Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I just found out today that I'm number 6 on the register. I should be thrilled, and I am, but in my head I was hoping/thinking I would be either 4 or 5 so was slightly disappointed that it was lower. (yea, I get that it's ridiculous to be disappointed in this score). We are so excited about the possibilities and hope that my score will be enough to get me an invitation to the January A-100 class. I doubt there will be a November class, and this was all but confirmed by my registrar, but stranger things have happened. We have decided though that we'll wait for January to give Thing 1 a chance to finish the first half of Kindergarten before we change schools on him. We'd also like to keep my end of year bonus from work if possible, and want one last holiday in our house before we sell it. Yep, you heard it. We're going to sell. We talked about trying to rent it out, but frankly, it's a logistical nightmare than neither of us really want to wade through if we don't have to. We'd rather have the peace of mind, and extra cash monthly, and since we doubt this is now where we'd come back to it just makes sense to not hold onto it.

So here I sit. Waiting for the call. Waiting to see, despite continuing resolutions, sequestration, and budget cuts, if hiring will continue for the Department of State, if my score will be high enough to get an invitation, if the house will sell, if the stars align... Lots of ifs. Probably one of the only things I know for certain is that my husband and I are in this together, that this is something we both want - each as much as the other. That knowledge helps me stay sane during the waiting.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My road to (hopefully) the Foreign Service...

I haven't posted in a long time. A really LONG time. A lot has happened in the past 2 years. We moved to OK to be closer to family, to buy a house, to stretch professionally. It has been a really great two years. And yet, we still want more. When I was job hunting a few years ago I noticed an expired job notice for a specialist in the Foreign Service. I didn't realize this was a possibility. The notice was old but you could sign up for an email notification if/when it was ever reposted. So I signed up and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward through an out-of-state move, new job, purchase of a dream home, 9 months down the road. I was pushing my youngest on the swing in our backyard and received an email that the job I never really knew existed before was open for the next few weeks. I read the announcement and was shocked to discover that I was actually qualified for the job. I jumped through the hoops of the application process and crossed my fingers when I sent it in, having read and re-read everything I wrote many times before hitting the final submit button.

By then I was hooked. The job I never knew existed had, in the matter of a few short weeks, become my dream job. I spent hours upon hours reading blogs of others in the Foreign Service, both generalists and specialists. I found the yahoo groups where other FS hopefuls have joined together to talk about anything and everything State. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Many agonizing months of waiting. Until the day I received notification that I had passed through multiple behind-the-scenes steps, and was being invited to DC to take the in-person Oral Assessment. An all day interview that comprised of three different components. I scheduled my OA and tried to prepare as best I could. This was something I wanted more than I knew how to explain to anyone other than my husband. We didn't tell many people, just a family and a few very close friends. Most everyone was happy, although a few, admittedly, did not understand the draw for us.

I passed that interview. Not a high score, but I passed which was something to be proud of. Fast-forward 5 months of waiting for medical clearances, security clearances, and a final review panel and I was put on the "register"; which is a rank ordered list of other candidates who had jumped through all the same steps I did. One can only sit on the register for 18 months before they drop off. If you aren't hired you have to start all over again. I was 12/14 on the register and with only 3 hired in the fiscal year, it was a good chance I would time-off the register. I had two options: a crash course in Russian, which had the potential to give me a .4 boost to my score, or try luck with a new candidacy as a generalist.

I signed up for the FSOT, which is offered 3 times per year. It's free (unless you are a no-show) and I studied a little bit. Not a ton, but I did some practice tests and tried to refresh my memory on some areas. They say the test is a mile wide and an inch deep - too difficult to study for so I wasn't giving much time to studying for it until the last couple of weeks.

I walked out of the testing center with the feeling that I could have either passed, or totally bombed it; neither would have surprised me. Luckily I found out about 3 weeks later that I passed. Not by a lot, but that didn't really matter. I was moving on to the next step; the Personal Narrative Questions, or PNQs. 6 questions that you answer in about 200 words or less. The Board of Examiners (BEX) review your PNQs, your test score, and your FSOT application, and determine who to invite to the Oral Assessment. I wrote my PNQs, had them reviewed by my husband and a friend, and just before submitting them, I rewrote one of them. Then I waited. Again. Sensing a theme?

