Friday, December 14, 2007

travel plans

If you are looking for us over the holidays...

We will be in Minnesota until December 23rd, staying in Bloomington at Family Schmieg's house. We fly the evening of the 23rd to Denver for Christmas with Scott's family, and then drive to Pasadena, California, on the 26th for rehearsal for the Rose Bowl Parade.
We will be in CA from the 26th-Jan 2 (performing in the Rose Bowl Parade on Jan 1!). We will drive back on the 2nd to Colorado, where we begin staging for Up with People's Cast A 2008 on January 3rd.

The best way to reach us over the next few weeks is either via email, or on Ellen's cell phone: 612 720 9178.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

whirlwind weeks

Its hard to believe that the tour is done already! Stay tuned for more details on the tapestry of experience that was Manila: our final shows that were especially moving with the children and community members from our service sites in attendance (many of whom was their first experience ever seeing a live performance in a theatre); the last days of community service—sore muscles and weary hearts, leaving the poverty feeling that our impact was important, and yet such a small drop in a big bucket; and closing our tour as a cast… processing the whole experience through the US, Europe, and now the Philippines.
Our last few days were in the summer capital of the Philippines, Baguio City, up 5000 feet of tropical mountains (and scary windy roads) where we enjoyed a few gorgeous sunny days and intense experiences at the Philippines Military Academy. There’s nothing quite like eating in a mess hall with over 900 cadets to experience another kind of group culture.
So these final days were full and fast and there’s so much to say…
Right now I’m grateful for the free wireless in the Hong Kong airport. Stay tuned for photos and entries with details from the Philippines in the upcoming days.

Friday, November 23, 2007

two great articles

My brilliant first intern, Hanna, is Filipina, and has been featured in media coverage we've received here. She also has written a few stories for local print media... here are two links that are worth taking a look at:

The second one was published after our US tour:

Something to Ponder

Here is something that I learned since I have been in the Philippines.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Regional Learning

On Saturday, we had a great opportunity to learn a lot about the Philippines and area where we are staying. We first started our day at the Ayala Museum ( where we learned about the very rich history of this country. Often, history only talks about three occupying nations through history: the Spanish, the USA and the Japanese. But we also learned that the British were also a colonial power here for a couple of years. With so many invaders, the influences can be seen all over, especially the Spanish architecture very visible in Intramuros, the old walled city once reserved for the Spanish. It was interesting to see this beautiful place, and to put into place the cultural pressures put on this place as they were converted to Christianity and their ways to forced to change by colonial occupation.

In the afternoon we were invited to go to the slums and see the revitalization work that is being done by one of our partnering organizations Gawad Kalinga. In the middle of the corrugated aluminum and cardboard houses, there is an oasis of hope where brightly colored buildings are being built and community spaces cleared out. For our group, it was fantastic to see the potential of the work that we are doing here and to know that we will be making a positive difference for the people of these communities. With children holding our hands as we walked back to our buses we were then taken to a private dinner hosted by the Department of Tourism.

The sharp contrast of these two experiences was staggering. As we were ushered onto a red carpet walk, Cast B was greeted by the sounds of a famous bamboo instrument band called the Singing Bamboos. We were in an open courtyard with a full dinner set for us with traditional dishes from the Philippino culture. There is no way that we could have eaten everything there, and it all felt so extravagant. We then had a private performance from the Philippine National Folk Dance Company, Bayanihan. The group was absolutely amazing and it was hard to believe that this was done all for us.

Many people went home that night and tried to piece together the two worlds that we had come into contact with during that day. This will definitely be one of our struggles here as we continue our journey here in Manila.

first week in a nutshell

This is a message that Joern, our cast manager, sent out to UWP's worldwide staff. I thought that it summarized our first week so well, that I should share it with you...

I wanted to send you all an update about our first week here in Manila. It has been such a rich, incredible, eye-opening, beautiful, sad, empowering experience that it is hard to find the words to do this week justice.

To begin with: approximately 75% of Manila’s population lives in poverty. Having been to Bangkok last year, I can say that the Thai capital is a wealthy city compared to Manila. Here you are confronted with poverty at every street corner. Every part of the city seems to have large slums. The team in Manila (Luis, Yamil, Scott, Margaux, Ana and Paul) has done an amazing job of setting up the city for our cast. I spoke with a friend of mine, whom I traveled with in UWP in 1998 and who currently works for Lufthansa here in Manila. He said that if you can successfully bring a cast to Manila, you can practically go anywhere in the world. Thank you Manila team for everything you have done for our cast!

The CI sites the team organized represent the essence of what we are trying to accomplish in Up with People. They are truly relevant. They are truly educational for our participants. And they are truly leaving a lasting impact with people in need.

I had the chance to go to two different sites so far. On Friday I worked with a Habitat for Humanity project. Seven cast members are helping to build homes for 384 families on a small compound in the middle of a slum. Each family will receive a one-room apartment of 20 square meters. The cast is intricately involved in finishing the project by the beginning of December. This project is not just being there for a few hours, posing for some photo opps and leaving again. But it is carrying thousands of bricks per day. It is painting countless window frames and walls and it is working alongside Filipino volunteers (including the future home owners) over a total period of 3 weeks (13 full days on site).

Just today I went to a school project for poor children, which is sponsored by an NGO and the city’s welfare office. The children receive the school uniform, supplies as well as a stipend to be able to go to school. Otherwise their families couldn’t afford sending them and would rather have them support the family income by begging or selling things in the streets. Before our group started working with the children we were invited to visit the squatter area where the families of the children live. Hardly anyone of us in the group has ever seen poverty like this. These families live in shacks in an extremely tight quarter. These huts are built out of old wood, metal scraps and other garbage. The grounds are swampy and filthy water is around most of them. Families of up to 12 are crammed into damp little rooms. It was extremely depressing to see. BUT, the friendliness, the spirit and the smiles of the residents were truly remarkable. They invited us in. They asked us to take photos of them. This content for the life that they have was very inspiring.

Apart from our CI we also had a great regional learning day. We went to a museum to learn about the history of the Philippines, saw some colonial buildings downtown, went to a housing project that was built on the ashes of a shantytown and had a traditional dinner with music and dances. The contrasts of the day were enormous. From the beautiful music and red carpet in the restaurant to families with little kids who practically have nothing...These are just a few experiences providing you only with a little snapshot of our experience so far. As I said when we were in Thailand last semester, I can’t imagine the UWP program without going to developing countries anymore. It is such an invaluable experience for students in order to become global leaders. In order to understand the world, it is absolutely needed to spend time in places like the Philippines. And to see how much the cast is gaining from this experience and how much they have embraced the challenge shows the importance of these four weeks already.

--Joern Gutowski, Cast Manager

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Up with People is able to be in the Philippines for four weeks thanks to the sponsorship of a beverage company called Zesto. This is our cast’s first really major sponsorship experience, and we have been showered with Zesto’s generous hospitality (and marketability). We are provided with unlimited Zesto soda, fruit juice, and ice tea for all cast meals, (which includes RC Cola, as it is owned by Zesto.) We have four Zesto polo shirts, plus t-shirts and baseball caps that are our uniforms for all of our service days. We had a delicious Filipino food welcome lunch, and we’ve been making up spontaneous Zesto commercials and slogans ever since. My personal favorite:
“Zesto is the Best-o!”

They also changed our usual poster slogan, which is "70 people. 19 countries. 1 voice." to one that reflects Zesto a little more: "19 countries. 1 voice. 1 drink."


One of the stereotypes we knew of the Philippines coming in was that things are cheaper here and our dollars would go farther, which was, admittedly, something to look forward to (especially coming from Europe, where the Euro/dollar exchange really cramped our budget).

Check out what you can get for 150 pesos (about $3.70):

A 30-minute taxi ride
A movie ticket
3-5 beers, depending on how classy the bar is
20 jeepney rides
A pedicure
A floating pearl necklace
…and my personal favorite: a cup of coffee at Starbucks

How amazing is it that most things are drastically lower prices, and yet Starbucks costs exactly the same as in the USA. Ana, my host sister, explains that Starbucks is a status symbol here. The upper middle and wealthy class teenagers and college students hang out there. The coffee shop is at least 3-4x the size of ones in the US, and most people camp out at a table for hours at a time. Ana and her friends have studied there for 5-7 hours, after buying only one cup of coffee. So she thinks of the inflated prices as rent!

Other western brands are the same prices as in the US too: the Gap, Zara, Crocs, LaCoste, etc., are in every mall on the top levels, and on the bottom level are the market stands where you can buy the knockoffs at a fraction of the price, if you want to risk being caught with them and paying fines upon entry back into the United States. This applies especially to big-name purses and pirated movies, both of which are big business here. I will have to choose my Christmas presents wisely!

transport & traffic

There’s nothing quite like getting around in Manila. It is a huge sprawling collection of cities that make up the area of Metro Manila. Our cast is hosted in a few different areas (I’m in Quezon City), and because of the amount of traffic, we only get together as a full group every few days. Most days we travel directly to our service sites and home again, and that travel takes many forms.

Most students take taxis, which are everywhere, and are usually easy to hail, unless you live in a congested part of town. Then no one wants to drive you home, because it takes too long, and they can make more money picking up someone else. If that happens too many times in a row, or if you are near your home and know the direction to go, you can take the other two main forms of transport: jeepneys or tricycles.

The jeepney is a remnant of the influence of the US occupation. It is modified jeep that is the length of a suburban. The back is an open entrance, and in the main body of the jeep are benches along each side. It costs you 7.5 pesos (about 13 cents) to ride, and about 20 people pack onto the vinyl benches. They are fairly quick, relatively consistent, and cheap, but they mostly go on the main drags. Most people hop off a jeepney a little ways from their final destination and take a tricycle the rest of the way.

A “tricycle” is a motorbike with a huge metal sidecar that seats 3-4 people (cozily). There is also room for 1-2 people behind the driver, so essentially one motorcycle can carry 5-6 people plus the driver. Tricycles are also cheap, and the price depends on how far you’re going. Their biggest perk is to-the-door service, and their biggest downside is lungs full of exhaust (and wondering if the sidecar ever falls off—which Ana swears has never happened-- that she has seen, anyway).

There is also a bus system and a rail transit, but both aren’t accessible where I live. As for walking, it isn’t very common. Most people take tricycles even short distances. There isn’t really pedestrian infrastructure—sidewalks are hit & miss, and the residential area that I’m in isn’t within walking distance of anything but the corner store and Laundromat. Most other gated communities are similar.

Getting around makes every day an adventure. Traffic can be dead-stopped for minutes, and inching for hours. A place that’s 15 minutes away in the middle of the night can take you two hours to get to during the day. And there aren’t exactly consistent times of day for traffic either, so in general, we leave really early and hope that we don’t hit any.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bombing in Manila

Yes, there was a bombing in Manila at the Parliament building the evening we arrived. It was (they think) targeted at the congressman that was killed in the blast, along with his driver. He represented the very south of the country where there is unrest due to Muslim extremist groups that are supposedly linked to Al Quaida. This kind of attack is rare in Manila…the southern islands, where there are recent conflicts, are a thousand miles from here. As far as our safety goes, I feel as safe as I would in any other big city. There’s no reason to think that any of the locations where we spend our days (mostly the slums and poor villages where our service sites are) would be targeted in any way. We take all the precautions we can for personal safety (like traveling in at least pairs, communicating when we plan to arrive certain places, etc.) and that’s all we can do. Ana pointed out the extra security in the city today in malls and buildings in the downtown financial district... a precautionary measure that gives some sense of security, though who knows how effective it is.

The interesting part is the perspective that Paul Whitaker, the long-time Up with People guru who has planned the last two Thai tours, our current tour, and is working on next semester’s Thai tour, offers. He explains that the travel cautionary list put out by the US and other state departments, of which the Philippines is on, is more political than it is about safety. When the last casts were in Thailand, there were bombings in Bangkok and a coup of the government. BUT the words “Al Quaida” are nowhere near this unrest in Thailand, so it hasn’t shown up on the US’ watch list. So it is not about the frequency of attacks or the risk to civilians (which is what I would think they would consider in their ratings), but rather how close the groups are to the biggest media attention “bad guys” in our world today.

We are in Manila, Ila, Ila Hey Hey

Yeah for Asia!! With our very first adventure in this part of the world, we are so excited to be in the muggy paradise of the Philippines. We were are little nervous about getting everyone to this
point though as we had some snags on our way to the airport:

* First, we had a couple of students with severe intestinal issues (read as...the runs) and they needed to see doctors before we left to make sure they could fly
* When we went to get our vans out of the parking garage, we found the gate stuck in the down position, which made it impossible to get them out. Yikes!! Fortunately they called about 3 support trucks and we got them out in time to get to the airport.

Fortunately, we all made the flight and they airline was not as restrictive as they made themselves out to be. Our things arrived with us and we were welcomed by our Sponsor, Zesto (owners of RC Cola) and a bunch of media outlets. The cast had been great and we are getting adjusted to our new timezone (although I have to admit that I have no idea what time it is at home right now).

I am staying with a delightful host family who has two young boys. They also have their own driver and two "helpers" in the house. This came as a shock to me, but I came to understand that this is common here. We even have one cast member where there are 25 "helpers" in the home. We are definitely staying with wealthier families here, which will make for an interesting contrast when we start to do our Community Impact.

Transportation here is a trip. The driving is enough to make you want to walk everywhere, but because the city is so huge, it is impossible. One cast member noticed that there is a sign on the back of most vehicles saying, "How is my driving?" We all laughed at this because the only sane response is "TERRIBLE!!" But you would be dialing the phone all day if you took this attitude, we are definitely all in on this new adventure.

Ellen's Filipino first impressions:

Warm, humid, friendly people, crazy traffic.

