Sunday, November 28, 2010

One very busy week...

This week has been truly crazy. I had intended to devote my next blogpost to housing options while training at FSI since I receive many questions on the topic, but this will turn into a mamooth post that no one will care to read. So, I promise to do that tomorrow instead. I also promise to write about the whole process of applying to join the Foreign Service in detail over the next few week.

This was possibly my busiest week in terms of hosting and entertaining ever. Last Saturday I hosted a 10-people, 5-course dinner party with close FSO folks at home, which was super fun. Then the Diplomat's sister and her family arrived on Monday night to stay with us for the holiday. On Thursday, I hosted a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner for them, the Diplomat's aunt and uncle and a good friend and a plethora of kids. Then, on Friday, we all went to Aunt and Uncle's house for a post-Thanksgiving party, where I helped to prepare a bunch of the (super-spicy) dishes. Ready to keel over from fatigue, I was really excited that a couple of great friends from NYC were in town and we were going to have dinner in downtown DC with them. Sadly, both of my babysitters had decided to have a personal life right this weekend and so we could not go out. Instead, we stayed home and had our friends over--I decided to be creative with my turkey leftovers and created the following fabulous alternative:

Thanksgiving quesadillas:
Take a flour tortilla. Spread mustard on one side and arrange pieces of the leftover turkey on one half of that side (I prefer white meat for this occasion). Top it off with leftover cranberry sauce, add some curry powder or whatever powder you fancy, and then put two thick slices of brie cheese on top. Fold the torilla in half, rub olive oil on top and stick it in a 425 degree oven for about 10 mins. It is fabulous with red wine!

I was rather surprised to learn that this past Friday was a non-vacation day in the federal world. Where the government worker vacations on a variety of splendid holidays neglected by the private world like Veteran's Day and Columbus Day, no one found it in their heart to give the day after Thanksgiving off to the poor, turkey-stuffed federal employees. I thought it was a shame and as a sign of protest stayed home that day. The Diplomat could not--he gets paid to learn bengali, while I do not, so that's OK.

Speaking of protesting, I continued to be a true rebel this weekend--as someone keeps stealing our incredibly unexciting newspaper, the Investors Business Daily, I decided to post a note at the door. The note reads: "Please, stop stealing our newspaper. It is very juvenile. Go buy your own." The Diplomat thinks it is very undiplomatic and openly juvenile. I think it is fantastic and poigniant. As a matter of fact, as I am writing this (I swear!), one of the FSOs who also lives on this floor knocked at the door on her way back home from the holidays to tell me that she loves my note. Nuff' said!

This and next week our Bangla class has individual midterm progress exams. In other words, an outside tester will come to examine each one of us to find out how much we have progressed. The Diplomat is taking himself rather seriously (he is a nerd), and has been cramming vocab and verb conjugations. Good for him. I have no illusions about my Bangla command so I prefer to spend my time elsewhere.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The world of the foreign security clearance adjudications

I am in that no-man's land in the FSO-hopeful life called adjudications. This is what that means and why I am (gently) bitter about it. After a person completes the numerous exams/hurdles and fills in piles of paper describing every minutia of her life in the past 10 years, she receives a conditional offer to join the United States Foreign Service. Yupee!
Not so fast. Several potentially daunting stages separate the not-yet-FSO from the coveted job, some of which are related to that mysterious and rather expensive process called "security clearance." As Elmo says, "Oh boy!" It is done by intimidating FBI investigators and starts with a huge questionnaire which asks various crucial details from your life like the professions of your grandparents, frequency of contact with any of your non-US "relations" as well as whether you have every tried to overthrow the US government or smoked pot.

Once you fill in the important information, a deft team of investigators begins to dig in your past. And make no mistake, they do dig. They call all the contacts you have listed, visit your former jobs (without warning anyone), run title searches, check your taxes, liens against you, credit card histories, your addresses, schools, you name it. There are no secrets to the determined "special investigators." More power to them. Someone also comes to interview the nervous FSO candidate and ask inane questions about her life.

