Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Wormhole to India

There are a lot of analogies that run through my head as I think about what the final weeks in the U.S. will be like as we, once again, say our goodbyes and prepare to head overseas. In a little over two weeks, we will gather our car seats and carry-ons, cameras and iPad, our strollers and children, and board a flight to New York City, then one to Germany, before finally stepping foot on the long flight to India.

Sometimes, Elise accuses me of showing no emotion. It is true I am not sad to leave Northern Virginia. I like it here, but--unlike Elise--I don't have a lot to say goodbye to. Everything that is important in my life I am taking with me. That cannot be said for her, and to that I need to be especially sensitive.

I try to act the stoic captain as the S.S. Hanna sets sail for distant lands, standing on the bow, a weathered hand shielding my squinting eyes from the bright glow that is our future. The breeze coming off the Bay of Bengal fails to rustle my diplomatic feathers, but I feel it nonetheless. I tell myself it would do no good to completely freak out, so I continue to plow ahead into the unknown, certain that, though unfamiliar, good things await us in India. We are ready. Of this, I am convinced, but often we won't know a good thing even when it stares us in the face, and, though we have moved overseas before, I don't anticipate this move being any easier, logistically or emotionally, than the last.

Our time in the States has been like slowly ripping a Band-Aid from an old wound. Had we only been here for a few weeks or months, we could have ripped the Band-Aid off quickly, but it has seemed like our departure has been coming forever; we've been in the States for almost a year.

But now that our leaving is imminent, it is as though a gravity well has opened up, a black hole or wormhole, if you will, that threatens to swallow us all, our worldly possessions, the above-mentioned car seats and strollers, sweep us and them through time and space, and spit us out on a continent far away. You can't escape a wormhole; its pull is too strong. Like an outgoing tide, all you can hope to do is keep your head above the rush of water. Fortunately, we have three life buoys named Sam, Peter, and Clementine to keep us afloat.

I never saw the movie Titanic. I don't like disaster movies. Mostly, because many of them are based on true events, and I know how they end. But, sometimes, I do feel like I'm in a scene toward the end of the movie Titanic that I saw in the theatrical trailer: the ship is completely vertical in the water, with its giant propeller sticking up in the air. Passengers are holding on to anything they can to keep from plunging into the icy black water.

I don't mean to say that I am afraid or even nervous about going to India. I am excited. But I do have to constantly remind myself we are not going back to Brazil.

It is natural to feel hesitant. To want to hold on to what is familiar for as long as possible. And I think it is good to bring with us things that remind us of a place that is safe, comfortable, and familiar. We are cognizant of the fact that in the midst of so much change, it will benefit the kids (and ourselves) to know that many things remain the same. We will still sit down to dinner together and say the blessing. They will still take naps, and the same stuffed animals will occupy their same positions on their bed spreads. There will still be juice boxes and granola bars and jelly beans. We are still a family and we are still all together.

But there can be too much emphasis placed on the re-creation of a place. It is dangerous to think we can replicate the U.S. or even Brazil in India. India will be different. It will be an adventure on to itself and it will be exciting. It will be India. The latter, especially, should be embraced. We can only protect ourselves with the familiar for so long. We can only pad ourselves against the change for so long. Sooner or later, India will come rushing in. It will fill our eyes and our ears and our lungs, and just like Brazil did, it will become part of us, and before too long, we will have forgotten where the part of us without India stopped and the part of us with India begins.

Argueably, Brazil is the best thing that happened to us. I have every reason to suspect India will be the same. As I said, I don't suspect it to be easy, but I am ready for the adventure to begin. I think we have all been ready for a long time.

Halloween Bucket

Over our guys' weekend, we had lunch one day at McDonalds (guilty!). Sam and Pete's Happy Meals came in plastic Star Wars Angry Bird buckets that they saved for the specific purpose of using them as their Halloween candy buckets.

Recently, Sam realized that Clementine didn't have a bucket for her candy, so he was sweet and thoughtful enough to make one for her. He glued to pieces of paper together, and his mom helped him tie a string to the top as the handle. He asked her what her favorite colors were and he colored the basket those colors.

