I guess I’m not as important as I once assumed

It all started with me reading this.  I thought to myself, “Really?  Jen is like one of the bestest FS bloggers out there who’s blog I constantly look to for advice, insight, humor, and just downright know-how.”  Then I decided to actually check out the careers.state.gov blogroll to see who was on it.

See, it all started out in 2010 or so, when we doing the whirlwind thing in DC, then literally just arrived at our first post when I received this email:

Dear Dave,

Recently you gave us permission to utilize excerpts of your blog posts on INTERNational Connections, the U.S. Department of State’s career-networking site for current and former interns. While we’re just getting that content-sharing program off the ground, we’ve already received great feedback on how helpful your content has been to those thinking about pursuing a career with the U.S. Department of State.

With that in mind, we’d like to expand our cooperation with you. We’re currently in the process of completely overhauling the Careers website (http://careers.state.gov) to help provide prospective candidates with more authentic first-hand and relevant content that’s easier to find. As part of this content, we’d like to feature a link to your blog (dp’s blog), as part of a blog-roll on the site. This would simply be a direct link to your site, with none of your content featured directly on careers.state.gov.

Please acknowledge that you’re fine with this scenario; please let me know if you have any questions about this initiative. Thanks!

Sincerely,
A FSS working in Washington

Wow! I thought.  I’m like famous, or something.  Well, at least amongst the ridiculously small community of trailing-spouse bloggers here in the Foreign Service.  And State had recognized me as having something important to say!  Golly-gee-willikers, I was excited.

So I continued blogging about what goes on in my life abroad on a semi-consistent basis.  See, when you’re living abroad, running a household, keeping everyone on schedule, getting chores and errands done, trying to have a social life, etc. blogging can become kind of secondary.  It’s not that I don’t want to do it, it’s just that at the end of the day either I feel like there’s absolutely nothing to say, or I’m too damn tired or frustrated to say anything at all.  I was averaging about a post every 2 to 3 weeks.  Not bad when you’re Mr. Mom.

So, after reading Jen’s post, I got curious.  I checked the careers.state.gov blogroll to see if I was still there.  Nope.  Not a trace.  Maybe it had something to do with a forced 3 or so week hiatus that came down from above.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that much of my content was kind of negative on some level.  I don’t know…. nor do I really care.  I write about the realities of my life in the Foreign Service, good or bad, and plan on doing so for as long as I’m permitted to.

Moving forward, since we’re getting so close to pack-out and home leave, I’ll be trying to pick up the writing and give helpful pointers about pack-out, as well as the usual horror stories that I’m sure will come with it.  This is where I’ve turned to others’ blogs to gauge my perceived level of insanity.  “Has anyone else experienced this?  Yes?  Then I should probably just shut up.”

We continue to enjoy the lovely TDY in London, as Son and I are getting as much done as possible in the remaining week-plus we have here.  Once we get back to SDO, it’s more house-arrest style living rather than being able to roam the city aimlessly without the always-looming threat of being robbed, harassed, kidnapped, or killed.

London has shown me that I miss the first world so much: I miss the markets; the museums; the public transportation; being able to walk around; good food; fresh and abundant ingredients… but I’ll be back there shortly.  Maine and a month of solitude/tranquility can’t come soon enough.

Cheerio, mates.

Travel Adventures (Or How My Airplane Karma Really, Really, Really Sucks)

We arrived in London on Saturday.  It’s been cool and rainy ever since.  I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to put on a sweater and/or raincoat.  After almost 2 years in a disgustingly hot and humid climate, being chilly is like my own personal heaven.

Our flight here was not without adventure, however.  Waiting for my plane in SDO, I ran into a few of my wife’s colleagues, one going to Panama and one going to DC.  All our flights were in a 40-minute window, so we sat and chatted for a few before heading off to our respective gates.  Some thunderstorms were rolling in, but it’s 4:00 p.m. in SDO, when does that NOT happen?  My two friends each get on their planes, and Son and I watch them taxi and take off.  We’re up next, we board the plane, and even taxi out to the runway.  We hold for a few minutes, then the captain announces that the thunderstorm is a little stronger than expected, and we’re going to wait it out.  He also mentions that it’s quick-moving, and we should be underway in about 15-20 minutes.

