May 23, 2021

Why I Chose the J&J Vaccine

FULL Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional and I wholeheartedly believe that every individual has to process their own decisions about all vaccinations, including their own moral and ethical stances on the current vaccines available during the CoVid-19 pandemic.

Vaccines freak me out.

The more I learn about them and the giant pharmaceutical companies that produce them, the less I trust the entire system.

I already felt this way in 2019, so maybe you can imagine my brain going to all the horrible places starting last March, 2020.

I went directly to the "worst-case-scenario," that any vaccine against a global pandemic would probably end up being the prophesied "Mark of the Beast" from the book of Revelation in the Bible.

My personal stance for the majority of the pandemic was: I will not be vaccinated.

I am a thirty-five year-old woman with no serious health issues in my history or heritage who has a physically activity job in sports.

I still do not think that I am at a high risk of dying from CoVid-19. I understand that the offered vaccines are simply that: a probable protection from dying from CoVid-19, not necessarily protection from contracting the virus itself.

In the months and weeks leading up to my first trip to America in April, I talked with at least fifty different people around my age about the pros and cons about the various vaccine options. I was asking if they planned on getting vaccinated, which vaccine, where, how, random logistics, if symptoms were experienced...ALL the questions.

I learned to suppress my doomsday rhetoric as it became more clear that: a) the vaccine proof would not be marked on the forehead or the hand, b) there was not one single "monopoly" vaccine, and c) many of my Christian friends were not worried about it.

I was originally convinced that getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be the swiftest solution, what with only coming to the USA for two weeks at a time. However, it was never very clear to me on where to get this specific vaccine and/or how to find it in the small amount of time I would have available to me while in America. (Vaccines in Germany are finally gaining momentum, but back in March, the future looked pretty bleak.)

When the J&J vaccine went on pause, I was back at square one.

Finally, I was able to accept a tentative plan that involved intricate date planning, accessing whatever vaccine Walmart would be offering at the end of my first trip to Georgia in order to facilitate the right amount of possible days until the next appointment (pending Pfizer or Moderna shots) near the start of my second trip to California.

Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole "hoping for it all to work out" kind of attitude.

While visiting my family in Georgia, I decided I really wanted to check if I had the virus antibodies already. Marc and I were consistently amazed over the past year that, while we were being generally careful, we knew we couldn't be so perfect as to insure our safety from exposure to the virus. We began to wonder if indeed we had already had it, and that was perhaps why we weren't getting sick ever.

I went to CVS Pharmacy and took the antibodies test with two really great nurses. I had to wait with them for around ten minutes for my result, and we were all chatting through our experiences with the testing during the pandemic. Towards the end of waiting for the result to process, the head nurse casually mentioned, "Oh yeah, we just started the Johnson & Johnson shot in our store this week again! You can walk right over there and get it!"

Immediately, my head went into all the possible pros and cons of having surprising instant access to the single-shot J&J vaccine.

I had read all the articles about why the J&J vaccine had gone on pause; women aged 18 to 50 had the risk of blood clotting. I fell right into that risk group. 

If I got the shot tomorrow, I would have seven days at my parents' house before getting onto four planes to travel back to Germany. You know, long plane rides where we are all at risk for blood clotting.

If I was going to do this, I needed to make a decision within the next few hours in order to schedule an appointment for the next day.

If I didn't take this shot tomorrow, I was going to be at the mercy of Walmart where whatever vaccine they could offer me in Georgia in May might not be the same follow-up shot at a Walmart in California in June.

More and more news was coming out about how having a vaccine meant less quarantine time, less restrictions, and less complications. Mask-mandates have not really been relevant to my happiness, so that was neither here nor there.

This was a time and opportunity situation, a game-time decision.

I chose to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for my freedom.

I chose to be vaccinated so my family and friends wouldn't have to worry about my presence after international travel. I chose to be vaccinated so I could feel a little less worried about if there would be a next time I would get to see my family again. Because, yes, in the nearly year and a half of a global pandemic, I was terrified that this cute expat plan of ours could fail miserably with us trapped in Europe without the rumored "vaccine passports" to travel and no way to ever see our families or friends again.

If that nurse at CVS hadn't mentioned J&J, I would have had no idea it was an option. She wasn't even advertising or pushing it, it was just an organic part of a pandemic conversation.

The pharmacist who administered my shot the next day asked me if I was really sure I wanted this vaccine because I was in the risk group. I asked him a couple of more questions about it, then committed to it. I was thankful just the same that he took the time to make sure I was sure.

