Welcome to our unaccompanied tours (UT) blog, Foggy Bottom Rambles! We can share information, programs, and resources quickly with you and since blogs are a two way street, we (and the other readers) can hear from you. What's in a name you say? This blog reflects how we (back here in DC, Foggy Bottom area) provide information (rambles) to you. Find websites and information, upcoming webinars, programs and events. FLO does not endorse organizations or companies linked-to in this blog, the views they express, or the products/services they offer. Let us know what you think: contribute to the blog or email us at FLOAskUT@state.gov.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Honeynut, no sugar, multigrain...?

We have another guest poster who wanted to share his book review with the UT community after seeing that we also have a Decision Tree guide to help families decide where to reside during a UT.  So, take it away, Charles:

"Jonah Lehrer has a new book, ‘How we Decide” and he offers us non-neuroscientists a glimpse into the neuroscience, psychological and emotion behind decision making. He shows us that there is no art to decision making. I wanted to know how the brain works, but I also wanted to confirm my theory that I make better decisions than my 20 year old.

Mr. Lehrer wrote his book because he would easily become paralyzed even when trying to make a simple decision like, what kind of cheerios does my wife like…. with honey, no sugar, what if she doesn’t like it, etc….20 minutes later he is still in the aisle at Giant’s mumbling, which one should I buy, I like Cheerios?

Sometimes too much information is a really bad thing when it comes to making a decision, and that's part of the predicament we often find ourselves in. When I read 12 post reports, then we have to submit a bid list and I really just want to go play basketball, (but I can’t say that because she’s wanting me to be serious) what do I do? When you have all these different brands, options, details and choices, I become a little shaky too. This book resonated with own my personal career decisions, I can’t explain why I chose this over that. “How did you know to do that”, reply, “because I just knew it was the right answer.” I was impressed by the way Mr. Lehrer explained how emotions affect physiological changes, and how research has shown that people under stress will still make great decisions.

This is a good read for the young and old. Jonah is a good story teller and he mixes just the right amount of research, economics, science and humor to make it worth the time to read it. Also try his first book “Proust was a Neuroscientist”."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

US Tax Season Phishing Scams and Malware Campaigns

Today we have a guest blog post from a former unaccompanied tour colleague, Guilford:

Now as in the past, we are receiving reports of an increased number of phishing scams and malware campaigns that take advantage of the United States tax season. Due to the upcoming tax deadline, be reminded to remain cautious when receiving unsolicited emails that could be part of a potential phishing scam or malware campaign.

These phishing scams and malware campaigns may include the following: information that refers to a tax refund, warnings about unreported or under-reported income, offers to assist in filing for a refund, or details about fake e-file websites. These messages, which appear to be from the IRS, may ask users to submit personal information via email or may instruct the user to follow a link to a website that requests personal information or contains malicious code.

At this time, the Department of State and US-CERT are aware of public reports indicating that there is active circulation of a tax season malware campaign. This malware campaign may be using malicious code commonly known as Zeus or Zbot.

US-CERT encourages users and administrators to take the following measures to protect themselves from these types of phishing scams and malware campaigns:

• Do not follow unsolicited web links in email messages.
• Refer to the IRS website related to phishing, email, and bogus website scams for scam samples and reporting information.
• Pay attention to ISSO and DS notifications.
• Refer to the Recognizing and Avoiding Email Scams document for more information on avoiding email scams.
• Refer to the Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks document for more information on social engineering attacks.

Thank you for your attention and support in keeping our IT systems safe.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Last of the Angels

The novel is set in Kirkuk during the 1950's and is a humorous story of three very different people - Hameed Nylon, Khidir Musafrom, and Burhan Abdullah - all from the same neighborhood in Kirkuk.  Using humor and the supernatural, the author shows us the mix of people - Turkmen, Kurds, Arabs, Jews, and Assyrian Christians - that all made up Kirkuk in the 50s.  The author states, "I'd like my readers first of all to read this novel as a literary work.  The Last of the Angels is a journey inside Arabic and Islamic culture, mythology, and religion not only as it exists in Iraq, but also in the entire Middle East."
Don't expect this novel to stay humorous because at the end all the characters reveal the dangerous world in which they live.

