Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bye Vegas

Today we're going home, just in time for Christmas. One last thing Yasu wanted to do before leaving Sin City was have coffee at Mon Ami Gabi, the sidewalk cafe at the Paris casino. We'd walked past it many times and he was always a little jealous of the patrons, but thought it would be too expensive for us to enjoy it.

But after a facebook recommendation from one of his friends last night, he'd made up his mind, he wanted to try that place anyway! So this morning after checking out at the Imperial, and about an hour before the airport shuttle would pick us up, we hurried down the Strip to the Paris for some brunch at this cafe.

Luckily the wait for the outside patio wasn't too long, and soon we found ourselves with coffee, some delicious and complimentary French bread, and brunch right on the Strip in the warm Vegas sun. It really felt like being back in Europe, which is exactly why it was so attractive to Yasu. It was a great way to end our trip, complete with one last Bellagio Fountains show which we enjoyed from our table.

Mon Ami Gabi

Now, we're at the Las Vegas airport where they have some pretty neat wall art of famous cities. That's Yasu hopping on a cable car on his way back to San Francisco from Las Vegas.

Hopping on the cable car back to San Francisco

Our improvised and unplanned trip to Las Vegas was epic. We have lots of memories, a bunch of iPhone pictures (I didn't use my Canon at all), a vicious cold (thanks to our Eiffel Tower Ride), and even a DVD with my Vegas performance to bring back. And even though this was my fifth trip (and Yasu's second), I think we'll be back, it's just too much fun!

Gambling and Cirque du Soleil

It's our last full day in Vegas, so we decided to gamble a bit, you know to make our Vegas experience complete. Honestly we were doing it to kill some time before the Cirque du Soleil show and to get some free drinks, which we heard you get when you're gambling.

We're rather risk averse so we sought out machine that let you gamble one cent at the time and we only used one machine between the two of us. The gambling itself doesn't require any skill, you just push the button over and over, and whether you understand the rules or not, you either win or lose. 

We told ourselves we wouldn't spend more than $5 each on the slots, but we didn't even need that much. The machines kept making us win our points back, and by the end of the night only spent $3.90 on almost 4 hours of gambling.

We gambled!

That was a fun way to kill time and an easy way to get free drinks. You can get whatever you want, and we got a lot, my favorite was probably the Baileys with hot coffee and whipped cream (see picture). I got myself another one just before we left for Cirque du Soleil, saving me a lot of money because their concession stand was pricey!

Zumanity is advertised as "The Sensual Side of Cirque du Soleil", so that was promising. Before the show we entertained ourselves looking through peepholes in the soft walls in the red hallways, and saw some things not meant for young eyes... Let's say Yasu enjoyed himself!

Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil

Our seats were in the third row from the stage, which meant we were close enough to be included in the cabaret part of the show. For the second time, I found myself leaving my audience seat and in a Vegas spotlight with all eyes on me. It was another interesting experience and again Yasu found himself being loudly congratulated by the show host for being with me. It's always good to remind him!

Like the poster says the show was sexy, fun, and acrobatic. The acrobatics were breathtaking, the contortionist was unbelievable, the cabaret was really funny and the show was really not suitable for children! This really makes me want to go see more Cirque du Soleil shows! Maybe for our tenth wedding anniversary, like we originally planned?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Downtown Vegas & Hypnosis videos

When tourists talk about Las Vegas they're often referring to the Las Vegas Strip with all its huge themed casinos and hotels. This didn't use to be the center of attention though, the original gambling district was Downtown Las Vegas. I've been here before and I'm not a huge fan, but Yasu has never been here before so we made sure to visit this area today.

Downtown Las Vegas

It's kind of sad compared to the Strip,  it's obvious the casinos have a hard time attracting tourists and gamblers, and it has a rather dead feel to it. Also the casinos seem more cramped and the much lower ceilings keep all the smoke at face level which made my eyes teary the entire time.

The good thing about downtown Vegas is that everything is cheaper (in an effort to attract people). I remember during my first trip to Vegas in 2004, things were cheap everywhere, even on the Strip, especially food (like awesome buffets for under $10). That has changed in recent years but not downtown, not really.

