Saturday, July 30, 2011
Or has my lack of posting chased you all away?
Seriously, don't you think I would post if I could? And don't you think I deserve a vacation, even if that means that I don't have much internet access?
For the three of you still with me, I am back in the Carolinas now. After wrapping up what felt a lot like an eating tour of Savannah (no, we never did go to Paula Deen's, but I think we are going to try her place in Cherokee), we headed to Atlanta to spend a couple days with my dad. We took a trip to Stone Mountain...the last time I was there was like milliseconds before I came out...I went up there to see a laser light show with some friends, one of whom soon became a much better friend. She is still one of my closest friends (and probably among the three of you still reading...but since one of the other two is probably my dad, I will move along!).
Yesterday, we headed from Atlanta to Asheville, NC. We like to stay at these cabins just outside of town. This trip, we are staying in the one I looked at the last time we were here and thought, that is where I want to stay next time.
It is perfect...my idea of roughing it...a full kitchen, king bed, deck overlooking the national forest, and a hot tub right outside of the bedroom.
It also attracts the occasional visitor.
This afternoon, we headed to the French Broad to do some tubing...a nice relaxing way to spend an afternoon provided you don't direct your friend's tube into a bridge column. Sorry about that!
And now that I have updated you, I am going to fulfill another requirement...a nap.
This vacation thing is exhausting!
Monday, July 25, 2011
I hope you'll forgive me...I have vacation/moving overseas brain.
Anyway, I wanted to welcome the 162nd A-100 class to the Foreign Service.
There are two bloggers that I know of in this class:
Short Term Memory, now featuring Tandem Issues!
Let me know if I have missed anyone, and welcome to the Service!
ON EDIT: Wow! I missed at least TWO bloggers! Seriously, vacation brain. Look, bright thing in the sky!
So welcome as well to:
I have added both to the blogroll. Welcome y'all! (I'm in Savannah, and since Paula Deen throws in a y'all every other word - like no Southerner I've ever seen! - I thought I would too!).
Sunday, July 24, 2011
I am usually pretty calm and polite. I am a Southerner after all. My parents raised me right.
But yesterday, well...
My wife said she was shocked to walk out and find me yelling at the staff at Arby's in Manning, SC.
Let me back up.
Yesterday, we finally got to head off for our vacation. Because of language training and all the work my wife has had on the Poland desk, we haven't really had a vacation since last August.
So we decide to head to Savannah since my wife had never been there. The trip *should* take nine hours.
It actually took eleven and a half hours, thanks to the traffic on I-95.
So by the time we got to Manning, I was tired. And it was hot outside. And I wanted to get some gas and some food and get back on the road.
So I pull up to the pump. I swipe my card. "See cashier." So I walk inside. She said she needs to know how much I want. I want to fill it up. "Well I need a dollar amount." I don't know a dollar amount. I want to fill it up. "Well I need a dollar amount so I can activate the pump." I should have walked away. There was another station across the street. But I finally settled on $40, with the understanding that I would have to come BACK inside to get a new receipt if I used less than $40. Which of course I did.
They seem to do this to all credit card users...which seems to me to defeat the purpose of having a credit card reader at the pump....
So I was already annoyed when we drove next door to Arby's. But it is one of my favorite places, so I expected it to be good. My wife tells me what she wants, and heads to the bathroom.
So I order a combo for her and one for me. $5.89 and $5.19. They charge me $13.91.
Now I am pretty sure that a balance of $11.08 doesn't cost an additional $2.83 in tax. So I say so.
I was told I was wrong. "You'll see it on the receipt." Okay, so I pay. Maybe SC has suddently and uncharacteristically raised the sales tax dramatically.
So I look at the receipt. The tax was like $1.15. So they definitely overcharged me.
And they point to the receipt and STILL insist I was wrong. I point to the board and the prices. I add it up on my cell phone calculator to show them. And so the cashier who was training the cashier says I should get like .89 back. And I said no, it is not only .89.
This is when my wife comes out.
I was not yelling. I was, however, forcefully insisting that I get a refund of my overcharge. Not because I even cared about that amount of money, but because they were rudely insisting I was wrong.
It took the ENTIRE STAFF huddling around the register to determine she forgot to call them a combo and therefore charge me less than the charge of the individual items, and a phone call to some distant manager for me to get back my change.
Needless to say, I will pass by that exit on the way back.
But there was one Lady in my day yesterday. But not A lady. THE Lady.
The Lady Chablis.
