Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Hodge Podge Kind of Day

Too much going on these days that I'm going to have to bust out some bullet points to cover events. But I'll lead off with some highlights from last night's Fatiguing, Self-Inflicted (FSI) course on the logistics of moving overseas.

First, let me say that I did learn some good pointers about preparing for the movers. Piles, people. From anecdotal evidence, the movers pack everything in site, so you're best off creating piles of things you want packed together. Some examples included the movers packing a family's garbage, which they received with their second shipment*. Another funny story was about a cat getting packed. Fortunately, depending on your perspective, they realized the cat was packed before boxes left the building and were able to get it out**.

*I plan on addressing this more later, but the State Department uses the expressions (and acronyms) unaccompanied baggage (UAB) and household effects (HHE) to denote the two shipments of luggage you receive after arriving at your post. Wouldn't be a lot easier just to call them the first and second shipment? That seems less confusing.

**I like animals, even cats. But cats make terrible pets. Sorry, it's just how it is. If a house cat weighed 90 pounds instead of 9 pounds, it would eat you. Even at 9 pounds, cats spend most of the day thinking if they could fit you in their mouth. As an historical side note to this, cats are last animal that have been domesticated (dogs were the first), so maybe in another 50,000 years, they'll make for better pets.

So while the class had some good stuff, the main pitfall was that it was too general to be applicable. And I noted as much on my evaluation. Maybe start with the general stuff and then break into groups that will have similar pack-out day experiences. For example, the people moving to China will have a different experience - and therefore need different information - than those of us driving to Canada or Mexico. Or maybe create courses called The Logistics of Moving (X Country).

To wrap up, so far I haven't had great FSI experiences, but I'll keep going if for no other reason than to get more material to write about. That's right, I'll keep sacrificing my own time for you, the readers. Now let's tackle some bullets:

• First a shout-out to my local in-laws, and regular EF'M readers, Eric and Mindy, for taking Natalie and me to a Wizards game Monday night. I'm not much into the NBA, but seeing a game in person is an entirely different and more enjoyable experience than watching it on TV. Secondly, as bad as the Wizards have been the past two years, when I attend the game, they've gone something like 5-1. (Wizards, you should treat me to every game, and maybe you'd win more.) We plan on returning the favor by taking Eric and Mindy to a Naranjeros baseball game when they come to Hermosillo (2010 Mexican Pacific League Campeones! That is number 15, baby!)

• A member of our Hermosillo contingent had a baby boy earlier this week, so congratulations are in order.

• You probably won't be getting any weekend updates because Natalie and I are going to Charlottesville, Va., to hit up some wineries and Monticello with another couple. We created a list of things we wanted to do while living in Virginia, and this has been on there for a long time. And we realize this is not the last time we'll be living in this area, but this is kind of a farewell-see-ya-later tour that we are doing because we are foreign service rookies, and this is the kind of things rookies do.

• And finally, there is a new, unofficial countdown as Natalie received word from the Hermosillo Consulate that they would like her first day to be June 28. This moving thing keeps becoming more real every day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

EFM: Employment Finale, March 5

The countdown unofficially began today when my publisher handed me a consulting contract that puts a big black circle around Friday, March 5. And it likely will really begin tomorrow when I sign it after making a couple of clarifications.

I've choked down this job since July 18, 2005, and during that time, I've interviewed for at least four different publications while applying for dozens more (more accurately, I started applying for jobs about six months after starting here and had my first interview about one year into this job).

And now the glorious light at the end of the tunnel can be seen, finally. Granted, it comes with the caveat that I'll still be depending on these people for freelance work, so I can't give that exit interview I've been dreaming of for years.

It also is not my intention to travel the world writing for this magazine, either. Ideally, I'll use this gig as a crutch for a year or less until I can find something more permanent or at least enough freelance work for publications I respect.

In this regard, March 5 represents the end of the tunnel, but it is not the end of the ride.

Beginning my freelance transition in March even though we aren't leaving for Hermosillo until late June is important because it will afford me more time to look around at other options.

