11.30.2010

Recently

George was so happy to see his play buddy!
Joey and Lizz working on Thanksgiving dinner
We had a great visit with Lizzie.  George was so excited to see her.  I thoroughly exhausted her, with visits to as many sites in DC as there was time, including Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Smith- sonian Castle, Freer Gallery, Hirshorn Sculpture Garden and Adams Morgan for Ethiopian food (its growing on me) on Wednesday.  We covered all of the monuments and memorials on Thursday, as well as a trip to the Holocaust Museum.  Plus Joey made a delicious, huge, food-coma inducing Thanksgiving dinner.  Friday we started at 8 am with a tour of the Capitol, followed by a tour of the Library of Congress, over to Union Station, lunch in Chinatown followed by a visit to the Archives and the Smithsonian American History Museum, and a walk by the White House on the way home.  Then we went out for dinner and drinks, culminating with a 1:30am visit to Ben's Chili Bowl.  Saturday morning it was up early to the Eastern Market then over to Georgetown (including Joey's first time to a Dean and Deluca).  I think by the time noon hit and we left to take Lizz to Baltimore for her flight she was completely worn out, as she was asleep within minutes of getting in the car.
Thanksgiving appetizers
The delicious turkey

Saturday night Joey took me to a romantic dinner at the very fabulous Marcel's restaurant.  Then we were off to the Kennedy Center for the Nutcracker Ballet, which was just wonderful.  I love getting all dressed up and watching the ballerinas twirl so gracefully.  It was the perfect way to celebrate the sixth anniversary of our first date!  Crazy how time flies!

We made our first trip to Costco last night.  The final consumables spreadsheet contains 220 items, and I spent two hours yesterday afternoon estimating our monthly usage for each and every one of those items and multiplying by 23.  Three hours and $800 later, we'd filled our cart, which is about as much as fits in the back of my car.  Sadly, we believe this is probably the first of four or five trips.  We are hoping that since yesterday's purchase was almost entirely toiletries it will be the most expensive.  Razors (I wish I could use the cheap, disposable variety but I am Italian and that means a lot of thick, coarse hair.  This, coupled with moving to Africa where it is always hot means I am going to have to shave my legs a lot more often than I like.), eye cream and and toothbrush heads were among the priciest items.  We also bought a mattress topper (a little leary of the government issue mattresses) and new pillows. 

We also spent almost an hour at the car dealership again yesterday.   Thanks to many helpful comments on my blog, we avoided paying sales tax and seem to have a title or something like that, but as the manager of the dealership said, out of every thousand cars they sell, less than one is a diplomatic sale, and since most car dealers only last six to eight months, most have never completed this type of transaction, hence the time. 

Rabies shot #3 this morning.  Oh how I love getting shots.  And vaccinations for that matter.

And on a final note (let me warn my male readers that you may not want to continue), I belong to a Yahoo discussion board for Foreign Service members and their families.  I don't normally participate in the discussions, but every morning I get a digest of the conversations that took place the day before.  This morning i cam across a recommendation for this lovely little device: http://www.rei.com/product/407267 and all I have to say is I wish I had found this sooner!  It is going to come in very handy (no pun intended) in Nigeria.

11.23.2010

Things for which I am Thankful

Since Lizzie is coming tomorrow (I am very thankful to have a family member here for Thanksgiving), I don't plan on blogging in the next few days.  And since Thanksgiving falls within the next few days, I figured now would be a good time to write down all of the things for which I am thankful.

First and foremost I am thankful for my amazing husband.  In addition to being incredibly handsome, intelligent, and driven, he is caring and generous and loving.  I am so proud of him for all that he has accomplished, from the foreign service to his master's degree to all the different roles he juggled while we lived in Des Moines.  I am so lucky that my husband is my best friend and thankful not only for him but for all of his support in everything I have ever wanted to do.

I am thankful for my babies - my dogs.  They make me laugh all day long and even though they are certainly challenging, I love them so much!  Each one has such a unique personality - some days I really find it hard to accomplish much else besides hang out with my boys - and I'm so thankful I have that opportunity.

I am thankful for my family.  Its hard being so far apart now, and although its going to be much harder when we're so many more miles and time zones apart in a few short weeks, I am so thankful to know how much you love and support me and my husband despite how crazy you may find his career choice.  I am especially thankful for the ten days I get to spend with you before we head to Africa.  I'm really looking forward to baking cookies and decorating the Christmas tree and making pasta together. 

I'm so thankful for my great friends.  From my oldest friends to my newest, you all bring such fun and perspective to my life.  So many of my different experiences have been shaped by my friendships at the time, and I am thankful for each and every one of you.

I am also very thankful for the opportunities that life in the Foreign Service has provided us.  I definitely haven't kept my thoughts to myself about certain aspects of this life that drive me crazy, but despite its challenges, I am really thankful to be in this position.  I am thankful for the opportunity to live and experience "big city life" in DC and I am thankful for the adventure on which Joey and I are about to embark.  Nigeria may not have been more first pick, but hey! We are young and get to go live a pretty nice life in a really neat place that not very many people ever have the opportunity to even visit, let alone experience.  We will have friends all over the globe who we can visit, and someday our kids are going to have the opportunity to grow up not just as citizens of the US, but citizens of the world!  I feel very fortunate to be accompanying Joey on this journey.

I am also thankful for all the helpful comments on my blog!  This is great - I air my grievances and frustration and voila! I have answers. You guys have saved Joey and me a ton of headaches and I just hope someday to be able to pay it forward.

