Author Archives: Michelle Ross

Oh, Just Sitting in Osaka

Osaka’s skyline rests across the bay from where I currently sit, laid out on a lounge chair in KIX, an international airport with the feel of small, regional airport. Out the window, on the left side of the panoramic view, runs a long bridge, connecting the airport to the city, looking as though it will collide with a huge building that towers over all everything else on the horizon. As I scan to the right, my eye is caught by a large Ferris wheel that sits right on the water, making me think this city might have more personality than first meets the eye through the haze. (Fog? Smog? I’m not sure what is causing the gray out there today, but gloom is definitely the overriding feel.)

I’ve been in this airport since 7AM, which means I’ve roamed its compact hall for six hours now, with at least three more to go. While the sign may say international airport and the planes come and go from international destinations, the concourse speaks a different tale. There are two cafes in the terminal, both small and both serving very little other than coffee and tea. Luckily, I had packed Pop Tarts in my backpack to tide me over, knowing I wouldn’t want much from my plane meals (and not having my favorite travel companion to swap out my entrée for his roll and brownie), so those became breakfast at KIX. Hours later when lunchtime rolled around, I revisited my two café options, finding the afternoon choices limited to hotdog-like meat wrapped in bread or shrimp ramen. Neither of these options was going to hit the spot, so I stepped into the one convenience-type store in the concourse. Stepped in is a bit of a stretch, as the shop was small enough that as my body was inside, my backpack remained outside. Not a lot of room to browse or turn. I quickly grabbed a few things I could recognize, (Pringles, a Coke and a weird little waffle thing), opting not to try the freeze dried tentacles, even though they were quite easily recognizable!

Between these two meals, both of which would make any nutritionist cringe, I did discover a hidden row of lounge chairs, making the perfect place to take a nap. Not far off the beaten path, these plush chairs had little cubbies around the top half, giving the sitter the feel of being in his/her own little pod. I knew I had found my home for a few hours! Pulling my ever-handy travel blanket and pillow out of my backpack, I kicked off my shoes, stashing them under the chair and tucked my bag in the space between the chair and the surrounding cubby and curled up for a mid-morning siesta. When I laid my head down, the closest gate was still occupied by the Malaysian Airlines plane I had come in on. When I finally pried my eyes open two hours later, those red and blue markings had been replaced by the green and red of Eva Airlines. Time passed. Planes moved. I slept.

Now, well-rested and kind of fed, I should be working on my thematic paper for my one of my literature classes. The ideas are all there, bouncing around my head: Tom Bissell, Uzbekistan, Peace Corps, the Aral Sea, the inner journey of a travel writer–bounce, rattle, rumble. The problem is, those ideas are competing for my attention with the planes that keep rolling up and down the runway, the boats trailing through the harbor (Is that a harbor? The ocean? A river? I have no idea what the body of water that lies between the Osaka airport and the city is.) and the strangely hilarious FaceTime conversation of the pre-teen in the next lounge cubby over. (Things I know about my cubby neighbor: She has an American accent. She is on my flight to SFO in a few hours. She is eating a sucker, loudly. I am pretty sure she memorized some list of current slang, using all of it much more liberally than any self-respecting tween should. Occasionally you have to use a full word in a sentence, even if you are talking to your bae and are totes excited to see her.)

If only the cubby around my head provided focus in the same way it shielded me during my earlier siesta…

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Wordless Wednesday: Iftar


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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far In 2015

Top Ten Tuesday:  Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far In 2015

(Brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish)

toptentuesdayI had to go back to my GoodReads page to come up with my top ten books of the year so far. At first I would worried I would only have travel narratives to share, but I realized I have actually squeezed in a few non-school related books in 2015. GoodReads tells me I’ve read 54 books so far this year, so it was hard to narrow down to just ten, but I did try to come up with a cross-section of genres and reading levels. As always, my list is presented in alphabetical order because it is hard enough to whittle my options down to ten, let alone to try to number them within those top picks!

Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow- (Fiction) The best word I can use to describe this novel is “strange” but it is strange in a good way. With an outside narrator giving a voice to Andrew’s thoughts and feelings, the reader gets a 3rd person perspective on a different person’s personal insights and thoughts. It is definitely odd and different, but worth the time!

Bird of Life, Bird of Death: A Political Ornithology of Guatemala by Jonathan Evan Maslow- (Non-fiction) Both a travelogue and a political examination of Guatemala, this book chronicles Maslow’s1983  journey through the war-torn country, in search of the mysterious and mystical quetzal bird.

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher-(Non-fiction)   A fascinating travel narrative of Butcher’s trip through the Congo, following in the footsteps of past English explorers. Butcher relies heavily on the help of others to make this dangerous journey, along the way recounting the colonial and post-colonial history of the nation, examining how it was broken apart and why it has not been able to reestablish itself as a functional state. This book is a travelogue, history lesson and cultural manifest all in one.

Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia by Tom Bissell­– (Non-fiction)    After quitting the Peace Corps just seven months into his two years of service, Tom Bissell goes home to the US to sort out some emotional issues and moves on with is life as a journalist. Soon, Uzbekistan calls though, and he returns to the country of his service to write about the ecological disaster surrounding the Aral Sea. This travelogue touches on the political history of Uzbekistan, the religious history, current events, and environmental issues, while also profiling a number of everyday Uzbekistan residents.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson –(Non-fiction)    Always a fan of Larson, this is another well-written non-fiction narrative that weaves together multiple tales into a single story. I learned more about submarines from this book than I ever thought I could know, which may sound not that exciting, but Larson has a way of making obscure topics fascinating!

El Deafo by Cece Bell-(Graphic novel- YA fiction) I loved this graphic novel about what it is like to be different from everyone around you. The main character is deaf and must wear a large contraption to help her hear in school. The story explores how she learns to deal with not only the mechanics of such a machine, but how to function in a hearing world and how to navigate the world of friendships, which is never easy for anyone, but becomes more difficult as she changes schools.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng-(YA fiction) The best YA novel I’ve read this year. It appeals to adult readers as well as YA readers, with each reading it from a different viewpoint. As an adult, it was a good reminder about the pressure we put on kids and remembering that they have their own paths to forge in this life. I would recommend this for high school students, as well as anyone who is the parent of a high schooler.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber-(Fiction) A beautiful tale of another world and the first interaction between humans and a new form of life. On a planet being terraformed by humans, they must find a way of living with the inhabitants of this new place, beings who are like nothing that had been imagined. Not only do they not look like humans, but their culture is baffling to the newcomers.  One man, willing to go live among them, beings to unravel the mysteries of their society, but with his ties to them comes a distancing of ties with the other humans.  

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro­i- (Fiction) Another beautiful novel about memories and how they influence our lives as we get older. This book has the feel of a fairy tale, with dragons and knights, a touch of mythology with a riverboat that one must be ferried upon, and an overall touching narrative about love and family, honor and duty.

The Little Red Pen by Janet Stevens, Susan Stevens Crummel– (Picture book- fiction) My niece Skyped me to read this picture book to me earlier this year and I loved it! It is a hilarious take on the tale of The Little Red Hen, but the part that was the best was the personalities of each office supply. I haven’t looked at my work desk the same since enjoying this one a few months ago.


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*Reblog* 10 Books to Inspire the Traveler in You

Re-blogging this article I wrote for A Traveling Life: Working to See the World


Travel. For many of us, it is the reason we get up and go to our jobs each day. I work so that I can afford to go awesome places, so that I can meet new people, and so that I can experience new adventures. Whether the goal is to go black water rafting on the south island of New Zealand, visit the Giant Buddha … via 10 Books to Inspire the Traveler in You.

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Bidding on the Brain

Tokyo vs. Tallinn vs. Taipei.

It’s like comparing apples to oranges to grapes, with maybe a few bits of durian thrown in there.  Why would these cities even show up in the same sentence? Because, my friends, pre-bidding season is upon us! Pre-bidding? Oh yes. That part of the year that is consumed with making lists of potential job openings and then making new lists as positions come and go from the projected lists. (In the interest of corridor reputation and general good sense, I’ll refrain from specifically labeling any place as the durian, but it actually plays out as a pretty good simile. Durian, while not the fruit for me, is loved by many Malaysians and even a few Americans. Foreign Service posts can have a similar vibe. A post that many people don’t really care for can end up being the perfect fit and you’d never know it if you didn’t give it that first shot. Your durian post might be my pineapple post!)

One of my favorite things about the Foreign Service is that we are always getting to live in new countries and call new cities home, but there is no magical eight ball that determines the next posting. Rather, at this point in his career, it is all about Thad reaching out to posts he is interested in, lobbying for positions that look intriguing and selling himself as being the fantastic officer that he is. In a lot of ways, this is like job hunting Stateside. He has to put together a resume, collect recommendations and interview with interested posts. Before this, when he was a first and second tour officer, all he had to do was put together a list and then left the rest to fate.

I actually kind of like that style of bidding, partially because I get to be more involved. (I’m not going to say that I am bossy, but I do like to have a hand in what is going on. This might be one reason I adored being CLO in Chengdu. I may not have had a lot of power, but I did get to be a part of a gazillion different activities and committees at the consulate. I loved that job!) The last time we bid, coming out of Chengdu, we put together of a list of thirty posts he was interested in. We ranked them in order of our interest and then sent it off to do CDO- career development officer- in Washington DC and then waited. And waited. And waited. But after what felt like a lifetime, he got the email saying he’d spend the next two years in Kuala Lumpur, which was #17 on our original list. (Initially, this was a shock, as I had been betting on something in the top ten and had done little to no research on anything beyond that.)  Being able to just rank our preferences and sit back and wait was great. Once the list was turned in, there was no stress of lobbying, but rather just a test of patience, and at least on the surface, I can fake patience. (Inside, my brain is overtaken by swarms of lightning bugs, but that is a different matter altogether!)

This time around though, I’ll be sidelined from the process, as it is all about the officer working the system to find a position that is a good fit. But, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had discussions about options we love and those we are less excited by. While there may not be an official list that I can help create, I definitely have thoughts on where I’d like to see us end up!

