Saturday, November 10, 2012

Runner's high, Deutschland, and Veteran's Day

I'm going to tie it all in, I promise. 

Today I was minding my own business, eating my burger and curly fries (atherosclerosis in a bag) in the student union, when I noticed there was a large gaggle of people outside, just standing around staring at nothing. Then I saw the sparkly band uniforms and feather hats and brass trumpets, and realized what was going on. Starting my sophomore year of college, my university band began the TAPS project. Trumpet players from the band and community stand spaced across the campus and at 11:11, the first begins to play Taps. As he starts to play the second line, the next trumpeter starts, and so on and so on. This effectively makes a ring around campus with overlapping tunes, and ends where it began with the final note.

How is it possible that one trumpet can sound so regal and lonely at the same time? You tell me. After the song moved out of earshot, everyone remained standing for a couple minutes in silence, until we gradually heard it returning to us, and as we watched the last trumpeter play, I looked around at all the veterans standing next to me, some old, some younger, some crippled, some healthy. I saw all the men from ROTC in their camouflage, and I thought of all the men who had served our country and come back wounded, hurt, mentally scarred, or not come back at all. I thought of all the men that are away from their homes right now.

Then I realized how little I think about them normally. 

Honestly, how many times per day, per week, per month does a person (with the exception of those who have a family member currently serving) actually remember the sacrifices of the veterans, and those sacrificing today? And how SAD is that? Here are these courageous people, committing to something bigger than themselves, pledging to do whatever is required of them by their country, regardless of whether they agree or not with the decision. And that, my friends, could be the definition of bravery.

November being the month of thankfulness, this is a good time to point out how lucky we are. Even on the worst day, when my hair looks terrible, I've gotten 2 hours of sleep, I have 4 exams that I'm going to fail, a zit, my car is empty on gas, my bank account is empty, and there is only ramen in my pantry, I have so much more than I could even wish to ask for.

I have the freedom to say what I want, when I want to. I have the freedom to TAKE those 4 exams, and I have the resources and a place to buy some coverup for that zit. I have the freedom to explore the world without too much hassle. I have the freedom to be what I want how I want. Never have I been restricted by my government. Never have I been forced into slavery, put into a specific social class, gone hungry, or been unable to cure my sicknesses. Never have I been forced to fight for something. I have been educated, and given the opportunity to keep educating myself. I have the potential and ability to do anything I want to do with  my life. There is so much I personally owe to all the men and women who have served and are serving our country. How much do you owe them?

[insert flashback here]

When I was in Germany, I started to run to relieve stress, get active, and to explore my neighborhood. First of all, I would encourage doing this to ANYONE that wants to study away/travel abroad or live abroad (so long as it's safe). I got to see beautiful tree lined paths, quaint little farms, pretty bridges, and awesome architecture that I would have never seen if I hadn't decided to run. It was a struggle at first, especially because there were so many hills. There was one particular hill that was extremely steep and a killer to run up. But it was the peak of the run and all downhill from there. So I was always on the brink of death running up this hill no matter how in -shape I got.

One day I was in the middle of that terrible hill stretch, red-faced and sweaty, slightly muddy, wanting to pass out in the neighbor's bushes, when a bus pulled up to the bus stop and let off a passenger. This was a young boy, probably only 18, clad in the German military service uniform. Red beret, grey suit. My instant thought was to go and tell him "thanks" for his service. Then, as the thought hit me that I didn't know how to say that in German, I realized where I was. I was not in the United States. I was standing in the middle of a German road, wanting to thank a young German soldier for his service.

I was almost literally stopped in my tracks, because I had this the weirdest feeling come over me. It was almost a physical feeling of luckiness. It sounds silly, but I was completely overwhelmed by that thought, my limbs and face felt tingly (good tingly, not running tingly), I felt a quick rush of blood to literally every body part, sort of like when you walk into a good surprise, like a birthday party.  All I could think of was how extremely lucky I was to be in Germany at that exact moment in time. My mother had been in Germany during the 80's when the wall was still intact. She remembers being terrified to cross into East Germany. And before her, how many Americans would have been terrified to travel here?  How many dreaded coming here on military service during WWI and II? How many people would've ignorantly hated the German people for the crimes their country had committed? How many would've wanted to thank a kid in a red beret and grey suit?  

