Summer changes and choices

Growing up, these last days of May always took on an otherworldly, magical quality for me. Summer was coming. The end of school, the end of snow, the end of sweaters and socks; the beginning of vacation, camp, beaches, fireworks and long warm days.

But, in a land of perpetual summer (ie: Africa just shy of the equator) it feels different. I catch glimpses of other people’s joy at the onset of summer in Facebook posts and Instagram photos, but there is a different kind of anticipation here. School is still about to end, but the weather is still hot (though not as rainy), the days still begin and end right around 6 (a.m. and p.m.) and our wardrobes are static.

No, the anticipation in this new life is about transition. Summer is “transition season” in the Foreign Service. People are transitioning in and people are transitioning out. We are bidding (more about that later) and will soon find out where we are headed next summer. It’s a lot about saying goodbye in these early days, and more about saying hello as summer wanes, and less about campfires and holidays.

I knew life in the FS would involve change, but I imagined the changes to be in two year cycles  – every two years our location would change and that is about as far as I got in thinking about change. But, as it turns out, change is perpetual in the FS. First there are all the changes when you arrive at a new post – new houses or apartments (or both if you are in temporary housing first as we were) to move into, new jobs to start, new city streets and traffic to navigate and learn, new schools to start, new friends to make, new languages to hear, new food to taste, new brand names to buy and the list goes on.

You adjust to those big early changes, but you soon realize that things are always changing. I started without anyone to hang out with – I read and wrote and played with C – which I loved. Then I made some friends and C made some friends, and I read and wrote less and explored more – which I loved. Then my friends got jobs and I explored less, but got involved in other groups and clubs outside the Embassy community more  – which I loved. Soon I’ll start my own job (when/if the State Department finally gets its act together…) and things will change again – and hopefully I’ll love that too.

A few of my adventures

In the midst of all these changes the faces that make up your life in the FS are always changing too. I started noticing those changes more and more a few months ago. I was so overwhelmed when I first arrived that I could barely remember half the names of the people I met, so when some of those people moved on it wasn’t that noticeable to me.   But, suddenly it seems, people I care about are leaving. People I enjoy spending time with, who have become part of our lives here, are suddenly vanishing before our eyes. Our next door neighbors, the first people we literally met on the African continent, left a few weeks ago and with them went Papy – their driver who was always ready with answers to my many questions. He’s moved on to work with another family, so even when the faces remain in Kinshasa your day-to-day connections with them changes. Today we are losing another friend who is headed back to the U.S. for the next phase of his life.

It’s not as if we are losing these people forever. The Foreign Service is a small world, but there will be gaps in our lives as they transition on and, as new people arrive, we have to make room for them to transition into. It’s so much about the gaps of missing faces, and the making room for new ones that our lives, already, are starting to feel like a merry-go-round of changing faces.

And, while we are saying goodbye and hello, we are also looking at a list of choices for our own ultimate transition in about 13 months. After going through bidding in A-100, where there are a limited number of posts and there is no real choice, we were excited by the prospect of second tour  bidding (“STB”). As expected, the list we received has hundreds of posts on it, but most of them got eliminated quickly due to timing or language, and we started to quickly lose the feeling of having a choice.

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The first thing we had to do is get over our initial disappointment. Certain posts in the FS have what’s called a “differential.” The differential can be for danger, hardship, or difficult to fill posts. The highest differentials are for the posts that are “unaccompanied” – places where there is war usually – and spouses and children are not allowed to live. Kinshasa is obviously not in that category, but it is a post with a relatively high differential. Usually the main import of a high differential is a pay increase (ie: if a differential is 10% then FSOs serving there get an additional 10% on top of their salary), but in STB you also get to go to the front of the line in terms of assignment. The higher the differential, the more likely you are to get your first, second or third choice. So, knowing we’d be high on the list, we’ve spent months talking about the possibilities and our “dream” posts.

But, then you get the list and Montreal isn’t on it. And, although both Paris and Ottawa are there, they don’t work because of timing, so you have to start to look a new places and give up those initial dreams and get down to the business of sorting through the list, applying the almost 25 pages of rules for STB and coming up with your own top 30 to submit.

