 55 pounds. 

Fifteen months ago, I decided it was time to get serious and get back to it.  In 12 months, I lost 30 pounds, but have been stuck losing and gaining the same 5 pounds since then. I need a break-through and I need to remember what worked last time: be active and be accountable. The accountability is about writing down everything you eat - if you bite it, write it. That's a challenge for me because of the ADD. 

I've struggled with my weight my whole life and it was only after my ADD diagnosis that I was successful on a diet (a first for me); that I was able to stick with something for the long term.  I did it then, so I have to do it again. 

Back in 2004, I would look at my fat photos as a reminder that I didn't want to be like that anymore. Today, I have skinny photos that I can look at and remind myself that I can do it again.

Here goes...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Losing my cool

I am the person you want on your team for Trivial Pursuit. Because when it comes to cultural references, movies, television, and otherwise useless information, I rock. I used to be able to rattle off the top shows, who were the actors, plot lines, etc. I was Mom's go-to-kid when she was working on the TV Guide crossword puzzles. 

I don't know what has happened to me. When the Lost season premiere happened last week, the number of my FB friends who were excited and anticipating every twist was much larger than I thought it should be. I don't watch Lost. I did watch one of the first episodes years ago and never got it. Lost is lost on me.

There are also a large number of people who like to quote the most recent lines from The Office. Again, I've never watched it. I can fake it pretty well from what I pick up as others are talking nonstop about the most recent episode. Actually, I've learned that if I just mimic what the other person is doing when they're telling me about last night's episode, I can cover up my "uncoolness." 

Now, I can proudly say that I've never watched Survivor, American Idol, Wife Swap, or The Bachelor. Not a big fan of shows where the object is to destroy another person's self-esteem. The only reality show that I watch is Biggest Loser because the show is borderline educational and the participants have their lives changed for the better. (Full disclosure: I did watch Dancing with the Stars when Marie Osmond was on - but only for nostalgic reasons)

My loss of cool is a recent event. I'm pretty sure I still had the cool factor through the Buffy the Vampire Slayer years. I can still quote many of those lines.

I'm trying to figure out when it happened. When did I lose "cool?" 

I can't think of the one event that could have turned the tide or was it progressive (or regressive) over the last few years. Or perhaps I just got a life that doesn't revolve around what is on television. Talk about a lifestyle change.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What would my dad have thought...

It will be 16 years this April since my dad passed away. I have great memories of him and we had an awesome relationship. We both loved to talk about politics and current events. We were never at a loss for conversation.

Everyone has childhood memories of those "lines" we would hear from our parents over and over again. My mom always said "You go to hell for lying as much as you do for stealing," when she thought we were fibbing. (Of course, being the truly lippy teen that I was, I eventually started replying back to her with, "Oh Mom, there are so many other reasons I'm going to hell, I think lying is the least of them.")

There was the one line I heard from my Dad each time I would bring home my report card from school. I got mostly B's and C's (and there were a couple of F's in high school chemistry classes), but there were also the teacher's comments and my Dad was just repeating what they said, "If you'd only apply yourself."  In other words, you would have better grades if you would just apply yourself and stay focused. The teachers would comment that I was too often distracted and impulsive.

It was frustrating because I knew that I was "applying myself," at least the best that I could. Whenever I was reading textbooks, I would have to re-read paragraphs over and over again because somewhere in the middle of the paragraph, my mind started to think about something else. My eyes were looking at the words line by line, but at the end of the paragraph, I would realize that I had no idea what I had just read because I hadn't stayed focused. My reading comprehension sucked.

If you only looked at my grades, you would have put me as an average or below average student. But if you caught a glipse of my test scores on the Iowa Basics Tests (standardized tests for the 60s & 70s), you would have thought someone else took the tests for me. None of my scores were below the 90 percentile and there were a couple of times, I got a 99 percentile score. It was just something that my Dad couldn't reconcile, thus the belief that I wasn't applying myself.

Today, people ask me why my parents and teachers didn't realize I had a learning disability (ADD) back then; I give everyone the same answer: "We didn't have ADHD back then. We were just behavioral problems."

I was finally diagnosed with ADD in 2002, eight years after my Dad passed away. And when it all clicked as to why I struggled back then, that I wasn't dumb or lazy and that I just couldn't learn in the same way as others did, I wondered what my Dad would have thought, if he would have been as relieved as I was.

A year after my diagnosis, I started Graduate School. I had discovered that I didn't learn using traditional study methods and I adapted myself to a new way of learning.  When reading a book, it would take me three times longer than most because comprehension of what I just read only happened when I re-wrote the idea of the paragraph it in a notebook. It was the first time I had ever read a text book in its entirety.  Ever!

When I got my final grade from the my first class and it was an "A," you would have thought I had won the lottery. I put that report card on my refrigerator at home. When I finished my Master's program, I had a 3.98 GPA (those two A- really ticked me off).  I know my Dad would have been proud, but also sort of redeemed by the knowledge that he was right - His daughter had it in her the entire time.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Childless Mother

If you would have asked me in high school how many kids I was going to have, I would have said "a bunch...4 for sure." ** I had actually determined that I would have a child every 27 months to keep them perfectly spaced. Ha!**  My career ambition was to be a mom and chauffeur the kids to all their activities and be the parent in the stands cheering them on.

I was supposed to find a husband in college. I remember turning 21 and all three of my siblings were married, had children and owned their own homes. I was still in college and felt like I was falling behind in my plan. I honestly felt like a failure.

Now, I don't have a sad story that I was infertile or something, I just never got married and thus, didn't have children. Granted, one of my nieces (at the age of 12) told me that I could have a kid if I just slept around. (Boy, that's a whole 'nother blog post) I didn't take the advice, no matter how interesting the option was.

In my 30's, I looked into artificial insemination. Did you know that you shop for it by selecting a donor through a catalog that describes the man including height, hair color, education, etc? I was reminded several times that you don't get the guy, just a cup of his donation.
In my 40's, I looked at adoption, but doubted I could make it through the screening and never moved forward with it.

I think I would have been a good mom. I hope I would have been a cool mom.

The most difficult part for me because of being childless is not having activities to attend that I see my friends involved with because of their children. They are always busy, but they are also creating connections with the other parents through time spent together with the mutual focus of their kids activities.

I know that many of these same friends think that my life sounds easier and more carefree because I don't schedule my life around someone else's activities.  I don't see it that way. To me, it's about feeling like something is missing.

Luckily, I have friends who include me in their kids' activities and while I might not be related, I do feel like part of the family.