Wednesday, December 24, 2014

New Year's Goals

Once again, let's start by looking back at my goals from January.  I didn't do too well this year.

  • Get married
    • Completed this one in September!!
  • Complete at least two races over 10 miles.  Improve on times from my prior races of same length.
    • I half completed this goal.  I ran the Cherry Blossom race in April, a half marathon in August, and 9 miles of a marathon relay in October.  My Cherry Blossom race time was slower, but my half marathon time was faster.
  • Get tenured and promoted at work
    • Again - half completed.  I got tenured, but not promoted.
  • Visit at least ten countries, at least four of which are new countries.
    • I almost got this one.  With our trip to Italy next week, I will hit at least 8 countries for the year and if we get to San Marino, then it will be 9 countries with 4 new ones.
      • Germany
      • United States
      • France
      • United Kingdom
      • Turkey*
      • Czech Republic*
      • Finland*
      • Italy
      • San Marino*
  • Watch at least two sunrises and sunsets
    • This is a whole lot easier to meet when the sun rises after 8 am like it does here.
  • Read 15 books
    • I only read 9 books this year - a pretty poor showing.  Although three of the books were re-reads of the last three Game of Thrones books, so those are worth like two or three books each.  
  • Don't go more than 60 days without seeing Sara
    • We met this goal!!!
  • Do a pull up
    • So, I utterly failed at doing this myself.  But, in the last month or so, I joined a crossfit gym and it is a skill we are working on.  With assistance from a large rubber band, I have managed to do several pull-ups.
    • On the other hand, I did learn how to do a head-stand.  So that was awesome.
  • Do 50 sit-ups in 5 minutes
    • I need to actually try this - I think I can do it, but don't think I have sat down and tried.  Update later
  • Attend at least two concerts, two soccer matches and one football game
    • I attended two concerts (Jason Mraz and Counting Crows), but no soccer matches and no football games.

2015 Goals

  • Move in with my wife!!!!
  • Learn Arabic to the 1/1 level by end of year
  • Go on an awesome honeymoon
  • Weigh under 200 lbs by September 1 (about 2 lbs/month)
    • Complete at least one long race (over 10 miles)
    • Complete a triathalon (short distance)
    • Do a pull-up (or three)
  • Visit family and friends on home leave
  • Become a football referee
  • Visit at least 3 new countries and 3 new states
  • Watch at least two sunrises and two sunsets
  • Use our wedding china at least three times
  • Read 15 books in 2015
  • Get promoted at work

Monday, November 10, 2014

And the winner is....?

This morning, I received a handshake offer for our next post.  Can you guess where it is?

Our new home is apparently home to the eye of Sauron.

This should at least clue you in to the part of the world

That's right - Sara and I will be headed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for two years beginning in September 2016.  After I leave Frankfurt, I will get to spend a year learning Arabic.  Did you know you read Arabic right to left?  That's not going to be hard or anything.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bidding again

For the most part, mid-level bidding is completely different than entry level bidding.  For the first tour, we were given a list of a hundred or so posts and told to rank everything high, medium, or low.  A few weeks later comes flag day.  For the second tour, they give you a list of 400 jobs and tell you to rank your top 30, in numerical order.  Turn in the list and a month or so later, voila - they assign you.  The second time around, there are a few more rules about which jobs you can bid and which you can't and those coming from harder posts get priority, but it's basically a crap shoot.

Third tour and beyond is completely different.  Basically, we apply for jobs and each post or bureau picks its favorite candidate.  You're guaranteed a job, but which job and where is entirely dependent on someone picking you for the job.  It's a bit like rushing a fraternity or a sorority.  The best candidates can get offer or 'handshake' to several jobs, while others may not get a handshake initially.  Bidders want to get their highest ranked job that wants them.  Posts want to get their top candidate who will accept the job.  Handshakes can't go out until a certain date and there is a lot of discussion that goes on before that.  "IF I were to offer, would you likely accept?"  Many in the foreign service actually call these non-offer offers "air kisses."  Seriously, air kisses.