It also affords me more time in general. This is an 8-to-5 job (actually 7:20 to 5:45 when accounting for commute) that I can get done in a few hours each week. Not only will I have time to explore other revenue-generating options, but I'll have more time to cook, exercise and watch March Madness. Really, March 5 couldn't be a better last day in that regards as Championship Week will be hitting its stride that day.

Now I just have to make it another week and a half, and then I'll get to start to enjoy my new found freedom.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Morbid Monday Thought

I have no idea why this morning I was thinking about my government-issued health exam, but sure enough, I am.

I suppose part of it may be that after something as terrible as the Haitian earthquake, I feel like I have made a mistake during the checkup.

As part of Natalie's background checks, we both also had to submit to a thorough medical exam with family medical history, life-style questionnaires, needles, x-rays and fluid samples (no venereal diseases for me, thank you very much and nearly ideal blood pressure to boot).

As I went into the waiting room to give blood (oh, so many waiting rooms), the lady at the desk asked me if I wanted to join the State Department's DNA program. Sure, why not, maybe I'll get a discount or something.

"Are you sure?" the lady asked me. Hmmmm...So I had to ask why the DNA program was.

"We keep your DNA on record and use it to identify your remains."

Well, maybe that spooked me momentarily because I decided I didn't want to join the program. In hindsight, I wish I would have, but I don't think I was ready to be thinking about a potentially horrific death that could come as a result of traveling abroad.

Maybe it is my youthful disillusions about immortality, but I honestly don't care too much about receiving a proper funeral. But I've come to realize that if something such as a natural disaster were to strike where ever the government sends us, giving the government another tool to locate me would bring loved ones some sense of closure. So I wish I had let the government keep a record of my DNA.

But as I told my parents, Natalie did join the program, so if her remains are found with somebody the government cannot identify, then it is probably me. I don't think they found that very amusing or comforting.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

FSO: First Stop Overseas

Hermosillo must be a destination for first-timers in the foreign service.

Back in January, Natalie helped arrange a lunch for a Hermosillo contingent, which comprises five A-100ers ranging from 145th to 148th (I think) who all are arriving in Hermosillo within a few months of each other.

(A long tangent: We ate at Chef Geoff's, which made me realize how impossible English must be to learn to read. We have no rules. How is Geoff pronounced Jeff and Gee Off? After all, it is pronounced geometry, not jemetry. The English are really poor when it comes to spelling proper names compared to how they are pronounced. Stephen and Steven is another one. Since when did "ph" sound like a "v?"

Natalie and I were in London once, and I recall a few stops on the Underground having six or seven silent consonants. But you don't have to go to England to see this kind of absurdity. Look at Worcester, Mass., pronounced Wooster. Where the hell did the "r" go?

By contrast, French has disappearing letters, too. For example, il parle (he speaks) and ils parlent (they, masculine, speak), but that is the rule. All regular verbs act that way. In short, English must be a bitch to learn to read.)

Back to the matter at hand. It was a great lunch because I got to meet several of the people we will be living near. About half are single, but there is an Eventual Friend in Mexico (EFM - woman) and My Outdoorsy Hoosier (MOH - man), whose girlfriend also was in Natalie's A-100 class.

I figure these two will be the most important friendships for the next couple of years because not only will they be two of the only English-speaking people I will know and we'll have lots of free time, most likely.

In all, it seems like a friendly group, and I'm glad I got first introductions out of the way before arriving in Mexico.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cell Assistance

Once again, I bring my problems to you. Y'all did such a good job answering my Spanish question, I thought I see if you could help me out with my cell phone situation.

I think it is important to reiterate that while I'm amazed by technology, I find that it is generally over the top. To wit, I've never spent money on a cell phone; I've always taken the giveaway phone that comes with the plan. After all, why do I need a phone that acts like a camera, video camera and computer when I already have those devices?

As I will be switching to a freelance career soon, and moving out of the country in the not too distant future, it is time for me to get a new phone. So I'm looking for advice or insights.

I have only a few of specifications.

