On to 2012

I’ve got my new calendar ready and everything!

2012 Milky Way Weekly Planner
Acrylic on 2012 Black Leather Moleskine Weekly Calendar

This one turned out pretty well. There’s a bit part of me that thinks I should have bought another red one and done a negative space painting of a dragon instead. Then I look at it and think, “how pretty,” and tell myself that I can do a dragon in 12 years…

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Please enjoy the blank website while you hold

My site got injected with some malware this week, so to give myself a cleaner start I’m re-installing wordpress. Hopefully I’ll get posts back up and running tonight.
DONE! Tomorrow I’ll deal with photos and layout
But if I don’t, don’t panic – we’ll be back to normal in no time. :-)

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So much for cranberry sauce

Better late than never, right? Below is a picture of Thanksgiving dinner.

We had: Roasted turkey breast, apple cider braised turkey legs, cauliflower mashed potatoes, wild mushroom and hazelnut dressing, kale in apple cider vinegar (with bacon and crispy onions), and two types of gravy. For dessert we had our choice of apple pie, pumpkin tart, or pecan tart all with cinnamon-clove-nutmeg frozen custard.

Of course, I forgot to put out the cranberry sauce that I made last week. Of course.

Sorry the kale isn’t clear in the picture, to make up for it, here’s the recipe.

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil
Coarse kosher salt
3 strips of bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 pounds kale stems removed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips

crispy fried onions (French’s or Lars)

Dissolve sugar in 1 tablespoon water in small saucepan over medium heat. Increase heat; boil without stirring until amber, brushing pan sides with wet pastry brush, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar and crushed pepper (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir until caramel bits dissolve. Cool. (this is all the same)

Use store bought crispy onions (I like the Lars brand).

Fry bacon in large pot over medium-high heat. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate – leave the hot fat in the pot. Add the greens, pour the gastrique over the greens and cover. After a minute toss to make sure the greens wilt evenly. Let them cook another minute or so until bright green and tender.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with the crispy fried onions and the bacon.

To further amuse, Harvey dragged his puppy pop to the spare chairs and ate underneath them…

Cranberry Sauce, Check

Thursday is already Thanksgiving! Of course, judging by all of the Christmas decorations going up this weekend, I’d almost think I missed it. Although this year will be stress free (we’re just having a couple of friends over), I like to keep it stress free by getting a few things out of the way. Today we finished 90% of the shopping, I made the compound butter for the turkey, pie crusts, and the cranberry sauce (recipe behind the cut). Just a few more days!
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Go Gabby go!

So I just watched the full Diane Sawyer interview with Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and husband Astronaut (!) Mark Kelly (yes, I know he’s retired, but I just can’t help including the Astronaut part…). The story of her recovery is incredibly inspiring, and I highly recommend watching it with a full box of tissues.

Some of parts of her brain that were damaged were the ones that control communication and language, so she has to re-learn how to verbally express herself. Her struggles through recovery and progress in therapy are amazing. Watching her search for the right word or phrase really resonates with me and gives me a lot of perspective. No matter how frustrated I get while learning Mandarin, at least I’m learning a brand new language. I can barely begin to imagine how frustrating it must be for her to have to relearn how to speak her native language.

Keeping up the good work Congresswoman – you’re doing great!

Sneaking up on Mandarin (the language)

Ha! I’m back and writing again – a few more weeks of this and it’ll either be a habit, or I won’t write again for another eight months… Anyway, I wanted to share how Chad and I got ready to study Mandarin at FSI. As the reality of moving to Shanghai in 2012 set in, the more anxious we got about our ability to learn the language to some semblance of proficiency. Since we had plenty of time, I started to look into classes we could take before going to FSI.

I looked at NOVA community college, the USDA graduate school, and private language schools. All of these options were either poorly timed for us, too far away, or too expensive. As our goal was just to get some familiarity with the language, we didn’t want to spend too much time or money. So I looked at our options through FSI. Early morning Chinese didn’t appeal to either of us, so one of the online options would be the best. I’d heard some not so great stuff about the software available through FSI, but then I saw a class called Mandarin Express. Continue reading

write, write, write

Hello again Internet.

Every couple of months I several reminders in my inbox that people do occasionally come to this site. These reminders are comment notifications for my guesswork post on FSOT scores (which are still guesswork), in which people post their scores for the first FSOT hurdle (the written exam), and unintentionally make me feel guilty for neglecting my blog.

SO! Here I am, awoken early first by the radio turning on when we thought we had turned that alarm off, then by the lovely sound of my dear sweet canine companion retching in the living room (thanks Harvey Pup, now please please please stop trying to eat grass and quit licking the walls!).

Where have I been? Lately, in Mandarin Chinese class at FSI, for the past 9 weeks. Hopefully, I’ll write more about that later. But before that, I worked in Consular Affairs. It was a great first tour – I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about consular THEORY, and I really look forward to doing the work. However, there are two big reasons why I didn’t write about this first assignment.
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Home Again

Honestly, we had kind of a crappy weekend.

  • My car overheated and blew a hose (and I don’t think my mechanic is being completely honest with me about the true cause of the problem).
  • We spent most of Saturday waiting for a tow, so I missed the blogger potluck AND a party celebrating my friends’ marriage.
  • My SmarTrip card stopped working and now I have to get a new one.
  • I’m behind on my Mandarin distance learning.
  • Worst of all, we are no longer here:

    Continue reading
  • Consular Leadership at the National Archives

    Every year, sometime in the winter, consular offices around the globe organize a Consular Leadership Day and schedule an event that reflects one of the Consular Leadership Tenants. This year the leadership day theme was Resilience, and our office activity was planned around the tenant Learn Constantly. One of my colleagues knows a woman who coordinates educational programs at the primary campus for the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and she helped organize a trip for us (and a few people from a different office in Consular Affairs) to learn a bit more about the archives, and to see some old consular papers and records. Continue reading