I'd say she's now ready for Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Aisle 24 Bin 35 (Revisited)

A colleague this morning asked me how my weekend was. I paused for a moment, completely forgetting that I had two days off. When I finally did manage to respond, I replied, "Busy."

We are in full-blown prep mode for our move to India in two and a half weeks. Friday afternoon I drove two and a half hours to Richmond to pick up a treadmill I found on Craigslist. I never in a million years would have ever thought I would buy a treadmill. I love to run. Elise loves to run. But we both love to run outside. Now, both of us are having to get used to the thought of running on a treadmill.

Neither of us wants to give up running, so with the prospect of running in urban India daunting if not impossible (temperature alone would be a deterrent. The night time low in Chennai in May and June is in the mid-eighties), we had to ask ourselves: Do we give up running? Maybe pick up cricket or tennis? Something more British Colonial? Or do we adapt and suck it up? We reluctantly chose the later. Though I have to be honest...I wasn't minding the treadmill in late July in Washington, D.C. when it was 100 degrees outside. Plus, I always get a good workout on a treadmill, because, if nothing else, it keeps you honest. If you dial in 7:00 pace, you're going to run 7:00 pace or find yourself flung up against the far wall.

The one thing I didn't know about treadmills, though, was how heavy they are.

The guy I bought the treadmill from, a line cook at Outback the size of Lou Ferigno, was kind enough to help me get it in the back of my minivan. But at some time during the two hour drive back to Falls Church, I forgot difficult it was for even a man that large to lift the thing, and somehow had tricked myself into thinking that if Elise and I had a luggage cart we would be able to get it up to the second floor of our apartment building.


The next morning, Elise and I got the treadmill half way out of the back of our minivan and onto a luggage cart and............that's it.

That's as far as we could get it. Half hanging out of the back of our car, we left it and called for back-up.

I went to the front desk of our apartment community to see if they had a dollie or something more appropriate for carting extremely heavy objects like treadmills or objects equivalently gravity-endowed....say, like, 747s. Fortunately, they did. I also found an angel, Francis from Ghana.

Francis was emerging from the weight room when I saw him. He was big. He was sweaty. He appeared to be just the man I was looking for. Somehow, I talked him into a third workout of the day, sandwiched, as it were, in between weights and tennis. He, with the help of one of the maintenance man and the man who delivers the laundry, happily helped us get the treadmill up to our apartment and set up in the corner where it has sat ever since. Unused.

Unused? Why?

I forgot the power cord in Richmond.

After unsuccessfully trying to text the seller (he had his money), I was able to order a new power cord from the manufacturer.

Even though I had gotten the treadmill inside, my work was just beginning. I scooped up Pete, and we were off to the "wash-down" (Thomas the Tank Engine parlance for the car wash). I had someone coming to look at our minivan in an hour and it was in need of a quick vacuum and rinse.

Fast forward to Saturday night. Elise and I had a hot date night planned. We were headed to Ikea. With lists in tow, we stocked up on furniture and housewares to make our house in India a home. It is a little daunting having to make furniture purchases a year in advancing, having to anticipate the changing needs of one's family. For example, we suspect Clementine will not stay 18 months forever, and may actually grow while we are in India. Grow enough to grow herself right out of her crib and into a toddler bed. So, we bought her a new toddler bed to take with us, knowing it is something we are going to need there.

The bed Elise had her eye on was not on the main warehouse floor. It would have to be pulled from furniture pick-up. No problem. We were given a piece of paper that the cashier scanned a the register, and the bed would soon be pulled from the warehouse and brought to us. Easy enough.

He scanned our paper and rang up the rest of our purchases. Then, Elise and I walked right out of the store, loaded up our minivan, drove to Bobby Flay's Burger Palace for burgers, beers, and fries, then stopped at the Cheesecake Factory for a slice of pumpkin cheesecake before driving home.

Do you sense something wrong with this narrative?

Because we didn't. At least not until I went to unload our purchases from Ikea the following morning.

We had forgotten to pick up Clementine's new bed.

My absentmindedness necessitated a second drive to Ikea Sunday morning. Everyone got ice cream cones for being patient, and we stopped at a pumpkin patch on the way home and bought a pumpkin.

