Dead Presidents Still Illude Me

Tomorrow will be the four-week marker of my new job as CLO in Chengdu.  Today, being a State Department payday, clearly marked in red on the official work calendar taped to the dingy white wall next to my computer, was one that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. After quitting my teaching job May of 2011, I effectively took the entire next year off. (I like to consider it a dry-run at retirement. I give it an overall rating of 70/30. 70% of the time was fabulous. I read. I wrote. I traveled. 30% was frustrating. I hid from the maid. I ate too many doughnuts. I took one too many naps. Next time a shot at semi-retirement comes around, I’ll be set!) Granted, due to the timeline of teacher pay, where contracts run September to August, I got paid on the 25th of each month throughout the summer, but in essence, it has been a year since I have added anything to the Ross family coffers.  (I would like to say in that year I also didn’t deplete said coffers in any way, but between LASIK and flights to Idaho and a furiously fuchsia scooter, we all know that isn’t true!)

With this black hole of employment behind me, I have been eagerly awaiting my paycheck. (I have to admit that my excitement doesn’t quite reach the levels it did when I tore off the edges around the three-perforated sides of my first paycheck envelope, at the age of sixteen, that I got from good ol’ ShopKo, where I started working at the bargain rate of $5.25/hour.  At that point, seeing my name printed on the check was a new thrill. I quickly endorsed it and drove it over to our credit union, where I promptly deposited the parental requirement of one-half into my college savings account and signed on the dotted line for some cash from the remaining funds that would buy me wonders such as the cute new sandals I had been coveting at Payless and a Clay Walker CD to keep me company on the drive to work and back a few times a week.  These days, there is no envelope to carefully unfold and no dotted line to endorse. It will all directly in to an account on a different continent! It is definitely a bit anticlimactic.)

Enough of the walk down memory lane. It’s payday- remember?

A glimmer in my eye and my newly minted Employee Express password in hand accompanied me to my computer to this morning, where I was sure I would see the results of the last three hectic weeks.(Between taking on a new job at the height of the annual 4th of July mayhem, the sudden and unexpected loss of our GSO left me filling in a hole here and a hole there, helping out wherever I was able.)  I had already told Thad I was treating him to dinner at Pizza Hut (What?!? It is fancy in China!) as a celebration of the new source of income.

But alas, it was not to be.

Logging into the payment system revealed a sad (and poor) discovery- there will be no pay this week. Apparently, the State Department is a little slow when it comes to issuing first paychecks, taking several pay periods to get their accounts set up so that the green paper flows my way.

No pay=no Pizza Hut. (Not because Pizza Hut is out of our price range with just Thad’s income, but because I wanted it to be a special treat- *my* treat!)

But, I shall not despair.  Two weeks from now, rather than sitting at my adorable pink computer, in my newly rearranged office area, pondering the workings of the Department and wondering what that first paycheck will amount to, I will be ensconced in a booth on the second floor at the WanDa Guangchang Pizza Hut, sipping lukewarm lemon water, awaiting the arrival of my very own personal pan pizza. Maybe pepperoni? Maybe just cheese? Oh, the world will be my oyster. (I don’t believe oyster is a topping choice, but I am pretty sure there are a few other seafood options available for the native diner at a Chinese Pizza Hut.)

It will be worth the wait.

Goodbye Bonbons, Hello PB&J

After a year of self-imposed temporary retirement, my days of lounging on the couch and eating Bonbons are coming to an end.  (Okay, there were no Bonbons consumed over the course of the last twelve months, but there was a lot of reading, writing and random wandering in the DC metro area, as well as a few less thrilling days filled with boredom and doubt. Luckily, the down days were few and more nostalgic than depressing.) Soon, as in Monday, it is time for me to rejoin the full-time workforce that powers our great nation. Granted, I am joining that forty-hour-a-week club on a different continent, but it is in the service of the Homeland, so I can soon commiserate with everyone else looking forward to weekend each Monday morning.

While my re-entry isn’t into the world of education (a topic about which I am having very mixed emotions), it is in a capacity that will allow me to be deeply involved in our new community and hopefully create some of the same connections with people that I was able to do teaching. I will be the CLO (community liaison officer) for the Chengdu Consulate. This means that I will work to help officers and families make the transition to their new home, work to create a great morale at the post, provide information about schools in the area, as well as event planning and (heaven forbid it is needed) crisis management on behalf of the families.

My brain (and notebook) have been in overdrive the last few weeks as I have been trying to glean as much information as possible from the outgoing CLO. She is a treasure-trove of knowledge about everything in this city. She can point an officer or family member in the right direction for anything from simple tailoring needs to wherein town to go to get an entire costume created. She can tell someone where to go to get a picture framed and then turn around and office advice to someone else on the best place to find a turkey for a special dinner. The woman is a walking Rolodex for Chengdu! Needless to say, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of having to create all of those connections myself, but luckily she has been kind enough to introduce me to many of her contacts and to take me on a variety of field trips to various sections of town.  She is leaving behind some rather large shoes to fill, but with my predilection for footwear, I am hoping I’ve got something in the closet that will sparkle and shine!

Monday morning, the year-long vacation comes screeching to halt. It might be a little painful when Thad’s alarm goes off and I actually have to roll out of bed, rather than give him a slight nudge to get him moving and then sprawl diagonally across the vastness of an entire bed to myself. And, in a few weeks I may be seeing the grass as greener on the unemployed side of the fence, but for now, I am excited to rejoin the workforce, to pack my peanut butter sandwich each morning and to actually contribute a few dead presidents to our bank account each month.

What exactly have I done with my year off? I have been…

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