Hello fall!

img_5855I’m from New England and one of the things I miss about living there is autumn. In some ways, fall can’t help but be  a downer. Summer is over, the days are getting darker and colder and winter looms. But, in New England, the consolation prize is the exploding kaleidoscope of colors that nature treats us to before winding down for winter. It’s a bit harder to appreciate the change of seasons here in the Bay Area—the changes are more subtle. We don’t have the colorful falls, hot sultry days of summer, burst of daffodils and tulips welcoming spring, or snow. Instead, we have the hills changing color from bright green in the spring (when we have a rainy winter!) to golden yellow as the summer comes and fog creeps in over the summer, to make August one of the colder months, a notable difference to hot humid east coast August. Winter is not much of a winter here. The days and nights get colder in winter and natives here will complain bitterly about how cold it is, but I usually can still get away with wearing sandals and a fleece most of the winter. I don’t really miss New England snow (you can always drive  to Tahoe!) or the sizzling humid summers. But, ah, fall colors—I do miss those. They remind me of home and family. Still, I’ve gotten used to fall in the Bay Area and last weekend I had a lovely fall weekend. Saturday night I joined friends for a sunset cruise on San Francisco Bay. It was a perfect night—not too cold, perfectly clear—uncharacteristically so for foggy San Francisco Bay. A friend of mine organizes this outing every year. And its more than just a cruise. Think picnic/potluck on the Bay, with table cloths, delicious food, wine combined with amazing 360 degree views from the Bay—San Francisco in the distance, the East Bay, Sausalito, Alcatraz and Angel Islands and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. We cruised from Tiburon harbor just before sunset and with the water being so calm, the captain added the special treat of taking us out under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love the Golden Gate Bridge. It takes my breath away whenever I see. I will even redirect my travel just to go over the bridge. It’s become symbolic to me not only of the city I love but of my life here, which I don’t take for granted. Every time I see it I am filled with awe and gratitude. Gratitude for being able to live in such a wonderful place. Well, seeing it from the vantage of below, with the moon above,  the lights twinkling was just incredibly special. What a great night. On Sunday, I met up with Victoria and Luis and their kids Eleanor and Sebastian for an apple picking outing. We started with breakfast in Capitola, near Santa Cruz on the beach and then found a great apple orchard in Watsonville. We had a great time. Eleanor is now almost four and is turning into such a great kid–so engaged and fun and such a wonderful big sister to her little brother. And Sebastian is just such a sweetheart and the apple of my eye (forgive the bad apple pun!)—he just makes my heart melt every time I see him. He’s not quite talking yet but you can just tell that when he starts talking, that kid is going to have a lot to tell you! I’d say that the kids weren’t so enthralled with the apple picking part, but the tractor ride, apple popsicles and chasing the farm chicken through the orchard were big hits! It was a lot of fun and now I’m off to make some applesauce today from my load of apples.

Stork sighting

storksWow! It’s been awhile since I’ve had a stork sighting and this week suddenly storks are everywhere! There’s a new animated movie called Storks and the ads are everywhere I look.  I’m in NYC this week and I even rode in a yellow cab with a big Storks movie banner on its roof. I’m taking this as a good sign…

Germany trip: nostalgic views

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Alpine views

I am just getting back from a three week trip to Germany for work. I was there for two almost-back-to-back conferences near Munich and some visits to labs in between. I must admit that when I planned this trip back in February it seemed like such an efficient plan to hit two conferences in one trip—months later, while packing and organizing for three weeks away, the phrase “what was I thinking” crept to mind. In any case, it turned out to be a good trip, both work-wise and personally. The meetings were both great—interesting science in beautiful locations. The first meeting was in a small village in the mountains in Tirol, Austria. The village had a “Sound of Music” vibe—rolling hills of lush green, cows grazing, mountains in the background, locals dressed in Dirndls and Lederhosen. I kept expecting the Family Von Trapp to come bursting out of the background singing “The hill are alive, with the sound of music…” The second meeting location was equally lovely—-in Seeon in a renovated old historical Benedictine monastery on a lake in the Bavarian mountains. As an outing during the meeting, we went on a hike to another lake, winding up at a hill-side farm where we drank fresh milk from the local cows. It doesn’t get much more Alpine-cute.

I was actually born in just outside of Munich, in Wolfratshausen a small suburb, and lived there for the first five years of my life. I don’t really remember much of anything from those years, but still the trip felt very nostalgic. My Mom and Dad met in Munich, married there and had their three children there. The trip made me think of them too, as young parents. On my last day, I had some time and so took the local S-bahn to Wolfratshausen to check it out. It was fun to see some of the location backgrounds that I’ve seen in my baby photos. This is a picture of my Mom with me as a baby, and in the background is the church spire in this photo.

