Great News for Apple Grande Lovers

I got a great tweet response from Taco Johns today. I’m so excited about it, that I had to share!


















Some people think the idea of a giant sweet tortilla chip covered with apple pie filling, sprinkled with what is basically crushed red hots and cheese might not sound good, but to me, it’s delicious!!

I used to look forward to this little dessert as a perfect compliment to my softshell taco with sour cream. For about a year, I have been unable to get them. This made me a sad panda. Now, I’ll be able to get them again, at least for a little while. I can’t wait!

This has been a public service announcement. You’re welcome! :-)

PS. Thank you Taco Johns for letting me know!


Diamond Nationals – 2014

061Last weekend, was Michael’s 3rd karate tournament, the Diamond Nationals. This tournament brings the best of the best from all over the country (and Canada) to compete. The black belts who make it into the “night show” are competing for a $10K diamond ring. WOW!

I remember back when I took Kung Fu, watching my friends compete in the Diamonds (as we called it). I always looked forward to this tournament, because it brought out the best competitors. The black belts are AMAZING to watch! My favorite are the Musical Forms, Creative Forms, and Creative Weapons Forms. The gymnastics they can do are nothing short of spectacular!

Michael doing his form, Hadong.

Michael doing his form, Hadong.

Anyway, we walked in to the hotel in Bloomington, MN, where the tournament was held. Michael got very nervous about the number of people there! His first tournament, he had very few people he competed against, the second, there were a few more. By the time it was time for him to compete, he wouldn’t talk to anyone, wouldn’t acknowledge his aunt and cousin who came to watch him, and he kept yawning. These are all weird behaviors for him. He is usually very talkative, and his auntie and cousin Andrew are pretty much two of his favorite people in the world! He had gotten plenty of sleep, so he shouldn’t have been tired. He later said to me, “Apparently, when I’m nervous, I yawn a lot.”

Michael receiving his scores for form.

Michael receiving his scores for form.

There were so many boys in his age category, 8-9 year old red belts, that they had to split them into two rings. They tried to make sure boys from the same dojo weren’t competing against each other. There were about 8 boys in Michael’s final group for forms. Michael’s name was drawn to go first. I’m never sure if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. He did a great job, but was still very nervous. He rushed a bit, but hit his power moves hard, and yelled nice and loud. There was some very good competition he was up against.

Once the other competitors went, it was time for judging. Michael’s scores were 9.83, 9.86, and either 9.85 or 9.87. Awesome scores; we thought he was in 4th place by the end of judging. Unfortunately, he ended up as a Finalist, 5th place. He was the last finalist called before 4th. It must have been VERY close between those two positions. While he would have loved to take home a trophy, he now has a plaque to put on the wall by his belts.

Two points white! Michael was white! :-)

Two points white! Michael was white! :-)

After form, it was time for sparring. It looked like the number of boys sparring, was triple those competing in form. They wrapped around 2 sides of the ring. Again, they split them into two rings. Michael’s ring had an uneven number of competitors in it. He ended up being picked for a bye for the first round. The boy he sparred first won his first match, and had repeated reminders that head contact was to be light. That would psych anyone out a bit. Michael went in there, and put up a good fight. He didn’t win, but he didn’t just let the other kid take the win either. The first boy he lost to, won the entire division, so we couldn’t feel too bad about Michael’s loss against him.

Since he lost his first match, he was put in the Consolation Bracket. He won his first match. It was very impressive! He’s very good at kicks, and using them helps him rack up the points.

His 3rd sparring match was for Consolation (4th place). It was a very close match, and was tied when they called time. The next point would win the Consolation trophy. Both boys were determined not to lose. They both kicked (and landed) at the same time. It really could have been anyone’s point. Unfortunately, 2 out of 3 judges’ opinions count. It was 2 judges for the other boy, one for Michael. The call was mistaken, not because it went for the other boy, but because one said 2 points for the other boy, one said 1 point. It was called as two points. Oh well. Michael took 5th place, and received a Finalist’s plaque. That makes 2 plaques for the wall.

Michael and his Finalist plaques.

Michael and his Finalist plaques.

