02/02/2017

Childhood is Global

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The bus trip to Alicante is brief but the visual treats are plentiful. There is the first circle of restaurants and cafes just around the corner of our stop. There is the square with the giant palm tree and workout equipment with the elder gentleman in jeans, sweater, and a cap, doing a slow peddle on the stationary bike. There are the children running along the sidewalk teasing each other and the parents pushing toddlers glowing as they grip a new toy from the market. An older brother holds his sister by the shoulder and gives her a casual kick in the butt from behind and she lunges at his arm before they settle back in their walking rhythm next to each other with ease and familiarity. 

It’s just over a mile between stops but we pass dozens of tiny communities. The older generation wanders arm in arm with their partner or adult children, holding a cane in one hand and gripping the support of their loved one in the other. The lady with the bulky coat and shopping trolly shuffles to get off the bus and the gentleman standing near the exit moves out of the way and helps her quietly, without her seeing, positioning the trolly so she can pull it off the ramp. 

We exit the bus and walk the few minutes to our destination. There is a man washing the windows two stories up who hears loud chatting of a family and looks to nod at them. The adults of the family speak in fast staccato while two young children run ahead and hide behind the statues of mushrooms and Alice In Wonderland themed street decorations. The older sibling watches out for the younger one, wrapping her arm around the toddler and guiding her to the slide. The toddler can almost make the latter’s steps but the mother calls out a warning and she climbs down the two rungs and takes off to the next mushroom behind her sister. They are laughing and calling out to each other in their own language; not Spanish, not English, but Childhood.

I recall when my young son asked if there were kids in Germany on a trip I was taking there years ago. These young children, not yet jaded to the politics of the world or the reality of some who abuse power, enjoy a world the adults can’t see. Time is not linear to them, it slows and quickens depending on context. Fun is simple and friendships are plentiful. The world is new and large and small, everything existing at once and not at all. 

There are many new and different things here in Spain for me, but the most prevailing thought I have is how familiar everything is. This is my first trip to Alicante, but there is already a comfort to the predictability of life. The ladies at the market who check out my purchases are the same as the people at my local grocery store. The old man on the corner reading the paper could be the same regular I see at Starbucks in my neighborhood, always sitting outside, regardless of the weather, reading the day’s news in print. The styles of clothing are slightly different, but not really. The food is a higher quality but still resembles something I’d make at home: eggs, bacon, sliced cucumbers and avocado. The music vacillates between Spanish top hits and American top hits, and I hum a song my children introduced me to just a few weeks ago.  Continue...

01/11/2015

Traveling Mercy: a letter from time, if time travels by airplane

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I opened an old favorite book this evening. I ruffled through the pages with the well worn, and thus loved, tags and underlined passages. I flipped to the end and saw a note I’d written on my solo flight back from my first over-seas trip September, 2001.

I smile as I read the scribbled letters. I remember this flight very well. It was four days after the terror attacks of Nine Eleven. I flew from Heathrow to Seattle alone in the very back of the plane, scared, deathly afraid of everyone, just wanting to be home with my new fiancé.

How many miles have I flown since? How many trips have I taken to those same countries?

I read the page like an older soul, like I’m reading a letter from a previous version of myself.

I’m tired and worn. Sick of people leaning into my space. I’m on the back row of the plane and the line for the bathroom allows for bottoms, boobs, coats, and purses to bump me, hit me, pinch me. I’m too tired and weary to retaliate but I wish I could.
We are starting to land. I’m starting to pray again.
I admit to total paranoia. I suspect anyone. But as I look out the small, 10 inch window onto the gray/brown rolling mountains and the clouds that lay like glaciers, I know we’ll make it. At least I have to trust we will.  We are above the clouds. Aside from sparse tree-topped mountains, there is nothing to see but an ocean of clouds. This is my favorite part of flying:
  Being done.


I wonder what I will say and think when I read this page in fifteen years. With any luck, I will smile knowing how little I knew back then and forgive my previous self for her shortcomings and dramatic mannerisms and whisper a small prayer in the space of breath that transcends time to say everything will be ok. Continue...

06/09/2014

Conference Talk: Leiden 2014

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Today I am giving a talk about women in technology. This is something I’ve been preparing for since I first learnt Basic at age 13 on a Commodore 64. I’ve had several amazing men encourage me in this field and even in the age of feminism and women’s rights, there is still a lot of speculation and discussion around women equality in technical and scientific fields.

As one of only two women in my Graduate program at Western Oregon where I studied computer science, the idea that more women weren’t in the undergrad or graduate program boggled me. At the same time, however, I struggled with things like Java and building Server Sockets until I would vision jamming a knife under my large toenail as more enjoyable.

My Professor at one point noted, “You can get 100% of the logic on the quiz but you don’t know your ass from a whole in the ground when it comes to the syntax.”

I preferred to study PHP, which seemed to make more sense to me than Java. I pursued Python and Ruby and HTML/CSS instead of the huge, monolithic class structure of Java. Networking, routers, the IP stack; these are all things I found intuitive and interesting whereas the standard course for most computer science majors was the single hardest program for me to learn.

I figured I was not alone in this. I submitted a dissertation proposal in the winter of 2004, which was accepted at Oregon State University, and excitedly planned the research for my doctoral degree on women retention rates of undergraduates in the computer science departments and the correlation of programming languages taught. Continue...

05/06/2013

Traveling Mom

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I’m sitting in a cafe in Manchester, UK. It’s familiar, this cafe. The music, the people, the coffee. I think this is the key to traveling… everything at one point becomes familiar, even if only because we’re sitting on the same globe under the same sky.

My family rings me daily, the video turning morning in to silly faces and kisses from across the pond. I marvel at the technology compared to my first trip to the UK in 2001 when I punched in a 400 digit number to reach a calling card and the country code and finally the home phone in hopes to reach my husband. Now I wake the children up on video phone, ala Jeston’s like, rousing sleeping heads just before my dinner time.

fam

I’ve been asked “how do you do it? How can you travel and leave your children?” It is only because of this technology and the patience of Mr. Flinger that I have this opportunity. As often as I miss and yearn for them, I also try to encourage them to ask the questions “what is it like there?” It’s a small and simple task to encourage the children’s curiosity. I show them the weather, the money, the photos. I introduce them to my friends and their young daughter, who greets them with a very adorably Northern English, “hallo!” My young son blushes at the little girl in glasses smiling at him over the screen. “They have children in England, Mommy?” “Yes, Buddy, they do. See?”

This curiosity grows like a seedling. As we listen to Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I,” I hear a small voice in the back seat of the car, “Let’s go to France and Germany, Mommy!” Continue...

06/02/2013

How to not be a tourist: AKA: ten things I learned in London today

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Wandering around London, alone, amidst crowds of families, strangers, losers, businessmen and lepers, I learnt a bit about how to fit in. The irony of that last sentence is that I’ve never quite learnt how to fit in at home. But here, lost in the crowds bumping shoulders with thousands of strangers, I find a way to quietly assimilate to the expectations of local society. Let me ‘splain.

1. Don’t carry around a paper map. Instead, hunt and peck on the map on your phone. You’ll look just like the local texting his or her mate to meet up for drinks later. Only tourists use a paper map.

2. Purchase your souvenirs at the end of the day, not at the start. Nothing shouts tourist like carrying around a bag full of “I LOVE LONDON bracelets” and “My mom went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” (P.S. Family and friends, you’ll be receiving these shortly.)

3. If you find yourself unsure which way to go next, stop and ponder a menu outside a restaurant. This gives the illusion you’re considering a place to eat whilst giving you the opportunity to check the location of the sun and triangulate your next move.

4. Dress like you were going to your local coffee shop. I know you think you’re going to be walking a bunch and want to wear your white sneakers, but leave the stark white shoes at the hotel. You’re not actually walking a marathon. Be comfortable but sensible. Take breaks as needed. See #3. Continue...

06/01/2013

Shoot, dribble, or pass

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Many many years ago, in a small, reasonably priced apartment in Bellingham, my before-husband told me a story from his childhood about decision making. He played basketball at the church league up the street from his house during his Elementary and Jr. High years. Being a somewhat shy kid, he never had the confidence on the court that could allow him to succeed among other sweaty 10 year olds. The pressure of the ball being tossed at him was sometimes too much and he’d freeze, or just take off running like Forest Gump, forgetting all main facets of the game; namely that you have to bounce the ball whilst running and throw it at a high hoop thingy. I don’t know the details of the rules, really. I wasn’t there.

His dad used to coach the team and would watch incredulously as his eldest son choked every time the ball was passed to him. “Look, son,” he said with a coach tone and fatherly wisdom, “don’t think too much. You just gotta shoot, dribble, or pass.”

This story was relayed to me a month before I moved back to Texas in 1998 which alternated the course of my life forever. The decision had been a laborious one and on that night I repeated, “You gotta shoot, dribble or pass” to myself a hundred times until I stopped thinking and decided to move.

Green Park

Fifteen years later, while strolling along the Queen’s walk in London this afternoon, I’m listening to Bossypants by Tina Fey (henceforth known as my new BFF “TF” because we’re tight like that) and she relays a similar lesson from her past. Continue...

08/09/2012

50 Shades of Seattle

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“Oh, you’re from Seattle? You’re so lucky!”

This is coming from the Delta ticketing agent in Detroit. It’s been raining for weeks and it’s the end of June.

“Yes, I suppose, why?”

“Have you ever read fifty shades of Gray? Christian is from Seattle!”

I roll my eyes and try to be patient when I explain, in very slow words, “He.  Is.  Not.  Real.” Continue...

03/09/2012

The stars at night are big and bright

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I’m a native Texan. That is to say, my mother went through 48 hellish hours of labor (thanks, Mom!) so that I could be born in to this world, and the place she endured said pain is Texas City, Texas. She told me, when I was little, she choose that particular place for me to be born because it was easy to remember. Also because she had flown from a town very difficult to say correctly (Bayrouth, Germany) and it made a lot more sense, what with my dad loving Texas and all.  I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in between those tall tales and the one where my Grandmother happened to live near a hospital in Texas City, Texas, at the time and my mother and father needed a place to stay after returning to the states from many years over seas. I come from a long line of story tellers

I am sitting now under the starry night looking directly at Orion’s belt. I am drinking German beer, not because I found it at the local World Market, but because it came from the (supermarket) two blocks from where I sit. There is a church tower around the corner that dates from 1591. I am in Nuremberg. Or Nürnberg, if you’re a local. I hear the Germans on the street below and I am surrounded by the fresh smell of my laundry, the only hint of home that wafts in the dark in the breeze.

water

I am oddly home.

I have a sense of nostalgia here. It’s as if I’ve lived this life here, or one very similar, in other times. I am lost, in present day, unable to fully communicate except with broken pieces of German. It’s comical, really, when someone walks up to me and I say, “Hallo!” and they say, “Hallo,” and I exchange light talk, “Gruße Grote!” They begin to ask a question and I shake my head, “um.. uh.. er… uh, do you know English?” They laugh kindly, either nodding yes or no, and we smile awkwardly as I admit I am not really from here however much I sometimes forget that fact. Continue...

09/07/2012

Live in the Pause

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Hello! Salutations! How are you, anyhow?

It’s been a while and I’ve missed you all.

I’m in England this week. It’s funny, in a “I guess you had to be there” sort of way, but I spoke up to the Taxi Driver this morning in a British accent without realizing it. In fact, I accidentally spelled REALISING it just now until spell check let me know I’m a bloody american.

Acclimation is my middle name. Continue...

In a (german) nutshell: a day

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You know those days where you forget to eat for about six hours and by the time you realize it you swear your pants are already a size bigger and you must surely look anorexic or vitally ill or, say, like Angelina Jolie but without all those kids or Brad Pitt? And then when you’re in the REWE supermarket you catch a glance of yourself from the side in the fridge isle and realize you could probably stand to go another ten days plus six more hours without eating but damn those sausages look tasty.

Yea, that.

I’m not too proud to tell you I stood for about ten minutes in the Suppe isle today. Or that I happened to get about ten packets of soup mix because HOLYLOVEOFGOD the Germans have a lot of packages of soup mixes. I think I purchased a lovely mushroom spice for which to make mushroom rosetta with if I get get the ingredient right (I have the rosetta, mix, and vassa so I think I’m covered?) and a few others for making sauces (for the aforementioned sausages). I also found some Muesli (which in German means ‘Health Nut’) with chocolate and seeds. I’m so all over this.

groceries

I can also share with you that today I had to use google translate to see what the message on my German phone was from Telekom. I felt so “Christmas Story” with the Ovaltine Decoder. I couldn’t wait to see what my message was only to find out it was an advertisement for getting more minutes with the SIM. Continue...

03/06/2012

Lost control of breath and heart

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I find myself on the matt, rushed from traffic, breathless from worry. The room dims, the instructor’s voice soothes the atoms in the air. We breathe.

The class begins and we stretch, bending over yesterday’s beers and middle-age. We look up, grasping at the sky energy. We stand tall, then lean low, we breathe heavily.

I stoop in to child’s pose, catching my breath and my resting my body. The instructor, calm energy, strong voice, tells the class to rest. “If you’ve lost control of your breathing or your heart, take a minute…”

I’m fading in to my own thoughts at these words. “Lost control of your heart…” The words bounce around the vastness of my mind: a void of sorrow and contemplation. A light, dim at first, starts to shine the very edges of my thoughts. It is not just light, it is the sun. Hope washes over the cobwebs of winter, of poor choices, of indecision. Memories of a being a child, hopeful and independent, of a girl in Germany, of a strong spirit rush back in the void’s space. Suddenly I am strong for the first time in months.

I sit now in a hippie coffee shop. It’s the kind of coffee shop you’d go to after having an epiphany at yoga. I sit across a college girl with her hair in a woolen cap. A grandmother sits near us sipping her latte and writing on twitter. The walls are adorned with swirls of abstract art, most likely a result of a night of cocaine and vodka. I’m high just staring at them. Continue...

10/05/2012

The “DOG SPIRIT”

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I wrote this super cheesy post back in 2003 about how I thought I had the “Dog Spirit.” You know the one where a pregnant 28 year old fanes poetic about her free spirit that is about to be leashed to years of diapers and saying, “Do Not Take Off Your Clothes In Public.” (I assume this includes the teenage and college years.)

It’s not a new theme in my life: Traveling. It’s not something that just sort of showed up one day in my head where I said, “HEY! Let’s go somewhere!” No, the more I analyze (and by god I analyze) my desire, nay, need to get off the continent as frequently as possible, I realize it started early in my childhood, right down to how poorly I do travel and how often I crave it.

I remember my first solo plane ride. I was seven? Eight? (Mom, help me out here.) I went to Dallas (from Houston Hobby) to visit some family friends. I was going to see a girl of my dad’s best friend, someone that I got along well with. I remember being freaked out, not that I was traveling on a plane alone or hundreds of miles from my family, but who I might be seated next to. I still have this same anxiety today.

Anyway, my mom sent me some mail that arrived during my stay. I remember starting to miss her and I remember getting the letter. Judy handed me something and said, “This is from your mom. Arrived in the mail today.” I have no idea what the note said, something of insignificance, but at the end my Mom signed it, “Love ya, Mom.”

I remember that sign off. THAT is the thing I remember from that letter. The casual “Love Ya” after a note that smelled like home. I remember crying at that note and I remember Judy (and her daughter Heather, my friend) wondering why I kept reading it if I was just going to cry. But clearly they didn’t really know me yet. Continue...