Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Fundamentals

I just tried to access my blog via ARM There Yet. I got redirected to a page that I can only assume said "We're sorry, the blog ARM There Yet does not exist. Also...what? That doesn't even make sense" but the page was in German so I'll never know. What I'm trying to say brain is at the end. 

My Rosetta Stone came in the mail yesterday and my main task at work right now is "learning German" so I jumped into the deep end without floaties, because floaties are for wimps. Z and I have had serious talks about this, as we were both competitive swimmers at one point in our lives. Ok well, Z was way more competitive than I was. I did about a year on Swim Atlanta and decided I liked to sleep in instead of wake up for 5am pratice. Z swam in college, so he wins. THE POINT IS...we don't "do" floaties in the Landis household. I have this terrible memory of going to the pool with one of my friends at a very young age and her mom wasn't comfortable with the fact that I was assuring her I knew how to swim, so she slapped some floaties on me. I spent that day standing with my arms stuck out perpendicular from my body, straight as boards, just sort of looking around uncomfortably. We've since lost touch and I think we could probably trace the unraveling of our friendship back to that day.

Bring it back around, Katie. The point is...we don't do floaties...I jumped into Rosetta Stone without the proverbial floaties...and I may have overdone it. Let's just say there are about 5 hours of my day that I feel like have been scrambled into a mess of Deutsch. And I'm sitting here right now trying DESPERATELY to remember how to pronounce the word "girl" in German and it's like...nothing. I can't remember it. I can visualize it, I can spell it...but pronunciation is not happening. 

I think my brain is overheated. It just...stopped working. And I don't blame it. I have a headache and I'm mentally exhausted from trying to force my brain to hold onto these strange words and teach my mouth how to form these strange sounds. It's like my brain is a 4-year-old child that wanted a kitten SO BADLY and finally got that kitten and loved the kitten SO MUCH that it ended up smothering that kitten while trying to hug it so tightly. My brain is trying to hug German and love German and desperately wants German to stay with it, but German is a wiggly kitten and today, my brain smothered it...and now the German is gone. I feel as dejected as if I hugged my new kitten to death. 

Overzealous? Yes, probably. But I'm just so very determined to learn this language. Watch what I DO remember though...are you ready?

Ich habe zwei grüne Äpfel.

I have two green apples.

OR, the variation... Ich habe zwei Äpfel. Sie sind grün.

I have two apples. They are green.

So you can see, at least, that what I AM retaining is the really important stuff needed in day-to-day communication, especially in a business environment. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Whether it's changed your life or not...

Maybe it’s because I’m married to a military man, or maybe it’s because I’m out of the US for this September 11th anniversary, but I felt compelled to write a little bit about this day, to remember what happened, and to honor and acknowledge what has happened in the 11 years since…and also to be honest about my “pre-Zach” thoughts and attitude towards this anniversary and how they have changed.

I wouldn’t say I was a very patriotic person, but that has certainly changed for the better since I met and married Z. I am a little bit sad to admit that, because it just shows that as long as my happy life was left unruffled, I didn’t really think about the people whose lives WERE directly affected by threats to our country, or even what an amazing gift it was to HAVE an unruffled, happy life. I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the lifestyle I freely enjoy. I certainly took it for granted.

For me, September 11, 2001 was a scary day full of shock and fear of what would happen next. I breathed a sigh of relief that the people I knew and loved were safe; I had a heavy heart for those who were not safe, whose lives were ended or changed forever…but that was the extent. On September 12th, I woke up as usual, went to school as usual, came home to a family dinner as usual…nothing in my life had really changed. Yes, flying became more of a hassle with tighter security measures. Yes, I knew we were at war. But my life, my little bubble, remained mostly untouched. Especially as time marched on and we got further and further away from that morning in 2001.

I don’t think my experience is too different from the majority. Maybe it was…maybe you knew someone who lost a loved one in the attacks. Maybe YOU lost someone you loved and today is an especially hard day. I cannot imagine the hurt you have experienced if that is your story. My heart goes out to you.

