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Archive for February, 2007

Hail to the Chief

For those following this blog, you know I’ve had some rare opportunities to have important government officials speak to our class. But the topper was this morning. The Deputy Secretary John Negroponte spoke to us last week and then did our swearing-in on Friday. For some reason, he has really taken to us. He said to us and others have told us he considers himself part of the 132nd A-100 (my orientation class), and on Friday he said he wants to be considered an honorary member our class. The reason we have been told is because he believes this will be his last major role in the State Department (after 46 years); so he is on his way out and we are on our way in. He seems to like the paradox.

Anyway, he has taken to us, like I said, and for that reason, he invited us to his official swearing-in ceremony this morning. The ceremony was in the Benjamin Franklin diplomatic reception room, which was beautiful. Important people (I’m assuming) from the State Department along with foreign ambassadors were in attendance. At 10:25, someone introduced the Deputy Secretary, the Secretary of State, and the President of the United States!! President Bush walked in and stood up on the stage right in front of me. Oh, I was on the 3rd row. Sec. Rice spoke for a couple of minutes and then the Commander in Chief spoke for about 5 minutes (including referencing and speaking directly to our class). Then the “D” was sworn-in, and he got up and spoke for about 10 minutes. At one point he talked about the 132nd and then he said, “Mr. President, I would like to present to you the 132nd A-100 class.” Wow!!!

Negroponte Swearing-In

The Secretary’s speech: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2007/feb/81123.htm

The video of the ceremony (I’m there, but you can’t really see me): http://tinyurl.com/2569pp

The President and D’s speech (Look for the references to 132nd): http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/02/20070227-2.html#

After it was all over, they walked off the stage and shook the hands of those on the 1st and 2nd rows (unfortunately I was on the 3rd), all the while “Hail to the Chief” was being played. The President and Sec. Rice left the room, and everyone else was invited to a reception for the D. There was a receiving line, so I was able to shake Negroponte and his wife’s hand. He asked where I was going, to which he replied, “That’s a great post.” (I had shaken his hand on Friday and he said “Good post” when I told him Bogota, so at least he’s consistent.) We then moved into a room that had Thomas Jefferson’s desk and a copy of the Treaty of Paris (which is what ended the Revolutionary War). Waiters walked around with duck, some sort of cheese, shrimp, champagne, etc.

Obviously, this was a rare and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime experience, since I’ll quickly be moving into more training and eventually adjudicating several hundred visas a day. But it has been absolutely incredible while it has lasted. God has been very gracious in giving me these opportunities over the last 8 weeks.

But none of these experiences will compare to tomorrow, when we find out whether we’re having a boy or a girl!!! Stay tuned!

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Swearing-in and Swearing Day

Today I officially got sworn-in as a Foreign Service Officer. Kristen was able to come and attend the ceremony. It was short and simple but nice. Deputy Secretary Negroponte (the #2 in the department, right behind Sec. Rice) conducted our swearing-in. I think in a few weeks I’ll get some sort of “diploma” that shows I’ve been commissioned. The 7 weeks have gone by quickly, although back on January 8th, it seemed like it would never end.

From here, I have Monday-Wednesday to research Bogota and Colombia. Starting Thursday, I’ll start my 6-week consular training, which I’m assuming will entail learning how to do visa interviews and what all the regs are, along with what assistance we can provide to Americans in trouble overseas. Afterwards, I’ll have language training, which will run pretty much up until we leave for post.

But the most significant (and exciting) news of the last week or two has been that Kristen is now able to feel the baby moving around!!! A few times a day, Kristen will say, “I felt the baby move earlier.” And she always says it kinda nonchalantly (although she knows it’s cool). Whereas my reaction is shock and excitement every time. I haven’t been able to feel it yet, but I’m really looking forward to that day! Wednesday is ultrasound day and “swearing day” (since our doctor doesn’t seem to mind using profanity)!

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Baby Tracker

Lilypie Expecting a baby Ticker

We’re pretty sure Seth’s the father. 😉

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NY times

On Tuesday, my class had the honor of having the newly confirmed Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, speak to just our class. He had only been on the job since February 13th, but he really wanted to speak to a new incoming class. In case you don’t know, Negroponte has led a distinguished career as a Foreign Service officer, including helping broker an end to the Vietnam War, ambassador to Iraq, and most recently the director of national intelligence. Anyway, he spoke to us on Tuesday, and brought with him a reporter from the NY Times, who wrote an article about the “D” and his discussion with us. Check it out!

