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6 posts from January 2013

January 24, 2013


today was a sick day.  The boy was up from 5-6 a.m. with an earache and Kelsey was still congested this morning.  Being that I can't stand it when people are sick and go to work or school "just because" I figured it best to keep her home another day.  Of course, by then I wasn't feeling spectacular, partially due to lack of sleep and all three of us took a sick day.


Anyone recognize this snowsuit?  Yep, that 66 North stuff is built to last.
Now we also had a bit of luck last night:  it snowed!  Finally, the heavens opened and snow poured (weeelll) down and we had a slight accumulation.  Just enough to delay the start of school for two hours (pleased Cait to no end) and would have seriously complicated the day for the rest of us had we not already been under the weather.


Even with feeling slightly ill, the pull of the outdoors was too much for the kiddos.  By early afternoon, both were seriously ready to go outside for a bit.  Given that fresh air does a body good, I couldn't disagree.  We donned our snow gear and attempted to sled, but our sleds had suddenly disappeared.  We had to satsify ourselves with making a few snowballs, and shoveling a bit of the walk.  The fresh air did Kelsey's cold quite a bit of good and while it was freezing out, there was no way we were missing out on what could be the only snow day of the year (I'm not taking any chances).



January 20, 2013

So, we played hooky today.

I know, bad Mom, right?  Weeelll, we were driving into Arlington and about to head to Sunday school and I just couldn't stop thinking about how gorgeous it was outside.  Not too cold, sunny, and the air so clean and crisp.  What if we just had a quick lunch and then spent the afternoon in the city?  Given that the inaguration is tomorrow (and while I toyed with the notion of going, common sense quickly squealched that idea), it seemed like it would be the ideal time.

We stopped at our favorite cafe in Arlington, Northside, for "lunch."  While I had salmon and an egg, the kids chose the far more flavorful route (to them, I guess) of chocolate mousse and granola with an orange blossom doughnut (you will never, EVER consider Dunkin' Donuts after you have a doughnut from Northside).  We then got back into the car and drove a whopping 5 minutes into the city.  Despite the millions of tourists, we quickly found street parking (and free since it's Sunday.).  

One quick rant:  Being a tourist does not give you a free pass for a poor parking job, mmmm-k?  

It seemed like a rather whirlwind trip and even with the crowds, we had a chance to see many of the monuments.  Basically, we kept going until the little legs could not go anymore.  We first walked past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Kelsey and Nick were asking questions, and while I tried to answer correctly, it was a bit hard.  I mean, please tell me I'm not the only person who gets choked up everything single time she visits?  I ended up giving short answers and hope they sufficed.

The Lincoln was a bit easier and while terribly full of people, we still had a good view.  Also, I would like to confirm that the iPhone is THE camera of the American tourist.  At least it seemed that way today.

We spent a bit of time at the Reflecting Pool before viewing the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Way to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument.  Oh, one more brief rant:  I know some people insist that it seems like children are less respectful these days.  Do you know why?  At least today, they had a few very poor examples to follow.

As we passed the Korean War Memorial, I reminded Nick about respect, especially with regard to the monuments.  I pointed out the "no wading or standing" in the fountain area directly adjacent to the memorial.  Not 5 minutes later, Nick asked, "Why are those people standing where you told me we can't stand?"


We then turned to exit and walk towards the MLK, Jr. Memorial.   We saw a path from the area of the Korean War Memorial, but then noticed the sign and a fence blocking the entrance.  It wasn't a true path and was actually an area of turf reconstruction.  We turned to head to the proper exit, but not before we heard a few 30-something women discussing where to exit.

Sure enough, the ringleader of the group instantly decides, "It's okay to use that path because everyone else is doing it."

I gave her the look of death (especially as we had just discussed this very topic!), but left it at that due to the nature of the weekend.  Two minutes later, when we were out of earshot, Kelsey said, "Well, just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it okay!"

