Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some photos


I've been into photographing sunrises lately, trying to find a little bit of joy in my otherwise-resented early morning runs. Yes, I have signed up for the Half-Marathon one week from now, but I haven't trained well at all and I'm feeling real dread about it.


One of Isa's favorite things to do these days is to write words, sentences, whole stories - she says what she wants to write, and Mom or Dad tells her the letters.






Teachable moment as we stumbled across the Occupy San Francisco site today. This past week their encampment has been raided by poilce, and across the Bay in Oakland the police used tear gas on the protesters. The lively crowd around this site seems undaunted.


And finally, my kids with their cousins - they're thrilled to spend some quality time with 3-year-old twins Kai and Tenzing, who live in nearby San Anselmo.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

San Francisco premiere

I'm starting to enjoy the tradition of Premiere dinner, with its ice sculptures and roses decorating the real tablecloths, and despite the ultra-gourmet food which I find impossible to eat. The ambience feels special, and it's always a reunion of sorts for all the family members. So it was tonight.

The show itself - it's been a while since I've seen it, so I was excited when the lights when down and the music came up. All familiar - except that, in the first act alone there were three onstage problems. First, Fabio missed the bar on his last solo trick in Carapace, and landed on his rear on the trampoline. Second, one of the unicycle girls fell off her unicycle, when the wheel hit a bowl on the floor. She ran offstage, and the whole act fell apart, the other girls didn't know what to do. A long minute or two passed before she rejoined them onstage, to thunderous applause and standing ovations. Third was in Fisherman, when Micha pulled in his fishing line and there was nothing hooked to it! He had to reach down to find the grocery bag.

None of these things was show-stopping, of course - just noticeable, mistakes I'd never seen happen onstage before.

Later in the evening I was mostly reflecting on absences - the people who are missing from the tour here in SF. There is a wife, lost to a marital separation, an artist rehabbing an injury, and another inexplicably gone. I realize, 18 months into the life of this show, it is probably just the beginning, as many more people change, leave, arrive. I talked to a technician about this today, who is leaving for a 1-year sabbatical soon. He credits the constant change to an organization that makes these things possible, that embraces its employees' need for growth and movement.

Friday, October 28, 2011

First impressions of San Francisco

We've been in San Francisco for a few days now. We have an apartment near the Museum of Modern Art. It's 1 mile from site, which means that we're walking! Every day, lots and lots of walking. Greg usually bikes down to work. ....so, although my legs are tired, I'm really happy here - being able to walk or bike to site, grocery stores, clothing stores, etc. is wonderful.

San Francisco feels like an easy, comfortable place to be. Ah, America... familiar shops, currency, foods, language. Despite that level of ordinary-America, though, I've also noticed a number of things that seem quite distinctive to this city.





Dogs in grocery stores






Surprising number of adults riding scooters


Street names carved into the sidewalks



More-than-usually visible homeless people (having to teach the kids to step around the bums passed out on the sidewalk, daily)



Friendly bike culture in theory, but aggressive car traffic and very few bike racks (photo thanks to bikeinthecity.com, a new favorite Web site)

Hills!! They weren't kidding about these hills.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The rest of the cross-country trip

First, before I forget, the video I promised last time, of our intimate encounter with the buffalo in Yellowstone.

video

The second week of our trip cross-country met an unexpected turn, with the death of my grandmother, in upstate New York. I got the news the night we left Yellowstone, and the grief and stress of making arrangements to get to the funeral consumed me for most of the next couple of days.

In the meantime, we drove. We drove down through Grand Teton National Park, and into Utah, staying a night in Salt Lake City. We pressed onward into Arizona, driving all the way to Flagstaff. The weather improved dramatically, but our access to cell-phone and Internet coverage did not, which kept me in ruraphobic anxiety. I tried to communicate with my family via sporadic text-message, and whenever a few bars appeared on the cell phone, Greg would pull the car over, so we could try to make flight and hotel reservations.

