Category Archives: FS Life

Oh, Tannenbaum!

I put up my Christmas tree tonight.  I didn’t get around to it last year, but this year, I had time this weekend, and with the snowy weather today and not much else on my to-do list, I felt motivated to get the tree and decorations out of the storage unit downstairs and put them all up.  🙂

I normally enjoy decorating my Christmas tree, but partway through decorating it this evening, a wave of sadness passed over me.  Many happy memories of decorating the tree with Mom and Dad, and of many Christmas road trips to visit family in other states flooded back.  Normally, that would be happy, right?  But, at that moment, all I could think about was how Dad wouldn’t be part of any future memories and that I was halfway around the world from Mom.  Most days, I’m fine.  Even though he often crosses my mind, most of the time, I don’t get too sad anymore when I think of Dad.  And, modern technology is such that I can stay in close contact with Mom, and we’ve seen each other twice in the last six months.  So, most days, that’s not that hard either.  But, sometimes, it hits you like a ton of bricks.  Or a Christmas tree.

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Filed under Cancer, Christmas, Family, Frankfurt, FS Life, Funeral, Germany, Holidays, Home, Homesick, Observation of the Day, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Snow, Technology, Texas, Texpat, 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

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, Mexico, Paperwork, Texas, Washington DC

Handshake Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

When I posted a little over a month ago, I’d accepted a handshake for the FSI Economics Course.  The course runs from September to early March, and is followed by either language training or an assignment in DC at the Department of State, another agency, a company, a think tank etc.

A couple of weeks ago, they added a bunch of jobs to the bid list since there were so many people bidding at my rank who still didn’t have jobs lined up.  Some of those fit well with the timing of the econ course, so I put in a few bids.  Well, one thing led to another and I’ve accepted a handshake for a Political and Economic job in Frankfurt, Germany starting in the summer of 2015, after the FSI Econ Course and a refresher course in German to get my German back up to speed.

I am beyond excited about the assignment and still keep pinching myself thinking that it’s not real or that there must be some hidden catch.  I double checked though, and there was no clause signing over my firstborn child or anything in the handshake offer. 😉

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Frankfurt, FS Life, FSI, Germany, Handshake, Ottawa, Transfer, Washington DC

Technology in the Foreign Service

Sometimes, I wonder what life in the Foreign Service was like before the internet.

I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student in the late 1990s.  Only one of my four host families had internet connections set up at home and it was dial up.  I only stayed with them for about a month, but I’d go back to their house after school once or twice a week to check e-mail.  I’d log on, download my e-mails, type responses offline, then log back on to send them, since it cost per minute for both the internet and phone use.  I talked with my parents on the phone every two weeks or so and mostly just sent letters or e-mails to friends.

When I was in Germany, I’d sometimes go to the train station in town to find English-language magazines.  Since U.S. television and movies were dubbed into German on television and in movie theatres, it was a BIG DEAL when another exchange student got ahold of a movie in English.  I had very few ways to get U.S.-specific products like Dr Pepper, (decent) salsa, etc.  Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was like gold.

Now, part of the reason my life was so different is because I was a 16 year old student then and I was living with German families who had to adapt to their lives and I’m a 30-something professional living on my own and can make more of my own decisions now, but a lot of it has to do with how technology has made so many things different.  I have a laptop that I can take with me to post easily.  I now have 24/7 internet access that’s fast enough that I can stream U.S. movies and TV shows online.  I can chat online with friends around the world, keep up with them on Facebook, or call them over the internet.   I can even video chat if I want to see their face!  If I’m craving a U.S. product, I can often order it online instead of having to go on a wild goose chase around town and then having to pay 3x the normal price for a stale product.

So, I wonder what life was like in the Foreign Service before internet access became so common.  Did people order a lot more things by catalog?  Just make do with local products?  Did people call home less frequently or did they use the IVG a lot?  Did they also swap U.S. movies because they were hard to come by?   It’d be interesting to know and one of these days I should really get around to asking one of my coworkers who experienced the Foreign Service before the internet came on to the scene.

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Filed under FS Life, Technology

Car buying in the Foreign Service

So, one of the things I decided to do over home leave is to buy a different car.  My current car is ok and still in pretty good shape, but it’s getting up there in years and I wanted a car that had more space for hauling things and people and that had some features that would help in the winter weather in Ottawa.