And here I was. I WANTED to come here. I had done everything in my power to come here, had dreamed about the day I would be in my very place. I had made it happen, and was strong enough to accomplish it. Here I was, standing freely on peaceful and prosperous German soil, with no worries, no restrictions, experiencing firsthand the generosity and kindness of the German people. So why in the world would I be homesick? Why should I be sad or depressed about being here? Why couldn't I  make anything happen that I wanted to? I was so struck by the generosity of people that had sacrificed everything to make this world a better place for me, that I knew in my heart how incredibly, indescribably lucky I am.

It was like the world was lifted off my shoulders. Never in my life have I felt so blessed and thankful. Never have I been happier than I was in that moment. I sprinted up the hill like it was nothing, and ran the rest of my track in record time. 

I have never experienced runner's high. To this day, I'm still not sure if that is what I was experiencing. They say it's a euphoric, conquer the world feeling, which is pretty similar to how I felt. I can probably blame endorphins for that out of body experience, but I still wonder if I would have come to that point had I not seen the soldier on the bus. I don't know. All I know is, that was one of the most defining moments of my life. And I can thank a German soldier for making it happen.


Veteran's Day is coming up. In fact people, I'm even giving you an entire day's advance warning. How have our veterans impacted your life? What can you do this Veteran's Day to  show them how much they have given us? 

Although I didn't get to up and personally thank each of those cute old veterans at the TAPS project today, I want to throw out a virtual thank you to them, and to every other person who has ever had the courage to fight for their country. I wish I could tell them all how much they have done for me every day of my life, and not just on Veteran's day. Thank you. 

Thank you. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Home Is Where Your Heart Is.

Well guys, I'm officially the worst blog-keeper-upper ever. One of these days I'll post about Barcelona, Belgium, and Berlin. But for now, I just wanted to reflect for a minute on coming home. PS, does this photo look familiar? 

About the middle of July I started feeling the burn. A figurative burn of course, because it was 50 degrees and raining in Aachen. I was homesick, bad. And I was confused, because aren't you supposed to be homesick when you get there and get it all over with and cross it off your list? Not this girl. In Germany, exams go a little bit differently then they do here. You have your typical last day of school (on July 1st may I add...) and then instead of squeezing all of your exams into one big FINALS WEEK, for some reason they decided to stretch finals into three weeks. So July for me was the most unproductive, un-exciting, un-warm, unproductive Allison ever. This was mostly because since all of my friends and I were taking different classes, we all had finals on different days. So between all of us, there wasn't really a day were we could do anything fun. This to me was rock bottom. I started feeling depressed, and by now the rain and grey days were taking their toll. I mean, come on, it's July and all my American friends were out at the lake, sunbathing, vacationing, and here I was stuck in a three-week exam period. The night that we celebrated the fourth of July it started raining, so we had to run to take cover under some trees. Give me a break weather, seriously. 

Here's a picture of our awesome "American Dinner" that I cooked for everyone (complete with Nachos, Sloppy Joes, Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, and Oreo truffles) to prove that we ate more things than just hamburgers. Everyone wore red, white, and blue just for me, it was so touching. 

I would be lying though, if I said I was only feeling down because I was homesick. I was in completely in denial about leaving my beautiful country, leaving that exciting and difficult language, and most of all leaving my international friends. It was different for them because they were all either staying in Europe to find internships, or going back to schools at least within a 10 hour central meeting point from each other. I knew that there was a great possibility and small certainty I would never see any of them ever again. There's always talk about reunions, and meeting up, and having an international vacation somewhere, but I count myself in the crowd of people who know about how busy life can get sometimes. I had spent the majority of 5 months with these people, and we knew each other surprisingly well. I think this was because we had each shown each other our vulnerabilities, and had so much in common living in a new place, using a different language. We had shared our cultures with each other, taught each other new words and phrases, and traveled together. 

Needless to say, it was the most bittersweet feeling coming home. My Czech friend Kristýna helped me take all my bags to the airport in Köln, and I'm proud to say I didn't cry until she waved me "Auf Wiedersehen," which is goodbye in German, but literally means, "Until I see you again."

