Sunday, September 30, 2012

End of orientation!

Orientation Week 3 is over and we're all officially sworn in!  Looking back on it, orientation was a pretty heavy crush of information, but I don't see a better way to handle it; there's a lot of information to cover.  It was great to get to know so many new people and I'm looking forward to working with them in the future.  Several of us went out for happy hour Friday night after the swearing-in ceremony.  Good times, and I'll just leave it at that.

This weekend we finally had a chance to relax since we decided on permanent housing last weekend.  Yesterday we walked from Roosevelt Island to the Foggy Bottom metro station via Georgetown, which was a nice tour of the area.  I'm not sure which was more strange: seeing deer pooping in the swamp on Roosevelt Island, or the ridiculously long line out the door of the Georgetown Cupcake shop (considering the street value of their product is $29 per dozen).

Just when I was starting to get used to orientation training, it's over and time to focus on normal work.  This week will start with a couple of days of general security overseas training, then I'll start working at the Overseas Buildings Operations building.  My regional assignment is still to be determined, but hopefully I'll find that out this week.  It'll be good to dig into the real work, I'm looking forward to it!

(This post written while listening to Manu Katché Silence (remix).)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Flag Day!

Today was a VERY exciting day for new foreign service employees: flag day is when your first assignment is announced.  A ceremony was held (with family invited) to announce each person's first post.  During the ceremony, they announced a post, country, position, and then the person's name for the assignment.  Here's the flag I received:

It wasn't the flag I was expecting - if you're like me, then you wouldn't've recognized the flag for Washington DC.  But I _was_ expecting to get posted to DC.  It was interesting to experience the event, though, and to talk with others about their upcoming posts, which include China, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Chad, Lebanon, Barbados, Peru, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Congo, Russia, and more.  It's pretty wild to me to think that most of my fellow students I've gotten to know during the last three weeks are going to scatter to all kinds of places all over the world - I mean, obviously that's what was going to happen, but something about today made it more real somehow.  Interesting stuff!

(This post written while listening to Duran Duran Rio.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

End of orientation Week 2

Another week of orientation complete and again they've done a great job with the training, including mixing in offsite trips.  No amount of caffeine could get me even close to our instructors' energy level.  Yesterday we had a class barbeque and we almost got thrown out of the place I reserved for it, so that clearly was a good time.

We _FINALLY_ made a decision on our permanent housing for a variety of reasons: we're going to rent.  We found a good place that, among other things, should result in about a 40 minute commute for me.  The location also has quite the international selection of restaurants: japanese, peruvian, ethiopian, latin american, kabobian, and even an international house of pancakes.  It looks like it'll only be an hour bike ride to work too, so that could work. 

This week will end with our official swearing-in, so that's very cool.  Next week I'll take an overseas security course then start work - and hopefully get a better line on my first assignment(s).  Interesting times!

(This post written while listening to Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 (as performed by John Williams and the Boston Pops).)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

End of orientation Week 1

The first week has been very exciting. I don't think I had a lot of expectations, I just went into it with an open mind and it's been great. Experiencing Main State, meeting the other people starting orientation at the same time - I don't think I can provide a lot of detail, but it's all been very cool.

The first week's excitement was also tempered by the week's embassy and consulate events; obviously the Benghazi attack was particularly significant. One of our orientation class teachers forwarded this article for our consideration, which I found very interesting. Rather than ranting for pages, I'll just say this: I'm very much looking forward to supporting our diplomatic staff in their positions around the world, now more than ever.

Sorry to keep it short this week, but I'm still trying to get a sense for what's acceptable to share, AND I should probably get some sleep soon too.

(This post written while listening to two snoring dogs.)

Monday, September 10, 2012


Now I'm REALLY in!  I have a badge so this MUST be real.  In fact, to prove it, here's a scan of it:



We were briefed on the State Department's security protocols and concerns, including suggestions on information posted to blogs.  Many of the suggestions are common sense, however there's a line between acceptable and not that I'll need to research more to avoid the latter and its associated separation anxiety.

(insert a Terry Gilliam Flying Circus interlude between skits here)

Suffice to say that I (and many others) arrived on time, was sworn in (among other prepositions I'm sure), and left with my first badge since cub scouts.  I'd attach it to the fridge to show off to my family if I didn't think a magnet would ruin it.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Foreign Service Institute to begin detailed administrative training.  The next big items on the agenda are to select a health plan and figure out what to do about permanent housing.  I heard a rumor that OBO might want 1 or 2 engineers to leave immediately, so that might put a hold on housing planning for all of us non-local Construction Engineers until after the orientation, we'll see.

(This post written while listening to Bruce Cockburn [covering] Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

T minus 9 hours

T'was the night before...kickoff, and everyone's waiting through the pregame ceremonies and ads.  We've picked a strange way to spend a two week vacation, but we have several major tasks behind us so it's easier to focus on the path ahead.  Our Colorado house closing is continuing on schedule, which is great.  My wife is set up to start working remotely tomorrow from our temporary housing, so that's good.  Our dogs seem to be adjusting fine.  All systems nominal.

We've been looking at housing to purchase and to rent, however we haven't committed on either front yet as we just aren't sure yet about the first post.  Based on almost everything we've seen it should be DC, but obviously we don't know.  We might have to make a decision soon one way or another, we'll see. 

We've also been following up on a variety of logistical issues: registering our vehicles in Falls Church, licensing our dogs in Falls Church, buying and registering SmarTrip cards for the metro, and other odds and ends.  Nothing major but it all adds up timewise.

