Sunday, July 5, 2015

Independence Day 2015

Happy Fourth of July from London! Although it is strange to be so far from the US on Independence Day, we still got to do plenty of "American" stuff over the weekend. 

In case you aren't aware, weather in London is weird. It was 95 degrees on Wednesday, and today when I woke up it was foggy and 58 degrees. Luckily, one of those hot days fell on a weekend, so we got to take our little guy to the kiddie pool at a local park.

I also got to help out at the absolutely massive Fourth of July party at Winfield House, the Ambassador's residence. I spent the first half of the event checking people in at the front gate, but I still got to enjoy the party.

In fact, I made it into the party just in time for Duran Duran's one-hour set. It was pretty awesome. As many of you already know, I am a huge James Bond fan, so when they played "A View to a Kill" as their opener, I was pretty pumped.

The next day was the Embassy family event, which means we all got to go to Winfield House together. Here we are in our Fourth of July finery.

The Duke got to have some ice cream, too, which is always fun. Not pictured: the Duke getting brain freeze for the first time in his life. Not so fun.

Dueling baked goods! Sarah made a chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake for the family event (no word yet on whether she won), and I made an American flag tres leches cake for a BBQ over the weekend. All in all, not a bad Independence Day!

Setting the House in Order

Greetings from our fully-furnished apartment (whoops, I mean flat) here in London. Our HHE (Household Effects) arrived a few weeks ago, which means we have basically been spending all our free time putting our house in order by going to IKEA, building IKEA stuff, hanging pictures, hanging pot racks, exchanging furniture, installing air conditioning units in the bedrooms, and so on. To be honest, it's a bit exhausting, be we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and our house is finally coming together.
The main room of the house is surprisingly large and open, which means we were able to kind-of separate it into two rooms: the dining room and the living room.

I was skeptical of Sarah's plan to create a giant photo collage with a TV in the middle, but once again, she pulled it off.

I still love the view from this kitchen window. Our apartment is west-facing, however, which means that this time of year the kitchen will superheat to 8000 degrees unless you keep the blinds closed. Bummer.

Just enough counter space to hold all of our weird kitchen gadgets. In case you're wondering, that mysterious black box is the transformer provided by the Embassy that powers all of our US appliances. Yay!

I'm especially happy with the Duke of Kensington's bedroom, which came out really well. Although it is a bit small, I feel like we really maximized the space in there. And unlike in his room in Juarez, we actually managed to hang some pictures on the wall (along with a sombrero).

We still have one or two more projects left on our list, but we're almost there. Big thanks to my interior designer/chief operating officer for putting the whole vision together. I'm just here to swing the hammer once in a while.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

London: The First Thirty Days

I can't believe we have already been in London for one month. Only 23 months remaining for us to try to enjoy all the things to do in this amazing city (and, by extension, the rest of Great Britain and Europe). Thankfully, I feel like we have managed to cram in a lot in our first month in the United Kingdom. This is such an amazing place to live, and it feels like we live in a fantasy land sometimes. Even the morning commute is still somewhat whimsical, when I'm sitting on the top level of a double-decker bus. In short, there is a lot of awesome stuff to do here.

 Like visit Holland Park in our own backyard. I don't think our son has
seen this much green in his whole life. 

 And our new neighbors seem nice. Prince George and his baby sister live
about 15 minutes away in Kensington Garden. 

 The Embassy, located in Grosvenor Square, is a bit of a longer commute for us than in Juarez, but at least it has a great park right outside our front door. 

 And there are some monuments to see, I suppose. 

 They look pretty cool at night. 

 The locals are friendly, and always up for a quick game of football.

 The fauna, on other hand, can be a bit standoffish. This penguin walked away
from our little guy right in the middle of a conversation. 

The grilled cheese sandwiches are awesome.

And there is a slow enough pace here, so that you still have time
to stop and smell the roses.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


3 FAM 3431.1(b) - The purpose of home leave is to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis.

Sarah and I have been in London for ten days, and we are loving every minute of it.  This is such an awesome city, and we are so thrilled to be living here for the next two years.  But more on that later.  Right now, I want to talk about Home Leave (HL).  HL is designed to help FSOs re-acclimate to life in the US after an extended time overseas.  Obviously, “overseas” in our case means just on the other side of a dry riverbed, but nevertheless, we were excited to spend a month in the US. 

