Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Out and About in D.C.

We have had friends and family visiting for the past two weekends, so it finally gave us the opportunity to get out and see some of the city.  S and I had been to D.C. several times before actually moving here, so we had seen a lot of the "big ticket" items, but it was still fun to take our friends and family around to let them experience these historic treasures for the first time. 

One thing we had never seen before, however, was the National Zoo.  So when S's family came in town for Flag Day, we wasted no time taking E and his cousin to see the animals.  The boys had an excellent time roaring with the lions and mimicking the monkeys and gorillas, but the highlight of the trip?  Why, the chickens at the children's petting farm of course.  Apparently exotic, interesting animals like lions and tigers and gorillas were just so-so in their eyes. The chickens were the golden ticket.  The rest of Flag Day weekend was spent enjoying family dinners, brunch in Georgetown and of course, letting the boys run like wildlings every chance we got.  One good thing came out of the wild running -- looong naps.  And bit of sweet relief for moms and dads.

Checking out the lions.  Roar!

This past weekend my friend from New York came to visit with her two kids and her sister.  We had quite a busy time time trying to dodge raindrops while maneuvering three strollers and three babies/toddlers along the National Mall, but it was worth it.  My friend had never been to D.C., so we had a lot to cover in just two short days.  In the end, we narrowed our sites down to the White House, Washington Monument and a few other monuments on the Mall.  Of course with three small children the second day of their visit had us back at the Zoo for the second straight weekend, but this time it was a little different.  We got to see the elephants returning from a hike and two orangutans playing hide and seek under a blanket.  I'm telling you, animals are WAY smarter than human beings want to believe.

I think my friend's son really enjoyed the visit too.  Unfortunately, the the Zoo trip ended quicker than planned when he came down with a fever after about an hour there, so we decided it was best to leave.  I still think that despite that minor setback, everyone had a fun time. 

There are no visitors on the agenda for this weekend, but that doesn't mean we don't have plans.  There's so much more to see and do!  I think it's time to start making a list...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Swimming In Alphabet Soup!

True Confession: I started reading a lot of foreign service blogs when S began this journey two years ago. 

I went on a quest to discover everything there was to know about this lifestyle, so I Googled and read and Googled some more.  I found the blogs to be a wonderful resource and they helped paint a picture of the wonderful, and not so wonderful, aspects of the foreign service life.  The more I read though, the more one thing became abundantly clear: there are an unbelievable amount of acronyms used by the State Department.  Some were explained in the blogs and articles I came across; some weren't.  But they were always there, lurking about, hell bent on luring my curious little brain on a mission to discover their meaning.  Well after today, I can say that while I don't quite know them all, I know a lot more than I used to.

Today I attended a spouse orientation at FSI designed to help spouses and partners prepare for this giant move/adventure for the first time.  I sat in a room with about 25 other spouses as we discussed our upcoming posts with excitement and trepidation, and voiced concerns about what we still didn't quite understand.  Like, when do we find out our exact date of departure?  How do we find out about our housing?  Do we get a consumables allowance?  And how, oh how, are we going to get our pets there in one piece?

It was during the explanations to these questions that the acronyms were used, and thus, the meanings revealed. 

Now I can safely say that this EFM knows what to pack in her HHE vs. UAB, and how to get in touch with TM or TMM so we can ship our POV to post.  And I know to contact the CLO before going if I have any questions about anything specific, or I can hop over to the OBC if I feel like it. 

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Those were the easy ones.  My mind is still swimming in a sea of alphabet soup as I pore over the notes I took today and try to make a list of all that needs to get done.  I'm grateful that we as spouses were invited to such an informative session because it certainly cleared up a lot of questions, acronyms and all. 

Now, off to read the RPR on Adana before bed!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Flag Day!


Flag Day has come and gone and S and I are super excited that this foreign service adventure is taking us to Adana, Turkey!

