Category Archives: Diplocat

In Deutschland!

As the title says, I’m in Germany!  After a hectic couple of weeks after passing my German test, I arrived in Frankfurt on Tuesday.  After the German test, I had a week of leadership training, then a week for packout and other administrative stuff that one has to take care of before one leaves for post, like getting the Diplocat’s paperwork in order, shipping my car, etc.  Fortunately, everything went fairly smoothly.  There was a small hiccough with my apartment complex, but fortunately it got resolved fairly quickly and painlessly.  🙂

Then, I left DC on Monday and flew to Frankfurt.  Fortunately, things went smoothly with the flight, which was the Diplocat’s first flight.  She did pretty well, and only meowed some during the last half of the flight.  I had ordered some supplies for her ahead of time and my boss brought them to the hotel we’re staying in temporarily until my apartment is ready in a couple of weeks.

My boss (who is also a fellow Texpat!) and other colleagues seem really great.  When we bid on jobs, we may or may not know much about our future colleagues, depending on when they rotate, so it’s a bit of a guessing game.  But, I seem to have lucked out here and have pretty great colleagues. 🙂

This week was mostly about getting checked in, getting accounts set up, getting the HR processes started to get my permit to stay here for my whole tour, and things like that.  My air freight shipment is already here and can be delivered to my apartment the day I move in, and the rest of my stuff and car should be here by the end of July, which is great news.  Next week, things will move more toward my normal job duties as we prepare for a few events that are coming up in the next few weeks.

I’m slowly getting over the jet lag.  Wednesday and Thursday were rough, but today was a bit better and hopefully, it’ll get even better over the weekend.

So, it’s been a busy few weeks, but I made it to post and things seem to be off to a good start here in Frankfurt.  I hope all is well in the blogosphere. 🙂

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Filed under Diplocat, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, Moving, Paperwork, Texpat, Transfer, Travel, 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

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

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

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