Café Chronicles

Calling All Ears

If eavesdropping were an occupation, I would easily be a professional. It is not a skill I prefer to possess nor is it one of much value. Typically it ends with me either infuriated at what I have overheard or putting my two-cents where it doesn’t belong.

I didn’t quite realize how often I find myself eavesdropping until I had been living overseas in Korea for almost a year. I don’t speak Korean so you can imagine the opportunities to eavesdrop are limited. I found myself returning home for a wedding, standing in a baggage line at the Chicago O’Hare airport – unconscious of the fact that I could actually understand everything being said around me.

Oops at O’Hare

My connection was tight and the line was moving slowly causing me internal stress that I was not fond of – something the woman standing in front of me was also experiencing. She, unlike me, had a friend to express her worries of missing her connection with. Girl, I feel you. At this point I still don’t recognize that I am absorbing all of this conversation. That is, until the gentleman behind me decides now is the time to make a rude, unnecessary comment under his breath.

Something to the effect of the woman being an idiot for booking a connection with such a tight schedule, etc.

Whipping my head around, words flying out before I even register I am speaking – you could say it wasn’t my finest moment – but I provided him my thoughts on his remarks.

“Well sir, we can’t all be you, now can we? If you have a thought to share, don’t bother keeping it to yourself. Some of us ensured we left hours between flights and yet, like myself, we are still standing in line waiting and now in a predicament of having less than 30 minutes before boarding.”

Oops. Welcome back to America, Ell!

Bite Your Tongue

So, now you understand how I react to eavesdropping on conversations that upset me. You could say I have had to be a bit more diligent at not responding since then. Imagine how it pains me to bite my tongue when I am stuck listening to conversations by fellow service members that fill me with such disgust that I am sick to my stomach and have to quietly exit the café of which I am a regular.

IT HURTS LIKE HELL!

That being said, because I like my job, my uniform and my rank, I prefer not to express my opinions to conversations I wasn’t actively invited into. But I thought maybe you could join me this week in being a smidge infuriated at what I have been forced to stomach.

From the Mouth of a Field Grade

  1. You are less than if you take command as an unmarried officer.

– Because having a spouse determines if you can command effectively

or not right?

  1. But, if you are married, you will be rated based on your spouse given your spouse is a direct reflection of your potential as an officer.

– Because it doesn’t matter if you do good things, if the boss man doesn’t think

you’re wife or husband is up to par, than neither are you? Who needs love

anyway?

The Guys Leading Your Joes

  1. Your appearance – physically – determines if you are going to be competent and capable of doing your job.

– You don’t look nerdy enough to be able to fix my computer, Sarge.

  1. If you work for the Vice President you are “D Team” because you weren’t good enough to work for the POTUS.

– Secret Service detail overseas, assigned to the White House, just automatically

makes you sub-par, you could probably do their job better, right?

Needless to say, it’s only Wednesday.

What have you overheard lately that infuriated you to your core? I can’t be the only one listening in. Happy Hump Day, friends!

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Red Check

 

My Edits-8You enter the gates of Auschwitz and immediately you are overcome with emotion. There is not a single person immune to this during their first visit to this concentration camp famous for the vast number of atrocities committed here. Recently, I had the opportunity to walk through the gates, on a cold rainy Saturday, and see my history book come to life.

As you tour through what was once a building filled with prisoners, the area they were forced to call home for many painful, cold months or possibly years, it is hard to truly grasp what events occurred within the walls around you. As you pass barbed wire fences and guard stands, you try to envision those who made attempts to escape and the fate that they were dealt.

Then you enter a room where it all hits you in one giant wave over and over again. Suddenly, every prisoner, every death, the years of pain, hit you square in the heart. You are seeing two tons of hair shaved off hundreds of women’s heads for the purpose of selling. Now it is stored in a large glass case for historic preservation purposes. You picture these women entering the camp, their clothes taken, their children torn away, and then their last safety net gone with a shave of their head.

My Edits-9.jpgHundreds of shoes that have been left behind, but it is the small boot that could not have belonged to a child more than two or three years old that stands out to you. An innocent child not yet old enough to comprehend what is happening. Hundreds of thousands of combs, shaving utensils, pots and pans, but then you see the suitcases. Suitcases labeled with the surname of the family and the date of their arrival because they were convinced they would have their belongings returned to them, but they were never to be seen again.

