Category Archives: Canada

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated

Ok, ok, so there aren’t any rumors of my demise (that I know of) but I obviously haven’t posted here in more than two months.  So, the 3 of you who read this thing might have been worried that I’d met my demise….or not.

In the last two months, I’ve been busy with getting settled in to life in Frankfurt, learning the ropes of the consulate and my job, and a couple of quick trips.

Frankfurt’s a great place to live and settling in has gone fairly smoothly.  My HHE, UAB, and car and all arrived without any apparent damage.  I say apparent, because I still haven’t fully unpacked my HHE, even though I’ve had it for more than a month now.  But, I’m making progress.  That counts for something, right?  😉  I’m through most of the hoops and paperwork for things like my diplomatic ID, car registration, internet set up, etc.  There are couple of things I’m still waiting on, but most of the paperwork has at least been submitted.

Work has been busy.  Even though the consulate here in Frankfurt has more than 1,000 people working in it, I’m working in combined Pol/Econ section that’s much smaller than any section I’ve worked in before.  That has a number of advantages, in that I’m getting experience in a lot of new areas, but also means that the pace of work is generally a bit more hectic and I’m also having to learn a lot of new things.  But, all in all, it’s going pretty well.  My boss and coworkers are great, which can obviously make or break a tour.

I’ve managed to squeeze in a couple of trips, so far too.  I’ve gone to Stuttgart for work, to Mainz and Wiesbaden with my aunt who was in town for work, to Belgium to visit one of my host families from when I was an exchange student, and I just got back from spending Labor Day weekend in Paris visiting a friend from Ottawa.

So, I’ve been busy with getting settled in and taking advantage of some of the travel opportunities around, now that State has finally let me get on a plane and go overseas, not just over rivers. 😉

Hope all is well in the blogosphere!

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Filed under Belgium, Canada, Family, France, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Moving, Ottawa, Paris, Stuttgart, Transfer, Unpacking

Catching up

Greetings!  For once, when I talk about catching up, I’m not just talking about catching up on blogging.  After feeling like I’ve been living under a rock between homework for the Econ Course and playing catch up on missed classes for awhile, I’ve managed to catch up with several FS and grad school friends in the last few weeks now that I have a bit more free time.  I’ve been catching up with FS friends who are moving back to town and grad school friends in the area whom I’ve neglected to reach out to in a long time.  It’s been really good to hear what’s new with them and to see people whom I’ve missed.

Other than that, I haven’t been up to anything much exciting, with one exception.  Last weekend, I saw on Twitter that Colonel Chris Hadfield was signing copies of his books at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.  I was covering space issues in Canada while he was on the International Space Station, and it was amazing the buzz he created and how well he connected with people through various forms of social media.  So, it was exciting to hear that he was in town and I wanted to get his new book anyway, so I went down to the Air and Space Museum to get the book.  One of the fun things about living in the DC area.

The German continues to German.  I had a progress test a couple of weeks ago and they said that I was where I should be, which was good.  It’s not over until I actually get my 3/3, but it’s good to hear that I’m on the right track toward it, so hopefully I’ll get my 3/3 and get to Frankfurt on time.   I’m also working through meetings with DC-based people I’ll work with once I get to Germany and doing some of the other stuff I have to do in DC before I head out.  I’ve also gotten my orders and housing assignment, which makes it that much more real. 🙂

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

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Filed under Canada, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, NASA, Ottawa, Smithsonian, Tourist, Washington DC

5 Pros and Cons: Ottawa Edition

Ania over at The New Diplomat’s Wife started an FS Blog Roundup on the topic of five pros and cons about your post with her lovely review of being posted in Copenhagen.  FS bloggers did these a couple of years ago and I came up with five pros and cons of being posted in Ciudad Juarez last time around but never did one while I was in Ottawa.  Since a few people have already covered life here in the DC area, I decided to focus on Ottawa for this one, even though I’ve been gone for several months.  So, here goes.

Pros

1. People – Canadians are nice, friendly, and easy to meet.  It’s easy to get out and be involved in the community in Ottawa and I made some wonderful Canadian friends while I was posted there.  It’s easy to blend in in Ottawa and you don’t have to rely on the embassy community for your social life, which I enjoyed.

