Friday, August 13, 2010

Crack Open the Wine!

So the last two people from my OA study session found out they have FINALLY made it on to the register! It only took 6+ months. They are both Public Diplomacy cone, so they are joining an already too long register. Luckily, one has a good chance of getting the call for October. The other needs to brush up his Arabic for the extra points. I am so happy for our group. Everyone passed, and now everyone is on the register. Congratulations, guys!


Sorry, ITMTGP, I know the last thing you want to hear is more PD people getting on the register. I hate this process, too.

UPDATE: Gah! My fellow study-buddy who I thought for sure would get an offer for October missed out by a hair on getting an offer. He's 20 or so out of 174 on the PD register. Who knows were he'll be by the next class. I hate this process.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Register Update

Sorry I've not been updating very frequently. My work has gotten busy again, and staring at the register is not something that lends itself to interesting blog posts (sad, stressed, obsessive posts, but not really interesting ones). The econ register is finally starting to grow like all the other registers. I think, to some degree, that's a result of how backed up the Pol and PD registers are - I'm guessing people are now picking Econ because they see a better chance of getting hired off the register.

I'm currently 40 out of 109 (I think) according to Ms. Walton at State. Hopefully I'll cruise back down into the low thirties after the offers for October go out. I was planning on taking the Japanese test to boost my score, but I've sadly had to discontinue my Japanese lessons due to financial issues for the foreseeable future. I need to find some natives willing to do some free language exchange.

Anyhow, once I get my sealegs over the next couple of weeks I hope to post some more. For any readers, feel free to post any comments, questions, whatever, and I'll do my best to get back to you.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What Does 18,000 Lbs Look Like?


So I've been impressed by all the hard work going on at the B Files to pare down on the clutter at her home in preparation for the call to A-100. Which got me to thinking. FSO's are allowed 18,000 lbs of "stuff" for storage. My understanding (and I could be completely wrong), is that of that 18,000 lbs, an actual 7200 lbs of stuff can follow you around the world from post to post. So what does 18,000 lbs of furniture, bedding, electronic equipment, clothes, papers, books, tchotchkes, and any other miscellaneous crap look like? What about 7200 lbs of stuff?

So does anyone out there have any thoughts, or know of any links that can give you a general idea?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Jeepers

The consulate in Juarez has been closed due to credible security threats. More here. Hopefully all our embassy personnel will stay safe.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Geek Interlude

Happy Birthday, Seth

Roughly fifteen years ago, I became friends with a quirky and talented man, Seth Fisher. We met in Tokyo in the mid-90's, and became friends when we both lived in Shimane Prefecture. Tragically, Seth passed away several years ago. What can I say about Seth? He was a talented man, primarily known as a comic book artist. I remember walking into a comic book store and seeing his art for the first time and just being so very proud of him. Here is some of his work, which I think might give you a sense of his unique perspective.







But even though I was in awe of his skills as an artist, I most remember Seth for his aggressively innocent view of life. He was constantly reinventing himself and constantly challenging himself to do new and different things. He never seemed to settle (which certainly brought him troubles later in life), but I think he was probably the only person I've ever known who truly tried to live life without regrets (and not at other people's expense) and without fear. I wish I could describe how unique he was, but I think very few people could understand without knowing him. I could tell you stories about how he liked to re-arrange the furniture in his house every couple of months in order to break up his mental inertia, or how he designed a cut-out paper doll of himself to be used as an "official" work photo, or how he randomly started a hobby of spear-fishing, or how he took my normal-looking birthday cake and re-worked it to look like Mt. Fuji. These are stories that can't really capture Seth, and sadly nothing but his art and the memories of those who knew and loved Seth are all that remain. So perhaps it's enough to say:

Happy Birthday, Seth, and thank you for the inspiration you provided, and continue to provide. You are missed.

Can't Catch a Break (Literally!)

I'm fairly sure my mother would say things are "mercury retrograde" for me right now. Frankly, I have no idea what she's talking about, but I do know that more shizzle than normal keeps happening.

I came home today and decided to unfurl the US flag on our porch, which had gotten all wrapped around its pole. As I leaned over to unfurl the flag, my shoes slipped on the edge of the porch and down I went. And not very well. I felt something go pop in my ankle. Thankfully, there's no break, but I'm now the proud owner of a sprained ankle. And sadly, I find myself once again back in a bed rest state of being. At least this time I don't need a spit cup.

I'm not sure which higher powers I've pissed, but clearly I've done something. I just can't believe my luck (or lack of it). At least we have Netflix. And clearly it's time to light some candles or sacrifice a goat or something.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Econ Register

So offers went out for the September class, and for the first time, I would not have received an offer. Not sure if they hired fewer econ officers, if there were more Pickering fellows, or less people being on DNC this round. Still sucks, because I would hate to be on the downward slope. Must start studying my Japanese every day.

Anyhow, I am currently 32 out of 86 on the Econ Register.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Port Louis, Mauritius!


My study buddy was posted to Port Louis, Mauritius! Mauritius is the small island to the east of Madagascar. How neat is that?! I know absolutely nothing about this country. But it looks like a very exciting post. Pain in the ass to get to, I imagine, but a wonderful place to work and explore. It was one of her high wish-list posts - French-speaking, in Africa, and it has a fusion of different cultures. Just wonderfully exciting! I imagine most of her fellow A-100'ers are very jealous. Here are some google pics of Port Louis and Mauritius:




I have a hard time imagining being disappointed in any post, but that's probably pretty easy for me to say since I'm not even active on the register. That being said, my buddy looks like she's going to have an amazing adventure starting in 2011!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Sick Sucks Part Two

Reading back over my original Sick Sucks post, I realize now how young and naive I was. Because I got a whole lot sicker.

