LIFE ON THE ROAD

February 13th, 2015

Once again, I find myself starting my blog with an apology.  It’s been months since I’ve last posted a blog.  In fairness, I had a major surgical procedure on my right shoulder in November that put me out of commission for several weeks.  I was concentrating on rehabbing that shoulder during me of the time I was silent.

I think most of the people who read this also follow me on Twitter and Instagram…and are Facebook friends.  If you are, you hear from me many times during the day!  If you’re not, I hope you’ll join me on all of these social media platforms.

I’d like to start off by letting all of you know that our short documentary, Powerful Medicine: Simply Magic continues to do well on the film festival circuit.  Today we learned that it was named Best Documentary at the Hollywood Short Film Festival.  I’ll be heading to Hollywood later this month to accept the award and do a Q&A after the screening.

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Back to the tour:  we’ve had a great run so far in 2015.  We started in Florida where we managed to miss much of the cold weather that gripped the U.S.

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Check out this picture – it’s one of my favorites from January! I had the privilege of spending several days with the amazing staff at the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, FL.  One of many activities they had arranged for me was a visit to the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.  I performed a small show in the “Castle” area before spending time with some awesome kids, one on one, in the critical care unit.  This photo was taken with two young ladies as we sat next to Dumbo…and yes, they are trying to put a clown nose on my face!

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Hocus Focus is our non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the lives of individuals – regardless of age or ability – through the arts.  I am currently working on having our websites redesigned to give people a better idea of where we are headed in the future.  Stay tuned!

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Dr. Phillips Center for the Arts is a new, spectacular performing arts venue in downtown Orlando.  When I arrived, it had only been open for a few weeks.  And while the building is impressive, the commitment of the staff to reach out into the community was even more impressive. They were also able to generate a great deal of national media attention as they announced their first sensory friendly show: Spencers Theatre of Illusion.  What a privilege for us!

DR. PHILLIPS CENTER ANNOUNCES FIRST SENSORY FRIENDLY SHOW

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Created by The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

After spending 3 days with this team, it felt like we had known each other forever.  The experience was so rewarding that I’m already looking forward to working with them again.  There are so many possibilities ahead for us!

“We recently had the pleasure to have Kevin Spencer at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, in Orlando, FL. He and Cindy sold out their public performance and wowed our sensory friendly theater-goers with their second performance. The real magic that Kevin performed was in our area classrooms, hospitals and community organizations.  Kevin’s ability to teach and use magic as a tool for healing, self-discovery and recovery is unmatched.  We look forward to bringing him back in the near future.”

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Alice Ramadan is the media copywriter for the Dr. Phillips Center but she is also the mother of an 18-year son on the autism spectrum.  She shared these comments with the staff who shared them with me.

“As an actor and writer, it’s always meaningful to me when another performing artist finds new ways to connect with the audience.  Kevin Spencer has gone an additional step of reaching into the world of autism, bringing with him his engaging personality, his kind teaching style, and a bit of magic. The Hocus Focus Project is incredible — not only is it fun, but it uses fine motor skills and requires a kind of focus that students on the autism spectrum need to practice.  They are engaged on every level.  Kevin performed an amazing show and thrilled our audience.  There were children in that audience who aren’t able to go to the grocery store because of their behaviors.  It was truly a miracle for their parents and caretakers to see them out and engaged, in such an amazing facility, with such a generous performer.”

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Dolly Hand Center for the Arts – Belle Glade, FL:  I first worked with the director here many years ago as a part of the opening season of the Dolly Hand Center.  This time, I had the pleasure of working with her in a different capacity.  She collaborated with the Director of Special Education to bring the Hocus Focus program into several classrooms.  Jayna was one of the teachers with whom I worked.  She shared her thoughts about the program:

“I just wanted to say ‘THANK YOU!’ for thinking of us for the Hocus Focus program. It was one of the BEST programs we’ve ever had for our special needs students. Kevin was right on target with his hands on, individual approach.  He was able to involve them, get them to use their expressive language and engage them in the whole learning process. He made the program about them, listened to them and incorporated their experiences.  It wasn’t really about the magic; it was about the kids and getting things out of them that others haven’t.  He is welcome any time with our students! We want more! Thanks again!!”

