Sunday, December 26, 2010


I told you snow hates me.

The storm has dumped snow all along I-95, which is of course the route to the beach.

So we are stuck, for today anyway, at home

I know the decision to leave tomorrow is for the best. And on the bright side, we are getting to play some games and just relax at home.

But still. If it weren't for snow, we'd be on our way to the beach.

Snow hates me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

I hope you are having a very Merry Christmas with all your loved ones.

I am heading to the beach for the new year and will likely not have internet access. So I hope you have the best of holidays and I will see you in 2011!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Relaxing Christmas Eve

I have completed my last days of Estonian language training at the Foreign Service Institute until after the New Year (not including self-study, of course). The shopping is done. The wrapping is done.

So I am spending Christmas eve hanging out with my wife and our critters, playing video games and just relaxing.

It is awesome.

Tomorrow we will head up to my in-laws for Christmas day. Then Sunday, we head to the beach for a week.

I hope whereever you are this holiday season, you and those you love are happy, healthy and together.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

GLIFAA Statement on the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

December 22, 2010

GLIFAA Statement on the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) commends President Barack Obama and the United States Congress – Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike – for repealing the unjust policy against lesbians and gays serving openly in the military. Today, the United States discriminates a little less. As we work toward the day when we do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, we pause at each step to recognize the leaders who advance this cause. We commend all who seek to align our laws and practices with the values of our great nation – freedom, justice, peace, and equal opportunity for all. As President Obama said today, “For we are not a nation that says, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow Hates Me

I don't think it is any secret that I am not a big fan of snow.

I used to be. Of course, coming from the South, "snow" was the 2 or so inches we got every 3-4 years.

Then I moved to Syracuse. And they have an annual snowfall greater than my height. So I got to like it less.

I liked it a little better when I was in Chapel Hill...we got 20 inches in one storm and it was pretty awesome.

Then we had a snow and ice storm, and I disliked it again. We were without power for weeks (and because we were on a well, also without water...good times), but luckily my department at UNC allowed us to sleep in the lab...with my pets (archaeology department at UNC seriously rocks!).

Last year's snows in DC didn't help me like snow any better...when our roof people finally shovelled it off our roof (all like four feet of it), they dumped it on our stairs. And created an ice ramp that I had to try to shovel footholds into while in my work clothes so I could get into my house, change clothes and shovel the steps.

But we had snow last week, and I thought, well that is pretty. I can deal with that. I will think positively so I will be happier with the weather in Estonia.

Now I am positive snow hates me.


Because they are calling for a possible white Christmas.

Which WOULD be awesome. I have never had one. I once drove two hours to get to a place on Christmas morning where there was snow. That is the closet I've come.

So like I said, that WOULD be awesome.


We are supposed to drive to the inlaws' Christmas morning. And back home Christmas evening. So we can drive to the beach the day after Christmas. And have a much needed break, especially after the last few weeks.

That much driving is fine...without snow.

And they are calling for EITHER snow showers OR a big storm. 50-50 shot. Awesome.

Snow hates me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A great few why the hell haven't I written?

I have really had a great few days.

This weekend, I finally got a letter from the grad school. They approved me for a one semester extension to finish my dissertation. They said they don't approve those extensions lightly, but given my extenuating circumstances (my service and my grandmother's death and having to handle her estate) plus strong support from my department, they were willing to approve it. So I have one last chance to finish my PhD. And I really want to finish.

Then Saturday, my wife and I did some running around, including a trip to the animal shelter. Our older cat passed away two weeks ago, and we have been thinking of getting another cat. Not to replace her, because that isn't possible. We are still both terribly sad. But we also feel that we know we can take care of two cats and there are lots of cats that need homes.

Saturday evening, the Senate voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. There is still some implementing to be done, but finally we can see a day when, like LGBT Foreign Service Officers, Gays and Lesbians will be able to serve openly in the military. Hoorah!

Saturday night, I went to the GLIFAA party, though only briefly. I didn't really feel up to it (I'm getting a sore throat), but my teacher said she might go (at my invitation), so I felt like I had to. I didn't stay long, but I was glad to see a good turnout.

Sunday, we went back to the shelter and looked at some more cats. This time, we found a little guy we liked. He is a seven month old kitten with black and white medium length fur. We picked him up today.

Of course, introducing a new cat is always challenging, but I think the pets will sort thinks out. He already showing signs of being a good traveller, a must for a DiploCat.

And today, we had our Christmas party for the Nordic languages and Greek. We did a presentation which was basically a quiz about Estonian Christmas traditions. We translated the questions into Estonian before letting the audience translate. While there were other presentations that were fancier or seemed better orchestrated, I was proud of us. We were the only language group NOT to read their parts. And what we said wasn't memorized. We just translated. So, I think our presentation demonstrated that we are getting a handle on the language.

And I was pretty proud of that.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wikileaks releases alleged US Candid Assessment of Santa Claus, North Pole

I can not confirm whether this is really a State Department cable, but I share this alleged cable with you because this is clearly information the public needs to know! (and no, I didn't write it, nor do I know who the author is or whether this is really a State Department cable).




SUBJECT: Upcoming Arctic Negotiations - Background for USDEL

(SU/NF) Negotiations scheduled for December 16 in [location redacted] represent an important opportunity for the USG to improve relations with a globally influential Northern neighbor while increasing the delivery of child-oriented luxury/leisure goods to the United States. This cable provides background information on the North Pole’s enigmatic leader and his policies.


(SU/NF) Mr. Santa Claus is the undisputed leader of North Pole. He has been in power for many generations, and we see no prospect for polar regime change. While reported to be “jolly,” some overseas critics note that North Pole has never had an election, and that workers there toil under intense deadline pressure (one BIG deadline!). These workers - referred to disparagingly as “elves” -- work in what - but for the temperature! - would be referred to as “sweat shop conditions.” Claus is said often be quite cross with the elves -- one contact characterized his leadership and management style as “an iron fist in a red flannel glove.”

(SU/NF) Claus dominates the political and economic life of one of the world’s most isolated societies. Communication with the outside world is limited to one delivery of mail each year (mid-December, incoming only). Claus is the only citizen permitted to travel, and he only leaves North Pole once each year. Perhaps in an indication of concerns about personal security we note that Claus ALWAYS travels at night, and never publishes his itinerary.


(SU/NF) Through his connections in Hollywood, Claus has over the years carefully cultivated the image of a kindly, avuncular senior citizen. But behind the scenes he has shown himself to be capable playing an almost Nixonian brand of political hardball. He seems to have a harsh, black and white, good and evil, with-us-or-with-the-terrorist worldview. We are told that each fall, Claus’s staff prepares for him a worldwide “enemies list.” Enemies are listed as “naughty,”
friends as “nice.” To prepare this list, Claus seems to make use of a sophisticated intelligence network. One staffer told us (in an arrogant tone): “Look, it’s like this: He’s gonna find out
who’s naughty and nice.” And then, a threat: “You better not pout, you better not cry.” Claus himself reportedly checks the enemies list… twice.


(SU/NF) Claus has reportedly surrounded himself with a small group of sycophantic advisors. We hear from contacts that no dissent is tolerated. Claus’s wife (Mrs. Claus) is widely seen as “the real power behind the toy bag.” Also influential is a my sterious figure referred to only by his first name: Rudolf. Claus frequently seeks “guidance” from this person. Post has not had contact with him, but the name does raise the prospect of Russian influence. Other influential advisors reportedly include staffers named Donner and Prancer. Claus’s relationship with an aide nick-named “Vixen” has raised eyebrows in conservative, traditional North Pole society and has caused unsubstantiated rumors of personal indiscretion.


(SU/NF) There have also been rumors of substance abuse. One sarcastic doggerel that has recently been muttered by Claus-critics (with obvious use of drug slang) says: “The stump of a PIPE he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke it encircled his HEAD like a wreath...” Other
observers note that Claus is almost constantly giggling: One contact notes: “He has a broad face and a little round belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowlful of jelly.” Another observer told us: “His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples were merry. His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry. His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow. And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.” Our DEA office note that Claus and his inner circle seem to have developed a sophisticated global shipment network that allows for clandestine delivery of packages. They also note that Claus and his advisors are frequently overheard discussing “snow” and “ice” and “candy.” Clearly, the rumors of drug abuse have to be given some credence.


(SU/NF) The North Pole economy is highly seasonal, and is dominated by the export of leisure/luxury goods aimed primarily at the under 10 demographic. The Claus government recently came under criticism after the IMF carried out its first ever Article IV consultations. North Pole exports were found to exceed imports by 6,000,000 percent. In fact, the IMF found essentially no imports (they bring in only a small quantity of egg-nog). This trade surplus has caused one prominent Washington pundit to claim that the “North Pole makes China look like a free and open currency market.”

