Sunday, December 29, 2013

Odds and Ends...

  • We are closing in on our fourth week here in Tbilisi. I'm slowly getting settled in at the job, and I think Deb and the kids are getting settled in at the house. I feel bad for them, I go somewhere each day, while they are stuck at home. Plus, up here in Z-town it is somewhat far away from anyplace. So to get to the store, we have to hitch a ride or take a cab (taking a cab isn't that expensive, it is like 5 Lari or so to get to the local Goodwill - a German supermarket) until our car gets here.
  • Some of our neighbors let us borrow one of their cars this weekend while they are out of town. Deb went to Goodwill yesterday, and today all four of us went to Carrefour at the Tbilisi Mall. I drove, and we survived. Granted it isn't a far drive, but you do have to be aggressive and defensive at the same time while driving here.
  • Carrefour was CRAZY today. We ran in to a few coworkers and the common consensus was it was the craziest people had ever seen. This week you have New Years, Georgian New Years and Georgian Christmas so I'm sure most of the crowds were there doing their last minute shopping. Mason got a little overwhelmed by the crowds (and lack of personal space). The big plus about shopping today was we got our Diplomatic ID's on Friday. By having those, we no longer have to pay VAT on purchases (which is something like 14%). It does save us some money and makes shopping a little cheaper.
  • After our shopping, we walked around the Tbilisi mall and had lunch at a Burger King there. One thing Deb and I noticed about the mall was it seemed a lot of people smoked inside of it (in fact, Deb went to the restroom and two women were in there smoking. They quickly went in to stalls - I guess smoking was not permitted in the restroom - Deb said there were quite a few no smoking signs in there). I've found that smoking is a lot more prevalent here than in the US.
  • Burger King wasn't bad, though I thought the burger was a bit dry. However it was nice to eat a piece of "America". And I was reminded that Europeans typically don't have ice in their drinks, but the soda was cold so it was fine.
  • One thing that has been wearing on us is our UAB shipment. UAB is Unaccompanied Air Baggage. We were allotted about 700lbs of UAB, and we have items such as good pillows, good sheets, our iMac, Drobo etc. Well it has been sitting in Cologne Germany for close to 3 weeks now and no movement. Our UAB was suppose to have been here last Friday, then on Sunday then no one knew. I finally reached out to transportation in DC to find out what was going on, and quickly heard back. They were annoyed that the shipment hadn't arrived yet (they were told it was suppose to arrive on the 20th and had not been notified it had been delayed). The transportation company replied that due to heavy volumes it had been bumped was suppose to arrive yesterday, the 28th. 10 years working with a shipping line has had it's advantages, as I've found the shippers tracking website and have been monitoring the shipment. It is still showing in Cologne. I'm hoping that the site hasn't been updated and it has actually arrived in Tbilisi, but I think it hasn't. I'm going to have to send another email tomorrow inquiring on the status, and if it's not here yet I'm not sure what I'm going to do. We have ocean freight that has already arrived in country and I'm partially expecting it to be delivered here this week. That's pretty sad that ocean freight may beat air freight.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Santa Claus and Tovlis Papa

Merry Christmas!

Tovlis Papa (or თოვლის პაპა in Georgian) is Snow Grandfather, a Christian gift-bringing figure in the Caucascus area of Europe (well according to wikipedia.....) and you know who Santa and we are......

Christmas has come and gone in our household....but the country of Georgia celebrates the orthodox Christmas on Jan it's the holiday season that doesn't end......well at least not until next year. It was quite surreal to run to the grocery store on Christmas day and everything was open and like any other day....

I will try and resist de-Christmasfying the house until at least the Georgian Christmas (that should allow some late straggling gifts that have been sent to arrive and be opened around the tree as well), but it will be tough given I've taken the tree down on the 25th Now if only some our belongings (such as the UAB shipped 3 1/2 weeks ago....meant to take 2-3 weeks) will arrive and it will feel just like Christmas being reunited with our belongings.....the joys of this new adventure.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Made It!

After what seemed like a series of flights that would never end (adding to the fun getting very little sleep on the flights) we have finally made it to Tbilisi.  We left a week ago last Sunday. Tbilisi doesn't have many flights, the primary way of traveling here is via Munich. However, if you go that way you get the joy of spending somewhere between 9-13 hours in the airport since the Lufthansa flight in to Tbilisi doesn't leave until after 9pm Munich time (and gets in to Tbilisi after 4am!). However, the great people at the State travel office found a flight on KLM/Delta that would only give us a 3 hour layover in Amsterdam! The rub is we would have to leave on a Sunday since Georgian Airways (our connecting flight to Tbilisi) had only 2 flights a week between Amsterdam and Tbilisi - Friday and Monday. So we opted to leave early and depart on a Sunday....

Well just over a week ago, a winter storm descended on the Northeast and snow and ice started to fall in Washington DC. We kept an eye out to see if our flight would be delayed, but we lucked out and it wasn't (whereas quite a few other flights that day, and then later that week quite a few of my classmates who were departing to their respective post got delayed due to the storm). Deb's dad picked us up from the Oakwoods and took us to Dulles. We had to get a cab to take some of our luggage and Mason rode with me in the cab. We had a total of close to 13 pieces of luggage, which made for an interesting check in....

