Saturday, December 29, 2012

Goals for 2013

As I try to do every year, I have set goals for 2013. For one of these goals, I will need your help to meet the goal (please see below). But first, let's recap my goals for 2012.

  • Learn German.  Starting next September, I will be a full-time German student.  By the end of 2012, I want to have a decent grasp on the language.  Although I think I may have forgotten most of my German over Christmas break, I think I have met this goal. Our next progress test is in a few weeks and we hope to be at the 2/2 level. 
  • Complete my Belize bucket list.  I didn't get everything done on the list, but I completed a huge chunk of the list. 
  • Watch at least two sun rises and two sunsets (an annual goal).  I watched a number of sunsets this year, including a couple over the Pacific Ocean, the grand Tetons, Hong Kong, and a number of them in Belize. As for sun rises, I can specifically recall watching the sun rise over the ruins at Caracol and yesterday in the mountains. 
  • Tour America on the Ultimate Road Trip.  The route may change, but the goal remains the same - see parts of America that I have never seen before.  As I predicted, the route changed dramatically, but the Ultimate Road Trip was amazing. Definitely one of the highlights of 2012. 
  • Buy a house for my parents.  My parents are currently living with my grandparents after losing their home this year.  I have some money saved up, so I am hoping to be able to buy a house that they can then rent from me.  This did not happen for a number of reasons, primarily that my parents moved to Prescott Valley in May to start new jobs. 
  • Go to at least two football games (at least one Husker game); five baseball games; and three concerts.  I went to two Nebraska games (Northwestern and B1G Ten Championship); only four baseball games (Dodgers, A's, and two Nationals games); and just one concert (Garth Brooks).  But, I did attend three Broadway caliber musicals (Avenue Q, Wicked, and Les Miserables)
  • Remain a non-smoker. I won't lie and say I haven't smoked any cigarettes in 2012, but I have been able to severely limit those cigarettes to only every once in a while when I go out with smoker friends.  More impressively, my Mom has quit smoking this year.  I am so proud of you Mom!
All in all, not a bad job on my 2012 goals.  What's in store for 2013? (in no particular order)

  • Learn German at 3/3 level
  • Watch two sunrises and two sunsets
  • Weigh under 220 pounds by New Years 2014 (this is losing an additional 35 pounds)
  • Read 25 books
  • Visit at least 6 countries (not counting USA or Germany)
  • Attend at least one Bundesliga soccer match
  • Attend at least three concerts
  • Run a 5K in under 30 minutes
  • Complete a 10K race
  • Complete the Cherry Blossom 10 miler and at least one other long race (10 miles or more).
This last goal is where I need your help.  I registered for the Cherry Blossom Lottery last month, but was not selected.  My only option for entering the race is through their charity fundraiser.  I must raise $500 which will go to the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals - which is a worthy cause.

My goal is to get 25 people to donate $20 each towards my goal.  If you would like to help me reach this, you can donate by going to my fundraising page.  Once I reach my goal of $500, I will be able to enter the Cherry Blossom 10 miler.  Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Christmas where Mom tried to burn down the house

So far, my Christmas vacation has been fabulous. I got in late Friday after a couple of pretty chill days of German. I did all of my Christmas shopping over a few hours on Saturday afternoon before meeting my parents, plus Katie, Paul, and Richelle for a movie (This is 40, which was hilarious) and dinner.  On Sunday, I went and played poker at the casino and then met back up with my parents.

Monday morning, I accidentally slept in as I thought my alarm was on east coast time - whoops.  We made our way over to Shelley's for Christmas Eve. Besides the five in our family, we also had Katie's husband Paul, Shelley's boyfriend Jeff, and Tom, my dads former coworker who had fallen on some rough times.   We played guitar hero (Shelley is really awful at this game) and scene it on Jeff's Xbox.  While we were playing games, mom was making some snacks. She accidentally turned on the wrong stove burner and caught two plastic cake pan lids on fire, filling the house with smoke. No one was hurt and the plastic lids were the only casualties of the incident, but I am pretty sure this will always be the Christmas mom tried to burn down the house.

For dinner, we went traditional Italian with my dads fantastic lasagna. Shelley made a great salad and Paul added delicious garlic bread. The dinner really was delicious.  Our family tradition is to open presents from each other on Christmas Eve. We go one at a time from youngest to oldest. Until a few years ago, Katie always got to go first, but then she started dating and then married a younger man, so now paul gets to go first.  I walked away with a bunch of new clothes, which I desperately needed, a new camera, as well as tickets to a suns game tomorrow and the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl game on Saturday.

I woke up early on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought. For years, Santa has abandoned traditional stockings and instead leaves our gifts in large gift bags. The last two years, Santa has gotten significant help from various family members. So, this year, I helped Santa get Paul's presents and Paul returned the favor.  Santa brought socks and underwear and deodorant, as well as a CD and DVD, plus a puzzle and a few other small things.

I went out for a short run this morning. When I got back to Shelley's, mom began to make french toast for breakfast. So yummy. Soon, Tom turkey went into the oven and we started to play scene it again. I dominated the game so much that I took a break so that someone else could win. Christmas dinner was just awesome with turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing (I don't like stuffing) and all the rest.

After the post-dinner nap, we packed up mom and dads car and made our way up to Prescott valley  it took us over an hour just to get out of Phoenix from Shelley's house. It is way to cold in PV to still be in Arizona. Brr.

I still have another four days of vacation here, but this trip so far has been fantastic. Except for the part where mom almost burned down the house.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Running Update

After last Friday's shooting in Connecticut, I needed to get the word "massacre" off my front page, so here is a running update.

I have been steadily working through my couch to 10K program.  I must admit I find this program increasingly more difficult than I did the couch to 5k program.  The main issue is the time commitment to a single run.  With the 5K program, my total time spent stretching, working out, and showering afterwards was about an hour.  In the 10K program, the workout itself is around an hour each time, and I basically have to commit between 90 minutes and 2 hours to get the workout done.  That makes it a whole lot easier to not have the time to do it.