I managed to get an appointment with my physician the next day, and I must have really looked and sounded like shizzle because they took me in right away (despite 15 people hanging out in the lobby). During the previous night, the whole swallowing razor blades feeling in my throat increased to the point where I literally gave up trying to sleep at around 2:00 am. My throat hurt so much that I was not swallowing, instead I was acting like a tobacco chewer, complete with my own spit cup. Which is really disgusting. I will never take saliva for granted again.

Prior to the appointment, I knew I wasn't feeling that great, but even though I felt a bit hot (and the Mrs. remarked on it as well), the home thermometer said I was A-Okay. Things got a bit weird, though, when I started having chills. To deal with the freezing, I jumped into a steaming, melt your skin off hot shower, only to keep shaking and feeling like I was freezing. Quite a strange sensation of pain from the hot water, while your body feels like it's in ice. At the Dr's, I found out I was running a 102 fever, so now I know to throw the home thermometer away.

My Doctor took one look at my throat, described it as gruesome, and then informed me that I reeked of strep. Yes, I was diagnosed by smell. My apologies if any of my readers just threw up a little bit in their mouths after reading that. Who knew strep had a distinctive odor? The Doc gave me some drugs and told me not to leave my bed for a couple of days (and to stay away from everyone).

I spent the next couple of days not sleeping for more than an hour at a time, and not eating or drinking. It just hurt too much to swallow. I had pain killers, but they did little for the pain, just made me a mental zombie. My wife was worried enough to call the Dr. and arrange another appointment, so they gave me bigger, meaner pain killers that still did nothing for the pain, but did at least put me to sleep.

Anyhow, after 3 days of quarantine (and that has really sucked because the little ones don't get why Daddy won't come out of his room to play or read them stories), I'm well enough to drink some tea, eat some jello and blog, of course. Luckily, it doesn't look like the girls or the Mrs. have picked this up. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy (I probably would on my wife's worst enemies, but that's because I really don't like people who mess with my own). Anyhow, the good news is I'm getting better and thanks to everyone who emailed to check up on me.

Happy Flag Day



The June A-100 is having their Flag Day today, and one of my fellow study buddies for the OA will be finding out her future post! Congratulations KK! And congrats and good luck to all the new FSO's!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sick Sucks

Picture courtesty of AOL Health (Tamago-zake - raw egg and sake cures colds!*)


In between agonizing for my blog-friend on her getting "the call" to A-100 this week (and I think I'm worrying about it much more than she is), I've caught something. Not quite a cold, maybe strep, maybe an ear infection. It started last Friday, when I had that slight something wonky feel, but nothing to complain about. And over the last several days it's increased, culminating into today's day of suck. All I know is the left side of my face from my clogged-feeling ear to my "am-I-swallowing-razor-blades?" throat, is hurting.

Our nanny has been out sick as well (and from the sounds of it from the same thing), so it's just been me and the kids doing the Mr. Mom thing, which is hard to do when you don't want to swallow, much less talk. And not talking is hard to do with my 3-1/2 year old, whose new nickname is Ms. Gabs-a-Lot, although I think she'd prefer Princess Mouth. On top of it, Segunda, who doesn't talk yet, has decided that since I'm around I might as well read every single book in the kiddie library to her. It's cute seeing her stomp down the hall with a new book in her chubby little baby hands, until I realize she expects me to actually read to her. Which means talking. Which means pain. I hope she appreciates this when she's older. Off to the Dr. tomorrow if they have any appointments.

Anyhow, it's selfish, but for those who believe in the power of prayer please put a shout-out so my girls don't catch this. Thanks!

Best of luck to all the wannabe's waiting for this round of A-100 calls!

* It's really just egg nog made with sake, not as disgusting as some might think!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Turning Japanese (or not)




So in order to keep ahead (hopefully) of the burgeoning register as well as any tightening in hiring over the next year, I've decided to dust off my Japanese. I was a Japanese Literature major in college (shockingly, not a very useful degree in the real world), and spent over four years living and working in Japan doing translation and interpretation work for local municipal governments in a very rural prefecture. My daily use of the language ended about 12 years ago when I came back to the States to go to law school. I always planned on getting a law job back in Japan, or something on the West Coast where I could use my Japanese; but life didn't work out that way.

Other than the occasional request for some on the fly translation, I haven't really used my Japanese in the last 12 years. And boy that rustiness showed when I went to my first language lesson with a tutor here in town. Strangely, it became pretty clear that the language is still in my brain - it's just locked away. I found myself shakily able to converse with my instructor, but half the time the English part of my brain had no idea what the Japanese side of my brain was saying.

It's really sad, I'm not a (huge) braggart, but my Japanese skillz were off the hook in the day. So much so that I actually received an Asian-Pacific Islander scholarship to go to the University of Hawaii for law school - and as you might be able to tell from pictures of my girls, the only thing about me that is Asian/Pacific Islander is...well nothing, really.

Anyhow, there is some good news. My reading ability is still fairly strong, as I was able to read a couple of newspaper articles without too much pain. And my instructor has told me that she thinks I'm on a comparable level to another student who just returned from Japan after living there for 5 years - although that comparison is certainly based on my reading rather than speaking ability.

So I am buckling down. I'm planning on taking 2-3 hours of classes with the instructor a week; as well as seeing if I can set something up via Skype with this language school for extra speaking practice. With luck, I hope to be ready to take the language test at the end of August.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Not Good News



So, as somewhat expected, the Foreign Operations subcomittee in charge of determining State's budget has decided to cut it by $4 BILLION. Not sure what will actually go into effect since Congress isn't preparing a budget resolution this year - which is strange since it's kind of their job. Details are here. Diplopundit has a post about it here.