To be honest, we were a bit shocked and surprised to get Adana because of some of the requirements for this post.  We put it as a high but didn't expect to be lucky enough to get it, and therefore didn't really talk about it, let alone think about it, after S turned in the final list.  So when they called out S's name, I was overwhelmed, excited and confused all at the same time.  In fact, I was so shocked that I forgot to stand up and take a picture of him going to accept his flag.  By the time it registered with my poor brain that this was it, they were calling his name, they were already announcing a new post.  So, ultimately I ended up with a blurry picture of S accepting a Turkish flag in front of a large, projected flag of D.C.  Not my finest moment.

But the ceremony itself was fun.  The energy in the room was palpable. I was sitting with S's sister and her husband, as well as another spouse whose husband was in the class with S.  We were both nervous with anticipation, so it helped to be able to freak-out with each other. Unfortunately for her, though, that freak out lasted through the entire ceremony because her husband was the LAST to be called.  S was called about half-way through so I was at least able to breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit.  But my friend wasn't.  In the end they got their top choice, so they were extremely happy, but holy cow, what a wait!

After the ceremony I was forced to fight my way through a sea of people just to get to S and give him a big ol' hug.  He was grinning from ear to ear and his first words were, "Are you happy?"  My sweet husband, he just wanted to make sure I was happy.  Awww. 

But, like I said, I was happy!  It's an amazing country that neither one of us has ever traveled to, and we're looking forward to learning more about Turkish culture and customs.  Also, the post itself is rather tiny, so it will hopefully lend itself to a tight community atmosphere and give S the opportunity to really get elbow deep in management work that he might not have had the chance to do at a larger post.  And from what we've read online, there is a military base nearby with loads of American amenities, so if we're ever desperate for a little taste of home, we can drive 20 minutes down the road instead of hopping on the next flight out of town. 

The bottom line is we are thrilled to be going to Turkey!  S has a bit of training to look forward to, then we're off!  Adana Kabob, anyone?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Countdown

We are less than 48 hours away from Flag Day, and my subconscious definitely knows it.  For the past few days I have been having what I can only describe as "anxiety dreams."  I used to get these a lot in college after working one too many wait shifts or after studying too long for an exam.  You know those dreams...the ones where you're sitting in a classroom taking a test and you all of a sudden can't remember how to write, let alone come up with the right answer the the question at hand.  Or, you're "in the weeds" with one too many tables and they're all asking you for more tea, except you're standing there, pitcher in hand trying to remember, "what is tea?"

This time around, my dreams have me at Flag Day, sitting in the middle of an auditorium surrounded by a crowd of people and I'm hearing S's country being called out, except S is not there.  He's nowhere to be found, so I am the one walking to the front to accept the flag while hundreds of eyes stare at me quietly asking, "who the heck is that?"  Or, I'm dreaming that we're at the airport ready to fly to our still unknown destination and I can't find our tickets and passports.  I stand there pulling stuff out of my bottomless Mary Poppins bag, throwing things on the floor, but I can't for the life of me find the documents needed to actually board the plane. 

These dreams are not fun.  And to be quite honest, I don't even know why I am the one having them.  Why aren't they plaguing S?  He's the actual FSO, here! Why isn't he waking up and saying, "you wouldn't believe the dream I had last night!" It probably has something to do with one of those 13 dimensions

Well, at least my conscious and subconscious will get some relief after Friday afternoon.  Then the next wave of anxiety can set in and I can start dreaming about consumable shipments and pet quarantines.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Taking It Slow

Lately, I've found myself missing New York.  I miss my friends and neighbors, I miss my old co-workers, and I miss simple things like the park and our favorite restaurants.  But even though I find myself missing it, I am still enjoying life here in D.C.  The neighborhood is lovely, the people are interesting and fun to be around and there is SO MUCH to do and enjoy (and LOTS of it free, something you don't regularly find in NYC). 

But there is one thing I am finding it difficult to adjust to, and that is...the slow down. 

The pace of life in New York is frenetic, at best.  Nothing is ever slow and people are always moving so fast that you don't stop to realize that just about every other American city outside of New York is a bit less...well, rushed. 

For example, I was flabbergasted the first time I went to Starbucks in Foggy Bottom and the cashier actually waited for me to put the change in my purse and step aside before waiting on the person in line behind me. In New York, I could barely get the change in my hand before I heard, "NEXT!" being shouted over my shoulder as the patron reached across me to pay for their order.  It was something that disturbed me when I first moved there 10 years ago, and now I find it odd and discomforting that it's not there...

