Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowpocalypse '09

The weather lived up to the forecasts. Snowpocalypse '09 was pretty intense. We went out on Friday night with a friend for dinner and by the time we left the restaurant, the snow had started. As we were running for the metro to get home, my snow covered shoes lacked the traction needed and I slid baseball style to the door of the metro car, jumping up in time to make it on before the doors closed.

On Saturday, we stayed inside and watched the snow come down all day. I think I might have seen heavier snow for short periods while skiing, but the snow just kept falling at the same rate all day. On Saturday night, cabin fever had set in and we wanted to get out and see how everything looked. One advantage to living in Chinatown was that there was a movie theater three blocks away that stayed open until 10 p.m. despite the storm. We saw Up in the Air, which was really good.

Sunday was much better. The sun was out and I walked to the grocery store. It hasn't gotten above freezing, so the snow really isn't melting. Since a lot of areas don't have their roads cleared yet, the entire federal government was shut down on Monday. Everyone was excited about the holiday...except me. I have my final language test on Tuesday morning and it's always tough to speak after a weekend, especially a long one. Wish me luck! I may need it.

Enjoy a few of our Snowpocalypse '09 pictures.

Hill and her friend, Elise, as the snow begins

From our balcony

Venturing out at night

Happy we have underground parking

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Last week we took a trip to Disneyworld with John's family. His niece, Kathryn, is almost 6, so we knew it would be a very fun trip. John's brother, his sister-in-law and his parents made the trip from Texas, and we flew down from DC.

Our first park? Hollywood Studios. (I remember going to Universal Studios when I was younger, and I guess this is Disney's version.)

Here we are just after riding the "Tower of Terror" which repeatedly drops the elevator you are riding in. I liked it.
With flowers in our hair
Photo-op with castle in the background at the Magic Kingdom

I don't know who this character is but he cracked me up

John's brother, Patrick, his wife, Jeannette, and Kathryn

We ate at a French restaurant at Epcot and they brought out the "chef" to greet us

A jalapeno margarita? Yum!

At Disney's Animal Kingdom

We walked into one of the nice hotels, and who is there singing a Christmas song and filming a video? Celine Dion!

I have to say that I felt like the rides at Magic Kingdom were a little outdated. I mean, we're talking the same exact rides as in 1987! However, I'm sure for little kids they don't feel outdated at all. And let's face it, Disneyworld isn't for the adults, right? (Although some of the adults you see there could really convince you otherwise!)

Some of the other parks had some great new rides, including a pitch-black indoor roller coaster set to Aerosmith music. I think that was our favorite ride. The roller coaster accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds (making this the second-fastest ride at the Walt Disney World Resort, behind only Test Track) and the riders experience 4.5g (44 m/s²) as they enter the first inversion, more than an astronaut does on a space shuttle launch.

Funny story about the Test Track ride: As we climbed into our cars to race around a track built onto the outside of a building at 65 miles per hour, we noticed a woman who had just gotten off the ride, and her head was bleeding a little. As soon as our ride was over they closed down the attraction due to "technical difficulties". Scary!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rosetta Stone?

We get a lot of questions about how we learn a language for the Foreign Service. The most popular question is if we use the Rosetta Stone program. (I think they advertise in the Sky Mall magazine on planes, and it says the US State Department uses Rosetta Stone.)

As a short answer, the State Department does subscribe to Rosetta Stone. However, we learn primarily in a classroom setting. There is a language lab for students, where we can use interactive programs, listen to news broadcasts, study vocab on computerized flashcards, complete audio exercises spoken by native language speakers, etc. Rosetta Stone is just one out of many programs that students can use (at school or home) to supplement their classroom learning. Truth be told, I still haven't signed up to get my login and password for Rosetta Stone. I should really do that......

We do all sorts of stuff in class to keep it interesting. We also change teachers about every 4 weeks. So far we have had teachers from Portugal and Angola. There is a textbook and exercise manual we use, but the teachers also use resources like newspaper articles, games and even YouTube!

