Friday, March 30, 2012

San Jose apartment

Brought to you by our little pets.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Birthday Month continues


Today was the joint birthday party for Baz and Isa, at a fun place here in San Jose called Jungle Island. Although the party was very well-managed and the kids had a blast, I have to admit that it was all a bit overwhelming - this place has a huge play structure, and arcade games, and laser tag, and bumper cars, and make-your-own-stuffed-animals ... it was just a lot. Then, when our kids opened their giant piles of presents and we dragged home tons of new sets of plastic things (legos, barbie, disney, dora, etc...), I had to wonder if we are just too far gone over the parenting-extremist-birthday-parties line. Remember the pre-children days when it seemed ludicrous to hire a magician for your kid's party? When that's what rich, stupid people did? What has happened to us?

Oh, I don't know. I could blame it on the tour I suppose. Pre-tour, I had entirely quit hosting children's birthday parties. Enough, I said. From now on, on your birthday, we will go someplace special, like a museum. Maybe you can bring 1 friend with you. And happy times were had by all, for the year or two this lasted.

But here on tour this is just not the way of it. There is a set group of kids, and when they have parties, everyone goes all out. The parties are long, and expensive, and the gifts are extravagant.

It does get hard on the dads, too. Especially this time of year - from February-April there is a big concentration of kids' parties, which invariably happen on Mondays. Meaning it can feel like, every Monday (their one day off) they are all standing around at some kids' play zone singing happy birthday.

While it would make me happy to try and be a trend-setter, and announce to all the other families "we Kennedys are no longer doing birthday parties" - it would certainly not make my kids happy. They cherish these events and wouldn't like to be the only kids not having a big to-do. We've talked about trying to go in on larger joint parties, but few people seem to really go for this idea.

Well, at least it's 6 months till I have to consider Ayla's birthday. A picture to close, here's her latest smile, missing all 4 front teeth. (Baz elbowed her in the mouth, accidentally knocking out that 4th one, a few days ago). Can you believe she has another one loose on the bottom? She is officially speaking funny now, with a kind of lisp. ...Ayla had a pretty exciting last few days, she got to go horseback riding twice, and sleep over at her friend Sophia's house!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Time with cousins

A treasured double-dark this week, and we've spent it visiting with Greg's family. His mother is in town, staying a few days with Greg's sister, and then a few days with us later this week. But for the first part of the week we went up to his sister's house in Marin County for quality time with our twin nephews. The five kids have a great time playing together.

Today was Greg's birthday, but we spent it mostly doing things for the kids - we had to trek all the way up to Fairfield to pick up a replacement retainer from Baz's orthodontist, and then we took them to the Bay Area Discovery Museum with their cousins. This place is a gem. Baz was a little put out that the sign outside says "for kids ages 0-8" (he just turned 9 a week ago) but he found plenty there to keep him interested. The museum is all the best California values in one place - a gorgeous natural environment; ecological, health and social issues illustrated at every turn; and creative, artistic designers sparing no time or expense to make beautiful things for kids to play with.

I was realizing today how much I enjoy watching my kids from a little distance. I love seeing what little independent beings they are. (admiring my handiwork? :) In any case, they are so much more creative when I stay out of their way. Over time this is evolving into a bit of a parenting philosophy for me... just leaving them alone to see what they come up with. More often than not I am thrilled with the results. It doesn't apply to all aspects of their lives for sure - I worry far too much about the food that goes into their mouths, and about making sure they have clean hands and faces, and that they're presentably dressed. But when it comes to playtime, I am quite comfortable sending them on their way alone. There are three of them, after all. And for the most part they play wonderfully together, and look out for each other.

They are getting older. It's hard to remember how it felt to have all of my energies poured into a newborn, or a crawling infant, or a toddler. To worry about pacifiers and strollers and babies putting everything in their mouths. Sometimes I do miss the less-complicated times though... this week I've had to do things like explain to Ayla what the death penalty is, and tell Baz that he is under no circumstances allowed to try to kiss girls in order to annoy them. Baz wants to use the iPod with earphones in the car; Ayla wants to text her friend on my iPhone. We can see where this all is headed, fast.

(sigh) and on that note, it's time to celebrate another milestone, as Isa turns the big 5 years old tomorrow!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thoughts on Cirque

This is the train we take to the site!

Last week, Totem performed its 700th show. In less than 2 years.

