Monday, December 25, 2023

From COP Town to Cape Town

M literally groaned out loud when I told him the title of this blog post. What can I say? I love my puns. The last few months of the year, the U.S. Mission to the UAE was laser-focused on COP28, the 28th edition of an annual United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC more commonly known as simply "COP". This year, Dubai hosted the event and tens of thousands of delegates from around the world descended on the UAE for weeks of engagements and negotiations (and even a few protests).

I served as a control officer for one of the many U.S. government delegations. Working visits like this is always intense: I calculated in just three days over one weekend I worked 48 hours' worth of overtime. I finished around midnight or 1am every day my visitors were on the ground and started early again the next day. (As a tenured Foreign Service Officer, I'm not actually eligible for overtime paid out for extra hours worked but I did get what's called "special compensatory time off", which is additional leave I can use later.)

Thankfully, once my portion of the massive support effort was complete, I was able to jet off with M and S to South Africa for a dear friend's wedding. I went to middle school, high school, and college with this friend, so we go way back. Plus, we've always wanted to visit Cape Town where the wedding was held. Long flights with a restless toddler are never easy, but we made it in one piece.

We spent a week in Cape Town doing a mix of wedding-related activities and tourist attractions on our own. We took a walking tour of Cape Town covering the history of apartheid, hiked Lion's Head, saw wild penguins at Boulders Beach, went strawberry picking at a local farm, took the cable car up Table Mountain, and drove through the colorful streets of Bo Kaap. I especially loved the hike, S especially loved the penguins and strawberry picking, and M especially loved the Palestinian art in Bo Kaap.

The hardest part of our trip was the intense load shedding. Load shedding is a decrease or blackout of electricity to prevent an excessive load on the electricity plant when demand outpaces supply, and load shedding in South Africa has been an issue for a long time. While we were in Cape Town, we experienced it multiple times a day for hours at a time. It affected everything, from what restaurants could cook and serve to whether our babycam would work at the hotel. It even prevented us from visiting a museum I wanted to see, which was closed for load shedding when we went there. People there seemed used to it, but it was a big adjustment for us.

Our friend's wedding was stunning. They had the ceremony and reception at a gorgeous venue in Stellenbosch, world famous for its vineyards. The wedding was adults only, so we teamed up with some other families with young kids to hire a nanny near the grounds of the venue. S had so much fun playing with the other kids, he kept asking to hang out with them by name for the rest of the trip. M and I really enjoyed our time at the wedding, having adult conversations and taking a break from chasing our little guy around every waking moment.

We decided to tack on a weekend at a resort in Mozambique on our way back from South Africa. After doing a million things in Cape Town, we chose to just relax at our resort near Maputo the entire time. We had an incredible oceanfront view and appreciated the chance to unwind and recharge.

Too soon, it was time to wrap up our trip and return home. Only later did I realize that two family friends we loved spending time with in Nairobi had moved to Cape Town, and we completely missed hanging out with them! I was so bummed about it. At least now we have an excuse to visit again in the future.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Happy (Belated) Diwali from Dubai!

We celebrated Diwali for the first time with Indian neighbors and learned a lot about this special holiday. There's such a massive Indian population here; I once read they outnumber Emiratis in Dubai seven to one. I don't know how accurate that number is, but one of our neighbor's friends said being here feels just like they might as well be in India for the major holidays.

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, has become a national celebration in India for Hindu and non-Hindu communities alike. Different parts of India recognize the holiday as a commemoration of different events, but all generally united by the theme of good triumphing over evil. It's celebrated over multiple days.

In our part of town, fireworks lit up the sky and neighbors decorated balconies with festive lights and candles. In our apartment building, we saw beautiful rangoli, art made with powder and sand. The local mall was completely decked out floor to ceiling for the occasion, as well.

We had fun dancing the night away with our neighbors and their friends until the wee hours of the morning, but M and I are definitely getting older and can't party like we used to. We devoured the feast our hosts provided after midnight and made it until about 1:30am, but our neighbors kept the party going until well after 4am. We were so impressed at everyone's stamina!

