Sunday, October 27, 2019

First RV Camping Trip

M has definitely broadened my horizons in a number of ways by sharing the things he loves with me. He got me into cruises, after all. So I finally decided to try something he has enjoyed for a long time for the first time: RV camping (recreational vehicle camping)! I already really enjoy tent camping (on the condition that there is a toilet at the campsite, and even better if there is a shower), so I wasn't really sure how RV camping would compare.

We went camping with M's family in Bull Run Regional Park, which was surprisingly close and easy to reach. The park included a mix of locals and travelers, tents and RVs, families and couples and singles and friends. The park was preparing for the Festival of Lights, which looked like a fun holiday experience to try later in the season.

The RV was much more comfortable than I expected, to be honest! M and I slept on one of the couches that converted to a full bed, and all six of us on the trip could lounge comfortably by or in the RV. The campsite even came with a water hookup so we could use the bathroom inside instead of having to walk to the camp's shared bathroom, which was very convenient especially at night.

Although the weather was a little chilly that weekend, it was nice enough that we took a very leisurely hike together on one of the trails. We opted for a shorter route, but according to the trail map there are some loops that could take all day. Apparently, there are also nice bluebells to enjoy there during the spring, so we might have to come back for those next year.

The camp also had communal events planned where you could meet others who were staying at the park. We went to a bonfire where the camp staff provided cast iron griddles and we made grilled cheese sandwiches in the fire! It was so tasty, even if it didn't have much nutritional value. When we got back to our campsite, we also enjoyed a few rounds of s'mores. (Would it even be camping without s'mores?) M always toasts a perfect marshmallow, while I prepare the graham crackers and chocolate. We have our s'mores technique as a couple down at this point.

It was pouring rain the morning that we left, which is probably the single moment for which I was the most grateful to be in an RV instead of a tent. It did feel more like glamping than camping, though. All in all, I enjoyed my first time RV camping. It was different in a lot of ways from sleeping on the ground, but I would be happy to camp either way again. Feel free to share which type of camping is your favorite and why in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Falling in Love with New Hampshire

We spent a long weekend in New Hampshire celebrating the wedding of our dear friends L and D. I'd heard a lot about the beauty of New England in autumn, but this was my first time seeing it in person. Even a proud Virginian like me has to admit the views were stunning.

We drove up and back in our Tesla. It was a long drive (about 12 hours each way), but we enjoyed the vistas of the changing leaves on the sides of the highways and backroads alike.

The ceremony was held at the historic Castle in the Clouds. Photos don't do it justice: looking over the fall landscape, trees interrupted only by shimmering lakes, with clouds slowly rolling over the scene... It was breathtaking.

L and D had so many cool and unique touches at their wedding, from a Taco Bell-catered informal reception following their formal reception to a 3-d printed cake topper based on an exact scan of themselves. Because it was a gay wedding, they kept some traditions but skipped others. For example, they asked women in the wedding party to wear white and look as much like brides as possible.

Funnily enough, strangers kept coming up to me and congratulating me as we were leaving the ceremony venue. Turns out they thought I was the one who just got married! I can't blame them for thinking that based on how I was dressed, but we all had a good laugh over it. Personally, I was just excited to get to wear my wedding dress again. M and I even got a few couple photos together to make up for the fact that we didn't get enough at our own wedding years ago.

We also took advantage of the opportunity to explore a little of New Hampshire while we were up there. We did a maple sugar tour at Turkey Street Maples and sampled the different grades of maple syrup: golden, amber, dark, and very dark. They each had a really distinct color and flavor. They were seriously delicious!

We then participated in a mushroom farm tour at New Hampshire Mushroom Company, where we learned about different types of mushrooms and how a mushroom farm works. They also had a cool mushroom hike where you could forage for mushrooms in the forest yourself, but we didn't have time for it. We learned a lot but were super disappointed that they only took cash or check when it came time to buy mushrooms at the end. (We only have credit cards and digital payment methods.) I guess that says something about how we're not their typical clientele.

We're so honored to have been a part of L's and D's special day, and we also loved the chance to explore a part of the country we hadn't really seen before. So although we're exhausted, we came home with full hearts and plenty of wonderful memories made with friends.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

5 Things to Know about Long-Term Temp Housing

So M and I are now fully settled into our temporary housing, provided to us by the Department of State while we're in the DC area for mandatory training at the Foreign Service Institute (a.k.a. Diplomat School). This is our first time doing this, so we definitely experienced a learning curve and plenty of things we wished we had known in advance. Now don't get me wrong, we really appreciate the perk of a place to stay while we're assigned here. But for the benefit of other Foreign Service folks who may not have stayed in this type of housing before (or non-FS people who are just curious), here are the top five things we wish we had known beforehand.

(I will also clarify that these are pretty specific to the Department of State's HRPCS Lodging program with direct billing. You do have the option of finding your own place, reporting receipts, and being fully or partially reimbursed, but we decided to go with the convenience of State Department arrangements instead of apartment hunting ourselves. We can't really speak to the process of finding housing on your own and navigating the reimbursement system that way.)

  1. They're not joking about that short lead time for moving. We moved in on a holiday Monday and found out where we were going to live the Wednesday night before. Yep, that's two business days' notice. It's good to be flexible.
  2. You probably won't get a lot of information about accommodations in time to pack out of your house. We ended up wasting precious suitcase space on things we didn't really need, like bedding and towels. We expected a low-quality welcome kit but were provided with a nicer set-up than expected.
  3. Sometimes you get room service?! Our housing includes once per week room service! This was a really pleasant surprise, so now we at least don't have to worry about our linens.
  4. Properties can oversell their amenities. The property management company of our apartment had included electric car chargers as a selling point, which is the main reason they were our #1 choice. When we arrived, though, we learned the one electric charger didn't work and the property management company wasn't even aware! After M reported it, they finally fixed it. However, because they never put up any "electric vehicle-only" signage, all the spots that reach the charger are usually blocked by non-electric vehicles. They say they're working on it.
  5. The FSI shuttle is not all it's cracked up to be. The shuttle FSI arranges was sold as a strong perk, which makes sense since a lot of folks come without their cars. We drive most days, so we've only had to take the shuttle near our residence once so far. That one day I realized I did not want to ever take the shuttle again. In the time five shuttles should have come, only one did. They were supposed to run every few minutes, but we waited over 20 minutes and were late to class that day. Once we finally did get on the shuttle, it was insanely crowded so we had to stand squished together without great handhold options for the turns and brakes. We later learned that when the shuttles are too full, they simply start skipping stops (including ours), so that information would've been great up front. At least now we know and hopefully won't make that same mistake again.

I have a lot of thoughts specifically about language training, too, but I'll share that in a different blog post. I hope this was helpful and informative for some readers. And for those with their own relevant experience, please feel free to add your thoughts on long-term USG (U.S. government) temp housing in the comments below.