Friday, November 30, 2012

Serious snow

So, it snowed again. But this time FOR REAL. 

Last time was definitely real snow, don't get me wrong. It was real enough to win the bet.

But this time it's serious snow. Like 5 inches in one day and continuing for the next three days, bring out the snow plows, salt the roads SNOW.

Z and I don't have much experience with serious snow. This was most evident when Z walks in last night and announces he's going to be outside for a while. But why, you just got home? Well, turns out when he parked his car in the driveway and got out to open the garage door, his car slid right back down into the street. Don't be alarmed, there's no real danger since we live way out in the country. Not much traffic on our little road. Also turns out we didn't have a snow shovel yet. So I'm pretty sure Z cleared the snow from our driveway with his windshield ice scraper. I don't know exactly what went on, I just know he was gone for a long time and when he finally came in he said "well, my car's in the garage. I had to get out on the passenger side, but it's in there". So in the fight between Z and the icy driveway, I'm not really sure who won. I am sure Z will be home with salt and a shovel tonight though.

I managed to slingshot my car into the driveway with enough speed/force so as to avoid the most treacherous patches of ice, so I'm ok for now. I still go check every so often to make sure my car is in the driveway though. So far so good. The BMW is made for this, right?

ALSO, turns out you need to plan extra time to get to your destination because when you leave the house, you WILL have to clear your car of snow. Even if you just did it a few hours before. Snow accumulates awful fast.

Living in place that knows how to handle snow is also a very new experience for me. I was awakened at 5:30 am by the sound of snow plows zipping around, clearing the roads for the morning commute. Life goes on as normal when it snows here. The grocery store remains fully stocked, schools and businesses stay's life as usual, just covered with powdered sugar.

But the upside, Oh the upside! It is BEAUTIFUL. Take-your-breath-away, am-I-in-a-movie-right-now? beautiful. I went to lunch with a friend (A FRIEND!!) today and had to park a few blocks away from the restaurant. We were meeting in this adorable little German town about 15 minutes away and as I'm walking to the restaurant I was just overwhelmed. Here I am, living in Germany, walking through a picturesque, snow-covered town, listening to the church bells toll noon, snow falling quietly around was so unreal. And I can hardly stop myself from pulling over on the side of the road every few miles to take pictures of the snowy scene, but that wouldn't be safe. I wish I could though...maybe this weekend Z and I will take a walk and I'll bring the camera along, because you guys have to see this. 

To give you an idea: have you seen the movie The Holiday? You know the scene where Cameron Diaz's character is hauling her luggage down the snowy lane and it pans out to show the country landscape before she gets to the house? Yes...that. THAT is what it looks like here. I kid you not. And when she goes into the town to grocery shop..yes. This is my life. I'm living in those scenes from the movie. 

Z LOVES the snow. He is so happy about it and his enthusiasm is contagious. I think I'm willing to forgive winter for being so horrible if it continues to snow like this, because the beauty just outweighs the negative aspects. Plus, huge bonus, the white snow reflects light so well that it's brighter around here than it has been in WEEKS. This is wonderful news. Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving in Morocco

Strap in you guys, this is going to be a long post. If you need to take a coffee or Cheerios break, please do. I know I did.

We just got home from Morocco and one of the first things I wanted to do was sit down to write about our experience because the need to get these thoughts “on paper” is overwhelming. Not as overwhelming as the need to start the laundry or take a shower or very carefully inspect the suspicious bites I have on the back of my right arm (do not google bedbug bites, do not google bedbug bites), but still. I spent most of our hours of travel today mentally turning over of the details of this past week and I’m just not sure how to relate them in a way that does justice to our Moroccan experience. But I’ll try. Also, the pictures I’m including are about a tenth of the pictures we actually took. Trying to decide which ones to post here was quite the endeavor.

Our hotel rooftop terrace
Back in June I came across a livingsocial deal to Morocco and sent it to Z to look over. We decided early on that we’d take advantage of our time in Germany by doing as much travel as possible, and this trip certainly fit the bill. We booked the trip for Thanksgiving week for a few reasons. One, we knew Z would have time off for the holiday. Two, we knew it would be freezing cold in Germany at that point and we knew Morocco would most likely be warm and sunny. Oh, how right we were. It was 70 and sunny the entire time we were there. In fact, I spent one whole day laying in the sun, soaking up 
the warmth and vitamin D and reading a good book. It was perfection.  ANYWAYS, also, it was a nice way to spend our first holiday away from our families…while I still had some pangs of sadness over being so far away, I was easily distracted and  it was hard not to enjoy the day when you’re vacationing in an exotic, foreign country.

