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Saturday, September 15, 2012

She Said: The Exceptional Work of Our FSOs

Particularly after this morning's news on the state of the world, I feel compelled to write.  Shock, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, Fear, Pride...all emotions I experienced this week after hearing the bad news.  This has been a difficult week for the foreign service community.  On Tuesday, the anniversary of 09/11 we lost four incredible men carrying out the work of diplomacy in Libya.  Today the violence has spread and 65 embassies and consulates have issued emergency messages about violence.  When the news first came about Ambassador Stevens (before I had even heard that we had lost 4 men) I felt personally very saddened.  It's a hard feeling to describe, but there is a closeness that comes with joining foreign service.  I think it's partially because from the outside our lifestyles seem so strange that we instantly bond with one another sharing in the commonalities we have without having to explain a thing. My parents both called the morning of the 12th to check in and express their sadness and anger at the news.  My dad even mentioned to me how it felt different having such a personal connection the state department than if he had heard the same news without that.  It is a strange feeling.  You feel like you've lost a family member and probably in the backs of our minds we are all thinking about those we know serving overseas right now and those who are here who will be overseas again at some point.  That danger is always there, although we're not always as aware of it.  This week has certainly highlighted that.

There have been several op-eds and articles written in light of these events that have highlighted the work of US diplomats overseas.  I think it is important for people to see these to grasp that one small opportunity that can come with this terrible tragedy and highlight the importance of the work these public servants do.  I have heard people say that diplomats just attend parties or that it's a glamorous lifestyle, but that's simply not the case and while it's unfortunate that it takes a terrible tragedy for people to grasp this, I think this is an opportunity to share about the work they do.  I could attempt to write it in my own words, but there are so many good articles floating around I am just going to repost two recent favorites:

NY Times Op-Ed:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/opinion/in-libya-and-elsewhere-our-diplomats-deserve-better.html?ref=opinion

Foreign Policy Article:  http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/13/americas_other_army?page=0%2C0

I am proud of the work that my husband and his colleagues carry out on a daily basis.  They too often forget that it is extraordinary work.   Even with the danger, I know we all believe (families and diplomats alike) that the work is extremely important and it must continue.  Thank you to anyone reading this who is in public service and to those of you who don't know exactly what diplomats do and are taking the time to learn.   My heart goes out to the families of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

"So we will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines, and face the future undaunted. And we will do it together, protecting and helping one another, just like Sean, Tyrone, Glen, and Chris always did. May God bless them and grant their families peace and solace, and may God continue to bless the United States of America."-Secretary Clinton, Sep. 14, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

She Said: So much to be thankful for part 2...

Happy New Year!  I can't believe it has been over a year since either of us posted, which tells you what kind of a year it has been.  With the dust settling a bit in our lives I am once again back at blogging and am really looking forward to it.  Brian and I had really hoped to do a Christmas letter this year, but it just didn't happen.  We still have hopes of getting a Valentine's day letter out...time will tell.

I decided to title this post the same as the last post I wrote because that really is the theme in our lives right now.   Blog entries are meant to be short, so I won't go through the list of things I'm thankful for right now, but I will tell you that our life has changed in a big way over the last year.  Since I last wrote we are back stateside (in DC for a tour), have purchased a house and welcomed our bundle of joy Colin Richard into this world.  While there are so many things I could write about in this post, there is one timely story that I feel compelled to share and seems to be a good one to kick off the blogging on the theme "So much to be thankful for".

On the night of December 3rd Brian and I put Colin to sleep as usual around 8:00 pm.  We were excited to be in our new house that we had just moved into before Thanksgiving.  Around 1:00 am, Colin woke up and was very fussy.  He was crying and crying which is very unlike him.  Being the weekend (and that Brian is such a wonderful husband) Brian was up with him rocking him and walking with him to calm him off and on.  At about 2:15 we made the decision to bring Colin in bed with us because he had been so upset.  It's just so unlike him that we were worried about him and thought it would help us all get some sleep.

At 3:30 I decided I was going to feed Colin.  He usually gets up to eat around 4:00 anyway and since he had been so upset I decided feeding him a little early might help him.  He had switched from all out crying to more of a lethargic moan, but still seemed irritable.  When I sat up to feed him I nearly fell over and felt very faint.  "What's wrong?", Brian asked.  "Did you sit up too fast?"  "I don't know"  I told him.  "I feel really dizzy...you take Colin and let me just lay back down for a minute while I pull myself together to feed him".  Brian walked with Colin while he cried for  a few minutes and then I tried to take him again.  I sat up and again was immediately dizzy.  This time I also felt sick to my stomach.  I wanted to try and feed Colin, so I took him and Brian walked around the bed to lay down.  "I feel dizzy too" he said.  Within 30 seconds of him telling me he was dizzy his knees gave out and he hit the bed.  I couldn't believe it.  What was happening?  It's so unlike Brian to be sick.  "We're tired" Brian said.  "Maybe we have food poisoning" we said to each other.  Brian laid down and tried to get comfortable while I attempted to feed Colin, but Colin wouldn't eat and that's what prompted me to realize there was something much bigger going on...that all three of us were affected.

