Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fitness Friday (a day late): Finding a Support System

And this is why I hate going to gyms. Its a phenomenon I noticed among women and men alike. Gym rats (and, yes, I am totally generalizing here) tend to be just as focused on what other people are doing as they are on their own workouts. I can't stand that! That in addition to the annoying way people use the gym to socialize is the reason I began to work out at home in the first place. I have to say though, that there is nothing quite like have a fitness support system, which can also be found at gyms, yoga studios, or through clubs like Crossfit. If you have trouble with self-motivation (and I think that applies to a lot of us!), having a circle of like-minded individuals who encourage you through those dips and valleys we all experience is absolutely priceless.

Nowadays there are so many options available to those who want to start down the path to better health. There are websites, Facebook groups and message board communities, in addition to the traditional gym and fitness class options.  Personally, I like to read a lot of fitness blogs. While it might not be community in the traditional sense, it's nice to see that there are other people who share my passion without having to bore my friends and coworkers (and, trust me, nobody really wants to hear about how many box jumps you can do outside of your Crossfit class - nobody!). 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

1 Day 8 Hours and 3 Minutes...

until the freaking the Olympics are here!!!!!!!! I maaaay have mentioned once or twice* how much I freaking love the Olympics. There is nothing else like it in the world. There is something about the idea of watching the pinnacle of an athlete's struggle for success combined with an overwhelming nationalist sentiment that just gets to me. Perhaps it is because, like my father, I have always had a great burning desire to achieve success athletically, or perhaps it is just because I love the way that the Olympics brings together nations of sometimes very disparate people. I tackle everything in life like it is an Olympic sport.**

I force let my kids watch the Olympics from the very moment of the opening ceremonies until the last synchronized swimmer has finished her flip kick. I am so Olympic obsessed that I even watch the Olympic torch bearers with interest. I remember watching the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 where one of the torch bearers was a former Olympian from 1932 who was denied his medal at the time (it was given to Japan who happened to be occupying Korea at the time). That is the epitome of what the Olympics means. So, sorry, Shark Week. I'm afraid you're going to have to go on without us this year. Awesome as you are, nothing tops the Olympics.***

*or multiple times with a preceding eff bomb. Don't judge me. 
**This does not go over well in "sports" like grocery shopping. Pussies.
***What if we combined Shark Week and the Olympics for the most awesome sporting/adventure event the world has ever seen? Rhythmic gymnastics would be just that much more interesting.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Little Mouse Came

And snatched up her tooth. Luckily her siblings have some experience in the matter:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Random Links + Olympics vs. Sharks

Debating Herr Hilz.

Debating College or what is the worth of a liberal arts degree.

The challenge of making friends as an adult.

Also, it is totally time for the muthah fucking Olympics, people!! And you all know how excited I get about the Olympics. The only bad part is that is interferes with fucking Shark Week. And you all know I feel about freaking Shark Week. How will I rectify this situation with no DVR?? Living overseas is really fucking with my television watching habits.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fitness Friday: Training Your Heart

So I'm a big believer that different types of training yield different results for different people depending on their body types and other various factors. So I'm always on the look out for different ways to train my body to get the kind of results I'm looking for. While aerobic base building is not a new concept, I was really intrigued to read this article from a well known triathlete. I discovered that during my recent period of enforced lower intensity workouts, I had some success in getting rid of some of the stress weight that credit on over the last year (pretty much since I joined State - so that's one check in the con box against joining the FS!). I also found that once I returned to my usual schedule of high intensity workouts that the weight crept back up.* A lot of what Mark talks about in his article are things I have noticed with my own body. Always feeling beat up, always being tired instead of feeling energized, always nursing some sort of minor injury...soooo new experiment! I have laid out a schedule that I may or may not stick to depending on my whims and how many more additional duties I can't help myself from volunteering for.** We're going back to basics, people. Of course there's plenty of science out there to show that high intensity activities are just as effective, but (as I said at the beginning of the paragraph) I firmly believe that you won't know what works best for you until you actually try it. And lord knows I love to use my body as a guinea pig.

In other fitness news, this article on how fit moms get is done is an interesting take on how to make fitness a priority in a hectic life. While it's a bit (ok, a lot) on the extreme side, and clearly these are not working moms, the list at the bottom is actually pretty accurate. There's some sacrifices that have to be made to keep fit as a working parent (mom or otherwise). Getting up early, going to bed early, working out at home, these are some of the flexible options I talked about in my last fitness post.

*I should make it clear that I'm talking about vanity pounds, and that my goals may be quite different than someone who is looking to lose significant weight or someone who is looking to add muscle mass.

