Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hip Hop Diva

Heart pounding, knees a bit rubbery, face caked with make-up, I ran onto the court of the Rose Garden, home of the Portland Trailblazers for my hip hop debut. Ignoring the random people on the court and cords snaking around the perimeter, I took a deep breath and plastered on a fake smile, ready to dance. When the music finally reached my ears, I hesitated for only a second before bursting into the routine I'd practiced for months. My experience performing during pre-game festivities of an NBA game is a mixture of pride, joy, and silliness. For the past 2 years or so, I've been taking tap dancing classes at a local studio, joining the competition group last year. The studio is constantly being invited to take part in a variety of shows--just this Christmas, we performed in an airplane hangar. This time the invitation came from the Portland Trailblazers. The studio owners immediately acquiesed and began putting together some of their top performing groups for the show. And then they invited the adults. The studio offers an aerobic hip hop class, known as "Hip Hop Shape Up." I don't take this class, although I did briefly for a summer session once. Regardless, they asked the adults in any of the competition groups to participate. Considering that I'd never been to an NBA game and the fact that the rehearsals were immediately after my tap class, I joined the fun. I really did have a great time, even if I ended up in a very Madonna-as-the-Material-Girl get-up. Performing on center court was exhilarating. Who cares if the only people in the stands were the assorted family members who had made the trip down from Washington? In fact, Jon's dad and his wife joined us in Portland for a mini-vacation. And as an added bonus, we got to catch a basketball game (even if the NBA is sort of boring with a lack of defense and nothing but 3-pointers and slam dunks). (Against my better judgment, I would like to throw out there that I purchased the video, so if you're ever in the mood for some fabulous dancing, let me know.)

On the Beach

For Christmas this year, Jon's sister had the ingenious idea to take a family trip rather than buying each other stuff. So, we chose a weekend in late February and rented a beachhouse in Seabrook, a slightly too-perfect village on the Washington coast. On Friday night and Saturday morning, we gathered with Jon's mom, sisters, and respective husbands (and dogs) for a weekend of relaxing, eating, and playing. The "Moondance Cottage" was almost too good to be true. Big enough for each couple to have their own space, the house was equipped with a spacious kitchen, huge dining room table, multiple flat screen televisions, a Wii, a grill, bicycles, and a hot tub. If we could have, I think we all would have moved in.

Jon and I took advantage of the nice weather and sweet location to go jogging on the beach. We then hit the shuffleboard court (or whatever it's called) to challenge his mom and her husband to a spirited match (or whatever it's called). The entire group took an excursion to Ocean Shores, complete with a drive--yes, drive--on the beach. Toodling along as if it were the most ordinary road in the world, we passed a taxi cab, a motor-scooter, multiple horses, and a sealion posing for the masses.

We enjoyed Ocean Shore's tourist-friendly atmosphere for some yummy clam chowder, a trip around the go-kart track, and a stop at the local grocery store for BBQ fixings. Yes, we were able to barbecue in February. Before we knew it though, it was time to head back to Seabrook for a sunset beach trek. I simply can't get enough of the sunset, and when it's over a body of water, the aesthetic factor multiplies exponentially. Jon stopped at the house to pick up his guitar and away we went. We soaked up every minute of sunset we could, serenaded by Jon's acoustic stylings. If you asked him, he'd tell you that he's typically too busy to play his guitar, so it was nice that the vacation afforded him with the time and opportunity to do so. Yet, as usually happens, darkness fell and it was time to head back to the house for dinner. In true vacation-mode, we stayed up late chatting, simultaneously watching the Winter Olympics and playing Wii Winter Olympics, and taking a dip in the hot tub. Jon and I were joined by his sister in our beach jog the following morning before preparing a breakfast of Swedish pancakes. And then, all too soon, it was time to head back to the "real world." Of course, not before pledging to return to the Moondance the next opportunity we get.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

I am an Olympics junkie. For two weeks every two years (I don't discriminate between the Winter and Summer Games), I care deeply about triple axels, 4 x 400 relay teams, doping scandals, medal counts, and tug-on-your-heartstrings human interest stories. I watch NBC exclusively (don't even get me started on the lack of coverage from the Canadian Broadcasting Company--CBC), regardless of what event is on. Jamaican bobsledding? Sounds great. Lithuanian basketball? Sign me up. Bob Costas' commentary on underwater basketweaving? I'm there. So, when we put 2 and 2 together and realized that we were a mere four hours away from the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, we knew we had to take advantage of such a felicitous opportunity. (Actually, I think Jon realized that his marriage pretty much depended on our attendance.) Due to--or in spite of--our procrastination, we procured tickets to the first night of short track speed skating competition, even though we pretty much know nothing about the event, other than the fact that competitors skate ridiculously fast, wear helmets in preparation for an impending crash, and sometimes compete on Dancing with the Stars. Our tickets were for Saturday, the day after the Opening Ceremonies. Due to a well-timed day off of work, we headed up to Jon's dad's house--putting us two hours closer to the action--Thursday night. Friday was a day of preparation for the big event; by preparing, I mean sleeping in, eating too much, and staying up late to watch the aforementioned Opening Ceremonies. We were joined by a good friend and houseguest, so bright and early Saturday morning, the three of us headed to Canada: America's Hat. Personally, I was expecting a long wait at the border crossing, but the customs officials on both sides were well-prepared for the additional traffic, so we breezed right through. Once in Vancouver, the Olympic fever only increased. We met up with some friends for lunch in the Granville Market (Vancouver's Pike Place) and headed to a brewery to catch some televised action. All too soon, it was time to start making our way to the short track venue, so Jon and I jumped onto some public transportation and began the gamut of ticket scalpers and security checkpoints. We settled into our seats, which were good, although not as close as our outrageous ticket prices would imply. Equipped with the requisite cowbell, we were ready for some skating action. We knew it would be incredible to watch world-class athletes, but it exceeded all expectations. We immediately got swept up into the action. Cheering until our voices were hoarse and banging the cowbell in a way that would make Will Ferrell proud, we sat on the edge of our seats as we watched the Men's 1500 meter event and the preliminary rounds of the Women's 500 meter and 3000 meter relay events. When the Canadian couple in front of us sprung from their seats during one of the heats of the Women's 500 meter race, we figured out that their daughter was competing. (In fact, we later learned that she won the silver medal later in the week.) Yes, we were that close to the action.

