Category Archives: LQA

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

Burn it all!

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

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

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

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

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

Busy little bee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m in Ottawa!

I actually arrived in Ottawa about two weeks ago, but between getting checked in and starting work, exploring Ottawa, and looking for a place to live here, I haven’t had much time to blog.  However, I shall try to catch up in this entry!

Work:  So far it’s great!  It’s a lot to absorb and get up to speed on since the work is completely different than what I was doing in Juarez.  However, my coworkers are pretty awesome and I’ve been lucky that there haven’t been too many urgent issues to deal with in these first two weeks, so I’ve been able to read up on what my predecessor was doing, talk with people, and start to wrap my head around what I’ll be doing.

House hunting: It’s going ok.  I’ve looked at a few places and found one that I like, though we’re still waiting to hear if they’ll allow the cat.  If not, then I have plans to look at a few more places and see if I can find a different place.  It’s stressful though, since I’m not familiar with the city and am also trying to find my bearings in a completely new job here.  Still, they give us plenty of time to find a place, so I’m sure something will work out soon.

Exploring Ottawa: Ottawonderful!  I’m sure that winter will be challenging for a Texan like me who’s barely spent any time around snow and ice, but so far the city is really, really nice.  It’s very walkable and there’s a lot of neat things to see and do.  A lot of my exploring so far has been centered around house hunting and exploring different neighborhoods, so I haven’t really had a chance to check out museums or anything, but so far I’ve enjoyed walking around and taking in the sights as I walk.

So, in short, everything’s going pretty well so far.  I’m glad to be here and am looking forward to getting settled in to an apartment so I can put that behind me and start exploring the rest of Ottawa!

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Filed under Canada, Diplocat, LQA, Ottawa, Transfer

Planning

Apologies for not updating in awhile.  No really good reason, just not a whole lot of new or different stuff going on.  I’ve been researching and planning for Ottawa.  Since it’s a Living Quarters Allowance post, I’ve been doing a little research into housing there and looking at listings online to get a sense of what might be available and what it might cost.  Based on my research, it looks like I should be able to find a nice apartment in a nice part of town and still stay within the allowance and the square footage restrictions.  So, that’s heartening.  🙂

I’ve also been doing a little thinking about packing for my transfer from Juarez to Ottawa.  When I leave Juarez, I’ll have 4-6 weeks of home leave, probably spent mostly in Texas, then 4-6 weeks in DC for training, and then I’ll go on to Ottawa.  I’m not sure how long after arriving in Ottawa I’ll get my household effects, but I have to assume it will be at least 4-6 weeks after I get there since I’ll have to find my own housing and they can’t deliver most of my stuff to me before I have my housing secured.  So, since I’ll be on vacation in Texas in the summer, in training in DC in the summer, and in Ottawa in late summer/early fall without most of my stuff, I’m going to have to pack my car and air freight shipment carefully given the different climates and dress codes I’m going to have to be prepared for before the majority of my stuff arrives  So, I’ve started a spreadsheet about what I think I’ll need in each place so I can add things to it as I think about them and then pack accordingly.

So, that’s some of what I’ve been thinking about lately.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere. 🙂

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, LQA, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Transfer

Onward to Ottawa!

Since I was assigned to Ottawa for my next assignment, I’ve been getting pretty excited about it.  The city seems very livable, with a lot of cultural events, museums, parks, and so on. I am still a bit worried about the cold, since I’ve never lived anywhere that’s nearly as cold or that gets nearly as much snow, but I’ve reached out to friends and family members who’ve lived in cold places, am coming up with a list of things that I may need to get, and starting to do a little research on costs and options for some of the cold weather gear.  Since I’ll get there in August, hopefully before winter sets in, I also plan to consult the professionals after I get there, since who would know Ottawa winters better than Ottawans!  If any of you lovely readers have suggestions for winter weather gear, please share!

I was a little concerned about housing, since Ottawa is a Living Quarters Allowance (LQA) post, where the Department gives you an allowance and you go find and lease your own housing.  However, after looking up the allowance and doing some research on rental costs in Ottawa, it sounds like I can find a nice place and stay within the allowance.  In LQA posts, the Department doesn’t provide furniture, so I was also a little concerned about having to buy a lot of furniture since I don’t have much furniture and I don’t really want to buy a lot of furniture since I’m likely to end up in a smaller place in DC and wouldn’t have space for it all.  However, after doing a bit more research, I found out that you can use part of the housing allowance to rent furniture.  So, I’m a lot less worried about the expense and hassle of buying furniture that I might not use past Ottawa.

One of the best things about the assignment, however, is no more visa work!  While consular work is very important to our mission overseas, it’s just not what I want to do long-term, so I’m really looking forward to getting to do something else and to get a chance to work in my career track.

So, while the initial assignment came as a surprise based on how low it was on my list and how others who had bid in previous cycles had gotten one of their top 3 choices, I’m starting to get really excited and I think it’s all going to work out well.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, LQA, Mexico, Ottawa