Category: Washington DC

:: cherry blossoms ::

It would be unheard of to live in DC and miss the annual cherry blossoms, so we took advantage of our training time in the area and went on a gray and blustery day.  The blossoms were not as bright and vividly stunning as we had hoped, but it was still a beautiful and worthwhile sight to behold.

These trees, a focal point for hordes of tourists every year, started as a goodwill gesture from the mayor of Toyko in 1912.  Since then the trees have flourished around the Tidal Basin, and other locations, giving DC a splash of wonderful soft pinks and whites every spring…

 

:: sipping and painting ::

What do all great artists have in common? Inspiration. How do you get inspired to create great pieces of art when you are not visually creative? The answer lies in an evening of sipping wine and painting canvases in an attempt to unlock our inner Van Goghs.

Looking for an escape from our move preparations, we booked ourselves onto a Living Social event in the District and were joined by about twenty five other similarly inclined artists and were presented with a half bottle of wine and a blank canvas.

There to guide us through the process of painting a picture of a bird was a local artist who gave great ideas and instructions. We weren’t overly enthralled by the subject, but in the end it turned out to be a good first foray into the painting world.

So when people come to our house in Lesotho they will now see two exquisite examples of early twenty-first century ornithological art. Just smile politely and tell us how lovely they are no matter what you think, we are still novices with fragile painting egos.

:: blooming burbs ::

We currently live next to a lovely little neighbourhood which is home to a unique array of houses each with their own distinct character, garden, driveway and mailbox.

Suburbs like this one are a great place to witness the American appreciation for space and individuality.  Coming from urban living in the UK, these houses and gardens all seem immense.  And unlike the terraced houses you find in London and beyond which can sometimes all look very similar, residents of this neighbourhood have made extra efforts to bring unique elements to each home.  Everything from the actual design and colour of the home to the garden decorations and porch fixtures are different in this neighbourhood.

As we went for a walk the other day through the neighbourhood to a small local park we were stunned by the beautiful bushes blooming everywhere, making all of the houses look really lovely.  I felt like a proper tourist walking around with my camera admiring the lovely blossoms, huge gardens and American homes, but I was happy to come away with a few photographic memories.

:: escape to sugarloaf mountain ::

We had a wonderful little day out hiking Sugarloaf Mountain this weekend in Maryland with CW, Krissy and Molly (the dog).  I’ve only been in Washington for a few days but being out in the lovely trails and woods was just what I needed.

After a good little hike, some great views, lovely warm sunshine and the smell of woods and nature, we stopped at the local winery for some well deserved treats.  Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard is a popular spot for locals and others looking to escape the city and enjoy some good food, wine, sangria and music.

All in all it was a perfect little weekend day trip and we highly recommend it for anyone looking to experience something a bit further afield from DC.

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:: holi good fun ::

One of the great things about being in the foreign service is being surrounded by people who share an interest in experiencing cultures. Well two of my classmates put together a Holi party yesterday in Meriden Hill Park in the District. Basically Holi is a Hindu spring festival celebrating the blossoming of new growth after the winter – though there are also religious connotations as well.

The tradition is to throw coloured powder and water at one another! Everyone is meant to wear white and run around throwing the bags of powder and water balloons at everyone else. A group of thirty or so of us gathered in a public place and then proceeded to go crazy! There were a lot of bemused bystanders, but we all had a blast! In the end it looked like a paint factory exploded!

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We then partook in some traditional Indian line dancing, which involved short wooden sticks that we had personally decorated earlier. It was two parallel lines with the people standing opposite hitting the sticks together and then moving down to do it again with the next person. Of course the more flamboyantly you could move – think turns, jigs, twists, etc – the better! Afterwards we had some Indian sweets and general picnic offerings.

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Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was walking from the park to the bar. To say we got intriguing looks and comments from passersby would be an understatement! Of course I hadn’t really seen what I looked like until I saw the mirror at the bar – I completely understand why people responded like that!

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It was a great day out – especially as it was the first truly warm day of spring. Sun, warmth, good friends and coloured powder – not much more you could ask for!Image

:: kites, blossoms and easter bunnies ::

Taking advantage of the four day Easter weekend in the UK I decided to come to DC for a few days to spend some time with CW.  Although he’s had to be in training we had a lovely couple of days over the weekend and several nice evenings together.  Without this visit we would have gone a few months before seeing each other which was just too long for either of us to bear.

It was a great weekend to be back as there has been loads going on.  The warmth and sun are finally trying to make an appearance here so it’s a really nice change from London which has been really cold lately.  It’s a great feeling to be able to have the windows open and not have to bundle up in a million layers.

Saturday we decided to meet up with Krissy and her friend in DC for the annual spring blossom festival.  Washington DC is known for its cherry blossoms around this time of year which bring thousands of visitors every year, similar to the foliage changing in New England.  Not only are the blossoms meant to be spectacular in their own right, but their location along the tidal pool near the monuments make them all the more special.