It's wonderful to be included in others' traditions and learn more about their history and culture. It's one of my favorite things about living somewhere new. I already wanted to visit India terribly, but the more exposure I get here in Dubai the more I'm itching to go there. I hear it's not too far from the UAE, so I'm sure we'll make it out there someday. In the meantime, Happy (belated) Diwali to all readers who celebrate!

Friday, November 3, 2023

You Don't Want My Hot Take on Current Events

There's a reason I haven't blogged in a few weeks. The crisis in the region I'm temporarily calling home is impossible to ignore, not just because I live in the United Arab Emirates but because the issue falls squarely in my portfolio. And because M and his family have a personal connection to the conflict. And because I have many Arab, Jewish, and Muslim people I love who feel less safe than they ever have right now. And because every day I wake up to new horrors in the media: pictures and descriptions and stories about so many innocent people who will never get their lives or their loved ones back. (I'm grateful for the courageous journalists, editors, doctors, humanitarian workers, photographers, and all those who are making sure some of those stories the rest of the world would never know get told.)

I studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict quite a bit in school, including the history and politics and utterly contradictory narratives of the two sides, and I've spent a lot of time over the years debating people on what the United States should or shouldn't do. As a student, I had the luxury of seeing the issue through an intellectual and academic lens. After all, I've never experienced war or terrorism or displacement firsthand. Now, I come to the issue with a different mandate: one that dictates I have to stay professional, apolitical, and in line with U.S. policy. When we serve as diplomats overseas, members of the Foreign Service are subject to some of the strictest restrictions on free speech and expression that can be found in U.S. law and practice. While in other jobs you might be free to say and do what you want in your free time, Foreign Service members abroad are pretty much considered official representatives of the U.S. government 24/7. That affects what I post on social media, blog about, put in emails, and say out loud or even on the phone.

If I started spouting my hot takes on U.S. foreign policy or on the decisions of our elected leaders, I would almost certainly be out of a job quickly. That's why you won't hear my - or my colleagues' - hot takes on current events. The vast majority of us are doing our best to do the right thing as best we know how in the many small ways that we actually have influence over, and I appreciate those who cared enough to let me know they were thinking of me and M. And I am trying my best to give grace to those who have lashed out with unkind words, because I know it comes from a place of pain, and there's plenty of pain to go around.

If you're reading this, I hope you educate yourself on how we got to this point. I hope you challenge people who share misinformation, of which there has been so much, even if their misinformation supports your view. I hope you stand up for what you believe in, let your elected representatives know, and vote. I hope you fight hate in all its forms, including anti-Arab racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, and leave space for real conversations that change people's hearts and minds. I hope you support reputable organizations you believe in - a favorite of mine is Doctors without Borders.

Someday when I'm retired and have left the Foreign Service and can be a private citizen again, I would be happy to share my (unclassified) opinions, frustrations, missteps, and victories with a good friend over mocktails. But until then, please know that even though many of us are passionate and opinionated about the work we do (and that's one of the reasons why we joined in the first place), we'll have to keep our strongest exchanges of views inside the institution... for now.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Our First Date Night in Dubai

You read that post title right: we finally made it to our new home in Dubai! We're so excited to be here.

Fall is my favorite season in the United States, so I try to lean into whatever American autumnal celebrations I can get when we're overseas. I was thrilled to discover that Halloween is a thing in Dubai with tons of events, themed brunches, amusement park programs, and more. M and I decided to take advantage of one of these events for our first date night in Dubai: an Addams Family-themed Halloween special murder mystery dinner at a speakeasy!

I am so thankful for my worldwide church community that I have access to as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which allowed me to find a trustworthy babysitter so soon after arriving to our new home. We put S down to sleep, donned our thematic monochromatic attire per the "gothic chic" dress code, and headed out for a fun and unique date night.

One fun cultural thing here is that more venues have non-alcoholic drink options besides juice and soda - a welcome change from most American establishments for non-drinkers. The food was a set menu, and the drinks were bottomless. M and I quickly established our favorite mocktails: strawberry for him and passionfruit for me.