See folks?  Let's take a bit of that blame we reserve for kids, and put it back on ourselves.  If we don't set the right example, how do we expect kids to follow?

Despite a horrific time crossing Independence Avenue (not only can tourists not park, they can't read "No Walk" signs either), we finally made it to the "King Luther" Memorial.  It was packed, but gorgeous.  I had never seen it up close before and didn't realize just how grand it was.  It felt as though we were walking through mountains and then we saw the engraving of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the side of the stone.  Absolutely beautiful and Nick was thrilled to see it in person at long last.  (As expected, it's a huge topic in our house right now).

Nick then insisted we could walk to the Jefferson, but we were all beginning to tire.  Oh, and the bathroom called.  Thank goodness I had my State ID with me, as Nick seems to have an eternal fear of porta potties and outdoor public bathrooms.  No idea, but hoping it will dissipate over time.

I thought our visit was over after our brief stop at State, but then both of them felt like giving Einstein a visit.  He definitely ranks as the cuddliest monument, and probably Nick's favorite next to the Washington Monument.  And with that, three hours later we were headed home with a very complete day behind us.  While I wish I had the energy to get us all to the Inauguration, I think a visit to the city the day before was just as fulfilling.  Some days it seems exhausting to live in this area...and other days  I remember why I absolutely love it.




January 14, 2013

So, the good news...

is that I have an out for Area Studies.  Not that I want to be a big ole party-pooper (and it's not a reflection on Area Studies), but in case you haven't guessed, my schedule is a bit full these days.  I arrived home tonight approximately 6 minutes before Kelsey left for her Girl Scout meeting.  And, yes, that IS a typical Monday.

So instead of spending 3 hours in two sets of discussions on Tuesday mornings, I'll spend that time watching Destinos (oh, Don Fernando, you and your gran secreto!), reviewing "Nuevas Rutas" y quizás a wee bit of exercise (while watching a Netflix pelicula en español, por supuesto!).  No, I may not have as much regional knowledge, but with only 6 weeks left in my course, I desperately need more study time.

You see, as a sort of enigma for the Spanish department, I get to opt whether I participate or not. And, by enigma, I mean EFM who was slated for the F.A.S.T. course, but tested out and is in a whole new course with employees only.  So, confusing for everyone.  Oh, and when I went to introduce myself to the Language Training Supervisor, I barely got out my first name when she said, "Dinoia, right?  Same as Peter?"

Yep, the one who doesn't fit the mold...but is very much appreciating her classes and now glad to have more time to study during the day....cause guess what?  Full-time language is crazy insane!  Two days a week I have two hours of conversation per day, plus lab and study time.  The other three days consist of four hours of conversation plus lab and/or study time.  You know what happens after four hours of conversation in a non-native language that you are still trying to learn?  Yep, I find myself not being able to think in either language.  Or spell, for that matter...not a good thing, but I know it's temporary.

I have to say, up until today, I was a bit worried.  My days are so insanely packed now that I have little to no wiggle room.  I am very lucky to get home by 6 p.m. (and we live 15 minutes from FSI, door to door) and even luckier if I get to spend an hour or two with the LG before he's off to bed.  However, today I had my first one on one sesssion.  It was better than I thought and actually gave me a good start to the day.  I followed this up with 4 more hours of conversation and couldn't even contemplate leaving FSI until 5 p.m.  However, the girls were great, Nick loved his day at school and I am learning to say no to extra obligations that I really can't take on right now.  (I suppose this sounds selfish, but in order for my investment of time and money into Spanish class to pay off, I have to make a few sacrifices).  

I am also realizing it is likely a good idea that I did not opt for the 6 month course.  While I think that would be an amazing opportunity, with three kids and a spouse you-know-where, I just don't think it was a commitment that would work for us (because you do have to consider how it affects your family, especially when only one of you can drive).  For 8 weeks, though, it is totally doable.  Now if everyone could just say a little prayer for me and/or think good thoughts between 12 and 2 p.m. on February 21st for my official evaluation, I'd appreciate it.  If it's anything like my last evaluation, I'll need all the good vibes I can take!

January 09, 2013

Yo estoy muy cansada...

and one might say, well, if you are so darn tired why don't you just go to bed? Well, I would if I didn't have more Spanish homework staring me in the face. However, the verdict so far, after 3 days in my more *advanced* class?  

SO glad I switched!

In fact, it really isn't fair to compare the classes because the fast course is truly for beginners.  If you have never taken Spanish, it's perfect.  However, as I have learned, even having a minimal background in Spanish is enough to get you bumped up.  I'm slightly embarassed, though, as I have by far the least amount of experience in my class.  And how is it?

It's just what I wanted.  I wanted a class with some "book learning" but also a lot of conversation and this has it.  In fact, each 2 hour segment is nearly all conversation, some based on the exercises, some on anticipated events in our new jobs overseas.  Since there are only 5 of us, it is very easy to have good discussions that get more involved as we (okay, as *I*) grow in our (my) language confidence. I have no idea how I am doing officially and truthfully, I'm constantly on the edge fearing I will get booted for once again insisting that I am an American male (darn that gender business!).  However, my vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds and the words I had tucked away are all appearing once again.  

The only (and I mean ONLY) downside is trying to do this while a single parent.  Yes, I know others do it all the time.  Maybe it's just our circumstances, but it's exhausting in many respects.  I have next to no time for homework and have to hope I can get everything done in the evenings without sacrificing even more time with the kids.

The upside?  On Sunday, I was able to get the house not looking like a shoo-in for Hoarders, the Lego edition, and it's pretty much stayed that way.  The girls beat me home each day, but not by much, so just enough time to walk and feed the critters and have some downtime before the LG arrives.  Despite being in class fulltime, the kids and I managed to create a menu for the week and have stuck to it thus far.  We honestly don't have the time to eat out, and I've had no problem cooking every night...which means leftovers for lunches and that makes life even easier.  Heck, I even made it to the gym today (thank God for admin hours on Wednesday afternoon)!

On the other hand, it does mean less time for outside activities.  So, if you are wondering, it's why I haven't addressed the looming issue of the current season:  

Yep...it's cookie time!

Girl Scout cookies are back and we are on those orders!  In fact, this year, we are working together with Jill and Riley to spread the cookie goodness far and wide throughout the Foreign Service.  We have made it terribly easy to enjoy those once-a-year treats that you buy en masse because they are so darn yummy (and ship well!).  

To make it easy, I have copied the "how to" from Jill's blog.  Follow these simple instructions and you, too, could be enjoying those cookies very soon!  And now...Spanish homework is calling again...

Want cookies?  Read the excerpt from Jill's post below and just follow the instructions!

First and foremost, we don't want to step on anyone's toes, so our joint efforts are focused on providing Girl Scout Cookies solely to our Foreign Service friends overseas, where we can ship to an APO/FPO/DPO or pouch address.  If you are our family members or personal friends and want to buy from us rather than from the little girlies who are SURE to knock on your door sometime in the next few months, that's great too.  But we'll take care of you outside of this joint venture.  
Just like the last few years, the cookies are only $4 / box ... with all your favorites returning!
  • Thin Mints
  • Samoas
  • Thank You Berry Munch
  • Trefoils
  • Dulce de Leche
  • Tagalongs
  • Do-Si-Dos
  • Savannah Smiles
Here's how to order:
1) Attempt to narrow down how many boxes you want (versus how many boxes your eyes and stomach want.)  

2) Send an email to DSforGS@yahoo.com by Friday, January 18th, with ...
* Your Name
* Your Post 
* Your Address
* Exactly how many of each kind you'd like

3) When the cookies come in, send us your payment via paypal, and we'll get them out to you ASAP.  We'll send you an email invoice letting you know your totals.
It's THAT simple.