After Michael competed, we went to lunch with his aunt and cousin. Then we went back to hang out at the hotel until it was time for the night show. Grace and I watched some amazing black belts compete for their place in the night show. Wow!

We also watched Michael’s karate teacher, Mr. Hallberg, spar in hopes to make it to the night show. This was not his year, but it was fun to watch them spar!

During our hours of hanging out, Michael asked some random boy walking by if he wanted to spar. For the next 2+ hours, Michael and this boy, Kyle, sparred (with no pads, of course), and hung out. They really seemed to enjoy themselves! When it was time to line up for our seats for the night show, the adults stood in line… Michael, Kyle, a few other kids from Forte’s American Karate, and some other random karate kids were all hanging out. All the sudden, a group of them, ranging from ages 6 to about 11 or 12, sat in a circle. We wondered what they were doing, until one got up and started going around the circle saying, “Duck… Duck….” Apparently, even tough kids can play Duck, Duck, Gray Duck!  That’s what we call it in MN. Don’t even get me started on the Duck, Duck, Goose controversy.

The night show was amazing, and made it well worth the $35 we paid to be spectators for the day. It was a pretty steep price though, for those who only came to watch during the day. They really should have had a reduced price spectator fee for those (such as Michael’s aunt and cousin) who only came to watch the competitors during the day.

Yes, those ARE my two kids sticking their tongues out... Sheesh. Master Forte and his wife were sitting just outside the scope of this picture.

Yes, those ARE my two kids sticking their tongues out… Sheesh. Master Forte and his wife were sitting just outside the scope of this picture.

Besides the amazing forms, weapons, and sparring we saw that night, the coolest part, was that most of Team Spartan (the White Bear portion of Team Forte), sat together. Master Forte, and his wife Laura sat with us too. I enjoyed watching him having as much fun as the rest of the group. There was a great comeraderie that night between kids, parents, and Master Forte.

I think all the kids were inspired to continue to get better at karate. They were even talking about wanting to do a “Team Form”, where they all do their form in unison. That would be so cool! I think some of them were also inspired to take more gymnastics so they could do amazing creative forms too!

I’m excited to see what the next year holds for Team Spartan, and Team Forte as a whole!


MN State Karate Championships – 2014

The last weekend of September, Michael competed in his 2nd karate tournament, the Minnesota State Karate Championships. It was held at the Earle Browne Heritage Center; a nice location with plenty of room for the tournament. This tournament was significantly larger than the first one he competed in last summer.

017Team Forte has grown tremendously. So much so, that the two Forte’s locations have split into two teams (all competing as representatives of their studio). Michael had many friends from his team competing that day. What was really cool, was that all teammates cheered each other on (unless they were competing in separate rings at the same time). The camaraderie I saw that day was impressive!

Michael was really nervous for this tournament, because it was going to be his first time sparring in a tournament. He also knew he went way too fast in the last tournament with his form, and he needed to slow it down. I was so thankful for Mr. Munson, one of the black belts who had previously been his teacher, for being there. He pulled Michael aside and helped him calm down. He told him to remember his yells on the power moves. That the reason for those yells, was to help you remember to breathe, and to take a pause. This would also help him slow down.

The advice helped, because he did a really great job on his form! He ended up taking 3rd place, but easily could/should have had 2nd. Later in the day, one of the ring judges, a Grandmaster (10th degree black belt), complimented Michael on his kicks. He also told Michael that he had him at 1st place in his mind. I’m not sure Michael realized what an honor that was!


Michael is the red belt in the white uniform. Two of the three kids in the corner are friends of his from Team Forte, the other is their little sister.

After forms were done, it was time for sparring. This mama had flashbacks of being about 17, and sparring in a tournament. I got a really hard side kick to the chest that knocked the wind out of me. I had never had this happen before, and started to cry. I was in pain from the kick, and felt humiliated for crying in the ring. My fear was that this would happen to my poor 9 year old son, and there was nothing I would be able to do about it.

