Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tales of a Terrible Husband

So you'd think that acquiescing to being a foreign service spouse would guarantee one a spot among the Pantheon of great husbands. And surely, throwing an awesome surprise party to mark the occassion of A-100 graduation would seal the deal.

The dirty secret is that these benevolent acts only serve to equalize some of my terrible shortcomings, such as what I'll be doing to my wife this weekend.

Today is Natalie's birthday. Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving her in D.C. while I go to Louisville with my best friend and a group of his friends to partake in the party of all parties, the Kentucky Derby.

That doesn't seem too bad. In fact, I'm actually delaying my arrival in Louisville by one day so I could celebrate her birthday with her. The rest of the guys will be a full day ahead of me.

The real clincher in this heinous act is that while I'll be at the party, she will be doing the two-day, marathon-and-a-half walk for breast cancer. By the way, I'll will call your attention one last time to the link in the left hand column beneath the picture of A-100 graduation. That link will be disappearing after the weekend, and it takes you to Natalie's donation page and includes the story about why she is walking.

Most likely, I'll be in Churchill Downs' infield portion for the derby, which is kind of like where spring break meets a bachelor party. Except, from the way I understand it, you're more likely to see a horse at either spring break or a bachelor party then at the infield during the Run for the Roses.

But that's beside the point. As a native of the Bluegrass State, I've always wanted to attend a Derby. I feel obligated to do so. It would be like being from South Dakota and never visiting Mount Rushmore. In terms of attractions, Kentucky doesn't have a whole lot to offer tourists, and this is the one time every year the Commonwealth demands national attention. To paraphrase the illustrious Veep Joe Biden, "This is a big effin deal." (I'll never tire of including that sentence in my blogs.)

Meanwhile, Natalie will be walking. A lot. 39.3 miles, to be exact. I was there when she did this walk two years ago, and after the first day and 26.2 miles, her feet were covered with blisters. Her blisters had blisters. I remain shocked to this day that she was able to walk the final 13.1 on the second day.

Both of us are going to be hurting Sunday morning, but for entirely different reasons. She'll be raising money and awareness for a noble cause. I'm going to be donating money to Jim Beam and Kentucky public schools - and only through the fraction of a fraction of a percentage of every gambling penny that is taken from Churchill as mandated by law. She'll be suffering physically and emotionally as she does this walk in memory of her mom. I'll likely have no memories, other than those caught on camera, at all.

So, sure, at times it might seem like I'm a great, accommodating and understanding husband. But other times, I'm more like the television husbands such as Al Bundy or Homer Simpson.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

FSI: Foreign Service Infiltrated!

By me. I packed my lunch the night before, put on my State Department Mexican-American flag pin, and snuck into Free Studies Inside (FSI) like I was one of them. By "snuck in" I mean I went through the hoops of getting my name on a list, going through a metal detector and wearing my special badge stating I'm not to be trusted and must be accompanied at all times. I'm so dangerous. It was a real undercover operation.

Perhaps a more accurate depiction is that I was dragged there by my wife to attend a Mexican area studies course. Whenever Natalie comes home from work on Tuesdays complaining about how hard FSI training is, I now can remind her that I sat through three hours of area studies with her, so I know better.

The three-hour course began with student presentations on Mexican culture. By the way, is "students" the right term? It feels like a high school campus at FSI. The presenters were good. Very good. Of course, it helped that they were talking about politics and the American-Mexican War, two of my favorite topics, as opposed to say jewelry making or famous Mexican artists.

Looks like we'll be there for their next presidential election, which could see a new party (well, an old party with new leadership) rising to power. That should make for some excitement. They only have presidential elections every six years (and no such thing as a second term), so I feel fortunate to get to experience another country's political process.

The next two hours represented the reason Natalie thought it was important I attended. Three wives of Mexican diplomats working at the Mexican embassy in Washington came in to do a little Q&A about living in their homeland.

What they described is kind of how I picture America in the 1950s or the rural America of the 1980s...I'm not really sure what I mean by that either.

Close-knit families where it is totally fine to live with your parents until you get married. Families that live in the same towns/region for generations. A culture that is a big on chivalry and low on being PC. (In Mexico, everyone with light skin is a gringo, no offense. And anyone with squinted eyes, no matter how slight, are chinos, which I find hilarious because apparently some of the indigenous peoples are called chinos because of their eyes.)