The author of this book, Fadhil al-Azzawi was born in Kirkuk, Iraq, in 1940.  He has a PhD in Cultural Journalism and has written several books and poetry collections.  At present he resides in Germany.

Remember back when you were in college...?

If you find yourself living in a smaller space than anticipated (or hoped), here are two tips from colleague in Afghanistan who found creative ways to manage the space in her hooch:

"I bought four bed risers to lift up my bed.  Target had them for $9.99 and the risers were stronger than I initially thought.  Each riser holds about 300 lbs and I could still get under my bed in full gear when necessary.  You might be able to find the risers cheaper, but I just went with Target."  Note: when I went to the site Target was charging $14.99.

"I also bought some storage cubes that held most of my slacks and tops that didn't require ironing or just used them for stuff that didn't fit in my armoire.  I bought six and stacked them on the side of the hooch and used the top for books and DVDs."

I found dormbuys.com which is a site geared towards college dorm living, but the space saver section seems to have a lot of practical ideas and items.  What space saving tips do you have?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Temporarily single parenting?

Here are four tips about parenting during an unaccompanied tour:

"We put a nickel or dime (or whatever coins we had on hand) in a glass jar to count the number of days mom was away. The idea is that when mom comes home, she and our son will take the money saved and spend it on doing something together. So, when Carol came back home on her first R&R, she and my son went out for ice cream." (Tip, you might want to dump the coins into a coin counting machine to get bills instead of lugging around a Ziploc bag of coins!)

Another idea is to keep track of the days the parent is gone is by creating a colorful paper chain. The child could write something on each link or just leave them blank. Maybe the chain is displayed in the child's bedroom or the living room for all to see.

Sticking to routines is something on which a lot of parents rely and say that it helped them through the separation. The parent at home will have to create some new routines and make adjustments. Children feel more secure when routines are established. Don't be soooo strict though - the actual times that the routine (brushing teeth, reading a book, etc.) is not as important as the order of the actions.

Finally, remember to take care of yourself. You need to make sure you're getting enough sleep, exercise, eating properly, etc to take care of your child. The whole family can participate in healthy lifestyle activities like taking a walk after dinner or dancing to some fun music.

What tips do you have for parenting during an unaccompanied tour?

The week in review...blog edition

Check out what has happened this past week on other Foreign Service blogs at: "Welcome to Week 6 of the State Department Blog Roundup: You Guys are Hilarious!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What you gonna eat? Stressbusters!

That was my attempt at a spoof on the Ghostbusters movie theme song, but it may have been a stretch!  Anyhow, Sherri found this Yahoo health short article about foods that help you battle stress.  Some of the foods are already in various heart-healthy/cholesterol-lowering/antioxidant-fighting super food categories, and now they can all add "stress-fighting" to their resumes. 

So, if you find a way to combine skim milk + dark chocolate + oatmeal + walnuts + sunflower seeds + blueberries AND salmon + spinach, you're off to a stress free (or less) start!  I searched for recipes on various combinations of ingredients from the first combo on epicurious (or try FoodNetwork) and found quite a few sweet suggestions.  You can also be creative and substitute dried blueberries for raisins or cherries in a recipe.  Try a handful of sunflower seeds in a spinach and blueberry salad...top your oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts...make a healthy trail mix...the combinations are endless...

What are some stress busting techniques you use? 

For you foodies out there, what would you make with these ingredients?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Update from DiploDoggie

DiploDoggie (aka Foreign Service Tails blogger) commented on March 22nd's post with an important message that I forgot to include.  So, here it is, straight from the horse's...er...dog's snout: We would LOVE to have stories written by and pictures of FS pets!"  So, that's the official word - share stories/pictures with Foreign Service Tails and remember that posting will be in your pet's 'voice'!

