Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween festivities

You'd think people who dress in elaborate costumes and makeup 6 days a week wouldn't be so excited for a Halloween costume party.  But you'd be wrong.

This year, the grand shindig was held in a private party room at the Queen Mary, the grand old cruise liner in port in Long Beach.  It was a strange environment - the raised party platform was located just in between the ship and the massive Dark Harbor Halloween horror park below.  (we were advised that the attractions were not for kids under 13.  in any case, watching the throngs of people waiting in line for their thrills made us feel pretty happy to be enjoying food and an open bar and music in our own space.)

The costumes were outrageous and wonderful as ever.  Greg and I opted not to dress up this year - last year's Rhett and Scarlett was good fun, but not something we want to do every year!  And we had three kids to fully costume-up.

In addition to the Queen Mary event, there have been an array of school activities.  The kids carved pumpkins.  They ran their own Haunted House (converting a trailer into a walk-through theatrical attraction).  They did an Edgar Allan Poe poetry reading, and trick-or-treated around the site.  Their teachers even got into the act with synchronized costumes this year.

Interestingly, it's the first year we've experienced where two of the families on tour chose not to participate in Halloween activities for religious / cultural reasons.

Here are our three characters for 2013 - a Scientist, a Zombie Ninja, and a Ghost.  We even took them out trick-or-treating around San Pedro this evening, and watched It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!
Phew.  Halloween 2013 is finally over (leaving a mountain of candy in its wake).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

San Pedro

It sort of feels like we just arrived here... because of my two trips back East this month, I feel like I've barely settled in.  But it turns out we have only 16 more days here, before we decamp 45 minutes away to Irvine!  (this is going to feel like the most absurd packing-and-moving we've ever done.)

In any case, I'd better hurry up and write about San Pedro.

Our tour plan said Long Beach, but that's only a vague approximation of where we actually are.  (just like when they said we were in San Diego.)  Long Beach is about 10 miles away; we are, in fact, in the town of San Pedro, along the waterfront by the dockyards.  We have stunning floor-to-ceiling windows here which look out over thousands of shipping containers and cranes, and the occasional cruise ship.

Our apartment is beautiful, one of the nicest we've had.  (here's a picture of our living room at night.)  And we love that we are close enough to the site (2 miles) to be able to ride our bikes.

It's an odd neighborhood.  San Pedro is unlike any town I've ever lived in.  It's distinctly working-class, and distinctly Mexican.  By that I mean that most of the shops and restaurants are independently-owned Mexican-style businesses (bodegas, taco shops, etc.) and you hear Spanish spoken outside more often than English.

What fascinates me about the area is that, despite its un-gentrified quality, its lack of gourmet food stores / upscale boutiques and its proliferation of dollar stores / cheap groceries, there is nothing about it that feels particularly rough, poor, or dangerous.  The people here are astonishingly friendly - I am surprised on a near-daily basis by people striking up social conversations with me in public.  There are not a lot of homeless or scary-looking people out on the streets.  Everything seems quiet and civilized, and I think it is simply a well-functioning, blue-collar town.

There is not much shopping here.  And no Bikram Yoga.  I trekked out to Hermosa Beach for a class a couple of weeks ago, and almost didn't survive it - apparently Hermosa Beach prides itself on being the hottest Bikram studio in the area (or maybe anywhere?)   I didn't dare to ask how hot it actually was.   I think it's so hot because it has a very low ceiling, and no ventilation - it has the sickly sopping quality of some carpeted Bikram studios, the damp suffocating sweat that just fills the room, all day long, as classes run pretty much nonstop.  ....I'm going to try to make it back soon.

Today I attempted a bike ride.  I wanted to check out Long Beach, and Google Maps assured me there was an acceptable bike route.  Google Maps was very wrong.  Most of my ride looked like this (photo at right), riding on 6-lane highways, with tractor-trailers nearly running me off the road and gravel flying in my face.

9 miles later, I finally made it to a lovely bike path in Long Beach, which looked like this (below).

Much nicer!  But by that time I was pretty tired and had to start heading back home.  The unpleasantness of the whole ride convinced me that this is not a good area for cycling, at all.  Los Angeles, on a bike.  What was I thinking?  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Babies, babies....

This year, I have an astonishing number of friends and family members having babies.  The first was born this past weekend - on October 20 baby Sage arrived in San Francisco, my new niece!

On that same day, I was celebrating my sister Erin's baby shower in Massachusetts.  (Photo below) 

She is due with her first baby (a girl) in mid-December, and this whole side of the family is super excited!

On tour we have babies arriving, too - Olga B. is due with her second child (a girl) in December, and my Russian tutor Tanya is due with her first child (also a girl!) in March.  One of our comrades, Elise, just left the tour to have her baby girl in December, back home in Quebec.  

