Category Archives: Friends

Amsterdam is Amstermazing!

A few weeks ago, my friend “A” asked me on Thursday if I’d like to meet her in Amsterdam for the weekend.  I thought a bit, asked my boss about taking Monday off, and then let her know a few hours later that I was up for the trip.  Amsterdam had been on my list of places to go and I didn’t have any other plans, so why the heck not?

So, I set off for Amsterdam by train Saturday morning, arrived early Saturday afternoon, met up with A, we checked into our hotel, dropped off our bags, and set out on our adventures!

A had spoken with a colleague who’d recently been in Amsterdam and gave her a few tips.  One of which was that you need to arrange tickets to the Anne Frank house in advance.  Often the tickets sell out well in advance, but A lucked out and caught the website when they’d just released a few tickets, so we had tickets and were ready to go.  We arrived a bit before our scheduled time, and got in line.  The museum was really well done and it’s really moving to see how they lived and to learn more about the challenges they faced.  As time marches on and we’re more and more disconnected from what happened during the Holocaust, museums like the Anne Frank House serve as important reminders of the enormous tragedy and as a warning to us to remain vigilant against such things happening again.

After that, we started wandering toward Winkel 43, a cafe a good friend had recommended as having the best apple pie in the Netherlands!  Natuurlijk, we had to check it out.  But, on our way, we got sidetracked by the Tulip Museum.  I mean, who can resist popping in to the Tulip Museum when in Amsterdam?  So, we did and learned that tulips came to the Netherlands from what is now Turkey and that tulips are beheaded annually to help the bulb grow bigger.  We naturally decided that, if we ever started a band, we would name our band “The Tulip Massacre”.  After seeing videos of the tulip slaughter, we made our way on to Winkel 43, where the apple pie was, indeed, amazing.

 

After indulging in the amazing apple pie and catching up on what’s been going on in one another’s lives for a bit, we meandered back to our hotel and just enjoyed taking in the sights.  After relaxing at the hotel for a bit, we decided to venture back out for dinner.  Of course, we had to check out the three-story, floating Chinese restaurant we’d seen earlier.  The food turned out to be pretty good and we had a good time.

On Sunday, we got up early to head to the van Gogh museum.  We stopped by a Starbucks for breakfast and were greeted with a warm “Merry Christmas!” from the barista, who was rocking out to some most excellent tunes.  We had a nice breakfast and then headed on to the van Gogh museum.  A had once again planned ahead and organized tickets for us at 9am, right when the museum opened.   We got there a bit before it opened and wandered around a bit, finding the nearby U.S. Consulate General, the Rijksmuseum, and the iAmsterdam sign.  We then got to the museum and entered as soon as it opened.  A is a big van Gogh fan and had a plan on what to see in which order, and it worked out really well.  We went straight for some of the more popular paintings, and reached them before a lot of the other visitors did.  I’m no art expert, but I do like a lot of van Gogh’s work and I really enjoyed the museum.

After that, we were hungry and found a wonderful cafe, called Blushing Amsterdam, near the van Gogh museum.  I had a super-yummy omelette and A had amazing pancakes.

We then proceeded to the Rijksmuseum and spent several hours exploring.  It was truly overwhelming to see so many of the pieces on display.  Amazing artwork, Delft pottery, doll houses, Yves St. Laurent dresses, and more!  By the end of our time there, our feet were sore, but it was an amazing museum.  We then headed back to our hotel to relax for a bit before it was time for dinner.

A colleague who’d recently visited Amsterdam insisted that we try a restaurant called “Blauw” (blue).  The restaurant served Indonesian street food and it was really yummy.  The entrees came with a lot of different sides to try and it was almost all delicious.  Definitely worth the trek out to the restaurant, which was a ways away from the city center where we were staying and had spent most of our time.

On Monday, we visited the Amsterdam Flower Market and marveled at the vast array of tulips (and other flowers) available.  I couldn’t help but think about how much my dad would have enjoyed it.  Gardening was one of his main hobbies and he would have just loved all of the variety of tulips, bulbs, etc. available.  I could practically hear him exclaiming about he’d never seen this variety or how interesting that variety was.

After we checked out the flower market, we wandered around a bit, took a one-hour canal boat tour, found another neat cafe called De Drie Graefjes for lunch.  The food was delicious and we had a great time people watching.