However, like so many things, buying a car in the Foreign Service is a bit more complicated.  First, I have no idea where I’m going after Canada and what kind of car would be appropriate there.  The roads might be narrow or they might barely exist.  They might drive on the same side of the road as we do in the USA or they might drive on the other side.  It might be easy to get a certain model serviced or it might not.  Gas might be a few cents a gallon in Venezuela, but $10/gallon in Europe.  So, since conditions vary so widely that makes it difficult to know what kind of car will work where.  That large 4WD SUV might be great in an African post where roads are not great but be a huge pain in a large Asian city where roads are not super wide and they drive on the other side of the road. That snazzy German sports car might be great in Europe but be a carjacking waiting to happen at some posts or be swallowed by the potholes in other posts.

As if the varying conditions weren’t tricky enough, many countries add import restrictions in to the mix.  A country might not allow cars over a certain age, like 5 years or even older than the current model year.  They may not allow you to bring a car that’s built for the other side of the road.  They might restrict the color of the car if it’s similar to emergency vehicles.  I’ve even heard of restrictions on window tinting.

Then, while not necessarily a requirement, you have to ask yourself if you want to stand out with a car that’s clearly “not from around here” and is not available on the local market.  From a safety perspective, it’s generally better not to draw too much attention to yourself, so getting something that’s available locally in the country where you’re going can be helpful.  It’s also easier to get your car serviced or repaired if it’s available locally.  If they have to order a new bumper from the USA, it’s going to take a lot longer and probably be a lot more expensive.

So, the process is a little complicated and there’s a lot to consider.  At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee that I could take any car I buy now to my next overseas post after Ottawa, but I wanted to get a car that would give me the option of taking it if the host country doesn’t prohibit it for some reason like driving on the other side of the road.  So, I started out looking for a small SUV that is available in a lot of countries thinking that it could serve me well in Canada and also be appropriate for not so great roads if I go to a post without good roads after Canada but also not be too big for narrow roads in some other posts.

However, on a bit of a whim, I test drove a hatchback car and decided that folding down the seats would give me the space that I need when I buy or transport something large and the car-like driving and better gas mileage really appealed to me especially since gas is about $4.50/gallon in Ottawa.  So, I settled on a hatchback that’s available in lots of countries, gets really good safety and reliability ratings, and that has some good winter weather features like heated seats and defrosting mirrors! 🙂

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Filed under Austin, Canada, FS Life, Home Leave, Ottawa, Shopping, Texas

Making a list…

One of the things that I’m working on this week is making/updating a home inventory for insurance and shipping info.  First, I need to know what I have so I can take out the right amount of insurance for the move and second, I need to know what I’ve got in case something happens during the move.  While I was fortunate that I just had very minor damage to a couple of things in my moves from Austin to DC and DC to Juarez and no major breakages or disappearances, I know that I might not be so lucky next time.

So, on the advice of a few other FS friends, I downloaded a home inventory program that also has an iPhone/iPad/iTouch app that you can use to scan barcodes, take pictures of the item, take pictures of the receipt, etc.  If it can find the info from the barcode, it will autopopulate the current price, name of the item, etc.  So, it makes it a lot less painful than having to look all of that stuff up yourself and enter it in and then take a bunch of pictures and then go match them to your items, etc.

I don’t think I did much of anything toward cataloguing my things before my move to DC and just took a bunch of pictures of the stuff I had in my apartment in the DC area before it all got packed to go to Mexico.  So, even if I don’t get everything catalogued, I’m at least way ahead of where I was before I got here.  The program also makes it easy enough to do that it doesn’t feel like a complete chore.  We’ll see if I feel the same way when I start in on the upstairs!  I don’t have to get it all done this week though, which means that I can work on it in bits and pieces so it doesn’t get too overwhelming.

Anyhoo, hope all’s well in the blogosphere.  Hasta luego!

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Filed under Ciudad Juarez, FS Life, Mexico, Moving, Transfer

Sometimes it’s the little things…

Fraggle Rock is available on streaming Netflix.  Life just got a little bit better. 😉

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