(SU/NF) Rumors of Claus’s alleged communist leanings were quite common during the Cold War years. Observers frequently noted that Claus ALWAYS dressed in red, and promoted “a gift-based economy.”

(SU/NF) There is a strong internationalist and humanitarian streak in North Pole economic policy. International Development is a high priority - Claus attempted to add an additional goal (The Right to Toys!) to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. He is a big supporter of UNICEF.


(SU/NF) Claus’s views on environmental issues are nuanced: for obvious reasons he is deeply concerned about global warming, but he has not been a strong supporter of CITES and other efforts to protect endangered species. He is clearly not fond of Polar Bears, quipping to the press that “Those damn bears are always trying to eat the elves” and that if it was up to him, “they’d be a whole lot more endangered.” Claus does, however, seem quite fond of Reindeer. And Post believes we can count on North Pole support for our efforts to save the whales. Claus has no strong feelings on Cetaceans, but we hear that he has a long-standing grudge against Iceland (a whaling country). This is apparently related to a 1979 episode in which a bouncer at a Reykjavik night club denied Mr. Claus and his elf entourage access, and made disparaging comments about both their attire and their physiques.

(SU/NF) Perhaps in another indication of his concern about global warming Claus has made “a lump of coal” an important symbol of societal disapproval.


(SU/NF) For many years Claus and his staff have annually flaunted international flight clearance procedures, and he regularly crosses borders without submitting to document checks or customs inspections. This has recently caused FOX News to question Claus’s commitment to the war on terror. DHS is very concerned that Claus’s very lax immigration policies and non-existent border controls are making the North Pole a potential avenue for the infiltration of terrorists into the United States. Claus himself has frequently come close to arrest (usually on charges of trespassing or breaking and entering).

(SU/NF) Claus obviously could be a key figure in the coming war for the Arctic. While we cannot take his support for granted, we are encouraged by the participation of North Pole assets in an annual U.S. Marine Corps exercise (“Toys For Tots”).


(SU/NF) USDEL should be aware that North Pole culture puts a premium on late night socializing. The preferred beverage is milk (WHOLE milk) and the preferred food is cookies (CHOCOLATE cookies). Carrots are also sometimes provided. Most entertaining takes place close to chimneys.


(SU/NF) Long considered the alpha dog of the high north, Claus has a complex personality that mixes a strong ego, a desire to be the center of attention, and a burning desire for adoration and celebrity. He is a very challenging diplomatic interlocutor. While he has his flaws, Post believes that Claus will be in power for many centuries to come. Like him or not, we believe that Santa Claus is a leader we can and should work with.

Best FSI Day Ever

Today was a great day at FSI.

I was in language training alone today because one of my classmates is sick and the other may or may not be having her baby.

While being alone in class is exhausting, today just felt great! I was able to work on stuff I needed, plus we talked a lot abut all kinds of things (like my complex family!) and used very little English.

I even commented that I felt like I did better teacher said I seemed calmer. Weird.

Anyway, then we had area studies...

Which was ALSO awesome!

We had the DCMs from the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian embassies here in DC come talk to us. It was great to listen to people with real, current experience in the countries we are heading to. It was interesting and useful. Which area studies unfortunately almost never is.

Of course, some people might also say today's snow would add to the awesomeness of the day...I am not one of them. My teacher said "Yay!" and I said "Ei" (Estonian for no, and it rhymes with yay). I think poor Ben was pretty cold too, though at least he is in the spirit with his Santa hat.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

But I don't cook

So we have a party coming up.

It is a party for all the folks under our LTS. So it is students and teachers in the Nordic languages, Estonian, and Greek.

We are all supposed to bring a dish from our country.

Have I mentioned I don't cook?

So I am hunting for recipes for Estonian Christmas foods...sadly, it looks like I will need to cook, since there aren't any Estonian grocery stores around here. My apologies in advance to everyone who has to eat it. I am leaning towards cheese crisps, only because they seem really easy. Plus I like cheese.

We also have to do some sort of performance in our language.

I'd rather cook.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Not under, IN

So I got back to class today. Luckily, my day off didn't make me too rusty...though I worry what the holidays will do!

Because I was in South Carolina and didn't manage to hear much in the way of non-local news, I didn't have much to write about for my daily news assignment. So I just wrote about my trip, trying to use the from and to cases we have been practicing. You know...I drove from the party to the house. Those directions are indicated by word endings (ah, cases...).

I capped it off by saying we came home to discover the cat had been sleeping IN the tree.

My classmate said, did you mean UNDER the tree?

No, not under, IN the tree.

My teacher asked, did you mean ON TOP OF the tree?

No, no, I meant IN.

The cat slept IN the tree. The bottom branches are a bit lower than when we left.

Bets on how long the tree remains vertical?

RIP Richard Holbrooke

About the only news of any non-local sort I heard during my trip to SC was of Richard Holbrooke's aortic tear and his subsequent death.

I was sorry to hear of his passing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How Cool Is That?

I will be missing class on Monday.

It will be my first absence since language training began back in September. In fact, it is my first missed day of work since my ceiling collapsed in July.

I have a good reason. My Dad's family is having their Christmas celebration this weekend, and I am driving down today to see him. I don't get to see him often, and I really look forward to seeing him and my family.

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I was thinking about what I needed to do this morning to get ready to leave.

And suddenly I had a pang of, I don't know, disappointment.

I was sad that I will miss class on Monday. I am glad we have holidays coming up, but I won't be missing any instruction on those days.

Class will go on without me Monday...and I will miss it.

How cool is that? I am a little sad about missing something they PAY me to do.

Seriously loving my job right now.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Feeling Good

So on Fridays, we always talk about what was discussed (or not) in area studies. Suffice it to say, I now have the phrase for useless.

But since the first part of yesterday's class was useful (at least to those headed to Ukraine), our teacher asked us to talk about what was said in that part of area studies.

I told her about how he had talked about problems with the environment. One of the problems I mentioned was that there was a lot of rural development without much thought given to HOW the development was done, and there are lots of tourists going to those areas.

She asked why tourists were a problem.

I wanted to say that part of the problem was pollution. But we don't have that word. I don't even know the word for air.

But I today I was making a real effort not to ask for things in English.

So I said it was like bad things in the sky.

Blink blink.

Struggle, bad things in the sky...from factories!

And she understood...and gave us the word for pollution.

I was very pleased with myself (stop laughing).

It is all about the little victories.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Lest you think ASSange and his crew are whistleblowers and heros:

Whistleblowers don't threaten to release more sensative information if their leader is arrested on completely separate charges.

Extortionists do.

(Because if you really thought people needed to know that stuff, you'd release it regardless, right?)

And Whistleblowers don't attack the livelihoods of businesses who don't want to be associated with them.

Criminals and Thugs do.

Just saying.

Can't believe they pay me to do this

And not in a good way...

Let me say first that the idea of area studies is a great one. Awesome. Vital.

But it just seldom translates to that in reality.

Last week, our area studies class was cancelled. Apparently there was a death in the family of our speaker, and no time to reschedule. That said, there was NEVER a noticed up saying what that week's program was and where it was to be held. So I suspect they knew early on that it was cancelled, and never bothered to let us know. I had to hunt down the info on Thursday afternoon.

So we actually had class today. But once again, our speaker knew next to nothing about the area we were going to. Our area studies professor is an expert on one of the five countries we cover in area studies, and our classes and speakers lean hard towards that country. So today's lecturer spoke knoweldgibly about that one country and had nothing really for the rest of us. He read some stuff from the computer, and made a couple comments...that were wrong.

Total waste of time.

I am interested. I WANT to know more about where I am going. I think it is really important. But only about two classes so far have been useful. Really annoying.

We also found out today that our professor has decided to retire. Next week, we have breakout sessions (hooray! We'll have folks from our countries to talk to!), and he is going off campus for one of them. Starting in the new year, we will have a new instructor.

We have had our new instructor speak to us already. He knows a lot, particularly about our countries. But he thinks he knows everything. And that he is smarter than everyone else.

And he is very dismissive of folks in the government, because they are all clearly too stupid to never listen to him.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

You Have to Go Now

I am not a morning person.

Even so, our first hour of class is my favorite. I like talking about issues and such in Estonian. I think it is fun.

Go ahead and insert your insult of choice. Yeah, I have a perverted idea of fun. Yes, I am a nerd. Have you looked around at the other Foreign Service Officers? These are my people.

