Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Well, the President Knows…

Posted in Foreign Service Life at 4:48 pm by graceandpoise

The following was heartening to read today in President Obama’s letter to federal employees:

[…] Today, I wanted to take a moment to tell you what you mean to me — and to our country.

That begins by saying thank you for the work you do every day — work that is vitally important to our national security and to American families’ economic security.  You defend our country overseas and ensure that our troops receive the benefits they deserve when they come home.  You guard our borders and protect our civil rights.  You help small businesses expand and gain new footholds in overseas markets.  You guide hundreds of thousands of people each day through the glory of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Statue of Liberty.  And much more.

You do all this in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag.  You have endured three years of a Federal pay freeze, harmful sequester cuts, and now, a shutdown of our Government.  And yet, you persevere, continuing to serve the American people with passion, professionalism, and skill.

None of this is fair to you.  And should it continue, it will make it more difficult to keep attracting the kind of driven, patriotic, idealistic Americans to public service that our citizens deserve and that our system of self-government demands. […]

Well said, Mr. President.  Now, if only we could get the American public, or at least other politicians, to see things this way.

Oh well, a girl can dream.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Of Puppy Love and Loss

Posted in Family tagged , at 10:07 pm by graceandpoise

R. J. C.  1999-2013

Darling Dog,

I love you, and I miss you already.  I am so grateful we got quite a bit more time with you than we thought we would.  And I’m grateful you were able to share your love with the man who became my husband, and even (though briefly) with my baby boy.  You will be missed so, so much.  Enjoy that great big wide-open field you’re romping through, that never-ending buffet of people-food, and that big cushy bed where nobody calls you a “big lug” and makes you move over.  You were the sweetest, best dog anyone could hope for.  Though you weren’t without your challenges, you were above all a great big dog-shaped ball of love, covered with an abundance of blonde fur.  I love you, and I’ll remember you always, my sweet old boy.


your girl


Saturday, July 13, 2013

A “Tour” of Duty

Posted in Generalities at 4:44 pm by graceandpoise

One of the first things we spent time doing after we arrived and moved into our rental house in DC for a 2-year assignment at State Department headquarters was watch the Tour de France.  Now, with our 2-year tour extended by a year of language training for our next jobs, we are watching the Tour de France for the third time in this too-expensive-to-have-been-there-this-long house as we start to get organized for moving out next week.

A lot has changed over the past three years.  At work, Husband and I have both gotten promotions, and we learned a lot about how the DC side of the sausage gets made.  At home, we invested in some pieces of “grown-up” furniture, learned – or invented – a few good new recipes, and welcomed a new tiny human into our family.

So now three of us are watching the Tour de France.  Next year:  maybe more of the same in Kosovo.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Silly Bunny – Babies are from Storks!

Posted in Family at 2:26 pm by graceandpoise

Who knew the Easter Bunny was trying to encroach on the stork’s territory?

This is our sweet, life-changing Easter Sunday arrival.  Some of you may be disappointed that we avoided the temptation to name him Jesus Resurrection.  Guess those of you who fall into that category will just have to learn to live with it.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Stop Poking At Me

Posted in Generalities tagged at 5:59 pm by graceandpoise

I’m told I look like I’ve swallowed a basketball.  Maybe something bigger than that.  “Comfortable” is but a foggy memory.  The half-mile walk to and from the metro for my daily commute takes way too long now, as does the walk to the store and everywhere else.  I am short-tempered, I’m feeling – and quite literally getting – constantly beat up, and I’m running on some unknown small fraction of brain-power while trying to learn a whole new language.

So yeah.  I’m feeling stupid, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, clumsy, and ugly.  I am not “glowing.”

Piled upon all this loveliness is the fact that complete strangers feel they have a right to poke their noses into my private business, and the goings-on inside my body.  And the fact that apparently I’m not allowed to object to that.  And that’s what sparks this rant.