 By some miracle of God I was reminded of a story my dad told me about a woman that works at his office, Lori.  Her family was affected by carbon monoxide poisoning a couple of years ago and I remember my dad saying how they had passed out, had headaches, were throwing up.  "Could this be carbon monoxide?"  I said to Brian.  So, Brian ran downstairs to do a quick google search and within moments hollered up to me that he thought it could very well be carbon monoxide.  The webpage said to get any air possible, so Brian opened a couple of windows and took a few deep breaths before heading back upstairs for us. As Brian came back in the bedroom I panicked.  I was worried about Colin.  I remember thinking that if Brian and I were as sick as we were that Colin must have been much worse.  I took him in my arms and left the bedroom and that's the last thing I remember.  Somewhere between there and the bottom of the stairs I lost consciousness.  Brian heard me fall and came out to find me at the bottom of the steps.  Colin was beside me, face up in his swaddle looking stunned.  Brian says that I was still responding, that I said I was ok and to take Colin.  He took Colin and went to the entry of our house where he propped open the door and sat with Colin to recover.  I regained consciousness at the bottom of the steps.  I remember waking up wondering why I was where I was, but remembering that I needed to get out. I got up and headed for the door, but I lost consciousness again in the entryway.  At that point Brian decided it was too risky to leave me.  He came in with Colin in one arm, grabbed me with his other and used all his strength to pull me out of the house.  Once we were out and getting fresh air we began to talk about what to do.  Because the CO made us so stupid, we considered driving to the emergency room and finally settled on calling 911.  I had been able to grab a jacket and Brian's cell phone just after I gained consciousness on the steps.  We called 911 and then we waited...for what seemed like an eternity, but was only 3 minutes.  I am ever grateful to the firemen and ems teams that responded to our call that cold winter night.  We were huddled together on the boulevard with my fleece wrapped around the 3 of us and I've never been so happy to hear sirens.  I had made a phone call to each of our families during the time we were waiting to touch base.  I really didn't know what was going to happen. When the firemen arrived I asked one of them to take Colin and get him warm and as soon as they lifted him out of Brian's arms, Brian collapsed.

The details of what ensued after are not really important.  What is important is that we are all ok and we all made it out alive.  Colin having an ear infection that night saved our lives and I really have to believe that there was someone much greater than us running the show that night.  Colin came out the best of the three of us with no bumps or bruises from the fall.  I have never been more aware of what it means to have life, have each other and appreciate one another.

So, this post is about saying thanks to each and every one of you that has been a part of our lives and that is so special to us.  We can't tell you how much we appreciate you.  If you don't have carbon monoxide detectors in your house/apartment/rental property/fs housing, please please go out and buy a couple and tell our story to others so that this doesn't have to happen again.  The source of the CO turned out to be a gas boiler next door to us and because we share a wall the gas was able to seep through the walls, so please don't say "we don't need those because we have nothing that could give off CO."

As I'm finishing this post I am sitting here literally laughing out loud at the giggles my 5 month old is putting out.  The company of his soft cookie monster toy brings him so much joy and he has brought so much joy to our lives.  I hope you take a moment today to remember the important things and take a step back from the small things in life to enjoy each moment that you can.

More blogs to follow soon and I promise they won't all be this serious!

Hugs to all,
Steph

Thursday, December 2, 2010

She Said: So much to be thankful for!

Well, as Brian said in his post, we've had a wonderful last few months (Yes Mr. Flynn I know that it has been a ridiculously long time since I last posted...thanks for keeping me honest). I did start working in July and I have to say I have really enjoyed the consular section. Aside from gaining a deep understanding and appreciation for what Brian is doing, I have learned a lot of new things, gotten to know people at the embassy on a much more personal level and had a great time over the past few months. In addition, it has helped me take my focus off of how difficult things can sometimes be in this country. While I have really learned a lot in the section and enjoyed my colleagues, I've decided that the actual job that I'm doing at the embassy is simply not a good fit for me. I have made a decision to leave the consular section at the end of the year and will be starting a new position at the embassy in January.

With all that's been going on, here we are with just under a year left in Venezuela. The first few months really seemed to creep by, but now we find the time flying and asking ourselves where it has gone. As we chatted the other day, Brian and I both realized that most of the places we wanted to see while we were here have since been checked off our list (Angle Falls, Panama, the beaches here, Chile) and we only have a few "must dos in Venezuela" left. I used Shutterfly to create a volume of pictures from our first year here and as we looked back we were astonished at all we've been able to do. Despite some of the difficulties we've faced, we wouldn't change it for the world!

While we love foreign service life and the privileges it brings, you all know how hard some of our days in Venezuela have been. As we approach the new year, I think Brian and I are both thinking about the new year and our onward assignment to DC. It's funny in the foreign service....often times people look at you like you're crazy when you say you're going back to DC or they say "I'm sorry" when you tell them where you're going. They see it as a disappointment, perhaps because we're all so used to the privilege of traveling and living overseas. For us, that is not the case at all. We are both EXTREMELY EXCITED to be going back to DC for a post and think the timing is right for us. For Brian's career, the job is an excellent fit and now that I've been out for a tour I have a better idea of what experiences and contacts will be good for me to get in DC before heading overseas again. There are a lot of things we missed about the states being here and we plan to take full advantage of them while we're home (watch out Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Target...here we come!)

I don't have much to add beyond that at this point. I feel like I could write so many blog posts right now to share with you all the great travel adventures we've had since I last wrote. I guess working really did consume me. For now, I'll keep it simple and say happy holidays to you and loved ones around the world. As we are surrounded by so many wonderful friends here, our wonderful friends at home who are so patient with us and so committed to our friendship and our loving family who is always there for us no matter what, I am constantly reminded of how lucky we are to be where we are and to have what we have. Wishing you all exciting adventures in the new year to come. Merry Christmas!