I, of course, added an additional complication in bidding this year.  I am no longer just looking out for me, but I have to think about Sara.  Our only real rule for bidding on this tour was that we both would be going.  No unaccompanied posts.  We're spending too much time apart already.

The official bid list came out back in August, but I had been looking at the projected bid list for a few months.  I got an idea of what types of jobs and what types of locations were available and Sara and I began to discuss our priorities.  Some of the important priorities include that we were together, both our dogs could join us, kids allowed in case we have some in the next few years, work options for Sara, like to be abroad again no later than 2017 (including any language training), and prefer consular jobs (my cone).

Once we had the list narrowed down to a manageable number, I began the lobbying process.  Lobbying is the process of trying to get the job.  The actual process differs for every job (State Department motto - "it depends").  For the most part, I would email the person in the position to find out a bit more about the job and the post, do a bit of research about living in the place (pets allowed?  medical conditions? housing conditions? etc) and contact the office in Washington that would ultimately make the decision about whether I would be offered the job.  Then, you begin the 360 process, where you ask current or former colleagues, subordinates, and supervisors to write a review of you.  Some places want you to send resumes and cover letters.  If you know people at that post or in the bureau, you might give them a call to say a word on your behalf.

For better or worse, bidding in Consular Affairs (CA) is a bit different than the rest of the State Department.  For most every other job, the post/bureau wants their top candidate and they don't care who goes to the other posts.  CA has taken a different approach.  For the most part, they have removed posts from getting any say in the candidate selection.  They put all the candidates together and stitch together offers that make the most sense for all of the posts and jobs.  In theory, they even take into account the 'equity' you've built up in the past.  Go to a hard post one time, they will reward you the next.  In many ways, it is similar to entry-level bidding.  You give them a list of jobs you are interested in and at the end of the process, they will make you an offer (or not).  From the bidder perspective, this system has its plusses and minuses.  

On the plus side, it is infinitely easier and less time consuming.  I had one POC and didn't have to talk to a dozen different posts about the job.  All of my 360s were combined in one form so it saved them tons of time.  On the negative side, it takes a bit of the decision making process out of my hands.  CA is only going to offer me one job.  If I show a willingness to go to a harder-to-fill post, they have an incentive to put me there, even if I would be great for my top choice job.  They are only offering me one position and I can either take it or not.

In the end, Sara and I selected a wide variety of jobs across the globe.  A few domestic positions and about a dozen overseas jobs.  I think we bid five different continents and six different languages.  Almost all of the positions are unit chief or deputy unit chief positions.  All are in medium or large consular sections.  I am pretty sure I will get an offer on Monday and I am fairly sure for which post.  I am going to wait until its official before I say anything on here though.

Until next week...

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Two weeks ago, I got to go to London for some training.  Sara joined me and we had a fantastic time.  Some of the highlights:  The Lion King in the West End, Tower of London with all the poppies, amazing Indian lunch in a crazily decorated Indian restaurant, catching up with my old friend Harry, just walking around the beautiful city with my beautiful wife.

Look kids, it's Big Ben and parliament

The tower placed one poppy for each of the almost 900,000 British soldiers who died in WWI

Our Tower of London Yeoman Warden tour guide

Tower Bridge

Sara at Westminster Abbey - "where Will and Kate got married!!!"

Big Ben lit up at night

Sara's new faux fur

Selfie on the Thames

Love it

Sara and I in front of the Embassy

They are already decorating for Christmas in London

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beautiful. chilly Finland

Celebrated Columbus Day Weekend by taking a trip to Finland with my friend Natalie.  We stayed with Natalie's friend Amiee who had come to Germany for Oktoberfest.  Finland was quite gorgeous and we were there for their abbreviated fall, so all of the leaves were splendid in golds and reds.  The weather was quite chilly - a good 15 degrees cooler than in Frankfurt, but the rain stayed away.