I am staying with Ana Pascual’s family (she is a member of our advance team). She’s the oldest of five kids: Dino, Chantal, Bolo and Eio. Parents are Ruben and Mayang, and then there's Lola, the grandmother, who graciously greeted me this morning. She introduced herself as “the administrator of this little village” that is her home. When my roommate Adam and I sat last night out with the rest of the family in their garden/ patio, we were told that the house only has two rules:

1. We should always simply ask for what we need. They are a straightforward family and don’t take things personally.

2. Everything that Lola (grandma) says, goes.

Riding down the street in a taxi, I am amazed at how much Manila reminds me of Mexico, and parts of Ecuador. Here come my stereotypes of developing countries: they have... children who sell candy in the middle of the street, or even who run through traffic to tap on your windows to beg for money. Lots of KFC. Crazy public transportation where there are 20 people in a van made for seven weaving through the lanes. Extreme poverty right across the alley from extravagant wealth. Obsession with certain parts of American/Western culture: Oprah, fast food, SpongeBob, the GAP. There's more I'm missing, but even in the first 24 hours, this stuff jumps out at me, and brings back so many memories, even though I've never been on this continent before.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

continent transitions

There is nothing more exhausting than figuring out how to move 67 people and all their crap from one continent to another. Plus we have all these extra costume bags, musical instruments, and other things (like our archive for the end of the year) that have to come with us. The tricky part of the equation came this week when we learned the airline luggage restrictions: each person only gets 20 kilos (44 pounds) total in checked luggage, and 8 kilos of carry on luggage, in one bag. And the kicker: for every kilo you are overweight, you pay 30 Euros! (which, with the recent drop in the dollar, is about 45 bucks). Ouch. So, we have two hours of free time tomorrow morning, where the majority of the cast will wait in line at the post office, mailing boxes home. (Mom, Scottie and I have a hefty box coming your way.) I’m hoping that the restrictions leaving the Philippines will be a little more lenient, as I am planning on doing some Christmas shopping.

Cast Uni and a surprise!

We had one of my favorite education opportunities yesterday: UWP University! Students volunteer to teach 50-minute courses on things that they are knowledgeable in. We had courses on Chinese characters, yoga, crochet, song-writing, speaking Pidgeon, musical dance, Kendo (Japanese fencing), self defense, creative writing, financial planning, and a course for women on what guys are thinking. Such fun! The hard part was deciding which courses to attend. We also were supposed to have courses on photography basics, reading Braille & learning a step routine, but those classes were actually fake because the students had prepared for us a staff appreciation!
They made a slide show of photos, wrote us thoughtful letters, gave us chocolate, serenaded us with Japanese music videos and Seasons of Love, Blaine from Texas did a short “Impression Session” with impressions of each staff member, and Johan from Sweden had written an incredible song after the cast appreciation two weeks ago, which he performed for us. It was very touching, and these students are just a good group of people. I feel really lucky that I like them all so much!

two bummers

Leuven was the site of two minor cast disasters. The first was a situation that always makes for a good story once it’s over: food poisoning! We had two types of soup for lunch, and everyone who ate “the meat soup” had the runs all night long. Thank goodness our show facility had a lot of bathrooms.

The second was more tragic: Our big show on Thursday evening was in an arena, and the cast performed on a portable stage platform. Laurel Long from Colorado missed the edge of the stairs exiting off the platform backstage, fell and broke her ankle in two places. She returned to the US for surgery, and will not be rejoining the cast. She was incredibly disappointed, and the whole cast grieved for her not being able to end the tour with us, and to miss our journey to the Philippines. She was very courageous, and flew home yesterday in positive spirits. I think the rest of us did quite a bit of reflecting… what if I was the one who was injured and was heading home today?

Big show day

The performance of the Up with People Show in Leuven was by far the best I have seen from this cast. It was a show with a lot of pressure… we had 400 VIP guests attend a champagne reception beforehand, an enthusiastic audience of over 2,000 people, and many potential sponsors and bigwigs that are interested in being involved in future uwp European tours in attendance. The stakes were high, and I was so proud of this cast--- they just turned it on! The dances were the cleanest I’ve ever seen them, the energy was off the charts, and everyone was giving their all for this last European show, and the cast’s third to last show ever (as we only have two shows in Manila). We also had a guest performer perform with us; Sandrine is a Belgian pop star who had two chart hits from being on “Idol” (which is basically “American Idol” but not in America). She sang both her hit songs in our show, and a lot of the student audience was drawn to our show to see her. Leuven is the largest university town in Belgium with 30,000 students, so this city also had a big focus on recruiting future up with people students. We definitely are finishing our European tour with a bang.

Day of Hope

Our project here in Leuven, Belgium, was to participate in a “Day of Hope.” We partnered with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sister Jeanne Devos, and the proceeds of our show went to her foundation, which serves child domestic laborers in India. She headed up the first Day of Hope in India in 2005, and it centered around a statue of a golem that stands four meters tall and has a small door at its heart. The children could write or draw their hopes & wishes, and put them into the golem where they would be kept safe. Sister Jeanne explained to our cast how she had been skeptical that this symbolic gesture would be helpful for the children that she works with in India, and was overwhelmed by the positive effect it had on them. She brought the idea of the project back to her home country of Belgium, and over the past week, our cast helped implement it. We worked with local students to finish building the golem statue, and performed a mini-show at a hospital where we collected the hopes of kids in the hospital to put in the golem. (A golem, I learned, is a creature that visits children in their dreams to play with them and keep their secrets. It was an imaginary friend/toy that couldn’t be taken away from kids, no matter how little belongings or resources they had. The existence of golems was a popular legend for Jewish children during WWI, but existed long before that.)
On the Day of Hope, which was Wednesday, the cast performed in the large Oude Markt square, the golem was unveiled, and children were encouraged to put their hopes inside the door at its heart. The cast also got to be creative, painting the sheets that hung in front of the golem statue before it was revealed, and making sculptures that symbolized hope. On the first day we worked with the artist that designed the statue, Koen van Mechelen, which was my favorite part of the project. We have many gifted artists and creative people in this cast.

Though the “Day of Hope” was a cool experience, the project was a little disappointing for me… our cast wasn’t utilized as well as they could have been, and the whole event was very hyped. We had lots of media coverage and mayor visits and things that felt like we were putting on a show of the event more than we were really impacting anything. The students that performed at the hospital and took those kids’ hopes to the golem were the only ones who had any direct contact with the children that were affected by the project, which was great for them, but disappointing for those who didn’t participate in that element of the project. Also, the weather on the Day of Hope was typical November in Europe: blustery, rainy, gray and cold. Consequently, not as many children & schools turned out for the event as I was expecting. BUT it was positive for many reasons, and the concept of the project, which includes a curriculum for schools designed by a child psychology professor here in Leuven, has the potential to really be a powerful experience for youth. Also, the golem that we made here this week is being shipped to an indigenous tribe in Chile. The artist’s dream is to have these golem statues built and hold “Day of Hope” celebrations in different corners of the world. Up with People is a natural partner for something like that, so it may be something that a future cast will do again.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Red Light District

