03 March 2018

Lessons Learned in a Year Abroad




Just like my tattoo I got a year ago, I'm a lil worse for wear.  This experience has been difficult, but I'm still here.

Change is lawlessness.  I like laws.

I think that's why I love grammar so much.  There are rules, and I memorized them.

Study hard, you'll make good grades.  Be nice, and people will like you.  Move to a foreign country to work for the USO, and you'll love it and make best friends for life.

That last one tripped me up.  Germany is so utterly completely different than my experience in Afghanistan.  I thought I would instantly make friends, be a good boss, love my job and learn it quickly.  I have failed at each and every single one of those.

So, what have I learned after 1 year of leaving everyone I love, and a job that I excelled at, to plunge into a foreign country with no friends, and misplaced confidence in a new job?

1. Say yes.

It took me months, and months, and months to start saying "yes" to invitations.  I once had a boyfriend tell me he thought I was "really weird" when he first met me.  I have at least 2 other friends who have told me about how much they disliked me when they first met me.  I'm not great at first impressions.  Third impressions is when I really start to wow 'em.

Anyway, I didn't say yes to invitations.  Going with a buffer friend is easy, going by yourself with people you barely know somewhere is a little scary.

Go to the bouldering gym with acquaintances?  Say yes.  Fly to another part of Germany to see a band I have never heard of?  Say yes.  Put on a Facebook group that I'll be at a beer garden, and I'd really like to not go alone so would some other ladies come out?  Say yes.

Having the courage to say yes has opened me up to some beautiful new friendships.

2. There's a balance between boss, bitch, and best friend.

Many years ago I was sent to a center to help them during a staff transition.  The volunteers had been through a lot, so I wanted to be my bright, optimistic, open self.  They used my openness against me.  They went as far as to write a "review" to my superiors saying that I was inexperienced, young, naive, etc.

Moving to Germany for this position I knew I'd be supervising 4 people.  I will keep them at arm's length.  I will not open up.  They will use it against me.  People hate change.  It's instinctual.  If I want them to respect me, I need to be a strong leader.

Well, that backfired too.  Over whispers that weren't so quiet, I heard some of the most hurtful words I've ever heard said about me...that I didn't care, that I was just here for me to further my career, that I wasn't helpful to anyone, that I didn't understand military families.

It was awful.  I just wanted to go home and be with my friends who know me and love me.  Then I realized I hadn't given them a chance to know me.  By not opening up, all they were seeing was a new boss who made decisions, not a teammate who is trying to make the best choices for the military that she cares so deeply about.

There's a balance between bitch and best friend while you're being a boss.  As a woman it's insanely difficult to find the correct balance for yourself, and for your employees.  For me the answer was in being sincere to myself.  I'm a story-teller.  Sharing what I wanted to, and not divulging what I didn't want to, has worked for me.

3. More hugs and "love yous"

I can handle living alone.  I can spend an entire weekend reading a book, watching Netflix, and just being by myself.  But I can not handle not having a hug.  It just puts all the pieces back together sometimes.  I had a friend this summer who hugged me; I didn't let go immediately, so he didn't either.  It was absolute bliss that he just hugged me for as long as I needed it.

I say "love you" to my friends on the phone before we hang up.  I'm not sure when exactly it started, but it's important to me.  They're the longest relationships of my life other than my family.  I've known some of my friends for 27 years, and others I've lain in a ditch with during a rocket attack.  They mean so much to me, why would I not say, "love you, bye!"  I don't know why I didn't start this sooner.  It feels good.

4. You only fail when you stop trying.

Okay, so this one I can't take credit for.  I found it on Pinterest.  I have made many mistakes in this new position according to all the rules and regulations.  Any time the phone rang at work I cringed.  It was going to be something else I didn't do up to standard.  But I kept trying.  And I just tried to not make the same mistake twice.  So at least now when I mess up, it's in spectacularly new ways.

Shame is strong, and pride is powerful.

But persistence is a fantastic beast that teaches the fingers to tie shoes, the head to memorize multiplication tables, and the heart to keep trying even after its hurt.

(Those last two lines were all me...inspired by some Brene Brown.  She's amazing.)

5. I still love it.

A young private came into the center the other day, and I welcomed him, "Hi William!  How was your weekend, do anything fun?"  As he walked in to get a soda he told me he didn't go anywhere, but he had a good time.  He came back out a few minutes later, and he told me sincerely, "You know when you say hi to me it really means a lot.  Thank you."

I'm tearing up just thinking about it.  He's a 19 year-old soldier in a new unit in a new country, and because I learned his first name, he's happier than he was.  And he didn't know it, but by sharing that with me he made my day a thousand times better.  I was ready to give more and help more and do more because of what he said.

Literally, an agenda topic at our staff meeting last week was how to make our military and their family members happier.  Everything from learning our regulars' first names to making stronger coffee was discussed.  My job is to make other people's lives a little more fun and a little more joyful.  How could I not love that?



13 February 2018

On this Valentine's Day...

I want to share a post about love.  Love between a husband and wife.  Love between two best friends.  And love that created an adorable curly haired baby who was born on Valentine's Day and became my best friend!

I was honored to be Hinerman's Maid of Honor for her wedding in fall of 2016.  I wrote this speech to honor the amazing human she is.  On this day of her birth, and traditionally a day to celebrate love, I want to share it with you.

2001-ish walking back from gym class in high school
Thank you to everyone who had a part in this day: the bridal party, the parents, the Oglebay staff, the family, and the friends.

We're all here because we love these crazy kids.  Katherine Fluty Hinerman Klug is a friend to many, a wife to one, and a roommate to a select few.  

If you have ever lived with Hinerman, please stand up.

(Carri, Steph, Christina, Wizba, Hinerman's parents, Hinerman's brother, and myself all stand).
2003-ish enjoying a virgin daiquiri at Oglebay 

If you enjoyed it and would voluntarily do it again, please stay standing.

(EVERY ONE SITS.)

Well this is awkward.  Good luck, Jon.

See the thing is, when we were roommates Hinerman tried to kill me...TWICE.

We call it the "String Cheese Incident" of 2008.  You see I moved out in July, and then months later in October when I visited I ate one of Hinerman's string cheeses.  I was then corrected, "you mean you ate one of YOUR string cheeses."  They had expired in June.

2006 WVU-Marshall Football Game
Then there's the "Bazooka Joe Incident."  Ferg bore witness to this one.  Hinerman has the God-given ability to make any house a home.  In college she did this with a 6-foot tall inflatable cactus with sunglasses, blue ornaments, and beads named Sanchez.  May he rest in peace.  When we roomed together she did this with seasonal pillows and decorations like pillar candles and live pine on the mantel for Christmas.  Upon giving a tour of our beautifully decorated apartment to Ferg, the pine caught on fire, and the mantel went up in flames!  I saved the day by blowing it out while Ferg and Hinerman ran for pots of water.  Thus earning my nickname of Bazooka Joe.  I like this story, because I get to be the hero in it.

But when she's not creating fires, she would literally walk through them for us.

She's simply the best.

She's generous with her time and love and makes you feel like a snowflake.  She gets that from her Momma, Wendall.

She has an undying quiet, "always be there at your best" and more importantly, at your worst, no matter what you've done, that she gets from her papa, Scoot.
2014 Hinerman's brother's wedding

She also has a biting wit that can burn you as badly as it makes you laugh that she shares with her brother, Wilma.

She has a pride in the people and places that have made her the incredible human being she is today.  She wants the best for every single one of us in this room.  She'll work tirelessly to get that for us.  By being on committees, and thinking of ideas on a Sunday night, and volunteering her time.  She gets that from her Grandmother Fluty.

Jon, I know that you know all of this already.  I know you love her fiercely.  Anyone who has the patience to teach her the difference between Mozart and Mount Olivet at the age of 31 when she's spent no less than 31 years living in Wheeling, deserves a medal.

I'm so glad she found you.  Flashback to 2008 when we had both ingested a bottle of wine, and we're watching Grey's Anatomy.  We were yelling at the screen, "Why can't I find my McDreamy?!"  I lamented that 99% of people can make a loving committed relationship work, and here we are .5 and .5% sitting on the couch alone.  We're the statistical margin of error.

2016 Hinerman's wedding!
But now she has you.  And you have her.  And it's perfect.  You've both found the great love of your life.  And it's beautiful to witness.

Oh how jealous our high school selves would've been to know that Hinerman would end up with a cute upper class-man from Linsly!

I know you'll have great adventures together, and I can't wait to hear all about them.

I pray for you both love, laughter, and a happy ever after.  And I know you'll have it, because you have all that you need.  Because all you need is love.

To the bride and groom!







19 November 2017

Germans Take Sundays and Speeding Seriously.

Things I've noticed as an American living in Germany:

1. Germans take Sundays and speeding, seriously.
On Sundays virtually all grocery stores are closed, all shopping centers, about half of the restaurants, and astonishingly even websites!

I personally love it.  It forces you to take a day and just relax.  Spend it with your family, and do nothing.  Companies in Germany have also introduced measures such as no emailing after work hours.  During vacations instead of coming back to 200 unread emails, you come back to ZERO.  All of your emails have bounced back to the sender because you were out.  As someone who just got an email at 0705 on a Saturday with tasks I need to do on Monday, I can tell you that sounds awesome!  http://time.com/3116424/daimler-vacation-email-out-of-office/ 

Now on to the speeding situation, they LOVE speed cameras.  They are EVERYWHERE.  Seriously.  It's a right of passage to get your first speed camera ticket.  It took 7 months for me to get one.  In that amount of time I have a friend who has received 7.
But it's not just the government that takes it seriously, it's the Germans themselves.

On one particular jaunt home from work, I came to find that the exit on a roundabout to my home was blocked for construction.  I had no idea how to get home.  My GPS just kept rerouting me back to the closed road. So, I was stuck.  I figured if I could just sort of attempt to go left I could get behind the blocked road.  I was frustrated and tired, and I'll fully admit - speeding.  As I rolled down a street at about 50K (residential areas are 30K), I ran into a dead-end and had to make a 5-point turn to get out.  Once I began heading back I had to slam on the brakes because in the middle of the road were two VERY angry German men shouting at me.  While I couldn't understand them, I could interpret the gist of what they were saying.  I rolled down my window, did the international sign for I have no idea what's going on (shrugged my shoulders with my hands in the air), and then said, "HELP, I'M LOST."  Immediately the one man's demeanor changed and he asked in stilted English, "You want to go where?"  HOME.  Then he really got a look of pity, like this poor girl doesn't even know how to get to her house.  He knew where I was trying to get to (because the type of neighborhood busy-body that yells at a speeder always know what's going on with construction in their 'hood), then gave me directions with lots of motioning of how to get home.  Thank you sir.

2. Rolladens are the bees' knees. 
These beauts block out all the sun so you can sleep in, or keep your non-air conditioned place cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, or keep the creepers out if you're worried about that.  You don't need blinds or curtains.  AND, if you're super cool like my apt, they're wireless.  When my first alarm goes off, I hit the rolladen button that's within arm's length to have some natural sunlight pour in, wait out another 1 or 2 snoozes and then wake up.

3. WWII Bombs are all over the place.
There are legitimately unexploded WWII bombs all over the place...like in the woods near base where we host 5ks.  No big deal.  No need to be alarmed.  It's only a 500 pounder, and they're evacuating to detonate it.
https://www.stripes.com/news/facilities-near-stuttgart-to-be-closed-for-wwii-bomb-disposal-1.498116

4. Eating at restaurants is an occasion, not a convenience. 
You can show up to a restaurant that looks abandoned with lots of tables open and be told they don't have room for you.  They're not lying.  Those tables are reserved.  When you make a reservation in Germany they reserve the table for the night.  Eating at a restaurant is an occasion, you wine, you dine, you dessert or coffee.  You enjoy the company of the people you're with.  There's rarely a phone in sight...or a waiter for that matter.  They don't disturb you.  They let you relax.  There's no constant refills, or giving you the check.  You have to flag someone down and ask for all of the above.  I LOVE IT.  My friend and I went out for dinner and dined for 4 hours.  We legitimately weren't bothered by anyone for the last 2.  We just talked.  It was delightful.  Now I know it's different than America because the wait staff actually make a reasonable wage here and therefore don't need to turnover the table to get more tips.  The fact that they pay their people well is just one more reason why I love it.

5. Everybody hikes.
You've got a baby?  Strap them on.  You've got bad knees?  Get a pole.  There's no excuse for not hiking.  I can't go a day without seeing someone with walking poles.  They enjoy it profusely.  Even now that it's cold, I saw two people walking with their poles.  Go on with your bad selves.

6. They trust every one to do the right thing.
I went on a hike where there was a shed built over a lil creek.  There were radlers (beer and lemonade mixed together, quite popular here and incredibly delicious in the summer!), and other beers in crates in the stream.  There was also some schnapps if that was your delight in the middle of your 5 mile hike.  There was a suggested pricing list, and a lock box.  Take your drink, drop in your money, and hope for the best.  It's the same with blumen fields.  There's gorgeous fields of flowers (or I saw pumpkins in the fall) ripe for the picking, and then a lock box for you to just drop in some money.  It's refreshing, and miraculously it works!

30 September 2017

Self Love

A month ago we had our largest event of the year that made 4,000 military service members and their families happy.  It took a lot of long days of planning at work and then stressing at home.  When it came to the actual event, I was so busy checking on every volunteer asking if they needed a break, reminding them to put on sunscreen, and drink water, that I came down with heat exhaustion.  I gracefully puked into a cardboard box in a dugout and sat with bags of ice in my armpits.  Not one of my shining moments.

I also have not run consistently since I moved to Germany 7 months ago, yet I've been losing weight.  Because I've been eating like shit, not because I'm living a healthy lifestyle.

Luckily I have some really good friends who woke my ass up.  You can't take care of anyone else until you take care of you.  I am worth the time it takes to go for a run every day...okay every other day, and eat well balanced, healthy, full meals.

I am privileged to supervise 4 incredibly intelligent, strong, innovative women who selflessly accomplish incredible things for our military families every day. 

One day I overheard a conversation at the front desk talking about jeans fitting too tight, while another echoed wanting to lose some weight.  These amazing women that I respect were hating on themselves.  Right then and there I declared a new rule: no self-hate in the center. 

I had someone tell me this week that the photo of me posted in the center was "horrible," and that I should retake it immediately because I'm an attractive girl and that picture is awful.  I laughed it off, and told him he was an asshole.  I was also told I have a big nose.  I did reply to that one, WHAT?!  I HADN'T NOTICED THAT IN 32 YEARS, THANK GOD YOU HAD THE COURAGE TO TELL ME!!! (insert roll of eyes).

Coming face to face with every insecurity you've whispered to yourself while looking in a mirror being told to you by a man is debilitating.  I felt like shit. 

Then the first very next day I heard a new teammate say something awful about herself, and I immediately jumped into Mama Bear Mode.  Stop that!  We don't self-hate!  We are amazing women!

How could I so easily defend her, and not my own self?

You don't like my picture, then you don't have to look at it.  Does that picture or my appearance in any way affect my ability to do my job?  Hells to the no.

You're not "doing me a favor" by letting me know I can take a better picture.

But I am going to do myself a favor, and love me just a little bit harder.

This big-nosed, slow-running, un-photogenic woman is so much more than just those words, just watch me.


29 August 2017

Moving to a foreign country on your own is no joke

It sounds so adventurous and exciting, moving to Europe!  I'm independent!  I have wanderlust!



Dude, this $&#@ is difficult.

It took 3 months of living out of 8 deteriorating cardboard boxes in an AirBnB to find an apartment, because housing is expensive and Germans don't like to answer inquiries from someone who doesn't speak their language. Fair.

(I swear I wasn't picky.  Although, I did say no to the 3rd floor walk-up featuring a shower in the kitchen.  Just sitting right there next to the stove.  You can multitask and stir your soup while washing your hair!)

It took 2 additional months to get internet once I got into my apartment because when Germans say they will be there between 1200-1830 and my piece of crap car broke down at 1145, so I didn't get there until 1215 and missed them arriving at 1200 promptly, but I didn't realize that until after I wasted an entire afternoon waiting because they put a slip in my mailbox and I didn't check it until 1700, so then they had to reschedule me and couldn't do it until another week later.  Ridiculousness.

I bought a car.  It broke down.  Repeatedly.  This last time the mechanic fixed it he also ran it into a curb, so now I'm in a negotiation over how to get him to replace my bumper.  Uncool.

I bought a stove because one wasn't provided in my apartment.  It was to be delivered today.  Turns out when you buy the cheapest model, it wasn't meant for my type of kitchen setup, and they have to return it and I need to order a more expensive one.  Sucks.

So I plugged in a hot plate I bought at Ikea, and just placed a pan on it.  I got an error message that means it's the wrong type of pan for that surface.  So I can't use any of my pans.  Frustrating.

I've been desperately trying to paint my experience as perfect and beautiful, and it is... sometimes.  I've tried to believe in the Field of Dreams mentality.  "If you build it, they will come."  If I fake it on social media, it really will be.

It really is an inviting, nice, gorgeous, fun country!  I realize that many of my gripes are because of my own choices or mistakes.  They're all things I'm learning along the way.  If I could just get a few less lessons, that'd be great.

I'm having a hardcore 'Under the Tuscan Sun' experience over here.  Not the part with the handsome man, or the fun local characters, but the part with the huge storm, and the house falling apart, and the exasperation at knowing you chose this and you desperately want it to be what you dreamed.  That part.
I feel ya, Diane.




11 December 2016

I don't know Spanish.

