Air & Space Museum > Old Navy?

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I find it hard to believe that I’ve been taking classes at FSI (foreign service institute…this is my federal employment coming through – acronyms!!) since February…didn’t I just get here?  The unpacked box of clothes in my bedroom now seems pretty pathetic. My new pack-out for Sarajevo is less than a month away, I guess I’ll just leave it packed and save the new movers some effort.

Right now we are in a 2-week class where we recap the things we learned throughout our previous lessons, and it’s become painfully obvious that my memory isn’t what it used to be.  The instructor hands me a scenario, I look it over, and then am forced to think back a few months ago, throughout my hundreds of hours of instruction, to pick out one single lesson, to recall that ONE button that was on that ONE tab of that ONE application that I used briefly, oh and what was that password again?  I feel like there was a hidden field if I expand this….oh hell I just printed that invoice, better shred that.  What’s the radio protocol again, am I ACTUALLY supposed to say niner or is that just what they say on Tommy Boy?  Ah, I need to change that group policy…WAIT, did I set that for the entire network or just my post?  Was I supposed to do an incremental or full backup there?  Did I need to print two copies of that inventory, and do I sign both or just the one?  What was that combination I learned two months ago?  And on and on it goes.

So yes, it’s quite a bit to remember, and I’ve had a TON of information crammed into my brain in a relatively short amount of time, but I’ve got to say it’s been a pretty great experience overall.  Plenty of hands-on lab assignments, lots of field trips to meet with the respective experts in our field, weekly exams to keep us on track, and a plethora of study materials to take with me to post.  I have to give props to FSI – they’ve done a pretty amazing job of taking 23 IT-folks from VERY different backgrounds, and getting all of us on the same page.


So between my various classes I managed to fit in a few more weekends of family shenanigans, and for that I am so thankful.  A few weekends ago, baby brother Nate graduated from Purdue as a DOCTOR of Pharmacy.  A doctor, for crying out loud.  I flew into Indy, we got celebratory Thai from Thai Spice in Indy (4.5 stars on Yelp, that’s no joke!) and said goodbye to Nate’s lovely apartment (but not so lovely water pressure.)  Nate will be renting my condo in STL so we helped him move…another third floor walkup, another move, just your average day in the Cain household.


The graduation ceremony was lovely and about 2.5 hours too long, so long in fact that most of the MBA students left before the thing was even over.  RUDE.  I was surrounded by proud parents and siblings and girlfriends/boyfriends and grandparents, and one stupidly racist/terrible/awful man behind me who threw a FIT when the announcer (who had to say about 1000 people’s names in the span of a couple hours) messed up his son’s last name.  Ok, I get it, you paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for your kid’s education, I understand that you’d be disappointed in hearing your last name botched, fair enough.  What was NOT OK was his rant that followed, loudly complaining about all the FOREIGN names all got pronounced correctly, obviously they cared more about those FOREIGNER NAMES than the name of his AMERICAN son ROBERT…..GO ROBERT!!!! YEAH ROBERT!!  He yelled these evil words from the balcony, minutes after his son had already crossed the stage and taken his seat.  That fact that his son’s name was botched obviously warranted ruining everyone’s diploma acceptance too.  Happily the jerk face got bored and left early, I did not miss him.


So ever since I got this gig and knew I’d be living in the DC area for a while, my dad has mentioned he was going to come visit and do nothing but hit up museums the whole time.  Happily at the end of May, he got his wish.  Mom and Dad drove over from Philo and got to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend in Arlington with me.  We really made the most of the trip: Air and Space Museum (x2!), American History Museum, National Archives, Capitol Building, Library of Congress, Arlington Cemetery, and more memorials/statues than you could imagine.  Mom and I were so excited!!!

Kidding! Well…at first

My whole family went on a trip to DC back when I was in either junior high, and let me tell you, that trip was wasted on me.  At that point in my life I was interested in shopping and beaches and boys, I could not have cared any less about war memorials or airplanes.   Well on that trip, we as a group gave my dad ONE HOUR to spend in the Air and Space museum, and that was it.  We would wait for him at the snack bar with our french fries, and after that we were going to hit up Old Navy.  He hung his head, did the best he could with his one hour of history, and then left.  And he never forgave me.

So on this trip, I was determined to make it up to him.  As penance, I took him to the Udvar-Hazy Center, an Air and Space Museum annex out at Dulles Airport that was basically the greatest thing I ever could have done.  We spent an entire day roaming around hangers full of iconic planes:

SR-71 Blackbird (Mach 3 secret spy plane!)

SR-71 Blackbird (Mach 3 secret spy plane!)

Enola Day - dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima

Enola Day – dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima

Nazi Planes from "Axis Alley"

Nazi Planes from “Axis Alley”

Space Shuttle - Discovery

Space Shuttle – Discovery

AirBus landing outside

AirBus landing outside

Dad had a great day!

Dad had a great day!

One thing we neglected to do was take a single pic with Kashmir, the SWIC Mascot who is supposed to be traveling around with me in DC.  So this one should make up for it.

