Saturday, July 31, 2010
If you're anything like me, you like to take photos when you visit a museum. Also, you probably like to take the occasional funny photo (when appropriate) to break up the monotony of the standard "stand in front of a work of art and smile" shots. And again, if you are anything like me, you probably get so involved in taking that perfect funny shot that you leave the museum without even comprehending what that particular exhibit was about.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Alfie's probably been my friend longer than anybody that I'm still in touch with. We met in the Spring of 2002 during our time on the Walt Disney World College Program. The WDWCP is basically slave labor in the guise of an internship that will "impress prospective employers after graduation." Riiiiight.
I went back to Texas that summer but Alfie stayed put. He got an apartment off Disney property, transferred to a new school, and started life anew. When I moved back to Orlando in the summer of 2003, I thought for sure we would just be the bestest friends that ever existed. And I guess we could have been. Unfortunately, I made the all too common mistake of putting my friends on the backburner once I began my relationship with TJ.
Throughout the next six years or so, Alfie and I managed to stay in touch, but we didn't hang out with any regularity. One of us was always busy. One of us would always forget to call. We would always promise to be better about it, but we never were.
Last fall, when it became obvious that TJ would be joining the Foreign Service, I invited Alfie to brunch. We were friendly as usual and slid back into familiar roles as was always the case during our sporadic encounters. Over the course of brunch we both apologized (again) for failing to do a proper job of staying in touch. I told Alfie about the Foreign Service, and about how there would be no more opportunities to try (or not try) to be better friends. We parted ways that day much as we always did, by promising to be better at keeping in touch.
The amazing thing is that, this time, we actually were. From that day forward, we did a fairly good job of hanging out a few times a month. We texted more often. We went to Busch Gardens together for Howl-o-Scream. TJ and I spent Christmas Eve with his family. When the time came to pack up and move to Virginia, I was completely at peace with how our friendship had played out. It wasn't as consistent as it could have been, but it was certainly as strong as I needed it to be.
Shortly after our movie, Alfie lost his job due to the struggling economy. In an odd move, he quickly accepted a job in Wisconsin. Yeah. Wisconsin. Upon hearing this news, there was a terrible moment in which I feared we would never see each other again. I mean, historically speaking, I suppose it was possible.
Shows what I know. I just wish that I had remembered to ask for some Wisconsin cheese.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
TJ and I met Jose shortly after moving to NoVA. I met Daniel when we were students at Texas A&M. Daniel now lives in DC, and is one of Jose's best friends. They met through no involvement on my part, and before I even moved here. Tonight, the three of us had dinner at Jose's apartment. We feasted on quesadillas, guacamole, and burgers...and a couple of pitchers of margaritas.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The picture before you is of my workstation. I spend 8(ish) hour a day, 5(ish) days a week working at or around this desk. In my apartment. Alone. Isolated.
I have been with my current employer for almost five years. My 5th anniversary would be on October 31, but I will not be around that long. My language training starts on September 7th, and that in itself will be a full-time job.
During that almost five years of loyalty I have held many titles within the organization. In June of 2009 I accepted an offer to join the company's Quality Assurance team. It was this decision that proved to be my greatest contribution later when TJ joined the Foreign Service. Of all the positions that I have held (and wanted to hold), this is the only one that would have allowed me to easily continue working. As previously discussed, this was important not only because it allowed us to continue being a dual-income household, but because it was the only way to ensure that we both had uninterrupted health coverage.
I should be thankful. My team consists of myself and five others. I am the only one that has been granted the privilege of working from home, and this is only because of my unique situation. The offer to allow me to work from home was contingent upon my continuing to make a positive contribution to the team and understanding that the offer was valid only so long as I remained in the country.
Great. No problem.
Only, I didn't realize how much I needed human interaction. I've always been a bit of an introvert. I like my alone time. I thought working from home would be great. But it's not. I know some of my peers would like to work from home, but if the opportunity is ever presented, I truly think they should give it a trial run before making that decision.
