Saturday, August 28, 2010

Home Ownership, not for the weak.

Cooler weather is coming, I can feel it. We had a glimpse this past week with gorgeous daytime temps and barely any humidity. That's all changing this coming week, but the break was enough to encourage us to start home repair stuff again. Today we fixed the leaky outdoor faucet that grew icicles this past winter and created a bog in the surrounding grass this summer. No more waster water there. Ian replaced the dusk/dawn sensor eye for the outdoor lamppost in hopes that it's now going to function properly. It stopped working about 2 months after we moved in but we have lights by the front door and a motion sensor floodlight by the garage so it wasn't too terribly urgent. Still, short days are on their way and getting that lamppost working would be nice. Next on the list is power-washing the side of the house that has algae on it from the spring, and deck-washing the deck from the pollen stains, also from the spring. Indoors, there's the rest of the border to strip from the kitchen, a little paint to apply and then a crown moulding. That chore is a little overwhelming to consider since we're not exactly the handymen type. There are 3 more indoor faucets to change, one we bought months ago and it still sits in its box, but really the kitchen faucet has to be replaced, I can't stand it. And then finally, the kitchen cabinets. I want to paint them white, and I know the project is far bigger and will take far longer than I anticipate so I'm procrastinating like I have been the past year.

But first... the deck, the siding, and the faucets.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bid Season is upon us: Part 2

Entry Level Officers (ELOs) have directed assignments. They receive a list of job options (the Bid List), rank which ones they'd like to go to and which ones not so much, they submit the list to their own Career Development Officer (CDO), the CDOs spend a couple days fitting round pegs into square holes, and ELOs are notified of their assignment. Within their first 2 tours they have to get off language probation (every officer has to have a foreign language), and there are a few other considerations as well.

For Mid-Levels it works a little different. The list comes out and we choose a minimum of 6 posts, with no more than 3 in one Bureau (Bureaus are sections of the world... WHA: Western Hemisphere, NEA: Near East Asia, EUR: Europe, AF: Africa, SCA: South Central Asia, EAP: East Asia Pacific, and of course stateside jobs). Ian already shortened the list to a couple hundred Consular positions. Since he's out of his cone now in an HR position, he wants to get back into his own field. Once we know where we want, Ian goes about the task of lobbying... talking to posts and the assignments team, submitting references and resumes, all in an effort to not only choose a post but have the post choose him. This process gets easier with each bid cycle as more and more FS officers know your name and your work.

With Ian up for promotion this summer we're making two lists: an 03 list if he doesn't get his promotion and an 02 list if he does. It's best to cover all bases. Within our lists we have jobs with language requirement and jobs without. This is an important distinction. Ian rotates out of his current position next August. A job without a language means we move out next summer between July and September. Jobs with language mean staying until anytime between December 2011 and August 2012 and adding either a half- or full-year of school in the States for the kids.

We've cobbled together our lists and wait for other pieces to fall into place: medical clearances to come through, AIP (Afghanistan/Iraq/Pakistan) assignments to knock off posts, lobbying to posts we really want. Our list won't be officially submitted for a while yet, not until after the promotion board, and that's a good thing. New jobs pop up, old ones fall off, preferences change, lists get reorganized.

In the Foreign Service everything is in a constant state of flux and it's truly a test of patience. In this line of work every Post decision affects the Officer's life and the life of the family and cannot be taken lightly. We just try to make the best decisions we can.

Katherine's SOL scores

Though we still haven't received an official copy of Katherine's scores, I did contact her previous school counselor and got the numbers from her.

History: 542
Math: 600
Reading: 516
Science: 565

If you wish you can refresh your memory on what the SOL is all about from my last post.

Let the roll-over begin.

The birthday roll-over, that is. Between April and August all the kids are evenly spaced, this summer we were at 8/10/12/14. Come August 18th Jonathon begins the roll to the new numbers. He's 9!

8/18/10: Cake made and decorated by big sister, Rebecca.

8/18/10: Playing at Chuck E Cheese.
8/18/10: Ribs out at Smokey Bones for dinner.
8/18/10: Talking with grandparents.
8/18/10: Blowing out 9 candles.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vaca Recap

It's been a while, long time no see. And to go over everything that's been happening the past 3 weeks would be long and hard. So, let's stick with the big stuff, and the good stuff. The beach.

