Thursday, March 29, 2012

The first iPhone post

So I bit the bullet and got a new toy yesterday, so we'll see how this works out. I'm blogging from my fancy new iPhone 4s, which does all sorts of amazing things I don't know about yet (I'm assured). One thing it does have going for it that my previous droid did not is world wide portability. With an unlock-able sim card, I can take this baby anywhere I go and have access to the local network (even my phone number is still active with Verizon).

Plus, I now have instagram, which lets me to take pictures that look way cooler than my abilities would usually allow.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Scooter Weather

I'm now entering my third spring season in D.C. and I still haven't gotten used to the amazingness that is a real change in the seasons. Seattle is a beautiful place to live, and the summers there are indeed tough to beat, but the transition from one season to the next is gradual and anticlimactic. Kinda rainy to more rainy to really rainy back to not so rainy. And the cycle begins again. And while we have true seasons where I grew up, on the dry side of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, there are very few deciduous trees to burst back to life and the arid climate tempers down some of the greenness. But here in the swampy mid-Atlantic, spring seems to happy so suddenly. One day everything is dead and brown, and seriously, a week or two of sunny days and suddenly there is grass, and flowers, and leaves, and blossoms. Everywhere!

Here you can see the progression from brown trees, to slightly green grass, to full blown blossoms. I've been able to get out on the bike a few times, as well as out on Bella, my trusty Vespa. I can't believe I've been a scooter owner for over two years, but she now has over 700 miles and a freshly renewed DC registration. I'm hoping that wherever the foreign service decides to send me, I'll be able to take Bella with me, though the thought of scooting through a chaotic African market or a packed Asian city makes me more than a bit nervous. I don't think I have those skills, (a topic discussed humorously in this article by former FSO Dave Seminara titled "10 tips to avoid breaking your neck or your budget on a moped"). So in the mean time I'll just enjoy the spring weather here in DC and get as many scooting/biking days in while I can.

Friday, March 16, 2012

photo a day

While reading this blog I came across a simple but brilliant idea being facilitated by this blog. Take a photo each day using simple themes as inspiration, and then post the photos on your own website, twitter, pinterest, etc. To fill up some space and give me something to think about besides my impending future, I thought I'd give it try, starting today.

And get the creative juices flowing, I used a few of my past photos for the first four days in March. 

                                            1. Up                                                                               2. Fruit
                                          4. Bedside                                                            3. My Neighborhood 

The themes for the rest of the Month are:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Blogging in the Foreign Service

My early years as a Peace Corps blogger - circa 2006

While I haven't started A-100* quite yet, I might now officially consider myself a "Foreign Service Blogger." Having already been a "Peace Corps Blogger," I'm well aware of some of the dos and don'ts of putting things out there for the world to see as an official representative of the United States. But, with the FS**, the stakes are much bigger and my representation much more official. That black passport does more than just get you into the short line at airport customs, it means that you are a representative of the United States in your official AND personal interactions with the outside world.

So I've been thinking about what this will mean as I transition my writing from a civilian considering and pursuing life in the FS to actually living and walking the life everyday. There are hundreds of FS bloggers out there right now, and I've been incredibly thankful for their candid accounts of life as FSOs. I hope that by continuing to write about the ups, downs, and mundanes, I can pay it forward just a little. In this vain, I've created a list on the right of the FS blogs that I follow in my google reader, each offering their own perspective on life as an FSO or FS family member. Also, recognizing that there are many many things which will need to go unsaid here, I'll link to an article written by one of the more active FS bloggers about how to continue writing a blog that is interesting and entertaining without putting your job/life/U.S. policy in jeopardy.

So in the coming weeks, as I receive all my paperwork and get my head wrapped around the next steps, I'll fill in some of the blanks of what happens next. I'll also be transitioning out of the job that I've had and very much enjoyed for the past 2.5 years, so I'm sure there will be reflections to be had there. All of that aside, it's also spring, so there will be Cherry Blossoms to enjoy and other outdoor activities to be experience, hopefully with some accompanying photos to share. Peace!

