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Friday, April 22, 2011

Ready for Easter

Our eggs are colored and our kozunaci* made.

We are officially ready for Easter and the traditional Bulgarian Easter egg fights.

Happy Easter everyone!

*Bulgarian Easter breads that are sweet and eggy. I made ours with lots of almonds and raisins this year.

2011-04-22

Monday, April 18, 2011

Paint Chip Easter Garland

It’s spring break here in Northern Virginia and Her Cuteness is home all week. I was looking for projects and fun activities to do with her this week when I stumbled on this lovely Easter garland. I couldn’t resist the simplicity of it, plus, I am a sucker for color, so this morning Nia and I set out to make a couple of those. One for our drab apartment entrance door and the second for the door to Nia’s room. All you need are scissors, paint chips, dental floss, time and patience and voila, you get a splash of color to brighten up your day.

You can find detailed instructions on how to make it at Modern Parents Messy Kids.

IMG_9932

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Big Fat Greek Sleepover

So we were watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding with Nia last night. We get to the point where Tula (the main female character) spends the night with Ian (the main male character) at his apartment for the first time.

Nia’s observation, “This is like a sleepover for adults, right?”

“Yes, honey, it sure is.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp

Hi everyone! This is my first time hosting the RoundUp and I’ll try my best but don’t you go expecting perfection.

First, before I jump into the RoundUp, I have to say this whole government shutdown business is nuts. I know it’s happened before but I can’t believe we are about to let it happen again. The way it has gone down is not making the US look particularly good to the rest of the world. I hope it’s resolved and soon because the livelihoods of many of us will be directly affected, if they end up shutting the government down for real. I don’t see why government workers and their families need to be the scapegoats in the political war going on in Washington. We have kids to feed and bills to pay just like everyone else, however that doesn’t seem to enter the equation. But enough said.

Moving on to the RoundUp. Our optional theme was Best of (your current or past post). If you didn’t love the theme, you can blame Sarah at Novakistan, who wrote an awesome two-part piece (that you can read here and here) about the delights of living in Manila. If you are considering Manila as a future post and haven’t read these, you just have to do it. You also get to look at terrific pictures like this:

I got only a couple of submissions on the theme. I am not sure if it’s because I didn’t give you enough time or everyone was worried about the government shutdown but I would like to keep the Best of idea open, so if you decide to write about your post in the future, please leave the link in the comment section below, even if it’s months from now. I will find a way to feature it either here at my blog or link it to A Daring Adventure’s State Department Blogger Map or both. I think sharing this type of information would benefit many of us. 

Anyway, a big thank you goes to the few who responded to the theme. Like Becky of Small Bits who talks about life at the US-Mexico border. I know I was nervous at the prospect of being sent there but she does a good job of describing the pros (we all know the cons). So if any of you are considering Mexican border posts, you may find that post useful.

It’s Cherry blossom season in the D. C. area and Rambles and Ruminations thinks that’s the best of D. C. The whole family went down to the Tidal Basin a few days ago to admire the blossoms and take gorgeous pictures like this one:

There are more where this came from, so head on over there and enjoy. We also wanted to go and take some family pictures at the Tidal Basin last weekend but made the mistake of driving down there. The crowds were insane, perhaps because the weather had been really crappy the previous weekend but there were absolutely no parking spaces to be had, so unfortunately, we had to turn around and go back home sans Cherry Blossom pictures. Bummer!

There’s a lot more to the D.C. area than the Cherry Blossoms though. When we came to the area I (inspired by another FS blogger) made a list of the places I thought were the best of D. C.  that you are more that welcome to use, if you are new to the area and are wondering what to do with your time (or you get furloughed and all of a sudden have a lot of free time).

Since we haven’t yet shipped out to our first overseas post, I rarely have anything to say about the RoundUp themes but decided to participate this time regardless, so I wrote a Best of Bulgaria post. If Sofia’s on your bid list, you may want to check it out.

File:Sofia-vitosha-kempinski.jpg

I am not sure if HotPot intended her blog entry to be part of the RoundUp but it did a great job of describing the delights of Guangzhou and comparing it to their current post Chengdu.

The next few entries may be off topic but they are interesting nonetheless. And the theme was optional, right?

Adventures Around the World describes an interesting wake up call in Kathmandu. The best part of living in Malawi is apparently a trip to Zambia according to Shannon at Cyberbones, so she opted to write about household help instead, which is a recurring theme among the Foreign Service crowd. Zoe at Something Edited This Way Comes announced the results of the Best-Disguised Foreign Service Couch contest and it’s a three-way tie! Diplomatic Mom, who just started her own career as a Diplomat with the 160 group of FSOs, describes her first week on the job. Diplochick and The Red Menace Abroad, also from the 160 group of FSOs, shared their first impressions of A-100 as well. Email from the Embassy had fun with alliteration, parents and ponies in Petra, Jordan. Lovely pictures too!

