Friday, November 30, 2018


Further to my previous post on promotion within the Foreign Service, another way the Department rewards hard workers is through the process called a Meritorious Service Increase, or MSI (we have lots of acronyms in the Department).

As a bit of a background, up until a few years ago MSI's were rewarded to those employees whom the promotion boards deemed "doing a good job, but not enough to be promoted". This was the bridesmaid list. You did a very good job, but not enough for promotion, so we will give you an additional step increase. For Federal employment, pay is determined by your grade. In each grade there are steps. For IMS (like me) we all come in at a FS-05 (that is our grade). Our initial step is determined by many factors - prior Federal service, job experience, education, etc. The more of those "things" you have the higher step. After 1 year of service, we are all administratively promoted to an FS-04, step whatever. The "whatever" is determined by what step you were previously. So as an example, if you came in at an FS-05 step 14 (14 is the highest step you can have), when you are administratively promoted (or promoted to the next higher grade in general), you go up one grade to your closest step and over 2. So for FS-05 step 14 the pay is $79070/yr. Promoted to the next step you would be FS-04 step 9, or $84176/yr. You get an automatic step increase each year up until step 10, which then becomes every 2 years. If you want to look at the FS pay chart you can visit it here (look at the Overseas Comparability chart).

So back to my story. As I said up until a few years ago MSI's were rewarded by the promotions board if you did a good job but not good enough to warrant promotion. Then the Dept. changed the rules where MSI's are a separate process. Posts nominate worthy staff for an MSI. Before I departed Fiji the cable (a cable is official communication within the Department) came out for nominations for MSI's. I mentioned to my supervisor that I'd like to be nominated for an MSI, as I felt like I had done a bang up job. He said "sure thing, give me a list of bullet points". So I put together a list of accomplishments that I had done during my tour that I felt warranted me to be considered for an MSI.

My supervisor wrote it up (after I departed in April), I sent it off to Washington. There, our Bureau (the Bureau is the group in Washington that is responsible for a particular geographic region) reviews the nominations. If they agree the MSI is warranted, it is passed to the MSI review panel. If they disagree (or if the MSI panel disagrees) it is sent back to Post. The MSI panel convened in September.

About a week ago the results from the MSI panel came out. And I was on it. So for my tour in Fiji, I was promoted AND received an MSI. Double bonus!!

Now what?! I can't sit back on my laurels. Even though I'm not eligible for promotion for another 2-3 years, I can get another MSI during my current tour. The promotion panels look at all of your EER's, so I have to keep performing at a high level to increase the odds of promotion as soon as I'm eligible again.

Onward and upward....

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Unpacked....the official manzil tour!!!

So now that we are on post three, it seems only common courtesy to give a tour of our housing like I did in Suva and Tbilisi. It's also a little "pay it forward" as once assigned to a post you try and find as much information as possible about a post....especially about housing. So if I can give someone else an idea of "typical" housing, then mission accomplished.....and hopefully once we get our next assignment in two years, I'll be able to find some information about our future housing. So what's in a name? Manzil is the Arabic word for home. So it seemed perfect for the title....

In talking to others, now that we've been here a few months, it appears we have won the housing lottery! Singles and couples are typically put downtown in a high rises. After that there are two main housing compounds, one closer to the school and the other closer to the embassy. We ended up closer to the embassy. Thankfully, sharing one car and having to pick Richard up sometimes I'm happy it isn't too terribly far away. So with out further we go!

Your standard entryway with stairs to the side. I would say the only thing that we are missing is "big item" storage (i.e. your holiday bins, SCUBA gear, camping stuff, etc). So I took one of my Fijian curtains to hide it from view and we are using the under the stairs area for storage. I heard from someone else in our compound their area has actually been closed in, almost to play house style with windows and everything.

We decided to use the stairwell as "our travels" art gallery of sorts. Displaying our retro travel posters and one of our tanoa bowls.

The downstairs has a "very open floor plan" (too much HGTV on home It's almost as if everything is one big room - but there is a den, dining room, and kitchen (which is a tad closed off).

So nearly all our embassy issued Drexel heritage couches were a lovely shade of pale gold.

Or as I like to call it, stain attracting yellow! It was such a light color it would show every stain and attempting to clean off a stain - if the cleaner would bleach - would show as well. Not good with kids! So I made some custom slip covers for downstairs. While not perfect, they are machine washable and unlike the store bought ones, these go over each cushion so it is easy to tidy up the couch.

Nearly every seat in the house gets a view of the TV, but the side chair can be a reading chair.

Our little tiki mask/parent

Our dining room. This is the first time we had enough cabinet space in the kitchen that the china cabinet is not being used for storage and we can actually display items as oppose to cram everything in!

So while making the slip covers for the couches, I over tightened a screw on my sewing machine. I didn't have the necessary screwdriver to undo my mistake. So, we had to go downtown to the Singer Shop to get it repaired. The Waze navigation app sent us to a parking lot, unfortunately, when we pulled in there was a sign - Customers Only. So we headed into the shop to look around. Much to Richard's joy it was a houseware store with a huge selection of rugs....which were on sale!!! So we got this beauty under our dining room table. While it is machine made, it is for underneath a table...accidents will happen. That fact made it much more affordable!

So we are really starting to accrue quite the Starbucks "I was Here" mug collection. So we are using these display racks to show them off.

Our kitchen. Lots and lots of cabinets and counter space! It has a small table, which is where we typically eat. It also has an American size oven!

Bedrooms are the main feature of the upper up we go!

The master suite is huge! Plenty of room for our king size bed. We finally got the series of sunset paintings that Richard bought at the auction on our Australian cruise framed and hung up! We picked up an inexpensive rug at Ikea to help with the cold tile floor in the morning moments. Even with that rug, we still had room for one of our Georgian rugs.