VA Beach! Great Wolf Lodge! Our vacation for the summer. My dad couldn't go... Ian couldn't go... Katherine missed half of it. But we plugged on, three kids, me and my mom and had Katherine join us midweek. We stayed at the Springhill Suites at Virginia Beach and give it a bunch of thumbs up (the breakfast is pretty good), then moved to GWL in Williamsburg and gave it another bunch of thumbs up (we had a Kids Cabin). We have been to plenty of places and yet the beach is still our #1 choice for relaxing and having fun on vacation. I wish I could give a day-by-day rundown but that's unrealistic, so know that we played in the sand, jumped in the water, ate until we were stuffed (The Raven gets top marks), biked the board walk, walked the strip, indulged in custard, took in some Beach Street shows, ran the Hall of Mirrors, explored the VA Aquarium with its new Restless Planet section, touched mantas, had dolphins chase us, oh and did this:
8/11/10: Barmaids vs. Pirates
Nicholas had no desire to dress up until the pirate-in-charge said he could use the cool sword.
OK, I do have to mention the Rudee Rocket and our dolphin watching. Every morning and throughout the day you can spot dolphins just off the beach. They are the Atlantic Coastal dolphins, a bottlenose. The Rudee Rocket speedboat passes tourist beaches and ends at the Cape Henry lighthouse. Along the way we met pod after pod of dolphins. Since we arrived just minutes before the boat was leaving the dock, we sat in the two rows at the back and ended up with the best view as the boat sped up and dolphins followed and leapt through the wake. Very awesome especially as one group riding the waves was 2 adults and one little guy in the middle trying its hardest to keep up.
8/9/10: Watching for cameras 8/9/10: Soggy and salty after the Rudee Rocket
On the way back, the captain took us farther out to sea and opened up the engine. Every passenger got soaked as we crossed the wind and the spray crashed over the sides. Over and over again, with the heat drying us between soakings we returned to the dock with a thin layer of salt covering our faces. Tons of fun.
I said we went to the Aquarium, one of our favorite places.
8/11/10: Hello Mr. Turtle 8/11/10: Grandma on the Creek Cruise
Isn't my mom awesome? That's her on the right.
Yeah, we love Virginia Beach.
8/12/10: Last Day at the beach.
We moved on to Great Wolf Lodge for a couple nights. The place is designed to lose children in. For several hours we just didn't see them. They were at the water park or doing MagiQuest or in Katherine's case, getting a massage. The wrist bands received at registration work as door keys (and credit cards in my case), so the kids had the run of the place... along with every other kid. In the evening Katherine and whoever wanted to join her in the 10-18 age group could hang out in gr8_space until 11 p.m.
8/13/10: GWL tube sliding 8/13/10: MagiQuest 8/13/10: Walking down the GWL hall
Our little trip was well worth the expense. I'm looking forward to next year's.

Friday, August 13, 2010

On Vaca

Greetings from Great Wolf Lodge where we extended a day. We'll be home Saturday.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Off to Vacation

Our trip this summer is a short jaunt to Virginia Beach with an overnight at Great Wolf Lodge. It's not going to be the vacation I'd hoped for but it will be good anyway. My dad can't come, he's in school this week. Ian can't come, a new class means all sorts of stuff he has to do at work (and he took that other week off recently, but still). Katherine won't be with us, so it's just me, my mom, and Rebecca, Nicholas and Jonathon. We're taking 2 cars so we won't be traveling together, and it might end up that I cut my time at the beach short.

No, it's far from perfect, but it is what it is and we'll still have some fun. Bring on the sun and sand.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

SOL. In VA it doesn't always mean what you think it does.

Scores came in from 3 of the kids today. Katherine's is MIA, possibly due to her taking a few late thanks to getting sick during SOL season. Let's hope it shows up tomorrow.

SOLs are graded so that a score between 400-500 is called "pass-proficient" and a score from 500-600 is "pass-advanced." Included with the standard test scores each kid received a Lexile Measurement on their reading score. A Lexile is s number seemingly pulled out of thin air though in actuality is a measure of both text difficulty and reading comprehension. It doesn't correspond to grade or age, all I know is the higher the number the more advanced the reader.

