Sightseeing in DC is out of this world

What!?! TWO updates in one month?  What kind of craziness is this?  Well, don’t get too excited, this update will be a short one.  After months of living in the Washington, DC area, I finally got out and did some sightseeing.  I’ve been in a rut of going to FSI for class, doing homework, doing errands, etc., and haven’t really taken advantage of many of the very cool things to see and do in the DC area.

So, yesterday, I made the trek to the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum out by Dulles airport.  Most visitors to the DC area are much more familiar with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, but the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum is quite impressive, too.  It’s a huge hangar and has hundreds of full-sized airplanes, from historical pieces like the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to more recent ones like the Red Bull Stratos that Felix Baumgartner jumped out of in 2012.

And, it’s home to Space Shuttle Discovery!  I will admit that Discovery is the primary reason that I went.  I’m a sucker for space shuttles.  And, this one even had its Canadarm displayed next to it, which ties things back to my assignment in Ottawa where I covered space issues and visited the Canadian Space Agency HQ and saw where they train astronauts on how to use the Canadarm.

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Filed under Canada, FSI, Houston, Montreal, NASA, Ottawa, Pictures, Smithsonian, Texas, Tourist, Washington DC

NYC…and other things

Shortly after my last post, I went to New York City for three days with the FSI Economic Studies Course.  We visited the NYMEX, the NY Federal Reserve Bank, the U.S. Mission to the UN, a credit rating agency, and a couple of banks.  It was a really interesting trip and I learned a lot from all of our appointments.  It’s one thing to learn about the theory and to look at data and another thing to talk with people who are actually making sovereign risk assessments, analyzing foreign economies for the Fed, etc.

I’d actually never been to New York City before, so it was also nice to finally see some of the sites there during our free time in the evenings.  One of our meetings was close to the World Trade Center memorial, so some of us stopped by there on our way back to the hotel at the end of the day.  I also met up with one of my friends from A-100 who has since left the Foreign Service and it was reallllllly good to catch up with her.  She left the Foreign Service for a variety of reasons and it seems like things have worked out well for her and it’s really good to see her happy there.

We’re now in to the Country Data Analysis section of the course which has been interesting.  Essentially, we’re taking a lot of what we’ve learned and applying it to analyze economies of the countries we’ve been assigned.  This first part is in groups of four and then we’ll each do an individual capstone project.  Most people do something related to their onward assignment, but it’s not necessarily required.  I suspect I’ll do something related to Germany but need to see what issues I might want to try to dig in to.

I’ve also continued to organize some of the administrative stuff that comes with transferring, like getting myself enrolled in German language training after the Econ Course and a required leadership class, too.  I’ve gotten my housing survey from the Frankfurt and am filling that out.  I’m pondering what I want to do about a car there, meaning whether to ship my current car, buy something else here and ship that, buy something else there, etc.  I’ve also started to make some basic lists of what I’ll need to take on the plane with me, in my suitcases, in my air freight, etc.  The lists will evolve, I’m sure, but it’s helpful to start sketching things out a bit.  I also need to get my diplomatic passport renewed so that I have the new one back in plenty of time to apply for my German visa.

I also ended up having to find an urgent care place to take care of an illness that popped up in January.  I hadn’t had to see a doctor here in the DC area before, so I didn’t really have a relationship with a primary care provider here.  I searched a few Foreign Service groups, and found a recommendation, took myself to the urgent care place and got it taken care of.  Fortunately, it turned out to be something easily treatable, but I wasn’t sure what it would be going in.

So, that’s what’s new here.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere!

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Filed under Diplocat, Family, Frankfurt, Friends, FSI, Germany, New York, New York City, Spring, Transfer, Washington DC, Winter

A glorious week at home

The Christmas to New Years week is one of the few times that students at FSI are actually allowed to take annual leave, so I decided to avail myself of this option and went home to Texas for a little over a week.  It was really nice to be home and spend time with my mom, friends, and other relatives.

It was definitely weird not to have Dad there.  I think the best way to describe it is that he was conspicuous in his absence.  Dad really liked to cook and saw holidays as a chance to really go all out in his cooking.  If he had been there, there would have been lists, lots of different snacks, a fire in the fireplace, etc.  Mom and I are both a little more low-key on those things, so it was just quieter overall.  Going to church on Christmas eve was also hard, since that’s something that we’d always done as a family and it was the first time for me to be back in our church there since Dad’s funeral.

It was, however, just good to be home and spend some quality time there.  Mom and I test drove a few cars, since she’s eventually in the market for a new (to her, at least) car sometime in the next few months or so.  I had some good Tex-Mex and barbecue, and just generally enjoyed the break from the econ course, spending time with family, and being home.