“I don’t know Spanish!” I exclaimed to Carly and Sarah in the food court.  I was triumphant.  It was a EUREKA moment!  (like the discovery of electricity, not the trippy tv show from Nickelodeon)

This conclusion stemmed from a story that goes way back, to my first legit job out of college at an accounting firm.  My boss wanted me to put a stack of papers outside our cubicles and instructed me to write, “BASURA” on them.  I asked why.  She replied, “it’s for the cleaning crew.”  I did as instructed.

Seven years later, I see a handwritten note a coworker placed on a stack of boxes, “BASURA.” 

Interesting, I thought, how both the accounting firm in Pittsburgh, and this nonprofit in Washington, DC, have hired the same cleaning company.  Oh, I guess the cleaning company is just national like Molly Maids or something.

For EIGHT years I thought BASURA was the name of a cleaning company.  I had concluded that my boss had me write BASURA on a stack of newspapers to signify to the cleaning company, hey these are for you to throw out.

It wasn’t until I was standing at Chick-fil-A in the mall and tossing a straw wrapper into the trash-can where it clearly was written, “TRASH/BASURA” did it all click.

BASURA means TRASH in Spanish.


Did I mention I have a French minor?

02 November 2016

I miss days like these.


Seeing Teddy come back through KAF this time not wounded
Some of us USO girls were at the DFAC (dining facility) on base when we saw this soldier who was probably 125 pounds soaking wet, all bandaged up, and in obvious pain, with sweatpants on him that were HUGE.  And it was way too hot in August 2011 for sweatpants. We came to call him "Brock Puppy," because he was so sweet and young. We knew we needed to do something for our wounded warriors who were medevac'd (medically evacuated) to KAF and stuck there recuperating until they were deemed fit enough to go back into battle at their FOBs (Forward Operating Bases). So, we stopped by the wounded warrior barracks with blenders to make them smoothies.

The 10th Mountain Crew's "It Was Not Our Time" picture
 including Schuh, Brock Puppy and Teddy
It was incomprehensible to me that their biggest complaints were not the pain they had from shrapnel in their sides or bullet holes in their shoulders, but that they wished they were back with their guys on the FOB.  They missed feeling "useful."  I jokingly said, alright I can put you to work! Come volunteer! They took me up on it, and came by every day to volunteer. During one shift I asked Schuh to change the movie in the movie theater and handed him 2 remotes. He gave me a look of 'this is confusing how am I supposed to work this,' so I gave him an encouraging slap on the arm and said, "you got this!" His eyes turned HUGE as he took a deep breath and said between gritted teeth, "THAT'S THE ARM WITH SHRAPNEL IN IT." I felt so badly! I wounded a wounded warrior! He was fine of course, and they all made it a big joke with putting tape on his arm to warn me which one was his "bad arm." A few days later while working the front desk he worked a piece of the shrapnel out of his arm, and I held it in my hand. It was this tiny piece of metal no bigger than an earring back but as sharp as a razor blade on all sides. I had been in country for already a year at that point, but in that moment it all became very real what was going on outside the wire, far away from my plushy big base. (Schuh would later be awarded USO Volunteer of the Year in 2012).

They were a great help at the center, and a lot of fun to be around. They made me crack up when one of the girls was driving the USO van, and they joked that they survived the fire fight, but now were going to die from bad driving in a minivan.  They volunteered through the pain.  They claimed it helped them to have something to do to take their mind off it.  They were so fantastic that when one of their other friend's was wounded several weeks later, he brought himself to the USO to volunteer.  He'd been told it was the best way to recuperate.  (That was the very sweet, Malm).

After about a month, they returned to their FOBs to get back to duty. We were sad to see them go, but knew that's where they wanted to be. A few months later they came back through our base to return to the states. It was so good to see them happy and healthy and going home!  (See picture above.)

Almost all of them are now out of the Army 5 years later. All of us USO girls are no longer at KAF. I find myself talking with the USO girls about that same concept our wounded warriors mentioned 5 years ago; we miss feeling "useful." It's not that you're not happy with your life or loved ones, or friends, or career even, it's just that feeling of not being instantaneously needed and like what you're doing is bringing about a change in someone's life right that second. It’s something you don’t know that you’re missing until you’ve experienced it.

I remember when I attended a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat weekend many moons ago that I was on a “God high.”  I was ready to run the world.  One of our leaders warned us that while we had changed, the world we would return to after that retreat weekend had not.  If we didn’t temper our enthusiasm, we’d be disappointed in everyone and everything come Monday.


Now multiply that weekend by 21 months, throw in some life-altering experiences, and amplify the danger, stress, and fun by about 1654 percent.  It’s a difficult high to come down from.