Jill at The Perlman Update has several free offers for you. Face lift, lip implants, or liposuction anyone? Head on over there and she’ll hook you up. Travel Orders, who are expecting a baby boy in less than five weeks, have been researching raising bilingual children and are sharing what they have learned. They like to be prepared, can you tell? Worldwide Available, writing from the Ukraine, is contemplating what she’d do if she’s furloughed. Life After Jerusalem wrote a series of blog posts sharing her feelings about the government shutdown.

Just heard that Congress has reached an agreement and there will not be a government shutdown after all. That means we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief and go to bed!

It looks like Becky over at Small Bits will be hosting next week’s RoundUp.

If you’ve been thinking about hosting the RoundUp, you can sign up here.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Best of Bulgaria

I am hosting this week’s State Department Blog RoundUp, so I thought I’d write something. We have yet to go to our first overseas post, so I can’t write about that but I can write about Bulgaria, which is where I am from originally. Because it’s been almost 14 years since I moved to the US and I visit only every couple of years or so, it doesn’t make sense to write about restaurants and services. However, I can write about travel and generally about food and drink, so without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite Bulgarian places and things:

1. Veliko Turnovo – of course, my hometown is #1, not just because I was born there but because it’s a really cool place. It’s old and charming and a wonderful place go back to. It was the capital of Bulgaria for 200 years in the Middle Ages and has it’s own Medieval fort/castle named Tzarevetz, which looks like this

castle 

It has a lovely old town with narrow cobblestone streets and craftsmen that still make neat stuff by hand. There are many churches and monasteries in the area as well. Arbanassi and Etura are two villages not too far from Veliko Turnovo, where one can see typical architecture and crafts.

etyra 

2. Rila Monastery – I am not religious but this place, tucked way up in the tallest mountain in Bulgaria,Rila, is just so spiritual that it has a special place in my hart. It’s more than a thousand years old and the frescos in it’s church are just stunning. No wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.  There are two types of accommodations there – regular hotel rooms or monks’ rooms (hard cot, toilet down the hall), if you are so inclined.

4932_rila_monastery2_te 

3. Plovdiv – Bulgaria’s second largest city, beautiful downtown, cobblestone streets, old houses, an amphitheater from Roman times as well as some statues from communist times.

 

4. Rose Valley – if you are in Bulgaria in early summer you can visit this area of the country located just south of the Balkan range. Walking through the rose fields early in the morning will fill your being with the overwhelming aroma of the roses. Bulgaria is a top producer of high-quality rose oil for the perfume industry. Rose oil makes perfumes last and has a number of other cosmetic applications. It takes about 60,000 roses to make one ounce of rose oil, so it is very expensive. You may also see lavender fields, which look like purple hedgehogs and also smell wonderful.

 

5. Black Sea Coast – my favorite place there is Nessebar (another UNESCO World Heritage site) because of its old town charm, Roman ruins, and beautiful beaches nearby. Other nice areas along the Black sea coast include Balchik, Albena, Golden Sands, Varna and Sozopol.

 

 

 

6. Skiing – My personal favorite is Bansko because the town has a lot of character and a pub on every corner but you can enjoy decent skiing at Borovetz, Pamporovo, Vitosha (just outside Sofia) as well.

 

 

7. Sofia – I personally am not a big fan of Sofia because it’s crowded and lacks the charm of the above but since it’s the capital most of the country's institutions and opportunities are concentrated there. It also has some nice museums, churches and ruins. The best thing about Sofia, as far as I am concerned, is that Vitosha (4400+ foot high mountain) is right at the edge of town and you can go hiking or skiing in no time, if you live there.

File:Sofia-vitosha-kempinski.jpg

8. Bulgarian food – if you like Greek and/or Turkish food, you are going to like Bulgarian. What’s it like? Grilled meats (mostly chicken and pork), stews and salads. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are to die for.

 

9. Bulgarian wine – I guess it’s Bulgaria’s best kept secret. It’s the land of Dionysus (Ancient Greek god of wine). Both red and white wines are wonderful, plentiful and inexpensive.

10. Bulgarian rakia – traditional Bulgarian fruit brandy (shown below with another Bulgarian favorite, Shopska salad). It’s strong and usually served with salad. It’s ordinarily made from grapes but depending on the region you may find plum, peach, apricot, cherry and other varieties as well. It’s not sweet, just has a fruit aroma.

There are a lot of other places and things that I love about Bulgaria but I better stop before I lose you…

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hosting The Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp

(This blog entry and the next two are intended for the State Department/Foreign Service blogger community. If you are not part of that community, you may not find these entries useful or interesting.)