On one of my free weekends I took the train to Dresden, which is the town where my Dad grew up. I had last been to Dresden in 1989, when I was a student and it was still a part of the former East Germany. It’s a beautiful city, which was totally destroyed during WWII and then largely languished during the East German regime. Many parts have now been restored again. When you’re in Germany you really can’t help but think about it’s history, especially of the awful history of WWII. My parents grew up in the war and its aftermath, when so much of the country was destroyed and then later was divided. Both lost their homes during the war and their families, and like so many, they fled as refugees to new lives in other parts of the country. My parents rarely spoke of those times and what they experienced and it’s only really as an adult, now, even after they are gone, that I’m starting to grapple with just what that must have been like. I image what it must have been like to come of age in times of such instability, in the midst of war and chaos and such devastating loss and destruction. Of course, with the refugee crisis so evident in Europe (you could really feel it in Munich especially), you realize that war and displacement are still a personal reality for millions of people around the world. Today, it’s Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa and in places like el Salvador and Venezuela failing economies and internal forces like violence, gangs and unstable politics have as devastating consequences as bullets and bombs.

I feel truly blessed to have grown up and be living at a time and in a part of the world where we have been relatively untouched by war. When my parents left Germany for the US, it was because of a job transfer for my Dad, not because they were refugees. But still, I think often of how they made that decision to uproot themselves and their children (we were three, all below the age of five) from all they knew—their family and friends, their home—for the ambition of a new life, a better life for their family. I think of other parents making that decision today. For some, those decisions are made under good circumstances, looking for adventure or opportunities somewhere else in the world—how lucky to be able to have that choice. But, sadly, for so many confronted with terrible circumstances in their homeland, it’s not a first choice but maybe the only choice they can see for giving their children and themselves a chance at a better life. For all these parents, I am awed by their bravery and selflessness in putting the future of their children first.

 

Stork sightings

IMG_3992I’ve been traveling in Germany for the last three weeks for work—a combo trip including two conferences and some talks in Munich–and I’ve been radio-silent in terms of posting for the last few weeks as a result. It’s been a busy but great trip. In between work events, I’ve also had time to get out and about. I was actually born in Munich and the trip felt like a bit of a nostalgic homecoming in some respects. I’ll post more on that later. But, in the meantime wanted to get in a “stork sighting.” Lots of stork sighting on this trip which I’m taking as a good sign!  This little guy is now my official mascot and good luck charm. Here he is looking out my hotel window in Seeon where the conference was.

Working dog (not)

Working Dog

Working dog? Maybe not!

Bodhi came to work with me this afternoon. Since January, I’ve been working in a new office, here in Berkeley, after they closed my company’s San Francisco office location. I’ve been loving the new location. It has a “hip” startup feel, which admittedly can sometimes feel like a bit of a caricature of the hip startup office.Think wild colors on the walls, odd furniture, fruit water and snacks and a lot of talk of “community” —but overall, I like the new space and it’s been a welcome change of pace from my previous office, which had really gotten to be kind of tired and sad as more and more people worked from home. One perk of the new office that I hadn’t fully taken advantage of is that the office is dog friendly. So,today, I had a relatively meeting-free afternoon (a rare event!) and I thought I’d give it a try with Bodhi. Others in the building bring their dogs and they all seem to do pretty well. Most just hang out and sleep. Well, let’s just say that Bodhi is not that sort of a dog. I should have known. After thoroughly sniffing out the office and common spaces, making some friends in other offices (he’s an attention magnet for sure!), I thought he might settle down and do what he does best—sleep or chew his bone. But, he made it clear that he had zero interest in settling down on his dog bed and hanging out for the afternoon.  It didn’t take long before he started with his best “I’m bored, can we go” whine and harumphing. You have to hear it to understand it. It’s a pretty good impression of what a dog-version of a teenager might sound like. Since I knew the barks were next, we called it a day earlier than expected. Honestly, I should have suspected that pups don’t like being stuck in glass walled cubicles any more than people do! My guess is that he much prefers his perch on the couch at home where he can do his “real job” of guarding the house from postman invasions and squirrels that get too close to the yard. Well, it was a fun experiment but a “working dog”, Bodhi is definitely not!

Nostalgic strike

Bowling_strikeWhen I was kid, many of our birthday parties were bowling parties at Skytop Lanes, the local bowling alley in town. I still love bowling. I’m terrible at it…really terrible…but there is something about bowling that takes me back to being a kid. I even like wearing the bowling shoes.The sights and sounds—the thunder of the balls as they roll down the alley, the crash of the pins, even the sound of a sad gutter ball —make me smile.  My brother, who lives in Connecticut a few hours away from our hometown, heard that Skytop Lanes is closing down, after fifty years in business. Since I was in town for Easter we decided to make a pilgrimage home for a last game. We had a blast! The place had not changed really one bit since we were kids. Kids were there having their birthday parties. Families were bowling up a storm.  My brother and Evan outplayed me for sure.  Quite a few of my turns were gutter balls but I managed to get my groove back a two games in and even bowled a strike!Otto isn’t quite big enough—he barely outweighs some of the balls but still, he made a great cheering section. It was a really fun afternoon!