An hour and 45 minutes later, we’re given the go-ahead for take-off.  Mind you I have a 2-hour layover in JFK to clear customs and immigration, get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3 with my suitcases and toddler, etc.  I ask the flight crew if they think it’s possible to make this connection in the roughly hour-long period we’ll have from touch-down to take-off of my next flight.  They assure me that it’s possible, and to help me out, they move me and Son to the first-class cabin for the remaining 30 minutes of the flight so we can disembark more quickly.

We land, and I have 1:05 to make my flight.  Luckily Dip passports are almost as good as those million-mile clubs when clearing immigration and customs in JFK.  I also had some ground crew escorting and expediting the process.  We could have made it.  I seriously think we could have made it.  The ground crew had a different idea, and decided to re-book me on an AA flight that was leaving a little later (I was originally scheduled to and excited to fly British Airways on a 10:55 p.m. flight), much to my chagrin.  I accepted, as I was not given much choice, and settled in to wait for this new flight which was supposed to take off at 11:15 p.m.  Of course, this being me, we were delayed until 12:45 a.m.  I emailed my wife (she was already in London) about my flight changes, and sent her a text, just to be sure.

Luckily, I had spent some of the time sitting in JFK to scavenge for food options (there aren’t many at 11 p.m.), and ended up with a couple of bananas, some chocolate milk, a couple of cheese slices, and some waters (for $23, mind you).  Thank god I did, because American DID NOT FEED US ON THE FLIGHT.  Beverage service and snacks only, with no option to purchase meals-in-a-box due to the fact that the plane we were flying on had landed about 30 minutes before we took off, and they were trying to minimize our delay.  Ugh.

I got almost no sleep on the plane (of course), and was ravenously hungry, but we finally landed in London at about 11:35 a.m. local time.  I collected our luggage and cleared Border Control and customs with no problem.  No sign of my wife, however.  Shit.  We had a wedding to get to by 2:45 p.m., and I had no way of contacting her.  I quickly bought a SIM card (I love the UK for this single reason: SIM card vending machines EVERYWHERE), used Skype to call my wife’s cell (no answer), and checked my email (no reply to my message).  Double shit.  We walked around the terminal for a few minutes looking for her to no avail, and then I decided I would ask where the BA flight I was originally on would have landed.  2 terminals over, of course.  Son and I schlepped our stuff onto the light rail, and made it to the other terminal (and by “Son and I,” I of course mean “I”), and after 15 minutes of searching, located my wife.  Phew.

Of course, by this point we had about 1 hour to get to the hotel, check-in, drop our things, shower, put a suit on, and take a cab to central London from Ealing.  Our Tube train had massive delays (25 minutes sitting at a stop), I had to get the wrinkles out of my suit (not too many thanks to this video), and there was traffic inbound to central London.  We missed most of the wedding ceremony, but got to hang out at the reception for a fabulous Indian banquet feast.

The end.  More about our London adventures as they happen.

In the home stretch…

Believe it or not, fair readers, the Pernal-Cossitt clan has A LITTLE MORE THAN FOUR MONTHS LEFT AT POST.  Holy crap, where did the last 18 months go?

Since we arrived at post, we have:

  • Celebrated 2 Christmases away from family;
  • Celebrated Son’s 3rd and 4th birthdays;
  • As of tomorrow will have celebrated our 2nd and 3rd wedding anniversaries here;
  • Watched Son transform from a toddler into a kid;
  • Missed countless family birthdays, milestones, events, etc.;
  • Immersed ourselves in a foreign culture, and become proficient in a foreign language;
  • Enjoyed our time traveling around the island and had some really fun experiences;
  • Missed the United States like nobody’s business;
  • Cursed the Dominican Republic for a variety of things that shave hours off our lives each time they occur; and
  • Met and said goodbye to some fantastic people with whom I hope we’ll stay in touch.