I think one of the best things about Thanksgiving is that I notice all of the little things for which I am thankful too - like the most beautiful fall I have ever seen here in DC, dark chocolate ice cream, and the twinkling of the Christmas lights that are starting to go up around town.  I just finished a book about a man who left Microsoft and founded a charity that builds schools and libraries in developing countries - I am so thankful I grew up in America with access to great schools and great books and parents who encouraged me to read.  I'm thankful for the amazing yoga class I took this morning.  I am thankful for the people at Whole Foods who made shopping so easy by putting everything I need on the ends of the aisles and hiring extra people to help bag my turkey, unload my cart and help me park my car.  I am thankful for so much.  I am a lucky girl.

So Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!  Joey, Lizzie and I will miss you all but we look forward to seeing you at Christmas.  Love you!



On an entirely different note, we got some pictures of our housing compound.  They are considered sensitive, which means I can't put them on my blog, but if you want to see them I can email them to you.  Just let me know.  Also, Mom told me we are having Christmas at our house this year, so I can show them to you then too.

11.22.2010

I can't think of a title

We bought our TV and DVD player today.  Not as if 1080p and all the other crap that goes along with buying a TV isn't confusing enough - let's add in that it must be a multi-region TV that will accept the signals in Africa (I have NO clue how this works but I am told that a regular old $500 TV purchased in the United States will not play in Africa).  We also had to buy a multi-region DVD player which costs a heck of a lot more than a regular DVD player, but when in Rome....(or Nigeria).

I was also told today that I use way too many commas in my writing.  My dear mother told me my grammatical skills are lacking and my husband told me I write like I talk - with way too many run-on sentences.  To them I say this is a blog, not a term paper.  GFY.

In addition to these purchases, we also have to buy transformers, converters, adapters, power continuation devices - apparently all in all this is going to cost another $600-$700.  What a crock of shit.  Oh, hey, you're moving to Africa, and if you want any of your electronic devices to work while you're there, you have to buy these transformers - on your own dime.  Not that the State Dept. doesn't pay for quite a bit of stuff to make our lives easier in Abuja, but as far as I'm concerned, three transformers for a whole house of electronic devices is beyond insufficient.  I mean just off the top of my head how many things do we own that need to be plugged in: coffee maker, toaster, vacuum, blow-dryer, toothbrush charger, phone chargers (2), computer, TV, DVD player, water boiler, alarm clock - and that's not all-inclusive.  So the three transformers provided by the State Dept are really going to go far.  So we have to buy more of those and we have to buy this power continuation device for all of the times when our power goes out and switches to our generator (which is thankfully provided but you'd think that since its so common for this to happen and it apparently ruins your electronics, they would provide this power continuation thingy) and we have to buy enough of these things to cover all of our electronic things and all of these things and things to keep our things nice are starting to cost a lot of freaking money!  I just really think that since they're sending us to live in Africa for two years it would be nice to equip us with everything we need to live there.  Thank God we saved money before we started this job, because if we hadn't, I really don't think a pay advance would be enough to cover all these little incidental expenses that are adding up to be quite a lot of money.  I mean its not like we already have to buy two years worth of consumables (I worked on our Excel spreadsheet today and it has 181 items.  Seriously every non-perishable (but still natural/non-processed) food item you can think of, every cleaning supply and every bit of toiletries you might need for two years - that's going to cost probably three or four grand - why not add another $600 or $700 of electronic conversion devices on top of it.  We're made of money. 

Anyway,  Lizzie is coming in two days and I can't wait to see her!  Also, she's never been to DC before so we have a ton of really cool things scheduled for her, including a tour of the Capitol (which I've never been inside either), the Archives, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, Arlington National Cemetery and much more.  We also have planned a small Thanksgiving dinner for the three of us.  Okay its not really small because not one of us is willing to compromise on our favorite Thanksgiving food, so we are probably going to be eating leftovers until we leave for Abuja since only three of us will be eating turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn casserole, green bean casserole, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sorbet.  I wish I was exaggerating...

On a funny note, on Saturday while we were in etiquette class Joey volunteered to be the dining guinea pig.  He sat down at the imaginary dinner and our teacher told him to pretend to eat steak "American style."  With a quizzical look (do you know the difference between American and Continental styles of eating), he picked up the fork and knife and attempted to eat his imaginary steak.  Our teacher was horrified.

"No!" She exclaimed.

I thought that at this point in the class it would be hilarious to interject.  "Welcome to my life," I sarcastically said.  This elicited many laughs from the classroom.

Today, one of Joey's friends who also happened to be in our etiquette class told him that when I remarked on Joey's American style eating skills, another woman in the class leaned over to her and asked, "Do you think they have a good marriage?"  Hahahaha! Get a sense of humor.  Either that or if you can't joke about your spouse take a look at your own marriage.

11.20.2010

Tidbits

Yesterday on my run around the mall, I ran by several people setting up for a large walk-a-thon to "Help the Homeless." Guess who was the sponsor?  Fannie Mae.  A little ironic, don't you think?  They must be feeling a little guilty about all the people they put out of their homes...

