Friday, December 1, 2017

Back to the basics

I'd like to clear up some confusion. This is a person.

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This is also a person. I know, it's confusing, but she is actually a person. Really. Women are people.

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A talented person.
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A brave person.

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Not a person. Mermaids are not people and dolls are not people.
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Definitely not a person. People are not made of stone. This is a statue.

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Adorable person.

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Person with feathers? (Actually, not a person.)

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OK, got it now? Let's try something harder. Each person has their own feelings. Some of those feelings might be different than yours but that's OK.

This person likes Muppets. I like Muppets, too.

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This person likes traveling at very fast speeds. I do not think I would like traveling by rocket, but I'm sure she would ask me first before taking me somewhere in a rocket.

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This person hates broccoli. I like broccoli, but if you don't like broccoli, that's OK. I would never force you to eat broccoli.
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I do not know if this person likes broccoli or not. But you can be sure that if I asked him if he wanted some broccoli and he said no, I would not try to force him to eat it. And if he put some on his fork and went to taste it and then decided it smelled bad so he didn't want to eat it, then nobody should force him to eat it. The best thing to do to find out if he likes broccoli and might want some is, and this might be a revelation to some people, the best method is to ask him and listen to what he says. And although it might be intimidating asking him, you would definitely hear and understand him if he said no, he hates broccoli and don't ask him again.
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This is an extremely smart person. If I wanted to know if she liked broccoli, I should ask her. I shouldn't assume she likes broccoli because she looks like a person who might have had vegetables once.

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This is a brownie. It looks delicious, doesn't it? I love brownies. But you shouldn't assume just because I've said that I love them that I would eat one if you offered it to me. I wouldn't, because it would make me very, very sick. I might ask you to let me smell it, though. 

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Some people don't like brownies. I might think they are crazy, but I would understand what they mean when they make this face. If you are confused, it means this person does. not. want. a brownie!

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You know what would be even better than a brownie, though? If we didn't have to explain this to grown-ups in 2017, for crying out loud! 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

When home isn't

I was all set to write an awesomely funny post about traveling around the country without children and all the beef I ate over the last month. But the world has made me sad again. I really, really wanted to be funny, but I can't in the face of so much preventable sadness and heartbreak in Las Vegas. And why what happened in Vegas ended up in my heart 1/2 way around the world begins with a story.

You see, many years ago, more years that I would like to admit, I had a friend whom we shall call Missy. Now, Missy and I both lived in the same town in Texas and went to the same school. We had the luck of having the same homeroom teacher in 6th grade and when we realized how close we lived to each other, we became best friends. You see, when the only public transportation in your town is your own feet plus a pair of roller skates that you are supposed to share with your sister, proximity is hugely important. Missy lived down the street and two blocks over--practically on my way home if I went a couple of blocks in the wrong direction which I did almost daily. There were other kids in our neighborhoods, but they were mostly boys, so ick! Missy and I stuck together like glue. Plus, Missy had her own room and only one annoying little sister. I had two, plus a brother and an older sister and I had to share my room with Sister 3 who was 3 years old at the time and had this super embarrassing habit of stripping all the Barbies naked and throwing them up onto the roof of our house. Ugh! Seriously, Sister 3, what WAS your obsession with undressing the Barbies and why in heaven's name did they need to be on the roof?

So anyway, Missy's own room with actual decorations and matching furniture meant that we spent a lot of time at her house. Plus, she had Connect 4 and Operation. And Toss Across! And plus she had super nice parents. That's a lot of plusses so you can see why I liked hanging out at Missy's. Her parents were the kind that invited you to sleep over and fed you McDonald's and bought ice cream and laughed at all your jokes. Missy's dad and mom both smoked like chimneys, but this was in the days before we cared about smoking and sometimes, I wouldn't wash all my clothes right away after spending the night so I could smell them and remember all the fun times at Missy's. Her parents felt like my parents and I loved them.