I miss the sage advice Glinda would often provide (solicited or not). I miss walking to the cafeteria with Shalinn and Shauna in the morning...always buying that nasty breakfast burrito and vowing never to do it again. I miss not understanding a word that Josh and Ron ever said. I miss the way Nikki always laughed at everything she said. I miss the non-work related chats with the boss-lady, Senaida. I miss being able to wander off for a few minutes and chit chat with familiar faces throughout the building.
No matter how much you love yourself, you kinda suck when you're the only person around to talk to.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
When we made the decision to join the Foreign Service, one of our biggest concerns was that the United States government continues to ignore the validity of same-sex relationships. The Obama administration has made some noticeable improvements in this area when it comes to State Department employees and their spouses, but there are still gaps that need to be filled.
Under Secretary Clinton, the partners of Foreign Service Officers are now counted as Eligible Family Members (EFMs), which impacts the square footage provided to the FSO's in their overseas assignments. I now qualify for emergency evacuation in times of crisis. I am able to get a job in a consulate or embassy and earn a salary in US dollars vs. local currency. I am provided all of the tools necessary to learn the language spoken at our post.
Our biggest concern is the continued inability for me to obtain health care benefits under TJ's plan. It is not enough to be an EFM. We must be in a federally recognized marriage for me to qualify for health care. What this means is that, unlike any other spouse, I must find employment when we leave the country. It means that, when I quit my job in September to start language training, I will either be without medical coverage, or will have to pay higher premiums for private coverage.
For the most part, I have always been healthy. One of the stipulations for TJ receiving his worldwide security clearance was that we both had to pass a stringent physical examination. Everything came up perfectly well for both of us.
I have always said that, barring any unfortunate attacks by a burro, there should not be immediate need for health care in Mexico.
Saturday night, I found a lump on my groin.
There was no pain. There was no visible sore/wound. There was no discoloration. But it was there. It was marble-sized. And it didn't belong.
I did some Internet research, and was comforted by the fact that testicular cancer is, well, on the testicles. Further research caused an upswing in panic when I read about swollen lymph nodes in the groin area.
It was Saturday night. I had no choice but to sit on this until Monday morning. I called a few doctor's offices and was fortunate enough to find an opening this afternoon.
As I sat waiting for the doctor, I realized that I had never been so terrified in my life. I lifted my head and caught sight of my haggard face in the mirror. A few months ago I pondered the significance of turning 30. THIS is the significance that I failed to find then. Getting older means being more aware of the things your body tells you.
Thankfully, everything turned out alright in the end. I'm embarrassed to have gotten so worked up over a mild skin infection. Even more embarrassed to admit that the Nurse Practitioner thinks I irritated a few hair follicles during some routine "manscaping," thereby causing the infection. She thinks I will be OK after a few days on antibiotics. She did say that, had I not come in when I did, it probably would have gotten pretty ugly, so there's some vindication in that, I suppose. I've had ingrown hairs before. They don't look like this. So, whatever.
I should probably be mortified sharing this story. But we all have our hypochondriac moments. And you know what? It could just as easily have been something serious.
I'm not going to get attacked by a burro. It's time to lay that joke to rest. But I could have a car accident. I could fall down the stairs. I could get stabbed or shot in a street robbery. I don't have cancer. But I could. And where would I be then? Less than two months away from quitting my job, and with no health coverage, that's where.
Agree or disagree with the rights of individuals to love whoever they chose. Everyone deserves access to health care.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
TJ left for Quito shortly before 4AM. Stealth has never been his forte when it comes to getting ready in the morning (I don't think he would make a very good ninja), and today was certainly no exception. Today, however, I didn't mind, because I did want to be awake to wish him a proper farewell instead of the usual "Mmh? Uh-huh. GoodbyZzzzzz" that his leaving for work in the morning warrants.
It wasn't until he left that I realized that I had no idea how I was going to spend my free time for the next two weeks. We've made friends here, sure, but enough to fill my social calendar until TJ returns? We'll certainly find out. Will worry about that later. Today would be mall hopping fun with Joey!
I met Joey a couple of weeks after I moved to Orlando. I was 23, had just graduated college, and had no idea what I wanted to do with myself beyond moving to Florida. Needing some sort of income, I immediately accepted a part-time job as an attractions attendant at Universal Orlando's E.T. Adventure. Enter Joey: 16-year-old high school student. "You have a college degree? Then what are you doing here?" Indeed. Joey spoke the truth. And I hated him for it. True, I only planned on being there for a couple of months, but the kid had a point.