In non-vacation news, I’ve worked out a tentative arrival date in Frankfurt, have reached out to a couple of the offices at post that are involved in the transfer office, and so on.  So, things are moving along towards my departure in a little over five months.  So, that’s exciting!

The econ course continues to march on.  We’re working on money and banking now, and it’s interesting stuff.  Next week, we’ll start on development economics, which should also be interesting.  It continues to be a lot of work, and I was very grateful for the break around Christmas, but it’s interesting and I can see how a lot of it will be useful in future posts.

All in all, things here are going well.  Hope all’s well out in the blogosphere.

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Christmas, Family, Frankfurt, FSI, Funeral, Germany, Holidays, Home, Shiner, Texas, Vacation, Washington DC, Winter

Thanksgiving recap (belated, of course)

I’d originally planned on not going home for Thanksgiving since I could only take the Friday after Thanksgiving off due to FSI’s leave policy and flying on a holiday weekend for such a short amount of time just didn’t seem like a great idea.  But, when Dad got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September, I decided to go home because who knew if it might be his last and certainly it was easier to get home to Texas from DC than it would be next year coming from Frankfurt.  So, I booked my Thanksgiving flight to Austin in September.

While I was home after Dad passed away, we talked about our plans for Thanksgiving and ended up deciding to spend it with family in Oklahoma City, rather than my mom and I staying home and having Thanksgiving just the two of us.  Staying home or even going to Thanksgiving dinner at our church there seemed like it would just exacerbate the feeling of loss.  So, I changed my flight to fly in to Dallas Love Field, which was about halfway between home and Oklahoma City.  It’s a nice little airport but I hadn’t used it until I flew back to DC after Dad’s funeral since, for quite a long time, the Wright amendment had limited flights out of Love Field to just a few states.  However, that restriction was lifted in October, and there’s now a non-stop flight on Southwest between Love Field and Washington’s National airport.  I was worried that snow on the east coast would cause problems with my flight, but it went smoothly and Mom picked me up there on the way to Oklahoma City and away we went.

We stayed at my grandmother’s house there in Oklahoma City, which had recently been nearly emptied out in an estate sale (my grandmother passed away in 2009), so sleeping arrangements were creative involving recliners, air mattresses, and such.  In an unexpected wrinkle, my aunt and uncle who’d planned on hosting family for Thanksgiving dinner had just moved houses and unfortunately their oven self destructed instead of self-cleaned so we ended up going out for Thanksgiving dinner and then back to their house to visit afterward.  It was still a little weird to me to not have Dad there, but it was really good to spend it with family and I’m glad we went.

The day after Thanksgiving, we joined my aunt and uncle, cousins and their kids at the horse race track in Oklahoma City and visited some more.  I didn’t make any bets, but it was fun to watch the horses race.  Then, on Saturday, we went to the Oklahoma City Science Center, which we used to go to frequently when I was younger.  It was fun to see the new exhibits as well as some favorites from my childhood.

On Sunday, we packed back up and headed down to Dallas where Mom dropped me off for my flight home which fortunately also went smoothly.  So, all in all a successful Thanksgiving!  It was definitely a little difficult to not have Dad there but I had a good time and it was great to spend it with family. :)

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Dallas, Family, Frankfurt, FSI, Funeral, Germany, Holidays, Home, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Texas, Thanksgiving, Travel, Washington DC

The Brave Little Toaster

Well, it’s been three weeks since Dad passed away.  I spent two weeks at home and have been back in DC for a week.  The first week was a blur.  There were so many emotions, so many decisions to make, and so many things to do that it all just ran together.  Mom and I would get several things done each day, but we’d eventually hit a wall and would just be too fried to do much else that involved thinking or deciding anything.

We held a visitation on Friday and the funeral was on Saturday.  It was so good to see so many people turn out for both and to hear so many stories from people who knew him from work, community service, etc.  I’d heard some of the stories, but heard a lot of new stories, too.  I was also impressed by the wide range of people who showed up, from the current mayor and a county judge, colleagues from all levels at the agency where Dad worked, friends from church and community service organizations, to a group of mentally handicapped residents from a group home of the agency Dad directed.

The second week was a bit less hectic but still plenty of work to do.  There was stuff to do around the house, administrative things to work on, and things like cleaning out Dad’s office at work.  It seemed like most of the things we set out to do ended up taking longer than expected, but we got a lot done.  It was also a chance for the loss to sink in a bit more and without as much chaos.

