Friday, October 25, 2013

So Your Man Wants to Drive a Bread Truck

I was sitting at work yesterday, chatting it up with a coworker of mine, when the topic of conversation steered to my plans for the next couple years. I plan on leaving my full-time role as an administrative assistant when Aaron graduates next spring. He will become the full-time corporate employee and I will focus most of my time on my business and kiddos.

"So what's he going to do?" asked my coworker.

"Oh, most likely accounting," I'd said. "He's getting his degree in Finance and Business Management. He's an accountant right now for a small manufacturing company......." blah blah blah. The conversation continued like this for a few minutes, me detailing the standard hopes and dreams of many American families...a good, steady job, good pay, good coworker nodding his head in appreciation, listening as I expressed fears about the current job market and making ends meet.

Then I dropped this incredible thought:

"Ya know, if he had it his way, I mean really had it his way, you know what he would be? What he really wants to be?"

My coworker kinda raised his eyebrows, interested, but not sure where I was going.

"A bread truck driver. He would want to drive a bread truck. A real bread truck. With bread on it."

This was met with silence and unblinking eyes.

"I mean think about it, bread is light, easy to carry, and smells good. He would smell good all the time, just driving around his bread truck. Best job ever."

My coworker just kinda continued staring at me for a minute, then did that eye dart thing everyone unconsciously does when checking for hidden cameras.

"Oh wow...!" he said. "Yea...uhm......not much room to grow there, as a....uhm....bread truck driver."

He trailed off and slowly started to walk away. Now this is a nice guy, my coworker. He wasn't trying to be snotty, or uppity, or holier-than-thou. He was simply expressing his opinion - alluding to what it means to be successful in his eyes. To my coworker, a successful career means room to grow in a company, to advance, to become an executive, perhaps.

Our convo got me thinking.....

Ten years ago, had you asked me what kind of man I'd like to marry, a bread truck driver would've probably come in dead last. Ok it wouldn't have even been mentioned. Seriously who thinks of things like driving bread trucks??

Well Aaron, that's who.

Aaron's been deployed to Iraq twice, the first time for 15 months, the second for 13 months. He earned the rank of sergeant and had the incredible opportunity to be hand-selected for the Personal Security Detachment for the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) of his unit...which basically means he was a bodyguard for a big, high-ranking guy. He manned the 50-cal on top of the CSM's Humvee. Aaron was chosen for this job because during his first deployment he was caught in an ambush and survived primarily because he had the quick thinking to shoot out a generator supplying light to the streetlamps illuminating his entire convoy and making them an easy target for the heavily-armed terrorist snipers surrounding their position.

To him, a bread truck sounds nice.

Success. It can mean a million things and for each of the millions of possibilities it can mean for one person, it can mean equally as many things to someone else.

Success is making your oldest daughter laugh like a crazy person.

It's surviving an 8-hour plane ride with a kid suffering from motion sickness.

It's watching your dad and your daughter catch her very first fish.

It's maintaining, improving, and cherishing a marriage regardless of relentless obstacles.

It's having your baby girl open her eyes for the first time......and see you

It's surviving.

Nope, driving a bread truck won't nab the big bucks, or a corner office, or even, in some cases, the respect of others. But that's ok. There's more than one way to make your mark in this world.

Aaron may end up becoming an accountant. He may end up being a bread truck driver. He may hate both those things and just start working for his soon-to-be-famous wife (eh? ehhhhh???). Whatever he chooses, I know he will be successful, as he's always been, as I know he can be.

Do what makes you happy. Whether it's a six-figure paycheck or the scent of fresh-baked yeast, reach for your goals with intention and the knowledge that if you want something bad enough, I mean really want it, nothing can stop you. Not a confused coworker, not lack of time, not lack of money, nothing. The true measure of your desire is your commitment to making it a reality.

Here's to the dreamers, corner-office dwellers, and bread truck drivers.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Living in Germany: More Than Just Schnitzel

Immediately after Aaron and I married, we moved to Germany. He was an active Army soldier and I was a new mom with anxiety and a strong, strange attraction to anything made by the Keebler elves.  ***fudgestripes!!***

I remember the flight over ----- eight hours of pure, unadulterated bliss....and by "bliss" I mean that creepy, glazed-over insanity I imagine Hannibal Lecter experiencing if he came face-to-face with Anne Hathaway's perfectly porcelain complexion.