Sorry, Mel

Sorry, Mel

Not only was I glad that my parents visited so that I could spend time with them, it also served as a great excuse for me to actually get out and see DC in all of its splendor.  We decided to go to Arlington National Cemetery to pay our respects to those who gave their life for our country, and wouldn’t you know it, we stumbled into a memorial service with a pretty high profile speaker – President Obama.  He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and gave a very nice speech recognizing our Armed Forces.


After a full week of museums, memorials, national parks, it was hard to pick my favorite thing we did.  I really enjoyed seeing the monuments at night (with a ton of visitors laying flowers at each memorial), the ceremony at Arlington was touching and a beautiful tribute to the fallen, I loved seeing Dad so excited to explore iconic airplanes used to change the course of human history, I loved eating breakfast with my parents before heading off to work for the day, enjoyed taking them to some of my favorite restaurants in the area, and was basically thrilled to spend time with the family again!  I leave you with this parting shot, of a particularly interesting exhibit at the American History Museum.

I loved this exhibit…because of course I did



I got the tickets…I got the tickets

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My dear family has been so great about visiting me in DC (quite honestly I get more visitors here than I did in STL!) and this past weekend I was so thrilled to host Phil, Mel, and Alexis for a few days.  So, I’m still a little salty about the fact that they left Sydney at home, but I have to admit that she is go go go all the time, would have been a pill on the airplane, would have HATED riding in a stroller all day, she would not have been interested in visiting monuments, and I could just see her somehow getting out onto my balcony.  So sweet little Syd stayed home with the grandparents, I missed her but it would have been a VERY different trip if she had come.

Any excuse to post this pic, LOOK AT THAT SWEETIE

Any excuse to post this pic, LOOK AT THAT SWEETIE

The Reinhardts flew into DCA and I met them at the airport, they were so worried that Alexis would freak out on the plane, but as it turns out she thought it was GREAT fun.  She got a pair of wings, got to watch Frozen, and even during some nasty turbulence she commented on how FUN it all was!  We headed back to my apartment thanks to a loaner car seat I borrowed from a very kind coworker, and headed to Ben’s Chili Bowl for dinner.   This place is a DC institution, Bill Cosby has his picture painted on the wall, so that’s always a good sign.  I got a Half Smoke and cheese fries, they rocked my socks off.  Not exactly gourmet and sure as hell not healthy, but I could think of nobody in the world better to share a chili dog with than Phil.

half smoke

On Friday I headed to work but met up with the family after.  We hit up Kinder Haus toys so Lex could pick out a one-of-a-kind, educational toy (naturally she picked a mass-produced Disney princess), Phil and I got Thai food from the newly-opened I-Thai in Georgetown, Mel FINALLY got her lobster roll from Luke’s (totally lived up to the hype, I stand corrected) and we enjoyed just generally walking around, people-watching, and cupcake eating.


We got home and realized that if Lex didn’t get a good night’s sleep, we were done for.  My apartment is insanely bright in the morning, so we had a brilliant beyond brilliant idea…let’s stick her in the closet.  No, really.  We got a twin roll-away bed from the front desk, removed the mattress, cleaned out a section of my closet and made up a cozy little nest for her.  She thought it was AWESOME, and the fact that she already has Harry Potter habits speaks very highly for her future.

hp closet

On Saturday we hit it hard, and decided to make sure we could see things that Lex would be interested in, namely flowers.  We started our day at the Botanical Garden (it was HERB DAY, score!!)   They had a ton of little crafts for kids, and plenty of lovely flowers, but again this will be filed in the category of “St. Louis Does It Better.”  (Missouri Botanical Garden FTW, not even a contest!)  We then made our way to the Capitol Building, were we were treated to TSA-like security measures.  We made our way to the Library of Congress, it was a really gorgeous space and I’ve made a mental note to take the official tour while I’m here.

Capitol Building

Capitol Building

Not pictured: Nick Cage

Not pictured: Nick Cage (Thank you Heather)

Now, by this point I should probably mention one of my biggest flaws as a human being.  I am not the kind of person that can walk around allllll day in heels, flip flops, or flats.  But I am also not the kind of person that likes to walk around in sneakers all day, because I feel like a tourist.  I am constantly battling my inner self to find appropriate footwear, and this particular day, I failed miserably with my suede green flats.  It was only about 2:00pm and already I was hurting.

After lunch, and with my feet already killing me, we walked to the National Mall for an old car show, the WWII Memorial, saw the Washington Monument from afar (which Lex calls “the tower,”) the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Constitution Gardens, the Lincoln Memorial, the MLK Memorial, FDR Memorial, and finally the Jefferson Monument.  I. Was. Dying.  Every step I took was excruciatingly painful, and my companions were mighty tired of hearing about it.  As we hobbled back to the nearest Metro (MORE. WALKING.) I made Mel and Phil promise me that they’d never let me leave the house in anything but tennis shoes ever again.  They were happy to oblige.


On Sunday we decided to find some boats.  We had initially planned on going to Baltimore to the inner harbor, but after I heard about their whole “our street opened up and ate a bunch of cars” thing, we opted for Annapolis instead.  We went to mass at the Basilica, and then made our way to Annapolis. We started the visit by hitting up Davis’ Pub, where we had one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  A super-soft preztel bun, cut in half, covered in crab dip, and covered with melted cheese.  Wowza.  Exactly my kind of place, very casual with great food, and beer in plastic cups.

