Monday, February 19, 2024

Last full day in Ottawa/Gatineau

I'm not going to go deep into the great divide between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada, and then that oddball New Brunswick that is both English- and French-speaking, but suffice to say that there's a long history of why Canada is the way that it is.  My paternal grandfather's side of the family is from French Canada so it's time to learn some.

The Canadian Museum of History is immediately across the main bridge from Ottawa.  If you take both sides of the river together you get a decent sized city, but don't.  Don't take the two sides of the river together.  They are not one big town.  Gatineau is part of Quebec and is French through and through.

Originally we'd talked about hitting both the History and the Canadian War Museum, but both were open from 10-4, so we opted to do the History since we'd already visited the Canadian Warplane Museum in Hamilton a few months ago. The most direct walkable bridge was closed for renovations, so we Ubered over and then walked our way home a little more roundabout.  Even then, the return walk was only about 45 minutes and we passed the Canadian War Museum on the walk - not a big town.

But first, food.  Across the street from the museum is a bagel place.  These are not NY bagels in the slightest, but they are authentic.  I can't even say Montreal style, because that is a thing, as I've never been to Montreal and don't know, but... recommended.

We took the museum backwards, starting at the top and at the end - the late 20th century, and slowly rewound the years to the bottom floor that showcased First People's homes, art, clothing, and totems.  I'll say this, I don't really recommend this method as we did a lot of "who is this person?" or "what does that word mean?" only to find the introduction to said person or term in the next room.  This was particularly frustrating with the whole French separatist movement and the various referendums (and OMG, did Charles de Gaulle really say that IN CANADA?)

U.S. History from outside the U.S.... always fascinating.

Canada seems to be acknowledging its history a little better than the U.S.  The section on colonization discusses agreements broken, atrocities, and more.  A heart-breaking section on the forced re-education of indigenous children, where the death of those children at remote schools from cold, malnutrition, and abuse was viewed as better than allowing them to be raised by their families, had exhibits under review for whether they told the story as truthfully as they could.  The parallels between Canada, the U.S. and Australia should not surprise anyone as all three countries hail from the same pool of colonizers, with the same ideas about white colonizer superiority and methodology of destroying cultures not their own.

The Embassy.

The walk home crossed a bridge by the hydro plant, a river walk park, and past the Parliament.  We made our way to the Byward area, picked up a beaver tail and considered getting poutine (we decided we're still going to wait until we get to Montreal... we have a poutinerie behind our building in Toronto, this is a hard decision to keep!)

Ottawa was a fun trip and a nice introduction to train travel in Canada.  The next time we go, we'll try to arrange a visit during Winterlude.  Hopefully the Rideau Canal will be open too.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Art in Ottawa

I haven't made it to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) or the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) yet, but while in Ottawa, I visited the National Gallery of Canada for all the art and then we crossed the "border" to the Canadian Museum of History on the Quebec side of town in Gatineau.

I'm still not at all knowledgeable about modern art but it often intrigues me into the "why?? no really, why???" questions.  A metal box.  A black painted canvas with a single strip of yellow.  I like looking at it just for the brain exercise and confusion.

The religious pieces periodically grab my attention by how serious they take themselves.  So much emotion in every face.  Usually the detail is through the roof.  

The period masters always stop me for a long while, the Monet and Van Gogh tribe of painters.

For still lifes, portraiture, or mythical scenes, I tend to focus on the edges and see what odd things the artist incorporated into the background.  That's typically where you find the best lounging cats, hunted squirrels, or slinking demons.

Peek-a-boo owl...

Like, who are these people/ghosts/demons?

Gingers and their devil bugs.

But really what I went for was the early Canadian artists, both the First Peoples and the colonizers as they moved around the northern landscape and painted, drew, and carved what they saw. 

There was a "Group of Seven" (all men) who take up a lot of space in the museum.  I could see why.  Later, there were other official "groups" of artists that included women.

