Category Archives: Snow

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

5 Pros and Cons: Ottawa Edition

Ania over at The New Diplomat’s Wife started an FS Blog Roundup on the topic of five pros and cons about your post with her lovely review of being posted in Copenhagen.  FS bloggers did these a couple of years ago and I came up with five pros and cons of being posted in Ciudad Juarez last time around but never did one while I was in Ottawa.  Since a few people have already covered life here in the DC area, I decided to focus on Ottawa for this one, even though I’ve been gone for several months.  So, here goes.

Pros

1. People – Canadians are nice, friendly, and easy to meet.  It’s easy to get out and be involved in the community in Ottawa and I made some wonderful Canadian friends while I was posted there.  It’s easy to blend in in Ottawa and you don’t have to rely on the embassy community for your social life, which I enjoyed.

2. LQA – Ottawa is an LQA post, meaning that you get an allowance and find your own housing instead of being assigned housing from a housing pool like in most posts.  There are some cons to it that I’ll get to later, but after having safety and security frustrations with my house in Juarez and feeling like I had no power in the situation, it was so nice to pick out something that I liked.  I had a lovely apartment and very nice landlords, so overall had a pretty good experience with LQA.

3. Pet friendly – Ottawa is very pet friendly and it’s very easy to import pets to Canada from the United States.  I don’t know if it’s different for dogs, but all I needed for the Diplocat was a rabies certificate, and they weren’t at all interested in seeing it at the border when I entered with her.  Vet care in Ottawa is very good, though more expensive than in the States.

4. Safety – Ottawa is a very, very safe city.  Coming from Ciudad Juarez, it was sooooooooo nice to live somewhere safe, where I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, worry about my safety, etc.  Maybe if you’re coming from the U.S. or are coming from somewhere else where it’s safe, this wouldn’t make quite as much of a difference in your quality of life as it did for me.  But after spending two years in Juarez weighing the security risks of simple decisions like going to the grocery stores, it was just such a breath of fresh air to be able to go about my business without safety concerns.

5. The summer and fall – Ottawa is BEAUTIFUL in the summer and fall.  The summers don’t get too hot and everything’s nice and green.  There are a lot of fun events in the summer and lots of great outdoor opportunities in area parks and lakes.  The fall is also beautiful, with changing leaves, crisp air, etc.  Again, lots of fun hiking opportunities with beautiful fall foliage.

Cons

1. Winters – There’s no way to beat around the bush.  The winters in Ottawa are really long and really cold.  It gets down to -20F with wind chills down to -40F.  And, the winters last from about November to April.  Maybe this is no big deal if you’re from Minnesota, but the winters were rough for this Texan who’s used to being able to wear flip flops throughout most of the winter.  And, after two years of being trapped in my house because of the violence, feeling trapped inside by the cold, snow, and ice was a bummer.

2. Expensive – While I was there, Ottawa was a pretty expensive place to live.  The U.S. dollar has appreciated considerably against the Canadian dollar since I left, so I’m not sure if this is still the case, but it was expensive to grocery shop, go out to eat, etc. in Ottawa.

3. LQA – While being able to choose your own housing was liberating for me, there are also downsides.  You have to have a chunk of change ready to cover initial expenses.  There were several hiccups in my case that were not normal, but at one point I figured out that I was out over $10,000 in LQA and unreimbursed travel voucher expenses.  It’s also stressful to decide on a place to live when you first get to a new city or sight-unseen before arrival.  There’s also a lot of extra paperwork involved in getting the housing approved and reconciling the costs at the end of the year.  So, while there are a lot of good things about LQA, there are some down sides, too.

4. Internet connections – This may seem surprising since Canada’s very much a first world country, but while I was there, internet packages usually had a monthly GB cap and you could incur very high fees if you went over your monthly internet usage.  The speeds were also nothing to write home about.  That said, looking back at the website of the internet provider I used then, it looks like they do now offer unlimited internet traffic.  So, maybe that’s not as much of a con now as it used to be.

5. Deceptively similar to the USA – There are a lot of things about life in Canada that are similar to life in the United States.  You’ll see many of the same products on the shelves in stores in Canada as you would in the United States, there are even many of the same stores in Canada that you’d find Stateside, there aren’t language difficulties (usually), etc.  So, you can feel a lot like you’re in the United States, until you run up against one of the weird differences like the internet download limits, etc.  Then, because the difference came out of nowhere, it hits you that much harder.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Diplocat, FS Blog Roundup, FSI, LQA, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Snow, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Washington DC

Graduated!

On Friday, I officially graduated from the FSI Economic Studies Course!  Woot!  It was a lot of work, made somewhat harder by missing two weeks when Dad passed away and then not being 100% when I came back, but I made it through.  Though, I’m not entirely sure that it counts since we didn’t actually get to see the gold at the Federal Reserve when we went to New York.  😉  Our last week of class had the excitement of a snow day, and cramming all 20 of our capstone presentations in to one day instead of the two they’d had scheduled.  It was hectic, especially since I had to go a day earlier than planned, but at the same time, there wasn’t as much time for tough questions.  Fortunately, though, all’s well that ends well and the snow is now melting and the next week or so should be warmer.