**Why do I do this? Is it some sort of mental defect? (that's a rhetorical question, Dad)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Best Picture Ever (that isn't of my kids or someone's butt)

I feel like this all. the. time. Sharks are so smart.

Monday, July 16, 2012

So You Want to be a FSO Part 3

The Oral Assessment (OA) is really the last hurdle that you have any control over. This is essentially a day-long interview broken into 3 parts. There is a group exercise portion, a written exercise (case memo), and a structured interview. Each section is graded equally on a points scale from 0-7, and the overall score is averaged to give you your final score. A score of 5.3 or better is passing. There is yet another yahoo group (FSOA yahoo group) that has lots of helpful files and information on what to expect and how to prepare for the OA. At the end of the day they will call each person out one by one (I had a group of about 9 in my OA, but I know of other groups as large at 24) and let you know if you received a passing score. 2 people passed the day I took the OA, which is higher than average based on info I've gotten from others, but there are days that lots of people pass and there are days when they don't pass anyone. If you pass the OA, diplomatic security (DS) will take your fingerprints and your SF-86 (a big, long application where you list everything you've ever done in your life - or at least for the last 10 years - if you've held a clearance before, you're intimate friends with this form) and start the process for your TS clearance. I've heard some people claim that DS will accept current clearances from other agencies and perhaps that holds true in some cases. As for me, I have held a higher clearance than the one I was required to get for this job from another agency since the mid-1990s and the Department still wanted to do their own investigation.* You will be given info on how to get the exams done for your medical clearances. You will also be allowed to test in any languages you might have. From there, assuming your clearances come through no problem, you have to pass through one final hurdle known as the Final Suitability Review, which is basically State's last chance to say "no" if they should uncover something derogatory during their investigation that didn't disqualify you from getting your TS clearance. Then you are placed on the Register.

The Registers are lists of all of the people who have passed through these hurdles by cone (there are five cones: Consular, Management, Economic, Public Diplomacy, and Political).** The registers are numerical and descend from highest score to lowest. If you have a 5.3 and no extra points, you are likely to hold the last place on the register b/c you are the last 5.3 to have cleared through the process. Your number will move up and down depending on how many people are called up for classes, how many people expire off the register, and how many new people with higher or lower scores get added to the register. You can also be awarded extra points to boost your overall score.***UPDATE: I understand the language bonus points system has changed recently, so please refer to the Dept of State hiring website for the most up to date information. The following describes my personal experience from a couple of years ago*** All veterans will receive a .175 point bonus added to their score. SCNLers get a .4 (except Arabic, which gets .5) bonus, and all other languages get a .175 bonus. So, for example, I passed the OA with a 5.6 + .175 veterans points + .175 for Chinese (before accepting the full points you have to agree to serve in a country with that language at least twice in your career, once as an entry level officer and once in the mid-grades). So I was added to the register with a 5.95 and received an offer without ever having to take the SCNL points (I asked to take them anyway because I want to serve in China).**** My rank with that score was 5/195 in the Econ cone. There were about 15-17 Econ slots for the May class, and I believe people got offers who had scores as low as 5.5. You have 18 months from the time you are added to the Register to receive an offer to join an A-100 class. If you do not receive a call in that time then you will expire off the register and have to start the process all over again. You can use this time to learn a language to boost your score if you so choose (we had several people in my A-100 class who learned very difficult languages like Hindi and Russian to get bonus points to boost their scores, so it is possible!). Many peole who are added to the register ask to be placed on the Do Not Call list. This doesn't stop their time clock on the register, but it does mean they will be passed over to receive a call (some reasons for doing this might be people serving out their time in the Peace Corps or finishing a degree). That means even if you have a rank of 25/195, you still have a good chance of getting a call because there are often people on the Do Not Call list ahead of you. A lot of people go DNC until May b/c of school, so the May, July, and Sep classes are considered harder to get into. If you are offered a spot in an A-100 class and you have to turn it down for whatever reason, you will still be given one more opportunity to be offered a class. If you decline twice, then your name is removed from the Register.

*It took about 3 months and lord knows how many man hours to be granted a lower clearance than the one I already held. Our tax dollars at work!