A few observations - the Finns were fantastically nice people, almost all of whom spoke perfect English.  It was quite chilly, but not quite cold.  Think Thanksgiving weather in the mid-west.  You need a coat and a hat if you are going to be out for a while.  It is really expensive - about 40% higher than Frankfurt (which is not in itself cheap).  Practically every Finn has a sauna in their house.  We used Amiee's sauna every day.

(Note - this trip reaffirmed that Frankfurt has the worst housing outside of the war zones.  Absolutely no charm, small kitchens, meh location and no sauna.  Amiee's house had a fantastic kitchen, great living room, was in a cute neighborhood and had the sauna.)

These pretty red berries were all over Helsinki

It's a moose



Natalie and weird statue peeing

That guy is getting way to close to the weird alien peeing statue





Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wedding Day

The day was hot.  I feel like its important to remember how damn hot it was.  It had been hot all week (hottest week of the summer according to Sara) and Saturday morning was no different.  The day topped out at 95 degrees (F), only three degrees from setting a record.  The temperature was already in the 80s when my day started - waking up in my parents rental house.

After a quick breakfast, I sat on the back porch with my Dad and best man and played a game of backgammon.  We had played the game fairly often growing up - my Dad sitting in his chair in our living room and me on the step next to him.  When I saw the ornate boards available at the markets in Istanbul, I had to get him a board as a best man gift.  I wanted to play a game before the day began.  He kicked my ass -- so we had to play a second.  I won and we left the house tied.

We had appointments for a professional shave at 9.  We had gone to a barber shop the morning of my sister Katie's wedding and wanted to make it a tradition.  Conscious of the timing, we arrived ten minutes early only for the barber to arrive almost half an hour late.  Joining me was Dad, my best man; Paul and David, my groomsmen and brothers-in-law; and Sam and Kris, my two best friends from high school and make-shift ushers.  We had a really great time and the shave was awesome.  After the shave, we raced home to get dressed, hopped into an Uber and made it to the church on time.

I was calm before the wedding -- not nervous at all.  Guests had already begun arriving, so I chatted with a few aunts, uncles and cousins.  As Sara arrived, I was sent with the groomsmen to the sacristy to wait for the wedding to start.  My mom and sisters came in to pin on our flowers and I had a final moment with both my parents.  As the bells rang out to announce midday, I made my way to the back of the church.  While everyone else got to hang out in the entry way, I had to remain inside the church, so I didn't see Sara in her dress.  Suddenly, Shelley hands me a card from Sara.  It was the perfect card, complete with an inside joke to make me laugh.  That, in a nutshell, is the woman who was about to become my wife.

I walked down the aisle with both my parents on either arm. Paul walked my grandparents down the aisle.  David walked Sara's aunt and Dad down the aisle.  The bridesmaids all walked down alone.  As the music paused, I looked to the back of the church and saw my absolutely gorgeous bride.  Seeing her at the back of the church with her mother, the doors opened and I saw Sara take a deep breath.  As she walked down the aisle, the last two years flashed in my mind.  From our first few dates to our short break-up (3 days, I was an idiot) to our last weeks before I left for Germany.  The difficult separation and the fantastic reunions.  Meeting her family and getting engaged.  And planning the wedding.  I love this beautiful woman and she was walking towards me to spend the rest of our lives together.  I choked up and shed a few tears.  Then she was there and I held her hand.

The ceremony was mostly a blur.  I don't really remember the readings or the priest's homily.  I remember watching our friends and family from the side of the altar where Sara and I were sitting.  I remember the vows.  I know everyone else was there, but all I could see was Sara and the priest.  As far as I could tell, it was just the three of us in the church.  As we said the words and exchanged the rings, I choked up a bit again.  Before I knew it, the priest was done and I got to kiss my bride.  We walked out of the church and into the outdoor sauna.  The sun beat down on us and we quickly scrapped any plans to shoot photos outside.