11/3/07: Today we went to Amsterdam with the cast, and Scottie & I went with 25 other people on a tour of the Red Light District led by former sex workers that now are employed by the Prostitute Information Center. The PIC is located in the middle of the largest of the three red light districts in Amsterdam. I was glad to have the opportunity to go on the tour, because it humanized the area for me, and made it not about the shock value. Granted, it is still unsettling to me seeing women standing in the windows in their underwear waiting for business, but talking about it with the open and straightforward guides who were perfectly normal people made it less uncomfortable to walk through the streets. I learned that the window business is only 20% of the sex industry in Amsterdam, the rest existing in the shows, brothels, clubs and stores that dominate this area. What I found fascinating was how the district is so integrated into the daily life of the neighborhoods, which aren’t only about sexual exploitation. The sex shops and windows that are on the street level have apartments and homes in the floors above them, just like in the rest of Amsterdam. The homes aren’t necessarily for the sex workers, as you might assume, but house families and communities like any other neighborhood. A perfect example: just down the street from the PIC, with a few curtained windows in between, was a kindergarten & day care center for the families that live in that area.
Even though I don’t like the crudeness of porn and penises and naked women plastered in every shop window, I appreciate that the Dutch accept the reality of prostitution in our world, and prefer to regulate it in a way that the women who work in the industry have a defined relationship with the police (unlike in many countries, where police officers often take a cut of the sex worker’s income in exchange for not arresting her.) Also, the government taxes the workers, just like any other employed person in the Netherlands. The industry is regulated, and the women are essentially business owners who decide for themselves how much they will charge, and what services they will offer. Compare that to the dangerous situation of a woman in a country where prostitution is illegal, who is controlled by a pimp or can’t go easily to the police for protection, and I am relieved that these laws exist.
The part that still disgusts me though, is how big the industry is at all. These women wouldn’t turn to this business to make money if there was no money to be made. In fact, there was a promotion not long ago in the Red Light District to offer services from men for women, and it was quickly found to be not a profitable business. Whereas women pay between 70 and 130 euros per shift to rent a window room for 8-12 hours, and will make 200-1,000 euros in that time.

traveling office

I’ve been meaning to write for awhile now about how much of an adventure it is (or how much of a pain, depending on your frustration level) it is to work in a traveling office. Our office is actually one heavy-duty black travel case that we cleverly call “the office”, that holds our router, printer, and a few power strips. It is usually set up in a quiet corner somewhere in our facility. We’ve worked in dressing rooms, orchestra pits, steampipe-trunk-distribution-venues, storage areas, classrooms, you name it. We’re lucky when we have enough tables and chairs… most of the time we sit with computers on our laps, often on couches, folding chairs, or the floor. We have meetings in theatre lobbies, coffee shops, street curbs—I even had one in a tree in San Diego! One of my other favorite locations was when our office was in a preschool classroom in Switzerland, and we all sat on little tiny chairs with our knees above the height of the tables made for 4-6 year olds!

Internet access is hit or miss— if we have the ability, we set up our own router for wireless, or if we’re really lucky, we’re near free wireless. However, if we are set up through a school or community center (which we often are) we are sometimes blocked from sites that the students can’t have access to, like email. And you wouldn’t believe how many things go wrong when 20 computers are logged on and we are all desperate for internet. It’s the main form of communication for up with people, because of all the international dialogue we need to have with upcoming cities and with the office in Denver. We use online calling through Skype, and send everything via email, so when we don’t have access for the majority of a city, it is really stressful on the whole team. You’ll often see both staff and students walking outside with their computers open, searching the neighborhoods for a wireless signal they can poach.

There’s another funny element that has plagued our office in Europe, and that is the theft of electric plug adapters! There are many fewer outlets in our European facilities, and not everyone has adapters to get our American plugs to fit in the sockets. So, you cannot leave your computer charging and let it out of your sight. You will come back and your laptop will have been unplugged, and someone will have stolen your adapter! Luckily, they usually show up, and of course, always with a really good reason to have been “borrowed.”

The environment also brings a whole new meaning to me of an “open office”. It is impossible to find a quiet space—your only alternative is using headphones, which I often put in without even putting music on, just so I am interrupted a little less frequently. But it is lively and spirited, and for the most part is the opposite of a desk job, which I love. It is well worth the adventures of a traveling office.

typical Dutch

Here in Dronten, we are actually living five meters below sea level. This town used to be at the bottom of a lake—the land was “reclaimed” only 60 years ago! My host father proudly explained the dyke and drainage system, though I don’t think I could ever live here longterm… it’s tempting fate a bit too much for me.
Holland: land of bicycles… I don’t get to bike every morning, but most people do, and I got to borrow a sweet pink cruiser to ride to the mosque yesterday. The bike path system is as extensive as the roads, and there are strict laws and expensive tickets for not using headlights or riding drunk, yet no one wears helmets!
Its been fun to be back in the Netherlands, for some of my favorite typical Dutch things: stroopwafels- thin mini-waffles sandwiched together with gooey caramel
Vla- thin pudding that comes in narrow milk-cartons that you pour into your dessert bowl every night after dinner
Hager slat- jimmies/ sprinkles that you put on bread (stuck down with butter) and eat for breakfast! You’d think it would be good in the vla, but nobody eats it that way. Only for breakfast.
Fries in a cone: eaten with little plastic forks and lots of mayonnaise
We eat lots of bread and cheese and soup and tea and potatoes and more cheese and more bread.

UWP Land

To add some drama to our immigration focus, everyone was given passports or identifications for Up with People Land. The goal was for each person to find a job and a place to live in this fictional country, and to experience the challenges that may come from being a migrant worker, legal alien, refugee or asylum seeker. Some people were employers with jobs to hire for, and some owned houses or apartment buildings with rooms to rent. They could determine what their businesses were, and what their hiring procedure would be. It was fun to see how creative people got with the tasks… we had an investigative newspaper that was reporting on the possible corruption within the border patrol, the mayor’s new laws and new wife were also critiqued in the publication, and we had one girl who believed she was fired from her job unfairly organizing a protest for workers rights. There was some tension created though when passports started being stolen in UWP Land. Both the newspaper owner and the protest organizer became illegal immigrants after their passports were stolen… which turned out to be masterminded by the uwpland mafia. It was a fun simulation that has been present in the uwp curriculum for the past few semesters. I was proud of the extra details that I added to enhance the experience this time, like holding a mayoral election, having justices of the peace who married couples, adding a refugee center director who interviewed asylum seekers to determine if they could be approved for refugee status, writing job descriptions for the border patrol and all the special positions, and creating a loose structure for proposing laws/ policies that would encourage the creativity of the participants. I learned a lot about what worked and what I would change, and for next semester will think a little more about what I want people to get out of the experience, beyond a fun roleplay.

immigration overload

We’ve had an intensive immigration focus this week. It’s been a bit challenging for the education team, because we weren’t a part of planning the curriculum (as it was all set months ago) yet we were in charge of making it happen during each day. The idea was to learn through a series of speakers, visits to a refugee center, a Turkish mosque or a Moroccan mosque, and some readings, about the Dutch immigration and integration policies. We had a group of high school students (that were very bright—all debate team members) join us for the three days, and we were divided into six groups. Each group created five laws to be an immigration policy for a fictional country, and then had 10 minutes to present their policy. Today, I, along with two other road staff members and four people from the refugee center, made up a panel that determined which immigration plan was the most realistic, that also considered both the humanitarian perspective and the host country’s practical needs & costs. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the proposals, and how seriously the teams took the assignment. I sat with a group who all determined that there was no way they ever wanted to work in immigration policies or law after this experience, because making decisions that affect people’s lives so consequentially was too hard!