Here's a cute picture of one of Sherri's dogs, Rascal, looking not too happy wearing those hot pink boots.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes, by Mohammed Hanif

From Sherri - This novel is based on the mysterious 1988 plane crash that killed the Pakistan leader General Zia ul-Haq.  It is a witty, illuminating, and entertaining novel that does a pretty good job of covering the Americans in Pakistan, Soviets in Afghanistan, and everyone who's out to make some "fast" money.  In this fictitious story, we learn that General Zia begins every day reading his horoscope and asking, "Who is out to kill me today?"  If you read Joseph Heller's book Catch 22 and enjoyed the twisted, dark, sometimes risky humor, then you should enjoy A Case of Exploding Mangoes. The author graduated from the Pakistan Air Force Academy and currently lives in London where he heads the BBC Urdu news service.  This is his first novel.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Something to talk about

Having trouble explaining your unaccompanied tour to your child?  Here are some tips people shared with us on how to talk to children:
  • For young kids, use two stuffed animals (let's say a rabbit and a bear) to act out a scene in which the rabbit goes away for a while...
  • Be positive - mention that this is part of your job and you're not doing it to get away from the family, daughter's new boyfriend, etc.  Mention that it's an opportunity to serve on one of these tours and not a "have to go" or "making me go" situation.
  • The parent at home can mail to the parent at post a box with pre-stamped postcards that the employee can easily write a quick note and drop in the mail.  (Tip: You or your kids can also create personalized postcards purchased at arts and crafts stores.)  Feeling tech savvy?  The US Postal Services has a site that will help you create electronic postcards.
  • One family found it really helpful to watch the Sesame Street pre-deployment video and other guides and resources for parents and kids.  Take some time to explore the site because the there are layers and layers of information - it was just tricky for me to navigate.
  • Want more ideas on how to talk to kids?  Go to PBS's Talking with Kids.

Stressed? Read this

Is stress causing you physical pain?  I just read through this article and thought this was a pretty interesting 'experiment':
Take your hands and touch the back of your neck.  If your hands are cold, you're stressed; if they're warm, you're relaxed.
I think my hands are sometimes cold because, well, it's just cold in my office...or I forgot to bring a sweater!  I also read in job interview tips that if you tend to have cold hands, run them under warm water before the interview so you don't shock the people with whom you shake hands.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wag more, bark less

Are you a Foreign Service parent to a non-human child (ie. cat, dog, bird, guinea pig...)?  If so, here are two resources you might find helpful and certainly others have.

FS Pets Yahoo group that is "A group for Foreign Service employees and family members to discuss pets and pet-related issues: moving, boarding, import and export requirements, etc., and any personal stories about the FS life with pets."

Foreign Service Tails blog: "It's a dog's (or cat's or bird's) life following Diplomats around the World"

Updated on 3/24: After a comment (see below) from DiploDoggie (aka Foreign Service Tails blogger) here's the scoop, straight from the horses...er, dog's mouth: "We would LOVE to have stories written by and pictures of FS pets".  So there's the word, folks, visit Foreign Service Tails and submit your stories/pictures!
Note: This is a picture of our dogs Schatzie (white one) and Dixie (Czech Shepherd).  Although Schatzie is not a world traveler - yet - she did come from Georgia to DC where we adopted her from the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL).  Since she is deaf and has some separation anxiety, I hope she will do just fine when she does take her first airplane ride.

On a serious note

Here's a tip that one of our UT spouses was kind enough to point out - "Sometimes you will not hear back from folks serving on an unaccompanied tour for lots of good reasons, none of which means they are unsafe.  There may be travel delays, communication irregularities, power outages, or they are simply busy and can't call/email/Skype at that time.  If I were to share a lesson learned here it is: I did WAY too much "Worst case scenario" thinking when my husband was deployed to Afghanistan.  It didn't help me cope at all and actually wore me down."

Share your tips with us and your fellow readers by posting a comment below.

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay

Even ABBA has trouble making ends meet at times.  Wouldn't it be oh so nice if there were a free, online service to help you make better decisions when it comes to making a purchase in complex product categories?  Well supposedly there is!  Check out Billshrink to cost compare cell phones and plans, gas, credit cards, and savings CDs .  Their motto is “Saving you money, one bill at a time” so find out if you’re paying too much.  Every little bit helps!  Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of Billshrink and I have not used their services.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring is in the air

Spring is finally in DC!  After Snowmageddon/Snowpocalype this past winter, it's nice to see the sun out and all the snow melted. Spring in DC also means the annual Cherry Blossom Festival will be here in a couple weeks and since I missed it last year, I'll be sure to make it this time.  Keep your eyes out for a post with a link to lots of photos.

