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 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!

Posted in WashingtonDC

Missing Home Leave

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!!

Posted in WashingtonDC

20th Annual Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights

Photo by Evan Michio for Visit Alexandria.

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.

Market square in Alexandria.
Our favorite gelato place all year round.

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.)

Photo by Evan Michio for Visit Alexandria.
Photo by Evan Michio for Visit Alexandria.
Photo by Evan Michio for Visit Alexandria.

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. 🙂

Posted in WashingtonDC

Thanksgiving in Wisconsin!

A snowy Thanksgiving.

Happy holidays, and I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! We were very excited to spend our Turkey Day in Wisconsin with one of my cousins and his family. It was extra special because we hadn’t actually seen each other in 20 years! Where does the time go??

We both have kids who had never met, and I come from a fairly small family, so introducing them to each other made my heart happy.

We had also never been to the state of Wisconsin, so it was fun to check out a new place. It reminded me quite a bit of Alaska with thick forests and lots of wildlife. My cousin has a lovely creek running behind his house, and at one moment, we looked up and saw a doe and her fawn standing in the water between the snowy banks. It looked like a Christmas card! Not unlike this one…minus the guy with the antlers.

Wildlife painting from WallPaperFlare.com.

The first couple days were spent catching up on two decades of family history. We also popped out for a few meals at a local diner and a supper club. I had read about supper clubs in an Atlas Obscura article and was excited to visit one.

But we didn’t go to just any supper club, we went to the Little Bohemia Lodge. According to Wikipedia, “Little Bohemia Lodge is a rural vacation lodge and restaurant located off US Highway 51 in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The lodge was built in 1929 by Emil Wanatka on land he acquired that same year. Little Bohemia gained fame and infamy as the setting of a botched raid by the FBI (then called the Division of Investigation) against the John Dillinger Gang.

“The historic rustic lodge remains as it was at the time of the federal raid and along with original bullet holes from the gun battle still in the walls and windows; Little Bohemia Lodge has a collection of memorabilia from the gun battle.”

Exterior of Little Bohemia Lodge.
One of the interior dining room all decorated for Xmas.
Super yummy pork schnitzel.

The lodge was also used as the filming location for the 2008 movie Public Enemies with Johnny Depp playing John Dillinger. And they had great food! I was really tempted to order the “broasted” chicken, which I had never heard of and consists of frying a chicken in a pressure cooker. But I couldn’t pass up the pork schnitzel with spaetzle (small German dumplings similar to gnocchi) and red cabbage. Mmm. We also had beer cheese soup with popcorn garnish, pasta salad, and shrimp cocktail on a little bed of lettuce.

After we got home from dinner on Tuesday, a massive snowstorm blew through overnight and dumped a foot of snow on the ground. It was absolutely gorgeous! Unfortunately, it also knocked out the power for 11 hours. But I kind of enjoyed it. The kids stayed off their electronics for the most part, and we played cards and board games, then set off for lunch at the Sayner Pub, a place in town that had electricity…and amazing pizza and Bloody Marys with lots of fixings on top.

Happily the power came back on just in time for Thanksgiving. And my cousin’s awesome wife put together an amazing dinner with sweet potatoes and marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, and homemade apple pie. I was extremely helpful and…ahem…kept her company. I did mash some potatoes though!

Bloody Marys at the pub and a Thanksgiving turkey!

Our flight was scheduled to leave the next day, and when I went to check in online, I discovered that the departure time had been moved up by three hours, and it was the only flight out of town that day. So our visit was cut a bit shorter than we intended. But it was so lovely to spend time with family, and we’re hoping to see them again once we get settled in Switzerland!