Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nine years (plus nearly another three)

Today is our anniversary.

Nine years ago, we were married in our church, United Church of Chapel Hill. We had, at that point, been together for nearly three years.

Of course, we had another wedding, and another wedding anniversary, marking both our time together and our legal wedding. We were legally married that day.

But this was our real wedding. The other was important, and we honor that date too, but this was the day that we promised, before God and our community, all of our tomorrows to each other.

It really sucks that we have to be apart today. And because someone tried to fraudulently use my credit card on the day I flew to Tallinn, I am still waiting on the replacement. So I couldn't even send flowers. And she mailed me a present, but it hasn't yet arrived.

But I shouldn't complain. I am lucky to have what I do. I will just be a lot happier when my family is back together in one place.

I am happy about being here...I have been super busy, hence the lack of blogging, but I will try to catch you up.

Noostie and I took a tram over to a friend's place. Yes, they allow dogs on the tram! Our friend lives closer to the shore than we do, so we took a nice walk along the shore.

The area was interesting. Not a place many tourists go. In case you were wondering what the picture at the top was, check out this interesting art feature constructed of shipping containers that was down there. If you look to the right of the picture below, you can see part of the piece above.

After our walk, we went to the friend's house to meet her cats. Noostie liked was not mutual. Her girl cats, to their credit, were brave. I never caught sight of one of the boys, and the other I saw only for a moment. Clearly they are not as into dogs as Noostie is into cats.

The rest of my weekend was spent figuring out (successfully!) how to use the washer and dryer and figuring out what was wrong with my computer (I had flipped the wireless off when pulling it in and out of my suitcase). And worrying about my wife and kitties, who were in the hurrican (they're damage...which those who know about our ceiling drama/trauma last year will understand how thankful I am for that!).

I can't even remember today what I did on Monday, except that I have been super busy. I did discover that the box I mailed myself before I left is now back in Virginia. Apparently they entered the zip in wrong at the UPS store, so my box took a tour of Amsterdam before heading home. I'm really disappointed. It had some decorations for my office, including pictures of my wife, nieces and nephews, plus some king sheets so I don't have to hunt through my HHE for sheets once my bed gets here.

I went to Tartu yesterday...the taxpayers got their money's worth yesterday! I went to work early because we have a staffdel in town (Congressional staffers) who I needed to brief, and I left after lunch for Tartu, about a 2.5 hour drive. We met with the Rector of the University of Tartu and then with our Fulbrighers (good group of folks we've got!). We got home about 9:30. So the taxpayers got 13.5 hours out of my for the 8 hours they paid for. On my "short" days, they only get 9.5 hours for their 8 hours.

Today was filled with meetings and with me trying (unsuccessfully) to register for a conference I have to attend. I did succeed finally in sitting down with my APAO so we could map out our responsibilities. He works really hard, and I would like to see him work a little less hard (don't worry taxpayers, you are getting your money's worht out of him and then some...he is a workhorse and a great officer. He is going to do really well in the service if I can keep him from burning himself out).

So slowly but surely, I am getting a handle on things. And I am really liking it. Even the putting out fires parts!

This is what I joined the service to do. One of the staffers came by my office (ours is the only bathroom near where they are meeting) and I asked how things were going. We ended up chatting for a minute about dogs and how she had been afraid to join the Foreign Service because she has a dog. I told her all about Noostie and how we travel together. And how you shouldn't give up all that makes you who you are, including your pets, because the point is to show the world the diversity of America by the diversity of those of us who serve overseas.

And she looked at me and said, "You're a Public Diplomacy Officer, aren't you?"

Yes I am.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Soap Box Derby

Picking up where I left off due to exhaustion yesterday, I left from the boat trip and headed to the Singing Hall for the Ice Cream party and soap box derby.

There was an excellent turnout...I'd guess at least 20 cars, and some were just ingenious!

Our APAO was on hand as a judge, and our DCM handed out the awards. It was a highly successful event. And when it was all over, we headed to some of the vendors to get some dinner...I found a booth from Azerbaijan with roasted lamb chops. Sold! Very yummy!

As promised, here are a few photos (though what I can't show you, because we don't post pictures of other Embassy personnel, is the great picture of our APAO sporting the shirts we had made up...actually, he was showing off his six pack because the shirt was really tiny!)

The Ice Cream King

Lining Up

Incoming Tank!

Serious Racers!

Impossibly Cute!

We were all pretty tired by the end!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sailing and Soap Box Derbies

I can barely hold my eyes open. Today has been such an incredibly long and awesome day.

This morning, my sponsor took me to the Prisma out at one of the largest malls in Estonia. I was finally able to get myself an alarm clock and dust pan. Plus a trash can for the bathroom. That place is awesome. Hmmm...I think I told you this already...I am losing track of what I write to my wife in emails and what I write here.


