Category Archives: Home Leave

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

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

Blog slacker

I’ve really been slacking on any kind of substantive updates.  No real excuse, unfortunately.  Things here have been busy, but not so busy that I couldn’t update my blog from time to time.  As I’ve posted, I’ve made it to Toronto and Quebec City for fun in the last couple of months.

Spring has finally arrived in Ottawa.  The snow’s been gone for a bit and sometime in the last two weeks all the leaves started to come out and everything’s all nice and green now.  It’s a very, very welcome change after what even local Ottawans say was an awful winter.

My EER (State Department-speak for annual evaluation) is now in to Washington.

We’ve had a number of official visitors, events, etc. to manage and such.  Canada Day and the 4th of July party are coming up in just over a month.

The wheels are starting to spin toward my departure from Ottawa.  I’ve had my packout survey, the dates are set, and I’ve given notice to my landlord.  I’ve got an appointment to take the Diplocat in for her vaccinations, so there won’t be any problems bringing her back in to the United States. There are still more things to do before I can actually leave, but despite occasional feelings of panic that I’m behind on where I should be with my departure stuff, I do seem to be on track.

I’ve also made reservations for my drive from Ottawa back to Texas for Home Leave.  I’ve signed up for the Hometown Diplomats program and will at the very least talk to students at my old grad school, and possibly some other groups at home.  I’ll also plan to visit friends in Austin and maybe Houston.  I don’t really have plans past that, though.

I have a reservation for where I’m going to stay for my first 60 days at FSI.  I don’t know where I’ll live for the other 8 months I’ll be in DC, but I have some ideas and I have time after I get there to figure it out.  I’ll be assigned to DC, so will have to take possession of all of my stuff, but at least I don’t have to decide what to take to Frankfurt more than a year before I’d actually get there.

I’m paneled for the FSI economics course and have also taken a distance German course to refresh some of my German in preparation for entering German class after the econ course.

And, the Texparents are coming to visit next week!  I’m excited to see them and show them Ottawa.  Then, later in June, L&S, friends from CDJ, will visit Ottawa.

So, it’s shaping up to be a busy last two months!  I’ll try to be a bit better about blogging, but no promises. 😉  I should be able to catch up a bit over home leave though.

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Filed under Canada, Diplocat, EER, Family, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, Home, Home Leave, LQA, Moving, Ottawa, Paperwork, Snow, Spring, Texas, Transfer, Travel, Vacation, Washington DC, Winter

Dare I say…signs of spring?

There’s still plenty of snow on the ground here, but I’m starting to see a few signs that spring might be coming around, finally.  The temperatures are starting to get in to the 40s (Fahrenheit) and yesterday we had rain instead of snow.  It’ll take awhile for all of the snow to melt, and we could have a few relapses, but it’s heartening that we seem to be done with the worst of it.   Now, we’re just stuck in the awkward shoulder season where’s it’s no longer winter but not quite really spring.

After such a long winter (even the native Ottawans have said how long and bad this winter has been!) I’m looking forward to spring, and then eventually summer here.  It’s pretty amazing how much Ottawa wakes up once the weather starts getting better.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a more vibrant Ottawa.

My departure from Ottawa seems to be sneaking up on me a bit.  I keep thinking about things that will happen here this fall and then realizing that I won’t be here for whatever the thing is.  There are a lot of administrative things I’ll have to do before I leave, so that’ll keep me pretty busy my last few months here.  Oh yeah, and we’ll have a new ambassador who will need us for a few things, too. 😉

I’ve got some housing secured for my first few weeks in DC and will have to see what I want to do for housing for the rest of the time.  I will be assigned to Washington for the FSI Econ Course which means that I won’t be able to participate in the housing program they run for FS folks on TDY between posts.  So, I’m totally on my own for housing this time around, but will be there for less than a year, since I have my onward assignment to Frankfurt lined up, so won’t be able to sign a full year’s lease.  I have some ideas for housing but don’t really want to sign a lease on anything that I haven’t seen personally.  So, I’ll sort out my housing after I get to DC, probably.

I also need to start working on my home leave plans.  I assume that I’ll spend some time in Texas, but I’m not sure if I’ll spend all of my home leave there or if I’ll do any side trips or maybe get to DC for the last week or two of it so that I can do some house hunting before the Econ Course starts.  So, I need to start mapping things out, especially if I want to book any flights anywhere.

So, that’s what’s going on here.  Think warm thoughts for Ottawa!

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Filed under Austin, Canada, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, Home, Home Leave, Moving, Ottawa, Rain, Snow, Spring, Texas, Washington DC, Winter

More Home Leave!

