Drinking from the firehose

I have been oriented.

I am now the proud owner of my own overly large, mostly unread, packet of dead tree material in the form of booklets, pamphlets, handouts, PowerPoints and other information dense literature. Oh, and a bid list.

The information overload today was wonderful and overwhelming. We learned about the FS “Transition Center,” the “Overseas Briefing Center,” the Office of Medical Services (MED), how the assignment process works from the CDO (Career Development Officer) perspective, education overseas,  and the FLO (Family Liaison Office).  The speakers were great and it was incredibly informative, but the best part was getting to meet and learn about the accomplished, interesting group of “spouses” who are with us in this crazy adventure.

Of course, given that the list of places where each of us will end up was provided to us last night that was clearly the primary topic of conversation.  There are 105 “posts” on the list, which includes 51 cities in 44 countries.  There are huge posts with over 500 US personnel (this includes folks from all agencies, not just the State Department) and one post with 8 US personnel.  There are places with danger pay, and places without.  It’s probably a pretty typical list for an A-100 class with lots of consular (ie: visa line) jobs and lots of jobs in visa heavy countries.

What was amazing about the discussion with the other EFMs (Eligible Family Members) was that we all had such different ideas and priorities.  B and I rank some posts low because we don’t want to have to learn certain languages, or because of certain environmental factors, but other people can’t wait to learn a really hard language and want the excitement of exotic and difficult locales.  I’m sure some of them thought our “preferences” were bizarre too.

bidding

Regardless, in 29 days we will all know which of these posts is ours (barring any change to the list, which we were told several times could happen at any time, and/or several times before we submit our final list).

Now our job – in between our actual jobs and caring for our 3 1/2 year old – is to research these posts and rank each of them “high,” “medium” or “low.”  We get to put 25% low, which translates to about 26 posts.  We don’t get to group the posts by country, so we can’t rank all posts in one country “low” if that number exceeds 26 (which it does for several countries), we have to rank each post – meaning each job in each city.

B and I spent last night identifying our “low” posts.   We were, thank heavens, pretty much on the same page, so we have now identified the 26 places that are our least attractive options and the ones we hope we don’t get.  However, as we were also reminded repeatedly today, the “needs of the service” come first, so on Flag Day, notwithstanding our highs, our lows and our mediums, the flag that gets handed to B could be anywhere on the list.

Now it’s on to identifying our preferences (ie: do we want to learn a language, do we care about how close we are to the U.S., does B want to fulfill his “consular” cone requirement now, or later…), and deciding on our “highs” and “mediums.”  Let’s hope that goes as smoothly as the lows…

By the way, from a blog admin perspective I have, by popular demand (ie: B told me to do it), made the “A” an “a” so people can stop asking B who “A” is…and I’ve added some pictures of our world travels before this adventure into the header.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.

I wish…

In between dog parks and carousels, C and I have been traveling Arlington and its environs visiting Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods etc…to stock up on things for the apartment.  In the course of doing this I have mentally started a list of “I wish we had…” related to our pack out.  So here, in no particular order, in case you ever have to packout yourselves, are my current wish list:*  (* subject to change on a moment to moment basis)

  • I wish I’d brought a queen sized mattress pad, sheets, our own pillows and our duvet.  It’s been many years since I lived in corporate housing as a law student and in those days the digs seemed awesome and palatial.  Twenty odd years later the digs seem a bit dirty and less awesome (but I’m not complaining given that they are free digs!).  It would be nice (and feel slightly less yucky) to be sleeping on our own sheets.   Luckily I did bring C’s sheets, duvet, pillow and lots of things to remind her of home, so it is less yucky in her room.
    C's bed. More like home.

    C’s bed. More like home.