That evening, I carved a pumpkin while Elise worked on the kids' Halloween costumes (homemade, of course!). I picked up pizza and, because no one napped, the kids slowly descended into a dizzyingly chaotic tailspin from which there was no recovery except in the arms of blissful sleep.

Everyone was zonked out by 6:30.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Occassionally, Elise and I like to bring the kids to Union Market in Washington on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Originally opened at 4th Street and Florida Avenue NE, in close proximity to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Freight Terminal, after having moved from the markets original location on the current site of the National Archives, Union Market hosted 700 vendors of meat, fish, dairy and produce six days a week.

In 1962, however, the city banned the outdoor sale of meat and eggs, and the original market shuttered soon after. A revitalized market recently reopened as the home to several gourmet and artisan food vendors. We stop for coffee at Peregrine Espresso or Korean tacos at Takorean.

Most recently, we went to Union Market for an outdoor art market featuring bohemian t-shirt designs and other homemade crafts. On these visits, we find ourselves inevitably surrounded by a unique specimen of parent. The Hipster.

I recently asked Elise, "What is a hipster?"

She thought about it for a moment, and she answered, "You are."

I pondered this. I don't like to wear a scarf and don't own a fedora. I wear glasses on occasion, but they are hardly as stylish as the horn-rimmed variety worn by most hipsters. 

The Urban Dictionary defines a hipster as a "subculture of men and women, typically in their 20's and 30's, that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter." 

Well, that does kind of sound like me, with one big exception. I'm not in my 20's and 30's. The truth of the matter? I'm too old to be a hipster. 

As Elise browsed the stalls at the bohemian market, looking for cool t-shirts for the kids, I stayed with the boys in the "play area" (a corner of the market filled with cardboard boxes and empty Folgers coffee cans. Despite their primative nature, the "toys" were quite effective at keeping the little ones entertained while their parents shopped). Next to me, was a hipster dad. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, a plaid vest, and a newsboy cap. His hair was cropped short, and a wispy briar of whiskers sprouted from just below his bottom lip. He may have had lambchop sideburns. He wore one baby in a carrier on his chest, while his older daughter, sporting a Beastie Boys t-shirt and wearing a black skirt decorated in a pattern comprised of tiny human skulls, played near the boys. I tried to engage this man in casual conversation; on some instinctual, male level, I suspected we had a lot in common. The problem was I felt inferior. I just didn't feel cool enough. 

I am bereft of many of the cultural references hipsters use in casual conversation. I don't see many movies. Most of my music references are from the era when the Cure, the Smiths, and R.E.M. were considered indie. And I've never seen a single episode of "Seinfeld", much less "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad", "House", "Downtown Abbey", the popular show with the nerds, or whatever else is popular on FX, USA, HBO or Netflix. 

I have nothing against hipsters. If anything, I am jealous. I wish I could be or was a hipster. See, we didn't have hipsters in South Florida. There really was no culture to be counter to. Alas, neither Elise nor I really fit in to the Parrothead/5:00 Somewhere/Redneck Party Barge culture of South Florida. I think we are a lot more comfortable in a hip, urban environment. I won't speak for Elise, but I may just be a little late to the party. 

I guess I am hoping there is a demographic category I fit in. A subculture of men and women, typically in their early 40's, that value independent thinking, good, beer and dark coffee, progressive politics, an appreciation of fish tacos and distance running, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. I know they are out there, I just have trouble finding dads like me. I need to start my own movement; I just don't know what the Urban Dictionary would call someone who daydreams about driving their own taco food truck and making their own corn whiskey. 

As I write this I realize, I should be having my mid-life crisis any day now, but--as with many other things in my life right now--I just don't have the time for crises. I suppose that is a good thing. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Family Circus

A few weeks ago we cruised out to Dulles in our minivan (which is for sale and is quite fashionable should you be in the market in the DC/NOVA area). Dulles, which you may or may not know (I didn't), is actually a town, not just an airport that some people fly into when they'd like to:

A. Save money 


B. Drive 40 minutes after flying for all day

but it is. I digress.