Amazingly, there are a handful of artists (3 or 4) who haven't missed a single show. There are quite a few others who technically haven't missed any shows, but whose act has been out for one reason or another. Greg doesn't fall into either of these categories - of the first 700, he officially performed in 695 shows. The other 5 were performed by his understudy.

It's a whole lot of shows, no matter how you look at it.

But Totem is still young by Cirque standards. Varekai just celebrated its 3500th show. Mystere passed the 8000 mark in 2010.

Cirque is about to premiere its newest show - called Amaluna - in Montreal. It will replace Totem as the baby of the family. It is good that Cirque is launching a new touring show - after the last few years have seen the closings (or pending closings) of resident shows Banana Shpeel, Zed, Zaia, and Viva Elvis. Cirque did launch Michael Jackson: the Immortal, and Zarkana during this time, but these are also shows targeted to specific markets (arenas and theaters) and not Big Top touring.

Chatting about Cirque's other shows is a continual pastime on tour. Which shows have you seen? Which ones were good? Which ones have you worked for? (I was talking with a technician the other day who has worked on 12 different shows!) It is not unheard-of for artists on Totem to have never seen another Cirque du Soleil production. Here in California, we're close enough to Las Vegas for people to visit, and to try to study up on the multitude of shows there. It's always fun to hear their impressions.

Additionally, our tour sees a large number of technicians come and go, usually transferring to and from other shows. Occasionally a technician will go from being a "fly-in" (enlisted for setup and breakdown) to becoming a permanent staff member. All of these changes are documented and publicized in regular newsletters, and in a photographic "Who's Who" that's distributed yearly.

It is a big enough population on tour that you can't learn everyone's name. We have our spheres. Mine is The Families. Greg's is The Artists, and there is overlap between them. The Artists, in fact, overlap the other spheres as well: the Technicians, and the Support Staff. Within each group there are sub-groups - the Russians, the Musicians, the Schoolteachers, the Riggers. One of my favorite experiences of life with Totem is bridging a gap into a new sphere, getting to know someone in one of the other areas.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day

It is Pi Day, also famous for being Baz's birthday! He turned a big 9 years old today. Here he is wearing one of his favorite gifts, a Michael Jackson T-shirt from his Auntie Erin. He's got his little magnetic chess board in front of him - my parents sent him a couple of new chess books, which is another recent preoccupation of his. But I have to admit that the gift he was pining away for, which had him laying awake nights dreaming about it, was the big one that Greg and I got for him - a habitat of Hex Bugs. ... if you are not familiar with this must-have new toy on the market, check out the link. While I am totally mystified by this phenomenon - what could possibly be appealing about little bugs that run around in tracks? - my kids are all completely enthralled by them.

Today will also go down on record as the day we renamed San Jose "Snail Town", after the hundreds of улитки that come out in this area when it rains; and also the day in which I had to learn how to remove black truck grease from Ayla's hair, after she bumped her head while playing under the circus trailers. (Note #1 - the children have been expressly forbidden to play under the trailers, ever. Note #2 - what gets truck grease out of hair is dish soap, scrubbed in repeatedly 2 or 3 times, then followed by several rounds of regular shampoo. She's lucky she has hair left.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Only in California

Palm trees in the front yard.

Tailgating plants for sale.

Bike racks with socks.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Quiet pace

Things have settled into an easy rhythm here. I am teaching a lot more English lessons - up to 4 or 5 regular private-lesson students! - in addition to my usual classes, twice-a-week adults English and twice-a-week kids English. The private lessons I do for small sums of money, or for trades (babysitting, Russian lessons). But mostly I do them because they are so enjoyable for me. Spending time getting to know these other tour members, and really being able to help them with something, is immensely gratifying.

When we are not studying, we are commuting back and forth to the Cirque site. It's one of the easiest public-transit situations we've ever had - the light rail stops outside our apartment complex, and it's a straight line right to the site. It's is in kind of an odd place here - the lot is nestled between a highway and a residential neighborhood. We're used to the tent being set much further back from civilization. There are also low-flying planes coming in for landings at the around-the-corner San Jose Airport. So far the sound hasn't been a big problem, and it's just kind of fun to see such a close-up view of the incoming jets.

On the way home at night, there are stars and planets to admire, including this full moon rising over the orange tree grove near our apartments. This was the best my iPhone camera could manage... it was quite beautiful.