Time to start freaking out?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Music of My Youth

I have to say, this is a sweet, sweet performance.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Laugh and Cry

Laugh because it's funny. Cry because it's true.




Monday, June 28, 2010

Is It Selfish to Want to Be an FSO?

I'm normally above-average in the optimism department. Some people have the brain chemistry to make them a Debbie Downer, but I am not one of those people (even when things suck). However, I've found that over the last couple of years, I have begun to be increasingly pessimistic about the future. Especially when it comes to the state of the US economy.

There are a lot of reasons for this, most of them having to do with my specialization in the structured finance field, and watching friends and colleagues see their careers and livelihoods implode over the last three years. So maybe my pessimism is a form of post-traumatic stress, but it's hard to feel confident about the economy. You know it's not a good sign when economists from opposite spectra of analysis start getting gloomy.

Which brings me to the topic of my post. I am ashamed to admit this, but my desire for joining the Foreign Service has a new basis - some financial/career stability. I know that's not a guarantee, especially if things really went to heck in a hand basket. Joining the Foreign Service is not a guarantee of lifelong employment. There's the issue of getting tenure; not to mention the question of whether this career move is the right thing for my family. I think it is, but I'm not sure you could ever know until you're actually doing it.

Compared to what's going on in the banking, finance and legal industries, working for State certainly seems a lot more stable. Obviously, career/financial security is not the only reason. But reading the WSJ and FT is turning into torture. It would be great if I enjoyed reading absolutely miserable stats all day, but frankly, I like rainbows and sprinkles occasionally. And I can't help feeling selfish for wanting to be a public employee at the same time that the global financial situation seems to be gearing for another round of crashing. I'm starting to get really itchy to get an offer and into an A-100 before another Lehman incident occurs and the government has no choice but to close its doors for the foreseeable future.

As of today on the register, I am steady at 38 out of 85.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poetry Interlude

On Pain

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses
your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its
heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem
less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
even as you have always accepted the seasons that
pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity through the
winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen.

It is the bitter potion by which the physician within
you heals your sick self.

Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy
in silence and tranquillity:

For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by
the tender hand of the Unseen,

And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has
been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has
moistened with His own sacred tears.

Khalil Gibran

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Being a Father

1,403 days ago I became a father. I can honestly say that I feel like I'm the one who got lucky on this deal. Everyday I wake up to my oldest's footsteps clomping down the hall and I think to myself, "Dear God, it's 6 am, please go back to sleep!" After a shower and a coffee, though, I realize how blessed I am. Caetlin and Phoebe, thank you for being my daughters. Here's one of my favorite pictures of the girls showing that, even at the grand ages of 3.5 and 1.5, they know I'm not cool enough.



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Being on the Register


So last week I decided to check where I was on the register. The ever helpful Ms. Tamale Walton told me I was #35 out of 85 fellow Econ FSO-wannabes. A month ago I was #29, a month before that I was #39, so I seem to be staying relatively put. So far, I think I have a good shot at getting "the call" once I take myself off of DNC later this year. Both the June A-100 and August A-100 dipped into scores lower than mine. Barely much lower, but lower all the same. That should reassure me, but when I read the A-100 boards clamoring about how the registers are getting longer and longer and people are getting higher and higher scores, I start to worry that this whole decision to go DNC was not the brightest. I especially feel that way when I have friends and co-bloggers getting into the June and August classes.

Please note, unlike some of the conspiracy theorists out there, I don't think State is getting easier with its Oral Assessment grading policy. I think the economy is just driving a lot of people who are exceedingly well-qualified into taking the FSOT, which is resulting in the profusion of higher scores the last year or so. I just pray that I can keep my place in the 30's long enough. I am really scared of the register ballooning even more over the next 4-5 months; or, even worse, a hiring freeze hitting State at the end of the year. I thought things would be easier once I was on the register, but it's not. I can't imagine how terrible it is to go through this process only to fade off the register. I now have even more mad respect for the people who decide to do this more than once.

My plan is to try and get into the first A-100 class of next year. I don't believe next year's budget has been finalized yet so it's hard to prognosticate, but hopefully they will have a January 2011 A-100; and hopefully I'll be in it. In the interim, I'm going to start burnishing my really rusty Japanese in order to take the language exam to boost my score.

I really hate the waiting and watching. October-ish can't get here soon enough.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Love the Smell of Bureaucracy in the Morning

From Merriam-Webster Online:

bu·reau·cra·cy
Pronunciation: \by-ˈrä-krə-sē, byə-, byər-ˈä-\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural bu·reau·cra·cies
Etymology: French bureaucratie, from bureau + -cratie -cracy
Date: 1818

1 a : a body of nonelective government officials b : an administrative policy-making group
2 : government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority
3 : a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation


Now check this video out (I think you will agree that definition #3 is clearly in action):


My friend, who made this video, was the former president of this HOA board (he was voted out after several years as a benevolent dictator). If you can get through this video without cringing, I salute you. Just shows you that you don't need that many people to make a bureaucracy. I'll update to add this video to my webpage once my friend uploads it to YouTube.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Diplomatic Cables Leaked?

Story is here. Dead Men Working have already blogged about this here.