I went sailing today. The weather was amazingly beautiful, sunny and in the upper 70s. We were on the water for about 3 hours. The views of the Old Town, the Singing Hall, the tv tower and the Brigita Covent ruins were amazing! As promised, a few pictures. I have pics of the Soap Box Derby as well, but that will have to wait until tomorrow...I am having trouble holding my eyes open!

Sails unfurled

Our boat, Emily

The Old City

More of the Old City

The ferry to Helsinki (riding THAT wake was fun!)

The reason I have not been in the Old City so far...that is a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship on the right.


Clearly, I will spend a lot of the next three years in meetings.

My day basically starts out with a meeting, the press briefing. I come in at least an hour before it starts to try to prepare for it, basically searching the internet to see what has been said in the press about Estonia or us in the past day. We have someone on the local staff who does the same thing for the Estonian and Russian media here, and she does a fantastic job.

After the press briefing, I return to my office and try to sort through my email. I like organization, so I go through and sort and file what I can, direct others where they need to go and list who the action is currently with. This task is wouldn't believe the amount of stuff that comes in. There might be a draft of a speech or of a press release. There might be a grant request, or a meeting to arrange. Always there is the daily message and press summaries coming through. And of course, event planning.

I'll be going to one of those events later today. In conjunction with the Ice Cream Party, we are co-sponsoring a Soap Box Derby. Should be a lot of fun.

I managed to eat my lunch at a decent hour yesterday, and then had a meeting out at the Tallinn University of Technology. Some impressive folks there...Skype is out there. We talked about all sorts of visitors programs with them, as well at the Baltic American Freedom Foundation innovation award we are working on. Top prize is 10,000 euros, second is 5,000 euros. These are just the sorts of folks we'd love to see compete.

In the afternoon there were conference calls, more email sorting, and the like. I got home around six, in time to walk the dog before heading to dinner with a friend. We walked out to Kadriorg and ate at a little Thai place there. Not as good as my favorite Thai place in South Arlington, but still perfectly acceptable. It was a nice walk too...maybe 15 minutes.

Can I tell you how much I LOVE living in the city? Seriously, almost everything I need is in walking distance.

Except of course, the place my sponsor took me to today. Prisma. It is kind of like an Estonian Walmart. I was able to do some grocery shopping, plus buy a dust pan, trash can, and alarm clock! I could have also bought clothes, shoes, sporting goods, fishing equipment, towels and gardening supplies. But I don't actually need those things.

I leave shortly to go sailing. The weather for it is AMAZING! Sunny, in the 70s (the thermostat at a nearby bank said 31, which is about 87, but I am not sure I believe that.

They say the weather will change soon, so I am very glad to be enjoying it while I can!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I said I wanted to be busy...

I had soup and a ham and cheese pirukat for lunch today...

I got to eat about half of it between 2:45 and 2:55.

I got to eat the rest for dinner.

I said I wanted to be busy...

I started off the day with a coffee at the Ambassador's residence. His wife had organized it for all the new folks plus the spouses.

One of the members of the residence staff made me feel good. I spoke to her in Estonian, and she said I could speak in English. But I stayed in Estonia. By the time I left, she was hugging me, telling me how it sounded like I had studied Estonian for a long time and that I spoke it beautifully (not sure my Estonian teacher would agree with that, but at least the woman was being kind!). At least that was an improvement from the movers saying that some "they" said I didn't know a word of Estonian.

So the coffee was a lot of fun. It was nice to get to meet everyone and chat some. Turns out one of my colleagues is from SC, is enrolled Cherokee Indian, and is also part PeeDee Indian. We are probably cousins!

Talk about a small world!

I got back to the embassy just in time for my security briefing, which is something all new arrivals, including those on visitor programs like Fulbright, receive.

By the time I finished that, I had a few minutes to run to the Kohvik (little cafe) near the embassy to grab my lunch. By the time I got it and got back to my desk, it was 2:45. But I had two Fulbrighters coming by at 3, and had to be upstairs for an interview the Ambassador was doing by 3:15.

It was 5 by the time I finished that. I came downstairs and was able to work a little before my email, which is in the process of being transferred, started fouling up. First, people couldn't send me anything. They got bounce notices. Then I couldn't send. And finally, I couldn't even open emails I had in my inbox.

I am frightened about what my inbox will look like tomorrow...I was just beginning to impose organization on it (I love me some color categories in outlook).

I like organization...I was beginning to feel that I could get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what was going on and that I might drop some balls. I was in the DCM's OMS's office and I said I needed one of those big desk calendars. She said, oh, you can have mine. I hadn't even seen that she had was on her back desk with stuff on it. She said she never used it. I thanked her profusely (she is super nice...we went to the coffee together today and she will be on the sailing trip Saturday), and I promptly wrote down all my meetings, all the events coming up, and all things that were due and when. Color coded, of course. And suddenly, it feels much more manageable.

I love me some organization.