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After wrapping up in Belle Glade, we were off to West Palm Beach for three shows in the Village Theaters – Boca Raton, Pembroke Pines, and West Palm Beach.  We had wonderful audiences for all three performances – great volunteers and incredible enthusiasm.  But they also took advantage of some of my “creative aging” activities by hosting a Healing of Magic workshop each morning of the performance.  The number of residents that participated in the event was beyond our expectations!  And the laughter and applause that echoed from the room was heart-warming and healing.  You can see from the picture they were having fun as they mastered some simple magic tricks!  This photo was taken of our last group in West Palm of almost 200 participants!

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As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the film continues to do well on the Film Festival circuit.  We’ve been accepted for screening at the Outside the Box Festival (CA), Hollywood Short Film Festival (CA), Richmond International Film Festival (VA), and the Inspiration Film Festival (FL).  February is a big announcement month when we will hear if we’ve made the “official selection” list for several other major international film festivals.  We are keeping our fingers crossed!

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I promise I’ll do a better job of keeping you up to date.  The tour is a busy one this spring….hope to see you on the road!

SOME MORE GOOD NEWS!

November 20th, 2014

In case you don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have missed a couple of really fantastic things that have happened in the last couple of weeks.

OUTSIDE THE BOX WINNER

First, our short documentary – Powerful Medicine: Simply Magic – was recently named Best Short Documentary in the Disabilities Track at the Outside the Box Film Festival in California.  We’ve submitted the film at several other festivals in 2015 and are waiting to hear if we’ve been accepted.  I think the message of the film is an important one for our society.  I hope the selection committees do as well!  If you want more information, you can also check out Join The Move.

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Next, a second interview was posted by Voice of America on their website on the Healing of Magic program.  You can listen to the interview here.  You can also post a comment if you like.  Currently, there are comments from all over the world including these:

by: karnpob from: thailand

11/10/2014 2:45 AM
You know what Kevin. You’re not only help people with your magic trick but you also help millions of people to do as what you do. You enlighten many children regardless of their disability. So everybody applause!!! Just pay it forward.
by: Yan Chen from: China

11/14/2014 9:49 AM
I am moved when I read the story. It is so warm. Give more attentions to the weaker. Magic is not only cool but pretty helpful to change a person‘s mind.
by: verina from: egypt

11/09/2014 11:13 PM
It’s a great and moral thing to devote my skills that God grants me to help people with disabilities to build their self confidence. It’s what Spencer did with Liam using Magic Therapy.

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And lastly, just in case you missed it, you can find the first Voice of America story HERE on the Hocus Focus Project.  I had the privilege of conducting a couple of workshops for individuals with autism a few weeks ago at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Maryland.  This story is based on those experiences.

We are wrapping up our fall tour this weekend.  We’ve had a great tour and have performed in some beautiful theatres to sold out audiences.  Thank you for your support!

AUTISM, HOCUS FOCUS…AND MORE.

November 3rd, 2014

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Cindy and I have enjoyed an amazing career that has allowed us to carry our artistic endeavors to 38 countries on 6 continents performing on some of the most spectacular stages in the world.  Twenty years ago when we entered the performing arts arena, Presenters were cautiously willing to “take a risk” on a new expression of what the art of illusion could be for their audiences.  Over the last 6 years, we have worked diligently to partner with venues around the world to build new alliances in their communities through imaginative collaborations combining the arts with education and healthcare centered on creativity, sustainability and advocacy serving individuals with disabilities.  This work has changed me as human being but it has also impacted me as an artist, reinforcing my belief in the power of the arts to transform, inspire, challenge, and build community.

As many are now aware, we have officially announced a new direction for our future in the magic community.  Starting in Fall 2015, we will no longer be touring with what has been the largest theatrical touring illusion production in the U.S.  Instead, I will be devoting my creative energies full time to working to raise awareness of disabilities issues.  I have found my heart and need to follow my passion.  And Cindy is my biggest supporter in this new direction.

