Posted in WashingtonDC

Pandemic Post

Well, it’s been less than two weeks since my last post, and things have kind of hit the fan. Coronavirus cases have exploded exponentially in the US and across the globe. Here’s a current screenshot of the case tracker map from Johns Hopkins. And a friend shared on FB a comparative map from the CDC of US cases over a three-week period starting on March 1.

Johns Hopkins world map.
CDC map of the US.

Individual US states as well as entire countries abroad are locking down externally by closing their international borders and internally by shuttering schools, as well as nonessential businesses, and imposing curfews, all hoping to slow the spread of the disease. News coverage has been completely taken over, and everyone is being personally affected on some level…unless you’re lucky enough to be wintering in Antarctica. : )

On Friday, March 13, the schools in our area announced that they would be suspending classroom learning and switching to online. We were supposed to start alternating telework days for social distancing on campus the following Monday. But that lasted about half a day, and they sent everyone home, so those two things lined up nicely. A few days later the schools told everyone they would not be reopening for the duration of the school year. So I guess I’ll be teleworking through June regardless.

On day three of online learning, my son’s six-year-old iPad finally gave up the ghost, so I had to go online and order him another one. My ex was the tech guru in our family and used to just give him his old iPad every few years when he bought a replacement. I am nowhere near that savvy, so I just got the cheapest and newest one I could find at Best Buy. It arrived this morning, so we should be back online soon.

Working from home has been an exercise in frustration. We’ve always used 20 different platforms to do different things from time and attendance to flight reservations to performance evaluations. And now we had to figure out a half a dozen new ones just to be able to organize video conferences and share documents that all seem to lose their formatting the minute you send them. (I seriously cannot wait to get back to an actual desk someday.) But I’m sure I have a much lighter workload compared to some people…like all of our instructors that had to figure out how to suddenly transfer their classes to an online platform.

I used to order my groceries online from Safeway and have them delivered every couple of weeks, so I didn’t have to schlep them up to the fifth floor of our apartment building (even though we have an elevator). Now when I go online there are no delivery dates available. I tried to shop through Instacart instead, which has higher fees, and could still only get a delivery a week away. The last delivery I did get from Safeway had a full page of items that they were out of in the inventory. Happily, the little shop in our apartment complex is still open and has yet to run out of toilet paper, bread, milk, or eggs.

Sadly, I’ve only been able to drive my new car a few times since we went to teleworking almost immediately after it arrived. And Carvana did text me to let me know that they wouldn’t be able to process my vehicle registration transfer as soon as hoped as the VA DMV was now closed. But I did pop out one morning for a pneumonia shot from my doctor. We took a drive on Saturday to see the cherry blossoms in Kenwood, MD, since the DC Cherry Blossom Festival had been cancelled, and we weren’t on lockdown yet. Every now and then we pop out and go through the drive through at Taco Bell. I guess even those outings will be curtailed now.

I have no idea how this is going to affect our move to Geneva this summer. August is late summer, but still…Switzerland currently has over 10,000 cases and has locked down the border. There’s no official word out yet on the summer transfer season, but I asked my supervisors what they thought, and they recommended that I extend my lease. So that’s a bummer, but the last couple years have taught me not to be emotionally attached to your future plans.

On the bright side, I would’ve been spending just as much as rent in DC on childcare in Switzerland. And I actually am saving quite a bit of money at the moment on things that have been suspended or cancelled. If this craziness does last through summer, I’ll save thousands in summer camp fees. Here’s a short list of what I’ll be saving so far:

Taekwondo                                            $210/month
Before/after school care               $400/month
Spring break camp                            $360
Trip to DisneyWorld                        $800-1,000
Cafeteria Lunch (work)                  $50-150/month
Gasoline                                                  $80/month

Anyway, I could not write any of this without acknowledging how lucky we are that we are safe and well at home here in the US. Our situation is merely a string of inconveniences compared to the true fear and horror that some countries are experiencing.

