Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Why, you may ask? Well, because it’s a pretty complicated process and its outcome will determine what happens to us for the next two years and beyond, which is making us a wee bit anxious.
We (Paul) got the overview of the process and its implications last night. We are supposed to get the bid list this afternoon and submit our final bids in two weeks, after thoroughly researching every post and determining how we feel about it. The Foreign Service takes our preferences into consideration but their needs trump everything in the end, so there are no guarantees we will get what we want.
In case we haven’t had a chance to explain in person, the bid list has all the openings available to new Foreign Service officers. It lists the city and country of the position, language requirements and the timing of when the position needs to be filled. There are about 100 openings that Paul can bid on as a newbie. Of course, his 100 or so classmates are bidding on all positions as well. And there are some really amazing people there, so it’s going to be very competitive. We have to bid “high”, “medium” or “low” on each of the openings on the list depending on our preferences for serving there.
We hear that the list is different after you get tenure and you do that by performing well during your first two posts, which are two years each. Apparently, we are not going to be required to go to Afghanistan or Iraq for our first post, which was a serious concern for us because those posts are unaccompanied (you can’t take your family with you because there's a great deal of danger involved). We would have had to separate and we didn’t want to do that unless it was absolutely necessary. It was such a relief to learn it is not a must right now, though serving in a danger post at some point is a requirement for career advancement.
Things to consider when bidding are language requirements of the post vs. the candidate’s proficiency, career objectives (for Paul), education opportunities (for Nia), job prospects (for me), pet friendliness (for the cats), relative safety of the place, and it’s overall desirability. As far as language is concerned, Paul is fluent in Bulgarian but as much as we would love to go to Bulgaria, it may not be an option for us because I am from there and we hear that serving there may be considered a conflict of interest. Besides, we don’t even know that there are any openings there. So, we’ll have to see about that.
Career objectives are related to the career track each person chooses when they first submit their application for the Foreign Service. Career tracks are also known as cones, which may or may not mean that Foreign Service officers are coneheads but you never know.
Anyway, there are currently five tracks in the Foreign Service: consular, economic, management, public diplomacy and political. But not all tracks are created equal in terms of the needs of the Foreign Service and the relative appeal of each to Foreign Service officers. For example, consular has the most openings because there’s at least one consular section in each country but consular jobs are less appealing to Foreign Service officers than jobs in the other tracks. Political and public diplomacy are the most appealing tracks but there are fewer openings for those tracks because not every country has those types of jobs, so relatively speaking there is more competition for political and public diplomacy. Thus it is harder to get in the Foreign Service if you pick political or public diplomacy. This is also why no matter what track you choose you end up in consular positions at some point in your career, usually in the first two posts. Paul is in the public diplomacy track because he is a Foreign Service Badass, which we already knew, and because it is most closely aligned with his interests and experience. He is aware that he may not serve in a public diplomacy position in his initial two posts.
I also think public diplomacy is the coolest track but it may not make sense for me to pick it when I apply because my Foreign Service Badassery is yet unproven and it is harder to place a tandem couple (a husband and wife who are both in the Foreign Service), who are in the same track, especially if the track they are both in doesn’t have positions in every country, which is the case with public diplomacy. So, I may be better off picking consular (the other tracks are somewhat less appealing to me) but I haven’t made up my mind yet and I have a little time.
There’s also the choice between a large and a small post. Picking a small post may be a good idea if you want to get a wider range of responsibilities but it may limit your social life, job prospects for your spouse as well as educational opportunities for your kid(s) among other things. Who would’ve thunk there’d be so much strategery involved?!!
So, we will spend the next couple of weeks poring over reports for each country and deciding how we want to bid on each post. That and biting our nails and chewing on every pen and pencil in sight.
Tomorrow, I am going to a training for spouses at the Foreign Service Institute. It’s designed to help us spouses navigate the system and get a better idea of what our role is in the process. It’s also going to address things like job opportunities for spouses as well as educational options for children and that’s stuff I really need to know.
