London and Blackpool, 2012

So here we are, in Blackpool on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It is so warm outside, the British partying public are out in force, and we got to sleep in as late as we wanted today! Who could complain? Life is good.

So we’ve been in England for a week now. Weather in London was so-so, but the lessons and practice were great! Sometimes, when you take your lessons, everyone is happy with you, no one can wait to see you in performance, and everything just feels good. It’s rare, I know, but that’s what everything was like this time!

We’ve been practicing only our Standard. We needed to practice our Latin, but as my Standard ballgown wasn’t finished, we (or, more accurately, I) ended up spending all extra time sewing feathers. When we left for Blackpool on Thursday, which was a hazily sunny day, we still hadn’t practiced our Latin or finished my ballgown!

So yesterday, we danced our Pro Rising Star Latin. We got there early to practice everything, run through and discuss some timing issues. And yet, for all of our lack of practice, we danced really well! We made it to the round of 96 and got to dance to live music by the Empress Orchestra. Our last round was very good, and we could feel that everyone were dancing their hearts out, trying to make that pivotal round of 48.

In the end, we didn’t make the 48, but we weren’t upset. But for a few couples who, we could tell, were in the round based on merits other than their dancing, we could objectively look out at that field and say, honestly, there was no one in there that we felt were clearly worse than us. And looking at the couples who didn’t make the 48, there were a number of couples who probably deserved those coveted spots more than us and yet, in the end, we finished in the same round. So I feel we finished where we deserved. And that’s a very good feeling.

Last night, after the comp, Sims and I were exhausted. We had been at the comp for seven hours without any substantial food. Our feet hurt. We made a little Shopska Salata for dinner, and I could feel my head dropping as Sims chopped the cucumbers. But if anything could wake me up, it would be my shower.

Because in our first round, during our Samba, Sims dropped his arm a bit too low while spinning me and scraped the big stone I had glued to my forehead clean off. Gluing the stone on was painful enough, because E6000 gives you chemical burn on your skin. But it holds… until Sims scraped it off with his arm and took a few layers of skin with it. At the time, I swallowed my scream reflex and filled in the hole with makeup so no one could notice it. But that night, when I had to wash it off, that’s when the crying really began!

Ahhh… the fun of competition. Well, that’s all for now. Starbucks is closing and I’m about to lose my internet. But more to come, I promise! Including pictures of my dress once it’s done!

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Bebe is Bogus

Ok, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, since I’ve been so busy opening a dance studio and all. But my recent order from BeBe was so disappointing that I felt I just HAD to come on to WordPress to write a post about it. BeBe is a terrible company. I stopped buying from them years ago, when a sweater I bought tore on the seam two weeks after buying it. I took it back, and they replaced it with another sweater that I had to pay $20 more for, only to have that sweater tear four days later. Honestly, if it wasn’t for people buying me BeBe gift cards, I would not be going back.

SOOOOO…….. here’s my latest experience, and this one will really throw you! I was given (AGAIN!) a BeBe gift card for my birthday. And to the person who gave me the gift card, THANK YOU. It’s not your fault BeBe is such a terrible company! I really do appreciate the gift!

Anyway, I was delaying buying anything with it because, despite the gift card being for $50, honestly what can you buy for less than $50 at BeBe? You can’t even buy a pair of sunglasses for that amount! And I was on a spending freeze. But, a couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to purchase a jumpsuit. I had to pay an extra $30 because, you know, BeBe deems it reasonable to ask $70 for a cotton, ill-made, and probably ill-fitting jumpsuit. Well, out of all the purchases I made that day during my gift-card-shopping-spree, BeBe’s came last, about a week later than everything else. And when it did come, the box was strangely light. But hey, it’s a cotton jumpsuit, right? It shouldn’t be too heavy anyway. So, I placed it on the counter, opened the box, and inside was….

NOTHING. That’s right. The box had pink wrapping, that I assume was supposed to go around the jumpsuit I purchased, but the wrapping was torn and the jumpsuit was nowhere to be found. They did, however, include my receipt. How kind of them.