So even though we didn't enjoy downtown enough to stick around for the Fremont Street Experience(which is nice but not great) in the evening, we did have a great and rather cheap Hawaiian lunch (including crab legs!) at the Plaza Hotel.

After lunch we quickly took a bus back to the Strip, where things are a little more spectacular, which is what you want during a vacation in Las Vegas.

Oh Vegas, so much to see

We ended our day with another Hypnosis show! This time I stayed in my seat to enjoy the show as an audience member and it was another ridiculously funny show. Marc Savard had unknowingly hypnotized both a mother and daughter tonight and when the mother tried to flirt with him (because that's what he had hypnotized her to do) the daughter got all upset!



And here's one more clip, this is of the show we went to with the Dutchies in June. Marc Savard had hypnotized the people on stage to believe that someone's belt was a dangerous snake. The result was hysterically funny!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mesmerized

Why did we come to Vegas again? That's right to use those free hypnosis show tickets we got in June. When were road tripping with the Dutchies we spent a little time in Vegas and Yasu, who's studying hypnotherapy, really wanted to see a hypnosis show. So we did. While at breakfast, I scored some hypnosis show tickets on my iPhone for all of us for later that night. The show was awesome, and even sceptical Guido could see how well hypnosis works and how hilarious it can be.

We had a great night and my only regret was not volunteering for the show, because I was torn between participating and finally experiencing what it's like to be hypnotized and laughing till I cried in the audience. I didn't know that participants get free tickets to see the show again and that they sell DVDs of the show so that you can enjoy your own hypnotized performance.

So when Yasu bought a hypnosis program after the show and also got free tickets for a future show, I promised myself that I would volunteer the next time. And tonight I kept my promise to myself and volunteered without hesitation and to Yasu's delight became one of the stars of the Marc Savard Comedy Hypnosis Show!

Us hypnotized volunteers making ugly faces at the camera

We didn't take any pictures during the show but Marc Savard's assistant did take this picture! We are all hypnotized to believe that we have 'wrong face disease' when the hypnotist said "smile" and then we all produced the ugliest face we could while posing for the picture.

Of course, I did a lot more embarrassing things while under hypnosis than make an ugly face. I convincingly played air-violin in an orchestra, vigorously played air-guitar in a heavy metal band (even backwards and with my ass), got really hot and really cold (had to hug the guy next to me to keep warm), was a Riverdancer, posed for a sexy photo shoot, was hopelessly attracted to the hypnotist whenever he held my hand, was a participant in a special lollipop sucking contest and ran screaming from a snake that was really a belt. Among other things :)!

With Marc Savard

After the show we got to take pictures with Marc Savard (check out that 'lollipop') and when he held my hand again, I was still happily mesmerized by him. He also signed my DVD of the show. I can't wait to see the DVD when we get home. And I don't mind sharing the experience with friends and family, as 300 strangers already saw me 'perform' on stage, and it was so much fun. But I may change my mind when I actually see it, hehe!

Signed DVD

I'd seen a few other hypnosis shows before the Marc Savard show, and during one of those shows my boyfriend at the time got hypnotized into the star of the show. He did some amazing things while under hypnosis, that show was a lot of fun for me.

The whole process intrigued me and after the show I asked him how or why he did the things he did on stage, his only explanation was "Because the hypnotist told me so." That answer was really unsatisfactory to me and ever since I have wanted to feel what it was like to be hypnotized. Well, it was very different from what I expected, and now I have to give the same answer to that question.

You do the things you do on stage and act out all the scenarios he's giving you, just because the hypnotist tells you to and because somehow that seems to be the right thing to do. It doesn't seem funny or embarrassing when you do it, because the hypnosis takes your inhibitions away. It doesn't feel like you're in some zombie trance, it feels like you are super aware and really concentrated.

Earlier, I even wondered whether I had faked it, because I was so conscious of my actions on stage. But as a rather shy, self-conscious, and self-censoring person (I'm even embarrassed to dance in front of friends) I would never have done all the crazy things on stage in the spotlight in front of all those strangers without feeling embarrassed and at least laughing at myself.