Flashback Speakeasy's intimate, moody ambiance was amazing and so fitting for the theme. Part of the murder mystery included a very thoughtfully decorated room full of clues to help us pinpoint who the culprit was. We did get nervous when we walked in and saw ashtrays on every table, though, and it turns out smoking indoors is more common in the UAE than we realized. Although folks around us smoked, it wasn't a dealbreaker for the experience.

The food was good, but the best part of the whole night was the performance. The actors hired to play members of the Addams Family were not ony excellent in character but they sang, danced, and even played the saxophone! We didn't realize that would be part of the evening, and we were blown away by their talent.

The biggest disappointment was the mystery itself, which was too easy to solve to the point where almost everyone in attendance figured it out. I like a more challenging puzzle, so I wish they had thrown more complex clues and red herrings into that room we investigated.

Even still, we had a great time and I would recommend this date night to anyone who likes great music, food, and vibes. Although the Halloween themed mystery is on for a limited time only, apparently they host a murder mystery dinner of some kind every week.

There is so much to do here and we're looking forward to experiencing as much as we can in the next few years. I'm sure this is the first of many, many memorable dates we'll have in Dubai.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Let's Talk about FSO Salaries

plant growing out of coins

Today I'm going to address a topic that is (unfortunately) still considered a bit taboo in American society: pay! (It's at the top of my mind since I've had a few recent conversations about it `with mentees joining the Foreign Service.) There are many, many reasons why people should not be ashamed to talk about their wages, though, foremost because pay transparency can lower pay inequities. When you join the Foreign Service as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), you submit your education and work history to the Registrar's Office, which uses Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 134A3 to calculate your starting grade and step. Your grade and step combination corresponds to a salary on the FSO Pay Scale, which is public. There are a lot of FSO benefits besides the salary, too, but this blog post will focus strictly on the salary.

Looking at SOP 134A3, it seems like the determination of an FSO's starting salary would be very simple and straightforward. You just start with your highest completed educational degree, add one step for each year of qualifying work experience, and see if you get an additional boost for salary matching. For example, I started with a Master's degree and some years of work experience, so I started as grade 5 and step 7 (FP05-07). By my own calculations, I had more than two years of relevant experience but State decided only two years would count toward my starting salary.

I thought I had I pushed back on their estimates, though when I went back through my old emails from six years ago I couldn't find any receipts. Regardless, I didn't receive any adjustment to my initial offered salary. I went back and re-read my offer letter, which stated in no uncertain terms: "Unlike the private sector, salaries in the federal serviceare not negotiated packages, but are set by published standards." State does have a salary review process that I highly recommend to any new hires who feel like their experience was undercounted. I've never heard of anyone having an offer rescinded or reduced because they requested a salary review, but I have heard of cases of people successfully arguing for higher starting pay.

It's also worth noting that the Department of State will try to do salary matching for new Foreign Service Officers, but they can't go higher than the Foreign Service pay scale allows. This means if you're applying for the Foreign Service and want to start at a higher salary, you should try and get the highest paid job possible before making the switch. I've heard of people transitioning from the nonprofit to the private sector before applying to the Foreign Service in part for this reason.

Your starting salary as an FSO is crucial because it sets the baseline for your entire career. Every promotion to a new grade and every step increase will be based off of that initial salary. That means those who start at a lower number will likely stay behind the average compensation of their peers for the rest of their career. Unfortunately, there is no option to adjust after you join. Even folks who later obtain a higher degree after joining won't have their salary adjusted to reflect that higher qualification. In the Foreign Service (unlike in some other careers), you can do the exact same work and get paid wildly different amounts.

I hope this post is helpful especially for folks who are applying now or who haven't accepted an offer yet. I'm strongly supportive of people coming in clear-eyed about what the compensation is for this career so they can make the best decisions for them and their unique situations. As I mentioned, there are plenty of other special benefits like moving around the world, living rent-free overseas, receiving a pension, and more, but at the end of the day none of those things are liquid, accessible cash. Best of luck!