We wanted to send some DC spring greetings to our colleagues in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan so we designed and printed special banners that were on display in the State Department cafeteria this week.  People wrote personal messages (my favorite one is "Get back to work (person's name)!", drew pictures (I even attempted a bouquet of flowers), and wrote general messages to the entire mission.  We'll mail the banners out to the posts next week - or as soon as the poster mailing tubes we ordered arrive.

Sun all around the capital cities, here are the highs, in Fahrenheit, for tomorrow according to weather.com:
Baghdad - 75
Islamabad - 95
Kabul - 76
Washington DC - 76

How's the weather where you are? 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And now, coming to you all the way from Danville, CA...

... a featured posting by a fellow blogger, Jen.  Jen's husband is preparing for an unaccompanied tour and she writes about the lessons learned when he was off on training on her family blog (which we also linked to on the left hand side).  Reading through Jen's post reminded me of the year that my fiance, JT (former resident of Danville - small world!), was at the US Embassy in Baghdad.  I was here in DC (it was our second year apart) and I certainly didn't get enough sleep or exercise, take well-deserved breaks, rid my apartment of useless stuff (well I tried when I moved apartments), and my patience was lacking at times. JT was in Iraq during some pretty rough periods and my constant news-reading and Reuters searches of "US Embassy Baghdad" were not helpful to my overall well-being.  Sometimes I would decline an invitation from a friend to see a movie or grab dinner because I would want to be available to talk when/if he called.  There are things that you can't control and I've learned now to let those things go and try not to let those things get to me too much. 

I know a lot of you readers out there have helpful advice or tips that are helping or helped you manage an unaccompanied assignment (whether you were the employee on the UT or the family member).  If you blog and have postings you would like to share, please comment or send me an email at FLOaskUT@state.gov.  Or, if you would just like to email me a story, thought, idea, or tip, please do so!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Twitter and Facebook and Flickr - oh my!

Did you know that many US Embassies around the world have official Facebook (and Twitter and Flickr) pages?  Yes, that's right!  We're all jumping on board social media as a way to connect to each other.  A list of all the Facebook pages is on the main State Department one but you may want be interested in these specific ones below.  Also, make sure to click on the photos section of each and find links to Flickr and Twitter pages too.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What is MHN? Find out more on March 23rd!

Some of you may have heard the acronym "MHN" as part of a service offered to employees on unaccompanied tours and their family members. Now's your chance to learn more about the health and well-being services offered FREE to you.  We'll be having an orientation session of FLO (Family Liaison Office at State) and MHN programs and services on March 23rd from10:30 - 11:30 AM EST in which you can participate virtually or in-person (if you are in the DC area).  Read the announcement to find out how to participate!  Get reared up for the session by skimming the overview of MHN services and logging on to their website using 'unaccompaniedtour' as the company code.  Explore the site to find: articles about time management, a stress quiz to take, tips on how to live with (or at least tolerate) a difficult roommate, and strategies to improve communication with your children.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Colors of Warka: Paintings by Iraqi Women of Muthanna Province

"The Colors of Warka" exhibit is on display at the State Department and you can also view an online slideshow of the paintings.  On March 23rd, there will be a public education forum at the State Department focusing on recently elected female Iraqi local government leaders.  The paintings will also be featured. Outside visitors are welcome and everyone must register by March 16.  Please see this website for the program, date, time, location, and registration information.  If you plan on attending and would like to meet up afterwards to get a cup of coffee and meet others, please email FLOaskUT@state.gov or comment below.  Also, the Foreign Service Officer who will be moderating the forum - and who headed up the project - has a great blog, Wing Tips on the Ground, about his time in Iraq.  Read his two posts, "The Colors of Warka" and "Finding their voice" about how the project started and the impact it has on the lives of the Iraqi women involved.

(State Department Image, "The Mother" by Lamya Hussein Auteiya)

Friday, March 12, 2010

March is Women's History Month

Last night, I tried to attend a talk/panel discussion on women in journalism for Women's History Month at the National Archives, but was turned away due to a packed auditorium. If you're in the DC area, be sure to check out their calendar for upcoming events.