Then a couple of years later, I was in the living room while my parents were watching the news. (See, Children, before the internet and cable, you had to tune into the news at 6pm or wait for the morning paper to know what was going on.) And I saw Missy's mom crying on TV and I stood up. Because I knew. Because grown ups didn't go on TV and cry for fun. And what was important was not that she was now famous for being on TV, but that she was crying. Sobbing actually. And then they showed a list of the victims' names, and her dad, whom we'll call John, was on the list. But it couldn't be him because he went by Jack, and everyone knew that. He told me I should call him Jack which was the coolest thing in the world but made me uncomfortable so he was Mr. Jack. So it wasn't him and I had missed the beginning of the newscast, so I wasn't even really sure what he might be a victim of.

But then there was Missy's mom on the cover of the newspaper the next morning and there was no doubt that it was very, very bad. A disgruntled employee had gone into the office and shot 9 people, including Mr. Jack. Six of them died, including Mr. Jack. And at 14 years old, I learned how grief can crush you and make you stupid. I felt so dumb and helpless and numb and stupid and helpless. And it wasn't even my own loss--it was Missy's dad, not mine, but even now it still hurts! I think my mom took me over to Missy's. I don't remember walking. I do remember being there and just sitting there while well-meaning people dropped off casseroles that no one was going to eat and Missy's aunt who came down from Chicago wrapped them in Saran Wrap and stacked them in the fridge. I remember the flowers everywhere and the people talking in whispers like Mr. Jack's death was a secret they didn't want us to find out. But we knew! Oh how we knew. And we felt that loss like 14 year olds do like the world was ending because we thought it must be. Something that horrible had to be the end of the world.

I stayed by Missy's side through the wake (we weren't allowed to go) and the funeral (I got the day off from school) and we sat together numb for hours and hours even after Missy came back to school--we'd still get off the school bus at her house to sit in her room. Doing nothing. Just listening to the radio. And occasionally talking about Luke and Laura and I wasn't a Luke fan and Missy was and that was the beginning of the end--the first little wedge to nudge us in opposite directions. We slowly drifted apart as teenage girls sometimes do, with thankfully little drama. Missy changed (how could she not?) and I changed and we both discovered that boys weren't so icky and the sand that was the foundation of our friendship slowly washed away until we were just acquaintances and the smell of stale cigarette smoke just made me sad. We were still kind to each other throughout high school, but we ran in different circles. Things are different, now. If we were teenagers now, we probably never would have been allowed to walk home alone, and after-school activities wouldn't ever involve looking through tabloids for news about General Hospital. Plus who needs sleep-overs when you have FaceTime and SnapChat? Oh, and cigarettes are regulated now because they are deadly; isn't that ironic?

Every once in a while I wonder about Missy and how she is, most often when shootings like Las Vegas happen, which is way, way too often. In fact, that event which was so central to my life and my nightmares for so long barely even warrants a Wikipedia page. Weapons have become deadlier and body counts have skyrocketed and six people dead would barely cause a shrug and maybe not even a mention above the fold. Except to those six people and everybody who knew and loved them. To us, each new mass shooting is another tear at a wound that can never fully heal and a news story that links us to too many other people who bear that same awful burden of violent loss.

I'm older now. I've totally lost track of Missy. I hope she is well and that she is happy. I hope she has amazing children of her own. We are older now than Mr. Jack was when he died. I didn't realize that until just now because Missy's parents have stopped aging in my head and I regularly forget exactly how old I am. And Child 3 is the same age as I was when it happened. So tonight I'm going to hug her until she whines and be grateful that it wasn't her watching the news and finding out that someone she loves just had the world ripped away from them. This time. And I will pray that it never is her. And I will write every. single. effing. lawmaker who will listen to me until my fingers bleed until we as a nation do something to make sure that it never ever is. Because action on keeping assault weapons out of the hands of killers, well I would have given up brownies years ago if it would have led to that. And I love brownies more than anything--except people.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Child 2 is leaving me for college. We have planned for this day for many years, but I'm still a little bitter that the rewards of doing my job well is that I will no longer have that job. I put so, so many hours into playing Disney Princesses and watching Pokémon movies and singing Veggie Tales songs. And now, instead of a nice big fat bonus check, I get the privilege of paying about $90,000 so that she can leave me forever! Whose great idea was this because I'm pretty sure it wasn't an actual mother who thought that paying to send children away for university would be a good thing. Shouldn't the university pay me for the privilege of educating my beautiful, intelligent, and fun children?