I called this morning to take care of it. The representative told me the jumpsuit was sold out, so they would be unable to fulfill my order. But I could call a store that has it in stock and have them send it to me. Unfortunately I would have to reorder it, and in order to do that, I have to get my money refunded, which takes 10-14 days. In that amount of time, the stores will probably be out.

I wanted to have all of the money refunded to my credit card, because WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD EVER buy from BeBe again? But no, they had to put the money back onto a gift card, and I had to specifically request that they send me a new one, because, like any sane person would, I threw out the gift card after using to purchase, well, an empty box, I suppose.

So, to my friends and family, this one word: I hope BeBe goes out of business. I hope no one buys from them again. AND PLEASE DO NOT GIVE ME ANYMORE BEBE CARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ll have to pull my hair out.

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Our First Day in Seoul

Yay! Finally found free internet. Only, it had to be here, at the airport. *shrug* Oh well! At least I can finally report!

So, listed below is a recap of our first day in Seoul. I wrote it that night, so it will be from that viewpoint. Anyway, enjoy and more updates to come!

Our First Day in Seoul:

Exploring Seoul

At long, long last, Simeon and I have made it to Asia! We’ve travelled pretty extensively throughout Europe and North America, but still had yet to go to Asia… until now! Our first impressions of Seoul were all of awe. Sims was surprised how modern and clean everything in Seoul is. I wasn’t so surprised about that, since right before coming, I did a little research and found out that South Korea’s economy is very strong, and they are working hard to update and modernize the country.

It was tough for us coming in, because we only had two hours of sleep the night before our flight, and I didn’t sleep well on the airplane. I tried. I bought a neck pillow, snuggled up under the blanket, put on my eye-mask, and really tried! But my feet and legs kept falling asleep, and my knees were aching… I just couldn’t sleep. So, after a two-hour flight to San Francisco, a three-hour layover, and a twelve-hour flight to Seoul, one can imagine how exhausted I was. We met one of the staff for the competition outside our gate, who led us to the bus stop where we were given our tickets and told to get off at “Olympic Park”. Another couple was on the bus with us.

We didn’t realize how far away Incheon Airport was from Seoul! Something like, 30 km! And once we were in Seoul, the bus wound through downtown. The bus ride itself was about an hour. It was during that bus ride that I finally managed to doze off. Don’t ask me why, but busses are considerably more comfortable than airplanes!

I woke up just as we were winding through Seoul. The city was incredible! Street after street after street of high rises, lights, and eight-lane roads! Don’t get me wrong, I’m no country bumpkin. I’ve been to some of the biggest cities, like London, New York, Paris, Sofia, Prague, Los Angeles, Montreal…. But Seoul dwarfs them all! So when I say “I’ve never been to a city this big”, given my track record, you’d have to imagine how big Seoul really is.

Anyway, we checked into our hotel and got into bed. We were only going to take a two-hour nap, as we hadn’t eaten in literally hours and we wanted to get some dinner to hold us over until the morning, when we planned to wake up at 7:30 and get breakfast. Well… the alarm went off two hours later, but we didn’t get up. Both of us awoke at 5:00am, just to go to bathroom, but we were immediately back in bed. We ended up sleeping straight until our second alarm at 7:30. By that time, we had slept for twelve hours, and could have kept going! But no, we got ourselves ready and headed downstairs for breakfast.

After breakfast, we stopped by the bell desk to get some tour information. After leafing through them, we decided on one we wanted to do and reserved it for Sunday. I’ll tell you the specifics of that in another post, cause that’s gonna be an awesome tour!!! Then we headed upstairs to study some maps of Seoul and get our bearings. One thing I really enjoy about coming to a new city is opening the map and starting to figure out where everything is. There’s nothing cooler than knowing, and I mean truly knowing, where you are. More than just a dot on the map; but being able to relate your location to the city in general, and knowing where to go to get where…. It’s really exciting.

