Flag Day weekend recap

I’m currently in a plane, heading back to Washington to attend my husband’s swearing-in ceremony tomorrow afternoon and to visit with my parents and in-laws, all of whom will be in town for the occasion. I’ve had a week to digest the results of Flag Day and I’m happy to say they are no less exciting a week later. I can’t believe how lucky we got and that we’re going to get to continue this adventure together, both as officers. It has been my husband’s dream for years now to be a diplomat and to represent the USA overseas and I’m so excited to get to witness the fulfillment of his lifelong dream.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I promised a proper recap of last weekend so I’ll start there:

The weekend started with a lie. I know, I know, lying is terrible and I shouldn’t do it. But this was a good lie: I told my husband weeks ago when I bought the ticket that I was flying in on Thursday evening, but I secretly bought a ticket to fly in Wednesday during the day, as it was his birthday and I knew he was having a party that night. I booked my ticket so I’d arrive mid afternoon just in case there was a delay and I missed a leg of the flight. I wanted to be certain that I’d make it to the party.

I was nervous getting on the plane that morning because I had been really sick the previous 4 days and when I’m sick I usually have problems with my ears and changing altitude can be quite painful. But I got lucky and all the decongestants I downed during those days I was home sick managed to clear my ears enough that I didn’t have any problems. Once I landed in DC, I headed up to my favorite bakery in Columbia Heights to pick up a carrot cake and from there I made my way down to Chinatown to my husband’s apartment. I had told him that I ordered him a present and that it was being delivered that afternoon so once I got there, I called him and made up a story about how the delivery guy had called me because of some problem with the front desk accepting the package and could he please go downstairs to figure out what had gone wrong. The look on his face when he walked out of the elevator and saw me standing there with cake in hand was just priceless. He was totally surprised and he maintains that he had no clue I was coming. Birthday surprise success!! His party was really fun, and it was great to meet some of his A-100 friends.

I spent Thursday hanging out with my friends, eating brunch at Founding Farmer’s, and shopping. I visited my good friend J.Crew and (shameless self congratulations) bought a pair of pants in a size I haven’t worn since before graduate school. All that running and eating mostly vegetables and protein has resulted in about 18 lbs lost since April. Hooray! I still have a few pounds to go to meet my goal, but this is an excellent start and it was great to get to share that milestone with my husband. We celebrated by ordering Thai food and watching Sherlock on Netflix. What can I say, we’re total party animals.

Friday morning I went for a quick run, met a friend for one last fancy lunch before her departure to Afghanistan, and then headed out to FSI. Several of my other favorite former Juarez colleagues met me at FSI and we spent some time catching up and taking deep, soothing, breaths to calm my nerves. The ceremony started late and Doha didn’t come up until about 3/4 of the way through. When they said his name, I literally screamed I was so happy. After the ceremony we headed to happy hour with his class and later went to a great celebratory house party. The rest of the weekend was spent catching up with friends (board games! baked goods! Mel Brooks movies!) and biking around the city. When Sunday afternoon rolled around and it was time to leave, I couldn’t believe how fast the time had gone by.

I’m excited to get to watch my husband take the oath of service tomorrow. I know he technically already took it (for those who don’t know, as federal employees we have to take the oath of service officially before we can get paid, so it’s generally done very first thing in the morning on day one of any federal job), but there’s just something about all the pomp and circumstance of the swearing-in ceremony at the State Department. I don’t know who the speaker is just yet, but I know it will be someone interesting. I can’t believe this is finally happening!

Flag day update!

This will be short since it is late here and I have an old lady bedtime, but
Flag Day was Friday and we got lucky! He’s going to Doha too! Hooray!

More info to come re: his assignment as well as my short but awesome trip to DC. For now, everyone breathe a huge sigh of relief with (for?) me.

More fun in DF

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I’m still having a blast down here in Mexico City. There is one week left of my TDY and I’m really hoping to make the most of it. There are a couple of restaurants I’m going to check out, a few more boutiques to peek into, and a handful of museums/exhibits I’d like to see, but I think I’ve got a pretty good plan worked out to really maximize the rest of my time here.

