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I will admit that I have many flaws.  But I’m only going to talk about one for this post:  I’m super-competitive.  Super.  I get really caught up in the “winning.”  I don’t even care what the prize is – or if there is a prize.  Example:  the Community Liaison Office (CLO) at the U.S. Embassy in Rome (my last assignment) holds an auction every year.  People from the embassy community and Italian retailers donate items for auction.  It’s a fun event.  Last year, the Ambassador donated a wine-tasting evening in his newly-constructed wine cellar.  Now, you have to understand – to get to this wine cellar, you walk through the house and take an underground tunnel through ancient catacombs.  It’s pretty amazing.  So I got together with a friend to bid on it.  We agreed to set a limit, and if the bidding exceeded our limit, we’d back out.  Well, that plan went out the window once the bidding started.  Not only am I super-competitive, but so was he.  We just couldn’t let anyone else win.  So we kept bidding. And bidding.  And bidding.  Until we scared the other bidders away.  We eventually won and had a fantastic evening, so all’s well that ends well, I guess.

But back to my flaw.  My sister is a teacher at Arlington Traditional School, a great elementary school in Arlington.  Last night, ATS had its auction fundraiser.  The theme was “The 1980’s” and they encouraged guests to dress in 80’s attire.  I knew my sister was dressing up, but I wasn’t planning to.  Then she called me to tell me there would be a “best costume” contest and I was hooked.  The magic word was “contest.”  Contest + anything = me going for the win.  Now, I should preface this by saying that I acted in a lot of plays in high school and college, and part of that experience is costuming and makeup.  So, this was like another performance.  My original plan was to go with the whole sweet and light 1980’s Flashdance look.  The key question was where to shop?  It’s not like I wanted to spend a fortune on this costume.  I went to Wet Seal people.  For those of you not familiar with this retail establishment, think “clothing store for 13 year old girls” and “clothing that 13 year old girls think is cool based on their limited comprehension of what constitutes fashion” and “poor quality clothing because 13 year old girls will wear it a couple of times and then destroy it.”  So, what I’m saying is this is not a store for anyone over the age of 25 and if you’re between 14 and 25 you’re really pushing it.  I’m a little embarrassed to link to the store’s website here, but you’ve got to see it to understand.

So I did the Wet Seal thing, but I wasn’t really satisfied with the look.  I ended up doing some additional shopping at Target, because by then I had decided to trash the Flashdance look and go with punk.  Much cooler.  So I picked up some studded belts and jewelry to complement my black attire, ripped up a t-shirt, and teased my hair.  Added some black lipstick to complete the look.  I thought I looked pretty awesome.  Maybe I wouldn’t pass muster with Richard Hell or people who were really into punk, but I thought it was okay for this crowd.


Me and my version of punk

I get to the auction venue and – I should have expected this – most of the crowd is wearing “Brat Pack” 80’s attire – you know, “pretty in pink” pastels, legwarmers, and big bows in their hair.  This is the suburbs after all.  No worries:  I looked incredible.  I was different.  I would stand out – not blend in with the other robots watching a John Hughes film.  I had this best costume thing locked up.  My sister totally agreed with me.  I was having a great time.

Then, they announced the costume contest winners (neck below only to protect the innocent):

What the...?


Are you freakin' kidding me?

Really?  REALLY?  I mean – WTF???!!!??  There was never an official vote!  We were not asked to come to the front of the room for viewing.  Who were the “judges?”  Did they not understand that punk was a really important movement in the early 80’s?  Were they so busy discussing their favorite Molly Ringwald movie and their longing for “A Flock of Seagulls” reunion that they totally missed punk?  The Stooges?  The Ramones?  The Sex Pistols?  Bueller?  Even if they didn’t get MY look, there were tons of people there who had better costumes than these two.  Gah, I should have anticipated this.  This is the suburbs.  The suburbs!

Here’s the really sad (or funny – depending on your view) thing about this:  I am totally bitter about this.  I am really mad that I lost a costume contest – for which there was no prize – at an elementary school auction!  To those two!  And that I went into Wet Seal to find an outfit!  So, bitterness and shame is what I’m really feeling.  Bitterness and shame.  This is what happens when I get ultra-competitive.  And to top it off, as I walked around the auction venue I got quite a few strange looks, which led me to believe:  1) these people had no idea what punk is; or 2) these people thought I dressed like this all the time.  Sigh.  Breathe, Stacie.  Let it go.

But the night wasn’t a complete loss:  I bid on and won a beautiful oil painting and tickets to a show at the Artisphere.  Oh, and the school raised a lot of money, which I guess was the point.  I guess.

