Mind grapes

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So the past few weeks of Specialist Orientation has been like taking a sip from a fire hose.  TONS of information, briefings, handouts, homework assignments, online courses and quizzes, group projects, off-sites, etc.  Needless to say, I’ve been keeping very busy, but I’ve been happy and I’m still feeling lucky to be here.

This weekend is when that situation changed.  One of the biggest things that haunted me about taking this job was the possibility of what would happen when tragedy would strike back home, and unfortunately that has already come to pass.  A very sweet, kind, funny and very good man passed away this morning: my uncle.  For my family’s privacy I won’t get into the details here, but it was unexpected, and happened far too quickly and far too soon.   He was a really good man, an incredibly hard worker, the kind of guy who would always make sure he was the last to eat a holidays (and there were a LOT of us) and would always spearhead the effort to begin cleanup after.  I always thought the Cains were a big family, but he was one of 16 kids….16 KIDS!!! He welcomed guests into his house frequently, always willing to sit down and share laughs with family and friends.  He was a great husband, father, grandfather, and friend to all who knew him.  We will all miss him so much.

So this is rough, I find myself 700 miles away and its just not possible for me to leave and go back for the service…it breaks my heart.  I know my family understands, they know I’d be there if I could, but I wish I could be there for my big wonderful family to help them through this tough time.  My orientation coordinators and classmates have been very supportive, and let me vent and blow off some steam this morning when I got the news on the way in to work.

So, if that wasn’t enough to occupy my thoughts, tomorrow is my flag day.  Tomorrow afternoon I will receive the flag of my future post in front of my classmates (and happily my mom and brother are here as well.)  What was initially going to be a very happy (hopefully?) moment has now been dimmed a bit.  It doesn’t seem quite right to be celebrating and anxiously awaiting big news while the people I love are struggling to deal with such a loss.

To my family back home, know that my thoughts and prayers are with you across the miles, and my heart is with you back in Illinois.  Not much more to say than that, just know that I love you all, and I’m there in spirit.



The Bid List

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So I’ve been in the DC area for close to a week now, and so far things are going very well.  Well…technically today is a snow day but hey, I’m using the opportunity to research my bid list, which is due on Wednesday.

So, what is my bid list?  My career development officer (CDO) gave everyone in our specialty a list of available posts that we are to rank and return to her.  It includes approximate dates for departure (ranging from ASAP to this fall) and she also gave us a list of some of the basic specs of the post.  One huge item to consider is what’s called “equity.”

It’s super important to consider equity when putting together ones bid list.  A very safe, walkable, affordable and geographically desirable post is often at a very low or nonexistent equity.  It means you won’t have a hard time living there (for the most part) and that your time spent at post will be relatively easy on you and your family.  A post with a higher equity is one where the hardship and danger ratings will make things more difficult.  Some extremely large cities that would typically be very coveted still have high equity because of things like pollution, air quality, burning garbage, large # of smokers, bad traffic, etc.

So, why wouldn’t I simply bid on the “easy” posts with western amenities and cafe culture?  Because that would give me little to no equity for my next tour.  Those who have a higher equity get better placement on their next post, simple as that.  So if I were to take somewhere like Paris or Munich on this tour (low equity, and by the way these are not on my list) there would be a very low chance of me getting something like that on my 2nd tour, and I would basically be at the bottom of the list when it came to considering my preferences next time around.

So really, it’s all about risk and reward.  Do I go for the more desirable post now, and leave myself vulnerable for the next bid list?   Or do I buckle down now and go for the higher equity?  How important is public transit?  Do I NEED to go somewhere with good weather, or can I handle 6 months of snow?  Am I ok with a small 1br apartment downtown, or would I prefer a post where I can have a stand-alone house with a pool and yard?  Do I want to go somewhere that allows me to ship thousands of pounds of consumables (food, toilet paper, etc) or do I risk it at a post where I simply shop on the local economy?  And perhaps most important of all (for me), can I handle being a single woman in this location?  Are there things to do, restaurants to visit, weekend trips to take?  Will I be assaulted or harassed just for walking down the street without a man by my side?

So, lots of thinking to do, and lots of research.  I’m choosing not to post my list except with a few very close friends and of course, my immediate family, just because I don’t think I can handle having too much outside input at this point.  There are also security concerns to consider, and frankly the thought of publishing it just made me a little uneasy.

So, you are welcome to make your guesses, and when I announce my next posting on Flag Day (Feb 25th) I look forward to sharing the good news with you all.  I WILL say that no unaccompanied posts are on my list, so for now don’t worry. I don’t have Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, or Egypt on my list, but again, no guarantees for next time.

So, understand my concern for equity now?  Back to my research…

My life in boxes

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Happy pack-out day to you all!  I’m sitting here in on the floor of my bedroom, watching two very awesome hard working movers lovingly pack my knick-knacks in bubble paper.  They are hustling to try and beat the impending snow storm headed my way, and yet here I sit, not helping.  All of the instructions I received from State told me DO NOT PACK YOUR OWN BELONGINGS!  There’s a few reasons why.  Namely if I pack something myself and it breaks in transit, the moving company can’t help me, and also there’s no guarantee I won’t put something sneaky or dangerous into one of the boxes and put people at risk.  So here I sit, trying to stay out of their way while still trying to provide some level of supervision to the process.

My situation isn’t entirely typical of all State employees, since I am moving from the Midwest to the East Coast, and then on to the next post abroad (hopefully.)  Plenty of new hires are already from the DC area, so they get to skip this step.  So I have to separate my items into a couple different piles:

  • Things getting trucked to a storage unit in Maryland
  • Things getting sent to my furnished apartment in DC
  • Things coming in the car with me on the drive to DC later this week.

Then of course there are the endless piles of items getting thrown away, getting donated, things I’m leaving for Nate, etc.  My place has been a war zone for the past week so it’s nice to see things starting to get cleared out so I can see my floor again.

Thursday begins the drive to DC, and luckily my mother has graciously offered to ride with me to so I don’t have to go it alone.  We will break it up into two days so we can handle the inevitable weather delays that we will encounter.  Move-in is on Friday, and I’ll have a couple days to settle in DC before starting work on Monday.

MONDAY.  I start work on Monday, how is that possible?  I barely slept last night, and when I woke up throughout the night my heart was beating a mile a minute, I think it’s safe to say I’m relatively stressed out at the moment.  Quitting my old job, starting a new one, leaving STL, starting again in a new city, all while anxiously awaiting to find out what country I’ll move to this summer.  (BTW, I find out on Feb 25th!!)  It should surprise nobody that I’ve found a few more grey hairs lately.

But hey, these are all good problems, and I know that.  Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved inside your comfort zone, so bring it.  I will just try to keep breathing in and out, and remembering that I chose this.  On purpose.