Nonetheless, I have continued working out at least 3 times a week.  Unfortunately, my weight loss has plateaued a bit.  Today, I weighed 255 lbs., which is 30 lbs. lower than my peak, but only one pound less than before Katie's wedding.  I'm worried that Christmas will have a similar effect, but I will hopefully be able to keep running (in the warm Phoenix winter) and limit the desserts.

I had set a new goal to run in and complete the Cherry Blossom 10 miler this spring.  I even encouraged a number of my friends and even my sister to sign up for the lottery with me.  Unfortunately, most of them were selected to run the race, but I was not selected through the lottery.  I still have a couple of options to get into the race (I may be asking for charity donations soon), but if you had told me a year ago that I would be fighting to get into a 10 mile race, I would have laughed at you.

Current statistics:
Weight - 255 lbs (down 30 lbs)
Pant size - 40x30 (I am now in between the 42 and 40, but I can definitely wear a 40, so that is one size down)
Longest run without stopping: 32:54 (My long runs generally go for a total of about an hour, but they include periods of running and walking, so I have not yet bested my longest time in the last 5K)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Massacre in Indianapolis

As a college football fan employed in the Foreign Service, my opportunities to see my favorite team - Nebraska -  live and in person are few and far between.  While in Belize, I managed to sneak up to Dallas for the last Big 12 Championship to watch Nebraska blow a 17 point lead and lose to Oklahoma.  Earlier this year, I traveled to Chicago and watched the Huskers implode for three quarters only to complete an impressive fourth quarter comeback.

After Nebraska beat Michigan to take the lead in its division, I bought a plane ticket to Indianapolis hoping the Huskers would make to the Championship.  After they beat Minnesota three weeks ago, I invited my girlfriend, Sara, to go to the game with me.  I waited until we secured our Division championship to book a hotel room or buy game tickets.  With all of my worry about making it to the game, I didn't honestly worry about what would happen in Indianapolis.

I arrived late Friday night and watched football in a sports bar before returning to my hotel.  Sara arrived on Saturday morning and we set out to explore downtown Indy.  I have to admit that Indy surprised me in how awesome the downtown area was.  Lots of old architecture with intricate stone masonry and old brick.  Seemed to be early 1900s design refurbished for the 21st Century.  Tons of bars and restaurants and the weather was fantastic in the low 60s.  Our favorite bar was the "Slippery Noodle Inn", which doubles as both a sports bar and a blues bar.  All the bars in Indy were huge and this was no different with probably five or six rooms and an unexplored basement and second floor.

The stadium was pretty cool as well.  It was no JerryDome in Texas, but it was still pretty cool.  Our seats were fantastic, 11 rows up from the field at about the 10 yard line.  Unfortunately, we were in the Wisconsin section, which proved to be a dumb idea.

The game started bad with a quick Wisconsin TD, followed by a pick-6 on our first play.  Two minutes into the game, we were down 14 points.  I actually was not real upset at this point.  We had made several comebacks during the season and I had confidence we could do it again.  After a fantastic scramble by QB Taylor Martinez for a 70 yard TD, I thought we were in business.  Instead, the wheels came off.  Wisconsin turned a 14-10 game into a 42-10 by the end of the half and it was basically over.  An interception on our first drive to start the second half only sealed the deal.  For the first time in my life, I left a Nebraska game early.  The final score was 70-31!

We made our way to a bar to wallow in our misery (not that Sara cared all that much...she felt bad for me, but she is an Aggie, so her heart had not just been broken by the Huskers again).  The next day, we ate a late breakfast before checking out.  We wandered around downtown Indy a bit more and shopped in the mall before catching our flight back to DC.  Indy was a cool enough city that I had a good time despite the fact that my team got its ass kicked.
Cool obelisk downtown is dressed up as a Christmas Tree

The very cool "Slippery Noodle Inn"

Outside the stadium before the game (hence the smiles)

Holding a random NCAA trophy

Our seats were awesome, for whatever that was worth.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Katie's wedding

To be honest, I don't think it could have gone any better.  I had one of the most enjoyable weekends of my life - spending time with my family and celebrating its growth as Katie and Paul exchanged their wedding vows.

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday at my grandparent's house with four generations of Caniglias, Callahans, Sanders, and McGoverns spread throughout the house.  Like millions of families across the country, we reunited and caught up with each other's lives.  Much of our extended family still lives in Omaha, so they see each other regularly, but I get to catch up only every other year or so.  I see my cousin's little children grow by leaps and bounds in between reunions.

Friday morning, we skipped the shopping to watch the Nebraska-Iowa game together.  Nothing like going to a bar at 930 on a Friday morning!  Despite the game being close, Nebraska pulled through to advance to the B1G Ten Championship Game this coming Saturday (I am going!)  Friday night, we had the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner.  Neither Katie's nor Paul's extended family live in Arizona, so most of the out-of-town family came to the rehearsal dinner.  The meal was fantastic, the company superb, and my speech for Katie and Paul well-received.

Saturday was the big day and you couldn't ask for better weather.  Highs in the low '80s and sunny.  Gotta love Arizona in November.  My older sister's boyfriend (met him for the first time - nice guy) took me and my Dad for an old-fashioned trim and shave at the barbershop.  Although the barber scraped my neck raw, it was pretty nice to be pampered.  The one minor hiccup of the day was that the bridal party arrived at the church about 20 minutes late.  Not a case of cold feet, just traffic.  (The wedding party had to get ready at the reception hall because the church was being renovated and didn't have changing facilities there).

Admittedly, I was more emotional at the wedding than I expected.  Watching my father help my little sister out of the limo in front of the church, I started to tear up a bit.  I hadn't yet seen her in her dress and she looked so beautiful.  Memories of her growing up flashed through my mind.  Once we were in the church, I first walked my Mom up to the front (she looked great from her surgery 6 weeks ago.  She moved around great and never had to use her oxygen the whole weekend).  Then I went back to walk back down as a groomsman.  I teared up again when my Dad starting walking Katie down the aisle, but then the entire church stood up and blocked my view, so I didn't get to really see them walking up.