So we headed out toward the subway station, but first we had to walk through Olympic Park. Our hotel is on the North side of Olympic Park, next to the actual Olympic Stadium built back in 1988 for the Olympic Games held in Seoul; but the subway station was on the South side of Olympic Park. We started out, and the walk just went on and on and on… we had walked more than a mile before we even arrived at the station! But along the way, we got an incredible view of the Olympic Stadium from across the water, and saw the Olympic Weight Lifting Hall, the Olympic Fencing Arena, the Velodrome, and the Tennis Courts. It was pretty cool.

Onto the subway and fifteen stops later, we exited at Euljiro il-ga, the closest stop off our line to the shopping district at Myeong-dong. As we were walking along the big street, we saw a little street that was bursting with small shops and signs, the most stereotypical and quintessential Asian street you can think of. I swear, our eyes were so round they were ready to pop out! Neither of us have ever seen things like this! There were signs everywhere!

Right away we found a Starbucks, but decided not to stop because we had only eaten breakfast an hour ago and were still fresh. But a couple of shops in, about a dozen people were crowded around a juice shop. The shop had cups filled with whole fruits, and all you needed to do was point at the cup. The juice would take the cup, dump the contents into a juicer, and voila! Your juice comes out a minute later, frothy and tasty! Sims had one that was a strange variety of grape (strange in the taste), while I had banana and persimmon.

We continued down Myeong-dong and exited onto a huge road, where we had to stop and get our bearings again. Location found, we decided to check out Namdaemun Market. Stall after stall of bags, suitcases, fake fur coats, and sweats! We got lost in an underground market of bags, then emerged to find ourselves next to an old woman roasting chestnuts. Truth be told, Sims and I can’t resist a bag of fresh roasted chestnuts, so we paid and plunged ourselves back into the market. Every shop-owner waved their hands at us and called, “Helloooo, ha ah yoooooo!” which was the extent of their English. That’s ok, though, because it’s more than the Korean we know!

One of my students had told me about the accessories markets in Seoul, that you could find hundreds of stalls filled with necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc. So when I saw a sign for an accessories market, I just had to check it out. She wasn’t exaggerating. It was about 100 stalls per row, and about 20 rows across. The merchants were sitting at their benches making the jewelry right there! So when I’m in Chinatown and see the necklaces and earrings in their plastic bags with the little stickers that say “Made in Korea”, I now know exactly (literally to the spot where they sit) where they make them! Amazing! Too bad I’m allergic to metal…..

But having walked around downtown Seoul, Simeon and I are exhausted. Our feet hurt, and we have to dance tomorrow. We spotted a Starbucks and hurried inside to sit and take a break. Next we’ll find a Korean BBQ to grab some dinner, then head back to the hotel and prepare for tomorrow. You know, all the fun stuff: iron my dress, tan, etc etc. Next report will be on Sunday, after our exciting tour that I’ll tell you all about afterwards! Woo hoo!!

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Apology from Seoul

Hi everyone! I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for our updates from Seoul, and they haven’t come…. but I have good reason! First of all, FREE internet has been harder to come by here in South Korea than we anticipated. Starbucks abounds here, but in order to get on you have to enter something called a “Foreigner Number” which we have no idea what that is. So we are finding random internet here and there, and always on Simeon’s computer (from which I’m writing right now), but of course my posts for this blog are drafted on MY computer, which means it’s impossible for me to update my blog. BLEH!!!

Anyway, when I get home, I will start posting a day-by-day play of what we did here in Seoul. We are going home tomorrow and I have to say, Sims and I had a blast. This was both of our first times to anywhere in Asia, and Seoul has made our first Asian experience really enjoyable. The city is clean, the people are nice, the subway is easy to use, and it’s surprisingly easy to get around for those who don’t speak Korean!

But even though we’ve enjoyed it here, it’s time for us to go home. We miss home. We spent all day today buying souvenirs for ourselves and our closest friends. We’re thinking about home. So, now that you know why I haven’t updated the blog, I will leave you with that thought. After all, it’s 9:00pm here in Seoul and we want to go to bed early and be nicely rested for our 16 hours of travel tomorrow. And so, without further ado, good night and see you all soon!

