Language Training Redux

Well, dear readers, I now have an excuse for not updating this blog as often as I should: bahasa Indonesia!  Yep, I’m back in language training.  The same language training that damn near killed me last time around.  I’m happy to report it’s going better this time.  Something about my head being in a different place, I guess.

I’m enrolled in the FAST course at FSI, a survival-skills language course of sorts.  It’ll give me a basic knowledge of Indonesian, with the capacity to communicate on the most basic level.  It’s an 8-week course, and I’m lucky to be in a class of mostly EFMs.  I’m strongly considering extending that training by 4-6 weeks, as there’s only one FSO who is receiving the full 24 weeks of instruction, and my extending won’t be a burden on the department’s already-strained resources.

Thus far, I’m picking up and retaining things a lot better.  I can form simple sentences, am beginning to understand the roots and affixations (and their purposes and meanings), and more or less get the structure of the language and its syntax.  I also think that I’ve at least picked up some words from my wife and the constant drone of Indonesian TV in the background (my wife watches it all the time) at least has me recognizing some words and getting a feel for the cadence.  I also found some open-source language materials and texts, so I will be using those to further my learning.

In other news, I may actually start working in a kitchen soon.  I’ve been in discussion with a local chef who runs a teaching-oriented restaurant and culinary workshop.  He’s looking for some help in the kitchen both for dinner services and for the cooking workshops.  He’s been impressed enough with my chops (literally, heh) after seeing me work in 2 cooking classes here at Oakwood, that he’s considering offering me some hours.  Sa-weet.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this one, as I feel it’s a real foot-in-the-door opportunity for me.  I have always wanted to work in a commercial kitchen, and this is as good a chance as any.

My shoulder is now about 75 percent healed/rehabilitated.  Well, it’s 100 percent healed, but I’m only at about 75 percent mobility and strength.  Most of the deep surgical pain has ceased, the infection seems to have cleared up, and I’m really only left with the muscle pain that comes with trying to regain my full range of motion.  My only setbacks have been when I pull or aggravate something in the joint, but these are just a few minutes of pain and my confidence level with my left arm has soared recently.  I’m pretty much fully capable of everyday activities again, pain-free, and working to get back to sports.  I’d really like to be able to swim and surf in Indonesia, and possibly get back into golf and tennis.  A healthy left shoulder will be helpful in all of these things.

So there’s the update.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us before our June departure.  The dog shipping thing is a long, expensive, and painful process, but that’s another post altogether.  Let’s just say that if you’re thinking about a career as a diplomat, you should really reconsider your stance on pets if you have them.  While they’re part of the family and a good source of continuity between moves throughout their lifespans, they’re damn expensive and complicated to move around with you.


My first week of language training was….

….non-existent.  I went in Monday for orientation despite the beginnings of a cold rearing its ugly head.  Sat thru the administrative stuff (no, it didn’t change since September, though there’s rumors of a new intro video being produced, so you have that to look forward to), sat through the Thai/Indonesian orientation, sat through the Indonesian orientation/goal setting, went home at noon, didn’t go back again last week.

That lovely cold took me and Son out this week in the worst way.  Missed 4 days of training, Son missed 5 days of school.  104-degree fevers and a hacking cough kept us worried and Son up all night most nights.  A nasty sore throat and sinus pressure-qua-infection kept me miserable and out of class.  We’re finally feeling better, but now the Wife has it.  Hooray for infectious diseases in close-knit communities!  As the director of Son’s school told me, “There’s something going around.”  Thanks for that tidbit!

So, I missed week 1 of 8 in Indonesian training.  But I made 500 flash cards, and think I can recall about 50 of them.  I can also put basic sentences together: Saya orang Inggris.  Saya punya istri.  Nama istri saya Joanne.  Saya tinggal di Oakwood di Falls Church.  Saya mau perjalanan ki Indonesia.  Good times.  Tidak buruk.

Despite feeling like death this week, I was at least a little productive in learning.  So that’s nice.  I was totally off the cooking bandwagon, however, and we mostly scrounged for food in Chez Expat Chef when we weren’t getting delivery or take-out.  Did manage to pull together a taco salad on Friday with an amazing creamy cilantro-lime dressing.  Mmm-mmm.