So I was surprised when there was a knock on our classroom door.

I sit closest to the door, so I opened it. I expected it to be our LTS...she is the only one who ever interrupts us, and even she very rarely does it.

But it was not her. It was a man wearing a red hat.

No, it wasn't Santa (I'm disappointed too).

He said, "You have to go now."

I said, "Why?"

No, I don't have a problem with authority. Why do you ask?

He said, "You must leave."

It was then that my more observant classmate noticed the fire alarm was going off...though not in our hallway.

So I look back at the red-hatted guy, and notice his hat says "warden." Well that would have helped to know. "Is this a drill or a real fire?" 'Cause I'll lug my books if the fire is real, but I only want my coat if it is just a drill.

"You have to go!" And he runs away to the next classroom.

This is the part where I tell you I am going to die in Estonia. Because it was frickin' COLD outside today ( least it wasn't raining)! Even our teacher went to get her coat.

We all stood around in the courtyard waiting to get the signal to go back in. At one point, they yelled at us to be at least 50 ft from the building. How far is 50 ft? And is 50 ft from F Building too close to the cafeteria?

We never did find our teacher...turns our she went out the back of the building after going upstairs for her coat...she said she needed her coat since she didn't have her swimsuit.

Yep, I'm gonna freeze to death in Estonia.

Monday, December 06, 2010

In Case You Think We Are Overpaid

In case you think Foreign Service Officers are among the "overpaid" federal employees, you should check out this post by Four Globetrotters.

She describes her experience identifying American victims of a plane crash...even with some of the more gruesome details spared, you should be happy she serves you. She writes:

"This was seven years ago this month, and time has made it easier to deal with what was ultimately diagnosed as PTSD. I still have nightmares sometimes. But I would do it all over again.

One of the things I took from ConGen training was the following: "There is no substitute for personal appearance." This means that when at all possible, we need to be physically present to help our American citizens in their time of need. Whether that's going down to do a jail visit, or helping an Amcit file a police report for a stolen passport, or identifying their remains and notifying their families, when at all possible, do it in person.

My story is only one of many. My colleagues around the world have many similar stories to share. I couldn't even imagine what it must have been like in Haiti earlier this year. But we do it, because we love our country and we take our responsibilities seriously. The vast majority of us are highly educated, intelligent, dedicated professionals. Sure there are things that can be improved. That's the case with any organization. But overpaid? I think not."

She, and nearly all Foreign Service Officers, could make far more than they are paid to serve you, and they are worth every penny.

Happy Independence Day Finland!

I like herring.

Who knew?

Today is the 93rd anniversary of Finland's independence. Following revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence from Russia on December 6, 1917.

To celebrate, the Finnish language section at FSI had a party and invited folks from the other Nordic language programs. So we represented Estonia.

Their class did a good job with the program...I will just assume their Finnish-language presentations were spot on. And I hope they will give us the same benefit of the doubt when we do ours for Estonian Independence Day (there are two of them actually...February 24 and August 20). Like us, they will probably be able to understand a handful of words.

They also provided a sampling of Finnish foods...good stuff! I was brave and tried two forms of herring, one with potatoes and one without. Both were pretty good! Who knew I'd like it?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sharing the Sacrifice

Seems like when the economy is bad, federal workers are some of the first targets Congress and the general public take aim at.

It is getting old.

You know the story...we are all overpaid and lazy. And when the economy was great, we were told how stupid we were for serving the country at a much lower salary than we could make in the private section. But now that the economy has turned south, everyone is all about freezing our pay so we can share in the pain. There was a great letter to the editor by a federal worker who said she looked forward to sharing in the bonuses all the private sector folks will get once the economy recovers.

There was a also good article in the Post today about Five Myths about Federal Workers.

They are myths that really need debunking. Myths like that we are overpaid compared with the private sector.

According to the Post:

"federal employees make on average 24 percent less than their private-sector counterparts. The Congressional Research Service reported in 2009 that private industry pays higher salaries than the government for PhD-level employees in computer science, information science, mathematics, statistics, biological sciences, environmental life sciences, chemistry, economics, and civil, architectural, electrical and computer engineering. In addition, the average private-sector salary in 2010 for a recent college graduate was $48,661. Entry-level federal workers start at $34,075, or $42,209 for candidates with superior academic achievement.

On the other hand, some federal blue-collar and clerical workers are paid more than those in the private sector. The ongoing debate about federal pay, however, does not address the root problem: The government does not have a pay system flexible enough to recruit the best talent and pay in accordance with the market."

Myth: That we are paper-pushing clerks

"The vast majority of federal workers hold white-collar professional, administrative and technical jobs, and aren't just college dropouts archiving triplicates of your tax return. Approximately 20 percent of federal workers have a master's degree, professional degree or doctorate, vs. 13 percent in the private sector. Fifty-one percent of federal employees have at least a college degree, compared with 35 percent in the private sector.

Remarkably, more than 50 current or former federal employees have received Nobel Prizes. In fact, about one in four American Nobel laureates have been federal workers. Their contributions have included the eradication of polio, the mapping of the human genome and the harnessing of atomic energy. Federal employees protect our food and drug supplies, manage airline traffic, foil terrorist attacks, care for our wounded veterans, and make sure the elderly and those with disabilities get their Medicare and Social Security benefits. This is hardly paper-pushing."

And finally, the Post points out that freezing our pay won't necessarily help with the budget. First, the amount saved is tiny compared with the deficit. And if they cut 200,000 jobs like the Debt Commission wants, even that could COST MORE money if the tasks performed by federal employees are contracted out.

But yeah, go ahead and cut my salary so I can share in the sacrifice. I hope you'll share your bonus when the time comes.

Friday, December 03, 2010

I Like To Talk

Yes, I know. And the sky is blue.

Seriously, I realized in class today that our first hour of class each day is probably my favorite.

Each of us comes in with our uudis, or news. Usually, it is something we have read about in the paper or online that we have written a few sentences about in Estonian. This, coupled with our warm up conversation, leads us to talk about some really interesting topics.

Today we talked some about Judaism and the different holidays and their relative importance to Jewish people. We also talked about the OSCE meeting in Kazakhstan and how the capital has been relocated to Astana from Almaty. And whether Kazakhstan is in Europe or not.

It is kind of fun to be able to have a conversation. Of course, we are still pretty limited in what we can say, but we finally have enough vocabulary to talk our way around the words we don't have. And doing it is a lot of fun.

But we all already knew I liked to talk, right?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Mindy R. Michels and Melissa E. Schraibman Win Secretary of State Award for Voluneteer Activism in Albania's LGBT community

Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg will present the 2010 Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad to the six winners from different geographic regions at a ceremony on Thursday, December 2 at 10:00 a.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room at the Department of State.

The awards recognize U.S. Government employees; family members, including domestic partners; and other members of household at embassies and consulates who gave exceptional volunteer service to their communities, mission or host country, or rendered outstanding assistance in emergencies. Among this year’s award winners are Mindy R. Michels and Melissa E. Schraibman, who were serving in Tirana, Albania.

FS employee Schraibman and her partner Michels helped a small group of Albanian activists to create a vibrant and active lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Albania where none had existed.

Violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was common in Albania. But through the collaborative efforts of this newly-formed group, Mindy and Melissa helped establish a grassroots organization, Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination. The couple met each week with the members of the Alliance and provided support, inspiration and skills development. They hosted strategic planning sessions for the new NGO, defining its identity, core values and mission. Over time, Melissa and Mindy trained and mentored the leadership team in grant writing, membership recruitment, press strategies, organizational development, and grassroots activism.

This bench reads "Homophobia Kills" in Albanian

The Alliance has succeeded in creating a social and activist network that transformed the lives of the people it reached. There are now weekly discussion groups, weekly social events, regular grassroots actions, and a very active Facebook group with over 1100 members. Mindy also participated in an ongoing working group sponsored by the Dutch Embassy on LGBT issues. As part of the group, she assisted in drafting a comprehensive non-discrimination law in Albania covering everything from discrimination on the basis of religion to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The volunteer accomplishments of Mindy and Melissa showcase what volunteer service can achieve on behalf of transformative diplomacy.

You can check out an album of their photos here.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the SOSA awards by Secretary of State and Mrs. James Baker. To honor this milestone, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide have created an on-line publication entitled “FS Volunteers – 20 Years of Grassroots Diplomacy.” The publication documents the contributions and outstanding volunteer service provided by over 400 Foreign Service employees and family members at U.S. embassies and consulates all over the world. The publication, including a brief synopsis of the volunteer activity that earned all of this year's award winners their awards can be found at here.

