Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Totem Halloween

Yes, that's Michael Jackson, a Vampiress, and Rapunzel, alternately trying to look tough, scary, and cute. They're in the Artistic Tent, which is where we got ourselves ready for Totem's Halloween party a few days ago.

Greg and I even dressed up this time!  In a tribute to our Atlanta location, we went as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara.

It was fun.  A good half of the fun was the actual getting-dressed part, as we were tackled by Marina & Svetlana, our dear friends the Crystal Ladies.  M & S are fashionistas, having finer clothing, hair and makeup when they're in pajamas than I do on my best days.  So, most of the time I'm truly afraid to get their opinions or help on anything appearance-related.  But Halloween is a different story!  Here is a picture of Isa having her wig fixed by Svetlana.  

Then today was the actual Halloween, celebrated in school with pumpkin-carving, baking treats, playing games and trick-or-treating.
The kids trick-or-treat around the whole site... offices, kitchen, box office, Artistic Tent.

Here they all are, the Totem trick-or-treat brigade.

Just a couple of other small images of our neighborhood on Halloween... the hotel has a Pumpkin-Carving Contest, where every department makes an amazing jack-o-lantern and guests vote for the best.  And the Fox Theater across the street reminds us to watch out for zombies.  

Happy Halloween everyone!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

First week in Atlanta

It's a beautiful place we're staying.  The Georgian Terrace, a historic midtown hotel with all kinds of posh events and celebrity clientele.  The latest is a crowd from the show Ten, actors, crew, etc. and they're actually shooting footage in the hotel.

I think we are also just enjoying being in a place that's different.  The furniture is not the same furniture we've had at the last half-dozen corporate apartments!  The artwork is nice!  And the beds are the most comfortable we've ever slept in.  (Even though the girls have to share a bed here ... this happens to us every once in a while, living in a place without twin beds)

Living in a hotel is a little unusual, too.  There is room service and 24-hour housekeeping and maintenance staff.  They deliver mail to our door, and there is a constant changing stream of other travelers in the hallways and lobby.  We still have our 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment, and I don't know what the other rooms / apartments here look like.  I assume there is a whole range, from regular hotel rooms to penthouse suites.

Here's our standard routine - having all the TVs removed from the apartment.  Usually this is done before we arrive, but here we had to ask a couple of times.  Four giant TVs take up a lot of valuable space.  Not only do we not want TVs in our kids' bedrooms, but we really don't want the TVs around at all.  Greg and I are not anti-technology - we are as attached to our iPhones and laptops as anyone else.  We even watch the occasional movie on our computers.  But we have always been a TV-free household and don't have any desire to change that.  It is one less battle to have with the children; one less time-waster; one less threat to our brain cells.

Every once in a while I come across another TV-free family, but it is rare.  If you want any more inspiration to this effect, check out Kill Your Television.  (and as I was writing that, I couldn't resist going here as well.  Anyone but me remember Ned's Atomic Dustbin?  Ah, 1990... it has probably been that long since I heard this song.)

OK, how did I get off on that tangent?  Back to Atlanta.  One of Atlanta's quirks is that there are
over 70 city streets with a variant of Peachtree in their names.  I photographed a nearby intersection of Peachstreet Street NE and West Peachtree Street.  While this seems kind of cute and funny at first, in practice this is just a bad system.  What city planners ever allowed this to happen?!  How on earth can anyone regularly navigate a Midtown where every other street seems to have an almost-identical name?

Speaking of navigation, Atlanta is not proving to be an especially bike- or pedestrian-friendly town, but I'll be damned if this is going to stop me.  And every time I am out riding with little Isa on her Trail-A-Bike behind me, fluorescent flag flapping in the wind, I think, maybe I am contributing in some small way to a shift.  Maybe the more people who see me and the kids struggling with non-existent bike lanes, zooming traffic on multi-lane roads with no shoulders, and rough sidewalks, the closer Atlanta will get to setting up a better environment for cyclists.  (....or, maybe we will just struggle with this on our own for a couple of months and then move on.  Change takes time, which I unfortunately don't have.)

