Sunday, January 30, 2011

The difficult art of sharing

This has been a pleasant weekend, filled with happy activities for Son. Who would not share. For any promised benefits. Under any threats. Whether or not the person requesting the sharing is his best friend or an attractive stranger. The answer is a firm and whiny "no." On Saturday afternoon, after his nap, the Diplomat and I took the bouncing-off-the walls child to Barnes and Noble, where the good people of B&N have set a train table with tracks and wooden trains of the Thomas variety. Hundreds of children get to play with them on a daily basis and in the process wipe their snotty noses/drooling mouths on the unsuspecting trains in a happy and endless exchange of winter germs. Barely recovered after a week of debilitating flu, the Diplomat and I stared meekly at the bacteria-infested train table and then at Son, who was holding a train in one hand and a muffin in the other, and then simply gave up. Son needs to build immunity after all, right? Both of us had dragged Bangla homework in the hopes that while Son plays idyllically with some new-found train buddies, we can study. Not so much. 5 minutes into the visit, Son immediately took possession of the only three trains on the table and hoarded them in his hands (which already had 2 cars of his private collection in them). Anybody's attempt to wring out A train from his cold, stiff hands was met with unadulterated hostility and outright displeasure at the audacity. Utterly embarrassed under the reproachful gaze of mommies-whose-children-apparently-share-everything, I proceeded to loudly explain to him how he really needs to share. He flatly refused and poignantly took the trains behind a column of children's books, where he sulkily hid for almost 2 minutes. He re-emerged and through some (rather cruel) threats, involving the fate of his entire car collection at home, he reluctantly gave up one of his trains to a boy waiting at the table. His facial expression suggested that we might as well have been removing his liver for donation.
And on Sunday morning, I took Son to the Washington, DC Building Museum to see the LEGO exhibit and create some mischief with his best buddy E, while I chatted about nothing with his parents M&M. It was our first time in the museum and I have to whole-heartedly give it huge thumbs-up!! It is heaven for children--it has a so-called "Building Zone," which houses all types of building-type toys for kids, including the ubiquitous train table, a play house, blocks of all sizes and what have you happy children paraphernalia. A lot of that stuff gets taken out of the play area into the main area of the museum, which is one vast courtyard with a fountain the middle, where children can and were running around, screaming, laughing, pulling hair, stacking blocks, picnicking on the carpeted floors and in general having a jolly good time. We also went to the special LEGO exhibit, where the museum has provided mountains of lego pieces for everyone to construct their fancy. Son was entertained for over 20 mins without even noticing my absence--I had veered off to watch the exhibit of giant models of buildings constructed from millions of LEGO pieces by possibly really bored adults without jobs.
All was going stupendous until it was time to eat. I procured some sandwiches, a brownie and a fruit cup with the intention that the latter two will be shared by the two kids. It soon turned out that I had been rather over-optimistic. Son categorically refused to share even a single grape with his best buddy E and sat sulking in his seat. Soon Son announced that needed to go poopy. We got up from the table and M made the tactical mistake to reach out to the fruit cup while it was still in Son's sight. Freaked out by the possibility that all the soggy, sad-looking fruit will be eaten by some scruple-less people, Son immediately denied the need to go to the restroom, climbed back into his chair, pulled up the fruit cup and hurriedly and systematically began to chew each piece lest some was left behind for others to stealthily consume in his absence. Exasperated, I took the cup with us to the bathroom as he clearly needed to go. Needless to say, I discussed the concept of sharing with him ad nauseum--he simply gave me a look like I had lost my mind. To tell you the truth, I also hate sharing. Sigh...

In other news, since I got the offer to join the March A-100, I have not been able to get in touch with the person who extended the offer, or with anyone else in the registrar's office for that matter, regardless how many times I tried to call last week. And I called A LOT--any self-respecting stalker would envy my persistence. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I got my offer to join the FSI!!!