My wife had never been to a drag show, so what better way to introduce her to this aspect of gay culture than to take her to a performance by Lady Chablis at Club One in Savannah.
It was a great performance. She is as funny today as she was when she and I worked together at a bar in Columbia more than 20 years ago.
Though to be fair, she was less of a lady than I was!
Saturday, July 23, 2011
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 22, 2011
Statement by the President on Certification of Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality. In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011.
As Commander in Chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness. Today’s action follows extensive training of our military personnel and certification by Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen that our military is ready for repeal. As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.
I want to commend our civilian and military leadership for moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war. I want to thank all our men and women in uniform, including those who are gay or lesbian, for their professionalism and patriotism during this transition. Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans.
Friday, July 22, 2011
He estimates that I will be taking about 2,200 lbs worth of stuff with me to post.
That is only because my wife, and all of her books, are not joining me immediately.
I have also designated a cat (and therefore cat-barf) free zone for my UAB and have begun taking stuff there. I have a a tv in there and I just packed up my wii and guitar hero, so you know you want to come visit and play with me.
My lists are getting more and more crossed off of them.
And tomorrow starts the most important thing of all:
I'll *try* to post some during the course of our trip, which will take us down to Savannah and then over to Asheville, with a stop in Hotlanta (an especially apt name today...) to see my dad.
Speaking of the heat, here is a picture my cousin sent me today of an ice cream truck in South Carolina.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Again, I found them really useful. But I just have to say, the PD offices in the Pharmacy Building (SA-05) are just nuts. If you think that Main State is challenging to navigate, try those offices! There is no rhyme or reason to the office numbering. In Main State, if an office is say, 5432, you know that it is on the 5th floor, 4th cooridor in numerical order. Odd cooridors run one way, even the other. Pretty simple.
Not so with the ECA, IIP, etc offices.
For example, you might have office number 3x02.
Okay, so you know 3rd floor.
But then you arrive at the third floor and you there are doors to your left and right. But no numbers. You just guess. Hmmm...this starts with O? But wait, there's an H.
So you just wander around until you find a kind soul to direct you. And even they admit that after being there for two years, they still have to guess. They only know where the cubicles are that they normally visit.
I was late to two meetings there today because of this "system," or lack thereof. But one of those was cancelled at the last moment, and the other was with a kind, understanding soul.
I got lots of great ideas today.
The meeting with the Fulbrighters was great too...but I didn't mean to be one of the speakers...
I got there after the meeting started...it was a briefing on the Baltics by our INR analyst, the same one who came to our area studies three times and provided the only substantive info on the Balts during our 10 MONTHS there. I just wanted to hear what he had to say and then meet the folks headed to Estonia afterwards.
I walked in about 30 minutes into the talk (because I had a meeting beforehand and then had to make it across town, so he knew I'd be late) and quietly found a seat. After a few minutes, he noticed I was there...and stopped his talk to say hello and to intriduce me to the group.
Then he asked me to come sit up front...I said, no no, I am just here to listen. Then the Fulbright coordinator insisted I come sit at the table. So I did. But I wasn't prepared to say anything to them. So I just told them I wanted to get all their emails so we could keep in touch, and that I looked forward to working with them in Estonia.
And speaking of INR (the speaker...keep up), I encourage you to get briefings with them. Too often, folks forget INR, and they are a font of knowledge. They can tailor a briefing to your clearance level, and let me tell you they are all awesome. You will only find experts of their calliber in the finest universities. And check out INR/OPN too. They do media analysis and polling in our countries. They will have some great unclassified info for you. I had two INR briefings today in addition to the Fulbrighter talk, one with the analyst and one with the analyst from OPN, and they were great.
You will be better prepared for having done it.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
She loved it!
But wait! There's more!
She asked my wife where we would be living. A few compared notes later, they determined that she had lived in our apartment!
And she LOVED it!
She said the space it great, the views are incredible, and that it is in a great location. She said she was able to walk everywhere.
Which is EXACTLY what I wanted.
I wasn't looking for the radio in the shower, but I'll take that too - it will take my mind off wondering if it is really one of those old Star Trek transporters.
I have been as busy today as I have with any normal work day. There is entirely too much to get done.
Organizing. Tossing. Mailing. Lists. So many lists.
Complicating this move is the fact that my wife is not moving with me. So when the movers called today (because they thought they were packing my UAB this Friday...no, that would be the packout survey...) and asked if they could just do my UAB and HHE on the same day, I said no. No way can I handle separating my UAB and HHE from what we need to leave here. Has to be different days.