I did some online research and found out that's exactly what hypnosis is supposed to feel like. Everything I experienced is typical of hypnosis. It's not some mysterious trance in which you have no idea what you are doing. It's a relaxed feeling of super concentration where you let yourself be guided by the hypnotist without hesitation or regret. I felt great during and now after the show. It is such an awesome, interesting, fun and rewarding experience! This is going to be a great memory for a lifetime.

V Theater

Go to this show and volunteer, you will not regret it! It's at the V Theater inside the Miracle Mile Shopping area of the Planet Hollywood. I got free tickets for another show when I was on stage so we're going again tomorrow and I'm sure it will be just as much fun as in June, when I laughed and cried till it hurt.

Unfortunately, Yasu doesn't want to volunteer tomorrow, but I'm sure we'll find ourselves at another Marc Savard show on a future Vegas trip and maybe by then I will have convinced him to volunteer. If not, I'll just volunteer again!

Christmassy Vegas

Yasu is a big baseball freak, this is no secret. When he was young he worked very hard to become a professional baseball player, but his slipped disc forced him to give up on his dream shortly before he went to university. He never gave up on his love for baseball though, so he was very excited to see Pete Rose sitting at a signing table somewhere in Vegas today.

Pete Rose

At first he was a bit shy to go and talk to the former Major League Baseball player, but with a little help from the store manager who introduced Yasu to Pete Rose, he got to have a little chat and even a handshake from this legendary player. This made Yasu a very happy man!

It's almost Christmas and as expected Vegas decorated for the occasion. And I love it!

Vegas Christmas Decorations

The Bellagio Conservatory has the best Christmas display with its penguins and huge polar bears made from flowers. This place has really put me into the Christmas spirit!

Bellagio

The Bellagio is famous for its fountains, but they don't just have them outside, they have a bunch in the Conservatory too. Some people weren't convinced it was actually water and had to touch the water stream  to believe it. What they didn't realize that this made the people behind them, also under the same arch of water, yell out because they got sprayed! That was funny to observe and too much fun for Yasu not to try. But he was nice enough to make sure there was no one behind him to get wet.

Bellagio

Our hotel gave us a coupon for a 2-for-1 deal on the Eiffel Tower Ride at the Paris Casino. So without really knowing what it was about we gave it a shot and it was a good thing we did, because the view from the fake Eiffel Tower's observatory of the Vegas Strip and the rest of the city is breathtaking. But the ride up in a glass elevator is a bit too exciting for me, it doesn't matter how often I've practised in Japan, it's still scary. 

Eiffel Tower Ride

It is December and even though it's pretty warm in the sun during the day, when it's dark it's very cold here in Vegas, especially on top of the Eiffel Tower. Still we stayed up there for at least 45 minutes because we wanted to see the Bellagio Fountains dance from above, and we had to wait 30 minutes for the show to start. It was beautiful, but I have may have caught my first cold of the season, let's hope not.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Second anniversary

Today two years ago we got married in the most unceremonious way in an Osakan city hall in Japan. My mother send us a sweet card with hand sewn felt hearts to congratulate us with our third anniversary, hmm her time moves a lot quicker than ours does! 

2 years

I feel like our two years of marriage flew by, it's still weird to refer to Yasu as my husband in my native language. I don't speak enough Dutch these days to get used it, but I have gotten used to doing it in English, so that's a good sign! Whatever I call him in whatever language, it doesn't matter, I'm just glad to be with him and to share my life with Yasu every single day. 

It's amazing we ever found each other, any of so many decisions we made in our lives made differently would have led to us never meeting. And when we did meet, neither of us was impressed by the other... But love grew after that one day at Starbucks in 2004 and survived years of a very-very-long-distance relationship and much more complicated challenges.

Two years ago, we chose to live our lives for ourselves and committed to each other in secret. We became husband and wife and it was the best decision we ever made. Sure we're not a conventional couple, but what's good about being ordinary anyway? We're a pair of colorful oddballs, who have a lot of fun together, much like these amazing Vegas elephants!