And, ladies and gentlemen, I am now the proud owner of one fabulous e-mail offer to join the United Stated Foreign Service as of March 28th, 2011. YUPEEEEEEE! THIS IS HUGE!!! I intend to accept the offer the moment there is someone out there to hear me say it--to my utter dismay, the wonderful person who extends the offers had left her office early today because of the freaky snow storm we are having, and so I have not yet confirmed with her that I am indeed joining the FSI in March. All in good time!
I feel truly honored and freakishly excited! It will be SO strange to go through FSI as part of my own class during A-100 orientation, now that I know the institute so well and when awesome events like Flag Day do not have the same adrenalin charge for me like they would for the others.

Washington, DC has been covered with inches of snow thanks to an awesome storm that has started this afternoon. All of us under the warm wing of the government cross our fingers and pray to the skies that we get to go to work/class tomorrow late. I have only recently learned about the wonderful website of the Office of Personnel Management, which helpfully informs you every morning whether the government is "OPEN" or "CLOSED." Neat-o!

The past few days have been spent in domestic recovery for me and the Diplomat, which has included heavy doses of the Australian Open (we have watched every single game of the damned tournament due to complete and utter boredom and certain love of the sport), some episodes of House Hunters International (turns out Mongolia rocks and Sweden is rather pretty), frenetic knitting (no, I am still not done with that sweater), and learning Bengali words written out on little flashcards, strewn all over the house (courtesy of Son). I am feeling better after the weekend, even though I still sound like a chain-smoking and slightly asthmatic wolf, and the Diplomat keeps coughing like a retired old lady, spending her Social Security check in the Atlantic City establishments.

The Diplomat has all of a sudden taken the matter of Bengali studying disturbingly seriously and has developed a really irritating new habit of coming up to me casually and attempting to engage me in conversation in bad Bangla. I am all for immersion, but this is pushing my language barriers. Especially when I am counting complicated patterns on an endless sweater sleeve.

Also, I wanted to alert those of you living in the capital city area that even though Restaurant Week wrapped up this weekend, many places have extended the deal for this week as well. Check out here which restaurants are participating. I actually did go out last week to try out the menu at one of the participant restaurants, and joined a friend for dinner at the West End Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton. I even dressed up the part, combed my hair and showed up practically on time. Apparently, my friend omitted to make a reservation, and after a futile 10 minutes at the bar, the hostess came up to us and told us about two VERY interesting and hot places she had for us, if we wanted them. She kept assuring us that the places were quite unique and offer interesting views--well, they sure did, they were at the countertop of the cooking kitchen...So, there I was, in my fancy short dress, high heeled boots, combed hair and all, happily hoping to escape the notion of a kitchen altogether, perched on a barstool at the kitchen countertop, watching clumsy boys toss salads and roast steaks and what have you, while two obnoxous portly fellas were yelling incomprehensible orders to them. Was it hot? Sure, esppecially since we were seated right underneath the heating lamps for the food. Was it interesting? Yeah, if you find the process of demystifying complicatedly arranged food plates interesting. But mostly, it was smelly. Very, vey smelly. To top it all, my friend (who is my age) was not allowed to order wine since she had forgotten her ID at home but I did not even get carded. How's THAT for an insult...

Well, I am off to digest my new awesome news and some bubbly and to keep on knitting the last parts of the sleeve. My next post with be the next installment to the How to Become a FSO series, dealing with the QEPs.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We are sick