Or walking down the sidewalk...I once read a study that found New Yorkers walked at an average pace of 3.4 mph, which is apparently the 8th fastest walking city in the world.  I don't know how that compares to other cities within the United States, but I can tell you walkers in D.C. are pretty slow in comparison.  Instead of whizzing past people (and having people whiz past me in return) I find myself slowing the pace a bit.  I'm not weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic and bumping shoulders anymore.  I'm no long running down the escalator or jay-walking through crosswalks.  And you know what?  It's quite refreshing. 

There is always talk in the Foreign Service about culture shock when moving abroad, and reverse-culture shock when returning home from an overseas post, but is there such a thing as domestic culture shock?  Are there others besides me who find certain things/cultures/people/traditions (good or bad) missing from one American city to the next?  Because if I could define what I am experiencing right now, that would be it. 

One month ago I couldn't fathom a commute in 30 minutes or less, and now I have it everyday.  I couldn't imagine an apartment with luxuries like a pool and 7 closets, and yet here they are.  Or affordable groceries or living among people who were just...taking...it...slow. 

Back in New York a typical weekday afternoon consisted of me rushing out of work at 6pm, speed walking down Madison Avenue and cramming myself into the train for my long commute home, arriving at my doorstep at nearly 7pm, which thankfully left me just enough time to kiss E, bathe him, give him a bottle and put him to bed.  I was missing so much time with my family and it just all seemed so...normal.

But nowadays, I leave work  and come home in time to play with E, chat with S, walk the dog, go for a quick run, bathe E, read him bedtime stories, and help S cook dinner.  My commute home takes 25 minutes and the trains are hardly ever crowded.

The new pace is revitalizing. As much as I am missing New York, I am loving D.C  And while I am still adjusting to this new found stride, I am liking it more and more everyday.  Because who doesn't love to slow down once in a while? 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What Do First-Time Visitors Think of America?

I ran across this article in The Atlantic earlier today, and I found it quite interesting.  The article itself gets its content partly from interviews with immigrants on the radio show This American Life, and partly from a thread on a public question site, Quora.   The topic of discussion: What surprises first-time visitors to America.  You can read the full list of responses on the Quora website, but The Atlantic pulled some of the better answers to include in their article. 

While some of them seem a bit obvious (we all know the U.S. is crawling with fast food restaurants), others really made me stop and think. People in other countries really believe we live without any poverty? Someone on the public thread said he was shocked to see a homeless person while visiting Central Park because he didn't think there were homeless people in the U.S.  As much as I wish we didn't have poverty in this country, I found it baffling that people think this doesn't exist in America.   I guess pop culture and television really do a good job of giving the impression of wealth and abundance for all.

Other things, like how we actually follow traffic laws when driving, were so true they made me laugh out loud.  Even though I haven't lived in another country yet, I have traveled to plenty of  far off places that really made me question how their citizens got a license.  I mean, stop lights are there for stopping, right?  Well not always, apparently.  This is the bit made me giggle out loud:

"If you go to Cairo and rent a car (side note: don't rent a car in Cairo), you're obligated to follow the standard every-man-for-himself style if you want to get anywhere; drive like you're back in the U.S. and  you'll never leave the parking lot."

So, as a newly minted foreign service officer, S will be representing American interests and America abroad.  And as a family, we will be representing our country's culture, beliefs and common practices among various cultures and people who may never get to set foot in our country.  They will only know what the read on-line, or see in movies and television.  And because of that, we will hopefully be able to dispel some of the bigger misconceptions out there.  So maybe when or if they ever get to visit the United States, they will be more prepared for what they will find.  Because no, not everyone in New York lives in a  fancy penthouse apartment like Ross and Rachel from Friends and yes we do love and respect our families.

At the same time, living abroad will also give us the opportunity to cleanse ourselves of the preconceived notions we have about other cultures and people, and educate ourselves in the process.  We can't wait to get started.