It’s hard to believe that we’re the short-timers now.  Sure, friends of ours are leaving before we do, but we’re firmly on the “ten FSOs who are leaving soonest” list, and it feels great.

However, in the next 4-plus months we need to:

  • Figure out how the hell we’re going to get two dogs back to the United States with all of the restrictions, policy changes, fare hikes, etc. that have happened in the last 2 years;
  • Literally HALVE our belongings (it’s a great excuse to throw shit out, this Foreign Service life), since if we don’t do it now, we’re going to become like those crazies on “Hoarders” after a few tours;
  • Do a 3-week TDY in London in May (I know, bummer, right?);
  • Sell our car (anyone want an FJ Cruiser in the DR?);
  • Get to fixing all the incidental wear-and-tear stuff in the house, lest we get billed for it;
  • Say goodbye to a lot of great people we’ve met along the way;
  • Pack out, check out, and get the heck out; and
  • Say “Hasta luego” to the Dominican Republic and get ready for a month on the Maine coast and several months in D.C.

It’s a little bittersweet… to be this close to leaving and only feeling like we’re just getting comfortable.  There are numerous things I will not miss about this post that I will not get into here, lest the tigers are reading, but there are a lot of good people here, and once you get outside of the city, the Dominican Republic is downright beautiful.  I will look back on our time here fondly, I believe, but not until I’m looking back on the island from the window of an airplane.

I’m not saying all is bad here…. it isn’t.  We have a good quality of life that would be otherwise out of reach if we lived in the States.  Son is well on his way to becoming bilingual (I sure do hope he keeps up on his Spanish in D.C… any suggestions?), my Spanish has improved immensely, and my wife has had some truly awesome opportunities in the Consular Section and has kicked ass and taken names.  I have had the opportunity to do something I love (The Expat Chef), and even made a little money doing it.  Basically, for a first tour, this post has kicked some serious ass despite all the little headaches.  I’m grateful we had this opportunity, and didn’t end up in Farawayistan, China, or Mexico.

This said, I cannot wait to get back home for a little while.  I want to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family, I want to eat Chic-Fil-A, Popeye’s, Waffle House, cheese steaks, good beef, and countless other things I’ve missed.  I want to have 200 choices presented to me when I go buy a six-pack (instead of 6), have 100 choices when I want to pick up some cheese (instead of 10, most of which are not very good), be able to get good bread, meats, hardy greens, ASPARAGUS, veggies, sweet potatoes, and ginger ale (notice a food-related trend here?).

Living abroad with the Foreign Service has a lot of ups and downs.  The best part of it, however, is heading home.  And we’re in the home stretch.

Chicago-style Deep-dish Pizza

It’s recipe time here on my blog.  For those of you far-flung FS families, this is a a pretty easy deep-dish pizza recipe that produces fantastic results every time.  For those of you who live in the States, or worse, in Chicago, shut up.  I hate you.  Go order some Malnati’s already.

Special equipment: 14-inch cast-iron skillet or pizza pan.  9-inch round cake pans will work too.  Food processor.

For the dough:

2 1/4 cups bread flour (all-purpose works in a pinch)
2 1/2 tsp. white sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. instant yeast
7.5 fl. oz. lukewarm water
4 tbsp. good olive oil, divided

Combine the dry ingredients in the working bowl of a food processor.  Run the processor for 30 seconds to combine dry ingredients.  Add the water and 1 tbsp. oil, run processor constantly until the dough forms into a ball that rolls on top of the blades.  Keep running for about 30 seconds more.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead once or twice, then form into a ball.  Put 3 tbsp olive oil into a large metal bowl.  Place dough into bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover with saran wrap, and let rise until doubled in size (about an hour at room temp.).