Then, Saturday, I headed back to DC and went back to class on Monday.  It’s been good to be back in to a routine, but it’s also weird to be in an environment where everything’s normal and no one else knew Dad or has been affected by Dad’s passing.  I also wish that I could be home and helping my mom with the things that she’s having to do, like finishing cleaning out my Dad’s office, some of the paperwork, etc.  But, everyone’s been very nice and very supportive.  The econ teachers and my classmates have been great about letting me copy notes, helping me catch up, etc.  Nicole at Kids with Diplomatic Immunity took wonderful care of the Diplocat while I was gone and Sadie at Sadie Abroad picked me up at the airport when I got back to DC.  And, many others have checked in on me and offered some type of help.

I’m also back to the unpacking.  My HHE arrived a little over a week before Dad passed away and I left town for two weeks, so there’s still most of it left to unpack and last night I tackled a few of the kitchen boxes.  In one of those boxes was my “Brave Little Toaster.”  When I moved in to my first apartment, my parents gave me some of their old kitchen items and I’ve replaced or upgraded some of them, but I still have a bunch of them.  One of the things that I still have is a metal toaster, not too different from the toaster in the Brave Little Toaster movie, that Dad bought at a garage sale when he was in graduate school.  I’m not sure when he got it, but it must have been in the 1960s, and it was used at that point, so who knows how old the thing is.  It’s a bit annoying to use it because, while the heating coils still work fine, sometimes the lever won’t stay down on its own and you have to stand there and hold it down if you want it to toast something.

But, even before Dad passed away, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it because of its history, even though I know a newer toaster would work better, and now I certainly can’t.  Realizing what was in the paper as I unwrapped it, I couldn’t help but tear up and eventually start to full-on cry.   So, even though I’m back to my normal routine and am doing pretty well for the most part, there are still things that trigger some memory or some thought about the permanence of Dad’s passing and result in tears, like finding the Brave Little Toaster that Dad had rescued from some garage sale probably somewhere around 50 years ago, repaired, used for many years, and then passed on to me.

So, the grieving process is a journey with ups and downs and will continue to be so for awhile, I’m sure.

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Diplocat, Family, Friends, FS Life, FSI, Funeral, Home, Moving, Texas, Transfer, Travel, Unpacking, Washington DC

Gone

Well, in a fairly unexpected turn of events, Dad passed away early Sunday morning.  He had been out of the hospital for about a week and seemed to be recovering well. However, the combination of cancer, recovery from surgery, and other medical issues like diabetes and high blood pressure must have been too much for his body, and he passed away at home early Sunday morning.

I was fortunate to get a flight home Sunday evening and to have a wonderful support network here in Texas, in DC, and around the world who have helped make the process easier by helping where they can and alleviating some worries like cat-care, etc.

The econ course folks have also been wonderful and supportive of me being here at home where I need to be now, without worrying about the coursework.

My mom and I have both been in a bit of a daze but between the two of us and our wonderful support network, we’ve muddled through and are making progress on the laundry list of things to do before the visitation and funeral.

We’ve had such a wonderful outpouring of condolences from friends and family, and it’s been truly touching to hear how many people are thinking of us and to hear from so many people who cared about my dad and who were impacted by his life and work.

There’s still a lot to do and a lot to process, but we’re so fortunate to have so many people who care and are helping us through this difficult time.

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Diplocat, Family, Friends, FS Life, FSI, Funeral, Home, Texas, Washington DC

Discharged!

Well, Dad was discharged from the hospital on Saturday, which is good news.  He has appointments lined up with the surgeon, the oncologist, and who knows who all else to go over the follow up on his surgery and to discuss options for chemo and/or radiation.  And, he got some good news on Friday that the biopsies that they’d taken on his liver, nearby lymph nodes and other parts of his pancreas all came back negative, which is a good sign.  So, we’ll see how things work out from there.  I still wish I could be there to help out with things as he recovers, though.

My HHE came on Thursday and it went smoothly.  All of the boxes were accounted for and so far no damage, though I still have a lot of boxes to unpack.  It’s been amazing to sleep in my own bed, have my own couch, and just generally feel a bit more settled despite the unpacking to come.  The diplocat is also enjoying climbing on and rummaging through the boxes.

The econ course continues to econ.  It’s a lot of info to absorb and some days my eyes start to glaze over as my brain reaches its saturation point, but I’m learning a lot and keeping my head above water thus far.  So, so far, so good.  We’ll see if I still think that way later on, though.

I’ve also been fighting off a cold for the last week or so.  It hasn’t been awful, but it’s been persistent and has interfered with sleep and generally feeling well.  Friday evening, I almost had myself convinced to go to a clinic on Saturday, but I woke up feeling a lot better on Saturday, I think in part because the weather shifted from being damp and chilly to just chilly, without the dampness.