At a certain point on that second day, it looked like my trip to New York might be impossible. The flight schedules and costs were becoming so complicated and excessive, I really began to question what I was doing. But the more I questioned it - the more I said to myself "maybe I shouldn't go" ... the more I would break down in tears. Greg was especially supportive, insisting that we keep trying to find a way, that he and the kids would be fine without me for a couple of days, and that this was family, this was important. With his firm backing, I pressed on, and eventually got a flight booked. My heart immediately felt lighter, and during the next few days everything felt bearable, because I knew I was doing the right thing.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in the Grand Canyon. We hiked, we picnicked, we soaked up the scenery. Although the kids seemed less awed by it than we were, they were happy to be outdoors and running around. And although I felt, mid-way through the day, that I'd get more satisfaction hiking this canyon solo, it was still a marvelous thing to show them. We managed to hike down into the Canyon a bit (and back up!!) - to Ooh-Aah Point, where we had this picture taken.

I flew out of Phoenix on Tuesday night, and 48 hours later I met back up with Greg and the kids in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, they continued the journey. Greg brought them for a second day to the Grand Canyon, and they did some more hiking. Then he moved all kids and luggage a few hours away, to Henderson, NV, outside Las Vegas. There is a great pool here, and so the kids spent a good amount of time swimming. That is, when they weren't eating at McDonalds or Dairy Queen. When I got in the car in Las Vegas, Ayla was quick to rattle off everything they'd consumed since I'd been gone: "We had Happy Meals, and waffle cones, and Fruit Loops, and pizza..." Ah well. They all seem to have survived this "Supersize Me" experiment, and I'm back now to care for their little arteries.

On Thursday, they went to the Hoover Dam (see picture. do they look a little like scurvy is setting in?). They picked me up late that night at the Las Vegas airport. And Friday was our Las Vegas Day!

Greg dropped me and the kids at the Flamingo, to meet up with Kitsie and Chris, who were just at the end of their week-in-Vegas vacation. It was so nice to see them, and they walked us around a bunch of the nearby casinos, showing us the sights. The kids were fascinated by the birds and koi in the Flamingo gardens; the spray-paint artist performing on the street; the wax figures outside Madame Tussauds; and the gondoliers singing in the Venetian. I brought them into a magic shop, but they were much more interested in the practical jokes on sale, rather than the real magic tricks. We spent $25 on soft pretzels for lunch (gotta love Las Vegas) and continued on to Treasure Island and the Mirage and Caesar's Palace. I was sure they would love the Atlantis animatronic-statues show, but in truth they were all terrified by it.

From there, we hiked around, through Aria and the Crystals shopping center, through Monte Carlo and New York, New York. I had a meeting lined up with a potential circus employee, so I did that while Greg walked the kids over to Excalibur and to see the MGM lions. We met up for dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, which was an excellent treat for everyone (good food, amazing decor, and they even had a balloon artist and a magician going table-to-table! we were enthusiastic audience members and tipped well).

A bit of hurrying got us back to Aria in time for the 7pm Viva Elvis show. We had used our complimentary tickets for this - Greg gets 4 comp tickets per year to any Cirque show, and when possible, we like to use them to see other shows ourselves. Elvis was one that we'd never seen, and we thought the kids would enjoy.

There are signs outside saying "No Kids Under 5 Allowed". So of course we lied and said Isa was 5. It turns out they're not so worried about the little ones disturbing the show - they are worried about their ears, because this show is rock-and-roll LOUD. Seeing Isa's smallness, they issued her some earplugs, and all was fine.

I thought the show was great!! Quite different from any of the other Cirque shows I've seen - it relies heavily on video footage from Elvis, which is really quite compelling to watch. Occasionally it does take away from the circus acts going on in front, this is true. The best acts were the ones that either had no video footage (like the beautiful "One Night" acrobatic act on the gigantic suspended guitar) or just let the video dominate the scene, like "Love Me Tender"'s footage of Elvis in the Army. There were occasional wrong notes, like the superhero characters in the otherwise-brilliant trampoline/parkour act. Others I especially enjoyed: the high bar "Return to Sender", the hysterical movie clips spliced together showing Elvis kissing dozens and dozens of actresses, and the power of "Jailhouse Rock". "Can't Help Falling in Love" was a tear-jerker. Overall, it was really a well-done show. Word has it that it is closing down very shortly for a re-working, so I will be interested to see which parts they change.