And I can't leave out Kitsie, PSCA's General Manager and my dear colleague and friend - Kitsie is due in January with her first baby!  We don't know yet whether it will be a boy or a girl.  (Theory A:  Everybody seems to be having girls, so she must, as well.  Theory B:  Everybody seems to be having girls, so somebody's got to have a boy to balance this out!)

Much baby-snuggling and toe-tickling lies in my future....

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Driving again

So, I'm driving again.

Here's what happened. Back in June, spending a couple of months in Philadelphia, I really felt handicapped. Living a busy life in that city, with work and activities and 3 kids' school schedules and social events, meant a lot of long, slow, inconvenient public transit, expensive taxis, begging rides off friends, and sometimes, just having to give up on ambitions entirely.

It dawned on me that this no-driving resolution is coming head-to-head with another resolution I have - to dive back into my life in Philly full-force, working and and bringing the kids to activities and good schools and just engaging with the world in a way I haven't been able to these last few years.

If I was a different type of person - if I was a person who loved being at home, gardening, cooking, schooling the kids, etc - it would be a different story.  I could avoid driving, and enjoy the environmental and financial benefits of that, and settle into a slower-paced life.

But that isn't me. And while the Cirque tour has allowed me to maintain this lifestyle for 3.5 years - with center city living, shuttle services, and just generally a lot less going on - that is not going to be sustainable when we move home.  When it comes down to it, pursuing my career, and not compromising on the kids educational and extracurricular options, are more important to me than not driving a car.

With that in mind, I took a deep breath, went down to the DMV to get my license reinstated, and spent the summer re-acquainting myself with driving.

For the most part it's been an easy transition.  It only took a few weeks for me to get used to the rhythms of driving, of traffic and parking and lane changes and highways and speed limits.  (remembering that I drove for 18 years before I quit in 2010!)  By September I was comfortable enough to start bringing the kids around places by myself, and helping Greg out with the cross-country drive.  

I still hate it.  Being inside the car makes me feel like I'm in a bubble, barricaded from the world, and the windshield feels like a videogame screen.  I much prefer experiencing travel outside in the air, on foot on or bicycle.  I also have the nagging sense that I'm putting my life on the line every time I get behind the wheel; it just feels reckless from the start.  

But I am greatly enjoying the newfound freedom.  The last two tour stops (here, San Pedro, CA, and Dublin, OH) have been much easier places to navigate with a car.  I can go to a yoga class, or do the grocery shopping, all by myself, without anyone else having to be inconvenienced.  Greg and the kids are relieved as well, you can imagine.  (Ayla is openly, glowingly proud of me.)  

Part of me hopes that I will have a life again someday that doesn't require a car.  A bigger part of me is just excited to get back to a faster-paced life, where a car is needed to do all the valuable things I used to do.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013


To celebrate our arrival in sunny southern California, the ever-resourceful technicians built us a terrace off the kitchen.  Not a bad place to while away the time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Flying across the country

But before I get back to the tour, I had to have one more little dose of Philadelphia. As crazy as this is, after arriving in LA on Sunday, I turned around and caught a plane out of LAX on Monday morning. The reason? Masterman School Open House.

For those readers who are not from the Philadelphia School District, a word of explanation.

The Philadelphia schools have been known as generally atrocious for as long as I can remember. But when we actually went to look for kindergarten for Baz, we found out that it's not so black-and-white... While the schools are usually underfunded and overcrowded, there are gems to be found - pockets of excellent teaching, devotion to children, involved parent-teacher associations.  We leapt through a series of hoops in order to enroll Baz at one of these schools, C.W. Henry in Mt. Airy.  Although Henry's academic credentials were less-than-thrilling, we believed that in the younger grades, no harm would come - so much of the first few years of school is about socialization, learning new routines, establishing a life away from home.  

I felt we were right in this.  Baz attended kindergarten and 1st grade at Henry School, and there were many things I loved about it.  I loved sending him off each day in his little uniform, and I loved that only about 1/4 of the kids in his class were white.  I loved the Gifted Support program, which pulled Baz out of the classroom each week for enrichment programming.  Henry has an outstanding music program, lots of assemblies and special schoolwide events, and a great amount of family involvement.  The academics were easy - but the environment was nurturing for him, and that was most important.  

I knew, however, that my priorities would shift in the upper grades.  Beginning in 5th grade, Henry's handful of top students are lured away to Masterman School, Philadelphia's one truly excellent middle school.  Masterman is top-ranked in the city, the state, and even the country, for its rigorous curriculum and high standards.  Getting your kids into this school is the challenge - 5000 students apply for 5th grade's 165 slots.  

We are now at that time of grappling with educational decisions for Baz, Ayla, and Isa.  And this conveniently coincides with the Philadelphia School District's most catastrophic budget crisis in memory.  Here's another great article about the situation.  Schools opened this fall without counselors, secretaries, or lunchtime aides.  Beloved programs (such as Gifted Support at Henry) were cut; some schools were closed entirely.  