Yesterday Joey and I also bought a car.  We ended up going with a 2004 white, Toyota Sequoia.  While test driving the car, Joey took a wrong turn and we got lost (dealer in tow) in rush hour traffic in Virginia.  About an hour later, the dealer requested we stop the car at the nearest gas station so he could go inside and get his bearings.  At the gas station the dealer got out of the car and Joey and I burst into giggles.  An hour later we were finally back at the dealership and another hour later we had signed the papers.  It was a long night, but now that's one less thing on the to-do list.  Joey is currently on the phone with the bank coordinating everything to take it out of the country - we will never actually take possession of the car in the US.  Someone from State will go to the dealer, pick up the car and drive it to the port.  We'll meet it in Nigeria.
--- We just learned that is false.  I guess we can't have it shipped without the title and it is going to take several weeks to get the title from Virginia.  So now we have to get the car, sell my car (God forbid we juggle two cars in this town again), ship the car as soon as we get the title (to minimize our time in Nigeria without a car), and then figure out how to get the dogs and ourselves around town gathering all of our consumables for two years without a car.  UGH. Why does everything have to be so difficult?  Such a process?!  Can't one thing go smoothly?  Once?  Stupid freaking cars. 

Today we attended a diplomatic protocol and etiquette class.  It was really interesting and at times, entertaining.  Our etiquette instructor was a petite, Latin version of Miss Manners and she was quite appalled with everyone's faux pas. But we did glean quite a bit of useful information today, like how to seat a dinner party, the difference between Continental and American styles of handling your silverware, and how to make introductions.  Our instructor traveled with her husband, who was in the foreign service, for 28 years, and she had quite a few stories to tell.  My favorite was how three or four times a week her husband's secretary would call her and say "your husband is bringing home six guests for lunch."  And she would prepare a three course meal.  Except for the one time that she cooked a chicken and her husband whispered to her as her guests arrived that 6 of the 8 were vegetarian.  She said she wanted to ring his neck right there. Hello?!  What is wrong with this picture?!  You got mad because you cooked a chicken and your husband didn't tell you your guests were vegetarian?  I'm sorry but if Joey had his secretary call me to tell me that he was bringing home six guests for lunch I would tell his secretary to tell him to jump off a cliff.  (Actually I'm pretty sure a certain four letter word would be used instead).  I don't give a damn whether your guests eat meat or beans or freaking pistachios because they aren't coming to my house for lunch on two hour's notice.  Ha!  Can you imagine?!

They gave us a little card when we left.  It read:

When you take your seat
Or excuse yourself at Thanksgiving Dinner
Remember to:
Enter and Exit your chair from the Right.
Leave your napkin on your chair if
You are returning for Seconds.
Pass the Turkey Platter to the Right.
Your dinner roll is to your Left.
And
If someone tries to beat you to the 
Last piece of Pumpkin Pie,
It's a JAB with the LEFT,
and HOOK with the RIGHT.

Happy Thanksgiving

11.19.2010

People Don't Kill People, Guns Kill People

Joey, six other friends and I went to the NRA shooting range at the NRA Headquarters in Virginia last night.  The first thing I noticed when we pulled into the parking garage was the three burly soldiers leaving the range with their steel gun cases in tow.  As we made our way down the ramp, we spotted a "PHOTOGRAPHY IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED" sign, much to the chagrin of George and me, as we both really wanted our picture taken shooting the gun.  This was quickly forgotten as soon as the door opened and you could hear it.  I think Sujata put it best: "I thought they had raquetball courts here too until I realized those were guns firing."  Even behind the glass the sound of guns was so loud!  I winced every time one went off, and with 12 lanes of people firing guns, that was a lot.

We were greeted by two men with handlebar mustaches and shaved heads and one petite, twenty-something girl, all in their red "NRA Shooting Range" polos.  She gave us a safety test and ushered us off into a classroom; she told us "cheating is encouraged, because we want you to know the answers."  Twenty-five questions later, we were back at the desk.  While one of the handlebars checked us into two lanes, the girl made us NRA shooting range identification cards.  Then half of the group went to the waiting room, and I put on my headphones and goggles and headed into the range with Joey and Lee.

Lee was in the Navy, so he has some serious experience with shooting, and was nice enough to let us use his guns - a 9mm and a glock? - 42 caliber pistol maybe?  Anyway, Lee got us set up in the lane with the guns and the ammnuition and then left Joey to instruct me on the art of shooting.  The night before, all of us gathered at our friend Tom's house.  Lee brought his guns to Tom's house for an instructional session on how to safely use them.  So we'd practiced picking up the gun safely, not ever pointing it at anyone, even if its unloaded, putting the magazine in the gun, checking the chamber, etc.  Handling an unloaded gun is kind of cool.  Its like, wow, this is a gun.  This could kill someone.  But its still abstract when there are no bullets and when you are not surrounded by the sound of gunfire.

And oh my God, the sound of gunfire - I thought it was loud on the other side of the glass.  Once we entered the actual range - I don't even know how to adequately explain it.  It was like gunfire - everywhere - and every gun sounded like a canon - and the headphones made every other sound so muffled that it was like listening to people talk underwater, peppered every few seconds with a blast.  My earlier wincing turned into jumping and I can't even imagine what I must have looked like, dressed in my multi-color minidress, black cardigan, black tights and ballet flats, wearing bright blue headphones and safety goggles, cowering over my purse and jerking every time a gun went off.  Thankfully, I believe every man in there was completely engrossed in his gun(s), so no one was looking at me.