Whew! It was a whirlwind, as Vegas is supposed to be.

On Saturday we drove to California, to Sequoia National Park. We had a fairly brief visit there - a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon, and a couple of hours on Sunday morning. But we accomplished the main task, which was to see GIANT TREES. AND we got a glimpse of a family of black bears running through the woods! A mother and two cubs.

The other disturbing bit of wildlife we came across in Sequoia National Park was a tarantula, walking across the street. Thanks to Greg's super-eyesight, and reflexes not to run the thing over, we got some pictures. But it made me nervous - I had no idea these things were out in the wild in the southern U.S. Not sure that knowledge is really contributing anything good to my mental health.

Confession here: By this time, I was honestly getting sick of this trip. Though the kids were having lots of great experiences, and being generally well-behaved, and Greg was being a great sport, I was the one getting stir-crazy and irritable. Missing my routines, my kitchen, my "me" time. Sick of packing and unpacking the suitcases every day, and spending such long hours in the car. So I was not sorry to say goodbye to the wilderness, and get on our way to the vast civilization of San Francisco!!! To celebrate, Greg let me stop at Whole Foods for lunch. Woo-hoo!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Grandma

Marion Miller - March 27, 1924 - October 16, 2011


I am writing from Plattsburgh, New York, at the airport, after saying a final goodbye to my grandmother today. I helped my father write the eulogy, which my sister gave at the funeral service, and in the process I collected many stories and memories of this beloved woman.

Marion Bouyea was the second of 6 children, and grew up in Dannemora, New York. Her father worked at the local prison, and her mother was a housewife. Marion was the first female in her family to go to business school and then get a job (at the bank).

She fell in love with Edward Miller shortly before he left to fight in World War II. Some of our earliest photos of her come from that time period, when she would send pictures to him overseas. When he came back, they were married, and subsequently had five children (Ron [my Dad], Jim, Kathy, Marilyn, and Rob). Her role in those years was primarily a homemaker, but she also held down her job as a bank teller.

My aunts and uncles' stories of those years are always fascinating.

KATHY: When we were kids, we shared a garden with Uncle Willard and his family, who did most of the work. We’d sneak in and steal carrots from the garden, and wash them off with the hose to eat them raw. Mom found us out every time – we didn’t learn till later that it was the running water of the hose that gave us away.

JIM: The only mistake she ever made was to let her brother Vernon babysit us when she had to work. It was like we’d remodeled the house every time she came home.

ROB: She stopped coming to my football games after I got hurt one time. She couldn’t watch the games after that.

MARILYN: One time Bob, my date, was waiting for me at the door, but Mom wouldn't let me go out until I balanced my checkbook, which had a 2-cent discrepancy. Bob said, "I'll give her the 2 cents!" But Mom said, "Oh, no, you won't" and made me stay there until I found the error.

Her children grew, and some moved away. My Dad settled in Massachusetts to raise his family. And as I grew up, trips to Plattsburgh were a regular ritual. We came for at least a week in the summer and a week at Christmas, always staying with my grandparents. Their house remains etched in my memory, especially in a tactile way - I can remember the feel of the furniture, the dishes, the staircase railings, the doorknobs. There was always a jumble of who's-sleeping-where, always a vast spread of home-cooked food, and there were always card games after dinner. Their home was a warm and welcoming place, a place guaranteed to find a sympathetic ear, a refuge. Grandma was always up before dawn, and the early-risers among us would often join her for quiet conversation at the breakfast table.


She continually baked doughnuts (impossible for anyone in the family to replicate), and fresh rolls, and peanut butter balls. She knitted and crocheted constantly, and all of us in the family own afghans, sweaters, mittens and washcloths that she made for us.

Memories were made, now by even more family members - her sons- and daughters-in-law, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

BOB (son-in-law): Remember that time I brought that whole bag of fish in her kitchen and the bag broke? There were fish covering the whole floor of the kitchen, and she just laughed.

TERRY (daughter-in-law): She was always smiling, always so happy to see her family. I remember even the first time I came to Plattsburgh, she made me feel so welcome.

