Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meeting the Parents

Sara and I took a fairly big step this weekend when we spent the weekend in Arizona so that she could meet my parents.  Unfortunately, we had to plan the trip before we knew whether or not I would pass my language test, so it forced us to pack a whole lot into just a little amount of time.

We landed late Friday night and were immediately hit by the dry hot air.  I've spent a significant amount of time in Arizona and never had as much trouble with the dry air as I did this weekend.  My lips were constantly chapped, my mouth parched, and my nostrils dry.  Katie and Paul picked us up and drove us up to Prescott Valley to spend the night at my parents.

On Saturday morning, Sara and I got up for an early morning jog, before we all headed out to Sedona.  The drive to Sedona was gorgeous, with beautiful red rocks and breathtaking vistas.  We walked around the old mining town of Jerome, which has been transformed into an artists colony.  Then we had lunch in Sedona and toured the stunning church built into the Oak Creek Canyon.  Our drive back to Phoenix was marred by 2 hours of traffic, but we had a lovely dinner with one of Sara's clients and then hung out at Shelley's house for the evening,

We spent most of Sunday tubing down the Salt River.  Pretty much a floating party, we drank a bit too much, but still had a great time.  I elected not to tie my tube up with the rest of my family (I like being able to float on my own a bit) and this led to me twice getting capsized and eventually losing the group.  Lesson learned.  The rest of the evening was spent recovering from the river trip, with an early bed time.

The highlight of the weekend was the Hot Air Balloon.  Sara surprised me with the hot air balloon ride for our six month anniversary.  Knowing that this was one of the things my Mom's "Bucket List," I invited her and my Dad to join us for a late Mother's Day and early Father's Day present.  Shelley, Katie, and Paul all joined in and we found ourselves floating over the Sonora Desert early on Memorial Day.  It was so peaceful and gentle floating up and down over the desert.  Just a fantastic experience.

We spent much of the rest of the day napping and just hanging out.  We played some cards, ate lunch and dinner and talked.  Plus, we drove.  Sara just couldn't believe how much driving we had to do to get anywhere.  It is one of my biggest complaints about Phoenix that everything is so spread out.  Over the 72 hours we spent in Arizona, we spent at least 12 and probably 18 of those in a car.  Finally, late last night, Sara and I took a ridiculous red eye flight back to DC.  I was fortunate that FSI agreed to let me take today off because there is no way I could have functioned today, but poor Sara had to go straight in to work when we landed.

Sara with my parents outside Jerome

Katie and Sara enjoying the breeze

Church in Sedona

Outside the Church in Sedona

Hot Air Balloons

Hot Air Balloon above the rising sun

Look at all the balloons in the background

Our shadow on a hill side

Inside of the balloon

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Well, I failed my German test on Friday.  I had said all along, that if I had a good day (25% chance), then I would pass.  If I had a bad day (25%), I would fail.  If I was somewhere in the middle (50%), then it would be a toss up.  I did the speaking portion of the test first and I had a good day, close to a great day.  And then the reading portion happened.  I just BOMBED this part of the test.  I had the gist of the article, but I could not figure out any of the details.  Just a God-awful performance and I knew it.  The second article was better (but still not good).  During the ten minutes the testers were discussing my score, I debated whether I would get a 2 or 2+ on the reading portion.  They were generous and gave me the benefit of the doubt.

My performance was so bad that one of the teachers, who had worked with me several times on reading in the last two weeks, asked what in the world happened.  He was genuinely surprised by how badly I had done (as was I).

So, I am extended about four weeks before I test again.  I let Post know about the delay, but haven't received a reply yet.  I am on language probation, so a waiver is not an option.  Hopefully an extra month can get me over the hump.  The bad part is that I have to test both sections again, so it would be possibly to pass the written part next time, but fail the speaking portion.

The bright side is that I get to stay here a bit longer and spend some more time with Sara.  I should get to go to a concert or two that I otherwise would have missed.  I am always trying to find silver linings.

I also ran a 10k this morning and set a couple of personal bests.  My 10k time was 1:03.12, which is four minutes faster than my 10k split from the Cherry Blossom 10 miler.  I also ran my fastest 5k by about 90 seconds.

Original statistics - Current Statistics
Weight - 285 lbs - 230 lbs (55 lbs down)
Pant size - 42x30 (which are a bit tight) - 38x29 (but these are now loose on me, so would likely buy 36x29 if I were to buy more new pants)
Longest run without stopping: 90 seconds - 6.2 miles (10k) in 1:03.2

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Two weeks away

My test date is fast approaching.  I am honestly not sure how I feel about the test.  I am incredibly ready to be done with German class, but I am not sure whether or not I will actually pass.  Although most of my foreign service readership already knows what the test is all about, this is for those who have no idea.

My position is designated at 3/3 - which means I need to reach the '3' level in both speaking and reading.  The 3 level is generally called the 'professional working proficiency' level, and requires that I be able to speak proficiently within my field and generally, but not necessarily in someone else's field (say medicine).  For more information on the rating scales, see Wikipedia.  In addition to the 5 basic levels, FSI may also issue pluses, such as a 2+ or 3+.  What this means, generally, is that the person reaches the next highest level some of the time, but not all of the time.  To get a 3 score, I need to be at the 3 level almost the entire time with very few or no dips below that level.  THIS is what I worry  about.  I know that I am capable of speaking and reading at the 3, but I don't know if I can consistently maintain it for the whole test.

So what is the test like?  During the test, there are two testers, at least one of whom is a native German speaker.  The native speaker will only communicate with you in German, while the other tester will only communicate with you in English.  The English speaker will provide all instructions and most of the speaking will be with the native speaker.

The test is broken into two main parts - speaking and reading - and each of those parts is subsequently broken into smaller sub-parts.  The speaking portion of the test is generally first and begins with small talk.  The testers are generally feeling out the speakers language skills during this session so that they can tailor the testing levels to the student's skill level.  This is especially important for student's who have not learned the language at FSI.

After the small talk is over, the examiners provide up to five prompts for the 'Speaking-at-length' portion of the exam.  The student has a minute to decide on which subject they speak about.  Generally these subjects require the student to explain something about their country or culture.  Subjects could include the school system, family life, environmental policy, gun rights, the immigration debate, or that old FSI favorite - nuclear non-proliferation (Nichtverbreitung von Atomwaffen auf Deutsch).  The student then has five minutes to prepare a 5-7 minute presentation on the subject.  The presentation should be structured and have an intro, body, conclusion, etc.  The hardest part is often just figuring out something intelligent to say, especially for someone like me who wants to make a convincing strong argument in any language.  But as one teacher stated, it is better to sound like a fluent idiot than a stumbling and bumbling savant.

The final sub-part of the speaking test is the interview.  During this section, the student will pick a topic from up to five options and then interview the native speaker about that subject.  Every so often, the student should report back to the other examiner (in English) what has been said.  I find this part of the exam to be extremely difficult because I struggle to interrupt the native speaker.  They are encouraged to just keep talking and talking until we make them stop, so it can be very hard.  They will also absolutely, unequivocally state something that you don't understand.  Our job is to clarify with them what they said before reporting back.

The reading test is a bit different.  First, they will give you one page with six very small snippets of text on them.  These texts vary greatly in their difficulty.  Some will be easily read and others may be excerpts from Faust or some poem.  My understanding of these texts will help the testers determine what level texts I will be offered for the longer reading.  Again this is very important for students who did not learn the language at FSI.  In my case, they will likely give a '3' level text regardless of how I do on the first part.  The longer reading is typically about a page or two and is often a newspaper article.  For the first reading, they will give me five options and I will select one of the five.  They will then pick one of the remaining four for my second reading.  I have seven minutes to read the text and then will explain to them, in English, what it says.

After all that, I get my score.  If I manage to earn my 3/3, then I packout the next week and leave for Germany on June 5.  If I fail, then I will have at least four more weeks of German before I can test again.  I really don't want to fail.

Scheduled myself to run a 10k race before I leave for Germany.  Having races and goals is key to my running and weight loss goals.  As I am about done with my time in DC, how have I done with my goals.

Original statistics - Current Statistics
Weight - 285 lbs - 233 lbs (52 lbs down)
Pant size - 42x30 (which are a bit tight) - 38x29 (but these are now loose on me, so would likely buy 36x29 if I were to buy more new pants)
Longest run without stopping: 90 seconds - 4.8 miles in about 55 minutes

  1. Complete the Couch to 5k app by October 1, 2012 - done
  2. Run a 5k race (fall 2012) - done
  3. Join some intramural sports league of some sort (fall 2012) - did not do
  4. Complete a 10k race (Spring 2013) - ran 8k and 10 mile races, 10k scheduled
  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.  Met this goal late, having lost 30 lbs by New Year's Eve
  6. Lose 60 lbs before I go to Germany (May 2013) - currently 8 lbs away, but will likely not meet this goal (unless I fail my test)
  7. Lose two pant sizes (38x30) before I go to Germany - exceeded
  8. Complete a marathon in Europe - I have been looking at this possibility.  I think I want to do a half marathon this year and then prep for a full marathon in 2014, but I may change my mind and try to do it this year depending on the training requirements and my free time in Germany.  
  9. Do 100 sit-ups in 10 minutes - Never even started 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.) - This is still my goal, but it will take a while.
  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).  Sadly, I haven't asked any girls out since October, but that's because one girl keeps foolishly seeing me.  =)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Great Urban Race

Last weekend, Sara and I joined two friends, Sean and Kaitlin, to participate in the Great Urban Race.  Modeled on the Amazing Race, the event requires teams of up to four people to 12 clues for different places around town and complete some silly tasks at each location.  None of the tasks were super challenging, but making our way around town by foot and by bus proved to be more time consuming than I had expected.  (No private vehicles, taxis, bikes, horses, or rollerblades were allowed).  We finished in about the top half of the participants, but we really had a great time.
Clue #2 - Walgreens Chinatown.
Purchase and donate two items to Ronald McDonald House

Clue #6 -  Cowgirl Creamery Chinatown
Place a cracker on your forehead and maneuver it into
 your mouth without using your hands

Clue #1 - Red Velvet Chinatown
Smear frosting on one teammate's forehead and the
other teammates must get a marshmallow to stick


Clue #9 - Crime and Punishment Museum Chinatown
Count the handcuffs surrounding Ted Bundy's car

Clue #4 - Newseum Penn Quarter
Make an origami swan

Sean spent most of the time we were doing the first clues watching a
video on his phone on how to make the origami swan.  

Clue #8 - Pound Coffee House Capitol Hill
Smell and identify five different coffee flavorings

Clue #5 - Labyrinth Games Capitol Hill
Count the number of dogs, super heroes and skateboarders in the Where's Waldo
type posters.  This would have been real hard, except Sara flirted with the judge and
he basically gave her the answer. 

Clue # 7 - Wiseguys Pizza Union Station
Toss some pizza dough

Clue #12 - Sara's house Shaw
We had to complete three of nine options on a tic-tac-toe board.
This one required us to take a picture with the Justin Timberlake  CD

Clue # 10 - Miss Pixie's Logan Circle
Hold a trantula

Clue # 3 - The Bike Rack Logan Circle
Remove and replace bike tube.
Sean did this in about 30 seconds.

Clue #12 - near Foggy Bottom
As part of the Tic-Tac-Toe, we had to take a picture with
someone wearing George Washington University gear.

Finished - Great time had by all

Thanks to Kaitlin and Sean for inviting me to join you guys, I had a blast.