The award ceremony is open for press coverage. Members of the press wishing to attend should contact Public Affairs Officer Brenda Greenberg at 202-647-4282.

Pre-set time for cameras: 9:00 a.m. from 23rd Street lobby
Final access time for all press: 9:30 a.m. from 23rd Street lobby

Media representatives may attend this award ceremony upon presentation of one of the following: (1) a U.S. Government-issued identification card (Department of State, White House, Congress, Department of Defense, or Foreign Press Center), (2) a media-issued photo identification card, or (3) a letter from their employer on letterhead verifying their employment as a journalist, accompanied by an official photo identification (driver’s license or passport). Those who do not have a State Department building pass should allow adequate time to clear through security at the 23rd Street entrance.

GSA adds "domestic partner" to definition of immediate family

I got the below today from Federal GLOBE:

The General Services Administraiton is amending the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) by adding terms and definitions for "Dependent," "Domestic partner," and "Domestic partnership," and by revising the definition of "Immediate family" to include "Domestic partner" and children, dependent parents, and dependent brothers and sisters of the Domestic partner as named members of the employee’s household. This interim rule also adds references to domestic partners and committed relationships, where applicable, in the FTR.

It was proposed on November 2nd and comment period ends December 20th. The effective date will be March 3, 2011.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Deeply Personal

Muttering Behind the Hardline has one of his best posts ever (in my opinion) with a dead-on description of what it feels like to have your cables leaked through Wikileaks.

He compares it with the abused woman you tried to help only to have her abusor find out because you tried to help and have you be powerless to assist with the fallout.

NDS writes:

"You have the sickest of feelings in the pit of your stomach. It wasn’t your fault, but the weight of the responsibility you feel is crushing. You want to make it right, but how? You feel helpless, ashamed, regretful, frustrated. You’re terrified that something awful is about to happen. You hope Sarah and her kids somehow make it through, and that you find some way, any way to help in time.

You feel, well, you feel like a political officer who, with the news of the Wikileaks dump, saw flash through his mind at lightning speed every confidential interview he ever did with every human rights or social activist he ever quietly met with working in a country governed by a totalitarian regime. And with 250,000+ documents out there, it’s not just possible but likely that those brave men and women he considered friends may be facing a very rough time ahead. And chances are now that he’s long gone, he will likely never know whatever became of them.

Julian Assange and Bradley Manning apparently don’t have to worry about walking around with that sense of guilt. They don’t personally know the people who trusted us with their inner thoughts and secrets, hoping we might be able to help bring light to their very dark place.

This is more than treason. It’s more than a leak or an information dump.

For many of us, this is deeply personal."


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yay me!

First, I want to start off saying I had a great lunch today with the new A-100's GLIFAA folks. I love these lunches...I find them energizing! I love meeting the newest diplomats and helping them any way I can.

But I gotta ask...where the hell are the lesbians? Really seems like there are maybe five of us...and me and my wife count for two of them! Okay, I am exaggerating, but still...we need more women!

Anyway, today was also a good language day. We regularly listen to taped dialogues in class and translate to our teacher what we heard. And I understood today's really the second time she played it, I was able to relate back to her almost everything that was said. Our teacher even asked if I had heard this dialogue before. But I hadn't.

Yay me!

I am sure I will be back to being stupid in Estonian by tomorrow!


If you are around the Foreign Service Institute today and are interested, please join us for the GLIFAA lunch welcoming the newest A-100 from 12:30-1:30. We will be in the cafeteria in the small room on the end closest to the Visitor's Center. There will be a sign on the door.

Allies are very welcome!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where, Oh Where?

....have the yahoo groups gone?

Tumbleweeds noticed yesterday that the FSOA and FSOT Yahoo Groups have apparently been deleted. The moderators are working with Yahoo to get them restored as quickly as possible, and have set up a temporary group, "FSOT-FSOA" for information updates.

According to the group:

The fswe, fswe_essayprep, fsscareers, and fsoa boards were hacked today (November 27). As you must be aware of by now, the perpetrator(s) deleted all three groups.We are actively working with Yahoo! to resurrect the boards, but it will likely take a few days. We know that some of you rely on the information contained being readily available at the click of a mouse, but don't panic. As Kungfu Panda learned, "There is no secret ingredient."People have been getting into the Foreign Service long before these groups were even a glint in Steffan's eyes.You can do it.--

I'd love to hear any updates anyone has. I think it is a realy shame, because I know a lot of people rely on these groups not just for information but also support. Joining the service is a long a tedious process, and having comrades who are going through the same thing is a real help.

Here's hoping they get restored soon.


I had been pondering what to say about the wikileaks debacle. But I couldn't have said it any better than NoDoubleStandards.

In Here's Hoping You Choke on that Whistle, NDS writes:

"There isn't anything virtuous about what Wikileaks -- and the scumbag USG employee who leaked these documents to Wikileaks -- has done.

Thanks to everyone disseminating this information, my colleagues at many posts around the world are literally in mortal danger.


And for what?

To satisfy the idle curiosity of a few.

To all who complain about the conduct of our foreign policy: how the hell do you expect us to protect this country and advance our foreign policy objectives without the least expectation that your reporting and analysis will be protected?"

I hope the traitor who released these is punished to the fullest extent of the law. He has put this country and the people serving it in danger for no good reason.

Top 10 Cultural Must Sees in Tallinn

UK's Guardian had this piece Saturday on our future home. Are you planning your visit yet?

Top 10 cultural must-sees in Tallinn

Local residents recommended their favourite cultural spots in the Estonian capital, including a new rooftop cinema and a museum with a labyrinth of underground passages

1. Balti Jaama Turg
This wonderful Russian market is a must-see. Every day, 50 or so stalls fill the streets opposite Balti Jaam, Tallinn's main railway station, selling anything from antiques to locally made jam. I come here to buy beautiful second-hand plates and dishes for photography in my cookbooks.
• Kopli 1,
Anni Arro, chef and co-owner, Komeet

2. Saint Olav's Church
This 12th-century church, at the end of Pikk street, is the most beautiful in Tallinn. It's also the most unlucky: it has been hit by lightening at least eight times, and burned down three times. Once the tallest structure in the world, its 124m spire can been seen from all over the city. Climb the narrow stairs to the observation deck at the base of the spire for sweeping views.
• Lai 50,; fee for tower £1.60
Julia Kuznetsova, concierge, St Petersbourg Hotel

3. Kiek in de Kök
The museum inside this great artillery tower (whose name means "peep into the kitchen" in low German because from the upper floors soldiers could peer into the houses of the lower town) is interesting, but don't miss a guided tour of its limestone bastion passages, which reopened in March with new video and sound effects. Built to conceal the movement of soldiers, the 500m of passages (half are still being dug out) were used as a bomb shelter during the 1944 Soviet bombings, and inhabited by a large community of homeless people in the 1990s.
• Komandandi tee 2, +372 644 6686,; tour £4.70 adults, £2.60 children (booking essential)
Mikk Tamme, business consultant

4. Old Town
Katariina Käik (St Catherine's Passage) in the Old Town, lined with craftsmen's workshops, is a favourite for many visitors, but I love Pikk Jalg, or "Long Leg" (there is also a short, steep alley called Lühige Jalg, or Short Leg), which winds up to Toompea Hill. Stop on the way for coffee and a croissant at Bonaparte, a charming French bistro (Pikk 45). At Toompea Hill are the great Russian Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St Mary's Cathedral (the oldest church in Estonia, founded in 1219) and several viewing platforms, where you can see over red-tiled roofs to the Baltic sea.
Roman Zaštšerinski, chef and co-owner, Kohvik Moon

5. Von Krahl Theatre
When I get time off, I like to watch a show at this wonderful avant-garde theatre, in a back street of the Old Town. The performances, by Estonian and foreign troupes, range from contemporary opera and dance to theatre and musicals.
• Rataskaevu 10, +372 626 9090,; prices vary
Mae Kivilo, theatre designer and co-founder of Emma Leppermann studio

6. Kumu Art Museum
Housed in a striking limestone and glass building in Kadriorg, Kumu is Estonia's largest art museum. It houses several permanent exhibitions, as well as temporary modern painting and sculpture exhibits. Next summer, as part of the Capital of Culture line-up, it will host Gateways, presenting experimental art by younger artists.
• Weizenbergi 34, +372 602 6000,; admission to all exhibitions £4.45 adults, £2.60 children
Georg Poslawski, coordinator at Enterprise Estonia

7. Open Air Museum
For an insight into old Estonian life, head to this open-air museum – a reconstructed rural village in a forest park on Kopli Bay, a short drive from Tallinn. Open all winter, its buildings include 12 farms, windmills, watermills, church, fire station, tavern and schoolhouse.