So, in my last couple of weeks of home leave, I went up to Oklahoma City for a weekend to visit family, talked about Foreign Service careers with students at my alma mater, took the Diplocat to the vet, celebrated the Diplocat’s birthday, got my hair cut, and took care of a few more odds and ends!  It was a busy couple of weeks, but I got a lot done.

I took my new car on its first long trip when I went up to Oklahoma City to see family up there.  It was nice to see them since I hadn’t really seen most of them recently.  The last time I was up there was almost 3 years ago, before I joined the Foreign Service.

In the spirit of paying things forward, I did a Foreign Service career info session with some students from my alma mater.  A lot of people were out of town due to the summer break, but we still had about 20 people show up and hopefully they got some useful info.

I also took the Diplocat to the vet.  She was due for her yearly shots and I also needed to get a rabies vaccination certificate so I can take her in to Canada in August.  We should be good to go on that though.  Also, I adopted her in June 2010, so I count that day as her birthday.  The shelter said she was about 2 years old when I adopted her and I’ve had her for 2 years now, so that makes her about 4 years old now.

After putting it off for forever, I also finally got my hair cut.  I’ve had the same hairstyle for about 6 years now, so I was debating whether or not to change it and put off the decision.  I finally decided to just keep the style I’ve got, so I went in to the lady who’s cut my hair for almost forever and got it cut.  It’s nice not to be in hair-limbo!

On top of those things, there were a lot of other odds and ends I needed to take care of before I left, like last minute shopping, packing, etc.  So, it made for a busy couple of weeks, but I got everything done, in the end.

So, on the 4th of July, I set out for DC.  I was able to take 3.5 days for the drive and the trip went pretty smoothly.  The hotels were decent, the car was fine, and the Diplocat only howled for part of the trip each day.  On Saturday, I got to the DC area and got settled in to my hotel.  I think that the Diplocat was relieved to not be shoved in to her carrier again this morning.

Finally, tomorrow, I start training at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) for my next assignment.  I’m not here too long, but it will be nice to learn a bit more about the things I’ll be working on, meet with some people in DC that I’ll be working with from Ottawa, and to catch up with some FS and non-FS friends up here. 🙂

So, that’s what’s new in the last couple of weeks!

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Filed under Austin, Diplocat, FSI, Home Leave, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Texas

Home Leave Adventures

Home leave has been really great!  I’ve spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family in the Austin area, Houston, and Los Angeles.

I went to Houston for a long weekend and got to see several friends from when I did a co-op there.  They’ve been really great friends and it was great to catch up, see how they’re doing, and hang out.  I even got to see some of when NASA was unloading the mock space shuttle they’re getting from the barge it was on.  Super cool!  Of course, the Shuttlebration made for some crazy traffic, but it was so worth it to catch up with my friends there. 😀

A couple of weeks later, I went to California to visit a couple of friends from high school.  It was also really great to catch up with them since I hadn’t seen either of them in about a year and a half.  While my friend was at work, I went to the California Science Center and the LA Museum of Natural History.  They were both super interesting and continuing with the shuttle theme, the California Science Center will eventually be the home of one of the retired space shuttles.  During the weekend, we also went to the Getty Center and spent hours wandering around taking in all of the amazing artwork they have there. I also did crazy things like reading in a park since the weather was so nice and it was a nice area.  It was so nice to walk around a real city and be able to enjoy simple things like just being outside without being afraid.

I’ve also done a ton of shopping on home leave.  I’ve bought a new car, new gadgets, and I’ve bought a bunch of clothes because I was tired of some of what I had and because one of the side effects of not leaving my house much other than to go to and from work was gaining weight, so a lot of stuff doesn’t fit or doesn’t fit well.  That’s an issue that I plan to work on in Ottawa, but in the mean time, I need clothes that fit.  So, I’ve been doing my part to support the American economy while on home leave. 🙂

That’s most of what I’ve been up to lately.  I have some more things planned while I’m on home leave, so I’m sure I’ll post another update about the rest of home leave soon.

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Filed under Austin, California, Home Leave, Houston, Los Angeles, NASA, Shopping, Texas, Travel, Vacation

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

Aaaaaand done!

I have officially finished my tour in Ciudad Juarez and am on home leave.  I’m spending most of it at home in central Texas, but also have some side trips planned to visit friends and family.  It’s nice to be home and see familiar faces and places.  It’s also nice to enjoy my parents’ extended cable and watch too much HGTV. 😉

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Filed under Austin, Ciudad Juarez, Home, Home Leave, Mexico, Texas, Vacation