After dough has risen, punch it down on a floured surface (if using 2 9-inch pans, divide the dough in half now), form it into a ball once again, sprinkle with flour, and cover with saran wrap.  Let rise for another hour or so.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

1 28-0z. can of whole tomatoes, drained
1 package of sweet or hot Italian sausage
2 medium white or yellow onions, sliced thinly
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tbsp. olive oil

Remove sausage from casings, and saute in olive oil over medium heat, pressing with the back of a spoon to break up.  When almost all the pink is out of the sausage, lower heat to medium-low, and add the onions on top.  Cover, and let cook for 5 minutes or so without disturbing.  Add dried herbs, increase heat to medium, and stir to combine.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add tomatoes.  Cover, and let cook for 5 minutes.  Remove cover and using the back of a spoon or a potato masher, crush tomatoes, being careful of the splatter (it’s hot!).  Bring to a low boil and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced.  Remove from heat, drain, cover, and set aside.

Cheeses:

1 lb. shredded whole-milk mozzarella
1/2 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

To assemble the pie:

Punch dough down one more time, and roll out into a 16-17 inch round (or 2 11-12 inch rounds if using the smaller pans).  Liberally grease the bottom and sides of your pan with either Crisco (preferred) or olive oil.  Place the dough over the pan and gently press down into the greased pan, being careful not to tear it (it should extend just a little over the lip of the pan).

Peel back the crust from the sides a little, and sprinkle a little bit of mozzarella between the dough and the side of the pan.  Make sure you go all the way around the pan, trust me, it makes a big difference.  Press the dough back up against the sides of the pan.  Take a fork and make numerous small holes on the bottom of the pizza dough (docking the dough), place crust into the 450 degree oven for 12-15 minutes (crust should be lightly colored).  Remove from oven, lower oven to 350 degrees.  Spread remaining mozzarella evenly over the bottom of the pie (or half in each pan if using 2 smaller pans), spread tomato-sausage mixture evenly over the mozzarella (or divide evenly between the 2 pies), then sprinkle the Parmesan over the pie (or divide evenly between the 2 pies).  Put back in oven for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden and cheese is browned and bubbling in places.

Let pizza rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.  It’s hard, I know, but it’s also necessary.

Enjoy!

Visits and musings on customer service

We had another visit from my parents two weekends ago, the second and last in our two-year tour here.  It’s nice to have people down to see us so we can show them this wonderful island.  It’s also an excuse for us to get out of town and stay in places we normally wouldn’t.

The other weekend we stayed at Cayo Levantado, a private island in the Bay of Samana.  I don’t think I would normally stay at such a lavish resort, but when someone else is footing the bill my tune can change.  It was definitely the nicest hotel I’ve been to in a long time.  The food was good, booze was good, and the service was mediocre.  But mediocre service seems to be the norm here.

Example: Having to request ice from “Guest Services” 2-3 times before it was delivered on two separate occasions.  Example: Not having phone service in the room for the majority of the stay, therefore being unable to get room service, call for a shuttle during a rain storm, or be able to make a reservation for dinner in one of the restaurants.

Overall, I enjoyed our stay.  Maybe I’m too critical, maybe not.  It seems to me when you’re catering to higher-end tourists from Europe, Canada, and the U.S. it’s not enough just to have nice beaches and facilities.  There’s elements of customer service and attention to detail that are completely lacking here in the D.R. that keep it from being a premier Caribbean destination.

Other examples of the customer service stuff:

1)  Yesterday, while in the upscale butcher’s shop, I asked for 2 double-cut pork chops for a special V-day dinner I was planning.  I was told that they didn’t have anything but what was out front in the case (all single-cut, natch).  I asked if they got their meat shipment in on Monday (which they do every week), they said “yes.”  I asked if they had any bone-in rib roasts of pork, they said “yes.”  I asked if they could simply cut 4 ribs off one of the roasts and give it to me, and that I’d do the butchering at home, they said they “didn’t have any rib roasts.”  What?  I asked to speak to the butcher, he came out and told me the same line.  I asked how many rib roasts they had, he said “twenty or twenty five.”  I asked if he was just too lazy to be bothered with cutting one special for me, he said, “yes.”  OK, but please don’t lie/make shit up for 10 minutes before the truth comes out.