There is a rough Lexile-to-Grade posted on the website and it looks like this:
Grade Reader Measures
1 Up to 300L
2 140L to 500L
3 330L to 700L
4 445L to 810L
5 565L to 910L
6 665L to 1000L
7 735L to 1065L
8 805L to 1100L
9 855L to 1165L
10 905L to 1195L
11 & 12 940L to 1210L
To that end, the Lexile range is 0-2000. If you want to try to gauge it, the first HP book is rated at 880L. Go from there.
So how did the kids do? No bad. I pretty much toss out History/SS for any child over 3rd grade, and even that is iffy when the kid hasn't taken American History before and SOLs build on information learned in the years prior. We do what we do at home, but we don't "teach to the test" so there are real gaps in what the kids are expected to know on an SOL. Rebecca did a lot of fill-in learning in 6th grade to get through History.
SS = 479
Math = 523
Reading = 537 Lexile = 1060L
US Hist to 1877 = 446
Math = 558
Reading = 450 Lexile = 1040L
SS = 566
Math = 549
Science = 591
Reading = 512 Lexile = 905L
Now we wait for Katherine's scores.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bid Season is upon us.

It's not like we haven't been looking at quasi-lists or pre-lists or kinda-sorta-lists for months already, but yesterday the real, honest, bonafide list came home.

Bidding is a strange season. There's a lot of pent-up excitement waiting for the list to be released, then there's the let-downs as posts drop off, renewed excitement creating Excel sheets of potentials, curiosity as we plunge into the research of schools and jobs, annoyance when e-mails go unanswered, nail-biting as the season progresses and hopes are pinned on one particular post, and finally joy when there's a solid hand-shake.
This time we have these considerations. Some are obviously carry more weight than others, but they all have their place in the decision-making:
The job - of course that's where our list begins. Ian wants to go back to Consular work, so we have the Consular list in hand.
The level - Ian is an 03 and is up for promotion to 02 this summer. This creates a bit of a pickle. Obviously, we hope he gets his promotion so we're looking heavily at the 02 positions. But.... what if he doesn't? Not everyone gets their promotion the first time it's up so we're looking at the 03 positions as well, just in case. The problem then is that some of the 03 jobs look really great. Like Lima, Peru great. How do you balance your heart really liking an 03 position while your brain obviously preferring the promotion? Ack.
The school (part 1) - High School is top priority. It has to have a great school through all sections, but typically a school that has a great HS will also have great lower schools. We'll have 2 kids in HS at our next post, so this is deal-breaker.
The school (part 2) - We want an IB program, to the point that we've enrolled Katherine in a school outside our bounds in order for her to take advantage of the IB program. Continuing in that vein is important to us.
The medical care - We'll need good health care options in-country.
The travel options - OK, a want. But still, a very strong want. We've missed traveling the past couple years.
The school (part 3) - Activities. I know this one seems odd, but a school that doesn't have band/orchestra or swimming or drama would be very hard for me to accept.
Starbucks - No, seriously. OK, not that seriously. We'd take a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf too.
Our lists are due in October but in the mean time Ian talks to people and more people, and then more people. He says it's been nicer this year already because he knows many of the people already in those positions, or their underlings because of his current job. The process ends when one of the posts offers Ian a hand-shake on a specific position and he's then paneled into that position.
October can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

2010 Hopper Frogs Best Times

Event #10 - Boys 8 and under: 25m Freestyle: 30.59
Event #28 - Boys 8 and under: 25m Backstroke: 32.39 PWB (B time= 26.50-33.42)
Event #38 - Boys 8 and under: 25m Breaststroke: 49.82

Event #12 - Boys 9/10: 50 Free: 45.94 PWB (B time= 41.25-47.32)
Event #30 - Boys 9/10: 50 Backstroke: 58.63 PWB (B time=52.57-1:00.19)
Event #50 - Boys 9/10: 25 Butterfly: 29.78

Event #15 - Girls 11/12: 50 Freestyle: 38.84 PWB (B time= 37.62-41.69)
Event #23 - Girls 11/12: 100 IM: 1:51.96
Event #33 - Girls 11/12: 50 Backstroke: 52.16 PWB (B time= 47.05-52.83)
Event #43 - Girls 11/12: 50 Breaststroke: 57.75
Event #53 - Girls 11/12: 50 Butterfly: 48.75 PWB (B time= 43.05-49.49)

Event #17 - Girls 13/14: 50 Free: 37.94 PWB (B time= 35.08-39.31)
Event #25 - Girls 13/14: 100 IM: 1:42.03
Event #35 - Girls 13/14: 50 Backstroke: 51.37
Event #45 - Girls 13/14: 50 Breaststroke: 46.46 PWB (B time= 44.30-49.35)

Monday, August 2, 2010

A little local living

Moving to the States, however briefly, means temporarily giving up overseas travel, foregoing meals at many-star hotels and postponing foreign cultural experiences. Over the summer it's felt pretty severely especially while reading friend blogs about all their adventures.

