Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 2

Once I decided to go to Greece, it was full speed ahead. It was such an exciting decision and nothing was going to change my mind. I booked my flight, started planning the different cities I'd visit, and connected with hosts on AirBNB and Couchsurfing. Everything was happening quickly! My decision to go came near the end of September, and the trip was planned for early November. I could not wait.

One of the first people I told about my trip was my friend Cleo, in Germany. I visited her in Hannover during the summer I spent in Dublin, and she was incredibly supportive of travel. When I told her I was going to Greece, she even shared some tips with me to make planning easier. During one conversation (after I had all of my Couchsurfing and AirBNB hosts sorted), she stressed the point that I should Skype/write/email with them prior to my stay. We spoke in depth about her experience with the website, the amazing individuals she’d met, and the interesting hosts she'd had. Speaking with them prior to going was a no-brainer. And then Cleo started talking about our past plans to one day visit each other and how she wished she could see me again. And since I’d be in Europe anyway…

I must have snapped. It was a “throw caution to the wind” decision, and before I knew it, Cleo and I were talking about how I could fly into Germany to visit her first. From there, I could take a plane to Greece to continue my travels. It seemed insane. It seemed like an absolute dream. And then she said the magic words that lit a fire somewhere within me: 

“If you’re travelling to Greece to learn your culture, why don’t you do the same in Germany?”

 Cleo was right: this was exactly what I was doing in Greece, so I could absolutely do the same in Germany. After all, my siblings and I had connected with individuals on Facebook who were located in Germany and shared our last name (not a common name, either). I knew who they were: I’d even talked to them a few times and connected with their daughter and nephew. So why not? I sent my relatives in Germany a message while I was still chatting with Cleo. Part of me didn’t expect them to respond, part of me was nervous the moment I even mentioned visiting them, and part of me was oddly relieved when they did respond. I discussed the dates I was thinking of coming, and they were more than open to meeting me. In fact, they offered to let me stay with them if need be. And that was it. The plan was set: I'd go to visit Cleo and my family in Germany, then fly down to Athens and spend a week exploring Greece.
After another month of planning, the day finally came to leave for my trip. A coworker drove me to the airport, surprised that I had one carry-on for two weeks in Europe. After a nightmare of delays in Chicago and Munich, everything happened so quickly. I was in the Hannover airport. Cleo picked me up, and we were off to her little apartment in Braunschweig. 

It felt like a dream to be back in Germany with Cleo. We spent the entire first evening catching up, cozy in her apartment going through photos and showing each other "who's who" from our stories. We stayed up until nearly 3:00am. In the morning, she woke me up with a cup of coffee and had put together a lovely brunch for us in her kitchen. Then we packed up snacks and headed out to her studio. Cleo was studying architecture and had a project to work on, so we spent the afternoon building models and carving shapes out of foam. I was quite proud of myself for making an owl!
That evening, we met some of her friends out on the town for good drinks, snacks, and hookah. We didn't stay out too late as she had class the next morning, but I was exhausted and didn't mind turning in early. 

I woke up the next morning and relaxed over a cup of coffee while deciding what to do with my morning. I went exploring in Braunschweig, and found an Edeka and an Aldi after stopping for more coffee at a little cafe. I had told Cleo I'd have lunch ready when she got home from class, so I bought ingredients to make Greek salads (I may have been mildly excited for the next leg of my journey). It was entertaining to look at the different brands, snacks, teas, etc. at the grocery stores, and I wished I could have brought home a few of their giant advent calendars. They had one full of stuffed bears, several full of chocolate, and even one shaped like a semi-truck full of cans of Coca-Cola!

Cleo was soon home for lunch and we made plans to go to Prenzlauer Park that afternoon. The rest of the day flew by: roaming the park, touching base with my family (who I'd be visiting the next day!), and enjoying the cool, fall weather. 
That evening, we went to one of her friend's (Janni's) apartments for dinner, where we had a blast making vegetable curry. What started as an innocent “friends cooking dinner” quickly turned into a hilarious disaster. After cutting avocado and carrots, Janni handed us packages of chilis and onions to chop. Cleo’s eyes started watering as she sliced the peppers and though it claimed to be waterproof, my mascara was quickly running down my cheeks. The three of us could barely stand to be in the kitchen with the thick essence of onion and chili in the air. Janni even opened a window and let a blast of cold air in to try and diffuse its potency, but it didn’t seem to help. When he tried to close it, it seemed the window was jammed so Cleo stood up to help as well. By that point, we all started laughing, and whether it was just the time of the night or the slight effect of the beer, we couldn’t stop. If anyone had entered the kitchen, they would have certainly had quite the sight to see: three people with tears streaming down their faces, laughing so hard they could barely breathe, Cleo standing on a chair trying to shut the window, Janni with one hand also pushing down on the window, the other stirring the curry, and me with black mascara running down my cheeks, laughing and continuing to chop the vegetables. It was ridiculous chaos. We headed out on the town afterwards, where more friends joined. It was a night to remember.
The next morning, I hugged Cleo good-bye at the bus station and headed off to meet my family. It had been so good to see her, and I was so thankful for the time I got to spend with her during my trip. I knew we'd see each other again, so while it was hard to say good-bye, we were both optimistic it wouldn't be long until we were back together. 

The trip from Braunschweig to my family went much less smoothly than planned. To make a very long story short, I got off the bus at the wrong stop, missed my train, and was over an hour late arriving to the Bahnhof in their town. It was incredible to finally meet them in person. 