So after contemplating it for months, I finally volunteered to host the Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp. If I had two functioning brain cells left, I would have done it before the baby came but it’s one of those woulda, coulda, shoulda kinda things. Guess I am a glutton for punishment, cause there’s nothing like sleeplessness and hormones to motivate me, so here I am hosting the RoundUp this Friday.

I even have an optional theme (or topic) for it. I am actually not a big fan of themes for the RoundUp as more often than not I don’t have much to say on the themes but I was inspired by two wonderful blog entries (that you can read here and here), written by Sarah over at Novakistan last week. Sarah’s current post is Manila and she wrote a two-part piece  about the best things in Manila from food and services to travel and entertainment. Reading those blog entries  made me want to live in Manila but it also got me thinking – wouldn’t it be nice if we had this kind of information for every post out there. It would be so helpful when we bid on posts, get ready to go to a post and once we get to a new post. Now, I know that similar information is provided by the Transition Center at FSI but it’s a pain in the neck to access. This would not be replacing what’s already provided by State but it would complement it nicely because it would be more personal and you could ask questions of the blogger and get a good understanding of what you are getting yourself into. Plus, we could add a gazillion pictures…

So the theme for this week’s RoundUp is Best of (your current or past post, if you are in DC). If you are new to the Foreign Service but have lived overseas, perhaps you can write about that country/city. For example, we have yet to go to our first overseas post (New Delhi) with the Foreign Service but I am originally from Bulgaria and spent the first 25 years of my life there, so I am thinking about writing a blog entry on the Best of Bulgaria, hoping it would help the people bidding on Sofia.

In my hormonal delirium head I was also envisioning a marriage between this Best of idea and Kolbi’s State Department Blogger Map, so that when you click on a pin on the map, you could see the Best of blog entry for that post. Kolbi and Sarah liked the idea, so we’ll try to make it happen.

Last but not least, while I love how positive and uplifting Sara’s two-part piece was, I know that most of us need a true picture of each post, which may include information that’s not necessarily positive. So if there’s something at your post that you wish you had known before you got there because it would have helped you make a more informed bidding decision, please include that too. Whether it’s lack of activities for children, or high price of gasoline, or air pollution, I am sure most of us would appreciate knowing the kinds of things no one from the official sources tells you before we get to post.

Please leave me a link to your Best of post in the comments below.

Happy blogging!

P. S. If you are interested in hosting the RoundUp in the future, you can sign up here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bunnies

Nia is home today because of a professional development day at her school, so I decided to use the opportunity to take some cute Easter inspired pictures of the kids. I got Chutney some green bunny ears at the dollar store a few days ago. Nia had her pink bunny ears from when she was a baby. I dressed both of them in coordinating pastel color clothes and had a few props ready (a stuffed lamb, an Easter bunny, plastic eggs etc.)

Unfortunately, the littlest bunny was not in the mood for pictures and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get him to cooperate.  He ended up crying the whole time, so I had to forget about the props and give up. Below are the best pictures. I guess I’ll try again next year. Hopefully, the darn colic that’s been tormenting him would be gone by then and we’ll get him to smile…

2011-04-04

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Make Gandhi Smile Twice???

Just read this little tidbit about our future home, India, in the April, 2011 issue of National Geographic. I’d never heard of it and found it interesting, so I thought I’d share:

In India, a Bribe-busting Bill

Posted Mar 28,2011

In India, where corruption costs the public and private sectors millions of dollars a year, demands for petty bribes are frequently signaled in code: “Take care of me” or, for a two-note handout, “Make Gandhi smile twice.” Illegal demands by police and bureaucrats are “deeply ingrained in the culture,” says anticorruption crusader Vijay Anand, and are “taken as the norm.”

Designed to look like standard Indian currency, zero-rupee notes are larger and printed on thicker paper

But 5th Pillar, Anand’s grassroots citizens group, is trying to create a new norm—by printing and passing out notes worth nothing at all (above). Since 2007, 5th Pillar has distributed 1.3 million zero-rupee bills. People give them as a polite protest to officials trying to squeeze extra payment for routine services like issuing driver’s licenses or loans. The effect has been to shame or scare some public servants—who can go to jail if they’re caught—into honest behavior. The zero-rupee note, says anticorruption researcher Fumiko Nagano, emboldens people to assert their rights, because when they’re backed up by 5th Pillar, “they realize they are not alone.”

Nor is India. Zero-currency notes are spreading to help fight corruption in Mexico and Nepal as well—an affirmation of nonviolent resistance that would surely have made Gandhi smile for real. —Hannah Bloch

Designed to look like standard Indian currency, zero-rupee notes are larger and printed on thicker paper. That discourages folding, which is a common way for bribes to be passed. Photo: Rebecca Hale, NGM Staff 

 

 

 
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