Following up on the point of chivalry, in which men hold doors for women, etc., one of the female FSOs felt impelled to ask how the local populace would view her soon-to-be-unemployed Esposo Fearing Mockery (EFM). I thought this a valid question, though the three panelists laughed it off stating that all of the men in Mexico will be jealous of him. I think that might be half of what they are thinking, but given some of the other things they said, I would be surprised if there isn't some judging.

In general, this panel session was a bit reassuring because there wasn't much new information for me. Which means I've been good about digging up information on Mexico.

Monday, April 26, 2010

EFM: Extricating Floral Memento

As a continuation to yesterday's less-than-serious ponderings of relocating (and massive consumption) of alcohol, I do have one lingering concern about what migration means for my possessions.

For the most part, we don't own much of value. Other than electronics, I think our most valuable possession in monetary terms is our bed set, so it isn't like we have a lot of hard decisions as we prepare for pack out day. Cheap furniture, books and a lot of winter clothes go into storage. Most everything else is coming with us because there isn't that much more. One of the benefits of never owning a home is that we got pretty good about limiting our possessions. Space, or lack there of, dictated that.

But we do have personal items that while limited or entirely lacking monetary value hold a great deal of sentimental value. How many family photos do we want to take to Mexico to make Hermosillo feel like home? All? Doubtful, because there always is the lingering risk that something happens to our shipments or our new home. Fortunately, many of our photos are backed up on the Internet and hard drives as they have been taken on digital cameras.

Some possessions do have some monetary value, but the sentimental or personal value greatly outweigh that. For example, Natalie has some of her mother's jewelry, and she would be just sick of anything happened to it. I have a basketball signed by the 1996 University of Kentucky championship basketball team that I didn't even want to bring to D.C. with me. I have no idea what the ball is worth (several of those players went on to the NBA probably increasing its value), but it remains one of my most prized possessions and I would never think of selling it.

All of those items, however, store pretty well. They're relatively small, and they don't need any care. The same can't be said for my brother's tree.

In 2004, my younger 22-year-old brother died. My parent's home turned into a greenhouse over the next couple of days as friends and family had potted plants sent there. A tradition I really don't understand.

I was living in southeast Ohio at the time, and to lighten the load (and save one more plant from being disposed...there is only so much room for plants in one household), I decided to take one small plant with me back home. It probably was no taller than six inches at the time.

The plant moved from Ohio to D.C. with me in 2005, still a smallish shrub, but it was growing to maybe a foot and a half. In D.C., with a little help from Miracle Gro, it shot up several feet. And when we left D.C. for northern Virginia in 2007, the plant barely made the move with us. As it only had to travel a few miles and we needed to rent a moving van for our furniture anyway, the plant was able to move with us.

Now towering at probably 10 feet (it is hard to gauge, and it already has hit the ceiling and is now growing horizontally), I know the plant can't come to Mexico with us. At least in its current state. My mom, who knows much more about plants than I do, thinks I can lop off the top portions to make it more mover friendly. Then new limbs will start to grow, she said.

Truth is, I'm not overly concerned about the tree being able to move to Mexico with us. I have other, more meaningful objects that remind me of my brother. But I don't want the thing to be merely discarded. I'll look into trimming it and seeing if that makes it movable, but otherwise, the only other solution I can think of is trying to find some place to plant it. (Though Mom thinks it will die in the winter if I do that.)

I've moved on that I don't need this plant sentimentally, but it would bring some piece of mind to know that the plant will live on.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

UAB: Unsure about Alcohol Bottles

Really, we’re not alcoholics despite what these pictures might indicate.

I thought Sunday was as good of day as any other to talk about when the problems we are looking forward to fixing. At least a little.

We have many bottles of liquor. Many of them have been opened, and the lids have been lost to time. Having spent a little time bartending one summer, in college I acquired a collection of liquors for mixing drinks. I discarded many of the lids in favor of pouring spouts, which I’ve continued to do over the years.

I could be wrong, because I haven’t done all of my research, but I’m guessing there are probably rules against the government shipping opened (and unopened?) liquor bottles in our Unincluded: Alcohol Bottles (UAB) and/or Hauling Hindered Extralong (HHE).

But with only a couple of months until we leave, it looks as though we are going to be having a few cocktail parties to empty these bottles.