We arrived at Dulles. We were dropped off at the Delta entrance but then had to ferry all our luggage to check in with KLM. We knew we were over our "free" allotment of luggage and were going to have to pay for the extra pieces (State authorizes 2 pieces of luggage per person, so we should get reimbursed for the 1 extra piece per person). However, we still had to pay for it all. The lady with KLM started to argue with me about our amount of luggage and I wasn't sure if she was trying to talk me out of taking them?! I finally had to say "look, I'm going on a two year work assignment. Unless you are going to ship them for free I have to take this luggage and I'm fine paying with it!". Total tab before reimbursement, $975!

Since we had some time to blow before our flight, Deb and I had some free United lounge passes we decided to use. It was nice to get some snacks and drinks and charge up our various iDevices before boarding the plane. Soon enough, it was time to board the flight. We knew our flight was going to be full, and since we had 2 carry on bags per person, the KLM gate agent gate-checked some of our bags free of charge. We did have one casualty as a result - we had Deb's laptop in one of the bags (outside pocket) and now the lcd panel no longer works, probably as a result of getting thrown around by the luggage handlers. The employee checking our bags told the kids there would a surprise onboard, which prompted Mason to ask the first flight attendant he saw on the plane for it (which she had no clue what he was asking for). Once the doors were shut and the plane was being prepped for departure, the flight attendants did come by with a little goody bag for the kids. It was a drawstring bag with a finger puppet, some colored pencils and activity pages (trip passport/diary type thing). Due to the previously mentioned weather, departure took a little longer than usual as the plane needed to be de-iced.

The KLM flight was relatively uneventful. We all enjoyed watching the flight tracker. After we ate, Deb tried getting Clarissa to get some sleep and made a pallet for her on the floor. Just as Clarissa fell asleep the flight attendant came by and told Deb that Clarissa couldn't sleep on the floor. Getting picked up woke Clarissa up and caused her to have a complete meltdown, crying kicking and screaming. I decided to switch places with Deb and let Clarissa sleep on my lap - Deb was at her wits end, mad at the flight attendant for causing her to wake up Clarissa, tired and unable to do anything to calm Clarissa down. Clarissa fell asleep in my lap, and Deb got some dozing (along with Mason, who had made Deb his bed). Oh, personally I got a little ticked at the lady sitting in front of Mason. As soon as we were airborne she reclined her seat fully right in to Mason's lap. Then once we started our descent in to Amsterdam, she told the flight attendant she needed to sit in the front of the plane because she needed to be the first off or she'd miss her connection. So when she went up front, she kept her empty seat fully reclined (which the flight attendants didn't fix when they did their final walkthrough before landing).

We got in to Amsterdam. First stops were to grab some breakfast and brush the funk off our teeth. Schipol has a kids play area, so we let the kids run around there to burn off some energy before we caught our next flight. Interesting thing was you go through security again at each individual gate. Luckily we hadn't brought any food but the partially drank bottles of water had to be abandoned to get on the plane.

Our next leg was on Georgian Airways - which was interesting to say the least. The plane wasn't even 1/4 of the way full, so Deb stayed with Clarissa and Mason and I had our own rows. Only one of the two bathrooms on the plane was in operation, and the working bathroom, appeared as though it got skipped on cleaning when the plane was turned around (time wasn't an issue, since the plane was parked and unloaded before we ever arrived). There were "liquids" on the floor, and they kept running out of toilet paper (I think the last hour or two there was none in it).

When they served "lunch" you really didn't have a choice. Mason and Deb had some pasta with a couple saucy meat like chunks to the side (even though vegetarian had been ordered), I had some couscous and a meat like substance. I ate it all because I was starving, I don't think Deb and Mason ate much of theirs. Clarissa and Deb fell asleep and slept most of the flight, Mason slept a good portion of it. I didn't get any sleep. After a 4-5 hour flight we prepared for landing in to Tbilisi. We came in over the snow covered mountains and landed in our new home.

Some embassy staff and my office sponsor met us at the airport and helped us through Customs. Georgia takes a digital photo of everyone who comes through, and Clarissa decided she didn't want her photo taken. We finally got through customs and claimed all of our bags. We had checked Clarissa's car seat and put it in the car (Embassy staff won't drive a child who is not in their car seat). Clarissa decided she didn't want to be in the car seat and proceeded to have meltdown #2. We finally got her buckled in and started to make our way to our new home. Which will be a post of its own!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Not Everything Transfers...

Prior to joining the Dept. of State this past July, I was working for a few months for the Dept. of Navy in Charleston SC. It was only 5-6 months, but I did accrue a little bit of vacation/sick leave (that originally I planned to use for our 5 year anniversary trip in July to Hawaii, but DoS came a'callin...) as well as a little bit in my retirement account. Plus, I had my health insurance (including dental, vision, dependent care/flexible spending account). I was told that everything would automatically transfer over. Come to find out, not everything transfers over (at least without some help).