So, that’s what’s new here.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere.

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Diplocat, Family, FSI, Home, Homesick, Moving, Sick, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Unpacking, Washington DC

The whipple that wasn’t

Well, Dad had surgery on Monday and they found that the tumor had invaded a major blood vessel and that it’s possible that the cancer has spread beyond the main tumor site to other parts of the pancreas.  Since the tumor had invaded blood vessels, they couldn’t safely remove it without risking him bleeding out on the table, so they just closed him back up again.  They’ll have the biopsy results back later this week to see whether it’s spread to other parts of the pancreas.  Obviously, this isn’t good news.

He’s recovering from the surgery now and the next steps will depend somewhat on what they find with the biopsies.  There may be some chemotherapy and radiation options that could reduce the size of the tumor to give him more time and possibly shrink it enough to make it operable.

So, we’ll see what the biopsy results say and what’s next.  I’m glad he made it through the surgery ok, but bummed that they couldn’t remove it and still sad that I can’t be closer to home while this is going on.

In happier news, my HHE comes tomorrow.  Yay for finally being able to sleep in my own bed!  Woot!  I’m sure that the Diplocat will also enjoy investigating the boxes.  :)

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Diplocat, Family, FS Life, FSI, Home, Homesick, Moving, Texas, Unpacking, Washington DC

Sometimes, several days attack at once…

Well, this last week and a half has been a doozy.  It’s reminded me of a refrigerator magnet I once saw that said “I try to take one day at a time, but some times several days attack me at once.”

The promotion lists came out on Wednesday and unfortunately, I didn’t get promoted.  I can look around and see that I’m in some very good company with some excellent colleagues from my A-100 class and from Ciudad Juarez, and I think it’s likely in part due to the much lower promotion rates now than a few years ago due to the hiring surge.  It still stings, especially after taking one for the team and going to Ciudad Juarez at the height of the violence and doing good work there.  But, since I can look around and see that I’ve got a lot of good company and it was rough going for a lot of people, I feel a little less bummed.

That news came less than a week after I got another, and honestly much more serious, piece of bad news.  Last Thursday, I found out that my dad has pancreatic cancer.  Cancer is never good, but some are more treatable and less aggressive than others.  Pancreatic cancer, unfortunately, falls in the less treatable and more aggressive category.  From his scans, the tumor likely can be removed with surgery, but it’s a difficult operation involving multiple organs and a long recovery, and it’s still possible that they could find something that didn’t show up on the scans when they perform the surgery.  Even if things go as well as can be expected and they’re able to remove the entire tumor with surgery, the five-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer are still a lot lower than many other types of cancer.

So, it’s rough news.  I’m scared that he might not make it through the surgery and that he might not have much time left, even if everything goes very smoothly with the surgery.  It hurts to be so far away from my parents as they’re going through this.  I wish I could be closer to help with things and spend time with them.  But, I have a job that keeps me in DC.  At least I’m close enough that I’ll be able to go home for holidays, and will be able to make it home relatively quickly if the need arises.  Still, it does make me wish that I could live a little closer to home, at least for a while.

As a result of all of this, I’ve just wanted to hide under the covers and pretend that the last week and a half never happened.  Here’s hoping there’s no more bad news for awhile.

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Ciudad Juarez, EER, Family, FS Life, FSI, Holidays, Home, Homesick, Paperwork, Texas, Washington DC

Pumpkin Spice Madness!

Is it just me, or has the United States gone nuts with pumpkin spice EVERYTHING?  In Juarez, I did most of my grocery shopping in El Paso and in Ottawa I did most of my grocery shopping there, but did go down to shop in upstate New York from time to time.  And, even though I did most of my Ottawa grocery shopping in Ottawa, Canadian grocery stores aren’t that different than U.S. grocery stores.  So, I haven’t really felt disconnected from the American shopping experience.

However, one of the things that really stands out to me now that I’m back in DC and doing all of my grocery shopping here is the proliferation of pumpkin spice everything.  I’m familiar with and enjoy Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice drinks and have seen other pumpkin spice foods, but this year it seems like I can’t walk two feet in the grocery store without encountering something else pumpkin spice.  Thus far, I’ve seen pumpkin spice flavored cookies, M&Ms, PopTarts, coffee, coffee creamer, tea, yogurt, ice cream, peanut butter, and goodness knows what all else.  It’s everywhere!

So, is it just me or have the grocery stores gone especially pumpkin spice crazy this year?

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Filed under Autumn, FSI, Observation of the Day, Shopping, Washington DC