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. 🙂
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!
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!!!
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!
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.
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!!
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.
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!
As I use up my last 16 hours of annual leave for my son’s school break, I am reminded of one of the big perks of being in the Foreign Service: that we get paid vacation time between overseas posts called “home leave.”
The official purpose is to re-familiarize yourself with all things American, and the minimum required is 20 business days with a maximum of 45. Most people spend their home leaves visiting friends and family and sightseeing in the US.
When we first joined, the idea of having to find and pay for a place to stay and transportation for a month really annoyed me. I was in a hurry to get from Belize to London and eventually to Iceland, and renting a place for one month is much more expensive than your usual rent under something like a 12-month lease (unless you live somewhere like DC!).
The nice thing is that you can go anywhere in the US. So I tried to find reasonable places with fairly low costs of living. Our first home leave was in 2013, and we spent it in Orlando, Florida, which was fantastic. It was comparatively cheap, close to Disney World, had a pool in the backyard, and I knew my way around from living there in the ‘90s. Super relaxing and convenient.
Our second home leave was in 2015, and we spent it close to my mom in Tucson, Arizona. It was crazy hot, but the A/C worked, and the complex had a pool. Plus we were able to spend priceless time with my mom before she unexpectedly passed away six months later.
When we left Iceland, we were technically on medevac status, and then we were curtailed, so I had to scramble and find a position in DC, which started in April after a January departure. So we didn’t end up taking any kind of home leave at all, which was a total bummer. We tried to see a lot of things in the area before I started working, but we couldn’t go very far afield.
When you transfer from DC to overseas, you don’t qualify for home leave because, obviously, you’ve been in the States for your entire tour. That means that our next home leave will be in four years after we finish our three-year posting in Switzerland…in 2023.
So by the time we get our third home leave, I will have been in the Foreign Service for 12 years, and it will have been eight years since our last one. When we first joined I had time, but I didn’t have money. Now I find that the opposite is true.
We’ll have spent two years in the States when we leave next summer, but I have hardly any vacation time by comparison. We’ve been able to travel a bit, but not nearly as much as I would’ve liked. The nice thing is that I will have a whole lot of home leave saved up by then. So I guess we will have to save The Great American Road Trip for another time. But think of how much fun we will have!!
For the most part, the planning part of my brain has already left the US. But I do still have a few things on my DC bucket list. The holiday boat parade in Alexandria was one of them. Happily, my kiddo is a pretty good sport and doesn’t mind being dragged on random adventures, but I try not to overwhelm or over-schedule him either.
So on Saturday afternoon we hopped in the car and headed to Alexandria to catch the boats. I parked about six blocks from the event because I thought parking would be horrible. So of course, we passed half a dozen spots that were closer, but it was free, so it’s all good!
He also still lets me hold his hand, so we walked and talked at a leisurely pace toward the market square, took a few photos in front of the big Christmas tree, then crossed over to Dolci Gelati for some holiday gelato. The best thing about eating ice cream when it’s 40F outside is that it doesn’t melt!
I had two super yummy scoops…Irish Coffee and Gingerbread, and A chose Cranberry-Orange and Candy Cane. The Candy Cane was a bit too strong for him, but he loves his fruit flavors, so the Cranberry-Orange was a big hit.
We checked out the waterfront marina but couldn’t really get a good spot due to all the people, so we wandered north along the sidewalk through Founders Park until we found a nice clear view of the water. We were still surrounded by people, but the edge of the park kind of sloped down toward the water, so it was easy to see over their heads. A also found a great spot in a tree, climbed up, and watched most of the boats from there with one other adventurous kid.
And the boat parade was great! They had everything from reindeer to menorahs to hula dancers to sharks. The one with the shark was A’s favorite. The website said that 60 boats participated in the parade, but we probably made it through about half of that before A got tired and wanted to go home. But I was more than happy with what we had seen. (My phone takes terrible pictures in low light, so these are courtesy of the Visit Alexandria FB page.)
There was also a gorgeous bright half-moon overhead and fireworks across the water on the opposite bank. The weather was cool, but we had layered up, and there was no wind, so we were quite comfortable as we walked back toward the car.
Sunday was much quieter. I had a couple mimosas, and we spent most of the day on the couch watching old episodes of the BBC TV series Merlin. I’d say it was a lovely weekend all around. 🙂