Sadly I had to share this and didn't get to eat the whole thing

Sadly I had to share this and didn’t get to eat the whole thing

We made our way to the boardwalk area (after snagging a BRILLIANT parking spot, princess parking!!) and took in the scenery.  Lex loved the boats, but loved the ducks even more.  We walked around to the different shops, Mel pretended to apply to the Naval Academy, we bought some local beer and wine, got an ice cream cone (each…not, like, to share) and enjoyed the sunshine!

Really should have gotten her a cup

Really should have gotten her a cup


On Monday while I went to work, the Reinhardts went to the Natural History Museum so Alex could be surrounded by her new favorite thing on the planet: butterflies.  One even landed on her hand, she was seriously in heaven.  They did more sight-seeing, and came back to the apartment to rest up for our big plans for the evening, a Nationals Game!  Since it was Cinco de Mayo, we picked up Mexican and Coronas from Guajillo (maybe the best salsa I’ve ever had) and then made our way to the ballpark.

So, another bizarre thing about me is that I like to make up songs.  All the time.  Even about very boring activities that have no actual significance.  That afternoon, as I was printing out our tickets (I think?) I started singing “iiiiiii got the tickets, I got the tickets, I got the tickets for yoooou-ou-ou” which Lex thought was hilarious.  Before I knew it, she was doing this.  She might be my kid?

So we made our way to the ballpark, hoping that DC would narrowly avoid this long strip of rain that was in the forecast, but we had no such luck.  The instant we got off the train, it started to rain, and it didn’t stop for three hours.  We tried powering through and hanging out under an overhang near our seats, but once the tarp went on the field, we called it a night.  It was seriously a shame, because I had planned my attire very carefully and never made it on camera.  Bush league.



The Reinhardts headed back the next day, after what I thought was a pretty awesome trip.  And happy I will see them again soon when I head home for Nate’s graduation from Purdue!

Thanks for coming, guys!

Thanks for coming, guys!




American Airlines loves me

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Deepest apologies to my blog readers (Ok mostly Kiva and Melanie) for the lack of updates lately, but once I post this you will understand why!  I finally had some free weekends in my schedule, and decided it was time to spend time with friends and family while it was still relatively easy to do so.

Side note, I’d been wanting to do a post about the Cherry Blossoms in DC, but as it turns out, I don’t care to write a big article on the subject, it sat in my drafts folder for weeks.  Instead I will share these brief thoughts and a lovely photo:

  • Beautiful!!
  • Crowded
  • Tourists with strollers
  • Lots of people own super expensive SLRs now, but it seems few people know how to use them.


So, on to my trips.  First of all, I’ve gotten a few questions lately about how I keep snagging first class seats, and no it has nothing at all to do with my job.  Perhaps my dear KT Nelso can tell me why, but for some reason I was temporarily upgraded to American Airlines Gold status for about six months, and AA loaded my account full of upgrade options as well.  So for all of these flights I’ve taken lately, I’ve been able to get the awesome seats that normally you have to pay extra for, (aka extra leg room, towards the front of the plane, etc) and if on the day of the flight there are spaces left in First Class, I can be upgraded.  It has happened twice so far and it was everything I hoped it would be.  Bloody Marys, fruit and croissants for breakfast, fresh(ish) cookies, and more space than I rightfully need.  I’m afraid I’ve run into kind of a Flowers for Algernon situation where I now know how the other half lives, and find it difficult to go back to normal ol’ coach.  First world problems, my friends.

Easter weekend was first, and I flew from DC to Willard, a tiny airport in Champaign/Urbana.  I got off the airplane and was greeted by my sisters and Lex Danger, with a freshly-drawn picture of a rainbow to welcome me back to IL.  We headed back to Philo (while Lex decided that Aunt Shannon’s new nickname should be Princess Sparkle Rainbow Unicorn,) and I spent the rest of the weekend surrounded by my family!  We had the Cains over for drinks and snacks on Saturday evening, where cousin Sarah decided it was time for an Easter Egg Hunt…but this time it would be for adults.


Sarah has twins and two jobs and somehow found time to create adult-themed Easter eggs for this huge crew, they were filled with such items as beer coozies, Shout wipes, condoms, candles, shot glasses, Icy Hot, etc.  It was one for the record books, my friends.   Great seeing all of the Cains together again, I’ll miss that crazy bunch for sure!!


On Easter Sunday we went to Mass at St. Thomas (packed house!) and then headed to the Stierwalts for lunch, more egg hunts (this time for the children, lame,) and more family time.  I stuffed myself silly with ham, mashed potatoes, noodles, mac and cheese, scalloped pineapple, broccoli and rice casserole, and Shannon’s little bunny rolls that were kind of a cross between bunnies and gremlins.


As usual, I loved visiting with the Stierwalts and discussing every last detail of my upcoming move.  They’re a pretty adventurous bunch so I tried my best to talk them into jetting over to Sarajevo sometime in the next couple years…not sure I did the job.  I’m still working on them!  Sadly I had to head back to DC, so Shannon dropped me off at the airport and I headed back to my empty apartment.  It was so great to be home, to see little Lex and Syd in their Easter dresses, to give my parents the biggest hugs I could, and to hang with these crazy kids.