We will be shipping the cookies in the USPS Flat Rate boxes. The current APO/FPO rate is $13.45 for a 12" x 12" x 5 1/2" box ... and we can fit 8 boxes of cookies in them.  And as an incentive ... you pay the first $10 / box, and we'll pick up the rest!

A wee bit of additional information  ...

** If you are at a post overseas, pass along this information to any of your friends.  We would LOVE to outfit your entire Consulate or Embassy.  

** Consider combining orders with your friends to help reduce shipping costs.

** Between the two families, our girls sold over 1100 boxes of cookies to 50+ countries during the last two years to FS personnel.  

** We set up the DSforGS@yahoo.com email address so that we could make it easy to get more cookies shipped out to more places.  If you know either of us personally and want our daughters to send out your cookies - no worries.  Just say so in your email.  Otherwise, we have divided up the world behind the scenes so that all you need to do is send in your order, and let us take care of the rest! 

Now what are you waiting for?  Happy ordering! 





January 06, 2013

Sometimes one good-bye

is just not enough.  Like today.  We dropped Peter off at Dulles and I can't say we all weren't wiping away tears.  Well, except Nick...

A predeparture lunch with the elder Sissa grinning...

Now it's Kelsey's turn...

Even Cait whipped out the tissues and was wiping her eyes as we drove off.  This did not stop the Sissas and Nick from having many an argument both to and from Dulles, but still, it was touching in its own right.

Oh, one good-bye.  As we were driving along the Access Road, a Skype call came in via Bluetooth. What did I do?  Well, duh, hung up the phone as I've never actually talked via Bluetooth before. Luckily, by the next call, I realized it was Peter and answered properly.  I wondered why he wasn't calling via his iPhone, until he hurriedly asked, "Where are you?"  He followed that up promptly with, "I left my iPhone in the car!"


Yep, there it was in the little cubby beneath the 8 bazillion buttons in the amazing electronics division of the new auto-mobile.  So, I replied, "Well, of course, I will turn around and get it to you ASAP!"  Except I had already missed all of the exits from the Access Road to the toll road.  Yippee, skippee, I had to wait until I hit Route 7 to turn around.

Luckily, thanks to Mr. "I had already checked in and refuse to carry anything other than a backpack" we had no worries about him meeting us at the departures area to pick up his wayword phone.  Not that the Crackberry isn't awesome, but I can't imagine the poor boy having to live 7,000 miles away from his iPhone, even for just a few weeks.

Then...that was it. It was the final good-bye (minus the 10+texts that followed).  He blew us kisses, waved and walked off.  I was fine...at that point.

Now?  Now I am between fine and a mess.  On one hand, we are fine.  Hell, we are better than fine. We have been through nearly everything DS could hand us on a platter and not only survived, but perservered.

Then there is the other part of me...the part that gets texts like these and just melts...because we shouldn't HAVE to do this.  In fact, there are people who would decide not to do so, but we don't have that luxury.

Whatever.  We knew this might be tough going in, but it's what the job requires. 

It's hard.  The ups.  The downs.  The coming and going and "WHY does Daddy have to leave again?" 

In four months (with another R&R in between), though, it will be all over. We will be back together for good and that much stronger. 

Love you, Babe, and see you soon (after I kick some you-know-what in Spanish, of course)...


January 05, 2013

Week 1 at FSI....

With great pomp and circumstance (and a lot of coffee), I started language classes this week at the School of Language Studies at FSI (Foreign Service Institute).  After the year 2000 debacle, also known as "No Spanish for Jen," I was not giving up this time.  Come hell or high water, I wanted to have an excellent base Spanish prior to our departure for Managua, rather than my current serviceable, but spotty coverage.

Given that our circumstances are very different this time around and that Nick is already in Montessori, I don't have to stress about the financial aspects like I did many years ago.  I don't have to fret about only being able to take an early morning class, since we didn't have the extra $1200/month for daycare (not when I wasn't working) and my class did not suddenly get switched to Main State at the last minute (as in 2000).  All in all, things were looking up from the get-go.