I met so many wonderful people in a very short period of time. Jürgen and Elvira picked me up from the train station and greeted me with hugs and "Thank God!"s after my mishap with the train. Maybe I was overthinking things, but I couldn't help but notice certain similarities between Jürgen and members of my family, both in appearance and in mannerisms. There was no doubt we were family! We talked about everything on the drive: my family in Michigan, their family in Germany, the relatives they'd connected with on Facebook, and how my trip was going so far. We stopped at Edeka on the drive to their house to get ingredients for dinner (they were making Blumenkohlgratin - a cheesy cauliflower dish) and were soon pulling into the driveway. I felt like I was dreaming.
Their house was beautiful, nestled on a hill surrounded by other beautiful houses and tons of trees. Once inside, I was welcomed into the kitchen where Elvira prepared coffee and Kekse (delicious little cookies) for us to snack on while we continued talking. Jürgen's father Christian - who lived next door - came over with a family history book, and we were soon poring over the lineage to see if we could find the connecting point. Another distant cousin, joined who was part German, part Hungarian came to visit as well, and I was surprised to learn that he hadn't seen these relatives in months. (Apparently they were excited to see an one of 'the Americans'!) Christian knew that there was a member of the family who had left Germany (and landed in Minnesota, where much of my family lives) to pursue better opportunities, but weren't sure who or when. I was interested to learn that there are more of us in the United States now than in Germany, but was so thankful for the chance to go and visit them. Sitting at a table with 'family' that hasn't been connected in over 100 years is indescribably. But there we were, talking like it had just been yesterday.

I met their kids (my cousins?) and we made awkward introductions. Then we spent the next hour or so discussing politics (they were fascinated with Trump), discussing cultural differences, and even trying my uncle's homemade beer. Rote Erde was a light beer he made right in town it was absolutely delicious (if you ever go to Germany, be sure to try it!). Elvira called her kids into the kitchen and dinner was served. We spent quite some time enjoying the Blumenkohlgratin, further discussing our family history and the city where ‘our family’ began. They were convinced that they would be able to find the proper records somewhere in town and said they would also reach out to my aunt (with the Ancestry account) for any lost information. The time simply flew by. I learned about their experience with American culture (they’d once visited New York and attended a Broadway performance), I heard all about one cousin's apprenticeship in the dairy industry, another's adventures in England with her soccer team, and yet another's time abroad. They asked me about my aunts and uncles, and all sorts of questions about my niece and nephew (whose pictures had been posted on Facebook by my siblings). It felt so exciting and oddly normal to be there with all of them, as if it were just another typical family gathering with my relatives back in the U.S.. No one could have ever guessed that it was the first time we’d ever met. I almost forgot myself!
My train had originally been scheduled to leave at 7:00pm, but Jürgen and Elvira asked if I’d like to  stay a bit longer since our time had already been cut short. After all, we were having such a nice time enjoying great beer, great food, and excellent conversation. They also thought it might be better for them to drive me back to Cleo rather than trust my not-so-phenomenal train station skills. So I stayed until 9:00pm before we decided we should leave, as it was nearly a two hours’ drive to Hannover. Cleo told me she was now visiting her parents there, and since we’d be going to the Hannover airport the next day I should just meet her at their house. My family and I finished our dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and took a few photographs to remember the evening. Then I reluctantly said my ‘goodbye’s and Jürgen and I were back in the car, heading off to Hannover.

We talked a bit on the way, listening to classic American rock music (Jürgen’s favorite). I tried to stay awake to no avail. I was so tired: it had been a very long, very eventful day and the hum of the motor lulled me to sleep. Jürgen woke me up when we arrived at Cleo’s parents’ house and walked with me to the door to meet her. Then he gave me a hug, wished me viel Glück on my upcoming adventure in Greece, and assured me I would see them again.

There wasn't a doubt in my mind that I would.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 1

Imagine being 5,000 miles from home and being stranded. No cash, no credit cards - just you, your passport, and a bag full of clothes. Now imagine you're there and no one can help you. You only have 45 minutes until the only plane ticket you do have (to an island) becomes useless. And you're in a room full of police officers who barely speak English.

Yep, it happened.

My experience in Germany and Greece was obviously not the first time I’d traveled (feel free to check out my other Travel Bug posts). It wasn’t the first time I’d flown internationally, or the first time I’d been in a country where they spoke a foreign language. (Fortunately I did speak a bit of German and got to spend most of my time in Athens speaking in French with my host, but otherwise I knew a grand total of only six words in Greek.) Needless to say, traveling was not a foreign concept to me; I just never expected that I could have such an overwhelming experience. I never thought something like this would happen to me. I thought of making this a two-part blog post: one for Germany and one for Greece. But it just wouldn't do it justice. It was literally the most life-changing trip I have ever taken and I couldn't possibly squeeze it into two posts. So...this is part one of four (my longest Travel Bug series yet). I promise it will be worth the read!

As many of you know, both of my grandfathers passed away in 2016. Papa (on my mom's side) passed in August, and Opa (on my dad's) in December. It was a very difficult period of time. I had never experienced the death of a loved one before, and frankly it was a very hard pill to swallow. So hard, in fact, that when Papa passed away I had a breakdown. Like...sitting on the floor in my bedroom shaking and sobbing. At the time, I felt too ridiculous to call my family. I felt too hysterical to call my friends. All I knew was that Papa was gone and I couldn't wrap my head around it. I pulled out my steamer trunk (containing photos and childhood trinkets) and started going through it. I needed to find something - anything - that would make me feel close to him.
Under a mound of cards was a smaller package my grandparents had given me after a trip they took years earlier. Papa and my step-grandmother had gone to Greece, where his side of the family was originally from, to explore Athens and its history. For years, our family joked about being the stereotypical “big, loud Greeks” as every family gathering included ridiculous amounts of food and conversations that grew continuously louder. No one spoke Greek, but we loved our baklava and Papa had once shown us trinkets brought to the United States by his grandparents when they immigrated. I had always loved learning about it: I was proud to be part Greek.