The kids had never been to a circus and in the interest of giving them all of the All-American experiences we approve of can before we head abroad again, we chose The Big Apple Circus.  The Big Apple Circus is an animal friendly circus and only has a few horses and a band of trained mutts. It was not the circus of my youth, elephant and tiger-wise, but we are about to get our fill of elephants and tigers, so we're good with mutts and horses for now. 

Morgan bought a couple of tickets, then won four more from DC Thrifty Mom, who is thrifty and apparently knows people, because while Paul and I took Clem to our seats, just a few rows up, Morgan took her boys and our boys and sat ringside for the greatest show in Dulles. 

The show was more of a broadway-style circus, which was refreshing and I relaxed once I realized that the typical carnies were replaced (for the most part) with aspiring actors, acrobats and dog trainers. There was a band stand, hot dog carts, clowns, audience participation and popcorn, hotdogs and cotton candy.

I did not capture them, due to my complete and utter awe and rapture, but my favorite part was the contortionist male duo, straight out of the Ukraine. One larger than a bread truck the other smaller than a breadbox. They were so serious and graceful as they balanced one another on top of the other's heads and contorted around like you have never seen, unless you have. I haven't and wow, it was both amazingly uncomfortable and incredible.  

My second favorite was the trapeze duo, reviving both mine and Morgan's lust for the high wire. Look out Paul, the Ukraine may be high on our next bid list for the Loosli-Hanna reunion tour.

The boys loved the horses who dressed as taxis and made stops around the ring to "pick up" little mutts and ride them atop their backs to their next stop and the candy that Morgan snuck them throughout the show. Busted.

I only pondered running off with The Big Apple Circus to escape the insanity of our current life for a moment, then I realized that our current life is already a circus which already travels the world and I do not, most of the time, have to live in a trailer. Also, I don't have to wear a clown nose, which I do believe makes my face look fat. You decide.

All images by me. A mix of film: Contax, Kodak Portra 400, Digital: Canon 5D Mark III and iphone.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shutdown: Day 16

As the federal government shut down dragged on, and partisan brinksmanship reached an all-time high, Elise and Clementine fked the Beltway to spend a weekend with Nanny. Elise crammed in more work in three days than most Congressman fit into an entire session, while Clementine whiled away the days playing with Nanny.

That left just us guys in Washington, D.C. Guy's Weekend!!

Unfortunately, it rained cats and dogs all weekend. The skies opened up as Elise raced around our apartment building trying to find the cab driver I had called for her, and it didn't stop raining until, literally, the moment the doors to her flight opened and she and Clem stepped on to the jetway at Dulles.

Fortunately, CarMax has a good indoor play area.

We started guy's weekend running a couple of errands in anticipation of our upcoming move to India. We drove out to CarMax to get our car appraised. Though we just bought it when we got back from Brazil, we have to sell it before we go to India since the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car. Unfortunately, CarMax only had bad news when it came to the value of our car, news which threatened to cast a shadow over the rest of our guy's weekend.

I forced myself to brighten--the day was already dreary enough--and we actually hung out at CarMax far longer than we had to just to let the boys play in the play area; it was too rainy to play outside. After stops at Home Depot and Trader Joe's, I recalled seeing a sign on the side of the road advertising an open house at the fire station in Falls Church, so we stopped by on the way home and am very glad we did.

The fire house doors were open and all the fire trucks were out. Pete and Sam got to sit in all of them, and talk to real firefighters. They tried on a firefighter's hat (surprisingly heavy), and even sprayed a real fire hose. We took a tour of the fire house, and they sat in the back of a real ambulance. For the grand finale, they sawed a car apart. A team of firefighters demonstrated how they would get someone out of a car in the event of an accident using the "jaws of life" and a variety of other saws and hydraulic tools. It was pretty awesome to watch as they chewed the doors off and take off the entire roof in a matter of minutes.

As promised, the following day we drove up to Baltimore to go to the National Aquarium. I think everyone enjoyed the dolphins the best. Pete seemed especially tickled. Once during their performance, I could hear him nervously giggle, then say to himself, "Dolphins..." as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. And though they later would say that they liked the dolphins best, we watched two small tortoises munch on lettuce for what seemed like three hours. The tortoises are in the Amazon forest part of the aquarium at the very top of the building and it must have been ninety five degrees in there with 800 percent humidity. I thought I was going to pass out (which does not bode well for Chennai). Nevertheless, Sam and Pete both insisted on watching the tortoise eat entire salad. I don't know if they were really that interested in tortoises or if they knew this was our last thing we had to see before leaving the aquarium and driving home, and so were dragging it out for as long as possible.