I quickly moved on to other employment opportunities and never saw him again. Or so I thought. Flash forward almost seven years, and our paths finally cross again. He's 22, has a college degree, and is NOT working his dream job. "Karma's a bitch," he says. Indeed. This pretty much solidified our friendship.
TJ and I moved to DC a few weeks later. Earlier this month, Joey accepted a promotion at work that required that he move to Bethesda, Maryland...aka Metro DC.
It's a small world after all...it's a small world after all....
You, too, can have your very own
Joey for the low, low price of $19.95.
Friday, July 23, 2010
TJ leaves for Quito, Ecuador tomorrow morning for a 16-day immersion program to help improve his Spanish for our upcoming move to Mexico. He found himself in need of a few essential toiletries, so after a delicious dinner at a local Irish pub we headed to our friendly neighborhood Target Super Center.
Only, it isn't a Super Center. It's something...less...called Target Greatland.
Look up Greatland in any dictionary, and the definition will surely be: "Not as awesome as a Super Center. Does not carry baked goods, produce or many items requiring refrigeration. Does the bare minimum to avoid being a 'regular' Target."
I asked a cashier at one of the nearby Greatlands if there happened to be any Super Centers in the area shortly after we moved here. She looked at me as if I had two heads.
Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Tonight, we found this sign posted in numerous locations throughout the store:
Construction was definitely in progress. From what I could tell, the refrigerated section will be on the complete opposite side of the store from where the other foodstuffs are, taking up space previously occupied by 1/2 of the toy department, which has now relocated dead-center in the Menswear department. Not sure where the clothes are going, but as TJ pointed out, they will probably sell more milk than Wranglers, anyway.
None of this is important. It does, however, make me start thinking about how different life will be in Mexico. When I moved to Florida, I immediately noticed the absence of some of my favorite restaurants and retail chains from Texas. TJ's favorite thing about going home is Alabama BBQ. We have a friend in Spain who craves Chex Mix, while I crave Spain's Cheetos. Our friends in France pack an extra suitcase just so they can haul Abercrombie's summer line back home with them. TJ and I both prefer Europe's Coke Light to anything we have in the states.
I may not like Target Greatland, but at least it's a Target. What am I going to do when I move to Mexico and all I've got is Wal-Mart?
Oh! As for the title of the thread, look at this cute gift card I found at Greatland. I'm not sure I agree with the unnecessary tree murder, but the plane was fun to play with.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Ok, so I will be the first to admit that today's photo isn't the most exciting. But that doesn't matter, because I was excited when I took it.
I played my first match as a member of the Capital Splats racquetball league this afternoon. More on them at a later date.
Suffice it to say, living in Falls Church, I needed to either drive into the city or take the Metro. Today, I opted for the Metro.
When the train pulled up to the East Falls Church Metro Station, the first car looked vacant. I've never ridden in the first car, and I don't particularly like being around all those people on public transit, so to the first car I went. Other than that guy in the garish neon yellow you see before you, the car was empty.
It was kind of weird being in the first car. It was like riding with the Monorail captain at Disney World. Except less awkward; because there's still a wall between us, I wasn't expected to make idle chitchat.
Comparing the Monorail to the Metro made me think about how far I've come in life, and how far I am about to go.
Growing up, my parents hated the thought of travel. They would make halfhearted promises to take me to Disneyland or Disney World, but I always knew it wouldn't happen. They were homebodies that never understood my sense of adventure. In the first 19 years of my life, my only exposure to the world outside of Texas was one trip to Las Vegas and another to Springfield, MO. Both trips had more to do with my father's car show hobby than they did with the concept of a family vacation. That's not to say we didn't travel. We did. We just did so within the confines of Texas.
During college i managed to sneak away to New Orleans a couple of times (trips that, to this day, my parents do NOT know about), cross the border for a lunch in Mexico, and spend Thanksgiving with a friend in Boston. Thanks to a study abroad course I participated in during college, I somehow managed to visit five European countries before finally fulfilling my childhood dream of going to Disney World, and that was only because I accepted an internship there. This was ridiculous to me. I thought everyone went to Disney World as a child. It's like a right of passage.