2. LQA – Ottawa is an LQA post, meaning that you get an allowance and find your own housing instead of being assigned housing from a housing pool like in most posts.  There are some cons to it that I’ll get to later, but after having safety and security frustrations with my house in Juarez and feeling like I had no power in the situation, it was so nice to pick out something that I liked.  I had a lovely apartment and very nice landlords, so overall had a pretty good experience with LQA.

3. Pet friendly – Ottawa is very pet friendly and it’s very easy to import pets to Canada from the United States.  I don’t know if it’s different for dogs, but all I needed for the Diplocat was a rabies certificate, and they weren’t at all interested in seeing it at the border when I entered with her.  Vet care in Ottawa is very good, though more expensive than in the States.

4. Safety – Ottawa is a very, very safe city.  Coming from Ciudad Juarez, it was sooooooooo nice to live somewhere safe, where I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, worry about my safety, etc.  Maybe if you’re coming from the U.S. or are coming from somewhere else where it’s safe, this wouldn’t make quite as much of a difference in your quality of life as it did for me.  But after spending two years in Juarez weighing the security risks of simple decisions like going to the grocery stores, it was just such a breath of fresh air to be able to go about my business without safety concerns.

5. The summer and fall – Ottawa is BEAUTIFUL in the summer and fall.  The summers don’t get too hot and everything’s nice and green.  There are a lot of fun events in the summer and lots of great outdoor opportunities in area parks and lakes.  The fall is also beautiful, with changing leaves, crisp air, etc.  Again, lots of fun hiking opportunities with beautiful fall foliage.

Cons

1. Winters – There’s no way to beat around the bush.  The winters in Ottawa are really long and really cold.  It gets down to -20F with wind chills down to -40F.  And, the winters last from about November to April.  Maybe this is no big deal if you’re from Minnesota, but the winters were rough for this Texan who’s used to being able to wear flip flops throughout most of the winter.  And, after two years of being trapped in my house because of the violence, feeling trapped inside by the cold, snow, and ice was a bummer.

2. Expensive – While I was there, Ottawa was a pretty expensive place to live.  The U.S. dollar has appreciated considerably against the Canadian dollar since I left, so I’m not sure if this is still the case, but it was expensive to grocery shop, go out to eat, etc. in Ottawa.

3. LQA – While being able to choose your own housing was liberating for me, there are also downsides.  You have to have a chunk of change ready to cover initial expenses.  There were several hiccups in my case that were not normal, but at one point I figured out that I was out over $10,000 in LQA and unreimbursed travel voucher expenses.  It’s also stressful to decide on a place to live when you first get to a new city or sight-unseen before arrival.  There’s also a lot of extra paperwork involved in getting the housing approved and reconciling the costs at the end of the year.  So, while there are a lot of good things about LQA, there are some down sides, too.

4. Internet connections – This may seem surprising since Canada’s very much a first world country, but while I was there, internet packages usually had a monthly GB cap and you could incur very high fees if you went over your monthly internet usage.  The speeds were also nothing to write home about.  That said, looking back at the website of the internet provider I used then, it looks like they do now offer unlimited internet traffic.  So, maybe that’s not as much of a con now as it used to be.

5. Deceptively similar to the USA – There are a lot of things about life in Canada that are similar to life in the United States.  You’ll see many of the same products on the shelves in stores in Canada as you would in the United States, there are even many of the same stores in Canada that you’d find Stateside, there aren’t language difficulties (usually), etc.  So, you can feel a lot like you’re in the United States, until you run up against one of the weird differences like the internet download limits, etc.  Then, because the difference came out of nowhere, it hits you that much harder.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Diplocat, FS Blog Roundup, FSI, LQA, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Snow, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Washington DC

Graduated!

On Friday, I officially graduated from the FSI Economic Studies Course!  Woot!  It was a lot of work, made somewhat harder by missing two weeks when Dad passed away and then not being 100% when I came back, but I made it through.  Though, I’m not entirely sure that it counts since we didn’t actually get to see the gold at the Federal Reserve when we went to New York.  😉  Our last week of class had the excitement of a snow day, and cramming all 20 of our capstone presentations in to one day instead of the two they’d had scheduled.  It was hectic, especially since I had to go a day earlier than planned, but at the same time, there wasn’t as much time for tough questions.  Fortunately, though, all’s well that ends well and the snow is now melting and the next week or so should be warmer.