It was a long journey back home, and I didn't think I was going to catch my Paris connection. After sprinting through Charles de Gaulle, I finally relaxed on the 737 that was taking me home. 

I had a short flight connecting Atlanta to St. Louis, and my wonderful boyfriend  picked me up there. My parents never knew I had changed the date of my return flight to be a week sooner. They were planning to pick me up the next week and hadn't thought any more about it. 

The first thing I noticed when I got back was that I kept expecting to flinch when I walked outside because of the cold, but it turned out I could go outside and it felt wonderful!! The second thing I did that was weird was that when people bumped into me, I wouldn't say anything at all or I would start to say, "entschuldigung" (excuse me). I got used to this in Germany because sometimes it was easier to not say anything than to get myself in a conversation. I kept forgetting that people in the stores here spoke English! 

Well, when we finally got back to my hometown, I knocked on the front door of my parents' house. I could hear my dad on the phone downstairs, so I waited, while I heard my mom coming down the steps to open the door. She flung it wide open and just sort of stopped and stared for about 5 seconds like she didn't know who I was. Then she just started shrieking. .... AHHH AHHH AHHHH AHHHHH!!!! Dad in the meantime is trying to explain to whoever is on the phone why his wife has just started yelling uncontrollably like a banshee (he didn't see me yet either). So finally she let me through the door and I got to hug everyone, dogs, sister, dad. It was probably the best surprise I have ever pulled off in my entire life, they were so excited. 

 Since then, I feel like life has done three somersaults on me and catapulted out of the starting blocks so fast, I've been sprinting just to avoid being lapped. I think about Germany every day, I talk to myself in German when I'm home alone, I've started to try and write letters to my friends (we have a Facebook communal thread which makes things a lot easier), and I've begun printing photos out to hang on my walls. It seems so unreal when I'm safe in my bed in Springfield to think that just a couple months ago I was snorkeling in the Mediterranean near Barcelona, or playing card games using three international decks. 

At the same time, I know I've come to appreciate my country more, my culture, my heritage, my friends and family, and just to appreciate how LUCKY I am. I am so blessed. I feel like I'm writing the last chapter of this part of my life and it breaks my heart. I don't want to let go, I don't want closure. I don't want to forget. I don't want time to erase. I want to continue to wake up every morning wishing myself Guten Morgen. Even though in the grand scheme of things 5 months is just the blink of an eye, I know I have forever left a piece of my heart in Aachen, Deutschland. I know I will always consider it "home." And I know most of all, that one day I will go back to visit that piece of my heart, because after all, I only said "Auf Widersehen." 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The "Uncle Sam I Drunk Yet?" Shot

Happy Fourth of July everybody!! I know it's not technically the 4th yet in the States (which are probably the only time zones that count), but since I can't be home to celebrate it, I'm bringing it in with a bang here in Germany. :) 

I've planned an American dinner for my international friends, and hopefully they'll like my Southwestern Chicken Chili and Chips, Ranch Dip, and Oreo truffles, and St. Louis style Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. In order to throw in a bit of patriotism, I decided a Red, White, and Blue drink was also in order.

I also wanted to somehow incorporate Kool-Aid into the mix, because my mom had sent me some packets in the mail, and Kool-Aid is pretty much distinctly American. So welcome to the party Kool-Aid! But how to make a layered shot? This led to lots of speculation, google-searching, and in the end just testing everything out. So you're welcome all you patriotic people out there, I just had three of these babies because I couldn't let the bloopers go to waste. You can make it with alcohol, or omit the alcohol completely for a (still really awesome) virgin drink. 

 In the end, here's the recipe that I came up with! I apologize for my makeshift recipe, and props to my friend Emily for the name!  Although it's a bit tricky to get the layers perfect, after pouring a shot or two, you get the hang of it! Pretty, ain't it? :) 

Note: This can be a very sweet drink, and may take some manipulations. However you mix it though, both grenadine and banana nectar are still pretty sugary, so don't forget you're consuming alcohol! Hence the name ;)


 What you need (it's simple really):

-RED LAYER: Raspberry or Grenadine syrup (whichever you prefer, but make sure it's a heavy full-sugar syrup)

-WHITE LAYER: Banana Nectar  (This must be REAL nectar, no banana-flavored stuff, because the banana bits are what helps the layers form) 
*can also be substituted with any cream liquor for a more alcoholic content and different flavor

- BLUE LAYER: Diluted Berry Blue or Mixed Berry Kool-Aid with added Vodka or Gin to your preference. In order to reduce wasted Kool-Aid (since you're really only making a couple shots), make the Kool-Aid as normal, then set aside a very small bowl of Kool-Aid to use for the shot(s).