This very important process takes about 2 weeks or so. Then the file goes to ... who knows. Someone important, I presume. Who decides whether the candidate is worthy or needs more probing. You are even given a so-called "target date for completion of the security clearance," which is exactly 3 months after its start. That target date means squat. I suspect the idea behind setting such a date is to have a ready answer for the anxious FSO wannabe when she calls every week the "security clearance customer service line" (I wonder if it is outsourced to India....??). Once the date passes and you are not yet cleared, you have clearly entered the so-called "adjudications." Whatever that means. And however long it takes. No one knows. I keep imagining that a team of omnipotent, very wise people gather every day to adjudicate. They pour over the information gathered by the mighty FBI investigators and pontificate. Then, unable to reach a final decision, they adjourn to again adjudicate the next day. In the meantime, the frustrated and enervated candidate sits at home, sends futile emails to the customer service and tries tor ead coffee beans.
You'd think that once you exit adjudications, you are officially cleared. But wait, there is more! Then you go into what they call "final suitability review." Whoa! That is awesome. Not so much. Again, not exactly clear who does that. Another omnipotent governmental body, I suppose. I wonder if they also pontificate daily, like the Supreme Court.
At any rate, one sunny, nice day, after you have just finished lunch and are feeling generally rather pleasantly predisposed towards the world and the notion of paying taxes, your security clearance is over and you are free to serve in the Foreign Service. No one tells you that, however. Unless you ask. So much fun.
So, do you think now that the FSO hopeful has top security clearance, she can freely join the Foreign Service? Of course not! Right then and there, she is placed on a very important list called "the Register." In some other future post, I will tell you all about THAT roller-coaster ride.

So, I am currently in the stage of adjudication. I suppose the fact that I have a dual citizenship and a pile of foreign relatives is not helping much. It definitely is playing a role since one of my friends, who was interviewed by the sharp FBI minds, told me that the investigator looked her straight in the eye and quietly asked her if she was aware that I was originally from Bulgaria. Trying not to burst into laughter, she confirmed that yes, indeed, she was aware of that. Oh well, once there is some movement on the security clearance front, I will inform you promptly.

My sister in law and her family, which includes two twin girls aged 7, are flying in tonight from California to visit us for the holidays. They are all quite smitten by Son (can you blame them??) and have insisted on taking him off our hands for the next one week. God bless them!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Ode to the FSI Daycare facility

I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the Foreign Service daycare facility and how fabulous it is! These people have made Son so happy and my life so easy plus I get so many questions on the subject that I decided to summarize the info.

1. It is right on the premises of FSI and the shuttles that take FSOs from their housing buildings to FSI in the mornings stop right in front of the daycare to drop off the eager FSO Diplotots. No, you DO NOT need a carseat to get on the bus (unless you have a miniscule baby and want to take the carseat with you). There will always be a spot for you and your child to sit since no one wants a screaming kid at 7.30am on the bus.
2. It is open from 7.20 am to 5.30 pm, which is more than enough given your FSO schedule during training, and they can care for your (forgotten) child as late as you need them to (for the appropriate price, of course!)
3. The staff is very international and appropriately educated.
4. They are incredibly loving towards the children and cater to their whims within reason.
5. They will work with you on potty training, biting issues, sleep issues, food issues, whatever little unique "things" your kiddo has, they can accomodate. And be nice about it.
6. It accepts kids from (what it seems) birth to pre-K.
7. It is relatively inexpensive (then again, I hail from NYC, so my gauge is a tad different than that of someone coming from Ohio or, say, returning from Vietnam).
8. It has great outdoor space and weather permitting, the kids are always playing outside in the afternoon.
9. The kids are entertained in all kinds of ways during the day, including crafts, music, book-reading, counting and other activities including materials that in the evening I desperately try to get out of Son's clothes.
10. You get to meet many other FSOs dropping off their kids and form some realy cool friendships that way, especially when your kid has beaten up/been smitten by another kid.
11. They provide breakfast and lunch and snacks for the kids, and you KNOW that is awesome (my least fav thing in NYC was scrambling to provide an interesting and nutritious lunch for Son in the morning before sending him off to daycare).
12. They have pie socials for parents every month.

The only issue is: You MUST reserve a spot way in advance--there is huge demand and you need to act ASAP you know an offer for a A-100 class is forthcoming. It will only cost you $50 in deposit fees and remove the hassle of trying to find a nearby daycare option. Their number is 703 302 7501.