Saturday, September 30, 2023

The 24 Hours in London Everyone Warned Us Not to Take

When we move for work, we're typically authorized a 24-hour rest stop at a place we would have had a layover. Until now, we've always taken the rest stop and appreciated the chance to shower, rest in a real bed, and explore a bit of the layover city. On our way to PCS (permanent change of station) to Dubai, our designated rest stop option was London. We waffled back and forth about whether to take the rest stop this time for several reasons:

  • We're traveling with a toddler, which is way more difficult than traveling with a newborn as we did on our last PCS from Korea to the States. Newborns are content to sleep most of the trip while toddlers are generally antsier and fussier. Shaking up routines can also be hard at S's age (a year and a half), so most parents recommended powering through to the final destination as quickly as possible and not taking a rest stop until kids are older.
  • Many folks told us that Heathrow Airport was too far from the city and we'd have a frustrating time actually trying to get out and see the sights due to cost and transit time.
  • People advised it's harder to visit London in a day than other cities where we've done rest stops like Doha and Paris because things to do and sightsee are quite spread out from each other and we might only get to see one or two things.

Ultimately, we decided to take the rest stop and see how it went, partially as a trial run to see how S did and partially because we've never visited London or any part of the UK together before. The trip started out very rough, with an awful experience on British Airways (BA). Everyone was perfectly nice, but it felt like the first time everyone we interacted with on BA staff had handled a family traveling with a toddler. For example, we always get S his own seat on the plane with a car seat approved for air travel and have him sit in that seat for takeoff and landing. (Not having him in our laps the whole time reduces the risk of in-flight injury.) Unfortunately, a flight attendant tried to tell us we're not allowed to put him in his approved car seat for takeoff and landing and had to have him in our laps. She brought us a seatbelt extension to strap him into our lap belt, but we insisted on using the car seat. Thankfully, she was overruled and came back to tell us we could strap him into his proper seat. (The exact same thing happened on ur second flight, as well. The head flight attendant insisted we couldn't have S in our car seat for takeoff and landing until we demanded he look up the policy and only let us do it once he confirmed we were right per the stated BA policy.

The worst part of all was the stroller. We have a nice, sturdy jogging stroller we travel with that we have always been able to gate check and receive at the gangway without issue. This time, however, we were told that BA policy was to take anything larger than an umbrella stroller and check it as a checked bag we wouldn't have until baggage claim in London. We resigned ourselves to our fate, taking a baby carrier onto the plane so we could wear him until baggage claim. But when we got to our luggage we discovered they had absolutely and permanently destroyed our stroller. The whole thing was smashed, the wheels were bent in all kinds of directions, the spokes were broken, and it was unusable. We had to toss it in the trash at Heathrow and BA shrugged and told us we could always file a claim requesting reimbursement (which may or may not be approved) later.

Not having a stroller in London (and taking an extra three hours to get out of the airport dealing with that situation) really messed up my carefully planned morning. We landed at 6am, so I thought we'd have plenty of time to drop our bags off and do a morning walking tour that was stroller accessible. We ended up scrapping the walking tour since our only method of transporting S was carrying him. We dropped our suitcases and the car seat off at a luggage storage at the airport and took only our carry-ons into the city. Getting into London once we finally escaped the airport was much less of a hassle than people told us previously thanks to the relatively new Elizabeth line train. We took it from the airport to right by our hotel and only had to walk a few minutes. The train service was great and the train was comfortable and on time with plenty of seating. The best part was, we didn't have to buy any separate tickets and could just pay by tapping our phones at the turnstiles and using Google Pay. It was so convenient.

We were able to check into our hotel a bit early, which I was really grateful for after that first leg of our trip. To our (and especially M's horror), though, they told us the building required emergency maintenance and the entire building would be without air conditioning during our stay. Strike two for our rest stop in London... Funny enough, the weather was gorgeous for our whole time in London, with partly cloudy skies and low 70s Fahrenheit for temperature, but the inside of the hotel was quite hot and stuffy compared to the refreshing outside air.