Take one of the many recent examples:  my husband and I were innocently walking down the street on our way to a sandwich shop.  As we passed a group of people talking to one another, one of them stopped in mid-sentence and yelled out, “Ooooo, girl!  You droppin’!  Whatchoo havin’, a boy or a girl?”  Yes, seriously.  Complete stranger on the street.  Inquiring about the internal functions of my body.  I think I deserve a lot of credit for simply ignoring this person, rather than responding with my first knee-jerk reaction (physical violence) or my second (yelling back something outrageous, like “it’s a tumor.”)

I’m told by so many people – including most of my family – that I should not only “grin and bear” strangers’ wildly unwelcome and invasive questions/comments, but that I am supposed to be kind to them and provide honest and thorough answers.  Essentially, I’m to put strangers’ feelings about what’s going on in my life above my own.  I’m told, when I express my outrage at this, that it’s a societal expectation, and I should just go along with it (and in the process allow it to perpetuate).  I’m told I shouldn’t say anything that hints at unhappiness with this situation, as this would be rude to others.

But let’s get one thing straight:  I am not a zoo animal, here for strangers’ amusement.  Neither is any other woman who happens to be pregnant.

Yes, I currently have a medical condition that is visibly obvious (“the only medical problem that is usually happy instead of scary,” to quote my husband).  That doesn’t mean people, particularly strangers, get to comment on it and ask all about it.  Like all medical conditions, this is an intensely private thing.  And I should not be vilified for wanting to keep it that way.

Ever since the first time I received such unwelcome questions from strangers about my pregnancy, and got a talking-to from relatives about my reaction of “I don’t like to talk about it” (which I considered both mild and polite, not to mention honest), I’ve felt totally alone.  Like maybe I’m some pariah, unable to become the stereotypical “glowing” and bubbly pregnant woman, simply waiting for any opportunity to tell perfect strangers about all the inner workings of her biology.  Like maybe something’s deeply wrong with me.

I felt that way until I – and my husband – started sharing stories about these unwelcome inquiries with friends and acquaintances who have had children in recent years, or are currently going through pregnancy.  Turns out I’m not a crazy harpy – apparently most people feel this way, but are too afraid of being categorized as crazy harpies to say anything.  It seems, though we all agree the constant invasions of privacy are deeply disturbing, we have all felt compelled to endure them in silence, bowing to external pressures exhorting us to appear like perfect, beaming pregnant ladies.

No more.  I will not just “grin and bear” your invasive questions, complete strangers.  I will either ignore you (if I’m feeling charitable) or say something outlandish that makes it clear your questions aren’t welcome (if I’m not feeling charitable).  You have no right to know how long it will be before I get my body back to myself.  You have no right to know what variety of human is occupying the space usually reserved for my internal organs.  You simply have no right.  This doesn’t mean I’m a crazy harpy or a pariah or even that I’m unhappy with my current state.  It simply means that you, stranger, have no right to my private business.

I – and others in similar situations – am perfectly within my rights to object to strangers’ intrusive rudeness.  And I contend we should do so.  Hopefully, if enough of us do, people will stop telling us there’s something wrong with the way we feel, and accept that we are still human beings who have a right to keep certain things private.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas at Home

Posted in Family, Home at 6:03 pm by graceandpoise

There’s nothing better than spending Christmas at home with the ones you love.  Especially when you are pretty sure you won’t be able to do it again soon.  And you’ve got to admit, this is the cutest (and, might I add, the sweetest) dog ever.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Linguistic Murder

Posted in Generalities at 4:47 pm by graceandpoise

So I’ve been in Serbo-Croatian (“Serbian Variant”) language classes since right around Labor Day.  I can construct some complete sentences now.  Sometimes those sentences are grammatically correct.  Sometimes.  A couple of weeks ago, one of the instructors told me, “You really need to murder your Bulgarian – it’s holding you back.”

Sorry, Bulgarian friends.  My Bulgarian language skills currently suffer from life-threatening injuries, even though my Serbian language skills aren’t out of the NICU just yet.