*A-100 - The course officially known as the "Orientation for Foreign Service Officers" is the 6-week class all new foreign service officers take.
** FS or FSO - Foreign Service or Foreign Service Officer. While I always attempt to refrain from going overboard on the acronyms, spelling out foreign service is just getting annoying and so from here on out I will almost always use FS or FSO. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Surprise Invitation

About 3.5 months ago I passed the final Foreign Service exam - at the time providing a thorough run-down of what the next steps would look like here. I had what I thought were pretty realistic expectations about the time and uncertainty involved in getting to the final stage of being a real, live diplomat. I expected the clearance process to take 2-3 months and then many more months of waiting until my number came up, if at all. I even very wisely assumed that I may not get called up at all, so was pursuing Russian studies both for fun and for potential bonus points.

Well, as should be expected, so far things have not gone according to my very prudent plans. My clearances took a mere 30 days, landing me on the Economic register in mid-December. I was nervous that starting my 18 month clock on the register so soon wouldn't allow me enough time either to work my way up the list as others got called up or expired, or to learn Russian well enough to earn bonus points. If I had guessed at that time, I would have said I had pretty much a zero chance of getting an invitation before September 2012, perhaps July as a stretch.

So I was shocked beyond belief when I received an email from the FS Registrar inviting me to the May 21st class of Foreign Service Officers, informally known as A-100. I had just got off a red-eye flight from a lovely weekend in Seattle, so it took a couple of days just to absorb the fact that I had been invited, and a couple more to confirm that, yes, I did want to accept. But, I did send off my acceptance. So it's official, I will be starting my career with the Foreign Service in about 2.5 months.

I will have to go into the details of A-100 another time, but the short story is that on May 21st I start the A-100 class, which is about 6-weeks long. Around week 4 you find out where your first country posting will be, which determines what additional training you will need. Most new FSOs then spend another 4-6 months in D.C. in various skill and language training before shipping off to their new homes and their first tours. So my official timeline, updated on the left, ends up leaving my about 1 week shy of year between taking the written test and starting A-100, warp-speed in State Department terms.

Stay tuned.

Lake Wenatchee in Washington State- days before learning that I would soon be a new FSO. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How a tweet got me to the White House (or This is What Democracy Looks Like)

This post is long overdue, but still something worth sharing.

Sometimes living in D.C. gets a little surreal. I've already covered my activities around Christmas, where I got to enjoy a couple Embassy parties and sit up near the front for the National Christmas Tree lighting. No biggie, just the norm around these parts. This past year I've also been lucky enough to eat Presidentially-Sealed cake and personally meet the Secretary of the Interior and other high level officials across the government. While there are plenty of downsides to living "inside the beltway," these brushes with importance are fun perks.

Topping off all of my brushes with power experience was a random invitation received a couple of weeks ago. After following @Whitehouse on Twitter and contributing a tweet to the President's social media blitz on the payroll tax cut debate, I was invited to the White House (well, technically the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) to attend an address by the President on the issue. Having watched every single episode of West Wing over a period of several months after arriving in D.C., hearing that announcement "Please Stand for the President of the United States of America" was pretty thrilling. The speech itself was memorable for it's strong stand for equity, but also for his opening line acknowledging the day  - "Obama offers Valentines Day Advice."

The President of the United States of America

My seat, pretty close if you ask me

The day after my visit to the White House, my parents arrived for a visit from Washington State, and as a good host/daughter I had arranged all sorts of activities for us to do while they were in town. While I decided to take that Friday off of work, Thursday I still had a lot to do, so I sent them over to do the standard White House tour, which I had done with my mom a few years prior. As I was sitting at my desk, diligently working on some memo or another while occasionally scanning my twitter feed for interesting updates (see above for why twitter is a good idea) I saw a news flash that the First Lady was surprising White House guests at that very moment. And they were live-streaming it on! So I tuned in to watch as Michelle Obama and the dog Bo greeted visitors. I wasn't sure if I had missed my family going through, but sure enough, about 8 minutes in there they were, live, meeting the first lady and the first dog! You can see the press release and whole video here -

Read and Mom get to meet Michelle and Bo Obama at White House. 
So it was a great week for me and my family to get up and personal with the Commander in Chief and his family!