Today, though, I’m writing from my experience and writing with those in mind that maybe have similar stories to mine…to the people who, consciously or not, admit that their lives were not so different before or after this day eleven year ago. I think that's maybe a hard thing to admit. Maybe it seems callous or invalidating, like September 11th didn't matter that much. I don't think that's how anyone truly feels, but admitting that this day doesn't really affect your day-to-day life very much certainly seems wrong and feels unpatriotic, politically incorrect, insensitive. "Of course it affects my life; no one was unaffected by that day!" seems to be the response that immediately wells up inside when I consider this. So maybe it's hard to admit and much easier to act really proud and patriotic on this one day, saying and doing the right things (and posting the right Facebook status) all for the sake of appearances...while really today is just another day for you, if you're brutally honest. And it's with brutal honesty that I tell you, for me not much had changed after the fact and I was content in that. I was content to see this day on the calendar and march right through it like I would any other day, except maybe posting a quote about "always remembering" on Facebook and Twitter. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, by the way. I LOVE what social media does for days like today...the flags, the pictures, the quotes, the solidarity. But for me, there was no real meaning behind it. It was just "what you did". Once the initial shock and fear wore off, life went on mostly unchanged.
Fast forward 8 years and suddenly my life is not only affected by the consequences of that day, but it’s turned my world upside down. The war in Afghanistan, the one I’d heard about for the last 7 years, the one that I could so easily dismiss before I met Zach, the one that was just another story in the news…that war was suddenly wreaking havoc on my tidy life, overshadowing every minute of every day for an entire year while Z was in Afghanistan. It was personal now. It had faces and names, including a face and name that I cared so much about. It was a patchwork of cut-off phone conversations and blurry, image-delayed Skype sessions and stomach-turning anxiety every time my phone stayed silent after “breaking news” of more fighting, more casualties scrolled across my television screen.  All of this woven into my “normal” routine of work and dinner with friends and weddings and trips to the lake. And I started to “get it”. I started to understand what it meant to be touched by the ripple effect of September 11th.

It’s amazing how quickly your perspective changes when things get personal. It’s easy to take everything for granted when it’s not your life being touched. The effects of that gorgeous fall morning 11 years ago are still being felt so deeply by so many…more people now are held under the weight of this heavy-handed giant today than 11 years ago. But it’s easy to forget that, isn’t it? Because it’s been a long time. And the shock has worn off. It’s harder to notice the quiet, day-to-day things like deployments or war casualties or thousands of cases of post-traumatic stress than it is to react to a city under attack and a mass killing on “our turf”. It’s harder to remember that some of these guys and girls who get sent to Afghanistan to fight were only 7 years old when the planes hit. It’s harder to pay attention to the near-daily stories of soldiers being injured or killed as they continue to fight a war birthed 11 long years ago.

I know that if I hadn’t met and married Zach, I probably wouldn’t think too long and hard about what today means and the sacrifices so many people have made in the years since then. I would probably notice the date and think about how it feels like just yesterday. I would probably have the “where were you?” conversation with coworkers and retell how I was home sick from school that day and how eerie it was to walk downstairs to what I thought was an empty house with the radio turned up and all the lights on. Then I found my mom in the basement watching tv…and she NEVER watched tv during the day. It was all very surreal.

But after that short moment of recall, I would probably go about my day as usual.

What’s different now? I am still going about my day as usual. I am still sitting here remembering what it was like to watch that second plane hit and watch those towers fall. I posted my American flag picture on Facebook with a patriotic quote and I am "liking" all of my friend's statuses and flag pictures. But what’s different now is that I am OVERWHELMED with gratitude for the people who have stepped up and sacrificed their lives, who have spent years away from their families and friends, who have been sent to fight so that we HAVE THE OPTION of living a life “unaffected” by what happened on September 11th. So that we HAVE THE OPTION of posting these flag pictures and feeling pride for our country and our military, even if we only remember to call up those feelings a few times each year. Ever since I met Zach and married the Army him, I look at today very differently.

I don’t really care if you agree or disagree with the war. I don’t really care if you think we have no business being in Afghanistan or if you think America is the greatest country in the world so of course we should be fighting those who threatened us.  You’re free to your opinions. You’re free to note the day on the calendar, feel a twinge of sadness, and run out the door to grab your pumpkin latte from Starbucks without giving it another thought. You’re free to take a day off work because today is just too painful and you can’t bear the thought of walking out into the sunshine and treating today like “just another day” when you know it never will be for you and your family. You’re free to treat today however you want.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? You have that option. And that’s the difference between how I viewed September 11th before I had any personal connection to it, and how I view it now. Now, now that the product of September 11th, the war, is suddenly is a very real part of my life, crouching in the back of my mind constantly whispering “it’s not over… Zach could be sent again”. Now I recognize what today means and the importance of remembering and respecting this anniversary. I now recognize the fact that I live(d) in a country that was viciously attacked yet responded in such a way that my day-to-day life, and the lives of a large number of Americans, didn’t dramatically change. My lifestyle wasn’t in jeopardy, my religion wasn’t banned, my freedom wasn’t taken away. I wish I had the selflessness and wisdom to recognize it earlier…to realize that my carefree life, my option to freely enjoy whatever lifestyle I choose, is not something to be taken lightly or for granted. Everyone had a glimpse of the horror and fear of a life with those freedoms forcibly removed when those planes hit. The implications of being so violently attacked were not lost on anyone. Some lives were acutely and forever changed. Some lives were temporarily shaken but quickly restored to normality. Regardless of whether this day is a glaring reminder of what was lost (whether on the actual day in 2001 or in the years of fighting since then) or is just another day on the calendar, I hope that we can remember to honor those who died that day, those who served that day, and those who have died and served BECAUSE of that day.