So, it seems, does my oldest niece, who already has designs to come spend a summer wherever we land. (She’ll be a freshman this year, so probably old enough to do just that, provided she can convince her mom to buy her a plane ticket to spend a month on a new continent! She might need to start saving her babysitting money now.) With her hopes for future travel (which, of course, I fully support!) in mind, her uncle sent her a long list of possibilities and told her to get back to him with her top ten. Now, in the Foreign Service, all posts are listed by city, not country, so I’m sure this little bit of homework stretched her geography skills a bit and had her Googling like mad! After perusing the list for a few days, here is what she came back with, in order of preference:

1.Casablanca, Morocco

2.Rangoon, Myanmar

3.London, England


5.Nassau, Bahamas

6.Tallinn, Estonia

7.Minsk, Belarus

8.New Dehli, India

9.Guangzhou, China

  1. Vilinius, Lithuania

Interesting choices! While I’m not ready to reveal our top choices right now, I do have to say a few of these look promising to me too, but there are also a couple there that would definitely not make my top ten for a variety of reasons. Some people run towards durian. Some run away from it.

It is always exciting to look at lists of possible future postings and there are very few places that I would really dread going. Flipping open an atlas and tracing the outlines of new countries with a finger, figuring out a new travel radius and researching potential new homes is at the heart of why I left my teaching job to become a “trailing spouse” (don’t get me started on that nomenclature) in this crazy Foreign Service lifestyle. The question is, where we be “homebase” for my next round of sidewalk searching? Only time will tell…

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You Too Can Search for Sidewalk Endings!

Do you ever read this blog and wish you could live/travel to different cities abroad? (The adjectives for these cities include all of the follow, depending in the day/my mood: strange, exciting, frustrating, fascination, wonderful, tiring…the list could go on and on!)  The Foreign Service is currently advertisting OMS openings. (Office Management Specialist)  Here’s your chance to join the Foreign Service and search for your own sidewalk endings!!

Below is an excerpt from the job listing. Be sure to check out                                         for full information!

Office Management Specialist

United States Department of State
An Equal Opportunity Employer

Position Title: Foreign Service Office Management Specialist – Administrative Assistant
Open Period: 06/17/2015 — 07/07/2015
Series/Grade: FP – 0318 07
Salary: $35,014 – $51,419
Promotion Potential: FP-03
Hiring Agency: U.S. Department of State
Duty Locations: MANY Vacancies throughout the World
For More Info: HR/REE/BEX-EVAL,

Who May Apply

All potential applicants are strongly urged to read this entire Vacancy Announcement to ensure that they meet all of the requirements for this position before applying.

Applicants must be American citizens and at least 20 years old to apply. They must be at least 21 years of age to be appointed. By law, all career candidates must be appointed to the Foreign Service prior to the month in which they reach age 60.

Duration Appointment

Permanent after being tenured in the Foreign Service by the Tenure Boards.

Grade and Starting Salary Range: FP-07, $35,014 – $51,419


The U.S. Department of State is the lead foreign affairs agency formulating and implementing the President’s foreign policy and representing U.S. interests throughout the world. Foreign Service Office Management Specialists (Administrative Assistants) serve at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide as well as a few domestic locations. Assignments can vary from working in a Political or Economic Section in one mission to working in the Management or Security Section in another. Future assignments can lead to the Executive Office and the position of Office Manager to an Ambassador overseas or to a high-ranking official in Washington, D.C. Whatever the position or nature of duties, Office Management Specialists will have a rich opportunity to make valuable contributions to their country while leading professionally and personally fulfilling lives.

The Foreign Service is more than a job – it’s a career. As a member of a diplomatic team, you will not only help to accomplish the mission of the Department of State, but also will be a representative of your country to the people of other nations. A Foreign Service career involves uncommon commitments and occasional hardships, as well as unique rewards and opportunities. A decision to enter this career should be based on extraordinary motivation and a firm dedication to public service.

Many overseas posts are in small or remote countries where harsh climates, health hazards, and other discomforts exist and where American-style amenities and the latest in technological advances often are unavailable. Personal security frequently becomes an area of concern in countries where there is political unrest or terrorist activity. However, careers in the Foreign Service offer special rewards, including the pride and satisfaction of representing the United States and protecting U.S. interests abroad.

The Foreign Service strives to maintain diversity in the representation of gender, geographic region, race and ethnicity within its work force.

Key Requirements

All applicants, in order to be considered for selection, must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen.
  • Be at least 20 years old to apply and at least 21 years of age to be appointed. By law (Foreign Service Act of 1980), all career candidates (except for preference-eligible veterans)** must be appointed to the Foreign Service prior to the month in which they reach age 60.
  • Be available for worldwide service.
  • Be able to obtain a Top Secret Security Clearance.
  • Be able to obtain an appropriate medical clearance for Foreign Service work.
  • Obtain a Suitability Clearance, based on a review of the candidate’s record for conduct in accordance with suitability standards defined in Chapter 3 of the Foreign Affairs Manual. For more details see


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Wordless Wednesday: My Little Piece of Central Idaho



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