In exchange though we have our times of very standard, very American, living. Driving all over for the week of Civil War camp and Band Camp was one. This past week of fishing at the lake, sending off a friend at the uber-clean and uber-security-driven airport, being enlightened (again) about the craziness of our processed foods, along with the season's final swim meet Saturday morning and a minor league baseball game Saturday evening rounded it out.

Wednesday we went to the lake beach. Armed with a container of worms, a fishing pole and swim suits (but no camera) we spent a few hours without a schedule. Ian had a co-worker's going-away party after work so dinner wasn't even pressing. Having those Wednesdays off during swim season is a wonderful thing. Jonathon fished before joining the others at the beach and there were a couple of early 20-somethings sitting on the little pier who started giving him tips. Catching the little fish was easy, it was when he wanted to use a little fish to catch a big fish they gave out pointers. After several attempts and many reminders that fishing is a sport of patience, Jonathon decided to try one more time before going off to swim. The 20-somethings were off as well. When he came to get another worm skewered the girl looked at me and asked if I was his mom, and then asked how old he was. She was surprised he was "that old" and a little taken aback I had 3 others and all older. The guy with her wasn't, he said he was one of 6 kids. I did tell them my age though, having just turned 36 I don't want anyone thinking I was a 16yo parent.
It doesn't hurt to say 36, but it does surprise me sometimes. Do we ever really feel our age?
Thursday came around, the last day Jacquelyn was spending with us. It rained hard in the early afternoon and all the kids ran outside.
7/29/10 - Playing in the rain. 7/29/10 - Playing in the rain.
We'd spent the morning packing and finishing up laundry and here I was now faced with a stack of soggy clothes and shoes again. *sigh* We'd decided to sleep the night at my parents' house which is closer to the airport, and have my mom sleep at ours. Ian was in class all week so he couldn't stay home Friday to get the kids to the last swim practice before Divisionals. Mom came down Thursday night and brought the kids home from the pool while I took the girls up to mom's house after Becca was done swimming and Jacquelyn had said her good-byes to our family. Slept the night, mom took the kids to morning practice, I took the girls to the airport. Everything ran like clockwork from getting there, checking her in, getting our own security passes so we could sit with her at the gate, the plane left on time after a short but teary farewell, and Rebecca made it to practice with 45 minutes left to swim. Jacquelyn's 3 weeks with us flew by and I hope she had as good a time with us as we had with her.
Saturday morning I was up way before sunrise at 4:45 a.m., we piled in the car for a 40-minute drive to Haymarket and our last meet of the season. This meet had 3 teams: our Frogs, our host Dominion Valley Sharks and the Montclair Seahawks. The weather was gorgeous and that really helped.
Jonathon got set for his 25m Breaststroke. He only made one legal time this season, but that was enough as he was one of two Frogs swimmers in the race. Our little tadpoles have troubles with Breaststroke. His legal time was so slow he was ranked 22/22. Yup, dead last. Obviously, he swam in the first heat out of three.
7/31/10 - Divisionals - J 25 Breast 7/31/10 - Divisionals - J 25 Breast "dive"
7/31/10 - Divisionals - J 25 Breast 7/31/10 - Divisionals - J 25 Breast touch
Take a look at those two photos. See his arms underwater? Perfect! And see that touch at the end? Yay! He won his heat, and cut 11 seconds! Now to work on that dive....
Next up was Rebecca for her 50m Breaststroke.
7/31/10 - Divisionals - R 50 Breast lineup 7/31/10 - Divisionals - R 50 Breast dive 7/31/10 - Divisionals - R 50 Breast
Then Katherine's turn. Katherine is a breaststroker, so she was ranked 8th out of all 33 of the 13/14 girls in the race. With an 8-lane pool, that meant she swam in the last heat with the top swimmers.