Of course I know better now. Since college, I guess you could say I've been somewhat well travelled. I've travelled more than some, less than others. Now that my family has joined the Foreign Service, I know that I will be living in, and visiting, places that most of my friends and loved ones will never see (Though they are ALWAYS welcome to visit!!!).
After college, when I made the decision to move to Orlando, a few friends commented on how brave they thought I was. They could not imagine leaving everything and everyone behind to go on such an adventure. But I could. It was exciting. I figured I would just stay in Orlando until it felt like it was time to leave. Seven years later, and I guess I could finally see where those astonished friends of mine were coming from. It is scary to leave home. Some people are able to do it, others aren't. I know those friends of mine are still living right where they were back then. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I do hope that they travel, though. And if they don't, then I hope it only because they don't want to.
I'm not keeping score or anything, but I don't think I will ever be fully satisfied with the number of stamps in my passport, or the number of pushpins I can poke through a map. There's just so much to see...so much to do.
My wish for everyone tonight is that you are one day able to ride all of the rails, both metro and mono, that your hearts desire.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I've always been a fan of cemeteries. I'm not dying to move into one anytime soon (I hope), but I do like visiting them. I think they are tragically beautiful. And if you are fortunate enough to find a really old, well maintained cemetery, you are in for an architectural treat.
This particular cemetery is located directly behind our apartment complex here in Falls Church (though, mercifully, we have a pool view). When we first moved here, I would occasionally use my afternoon break from work to take a stroll amongst the graves, as the snow lasted the longest here. Amidst the chaos of my new life, there was something truly serene about the snow-covered cemetery.
Prior to now, I had not been back since the snow melted...and I had never been at night. It was actually quite terrifying, and I never managed to make it beyond the relative safety offered by the lights in our parking lot. I did have one rousing moment of courage that was quickly dispelled by the sight of an old rusty car parked on a hill in the center of the cemetery. I'm sure it belongs to the groundskeeper...right?
Anyway, this particular cemetery is interesting in that it shares its name with our apartment complex: Oakwood. Trouble is, Oakwood is a worldwide provider of temporary furnished housing that shouldn't have much of a connection to a cemetery bearing the same name.
According to a website I found that contains an archive of historic Falls Church photographs, the cemetery was founded in 1799 and is located at the corner of North Roosevelt Street and Roosevelt Boulevard...which is actually where the apartment complex is located.
Was my Oakwood the first Oakwood, taking its name from the cemetery? Was it built on top of a portion of the cemetery? Is this all just a big coincidence?
I don't know, and neither does Wikipedia. If you do, please let me know!
Monday, July 19, 2010
When your family makes the decision to join the Foreign Service, you do so knowing that you will embark on a journey that, among other things, will see you living in some of the best and worst places the world has to offer.
Oakwood Apartments, located in Falls Church, VA (8.5mi west of Washington, DC) is one place that approximately 1/3 of all foreign service families will live in prior to their first overseas posting. Now, where it falls in the spectrum of best-to-worst places will vary drastically depending on who you ask.
...and with diplomacy in mind, we're gonna call it a night, folks.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
It starts here, folks: my ambitious 365 Challenge!
Let's see if I can find something interesting to take a photo of every day for the next year. I was talking to TJ this morning, and I mentioned that I thought this would be a neat idea for when we moved to Mexico. TJ, never thinking highly of my ability to procrastinate, was kind enough to point out that there wasn't much of a reason for my not starting now. So there ya go.
TJ was heading into Georgetown this afternoon for some shopping, and suggested I come along. He conned me into going by saying that perhaps my first photo could be of a cupcake. When I rationalized that I would probably need to buy a cupcake to do this, and should then probably eat said cupcake, I realized that, yes, I would be starting this project today.
Georgetown Cupcake was one of our first discoveries upon moving here, and the thought of noshing on a red velvet cupcake today sounded lovely. Unfortunately, the always-popular bakery has been met with a surge in popularity recently thanks to its starring role in the TLC program DC Cupcakes. Personally, I doubt any cupcake is worth an hour-long wait outside in the DC summer heat, so no cupcake pictures today.