Wishing you and your loved ones all good health.

 

Posted in WashingtonDC

And the Winner Gets…A New Car(vana)! 

Our Carvana delivery!

If you’ve been reading my blog recently, you’ve probably heard me mention that my current car is a bit too old to take with us to Switzerland. Technically, it’s a combination of the age and the condition of the vehicle. My sweet girl (no I never named her) will be 10 years old when we PCS.

And, even though she runs great and has really low mileage (only 65K), she is getting up there. She has lots of scratches and dings and a few chips in the windshield. Swiss vehicle inspectors are extremely strict, especially on cars older than eight years. SO, rather than get over there and have her suddenly fail inspection…at which point I would be stuck with a car that I couldn’t drive but had to pay to store…it was probably best to trade her in for a newer model while we were still in the States.

When I bought her back in 2010, I was pregnant and wanted something safer than the little commuter car that I was driving. I wanted something that had lots of room for my new family, and could hold its own in the snow, but maneuvered like a car. I’m also a sucker for aesthetics and wanted a burgundy exterior, tan interior, and maybe a bit of faux-wood trim to make me feel fancy. All of which she had.

But I’ve come to realize that I’m quite emotionally attached to her! Not only did she bring my son safely home from the hospital on the day that he was born, but she drove us from Denver to DC when we joined the Foreign Service. She’s been to every overseas post with us. She’s carried our friends and family. She’s toted groceries, and suitcases, and a big wet dog on trips to the beach in Iceland. She’s been to restaurants and emergency rooms, jungles and fjords, Mayan temples and British country houses.

My son pointed out that she’s been waiting for him every time he’s left the house…almost every day of his life. Even when we took the bus most days in London, she was still parked on the side of the road. She even outlasted my marriage.

So I thought of replacing her with a newer Santa Fe to ease the feeling of separation. But apparently, Santa Fes now sell for $30K! No idea how that happened. When I found her at a dealership, she was only a year old, and the purchase price was $18,000.

It also occurred to me, now that I’m divorced, that we don’t need a vehicle quite that big. I still wanted some kind of SUV, just something a bit smaller and cheaper. Still a fan of the burgundy exterior and tan interior. Enter the Hyundai Tucson.

But I was dreading going to a car dealership. I did lots of research, and many people said that you shouldn’t tell the dealer up front that you wanted to trade in a vehicle…or pay cash…or that you were female…because they would jack up the price. All of which would be fairly obvious at some point. Plus the process drags on for hours in person.

I had recently spoken to a colleague who had purchased a car from Carvana completely online. He’d said that he’d had a great experience, and the main reason that he went through them was because they offered him such a high value for his trade-in. So I checked it out.

For some reason, there were no 2018 Hyundai Tucsons listed for sale. And all the 2019 ones had black or grey interiors. But the 2017s had some lovely tan interiors and for a very reasonable price! I ran the specs of my Sante Fe through their trade-in value calculator…and they offered me almost $4,000! Almost 25% of which was an increase for DC market value.

They said it could take up to two months to get the new title, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time before we were supposed to ship it. But the purchase process was so easy! I picked out my preferred vehicle and uploaded a bunch of documents…copies of my driver’s license, social security card, current title, and a photo of the current odometer reading.

Because I wanted to transfer the registration, they asked for a copy of that. I opted not to get the Carvana Care (pseudo-extended warranty) because they confirmed that it doesn’t work overseas. I also had to add the new vehicle to my existing insurance, which took about 10 minutes online with USAA, and upload proof of that. If you have an out-of-state license, they’ll want proof of residency. Then I got to pick my delivery date and time.

The next day a customer service agent called to confirm my info and ask if I had any questions. He was very pleasant, and what questions he didn’t know the answer to at the time, he found the information later and emailed it to me.

The only thing that made me nervous was, because I was paying cash online, entering the user ID and password to my online bank account so I could get a PIN number from my bank for the cash transaction. But nothing’s disappeared out of my account, and I’ve made a mental note to change my password as soon as they collect the funds.