Directions (these seem long, but it's not difficult, don't worry!):

1. Add additional water to the Kool-Aid you set aside to dilute. You don't want this layer to be very sweet, since the banana nectar and Grenadine are already sweet enough! I diluted mine quite a bit, so that it didn't really taste good plain anymore. Then decide how strong you want your shot to be. I mixed about 1/4 Kool-Aid, 3/4 vodka. This will be your blue layer. Don't worry about adding too much vodka, because this is the only alcohol in the shot. I also used a double shot glass so that the alcoholic content would more resemble a shot. 
*For the non-alcoholic version, just make a diluted Kool-Aid mixture. It really doesn't have to be sweet at all.
-Pour the grenadine into the glass. 
-Using a spoon, slowly pour the banana nectar into the glass.
 *If you're not familiar with this, this is how it's done: Trickle the banana nectar over the round back side of a spoon into the glass while keeping the spoon end against the wall of the glass. The nectar should flow gently down the side of the glass and onto the previous layer. 

-Using the same spoon method, finally add the vodka/Kool-Aid mixture to the top. 

And voilà! You have a pretty, patriotic, layered shot! 

I also had to include a photo of the irony here, because I only had one shot glass on hand, but shhh, don't tell! :)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's the Home Stretch!

Hip, hip, hurray! (insert old-school Nickelodeon fanfare noise here) Today was my last day of classes! Although it doesn't feel very real, it's gotten me a bit emotional. Bittersweet. I'm not afraid to say I'm proud of myself. I think that occasionally it's necessary for you to step back and look at all you've accomplished, and really appreciate what you've done. Although I haven't crossed the finish line yet, I'm so close! Now I walk to school knowing there's only a limited number of times that I will see these familiar sights again. I don't want to get too crazy on saying goodbye just yet, I'll save that for when I actually leave.

But what I noticed today, is that it's funny how you get so used to one thing in life, and all the little details of that thing somehow define it. Like the last day of school, for instance. At Missouri State, the last day of school is usually defined by a messy just-got-out-of-bed hair do, T-shirt/baggy running shorts, beautiful balmy May weather, a general feeling of excitement on campus, a dormant knot-in-the-gut feeling, and a giant breakfast. Post-class involves strolling victoriously through the beautiful open campus, dipping my toes in the fountain, and celebrating afterwards with Andy's ice cream. Then immediately back to frantically studying, maybe even for that weird Saturday final I'd occasionally have. 

So today, when I fixed my hair as always, put on real clothes, had normal breakfast, and had a pleasant, well-rested, overall feeling of general normalness, it didn't feel like the last day of school for me. Because usually, the biggest obstacle to get through is the semester. There's such a feeling of success that I made it! But not here. No classroom assignments, no job, no volunteering, no lab write-ups, no in-semester tests. No feeling of accomplishment or relief. That may also be because I still have, wait for it, THREE WEEKS of exams. Ugh. Double ugh. So there is still a chance for me to have that awful but glorious last day of school feeling on July 17th, when I sit my last exam in Operations Management. 

Luckily, today we actually had decent weather! Aachen can do right once in a while. The next couple of weeks will be busy, busy, busy with few breaks in between. However, tonight is the semifinal of Euro 2012 with Germany vs. Italy, and things are going to get exciting! And next week I'm celebrating the 4th of July by cooking American food for my international friends. Then all that's left are windsurfing lessons, the last international BBQ, and saying goodbye. Time is a fickle creature. It trickles and sprints at the same time. Soon I'll be back in the land of 24/7  Walmarts and XXXL pants. As I said before, bittersweet. 

So, in the next few weeks, if I do happen to post a blog ( I know, I know! I'm still behind!) you'll know it's because I'm seriously putting off studying for my final about European Economic Integration. :) 

I leave you with this thought. Appreciate the little details of every day in life, and especially on those days that have certain weird traditions. I didn't realize until too late today that I really missed doing the whole "minimal-effort last day of school thing."  Because when those details change, or aren't there anymore, you really realize how much they meant to you. 