LV elephants

Vegas sightseeing

We don't gamble, but we love Vegas! There's just so much to see and do besides gambling, it's like a theme park for adults with all its themed casinos and many free attractions. Today we just hung out on the Strip, checking out several casinos, walking in the warm winter sun and enjoying the sights. What a great way to spend a day, no plan and no obligations, just doing whatever we felt like.

The New York, New York Casino & Hotel

We had lunch at the New York, New York where we found a flyer advertizing a Cirque du Soleil show called Zumanity and offering two tickets for $100. We had just decided a few days earlier that we wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show, someday when we could afford it, like for our tenth wedding anniversary. But this offer was good enough to pay a visit to the Zumanity box office today.

It turned out that the flyers were old and that they should have been taken away, because holiday prices were in effect for the show now, but the manager let us buy tickets for that price anyway! Lucky us! Cirque du Soleil for our wedding anniversary, eight years earlier than planned, nice.

The lions at MGM Grand

The MGM Grand Casino is famous because of its lions. Not just the big fake golden one outside but the real ones inside as well. I've been to this casino during all my other trips to Vegas, but I never managed to see the real lions. So this time I made sure to visit them, and we got to 'meet' them up close through the window of the gift shop next to the lion habitat. They were beautiful.

Caesars

We were amazed at the decor at Caesar's Palace. It makes you wonder how many sculptures one place can hold, they must have the largest collection of statues in the whole state of Nevada. It made for some lengthy sightseeing.

Las Vegas Strip sights

Besides seeing other people squander money on the hundreds of gambling tables and slot machines, we enjoyed the beautiful decor of European themed casinos, like the Paris, the Venetian with its canals and the beautifully dancing Bellagio Fountains.

Las Vegas likes to party

Another recurring theme on the Vegas Strip is alcohol. This city sure loves to party. It took me a while to get used to not being allowed to drink alcohol outside in the US, but in this city we can, which kinds of feels weird now. And everywhere they sell tools to make drinking on the move easier. 

For example, huge plastic containers with straps large enough to carry it on your shoulder like a handbag. The long straw makes walking while drinking easy. They also sell all kinds of alcohol in large quantities to fill those containers, or you can just have it filled at one of the many frozen margarita vendors. And then there are all kinds of bottle openers in the form of key chains, just to make your drinking life easier.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vegas, baby!

When the Dutchies were here in June, we went to a hilarious hypnosis show in Vegas and we ended up with free tickets for another time. We didn't really want to drive all the way back to Vegas to use the tickets, but we couldn't find anyone else who was going there before the tickets expired. So I decided to check how much it would cost to fly to Vegas. 

I didn't really expect to find something affordable, since we're living on a student budget. But one quick search on Expedia later we were booking a trip to Vegas for the week of our second wedding anniversary! Five nights in Vegas and a return flight from San Francisco airport was only $151 each (including all taxes and fees)! A steal.

That's how we ended up at Las Vegas airport tonight! And of course the first thing we saw was a bunch of slot machines, inviting us to gamble fresh off the plane. Hmm, no thanks...

Vegas Airport

A shuttle bus took us to the Imperial Palace in the middle of the Las Vegas strip! We love the location because we're going to have to walk everywhere. The theme of the hotel is Japan, so we feel right at home. The casino itself is a bit outdated, but the hotel part is great! The rooms are large, clean and comfortable, and we have a great view from our balcony.

Imperial Hotel

Yay, we're in Vegas again! It's my fifth time and Yasu's second time, for some reason this place never gets boring.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Celebrating Yasu's 28th birthday


He will forever be younger than me, but at least it's good to know that he's getting close to thirty as well. He turned 28 on Friday! Since we're living on a student's budget we're not doing birthday gifts or anniversary gifts these days, so my only gift to him was a big birthday kiss and a gathering of friends.

We went to Japantown for some shabu shabu and to catch up with some of our favorite people! Afterwards we went for some drink at a bar called Double Dutch, which was fun, but there was nothing Dutch about it ;).

At his practicum place people get to do whatever they want for their birthdays and Yasu had an interesting idea. He wanted to play air samurai. His practicum buddies were all supposed to attack him, he would slash them with his fictional samurai sword, and the others would die spectacularly. It went splendidly, and he'll forever have this hilarious video to relive it:


My mom sent us a huge box with Yasu's birthday presents and also some early Christmas presents for the both of us. Which made us both happy!

