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.”

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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:

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capitol

Weirdos

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY

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.

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

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Purdy church

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Brotherly Love

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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

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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!!

jonathan

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.

No.

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.

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

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Independence Hall

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‘MERICA!!

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!!

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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.

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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

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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.  https://tombguard.org/society/faq/  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.

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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.

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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.

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Porkchaaaaaps

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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.

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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!!

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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:

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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

Montenegro

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!

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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.

6 Reviews later and I ALMOST have a job offer

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So I got some good news today!  My file had been reviewed 5 times so far by various groups within the Department of State, but this final review was the only thing keeping me from becoming a fully-vetted candidate and being placed on the “register,” and it came through today!!  😀  6 Reviews and approvals later and I ALMOST have an official job offer.

But wait….didn’t I post on Facebook that I’d already been through my final review? 

Why yes, yes I did…my bad.  A little mixup lead me to believe I was done with the process, but as it turns out they needed another look at my file.  I don’t know if it was my international travel or my recent obsession with Thai food, but they felt the need to look into my background a little more and make sure I was a good fit for the position.  Luckily after almost 3 months (in a review that typically takes 2 weeks) they gave me the final stamp of approval, saying I was Foreign Service material, and that I was now officially a candidate.

So from here, I have another bit of waiting to do.  Due to all of the budget shenanigans going on in DC, things in the federal government are trying to play catch-up, so they can’t officially sign off when the next training class will be, or how many from my specialty (IT support) they will choose for that class.  They could take all of us, a few of us, or none of us, it totally depends on the needs of the department.  In all likelihood I am PROBABLY going to receive a spot in the training class that begins in January, though it isn’t even remotely set in stone.

My placement on the register is ranked according to the score I received at my interview that took place in July.  (OK yes it was my “oral assessment” but people keep turning that into an innuendo so now I’m just going to call it my interview…you dirty birds.)  You can receive bonus points (and therefore a better placement) if you are a veteran or speak one of the foreign languages they are looking for (Chinese, Arabic, Korean, etc…they don’t care about my limited German…Was ist deine Telefonnummer?).   You can spend up to 18 months on a register awaiting placement, and if you don’t get a position within that time frame, you are dropped as a candidate and have to start the process allllll over.  Now the score I received was pretty solid , but I didn’t receive any bonus points, so I estimate that I am somewhere in the top half of the list…my chances of making it for the next class are pretty good.  I can’t imagine going through this whole ordeal and not getting a placement…ouch.  Let’s just assume it won’t happen, ok?  My poor heart couldn’t handle it.

Once I receive an offer to attend the training class, and I accept the position, I’ll go through the process of moving to DC for training.  I’ll do a follow-up post on how that stuff goes later.  For now I’m going to just keep smiling and being excited about making this far….WOO!

And now, we wait

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So, as of 8/8, my file has been sitting in the Final Review Panel.  Since the rest of my hiring actions took place at breakneck speeds, I perhaps naively thought that this part would be a breeze too.  Alas, the bureaucracy of working for the man has caught up with me, and no update is available on my particular file.  Many phone calls and emails have given me one frustrating answer: “We don’t know what’s taking so long.”  I honestly have a squeaky clean past so I can’t really think of anything they’d need to investigate.

I mean look at her.  How could you NOT want to send her abroad?  She's so WORLDLY!

I mean look at her. How could you NOT want to send her abroad? She’s so WORLDLY!

The 2014 Fiscal Year begins 1 October, so the last training class for Foreign Service Specialists begins on 9 September, and at this point it look like I am not going to make that cutoff.  While it’s hard to sit around and be patient to get this show on the road, really this is a blessing.  Since the next class will likely start in January, I’ll get to put in plenty of time at work getting my ducks in a row, save some money (the summer was spend furloughed so I was being frugal), I’ll get to take a trip to the Dominican Republic (NOT MEXICO) over Thanksgiving, and will get to spend another Christmas at home with my family.  Hard to be mad at that, amiright?

One huge issue I’m dealing with is handing over my dance coach responsibilities.  I took over the McKendree University Dance Team in summer 2009, and they have been a huge part of my life ever since.  I am tremendously proud of the group of young women I got to coach, and the thought of walking away just about breaks my heart.  I know it’s the right choice, quite honestly I was feeling like I had taken the team about as far as I could personally, so it’s time for new, fresh talent to come in and experience the same joy and pride that I got to experience for the past 4 years.  I so look forward to seeing these ladies and what they will accomplish down the road, and I have every intention of jetting down to Florida for NDA Nationals to cheer them on!

Looking forward to the next few months, some quality time spent with family and friends sounds like just what I need!