One part of me is incredibly outraged that any American citizen would do this - and double enraged that a government employee would violate his ethical duties and commit such a crime. I truly, truly hope that this information is incorrect and just an idiot boasting. If he did steal the cables, then I pray he hasn't leaked them. I can not begin to imagine the damage this could do not just to the interests of the United States, but to the careers, livelihoods and even safety of diplomatic and military personnel overseas. Just sickening.

The other part of me, and I'm not proud, would be really interested in reading current, first-hand work product of our diplomats.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Swear I'm Not a Shill


Many, many, many years ago in a galaxy far, far away, I used to write music reviews for an indie music magazine started up by a friend of a friend. I was hardly published but I did get to see and meet a lot of bands and go to a lot of great shows. My time with the magazine was short-lived since I never felt a particular need to differentiate the world into "cool" and "not cool" music, I just knew what I liked and was happy to try and share with as many people as possible. The editor was not like me, and he had a very definite vision regarding what music/bands he'd promote. He pretty much insisted that bands signed with major commercial labels couldn't make good music. After a particular vicious argument over the nature of indie cred vs. commercialism with the editor, I went on my way (I was not the beret wearer in that argument, but I admit I wore a lot of plaid in the early nineties). There were no hard feelings, and I'm still in touch with the editor (and he's mellowed like we all have - or should I say we've all become far less self-important).

It's been nice to see the magazine grow and develop to the point you can find it in any Borders or Barnes and Noble. And probably as a result of that early experience, I love glossies. I appreciate nice layouts, the photography, and well-structured articles. Which is why I've been a real fan of a new travel magazine called Afar. They have some really interesting layouts - including a special photo feature that compares something mundane in different countries. Last month it was residential housing, this month it was school lunches. It's really neat.

And they have some really great articles ranging from local cuisine culture to a "spin the globe" feature that randomly sends a writer to some area of the world. As an armchair world traveller, it's nice to read a travel magazine that goes into more than just recommending hotels and restaurants. I think all my fellow FSOwannabe's would enjoy it. The only down side is it makes me want to join the FS all the more.

Monday, June 7, 2010

New Toy

My birthday came and went recently, and in order to quell that queasy feeling of getting older and the time left on this earth slipping through my fingertips, I splurged on a ridiculous toy that I have to share.

As you might notice from my musical interludes, I love me some music. There are few experiences better than finding a new band or hearing the first few notes of a new song that tickle your brain in just the right way.

So I bought a Sonos. For those of you unfamiliar, it's a music system that networks with your music library and can wirelessly stream whatever music you're in the mood for (including internet radio, pandora, sirius, lastfm, rhapsody, etc.) to your stereo or special zone players. I love it. You can create separate musical zones and play different music simultaneously - need classical in the kitchen while you cook while your friends jam to something else in the media room? It can do it.

I figure this is my last big electronic purchase for the next five years, by which time I imagine digitized, wireless media storage will be standard features for TVs and stereos.

UPDATE: Bumped because I'm terrible with correcting my publish dates.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Am I a Snob?

A friend of mine sent this article to me about a man who has visited almost every country on earth. There are only three left for him to visit: Cuba, Libya and Somalia. Initially, my response to the opening lead was to be quite impressed, but as I read through the article I became a bit disturbed by this guy.

I guess I'm not sure what the point of his taking the time and money to travel the world if he, on average, only spends a couple of days in each country, never eats the local cuisine, and frankly doesn't seem to be too into really experiencing the people or places he's going. After reading the article, I feel like he's the kind of traveler I can't stand - just someone passing through to get the passport stamp, treating each country as another push-pin in his personal map of the world.

UPDATE: Bumped to fix link. Sorry!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Back from the Banks!

So very sorry for completely disappearing. It seems I'm not the only one with a bit of blog fatigue, as some of my favorite blogs are either taking a break or considering taking a break. Sadly, given my posting frequency, I have far less of a reason to be blogtigued.

Since I've been AWOL for a bit, I thought I'd share some pics of my daughters. As you can see from the pictures, the FSOWannabe girls had a great time at the OBX.

This is Phoebe. The youngest member of the tribe. Likes: playing, eating, playing, eating, and playing and eating. And playing in the bathtub...while eating. Dislikes: full diapers and not getting her way (she experiences the latter quite frequently).


This is Caetlin, the eldest. She's a fan of running from waves, but not too fast.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Good News?

I wonder if this will impact hiring on the FS front as well?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

DNC'd!

So after must discussion and some planning at the FSOWannabe household, we've decided to DNC it for a while in order to take care of some personal and professional goals. It's hard not to be a bit nervous about it. If I had not DNC'd, I would have been called for the June A-100, which would have meant attending with one of my fellow OA study group members. I am not too convinced about the economic recovery going on, best case I think we're seeing an L-shaped recovery similar to Japan's after their bubble burst in the late 80's. So while on the DNC I'm a bit scared of massive cuts to the State Department's hiring budget. This article has a discussion on the proposed cuts (and it seems international affairs budgets are some of the first cuts to be had). It would really suck to get all the way through this process only to never get an invite due to tightened hiring needs.

