Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Let the nail biting begin…

nail biting I’ve never been a nail biter or a pencil chewer, not because I am not OC (obsessive-compulsive) but because those two have not been my OC behaviors of choice until now. The Foreign Service bid list and bidding on openings for our first post may just put me over the edge though.

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

New Digs

As promised, here are some pictures of our new place. It’s a two bedroom, two bath furnished apartment and the furniture is a delightful Holiday Inn style. We are told that we will get a snazzy upgrade (new appliances, new furniture, new carpet, new paint) in May or June, which means that we will have to move (again) to another unit for a week or so and then back to ours. But it’s all worth it, according to the complex manager, who said that everybody will envy us because we are the first ones to get upgraded!!! How did she know that we live for the envy of the perfect strangers, who happen to be our neighbors?

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
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Living, our bedroom, our bathroom (Nia’s bathroom is identical, so no picture needed)
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Our closet, Nia’s bedroom (yes, she has a TV and she is glued to it most of the time), Nia’s closet
 Oakwood apartment 009 Oakwood apartment 010 Oakwood apartment 011

Sunday, March 28, 2010

First Days in Virginia/DC

As I mentioned in my previous post, we arrived in the area last Monday. Here’s what we’ve been up to since then.

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.

Till then…
 cherries moving and Disney 036  moving and Disney 041moving and Disney 033 (2)
moving and Disney 046moving and Disney 043 moving and Disney 044 (2) moving and Disney 050

Friday, March 26, 2010

Last Days in Florida

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.

moving and Disney 017  moving and Disney 054moving and Disney 068moving and Disney 064moving and Disney 028moving and Disney 074    moving and Disney 103     

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

Saying goodbyes

Goodbyes are tough. They always make me feel like I am leaving a part of me behind. But they are also good because they remind me of the wonderful people we have in our lives and thanks to technology staying in touch couldn't be easier.

We spent the last week or so saying goodbye to colleagues and friends. Everyone has been very supportive and enthusiastic about our move(s), which means a lot to us, but it's been sad nonetheless. We met some wonderful people here and it is hard to think we won't see them for a while. We are hoping we'll get visitors both in DC and once we get to our first country post.

Our friends from Jacobs had a cake for us last Wednesday and a potluck party on Thursday. My colleague Lolly said she tried to get the cake people at Publix to write Good Riddance on the cake but they wouldn't do it, so she had to settle for Good Luck. Another colleague, Liz, opened up her gorgeous early 1900s home by Bayshore to us for the party and everyone had a blast. The Jacobs team is pretty international and everyone brought a treat from their country, so the food was just delicious. We made kufteta, kebabcheta and Shopska salad. We also brought a large bottle of Bulgarian moonshine (rakia) to go with the salad and people had fun trying it. There were even a couple requests for more rakia and we complied the following day.

Our teams created these awesome fake magazine covers below for us as parting gifts. Apparently, they had clandestine emails going back and forth all day with copy for the cover blurbs and design and we had no clue. We absolutely love them and there will be a special spot for them in our new place. 


Friday was our last day at Jacobs, so we had our exit interviews and a little bit of paperwork to fill out. In the afternoon we said our final goodbyes there and left (with heavy hearts) for a happy hour with friends from outside Jacobs at Three Birds Tavern (formerly Limey's) by our house. It wasn't a huge party but we were delighted to see some friends we used to work with the St. Pete Times, Healthy Home and Voda. Our friend Shrimatee from the City of St. Pete, who we hadn't seen since Nia was an infant, also came. We had a great time catching up with everyone. Nia also had a few special guests present. One of her boyfriends, Mason was there with his Mommy and pet worm. The worm got a lot of attention and a few bruises. Kindergardeners can be rough on pets! Mr. D. and Jenn from Great Explorations (Nia's old school) also game to wish her well. 

Saturday night we went out to dinner with Joanna and Novak at St. Petersburg Nights, a Russian restaurant at St. Pete Beach. Sunday, we had yummy chili dinner with Edel and Kevin at their place also at St. Pete Beach. Dina, a good friend from my Catalina days came by the house today too. She brought some yummy muffins for breakfast and we had a nice time reminiscing about the good old times.