When you start with the Dept., you are told it can take a few weeks for your first paycheck to show up. That's fine, as that usually is the case with most new jobs (you have to be put in to the payroll system, etc). When I got my first paycheck, I saw that my portion of my health care had been deducted from my check, but nothing showing my dental, vision, dependent care/flexible spending account. I emailed State HR to find out what was up, and also called Benefeds (they are the party that manages dental and vision) as well as FSAFeds. Come to find out, I had to call them to let them know I changed agencies. Kind of opposite from the "everything transfers"I was told....

It took me a few weeks to get that straightened out, but finally my dental, vision, dependent care/flexible spending is now being deducted as I signed up for.

Next up, vacation and sick leave. I'm sure at some point it would have transferred over, but some classmates of mine found the quick way (if you are just starting, don't do this first thing. Wait a few pay periods and if nothing has transferred yet go this route). First, make sure you have your FINAL Leave and Earnings (L&E) statement from your previous agency. I didn't have access to my old payroll system so I had to jump through a few hoops but I finally got it. Next send a copy of the L&E statement to "Pay Help" letting them know you you transferred from another agency and you would like them to transfer your sick and vacation balances. Presto, they will transfer it over and you will see it on your State L&E statement within 1-2 pay periods.

Other than the dental/vision and FSA portion, I'm sure the vacation and sick leave would have eventually transferred over. The rest, well it doesn't automatically "transfer over"....

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pin Cushion

Part of the joy of being in the Foreign Service is you get to get vaccinated for oh...everything before you go to post (and sometimes in between posts). I stopped by the medical center today during our lunch break to drop off Deb and the kids vaccination records. I cannot find mine, and my doctor does not have them in my files.

When I dropped Deb and the kids records off, the nurse asked if I  had mine. I told her I didn't and my doctor couldn't find them. She then got an evil look on her face and started laughing.  Looks like I'm getting everything (at a minimum I estimate 5 shots on my first round)!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Half Way....

So we when driving up to DC back in mid-July, we had no idea how long we would be here. It made it tricky for deciding what clothes to bring (well not too tricky, winter isn't very cold in SC....we don't really have any winter clothes). By the end of July though, we knew where we were going and our approximate departure date. So the other day, Richard and I realized that we are about 2.5 months into a 5 month stay.....while it seems we've been here a while (as well as just got there)'s almost time for us to move on as well....eek!

We have done a good bit while here in DC: 2 trips to the National Zoo, 2 trips to Wheaton Park (Clarissa is in love with train and carousel rides), innumerable trips to Smithsonian museums, Lincoln's cottage (who knew Lincoln was the first commuting president!), tons and tons of walks to the close by playground (as well as scope out new playgrounds), hang out with my brother and his family and my parents. The kids have started swim lessons, dance, gymnastics, and scouts (anybody want some popcorn?!?) to summarize....normal, crazy busy (and I used to fit work into that).

Oh....btw the way, I have been working on those last two blog posts for a while....bits and pieces here and there. I have no clue whatsoever how people with multiple school age kids can homeschool them all at once. I am just working with Mason (and its an online school, I don't have to plan anything just go through the assignments with him). Since we need to finish the semester before our departure date, I'm going to have to do a little double time to finish a few of the courses.....eek! Hopefully (especially once I'm done with consumables/HHE pack out), I will have more time to blog.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Doing Science....

I'm a science big surprise to anyone who knows me. I take pride in being a fountain of useless knowledge of science factoids (how many people really know that spanish moss and pineapples are in the same plant family...didn't think so). I even subscribe to an online magazine just to get cool science research fixes......

I've had my fair share of fun field (and lab) work since college....working on fishing boats in Alaska (well technically in international waters, since I think I only was on land maybe 4 days the whole 2 months I was up there), circumnavigating Catalina Island for dolphin research on 3 day trips, pipetting like a pro at the genetics name just a few, but you get the picture. I think my favorite field work has been helping with the HERA dolphin situ field work at its best.

Cliffnotes version.....dolphins are sentinels for humans. Given we can't (easily) get permits to draw blood, remove blubber (I would gladly donate some though!), and poke and prod to check the health of humans based on contaminant loads, dolphins are the next best thing. Given dolphins live the water we play in and eat a lot of the same fish and shrimp we do, by checking out them it gives us a way to guesstimate/correlate to human health. If dolphins in an area are healthy then the sea food is probably okay for humans to consume frequently.

Anywho, back to the story. I was able to help when I was a graduate student with the dolphin captures back in 2003 and 2005 (I was preggo in 2004.....since dolphins can carry toxoplasmosis (ie reason you don't have kitty litter duty while pregnant) I couldn't go out due to the safety of Mason growing in my tummy). Teaching high school chemistry, put a bit of a damper on my field work opportunities (and field trips would make me miss it so much). So, when asked if I could volunteer and help with photo-ID, I jumped at the opportunity.