I opened the small package and pulled out a handmade pouch with the Acropolis stitched into it. A light blue “all-seeing-eye” bracelet was tucked inside. I stared at it, remembering the day they gave it to me. I got light blue, my sister got dark blue. I put the bracelet on and took the pouch into my living room, where my laptop was set up on a table. I took a seat.

Athens Acropolis

Google showed me thousands of results, and I started looking through pictures of the structure taken from all angles. The Acropolis wasn’t the actual columned building as I’d thought: it was the hill on which the building (the Parthenon) was constructed. Interesting. I read more. Apparently there was an Acropolis museum separate from the Parthenon. Inside were busts and trinkets found all over the Acropolis, which was rather frustrating to the people of Greece because it interfered with the integrity of the historical sites. Interesting. I continued reading. In many places in Greece there were different kinds of baklava, not just the pistachio/walnut variety that Papa had always liked. Depending on the geographical area, the dessert varied. Interesting.
Before I knew it, more than four hours had passed. I was glued to my laptop, suddenly determined to learn as much as I possibly could about Greece.

It wasn’t enough.

There were so many small details. There were so many things that I wondered if Papa had seen while he was there: the street markets in Athens, the diversity of the population, the olive groves, the bruised economy, the traditional cuisine, the crystal blue Aegean Sea. Had he walked to the places where Socrates had taught? Had he visited the small orthodox churches? I wanted to ask him. I almost picked up the phone to call him. Greece was so fascinating; I wanted to learn more. I needed to learn more. I wanted to know as much as I could about this amazing country, where my great-great-grandfather had once lived before boarding a boat and sailing to America. My mind was racing. What if I could even go so far as to find out where he had once lived?

I knew that one of my dad’s aunts had done extensive research on his side of the family, and as we were connected on social media I knew she would be open to helping me. It was nearly midnight, but I sent her a message regardless. I was exhilarated when she responded, almost instantly. She shared her login information for a family tree website, and instead of continuing her work on my dad’s side of the family, I started looking up information for mom’s. I knew the name of my great-grandfather and where Papa had lived when he was younger, and spent another few hours poring through the website to see if I could learn more. I didn’t even care that I had to work the next day: coffee could fix that. This was too important and too exciting to stop.
(The Calabria, departed from Koutsouras - source)
And finally, I found it: the photocopied, hand-written register of who had been on the boat all those years ago. My great-great grandfather's name was barely legible. The city of departure was somewhere on the island of Crete. I smiled, leaned back in my chair, and let out a breath of satisfaction. I found it.

Maybe it was being overwhelmed by everything I’d learned in the past few hours of research. Maybe it was the sense of satisfaction from finding the port where my great-great-grandfather’s boat had taken off nearly 200 years earlier. Or maybe it was the fact that it was 3:15 in the morning and I was mentally exhausted. But I was so certain of the decision. Nothing was going to change my mind.

I was going to Greece.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

You Asked, I Answered. Q & A #2!

Good morning friends, and happy Sunday! I hope you enjoyed your extra hour of sleep this morning (I know I did). It's been a lovely but busy weekend of yoga teacher training, writing, checking out a new town, and spending a 'brunch day' with my mom. It feels so good to finally just relax! I posted an Instagram story about a week ago asking if you had any questions for me - on anything: being vegan, travel, blogging, etc. - so this evening I thought I'd take some time to answer. You guys are curious!

1. What do you miss the most from pre-veg days?
This is a no-brainer: Greek food. Before going vegan, I absolutely loved my Greek salads loaded with feta, Baklava (which, if you didn't know contains loads of butter and honey), and Spanikopita (spinach pie). I was vegetarian for years before going vegan this summer, so these were 'ok' since technically they contain no actual meat. I went to Greece in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed having legitimate, 'traditional' versions of these. Plus I was glad that I experienced the true culture of Greece. But now, back in the US, trying to live a plant-based lifestyle? Nope. I've actually been on the hunt for a good vegan Spanikopita recipe so if you happen to have one, please let me know!
2. What do you do?
I'm assuming this means what is my job? I think? My title is "Resource Development Manager", which for those who don't know means that I'm a recruiter. I work at an IT/Engineering staffing company so I spend my days talking to people in the field who are looking for a new job. We hire for different companies across the United States, and I work with everyone from Java Developers to Service Desk Analysts to Business Analysts (if you're looking, let me know!). And yes, I have a cube.

3. You talked about the Navy, did you ever go to MEPS?
YES. I went to MEPS in November of last year. MEPS was not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. I read everything I could find (and watched videos on Youtube) prior to going to MEPS so I would know what to expect. It started by checking into a hotel the night before with 30+ others who were also going to MEPS in the morning. There was a restaurant in the hotel, so we had an amazing dinner provided entirely by the Navy. The next morning, they gave us a wake-up call at 4:30am, followed by an enormous breakfast buffet in the dining area. By 6:00am, we checked out of the hotel, took a bus to the actual MEPS station, and signed in. Then we filled out paperwork and listened while someone stressed the importance of being truthful and not lying in anything we told them, and generally what was expected of us throughout the day. They separated us into groups to go to the different "stations", and the next few hours were spent doing hearing tests, getting blood drawn, doing a urine test (drug test/pregnancy test), and having our vision checked (I failed my depth perception test. I had a muscle surgery in my eye in 2010 and my eyes still can't handle the binocular-style 'where is the ball in relation to the box?' test). I had gotten the necessary documents from my eye doctor, so they were aware of the surgery (100% required if you've had surgeries, guys), but I do think this may have been a reason I didn't get in. If you fail depth perception, you're automatically disqualified from certain jobs like aviation (which was my top choice). After that, we spoke with a counselor who asked us some questions about our backgrounds, and then it was time for the physical exam. I was in a room with 7 other girls, and we had to strip down to our underwear (PS do NOT wear a thong to MEPS!!!). We went into a room where they had us squat, duck-walk, jump, sit on our knees, jump to our feet, lunge, lift our arms over our heads, etc. to check our mobility. Then we went one by one into a room where a doctor and his assistant gave us a very thorough exam (if you've been to the ob/gyn, this is not as intrusive). We got dressed and headed back into the main waiting area, where we met with someone who asked us who our beneficiaries would be, if we had any dependents/spouses, etc. and finally got our fingerprints taken. All in all, I spent about 6 hours at MEPS. And that was it! Phew!