On Monday, I will start German classes at FSI.  I’m looking forward to using my brain a bit differently and I think that getting in to German classes will also help make my assignment to Frankfurt feel a bit more real.  I’ve been so focused on getting through the Econ Studies Course that I haven’t had too much time to focus on the excitement that will be my move to Frankfurt in June.  I need to sit down with the departure checklist, an arrival checklist for Frankfurt, etc. and start making a list of what I need to do and deadlines for things that have them, like getting the Diplocat’s paperwork in order, etc.

So, that’s the news here.  I hope all is well out in the blogosphere!  I’ll leave you with this video from Carly Rae Jepsen (I saw her perform on Canada Day in Ottawa in 2013, btw) that cracks me up.  I mean, Tom Hanks lip syncing to a pop song.  What’s not to like?

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Filed under Canada, Canada Day, Diplocat, Frankfurt, FSI, Funeral, Funny, Germany, New York, New York City, Ottawa, Snow, Spring, Washington DC, Winter

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

Radio Silence

It’s been awhile since I last posted.  I fully expected to blog about my home leave adventures, but when I would sit down to write about it, I found I just didn’t want to write it up.  I think that, honestly, I didn’t want to admit that it was temporary and would be over soon.  It was just so great to be HOME.  Yes, HOME in all capital letters.  The Washington, DC area is great in many ways and I was definitely looking forward to the Econ Course and to Frankfurt, but neither DC nor Frankfurt is HOME, no matter how wonderful they may be and no matter how settled I may eventually get in my time in either place.  So, I just didn’t want to jinx it or admit that it was a temporary thing.

But, Home Leave was in fact temporary (shocking that the State Department won’t let me stay on vacation indefinitely and keep paying me, I know. 😛 ) and I’ve now made it back up to the DC area.  So, picking up where I left off almost two months ago, here we go.

The Diplocat and I continued on our road trip homeward and stopped in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to visit some family there.  I got to see family and friends there, and also stayed in my Grandmother’s old house, which will likely be sold by the next time I go back to Oklahoma City.  My grandmother passed away just a few weeks before I started A-100 in 2009, so it seemed fitting to spend some time there in between assignments.  It was also good to catch up with family that I hadn’t seen while I was in Canada.

After a few days there, the Diplocat and I continued on home to Texas.  Again, it was good to be HOME.  It was good to be able to spend a solid chunk of time at home, to reconnect with friends and my parents, to attend church at my home church, to eat a lot of yummy foods that I’d missed like Tex-Mex, Mexican, BBQ, Blue Bell ice cream, Big Red soda, etc.  It was nice to shop in familiar stores that I’d missed.  It was nice to not need the GPS because I knew where I was going, etc.  In short, it was just good to be HOME.

Some of the more interesting things I did were speaking about the State Department and the Foreign Service at Rotary Clubs and to incoming students at my grad program.  Also, on the way back to DC, I stopped in Houston to visit some friends from when I spent a semester interning there.

The drive back up to DC went well, aside from the Diplocat’s incessant meowing.  She’s lucky she’s cute and cuddly, or else she miiiiight have been thrown out of the car.  Meowever, we both made it to DC and she seems to have forgiven me for putting her through all of the driving.  I shudder to think what flying to Frankfurt with her will be like, but at least it’s only one flight and only one day, and maybe the plane noise will drown out her yowling or freak her out enough that she stays quiet.  A girl can dream, right?

I’m now a week in to the Econ Course and so far it’s gone well.  The first week was mostly administrative things (timekeeping, laptop security, and travel vouchers, oh my!) and math that we’ll need when we get in to more of the econ topics.  My classmates have a variety of experiences, and I think it’ll be good to learn with and from them.  The schedule is also nice.  I’m in class from 9-4 most days, with homework each night.  It’s nice to have a little more flexible schedule, where I can do my homework right away after class, or go run an errand that needs to be done during business hours and then do my homework later in the evening.

It’s also nice to be back at FSI and see friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.  I’ve reconnected with grad school friends in the DC area and FS friends, too.  It’s sometimes hard to get things done at FSI because you keep bumping in to friends you haven’t seen in awhile and chatting with them about what they’ve been up to since last you saw them, instead of getting whatever task you set out to do done.  I’ve bumped in to Juarez friends who’ve gotten married and had kids since I last saw them!  People who had newborns in A-100 five years ago now have kindergarteners.  Craziness, I tell you!  So, it’s good to catch up with folks and see what’s new and exciting with them.

And, while the DC area may not be HOME, it’s still a nice place to spend a few months.  I’m looking forward to doing some sightseeing and enjoying some of the neat events that happen here.

So, that about catches us up with what’s happened since last I blogged in July.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere.  🙂

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Filed under Austin, Blue Bell, Canada, Diplocat, Family, Frankfurt, Friends, FSI, Germany, Home, Home Leave, Houston, Moving, NASA, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Ottawa, Shiner, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Travel, Unpacking, Vacation, Washington DC

And just like that, it was over

Well, Friday was my last day at Embassy Ottawa.  Just like that, my (not quite) two year tour is over.  It’s bittersweet, because there are a lot of things that I’ll miss about Canada, Ottawa, and my time there, but also exciting because I’m looking forward to reconnecting to friends, family, and Mexican food on home leave, the Econ course and reconnecting with friends in the DC area, and then eventually to Frankfurt.  So, there’s a lot to look forward to.

My last week at work was spent mostly wrapping up loose ends at work, working through the massive checkout list, and seeing friends one last time.  I also got to see Mosaika, a light show they do on Parliament Hill each summer.  I saw it when I first arrived, and now again right before I left.  Seems fitting.

It’s quite a bit to write out, but actually leaving Ottawa was not without some excitement.  The night before I left, the fire alarm at the hotel went off around midnight.  I was actually putting some things in my car in the parking garage when the alarm went off and had to dash up 14 flights of stairs to try to get to the cat, because the elevators were out of service due to the alarm.  Of course, with all the noise from the alarm, the cat had hidden herself and I couldn’t find her anywhere and so I worried that she’d left the room when I left with my hands full to take things ot the car.  Fortunately, she eventually came out of her hidey spot and they eventually said that the fire alarm was a false alarm.  And, on top of that, the elevator from the lobby down to the parking garage was out of service, so that made for many trips up and down those stairs to load the car.  But, Saturday morning, I eventually made it out of Ottawa.

So, now I’m in a hotel in Ohio with the Diplocat and we’ll keep chugging along until we get home to Texas.  She’s been serenading me almost the whole way both days.  It’s so thoughtful of her to think that I might not like the music on the radio and to come up with her own mew-sic.  Anyone know if you can FedEx a cat from Ohio to Texas?  Asking for a friend, of course. 😉

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Filed under Austin, Canada, Diplocat, Family, Frankfurt, Friends, FSI, Germany, Home, Home Leave, Moving, Ohio, Ottawa, Texas, Transfer, Travel, Washington DC

Three strangers took my stuff!

Well, packout has come and gone.  Three strangers came and took 98% of my stuff and I was actually happy about it.  It all seemed to go smoothly enough and my preparation of putting a lot of things in to bags and totes seems to have speeded things along.  We’ll see how everything fares and how things turn up when I get my stuff in DC.  Whenever I start worrying about that, though, I repeat to myself “It’s just stuff and you got the good insurance.”

I didn’t do anything super-exciting for Canada Day, since I was in full-on packout prep mode, but a friend did invite me over and it was nice to relax for a bit and spend a couple hours with her and a few of her friends.

The 4th of July party went really well, as far as I could tell.  There was a great turnout and the weather was wonderful.  People seemed to have a really good time and I got to see a lot of the people I wanted to see, though it was such a big party, it was hard to find everyone.

I also neglected to mention in my previous entry that my friends L & S visited a couple of weeks ago.  We were all in Ciudad Juarez together, and now they’re posted in Northern Africa and were on an R&R trip to the U.S. and Canada.  It was really great to catch up with them and we did some fun things like see the actual RCMP Musical Ride performance and go to the Museum of Civilization.  Mostly though, it was just really great to catch up with them.  Going through an experience like CDJ forges some pretty close bonds and then it’s hard when your really good friends are spread out around the world and you see them so infrequently.  Fortunately, modern communication technologies make it easier to stay in touch than in the past, but they still don’t replace the face to face time.  So, anyhoo, it was great to see them.

And, since my apartment is now empty, I’ve moved in to a hotel for the rest of my time in Ottawa and will spend the next while sorting out things at work and getting everything ready to make the transition to my successor as easy as possible.   Then, I start the epic trip back to the Austin-area for home leave followed by another trek back to Washington, DC to start the econ course at FSI.  The Diplocat has handled the transition to the hotel well but little does she know about the epic road trip that awaits her. 😉

Hope all’s well in the blogosphere. 🙂

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Filed under 4th of July, Austin, Canada, Canada Day, Diplocat, Friends, FSI, Home, Home Leave, Moving, Ottawa, RCMP, Texas, Transfer, Washington DC

Burn it all!

I have officially reached the “burn all the belongings and start over again” phase of packout preparation.  The hassle of organizing all my stuff, the prospect of unpacking and reorganizing all of it in Washington, and the worry about something getting damaged or going missing en route has reached a point where I just want to burn it or toss it all out and start over.  Of course, I won’t do that.  It’d be too expensive for one thing.  And, it’d be hard to burn the stuff without setting the whole apartment on fire.  Still.  I’m ready for this whole move thing to be done.  I’m a little bummed that I’ll probably miss out on the fun Canada Day festivities since I’ll be busy with packing prep, but so it goes.

Other than that, things are going well.  I’ve gotten a bunch of giant ziploc bags and ziploc totes and they’re making the organization part of packing a bit easier.  Hopefully, they’ll both protect my stuff from dust and moisture, and also keep the things I want to stay together, together.  So, for example, the fitted sheet doesn’t end up in one box and the flat sheet and pillow cases in another.  We shall see.

And, there are plenty of things at work to sort out, too.  Lots of loose ends to tie up and lots of administrative hoops to jump through before I can make it out of here.  And preparations for the 4th of July party.  But, it’s moving along.

So, that’s what’s new here.  I think the next stage of packout preparation is the “wine” phase. 😉

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Filed under 4th of July, Canada, Canada Day, FSI, LQA, Moving, Ottawa, Transfer, Unpacking, Washington DC

Busy little bee

Hola!  Sorry for the lack of updates.  It’s been busy!  First, the parental units came for a visit.  They were here for about a week and we got to do a lot of sightseeing.  We went to Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall, The War Museum, The Aviation and Space Museum, the RCMP Musical Ride Training Centre, the Diefenbunker, and of course I took them in to see the embassy!

Then I was back in the office for a day before going to Montreal to help with some visitors at the Conference of Montreal.  It was a great visit and a great event, and I even got to catch up with J, a friend from Ciudad Juarez, who’s now posted in Montreal.

Now, I’ve been back in the office for about a week, trying to wrap up loose ends, get things ready for my successor, organize things for my move, etc.  Oh yeah, and new things keep popping up!  So, it’s been a busy few weeks.

However, things keep moving along.  My packout is scheduled.  I’m where I should be with the checkout list.  I’ve made arrangements for most of the things I need to do with my apartment since this is an LQA post, like scheduling my electric and internet account for cancellation when I move out, etc.  And, yesterday, I officially got paneled for the job in Frankfurt.  It’s a long story, but a series of hiccups pushed the paneling this long, but all’s well that ends well. 🙂  I’ve also made hotel reservations for my trip down to Texas for home leave.

So, I now have less than a month left here in Ottawa.  It’s a shame I’m leaving in the middle of the summer, when Ottawa’s so nice.  Summer and fall in Ottawa ALMOST make up for the winters.  Almost. 😉

So, that’s the news here.  Next up, packout, Canada Day, and the 4th of July!

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Filed under 4th of July, Austin, Canada, Canada Day, Family, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Home, Home Leave, LQA, Montreal, Moving, Ottawa, Paperwork, Quebec, RCMP, Texas, Travel