I think taking the photos was the worst part of the day.  We were trying to corral a few dozen family members to take some photos in a short amount of time, as another wedding was starting at 2 p.m.  After changing our photo shoot locations, we had trouble getting Ubers to take the wedding party to the next location.  We got a bit snippy at each other and I am pretty sure this was the low moment of the day.  Once we finally got to the next location, things improved as we took some really awesome photos.  After we finished the photos with our bridal party, we made our way across the street to the National Portrait Gallery to shoot photos with just Sara and me.

Sara and I had a few moments alone in the gallery and we relished our time together.  I pulled out my iPhone, turned on some music and we had our first dance with just the two of us in the beautiful gallery.  We spent about an hour or so taking photos in the portrait gallery and they are awesome.  I will post photos later when we have them ready for upload.  We had a few moments before we need to depart for the reception, so we checked into our hotel where they had upgraded us to a suite.  It was awesome and they even gave us a free bottle of champagne.

Everything at the reception went just about perfectly.  We started the evening with a cocktail hour on the reception hall veranda.  The big weather worry for most of the day, besides the heat of course, was the threat of rain storms.  A cold front was scheduled to come through and was threatening the outdoor cocktail hour.  Sara, who had designed and created an amazing and beautiful table set-up in the hall (I'll post pictures later), had her heart set on a big reveal of the dining hall before dinner. The hall was set with four long banquet tables running lengthwise down the hall.  With the brick walls and candle light and high ceilings, it reminded me of a medieval hall.  Green garland infused with flowers lined the center of the table with candles of various heights twinkling.

 Fortunately, the weather gods cooperated and kept us dry through the end of the cocktail hour.  As the guests made their way into the hall and we prepared our entrance, the clouds moved in and the thunder began to sound.  The wedding party entered to Coldplay's "Sky Full of Stars."  Then, Sara and I began our first (really our second) dance to John Legend's, "All of You."  When I was in DC in April, I had surprised Sara with dance lessons so we could have a great first dance.  It was a disaster and we both hated it.  But, we both remembered a few things as we danced around the room - all eyes on us.  On the radio, a four-minute song doesn't seem too long.  But when all of your family and friends are watching you, it seemed like it took forever.  After the dance, I welcomed our guests (coming from three continents, six countries and at least thirteen states) and Sara led us in a prayer.

Our dinner was pretty awesome.  We hired one of our favorite restaurants, Lebanese Taverna, to do the catering and put together a fantastic menu.  The most unusual aspect of the dinner is that we had the dinner served family style so that everyone could share and swap plates and talk to each other.  All told we had three different courses (plus passed appetizers during the cocktail hour) and more than a dozen total dishes.  The salad was fantastic, as were the hummus and baba ganoush.  The rest of the dishes had great flavor, but unfortunately they were cold.  I remember trying everything at our tasting and the food is simply so much better when it is served hot.  The service was fantastic and I really loved how the long tables allowed different groups of people to interact with each other.

One of my favorite parts of the night was the Anniversary Dance just after dinner.  The DJ invited any guests who had been married for more than 60 years to lead off the dancing.  My grandparents - married for 63 years now - took to the center of the dance floor, dancing to Jason Mraz's "I won't give up."  The guests gave them a much-deserved standing ovation.  The DJ then invited those married for over 40 years and a few more couples joined in.  My parents joined in with the couples over 30 years and the dance floor began to fill up.  20 years. Husbands took their wives by their hands and led them out onto the floor.  10 years.  I loved the look on couples faces as they made their way to the dance floor - you could see them all reminiscing about their own wedding days.  5 years.  Our generation began to fill in the floor.  1 year.    More married couples on the floor now than people still at the tables.  6 hours.  Sara and I join in.  By my rough estimate, there were over 500 years of marriage on that dance floor.  That is awesome.  The DJ followed up this up with Pharrel's "Happy" and the dance floor exploded with everyone going crazy.  At this point, I knew the night would be a blast and that we would have a "fun" wedding.

