down with brown

Left to my own devices, I like to do strange things around the house. I guess they aren't really strange per se; let's just say that I can waste away a whole day quicker than you can say "US State Department." Other FSOs wonder and ask me with concern, "how are you doing? are you getting along ok? what have you been occupying yourself with?".  I answer these questions with some confusion, wondering who wouldn't like to spend all their time doing whatever they wish, smile, and say that I'm doing just great.

The truth is I spend my time doing a lot of housework: laundry, shopping, cooking, organizing, cleaning and the like. But I LOVE it. I also go to the gym, museums (I haven't quite made it there yet cause I've been busy!), visit with friends and read a lot. Sounds like heaven, right? Perhaps this feeling will eventually wear off but so far, so good.

Today I decided to dye my hair. Since my beloved hairstylist is 3000 miles away (I miss you, Jenny!) and will presumably be even further away within the next year, I have been forced to look into alternative ways to maintain my locks. I considered chopping off the whole lot but that wasn't met too kindly by the wife. I decided to explore a previous interest: henna. I found an Indian grocery by accident in Falls Church, VA and was shocked by all the different kinds of henna they offered. I went with a big tub of powder and added the supplementary methi powder for fun. (I also bought all the fixings to try my hand at homemade dal while I was there.) My Pakistani and Nepali friends laughed at my purchase and joked that I bought products to bleach my skin. I'm sure they were worried about my cooking endeavour also.

I mixed everything up, let it sit for 2 hours, then applied it all over my head. It kinda stinks but reminds me of Chinese herbs so it feels a little comforting. Once smeared on, your head looks reminiscent of a slick superhero, with a 'do you could massage into any arrangement desired. I polished mine into a cute pixie style and braved the apartment gym. Luckily I didn't have to run into anyone because what looks acceptable in your apartment doesn't necessarily look as cute in a public space.

Getting the stuff out of your hair 3 hours later is quite a challenge. Of course I decided to work the heck out of my arms at the gym so holding them over my head and encouraging all the mud to break free was quite exhausting. After an extensive rinse, 2 conditions and 20 minutes later I stepped out of the shower. I LOVE IT. I love it even more than I have when done professionally. It's definitely redder than I anticipated but I think it works. It's also HEALTHY.

If anyone has any tips on how to get it off your head easier they would be much appreciated. Also, word to the wise: use gloves. My hands are bright orange.

first 2 weeks

The past two weeks have been fun, exciting, stressful, scary, and thought provoking to say the least. I think it's probably more intense when it's your first time doing all this new stuff that is acclimating to the FS lifestyle: happy hours galore, classes in what look like UN meeting sites with translator booths, spouse classes and dinners, hoping that your spouse doesn't begin to resent you for going to the gym, shopping, exploring and cooking every day, bidding on countries that you aren't 100% confident you could locate on a map, etc. This 156th class is astonishingly impressive. Not only are they friendly, down to earth and, quite honestly, attractive, they are BRILLIANT. I have never met so many people who speak 5 languages, have lived, worked and studied in as many countries, run marathons, have read every NY Times bestseller, AND can carry on a conversation about Lady Gaga at the VMA's.

The bidding process has been pretty consuming, but in a good way. It's been so pleasant to get a list of 90 cities, all with the nearing potential to be called home, and research the sh*t out of them. We have our favorites... and a few lesser favorites but we are signed on to go where we're needed and will do our best. I've decided that since I'm not working and gave up my career to go on this adventure, there will be a few stipulations. Such as: there is one place in Southern Africa that Cyn had to promise me that I could have a horse if we go there since she wants to bid it high. another few places that I will become a home brewer of beer and wine if we are sent there since they are dry, Muslim countries. and even a few that I may not be seen for 4 days as I will be on a scuba diving adventure with my new local friends who also don't work. It's also very possible that I will get a job either at the Embassy or on the local economy. We'll just have to see how long I can hold out.

I've also been elated since one of my best friends lives in NoVa. We've been able to hang out like old times and tool around the city together only now she has the addition of a little dude. It's been awesome to be able to spend time with her son (and wonderful hubby) and get to know the little animal so he understands from a very early age that I will be a part of his life forever. Much to Cyn's relief, this experience has bought a little time in the having a baby department as I have never known such exhaustion as having spent the day and night with a 2 year old boy.

for the birds

Cyn got us through the first 3 days of our journey cross country so I will try to bring up the rear.