The reception was absolutely fantastic.  The DJ was phenomenal.  The drinks were flowing.  The food was delicious.  They had a photo booth where people could go in and take pictures.  We somehow fit all the cousins into the booth for a photo.  We had everyone doing Turkey Baster Shots.  At the end of the night, they had a party bus to take people back to the hotels and to Mill Ave.  Really, just a fantastic night.

I wish Katie and Paul all the best.

Thanksgiving at Nana and Nanus

Go Big Red!

The last photo of the five Caniglias - looking sharp before the rehearsal dinner.

Dad helping Katie out of the limo.

I sneaked this photo during the wedding.

The bride and her parents

In the limo on the way to the reception.

Paul is a huge pro wrestling fan and Katie surprised
him with a groom's cake shaped like a wrestling ring.

Everyone dancing 'Gangham Style.'  When Katie and Paul watch the wedding view in
20 years with their kids, this will be what they are embarrassed about.

On the other hand, turkey baster shots will always be awesome!

My parents dancing

When you show up at a bar in your wedding dress, you get invited on stage.

Friday, November 9, 2012


One of my favorite categories on Jeopardy is "Potpourri", where they have five questions on random topics with no commonality.  So, here are five things that have been going on with me.

  • I took my first German progress test yesterday and I got a 1+/1+.  For comparison's sake, I lived in Italy three different times for a total of 18 months and got a 1+/1+ when I took the test a few years ago.  So, apparently 10 weeks of intensive German = 18 months of living in Italy.
  • Frankenstorm Sandy didn't do much damage here in the DC area.  The apartment building across the street lost power for about 30 hours and I lost internet/cable for a day, but otherwise we got lucky.  The best part was that FSI lost power, so we got a third day off due to the storm.  A couple of friends and I went down to Mt. Vernon for the afternoon.  The estate is just amazing.  Gorgeous view of the Potomac.  A pretty cool place to visit and we practically had the place to ourselves, which made for a great day.
  • The following day, my German area studies class took a field trip to the Holocaust Museum.  I remember going to this museum 15 years ago when I came to DC with my family.  I remembered the museum as being very powerful.  I didn't get the same vibe this time, but I think that is only because I am now much more familiar and knowledgeable about the Holocaust.  I've visited Auschwitz and the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.  I've read books and watched documentaries.  This familiarity, sadly, makes the museum less shocking and less powerful for today than when I was 15.  
  • Last Sunday, I went to see Wicked with a girl I've gone out with a few times.  I'd read the book a few years ago and I've wanted to see the musical for a while.  The show was fantastic - good music, great sets, and fantastic acting.  I especially love all of the nods to The Wizard of Oz story that we all know and love.  (Plus, as someone who believes that most people are generally 'good', I love stories that tell the POV of well-known antagonist.  I can't wait for the eventual book from Voldemort's POV).
  • Broke the 260 barrier and I am down to around 258.  Not sure if I will meet my goal of 250 by Katie's wedding, but I will get close.  Can't believe that she gets married in TWO weeks!

Monday, October 29, 2012


After dozens of threats from potentially devastating hurricanes in Belize and the direct hit from Hurricane Richard, I finally got my first Hurricane Day in DC.  Strange, but true.  In all honesty, the weather today has not been all that bad.  It has rained all day and the wind has been strong enough to shake the windows, but this has been mild compared to many of the severe thunderstorms I experienced in the midwest.  I think the primary reason everything has been shut down is that the roads and mass transit would be nearly impossible in this weather.

School has also been cancelled for tomorrow and if there is any significant damage, I doubt we start back up until Thursday at the earliest.  The storm is expected to last through Tuesday night and it will likely take at least a day to clean up.  As long as the power stays on, all will be well.

In other news, my Mom is doing quite well in her recovery.  I want to thank everyone for the support.

I also ran my second 5K race this weekend.  Two of the people who ran the Dead Man's Race with me were running this race and they guilted me into running it.  I improved my time by almost 3 minutes, completing the race in 32:54.

Current statistics:
Weight - 263 lbs (down 22 lbs)
Pant size - 42x30 (no change, but I did go down a belt notch)
Longest run without stopping: 32:54 (I did not walk at all during the race)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Kind of Town (sort of)

This weekend, I traveled to Chicago to visit my cousin Bob and go see the Nebraska at Northwestern game.  The best part about Nebraska joining the B1G Ten was being closer to away games.  Once I knew I would be back in the U.S. this fall, I began to plan which game(s) I would attend.  When my cousin Bob and his family moved to Chicago this spring, I knew Northwestern would be on the list.

Besides the game on Saturday, we mostly stayed in their neighborhood of Oak Park.  This area reminds me of everything I love about the Midwest.  The streets were filled with multi-story houses with yards, trees, a few fences, and lovely sidewalks full of strollers and kids riding bikes.  Colored leaves fell rapidly off the trees and families decorated the house for Halloween.  There are so many families in the neighborhood that Bob's neighbor told him they went through 1000 pieces of candy last year!
Isn't this a great house?

We started Saturday with breakfast at a local coffee shop and then headed out for the game in Evanston.  Since Shannon had to work all weekend, we were taking Lizzie to her first college football game.  Yes, at 17 months old.  She did amazingly well at the game.  She never threw a tantrum and didn't even squirm all that much.  During the most exciting parts of the game, with the crowd cheering, she looked around in awe and often clapped her little hands.  She stayed awake through the whole game until Nebraska took a one-point lead with two minutes left.  Then, before the kick-off, she passed out cold.  So, while her Dad and cousin Al sweated out the final 2 minutes of the game, she slept confidently in the Blackshirts.

After the game Saturday, we picked up some deep-dish pizza for dinner and made our way back home.  We spent the rest of the night watching football and reliving the Husker comeback.  On Sunday, we ate brunch and then took Lizzie to the park.  She liked the slide and the swings, but I think her favorite part was the "steering wheel" on the side of the bridge.

So, even though I barely entered Chicago, it was my kind of town.

My, what big eyes you have!

So adorable

Papa and Lizzie before the game

I tried to help Bob as much as I could with Lizzie.  I carried the diaper bag, carried her a few times,
fed her while Bob held her.  Pretty sure a number of people seeing us thought we were gay parents.

We may have let her play under the bleachers to keep her entertained. 
Popcorn bribery may have also occurred.