Starting at the top left, that is an image of the top of our refrigerator. To the right is the barboy, a wedding gift that pours the perfectly measured shot. On the bottom left and right are our ever ebbing and flowing collection of wine and beer.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tiffy-morphosis

It's been a while since I've reported on Tiffy, which is a gross oversight because moving to an arid climate has a direct impact on her.

Just as Travel Orders described, having a dog can greatly influence how we bid. For example, Jamaica won't accept any non-British born dogs. Several other countries have quarantining rules, and we've heard horror stories about dogs that go into quarantine, but never come back out alive.

But those two criteria were the only ones we really considered as far as Tiffy was concerned. (And to be truthful, we had a contingency plan in the event we were going to a quarantining country; give her away, likely to a family member.) If Tiffy could have voiced her opinion on bidding, she wouldn't have let us bid on any post any further south than we already live.

And this serves as my excuse to post pictures of Tiffy.



Look at all that fur. This is a dog that definitely was not intended to live in the desert. Yet that is where she is moving. These pictures actually illustrate Tiffy at her furriest because this year we forwent her usual winter grooming. (Funny story: Last summer, when she got her shave, we came home with a urinary tract infection, which we attributed to an error by the groomers...after shaving her, they bathed her, and to avoid details, let's just say some stray hairs went where they shouldn't. Do you know how to diagnosis a urinary tract infection? Pee samples. Do you know how to obtain a dog's pee sample? You follow her with a ladle and catch some midstream and pour it into a tupperware container and rush it to the lab. That was a fun day.) Determined not to give these groomers another chance at hurting her again, we missed her winter grooming while looking for a new groomer.

Those pictures are also the last time Tiffy will be furry for a couple of years. She already struggles in the summer when we hit the 80s and 90s. That will be the wintertime weather in Hermosillo.

So now Tiffy will live the next few years (at least) like this:



Yeah, she looks kind of ridiculous. But she isn't one of those dogs whose aware of her appearance. She actually seems to have an extra bounce in her step being relieved of a few pounds of fur.

The trick is going to be keeping her fur this short. Let's hope we can find a good groomer in Hermosillo for her, because we'll be making lots of visits.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meeting My Mexican Informant

Yesterday evening, in the dark recesses of Dupont Circle, Natalie and I had a secret meeting with a member of the Hermosillian underworld.

We went to great lengths to make sure we weren't being followed, and we spoke in code so everyone in the restaurant would assume we were having a casual conversation. In truth, our informant was giving us intimate details about how to infiltrate and coexist with the Hermosillians.

Arranged through a friend of a sister-in-law, this was our first meeting, but if the sensitive information he shared with us proves reliable, we'll likely reunite in his native land, when he is safe from the American government's prying eyes.

He revealed a world that is not as foreign as one would think. Peppered with American chains, it almost sounded like he was describing Tulsa instead of the capital of the Mexican state, Sonora. He actually compared it to Texas stating that it is cowboy country - short on museums and culture, big on beef. (His words, not mine).

To my relief, it sounds like there will be plenty of television options that include ESPN access. He said he had DirecTV, with about 20 English stations and even a few French and German stations, curiously enough.

Surprisingly, he breached the subject of maids without my prompting. (Has he been secretly following me all this time? Is he a double agent?) Commenting that sand and dust are such huge problems, he recommended hiring some help to arrive five or three days per week to help with the cleaning as several commenters also said. (Am I looking at two years of online networking, maid service and regular Sunday mass? My head is spinning.)

I was a bit surprised that he referred to Hermosillo as a small town. There were a few bars, and he proudly told me about a sports bar I can go to. A sports bar? As in, singular? I'm from a small town (population: 25,000ish; Hermosillo: 750,000ish), and we had a sports bar. I find this information questionable. Speaking of bars, he also said tequila is not the beverage of choice. The Hermosillians prefer beer, which is fine with Natalie and me.

All in all, it was a valuable meeting, and he did Hermosillo proud living up to the reputation of being exceedingly friendly; he is hooking us up with his family's vet for Tiffy and wants to arrange for us to meet his brother, who still lives in Hermosillo.

But I fear I've shared too much, and I'd hate to think I compromised his identity.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

EFM: Entering a Filosophical Mood

Sorry about the headline, but I felt like cheating today. For the record, I know it is "ph."