Oh and in case anyone is wondering, I would totally freeze to death if I ever got sent to a post where I was forced to chop my own wood to stay alive during the winter.  Exhibit A:


The next weekend, after a particularly tough week of training here at State, I headed off to Chicago to visit my college friends that live in that area.  They all have such big things going on in their lives, from having babies, to making babies, planning huge vacations abroad, getting masters degrees, and shaping the young minds of America, and I was desperate to go see them and catch up!

I flew into O’Hare Airport (side note: I hate flying into O’Hare.  hate. hate. hate) pretty late at night, and made my way to the rental car lot.  As it turns out, when you get past the age of 27ish, it no longer seems appropriate for you to beg your adult friends to pick you up at the airport.  The crazy thing is, if I had asked them, I’m sure they would have done it, but if I can rent a car for $17 a day to save them the hassle, why not?  I collected my keys to this lovely Chevy Sonic, a car that I didn’t even know was a thing.

ImageI made my way to the south suburbs of Chicago where I was able to cuddle with adorable little babies (you guys, my friends make CUTE kids) and catch up with my squirrels and non-squirrels that are basically squirrels by extension.  I enjoyed some Portillos, natch, and enjoyed my friends company even more.  Here’s a pic (stolen from Ashley!) of some of the gang at Jeri’s baby shower, and thanks to Dave for pointing out that I am the only one that didn’t get the “wear patterns” memo.  Strangely enough, this was not the first time that has happened to me:


So those were my two weekends of jet setting back and forth between Illinois, will follow up with a post about the Reinhardts visiting me here in DC!  😀


Three Bucks, Two Bags, One Me

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In keeping with the theme of “Making the most of my time on the East Coast,” I decided to head to NYC for a couple days to see some Broadway shows.  I’ve always really enjoyed the theater, and tried to go to the Fox (in STL) a couple times of year for this and that.  With the great white way only a few hours away, this was too good to pass up.

I looked into a couple transportation options, and quickly realized that there were about a billion different ways to get to NYC.  Considered driving, then found out the tolls would be about $50 alone!  (Nevermind parking.)  I love taking the train, but Amtrak was charging upwards of $300 for the round trip!  Airfare was out of the question as well, so I looked into the bus option.  I ended up taking Eastern, a 4.5 hour bus that went from DC’s Chinatown to NY’s Penn Station.  Reviews online were horrific, but the $25 price tag made me believe I could handle it.  Well I’m pleased to say that the round trip journey was actually way better than I had expected.  The busses were clean, the drivers were skilled, and I was content to just recline my seat, pop in my headphones, and sleep the entire way.  Two thumbs up for the DC2NY bus system.

Now, lodging.  I couldn’t afford to pay Midtown/Theater District prices, but didn’t love the idea of taking the train or a taxi late at night out of the area, not to mention the forecast looked like rain and I knew having a home base nearby would prove pretty important.  As I often do, I turned to Priceline and named my own price for a three-star hotel in midtown.  Amazingly enough, the Manhattan at Times Square accepted my bid of $100, and I had myself a deal.  I had actually stayed at this hotel during my previous visit, and while it isn’t anything overly fancy, the location is incredible and rooms were fine.  (If you aren’t overly particular about a certain brand or certain amenities, you MUST look into the name your own price option.  You can get wonderful, high end hotels for next to nothing, I’ve had nothing but great experiences with it.)

So I left for NY on Saturday morning, and was there by about 11:00am.  I walked about a mile to the hotel (in the pouring rain) to drop off my bag, wandered around midtown for a bit, and realized I simply needed to head to a restaurant to get out of the rain.  Well unfortunately everyone else had the same idea, and every restaurant I approached couldn’t seat me.  I hung my head, begrudgingly headed to a Chipotle, and enjoyed getting to put my umbrella away.  (I have nothing but love for Chipotle but who goes to New York to eat there?  Me, apparently.)  I then headed to my first show, “No Man’s Land.”

The Cort Theater

The Cort Theater

So No Mans Land is a play by Harold Pinter, and if I tried to summarize the plot here, I would fail, but I will say that it had serious comedic moments, plenty of sad ones, lots of drinking, and the ending left me pretty puzzled.  I looked up the play online and found out that is exactly what it was supposed to do.  Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were incredible, and Billy Crudup has serious acting chops.

After the show I headed back to the room, showered and got pretty for my next show that evening: Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

hedwigThis was, by far, the coolest show I’ve seen in NY.  It was the opening preview, so there were a few tiny little kinks to work out, but overall I have to say NPH did an INCREDIBLE job with the very difficult material, and very difficult costumes.

hedwig2I had never seen this show before, but as soon as I got home I downloaded several of the previous recordings, “Wicked Little Town” especially stuck with me.  If you will be in NY for any reason in the next few months, I HIGHLY suggest catching this show.  I was actually able to snag a “partial view” seat in the 2nd row, and he was about 5 ft from me quite often.  For some pics check out this article, the wigs especially were pretty incredible.   I would not recommend ordering drinks from the bar there, a double 7&7 cost me $25.00!!!