Once we all had a bite to eat at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant and took a nap to recover from the flight, we headed out to explore and had a lovely walk around Mayfair. I tried to find museums or things we could visit, but all of the ones I found nearby closed quite early on a weekday (5 or 6pm), and we had plans to meet a friend of mine for dinner at 6:30pm so the timing wasn't great. Instead, we popped over to Fortnum and Mason department store to do some shopping and ended up getting their ice cream at The Parlour. The Bickfield Milk flavor was my favorite: it tasted so fresh and delicious. We were so busy wrangling S at the table that I forgot to take a photo! (Oh, how parenthood changes you.)

We were going to meet my friend J for dinner at Dishoom, a restaurant multiple coworkers had recommended, but when we went there was a 40-minute wait and M and I didn't think S would do well waiting that long especially since he'd already be passing his usual bedtime. We tried a few other restaurants on the same street, but one said you needed a reservation and the next didn't have a high chair. As I started to get nervous we wouldn't find somewhere to eat, a lovely Thai restaurant swooped to the rescue with not only a table but a high chair. Success! The food really hit the spot. It was so fun catching up with J, my bestie from my time studying Arabic and teaching English in Oman. I haven't seen her in years but when we found out we'd be stopping by London she was the first person I messaged to see if she was free. This was the highlight of our rest stop (and we didn't miss out on Dishoom since we got some for breakfast the next day)!

On the day of our departure from London, we made arrangements to get to Heathrow two hours before our flight. Since the Elizabeth line train was so reliable on the way in, we thought we'd have a similarly easy time on the way out. Unfortunately, we were sorely mistaken. Multiple trains passed that were not going to our terminal in Heathrow, and the train we actually needed was delayed. It was only the beginning of our departure nightmare, however, because when we got to the airport we rushed to check in at multiple zones where British Airways staff kept redirecting us to a special zone we had to check in given we were traveling with a child, even though we were running late. They insisted it was for our convenience, but it was anything but convenient. By the time we finally found a British Airways employee in the zone for families traveling with children and told them we were behind schedule, they scolded us for our tardiness, rolled their eyes, and let us through saying, "What were you thinking? There's no way you're going to make your flight!" Despite our urgency, they still let two sets of customers from the regular line go before us before we could see an agent. The agent then informed us we were six minutes too late to check in per British Airways' required one hour minimum before the flight. Our pleas for mercy (especially since the only reason we were six minutes late is because other zones kept turning us away) were ignored. The worst part was, our flight ended up being ten minutes delayed anyway so we were technically at the desk more than an hour before departure.

I proceeded to spend many grueling hours on the phone with Carlson Wagonlit (CWT, the State Department contracted travel arranging company), American Airlines (through whom the tickets were booked), and British Airways (who operated the flight). Each one told me to go talk to one of the others and said they could not assist me at all. Even after seeking help from my office, I ultimately had to pay out of pocket the almost $2,000 cost of new flights for the whole family and just pray I can get reimbursed later (something I was assured was not a guarantee).

So what's the verdict? Everyone was absolutely right that the rest stop in London is not worth it, and we should have listened to them! I'm sure London would be great with more time, but 24 hours is insufficient and a logistical nightmare. Even though S handled the transitions, time zone changes, and long hours at the airport like a champ, it didn't make up for how awful the overall experience was. I'm so glad I saw my friend J, because catching up with her was the bright spot of our trip. Regarding everything else, I'll just add my voice to the chorus of wise Foreign Service folks who came before us and say: do not do the London rest stop if you can help it! (Though if you manage to have a completely delightful and successful rest stop there, I have mad respect for you. It's not easy.)

Monday, September 18, 2023

Girls' Trip to Richmond

Before we head off again to opposite corners of the globe, I got a chance to do a quick girls' trip to Richmond with my bestie from Seoul, N. It's hard saying goodbye so often in this lifestyle, but if it weren't for the Foreign Service then I never would have even met so many awesome people, including N. I'm glad I was able to get away and get some quality time with just us.