Last night I checked off a bunch of boxes on my to-do list. I bought some new clothes at a super cute boutique I’ve been eyeing on my daily coffee run with my fellow CJ TDYer, C. I also went to a fantastic restaurant, Rosetta, where I had an awesome arugula salad, fresh pappardelle with sage, and goat cheese ice cream. The food was spectacular and the company was even better. After dinner I headed to meet some friends at a whiskey bar down in Condesa. It was late by the time I got there–after 10 pm– but we stayed till about 12:30 and then half the group left to go home and the other half (myself included) went bar hopping, finally ending up at a rock club that Metallica once played in (or so I hear). All in all it was a super fun night out, although today I’m pretty tired from not getting home and to bed until almost 4:30 am. I can’t remember the last time I was out so late…but while I’m exhausted today, I wouldn’t take back a second of it.

I am really going to miss this place and all the people here. It will be good to go home for many reasons, but this has been an excellent trip full of fun, new friends, and lots and lots of shopping.

Letting go

One thing I find really difficult about my job–about consular work, really– is letting go. Letting go of people you issued who you may have second thoughts about, letting go of people you refuse who may have actually qualified with a few more questions or just one more document. You just can’t let those cases stick with you or you’ll never be able to make decisions.

I had a case like that today and I can’t get them out of my head. My brain knows that they can always apply again, but my bleeding heart feels heavy and sad to think about how long they saved to pay for their interviews and for the 2 days they had to spend here in what is a pretty expensive city.

The whole rest of the day I felt hypersensitive to the huge disparities between rich and poor people here in Mexico and in this city in particular. I wanted to buy chicles (gum) from every kid on every street corner, knit shawls from every indigenous woman with a baby strapped on her back, wooden toys from every stooping old man pushing what is always a super heavily laden modified wheelbarrow down an impossibly crowded street.

I joined the Foreign Service to try to make the world a better place but sometimes I can’t see the forest through the trees and I just feel like I’m only hurting those people who most need help. I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of miss doing immigrant visas. True the lows are definitely lower, but I miss that feeling you get when you click “issue” and get to tell a family that they can finally be together again. That’s what makes this job worth it to me. That’s when I feel like I’m actually doing something good for the world.

It’s heartening to think that even with my husband gone I have something to look forward to back in Juárez, but for the next three weeks I just need to let go of my bleeding heart.

A great day

Guess what I did today?  I went for a walk. Outside. On a sidewalk lined with giant, green, trees. In a refreshing, light rainstorm.

Anyone who has been to Juarez will really understand how crazy awesome that is. In Juarez, you don’t walk outside. It’s either eleventy billion degrees out, blowing dust so think you can barely see, or…yeah those are pretty much the options. There are virtually no sidewalks in Juarez, which is sort of ok since there really isn’t anywhere you’d really want to go. There are neither giant nor green trees in Juarez. But if you like tumbleweeds, do I have a town for you! Finally, the last time it rained in Juarez was…actually I can’t remember the last time it rained. Sometime earlier this summer, but I really don’t remember. It’s that infrequent. So yeah, today I checked off a bunch of boxes on my “OMG I forgot how awesome being in a city is” list. 

MIssion Mexico has really been slammed for numbers lately and one of the good things about being in such a large mission is that there are a lot of resources to be had within the mission itself. That is how I ended up on my second TDY this year, this time down in one of my favorite cities ever: Mexico City. I love this place. LIke, really. And not just because of the sidewalks, although I do have to give props to the government here for hiring street sweepers to pick up trash and sweep leaves off the major pedestrian thoroughfares every single day. Well done, D.F. Well done. But seriously, I love this place because there is just so much life here. It’s everywhere: from the trees, to the sidewalk vendors, to the crazy long lines of busses queueing up for rush hour.  Being here makes me feel really energized and I love being able to take the city bus and to be able to actually get out and explore a little. Hopefully I’ll have enough downtime here to really get to see some things. 

