Sunday, May 22, 2011

Behind the scenes photos

It was a hot day in Pittsburgh today. Totem's HVAC system was having troubles keeping up. There were guys up on the tent most of the afternoon manipulating the ventilation systems, and for a while they were just hosing water on the tent to try to cool it down.

After the last show, Greg took me and the kids around the backstage area for a tour. Here are the kids checking out the skateboards underneath the stage. This is how the technicians and artists get around under there, because the space is only a couple of feet tall.

"54" had a post-show barbeque. 54 is the technicians' tent - the carpenters, riggers, stage techs etc. And they are known for having the most-fun parties. Greg finds this grill quite amusing - they custom-built it, at the bottom, so it could be moved with a forklift. This is because everyone drives forklifts on the site all the time. Regular castors on the bottom of a grill would fall apart.

And last of all, a glimpse of the stage from the artists' point of view.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Today was an exhausting day. For me it started with a 6am run, and a 9am Russian lesson. Then we tried to go out for a family bike ride. Within the first 10 minutes, it came to a catastrophic halt - Ayla again lost control on a downhill, this time spinning out into a full-on wipeout. There was quite a bit of dirt, some blood, a whole lot of tears. We limped ourselves home and fussed over Ayla for a while, making sure there were no serious injuries. I let her stay home for an extra hour, but she just got more and more melodramatic and miserable. Finally I dragged her into school, and from that point on she was fine.

Then I was touring some friends around the site, and watching Isa and Gypsy playing together... then somehow I spent the rest of the day, four hours, downstairs at the pool. Kids + swimming pool = total happiness. First it was just me and Isa, then Ilya and Nastya joined us, then Baz, Ayla, Yahor, and Francois (husband of our Artistic Director). Nastya had just come from the Chinese grocery on the Strip, with all kinds of Asian sweet treats. The kids enjoyed the sealed-plastic cups of some kind of chewy Jello, and then eventually turned them into diving objects.

We are all just so excited to see the sun, after over a week of relentless rain.

Oh, the Totem kitchen. How I love it. I love it because it is such a daily challenge for me. For those of you who don't know my day-to-day habits, I am NOT a cook. And I have a particularly bad tendency to eat the same bland foods every day. Although I may not avail myself of the myriad of fantastic choices in the Totem kitchen as often as I should, it is a daily reminder for me; and a much better example for my kids. They have the opportunity to try everything under the sun, well-prepared, at no cost. ...Nevertheless, once in a while the kitchen staff crosses my comfort threshold, and I find myself acting like a child again, "ewww!!" This week it was Baby Octopus on Skewers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My new passion

OK, it's time to write about my latest obsession:

I took them up on their Intro offer - $20 for 14 days of classes! And I managed to attend 10 CLASSES during this time. I am quite head-over-heels in love with this crazy, cultish, hardcore, awesome form of hot yoga. I don't even know how to explain it... the sauna-like hot, humid air, the dripping sweat, the spine-bending and muscles engaging... I've learned a lot in these two weeks. The biggest thing I've learned, though, is that Bikram is a route to the true focus of yoga. While I imagine people can discover this in any form of yoga (or physical practice, for that matter) - Bikram is really showing me what it means to be in the present moment. Let's not imagine I can actually do this yet - my busy little mind is nowhere near ready to quiet down. But I can glimpse it. I can understand what it takes to follow an instruction, and ignore the zillions of possible distractions. In my Bikram class no one drinks water. Or wipes away sweat. Or adjusts clothing. Everyone just breathes.

Every day now, I'm figuring out how to get to yoga class. (I even attended the 6am classes a couple of times). And though I had re-started running a few weeks ago - actually completing the Pittsburgh 5K run on May 14, with a decent-for-me time of 29:50 - it has taken a temporary backseat to my starry-eyed affair with Bikram.

It feels so good to be getting back into my body again. I had a rough 6 months after the half-marathon last fall - the hamstring injury, and limited fitness options in a few cities, had me in pretty poor shape by the time I arrived here in Pittsburgh. But I am now optimistic - it's going to be a strong and fit spring and summer!'s a little inspiration from Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh...

"You're never too late
never too bad
never too old
never too sick
to start from scratch and begin again"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Totem profiles - Louis-David Simoneau

Louis-David, age 22, is one-half of the beautiful duo trapeze act in Totem. He and his trapeze partner, Rosalie, have the fairly unique distinction of having leapt immediately from their graduation at l’Ecole Nationale de Cirque to a contract with Cirque du Soleil. This success was not simply a stroke of luck – both Louis-David and Rosalie have spent many years honing their exceptional skills.

