Monday, October 26, 2009

The adventure continues

Our picnic spread on our last killer hike

I have made it as far as Kuwait and am in a holding pattern to catch a military flight into Afghanistan. If all goes well, I will be back with the team in the next day or two.

Nate and I enjoyed a last adventure together getting to the airport. We took a train from Garmisch to Munich, and had fun just looking at the sights and reliving our vacation. After checking in, we tested out one last brewhaus, right there in the airport! And, according to the Beer Drinkers Guide to Munich, the place gets 3.5/5 rating, not bad for an airport pub! We shared a last wheat beer and some yummy Bavarian cheese spread with fresh pretzels, a perfect way to wrap up our trip.

So far, our respective travels have been anticlimactic. I have managed to get this far with only one mouse incident. The little pest managed to get in my backpack and nibbled my Twizzlers! What a pain! I caught a couple hours sleep here in Kuwait and am now waiting to see when I can hitch a ride for the last leg of my journey.

Nate is taking off from London as I type and looking forward to seeing the kids soon. He had a LONG layover (12 hours!) in London so stayed in this crazy space-pod “Yotel” place. It is a little cubicle with a bed, TV and private bathroom right in the airport and seems to have been a saving grace for him. He says it was crazy “futuristic” but served the purpose and added to the adventure!

As I head back to the team, it is with mixed emotions. I loved being in the real world—albeit the vacation world—for the last two weeks but am ready to get on with the mission. I know it will take a couple days to settle back in and get up to speed on what has happened while I was gone. With the election runoff pending, I am sure we will be busy, not directly with the election but providing mentoring and support to the process. I will post updates as I can, and thanks to Jim (the editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership) I can do it via e-mail as well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Germany, Day 13

I cannot believe our vacation is almost over. The thought of returning to the real world is tough for both of us. Nate will return to his life as a single parent, alone on the prairies of western Texas, and I will return to the demands of "herding cats" on the plains of Afghanistan. One thing in Nate's favor—he missed an episode of upset tummy with our youngest. Fortunately, Grammy was there to save the day. Unfortunately, the timing is just about right for our oldest to be stricken when he arrives home.

We highly recommend the hotel we have stayed in the last two weeks. Edelweiss Lodge and Resort caters to military families and is an incredible experience. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, the food good and the rooms spacious. They had an amazing "R&R" rate that provided us a room and food for the entire 14 days, and that is what sealed the deal. We have enjoyed tours organized by the resort, rented bikes, set off on staff-recomended trails and have never been disappointed. How is that for an unsolicited recommendation?!

Of course, I expect to be asked: "What was your favorite part?" I honestly don't know that I could name a favorite. I really enjoyed the trip to Dachau. (Is it OK to admit enjoying a tour of a concentration camp?) It was really well done and I could have spent another two or three hours in the museum alone. In Germany, a visit to a concentration camp is a requirement for high school students, so it was interesting to see so many young people touring the grounds as well.

Then there was just being outside, hiking all over the mountains and breathing the fresh air provided a much-needed escape for both of us. With its detailed maps and signs and often a "hutte" as a destination, the trail system here is one of the best we have ever seen. Who doesn't mind hiking in the snow/rain when there is a cold beer awaiting you at the turn-around?

All in all, the trip has been a success, and we will treasure the memories forever. We couldn't have managed this without the support of my mom and dad, who toiled away at home with the little ones! THANK YOU!!! More to come as I make my way back to Afghanistan and the pending chaos as we gear up for a repeat of the Afghan elections. And, if the trip back to Kuwait is as bizarre as the trip out, it will definitely provide some blog fodder.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Just an observation

We have spent a great 10 days touring Bavaria and have made a few interesting observations. Although beer is served here like water and the food is hearty, you see very few overweight locals. And I haven't noticed any giant, open-24-hour gyms with flashy billboards, either. Is it the limitless options for physical activity? The ability to walk or bike wherever you want on well-maintained paths? Where have we gone "wrong" in the States? We have limitless fitness options but continue to be an overweight nation.

This is something I have pondered before but never has it been so obvious to me as during the last couple weeks. In our country, which thrives on the automobile and get-thin-quick schemes, how do you convince a population that the best way to better health is eating less and moving more? Back home, I am frequently asked by patients to prescribe weight-loss medications, something I nearly always refuse to do. My suggestions to find a local park and walk 30 minutes a day or climb the stairs at work insead of using the elevators are inevitably met with anger and frustration.

A healthy weight is not always easy to obtain but the Germans seem to be onto something with their enthusiasm for the outdoors and activity. After too many hours spent sitting behind a desk in Afghanistan, I am thoroughly enjoying myself!

Monday, October 19, 2009

From snow to sunshine

Me, outside the Neuschnestein Castle Sunday.
It snowed and rained all day!

Nate, with the Waxenstein Mtn. range and SUNSHINE!

Today, the sun finally shined down on Bavaria! We have been enjoying ourselves, even with the ongoing rain and snow, but today's sunshine was very welcome.

On Friday, we picked up a rental car and, thanks to some helpful hints from our new friend "Jake," we headed off to see Mittenweld and Murneau. Our finely made Russian compact car didn't stand up to the test of relentless rain. In a mid-mountain pass, the wipers gave out. We had to return to Garmisch early and skipped the brewery in Murneau but, never fear, we made a side trip the next day!

On Saturday, we set out for Austria to check out Salzburg, which was very cool. It rained most of the day, but we hiked around and saw the sights. We took an amazing tour of Hohensalzburg, the impressive fortress that has guarded Salzburg since the mid-11th century. We could have spent all day wandering around and learning about the history.
The next day, Sunday, we took our little rental car on the senic route—over a couple small mountain passes and through Austria—to see King Ludwig II's castles. It was snowing and very beautiful. Nice to take the road less traveled. The two castles we toured—Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein—were impressive but very over-the-top. Neuschwanstein, the inspriation Walt Disney used for Sleeping Beauty, isn't even complete. Only 16 of the 65 rooms were finished before Ludwig died of mysterious circumstances.

Today, the sun was shining, so we set off on foot (we only kept the car for the weekend). We hiked all over the place, finally ending at a pristine mountain lake where we had a late lunch and enjoyed the view. We wimped out and took the bus home. I was ready to walk, but Nate claimed to be tired, or maybe it was happy hour calling him.

Needless to say, we are having a fantastic vacation, regardless of the weather. More to come in the next few days. We plan to tour Dachau, Munich and make another pass through Murneau.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our vacation in Germany, Day 3

The view from our room in Germany, Sunday

The view from our room in Germany, Wednesday

I am not afraid of a little snow. I like to ski, enjoy making snowmen and honestly like cozy warm sweaters and curling up by a crackling fire. What I don't really like is unplanned snow while on vacation. I am not here to ski and, without our kids, making a snowman just seems odd, but we are attempting to make the best of it by drinking our way across Bavaria.

For both of us, our travel here was essentially uneventful. My trip from the air base in Kuwait to the airport is a post in itself, which I will save for another day! And my fear of negotiating the Munich train system alone was unfounded, although it would have been much more daunting without two years of riding the DC Metro! I managed to find the right train, change trains mid-trip and even find a taxi to the hotel! Very impressive when you realize my only trip outside the U.S. (prior to the all-expenses-paid trip to Afghanistan) was to the British Virgin Islands!
Yesterday, we visited a really cool cheese factory where, after watching the obligatory video, we ate cheese and drank beer. We then toured an amazing monastery (built in the 1300s) that is now famous for its yummy liquor and beer. It is also a boarding school. Can you imagine sending your little ones off to school at a monastery/brewery?

Today, we awoke to the scene above and decided to press on with our original plan to hike to a "halfway house" that our guide from yesterday had told us about. It was a quaint little restaurant midway up the hill and across the valley from our hotel. We hiked—straight up—for a couple of hours and were rewarded by a beautiful view of the snowcapped peaks. After a couple of beers, we hiked on to some ruins and back to town.

We are currently resting up for dinner, watching the clouds play across the mountains (pictured above) with some intermittent snowflakes swirling down. Not a bad escape from the craziness that is Afghanistan.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Let the adventure begin!

Hello from Kuwait! I have started the process of R&R but, honestly, am more exhausted than I was prior to leaving Afghanistan. The whole process is a bit convoluted and confusing. Nate was teasing me about tracking his progress to Germany via Facebook, which gave me an idea for a post. Here are the updates I would have added to my Facebook page, if I had Internet on yesterday's journey:

9:15 a.m. (Friday)—Lori is on the way to check in for the flight to Kuwait (along with 150 of my newest friends); 30-minute wait for a 10-minute brief.

2:00 p.m.—Lori is back at the terminal for roll call. After relinquishing our ID cards, we are put in lockdown; can't leave the general area until our flight, which could take four to six hours.

3:30 p.m.—Lori is still waiting. I am sitting outside the USO (love these places), reading a book, all within a block of my office. I could still be working.

4:30 p.m.—Lori has finally turned in luggage for the trip. We are now sitting in the terminal, sequestered here until the flight, which is still three to four hours away.

6:00 p.m.—Lori is still waiting. We cannot leave for dinner, but are welcome to have Pizza Hut or Burger King delivered. No word on the flight.

8:00 p.m.—Lori is finally told to "form up" and "count off." We are initially missing 10 soldiers but, on recount, it appears to be human error. We are now told, "Hurry, you are late and the plane is waiting." HUH? We have been here all day and now we are late?

12:15 a.m. (Saturday)—Lori is finally in Kuwait. We are loading onto a bus to proceed to the R&R tent area. It is HOT here!

1:00 a.m.—Lori is waiting. I think I sense a developing theme. We are herded into one tent after another to fill out forms, review forms, turn in our body armor for storage—after filling out another form.

1:30 a.m.—Lori is waiting ... again. Most of the soldiers are going to the USA and they have separated them from those of us going elsewhere. Thankfully, one of the soldiers from my team is going to England, so I have company while I wait. We spend 30 minutes moving from office to office, frequently backtracking as someone prior didn't do something right. I am glad to have company as the fatigue and frustration start taking their toll.

2:30 a.m.—Lori is finally done waiting. I have a tent assignment, have found the bathroom and am settling down to sleep. Didn't occur to me to bring a sleeping bag. I end up with a fleece hat, sweatshirt, shorts, socks and my uniform blouse over me for a blanket. Still freezing.

5:30 a.m.—Lori is attempting to sleep. The lady in the bed next to me got up and took pity on me. Threw her sleeping bag over me as she has to go to a roll call for U.S. travelers. Finally, warm enough to sleep for a couple hours.

7:15 a.m.—Lori is up, looking for the gym and food.

How is that for a relaxing start to my leave? Actually, it is funny in hindsight. Lots of waiting, lots of frustration, but the end is near. I will be in Germany by tomorrow, beating Nate there by just a couple hours.

More to come, I am sure, as our European Adventure begins.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I am having a hard time finding something exciting to write about. Somehow, life here has become routine. My big news: In two days, I am scheduled to leave here to start my vacation. Technically, we have hit the halfway mark of our tour, if you count the training time. It is hard to believe we are that far along. I remember the day I received the news I was headed for Afghanistan and how sad and scared I was. My greatest fear has always been being away from my husband and children—strange fear for a girl who has made her career in the Air Force—but this has definitely broken me of that. I miss them terribly but I am adapting to this odd world and the quirks of my team.

Other than living in a war zone and experiencing the stressors that come with that, the issue currently bothering me most is the mice. We have mice in our office, and last night one ran into the room where I sleep. I know they really are not a threat, but every time one scurries by I yelp and sometimes even scream. Apparently, as new buildings go up on the base, the mice are being forced out of their “natural habitat” and coming to find homes with us. And the only option for extermination is sticky traps.

If you’ve never seen these, they are thick paper with lots of sticky glue. The theory is that the mouse will run through the trap, get stuck and you can dispose of it. Problem is, they are alive when they get stuck and someone has to put them out of their misery. Needless to say, my Army training has not instilled a killer instinct in me, and the whole concept makes me a little squeamish. But which is worse: living with mice in your room or calling someone to dispose of one stuck to the trap? I pick the trap! Too bad we are not allowed to keep pets or unit mascots. I would find a cat.

I am very much looking forward to a two-week break from Afghanistan. Nate is meeting me in Germany, and we plan to relax, tour around and sample beer. The kids get the benefit of two uninterrupted weeks with their grandparents and are looking forward to being spoiled. Yes, I am still feeling a bit guilty about not coming home to see them but, as I have said before, I just can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to them again. The next time I see them, I want to be home to stay! I will try to write while we are traveling and update you on our adventures. I have never been to Europe and am looking forward to the rest.
Added 10 October from Kuwait - guess what!! I came into my transient tent while heading to Germany to find a - guess what - MOUSE on my bed!!! He had been in my backpack and eaten at my granola bars!! GROSS! They seem to be following me. Hope the hotel is safe!