I am liking this job. I am busy, but I think with my section, it is manageable. And I would much rather be busy than bored.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I has it.

Though not a lot of it.

My UAB arrived today.

The movers truly offended me...I was speaking to them in Estonian and he said, "You can speak in English." I continued in Estonian and he said, "They told me you didn't speak Estonian."

"That I didn't speak Estonian?" I asked in disbelief.

"Yes, that you did not know a single word of Estonian."

"I studied Estonian for almost a year," I said to him, in Estonian.


I didn't say much of anything else to him in English. Whoever "they" is, stop dissing my hard work!

Anyway, it is all already unpacked and put away. In retrospect, I am glad I packed more clothes, though I wish I had been more selective in choosing them. The two weeks worth of work clothes I stuffed into my suitcase would have gotten old pretty quickly. Especially since half my shirts were for warmer weather and half for cooler. Because you never know what you will get here...lately it has been warmer, and I was running low on short-sleeved shirts.

I am happiest to have my towels, my other pillow (I brought one with me, plus sheets, because I know how bad embassy bedding can be), and my clothes hamper. I am also really happy the pet food arrived. Given that I am waiting for my new credit card (I had to cancel the old one on THE DAY of my flight here because someone had attempted to use it fraudulently...props to USAA for catching it so quickly! The bad timing wasn't their fault), I can't order more pet food just yet and what I mailed would have run out before my HHE (with more pet food) arrived. So now the pets are covered. They do have Science Diet here, so I could just switch Noostie to that, but I don't want to switch Cayenne to a different bird food. I have kept her healthy for 15 years on this food...why mess with success?

Noostie, who has no idea that food runs out, is happiest with the arrival of some of her favorite toys (including the squeeky ball my wife hates...enjoy it while you can Noostie!).

I am sure I will be glad later that I brought my wii. Right now, I'm not, because I kind of wish I had some books and more decorations (my apartment is pretty barren).

I could have been more selective with my clothes and been able to fit those in. Live and learn. Plus, I expected to be able to buy more books for my kindle...not happening now until the new card arrives.

But it is just as well. I have plenty to do while the weather is so nice. I have even managed, in just six days in country, to double book myself for Saturday. Okay, it isn't really my fault. One is an event I signed up for (sailing) and one is a PA section sponsored event that I don't HAVE to attend but I'd kind of like to (Soap Box Derby).

The plan now is to go sailing and then head a little late to the derby. I should get some more interesting pictures out of it to show you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


This is why I hate being separated from my wife.

I am sitting at my computer, blissfully surfing the interwebs and watching CNN International and the happenings in Libya.

I was in a good mood. I had a good day, had a good dinner, and even got to watch some football (on ESPN America...sure it was from last night, but hey, I didn't know the final score!).

Then they break in on CNN: If you are wondering why we are showing a picture of the Capital Building, it is because there has just been a 5.8 richter earthquake in Virginia.


The epicenter was near Richmond...but if they could feel it in DC, then it was entirely too close to my wife at FSI and our cats in Arlington.

Thank god for Facebook...I posted for her to let me know she was okay (because she wasn't answering her cell), and she did really quickly. Soon after that, I was able to talk to her.

The house and cats are probably fine. She said she would call me if there was a problem.

For once, I am hoping not to hear from her.

Settling In

I ran into the Orthodox Jewish men in the elevator again today. This time we conversed a bit more, first in Hebrew and then in English. They were very nice and invited me to visit their synagogue. They apparently knew the last occupant of my apartment and were disappointed they had left without saying goodbye.

Today it was meetings, meetings and more meetings. But I think it is a good thing...I am getting up to speed on what is going on and what is expected of me. My section has a lot on its plate...we have a busy few months ahead of us. But I also know we are up to the task.

I am trying to get back into the habit of using my Estonian. The guards are great...they chat with me a bit in Estonian because they know I want to work on it. And today I had a reasonably long conversation in Estonian, and I understood most of it. Even the numbers. Which are HARD. Especially when they involve times, because the way of telling time is different. For example, what is translated directly as half four means 3:30. I always have to think about it conceptually as well as linguistically.

We should just start everything exactly on the hour.

Tomorrow, I have a bunch more meetings. My calendar fills up quickly! But the one I am most excited about is with the movers. They are bringing me my stuff. Just my UAB, but still, it will be nice to have some more clothes and other stuff here.

Yay stuff!

Monday, August 22, 2011


I has them!

As you might have gathered from the flurry of posts, I finally have internet in my apartment.

Plus I have cable!

The cable I had yesterday evening, as soon as we returned from the Elion office. Just the addition of tv and the human voices that weren't a parrot's version of mine helped immensely.

Then last night it happened...

I was asleep, when suddenly my ipad, which I had set on the bedside table, went off with a notification.

The kind it gives when you have email, or someone has played a game with you, or there is a news item you might want to read.

The kind it only gives when you are connected to the internet.