11/1/07: Last night we had a fabulous Halloween party for our cast and host families at this cool theatre/ art gallery/ cultural center called XL de Atiliers, here in Dronten. The advance team here has had an 80s theme all week, so there were lots of bad 80s costumes. My roommate Maria won the best 80s outfit by wearing a flowered suit with billowy hammer-pants that our host-mom wore to a wedding in 1987. Classy!
I went as a sad clown, and won a prize for “best act” as the cast members couldn’t believe I could look so solemn all evening. Obviously, I was very convincing (see photos).
Scott was one of the dancers recruited to dance Thriller – they all were zombies, and he looked particularly disgusting. The dance, choreographed by Tyrell (front) was very fun.
We also had some really incredible costumes—gorgeous halloweeny face painting, a “serial killer” (who had boxes of cornflakes with plastic knives stabbed into them, and a squirt gun), a two-part cow, a Swedish James Dean, a Japanese Sinter Klaus (who is a lot like Santa Claus, except he’s Dutch and comes on Dec 5th) and so many other fun and fabulous costumes borrowed from host families. I love how this group of people goes all out to participate and enjoy our time together! There is no such thing as half-assing up with people.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

not-so-typical dutch wedding

Tom & Liselot's wedding was so beautiful, and we were really happy that we were able to make the trip to be there. Our travels to the ceremony was a bit of an adventure... Maggie helped us get a 25% discount "Bahncard" to ride the trains in Germany for cheaper. We took the train to Cologne on Friday night and stayed overnight at UwP's German office, otherwise known as Frank Liffer's apartment. Then we rode with him (on the autobahn in a BMW going 180 km per hour, which to those of you who drive in miles, is super fast!), to Amsterdam.

We were lucky to have the uwp network take care of us once again... a friend on the road with us connected us with a friend of hers that used to work for uwp, and actually traveled in B97, so we were in Denver with her back in the day! So Nicoliene met us at the wedding and showed us to her apartment, and graciously hosted us for the weekend.

The wedding was at 3pm in a cool old building that used to be a church. Tom & Liselot wrote their own vows that were just beautiful, and their officiant, who was a justice of the peace, I think, was a bit of a jokester.

Then we took shuttle buses to a really artsy, funky event center for the reception. There was the biggest disco ball I've ever seen, and a large unicorn hanging from the ceiling. We caught up with many old friends, and Scott was excited that the entire management staff from cast A 99 was in attendance! We had a delicious, very classy dinner served family style at three long tables, with a cream puff & fruit "cake" that came out to the tables with fireworks! We sang and danced until 2:30am.

On Sunday we met up with everyone for lunch, explored Amsterdam, met up again for a festive dinner, and enjoyed our first two-days-in-a-row off since the end of june. We rode these crazy swings at a carnival in a square in Amsterdam-- it was a bench swing that raised at least 100 ft in the air. It was windy, cold, and so fun!-- though I wondered when we were at the top, how it was stabilized and able to go up so high. On Monday, we took three trains across Germany to arrive in Prenzlau by 6pm. I love public transportation!


10-28-07: I was lucky to have the chance to visit Berlin twice this week. We visited the East Side Gallery, which is the remains of the Berlin wall, painted with murals and graffiti. We took a cast photo in front of the Brandenburg gate, and visited the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial is incredibly powerful, and easy to lose yourself in. Long rows of columns, that as you walk to the center begin to tower above your head, until they are four meters above you. You lose everyone else, and just catch glimpses of people walking among the other columns… the symbolism was overwhelming to me, I felt this panic of not being able to find my group again, and thinking I would see them in the distance, but only a glimpse, and if I ran to catch them, I would only be successful if they hadn’t turned. And the columns were so wide, it hid people and was quickly disorienting. And the museum underneath the memorial was really well-done, though it was exhausting, as all Holocaust memorials are. Though somehow, I feel like its one of those things that I need to spend time doing, taking time out of my rich and bountiful life to remember that sick tragedy and all those lost lives. If you are ever in Berlin, this memorial is a must-see.

And yesterday on our free day, Joern took us around his old neighborhood in Berlin. We visited a flea market, had a tour of the Jewish Museum of Berlin that focused on a comparison of Judaism and Islam (which was fascinating) and then had dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant. Homemade fettuchini with pumpkin and sautéed onions, buffalo mozzarella with truffle oil and basil, antipasto with roasted eggplant & pinenuts, octopus with tomatoes, potato soufflé, and many other delectable flavors. It was a relaxing dinner, and a nice end to our very busy week in Prenzlau. The only thing I was disappointed about was that we got back too late for me to call home. I am grateful for the emails and photos that you send—Kato, I love the pink hair!

ice cream freezer

10-27-07: My former intern Hanna, who is awesome, and is one of those people who always looks to see how she can add value to an experience. What extras can she find to make things better… anyways, she was on the advance setup team here in Prenzlau, and she asked for a donation of ice cream bars for 70 people. Instead, she got an entire freezer full of popsicles and ice cream bars of various flavors… pink grapefruit, black licorcice, and my favorite: banana ice cream dipped in chocolate and rice krispie-type crunchies. Delicious! We called it our bottomless freezer, because as hard as we worked to make a dent in the supply, we still couldn’t see the bottom of the chest Saturday night after the show. I think our truck driver Michael took the prize with 15 ice creams over the course of the day. I restrained myself, and only had four.

appreciating our cast

Today was our cast appreciation! The staff has been staying together all week here in Prenzlau, Germany, and every night we’ve been preparing the celebration that we did today.

The cast was convinced that something was really wrong. Joern and Frank Liffers (our European tour manager who traveled with Scott & I in ‘97) told the cast when they arrived that there was “an issue” that the rest of the staff was meeting about. Frank said that he usually is excited to come out and visit the cast, but not today. Then at 8:30am they opened the doors to the auditorium and saw that we had set up the stage and decorated the set with streamers, balloons and signs. We had stayed up late all week learning dances and songs to perform for the cast—the show’s swing dance, “Everybody’s Everybody” from our previous uwp show, and a few other fun songs to have them laugh at and with us. My ribs are so bruised from doing the flips in the swing dance, and my stomach muscles have never been so sore in my whole life. But it was so worth it. From when I started as road staff, the cast appreciation day was one of the things I looked most forward to. And overall, it went so well! We had a few technical difficulties in getting our opening video started, but after that, the little show, the dance party, and then a movie in the morning were all big hits with the cast. We set the table and served them a sit-down lunch (rather than a buffet line how we eat most every meal) with candles and Frank Sinatra playing in the background. We wanted to show them how much we appreciate their positive attitudes and commitment to the program.

hunger banquet

On Thursday 10/18/07 we focused on poverty and hunger, and the distribution of wealth throughout the world. We started with about 10 people sharing statistics and examples of what it means to be poor in their respective countries.