Visa work here is not super different from visa work in Juarez or in Monterrey, although the numbers here are pretty incredible. Most officers do more than 100 interviews per day and many do a lot more than that. All the officers have been really nice, the local staff is great, and being really busy makes the day go by very quickly. There are a lot of newbies on the line, which has the potential to be really scary/stressful for everyone else but the team here is really great and even the newest officers are doing a good job of pulling their weight. It does make me very grateful that I started in CJ at a time when a busy day was usually around 600 applicants for 12 officers. I’m sure I would have gotten up to speed faster if I had been sent somewhere like here where it’s kind of sink or swim in terms of numbers, but I’m glad I was able to take my time learning the quirks of the system and really getting to know the applicant pool. 

In other, completely non-related news. My husband got the bid list today and we are pleasantly surprised by its contents. I don’t want to jinx us so I’ll not say anything more until Flag Day, but I am pretty relieved. 

Much more to come, but I’m off to eat some dinner now. Hasta luego!

It’s really happening

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I’ve been avoiding writing about something big that is happening in my life. Like, really big. I don’t have a good excuse, partly it’s because (as we all know) I am a lazy blogger, and it’s partly because I sort of keep hoping that if I don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t be such a big deal. At least that is what I keep telling myself. But I don’t think I can avoid it now. Things have been put into motion and there’s no stopping now.

My husband is leaving me…

…for a place in the 173rd A-100 class which starts up on July 15th!! Yep. We found out back in May and although he accepted the offer pretty quickly, until this week it kind of felt like a dream–like it wasn’t going to happen. But he packed out on Monday and now it’s starting to feel real.

I am so proud of him I could just burst. It has been such a long journey for him and I am glad that he is finally realizing his dream. That said, I’m not going to lie: I am really sad he is leaving. Really sad. We’ve spent the last few weeks hanging out with our friends as much as possible, saying goodbye to some of his favorite restaurants here in the El Paso/Juarez area, and just trying to spend as much time together as we can before he leaves, because we have no idea how long we’re saying goodbye for.  A year is about the minimum it will be, but it could be more. We really don’t know anything yet and we won’t really know what is going to happen until his Flag Day mid-August.

In the meantime, we’ve got a great Farewell-to-Mexico trip planned and there are still a lot of details to work out for his move. Keep your fingers crossed that the Department Gods of Tandem Bidding will be kind to us!

Breakfast biscuit sandwiches

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I’ve been meaning to post more baked goods lately. It’s been far too long since I did a baked goods post. That is not to say that I haven’t been baking up a storm; I’ve just been lazy about taking photos of my baked goods. But last Saturday I made breakfast biscuit sandwiches that I knew just had to be blogged.

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Here’s what you need to make 6 sandwiches:

1 batch of biscuits (see recipe below)
12 slices thick cut bacon, cut into halves and cooked until lightly crispy
Spinach or arugula
6 eggs
6 slices cheese (if you want)
Salted butter, to taste
Spicy fruit jam (I like to use Pioneer Valley’s Riotous Raspberry)

You first make the biscuits, then while they’re cooling fry your eggs. You want the yolks to be slightly runny when you bite into them but not so runny that they go everywhere. Once you’ve got your eggs cooked, slice open the biscuits. Butter one side and give the other a generous smear of jam. Put the egg on the buttered side of the biscuit. If you’re using cheese, put the cheese on top of the egg so the radiant heat melts the cheese. Add a pile of spinach and then place 4 bacon halves on top of the spinach. Put the other half of the biscuit on top and enjoy!

For those of you looking for a killer biscuit recipe, here’s my favorite one:

I’ve adapted this recipe from a trusty Betty Crocker cookbook. Here’s what you’ll need to make about 6 large (3.5-inch diameter) biscuits:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1.5 t salt
2/3 cup frozen butter (about 10.5 tablespoons)
3/4 cup milk

Method
Heat oven to 450, place oven rack in middle of oven.

In medium bowl whisk together dry ingredients. Take your frozen butter and dice it, carefully, into small cubes. Cut butter into flour using a pastry blender or 2 forks, until mixture looks like fine crumbs. All the butter won’t cut in evenly and that’s a good thing, those lumps of butter are what will give the biscuits those flaky, delicious layers.