After lunch, we parted ways and I headed back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and head on back to Frankfurt.  All in all the weekend was amazing and Amsterdam was a super fun city.  We definitely lucked out on the weather and had a couple of lucky breaks with getting tickets and reservations.  But, nonetheless, the city was amazing and I would gladly go back again, even if I was repeatedly reminded how bad my Dutch has gotten. 😉

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Filed under Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Pictures, The Netherlands, Travel

Here and there

Well, true to form, I’ve been bad about updating my blog.  The last three months have been pretty busy and I’ve had a chance to do some traveling, too.  And, I had my first visitors!

October continued to be quite busy with official U.S. government visitors, primarily from DC, but also from Berlin.  In November, the consulate’s Marine Security Guards held their annual ball and I went to Brussels, Belgium for training.   December was a bit slower, as both U.S. and German contacts were on vacation for much of the time.

Christmas was really, really nice.  My mom came to visit for about 10 days and we made it to three different Christmas markets, did some sightseeing in and around Frankfurt, and also visited Munich for a couple of days.  My aunt also came for a couple of days.

And, on New Years’ weekend, a friend of mine from Ciudad Juarez, who is now posted in Berlin, came to visit and we did some sightseeing in and around Frankfurt.

So, it’s been a busy few months and I’m still very much enjoying my tour here in Frankfurt.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from the last couple of months.

Munich's Christmas Market

Munich’s Christmas Market

 

Frankfurt's Christmas Market

Frankfurt’s Christmas Market

 

Brussels City Hall

Brussels City Hall

 

USMC Birthday Ball

USMC Birthday Ball

 

Downtown Frankfurt at Night

Downtown Frankfurt at Night

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Filed under Belgium, Berlin, Brussels, Christmas, Ciudad Juarez, Family, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Holidays, Mexico, Moving, Munich, Pictures, Thanksgiving, Winter

Busy, busy bee

Since I last posted about a month ago, things here have been busy, busy.  We’ve had a ton of official visitors, which requires a lot of work to set up and execute those visits.  So, it’s kept me on my toes.  But, I’m still enjoying the work, my coworkers are still great, and there have been some fun things mixed in, like going to Berlin and Stuttgart for work and catching up with a good friend in Berlin.  I’ve got a couple more work and fun trips planned in the next month or so, and I’m looking forward to that.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from the last couple of months (including a couple from the Paris trip I mentioned in my last post).

The Bull and Bear outside of Frankfurt's stock market

The Bull and Bear outside of Frankfurt’s stock market

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

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Filed under Berlin, France, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Paris, Pictures, Stuttgart, Travel

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

And then there was one

As this post’s title alludes to, I am now in one-on-one German training.  I came in with some German from living in Germany as an exchange student back in the day, so have had about 1/3 of the normal course and am on a different timeline than the folks who started from scratch.  When I started German, they put me in a class with students who had started the course in September and the normal end for that course is in mid-May.  So, my two classmates and many other students in the German department had their exams about two weeks ago.  Fortunately, many of them, including my two classmates, passed the exam and have moved on to other courses, their posts, and such.  However, there are still some of us left and because of different abilities, schedules, etc. and the fact that there are now far fewer students in the section but still the same number of teachers, a few of us are getting one-on-one instruction for awhile.

The one-on-one instruction is a truly wonderful opportunity to really get a lot of practice and to focus on things that I struggle with, but I have to admit that my brain is complete mush by the end of the day.  While reading an article in German at the end of the day, I found myself stumbling over easy words that I know that I know.  However, hopefully, it will all pay off in the end.  My test is soon, and based on how others have done, I feel like I’m well prepared, but I’m still a bit nervous, since there’s a lot riding on it, and not passing means either having to delay my arrival in Germany or asking for a waiver of the language requirement, which can be hard to get.  So, wish me good luck and drückt mir mal die Daumen, as they say in German. 🙂

In other news, I continue to work on all of the admin stuff that has to happen before I can move.  I’ve scheduled my packout, made arrangements to ship my car, taken the Diplocat in for her vaccinations and discussed the paperwork she’ll need with the vet, applied for my visa, etc.  I’ve also continued to catch up with friends.  Several friends have had birthdays recently and friends from Juarez and A-100 have been rotating back in to town as they get back from overseas posts and start new assignments in DC or training at FSI.  So, it’s been good to see some folks I haven’t seen in a long time, some of them even since I left for Ciudad Juarez in 2010!

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

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Filed under Frankfurt, Friends, FSI, Germany, Moving, Paperwork, 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

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

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