Monday, March 31, 2014


We moved to Portland, OR, in mid-March, and so far I love it.

After such a long time in Los Angeles, this place seems refreshingly down-to-earth, quirky but honest, generous and good-hearted.  I noticed right away there is a "class" difference.  In the LA area, there is a distinct underclass - people who are poor, uneducated, usually immigrant, the people who do the landscaping and the fast-food serving and generally keep their heads down.  Then there are the Served - the LA populace which generally feels self-important, which name-drops, flaunts its fancy cars, and is suspicious of strangers.  In Portland this is immediately different.  The people who come to clean our apartment, the people who serve in retail outlets and restaurants, are just regular people who are happy to offer their advice or share a laugh with me.  There is a lot of eye contact, and a lot of smiles, especially when they hear I've just arrived in town.  They are eager to share their local knowledge - the best bike route, the best pastry shop, the not-to-miss sights - and nowhere in their dialogue is any reference to celebrities.  It's like taking a deep breath of good, clean air.

I love that the Portlanders ride their bikes in practicality and not frivolity.  There is no beach-cruising going on here, but cycle-commuting, and lots of it, rain or shine.  Watch out for trolley tracks….

We were lucky to have a first few days of sunshine, but since then, we've had rain every day, and a chill, that has taken time for our Southern-California bodies to adapt to.

A few more images…

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Totem profiles - Sally Yu

Sally Yu is one of Totem's hardworking chefs.  In her 30 years, she has lived several adventurous lifetimes, with many ups and downs along the way.

It began in San Diego, where she grew up, with 3 younger sisters, and parents who owned a restaurant.    But in her early years, she didn't plan to enter the restaurant industry - she graduated from high school early, and attended college, intending to study medicine.  After a year, though, she realized that she wasn't following her true passion.  She left UCSD to enter culinary school.

By the time Sally was 21, she had graduated from culinary school and opened her first business, a hotpot restaurant in San Diego.  This business unfortunately collapsed after 2 years, due to a bad lease, and her space was yanked out from under her.  At 23, she was heavily in debt.

But she quickly tackled her next project - starting a business importing and selling high-end teas.  This business suffered in the early years of the recession, and she sold it.

In the following years she had success as a consultant, doing contract work for restaurants, helping them to improve all aspects of their businesses.  She then started another business handling catering and corporate events, and also worked as a private chef, doing nutrition counseling.  Sally has done so many different types of jobs in the industry - she has experience as a chocolatier, a line cook, and as a catering chef with Top Chef's Brian Malarkey's company.  She had an unusual break in 2011 when she was picked up by a TV series, Budweiser's The Big Time.  You can see one of her episodes here.

Not long after this, she saw a listing on Craigslist for temporary kitchen help for Totem.  The idea of working with a traveling circus excited her - after food, travel is her next passion - and she signed on.  For a few cities, she became one of Totem's "followers" - temporary staff who follow the show from one city to the next, guaranteed a position (but required to handle their own housing and travel).  In 2012, an opening became available for a permanent position, and Sally was accepted.

For Sally, touring with Totem, a job where she can cook and travel, has been a dream come true.  She loves to explore the cuisines of the different cities we visit.  Work in the Totem kitchen is not easy - the staff changes every city, so there is a lot more training-of-new-people involved (as well as ongoing patience and communication).  The staff is responsible for providing healthy, varied meals for over 150 people a day.  Sally does miss her friends and family at home, and her collection of (300!) cookbooks.  But the future of our Cirque community stretches ahead, and she's looking forward to accompanying the show this summer to New Zealand and Australia.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Isa, age 7

The little one is getting big.  She turned 7 this week, and is proud now to be able to make her own Rainbow Loom bracelets (thanks for the gift Auntie Erin!), just like the bigger girls at school.  Another special thing about being 7 - she gets to stay up as late as Baz and Ayla now.  (9:30pm bedtime - we keep later hours on tour)

She has a birthday party coming up on Monday (rock-climbing!) but for her actual birthday we spent the day at the Oregon Zoo.  

My three kids - freezing cold on a sunny spring day in Portland - we left all of our winter gear in Boston, and 55 degrees feels frigid to us after 6 months in LA!

They're all still so happy to play together.  One of the silliest things that happens in our household is when Baz, bored to tears, begs the girls to let him join in their games.  He usually marches over a Transformers or Lego character and tries to integrate himself into whatever they're doing.  This week the Polly Pockets were running a dress shop.  The giant Bionicle man tried very hard to be a polite customer, but eventually lost patience with the tiny dresses and insisted they should go on an adventure.  The girls refused "not until we've sold all of our dresses."  "OK" says Bionicle man, "I'll buy all the dresses!!" … and so it goes….

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Circus pilgrimage-ing around Los Angeles

My first circus school in L.A., and the one I spent the most time at, was Kinetic Theory.  I first went in late October, to see the production of Hauntings, their pre-professional students' rendering of the Dracula story.  I was dazzled by the quality of the show, and the potential of such diverse skills in their students.  There was a clear emphasis on theatre and performance skills, beyond just the technique.  I was drawn to come back, and over the next few months I spent time talking with Director Stephanie Abrams, visiting with coaches, observing classes and even bringing Greg and the kids for a talk about Life with Cirque.  

