Our Ties to North Dakota

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If you have followed my blog for any stretch of time you may have remembered NN, or, New Neighbor from our home in Bismarck.

Well, we have great news in that they have moved on and we have NNNs. Or, New, New Neighbors!

The fun surprise is that the New New Neighbor actually owns and operates his own heavy equipment. Lets just say, if he can’t move snow, nobody is going anywhere. And, to top it off, they are friends of Brad, (who has featured in my blogs several times and is one of Alistair’s best friends,) which automatically makes them friends of ours. Its a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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Our apple trees in Bismarck last month!

I mention this because I went back to our North Dakota prairie home twice last month. It was a special month although I really didn’t sleep much at all.

I drove back to ND with Alistair a couple of days before he normally would have (2 weeks here, 2 weeks there, going on 12 years now!) and we got to enjoy our Painted Woods Golf Course together again. That course eats golf balls like no other, which makes for great ball-hunting.

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Back at Painted Woods Golf Course in early September.

The main purpose for my going back, though, was to attend one of my former figure skating student’s wedding! Another student was the maid of honor and another was the bride’s attendant. And more skaters and parents attended the wedding, too!

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My last day coaching these ladies before moving to MT. Andrea (bride), me, Alicia (attendant) and Jenna (maid of honor)

I can’t tell you how happy I am to see these young adults, who were pretty cool young people, reach these tremendous milestones in life. I am honored that they want to share these adventures with their old coach and that it meant a lot to the beautiful bride and her parents that I made the journey to be there.

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Alicia (skater), me (coach), Berdina (mom), Linda (mom) and Leanna (skater)

The bride was beautiful, the wedding was lovely and the reception was great fun catching up with everyone.

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Me and Leanna catching up at the reception- she and her mom sat with us so it was perfect!

 

While there I also shared a quick coffee date with my friend, Wendy and before you knew it, I was flying back to Missoula, Montana to get back to work the next day. The kitties and Cleo forgave me because they got to snuggle and cuddle with our dear friend, Jessie, who took over pet/house-sitting again.

And then I got to be a real realtor! I listed my very first home and the learning curve ticked upward yet again.

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Going to put my first lock box on my first listing!!!

The house is absolutely fabulous and its unique in that hardly anyone in town knows about it. I am one of the only realtors in town who has seen the place because it has never been listed since it was finished 10 years ago.

The owners created all sorts of outdoor living space to enjoy the scenery and you really don’t feel like you’re as in-town as you are up there. The house is immaculate with three large bedrooms and a main-floor master suite. There are even views of the majestic Mission Mountains!

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My cute-as-a-button first-ever listing!

It was fun coming up with valuation and a suggested listing price. I had to consider location (ok), quality of construction (high!), square footage (1332), lot size (about half an acre), no covenants or HOAs (lots of places have those around here), available and true comps (listen to me!), and what we have in the area for inventory (not much!)

I’ve got an Open House planned for this coming Thursday even though several realtors have said they don’t bother with hosting them- that they don’t bring many folks or they don’t lead to sales.

I’ve got a different perspective, though, because nobody has seen or shown this house before. Even today, a local retired realtor who lives a couple of blocks from this listing called me to ask where it was. She had been driving around trying to find it. When I took here there she couldn’t believe how almost-hidden, and how beautiful it was.

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Outdoor living space. Come see for yourself from 2-6pm on Thursday the 11th!

I also got a vacant lot on the Double Arrow Ranch listed in September! Its a cute 3-acre parcel that has desirable, burbling  Drew creek running along the back of it. Alistair and I hiked around there one sunny afternoon taking pictures, imagining building sites and trying to figure out which plants were actually huckleberries.

The owners of that one were set on their asking price but in doing my own little calculations I think we will need to come down a bit if we really want to sell it. There are a lot of lots on the Ranch for sale right now and while the creek definitely is a bonus there isn’t a well or septic field yet. So many things to consider!

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On my listed property!

On the heels of all this, I flew back to Bismarck for more adventures. And, after a bit of rain, a couple more rounds of golf at Painted Woods. Both days were wide open with hardly anybody there. We could drive balls into the creek, watch them bounce off into thick prairie grasses, laugh our asses off, make excellent shots and look for more golf balls to our hearts’ content.

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Our last round of the year at Painted Woods- they have already closed for the season.