In other news, out of my study group 3 out of 5 of us have made it to the register already. One is in the May A-100, another is going to attend the June A-100, and another has just passed his Chinese language test so that he can come onto the PD register with a high score.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New Geometries

So the move is over...thank god it's finally over. And last Monday we finally sold our house in Charlotte. We had a couple of hiccups, which hurt our bottom line, but in the end it's done and it's good to know that we have finally closed the Charlotte chapter of our lives.*


As for the move to our new place in Atlanta... well, it could have gone better. The move was painful - specifically because I handled about 90% of it. I took about a hundred small trips with my little SUV, slowly clearing out room by room. Once every little thing was gone, I rented a U-Haul and hired a couple of guys to help move the really big stuff. Not the most efficient way to do it, but it certainly helped with making sure that our rooms were set up in an organized manner - and it was definitely cheaper than using a moving company. My wife and I have done several rushed moves, which often resulted in boxes left unopened for years at a time. Sadly, we still have a bunch of boxes in our carport. This move I am determined to go through everything and determine what to do with all the junk we've accumulated over the last decade. I swear we're not hoarders, but we really need to do some sorting, donating, and tossing. I really want to pare down and get out of the habit of moving boxes from place to place - so nothing is coming into the house from the carport without a place for it to go. On a positive note, I think we will be really settled into the new place within the next week.

So we've been in the new house for a week and a half now, and I'm going through that pleasant period of cognitive dissonance with the new rooms and layout of the house not fitting the rooms and layout of the old house. One particularly disconcerting fact is that the new master bedroom has the same paint and general layout as our previous master bedroom - the one difference being that the closet and adjoining bathroom are switched. I won't tell you how many times during the first week that I got up to go to the bathroom and ended up in a closet. That embarrassing fact having been said, I do love having moved. I guess it's the military brat in me, but after a move I feel like everything is new and there's new stuff to explore and do - even though in our case we've just moved a mile from where we used to live. This reminds me of an old friend in Japan who liked to move the furniture around in his apartment every 4 months or so. He said that changing the layout of his apartment and making new geometries out of the space every so often helped to break up the mental inertia, and having tried it from time to time, I have come to agree.

I'm currently setting up our kitchen, which involves washing every dish, pot, pan, utensil, etc. that we own. It's a bit weird, but every time I move to a new place I am absolutely compelled to make sure any cooking/eating utensil is "freshly" cleaned before putting it away (even though I know this stuff is clean and came out of one cabinet just to be put into another). Call it my little display of OCD, but I always have this feeling that moving cooties have attached to my kitchen stuff, hence the need to re-wash. So I've set up my stereo and ipod in the kitchen so I can listen to music while washing. Here are some tunes I've been listening to.





Update on the Foreign Service and DNC to come!

*Don't worry, Charlotte friends, we still love you!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Update Interlude

Probably won't be much posting for a bit. I'm knee deep in preparing for the move - stage one begins tomorrow while the Mrs. and the little rug rats are out of town for the weekend. I was going to go with them, but thought it offered a great opportunity to move the kids' rooms all at once. My eldest has been pretty funny about the move. She's excited about the new house, but keeps checking to make sure I'll remember to move her bookcase, her toys, and, oh yeah, her bed.

Some good news - the buyers from hell backed down from their crazy, crazy, crazy position, so hopefully we will be mortgage free by the end of the month.

The Mrs. is a fan of Frightened Rabbit, and this tune reminds me of our state of the process towards FS-ness.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The FSOWannabe Housing Market

The Mrs. and I are currently in the process of selling our home in Charlotte. It's a beautiful (if somewhat dated) home in a Mayberry-ish neighborhood near uptown (for those familiar with Charlotte, our house is in Plaza-Midwood close to the Van Landingham). It's somewhat hard to say goodbye to that house. We were married in Charlotte and had our reception at the Van Landingham. It's where we brought our firstborn home from the hospital. We have a lot of great memories there as newlyweds and as new parents. We kept the house when we moved to Atlanta because we thought our time here in the ATL would be a short one with us returning to Charlotte within a year or two. Unfortunately, the tanking of the economy had an adverse effect on a lot of business plans (not just ours).

But sadly, keeping an extra home and dealing with renters was (A) a pain and (B) bleeding us bit by bit financially. And we're realists (at least when it comes to finance). It's pretty clear that Charlotte, more so than other parts of the country, has been particularly hard hit by the economy (official unemployment in Charlotte is close to 13% - God knows how bad it really is). There are entire neighborhoods in the suburbs that are now bank-owned because everyone was foreclosed on. Our neighborhood, which isn't that big a neighborhood, had over 90 homes on the market with a 12% under contract rate in January (no idea what the actual sale rate was). So we interviewed a lot of realtors, seriously assessed the housing market in Charlotte (two word summary - it sucks) and put the house on the market at a painful price. Three days later, we got an offer.

So now we're dealing with the buyers and I can't tell if they are naive or just jerks. We really gave them a good price on the house, but they are trying to nickel and dime us on crazy repairs. And I mean crazy. We have a kitchen island and apparently it has a wobble (news to us - it didn't wobble when we lived there - thanks sucky tenants). We've offered to fix it, but no, that would be too sensible. They want a new island. Their inspector found old raccoon poo on the roof. They want us to hire animal control to hunt down and trap the offending animal. Really. There are 5 places on the entire house where there is some wood rot. None of it is bigger than 2 inches in diameter. They want it repaired and...wait for it...a $3000 credit for new paint.

We've tried to ask their agent to control his clients. But apparently he's given up on talking reason to them. He just forwards their requests, I guess because he's embarrassed by them.

We've been more than reasonable. And the sad thing is, if we didn't want to sell the house so badly, we could be very, very, very good at being unreasonable back.* But enough is enough. So we told the buyers that we were tired of their crazy and they needed to find another house to buy. Hopefully, they'll crumble on their stupidity, quit wasting our time, buy the dang house and be happy that they are getting a great deal.

*Mrs. FSOWannabe has done a very good job at restraining my more vicious tendencies with respect to negotiating - I know, I'm all nice on the bloggity-blog, but I was a finance attorney for a decade and old habits die hard.