However, out of all of this, it was the red check marks that struck me the hardest. With no effort at all, as I looked down at the page with all the red check marks, it was as if I could see the Nazi himself as he held the paper with the list of names – women selected to be gassed – and marked a simple red check with his pen as each one entered the chamber. Handwritten check marks signifying the death of more than 100 women. Little checks that ensured their life had ended.

Regensburg: Is this a gay bar?

When your household goods aren’t scheduled to arrive for a few more weeks, or months is some of our cases, or you live in the dreaded bachelor officer quarters on post – you most certainly don’t want to spend your weekend sitting around your apartment twiddling your thumbs. What do you do instead? You rally the group together for a night out in a new town and put me in charge of finding a hotel, food and a good bar of course 😉

With that in mind we selected the nearby city of Regensburg to explore – and when I say explore I more so mean eat, drink and sleep in for the weekend. We headed to Regensburg late in the afternoon Saturday after reservations were made. As usual I used booking.com to hunt down the perfect spot for us to stay. At 40 EUR a person, we stayed at the Alstadthotel Arch right downtown. We selected a triple room and breakfast was included.

Getting to Regensburg was an easy drive, finding parking a little more challenging but after a quick check-in it was time to get ready and head out for the night. We had selected a nice French restaurant known as Restaurant Orphee near by (top choice restaurant in Regensburg according to Lonely Planet). It did not disappoint. The restaurant was not only quaint and well decorated, but each of our meals was TO DIE FOR. I’m talking melt in your mouth with an excellent wine selection to pair with your food. The restaurant did not take reservations but finding a table on a Saturday night did not prove too difficult. I think we will all be returning in the coming months. Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I’ll be sure to bring you too.

We then wandered over to a nearby bar called KA5PER. The aesthetic was edgy. Cellar like bar down a flight of stairs and evidently a popular spot given the number of tables already marked off reserved for the night. However, about fifteen minutes into being there the music was turned up and the crowd quickly changed – heavy rock music and an older crowd was not how we were intending to enjoy our evening. We quickly finished our overpriced drinks and headed out.

From there we found an Irish Pub called Murphy’s Law. Once again we headed down a flight of stairs and into the cellphone service-less dungeon of a bar – but it was just the spot we were looking for. An array of beers and Jameson to choose from, we quickly selected a pitcher for the table. To put it into perspective our pitcher of beer for the table was the same price as my cocktail at KA5PER…this was much more my venue. However, it was now midnight and Cinderella was in much need of some music and a dance floor. So we headed upstairs and on out to what Google had so kindly recommended to us as the top local gay bar, Scala.

 

 

Now, rumor has it that it can be difficult – if not impossible – for Americans to be let into clubs in Regensburg. However, with only a short line ahead of us we managed to find our way in with no issue. A small cover fee of 6 EUR and a coat check later we were off to find drinks and the dance floor. The DJ kept the crowd moving with many 90’s and early hits of the 2000’s which did not disappoint.

A breakfast included in the hotel reservation is one of the first filters I am sure to apply when hunting down the best spot to stay and boy did our breakfast buffet not disappoint. Traditional German breakfast and some thrifty moves to acquire free champagne for our breakfast mimosas was exactly the way to start the morning after a fun night out. We ventured down to St. Peter’s Cathedral and down to the Danube river. There was an adorable Little Italy market set up nearby selling a delicious spread of cheeses and olives fresh from nearby vendors. While the trip was short, I am sure Regensburg is a city we will come to know quite well over the next few years. Until next weekend, Germany!

 

 

 

Hallo aus Deutschland!

Well guys, I made it. I survived my 2nd move abroad – so far at least. Boy is it hard not to compare everything to Korea. I think by now anyone that has met me is sick of my Korea stories (sorry, y’all). But GERMANY. How awesome is that? I live in Germany. The closest you get to home without actually being home for me. Having lived here as a child it has been exciting finding old familiarities and putting my limited German skills to good use.