We did, however, stumble across this:
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal begins its 184.5-mile journey to the reaches of western Maryland right here in Georgetown.
Georgetown, located in the northwest quadrant of Washington, DC, was established in 1751 and flourished as a tobacco port until the mid-19th Century. By the time planning began for a Potomac River Valley canal in the 1820s, Georgetown was little more than a sleepy market town. When the decision was made to have the canal extend into the heart of the village, Georgetown's future as not only an important capital city neighborhood, but also a vibrant industrial community in its own right, was ensured. Today, Georgetown features some of the most popular shopping and dining DC has to offer.
For $5, one can take a tour of the canal via mule-drawn boat and explore Georgetown's historic warehouse district. The National Park Service offers walking tours on the weekends during the summer months, and boat rides Wed.-Sun. during Spring, Summer, and Fall.
It was amazing to me that such a peaceful scene could be found just a few blocks off of the chaos that is M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. That's why a project like this is so interesting. If I feel the pressure to take photos every day, I'm not going to want to bore my readers, or myself, with the same old stuff. I will be more in tune with my surroundings. More appreciative of my environment. Chances are good that, every so often, I will run into something like this. Something that I didn't know existed, until I walked down a road I had never even noticed before.
I'm sad to say that we did not have the opportunity to take a tour or boat ride today, though I am hoping that one of the remaining 364 photos I have for this year will include a photo of a mule-drawn boat. Or a cupcake.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I'm man enough to admit that I cried like a girl when we crossed the Florida state line in February. I thought I was ready to start our new journey, but as the distance between us and Orlando started to grow, my confidence began to shrink.
As the weeks passed, the heartache subsided and I began to grow comfortable in our new setting. Then, it happened. YOU happened. You, our dear friends from across the country (and world), began to visit. We've had visitor from California, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and even France. With each visitor, I would feel a tad bit more homesick; and after each visitor left, it would take just a little bit longer for that homesickness to subside.
In late June we decided that we could no longer delay preparing our home in Orlando for rental. It just wasn't economically feasible to let the house sit empty any longer. As TJ had to continue his Spanish language training, it was left to me to make the journey solo. TJ, aware of my chronic bouts of homesickness, was genuinely afraid that I would decide not to come back. I thought he was being ridiculous, but once I arrived in Orlando, I must admit that the thought did cross my mind once or twice.
My return to Orlando was met with warm greetings (not to mention free lodging, drinks, meals, and theme park admissions) from friends that were glad to have me back in town. I had been gone for four months but easily slid back into old roles. I was amazed at how much these people meant to me...and maybe moreso by how much I meant to them. As for the house...it was so good to be home.
That week was filled with a flurry of activity. In between all of the hanging out and having fun, I did have work to do. Repairs to make. Property managers to find. Refrigerators to scrub. Belongings to sort through. By the end of the week, I found myself standing in our old, empty bedroom, looking at the lake beyond our French doors. In that almost perfect moment of solitude, I wanted nothing more than for TJ to pack the pets up and come home. It was then that I realized that Orlando itself wasn't what made life perfect. The family that I had made there did. That family now lived in NoVA. And so, back to NoVA I went.
People have asked me how I was able to just pack up and move when TJ accepted this job. They want to know what I get out of the deal. It's certainly a question that I understand, but not one I can easily answer. I don't think its a fair question. If we were a married heterosexual couple, I don't think it would be an issue for people. But we are two men. And society has taught us that men must be self-sufficient. I suppose moving for another man creates the illusion of my being a depandant. I don't see it that way. This life change will allow me to travel the world. I will get to live in exotic places. I will be able to further my education. I can take up hobbies that I may have not even known I was interested in. I will be able to find out what I want to do with my life. By leaving a job that I've grown tired of, and a city that I love but can always visit, I am able to keep my family together.
Don't get me wrong...Orlando will always be home. The friends that I made there will always be my friends, and I hope to see them as often as life allows. I want them to visit us in Mexico, and wherever else the Foreign Service takes us. I hope that TJ and I are able to visit them every now and again. But for now, life goes on in other places.