Side note, I bought a denim dress recently and wasn’t quite sure if I could pull it off.  Decided to power through and wear the damn thing in NY, I rarely wear dresses and am looking to change that.  Paired it with black tights and boots.  I laughed out loud when NPH came on stage in a denim ensemble with back tights and boots…we were basically matching.  Though mine wasn’t bedazzled.

who wore it best

Who wore it best? (Answer: he did)

The show ended, and at this point, it was late, the rain was coming down pretty hard, and I was essentially spent.  I went back to the hotel and ordered some delivery takeout from Hell’s Kitchen.  Enjoyed some delicious Thai noodles from the comfort of my bed, caught the Louis CK SNL, and drifted off to sleep.


The next morning I grabbed a bagel and coffee from the Starbucks down the street (again, it was raining, so I ditched original plan to seek out Ess-A-Bagel or even wait in line for the legendary Cronut from Dominique Ansel (good thing, they were just shut down for a mouse infestation!!)  I packed up my stuff, left by bag with the concierge, and headed to 5th Avenue, then Times Square to do a little shopping and sight-seeing.

St. Patrick's - still under scaffolding!!! :(

St. Patrick’s – still under scaffolding!!! 😦

You guys know it's March, right?

You guys know it’s March, right?

No Liz Lemon sighting

No Liz Lemon sighting

Suppressed my desire to buy everything at Michael Kors, did some damage at The Loft (hellooooo 40% off sale,) and braved the crowds at the Disney Store in a futile attempt to find Lex some Frozen swag.  I then headed down the road to try out the iconic burgers and fries from Shake Shack.

shake shackI have a hard time getting too pumped up about burger joints (I mean how hard is it to make a burger, really?) but this place blew my expectations away.  I was horrified to find out that there are locations in DC, and now I fear this will become a staple in my diet while I’m here.  From locally sourced ingredients to hormone-free, 100% angus beef, the lunch was legit and I’ll be back.

It was now time for my 3rd and final show, I headed back to the Cort Theater for “Waiting for Godot.”


Partial View = Cheap seats!

This show was just amazing in every sense.  It’s an “absurdist” play by Samuel Beckett, in which Vladimir and Estragon (or how they are referred to in the play, GoGo and DiDi,) are waiting by this tree for the arrival of the elusive Mr. Godot.  McKellen and Stewart played their roles perfectly, as two long-time besties talking and playing and reminiscing about their long history together.  It was hilarious, brilliantly acted, and again, Billy Crudup proved that he’s an underrated actor.  (There was a 4th, Schuler Hensley, and unfortunately his parts never really gave him the full chance to measure up to the others and show what he had to offer.)

At curtain calls, McKellen and Stewart stayed on stage, hugged it out, smiled brilliantly at one another and shared kisses on the cheek.  I teared up, you rarely see such a openly-displayed bromance like that.  It’s clear that they really love and respect one another, and was great to witness.  See proof here.

So after the show I gathered up my suitcase and walked back to Penn Station in the pouring rain.  I arrived early for the bus, and decided to kill some time in a nearby cafe, aptly named “Pie Face” (they served pot pies, meat pies, and dessert pies, food was fine but the name is awesome.)  Headed back to the bus stop, grabbed a seat, and settled in for the long ride home.  Made it back to DC’s Chinatown, grabbed a cab, and was home by 12:30am.

The next morning was a little rough, I was of course tired and had to hop myself up on coffee, but I’m so glad I took this trip.  I’m getting ready to travel halfway around the world and live alone in a new country where I don’t speak the language, I need to practice my ability to travel alone.  Overall the weather put a serious damper on my enjoyment, but I think I can call the trip a success!  Another rewarding experience, all accomplished by stepping outside my comfort zone.  The best ones usually are.


The Leprechaun, The Rainbow, and the Pot o’ Gold

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So I had a wonderful time in Philly with big sister Melanie, but sadly she had to go home to her husband and children and job and left me all alone.  But no worries, baby sister Shannon and friend Ashley were coming to visit next!  Alone no longer!

Shannon and Ashley flew into Dulles while I was at work and I met them in Arlington to celebrate their arrival.  We opted to meet some of my coworkers at Rock Bottom Brewery, where we made the delicious discovery that draft beers were $1.50 on Wednesday nights.  WHAT?  So we had a lovely dinner, the girls got to meet some of my colleagues, and we had a great time catching up over many glasses of Fire Chief Ale.

I went to work the next morning (why must I always go to work?) while the ladies went out and explored DC, or as they called it, “The Capitol”.  (Hunger Games reference.)  They took about 8 billion selfies (quite the Snapchatters…I still don’t even really understand what Snapchat is?  Is it supposed to be two words?  Snap Chat or snapchat?)  in front of various national monuments, my favorites are as follows:

capitol4 capitol3 capitol2



They had an awesome, jam-packed day and walked all over the district, so that night we stayed in (MY FAVORITE, NO I’M NOT KIDDING) and watched movies and got Italian food delivered straight to the room.

I talk a big game, pretending I like living in big cities because of the culture, the mass transit, the mass of people all around.  I’ll be honest with you, the best perk is delivery food.  Not even slightly kidding.

So, anyway.  The next day the girls discovered Georgetown while again, I went to work.  They loooooved the area, did some eating, shopping, and people watching, and I picked out a nice 7 Million Dollar penthouse for Shannon to live in when she becomes a rich and famous doctor.