So, I hope I have answered all your questions on the subject. Should anyone have any more questions, let me know and I will try to answer them. And btw, if anyone needs a pediatrician recommendation, I can give you that too.

In other news, Son has picked up a new fashion--he now wants to wear different shoes on each foot. Nothing will make him change his mind. His choice is not always unreasonable--yesterday, his right shoe matched his pants, and his left show--his shirts. Sometimes, in a decisive break with his Indian roots, he even sleeps in his shoes. I have to say that I love his firm stance on his own fashion.

Also lately, whenever he sees me or the Diplomat disrobed, he runs to us, touches the bare bums and screams with delight, "RAINBOW!!!" Um, what?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A BBQ Fiasco and a Bed, Bath and Beyond splurge

After a busy Saturday which ended up with another heated game of Taboo (men vs. women, which the men badly lost), the Diplomat and I decided to go to a pretty local park and BBQ. We envisioned hours of gazing into each others eyes, holding hands while watching our prodigy frolicking in the grass and delighting us with his angelic smile and cherubic laughter, the meat sizzling on the grill and abundant family happiness gagging those passing by us.
After shopping for provisions at Harris Teeter, the Diplomat made the fatal mistake of buying 2 fresh out of the oven baguettes, which I proceed to eat ravenously in the car on the way to the park. BY the time we got there, I was not hungry anymore.
Once we got there, we faced another problem: the charcoal required paper to be ignited (we have brought an entire issue of the Financial Times for the purpose), but the paper needs to be saturated with "vegetable oil." I have forgotten said oil. After giving me blood-curdling look (so much for the gazing thing), the Diplomat leaves to forrage for flammable material. I continue my meager attemps to light the damn charcoal by stacking twigs around it, while Son prances around me and tries to stick his hands in the fire. Finally, I manage to produce a small flame, which requires my absolutely undivided attention. At that moment, Son announces he needs to go "poopy." I say good-bye to the budding flame and go to help. Since I was not entirelly convinced I was supposed to leave his, um, results lying in the grass but was also unwilling to pack them up for the time being, I decided to cover it with a napkin. Son, however, was having nothing of the kind--he produly screeched all over the park, "BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG POOOOOOOOPPYYYY" and even pointed out the napkin to passers-by. I scuttled back to the grill, only to discover that my tiny flame was all gone.
Luckily, the Dipomat then came back, proudly bringing lighter fluid. We generously douse the coal with it and all of a sudden, with a loud "whoosh" the coal is on fire. For 12 seconds. Then it is all out again. We douse again (yes, I KNOW we are not supposed to do that--we were a wee bit desperate at the time, ok?), and then again. With a resentful hiss, the charcoal always went off. I think it was bullet proof.
Defeated, we returned home and grilled out on the gas grills in our building's courtyard. Then I put Son to bed and took a nap myself--family time is exhausting!

All in all, the weekend was very satisfying. We spent another pantload at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but worry not, I saved an entire $7.50 thanks to coupons! What is it about BB&B? Have you noticed that every time you go there, you get so lost in all the neatly arranged merchandise, that you walk dazed among the shiny kitchen gadgets and think--"Potato ricer! Dear Lord, how ever did I manage to live my life without it?? Ahh! Little corn holders--a MUST have for a decent household! Egg rings--I have no idea what those are for but I feel I ought to just have them!" and then you leave the store as a proud owner of a new pasta-making machine, tortilla press, asparagus peeler, lemon reamer and herb scissors and wonder what just happened. I promise will not go back for at least a month. Only then I can afford to return for a second look at that mango splitter.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rise of the Machines

Today I had all the machines in my house do work for me: I was running both the washer and the dryer with our weekly laundry, while at the same time the dishwasher was humming pleasantly along, the breadmaker was making the Diplomat's favorite bread, and I was sitting down, ironing the first load of the laundry while watching a DVR-ed episode of "Grey's Anatomy." Yes, I live in robot-dreamland and I love it. I had 7 machines working for me at the same time, and while I was following the clearly realistic and not at all implausible pre-recorded drama on TV, it occurred to me that in just a few months I will go on to live in a place where many of my robot best friends will not be available. The things we do to serve our country...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Not THAT young, apparently