So tell me:  who should have won this contest?  (Hint:  there is only one right answer and if you haven’t figured it out, maybe you shouldn’t be reading this blog).  🙂

*Apologies to Richard Hell and The Voidoids

Today, I left my office – located at 23rd and C Streets – at 5:10 p.m.  The traffic was already backed up on 23rd, cars barely inching forward toward Constitution Avenue.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe an accident on I-66, the light rain that was falling, or a stalled vehicle.  I was serenaded by bleating car horns as I walked down 23rd to the Foggy Bottom Metro Station.  Because honking one’s horn instantly gets the traffic moving.  I stood at the corner – along with all of the other walkers – waiting for the traffic light to signal “walk.”  A man turned to me and said, “This is why I take the train.”  I giggled, (yes, I still giggle) and replied, “I know, right?”

In spite of the elevator outages, the collapsed escalators, and the single-tracking, this is why I choose WMATA.  Enough said.

This is not a food blog, y’all, but sometimes I do have to blog about restaurants – especially if the experience was a good one.  I’m serious about this.  In Rome, I kept a little book filled with the business cards of restaurants that I liked and I loved sharing that info with friends and acquaintances.  Who cared if they agreed with me or not?  So, in the spirit of forcing my restaurant preferences on you…here we go.

My friend Nona has been raving about this burger joint in Arlington called Elevation Burger.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  I hadn’t, and I chalk that up to my total and complete devotion to Five Guys.  (I have Five Guys t-shirts you guys.  That’s how serious I am about it).   The thing is, I hate going to Five Guys because the line is always so freakin’ long.  So I finally decided to try Elevation Burger.  My sister, Marcella, went with me so that I could share her opinion with you, too.

There are a couple of location in Virginia; we went to the one off of Lee Highway in Arlington.  There are also locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Florida.  So what’s their deal?  Well, you can check out the website for more details, but basically the company is committed to the whole organic, grass-fed, free-range experience.  I know.  You’re thinking, “Okay, whatever.  Talk to me about taste.”  Me too.

I ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup, lettuce, tomato and onions and french fries (fried in olive oil).  My sister ordered the “Elevation Burger” – that’s two meat patties, two slices of cheese, and whatever toppings.  She skipped the fries, but ordered a vanilla milkshake.  The burgers are about the size of Five Guys’ junior burgers – so not overly huge.  They are the size that burgers used to be before Americans decided that they had to have everything supersized.

The verdict:  We both liked the burgers.  I thought the bread was really good and soft.  I hate it when hamburger buns feel like they’ve been sitting out all day and are halfway to stale.  It reminds me of the burgers at my elementary school cafeteria.  Yeesh.  The fries were also yummy.  Good consistency, not too mushy.  Marcella said she felt that the Elevation Burger (with the double patties) was just the right size for a meal.  We both felt full, but not overly full after we ate.  I love Five Guys, but I always feel kind of guilty after I eat their burgers and fries – like I should immediately try to purge it from my system because I just consumed a billion calories.  Now, I’m not saying that my meal from Elevation Burger was 400 calories or anything; I’m just saying I didn’t go on a guilt trip when I was done.  So:  win.

My taste-tester was not a fan of the milkshake.  She said the consistency was wrong.  You know, it’s tricky.  You don’t want the milkshake to be so thick that you can’t suck it up through the straw, but you also don’t want it to be so thin that you feel like you’re just drinking a glass of milk.  Marcella’s conclusion was that she was drinking a glass of milk – it was too much milky, not enough shaky.

I also had what was described as a “large cookie.”  The cookie itself – chocolate chip, pecan, and oatmeal – was delicious.  But it was not “large” by any stretch of the imagination.  It was about the circumference of a small juice glass.  Now that’s just wrong.  Don’t get me all excited about my large cookie and then throw this at me!  That was a small cookie, Elevation Burger, and you know it!  But it was good.  It was really, really good.

So, on the Diplomatic Status Scale of Flavor Greatness, I’d give Elevation Burger an A-.  I have to subtract points for the sub-par milkshake and the large cookie shenanigans.  But I’d go back and I’d recommend it to my friends and acquaintances.

Give Elevation Burger a try and let me know what you think.

Last week I went to the Warner Theatre to see “Stomp.”  What a fun show!  I was amazed at the sounds that the troupe could produce from everyday items – brushes, trash cans, newspapers – even kitchen sinks!  The audience had a great time.

If you’ve never been to the Warner Theatre, you should add that to your list of landmarks to visit.  In the 1920s, the theater was once a venue for vaudeville shows and silent movies.  Back then it was known as the Earle Theatre.  In 1947, Harry Warner (one of the Hollywood Warner Brothers), decided that since he owned the theater, his name should be on the marquee.  It’s been the Warner Theater ever since.