**all the info on the different cones and what they do can be found on State's employment website - the same place you register for the FSOT

****And we are headed to Hong Kong(!!!!) next, so points are totes worth taking if you love the region whose language you speak!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Conquering Corregidor

Yesterday I met up with a friend from A-100 who flew in from Korea. She's really here to take the kids to visit her family in the province, but they had a day here in Manila, so she and I took 8 kids between the 2 of us to Corregidor Island because we are smart. Okay, it actually wasn't that bad. To my great surprise, the kids had an absolute blast. They really enjoyed running around and exploring all of the old military equipment and buildings. They even seemed to get a real kick out of the museum (old money and guns were the highlights for the under-13 crew). The highlight of the trip was definitely the monkey sightings, which was a real treat for T&V, who have never seen a wild animal outside of a zoo before. We even saw a mommy monkey carrying her baby! Best of all, the kids got to hang out with some old friends from Oakwood FC (woot!), which lent a bit of normalcy to this crazy lifestyle we've embarked on.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fitness Friday: Workout Smarter Not Harder (Okay, Sometimes Harder)

In an effort to keep the post numbahs rollin, I thought I'd come up with a topic I can consistently post about. Recently some of my coworkers asked for advice on how to stay fit, and I thought that maybe some more useful information about fitness and a fit lifestyle would make for better blog postings than just tallying what I did for the week. The best advice I can give anyone looking to get in shape is to be consistent. It really doesn't matter what you do, if you dread your workouts you're probably not going to stick with them. I get bored with my exercise routines very quickly. I have never been able to complete a full 90-day rotation of anything.* It's more like I'll plan out a loose formula and follow it as long as it still interests me. Then I'll scour the internets for whatever is new and hot and switch up my routine according to what peaks my interest. For example, currently I'm doing 1/2 hour workouts in the morning and 1/2 hour on lunch. Here's what my routine looks like now:

S - rest or gentle yoga
M - weights/steady state cardio
T - weights/interval cardio
W - yoga/HIIT cardio
Th - weights/steady state cardio
F - weights/interval cardio
S - long interval cardio (60min or more)

The next piece of advice I can give is to be realistic about what you can accomplish given your current state of fitness, time available to exercise, etc. I don't mind getting up early, I've been an early morning exerciser for years, but many people have trouble with that. Deciding that you're going to get up every day at 4:30am and workout for an hour to P90X when you've got a couch-potato background is not only a recipe for failure, it's likely a recipe for serious injury.  The last bit of advice I'd offer is to be relaxed. Life happens. I have a plan for what I'd like to accomplish in any given week, but the truth is that life often gets in the way. I brought my gym bag to work every day this week. Guess how many days I actually made it to the gym? Two. Between having half of our office gone (R&R, TDY, and sickness), an unexpected working lunch, Friday's training session, and some unexpected research cases, well, there just wasn't any time. But, that's okay. I'll get back into the groove next week when some of our officer's will be back from leave, and we'll have more people to share the workload. Or I could get up a little earlier and lengthen my morning workouts. Or I could push my afternoon sessions to after work hours. There's always an alternative.

Fitness is my hobby, so I'm always interested in what people are saying/theories that the experts are pushing. There's so little that we understand about how the human body works, whether it be how our food intake affects our overall health or what part of the brain controls certain functions (like the willpower to get up early to workout, or not eat those yummy looking fried bananas your LES are always bringing into work). I recently read an articles about Finding the Right Exercise For Your Shape and Knowing Your Body Type. I find these types of articles to be fascinating because I have certainly found that there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to exercise. Some people react very well to heavy weights and little cardio. Others seem to need butt-loads of cardio and very light weights to get the aesthetic they're looking for. Unfortunately, I think one needs to try out a bunch of different styles of exercise in order to find what fits best for them. I think body-type based exercise plans are very useful for helping point you on the right path, but I would always take their advice with a grain of salt. After all, the next bunch of studies and articles with contradictory information is just around the corner!

*And, no, my love affair with Ultimate Yogi didn't last any longer than any of the others *sigh* I still love the program, but I totally yoga'd myself out.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