Wyoming continued to be breathtakingly beautiful, Nebraska was just as boring as we thought it would be...with one small caveat. The freeways between these lovely states are 75 mph, which means we were flying along at 85 on cruise control listening to a total of 4 books on tape (David Sedaris had me in such a fit of hysterical giggles at one point that Cyn had to pause it and I nearly had to pull over for fear of crashing with the tears in my eyes obstructing my vision). We hit bugs in the multi-millions, butterflies were close behind in the thousands, but what really put a damper on our day was the bird. Cyn didn't even know we hit it since she played Hearts on the iPad pretty much the entire time I wouldn't let her drive. But I saw it coming, braced for it and said a little prayer to the universe that it wouldn't hit the windshield, and nailed it with the bumper.   We heard a loud thump!  I made a low groan and Cyn woke up with, "what happened? what's wrong? what was that?!" Guts and feathers were making their way over the roof of the car past the glass in front. We shivered for a few minutes then managed to forget about it for the most part.

When we arrived in Lincoln, NE we hoped that the bird had been forced by the wind to escape off the side. Figured we could even pretend that it could have possibly lived. We dared each other to go and look at the front. I went first and just prayed that there wouldn't be a smell; I knew I would throw up and we had just eaten our first decent meal in days. The bird's cadaver was glued to the front of the car  and we hopped around, squealing about who was going to do what and just what in the hell to do. We decided to check in to the hotel and figure out what to do after.  Here's a gruesome picture of the car: 

After depositing our luggage, we returned to the car to watch a young man and his father walking past the front of our car on the sidewalk. We thought we were in the clear when the boy caught sight of the bird and leapt 2 feet into the air sideways. We covered our faces with our hands and tried to pretend that the only Prius in Nebraska wasn't ours. They watched with disgust as we climbed, with shame, into our heathen car. It may have also been amplified by the roar of giggles that we were emitting. We found an automatic car wash a couple blocks away and knew this was the jackpot. Bugs, butterflies and birds no more! We bit our nails in anticipation of sounds, feathers and blood but got off pretty easy with just some feathers flung onto the windshield by the automatic spinners. Once complete, we fought again about who was going to have to look. Of course it was me and of course it was still there only now it was a wet bird that remained stuck to the car. This time however, a group of Hells Angels was able to witness the shrieking and jumping around. We hurried back into the death mobile and searched for what to do next. The only logical thing to do would be to find a tire pump and use the compressed air to push the bird out of the grill. I did this as well (theme?). Luckily, the bird had been dislodged a little bit after the car wash and the drive over and with a little air pressure and a slow, deliberate nudge, the bird fell free of it's snare to the tune of my guttural moan that was probably heard in the next town. We did the only thing we could do after this: jumped into the car before anyone saw, squawked and howled, and went and ate Chinese food.


Since we had some time between packout and the beginning of our road trip out east, we decided to spend some time in our favorite place on Earth, Hawaii. This time we visited the Kona-Kailua side of the Big Island.

The first night we arrived we sat next to the pool and just stared at the ocean for what seemed like hours. Or at least I did. The past weeks had been so intense and exhausting that I really needed the space out time to renew my energy and process what had happened over the summer. Also, I had been reading for the last ten hours without pause. The girl with the dragon tattoo series had finally sunk it's titillating claws into me and I couldn't get enough. The staring paid off though: not only did I feel regenerated in thirty minutes, we were also able to watch a pod of dolphins just off shore in front of our hotel playing in the waves. 

Because the island is so humid, the sheets, carpet and matching drapes were all musty. This is hell for my allergies and for whatever reason, nowadays they just bypass the sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose phase and go straight for dry coughing and asthma. We didn't sleep at all that night so the next day we begged to be put in another room. We checked out many rooms and they all were the same with heavy, dank air. Finally, they sent us to the newly renovated section of the hotel and put us up in an ocean view, beautifully new, non musty room that we could relax (and breath) in.

It was in this room that I sat reading and eating fruit on the deck for hours on while Cyn caught up on sleep. The time change is great for me in Hawaii cause I crash early and wake up at 6am leaving me plenty of time to go to the gym, eat breakfast and read on the deck before Cyn even wakes up. We had found a farmers market in town the previous day and bought fresh, warm mango, papaya, pineapple and grapefruit. The pineapple was chopped up for us by the stand owner in under five seconds, a sweet Thai woman we had befriended. I had to come back the next day to get another one since the first one had been furiously consumed in the car before we even got back to the hotel and also to learn how to massacre a piece of fruit so expertly. I decided I could survive on warm tropical fruit for months alone.

When visiting Hawaii, it's impossible not to notice how fit the locals are. Let me take that back, the real locals, ie the Polynesian people, can be very large and also very small, but the later locals are more often than not insanely fit. You couldn't drive the five miles to town without seeing at least ten people running with nothing more than the equivalent of a bikini on. We wondered if to join the running club one would need to be under 3% body fat. Any higher would surely be considered gluttonous and obese. We decided we would never really fit in and went for a pina colada.