It was her first time to Richmond and my third, but I'm telling you the city wasn't quite how I remembered it. The pandemic really took a toll on so many cities, and many of the bustling streets I experienced years ago only have some of the businesses still operating. The many vacant storefronts (and in one case the inscriptions of people who died on a storefront with "RIP" alongside their names) made my heart hurt for the people of Richmond. That being said, though, I was amazed at the resilience and quality of those institutions that remain - and we took full advantage.

We started with a visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. As we bought our tickets, the kind person at the front desk urged us to head to the butterflies first, because that exhibit was about to close for the day.

We hustled to the far end of the garden and got in line for the butterflies. I'm glad the staff member told us to go, because the butterflies were so delightful and diverse. I saw butterflies snacking on cantaloupe, fluttering about, enjoying the breeze of a fan, blending in with a tree, and more. One even landed on me, but it was so brief I couldn't snap a photo. There were interesting facts about butterflies posted around, and the exhibit also had several cocoon types on display. It was so fun.

After that, we walked around the various sections of the garden, which was interspersed with art from the ongoing Incanto exhibit, featuring scultures by Kate Raudenbush and poems by Sha Michele, who apparently met at Burning Man. The flowers, art, and small lake combined to make a lovely walk, even if my friend N really could have done without the bees.

We also got ice cream at a wonderful place called Ruby Scoops I've never been to before. The ice cream was not only delicious, but the flavors were so unique. N's favorite was the hot honey cornbread and mine was the ube cookies and cream. And yes, we did have dessert before dinner.

Then, we checked into our hotel downtown and relaxed a bit before walking over to dinner. We chose a restaurant N's friend recommended called Lillie Pearl. Honestly, they knocked it out of the park. We got an appetizer with a full head of roasted cauliflower, and the beet and fig puree it came with was one of the best sauces I've ever had. For our mains, N and I split crispy skin salmon and lobster crab cakes, and the crab cakes in particular were extraordinary. We split dessert, as well: the bread pudding and the banana pudding. Everything was decadent and exquisite, and we may have overdone it a bit.

We hung out at the hotel, doing face masks I brought that I enjoyed more than N (especially because it adhered to my face better) and talking and laughing. It was a great time. The next morning, I took N to the coffee bar at Quirk Hotel, where M and I stayed on a previous trip to Richmond and which was thankfully still open. It was just as cute as I remembered.

I persuaded N to devote the rest of our morning to the Science Museum of Virginia. I love all museums, but science museums tend to be my favorite because of how interactive they are. We got tickets that included the special, temporary exhibit Space: An Out-of-Gravity Experience. I learned a lot about what it takes to get to and survive in space and what are some of the most cutting edge challenges that scientists are tackling now to help get us to the next level in space exploration. It even included a rotating room to simulate the International Space Station! It was so cool.

We also watched a film in their giant screen theater called The Dome. The show was called Into America's Wild and featured landscapes, adventure sports, and wildlife around the United States. The movie made me want to become a backpacker and hike all over the country. The best and most surprising part was that the documentary film featured multiple Indigenous people, which I appreciated given the problematic history of the United States establishing so many government-owned parks on stolen Indigenous land.

Once we finished up our time in the museum, we popped over to Lemaire restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel. The hotel was extravagant in decor, and the food was pretty good (but not quite as good as Lillie Pearl if you ask me). With that, though, we had to wrap up our Richmond vacation and head back home. (I think N missed her cats as much as I missed baby S.) But N and I had a wonderful time, and I can't wait to see her again (probably abroad next time)!

Friday, September 8, 2023

Three Michelin Star Dining in the Inn at Little Washington

I can't believe our time in Virginia is coming to a close. In our final weeks before the next big move, I've enjoyed spending a little time with some of my closest friends. In this lifestyle, you have to take advantage of those opportunities when you can because it might be years before you see the people you love again. Some of my last stops this time included Little Washington for a decadent dinner, an overnight trip to Richmond, and a day trip to Middleburg. I'll devote this post to our visit to Little Washington.