I have successfully managed to sign a lease for a gorgeous apartment.

With the assistance of a friend’s father I have tracked down just the car for me – if the paperwork would ever come through. Stay tuned for that one 😉

I have made new friends who I have begun exploring with, I have drank German beer and eaten schnitzel.

My first weekend in country I managed to navigate the Flixbus north to Berlin to see some family which was much needed. After trekking backward around the world to get here – literally (Korea to Japan to Seattle to Baltimore to Germany -_-) – familiar faces were a welcomed site. It is weird how you can be gone for so long and yet everything feels normal. We ate breakfast, went to the Christopher Street Day parade in the pouring rain, we ate delicious food, biked for miles and ate well deserved ice cream  before an at home BBQ. It was hard to say goodbye but exciting knowing I have a few years ahead of weekend visits!

I haven’t started working yet but will be soon hopefully! I am excited to hit the ground running. My household items aren’t scheduled to arrive until September so this should be an interesting month. Pray for my sanity! I will be furniture shopping and slowly settling into my new space. The town I am living in is so cute. It is home to the tallest church in Germany with many delicious restaurants and shops. It will take some time getting used to the fact everything closes by 6 p.m. and is closed on Sunday, but at least here I can get a coffee before 10 a.m. HAHA. Theres a beautiful little river that goes through the city and large city square for farmers markets and festivals!

I think Germany and I will get along just fine. Bis dan!

How did we get here?

It is amazing how fast your life can change. I’ve watched people come and go in the blink of an eye. Monday someone can be the person crossing the world to help you and by Friday you are breaking in half because of the words and actions of the same person.

No one ever envisions his or her life with the heartache and the pain that comes with it. When someone asks you what your five-year plan is, you don’t include thoughts of breakups, deaths, depression, addiction, job loss. You envision all the great things that are coming your way, the family you wish to start, the new job you plan to chase, the new city you will move to and adventure or the degree you are working to complete.

Hindsight is 20/20. But if I look back 5 years, there is little that was included in the five-year plan. Heck, if I look back just over the last 16-months here in Korea, it amazes me how much everything changed – in my family, in myself, in my job. A year ago I would not have believed you if you had told me everything that was about to happen. In some ways, this last year has brought so much good – but in so many more ways it has brought so much pain.

As I prepare to spend five days at home for the first time since my parents finalized their divorce, I find a lot of emotion surfacing I did not know I had bottled up. The last time I was home, both parents were under the same roof. And while I knew the divorce was happening, the finality of it – two homes, two schedules, two separate lives – had not yet happened. Having to coordinate which days I get to see my mom and which days I get to see my dad, makes me sick to my stomach.

Wondering if everyone can come see me off the airport together was never a question I had to ask. Now I don’t even know how to coordinate a ride to the airport from a parent for fear of making one feel more special than the other.

And yet, as I think of the 5 days ahead, I find heartache in knowing my sister has to make the decision each and every day. The choice to sleep at dad’s over mom’s and will that impact their relationship down the road. What they don’t tell you about being an adult child of divorce (ACOD) is that the decisions most children have made for them (i.e. which house you stay at on which days) are the hardest, most heart wrenching ones you make daily. A child does not have to feel responsible for hurt or jealousy that may come with their choices. An ACOD does.

Being a world a way makes all of this that much harder. While some days I am grateful I have not had to face the changes head on, and can continue to live in my bubble away from it all, most days I am pained by not being able to help my family find its new normal. Because for each person, our reality has changed. Each one of us has to redefine what normal is in our family. But nothing, none of this, is normal.

The house that was my home has been remodeled. I am being asked if I want old wedding photos and family portraits…because that is not my parents’ life anymore, but somehow that is still mine. Old furniture that carries memories of a different time.

I am so excited for the new opportunities my parents are chasing. My dad is pursuing his Masters, he joined a running club, even applied for a cool job. My mom has an awesome new home on the water, with views of rolling hills, and she is off conquering her career and traveling the country meeting so many new people. I am incredibly grateful that in raising my sister and I, somehow my parents managed to raise not only daughters, but also best friends. I have my sister to lean on and she has me. We are not alone.

