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.

Friends & their Kids

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New York, New York!

I just got back from a two week work trip to Washington DC and New York, for a series of meetings and conferences. Although I was looking forward to some of the conferences and seeing colleagues and friends, this felt like a long trip and part of me was dreading it too. As much as I love travelling, lately I’ve been in nesting mode and find myself just wanting to hang out at home rather than hauling around luggage between hotels and cities. All that said, it wound up being a fun trip. Best of all, I had a bit of free time in between work events and so managed to squeeze in a few visits with old friends from grad school. While in DC, I visited with my friend Noelle and her kids Aidan and Keira again. It was a short trip, but we managed to play a rousing game of Monopoly. (As an aside, can you believe there’s a version of Monopoly now where Park Place, Marvin Gardens and the other properties have been replaced by online “properties” like Yahoo and Disney! And the silver show show and top hat that you move around the board is now an Angry Bird. Boy did I feel old fashioned!). Keira was very proud of her stuffed Bodhi, which I had given her after her visit in April, where she fell in love with my Bodhi (the real one!). After DC, I was in New York City for the weekend. I visited with my friend Jen her daughter, another Kira! Jen, Noelle and I were best buds in grad school. I was so struck by how much their Keira/Kira’s look and act like them — little Jen and Noelle “mini-me’s!” Check out the old photo below of the three of us on vacation in Spain while in grad school (circa 1998?) and the pictures of each of their girls. Guess which kid and Mom go together?

I also got to see my friends Zemer and Coleen and their “mini-me’s” Benjamin and Lena. We spent a nice Sunday exploring the Chelsea and lower east side. We had a nice walk on The High Line, visited the new Whitney Museum of  American Art and got to experience the all-plant “I can’t believe it’s not meat” Impossible Burger at Momofuku. Not to mention ice cream and cupcakes to round out the day.  It was a really fun Sunday.

There was something so lovely about seeing these friends who I first got to know when we were in our 20s, as parents with kids, families and accomplished careers. I  love seeing them with their little “mini-me’s” and getting to know their kids, though truthfully, these moments are also bittersweet. There’s a part of me , when seeing friends and their kids all together, that does get a bit sad and  wistful for a child of my own. I have friends who have told me that they worried  that it must be hard to spend time with them and their kids, that it might make me sad. And some who have worried about inviting me to events with lots of kids and parents, like birthday parties, wondering whether I might feel uncomfortable. I feel lucky to have friends who are so thoughtful and considerate about my feelings but what I tell them all is that  I really don’t want people worrying about me and certainly, don’t want friends to think they should avoid exposing me to their kids. Being with kids of course reminds of what I’m missing and longing for. I’d be lying if I said that sometimes it doesn’t hurt. But that’s not the overwhelming feeling. I don’t want to spend my life or this time waiting in a child-free bubble. More often when I’m having fun with your kids and seeing you being great parents, I’m reminded, in a positive way, of why all of this effort, angst and waiting is going to be worth it. Being with your kids is actually motivating and confirming of what I know in my heart to be true, that I want a child as the center of my world too. It reminds me of how much I love kids and what a great Mom I am going to strive to be.  I’ve found that one of the hardest things about this adoption waiting limbo is keeping it feeling real and tangible. After you get past the point of all the research, forms, interviews, putting together websites and letters and the like, it feels like there’s just time and waiting. You spend time updating websites and checking your phone and email accounts hoping for a call, but as the days and weeks and months go  by, its become harder and harder to feel that this is all real and that something is happening while I’m here in waiting.  For me, spending time with kids, my friends and their families has honestly been a lifeline in this waiting limbo. Being around your kids has kept me sane and feeling connected and has given me hope and inspiration.

I should say that I know from conversations with other waiting adoptive parents that not everyone feels this way about being around kids. Some parents-in-waiting do find it painful to be around kids and do avoid situations with kids or families.  While that’s not been true for me, I certainly respect those feelings and can see where they come from. What I would say as advice to folks who have friends who are waiting to adopt (or for that matter,  friends who are trying to conceive and grow their family in other ways) is that the best approach is just to ask your friend what they prefer. You can ask them how they are doing. Ask them whether being with your kids makes them uncomfortable. Ask them how you can help and support them. Don’t be afraid to bring up the issue. Trust me,  your asking and bringing up the issue won’t be anymore of a reminder or trigger than not asking, and more likely, they will appreciate your thinking of them.

 

 

Peloponnes Family vacation

IMG_4608I’m just back from vacation in Greece with my cousins, Titus and Sabine, and their two boys, Matthias and Sebastian. My cousins live in Germany and we try to meet up over the summer for a family vacation. This year we went to Greece, to a family resort on the Peloponnes coast in western Greece.  We had a fantastic time and the week blitzed by. I love hanging out with Matthias and Sebastian on these vacations and watching them grow up. Matthias, who’s 12, had braces this year and just finished his first year in “Hochschule” (the German equivalent of middle school) and is deep into reading fantasy novels. Sebastian, 7, is the family charmer and has become soccer obsessed, and the highlight of his vacation was scoring 4 goals in the evening beach soccer game with the “big kids.” German families tend to spend a few weeks at the beach over the summer, often in one of these “all inclusive family resorts.”We went to a similar type resort last year in Turkey and I will admit I was a bit skeptical of the concept at first. The idea of staying put in one place for a week, roaming between pool and beach, is not my typical vacation, but I’ve come to love these vacations, where everything is planned and taken care of and there’s really nothing to think about other than finding your beach chair for the day and remembering to put on sunscreen. Since I arrived pretty exhausted from a really long flight and few very stressful weeks at work,  I was definitely in need of a week of “doing nothing.”

We spent the week hanging out at the pool, swimming in the ocean, floating in the “lazy river” pool (I fell in love with the lazy river!), sleeping, reading, playing endless rounds of Uno. In the evenings, there was a music and entertainment program that ranged from family night, where the kids put together a dance and comedy show, to a Greek dancing show.  There was never ending food and as much ice cream as one could eat, all day long. Sebastian amazed me with how much ice cream such a little guy could put away! Matthias convinced me to try SUP (standup paddleboarding for those, like me , who had no idea what SUP is!) which proved to be harder than anticipated. Matthias was a natural and was padding around like he had been doing it forever. I, however, quickly reverted to “sit down paddle boarding” (a new support SDP?) and regretted not going for the sea kayaking option. The humiliation of my complete lack of ability to get upright on the board was made up for by Matthias thrill and happiness that I went with him, when his Mom and Dad stayed on the beach. The kids brought me up to speed on the latest video game fads—-everyone was very into Pokemon Go, but sadly, Pokemons had not yet found their way to the resort. I finally managed to finish the 4th book of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. I had started the series last year in Turkey. We took a day trip one day, to go to Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic games. Having come all this way, I did want to see some of the local cultural sites. We managed to catch our first Pokemon of the trip at Olympia. In between, I spent at an afternoon at the spa, for a round of relaxing Thalassotherapy which is a  form of water massage where you do rounds in a pool with different water jets that massage different parts of your body (who knew this even existed…it’s like a water park for adults!).

The one part of being at a family resort that I’ll admit was a bit hard was that there were families and kids and babies everywhere, all so impossibly cute. In fact, there really wasn’t anyone there who didn’t have kids and the place was designed around kids. Not surprisingly, although for the most part I was in the moment and very happy to be there as the fun Aunt, every now and then, I couldn’t help but feeling a bit jealous and longing for a child of my own. But, all in all, it was a fantastic week and a much needed chance to unwind. I will say that “doing nothing” is tiring in its own way. We’re already starting to think about where our vacation next year will be. I’m hoping that by next year, I’ll be able to introduce everyone to a new baby cousin!

 

 

 

 

Tassajara Magic

Tassajara Zen CenterLast weekend, I went away with my friend Phil for a long weekend to Tassajara, a Zen monastery and hot springs four hours south of here, in the mountains outside of Carmel Valley. This was our second Tassajara trip and I am hopeful we’re going to make this an annual tradition. It’s hard to describe the calming magic of Tassajara. Tassajara is the oldest Soto Zen monastery in the United States. The hot springs are the main physical attraction, though Tassajara is about so much more than the hot springs. The hot springs were originally discovered by the Esselen native people and even then the springs were known for their restorative properties. Later in the 1900s , the hot springs were part of a mountain resort, where Californians would come to “take the cure” for the supposed healing powers waters. By the 50s and early 60s, the resort had fallen in disrepair and then was rediscovered by Shunryu Roshi who founded the San Francisco Zen Center and brought new life to Tassajara, as a center for the study of Zen Buddhism. Tassajara today remains an active Zen monastery, where for most of the year, students come here for the monastic life, to meditate and study Buddhism. During the spring and summer, Tassajara is open for the “guest season” and “guests” from the lay world can come for retreats and workshops, or just to get away. The hot springs themselves are beautiful and relaxing, with the baths having a very Japan architecture, adding to the relaxing zen feel. A babbling creek runs through the center of Tassajara and its melody. along with the chirping birds, is constantly in the background. At regularly intervals in the day, its gurgling is interrupted with the gentle gongs and bells from the Zendo, calling the students to Zazen (meditation). Part of the magic of Tassajara is the journey. Tassajara itself is that end of the long 14 mile rugged, narrow, steep and winding one-lane dirt road, one that some are brave enough to drive but we got a ride from the nearby town via the Tassajara “stage” (aka a SUV with 4 wheel drive and good brakes!). My first ever trip to Tassajara was one where I drove alone and made the mistake of arriving close to dusk. I’ll never forget that drive down that bumpy, narrow, dirt road, wondering whether I would ever get out of there alive. I was smart enough for that trip (having been warned!) to have rented a 4 wheel drive (there’s no way my little car would have made it!) but even so, it was by far the scariest drive of my life. It’s common for cars to burn out their breaks or pop tires coming down this road. Our driver told us that at least four times per season someone’s car completely breaks down. The funniest story of this season was the person who drove their Tessla in not realizing that they would not be able to charge it once there (talk about clueless and entitled!). When you are driving down that road,  one wonders why people even bother, but then, you get to the bottom, and there you are, in this truly magical place. The stress of the drive just melts away. You really feel like you are a million miles away from the real world when you’re there. There is no internet or phone reception and in  fact, you’re discouraged from even having your phone visible.  Electricity is also limited. Even a few years ago, none of the cabins had electricity. The only lights there were old-fashioned gas lanterns, but now they’ve exchanged these with solar lights. The food is all vegetarian and super-delicious, especially the home baked Tassajara bread that they are so famous for. Whenever I arrive at Tassajara, I just notice my body and mind getting lighter. My steps slow down and I can feel my mind recentering. I had first come to Tassajara a few years ago for a workshop, not quite knowing what to expect. I initially took up meditation in the period after my Mom died. That was a difficult time for me and meditation helped me refind myself and start to come to terms with the grief and trauma of her illness and death. I had heard about Tassajara from various people over the years but never made the trip myself. It’s one of those places where people come year after year. Phil and I met people who have been making the annual pilgrimage for 30 plus years. As a result, it’s not so easy to get a reservation. On my first visit, I actually got lucky and signing up for this workshop was a rather spur of the moment decision and lucky break that there was a last minute opening. That workshop, which was about making life changes, really transformed me in many ways, and I got my first taste of the magic of Tassajara. It seemed fated somehow. This past weekend was no less perfect. We spent the weekend hiking, lounging in the hot springs, swimming in the creek’s swimming pool, reading and just catching up and slowing down. The special moments are many—sitting in the hot springs at night staring up at a sky overflowing with stars; escaping the incessant pull of my iphone and not thinking about emails for three whole days;  watching the blue jays chatter up a storm from our porch overlooking the creek; swimming in the swimming hole at the Narrows; naps by the pool and sleeping late; watching my mind slow down and catching up with myself. Bliss. Throughout this adoption journey and especially as I wait, it’s been really helpful for me to find time, like this weekend, to get away. With the adoption wait, you are always “on” somehow, waiting for the phone to ring or an email to arrive. Most of the time, it’s just crickets, seemingly nothing happening and the phone silent and yet, I am in constant fear being out of contact and missing THE call. It’s hard to be constantly on call and waiting, so I made a decision early on not to put my life on hold while I waited. Sure, that does mean special arrangements sometimes—like this weekend, making sure my counselors had the main phone number at Tassajara if something came up or buying trip insurance for my vacations, just in case they need to be cancelled. It’s not that I wouldn’t drop everything to be ready when the time comes—in fact, I probably would even have hiked out that 14 mile dirt road from Tassajara if that were necessary. But, making sure that I still enjoy my life for what it is, as it is now, keeps me grounded and optimistic, even when the wait seems unbearable.

 

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.

Birthday roadtrip

IMG_3340Last weekend I took a birthday (mine!) roadtrip with my friend Michelle to Mendocino for a “Two gals and a dog” spa weekend. It turns out Mendocino is a super dog friendly place and the inn we stayed at (The Inn at Schoolhouse Creek) bills itself as a “pet friendly” spa resort. It certainly lived up to that! Everyone there seemed to have a dog with them and the restaurant even allowed you to bring your dog for breakfast, even had a doggy menu that was as good the human-menu. It was a bit over the top in some respects but was a great place to stay. Bodhi certainly loved being a pampered pup! We had a great time exploring Mendocino, walking on the beaches, visiting Point Cabrillo light house, relaxing in the hot tub and catching up on reading, collecting driftwood on the beach. With the fog and dramatic scenery, Mendocino also has a moodiness to it that I just love.We had a great drive back wine tasting along the way, as we wound  our way through Anderson Valley.

My approach to birthdays is to celebrate them big. I’m not one of those people who thinks you should just let the day go by like any other. I’m definitely sensitive to the passage of time and like probably most of us in this space called “middle age,” all too conscious of the passing years and accumulating wrinkles and age related annoyances.  So with that in mind, I figure the best way not to mourn another passing year, is to celebrate it! I have a personal rule to not work on my birthday so I always take the day off (and this is something I offer to all the people who I manage as well). Last year I had a great birthday, with a party with my friends at the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk amusement park, riding roller coasters and playing carnival games. This year was mellower, but no less fun and fit my mood perfectly. In the run up to my birthday this year, I was definitely feeling more than the usual tinge of birthday malaise. If I’m honest, I would say the waiting and “adoption limbo” is taking its toll. I’m doing my best to stay positive and focused but it’s hard and the passing of another year, just amplifies some of the angst about whether this will work out. I want so much to be a Mom and I know with every part of my being that I would be a good one, but it’s hard not wonder whether the call will ever come. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not one of those people who stares at the phone waiting for it to ring and I’m not holding back on life while I “wait.” But, still, it’s constantly on my mind and every day there’s a piece of me that wonders about “when it will happen” and some days, darker days, there are the worries about “if it will happen.” I know, I know, I need to stay positive. I think I needed the weekend to disconnect and chill out. It was the perfect respite weekend. Thanks, Michelle, for being my birthday roadtrip co-pilot! I’m looking forward to the year to come and next year, will hopefully not only have  a dog in tow but a baby too!