After our final round we hit the road to Watford City, where we first moved to in the US back in 1994. The reason? Another wedding!

Full-circle time- this was the son of one of the head hockey coaches we hung out with back then. I wasn’t a veterinarian (or a published author or a realtor) when I was fresh out of the ice shows, eager to teach power skating to the local hockey club. Dave, the father of the groom, was one of the pioneers there who recognized the value of being the first guy to get to the puck and he supported me completely.

Alistair & I eventually coached as well and in a town of less than 2000 (at that time- its different now, thank-you, oil fields) everyone knew everyone. They all knew my Raise the Roof ice show projects that we hosted there and it was pretty amazing for us to be back.

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Coaches, Arden, me, Doug and Dave (father of the groom) with the Samuelson boys in the background.

How great, again, to see young people we coached or knew as they celebrate with one another such a special occasion. Extra bonus was seeing our “other daughter”, Morgan, who was one of the bridesmaids. The look of surprise on her face was priceless when she first saw us. We got to catch up and talk about work (she’s a RN now), her upcoming marriage (she’s engaged to one of my stepson’s former hockey team-mates), and our lives in general.

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Me & Morgie! (not my picture)

While it was a lot of driving and a bit hectic last month (all the while dealing with our house insurance claim nightmare, the moving of tens of thousands of dollars, Mr.Frigging Cooper, and getting a new roof that’s worth over 80 grand), it made perfect sense to go to both weddings and visit with friends.

Most of these friends have supported me in all of my crazy careers and adventures and they have all played important roles in our lives. We have all stayed in touch while we’ve all grown a little older and gained a few more grey hairs.

Social media is terrific for keeping us all informed of each others’ lives but it doesn’t hold a candle to a real-life hug and shared, in-person laughter.

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Back on our Double Arrow Golf Course in Montana!

We drove back to Montana where I got back to work and Alistair got 4 cords of wood stacked while watching the roofers finally get to start doing their thing. The brand-new roof is industrial strength and top of the line. It also looks awesome but I won’t go into that right now. I’ve got to get groceries for an Open house I’m planning this week!

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New roof! (and Jockey!)

September was exhausting and yet fabulous at the same time. We are truly lucky to have so many wonderful friends in our lives, even if we’re miles and miles apart. And what a privilege to watch fun young people grow up to be physical therapists, nurses, adventurers, skating or hockey coaches, spouses, and parents. What memorable reunions!

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My skaters and their moms supporting me at my first book signing! Leanna, Alicia, Berdina, Andrea and her mom, Elaine in 2015

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the Watford City Oilers supported and helped out with my 2 Raise the Roof ice shows… there’s Doug’s son and one of those Samuelson boys! (1996, I believe)

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Alistair and I got a tour of the incredible Rough Rider center with the 2 ice rinks named after Arden and Dave!

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And now the change is upon us.

 

 

Eigo Kyoshi… Tan in Tokyo

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A student named Mayu, January 1993

Someone once told me if you went traveling the world and you came home with money you did it wrong.

He clearly didn’t know me.

Or the Me of back then.

An independent, confidant, somewhat-naïve and uptight young woman who didn’t want to worry about money during the rest of her well-planned future.

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Summer of 1992… okay, some of Me is still here now. You can’t take the Crazy out of someone.

I grew up hearing about money my entire life. I knew the value of a dollar and waitressed and coached figure skating so I could cover rent, tuition, car expenses and food.

I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a girl and we lived as cheaply as we could but I knew I wanted more out of life.

My fiancé was 20 thousand dollars in debt and I wasn’t about to marry into that. I knew we needed to make some money if we were going to have any type of chance in the world.

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My castmates & I going out one night during my first show in southern Japan.

So I stopped school. I always knew I would return but it would be when I could afford it without having to work at the same time.

I took advantage of a good friend’s offer and packed up and joined the cast of American Ice Show at Mitsui Greenland in southern Japan.

At the time, 2 of my first cousins were living and working in Tokyo as English teachers and were doing financially quite well.

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Embracing all that Japan has to offer! Showgirls and the owner of the bar… likely doing some John Denver or Neil Diamond…

I liked Japan from what I learned during the ice show and my cousin offered a room until I could get on my own feet so I went for it.

I flew to Tokyo on my 19th birthday in 1992 and began perusing the English newspapers and pounding the pavement looking for work.