2)  My son’s school gives receipts for monthly tuition paid.  They recently switched their receipt format, and now require a “cedula number” to go on the receipt.  The cedula is the Dominican national identification card for D.R. citizens and residents.  Since we are neither, we don’t have a cedula.  I was told that if I don’t have a cedula, my son may not be able to attend this school anymore (this is after 18 months of happily taking our money, mind you).  I explained the whole “diplomat thing” (as I like to call it here), and that I’d happily give them my passport number or our tax exemption number (it’s called RNC here, kind of like the EIN or TID in the U.S.).  I was told that that was unacceptable, etc.  I asked the secretary to call their accountant to see if the RNC number would work, she assured me it would NOT be okay, and that I should probably start looking for another school.  I asked again, and also suggested that she call the Foreign Ministry and/or the U.S. Embassy to discuss how these things work if she was unclear (a few other FS families have sent their kids to this school, and it will doubtless become popular once the NEC is finished, since it is a stellar Montessori and it’s close to the NEC), as I’m sure they wouldn’t like to lose all the potential business over a kerfuffle as small as this.  After the fourth request, she called the accountant, and he confirmed that the RNC would work.  She never apologized for her ignorance.

3)  We have an exemption to the D.R.’s 16% VAT, and carry around copies of a letter explaining this.  You use this letter at any retail outlet, service provider, or restaurant to take the tax out of the bill.  However, you use it to varying degrees of success.  Some places outright refuse to take it (“No podemos, por que…”  Mind you, it is illegal to not honor the letter.), others require a long, drawn-out argument to honor it, and still others honor it, but then require you to return in a specified amount of time to pick up your check, but when you do, they claim that they owe you nothing, or have no record of the transaction (also illegal), and still others will “honor” it by taking off the tax, but adding a surcharge somewhere in the bill, eerily similar to the amount of the tax.  I have decided that this is all out of a disdain for extra steps, or anything that may be considered outside of the “norm.”  I may be right, or I may be making a sweeping generalization… the jury’s still out.  All I know is that just about anything that requires an extra step here is met with disdain and a “why me?” attitude, as if your small request has absolutely ruined their otherwise perfect day.

These are small inconveniences that really don’t necessitate an entire blog post, naturally… but compound these small things on an almost daily basis, and you will begin to see why things aren’t easy here.  We try to make our daily lives as close to how they would be in the U.S., and we can do so to a degree; however the little differences and idiosyncrasies sometimes get to me.  I tend to plan my days and weeks around what I perceive to be the path of least resistance, which I find to be a fabulous lesson to learn as soon as humanly possible in the Foreign Service.  My laid-back, “I don’t want no trouble” attitude has helped me skirt a lot of these issues, as I simply just won’t shop where there is a potential for hassle, or I just say, “Eff it” and pay the tax on the specific goods that I need from that particular store and go to another store for the rest of my shopping.

This is why I can’t wait to get back to the U.S., at least for a little while.  It’ll be nice to get all my shopping done in one place, be able to find ingredients when I need them, not when they happen to be in stock, and to be able to have faith in a system of customer service standards that works most of the time.

Until then, the Dude abides.

The end is in sight…

In just a few short days, we’ll be a the “6 months left” mark. 3/4 of the way through our first tour. We’ve already made a ton of preparations for our time back in D.C. for training, booked a house for home leave, started saving the money that we’ll need for home leave (moi, SAVING?), and have begun looking forward to Surabaya. It’s like I have post senioritis (which my MacBook is screaming at me to correct to “enteritis”, LOL, fitting).

We’ve been actually getting out of the city more than usual, and I have pictures to prove it!