In the afternoon, we walked up an old narrow road to the ruins of castle built in 1250. We had a guided tour from some local students whose teacher wanted them to practice their English. In the castle we simulated the distribution of the wealth of the world by having 100 coins on the ground. People picked up as many as they could, and we divided them by how many they ended up with. (some chose to share with those around them, as we had blindfolded some people and taped others’ hands together.) It was perfect to do this division in an old castle

Later in the afternoon we went to a monastery, and a monk spoke to the cast about his perspective on poverty in this age. Then the divisions from the castle came into effect—we broke the cast by the percentages of the world’s wealth. 15% of the people (nine cast members) were the wealthy class, 35% (22 cast members) were the middle class, and the other 50% (the remaining 34 people) were the poorest class, those in the world who struggle to have their basic needs met.

The wealthiest class sat at a dining table with real dishes and silverware, and while Jared (our lighting technician & resident expert on poverty and hunger) was sharing facts and information, Scottie & Joern began serving the top 15%. The route from the kitchen walked right through the middle class group (sitting on chairs but no table) and the poverty class, who were sitting on the floor. So Scott & Joern carried the vat of soup (which smelled delicious) to the wealthiest class, and then served salad, sautéed turkey breasts with garlic, basil and tomatoes, rice, and dessert. All through the rest of Jared’s presentation, while the majority of the cast was sitting hungrily on the floor, we heard the clinking of the wealthy class’ dishes. Once they had their main course and the presentation was complete, then the middle class went through a buffet line for a scoop of beans and of rice. The poorest class was given a bowl of rice to share, and a kettle of slightly salted water.

It was such a successful event, a powerful experience for the whole group. I loved watching the faces of the wealthy class as the food just kept coming, and so many students expressed that they were glad to have the experience of eating just rice and bad water for dinner.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Zell a.H.

We have spent the week in a charming little city in southwest Germany called Zell am Harmersbach. Our host family was the lovely Maggie Goette (from cast C 97) and her boyfriend Ralf. And actually, since Mags had to study in Munich Mon-Thurs, Ralf was stuck with us by himself!

We've had lots of pretzels and beer, and a busy week of working on our upcoming cities. Yesterday we had an awesome workshop on poverty and hunger that I will blog about separately (once the other cast has also experienced it...), but it took place in a castle and a monastary, which really added to the atmosphere as we talked about wealth distribution and economic classes.

We also had our first German show, with the audience drinking beer and eating pretzels, and lots of energy and encores! There's nothing like performing for a German audience--- they are so appreciative!

This weekend we are off to Amsterdam for an exciting wedding of two castmates from 1997, and will be rejoining our cast on Monday in the opposite kitty-corner of Germany: Prenzlau, which is on the Polish border.

Right now we are off to have a coffee with Mags before heading on our way to get to the wedding. Tschüß!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

gorgeous Switzerland

Now we are in beautiful Luzern (or Lucerne, depending on if you're German or French...) and are having an incredible and crisp fall week in this city. On Tuesday, after a foggy boat tour of Lake Lucerne, we took the steepest cogwheel train in the world (with a gradient of an impressive 48%) to the top of Mount Pilatus. Hiking in the steep and impressive Swiss Alps, riding gondolas and cable cars and toboggans, and topping it off with an incredible Raclette dinner last night... we have had an amazing Swiss experience so far.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

US tour wrap-up

I promised an update on how the US closure worked out... I was so pleased! We had all this end-of-roll clean newsprint, and I painted each city name and all of the "facts" of the city, like the service sites, show facilities, workshops, speakers, etc., up under each city. They covered the walls all the way around the room. But the paper was mostly blank, and so we took about an hour to personalize the mural-- people wrote up memories, quotes, drew pictures... we played music, and I think everyone really enjoyed walking around, reading and laughing about all the funny moments we've had together already this tour.
Plus these murals are going to be fabulous for our end of semester! It was a great success, and I got some really positive feedback from students. Its a keeper.


It ended up being 64.5 hours + 8 additional hours of sleeping on a gym floor, but we made it through, and Milan is of course bellissimo!

Its been a quick week of scavenger hunts through the city, spontaneous classroom visits, and two sold-out shows. A funny highlight for Scottie and I: our show facility yesterday was in a smaller community near Milan called Cernusco-- where we performed 9 and a half years ago! A mural that we painted outside in the courtyard plaza had been painted over, but the flags of the world that we put up in May 1998 were still slightly visible. I'll post a photo once I can upload pics again.

Tonight we're doing our second show in the city where most of the cast is living: Cusano Miliano, which is a 20-minute commuter train ride to connect to the Milan subway.

Travel to Europe has given the cast a lot of independence, (and some students a kick in the pants!) as we don't have a bus within the city. There were lots of people lost somewhere on public transportation, or needing to ask directions of local Italianos to find their way home. Its so fun! ... and it came at just the right time for this group.

Monday, October 1, 2007

On the Road Again

The adventures continue!

So, it should be known that we are in the midst of the longest travel extravaganza in the world. We are on our way from Las Vegas, NV to Milano, Italy, so let me break it down:

We started our travels at midnight on Sunday morning. Our plan was to not stop for an overnight sleep but rather to drive to Seattle in order to catch our flight to Italy. This meant that we had four drivers in each of our vans and took turns driving and keeping the driver awake. We did this for about 30 hours, which was incredibly exhausting as we never really got any quality sleep when not driving. After several rest stops, we arrived at Sea Tac to drop off our first group of travellers, but the remainder of us still have until 9:30 pm until our flight departs. As we felt pretty much like arse, a few of us decided to get a hotel so we could sleep a few hours and shower. The rest of our travel:

* Depart for London Heathrow at 9:30 pm from Seattle on Monday, October 1st
* Arrive at Heathrow at 3:00pm October 2nd
* Depart for Milano at 7:00pm October 2nd
* Arrive Milano at 11:00pm and sleep in a sport hall overnight until we meet our host families the next day at 5:30pm October 3rd

All said, this will be a 61.33 hour travel extravaganza. Had it not been for our quick stop at a hotel, we would not have showered for about 4 days...YIKES!

Wish us luck...we think of you all and are hoping that life is well. We will update our blog as we are able.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

As you can tell, I just posted three weeks worth of stuff in five minutes. I've been writing offline as I have the opportunity-- Pics will be added once I am on Scott's computer again, so check back soon.

We've been here in Las Vegas for three days. I'm running the city educationally, and have been working hard on some exciting workshops-- yesterday was a Personal Vision workshop, that walked through our education curriculum so far this semester, today was getting prepared for traveling to Europe (many of our North Americans for the first time!), so we had a presentation that went over currency, electricity, and other necessary conversions, as well as some cultural differences. We also had an Italian Culture trivia contest, as we fly into Milan in five short days! Tomorrow is the workshop I'm really looking forward to: the closure of the US Tour. Its Art meets Statistics, in an interactive mural form... I'll let you know how it goes.