Eight hours. Two crabby adults. One puking toddler (did I mention she has motion sickness?). No idea where we were going or what our new place would be like. Another yearlong deployment looming in the future. A whole new world to learn...and not the kind you find on the back of a magic carpet. No Aladdin and puffy, blue sleeves. Just creepy, glazed-over insanity.

I wasn't very prepared for the move. We weren't given much time to think it over, really. Aaron was told Germany was his next duty station, so away we went. I knew a few vital words in German...hello, goodbye, please, thank you, bathroom. That's about it. I had one of those pocket German books.....but aside from that, I was absolutely one of those ignorant Americans who strolls into someone else's country with little understanding of the local culture, language, or social norms. Ahhh yes, Jen. The Queen of Wingin' It.

I learned fast.

BE CLEAN. I once witnessed an old lady bent over in the street, plucking grass out of the cracks in the pavement. She was still there when I passed her on my way home, quietly pulling the green blades by hand and then shuffling over to drop the pesky invaders into a lawn bag of doom. Littering was an absolute sin. Cars were pristine. I'm not exaggerating. The beautiful Peugeots, VWs, and Audis I'd walk past in town were honestly all pristine. An owner's manual, an emergency kit, and perhaps a phone charger.....that was about it. Like a rental car. They didn't have my a console stuffed with straw wrappers, chewed gum, and weird, tar-like squishy stuff. No food particles or CDs or coffee mugs or random business cards. Clean. For driving long distances. That's it.

BE GREEN. Walking, gardening, recycling, and windmills were a way of life. So there's me, driving three blocks to the commissary to get $200 worth of groceries to last me two weeks. And then there's little old Mother Teresa, trucking along with a flowery cotton bag, returning with broccoli and meat wrapped in parchment. They'd walk, everyday, from their homes to the town center to purchase fresh-baked bread for dinner.

In the spring, summer, and fall, they'd walk out to their gardens and gather ingredients for the day's meals. They had to hoof it in most instances ~ many of the homes were old, build close together like townhomes. Instead of yards, they had a section of town dedicated to plots of gardening space. The plot owners would build sheds to house their tools and then walk out to their plots everyday to tend their gardens.

Shopping everyday. Walking everyday. Making a social event out of it, stopping and standing on the streetcorners, talking amongst each other and nodding as I passed by with my eyes wide open, trying to imagine my life the same way, wondering if I would find it exhausting or peaceful.

Recycling was mandatory - they segregated things by color and material and size and molecular makeup...just kidding about that last one. But it was still intense.

And the windmills. I loved the windmills. They were everywhere. I could see them from my apartment windows, spinning all the time, gathering wind power and dotting the hills for miles. I loved this part of Germany....the consideration they gave to the planet.

ROUTINE. Steadfast, slow, but always predictable. I would find the same group of people at the same outdoor cafe day after day. The flower shop, bakery, drugstore and ice cream shop...all owned and staffed by the same people. I felt like I was in a story sometimes, looking for Mister Brown-Shoes-In-Front-of-Bank, or Missus Dachshund-With-Pink-Leash. I would worry about the regulars when I didn't see them, wonder if they were ill or on a trip. Jen the creeper.

WORK HARD, PLAY HARD. They didn't mess around. They were good at their trade and knew it well. Family businesses often spanned generations.

I remember my car broke down once. I took it to a Toyota mechanic a couple towns away. The owner and receptionist were course, rough, and scared the crap out of me. But DANG did they do a good job with my car. They were affordable, knowledgeable, and the car is still running like a champ. It's in my garage right now.

Very serious business style....slow to make decisions, carefully examining every angle. Very detailed, thorough, and proud of it. This isn't to say they worked their lives away. Quite the contrary.

At least once a month, the German calender had a four-day weekend. Holidays were plentiful and work hours, strict. You didn't work for twelve hours straight and you certainly didn't ask a new mother to head back to work six weeks after delivering a baby. The work-life balance was were the parties. Those four-day weekends I mentioned? They were usually accompanied by some sort of festival. A festival for a saint, or a season, or some guy who did something for the town. Each festival was soaked in Hefeweizen and music, large, doughy pretzels and standing tables. As with work, when it came to cutting loose, I found the Germans didn't mess around.