You have got to love winter and all the bacteria and viruses that it brings. First the Diplomat was sick on and off for 2 weeks, and then two days ago I finally fell victim to whatever cold/flu he had. I suppose this is one of the many perils of marriage and cohabitation--whatever one of you has, the other one promptly gets.
As a result, our house looks like it has been a war zone--zillions of half-used tissues, pills and syrups are lying all over the place, accompanied by trillion matchbox cars, building blocks, paper and crayons all over the living room floor (because none of us has the power to make Son gather them and dag them to his room), topped by two very morose-looking parents and one extremely energetic 2 and a half year old, asking to go out every 2 minutes and pretty much bouncing off the walls. And, of course, this HAD to be the day when our potty-trained Son decided to poop in his undies during his afternoon nap and I had to clean it while suppressing the urge to cough my brains out in the process.
I was supposed to go to a US Protocol Abroad class this weekend, but by some divine intervention it turned out that I was wait-listed and did not actually get into the class. So, I was free to stay at home and mope around, tying to deflect Son's endless requests to draw him an airplane, train and a cat. The only upside--I have been furiously knitting a sweater that I started a year ago but never finished due to its immense complexity. I am happy to say that it is almost over--I am in the middle of the second sleeve. I can freely state that I will NEVER undertake to knit another monster project like this in my life! Ever!
Ok, I feel a bit dizzy now so I will use the fact that Son has roped in the Diplomat to chase him around his room and take a nap.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A night of wild mommies and the quest for a date

This past Tuesday I went out to a little playdate of my own, along with three other lovely FSO spouses--we were sending one of them off to Mexico City, where her husband will be a Foreign Service Specialist (meaning, he has some mad engineering skills and will help keep the joint together). We went out to a local place, called the FrontPage, at around 6.30 pm to catch more of the Happy Hour. We all told our husbands that we might not be home to tuck in the kids but will definitely be home by 9 pm. By 11.30 pm, still going strong, after a rowdy game of Bar Trivia, many happy hour drinks, a birthday cake and a hockey game over, someone suggested that we MIGHT consider going home. Apparently, we all have agreed since we all woke up in our own beds the next day. I did it at 5.30 am, since Son decided the world is too fabulous and interesting of a place for him to sleep any further and miss any moments of its happening. I decided to go to his room and try to make him sleep by lying in his bed--feeling guilty from the previous night of "Mommies Gone Wild" episode, I had concluded that it was crucial for us to bond. And bond we did, right then and there, me partially asleep on Son's twin bed and Son running cars and trains over the length of my head and body, squealing in delight. At 6.30 am, I lifted my listless body and dragged myself for 5 hours of happy Bangla.

On Sunday night, we were supposed to host a couple of very good friends from my graduate school (SIPA). Since the husband has the rep of somewhat of a foodie, and I had never hosted them before, I had decided to shine (among other gems) with my best appetizer out there--dates stuffed with goat cheese. That's all very nice, but the whole shining thing sort of fizzles when one cannot find dates. I checked at my trustee Harris Teeter (for those living in Ballston--get a VIC card, you'd love it!)--nothing. Grudgingly, I then drove to the local Safeway, where a 15 year-old cashier told me with very strong Spanish accent, "I duh-no kaarrrrrrrri de deitz." Slightly alarmed and wondering whether there has been some date-eating festival lately, I decided to go to Whole Foods, a store with which I wholly disagree but surely would have dates. At the traffic light, I all of a sudden noticed a Lebanese grocery shop, immediately made a stop and burst in eager expectation of heaps of dates. The only dates that I found there were packaged by Ocean Spring in Florida. Slightly disturbed by that, I hopped back into the car and battled the traffic in downtown Clarendon to try and squeeze into the insignificant parking lot in front of Whole Foods. The crowd of yuppees ready to pay crazy money for tiny jars of wordly foods was oppressive and its effect was compounded by the fact that for some inexplicable reason, cars could enter the parking lot only through the very end, rather than through whichever row they chose (which would be so much more convenient and accessible). That made things particularly congested, so when all of a sudden a car pulled out right in front of me, I sort of cut through the crap and immediately took the spot. The yuppeed went ballistic with the honking, and a hurried and VERY concerned parking-control dude ran towards me and told me that I just done a wrong thing. I neatly replied that I knew that but in the name of less traffic, can't he just let it go. He again, with a VERY grave expression, told me that I had broken the rules, and I asked, with a noticeable irritation in the voice, whether that was TRULY that important to him and whether he wanted me to shop there at all. He seemed a stickler for the complicated parking rule and did not appear like he was going to let go, so I angrily and for good measure slammed the car door, pulled the car out from the spot and with 36 maneuvers (the lot was crammed with cars), got out and sped away from the wholly impossible place. My last hope was Giant, where I finally found the precious fruit. For the record, their parking lot was HUGE and rather empty. Go Giant! The appetizer was the usual success.
This is a short week thanks to the MLK day and the fact that the government recognizes the need to celebrate it. 4-day weeks make Bangla so much more palatable.