Still feeling the effects of being sick for a full week, that’s about all the blog-posting goodness I have in me.  You’ll have to wait until next week when I’m on the verge of suicide from the EPAP application process (I passed the writing exam, natch) and beating my head against my Kamus Bahasa Indonesia for another post.  It may even be whinier than this one.


My long absence

Indeed, it has been a while since I last blogged.  The recipe the other day was a cross-post from my other blog, and was actually an error.  For whatever reason, when I posted that recipe to the other site, WordPress also overwrote the 1,000-plus word post I had written on this site.  Humph.

Anyways, I’m trying to get back into blogging.  I promise I’ll write more as the days get longer.  I’ll have a lot more to say since I will be starting the FAST Indonesian course at FSI in February, dealing with selling 2 cars, packing out, shipping dogs, and basically uprooting again come June.  You know, the fun stuff.  I think it may be easier this time since it isn’t such a novel process anymore.  But we all know that there are always snafus in the Foreign Service life, and well, we’ll just cross those bridges when we come to them.

The reason for my blog silence was that I underwent shoulder surgery on 12/21.  Merry freaking Christmas to me.  My holiday was spent in a Percocet-induced haze, and may have involved some presents being opened, some napping (err, passing out), and a whole lot of cryo-therapy for my surgical site.  It was arthroscopic, so the surgery wasn’t that invasive, but I had a lot of damage in the shoulder due to repetitive dislocations over the last 18 years.  It wasn’t pretty.  To top all of that off, I developed an infection in the shoulder last Sunday (so not only was my shoulder throbbing but I also felt like death due to hefty doses of antibiotics and had to watch the Patriots lose to the effing Ravens – I may have asked my wife to kill me at several points in the day; luckily she didn’t oblige).

I’m currently in physical therapy, trying to regain the range of motion I used to have, and spend inordinate amounts of time each day stretching out the muscles around my shoulder.  It’s excruciating at times, but necessary.  I’m looking forward to having a shoulder that no longer slips out at will, and maybe even get back into swimming and surfing when we get to post.  A boy can dream, right?

Otherwise, things have been pretty normal, and that is good.  Being in the U.S. is kind of centering for me.  I have a different set of priorities here, and it helps me re-focus and re-energize for our next tour.  Living in SE Asia will be an interesting and rewarding experience, for sure, but it will also be draining and frustrating.  Overseas life is just like that… unless you’re in Europe or Australia, it can be difficult to navigate daily life (I’m sure Europe and Australia have their share of problems too).  For me, I’ll have the added stress of not speaking Indonesian very well.  The FAST course is basically survival language capacity.  I’ll need to take classes over there in order to improve, and I do believe that to be in the cards.

For now, I’m going to enjoy my last few months in the States, keep seeing friends old and new, and mentally prepare myself for the ensuing chaos May will surely be.

Potage Parmentier

Winter has arrived in DC in the form of a cold snap (eff you, 20 degrees) and some trace amounts of snow this past Wednesday and coming this afternoon.  With these events has also arrived my desire to either hibernate or make a lot of stews and soups.  Since I can’t rightly do the former, I’ll stick to the latter.

Perusing the Farmer’s Market in Falls Church this weekend, I came across some beautiful leeks.  Feeling the cold in the air, I quickly decided to grab 2 bunches with a lovely, luxurious soup on my mind.  We made our way through the rest of the market, I picked up a few more ingredients, and then we went home to warm up with coffee and blankets.  I let the leeks sit in the fridge, almost forgotten until I went o a physical therapy appointment on Tuesday morning.  After crossing the ice planet Hoth (i.e. the 2-block walk to the office), I resolved to make those leeks into something to take the chill out of my bones.

Enter potage parmentier – potato leek soup.  It’s so deliciously simple that it should be a staple of everyone’s winter diet.  And if you live in a tropical environment there’s vicchyssoise – a cold version that’s just as lovely.  Each time I cook this soup, I channel the spirit of Julia Child because her recipe is still the best.  I’ve tweaked it a little over the years, but it’s more of an homage to her than a change on perfection.  I also usually conjure up this SNL skit whenever I make a JC recipe, as it’s so hilariously perfect.