Being home all day, no matter how busy I try to keep myself, ultimately leaves ample time to be alone with my thoughts. And one of the lectures I covered in Boston has been weighing heavy on my mind, and it seems pertinent for people in our fold.

This lecture was given in the context of preparing eye surgeons how to inform a patient and/or the patient's family that there was an error during surgery.

The speaker explained that delivering bad news is difficult for people to do because it makes the messenger uncomfortable. In the case of surgeons, the message is hard to deliver because it means they have to admit they made mistake or something went wrong under their watch.

And as we continue to peel away to the center of the matter, admitting a mistake is difficult because it means we have to grapple with the concept that something we were certain to be true was confronted with a situation or evidence that proves that belief is wrong.

In psychology, this is known as cognitive dissonance. The speaker explained that when faced with these situations, it is human nature to deny the new evidence exists, rationalize away the new evidence or reinterpret that evidence to fit into our previously held beliefs. This is part of human nature because much in the way our body responds in dangerous situations to protect itself, our brain also reacts in a manner to protect our psyche and self esteem.

It doesn't take a philosopher to see how cognitive dissonance relates to the foreign service. I don't think it takes a great leap of faith to say that in order to enjoy this lifestyle, a foreign service officer and his/her family that is more capable to cope with cognitive dissonance will strive in this lifestyle.

I imagine that along this journey, which starts in Mexico but then who knows, we will have preconceived convictions and deeply held beliefs challenged by what we see and experience.

Now we just have to be ready to admit that we thought to be true was wrong.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

EFM: Excessive Frivolities, Maids

Hope you enjoyed "Upon Further Review" Week. I might pull use that method again after I've arrived at post to see how my views have changed.

One view of mine that could definitely change is the topic of domestic employees, or hired help, or maids, or whatever you want to call them.

As we began sharing the news that we were entering the foreign service, the few people who knew what that meant congratulated me on the life they figured this meant for me: Natalie goes to work at foreign embassies and consulates; I lounge about in a life of luxury as our maids cook and clean around me.

Well, I never saw that in the brochure. And quite honestly, it is not a life I would want.

I'm from the Midwest (sorta). I never knew anyone who had a weekly maid service, let alone a live-in maid. And I grew up in a fairly opulent suburb of Cincinnati. Maids and servants were more of a Victorian ideal than a reality to me.

Little has changed for me. I'm still uneasy with the idea of a maid, live-in or otherwise. For one, I like cooking, so I don't want to give that up. Secondly, the idea of a stranger washing my underwear seems odd and invasive. Finally, we don't have any children, so it isn't like I need help with the household chores because there are kids to feed, entertain, change and observe.

As more and more information filtered down to us, reliable or not, I came under the impression that there is a level of expectation that American diplomats hire local help as a way to support the local economy.

So I've been tussling with a way to reconcile my preconceptions of what having hired help will be like with my preconceptions of what is expected of us in terms of being American diplomats on foreign soil.

I definitely could use a little help when we arrive in Mexico. For example, I probably could use some help with Spanish and local customs. And while I would not want to give up the cooking duties, it would be great to learn how to make Sonoran cuisine from someone who knows the ins and outs. And driving in a foreign country doesn't sound like much fun either. (Side story: I studied Mandarin in college, and one of my teachers related to us how shocked she was to see that Americans voluntarily follow traffic laws. I've heard similar stories about several other countries, that traffic laws or more of suggestions.)

Then again, if these preconceived notions that diplomats out to hire local domestic employees are unfounded, then I'd much rather not have to put myself through this. (Though Natalie disagrees. She likes the idea of not having to do laundry.)

So I will pose the question: What are the expectations regarding hiring locals to give back to the community? I imagine, like everything else in the foreign service, it varies from country to country, from post to post. But are there any guidelines?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Upon Further Review...Face to Face with the Monster

I'm not the type that feels it is necessary to get in the last word. But after reading everyone else's better thought-out responses to my initial post, I felt the need to redeem myself.

I hear you all loud and clear about the facebook monster. And before I try explaining my bizarre views on the topic, I thought I'd break the ice first.



In that video, I'm Darryl, casually remarking how scary bookface is. And all of the commenters are Jim, casually rebutting that there isn't any reason to be afraid.

First, let me state that I've had a little of Kool Aid. Recently, I joined LinkedIn, though I did it to gain access to the Trailing Spouse Network. (Thank you, DiploLife, for the link.) Which, by the way, also had an interesting discussion about "trailing spouse," but not as good as the one at Life After Jerusalem.

(And to minnesotagal, one down, one to go to fulfill your prediction.)

I suppose I should go back and insert that while this is a blog about being an Expat For the Misses (EFM), I'm still stateside. I'm writing from the perspective of someone who is getting ready to go to his first overseas posting. Consequently, I've never been deprived of the Internet (well, at least since high school). I can't really comprehend a life in which I can't still down, fire up the computer, and shoot out a few e-mails as quickly as I can type them and hit send.

Consider me a social experiment of how an isolationist will change his perspective once he really feels isolated.

I also drew from the comments listed in my original post the difference between the facebook culture and the facebook utility. The facebook monster isn't a Web site; it is the culture of constant updates, embarrassing photos, spying on friends, and spying on non-friends, but you made them your friend so you could spy on each other. And seeing how many friends you can, etc. (Real quick, one of my friends on facebook put his settings on Pirate, which would be an entertaining enough reason to create a profile.)

The utility of facebook is connecting to lost contacts and reaching all of your friends and family with one simple posting. Though I still contend that there probably is a reason why contact was lost with these former acquaintances, and you still need the Internet to post anything on facebook, right? If so, in theory, you could still send an e-mail, right?

I suppose once I see that facebook is more proficient and effective than e-mail, then I'll probably take the plunge. The problem I have is that facebook seems like making your e-mails public. And I'm much too concerned about my own privacy to do it that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Upon Further Review…Bordering on Dangerous

BOSTON - In the past, I only briefly addressed the State Department-issued travel advisory in Mexico as well as the Juarez murders. And I’ve yet to say anything about the most recent incident in Nuevo Laredo.

I probably haven’t been following these stories with as much vigor as I should, because, well, regardless, I’m moving to Mexico. I know there is an element of danger involved, so I’ll do my best to keep my guard. That seems to be all that I can do, so what use is it to read some of the scarier stuff happening?

Compounding the problem is that our government seems to sit idly on the sidelines. They are good at issuing travel advisories, and that is about it: “Recent violent attacks have prompted the U.S. Embassy to urge U.S. citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua states and advise U.S. citizens residing or traveling in those areas to exercise extreme caution.”

To me, this reads about the same as U.S. threat level of Orange for all flights. In other words, it doesn’t seem so bad. And considering we’ve been in the Orange zone for about a decade, travel advisories really don’t carry any meaning anymore (way to go, government!).

Let’s just take a closer look:
“U.S. citizens…should exercise caution in unfamiliar areas and be aware of their surroundings at all times.”
“All Americans should continue to be vigilant, take notice of their surroundings...”
Can you guess which warning is from the State Department about travel in Mexico, and which is from the Department of Homeland Security about the threat of terrorism in the States?

In my opinion, our government has been poor in keeping us informed about the threats of Mexico. You could learn more about the crime-related threats from visiting Wikipedia than from the travel advisories.

In doing my own research, I did find another good Web site called Prominix, which is where Wikipedia got a lot of its info. (Disclaimer: The Prominix report was financed by RRS y Asociados, a private consulting firm.)

It provides detailed maps (like the one I ripped from their report) displaying the frequency of violent crimes per Mexican state (per 100,000 people; so in the map I stole, the yellow Sonora means there were two to three property or violent crimes for every 100,000 people living in the state of Sonora in 2009…at least, that is the way I’m reading their data.)

The good news (mostly good, anyway), for Hermosillo at least, was this from the report’s conclusion:
"We, have successfully reduced most crime rates (excluding homicide) in Sonora working with the system as a whole: community & government. Sonora is the best evaluated state in Mexico’s northern border and has become a success story. Crime reduction in the past year ranges from 10 to 69%."

(I assume the "We" in that quote refers to the people and/or government of Mexico>
(Oh, and as for the quiz, the first statement was about Mexico, and the second about terrorism. The “…” indicate a section of the statement I deleted.)

Even with this report of improving situation, I'll heed the government's advice to remain viligant and know my surroundings, or was that to exercise extreme caution in unfamiliar areas?