In other news, our air freight cargo, aka unattended baggage, or UAB, arrived yesterday. That’s 600 lbs of stuff I forgot was coming. It’s things like dry foods, spices, toiletries, more clothes, cat condos and the like that we couldn’t possibly fit in the cars, so we had to have it all packed and shipped to our new place. 600 lbs in addition to what we brought is a lot for our new apartment and fitting it in is putting a strain on the storage capacity of the place but it sure was nice to have all my spices handy when I was making my wicked good (even if I say so myself) bean soup yesterday. I know what you’re thinking: It’s bean soup, how good can it be? Well, that’s because you haven’t had my lip-smackin’ version .
How’s that for a parting thought?!
Monday, March 29, 2010
The apartment is not bad though. The closets are pretty big, the beds comfortable and there’s weekly cleaning service – yippee! The shower’s a little tricky. You go in and set the water to the temperature you like . It stays that way for a couple of minutes and then Surprise!!! You get random periods of scalding hot and freezing cold water interspersed with short bursts of bearable-temperature water. Needless to say, there’s a little screaming going on when we take showers and bathing Nia is like herding cats but hey, it’s an adventure and we love adventures, so we call it “the most invigorating shower ever!”
The complex itself has a playground, tennis courts, a volleyball court, a pool, which should open sometime in May, and a nice clubhouse. There are also free yoga and aerobics classes, which I need check out ASAP.
It’s about a ten-minute walk from East Falls Church metro station, which is great. It’s also a two-minute drive from Seven Corners, which is the ugliest intersection I have ever seen but there are a bunch of stores and restaurants around it, so its unavoidable. I am dreading driving through that nasty thing this afternoon when I go to the grocery store as we need pretty much everything.
Kitchen, dining and living areas
Living, our bedroom, our bathroom (Nia’s bathroom is identical, so no picture needed)
Our closet, Nia’s bedroom (yes, she has a TV and she is glued to it most of the time), Nia’s closet
Sunday, March 28, 2010
We stayed with Paul’s brother Greg and his family, who shared their home with us for almost a week. Unfortunately, some of us (and I mean two black furry little ones here) took the phrase “make yourselves at home” quite literally.
Greg and his family have a beautiful male cat named Phineas, who we heard was very territorial. When our cats came, however, he retreated to the master bedroom and pretty much didn’t come out. Our cats on the other hand, went right on and started eating Phineas’ food and using his litter box even though their food and litter box were right next to his. Greg and Sassi (his wife) had to move Phineas’ food and litter box to the master bedroom too. We felt really bad about the situation and tried to get our cats to cut Phineas some slack but to no avail. I guess we need to talk to them about being good guests.
We set aside the first couple of days to take care of some admin stuff – check out the apartment, get our lease, get Nia registered for school, figure out the new neighborhood… Everything went well with one exception.
Our interactions with the apartment complex folks kinda started on the wrong foot. We went there on Tuesday with four minor and very reasonable (we thought) requests: we wanted a copy of our lease, our exact mailing address, we asked to see our apartment and also if we could store some things there so we didn’t have to drive with a car full of stuff around the metro area. We got resounding NOs to all of those requests, which perplexed us. While the last two requests were nice-to-haves, the first two were not. We couldn’t register Nia at her new school without a fully executed lease and a mailing address. We made that clear to them. Their response was that no one signs a lease before the actual move-in date (really?) and that they had no clue what apartment they were going to put us in (less than four days before we moved in!!!).
We were not amused and had to explain to them that getting our lease and address on Saturday was not an option because schools don’t work on weekends and the following week was spring break, so we couldn’t complete Nia’s registration then. All of a sudden their tone changed and they became suspiciously nice, though we still don’t know what exactly caused that reversal. We don’t think it was us but somehow, they figured out that they can give us an early version of the lease with a “maybe” final address. And while they had no units to show us five minutes earlier, it turned out that there was a just-remodeled unit that we could look at, although we were told repeatedly that we won’t get the upgrades in that unit until May/June.