J.E.M. MacDonald

Lawren S. Harris

Arthur Lismer

Franklin Carmichael

Lawren Harris

Tom Thomson

Emily Carr

The Indigenous People's art is always fascinating, even if I don't understand as much of it.

The bear's like "You take my ice, I take your kayak"

The four above are by Nick Sikkuark.

The gallery I went into was for Riopelle. The exhibit moved decade by decade. He did huge pieces and moved from massive swipes of paint to mixed media.  I think the geese were my favorite of his.

But you know I can't leave a post without a hokey mention.....

There's a second large art museum in Ottawa, but I have to save some things to see next time, right?

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Our first weekender.

Ian had a trip to Ottawa for work and guess who tagged along?

We took the train, which was awesome.  Ian and I enjoy a good train ride, and part of the route to Ottawa goes along Lake Ontario.  As soon as we left Toronto the banks of snow showed up and stayed with us all the way to Ottawa.

Ottawa is pretty.  Our view included the Rideau Canal, the Arts Center, Parliament, some other government buildings, and the Fairmont hotel.  It's hard not to imagine being at Hogwarts with the view.

More later!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Last Day Home

In January 2020 I started working (well I went to training and then started working in March 2020... we all know what happened next) in a Civil Service position in DC for Consular Affairs.  An important note - the section was created specifically for Eligible Family Members of Foreign Service Officers who were back in DC for a couple years. When we moved to Pennsylvania in 2022 I switched to full-time remote.  For the months back in the DC area in summer 2023 I went back to the office.  It was a great arrangement.  Unfortunately, when I was hired I knew that my job was a limited-term appointment.  I haven't figured out the purpose of limited-term appointments, but there you have it, it was a two-year limited-term appointment with the option to renew for a second two-year term.  I knew that come January 2024, I was out of a job.

One positive thing that came out of the pandemic was the transition to telework.  I know it's being reevaluated now, and for some good reasons.  However, the office I was hired into is, at its heart, a remote position.  The name literally had "Remote" in its name because it was an office in DC that worked on cases in other countries.  The pandemic made it work that much better as the State Department was forced to really amp up remote capabilities.  The expansion of DETO, telework, and remote work was awesome and allowed me to work in PA even easier than it had before. 

What didn't change was the four-year term limit.

Well, I should say that due to an awesome amount of work by our supervisors, it did change.  With the recognition of how important the Remote office was, particularly during the pandemic when we continued processing visas while missions were closed globally, the wheels turned and in the beginning of 2023, the Remote officer personnel were transitioned to real Civil Service positions with no term-limit.  This means they can keep their jobs as long as they want, while they are in DC but also bringing the job with them as they move to posts abroad or even just moving to other states to be closer to family.  

But it didn't apply to everyone.  

For some reason it only applied to employees with still valid NCE or Non-Competitive Employment status.  Eligible Family Members (EFMs) earn an NCE after working 52 weeks at a mission overseas.  It's good for three years, and the clock starts ticking the day you land in the U.S.  It gives EFMs a leg up in the hiring process.  Why did it only apply to those employees?  I never got a real answer for that, but suffice to say that my NCE kicked in the summer of 2019 and expired 2022.  By the time early 2023 rolled around my NCE had long expired and so even though I had been there the longest, folks who just started were now guaranteed a forever job if they wanted and I just watched the looming expiration date draw ever closer.  

On a side note, even though I had proven that I could do my job remotely for a year, the vacancies advertised in the same section were all in-person only, so I couldn't even apply for my own job.  Yeah....

I was a little bitter, but OK, because we were going to Haiti and I had already lined up a job there.  It was a decision between trying to apply for remote job from some CA office  or joining my new community and really being present.  I went with the latter.

Then we didn't go to Haiti.  So now I didn't have an onward job, and I'd run out of time trying to figure out a DC job that might allow me to jump right into remote work.  ARG.