I was so excited, I started reading 12:30 in the morning.

And then my wife noticed I was online, and Skype'd me!

And now it is like all is right with the world. I showed her our crazy glass egg wall. She agrees it is odd.

I tried to show her our view, but it was too dark outside. But the area we live in is really curious, and I can't wait to show it to her. It is considered the modern area of town, and it is, but it has a curious mixture of old and new.

For example, next door is an old wooden Armenian church. It is surrounded by modern skyscrapers but seems to have been protected from development. I am not sure whether there are still services held there or not.

Just down the road, there is a skyscraper that was build on top of an older building, or at least its facade.

Very odd.

Also odd...Estonia has a very tiny, but growing, Jewish population. Sunday, I noticed a couple of Orthodox men driving a minivan in my neighborhood, but having lived in Jerusalem, I glanced at them and quickly forgot about it. But then this morning, as I was leaving for work, the elevator stopped on the floor below mine, and in walked the same two men.

They were carrying on a conversation in Hebrew, and didn't seem to pay me much attention.

When I got off at the ground floor (they were going to the garage), I said "good day" to them in Hebrew.

The look of shock on their faces was priceless! I am sure they thought they were the only Hebrew speakers in this building in the middle of Tallinn!

Today was another good day...I am liking my job and my staff. I like my walk to work. It is looking promising for getting my UAB this week.

If I could just figure out why my laptop has suddenly stopped recongnizing wireless signals (I had to plug in an ethernet cable to blog...), I'd be set!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Craving Connection

I am clearly a social creature. And even my parrot is not enough to meet my interactive needs.

After breakfast this morning, I went and sat outside a closed cafe so I could at least check my email. I felt hyper conspicious, so I didn't stay long. I can not wait to have internet at my apartment. At least then, I can Skype home to talk to M.

Lunch today was leftover pizza (yum!) and then I set about setting up my office. The apartment is designed such that when enter the front door, to your left is an area including two bedrooms, the living room, dining room, and kitchen. To the right of the door is the master bedroom and bath, plus the laudry/storage room, and two more bedrooms.

Speaking of the master bedroom, did I mention this place is owned by an artist? The master bedroom has a huge wooden door with a crack down it that seems to be there on purpose. It looks like an old front door to a house. On either side are large wooden beams. Next to it is a glass wall...opaque white with orange and red stripes. Embedded into the glass are these glass pieces that look like eggs sunny side up, and the yolk is stones surrounded by glass. Really odd...not your standard embassy housing fare.

Anyway, when I first looked at the floorplan I was sent by email, I thought that I would use those two back bedrooms as an office and a exercise room, making the whole right side of the apartment sort of a private area. The two bedrooms to the left would be guest bedrooms.

But I have decided against that, at least partially. I am still designating the larger of the back bedrooms as an exercise/entertainment room. It has a big closet where we can store games and videos, plus room for a treadmill and M's exercise bike and a tv. The other back bedroom will be a guest room for those rare occassions when we have more visitors. Or for when my inlaws come, since that room has a balcony where they can smoke.

The reason I decided that is that the back two bedrooms have a shared balcony but NO view. The balcony is over an inner courtyard which is not a courtyard at all but just the roof of the lower floors of the building. I think the first five floors are offices, but don't quote me on that.

So anyway, I thought this arrangement, while leaving the office less private, means the office and one guest room have views. And since my bird will live in the office once her big cage arrives, I wanted her to have a window so she can get natural light when there is some (we have a full spectrum happy lamp coming for her too).

Since I decided on the placement of the office, I went ahead and set up my computer. Though I can't surf the interwebs with it yet, I can at least listen to my itunes on it. Which makes this big, empty apartment a bit more bearable.

Still, it is lonely. I have ventured out a bit further each day, but exploring is less fun alone. I did find yet another grocery store and finally bought what I think/hope is dish washing soap...I am not sure what language is on the label, but it isn't Estonian! It sort of looks Turkish...why the hell the labels would be in Turkish is beyond me.

I did try to call M's friend who lives here today but got no answer. I hate calling people I haven't met, but I was hoping she might want to go to sushi tonight at the place she recommended to me on Facebook. It too is in walking distance! TWO sushi places within a block of my house! Score!

I tried M's friend again, this time with success. K took me to the Elion office, where I was able to sign the agreement for internet. With any luck, I will have it on tomorrow. In the meantime, I have cable tv.

So I am already feeling more connected!

Carmen and My Hood

Saturday was the 20th anniversary of Estonia's regaining its independence.

Happy re-independence day Estonia!

I wandered around the neighborhood a bit more Saturday. I took Noostie to the dog park, this time with ipad in tow in the hopes that there would be wifi. No luck, though the cafe across from it did. But since I had Noostie with me, I opted to go home.