4. When are you getting your tattoo?
For those who don't know, I currently have two tattoos. I have one rose (colored) on my side and two black and white roses on my shoulder. I've talked about getting another one and fully plan to in the next few months (though I have to buy a new car first...priorities...) and have so many ideas. I'd really like to get a Mandala, based on its meaning of wholeness, perfection, balance, and eternity. I would get it just below the roses on my shoulder (coming down my arm) because I do eventually want to have a 1/2 or 3/4 length sleeve. (Crunchy vegan yogi, I know.) I also have to find the time to drive up to the UP to get it, because Solomon's Tattoo Parlour is about as far north as you can go (in Sault Ste Marie, MI). Say what you will, Solomon's is 100% worth the drive and I wouldn't go anywhere else!
(This is what I want, minus the yin-yang symbol in the center)
(And this is the placement-ish of how I want it under my roses)
 5. Do you ever miss living in the UP?
Honestly I miss the people more than the place. And the gym there was far better than the gym at my apartment. But other than that, no. I made some great friends while I lived up north, but I have no plans to ever move back. I do plan to go for a visit, and of course when I drive up to get my tattoo I'll make a stop, but that's it. This girl was not made for the UP.

6. When are you coming back to Germany?
I wish it was soon! I went to Germany last November (post to come!) and visited a friend in Bielefeld, family in Preußisch Oldendorf, and two other friends in Berlin. It was an amazing trip, and of course I want to go back asap! I've been to Germany four times now and am certainly planning to go back. I've actually talked to one of my best friends (who lives in Bavaria) about meeting in Italy next August, so as of now that's the plan. Maybe we'll meet in Bavaria then take a train or drive into Italy...not really sure yet. But there will be travel next year. It's been too long!
7. When did you start working out?
I've always been a pretty active person, but I'd say the real turning point was in 2012 when I got into Insanity. At the time, I was dating someone who went through the two-month Insanity program with his friends, and he talked me into it. We did some of the workouts together, I did some on my own in my dorm room, and somehow I managed to get through the two months. It was a good workout but I didn't like that it was all bodyweight exercises. When I finished the two-month program, I picked two or three videos that I enjoyed the most and did one every other day. In the meantime, I started going to the gym on campus to meet more people. I stopped doing my 'every other day' Insanity in 2014(ish) and only worked out at the gym, now having made friends with a few beefy rugby players and other students who were just really passionate about lifting. They introduced me to other gyms in town, and soon I was into everything from BCAA's and protein shakes to pre-workout and counting macros. I loved it. I actually thought about 'prepping' for a bikini competition at one point, and took weekly progress pictures every week from September 2015 to December 2015. I was kind of surprised (and kind of proud) at what can be done in just four months!
(Awful picture quality, and I was still super tiny, but I had come a long way!)
Obviously, the competition didn't happen (I realized how expensive it was and decided to save up for my post-grad trip instead - read about it here and here). But that period of time helped me fall in love with lifting and focus on building strength rather than just going to the gym to do endless amounts of cardio. I've tried to prioritize the gym ever since and still try to push myself for the simple reason that it's fun. I actually enjoy working out and feeling myself grow stronger. Yoga really took off this past summer, and since getting back into it, I haven't let my foot off the gas in the gym. If anything, yoga has made lifting and working out that much easier.

8. What's your favorite kind of wine?
Gosh, I love that these questions are all over the place! My favorite kind of wine is called "Wolf's Prairie Red" and it comes from a Michigan winery, Domaine Berrien Cellars. I was introduced to it at Michigan By The Bottle, a chain of wine tasting rooms here in southeast Michigan. Its a bold, spicy red that quite frankly smells like a campfire. Think Cabernet meets Witch's Brew meets a Bonfire. I seriously cannot say enough good things about it! It goes well with dark chocolate, roasted veggies (especially fall ones like squash and cauliflower) or even popcorn (doesn't all wine?) I absolutely love it!

9. What made you decide to adopt minimalism?
I'm going to take the easy way out here and redirect you to this post right here.

10. Where are you from?
Despite all the moving around I've done, I'm originally from southeast Michigan. Born and raised, junior high, high school...the early years were all in Michigan. And then I started moving around. I went to school in Minnesota and spent 4.5 years way up in the Fargo-Moorhead area. I spent one summer living just outside Portland, Oregon. I spent another summer living in Dublin, Ireland. And if you've been following my Travel Bug posts, you know I've been to several other European countries as well. I moved back to Michigan for a year after college, then up to the UP, and now I'm back (about 25 miles away from where it all started). Honestly though I'd love to experience life in Texas. Or on the East Coast. Or somewhere like Wisconsin. Or even back in Minnesota, maybe in the Twin Cities. I don't know. Just because I'm from Michigan does not mean I want to stay here forever. As cozy as it is, I wouldn't say I'm 'smitten by the mitten'. Tangents are great, aren't they?
(Yep - that's me, front and center! This is what Midwest children looked like in 1993)

That's all for today, but I hope you've enjoyed getting to know me a little better! I appreciate all of your questions and had a great time answering them. Keep an eye on my Twitter and Instagram for future Q&A's or feel free to drop me a line (contact info here). I'd love to get to know you all better, too! 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Everything Happens for a Reason...Right?

Have you ever looked back on your life and wondered, "Why did that happen?"