• Vabaõhumuusemi tee 12, +372 654 9101,; £2.60 adults, 50p children
Triin Tähnas, freelance journalist

… and if you go later in the year …

8. Kadriorg Park
This is the first place I head once spring arrives. It is a leafy park a few tram stops from the centre, filled with oak and lilac trees and surrounded by wooden houses – many of which house small museums. It is also home to one of Tallinn's greatest buildings – the Kadriorg Palace (built by Peter the Great in the early 18th century for his wife Catherine I), which also houses the Estonian Art Museum.
• Weizenbergi 34/Valge 1, +372 602 6001,; palace admission £3.40 adults, £1.80 children
Bruno Marques, landscape architect and university lecturer

9. Song Festival Grounds
This stadium, just east of Kadriorg, is an amazing sight. The stage can hold 15,000 singers! Song festivals mean a lot to Estonians. In 1988, thousands gathered here to sing patriotic hymns in what became known as the Estonian Singing Revolution, which overthrew Soviet rule. Next year, from 1-3 July, a youth song and dance celebration will be a highlight of the Capital of Culture calendar, with over 35,000 young performers from across Estonia.
• Narva mnt. 95, +372 611 2102,
Jaak Johanson, singer and actor

10. Katusekino
This rooftop cinema is on top of the Viru shopping centre. It's closed now until May, but there's a massive inflatable screen and deckchairs for 300 viewers. Movie screenings in Tallinn will get even more exciting next year: from May to September, as part of the Capital of Culture line-up, films will be screened in museums and parks.
• Viru väljak 4/6, +372 5609 1577,; tickets £3
Sten Saluveer, musician and CEO of the Plektrum Festival

Further information
How to get there: Estonian Air (0844 482 2327, flies from Gatwick to Tallinn from £142 return.

Where to stay: the Meriton Old Town Garden Hotel has doubles from €60 (+372 667 7111,

Tip: the Tallinn Card, offering entrance to most museums and attractions for a day, discounts in shops and restaurants and free travel on local transport, costs €24 adults, €13 children (

More information: and

Compiled by Nicola Iseard

Culture takes centre stage in 2011
Capital of Culture Opening Ceremony 31 December-1 January

Events culminate in a midnight firework display on a platform out to sea in the Gulf of Riga. Watch from the Russalka monument in Kadriorg.

Fire Sculpture World Championships January (exact date to be confirmed)

Tallinn's skies will fill with light as the city hosts the first world championships in fire sculpting. Giant artworks of wood and straw, will be set alight – to "transform" them.

Tallinn Music Festival 24-26 March

Around 100 Estonian bands and artists will perform in the city's clubs, theatres and bars.

Straw Theatre 1 May-30 September

The Straw Theatre, to be erected at the Skoone Bastion Park, will be the biggest structure of its kind in the world. It will act as a stage for contemporary productions by both Estonian and visiting artists.

For a full calendar of events, go to

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tumbleweeds is back!

Most of you don't know this, but Editfish over at Tumbleweeds was the inspiration for my blogrolls. Editfish had a pretty substantial blogroll of FS blogs, and it was that which gave me the idea of trying to have a blogroll of ALL the Foreign Service blogs (or at least all that I could find...I still search for new ones every day).

But alas, Editfish stopped publishing back in 2007. I left the link up just in case.

And it seems Editfish is back! I noticed yesterday that there were three new posts (two of them are backdated) talking about Editfish's renewed process of taking the FSOT.

I hope Editfish either is or soon will be part of the FS family.

Welcome back!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Question for You

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We had a wonderful dinner with my inlaws that included things like:

My wife: Admiral Mullen reminds me of Dad.
Mother in Law: Your father is nothing like him!
Father in Law: He's a nerd.
Me: :::Falling over laughing::::

Pot, this is the kettle. You're black.

Oh my father in law is definitely a nerd. And his daughter didn't fall far from that tree!

Anyway, while I was away, a reader asked me a question. She is likely to get "the call" soon and wanted to know what I wish I had known when I was "called up/accepted/packing out/moving to DC."

I had an unfair advantage: my wife.

So I knew I would likely be sent to Jerusalem. I knew I would likely be in DC for nearly a year getting language. So I knew I should bring to DC all the stuff I'd need to live for a year. And that I could rent an unfurnished apartment and rent furniture.

When filling out forms, I had her send me hers for me to copy.

You get the idea.

Plus I am momory is seems like a really long time ago!!

So especially you newer officers...what do you wish you had known? You will be helping a lot of your future colleagues by sharing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

So Much To Be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I hope you are able to spend this holiday with those you love.

As I think about this holiday, I am overwhelmed with all the blessings in my life.

I am thankful for my beautiful wife who does double duty as my best friend. She is the person I hope to grow old with. I am thankful that we were able to be married legally, and I am hopeful we will one day soon see marriage equality throughout the country.

I am thankful for our family. I am especially grateful for those in my family who reached out to me after my estranged grandfather died this month, and for my dad, who assured me the loss was my grandfather's. My dad is a rock star. I am thankful for our friends, old and new. I am fortunate to be surrounded by so many people from all parts of my life, from my past and my present, who I love and who love me. There is simply no shortage of wonderful people in our lives.

I am thankful for our home. It is a warm, comfortable, decent place for us to live with our fur and feather children. And I am profoundly grateful for our fur and feather children, especially Koshka, who was supposed to only have a few weeks left more than a year and a half ago. We know she won't be with us much longer, but we are grateful for every day she is with us.

I am thankful for our jobs. They are stable and secure in a time when that is not something to be taken for granted. They pay us enough that we are comfortable. I am grateful to be able to pay my bills when they come without worry and to have money left over for us to do some of the things we love. We are not rich, but we are comfortable. I could not ask for more.

And I am thankful that our jobs are rewarding personally as well. We get to do interesting and meaningful work. And for me, even when it is hard, getting paid to learn a language full time for a year is a dream job. I am also deeply thankful for the honor of serving my country openly and with dignity. I hope one day soon, our brothers and sisters in uniform will be able to say that as well.

And while my year began with the devastating loss of my beloved grandmother, I am grateful for having had her in my life.

I hope that this Thanksgiving you too have much to be grateful for.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Message from AFSA on the QDDR

Subject: AFSA President's Message on QDDR Draft Recommendations on "Recruiting & Training"

Dear Fellow Members of the Foreign Service,

As you know, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review has been a close- hold exercise in which AFSA has not been involved. (At our request, we received a briefing just before the draft was leaked.) I want to share our preliminary views and solicit yours, particularly on those aspects of most direct concern – hiring, training and retention. As the process unfolds we will provide updates, and we encourage your feedback on specific proposals at

Broadly speaking, AFSA welcomes the QDDR’s call to rely on America’s diplomats and development experts to be the “first face of American power.” We concur in the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service and the International Broadcasting Bureau. And we want to be active partners in the process as it moves forward – but we need basic information so that we can contribute constructive proposals to improve “cost-effectiveness and results” – a QDDR goal.

In its briefing to AFSA, the department has asserted that it does not intend to establish a mid-level lateral entry program at the State Department. We will work to ensure that this does not happen. What has so far been revealed about the QDDR draft recommendations relating to recruiting and training suggests that it seeks to address the (unspecified) mid-level experience gap in broad terms. AFSA’s position remains clear: We believe that mid-level hiring programs are not and have not been the best way to address mid-level experience gaps for the Foreign Service at all agencies. Like our military, the Foreign Service consists of commissioned officers, who serve on an up-or-out basis and are subject to the discipline of worldwide availability. Lateral entry is disruptive to the system and undermines morale in the same way it would if introduced into our military services.

At State, the “hiring surge” of the last few years has brought in thousands of new entry-level officers, many with strong academic credentials and extensive work experience. We believe that a better, more flexible, quicker and less costly way to address any mid-level gap is to identify and give opportunities for rapid advancement and training in supervision and management to the best of the entry level officers and to draw on Foreign Service retirees – in effect, our “Foreign Service reserve” – who have the needed experience, need no training, know how embassies and missions work, can mentor and coach, and are, by definition, short term. More flexible hiring authority to use retirees to fill mid-level experience gaps, with appropriate sunset provisions, is a tool the Secretary of State should have and should use.