七転び八起き

My second favorite Japanese expression*, as many of my friends can tiredly confirm, is 七転び八起き (nanakorobi yaoki), which I prefer to loosely translate as Fall Down Twice, Get Up Thrice - the rhyming sounds better to my ears than the actual translation, which is fall down seven times, but get up eight times. I think this is a great proverb for the long, hard slog to joining the Foreign Service.

Following the yahoo boards can be great for insight into the FS life, advice on taking the tests, and especially for navigating the ins and outs of the process. But it's also a place where you will read about people's heartbreaks and disappointments after they fail to pass the FSOT, PNQ, OA, clearances, final adjudication or the register. Mrs. FSOWannabe didn't get through the PNQ's last year. I have an acquaintance that failed the OA twice (and received a lower score on the second go-round). And then there are, like the FSOWannabes, other couples that are hoping to pass the OA and get into the Foreign Service together. Some are successful, and some are not. I am truly sad for everyone that goes through this process only to be set back at some stage. I'm particularly sympathetic to those that fail and have no explanation for why (I'm looking at you, QEP and OA evaluators).

I sincerely believe that the tragic flaw in most people, including myself, is the willingness to give up or settle on your dreams. As I get older, I'm increasingly aware that life is too short to settle for 'almost' or 'not quite' anymore (Hello, mid-life crisis!). So if you want something bad enough you need to keep trying. Pick yourself off the ground, brush off the disappointment, and re-orient yourself back toward the goal. There's nothing wrong with failing, but I think it's a tragedy when you give up on a dream.
* The first is 秋茄子は嫁に食わすな (Akinasu wa yome ni kuwasuna), which translates as "Don't let your daughter-in-law eat your autumn eggplants. " You don't really need to know what it refers to to realize that's just hilarious all on its own.

More Bad Border News

Someone threw an explosive device into the consulate grounds in Nuevo Laredo. Thankfully, other than some minor property damage, no one was injured. More info here.

Just a coincidental, random act of terror, or is it somehow related to the murders of consulate workers in Juarez last month?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Titus Interlude

Language Proficiency and the Foreign Service

For those interested in federal agency news, the Washington Post's Fed Page is a great resource. The other day Joe Davidson had an interesting opinion piece on a speech by John Negroponte regarding the challenges that the Foreign Service faces.

Unsurprising, since it seems to be a consistent criticism, the main challenge according to Negroponte is "the need for officers who can speak the languages of the world." As anyone who has spent even a little time trying to learn a language, it's a challenge to rewire your brain, not to mention the part about learning new words, grammatical constructions, and alphabets (or not so much alphabets with certain non-phonetic written languages - I'm looking at you Japanese and Chinese!).

But I wonder how big a problem this is. It's not like there isn't a Foreign Service Institute, which has a specific goal of training FSO's in whatever languages are needed. And I imagine most FSO's are pretty thrilled about learning new languages. If language acquisition and fluency is a problem in the FS, a key portion of the article explains why: "Another challenge is the widely held perception among Foreign Service officers that State's promotion system does not consider time spent in language training when evaluating officers for promotion, which may discourage officers from investing the time required to achieve proficiency in certain languages," the report said. Although HR officials dispute this perception, the department has not conducted a statistically significant assessment of the impact of language training on promotions."

Not to be blunt, but if this is a valid criticism, then the State Department would need to really commit to the additional expense and time necessary for appropriate training. Any FSO's out there have any thoughts on this?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

DNC'ing It?


So as a complete surprise, I am now on the Economic Affairs track register. As of this week, I was told by my DOS contact that I'm #32 out of 69 or so people on the list. That means I could get called soon. Real soon. Assuming everyone in front of me is not DNC-ing (DNC= Do Not Call), I could get an offer as soon as June/July for the August A-100. That's a heck of a lot sooner than I thought it would be.

After I passed the OA, I received my very first ever un-prompted email from my in-laws asking about when I might get a real offer. Sadly, not a congratulatory email as much as a how-soon-are-you-going-to-take-our-daughter-and-granddaughters-away-from-us-you-selfish-bastard email. Guesstimating on how things were at the time, I honestly thought it was a safe assumption that December of this year would be the earliest I could get called up. Apparently, the combination of my more boring than expected life with a more-efficient than expected DSS process resulted in my happy placement on the register.

But now, to paraphrase the greatest television show ever*, this is when the FSOWannabes stop being polite, and start getting real. As readers of this blog know, Mrs. FSOWannabe is supportive, but extremely conflicted with giving up her own career in this process, as well as what FS life will entail for her and the kids. She always regretted not spending time abroad, but now that it's literally within reach, it's a bit scary (and to be fair, her idea of living abroad was a year in Europe as a student, not living somewhere with a 30% differential and all the attendant issues that come with that).

And as helpful and supportive as all the FSOs, EFMs, trailing spouses/partners, MOHers have been in describing how life can be for a trailing spouse, it is not something Mrs. FSOWannabe is prepared to be. I fell in love with her ornery, feisty, red-headed drive to be the best, so her reluctance to give up her law gig is understandable and I can't say this is unexpected (and to be fair, she can't say that this situation is unexpected for her, either, since this has been something I've dreamed and thought about since my college days). Not that this is an immovable object/irresistible force situation - we're both lawyers after all, so we negotiate.

For now, the Mrs. and I are signing up for the June FSOT to see if we can be a tandem couple (and for me to open another career track to expand my options/timing). I have every confidence she'll pass. And then we'll see if she can get past the dreaded QEP (which held her up last June). In the interim, I'm seriously contemplating being a DNC until the end of this year in order to (1) see how the tandem thing goes, (2) give the in-laws some more adjustment time and (3) take care of some professional goals of my own. It's a gamble. State's budget could get curtailed. Other cones have been swamped with candidates so by the time December comes by I could be way back on the register. Even worse, Mrs. FSOWannabe could definitively decide that the FS life is not for her.