So last weekend we took our little Santa Fe on her last adventure to Alexandria where we had lunch and gelato. On Thursday she took her last ride with Thorfinn to doggy daycare. On Friday she did her last school run with my son. This morning she took him to taekwondo, we went through the drive through at Taco Bell, and I took her for a nice wash and interior cleaning.

Then we took the parking decals off the windshield, removed my son’s elementary school spirit magnet from the back corner by the license plate, and said good-bye.

The Carvana guys called a few minutes before they were scheduled to arrive to let me know they were running about half an hour late. But once they got here, the transfer process took a whopping 30 minutes.

Other than the fact that I clearly anthropomorphize waaaaaaaay too much, I think I’ve also had a hard time letting go of this little car because it’s kind of a symbol of the family life I thought we were going to have when we first got married. And things continue to change.

But I got through it, and we welcomed our shiny newish 2017 Hyundai Tucson to the family. She’s slightly more compact…about six inches shorter in length and about one inch lower, even though she still has decent ground (aka snow) clearance. She’s got a sweet back-up camera, has driven 17K miles, and is ready to pack up our redefined family and take us on our next adventure. My son has named her Flashie. 🙂

Posted in WashingtonDC

New Season, New Theme

I cannot remember the last time I changed the look of my blog…probably back in London over five years ago. Even though it was only 22 degrees this morning in DC, February is almost over, and you can feel that spring is just around the corner. By the middle of March last year we’d hit almost 80 degrees, so it won’t be long now before visible transitions are under way. We are also starting a metaphorical new season with our move to a new post this summer, so I felt that a corresponding and lovely new theme would be a nice way to say farewell to the old and usher in the new. 🙂

Posted in WashingtonDC

DS Training

For obvious reasons, we’re not really supposed to blog about anything security related, but I thought it was worth mentioning that I got to do some training at the Diplomatic Security Service’s new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Blackstone last week.

Since I can’t talk about all the fun things I was able to do, I will direct you to this very informative open source article from NBC news titled, “U.S. Department of State opens new state-of-the-art training facility in Va.

What I can tell you is that it’s fairly difficult to find someone to watch your kid for a week while you wander off to training as a single parent. I am super thankful that my lifelong friend AF had recently joined the FS and happened to be at FSI for her own training…and that she agreed to watch my kiddo for a week in the midst of a massive career transition. Thank you so much, AF! I owe you big time!!

I can also tell you that I took advantage of six whole nights without said kiddo to watch lots of grown-up movies on TV such as the new Charlie’s Angels, Knives Out, and Maleficent 2.  I also consumed several weeks worth of red meat in the form of prime rib and cheese burgers.

I found a fantastic gastro pub chain called The Burger Bach that specializes in super yummy burgers made of imported New Zealand beef that they grind in-house. I highly recommend the “Wellington” burger, which comes with New Zealand triple cream blue cheese, hp sauce, brown gravy, caramelized onions, sautéed wild mushrooms, and garlic aioli. It was so good, I had it three nights in a row. And it came with salad instead of fries, so I could pretend it was healthy.

I also saw my first ever albino deer during the evening commute…on two separate occasions, so it wasn’t just my imagination. There was much ensuing discussion of Harry Potter and your personal Patronus charm. It seems quite fitting in retrospect since the Patronus is used for defense. 🙂 Between that and the security training, I should be in pretty good shape!

Posted in Switzerland

Geneva Update

The Jungfrau, photo from ryderwalker.com.

After nine long months, and about 90 emails exchanged with MED, I am super happy to report that my son has FINALLY been cleared to go back overseas. Woo hoo!!!

I have to say, I have never seen a process that was so micromanaged in my entire life and look forward to a time when I never have to deal with that particular office again. But, life being life, that probably won’t be the case. So for now I will just be thankful that we can move forward!!