Lastly, Sam has been somewhat obssessed with the new Coast Guard legos recently.

We didn't tour the boats in the harbor this trip, but something tells me there is a return visit to Baltimore somewhere in our near future.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Summer Days: Part I

Featuring Oakwood Falls Church Resort and Spa-if-you-squint-really-tiny-and-wear-noise-cancelling-headphones, Burke Lake Park and Carderock Park. All 35mm film on my dad's old Minolta X-700. Thanks Dad!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Shutdown: Day 10

As I have written here before, I have a love-hate relationship with my current hometown, Washington, D.C.

And my feelings toward Washington could not be more polarized than they are now. In the last days of September, with the threat of furlough looming on the horizon, I was in denial. The government had threatened to shut down before. Twice. When we were in Brazil in 2011, on two separate occasions my boss called his entire staff into his office and on two separate occasions we were briefed on what would happen in the event of a government shutdown. On neither of those occasions did a shutdown materialize, and in the last days of September, I had no reason to believe there would be one this time.

I was wrong.

I went to work on September 30 fairly certain the federal government would be closed on October 1, yet was instructed to come to work on Tuesday anyway. I wasn't sure if our instructors had preternatural gifts of prescience or were just incredibly wishful thinkers, but--knock on wood--as the shutdown stretches into its eleventh day, I am still working.

On October 5th, five days into the shutdown, Elise and I completely thumbed our noses at the doomsayers and went out for a night on the town. We went big. Finally making it to a wildly popular restaurant on 14th Street, Le Diplomate.

As we entered the French restaurant, we were instantly transported to another place and another time, and reminded that you get what you pay for. A $22 first round was actually worth $122, a dirty martini up and a 1554 on draft, a beer crafted by New Belgium from Fort Collins, the makers of Fat Tire, inspired by a recipe perfected by 16th century Belgium monks. I had two.

As we waited, we spotted Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. I resisted the urge to ask him how long he thought the State Department could operate without a continuing resolution and instead dove into the steak au poive and pommes frites we shared as though there were no threat of furlough. I don't mean for this to devolve into a glorified restaurant review, but I was truly impressed. It's the little things that count, and the fries were piping hot when they reached our table, even after taking an extended tour of the dining room as they made their way from the fryer. No small feat in a restaurant this size.

After paying for a babysitter and parking, we'd dropped the equivalent of a small house payment on dinner, but I would have paid twice that. If for no other reason than I was loving--not only Elise--but being in D.C. The place does have an unmistakable buzz, and Elise was the one to note that in either Le Diplomate or Oyamel which we had been treated to the week before, the crowd is unmistakably Washingtonian. I couldn't tell you what that means exactly, but you would know it if you saw it.

A few nights earlier, I met an old high school friend for beers on Capitol Hill. We met at the Capitol Lounge and I started in on a few DC Braus as the post-work crowd of Congressional staffers, many in hoodies and Nats caps, filed in and out. A girl asked is if we were furloughed. A good opening line, but one my buddy failed to seize upon. The Rays took a one game playoff away from the Indians, and I got lost driving home. Though I did pass the massive marble dome of the Capitol building, still impressive despite the mayhem that was taking place inside.

The following day, Day 3 of the shutdown, a woman lead police on a high speed car chase from the White House to the Capitol.

Two days later, a man sets himself on fire in front of the Air and Space Museum, and now I'm not loving D.C. so much anymore.

Elise asks me if this is the end of the world, the Apocalypse, Armageddon, or the start of civil war, only this time instead of North vs. South it is the Left vs. the Right. I can't say it doesn't feel like it. Three nights ago the sun set brilliantly, but ominously. Storm clouds were bruised purple and on fire. They reminded me of the way clouds look around a Colorado wild fire. We expected frogs to start raining from the sky at any moment.