I've wanted to try the Inn at Little Washington for a long time. It's the only restaurant in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) with three coveted Michelin stars. My Michelin dining experiences prior to this were a total of one, Smyth in Chicago. Smyth had one Michelin star, and I still think about the extraordinary food years and years later. M is not one for fine dining, so I went with my dear friends L and D (yes, the same ones where I was a groomsmaid in their wedding).

Little Washington itself was adorable to walk around. We arrived a bit early so we could take in the sunset and go for a leisurely stroll in the small town and the farmside trails.

The Inn was spectacular in atmosphere, decor, and service. I included photos here of my two favorite courses, coincidentally the first and last of the meal. The first was an exquisite tuna carpaccio with wasabi sorbet. I didn't think it was possible for me to like wasabi in any form until I tried this dish.

My other favorite was the cheese add-on dessert option. My biggest piece of advice for anyone dining at the Inn at Little Washington is to get the cheese course if you can. The person who brought this amazing cow cart full of phenomenal cheeses to us is affectionately known as the Cheese Whiz, and he whipped out more cheese-related puns than I knew any human could possibly generate.

Our servers were also wonderful and made for lively conversation, something L and D rightly pointed out we often don't get to experience in fine dining. Despite the luxurious atmosphere, so much of the Inn at Little Washington was unpretentious compared to other restaurants at that level; for example, there was no dress code and they encouraged guests to dress in whatever they pleased.

Would I shell out that kind of money to go there again? Probably not, because it was really quite expensive, but the food was delicious and the experience was something really special. The company was the best part of all, and I'm glad I got to share this one-of-a-kind dinner with two of my favorite people.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love: Happy Anniversary to Us!

Happy anniversary to M and me! I can't believe it's been almost ten years of marriage. Sometimes I feel like I'm not the best source of marriage advice for other people, because honestly M makes it so easy. I met him when I was 14 years old when we rode the bus together in high school and have been in love with him for over half my life. We really are like one in so many ways.

We have a cute tradition where every year (or at least every year we remember) on our anniversary we'll write a letter to each other in a notebook we received as a wedding gift and read the one from the previous year. It's amazing what details feel so important to write down one day that feel so distant a year later. There are also a few missing years, like last year, so the last time we wrote in there we were in Seoul and had just found out I was pregnant! Now I can't imagine life without baby S. A lot can change in a couple of years.

This year, we lined up a babysitter (thanks, L!) so we could go to a romantic dinner at Kingbird at the Watergate Hotel and then see Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Kennedy Center. The food was delicious, and I was pleasantly surprised to see multiple mocktails on the menu. For LDS folks like me and other non-drinkers, it's nice to have more options these days. I also loved the personal touches on the dessert, which wished us a happy anniversary.

Being from northern Virginia and having a classical pianist mom, I have so many fond memories of going to the Kennedy Center, seeing a performance, and enjoying the sunset over the water. But Moulin Rouge is extra special for M and me because seeing the Moulin Rouge movie was one of our earliest dates. We liked the movie so much that M got me as one of my first gifts as his girlfriend a beautiful Swarovski elephant that hearkened to the elephant in the movie. (I still have that elephant and can see it sitting on the mantelpiece as I type.) We even picked "Your Song" as our first dance song at our wedding!

So it seemed like a no-brainer to go and see the Moulin Rouge musical, a callback to one of our earliest dates. Truth be told, I generally like musicals way more than M. (He once fell asleep full-on snoring partway into Les Mis when I dragged him to a performance.) But this rendition of Moulin Rouge was an exception. They did a fantastic job updating the musical to make it very modern, sampling very recent and recognizable songs. (Securing the rights to the music was a wild ride, apparently.) M and I were jamming out the whole time, and it was nice to see him enjoy the show as much as I did.

I'm looking forward to celebrating many more years with the best husband, father, lover, partner, and friend I could hope for in this life and beyond. "The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."