The recipe is so basic, and I’m pretty sure you can find all the ingredients just about anywhere in the world.  I found leeks on a regular basis in the D.R., and while no one there knew what to do with them, I savored each opportunity I had to work with them, as they are one of my very favorite vegetables.  Here’s what you need:

  • 3 leeks, trimmed and thoroughly washed, then thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 4-5 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch half moons
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, divided
  • water
  • 1 pint good vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup light or heavy cream
  • fresh chives, chopped (for garnish)

JC’s recipe calls for you to throw all the ingredients in a pot, cover them with water and stock, and simmer for 30-45 minutes to cook the potatoes through, then blend it in batches (or hit it with an immersion blender) to purée it.  I prefer to slowly sautée my leeks, covered, in 5 Tbsp butter and a generous pinch of salt for about 20 minutes before adding the potatoes, water, and stock.  This brings out some of the sweetness of the leeks, and makes their presence a little more forward in the dish. Your mileage may vary.  Whichever method you use, you’ll want to finish the now-creamy soup with some cream and the remaining butter while adding salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.  Ladle out into bowls, garnish with the chives, and serve with a good crusty French bread (boulés are a better choice than baguettes here).

For the vichyssoise, you can follow all the same steps, but skip the cream until serving time.  You definitely want to add the last bit of butter an incorporate it into the soup, however.  Let it cool to room temperature, then chill overnight in the fridge.  When ready to serve, let it sit for about an hour, add the cream and mix well.  Ladle into bowls, and garnish with chives, as above.  You may also want to consider garden or field cress as a garnish, as its peppery flavor complements the soup nicely.

As I roll through my winter repertoire, I’ll try to update this site with some of the soups and stews I concoct.  Everyone should have a few good winter dishes under their belt to survive these long, cold days until Spring finally arrives.

Happy New Year

I’ve not dropped off the face of the planet… just recovering from shoulder surgery which makes typing blog posts an adventure.

Wanted to drop in, though and wish everyone a very happy 2013… may all your goals be met, your resolutions stuck-to, and your year full of joy.

See you in a few weeks when I once again have use of my left hand.


Language and the Trailing Spouse

One of the hardest things about being a trailing spouse in the Foreign Service is the language.  As an EFM, we are eligible for language training at FSI, but many of us, for whatever reason, cannot or choose not to learn the language of the host country.

In my case, I had a little Spanish from college when we were posted to the Dominican Republic and I chose to go through language training.  It helped me immensely, as there is little English spoken in the D.R. outside of the Embassy community.  My motivation to learn the language, however, was only so-so, and after a couple of personality-conflict episodes in my class, I ended up dropping out of the classroom setting after about 4 months.

Indonesian training was a disaster for me from the start, as my motivation was at an all-time low and Indonesian is just so vastly different from English.  After three weeks of being beaten over the head with Indonesian, I was miserable, and decided to go the self-study route.  As of this moment, I think I’ve maybe picked up ten words and looked at my textbooks once or twice.  I will be at a severe disadvantage at post, as few Surabayans speak English.  This, in turn, will culturally isolate me and make navigating everyday life incredibly difficult.

In my Indonesian class, I was that guy, you know, the one who didn’t study at all and made mistakes left and right on things that we had just been taught.  I wanted to learn the language, honestly, but I also had other things to do.  For my wife, it’s different, as it’s part of her job and she’s getting paid to do it.  Also, for the Diplomat, failure in learning the language is not an option.  She argues that I’m getting all this free language training so I should look at it that way, and while I somewhat agree, it doesn’t work that way for me.

One of the hardest parts of language training for the spouse (for me, at least) is finding the time and motivation to study at home.  As the trailing spouse, one needs to keep up with all the domestic BS (cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, bills/finances, and, if applicable, childcare) while supposedly also finding the time to put in 4-5 hours of homework and study time in order to acquire a new language.  By the time you get home from a 6-hour day of intensive classes, you’re exhausted.  But you still have to get dinner ready, entertain the kid so your spouse can have some study time, do some laundry, and pick up the toys strewn all over the house.  As I write this, I’m waiting for the dryer to buzz so I can change the laundry over (and listening to salsa – great for staying motivated to do housework).  Once I’m done with the laundry, I’ll probably go for a quick workout, then start planning dinner while trying to distract the child away from Mama.  See?  Where do I fit in studying at night unless I stay up until 1 a.m.?

