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.

31 January 2016

How to fake being an adult

Cook and serve a delicious meal.
If you got that, you look like you have it ALLLLLLL together.

Want to impress a potential love interest?
"Let me just whip up some pan-seared steak with roasted butternut squash and green beans almondine.  It's nothing.  I do this all the time."

Want to impress your colleagues?
"Oh, for lunch I'm just having some leftover chicken paillard with roasted parmesan-crusted asparagus and smashed potatoes that I made yesterday."

Want to impress your parents who know that your "fancy dinner" used to be a microwaved chicken patty on top of spaghetti that you generously called, Chicken Parmesan?
"Gotta go mom, my pork dan dan noodles with watermelon radish and garlic-lime peanuts is almost ready."

Yeah.  You sound like a legit adult.

Place those meals on some breakable plates you got from your roommate's relative and pair it with boxed wine in a glass you got free from a tasting, and it's full blown successful adulting.

For added fun when discussing a delicious meal you get to use words you have to google to pronounce, with ingredients you have never heard of before.  "Well when the farro was ready, I tossed it in the shallot citronette."


The Set Up
  • I tried Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh.
  • I bought the plan that had 3 meals a week for 2 people. 
The Pricing
  • Blue Apron - $59.94
  • Plated -$72
  • Hello Fresh $69
Blue Apron was in the lead for the pure price alone.  Plated, get over yourself.  BUT, if you refer a friend to Hello Fresh they get $40 and you get $20 off your next order.  So.....CHA -CHING.
The most adorable hot sauce ever!

The Delivery
  • I'm a fan of Happy Hour, so I appreciate that Hello Fresh' delivery stayed cold until 9 pm.  My parents' Blue Apron showed up warm, and they called them and got a new free box of 3 meals with minimal hassle.
  • Out of the gate, I like Hello Fresh' delivery style.  Each meal is in its own separate box, so it's easy to just stack the 3 boxes and remove from the fridge when ready instead of throwing bags of different veggies and meats into the fridge only to then have to dig through days later to find all the necessary ingredients for your meal.  (Yes, I'm THAT lazy that this step matters.)  
The Ingredients
  • EVERY. SINGLE. RECIPE. of Plated had at least one onion in it.  I despise onions.
  • Ingredients I was pumped to use for the first time ever: endives, tarragon, cavatelli pasta, watermelon radish, and farro
  • I haven't cooked any raw meat other than chicken or ground beef in my life.  I enjoyed learning how to cook mouth watering shrimp and steak!
The Directions
  • Blue Apron requires an additional set of hands and preferably a culinary degree.  The directions are so complicated, and you're supposed to be simultaneously sautéing, boiling, and chopping.  It took FOR-EV-ER.  I actually had to reheat the meat because my sides weren't ready yet.  Then there's the extra 30 minutes you need to budget for washing every pan, mixing bowl, cutting board, sharp knife and large spoon you own.
  • Plated and Hello Fresh directions tell you what pans, bowls, etc. you'll need.
  • Hello Fresh created the least amount of dishes.
My presentation was on point!
The Deliciousness
  • Blue Apron dishes were delicious, and were meals I would NEVER have cooked on my own.  There was enough for leftovers as well.
  • Plated was fine, but nothing exceptional, and smallest serving size by far.
  • I have dreams about Hello Fresh' Shrimp Po Boys with Remoulade and Creole Wedge Salad and Ginger Marinated Steak Wraps with Pickled Cucumber, Carrot and Jasmine Rice.  I'm salivating right now.
The Winner

  • Coming in the middle for price, but the top place for ease of actual cooking, deliciousness of entree and amount of leftovers for lunch the next day, IT'S HELLO FRESH!
So if you would like to fake being an adult with ease just like me, use my code and get $40 off your first Hello Fresh box.



28 June 2015

Sometimes you need a reminder...

Lately, I haven't been feeling it.  "It" being that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping others.  I wasn't feeling invigorated.  Every day I used to work in a center in Afghanistan.  I'd greet more than 500 Airmen, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Coasties during my shift.  Now, I work at headquarters in a big office building in a suburb of DC.  The passion of my colleagues for our mission is still very much apparent, but the direct connection to our troops is what I've really started to miss.

Then today I went to the Warrior Games.

The Warrior Games were created in 2010 as a sporting competition featuring more than 200 athletes who are wounded service members and veterans from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces.


"Sitting Volleyball"
I volunteered to help give out snacks and drinks outside the sitting volleyball game.  First, let me say that "sitting" volleyball is a bit of a misnomer.  I watched about 10 minutes of a match, and even though the athletes were positioned on the floor, they slid, and dove, and jumped from their seated positions, constantly.  It was Army vs. Air Force in the gold medal game.  Army fans were doing the wave led by an enthusiastic Sergeant.  Air Force was on the other side of the gym chanting right back.  Service dogs were seated next to their humans, and children were slamming noise makers together.  (We were handing them out; we have no one to blame but ourselves. :))


Me and Adam, former USO Kandahar Volunteer

While watching the game I noticed a familiar face, although I couldn't recall his name I knew he was one of mine.  One of my volunteers from USO Kandahar!  I tapped him on the shoulder and politely asked if he was a volunteer at KAF (Kandahar Air Field) to which he immediately replied, "YEAH!  And you were my volunteer person!"  I re-introduced myself, and he said he'd stop by the snack bar later.  I returned to my post at the snack bar, and felt like something seemed off that he was wearing an Army shirt.  Sure enough, later on when he stopped by I asked him what branch he was in, and he was Navy!  Currently though, he's a civilian working with the Army.  It was great to see someone you know from the other side of the world!

A while later, a young man came up to grab a drink.  I recognized him immediately.  He was the first wounded warrior I ever met at KAF.  He had wandered into our center and wanted to play Playstation.  I had told him I needed his CAC (Common Access Card, aka military ID).  He said he didn't have one to which I replied that he had to have one to use the station. He replied, well they took mine for evidence when I got blown up.  

Wow.

Okay.  Ummm here's a playstation, you have no time limit, just go for it.  I felt like a fool.  Here I am giving him a hard time, when he literally had just survived a bomb the day before.  Talk about a humbling experience.  After talking to him some more he told me he had a concussion and possible TBI (traumatic brain injury) from an IED.  He came by the center often while he was "stuck" on KAF awaiting to be given the okay to head back out to his FOB (forward operating base).  

We had quite a few wounded warriors come through USO Kandahar while I was there.  They would get medevac'd (medical evacuation, often by pararescue jumpers on a Blackhawk helicopter) to KAF because we had the best medical facilities in country besides Bagram.  Then they'd stay until they were well enough to go back to battle, or sent to Landstuhl in Germany for more medical attention.  During the waiting period all they talked about was getting back out there, missing their guys, and how bored they were.  Some of the bravest men I've ever met still had shrapnel in their sides, yet were volunteering at the USO because they were itching to get back to helping their fellow soldiers.

Anyway, so back to today.  I recognized this soldier.  I said, "Excuse me, where you in Kandahar?"  He said yeah, then looked up, pointed at me and exclaimed,"2010, USO!"  I told him I remembered him.  With a big ol' grin he grabbed his Gatorade and walked off on his prosthetic.  

With some water in my eyes, I felt grateful.  I was grateful that I had the opportunity to boost his spirits after his first injury.  I sincerely hoped someone else was there after that one.

With a USO center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and one at Bethesda where Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is located,  I have a hope, a feeling, an almost assurance, that someone was.

That was the reminder I needed.  Although I may not be the someone handing out the Playstation controller this time, I can be the someone in an office building who supports the someones who do.