And she is out like a light as the Huskers take home the victory.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rough week

The past week has been pretty darn rough for me and my family.  I had a great week with the completion of the 5K and my trip to Atlantic City.  As I was leaving AC, I saw a message from my dad asking him to call me.  When I returned the message, he told me that my Mom had gone back into the hospital on Sunday night.  

2012 has been a real rough year for Mom and her health.  She started off the year breaking her arm in Belize. Then, in may, she had a heart attack while Shelley and I were traveling in Hong Kong.  Since then, she has gone to the Emergency Room several times over the summer.  Each time she went in with tightness in her chest, but all the tests showed that she was not having another heart attack.  Her blood sugar was usually out of whack (she has diabetes) and she stayed a day or two to run tests and make sure she was stable.

I think worse than being sick, she hated the idea that she might be over reacting to the symptoms. During these summer visits to the ER, the hospital seemed to keep telling her that these symptoms were not serious and could be fixed with medication.  Her failure to regulate her blood sugar and diabetes frustrated everyone (her included), because it seemed that these visits may have been preventable.  For me, the worst part of all of this was that Mom wasn't Mom.  Se has been constantly run down and tired.  Mom has always been a fun person, but for the past year, she hasn't been fun.

On Monday, the tests showed that she had, in fact, had a second heart attack.  Her cardiologist decided onTuesday that she would undergo a procedure to take a look at her heart, and if appropriate, angioplasty.  We were all excited about this procedure.  My grandfather has had this done many times and he always comes out feeling like a million bucks. Plus, the surgery is minimally invasive.  Unfortunately, the cardiologist decided during the procedure that she was not a candidate for angioplasty and needed open heart surgery.

Dad called me with the news onTuesday night and I freaked out pretty bad.  Horrible scenarios raced through my head on a never ending loop. I researched bypass surgery online only to discover that the surgery required the doctors to put her on a heart-lung machine for several hours while the worked o. Her stopped heart.  I imagined the sorrow of my little sisters wedding if mom wasn't there.  I pictured her funeral in my mind - what songs she would want, what I might say in a eulogy, where we would have the service.  I did everything I could to force these thoughts from my mind, but they kept returning.  As I made arrangements to travel to Arizona on short notice, my mind would not let one idea rest - should I pack a suit for my trip?  I hated these thoughts, but fromTuesday night until she got out of surgery on Thursday morning, I could think of nothing else.

The date of the surgery changed several times. Originally planned for Wednesday, then likely pushed to Monday and finally scheduled on Thursday.  When planned for Monday, I had arranged to go to German class until Friday and then fly to AZ for the weekend and stay a few days next week.  Wednesday after lunch, I got a text that the surgery was scheduled for the next day.  I managed to leave class and get on a standby flight that evening.  

Katie and Paul picked me up and we drove up to the hospital in Prescott.  Mom was in a surprisingly good mood.  I think part of it was putting on a strong face for us.  But I also think that she wanted to do SOMETHING that might make her better. None of the prior treatments made her any better and she did not want to live the rest of her life in misery.  We spent a few hours at the hospital that night.  We talked some about the surgery, but mostly we talked about life, just enjoying each others company. 

Thursday morning was the hardest. Dad and I went in around 530 as Mom was being prepped for surgery.  I had so little to say, because I just kept thinking, "Will this be the last conversation I ever have with my Mom?"  (Even now, writing this on the plane, I am crying).  I suggested we pray (we went to church every week growing up, but I would not say that we are a very religious family) and I joined hands with my parents.  Mom led Dad and I through an Our Father and a Hail Mary.  Her voice was strong, but My voice kept cracking while my dad could not even speak.  As we finished the prayer, the nurses came in to move her to pre-op.  Shelley and Katie arrived and we all had a chance to say goodbye before they took her into surgery.

The next four hours were some of the hardest I can remember.  I could not stay in that hospital. When my mind is not occupied, it wanders horribly.  I could not spend the next four hours just waiting.  The girls, Paul, and I went to breakfast and then I went back to the house to shower and distract myself. Dad and Shelley sent me any updates via text.  The surgery was schedule to take four hours, so I planned to get back around 1030 or 11. The surgery went great and they actually finished early.  I got a text from Shelley that she was off the heart-lung machine and doing great about a mile from the hospital. I let out a cheer and actually had to pull over because of how much I was shaking. 

Mom has been doing great on her recovery, meeting almost all milestones on time.  She got out of bed by the evening of the first day and was walking around the ICU by the next morning.  Many of the tubes have been removed and she should move off the cardiovascular ICU by today or tomorrow.  Despite some worsening pain, she has been in a great mood. I don't know if the others noticed it, but I sensed that mom was a bit more like mom the last two days than the previous year.

When she first got out of surgery, she remained one breathing tube for several hours.  Since she couldn't talk, she had to write a few things down to communicate.  Her first question was "Where Dad?", but it looked like "Where Paul?", who is my sisters fiancée, so she had to write it 3 times before Shelley figured it out.  The next note was "3 or 4 bypass", asking whether she had triple or quadruple bypass (she had triple).  Then, her third most pressing concern was for "Diet Coke."  She had to wait until they took out the breathing tube, but she did get her diet coke.

I have to say that the nurses and staff at the hospital have been beyond fantastic. They have just taken fantastic care of Mom.  They have been kind, sympathetic, compassionate, strong, funny, and just plain old nice.  To Amy, Carrie, Eve, Franklin, and all the others who helped take care of my Mom, Thank You.  You have made one of the most difficult periods in my family's life infinitely better.  Your compassion and care are truly appreciated. 

Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye this afternoon to return back to DC.  I really want to stay until Mom gets out of the hospital and returns home, but I can't do that.  If I knew everything I know now before, I would have stayed I school until the weekend and then come to AZ for the weekend and a few days to get her back home. But, there was no way, I was not going to see Mom before she went in for surgery. If something had gone wrong, I never would have forgiven myself for not being there.