I had already been biting my nails over the prospect of sending my kids back into the public school system.  But when the media is teeming with quotes like "No parent can comfortably send their child into a school under these circumstances.", and hearing anecdotal stories about drastic supply shortages and classrooms with 40+ students and not enough desks feels like the straw is breaking the camel's back.  Particularly for my youngest - the idea of sending Isa (who is already a fairly needy kid, and who wasn't detached from my hip until age 6 1/2) into a jungle with minimal adult attention, gives me a shudder.  

Baz and Ayla have a good option, and that is Masterman School.  While it's still part of the Philadelphia School District, and is still suffering from some of the funding shortages, it is weathering the blows better than most.  Everyone is confident that at Masterman, kids will still get a good education.  Some of it simply comes from putting the most motivated students, and the most talented teachers, all together in one building.  

I'll skip the saga of what is required to apply to Masterman School - it's another series of hoop-jumping.  The Open House was my only chance to visit the place and ask questions.  So, Greg and I decided it was important enough for me to get on a plane.  I arrived late Monday night, stayed at a cheap airport hotel, and took the train to the Open House early Tuesday morning.  I caught a plane back to LAX a few hours later.  

It worries me a little that I have crossed into psycho-parent territory here.  Who flies across the country to attend an Open House for an elite school for their 5th-grader?!   But one thing I have learned as a parent in Philadelphia is that advocating for your kid's education is an endless, critical, and complex task.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

After the break

Our three week break is over, and it was as busy of a time as we had expected.  We drove from Ohio to Massachusetts, spending a week with my family, then down to Philadelphia for a week of projects (circus school work, flight school for Greg, and a show for Greg).  Then we spent 5 days driving across the country.

This cross-country trip was as short as we could make it - we drove about 700 miles each day for the first 3 days, which was as much as we could manage around the kids' needs.  Stayed in cheap motels, ate sandwiches in the car.  This is not my idea of a good time, and we didn't do any actual sightseeing (just as well, as the national parks are all closed with the government shutdown!).   But I was surprised by the kids' resilience - they were mostly very well-behaved during the long, long driving hours, and at rest stop breaks they would race around outside, rolling down hills and doing jumping-jacks.  And we found little moments to see our own kinds of sights ... in Indiana we saw a beautiful rainbow coming down through the clouds; in Kansas, acres of giant, regal wind turbines; tumbleweeds; and at night, unbelievably starry skies.  Driving through the Rocky Mountains was especially picturesque, and there was snow!  (here is a picture of all of the kids badly dressed for the weather - we didn't have anything besides hoodies and sandals left out for our route to Southern California)

We arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday and had an afternoon on the Strip - Baz and I rode the roller coaster at New York New York, and we saw the fountain shows at the Bellagio - before dinner at the Rainforest Cafe (kids' favorite) and the evening out seeing Michael Jackson: One at Mandalay Bay.  Baz was in rapture - he says it's the best Cirque show ever.  I enjoyed the show, but it felt very mixed to me - some moments of greatness, but quite a lot of incoherence as well.  Most breathtaking acts were the corde lisse, the omigod! hologram in "Man in the Mirror", and the glow suits.  

While I'm at it, I should mention the two other shows I got to see during the break: Pig Iron Theatre's Pay Up!, and Cirque Eloize's Cirkopolis.  I'm glad I got to see Pay Up! which is an older Pig Iron show revived for this year's Fringe Festival.  It's a crazy experimental work where audience members are given five $1 bills at the beginning, and encouraged to walk around a space paying out their dollars to see various skits performed in different rooms.  Throughout, there is comedy and commentary on what it means to spend, to lose, to miss out, to hoard, and to bargain. 

I also really loved Cirkopolis, Eloize's latest production, which I think brings back their immense strength in ensemble performance.  The cast members are all ridiculously multi-skilled, which allows for every piece to have strong group participation.  (I always remember the plate-spinning moment from Nebbia, as an example of the beauty created by a mass chorus).  In this show, standout acts included the sublime Roue Cyr, the comical high-energy Chinese Pole, a rocking corde lisse act, excellent German Wheel... I could go on and on.  There were far more good acts than bad.  

Three weeks away and I feel so far away from life on tour.  One day, some of my work colleagues heard I was studying Russian, and they said, "say something in Russian!"  I drew a complete blank.  And it took me a while, later that night, to voice my thoughts in Russian again, to come back to that flow I have developed over these years.  (it's a stuttering, grammatically-disastrous flow, but it is a flow nonetheless when I am hanging out with my Russian friends!)  I realized that these two worlds are just so, so separate in my mind - when I'm in the middle of one, it's hard to believe that the other really exists.  It's time to come back.