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This coming weekend, Powerful Medicine: Simply Magic will be screened at our first film festival – the Outside the Box Bakersfield film Festival.  We are very excited to hear the feedback from the organizers!

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The Washington, DC bureau of Voice of America (VOA) covered the autism workshop and sensory-friendly performance for their viewers.  VOA is the official external broadcast institution of the U.S. federal government.  It provides programming on radio, TV, and the Internet outside of the U.S. in 43 languages and reaches an estimated global audience of 123 million people.

You can watch the 3-minute story here.

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FIRST FILM FESTIVAL!

September 24th, 2014

I am very pleased to announce that POWERFUL MEDICINE: SIMPLY MAGIC has been chosen as an official finalist for the Outside the Box Film Festival to be held in Bakersfield, CA (November 7-9, 2014).  This is our first letter of acceptance so we are all very excited!

OUTSIDE THE BOX FESTIVAL

9/11/14 – A NEW YORK CITY EXPERIENCE

September 14th, 2014

On Wednesday, Cindy and I took the train from our home to New York City.  I was scheduled to be a guest on The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson on the Fox News Channel.  Gretchen is a strong advocate for the arts and a national celebrity spokesperson for the March of Dimes.

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She has always been an avid supporter of our work with individuals with disabilities.  I was invited to talk about my work in the autism community and the importance of the arts in helping improve some of the skills they find challenging.  You can watch the interview by clicking the image below.

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At the beginning of the interview, she played a portion of my short documentary, Powerful Medicine: Simply Magic.  The film was completed in July and premiered in Portugal at the Division of International Special Education and Services Conference (DISES) in Braga.  In the last few days, we’ve made the film available to the public.  You can watch it HERE.

If you’re interested in learning how you can help raise the awareness of disabilities in your own community, I hope you’ll join our FaceBook page and check out the website.

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After the interview, Cindy and I decided we would spend the afternoon seeing some of the sights of the City…and I ran into the greatest super hero(s) of all time!

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One of the most emotional and inspiring adventures was our visit to the 911 Museum located at Ground Zero in New York.  This was an experience we will never forget.  Pictures simply cannot capture what we encountered within the walls of the building…but here are a few we can share.

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THE PASSING OF A FRIEND

August 24th, 2014

On Sunday, August 17, one of our dearest friends passed from this world to the next.  She was a remarkable woman  - passionate, caring, funny, charming, and delightful.

Joanie

We first met Joanie almost 20 years ago when she was still working with the David Copperfield show.  Cindy and I were on the road and bought tickets to see the show in Savannah, GA.  While sitting in the park outside the Johnny Mercer Theatre, Joanie came out of the building to walk the dogs that were a feature in David’s.  Her approachable manner made it easy for us to strike up a conversation…and we did.  We discovered her love for animals and the joy she received in caring for them.

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We first started working with Joanie in 1999 when we hired her to direct a new illusion in our show.  It was the beginning of a professional relationship that lasted 15 years and transformed our production.  From that moment on, not a single illusion made it to the stage without Joanie’s direction.  Her reputation preceded her and those first rehearsals were long, sometimes grueling and always productive.  Her expertise helped to move us to the next level of performance.  She taught us how to touch not only our audience’s inquisitive minds, but their hearts as well.  Joanie was someone who cared deeply about people and saw great potential in everyone; not merely as performers, but as individuals. By helping you become a better performer, she also allowed you to discover things about yourself, to find your inner strength and confidence.  Everyone with whom she worked was not only a better performer.  Each was a better person.

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What took us by surprise was the personal relationship that we developed in such a short period of time.  Over those 15 years, we spent a lot of time together – personally and professionally. There are so many stories, memories, moments that make us laugh…and cry.  She was remarkable – an extraordinary woman who touched everyone with whom she came in contact.   We were privileged to know her and to have the opportunity to benefit from her passion.  Her impact on the art of magic will probably never fully be realized or recognized.  She elevated our art to new levels and for those who knew her well, she also elevated our lives.  We miss her already and our hearts are broken.