Because obviously, my own personal safety is my own responsibility. But a little more info would be nice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Upon Further Review...The Stone

BOSTON - I’ve decided I’m going to dedicate this week to updating some older posts in part because circumstances and opinions have changed, and also because it is becoming increasingly difficult to be creative enough to think of new posts. (Did I really post images of keratatic eyes on Saturday? I must have been really tired. Sorry)

Today, I need to go back and talk about learning Spanish and Rosetta Stone because now that I’m seeing a bunch of former colleagues, after they realize I’m not in Mexico yet, they are curious about what I’m doing with my down time and the proceed to recommend I try the Stone.

I’ve talked a little about the Stone back in the early days when I was a little more na├»ve and thought I would spend hours every day sitting in front of this laptop practicing my Spanish.

That is what I should be doing, but things come up, I procrastinate some, and frankly, the Stone program isn’t that great or user friendly, which makes it easy to put off.

Before proceeding any further, I need to state that 99.9% of my Spanish failures are my fault alone. I haven’t taken it seriously enough, and I can blame only myself. But I don’t want to use the rest of this space making fun of myself, so I’m fixating my angst at the Stone.

What I’ve realized is that what the Stone does best is market itself. When I tell people I’m on the Stone and have been a bit underwhelmed, they all express shock because they’ve heard it is the greatest thing language teaching device ever derived. “How could the Stone, with its extensive marketing campaign, not work miracles?”

This disbelief reflects the genius of the Stone’s marketing campaign. Everyone wants to believe that learning a foreign language can be done easily. “So all I have to do is shell out $1,000 (or whatever exorbitant amount the Stone charges), insert the CD, and I’ll know Spanish? Sign me up!”

This point was driven home a bit during Easter weekend when I was talking about learning Spanish with Natalie’s aunt. She said when she was in high school, they were promoting the subliminal, sleeping tapes to learn Spanish. Another miracle-based, no-work-involved Spanish lesson.

For the Stone to be successful, you need to dedicate a couple of hours per day, every day. Guess what. With that kind of time commitment, you could probably pick up a Spanish lesson book out of your local library and learn and retain the same amount of knowledge.

OK, so you say you are willing to put in the time. Great start, but I find the second big problem with the Stone is that it isn’t really user friendly. You buy the Spanish Stone, and all you get is Spanish. No English instructions. I think the reasoning here is that they can sell the same Spanish Stone in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, etc. These Stone people are pretty clever like that.

Also during Easter weekend, I showed my mom the Stone, and has a teacher, she simply said, “I can see why you don’t like using this.” It should be added that I never said I didn’t like the Stone, but during weekly phone calls, when asked about Spanish, I would say it is coming slowly and that I’m not really putting in the time

And during Snowstorm 4.0, Natalie decided to try it out to make sure she wasn’t forgetting what she had learned before the GREATEST SNOWFALL HUMAN EYE’S HAVE EVER WITNESSED. She, too, complained a bit and became more sympathetic about my plight, which has since worn out.

The problem is that you don’t really learn the language. You learn expressions and vocabulary. You don’t learn grammar rules or culture understanding, which are both huge factors in language. Hell, you barely learn conjugation. In this regard, that library book is probably more valuable.

I think the Stone is a great supplement for learning a foreign language. As the lead tool, or stand alone tool, it comes up way short. Especially considering the price tag (thanks, tax payers, by the way) and gaudy claims you hear on TV.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Warning: Gross Photos Below

BOSTON - This has nothing to do with the foreign service, but since I have to spend all day looking at these kind of pictures (and much, much worse than these) as well as surgery on the eye, I decided I pass along a little of the gore.







Those images are just some gratuitous gore.

But the truly horrifying, yet also moving, images I saw today came from Iraq. Some of the military ophthalmologists were presenting on severe eye conditions, and one woman was showing pictures of soldiers who suffered such severe burns, their eye lids had melted away.

What she was presenting did not look human. They appeared as red lumps with white gauze wrapped all over the place. And she told stories about these soldiers taking years to recover, then showed the recovery picture, and they still looked very bad off.

The pictures were bad, but being there in real life was worse. She said when she first encountered one of these burn patients, the first thing she had to do was to walk away and recollect herself.

While this is an eye surgeon conference, she said reminded us that their eye injuries were only a minor injury in the grand scheme of their suffering, which included brain damage and amputations.

It was a major victory for her to get one patient able to see and make his own decisions after three years of surgery.