So You Want to be a FSO Part 2

So You Want to be a FSO Part 2

Once you pass the written exam you will be invited to submit personal narrative (PN) essays for the QEP (I forget what it stands for, qualitative evaluation panel or something). If you speak a super critical needs language (SCNL) then you will invited to take a phone test here.***UPDATE - this has apparently changed within the last couple of months. As always, anyone who wants to know the real skinny on what to expect during the testing process should head over to the State Dept's website*** SCNLs are things like Mandarin or Arabic and passing this test can give you an extra boost to your overall score, but I had plenty of people in my orientation class (also known as A-100, which is the course number) that did not come in with any language bonus points. For the QEP there are five or six essays of about 200 words where you describe an experience in which you have showed a quality they are looking for (communication skills, leadership skills, etc.). I think the key on this section is to focus on one experience for each essay. You get about 3 weeks to work on these and submit them. A lot of people have trouble with this stage (I think mainly because the space requirements are so restrictive and because people fail to realize that they are just looking for an example of how you have displayed these traits they are looking for). In my opinion, State has access to your employment history from your original application to see all the awesome things you've done throughout your career, they just want to see how well/how concisely you can answer the question they are asking. Each PN must also have a verifier attached. That is, you must have someone who can verify that the story you are telling is true. It is impossible to have every verifier contacted, and I’m not sure how State decides how many verifiers and which ones will be contacted. The randomness ensures that everyone answers these questions honestly. The QEP is considered to be something of a mystery because there is very little transparency to it. You only get notified that you passed or failed; there is no feedback or explanation as to why.

If you pass the QEP stage you will be notified about 6 weeks later via e-mail. I believe my timeline was submitting the QEP essays at the end of Jul and I heard back in early to mid Sep. Then you will be invited to schedule a date to take the oral assessment (OA). The OA window is a range of dates that cover about a 4 month span. My window opened in Nov, but there were very few dates available that early. There are usually two locations available for each window. DC is always one of those options. I was lucky enough that Atlanta was the 2nd option for my window; coming from Florida this was the closest/cheapest option. Other cities I’ve seen for other cohorts have included San Francisco and Chicago. Since I wanted to take my OA in Atlanta, I had to wait until Jan to get a date (there were no dates in Dec, just a few in Now, and lots in Jan and Feb). Some people like to jump on the 1st OA date they can get, while others wait for the best deal financially. It doesn’t really matter which date you choose. Each OA is separate and there is no quota of passers. The only person you are competing against is yourself as measured by the 13 dimensions. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

So You Want to be a FSO Part 1

Wow, a post so soon? That's right, peeps, that's just how we roll at the Corner. We like to switch the shit up. Also, there are five kids in my house, so I am pretending to be hard at work so they will be quiet. Work with me here, people! Anyway, ever since I joined the Foreign Service people have come out of the woodwork from all aspects of my life and said, "Pu, you're so awesome. I want to be just like you when I grow up. How can I join the Foreign Service, too?" Okay, so maybe they just said the last part, but I know what they were really thinking. When the first person asked, I wrote up a quick e-mail response. When the second person asked, I dug up the first response and added a little to it. And, now...well, let's just say it's grown to a bit more than what you can put in an e-mail. I know when I was looking to join the FS, I searched high and low for a good breakdown of the hiring process, which is long, arduous, stressful, and, at times, confusing, so hopefully this will be of some help to someone. If not, well, too freaking bad, I'm posting it anyway.* Without further ado:

So You Want to be a FSO Part 1

Basically the process goes like this - 1st you register to take a written exam known as the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). It is given 3 times a year (generally in Jan/Feb, Jun, and Oct). You can resister for the exam on the State Department’s website under the Careers tab. When you register (which is similar to filling out a job application, in fact you should probably think of it as a job application) they will want to know which cone you are applying your candidacy to. There are five cones: Consular, Management, Economic, Public Diplomacy, and Political. The State Dept offers a self-assessment test on their Careers page to help you in deciding which cone is best for you. It is important to note that this selection applies to your whole candidacy, so if you do make it through the whole process, and you decide at some point within the process that you made a mistake in which cone you selected, it is too late, so pick wisely! Personally, I didn't find the test to be any harder than any other multiple choice test I've ever taken, and certainly it is the easiest part of the whole process. It is mostly a general knowledge test, much like the GRE, broken up into 3 distinct sections with a 30min timed essay at the end.

First you have a section for English Expression, which includes general English comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary questions. Then there is a Job Knowledge section. This section can be tricky to study for (disclosure: I did not study at all for the FSOT) because it really covers just about everything else outside of English Expression. Questions could cover subjects like history, civics, economics, etc. In my personal opinion, if you are well read, well-rounded, and have a decent grasp on history you should be just fine. The third section is known as the Biography section. A lot of people report having trouble with this section, which is unique to anything I have seen on a test before, but as long as you are consistent with your answers and you use bullet format to complete your responses it shouldn't give you much trouble. I forget how much time you have for each section, but I did not find the time limits to be restrictive and was able to answer all of the questions with time to spare on each section; however, if you are a person who gets test anxiety or just doesn’t generally do well on standardized tests, it would probably behoove you to practice.