Louis-David is French-Canadian – he grew up in the town of Magog in Quebec. As a child, he had many interests – he loved all kinds of sports and all kinds of school subjects. When he put his mind to something, he could succeed at it. Gymnastics was something he tried on-and-off as a kid. But it took the spark of interest in circus, at age 14 – and an audition at ENC at which he was not accepted to his chosen program – to focus his mind. He spent a year training gymnastics intensely, and on his second try, he was accepted to ENC. He began his studies there at age 16.

His first love in circus arts was hand-balancing, and he imagined himself doing a hand-to-hand act. But an advisor at ENC, early on, steered him and Rosalie towards duo trapeze. The rest is history, as they have created, with “Lovebirds”, the most-universally-adored act in this immense production.

On tour with Totem, Louis-David enjoys the traveling, getting to see and experience new parts of the world. If he had more time, he says, he would love to do even more sightseeing. But in the meantime, he is also treasuring the experiences he’s had working with great people such as Robert Lepage, and the other artists on the show.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Premiere, and Pittsburgh

We had no idea what a cool town Pittsburgh would be. This is a mural depicting our neighborhood, the Strip District. It is as colorful and fun as the mural suggests. Leaving the Strip, Pittsburgh also has beautiful rivers, bridges and walkways, fascinating architecture, nifty street signage and diverse, friendly people. With only a very small effort, they gave me a library card which allows me to check out 50 books at a time! And we have just barely arrived.

Here are Baz and Ayla partaking of Edible Flowers at the local Farmer's Market.

And Isa, enjoying the panoramic view where we went bike-riding this afternoon.

It feels like this is going to be a great town for us.

Today was Premiere. On our 6th city, I think I have finally gotten the hang of this system. It works like this:

In between cities, and really up until Premiere date, families have just about no contact with each other. It's silly to even make an effort - everyone is content to take this time with their families and they seem to need no socializing, this lasts for about 10 days.

On Premiere evening, everyone comes together. All of the families show up at the tent for dinner. The cooks prepare an overly gourmet meal at which my children and I can barely find anything to eat. Tonight's highlight was a chocolate fondue fountain. Drinks are, for one night only, on the house. Families re-connect and make plans. And most people dress up! For once, the girls and I got the hang of this part, thanks to a last-minute shopping trip to the funky Strip stores this afternoon.

We watch the show and love it. We gasp and giggle at changes or slip-ups.
At intermission, the children run around the back of site terrorizing each other, despite our Tour Services department's insistence that they stay within certain boundaries, always accompanied by an adult. ... the fact is, they are getting more comfortable here, we all are, and we are beginning to rely on each other to help keep the kids in line... while still allowing them to be kids, and to develop a social world in this crazy situation we've put them in. As you can see, our Totem gang of children is big, and getting bigger all the time - there are several others not pictured here, and two more babies are due this summer.

Watching the show this evening, I marveled at the connections I've made in these past 11 months. Little things, small threads of knowledge and communication. There's the acrobat I was helping to find a parking space this afternoon. There's the performer who was just telling me about her overly-indulgent vacation week. There's the guy recuperating from an injury, and here's the aerialist who's missing his faraway wife and daughter. I begin to know their stories, their backgrounds, their personalities; which enriches, for me, the already exhilarating experience of watching the circus. And when I'm here in the tent, and the music begins, I can't imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dear Corporate Housing

This is an open letter to providers of Corporate Housing.

I am sure we are not the first people who've come to you with small children. But perhaps no one in your Decision-Making Department knows what housing for families with children should consist of? I have a few friendly recommendations.

1. A coatrack. Which children can reach. This is our 4th city with the children throwing their coats on the floor when they come in, because they can't reach the coat hangers in the closets.

2. Towel racks. I know that sometimes your ultra-elegant modern designers just don't FEEL towel racks in their feng shui. But really.
(and p.s., you went overboard in London with the HEATED towel racks, which could never be turned off and just heated up our apartment all day long)

3. Stepstools. Even one would be a big help for small children who can't reach sinks.

4. Plasticware in the kitchen. Oh, what I would give for plastic cups, plates, and bowls, not to mention Tupperware!! I'm OK with the glassware being included as well, for the grownups. Perhaps you just like replacing all of the glasses our kids break.

5. Bookshelves, and/or cabinets for toys.

6. Desks. We're fortunate to bump into these once in a while - though never more than one in an apartment, and Greg and I have finally given up attempting to share a desk.

7. Blinds that close all the way, and actually darken a room. This one may be more necessary for us artist-families who keep late hours. But it really does make a difference, especially when small people are up at first light.

8. A bathtub. Fortunately this has only happened to us once - living in an apartment for three months with only a shower - but I have been concerned about it ever since. Please let my children take baths, for all of our sanity. Bonus points if you put the bathtub in the children's bathroom and not in the one adjacent to the master bedroom, in such cases where there is more than one.

