27 April 2011

Happy Birthday to me.

So I turned 26 on April 17.  I’d have to say my best two birthdays were the past two.  I think that says something about my life.  As with New Years, having a birthday makes me reflect on the year that has passed. 

Last year through a discussion with my sister Gretchen, I had an epiphany.  We were talking about people our age being married and having families, and she said, “You know what I wouldn’t want kids right now because I’m having too much fun in life, I wouldn’t be able to go biking for the weekend, or just go on a road trip when I wanted.”  I was shocked to realize I wouldn’t say my life was “fun.”  Most weekends consisted of Law and Order SVU marathons and laundry.  So I decided 25 was going to be different!  I mean what was I waiting for, I had nothing holding me back and if I didn’t love my life who would want to be with or around someone who doesn’t?  Men are not supposed to be some magic anecdote to make life suck less.  I should be able to make my own life awesome!  (Cuz I'm every woman, it's all in me...oooooOOOOoooo, oh Whitney Houston,  you were every woman until you became cracked out)  I wanted my life to be different, more exciting, I wanted to take more chances, and at the same time more wise decisions.  So I made a list. 

  1. Learn to swim
  2. Rock climb
  3. Go ziplining
  4. Pay off my credit card
  5. Read the bible
  6. Get in better shape
  7. Run a 5K
The swimming thing didn’t go so well.  I had a couple lessons with my friend Sara, but the whole moving to the desert thing hampered that (not to mention I can only doggie paddle, my bottom half sinks and I have to hold my nose to go under water).  I started going to the gym and fell in love with Zumba due to a really fun and enthusiastic instructor!  (Thanks Michelle!)  I ran a 5K with my family, which I talked about a couple posts ago.  I also made the wise decision that instead of purchasing a plasma tv with my tax refund, I would buy a bike.  I rode around Huntington and made the occasional ride to work, helping me shape up not only the environment but my wallet and tush too! :)

Emboldened by my list, for my 25th birthday I planned a trip for me and some of my friends to go ziplining at the New River Gorge.  Then Sara and her hubby Heath invited all of us to go to a White Water weekend party and stay at a cabin.  (I love me some hippies!) 

Then I rock climbed for the first time on real rock!  (I had only ever climbed at the wall at the gym before).  It was such a fun weekend!  I’m so grateful for Sara, Heath, Nick and Brian for encouraging me/making me climb.
Gretchen and I looking like major dorks on our bikes
Our zipline tour!

Wahoo!  Chilling on the side of a rock
Running the Pat Tillman 4.2 miler 


I was feeling great and really loving life.  Professionally, I was doing great as well!  I had an awesome boss who respected my ideas and fantastic coworkers that made every Taco Bell Friday and day in between super fun!  (Thank you Brad for letting me torture you for our amusement! Beth, Ella, Amanda, Adam, Patty, Sabrina, Rebecca, I miss you guys so much!)  I also attended a conference and felt emboldened by the discussion.   I came back to work ready to implement some new ideas.  I was feeling refreshed and like I had it all together.  I could have NEVER imagined my next birthday would be spent in Afghanistan! 

Well, we all know what comes next and if you don’t you can find my list of reasoning in the post, Skemp’s Grand Adventure. I chose to come work for the USO in Afghanistan.  I don’t think I would have had the confidence to accomplish it, if I hadn’t taken the “bulls by the horn” and improved my life on my own to begin with.  I know you have to sometimes give to yourself in order to be able to give to others.

silly string removal process
So after an awesome 25th birthday, I’m happy to say 26 was amazing as well!  My coworkers and a couple volunteers took me to TGIFridays for dinner.  After someone told the staff it was my birthday (cough Joan, Erin, Duane cough)  they made me stand on a pedestal in the middle of the restaurant and I was told by 5 Pakistani men to “DANCE LIKE SHAKIRA!” with a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne in my hand while they chanted a Happy Birthday song.  The packed restaurant of military personnel stared on.  It was hilarious!  Sarah York’s mom sent me a homemade cake that was delectable!  My sister Angela sent me a Birthday crown to wear.  My parents sent two packages ahead of time (I had to ravenously rip open one of them the day I got it, but the other I waited until my actual birthday).  Then on my actual birthday I walked into work and my boss silly stringed me!  He also bought me an ice cream cake that was delicious!  My coworker Cindy started some soldiers into singing Happy Birthday in the middle of the center at night.  I looked around and just felt really happy. 

Then my eye started to hurt.   It was like someone taking a dull knife and trying to dig out my eyeball while every light that hit my eye felt like an ice pick right to the ol' cornea.  After contemplating that I had no accessories that could possibly go with a pirate patch, my Major friend insisted upon taking me to the hospital here on base and  I found out I had 3 corneal abrasions in my left eye, and some neovascularization which could eventually lead to blindness.  Woot, happy birthday to me, the day I turn 26 I start falling apart.  It’s alright though, my eye is much better now and it was all my fault to begin with.  Apparently when the Army suggests for you not to wear your contacts out here, they weren't being arbitrary, they had a point.

So 26 has a lot to live up to if it wants to be as awesome as 25, but I’m pretty sure it’s up to the challenge!

26 April 2011


I started reading Where Men Win Glory today by Jon Krakauer.  It is the story of Pat Tillman.  I had heard something about Pat Tillman back when he died, but considering I was in my freshman year of college, I had much more important things to do (like eat Taco Bell in ungodly amounts and procrastinate by talking on AIM with my friends back home until ungodly hours) and grossly ignored it.  Recently I ran Pat's Run, a 4.2 mile race in Pat Tillman’s honor.  This got me interested in his story, so my friend Ryan lent me the book to read.

Pat Tillman Race/Marathon Training Side Note/Update: I was super worried since I hadn't run on anything but a treadmill for 7 months, but Aaron signed me up for the run and then told me he did later, so I had no choice.  But I did well, 36.05 not too shabby for just starting out.  Most importantly it gave me confidence to run more!  It was really cool to run a race past military vehicles driving, and they debriefed us at the beginning that if there was a rocket attack to jump in the nearest ditch.  Well that’s something you normally don’t hear at a race debriefing.  It was also awesome because some units ran, so they were chanting and other soldiers wore their combat boots, or flak jackets!

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time, and every time I say I should, I feel uninspired.  I also haven’t picked up a book in a long time.  Now I’m three chapters into this book, and immediately thought of so many things I wanted to say.  Lighbulb moment!  Reading good books with others' words fuel my own words!

Anyway, when thinking about Pat Tillman’s life the first word that comes to mind is sacrifice.  He sacrificed so many things.  He passed up a $3.6 million deal with the NFL to enlist in the Army.  He ultimately sacrificed his life.  I found this quote the other day and in the Easter season I find it extremely fitting:

Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, Jesus Christ and the American Soldier. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. - Anonymous

Out here I see sacrifices everyday.  Some of them big like troops lying their lives on the line for their friends, some medium sized like an airman having to watch the birth of his child on Skype , and some small like a soldier offering to let someone cut him in line.  I am surrounded so much by their lives, I seem to forget about the sacrifices people have made in my own. 

I was talking to my coworker yesterday about how excited I am getting for my vacation home.  It will be the first time I will visit home in 8 months.  He said, “It will be even harder on them when you leave this time.”  It hadn’t even occurred to me, but I’m sure it’s true.  My family is so amazing that they never mention if they are worried about me, but I’m sure it does take a toll when they see the latest news bulletin about 480 Taliban prisoners escaping in the city I currently live.  My parents have sacrificed so much for me to have a comfortable life, and here I am volunteering to go to a warzone. 

My parents and I at my college graduation
In the 7 months I have been out here my parents have remodeled a bathroom, put siding on the house, a new deck has been installed, and they have painted virtually every room.  I feel like a tool admitting this, but you see until 7 months ago I was still cashing the checks from the bank of Mom and Dad.  They still paid for my car and insurance and the occasional thing I needed along the way.  I can remember my parents talking about wanting to get siding literally years ago, I even recall talk of remodeling the bathroom when I was in third grade!  But, they didn’t.  They made sure we had all we could ever want or need before they thought of themselves.  It’s a selflessness that I know I couldn’t maintain right now.  It makes me think of all my friends that are mothers and fathers with a sense of awe.  They sacrifice.

We had a Wounded Warrior (soldier harmed in the line of duty waiting to get therapy and be sent back out in the field, or go home) who volunteered in the center recently.  He is the same age as me, 26.  He has a wife and three children.  We discussed our lives and how foreign the other one’s life seems.  He talked about the different ideas he had in high school like nursing school, or opening his own chain restaurant, but now he needs to do what is best for his family.  I tried to picture if my life was his, but I couldn’t.  It seemed like this parallel universe that I would have to fall down a magic hole or walk into a mythical wardrobe to enter.  At the ripe old age of 26 I don’t feel like I am mature enough or selfless enough to have children, let alone at 18.  He sacrificed.

When I was in Africa with Natalie she talked about having feelings of guilt.  Guilt that she had so much.  She is living in a mud hut with no running water or electricity and she is feeling guilty?!?!  She sacrifices.

I have heard a quote at some point in my life (probably from a sappy romantic comedy) that it's not a sacrifice; it's love.  That Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock, or whoever it was, was right.  Because when it's love, for your children, spouse, job, country, or ideals, it doesn't seem like a sacrifice to you, it's your life and you wouldn't want it any other way.

11 April 2011

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Goals, dreams, resolutions, aspirations, hopes, desires, wants, wishes, there are so many words for what we want to accomplish, yet so many times we fall short. 

I admit I have fallen victim to the ‘great idea but lack the follow through,’ syndrome.  I think my friends didn’t truly believe I was going to Afghanistan until my ballet flats hit the ground.  Then they knew I followed through, and it was real.  When I lived as a nanny in Raleigh right after college, I had a new idea every day which included, but was not limited to: stewardess, Americorps, living on a Native American reservation out west, Peace Corps, masters in education, and nanny in France.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life lately.  I am more than half way through my time here (if I don’t extend) and what am I going to do next?  It’s a question that I get asked almost every day.  My answer is still I have no idea! 

There is an AMAZING book titled,  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.   I try to read a lot, and it is literally the best book I have read in years!  In it the author, Donald Miller, discusses creating a story for your life.  He talks about his friend whose daughter had a bad boyfriend and was into drugs and Miller responded, “Well sounds like she’s not living a good story.”  The father then realized he needed to provide his daughter with an alternate story.  He came up with the idea to have their family build an orphanage in a poor country.  He researched it and was enthusiastic about it and quickly his daughter was too.  That story became her story and she quickly forgot her old story all on her own.

“People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen.  But joy costs pain.”  - Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

We all have stories to tell and I know my time in Afghanistan is a fun and exciting one.  I just sometimes worry about what comes next in my story.  I was explaining this to one of my soldier friends, Aaron.  I said, What if I go back to the states and I’m boring?  His quick response was, “Who said you’re not boring here?”  Hilarious…and point made.

“I wondered about the story we were writing and wanted even more to write a better story for myself, something that leaves a beautiful feeling even as the credits roll.” - Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years 

After my time in Africa, I decided I want to visit all 7 continents by the time I’m 30.  I’m already more than half way there!  I have North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, just Australia and South America to bust out…oh and then there’s that pesky Antarctica.  That will be difficult.  I loved experiencing the completely different culture and interacting with the people, it was intoxicating!  My mom’s cousin, Bobbi, has visited all 7 continents.  I visited her before I went on my cruise in December with my family and I could not get enough of her stories! 

I also just began Day 2 of my training for a marathon.  Since I have moved to Afghanistan, I work out more than I have in the past 25 years combined.  With not much else for distraction, it’s a nice outlet for stress.  I want to run the Soldier Marathon in November in Fort Benning, Georgia.  Daren’s brother, Miles, would like to get a team together to run in memory of him.  I don’t even know what continent I’ll be on in November, but I want to run this race.  It gives me something proactive to do, some action to take, to honor him. 

The only time I have run a race was a 5K last year with the entire side of my mom’s family.  We were the SWATT Team: Sprinters, Walkers And Trash Talkers.  Although I was none of those, I was more the jog enthusiastically until about ¾ of the way through then feel like you’re going to heave but keep on smiling as you go at a pace that could just pass for jogging but barely more than speed walking (it’s all in the quick deceiving movements of the arms people) and pass the finish line.  And yes, I want to run a marathon, not a 5K, not a half, but a full marathon.  My sister Gretchen also known as my other half, my role model, my everything, ran the Marine Corps Marathon last year.  As was always the motivating factor when I was younger, if she can do it, I can do it!    (She still jokes that the whole reason I came to Afghanistan was just to “out do” her living in Costa Rica).  I even asked her to run with me, and she said she’s in!  So half way across the world we’re going to be training together!
Me and Gretchen before the big race

“The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.”  - Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years