Sunday, December 11, 2016

What I love about FSI

FSI is like a college campus on reunion weekend, every day.

Where else do you find so many adults with jeans and backpacks?  I'm guessing nowhere. Ditto for people talking about homework and tests in the hallway, or rushing to get to class on time or talk to the teacher.

At FSI we also often run into people from our past in the cafeteria (for some reason it mostly happens in the cafeteria). On Friday we had lunch with a friend from our first post, someone we haven't laid eyes upon in eight years, because I happened to walk past him.  He didn't know Terry and I were in the USA and we didn't know he was in training. It was his last day in town. This kind of thing happens all the time!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The kids' first (and only) advent calendar!

Jelly Bean Count-Down to Christmas Advent Calendar
I waited a little long, so they only arrived today. But my kids are getting the thrill of opening up a little door each day and finding a treat inside.

What's going on?

This year, the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas eve!  And Jelly Belly makes an advent calendar and although the bean is driving a sleigh and wears a red and white hat, there's sufficiently little Christmas reference that I'm comfortable with this.

Because it arrived late, they start with the 6th now and they will go back and open the first five during nights 2-6 of Hanukkah.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Rebel Girls

Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls
What a joy today to see the package at the door and find that Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls has finally arrived!  It was a Kickstarter campaign we backed, and the results are even better than I thought they would be.  Both of the kids are sporting "rebel girl" tattoos (Queen Elizabeth and Maud Stevens Wagner).  Alex has been holed up with the book so I haven't seen much of it but I noted all inhabited continents seem to be represented. The women are queens and inventors, ancient and current (one inventor was born in 1997!), and at least one pirate.  It's in encyclopedia form, with one page devoted to each Rebel, and I reminded Alex we can get books to learn more about the ones she's most interested in.

This week was a really great time to receive this book.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Parenting win

We try to strike a balance with the kids on unhealthy behaviors (screen time, junk food, etc). We don't want to completely deprive them, but  we talk to them about why we limit their exposure so (we hope) they have a foundation for making good choices when the choices are, eventually, up to them.

Tonight, in an effort to get the Halloween candy moving out of the house, we told the kids they could each have 10 pieces of their candy as an after dinner treat for good behavior. They did eat all 10 pieces, but then said they thought it was too much and they would prefer only five pieces next time.

Will do.

Monday, October 31, 2016

German language training Part 2

Language training is still wonderful. I definitely speak German better now than I ever spoke Russian, even after banging my head against that language for years.

This week I wanted to say I was sad and realized we had never learned that word. So I also asked my teacher for the words for "excited, or thrilled, or delighted." He thought. He came up with a word that means "looking forward to something". Um, nope.  The conversation was almost exactly replicated with my au pair in the evening.

Apparently, Germans don't have words for extremes of emotion. I'm shocked, shocked I tell you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

We've got more wheels!

... too many wheels, to be honest.

Right before we returned to post from R and R last year, we bought a cheap car for a cheap price. Then it sat for an entire year essentially untouched. Turns out, it didn't like that. I discovered during my roughly 700 mile trip round trip from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts that it burns oil at a much higher-than-normal rate (like, I had to check the oil every couple of hours). We had it checked out and tried a solution that might have fixed the problem without a large and costly repair.

It helped immensely, but it didn't work as well as we needed it to.

So then we were faced with a choice: keep the car and hope it passes Maryland emissions (or that we are able to get it waived in after paying a fee, something we never quite understood how it worked but several sources said was a real option);  or buy a different old crappy car for the year in the USA;  or buy a car we hope/think/believe we can ship to Germany.

In the end we bought a newish Mazda (the youngest car I have ever owned! Only 5 years old!) that we believe we can take with us and that will not embarrass us on the Autobahn.

We still haven't had an opportunity to return Terry's dad's car that we borrowed to him.  We can't get rid of the useless Prizm until we have the title in our hands, and it is in PA.  So now we sit with four cars parked in front of our house. The driveway fits one. The curb right in front of our house fits two. The last car is across the street. This is ridiculous.

Friday, September 30, 2016

German language training, part I

We've been in class about 3 weeks now and settling into our routines and slowly developing some ability.  Some highlights include:

  • "Morgen morgen" means "tomorrow morning" although nobody says that (they would say "early tomorrow" - I forget the word for "early" but I much prefer this)
  • We've played the game of "hunt for the most consonants in a row." I am currently winning at five. The word I found was "Wortschatz" although I know it is frequent enough that it will come up again.
  • So many alliterative phrases!  One of my favorites of this week "Welche sprachen Sprechen Sie?" (What languages do you speak)
  • Direct quote from my teacher:  Fun can be German too!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

We've got wheels!

This one is a good one. A really good one. Our car got packed up to head out of Astana about six weeks ago.  On Thursday afternoon it was delivered.  By Thursday evening it was registered, insured, plated and ready to go. We drove it to work Friday.

Let's hope this didn't use up all of our shipment good mojo.  We still have the most important shipment - HHE from post - yet to arrive.

Monday, September 19, 2016

In the last days of Astana ...

[Oops, somehow this never got published....]

In the two weeks before packout we had excitement - some serious stuff, some less serious, some personal, some work-related.

We learned that the route we intended to fly - involving a first leg of Astana to Vienna - had been cancelled at the last minute about every other flight or perhaps even more often during the last two months, with increasing frequency, and would officially cease to exist the day after our intended flight. My orders had me stopping in Vienna, so to change my flights required all the bureaucracy and paperwork one might think accompanied something called "changing my orders." Presumably, as more and more Astana-ians discovered the fate of the Astana-Vienna leg they would also be working to change their flights, possibly making three seats unavailable on our intended day. Although I was a near-hysterical bundle of stress for about 4-5 days, that was all the time it took to get everything done and dusted, as my British friends say.

Terry has a family emergency that sent him back to the USA for about 10 days, arriving back in Astana 5 calendar days before packout.

My boss, who I adore and we have an excellent working relationship, had been on holiday and was meant to return for my last 2 weeks at work. After one and a half days in the office he had to fly back out and only returned about 15 hours before my departure - so although we got to say goodbye, we did not work together again.

On a positive, note, my successor arrived three weeks before my departure - overlap is an unheard-of blessing in the foreign service world.  A major event got scheduled for one of my days of packout and although I did have to devote endless time and energy to preparing the event, she was able to take over on the day.  Also, although it took longer than expected, I was eventually able to focus my time on handover rather than current issues while she worked on the issue of the day, and managed to get done everything absolutely necessary before heading out on my last day of work at a normal time.

And of course, nobody is indispensable, time marches on, and by the time our airplane hit cruising altitude the spaces we occupied in Astana had likely already been filled in with suitable replacements. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Language training

We are back at work, which means we are in language training. During the next several months our full time jobs plus off-time hobbies will be to learn German.  I can't stress enough how happy I am right now.  Unlike Russian, which I beat my head against for six years and didn't seem to get much for the effort, I am already learning a LOT and making notable progress in being able to talk to people about simple things (What is your name, where are you from, do you have children, etc).

We're also providing endless amusement to our lovely au pair, as we try out new words or ask her questions.

The commute just might kill us though. My desperate hope is that when the metro system is closer to operational level all these extra drivers will go back to riding the train. There should be a rule that if a person leaves his or her home at 6:30am there should be no traffic.