As this is a Foreign Service blog, I should mention how fantastic everyone at FSI has been.  Despite all the rhetoric about 100% attendance and never missing class, there was absolutely no question about me being able to miss class to be with my family.  My teacher sent me a summary of what we covered in class and suggested homework. The director of German even went so far to make sure I submitted the time as sick leave under Family and medical leave act, rather than annual leave.  My classmates and colleagues have been very supportive.  As I discovered two years ago, family medical emergencies are very hard to navigate in the Foreign Service, but my experience so far is that everyone does everything they can to make a horrible situation better.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I finished my race yesterday with a respectable time of 35:40.  Overall, the race went very well, averaging about an 11 minute mile, which is faster than I normally run.  The only awful part was that the only hill on the race was the last 500 yards and it was brutal at the end.

A special thanks goes out to my friends Nick, Sarah (this was all her idea), Shana, and Stacey.  They supported me throughout the preparation and the run itself.

Now, I'm off to Atlantic City for two days!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Life in DC

One of my goals coming back to DC this year was to date more.  In two years in DC, I went on dates with two girls and no more than a third date with either of the girls.  In all honesty, there really weren't too many options for dating in Belmopan.  I'm sure I could have put more effort in to it, but I don't think it would have really turned out any differently.

Coming back into DC, it has been a bit of a different story.  I joined OK Cupid - a free dating site - and I have had three different dates from there.  I also went on a couple of dates with a girl from my Pol/Econ class.  I've had a pleasant time on each of the dates, but I haven't really hit it off with any of the girls.  I'd go out a third time with one of the OK Cupid girls, but we haven't been able to figure out a time to get together, so I may be getting the brush off.  We'll see what happens.

German class is going well so far.  I really liked the class that I had for the first two weeks.  The instructor was simply fantastic.  He pushed us to use our German in new ways each and every day.  The two other students in my class both had a decent amount of German, which put me in a distant third place in terms of language skills.  But, I actually liked being the worst in the class.  Being thrown into the deep end, forced me to swim harder or drown.  This made me stronger, but really probably wasn't fair to the other two women in my class.

After two weeks, they moved those two girls into a faster moving class with another student who had previous German experience.  I was joined in my class by two other students and we also started with a new instructor.  I have no idea if it is because of the new instructor, the new classmates, or the new material, but I don't feel like I have learned nearly as much this week as I did the previous two weeks.  I am still amazed by how much German I have learned in just three weeks, but I still have miles and miles to go.

My biggest complaint about German so far is their insistence of repeating basic words in nonsensical ways.  For example, the word "sie" can mean "she" and refer to either a person or an inanimate object such as a lamp.  "Sie," when capitalized, is also the formal version of "you" both in the singular and plural ("you all").  Finally, it also means "they."  So one pronoun covers four different situations and you determine its meaning based on the verb and the context.  The exact same sentence can mean very different things - "Sie kommen aus Ireland" means "They come from Ireland", "You (formal) come from Ireland" or "You all (formal) come from Ireland."  (Fortunately, "she comes from Ireland" is different  - "sie kommt aus Ireland.")

Worse than "sie", however, is all the different forms of "the."  Like Italian and Spanish, German nouns have different genders.  Every noun is either masculine, feminine or neuter.  Each gender has its own word for "the" - "der", "die", and "das", respectively.  If the noun is plural, "the" is "die" regardless of the gender.  (The noun ending also usually changes to show plurality).  By itself, this wouldn't be too bad.  What makes it worse is that these articles change based on the case of the noun.  I still don't really understand cases and when they are used because we don't really differentiate in English.  The best example in English is the way we change from "he" to "his" to "him" depending on where it falls in the sentence.  There are four different cases in German, "nominative", "dative", "accusative", and "genitive."  I have no idea what these mean yet.

Since German has four cases and four genders (masculine, feminine, neuter, and plural), there should be sixteen different words for "the."  While this would be annoying, with a bit of memorization, it could be learned pretty easy.  Plus, the different forms of the word "the" would clue me in to the gender and case of the noun making comprehension easier.  That would be too easy.  So, instead there are only six words for "the" and they are used for multiple meanings.  So "der" can refer to a singular masculine noun in one case and a singular feminine noun in another case.  Yep.

In other news, in only two weeks, I will be competing in my first race.  Ever.  On October 6, 2012, I will run in the Dead Man's Run 5K.  One of my fraternity brothers and his wife suggested the run and I loved the name.  I have convinced several FS friends to run it with me as well.  I only have two goals for the race.  (1) Finish; and (2) don't finish last.  Regardless of my time, if I meet these two goals, I will consider it a success.

On Monday, I finished the Couch to 5K program on my iPod.  On the last day, I jogged for 30 minutes without stopping.  I honestly don't think I ran 5K during those thirty minutes (that would be a 10 minute mile, which is a pretty good speed), but I had never in my life run for 30 minutes without stopping before.  I am both very proud of this fact and a bit ashamed at how proud I am.  For many adults, a 30 minute run is a warm-up or a light work-out.  But, two months ago, I could not run for 5 minutes without stopping.  Through this program, I continually pushed myself to achieve something I had honestly thought impossible not long ago.  Although it is a cliche, if I could do this then anyone can do this.  And although I still don't "like" running, I don't hate it anymore.

Finally - a quick update on my statistics and goals:

Current statistics (starting stats from August 4, 2012):
Weight - 271 (285 lbs).  I am down from my peak, but still haven't passed the 270 plateau which is my low point since probably 2010.
Pant size - 42x30 Still in the same pant size, but they are no longer tight and the belt has come in a notch.
Longest run without stopping: 30 minutes (90 seconds)

