Archive for July, 2010

DECISIONS, DECISIONS…

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

After spending the last 7 weeks out of the country, it’s good to finally be back home for an extended stay.  I get to work out of my office for a month so this is very exciting.

We are gearing up to begin the fall tour season.  I am very thankful for the schedule that we have next season.  We are touring East Coast to West Coast and almost everything in between.  It’s going to be an exciting year.

We are in discussions now with our consultants about new illusions to add to the production for the 2011/2012 season. We’ve got a couple of new pieces in the show this year and looking to really change things up before our Asia tour in December 2011. Lots of decisions to make on the direction of the show, the new “look and feel,” as well as challenging ourselves (taking it up a notch).

I’m also in the final stages of completing the Hocus Focus curriculum.  After a great week in Latvia, I’m more excited than ever to get this project done and move it into the research stage.  I’ve got several universities interested in taking on the project to collect data and move to the point of publication.  It seems there’s always something more to do but, in the end, I know it’s going to be worth it.

I just wanted to check in.  I’ve had several people email to see what’s up and why I haven’t blogged anything.  Life is good and things are moving forward.

LAST DAY IN LATVIA

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Alan and I decided to make this day our dedicated sight-seeing day.  We’ve made several strolls through Old Town Riga, the Warehouse Markets, and through the area parks.  Many of the parks are filled with statues of national heroes, tributes to those who led them to freedom in 1991.

And then there are more sobering statues as well, like this one of a small child.  The statue is dedicated to the thousands of children who were sent to Siberia for “re-education” as Stalin rolled though the streets of Latvia.  There is an erie evil connection between Stalin and Pol Pot (the dictator of the Khmer Rouge until 1979 – check out the blog about the Killing Fields, Cambodia).

We caught the train this afternoon for the nearby town of Jurmala, a beach town on the Baltic Sea.  It has been so hot these last few days.  We were up early, on the train, and at the beach by 1pm.  It was overcast, cloudy, and it rained on and off.  Still, we hung out for a few hours and made sure we splashed into the Baltic Sea.  I’m sure I don’t have many friends who can say they’ve been swimming in the Baltic Sea!

After a day at the beach, we returned to the hotel and spent the afternoon in the SPA – pool, bubble pool, and three different heat rooms (dry heat, wet heat, and steam heat).  We hung out there for 2 hours, making the rounds through each of the treatment.  When we were done, we were hungry, thirsty, and tired.  It was a great way to help relax us so we could get to bed earlier.

And, on that note….I am off to Bed!

RIGA, LATVIA – DAY 3

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

I’ve been in Latvia now for a couple of days.  The entire country has been in the middle of a heat wave with temperatures soaring 20-30 degrees F above normal.  And the humidity has been high as well.  Alan and I have been drinking lots of water.  There is literally no place that’s cool – the hotel stays about 77 degrees F and we can’t get our room any cooler than 80 degrees F.  Cold showers are about the only way to bring down the body temps.

There is a huge upside to it all though – the conference has been insightful and very productive.  I’ve met many people in the field of special education from around the world.  And the enthusiasm about the Hocus Focus Project has been overwhelming.  The generosity of so many professionals in offering their assistance has been incredible.  Now, more than ever, I’m hopeful and motivated to move forward with the further development of the curriculum.

After two full days of sessions, Alan and I took a break late this afternoon to stroll further into Old Town Riga.  We wandered into the marketplace where locals go to buy their produce and meat.  It’s a huge place with vendors located inside four large hangars that remain from WWII.  The meat market was filled with some amazing delicacies as well as traditional cuts of meat.

I was especially drawn to the “fish jerky” though, I have to confess, I didn’t try it.  I know – after eating crickets, grasshoppers, and water bugs in Southeast Asia, you would think I could handle a little fish.  But I just couldn’t give it a try.

After a stroll through the market, I had a chance to talk with Cindy for a bit.  We had only moments here and there these last few days to catch up on things at home – sometimes by Skype, sometimes on our cell phones.  I love hearing her voice when I’m so far away from home!

Riga is the home of the “Christmas Tree” – celebrated here for more than 500 years.  It is a part of their heritage that can be seen throughout the city.

It’s difficult to “gear down” here because the sun doesn’t seem to set – it doesn’t get very dark!  At 10pm, it’s as bright as it is in Virginia at 5pm.  And Old Town Riga is filled with street performers, vendors, sidewalk cafes, and a mix of locals and tourists.

I’m off to bed now but it means drawing the blinds, the blackout shade, and “pretending” it’s actually dark outside!

RIGA, LATVIA

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Alan and I arrived in Riga – after a short trip around the world – late on Saturday night.  We spend much of the day Sunday relaxing and getting used to the new time zone (and the intense heat).  We did set out to explore Old Town Riga which is only a few blocks from our hotel.

I posted about thirty pictures on our Flickr site. The town is charming and very European.  The sun does not set here until almost midnight so there is constant energy in the streets – performers, vendors, music and dance, etc. And there are some interesting sculptures as well!

My presentation this morning at the international conference on special education was well received.  I’ve had lots of positive feedback throughout the day.  I’ll be attending other presentations tomorrow and Wednesday is set aside strictly for sightseeing!

AIRPORT TRAVEL – U.S. TO LATVIA

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

My day started very early.  I haven’t been sleeping well since returning from Southeast Asia.  My body clock is still off a bit.  I’m waking up at all hours of the night – sometimes hungry, sometimes just not sleepy.  In any event, I was asleep by midnight but was wide awake at 2am.  I dozed on and off until 4:30am and finally climbed out of bed at 5am.  I made a cup of coffee, jumped in the shower, got dressed, and was out the door by 6:45am.  I was at Alan’s apartment by 7:15am and we were on our way to Washington Dulles International Airport by 7:30am.  It’s a 3-hour drive to airport if you don’t hit traffic.

For the most part, we cruised along at a good speed.  There was a brief 15-minute delay in Northern Virginia but nothing that set us back to far.  Our first flight was scheduled to depart at 1:05pm and we needed to be at the airport by 11am.

We parked the car, caught the shuttle, and completed ticketing easily by 11:20am.  It was at that point that I realized I was wrong about the flight time – by 1.5 hours.  Our flight was actually scheduled to depart at 2:25pm.  Little did I realize that this would be indicative of the day of ahead of us.

We boarded the flight to Chicago O’Hare.  I’m not a big fan of this airport, especially the international terminal.  Once we landed in O’Hare, we had to exit the airport, catch a train to the international terminal, get through security, and board our second flight to Warsaw, Poland.  This is where the fun began.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 5:25pm.  We started boarding promptly at 5:10pm and everyone was ready to go at 5:25pm.  For some reason, the plane was not moving from the gate.  Ten minutes turned into 30 minutes…which turned into an hour…then an hour and a half…two hours…three hours.  We sat on the plane at the gate for almost 3.5 hours with no explanation.  We watched crews unload crates from the cargo section on the right side of the plane.  Then they removed the luggage from the left side of the plane.  Then the fuel truck came up and refueled us…and worked on something on the left wing.  After the truck left, two guys walked over with a huge ladder, climbed up to the same wing and started working on it again.  Finally, they gave each other a high five and a handshake and all seemed well.  Only minutes – literally – after this exchange, the purser came over the intercom to tell everyone to take their seats and fasten their seat belts.  Within 10 minutes, we were taking off for Warsaw.   Once we had reached an altitude of about 10,000 feet, some of the panels opened revealing the oxygen masks.

During our delay, I realized that we would miss our connection in Warsaw to Riga, Latvia.  I thought I’d do a little proactive work and contact the airline to see if we could get booked on another flight.  As it turns out, there’s only one flight to Riga on Saturday and there aren’t many other options.  Now the snowball effect begins.  Our hotel is paid in advance starting Saturday night and we’ve arranged to be picked up at the airport to make it more convenient.  The helpful Customer Service representation at Lot Polish Airlines said he could re-book us on a flight to Kiev (yup, Russia) where we could spend Saturday night and then connect to a Riga flight on Sunday morning.  BUT, he wouldn’t be able to do that until we actually land in Warsaw.

I guess my Saturday is going to be quite the “Amazing Race” adventure….

UPDATE: We are preparing to land in Warsaw and have been told that ALL of the luggage was removed in Chicago.  This had something to do with an “urgent technical decision” that was made by the officials in Warsaw prior to our departure.  The luggage was placed on another flight to Warsaw that’s about 90 minutes behind us – or so we’ve been told.

We’re still not sure what’s going to happen with our connecting flight to Riga.  As it turns out, there are about 12 people on this flight who are going to Riga.  The connecting flight is very small – only 24 seats.  So, half of the flight is on this plane.  We’re hoping that they delayed that flight as well.

SECOND UPDATE: They did not hold our flight.  We have, however, been placed on another flight to Helsinki, Finland.  We’ll connect there to a flight to Riga and be in around 11:30pm tonight.  That’s about 10 hours later than our originally scheduled time.  The good news is they also rerouted our luggage.  It should arrive with us.  Then we’ll catch a taxi to the hotel, take a shower, and go to sleep.  That’s the plan for now.

THIRD UPDATE: We have arrived in Helsinki!  We are getting something to eat at airport eatery so you know it’s not cheap – or good.  But, at this point, it’s food.  We have one more flight to Riga, should be there now by midnight!

RIGA, LATVIA

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I’ve been back from Southeast Asia for a few days, trying to drop back into the time zone.  I haven’t quite landed there yet and I guess that’s a good thing.  I leave in the morning for Riga, Latvia.  I wasn’t exactly sure where Latvia was so I had to check it out on the map.  To give you an idea, it’s located close to Estonia and Belarus.  Does that help?

Actually, it’s one of the Baltic states located next to the Baltic Sea in Eastern Europe.  Riga – the city where I’ll be staying – is the largest city in the Baltic region.  Alan and I will be heading over to attend the international conference on special education.

I’m schedule to speak on Monday morning on the Hocus Focus Project, a program that integrates simple magic tricks into functional curriculum for all students (though there is an emphasis on those with Autism, ADHD, and Special Learning Disabilities).

It’s another long trip, about 17 hours from door to door.  And it’s Alan’s first international flight as well.  It think it’s going to be an exciting time.  I’ll be posting pictures and video on the blog and facebook, so follow along!

LEAVING THAILAND

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

So far, this trip to Southeast Asia has been indescribable.  I’ve tried my best to detail everything we’ve done these last 9 days.  It has been quite the adventure!

We had just one more day in Thailand and wanted to cram in just a bit more stuff before heading to the airport in Bangkok for our flight home.  With only a few hours remaining, we hit the streets to tour three of the major temples in the area.

These places are spectacular and give a great history of the people of Thailand.  One particular Buddha we saw was 5.5 tons of solid gold.  It had been incased in cement in the late 1800′s in order to protect it from being stolen to one of many battles with the Burmese army.  In 1953, the cement cracked.  When they removed the chunk to repair it, they realized there was a solid gold statue underneath.  This temple was built to house that Buddha about 30 years ago.

After the big tour, it was time to grab something to eat.  We decided to stroll through one of the markets to find some local food.  Turns out, there was lots to choose from!

Since I had already tried crickets, grasshoppers, and water bugs, I decided on the grub worms.  They were something new and different – just a taste though.  I don’t think I could have made these little guys a full meal!

They taste a little like potato chips.  It’s the after taste that comes back to get you!  After we found some “real” food, we decided to check out one of the local gem shops to do a little window shopping.  Wow, these places are amazing and I saw some incredible jewels including some beautiful yellow sapphires.  In order to get in, we had to pass by the guard.  In spite of the big gun, he was a nice enough guy.

At the end of the day, we had added more memories to a trip that was already more than full.  We caught our flight to Bangkok, caught a taxi to the hotel, and re-packed our bags for the trip home.  Needless to say, I was exhausted.

We would leave for the airport at 5am.  And I would begin the 30 hour journey from Bangkok to Japan to Chicago to Roanoke.  There’s no place like home – and I couldn’t wait to see Cindy!