A friendship that ended.
A decision that backfired.
A job that came to a screeching halt.
A big mistake.

We're told over and over that, "Everything happens for a reason" or that, "Everything is as it should be". And this is a great, positive mentality to have...most of the time. But do you ever just have one of those days where it all catches up with you and you demand to know, "Why"?
As many of you know, I moved to Michigan's UP in April of 2017. I left a well-paying corporate job, a short commute from my family, and a certain standard of living to go live in a very small town (population 2300). Why? Family friends who I'd known since elementary school were opening a church/coffee shop, and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity. After all, I had worked as a barista for nearly four years and had studied business in college, so when they offered me the role of General Manager of course I said yes. The small town was somewhere my family had vacationed every summer throughout my childhood, so it felt like a 'calling'. And since it was connected with a church, I was so sure there was some 'higher purpose': there had to be. So I put in my notice, packed up my U-haul (which was an adventure in and of itself), and moved to the UP. I was beyond excited.

The summer was a whirlwind: I helped them order (and build) furniture and equipment, went to the coffee supplier to taste-test different blends and choose our coffees, and even started interviewing and hiring employees to train. My family's friends knew nothing about coffee when everything was starting. I created the menus, the recipes, the processes, the order sheets, and organized everything to keep the shop running as efficiently as possible. It was an enormous undertaking, and I felt like my world revolved around the coffee shop. At the time, it was a dream.
At the same time, I got to know the people in town. I made friends with a fellow gym rat, met more friends at a bonfire she took me to, made even more friends at the gym and at the local bars, and yes, started seeing someone. And then another family friend who happened to be my age came to visit, and by some miracle she decided to relocate and work at the coffee shop as well. Everything felt like it was falling into place.

Three months after the coffee shop opened (nearly 7 months after I'd started working there), I was pulled aside and told there was no longer room for me in the budget. I knew the coffee shop had been struggling, but I never thought they would let me go. I was terrified. It literally came out of nowhere. I was so unsure of what to do. I had uprooted my entire life for this and they could no longer fit me in the budget? Couldn't they just de-mote me from General Manager to barista? Had I done something? What did this mean?

I'll be honest: I could elaborate on the transition from General Manager of the coffee shop to being unemployed to miraculously getting my old job back, but I'll maintain professionalism and just say It wasn't easy. I was incredibly thankful that my old company permitted me to work remotely while I finished out my apartment lease and waited on the Navy's decision. I still had my friends, and I still had a relationship. My parents came to visit occasionally, and there was even a surprise birthday party thrown in that made everything seem so wonderful at the time. It wasn't until my lease ran out, I didn't get into the Navy, and I had to move back to southeast Michigan that everything really sank in.
I love my life here, I truly do. I've found a great rhythm with work, I've gotten to know new coworkers who started after I left and have gotten back in touch with old coworkers who never left. I love my apartment and the fact that I'm so close to normal stores, living in a bigger city instead of living in the middle of the woods. And I especially love that I can get to my parents' house in less than an hour. I've started my Yoga Teacher Training and have started to make friends in my new city. I really can't complain: I'm happier than I've been in awhile. 

So I have moments when I look around, living right back in the same 'neck of the woods' as I did before, back at the same job, back to the same routine, and I can't help but wonder, "What was the point?" I haven't talked to the coffee shop owners in nearly a year and my relationship is over. I still talk to a few friends I made up in the UP, but two of them moved to Iowa and another couple is touring the United States in their camper. There are no plans to go back and visit, and a town which once held great memories of vacationing with my family now leaves a sour taste in my mouth when I think about it. I spent nearly 16 months there: nearly a year and a half. So....why?
The truth is, we don't always know. We can't: we are only human, after all.

My mom has been one of those, "Everything happens for a reason" preachers as long as I can remember. (She's emphasized the point whenever I bring up this rant of 'why'?) The truth is, you never know who you left an impact on - or how powerful an impact was left on you. Frankly you may never find out. Looking back on the past year and a half, I know there are people who helped me to grow and evolve. I made some amazing friends and had experiences that taught me valuable life lessons. I wouldn't have the great memories of bonfires, fireworks in the driveway, late nights watching Game of Thrones, Saturday mornings spent tutoring, game nights, getting my second tattoo, touring the Coast Guard's Ice Breaker, Black Friday shopping with wine in to-go cups, afternoons spent at 'the Dunes', the experience of writing an entire novel, or nights visiting the local bars. I'm sure there would be other memories had none of this happened, but I can't imagine things being different. I wouldn't fully appreciate how lucky I am to [now] live in a big city or how nice it is to live closer to family. I wouldn't have learned not to take things for granted.
One of my favorite days, spent at Solomon's Tattoo Parlour 
The Dunes, good friends, and cute pups
I might be in the same spot professionally and geographically as I was before the move, but mentally I know I'm completely different. It has really taken some reflecting to finally understand and accept that, but it is 100% the truth. Relocating, building the coffee shop, training employees, learning ordering/scheduling/inventory/payroll, getting established in a new town, figuring things out when my position was terminated, meeting new friends and navigating relationships, working remotely for the first time....I could have never imagined so much would happen as a result of moving to the UP. I may wonder 'why'? at times, but I know the town, the events, and of course the people there left an immense impact on me. I deal with setbacks differently. I approach new friendships with a new mentality. I appreciate the conveniences of living in a city and the time I do get to spend with family more than I ever have. Regardless of all the frustration, I do believe I needed it (at the time). I needed the place, the lessons, the people. It was a season of my life, but as with any season, it finally has come to an end. Its over. 

And so the next season begins...