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My beautiful cousins, Jeff & Joanne and I at a train station in Tokyo soon after I first arrived.

My cousins helped immensely, especially without having to worry about a place to stay right off the bat and they helped guide me as to how I should portray myself.

Namely, as a 26 year old with a full teaching degree from the University of Vancouver (which doesn’t exist). I’m sure nowadays you can’t get away with that sort of thing but the Internet wasn’t available and I was keen enough to make sure I was convincing.

I phoned, I faxed resumes, I went for interviews with my briefcase, I carried maps, I got lost, I bumped into people, I got somewhat used to cramming onto a train with my body touching other bodies, I learned Shinjuku and Shibuya stations, I got lost some more but I just kept at it.

Within a couple of weeks I was working at Harmony Schools, 2 train rides from my cousin’s condo in Kami-Kitazawa.

It was a new start-up by a young man named Randy who was born in the states but had Japanese heritage. I liked Randy and I liked his ambition and I enjoyed the school.

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Randy, myself and his girlfriend celebrating Halowe’en with Harmony Schools!

I liked the kids and I liked them covering my train pass but it wasn’t a full time gig. I wasn’t making enough yen to move out on my own.

I continued to pound the pavement and finally nailed a head teaching position with American Language Schools in Chiba (the “country”), which was 2 hours by train south of Tokyo.

The job was perfect! They had their own curriculum and textbooks, regular training with colleagues, several schools throughout the country and my own apartment within walking distance of my school!

Conpai!

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My apartment as seen from the kitchen/bathroom/entrance/hallway area.

Now, don’t get too excited. We aren’t talking fancy schmancy or anything. I was lucky enough to have a Western toilet, at least, and a TV.

Not that there were any English channels.

And not that I could follow any of the bizarre Japanese reality-type of game shows.

But I had a kotatsu table and a single futon and eventually got a wardrobe to hang my clothes in.

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Runa (perhaps it was Luna… to this day I don’t know) and Akiko!

And I had my school! My very own school!

And I worked 6 days a week and I dressed like a business-woman and I carried that briefcase and I wrote a letter every single day to my fiancé and I met coworkers and we had a lovely receptionist and I liked my boss so much and I learned a lot about what kids went through living in the highly competitive Japanese world of the early 90s.

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Very stressed young women trying their hardest to get into the top universities in order to be successful in life. After a few months they began to smile but they always had dark circles under their eyes. Rena, in stripes, sometimes talked about suicide.

I had a class of 3 very intelligent young women whose families paid top yen to have them be conversational in English so they could get into the best universities.

Image was everything and your family was seen as successful if your kid got into the best school. Even if she was just a girl.

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A more relaxed class of youngsters with their geigin teacher, Tan’iya-san.

I had 2 2-year olds I played with for an hour once a week just so the children heard spoken English at that age. Even my boss, Jun thought that was a bit much but she understood it.

Jun, herself was an incredible woman. A business owner! A woman! She owned 3 ALS schools and although she didn’t speak English very well she appreciated how that limited her in life. Jun was married but I never met her husband and she didn’t talk about him unless asked.

They all knew I was engaged because I talked about it frequently and everyone knew I wrote letters home to him every day.

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My colleague, Will, visiting our school one afternoon.

Jun encouraged her teachers to hang out so Will and Charles became very good friends of mine.

Charles was there to see the world and make some money. He visited Thailand when we were there, drank wine and was a fun influence on me.

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Enjoying supper with the boys… I think it was Chuck’s place and his Kotatsu. There is a heater under the table. Brilliant!

Will was pretty uptight and had some anti-American angst and was extremely sarcastic. He is probably still teaching with ALS.

But they were my friends and the 3 of us had some good times together.

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Charles & I. The boys actually got me out to do some sight seeing one rare afternoon.

And I taught and I wrote letters home and I wrote in my journal and I read all about teaching and I memorized my REM and James Taylor cassette tapes and I tried not to think about the fact I had no idea what I was buying at the grocery store and I ate a lot of donuts and drank a lot of coffee and I tried to get used to the earthquakes and I avoided eyes with my Yakuza neighbors (who were probably more scared of the little independent white girl with big round eyes than I was of them, pinkies missing and all) and I lived like that for months.

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Jun, in the navy blazer often took her teachers out. Charles and I were the lucky ones this night.