It is amazing the difference just a few years can make in your age. Last night I hosted a particularly successful dinner party as a good-bye to one of the Diplomat's colleagues who is leaving for Niger in a couple of weeks.
The party must have been good since the last guests left at 3 am. And this is where age hit me badly--at 1.30 am, I had to excuse myself from the chatty Fledgling Diplomats and hit the sack. I could barely keep my eyes open. Back in my student days, I would have been able to stay and drink all night. Maybe that was because I spent a considerable part of the afternoon making chicken biryani, or that I drank a considerable amount of white wine, followed by a martini. Who knows. But it was fabulous to have a dinner table full of very smart Fledgling Diplomats and have a particularly intellectual conversation about buying sundries overseas, shipping your car and the budget for representational dinners. I think the State Department will be very happy with me once we go to post as I intend to utilize that budget to the maximum.
This morning Son woke up at 7 (which was great because after the summer time change, he was waking up at 5.30am for a couple of mornings), and soon came to our bed to jump around in it and on top of us while the Diplomat and I laid there comatose and sleep deprived. While Fat Cat frowned upon this frivolous conduct, Son was quite happy and did not mind our relative unresponsiveness. This is good parenting, no?

This has been a pleasant and quite warm week, where I even managed to play some tennis. It would have been even better if Mr. No, aka Son, really stops the habit of saying NO to everything, or repeating what he wants 578932854 times, or waking up every morning requesting to watch Elmo immediately (something he has NEVER been allowed to do before), or simply tossing his milk/food/cup/plate/snack on the floor as a sign of protest (not clear to what). And the worst part is that I cannot keep a straight face to scold him since every time he has screwed up, he stands with a semi-scared expression on his face, not sure whether I will be mad or not. The expression is hilarious and often I burst into laughter, which I presume cannot be very educational?

The good news is that it is Veteran's Day and for the first time in his life, the Diplomat has the day off. Son has been chanting "outside" for a good 15 mins now, so I suppose we will have to brave the whole wild world out here in Arlington and go to the park.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I am a young lady!

There is nothing more refreshing than going to the (hot) doctor and him calling you "young lady" on a rainy day. So, I was pretty happy yesterday about that. I was also very happy that I did not have a strep throat, which is what Son currently has.
Son, by the way, has entered a pretty crappy stage in his life where almost every answer from him is a "no." He sounds worse than the Catholic church, frankly:
Me: Hey, would you like some milk?
Son: No.
Me: Do you want some water?
Son: No
Me: Do you want a banana?
Son: No
Me: Do you want to play with mommy?
Son: No
Me: Are you mommy's boy?
Son: No
Me: I am getting a bit frustrated here!
Son: No
Me: Do want to go outside to play?
Son: No
Me: Do you want to stay inside?
Son: No
Me: What do you want, intractable child???
Son: No
Me: I am leaving?
Son: OK, OK, OK!!!

He did hand me one nice surprise however: yesterday, I told him to go to the bathroom and take of his shoes in anticipation of his bath. After some serious banging and shuffling coming from there, I poked my head in to see him sitting primly on a very eschewed child potty seat, his pants pulled down, huge grin on the face, peeing happily. Wow. He has never previously indicated an ability to 1. pull down his pants and underwear, 2. climb on the toilet on his own. I must be an awesome mom!

Bengali studies at the fabulous Foreign Services Institute are not going so well for me. This past week our topic of learning was shopping, so we spent the whole week reading large, incomprehensible texts about shopping around Eid, prices of various types of fish (whose names I strongly suspect we are supposed to know), and how everything is just going up. I just don't think I have it in me to read one more article about the shocking rise in prices of the banana fish before and after New Year's day, or another comprehensive description of a Dhaka market. I think the worst part of Bengali articles is that half of them are in English but with Bengali script--so you spend 2 minutes reading a long word that sounds like this "dee-dja-een" or "be-do-ko-bhar" only to realize that they mean "design" and "bedcover." Then you feel stupid while the rest of class snickers.

And one last piece of very exciting news is that I bought pretty shower curtains for both bathrooms here, both of them on sale! Nothing quite like it, eh?