  1. Complete the Couch to 5k app by October 1, 2012  Completed September 17, 2012
  2. Run a 5k race (fall 2012)  Scheduled for October 6, 2012.
  3. Join some intramural sports league of some sort (fall 2012) I haven't done anything on this.
  4. Complete a 10k race (Spring 2013) Some friends are encouraging me to do the Cherry Blossom 10 miler.  Seems impossible now, but we will see.
  5. Lose 30 lbs before Katie's Wedding (November 24, 2012).  Note - if I have not met this goal on my own, I will begin using weight watchers.  I am down 14 lbs.  I also started weight watchers last week, so we will see if that helps.
  6. Lose 60 lbs before I go to Germany (May 2013)  almost 25% of the way there
  7. Lose two pant sizes (38x30) before I go to Germany no change yet
  8. Complete a marathon in Europe  (question - can you take sick leave when your body is literally unable to move because you stupidly ran a marathon?  Or do you have to take annual leave?)
  9. Do 100 sit-ups in 10 minutes I did 20 sit-ups one day and my abs hurt for 3 days.  Haven't really put much effort into this.
  10. Weigh less than 200 lbs.  (This really doesn't seem like a possibility for me.  I have weighed at least 200 lbs. since I was in junior high.  Even when I lost all that weight in Italy, I barely made it to 220 lbs.    But the upper range of a healthy weight for my range is 179 lbs.)  16% complete
  11. Ask at least one girl out per month (not really a weight loss goal, but still important.  Also, can be the same girl more than one month if I have a girlfriend).  so far so good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hard Day

Today has been a hard day.  For anyone who may not know, at least four American Foreign Service Officers were killed yesterday in Benghazi, Libya.  Among those killed was Ambassador Stevens and information management specialist Sean Smith.  I have never met either of these individuals and I don't believe I know anyone else in Libya who may have been the other victims.

Despite no personal connection to those killed, I have spent the day mourning.  I am shocked that something like this could happen.  Dad called yesterday and asked me about the attack on the Embassy in Egypt.  I could hear the worry in his voice.  I assured him that the diplomats there would be fine.  Protesters may have climbed over the outer wall, but they would not get inside.  Everyone would be safe.  A few hours later, I heard about the first death in Benghazi.  This morning, I woke up to three or four more deaths.

I am scared.  Scared for friends.  Scared for colleagues.  Scared for myself.  All day, I've had the same sinking feeling I had eleven years ago.  This type of thing isn't supposed to happen.  I get the same helpless feeling when I see clips of the East Africa Embassy bombings or hear stories about the Iran hostage crisis.  These incidents feel all too real to me in ways they never did before I joined the Foreign Service.  Although logically, I KNOW that nothing like this will ever happen to me, days like today make it feel too close.

People often say that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.  It's a nice thing to say and seems appropriate when people are grieving.  Most of the time when we say this, we quickly move on with the rest of our day.  But not today.  I can't stop thinking about the victims.  The IT guy trying to set up the internet for the consulate.  The Ambassador returning to Benghazi to open up an American Corner where he had previously liaised with the Libyan rebels.  Their wives and kids seeing the news and frantically trying to reach their loved ones.  Or worse, the mother who gets a phone call out of the blue telling her that he son died in some town she had never heard of a year ago.  The local staff, so proud to be working for the American Consulate, suffering along with their American colleagues, but without the recognition of their sacrifice.  The still-unnamed victims.  Do I know know them?  How long had they been in the Foreign Service?  Where had they served?  Did they want to be in Libya?

Finally, I am mad.  I am that some blowhard asshole makes a low-budget movie that has no other purpose than to piss people off and denigrate another religion.  That these assholes spent $5 million just to be dicks.  They KNEW that this would cause problems with Muslims and did it anyway.  They have every right to make their dumb ass movie and put it on the internet.  But I also have every right to call them fucking dumbshit assholes.

I am even madder at the pricks who get so upset about a dumbass movie that no one would ever know about or care about that they storm a U.S. Embassy and shoot up a U.S. Consulate with rocket grenades.  Lighten the fuck up.  It's a fucking low-budget movie that you propelled into the spotlight with your attack. You are hurting your own position with your actions.  You're hurting the wrong people.

Please remember that all the views on this blog are mine, and mine alone.  My views do not represent the State Department of the Government of the United States in any way.  Everything I know about this attack comes from public news sources.  I have no additional insight.

I apologize for the cursing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

NYC Pictures

Times Square at dusk

Homeless man taking advantage of seating in the middle of Broadway

Shelley and me with Manhattan skyline

Lady Liberty

Great Hall at Ellis Island

Manhattan skyline with Freedom Tower

Chrysler Building

Central Park

I love the Central Park lamp posts

This was the softball player I mentioned in the last post.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I (heart) NY

Despite all my world travels, I had never really been to one of the greatest American cities, New York City. (I once had a long layover at JFK and spent about four or five hours in NYC, but didn't really know where I was or where anything else was, so it was mostly a wasted trip).  Last week, my sister called to tell me that she had a long layover in Newark on Saturday and Sunday, which coincided with Labor Day weekend.  I took advantage of the free hotel rooms and took the bus up there.  (Quick bus review - miserable experience, but the price was right).

Coming around a bend somewhere in New Jersey, I looked up and caught my first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline.  I actually gasped at the sight.  It really is beautiful.  After winding our way through the city, we finally disembarked at Penn Station, ninety minutes late.  I hustled my way towards Hell's Kitchen to watch Nebraska's season opener against Southern Mississippi at the local Nebraska bar.  My cousin Bob really talked up this bar to the point that I was actually a bit disappointed (missing most of the 1st quarter due to satellite errors certainly didn't help).  It was a pretty cool bar, but I actually like Union Pub in DC better for Nebraska games.

It was dusk by the time the game ended, so I decided to try to catch the sunset from the top of the Empire State Building. I ignored the hawkers half-heartedly trying to sell me tickets to "skip the line" as I entered the tower.  Upon arrival to the second floor, I saw a relatively short fast-moving line and thought I might make it up to the top just in time for sunset.  What I didn't know is that this was merely the first of approximately sixteen lines that I would have to wait in.  I swear that the most unrealistic aspect of "Sleepless in Seattle" is how little time it takes for Meg Ryan to get to the observation desk.  Needless to say, I did not make it up before dark.  The deck is so crowded that you stand three deep just to get to the ledge and look out.  Despite all the hassles and lines, the view was spectacular.