7/31/10 - Divisionals - K 50 Breast start 7/31/10 - Divisionals - K 50 Breast dive 7/31/10 - Divisionals - K 50 Breast
She doesn't breathe much during breaststroke or butterfly, so all you get is the top of her head. She came in 5th overall, beating her best time by 1/10th of a second!
Nicholas had 25m Butterfly this time.
7/31/10 - Divisionals - N 25 Fly heat #1 7/31/10 - Divisionals - N 25 Fly psyching up 7/31/10 - Divisionals - N 25 Fly dive
7/31/10 - Divisionals - N 25 Fly #1 7/31/10 - Divisionals - N 25 Fly #2 7/31/10 - Divisionals - N 25 Butterfly touch
Then Becca's turn to do 50m Butterfly.
7/31/10 - Divisionals - R 50 Butterfly dive 7/31/10 - Divisionals - R 50 Butterfly #1 7/31/10 - Divisionals - R 50 Butterfly #2
The meet always ends with Freestyle Relays. Katherine wasn't in any relays this time as each team was allowed only 2 relay teams for each race (usually we have 3) and her Freestyle is far from the strongest. The younger three were in relays but I don't like taking photos of Freestyle or Backstroke, so this is all you get:
7/31/10 - Divisionals - J Free Relay.. uhhhhh. 7/31/10 - Divisionals - J Free Relay "dive" 7/31/10 - Divisionals - J Free Relay
And a parting shot. We're the red tent, and we were near the edge of tent city.
7/31/10 - Divisionals Tent City
The meet ended at 1p.m. and here's how our little family did (without relays).
Event #10 - Boys 8 and under: 25m Freestyle: 30.59 heat winner (seed 33.97)
Event #28 - Boys 8 and under: 25m Backstroke: 32.39 heat winner (seed 37.27) - 5 points PWB
Event #38 - Boys 8 and under: 25m Breaststroke: 49.82 (seed 1:00.78) - 5 points
Event #12 - Boys 9/10: 50 Freestyle: 47.34 (seed 45.94 PWB) - 4 points
Event #30 - Boys 9/10: 50 Backstroke: 1:00.17 (seed 58.63 PWB)
Event #50 - Boys 9/10: 25 Butterfly: 29.78 (seed 30.96) - 6 points
Event #15 - Girls 11/12: 50 Freestyle: 39.10 (seed 38.84 PWB) - 4 points
Event #43 - Girls 11/12: 50 Breaststroke: 57.75 (seed 57.81) - 1 point
Event #53 - Girls 11/12: 50 Butterfly: 48.75 (seed 55.12) - 4 points PWB
Event #17 - Girls 13/14: 50 Freestyle: 37.94 (seed 38.34 PWB) - 5 points
Event #35 - Girls 13/14: 50 Backstroke: DQ turn (seed 51.37)
Event #45 - Girls 13/14: 50 Breaststroke: 46.46 (seed 46.57 PWB) - 14 points, 5th place
Everyone improved in something and everyone earned points for the team. I'd say it was a successful morning and a successful season. As you can see, all the kids made a B time in at least one stroke. I'll put up a compilation of all their races from the season with their best times so we have something to gauge by next year. My mom came to several practices and meets including this one, which really means a lot to all of us. She could see their improvement too.
We spent the afternoon hours recovering at home then went with my mom to a Potomac Nationals game. Her office does all sorts of fun things throughout the year - when we went to Kings Dominion, that was arranged by them. This was a fully paid for outing that included dinner, seats and souvenirs, and only 15 minutes from home. The P-Nats lost to the Frederick Keys and we were exhausted by the fireworks at the end, but it was a great time. If you live in the area and like baseball and all that a minor league has to offer then the P-Nats is the way to go. Season passes are $19.95. Photos coming once my mom sends them over.
We were home around 10:30p.m. so my mom stayed over and went to church with us the following morning. It wasn't until after treating us to lunch at Silver Diner that she made her way back home.
Customarily, the Sunday after Divisionals is the Frogs awards ceremony and end-of-season party and for years they've held it at WaterWorks water park. This year, the party is post-poned:
Waterworks Park Remains Closed After Vandalism
Not. Cool. Ian said the vandalism sounded familiar and found other stories about similar incidents at local parks. Again... Not. Cool.
So the awards are post-poned and today is Monday, the first day of summer break without any swim team or guest or schedule of any sort. We'll clean house a bit, the boys will do their summer packets. Later this week we'll pack for the beach. But for now, bring on the lazy.