At lunchtime, I decided to try out the sushi place across from the apartment. The sushi wasn't bad, and as a bonus, they had wifi. So I ate lunch and checked my mail. From there I headed to Stockmann's with the intent of buying an alarm clock and a trash can for the bathroom. I failed on both accounts, the alarm clock because there were none and the trash can because I am not paying 175 euros for one...must have been gold lined.

I did succeed in getting a Stockmann's card so I can save on my groceries. Like in the U.S., customer cards are ubiquitous. I was pleased with myself because the folks I asked where to go for the card spoke no English. My Estonian feels rusty after a month and a half off, but I am making due. And people aren't switching to English for me...some of that may have to do with my neighborhood. While there are some major hotels here, it isn't really a tourist area like the Old City.

I came home and napped so I could stay awake for the opera. Then I got up to take a shower....the space tube is growing one me. I kind of like having a radio in there to jam to while I shower!

For dinner, I hit the Italian place across the street. Excellent pizza! And wifi too! The pizza was pretty cheap for a ginourmous one, so I have lunch and dinner for a couple days!

The opera was held in the (14 century?) ruins of St. Bridget's convent and was an interesting take on Carmen...they were kind of punk or something. The opera was in French, with Estonian and English subtitles (that didn't match each other all that idea which was more accurate since my high school French is definitely the worst of my languages. It happened to me again there that people spoke to me in Estonian. Some colleagues were nice enough to give me a ride out there and we were in line behind some Russian speakers. The attendant giving directions spoke to them in English (I guess she didn't speak Russian) and then spoke to me in Estonian.

I used the subtitles as an opportunity to read Estonian and then check my understanding. I felt pretty good about it...I feel more confident now that the rust will come off.

By going to the opera, I missed the festival at the singing much for seeing Sinead O'Connor! She was supposed to go onstage at 11:30, but it was nearly midnight by the time we got home. I was able to watch the fireworks from my window though.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Welcome to Estonia

Wednesday was my first full day in Estonia. The lack of internet left me feeling disconnected and alone, so I wrote some entries on my ipad so I could post them later.

I arrived Thursday, having started my travels the day before. I am not a fan of flying, but this was worse than normal because I had never had to put my bird in the hold before. Bird flu has all the airlines scared, and many no longer allow birds at all. None allow birds in cabin anymore. Aside from the disfunction of the airport in Copenhagen, where it took every bit of my two and a half hour layover to figure out how to recheck my pets, they arrived no worse for the wear than I did.

My section is the greatest, and they came with my sponsor to the airport to greet me. It made me feel really wanted here...especially the "welcome to Estonia" sign they had the intern make. She is very talented...too bad Friday was her last day.

My sponsor and his wife brought me home, and they had unpacked the welcome kit and made the place as homey as a ginourmous apartment with no personal anything can be. His wife even made me lasagna, which has been dinner the last two nights and probably will be again tomorrow. Talk about tasty! I'd ask for the receipe, but I have seen lasagna made and I am far too lazy!

The apartment, as I said, is ginourmous. The views are amazing. I can see the Old City from one window, the Baltic from another. I can also see the tv tower, which if you know your Estonian history, you know is very significant. Especially with tomorrow marking 20 years of re-independence. I can also see the top of what I think it the stage for the singing celebration. Also super important culturally. The Estonians regained their independence by singing...not a single Estonian was killed in the effort. Truly amazing. And this morning, I awoke to a rainbow over the Old was fading by the time I got my camera so you can't really see the rainbow in the shot.

I meant Thursday to stay up and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I meant, after I unpacked my stuff and put my own sheets on the bed (word of advice...embassy bedding is notoriously crappy across the FS...if this has not been true for you, you have been yourself a couple weeks of bad sleep by mailing yourself a mattress pad and sheets...they make all the difference), to just take a short nap. When I woke up four hours later, I meant to get up and go to dinner with friends. But I just had no energy after getting no sleep on the plane, so I ate some of that lasagna, gave in, and went back to bed. All together, I slept, albeit fitfully, for about 15 hours.

I went to the office for the first time Friday. My APAO came and picked me up, and we drove the path I will walk to work. It is incredibly close. My office is great. It is huge with a nice window and doors on either side which I always keep open but everyone politely knocks on anyway. My desk is well stocked already, and they even put flowers and candy on it for me. For my part, I put out the spiced pecans I bought for the section when I was in Savannah.

I spent the first part of the morning trying to clean out some of my email so my mailbox could be transferred from DC to EUR. I didn't actually accomplish that until the end of the day, however. I did manage to walk with my APAO to Solaris, a local mall, where we had a pastry and I was able to buy some toilet paper. My apartment had almost none when I got here, and I was a little afraid to eat anything because if I got sick, I'd be up a creek without toilet paper! I attended the press briefing with the Ambassador in the morning, found some sushi with one of my classmates from language in the afternoon. I was shown the mail room, where a box of wii games I sent myself had already arrived (well before my wii, which will hopefully get here next week). In the box was a Druze table decoration we got when my wife visited the Druze village near Haifa when we lived in Jerusalem. I stuck it in the box because there was a small space and it kept the games from moving is now the only bit of decoration I have here.