Being on the photo-ID team, meant riding in style on the catch boat. This particular boat had wet areas to stand and wetter areas to stand....staying dry while on the boat pretty much wasn't an option. While showering when under way, we watched for dolphins. As part of the photo-ID team our jobs were to make sure the dolphins hadn't been previously capture this week (we'd put pink and blue tags on them which can be seen from a distance), as well as make sure the dolphins were old enough to be captured. Any calf under 2 was avoided and Moms with older calves were avoid as well because they were likely pregnant! Both of these were avoided so we wouldn't put them under too much stress and cause health issues. All females were ultrasounded in the water (how cool is that) and the majority were pregnant (which is good in terms of population health!), so they would be released right away.
Looking for Dolphins
Once captured, photo-ID's job was to photo document the dolphins body. We would take pictures of healed shark bites (tons of fact one afternoon we caught 3 sharks ourselves! After untangling from the net we would throw them back....Sharknado Charleston....hee hee). We also took pictures of other body scars (stranded feeders tend to have a lot on the side they strand on), their teeth (old dolphins have lots of worn down teeth), photos of the tagging and branding of the fin, and any health ailments (infections/diseases/etc). Pretty much....we were dolphin paparazzi....up close and personal style!

Waiting to do some science :)
The white board allowed for good pictures of the
dorsal fin with a measurement scale along the side
and bottom as well removal of background
objects that could distort the fin profile.

There was a huge team of veterinarians and other scientist who were: conducting exams, monitoring the animals vitals, processing samples, etc., while we were sneaking in for pictures (and don't worry this was all done with a Federal permit allowing the harassment of marine mammals.....hence the lack of photos of our grey aquatic mammalian friends). Upon completion of the exam, the dolphins were released and monitored for an initial surfacing. Samples are sent back for distribution to different scientist/labs we were collaborating with. I feel the most interesting part will be to compare samples caught this year with samples from 10 years ago.....and we did have a number of recaptures from prior years.

For safety reasons, since the Charleston waterways vary from hard, sandy bottom to soft, pluff mud full of oysters shells, we have to wear rubber soled shoes while on the boat so we were ready to jump in the water with a moments at the end of a week....I was rocking an awesome ankle tan line (even with sunscreen reapplication bordering OCD)!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Meet me in St. Louie.....

Having grown up in St. Louis, Misery Missouri (nothing personal, just no I typically go back and visit once a year or so. I drag show the kids all the cool places there are there....which I typically don't hit them all in one visit. I still need to take the kids up in the Arch (Richard is the only one who has that pleasure so far). So kids and I (first of likely many solo flights to come) flew to St. Louis for a whirlwind trip at the beginning of August.

When we got there.....Pasta House time...yum yum yum....order the usual...Pasta Con Broccoli with no fungus mushrooms......yum yum tummy is starting to be happy again. Then we headed to the Bestie's house for the night.

Next day....St. Louis Zoo.....threw me for a loop when I grew up and moved away and had to, gasp, PAY to go to the zoo....the Zoo is free.....met my cousins Sheri and Sara and Sara's little girls.
Cousins on a Rhinoceros Beetle

Butterfly House Pretty Cool......
Then we watched a Rhino get his morning PT done....seriously, he kept running laps in this corner of his enclosure....

The 'new' sea lion exhibit was super cool with underwater tunnel walk through portion (I say new because it wasn't there the last time I was...but its 2 years or so old).

There wasn't much interest in seeing the giraffes.....until we SAW the giraffes....(I can't wait to be posted in, but then they didn't want to leave the giraffes!

 Of course, after a long morning at the zoo....time for IMO'S!!!!!!!!!!!
Big Kids....
Hard to believe they are in 1st and 3rd grades!
Then the kids and I headed over to the Science Center....had hopes of Clarissa falling asleep in the stroller dancing in my head....but she didn't....until we were driving home after meltdown 52.....

So part of the purpose of my trip was to attend the Laska Family Picnic....I hadn't attended since the summer before I left for college in Florida.....a whole 19 years ago! Its crazy how all the 'little kids' when I left are now all grown up (I haven't been to an annual Christmas party since I came back from Alaska in had been a while). Before the picnic I met up with my big brother and his family.....

Then off to the family picnic so Mason could meet the tons of cousins he never knew he had!

Here is a photo of everyone at the was maybe a third or so all the cousins. Pretty much my grandpa Joe and his two sisters....had kids and their kids had kids and their kid's kids had get the idea.

Next day was Sunday Funday with my Bestie and her family (since we were staying with them).
First stop was Missouri Botanical Gardens.....Carrie's favorite place is the rose garden (note her in the back of the pic.....)

I'm rather impressed with the close up feature of my iPhone....I didn't bring a camera with me on the trip.....but I couldn't resist photographing the pretty flowers....

So we went into the climatron building....made my heart pitter patter at hopes of a future post with rain forests!
My and My Bestie's Kiddos
The two in the middle were born 6 weeks apart!
Next stop, treated Carrie to her birthday Pasta House (is it bad I take her to my favorite place for her birthday?). After that, since I was jealous of some of her pub glasses (and what better way to show my pride overseas than some Anheuser-Busch Pubware?).....had Brian chauffeur me to the brewery (I don't think he minded the free beer tasting at the end). Clarissa last about 10 minutes of the tour (Clydesdale barn portion) we hung out and shopped while Mason and the rest went on the tour. The little lady and I totally scored though and got to PET a Clydesdale! They are really huge when you are up close!