That night we decided to go big since we stayed in the night before, and we were introduced to the deliciousness that is Ray’s the Steaks (and I’m not just talking about the clever name.)  Food was incredible, steaks come with family style creamed spinach and mashed potatoes (unlimited!) and we also split one order of a cast iron mac and cheese that would make you weep.  Shannon selected a bottle of red wine for the table, and my status of “not a wine person” is still accurate.


The next morning we braced ourselves for the Shamrock Crawl, a HUGE barcrawl throughout Arlington that was within walking distance of my apt.  We dressed in our best Irish gear and followed the masses to the bars nearby to meet our friend Paul.  We hopped to a few bars, but ultimately the lines got SO long that we decided to settle on one bar/grill, and just hung there for the day so we wouldn’t spend half of the day waiting in line to get in.  (Everything was 1 in 1 out by about 4:00pm.)  Check out the line outside Rooftop:


They were smart and sold beer to the people waiting in line in the beer garden

We made some friends with some ladies who had snagged the best booth in the bar, and we sat around with them, people watched, enjoyed $2 Yuenglings and had a great time, despite the lack of Irish music being played.  As the hours passed by, we headed to Adams Morgan for some karaoke at Muzette with some of my coworkers.  I had NEVER done karaoke like this before, we literally were ushered into our own private room and we spent the next two hours passing around the mic, picking any song that sounded fun, and had many sing-alongs as a group.  I’ve gotta say I think I prefer the traditional karaoke bars, but if I feel like giving a private concert for $80 an hour I know where to spend my $$.  By this point in the night we were spent, and took a cab home to sleep and sleep and sleep.


Woke up the next morning, sad that Shannon and Ashley had to head home that day.  After the bar crawl, we found ourselves craving less than healthy food options, so we strolled down the street to Wilson’s Tavern to eat some lunch.  We decided to just split some appetizers, and (no joke) this was our menu:

Cheese Sticks * Bacon Cheese Fries * Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla * Mac and Cheese

regret nothing

The girls flew home that afternoon, and I was so sad to see them go, ladies thank you for coming to see me and helping me explore the area!  And thus ended my streak of non-stop visitors.  Sad for my heart, but good for my health, as I need to stop going out to eat.  Maybe I can try to eat some plants and other things that come from the earth.  Seems like a solid plan.

G-G-G-Going to PHILLY!

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So anyone who follows How I Met Your Mother knows that in season 1, the gang goes to Philly.

So Melanie decided to come visit me, and asked if I’d like to take a road trip over the weekend.  We looked at our options and decided we’d spend a day in Philadelphia, exploring the city and eating cheesesteaks.  So we hopped on the interstate and began our journey.  Here’s a funny little quirk about traffic on the East Coast.  Throughout my life, whenever I’ve run into stopped traffic, it tends to be due to an accident, construction, lane reductions, things on fire in the next lane, etc.  Here things just stop for NO REASON.  Our journey to Philly was no exception, we were caught in crawling traffic for over an hour, and then it just dissolved randomly.  I will never think that’s ok, and I will never get used to it.  Do better, East Coast.  Also, I would like to mention that tolls are the devil.  An $8 toll?  EIGHT DOLLARS?!  To drive on a street?

So we FINALLY got to Philly, and my GPS in its infinite wisdom decided to drop us near the sports complexes in South Philly, where we were greeted by traffic for the Georgetown/Villanova game.  GAH.  So then we got past that mess, and made our way through the south part of the city and up towards the city center where our hotel was.  This is when I saw ANOTHER strange situation: in South Philly people just park right in the middle of the road, right in the median.

That string of parked cars? Yeah they’re in the median/turn lane. Facing different ways too. Totally bonkers.

I had never witnessed this before, so I asked a buddy of mine who grew up in PA and he explained to me that there was an entire TV show dedicated to this phenomenon on A&E: Parking Wars.  It all makes sense now.

So we FINALLY get to the hotel, and find that the parking garages in the area are booked, the streets are full of people, and the neighborhood is basically going crazy.  Why?  Oh, because the Philadelphia Flower Show is in town.

So, we FINALLY find a parking spot (after leaving my poor Camry at what seemed to be a pretty questionable parking garage, where I neglected to even check the price before handing my keys over to a complete stranger), we dropped off our bags at the hotel, and decided that we needed a cheesesteak and we needed it now.

Instead of opting for the famous Pat’s or Geno’s for lunch, we decided to walk to the nearby Reading Terminal Market to choose from the HUGE number of merchants that were selling everything from sandwiches to smoothies to jerky to homemade doughnuts to gyros, you name it, you could find it there.  And we did.


A little crowded

A little crowded

So we elbowed our way through the crowd and made our way to Carmen’s for a well-deserved cheesesteak.  So having done my research, I knew exactly how to order my cheesesteak so that the nice people in Philly would not mock me for my etiquette.  For instance, you don’t say you want a “Philly Cheesesteak” because that is a given.  If you want onions, you say “wit”, for no onions, you say “without.”  If you want cheese, you should specify what kind in an abbreviated manor (for instance, mine was Cheese Whiz…not even sorry…and I ordered it as WIZ WITHOUT.)  Melanie ordered PROV WIT.  Both were outstanding.