Door to our room
I’m not quite sure how to describe Marrakech, where we stayed, except to say that it was an assault on the senses. Our hotel (called a riad based on its size and style) was located inside the Old City wall and when we pulled up to the front door we really weren’t sure what to expect. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, that’s for sure. But the inside was truly impressive. It was so stylish and so very Moroccan. The best part was the amazing rooftop terrace where we had our breakfast every morning (and usually alone, the other guests always ate downstairs and who knows why, but that was fine by me).  On the terrace you got the best sun during the day and it was surprisingly quiet for its location, save for the the wailing call to prayer echoing over the city like a haunting siren from the mosque minarets. Everything about it was beautiful.

My sunny spot for the day

Crowded street
One of the mosques
We set out to explore the Old City and oh my gosh, you guys…OVERWHELMING. I’ll include pictures in hopes that they will give you a better glimpse into the city than my words could. It was harmonized chaos and very stressful. There were people EVERYWHERE…walking, on bikes, on motorbikes, on donkeys, riding mule carts, in horse carriages. I am amazed that we didn’t see multiple collisions and accidents…we did, in fact, see the aftermath of one traumatic accident that left a child quite bloody…but otherwise it seemed as if everyone adjusted their courses at the exact second to avoid catastrophe. How they all managed to do this was beyond me. I was the unfortunate victim of a donkey cart collision…although my injuries are only emotional. I was so sure I was going to find a huge bruise on my hip where the cart hit me, but alas. No proof. It was actually very scary to be hit and pushed into  a wall of people, but helpful hands pulled me out of harms way and I’m no worse for the wear…although I remain very wary of all donkey carts and hugged the inside track of every street from there on out.

Courtyard we stumbled upon, tucked away off a side street
So we’re in this city, being pushed and pulled and prodded along and trying to take in the souks and markets and squares…there was SO much to see and so many smells and so many people yelling at you. We stood out BIG TIME as tourists (no head cover, short hair, I’m like the epitome of “not Muslim”) and the Moroccans and Berbers were SO pushy.  Everyone wants to show you where to go, everyone wants you to come follow them, everyone wants you to look at their booth or buy their goods or eat at their restaurant. And they all want money. It was nerve-wracking trying to take pictures because you never knew who would yell at you and demand money for you taking a picture of something they laid claim to. I resorted to taking stealthy pictures with my camera by my side, so some pictures didn’t quite come out. Oh well, it was easier that way. You basically had to be very rude or VERY firm. OR speak German. Most of the people spoke Arabic, French, and English, but very few spoke German. So we just threw some German sentences out and usually people would walk away after hearing that. Phew.
Spices, etc. in the market
A typical market alley
I resorted to simply ignoring whoever approached us, and even then, this was sometimes not effective. We were walking by a man with a monkey in the market and before we knew it, he had thrust his monkey on Zach’s shoulder and was yelling at me to take a picture. It was traumatic for both Z and the monkey I think. I mean, what do you do in that situation? You've just had a monkey thrown on you. I don’t know what the protocol is, but Z managed to remove said monkey and on we walked…a little stunned, mostly amused.
HOW do they stack the spices like that?!

The square at night

For our cooking lesson, we went to the market and watched as our chicken was selected and killed...freshest chicken I've ever had!

One of my favorite moments was when we decided to spend a few dirham to take pictures of the snake charmers, because really…when do you see that? So we approach these snake charmers and before we know it, they’ve draped a snake (harmless garden snake, SO THEY SAID) around Z’s neck—he was not thrilled and I don’t blame him—and they have my camera and are snapping pictures like crazy. I really just wanted one, maybe two, pictures of a cobra but we got way more than that. After all of this, the man demands 300 dirham…which is like 27 euro…or about $35. Z is the best and firmly tells them they can have 40 dirham. The snake charmer is NOT happy and demands another gift then. Um, what kind of gift?

We walked away 40 dirham less and minus one ballpoint pen. I think we got the better end of that deal.

Ok, so we explored the city, we spent a day soaking up the sun (mmmm), rode camels, had massages and a cooking lesson at our hotel (Moroccans do not shy away from flavor! It was a good meal and we came away with a killer eggplant recipe), and then…our favorite day. We had a private excursion to the Atlas Mountains, a few hours outside the city. This day was amazing. The weather was beautiful and the scenery was so dramatic and so breathtaking…the pictures do NOT do it any justice, I’m sorry to say.