I look back at my chubby cheeks smiling away and I know that I was happy. I was doing what I wanted to be doing and I was making the money I was there to make.

But I missed a lot, too.

I could have gone to Thailand with Chuck, it was a cheap enough flight for the weekend.

I could have gone to more events with young, male students who wanted to practice conversational English in a public setting.

And I could have tried to find parks to walk around in instead of dreary train stations or paid for cable so I could listen to someone speak English now and then (Top Gun in Japanese was hysterical, though!)

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looking out towards Chiba city from the Tsudanuma JR train platform by my apartment

But the Me back then isn’t the Me of now.

I’m probably less confidant now. I know that things can go wrong.

That fiancés become ex’s and you maybe don’t come home with tens of thousands of dollars.

That sometimes your entire life that you have mapped out for yourself at 19 changes. The train jumps the tracks and that briefcase spills your life out on the tarmac and you’re back in Canada without a clue of what to do.

A foreigner in your own country feeling lost even though you’re surrounded by people speaking the same language.

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Akiko, our school secretary, Jun and the cutest assistant whose name I didn’t write on the pictures seeing me off at Narita international airport.

I am who am now because of who I was back then.

I don’t necessarily miss that young version of myself. I admire her courage and her ambition.

But I wished her well when the wheels touched down in Vancouver.

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A fun afternoon with the boys. I love Chuck’s tie!

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Students who were in college. We were all likely the same age but remember, Tan’iya San was 26!

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A young-looking 26!

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Walking around Harajuku one afternoon…. Gwen Stefani nailed that place on the head!

 

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Selfies of 1993.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21 Years Later…

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Right around this time of year, 21 years ago, I met Alistair.

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Some promo pics taken after the show, the night Alistair was in the stands watching

We were set up by mutual friends and we both had big things coming up in our lives that made it kind of silly to start a relationship.

I had contracted to return to Japan for 2 more ice shows starting a month after we met and he was moving to the United States.

We were going nowhere as a couple.

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Oh, Patti…. if you only knew! (Maybe you did) 🙂

But this wonderful, fun, special friend of mine set us up.

She also helped bring me in to guest skate that night in Creston for their skating club’s annual ice show.

I had babysat Patti’s kids when they lived down the road from us in Grand Forks and we had kept in touch over the years.

That year, 1994, I was living in Nelson. I was coaching both there and in Grand Forks, which was 90 minutes over a mountain pass away.

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One of my Nelson students, Jessica. I don’t think she’ll kill me for posting this.

I have always loved coaching. I loved helping kids achieve their goals and watching them improve and seeing the joy in their eyes when they, too, knew they had improved.

Or passed tests.

Or won medals.

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One of my Grand Forks skaters, Tyler. I’m actually more concerned that he has the connections to kill me for posting this but he is a well-respected coach now, too, so hopefully its all good.

That was a strange year for me, spending so much time on the road in ‘Duff’, my Mercury Topaz.

I had returned from a year of teaching English in Japan with several extra pounds and no fiancée. I was a half-assed vegetarian who kind of stopped drinking for awhile.

I blamed meat and alcohol for my weight gain but, really, it was just me learning how to be an adult in a body that wasn’t training umpteen hours in a day. And, really, you can’t have Kahlua and cream every night and not pay for it.

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One of my Nelson students, Laura. Always a pretty smile on her face and she always got the jokes.

I came back to Canada without any of the goals I’d had before I went to Japan. I’d broken up with my fiancée by phone (I sympathized with Rory McIlroy last year when he did the same… hey, sometimes its the only way, alright?) and returned without any expectation of meeting anyone.

Which is why I threw myself into my work.

Until I met this guy.

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Schwing!

He was in the audience and our mutual friends took us out for drinks afterwards and I was leaving and he was moving and we weren’t going anywhere.

But after our first meeting he drove from Creston to Nelson to watch my big ice show there, Starstruck.

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Me and my girls from our opening number in Startstruck, Hot Hot Hot!

The biggest show I’ve ever choreographed and produced, this was a big deal.

It was also a bit of a family affair.

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Little sis, ready for her modeling gig in the show

My sister came in as a guest skater for the show and also did a little modeling in one of the routines.

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Svetlana working on my sister’s ‘do for the show

My cousin, Svetlana, a stylist, donated her time and did the girls’ hair for us all.