We are also thrilled that A has been officially accepted into an amazing international school. I queried four of them. One of them wouldn’t be able to tell us until April if they had space for him next year, and that was just way too late in the planning process for me. Another one didn’t have the classroom support available, so that was a no-go.

But he was accepted by a fantastic school that has instruction in French, in English, and a bilingual program in French AND English. I’d also read lots of positive things about them from parents on some Foreign Service blogs, so I’m excited about that option and didn’t feel the need to pursue the fourth school. I hope he has a really positive experience there.

As of this week, I’m still waiting to be “paneled” (officially approved for my assignment). I was kind of paneled two weeks ago, but they put the wrong arrival date, so it had to go back to panel. It looks like we will be transitioning the first week of August, so A will be able to finish school here in June and get a few weeks of summer camp in with his friends before we head out.

One new requirement for folks going overseas this year is to attend a week of counter-terrorism training. When I first joined you only had to attend if you were going to a high-threat post. But the world is such a crazy place these days, it’s now mandatory for everyone heading abroad…even to Switzerland. So I’m lined up to do that in February. One more box to check in my pre-departure check list!

Which currently looks like this (in no particular order):

  • Get paneled, get travel orders, request plane tickets, get Swiss visa
  • Get rabies shots, health certificates, and make travel arrangements for pets
  • Arrange for childcare: US summer camp, interim babysitters, and au pair
  • Buy a new car, transfer vehicle registration, arrange for shipping, update car insurance, rent a car
  • Submit housing questionnaire, get housing assignment, buy more furniture, schedule packout
  • Order school supplies and uniforms
  • Give apartment 90-days’ notice of departure, extend lease for one month
  • Change addresses on everything, cancel internet, phone, TV, Naked Wines membership (sadly), etc………………………..

That said, now that I know we’re really leaving, the time is starting to fly by! I’m trying to think of any last bucket list items while we’re still here in DC, but I’ve kind of lost motivation for that. I’m looking forward to one more season of cherry blossoms. We’re planning a long weekend in Pennsylvania in May to visit cousins.

And I wouldn’t mind a couple more weekends at the beach, or a weekend trip to Florida to see the Harry Potter stuff at Universal or the new Star Wars area at Disney. I might actually try to make that happen since Florida is miserably hot in the summer, if we saved it for a future home leave.

So that’s where we stand at the moment!!!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Looking Back at 2019

New Year’s celebrations around the world (internet photos).

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and the second decade of the 21st Century comes to an end. (I initially wrote “first decade” there…clearly the last 10 years have been a blur.)

Reading back over my posts toward the end of last year, I wrote one in November, nothing in December, and my annual recap was well into January. So I wasn’t writing a whole lot. This year, I can confidently say that I am in a much happier place; 2018 was an extremely difficult year, but 2019 has been a pretty smooth ride by comparison.

Here’re the big ticket items from the last 12 months:

January – Government shut down and four weeks of mandatory vacation.
March – Two visits from overseas friends.
May – Trip to Phoenix to visit long-time friend/college roommate. Divorce final.
June – Trip to the beach.
July – Two trips to Fredericksburg to visit transitioning FS friends.
August – Visit from Florida friend and Antarctic friend. Got pneumonia, cancelled trip to Alaska to see family…booo.
September – Kiddo turned 9 and started 4th grade. Bidding started for our next post.
October – Trip to Annapolis. Bidding ended, accepted handshake for Geneva…yay!
November – Trip to Williamsburg with A’s class. A accepted into international school in Geneva. Trip to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving with cousin and family.
December – Christmas staycation in DC.

So it’s been a pretty good year all around. Even the dog and cat are getting along…lol. So this year I have TWO bottles of champagne chilling in the fridge. Technically one is supposed to be for my birthday later this week, but we’ll see how long it lasts.