Basically, I’m screwed.  I’m going to start looking at the (literally) thousands of flash cards my wife has, try to interpret her sometimes-sloppy handwriting, and drag out the self-study materials.  But I’m going to struggle mightily with the language, and have to rely on my wife for much of the communication over there (difficult when you’re the one tasked with supervising and instructing the domestic staff who will most likely not speak any English).  Unfortunately, there will not be an option for a FAST course until late February, so even if I enrolled in it, I’d only get about 3-4 weeks of the course under my belt before we departed for post.

I think this is a huge issue for a lot of spouses.  Whether it’s lack of childcare (the waitlist at FSI Daycare is almost a year long and it’s expensive), lack of time, or lack of motivation, many spouses struggle with the language learning process.  For me, it’s a combination of the two latter components, but I’m starting to see how important learning the language is.  Hopefully I can overcome the lack of motivation and start hitting the books.  Otherwise I will be miserable for our two years at post.


We’re down a car! (And I need surgery)

Good news on the car front finally… we ended up selling one of our cars on Craigslist, to an FSO by complete chance.  Thank god… the whole FS fraternity thing can be totally awesome sometimes.  I really believe there is a feeling of mutual respect and trust when you deal with other FS families in business transactions.

We ended up selling our 2002 Volvo wagon, the one I least wanted to sell.  It was a great car that had been in my family since 2004 or so.  My folks gifted it to us when we came back from the D.R., as they had given it to my sister’s family to be a train car (those of you from the NYC area know what that is).  It was kind of fortuitous, as my dad was buying a new car and was going to give his old one to my sister to replace the Volvo, which my niece would then get as her car (she turned 16 in May).  Since my B.I.L. gets a company car, I finagled my way into the Volvo instead of the Saab.  While the Volvo was older, the Saab was a sedan—and with a kid and two dogs, sedans suck.

Recently the Volvo started having some small issues (like any car with 103K on it), and then the Check Engine Light came on.  It was going to be a $500 repair, plus a couple big-ticket items were coming up, so I decided it was best to sell it.  I was completely up-front about the issues, made a few concessions on price, and had it sold in a matter of days.  Now we’re back to a normal, two-car family.  Hooray!

Speaking of cars, I have mostly fixed the Saab after all the issues we’ve had with it.  There was a idling/hesitation problem that I had Googled and narrowed it down to a couple of things.  When we had it in the shop, I asked the mechanic what he thought, he pointed at a part in the engine and said that it was usually the culprit.  He said it was a $300 part, and a couple hours’ labor.  I smelled bullshit, searched for an engine schematic online, identified the part, and found it online for $50.  Took about 6 minutes to install the part (with only one or two expletives), and the car runs 1,000 times better.

And now on to the surgery….

I apparently need shoulder surgery due to a torn labrum in my left shoulder.  This is an ages-old injury that has gotten worse with time.  My shoulder frequently slips out of socket randomly, and I’m left with a week of excruciating pain and limited motion each time.  This happens roughly monthly, going on 17 or so years now.  I’m done.  I’m at the point where I can afford the surgery, am getting back into shape and would like to start swimming and surfing again, and am just plain sick of it.  It hurts when it happens, reduces my quality of life, and I find myself avoiding certain activities or motions which have a high likelihood of injuring my shoulder again.

All in all, it’s an arthroscopic procedure which should only incapacitate me for a week or two, and it’s not my dominant arm.  I’m planning on scheduling it before the holidays, so I plan on spending Christmas in a sling.  However, navigating the bureaucratic bullshit of the U.S. healthcare system is probably going to kill me before any surgeon has the chance to in the O.R.  The steps and cross-references and phone calls necessary to just get a simple M.R.I. to confirm the diagnosis pre-approved are ridiculous, and I’ve already lost one appointment due to how shitty the FSBP is here in the U.S. (they use Coventry here, which is really a new definition of frustration), and am considering just doing the damn surgery overseas so I can pay for it out-of-pocket and be reimbursed rather than navigating the waters of PPO hell anymore.

With a holiday week next week, expect some radio silence from me… I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I’ll be posting some of my favorite Turkey Day hacks, tricks, and recipes on my other blog over the weekend.

Mahalo and gobble-gobble, y’all.

Wake me when it’s over…

Today is Nov. 2, and there are 5 more days of the presidential election cycle.  That’s 5 more days of being bombarded by political ads everywhere I look.  5 more days of having my Facebook and RSS feeds clogged with political drivel.  5 more days of having to listen to every news organization breathlessly report on the latest 0.0001% shift for whichever candidate in Ohio, Virginia, or North Carolina.

