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.