Moroccan cooking lesson

Our meal...yummy

 We visited a Berber household (the cow lives in the house…), we went to a herb garden, we went through a Berber market, and we trekked through the mountains to an amazing waterfall, took in incredible panoramic views of the mountains, drove through almond and olive tree orchards, had lunch IN the riverbed…it was incredible. Definitely a welcome respite from the hustle of the city…I filled up an entire memory card with pictures of the views we had that day. Unreal. I spent most of the day thinking “oh my gosh, are we really here? Are we really seeing this?” As I said, it was truly an assault on the senses, overwhelming in every way. Take a look...

Valley of olive trees

Momma and baby cow...just chilling inside a Berber house, right next to the kitchen

Our Thanksgiving riverbed lunch

One of our souvenirs! Handmade Moroccan pottery plate

Gorgeous waterfall. If you look closely, you can see the teeny tiny person standing a little to the right and above the 2nd big rock in the bottom left corner of the picture. We hiked WAY up the mountains.

Berber village by the river

Some really sturdy, safe, up-to-code bridges

Whew. This is entirely too long and I feel like it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we experienced those five days, but that’s the big picture. A one-in-a-lifetime experience and we’re SO glad we took the opportunity. We’re also glad we went in the “winter” because I’m not sure I could have stomached the city (and the smells) at 100+ degree temperatures. We came away with great pictures, wonderful memories, and some fun souvenirs too (Moroccan spices and coffee included)!

I’d say it was a successful Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Simple Thanks

I’m thankful that I won’t be in charge of cooking a turkey.

I’m thankful for Z. Every day. I’m thankful for his extreme, baffling patience. And his consistent kindness. And that there are almost always flowers in our house because he gives them to me all.the.time. And that I’m living and traveling abroad with my best friend. It never stops blowing my mind. Also I’m thankful for how much he makes me laugh.

I’m thankful for Skype and FaceTime and email. My gosh, how did people survive anything before these technologies?

I’m thankful for our families. We really hit the jackpot and we know it. Our parents recently had lunch together and Zach commented “we are such a good match that even our parents get along” and that’s true. Z and I secretly hope our parents will become such good friends that we just start to merge all family events and end up having reunions with matching tshirts and personalized beach towels and grandbabies running around and junk food and happy chaos. Someone will have to own a beach house, of course. Plan accordingly, families.

I’m thankful for Google Translate.

I’m thankful for my job. Even though I think I was really getting the hang of being a stay-at-home wife. And even though I often lament the Pinterest projects I’m not accomplishing because I work. I mean, I would probably do some. Maybe.

I’m thankful for friends (you know who you are) who continue to email and Skype and iMessage even though we’re so far away. I don’t know what I’d do without you, I’m serious.

I’m thankful for the friends we’re slowly making here in Germany. I hope they stick around.

I’m thankful for Cheerios. If this list was in any type of order, this would be way closer to the top, but you know that.

I know that there’s a big focus on thankfulness in November because of the holiday, and that’s great. The truth is, one of the great and unexpected parts of this living-abroad experience is how aware I've become of things that I’m incredibly thankful for that I really didn't consider before. Things I took for granted that now are constantly in the forefront of my mind. So that one gets a double-thankful…I’m thankful for how this experience is expanding my view of the many things I have to be thankful for. I don’t take that lightly. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Story: Part 3

Part 3. You can find Parts 1 and 2 here and here

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to place the fate of your relationship on two short weeks or what it felt like to know he would be here, then be gone just as quickly. We were both very aware that things could go perfectly during the time he was home, but at the end of those 14 days, he would be back in Afghanistan and then in Seattle when he was finally home. We were also painfully aware of all that had happened between us in the last 12 months, and that it had all happened without any face-to-face, eye-to-eye conversations between us. It’s a weird, unsettling feeling. On the other hand, we had talked just about everything to death, so there was a level of excitement present about being able to finally see what it would be like to actually BE TOGETHER.

I was so nervous. I was nervous it would go perfectly and I would be brokenhearted to see him leave again. I was nervous of what it meant if we decided to commit to each other and give the relationship a chance. I was nervous that we would be awkward and have nothing to say to each other. I was nervous that we would fight and decide that it wasn’t worth it and the last year would have been a waste. It was scary, considering all of the what-ifs and uncertainties.

I’ll never forget getting that phone call. Z was supposed to land SOMETIME that Saturday, but it was likely to be later that afternoon. I woke up with knots in my stomach, nervous and excited. It had been a YEAR since I had seen him, 10 months of that time he’d been in Afghanistan. I was sitting in my chair, sipping coffee in my pajamas when that unknown number popped up on my phone. I knew it was Zach. I answered and heard his voice sounding closer than it had sounded in over a year. He was here.