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/washington/21negroponte.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1172096867-H2ecT1sW3mvYqKLcFM3aFw

Speaking of New York, Kristen and I went to the Big Apple for an overnight on Saturday. It was a combined Valentine’s Day trip and wanting to visit NY before we left this part of the country. But after Flag Day on Thursday and hunting for warm clothing on Friday and me being sick since Tuesday, we really weren’t quite as excited about our trip as we had been only a few weeks before when we planned it. But we dutifully got up early Saturday morning and drove the 5 hours to NY. It took us a while to get into Manhattan because the Lincoln Tunnel was jam packed. Once we got there, we visited the World Trade Center and then drove to our hotel, which was right across from the U.N. Around the Brooklyn Bridge, we realized cars were backing up right in front of us, seemily unfazed by the oncoming traffic. Turns out there was an hour-long traffic jam in front of us. We decided to call it an evening and finally get some rest.

I threw a wrench in that plan as I was up all night coughing and sneezing and snoring.

The next day we went on a walking tour of midtown Manhattan, visiting Grand Central Station, the Chrysler building, Times Sqare, Rockefeller Center, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We had a great time, but did our absolute best to stay warm, as it was freezing and windy!!

On our way home I got us a little lost, and we ended up going the LONG way (meaning all the way around) around the loop of DC. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except for it was 10:30 at night, starting to snow (we saw 4 accidents in less than a mile), and we hadn’t slept in a week! We made it home by 11:30, exhausted. Unfortunately, I was still sick and kept us up yet another night.

Overall we enjoyed our time together, and the highlights were seeing Uncle Nathan and Aunt Joyce along the way and having a slice of New York pizza at Nico’s!

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Timeline update

As most of you know we had Flag Day last Thursday. There were only about 10 posts left when Seth’s name was finally called. They held up a flag for Colombia and called Seth’s name. We had held our breath while they called Nogales, Cuidad Juarez and Matamoros. We were down to Tel Aviv, Mexico City, Belgrade and Bogota. Any of those would have been fine but we are pleased with the results. Our major concern with our assignment was the departure schedule.

As of Thursday, Seth was scheduled to leave DC sometime around July 31. The baby is due July 20th and my doctor was planning to induce on the 30th if nothing happens before then. So, you can do the math and see that Seth was going to be leaving only a few days after the baby is scheduled to be born. Today he met with his CDO (Career Development Officer) and got them to verbally agree to let him stay until 6 weeks after the birth when the baby and I will both be cleared for travel. We are waiting for this in writing but so far things look good!

We haven’t had much time to gather more info on Colombia. So far from what we read it is a great post! It was the most desired post for the class so we are feeling really lucky to have gotten it! There is another girl in Seth’s class that lived in Bogota for two months with her husband before coming to DC. She will be returning to Bogota after her training. She has given us little tidbits. She told us that the apts are big, the food is good, live-in help is the norm, the city is safe for walking with a baby, and the weather is around 70 degrees year round! Oh, and she also mentioned that you can take pictures such as a Pottery Barn photo and you can have furniture made for very cheap (no we can’t take your personal orders but you are welcome to enjoy our furniture when you visit us)! At this point we are pretty satisfied with what we know. We have a while to take it all in before we head out.

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Bogota, Colombia

Yep, we’re going to Bogota!!! And we’re excited! It was tied for #1 for our top post. So, we’re very happy. Overwhelmed, of course. And I’m sure we’ll go through all the cycles of emotions, but as of tonight, we’re thrilled!

More details to come!

http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/co/

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Quick Bid List Update

Just a quick update before the big Flag Day on Thursday (this is the ceremony when we find out where we will be moving). Seth just recieved an email from the commitee letting him know that two of our medium posts were not filled with anyone in his class (there ended up being more posts than people). The posts removed were Seoul, Korea and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We were interested in these for sure but they would have required a LOT more language training and would have meant we would have left around Christmas time which would have almost completely eliminated the chance of coming home to visit. So, glance at our list in below entries and mark these off your mental list. You might see them come up again in our future but for now we will not be headed that way!

Two more days until the big day!  The suspense has been building for 2 years now so we will be relieved to have this big decision behind us!

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Meet and Greet

During my training, many people talk to us about State-related issues.  Whether how to fill out a voucher or what our Myers-Brigg personality is and what that means when working in a team or hours upon hours of diplomatic history.  Most of them are interesting, but I’ll probably forget all about them in a year or two.  And then there are really cool and important speakers who really make your week.