Tonight was a special treat-- there are quite a few Up with People alumni that work in the administrative and tech crews of Cirque de Soleil, and one of those connections got our staff tickets to see Mystere at Treasure Island. WOW! Cirque shows have such spectacle. My jaw dropped at least 15 times, and I think our tickets should come with a "do not try this at home" warning. Though, i don't know that there are many of us in this world that have the stomach muscles to even begin to attempt the acrobatics those performers execute with ease and grace. SO COOL! I can't decide which I liked better, the 45 degree angled trampolines, or the strongest pair of men I've ever seen. At one point, the bigger of the two guys was laying flat on his stomach with his knees bent so his feet were up in the air, and the other man (only slightly smaller, definitely still 200 lbs of solid muscle) was doing a handstand on the laying-down man's feet! The laying-down man brought his legs down so his shins touched the ground, and then raised the other guy up again, all while the other guy is maintaining a perfectly verdical, steady handstand. it was crazy.

There is so much more to say, but I'm exhausted, and there's another busy day tomorrow. We've been invited to the largest mosque in Nevada, to break fast with the congregation(?), as the month of Ramadan is coming to a close. can't wait to tell you all about it! love ee

Back to Portland

9/20/07: We’ve had such a great time in Portland. We’re staying with Scott’s parents’ friends, Gary and Carol Goldstick, in their lovely home in Lake Oswego. Carol is mothering us with mouthwatering meals and special desserts… and Schmiegs/ Heinrichs, you are going to LOVE “West Coast Hand & Foot”. There is actual strategy involved! Don’t worry, I’ve written down all the rule variations. Scott is going to be in the show for the first time tomorrow, and it will be my fourth performance. We perform with the cast when we are able… its fun to support the show team. The only reason we’re not in it all the time is that with the education team being responsible for most of the other days of the week, “show day” is our big work day, when we’re able to get stuff done.

On Wednesday night, we were so happy to get to see my good friend from high school and college, Christine Barnett and her husband Sean. Christine is a medical resident on-call this month, so we were glad that she could find time between one of her 30 hour shifts to go out for sushi with us. The tuna was like butter! And my new favorite ice cream flavor: green tea. (it tastes so much like Trader Joes’ green tea muffins!)

12 crabs every day

9/13/07: Another incredible drive is along highway 101 up the northern coast of CA into Oregon. We stopped at Face Rock, and the charming old town of Bandon, OR, where Scottie and I chatted with some locals who were trapping and cleaning their allotted 12 crab per day for private consumption. Every person in OR can catch their dozen crab each day, and you can only have two days worth in your possession at any given time. Yum!


We had two really fast cities: 3 days in Eureka, CA, followed by 3 days in Coos Bay, OR. In Eureka, we performed in a gorgeous restored theatre that was actually renovated by my host dad! Our service day I helped to do fall maintenance on a sports complex that was funded by private donations to the community and run by volunteers. We repainted soccer field lines, stained the fences, and scrubbed down the concession stand building. Then in the afternoon I visited a classroom for severely handicapped students that are at an amazing magnet school with specially designed classrooms, exercise and play equipment. I played Uno and a memory matching game with a few of the students in the oldest classroom; they were all over 16, and could continue to go to the school until they turned 22. There were almost as many staff and volunteers in the room as students, and seven students per classroom. It was a really touching facility and an exhausting job, and I wish I could have been at the school longer. We were only there for a little over an hour.

HUGE Redwoods!

From Winston down to Eureka, CA, we drove through the strikingly huge and surprisingly lush Redwood Forest. We spotted whales off the coast in CA, and along the beach just 30 miles north of Eureka, we saw gray spotted seals playing in the waves. It was a long stretch of beach with black sand, on a cool, blustery Monday afternoon, and the uwp truck caravan (Scott & I in the truck, and a mini van with four staff following behind us) were the only ones around to enjoy it.

Crater Lake

I’ve derailed on chronological entries, because I haven’t been online. But we’ve done some cool things in the past few weeks that I want to share with you, now that I’ve had the chance to post some pics.

Back in Winston, OR, (9/10/07) I was hosted with a young couple (Ron & Angela) with three kids (Alyssa, Brandon and Cameron), and three uwp students ( Gina and Cassidy from the US, and Jules from Uganda).

All nine of us, plus one of their dogs, Rose, piled into the family suburban, and drove along gorgeous Highway 38 east to Crater Lake. We stopped at Clearwater Creek falls, where we climbed across logs and on mossy rocks, and met up with a few other host families (you meet ‘em wherever you go). We had a picnic overlooking Crater Lake, and stopped at a few other falls on the way home. We also had a flat tire adventure, and played a few rousing rounds of the alphabet game along the side of the road. It was an incredible drive through the canyon and along the river, with waterfall turnoffs every few miles. Definitely a place to return to, to explore a little more.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Project Homeless Connect... Portland, OR

Yesterday we participated in what was essentially a homeless persons expo, hosted at the Portland Convention Center. Over 300 volunteers, including 40 members of our cast, worked at Project Homeless Connect. The convention center was filled with stations where the homeless could come and get vision, medical and dental care, haircuts, pet care, benefits assessments, lunch, blankets, soap and other personal hygiene supplies. I ate with a young family who had been living on the street for the past few months. He was permanently injured in the military and she used to be a migrant worker at construction sites throughout the Pacific Northwest, but now can’t work construction because she’s pregnant. They have a young daughter who is just over a year old. They were so grateful for this program because got six months of stuff done in five hours. When you walk everywhere you go in a large metro area (she said they average 5-12 miles each day, pushing their daughter’s stroller), it can take a long time to get to the various agencies that do offer support to this family.

My job at the expo was to escort the dental patients out to the portable dental trailers parked outside. There were only 30 appointments available in the day, and another 50 available for two days later. What was hard to see was the people who were prioritized for the appointments. Anyone who needed only minor dental work was turned away, in order to get those people with emergency mouth needs in the chair. So basically, you got an appointment if you were in incredible pain or you needed an extraction. Anyone who needed “only” a filling, had minor teeth issues, or any problems with dentures was out of luck.

I understand the need to prioritize helping those in the worst shape, but there is a sad irony that so many people who needed minor care this time will be back next year when their situations are bad enough to warrant an appointment.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Coos Bay beach clean-up!

This is a blog entry I wrote for our Cast B blog, but I thought it would interest you all too...

On Friday, September 14th, thirty of our cast had a community impact AND regional learning trip to Sunset Beach State Park, here on the gorgeous Oregon coast. We met Stephanie, a knowledgeable park ranger who took us down to the cove beach of Cape Arago, where she taught us about some of the plants and wildlife that we encountered as we picked up trash along the shoreline. We want to share with you our Top Ten things we learned!

10. The Oregon coastline is made up of sand, rocks, and sandstone. The sandstone made Tyrell & Gina feel strong, because they could crumble it with their bare hands.

  1. Seals (which we saw swimming offshore and chilling on the rocks at Simpson reef) can hold their breath underwater for 10-15 minutes.
  1. There are 16 types of sharks that live off the Oregon coast. Suzanne was relieved we didn’t meet any.
  1. We did see gray whales. They were close into shore and visible to us because they were feeding on the sediment that is stirred up around the reef.