First you have to determine your “TED” – time of estimated departure. That is, 2 years after you arrived at your current post. You are not allowed to leave a post more than a month before the end of the two years or you have an “invalid” bid (and, in our case, we would likely lose one of our “R&R’s” – not something we want to do!)  Then you have to look at the new post’s “TEA” – time of estimated arrival. You can’t arrive at a new post more than a month after the TEA, or you have an invalid bid.

To determine when you might arrive you have to factor in the Congressionally mandated “Home Leave,” any time you need for “tradecraft” training, and any time you need for language training.  For every year an FS officer serves overseas, 10 days of Home Leave is required. Up to 45 days is possible, but we are legally required to take 20 working days (not including holidays or weekends) off and spend it on U.S. soil being “re-indoctrinated” into American ways. Hard to believe we could be annoyed by being forced to take a vacation, but it can really mess with your timing in bidding. Tradecraft and language training vary by post and job.

So we had to go through every one of the posts on the list and determine if the post was perfect (we leave during our TED month, arrive during the new posts TEA and get all the required training and home leave done in between), imperfect (we either leave a month early, arrive a month late, or go over the 78 week maximum of training allowed for FSOs in their first (non-tenured) five years), or invalid (everything else).

Add the various requirements related to the maximum amount of training, the requirements of mastering at least one language, serving in higher hardship posts, filling “high priority” posts first, getting experience in your “cone” (specialty) and doing a tour as a consular officer, and the list of possible choices gets shorter and shorter.

Don’t get me wrong, our list is good and, after getting over the initial disappointments, we realize how incredibly lucky we are to have the choices we do have, particularly compared with a lot of our friends whose lists are much, much smaller than ours and whose choices are much more limited. The places in our top 10 (even our top 30) are, almost universally, first world places with clean streets, fresh water, good schools and every possible “mod-con” (as my dad would say) you could want. We’re going to be excited no matter what we get because we feel good about every one of our top posts.

Until then though, we are going to focus on and enjoy our time here; enjoy the crazy, difficult, amazing in many ways, life that we have found here in Kinshasa. We’re going to enjoy our friends – as they come and go – and we’re going to continue to enjoy every change and choice in this adventure we are on.

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Swearing (in)

Ok, yes, I know, this post is a little late.  It’s probably become pretty clear in the last few months, that B did, in fact, “graduate” from his A-100 (the 6-week entry level orientation class for FSOs), get sworn-in, and move into language training.  Nevertheless, I feel that I owe him (if not his parents) a post commemorating the actual ceremony.  I really do have a good excuse for my delay – as you will see below, B got the opportunity to take a snap with his boss’s-boss’s-boss’s-boss – The Secretary, and I was waiting for a better version of that picture, but, it turns out, no one has any idea where that “better” picture is, so it’s time I gave up the wait and went ahead with this post.

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For most new foreign service officers the anticipation for A-100 is HUGE.  For us it was, truly, years in the making.  B took (and passed) his first written FS test (the FSOT) in 2009.  I remember him logging into the State Department website from a train station in Hamburg so he could register for the test.  We were on our way to Copenhagen after a week long driving excursion around Sweden, Belgium, France and the Netherlands courtesy of Volvo.  We had just dropped our new Volvo off at a port outside Hamburg so that it could be shipped back to Charlotte for us. B was anxious about getting a test date that suited him, so we found an internet cafe and I looked over his shoulder as he picked a date in October to take his first test.  It felt like an important moment, and, I suppose, you could say “the rest was history.”  But, in this case, history repeated itself (over and over again) until he was invited to the Oral Assessment in 2013 for the first time, and then again in 2014 for the “money” OA.  The oddest thing is that B never actually “failed” any test – he passed every FSOT, and he passed both his FSOAs, but in the interim he just didn’t make it passed the mysterious PNQ’s (Personal Narrative Questions).  In any case, from 2009 until June 5, 2014, all we had really hoped for was B getting into an A-100 class.  That was the prize – what happened after that was, frankly, somewhat vague and, even more frankly, something so far into the future that we never talked about it.

