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.