DINING OUT LIKE A BOSS. When Americans go out to eat, they expect to be seated and served pretty quickly. They like server attention - more bread, more water, here's my order, where's my entree, give me my check. Waiting is no good. Not the case in Germany.

After about 7PM on any given day of the week, you can spot groups of five or six people sitting together in a dimly-lit corner of a small pub, drinking beer, eating, laughing, talking. They'd sit there for hours and hours, savoring every bite, soaking up the chance to relax and enjoy each other. Servers didn't come to tables unless beckoned (took me a minute to figure that one out).

The food was heavy ~ a plate with breaded pork (there's the schnitzel!) and mushroom sauce, noodles, fries, bread, and vegetables. Potatoes, the best pumpkin soup I've ever had in my life, creamy cheesecakes and liquor-smothered ice cream. It wasn't just was living. One of the best experiences I had in Germany was with one of my dear friends....we "did the German thing" and went out to eat, just the two of us. We spent hours just talking and laughing, enjoying each other and enjoying our meal, people-watching, making fun of crazy sculptures on the restaurant windowsills...I'll never forget it. An unexpected moment of pure life.

I lived there for a little over three years. I love the serious, steady nature of the country and feel so privileged to have spent time there. I miss the Autobahn every day. My appreciation for Target has never been stronger and my German still sucks. I am an American through and through, but boy do I love me some Germany. If you get the chance to go, grab it and get ready to relax.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Crazy Hooker to Crazy....Homemaker? ~ If I Can Do It, So Can You!

So this girl walks into a bar...

No really....I walked into a bar. It was a Sunday night. I had just ended things with a boyfriend ~ we did one of those really awesome dragged-out, disgusting, all-night, dramatic, battle-to-the-dawn, epic breakups. I was running on maybe three hours of sleep and my hair was piled on my head like a rat's nest. My friend made me go. It was karaoke night, she had whined to me over the phone. C'mon Jen. Karaoke.

So there I was. A girl in a bar.

We spotted this dude we knew and headed over to the booth he'd managed to nab. They still allowed smoking in the bars back then and through the dark haze I noticed another guy at the booth, this one unfamiliar. He was smoking and going on and on about how he was on leave from Fort Campbell, an Army base about 8 hours away. 

Not exactly sure what about him irritated me. Maybe it was his tone. Maybe it was the whole "ooo I'm an ARMY guy oooo!" It might've been my terrible hangover from the night before combined with breakup puffy-eye syndrome and general fatigue. Can't really put my finger on it. He annoyed the crap out of me.

"Ya know, I'm in the Army, too. 91-W series combat medic. Really not that big of a deal."

Unknown guy was surprised. "Oh yea? What unit?"

"634th FSB out of Camp Lincoln."

"Huh," he said. "That's an Army duty station? Where is that, exactly?"

Ugghhh here we go, I thought. "I'm not active duty. Army National Guard," I said, with force.

He smiled, irritatingly. "Ahhh, a weekend warrior."

I hated him. "Yea, I go to drill on the weekends. Oh and what did you say your MOS was, again? You pull triggers and pins, yes? Takes about 2 days to learn how to do that, huh? I was trained to save lives. I attended training at one of the best medical facilities in the world and am fully certified in both military and civilian medical services. Months of training, testing, and practicals in a fully-operational military hospital. So before you go spouting off about how easy we 'weekend warriors' have it, you might want to stop and consider who patches your butt up when you fall off that high horse."

He smiled again. Dammit. He liked that.

"Can I get you and your friend a drink?" he asked. 

Aha! Now that's what I'm talking about. I could handle insults when free stuff was involved. No shame. 

The moment he got up I grabbed my friend and shout-whispered, "HEY! You can have him! Go for it!"

"WHAT?" she shout-whispered back. "Jenny, what are you talking about! No! I'm not even looking for anything like that!"


He returned with two drinks. I took my hair out of its falling rat's nest. He told me I should leave it down, it looked really pretty. I put it back up.