Stir in milk using a wooden spoon until dough leaves the side of the bowl. It will be pretty soft and maybe a little sticky. Knead it a few times in the bowl with lightly floured hands, then turn the dough out onto a piece of lightly floured parchment. Knead lightly about 10 times. I cheat and use the parchment to “knead” the dough. Take one side of the parchment paper and pull the paper tightly to constrict the dough into a ball. Release that side and repeat on all four is sides. Flip the dough over and repeat.

Roll the dough out to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut out rounds with a very clean tuna can or a cookie cutter. Place on an untreated cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 2 minutes on pan and then move the biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

What could have been

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I don’t usually write when I’m on vacation. Partly because this is the internet and there are creepers everywhere, but also because I like being at least somewhat unplugged while I’m away. But after tonight, I have to break my rule and write.

I’m currently spectating at an international piano competition, one I’ve always dreamed about attending. It has been spectacular so far; I have had a total blast attending the almost 8 hours a day of piano recitals (not consecutive hours, they let us out to eat and use the bathroom once in a while). These pianists are, in a word, fantastic. Of course there are some who are clearly more polished than others, but these guys are the best of the best.

Anyone who has been in my house and/or who has heard me complain about my weird tiny living room knows that I have a piano. It’s not the concert grand I dream of, but it is in good shape, holds its tune pretty well, and was a bargain on Craigslist to boot. I love love love it. See, once upon a time, the only thing in the whole world that I wanted was to be a concert pianist. I wanted lessons so badly that I started to teach myself how to read way before kindergarten because the teacher who taught my brothers would only accept students who could read. I started accompanying choirs when I was in 3rd grade, not because I really enjoyed accompanying choirs, but because I LOVED being on the stage under the lights playing my heart out.

Why am I writing about this tonight? Well, during the second of the three performances tonight, the pianist played a sonata that was the last piece I learned in its entirety before I stopped playing. Not surprisingly, he played it better than I did. But he is also 8 years older than I was when I played it, and he’s received formal, conservatory level training for all of those 8 years, something I never got the chance to do. I always thought I was pretty good at playing the piano, but I don’t think I ever thought I was really that good…good enough to play whole pieces that real life, actual professionals played in competitions. But watching him nail that Beethoven tonight and knowing how well I actually did play it** made me feel like I was watching what could have been my life.

I cried during his performance…partly because he really played the hell out of it and partly because it got me thinking about what my life could have been if I had been able to keep playing. If I could have afforded the medical treatment to fix the problem I had which made (and sometimes still makes) my left arm numb after too many repetitive motions. If I had been more proactive with finding teachers who could connect me with professionals. If I had believed that I was good enough to warrant the expense and the time.

I’m not unhappy with the life I’ve chosen. I have an interesting job that may turn into an interesting career. I have a wonderful, supportive, and sexy husband who I can’t imagine life without. I have great friends near and far, many of whom I would never have met if I had chosen another path. But I just can’t help but think that I gave up something fundamental in myself when I quit playing the piano competitively. And now that I know that that piece is missing, I don’t know how to continue on the path I’ve chosen without at least trying to get part of it back.

**I’m not just tooting my own horn, I swear. I competed with that sonata at both the county and state level and both times I received almost perfect marks.

Monterrey

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Guys. Everything you’ve heard about Monterrey, Mexico and how dangerous and terrible it is, is a lie. Ok maybe it’s not entirely a lie…it’s still a dangerous city and there are precautions there in place to protect diplomats for a reason. BUT! While officers there do have to deal with the security situation, they have the benefit of dealing with the security situation in a city where there are world class museums, groomed outdoor running trails, gorgeous national parks, and some seriously incredible food options. And believe me, I took full advantage of all of the awesome things about Monterrey on my month-long TDY there back in March.

The whole point of my TDY was to help keep the NIV wait time down, so I did a whole bunch of NIV adjudications while I was there.  Actually, I managed to set my all-time-adjudication record there, which felt awesome. The work in Monterrey can be overwhelming in terms of numbers, but they have a great team of officers and in spite of some spacial challenges they function as a truly well-oiled machine. All the officers and the local staff were so welcoming and kind and I really enjoyed my work there. As for the city, I could live there forever. Ok that’s maybe a lie–I don’t think I could live anywhere forever–but it’s a pretty incredible place.