Tomorrow is more consultations. I'm particularly excited about meeting the eight Fulbrighters heading to Estonia.
I am not excited about putting on a suit again when they are calling for it to be over 100 degrees.
Monday, July 18, 2011
When I was a junior officer, I didn't find my consultations to be all that helpful. This wasn't because the consultations weren't informative. It was just that I didn't know what to ask, didn't know what I needed to know. It was all overwhelming.
This time, I knew better what to ask, and the answers were helpful.
In addition, I got other things accomplished today. I applied for my grants warrant. I took the course last summer, but they tell you not to apply for the warrant until you are closer to heading to post. The warrant allows you to deal with the money we get for programming.
I also got Carlson Waggonlit to cancel my reservations...they had sent me a notice telling me they were about to buy the ticket. Yep, the ticket I already purchased. So I was about to have to pay for a second time for the same flight. And to pay more than I paid the first time around.
So I am glad that is done.
I have more consultations to go, and then of course there is the dreaded packout.
Less than a month to go.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
SUBJECT: Employment of Transgender Individuals
1. The Department remains committed to a diverse workforce and to creating a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. To ensure that we fulfill our obligations and responsibilities, and create a productive work environment, we are sharing guidelines published on May 27 by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on the employment of transgender individuals in the federal workplace (http://www.opm.gov/diversity/Transgender/Guidance.asp). All managers and supervisors should review this guidance.
2. OPM's guidance reiterates the federal government's policy to treat all employees with dignity and respect and to provide a workplace that is free from discrimination whether based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity or pregnancy), national origin, disability, political affiliation, marital status, membership in an employee organization, age, sexual orientation, or other
non-merit factors. The Department's policy on discrimination and harassment already prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Relevant FAM updates were in progress at the time OPM's guidelines were published and are forthcoming.
3. OPM developed its guidelines to address common Questions that agencies have raised regarding employment of transgender individuals. Managers and supervisors should be aware of Department resources available to them. Questions regarding the employment of transgender individuals should be addressed to the Chief of the Work Life Division in the Office of Employee Relations. The Department recognizes that bureaus and overseas posts may have specific questions and HR stands ready to provide necessary guidance. The Department will also develop general policy guidance beyond that set forth by OPM as needed.
When I did hear, it was days later, after a friend had forwarded the English translation of the article to my wife, who forwarded it to me (thank goodness for smart phones). I then managed to find it online in Estonian with my somewhat limited smartphone internet.
I am a bit weirded out about it.
This is not even close to the first time I have been in the press. I have been a gay rights activist for more than half of my life (bonus points for you if you don't speculate on how long that has been). I attended the first gay pride march in SC. In fact, I attended the meeting where the idea for it was born the year before it happened. I attended THE gay pride march in DC, the one where they estimate we had more than a million marchers. The one that marched to the Capital, because it was a protest, not just a party (which is not to say I don't love our party pride marches, just that they are different). Since joining the State Department, I have been active in GLIFAA, serving on the board and even as president.
All of that has meant I have been in the news a lot...I've been in the Post, The Times, CNN. Plus local outlets. I was on tv in Charleston, SC when I organized a Queer Nation sit in at a local Cracker Barrell.
I am not afraid of being in the media.
But this feels different.
I am not something special in Estonia (in fact, I am not even IN Estonia yet!). This is a normal rotation of a new diplomat in to replace the one who has been there for years. The only time that is news worthy, at least to me, is when it is the Ambassador. Which I clearly am not.
I am there as part of the US mission. My message is the message of the mission. My goals are the goals of the mission. Am I still an activist? Yes. Do I think that can be meshed with the goals of the mission? I certain hope so...it seems to be currently.
What I think happened is this: an ordinary email was sent to the press, who have to deal with the PAO, letting them know the current PAO was leaving and I was coming in. To my knowledge, only one outlet responded, demanding my email immediately so they could do a story immediately. But of course, the embassy didn't give it, and didn't think it was appropriate to comment on me since I am not in country and the person I am replacing still is.
I agree comepletely.
But I was a reporter once, so here is my guess as to what happened on the media side. They got the email and thought, wonder who this new person is. So they googled my name. What? She's gay? AND and American Indian? Well that is different! Let's do a story! And let's do it now so we beat the larger paper!
Getting no comment from the embassy, they essentially went with all of the information on my state.gov bio. The bio for pride month.