I received notification in May that I passed and was invited to DC to take the all-day oral assessment. This time the day consisted of a Group Exercise, Case Management, and Structured Interview. I was going back to DC! I was able to schedule an assessment pretty early in the process, I didn't want too long to wait and agonize over the process. I also immediately went to the FSOA yahoo group to meet others testing the same day, and try to set up a Skype study group. Our group of 6 was amazing and I'm pretty sure those sessions helped me pass. We met for 7 weeks, doing a different practice GE during the call, and working on a different CM each week over email. We also practiced the Hypos a few times as well as the assessment day loomed closer on the horizon.

I didn't sleep well the two weeks prior to the day and was worried it would carry over the night before. Luckily I got a great nights sleep and woke up refreshed and ready. I had a phenomenal group and felt confident about my performance during that section. I then tackled the section I was most worried about, CM, before a 2 hour lunch break. During the break I went to the American Indian museum with another candidate from my study group. She asked how I felt so far, and my honest answer was that I wasn't sure whether or not I was passing, but I was giving it everything I had and I felt good about that. We came back from lunch refreshed and ready to take on the last portion of the day; the Structured Interview. I was nervous (who wouldn't be) but the hour passed quickly and the next thing I knew I was doing a mini happy dance in the waiting room because we were done. It was now out of my hands.

About 10 minutes later the rest of the group who had already finished was brought up from their last break, and we were escorted to the computer room. One by one candidates were called out of the room. I had read previously that you want to be the last man standing. I thought highly of each of the candidates and wanted everyone to pass that day. As each person was taken out of the room we called out good luck. Two of my study buddies were called out in quick succession, and then the third shortly after. Only when I realized there were five (out of 11) left in the room did I realize that we were all in the same group exercise. The most recent person taken out of the room was the 6th person in our GE. I said something of that effect to the group but they told me not to read into it.

We tried to pass the time by talking, when we were interrupted by one of the assessors coming in. She started calling off multiple names and I just kept hoping she would say mine. Thankfully she did. All five of us were escorted to the room where we completed our GE that morning. On the walk there I could see about 4 or 5 assessors standing by the table and I started to let myself grin in anticipation. She advised we could set our things down before going into the room. Once we were all there the lead assessor congratulated us and advised that we all had passed! We cheered (loudly I'm told from two of my study buddies who were in the next room over being told they had passed as well!) and hugged each other, and exchanged handshakes with the assessors in the room. I was very teary eyed at this point. We all took seats around the table and listened as some general information was shared. It seemed like forever before we found out our scores. I was sitting directly next to the assessor, and my envelope was on the top of the pile. When we finally got to open our envelopes my stomach dropped and I'm fairly certain I let out an audible "wow". I scored a 5.8. The number I had set my sights on from day one. The number I was sure would get me an invitation. The tears started to really flow at this point as it became so much more of a reality.

Fast-forward to getting finger printed again. I will hopefully have a quick trip to the register as all my clearances are so recent. I have communicated over email with another in a similar position and she hit the register 8 calendar days after her OA. If all goes well I will likely be number 4 on the management register and will have an invitation to the next A-100 class in either November (unlikely) or January (more likely barring a federal hiring freeze).

I'm still in shock.

Monday, March 12, 2012

a dream being realized

I don't think I can pinpoint the exact moment my thinking changed; I know that much did when my first son was born, and when we opted to cloth diaper him at 7 months old. My focus was on making the world a better place for my children. Last year around this time I read Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which changed the way I thought about the food we consumed. I couldn't do much about it at the time other than look for local (when possible) organic food. I'm pretty sure that I turned many people off by oversharing all my new knowledge about the conventional food industry (arsenic in chicken, ammonia rinsed ground meat...) and I know that although I'm no expert I probably came across as holier-than-thou which was by no means my intention.

Slowly though, a dream emerged about growing our own food and teaching my boys that with a little patience and knowledge, we could plant seeds and care for them, ultimately eating what we have produced ourselves. We've had a tiny plot of dirt that isn't quite a garden each summer since my oldest was born in our rental house; and had different successes each year. The first year the three tomato plants we put in the ground on Mother's Day exploded and produced more tomatoes than we knew what to do with so we ate them warm off the vine, made more grilled cheese and tomato sandwhiches than we could count, and gave them away to friends and neighbors. The following year the tomatoes didn't do as well, but the zucchini plant (I think there were two) gave us enough zucchini that my son, then 2, would pick them off the vine and walk around the backyard chomping on fresh zucchini. That was also our first year growing snap peas, and our little one would pluck them off the vine and eat dozens without realizing that he was eating something healthy or good for him. I'm pretty sure he ate his weight in home grown vegetables that summer. Last year was the year of lettuce. We had a perfect shady spot in the garden and while we couldn't get much else to grow, the lettuce took off and we had a few months of delicious salads, along with the peas. This time it was both my boys, running through sprinklers with handfuls of romaine lettuce and snap peas. It might sound crazy but even if I hated gardening, I would do it just for them since they get such a kick out of picking their own food and being part of the growing process.