Toronto is severely understaffed.  It's a problem in developed countries where the USG pays a certain salary amount, isn't flexible, and have you seen the cost of rent here??  Yeah, they can't hire people even with how understaffed they are.  However I can't work in the consular section because... Ian.  And I'm not really qualified to work anywhere else because consular work is very niche.  There's something that might work out in the future (I'll let you know), but in the meantime I'm going to branch out into a position where I'll learn a lot and hopefully feel good while doing it.  I'm nervous.  I'm anxious.  Yeah, I'm scared.

I've thoroughly enjoyed being home since we moved into this apartment on December 3, but this is the end of my quiet days watching the snow and enjoying all the homemaking.  I was doing Ian's laundry... yeah, that's gonna stop!  I crocheted a couple blankets.  I made cookies.  I organized shelves and cleared out junk, and watched some TV Ian doesn't like.  I started reading again and I restarted this blog.

We'll see what keeps happening and what amount of brain space I have left over at the end of the workday (knowing myself... for the first few weeks - NOT MUCH).  That's what I'm going to miss the most, and I know how lucky I am to have had this time so don't hate me because it's hard to give up.


Friday, January 19, 2024


Crazily it's been almost a year since we went to Houston for what was a once-in-a-lifetime experience at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

But let me back up.

I've mentioned already that we had a fantabulous year in Pennsylvania.  That was in no small part to the change in our work.  I worked from home that year for my job in DC.  Ian went to school.  He's happy in school - learning, teaching, mentoring.  It's a wonderful option in the Foreign Service that we truly encourage for everyone who has the opportunity.  Here's the thing though... don't do it in DC.  Sure, there can be benefits to doing the master's programs offered in the DC area (maybe you don't have to move again, maybe you have kids in school, maybe you just really like DC rent), but if you can and are open to moving to a different program - Do. It.  Disengage from DC.  Take a breath.  Explore a new U.S. city.  Find a new calm.  Carlisle, PA and the U.S. Army War College were just what he needed after a year in Baghdad and 2 years on the Iraq desk.  The halls of DC are supposedly great for visibility and promotion, but garbage for your mental health.  He needed a break.

When choosing the program, we knew we wanted to go to Carlisle, with the other programs far seconds (Alabama, Rhode Island, DC...).  We found a great apartment that could have been scooterable to the barracks if the roads were smooth.  Across the street from a grocery store with a Starbucks.  Walkable to the historic downtown.  An easy drive to everything else we needed.  It was quiet, it was calm.

When he was accepted into the program he had a choice as to which track he wanted, one of which was the Scholars program.  The Scholars program front-loaded the curriculum at hyper-speed with the second half of the year devoted to papers and projects.  A lot less class-time, a lot more home time, regular walks together for coffee in the morning, and lunch breaks.  I started early and ended my work days at 3:30pm.  

The one thing Ian didn't expect from his year at school was making friends.  But he did - some really good ones he still chats with almost a year later.  

Including one who invited us to Houston.  Actually, she invited the class and we were the only ones who took her up on it.  Seriously, who turns down a visit the Johnson Space Center? Who??  Not us.  Not with an invite from an astronaut.

The visit was overwhelming and inspiring.  We were given behind-the-scenes tours by her team from the ISS pool to the suit workshop.  At the pool, two astronauts suited up to enter the pool and rehearse a space walk at the ISS.  The pool is big enough for a submerged 1:1 duplicate of the ISS broken into several chunks.  It's stunning.

LOVE the brutalist design.

"Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor not a...."

The biggest pool.

If Adam Savage was there, you know it's awesome.

Missions 58 and 59.

One of the highlights, beyond sitting in on her presentation to the JSC leadership - including Vanessa Wyche and a dozen others - was meeting the Flight Operations Director and getting coined.  Just look at that giddiness!  

With Flight Director Chief, Norman Knight

More than all that, and we'd have loved to spend more time, we got to hang out with a friend and she is amazing beyond being an astronaut. 

Thank you Anne for a fantastic time in Houston on your home turf!