The most exciting part of the night was the finals of the Men's 1500 meter. We were present for Apolo Anton Ohno's then-record-tying 6th medal, which came as a result of the unexpected crash of two Korean skaters. In addition to Apolo's silver, American J.R. Celski won the bronze. (As a side note, both Ohno and Celski hail from Federal Way, a town only about 30 miles from where we currently live.) I caught the event on a poorly recorded video...except for the exciting conclusion when the guy in front of me jumped up, right into my shot.

video

Celski, Korea's Lee Jung-su, and Ohno

Our over-priced tickets also earned us entry into a hospitality lounge, so after gorging on some fancy food, we met up again with our friend. We checked out Vancouver's Olympic nightlife and headed back to the good ol' USA. We opted not to stay in Vancouver because it would have been too expensive, but after driving for two hours late at night with two dozing co-pilots, I think Jon would have forked over the money. We had such a blast, we went back the next day (after sleeping in, of course). The friends we met the previous day went to a USA women's hockey game in the morning, so we met them after a nailbiting 12-1 victory over China. Vancouver was bustling with people bursting with Olympic spirit. However, to my surprise, the majority of them were Canadian. I know we were in Canada, but I was expecting more of an international feel. In fact, when we crashed the German Fan Fest/Beer Tent, it was nearly all Canadians. We learned this when the crowd erupted into a spirited rendition of "Oh Canada" upon the gold medal victory of one of their mogul skiers. Regardless, we had a fantastic time with our bratwurst and beer. Next on the agenda was to find the illustrious Olympic torch. We were slightly disappointed to discover that it was surrounded by a temporary, construction-grade chainlink fence, but joined the throngs of other people to stick our camera through said fence to snap a couple of pictures. We hit up a few more hot spots and then it was time once again to return to America (after the obligatory trip to the souvenir store, of course).

I still can't believe we actually went to the Olympics. Our marriage is safe. Now, how many days until London 2012?!?

Mush!

If you are ever asked to go dog sledding do you
A) laugh hysterically at the absurdity and unlikelihood of such a plan?
B) refuse based on the fact that approximately 0 inches of snow fell all winter?
C) accept immediately even if you don't know exactly what you're getting yourself into?
If you're anything like us, the obvious choice is C. When Jon's dad asked us to join him and his wife on a dog sled excursion back in February, we jumped at the chance. The whole plan came together when it was discovered that the sister of Jon's dad's wife owns somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 sled dogs. Nothing out of the ordinary there. In addition to racing the aforementioned sled dogs, the family also takes visitors on tours. They had an open weekend and graciously volunteered to let us take part in a sled ride.
We, along with Jon's dad, sister, and respective spouses, rented a condo in Washington's Bavarian mecca, Leavenworth. Even though we were further up in the mountains, the snow was less than ideal. However, we were determined to ride on a sled pulled by dogs, so that Saturday morning, we headed out to a dog sled/snowmobile trail. I really didn't know what to expect from the whole experience, but I will say that my frozen fingers and toes (I have bad circulation, okay?) were totally worth it because we had a blast.
The dogs absolutely thrive on their job of pulling a sled and could barely contain their excitement and energy. As soon as we were all settled in, they took off at a pretty good clip, despite the slushy snow. There were two sleds: a double and a one-seater. Jon and I got to ride together and were expertly guided by his dad's step-niece. Once we got past the area where all the cars and snowmobiles were parked, we were treated to a picturesque winter scene unfolding before us: snowflakes dancing in the air (more likely from the feet of the dogs than from the sky), framed by majestic evergreen trees on either side, snowcapped mountains ahead, and a clear blue-gray sky above. The only sound was the crunch of snow underfoot and under-sled.
Until the dogs made a wrong turn.
But again, our expert guide quickly straightened them out and we continued our ride. All too soon it was over...and the dogs were exhausted.
We took advantage of our location and finished out the weekend the following day with a nice morning of cross country skiing, the only kind of skiing I can--and will--do. Mostly it was for the exercise, but I think just a little part of us was trying to gear up for our next adventure: the Winter Olympics.

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