Kinetic Theory is an LLC.  It is housed in an industrial park, but has a great-sized space including a main floor, an adjacent theater, and several smaller spaces for classes, changing rooms, lobby, etc.  Their ceiling height is not impressive - it is less than PSCA's, I'd guess around 18' at the peak?  … but apparently they have the highest ceilings among any of the Los Angeles circus training facilities.  

For something different, I took a trip to the Inglewood Park Cemetery to see the graves of Lillian Leitzel and Alfredo Codona.  I have known the basic story of Leitzel and Codona since I was a teenager, when I first began reading circus history.  But I only learned their full biographies recently, in the newly-published Queen of the Air, and in that book I learned about their gravesites and memorial statue, so close to where we are currently living.  Long Beach, in fact, was Alfredo Codona's home, and the place of his violent death.

Inglewood Park Cemetery is an extraordinary peaceful place.   There are no sidewalks - appropriate for L.A., I suppose - so you have to walk in the roads, or in the grassy gravesite areas.  The place is so green and spacious and quiet... It has an air of privilege, an oasis from the grunge and hustle of of the city just outside the gates.
Leitzel & Codona's statue perches on a hill, flanked by trees. The graves are encircled with loving messages from siblings and friends. Leitzel's aerial rings are carved into the front, with one broken rope.

I was moved to observe their place of eternal rest. Talents, passions, and lives so fiery and beautiful, they drew the attention of the world.  They died in the late 1930s, and I imagine most people who come to this cemetery don't even know who they were.  But they are not forgotten by everyone.  

My second visit to a circus school in the area was to Aerial Fitness Orange County, where I had a great meeting with owner Doug Schulein.  Doug is a gym owner with a flying-trapeze background, and his goal is to integrate aerial training into a gym environment for private-lesson students and small groups.  It's a great example of how the studios in this area have each found their own niche, and Doug is working hard to build his.  A few months after I met Doug, he moved Aerial Fitness Orange County into a new and larger space.  (when I saw him, it was just a few pieces of apparatus in the corner of a standard fitness gym).  

The Ruby Karen Project was my third school visit.  Ruby launched an ambitious event last fall called the Aerial Arts America, with an "Aerial Arts Festival" which I attended in November.  While this was less of a "festival" and more of a "student recital", it was pretty glitzy.  Aerial Arts America also says they offer teacher certifications, though I have not seen that program in action.  In addition to the performance, I also went to see Ruby and her partner, Luca Cecchini, at their studio space in Costa Mesa.  As with all of the studios I visited in the LA area, we talked about the immense challenges of finding space with good ceiling height, and safe rigging practices, etc.    

I visited a fourth circus studio in January, Le Studio in Culver City (a couple of blocks away from Kinetic Theory).  Le Studio has a unique marketing position - owner Nathalie Gauthier says that she is not a circus school, but a boutique-style training program for youth.  She then chaperones her youth company, Le Petit Cirque, to professional gigs all over the world.  She takes great pride in drawing top-notch coaches, extraordinarily-driven kids (who train between 8 and 30 hours per week), and big-name performing artists to her space.  As she explains, she has a background as an entertainment agent, and working in the industry is her specialization.  

I finally made it to Cirque School LA on our last weekend in town.  Cirque School, run by Rex Camphuis and Aloysia Gavre, is on Hollywood Blvd.  Its location is quite remarkable - down a small alley between other shops, on an area of the Blvd. with plenty of street parking - and it has a very cozy feel.  The coziness, though welcoming, does have a disadvantage - the ceiling heights are low and the space is crowded.  They are currently seeking a larger space.  

Rex says that they have two main assets as a school - one is their philosophy, which is "learn like the pros" and "Cirque School for Anybody with Any Body"  … second is that they've built a very strong and supportive community of recreational and professional circus artists.  It has a good energy - everyone there seems to be non-competitive and having fun.  Rex and Alyosia have many contacts within the circus community, so they often serve as a venue for visiting workshop instructors, for auditions, and for entertainment producers looking to put circus arts into other media.  

It was great talking with Rex.  Cirque School has been around for 5 years, and is an S-Corp, and considers NECCA a bit of a sister school - so PSCA has a lot in common with them.  

Add Muscle Beach and TSNY to the mix - there's a lot going on in Los Angeles!  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Goodbye California

We've been here a long time - 6 months or so in the Los Angeles area alone.  Time to move on - hopefully to places a little more grounded in reality.

(Here we come, Oregon!)