Two nights ago, Sam and I played a scaled-down version of soccer. The goals were two squat shrubs about twenty feet apart, and he thumped me 15-13. Sam is our champion napper, and he is learning that when he naps and his brother doesn't, Sam will get our undivided attention from about 6:30 p.m. (the hour at which Pete either collapses from sheer exhaustion, has a complete emotional implosion, or, more likely, some combination of both) onward. It is impossible to give Sam too much attention. He thrives on it, and so while everyone else went to bed, Sam and I snuck out of the house and played soccer in the dark.

Last night, Elise went to get her nails done. She had whipped up fried rice before she left. Peter and Clementine--the two children who did not nap--devoured it. Clem polished off two platefuls. Sam cried like a baby for an hour before the prospect of dessert finally provided enough incentive to where he reluctantly forced down a few bites.

Sam has been the victim of name-calling at school, and Elise and I are trying to be especially sensitive to that and coach him through it, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let him storm through the house, slamming doors and declaring, "I AM THROUGH WITH THIS!!" like a petulant thirteen year old. I tried the calm, empathetic Mr. Rogers approach. That didn't work, and soon lead to Peter slamming doors and pouting, too. Only when I yelled at both of them like a drill sergeant berating doey eyed plebes did they finally fall into line. It was the attention that Sam needed; he would've eaten snails at that point.

Today, Day 10 of the shutdown, it rained like cats and dogs all day. Ironically, the Dow posted its biggest gain this year on the heels of news Republicans in the House may have finally blinked, and Elise and Clementine flew to Florida for a girls weekend with Nanny.

That means Sam and Pete are with me. Guys weekend! It's off to a good start, and I have a feeling I will probably come out of it with a love for Washington again. We'll see....

Friday, October 4, 2013

Things you can't give back.

Many things about our state department life are temporary. There are things which we eventually always give back, both physically and mentally, things real and remembered, tangible and intangible. We walk away from them, we brush our hands off on our pants and just walk away. Some easily and some not so. Our life is both awesome and heartbreaking in that way.

Our homes, including all the little nuances that come along with them, leaky roofs, ant problems, the sounds of bugs outside our windows at night. They are all not ours. We'll give back keys, badges, welcome kits, school uniforms and cell phones.

Some of these things we'll be dying to leave, like tiny temporary apartments and some of these things we'll never want to leave, like Brasilia and our friends.

With all that's left behind we still take a lot of stuff with us, 7,000 lbs to be exact, including furniture, books and treasures. We take a lot of photographs, memories and we’ve even been known to add a person here and there. However, as we prepare for India, it’s the things we don't give back, or rather can't that seem to trouble me the most. The things I’ll see that I wish I hadn't. Things I never knew existed, the poverty, the kids. The things that we just can't ever give back, the images in our minds.

No negatives to leave behind.

No prints to tear up.

The images both good and bad trapped in the single circular slide of my own personal Viewmaster.

Most places will be like this outside of our country, I know. We were spoiled in Brazil. We are spoiled in the United States.  We take most things for granted, even each other.

I've just had a taste of the world, but I’m about to fill my mouth with reality the likes of which I’ve never sampled. I expect that it will be a bite so full of amazing flavors that I can’t taste them all and all at once so overpowering that I’ll have the urge to spit them all out and can't find a private place to do it.

I’ve moved from a place of anxiety and stress, to a place of acceptance and then back again. I know it’s coming, but like a tsunami wave, all I can do are heed the warnings, move my heart to a higher ground and hold on for dear life.

We are lucky, we always have a safe place in which to retire, our house, which will probably be the nicest neighborhood in all of the city. It is both comforting and absolutely revolting when people outside our doors will have nothing. It is said that you can't help everyone and I don't even think it is within ones capacity to do so. They say you "do what you can," you help in the places where it is said are safe to help.

The first days and weeks in a new place are always intense, "Fight or flight" knows no fight" It is often absolutely paralyzed by the change. Each of your five senses is in alarm-mode. Nothing is familiar. But, this is a life we've chosen for ourselves and like everything else I do, I intend to do it well. So, I have goals this time. I'm going fight. I'm going to put on my backpack armed with the most powerful weapon I have, my camera, and I'm going to hit the streets.

I've begun to dream about our move. It always happens. The point where your conscious processing shuts down. System overload. My waking mind can't try to predict a second outside of the current chaos and thus my dreams take over.