6. The Oregon coast has four tides each day: high tide, low tide, a lower high tide, and a higher low tide.

5. A wrack line is debris, trash, and seaweed that washes up on the beach, and is left in a line when the tide recedes. We were picking up trash in the visible wrack lines at the edge of the water, and 75 feet from shore among the rocks & boulders.

4. A wave that is only four inches deep can lift a log that weighs five tons (or the majority of our show equipment!)

3. Ocean Fact: 10,000 semi-trailer-sized containers fall off container ships each year. Many of these containers open, and the spilled contents travels in the ocean currents and spreads out around the globe. Four million Legos that were dumped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1997 are making their way north through the Arctic Circle. They are predicted to arrive off the coast of Alaska by 2012 and on the Oregon coast by 2020.

2. A container of Nike shoes were dumped, and scientists found that the left shoes had a different migration pattern in the ocean current than the right shoes. The tennis shoes were still wearable even after traveling in the water for three years. Vanessa Graves was hoping to find some when she goes back to New Jersey.

1. We were warned to “Never turn your back on the ocean.” Oregon coast has “sneaker waves” that are very dangerous. They are waves that are much larger than the average waves washing into shore. Luckily, none of us were washed out to sea.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Melons...oh my - Winston, Oregon

We were brought to Winston, Oregon in order to help revitalize the annual Melon Festival where all things melon are celebrated and eaten. This was a bit of a commitment for the community and the festival, but it turned out to be very successful and rewarding. Some of the highlights are shown below.

Of all of the places that I would imagine driving along in a car and finding lions, Winston, OR would likely not make the top of the list. But as you can see, we came across a couple on our wild animal safari. We saw heaps of other animals too that are definitely not native to Oregon. The facility we went to in Winston, Oregon is also the largest cheetah breeding program in the country. If you want to read more about the safari, check out

One of the strangest animals we came across can be seen in the attached picture. While friendly and cuddly looking, this creature has been known to devour all manner of things that come from Trader Joe's. One definite way to recognize this animal is to listen for its telltale sound...a nasally "huhn".

Winston is a very small town with a lot of working class families. The community was so welcoming to all of us and showed us what small-town life is like. To help get ready and pump the town up, we participated in the 39th annual Melon Festival Parade. Being from so many different places and having some very talented individuals probably gave us an unfair advantage as we won the Judges' award for best float. We now carry our trophy with us to remember the kindness of this great community. In the parade picture you can see Hanna from the Philippines (Ellen's intern) and Niki (from Hawaii) in their international costumes.

As if we did not have enough fun yet, we also went to the Roseburg Forrest Products mill and got to tour their facilities. If there is one thing that I love, it is a good factory tour! I got see how particle board was made and Ellen saw the plywood process. It was totally awesome and we learned lots about the local community and the industry. On top of all that, it turns out that we look really good in hard hats.

Our days were filled with melon-rific activities and we had the chance to meet most everyone in the community (twice). As you can imagine, there is no point in having a melon festival unless there is a seed spitting contest. This detail had been overlooked, so Ellen took it upon herself to organize the contest and make sure that everyone follows the rules. It was definitely a huge hit and I can imagine the tradition carrying on into the 40th anniversary. To make sure that we were primed for competition, we practiced a bit as you can see our Cast Manager Joern honing his technique and run up.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

eNORmous trees

What better way to finish off a fun-filled week in Southern Cali than a trip to see the shockingly huge trees in Sequoia National Park? We were invited, along with the other two staff members (Jared and Joern) who were host-family-less with us in the Budget Inn, to come hang out at Corcoran Mayor Dick Haile's cabin. It was a two-hour drive from Corcoran, and worth every minute, as the cabin sits on a small community of private land right between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The community is called Wilsonia, which legend says it got its name because that small community's votes in a long-ago presidential election swung a very tight race and helped elect Woodrow Wilson.

Today, after a delicious brunch in the sunshine, we had a three Jeep caravan that allowed us to see areas of the park that most tourists don't venture to, and it was a lovely 78 degrees, which was a huge relief after our week in the 110s in Corcoran. We felt so lucky to be included in this fun excursion!

Tomorrow we have a quick overnight in Redding, CA, before arriving in Winston, OR for a Melon Festival extravaganza. We've been warned that our internet service in Winston may be few and far between, so we will post again as soon as we can! Have a good week. -ee

Synchonized Craziness!

What would you do to win a trophy consisting of a dinosaur wearing a blondish wig?

This was what we asked ourselves at a friendly competition called the "Home Team Olympics - Atlantis Edition". [Home Teams are smaller groups of about 10 cast members that help facilitate the running of each city.] While in Corcoran, we had access to the YMCA pool and decided to facilitate some friendly competition between the home teams. Most events were water-based, which was absolutely perfect because the temperature for the day was about 108 degrees.

By far the most popular of the events was the synchronized swimming. As you can see in the pictures, the creativity of the teams really came through.

There were several other events:
* See which team can get down the water slide with the best possible averaged time.
* Dive for rings in the deep end of the pool and see who can gather them all the quickest (12 feet deep water can sure give you a headache)
* And the culminating event was the "Chubby Bunny" contest, which was dominated by one of our Japanese girls. She managed to fit 14 marshmallows into her mouth and still utter those magical words..."Chubby Bunny"

It was a truly wonderful day that gave people a chance to rejuvenate after a fun-filled and busy city. Home team 4 dominated the competition, but they are currently being investigated for using performance enhancing substances like Monster energy drinks and Airborne. Stay tuned for more details as they unfold.

Wedded Bliss

How wonderful it is to be us!!! As some of you probably know, Ellen and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary on Thursday. We worked the whole day in the Corcoran, CA schools with 100s of junior high students and then had a fantastic time with the kids at the YMCA after school programs in town. As if the day could not get any more romantic ;-), we then went and washed the Up with People van before heading to nearby Vasalia, CA for a nice meal at an Italian restaurant called Rosa's.

The truth be told, we really do feel lucky that we are able to share this experience together. Our cast was very sweet to us on our anniversary and we woke up to a bottle of champagne on our doorstep in the morning as you can see in the picture. We could not be happier to share the love we have for one another through this amazing program and still can't believe at times that we are being paid to do what we love.

Friday, August 31, 2007


All you farmers out there would not have believed the size of the JG Boswell ranches that we visited on Wednesday. 120,000 acres-- mostly cotton (they grow 65% of California's Pima cotton, and CA grows 95% of the world's Pima cotton-- get your brain around that!) They also produce huge volumes of processing tomatoes - Romas with a tough skin that they make into tomato paste, which is sold to Heinz, Hunts, and Del Monte, among others to be the base for ketchup, sauces, etc.
We watched tomatoes being harvested, and frolicked in cotton fields... did you know that cotton blossoms look like roses? They are beautiful! The Boswell ranches in Corcoran have over 500 miles of irrigation canals, which we learned about by meeting the Water Master. (his real title- no joke!) Boswell also has one of the largest cotton gins in the world, and we went on a tour, of course. How much do I love "regional learning?!"