After work, I went home, grabbed my dog and resolved to find the Stockmann's, a grocery store, and the dog park that were both supposed to be nearby. We found both, though the dog park is a little boring. I had expected that though...I had seen reviews of it online before I came here. But it is a fenced place where I can let her off lease and she can chase a ball.

Or a pidgeon, as the case may be. When we came back, there was one sitting on my doorway. My dog wanted to chase it, and it didn't fly away. Clearly it was sick, but my desire to help it was overcome by my fear of taking any disease it might have back to my own bird. It was still there after I took my dog inside and came back down to go to the grocery store we had just find, but before I got back.

I had hoped that meant it flew away, but when I took my dog out that night, I saw a woman across the street screaming at her dog, which had grabbed a pidgeon. I am pretty sure it was the same one, but the woman got her dog away from it pretty quicky and it waddled off. I hope it gets better, but I am not optimistic. It added to my meloncholy mood.

Friday night I went to bed at 8, got up at 10 to take Noostie out, and then sat to write this while listening to music I couldn't quite make out. I think one of my neighbors is having a party, though I hear the music better with my window closed than open. The music sounds alternately like American Indian music and a bar mitzvah. I'd wonder if I was going insane, but my dog seems to notice it too.

Perhaps we are both crazy!

Still Alive

I just don't have internet in my house yet.

As soon as I get it (thuis week insha'allah), I'll post some thoughts and picks of my new home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SOS, Please Someone Help Me...

Did I get the Rhianna song in your head? :)

Actually, for the past two days, I have been taking SOS, or Security Overseas Seminar. And in a stroke of good luck, I got to be in class with none other than the blogmistress of A Daring Adventure!

I have taken this course before, of course, but it has been more than five years, and you are supposed to take it before you go overseas if it has been more than five years. I think the title should be different though. Like maybe, "Scaring Officers (and others) Silly." Because that is the purpose of the class, to scare you into being safe.

The course is well run, and most of the speakers approach their topics with a sense of humor (which I admit can be challenging when you are talking about how not to get blown up!). It could be very dry (I seem to recall it was last time). Thankfully it was not.

Though it was, however, REALLY COLD! Which leads me to another name for the course: "Shivering and Shuddering." They warn you in the email they send that the classroom is cold and to bring a sweater or jacket. However, that is not so very useful if you have already packed out! Which I of course have. My sweaters and jackets are on their way to Estonia.

I briefly thought I was going to miss the second day of class and have to do the online course instead (which I am sure now has you thinking, why didn't I do it online to begin with...because I didn't want to take leave these last two days. So I took the training in person).

The reason I thought that was that I was waiting for my USDA health certificates to arrive. Because I have a parrot, I had additional pet hoops to jump through. USDA certificate within 10 days. Avian flu test within 7 days. 24 hours to turn around the test. Send test to USDA. Get certificates overnighted back to you. In the meantime, 48 hours before the trip, get one last vet visit in.

If you do not have a parrot and are joining the Foreign Service, don't get one. It is doable if you have one, but it is a pain that you don't need if you aren't already committed to your feathered friend.

So yesterday, I call the USDA. They say all is in order and they will overnight it that night. Meaning I'd get it today. Great!

Then I get home from class, and there is a message from the USDA saying they had a note to wait for me to call before overnighting it and I need to call them back by 4.

Did I mention I was in training? I got home at 4:30.

So I expected to have to drive to Richmond to pick it up today.

Luckily, after leaving the message, the secretary talked to the vets there, who confirmed they had spoken with me. So she overnighted it. And it arrived today.


Now just think happy thoughts for me that me, the dog and the bird all make it safe and sound to Estonia tomorrow.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Do Pots Have Feelings?

Before I joined the Foreign Service, I was an archaeologist. Specifically, I specialized in American Indians from North and South Carolina.

My research was on the pottery of the Catawba. My tribe was a part of the Greater Catawba Confederacy, and as a result, there was intermarriage between our peoples. Although I am a PeeDee Indian, I carry Catawba blood in my veins.

So my research has always felt personal for me. I am fond of Indian pottery in general, and I have the works of artists from a number of different tribes. But is my collection of Catawba pottery that I love, that speaks to me.

I took my whole collection to Jerusalem. But I was less aware then of how easy it is to lose your stuff. Since then, my apartment was robbed and I lost some things that were precious and irreplaceable. I had friends lose shipments of belongings, including cars, dropped in the ocean, dropped at port, or simply vanished. Others have had looters far less kind that those who robbed my place, destroy everything they own.

So these days, I have not only the desire to take less with me, but also to protect some of the things I have that mean the most to me. So while I know things can be destroyed in storage, by fire, mold or what have you, I feel the danger is less there than in travelling across the ocean with me.