9. Locks on windows and balcony doors, preferably high, out-of-reach locks.

10. Full-height walls, and doors, on bedrooms. Enough said.

I'm sure this will take a while to get mobilized, so in the short term we will continue to schlep along our suitcase full of Stuff We Might Need. (recent additions to this suitcase: washcloths, collapsible laundry hampers, bread knife). But if you could just get on the same page with us here, then we could really start to fine-tune the Family Corporate Housing experience with some special perks (how about a play area in the courtyard? A temporary library card? a painting easel? ...don't worry, I've got lots of ideas!)

Sincere thanks for your kind and prompt attention.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Loft life - oh my!

So. A while back I mentioned to our Travel & Lodging Coordinator that when it comes to apartments - we enjoy the spacious 3-BRs, but it's hard for us to be far away from everyone else (this happens sometimes because 3-BRs are so hard to find). So if necessary, we could squeeze into a 2-BR, especially if this would help us to be closer to the other families.

This is the first time they've taken us up on it. But the loss of bedroom isn't nearly as big of a problem for us as the fact that we're in a loft - an open floor plan with no doors. You can see it in the video below. We like to think of ourselves as a close family. But not being able to close a door when you'd like some privacy is really stretching our limits. At night, we tuck the kids into bed and tiptoe around in semi-darkness, because all light and sounds filter into their room. (we might as well be in the same room). In the mornings, we are afraid to even get up and get dressed, because it will wake up everyone else. We went out to Home Depot and bought black curtains, which help, psychologically at least.

We really wonder, who would want to live in a 2-BR apartment like this? Impossible for roommates, who have a clear view into each other's bedrooms. Impossible for families who want any semblance of separation from their children. (maybe for a couple with a small baby?) And for a couple with three young children? it's fairly ridiculous. My latest theory is that this floorplan must be for a single person, or couple, who just want a bit more room than a 1-BR. And not for just any couple - online this apt is listed as starting at $2165/month.

The location of this place is great. It's .2 miles from the Cirque tent. It's in the Strip district, with farmer's markets and funky craft shops and yoga studios. We're on the river, with a bike path right alongside. The one big glitch is the grocery store - there was one right across the street, but the business closed a week before we arrived! So now we're going to have to drive a ways for groceries, which is never easy for us to do once Greg starts working.

Anyway, we're here for just 4 weeks, the weather should be great, and so we will plan to get out and enjoy Pittsburgh as much as possible, and chalk up to experience our time in a loft.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Philadelphia days

We had one more week in Philadelphia, in between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. We stayed with our ever-fabulous hosts, the Kennedy-Langes in Devon. (Greg's eldest sister, Becky, and her family). Our kids have the greatest time here, playing with their cousins and the family dog, Trixie.

Here's a picture I took on our last evening; their cousins have guitar lessons, and the teacher graciously allowed Ayla to try it out as well. Her cousin Axel is giving her some tips.

On weeks like this, we pack the schedule with doctor's and dentist's appointments for all five of us, playdates, meetings, visits to the storage unit and to our property managers, bank errands, haircuts - etc. It's a whirlwind.

Isa had her 4-year-old well-visit to the doctor, which means 4 booster shots. I'll never forget Ayla's trauma at this experience, and it wasn't much easier with Isa. (somehow I have blocked out Baz, probably for good reason!) Poor babe... there's one reason to be happy I have no more children, I'll never have to hold a screaming terrified 4-year-old through 4 vaccine shots again. ...she recovered just fine, more quickly than me, I think. Here she is displaying her bandaids of bravery, holding a little popsicle-stick doll the doctor made for her, wearing her sticker prize... and a lollipop, of course, makes everything OK.

We also had to bring Baz to an orthodontist for the first time this week. He has a crossbite, which is going to require a palatal expander (whoa!!) I had no idea we'd be facing this kind of stuff already. And boy is it going to be fun trying to coordinate orthodontists in different cities.

It wouldn't be a perfect visit to Philadelphia without a walk in the woods with the Dhondts... here we are, me and Rebecca and our six kids, look how big they are all getting! We were so lucky to have an idyllic day in the Wissahickon, wish we could have spent more time.

And now, we're off to Pittsburgh!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Last bits of Baltimore

Wrapping up here in Baltimore, I have a few last photos to share. Today we did a last sightseeing trip to the Inner Harbor, visiting the USS Constellation. It was fun to explore, and to learn about its history in the Civil War. Below is a photo of the kids chasing away a pirate ship which threatened us from the harbor. Clearly they were much smaller, and were scared off by the Constellation's superior cannon power.

I finished up this week teaching the kids' Phys Ed classes. I did this twice a week for two months, coaching the 5 schoolchildren in aerials and some juggling & manipulation skills. On our last day we tried doubles trapeze.

Of course in the Artistic Tent the kids always find creative ways to get warmed up....

And last of all for today's post, I wanted to note that it is not only overseas that you can find ridiculous signage.