Since HL is designed to help us remember “what makes America great,” I was determined to do as many “AMERICAN” things as I could during the last 30 days.  So, in no particular order, here’s my list of the most American things I did while on Home Leave.

·      Bought a pair of Levi’s.  Americans wear Levi’s.
·      Had a Double-Double animal style at the In-n-Out in Tucson, washed down with a Neapolitan shake.  The first of many burgers eaten on Home Leave.
·      Went to a baseball game during opening week in Phoenix, AZ.
·      Attended an Easter Egg Hunt.
·      Watched the sheer ridiculousness that is Furious 7 on a humongous movie screen (all the better to watch the “wrench fight” finale).  ‘MURICA!
·      Ate a Texas sheet cake made by my mom, the best cook I know.
·      Binge-watched an entire Netflix series (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is seriously hilarious, guys).
·      Attended a kid’s birthday party and listened to my nephew’s sweet trumpet solo.
·      Debated the merits of Carolina v. Texas BBQ, with ample edible evidence of each to weigh their characteristics.
·      Bought my son an awesome Captain America t-shirt.
·      Watched the epic series finale of one of the greatest Westerns in history, Justified.
·      Grew a goatee to look a bit more like Raylan Givens.
·      Shaved said goatee when it got too itchy.
·      Began binge-watching a different Netflix series (Daredevil is seriously awesome, guys).
·      Grilled a giant pile of meat for my in-laws.
·      Ditched my kid and went to New York City with my wife for two days.
·      Saw two Broadways shows.
·      Ate a cookie as big as my head from Levain Bakery in NYC at 1:30 in the morning.
·      Ate at my favorite quasi-Mexican food place, Café Rio, no less than five times.
·      Watched Avengers: Age of Ultron to officially kick off the summer movie season.
·      Spent hours and hours talking, laughing, and enjoying the company of my family and close friends. 

There you have it.  The most American things I could think to do over the course of two weeks in Mesa, AZ, and two weeks in Ashburn, VA.  I guess it’s time to get back overseas and back to work!

Final Thoughts on Ciudad Juarez

Hello, everyone!  I am writing to you from my eighth-floor flat overlooking beautiful West London.  Sorry for the gap in between posts, but I suppose I was just too busy moving around the world and enjoying Home Leave with my family (more on that later).  It’s hard to believe that our two years in Ciudad Juarez have come to an end.  It was so hard saying goodbye to all of the great friends that we made in the Consulate community. 

As we drove away from the Borderland for the last time on April 1st, I wasn’t sure what I would feel.  I thought I would be overcome with happiness over the fact that I had just spent my last time dealing with the horrendous Border Patrol speed bumps, and brimming with excitement since our next tour in London was right around the corner.  But it’s hard to describe how I felt.  I suppose it was a mixture of excitement, sadness, relief, longing, and a lot of other unexpected feelings.  Juarez left much more of a mark on me than I thought it would.  It will always be special to me, and it will be the benchmark upon which all future Foreign Service posts will be judged for the rest of my career.

Juarez was a fantastic place to start my career, and I really enjoyed my time there.  Of course, living in the Borderland was not without its challenges, which is why I opted to make a list of my Top Five and Bottom Five things about Juarez.  So without further ado, onto the lists:


1. CBP

There is no way to describe to those who have not experienced it for themselves the bubbling rage that surfaces whenever you have to cross the border and deal with Customs and Border Patrol.  It is an unstoppable pre-programmed response that is triggered whenever you near the border.  You could be having a great day, out on a date, laughing with your wife, listening to good music, and then a black pall of despair overtakes your vehicle as you inch closer to the security checkpoints.  You  have been sucked into a zone of waiting for no reason, answering bizarre questions, and being yelled at with no explanation.  Only when you are finally past CBP and on your way to your destination does the darkness begin to lift, and you regain your senses.  There is no avoiding it; there is no escaping it.  CBP will destroy you (or at least bum you out for a few minutes).     

2. Traffic / Road Conditions

Along the same lines as CBP, one of the biggest frustrations is how much time you spend in the car: on the bridge, waiting in lines, dodging potholes, taking construction detours, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Juarez, but the city’s infrastructure could use some work.  When the new lane markings you have painted onto a brand new road have completely washed off within two months, that’s a sign that you need to change some of your basic methods of city upkeep. 