You’ve never seen anyone move so fast. My roommates jumped into action and provided emotional and wardrobe support as I rushed through my shower and picked out an outfit and tried to breathe normally.

I don’t remember the ride to the airport. I remember shaking as I drove up to the arrivals terminal and I remember how my heart stopped when I saw him standing there in his uniform. He looked so skinny. I put my car in park before I had come to a full stop (he gave me a hard time about that later) and jumped out into his arms. Hugging him was the best feeling I had in a long time. I cried...sobbed, really. I’m sure we made a scene. But that moment seemed to wash away the past 12 months of pain and I was just happy.

I don’t remember anything about the ride from the airport to his parent’s house. He held my hand, but that’s all I know. I dropped him off and tried to leave as quickly as possible…I felt like I was interfering with his time with his family and it was still awkward for me to see them after everything that happened between Z and I over the past year. I hated leaving, but knew it was the right thing to do at that time. And having him in the same city was infinitely better than across the world.

Honestly, I don’t have many memories of the next two weeks. I know we spent a lot of time together and I know the time we spent together was wonderful. Not totally perfect, not free of tension or disagreements, but way better than I had hoped it would be. I know that everything changed after those 14 days. We were together, we were happy, we were going to work it out. We didn’t have the answers and there were still so many questions, but we were finally on the same page. 

Here we are during his R&R:

I don’t remember what it was like to say goodbye to him again either. I know it was hard, and I know I was so sad, but there was also a lot of hope. He would be home for good in two more months. And Seattle suddenly didn’t seem so far away. We made plans for me to go visit him as soon as he was back in the States, in July of 2010.

The months after he got back were challenging, but so good. We tried to see each other as much possible, going back and forth between Atlanta and Seattle. I still hated the distance and I still wasn’t so sure about the whole “Army life” but I loved Z and those things were secondary to that.

The rest, as they say, is history. After we made it through the year of deployment, we spent the next 6 months dating “normally” and enjoying every bit of it. We started talking about marriage in late 2010, looked at rings when he was in Atlanta over the holidays, and were engaged on Valentine’s Day of 2011, a little over two years after we first met.

I never stopped struggling with the distance while we dating or during the engagement. It took me a LONG time to be comfortable with the Army aspect of his life, now OUR life and I still struggle with it sometimes. But we’re together now, and it’s just that much sweeter after all the time we spent apart.

So there it is. Our story, from the beginning. And now here we are. I couldn’t be happier to be Z’s wife and I couldn’t be prouder of his military service. It’s not always easy, but it is always an adventure and one that I’ll gladly be part of with Zach for as long as he serves. I’m so thankful for how it has turned out…and I’m so overwhelmed that this is still just the beginning.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Our Story: Part 2

Picking up where we left off...

A few months later I went to Seattle with some of my girlfriends...and ended up spending most of my time with Z. I realized I was crazy about him and mostly tried to ignore the Seattle/Army issue. We danced around it, not really defining a relationship but mostly…we were in a relationship.

Then he got The News. He was being deployed to Afghanistan for a year. My worst nightmare. We had only known each other for a few months…were we really even dating?...did I want to be his “girl back home”? That was a lot of pressure…too much pressure. I pulled away. I didn’t know if I could commit to a year when I had only known him a few months. And I had no desire to try to stick it out only to break up with him halfway through and become an emotional distraction while he was defending our country. I wouldn't be "that girl".

We both made decisions we regret that hurt each other in different ways as we tried to navigate this unfamiliar and uncomfortable aspect of our lives and relationship. I continued to pull away but remained very conflicted since I cared so much for him, but was so scared of what his life in the Army meant for me. Z reached a point where he knew he wanted to be with me, but only on the right terms. So he opened up to me and honestly shared exactly what was on his heart and mind: the good, the bad, the ugly. It was the perfect opportunity for me to get out, and I took it. We broke up, but nothing about it was final, clear, painless, or easy. It was not a clean break, in fact it was as messy as it could be.

We continued to talk, to fight, to push, to try working through things. I cancelled my next trip out to Seattle, my last chance to see him before he deployed. I cried, a lot. And then, he left.