Anyway, wish me luck! First exam is in my German class tomorrow! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ireland...The Sequel...except better than sequels, because they suck.

 As promised, here is the second part of my trip to beautiful Ireland. (If you didn't already get to see photos from the first few days in Ireland, click here.) 

After being a little disappointed by Dublin, Ireland had some catching up to do to meet my expectations. I did love the village of Howth, but I was still hoping for a miracle, some phenomenal adventure that would make Ireland compare to Scotland. As a little kid, I was always sort of obsessed with leprechauns and St. Patrick's day. I imagined dancing faeries and the like. I was lucky enough to have an awesome mom that turned every little holiday into a big event. She'd make green shamrock pancakes and talk in an Irish accent all day. I would set out leprechaun traps the night before, and when my sister was old enough, I showed her how to make them. My guess is that this sort of instilled in me a love for the country that inspired this fantastic holiday. I still do believe that Ireland holds magic.

 So the three of us girls booked a day tour of the Irish countryside. The tour advertised a trip to a family farm in the Burren, a trip through the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Portal Tomb. It was all that I wanted and more. It was so strikingly, wildly, magically beautiful. It lived up to and past my expectations. I don't really know how to describe that moment when you've wanted something so badly for so long, and when you finally get it, it's better than you ever expected. But if that's ever happened to you, you'll know what I mean. Get ready to see a lot of green.

We took a bus from Dublin to Galway, then rode down little winding roads until we pulled up in front of just a normal looking house. "Cottage" if you want to be quaint. So there we were starting our tour off at some Irish family's farm! It was so cute, nestled between the rocky hills of the Burren. All the mountains in the area are privately owned, so in order to go anywhere, you have to have the property owner take you. So the son of the family took our tour group on a hike up the hills, past their cows and sheep (he fed a baby lamb for us, it was so stinkin cute). 

He showed us a "fairy tree" where you can tie your problems onto it, and leave them there forever. Then he made us lie down in the grass and lay absolutely quiet for a  minute. We could hear the wind rustling along the mountains and through the grass. Getting up, expecting some profound statement after that profound moment, he just told us, "Now you know what Burren cows feel like." Unfortunately, I didn't  see any fairy circles or leprechauns But from the top of the farm, I could see the coast, the ruins of an old Abbey, and some ruins of the "seven churches" (of which there were only ever four. ) 

In case you were wondering what The Burren is, it's characterized by the rocky mountains (see below). A mystical, lonely, yet calm, peaceful, friendly place.

After the hike around the farm, we were treated (although we paid for it) to Irish coffee and maybe the most delicious apple pie I've ever eaten. Our tour guide (aka family son) even sang some traditional Irish songs for us and taught us the chorus. It was great fun. Ladies, if you're wondering: get yourself a man with a cute Irish accent who sings and feeds baby sheep and believes in faeries. 

From the farm, we got back on the bus and made a pit-stop closer to the coast to admire the rocky Burren shore. SO MANY ROCKS. (In case you were wondering why Ireland is full of cute stone fences instead of wood, it's simply because when they clear the land for farming, they have to do something with all those rocks).

The Cliffs of Moher were next, and they are extremely self-explanatory. Although when Emily asked the visitor centor lady how many tourists died, she corrected us to "visitors" and said she didn't know. Hmm. Also take note of how small the people are, and how small the castle on the far cliff is (the castle is probably about ~45 feet tall). 

The rain clouds started to settle in

After the cliffs, we headed to the Portal Tomb, or "Hole of Sorrow" as our bus-driver guide translated for us...which made us giggle...a lot. Oh man, I'm a terrible person. Anyway, it really was soooo amazing. It had a surreal feeling. I could almost imagine faeries and leprechauns were real at this point. 

On the way back, we had dinner at a traditional Irish restaurant, where I had the best salmon of my entire life. In fact, it might have been the best MEAL of my entire life (sorry mom). Oh, and we ended our tour with a stop at a castle. I think the guide said it was one of the old O'Brian castles. Ok ladies, update: get yourself a man with a cute Irish accent who sings and feeds baby sheep and believes in faeries AND has the last name of O'Brian!! 