In contrast to the State Department, the QDDR recommends hiring 95 mid-level technical experts at USAID. While AFSA recognizes the occasional need to bring in mid-level technical experts not currently available in the agency, we are not convinced that the numbers proposed are critical to carry out USAID’s work. The need at the FS-2 and FS-3 levels can be largely met in a cost-effective manner by appointing personnel with the same skills at the FS-5 and FS-4 levels. In any case, AFSA needs to be included in any work-force analysis in order to assure that only justifiable hiring takes place.

The QDDR recommends expanding opportunities for State Department Civil Service personnel to convert to the Foreign Service, seeking more flexible hiring authorities to attract expertise, and tying promotion to training. The current conversion procedures were negotiated with AFSA, and we continue to welcome qualified career Civil Service colleagues who utilize these existing procedures.

We have asked for a detailed briefing about the scope and nature of the mid-level deficit of positions at State and USAID, and expect to receive it shortly. I have communicated these points to Director of Policy Planning and QDDR Coordinator Anne-Marie Slaughter and to Director General Nancy Powell. We are also seeking more specific information about hiring authority and tying promotion to training.

We remain ready to contribute constructive proposals to ensure that the QDDR process enhances the operation of the Foreign Service. We look forward to working with management to ensure that: (1) any mid-level needs are carefully and transparently identified and documented; (2) established procedures to fill such gaps are followed; and (3) any remedial measures proposed strengthen our professional diplomatic and development services rather than weakening or politicizing them.

Best regards,

Susan R. Johnson
AFSA President

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

See on raske!

Today I got a taste of things to come.

Holy crap!

One of my classmates was out today, and the other had to leave after two hours.

That left me alone for the rest of the class. And let me tell you, that is exhausting!

And like I said, that was just a taste of the future. Friday, I will be in class alone for the whole day.

Then next month, I could be alone for as much as two weeks. It all depends on the timing.

I am glad for what amounts to getting tutored privately, but boy is it hard (which is basically what the subject means, in case you were wondering)!

I need a nap!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marriage Injustice

Many folks don't understand what the big deal is with marriage equality. You have love and nothing else matters, right? Marriage is just a piece of paper. Right?

Wrong. When it comes to protecting your family, those more than 1,000 rights that heterosexuals get for getting that piece of paper matter a lot.

The Washington Post had a nice piece in the editorial section today talking about some of those inequalities that matter and some lawsuits that are trying to address them. Like these couples, if I died, my wife could not inherit my pension. And if I died, she would have to pay inheritance taxes for "inheriting" our home.

Marriage Injustice

EDITH "EDIE" WINDSOR and Thea Spyer were together for 44 years and legally married since 2007. They lived in New York, which recognizes same-sex marriage. But none of that mattered when Ms. Spyer died at 77 in 2009 after a decades-long struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Ms. Windsor, now 81, was treated like a stranger to Ms. Spyer because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman. She was forced to pay $350,000 in federal inheritance taxes.

Gerald V. Passaro II and Thomas M. Buckholz had been a couple for 13 years when they were married in 2008 in Connecticut, which legally blesses such relationships. Mr. Buckholz had worked for 20 years for Bayer Corp., which extends certain benefits to domestic partners; he was also vested in the company's pension plan. But when he died in 2009, Mr. Passaro was denied benefits for surviving spouses. Because federal law governs the pension plan, DOMA applies.

This month, Ms. Windsor filed a lawsuit in New York challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. Mr. Passaro is one of the plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit in Connecticut. Their experiences demonstrate the injustice of this law.

DOMA was created for the purposes of "defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage," "defending traditional notions of morality" and "protecting state sovereignty and democratic self-governance" - dubious goals, at best.

How does the denigration of committed same-sex relationships strengthen opposite-sex unions? How could it be moral to pile hardship upon grief by forcing surviving spouses to deal with financial strains others are shielded from? How is federalism bolstered when states are prevented from applying policy and legal preferences in defining marriage, long considered the states' domain?

This year, a Massachusetts judge ruled that DOMA violated the equal-protection rights of same-sex married couples. Ms. Windsor and Mr. Passaro offer convincing arguments for why the jurists overseeing their respective cases should reach the same result.

Plaintiffs nationwide will probably try to chip away at DOMA's indefensible foundations. And the Supreme Court may yet have a chance to weigh in. But justice would best and most gratifyingly be served if Congress simply repealed the law, once and for all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Warning: Shamelessly Sappy

If you read the title, consider yourself warned.

If you need further warning, today is my anniversary.

About 13 years ago, I met the woman who became my wife. A mutual friend who thought we had a lot in common had wanted us to meet for a while. She thought we would become friends.

Neither of us was single when we met. In fact, her girlfriend was with her as she, her girlfriend, our friend and her partner and I all went to one of my favorite places, the SC State Fair. My then girlfriend did not join us.

While I confess that her girlfriend and I tried to "out butch" each other (and I am aware the powers that be were with me in keeping me from getting ill on some of those rides!), M and I didn't flirt with each other. We are both sort of old fashioned that don't cheat on the person you are dating and you don't try to hook up with someone who is taken.

We didn't see each other again for two years. Then we each got separate emails from our mutual friend "innocently" pointing out that the other was now single. We started chatting by email and phone. And eleven years ago today, I drove up to see her. We have been together ever since.

A lot of people ask if we met in the Foreign Service, but we were together for more than two years before she joined. In fact, she wouldn't have joined if not for me. She had planned to blow off both the written (I told her to do it, it would give her more options if she passed) and the orals (I told her we'd make a tourist weekend of DC of it). And when she got the offer and her subsequent first assignment, we decided we should get married. So we made arrangements with our church in North Carolina, and were married in August of 2002. Though it was not legal (there were no states with same-sex marriage in 2002), we consider this our real wedding.

But I consider today to be our anniversary as well (we celebrate both, because, hey, who doesn't like more excuses to celebrate?), because last year, on the 10th anniversary of our being together, we drove to Provincetown, Massachusetts and were married legally. And though I thought this was simply a piece of paper, a legal protection of sorts, I find it is more than that. It is also something tangible, solid. Like our commitment before God and our community in our church wedding, this means something.

There are those who don't understand why I am so public not just about my sexuality but about my marriage. I have been told by some folks, gay and straight, "Sexuality should be private. I don't care what you do in your bedroom." But surely your realize your own sexuality is about more than sex. It is about who you form your not just physical, but emotional and spiritual attachment to. By saying it is "private," you are saying it is something that needs to be hidden. But marriage is not a private thing. It is a profoundly public act. It is about declaring your love and commitment not just to each other, but to your community, and if you are a spiritual person, to your Creator. Even the most secular marriages involve more than a private declaration...they have to go to a Justice of the Peace.

We are as traditional a couple as you would find among any heterosexuals (something I think my in-laws are coming to realize). Our weddings were spiritually based and our marriage is profoundly traditional. We are best friends and equal partners. We work hard. We save for our retirement. We pay our bills on time. We live within our means. We eat dinner together every night, at the table, where we usually work a crossword puzzle together. We have a date night, usually at our favorite sushi place, every week. We have goofy inside jokes that no one else understands. We have chosen not to have children, but we are doting aunts and devoted mothers to our fur and feather children. I am convinced, 11 years later, that we were made for each other. We have a very good life and I am grateful for every single aspect of it. And I look forward to the day when our marriage is treated like any other marriage, because it is exactly like any other marriage (well, the good ones anyway).

Twelve years ago, I could not have imagined my life looking anything like it does today. Today, I can not imagine my life any other way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Little Annoying

Let me say up front that I HATE being late.

Many of you know that I am part Indian, part German. I joke that this means I either need to be 15 minutes early or it is a good day to fish.

Usually, especially for work, I channel my dad (the German half): being on time means being early.

If I am going to be late, I often prefer not to go at all.

So today area studies met at the Holocaust Museum. They made no arrangements for transportation for us, and we were originally scheduled to start there at 1 o'clock.

This is a problem for those of us who have language class until 12:30 at FSI. So the instructor agreed to make it 1:30.

Great. So we get there...I carpooled with my classmates. We were there 45 minutes early, so we had some lunch at the museum cafeteria (the fish chowder was good...the brownie, sadly, not so much. And it is really expensive! My classmates spent $30 for sandwhiches for the two of them). And then we were outside at the entrance where we were instructed to meet in plenty of time.

But our instructor took folks up early. And left no one downstairs. So we waited and waited...finally (once the line going in died down), we went in, found someone who knew of our group...then we had to find our way to a conference room that even employees of the museum didn't seem to know the location of.

We finally found them, but we were late.