The first is that I'm buying a cell phone, not a portable computer (in other words, I'm looking to do this on the cheap). I'm going to be working from home, so there always will be a computer nearby anyway. And I don't do facebook or twitter updates; hell, I don't even do text messaging. Communication is easy enough already with e-mail and cell phones, and I'd rather someone actually put forth a modicum of effort to reach me.

The second is that I want a phone that lends itself to easy conversation recording. Before you start judging me and get creeped out, let me add that my line of reporting requires a little assistance. I once wrote an article that included the word "blepharokeratoconjunctivitis." For those of you keeping score at home, that is 28 letters, which still isn't quite as long as the 34-letter word "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," but I think the b-- word should get some bonus points for having an actual meaning instead of being nonsensical. (And to prove I have too much time on my hands right now, apparently there is a raging debate about the longest word in the English language. Well, maybe not raging, but the fact that people debate this kind of stuff...insert your own punchline here).

I don't have a science background, so whenever a physician drops a gem like that one on me, it is nice to have a recording of the conversation to lean on. Especially because many of these doctors are talking to me in between operations and don't have time to provide much explanation.

The third, and final, criterion is that it needs to be a phone I can use outside of the United States.

I think that about covers it, so if you know anything about cell phones, using non-government-issued phones overseas (thanks, taxpayers) or anything that I should know about but apparently don't because I didn't say anything about it in this post, please let your voice be heard.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Blog?

Recently there have been a couple of threads in a private Yahoo! Group about what kind of information should or should not be included in a blog about life as an FSO (either a Frightened and Suspicious Oversea'er or Fearlessly Serving Overseas, depending on the FSO) or spouse.

Obviously, I lean toward including everything, including first names, with one exception. That is, I will not include the names of any other FSOs, EFMs, MOHs or another government acronym without getting permission. Everyone is entitled to privacy, until they start blogging in public.

There also were comments made about being discrete about what the government provides its foreign service employees and families courtesy of tax payers.

Once again, obviously I don't agree with this advice. American citizens ought to know how their tax dollars are being spent. I cannot see a single downside to sharing information about use of tax dollars, and I welcome anyone to dissuade me otherwise.

But at the heart of many of the postings in these threads was why people post blogs anyway.

Many indicated they were doing so in lieu of filling friends' and family mailboxes with e-mail updates. Because it was for their eyes only, they would slap a password on the blog to keep it out of the public's hands.

I did send my link to my friends and family with a similar message that I will not being doing the mass e-mail thing and if they really want to know what is going on, then stop by my blog.

But instead of limiting my drivel to people I know, I decided to open my experiences to others. And so far, I'm glad that I have.

For one, I've been able to interact (on a limited basis) with others in a similar position as myself. It is nice to know others have gone through this already and turned out somewhat normal.

Also, I know that some readers have been directed to this blog by searching for terms related to being an eligible family member. I can't imagine they walked away with much at this point, but I hope potential or recent EFMs will find this blog once I'm able to start sharing overseas experiences.

Pretty much the only EFM the uninitiated have to relate to, especially since there has been a recent movie, is Julia Child. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that many EFMs do not have a similar experience of becoming a wildly successful chef and live in Paris.

So the reason I blog, other than for vanity, is to try to be helpful. And I imagine that is why others blog publicly as well. Yes, we need to take some precautions when we are living abroad to not share too much personal information about where we live, and using a little tact (not that I do) doesn't hurt, but otherwise, type away bloggers!

Friday, February 12, 2010

FSI: Federally Supervised Instructions

There is a hierarchy within the Foreign Service Office, and clearly, I’m the low man on the totem pole.

It is more complex than this, but for my sake, here is a pretty basic breakdown. On the top are the Pickering Scholars; they’re like the Skulls and Crossbones secret society of the State Department Foreign Service branch.

Next in line come the outside-a-magical-50-mile-radius hires who inexplicably are bestowed gifts of exuberant per diems. Third place belongs to the locally hired who apparently don’t need money as badly as their not-locally-hired counterparts.

A distant, distant fourth are the Extra Filework for Management (EFMs) who do not have jobs. And there at the bottom, are the Employed For the Moment (another use of EFM) people like me.

I think I understand why we are at the bottom. It is because we don’t really need much from the FS office, and they really don’t have much to give us.