3. “Sweet Dreams Are Made of These”

Since we lived right across the border, Sarah and I opted to listen to El Paso radio stations most of the time, and let me tell you, they are AWFUL.  From the DJs to the commercials to the song selection, everything is terrible.  And the weirdest thing of all, every single radio station (pop, top 40, easy listening, mix) insisted on playing the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams Are Made of These” at least ten times a day.  You think I’m joking, but I heard this song on the radio at least 15 times a week.  Come on, El Paso. Don’t do this to me!  Y’all making me hate Annie Lennox.

4. Hot Hot Hot

I love that we have sun almost every day of the year in Juarez, but if there were some way to do that without it being 15,000 degrees every time you step outside, that would be awesome.  The first time we took James outside as a newborn we used a blanket to cover up the stroller and make sure he didn’t get burned.  Of course, what we were actually doing was creating a tiny little convection oven to cook our delicate little baby.  Juarez, you almost turned my infant into a baked potato.

5. Midnight Mariachi Jam Sessions 

Just stop.  Nobody likes mariachi music at 2:00am.  Nobody!  Pack up your trumpets and go home, amigos.  These gringos are trying to get some freakin’ sleep.


1. Burritos Crisostomo

Man, these burritos are good.  One chicken molé burrito, one barbacoa burrito, and a large jicama drink are all you need for a good time.  Be sure to spend the extra 10 pesos for the avocado.  

2. The Stories

When I was training in DC to come to Ciudad Juarez, everyone kept telling me, “You will have the craziest stories after two years in CJ,” and I was not disappointed at all.  Deadbeat dads, far-fetched explanations for drug arrests, even more far-fetched explanations for gang-related tattoos, and so on.  When you interview over 15,000 people in two years, you are bound to hear some weird stuff at the window.  And I’m not even including all the people I interviewed in prison (quick aside: don’t go to prison in Mexico if you can avoid it).   

3. Mi Casa

My house was a palace by US standards.  Sarah and I really lucked out in our housing assignment.  Our house was comfortable, cozy, and had great A/C.  The kitchen was fantastic, there was plenty of storage, and I had a great commute.  Happiness is a 12-minute walk to work.

4. Estadounidenses

Not to get too sappy, but the people are really the best thing about CJ.  I absolutely loved the FSOs that I worked with in Juarez.  I have never worked with such an amazing group of talented, intelligent, committed individuals who really cared about their job.  Some of the other difficulties of a city like Juarez help to create a close-knit community of dear friends.  Here’s hoping our paths cross many times over the next few years.

5. Juarenses

As much as I love the FSOs I worked with, the Locally-Employed Staff (LES) that I worked with are the heart and soul of our operation.  Many of them have been with the Consulate for decades, and their patience, kindness, and joy for life are really what made Juarez extraordinary.  The LES, and by extension the people of Juarez as a whole, are truly special.  I’ll miss you guys most of all.  


Monday, March 16, 2015

Moving in the Foreign Service 101

As you can imagine, a big part of life in the Foreign Service is being prepared to move every few years.  Sarah and I like adventure, and she never likes to be in one place for too long, so we don't mind that so much.  Plus, we aren't pack rats, so we generally don't have too much to move from place to place (at least we didn't until El Señor arrived).

But moving from country to country with Uncle Sam's help can be fraught with red tape and other complications.  When we moved from one apartment to another in Arlington, we just rented a truck, moved all our things in one day, and then set up shop in the new place.  Not too bad, logistically speaking.  Not so in the Foreign Service.  Where to begin?

First off, you have to decide where all your stuff is going to go.  Your options include:

  1. Personal Items - Stay in your suitcase and travel with you.
  2. Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB) - A 600 lb. shipment that arrives at your new Post shortly after you do.
  3. Household Goods Shipment (HHE) - All the rest of your stuff, it usually comes to your new Post by boat, and may not arrive for months after you do (depending on customs requirements).
  4. Storage - The USG will store things for us while we live overseas free of charge, which is a great perk, especially if you are moving to a very tiny flat in London. 
  5. Trash - Sadly, not all of your possessions can go on to enjoy the bright lights of London.