I can’t stand it anymore.  I wish I could go to sleep and wake up on the 7th (with my candidate having won, natch), or better yet, be overseas again where the elections in the U.S. get marginal coverage and the real events of the world (Syria, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, and the Eurozone crisis) actually get air time.  Because, let’s face it folks: the events happening outside of our borders and messed-up political system are the ones that really matter.  What happens elsewhere in the world will have a huge effect on the United States and our economy, despite our head-in-the-sand attempts to ignore it.

Yes, I care who wins.  No, I will not tell you who that is—though if you know me you already know.  Yes, I think that one candidate is better for my wife’s job security and our personal security while serving overseas.  Will I lose sleep over the results of the election?  Probably, but we do indeed serve at the pleasure of the President (whoever that turns out to be).

I have tried to keep my political musings out of this blog and my Facebook feed, admittedly with less success on Facebook.  However, my Facebook feed has been blowing up with political rants and propaganda from friends near and far.  I have judiciously hidden some of the lesser offenders and de-friended some of the worst.  I have also noticed that, except for a select few, my friends share my political leanings.  It’s really interesting how we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals rather than seek out opposing views for some welcome contrast.

Also, if you’ve never lived in a swing state, you should count yourself as one of the Lucky Ones.  Here in Virginia 60–70% of all TV ads over the past month-plus have been political.  Seriously.  It’s getting old.  I had taken to watching TV on the internet (Hulu, Comedy Central, etc.), but the political ads have infiltrated teh interwebz as well.  Gah!  Get me out of here!

Regardless, it all ends Tuesday evening.  Wednesday morning I’ll either be beaming with happiness or crying into my Cheerios.  But at least the political ads will be over, and that is the most important thing in our election cycle: the end of the goddamn ads.

What the hell am I doing with three cars?

Yes, dear readers… I have three cars at the moment.  For two licensed drivers.  Ugh.

Here’s the deal – Before we left the DR (under the assumption that we’d be selling the FJ at post… may I add that that was the single dumbest assumption I’ve ever made?  By assuming, you make an ASS out of U and ME, and all that…), we decided to beg my parents/sister for the old Volvo wagon that was kicking around the family in order to have a lock on a car when we got back to the States.  Luckily (or unluckily, as it turns out), they acquiesced, and we were the proud owners of a 2002 Volvo V70.  Hooray!  Well, around that time, Wife decided that she would like to re-learn how to drive (I was of the habit of doing ALL THE DRIVING in the DR), and had her heart set upon a car made by the now-defunct Saab mark.  More or less the same one that saved her life many years ago in a head-on collision on the highway, so, really, who’s going to argue that one?  Well, she found a 2002 9-3 Turbo with the necessary specs, and we put a deposit down on it sight-unseen.  Yes, dumb-da-dumb-dumb-dumb.

Fast forward to picking the Saab up…  I drive into a part of Providence, RI that I’ve never been to before (for good reason… and I’ve been in some shady parts of Provvy), and pull into a “dealer”‘s lot.  There are a lot of cars there, in various states of repair.  OK, I say to myself, let’s get this done.  I conduct the whole rest of the transaction in Spanish (feeling good about myself after two years in the DR) with the Bolivian owner: take the car for a test drive on the mean streets of Providence; look over the car; gain assurances that the promised work has been done; and finally pay the remaining money to take ownership.  OK, I think, this car’s alright for the next 6 months.

I get the car back to my parents’ house, and my father and I drive up to the Cape.  He’s driving the Saab, and I’m in the Volvo.  After the drive he complains of a slight shimmy in the steering wheel (a problem which the dealer promised to fix) and an intermittent loss of power when maintaining highway speed (shit, Googled this and it’s probably something to do with the waste-gate clip on the turbo… who knows how much).  I decide to kind of forget about the problems until I’m back in CT, and my Dad drives it back several days later noting the same issues.

I finally get back to CT after a few more days, and I take the car to get new tires ($600) and an oil change ($100 – the oil change another thing the dealer promised me that wasn’t done), and on the way back from getting the tires, I’m accelerating onto the highway when the car almost completely loses power and the “exclamation point” light comes on on the dash.  Those of you whom have owned Saabs know that this isn’t good.  In fact, there is rarely a time in life where an exclamation point warning light is a good sign.