But to any other ACOD, who may feel they are facing change alone – you aren’t. We are here. To those who have more than a few months experience with this, I’d appreciate knowing how you pushed through after watching your world change without any control.

In discussing a book with a friend yesterday, he mentioned how the book explained that those who feel less control in the workplace are more stressed. I think the same stands true in life. Feeling like you have no control, like everything is changing around you, is stressful.

How did we get here? I really don’t know. Where will we go from here? I don’t know that either. But, in time, we will find our way. Hindsight is 20/20 right?

Make it Sparkle

I work in a profession, that compared to most, is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of equality. Women are paid on rank, not gender. You can be of any sexual orientation and maintain job security. Any one of us can do any job within our organization that we are physically capable of doing – which even includes combat roles for women. How cool, right? I think so.

 

But needless to say, sexism still exists. The good old boys way of thinking is still prominent amongst our ranks, our senior leaders and peers. I love my job, I love what I do, I love who I serve with, and would not trade it for anything – at least not yet. But it is also important that you understand that unfortunately, being a female in uniform comes with a continuing circle of things that quite frankly, are just not acceptable.

 

In the last six months alone I have been told to ‘make it sparkle’ when writing a speech for a commanding officer by a male peer. I have received a travel safety brief that was initiated with “This is what I tell my sixteen year old daughter…”. I have sat in a meeting in which the highest ranking individual told the remaining leaders in the room to ensure their female soldiers were at the sexual harassment/assault response and prevention training because they are statistically the victims, with no mention that the males should attend training because statistically they are the predators.

 

While to some this may all seem minor, these are only a few examples over the course of  six months – and I am only one woman. Imagine if we combined every female in the military together and asked what sexist comments had been made and what sexist actions they had witnessed over just one week, or one month, or one year.

 

Comments like these show other junior leaders that this is an acceptable way of thought, when it is not. Comments like these say you are less than – and it is exactly how it makes me feel. I would guarentee my male predecessor was never asked to ‘make it sparkle’. Quite frankly, here is a jazz finger for you and a box of glitter. You figure that one out, sir.

 

As recently as this week, I was reviewing video footage from a footmarch that was recorded via GoPro by a soldier for me. The intent is to use the footage to build a motivating ‘hooah’ video. Instead, I spent my evening circling around a one-minute clip in which he and another male peer have a brief but sexual conversation about me, fraternization and his past opportunities to have sex with another female officer.

 

No, dude. Absolutely not. I do not care who you are. That we are from the same area and have mutual friends. Anything. It is disgusting that as a female I have to not only assume the conversation is happening but now listen first hand to two soldiers discuss me in such a manner. Absolutely unacceptable. But how do you go about rectifying this? How do you correct this behavior? How does a junior officer tell a senior ranking officer that his comments are out of line and he needs to think before he speaks?

 

I know it may seem so simple. In any other aspect of my life I am the first to call out a male or even female for sexist comments and stereotypes. I have no shame. I will tell you how it is and that what you have said is not okay. But when your workplace is involved? Your boss is involved? Your peers? In a military environment?

 

I know I need to do better at correcting sexist comments in a respectful manner instead of pushing them aside. Last year I had a male officer, senior ranking, grab me by my dress uniform jacket right at the chest at a military ball and angrily request to know:

“Do you wanna go to Ranger School, LT?”

— Uhm, no sir. I’d like to earn my jump wings though. (eyes the size of saucers because I know this is not real life, right?)

“Good. The vaginas are ruining the institution.”

 

WHAAATTT?! Why oh why. Not ok. Not cool. And thanks dude for now making me incredibly uncomfortable and having to run in the opposite direction now anytime I come near you or your boss.

 

I share to let other women who have experienced similar encounters know they are not alone. And that even someone as confident, and vocal (as many of you know), as I am, I too still have not figured out how the right way to go about correcting such comments and behavior. I share to let my male peers know this is not acceptable and if you are guilty of such comments/actions in the past — take the time to rectify this. It is not too late. But also for others to be more aware of how the things you say may have one intention but be perceived completely different.

Just Walk Out

If you don’t like me, my opinions, my perspective, my ideals, my policy views, my way of thought, my morals, my skin color, my hair color, my height, my education level, my hometown, or any other reason you could think to disagree… I ask that at this time you stand up and walk out…because that’s what everyone is doing these days, right?

You are in the third grade. Your new teacher has just finished explaining the classroom rules for the school year. You don’t like the rules so you leave class.

You are now in middle school. Your soccer coach has just finished explaining to you and your teammates a new play for the upcoming game but you don’t agree with it. It won’t win you the game. You pick up your bag and leave in the middle of practice.

You are now a new employee at a restaurant waiting tables. Your customer claims you messed up his order but you know it was not your fault – he forgot to ask for no pickles. You are now upset, but instead of correcting the error, you walk out on your shift.

Now you have graduated college and started a new job. You are an up and coming businessman/woman. Hot shot on the rise. You are a few months in. You are sitting in on a meeting about a new project you are assisting on. The CEO for your company does not agree with the direction or your suggestions. He/she thinks you are misguided and uninformed. He doesn’t communicate this to you or explain why. He/she just walks out.

As a parent, what would you tell the third grader? Just because you don’t like the rules in place does not mean you don’t have to follow them and surely does not mean you get to storm out of class. The middle schooler? Coach is in charge and while you may disagree or think there is a better way, you are a member of a team and he/she has more experience than you, follow the play. If you have a different suggestion, address it respectfully after practice. Maybe he/she will use it next time! The new employee? You’re fired. You don’t walk out on a shift because you don’t agree with a customer. The CEO at your new job? Pretty sure you’d be visibly upset and extremely confused as to why he/she couldn’t express his thoughts verbally in order to help you grow as an employee and create a better product.

Many of you by now are aware that a group of students walked out of their own graduation when Vice President Mike Pence stood up to the podium to deliver the University of Notre Dame’s commencement address. They upped and left while the VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was preparing to deliver remarks. The VICE PRESIDENT*. Are you kidding me right now? Regardless, they left.

If you want a visual for the word immature, here you have it, folks. He was not there to impart policy, to force his views down your throat or even throw shade. He was there to celebrate, along with the families and friends seated in the audience, the great accomplishment those students had all achieved – graduating from college. As a man holding both a bachelors and law degree, he is all to familiar with what that achievement means and the hard work the students put in each day to reach their goal of graduating.

Each of the students who walked out, sure they had the ‘right’ to do so. You do you, boo boo. BUT what did they truly achieve? The real MVP is the student who disagrees with the policy of the current administration, but stayed seated, showed respect for the invited speaker, and gained a wealth of new knowledge on how someone he does not see eye-to-eye with views the future – because that is what most graduation speakers tend to talk about… your future, not how you should view the budget, gay rights or the military.

It is pertinent to being successful that one can disagree – even down to the core – with someone else but still express their views respectfully, still work hand-in-hand and will work to be educated on how the opposing side views things. Many of the people who make up our great nation, especially the ones who walk out of their own graduation, forget the importance of seeing both sides. If you ignore those who see things differently, that does not make them go away, does not change their perspective and does not achieve much of anything. But if you make a point to understand policy from all sides, you will have gained a great advantage**.

I’d be curious what those students are actively doing to contribute to changing policy they seem to so vastly disagree with. What did they believe was being accomplished by walking out? Are they activists in their community? Any of them running for office in their communities? I’d bet not, because how could they when they think the answer to fixing the problem is to pull the blanket over their head instead of facing the problem head on.

You cannot justify this with ‘at least they didn’t boo, they just walked out’. Both are wrong. Both are disrespectful. I hope one day someone walks out on them, in the middle of a big shining moment and decides that being selfish is more important, so then maybe they will have the opportunity to understand, to grow, to learn to hear both sides. You don’t have to ever change your perspective, your views, your policy, your morals, but unless you wish to continue hiding in the corner, the answer surely isn’t: just walk out.

 

*I don’t care if it was the VP, POTUS himself, Amy Schumer, JLO, Sheryl Sandberg, or Elmo. All still applies.

**I encourage each of you who agree or disagree to share your thoughts, opinions and perspectives in the comments. Some students may prefer to walk away, but I’d actually like to continue seeing things from both sides.