The venue has had its ups and downs over the years – showing films like “Dr. Zhivago” and “Ben Hur” in the 1960s, porno films in the 1970s, and a concert venue in the late 1970s and into the 1980s.  The Rolling Stones performed at the Warner Theatre in 1978.

Learn more about the Warner Theatre’s history here, and check out upcoming events.  It’s a beautiful theater.  You don’t want to miss it.

First, full disclosure:  I am a government employee and proud of it.  I love working for the U.S. State Department, and I love knowing that what I do has an impact. 

After seven years overseas, I’m back in Washington DC.  Since I live in Arlington, VA and work at Main State in DC, I ride the infamous Metro to work every day.  The system isn’t perfect, but it works for me.  One of the perks I receive is transit benefits.  I filled out one form, which includes my SmartTrip card number and the cost of my roundtrip commute.  Once my application is approved, I will receive a monthly reminder to download the funds to my fare card at one of the kiosks in the metro station.  Excellent.  As long as that fare card is not lost or stolen, I’m golden.

Or not. 

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"...or a photo of me after talking to Metro?

Back in December, I lost my SmartTrip card.  Totally my fault.  I remember using the card one night to get from my gym in Clarendon to my car in Ballston.  I brought the card home.  Then I lost it.  Although I am convinced that the card is somewhere in my condo waiting to be discovered, I realized that I had to move on, cancel it, and get a new card.  Done, done, and done.

Okay, but what about my transit benefits?  I took care of that too.  I updated my application form, sent it in, and received notification of its approval.  I was told that my benefits would resume in February.  Okay, that’s the price I must pay for being careless.  I understand. 

It’s February 2.  Would you like to place a bet on whether I’ve received my benefits? 

This morning I called Smart Benefits, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s office that manages the program, for assistance.   A truly enlightening experience.

  1. Smart Benefits has no record of me in their system.  How is that possible?  I’ve been receiving benefits since October!  Finally, after repeatedly insisting that they should have my records, my records are discovered.  I officially exist.
  2. Clarification:  they have a record of my old card, but not my new one.  How is that possible?  Did you register the new card, ma’am?  When I called to cancel the old one, the customer service agent told me she would automatically register the new one.  And that, my friends, was my fatal error.  I believed her.
  3. Oh, we see your January and February benefits assigned to your old card, just waiting to be downloaded by you.  How. Is. That. Possible?  I cancelled the card in December.  I notified my employer of the cancellation in December.  Why would they (my employer) continue to send benefits to that card and why would they (Smart Benefits) continue to accept them?  Foolish girl, you’re asking logical questions in an illogical world.
  4. Okay.  Fine.  Whatever.  How do I fix this?  I am told that I need to register my new card and inform my employer that I have a new card.  Am I speaking in a vacuum?  Have you heard anything I’ve said?  I was told the new card was registered.  I did inform my employer back in December.  I have proof that they received and approved my notification!  Silly girl, you have to do it again.  Maybe we’ll get it right this time. 
  5. Why don’t you call the Department of Transportation, which administers the program for State, and ask them to transfer your benefits to your new card?  I’ll even give you the telephone number.  Thanks, I guess.  I call and speak to a lovely woman, who is forced to hear this long, painful saga.  She is patient.  She is kind.  She tells me that she cannot help me because my employer insists that all requests for changes be sent to them.  I believe there is a form you must fill out, she says.  Did I go to sleep in the real world and wake up in a Kafka novel?  What have I been saying?  The form was filled out.  Submitted.  Read.  Reviewed.  Approved.  No matter, you must do it again. 

And so, like the demoralized, thoroughly indoctrinated drone that I am I contain my rage, suppress my tears, and fill out the form.  Again.  Praise be!  They have responded already!  I open the email.  It’s an auto-reply message, telling me my message has been received and will be responded to within 5-7 days.

What can I do, but wait?  Wait for them – the infamous “them” – to decide that my existence is real, that my inquiry is worthy of review and investigation, and that I am deserving of a real response. 

Does anyone else feel my pain? 

Tell me I’m not alone! 

Tell me about your crazy “Brazil”-like (look it up) experience with bureaucracy – government or otherwise.

Letter from a Jewish-American university student

In my last article – about my visit to the National Archives – I mentioned a letter from a Jewish-American woman who had won an opportunity to study in Germany.  In the 1930s.  I wanted to correct an error first:  she wrote to President Roosevelt, not the State Department as stated in my post.  I also wanted to share a photo of the actual letter because it is such a compelling story.

This photograph is courtesy of my colleague, Melissa VonHinken.

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