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Me and a very young Robyn in Nelson

Even my little cousins, Robyn and Pamela were there from Victoria and came to watch the show with their folks. (Robyn is now a major model in NYC…. I can only hope the sequins, spandex and makeup from 1994 inspired her!)

And there was Alistair… happily joining in the celebrations and helping me host my champagne breakfast and video review the following morning.

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Some of my Grand Forks skaters at their ice show that same spring!

And then he was in Grand Forks watching me guest skate again and cheer on my students in their annual ice show a couple of weeks later.

That’s the same weekend I met his kids.

Which was a weird deal for a lot of 21 year-olds but it didn’t seem weird to me at all.

They were just his kids.

And they were pretty cute, and old enough to eat and pee on their own, which is obviously a bonus.

And they met me in sequins and spandex and fishnets and I tell you, there is something magical about that when you’re a little kid!

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Our hotel room in Spokane with my going-away buddy, Seemore

And then he took me to the airport in Spokane and sent me on my way to Japan to be Sailor Moon and a glitzy showgirl all over again.

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My bedmates in our little house in Japan

Without the Internet back then we wrote letters and faxes and fell deeper in love… old school style.

And when I came home 2 months later I stayed with him in his beautiful log home in Creston with his sheep, Golden Retriever, ducks, geese and horses.

And I made some changes to myself.

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Getting a grip on who I was with a big old smile (and horribly high-waisted pants! Ick!)

And Alistair embraced my quirks and my humor and even my family.

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Little sis and her friend and I before a ride… said Friend fell off her horse twice that day. I didn’t know that was possible, to be honest.

And we moved to the states and his kids spent the summers with us and we became our own little family and we never cared much about our age difference and I went back to school and he was a doctor and all the while he kept on supporting my skating and coaching needs.

We didn’t have an indoor ice rink in Watford City, ND, but I had brave friends from Nelson and Grand Forks who would help with that.

And hard working, incredible friends in Watford City (Tim & Wendy) who amazingly agreed to help make this fundraiser happen.

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The first Raise The Roof ice show with Tim & Wendy (my ND support group and source of sanity), Little sis, Jen, Leslie, Laura, Shantalla and Alistair

We put Raise The Roof together, revamping that Hot Hot Hot opening number on the outdoor rink and indoors in Williston. Each of us performed solo routines as well.

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Laura, so impressed with the outdoor rink… but still smiling!

It was cold but it was pretty awesome at the same time. People sat in their cars with their headlights on, adding to the lights of the outdoor rink for the show there.

The crack that extended across the width of the rink from the cold only became a problem when Jen got her toe pick caught.

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So much silliness and laughter in this pic, along with so much respect for the skaters & hockey players who joined my show and performed because I asked them to.

The Watford City hockey boys were part of the show, too, and I am amazed that they participated and maybe had fun. (Pictures are from the indoor rink in Williston, where we spent the next 30 minutes signing autographs).

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The boys and I… hard to believe they actually wanted a part of this after what I would put them through in Power Skating

And all along, Alistair has supported this.

These dreams, these zany visions and notions I have. We did a Raise The Roof the following year but none of the Nelson girls made it. My sister and a castmate from Ice Capades joined us, though, so there was some continuity.

And its crazy fun that I’m Facebook Friends with so many of the skaters in this blog (and their parents!)

What began as a blog about step-parenting turned into a stroll down Nostalgia Lane and back to the frozen world of figure skating.

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Looking like this, you’d think I would have driven a Subaru back then (no, that’s not my car in the background…. Mercury Topaz, remember?)

It turned into a review of who I was in 1994… a young woman who had been on her own and traveled and lived and done the ice shows and been engaged and coached in two cities and drove too many miles and experimented with a variety of styles and looks and didn’t have any animal companions and finally went back to being a carnivore who enjoys her red wine.

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Becoming Me, with Babe and Shadow along to help.

And a gorgeous boyfriend with 2 cute kids and nobody to give advice on what to do because none of my friends were going through that back then.

Sinead O’Conner sang, “How could I possibly know what I want when I was only twenty one”….

I didn’t necessarily know exactly what I wanted but I knew I was enjoying what I had.

Immensely.

With no more Kahlua and creams….

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My show girls… before boarding the train for 2 days to get back to Spokane. Thanks, Shantalla, Diana, Laura and Jen! I think of you guys often and its always with a smile. xo