So it should be no surprise that the headline read something along the lines of "Gay American Indian coming to be US Embassy Press Attache." (This is not the headline they used in the embassy's English summary...they wrote "Embassy welcomes new press attache.")
Guess I won't be needing to come out to my contacts there. Neither will my wife, who is also mentioned in the article.
I do understand why they did the article, but I still wish they hadn't. At least before I got there.
Saturday, July 09, 2011
It is weird, and kind of sad, for it to be over.
And anti-climactic too, since I took my test a week ago.
Suddenly, I was just done.
I asked my teacher if everyone was stupid after their tests, though I did feel less stupid by Friday. She said she didn't know...no one had ever hung around. They just took their test and disappeared. Which is what I suppose I would have done had my test been this week instead of last. But I didn't want to burn the extra leave.
I feel pretty good about my language skills. It still amazes me sometimes, as someone who studied languages throughout high school and college (plus had a grandfather who taught me some German as a kid) that the Department can take someone without a single word in a language and make them able to read and converse reasonably well in less than a year.
So now I settle in to the tasks of preparing to leave. My cleaning, sorting and tossing has to begin in earnest. I have just under six weeks left.
Last night, I broke down and bought my own ticket. I found that by paying for a round trip flight, I could end up paying more than $300 LESS than I would have to pay to be on the same flight one-way if the government "bought" the ticket. So I did it, since I was going to have to pay anyway. I also finally got my parrot's CITES certificate, and this morning, since I now have a paid ticket on the flight, I am going to make reservations for her and my dog.
I also set about scanning some important documents into my computer, not the least of which was the aforementioned CITES certificate. I really really do not want a repeat of what I went through getting her home from Jerusalem.
Why must getting to post be such a challenge EVERY.SINGLE.TIME?
Friday, July 08, 2011
I have the information from the airlines that there is space on the plane for the pets.
The flight is book through a United Airlines flight number. United does not allow parrots. At all.
So if I am booked through United, I have to make pet reservations through them. So no parrots allowed.
But in order to be booked on the same flight but with a Scandinavian Airlines flight number, I have to get permission...a "Foreign Flag Approval." In other words, I need to justify why I am not "flying American."
And remember, the ticket to be on this flight is going to cost me $1600 over what the government will pay because it is the only flight my bird can go on but not the cheapest flight the government could find for me.
But wait. It gets better.
So I looked online for one-way tickets to Tallinn....really expensive. More than the rate that I already have reserved.
But if I buy a round trip ticket for the SAME FLIGHT, it will cost me $1336. That's right...round trip will cost me less than I have to pay one way.
So now I am thinking the smart thing for me to do is buy my own damn ticket. I can schedule the return for January so I can help my wife packout...something I was planning to do anyway. Then I can just get a ticket back to Estonia in January.
But it really galls me to have to pay for my own way to post.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Yes really...but I am getting close. And I received Cayenne's CITES certificate so that I can legally "re-export" her and will be able to bring her home again.
Now if I can just get her on a flight.
But that isn't what I am writing about.
Tonight, I completed my final Estonian homework assignment. Yes, I am still doing homework even though I did my test last week. They are paying me to be in training, so I am in training.
My assignment tonight was to write a free form story about my life, highlighting three positive events and three negative events and my reaction to them.
I consider myself to have had a good life, but I am aware that I have not always had an easy life. I have experienced a lot...some of it difficult to talk about, things I doubt most people would guess had happened to me because I am, or at least try to be, a steadfastly positive person. Because someone has always had it worse.
None of it is secret (I tell people I am an open book but a long read). So tonight I wrote about it...in Estonian. I am not sure what my teacher will think.
But I feel proud.
Proud of making it, proud of where I am and who I have become.
And proud that I am now skilled enough in Estonia's "secret code" to write about it in that language.
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Clearly when I did my brain dump for my language exam on Thursday, I forgot to make back up copies of the data first.
So now I am in my last week of language training, and I have NOTHING in my brain. My poor long-suffering teacher. I don't know how she didn't lose her patience, or at least her mind, with me today.
I can't remember stupid stuff...words I have long known. I don't know where it went.
I suppose part of it is just the mental break...language test done, time to plan to move sort of thing. Because now my thoughts aren't consummed with Estonian. They are consumed with sorting my stuff for packout. Buying my tickets. Packing my suitcase...can't do that until after my vacation, which is the other thing on my brain.
Boy do I need a vacation.