The Diplomat and I also realized that we had completely stopped our cultural development and promptly bought tickets to the opera. We will be seeing Madama Butterfly in March!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

EXTRA: I got my security clearance!

I am incredibly tickled to share with you that I was granted top security on Tuesday! With this, chances are that I will be joining the May class at FSI. Problem 1 for Year 2011 solved!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to become a Foreign Service Officer: Part II--how to prepare for the FSOT

Last night was every parent's worst nightmare. Around 3 am, we were woken up by some plaintive cries for "mama" from Son's room. Since I am such a great mom, I immediately woke up a very disoriented and disheveled Diplomat and told him to go into Son's room while he was gesticulating incoherently at me go to there instead. Finally, he went and appeared to be trying to procure water for the child. Then it sounded like he was taking him into the living room for no reason at all besides continuing to be very disoriented. Knowing that was a bad idea and will only serve to wake up Son more, I immediately got up and went to his room to find both of them sitting forlornly on Son's bed. All of a sudden, the Diplomat shrieked, "There is blood all over his face!!!" Freaked out, I grabbed the child who was indeed bleeding profusely from somewhere for no apparent reason. In the darkness, it appeared that his mouth was filled with blood but after some frantic search on his face, it turned out that his nose was gushing blood like a faucet.

In the ensuing circus, all family members took their due part--I was confusedly trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding, alternating between barking orders at the even more disoriented Diplomat, and cooing at the crying Son trying to stuff some cotton in his nostril while he was trying to take it out. The Diplomat was running back and forth between the kitchen, the bedroom and the bathrooms fetching cotton balls, paper towels, books on child rearing filled with super useful advice, water, ice packs, ice cubes without a plastic bag, ice cubes wrapped in saran wrap (???), more paper towels. Son kept on screaming clearly frightened by the blood running into his mouth. And finally, Fat Cat decided it would be in every one's best interest and well being if he just tried to sit in my lap along with the frantic Son and purr demurely. After 10 mins of pure chaos, we finally read what to do--here it is for your benefit:

How to stop a toddler (and assuming everyone else's) nose bleed:
1. Press both sides of the nose bridge with your fingers
2. Tilt the head forward so that the blood does not flow into the throat (but will drip happily onto the white polyester carpet never to be washed off again)
3. Try to apply ice (which the child will desperately try to get rid of)
4. Keep telling the child how great he is doing, what a hero he is, how tomorrow you will tell everybody how awesome he has been--anything to stop his crying as that will tend to increase the blood flow
5. Read a book for him or put him up to watch a movie--anything to keep him upright
6. Go crazy for the next two hours as he refuses to go back to sleep and demands more books to be read, more water to be drank and more mommy sleeping in his bed while he grins widely in your face all night long.
7. Collapse half-unconscious in your own bed at 5.30 am.
8. Go late to Bangla class.
We still don't know why his nose bled--whether he fell from the bed or something else. It was a really scary experience. He is 100% a-ok today.

Now, as promise, detailed information on How to prepare for the FSOT:

I was almost as scared when I took the FSOT as I was last night. The exam has 4 sections: so-called Job Knowledge, English reading comprehension and grammar, a behavioral interview equivalent and an essay.

1. Job Knowledge--this section tests your knowledge of American society, politics and political system, government, culture, health care system and some current events; world geography and history, economics and math and stats.
(a) The math and stats are really easy and I think all you need to do to prepare is revise how to do averages and percentages mostly.