The rest of our glorious time was spent snorkeling and swimming. We even joined a night snorkel boat and stalked the benign, beastly manta ray. I also talked Cyn into renting a kayak for 24 hours so we could kayak out to the Captain Cook monument. We unfortunately saved this for the last day which was a little stormy, but the shop owner assured me that we need not fear. In hind sight this was a little naive. We kayak often in a slow moving river, but never in the open ocean. The entire ordeal was pretty stressful: from getting the kayak off the car, loaded up and subsequently loaded into the water off the dock to kayaking one mile in disruptive waves (they even prompted Cyn to put on her life jacket) to snorkeling while pulling the kayak behind us with a rope that I tied to the front of the boat to trying to get back in the kayak (stupidly pulled to shore on dead coral and lava rocks). This was by far some of the most beautiful coral we had ever seen and was well worth it but also proved to be a harrowing, learning experience.

There was a strange Brazilian dude that helped us get our kayak out of the water once we safely made it back to the dock (thank goodness). He kept telling us we were beautiful, he was looking for more friends, and would we like to keep in touch on Facebook. Cyn and I looked at each other, pretending to be bewildered, and told him we had never heard of such a book. LOLz. We thanked him for his help and gave him $10. We were dirty, bloodied, exhausted and triumphant and spent the rest of the day eating and drinking.

Road Trip Part 2: Wyoming, Nebraska

The midwest is unimaginably beautiful. Here's a collage from our adventures in the Grand Tetons and Nebraska.

We also had a bit of a mini-catastrophe involving a swooping bird. Eva's blog on this is forthcoming.

Road Trip to DC, Days 1-3

We are now officially on Day 3 of our road trip! We had a rough start after realizing our grave error: we had WAY too much stuff (why didn't we pack more of it in HHE for the movers to bring to DC? sigh). It barely fit into our car. Eva spent hours engineering a way to squeeze it all in. In fact, the car is now so full that our suitcases, clothes, vases, video games, computers, kitchen supplies, cds, toiletries, etc., block the back view entirely, leaving an enormous blind spot, and weighing the car down so heavily that our normally gas-efficient Prius is burning about a gallon about every 10 miles.

To add to the stress, I am extremely paranoid that our car is going to get broken into given the siren call of valuables that are clearly visible from the car windows. We've been trying to put this out of our minds and to just enjoy the trip, since there's not much we can do at this point.

Day 1: Eva's birthday! We leisurely drove to Lake Tahoe, stopping to have lunch in Sacramento with my old friends from law school, Chris and Natalie. I picked up the new iPhone before we started the trip so we could chronicle our adventures better using its digital cam and video cam, and was able to get a goot shot of Sand Harbor beach in Lake Tahoe, which occupied our afternoon.  It was breathtaking: 

As you can see, the water was pristine. We sunbathed and waded around but it was a bit too cold for swimming!
We scored a Hotwire deal for 4.5 star penthouse suite in Reno at a cool $47.00.  The hotel was one of those insane mega-casinos replete with a bowling alley, clubs, multiple restaurants, a movie theater, a driving range, and boutiques -- not usually our thing, but it was a fun hiatus from reality.

Day 2: Salt Lake City. This was a pit-stop on our way to Yellowstone/the Grand Tetons. I admittedly felt some trepidation about being queer and/or showing any affection towards Eva in this largely Mormon city.   When we were pleasantly surprised upon checking in to the hotel, I felt guilty about my earlier assumptions.  I presented my i.d. and the receptionist immediately offered us free Sheryl Crow tickets valued at $71 each.  Unfortunately, my feeling of gratitude was quickly negated when the receptionist then stated:
You can feel free to take care of me however you wish. 
Her comment was followed by a creepy look, silence, and a blink. We felt a bit uncomfortable/creeped out.  Eva saved the day by saying she suddenly felt tired and not up for a concert after all.  We spent the evening swimming in the heated outdoor pool instead.  We also ate at the hotel's restaurant, where this glorious discovery was made:

Yep, Polygamy Porter. This made us giggle through the first 10 minutes of dinner.
Day 3: Jackson Hole/Teton Village.  This is our favorite stop so far.  The drive from Salt Lake City was gorgeous, with a backdrop of mountains, and much of the road paralleled the scenic Snake River.  Pretty magical.  Our hotel is gorgeous and extraordinarily eco-friendly.  The friendliness to the environment does not, however, match that of its staff.   It feels like we're visiting old friends.  We are excited to hike around Jenny Lake tomorrow and to spend at least one more evening here.  Eva's stepdad worked here last summer and gave us some great recommendations to check out too.  This is a pic I found online of the surrounding area: