Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sunnyside Up!

I sit writing this blog in a fairly unusual environment; on my back patio, enjoying the sun, wearing my sunglasses.  A hot sunny day in May in the Pacific Northwest is unheard of, so we all rush out to grab whatever Vitamin D we can get. My legs are covered in bruises from wheel barrows, pick axes, and unruly plants. My short fingernail cuticles are stained from compost and soil. My heart is happy… my flowers are thriving. What a perfect segue to my story…

One rainy March morning about twenty one years ago I sat in my office at Microsoft and stared out the window. The window in my office was at ground level and just a few inches on the other side of the glass was a herd of humans installing spring flowers. They were wet, covered in muck, and had a full days hard work ahead of them, and how I envied every moment of it.

I had been dabbling in an interior design program for two years and wasn’t really finding my niche, so on a complete and total whim I logged onto the University of Washington’s website and looked for something that spoke to me. One month later I sat in a huge lecture hall with several hundred other students; the class was four hours long, five days a week and had two instructors per day. When I tell you that was a challenging three months you must believe me because I could drone on endlessly about how hard it was. The only people who can truly stand to listen to me talk about it are the others who survived it. But of course with the complaining comes the complete pleasure of earning admission to the College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

I took several Architecture classes, built little models, burned my finger tips on the hot glue gun, learned to read building plans, and found out that what I really liked about Architecture were buildings – the ones other people had already built!! So, I took my credits, and focused on Urban Planning for a while. I went on to take the most tedious, monotonously boring, discussion intensive classes that were typically taught by Philosophy majors. Just yesterday I was clearing up my desk and came across a million page paper I wrote for a class comparing a very trendy neighborhood in Seattle with an uber boring suburban neighborhood (near Microsoft). Fork in my eye time!! So, I took my credits and went in search of something “else.”

Interestingly I was living with someone who had found his passion years before, I think at the gestational phase, and we had discussions about the certainty that he had when he was reading, discussing, exploring the world of physics. Now, I have a fairly sharp brain in my head, but for those of you who watch the Big Bang Theory, you could think of me as Penny and “him” as Sheldon… with a little bit of Leonard thrown in for fun.

There were two other options in the College of Architecture, Landscape Architecture or Construction Management. Having taken a brief overview class in Landscape Architecture previously, I decided to try it out. For a person with a speck of creativity and a fairly logical mind, you have found Nirvana. Think of a design exercise where real life needs have to be met (bathrooms, lighting, parking, handicap accessibility, etc.) get  crossed with a world where seasons change, plants grow, plants die,  climatic situations alter, critters use it (including humans), to name a few, and it is supposed to be pretty and functional. What could be more glorious? I could sit at a drafting table for hours and doodle copious options before forcing myself to focus on one. I had finally found my place in the universe and I could finally relate to Sheldon/Leonard… sort of.

On the way to becoming a Landscape Architect a funny little thing happened. My relationship was at an end and an exchange program became a possibility. So, the next thing I knew I was signed up to attend the University of Liverpool (England for those of you who know of more than one Liverpool). The birthplace of The Beatles! Now I know a lot of people would like to find out that I had studied in Rome, London, Paris… but Liverpool? Well, Liverpool is a seriously industrial town and I love all things industrial, so I was pleased as punch! To be honest one of the things that added to the pure pleasure of the experience was that I had always wanted to be an exchange student in high school, college (the first time) and then finally at the ripe old age of 29 off I went!

There were three landscape students combined with about 18 architecture students. To say I had the time of my life is an understatement…  After the program was over I spent several months backpacking with friends all through Europe. On the one hand it felt a bit silly, I was old enough to be an exchange students mother, but on the other hand, there was nothing I didn’t want to see, eat, smell, touch, experience in any way possible.

Upon reflection, I have decided to retrace some of the places I explored and experiences that I had in the next few blogs. I promise to keep the stories short, but the idea really speaks to me for a variety of reasons. Firstly, most are hilarious. Secondly, I really started making serious life altering decisions there. Thirdly, it was on this trip that I realized that all the migrating from one place to another in the back of a car as a child had been, in many ways, a really good thing.

So, before ending this blog I have to share some interesting facts, and one very funny story. I would like to say a sincere “Thank You” to those of you who have read faithfully. I can track my stats, and I have regular readers from the US, UK, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, India, Slovenia, Germany, China, and Poland. There are some odd blips, like once or twice I have had a reader from a small village in Africa (had to look it up on the map) and early on there was a strong following from some people in the United Arab Emirates.

Before we get to the funny story I would like to add this (cause it came to me after I had typed the previous paragraph, and I am practicing “flow writing” (where you just keep going and don’t stop and edit every thought)). For five years, what free time I had I mostly volunteered on various and sundry Boards and Committees. People kept asking me if I would ever go back to work as a Landscape Architect. I said, “No.” pretty firmly. I took quite a bit of time last Fall to understand why and came to the conclusion there was no “why.” I’d simply been away from it for a long time. This spring I have had the chance to get back into the game quite a bit and I have rediscovered a part of myself, an essential part and I feel really great about it. Never forget your passions.

Okay, onto the funny story. It was a hot spring day in El Paso, Texas, 1976. By then the daily temperatures were probably in the upper 70’s/mid 80’s. I walked to and from school, usually with a gang of kids. For some reason, long since forgotten, I was late meeting up with them. I could see them several blocks ahead, the land being utterly flat and wide open. A person could see clear to the high school many blocks away. In any case, I was content to wander behind them, lost in the thoughts of an eleven year old girl. Suddenly the stench jolted me back to earth. Oh, how my face burned red and embarrassment rolled over me. My parents had covered the front and back yard, not an inch spared, in fresh horse manure! The icing on the cake was that my very British mother had opened all the windows while she boiled kidneys for Steak and Kidney Pie!! My house smelled like an outhouse/honey pot/whatever! It reeked. I am not the kind of girl that believes in fate, but I tell you, if I were to, someone/something prevented me from walking with those kids as they passed my super smelly house.

Thanks for reading!