Why must one die for the other to live?  The two are just so closely related, but not quite closely enough.  A few examples (spelled kind-of-phonetically for those who speak American English)…

  • The word for “milk”:  Bulgarian – “mlyako” — Serbian – “mlayko”
  • The word for “where”:  Bulgarian – “kuhday” — Serbian – “gday”
  • The word for “good night”:  Bulgarian – “layka nosht” — Serbian – “lahkoo noch”
  • The word “kakvo” means “what” in Bulgarian; it means “what type of/please describe” in Serbian (“what” in Serbian is “shta”)
  • The word “kogah” means “when” in Bulgarian; it means “whom” in Serbian (“when” in Serbian is “kada”)
  • The term for “we are”:  Bulgarian – “nee smay” — Serbian – “mee smo”
  • The word for “easy”:  Bulgarian – “lehsno” — Serbian – “lahko”
  • Strangest of all (though not central to the problem):  the word for “Bulgaria” is “Buhllgahrya” in Bulgarian; the Serbian word, though, is “Boogahriya”.  Seriously.  One of the instructors actually told me they thought English-speakers took it upon themselves to put the “L” in Bulgaria, that it didn’t actually belong there.  The two countries have a great big border with one another, and have mostly-mutually-intelligible languages with pretty much the same alphabet!  How could the spelling/pronunciation of their neighbor’s name be a surprise?!

Not to mention the grammar complications.  For instance, Bulgarian has no cases but does have endings on nouns to indicate you’re talking about “the” thing rather than “a” thing;  Serbian on the other hand has seven cases that change nouns’ endings, but no definite/indefinite articles.  So you can see where some confusion would kick in.  And to think I anticipated this would be an easier learning curve than previous languages because I already knew a closely-related language.  Sigh.

So, to my Bulgarian friends, I apologize in advance that I will be unable to speak your language with anything resembling intelligence by the time I get to the Balkans and make my first visit to Bulgaria.  I hope you will understand, and I hope you will bear with me.  I really didn’t set out to slaughter my Bulgarian skills, but it’s looking like I don’t have a choice…

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yeah, but what to you DO?

Posted in Foreign Service Life at 11:14 am by graceandpoise

I get that question a lot.  Like a last weekend, when I met a bunch of my husband’s high-school friends.  “Oh, so you work in embassies?  But what do you DO?”  Particularly in the case of the Foreign Service – and particularly after one has a couple of different assignments under one’s belt – that question is extraordinarily difficult to answer.

Thus, I was happy to see an article in Foreign Policy that attempts to explain it.  The only way to do so is by pulling out a series of examples, as the duties of a Foreign Service Officer can range so widely.  Maybe the book Mr. Kralev is writing will answer the question yet more fully, but in the meantime, see the link above to the article (page 3 will be particularly helpful for those of you wanting to know just what it is we do), and a brief quote below.

“How can teaching effective governance, participating in nuclear negotiations, organizing a cultural event, reforming a child-adoption system, selling weapons, recovering from a natural disaster, visiting prisoners, and fixing public relations problems be part of the same profession?

Welcome to the U.S. Foreign Service.”

To those politicians and other detractors who like to spread falsehoods about the Foreign Service:  please note that attending fancy parties wearing sequined cocktail dresses is not on the above list, and hasn’t been for a long time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Sad Day for the Foreign Service

Posted in Foreign Service Life, Human Rights at 6:52 pm by graceandpoise

My thoughts and my heart go out to the friends, family, and other loved ones of the four Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi last night.

A colleague recently described the U.S. government’s position on free speech in a way that really resonated with me:  we are “extremists when it comes to free speech.”  We might distance ourselves from what you have to say, we might even call your words reprehensible and a few other things, but we will continually defend your right to say it.  Someone in America put up some video, which I understand says some wild and offensive things (I confess I haven’t seen it myself), and someone in Egypt thought it was a good idea to put clips of that video on television and tell people to go to the U.S. embassy and protest.  The jury is out as to whether the tragic events in Benghazi are related to that whole mess or not, but at the end of the day, freedom of speech protects what those people said.  We’ll certainly distance ourselves from both the video and the person who called people to protest at the embassy about it, but we’ll defend their rights to say it.