SHELLY (granddaughter-in-law): She sent birthday cards to everyone in the family, every year!

SHANNON (granddaughter): She taught her grandkids to play pinochle. Inevitably we all forgot, and she had to re-teach us every time we played.

LISA (granddaughter): Her face would light up whenever she saw her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

EMILY (great-granddaughter): Even when she was getting older, she could always make us laugh.

JEREMY (grandson): She was the only person who could balance my checkbook when I had my first bank account, the smartest math whiz in the family.

ERIK (grandson): I remember playing card games with Grandma – Uno, Skip-Bo….

ERIN (granddaughter): She learned to use the Wii at the Senior Center!

However, my grandmother never learned to drive a car. She never used a computer, never figured out the VCR. And I don't think she ever fully understood the strange career path I've taken, no matter how often I brought photos and videos. But no matter how old-fashioned or out-of-touch these things seem when I write them down - Grandma never seemed remote from my life, no matter how infrequently I saw her (or, towards the end, no matter how much her memory faded.) I always felt close to her, in the unspoken bond of a shared history.

At her funeral, when I looked around at all of the relatives in attendance, I realized this is the same bond that connects us all. People who see each other perhaps once a year, who sometimes have very little in common on the surface - and yet we have known each other all our lives. Something deep in our hearts connects us as family. It was important for me to be there with all of them, and remember that.

The last paragraph of her eulogy was this:

We know that she would be happy to see us all here together – the loved ones who made up the fabric of her long and beautiful life. We hope that we can continue her spirit of tremendous generosity and love of family – for she has left a spark of herself in each one of us. Marion, Mom, Grandma, Nana – we love you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wyoming


Day 4 - we spent the day driving through Wyoming. Our first stop was Devils Tower, the nation's first National Monument. Neither Greg nor I had ever been there, but Greg remembered it from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (A movie I've never seen. Greg says I should see it. Any other opinions out there?) It was a very impressive place, and great to get the kids out for a walk in an amazingly peaceful wilderness.

In all of the sites we've gone to so far, there are very few visitors. Mid-week in October, apparently, is off-season for South Dakota and Wyoming, and the parks and monuments are blissfully quiet. Although the weather isn't fabulous, it really is allowing us to see these places without crowds and rush.

At Devils Tower we saw rock-climbers. And listened to a woodpecker. And saw prairie dogs.

After that, with Baz and Isa complaining of serious holes in their sneakers, shoe-shopping could wait no longer. We found a shoe store in Sheridan, WY, and gratefully fitted them out with two new sturdy pairs of Columbias. With amusement I noticed that Greg handled most of the fitting and transactions - a pleasant change, I can't remember the last time he shopped for shoes for the kids!! Nice for me to be able to step back. And then on the way out we went through the conversation that I think every set of parents goes through, multiple times - "damn that was expensive. how can they outgrow their shoes so fast?" "didn't we just buy them shoes six months ago?" etc. :)

From there, we had the treat of driving through Granite Pass, some big and beautiful mountains with winding roads up and down. Incredible views, and snow!!

Back down to earth, we have just arrived in Cody, Wyoming. At this motel, we splurged on a "Family Room", which includes two double beds and two twin beds. Baz gets to sleep in a bed, for the first time this trip!! Every other night, the girls have shared a bed, and he's been on the floor in a sleeping bag. The funny part is, the girls have been fighting with him over it, complaining that they, too, want a chance to sleep on the floor.

Day 5 - Yellowstone National Park

This morning we drove into Yellowstone. The kids were psyched to see wild animals; the ranger at the gate gave them a checklist, to keep track of how many they saw. Greg and I were mostly in awe of the scenery - the beautiful snow-capped mountains, plunging canyons, lakes and waterfalls and streams and forests; every corner you go around is like another picture postcard.

We were surprised at a couple of things. First, an amazing amount of the forests are burned trees, and the new growth of baby pines. Apparently there were some major fires here in the last few decades, we need to learn more about this.