We'd arrived late so within an hour, the bar closed. At this point I was all amped up on caffeine and didn't want to go home. Plus I really enjoyed taking out my post-breakup man-hate on this unfamiliar guy. We'd found another friend and decided to go dancing ~ we knew a place about 45 minutes away that stayed open until 2AM. It was there, with my two friends dancing by themselves in the background, that unfamiliar guy kissed me. Eh, what the heck. I kissed back.

He became my very first one-night stand. Rebound? Absolutely. Did I like him the next day? Not really. Didn't know him, so I couldn't really form an opinion. Just keeping it classy.

And then the day came. The day. The woman day. It came and then it went. Nothing. Huh. Crazy. Broke out the stick. Two pink lines. My two dogs, Chevy and Dasani (named her after a water bottle, I'm so clever), found out first. I called my karaoke friend. What was I going to do? 

Sounds pretty dang terrible, huh? Oh it gets better.

I told unfamiliar guy about the baby and he took it well. Said he would be there for me. Then, one night, he called me drunk out of his mind. He was in his parents' driveway, he said, with no way to get in. Yea...that's about all it took for me to slam that door. I was freakin out as it was, I didn't need some alcohol-infused teen-man running around stressing me out. I told him to call me back when he wanted to talk about the baby. 

I was a cocktail waitress at a bar. My boss fired me for being pregnant at drill with my unit on a night he needed me. I'd told him I would be at drill two weeks ahead of time, but the guy prolly didn't hear me through his 7th vodka and tonic. I'd been renting a room from a friend and couldn't afford to continue paying the rent. I had no insurance, no money, no job.

So I applied for Medicaid. And WIC. And got on the housing list. And found a new job working at a dental office. After six months of grueling interviews and applications and proving I wasn't some secretly wealthy pregnant lady, I secured an apartment at a brand-new, low-income apartment complex. I was the first person to live in my apartment. It was clean, fresh, small, and perfect.

But the baby. Still wasn't sure I could take care of a baby better than some rich family somewhere with a huge house and puppies and begonias lining the walkway. I scoured adoption sites and sobbed, picked out people who looked perfect and ready and loving. 

"Jen," my girlfriend said to me on one of my particularly bad days, "you know you can take care of a baby just as good as a rich couple. Look at your mom. Look at mine. They were both single moms without a lot of money. Were you miserable growing up?"

I remember her comments washing over me like sunlight. I didn't have to give up my baby. I could do this. I really could. I would need to work hard. But I could do it. I made a promise to myself, though, that if I decided to keep this baby, I would do so wholly and completely. No screwing around. The baby would come first, always, and I would do everything in my power to ensure she never felt unwanted or deprived of a stable life. I had my mother as the perfect example of what a family can become with a lot of love and a little creativity. I could do this. Right?

My answer came a few weeks later. I was about 6 months along and back on the adoption sites, tears welling up, when *thunk*......*thunk tumtum thunk*.....****THUMP**** .....hi mama. 

Unfamiliar guy was allowed back in shortly after those first kicks. I guess I needed that time to figure things out, to make some hard choices, to get settled. He forgave me and when he left for Iraq later that fall, he had my kisses on his lips and weekly letters on the horizon.

Our baby was born on a clear January night.

I'll be the first to tell you our circumstances were not ideal. I've heard and felt the sting of judgement many times, sometimes from those I loved and considered friends.  But in case you haven't guessed, that unknown guy stuck around for a little while. We'll be married seven years this January. Married after our beautiful daughter was born. Dating years after we were wed. Going through all the terrible hard stuff in the first five years. We apparently like to do things out of order.

But you see, something started for me in the worst of ways. Girl walks into bar, girl gets knocked up, girl loses job, girl gets on welfare. Aside from Congress, I am the most hated group in America, right??

I chose to dig, and climb, and scratch, and suck up the pride, and lean on those who loved me. I reached out to any resource I could find. I was very blessed. I was also very determined. 

Freaky, life-changing things happen everyday. I've made some terrible mistakes in my life......but working hard at this life I have chosen is not one of them

When you find yourself in a situation saturated with hopelessness and fear, draw on your powers of resourcefulness. Reach out. DO something. Change something. Make a choice. Find contentment or find another path. We each have an incredible ability to create......destruction or peace, joy or sorrow, your call.