But I'm an optimist by nature. So let's see what happens.


*Not really. Everyone knows the greatest TV show ever was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Pollen Pain

Picture courtesy of Brooke Novak


So Atlanta just got destroyed by a tsunami of pollen this week. A "high" pollen count, so the radio tells me, is 120. Yesterday, the pollen count hit 5533. I think something must be wrong with that information, but my best friend Google isn't giving me any answers (and everything Google tells me must be true). Regardless of the pollen count as a number, the last couple of days has been a yellow haze. You can actually taste the pollen as you breathe it. My beautiful green car (that I paid too much to have washed and detailed last week) is now yellow with a hint of green. It's just disgusting. I don't have any active allergies and even I'm feeling stuffy. My wife and daughters, however, are suffering big time. Who knew a 1-year old could have allergies? Thankfully, it rained today and washed a lot of the pollen out of the air.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On the Register!

So I was a little surprised to find a letter from the State Department today telling me that,

"...your name has been added to the register of those awaiting appointment to the Foreign Service as an Entry Level Officer in the Economic Affairs career track."

That happened a lot faster than anticipated. I thought for sure the TS clearance and final adjudication would have taken a lot longer. Guess I'm a tons more boring than I thought (and I think I'm pretty boring)! Now to DNC for a short period or not to DNC! That is a question for me and Mrs. FSOWannabe!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Musical Interlude

I've been fairly introspective of late, and that introspection has not led me towards blogging. But that does mean I've been listening to a lot of music lately.



Tiny Tin Hearts is a fantastic band out of Austin. Every time I listen to their album, I think of the countless bars all over the city that you can walk into and find great live music.



And I need to catch up with an old friend, the lead singer of a local band in Austin, who after years and years of chasing the dream gave it up to be a husband and father. I respect his decision, but miss his music.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Moving!

No, not the blog. The FSOWannabe's are moving. We've decided to rent a new place about a mile from where we currently live. Our current lease ends this month, and by chance we saw a nicer house for rent that fits our needs pretty well (i.e., it's bigger, in better condition and has a nice backyard for the little ones to ride their bikes). So a new lease has been signed, and we're starting to get ready to move. We're going to double-up the leases for April in order to spend the time going through all of our stuff and deciding what to take with us to the new place, what to donate, what to sell and what to trash. I consider it practice before we eventually have a real pack-out experience.

For those with tons of moves under your belt, do you have any advice?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bluebonnets!

As Kolbi at A Daring Adventure recently posted, it's bluebonnet season in Texas. I hereby declare a bluebonnet bandwagon and am jumping on. Here is Titus at Big Bend National Park, enjoying the bluebonnet season.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Medical Clearance Granted!

So today I received the following information:

"[We have] issued you an unlimited, worldwide available, medical clearance effective 03/19/10."

Now it's just the security clearance, final adjudication, the register...and, oh yeah, convincing Mrs. FSO Wannabe!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Medical Clearance Update

Earlier this week I was contacted by a nurse at State handling my medical clearance. She requested some follow up testing and documents for my asthma, which meant getting another appointment with Dr. McCranky and having him fill in all the forms. Or, I should say, agree to everything I filled in for him since his performance at completely filling out the medical documents and answering every question was sorely lacking the last go-round. And don't worry any potential DSS readers, I had clean copies of the forms for him to fill out if he disagreed with anything I had.

It's weird having to go back for additional testing. Although I still keep an inhaler with me, it's generally just out of habit. I haven't had an attack in years (maybe decades). I had asthma when I was a teenager, and it was fairly bad. None of that losing your breath and passing out bit, but I had long-term wheezing, tightness in the chest and a general inability to be active. Although I don't think there is a formal diagnosis for it, I think my asthma developed after spending a couple of years here:


Sweet, sweet smog-induced asthma goodness. I know it is nothing compared to the horrors of smog in other parts of the world, but I still can't believe how bad it is. I remember the first time I met my lovely bride-to-be at LAX and drove her to my apartment in Los Feliz. As we came up the freeway to downtown, I told her that there were some really, freaking large mountains in the distance that she couldn't see thanks to the smog. She, thinking I meant the Hollywood Hills, said she could see them. Of course, the next day when the smog had cleared, she noticed these gigantic mountains behind the city that literally were invisible the day before.


It's a beautiful town when the air is clean.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Real March Madness

Football, baseball, basketball, hockey...you name whatever sport at whatever level of play, and I will respond with complete indifference. For whatever reason, I've just never identified with any American sport. And I would probably prefer to watch paint dry than watch a game on TV.

But I love sumo. What other sport has athletes that look like this:


That's Konishiki at his fighting weight of 630 lbs. Sumo wrestlers obtain their famous bulk by eating a traditional meal called chanko, which is a giant pot of stew that you throw everything into for the sole purpose of weight gain.

And although people tend to make fun of the diaper looking cloth that sumo wrestlers wear (actually called a mawashi), it's part of a more formal apron-like article of clothing that sumo wrestlers wear during the opening and closing ceremonies of each tournament. The formal mawashi can be quite pretty.

And like the uniforms and cars of NASCAR drivers, the mawashi often include advertisements:


The mawashi above is essentially the logo of a yogurt company. But it's not the surreal nature of sumo that I like...okay, it's not just the surreal nature of sumo that I like. There is an actual artistry to the sport and the history and culture behind it is fascinating.