Luckily, it was nothing like that! Nowadays, they have head gear and chest pads, in addition to the hand and foot pads we had. The match started, and I was so nervous for him. Then I remembered, or rather he showed everyone, his awesome kicking skills. I think he forgot he also had hands that could be used for anything but blocking in that first round. This worked in his favor though, because points earned with kicks receive 2 points, while points earned by punches are only worth 1. He won his first round. I was so excited for him!

The second round, he found his hands, but forgot about his feet! Unfortunately, when the opponent is scoring 2 points at a time, and you are only scoring one, you don’t win. It was a great match though! I was very proud of how hard he fought, and yet, kept his control. It didn’t even seem to bother him that he didn’t win that round. In the end, he took 2nd place in sparring.

For a larger tournament, I was very happy with how he did! He was so excited by his trophies, that I think he wanted to hold them all day! :-)

Later in the day, I introduced him to Master John Lysaght, from USA Karate. He used to train with Master Forte. I knew him as a parent of a past preschooler. When Master Lysaght asked Michael what his favorite thing about karate tournaments was, Michael said, “Hanging out with my friends. When we are at karate, we don’t just get to hang out.” Fair enough. I’m glad he doesn’t feel so much pressure that he loses his enjoyment of the day. 067

I got to watch Master Lysaght compete with a musical form later in the day. He did awesome! Back when I competed, those were my favorite to watch! Must be my dance background that makes me love forms set to music so much.

At the end of the day, Mr. Hallberg, Michael’s current teacher, and a 3rd degree black belt, was competing in sparring. Much of Team Forte’s Spartans (the White Bear branch of the team) stayed to cheer on Mr. Hallberg. It was a whole different ballgame with the black belts! They wore head gear, hands and feet, but no chest guard. The hits were much harder, and there were many to the head. The kids seemed a bit concerned, though he did an amazing job sparring! He won the first match, and his minions went wild! Unfortunately, he didn’t win the second match, but he fought hard.

Overall, it was a fun day!

Here are a few more pictures from the day:



Some members of Team Forte with their trophies from the tournament.

Michael with Mr. Hallberg

Michael with Mr. Hallberg


Michael working his form.

Picture This?

Parenting a teenager is hard. We all know about the hormones causing mood swings, attitudes, self-esteem and self-confidence issues. As adults, we’ve been there, we get it. It sucks. It sucks for the teens, and it sucks for the parents. That’s not what I’m talking about today.

Here’s what I’ve been struggling with. I’m going to take you back to earlier this week… Grace had her fitting for her first pair of pointe shoes. This was a big day for her! I think I was as excited as she was! I never got to dance en pointe when I was a younger dancer. Neither of us had a clue what to expect.

I REALLY wanted to document this big day. Anyone from our dance studio might tell you I’m a bit of a spaz when it comes to taking pictures. I joke that I’m the “Stalkarazzi” of our dance studio. I mostly take pictures of my daughter’s group and her friends, but I try to get a little of everyone. Why? Because I enjoy sharing them with the other parents and teachers at the studio. I’m not a great photographer, but I enjoy taking pictures, and I enjoy sharing them.

Guess what? I didn’t take one single picture at the pointe fitting. WHY NOT??? Because my daughter is a teenager.

This year, she is moving up to a brand new Teen Company group at Lake Area Dance Studio. She is dancing with many of the same girls from last year, plus a couple. She’s also in a mixed age tap small group (with the Senior Company group). She’s both nervous and excited about dancing with some of these older girls. I didn’t want to embarrass her by being the spaz with the camera at her first activity with the older girls.

There were a couple points (no pun intended) in the hour-long appointment that I really had to hold myself back. I tried to just enjoy the moment. As she sat there putting lamb’s wool over her toes for the first time, I wanted to document that moment with a picture.

When she went up to the barre, and went up on her toes for the first time, I was so proud! I wanted to capture that moment, that feeling, but I didn’t – at least not with my camera.

As she tried on several different pairs, as she chose the ones that were just right for her, as she went up to the counter clinging to those brand new shoes that she was both nervous and excited to own, I didn’t take one picture. There was even a very sweet moment between Grace and her teacher that I so badly wanted to put in her scrapbook, but I didn’t take the photo.

I held back, I enjoyed the moment. This is not a bad thing. So why is it so hard? Is because of social media? Is it because I just want to remember every moment always?