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

NaNoWriMo: One Month, 50,000 Words

Happy Halloween! I can't believe we've already reached the end of October, can you? Tomorrow is the first day of November which means the first day of NaNoWriMo! I recently learned about this writing challenge from my friend Miriam Verheyden, and I can't wait to get started. 30 days, 50,000 words. Sounds simple, right?
For those of you that don't know, I'm a little bit passionate about writing. I started writing short stories in elementary school for creative writing assignments, wrote a few very rough drafts for novels by junior high, had my first novel fully drafted in college, and have written a few stories I'd love to publish since. While there are a few things 'in the works', its still a dream of mine to have a book published. One day! So you can understand how excited I am to be starting something new: to be a part of NaNoWriMo! 

The National Novel Writing Month is a non-profit with a great mission: "National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page." (source) Their entire platform is dedicated to helping writers connect, build, and encourage each other and grow their writing skills. Ever since reading Miriam's post on it, I've started seeing others posting about joining on blogs, LinkedIn, etc. too. So this is me, doing my part to spread the word. If you're interested in finally writing something that's been whirling around in your head or just want to test yourself and commit to writing for a month, I would highly recommend you check it out.
I've been brainstorming the past few days about what I'll be writing. The book I'm currently trying to publish is about the trip I took to Germany and Greece a few years ago that absolutely changed my life. However, several trips I've taken have changed my life so maybe I'll decide to fully elaborate on and share one of those. Or maybe it'll be a fictional story. Or maybe it'll be about something completely different that won't even pop into my head until Thursday morning (11/1) when the pressure is on. I have so many ideas, you guys! Regardless of what I finally decide, I've already got my evening cleared, my couch looking cozy, and my favorite tea and wine stocked. It's going to be a lovely start to NaNoWriMo.

I can't say how much this will affect blogging. I'd love to post more often as it is, but when you sit at a desk staring at a computer screen for 8 hours each day, the last thing you want to do is come home and do more of the same. And if I'm going to be writing 1,667 words every day (I did math: 50,000/30), I'm not sure how much time I'll have for blogging. But I've put my nose to the grind before and when it comes to writing, I truly don't mind. Once I get started on an idea, its difficult to stop! I wrote my most recent novel in just over three weeks, burning the midnight oil as I tend to be more creative at night. Hitting the 50,000 word goal is not a concern at all!

NaNoWriMo makes it so easy to stay on track and maintain a sense of accountability. You can win participation badges, meet other writers, share a synopsis of your novel, and even participate in events like webinars and "write-ins". I'm not sponsored by the company in any way (all thoughts/ideas in this post are my own), but I do think its a great initiative to help people finally get writing. I've been in the position before of truly wanting to write, having a great story bottled up inside, and not knowing where to start. It took an entire evening just sitting at my laptop, letting words flow, to learn that the easiest way to get started is to just start writing. Starting tomorrow, I plan to do just that. And I will have an entire community to support me and share ideas with as I go!
If you're interested in joining, its not too late. And it's completely free to join. As they are a nonprofit, they do accept donations to help keep the platform running. You can pay for some of the fancier features, but there is no cost to sign up for a basic profile. Check it all out here:

Let me know if you're joining in, I'd love to connect! Happy writing!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Mental Health Day.

I have been back in the office for nearly two months now, and I have to say, it's going better than expected. I've loved getting back into a routine, spending so much time with my managers and coworkers in person, wearing clothes that had been sitting in my closet for over a year (and of course treating myself to a few new things, too), and just assimilating back into normal society. Morning meetings, office activities, the occasional lunch out...its exactly the change I needed and was hoping for. Of course there are things like traffic and sitting in a cube most of the day that come with working in a corporate position, but overall I'd say I'm pretty happy. I no longer have days when the only people I see are at the gym (if I go), no longer stay in my pajamas until noon, and have so much more energy than I did when I stayed home all day. Life is good.

That being said, yesterday was a Mental Health Day. Now I want to stress that I am not on the verge of a breakdown or feeling completely overwhelmed in any way (or anything that typically comes to mind when someone hears "Mental Health"). I just needed a day outside of this new norm to mentally collect myself and be with my family. Since I moved out of the UP, I've loved seeing them more often. However, the time we have is usually brief (a dinner, an evening outing) or in addition to so many other family members that you can hardly have a full conversation. Most of my family members work during the week, so it really only works to see them on the weekends (which has been cut short by the Yoga Teacher Training I'm currently going through). I don't have any regrets about the training or about working 8-5 every day, but it does make it more difficult to coordinate schedules with everyone. I had originally taken yesterday off of work because I had a dentist appointment, and when it got cancelled I decided to keep the day open. I needed it.

Because I'm programmed to wake up at 6:00am regardless of whether I'm working or not, I started the day with a short-form Ashtanga class at my yoga studio (ahh-ma-zing). Then I swung through Trader Joe's for groceries, stopped into Meijer for a few things TJ's didn't have, and headed home. It certainly felt weird to drive on the main roads without traffic, and then to come home at 10:00am (on a Thursday) just felt completely off. I watched a few Youtube videos, did my home practice of Yoga with Adriene (I'm going through her 'Revolution' series if you follow her), and admittedly did do some work from home. I spent some time writing, made lunch (zucchini, jack fruit, tofu), and headed out. My parents live roughly 45 minutes from my apartment, and I was going to stop at their house to drop off my car before walking over to my sister's (who lives in the same neighborhood) to babysit my niece. Then the plan was to walk back to my parents', help my dad finish fixing my car, and head home. 
Two years ago, I was on my way to work one day when I was caught in an accident. I say "caught" because I was one of six cars involved, sideswiped and pinned to the curb by the car who caused it. Other cars were totaled, and I was lucky enough to come away with only dented passenger-side doors. Granted, they were quite badly dented to the point where it would've been $4000+ to repair, but not so badly that I couldn't drive my car. And so, as any recent college grad would do, I left them the way they were. So for the past two years, I have been driving around in Little Blue looking like this:
Earlier this summer, I got a very excited phone call from my brother (who loves to fix up old cars). He had been to the junk yard one day and found new doors for my car: exactly the same make, model, color, interior, etc. as Little Blue. Before I had time to respond, he sent me a picture of his purchase. My parents went to visit him in August (he lives in Missouri), and returned with my doors. They've been sitting in my parents' driveway for the past month or two, and finally they were going to be attached. It was an exciting day for everyone.
I got "home" around 2:30, when my dad said we could start putting the doors on. I didn't have to be to my sister's until 3:30, so I figured we could get a good start. He'd taken a half day at work to help me (bless him), and hadn't returned from his bike ride by the time I got there. So I hung out with Coco - the cutie below - while drinking coffee and playing the piano. This house will always feel like home.
Big backyard, big garden, and half a deck (we had a pool when I was growing up)
At 3:30, he still wasn't back so I ran to my sister's house to watch my niece. She teaches piano lessons so I was just helping out by entertaining the two-year-old cutie during a lesson. We watched Minnie Mouse, played with magnetic dolls, and I even got to see her prance around in her Minnie shoes that Nana got her for her birthday. It was a very fun afternoon, and it was good to chat with my sister for awhile after the lesson. It's not often that she and I get to have 1:1 time, so I was thankful she didn't have back-to-back lessons. We just sat on the floor talking, entertaining my niece, and catching up. It was a much needed visit.