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Natural Recipe Experiments

A lot of you know I’ve been experimenting with natural recipes for home beauty, and I’ve been having a blast while I’m at it! Thanks to extensive online research as well as a book a friend of mine gave filled with natural recipes for beauty, I’ve managed to change a large part of my beauty regime. And honestly, I have to admit the natural stuff works better and had longer lasting effects. For instance, a few months back I decided to seriously take care of my nails and try to get them to grow longer. Thus began my natural experiments. Now my nails are so shiny that a lot of people think I wear clear nail polish (which I don’t) and are longer than some people’s fake nails! My nails are definitely a source of pride.

But I’ve taken my natural experimenting further. When I’m home, I wash my face with a quick mask made of turmeric, yoghurt, and lemon juice every other day, which does wonders for my acne. And once a week, I do a mask of water and baking soda, which itches but pretty much kills every pimple I have.

I still had yet to experiment with an exfoliator, especially because baking soda and water exfoliates really well just on its own. But while I’m here, in England, I don’t have baking soda. I tried to come up with an exfoliator that didn’t force me to buy extra ingredients at the store. So after a bit of research, I came up with my own recipe, although it’s rather well known:

1 tbs milk

1 tbs honey

2 tbs salt

I used it on my face last night, and I’d have to say I am highly pleased. I mean, my face felt so smooth not just last night, but this morning, also! And my “travel blemishes”, as I call the acne I get whenever I travel, are dried up. Sweet. Definitely recommend this to anyone. Works way better than any store-bought exfoliator I’ve used.

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Traversing New England (and France)

Being that the competition in Gatineau was only on Friday and Saturday, and our flight to London out of Boston was scheduled for very late Monday night, we decided to use the extra time to see some sights. Of course, neither of us are morning people, and we were exhausted from the competition anyway, so we asked for late check out and slept in until 1pm on Sunday. We skipped breakfast to get out of Gatineau as quickly as possible (especially because Gatineau is really not the prettiest of cities).

Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Our first stop on our sight-seeing tour? The parliamentary buildings in Ottawa! When we were in Gatineau last year, we didn’t take advantage of our time to see the parliamentary buildings, but since we were driving past them anyway, we decided we might as well stop and take some pictures. The buildings were built in the 1850s, during a time when anything Medieval was very popular. All of the buildings were designed with the medieval style, although ranging across the Medieval timetable spectrum. Simeon asked me why parts of the buildings looked different, even though most people would call it “Gothic”. So I explained the difference between Gothic vs. Neo-Gothic vs. Romanesque architecture, all of which make up various parts of the Parliamentary buildings, and compared it to Baroque style buildings, of which there was one just across the street. And the best part! Sims actually seemed interested! He was paying attention and everything!

Next we drove into Montreal, which was quite funny because our directions took us into the city centre, but the exit we needed was closed and we don’t use the internet function on our phone in Canada because it’s too expensive. So we totally winged it! First we drove through Chinatown, or “Quartier Chinois” as it’s called in Montreal. Then, somehow, we ended up on Rue St. Catherine, right in downtown where McGill University is! First we slipped into Starbucks to grab a snack and check our email. We had skipped breakfast, after all. Then we wandered around a couple of blocks in the gathering gloom of twilight, and finally went to a pub called “Les Trois Brasseures”. The food was good, and we ordered a “varlet” of beer, which is a 1-litre mug! Woo hoo! Just as we were finished eating, a former student of ours from Seattle who just moved to Montreal to go to university joined us for dessert. As it turned out, I had posted on Facebook that we had arrived in Montreal, and she was online and responded “come look me up!” We gave her a call, found out she was studying in a library only a couple of blocks away, and that was that!

But we couldn’t spend too much time in Montreal, and we promised to give ourselves more time to see the city in the future. After dessert with our former student, we hopped back in the car and drove through the tempestuous rain toward Boston. But we didn’t want to drive through the entire night, and stopped at a small city just south of Concord in New Hampshire called Manchester. We ate a midnight dinner at a cute, ‘50s style diner that had jokes about pilots on the walls like “You know you’ve got a bad pilot when… he rolls down the cockpit window to let his dog stick its head out!” The next morning we were out of the hotel by 1pm and stopped by a post office to mail back home our latin costumes and trophy from Worlds, and Starbucks in south Manchester to grab a quick breakfast. Then, the final leg to Boston!

We arrived in Boston at about 4pm, which was plenty of time to take in some sights before heading to the airport for our 11pm flight. We parked downtown and walked to a Bank of America to make a deposit; then, sightseeing!

At first we wanted to take one of those “Duck Tours”. Peeps from Seattle will know exactly what I’m talking about, and we were surprised to find that Boston offered similar amphibious vehicular tours! But the final public tour was at 4:45, and we arrived at the stand just a few minutes too late to catch the last one. However, we lodged it away in our memories for next time. Instead, we grabbed one of the maps provided by the tour stand and chose four or five points on the map to visit.

The Inner Courtyard of the Boston Public Library

First was the Boston Public Library. OMG!!!! This was the most amazing library I’ve ever seen! Marble floors and stone mosaic walls, fountains out of the walls, a gorgeous outdoor courtyard in the middle of the library with a pond and a statue and fountain in the centre, and books from the 1800s lining the walls from floor to ceiling. It was a Kora Paradise!

Photo by James Lemass of the Public Gardens; pretty much what it looked like for us, too!

Then we made our ways toward the Boston Public Gardens, checking out some gorgeous architecture as we went, including a church that was founded in the 1600s. The Public Gardens is a huge park in the centre of Boston much like New York’s Grand Central Park, only a bit smaller, more beautiful, and older (it was founded in 1837). The gardens were beautiful, with a large pond in the middle with swans swimming around a musicians playing Spanish style guitar. In one section of the park, everyone was out with their dogs. We stopped to watch a dog hunt down a squirrel… and the squirrel almost didn’t make it! Further on, we saw a woman playing fetch with her Pomeranian, which looked just like our dog’s son, Rocky! We watched for a long time and momentarily felt sad. We miss our Foxy!!

Finally, at the end of the park, we arrived at the Boston Courthouse, which is a huge complex of gold-domed buildings. We were actually in search of John F. Kennedy’s residences, which were supposed to be around there. We never found the residences, but instead we found a really cool little speakeasy hidden in an alleyway behind the courthouse called, appropriately, “The 21st Amendment”. Food was good and the inside looked just like an old pub circa 1700.

The inside of the 21st Amendment speakeasy

Boston is probably the first city I’ve been to where I really feel invigorated and “at home”. It’s such a gorgeous city, and even Simeon loved it. The city has pretty much everything we love – a gorgeous park, beautiful architecture, fresh air, and the ocean. The only thing that’s missing, compared to Seattle, are mountains! Strangely enough, I love Seattle so much that I’ve never felt the itch to move away. However, having driven through the New England countryside and exploring Boston, I’m feeling it for the first time in my life. New England is incredibly beautiful; someday (although not in the near future), I’d like to move to New England, and Boston has my vote as the city I’d like to move to. Even some of the suburbs we drove through, like Stoneham, are beautiful places where Simeon and I can both see ourselves living. I think I have finally found a city and a region that rivals the Pacific Northwest.

Btw, pictures coming up on Facebook! Standby!

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Longest Trip on Record!

Our travel from Seattle to Gatineau was arguably one of the longest trips Simeon and I have ever done. Actually, the two days together were one of the longest stints without sleep we’ve ever done!

Every once in a while, Simeon and I either choose or are forced to do a crazy trip. Our first time was years ago, the first time Simeon took me to Bulgaria. We were doing a competition in Las Vegas, and we finished dancing very late. Of course, afterwards, we needed to go eat, so we all took showers, changed, got ready and went out to eat. By the time we got back to the room, it was already 3am, and we needed to leave at 6am, so we just stayed up, since we had to pack our bags anyway. We boarded our flight back to Seattle and arrived home in just enough time to throw in some laundry, repack our bags, and head back out to the airport. Then we boarded a plane for New York, then to Czech Republic, then to Sofia. We arrived in Sofia at 3pm the next day, Bulgaria time (which is 10 hours ahead of Seattle) and forced ourselves to stay awake until 5pm, when we could go to bed without causing too much jet-lag. In all, that still holds the record for our longest stint of no sleep, at 36 hours.

Our second crazy trip was last December. It doesn’t hold a record for no sleep, because technically we did get a night of sleep, but it was terrible sleep for reasons soon to be explained and still qualifies as Crazy Trip No. 2. Last December we competed in Leipzig, in Eastern Germany, at the World Showdance Championships. But because it’s very expensive to fly into Leipzig-Halle Airport, we flew in to Berlin instead. And because in that same trip we were competing in Paris, we decided to book our flight through Paris. On the day of our departure, we left Leipzig early so that we could arrive in Berlin before noon, at which time the car rental company was going to charge us 200 euro for an extra day of car rental. But our flight wasn’t until 4pm, so we dropped off the car and sat around the airport in Berlin’s admittedly pretty cool Starbucks. Then when we went to board our plane, we discovered our plane was delayed by 45 minutes. 45 minutes soon turned into three hours, and three hours after that we landed in Paris-Orly, the International airport in the south of Paris. Our connection to the States was in Charles-De-Gaul Airport, in the north of Paris. The airports offer busses that connect, but because our Berlin flight was 3 hours late, we missed the last bus. So we boarded a train that took us to a subway platform, only to find out that particular subway was out of order. So we scrambled to find another series of trains to take us to Charles-de-Gaul, running in between train platforms and leading an entire mass of people, all of whom spoke a large variety of languages but not one together, to finally arrive somewhere in Northern Paris, but not at the airport. It seemed like the end of the line. Then I heard a guy shouting, “Charles de Gaul! Charles de Gaul!” I ran up to him and, to my surprise, he spoke enough English for me to work out that there were busses loading up for Charles de Gaul. The mass of people we were leading followed us out onto a platform where there were four busses, all loaded down with people. It all seemed very suspicious, and Simeon and I almost expected to be transported into white slavery or something like that. But they took us to Charles de Gaul, where we had to wait for our plane the next morning, at 10am. All the hotel rooms were booked, it was freezing cold outside, and the seating in the airport has armrests between each seat that is impossible to circumnavigate. We slept on the concrete floor, huddled up against the radiators. Then we flew to Atlanta, and finally to Seattle. Yep, crazy.

This one is up there, though! Flying to Canada, and particularly Ottawa, is prohibitively expensive. Last year we flew into Newark airport and drove to Gatineau, so we know it’s approximately a 6 hour drive. But airfare to Newark was above our budget, so instead we flew into Boston. But we got a red-eye flight, and of course, because we’re crazy, we taught almost a full day before leaving. So, I got up early in the morning to dye my hair, clean up the house (as much as I could), and finish packing. Then we headed out and taught a near full day of lessons, complete with errands to post office, etc. All that after an 11-hour day the day before! Anyway, we zoomed out of the studio and drove to Simeon’s parents’ house to pick up his dad so he could take our car, then hurried out to the airport. Check, head to the gate, board the plane, and sit back. No dinner, and the problem is, being that we often don’t go to bed until 3 or 4am, we were too wired to sleep on the plane! At 4am Seattle time, we got off the plane in Boston and rented our car, then immediately started out for Gatineau. From Boston, with no traffic or stops, it’s an 8 hour drive! But of course, because we hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the day before expect plane snacks, we were starving by 9 EST, and ate a hearty breakfast at 10:30. Drive, drive, drive, really cool New England countryside, gorgeous little villages next to a massive lake, and even a Mohawk reservation later, and we finally crossed into Canada. We got into Cornwall just in time for a massive storm! It was so terrible we couldn’t even see the road in front of us.

And then, when we finally got to Gatineau, we went to the same hotel as where we were last year, since the organizer specifically told me, “You’ll be in the same place as last year!” Well, we were not in the same place as last year. We got back in the car with the map in our hands and drove across the city to another hotel, where we were booked. At last, with our luggage in hand, we trudged up to our room, but I still had to tan.

And at long last, after 36 hours, we finally got to go to sleep. I think this trip wins them all!

ps, pictures will be on FB soon!

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