So I have selected only a couple pieces of my collection to have with me.

And I feel bad about it.

I feel bad about locking away the rest of my collection in storage, unseen and unadmired for years.

It feels like I am hurting their feelings.

Is it just me (or just my impending move) or the is it the Foreign Service that is crazy making?

Friday, August 12, 2011


My HHE is gone.

I had been given a window for their arrival of 11-2. So guess when they arrived?


At least that is better than Comcast, right?

I had everything sorted in piles, each pile with a label that read "pack all the contents of this____" so they would hopefully have an easy time of it. You can see from the picture below why the cats actually did have to be put in the "safe room."

It took them about four hours to pack up my stuff, which ended up being about 2500 lbs.

I am much calmer now that it is done. I am getting all the last minute things on my "to do" list accomplished and think I will be ready to leave come Wednesday.

Except for the whole leaving my wife behind part. I'll just go ahead and apologize now if my first bit of blogging from Estonia is a little whiney.

I still have one hurdle...the EU form for birds is a bear, and it may be that I end up taking a trip to Richmond on Tuesday to pick up her health certificate. Because we had to get her tested for Bird Flu within seven days, had to overnight the test to the lab, who didn't finish it until today. They faxed the results and now THAT form has to be overnighted to the USDA.

All to prove she doesn't have a disease she couldn't possibly have.

Ah, Foreign Service life.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Well That Was Fast...

Wow...250 lbs goes FAST!

The movers were supposed to arrive between 10 and 12 this morning. To my utter shock, they got here early!

Luckily, I was ready.

I set aside a pile of stuff on our spare bed. I told them to start with my clothes, and then we'd work through the pile in priority order.

Who knew I had so many clothes??

They packed all my work clothes, shoes and golf shirts.

And that was 150lbs!

I immediately knew I would not be getting all of my pile into the the next 100lbs. So I put in pet food, pillows, some sweat shirts, coats (gotta have the coats!), towels, extra sheets, a blanket.

And that was 107lbs!

Well crap...

So we took some stuff out. I can mail myself the sheets. I had wanted to have some office decorations early on, but that too can wait.

So we pulled stuff out, added in the wii and a few games.

The rest, including the new tv, will have to go into my HHE. Thank goodness post has a tv in the welcome kit!

Tomorrow, the HHE folks come. I am nearly done with all my sorting. I have created a "safe place" where I can stash anything I want to make sure is NOT packed.

Like my suitcases. And the pets.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Packing my UAB

Whitney over at The Dubinsky's Travels said that they are packing out this week and wondered what I am putting in my UAB. Since I am packing mine out tomorrow, I thought I'd just make a new post of it.

First, it is important to get a list from your post of what is in your welcome kit and to find out whether you get to keep it until your HHE arrives. Because if you have to return it once you get your UAB, that changes everything.

My post, according to the list I got and to some friends who arrived there recently, has a pretty decent welcome kit. And we get to keep it until our HHE arrives. So I won't be packing any of my kitchen supplies into my UAB. (And as of today, it is all sorted and ready for the HHE packers...hooray!).

For my UAB, I am packing a small tv, wii and games, and a vcr. Check with your post about whether the welcome kits include a tv...this could be vital if you have kids (I don't but I still want one. My post actually includes a tv, but I am probably bringing mine in the UAB anyway if I have the weight). Also bring toys and maybe some favorite snacks for your kids and pets. It will ease their adjustment.

I am also bringing sheets, pillows and towels. Yes, the embassy provides those, but I bet they won't feel as nice as the ones you sleep on at home. In fact, I actually mailed myself a set of sheets and a mattress pad (embassy bedding is notoriously uncomfortable, at least in my experience. I am actually bringing my own bed, and I am putting a set of sheets for it in my UAB so that I don't have to unpack all of my HHE before I can make the bed when it arrives.)

I am of course bringing most of my clothes in my UAB. I am packing five or six suits and two weeks worth of work shirts in my suitcase, but the rest is going in my UAB. As are my heavy coats...I don't want the Estonian winter to arrive before my coats do! And of course my electronics...though they will be in my carry computer, ipad, kindle (gotta have books!), ipod (gotta have music!) all of my important documents, like passports, animal health certificates, etc, will be in my carry on.

I also put in a few pieces of art or carpets to make the place a little more homey until my HHE arrives.

I think that is everything I have in mine. Did I miss anything?

Like I said, yours could be very different depending on how long you get to keep your welcome kit and what is in it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Do.Not.Want do anything.

I haven't been motivated to blog much lately.

Or do much of anything else since getting back from vacation.

Periodically I put something in my UAB pile. I took clothes to the dry cleaner and Cayenne to the vet. Then sometimes I take stuff OUT of the UAB pile (I can't decide if I want to take dishes and utensils since that will be in the welcome kit that I get to keep until my HHE arrives.