The other night I dreamt about our Household Effects (HHE). That I went there, to the nothern-most point of Maryland, to pull a few things for our move and the warehouse couldn't find them. Our original semi-moving truck driver, from Florida, nearly four years ago, led me through labyrinths of warehouses filled with caged sofas and end tables and they eventually turned up in a sort of graveyard of HHE, buried six feet deep beneath the earth. Once dug up I couldn't find things I'd distinctly remembered sending there four years ago. Then things began to spontaneously set on fire. I could only find one small fire extinguisher and no one to help.

I'm giving my subconscious all the time it needs to work this out. I'm thankful that my waking hours are relatively calm and distracted with the sounds and needs of my children. I'm stocking film as furiously as our neighborhood squirrels stock acorns for winter. I feel mostly, like this year, however chaotic, has prepared me for my next great professional and personal assignment and I'm ready to begin.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I had five days off between the end of my Tamil language class and the class which will teach me the nuts and bolts of the job I am to do overseas, a welcome respite, since I was not permitted any time off during either.

Nanny came up to help us get the most out of those five days, and we struck the perfect balance of cramming in a ton of fun stuff and just sitting around catching up or going to the park. She brought with her awesome Nats tickets, and despite the guy of questionable sanity--yet unquestionable volume--who sat behind us, Sam and Pete had a blast. We finally had an excuse to visit a Southwestern restaurant Elise and I had been dying to go to since the last time we were in D.C., Oyamel, and though we didn't crunch into a grasshopper taco, we did dash through a late summer downpour for chocolate at CoCo Sala, a few blocks away. We returned to the same neighborhood a few days later to take in the National Portrait Gallery. We arrived an hour and a half before it opened; not a problem for Hannas who are experts at wiling away hours in coffee shops. We went on a hike along the Potomac, spent the day at the zoo, and even sprung the boys from school for....immunizations and passport applications. Yay! Fun! (*sarcasm...hint, hint*)

It was hard to come back to work. With the pain of Tamil slowly becoming a scab on my brain, I dove right into fraudulent documents. Today, we received cool magnifying glasses and UV lights, and the only thing I could think about during class was how eager I was to bring these toys home to show Sam and Pete.

But I feel a big difference between this class, the job-related class, and Tamil. If nothing else, it means we are nearing are departure for India. It is no longer this time that never comes. Now it is real, and with every day it gets closer, I start to feel wind gradually filling our sails.

As fall begins to descend on Northern Virginia, the Bermuda Triangle that held us captive in the middle of the summer, when we could not tell you if we were coming or going, has slowly released us. We're emerging with a sense of purpose, but also not without a sense of trepidation.

We're moving. To a foreign land. Again.

I have to remind myself that we are not going back to Brazil, but, soon, I will be going back to work. I am realizing I won't be a student forever, and though I am still getting paid, I think my psyche wants to work. I am starting to feel more like the person I was in Brazil, confident and productive. I am not one to be defined by my work, but beer just tastes better at the end of the day when it has been justly earned by a job well done.

And then three days into class, the government shutdown.

I am still working. I'm not sure why, but I am. I don't overestimate my sense of essentiality. I would think the hardest thing for any organization to do, no matter how large, is tell some of its people that they are "essential" and others that they are not. Especially in a democracy where all men are created equal, but, sadly, they are not all equally "essential". I realize this is irony and an oversimplification. It is the jobs that are essential and not necessarily the individuals that happen to be in those positions today. But I'd like to think we are all essential, in our own way. I know no planes will fall out of the sky if I don't show up to work. In my view, that is the measuring stick.

Fortunately, our home never shuts down, and I am essential there. Not that I do, but if one ever needed an opportunity to reevaulate what is important in life and what isn't, if you are a furloughed federal government employee, this week might be a good one for such mental exercise. I was actually looking forward to another mini-vacation. Five days would be good. Maybe just enough to push our arrival in India until after Thanksgiving.

But, alas, here I am, counting luminescent thread constellations with my UV light.

For now.

Remember, I have no illusions regarding my sense of essentiality...or the fact that if this thing drags on, I may lose it after all.