The actual shot was done really well. I waited by choice for fifteen minutes in the CVS Pharmacy area, then went home with my mom who had driven me. We had all cleared the day to make sure I wouldn't had anything strenuous to do and could just sit around drinking water.

About seven hours after my 11:30 AM shot, I got really tired and went to bed early. It was then I realized I was coming down with a fever for the first time in a year and a half. We monitored it with water, aspirin, and the thermometer (which, by the way, Marc and I do not have, so it was an extra godsend to feel crappy at my parents' house). The 101 degree Fahrenheit fever came and went twice throughout the night, always breaking back to the right body temperature. I took it easy again the next day and only experienced some mild nausea in the afternoon.

I had a sore shoulder for about five days, but always had at least 90% range of motion. So I know from my other friends that my muscle soreness was very mild; I was able to do most everything, including holding a baby and a toddler without any problems.

The riskiest part of choosing to be in this giant global vaccine experiment was having to get on airplanes within a week of receiving the shot. I have never exercised so much on a plane! 

Obviously, I survived the two-ish week awareness time for blood clotting, and am now fully vaccinated.

I completely understand that many people in my situation would probably not have made the same decision as I did, but it was the right decision for me. Even if I had suffered a serious side effect afterwards, I had already accepted that it was the right decision to get this vaccine when I did for my life situation.

We do not yet know any of the possible long-term effects of receiving any of the vaccines. We do not yet know if we will need annual booster shots. We do not yet know if the various vaccines can be mixed. We do not yet know if all the vaccines work against ever-growing number of the virus variants.

I feel very grateful and privileged to have had access to choose which vaccine I wanted to use. I am thankful that when I visit my friends in California, I will not have to worry about quarantining away from them, taking extra corona tests to be sure, or need to be tested to re-enter Germany at the end of my trip. I will be able to return to work right away in June without quarantine (I quarantined returning from Georgia because my vaccine was not at its two-week mark yet).

Whether you choose to be vaccinated now or later or never, and whatever vaccine you do or do not choose, just make sure of this: you know your decision as a deeply personal conviction and you accept the consequences of whatever decision you are making. Because, unfortunately, ALL of our decisions about vaccines come with risks and consequences. There is not 1000% right answer or way to manage all of this.

I chose my vaccine because of the freedoms it would afford me the most quickly and efficiently as an expat in sports who loves to travel.

Thanks to my family and friends for your wisdom, guidance, support, and even in-person care during my vaccine journey. I hope you are staying safe and our lives can slowly creep back to more normalcy.

Praying for you always!

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April 11, 2021

When the #ScooterSquatter Became the Scooter OWNER


Yes, you read that title correctly. The #ScooterSquatter is going to have her own prop finally!

By the time summer rolls around in Deutschland this year, I will be the proud owner of my own beautiful and fabulous E-One! This is an electric scooter made by the environmentally-savvy Savitron Mobility in Germany. 

This offer seemed literally too good to be true, so I even made sure I test drove this Vespa-look-alike myself! For ONE MORE WEEK, you can use my code "scooterswag" for a discount and still take advantage of the pre-sale package that includes what's listed in the caption below the next photo!

The most exciting thing, of course, has been figuring out which color will be the most fun to drive around The Burg! Which color did I choose...?!

You can always check out my Instagram account @whatupswags for all the latest updates and watch for when my scooter shows up sometime in May!!! 

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March 18, 2021

Volleyball in Your Bones

"I love volleyball!" She passionately explained. "I will go anywhere. I will do anything."

*   *   *  Six months later...  *   *   *

"I hate it here. This is not volleyball. I don't need this [fill in the blank: team, money, location, culture, community, etc.]."

What changed?! 

Or, better phrased: what was it about the idea of "volleyball" that you thought you loved?

Sadly enough, this conversation has happened at least once every year (and usually four or five times) in the decade I have lived abroad playing and coaching volleyball. It is such a normalized annual discussion at this point that I just accept the players' feelings of loss and simply redirect them toward their next life steps.

Maybe you are also a volleyball player or coach, maybe even just a fan. 

(Americans: check it out! Our country isn't lacking a pro league anymore! Please support AU Pro Sports in any and every way you can so the league can continue to pick up momentum and continue!!!)

When you pick up a volleyball, what do you feel? 

What do you think about?

These players who seem to so quickly "give up on their dreams" will tell us true and wonderful stories about championships, best friends, team bonding, coaches better than parents, adoring fans, brand-new sponsored equipment and gear, school spirit, pushing themselves and their teammates to their physical limits, and a hundred other awesome memories. It is almost always essentially a story about supportive community and/or individual accomplishment.