When the older girls left, and it was just me, Grace, Miss Maria, and another girl she danced with last year, I could have taken some pictures. But… I didn’t. Instead, I just watched…

The only pic of the pointe shoes - one that Grace took when we got home.

The only pic of the pointe shoes – one that Grace took when we got home.

When I got in the car to head home, I was a little sad I didn’t take any pictures. Truthfully, I was not just a little sad, I felt guilty. Don’t ask why, I just do that sometimes for no good reason.

I asked Grace if I could take a picture of her at home with her new shoes on. She said no. Not because she didn’t want a picture in them, but because she didn’t want to get dog hair on her precious new shoes.

Grace said that I should have taken pictures at the fitting. More Mom guilt. That wasn’t her intention. She just wondered why I hadn’t. She’s so used to me being the “Stalkarazzi”, obsessively taking pictures of everything… how do you make that switch? Should I?? Or should I keep on taking the pictures?? If I keep taking the pictures, am I potentially missing out on those moments of just feeling???

The internal struggles of the parent of a teenager…



I just wanted to send a quick “Thank you!” to the employees at Grand Jete in St. Paul. The woman who helped us (I’m sorry, I didn’t catch her name) took the time to not only fit each dancer for just the right shoes, but also took the time to explain proper care of pointe shoes. Who knew there was so much to learn? Now that I know how pointe shoes are made, I understand why you always see them hanging. Makes sense that you need to keep them dry (though gross to think about sweaty feet). ;-)

I especially appreciated how she had each dancer try on a few different types of shoes, even when they thought they had found the perfect fit. I never even knew there were so many different kinds of pointe shoes. There are harder and softer shanks (the part on the bottom), different types of toes (some are more rounded, some more square)… It was a learning process for all of us, but was also a lot of fun. The personal attention really made it special for all the dancers getting their first pair of pointe shoes!


Michael’s First Karate Tournament


These were all the competitors in form; not all in the same division.

On June 1st, Michael had his first karate tournament as part of Team Forte. He hadn’t been on the team very long, and was very nervous about competing. Luckily, this was a very small tournament – a great way to start out.

The tournament was very different from how I remember them being  20 or so years ago when I used to compete. I can’t pinpoint exactly how, but it wasn’t what I expected.

The event was held at Stillwater High School. We walked into the school into a cafeteria, it was fairly dark, and very quiet. The attached gym was nice and bright though.

Right at the start, the rules were explained to all the competitors before they divided them into groups. Two of Michael’s teachers were judges in his ring in the tournament. I thought that doing his form in front of familiar faces might help him relax a little, but it didn’t.  Master Forte was there, but was not judging. He stood ring-side to cheer Michael and Daniel (the other Team Forte competitor) on.

Before Michael’s turn to compete, teammate Daniel competed in an adjoining ring. Daniel has been on the Team for at least a year. He also competes dance (in fact, he is on Michael’s sister, Grace’s dance team). He was very comfortable in front of the judges. He took first place in his ring.


Michael’s kicks are really looking good! :-)

When it was Michael’s turn, his nerves kicked in to high gear. He introduced himself, and proceeded with his form. He did an excellent job!! I was very proud of him!

Where his nerves showed, was that his form was about twice as fast it should have been. I’m not really sure he breathed the entire time! Once he was done, he took a few deep breaths, and looked very upset. He told us he wasn’t happy with how he did.

We were very proud of him, even if he was a little fast. He had the guts to go out there, compete, and get scored.

In the end, he scored 4th place (out of 4). The first 3 places received a medal; fourth place got a trophy. Trophies are cooler, anyway!!

After some congratulations, and pictures with different people who came to cheer him on, his sister and I left. Michael and his dad stayed to watch the competitors who were sparring later in the day. Since it was Michael’s first tournament, he opted to only compete in form. He seemed to enjoy watching team mates and his teachers spar. Who knows, he just may do both in the next tournament.

Michael and Mr. Hallberg, his main teacher, and one of the ring judges.

Michael and Mr. Hallberg, his main teacher, and one of the ring judges.

Here are the people who came to cheer him on:

  • His Aunt, Uncle, and cousin Andrew
  • His Grandma and Papa
  • His buddy Mason, who also takes karate at Forte’s Karate, and was in dance class with Michael; and his Mom, Madison
  • His sister, Grace
  • Me
  • His Dad

StarQuest 2014

007 (2)Now that Nationals is over, and my posts have been written, I should probably write about the last regional competition of the year, StarQuest. It was held at the RiverCentre in St. Paul, MN. This year, they had two stages. Rather than having them back-to-back like at Hall of Fame, the second stage was downstairs (a location I had no idea was even there). Many of the solos, duets, etc. were located down there. We went down to watch a few team mates perform. It was a really nice space! There were also more food options downstairs. Wish we’d have checked it out earlier in the week!

They seemed to be having some sound issues, especially downstairs. Many songs sounded very crackly (especially from our studio). Other songs seemed quieter than they should have. I saw at least 2 dances from our studio alone that had such poor sound quality, they asked the dancers to leave the stage, then tried again. One of these times was during the evening dance off (finals). We weren’t the only studio during which they had sound issues, but it seemed worse with ours for some reason.

This competition spread out over several days. I really wish these long competitions were not at venues we have to pay for parking every day. It makes for an expensive weekend. We had to be there on 3 different days this time. Thursday for Production, Saturday for small group, and Sunday for the other 3 dances. While StarQuest is always a fun time, I don’t love the awards ceremony there. It goes so fast, that it’s hard to follow along.

20140508_182909My favorite thing about StarQuest this year, was the Finals. They consisted of the top 20 soloists in each age division competing for the top solo spot. Three dancers from Lake Area Dance Center were in the Finals! This is the first time LADC has had one, let alone 3 soloists competing for the top spot! Olivia Johnson and Sage Neal both competed in the Juniors division. Madelyn Lee competed for the top spot in the Seniors division. Sage took 2nd overall, and Olivia took 1st overall! Amazing results for two amazing dancers! :-) Someone from StarQuest caught studio owner Maria’s response to finding out our two juniors took 1st and 2nd place. Watch her awesome response here.


I’ve been working on this post since mid-May (shortly after the competition was held). I think it’s time to wrap it up with the results. My notes of placements, etc. are all over the program due to not having those spaces to write in results. It’s frustrating when they don’t give you that space. Here they are:

038Senior Hip Hop – took 5th overall

Production – 1st place overall in Production

Company Tap – Explosive Energy Award,  Platinum (I do not have the overall placements on this age group)

Company Contemporary – Platinum

Company Jazz – High Gold

Squad (Pom) – HG

Sparkles Ballet – Concept Award, Costume Award, High Gold, 5th overall

Sparkles Jazz – High Gold

Sparkles Tap – Platinum, 4th overall

Sugarplums Jazz – High Gold

Sugarplums Tap – High Gold, 5th overall

Shawty’s (Hip Hop) – Great Expressions Award, High Gold, 3rd overall

Crew (Hip Hop) – Platinum, 3rd overall

Diamonds (Lyrical) – Platinum, 1st overall

Elites (Musical Theater) – Platinum, 2nd overall

Dynamites (Tap) – Platinum, 4th overall

Angels Contemporary – Platinum, 2nd overall

Angels Jazz – Platinum, 1st overall

Angels Tap – High Gold, 4th overall

Gems (Pom) – High Gold, 1st overall

Overall Choreography awards – LADC

I know I missed several small group and did not include any of the soloists here. I either did not get those results, or could not find the overalls for those divisions in my program. Overall, our studio did very well. We are very proud to be able to represent Lake Area Dance Center. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us! :-)









Masquerade Nationals 2014 – Finals

Ice cream treats with studio friends after Finals were over.

Ice cream treats with studio friends after Finals were over.

I wrote about Masquerade Nationals already, but thought Finals deserved its own post. I also realized a few things that I forgot to mention in my previous post.


I forgot to mention the great boutique shop at Nationals. I know in the past I have talked about it, but it’s still worth bringing up again. Programs sold for $7, a great price for this thick program! It not only listed the names of each studio and dancer, but also had space in the back to write all the placement awards, and Finals lineup. For me, having space to write down results, is an important part of the program!

They also had a deal – you could purchase a program, sweat pants, and a “city t-shirt” with the names of all the dancers in the competition on the back, for $50. Grace already had the sweatpants, so I got the deal for me. ;-) Grace got a cute pair of shorts (with built in bikers) and tank top for $15 each. I always enjoy shopping in their boutique, even if I end up buying more than I had planned on.


I also failed to mention the food choices available at this venue this year. Since changing names (owners?), they have better choices of food. It’s still quite expensive, but is also a better quality. There is pizza, which is too greasy, but tastes good once you soak a few napkins with it. There is also an over-priced walking taco that is ok, but a nice change from soggy subs, and the line is shorter than walking a block away to Subway. Grace has suddenly gotten into salads, Caesar salads in particular. They had huge salads for sale. Grace got one almost every day, and really liked it.

Me? I discovered an Asian restaurant just a block away that I decided to try with another dance family. It was delicious, and I will likely go back.

Our photo booth pics.

Photo Ops

Just for fun, they had a backdrop for people to take pictures in front of. We, of course, had to take advantage! They also had a photo booth available on one day of the week. People could get their pictures taken in it, and each person got their own copy of the photos. The most awesome part? It was free! Just another reason we love Masquerade. They try to keep it fun for everyone!

Masquerade also offered studios a DVD offer. Parents could purchase a copy of a special Studio DVD for only $45. This DVD includes the opening number (which we had 5 dancers participating in) and all dances our studio participated in, including any that were in the Finals. Considering you can normally purchase one dance for $15 or so, it’s an extraordinary deal! :-)


On to the point of this whole post!! Finals day was a big day for LADC! Every group, except the Angels (Grace’s group), were in the Finals. Even though Grace wasn’t dancing, we went to cheer on our teammates.

As I mentioned, we had 5 dancers participating in the Parade of Stars (Opening Number). It was a fun dance choreographed by Sarah Jo Fazio (a favorite judge), and Marlowe Howell.

The first dance off of the day was Petite Encore Performances. Our Sparkles (ages 8-10) performed their jazz dance, Proud Mary. At the end of the night, they ended up winning the Petite Encore Award!! After their division, there were several others that contained awesome dances. Finals really is a great show to watch – best of the best, really!

195After several other divisions, it was time for the Junior Dancer of the Year Finals. LADC’s own Sage Neal was one of 5 girls who made it to the finals. Each girl had to perform a solo. Sage did her musical theater solo, which was perfectly choreographed by Kyle Gross to show off her personality and showmanship. She was amazing!! Not only did our sweet and sassy Sage win National Junior Dancer of the Year 2014, she also won the National Title of Junior Miss Masquerade!! This title was well deserved. Another amazingly talented junior, Olivia Johnson, was the 1st runner up for National Junior Miss Masquerade 2014!!

As the day went on, we watched Sage also perform her contemporary solo in the Junior Division National Champion Dance Off. We also watched one of our small groups compete The Bird in the Mini Division National Champion Dance Off , the amazing Madelyn Lee from LADC perform one of her solos in the Finals for Senior Dancer of the Year, and we participated in the Spirit Parade. Our dancers apparently got a little over-eager throwing candy out in the audience, but it was fun.

The afternoon went on with more awesome dances… in my comments in my program, I wrote “anyone’s game.” All the dancers came to win, and proved it on stage!

The only negative comment I wrote, was that when announcements are being made, they need to turn the music down. It was difficult to hear sometimes what they were saying.

Lake Area Dance - Intermediate Studio of the Year 2014!!!

Lake Area Dance – Intermediate Studio of the Year 2014!!!

We got to watch the littlest dancers from our studio perform their tap dance called Wash That Man. The oldest competitors performed their jazz dance Betty’s Wake. While they didn’t win the National Champion Large Group Dance Off, studio owner Maria Pomerleau  did receive a choreography award for it!

At the very end of the awards session, they announced the Studios of the Year. Lake Area Dance won Intermediate Studio of the Year for the 3rd year in a row!!! Very exciting, and very well deserved! :-)

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