With that information we went to Nia’s new school, aka the Purple Hippo School because of its mascot. The people at the school were just as perplexed as we were about the antics of the apartment people but they worked with us and I am happy to say that Nia is mostly registered and starts school on 4/5. While we were at the school we learned that Nia will be a bus rider, which Nia thinks is just awesome. Paul and I - not so much but we are trying to roll with the punches.
With the minutia out of the way, we were ready to play tourists. First, we had to go check out the cherry blossoms by the Tidal Basin. Unfortunately, they were not “ripe” yet. There were trees in bloom all over the area but the Tidal Basin cherries needed a few more days, it turns out, so we will have to come back.
While we were downtown, we thought we’d check out FDR memorial and snap a few cheesy pictures (see below). We also went to my old work hangout, Union Station, had lunch and did a little “sploring.”
The following day we went to Mount Vernon, which is just a five-minute drive from Greg’s house. It was a beautiful day and we spent a few hours there helping Nia learn about our first president. It had been a good 10 years since Paul and I had been there and they had added a lot to the place, so it was really neat to explore the new areas, especially from the eyes of or six-year old. The highlights of the visit for Nia were the Ha Ha walls, getting dressed as a Mount Vernon servant, Washington’s lead teeth (yes, lead though a lot of people think he had wooden false teeth – apparently he had serious tooth issues; he had only one of his real teeth in his mouth by the time he became president!) and the scavenger hunt and prize. In the evening we visited our Bulgarian friends Misho and Yani and had dinner with them and another friend from Bulgaria, Boryana, and her boyfriend. It was like the good old times – delicious food and wonderful company!
We had grand touristy plans for Friday but they didn’t pan out. We did some shopping instead and had dinner with Greg and Svantje (his daughter) at a Japanese restaurant (yummy!)
Saturday was moving day and it was quick and painful but I will write a separate post on that complete with pictures of our new place. I still have a few things to put away.
Friday, March 26, 2010
After our stuff was packed and shipped out to Virginia on 3/17, we spent two days in Orlando with our Macedonian friends Tankica and Kase and their two girls Snezana and Elena. This was a special visit for several reasons: it was Snezana’s seventh birthday and Snezana and Elena are Nia’s best buds; we wanted to see Princess Tiana from Princess and the Frog; we couldn’t let our Disney Season Passes go to waste, so we had to visit one more time before we moved.
We spent the first day (3/18) at Magic Kingdom. It was quite chilly by Florida standards but we had fun despite the weather. We got to meet Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen and saw several shows – one about the US Presidents, a Pirates of the Caribbean one and the Magic Kingdom Disney Character show. We also saw a daytime and a nighttime parade. I really wanted to see the fireworks but they were at 10 p.m. and everyone was so dead tired by 9 p.m. that we had to give up on the idea and head for the hotel. The next day (3/18) we went to Epcot where we did some Kim Possible exploring, went on the Soaring ride and the kids and boys went on Mission to Mars. We also watched a show about the Holy Grail, which Nia found hilarious. Around 7 p.m. we headed back home to St. Pete.
Saturday (3/20) was a delightful day but we didn’t know it because we spent it inside cleaning the house, making sure it looks its best to buyers and packing the stuff that we were going to move ourselves in the two cars.
Sunday morning we loaded the kid and the cats in the cars and hit the road. As soon as we left Tampa it started raining cats, dogs and other things and it didn’t stop until we reached the Florida/Georgia border. It felt like we had our own personal storm cloud travelling right above us the whole time. And let me tell you, driving in the rain is not like dancing in the rain. It was miserable – it rained so hard at times that I couldn’t see the lanes or the car in front of me. It’s a small miracle that we made it out OK. Thankfully, both the kid and the cats were on their best behavior, so we didn’t have to worry about them. Georgia was kinder to us weather-wise and we crossed it in no time. We entered South Carolina in the afternoon and spent the night in a lovely Best Western in Florence, South Carolina.