Take. It. All. Away.

Take away the glamour of stardom, the glitter of the trophies, and the hearing your name from the stands. Take away your last name and favorite number on your jersey, the perfectly fitting new shoes, and the multiple travel outfit options. Take away the coach who cares, your teammate-roommates, and anyone you meet asking you about the game. Take away the clean court, your personal locker, and even the basic safety and health resources.

It's all gone.

What do you have left?

You have a round leather blue and yellow ball and a pair of metal poles tied together with strings in a space the size of a small apartment.

This is the stripped down version of what volleyball actually is. 

Do you still love it?

Why does anyone quit any sport, at any age, at any level?

The most simplified reason is that either the sport or the athlete did not meet the expectations the athlete held, and the athlete was not willing to adjust to whatever the actual reality was.

And the reality of "volleyball" is that it is just some equipment and a set of overly complicated rotations and ever-changing rules. It is everything and everyone around volleyball that makes players, coaches, and fans alike fall in love with what they define as "volleyball."

You know what I feel when I pick up a volleyball?

Sacrifice. Pain. Joy. Frustration. Relief. Gratefulness.

I feel everything. So much of my life and world exists because of volleyball, that I cannot separate the good from the bad, and that is what makes my emotions about volleyball extremely real and always accessible, no matter the situation.

What do I think about when I pick up a volleyball? (Yes, it is a different answer.)

I think about math, especially the angles and spaces derived from geometry. 

I think about time in relevance to music, how the timing of every movement and touch can create chaos or the crescendo of a point. 

I think about art and the expression of connected humanity and physicality being displayed in ugly or beautiful ways. 

I think about theology and how the worldview of each person in the gym contributes more than we can understand to our interactions, communication, effort, and values.

I think about dance, and the choreography of footwork and hand-eye coordination of individual players and how we move collectively as a group in or out of rhythm.

Yes, I really think these things on a daily basis, both in the planning and execution of practices and games. And I enjoy it.

Volleyball is my place.

It didn't matter before how many bad experiences or injuries I had, or how many teammates I did or didn't get along with, or if I won or lost. It didn't matter before, and it won't matter later. 

I belong here. 

Many -- dare I say, most -- players do not have this depth of feeling and thought associated with volleyball in its most barest form of the ball, net, and court. I really believe more coaches, and especially career volleyball coaches, do feel and think these things as I do. All of the responses are valid and fine; it is simply a situation where each individual must be super honest with themselves about what volleyball actually IS, and in that basic form, what it actually means to them.

"Non-USA Volleyball" is NOT for everyone. My playing and coaching careers have been VERY different abroad compared to my time spent in colleges, high schools, and junior highs. 

Trying to find the exact same combination of experiences that an elite athlete had at a D1 university with a happy team who won all the time is like trying to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

A very, very select few can find this rare treasure. In fact, so few find it, we may as well call them the leprechauns of volleyball.

What I can tell you is that it is possible to find an actual rainbow! 

And we all know that a rainbow only shows itself after: the rain.

I love volleyball in a deep and irrevocable way. This will be a love that I carry in my heart and mind until the day I die. Volleyball can love me or hate me, but it won't matter. I will be there and find all of the ways to continue to spend time with the sport that I love.

I was warned at a young age to not make my sport a god or idol in my life. I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether my love for volleyball has become an object of my worship or has kept its place as just something that I do.

I have tried to get away from volleyball and do other things. I tried to major in journalism, I tried to teach physical education, I tried to teach English, and I tried to create any kind of career in travel/tourism. But every single time, whatever I attempted, it always faded in comparison to what was possible with volleyball and where my heart and mind actually thrived.

This does not inform me that volleyball is my idol. Rather, volleyball is exactly where the only true God has called me to exist and to serve Him. 

Volleyball is where I worship God the most. He has embedded it into the structure of my being for His purpose.

You can tell me you love volleyball [or fill in the blank] all you want.

But is it in your bones?

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February 25, 2021

7 Reminders How To Travel From Home

Yes, we are still very much house-bound, and it has almost been a year!

Alas, do not despair! I would hope that by now, we have all discovered our best ways to cope with the pandemic situation in our home life, relationships, and habits. I know we all haven't managed it perfectly (I doubt with the roller coaster of emotions, this would ever have been possible), but throughout the ups and downs, we are sure we have all learned a lot!