  • I wish I’d brought tupperware.  Not a ton of it, but the corporate housing provided tupperware consists of two small pieces.  That is not going to cut it at our house.
  • I wish I’d brought more art/photographs – nothing makes an apartment a home more than your own photos and artwork.  I brought a few things, but I wish I’d brought more.
  • I wish I’d brought a couple of bowls.  I ended up buying two nice big deep cereal-type bowls from BB&B today (for $1.98 each on clearance, so I’m not feeling too upset, but everything you buy that you can picture in a box somewhere in Hagerstown, MD is annoying…).  The bowls provided are these incredibly shallow, rimmed bowls.  The kind I picture Lady Edith using to eat her 4 spoonfuls of soup at Downton Abbey during a 15 course meal.  Let’s just say, in 2014 when the meal is ALL supposed to fit in one bowl, these bowls are not cutting it.
  • I wish I’d saved some more of the “staples” that I threw away.  I have to tell you I don’t need half the clothes or office supplies I brought, but the leftover bottle of olive oil would have been a welcome sight yesterday.
  • I wish I’d brought a bookcase.  Just a little one – the one from C’s room would have done nicely.  There is nowhere to put books in the apartment.  We didn’t bring a ton of books, but we brought some AND I’m supposed to be working from here, so my rule books (the books I basically live by as a litigator), my dictionary, my binders for my cases etc…, are all under the desk.  Not ideal.  We’ll no doubt be making a trip to IKEA for that, but again, see note above about having to annoyingly buy things you already own.
  • I wish I’d brought more skirt hangers – if you ever move into corporate housing bring hangers! Particularly any “speciality” hangers.  My skirts are all doubled up right now, but I suspect ultimately I’ll be buying some more of these hangers while picturing the ones we left behind in my head.
  • I wish I’d brought a couple of our own throw pillows.  See bullet number one about kind of yucky linens and switch to pillows on the couch.
    Corporate housing pillows. Meh.

    Corporate housing pillows. Meh.

    By the way, B’s first couple of days went really well – he came home with a ridiculously detailed schedule yesterday so that makes my control/detail oriented mind happy.  Somehow he managed to accept the job of chairing his class “Folly” skit (that is put on during the “offsite” somewhere in PA).  It’s kind of bizarre to watch him get comfortable in this new life, but it’s kind of cool too.

    And in case you care, here are a few other pictures of our new home.  IMG_0606 IMG_0607 IMG_0608 IMG_0609 IMG_0611 IMG_0612 IMG_0613

Welcome to FS and DC

IMG_0604Yesterday was B’s first day of A-100.  I’m not sure he slept much, but luckily he didn’t disturb me until about 5 a.m. when he finally gave up and got out of bed.  He put on his suit and then C and I drove him into D.C. to “HST,” “Main State”, “Mama State” or “the Mothership” for his swearing in and, apparently, about 7 hours of HR and administrative talking to.  He came home with at least one small tree in terms of paper describing insurance options, retirement savings options, and many other options (none of which I have looked at or contemplated…yet).

Once we had kissed B goodbye and sent him on his way, C and I set out to make the most of our new home and our day.  We started by spending some time in our local Harris Teeter.  It is truly local – only about 2 blocks away – and having a North Carolina staple like HT so close certainly makes Arlington seem more like “home.”

After our grocery store trip, C and I walked Miller about a mile down the road to a pretty awesome dog park.

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Unfortunately for Miller there were no other dogs in said dog park, but he enjoyed the water feature and running around without a leash, regardless.  It would be more awesome if it was a little closer (a mile seems so close when you say it, but pushing a stroller containing 30+ lbs of child and holding a leash for a mile in two directions makes it seem less *close*).

Once we had settled Miller back into the apartment, we made our way to the Ballston Metro – another 2 block walk (in a different direction).  The convenience of everything is amazing.  I have to admit that I have sorely missed living in a city with underground transportation and an ambulatory population. Once on the metro (a treat for C in and of itself) we took it to the Smithsonian and walked along the National Mall to the Smithsonian carousel.  Not a bad view for our walk…

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Carolina Parakeet

On our way we walked through one of the stunning gardens surrounding the Smithsonian buildings.  I do NOT have a green thumb, so I was amazed by the lush, healthy plants as far as the eye can see.  

I was particularly taken with a sculpture of a bird and the beautiful flowers surrounding it – and was even more taken with it when I saw that it depicted a “Carolina Parakeet,” the first of several “Carolina” references in our day.IMG_0572

Next it was on to the Merry-Go-Round (or “America Round” according to C (say it fast, you’ll get it).  C chose her horse, but while she was deciding which of the pretty little ponies she wanted to ride (or whether she wanted to ride a big blue dragon) we passed the North Carolina horse, so we couldn’t resist a quick hug on the way by.   IMG_0586 IMG_0592

We ended our first day as “locals” in D.C. enjoying ice cream on the Mall, taking the metro home and having Indian food for dinner.  