Next day.....flew back to DC.....then needed a vacation to recover from vacation......not sure when I'll be back to visit again though. Hopefully next summer......

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

And the First Stop is.......

Tbilisi, Georgia (country not the state).
Image from:

It is such a relief that after months and months of being asked where we are moving to (and saying I don't know) or getting the eyebrow raise when I said I moving overseas and don't know where.....yeah.

To help you orient yourself, I found this map online:
Image from:
Now its time to plan......figure out kids clothes (how quickly will they grow and how much can I find on clearance based on the climate, which looks surprisingly similar to Charleston....except there are mountains full of snow close by to go play in during the winter!), food and toiletries we can't live without and don't want to pay an arm and a leg for (we are actually allotted 2500 lbs of said food and toiletries...called consumables, because they are so hard to find/expensive!).

Flag Day

So I sat in an auditorium waiting for the program to start.....finally, the standing room only auditorium quieted when the mike was turned on. Introductions of everyone on stage, a short speech by a member of the specialist class. And finally the part everyone was waiting on....a completely random mixed up presentation of flags.....I picked up on Richard's CDO (its the gov't, would you expect anything less...Career Development Officer) would stand before a IMS (information management specialist) flag was announced. \

So when she stood up, I hit record.....I apologize for the focus being on the head of couple in front of me...but I was filming with one hand and taking photos on my iPhone with the other....
And after all 95 flags were distributed (oh and Richard's was around flag was over!
Richard was part of the 130th specialist class.....the number started around the not too terribly many classes....this is an elite group of professionals!

Here is a shot of all the IMS people in Richard's class (less one guy who jetted early) with a statue of Ben Franklin on the FSI campus (looks a lot like a college campus).

Then it was off to Happy Hour to celebrate (or chase a 3 year old around in my case)!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pins and Needles

On pins and is the day of Richard's training that we are suppose to get the bid list (aka the short list of 13 possible places we will move to).....then the fun part! Research for ranking them high, medium and low based on how much and why we want to go (or prefer not to go).  Eek! Getting real now!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dear Charleston.....

It's not you, it's me....

Back in 2000, I was looking for a grad school. Nearly a year of pipetting at Sequenom, Inc (while cool and interesting well as some awesome co-workers) wrist informed me it was time to go back to school. I found you, Charleston, I found you.

August 2001, I moved here and started working on my Master's in Environmental Science (or as I joked with my students, my Master's in Tree Hugging) at College of Charleston. I did my thesis work studying the dolphins along your coast (even published it here!). I finished my degree and I worked here. You supported me, Charleston, at NOAA as a contractor and at First Baptist School as a chemistry teacher.

I fell hard for you Charleston, I fell hard. You were the perfect city in my mind....far enough south to have mild winters but not Florida getting hammered by nearly every hurricane going by. So perfect that I have lived here for nearly 12 years....the longest I've lived in any city since I graduated high school and left for college!

Having moved from California where if something better can be built, the old is torn down and to make room to build the new, I really noted and enjoyed the oldness of the area. I've absorbed the history here. The historical homes (even taught Chemistry in the basement of one), the horse drawn carriages, the ghost tours, plantation tours, sweet grass basket makers (I do love my basket!)....I could go on.

Then there is the natural history of the area (a personal favorite), Bulls Island with its nearly untouched nature; Dewees Island with the coolness of its sustainability; the dolphins I have seen frolicking about in the rivers, harbor, and along the coast; pluff mud (I could probably get by without the marsh fart though....); Francis Beidler Forest and the untouched bald cypress tress; the Angel Oak (oldest living organism this side of the Mississippi) your aura.....I love being enveloped in it; all your majestic live oak trees (even the two in our yard dropping acorns all spring)....I could go on.

Then there are your bridges....bridges, bridges everywhere. The kiddo's would ask me how long to get to ______, I'd reply we have to go over # bridges.....made the drive a little more fun... Who can forget the OLD Cooper River wonder Charleston is called the holy had to say a prayer that you would make it over every time!

Oh, dear Charleston, your food. First class. While I am still not one to indulge in sweet tea and boiled peanuts, I do enjoy the locally grown fruits and vegetables....I will miss you CSA. I fell in love with your pimento cheese (seems it is not a proper luncheon without you!). EVO, Sesame, EVO, Mustard Seed, EVO.....I may just miss you the most! While I am not a big beer drinker, the hubby will miss your local brews and growler fills....Coast you just might be missed the most by him.

Speaking of the hubby......I met my hubby here, in this city by the sea. As well as welcomed my two babies into the world here. The world is calling my name. It is waiting to be Charleston, I bid thee farewell. I wish you the best. I will come back to visit you, so this is not so much as a good bye but a see you later.


Photo by Teresa Rogers, Charleston Portrait Photography

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vacancy Announcement

If you are interested in spending quite a bit of times sitting on a plane and racking up frequent flyer points, the State Department is now hiring for a Diplomatic Courier.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Warning: Geeky Post Ahead

Soon after Deb and I got married, I found out about a real cool product by Microsoft called Windows Home Server. This was a servery operating system (based on Server 2003) that was targeted towards home users. It came with preset shared folders (Music, Pictures, Software, etc) as well as "personal" folders for each user that you set up on the server. Plus (and this was the two big selling points to me) it had an application you could "push" to Windows machines in your home environment that would "back up" those machines daily as well had a feature called "drive extender" that took all of the hard drives you installed on the server and "pooled" them together to make one "big" drive (it copied data among all the drives and if you lost one drive, your data was still protected).