So you have to start by asking yourselves the following questions:

Do I need to take this in my suitcase?  Will I use it while I'm on home leave?  Should I put these baking pans in my UAB, which arrives about ten days after I get to London?  Or should I put it in my HHE?  Are we going to need this couch?  Wait, let me look at the pictures of our apartment again.  How big is the living room?  And does that look like a closet?  Do you think we could fit our winter coats in there?  Should I leave some of the coats in storage?  Well, if I'm going to do that, why don't I just throw them away?  Why do we have so many baking pans?!?  Will this toaster oven work with the voltage in the UK?  Do we need to buy MORE CURTAINS?  WHY DID YOU THROW THAT SET OF CURTAINS OUT SIX YEARS AGO?!?  I TOLD YOU THEY COULD HAVE COME IN HANDY!  AND YOU WANT TO SELL THAT THREE-MAN TENT WE HAVEN'T USED IN SEVEN YEARS?!?  ARE YOU CRAZY!!!

As you can imagine, sometimes emotions run high.  Moving by itself is pretty stressful, but when you add the elements of deciding what goes in which of those five piles and when, it can be a bit complicated.

Plus, in the Foreign Service, your house size will vary greatly over the course of your career.  I'll admit, we basically live in a palace here in Juarez.  This home is easily twice as large as any place we have ever lived in.  London, on the other hand, will be just a tad smaller.  After that, maybe we'll be in Zimbabwe, where we'll live on land big enough to necessitate its own guard shack. You never know, which, I suppose, is part of the fun of this line of work.

Finally, unlike in the real world, in the Foreign Service the movers often come pack out all of your stuff weeks before you actually depart Post.  So, then you're just stuck in your big empty house with your government-issue furniture and the "welcome kit," a collection of sheets, towels, and cooking items meant to keep you alive before you actually leave the country.  Thankfully, Sarah in her infinite wisdom, had us make a bunch of dinners in advance and freeze them, so we'll be sitting pretty for the ten days between pack-out and our departure.

Sounds fun, right?!

In this line of work, a lot of effort goes into closing each chapter of your life, and I'm sure they'll be plenty to do to start the new chapter once we get to London.  But we wouldn't have it any other way!

Catching Up Before We Head Out of Town

Sorry it's been a while between blog posts.  Perhaps, now that I am a bit more active on Facebook, I forget to update my blog quite as often.  Or it could just be that Sarah and I are insanely busy right now.  We are leaving Post in 15 days!  Back in November, when I realized we only had five months remaining at Post, I predicted that November and December would go by quickly because of all of our holiday travel, but that January, February, and March would really draaaag.  I was very wrong.  If anything, I feel like time is speeding up!  We have movers coming to pack up all of our stuff this Thursday, and I still have a lot of logistical stuff to finish up at work.

Thankfully, Sarah always knows how to plan ahead, so we've got pre-made dinners waiting for us in the freezer, dropped off ten bags of stuff at Goodwill, sold a bunch of stuff to other folks at the Consulate, and prepped most of the house for packing.

So, let's briefly sum up what the Petersons have been up to in for the first quarter of 2015.

  • We spent early January scheduling out how to prepare for our move, since we did most of the work on Saturdays. 

  • We took a road trip to Roswell, NM.  Here we are at the International UFO Museum.  El Señor was not impressed (neither was I). 

  • On that same trip, we also made the trek through Carlsbad Caverns, which was awesome!  I definitely recommend it if you're ever in the area. 

  • El Señor has developed a love affair with magnets.  Seriously, for a few weeks in January, the only words he could say were "mama," "dada," and "magnet."  

  • We celebrated Sarah's birthday with a surprise party at work!  Happy belated birthday, babe!
  • We finally (sort-of, maybe) got our housing assignment!  It's not 100% certain, as the London housing board still needs to vote to approve it, but we are hoping to move into a very nice three-bedroom flat about two miles from the Embassy.  Fingers crossed!

  • Sarah's mom came for a visit.  We had a great time with her, and managed to take our little guy to the El Paso Zoo, which he really enjoyed (except for the elephants).  
  • Liftoff!  Right around 18 months, El Señor finally learned to walk.  There's no stopping him now.  He just loves to run (drunkenly) all over the house, and he is also picking up new words all the time.  We have officially entered the toddler stage, I suppose. 
So that's the brief summation of our activities here in the Borderland for the last few months.  I'll try to post a few more times before we leave.  Hopefully, once we have all of our stuff packed out, things will be a bit quieter.  Talk to you soon!