The speaker was good, but really, they should have arranged for him to come to FSI, so we could have listened longer, or arranged transportation so we could have arrived as a group. Or left someone downstairs for those of us who were EARLY but apparently not early enough.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

Sometimes you just gotta laugh at yourself.

Today was one of those days.

We had our regular substitute teacher today (she now comes every week for one day a week to allow our regular teacher to take care of admin responsibilities). I really like her and sometimes she is funny without meaning to be.

So for our homework last night, we had to write eight sentences in present perfect. I decided to try to be a bit more complex than your standard present perfect sentence.

This is a profoundly bad idea.

I realized as soon as I read my first sentence.

Our teacher just looked at me. And then asked me to repeat myself.

I did. She asked me to read it again. And again.

When we finally finished my first sentence, I announced I had not written any more sentences (which we all knew was untrue...I always do my homework).

So I read the next one...over and over.

The lesson for today, when you are new to a language, write simple sentences.

It got to the point where she would just crack up every time I even looked at her when she asked me a question...but she is so polite she looks away and covers her face (so you don't have to see her laughing at you!).

By the time I finished my sentences, I had started answering every question, in Estonian, with, "I don't know. I don't speak Estonian."

At one point, I said something in English and she said, "No, say it in Estonian." And I said, "What is "Oh for god's sake!" in Estonian?"

And she answered me.

By the end of the day, one of my classmates had caught my disease...and like me, he has a tendency towards being a smart aleck.

So I succeeded in destroying our class. Ah well...there is always tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Things You Get Used To

You would be surprised at what you can get used to.

We give up many things to serve in the Foreign Service. One of those things is our idea of privacy.

We are warned before we ever go overseas that we are high priority targets. We know will we be watched, in our homes and on the streets. Our homes will likely be bugged.

After you get past your initial reaction of "Oh my god, I am never getting naked again!," you adjust. You get used to it. Even if you have been a victim in the past, you get used to it. You get used to the idea that your most private moments are not really private. (Hint: this means NEVER do anything you would rather die than have your family know).

I remember once, while overseas, seeing a story about a man who was filming women from outside their homes. He wasn't filming them in their bedrooms or bathrooms...he just filmed them in their kitchens or through whatever window didn't have the shades drawn. And these women were freaked out. They felt seriously violated. And perhaps a few years ago, I might have as well. But when this hit the news, I couldn't fathom what the big deal was. Because I have gotten used to it.

I am having a similar reaction to the latest controversy about the new TSA scanner. It shows an image that looks like you naked. And that totally doesn't bother me. I am certain it would have bothered me in the past. But I also know I have been watched in way more personal situations (note I didn't say compromising...see the hint above and live it). And I have just adjusted to it. And frankly, since I have to fly around the world as a big part of my job, I am happy if it makes flying safer. Because it is also my least favorite part of my job.

Besides, I would much rather someone see an "image" of me undressed than go through the "enhanced pat down." Besides, I am sure that makes the time in security take even longer...

But who knows...maybe I'd get used to that too.

ON EDIT: You gotta check out Four Globetrotters. I just LOVE her way of dealing with the "enhanced pat down." I am definitely going to use the "Will you hold me?" line.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We Interrupt Our Regular Blogging...

To congratulate the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Last night, they defeated the University of Florida Gators 36-14 to become the champions of the SEC East for the first time in school history.

Stephen Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey were all particularly awesome!

So I have only two things left to say:

1. How 'Bout Them Gamecocks!


2. How do I get tickets to the SEC championship?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting Stuck

I got my flu shot yesterday.

This is a sign that I am happy.

When I was in Jerusalem, our consulate nurse sent notice after notice to get everyone to come get their flu shot. They were free.

I declined.

So she came to each of our offices, flu shots in tow. I again politely declined.

She tried to figure out my reasons.

"Are you afraid of needles?"

"Not at all. I used to give blood regularly."

"Are you afraid of getting sick?"

"Not at all."

"Afraid of the pain?"


"So why won't you get the shot?"

"Because I hate my job."

Yes, I assured her, I hated what I was doing enough to risk getting sick for two weeks. And I have had the flu before, once. I knew what I was risking.

Luckily, I didn't get sick. Even more fortunate, I landed in a good job back in DC (have I said before how much I LOVE INR? Because I do. Seriously. Awesome bureau! It is the reason I am still a diplomat).

And now I get my shot every year. Not just because I don't want to get sick. But because I am glad I waited it out. I am glad I stayed with it. No way would I want to miss two weeks of work.

Because even when my job is hard, it is cool. Cool to get to serve. Cool to get to be paid for what I do.

Too cool to risk getting the flu to avoid.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Trouble With Stuff

Stuff is a two-edged sword for Foreign Service Officers.

We always say we need to live with less stuff. We realize how little we need when we first get to post with no more than what is provided in the welcome kit and what we can carry in two suitcases. Even the amount of stuff we can carry in the suitcase has been reduced.

And yet, travelling lets us get more stuff. Cool stuff that has a story about our travels. And the stuff we have, that we take with us, is also the little piece of home that we need to remind us of who we are.

But every couple years, we have to pack up all that stuff, or rather, let someone else pack all that stuff, and ship it around the world. And that is when you get the horror stories of people losing their stuff.

You hear all the stories...the warehouse that caught fire, the boat that sank, the car that made it all the way to port only to be dropped from the crane as it was being unloaded.

I think of all of this because the more I think about going to most, the more I feel the need to start sorting, packing, tossing all this stuff we have accumulated. And it was brought home today as a friend learned that her stuff, which was supposed to be delivered today, which was late because some other boats had crashed into each other and lost other people's stuff, was in containers damaged with mold and water. She won't know until next week whether her stuff was damaged. Whether she has any stuff left at all.

We plan to leave a lot more in storage here this time around. A lot of things I took with me before, like my books, my pottery collection, etc will be safer in storage than travelling back and forth on a slow boat. I just have to figure out what we need to make our house in Tallinn a home while leaving behind the home full of stuff we like but don't need.

And we need to be able to be comfortable with losing any part of it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Value of Service

Unless you live under a rock...or are a certain veteran I am in class with who apparently forgets Veteran's Day every year...this is the day when we honor those who, as some have said, have written a blank check to our country. They were willing to pay whatever price was neccessary for our freedom.

But Veteran's Day is bitter sweet for me.

On the one hand, I am deeply grateful for all those who have made that sacrifice for us. And each year, I personally thank my favorite veteran, who knows who she is, for serving.

But on the other, I regret being denied my chance to serve in that way.

Yes, I am serving my country as a Foreign Service Officer, and I am deeply proud of my service and of my country for letting me serve openly.

But there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that had I been allowed to serve in the military without having to abandon the military traditions of honor and dignity by lying about who I am, I would have. I'd have written that check. In a heartbeat. I wanted to write that check.

So Veteran's Day is bittersweet for me because I love this country, warts and all. And as an American Indian, I am more than aware of her warts. But also of her wonders. And I wanted to serve without having to lie. And I admire all those who serve from the closet, knowing that should they pay the ultimate price, their husbands and wives will be the last to know.

I am eager for the day to come when Don't Ask, Don't Tell is lifted and I am thankful for President Clinton for lifting the ban on openly gay Foreign Service Officers having a security clearance. Because we once served in silence too.

And on this day too, I think about the bitter irony that the person who taught me the value of serving this country was my grandfather, who served in the Marines for 30 years. He was also the only person in my family to reject me for being gay even as I was the only one of his descendents to choose to follow his example and serve this country.

DPBO: Rx for Federal Workplace Equality

The Human Rights Campaign has some videos of folks talking about the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and the difference it will make in the lives of LGBT federal employees and their families.

HRC writes:
"November 8 – December 13 is open enrollment for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP), a plan that doesn't extend coverage to same-sex partners. That's wrong and out of step with other employers – 23 states, the District of Columbia and a majority of Fortune 500 companies provide equal family benefits for all employees.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act would end this exclusion, but it will take all of our voices to move this bill forward."

One of the videos is of Diplomatic Security's own T.J. Lunardi.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Testing HARD!

Okay, so I took my porgress test least my biggest fear wasn't realized.

The results surprised speaking and reading were scored roughly equally, but I'd have sworn I did much better at speaking than at reading.

They told me I do better once I relax.

I realized today why exams freak me out so much.

I have low blood sugar. It wasn't diagnosed until I was in college. Before it was diagnosed, I would prepare for a test and then get stressed out and have my blood sugar crash.

And when my blood sugar crashes, I can't remember anything. I mean ANYTHING. Which is not a good thing when taking a test. So I bombed a lot of tests before I got it diagnosed and figured out how to deal with it.

So now the total blank out doesn't happen, but the nervousness around tests has never gone away. I still expect to forget everything, no matter how prepared I am.

Anyway, it is done. I can carry on a conversation. I can read an article. My teacher says I am where I am supposed to be in order to get to where I need to be.

And now I can take tomorrow off. Thanks Vets! Especially Sez, my personal favorite vet.

Gay Rights are Human Rights

Gay Rights Are Human Rights
By Maria Otero

About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

I remember meeting with Val from Uganda, an activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, last year. Val told me about how she and others activists in her country faced possible persecution for speaking out against policies that criminalized an entire class of people based on sexual orientation. I believe that we have a duty not only to speak out against harmful policies, but also to ensure that people like Val, who are trying to exercise their basic rights as human beings, are protected from possible violence.

Val's story is never far from my mind and is one of the reasons I met yesterday with representatives of the Council for Global Equality, a coalition of 19 human rights organizations that advocate for a stronger U.S. government voice on behalf of the equality and fair treatment of LGBT individuals in the United States and overseas. We had an open and engaging discussion of the State Department's efforts to elevate and integrate inclusion and protection of LGBT individuals into our human rights agenda. These efforts build upon the Obama Administration's commitment to these issues, and further Secretary Clinton's statement that "human rights are gay rights, and gay rights are human rights."

Representatives from around the State Department offered their perspective on prioritizing this human rights issue among embassies around the world. The Bureau of African Affairs explained how it has responded to violence committed against the LGBT community in Uganda, Malawi, and elsewhere. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs outlined its work to incorporate LGBT protection into the agenda of the Organization of American States and explained how it seeks out regional partners, such as Brazil. The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration explained its work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure protection for LGBT refugees, while our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor described its work on training officers in the field, including plans to roll out a "toolkit” to human rights officers globally.

Led by Ambassador Michael Guest, a retired Foreign Service officer, the Council for Global Equality expressed its willingness for further cooperation and asked excellent questions about the reaction of our partner governments, opportunities for cooperation with European allies, priorities for foreign assistance, future public diplomacy opportunities around LGBT issues, and other important topics. We obviously have much more work to do in our human rights advocacy around LGBT issues, but I left feeling encouraged by these impressive and dedicated activists and their leadership. These are not single-issue advocates, but a group of dedicated human rights professionals who seem well-prepared to effectively carry their concerns into our democracy and overseas as an integrated part of our overall human rights diplomacy. And, hopefully, through our joint efforts, Val and others like her will be able to live freely and without fear of persecution.

You can view Secretary Clinton's "It Gets Better" video and remarks here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Got that song on your mind, didn't I?

Anyway, you'd think after yesterday's news, we could just celebrate by cancelling my progress test tomorrow, right?

Yeah! So did I!

Apparently we don't get a vote. Apparently devoting my life to the service of our democracy does not translate into my getting a vote in language class.

So tomorrow if my progress test. So unfair.

But here is my question for you: do I stufy study study tonight and try to cram more words (and endings) into my head, or do I eat ice cream and watch HGTV?

In other (more fun), I finally met Kolbi from A Daring Adventure in person today. She seems to be having as much fun in Chinese as I am in Estonian. We have a date to eat sushi and commiserate next week.

Because sushi fixes everything.

Monday, November 08, 2010

That Breeze You Felt Today...

...was me breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Today is handshake day. And my wife got hers...

So the starts aligned the way we had hoped, and she is also heading to Estonia.

Now I can give myself over completely to fantasizing about our onward assignment!

Life is good.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Decoding Bidding

No Double Standards over at Muttering Behind the Hardline has a great piece on the Kafka-esque World of Bidding. He uses his experience in filling jobs to demystify the process a bit (because there is really only just so much you can demystify it...). And everything he says, in my experience, is 100% spot on!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Making Sense of Loss

Some of you already know that I learned last night that my grandfather died. I couldn't write about it because my home internet was down.

Probably just as well...I am still processing it.

My grandfather and I were estranged. We had not spoken since my mother's funeral, and to be honest, we didn't speak often before she died.

He had an issue with homosexuality.

When he found out my mother was in a relationship with a woman, he wrote her a nasty letter. Because she adored him, she kept that letter in her purse until the day she died, and because she adored him, she tortured herself with it daily. I used to beg her to throw it away.

I tried, before and after she died, to reach out to him. He refused my letters and deleted my emails. He refused my family members' attempts to intervene on my behalf. He was the only person in my family to reject me for being gay.

And it wasn't just me...he also rejected my brother, who is not gay. My brother, who is biologically my first cousin, was adopted by my mother when he was two because his father, her brother, couldn't care for him. And at the time, my grandfather advised her not to take him in because it was too much responsibility.

He was never around when I was a kid, and he knows my brother even less. He has never met my brother's children, his only great-grandkids. And for the record, my niece and nephew are awesome.

But in spite of all of that, I had always held out hope he would come around. That he would want a relationship with us. Because I know I am a granddaughter most would be proud to have. My mom's mother was. My dad's parents were. My dad is. And they all knew I was gay. But they also knew that I still had the same values I had been raised with. Which means you find the person you want to spend your life with and you commit. You love them and stay faithful to them. You pay your bills, you live within your means. You treat others well. You live life with honesty and integrity.

I am a diplomat. I have a Master's degree and nearly a PhD. I have a stable marriage and stable job. I have devoted myself to the service of my country. I would have thought he would have wanted a granddaughter like me.

I am a good person. I am also a gay person, and I am not ashamed of that. But he could never get past the second statement to see the first.

So mostly I am sad at not really ever getting to know him and him never giving himself a chance to get to know me.

I can't feel sad at losing him...I haven't had him in a very long time. Mostly I am sad that the chance to reconcile is gone.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Gay Tax

If you follow Adventures By Aaron, you know that he and his partner, who is a new FSO, are having a headache trying to take their car overseas. Long story short, they are having to refinance the car with USAA, who will let them take the car overseas, because Wells Fargo wasn't willing to work the issue out because Aaron "isn't the employee."

So now they just needed to get the car registered in Florida and they would be on their way. Easy, right?

Nope...after he had registered the car and was on his way back to the airport to come home, he got a call that he had to come back and pay a tax or his registration would be cancelled.

Aaron writes:
"The issue required phone calls to Wells Fargo and USAA to resolve. The clerk hadn't realized that I was refinancing with a different bank, and she needed to find out the pay-off amount so that she could charge me sales tax. In the end, I had to pay $300 more than originally quoted.

Why, you ask?

Because I am gay.

When a married couple refinances a loan, they are not taxed.

When a gay couple refinances a loan, they are taxed. Because they are not married. Despite the fact that they would likely be quite HAPPY to do so, given the chance.

When a straight, single person refinances a loan, he/she is taxed.

So basically, what I learned yesterday was that, in the eyes of the Florida government, my 7-year relationship is worth no more than being single."

You can see the whole post here.

Just one of the many ways people, even those serving the country, get punished for being gay. One more way we are not full citizens.

Explain to me again why his relationship and mine are worth less than someone who meets and marries a stranger in Vegas?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Yesterday's election results certainly came as no surprise to me, but they distress me none the less.

For many who would have preferred a different outcome, I suppose this is one of the many swings of the pendulum, and they know it will eventually swing back their way.

It is harder for LGBT people.

This is the first president in a long time where we really believed there would be change. A President who we thought believed we should be full citizens. And we dared to hope.

Hope can be a devastating thing.

We have made certain advances in the past two years. At least talking about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is on the agenda. The repeal of DOMA has been discussed. The courts, who have always been at the forefront of social change (i.e. Brown v Board of Education and Loving v Virginia) have acknowledged what we LGBT people have always known. We are subject to discriminatory treatment simply because some find us distastful.

And in the Foreign Service, we have seen a sea change. We have a Secretary who is an ally, who has already done everything within her power to address the inequities her employees face. Life in the Foreign Service is better than it was two years ago.

But my legal marriage is still not legal in the place I reside (we so need to move). We still lack the protections afforded to other families, even those who married in a drunken stupor in Vegas. Even those who have never devoted a minute to the service of our great country.

It has been said that African Americans who served in the military when they were still not treated equally kept faith with this country even when this country did not keep faith with them. This is exactly how I see my service.

And now I fear the small advances we have made will be taken away.

The Virginia governor shortly after being elected repealed employment protections for LGBT people. The Attorney General said that colleges must not have non-discrimination protections either. The advances we have made are few and fragile. And I am afraid.

But I am still serving, still trying to keep faith.