Sunday, March 26, 2017

One Month Left in Charleston

I have just about one month left in Charleston, South Carolina on this assignment. I'm in a training class this week and at the end of April I'm going on a trip to Kigali, Rwanda. So, really, I only have about three weeks of work left in the Global Financial Services Center. March is almost over and April will go by really quickly; before I know it my apartment will be packed up (and the house in Lynn, MA, too) and I'll be meeting up with Mark and Cosmo in Washington, DC for about three months of French language training before heading out to Bamako, Mali in August.

I just finished up a "farewell" tour of some family and friends:  Charleston to Boston to help Mark and Cosmo with pack-out items and to say goodbye to our home of 16 years.  It's sold (fingers crossed until the closing is done, though) and that's that.  Mark did a great job of getting it ready for listing and sale, and our agent - Doug Morrow - whom we used to buy the house, is great. 
Cosmo helping us make packing decisions.

Our (sold) home.

From Boston to Los Angeles to see our friends Jamie and Clinton and to establish our California domicile.  Yes, Mark and I are Californians, now. Cool, dude.  So happy to have seen Southern California during a once-in-a-decade wildflower bloom.  I couldn't believe how green the LA area was. These are from Malibu Creek State Park and the Getty Museum in LA.

LA on to Oklahoma City to visit my family.  It was great to see my parents, sister and brother-in-law, and my three nieces. I was amazed at the transformation that OKC downtown has made, especially the revitalized river-front area.  There was even a bike share in Downtown and Mark and I had a nice - albeit gusty - ride along the new Oklahoma River (formerly the North Canadian).  And we found a winery - and the wine is OK (sorry, couldn't resist).

Mark on a Spokies bike share in OKC

The Land Run Monument in OKC

Clauren Ridge Winery and Vineyard 

I love travel that has surprises in it (good, surprises, that is).  I'm hoping for many more on our upcoming adventures to Mali and beyond.  

Just three weekends left for me in Charleston. My friend Meg's yoga studio is having it's first anniversary on April 7. I need to ride the Ravenel Bridge one last time.  And I still want to go to HUSK - so I'll need to find a few dinner partners soon.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Happy 2017!

Well, Happy New Year!

2016 sure was something, huh? Not just the U.S. election, but the loss of so many iconic, controversial, loved, or reviled people. Certainly, we should take a moment of reflection, meditation or prayer for ALL of those who passed in 2016, but here's a brief memorial to just some of those:

But Betty White is still with us!

I hope you had a great Holiday Season.  I did.  I got to go back to Boston for Thanksgiving and spend some time with Mark and Cosmo and also in North Adams, MA with some of Mark's family at his brother - Michael's - place. Actually, I flew on Thanksgiving day and then we drove from the airport to North Adams; so, Thanksgiving was really on Friday this time around.  Some pics of Michael's place:

I think you can AirBnB it, too.  

For Christmas, Mark came down to Charleston for a quick three days.

New Year's Eve was glittery, but low key

Oh, did you know that 2017 is the future?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election Reflection

Well, here we are. If you know me, you know that I’m unhappy and upset that Hillary didn’t win the U.S. Presidential election. Kudos to her, though, for a tough and weird race and for winning the popular vote. I’ve supported her for years – I actually got to shake her hand once when I first lived in DC and she was the new First Lady. I still think she could/would make a truly awesome President. Thank you, Hillary, for running!

A hallmark of our grand experiment of governance – our constitutional republic – is a peaceful transition of power through elections. From old to new, one party to another, it is a cornerstone value of our system. It is one that I wholeheartedly embrace and that I will be proud to share throughout the world during my career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

So, I look to the future with hope and with a watchful eye. I am also emboldened to continue my support of the Democratic Party and specifically of the Progressive wing – Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and others. I will do what I can to win back the Senate, if not all of Congress, in 2018.

But not now. Right now I’m sad, and weary, and tired of fighting. I don’t want to think about politics. I want to think about hugging my dog, Cosmo, and kissing my husband, Mark, when I return home to Boston for Thanksgiving. I want to work on my projects, and binge-watch some Netflix shows, and ride my bicycle, and get back to yoga. The rest can wait, for now.

Whether you are celebrating, commiserating, or crying – we all need some of this right now:

The essence of Buddhism is the conviction that we have within us at each moment the ability to overcome any problem or difficulty that we may encounter in life; a capacity to transform any suffering. Our lives possess this power because they are inseparable from the fundamental law that underlies the workings of all life and the universe. 
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is thus a vow, an expression of determination, to embrace and manifest our Buddha nature. It is a pledge to oneself to never yield to difficulties and to win over one’s suffering. At the same time, it is a vow to help others reveal this law in their own lives and achieve happiness. 
The individual characters that make up Myoho-renge-kyo express key characteristics of this law. Myo can be translated as mystic or wonderful, and ho means law. This law is called mystic because it is difficult to comprehend. What exactly is it that is difficult to comprehend? It is the wonder of ordinary people, beset by delusion and suffering, awakening to the fundamental law in their own lives, bringing forth wisdom and compassion and realizing that they are inherently Buddhas able to solve their own problems and those of others. The Mystic Law transforms the life of anyone—even the unhappiest person, at any time and in any circumstances—into a life of supreme happiness.
To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is an act of faith in the Mystic Law and in the magnitude of life’s inherent possibilities. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is not a mystical phrase that brings forth supernatural power, nor is it an entity transcending ourselves that we rely upon. It is the principle that those who live normal lives and make consistent efforts will duly triumph.
 from The Meaning of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Saturday, October 29, 2016

One Year Update

As October 2016 comes to a close I'm reminded that I've been in Charleston, SC for a full year now. This is where I'm supposed to say something like "time sure flies..." but I'm not going to. Honestly, it feels like a whole year. No judgement there, just that it really does feel like I've been here a year. 