But I'm so excited for her. She's at a great school in a great major AND we get in-state tuition, otherwise that figure would be closer to $300,000. The only bonus in this whole scenario is that at least she picked somewhere that I like to go where we have lots of friends and some family. Child 1 picked Hawaii (great choice) and Child 2 picked Virginia. Now all we have to do is get Child 3 to choose another great vacation spot and we're all set! I'm open for suggestions. I, myself, like Denmark or Australia. Is there a good university in the Bahamas? Listen, if I'm paying $100,000 it had better be a place I where I can enjoy watching my money go to meal plans that include Starbucks and Panda Express.

Before I dropped her off at school with approximately 1/2 of all the available goods in Target, Child 2 and I drove down to South Carolina with our friend Batman, and saw the total eclipse.

I know, I know. You are tired of hearing how amazing the eclipse was, but it truly was! There are a few things that you can see in real life that live up to the hype: a Hawaiian beach, the Taj Mahal, and a total solar eclipse are three of them. We were actually lucky enough to have purchased eclipse goggles and binoculars so that we could look at the partial without damaging our eyes. Child 1 says they made Child 2 look like a mad scientist, which is totally the reason I ordered those kind! Double duty, right? They looked not unlike this.

So not only did we see the eclipse with someone whom I believe actually may be Batman, but we looked crazy while doing it. So awesome!

I should now mention, in case you hadn't divined that from context, that we are all fine. The riots in India didn't affect Husband or the children. The burned train car only meant there were fewer people in Amritsar so they had a better view of the book at the Golden Temple and the Wagah Border crossing ceremony when they went this weekend. That's India and Pakistan shaking hands right there in the coolest border closing ceremony that has ever existed and I'm totally not exaggerating.

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And I'm fairly certain my family in Texas is all fine since they are out of the path of the storm. I have not heard from Artemis since before the storm, but if she is not fine, then I will drive down and rescue her on Tuesday when I arrive in Texas. Artemis, let me know if you need me to bring a boat! (Update: just heard from Artemis and she evacuated to a place with delicious German food, but she hates German food so she is bored and hungry. Somebody send her some bulgogi!)

We've had a lot of near misses since we've been in the Foreign Service--disasters at a place we just left, earthquakes just one country over, riots on the other side of town. We've had a small number of actual emergencies as well--almost dying from e-coli, Husband caught in an explosion in Afghanistan, overnight currency invalidation that left us with almost zero cash to spend and no way to get more. But these are things we expect overseas. We practice for them and prepare go bags and fly away kits. I've called people on the phone in Libya to tell them to get to the dock because the evacuation boat is leaving. I've received frantic calls from parents whose children were missing after an earthquake in China. I've calmed people down who were convinced that the radiation leaking from a nuclear plant in Japan could make its way to South Korea and might harm them. Crisis management is part of my job, and I am pretty good at it.

What I don't expect are disasters at home, both natural and manmade. The photos of the flooding in Texas are frightening and sad and heartbreaking. I'm praying for all my loved ones and their loved ones who are affected. Texas is an awesome place full of people who care for each other and are willing to go out of their way to help strangers. I'm convinced that they will make it through this ordeal. This ABC News photo shows what they're up against, but Texans are tough and also fashionable. Look how awesome she looks while being rescued!