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LET’S REVIEW THE LAST 60 DAYS….

August 11th, 2014

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This Blog has been a “work in progress” over several weeks, bits and pieces pulled together from Istanbul, Tanzania, Uganda, Cairo and, finally, on a train from Braga, Portugal to Lisbon.  I am now at home in Virginia after an adventure that I still haven’t had the time to fully process. For 8 weeks, I traveled through 20 cities in 8 countries on 4 continents speaking at conferences, teaching educators, and working with vulnerable children in developing countries (extensively in Uganda). I’ve been struggling to find the words to describe this entire experience…and each time I try, I am completely overwhelmed by emotion. I do know this, there’s no way I could return to the USA and be the same person I was before I left.  Those 8 weeks had a profound impact on me as a person, an artist and a member of our global society.

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I wasn’t working alone in Uganda. A group of seven artists and educators formed a team we call SHOTS – taking a shot at changing the world through Service, Hope, Optimism, Teamwork, and Sustainability.  This is a remarkable group of people and I’m proud to be associated with each one of them.  Thank you Susan for your vision!

Over a period of 4 weeks, I was privileged to team up with Susan O’Rourke (Carlow University, PA) and participate in Professional Development training for literally hundreds of educators instructing them on arts-integrated techniques for teaching students of all abilities in their classroom.  I also had the privilege of connecting with more than 10,000 children…I can’t even begin to describe the experience!

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The month of June started in Akita, Japan with a presentation on the impact learning magic tricks can have in the development of pragmatic and social communication skills with English Second Language (ESL/ELL) learners.  This presentation was based on an on-going research project being implemented in Ogden, UT within the city school district.  Using the Hocus Focus curriculum, we are determining the potential benefits that using magic tricks can have on increasing language skills in ESL students.

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Educators in the field of Language Studies gathered from all over the world for this conference.  I joined a colleague from Weber State University, Melina Alexander, and our presentation was well received.  As a result, we are exploring other possible research projects to develop this aspect of Hocus Focus more fully.

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July ended in Braga, Portugal at the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) Conference.  Working again with Susan O’Rourke from Carlow University in Pittsburgh (and immediate past-president of DISES), we made two presentations – one on The Magical Benefits of a Technology-mediated Arts Curriculum and another on Working with Vulnerable Children in Post-Conflict Uganda.

In the weeks between Japan and Portugal, I traveled thru Asia, Europe, and Africa.  The experience was life changing, overwhelming, and emotional.

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One of the many highlights of this trip was sharing it with one of my special friends, Mike Thompson – and the opportunity to meet and work with Kyle Holbrook.  He is an amazing artist and the founder of Moving the Lives of Kids Forward Community Mural Project (the MLK Mural Project).  His work can be seen all over the world in some of the toughest neighborhoods in major urban areas.  Kyle designed a mural for the Bright Kids Uganda orphanage in Entebbe.  Combining his mural with a little bit of magic, we spent three days giving a voice to vulnerable children that can still be heard through the images they created on this mural and the stories they told through their magic.  It was a time of teamwork, creativity, and expression.  Ultimately, the experience was about empowering vulnerable youth through art education – whether it’s visual art (the mural) or performance art (the magic).

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Another memorable moment was working with the Teso Tribe in the village of Opucet, literally translated “the village of peace.”  The SHOTS team worked hand-in-hand with the tribe to lay the foundation for an inclusive school that will educate all children in the area.  Check out this welcome dance!

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At the end of our time together, they brought me before the elders of the tribe and gave me a new name, Emural.  In the Ateso language, it represents “the one who is a symbol of our clan and expands our borders.”   There is a lot of responsibility connected with a name like that!

If you want to “experience” a portion of my UGANDA ADVENTURE, you can watch this presentation:

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POWERFUL MEDICINE: SIMPLY MAGIC

The world premiere of my short documentary – POWERFUL MEDICINE: SIMPLY MAGIC – took place in Portugal on July 17 at the DISES Conference.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre as an audience of more than 400 watched and responded with a standing ovation.