A National Geographic lesson on sumo:


This week's March tournament news:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Border Tragedy

For anyone who has lived in a border state, the violence that occasionally spills across from Mexico is nothing new. Sadly, a State department employee and her husband (both Americans), as well as the husband of a consulate employee, were shot and killed in Juarez today. My prayers go out to their families. Story from MSNBC is here. For those travelling to Mexico, a State Department travel alert is here.

UPDATE: The State Department has issued a statement here. As you would expect, this heartbreaking news is all over the FS blogs. More information seems to indicate that the victims might have been targeted, and the more depressing news is that the children of the victims were present at the time of the murders. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Three uber-FS bloggers, Consul-at-Arms, Diplopundit and Digger at Life After Jerusalem have posted about it. Zoe at Something Edited This Way Comes asks, "What Would You Do?" For myself, I would have no issue with immediately sending my wife and kids back to the States. If the risk is enough for the State Department to approve the evacuation of family and dependents, that would be enough for me because, quite simply, my family is everything to me. This news struck home for David at EF'M: The Life of an FSO Spouse. David is waiting to go with his FSO spouse to their first post in Hermosillo, Mexico.

To Market to Market

So the Mrs. and I have an extra house in Charlotte that we're finally putting on the market. Over the last couple of months we've spent a lot of time interviewing realtors, painters, landscapers and handymen in order to get the house in decent shape and up for sale. It should be listed sometime this week.

It's bittersweet. We both love the home and our neighbors there. The house is smack in the middle of a Mayberry-ish neighborhood. Everyone knows everyone. People sit outside and talk to each other (or even better, bring beers over to drink on the porch). Halloween is absolutely sick there with most of the city bringing their kids to our neighborhood to do the trick-or-treating (if you don't have 10lbs of candy each Halloween, you will run out - the first year we were there we were out of candy in literally an hour). A great neighborhood with great people.

In fact, the only reason we still have the house, three years after we moved to Atlanta, was in the hope that we would have an opportunity to move back. Sadly, we came to a decision at the end of last year that it would be best to go ahead and sell the house. The economy is not coming back as soon as we had hoped (and from my perspective, doesn't actually seem to be coming back much at all), and our areas of legal specialization are hard to find in Charlotte now that the crash of the last couple of years has effectively destroyed the structured finance industry.

So rather than keeping the house and dealing with renters (which has been hit or miss), not to mention dealing with the burden of carrying the extra mortgage, we're going to sell the house. We'll probably take a decent loss since the last two years in Charlotte has seen mass layoffs at the two major employers in town, Bank of America and Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo). There are tons and tons of houses on the market, plus far too many foreclosures from people laid off that have just walked from their homes, which doesn't look good for a fast sale or breaking even close to even. But, frankly, that's okay. Sometimes it's better to take the hit in order to focus on the future.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Funny Interlude

As a former denizen of LA, I think this is hilarious.

Musical Interlude

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes?

Talking heads on the telly are all abuzz about how the public sector is making more than the private sector based on this recent USA Today article. Without even taking into account health and pension benefits, the article states that, on average, federal workers make about 10% a year more than private workers (comparing jobs that appear in both public and private sectors).

From my perspective, where joining the Foreign Service would mean a massive cut in family income (around 70%), I have a hard time crediting this article. But maybe that's because I'm looking to join the Foreign Service for reasons other than remuneration. I imagine most mid-career candidates for the FS agree that what motivates them is certainly not the money. And reading the comments to the article is a bit depressing with the anti-government screeds that seem to imply government employees aren't worth getting paid at all, and the pro-government commenters implying that their salaries should exist outside of normal economic parameters.

I keep thinking of my father, a career Air Force officer who went to work every day at 5am and came home every day after 6pm. He worked tirelessly, and when he retired he joined NASA to continue working for the government and the projects he believed in. And he really didn't get paid well. Shamefully, my first job straight out of law school paid me more than he made after 30 years in government employ. And he had tons of colleagues that went to the private sector and made millions (several who tried to recruit him and which he turned down). I like to think that most government employees have the same level of commitment as my father did. But sometimes I feel like there are two public sectors. There is the public sector filled with dedicated, patriotic and hard-working people. And then there is the DMV.

Anyhow, with this article and all the goings on in Congress, the current issues with the economy and the budget, I wonder if there might end up being paycuts in government, or worse, hiring freezes.

Not before my A-100, please!


Friday, March 5, 2010

Interviewed!

So last Tuesday I made my way to mid-town Atlanta to visit the regional offices of the DSS for my formal security interview. It took under an hour, and according to my investigator, I brought more paperwork than most (must be the old attorney genes). The interview went something like this:

Investigator: "So I see you have [INSERT EMBARRASSING PAST INDISCRETION HERE], do you have any documentation to indicate that [INSERT EMBARRASSING PAST INDISCRETION HERE] has been resolved?"

Me: BAM! Slapping a phone book worth of docs on the table, "You'll see I have my paperwork in order."

Investigator: "I see...okay, all done here."

And that was pretty much it. Lot's of repetitive questions, the correct answers of which are:


I don't recommend bringing the duck and rhino to the interview, though. And yes, I do have 2 kids under the age of 4 at home. How did you know?

Musical Interlude

I had my security interview earlier this week and I'll post a bit more about it later, as I am spending a lot of time this week arranging meetings with my investigator and various employers and co-workers. In the interim, this tune has been in my head a lot lately.

Is It Just Me

or does this video of "The Day My Job Mattered Most" seem like kind of a let down?


The real question I have is whether that's a State Department-issued bow tie.