You could purchase the software for $99 and I set it up on an old Dell desktop I had. We then began a process of going "all digital", ie any paper we had we scanned it to files. Time consuming, but it saved a lot of space.

Well, in typical Microsoft fashion they released a new version of Home Server and then decided to cancel the program all together. Our old server was still churning along so I kept well enough alone. That is until I got offered my position in the State Department. Our server was pushing 10 years old, and while it was working fine there was always some concern in the back of my mind on what happens if a piece of hardware dies on the server. Since it was a Dell workstation, and it had some proprietary parts, would I be able to replace them? I started searching for a new solution.

My first thought was just to buy the biggest portable USB drive I could get and dump all of our data to it. It would be small (small enough to fit in a backpack if we had to get out of town quick), and fairly inexpensive. The downside was speed (USB, even at 3.0 isn't that fast), sharing between multiple computers and what happens if the drive dies. Most of those portable drives you cannot service yourself, and if it dies you could loose all of your data.

Option 2 was build another server. I was thinking about purchasing an HP Proliant and running something like FreeNAS on it. I had used FreeNAS on a previous project as a proof of concept to set up clustering/shared storage in the lab. This would give me the opportunity to have some redundancy (multiple discs in the server) and the ability to upgrade. The downside is I would have to devote time to setting it up and configuring it. With our upcoming move, time was something I really didn't' have. Plus, it was getting on the big side, and it wouldn't be something we could quickly take with us.

A few weeks ago, I got a daily alert from every computer geeks favorite store, NewEgg. They had as a daily deal a Drobo 5N on sale for $150 off of retail price. I had been looking at Drobos for a while. It had everything I wanted (multiple drive bays, easy to set up, small/portable and had a network interface). Usually the price was out of my ballpark. However this was too good of a price to pass up. I placed the order along with an order for a Western Digital Red 2TB hard drive which was also on sale. The WD Red series are designed for NAS (Network Attached Storage), ie they are designed to be "on" 24x7x365 and have a high MTBF. In our old server I had 2 x 1TB Western Digital Green drives. the WD Green series are designed for low power consumption. I had read some reviews where people who used them in NAS devices had issues with them Green drives dropping out of the drive pool when they go in to their power save mode. I never had any problems. I decided to recycle those drives in the Drobo, so I would have a total of 3 drives (with two spare drive bays for expansion).

I got the Drobo as well as the drive in. Hooked it up and within 20 minutes it was up and running. I did the initial configurations and created shares just like we had on the Windows server. I made a copy of all our data to a USB drive we purchased, just in case something bad happened. Then I xcopied all of the files from the Windows server to the new Drobo. Within a few hours, all of our data was copied over and everything was working perfectly. All of our computers could see the Drobo and shares (we have Windows and Mac). I decommissioned the old server, re-installed XP and donated the computer to Goodwill.

So far everything is working fine with the Drobo. We have it set up in our temporary housing (ie my parents house). We will take it to DC with us for training and then it will travel with us overseas. I just ordered another 2TB WD Red drive (got in onsale from Newegg) so we will increase our storage capacity.

My next task is to try and see if a cloud storage provider will allow backups "from" the Drobo. That way we will have an offsite copy of all our data.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

IMS Vacancy Announcement

For anyone interested, Department of State has announced they are accepting applications for Information Management Specialists (IMS). This is the same position I have taken. Click the link for more information:  IMS-2013-002 IMS Vacancy

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fun Good Bye

So this afternoon we held Mason's going away just happened to be a 'House Party' as well. I signed up for a Super Soaker Party and was picked to be a host.....invite friends, get package of 5 new super soakers and a bunch of yummy new white cheddar puffed corn (went through 4 bags at the party....sent the rest home with guests). I think the 5 super soakers were a big hit....sent 3 of them home as door prizes! Here's some pictures of the crazy fun....
Aiming at the camera
The instruction of just shoot the camera not the photographer didn't go so well..... one sees me, time for a sneak attack! (watch your back!)
Aahhh man, he got you!

Little Sis in the mix....Clarissa didn't like the cold water all that much and wasn't strong enough to shoot at anyone....
Refill time!
Girls defending their castle from those boys.....
Boys plotting how to take over the castle....

I think all the kids ran around for 2 hours straight...most will hopefully sleep in tomorrow and give their dads a little father's day rest....Mason was able to pass out his 'business' cards with his contact info/ blog site (hence I'm blogging so his friends can see the fun they had!) and I confirmed their mailing addresses so they can all work on their cursive and spelling while being pen pals......Thanks to all the friends that could make it!

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Question of the day:

What does 7000 lbs of stuff look like??????????????

Friday, June 7, 2013

So it has begun...