Second, I didn't realize quite how cold, and how off-season Yellowstone would be in October. It turns out that tons of the park services , lodges and campgrounds shut down for the season in September; the lodge we are staying at, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, has one of only two dining rooms open in the park in October - and it closes for the season tomorrow. Most of the roads in Yellowstone are entirely shut down to cars from November 1 - April 15. That's nearly 6 months! I would never have believed it, without being here to see for myself. How can the most popular and well-known national park in the US be so difficult to visit for half the year? ...it is based, I assume, on Yellowstone's clear and ever-present mission to be responsible environmental stewards. They could blast the snow out of this place and put heated rest stops throughout the park, but instead they let nature set the course.

Being here in the off-season, of course, has its perks. There is a quiet emptiness to the park, very peaceful. However, the cold and wind and drizzle has been daunting, and it has kept us from hiking quite as much as we'd like to.

Nevertheless, our first day in the park was filled with many great things. We checked out the giant Lake, and the Yellowstone River waterfalls, and the breathtaking Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Then we discovered the hot springs, and hiked numerous trails around the geysers in central Yellowstone. Towards the end of the afternoon, we were finally rewarded with buffalo sighting! It went like this...

"Stop the car!! Buffalo!!"


"Oh, look, another buffalo! Who wants to get out of the car and get a little closer?"


"Oh My God Buffalo."


After seeing just a single buffalo here and there, we turned off the main road and found ourselves in an incredible herd. We counted 120 of them. There were babies too! We were all completely enthralled. They were so close to the car, we couldn't get out, but just rolled down the windows and gaped at them. They were amazing.

With that, and the fading light, we made our way to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, for a night of rest before beginning our second day of exploration.

Day 6 - Yellowstone / Grand Teton / get the hell out of the cold, rainy mountains

The Snow Lodge is a beautiful place to stay. At $235/night, it was by far the priciest place on our itinerary, but the ambience of the place lived up to it. Decorative soaps, lamps, and woodwork; a lobby with cozy furniture and a roaring fire; convivial lounges and dining rooms; board games and puzzles to lend out at the front desk. But the weather was getting worse - temperatures, which had kindly climbed into the 50s on our first day, were forecasted for the 40s the following day, with rain. Paying such a steep price to stay somewhere for a second night, when we might very well just be cooped up in the lodge, seemed ridiculous - we decided to cancel the second night's reservation, and head south.

Before we did that, though, we did get to see Old Faithful erupt, and explore the geysers a bit more. They are really quite astounding. Here are some hot springs that are on Lake Yellowstone. Which boggles my mind ... Lake Yellowstone is known for being dangerously cold, with water temperatures in the 40s. Swimming is prohibited, due to the danger of hypothermia. And yet, all around the Lake, even immediately adjacent to it, these hot springs are bubbling over and trickling boiling-hot water into the lake. Ground temperatures in many of the surrounding areas are so high that plants can't survive, and people aren't allowed to walk. How is it possible that the lake can be so ungodly freezing?!

We also encountered even more buffalo, in a large herd that was making itself comfortable in the geyser basin around Old Faithful. These were astonishingly bold buffalo, who were all over the paths and impossible to avoid. It was fairly nerve-wracking, as you can see from the video in my next post.


Before leaving Yellowstone we got to cross over the continental divide. To our delight, the small body of water at the mountaintop is called Isa Lake!! Half of Isa Lake drains towards the Pacific, and half towards the Atlantic.

Greg, with his usual ridiculousness, decided to juggle 5 snowballs at the Continental Divide.

We made our way down to Grand Teton. Everyone raved about how beautiful Grand Teton was. But it was raining. So, we could see some beautiful landscapes from the windows, but no place seemed like we really needed to get out and explore it on foot in the drizzle. By that time we had decided to cut our losses with the mountainous regions of Wyoming. The chill and wet were too much for us ... the forecast is 70 degrees and sunny for the Grand Canyon. So we plowed ahead, southbound, through the cuteness of Jackson Hole, and into the hours of fairly empty, though pretty, driving between there and Utah.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Great American Road Trip - South Dakota

I had to give that title to this blog entry, because it's a slogan I keep seeing on the tourist materials. And it does feel that way... like we're taking part in some great tradition - especially when so many of my older relatives have responded enthusiastically to my recent blog posts, enjoying their own memories of similar trips!