While I don't think the images I saw would be appropriate for the 5 p.m. news, I do think they should be made available to remind us what sacrifices are service men and women are making.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Reaching out to Mexican Culture

BOSTON - I haven't been very discrete about some of my concerns about living in Mexico, and sometimes, I've been outwardly hostile, though in my usual tongue-in-cheek manner.

(Hey, I can get only so excited about the Naranjeros!)

So while on the surface of this blog it might seem like I'm not attempting to learn a little about Mexican culture, let me defend myself a bit by proving otherwise.

The most recent example was spending a couple of hours this past Saturday at the Anacostia Community Museum (one of the lesser known Smithsonian museums) where they had a special exhibit from the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Very interesting history and contemporary news. In particular, I was fascinated to read about the advantage Black Mexicans (is "Blaxican" racist? I heard that expression on Scrubs, so I hope not; either way, it makes we smirk a little.) enjoy in that they look more American than the majority of the Mexican population, which makes it easier to sneak across the border.

While the exhibit will be there some time, the main draw for last Saturday's visit was a hands-on demonstration of music and Semana Santa (Holy Week) by Bill Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins had probably no less than 100 instruments on hand ranging from plastic maracas to beautifully hand-crafted guitars to the more bizarre use of a horse jaw bone as a washerboard-type instrument in which the player draws a stick or something over the teeth.

To paraphrase esteemed Veep Joe Biden, Semana Santa is "a big Ef'in deal!" Actually, Catholicism in Mexico is a big deal. (Those cheers you heard were my parents celebrating.)

While the church-going aspect of Catholicism, Christianity and organized religion in general does not appeal to me, I do think I will be interested in learning what it is about Catholicism that appeals to our southern neighbors.

I realize Mexican Catholicism is quite different from the rest of the world in that the religion has been adapted somewhat to incorporate indigenous practices, but I do hope to gain an understanding of the hype is all about.

Somewhat paradoxically, two topics that I've displayed a somewhat negative attitude toward (Mexico and Catholicism) are joining forces into something that I want to know about. Who da thunk it?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Another Weekend, Another Dateline

BOSTON - If I had a twitter account, I suppose I would say something like: "workin in boston. gr8 city, but 2 cold n April. miss DCs 90s already" (though that would be a lie; I am going to die in the Hermosillo heat).

And if I were on the facebook monster, and saw one of my friends posting this, I'd probably hit whatever buttons send this message: EF'M likes it.

Isn't online networking connecting us! (By the way, I refuse to recognize online networking as social networking, because I think this is an oxymoron...there really isn't any socializing going on.)

Alas, I'll move on. I'm in Boston covering a five-day long eye surgeon conference, and back when I was a full-time employee, these were the highlights of the year. Big city, expensive hotels, food allowances, time off from walking Tiffy, and daily deadlines. Adds up to a great change of pace from the dull office life.

A couple of years ago, this was my idea of traveling. I'd cover at least two conferences every year, usually in Chicago or San Francisco though I've been to most of the largest cities in the country for these conferences including New Orleans (post-Katrina), Las Vegas, San Diego, Atlanta and now Boston.

The real treats were the rarer international conferences, which sent me to London and Jamaica.

I thought I was spoiled to get to go to these locations. Now it all seems a little dull. I spent the past five years getting to see the country through work, and now I'll get to start seeing the world through Natalie's work.

When I started with this magazine, I really never knew what cool things I would see in the different cities of this country. And that was kind of exciting. Especially on the first day of arriving in that city. Of course, there also were the times when I realized I forgot to bring my hotel information or my dress socks or the time I got food poisoning or some sort of nasty virus and ended up in a hospital in downtown SanFran with an IV drip in a bed next to woman on a crack high or something complaining about a broken leg. So it wasn't always great either.

I get to experience that excitement again on an entirely different level as I can't even began to anticipate what will await us in Hermosillo, let alone where ever we get sent to next. At the same time, the trepidation also is exponentially greater as well as forgetting dress socks seems to pale in comparison to some of the other hardships I've seen in the news or read in other blogs.

Boston is my U.S. city victory lap; my final conference hurrah. There are still some regions I'd like to visit and sites I'd like to see, but when it comes to the United States, I feel like I can say, "Been there, done that."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

EFM: Evading the Facebook Monster

While catching up on reading the blogs listed in the left-hand column, I saw on another blog that I was six days old. Oops!