Last week all of the Portuguese classes and teachers celebrated Angola's Independence Day. My teacher decided to dress up her three students in traditional Angolan clothing. (Of course none of the other 30 or so students were dressed up at all...)

Here I am in my finery. The second picture shows my two classmates and me giving a presentation, along with our teacher who is from Angola.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New York, New York

We wanted to make a trip to New York and the Columbus Day weekend made for a good opportunity. The cheapest way to get to NYC is by riding one of the many buses that run from Chinatown in DC to Chinatown in Manhattan. These buses started out several years ago mainly to transport Chinese immigrants between cities on the East Coast, but now everyone uses them and they have pretty good reputations...other than the stories about them being run by the Chinese mob.

We stayed with our friends, Karen and Steve, so that allowed us to spend money on more fun things. We ate at the best Greek restaurant we've ever found, including when I lived in Greece. It's called Pylos and we highly recommend it if you're ever craving Greek food and are in the East Village.

We also did a pizza comparison test between two New York institutions - Lombardi's and Grimaldi's. We'd eaten at Lombardi's on previous trips since it's in Little Italy. Grimaldi's is a little harder to get to since it's under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, but a friend highly recommended it. Lombardi's is really good, but Grimaldi's wins hands down!

On our last night, we saw Next to Normal and had great seats in the third row. It was a great show with really catchy music that I enjoyed more than the previous musicals we'd seen.

We hadn't planned to see any tourist sites, but we decided to go to the top of Rockefeller Center and the Museum of Modern Art on a whim. We had amazing weather and the views were great. I really enjoyed some of the pre-1940s stuff at the MoMA, but I guess we really just don't get modern art. The newer stuff was just weird.

Oh yeah, and while we were eating a giant sandwich from Carnegie Deli in Rockefeller Plaza, we saw the guy who plays Kenneth from 30 Rock walk right in front of us. Hillary waved to him and he hesitated to try and decide if he knew us...then he smiled and kept walking.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Home Leave

One nice thing about the Foreign Service is that they give you an amount of "Home Leave" in between assignments. We had almost 6 weeks off to spend with family and friends in Texas. It's surprising in a way that the government will allow us this much vacation time, but it is needed after being so far away for two years. (They also want to make sure you get "reacquainted" with the US after living abroad).

On our way back to Texas from Indonesia, we stayed with our friend Ellen for a few nights in San Francisco. We did another wine country trip while we were there, which was absolutely gorgeous after leaving Jakarta's polluted skies. While we only made it to Austin for about a day and a half, we got to see my relatives in Michigan and make a trip to Vegas during our home leave. My aunt and uncle live on a lake near Grand Rapids, and we were able to rent a cottage next door while we were there. It was great to relax, spend time on the lake, and see all of my relatives we hadn't seen in awhile. My sister Brooke had never been to Vegas, so along with our friends Eric and Ashley we showed her a great time in Sin City.

We had a lot of fun being back in Texas and seeing a lot of people, but after a month or so we were ready to get back into a routine. That routine now is full-time Portuguese language training here in DC. We will definitely write more about how our language classes are going, but meanwhile here are some pictures from our home leave.

John and Ellen tasting some vinho

My mom and two of my cousins during fireworks

In Vegas with Eric and Ashley

On our way to Cirque du Soleil's "O"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Writers strike resolved

Our apologies for the lengthy blogging hiatus. We've been back in DC for a little over a month now and have really been enjoying it. The city has a lot more to offer than we remembered. Perhaps because we're comparing it to Jakarta - but Washington really is a great city. Here's a quick example of one thing that makes DC a cool place to live:

We were on the way home from our favorite local Mexican restaurant, Lauriol Plaza, and Hillary asked me to teach her the Portuguese numbers in preparation for starting full-time language training next week. Out of nowhere, a man walking by turned around and corrected her pronunciation of the number seven. He was Brazilian and had actually worked at the U.S. Embassy when it was in Rio de Janeiro. We talked for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. It was a very random encounter, but one that shows how diverse and cool this city is.