There were no tears as I crossed the state line this time.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
As near as I can tell, the greatest thing about living in NoVA is its plethora of Performing Arts venues. We have only lived here for five months, and I think I have seen more shows than I would normally see in a 2-3 year period living in Orlando. Among them...
Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic at the Verizon Center
Sweeney Todd at Signature Theater
Little Shop of Horrors at Ford's Theater
Naked Boys Singing at 1409 Playbill Cafe
CATS at Wolf Trap
A Capitol Fourth, feat. David Archuleta, Gladys Knight, and Reba McEntire on the Capitol Lawn
Mamma Mia! at Wolf Trap
The best part? There are so many shows, and so many venues, that we couldn't possibly hope to see everything we want to!
This evening TJ and I had the pleasure of seeing Mary Poppins at The Kennedy Center, and it was an amazing experience overall.
I was never particularly fond of Mary Poppins growing up, and have had mixed experiences with Disney's Broadway productions (loved Beauty and the Beast, felt indifferent towards The Lion King) in the past.
TJ has always loved Mary Poppins....well, he has always loved Bert. He hates Mary Poppins. She made fun of him at Disneyland when he was a child. He was in line to meet Bert and oh, so excited. Miss Poppins, being ever so prim and proper, took it upon herself to tell the young TJ that he had orange ice cream all over his face. It was a mortifying experience.
Despite this childhood trauma, it was TJ who asked that we go see tonight's production. The only seats I could find available were either in the second row on the Orchestra level, or the last row of the 2nd Level Balcony. Same price. So, yeah....sitting in the second row sure was fun! The cast was amazing. The songs, both new and old, were charming. The sets were beautifully done. And, throughout the course of the show, I realized something. TJ has been right all along. Bert is adorable. And Mary Poppins is pure, unadulterated, evil. I don't want to spoil the show for anyone, but she does something a tad bit suspicious to a rival nanny in the second act....and nobody seems to notice. Hmmm....
The venue itself is a wonder. The Kennedy Center opened in 1971 as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. Its purpose is to fulfill his vision of presenting the greatest performers and performances from across the world, as well as nurturing new talent. If tonight's performance is any indication, then mission: accomplished.
The best part? DC traffic is easily avoided on a night out at this particular theater. From our Falls Church apartment, you are able to take a shuttle to the Metro, follow the Orange Line down six Metro stops, then hop on another shuttle that will escort you to the theater's front door. All told, travel time is probably less than thirty minutes, with minimal effort on your part. Travel by magic umbrella is probably more exciting, but I guess the Metro has its moments, too.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Wow....it sure has been a while, hasn't it?
I want to apologize for my absence. Many of you have made mention of the fact that I haven't posted in a while...many of you mentioned this more than three months ago. I have my reasons, though I suppose they are just excuses.
When I started this blog, I did so with the intention of chronicling my (mis)adventures as a Trailing Spouse. "Trailing Spouse" is the insulting terminology used by the Foreign Service to identify the partner or spouse of a Foreign Service Officer that has the audacity of not wanting to be an FSO him/herself. My new life was scary. It was thrilling. It was different. I wanted to capture it in words and pictures.
Well..."The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
By mid-March, I was growing comfortable living in Falls Church, VA. I began to realize that there was nothing particularly scary, thrilling, or different about my new life. Well, okay, Virginia/DC traffic is horrifying. But other than that, I was just...home. Same circus, different clowns, if you will.
Then, on March 23rd, I celebrated my 30th birthday surrounded by our new FSO friends, with a Florida-inspired Mickey Mouse cake along for good luck. I had anticipated having something profound to say about turning 30, but, as is more than likely often the case, I discovered that age is but a number. At this point, I retreated into a self-pitying display of writer's block, and have stayed there ever since.
I guess my intent had been to wait until we moved to Guadalajara before posting again. Trouble with that is, after adjusting to the culture shock, Guadalajara, too, will be home. What then?
I feel that I am a person with things to say. Events to chronicle. Photos to share. So what if I think life in Metro DC (or even Guadalajara) becomes ordinary? I have friends around the world that may not agree.
It's a magical world out there....it's time to start exploring...and sharing.