Last year we moved out of beautiful Colorado back to my husband's home state. One of the reasons was to be able to buy a nice piece of land and expand our garden. Somewhere in the process my husband moved from a mindset of "how much is that organic heirloom tomato???" to "you can't put a price tag on our family's health". We have continued to educate ourselves on the food industry and spent far too much time researching heirloom seeds and planning our garden. The garden technically began the weekend after we moved into our house when my husband built the compost bin, and we have been slowly working toward being ready for the spring (which I highly doubt we are). This past weekend we were outside tilling the ground and preparing the garden beds. We'd like to do all raised beds, but given the size of the garden that I/we want, I think we'll start with 3 4x16 beds, along with the 3 4x6 beds we built a few months ago. This will give us 264 square feet of raised beds, and another 4 beds that will not be boxed in.

I'm looking forward to the possibility of what will come from the garden. We have planted hundreds of seeds so far, and have transformed our mudroom into a seed growing room. Many nights have been spent transplanting seeds from their original peat pots to larger containers before they will be ready to move outside. I am certain we have bitten off more than we can chew on this. I am also certain that we could have scaled down this first year because I will be disappointed if/when something doesn't work. No matter. My oldest helps me check the water levels on the seedlings everyday and they are having as much fun as we are.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Accepting less than perfect

I have an addition to Pinterest and I'm not afraid to admit it. It's a great way for me to try to organize my thoughts and ambitious desires. I have found so many delicious recipes on there, and am slowly learning so much about cooking more whole foods and cutting the processed junk out of our house. Pinterest is a time sucker, which isn't a surprise to anyone who knows what Pinterest is. I can go on there for a quick sneak peek of a recipe that I want to make, and the next thing I know I'm checking out a board I'm following on quilts and am lost in ambitious dreams of making a full bedroom set for all four of us, and the guest room! It's similar to Thanksgiving day where I end up piling delicious food on my plate without actually having adequate space for it in my stomach. I have so many ideas floating around of what I want to do; crafts, sewing, cooking, baking, reading, gardening, photography, running. I could go on and on.

In garden news we will be ordering and planting our asparagus crowns within the next week, and we have purchased the lamps for our seed set-up. I still need to organize all the seeds to determine what needs to be started when, and get a bit more organized about this whole thing! The veggies certainly won't grown themselves although I wish it was that easy :). We haven't built more than the original three garden beds but we're talking about ways to improve the existing design.

I could allow myself to feel like a failure when I don't accomplish everything I'd like to. I received a few books for Christmas that I can't wait to dig into; still haven't cracked the spine. I would love to try once a month cooking ever since I found the Whole Foods plan at Once a Month Mom but I'll revel in the fact that we get a healthy, homecooked meal on the table every night and eat as a family. My brain wants to run a 10K but my left knee doesn't. I'll be happy that I accomplished 4 miles last week and am not limping today...

Live in the moment. Recognize success. Celebrate small wins.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I started this holiday season with huge dreams of a completely handmade Christmas, one that showed my loved ones how much they mean to me, and how unimportant the commercialism truly is to celebrate the holidays. I didn't get anywhere close to finishing my list, that was broken out in Excel with a tab for each family member, links to tutorials, ideas, and pictures that inspired me. Instead, I completed one handmade gift for my mom's birthday (Christmas Eve), am 95% done with a gift for my oldest, and have a well-thought out idea for my youngest (some of the prep-work is complete as well). That's all. I'm not sure how we are now three days away from Christmas and I haven't completed anything else on the list. I still want to make ornaments for our nieces and nephews, and I think we may have eaten all the christmas cookies we made over the weekend. I also had this grand idea of completely outfitting the boys play room for Christmas to include painting over the mauve color with something fun and playful, to inspire them to want to play there, we have ideas for a fort and stuffed animal zoo, a reading nook, and a place to do crafts. Like I said - grand ideas. We haven't actually done much to start that room yet.