But what really scares me are Nazis marching by the hundreds in the state that I've called home for over 20 years. To quote Tina Fey, I've seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and I wasn't confused by it. Nazis are always bad. Did you know that if you are a Nazi, you can't get a visa to come to the United States? Seriously, it's right there in our law. Look it up. In fact, if you are a government official who participates in denying someone the right to practice religion today, you cannot get a visa. So the fact that my own countrymen would do something willingly that if they were not Americans would make them ineligible to even visit America--well, that hurts and angers me. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That's not just a quaint saying--it's the belief that our country was founded upon. So I pledge to do my part to eradicate racism and religious intolerance. I pledge to be kind to people who are different from me and to learn about the history of Americans who were excluded by the Declaration of Independence when it was written (all men meant all white, land-owning men. People of color and women and indentured servants were not considered to have been created equal, in case you hadn't learned that in school.) I vow to remember that I can always learn something from anyone and that my experience is not universal. I promise to accept people of all faiths into my home and to be respectful of their beliefs. There are lots and lots of other things we can do, which I am too tired and sad to think of at the moment. So I invite y'all to join me and comment on things you will pledge to do to make sure that the word "American" is never used as a descriptor for "Nazi." If you do, that will be better than a brownie, by far.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Thousand Pounds of Joy

It's transfer season for the Foreign Service. For those of you who think there are only four seasons, you are correct. They are EER (employee evaluation report which is the State Department's way of making sure we all have inferiority complexes) season, transfer season, bidding (when we beg for jobs) season, and the season where you could get a lot done but everyone is taking vacation that they couldn't take during the above three seasons and then it's Christmas and then New Year's and then we're back to EERs. I'm only joking a little. I actually get a ton of work done during EER season because that's when I do everything awful that I've put off for months but would rather do than my EER. Like cleaning out my file drawers or reorganizing my paperwork by color, or working on everyone else's EERs.

But transfer season is really the worst of the four. Seriously. You're either doing the work of the 1/3 of the Foreign Service who are moving this summer in addition to your own regular duties, or you're actually moving which really is the worst. Seriously. I got so stressed about moving next year that Husband and I extended and are staying in India another year just to avoid it. OK, also because we love India, but even if we didn't really love it, we might still extend because sorting and supervising the packing probably has sucked away years from my life. Every spring, I have my annual running from a tornado dream which comes from growing up in Texas and living in Tornado Alley. Now every summer, I also have a nightmare about packing and moving in which I am trying to supervise the movers and the pile of stuff keeps getting bigger.

Every year, a bunch of helpful people give everyone else suggestions on how to reorganize their homes in time for the big move. Like you should put all your jewelry in Saran wrap (that would require a huge amount of Saran wrap for me) or you can build crates for your antiques out of the bookcase you made from the crates your stuff was shipped in and isn't it wonderful that you can just recycle the wood again? And here is their 5 page labeling system that you only need a label maker, 17 different colored dot stickers, and a degree in theoretical physics to figure out. I can just see us now: Babe, can you pass me the cerulean dots? No, not the azure ones. I said ceruuuulean!
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But this year, the helpful people keep posting about Kon Mari and how they got rid of 5,000 pounds of stuff because they picked up each object they own and if it didn't "spark joy", then they threw it out. There are a few problems with this method, the first being that I happen to have a lot of stuff that is extremely useful, yet will never spark my joy. For example: tampons. Now, some people might get joy out of a huge box of super-size tampons, but they are sick, so we aren't talking about them. We are talking about me and I find nothing about tampons to be joyful, but I have three boxes of them because when you are moving to a foreign country, you buy tampons in bulk. And do not try to get rid of them or I will spark your joy right into next week!

The other problem with Kon Mari is that people who follow this method want a room that looks like this:
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Now, aside from all the sharp corners and the white couches which are just begging to have a toddler write all over them in pink highlighter, there a couple of other things I don't like about this room. One is that they only own two books. And another is that if you think that is the kind of furniture that the federal government purchases for the Foreign Service, then you don't know your federal government very well. What we have is more along the lines of this:

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Now imagine having to create a room around that and you can see that minimalist is NOT the way to go. Husband is actually a minimalist and believes that we should get rid of a lot of stuff because our home should be clean and sparkling like in the white photo above. And he complains that we have too much stuff all the time. But my style is more like this:

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Which now that I think about it, rather explains my strange and insistent desire to have red couches when we moved to India so that now our living room looks like this:

The blur is because I suck at taking photos with my laptop, especially when I have to duck out of the way and get the angle right AND click on the stupid icon all at the same time. Our post has this amazing slipcover program, so that's why my couch isn't the usual mustard color. But you can see that I own more than two books. I own more than two of most things because of scarcity. For example, I have two green stripey skirts. Because my green stripey skirt is my favorite and I wear it all the time, so when I saw another green stripey skirt, I bought it because someday my green stripey skirt will wear out or get a hole in it and THEN WHAT WILL I WEAR WHEN I WANT TO WEAR MY GREEN STRIPEY SKIRT AND I CAN'T?! Because being in the Foreign Service is a little like having to shop to prepare for a famine of things like good spatulas, or green stripey skirts, or elephant throw pillows, for example. When you see the Cheerios, you buy the Cheerios because next week they will not be there to buy and we had a whole year in China without Cheerios and I don't want to relive that again. So when you see a beautiful tiger vase, you should buy it, hypothetically. Or literally since now we have a tiger vase in our dining room which I bought on Saturday.

So the very best piece of advice by the Kon Mari person is that you should hold each of your possessions in your hands and ask yourself if each one sparks joy and that is the stupidest suggestion ever because OF COURSE they spark joy or I wouldn't have bought them! And also, I have so much stuff that it would take at least a month if I did nothing else but hold each sock or string of pearls or decorative dish in my hand and ask if it sparked joy. (Answer: No, but you still have to have socks. Yes, and DUH!)

I know you think all of those things in that living room couldn't possibly spark joy, but let's go through a few, shall we? That's the collected works of the Brontë sisters on the shelf which Husband gave me for my birthday after Child 1 was born because she was named for two of them. And that olive green bowl is the one I made with Child 2 when her 5th grade class went on a field trip to the celadon factory and it is filled with ammonites which we bought by the kilo in China and we still love to look at and know we're holding 100 million years of history in our hands which I'm totally not exaggerating because I googled it. Child 3 still loves to sift through them to find the baby one. The handmade bowl of ammonites is sitting on the doily of Belgian lace that I got on the best TDY ever to Brussels.

Those paintings on top of the bookcases? My grandfather bought those in Germany in 1932 and they hung in his house for years and I loved them and wanted to go there and see Rothenburg ob der Tauber in person and then Husband and I actually did. And that globe in the middle is the one we gave Husband for Father's Day one year which is inlaid with semi-precious stones and everything is spelled wrong because we got it in China which is why it sparks so much joy and giggles when we take it down and read it. And that chest on the left is called a bai fu gui (百 富 柜 ) which is literally covered in 100 different Chinese characters for the word "Fu" which means both bat and rich and apparently 98 other things. That cabinet sparks joy in me every time I see it.

So the way I see it, we can either live with the thousands of pounds of joy we have collected over the years and still enjoy them, or we can erase my memory so I don't remember why the fishbowl full of chopsticks brings me joy. Since the latter is not very desirable because nobody will ever find anything in the house ever again if I can't remember where they last put it, it will have to be the former. I'll take my thousand pounds of joy over that sterile white room any day. Gerald the giraffe which I got as change in the Congo is way better than a brownie and I'm not giving him up.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

More than prayers

I realize it's been a long time since I blogged. I'm not going to apologize, but I will explain a little. As many of you know, I'm a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State. I worked very hard for many years to realize that dream and I'm extremely proud of my service to my country. The following is purely my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of State. But I would like to tell my personal story of why I became a Foreign Service Officer, so you can understand what I do and why I do it.

Although many of my relatives and former neighbors in Texas might not believe it because I committed the sin of leaving Texas, I am a very patriotic person who is very loyal to my country. As a young girl, I dreamed of serving my country as an adult. I thought seriously about the military, but at the time I was becoming an adult, women weren't allowed to serve in combat positions. I had wanted to be a Navy pilot, but when I learned I couldn't fly off of carriers, I thought well what is the point, then. A few years later, I learned about the Foreign Service. Some of my friends were taking the exam and asked if I was going to as well. I didn't even know what it was. I knew I wanted to do something international and up until that point, my goal had been to be an interpreter at the United Nations. When I found out that you could serve your country by working in embassies overseas, I thought that's for me! So at 19, even though I was too young to take the exam, that became my dream. I majored in International Relations. I got an MA in International and Area Studies. My thesis was on the Role of NATO in Bosnia (see the military theme still at work?) I studied German and French. I became fluent in Norwegian. The Norwegian hasn't helped me so much because I am never successful at getting a job in Norway, but it did take away my fear of lesser-known languages.

When I met Husband, the very first thing I learned about him was that he, too wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer. And then he smiled and I was hooked line and sinker. Not long after we were married, work took us on a trip to Washington, DC. We were invited to dinner by friends to their town house in Virginia and we knew that was the life we wanted--to be employed by the Department of State and own a townhouse in Virginia. And a couple of decades later, here we are. I still have to pinch myself sometimes that I'm living my dream. I get to serve my country AND live in India. It's the best of all worlds.

Now, some Americans believe that I must not love America because I keep leaving it. Some of those Americans are related to me and have said exactly that. I assure you, that is as far from the truth as you can get. I am reminded daily of what a blessing and a privilege it is for me to be an American. I am constantly humbled by the faith and trust my nation has placed in me to represent my country overseas. The only thing I can give my country in return is my gratitude and my very best efforts. Most of the Foreign Service Officers I know feel the same way. We work very hard at what we do for long hours and in places many Americans are afraid to go with very little recognition. We are there to serve our fellow citizens and when they need us, we do not ask first whom they voted for. If you are American and you need us, we will be there for you. Period.

So here is my prayer and my pledge to my fellow Americans. I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will do so with all my might, mind, heart, and strength.

I hope with all of my heart that you are never a victim of a natural disaster while you are traveling overseas. But if you are, I will do everything in my power to find you, make sure you are safe, and help you find a way home.

I hope your business is never seized by a foreign government for no reason other than you are becoming too successful. But if it is, I will do everything in my power to help you fight to get it back.

I pray that you will never be the victim of a violent crime while living overseas. But if you are, I will go with you to the police station and hold your hand while you make your statement. And as a bonus, I will even lecture the local authorities if they ask you inappropriate questions like what were you wearing that provoked the attack.

I want you to live a long, happy, prosperous life in America. But if you die unexpectedly and your family is overseas, I will come in on the weekend to print their visas so they can make it to the funeral.

I truly hope that you will never travel to North Korea and be detained. But if you do, and you are sentenced to hard labor, I will do everything in my power to get you out. I will even fly to Pyongyang to meet with officials to beg for your release. (OK, I won't but Husband will and has. And his Korean is much better than mine, anyway.)

I hope you are never robbed by a taxi driver on your first day in a foreign country. But if you are, I will help you get in touch with your family,  and make sure you have a place to stay and food to eat until they can either get more money to you or get you a flight home.

I pledge to be the friendly face in your time of need, for whatever reason. I will let you cry on my shoulder when your prematurely born baby dies, or laugh with joy as your adoption of a child is finalized, or help you negotiate confusing marriage regulations in the country you chose for your destination wedding.

I promise that I will visit you regularly if you get sent to prison for drug smuggling or soliciting prostitutes or for taking photos in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for speaking your mind like Americans can do back home but the local government thinks is treasonous or blasphemous. I will carry messages from your family and I will bring you magazines and books and I'll update you on the NBA championships, the SuperBowl, or the Oscars. I'll discuss whatever you want and I will keep coming back even if you refuse to see me, just to let you know that someone from home cares what happens to you.

My fellow Foreign Service Officers and I do care. We care deeply about our country, and all of our actions are meant to help the United States and its citizens. This is only a short list of what we do, based mostly on my own experience. If my FSO friends want to comment on some of the things they do to keep America great, they are welcome to.

And if my fellow Americans would remember that I am also one of them, and not a faceless lazy bureaucrat bent on destroying the American way of life, but rather a girl from Texas who loves being American and loves adventure and is proud to serve her country, well, that would be way better than a brownie.
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