The line was impressive but they were quick!

The line was impressive but they were quick!

How they kept track of your order, they'd call out your card when your order is up

How they kept track of your order, they’d call out your card when your order is up

Favorite moment: girls on the bar next to us asked for a fork.  Woman behind the counter was HORRIFIED.

Favorite moment: girls on the bar next to us asked for a fork. Woman behind the counter was HORRIFIED.


So we thoroughly enjoyed our main course, and made our way around the market for more goodies.  Ate the BEST doughnut of my life at Beilers (warm apple fritter, OMG) and bought some homemade candy from the nice Amish booths we found.  Food everywhere, if you’re in the area go spend a whole day there, just maybe don’t pick a Saturday when the flower show is in town.  Oh and if you are looking for a good gift idea for me in the future, this will do just fine:



So we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown, seeing some pretty gorgeous buildings, interesting statues/sculptures, and a lot of annoying skateboarders.


City Hall, kept getting shooed away from the building as they were shooting a movie or TV show there


Purdy church


Brotherly Love


A church? Opera house? Nope, this is Macy’s

I scored a pretty excellent deal at the Loews Hotel so we went back to the room to rest up, get pretty, and head to dinner.  After a lovely dinner of Thai food at Spice 28 (best green beans EVER!) we headed to the 33rd floor of our hotel to have a cocktail and take in the view.  IMG_3196


So either this telescope was broken or neither of us were smart enough to use it

So we were finishing up our drinks, then out of the corner of my eye I see a group walk into the bar…and I gasp.  In walks Maulik Pancholy.  Who, you ask?  Well he plays Jonathan, Jack’s assistant on one of my favorite shows of all time: 30 ROCK!!


So, did I go talk to him?  Did I get a photo of him or with him?  Am I even 100% sure it was him?  Well.


But I’m PRETTY SURE and therefore I’m sticking with it.  He was wearing a tux and was with friends and his mother I think and the last thing I wanted to do was interrupt his evening, so I took a mental picture and left the bar, armed with my awesome story of how I’m pretty sure I think I may have seen a not very well known celebrity.  I have a fabulous life, you know.

UPDATE: After a mild bit of Twitter stalking, I have confirmed that yes indeed, Maulik was attending a gala in the hotel that night, and as I expected, he was there with his mother.  I SAW A CELEBRITY and I’m glad that I wasn’t crazy for thinking it was him.


So the next morning we did the standard iconic Philly historical stuff, including seeing the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the site of Benjamin Franklin’s house, etc.  Overall it was great to see these historically significant places and I’m glad we did it.


I really wanted to lick the Liberty Bell, but did not. Maybe someday.


Independence Hall



So we spent a good part of the day in Philly, then decided we’d had enough and it was time to head back home.  It was a short trip but I’m glad we made it.  I’m  happy to use these next couple months seeing cities on the East Coast, this one is marked off the list.  Thanks to Mel for coming to visit and going on this little adventure with me, see you at Easter!!


In and around DC

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So I moved to the DC area in early Feb, and it seems that I’m spending every waking moment in class, doing homework, reading, doing post research, etc.  But I managed to fit in a little sight-seeing around the East Coast in my free time, my mom and Nate visited and we explored a bit and ate some awesome things.  That really why I travel, so I can eat things.

So we found ourselves with a 60 degree day, and decided to spend it at Mt Vernon, George Washington’s home.  And wouldn’t you know it, we showed up on “The General’s” 282nd Birthday.

The back of the estate

The back of the estate

The trip was actually pretty insightful, for instance I had no idea that Martha was a widow when she met Mr. Washington, and that George never had any legitimate children of his own.  The main house was broken up into several smaller rooms, my favorite was easily the casual dining room, with its bright green walls and black and white checkered floor.  Mark my words, if I ever find myself owning some kind of grand estate, I will be decorating one room in this fashion.  (Sorry, no photos, they weren’t allowed.)

Some other highlights for the trip were the “Dung Repository” (compost pile) and the “Necessary” (outhouse.)   Again, my apologies for the lack of photos, but did you really need to see those?  Use your imagination.


We took the rest of the afternoon and headed briefly to Arlington National Cemetery.  I tell you, this place gets me every time.  The sheer number of headstones, seemingly going on for miles and miles.  A completely humbling and stunning experience, if you’ve never been, make sure you add this to your next trip to the area.


JFK and Jackie Kennedy are buried at Arlington as well, marked by an “Eternal Flame,” similar to the one marking the French Unknown Soldier in Paris.  The site was chosen based on a statement that JFK once made, stating that the view of DC was so magnificent that he “could stay forever.”  Below is a photo of the grave (with stones from Cape Cod), after that is the view of the District from the grave site.  Pretty fitting, if you ask me.

Kennedy Graves and the Eternal Flame

Eternal Flame


We made it just in time for the final public Changing of the Guard, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  If you want to learn more about these guys, this link has some great info.  There is a ton of misinformation floating around about the Honor Guard (rumors that they can’t swear ever again, that they live under the tomb, etc), the guard does an amazing job maintaining the dignity of such a position.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard


The next day we headed to the basilica, with the very long title “Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”  Apparently this is the largest Catholic Church in North America, and while the tile work was certainly gorgeous, I’m sorry but I gotta give the edge to the St. Louis basilica here.  Though there was one section that I really loved, one of the little side chapels.  We lit a candle for Uncle Dean after mass and took in all of the amazing details of the church.