Well, I get the car home, and turn it off.  I quickly Google the issue, and see a whole bunch of articles pertaining to the alternator.  Great.  I go back out to the car and try to start it.  Nada.  Battery’s dead.  That confirms the alternator.  I jump it, pop the hood, and look down to the alternator.  It’s not turning with the serpentine belt.  S-W-E-E-T.  I call the local European-specialist garage and tell them to expect me.  I hop in the car and try to drive the 2 miles there, but if you’ve ever dealt with a dead alternator before, you know how far I got.  Mind you, THIS IS ALL THE DAY BEFORE I’M LEAVING FOR MAINE FOR MY 1 MONTH OF HOME LEAVE.  I’m also counting on having 2 cars to drive up there……

Fast forward to after having the car towed the rest of the way to the shop… I ask the guys to fix the alternator and take a look at the rest of the car.  Tell them I’m going back on vacation, and I’ll deal with it when I get back… they can call me with the estimate, etc.  Leave for Maine (450 miles away) and wait for the call.  Arrange with my parents to pick the car up when it’s done.

About 3 days later, I get the call from the shop, and they tell me of the blown alternator ($750… duh) and the front and rear brakes that have 5% life left ($550 front, $500 rear, ugh), and the “small” leak in the exhaust just behind the manifold ($350).  I say, “Sure!  Fix it, except for the exhaust… I’ll deal with that later.”  I enjoy the rest of my vacation, come back to CT on the way to DC and pick up the car.  My wife drives it to DC, and there aren’t any other problems to speak of.  So, silly me, I start to think I’m out of the shit when….

….My wife comes home today and asks me to check the power steering fluid on the Saab, because it’s “become difficult to turn the wheel when stopped.”  Great.  Couple this with the suspension issue on the Volvo right now and the fact that I’m trying to sell the FJ which we had to ship back to the U.S. (and is in GREAT condition, and currently for sale), and I’m wondering WTF is it with me and cars right now?  I’ve done nothing but care for all of my previous cars, and my car-ma (sorry) sucks right now.  If I had only one car to deal with this would all be moot.  But having three, and two of which are having problems, this really is just too much.

Now I need to reconsider my priorities, get two older cars in for-sale-shape (probably for another several hundred dollars), and hope for the best.  Ideally, I can sell the Saab and the Volvo and recoup my expenses (i.e. the ~$2,400 EXTRA I paid for the Saab on top of the $3,000 just to take ownership of that nightmare) and hang on to the FJ until we leave for post.  But what if I can’t sell the FJ?  WTF do I do then?  Sell it at an obscenely low price, low-ball myself and not get a decent car at post as a trade-off?  Hold on to the FJ and pay ~$250 a month to store it on top of the car payment?  Beg State to put it in emergency storage since we’re moving to a RHD country in which POVs regularly need ~1 year to clear customs/get registered?

Anyone?  Bueller?

Tragedy, Americana, and Consumerism

First off, the FS Blog community has discussed the events over the past week-and-a-half rather thoroughly and much more eloquently than I’m capable of.  I’ll defer to them on the subject of the violence in the Middle East and the murders of our colleagues.  However, being at FSI during all of this was rather surreal.  It’s kind of awesome when an entire cafeteria full of FSOs and spouses falls silent and stares at the TV to watch/read (closed captioning FTW) the President’s remarks about the 4 American diplomats killed while serving our country.

I try to leave politics out of this blog as much as possible (check my Facebook wall if you’d like to see my political filters dropped), since we serve “at the pleasure of the administration”.  However, Gov. Romney’s remarks at his presser on 9/12 were absolutely some of the most garish and gauche things I’ve ever heard.  How dare he politicize the deaths of 4 diplomats to scare up some votes?  I’m glad that he’s been taking such heavy flack from both sides about this foot-in-mouth moment.  At least some people have morals.

On to happier, or at least different subjects…

This week, I had the pleasure of meeting two, that’s right TWO FS bloggers IRL.  Sadie and Jen attended an AAFSW happy hour and I was totally psyched to get to speak with them for a bit.  Actually meeting (face-to-face, no less) others in this crazy, disparate community makes connections a little more real, and makes the world we live in a little smaller.  So, Sadie and Jen: It was an absolute pleasure to meet you.