So once Joey put the magazine in the gun and handed it to me, I started sweating.  No longer was killing some abstract concept associated with the gun.  The reverberations of the guns firing so close on either side, coupled with the empty casings flying everywhere, and the weight of a loaded gun in my hand were a very stark reminder of just what deadly power I was holding and I did not like it.  First of all, I am clumsy as all hell and just the idea that if I accidentally dropped this thing it could kill me or Joey or some other unsuspecting fool was really overwhelming.  Then, when you are so close to all these other people firing their guns you can see the kickback from the gun when you shoot it.  I was so nervous that when I fired the gun I wouldn't be able to control the kickback and it would fly out of my hands and the gun would fire at me instead of down the lane.  (Nevermind that once I fired the gun the bullet would be long gone, even I did drop the damn thing, but when you've got gunfire all around you and this heavy killing machine in your hand rational thoughts aren't really available.)  Anyway, Joey patiently showed me again how to hold it and how to fire it and helped me get it in my hand right and so I aimed it at the target and thought "well, its now or never, you can stand here all night pointing the damn gun" so I fired it.

OHMYGODITWASSOSCARY!  The recoil from the gun is even worse than it looks and I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest.  That thing is heavy and when it fires it really moves your whole upper body!  Also, I had one of my thumbs on the wrong side and the chamber hit it when it fired and that freaking hurt (didn't draw any blood unlike when Tom made the same mistake later).  So Joey helped me move my hand and one of the mustached guys came over and told me to really get a grip on the gun with my whole palm and so a little shaken but determined I firmly grasped the gun and fired again.

OHMYGODITWASSOSCARY!  Really not any better this time.  In fact I am pretty sure I hated it even more.  But I thought, "okay, maybe you just have to get used to this" and so, sweating through my cashmere cardigan, I shot one more time.  Same.  I put the gun down, looked at Joey and said "Okay, I'm done."

He looked at me, a little surprised and said "That's all?"

"Yes, I'm done."  So he picked up the gun and fired the rest of the magazine into the target, pulled the target toward us, handed it to me, and off I went into the waiting room to send another of our friends into the range for their turn.  My head was buzzing as I settled into one of the leather chairs and waited for everybody to take their turn.  After about an hour, somehow I got talked into trying it one more time (I think it was after watching Sujata march out there and shoot three freaking bullets right into the heart of the target her first time out that I was like, okay, Melissa, man up, go try again).  So I put my headphones and goggles back on and luckily this time there were less people in the range.  Only three other lanes were in use besides our two, so instead of twelve different guns firing at once, there were only five.  Joey quickly showed me how to hold the gun again and I pointed and fired and

OHMYGODITWASSOSCARY!  Seriously, I really don't know any other way to describe how freaking terrifying shooting that gun was.  I really thought that my second time in, after watching everybody else do it and survive, that it would be better but no, I'm pretty sure it was worse.  Joey looked at me and said "Calm down" but I really couldn't.  I fired three more times, each time completely terrified that the recoil was going to throw the gun out of my hands and then I put the gun down again.  The overwhelming knowledge that this weapon is deadly was just too much for me to handle in good conscience.  Joey told me later that everytime I picked up the gun my whole body started shaking.  I thought that was just on the inside!  So again, Joey finished the magazine, I took my target and went back to the waiting room and filed my nails until everyone was finished. 

While I watched everybody take their turn shooting the guns, I couldn't help but notice how out of place all of us yuppies looked.  One man to the right of our lane was dressed in a camel colored tee, white-washed jeans and hiking boots- he had a big gun in a holster on one hip and a little gun in a holster on the other hip and in between shooting those guns he shot his giant, laser-guided, M-14 air-rifle.  That puppy was LOUD.  Seriously every time he fired that it shook the room a little bit.  He was in there the whole time we cycled through and he shot from his feet, from a chair, laying down on the ground.  Intense.  And creepy.

A few lanes down from that guy was group of rednecks, outfitted in straggly long hair, tank tops, ripped jeans, flannel and trucker hats.  They took turns firing off their guns at paper plates (targets cost 50 cents each) about ten feet from their face.

Next to them was the most intense dude in the place.  He was wearing khaki cargo pants, a short sleeved khaki oxford, a khaki utility belt and military boots.  He had a shaved head and carried several guns, including one in a massive case.  He would get into a stance, quickly grab a gun from his holster, fire it a few times, grab another magazine from his utility belt, fire the gun a few more times, grab another magazine and fire the gun again.  He'd look over both shoulders and then fire and it was seriously like he was doing drills of some sort the whole time.  I'm pretty sure the emblem on his giant rifle case was Marines, and he definitely looked like a mercenary.

My target - most of those bullet holes were made by Joey.
Suffice it to say (8000 words later), while the NRA range was an exper- ience I will never forget, I don't think I ever want to go there again.

11.18.2010

Musings

One of the neatest things about Joey's new job is all the different people I feel fortunate to have met.  For example, last night I met one of his classmates, Julie.  This is Julie's second time around in the Foreign Service.  Something like twenty years ago, she joined the foreign service for the first time and met a Spanish diplomat, whom she married.  She left the foreign service, became a dual citizen in Spain, and traveled around with her husband as the "trailing spouse," until a few years ago.  Now she is back in the US Foreign Service and headed to Luanda, Angola, in the next few days.  She had some really interesting insights, given that she's lived the life as both the officer and the spouse, and she suggested that for the first six months I get involved in everything I can.  She told me to join every book club, womens' club, international club, whatever is available, to meet as many people and make as many connections as possible.  She said that's the best way to make friends outside of the embassy, especially in a place like Abuja, where the diplomatic community is very tight.  She also raised her kids abroad - her daughter is 17 and a freshman in college - this is her first time living in the United States!  What a whole different perspective.

Our new friends speak so many different languages and have lead such interesting and unique lives - I really feel privileged to have gotten to know so many of them.  Take for example our friend Sujata, who is going to Paris.  She was born in India and moved to the US when she was five.  She speaks French, Hindu, Urdu, English (better than I do) and I think Russian too!  Our friend, George, was a game show host in China - apparently the Chinese equivalent of Bob Barker! 

Anyway, in an effort to keep busy in Abuja, I applied for a job.  Its a part-time accounting position (though I think its a lot more book-keeping than anything else) through the employee services association, which isn't affiliated with the Embassy.  They operate the commissary as well as a few other things to make life a little easier for all the diplomats living in Abuja.  Tuesday morning I spoke with Jordan, the general manager there, who is accompanying his wife on her first tour for the "High Commission."  I believe that means she is a British diplomat for the UN there.  Don't quote me on that, though; I'm still trying to figure out what everything means on the American end, let alone the international spectrum.  Anyway, he said that I had a leg up, given my EFM status (Eligible Family Member - aka on the travel orders of the diplomat and a US citizen), and because I actually have an accounting degree.  He said he'd get back to me by the end of this week or the beginning of the next, after speaking with the board of directors, so I guess we'll see.  I doubt it'll pay well but at least it'll give me something to do, an outlet to meet people and feel like I'm accomplishing something too.  Besides, retirement at 26 isn't all its cracked up to be.  Ha.

Today's dilemma is what kind of car to buy for Abuja.  We just received this info:

3D4.  A variety of Japanese, European, Korean and some US brand automobiles are in common use in Nigeria.  Embassy personnel will find that sedans are adequate for most movements within Abuja.  Some may prefer four-wheel drive vehicles/SUVs, despite their higher gas consumption, for their ability to tackle rougher road conditions (particularly those outside the capital ring road).  These vehicles also make it easier to see over smaller vehicles and extend your range of vision.  Please note, however, that armed carjacking is a problem in Nigeria, as it is in a number of other countries.  Carjackers prefer newer, high-end European or Japanese SUVs.  Incoming Mission personnel should consider these factors before deciding on the vehicle that will best suit their needs here.
Lovely.

11.17.2010

Today is a beautiful day!  Monday and Tuesday were really rainy and dreary here and this morning the sun is shining.  Today is also great because I don't have to haul anybody anywhere or sit in traffic for hours on end.  Last Tuesday I had to ride with Joey to work to get my first rabies shot and then sit in traffic for an hour on the way home.  Then last Wednesday George and I dropped Joey off at work and then went to the vet and then sat in traffic for an hour on the way home.  Thursday we had a mini-reprieve with our day trip to Annapolis but then Friday I had to fight traffic to drop the car off at the shop (stupid convertible top broken again) and then wait for an hour to catch the shuttle to the metro stop which is another half hour from my house.  Then Friday afternoon I had to take the metro to the shuttle pick-up, wait 45 minutes for that and then fight traffic on the way home from the dealership.  Monday Max went to the vet so we dropped Joey off at work and then fought traffic for an hour on the way home from his appointment.  Yesterday I had to go with Joey to get my second rabies shot, but first we had to pick up our friend James since his car was in the shop, which took an extra 45 minutes, then fight traffic for an hour on the way home, pick up Moe and immediately turn back around to take him for his rabies shot, which meant another half hour on the way there and half hour on the way back (traffic had thankfully dissipated by 11 am).  So today, when Joey's left for work alone it was wonderful!  I curled up with George and Moe under my warm covers and went back to sleep.

Tonight is the first send-off happy hour.  Our friend, Sujata, leaves Monday for post!  Even though she is the first to leave, none of us feel too badly for her, as she is headed to Paris.  And you should see the pictures of her 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, gorgeous apartment with marble and crown-molding right smack dab between the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysees.   I think that her rent is something like $5000 a month (not that she has to pay it, but that gives you an idea of how fabulous her new place is).  After the happy hour we are gathering at our friend Tom's house to learn how to shoot guns because tomorrow we're all going to the shooting range, which should really be an experience.  Especially since only two out of the eight of us has ever even touched a gun before (that would be Joey and Lee, who was in the Navy).  Stories to come...

11.16.2010

Pics

Picasa is frustrating me.  I don't know how to get it to do what I want it to.  But if you click on the picture, it'll take you to my web album of all the pictures I took the other day at Dumbarton Oaks Park.  Its just of leaves -
but they were incredible.
  

11.12.2010

We are moving to Malibu!

The Malibu housing complex in Abuja, that is.  Pictures to come.
On the balcony of the Newseum

We had a great time this last weekend with Mallory and Steve - I think the highlight was our use of the Capital Bike Share program - we biked all around the city - from the Eastern Market past the Supreme Court and Capitol to the Newseum to the White House to the Washington Monument to the Jefferson Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial  - we saw a ton and it was a lot of fun too!  Plus I know Mallory and Steve wanted to see my mad skills on the segway but I'm pretty sure my graceful way of riding a bike sufficed.
At Arlington National Cemetery
Mal and me at The Gibson for drinks Sunday night

So much going on right now!  We have a little over a month left in town and it already feels like we are running out of time!  Busy busy busy!  Fun things to look forward to:

1. Lizz is coming for Thanksgiving!

2. Just bought tickets to the Joffrey Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center!

3. Lauren is coming the first weekend in December!

4. A tentative trip to New York City with some friends, including a possible visit to our friend Tom's family home, which given his fabulous New-Yorker accent and attitude should be an experience in and of itself.

5. Bought my ticket home for Christmas!  Flying home the 17th so I imagine that by the time the 26th rolls around my family and I will be ready for me to move to Nigeria.

Not so fun things to look forward to:

1. Rabies #s 2 and 3, Meningitis, and Polio vaccinations (Last Tuesday I got Yellow Fever and this Tuesday I got Rabies #1).  I did get Polio as a child, but since Nigeria is like one of two countries where Polio is rampant I have to get a booster.  And while I got the Meningitis vaccine before college, it only lasts for 4 years so I have to get another.  And this doesn't count the Typhoid pills that I have to take next week (apparently they make you sick as a dog but are worth trying to get through because they last for five years and the shot is only good for two), or the Malaria pills that Joey and I will have to take every week in Nigeria.

2.  Multiple vet visits wit the dogs.  George got his new Rabies vaccination Wednesday, Max gets his Monday and Moe gets his Tuesday.  Each dog also has to be seen in December too, 48 hours prior to our departure.  Not sure how that's going to work, what with Joey and me both returning from Des Moines the 26th, packing out the 27th and flying the 28th, and we probably won't even have a car then - but we'll figure it out. 

3. Spending money like its going out of style.  Oh my God, seriously.  We had dinner on Tuesday night with John and his wife, who just returned from Abuja.  John was the GSO there and now they are moving to Colombia (their first choice).  John told us we will save a ton of money living in Abuja (they saved enough for their son's college in two years), but we have to plan it right because everything there is so expensive.  This means we have to buy every consumable we think we will use for the next two years now and the government will ship it over for us.  So huge outlay of cash now (think all the shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning products, beer, dog food, the list goes on forever, that you use in two years), but that is basically all there is to spend your money on in Abuja.  Not many restaurants, not much shopp
ing, so I guess it is what it is.  Not to mention that we had to buy the dogs new kennels (airline approved for each of them) and the new car (because my Eos just isn't going to cut it in Nigeria) and about a million other things...

Anyway, back to our dinner the other night with the couple that just got back from Abuja - they said they really liked it there.  That they knew the guy who wrote all the nasty post reports and that he went in with a bad attitude and really didn't make friends.  They said they had a great experience and that sometimes they actually miss it.  So that was very reassuring!  They also offered answers to our million questions, which was so helpful. 

Since Joey got yesterday off for Veteran's Day (got to love working for the government), we decided to take a day trip to Annapolis.  The weather was crisp and sunny and the trees were in their full fall splendor - bright, candy apple red, burgundy, pumpkin orange and warm gold, yellow mixed in with pine trees - it was just gorgeous.  We wandered around town all day, explored the Naval Academy, and even met some of our friends for a lunch of fresh blue crabs.  All in all I would say it was a perfect day.  Thanks to all you Veterans, especially you, Papa, for your sacrifice so that we all can enjoy days like that.



The darling row of Captains' houses at the Naval Academy

Joey and his crabs at lunch

The Fleet Reserve put on a little ceremony yesterday at 11 AM (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month) for Veteran's Day.  I didn't realize it when I took this picture but that poor Marine marched around a whole traffic circle with his face accidentally enshrouded in the flag.  A testament to his marching skills I suppose.

11.08.2010

"Inside the State Department" Premiers Tonight on the National Geographic Channel

Joey sent this to me today - I thought you may find it interesting:


Tune In: "Inside the State Department" Premiers Tonight on the National Geographic Channel at 9:00pm EST

Inside the State Department premieres Monday, November 8, 2010, at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on the National Geographic Channel (NGC). The special provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on the mission of the U.S. Department of State, its leader Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and a staff of 60,000+ professionals engaged in operations spanning the globe, including hot spots like Pakistan and Afghanistan. National Geographic cameras capture the moments behind closed doors with world leaders and top officials as Secretary Clinton and other key U.S. diplomats juggle pressing global issues facing the United States, pressuring and persuading allies and adversaries alike.

In a world of conflict, the United States faces challenges like never before. Confronting these challenges head-on are the dedicated and hardworking 60,000+ U.S. State Department employees in over 190 countries with an annual budget of more than $16 billion. International diplomacy knows no rest, so they are in constant motion. The State Department’s role on the world stage has never been more important and the stakes have never been higher. Its leader is arguably the most famous woman in the world, with a traveling staff providing 24/7 support. Now, the National Geographic Channel goes Inside the State Department to open a window into the efforts of the men and women representing critical U.S. interests abroad.

 “This job is both a great privilege and an extraordinary challenge. We live on the balance beam of war and peace, of terrorism and stability, of poverty and prosperity,” Secretary Clinton tells National Geographic Channel in a one-hour interview for this documentary.

A top-notch State Department team works with Secretary Clinton to ensure the success of her trips to some of the most embattled regions on earth. We embark on a 20,000+ mile journey with the secretary as she makes stops around the globe, meeting with citizens and leaders face-to-face, including in New York City, Pakistan, Abu Dhabi, Jerusalem, Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan.

“I am fortunate that at the State Department — with these more than 60,000 people — there’s a wealth of talent,” Secretary Clinton tells National Geographic Channel. “There are so many people who have the cultural understanding, the language skills, who know the history, and who are ready at a moment’s notice to drop anything in order to serve.”

We begin on U.S. soil in New York as Secretary Clinton and her team prepare for the U.N. General Assembly meeting. Our cameras follow the intense efforts of Diplomatic Security as agents transform two floors of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel into a secure facility and test-drive her route looking for potential choke points and ambush sites. Back in the hotel - temporary headquarters for the State Department staff - we take you inside as Clinton’s team prepares her for meetings with foreign leaders.