We have certainly been celebrating the season: my oldest (who is still only 3 1/2) can sing the entire song of We Three Kings (he's amazing!), we read from our collection of Christmas/Holiday books every naptime and before bed, the boys take turns with the advent calendar, we are visiting the Christmas Train tonight, we have been to visit Santa, made sugar cutout cookies, and decorated the house.

Perhaps that long list of things we've been doing coupled with the fact that at least one person in our family has been sick at any given time in December has caused me to be behind. I really think that's just an excuse though. I would love to have made more this year. Instead though I have given myself a break. I could be disappointed, instead I'm thrilled that I made what I did. I could say that I'll be better next year, I'll start in the summer. Truth is, I won't. I know I won't. So I'm cutting myself some slack this year - instead of doing the play room before Christmas the hubby and I can work on it during my 10 days off between Christmas and New Years. We still bought less - much less. And we are creating memories in our new house - isn't that what this holiday is really about?

What gifts did you make this year? Does your family have any holiday traditions that you treasure?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Settling in

Ah yes, where were we? I think the last post was one filled with frustration and anxious, waiting-game filled drama (no? did I just imagine it?). We have since closed on our beautiful home - however the drama did continue through and I have a new best friend in an account manager of the local branch in CO where I opened my original account. He was the only one who told me "yes" when I asked for help in wiring our down payment and closing costs (at the very last minute, mind you), without my physical presence in the branch. You see, this particular bank doesn't have any branches in the entire state of OK. You'd think this would make me want to change banks. And I guarantee you that I would have, IF no one had helped. Yet I found one fantastic employee who didn't tell me "no" - he made it work. And at the closing, with less than 3 pages left (out of the approximately 5,000 pages you have to sign), the wire came through and we actually got our keys! We closed on Halloween at about 5pm, proceeded home to change the boys into their ninja costumes, go trick or treating, load some of the big items, put the boys to bed at grandma's house, then unload the truck at the new house.

On the trick-or-treating front - this was the first year that Colin REALLY enjoyed the whole process and really seemed to get it. He was dragging us along literally, or running through the yard, pointing out all the houses that had their porch lights on. Chris and I got a kick out of seeing what a big boy he has grown into. Jack on the other hand was perfectly happy clutching the lollipop he got at house #2 with a death grip and a growl to anyone who made a move to take it away.

We've been in the house for a whole 3 weeks now and are slowly starting to settle in. We lucked out with fantastic neighbors (only three houses on our cul-de-sac, ours is one of them). One neighbor has already given us an open invite to use his pool whenever, and the other neighbors have 4 kids and adore playing with the boys. I can usually come home to a handful of them playing basketball or riding bikes in the driveway of the house. It's fantastic. Colin loves his new friends, and they all seem to be pretty good kids.

We are getting ready to host approximately 30+ people at our house for Thanksgiving this year - it's my favorite holiday, and when we were contemplating a move to OK I made sure to tell Chris that anyone was welcome to come over but that I would be cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I think he heard me :). It will be a mini-family reunion on his side of the family and we are both looking forward to a full house.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The waiting game

I am am competitive person. By nature, that generally means I like games; however, the waiting game is not one of them. I am as impatient as I am competitive - and when I want something I.Want.It.Now. Not tomorrow, not in a week, not two days after it's expected to be attained. Hmph. So when I found out this morning that our house closing, which technically should have been last Friday but was pushed to sometime this week, is likely not to happen until the beginning of next week :(. Sad. Yes, I realize that I shouldn't have been mentally unpacking all my boxes of things that were packed up nice and neat (read: thrown haphazardly into a box at the end becuase the movers moved faster than we could get the stuff in boxes and is now why I am cooking with three random, odd pans without lids for the past two months...).

I am trying to learn patience. Really I am. Trying that is, and failing miserably.  I will try to look at the bright side and say that this gives us the weekend to shove the few unpacked belongings back into a box (rather than having the weekend to unpack in our new dream house). I will pretend that by prolonging the chaos of moving my family for the second time in a few months we will have one last sane weekend together as a family to play before we have enough moving/unpacking/organizing etc to keep us busy until 2013.

At the end of the day I must say that we are pretty lucky. We found our dream house quickly upon moving to a new state, and up to now, all the pieces have fallen into place. Yes, the new roof could have been put on sooner, but in the grand scheme of things, I don't care that it will take a few extra days before we call the house our home.