After the three sections are completed you move on to the essay portion. When I took the test in June 2010 there was only 1 essay prompt. I have heard there are now two essays to complete, each timed for 30 min, so 2 essays in one hour, but I would check the State Dept official hiring site for the latest and greatest info. This is the only section where I felt crunched for time. I consider myself a fairly prolific writer, and I am used to writing under time limits (nothing so extreme, of course, but I have certainly taken timed essay tests before), so YMMV. I have heard lots of people say they studied for this, especially those who have been out of school for a while and those who are not fast typists. Essay topics could be anything, so it is mostly important to make sure you are familiar with how to write a basic 5 paragraph persuasive essay. Ultimately the topic doesn’t really matter. ACT (who grades the exams) isn’t looking at the content to see how strong your arguments are, they are looking at how well you write. Your knowledge of the particular topic is mostly incidental.

So that is the written exam in a nutshell. You can get more information on the exam and the process through the FSWE (Foreign Service written exam) yahoo group. 

*Everyone who goes through the FS hiring process signs a non-disclosure agreement regarding its contents. All of my comments are meant to be helpful without disclosing any actual test content. Sorry!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Stuff & Bits + 4th of July

We are finally moved into our new house and (almost) settled! We have one more shipment of HHE (all our stuff from VA) due to arrive Monday, but otherwise the house is basically unpacked and as organized as you can get it in a week. That is to say that everything is out of boxes and in/on shelves, but everything is kind of random right now while I try to figure out exactly where I want to everything to be. Our car is also here in the Philippines. Unfortunately that doesn't give me any better of an idea as to when we will actually get a hold of it, but at least it's here and didn't fall of the boat somewhere in the Pacific Ocean!

The new house is fantastic! It is a great size for us with each of the kids getting their own rooms, plus a nice big kitchen with tons of cabinet space. My only nitpick is that the cabinets appear to have been built for giants. I am probably an average height for a Filipino, so I can't imagine what the builders were thinking because I need a full-on ladder to reach the top shelves, rendering them totally useless to us. I have been on the hunt for shelf dividers that don't look cheap or tacky so that I can maximize  what shelf space I can access. We also have a nice backyard with a pool! Cannot complain about that! (expect for the part where it's the rainy season now so we really haven't been able to use it much ;) I also really like the neighborhood. Makati is very convenient to everything, and our commute has been cut down by about a 1/3 of the time, which is really nice. At some point I'll post about the pros and cons of all the different housing options here (since we've experienced them all at this point!).

In other news, 4th of July came and went. The Embassy had it's 4th of July party (usually the biggest event of the year for American Embassies), and as an entry-level officer, I had to work the party all night. My primary duty was to escort the band and anthem singers around and make sure they were all in the right place at the right time. After their duties were over, my job was entertain our guests and ensure that they were all having a good time. So, not really so much a party for me ;) I got to meet a lot of really interesting people from all walks of life. I also met and chatted with the former President of the Philippines for several minutes before one of my local staff mentioned who he actually was (in my defense, he did not look anything like the pictures of him on the internet!). I am so glad that I decided not to ask about anyone's job unless they brought it up because that would have been really embarrassing.

Me: So what do you do for a living?
Ex-P: Er, I used to run this place.
Me: So, you're unemployed?

It was also the first 4th for us overseas in a non-military setting. I say that because the 4th of July is always celebrated with great gusto at military bases overseas. I was surprised to find out that there was no family 4th of July celebration here. I suppose it wouldn't have made much of a difference anyway since it down poured all day (and the day before), so there was no grilling, pool play, or outdoor activities to be had as one usually associates with the 4th. They also had to cancel the fireworks at the Embassy party, which made me a little sad. We've not been overseas long enough to be unduly upset, but I wonder what it will be like next year after we've been here for a while.

Husband is currently on his way back from the US after a whirlwind trip to go get T&V, who will be with us tonight and for the rest of the summer. I took the kids out for lunch yesterday to the Chelsea Market and Cafe in Serendra, which has to be the best meal and service experience I've had so far in Manila. Very happy to have found this place! They have a Western style breakfast/brunch menu on weekends, so we'll have to try it out again sometime when the Husband gets back for a big family b-fast* I also got the girls haircuts (and when I find my camera I'll take some pics and post them because they look so cute with their new bobs!). I tried to get A to cut his hair, too, but he refused, insisting that it was okay for a boy to have long hair if he is a rock stahhhh.  He was also insistent that it didn't matter whether or not you actually cut your hair, you should still get a lollipop at the end. He solemnly placed his hands on my face, looked me straight in the eye, and said, "If you look deep in your heart, Mommy. You will see there is lollipops."

*One of the things we miss most about beach living are the awesome brunch places you can find. CA was killer for those!