Sunday, February 24, 2013

Miscellaneous Miami

It's been quite a city!
Baz, Patricia and I ran the 5k race at the Miami Zoo.  Baz's time was 32:23, and I was a few seconds behind him at 32:31. (We ran the whole race together, but he and Patricia pulled out a last-quarter-mile-sprint that I couldn't keep up with!)

One evening, we went out for a family date with the Macks - James, Melanie and Jesse.  We had a great time!  Here are the kids listening to the outdoor musician, as we adults got to enjoy our food and conversation.
Baz got to hit the mountain-bike trails a few times in this city with Greg and with Scott.  Here he is showing off a particularly ugly scrape after one of these trips.

It's been a poignant time as we say goodbye to the Perch act.  The act stopped performing at the beginning of the city, and the artists are going home to Russia this week.  The first act of the show has been re-worked in some nice ways, including Pavel's handbalancing solo, so there are some silver linings to this change.  Still, it's the biggest departure of artists and families that we've experienced, and everyone has been a bit sad.

Baby shower for Olga Usova!  We are expecting two new Russian baby girls to be born this spring - the Usovs are due in New York, and the Iordanovs in Philadelphia.  How exciting!

Other happenings ....
- the kids painted their desktops afresh.
- they've had music classes with Annette, which they love.
- we have a new family on tour - David, Kai, Sonoa and Gaia joined us in this city.
- we had a big barbeque hosting almost 200 people from La Nouba.  Unfortunately we had a rare cold spell those couple of days, so our family didn't stay very long.
- Ayla had a sleepover with Kherlen and Dasha, at Kherlen's house.
- Isa learned to swim!!  She can now go underwater, and jump in the deep end by herself and swim back to the ladder.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Turning 37

It was my birthday this week, and I soaked it up every way I could.  I started the day with a Bikram Yoga class, and I'm proud of this photo - it's Standing Bow, one of my favorite postures.

The kids got up during the night, long after I'd tucked them in, and made these little cupcake-holder art projects as gifts for me.  I was so touched.  It's impossible for them to get out to buy anything for my birthday - I am with them all the time - and their resourcefulness is amazing.  My favorite gift of the day.

My magician / juggler friend Scott is visiting this week, and I left him to babysit Isa while I went to yoga.  This is what I came home to....

In the afternoon, we went out to see Totem, always enjoyable.  And in the evening, I got a babysitter so Scott and I could get out for an unhurried dinner at a lovely nearby Indian restaurant.  Valentine's Day is always a funny time to be out, and we were surrounded by Bollywood movies, heart-shaped balloons and a serenading saxophonist.  It was a great evening!

Another birthday, another year older, a few more gray hairs... I feel nothing but happiness going into this next year.  Life is good.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ringling Circus Museum

Yesterday was a thrilling day for me, as I got to visit a place of my dreams - the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota.  I felt like a teenager here, so wrapped up in love and delight that I could imagine losing myself for days.  Here is circus history at its most magical - posters, models, artifacts, interactive exhibits,  artwork, all detailing the roots of the familiar world I've been caught up in for so many years now.

We spent most of our time at the Circus Museum itself, only briefly exploring the Mansion (Ca' d'Zan) and skipping the Art Museum entirely.  (We had about 4 1/2 hours there, and could have used 8!)  Which means that I will have to visit Sarasota again someday - besides the Ringling complex, there are a lot of other arts and circus organizations here worth checking out.

The largest model circus in the world.

Watching a clown doing his makeup.

The grounds of the complex are beautiful - overlooking Sarasota Bay, with intricate gardens and outdoor sculptures and astonishing banyan trees like this one (you can see a tiny Baz and Ayla in the middle).
The drool-worthy circus collection at the Ringling library.

Inside Ca' d'Zan.  (Remind me, when I build my own Victorian Gothic palace, to give it such a bizarre and cool name.  This one means "house of John" in a Venetian dialect)

(*** sigh*** can't wait till I can come back here again!)

Friday, February 8, 2013

What makes a good teacher?

I've been thinking a lot about this question, having taken Bikram yoga classes with so many different teachers over the last two years.  Bikram is a very specific type of teacher-training program, and more than any other sport or art I've ever encountered, it insists upon uniformity.  The teachers are required to  give a 90-minute recital of the Bikram sequence, with very little variation.  Bikram Choudhury designed it this way for a number of reasons.  It establishes that, when you enter a Bikram Yoga studio, you are getting the same class in Pittsburgh, in Los Angeles, or in Montreal.

In reality, however, there are variations.  And seasoned Bikram practitioners grow to know them very well .... the slight temperature and humidity differences, making a 103 degree class feel infinitely different than a 105 degree one.  The teacher who opens the door for fresh air at the end of class, vs. the one who seems to crank up the heaters even higher.  The experience of class when you're properly hydrated and rested, vs. thirsty, hungry, hungover, sleep-deprived.  The extra-long or extra-short savasanas; the floor surfaces that are sometimes slick, sometimes carpeted, sometimes made of plastic fibers. Studios that are glaringly bright, others that are dimly lit.

But the difference I've been paying the most attention to lately is the quality of the teacher.  And what makes one teacher stand out as better than others, in a discipline where they are all supposed to be exactly the same.

It's quite simple, really.  What distinguishes the really excellent Bikram teachers is the energy they give out to their class - how much they really care about the students' experiences.  As a student, you can feel this clearly.  Is the teacher just reciting the words mindlessly?  Is he/she just droning on, regardless of what the students are struggling with?

The better teachers call out students by name to praise, correct, or nudge a little further.  They pay attention to the energy of the class, and spark up the dialogue with explanations or anecdotes or pep talks.  They have a sense of humor.  They have a joy in the practice and a passion for getting their students to reach new heights.  They want you to be your very best self.  And as a student, you desperately want to live up to their hopes and expectations.  You work harder.  You are more focused, more attentive, more charged-up.  It's a beautiful thing.

It's all about caring.  How much does the teacher really care about what their students learn?  And that, I think, is applicable to every field of study.  When people compliment me on my teaching - whether it's English, or trapeze - I tell them there is nothing magic about it.  (and to be honest, I am not even the most diligent lesson-planner).  I just care, deeply.  About each student I'm working with.  I want them to learn, and I look for any methods I can to make that happen.

I don't know if you can teach someone this quality - it may not be a skill.  But it is essential to teaching, and something we all need to keep in mind when we are at the juncture of "hey, I'm pretty good at this - maybe I should teach".  Loving the discipline is not the same as loving teaching.

Cheers to all of the wonderful teachers out there.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Jungle Island

The kids went on a school field trip this past week to Jungle Island, a zoo / safari park right here in Miami.  Isa and I went along with them.  In the picture are all 9 of the school kids, plus their three teachers, Patricia, David, and Marie-France.  Also in the picture are Isa and Ilya, who are the "kindergarteners", officially starting school with the rest of them in the fall.

Jungle Island is a pricey attraction, but there were some special things about it.  Like feeding the birds, and the wild animal shows.  It was the first time we'd seen a cassowary up close (in the Bird Show), or touched a giant tortoise.