So now that you all know the big news we were about to share that I had mentioned here . You also have a better idea as to why we started this blog to begin really drives home the why oh why we did make this blog.....because all our family and friends are going to be super far away.....(and maybe a little bit of that's what the cool kids in the FS do...).

So school and all school related events are now time for me to get a move on and getting ready to move.....the purging has begun! Some stuff is easy (that t-shirt from a certain frat party in college that has gotten a little holey over the years....adios)....other stuff is trickier, you know there may be that partly cloudy day when the sun is at a 94 degree angle and because we are now in the southern hemisphere this ____ is going to come in real handy....must say adios as well.....

In our purging, I'm trying to not donate everything to goodwill (we did make 4 trips there one weekend....oops). I want to spread the love. So, I'm trying to help organizations that really need special things. So I packed up 17 boulder holders from college/single days and shipped them off to Free the Girls ....really cool way to help those women get on their feet (which I heard about this organization from a fellow blogger....).

Next stop....all the baby stuff/toys/outgrown clothes... Lowcountry Orphan Relief. They had come down and spoke to the students at FBS and then set up collection boxes one I looked them up. They picked up one load already that we gave away our stroller, pack and play, clothes, shoes, some toys, blankets, etc. Now we are setting aside another load. They really helped us motivate Mason too....little Man has an affinity for stuffed animals as well as the memory of an in the past during our semi-annual purges I've tried and tried to get him to give up stuffed animals with no luck. A couple weeks ago, we started telling him, we can't take all his lovies with us...told him about the orphans and how giving these lovies away could mean so much to a scared kid (btw, thank you christmas movie Search for Santa Paws.....used that to help him visualize). So I am extremely proud....he found 16 lovies to give away!  The rest...well we had to sort them....we gave him the categories of storage for 2+ years, those going by boat, those going by plane, and those in your suitcase. He did a really good job (I question some decisions....but hey we took pictures and documented 'who' was going where).....then the fun bags!

That's just cool.

So our last donation destination of choice is Donation Town by searching their website, they determined that the National Children's Cancer Society will come to our house (post yard sale) and take any furniture, household goods and clothing we were unable to sell....done and done!

** <added Aug 16> When Mason was younger, he had some childhood wheezing. We haven't had to use his nebulizer for several years I found that the American Lung Association will take them. They can give them to school nurses that need them to give treatments to students so they student doesn't have to lug their machine back and forth between school and cool is that!! 

Now if we could only get our house sold......not so much a purge but a giant sigh of please say a pray, do a rain dance (TS Andrea is producing a good bit of rain, today would be perfect!), or send some positive juju this way.......

Speaking of rain...rainy day fun while also prepping the kids for some apartment living while we are in DC....

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Meanwhile in SC....

Yep, it's hurricane season. 6 days in and we're under our first Tropical Storm Warning of the season!!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Next Stop...the World!!

"It is my pleasure to formally extend to you an appointment offer to join the July 15, 2013 Specialist Orientation Class as an Information Management Specialist"!

With that, I have officially been offered (and have accepted) a position with the US State Department as an Information Management Specialist. Huh? What is this? Basically we're joining the Foreign Service. The State Departments description of what the duties of IMS are can be found here (note this is a link for an old IMS vacancy announcement).

To give you a little back story on my application process and history. I first heard of the IMS opening about 2 years ago (2011?). My first application didn't make it past the QEP. The application process is nothing like I've ever experienced before. Besides submitting a resume (which you have to do through the USAJobs, which in and of itself is an experience). The application consists of answering questions regarding your experience (not just in IT but in your professional and personal life) as well as essays. Yes essays. You submit the application, along with your resume, college transcripts, and copies of any IT certifications you may have. If you do not have a degree in some sort IT area, you have to have a certification from the Department of States "approved" certification list. I have both my CISSP and MCITP:SA/MCSA:2008, however you only need one on the list of approved certifications.

After you submit your paperwork, you wait to hear back (soon after the position closes) whether or not you meet the "minimum" qualifications (whatever those are). Your application is then passed to the Qualification Evaluation Panel, or QEP. This part can take 2-3 months, as they review in detail your application, resume, etc and determine if they think you would make a good candidate for the Foreign Service. If you pass the QEP, you get invited to travel to Washington DC, on your own dime, for an all day interview, aka the Oral Assessment (OA). During the OA, you have more essays to write, multiple choice tests, and then about a 2-3 hour face to face interview. More details on the OA process can be found on the Foreign Service Specialist Study Guide, located on the State Departments website. Anyone who has gone through this process can attest to how stressful this is. Once you are done with the face to face interview, you go back to the waiting room while the assessors calculate your scores. The OA score is on a scale of 1-7, and it is calculated based on how you do on the essays, tests and your oral interview. Usually, you need to score about a 5.3 or higher to move on (aka "pass") the OA. Once your score is calculated, they call you back and you find out your score. If you make the cutoff, you are given a tentative offer, and have a chance to talk to the assessors in a more personal setting about life in the foreign service, etc. Once you are done, you have an initial meeting with security, where you review your SF-86. The SF-86 is basically where you document your entire life history - where you have lived, worked, known, traveled, etc. One of the requirements for the Foreign Service is you have to have a Top Secret clearance. If everything is "good" you certify and release the SF-86 for DoS security to begin their background investigation on you. And just when you think you are done....