For starters, the mountains there are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I love mountains, especially big, tall, spiky ones and the Sierra Madre did not disappoint. Actually, I have to admit that Mexico in general is a lot more mountainous than I was expecting. I’m not really sure what I thought it’d be like, but every city I’ve been in with the notable exception of Cancun/Playa del Carmen, has had gigantic, spiky, gorgeous mountains in, around, or cutting through it.

One of the best parts about the mountains in Monterrey is that there’s a great big gorgeous national park, Chipinque, that encompasses a large portion of one of the ranges. The entrance fee is subsidized by the government so it’s super cheap ($20 pesos for pedestrians, about $1.65). I spent a gorgeous Sunday there with my fellow TDY-er and we had a great time hiking and taking in the scenery. After we hiked up the mountain about 2 miles, we got to the top of one of the peaks where there’s a visitor center, a small restaurant, and an amphitheater where they program children’s events. That afternoon, apparently what seemed like half of Monterrey was there with their families picnicking and enjoying nature.

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Monterrey is also home to a bunch of fantastic museums, including Horno3, a science museum that used to be an old blast furnace back when Monterrey was a steel town. The museum is located in the middle of what used to be a huge foundry but is now a big park full of museums, public art, a great big arena, and a convention center. The main exhibit at Horno3 is definitely more geared toward a younger audience, but being kind of a museum nerd, I LOVED every second of it. The other great part about the museum is that you can take a cable car up the outside slope of one of the walls to a catwalk that covers the whole length of the museum. It was a perfect place to get a 360 degree view of the city and an even better place to watch the sun go down. They actually keep the cable car open after hours so you can walk the catwalk at night. I didn’t get to do the night tour, but it’s on my list for a future trip to Monterrey.

 

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I know bidding is upon us, and Monterrey is on the list. It’s still a no-EFM-under-21 post, but for outdoorsy people who enjoy city life, I think it would be a great post, and someday when I come back to Mexico, Monterrey will be one of my top choices.

A tragic end; a joyous beginning

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On April 20, one of my colleagues from the Consulate was murdered.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to process, and I’m still kind of trying to wrap my head around it. Victor was one of the guys on the maintenance staff at the Consulate. He worked on the team that does all the maintenance in the homes of officers, so most of us knew him well. Actually, he was in our house the week before he died, fixing our struggling air conditioner and testing our iodine filter.

2 weeks ago today, Victor was at a children’s party in his neighborhood with his wife and kids. Mid-party, a group of gunmen burst into the house and demanded to see one of the men who was attending the party. Victor tried to diffuse the situation by talking calmly to the gunmen but they weren’t having it and they shot him, in cold blood, in front of his wife and at least one of his 4 children. According to news reports he died at the scene along with 2 other men who were attending the party. I don’t know anything about the other men who died that night–who they were, or what they were involved in–but I know that Victor was a law-abiding, brave, dedicated man and I don’t and probably will never understand what could possibly have been so important that it was necessary or worth it to take his life. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The Consulate had a memorial service for Victor the last Friday in April. In addition to memorializing Victor, speaking of his kindness, his valor, and his dedication to his work and family, the Consulate presented his wife and children with the generous donations that had been collected in the preceding week. Funds are still being collected, as the family not only has to pay for Victor’s funeral and all the costs surrounding that, but they now are without a primary breadwinner and all of his 4 children are still in school.**

 

We missed Victor’s memorial service because we were on the east coast celebrating the marriage of one of my husband’s cousins. It was a gorgeous wedding ceremony: sunny skies, sparkling water, bright pink flowers, beautiful vows, and lots and lots of love. While I wish we could have been present at Victor’s memorial service, it was heartening to get to watch the happy couple say their vows,  exchange rings, and start their new life together. I wish them a long and happy life together and I pray that they won’t ever have to go through the heartache and grief that Victor’s family is experiencing.

Life is fragile and precious. Don’t take it for granted.

**If you’re interested in donating to Victor’s family, please email me at the address found in my About section and I’ll tell you how.