Category Archives: Vacation

Suicidal Raccoon

Last weekend, I drove from Ottawa down to Ohio for a family event.  It was a long drive, but good to see family and to do some shopping. My cousin’s son was baptized and I’m one of the godparents, so that made the trip extra-special!

However, on the drive back, about 45 minutes south of Ottawa, a raccoon decided to end it all and ran out in front of my car on the highway.  I was going about 60mph/100kph and I tried to swerve, but I couldn’t entirely miss the raccoon and I hit it.  The raccoon seemed to die on impact and it also damaged the front of my car.  Fortunately, a very nice couple stopped about 10 minutes later to make sure that I was ok, and the guy was a mechanic so he took a quick look at the car to see if anything critical was damaged.  Shortly after that, a police officer showed up and made a report so that I can file with my insurance company.  The car was drivable, so I drove back to Ottawa and then called the insurance company to start the claims process.  Fingers crossed that things will go smoothly, but so far things seem to be moving along and I’ll try to get the car in to a shop in the next few days so that they can start the process of getting it all fixed again.

I’m taking this week off and this wasn’t exactly how I’d planned to spend the week, but at least the damage was relatively minor and I didn’t hit a moose!

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Filed under Canada, Family, Ohio, Ottawa, Travel, Vacation

Montreal

Last week, I had to be in Montreal for meetings and went up a couple of days early on my own dime to sightsee.  And, I have to say, that Montreal is awesome.  Montreal is a much larger city than Ottawa and it’s got a lot to see and do.  One of my friends from Juarez, whom I’ll call “J” on here, just got to Montreal for her next assignment and I met up with her and we spent a lot of time sightseeing, wandering, and exploring Montreal.  We went down to Old Montreal, out to the Botanical Gardens, and wandered around Montreal’s massive underground shopping areas.  Montreal has a great Metro system that makes it easy to get around and a lot of the downtown area and Old Montreal is pretty compact, so it’s easy to walk and wander around.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from my trip:

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Montreal, Travel, Vacation

Happy Happy!

Sooooo, as you might have guessed from the title, this is a happy entry!  I just got back from a great long weekend in the DC-area.  Now, why was I there?  So see my excellent friends L & S get married!  L is a Foreign Service Officer and was posted in Ciudad Juarez with me and she met S while living there and one thing led to another and now they’ve gotten hitched before heading off to Morocco for L’s second post.

Since the wedding was actually about an hour outside of DC and I wanted to do a bunch of shopping while I was down there, including getting some liquids, I decided to drive instead of fly.  It’s about 10 hours of driving to get from Ottawa to DC, which is doable in one day.  However, Mother Nature decided to make the drive down a bit of a challenge.  First, Ottawa was forecast to get 5-8 inches of snow on Friday, the day I left.  So, I left at 0-dark-thirty to try to avoid it.  I succeeded in avoiding the snow, but managed to drive through about an hour of freezing rain.  By the time I crossed the border in to New York, my car was covered in ice.  Not only was it covered in ice, but when I stopped to get gas in the car there, the gas nozzle was covered in ice.  Have I mentioned that this is in APRIL?  Yes?  Ok, then.

After Ogdensburg, it changed to regular rain and rained on my for another 3-4 hours.  Then it cleared up for a bit, but I wasn’t in the clear yet.  In Pennsylvania, I ran in to bad fog, where I could only see about 100-200 feet in front of me.  That obviously slowed me down a bit.

Finally, it cleared up and I made the rest of the drive to Maryland.  When I finally got to the hotel, I stepped outside and just basked in the glorious 78F sunshine for a few minutes.  It felt sooooo good to stand outside in the nice, warm sun.

The wedding on Saturday was wonderful!  It was outside at a nice vineyard and the weather was beautiful.  The ceremony really reflected L & S and was super fun.  The reception at the vineyard was also really nice.  The company was especially wonderful.  I saw several other friends from Ciudad Juarez and it was wonderful to be reunited with them for a bit.  My time in Juarez was definitely tough, but I’m really lucky to have come away with some really good friends from my time there and spending time with them made me realize just how much I miss them.  There was much laughing, much fun, and even some dancing.   And, of course, L & S got married. 🙂

On Sunday, I ran a bunch of errands, returning things I’d ordered online, buying new things, and so on.  I got a lot done and then finally checked in to my hotel closer to DC.  I also met up with some of the same and some different Ciudad Juarez friends for a nice dinner.  Again, it was really fun to hang out with them for a few hours before we all had to go our separate ways.  Several of them are wrapping up language training before heading out to their second posts.  One was on R&R from her second post and I’d driven down from Canada.  While we used to see each other every day, we’ll now see each other less and less and will almost certainly never all serve at the same post again.  So, it was nice to be able to get together before everyone heads off to their new posts.

On Monday, I ran more errands, and finally finished stocking up on all the stuff I was after.  Between shopping in Ottawa and in New York, I can find almost everything I want, but there are a few things like Shiner Bock beer* and whatnot that I can’t find.  So, now I have all the peach salsa, pepper jelly, frozen enchiladas, and so on!  Nom, nom, nom.

Finally, I drove home today.  The drive home was much less eventful than the drive down.  It was smooth sailing.  There was some rain, but not too much and it didn’t slow me down too much.  The Diplokitten was happy to see me and all the frozen stuff I got actually fit in my freezer here.

Tomorrow, I go back to work and will have to hit the ground running since this is a busy time.  Also, on top of the busy-ness, I now have to do an Employee Evaluation Report (EER) because I found out last Wednesday evening that I got TENURED!  Tenure in the Foreign Service is sort of like academic tenure.  It’s a decision to keep you around and it means that it’ll be harder to fire you. Mwahahaha! 😉  Kidding.  Still, it’s an important step and nice to have out of the way.

So, that’s been my last week or so.  A very happy one for a lot of reasons. 🙂

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Ottawa, Spring, Travel, Vacation, Washington DC, Weddings, Winter

Home for the Holidays

I went home to Texas for a week around Christmas and it was great to be home.  I saw family and friends, ate Tex-Mex food, drank Shiner Bock and Shiner Cheer, ate Blue Bell ice cream, went shopping, and had an all around great time. It was 73F when I got off of the plane in Austin and I promptly stuffed my big down coat in to my suitcase and busted out my flip flips for most of the week.

I love it here in Ottawa, but there’s a certain ease about being at home where you don’t have to navigate a new and different city and culture.  There are a lot of similarities between the United States and Canada, but there are also differences, and even within the United States, there are a lot of regional differences.  Even with embassy colleagues from other parts of the United States, I still have to explain myself when I say things like “fixin’ to.”  A little light bulb went off in my head when I said “fixin’ to” in a store in Austin and got no odd response from the store clerk.  I’ve used the expression when talking to Foreign Service colleagues from other parts of the United States and gotten funny looks or responses and had to explain myself.  So, it was nice to be back home where that explanation wasn’t necessary.

Anyhoo, now I’m back in snowy Ottawa.  Before I went home to Texas and while I was there, Ottawa got a lot of snow and a decent chunk of it is still around.  We’ve had some days above freezing which has melted some of it, but there’s still a lot left over.  I’ve gotten quite good at bundling up and trudging through the snow and slush, and have even managed to get around to some fun winter activities like ice skating.  So, while I’m still not a full winter convert, I’m making it through my first Canadian winter well enough so far.  We’ll see what the next month or two brings in terms of winter though!

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Filed under Austin, Canada, Holidays, Home, Ottawa, Texas, Vacation

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

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

Belgium!

I know that I haven’t updated for about 3 weeks now, but I have a good reason for once.  I just got back from a super-fun, 10-day trip to Belgium!  Once upon a time, I was an exchange student to the good country of Belgium, where I had an amazing year and met a lot of wonderful people.  I’ve gone back to Belgium several times to visit them and it had been a couple of years since I’d last been back, so I decided it was time for another trip.

So, after work on Friday, I went over to El Paso and stayed at a hotel near the airport since I had a super early flight and didn’t want to risk missing it or having any issues on my way from Juarez to El Paso.  Last time I had an early flight, I did not stay over in El Paso and met some lovely federal police officers at a checkpoint on a deserted street in the dark then finally made it to the border only to find no one at the booth and to have to wait awhile before someone realized I was there and finally came over. Since I didn’t think I could handle so much fun again, it just made sense to stay in a hotel.

Saturday morning, I got up on time, checked out of the hotel, made my way to the airport and got checked in and through security with no problems.  I had a 5-hour layover on the way over, then got on the airplane, we started to taxi to takeoff only to find that one of the planes behind us saw that our plane had a flat tire! Of course, this had to be checked out, two tires had to be changed, and 3 hours later, we were finally on our way.

Other than the delay, the flight to Brussels was fine and I finally arrived, exhausted but thrilled to be back in Belgium!  One of my host families met me at the airport and we proceeded to drive back to their home. After spending two years in the desert, and not getting out of the area in four months, I was dazzled by how absolutely green everything was!  Even though it was still winter and not everything had its leaves/flowers/etc, it was so much greener than life here in Ciudad Juarez that it was dazzling.

While I was there, I saw my other set of host parents, all of my host siblings and their children, members of the organization that facilitated my exchange, and generally had a great time catching up with people, seeing people I hadn’t seen for awhile, and trying to remember my Dutch.

I also went shopping several times and enjoyed just being able to walk around in (mostly) nice weather without worrying about my safety, shopping in a pedestrian-friendly area, and so on.  The first time I took the bus back to my host family’s house from shopping, I accidentally got off the bus too early and I decided to enjoy just sitting outside in nice weather and waiting an hour for the next bus rather than trying to walk back or find another way to their house.

It was also really nice to have a nice break from work and not worry about anything work-related or even have to talk about work that much.  In hardship postings, the line between work and personal life gets really blurry since you end up spending a lot of your free time with coworkers and while my coworkers are pretty awesome, it’s nice to have a break from them, socialize with other people, and not spend the whole time talking about work.

The trip back went really smoothly.  I didn’t have any delays on the way back, made it through customs in plenty of time to make my connecting flight, and had a smooth trip back to my house in Mexico. So, overall it was an amazing trip and I’m really glad that I got to go back to Belgium, see wonderful people that I’ve missed a lot, and really relax.

I now only have a little over a month left in Mexico.  My packout is in a couple of weeks and then I’ll need to do some final cleaning, wrap up a few work projects, and then I’ll be on my way to home leave!  Hard to believe it, but the end is almost in sight. 🙂

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Filed under Belgium, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Travel, Vacation

This and that

I haven’t been that great about updating this lately.  No good reason, just not a whole lot of interesting or exciting news to share. There have been a few odds and ends that are worth sharing though, so here we go.

Work has been more or less the same.  Still working on visas, taking on a few projects here and there, and so on.  I did get news that I will get to spend 2 months next year working in a different office, which will be a nice change and a good experience.

I finally got paneled in to my assignment in Ottawa, which is exciting.  To be 100% honest, I’m not exactly sure what happens during paneling, but it’s State’s way of officially assigning someone to a job.  It’s mostly administrative, though getting paneled was significant because it meant that I could start working on my transfer schedule and planning my transfer from Juarez to Ottawa.  It also meant that I could reach out to post, so I e-mailed with the person whom I’ll be replacing and learned a little about the job that I will have in Ottawa and what I’ll be working on while I’m there.  I still have a lot to learn about the job but this is an exciting step!

Also, a couple of weeks ago, I went up to Las Cruces for a weekend and just hung out there for a nice weekend.  I did things like hang out at a Starbucks in a Barnes and Noble and read, go to the grocery store in the evening, and run errands without feeling like I had to get everything done in one trip.  Nothing that exciting but just a nice break from routine.

So, that’s most of the news from here.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere! 🙂

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Las Cruces, Mexico, New Mexico, Ottawa, Vacation

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

This weekend, I went to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was a ton of fun.  I didn’t know much about hot air balloons and still don’t, but it was really neat to see soooo many balloons and to be able to walk around them as they set-up and launched.  There were balloons and balloon crews that traveled from all over the world to participate.  There were also some fun fair things, like souvenir shops and fair food, and it was just nice to be able to sit outside in a big park and enjoy the awesome weather and the park, since I don’t get to do that very often.  So, I highly recommend the Balloon Fiesta if you ever get the chance to go.

Here are a few pictures from the Balloon Fiesta.

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Filed under Albuquerque, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, New Mexico, Pictures, Travel, Vacation

Home SWEET Home

I just got back from spending an absolutely wonderful, fabulous, <insert other superlatives here> week at home in Texas.  I caught up on sleep, spent time with my parents, went to Austin, spoke about the Foreign Service with new students at my alma mater, shopped, visited some excellent friends in Houston, shopped some more, went to a minor league baseball game, ate good food, shopped a little bit more, and just generally enjoyed being in a much less stressful environment.  A lot of the time, I don’t realize just how much the work and the security environment here stresses me out until I get away for a few days and can just feel the stress melt away.  So, it was great to be home.

It was also extra-special awesome to get to go to Houston and catch up with a few friends that I made when I worked as a co-op (kind of like an intern) in Houston while I was in grad school.  These friends really made my semester there great and if the Foreign Service hadn’t worked out for me, I probably would have tried to go back there full time after finishing grad school, mainly because the people there were so nice and fun to work with and hang out with.  So, it was really awesome that they made time for me and we could hang out and catch up a bit while I was home.

Anyhoo, for the sake of my bank account, it’s probably best that I’m home now and away from the excellent Austin-area outlet malls, but it was really, really great to be home.

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Filed under Austin, Ciudad Juarez, Houston, Mexico, NASA, Shopping, Texas, Travel, Vacation