On Monday, I will start German classes at FSI.  I’m looking forward to using my brain a bit differently and I think that getting in to German classes will also help make my assignment to Frankfurt feel a bit more real.  I’ve been so focused on getting through the Econ Studies Course that I haven’t had too much time to focus on the excitement that will be my move to Frankfurt in June.  I need to sit down with the departure checklist, an arrival checklist for Frankfurt, etc. and start making a list of what I need to do and deadlines for things that have them, like getting the Diplocat’s paperwork in order, etc.

So, that’s the news here.  I hope all is well out in the blogosphere!  I’ll leave you with this video from Carly Rae Jepsen (I saw her perform on Canada Day in Ottawa in 2013, btw) that cracks me up.  I mean, Tom Hanks lip syncing to a pop song.  What’s not to like?

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Filed under Canada, Canada Day, Diplocat, Frankfurt, FSI, Funeral, Funny, Germany, New York, New York City, Ottawa, Snow, Spring, Washington DC, Winter

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

Quebec City!

Last weekend was Victoria Day weekend in Canada, which meant that we had Monday off.  I went crazy and took Friday off, too, and decided to check out Quebec City.  I hadn’t been, and it seemed like a neat place to check out.  It was indeed neat and I’m glad I went.  It’s apparently the only walled city in North America north of Mexico City, and has a super-cute old town with cobblestone streets and cute little shops.  I highly recommend it!

Without further ado, here are some pics!

 

Quebec's Parliament

Quebec’s Parliament

Chateau Frontenac as seen from the Citadelle

Chateau Frontenac as seen from the Citadelle

Governor General's Residence w/ period actors posing in front

Governor General’s Residence w/ period actors posing in front

This being Canada, there's STILL snow that hasn't melted.

This being Canada, there’s STILL snow that hasn’t melted.

The 22nd Regiment, based at the Quebec Citadelle, has a goat as its mascot.  The goat's ancestors were given to Queen Elizabeth II by the Shah of Persia. Fancy goats.

The 22nd Regiment, based at the Quebec Citadelle, has a goat as its mascot. The goat’s ancestors were given to Queen Elizabeth II by the Shah of Persia. Fancy goats.

The largest cannon at the Citadelle.  It's pointed south down the St. Lawrence river because that's where they thought the Americans would attack from. ;)

The largest cannon at the Citadelle. It’s pointed south down the St. Lawrence river because that’s where they thought the Americans would attack from. 😉

Buildings at the Citadelle of Quebec

Buildings at the Citadelle of Quebec

Buildings at the Quebec Citadelle

Buildings at the Quebec Citadelle

The seal of the 22nd Regiment, the only French-language only regiment in the Canadian Army

The seal of the 22nd Regiment, the only French-language only regiment in the Canadian Army

Gate to Quebec City's Old Town

Gate to Quebec City’s Old Town

Dog parking, 10 minutes max.  Not sure if they ticket dogs that are parked there longer.

Dog parking, 10 minutes max. Not sure if they ticket dogs that are parked there longer.

The Chateau Frontenac and old town as seen from the Citadelle

The Chateau Frontenac and old town as seen from the Citadelle

The mighty St. Lawrence

The mighty St. Lawrence

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Filed under Canada, Ottawa, Pictures, Quebec, Quebec City, Snow, Travel, Vacation

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

Still snowing!

I should really update this more often.  Since I last posted, several things have happened.  My friend, J, came to visit from Montreal, I was in charge of a VIP visit, and of course, it’s still snowing.

Over President’s Day weekend, J came down from Montreal to visit.  We were both posted in Juarez together, and it was good to catch up and to show her around town a bit.  We did some sightseeing and saw the Rideau Canal, Parliament House, and the Diefenbunker (the Cold War-era bunker built for Canada’s Prime Minister and emergency staff), saw a movie, went out to eat, etc.  It was a lot of fun! 🙂  Here are some pictures of what we did

The Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal

Entering the Diefenbunker

Entering the Diefenbunker

Diefenbunker OR

Diefenbunker OR

Bank of Canada Vault - Where they kept the loonies?

Bank of Canada Vault – Where they kept the loonies?

Diefenbunker Cabinet Room

Diefenbunker Cabinet Room

When in doubt, beat the heck out of your electronics.

When in doubt, beat the heck out of your electronics.

High tech computers...for the time.

High tech computers…for the time.

PM's bedroom

PM’s bedroom

Last week, we had a VIP visitor and I was control officer for the visit, since it touched on one of the issues in my portfolio.  I’ve served as control officer for working-level visits, but this was my first time to serve as control officer for a VIP visitor.  I did a lot of planning, a lot of work to set things up, and then stayed with the visitors for most of their visit here.  Fortunately, the visitors were very nice (which is not always the case 😉 ) and they were here for a meeting that took up a lot of their time here.  We also lucked out that their flights were on time and everything went smoothly with their transportation.  So, no last minute extra overnights due to cancelled flights or anything. 🙂

Aaand, as I mentioned, it’s still snowing here in Ottawa.  We did have a few days above freezing the week before last, but it’s now back in the below freezing range.  That’s not all bad, because it did let me go skating on the canal a bit, but I’m definitely ready for it to warm up a bit.  Here are a few pics from my canal escapades:

Entering the Rideau Canal

Entering the Rideau Canal

IMG_2731

No trolls under this bridge!