I did have one worry, and that was scheduling.  The only info I had been given prior to the start of class was my arrival time on Day 1.  No way to know when my classes would start or end, and I was praying for anything except an 8 a.m. start.  It's not so much that I am not a morning person, but there is no way I could guarantee my arrival, since Nick's school doesn't even open until 7:30 a.m. Not to mention, that would mean Kelsey would need to be up by 7:15 every morning and while she can get herself ready (yes, she does her own breakfast & lunch), if she missed the bus....

I walked into the orientation on Wednesday with quite a bit of trepidation.  It was odd for Peter to drop me off, while he had the day to tool around in the new car (safe to say we are both enjoying our new Pilot!).  I was worried about getting lost or my i.d. not working, but neither one happened, and I was in my seat 30 minutes prior to the start of the orientation for all language classes.  

It was fairly short and sweet and then we were divided up by language.  When we arrived in our Spanish orientation location, we were all greeted with books and schedules.  I looked through my packet, found our schedule and rejoiced, as my class would start at 10 a.m.  Sure, it wouldn't end until 4:15 p.m., but Nick's daycare goes until six and after all, we did allocate a hefty amount to the child care FSA for this exact reason.

Guess what?  I was the only one at my table rejoicing.  Apparently the time did not work for anyone else.  By the end of the day, it was switched to 8 a.m. to accomodate the rest of the class, and I was wondering how this would all play out.  Well, it didn't take long to figure out that maybe I wasn't in the right class after all.

When Peter signed me up, the only option was the F.A.S.T. course.  This was fine with me, as the timing worked and I assumed that the classes were geared towards level.  Not exactly...the FAST course is basic and geared towards survival.  If you say, took a year in high school, lived overseas in a Spanish-speaking country for two years and continued to learn Spanish on your own...it may not be the right fit. (If you have no Spanish, and want to get a good working knowledge, I think it would be perfect.)

By Thursday morning, I knew I had to speak to someone.  We had met with the teacher on Wednesday, very briefly, and I learned that I had different goals from the other students.  Between that and the timing of the class, I was worried that staying in the class might mean that I not get as much as out of the class as I had hoped I would.  

I headed to the Spanish department yesterday morning and spoke with one of the directors. My needs regarding the timing of the class and my (limited) background in Spanish were taken into consideration and by 2:45 yesterday, I had finished my evaluation.  While it was not stellar, the evaluator could tell that my comprehension was decent (verbs need some work).  She recommended a different placement so that I could expand and grow my knowledge, rather than focus on days of the week, the alphabet, colors and the like.  I turned in my old books, recieved a new set of training materials and was told to come back at 10 a.m. today.

Just prior to my arrival Friday morning, I received two emails indicating that I had been switched to 8 weeks of the regular Spanish class.   I then chatted with the same director I met with yesterday (in the afternoon) and he indicated that there would be a class with several of us that would begin on Monday.He even mentioned something about me having a score of a 1 (I was hoping for 0+, so go me!) and although he didn't confirm it, I was thrilled.

Why?  Well, other than that one year of high school Spanish, I have NO formal training.  Yes, I took classes at the Embassy, but while they were helpful, it was not a regular class divided into levels.  No certificates, no testing, more of a drop-in scenario.  Helpful, but I needed something more intense.

Now I have it and I can't help but be a wee bit proud of myself.  The year in high school, two years in Caracas, working with Pete somewhat and just trying to learn more Spanish on my own paid off. Even better, I stood up and said something and the instructors agreed my background was sufficient to change my class.  I'm not sure how it will turn out in the end, if I will be writing essays in Spanish or still working on lone paragraphs, but I do know one thing:  I will feel far more prepared for this post and feel much better having tackled another language more thoroughly.  Now, off to study....