Similarly, once you are actually IN an A-100 class the only thing people are really focused on is Flag Day.  It’s the day everyone is worried about, anticipating with excitement and dread, and spending hours researching.  But Flag Day is not the end of A-100.  Although far more family and friends travel to D.C. for Flag Day, there is actually a “Graduation” day – where the new FSOs are sworn-in and welcomed to the State Department as official diplomats.  For B, the swearing-in took place a week after Flag Day.  B’s mom stuck around for the week (which was great fun for me and C) so we could all attend the swearing-in together.  Unlike Flag Day, which takes place at FSI, the swearing-in takes place at Main State – or the main State Department building in D.C.  This was especially nice for us since we have three friends who work in that building (two of whom are the folks we visited in Mexico and who got B interested in this life in the first place) who we’d be able to see.  One of those people happens to work directly for the Secretary of State, John Kerry, who was the speaker for the event, so I was looking out for her from the moment we walked in.

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Turns out she was the one person who I didn’t get to talk to, but she also provided B with a fabulous surprise.  The Secretary seemed genuinely excited to be welcoming these new diplomats to their new life, and he spoke for quite a while about the importance of their jobs – and the jobs of all FSOs and employees of the State Department – to aid in the diplomatic mission of the United States.  It turns out he actually spoke for a bit longer than he was originally scheduled, which meant he was late for his next phone call, which meant that B’s surprise was a bit rushed.  At the end of his speech, he stepped down, looked around to B’s class and said “Where is J’s friend from law school?”  Technically, B is not “J’s friend from law school” – I am, but B is J’s friend, so she pointed him out and the Secretary said, “Come down here so we can take a picture.”  B tried to get out of it, but Secretary Kerry was having none of that, and when your boss’s-boss’s-boss’s-boss’s-boss tells you to get to the front of the class and have your picture taken, you do it.  So B climbed down and stood with the Secretary and our friend J and had his picture taken.  Pretty. Damn. Cool.

Bizarrely, when the official photographer sent along the picture it seems that J, B and S (which is actually what he is called by many FSOs when they are not directly addressing him) were looking at someone else’s camera.  No one can figure out who took the picture or where the picture might be, so all I’ve got is the one above, but you get the idea.

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C does NOT like to have her picture taken…

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SO, there are several asides to this story (as there generally are with all my stories, in case you hadn’t realized).  First, yes, seriously – the trip was, pretty much, courtesy of Volvo.  In our quest for a new car we had been pointed to the Volvo Overseas Delivery program by a friend.  Turns out that, if you buy a Volvo directly from the factory, and then go to Gotteborg, Sweden to pick it up, you get a pretty awesome deal: two round-trip tickets to Sweden, a car from the airport to the factory, a personalized “introduction” to your new car, a tour of the factory (with Swedish meatball lunch included, of course) and one night at a local hotel.  If this weren’t enough, you also have the option of taking your new car and driving it wherever you can get to in Europe for 14 days with paid insurance.  You can then either return it to Gotteborg for free transport back to your local Volvo dealership in the U.S., or you can drop it off in any number of other European ports for a small fee.  Then you fly home and 4-6 weeks later, voila, your car shows up at your dealership and you drive it home.  We opted, after visiting FS friends (J and her husband, N) in Brussels, spending a day driving around Paris, and spending two days in Amsterdam, to drive to Hamburg, leave the car there and take the train to Copenhagen for a few days before flying home.  It was a fabulous trip made all the better for being basically free.

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Hello Volvo factory!

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Smorgasbord!

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Notre Dame

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mmm…gaufre et glace! (a true Belgian waffle)

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Amsterdam

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Copenhagen

The second aside relates to the actual dropping off of the car.  As an English speaker with some French ability in my back pocket, most of my travels have taken me to places where one of my two languages was the official language,  where (as is the case with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark) everyone speaks English BEAUTIFULLY, or where the language is close enough to French that I can at least  get the gist of what I’m reading or hearing (Mexico/Spain).  Germany was a whole different world for us.