I was back to my parents' by 5:00, by which time my dad had taken the doors of my car apart and sprawled the guts all over the driveway. I was actually surprised how un-complicated the inner workings of a door are (until of course we realized the speaker on one of the new doors had been poorly replaced, and an episode of wire cutting and twisting ensued to get the one from the old doors installed). It was chilly out, but holding a heavy(ish) door steady while my dad unbolted it or bolted it back onto the car was a decent enough workout to keep me warm. We figured everything out, worked until it got dark, and I even learned about some of his early 20's escapades. There's really nothing like "working on a car" and listening to your dad tell stories from his childhood while having a few beers. It was an a wonderful evening. We eventually got everything twisted, popped, and bolted back into place, and my car was finally fixed. I didn't even notice until I left that the new doors had tinted windows (the rest of my car does not), but those are fixable too. And Little Blue is finally dent-free!
 Love this guy :)
Taking care of yourself does not require some kind of mental/physical/emotional crash to be justified. I've heard far too many stories (and lived through some myself) of people pushing themselves so hard they simply break. I actually spoke with one of my friends recently who works afternoons and she completely broke down on the phone. Work wasn't stressful, it was just taking so much time away from her family time, from taking care of herself, and making time for things she actually enjoys. Her exact words were, "I feel like I'm on a treadmill and I can't turn it off." It hit home with me, knowing that I've been there in the past, never giving myself the time I needed because I thought working hard always came first. Working hard is important, of course, but I think its equally important to take care of yourself. Maybe for some its just a latte on the way to work one day or taking a walk during lunch. It could be meeting up with an old friend, going to a yoga class or working out, or even taking a trip over a long weekend. For me, it was spending a day catching up on things, writing, and spending much-needed time with my family. I felt so restored at the end of the day; ready to tackle my Friday and head into what will be a very busy weekend. 

Please don't take Mental Health lightly. I don't think I can stress that enough. I know some people don't have the liberty to take an entire day for themselves, whether it be lack of PTO or chasing after kids or any other commitments, but try to at least give yourself a few hours if you can. It could even be half an hour. If you find yourself needing this time, it does not mean you're weak in any way. On the contrary, it takes a mentally strong person to admit they need that time, and then actually act on it. Burnout is real: whether its feeling sluggish and uninspired, feeling distanced from family, or completely hitting rock bottom. Take the time you need to be your best self and be kind to your body, your heart, and your mind. Talk to a friend or family member. Write it out. Whatever you might need, just give yourself the time you need without feeling guilty. You deserve it, and It truly makes a world of difference!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Travel Bug: My Post-Grad Trip (Part 2, Austria)

Sitting on the train heading from Kristina's little town in Bavaria to Munich was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. Not only was it the first time I'd taken a train by myself, but it was also the first time I'd ever had to navigate a train station without any help. I had roughly 15 minutes from the time I arrived in Munich until the time my train for Salzburg would be leaving, and after my and Kristina's escapade missing our train in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I felt sure I was going to fail. The train pulled in, I hopped off, and was instantly swept up into the crowd. The train station was enormous, and for an American who had never needed to navigate a Hauptbahnhof before, it was mildly overwhelming. 
I found someone near what I thought was my platform and asked in my very best German if he could help me. He responded without blinking an eye (also in German) and I was surprised to understand everything he said (so thankful for those three years of German in high school!). My train was the next platform over, and I was boarding in no time. It was a bit difficult to find a seat (apparently you can 'reserve' seats, which I had failed to do), but a young woman scooted over and let me sit with her for the duration. I sat down and got comfortable. Just a few hours until I'm in Austria!

After a nap, the train came to a stop and I was soon navigating the Salzburg Bahnhof to find Theresa. We had agreed to meet out front, and I made my way quickly through the station. There she was, standing by the doors, and we both smiled as we saw each other. I was overcome with the same rush of familiarity I'd had when I first saw Kristina at the airport: we were old friends, not separated by thousands of miles, and were going to have a great time together. We hugged, we started chatting, she helped me buy a bus ticket, and we headed out. 