We have a bank of closets en route to the bathroom (I'll get to that later).

Mason pretty much decorated his entire room on his own! We have entered the teen poster/artwork phase.

He has a huge bank of closets with a built in desk, which are great for tucking away clutter!

Now to the little ladies room. Clarissa decided she didn't want her heart comforter anymore after I made this elephant blanket for her. I had intended it to be more of a be snuggle on the couch blanket, but she wanted it on her bed.

Clarissa's room does not have a built in desk, so we gave her the one we were issued from the embassy. It is perfect as a bookshelf for her books as well as display trinkets from her travels and her birthday dolls.

And of course there is her Barbie House in one corner...a regularly played with area as you can tell by the hot mess that it is.

We have her 'CLARISSA' letters hung above some windows. Below these windows, we have an extra mattress and box springs on the floor (since we brought our king size bed we ended up with an extra mattress set that needed to be stowed somewhere). This project is not complete (and currently a catch all), but we are going to make it into a day bed for reading....but then she also has the perfect sleepover set up!

She has less closest space than Mason, but plenty for her. We also mounted a mirror at her height....I love catching her using it!

Here's our guest bedroom....all ready for visitors!!

It has a bit of extra furniture that just wasn't needed in other rooms, but the embassy said we had to keep everything we were we had to find room for it. In the adjoining bathroom, is where we keep the litter box (we will move it when we have guests)....but the tight walk way is perfect for kitty attacks. Our supervisor during litter box clean up, will dash under the bed when we are leaving, attack our foot as we pass by one end, then staying hidden under the bed, dash to the other end, and attack our foot again. It's quite a funny game!

So by local standards, we have small housing. Compared to our previous housing at our past two posts, this is huge housing. We have several "bonus" rooms this post! First being a dedicated office - no sharing with another room this time.

In fact, the office is so big it has its own sitting area. (The cat tree is perfect for afternoon naps and watching pigeons in the morning).

We have landing area at the top of the stairs that we turned into a little "hangout" with a TV and couch.

I have a laundry room with a little hallway. This hallway finally allows me to set up my laundry system for the kids. I will wash and fold/hang up their clothes, they are then responsible for getting them put away in their respective rooms. Lots of room for air drying items too!

We also have a small side windowless, nook that I have turned into my sewing/craft room! I love it!!

We have a long hallway with some overhead lighting that made for a perfect display area for another one of our Fiji masks and Richard's war clubs.

And finally, to end with a little humor! After two and half years of sharing a bathroom for the kids and having only one bathtub in the whole house. I felt a bit like Oprah when it came to bathrooms in the house! Richard and I get a bathroom!

And check this out...not dueling toilets....but our first house with a bidet!

We then told both get a bathroom and you get a bathroom.

And if you come to our house as a get a bathroom too! You can see the guest/cat bathroom from the guest room photo. If you only come for the afternoon, then you can use this bathroom!

That's about it! We have a small back yard, with a covered porch that holds the grill and a table. The house itself has lots of lovely balconies. Up until recently, it has been quite hot. So we shall see if they get more usage now that the weather has cooled off.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How to deal with the Minish gene....

So I married into a family of ice cream lovers....but this gene is blamed on a family gene....the Minish gene. Apparently, Great Uncle Dub and his sister, Mary Ruth (Richard's Grandmother) both partook in bowl of ice cream most evenings after dinner...therefore the common source and leading to the name of this gene. Mary Ruth passed this gene on to my father-in-law, who sneaks his ice cream after my mother-in-law goes to bed....but then leaves the evidence in the kitchen sink.

Richard also got the gene and every time we are heading back overseas after being stateside - he tells me I need to remind him next time to not go to out for ice cream/milk shakes so much. So we were curious when Clarissa was born if she would have the "Minish" gene. Therefore we grabbed the camera and documented her first time having ice cream.

Her eyes got so big with that first taste of ice cream! And so began her love affair with ice cream. Without looking too hard, I found multiple pictures of her over the years eating ice cream. While happy with her self-sufficiency when it comes to making her own breakfast, she has been busted having ice cream for breakfast!!

She even opted for ice cream instead of cake as part of one of her birthday parties....(and check out Richard still eating his ice cream while everyone else is singing happy

This past summer, my sister-in-law and I went to a pottery painting place and she painted an ice cream bowl for her and Richard....with a line down the middle so they each get half!

So as one might imagine, our household tends to empty a large number of ice cream containers pretty regularly. Overseas, the containers are typically plastic. At our past two posts, these ice cream containers were in high demand by locals as they were good sized square/rectangular boxes making them perfect leftover containers. So we would give them to our household staff. Here, our housekeeper has not expressed any interest in them and as typical overseas recycling is quite difficult. So the treehugger in me had to come up with a use for all these containers. Pinterest didn't even help me as this size/shape container is not typically found in the why come up with a use for it. So I winged it and am quite proud of how it turned out!

I started with a typical container. They come in all sorts of colors depending on the brand and flavor you get. So I decided to keep a bit of that color as an accent and used painters tape to cover the rim of the container.

I then took some spray paint I had bought (that I felt would look nice with the rim colors) and sprayed the outsides and bottom of the ice cream containers.

After they dried, I took off the tape. I think they turned out pretty great!

Afterwards, I repotted a basil plant and planted some flower seeds. They work out great as since when we move we can't take plants with us and then we aren't spending a fortune on flowerpots that would likely give away....and I'm finding a use for the empty ice cream containers.

We also had some glass yogurt bowls that I also sprayed painted for some mini cactus plants.