Monday, May 28, 2012

Goodbye San Diego

Celebrated my last day in San Diego with a 23-mile bike ride, down to Mission Beach and back!

Now we are on our way back east, driving as quickly and directly as possible.  Our first day we did 935 miles.  Passed by the Kooza tent in Phoenix, and one of the Totem trucks along the road.

Spending the night at a motel in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012


There were many things to love about the world of Totem today.

It was Luggage Day.  This is the day when artists, family members, technicians, kitchen and office staff find ourselves on common ground, hauling Too Many Heavy Suitcases through hallways and elevators and onto curbs.  Swearing that next time we will pack less, and pack earlier, and pack more efficiently.

I admired the Luggage Bus system today ... a full-sized tour bus, which normally just shuttles us back and forth to the site, was also used to haul everyone's stuff.  And each time the bus stopped to pick up more passengers, all the big strong guys already seated on the bus (acrobats, riggers, etc.) would scuttle off the bus to help the new people load their things.  It had a great esprit de corps.

Lunch.  I dislike lunch with the kids on site.  My kids alternate between whining about the food on their plates, to jumping up and down, restless to get outside and play.  I spend thirty minutes basically standing over them, repeating like a broken record, "Sit down. Eat your food." ...nonetheless I took a moment to appreciate what we have here, today.  Lunch is always a fresh-cooked mix of grains, protein and vegetables (which my kids are significantly better at eating than they were when we started touring).  And the typical kid-goofy-social world of school lunchtime - at least it is taking place in a mix of English, Russian and French.

That multilingualism is carrying over more and more into their play times and class times.  As Baz & Ayla's French improves, and some of the younger children are being taught entirely in French, the school is beginning to flow in a more bilingual way - the kids are all able to respond to instructions in both French and English, and it begins to not matter which language is spoken.

I watched them rehearsing their little school play this morning, and one of the most fascinating parts for me was a scene where two characters are interacting - Petr is speaking French (he is French immersion, and speaks very little English) and Anthony is speaking English (he is a primarily-English student who takes French as a second language).  Somehow they decided this would be the best solution - to have each child speak in the language they're most comfortable with - but they understand each other completely.  It's kind of surreal to watch as an audience member.

I was so impressed with Baz & Ayla's memorized lines!  I'm looking forward to seeing the finished version of this play in a few weeks.  It is a Native American storyline, including a creation fable, and authentic music and dance.  (It's convenient to be able to ask our Hoop Dancers for pointers).  They rehearse in the Tapis Rouge tent, which makes for a nice setting.

We couldn't spend a lot of time outside today because there are forklifts zooming around all over the place.  But we did get a few minutes of sunshine, enough for Isa to practice writing her name in English and in Russian.

And by the way, in case of emergency....

Monday, May 21, 2012

Getting by

It's been an up-and-down past week.  Last Monday was great - we spent the day at Sea World.  We were so lucky to get free tickets to Sea World!  Totem has done an amazing job in this city exchanging tickets for some of the big attractions. ...And in the evening, we went to visit the home of our new friend Jean-Luc Martin, who is the director of the new San Diego Circus Center.

  ...After that, it was a routine week - lots of classes and lessons and kid-wrangling.  Here is a photo of our English class in action - some people are hiding from the sun, which burns so hot out there at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Things took a turn for the worse yesterday.  It was Sunday, and our nearby library branch was closed, so I decided to take the kids to the one in downtown La Jolla.  We figured out the buses, and made it to downtown - but when we got off the bus, I discovered my wallet was missing.  I must have laid it next to me on the seat, or something equally stupid, as I know I had it getting on the bus.

I spent the next couple of hours in a panic, as the kids and I didn't even have bus fare to get home.  I stopped every bus driver I could find, hoping I'd run into the same bus again, or that they'd know how to contact the other driver.  No luck.  Finally, the kids and I spent an hour at the library (unable to take any books out, library card in wallet)... then I called a taxi.  The taxi driver was willing to wait downstairs while I ran up to our apartment and raided Baz's piggybank for the fare.

I held out hope that the wallet would be turned into a lost and found ... but no.  This afternoon we finally started seeing fraudulent credit-card charges.  So, now, all the credit cards had to be cancelled, the cash was lost, in addition to museum passes, health insurance cards, photo identification.  If anyone out there has lost a wallet, you'll sympathize with me - it sucks.  And it is going to be a long road back to putting it all together again.

We did go to Totem's 2-year anniversary celebration on the beach this afternoon.  The event had everything going for it - a good turnout of people, lovely spread of food, decent weather, and fun extra things like this sand sculpture, beach volleyball, and kites to fly. The kids had a very good time.  Greg, however, had a minor surgery this morning on a saliva gland, so he's been kind of out of it all day.  As for me - I was in a funk.  Not vastly different than the general angst I've been feeling since I returned from Philadelphia last month; but it flares up at different times, and today was one of those days.

Tomorrow is a new day...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

This week with Nastia

Let me just say, I adore my friend Nastia.  She is quite different from me in some ways - she is Russian Orthodox, and never went to college; she speaks little English.  But in most of the ways that really matter in day-to-day life, we see eye-to-eye and get along great.  The majority of our time is spent taking care of our children... feeding and dressing and worrying over them, intervening in fights and providing them with safe and interesting places to play, organizing activities for them.  We want our kids to be well-behaved, physically active, to eat balanced meals, show respect for others, do well in school.  Our oldest boys (Baz & Yahor) are close friends.  Our youngest ones (Isa and Ilya) are the same age.  So Nastia and I basically do everything together.

If I didn't love her so much, I don't know how I would have survived the birthday party she threw for herself today, which lasted 7 hours.  This is not a unique-to-Nastia phenomenon - the Russian women all tend to throw birthday parties for themselves and their children which are expected to be all-day affairs.  It's not the first time I've experienced it, and I'm over the shock - but today was over-the-top even by these standards, and observing it gave me new insights into this remarkable woman and her role on tour.

Nastia spent about three days just preparing the food for this event - three types of Russian salads, then some kind of potato dish and meat to be grilled on the barbeque outside, an elaborate cake, fruit and veggies and juices and wine and snack foods for the kids.

Then she prepared about a dozen party games - guessing games and run-around games and scavenger hunts, all of which included both adults and kids.  Here is my favorite result of the games today - one event required Baz, Ayla, and Isa to each draw a portrait of their Mom.

Throughout the day - coordinating people from the pool to the park, and corralling everyone into activities and directing the action, Nastia was unflagging, and totally in her element.  She brought out her own cake and candles and cued everyone to sing, and had the children blow out the candles.  When not every child got a turn to blow out the candles, she re-lit the candles three more times, with singing each time.  She served tea, cleaned up spills, and refereed squabbling children.  She was exhausting to watch.  

But I realized a couple of things, observing her.  First, she was truly happy.  While everyone else would have been content to have a few snacks and a bottle of wine and lie on the grass while the kids entertained themselves, for her, it was immensely satisfying to play the role of hostess extraordinaire.  And it was her birthday, so of course everyone went along with it - and we had a lot of laughs.  It did make me wonder if she is really the trendsetter in this group - if it weren't for Nastia, what would wives' parties on tour look like?  Would there always be so much attention to birthdays?  Who knows.

Second, I realized that this is why I have always been drawn to Nastia - she is a do-er, like me.  She does not sit back and let others make plans and decisions - she plows ahead, knowing that whether her choices are perfect or not, everyone will be happy to go along with something.  And in the end we all have a lot to show for it  - healthy, happy kids, and a closer-knit social group of families on tour.  I love that she is a leader, and that she constantly surprises me with her ideas.

The more Russian I speak, the more I can really get to know these women.  (despite my efforts, teaching English classes regularly now for over a year, most of them still can't hold a lengthy or detailed conversation in English).  Today conversation was 90% in Russian, and I followed a lot of it, but not all.  At one point, one of the women exclaimed (in Russian), "poor Shana, she probably didn't understand that!" and I replied in Russian, "you're right, I didn't understand it, but I'm listening."  At which point another woman chimed in, "well, there you go, you get to feel what it's like for us in English class!"  Everyone laughed and started sharing stories of various times they've been completely lost in class over the last few months, and I laughed along with them.  My Russian vocabulary and grammar still has a long way to go, but I can be part of these conversations now, which is really something exciting.

To close, a photo of our great achievement this week.  We finally managed to get Circus Classes for the children approved through the many echelons of Cirque du Soleil.  It took a while to figure it all out - but now that I have the green light, we are able to use the Artistic Tent once a week, with all of the kids (11 children ages 3-10) learning acrobatics and juggling skills.  While I have been the logistics manager for these classes, I couldn't do them without Nastia - she used to teach sport acrobatics in Belarus and she's a natural coach.  ...I am so, so happy to have this program finally up and running, and to be able to give to my kids a little of my real work and experience.  Hooray!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Two nice links to share today....
I was a guest blogger on ESL Library this week, writing about my experiences teaching English at Totem.
And our Totem school was featured in the Del Mar Times.  It's a nice article!

Monday, May 7, 2012


On Saturday we discovered hot air balloons drifting near the Cirque tent.

Baz mimicking the surfers in the distance, today at the beach.

We brought the kids to their first baseball game - Padres vs. Rockies!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A moment

Had to write about this neat experience.
My sister-in-law came to visit Totem this weekend with her family - her husband, two kids, and her husband's brother, his wife, and their two kids.... we were delighted to show this party of 8 around the Cirque site.  But I had to teach my Adult English class during the afternoon, so at one point I suggested that our guests come and join in a game with the class.
Kelly, Ziya, Sabri and Jen (the grownups) were great sports.  They came and stood around my tableful of women (we had a pretty full house that day, 9 students) and we ran a game of What's the Word? with the students having to describe things to their American coaches.  This segued into some introductions, with my guests talking to the students a little about themselves, and hearing from the students about their backgrounds and families.
It was awesome! If I had known how awesome it would be, I would have planned it out better and run the whole class this way!  But even for a short segment of time, I think it was valuable and fun for everyone.  My mind is going about ways to do it again, with future groups of guests...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Getting outside in Southern California

During the week of my Mom's visit, we spent a lot of time outdoors.  We explored Torrey Pines State Park (above, with the cool yucca plants), and Cabrillo National Monument, and the tidepools at Point Loma, and the San Diego Zoo, and Old Town, and the Gliderport.  Mom and Isa even went up to the Botanical Gardens in Encinitas.  We saw Mexican folkloric dancing, paragliders, seals, and koala bears.  It was a full week of soaking up all the natural wonders we could find in this area.

At the Cirque site, we've also been spending a lot of time outside.  The site is particularly open and spacious, and the weather has been sunny and mild, so we've brought all kinds of wheeled toys for the kids to play with during their breaks.  They have skateboards, bikes, unicycles, roller skates and remote-controlled cars.  And we are taking them running on the trails around the fairgrounds.

I'm particularly happy that Baz has latched on to his unicycle in this city.  He's having great fun with it, racing all around the site and coming up with games.  He's always begging me to ride with him, and I oblige when I can.  Soon, I hope, we'll have more of the kids tooling around on one wheel.

Today I had an opportunity for a bike ride, so I rode from our apartments to the Cirque site.  It was a fairly challenging 9.5 mile ride, which included parts on dirt-and-rock trails, high-traffic roads, and hills.  But I was thinking during the ride, that biking and running around new places are, for me, the very best ways to appreciate our travels.  I see things so much closer up when I'm alone outside.  The landscapes, the scenery, the feeling of a place - they all become etched in my memory on these excursions.  It can be a nature trail, or an inner-city neighborhood ... I run and bike along, feeling the sunlight and sweat like fuel, and drink in the details.