While we were broken up, my feelings hadn’t changed, and neither had his. Another dynamic entered the relationship with the deployment…I was scared to death for his safety, I was sick to my stomach over our current status, I was confused. The year that followed was easily one of the hardest of my life so far. Trying to work out a relationship, to communicate, to grow, to heal, to move forward, to make decisions with someone who is a world away in a combat zone is really, really hard. And that’s a huge understatement. Communication was so difficult, both the physical aspect of trying to connect via phone or email from time zones apart on shoddy connections that would often cut off mid-conversation, as well as the emotional aspect of communication. Connecting, being on the same page, understanding each was just HARD. Our priorities were obviously very different, he was under a lot of stress and in very unfavorable conditions. I was trying to straddle the line between going on with my normal life and dealing with the pain and complication of missing Z and figuring out where he fit in my life and vice versa. 

We talked. We stopped talking. We tried to move on. We didn’t move on. I dated other guys, always ending because I wasn’t over Z and couldn’t really move forward with anyone else. I couldn’t shake my feelings for Z or the overwhelming feeling that I really needed to work through every aspect of this hard circumstance in order to come out on the other side (because at that point, it felt like there was no end in sight). I started praying, and praying HARD. Praying for me, praying for Zach, praying for us, whether together in a relationship or moving on singly. I don’t know that I’ve ever prayed so much and with such intensity. I felt like I didn’t have another choice…the only thing that would bring clarity and peace was prayer. So I prayed.

And I started to see big things happen. In my life, in Z’s life, in our relationship. Things that could have ONLY been accomplished because of prayer. Specific, real, tangible answers to the things I had been praying for. So I let go of a lot of my hurt and bitterness and fear and we started to productively work together on our relationship.

I just have to brag on Z a little bit at this point, because this was a really awful, ugly, hard season in our relationship (or lack of relationship?) and he just put his head down and pushed through with perseverance. He pursued me with such intent…there was no question in my mind where I stood with him or how he felt about me. He went above and beyond to make me feel loved and cared for, even from thousands of miles away. He spoiled me. He was creative. He involved my friends, sending money and detailed plans for sushi date nights and trips to the Fox Theater. He sent flowers nearly every week (my roommates the time rolled their eyes every time another bouquet showed up). He wrote letter after letter after letter (and I still have every one). His actions and his words lined up and we slowly built up trust and began to explore what it would look like to actually commit to this relationship.

After about 7 months of STRUGGLING through our relationship and everything that went along with the deployment, we finally reached a place where we wanted to move forward, together. We decided to see how things would go while he was home for 2 weeks for R&R, still another 3 months away.

To be continued...

Friday, November 2, 2012

I just...I can't....

The sun pushed through the clouds for a few glorious hours yesterday, so I pulled myself out of my dark place and put on my running shoes, determined to get out of the house (for the first time in three days; that's really healthy) and soak up some vitamin D. 

I put my headphones in and cranked up some Christmas music...yes, CHRISTMAS MUSIC. Before Thanksgiving. Everyone calm down, I've been listening to Christmas music for at least a month now. And Germany doesn't have Thanksgiving anyways.

Also, THIS just came out and there was no way I wasn't listening to it on repeat for at least a few days. You don't have to like Ceelo or anyone else in his genre to enjoy this album. It's all Christmas classics done in a really quirky, soulful, fun way. 

Also, as long as you're getting amazing Christmas music recommendations, DOWNLOAD THIS IMMEDIATELY. You will not regret it, I promise. A mere $10 for hours of joy year after year. In fact, if you have to choose between this or Ceelo, choose this. 

No one is paying me to say these things, but they should be, amIright?

ANYHOW, I crank up my Christmas jams and take off (slowly and with no small amount of internal whining) down the tractor trail. I haven't been out in a while, and especially not down the tractor road, so I'm taking my time, looking around, enjoying being outside in the sun. Don't be mistaken, the sun does not equal warmth. I was freezing my buns off. Also, understand that the tractor trail essentially connects our little town with the next provides access to all of the fields in between our towns, so when you head down the road and hit the open fields, you're also hit by a wall of wind that shoots across this big uninterrupted open space. Cold, angry wind that slices through your clothes and slaps your bare skin underneath. 

So I'm plodding along, willing myself to enjoy this experience when I suddenly start to notice these poles that are stuck into the ground at intervals along the road. They're about 6 feet tall and basically frame the entire tractor trail. 
What the? 

And then it dawns on me. 

Those poles are there to indicate where the road is when it snows. THOSE POLES ARE 6 FEET TALL. Those poles look like they've been through a lot, like this is not the first year they've been placed along this road. Which means that it was determined that in order for those poles to be effective in their road-indicating duties, they would have to be tall enough to be visible at all times above the snow level. And that appropriate level was 6 feet. WHICH MEANS the snow is expected, nay, encouraged to pile to such heights. 

The mind reels. 

The heart prays that our next duty station is Hawaii.