It was probably the most perfect way possible to end my trip to Ireland. I am so glad I got to cross it off my List. I would recommend a trip to anyone that is thinking about going. But I would probably advise picking a different (more traditional) city than Dublin, and I'd also recommend visiting the Giant's Causeway (unfortunately we didn't have time for this, but it looks unbelievable!). Sorry for this post being extremely long! Belgium is next! 


Nil aon tinteán mar do thinteán feín

Nil aon tinteán mar do thinteán feín... a Gaelic saying for, "there's no fireplace like your own fireplace." 

After traveling so much in the past month, I've come to agree wholeheartedly..even if I have a mostly dead orchid instead of a fireplace. 

As I mentioned in my last post about Scotland, I had the whole week off, so after my two days of alone time I flew into Dublin to meet my trusty travel companion Emily and new friend Ellea who both studied during the semester in Amsterdam. My first thought on the bus ride through the city en route to my hostel wasn't that nice. Dublin was sadly disappointing compared to the striking beauty of Edinburgh. However, I was determined not to judge too quickly or too harshly, as I'd be spending 4 days there, and visiting Ireland was not only on my travel checklist, but on my LIFE bucket list. That's a big deal, since my life bucket list really only consisted of:

1.Visit Ireland. 

Ha. Jokes! 

Anyway, we pretty much wasted the entire first day failing at stuff. After finding Steak and Guinness pie, we found out the tour of the jail we wanted to do was already all booked, and then got directions from a local to hike the "short distance" (it felt like 2 miles) to try unsuccessfully to find the entrance to the Guinness Brewery before it closed for the day. So my first day in Ireland, what did we do? SHOPPING. When all else fails, spend money! Yeah! We found the Dublin edition of Primark, called Penney's and (to my complete surprise and utter delight) a FOREVER21 that was as big as a department store. It had three floors. Seriously. The problem with shopping on trips, is that although you packed your Ryanair bag to it's full 10kg limit, you still have to fit all the new stuff into the bag to go home. If I was smart, I wouldn't make these kinds of decisions, but there you go. 

The second day, we tried to make up for missing out on everything. We crossed the famous "gaol" (jail) off our list, it just wasn't going to happen, and took a 3 hour walking tour, along with a tour of the Guinness Brewery. The tour was enlightening, and we saw all of Dublin's major attractions, like these: 

The Liffey

Some statue of a famous dude.. I was bored of the tour at this point, sorry. 

Outside Dublin Castle


Oh, there it is...well THAT's disappointing. Dublin ain't got nuttin on Germany. 

An old Viking church. There used to be a whiskey distillery in the basement. Multi-tasking at its finest. 

Trinity College

The Guinness Brewery was disappointing. It was poorly designed, the arrows on the floor were confusing, they had all the descriptions of exhibits written in WHITE letters on plexiGLASS signs...How can ANYONE read that? 

The coolest part was that I did, however, get to learn to pour my own Guinness out of the tap, which was pretty cool. There's a specific method for the best taste that usually takes ~2.5 minutes, so don't get impatient when it feels like your bartender has gone on a smoke-break! I even got a shiny certificate to make my fantabulous Guinness pouring official. And the Guinness building is the tallest in Dublin, so we did get a nice view at the top! 
Us girls and our expertly pulled Guinness
The cool thing about the walking tours that I always seem to go on is that they also run a pub crawl at night exploring a variety of the local (usually touristy) places. But we did make our way through the famous Temple Bar District, which was probably the most atmospheric place in Dublin. We visited a microbrewery there, and had a sampler of different beers. It was quite fun. ;) 

Rainy as always

The next day, we took a day-trip to the little coastal village of Howth. It was stinkin cute. We ate fish and chips, walked around the pier, did NOT see seals like we were supposed to, I creeped on an adorable little girl and her dad, and hiked down to the cliffs to see the lighthouse. It was breathtaking. I know, I know, I'm using lots of the same adjectives as Scotland, but seriously, the Thesaurus only has so many to choose from! 

This is me being a huge creepster.^

I'm going to do Ireland in two parts, so you don't get burnt out! :) Don't worry, the next part will come soon...