(b) I spent a huge amount of time learning world history using the AP World History prep book. Big mistake. There were about 3 questions on the subject and none had anything to do with Alexander the Great or the Mogul Empire. Most of the them dealt with fairly recent (past 50-60 years) events. Know major world political events and currents and you will be fine.
(c) I found the American part the most difficult--it tended to ask obscure questions from all areas mentioned above. I strongly suggest knowing the Constitution including ALL amendments by heart, and read some commentary on its content. Use also the following books
American Government, Cliff's Notes, CLEP American Government, Barron's AP U.S. Government and Politics, and whatever else you find in you friendly Barnes and Noble. All of these books have practice tests in the back--take them all and time yourself! As far as American culture goes--well, you either know it or not! My test had questions on jazz, art and popular trivia even. Go figure...
(d) World geography--it is highly likely that a question in this category will be placed in a historical context (like, what is Siam?). Facebook has a cool application where it gives you world geography quizzes, which helps you learn some obscure capitals. Do this for fun while you cram the unpalatable chunks of American governmental system.

2. Biographical section. I cannot stress enough the importance of this section. People tend to overlook it. DON'T! Know your professional and educational history by heart; prepare numerous examples to standard behavioral questions. Practice writing them out under time pressure. Shocking amount of people fail this part of the test. Some of the questions are odd--think outside the proverbial box!

3. English. I found this section to be the easiest. I did not prepare at all for it as I felt that my command of the English language was stupendous (do NOT feel at liberty to post some snarky comments on this subject, please!). I actually thought I had aced the section, I thought it was really easy. I had not. I remain puzzled. For those who are less full of themselves, some suggestions for prep are: Barron's AP English Language and Composition, Cracking the AP English Language & Composition Exam and the like. Read only the reading comprehension part, and practice, practice, practice!

4. The Essay! Dreaded, feared, badly prepared for, underrated essay. The sad truth is that many conquer the rest of the test and fail miserably the essay for lack of proper prep. The essay will be on a random, although fairly relevant subject. Wiki FSOT had a great site for this section, which also gives you 18 sample topics for practice. It also recommends using the "Five paragraph essay" style, with which I wholeheartedly agree. The most important advice I can give you on the essay is PRACTICE UNDER TIME PRESSURE UNTIL YOU DROP UNCONSCIOUS. Time is the biggest enemy in this section and you can master it only if you practice for at least 2-3 weeks every day prior to the exam. Unless you are awesome, in which case more power to you. Thanks to practicing obsessively, I managed to finish with time to spare and managed to spellcheck. Please, keep in mind that sometimes ACT (who administers the test), will make you write two essays (who knows what they are experimenting with). Only one gets graded.

In conclusion, I can tell you that you can do this! Many people ask how much time one needs--clearly, it depends on your prior knowledge, commitment and attention span. For the average committed person, whose attention span is not that of a fruit-fly, I think 2-3 months of intensive study is good enough. Department of State sells a guide to the test for $2o, which you can download immediately in a PDF format. I strongly suggest buying it.
Also, sign up and be a part of the FSOT yahoo group, where you can bite your nails and have collective nervous breakdowns with a slew of other test takers.

Some logistics
You will be taking the test on a computer, where the spell checking programs will be turned off. There have been plenty of cases where the PC dies, loses info, what have you. Complain. Not sure what you can achieve that way but do complain. On the multplie choice sections (Job knowledge and English), you can go back and forth between questions within the respective section. So, if you are stumped, guess and move forward, then come back to it if you have time.