I don’t know what it looks like for you, but for me it means hugging Zach extra tight tonight and thanking him for his service. I'll even make his favorite meal. Maybe for you it means taking a minute to reach out to someone you know who lost a loved-one 11 years ago, letting them know that you remember and you share in their pain and that you love and support them. Maybe it means taking a minute at the dinner table to talk to your family about what today means and why it's so important. Maybe it means telling a soldier that you are so proud of them, regardless of where you fall politically. Maybe it means giving a hug to any mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, grandparent or relative that has a family member who has been or is currently deployed to fight the war that started because of September 11thMaybe it means going out with your friends, enjoying some drinks and raising a toast to your friendship and to remembering September 11th together...because you can. (I vote for that option, personally).

And then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go on with your daily life as usual. But this time knowing that you’ve paid the highest respect to everyone who has been affected when you simply remember today, truly and honestly acknowledging all that happened on this morning in 2001 and all that has happened since then
...whether it’s changed your life or not.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A week of wardrobe angst

Last night we went to my first "Army event"; a Hail and Farewell for Z's unit. We (and a handful of others) were being "hailed" and there was one person leaving, hence the "farewell". 

I think I can sum up the entire event in two words: wardrobe angst.

Because we've been married almost a year, Z has learned that the way women plan for things is VERY different from the way men plan for things. I think every married couple experiences this conversation at some point (or many points)

Husband: Hey, we have that thing tomorrow night.

Wife: um...what thing?

Husband: you know...that thing with my coworkers.

Wife: WHAT?! You didn't tell me about THAT THING. It's TOMORROW?! Are you kidding me? 

Husband: Oh, I thought I told you. Yeah, it's tomorrow night.

It's no big deal to a man. Tomorrow night, they'll go to that thing. But for women...TOMORROW NIGHT. WE HAVE TO GO TO THAT THING.

What will we wear?! Who will we talk to?! How can we be expected to mentally prepare for this in less than 24 hours?! And, WHAT WILL WE WEAR!?!?

Or maybe it's not a universal "men and women" thing. Maybe it's just me. But it makes me feel better if I think I'm not alone, so let's just say everyone experiences this.

ANYWAYS, the point is, Z and I have had that experience, but we learn quickly. So this time around, Zach gives me a whole week to prepare. At the beginning of last week he says "hey we've got a Hail and Farewell next Wednesday night". 

Good. Got it. Duly noted. Begin mental preparation. Check calendar; all clear. 

*waits til Z leaves the room*

"Siri, what is a Hail and Farewell?"

*and then, seized with panic*

"Siri, what do you wear to a hail and farewell event?"
"Katie, I didn't find any events about 'do you wear to hail and farewell'"
"Siri, you're useless"
"I don't really like these arbitrary categories."

When did Siri get so touchy? Jeez. (That really happened. She really said that to me.)

Thankfully, I have plenty of military etiquette books and I am really good at googling things without Siri's attitude getting in my way. But nothing I read was helpful. Everything said "refer to the invitation, which will clearly state the required dress for the event". 

Z, who is a champion, had sent me every email he had received about the event and I read them through multiple times...surely this would clear things up. But no. No mention of dress. I knew the event was held at a local I was leaning towards more casual. Yet it was a "work event"...but what does that MEAN in military terms? Business attire? I don't know. These are the burdens of being an Army wife that no one tells you about. There are spoken and unspoken rules and codes for nearly EVERYTHING one invitation with dress-code ambiguity causes much internal suffering. At least it does for me.

Doesn't anyone understand how stressful it is for a woman to not know what to wear to an event?! It's hard enough when you know "category" of dress and have to pick out something suitable! But when you're going in blind, it's awful. Few things are more socially painful than showing up somewhere dressed inappropriately for an event. 