Today, I had the pleasure of walking around the D.C. Zoo with Wife and Son.  While parking was a nightmare, being able to walk the streets and the paths, and really, just NOT WORRY about our safety was amazing.  It’s crazy what you take for granted while you’re living the the U.S.  Even knowing I was at the D.C. Zoo, surrounded by cops and Secret Service, I still found myself looking over my shoulder and grasping the knife in my pocket (a nasty habit I picked up in the D.R.) on occasion.  When you live in a crime-ridden country, you find yourself being extremely paranoid in situations that don’t warrant it…

Last week, I had a lovely experience at the VA DMV trying to register our car that was shipped back to D.C. from the D.R.  I spent several days combing the DMV Web site looking for information about our situation (VA-purchased car, shipped abroad, brought back), and thought I stumbled on the right info (scroll almost to the bottom).  I got all my paperwork together, headed to Tysons Corner, waited almost 2 hours, and was told I needed numerous additional pieces of paperwork I didn’t have (the towing company didn’t give me the EPA forms, HS7, and customs paperwork, etc.).  I was SOL and pissed.  Thank god for Livelines, however, as I had several pieces of advice within minutes, including the email of a high-ranking official in DMV, and my problem was solved.  I love the FS community, seriously.  Now my car is happily registered and on the market.  Anyone need a car for post?

Being back in the U.S. after 2 years abroad is mostly a never-ending source of joy for me, however.  I fully admit I’m a consumer.  I like to consume many things: food, drink, electronics, media, tap water, clean air, etc.  The D.C. area is awesome for this.  Amazon deliveries in 2 days or fewer, excellent grocery stores, the Virginia ABC and their selection of small-batch bourbons, niche and specialty butcher shops and groceries, direct flights to just about any point worth visiting in the U.S.  I’m definitely going to do what I can to consume what I can before traveling to the other side of the world to live for 2 years.

I’m trying to wrap my head around this fact.  Indonesia.  Man, that’s far.  There are going to be so many challenges to maintain even a modicum of “Americana” over there, but that’s my goal.  Everywhere we live during our FS career, I’d like to be able to recreate certain aspects of the U.S. so as to maintain some level of sameness.  Number one for me is food.  See, I’m open to trying new things… in fact, as a burgeoning chef, I kind of thrive on it.  But there are certain things that I become a whining Prima donna over if I can’t find them.  Good beef is one of them.  Sage come Thanksgiving is another.  Cheese is a third.  You can call me crazy if you like, but I can’t live without good food.  My family (i.e. Mom & Dad and sister) all think I’m crazy, as they all see food as solely a source of nutrients, and don’t understand my obsession over flavor, texture, preparation, and presentation.  This probably has a lot to do with the fact that my Mom is Irish and English, and my Dad is Polish (or Austrian, none of us know), and none of these cuisines are really groundbreaking in what they do.  I’m kind of the anomaly in the family.

See, in Surabaya I plan to attend culinary school.  It’s been too long that I’ve gone without formal education in the culinary arts.  I’ve been cooking and learning about food since I was about 13 when my sister’s college roommate fed me her grandmother’s red sauce.  Turning point in my life, for realsies.  I grew up on Ragu (it’s NOT Italian) and Perdue “Done It” chicken cutlets.  Enough said.  I’m of the mindset that cooking is one of those fully-transferable skill-sets: who doesn’t like food (well, except for my Mom)?

The least I can do as I follow my wife around the globe in her amazing career is to make sure our family is well-fed.  I’ve kind of resigned myself to the fact that working in the Mission ain’t my bag, and unless I can get a steady gig as the Ambassador’s Chef, I may as well cook at home for the small audience of my family and possibly a broader audience of American expats in the Mission.  Hell, after my wife retires, I fully plan on opening a private chef service and/or a small farm-to-table concept cafe (i.e. 3-4 covers a night), and use the culinary influences I’ve gained over 20+ years of traveling the globe and learning the cuisine to make some seriously world-class food.

Well, enough of my dreams for tonight.  I’m still trying to get my other blog together (a totally food-related one) and dedicate some time to it.  Maybe now that formal Indonesian training is shelved for the time being, I’ll have more time to develop the concept and actually produce some content.

Until next time, Mahalo.