Sunday morning, Shelley and I made our way back into the city and headed downtown.  We purchased tickets for an evening show, had an unmemorable lunch, and then headed towards the Statue of Liberty.  In battery park, we waited in lines to take the ferry to Liberty Island.  Standing in the park, in the shadow of the unfinished Freedom tower, I remembered the scenes from 9/11 of terrified individuals scrambling to get on boats and off the island.  Standing there, I realized how trapped they must have felt with the towers looming over them and the water sealing them in on the edge of the island.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island greatly exceeded my expectations.  Arriving on Liberty Island by ferry with the Manhattan skyline in the background and Ellis Island next door, I felt transported back in time to 1908.  My great grandfather, Cirino Caniglia, 17, arriving in steerage on The Prinzess Irene, looking up to see that majestic statue.  The joy, the fear, the excitement - all captured by the majestic lady in the harbor.  The free audio tour provided some fantastic insight about the statue and made the trip to Liberty Island worth the wait (even though the crown isn't open yet).

As a history nerd and an immigration geek, I was really excited to visit Ellis Island.  For years, I had wondered how these huge ocean liners had docked at this fairly small island.  Turns out that they didn't dock there.  They usually docked in Manhattan and unloaded the steerage passengers on ferries to take them to Ellis Island.  The first and second class passengers were processed on the ship and admitted directly into the U.S. without physically passing through Ellis Island (though their names would likely still be recorded there).  Moreover, most passengers spent only an afternoon on the island where they were met by long-lost family or  sent on to their onward destination (a train to Omaha for my great-grandfather).  While I enjoyed the immigration tour, I was disappointed that they did not have any of the historical documents - the manifests, etc. - on display.  I thought I'd be able to give them a name and have some librarian pull down the old manifest, flip to the correct page and show me my bisnonno's name.  None of that was available.  The only historical research tourists could do there was the same internet search you can do on their website (which is pretty cool, if you've never done it).

After we returned to Manhattan, Shelley and I rushed to midtown to watch Avenue Q.  The show is an adult version of Sesame Street mixed with a Broadway musical.  The puppetry (muppetry?) is amazing and the songs are hilarious.  Some of the highlights were "It Sucks to Be Me", "The Internet is For Porn", "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist", and "If You Were Gay."  Plus, how many times do you get to see muppets screwing like rabbits? (Yeah, they went there).

On Monday, Shelley had to fly again, but I spent the morning exploring Midtown.  I did a mini-walking tour past the NYC Library, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center and St. Paul's Cathedral, before finishing at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).  This museum is fantastic and full of great artists.  The highlight for me was Van Gogh's "Starry Night."  The painting is so much more impressive in person than in prints.  It conveys so much more motion and emotion.  Other great artists included, Dali, Picasso, Warhol, Jackson Pollock and more.  I spent three hours there and I could have easily spent five.

After the museum, I picked up a Pastrami on Rye sandwich from the Carnegie Deli and headed to Central Park for lunch.  I loved Central Park because it is perfect for people watching.  My favorite moment of the day and perhaps my favorite moment of the whole trip was watching this slow-pitch softball game.  Most of the players were old-timers in their late 40s, 50s, or 60s, with a few young guys sprinkled in.  One player just absolutely oozed New York City.  I can't be sure of his ethnicity.  He may have been Dominican, or Puerto Rican, or a light-skinned African American or a random mix of a dozen places.  He wore tattered Yankee pinstripe pants with a wife beater and an inexplicable fanny pack.  He talked smack on and off the field in an accent I could not place to save my life.  He oozed joy at playing the game.  Simply put, he was a kid who loved baseball who happened to be an old man.

(Pictures to be put up later on).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Car and running update

Bought a new (used) car last week.  A 2011 Toyota Corolla with 15,000 miles.  Still haven't named the car yet.  Thought about trying to find a cool German name, but haven't made a decision yet.

In running news, I am still running.  Yesterday was by far my hardest/worst run.  The program called for me to walk 5, jog 5, walk 2, jog 7, walk 2, jog 5, walk 6.  During the 7-minute jog, I began to develop a back ache in my lower right back.  I really struggled through the last two minutes and the final 5-minute jog.  Based on facebook suggestions, I went out and bought a new pair of running shoes today.  (By the way, if you want to determine if people actually read your facebook posts, ask for advice about running.  If you receive fewer than 10 comments, people aren't reading them.)

I am planning to run a 5k race sometime this fall.  I think I know which race I will do, but I am waiting until I sign up to announce it here.  As you will see in the statistics below, I may have lost a few pounds, but I can't really tell.  My weight fluctuates too much during the day and I don't remember when I weighed myself for the initial weigh in.  Let's see if it keeps going down before we make any conclusions about whether or not this is working.

Statistics - Week 5:
Weight - 280 lbs (weighed on a Tuesday morning before breakfast)
Pants - 42 x 30
Longest run: 7 minutes

Friday, August 10, 2012

I miss Belize

Believe it or not, Monday will be two months since I left Belize.  I am getting settled into DC life.  I finished Pol/Econ training this week.  I enjoyed the practical training parts of the class (writing a cable, elevator briefings, presentation skills, working with economic data).  The numerous lectures were awful, though.  Some of these presenters literally put half the class to sleep.  I expect training modules about aviation to be boring, but subjects like counter terrorism should be interesting.  Practically half the State Department seems to work on counter terrorism, there has to be something interesting to say about it.  All I know is that none of the four presenters who talked for a combined three hours could say a single interesting thing.

A word of advice to anyone ever asked to give a presentation about their job.  Tell stories. Give us examples.  Demonstrate why your job is important.  And for God's sake, if you get the urge to include a slide of the org chart for your office, just STOP.  No one cares about how the office is organized. End Sermon.

In my quest to remain awake this week, I started to think about what I missed about Belize so far.  This list is in no particular order.