Stay tuned for the next installment, which will deal with the QEPs and interim SCNL testing. As usual, if you have questions, ask and I will modify the info accordingly.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How to become a Foreign Service Officer: Part I

Some time ago I had promised a few folks a neat narrative on the process of becoming a FSO.
Before I begin, a brief departure on a different topics for all the parents out there. Have you ever had those happy, romantic dreams as newly minted parents how you will be putting your child to sleep while singing gently to her? Yeah? Yeah, well, so did I. Reality is a bit different though (yeah, I know, I am reinventing the wheel here). Last night, Son, who has transitioned to a real twin-sized bed, woke up unexpectedly at 11.30pm, asked to use the potty and then completely refused to sleep. After half an hour of threats and pleadings that if he does not stop, I will put him back in the crib (kind of an awkward threat, given that we got rid of the crib), I opened up the pack and play and put him there to show what a powerful mommy I am (stop rolling your eyes, seemed like a great idea at the time). After some time, I asked him if he wanted to go back to his big bed. The obstinate child looked at me and said no. Oops--right back at you mommy! So, I gently took him out of there, put him in his big bed and laid down with him. Remembering my romantic motherly notions, I offered to sing to him the ABC song and the offer was gladly taken. I started singing it, spicing it up with random Twinkle twinkle (same melody, you know). Mom's dream right? Sure, until 20 mins later, when I was still singing those damn songs (a good 143 times, I think) and kept putting myself to sleep only to have Son's stern voice prod me--Momma, ABC! He finally went off.

So, trying to get into the United States Foreign Service is kind of a similar experience--not at all what you'd expect it to be and yet somewhat similar; a long, unnecessarily protracted, painful, frustrating, filled with waiting, apprehension, guessing, many trials and errors at times, seemingly depending on the random mood swing of other people and hopefully, immensely wonderful in the end.

Step 1--the decision

One wonderful morning you wake up, look at your normal life and have a sudden lapse of reason. Minutes later you come back to life and discover that you have decided to join the Foreign Service. You get immediately inordinately excited, google "foreign service" and land here: (if you are interested in being a so-called generalist; if you have some mad technical skills, you should consider becoming a specialist). Awed by the stupendous info on the site, you firm your decision to "promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad" and proceed to find out what you need to do next. Here is what you do NOT need: no special requirements for education, work experience, language proficiency, etc. HA! But you better have them. Let's see why:

Step 2--choose your poison

For the generalist FSO, in the Foreign Service, there are 5 different career tracks you can choose from. You can be a: 1) consular officer, 2) economic officer, 3) management officer, 4) political officer and 5) public diplomacy officer (or as your momma once told you--you can be ANYTHING your ever wanted to be; no, not an American Idol finalist; no, not even America's Top Model or Bachelor contestant; hey, this is the Foreign service, focus!). You need to choose what you want to be before you apply--once you go in, in 95% of the cases, you cannot change your track. I know people who have but it is not common. Your track will be decisive for your future assignments and career development. So choose wisely. If you cannot stand the media circus and inane and pointless journalist questions, do NOT become PD. If visiting unwise American youth in Thai prisons for marijuana possession, crying for your help and, looking straight in your diplomatic eyes, swear on their dead cat that they thought the dried grass was an ancient Thai herb for smelly feet ain't your thing, do NOT choose consular. If arguing with relentless Vietnamese landlords who want to hike up the price of diplomatic residences threefold by threatening to sell the land to developers instead, do NOT go into management. You get the idea. Read about the tracks in some detail here:

Step 3--the written exam, or FSOT

Next, you need to take a famed exam called the Foreign Service Officer Test. It has 2 components--a multiple choice test and an essay portion. The test is administered ONLY 3 times a year, and if you (surely not!) happen to fail it, you can re-take it after 11 months. So, the moment you get that epiphany that you want to take the test and feel somewhat prepared, take is ASAP. This year the next FSOT is in mid-Feb. The deadline to register to take it overseas is Jan 24, and in the US--Feb 2. Keep in mind that there is limited capacity--once it is filled, wait for the next test date. The State Department has been nice enough to administer the test in many of its embassies around the world.

In the interest of keeping this readable, I intend to keep each parts fairly short. This is it for now. Next post will extrapolate on a VERY key topic--HOW and WHAT to study for the FSOT. Stay tuned!