I have a different perspective, this time around, than I did as a kid. I appreciate different things ... much more attention to the history of how things happened, and the people who made them happen. I'm less interested in the spectacular, and more interested in the personal stories. And of course, a big part of my attention is focused on the children's experience. What are they seeing, what are they learning? What will they remember about all of these places?

So, we've been staying for 2 nights in Keystone, South Dakota. It's amazing to be in these tourist towns in the off season. So many hotels, restaurants and shops are already closed for the season. The big sites are very quiet. And in some ways I understand it - it's COLD here! Early morning temperatures are in the 30s. So, my running has been practically non-existent this week, as I can't handle running in a dark, cold, empty, strange place. (see "ruraphobia" from previous entry).

Our first stop today was Mt. Rushmore. We stayed warm by trekking around the site, and learning about the sculptor and the amazing process of creating the monument. Most interesting for us - the site is under its annual maintenance right now, you can see a tripod perched on top of Teddy Roosevelt's head, and some little workers up there at the top. We got to see the riggers at the bottom of the hill hoisting supplies, on a series of pulley ropes, to the upper team, and one of the men stopped to talk to us about their work. Fascinating! Below you can see the bag of supplies being carried up the ropes.


In the afternoon, we went to the Jewel Cave National Monument. The kids had never been in a cave before, so we took the 1.5-hour guided tour, exploring the rock formations and learning about spelunking. (Which, by the way, is not a cool term to use among serious "cavers" these days. The joke goes that cavers rescue spelunkers.) The kids' favorite parts of the tour were imagining different shapes in the rocks, and the time that the ranger let us experience total darkness by turning out all the lights in the cave. It was quite intense.

We were sightsee-d out after that adventure, so we declined to stop by the Crazy Horse monument on the way home. We could get a pretty good look at the site from the road, and as Baz complained, "it's not even finished yet!" ... so, I guess they can take their children to that one, instead.

Our hotel in Keystone has a kitchenette and an indoor pool, so we were happy to have some more time here this evening. Now we're all going to sleep early - tomorrow morning, Wyoming awaits!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cross-Country - MI, IN, IL, WI, MN, SD

Our first two days traveling cross-country were spent almost entirely in the car. The kids were quite well-behaved on the first day, but by day 2 Baz was extremely restless, and driving us all crazy.



In the meantime, we had brief experiences in La Crosse, WI (nothing really memorable about it, except that our motel had awesome Halloween decorations in the lobby)...
Rochester, MN; and suburban Chicago, IL.



I was fascinated by the changes in the countryside as we traveled. Minnesota was filled with farms and windmills. These turbines, hundreds of them stretching as far as the eye could see, were just extraordinary to observe, and the wind farms just kept popping up all along the highway as we drove. I am guessing that they weren't there when I came this route with my parents, as a kid (around 1986?).

Then we got to South Dakota, and everything looked different. South Dakota is just endless, empty prairie, punctuated with hundreds of billboards. My mood dropped dramatically as we proceeded through this state. The sheer emptiness of it, the giant stretches of nothingness, make me incredibly anxious. What if the car broke down? What if we needed something? I honestly find it hard even to spend an afternoon driving through here. Is it some kind of phobia?? let's see what the Internet says.... Urban Dictionary says I might have

Ruraphobia - (n) A condition resulting in severe fear of leaving urban environments and entering rural environments.

That sounds about right... it's just beyond me, how people can be comfortable living out here.

I don't know if it was that, or Baz's troublesome behavior, but by the time we'd finished dinner on day 2 I was at my breaking point in our tiny hotel room. These quarters are just too close... no space for me to even sit apart, nevermind find the space I need to clear my head. So, in the evenings I have been retreating to the hotel lobbies with my laptop!

Nevertheless, we press on with our sightseeing adventures. In South Dakota we have actually visited a lot of places! We started with the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Yep, it's a building covered with dry husks of corn, a bit of folk / street art that they've been continually re-doing for decades. You can see the lifts outside the facade, they're doing what they call "Corn-by-Number", matching the different colored corn husks with the artist's drawn images.

