Category Archives: Texas

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

Yeah, so about those updates…

I’ve been lousy about updating.  And, I can’t promise that I’ll be much better in the future.  But, a lot has happened over the last year and a bit, so I’ll at least do a quick run-down of some of the highlights.

  • Spent seven weeks in Berlin as part of a really cool program organized by the German Foreign Office for “young” diplomats.
  • Traveled to Istanbul, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Luxembourg City, Madrid, and Split for fun.
  • Traveled to Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Munich for work.
  • Covered for my boss for three months while she was out on maternity leave.
    • Also covered for two of our locally engaged staff who were out for significant parts of that time.
  • Got promoted (finally).
  • Visited my host families in Belgium.
  • Worked my first Secretary of State visit.
  • Worked the Vice President’s first trip overseas as VP.
  • Worked a ridiculous number of other visits.
  • Wrote some cables.
  • Went home to Texas twice.

Looking forward, I have a couple of trips planned in the next couple of months and some thoughts about some other travel goals for my last year or so here.  My boss will rotate back to DC and her successor will arrive this summer.  I’ll bid on my next assignment this fall.  And, I’m sure plenty of other stuff will pop up.

If the motivation strikes, I may write up some of what’s happened over the last year in more detail, but sadly can’t guarantee I’ll get around to it.  But I’ll at least try not to wait another year to update this thing. 😛

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Filed under Amsterdam, Belgium, Berlin, Bidding, Bucharest, Croatia, Family, Frankfurt, Germany, Hamburg, Holidays, Home, Istanbul, Luxembourg, Luxembourg City, Madrid, Munich, Pictures, Romania, Spain, Split, Stuttgart, Texas, Texpat, The Netherlands, Travel, Turkey, Vacation

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

The Great Cherry Blossom Hunt of 2015

My mom was here in DC visiting me for about 10 days and it was great to have her here!

She got some genealogy work done at the National Archives and the DAR headquarters, and we went to Mount Vernon, had dinner with a cousin of hers, test drove a car I’m considering for Germany, and went on a hunt for the elusive DC cherry blossom.  Neither of us had been to Mount Vernon, so it was really interesting to check it out, despite it being fairly cold and windy when we visited.

Mom had planned the timing of her visit to coincide with the Cherry Blossom Festival but this year, Mother Nature just wasn’t cooperating.  It’s been colder here than usual this year, so the cherry blossom trees weren’t blooming quite yet.  We did go down to the Tidal Basin area to see what we could see, and one of the volunteers there told us that she’d heard that there were some blooming by the WWI Memorial.  We had a map that showed where the trees were supposed to be located, so we set off to find them.  We wandered for awhile and eventually found about five blooming trees near the DC War Memorial.  Not exactly the same as the whole tidal basin full of them, but still something. 🙂

In other news, German’s continuing to go well and I’ve also continued to whittle away at the things I have to do before I go to Frankfurt.  I applied for my new diplomatic passport, which turned out to be more complicated than I expected, since they’d changed the procedures.  But, after a few e-mails and phone calls, I found the right person who could get me the right form that I needed to submit with my passport application.  I should get it back in another week or two and can then apply for my German visa when I get a little closer to my departure date.

I also put my proposed itinerary in to the system, so eventually I will get my orders back from those.  I couldn’t do that until I was transferred from the Econ Course to the German Department in the system.  Then, of course, I forgot that I needed to update my medical clearance before they could issue my orders, so I had get that updated.  Fortunately, you can renew your medical clearance with a form if you haven’t had any major health issues, and MED updated within a few days.  So, I then re-submitted my proposed itinerary and hopefully my orders will come back in a few weeks.

That’s most of the news here.  Here are a few pictures of the stuff that Mom and I got up to while she was here.

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Filed under Easter, Family, Frankfurt, FSI, Germany, Paperwork, Pictures, Spring, Texas, Vacation, Washington DC

Sightseeing in DC is out of this world

What!?! TWO updates in one month?  What kind of craziness is this?  Well, don’t get too excited, this update will be a short one.  After months of living in the Washington, DC area, I finally got out and did some sightseeing.  I’ve been in a rut of going to FSI for class, doing homework, doing errands, etc., and haven’t really taken advantage of many of the very cool things to see and do in the DC area.

So, yesterday, I made the trek to the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum out by Dulles airport.  Most visitors to the DC area are much more familiar with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, but the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum is quite impressive, too.  It’s a huge hangar and has hundreds of full-sized airplanes, from historical pieces like the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to more recent ones like the Red Bull Stratos that Felix Baumgartner jumped out of in 2012.

And, it’s home to Space Shuttle Discovery!  I will admit that Discovery is the primary reason that I went.  I’m a sucker for space shuttles.  And, this one even had its Canadarm displayed next to it, which ties things back to my assignment in Ottawa where I covered space issues and visited the Canadian Space Agency HQ and saw where they train astronauts on how to use the Canadarm.

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Filed under Canada, FSI, Houston, Montreal, NASA, Ottawa, Pictures, Smithsonian, Texas, Tourist, Washington DC

A glorious week at home

The Christmas to New Years week is one of the few times that students at FSI are actually allowed to take annual leave, so I decided to avail myself of this option and went home to Texas for a little over a week.  It was really nice to be home and spend time with my mom, friends, and other relatives.

It was definitely weird not to have Dad there.  I think the best way to describe it is that he was conspicuous in his absence.  Dad really liked to cook and saw holidays as a chance to really go all out in his cooking.  If he had been there, there would have been lists, lots of different snacks, a fire in the fireplace, etc.  Mom and I are both a little more low-key on those things, so it was just quieter overall.  Going to church on Christmas eve was also hard, since that’s something that we’d always done as a family and it was the first time for me to be back in our church there since Dad’s funeral.

It was, however, just good to be home and spend some quality time there.  Mom and I test drove a few cars, since she’s eventually in the market for a new (to her, at least) car sometime in the next few months or so.  I had some good Tex-Mex and barbecue, and just generally enjoyed the break from the econ course, spending time with family, and being home.

In non-vacation news, I’ve worked out a tentative arrival date in Frankfurt, have reached out to a couple of the offices at post that are involved in the transfer office, and so on.  So, things are moving along towards my departure in a little over five months.  So, that’s exciting!

The econ course continues to march on.  We’re working on money and banking now, and it’s interesting stuff.  Next week, we’ll start on development economics, which should also be interesting.  It continues to be a lot of work, and I was very grateful for the break around Christmas, but it’s interesting and I can see how a lot of it will be useful in future posts.

All in all, things here are going well.  Hope all’s well out in the blogosphere.

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Christmas, Family, Frankfurt, FSI, Funeral, Germany, Holidays, Home, Shiner, Texas, Vacation, Washington DC, Winter

Thanksgiving recap (belated, of course)

I’d originally planned on not going home for Thanksgiving since I could only take the Friday after Thanksgiving off due to FSI’s leave policy and flying on a holiday weekend for such a short amount of time just didn’t seem like a great idea.  But, when Dad got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September, I decided to go home because who knew if it might be his last and certainly it was easier to get home to Texas from DC than it would be next year coming from Frankfurt.  So, I booked my Thanksgiving flight to Austin in September.

While I was home after Dad passed away, we talked about our plans for Thanksgiving and ended up deciding to spend it with family in Oklahoma City, rather than my mom and I staying home and having Thanksgiving just the two of us.  Staying home or even going to Thanksgiving dinner at our church there seemed like it would just exacerbate the feeling of loss.  So, I changed my flight to fly in to Dallas Love Field, which was about halfway between home and Oklahoma City.  It’s a nice little airport but I hadn’t used it until I flew back to DC after Dad’s funeral since, for quite a long time, the Wright amendment had limited flights out of Love Field to just a few states.  However, that restriction was lifted in October, and there’s now a non-stop flight on Southwest between Love Field and Washington’s National airport.  I was worried that snow on the east coast would cause problems with my flight, but it went smoothly and Mom picked me up there on the way to Oklahoma City and away we went.

We stayed at my grandmother’s house there in Oklahoma City, which had recently been nearly emptied out in an estate sale (my grandmother passed away in 2009), so sleeping arrangements were creative involving recliners, air mattresses, and such.  In an unexpected wrinkle, my aunt and uncle who’d planned on hosting family for Thanksgiving dinner had just moved houses and unfortunately their oven self destructed instead of self-cleaned so we ended up going out for Thanksgiving dinner and then back to their house to visit afterward.  It was still a little weird to me to not have Dad there, but it was really good to spend it with family and I’m glad we went.

The day after Thanksgiving, we joined my aunt and uncle, cousins and their kids at the horse race track in Oklahoma City and visited some more.  I didn’t make any bets, but it was fun to watch the horses race.  Then, on Saturday, we went to the Oklahoma City Science Center, which we used to go to frequently when I was younger.  It was fun to see the new exhibits as well as some favorites from my childhood.

On Sunday, we packed back up and headed down to Dallas where Mom dropped me off for my flight home which fortunately also went smoothly.  So, all in all a successful Thanksgiving!  It was definitely a little difficult to not have Dad there but I had a good time and it was great to spend it with family. 🙂

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Dallas, Family, Frankfurt, FSI, Funeral, Germany, Holidays, Home, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Texas, Thanksgiving, Travel, Washington DC

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

Discharged!

Well, Dad was discharged from the hospital on Saturday, which is good news.  He has appointments lined up with the surgeon, the oncologist, and who knows who all else to go over the follow up on his surgery and to discuss options for chemo and/or radiation.  And, he got some good news on Friday that the biopsies that they’d taken on his liver, nearby lymph nodes and other parts of his pancreas all came back negative, which is a good sign.  So, we’ll see how things work out from there.  I still wish I could be there to help out with things as he recovers, though.

My HHE came on Thursday and it went smoothly.  All of the boxes were accounted for and so far no damage, though I still have a lot of boxes to unpack.  It’s been amazing to sleep in my own bed, have my own couch, and just generally feel a bit more settled despite the unpacking to come.  The diplocat is also enjoying climbing on and rummaging through the boxes.

The econ course continues to econ.  It’s a lot of info to absorb and some days my eyes start to glaze over as my brain reaches its saturation point, but I’m learning a lot and keeping my head above water thus far.  So, so far, so good.  We’ll see if I still think that way later on, though.

I’ve also been fighting off a cold for the last week or so.  It hasn’t been awful, but it’s been persistent and has interfered with sleep and generally feeling well.  Friday evening, I almost had myself convinced to go to a clinic on Saturday, but I woke up feeling a lot better on Saturday, I think in part because the weather shifted from being damp and chilly to just chilly, without the dampness.

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

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Diplocat, Family, FSI, Home, Homesick, Moving, Sick, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Unpacking, Washington DC