IMG_3048** Side note: as we were leaving I saw Newt Gingrich leaving his SUV and walking into the church.  Now I don’t know if it’s just me, but I tend to think older political types look preeeeeeetty similar so I asked my mother to confirm, she decided indeed it was Newt.  We were vindicated when some tourists asked for a photo with him a few moments later.  Oh Newt.  What a great name.

We then headed for Annapolis, Maryland, to enjoy another gorgeous day, and to maybe eat some crab and see some boats.  We headed to Galway Bay Irish Pub, partially because they had good reviews but mostly because I like things that remind me of my trip to Galway, Ireland.  We enjoyed some Guinness and some seafood.  As it turns out, I really don’t care for oysters, even when deep fried.  Boogers, they look like boogers.  However, the scallops were fab.


We walked around the area, not sure if it’s called Old Town or Downtown or Cute Red Brick Street area, but we picked up some locally-made pottery, and strolled along the pier to look at all the sailboats.  Every time I see a large group of sailboats, I will forever refer to it as a Regatta Gala.


Rachel: What kind of a regatta gala starts at night?
Monica: The fake kind.

I have kind of a deep-seated anger about boat shoes being worn in the Midwest, but as it turns out Nate was wearing them this particular day, and I complimented him on his appropriate choice of footwear.  See, I’m not a hater, I just think that boat shoes belong on or around boats.  Not cornfields.IMG_3062
Sadly I had to work the next day, so I didn’t get to join mom and Nate on their museum visits, but they really enjoyed the Natural History Museum and the Newseum, so I’ve got those on my list.  We headed out to the District one night, and decided to hit up Billy Martin’s Tavern, a Georgetown institution made famous when JFK proposed to Jackie in one of their booths.  (Side note, our waiter said that people reserve that particular booth all the time to propose to their girlfriends, in his words “It still works!”)  I enjoyed a GREAT porkchop with swiss chard, sauteed apples and potatoes.  Worth the hefty price tag.  There was also a Truman booth, a Madelaine Albright booth, etc.




On the way back to my apartment, we swung by Georgetown Cupcake for a little sweet treat.  This spot has a special place in my heart, when I came to DC for my interview my family had sent a dozen up to my hotel room so they’d be waiting for me, with little green four-leaf clovers on them.  So it seemed only fitting that I get a cupcake the night before Flag Day!  I enjoyed a Chocolate Lava Cupcake for breakfast the following morning and then got my Sarajevo flag later that day.  Coincidence?  Doubt it.

My family headed home the next day to make it back for my Uncle’s services and I was so sad to see them go, and also so sad not to be going myself.  Family, I’ll be home for Easter so I hope to see you all then!

Happily I have my big sister Melanie visiting me this weekend (g-g-g-going to PHILLY!!) and later next week, my little sister Shannon and her friend Ashley will visit as well (WOO!!)  I love my family and the fact that they don’t mind trekking across the country to come see me.

So, enough procrastination, back to dumb things like laundry and paying bills.  Thanks for reading!

Flag Day

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So the big day finally arrived, Flag Day!  I gave my list of preferences to my Career Development Officer (CDO) and reminded her that she held my fate in her hands like a tiny bird…she laughed and assured me that whatever happened, I was going to have an adventure.

So we showed up on Tuesday, filed into the wood lobby of the Foreign Service Institute, and waited for the news.

flag day1

I sat patiently (or not so patiently) as our speaker randomly announced the nation’s flag, the name of the position, and then who would be assigned there.  I heard as my top posts were announced, as well as my bottom ones, and realized that my #1 hadn’t been announced yet.  As luck would have it, fate smiled upon me that day and I literally did a Tiger Woods fist pump (I wish I was kidding) as it was announced that I would be heading to Sarajevo!!

flag day2

So, if you’re like most of my friends and family, when you hear the word Sarajevo, your head immediately goes to the early 90’s, when the city endured the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.  In fact, if you Google Sarajevo, this is the first photo that will pop up:


However, modern Sarajevo has become quite different in the 20 years that followed their terrible war, and the city is recovering and trying to look forward.  From winding roads full of Cafes, to Olympic skiing, to cultural events and museums, the city is ever-improving.  There are currently protests against the local government taking place by Bosnians who are tired of low employment rates and wages, but thus far I am optimistic that it would be a great tour, and I’ll be perfectly safe.  In fact, please visit me!!!  Bosnia has tons of stuff to do, and if you look at the location on a map, you’ll realize that I am VERY close to the following places:

Dubrovnik, Croatia


Budapest, Hungary

Istanbul, Turkey

Transylvania, Romania (Yes this is Dracula’s castle…)

These are just to name a few!  There are so many other places that will be a short drive or plane ride away, and I’m so excited to explore a part of the world that I hadn’t yet dreamed of.  I’ll follow up with some specifics on Sarajevo at a later date (including some of the hardships I’ll face) but for now, I’m thrilled with my future post, and look forward to my arrival in late July 2014!

flag day3

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…