The Hamburg port authority is not the bastion for English speaking Germans, that I can say with certainty.  When we arrived at the locked and guarded gate we were met by a man who clearly knew not a single word of English.  We, conversely, knew not a single word of German.  What followed was a pantomime of idiocy by me.  It’s one thing to use hand gestures to indicate a direction, or that you want to eat or drink, but I was lacking in the appropriate hand gestures for indicating that I needed to drop off my car for transport by boat to the U.S.  Much hilarity ensued (on our behalf, the German guard did not seem terribly amused).  We did eventually get in (after several phone calls by the guard to someone else – heaven knows how he described us) and drop the car off.  Then we had to navigate (via taxi and subway) back to the city center of Hamburg to catch our train which, I promised B, would be on time (it being a German train).  We made it to the train station with only minutes to spare before our scheduled departure only to find a sign in German which included the words “120 minuten spat” – which, we figured out, meant that our train was 120 minutes late.  So much for on time trains…but this 120 minute delay gave us enough time to find an internet cafe so B could sign up for the FSOT, and as they say, the rest was history…

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Making a list and checking it twice

A-100 is over.

And so begins the time of the List.

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The list of how long it takes us to use a bottle of shampoo (or a roll of toilet paper, or a bag of dog food…whatever consumable item it is for which we might have to determine the number of items necessary to tide us over for two years in Kinshasa).

The list of what we eat, like to eat, might possibly want to eat, and that will be either wholly unavailable (think ice cream treats and other items that cannot be shipped) or exorbitantly costly (we have heard that a case of diet Coke can cost upward of $80 USD) in Kinshasa, and thus must be gorged on (or a substitute acquired, tested and approved) prior to departure.

The list of all the people we love who live all over this country, and others, and who we will want to visit, nuzzle up to, break bread with, and generally fill our minds and hearts to overflowing with, before we leave.

The list of places we want to visit – both in Washington, and in general, in the next nine or so months.

The list of books we want to read that will need to be downloaded, bought, borrowed, or shipped via Amazon (hooray for Amazon) to our new home.

The list of games, toys, entertainment, DVDs, music, and other time occupiers that we will need to buy (and pack) before July.

The list of birthday, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Anniversary, and “just because” presents and cards we need to shop for, buy, and hide away (but in such a way that we remember where we put them when we actually need them) to cover us for two years.

The list of documents, power cords, transformers, adaptors, tags and shots we will need to safely ship our car, our dog, our electronics and our gadgets (and to get them back when they land on Congo soil).

The list of what we want to carry with us (300 lbs (two 50 lbs suitcases/person)), ship by air (600 lbs – the “UAB“), and/or ship by boat (7,200 lbs – our “HHE“) when we leave.  And yes, I get it, some may think it is a little too premature to be making this list, but I feel like if i don’t start now something vital will be forgotten or overlooked. I tend toward procrastination, so I’m trying to avoid the last minute panic and wild throwing of random items into a suitcase only to arrive somewhere and find that I have packed every shirt I own, but no underwear.

The list of what insurance we need, whether we have updated (and appropriate) wills, powers of attorney, and advance directives, and which of our 4,917 (a guesstimate) passwords go with which online accounts.

And, as they say, the lists go on and on.

I’ll get it together, I have no doubt, but right now I’m lying in bed at night thinking about my lists, worrying about my lists, planning my lists…and, apparently, turning my blog into its very own list.  So, maybe this is the list I should tackle next…

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P.S. For anyone wondering, yes, Brian was officially sworn in last Friday.  We were incredibly proud and I can’t wait to write about it, but I’m waiting for a special photo that I need to get from someone else…stay tuned.

Flag Day Recap

Flag Day!

Flag Day!

When I first started telling my friends and coworkers that we were leaving Charlotte to join the Foreign Service, the reaction I got most often was a wistful look and words that generally went like this:

“Wow. That is SO cool.  Gosh, I’m actually kind of jealous.”

Luckily for my ego this was usually followed by, “Oh, and I’m really sad you’re leaving.”

I understood the note of envy in people’s voices. After all how many people have the opportunity to live a crazy adventure after the age of about 25?  Not many.

I suspect, however, that when I sent out my blast email around 4:30 p.m. last Friday saying “And the winner is…Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo” a lot of those same people felt a lot less envious.  I know (from the emails and texts I soon started receiving) that many, in fact, left the envy behind and replaced it with worry for us, and thankfulness for their own non-African future.

B and our new flag

But, while Kinshasa is not London, or Paris, or Rome, it is exactly what we wanted – and we are very excited. We won’t be leaving until next July – which seems like an interminable time to me (when you make this kind of leap you want to leap right away!) – giving us lots of time to learn about our new home.  It also gives B lots of time to learn a new language (French) and for me to brush up on my (I hope) solid base of French from my Canadian days.

I’m sure I’ll be writing plenty about Kinshasa as I learn about it, but this post is about Flag Day.

So, when Sept. 26, 2014 started, as I mentioned in my last proper post, I wasn’t particularly worried.  Decision had been made, out of my hands…yada yada.

Fast forward about half way through Sept. 26 when, by the time I picked C up from daycare at 11:30 a.m., my heart was pounding, I was alternating between sweating and shivering and I was, in a word, petrified.  The conversation in my head went something like this: “What was I thinking being calm? This is crazy! Our future rides on a decision  that was made by bunch of people only one of whom we had a conversation with (that lasted 20 minutes) – ARRRGHHH!” (all this while picturing myself running around in circles waving my hands in the air).

What could I do though? Nothing.  So I packed up C and drove out to FSI and met up with B’s parents (who are, thankfully, more punctual than I, so prime seats were reserved when we arrived).

Keeping C busy in a hot room with lots of people and nothing to play with did, as I had feared, prove to be the most complicated part of the day, but luckily (as I had also predicted) her grandparents and the iPad came to the rescue.

Once the ceremony started, things moved quickly. Really quickly.  I was going to keep a running list of where folks that we have befriended were going, but, frankly, once B’s name was called (and all I could think was “OMS…We’re going to Kinshasa?!”) I didn’t hear a thing and I had no idea where anyone after that ended up.

B was called about 1/3 of the way in.  One of our top posts – Dakar, Sengal – had already been called and I was, at turns, ignoring the posts we had put low (because the person leading the ceremony had already told the crowd that no one (!) received a low bid), and paying attention to the posts we had put either medium (most of the posts) or high (about 6 posts).

When the DRC flag went up I didn’t recognize it (I had memorized the Cameroon and Gabon flags thinking, based on our conversation (you know, the 20 minute one…) with B’s CDO (Career Development Officer) that those were our two most likely posts), but when the presenter said “Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo” my ears did perk up a little because we had, after all, put this post high.  It was a Francophone Africa post which also fit in our “hardship” request (more about why on another day) and it was a consular rotation (ie: working on the visa line) which was another request because it is something all FSO’s have to do in one of their first two tours.

And then I heard it: B’s name.

I jumped up and took a picture (I’m notorious for blurry iPhone pics…sorry) and then sat back down, a bit stunned.  B was standing with the guy handing out the flags waving his little blue and red flag and looking a little dazed himself.

B’s parents and sister were looking at me stunned as well.  Nothing like the bright reality of your oldest child (or brother) moving to West Africa (home of war torn strife and ebola) to make you look stunned.

I think we all actually recovered pretty well, and hour-by-hour, day-by-day, we have been getting more and more excited.

I’ll also admit, however, that on Friday we needed a little of this:

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and this:

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to make us feel 100% American (or 98% American in my case since I reserve the right to feel 1% Canadian and 1% British as a tip to my birth and growing up…) in anticipation of maybe not seeing so much of these things in Africa.

So now we’re on to French training, “ConGen” (that’s consular training), CrashBang (exactly what it sounds like – driving fast cars and shooting guns and what B is CLEARLY looking forward to most) and the logistics of moving a B, a C, a D and a big brown dog, to Kinshasa, DR Congo in July 2015. Onward to the adventure we go!

C at FSI - happy to be going where Curious George came from!

C at FSI – happy to be going where Curious George came from!

The Final Countdown…or Party ’till the Diplomats come home

In 72 hours we’ll know.

Sometime after 3:30 p.m. on Friday a flag will appear on a wall at FSI.  B’s name will be called, and we’ll know.

We’ll know where we are going. We’ll know what we (or at least B) will be doing when we arrive.  We’ll know when we are going. And we’ll know what the training schedule will look like between now and then.

I’m feeling surprisingly zen about the whole thing.  It’s out of my hands – the decision has, in fact, already been made and, somewhere out there, some State Department employee is putting together a package containing details about the post, the position, the training (language and otherwise) and many other interesting tidbits about our future.

Miller feeling zen...

Miller feeling zen…

There are definitely places I would prefer to go, and there are places I would prefer not to go, but looking at the bid list (yet again) in a futile attempt to remember which flag has the green star in the middle and which has the gold star (with the same three colors on the rest of the flag) it occurs to me that I’m ok with whatever the flag looks like when they call B’s name.  Frankly, right now I’m more worried about keeping C occupied in a room full of hyped up people for an hour or more (can you say iPad…and grandparents…) than I am about what the fates hold for us.

In the meantime, with two weeks (or less) of A-100 left, the socializing has swung into high gear.  There was a happy hour tonight, there is a Nat’s game tomorrow night, poker on Thursday, ice cream and cake after Flag Day, then drinking into the wee hours after the ice cream and cake. We’ve been to brunches, dinners, pizza parties and Oktoberfest, and it has all been a blast. Someone actually had to start a Google Doc to keep track of all the extra curricular goings-on.  Many of these are not “spouse” events, so I get to stay home while B gets to go and make small talk (happy days for me as I am not such a fan of the small talk).

These are the events where B is supposed to be cultivating his “corridor reputation” – which will, in about 4 years, be important.  After the first two tours, which are considered “directed” – FSO’s are given a limited list of posts to bid on and a group of Career Development Officers make the assignments to those posts – it’s a diplomatic free-for-all.  You get a list of ALL the open posts in the world and you not only bid, you also schmooze, lobby, cajole and, I’m guessing in some cases, beg, for the job and post that you want.  It is for this schmoozing that you need a good reputation.  You want people to like you and want to work with you.

So what better way to make people like you and want to work with you than getting sloshed with them for 6 weeks in a row?  I’m kidding, B hasn’t come home sloshed…much (no, really, I’m kidding…).

The social schedule is a bit overwhelming when you have a 3 year old, a dog and a birthday before 1990.  And add to the FSI social schedule the fact that I have a lot of friends in D.C. who I have been meeting out for lunch (all in the name of business development, thank you very much), and the fact that we’ve been trying to get out and enjoy the city (see trip to Roosevelt Island below) and B and I have been crashing hard at about the same time we put C down every night.  We’ll rally for the rest of the next two weeks though – we’ll all have a lot to talk about next week as things wrap up, since everyone will be able to talk about their actually post, rather than the theoretical one they are hoping for right now.

This A-100 thing has been a blast (and I’m not even really *in* it) and it’s sad to see it coming to an end, but I have a feeling we’ll be making the most out of the last 10 days.  And hopefully, when the flags are shown and the names are called, most people walk away happy and excited and ready to party for the next 6 months…of language training.

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B and Me (Cousin It?)

B and Me (Cousin It?)

Fitting in

The bid list has been submitted.

Our fate is in the hands of the CDOs (Career Development Officers).  We really only had one, relatively minor, disagreement about how to rank our posts, but that was sorted out (or, more specifically, I told B, “You rank it however you want, but be warned that if you rank it high and we end up there, C and I will be spending our summers elsewhere.”)

We went heavy on French speaking posts for our “highs” in hopes that I will get to resuscitate, revive, or resurrect (depending on how you look at it) my long dormant French speaking ability.  B has to learn a language regardless, so why not a language that I have a pretty firm foundation in thanks to my parents’ foresight and 6 years at a French school.

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If hindsight had been 20/20 and I had guessed in college that I might embark on this adventure (anyone who knows me can laugh uproariously now – I have degrees in equine science and journalism from undergrad – not exactly “foreign policy/world adventure” type majors) I would have actually taken some additional French rather than CLEP’ing out of the 12 language credits I required.  I don’t know if they still have the CLEP program (College Level Examination Placement, I believe), but it saved my derrière, and my parents’ hard earned money, by allowing me to take exams for credit in French and (also somewhat ironically given the current circumstances) American History, rather than adding (yet another) semester to my college career.

So I’m practicing my French by reading newspapers, listening to French books on tape and playing French word games on my phone.  Which means, of course, that we’re going somewhere where the language is Spanish, or Aramaic, or Mandarin.

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Either way I’m going to be excited.  It’s sometimes hard to believe that B is going to get paid to learn at least one, and possibly several, languages as an FSO.  And that I, while not being paid to do it, will likely also have the opportunity to be taught, by top notch teachers, for FREE, a new language as well.  SO. COOL.

Besides the turning in of the dreaded bid list, life in D.C. (yeah, yeah, technically we’re in Northern Virginia, but I can see the Washington Monument from my building, so close enough) is good.  We’ve attended our first dinner party, we’ve had friends over to go swimming in “C’s” pool (which sadly will close for the season this weekend – Boo), and we have been making some great new friends among B’s classmates and their spouses, partners and children.  We are fitting into this life, for the most part, like we are meant to be a part of it.

Tacoma Park Festival fun!

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.

A logistical daymare…

Doc McStuffins made me cry this morning.

If you don’t know Doc McStuffins she is a small, maybe 5 year old, cartoon character who is a doctor to her stuffed animals.  C loves her some Doc McStuffins and she earned enough “points” this weekend from being good to get to watch an episode this morning (no, this has nothing to do with keeping C preoccupied while I try and get ready for work, I swear…).

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This morning the episode she was watching was all about Doc getting homesick at her first sleepover.  To make her feel better, her stuffed animals sing her this song:

“When the one that you love feels so far away

Just close your eyes try to picture their face

‘Neath the night sky you can see the same stars…”

Anyone see where this is leading?  Yup, to me, standing in the bathroom trying to put on makeup while crying.  Sigh.  I’m guessing this is not going to be the first time.

Now, back to the logistics at hand.  Do they have to do with packing? Nope. We’re surprisingly on top of that so far.  Transitioning C to a new home, new daycare, new world? Nah. So far she’s all good.  These are purely D related logistics related to moving my career without rocking too many boats.

DLE

D in 1997: Career Day 1

I’ve been a lawyer at the same law firm for 17 years.  I started here as a summer clerk in 1996 and they have been kind enough to let me stay here ever since.  And, while I’m excited about our new life in the FS, I’m not ready to jettison my career quite yet, so I’m going remote.  The firm has been extremely flexible in helping me figure out how I can transition and it has all felt very easy…so far.

Until I started having to schedule things in September.  Now, all of a sudden, I’m filling up my September calendar with depositions, mediations and hearings and none of them, not surprisingly, are happening in Washington, D.C.  These sort of logistics have never been terribly difficult before because B’s job was such that he could typically leave by 5 p.m. and could always pick up C (and drop her off).  He’s been a de facto single parent on more than one occasion while I’ve been in trial or out of town in depositions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when I went back to work B stayed home and took 12 weeks of FMLA.  It was (in a word) AWESOME.  I’d get up, feed C, leave, stop and get a coffee, work all day, return home and find a clean, happy baby and a fully cooked (often relatively gourmet) meal waiting for me. Seriously folks, it did not suck.  About two weeks IMG_0396after I went back to work I had to go to New Jersey for 5 days for depositions.  It was a grueling trip, but other than pumping and shipping milk back to C via FedEx (yes, you really can do that), I could concentrate on my work knowing C was well cared for and loved back home.

But as of August 25 we are not in a world where B has a 8-5 job any more, Dorothy (not what D stands for, but good try).  So, besides worrying about the actual depositions/mediations/hearings, I’m also worrying about how logistically I’m going to manage.

At least a few days of B’s A-100 training will be “offsite,” meaning he will not be able to drop off, or pick up, C.  Do we know when this offsite week will be? Of course we don’t! We *think* it will be the third week of A-100, but, as with all things FS, “it depends” on a number of other factors.  So right now I’m scheduling my work commitments and hoping B will be available to put his Super Daddy mantle back on for a few days.  Add to that trying to decide if it is better to fly (more expensive), or drive (longer, but WAY more convenient in terms of having autonomy when I get back to CLT), and whether to stay in a hotel (sleep guarantee) or bunk with friends (fun guarantee), and I feel a bit like I’m living in this parallel universe where part of me is pretending things aren’t really going to change.

I really want to make this flexible, portable job work for me, but I suspect this will be another aspect of my life where I will have to let some control go until I can get my bearings in DC.

Oh, and speaking of getting bearings, we have an address! And a phone number! I haven’t had a landline in so long I feel like I’m stepping back to the dark ages a bit, but I think I can remember how to work a regular phone (of course we’ll probably have to unplug it most of the time to stop C from calling either the fire department or Australia…).

As for Doc McStuffins, tomorrow we’ll be watching an episode where she fixes some toy cars; toy cars never make me cry.