Truth is I've been busy entertaining as my mother was in town for a few days, and I'm getting ready to be in Boston for almost a week for work (first time I've used the phrase "for work" in a long, long time...and I don't like it).

But while it says I've been absent six days, it really has felt much longer than that. I'm out of rhythm. And I don't know what to write about as I've also been out of the foreign service loop for most of a week.

So I've decided to ease myself back into the routine by bringing back my old nemesis, technology.

Going all the way back to day one, I've been outspoken of my hesitancy to embrace technology. It's nothing personal against technology; it's just that the new stuff tends to be expensive and doesn't really seem to offer that much benefit for the price. When the latest and greatest becomes more mainstream and more affordable, that is when I make my move.

facebook (with a lowercase "f") is free. But you won't find me on it. Ever. I'm not on Linkedin, either. Yet. twitter (with a lowercase "t"; what is it with online networking and fear of capital letters?)? Forget it. No chance in hell.

I don't get these Web sites, especially the lower-cased duo of facebook and twitter. Linkedin at least feigns some professional usage, and between that and the fact there is a foreign service spouse network thingy, I can see myself joining.

twitter is the bane of my existence. Does everyone who uses this service suffer from such illusions of grandeur that they think their friends/family/unknown followers care about what they are doing every moment of the day?

As for the facebook monster, I think it is the gateway drug to twitter. The cult of celebrity has made us all too willing to overexpose ourselves on the Internet.

I do see a little irony that I bemoan the voluntary sacrificing of privacy and my writing a blog. But let's be honest. This blog is only a little about me. Other than a picture, limited biographical info and the fact that you can relate to me as a fellow foreign service spouse, you don't know much about me.

I stopped by facebook as I was writing this to steal a logo or something (it also has been a while since I've used any art). And I found this expression: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life." (Interesting they chose to capitalize facebook in this sentence; probably because it is the first word, or they don't adhere to their own style.)

Perhaps, but so does e-mail, phone calls, postcards, and <gasp> letters. If anything, I'd argue all of those other methods are better at connecting and sharing with the people in your life because you will be connecting and sharing while enjoying a little bit of privacy. A little privacy will give you the peace of mind to share more intimately than anything that ought to posted on the Internet.

What facebook is good at is allowing you to connect with the people that, more likely than not, you made the decision to disconnect from your life. Sure, sometimes that decision is made gradually overtime, but if you really wanted to keep in touch with your grade school crush, chem lab partner or a college acquaintance, you would call or e-mail occasionally. Right?

I've read enough of other's thoughts on facebook to know that many will disagree with my sentiments. And maybe when I'm living elsewhere and phone-communication is more infrequent, perhaps I might be swayed. For one thing, while many complain about parents finally learning how to use facebook, I think this actually is a benefit as fewer people are posting embarrassing and/or incriminating photos as in the early days.

Time will tell, but don't waste your time looking to friend me because as far as facebook and its ilk is concerned, I don't exist.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Look the Other Way

In honor of April 1, I'll be your April Fool.

It's been called to my attention (mostly by my charming, former public relations manager, press-release-writing wife) that I'm usually good for at least two typos per posting.

The irony, of course, is that I'm a professional writer/reporter. So, theoretically, I should be able to string together a few paragraphs of error-free thoughts. This is is proving to be quiet the task for me.

I'll defend my self breefly first. I type these postings in Blogger's dialogue box as opposed to typing in MicroSoft first, which offers a grammar-spellll checker. Blogger doesn't check for grammar, so I get some homonyms wrong form time to thyme as well as some other misplaced words or botched word ordering.

That's my excuse. Now for my rationalizations. Bottom line: I don't care enough to edit closely for grammatical errors. I'm just trying to get my thoughts out their, so after I type the original, I scan the article a second time just to make sure I didn't leaf something out and that my thought process makes sense...at least two me. And I run the spell check to cover any really embarrassing typos.

To serve as a constant reminder of this blog's purpose and my own shortcomings, I decided to add a permanent Disclaimer in the left-hand column, so now I'm free to screw things up terribly...it already has been disclaimed.

And finally, please don't judge my ability to write/report from this blog alone. Otherwise I probably won't be able to freelance anymore.

Happy April Fool's Day!