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.
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!