On day 3, of course, we went to Wall Drug (!) and spent time at the Badlands. It was so windy and cold!! We had a hard time appreciating the vistas, when the sharp wind felt like it might blow us over a precipice. By the afternoon, though, the sun had come out, and we braved some of the hiking trails. With my husband's typical gung-ho energy for these kinds of things, we ended up on a much more challenging hike than planned, scaling steep rock slopes beside dangerous cliffs. I kept envisioning one of my not-so-coordinated children falling into a ravine, which made it hard to enjoy. But we were rewarded with some beautiful views, and a great sense of accomplishment.

Here are a couple of other images of our day at the Badlands. Yes, that is Greg juggling 5 rocks.



We were exhausted after that, but couldn't resist stopping at the Prairie Homestead, where the kids could dress up like Laura Ingalls Wilder and explore a real pioneer's homestead from the early 1900s. We've been reading the Little House on the Prairie books to them, so they were extremely excited about this. Between the costumes, the farm animals (prairie dogs! chickens! a goat!) and the old-fashioned housewares, it was hard to pull them away from this place.

We had one more stop left on our itinerary - we went to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, where we learned about the Cold War, and the 1000 missiles that were silo-ed all over the Great Plains region for nearly 30 years. It was pretty fascinating, to step back into that time period and to hear about how it all worked.

We drove onwards to the gold-mining town of Keystone, where we're beginning part 2 of the South Dakota adventure. More to come!

Last Toronto photos

Before I move on to photo-chronicling this cross-country adventure, I have to post a few last photos of our time in Toronto. Toronto really was a great city, in a lot of ways, and I tried to document some of the best things about it.


1. Bikes. OK, so Toronto was a big-city traffic kind of place, and we couldn't let the kids bike on the streets. But nevertheless, Toronto has a lot of cyclists. I loved these art installations - all over the city you could find occasional bikes, painted in fluorescent colors, locked up to bike racks. ...The bike rack itself also deserves mention. One of the nicer-designed city fixtures we've encountered, it also resembles the Russian letter "f". So everywhere we saw these (which was everywhere), Isa and I would say "fff! fff!"



2. Speaking of awesome bike racks, check out this one! In the funky neighborhood of Kensington, spelling the name in a simulated bike chain. (that's Isa in the green dress in front).



3. Another image of super-cool Kensington.



4. I loved this reflection of the CN Tower on a nearby building.



5. These regular commuter trains, with their unusual shape and color, made me smile every time I saw them.



6. And finally, one of the kids - Baz and Ayla are showing off the art project that the school students all did together, making an elaborate scene entirely out of recycled materials.


For the kids, nothing's better than playing with friends, and in the last couple of weeks of Toronto, Isa and Kiana had some good times together...

video

Monday, October 10, 2011

On the road

We've hit the road! for our two-week cross-country driving adventure.
Day 1 has been fairly uneventful. The high point was dinner at a mega-shopping mall outside Chicago, the bliss of American retail therapy, and buying myself an iPhone! I'm very excited about it, but I also love its pretty white box and I'm afraid of damaging the phone, so thus far I am just carrying around a pretty iPhone box.
And now we are trying to get to sleep in a scrummy motel in La Crosse, WI... At $54/night how can you complain?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Counting the seconds....

The artists are all just dying to get through this week. On Monday we will begin Annual Leave, our once-a-year 2-week vacation. Even though we have lots of shorter breaks, this one feels like a bigger deal. Cirque flies everyone home to their families at this time. Those who choose not to fly home have the equivalent airfare to go somewhere else... so some people are going on real vacations, to lie on the beaches in Mexico and Hawaii. No matter where they're going, everyone is just desperately eager to get there. These 10-show weeks have been draining for everyone.

So, here we are again, tearing apart our apartments and testing the limits of our suitcases...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Talent Show

The Russian wives organized a Kids Talent Show this past weekend!
Baz did magic tricks with Yahor, Ayla and Isa danced, Ayla told jokes with Sophia. Among the other children, there were songs in English, Russian and Mongolian, hula-hooping, dancing, and little plays. We had a great crowd of supportive adults. Nastia says she'd like to make this an annual event!

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