She got the birthday boy a lanyard for his keys in orange (the Dutch national color and therefore Yasu's favorite) with "Yasu's keys" written on it in Dutch. She also found him a nice tshirt with a Dutch bicycle traffic sign (Yasu really enjoyed biking around in the Netherlands) and some upside down Japanese characters. And of course his favorite snack: Knoppers.

We would have waited to open the Christmas presents until the 25th, but she was too anxious to see how we like our gifts. She ordered us some customized iPhone covers, an eleventh monkey one for me and Yasu's had a picture of me on it! She also got us the most adorable Dutch coffee cups we've ever seen, some Dutch coffee to go in it, much needed coasters, and Dutch peperkoek for me! 

Katherine and Kosuke took us to their favorite sushi place tonight and treated us to the best sushi we've ever had in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the restaurant is very much out of our normal way, but it's surely is worth a long trip on the Muni bus. This was the first time I ate sushi in America and felt like it was real authentic Japanese sushi! The sushi was so good and we were so busy eating that I totally forgot to take pictures of the food, oh well,  we'll just have to go back again.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Lafayetting

Today we went to Lafayette, a small town in the East Bay. Ever since we've visited a friend there last month, I've been obsessed. It's such a beautiful and peaceful place and it smells so nice, like trees, none of those dirty city smells they have in San Francisco. I guess I'm really getting old, when I dream about living in the suburbs instead of in a big city.

I've been checking Craigs List a lot, a lot! I've found some nice places in Lafayette, which we've been checking out today, but we've decided we can't really afford an increase in monthly expenses... Oh well, it was fun to imagine ourselves living in those wonderful apartments, especially the ones that have laundry and a swimming pool on site...

They also have a lot of nice shopping in Lafayette, so that's how we tried to distract ourselves from the fact that we would not be moving here anytime soon. My favorite shop was the party shop, they had loads of fun things for, you guessed it, when you want to throw a party! Like plastic tableware in every imaginable color, thousands of balloons, and even party flags from our homecountries! There were a whole bunch of Dutch flags left, guess there aren't a lot of people celebrating the Netherlands here.

And if your party requires any kind of facial wear, this was the place to get it as well. We liked the glasses:

We also found a thrift store in Lafayette, and since I've read so much about thrifting on so many blogs, I wanted to see what a thrift store was like and see if I could find us a little treasure. We came out with this little cabinet, which I intend to use as a display item in a future craft fair:

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Playing shop

Less than two weeks ago, Yasu told me he thought it would be a good idea for me to participate in the Holiday Craft Fair at his school. I wasn't so sure because I'd never done something like that before, so I was totally unprepared for an event like that and eleven days did not seem enough time to get ready. But the idea excited me too much not to try it!

Yasu signed me up, and I got to work. Since the craft fair was to be held on his school's campus I knew most of my potential customers would be grad students on a budget, so I wanted to be able to offer them something tiny and affordable. So I minimzed my owl design and this was the result:

The point of participating in the craft fair was to get my product and brand name out there as much as I could, so I wanted to make as many tiny owls as possible. I made even more than fit in this collage below and I was glad I did, because these babies were popular, I sold almost all of them. The four that didn't sell missed out on new homes because they were hiding under one of my display baskets during the fair. Oops! It's okay, they are for sale in my online shop now.

I couldn't just spend my time on sewing new products, I had to think about my the look of my booth as well. I spend a whole day going back an forth between Target, Michaels and the Dollar Tree for items I could use in my table display and for my packaging.

The best thing I did was buy these Christmas trees at Target, because they added eyecatching height to my display. I just added some ornament hooks to be able to hang products on the trees:

I cut up a hot pink corduroy bagpack from Japan and used my sewing machine to turn it into a money pouch fanny pack to have a convenient and safe place to keep my change during the fair. It was the first time I tried something that fancy, and I was quite pleased with the result.