Unfortunately this year the sun and warmth hasn’t come early enough, so although the blossoms were forecast to peak this weekend, they are still feeling a bit shy and probably won’t make their appearance for another few days.  Nevertheless we had a lovely walk down to the new Martin Luther King Jr monument and a great view across the water to the Jefferson Memorial.

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In the meantime we were distracted by another great event happening this weekend, the annual Blossom Kite Festival.  As we approached the mall there were not only hundreds of people who had come out to enjoy the sunshine, but it felt like almost all of them were flying kites.  The festival involves different components, one of them being the public field on the mall where people can bring their own kite and fly it.  It was quite a spectacle looking up the mall towards the Capitol and seeing so many colours and ribbons, creating quite a unique site!

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In addition to the public field there were other events including a Rokkaku Battle.  This Japanese tradition involves hexagonal-shaped fighter kites that compete against each other to stay up the longest.  Each kite flier runs around the field trying to ‘cut’ the other kites down using different tactics and the one who survives is the winner.  If you have ever read the wonderful book ‘The Kite Runner’ it’s a bit like this, though more closely managed and without the runners.

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After the kite and almost blossoming cherry festival, we had a lovely drink and meal at the Elephant & Castle pub outside – a great way to finish a lovely day out!

Easter Sunday we had a relaxing day together doing a lot of admin getting ready for my move to DC and other things, and now sadly it’s time to leave for another few weeks of long distance.  A few more weeks of work and then I’m finished which is really hard to believe and also quite sad for me but all good things must come to an end!  At least this one leads us to a great adventure!

As it stands I’ll be back in DC again on 1 May so stay tuned for more news from us…

:: flag day ::

Imagine starting a new job, but knowing only that the initial training you receive is a mere precursor to something larger – but what that might be you have no idea. The prospect at first is that you can go anywhere, then you get the bid list and realise you are going to one of those locations, but you still have no idea which one. Each location has different training and departure dates and leads you down a nearly infinite number of potential paths, professionally and personally. It is all a bit much sometimes.

The bid list contains a rather lengthy list of positions in countries flung all around the world and is given to us during the first week of A-100, the first 6 week training class that all foreign service (FS) officers have to go through. That list can be altered either positively or negatively all the way up until the fifth Friday of training which is called Flag Day. Once we have the list we discuss with our loved ones where we want to bid high, medium and low. Every post on the list gets one of those designations and we submit the list and then try to ignore it for two weeks!

Luckily both of us looked at the list independently, at least as a first glance over, and came up with nearly identical preferences on our highs and lows, with mediums being largely inconsequential at this point. Further discussions, and amendments to the list, brought us to a consensus on 24 posts in the wide world that we would bid high. They were mostly in Central and South America, Africa and a few in Southeast Asia. These were the regions we were most interested in and so we submitted our list and hoped for the best.

Flag Day is a tradition in the FS and involves all class members and their respective families and friends.  In the front of the room are two very full racks of small flags that will be gone by the end of the event.  After a few introductions, they start by flashing up a flag on the big screen and announce a city and position and then, a name. There is no order, it’s completely random. You sit, and wait, maybe for 30 seconds, maybe for 30 minutes. With every flag you wait with anticipation to hear your name, with hope or excitement, or possibly dread.

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It is hard to explain the emotions you feel on Flag Day. For five weeks you have been sitting in classes learning about the Foreign Service. They give you a nice long list of potential places in the world that you will be going. Some are amazing, some less so, but all offer highs and lows and chances that will last a lifetime.

For weeks you research them, some more than others, and then you become convinced of ‘favourites’. The ones that you are somehow certain you are going to get. These aren’t just the ones you really want, but also ones you really would prefer not to see pop up on that fateful day. All the while you are hurtling towards a destiny wholly out of your control. It is hard to fathom how your life is going to change, not just in the short term, but the ripple effects that will emanate from this one day.

When you finally hear your name you go up and take the flag and you look happy, whether you are or not doesn’t matter because there is no such thing as a bad post. And then it is over and the next two to three years of your life are defined for you. You are able to start making life decisions again that aren’t predicated on a lot of what ifs. And you start to fantasise about your new life in some far flung corner of the world!

So on Friday 15 February, we filed into the room, accompanied by our families. All the students sit together in the front, with families behind, so unfortunately the two of us couldn’t be together to hear the news.  About twenty names in this flag appeared on the big screen:

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And before anyone could figure out where that was, they announced Maseru, Lesotho…and Charles Malinak!

It was a bit of a surprise as we were expecting a language designated post but once the news filtered through our consciousness and we did a bit of research we realised how amazing it will be.

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Lesotho (le-SOO-too) is a small mountainous country the size of Belgium surrounded by South Africa. Home to amazing mountain hiking opportunities, horseback riding, waterfall abseiling and even skiing, Lesotho is a small rural country.  It’s also very close to many places in South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana which will provide lots of opportunities for some great adventures! We have wanted to go to Africa for ages and so in a few months that is exactly where we will be living!

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For those who can brave the rather lengthy flights our door will always be open! We will be there for two years starting in July 2013 so start planning!  Exciting new adventures await us all in a place relatively unexplored – we currently wonder whether two years will be enough!