The rest of the reception is pretty much a blur.  I remember doing the cake cutting and eating the delicious and awesome cake.  I danced with my mom to "93 Million Miles" by Jason Mraz.  Sara danced with her mom to "The Best Day" by Taylor Swift.  Half way through her song, she invited all of the other mother daughter pairs at the wedding (there were an inordinate number of them at our wedding) to join them on the dance floor.  I remember Sara's friend Katie watching the Michigan game on her phone and brooding as the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame.  I remember Nebraska barely beating McNeese State earlier in the day and the amount of shit I took for scheduling my wedding on a Husker Saturday (c'mon, it was McNeese State).  Sara and all of her Aggie friends did some Aggie dance to the Aggie War Hymn.  I danced with both my sisters.  I remember stepping outside for a few minutes with Sara and enjoying the cool air after the storms came through.  I remember dancing and talking with what seemed like every person I ever knew.

A couple of the other details I don't want to forget: La Perla - our specialty cocktail that Sara and I made up the weekend before.  The pink vodka lemonade drink reminded Sara of the Pink Panty Droppers she made in law school, but fancier.  So, we named the drink after fancy underwear.  They were super popular.  We elected to skip a more traditional guest book and instead had guests write messages to us on a chalkboard and then take their photo with the message.  The messages definitely got better as the night wore on.  We had a guy wearing a kilt, who was not the most strangely dressed because Aaron was wearing a canary yellow tuxedo.

Yes - that is a yellow tuxedo

Then, all of a sudden, the DJ was calling Sara and I back to the dance floor for our last song.  Nine months of planning was about to be over.  As Van Morrison sang "Into the Mystic", I danced with my wife surrounded by those that loved us dearly.  I held her in my arms and smiled.  Then I stepped on her dress again (sorry, Sara).  As we made our way out of the hall and to the bus, we said goodbye to everyone still inside.  I wisely grabbed two beers for the road and we made our way outside.  We had tried to plan a fun send-off for the wedding, but had never really put anything in particular together and what we ended up with was a massive disappointment.  Half the people were already on the bus - half were still inside and only a few people cheered us as we left the church.  But, if this was our big failure in planning, I am okay with that.

The bus took all of us to the after party at RFD, the bar where Sara and I first met.  Our table that we sat at was even open for us to sit in.  Most of the younger crowd had joined us at the after party.  We got the chance to hang out some more with my cousins and Sara's friends.  We were also judging the finalists for the Drousin award which goes to the drunkest cousin at a wedding.  As a prior recipient (at my cousin Mike's wedding) and back-to-back finalist (2012 was a strong year for me), I was initially disappointed in the effort put forth by my cousins.  Then, my cousin Colleen arrived at the bar and took the trophy hands down (or more accurately, head down - since she got kicked out of the bar for napping on the table).  I heard my sister Katie and cousin Mike made valiant efforts for come from behind victories, but Colleen held on.  Too be fair, it wasn't her fault - she was hanging out with Nigel at the wedding.

Sara and I left the after party around 1230 or 1 and walked back to our hotel.  I loved all the strangers wishing us congratulations.  Makes me want to put our wedding attire back on one random Saturday and go bar hopping.  The night was cool and clear and the Caniglias walked, hand in hand, back to our hotel.

(FYI - good pictures to come)

Monday, September 22, 2014


I got to cross an item off my bucket list this weekend when I attended the opening day of Oktoberfest in Munich.  After driving down Friday night, we had a hearty German meal, followed by some pretzels and schnapps shots in the hotel room.  On Saturday morning, we started off nice and early - leaving the hotel around 815 in the morning.

We got the fairgrounds and the beer tents around 9 in the morning so that we could get a table for the noon tapping of the kegs.  This is what we NINE in the morning...three hours before they could serve beer.