Welcome to the medical clearance! Department of State mandates that not only does the potential Foreign Service Specialist have a Class 1 Medical Clearance (aka worldwide availability), anyone who may be travelling with you has to be cleared medically as well. Basically, what you have to get is what is commonly called a "fit for duty" physical. There are all sorts of tests, blood draws, x-rays etc you and your family have to get. Deb and I were fine with the physicals, but it was stressful on Clarissa and Mason because they both had to get blood draws. Mason didn't like it, but we bribed him with some Legos he really wanted. Clarissa, that almost broke my heart. During the blood draw she was screaming and kept asking "why mommy why daddy?" I almost called off the whole thing, because as a dad I did not like seeing my daughter suffer. Half way through her draw, the blood stopped flowing and the nurse said they would have to draw in her other arm! Not fun. Clarissa also benefited from the guilt and got a trunk of sparkly princess dresses and crowns. Since I have a history of asthma and allergies, I went one step further and scheduled an appointment with my allergist. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For the past umpteen years I have been on allergy injections. When I was reviewing the document with my allergist, he did a few tests on me and determined I no longer needed to be on allergy injections!! He also took me off any medication I had and said "use it when you need to"! We submitted all of our forms and paperwork to the DoS Medical Office and within a week we all had our Class 1 Clearance! Next up...

Security Clearance! All members of the Foreign Service are required to have and maintain a security clearance. For various reasons I'm not going to go in to much detail here, but there is information online regarding the clearance process. It's not that painful. You fill out a bunch of paperwork (SF-86) on your life going back a certain number of years (employment history, life history, where you've lived, people who know you, etc). You submit the initial documentation when/if you pass the OA in DC. Roughly 30 days or so after your OA (again if you pass), you are then contacted by a Diplomatic Security officer to schedule your face to face interview. He/she will go over the documents with you, discuss any points they may find/need clarification on, confirm the information on the acquaintances you mentioned, and then they will start doing their research. Usually this takes a few weeks, and then they compile their findings in to a report and send it in to DoS for adjudication. This process and the time it takes for adjudication is somewhat a mystery. It can take up to a few weeks or a few months. Once your clearance is granted...

Congratulations, you've made it on the register. The register is the list of people (for the position you applied for) who have made it through all of the hoops I mentioned above. Your ranking on the register is the score you got at the OA plus any foreign language points and/or prior military service. I didn't have any of the later, but my OA score was a 5.9 (out of possible 7). You can contact the registrars office to find out your ranking. I was 4 out of 19 people, so I knew that I was almost definitely going to get called for the next Specialist class.  Now it was just waiting on the next class to get announced...

And that leads us to where we are today. At the beginning of May I got the official "offer" to join the next Foreign Service Specialist Class, which is scheduled for July 17. Once you accept the offer, there are more forms to fill out, and preparation to begin. We are in the midst of trying to sell out house (anyone want to buy a house?!), schedule our pack out date (one perk of the State Department, if you are in the Foreign Service they send movers to pack up all of your stuff, and ship it to your assignment or store it for you).

So that is what has been happening with us the past (almost) 3 years. This has been a long process, but our fun is just about to begin!

We're Going On a Trip!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Buzz Buzz....we've been as busy as those bees outside.....

March ended with some excitement.....Mason raced in his second pinewood derby race....did much better the second year....aerodynamics aren't as important as proper weighting! Mason won his first heat and ended up racing in the finals! His fastest time was 181.8 mph!

The Easter bunny stopped by....
We got new glasses (its amazing how the chance of getting 2 kids smiling nicely and both looking at the camera increases exponentially with just the addition of one more kid!)
April was super as well busy....Clarissa's 3rd birthday Royal Bar-b-que fun

Along with celebrating on our actually birthday...
Making the biggest leaf pile ever (and jumping into with our cousins) of live oaks being green all winter....they drop leaves in the spring!

Field Trips galore.....Bull Island with Marine Biology and Environmental Science
Charleston Tea Plantation with 2nd grade class. I didn't realize that it was the ONLY tea plantation in North America!! (And the tea used in Firefly Vodka Sweet Tea....grown right there too!)
Kayaking with Marine Biology and Environmental Science
I co-hosted a Bridal Shower and partook in the Bachelorette weekend fun for my grad school friend Colleen....

Mason's had his dance recital....yes, yes, Elvis left the building that afternoon!
 In addition to the usual school, work, homework, scouts, play dates, daily bubble blowing
Trips to the aquarium (with it might fall under the play date category), tea parties with all types of princesses
Throwing in some exam writing, spring cleaning purging, doing whatever it is little fairies do
So some how on this mother's day...I needed a nap after going out for breakfast and walking down to pineapple fountain park (it probably has an official name....but anyone local knows where I'm talking it works)
Tomorrow night, Mason will graduated to a Bear Cub in the busy continues!

We have some exciting plans coming up that are going to keep us even busier.....can't wait to tell everyone, but hopefully these pictures updated you on what is some of the craziness at the Middleton Household lately....