  • Working in the Consular Section - Going to FSI everyday and going to the Embassy everyday are completely different.  At FSI, I don't feel grounded in any routine (this is likely to change when I start language).  I miss talking to the ladies in the morning.  I miss having half of my day fly by while doing interviews.  I miss having easy regular access to the internet at all times.  The hours, however, are better (class starts at 9 and is generally over by 4, but we do have homework).
  • My car - How do you buy a car when you don't own a car?  Car dealerships are not exactly metro-friendly.  I am going to resort to renting a car to buy a car.  Grocery shopping is also a pain in the ass.  There is a nice Harris-Teeter store about a 25 minute walk from my apartment.  I can walk there, but can't carry my groceries home, so I have to take a cab.
  • Regular things to do - Complain all we want about Belmopan (and we do), there was usually something going on almost every night of the week.  Pig and Parrot on Wednesday, the Tuesday Tumble, the Hash on the weekends, Catan at Beth and Kevin's, lunch at Pasquale's on Fridays.  Sure, I can go to a movie, bar, restaurant, etc., anytime I want, but there isn't really anything pre-scheduled here for me.  Plus, none of my friends live in the same neighborhood as me, which then requires extensive planning on where and when to meet, etc.  Who would think that I would be more bored in DC than I was in Belize?
  • My house - The living space in my apartment is fine.  My bedroom and living room are big enough.  The kitchen is half the size of what I had in Belize, but it is sufficient.  (Only have four bowls, four spoons, and four knives is not sufficient).  What I hate about this place is how small the passageways are.  The closet door gets in the way of going to the bathroom.  The two (2!) bathroom doors get in the way of each other and exiting the bathroom.  The washer/dryer is located in a closet in the bathroom and it is practically impossible get from the closet to the washer without running into at least two doors.  
  • My yard - My dog will not pee or poop on pavement.  There must be grass or some sort of vegetation.  But, of course, there is no grass near the apartment entrance.  At a minimum, I have to walk around the building to the ten square feet of grass along the side of the building.  Otherwise, I have to cross a busy street to get to some grass for Bailey.  Then, since all the dogs in the neighborhood use all the same patches of grass, there are so many smells available for Bailey to sniff.  Add in a seven story elevator ride and what took less than five minutes in Belmopan takes at least fifteen minutes here.
  • My housekeeper - Remember how I mentioned that the washer/dryer was located in a closet?  That is only possible because it is the smallest washer/dryer in the world.  It takes a minimum of five loads of laundry to wash my clothes for the week.  For one person.  I don't know what families who live in Oakwood do about laundry.  I don't honestly think I used the washer more than five times in two years in Belize.  (I should mention that I still get weekly maid service in Oakwood.  They vacuum, clean the kitchen and bathroom, change the bedding, etc.  But, they don't do my laundry).  I miss Roberta.
  • My friends - Miss you guys.

(Yes, I am fully aware that these are first world problems).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Running Sucks

When I went to Italy for six months in high school, I lost 60 lbs.  When I went back in college, I lost 40, another 40 when I worked as a tour guide.  I lost weight when I studied in Ireland and Spain.  Every time I went abroad, I would shed a few pounds.  Before I went to Belize, I fully expected this to happen.  I figured that simply being abroad (and away from all the donuts, pop, and fast food) would make the weight melt off. Plus, since I was gonna be in Belize for two years, as opposed to six months, I honestly believed I would come back from Belize skinnier than I had been since high school.

That did NOT happen.  Instead of losing weight, I put more weight on and am actually the heaviest I have ever been.  (Quick funny story - When I was leaving my parents for DC, I used their scale to weigh my bags.  I stepped on the scale and the dial went all the way past zero and back to 10.  Somehow, I had gained 35 lbs. on the road trip and crossed over the 300 barrier.  I was completely freaking out for five minutes until I realized that their scale only went up to a max of 270 lbs and not 300 lbs.  Still fat - but not over 300 lbs).

So, my plan has been to exercise a lot more once I got back to DC.  I purchased an iPod App called "Run to 5k" which provides a jog/walk program that gradually increases the running intervals so that after 8 weeks I should be able to run a 5k without stopping.  I have now completed two weeks of the runs and the program seems to be effective.  The intervals are difficult enough that I am struggling, but not so tough that I can't actually do it.  We'll see how it goes - so far my longest jogging interval is 90 seconds, but by the end of week four, they expect me to jog for six minutes.  Right now that is incredibly intimidating.

So far, I am not a fan of jogging.  I totally understand the benefits and I am definitely getting the cardiovascular workout that I am looking for, but it is just so HARD.  I keep waiting to get the mythical runner's high that every runner always talks about.  So far, nothing.  Just the other day, I posted the following on facebook:

"Things I hate about running:
(1) Running
(2) Being passed by old men
(3) Being passed by a 12 year old
(4) Running uphill
(5) Running Downhill
(6) The lady on the Couch to 5K app, who says "Run Now."
(7) Getting passed by other fat guys
(8) The sad realization that I could probably use a sports bra
(9) The way a different muscle is particularly sore after each run (today it is the outside of my ri
ght calf)

Things I like about running:
(1) Cute girls running on the trail"

I plan to try to use this blog (and facebook) as a means to hold myself accountable.  At least once a month, I will post about my weight loss progress.  Below are the goals I have set out for myself.  These goals range from long-term to short term.  I am new to this, so any suggested goals would be greatly appreciated.  Many of these goals will have deadlines, others will not.

Current statistics:
Weight - 285 lbs
Pant size - 42x30 (which are a bit tight)
Longest run without stopping: 90 seconds

  1. Complete the Couch to 5k app by October 1, 2012
  2. Run a 5k race (fall 2012)
  3. Join some intramural sports league of some sort (fall 2012)
  4. Complete a 10k race (Spring 2013)
  5. Lose 30 lbs before Katie's Wedding (November 24, 2012).  Note - if I have not met this goal on my own, I will begin using weight watchers.
  6. Lose 60 lbs before I go to Germany (May 2013)
  7. Lose two pant sizes (38x30) before I go to Germany
  8. Complete a marathon in Europe  (question - can you take sick leave when your body is literally unable to move because you stupidly ran a marathon?  Or do you have to take annual leave?)
  9. Do 100 sit-ups in 10 minutes
  10. Weigh less than 200 lbs.  (This really doesn't seem like a possibility for me.  I have weighed at least 200 lbs. since I was in junior high.  Even when I lost all that weight in Italy, I barely made it to 220 lbs.    But the upper range of a healthy weight for my range is 179 lbs.)
  11. Ask at least one girl out per month (not really a weight loss goal, but still important.  Also, can be the same girl more than one month if I have a girlfriend).
Any other suggestions?