No trolls under this bridge!

Just a dad pulling his kid on a sled

Just a dad pulling his kid on a sled

Handy markers showing how far you've gone.

Handy markers showing how far you’ve gone.

More canal!

More canal!

Rest stop with bathrooms, a warming hut, and food vendors

Rest stop with bathrooms, a warming hut, and food vendors

Finally, I got paneled in to the FSI Econ Course, which means that I could then put in my travel plans for departing Ottawa, home leave, and arriving in DC.  I’ve put my request in, and it’s currently moving its way through the process and eventually I should get travel orders out of the system.  I haven’t been paneled for the Frankfurt job yet, but there’s no hurry on that.  As long as I’m paneled for FSI, I can leave Ottawa and worry about getting paneled for Frankfurt and doing my travel plans for that separately.  Now, I just have to figure out where I’m going to live while I’m at FSI.  Since I’m assigned to DC, housing is all on me, as opposed to being funded by State if I were in TDY status between two overseas posts.  I’ve got some ideas and am looking in to it, but it’s still a bit daunting to consider all of the logistics and to keep in mind that I’ll then need to go through it all again in for transferring to Frankfurt later on.

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

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Filed under Canada, Frankfurt, Friends, FSI, Germany, Moving, Ottawa, Pictures, Snow, Transfer, Washington DC, Winter

Ice Ice Baby

Lately, the weather has been hovering around freezing which has resulted in temperatures a little bit above freezing during the day and below freezing overnight.  The resulting melting and re-freezing has turned some sidewalks in to virtual ice skating rinks and, though I’d deftly avoided a few close calls over the last week or so, it was only a matter of time until I fell victim to their iciness.

This afternoon, I decided to walk to the grocery store to get a few things and as I was walking, one second I was upright, the next second I was on my hands and knees halfway in a slush puddle, my purse also halfway in the slush puddle.  I’m sure I looked thoroughly ridiculous.  I certainly felt thoroughly ridiculous.  I’m still not sure exactly what happened or how I fell, but both of my upper shins and one of my elbows are sore to the touch so we’ll see whether I get any pretty, colorful bruises.

Is it summer yet?

And yes, for those of you wondering, I did make it all the way to the grocery store and back.  Next time, I’m sending the diplocat for groceries.  Cats always land on their feet, right? 😉

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Filed under Canada, Diplocat, Ottawa, Shopping, Snow, Texpat, Winter

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everybody!  Hope everyone has a wonderful Easter.

Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays here in Ottawa, so the embassy is closed for both of them, which makes for a four-day weekend for me.  The weather has been really nice, so it’s been a nice break, but there’s still a lot of snow laying around and I really wish it would just go away so we could move on with spring and summer weather.

However, as part of the holiday weekend, a lot of stores were closed in Ottawa on Good Friday.  After driving by four very obviously closed grocery stores, I went home and decided that I’d just go shopping on Saturday, even though there were a few things I really wanted on Friday.  However, after awhile, I remembered that the rules were a bit different in Quebec and did a little googling and found grocery stores that were open over there.  Success!  So, I went over to Hull to go grocery shopping and got what I was after. 🙂

That makes two trips to Quebec this week, since I also went to Montreal for the day on Wednesday for a few work meetings.  Montreal was really neat and I’ll have to go back on my own sometime when I can do some sightseeing and not just run from meeting to meeting.

I also took the train for the first time in Canada on my trip to Montreal.  I’ve taken plenty of trains in Europe when I lived in Germany and Belgium, but this was my first time to take a train in North America.  It worked really well and was a lot easier than dealing with parking, driving in an unfamiliar city, etc.

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Filed under Canada, Easter, Holidays, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Snow

First Ottawa Motorcade

I saw my first motorcade in Ottawa this week.  The French Prime Minister was visiting Ottawa and I saw his motorcade zip by as I was on my way to work.  It didn’t delay me too much and I haven’t seen one here, so it was kind of fun and exciting to see it.

Ottawa and Washington have a lot in common since they’re both capital cities with lots of museums, festivals, government employees, etc.  However, Ottawa is smaller and also seems a lot more laid back.  There’s not quite the hype around important people, security is less intense, and, as evidenced by this being the first time I’ve seen a motorcade here, there are a lot fewer motorcades.  So, there are a lot of the same benefits of being in Washington without some of the downsides of DC like the traffic, security setups, and motorcades.

Now, a few pictures of the preparations:

Putting up French and Canadian flags to prepare for the French PM's visit.

Putting up French and Canadian flags to prepare for the French PM’s visit.

Putting up French and Canadian flags to prepare for the French PM's visit

Putting up French and Canadian flags to prepare for the French PM’s visit

Parliament Hill

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Filed under Canada, Motorcade, Ottawa, Snow, Washington DC