That first evening in Salzburg was a blur. Theresa and I took the bus from the Bahnhof to her apartment, where we sat for awhile catching up (as old friends do), drinking tea, and discussing our plans for the week. It was already fairly late in the day, so we decided to do a quick walking tour of Salzburg and re-visit places of interest the next day. There was snow and slush on the ground as we powered through the streets, but my head was buzzing with excitement and my heart was warm. Salzburg was beautiful.
She pointed out certain castles and other historical buildings here and there, went into detail of their history, and even pointed out Mozart's Geburtshaus - that is, the place where Mozart was born. I was amazed with the amount of store fronts that were just dripping in Mozart-themed goods: chocolates, dolls, music boxes, ornaments, and even painted eggs. I knew he had come from Salzburg but I definitely was not aware of their pride in him!
Because it was already nearly two weeks after Christmas, the Christkindlmarkt was already packed up and finished for the year. However, as Theresa and I walked around there were still a few small stands selling the large cookies, Christmas knick-knacks, and homemade goods. We also found a Starbucks, so naturally I bought my 'Salzburg' You Are Here mug and was thrilled to have found it so easily. Then we continued walking, and came across a stall selling Gluhwein. As we were both chilled to the bone it sounded (and smelled) like a great idea.
I slept like a rock that night. It took awhile to register that I was actually in Austria and it wasn't just a dream. Yes, I had just graduated college. Yes, I had just spent an entire week in Germany with Kristina. Yes, I was actually in Theresa's apartment, and the next few days would be spent exploring Austria. It was such an amazing feeling, especially after working so much and so hard during the semester to get there. There's a quote, "Dreams don't work if you don't." and I couldn't have agreed more as I fell asleep that night.

The next day, we had a change of plans as we decided to visit Theresa's parents instead of exploring Salzburg. There was a huge Skispring event going on in Bischofshofen, and she wanted to take me to see what it was all about. We'd spend a few days there before coming back to Salzburg, and could explore the city then. I was excited to see yet another city!

A train took us south into the little mountain town of Goldegg, where we'd spend the next two or three days. We drank tea with her parents, I got to try homemade Gemüseschnitzel (basically battered and fried vegetables), I learned a great deal about Krampus, and we marveled at how cute Jon Bon Jovi was, and still is (she had a calendar of him in her bedroom). The night before the Skispring event, we met some of Theresa's friends to go to a giant celebration that was happening in Bischofshofen. It was a sort of 'amp up' to get everyone excited for the next day, when the Ski jumpers from every country would be sailing down the mountain. I found the sport extremely entertaining: basically people used the shape of their body and the skis to sail like flying squirrels down the slope, and where they landed determined their score. At the event the next day, they didn't even look human when we saw them in person. It was just incredible!
Admittedly, we didn't stay very long at the event because it was freezing (people were standing on cardboard boxes to keep their feet warm!), but I was so glad we got to experience it. We came home exhausted, frozen, and slightly buzzed, but it was well worth it.

We had finally thawed by the next morning, but it was time to bundle up and head out again. Theresa wanted to take me to a ski lodge in the Alps that she had visited several times throughout her childhood. From what she described, it sounded beautiful. And I was willing to go check it out, given we dressed a bit warmer than the day before. Fortunately, Austrians keep plenty of warm 'snow clothes' on hand, so we were soon bundled up and ready to enjoy our day in the mountains.
 Much, much better and ready for the Alps!
 We found a little restaurant at the top of the ski lift
 This was a trip full of carbs & coffee
The view was absolutely incredible. I was taken back to New Year's Eve when I was on top of the mountain with Kristina, feeling like I was on cloud 9 and on top of the world. There was nothing remotely close to that view in my home state of Michigan, and it just gave me a new appreciation for how big the world is and how small we truly are. The mountains seemed to go down forever, and off in every direction as far as the eye could see. I had no desire to go down on skis of course, but soaking it all in from the top was breathtaking.
The rest of the day was spent preparing to head back to Salzburg. I was so thankful we'd had a change of plans and came to Goldegg: it was a much more culturally intense (and far less touristy) way to experience Austria. I also felt like I got to know Theresa better, meeting her family, her friends, and her boyfriend, which might not have happened had we stayed in Salzburg. And of course the Skispring party and event in Bischofshofen were pretty fun, too.

Over the next few days, we thoroughly enjoyed our time together in Salzburg. We walked over the "love lock bridge" (similar to the one in Paris), went to a Kid's Museum (because you're never too old!), and on the last evening, we met a good friend of hers to go wine tasting. Matthias, Theresa, and I walked to three or four wine bars, trying whites and reds and all kinds of bread, olives, and charcuterie. It was such a lovely evening, and the best way I could have thought to end my trip to Austria.
 This was just one part of an entire room of trains!
The next morning, Theresa drove me to the airport in Munich. The week in Austria had gone by far too quickly, and we were both tearing up when it came time to say good-bye. It had been such a wonderful, enjoyable, and yes - freezing - week, but I was so glad it had worked out to see her. Coming back to the United States, I had no idea when I might see her again. I had no idea when I might see Kristina again. Or Matthias. Or anyone else that I had met during my time in Europe. But I still consider them to be close friends, no matter how far apart we are or how much time passes between visits.

Having friends around the world isn't easy. But I think they can be some of the closest friends you'll ever make. When you meet someone in another country, your friendship becomes more than just the standard "we have xyz in common, and we live somewhat close and can hang out often." Its a finding of common ground of course, plus a cultural exchange. And then there's a commitment that transcends thousands of miles. Of course letters and social media make it somewhat easier, but there's still a bond that's hard to explain, and is hard to find anywhere else.

I'm so thankful I had the chance to take this post-grad trip. All of the hours at Target, at my computer finishing my internship, working on homework between customers or all paid off in the end. This trip added a new appreciation for travel, and the friendships that can be made along the way. I had only spent time in the office with Kristina and Theresa in Dublin, and here we were a year later exploring their hometowns and feeling like old friends. And once again, I had a feeling I'd be back. I just knew it. And I couldn't wait for whenever and wherever that might be.

The Travel Bug: Finding My Roots, Part 2

Once I decided to go to Greece, it was full speed ahead. It was such an exciting decision and nothing was going to change my mind. I book...