Powerful Medicine: Simply Magic explores the transformational benefits of the art of illusion in bringing about authentic and meaningful changes in the lives of individuals with different abilities.  The film gives a compelling voice to those whom are “different” reminding all of us that they are remarkable people capable of doing extraordinary things. These voices urge us to acknowledge that their futures are often molded by our attitudes and perceptions about them. As a global society, we must start appreciating what they can do and stop focusing on what we believe they can’t do.  You can check out the trailer HERE:

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In September, I am planning a national media blitz with several appearances on the FOX News channel in NYC.  And I have already begun submitting the film to various international film festivals.

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Everyone who supports people with disabilities is, in some way, an advocate for their best interests.  The international conversation about disability issues has been taking place for years but change – real change – must happen in the hearts and minds of ordinary people, not merely in policy and law.  You and I can raise awareness of international disability issues, change people’s perceptions and attitudes, and provide opportunities for individuals with different abilities to share in the global society.  If you agree that we can’t stay where we are on this issue, then I hope you’ll be a part of looking for a better way forward.  You can start by joining us on Facebook!

FLINT HILLS SUMMER MAGIC CAMP

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During the months of June and July, more than 80 kids enrolled in the Flint Hills Summer Magic Camp in Manhattan, KS.  This was the pilot program for an on-going research project to evaluate the benefits of learning magic tricks on executive function and communication skills of children on the autism spectrum and with ADHD.

As August began, Eli and I drove to Oxford, Ohio to conduct Magic  Camp at the Miami University of Ohio – more on that camp next time!

 

WHERE HAVE I BEEN?

July 31st, 2014

Our website was “hacked” and this post was lost.  Here it is again as a PDF:   WHERE HAVE I BEEN? « Spencers Magic

Hi All – so sorry that I haven’t posted for quite some time! My internet has been “limited” (that’s an understatement) for the last few weeks. Since my last post – Akita, Japan – I’ve been in 20 cities in 8 countries on 4 continents over 7 weeks! Needless to say, my body clock is a bit off!

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Charlotte airport waiting for my flight home. I’ve been in Manhattan, KS following up on the Flint Hills Summer Magic Camp program. These are amazing kids and I’m so proud to have been a part of their summer adventure with the Hocus Focus program! Brian Strole was my “boots on the ground” magic teacher for the entire 8 weeks of the camp and he did an outstanding job! The entire team from KSU and Flint Hills Summer Camp made magic this summer for about 80 incredible kids!

Here are just a few photos of the final performance – enjoy!

 

SIGHTSEEING IN AKITA, JAPAN

June 16th, 2014

The conference officially ended today (Sunday) at 12noon.  I was able to squeeze in a bit of sight-seeing before I need to catch my next flight on Monday back to Tokyo and on to Istanbul.  The first stop – coffee at Tully’s!

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The pastry item next to my “honey milk latte” is a ham and gooey cheese thing.  :-)  It was very good and inside, yes there was gooey cheese!

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After some food, were were off to explore the area.  First stop was a little shopping area where I could pick up a souvenir for my office that would remind me of Akita.  Next, we were going to go to the Art Museum.  As we approached the plaza, we could hear chanting and singing.  As it turns out, Japan was playing in the World Cup today so there were hundreds of fans watching the game on a giant television screen on the side of one of the buildings.  They were pretty excited!  This is me with one of the “cheerleaders” of the group…

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There are statues and artistic representations of the Namahage everywhere.  He is considered the “protector” of Akita but the tradition dates back hundreds of years.  Here are a few of the ones I liked:

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As we walked through some of the shops, it became very clear that the Japanese are very creative and will invent (or sell) almost anything like this toilet game…

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or these brushes to clean your dishes…

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And so many choices for snacks…

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But there were a few familiar things as well…

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The last stop of the day was a walk through Akita City Park.  This is a beautiful space in the heart of the city.  I took a lot of photos but wanted to share these….enjoy.