Do you know about Google Alerts?  I just learned about them this week in my social media class and signed up for "social media" and "military families".  I tried "unaccompanied tours", but received a ton of unrelated links and sites, thinking that that term is pretty specific since it pertains to the State Department's term for assignments to places that State does not allow families to accompany.  One Alert for "military families' directed me here to a blog post that discusses a new film documentary about two brothers fighting the war in Iraq, and also on a larger scale, how the war impacts military families.  The blog is Politics Daily and I thought I'd search blog to see what other posts were of interest.  Then I cam across an inspiring article called "Suraya Pakzad and the Long, Tough Fight for Afghan Women" and wanted to share this with you.  The article talks about Suraya's (photo at right from America.gov)  personal story and how she and the organization she helped start (Voice of Women Organization - VWO) are empowering Afghan women through education..

You keep saying we can comment, but...

A loyal reader suggested that I write a post on how to comment.  Great idea!  Here's the play by play:

1. Find a post on which you want to comment.
2. Click "Comments" (hopefully the number of comments on each post will increase from 0!)
3. You then has to select an option for "Comment as" which basically is how your name will or won't appear when you post.  If you already have an account with Google, Live Journal, WordPress, TypePad, AIM, or OpenID you can post with that.  Or, you also have the option to post with any name you chose or anonymously.
4. Enter your comment in the box
5. Click on "Preview" to see what your posting will look like or just click "Post Comment" to submit
6. Et voila!  Your comment is posted and shows up if someone selects "Comments" under the posting

You are welcome to comment on any post with your opinion, suggestion, feedback, insight, or a resource such as a website.  This blog is for you so please feel free to contribute.

Also, if you have a tip from the field or would like to write a book club entry, we welcome guest posters so just send your posting to FLOaskUT@state.gov and we'll post it as a "Guest blogger".

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Another Round of Book Club

The Storyteller's Daughter, by Saira Shah

From Sherri - "You might recognize Saira Shah's name because her film, Beneath the Veil, aired on CNN a few years ago.  The film did a superb job illuminating the difficulties women have when living under the Taliban rule.  In this book, Shah returns to Afghanistan to learn more about the myths and stories she grew up with.  Her father, we learn, is a Sufi and a storyteller who filled his family with a love for the country of Afghanistan and its people.  This is a very readable book and should be enjoyed by all.  Thanks to one of our UT family members for suggesting it - I really enjoyed it!"

From Bridget - "I actually just started to read this book (thanks, Sherri, for passing on your copy to me) and although I'm not very far along, I'd love to hear what others who are reading or have read this book have to say.  Comment below - just please don't tell me the ending!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Glimpse into the State Department...magazine, that is

Did you know that the State Department has a monthly magazine called State Magazine that share's what's happening around the world and in Washington DC?  Here are some highlights and articles from March (cover on left) that might be of interest to you:

Earthquake in Haiti: Special Report (p. 8)
Olympic Hurdles: CG Vancouver planned well for Winter Games (p. 18)
Post of the Month: Djibouti (p. 24)
Qualified Candidates: EFMs can help fill US Civil Service jobs quickly (p. 36)
Artful Diplomacy: Art transcends boundaries to link cultures (p. 38)

What do you think about these articles?  Share your comments with us!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I know you're fine, but...

Before my husband left for Afghanistan, he gave me the names and email addresses of three colleagues over there I could contact in case I hadn't heard from him in a while.  He might have limited email and phone if he travels so it's helpful to have these names.  I haven't contacted any of them and should probably check with my husband to make sure they're still in country...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar buzz

"The Hurt Locker" won six Oscars - including best picture and best director - at the Academy Awards last night.  I actually saw the movie in-flight on my way over the Atlantic heading to Germany for regional Community Liaison Office (CLO) Coordinator training in Garmisch.  Let us know what you think about the movie (or the Oscars) by commenting below.

Iraq Elections

Read about the Iraq National Elections 2010 on Embassy Baghdad's internet site, specifically FAQsremarks by Secretary Clinton, and remarks by President Obama.  Also, I just saw that Embassy Baghdad has started an official Facebook page.  There is even an election section about observations from the field and also make sure to look through the photos, postings, and more.

Friday, March 5, 2010

US Embassy Baghdad - 2010 PRT Highlights

The PRTs (Privincial Reconstruction Teams - check out the fact sheet) are doing some pretty important and cool things in Iraq. Don't worry - this information comes from the US Embassy's official internet page to highlight the accomplishments and programs occuring in PRTs.  Some highlights are: cultural arts festival, mud house performance, sewing class for women, delivery of medical supplies, adult literacy and life skills programs, Skype exchanges between US and Iraqi universities, and more.  That's just in February! 