Yesterday was International Women's Day. I'd never heard of this before we joined the tour, but it's seriously celebrated in Russia. So throughout the day we are treated to Russian hugs and kisses and well-wishes, and Nikita even gave out roses to some lucky ladies. Ayla was on cloud nine. This picture also gives you a chance to examine her wacky smile - of her 4 front teeth, 3 are gone, and the 4th is hanging on by a thread at a weird angle.

What else is there to report? Baz is complaining that he has too much French at school, and he and Yahor, as their friendship becomes stronger, seem to get into more trouble together. We have to be especially on top of them with Chinese class, which seems to be ground zero for their worst behavior. Yesterday for their English class, the Chinese girls came and taught our kids (in English) to make friendship bracelets. Tomorrow the school has field trip to see Beauty and the Beast. In the meantime, Isa is going through a mid-childhood crisis which I could write a book about. This too shall pass.

My Mom is visiting, so this weekend hopefully we will get out for a little exploring!

Monday, March 5, 2012


The weather was finally warm enough yesterday for a day at the pool. We had our choice of pools, there are a bunch here - but we settled on the biggest, central one, and spent the afternoon there with a number of other Totem families. So nice to break out the bathing suits in March!!

And today was a birthday party for two of the boys on tour, Yahor and Anthony. We went to an indoor trampoline place! Where the kids bounced to their hearts' content for hours. Fun to do this kind of thing with acrobat families ... I think the trampoline workers probably saw more than their usual quota of double flips and twisting moves into the foam pit. :)

In other small get-togethers, we all descended on Olga Usov's apartment yesterday to wish her a surprise happy birthday; I finally got together for another English / Russian lesson with Marina (suspended for the last few months); and Patricia and I ran 10k out on the trails Sunday, which we're planning to make a regular event. As I hoped, our San Jose accommodations are making all these kinds of things easier to organize.

Time to get some exhausted kids ready for bed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Our Premiere night here in San Jose was more low-key than usual. Not as many families attended. The glamour factor was lower - the after-show party was at a cowboy-themed bar, so boots and jeans were in evidence. (The bar was 21+, so there was no question of any of the families attending this time.) I also think the casual atmosphere of suburban America is rubbing off on us ... I am back to feeling comfortable in my sneakers and fleece, whereas in London I didn't think I could step out of the house without boots and a wool coat.

The food in the kitchen on Premiere night was predictably over-the-top, gourmet to the point of unrecognizable. And there are a lot of new faces on site, mainly technicians and support staff who have joined the show in the last few months, and the "fly-in" crew who will be leaving town soon.

Otherwise it felt like an ordinary day. Here are the children waiting at the box office for tickets to the show, all holding their red booster seats. On Premiere there is always free popcorn, so they filled their bellies with that all evening and tried to stay awake. (I had to take Isa and Baz home after Greg's act in the second half, as they were becoming quickly unconscious.)

We admired slight variations in the show; smiled at the return of artists who'd returned after temporary absences; looked for our favorite Totem moments and enjoyed them again. It's funny to know a show so well like this.... for many acts, I couldn't tell you their choreography in detail. But when I'm watching it, my visual memory kicks in ... I have seen it done so many times exactly the same way, that the slightest alteration is noticeable to me.

Mostly, I enjoyed my friends. Looking at them, and feeling the easy rhythm of their company, I realized how different this feels, from when I first joined the show. There is no anxiety, no question of who will I be? in this new phase of my life. I am here. I am part of this. This is my group, this is what we do and who we are. And that feels really good right now.

Friday, March 2, 2012

March comes in like a ... golden retriever?

That's the best I could think of for a sunny, happy animal for the title of this post. March just isn't very lion-like in California. But this post really has nothing to do with golden retrievers.

I haven't had much to write about this past week.... pretty uneventful here. We have just been settling in to San Jose. Lots of outside play time. Rousing games of Candy Land and Rush Hour. Isa and Gipsy came with me to visit the wonderful central library and got a library card - which allows me to take out 100 books! This is a record, of all the cities we've been to. So the San Jose Public Library system rocks.

And today I discovered another new favorite place. Sweet Tomatoes restaurant is like my personal slice of heaven. Huge salad bar for a flat price of about $10, and unlimited drinks for $2.50, and then you go around the corner and there's another big buffet of free stuff! Fresh breads, pastas, soups, and desserts! It's awesome. I will be attempting to visit this place as often as possible, wish me luck.

Totem premieres in San Jose tonight.