That year started with a move during the worst flooding South Carolina had seen in decades (centuries? millennia?). That year ended - almost to the day - with a category 2 hurricane:  Matthew (OK, maybe it was a strong 1 by the time it swung by just off the coast of Charleston). What's next? I've already seen a plague of mosquitoes and fruit flies. I don't think there's been a major earthquake in Charleston since 1886; are we due?

Anywho...instead of my usual retrospection, I thought I would make a Pros and Cons list about Charleston. Could be useful for anyone wanting to move down here or [ahem] come visit me before I leave for DC in April 2017.

Pros and Cons of Charleston, SC*


Food - Charleston has an awesome food and drink culture and scene going on. While much of it is "some cuisine"-low country-fusion (think Asian-low country fusion with pork noodle ramen where the noodles are actually made from pork skin - delicious by the way) there are tons of good restaurants and bars ranging from dives, to extensions of your living room, to tourist traps, to fancy night out, to cutting edge. Not to mention all the oyster roasts (sadly, not my thing), chili contests, and ethnic festivals. And good food and drink from cheap as chips to "OMG - how much?" One can definitely eat and drink well in the Charleston area.

Friendliness - I'd heard about it but until I experienced it myself I truly didn't believe it. Southern Hospitality® really does exist. Many people down here are genuinely nice. I've certainly experienced that at work, around my neighborhood, and in bars and restaurants. Even walking down the street people (some, not all - you know who you are Ohioans) smile and say hi or hello. And yes, I've had some of the college kids call me sir (no...perv...not in that way). It makes you want to be nice back, most of the time.

History - There is a lot of history down here. Not as much as back in Massachusetts and environs, but a lot. And it's very interesting, especially the connections between Charleston, Boston, Salem (yes, little old Salem, MA), New York, and Philadelphia. Lots of Colonial history, Revolution and Independence, Plantation & Slavery, Civil War, Civil Rights, you name it. And Charleston does a pretty good job of preserving, presenting, and owning its history.

Charm - Well, as they say, "Chaahlston is Chaahming" (that was my attempt to write out a Charleston accent - which, incidentally, is not far from a Boston accent (think Back-Bay Brahman, not Southie) slowed way down). The architecture in the French Quarter and around the Peninsula is great. Plantations with houses and gardens and river views. The Battery. Trees and flowers and palmetto palms. Beaches. When you hear someone with a Charleston accent, that's very charming (as opposed to the accent that sounds like the person has marbles in their mouth). In a very slight way, Charleston reminds me a tiny bit of Venice. No, not because Charleston is basically sinking, too. But every once in a while when I'm walking or riding down in the old, historic district, there's the same sense of past decadence and slight decay. Maybe it's just that moss and mold will grow on anything down here.

Weather - Coming from Boston, what more do I have to say. I will though. My first winter in Boston was 95-96 when we got 107 inches of snow - that's 8.9 feet of snow. Granted, it was over most of the winter season. But that made it a long winter season. Fast forward and my last winter (?) in Boston was 2015. Now that was the winter that beat 95/96:  110.6 inches. Over 9 feet of snow. But all that snow fell between January 27 (my birthday, btw) and March 31. That's right - roughly a foot of snow a week. What I'm saying is after all that, a little July and August low country heat and humidity isn't so bad. Is it?

Bicycling - Bicycling down here can be fun. See that whole Weather thing above. Lots of college and med school students bike around downtown. When I can ride my bike in December and January - that's a good thing. Also, not a lot of hills (well, really none) so biking can be slower and more relaxed. Can be...see below, though.

Small-town Feel - Charleston feels like a small town. I live in a great neighborhood - Canonborough/Elliotborough. Most of the Peninsula/Downtown is tight little neighborhoods. Living here I can walk or bike just about anywhere I want to go (except Trader Joe's). That's nice.


Food - Yep, all that good food and drink has a price:  pounds. I'll say it: I've gained about 5 pounds in my year in Charleston. It would be more, except for that Weather thing I talked about, where at least I can get out on the bicycle for most of the year.  Or go to Yoga (which I've been a bad boy and haven't been for a while.  Sorry, Meg, I'm coming back real soon, promise!) If you come for a few days, you'll be OK.  A week or two - you may want to exercise a little extra.  More than that - expect to put on a pound or two. If you're one of "those" who never gains wait regardless of what you eat - well F..........