Before we leave, though, a blog post about this particular area we've been staying in - and most especially, the stretch of beach between Santa Monica and Venice.  This place is crowded with

Kite flyers
Drum circlers
Wedding parties
Muscle Beach-ers
Tattoo artists
Surfers (and bikes with surfboard racks!)
Beach volleyball players
Rollerbladers, runners, cyclists
Hula hoopers
Craft sellers
Boom box blarers
Oxygen bars
Raw food restaurants
Pet spas
Gray-haired hippies
Spray-paint artists
Roller-skate dancers
Beach bums
Snake handlers
Wood carvers
Medical marijuana hawkers
Homeless drug addicts
Sideshow freaks

And the nearby streets have an astonishingly high ratio of over-the-top sports cars.  Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Corvettes, Porsches.  Convertibles, racecar designs, glaring colors.  I noticed this midway through our time here.  And, although I'm not a car person at all, soon my eyes were compulsively seeking them out.  I imagine this is one of the few places in America where driving your little red Jaguar with the top down actually makes sense.  (The status.  The sexiness.  The weather.)

Every time I tried to photograph one of the more-outrageous specimens, they whizzed by me in a blur.  But I found this nice representative image online.  OK, it's a slight exaggeration… on a daily basis they don't really all line up like this, and they're usually mixed in with a healthy number of beat-up Toyotas.  But this is a real photo taken on Ocean Boulevard a few years ago.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Baz, age 11

When we started this tour, Baz was 7 years old (the same age Isa is now).  A lot happens in 4 years… here's my big kid, who celebrated his 11th birthday on 3/14/14.

Getting caught on the flying trapeze

Lots of great birthday gifts

11 candles on a single cupcake

Monday, March 10, 2014


To celebrate Baz's 11th birthday (coming up later this week), and for a rare "triple-dark", we hit two big destinations - Legoland on Sunday, and Las Vegas on Monday.  Legoland has been on Baz's wish list for years, and I'm glad we finally carved out a time to go.  It's quite a place!  Designed for younger kids, there was nothing in the park that Isa, at 6 years old and 44", was too small for.  But there were still a good number of wild rides, and lots of smaller activities and play places.  My favorite part was Miniland USA, which recreates a whole bunch of American cities in miniatures, with Legos.  A bit reminiscent of Madurodam.  And fun to check out some of the places we've recently been, like New York and San Francisco.

And then today, Las Vegas!!  We packed a lot into our one day here in town.  First we toured the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden.  It was only OK - but at least it was something different, and off the Strip.  After that we headed to Circus Circus for some midway games and circus acts.  Circus Circus never changes - some good talent onstage, garishly tacky surroundings.  Greg says the place depresses him, but I always enjoy watching the performers.

After that it was a quick stop at the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat (which is pretty sparse on wildlife these days) before we hit a big highlight, the Jeff Civillico show!  Jeff is an old friend of Greg's - they knew each other when Jeff was a very young juggler in the Philadelphia area.  Now Jeff is a big star, with his own show at the Quad in Vegas, and various TV specials, etc.  We'd never seen his show and it was a huge treat.  So Funny!!  We were all falling out of our seats laughing for the entire hour.  The kids adored him.

It's one of the things I really enjoy about bringing the kids to Vegas - letting them see more-traditional-style juggling and circus.  They love it - at Circus Circus today we saw BMX tricks and clowning and diabolo and slack wire - and Jeff juggles a bowling ball and eats an apple.  I love seeing their faces, so full of surprise and delight.  The things that Greg and I have come to view as "standard" are still new to them, and it's so helpful to remember that.

Checking into our hotel room at Treasure Island, and going to see Mystere, was our next adventure.  This one was especially sentimental for me, because I remember clearly the last time I saw this show - it was 19 years ago, my first time traveling with Greg.  We came out to a winter juggling convention, and stayed with Pat McGuire, who was performing in Mystere.  I remember him showing us around backstage, and I remember being thrilled when he let me borrow his Cirque jacket to wear one evening.   Life has moved in so many amazing directions since then.  Could I ever have imagined that Greg and I would be in this theater again, 19 years later, with our 3 children, and a few years of Cirque touring behind us?

We wrapped up the night with a viewing of the volcano show outside the Mirage.  And elbowing through the crowds of the Strip to make it back to our hotel room.  Las Vegas is so insane.  I am always torn, between exasperation at the craziness of it all, and the otherworldly thrill of the shows.  It has been a wonderfully worthwhile couple of days.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Some recent happenings

As a belated-birthday gift, and something to keep and remember her by, Nastia presented me today with this beautiful gift - a matryoshka doll.  Nastia prides herself on putting a lot of time and thought into gift-gifting, and this is absolutely perfect.  It's beautiful; it's deeply, traditionally Russian; and it will always remind me of the connections I have made here on tour, with her and the other Russian families.  On the bottom she painted "Шейне от Насти" : to Shana from Nastia.  Which means I will have to retain some level of Russian reading and grammar ability as well!

The girls roller-skating, Venice Beach
8 kids playing foosball
While Scott was in town we did an epic bike ride - 52 miles, up to beautiful Palos Verdes and back!
Alisa, Isa, and Ayla at the Space Shuttle Endeavour, California Science Center