Monday morning we ate a quick breakfast and started on the road again. The drive wasn’t bad and after 7 hours, we made it to Mount Vernon, Virginia, which is where Paul’s brother, Greg lives. We were glad to get out of the cars as our bums hurt from the two-day drive.
We had a nice dinner with Greg and his family and called it a night.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I gotta give our packers/movers credit because if it weren't for them, we'd be doing it for days. These guys don't mess around. There were three of them. They came, they saw, they packed. They were the epitome of efficiency. Almost to a fault. Well, it was our fault really because we blinked ...and poof ... everything was packed and I mean everything, including a few items we needed out but didn't specifically mention, like a few spoons, forks and cups to use for dinner and breakfast. I found myself refilling my empty Coke can with water in the evening. 'Cause there's only so much Coke a gal can drink in a day, although the nice people at Coke headquarters in Atlanta may disagree.
I hope I don't jinx us by praising the guys because I wouldn't want anything to get broken or lost but they were impressive. When they got here in the morning, the house was a mayhem. This is what it looked like circa 3 p.m.
Monday, March 15, 2010
We sold or donated most of our furniture, took apart what was left and have been sleeping on just the mattresses on the floor for the last couple of days. It's not ideal but Nia loves it. It's adventure sleeping as far as she is concerned and we aim to please!
Since the packers/movers are coming tomorrow there was a frenzy of activity in our house today. And I am off the caffeine wagon. Yeah, I know... I had been so good. Not a drop for at least three months. But desperate times call for desperate measures. There was just no other way to go through all of our
Arranging everything in the right pile today was overwhelming. But I just kept drinking my Coke...Turns out we had a lot of stuff! Not sure where it all came from. It just accumulates while you are not paying attention. The scariest part was the attic. That's where we had been shoving things since we bought the house. Things came down from there that I didn't recall ever putting up. Lots of Nia baby stuff. I laid it all out on the floor in the living room, sorted it by age, ooohed and aaaahed at the cutest outfits and decided we had been holding on to that stuff long enough. It was time to share it. So, most of it went to CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse), our local charity of choice. It will make some mommies and kiddies very happy I think.
I also spent a considerable time on my stuff, while Paul busied himself with his. No ooohing and aaahing here though since I have a wee bit of a weight issue lately. We don't talk about it much but let's just say there's more of me to love these days. In any case, it presents a wardrobe challenge as I can comfortably fit in less than a third of my clothes. I haven't given up on correcting the situation though, so I did not donate the "snugggies". And I am not buying my actual current size - it's just too depressing. Need to come up with a damage-control plan. Oooooh, control, I am good at that, so there's hope.
Anyway, now I am completely pooped. My whole body hurts from lifting and moving things all day. I have this sense of accomplishment though. The house is an utter mess but we got to check a few things off our long to-do list and the control freak in me is rejoicing!
Off to catch some Zzzzzs - eeeeeh!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
You know things are not going well when you find yourself walking around the house like a chicken with its head cut off not accomplishing anything. That's where we are.
I know it's just a move and we have moved many times before, including across the ocean, so why are we having such a hard time coming to grips with this situation? Well, for starters, this is not a normal move. We know we are going to Virginia but we don't know for how long. 10 weeks to 10 months on average, we are told. We don't know what country we'll ultimately be posted to. How do you plan for that? (We find out where we are going in late April - stay tuned to a separate post on that.)
We've lived in FL for more than 7 years now. This is the longest we've lived at the same address since we got married 13 years ago. Prior to moving to FL, we moved every year, sometimes even more than once a year. We were ready to settle down, buy a home, start a family. We did all that and now we are going back to the nomadic lifestyle, which is exciting but a tad more complicated than before we had the house and the kid.
We are also being moved (as opposed to moving ourselves), which is terrific but we've never done it and are not sure how to go about it. We are not supposed to pack our stuff. The movers need to do that because of insurance. So what are we supposed to do?
The Foreign Service sent us the handy-dandy "It's your move" book but reading it made me want to scream. We are supposed to separate all of our crap into 4 piles (I can't stand piles!): stuff we are going to move ourselves with the two cars, unattended baggage (UAB) or stuff that we'll use while in Virginia, household effects (HHE) that we are going to take to our first post country, and things that we are not taking to post but that we'd like to store in the US while we are overseas.
We were hoping our furniture would be sold by now. We had some success with craigslist last weekend but the really big things (sofa, armchairs, our two bed frames, a big desk) are still here and getting in the way. On the other hand some of our storage furniture sold and stuff's just on the floor, which drives me nuts!
Everyone's asking us if we are ready for the move. I am not sure I know what ready looks like. It's a very disconcerting feeling. Paul and I lay in bed at night trying to map it all out. I wish I had a magic wand, so I could wave it and be moved and situated in our apartment in Virginia.
Speaking of the apartment, we got that sight unseen. Ditto for Nia's new school. I don't do well with sight unseens. I have to know what I am getting myself into. Which I think is the root of my discomfort with this situation. It's completely out of our control and I think I might be a control freak. And if you think about it, there are few things scarier than an out-of-control control freak.
I gotta go find something I can control - husband, kid, cats - anything will do. Wish me luck!
Sunday, March 7, 2010
It does make sense to test with the language that you know best. Only, here is the catch: if you test well in any of the critical or super critical languages, that means you will be posted where that language is spoken at least twice in your Foreign Service career - once during your first two tours and then again later. Also super critical and critical languages bring you more points. Bulgarian (surprise, surprise) is not critical.
Next, came the Medical Clearance. All three of us had to get it to be cleared to go to any country in the world. We all aced that one. Yey for health!
The Top Secret security clearance process came after that. That took at least six months even though Paul already had a Secret security clearance. The Top Secret one seemed a lot more involved. You fill out this really long form and give them the name of every person you have ever known, every place you've ever lived or even set your foot in ... and your firstborn. I kid about the firstborn but everything else is pretty much spot on.
- We have secured an apartment in Falls Church, VA. When we told Nia, her response was, "What??? We are going to live in a church?"
- We have found a school for Nia in Falls Church.
- We have retained a realtor, hoping she'll do the impossible and sell our house in a jiffy. In case you are curious, you can view the listing here.
- We are slowly selling all of our worldly belongings, with a little help from craigslist (love that guy and his list). But we haven't sold everything yet, so if you are in need of incredibly stylish worldly belongings, give me a holler.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
- to keep family and friends updated on our trials and tribulations - by all indications life in the Foreign Service has its highs and lows and I will attempt to chronicle those for you.
- because I get to be my own editor - and I can break those AP Styleguide rules all day long, if I want to. So liberating, ha?
- because it gives me an opportunity to vent - I am already starting to freak out a little, so I am hoping that writing about this will help me deal with the craziness or as fellow blogger Jill from http://theperlmanupdate.blogspot.com/ puts it "I write because it's cheaper than therapy."
- because I am a zombie - I wake up at odd hours and hopefully this will give me something to do when I can't fall back asleep.
- I will probably be writing a few times a month. I don't see myself doing it daily but there may be a flurry of activity in the beginning because there is so much happening right now.
- I will more than likely subject you to digressions, parenthetical statements, overuse of my favorite words and the occasional end-of-the-sentence preposition. 'Cause that's just how I roll. If that's not to your liking, this blog may not be for you. Don't say I didn't warn you.
- I will try to post pictures and the occasional video of what's happening to and around us.
- My "partners in crime," Paul and Nia, will make frequent appearances and I will include their comments as we go along.
- Something is telling me that I will need your comments to keep my sanity, so don't be shy.
- The views and opinions expressed on this blog will be mine and not those of the Foreign Service or the State Department (I felt I had to include a cover-my-butt statement here, just in case).