Friendliness - Maybe I lived too long in New England but the overly-friendliness can start to get annoying. And heaven help men trying to open and hold doors around here. Jeesh, let's just agree that whoever gets to a door first opens it, let's whoever is right behind him or her go through and then go through him- or herself. It seems to be some convoluted chivalry thing going on down here that I haven't quite worked out. I'm sure they all think I'm some ill-mannered Liberal Yankee (well, that's half true, maybe).

History - there's a lot of, um, "history" still going on down here. I can feel it underneath ways that different people interact with each other. It's different than what I've been used to. I'll leave it at that for now.

Weather - OK, summer is hot. Hot. HOT! Like, Indonesia HOT!

Bicycling - Biking can be fun. It can also be terrifying. Especially going over the West Ashley Bridge to get to the West Ashley Greenway - a lovely bike trail that's a BITCH to get to. And what is with bike lanes that just suddenly end. Hello, I didn't want to just bike a couple of miles from nowhere specif to nowhere else specific. Seriously, who thought that. And Charleston City (or County?) Council:  a bike lane on the inbound side of the West Ashley Bridge is a no-brainer. Get it done already!

Traffic - Yes, traffic can suck. Luckily, my normal commute is contra-flow, so it only takes me about 12 minutes to get to work from home. I know some people who have an hour or hour and a half commute. Yuck! While I'm on traffic can I just say that one of my pet peeves is the "In God We Trust" license plate. No, not because I hate your religion. Because my experience has been that those drivers are some of the worst (and rudest). It's as if that plate gives them license to be annoying a**holes. Both times that I've nearly been hit while riding my bicycle (see above) have been by "In God We Trust" license plate holders. And I almost got run over in the Mount Pleasant Target parking lot (another place I can't bike to, Target) by Soccer Mom® with her IGWT plate who had the audacity to give me the finger for being in the crosswalk that she wanted to drive in. 

Tourists - Holy crap there are hordes of touristas here. I know that Boston had a lot. So did Harvard (if you don't know, dear reader, I worked at Harvard for 16 years before joining the U.S. Foreign Service). But I think because of the size of Charleston it seems like they're everywhere. Yes, I know, they bring in lots of money. You know what else they do? They drive up prices for the everyday working folks who live here. Charleston is not the affordable city that many people told me it would be. Rent is expensive and so are housing prices, in downtown at least (maybe if one wanted to live an hour commute away it's cheaper). And the City of Charleston is not really investing in affordable housing stock to make living in Charleston easier for people. Instead, they're cosying up to developers for yet more hotels and luxury condos. And don't get me started on Charleston being a wedding destination. Ugh! I'm over all that, for sure. Good thing my next posting is Bamako, Mali:  nobody's wedding destination choice, I'm sure.

*These are my pros and cons and don't have any endorsement by Charleston City, Charleston County, or South Carolina. I'm open to that, though.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Paneled for Bamako

I got my TMOne. Have no clue what that means? Welcome to the State Department, where we like to make up fun names for everything. TMOne means my next assignment is official. TM means Travel Message and One is...well...1. So, a TMOne is cable number one in all the fun messages that will move back and forth for my next (and subsequent) assignment. And I don't just get assigned to a post.  A whole committee - a panel - meets to decide that it's OK for me to go to Bamako, hence being "paneled" for the next assignment. And this whole thing about how emails are still affectionately called cables - just precious.

I will get nearly six months of French language training. My tentative departure from Charleston is the last week of April, 2017, six months in DC, then on to Mali.  Not that I'm not enjoying my time in Charleston, SC, but I'm ready (and I think Mark and Cosmo are, too) to get out into the world. Although, I think it's awesome that I'll actually get paid to learn a language!  Ask me how I feel around mid-September next year...

Just a quick update to say that it's official that we'll be going to Mali.  Now I have to pack some things since I'm heading back to Boston and Mark and Cosmo for Labor Day weekend - woohoo!

Here's a preview of Bamako:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Next Assignment...

Yesterday, I got my assignment for summer 2017:

Bamako, Mali

So, not first on my list - but not last, either.  It won't be truly official until I get paneled (which is officially slotted into the FMO position by HR) and then get my assignment cable*.  But, barring unforeseen circumstances, this time next year should see Mark and I getting ready to head to Africa (or to DC first and then to Africa).

Yes, I do imagine Oprah welcoming us...

The position is listed as language designated:  French 2/2 (which means level 2 in speaking and level 2 in reading - for what the levels mean, see this).  So, hopefully I will get some language training before heading out.  We also get to take the FACT course (aka "Crash & Bang"). Maybe Mark can take a Consular course, as well.

Oh, and it's a 2 R&R post with Paris as the designated R&R point.  Bonjour, Paris!

*They aren't really cables anymore.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bid List Submitted

Just a very quick post today.  I turned in my second-tour FMO Summer 2017 bid list last Friday.  Now it's just a waiting game to find out where in the world we will go: Europe, The Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania?  We should find out by July 8 (but maybe before then).  I'll post again once we get our next post.

In the meantime, watch and enjoy: