Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Getting Rid of Everything: Well, At Least the VHS Tapes

I have this secret fantasy where we just get rid of all our stuff and walk onto the plane with just our identification, then I snap back into reality. One of the good outcomes of the move is getting rid of things we don't need.

We will end up donating and giving away a lot of things that seemed necessary at the time, but really don't make sense anymore. Like our VHS tapes. We had several documenting life events tucked away but don't have a VCR.

I found the "Send Us the Box" product from APM Studio online. You just throw all your media in a box and send to them. They will analyze the tapes and propose how many DVDs should be made from them. There may be cheaper places that do this online, or we could also try to rig up something ourselves with a friend's VCR, but with our countdown it looks to be a time effective and reasonably priced option.

This is something I know we wouldn't have done for at least another 5 years if we weren't moving.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Saying Good Bye to Friends and Family

We started our rounds of goodbyes this past weekend at my family's farm. We were lucky to get most of my family to meet us there. The grandparents will come to D.C. within the next few weeks. It helps to have a one year-old, people are willing to come to you. Otherwise, it would be extremely draining and time consuming to visit everyone you would like to visit.

It also takes a lot of time and focus to say goodbye to friends. We have dinner invitations and accepted a few, but since we mostly need time after work to prepare for pack out and run errands. To help with this, we are holding two nights open at the lounge in the hotel we are staying at for people to stop by and say goodbye. The two nights are a weekend day and weekday. This way the house can be in a pre-pack out organizational state (piles of stuff everywhere) and no clean up!

An unexpected goodbye is to our favorite restaurants and foods. Seems like we are all adding on a few pounds during our food farewell tour with the rationale that we may not be able to eat certain foods in Kolkata.

Update: The two days went well, but it was hard to give each person the attention that we wanted to. Sicily had a ball being the center of attention!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

We Have Our Travel Orders!

Some key items hinge on having our travel orders: our exact schedule for consultations, our route of travel, getting plane tickets, and pack out.

You must first get your final medical clearances before travel orders are issued. We were surprised by this since you need a medical clearance prior to being hired.

Luckily all you need is the assignment notification (not orders) to get your diplomatic passport, visas and immunizations. So there is much you can do prior to getting travel orders.

The travel orders spell out in detail consultations, travel route, per diems, shipment allowances, location of storage and foreign transfer allowance.

We are going to India! Well, after we do several more things...

Another item to do after you get your travel orders is to request access to the AAFES catalog. Department of State employees are eligible with travel orders.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Line Regulators vs. Power Surge Protectors

One of the best nuggets from the Going Overseas: Logistics for Adults (or MQ 230) class was a discussion on the benefits of protecting equipment from black outs and brown outs. We learned that brown outs can be as damaging as black outs and the best way to deal with brown outs are with line regulators.

I am new to line regulators -- defined as "A type of power-conversion equipment that manipulates filters, noise, the degree of regulation or voltage changes that result from incoming AC power."

Looks like a popular and reasonable is brand APC. From their website: "Protect your sensitive electronic equipment from brownouts and over voltages with APC Line-R automatic voltage regulator. Uncorrected voltage fluctuations gradually degrade the life of electronic components, potentially causing premature failure. The Line-R not only adjusts voltages to safe levels, but also provides surge protection against electrical surges and spikes - even lightning."

I found one at that handles 6.5 feet and 4 outlets for $43.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Looking Back On Our First Bid List

Thinking back to flag day and our bid list, we know so much more now about the process to date and our post than back then. Our highs, mediums and lows would not change much if we were able to rebid -- our highs probably not at all. But I would have approached the list differently:

1. Try to be more practical - Alan and I love travel and learning new things so it was very hard to not let the allure of the culture and location drive our decisions. I have to remember that we will have many more opportunities in the future.

2. Get more details on immunizations, autos and pet import specifics for the post - we only made time to research general post and country information, because there is so much to understand about so many posts. We did not dive deeper into the most current and specific post information. For example, the procedures for importing pets is different at the Kolkata airport than at other airports in India. This would have helped to set our expectations and start preparations to move earlier.

3. Be more specific and detailed about your desired posts with your career counselor - we were lucky in that we ended up with a great first post. Like one person from the 138th said "it seems like they knew me better than I knew myself." But looking back, we could have also given them even more information.

One thing we did do well, we made and discussed a list of our priorities prior to getting the list. This helped a lot. We both knew what was important to the other and we did it without having those really exciting locations clouding our judgement.

Finding a Property Manager

Luckily Alan and I traveled a lot when we were young(er), single and carefree. We have plenty of stories to tell of picking up at the last minute with only a backpack and making our way. Well no more!

We have a one year old, a car, a house, a very large dog, and more things than I was aware of until we started grouping items for pack out. This is a lot of work. I now really admire the many families who do this multiple times in such short intervals.

Another big task is dealing with our house. Since the market isn't so great right now and our neighbor, who is a realtor, recommended that we wait and sell no earlier than two years, we are renting.

Our first step was to interview property managers. We interviewed two and settled on one. The OBC has a good course on getting your house ready for renting or sale that Alan went to. One of the handouts from that course (and also a reference in the OBC) is questions to ask a property manager. I highly recommend looking at that list.

Selecting a property manager is just the beginning. Here are some more tasks that we are looking forward to, and I know I am not thinking of them all right now:

1. Sign contract and meet with actual person that will manage property. Both companies sent sales persons out for the initial interviews
2. Agree on rental price. Both told us we can try a desired price at first, but if there is no or low responses we will need to bring it down until we get interest.
3. Declutter, shape-up and clean for showings
4. Keep the house clean for showing (how is this accomplished?)
5. Keep dog away for showings (since she is big and about half the width of our house in size, again how is this accomplished?)
7. Deep clean, repair and prepare house for renters

By the way did I mention that if you are looking for a great city house to rent, one that comes with a parking space, back yard and takes large dogs - contact us!

Personal Finances and Investments in the Foreign Affairs Agencies

Moving through our list of things to do, I took a look back at our notes from the Personal Finances and Investments in the Foreign Affairs Agencies (or MQ 852) class offered through the OBC on April 9th of this year. Here are the top seven nuggets I found useful:

1. Current recommendation is to invest 25 to 45% of assets in international funds
2. On average a housing correction after a stock correction takes about 2 years to shake out
3. Current financial sector will recover in 1 to 2 years, for the next 12 months high-tech and health services are good buys
4. Should have 6 to 9 months rent available when renting a house
5. Cancel home owners insurance when renting
6. In your will use percentages not amounts, and list specific gifts
7. You can change the beneficiaries for 529s

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Great Consular Story: Arnel Pineda

Today's CBS Sunday Morning featured a story on Arnel Pineda, the new singer for Journey. We first heard of this story through the A-100 pre-acceptance Yahoo group. The consular officer that processed his visa in the Phillipines told the first person account of him at the window. She didn't believe him at first, an audition with the band Journey does seem a bit fantastical, but she asked him to sing "Wheel in the Sky" and he belted out vocals like she had never heard before.

It was very interesting to hear his story, text transcript at:
A Journey Back: New Lead Singer Helps Bring Legendary Rock Group Back On The Road
and there are a bunch of his performance videos on YouTube:

Another Popular D.C. Foreign Service Restaurant

On Flag Day we ran into a few of Alan's classmates at Bombay Curry Company in Del Ray, Virginia. A great Indian restaurant that is spicier than most in the area.

We ran into more Foreign Service at Mark's Duck House off of Arlington Boulevard (US 50) recently. One of our favorites in the area since it is reasonably priced, tasty and quick.

Image from the Mark's Duck House website