Friday, January 2, 2015

Flag Day Nostalgia

For the first time in many months I find myself getting through my blogroll quickly, easily catching up with the new postings most days. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I spend some days in yoga pants and don't leave the house (hey, it's cold outside, and I'm on Congressionally-mandated home leave, which I sometimes interpret literally).

Anyway, I've been branching out to new blogs thanks to Life After Jerusalem and Subject Verb Object and their amazingly comprehensive blog lists. A few of the new ones I'm reading are from newly-minted FSOs and EFMs, just out of A-100 and Flag Day and still in training for their first posts. (The two today are Adventures in the Foreign Service and a B, C, D Adventure - you can tell I'm going in alphabetical order.) Reading them has me reminiscing back to those heady first days in the FS when there were so many unknowns, and everything was shiny and new. I like to think I'm not completely jaded these days and still find a lot about the FS shiny and exciting, but I definitely have lost some of that initial OMG-ness that comes with A-100.

I'm preparing to give a presentation on my FS life and travels at my grandmother's senior living community next week, which is also getting me to do research on places I've been and remember stories I've not thought or talked about in a while. Which gives me pause to remember how amazing the FS really is and how much I've seen/done/accomplished in almost five and a half years.

I spoke on the phone today to a college senior who is considering a career in international affairs and possibly the FS, connected by her aunt who works at the aforementioned senior living community. She had great questions and clearly had given a lot of thought to what to ask me that would help guide her next steps. I'll tell you what I told her - and what I tell everyone who asks, and some who don't: take the Foreign Service Officer Test. It's free, you can take it once a year, and one of two things will happen: you'll pass and get a chance to move forward in the process, or you won't pass but will learn what the test looks and feels like and be better prepared to retake it next year.

A lot of people put a lot of effort into preparing for the test, and for some that works. For me, though, I do much better when I don't over prepare. Read up on current events, brush up on international history and U.S. pop culture references through the years. If you need to study, study the thirteen dimensions that guide the selection process and what your chosen cone looks like. And be able to match your own experiences to the thirteen dimensions and your cone and be able to give specific examples. is among the best study guides out there.

All right, back to nostalgia. I like it. I can remember my own Flag Day and how much I was sweating in my suit on that hot August day in the FSI Fieldhouse (I believe Flag Days are now held in the newer, better-cooled K building). Never in a million years did I think I'd be assigned to Jeddah, though when I look back at it there was a moment in my CDO interview early on when my CDO asked if Jeddah met my preferences. I said it did and that I wouldn't mind it, but I never really thought that would translate into getting the Saudi flag a few weeks later. In an example of the small FS world, my first CDO is now a CON chief in NEA and someone I will be working with closely in my next job.

I love reading Flag Day stories because they're all unique but all so much the same as well. Most people are excited - either because they got a top choice and/or because they finally know where they're going after so much uncertainty. It's a bonding experience for an A-100 class (as is every other moment of those six weeks, but still). And it's something that every FS generalist and specialist (I think?) has in common. If nothing else, you can make small talk about Flag Day. There are few moments in life with such complete, but highly anticipated, surprise (maybe finding out the gender of a baby at birth, though few are able to resist the temptation to find out earlier these days, or where a medical student matches for residency) that have such a profound impact on your life. And for that reason I think the Flag Day tradition is pretty darn cool. I, for one, never get tired of reading/hearing about the stories. What about you?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

More DC Fun

Most of the DC touristy things I did during this round of training were while Dad was visiting, but I did get to do a few more fun things. Shopping, of course, was one of those: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Target, Crate and Barrel, the Container Store, Origins, Leesburg Outlets, and even the rundown neighborhood Safeway were all havens of post-tour bliss.

I didn't get to all of my favorite food haunts, but I did get plenty of pho, pad thai, pizza, and other goodies Uganda didn't offer (or didn't offer tasty versions of). Thanksgiving was catered by Whole Foods, which is apparently a very 'in' thing to do, judging by the massive lines to even enter the parking lot and then to collect one's order. It was yummy, a relaxing day was had by all, and plenty of TV was watched (including the parade!).

What else? I made a few trips to the Mosaic District in Merrifield, taking advantage of a lovely spa there, a very nice nail place, their Sunday farmers market, the Angelika, and - of course - Target. I met colleagues for dinner at Pentagon Row and enjoyed a bit of shopping there as well as watching the ice skaters on the lovely rink.

D and I went to the Spy Museum one weekend. I hadn't been there, and I needed to buy 'spy stuff' for my nephew for Christmas. I don't think he quite knows what a spy does, but he knows he wants to be one. And the Spy Museum is a perfect place to load up on tools of the trade for an eight year old. We also saw Rosewater at Landmark Cinema (interestingly, since the last movie I'd seen in the theater prior to that two years before was Argo).

I didn't do a whole lot of cultural outings in DC, but I did attend an entertaining ballet performance at the Kennedy Center - the Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company. It was a nice mix of traditional (Swan Lake) and more contemporary pieces, which I enjoyed. I also went to see the Celtics play the Wizards at the Verizon Center, springing for seats pretty close to the court. Before the game I enjoyed Shake Shack for dinner and wandered through the downtown holiday craft fair, which had some really nice stuff, including jewelry I couldn't resist. The game was incredible - midway through the third quarter the Celts were down by 21, and people started leaving. The Boston bench came back and tied the game and forced not one but two overtimes! Boston ended up losing by one point - it truly came down to the final buzzer - but I wasn't too upset, since the game was so phenomenally entertaining. A great show by both teams, for sure.

Let's see. That may be it. I was only there a little over a month, so I did get a good number of fun events in. I think I already blogged about FS Blogger dinner #1; I also organized FS Blogger dinner #2 with Kelly from Well That Was Different, Nicole from Kids with Diplomatic Immunity, and Gretchen from Texpatica. Such a fun night of Thai and talking.

And, the best news: all of my purchases added up to 246 lbs, which was perfect for my 250 lb UAB limit! My car was not overloaded for the long drive to NH for home leave. Well, it was pretty loaded up thanks to all the Christmas presents and cat paraphernalia, but it wasn't overloaded.

More on Christmas in NH coming soon!