Mire:

We all took a trip to Isla Saona on a catamaran a few Sundays back, and it was absolutely beautiful.  about an hour to sail out, 4 hours on the beach, and a high-speed boat back with a stop at a sand bar about 400 yards offshore where we could swim with giant red starfish.  The time at the beach was unfortunately marred by some idiot tourists, but that’s a long and involved story.  Let’s just say that I was deeply troubled by this event and leave it at that.

Over MLK weekend, we took another trip to Cabarete.  We found a nice villa right on the beach which we shared with another family.  The dogs and kids had a lot of space, we had some yummy food and wine, and it was an overall pleasant weekend.

This past weekend, I was invited to play softball with Robinson Cano again in the second annual Jackie Robinson Cup.  We had a much better time this year, as no one took it seriously.  Last year, apparently some of the players thought we had a chance against Cano and his band of ridiculously-talented semi-pro and professional baseball players, and there was a whole lot of animosity in the dugout.  This year, we knew we’d get our asses handed to us, said “f*ck it”, and there was much rejoicing.  It was a lot of fun to play more or less a pick-up game against one of the top-three best active baseball players in the MLB and a sure first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

As we’ve come into our last quarter here, I find myself really getting itchy to both see whatever I can see on this island and to get the hell off of it.  I’m trying to get together some gear and a partner to do a weekend-long rally drive up the Haitian border with some other FJ Cruiser owners, I’d like to get out to Pedernales and Baharona, cross into Haiti through Dajabon, and also try to get up to Monte Cristi.  Then there’s the Pico Duarte trip (highest point in the Caribbean), and Jarabacoa, and I’m really starting to wish my time (and funds) weren’t so limited here.  But then I try to get stuff accomplished here in Santo Domingo, and quickly remember why I want to leave so badly.

So, if you’re thinking about the Dominican Republic as a viable option for a posting, it’s lovely.  I love this country, I hate this city.  My fondest memories will be of our adventures to the beach and the countryside, and I will do my best to block out my experiences here in Santo Domingo.

I guess that’s kind of the life of a FS family… you just need to take it all in stride.

¡Ay, un temblor!

Woah, earthquake! 1 year, 363 days after the Port-au-Prince earthquake, we woke up to shaking. Nothing huge, but enough to make me wonder if I was actually awake. It was a 5.3 quake, or “un temblor” in the vernacular. 55 km west of the city. Lasted about 7-10 seconds. Not particularly scary, we had a worse one right before departing for post, and my wife said the intensity was about the same as she felt in CT during the VA quake last summer. Ho-hum.

The thing that was not ho-hum was the response on the intarwebs. My personal favorite of the bunch: “Hay solo dos cosas que les pueden despertarse a los Dominicanos en la madrugada: el olor de cebollas para el mangú y un temblor.” Translation, “There’s only two things that can wake a Dominican in the early morning: the smell of onions for mangú and an earthquake.” Lulz. Apparently many people also took to the streets at the beginning of the shaking, grabbing whatever they could. That, I would have liked to see.

So, yeah. Going to check the emergency kits and get the documents together. They were all checked in June before Hurricane Season, but better safe than sorry. It also reminded me that we need a new first aid kit, as the supplies were slowly depleted over the past 17 months both by my tendency to injure myself and by a small child who thought band-aids and the likes were fun toys.

It’s funny how the threat of disaster in the developing world has me scrambling to shore up our emergency preparedness plans and kits, but the same thing in the States would just have me shrugging my shoulders. You get used to the safety net in the U.S., I guess, and can let your guard down. I don’t think I’ll ever be without a survival kit for the rest of my life, regardless of our location.

Well, that’s my adventure for the day (hopefully).

My Favorite Christmas Story

First, pictures!

Son had a much better time with Santa this year… even asking “Does Santa speak both Spanish AND English?” I think Christmas morning will be fun this year.

This year's visit with Santa was markedly better than last year's.