As for my own opinions, suffice it to say I’ve got some choice words for those who would perpetrate this kind of attack, and for those in this country who would try to turn a tragedy like this into a political football.  In the interest of civility, I’ll keep those words to myself for now, as I fear I would veer into expletives territory.  Instead, I’ll share with you a bit of Secretary Clinton‘s eloquence from earlier today:

“All over the world, every day, America’s diplomats and development experts risk their lives in the service of our country and our values, because they believe that the United States must be a force for peace and progress in the world, that these aspirations are worth striving and sacrificing for. Alongside our men and women in uniform, they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation.”

“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear – there is no justification for this, none. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith. And as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”

May it be a long, long, long time before we ever wake up to news like this again.  Ideally, we never will, but being a part of the modern Foreign Service means we all serve – or will serve – in difficult places and in harm’s way.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ms. B

Posted in Family, Friends & Other Travelers, Generalities, Home at 11:29 pm by graceandpoise

I was still in middle school when my older brother started coming home raving about all the great things he was learning in his new Humanities class from “Helen and Bob.”  My brother, an extraordinarily smart young man in whose mind very little was deemed comment-worthy, was thoroughly enamored.  I, looking up to him as I did (though I’d have denied it to my last breath back then), couldn’t wait until I got to high school and could take Helen and Bob’s Humanities class.  I had no idea what “Humanities” referred to, but I knew I wanted to take the class.

I was fortunate enough to have Helen – or Ms. B (I never was quite as forward as my brother) – as my English teacher in addition to taking the Humanities class she team-taught with Bob.  She was known for pushing her students hard, making them do a little more, a little faster, and a little better than they thought they could.  Her special mix of tough, comical, intense, wistful, wise, and hard-driving made her one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.  The addition of an undeniable and genuine enthrallment with the art, poetry, or literature she was teaching made her my favorite teacher ever.  And I’m definitely not alone.

I owe Ms. B a lot of things.  I am still known, on occasion, to tell people “you don’t need to have a point to have a point” (this befuddles them every time).  During my junior year of college, studying abroad in Paris and having gotten my hands on a year-long pass to the Louvre, I would sit at the feet of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, writing letters to my mom or my friends, looking up from time to time to study the statue, echoing Ms. B’s “ahhhh.”  She and Bob are the reasons the names Khufu, Khafre, and Menkure pop into my head every time I see a photo of Egypt’s pyramids.  Ditto with Ur, Uruk, and Lagash, whenever someone mentions certain parts of Iraq (happens more often than you might think).  Many a museum visit has been made exponentially more meaningful because of that Humanities class, from seeing the Stele of the Law Code of Hammurabi to gazing at the frescoes by Giotto in Florence’s Santa Croce, Vermeer‘s scenes of Dutch domesticity, Degas‘ dancers, or Georges de la Tour’s exquisitely wrought candlelight.  She’s the reason I know what a “Pre-Raphaelite” is, and why I have a special fondness for this painting.  Ms. B is the reason I have never, ever, written the word “alot” (until now, and she’d probably still try to have my head for calling it a word).  She’s also probably a large part of the reason that I have been so successful with my writing in my current job; her standards were high, and so mine are too.  She’s the reason I still tell myself and others, “Say it three times and it’s yours.”  And she’s the reason that, after all these years, I not only went out of my way last month to visit Canterbury Cathedral, but annoyed my companions by reciting the entire “General Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales, in the original Middle English.

Ms. B is retiring this year.  It’s a great loss to the students who haven’t had the chance to experience that special thing that is a class of Helen’s, but she has made a profound and positive difference in more people’s lives than most of us can hope to make in multiple lifetimes.  There is a retirement party this week, and you can bet if I weren’t three timezones away and not independently wealthy, I’d make darned sure I was there to show my appreciation.  As it is, I can only say from afar, “Happy retirement, Ms. B., and my door – wherever it may happen to be located – will always be open should you get bit by the travel bug.”

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