To encourage my fellow travel-lovers, here is a blog for us to remember how we can still "travel" from our homes. We don't know how long the pandemic will continue at this point, but we can focus on what we can control from home and how we spend our time. And I am not ashamed to say I am spending my time dreaming of new trips, new places, and new adventures!!!

1. Reading 

This is an obvious one, but it is still far and beyond the best way to travel to faraway lands while sitting on your couch. Books have been the starting point of travel for many of us since a young age, and are still there to comfort, encourage, and inspire us! Grab your favorite travel re-read, or hit up an online bookstore to journey to somewhere you have never been before. If you really want to get into it, create a low-key travel book club with some friends and send each other voice messages or videos talking about the book (another alternative is to do a zoom book club, but I think we are all a bit burned out from zooming at this point).

We've all got eBooks to share and explore! 

Swags' eBooks & Resources

2. Recording Vlogs

It does take the right combination of personality and ego to makes these public, but it is also totally okay to keep video logs as your own personal video diary. You can talk about how you're feeling, all the things you're doing (or not doing) everyday, and speak freely about what you wish you were doing instead. Maybe once you have recorded a few and re-watched them, you will realize that someone may actually benefit from sharing time with your "confessional," and you could decide to publish your vlogs after all!

You can check out my Bible reading vlogs here: 

"Bible w/ Swags"

3. Re-discovering Local

If we have not become professional walkers in our neighborhoods by now, we have some serious catching up to do. Sure, our local hangouts like restaurants and bars might not be fully functional, but the streets and nature are always open! I have spent more time admiring architecture and wandering around forests this past year than I ever thought I would. It's a lot of open time to think (or even talk, when walking with a friend or partner) and really observe our actual surroundings. Wherever we live is also considered a travel destination for people not from there (yes, even Vilsbiburg!), so it is worth the moments to appreciate where we got stuck during the pandemic are blessed to live.

4. Re-evaluating Routines

I honestly doubt anyone's life looks exactly the same as it did in February 2020. When the pandemic locked us down in mid-March, I quickly adapted into a daily routine of communicating with clients/family, exercising, writing, and preparing myself and my teams for the next steps. By mid-April, I changed jobs and everything went haywire. All that to say, I know how hard it is to create and maintain a routine without the structure of consistent work or a social life. I had really low motivation to workout for several months, and my jeans were a rude reminder. 

When we locked down again in Germany in November, I vowed to myself that I was going to come out of this lockdown better instead of worse. It is still a work in progress, but I am now energized and optimistic, and getting in my reading, writing, and exercising everyday!

5. Refining Packing Skills

I KNOW not everyone is obsessed with packing perfectly as I am. But what better time to practice minimalism than when you have free time on that free weekend with nowhere to go? I have already sifted through my closet to pick out the clothing I haven't worn as much to retire on my next trip (summer?). I have always found that the easiest way to pack light is to start with a smaller bag. So, if you're looking for a quirky challenge in the next weeks or months, I challenge you to take your smallest rolling suitcase and/or a medium-sized backpack and pack it as if you're going somewhere for a long weekend. I think you can pleasantly surprise yourself with how much less you can actually pack! If you want to take it literally a step further, take whatever you have packed and go on that daily walk around your neighborhood to see if the weight and manageability of the bag is sustainable with long periods of movement.

Backtrack into my favorite ways to pack with my 

Pack & Plan series!

6. Re-visiting the Past

This may seem like a nostalgic cop-out, but we have all taken thousands upon thousands of photos during our trips in order to... forget about them?! NO! We took those pictures to remember, and if we cannot travel now, that does not negate the travels we have already enjoyed! Dig deep into your archives and make it a daily or weekly "adventure" to setup the pictures in each folder as a slideshow (usually just a button in the folder options, or also a button in Facebook albums) and really go back in time to that wonderful trip. True, it may make us miss the ability to travel a little bit more, but the memories will also nourish us with all the emotions and stories we had experienced then and bring us some fresh perspectives and laughs even now.

2011 nostalgia at it's finest: #SwagsFirst3Months series on Instagram

7. Relaxing

I mean, a lot of vacations have the sole purpose of relaxing! We try to find local spas to relax in when we visit other cities, so guess what our bathroom has become! It was easy to find nice candles, soaps, massage oils, etc., and we made our basic bathroom its own oasis. Just because a place is ordinary or familiar, doesn't mean we can't use our own imaginations and creativity to make it somewhere extraordinary and somewhere we look forward to spending time.

I have planned some trips to the USA for the spring... fingers crossed that they can actually come to fruition!

What other ideas do you have for "traveling" from the comforts of home? 
Do you have any actual trips planned for 2021 yet? 

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