I'm tellin ya, and peace kinda rule.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Happiness Without Bacardi? It IS Possible!

Very exciting things around here this week! My new business page launched and with it, a fresh, stinky ball of fear! Risk is scary....

What if I can't generate a good client base?

What if I drop the ball?

What if I don't make any money?

What if I meet a crazy person?

What if my pants fall down?

Mmmmkay, maybe not that last one. But you get my point. Transition and change can be scary. You're moving from something established and proven to something unknown and unexplored. You can read every book in the business, follow every professional on Twitter, or talk your head off to every consoling friend in your life....and you'll still be starting with a blank, inexperienced slate. 

Moments like these really force me to drink copious amounts of Bacardi focus on why I'm doing this in the first place. 

What makes you smile, Jen? What makes you tick? How can you leave your stamp in this world and do the impossible: 

Satisfy your seemingly-unquenchable thirst for peace and happiness.

When I was 18, I made the decision to attend college in Iowa. I remember making the drive multiple times a year, flying down the highway, cruising under the biggest sky I've ever seen, always looking into the distance, focused on where I want to be. 

Flash forward to 2007, my family and I are stationed in Germany.

I'm driving through the hills, looking out over the intensely rich, beckoning landscapes, and always feeling drawn to "that place off in the distance".....acknowledging where I am, but constantly reaching out, wanting to be over there....on that mountain....the pretty one. 

Sometimes I would drive out to the mountain, only to look back at the place I'd just come from and yearn to go back there. Never satisfied, always looking for the next best, most beautiful mountain. Green grass, greener on every side but the one I was on. 

The yearning continued through my early years with my first daughter.....and finally my second daughter. I needed to find my happy. What's the point of working so hard, Jen, if you can't sit and enjoy what you've done?

So I brainstormed. What am I good at? What could I picture myself doing forever? What would allow me to satisfy a thirst for more, for the best, the most beautiful, the most content, the most fulfilling? 

Writing was my answer. For you, it may be dancing. It may be nursing. It may even be cooking pizzas. Something makes you tick...something exists that will allow you to satisfy your thirst, if only for a few minutes at a time.  

I listened to this awesome live chat by my favorite blogging community, SITS. One of the ladies they interviewed, Danielle Smith, talked about how she prioritizes her life by glancing at a bracelet on her wrist that says, "Hell yeah!" I thought this was incredible....she literally asks herself, does this make me say "hell yeah?" If it doesn't, don't do it. Period.

Obligations and expectation aside, what makes you say "hell yeah!" ~? This can be the hardest part of the'll waffle, waver, and change your mind. I experience moments of self-doubt constantly.

But then I remind myself....

You love this. You are good at this. This allows you to dream forever. This allows you to reach for the next hill and not feel guilty about it. This allows you time to do the other things that make you happy. You can succeed.

I can. And so can you.

I am no expert. No, I'm the crazy chick just starting out...but believe me when I say, I've already learned some key steps towards happiness:

Step 1. Define joy. Like I said, this is one of the hardest steps. Be open-minded and honest. 
Step 2. Identify which circumstances will give you time with said joy.
Step 3. Create three paths towards your newly-identified circumstances.
Step 4. Evaluate your dedication ~ this is no cakewalk. You are redefining your career, your free time, and in some cases, the way you are perceived. You either give it 100% or you walk away and try again some other time. 
Step 5. Consider how your paths affect the outside world. Who will be influenced by these paths? How much do they impact your choices? 
Step 6. Decide which path is best for you and those you wish to keep around.
Step 7. Execute your plan.

Start small.....give yourself a reasonable goal. I gave myself three months to launch a website, complete with a light, but decent, portfolio. I am giving myself two years to become fully-profitable. I am a newbie. I have much to offer, but much to learn.

Most importantly...when you're pulling a late-night shift, suffering from exhaustion, feeling the pangs of regret, second-guessing yourself, and getting pulled 1,000 ways, remember:

You love this. You are good at this. You can do this.

And hey, if that doesn't work, you can always hit up the Bacardi....and then return to Step 1. 

Happy Friday :) Thanks so much for reading!