To make matters worse, it's not like I have my BFF Kristen to call up and say "ok, what are you wearing?" (like we have done for EVERY shared event, major or minor, for our entire lives. Wedding shower...what are you wearing? Dinner with friends...what are you wearing? Trip to Target...what are you wearing?) At least then we both would be dressed similarly. But no. I have no one to call; I have no idea what one wears to this. And Z, I'm sorry to say, is not a reliable source because he's not a girl. He would probably shrug it off if he was dressed differently from everyone else. Guys have it so easy.  

To top off my wardrobe anxiety, I don't know these people. It's not like I can show up dressed incorrectly and we can laugh it off. If I show up dressed in jeans and everyone else is in a dress, I want to sink through the floor. Social anxiety, wardrobe anxiety...all for a little 3 hour event. Ridiculous.

Finally, I had to admit defeat and ask Z for help. He graciously agreed to find out from the lady who was helping organize the event. 

Her response? "Business comfortable"

Um. What? That means nothing. In fact, I'm not even really sure it's a real thing.

FINALLY, the day before the event my salvation came in the form of an event reminder email with the glorious line "dress is casual". HALLELUJAH. Well, halfway hallelujah. Does casual mean I can wear jeans? What about shoes...flats or wedges? Zach, what are you wearing? 

I finally decided on an outfit and we get in the car to go. 
"Zach, if we get there and no one else is in jeans, we're leaving."

I was dead serious.

There was a mild moment of panic when we walked in to see some women in dresses and men in coats and ties. But the overwhelming majority had jeans on and I decided we could stay. Whew. One guy even brought his dog, so I'm pretty confident about the jeans decision. 

The best part of the whole night was the announcement that all unit events would be family-friendly and would always be very casual. Sigh of relief. 

Other than the 10 days of wardrobe angst leading up to the evening, it was quite enjoyable. Everyone was really friendly and it was nice to be able to meet the people Z works with on a daily basis. 

Truthfully, though, I'm exhausted. I hope we don't have any other "wardrobe ambiguous" events in the near future. I don't know if I can handle that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fall, Fall, Fall!

Happy September! Happy 11 months of marriage to me and Z! Happy 88th birthday to our sweet Grandma Doane! Happy Fall! Happy football kickoff weekend! Happy Labor Day!

Ahhhh, September. How is it September already?! This year is just galloping along. 

I'm particularly excited about September this year for many reasons...One, it's our first Autumn in Germany and I think it's going to be wonderful. We're already experiencing temperatures in the mid-50s and the air has that nice crisp feeling. Pumpkin muffins are cooling on the stove. Football is on TV (although AFN isn't airing the UGA game and my heart hurts just the slightest bit over that). Our farmer neighbors have a lovely crop of pumpkin and gourds for sale that they've placed at the end of their driveway. As soon as I translate the sign they put out, I'm going to buy a few for a fall centerpiece.

*Side note* As Z and I were checking out the goods, we speculated about what the sign might say. Z suggested it said "leave your money at the door and take your gourds" and I suggested that it said "poisonous darts will be shot at those who fail to pay for gourds". I'll let you know whose translation is closest to the actual sign. (Hint: it's probably mine) 
*End side note*

Fall is one of the most wonderful seasons and I'm really hoping it's prolonged here in Germany so that we don't rush into winter before I'm adequately prepared (impossible). 

The second reason I'm excited about September this year: My parents are coming visit! This is our first set of visitors and a great excuse to finally put up those guest room curtains, finish painting, know...clean. Not that we don't clean. But there's a different level of clean that happens when you're having guests, you know what I'm saying? It's good for the house. Everyone wins. But mostly we're just so excited to see our family and show them around our new life. 

The THIRD reason I'm excited about September this year: I start working on Monday. After 3 months off. Three glorious months. I told Z that I think I'm going to miss being a woman of leisure. I was really getting the hang of it there at the end. 

Mostly, I just love a new season. Not like I need a change of pace or entire life recently has been a change of pace. But there's something so invigorating and, at the same time, comforting about the steady certain arrival of a new season. Remind me of this moment when I write the "I-hate-winter-it's-so-cold-here-I'm-not-gonna-make-it" post that will inevitably happen in a few months. I like to pick and choose which seasons to welcome with an open mind and fresh-faced optimism.

So happy fall, y'all! 

Or, as they say in Germany: _____ Herbst!  

Hang on, let me Google Translate that. I don't know how to say "happy". 

Ok ok. It's "glücklich Herbst". I was 50% there. 

And I don't really know if they say that.