Shh...My dirty little secret is that none of my blogs are totally original. Something I read or saw (like a movie re-run from the 80s) usually inspires them. Such is the case with this "best of" entry, which I actually did in 2013, one-and-a-half years into my tour in Israel. I had a lot of highlights that year, personally and professionally, but I think 2015 stacks up pretty well after just 9 months in Mexico. Aside from an easily avoidable bike accident that resulted in a broken arm for DiploSon, the year was marked by good fortune and good signs for the years to come. Here's a recap of the top 15 experiences, not necessarily in order, but with some semblance of logic:
15. Visits and Visitors: I'll start with this first since we are currently enjoying the good company (and babysitting) of DiploGrandma and it's always shrewd to be in the good graces of the DiploMother-in-Law. My dad also visited us in November for a short but jam-packed week in which we toured the city and visited the picturesque town of San Miguel de Allende. Not to be forgotten, old high school friends made the pilgrimage to Mexico City for two separate visits. More visitors are welcome!
14. New Homeowners: Just days before departing for Mexico in March, we closed on a new home in the Washington suburb of Fairfax, Virginia. We do intend to live there, most likely during the boys' high school years, but for now we are content to collect rent from tenants. We had an agent who had worked with other Foreign Service people and we felt the time was right to buy. Watching homebuyer shows on HGTV during the winter doldrums also played a role.
13. Great Wolf Lodge: One of our favorite getaways from Washington is an indoor water theme park that also doubles as a hotel. For last year's Christmas present, my aunt treated us to a night stay so we could splash around the clock. The irony was the boys' taking to MagiQuest, a fantasy-themed scavenger hunt that has nothing to do with water. They still have their interactive magic wands and we will undoubtedly visit again so they can become Magi Masters.
12. Tandem Timing: The DiploWife and I pulled off a rare feat in Foreign Service tandem hood by arriving at post on the exact same date in March. And boy did we hit the ground running. We finalized the hiring of a nanny that afternoon; the boys were sent off to a bilingual school the following day; and the DiploParents began the check-in process at the embassy. All has worked out well so far. The nanny has our utmost trust, the boys are picking up Spanish and we are both still gainfully employed.
11. Fraud Prevention: Through another fortuitous feat of good timing, I landed a coveted 9-month rotation in the Embassy's Fraud Prevention Unit. This is the analytical arm of the consular section and my job mainly entailed lending support to a local staff of investigators who would crack cases involving visa fraud and break down the bogus claims of visa applicants. My tenure is coming to an end in February and I have a long haul ahead of me adjudicating visas but I am thankful for the opportunity.
10. Xbox One: Acquiring this game system surely was a highlight for the boys and is quickly becoming one for me too. They diligently saved and pooled their allowance for more than six months in able to purchase it. Now they are well on their way to becoming gamers, for better or worse. Since I grew up with Texas Instruments video games, I figure it's only natural that I should sample some Xbox One games to see how much they have evolved.
9. Sushi, the Dog: Who can resist petting puppies in a pet store? But that doesn't mean you should walk out with one. Well, that's what we did on June 6. We had discussed getting a dog in Mexico but it still felt like an impulse buy when we came home with a Shih Tzu that day. The DiploSons named her Sushi and to them she is the cutest thing to walk on God's green Earth. For the DiploParents, we endured some rough patches of sleep deprivation and house training but she has grown on us too.
8. Riding Bikes: The boys finally reached a major milestone in mastering how to ride a bike and this city is one of the best places for bike enthusiasts or those who just like an occasional jaunt. Every Sunday the main downtown drag of La Reforma is shut down for bicyclists, runners and walkers. The wide, tree-lined boulevard passes by Mexico City's version of Central Park, museums and other attractions. The near perfect year-round weather makes bike riding here that much more enjoyable.
7. Tacos, Tacos and More Tacos: Another thing Mexico City has going for it is food and chilangos (Mexico City residents) are passionate about tacos. These ain't your hard shell tacos with ground beef and processed cheese. I'm talking about almost every mouth-watering combination imaginable of fresh meat, vegetables and spices. One of my best experiences was going on a taco eating tour with a local guide who shared where some of the city's best tacos are.
6. Dia de los Muertos: Besides being off work for Mexican holidays, we've also enjoyed the festivities surrounding the various dates. One of our favorites was the "Day of the Dead" commemoration that proceeds Halloween and is a focus of celebration and remembrance for Mexicans. We journeyed to a town a few hours outside Mexico City and it seemed like the whole country was awash with colorful marigold flowers used to decorate the alters of recently deceased loved ones.
5. Trip Planning: The Lonely Planet Mexico guidebook sits on my nightstand and is one of my favorite pastimes. I sometime wonder if I like planning the trips more than the trip itself. Nonetheless, long weekend getaways and day trips have been nice breaks from the daily grind of work and Mexico City traffic. We are currently spending New Year's holiday weekend in Oaxaca and I'm looking forward several upcoming trips in early 2016. As for 2015, the trip of the year award goes to...
4. Club Med: I never fashioned myself as the all-inclusive type but after just a few days at Club Med, I'm a true believer. We rolled the dice on a bargain deal during the height of the rainy, hurricane season in September but the weather cooperated and we had an amazing three-day weekend along the Pacific coast in Ixtapa. The DiploSons rediscovered the unbridled fun of playing in the surf and we all enjoyed a hassle-free vacation that featured an open bar and buffet with delicious food.
3. Next Assignment…Oman: This really should take the number one slot because, in addition to keeping our family together for at least another 5 years, our next posting will dictate the top events of 2017-2020. DiploMom had already been assigned to Oman so it all boiled down to me getting an available job there. Fortunately, I was selected for the highly competitive position after a byzantine bidding ritual lasting several months with almost daily ups and downs.
2. Arabic Test: Just a month later, I received a passing score on an Arabic test that exempts me from additional language study before my next tour. This was somewhat surprising since it had been five years since I last tested and I thought much of the Arabic had been crowded out of my middle-aged brain by Spanish and Hebre. I'm still sorting out the timing but am excited that I will be able to gain some practical experience working in the State Department in between Mexico and Oman.
1. "Muy Amable": I constantly hear this from Mexicans, even from visa applicants whom I refuse. The common refrain is roughly translated as "very friendly" but more often is a reflection of gratitude and marks the overall friendliness we have encountered from random Mexicans. The best part of this best of list is that Mexicans will almost surely keep on being friendly into 2016 and beyond (no matter what Donald Trump has to say about them!).