Isa and I passed through Georgia Tech's campus on our ride today, and apparently it is college football season.  (they had a game with BYU today)  We were amazed at some of the elaborate decorations on the frat houses.  With a little Internet research this evening I found out that it has been homecoming weekend at GT, and this "banner contest" is just one of dozens of campus events.

Finally, a photo of some of the munchkins.... Alyona, Ilya, Alina, and Isa all managed to be wearing pink the other day as they scampered around this little pink flower garden outside the Cirque gate.  It was a moment begging for a photo.  This is the next generation of school children - Isa and Ilya will start the Totem school in 2013, and Alyona and Alina in 2014.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Disney World (Part 2 - Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney & Animal Kingdom)

Visiting Hollywood Studios was a last-minute decision.  The tickets we purchased for the parks had 5 days for the same price as 4 - so we had the option of using the extra day.  Originally I thought we'd prefer some time at home, swim, nap, relax.  But in the end, we voted that it was more exciting to visit parks than hang around our condo - and off we went.

There were fewer rides and attractions that interested us at Hollywood Studios, but Toy Story Mania was a big hit.  The Star Tours attraction (entryway pictured at left) was a space-flight simulation ride that Baz loved - the rest of us just felt ill afterwards.  Another one that we all really enjoyed was the Muppet-Vision 3-D!  Really well done.

After a half-day at Hollywood Studios, it was off to spend the afternoon shopping at Downtown Disney.  The Lego store, World of Disney, and Once Upon A Toy kept us occupied for hours.

That evening, we went to see La Nouba.  It's hard to believe this show is almost 14 years old.  So glad I finally had a chance to see it!  Just about everybody likes La Nouba.  It's fun, colorful, lots of great skills, and just enough artistic oddity to make you feel like you're seeing a real Cirque show.  I loved the four white gentleman characters in the show, and the choreography of the jumprope act.  The trapeze act in the doorframe was lovely.  And though both Greg and I could find places that we wanted to see more new stuff, overall for 1998 this was a remarkable creation.  Several parts of the show - like the trampoline act - have been replicated by other companies since - and it's important to remember that La Nouba was groundbreaking in its time.

Our last day in Disney, we spent at Animal Kingdom, having up-close encounters with animals like this one.  It's an interesting park, with clearly separate areas of zoo and rides, and we saw as much of it as we could.  Kilimanjaro Safaris was of course remarkable, I don't think I've ever been so close to a rhinoceros.  The Conservation Station was a favorite area of Ayla's ... below, you can see in example of the exhibits there (tortoises).

Animals, in their tanks or cages, with signs posted next to them about how to care for them.  What they eat, how to arrange the objects in the tank, special behavior notes.  There was even a working veterinary station here, where animals are treated for everything imaginable, behind glass so that visitors can watch.  Ayla (who says she wants to be a zoo veterinarian when she grows up) was especially thrilled.

The shows at Animal Kingdom were just OK.  The puppetry of Finding Nemo initially horrified me, but I was charmed in the end.  The Festival of the Lion King was an odd hodge-podge, not really a story, not really a variety show, but I appreciated the effort to include circus arts.  I managed to skip out of It's Tough To Be A Bug! which the kids all hated.

Happy and exhausted, the kids clutched their souvenirs going home (Ayla chose a Baby Simba stuffed animal; Isa a set of Rapunzel dolls; and Baz a Star Wars Lego set) and we said goodbye to Orlando.  Though I don't expect Greg or I to ever want to return to these parks, the goal of a fun family vacation was thoroughly accomplished!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Can't forget.... (Disney Part 1b)

It's a Small World.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Disney World (Part 1 - Magic Kingdom & Epcot)

This was the week.  Greg and I always said that we would take our kids to Disney World - once - and here we are.  It was a really good time to be doing this.  They are at great ages - 9, 8, and 5 - and we went at one of the lowest-peak attendance times for WDW; the weather was not too hot or rainy, and the parks weren't that crowded.