I caught a little glimpse of how little of importance I am to the FS office through the Federally Supervised Instructions (FSI; and yes, that is a downgrade from Free Studies Inside status on the Official Unofficial Chart of Acronyms).

Yesterday, until Snowstorm 5.0 rendered D.C. utterly useless, again, I was supposed to be at FSI attending a course entitled “Post Options for Employment and Training.”

But before I move forward with the story, let me paint the complete picture.

The class was advertised for those who need help finding employment and for those who already have employment and what they need to know about taking that job abroad with them. At the time I was signing up, I wasn’t sure which category I would fall under, but it seemed like a class I should attend.

The problem, however, is that this class was being offered in the middle of the work week, which makes it a little more difficult for those of us lucky enough to have jobs to attend.

And for the uninitiated, it is not like the FSI does not offer weekend courses. I know because I took one already on overseas protocol and etiquette, which is a whole different blog post of its own that I’m saving for a rainy (or snowy) day.

Seems to me that a course about employment for EFMs would be ideal for one of FSI’s weekend seminars, but I digress.

No big deal; I’ll lie. I asked about obtaining the lecture material because I couldn’t get off work. I received a response that they don’t have any material to send and if I can’t make the course this time to try again in the future as it is offered four times per year.

So that didn’t work, so I’ll just take the day off work to attend. Mother Nature had other plans, and as a result, evened up the score to Mother Nature 1, EF’M 1.

While there were announcements the Federal Government was closed on Thursday, I guess it was too much to send an e-mail to the enrolled to let us know the course also was cancelled. Are they re-scheduling the course? Do I have to wait until it is offered three months from now to try and take it again? No word from FSI.

And I learn a little more about my place on the bottom.

At 3:04 p.m. today (Friday), I finally received my notice that Thursday's "course offering has been canceled." Whew, what a relief, and only about a day and a half after the event.

It also is worth noting that by noon today, Natalie had already received information about the class being cancelled and for when it is being re-scheduled. My notice just said someone would be in touch with the re-scheduled date. I'll probably receive that notice the day after the course is over, too.

Oh well, this is what is to be expected when left to the hands of the government.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

EFM: Employment For Moi

In case you didn't know, it is snowing more in D.C. I've been out of the office since 10 a.m., Friday, Feb. 5. But I'm sick of snow, so I'm moving it into Haiti status; i.e., I'm done writing about it unless something new happens. And I'll take this opportunity to point out that even Snowstorm 4.0 through 5.0 has relegated Haiti to third or fourth story status, what is going on there deserves more attention than what is going on here.

OK. New topic. And really, this is the big one I've been putting off until I had the energy necessary to address it, and the answers to provide.

When we first started telling people about Natalie's acceptance into the foreign service (good job, honey!), the first two questions were, "When and where are you going?" and, "Is David and Tiffy going with you?" Usually the third question was, "What is David going to do?"

I usually mumble something about look for some freelance work, and I'm not worried about it because I really don't like my job anyway, and there is no room for me to grow there so this was an opportunity to re-evaluate my career. And yes, I'm pretty sure that was a run-on sentence.

Some quick background, I suppose, is necessary. After graduating with my extremely valuable degree in journalism (Why did my parents let me go through with that?), I reported for a couple of newspapers in southeast Ohio while Natalie worked on the Hill. I needed to find a job in D.C. for when we got married, and I landed a job with a health care least, that is how they advertised it on

I learned during the interviewing process that it was actually a trade journal on eye care, but I needed a job, the pay was decent, and I needed a job.

About 4.5 years later, and after a lot of angst, alcohol and job searches, I told the publisher and editor about this recent development, and asked about freelancing for them. While I get no satisfaction from the work, I do get some satisfaction from the paycheck, and they pay their freelancers better than their staff writers.

Well, they kind of gave me the run-around leaving me the impression they are ready to part ways. But last week, lo and behold, I had a meeting with the publisher in which he said he would be happy to keep me on staff as a freelancer, and he thinks it would be a good idea for me to start transitioning to life as a freelancer sooner rather than later.