Having broken my cardinal rule of "NO ARTIFICIAL CHRISTMAS TREES", I guess there's no turning back now.

With respect to the tree, I hate artificial trees. Hate them. Like, almost didn’t forgive my parents for making the switch about 10 years back. See, I grew up with the annual Christmas tree hunt being a family adventure, usually ending in a huge fight between my parents when it came time to put it up. But is was pure comedy gold to me and my sister.

One year’s trip I remember vividly: We spent the better part of 3 hours searching for the “perfect” tree, hiking through a half-foot of snow over the course of a couple of miles. We eventually settled on a tree that was far too big for the house, but Sis and I couldn’t be convinced otherwise. We cut it down, and my Dad started the long, arduous process of dragging the sucker out through the snow. My Mom was in a foul mood by this point, as we’d been out in the bitter cold for a couple of hours. We finally got back to the car: a 1985 Volvo 240DL station wagon that my Mom had just purchased a few weeks before and was pathologically obsessed about keeping spotless. You know the one:

Photobucket Image Hosting Click to embiggen.

Hers was silver, and we affectionately nicknamed it “The Refrigerator”, much to Mom’s chagrin.

The prospect of putting a Christmas tree on top of it, and the resultant sap deposits were clearly pushing Mom to the brink of a nervous breakdown. As she barked orders at my Dad and the tree lot attendant on how to properly place the tree on top without it touching her precious station wagon (via levitation or some other supernatural act, natch), one of the farm’s dogs was curiously sniffing my Mom’s car. My sister and I watched this dog with growing anticipation and excitement as we realized what it was doing. My Mom was oblivious at first, caring more about the Christmas tree and her car, but she soon took notice of the dog too.

What happened next was like one of those slow-motion dream segments… As the dog circled once or twice near the car, my Mom had the same epiphany my sister and I had shared a few moments earlier: “Oh sh*t! THE DOG IS GOING TO PEE ON THE CAR!!!” My Mom struggled to gain her footing on the icy ground in order to shoo the dog away at the same instant the dog began to lift its rear leg near the front tire. What followed was a comical, cartoon-like second or two much like after someone slips on a banana peel; my Mom’s feet were running in place on the ice and her arms were flailing wildly as she tried to advance on the dog with a murderous look in her eyes.

My sister and I began laughing as the dog, much better suited for stability on icy ground (it was a Husky mix, I remember), looked at my Mom and relieved itself on the front passenger tire, then quickly scampered away. My Mom’s mouth was frozen in a pained “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” as my sister and I doubled over in laughter, unable to contain ourselves. The dog pee dripped slowly down the tire, hubcap, and mud flap, forming pee icicles on her precious new car. My Dad, delightfully ignorant of the DEFCON-5 situation at hand, still struggled with the tree.

Finally, my Mom (realizing she had lost) slunk into the car and closed the door. All of a sudden, Christmas tree sap no longer mattered. Her new car had been defiled by a Christmas tree farm canine. You could see the resignation in her eyes, and the anger over her inability to prevent what had happened in her expression. We avoided her for the rest of the day, an especially difficult feat considering the 45-minute drive back home confined in the same car.

My sister and I were so delighted by the occurrence that we made my Mom’s Christmas present that year: a framed painting of the exact moment the dog urinated on her car. I don’t think my Mom spoke to us until the New Year.

She still hasn’t lived this down. My sister has told all her kids the story and they ask Nana about it every year, making her relive the horrors of that day each and every Christmas. I, too, will tell my son about that wonderful, glorious day and remind him to ask Nana about it every year, too.

What’s your favorite Christmas story?

Holidays in the Foreign Service

Ahh, yes, it’s that time of year again.  The Holidays.  Quite possibly the worst time to be abroad with the Foreign Service.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss the snow and cold that much, but I do miss the family and friends that we left behind to come here.

Last year wasn’t so bad for us, as my parents came down right before the holidays, and I was still holding onto the hope that my sister would be down in February.  We were also still only 4 months into the tour, and after the Winter from Hell (c) in D.C. in 2010, I wasn’t really longing for a white Christmas.