Over 2,000 people already packed into the beer tent.  We had to settle for two tables outside in the beer garden.  Normally, I'd be happy to be outside, but the weather forecast called for scattered rain all day.  And rain it did.  We passed the hours by chatting and playing some iphone games.  After seeing all the experienced Oktoberfest goers playing cards, I found a deck at one of the gift shops.  We passed the time by playing the game "bullshit."  It wasn't until later that we discovered the German deck we were playing with only contained cards 6 and above.  None of us had actually realized this while playing.  This is while we were sober.

During our three hour wait, it rained off and on and we bought umbrellas and ponchos to stay moderately dry.  At noon, cannons announced the start of the fest and the began serving beer...and we waited.  It took us an additional 45 minutes or so to finally get our first beer.

The beer was delicious.  Served in a glorious Maß, which is German for "measure", which means that they measure beer in liters. Round one went down fairly quickly and we had lunch with round two.  The sun came out and the beer garden cheered.  It really was spectacular and made the wait worthwhile. 


That's 7 full liters of beer!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rehearsal BBQ

One of the early dilemmas Sara and I faced when planning the wedding was the rehearsal dinner.  Our wedding party consisted solely of immediate family and we didn't want to limit the night to just those in the wedding.  Protocol dictates that all out-of-town guests (or at least all out-of-town family) are invited to the rehearsal dinner.  Given that over 80% of our guests were from out-of-town, this just seemed to exclude a few friends.  So, we decided to do something a bit different and we had a low-key "Welcome BBQ*" at the house my family rented for the week.

*I am using the word "BBQ" to mean grilling burgers and sausages.  I know this offends many southerners who have a more specific definition of what BBQ means.  Sorry.

Other than renting the house with its awesome yard, renting a few tables and chairs and making a rough mental sketch of the menu I was planning, I hadn't really done much in the way of planning for the BBQ.  I am now pretty confident that Sara thought I was planning the details with my family and my family thought I was planning the details with Sara.  Whoops.  We bought most of the food on Wednesday and Thursday and set up the house for the event on Friday.  Despite the on-the-fly planning and a few short tempers during the week, we pulled it all off.

Friday afternoon was brutally hot and humid - the high temperature was in the 90s.  A few hearty guests who walked the mile (uphill) from the metro arrived drenched.  Ice melted almost instantly.  The margaritas disappeared quicker than we could make them.  A special thanks to my cousin Dave and brother-in-law Paul who manned the grills in the high heat.  Despite the heat, the BBQ was exactly what Sara and I had hoped for.  We got a chance to talk to friends and family in a more relaxed atmosphere than the wedding reception would allow.  Ask anyone who has gotten married how quickly the time flies at the wedding reception.  We were so grateful to have an extra three hours on Friday night to chat with friends and family.

I especially loved meeting some of Sara's high school and college friends.  I had heard stories about these girls for the last two years, but had not met many of them.  We had also invited a number of these girls' parents who had all watched Sara growing up.  I loved seeing the pride and love in their eyes when they talked about Sara.  It was fascinating putting faces to names that did not at all match the mental image I had had in my head.  There were brunettes who turned out to be blonde; people were taller or shorter than I had imagined; accents galore.  It's like when they cast an actor for the film of the book you loved - they don't look like what you imagined, but it soon becomes impossible to remember what you had imagined to begin with.

After most of the guests had departed, Sara and I stole a few minutes together to exchange some small presents and letters we had written each other.  In the chaos of the whole week, it was really nice to have a few minutes together with just the two of us.  Several married couples had told us to take this time together and I am really glad that we did.  After Sara left, a few of my cousins and two of my high school buddies were still hanging around.  We cleaned up a bit (Sam and Kris both worked for my father as teenagers, so they knew how to clean up after a party) and chatted for a while.  I don't think the three of us had hung out together since Kris's wedding almost five years ago.  As it has always been with those two, you couldn't tell that time had passed.

The rental house for the week

Belize crew

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Off to Get Married!!!

In twenty minutes, I leave for the airport to fly back to America for my wedding.  I am so excited.  I love this girl and can't wait to spend the rest of my life with her.
Our first photo together

Isn't she gorgeous?