A couple of blogs of Foreign Service folks who have just landed in Dhaka have posted pictures of their housing. Guess what is the one unifying feature of them all...they are ALL BEIGE! So, my new colorful shower curtains are coming with me next year.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Molodetz, I Passed Russian! And Happy Halloween!

So, the good news is that I have passed the neurotic Russian oral test I took last week. Which makes me feel pretty darn good about myself. The downside of my prep work on the subject is that I keep dreaming in Russian. Not gut.

Anyways, this past week I took a break from my crazy and meaningless work project and devoted myself exclusively to Bangla, the Diplomat, Son and, to a lesser extent, Fat Cat. That meant:

(1) leaning copious amounts of particularly useful Bengali words like "jollopropat" (waterfall), "Bhumodoshagor" (Mediterranean Sea), or "daba" (chess). I can just picture myself, standing at a dainty Dhaka diplomatic soiree, drinking tea in an evening dress, discussing the merits of waterfalls, trips to the Mediterranean and the local chess competitions. I do believe that my Bengali proficiency in a variety of topics will be impressive.
(2) Cooking food
(3) Picking up Son from the FSI daycare, which has been wonderful. Thanks to the good weather, I discovered that Son has cultivated a highly refined taste in modern music. On Tuesday, I went to pick him up and had the top of my convertible down thanks to the lovely October weather. We started driving slowly home, while I was blasting Creedence on the radio and wondering about the quality of my parenting style. Soon I heard Son screeching something from the back and freaked out, quickly turned down the music and turned around to see what was going on. Only to see the child throwing his arms high in the air, huge smile on the face, making some sounds (I suspect he was singing), clearly enjoying the ride. Then he looked at me sternly, pointed to the radio and demanded "more!" Well, child, be my guest, and I turned up Creedence again.

(4) Petting Fat Cat occasionally and engaging in yet another futile attempt to cut his (very) sharp nails.
I am proud to say that I spent over 2 hours at Target one evening along with my good friend and EFM Mrs. Hawaiian, until the store actually closed, under the pretext of searching for Halloween costume for Son. Here is my philosophy on that one--Halloween is a scary holiday and so costumes should be of scary things. Son had to be a devil (if you read this blog regularly, you'd know why and agree). I personally own 2 witch hats and horrible looking, CVS-bought witch dress. I have managed to convince the Diplomat to wear a Dracula cape. We make for a very diabolical family.
This weekend revolved around Halloween, and I would like to share some thoughts on that one. On Friday night, we went to meet our fabulous friends M&M in Eastern Market, to see the local festivities. On Sunday afternoon, we also took a stroll in Georgetown where Son engaged in his first Trick or Treat experience. Now, I understand the drive for originality that some parents have, but, for the love of Pete, what exactly are you trying to say when your child's costume is a laundry basket with actual dirty clothes hanging from it? My guess is that you just airing out your dirty laundry while at the same time saving money on an actual costume. Or how about the kid whose costume was one giant LEGO block? Now THAT's exciting, no? Trick or Treat, I am a LEGO block--oh, hm, yeah, very nice, here are mini Tweezlers for you. Then again, maybe the child's dream WAS to be a giant LEGO block one day. Who am I to judge...

Otherwise, Georgetown was wonderful and Son had a fabulous time T or T-ing. I admit that the Diplomat and I were a bit unsure about the whole process at the beginning. Since we both did not grow up in the US but in poor developing countries, the notion that random people will give you free candy just for the asking was practically unsettling. We stood there, scratching ourselves pensively, pretending to be just scoping out the scenery. Mercifully, a giggly pile of kids practically overran us and started ringing doorbells left and right around us. So, we channeled our inner naturalized American and encouraged Son to procure candy. Which he fiercely did. The problem was that he insisted on eating each and every candy he got, and he would not move to the next house until it was all eaten. After the first three chocolate bars, we had to stop and explain the procedure to him and handed him the bag, promising rich rewards later.

I was also somewhat taken aback by the abundance of 30-something year old trick-or-treaters. I have to say that if was at home, handing out candy to kids, and a 35-year old, 250-lbs angel with a beard or yet another unsexy nurse comes to my door, I might just refuse to give up the candy and poignantly eat it myself.

All in all, I Halloween was awesome! Boo!