PS--for those who wonder, I am STILL in adjudications. And not happy.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Last post of the year

We are safely back from skiing at Lake Tahoe--however trite it sounds, skiing in Heavenly was, well, heavenly. The experience there was trifold--the skiing, the company and the blizzard. Let me tell you about each one in turn:

1. Skiing
This was the Diplomat's and mine first time skiing on the West Coast. The snow powder is everything it is cracked up to be. There were very people skiing and the weather the first two days was outstanding. Armed with fat skis, after warming up the first day, we boldly dashed off piste and started skiing among the unsuspecting pine trees. As I darted among the snowy pines, I began to feel particularly smug about myself and at some point yelled from the top of my lungs to the innocent white world and three astonished squirrels, "woo-hoo, I am an awesome skier," at which point I promptly crashed into an offensively small pine tree and fell waist deep in the puffy snow. After I dug myself out (to find out that the Diplomat was actually taking pictures of me--yes, that is me in that picture!), I discovered that I can't find my left ski--that's how deep the snow was. Then the Diplomat immediately followed suit and fell himself in between the pines. After we had all that fun in the snow, we crossed over to Nevada, saw the breathtaking view of the the lake and took some rather hideous pictures of ourselves with his iPhone. Skiing in Tahoe is fabulous!

2. The company.
To imagine the full color of my trip, you need to also immerse yourself in my company for the trip. I went there with the Diplomat, his sister and brother-in-law (and their twin 7-year old daughters), and his brother and wife (and their 8 year old and one year old son), along with Son. All in all, many south Indians and me, which meant one big, merry, loud, tasty, spicy, happy, somewhat conservative, constantly laughing house, filled with incessant children's screaming, crying, running, whining, sniffling, giggling and a whole lot of food scattered on the floors. There was also a hot tub, which I swore I would use and did use. Even after I pleaded with my everyone, no one ventured outside and I spent 25 sad (but hot) minutes alone in there, looking forlornly back into the house where the men played (pretty bad) pool, the women gossiped in front of the TV, and the kids threw everything they could find onto the floor. Fun was had by all nevertheless. Until the blizzard hit and we lost power.

3. The blizzard
On our third day, Heavenly was hit by a massive blizzard over night, which completely buried our rental VW Jetta (nice car!). The Diplomat and his brother in law and his brother spent the next 2 hours digging it out and trying to get it out of the driveway, when all the blasted car wanted to do was slide right back into its original, iced up position. To truly understand what was going down, you need to remember that these were three guys from south India, who have never in their wild lives driven over ice (especially since two of them had lived in California for their entire US-based lives). So, they were pretty clueless on the intricacies of trying to make a car get out of an iced driveway without spinning its wheels madly and creating even more ice in the process. At least they valiantly and fearlessly shoveled snow for 3 hours. Finally, a local cool dude emerged from somewhere, stared at us in amazed disbelief for some time and eventually offered to help. He got into the car, drove madly back and forth, left and right, and managed to get the car out to our mutual cheers in less than 10 minutes. The Diplomat and I then drove gingerly off to the nearest gas station to procure chains. Which, naturally, neither of us had the slightest clue how to install. As luck would have it, the gas station person was Indian (!), and after the Diplomat spoke to him in clandestine Hindi, gave us a massive discount of the chains, and came to install them for us with his bare hands. Chilled to the bone, and looking at the ominous clouds over the mountain, plus it was already close to noon, we called it a day and left Tahoe. We are definitely coming back. In a tank.

There are only one and half hours to the new year here in California, and the East Coast has already greeted 2011. This has been a crazy, much traveled, much moved, much feared and much anticipated year and will be remembered dearly. Two major things did not happen this year and have got to happen in the coming year: we still owe an overpriced apartment in New York City, which needs to be promptly sold, and I am still stuck in adjudications (which is beginning more and more to sound like the 9 circles of hell at this point), and need to get out of there. Ideas, anyone?