We should all be proud of our diplomats working side by side with the military and Iraqis.  And, we should be proud of their families. I always say that the more that those of us who aren't over there can read/see what important work we're doing, the more we all feel connected. We all need to support each other and feel supported.  Looks like my posting got a bit off track...but that's why I'm posting this information about PRTs!

In the DC area? Got kids? This might be for you...

The Foreign Service Institute's (FSI) Transition Center is offering MQ914 Youth Security Overseas Seminar (for children in grades 6-12) in March.  Are you going overseas this summer?  If so, now is the time to make sure that your children are security conscious!  This one-day class is open to all foreign affairs agency eligible family members.

The course will help your children:
  • Identify safety and security issues and resources
  • Apply general safety and security rules to their lives overseas
Please note parents must be on campus while children attend class.

Contact FSITCTraining@state.gov for date/time/location of upcoming training, tuition rates, and enrollment process.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Something for everyone

Whether you're the employee, spouse, partner, parent, sibling, child, or other family member or friend, you should be able to find helpful information within this website I found.  I Googled "reunion after deployment" and found this website from USARPAP DCS.  I think the military likes acronyms as much as we do!  The site has quite a few handy guides for before, during, and after military deployments - many of these suggestions and strategies can also be applied to unaccompanied tours. Here are some of the topics the site addresses:

Pre-deployment checklists
Emotional cycle of deployment
Children and deployment guides
Coping strategies for separation
Guide for parents with son/daughter on unaccompanied tour
Reunion guides
and a couple of military-specific resources

Sometimes you will need special permission to access the military sites that link out from the site above, but others are more open.  If you are former military, you may be able to log in to certain sites to which others can't access. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Article on safe travel abroad

I signed up with CNNmoney.com's "The Help Desk" and I noticed that today's tips might be helpful to our travel savvy folks since the article is titled: Safe Sailing- Tips on ensuring your safety when travelling overseas. Top tips include:

1. Register your trip
2. What to leave behind
3. Get alerts and warnings

So whether you're traveling to Baghdad, Bangkok, or Boston, travel smart and travel safe.

Where in the world...?

We really are a global community!  Check out the map below to see from which countries people are accessing this blog.  This is my first blog and I have just discovered Google Analytics, the creator of this cool map.  As of today, there have been over 400 unique visitors to this site!  Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Yahoo Group for FS Singles and Couples without Children

There's a new (well, fairly recent) Yahoo group for Foreign Service singles and couples without children.  If you go to the group's homepage, you can read the description which I have also copy and pasted below:

"Membership is restricted to FS employees or candidates who have passed the FSOA.  Group messages are viewable only by group members.  To join, please send an introductory note confirming your eligibility.  This group is primarily aimed at couples and singles who practive the 'childree' lifestyle, the preferred terminology to describe people who do not have, nor plan to ever have children. From Dictionary.com: "Childfree - adjective - having no children; childess, esp. by choice".

*Singles and couples who currently do not have children - but might be in the future - are also welcomed."

There are a ton of other Foreign Service-ish Yahoo groups (for parents, Foreign Service employees, pets, unaccompanied tours, serving in Iraq, and serving in Afghanistan...to name a few).  Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite Yahoo group.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi

This is an excellent book that manages to portray powerful emotions.  Don't be fooled by its size - it might be a small book but it has a large story to tell.  The story takes place during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.  It is a story of war, family, tradition, and home.  The main characters are an old man and his grandson who, when the book starts, are waiting for a ride.  What are they waiting for? Why are they waiting?  As Rahimi answers these questions, we learn something about generations of Afghan history and traditions.  It's well worth reading and you may want to watch the movie too!

Dining out with Skype

Here's a great tip from Budapest - Our daughter was really missing her father the last few nights.  So, what we did last night was to Skype with him while I was making dinner.  He helped her with her homework and they looked at a couple of websites together.  Her father got his food "to go" from the cafeteria so we could eat dinner together while on Skype.  It almost made it seem like he was there in the dining room with us.  She really had fun with it and it made her feel like "the family was together".