Next, we board the secretary’s military plane - nicknamed SAM for Special Air Mission - for a high-priority international journey. The first stop is Pakistan, where Clinton spends three days speaking directly to Pakistanis and holding formal meetings with the country’s leading officials. We follow along as Clinton visits an Islamic holy site, and then appears on an unscripted talk show with a live Pakistani audience. Watch as Clinton fields tough questions from Pakistani journalists in a candid exchange intended to help break barriers and move public opinion.

Next on the itinerary, Secretary Clinton visits Abu Dhabi for peace discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Clinton meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to persuade him to resume direct peace negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Secretary Clinton meets during the next stop in Jerusalem. Secretary Clinton ends her trip with an unexpected stop in Cairo, Egypt, where she visits President Hosni Mubarak, a key player in Middle East peace.

“I believe strongly that the United States has to play the leading role in the world today on behalf of peace, prosperity and progress,” Secretary Clinton tells National Geographic. “It’s not easy and there’s no magic formula for it, but I have seen the benefits of our engagement and our investments in other countries.”
We hear insight from members of the press corps who travel with Secretary Clinton on each trip. The New York Times’ Mark Landler comments, “Secretary Clinton, for starters, is not just a celebrity, but she’s a sort of mega-celebrity. She’s arguably the most famous woman in the world and it puts her on a different level when she meets with foreign leaders because they remember her when she was first lady and they recognize her as a political powerhouse in her own right.”

Back in Washington, D.C., we tour the “gift vault,” where items presented to foreign dignitaries on behalf of the president and secretary of state are stored, and meet one State Department staffer who handles the gifts. Containing some of the most intriguing and unique presents, the gift vault’s contents range from unique jewelry designed for princesses to sports memorabilia including personally autographed Shaquille O’Neal basketball shoes and Derek Jeter baseball bats.

Just days after returning to the U.S., Clinton’s staff prepares for their next trip abroad, including a stop in Kabul, Afghanistan, for the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai. With tens of thousands of active troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. needs a reliable strategic partner in Kabul. Spending only one night in Kabul, Secretary Clinton speaks directly with President Karzai about stability in Afghanistan, and how the government can deliver services and build confidence and loyalty among the citizens of Afghanistan.

“It is astounding to witness the brutal 16- to 20-hour days worked by Secretary Clinton and her team,” said Steve Hoggard, executive producer, who filmed Clinton on her trips abroad. “They only get a few hours of sleep and are constantly working at a rapid pace traveling from one destination to the next. I have truly been in awe of what they do to represent our county across the globe.”

Following Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton and her team prepare to depart again into a world of increasing complexity. Feverishly planning the next round of international travel and crucial diplomatic meetings, who knows what next week will bring?

Inside the State Department is produced by Hoggard Films for the National Geographic Channel (NGC). For Hoggard Films, director and executive producer is Steven Hoggard and producer is Daphna Rubin. For NGC, executive producer and executive vice president of content is Steve Burns.
Please visit www.natgeotv.com/state for more information.

11.05.2010

I Love You Guys!

I'm getting really excited - Mallory and Steve are going to be here in a couple hours!  I can't wait to show them where we've been living the last few months and the town that is starting to feel more and more like home.  Even Joey said last night that DC is finally starting to grow on him (our friend James has been driving him to work this week so Joey's road rage toward DC must be dissipating).  I have a fabulous itinerary planned for the four of us, involving some shopping, sightseeing, and most importantly, eating.  Tonight Joey, Steve and I are headed to Zula, an Eritrean restaurant, for dinner.  I know my earlier comments about Ethiopian food were not exactly brimming with compliments, but our African dinner with Joey's classmates was really tasty so I'm looking forward to dinner tonight.  Hopefully Steve will like it - if not, the dining experience is worth it and we'll be eating every few hours so he won't go hungry!  After dinner, Joey and Steve will hit up some brew pubs while I drive to Baltimore to pick Mal up and then its off to the only Buddah Bar in the US.  They serve dinner until 1am which is perfect since Mallory's flight doesn't land until 11:16!  Then tomorrow its even more eating, as we head to the Eastern Market for some blueberry/buckwheat pancakes, Five Guys Burgers and Fries for lunch and a fabulous foodie dinner at Oya.  Sunday morning have reservations at Masa 14 for all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch, then its pizza for lunch in Georgetown and to the Mexican "Oyamel," one of celebrity chef Jose Andres' restaurants, for dinner.  YUUUM-MY!  As such, I decided last night that my post-marathon rest was over and went for a run (otherwise the fit of my clothes could quickly become an issue).  Just an easy 3 miler but man it felt great to be back pounding the pavement.  (The consumption of 4 chocolate chip cookies yesterday may have also been a factor - I made a whole batch for Joey's birthday from scratch and they were way too good).

In addition to the food mentioned above, thanks to my mom and dad, Joey and I now have 9 lbs of ice cream to eat.  Not that this is a bad thing.  The flavors range from The Buckeye State (dark chocolate peanut butter) to Praline to Lemon -yum.  Mom, I have to admit, Joey loved his birthday present but I think he was even more excited about the dry ice that came in the packaging.  He stood over the sink for an hour yesterday playing with the it.
"What? This part of my gift!"

This weekend is the start of all of the fun visits we have planned.  A couple more weeks and Lizzie will be here and then the week after that Lauren is coming and then Bill!  I am so thankful that my sisters and friends could find time in their busy schedules to come visit us before we leave the country for two years!  My family's (this includes our friends) support has been so important to Joey and me through this process and even though goodbyes at Christmas are going to be hard and I'm going to miss you all like crazy in Nigeria, I know that distance and time are pretty irrelevant when it comes to the tight bond that we have.  We'll make it work.

11.03.2010

Rant

Our neighbors are freaking annoying.  Right now the guy above us is having a party and everyone up there is stomping around like freaking elephants.  I am about a minute away from going over to the buzzer outside and just holding it down.

The people below us do not like our dogs.  Twice now we have received notes about the dogs barking but guess what?  They forgot that thin walls work both ways.  Last Friday while laying in bed, Joey and I were treated to the sounds of their half-hour sex session, including moans, groans and several "Oh my Gods!"  Not to mention that she is ugly so that really makes for a nice image in my head.

As much as I am not exactly excited to go to Nigeria, I am so excited to move out of this loud, unfriendly, dirty, cramped rowhouse!  At least in Nigeria we will have a big house with no shared walls and nice neighbors!

11.02.2010

Marathon Woman

Side note: I wrote this post yesterday; however, I didn't want to post it until I uploaded my pictures.  Yesterday I was too lazy to get up to get my camera from the other room, which is why I'm posting this today.

If you look just below the T in "START" you'll see a lady in red on the platform.  That was Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill, who announced the start.

I am writing from my bed.  You know that phrase, "I feel like I ran a marathon yesterday?" Well, I did.  And I am hurting.  Laying down is good - until I need to switch positions - bending my legs hurts like hell.  Standing up is okay and sitting isn't too bad either its just the transition that sucks - a lot.   I look like an old lady, slowly bending my knees and wincing as I try to position myself.   Now imagine me at Mass last night at 7:30 - stand up, sit down, kneel - ow ow ow!!! 

The many, many runners waiting to start.  I crossed the starting line almost a full five minutes after the canons marked the official start of the race.

Yesterday's weather was absolutely perfect for running.  Not much of a breeze, a crisp 40 degrees, sunny.  One mile in and I was perfectly comfortable in my capris and short-sleeve "technical" tee.  The course was packed!  30,000 people ran the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday and it was pretty hard to maneuver.  At some points it got a little frustrating because I wanted to run faster and couldn't get around enough people to break away.  I had a fabulous run until about mile 22.  At mile 20, I felt great.  I'd maintained less than a 9 minute mile and was easily within reaching my goal of finishing in under four hours.  Somebody had a sign that said "you own this bridge" and I thought hell yes I own this bridge.  I thought only 6 more miles - no big deal - its all mental from here - just keep on going.  Then I crossed the huge highway bridge - and it just felt like it was never ending.  And people started dropping like flies.  Everywhere around me people started walking and I was like, no, I'm good, I'm going to keep on running.  Then around mile 21 fatigue started to set in and mile 22 was straight up tough.  I passed the 23 mile marker and thought "I'm going to throw up."  I kept running and the nausea didn't stop and so I gave in and walked for about 2 minutes.  I walked to the water station, had a big sip and then started running again - and that's where the pain started.  When I stopped running all that lactic acid caught up to my legs so when I started again it felt like they were on fire.  But I ran anyways.  For about a mile.  And then at about 24 I felt like I was going to puke again and had to walk for another few minutes.  I looked at my watch and the four hour mark was starting to creep closer and since the nausea had passed I started running again - holy crap it hurt.  I ran - which felt more like stumbling at a brisk pace - all the way to the finish - at 4:02.  I missed my time by two minutes but God it felt so good to cross the finish line and I honestly almost started crying I was so proud when the Marine put my medal over my head. 

Exceptionally unflattering picture of my hips.  I blame the pants and the photographer (cough, Joey).  But I think this was about mile 17 and I was sick of trying to pull my shirt down over my ass.  Just beyond the trees in this photo is the Washington Monument.

So was it worth it?  Hell yes!  One of the Marines sayings is that "pain is weakness exiting the body."  Another sign I read yesterday that I think sums it up perfectly said "Pain is temporary, pride is forever."  I am officially a marathoner now and I have to admit, I am pretty proud of myself.  Lets be honest here, if I told any of my grade school or high school gym teachers that I was going to run a marathon, they'd never believe it.  I mean, I really am not that coordinated.  But for some reason, running works and although I won't be going for a run for the next few days, I can't wait for my next marathon.

Sunday was also Halloween - so quite a few runners dressed up.  Now the question is whether the devil chose his costume before or after he was assigned his 666 bib  number.

Thank you again to everyone who donated to St. Jude's to help me run my marathon.  My four hours of exertion yesterday definitely doesn't even compare to the months and years of treatment that St. Jude's patients have to endure.  I also have to say there is no way I could have done this without my amazingly supportive husband.  In addition to all my long runs where he rode his bike behind me, Joey woke up with me at 5:30 am yesterday, rode the Metro with me to the Pentagon, walked the mile to the start line with me and even waited in line with me for 20 minutes for the porta-potty.  Then he trekked all across town to cheer me on at as many points along the course as he could.  After the race he helped me waddle back home and even went to buy me some Epson salts for my bath. 

Nothing like waiting in line for a porta-potty before dawn

So where's the next one?  Probably in Africa!  We had a few of Joey's classmates over for dinner Thursday and two of them had run marathons - one in Ghana and another in Istanbul - so its possible!


BibFNameLName

DivAgeSex

10844 MELISSA SODA

FEMALES 25-29 26 F

ChipTimeClockTimeOverallSexPlDivPl AgeGrade
4:02:37 4:07:30 4981 1193 319 55.8%