Well, this year has been completely different.  I miss everyone.  I miss my extended family, I miss my friends, I miss the crazy Christmas Day dashing from house to house to see everyone.  Being at my wit’s end with Santo Domingo doesn’t help all that much, nor does the fact that we’re going to be spending our home leave in Down-east Maine, where we’ll have little-to-no chance that anyone from my family will come visit us.  Unfortunately, it’s one of the few options available to us, as our requirements are: our own place; ocean; water views; 2+ BR; dog-friendly; relatively isolated; and under $3,500 for the month.  Almost nothing suited our needs in MA, RI, or CT, the three easiest states for my family to visit.  So Maine it is.  I’m looking forward to the peace & quiet, but my family is a little miffed at me.  I asked that they give me some other suggestions that would work with our requirements, but none were forthcoming.

Another contributing factor to my holiday malaise is the fact that during this tour, I will have missed the weddings of my four closest cousins: last December, this September, 2 weeks ago, and the one that will happen in June.  That’s tough, since my wife and I didn’t have a real wedding to celebrate with everyone (the problem with eloping for the Foreign Service), and I do love me some family weddings.

So, I find myself pining away for the ability to spend a holiday season with my family.  Luckily that happens next year, as we’ll be in D.C. for training.  After that, “home for the holidays” will involve 30+ hours by plane from Indonesia.  I’m hoping to spend the holidays in Hawaii at least once while on that side of the globe.  Hopefully some of my family can meet us there.

The moral of the story?  Serving overseas as or with an FSO is hard.  Being separated from your family is hard.  The holidays are hard.  Missing big milestones in the lives of your loved ones is hard.  On the flip side, however, the benefits we reap in this lifestyle are immense.  I have learned so much about myself, about my wife, and about the “rest of the world” in this first tour.  Watching my son come out of his shell, start speaking Spanish, and playing with his friends of every imaginable color, creed, and culture is heartwarming.  Seeing how many people in the third world live compared to what I considered a “rough life” in the States is eye-opening.

So thanks and no thanks, Foreign Service.  But Happy Holidays, nonetheless.

Catching up…

So, I’m officially a man of leisure again.  See ya, meaningless job in the Mission!  My last day was Oct. 28, and I haven’t looked back.  It feels… good.

My business is humming along pretty well.  Have had three pretty successful weeks of meals (spaghetti & meatballs, chicken noodle soup, and enchiladas), and this week’s beef stew should go over well.  Still having a few growing pains in the whole process, but they should all work themselves out after I run through the majority of my recipes.  I’m taking notes on each recipe and trying to better schedule the prep and cooking to make me not go crazy.  Luckily my housekeeper knows her way around a kitchen, and can help out a great deal with prep work and cleaning.

I took last week off from the business, as I had plenty to do with Thanksgiving and all.  I made a Cajun smoked turkey, sausage and sage dressing, and a pecan pie.  All three were delicious, and much fun was had at our friends’ house.  Son ate nothing but tortilla chips (to be expected), and I was actually pretty good about my consumption (i.e. no seconds).  But, like every other year, I always forget that turkey + wine = sleepy time.  We got home at about 8:30 p.m., put Son to bed, and I promptly put myself to bed.

Really not a whole heck of a lot more going on here.  The nice weather has finally arrived, and I will be enjoying the heck out of the next few months.  We’re prepping a little for the move back to D.C. and then onwards to Surabaya, figuring out logistics of schools, language, cars, dogs, etc.  We also got a place in Maine for our Home Leave… way out there, but after living in this city for 2 years, I think the change of pace and peace and quiet will be welcome additions to my life.  My family isn’t so pleased about it (it’s 6 hours past Boston), but for the price and the ability to bring the dogs, I’ll take it.  If you’re interested in visiting us, email me for details.

That’s about all for now…. I’ve got a lot of prep work to do today.