As a customer I'm always uncomfortable asking people for prices, because I don't want to dissapoint them by not buying things when I can't afford it. So I always end up not asking and therefore not buying. I wanted to avoid this at my own booth by making sure everything was clearly priced, so loads of price tags needed to be written!

A great thing about selling things online is that everything stays in clean and in great shape. I didn't like the idea of shoppers' dirty fingers or perhaps children dropping products on the dirty floor. I needed to make sure all creatures were still in great shape after the fair, to be able to welcome them back to the online shop, so I decided to package every single item in a cellophane bag.

To brand each package and look it more professional I wanted good bagtoppers. Just printing my logo in color didn't look very good, so I redid my logo in black and white and it looked so much better printed on colored paper:

I printed so many bagtoppers in different sizes and spend a lot of time cutting them out, punching holes in them (for the price tags to be attached to) and finally stapling them to the cellophane bags. It took a few days but it was well worth it.

I bought a bunch of baskets at the dollar store, but my favorite baskets were the ones I already had at home. All those baskets, except the large brown one, are actually from the Netherlands and were valued enough to move with me to Japan and then here to the States. They're quite well-traveled!

I practiced my display on a small table because organizers weren't sure how large a table I would get at the craft fair:

The last thing I prepared for the craft fair was this plastic table topper to make sure people could find me online for future reference:

Then yesterday, all that stuff had to get from our place to the craft fair. We don't have a car so all of this came with us on public transportation, thankfully most of it was quite light:

I was happy to get a large table to myself, especially since I brought a rather large vinyl banner to decorate my booth. I spread out my display, added some more baskets and this is what it looked like:

It was really fun to play shop like this, and to actually see and hear people's reactions to my creatures!

It was also fun to do this at Yasu's school, because most of our friends showed up and we spent a lot of time chatting and just hanging out, while at the same time making some money.

I can't believe how much I had doing this craft fair! I was so happy there was a second day, and this is what my booth looked like today:

This was so much fun! I'm glad Yasu convinced me to do this, can't wait to do this all again!

Friday, December 02, 2011

My first craft fair!

Today was the big day. Early this morning Yasu and I, each carrying two huge bags, found our way to his campus with public transportation during rush hour! We were so happy hundreds of stuffed animals and a dozen of baskets don't weigh a lot. And after about an hour of setting up those bags filled to the brim with eleventh monkey stuff turned into the eleventh monkey booth!!

I've been so excited these last two weeks preparing for this event, and I was even more excited to see it come together like it did today! I love the little Christmas trees covered in tiny owl ornaments, the huge vinyl logo banner, and all the baskets filled with neatly packaged products!

As a little girl I always loved playing shop and now I got to do it for real, with real customers!

It was really satisfying to hear so much positive feedback from so many people, it was fun to answer questions about my shop name, my production process and what inspires me and it felt fantastic to sell so many creatures! This day over-exceeded my expectations! And the best thing is that I get to do all of it again tomorrow!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Craft fair madness

Guess what this display is? It's practice for my first craft fair ever! This Thursday and Friday (10AM - 4PM) I will be selling my little creatures at a little craft fair at my husband's school campus in San Francisco.

I only decided to participate less than a week ago, so I've been crazy busy trying to get everything ready for the fair. I've ordered a vinyl logo banner online (it's not here yet and I'm anxious to see how it turned out), and I've been making a bunch of tiny owls (to have some cheap creatures to sell), I've been collecting baskets and Christmas trees to display my products in and on, and I've been working on packaging. So far, I'm pretty happy with the result!

I've also made a little money pouch to carry comfortably around my waist, and now I'm off to attach hundreds of price tags to my creatures.

I only have a few more days left to prepare! I'm trying not to get too frazzled and to just enjoy the process. I'm really excited, but I think I can manage to keep it together! If you're in San Francisco on December 1st or 2nd and want to come and say hi, eat a yummy candy cane, or browse my little real-life shop, let me know and I'll email you the address.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another owl, another giveaway

Rouge the Glittery Owl
Guess what, there's one more owl up for grabs! This time it's over on the Rouge & Whimsy blog, just click the picture to go there. And if you win the giveaway she's hosting, you don't just win this owl, you win a lot more! Quick, go check it out!