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Tomorrow morning, I’ll take the bus back to Akita Airport and fly to Haneda Tokyo Airport…and then transfer to Narita International Airport.  My flight for Istanbul leaves in the evening and I should arrive there at 5am!  I’m sure I will be totally rested :-)

ISLS CONFERENCE – AKITA, JAPAN

June 15th, 2014

After a few days at home, it was time to hit the road again – this time by plane.  I’m heading off on an amazing 7-week adventure that will take me to 11 cities in 9 countries….and countless airports.  The first stop was Akita, Japan to present at the International Society for Language Studies.  I left Lynchburg for Charlotte, NC…to London, UK…to Istanbul, Turkey…to Tokyo, Japan.  Once I arrived in Narita International Airport in Tokyo, I had to transfer to Haneda Airport (about an hour away) in order to catch my flight to Akita.  After getting to Haneda Airport, I spent a very short night in a local hotel before continuing on to Akita…unfortunately, it was incredibly difficult to find the place and I walked the street by Kamato Station for nearly an hour before finding the hotel only 1.5 blocks from the train station.

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The hotel itself was very nice but I was shocked by the small size of the room – only a bed and an incredibly tiny bathroom.  It’s a good thing I’m a little guy!

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I have to confess that, after flying for 40 hours I was exhausted but totally unable to fall asleep.  I just laid in the bed thinking about what time I needed to get up.  I finally dozed off for about 3 hours before my alarm woke me to head to the airport for that last flight.  Thankfully, Haneda has a Starbucks!

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It’s very quick flight to Akita from Tokyo so I was on the ground and at my hotel in less than 2 hours.  Unfortunately, the hotel wouldn’t allow me to check in before 2pm so I stored my luggage and started out on the search for food.  There are tons of things to do and to eat close to the hotel and this was an opportunity to explore.

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This are is close to the Akita Train Station so there are lots of restaurants and shopping areas close by.

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The art museum is just up a couple of blocks.  This big warrior is outside of the building to promote one of the exhibitions taking place there. I couldn’t help but get a picture!

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I met up with a colleague from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana (who is also attending the conference) and we were able to track down some food in a nice, affordable restaurant decorated in 50′s USA movie memorabilia and USA license plates.  The food was great – spicy ra-men noodles with sesame!

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After lunch, we had killed enough time to get into a a hotel room…I was looking forward to this!  I dropped off my bags, jumped into a very hot shower and let the water run over my body.  It felt fantastic!!  I stayed in the room for the rest of the day to try and get some rest and to see if I could FaceTime with Cindy.  We hadn’t spoken for a few days and I really wanted to hear her voice and see her face.

Later in the evening, I was on a quest to find some chocolate milk before calling it a night and going to bed.  I found a “7-11″ type store called Sunkiss only a couple of blocks away.  I bought was I THOUGHT was chocolate milk but I was fooled!  The brown carton and cow that “suggested” chocolate milk were actually more symbolic of the “coffee milk” that was inside the carton! Definitely NOT what I was expecting!!

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After finally falling asleep, I was up early the next morning for the first day of the International Society For Language Studies (ISLS) Conference being hosted by Aikita International University.  Higher Education professionals and those who are involved in linguistics and communication were in attendance.

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The conference was off to a very good start.  Following the opening session, there were dozens of 30 minute sessions being offered for the remainder of the day…and over the next 3 days.  I presented with a friend and colleague, Melina Alexander, from Weber State University in Utah.  Our presentation was on the use of magic tricks to motivate second language learners to develop and improve their interpersonal and pragmatic language skills.  The presentation was very well received and I believe I made some positive connections for the future.

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Now that the pressure was off, I would be able to enjoy the next three days of this conference.  I attended several presentations – some of them were fascinating and interesting but there were a couple that seemed bit more controversial and “out there.”  Still, it was an interesting and challenging conference that provided me with some great insights into the world of “language studies.”

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Once again, that night I was back at the “7-11″ for some late night snacks…and this time I bought ice cream.  I thought I was buying a very traditional ice cream sandwich; in fact, I was buying something much more!  Two layers of vanilla ice cream separated by a thin chocolate bar and sandwiched between to very think waffles – amazing!

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