I met a couple fellow construction engineers for dinner last night, and met several other specialists in our class at a happy hour event this afternoon - it was great to meet a few people before my first first day of school in a long time.  It's been fascinating to meet people entering the foreign service from a variety of paths: some from private companies like me and some from public service positions, but also some military backgrounds as well as several spouses of current foreign service employees at foreign posts; the spouses have flown in from all over (including New Delhi, Lima, and Nairobi) to attend the orientation.  Very cool. 

Based on the latest collective thinking, I'm expecting the three weeks of orientation to be as follows: Day 1 at Main State (introductions, badges, much walking around, probably kissing a few babies for tourist photo ops) and the rest at the Foreign Service Institute (a campus atmosphere for training, although probably without pickup ultimate games).  I'm no longer expecting to get my bid list in the first week because it would just be a dead giveaway if it listed DC as my only option, and what kind of fun would that be?  It'd be like using an invisible box for presents.  (Note to self: submit invisible box patent.)  My post should be formally announced on orientation's "Flag Day", September 25th.

Exciting times! I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I'd better try to get some sleep...

(This post written while listening to Nick Drake Time Has Told Me.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

T minus 4 days

The major updates since Friday are:
- We drove from Colorado to Virginia
- We accepted an offer on our house
- We began our permanent house hunting

We took 4 days to drive 1900 miles and visit friends along the way.  The trip had some interesting moments, including:
- watching a cropduster fly alongside us low over farm crops then pull up at the last second to fly over a house
- seeing a car's engine fire by the side of the highway that had started a significant grass fire that was getting fanned by strong winds
- in Maryland on highway 68 east at exit 14, seeing the attractions sign that had a question mark on it

I had a great time on the trip - it was really fun to see so much of the country by car. It did seem odd that over the entire trip, I think I saw far more entire car front bumpers on the side of the road than hubcaps.

We checked into the Oakwood Falls Church complex last night and it's quite nice. Our UAB hasn't arrived yet, but that's fine as it took many trips to unload our cars. We brought WAAAAYHAYYYYHAAYYYYYYY too much stuff. It seems like we barely scratched the surface with our downsizing efforts. We might look like hoarders, but really we're just trying to not be wasteful and throw things out. Hmmm, now that I think about it, that's probably classic hoarder thinking. It's apparently a fine line between being efficient and a hoarder (as well as between clever and stupid). 

Our entire specialist class (the 127th) has started getting email tips from volunteers from the previous class, which is very helpful - I really appreciate the time they're taking to reach out to us noobs. For example, they're suggesting that we keep hard copies of every form we've submitted in case someone needs it. While this is a lot of forms, this isn't hard to do with an adequately-sized Trapper Keeper. Some of my form hard copies are already in HHE so that's not ideal, but I scanned every form I signed so I could reprint them if necessary. 

Yesterday we visited an apartment complex looking at places to buy. 11 to be precise. Today we're going to call and visit some places to rent. Hopefully the answer will present itself soon.

(This post written while listening to Talking Heads Born Under Punches.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

T minus 10 days

The major updates since Sunday are:
- The movers came on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; we had three major categories of movers: HHE packers, UAB packers, and HHE loaders/shippers
- Our UAB shipped out on Wednesday
- Our HHE shipped out on Thursday
- Tonight is our last night in Colorado for probably quite a while

Okay yeah, it's happening.  I believe it now.  The house is empty.  We slept on our air mattress last night, we cleaned the house today, and we'll be hitting the road tomorrow morning.  Our dogs have never been outside of Colorado before, but I think they're cool with the change.

On Monday around noon I instinctively thought "I need to make sure I record my time for this morning's work."  There were multiple things wrong with that. 

The move went fine as far as we know.  There were some minor complications, like:
1) We had stuff designated to move out of our UAB into our HHE if we were over our allowance, but the movers assured us we were under the 450 pounds.  Then we got a call the next day saying we were over by 90 pounds.  I mean, not even close.  Frustrating to say the least considering we specifically called their attention to the issue and how we weren't sure how exactly to weigh 450 pounds of random items (using a bathroom scale?).  Chalk this one up to experience.
2) The list of prohibited items was broader than we imagined.  Flammable liquids, ammunition, and fireworks - sure.  Matches, lighters, and batteries - no problem.  But their prohibition of just about all liquids, including open bottles of anything, is more limiting than I would've imagined.  Consequently our car will have many more liquids in it that we expected.

The movers liked a local hip hop radio station, and - like all effective advertising - the song I remember the best was played many times and had an extremely repetitive line: "I don't really care".  Not exactly the greatest motivational soundtrack for one's movers - I would've much preferred "Use extra padding on that crystal, yo" - but they seemed to like it.

Here's a free tip I learned during the move: if you don't have enough Gatorade mix for a full bottle, you can pour a little mix straight into your mouth, then take a drink of water, mix it around, and voila!  Now, you might think that wouldn't work - and you'd be absolutely right - but I PROVED that it doesn't work.  Word to the wise (from the unwise).

It turns out our HHE driver has a 1993 rig that he's racked up over 1,078,000 miles on.  Wow.  He also said it gets 5 miles per gallon whether or not he's pulling a load.  I expected it to be significantly different from a conventional car, but I didn't expect numbers like that.  Interesting.

We're still undecided on whether to buy or rent.  The general pros and cons of both are pretty obvious, but on one facet, we think it could be great to rent and experience different parts of the DC metro area.  Renting offends our equity-building sensibilities, but we might have to get over that.  The uncertainty of how long we'll be in DC isn't helping our Kepner-Tragoe decision making flow chart nomograph either.  We'll do some house hunting next week and see what makes sense, particularly assuming we'll need something as of about Sep 30th.

Alright it's time to get some sleep before The Drive begins.  If the adventure hasn't begun already, it clearly will tomorrow.

(This post written while listening to Waka Flocka Flame I Don't Really Care.)