More to come about what we've been up to since leaving Jakarta...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sampai jumpa lagi, Indonesia

Business Week recently did a story on the hardest "Hardship" assignments in the world. They didn't include places in war zones or really awful situations. These were a list of cities where expats regularly live that are challenging. Jakarta came in on their list as second worst, right behind Lagos, Nigeria.

They said that the biggest problems expats face in being assigned to Jakarta were pollution, disease, sanitation and lack of quality healthcare. They also highlighted Indonesia's past acts of terrorism against Western targets. These are all very true concerns, but I'd recommend Jakarta over almost all of the other places on this list.

We've found that Indonesia has so much to offer. It's a beautiful country with really nice people. There are so many natural wonders to see here. Indonesia has the greatest marine diversity of any country on Earth, so we've been really grateful that we're scuba divers. Where else could we have seen orangutans in the wild, Krakatoa erupting and relaxed on beautiful beaches?

Hillary and I are really excited for the future and our next post in Lisbon, but we're also sad to leave here. We couldn't have asked for a better place to spend our first assignment. We had great bosses for most of our time and we worked with a really great Indonesian staff who we'll miss. Sampai jumpa lagi, Indonesia. Until we meet again. You've been a great home.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Things We'll Miss

There are plenty of things we know we'll miss when we leave Indonesia, so we made this list of a few that popped into our heads. We added a few things we won't miss for good measure.

Things we'll miss:

Great coworkers
Our maid

Cheap living

Great travel


A busy social calendar

Amazing Indian food

Living somewhere so unique

Always warm weather

Scuba diving

Great beaches

Cheap and plentiful taxis

Very affordable massages

Things we won't miss:

Call to prayer at 4:15 a.m.

Crazy traffic


Rainy season and flooding

Incomprehensible miscommunication

Constant confusion


When volcanoes erupt...

Our last trip in Indonesia was one of the coolest we've taken. We heard that the volcano that used to be called Krakatoa was erupting, so we decided it would be a good idea to get as close as possible. So after three hours by car and two by boat, we were standing on the island of Anak Krakatau (Krakatoa's Child).

In 1883, the volcano on the island of Krakatoa erupted with the largest explosion in recorded history, destroying the island with a blast 13,000 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In the 125 years since the eruption, the volcano has steadily increased in size. The island first resurfaced in 1927 and it has been growing 5 inches per week ever since.

So when we heard it was erupting again, we did what all rational people do and went out there to see it. We approached the island from the south, circled around it and pulled up on one of the small beaches furthest from the summit. We then hiked for about 15 minutes up the hillside. We started to see large chunks of volcanic rock that our guide said were from previous eruptions. That's when we decided we'd gone close enough. It erupted a few times while we were on the slopes taking pictures, shooting giant molten rocks into the air and bellowing smoke and sulfuric ash. We ate lunch and then took our boat to another island that was part of the original Krakatoa.
We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and watching the volcano erupt every 20 minutes or so. But once it got dark, it was really cool. When it erupted, we saw glowing red rocks launched hundreds of feet into the air and tumble back down the slopes. It looked like fireworks. It was a restless night, sleeping on hard ground and hearing explosions that sounded like artillery every 20 minutes, but well worth it. Only in Indonesia can you do something like that.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


It's a little daunting to see everything you own packed in boxes and driven away by five Indonesian guys.


So, some people said 9 days at a villa in Thailand might be too long. We beg to differ. We'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Cards and margaritasRooftop poolTuk-tukBest pina colada ever!

Rotisserie chicken at the thai restaurant down the hill

Our hogs

Riding in a tuk-tuk

Elephant crossing at the designated location

According to the guidebook, "best pad thai on plan earth" - we agreeFinding Nemo

An octopus from our dive - watch him change colors