Aside from drinking champagne, other personal New Year’s Eve traditions include: watching international fireworks celebrations online for different time zones around the world and watching as much of the televised coverage of the ball dropping in Times Square as possible (there are three different shows on NBC, Fox, and ABC)…although I don’t usually last until the main event at midnight. I did stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve watching season 2 of Lost in Space though, so anything is possible.

My mother used to love to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade, so I might give that a whirl on Wednesday morning. Some people eat special meals…my ex-husband used to like corned beef and cabbage. I love Deviled Eggs any time…smoked salmon and capers…I think it’s going to be an hors d’oeuvres-only kind of day. Eventually I may actually leave the house and socialize, but probably not till A is older, or I have found a trusted sitter.

I also like to read my annual horoscope for the year in Elle magazine. 🙂 Regardless of how accurate it is, I am pretty excited about what 2020 is going to bring!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Christmas in DC

The Capitol Christmas Tree.

This was our second and last Christmas in DC. There was no snow, of course, and it was 50 degrees most of this week, so it practically felt like spring. Sadly, it looks like Geneva is getting similar weather. Even though it’s SWITZERLAND, Geneva is actually at the base of the mountains and is only 1,230 feet in elevation. So it doesn’t snow there nearly as much as I’d like. But I guess it makes getting to work easier, and at least you’re not too far from snow.

One big change from the DC holidays last year: the government is open. Twelve months ago on this day I was one week into our four-week government furlough. Happily we did get both Christmas Eve and Christmas day off this year. And I took Monday off, so my son and I had five whole days to spend together.

On Saturday we just relaxed and lazed around the house. But on Sunday evening we met some friends and went downtown to check out some of the holiday art installations. I think I can safely speak for both of the adults when I say that we were underwhelmed.

The first stop was “Light Yards” at the Yards Park. The Yards used to be part of the Washington Navy Yard and was redeveloped into commercial and recreational space with a decent park along the Anacostia River. The exhibit was free and parking was only $2.50, which blew my mind. But we thought there were going to be art pieces all along the waterfront, but it turned out to be just one…and it wasn’t particularly holiday themed. It was still cool looking, and the kids liked it, but we probably wouldn’t have bothered if we’d known ahead of time.

Light Yards at the Yards Park.

From there we decided to cruise over to “Georgetown Glow” and see if their production was any better. It wasn’t. There was more of it…but the word glow was very misleading. We saw three installations, and only one of them was self-illuminated. The other two had spotlights shining on them and could’ve been any piece of art anywhere. But Georgetown itself is always cute, and we stopped into Luke’s Lobster for a beer and some lobster rolls. Yum!!

Overhead art at “Georgetown Glow.”

On Monday, A and I went back downtown to catch a 3:00 performance of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. If you’ve never heard of them, they’re quite famous for their elaborate stage shows…lots of light, lasers, TV screens, fog, fire…fake snow. They’re also a ‘90s head-banging, Christmas-themed hair band, which is really entertaining to watch. 🙂

It was my son’s first concert, and it was supposed to last 2.5 hours…I figured he’d make it about an hour. He lasted 45 minutes but gave me an extra 15 since we’d arrived late. I could’ve stayed the whole time…SO much fun.

Before we hit the concert we came down early to find parking…for $27 (much closer to what I’ve come to expect in DC)…and to see the Capitol Christmas Tree. The Capitol Tree is also pretty famous. It even has its own website, Facebook page, fancy 18-wheel delivery truck, and tree tracker, so you can see where it is in its journey from the National Forest to the Capitol lawn. This year’s tree was a Blue Spruce from the Carson National Forest in New Mexico.

The Capitol Tree being loaded onto it’s fancy truck (photo by Roberto E. Rosales for the Albuquerque Journal).

On Christmas Eve we had some friends that we worked with in Iceland over for drinks and snacks. And on Christmas Day, my son actually slept in until 7:30am, which was a gift in itself. I also stayed up ridiculously late watching the new season of Lost in Space. So a good time was had by all. I hope your holidays were merry as well!