But mostly I am unmotivated.

Don't get me wrong. I am eager to get to January.

But I am not eager to leave my life behind. Specifically, for me, home is where my wife is. So Estonia won't be home for the first six months.

So I am moving more by remote control than anything. I am driven by visits have to happen at a certain time, UAB and HHE get packed Wednesday and Thursday. Last minute consultations tomorrow.

I'll get my act together eventually...maybe by January.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Hoping the Lasts Last

We went back to Cherokee again yesterday.

Just so you know, I am not Cherokee*. And not one of my Indian ancestors was a princess, just so you know. Or a Chief, at least to my knowledge. Just plain old Indians here.

We went back to get some more photos of the bears of the Cherokee Bear Project. If you look at my profile photo on this blog, that is one of them, Patriot Bear. Since I am Bear clan and I serve my country, that bear in particular speaks to me.

Anyway, the Cherokee Bear Project began in 2005, and I was there in 2008 to take pictures. I wasn't able to find all of the bears, and when we were there earlier in the week, I noticed some new ones. So my wife patiently helped me track down as many of the remaining bears as we could, like this one, Winter Bear, by artist Jenean Hornbuckle:

Sadly, a lot of the bears have been broken or damaged and had to be removed. Some I have pictures of from before, some I do not. This one, for example, is Trail of Tears and 7 Clans Bear by Mario Esquivell. It touches me because I have an ancestor who died on the Trail. But the bear is gone.

And since this was likely my last trip to Cherokee for a long time (at least the next three years), it is unlikely I will be able to take pictures of the rest.

Which of course makes me think of all the other things I will miss once I leave the country. Chances are I will not make another trip to Folly Beach, my favorite place on the planet, before I return from my tour. I will likely not return to SC at all before then. And yesterday, we visited a few waterfalls (Mingo and Soco) here in Cherokee country that I will not see again. Below is a shot of Mingo Falls.

We went to the Qualla Arts Co-op, where I picked up a couple Cherokee pots made in the Cherokee style. (The Cherokee potting tradition had died, and the pots they made for tourists were in the Catawba style thanks to the government briefly trying to relocate the Catawba to Cherokee (they're traditional didn't go so well) and the few women who married in teaching their children how to pot...but back when I was at UNC, Brett Riggs organized training for the potters by Tammy Bean, a well known non-Indian potter who makes beautiful museum-quality replicas of Indian pots. She taught them to make traditional Cherokee pottery, and the result has been a resurgence in Qualla-style pots.) At any rate, I probably won't visit the Co-op again for a long time, and I was glad to be able to support the artists there one last time before I leave.

Today we'll head into Asheville for my last visit to the town for a while. I like Asheville...this is definitely a place I could consider retiring to if NC gets marriage equality by then (you have 13 years guys, you can do it! I believe in you!).

But the thing I'll miss the most when I leave in two weeks is my wife. I won't see her again until Christmas. And I won't live with her again until January or February.

And that sucks.

* I DO have one Cherokee ancestor. She married a Catawba man, and violating all tribal traditions, moved with him to his people instead of the other way around. I am convinced her mother cursed the Indian men in that line.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Guess the Move is Still On

Well, it seems I am still going to Estonia.

"Huh?" you say.

They passed an increase in the debt ceiling.

"Huh?" you say.

Well, it is like this.

I have been fretting over the debt ceiling. A good take on my thoughts was written for CNN by a life-long Republican.

You can check that out here: Wake up GOP: Smashing system doesn't fix it

Had they not passed to debt ceiling increase, chances are I wouldn't have gotten paid. And chances are even better that the government would not have been able to pay for my stuff to be shipped to Estonia.

So had there been no increase, I wouldn't have gone to Estonia, especially since my wife wouldn't be joining me for six months. Because I wouldn't have been able to work, wouldn't have had insurance, and so on.

And I wouldn't have wanted to be in that position while on the other side of the planet from my wife.

I am glad for our country that the debt ceiling increase was passed. Because to not do so would have been devastating for our nation. And I am glad personally, because I can afford my mortgage, but not if I am not getting paid.

But I can't be completely happy, because I will once again be separated from my wife.

If she were coming with me, I would be enthusiastically counting the days until I depart for what I am certain is going to be an awesome tour.

But I am not counting down until August 17. I am counting down to February 3.

Nearly Wetting Myself

Four GlobeTrotters and I are facebook friends (and real life friends too), and the other day, she linked to a blog I had never heard of before.


Specifically, she linked to this piece, on "And that's why you should pick your battles." I nearly peed myself.

You should know that much of what she says and does reminds me of my wife, which might explain to you why I married her. Heaps of entertainment value in my house!

I'm now reading TheBloggess ever day, and she directed me to a site I had heard about but not actually visited.

Damn You, Auto Correct!.

Now I am reading that one too...and thinking of investing in some Depends.