I had The Unofficial Guide to Disney World to thank for fantastic planning advice, and my cousins to thank for sending me to  This Website links you to condo owners - we are staying in a gorgeous 3BR, 2BA condo, 20 minutes' drive from Disney, 6 nights for $600.  The photo here is of the swan towels that greeted us upon arrival.

We spent our first two days at the Magic Kingdom.  We rode all the rides, trekked all over the park, saw the shows, took it all in.  Afterwards we compared notes on all of our favorite attractions.  Baz's favorites were Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear (which we rode three times.)  Isa's were Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Peter Pan's Flight.  Ayla's were Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain.  I voted for Pirates of the Caribbean; Greg and I both liked the Haunted Mansion.

Isa and Ayla riding alone in the front car of the Great Goofini roller coaster
Vampiress, Rapunzel, and Michael Jackson at the Disney World Halloween Party
Main Street Electrical Parade

Epcot was for me, a nice trip down memory lane.  Though I remember Magic Kingdom as well (from our family trip, when I was about 11), Epcot's World Showcase was especially exciting for my young wanderlusting self.  

I have to admit that now, with some adulthood and a good amount of real travel behind me, the country pavilions at Epcot seem a little hollow and Disneyfied.  But there is still some real exoticness to be discovered, like in the serene beauty of this courtyard in Morocco.

In tribute to my visit here as a kid, I told Ayla about the French shop, and the French textbook I desperately wanted my parents to buy for me.  My Dad, addressing a stage of extreme shyness I was going through, said he'd buy it for me, only if I went up to the salesperson and asked some questions about the book.  I remember vividly how terrified I was.  But I did it, and the book was a precious prize.  

So Ayla and I went into the shop and struck up a conversation with the saleslady there, to practice our French together.  Ayla can hold her own just fine in French, though she is shy, and her Quebecois accent is amusingly apparent when speaking to a real Frenchperson.  I was proud of her, and rewarded her with some French bonbons to share with her brother and sister.

Our favorite ride in Epcot was unanimously Soarin'...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Purple Circus

The lives of our friends have been impacted too often recently by cancer.  So we were especially happy to be able to attend (and, in Greg's case, perform at) a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer research called the Purple Circus.

The event was held at a new facility in Germantown called the Funicular Railway Station.  Built by our friend, Dave Gillies of the Give & Take Jugglers, this space is a communal-living, training and performance space that has turned out totally beautiful.  It's only a few blocks away from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, and we already have several collaborative projects going on with them.

Mostly though, I was just thrilled to see so many old friends.  A night of hugs, of watching terrific performances, and feeling part of my community again.  Here are a few of us, all members of the PSCA staff.  I'm amazed to be surrounded by so many beautiful and talented people!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


It's fall in Philadelphia.  Real fall, with crisp cool air, leaves on the ground, kids pulling on jackets as they head for school early in the morning.  Halloween decorations are coming out, summer clothes are getting packed away.

As with every trip to Philadelphia, this one has brought a mix of joys and sadnesses.  Joys:  the simple pleasures of meeting friends at the local coffee shop, watching things hum along at the circus school, visiting familiar places with the kids, shopping at the co-op.  Sadnesses:  continually seeing how much things have changed and grown in my absence, and trying to imagine where my family and I would fit into this world, if we were still here.  Another sadness is seeing friends who are coping with major life events - births, deaths, weddings, divorces - and not being there for them.

So, it's a roller-coaster, which I'm entirely out of practice with.  During Philadelphia weeks I sleep poorly, eat terribly, and don't exercise.  I fall back into the role of businessperson, of administrator, director, teacher, organizer (and, of course, of scatterbrained / distracted mom).  I'm using all kinds of parts of my brain that are dormant in my Totem life, and it is exciting and exhausting.

The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts remains the focal point of my energy.  It is a place of dreams.  My own, and somehow, entangled throughout, the dreams of many, many other people.  How did I get so lucky?  During this trip I came across my old business plans, written in December 2006.  I remember that time... I was pregnant with Isa, and unable to do much teaching or business-growing, so, I enrolled in some classes at the Wharton Small Business Development Center.  It's astonishing to look back at the business reports of that time. Air Play LLC was running a total of 11 classes per week, over at 6122 Greene Street.  I was strategizing to buy a building in 2007 - having no realistic idea of what a building would cost.

Now, in 2012, we are running 118 classes per week.  There are  nearly 30 people on payroll.  We are nearing the end of a 5-year lease on a commercial space, and need to expand into a larger facility.  In the meantime, circus education grows at a rapid pace throughout the USA.  There are circus schools, youth circuses, teacher-training programs, and professional organizations that never existed 5 or 10 years ago.  There are more circus companies, as well, making inroads into places like Fringe Festivals and Arts Festivals (like we did with PIFA in 2011).  Somehow, way more people are falling in love with circus, and pursuing careers in it, than ever before.

As I've explained in earlier posts, PSCA feels like a "wheel turning without me, and I'll jump on whenever I can".  I just hope I can keep contributing little bits of good to the whole operation during these touring years, and that when are Totem days are over, Philadelphia will be the warm and life-fulfilling home we can come back to.

For now - we are continuing on our way.  Next week we will be in Disney World (!!!) our big family vacation for the year.  And after that we rejoin Totem for Atlanta, and then Miami.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tear down

Tear down is once again upon us.  (Closed-toed shoes only allowed on site.  Families not allowed in the Artistic Tent.  Swarms of unfamiliar-looking technicians [fly-ins] driving fast-moving forklifts all over the place.)  Isa today was perplexed at the idea of the tent coming down.  We've never actually seen it happen (we are usually long gone) - so I found this helpful video to give her an idea of what it looks like.

Tear Down of the Big Top

One of our technicians has done several of these time-lapse videos, which give an awesome view of the  techs' work in these set-up and break-down weeks.

Friday, October 5, 2012


It's packing week here (again), and as usual, I am examining every single item we travel with and questioning "do we really need that?" (If the burden of fitting everything into 10 large suitcases doesn't doom some of these items, the carrying of the 70-pound cases might.)  Here's my current list of contenders for the Most Ridiculous Thing We Travel With.  None of these items, incidentally, are being at all considered for the trash bin.

Giant Silver Balls
20" iMac desktop
Large bin of Legos
Two PillowPets

That's just the ones that strike me as a bit absurd.  The regular list of items includes a yoga mat, 6 bicycles and 5 helmets, 2 unicycles, roller skates, plastic dishes, American Girl dolls, a chessboard, a frying pan, craft supplies, English- and Russian-language workbooks, various juggling props, a printer, a kickboard, a toolbox, an electric pencil sharpener, and enough books and clothes for 5 people in changing seasons (3 of whom seem to change clothing sizes every few months) ....maybe I should be pleased that I'm fitting our whole lives into only 10 suitcases?

Touring info sessions

So, here's a new thing we are doing on Totem.  Before each tour stop, we are having a presentation about the city - its history, tourism, practical notes.  All of this has been done in bits and pieces throughout the tour - we are always given a Tour Book, which gives every detail of our housing, transportation, nearby shops, etc.; and I have always done a Family Newsletter, which includes bullet points of top sights to see in each place that we travel.  But now a few of Totem's staff want to do this in a much more thorough way, calling an open meeting in the Big Top a few days before we leave each city, and inviting other tour members to research and present various aspects of the city.

I was invited to do a bit on Atlanta for Families, which I did, for just a couple of minutes.  The entire presentation ended up running long, but it did include an immense amount of information - shopping, neighborhoods, concerts, parks, transportation.  But the fun add-ons made the day - as you can see from the video (embedded below through Socialcam), the musicians put together a rendition of "Georgia On My Mind"; Tour Services brought in a couple of Ben & Jerry's servers, with a full ice cream station; there were drinks and cookies and of course fresh-popped popcorn from the front of house.

It created a good energy, a sense of the company as a big family, traveling together with all of our disparate needs and wants.  (imagine a presentation that includes notes on designer shopping, the Christmas parade for children, and the best local gentleman's club?!)  Being given a chance to speak was also a good feeling for me - it is a slow, gradual process, this finding of my role on the tour.