We loved seeing everyone and look forward to sharing our adventure electronically and through visits.

Now with our stuff packed, loaded and off to DC and we are off to Disney to say goodbye to The Mouse.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pack... Load... Go!

Thank goodness for pros!

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.

Not too shabby, eh! They are coming back tomorrow to load it all on the truck and get it on the road.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Going to the mattresses

You know, like in "The Godfather" but not quite. 

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 crap worldly belongings in a day. That and we had a couple of Coke 12-packs from the last party that we didn't want to move. So, it had to be done.

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

Panic sets in...

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

Foreign Service Badass (FSBA)

Yeah, that's what I call my hubby these days and I'm pretty sure he likes it. Here's the story of how he got this lovely moniker.

Back in September of 2008 Paul (he was still known just by his first name back then) took the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). A month or so later we learned that he had passed it. We were happy but not surprised because he had passed the test several times before. He's smart that way.

In case you are wondering, the FSOT is a pretty comprehensive test and few people pass it. I attempted to take it a few years ago and failed miserably. Now, I know there are people out there in the Foreign Service blogosphere that find the test easy. But lets face it, if I didn't pass it on the first attempt, then it must be hard, right? I know all the other people, those who try to pass it but don't, will wholeheartedly agree with me. The test includes way too many questions on a variety of topics such as US history, government, politics, society and culture, world history and geography, communication, basic computer knowledge, math and statistics, economics, management, English expression, biographic info and at least one timed essay. Whew!

Some people just walk around knowing all that stuff. Yeah, they are among us. Hell, my own husband is one of those freaks amazing specimens. Me, not so much.

You see, I was born and spent the first 25 years of my life in Bulgaria of all places and the Americana of the test kills me (though I now kick serious butt on English expression). It's just way too American and they really oughta tone that down.

However, I have decided that I am not going to let that stop me and plan to take the test again in June of 2010. How foolish brave am I? But this time I will prepare. I didn't last time because Paul never prepared and I thought I could get away with it too. Boy was I wrong. You'd think that stuff would rub off on me or something after living with Paul all these years. Apparently not.

Another annoying great thing about Paul is that he's really good at multiple choice tests. They are not something I was exposed to when I was growing up and have only taken a couple of them in my life. The few times that I have taken them, I didn't exactly blow the fish out of the water, if you know what I mean. So, I will have to seriously hit the books before the test. But I digress...

So, a few months after passing the test, Paul had to submit a personal narrative (essay) convincing the Qualifications Evaluation Panel of his Foreign Service Badassery (yes, it's a real word, technical term actually, though we didn't know it at the time). And he nailed it.

In June of 2009 he took the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA). This is where we were not sure how things were going to go. He had gotten to the FSOA a couple of times before but couldn't crack it. The FSOA is an all-day affair that includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management writing exercise. The candidates are evaluated on 13 dimensions essential to Foreign Service work. I never made it to this point but the description makes it sound very similar to what some US companies do when they are looking for badasses ('cause the US Gov is not the only one in dire need of badasses).

Johnson & Johnson is one of those companies and a few years ago, when I was finishing my MBA (wink, wink - see, I am not a total loser!), I had the pleasure of being subjected to one of those shindigs, which J&J affectionately calls Global Invitationals. And no, I did not become a J&J Badass, although I was excruciatingly close. But I got a fabulous weekend in Lisbon on J&J's dime out of it (shameless, I know). Did I digress again - you betcha!

Back to the FSOA. That's where Paul's Foreign Service Badassery really came through and he passed with flying colors. They tell you at the end of the day whether you have made it or not. As far as we are concerned, that's the point that separates the badasses from regular folks. Because everything that followed was pretty much beyond our control.

On to the language tests. If you know a foreign language, you can take a phone test and if you do well, you get extra points. Paul tested with his Bulgarian and got the maximum number of points. Oh, yeah!

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.

The dude that worked on Paul's Top Secret clearance so wanted Paul to be right out of college or at least to have stayed at the same address and job since college. With all his moves, living overseas and different jobs/consulting assignments, Paul was a real disappointment for him. The escapade to rogue Cuba in the 1990s and his marriage to a foreign national (moi) were the icing on the cake. But, after interviewing all of our friends, coworkers and neighbors and asking them some very impertinent questions, Paul made it through unscathed.

Which made him a Top Secret Foreign Service Badass and landed him on The Register (aka The Badass List). That's the list of people who have made it this far in the process. That's the list the Foreign Service hires from. Everyone on the list has a score, indicating how well they've done on all the previous steps. The better you do on those steps, the higher you are on the list and the higher the likelihood that you are going to get called. But there are no guarantees. As a matter of fact you may never get called because you can be on The Badass List for 18 months and if you don't get called in that 18-month period, you have to start from scratch. That's right, all the way back to filling out the application and taking the FSOT. Some people just don't have the stomach for that. We weren't sure if we did but thankfully, we didn't have to find out.

In late January 2010 Paul finally got The Email. Yes, it's an email even though everyone calls it The Call. It was an invitation for him to join the 152nd Class of Foreign Service Officer Training (aka A-100) starting on March 29, 2010.

I remember that night vividly. Paul walked over to the bedroom where I was reading and told me that he got The Email. I knew exactly what he meant but we just stood there for a while staring at each other very calmly and quietly, which is very unusual, especially for me. We both obviously really, really wanted this. We had talked and dreamed about what it would be like for years but up until then it was just that: a dream. The enormity of it never hit us until that dream became a reality. That realization made us both pause. Because the Foreign Service is not just a job, it's a lifestyle that is completely different from what we were used to. Very much desired but completely different nonetheless. It was thrilling and scary and a whole bunch of other things all at the same time.

He accepted, of course, even though he had to take a substantial pay cut. Then the big snow storms in DC happened and it took a couple of weeks to get his official offer letter with the salary and all that jazz. We had to pinch each other often during those two weeks and look at that email again and again to make sure we weren't still dreaming. But it all eventually came together and around the middle of February we gave our notice at Jacobs. In case you didn't know, for the last year or so, we were both working for the same company. We even had the same job title, Assistant Editor, but for two different magazines - mine has to do with Europe, because I am Eurotrash, and Paul's - with Africa because...well, just because.

Which brings us to the present. We now have one week left at Jacobs. Our last day there is Friday, 3/12. The movers are coming to pack us on 3/17, which is St. Patty's Day. I just hope the movers don't internalize the holiday too much before they pack us because they may send our stuff to Timbuktu instead of DC. We may end up in Timbuktu eventually but not before the Foreign Service imbues us with a little more Foreign Service Badassery during A-100.

What have we done so far to make this dream of ours happen?
  • 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.

Still awake? If yes, you get a pat on the back. If not, run for the hills when you wake up.

If you haven't had enough of my rambling and the word badass, stay tuned. There's more where the above came from.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why I blog?

I have been toying with the idea of starting a blog for a while now. I just wasn't sure I had something meaningful to talk about, which is not an issue for a lot of bloggers out there but I didn't want mine to be one of those blogs about everything. That is not to say I won't ramble on occasion but that this blog has a focus of sorts. Its focus is life in the Foreign Service.

You see, my wonderful hubby, Paul, recently gave me the perfect excuse to start a blog when he got a job with the Foreign Service. Getting that job wasn't trivial but I will describe that in a separate post. First, some housekeeping:

Why I blog?
  • 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 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.

Why not blog in Bulgarian?

After all Bulgarian is my native language. I have to say that I considered doing that for a while because my parents know very little English and didn't want to rob my biggest fans of the joy of reading my gems. But after thinking about it for a while I decided that English made more sense because Paul's family is substantially larger than mine and almost all of our friends, including those all over the world, know English. As a nod to my family and my native Bulgaria, I gave the blog a Bulgarian name. Tuk & tam means here & there in Bulgarian. I will just have to keep my parents updated on what's going on with us via Skype, which they love anyway because they get to watch Nia's antics.

What to expect from this blog?
  • 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).
If this sounds like something you might enjoy, you can subscribe to get new posts directly in your email box. This way you won't have to keep coming back to the blog itself; the new posts will find you.

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