Music to my ears. I first brought this up with them in October hoping to start freelancing at the beginning of the new year. So now it looks like I will get to start freelancing starting in the beginning of March.

I still do not see this as the long-term answer for my life as an Employee Forcefully living in Mexico (EFM), but this gives me some more time to figure things out while getting to work some and contributing a little money.

Monday, February 8, 2010

DC Snowstorm 4.0, Much Ado about Nothing

The worst is over, but we're still "suffering" the ramifications of about 18 inches of snow. For example, the federal government is closed, the Metro is running underground trains only (which means we can go to Pentagon City or Pentagon, and that is it), and my office is open if you can get there. I can get there, but it is not worth losing my parking spot over, which took me two hours, three pairs of a gloves, a long scraper and a bucket.

I kept a timeline for your entertainment, especially for those of you poor saps who have to work today.

7:02 a.m. – Leave our apartment to go to work.
9:58 a.m. – First time I noticed snowfall.
10:03 a.m. – The office closes. By about 4:30 p.m. the day before, there was already rumor spreading that as soon as the first flake hit the ground, which was suppose to be at 10 a.m. today, the office would close. So knowing they would close the office right away, they made us come in for two hours anyway.
10:42 a.m. – I finally get a parking space at the near-Potomac-Mills Harris Teeter. Not because there were not enough spaces, but because everyone was concerned about getting the closest spot to the door as possible. Mind you, this was an indoor parking garage.
I also want to add that I was shopping for groceries not to sustain us for the snow-pocalypse; rather this was a trip I was going to make regardless as part of my regular routine. In all, about 75% of my groceries were things I was going to buy, and 25% were emergency groceries. And by emergency, I mean we have one bag of chips here. Given we’ll be inside for most of two days, we might eat that bag and want to open another. Hence, an emergency.
11:22 a.m. – Begin leaving Harris Teeter. I have to acknowledge the wonderful job the HT employees did in keeping the check-out lines moving. When I saw the lines, I was preparing myself mentally for a 30-minute wait or so, but they had me done in about 10 to 15 minutes.
11:33 a.m. – Got home and found that Tiffy had left me a surprise. I knew as soon as I opened the door because she does her I’m-so-happy-your-home routine combined with her please-don’t-be-angry routine. That, and I could smell it. After cleaning that, I then have to console Tiffy because she knows she did wrong. I do a short show of anger, clean the mess, and then cuddle with her to let her know I’m no longer angry with her. Fortunately, this is a very rare event.
12:25 p.m. – Natalie calls to let me know she is on her way home. We had already known she’d only have a half-day today. I should also point out at this point that while it has been snowing for about 2.5 hours, it hasn’t begun sticking to the roads, yet.
2:05 p.m. – Went running on our rooftop treadmill. Hey, if I’m going to be a stay-at-home husband, I’d better start looking the part. Right before going for the run, NBC’s Pat Collins brazenly declared that in Gaithersburg, according to his calibrated yard stick, there has been no accumulation. A calibrated yard stick? What is a non-calibrated yard stick? A branch?
5:20 p.m. – I took Tiffy out for our 30 minute walk. My non-calibrated eye estimated about a quarter inch on the roads when we started, and about a half when we came back.
7:11 p.m. – Went across the street to the Crystal City Oakwood to hang out with some A-100ers, drink wine and play games…yes, Never Have I Ever was a staple.
11:56 p.m. – Walked Tiffy after the party. We stopped in a park where I let her off her leash, and we chased each other around. I know the snow was getting ridiculous because I was able to outrun her as she had to jump through the snow where I was still able to lift my legs. Upon coming home, she had clumps of snowballs tangled in her legs, so we put her in the tub to melt the snow off her then chased her around the apartment to dry her before going to bed.

All Morning - Pat Collins makes TV watchable. This by far was the greatest revelation of the entire weekend. Normally, Collins does over-dramatic crime reports in which he speaks in sentence fragments straight out of a bad 1970s newscast a la Ron Burgandy. But doing the man-on-the-street during the snowstorm, he was intentionally hilarious. Bag the crime reports and relegate Collins to man-on-the-street.
1:23 p.m. - I opened emergency bag of chips No. 1.
4:45 p.m. - I'm walking Tiffy again, and the snow is petering out. There are a couple of down trees and large limbs; the roads are rough; the sidewalks are gone; but the 24"+ of snow is not going to happen. Not even close.

9:45 a.m. - I begin the task of digging out our car. We don't have a shovel, so I take a bucket with me. And being the considerate neighbor I am, I scoop a bucket of snow, walk 10 yards or so to a snow mountain, and add my snow to it instead of dumping my snow on the car parked next to me.
11:40 a.m. - I finish my task. The car can get out of the parking lot. EF'M 1, Mother Nature 0.
While I have the ability to move the car, this was an in-case-of-an-emergency task because no way I'm giving up my shoveled..ur..bucketed parking spot to go to work.
1ish p.m. - We're doing some chores around the house to host a Super Bowl party. The original destination lost cable.
3:32 p.m. - We haven't eaten real foods since the first snowflake. I look over at Tiffy, and I start imagining short ribs or rack of Tiffy or some such delicacy. Nah, too messy; too much work. I think I just open another bag of emergency chips. (This is all a lie. This timeline was too boring, so I felt the need to spice it up a bit).
5:10 p.m. - I receive an e-mail that the office is opening at 10 a.m., but only for those who can make it. I won't be docked time off for not showing up. Yeah, I think I'll stay home on Monday and blog.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Addressing Several Items in One Post

Time to do a little housekeeping.

First, I apologize about the links in yesterday’s panda post. They've been corrected to actually take you somewhere now; apparently HTML code is a little sensitive when it comes to its font, and it rejected my use of quotation marks within the hyperlink tags. If you know HTML code, that made sense; otherwise, all you need to know is that the links work now.

Secondly, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Natalie is walking in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Washington, D.C., on May 1 and 2, and she has a Web page set up to accept donations. I’ll be leaving a link to that page in the left hand column until the end of April, so if you feel so moved, please feel free to donate.

This is Natalie, Mom and Mindy at the 2008 walk.

Finally, I don’t like to write about weather, but what is happening in D.C. right now is nothing short of epic. The region is teetering on the brink of collapse. Western civilization, as we know it, could be a crossroads as this winter’s SnowStorm 4.0, “The Bigger One” has this city gripped in fear.

(Quick aside: In D.C., the mere threat of snowfall constitutes a snowstorm. So far this winter, we’ve had one real snowstorm, two snowfalls, and what appears to be another snowstorm, possibly larger than the previous.)

Want to see humanity at its worst? Check out the parking lot of the Crystal City Costco at 5:30 p.m. on the eve of the largest storm human eyes have ever witnessed.

As of this morning, they are predicting 5 inches to fall during the day, followed by about 10 to 18 inches over night and then maybe another 10 inches on Saturday. Estimates range from 20 to 30 inches all told.

If I don’t post another entry by Tuesday, send a search and rescue team.

Wait, a flake just fell. Our office announced it is closing, and there is a mad rush for the staircase. My boss is on the verge of being trampled to death. Should I stop to help him? No, no time to be a hero now. Run down the stairs! Get out of my way!

On second thought, our earliest ancestors survived an entire era known as the Ice Age in loin clothes with large cats with large teeth trying to eat them, so I think we’ll be alright.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

EFM: Emotional Farewell to Mi amigo

This morning, Feb. 4, one of Washington’s favorite Chinese diplomats is flying to Chengdu.

Natalie and I are quite familiar with this diplomat, so on Saturday, we went to the National Zoo to say our goodbyes to Tai Shan, the 4.5-year-old giant panda. (And let me just say, I’m slightly perturbed a panda has its own Wikipedia entry, and I don’t.)

I first moved to D.C. in July 2005 about one mile from the zoo. Because it is free to visit (thank you, taxpayers!), and I love zoos, I used to go there at least once per month. The most popular exhibit at the time (and probably remained so all the way up to today), was the newborn Tai Shan.

We’ve kind have had paralleled existences in D.C. Within days of my moving here, he was born. In accordance with Chinese panda diplomacy, Tai Shan was supposed to leave when he turned two years of age in 2007. At about that same time, Natalie and I moved from D.C. to Crystal City.

And now in 2010, Tai Shan is leaving the US of A a few months before I do the same.

I’ve watched the bear cub mature and was glad to have the opportunity to see him one last time over the weekend. And now he is off to the panda equivalent of a stud farm on a panda preserve in China. Too bad that is where our paralleled universes come to an end.

(By the way, for some yucks, check out Stephen Colbert’s wikialtiy page on pandas. And how is it that I’ve never heard of this site until I was doing some research on pandas? I don’t watch the Colbert Report on a daily basis, but I’ve seen it enough that I think I should have been aware of this site.)

So I leave you with two of our photos of Tai Shan. The first one is from his earliest days; unfortunately, we didn’t date that photo so I can’t say for sure when it was from. Based on the clues in the photo, I'd say early October 2005. In the second one, he is munching on some bamboo during his farewell party – cut short by the “snowstorm” on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Official Unofficial Chart of Acronyms

The U.S. Government loves acronyms; there is no getting around it. As a D.C. area resident and a once-upon-a-time journalist, I'm a bit accustomed to these unsightly blocks of capital letters, but I understand they can be intimidating to others. (I think that is their intention so you will just gloss over what you're reading.) Therefore, I took it upon myself to translate a few acronyms that other FSO spouses might find useful.

A couple of user notes first. While the majority are listed in alphabetical order, a few are "coupled" because they are related. Also, the list of acronyms is too exhaustive for my list to be considered the end-all-be-all chart of what you need to know. For example, I'll probably need to put together a sequel to cover the acronyms you might find useful for moving alone.

It should also be noted that this is a reflection of how much fulfillment I get from my current job that I took the time to do this. So here is the Official, Unofficial Chart of Foreign Service Acronyms: (and please feel free to add any suggestions for lengthening, shortening or improving the chart. I'm not too proud to make changes and admit my own shortcomings.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

EFM: Ethnic Food, Mexican

When we first received our bid list, I took a mental black marker and crossed out everything in the Eastern hemisphere. The main reason for this is that I was scared to death of subsisting on Asian cuisine for two years.

I enjoy trying different foods and have come a long way since my childhood diet of pizza, hamburgers, bagels and peanut butter-and-fluff sandwiches (don’t know what fluff is? Good, it’s better that way). But I’m a bit of wimp when it comes to food textures.

And while I enjoy the American take on General Tso’s chicken, Szechuan chicken and sushi, I’ve never really been exposed to authentic Asian cuisine, and I wanted a beginner’s course in eating the unrecognizable.

Then came our Hermosillo assignment. So far, my understanding of Sonoran cuisine based on my Internet-based research is that it is described as “border food.” In other words, I can expect a healthy dosing of Tex-Mex restaurant staples such as chimichangas, enchiladas, tacos, carne asada and the like. Certainly tasty, edible foods, but I wanted to push my comfort zone a little.

(Interesting side bar: I’ve also read that the food itself does not tend to be very spicy at all, despite its reputation; rather, the spiciness of the food comes from the salsa added to the dish. If that turns out to be the truth, it would be a good way to monitor the amount of spice my weak American stomach can handle.)

That is not to say there won’t be some opportunities to dabble in the unfamiliar. Apparently tripe is a somewhat common ingredient found in Mexican dishes such menudo, pancitas and tacos de tripa.

What? Not familiar with tripe? Tripe is one of several offal (pronounced, ironically, like awful), which is to say animal entrails or organs. In particular, tripe refers to (usually) pig or cow stomachs.

While I might give tripe a try while in Hermosillo, I definitely won’t be cooking any myself. But I do hope to learn some of the local techniques and cooking styles, as I do enjoy cooking. To help get a leg up, a few weeks ago I bought a copy of The Complete Mexican, South American & Caribbean Cookbook off the discount rack, and I’ve already tried my hand at a couple of recipes with edible success.

If anyone else has any advice on Sonoran cuisine or some must-try, authentic recipes, I’d love to hear about them.