Starting two Fridays ago, the run of memorable people started.  First, on Friday Amb. Christopher Hill spoke to us in a classified briefing about North Korea (he’s the US main negotiator with NK).  On Monday, we went to the CIA and had another classified briefing and got to tour a little of the Agency.  On Tuesday, we got to go on another classified tour of the Operations Center at the State Department (they monitor worldwide events and update senior DOS officials).  (They also have the phone numbers of thousands upon thousands of world leaders, including the King of Thailand and Bono).  Following the tour, Undersecretary Karen Hughes (Bush’s old Texas adviser) spoke to us about how her bureau is reaching out to the Arabs/Muslims.

Then, on Thursday, Secretary of State Condelezza Rice spoke to my class for 45 minutes about how she’s transforming the Department’s mission and what role we’ll be playing in it.  It was really cool because it was just our orientation class along with a few other newly-hired employees.  It was definitely a rare treat.  In fact, we were told some employees go their whole career and never hear the secretary speak.

So that’s been my week.  Definitely some memorable moments.

Only 2 weeks left.  The first 5 weeks have gone both quickly and slowly.  But what seems really crazy is we’ll find out on Thursday where we’re headed.  We’ve both got ideas of where we could be going, but we know we also need to be prepared for some unexpected posts.  I think it would be considered bad form if I have a disappointed look on my face as I cross the stage with a flag of Whatastan.  Kristen has offered the other wives money to start crying at the flag ceremony if she ends up in tears from the shock of an unwanted post.

In other news, we went to a small group Bible study for the first time on Thursday.  It was a great mix of couples, both young and old, and one couple is due a few weeks after us.  And, oddly enough, almost all of them had ties to Texas.  A few of the couples had lived in Dallas or gone to school at SMU.  We really enjoyed the group and are planning to continue attending.  We found the small group through the church we’ve decided to attend, McLean Presbyterian, which we also like.

And today we were tourists and went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  The Hope Diamond along with other precious gems really caught Kristen’s eye.  She was quite reasonable though, and only requested just one or two of the diamonds or rubies.  We saw a magnificent diamond necklace given to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI for the birth of their first child.  Kristen not so subtly reminded me of the tradition of giving a gift to your wife when the baby is born.  But she quickly talked me out of buying the necklace from the museum.  She’d be perfectly satisfied with a smaller, less flashy gem.  We’ll see.

By the way, it’s really, really cold here.

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Brrrrrr!

Walking outside today you might think we had been assigned a post in the artic. The wind chill factor for today was 4 degrees. Now that is cold! It would be one thing if there was not any wind but the winds are brutal. They cut right through you! Last night Seth was brave enough to grill hot dogs for a Super bowl party. Out of 10 available grills, Seth was the only brave griller. Today he was walking home from the metro and wished he had heeded his wife’s warning about taking his new gloves and scarf. His legs were getting numb and he made a call on his cell phone to be able to use the phone as an ear muff. He figured losing a hand to the cold was better than losing his hearing. It’s good to have at least one working ear and hand I guess!  Too bad he uses his left hand for talking on the phone. He might have to become right-handed.

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“*$#@ milkshakes”

We had our first OB doctor’s appointment here in DC yesterday. We learned that it is perfectly acceptable to use curse words in OB appointments. Shocking I know, especially with a fragile, innocent baby listening in.  Since we are only here temporarily there is no reason to be picky. Some people get attached to their doctors but I think those attachments are behind us as we will probably never have the same anything anywhere we go. So, for now we are accepting our pro-life, profane, child-delivering, overpaid physician.  We heard the baby’s heart beat which sounds very strong! We won’t be finding out the sex of the baby for a month but our doctor kept predicting that it’s a girl. I’m convinced he did that to see if a month of dwelling on it would convince me that it is a girl as well. What an evil trick he is playing on such an impressionable pregnant woman. The power of suggestion is strong these days.  In addition to hearing the heartbeat I had to endure the dreaded weigh-in. You may wonder why I am telling you this…the only reason is that I had not gained anything…in fact I may have lost weight. The doctor recommended that I add a few “damn milkshakes” to my diet. It is the ONLY time in my life that I will ever be told to have a milkshake so I am going to obey doctor’s orders.  In addition, it is probably the only time I will hear the words “damn” and “milkshake” in the same sentence. Who really says that? Seth is making me clean my plate and took me out to dinner after the doctor’s appointment to make sure I got enough to eat. This is a lot of pressure! Next month the doctor is going to say I’ve gained double the suggested weight so I am trying to savor these moments of indulgence.

We have an appointment on the 28th of Feb for a 4-D ultrasound. Supposedly we will be able to see the baby’s facial features and meet him or her!!! We’ll try to post the picture when we get it. In the meantime, back to the snacks!

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