B’s day was exciting too (he copped to *almost* tearing up when he took the oath) so all in all a successful introduction to life in the Nation’s Capital. Let’s hope all our days are as lovely as this one was…

Yum.

Yum.

Whole Towel Living

Ok. So it turns out that maybe I spoke too soon.  The packout itself, both day 1 and day 2, were pretty painless and easy.  It was the post packout panic that was problematic.

If you have ever moved you’ll understand (and remember with no fond feelings) the packing of all the leftovers after the furniture is gone.  And the cleaning.  The never ending cleaning.

I, in typical fashion, bit off more than I could chew and opted to go back to work on Wednesday and Thursday leaving B to clean and pack, and sending C back to school.  Only sending C back to school was the right decision.  

Since I’m staying with the firm I actually had work to do when I arrived back in the office, so I didn’t really get a chance to properly say goodbye to anyone, and I was frantically trying to fit in calls to Duke Energy and AT&T to cancel utilities in between discussing discovery responses with my clients.  Luckily I’ll be back in the office in a few weeks for depositions, so maybe I’ll have time to wander around and say farewell then, but somehow I doubt it.

When I arrived back at the house on Wednesday evening there were two huge piles of STUFF in the middle of the dining room.  B informed me that one was going to get packed in the cars and the other pile was going over to a friend’s house to be stored until I drive down for those depositions in mid-September.  What was that about spending quality time saying goodbye to folks? Looks like I’ll be packing the car instead…

What is doubly unfortunate about this is that, as noted previously, we ended up with about 230 lbs of additional UAB space that we didn’t use.  I’m pretty sure a good amount of the STUFF would have fit in the left over UAB space.  We’ll be remembering that for next time and doing our best to get our UAB weight up to 599.9 lbs before we start loading the cars.

For all our worries about how C would react to the empty house, the teary goodbyes and the random moving men driving away with our furniture, she never stopped being our hilarious, laughing, dancing, singing little girl.  She sang while we packed, she danced in the empty rooms, and she laughed at all the hugs she was getting from everyone we know.  DSCN0309

Protecting our home - in NC and in VA

Protecting our home – in NC and in VA

She insisted that we were staying in a “whole towel,” despite our equally insistent response that it was, in fact, a hotel.  

She pressed every elevator button, and told every random stranger we met that she was moving to Washington. We could have learned a lot from the laid back way she accepted every change without question or complaint.  The only times she wasn’t happy was when she was hungry or tired.  Totally understandable.

So tonight we have made it to our new home.  There are boxes everywhere, and we need to figure out how to fit all that STUFF into a much smaller space.  Tomorrow afternoon is the first “meet and greet” for the 179th A-100.  We’ve been checking out the bios from B’s classmates – they look like an impressive bunch.  I’m looking forward to meeting them, and their families, though I’m also, frankly, petrified about how it will feel to be the “spouse” and nothing more.  I’m hoping I can take a lesson from C and accept each change that comes without complaint or question.  Change is what we signed up for.  And change is good…

 

 

These are the boxes of our lives…

It’s PACK OUT DAY!  Well, actually, it’s the end of Pack Out Day 1, and B, C and I are sitting in our living room (furniture has not yet been packed) relaxing among the boxes.

Today was surprisingly ok.  Last night was not so ok. I was teary, sad and overall unhappy.  We had a fabulous dinner with our friends T & A (yeah, yeah…) and their littles (their son W is about 3 months older than C and they love each other), we cooked steak, drank wine and enjoyed a lovely, lovely evening.  Leaving their house was hard.  Really hard. Harder than I expected given that I keep reminding myself that I’ll see them again in about 3 weeks when I’m back in town for depositions.  

But then today dawned bright and early (particularly after the wine) and our movers arrived, and things since then have been pretty good.  

They're heeeeere...

They’re heeeeere…

The movers started with our UAB (unaccompanied air baggage).  We had an allowance of 600 lbs.  Anyone out there know what 600 lbs looks like? Nope? Well, me neither, because despite our worries our UAB ended up coming way under our limit at 366 lbs.  Here is what 366 lbs looks like.

UAB for BCD

UAB for BCD.

There weren’t a lot of surprises today, but one of them was that the “tri-fold” box that is used for UAB turns out not to be triangular as I was expecting.  I suppose if I had looked at the dimensions in our papers I might have realized a “tri-fold” box had 4 sides, but in my head I was imagining a tri-fold box that had three sides.  It seemed like it would be pretty inefficient, but since we are talking about the government I wasn’t about to put it past anyone.  So the mysterious “tri-fold” is a decent sized very sturdy box, three of which are now full of clothes and other things that will be delivered to our apartment next week.

A "tri-fold" box.

A tri-fold box! With 4 sides!

Security sealed for your protection.

Security sealed for your protection.

Rooms full of stuff became rooms full of boxes and here we are with our lives in boxes ready to ship them off and head to DC in a couple of days.  B and I mostly stood around feeling useless and making ridiculously detailed lists of everything going into each box.  I’m glad we knew to keep such a detailed list since the descriptions of the packers leaves a bit to be desired.  Watching them pack the kitchen I watched them load vases, roasting pans, muffin pans, salad spinner and half a dozen other things into a box and then write “pots n’ pans” on the box.  That would not have been very helpful in a few months when we are trying to figure out what boxes to call for when we go overseas.

We also knew (from reading other posts – thanks FS bloggers!) to have a “Safe Room” (or 3) where we could put things that we didn’t want them to pack.  We shoved a LOT of stuff into those rooms and kept throwing things in as we went along.  Once the movers leave we’ll have to pack all of that into our cars to take with us to DC.  

We’re having a picnic in the living room tonight then going to stay with good friends. Then we’ll be back tomorrow to watch them load and drive away.  Let’s hope Pack Out Day 2 goes as smoothly as Day 1 went!

Living room with stuff.

Living room with stuff.

Living room with boxes.

Living room with boxes.

Spare bedroom with stuff.

Spare bedroom with stuff.

Spare room with boxes.

Spare room with boxes.

B with notebook.

B with notebook…packout is hard work!

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Off limits!

Do not enter!

Do not enter!

Waste not…

DSC_1488Looks like we’ve been having a going away party, right?

Nope – found a case of beer with a “drink by” date in 2012. This is, sadly, not the only food/drink item I found from 2012 and had to toss.  Given the reason for our move this aspect of packing has been eye opening.

I stood over the sink pouring out the beer so I could recycle the cans and I was struck, as I have been again and again in this move, by how incredibly lucky we are in North America. 

I’m contemplating moving to Africa, Asia, or South America, places where the things I’ve discarded in the last several weeks would have been, for many people, welcome, and even life sustaining additions to their lives.  I packed C’s clothes today: they filled an entire adult sized suitcase, and that is just her summer 3 year old clothes.  She could, quite literally, wear a different outfit every day for months on end.  

I’m trying to give myself some slack. I did pour out the beer to recycle the cans rather than throwing them away.  I have made trips to the Humane Society, the Homeless Shelter, ReStore, the Salvation Army, and Beds for Kids to donate things to the most appropriate charity.  We’ve tried hard to eat everything in our freezer.  But when it comes right down to it I have discarded food, clothing, toiletries, toys and just about any thing else you can think of that couldn’t be donated, eaten or used without much more than a pang of guilt.

I’m falling asleep on the couch now, so I must go to bed and slip into my lovely soft high end sheets, and drift off to sleep without any fear for my safety or that of my child and family.  I hope in a few months, if my bed is surrounded by a mosquito net to keep off the malaria carrying mosquitos, and my house is surrounded by security guards supplied by the Marines, I can remember this feeling of abundance and luck that I’ve felt while I’ve packed and know that even then I will be one of the lucky ones.

Pack out is Monday, so more to come when I am awake and sitting on the couch.  For now, I’m going to take my lucky, lucky self to bed.

Time is inexorable

Twenty (or so) years ago, my journalism professor Wiley Hilburn wrote “TIME IS INEXORABLE” in the margin of a piece I wrote for my weekly column as the editor of our college newspaper. The column was my last before graduation. In it I talked about my attempts to freeze moments of my last days on campus in my memory.  Now, Mr. Hilburn’s words keep floating to the surface of my brain. I thought I had TONS of time to pack, purge, go to lunch, go to dinner and generally be ready to move. Suddenly all the time I thought I had seems to have caught up with me.

I no longer have open days for lunches, evenings for dinners, or afternoons for playdates.  The days and nights are filled. All the food in my freezer will not get eaten and I have to resign myself to that fact.  I have five more outfits I need for work in Charlotte. I have five more nights in my dear house.

What happened to all the TIME I thought I had!?

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Does this look like the desk of a girl who has 5 days left in this office?

Mr. Hilburn was right about time.  It is inexorable.  It moves without stopping. No amount of wishing or hoping or ignoring (I’m quite expert at that) will stop it.  I’m just running trying to catch up with it. Like the quintessential movie character running, hand outstretched, to catch the last handle on the train caboose before it chugs off into the distance without me.

And yet…what am I doing now.  Writing, certainly, but more importantly, watching the Property Brothers.  See what I said about ignoring…

They moved our Packout date to Aug. 18 (yes, that is Monday) so we have one less day for packing, sorting, purging.  Kindly the USG will pay for us to stay for up to 10 days in a hotel, so we had a hotel in Charlotte booked for the 19th-22nd – somewhere within walking distance to both my office and C’s daycare.  But now we need a room on the 18th too and, wouldn’t you know it, the hotel hasn’t got a single room open for Monday night (bizarre, right?).  So we can either move hotels which, needless to say is not my first choice, or spend the night in C’s room using the blow up bed and her trundle (it is built-in, so it is staying).

I’m leaning toward “camping” in C’s room.  After all, we’re going on an adventure – why shouldn’t it start in our own home?

Rolling toward move day…

Who knew there were so many calories in joining the Foreign Service?

I certainly didn’t, but seriously, the number of dinners, lunches and drinks that I’m consuming as I make my way toward our move date is getting to be a little obscene. I really may be “rolling” out of Charlotte on August 22 in a very literal sense.

When we found out B had an offer to join the August 25 A-100 class, I started a “Charlotte Bucket List” thinking we’d list – and visit – all the places we loved in the city before we left.

Turns out all those places serve food.

So far we’ve managed to cross off Fig Tree (once for our anniversary, and once more for good measure for me with my amazing book club friends), Vivace, Soul, Bistro La Bon, Mert’s, Nikko…and the list goes on.  And that doesn’t count any of the lunches that I’ve been making my way through every day (B also admitted sheepishly that he has been doing a “farewell tour” of his lunch haunts).  Today I finally had to barricade myself in my office and eat a Lean Cuisine, lest I explode…

Beignets at Fig Tree...Yum...

Beignets at Fig Tree…Yum…

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From the Vivace balcony looking at Charlotte

We have managed to also visit a couple of non-food related places, including the Lazy-5 Ranch where we got to feed giraffes (or “G-giraffes” as C calls them), Bank of America Stadium (though to see UK football not US football), and Discovery Place, but the primary focus has clearly been food.

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

The thing about all these visits is that the food, and the places, have been entirely secondary to the people we’ve been with.  The real “bucket list” it turns out, is about people.  The people we love and will miss in this lovely Southern city we have called home for so long.

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Only two more weekends remain in Charlotte – so we’ve got a bunch of places – and people – left to visit.  By the end of the next two weeks I may have to eat plain broth for a month to fit back into my clothes, but new wardrobe be damned, I’m going to keep eating…and visiting…and sharing a last few precious hours with the people and places we love.

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Someone else’s party…

Today is Flag Day for the A-100 class before B’s.  Today those new FSO’s will find out where in the world they will be posted.  I don’t know a soul in that class (the 178th A-100), other than through a couple of their blogs, but I am nervous and excited for them just the same.  The main folks I’ve been following (and who I’m now anxiously waiting to hear their news) are here and here and here.

Flag Day is the day in every FS orientation where family and friends gather to watch the new FSO’s find out – and accept – their assignments.  Most people will be going overseas, though there are, from what I understand, usually a few DC posts.

This is a big deal.  So much about our lives (and theirs) has been up in the air since B started the application process to get into the FS, and this is where the rubber meets the road and our path, at least for the next couple of years, becomes clearer.

The 178th Flag Day starts at 3:30 p.m. today and I’ll be checking my email to see the blog updates to find out where the bloggers from that class are going.  And I’ll be thinking about what I’m going to be feeling in about 9 weeks on September 26, 2014, when I’m standing in that room with our family and friends waiting to hear B’s name called and learning where we’re going to go.

Want to see what this crazy Flag Day is really all about – check out this blog post from another FSO blogger who pulled together 71 Flag Day stories from other bloggers. I go back to this blog post a lot and read other people’s Flag Day stories.  I can’t wait to add our own story to that list…