American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stop & Go in Severe Weather

I-65, Somewhere south of Montgomery, AL
I enjoy driving. Like most people, I'm also not really a big fan of traffic. Especially if nasty weather is involved. It seems like you get three kinds of people on the road at these times:
  1. The driver who just gives up & decides to wait it out by stopping on the shoulder of the road. If you're lucky, they have pulled completely off the road and haven't simply stopped right in the middle of it.
  2. The driver who believes that the massive vehicle they're driving can weather any storm and doesn't slow down. It's always satisfying to see them in a ditch a little bit later, so long as no one is injured.
  3. The driver who slows down to a crawl but keeps going.
I tend to fall into the third category, for reasons like the one I experienced today. Imagine if you will, traffic is humming along at, I don't know, say 75 mph. Yeah, that's over the speed limit, but you learn quickly that on open highways in the South, your speed is largely dictated to you by how fast the semi-truck is going behind you.

Unless something happens in the road up ahead. The storm clouds that were rolling in parallel to the highway, but they came in so fast and thick that the sky was bright blue on the left and a deep gun-metal grey on the right. And then the road turned into the storm. In the next minute, all manner of hazard lights started flashing on the cars ahead as errant leaves and dismembered tree limbs went whipping around us. The lightning strikes were the only thing louder than the rain, and the flashes approached us in such quick succession that it felt like Zeus was fine-tuning his celestial artillery on our position.

And that's when people started pulling over. I can understand them being concerned about their cars being buffeted by the strong winds from the passing front, but that's why the rest of us slowed down to a crawl. Why would you want to 'sit it out' in the middle of a wooded area with no protection if you've already seen things flying around that can do damage? The clouds extended as far as the minimum visibility would allow me to see, but I figured that if I just kept driving, I'd get through it sooner than pulling off the road.

And sure enough, maybe 15 minutes later, I was back under the blue skies and my rear view mirror was completely dark. When I saw the local weather report on the news, it looked like the folks who had stopped were probably there for at least an hour or more. I don't know, to me, it just doesn't seem like an option to stop when things get bad if there's any chance that things will get better.
Share:

Friday, August 12, 2011

It Begins Today!

So, I have finally made the decision to overhaul my personal website and transfer all of my travel journals to blog format. For the last decade or so, I've tried (with varying degrees of success) to build self-contained, virtual journals with links to related photos and recommended locations or activities. Only there are a few problems with this implementation plan:
  1. It's laborious to custom-craft HTML code for each trip I go on. It's also dauntingly demotivating, since the last thing I want to do after a nice trip is sit down in front of my computer and code. Since these journals go back 10 years, we're talking some very basic HTML elements, stored in various versions on I-don't-know-how-many back-up hard-drives that I've transferred between a half-dozen computers. And if I want to stay consistent, I have to update everything each time I write a new journal...so I need a standard that I can update easily. Like cutting and pasting into a standard blog. There's always a better way to blog.
  2. "New" technologies like smart phones mean that I can actually travel and update my posts while on the move, rather than trying to carve out time from my increasingly full schedule to tinker with updates so that they look just right on all the different viewing platforms. This is something I want to do, but not at the expense of so many other things I want to do with my free time. 
  3. No feedback. While this might be a good thing to shield me from the harsh fact that there's probably nobody reading my journals anyways, the least I can do is provide an opportunity for those that do visit to chime in with updates or contradictions about what I say. I really should find a sound file that plays some crickets..in Russian and Chinese.
  4. I'm reorganizing my travel photos online as well, so this should provide me a much easier way to organize my digital photos to coordinate the journals with the associated travel photos to give you, the reader, the most comprehensive recounting of these experiences.


So, that's the plan. Which mean that this particular post is probably going to be something of a non-sequitur, as I'm going to back-date all the journals to the time I actually went on the trips. Which will mean there will be a decade of content prior to this post that says I'm preparing to create content. Who needs Dr. Who when you're creating your own time-space paradox?
Share:

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Towel Animals!



These are the animals that our cabin steward left for us:

Elephant

Dog


Crab


Penguin


Ape
I should point out that the ape's head is held in place by friction from the arms. Which could become a disturbing situation for a toddler who watches her dad grab the ape and accidentally decapitate it with his bare hands. The fact that the head bounced across the floor and stopped rolling at her feet probably didn't help the matter.

There was also a picture of a mouse made from a washcloth, but I don't have a picture of it.
Related Links:
Share:

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Snokelling in Chankanaab Park

No Excursions, just caught a cab






















Related Links:
Share:

Friday, August 05, 2011

Lamanai, the Submerged Crocodile



But I've never been to Belize...


Boat launch

Howler Monkey
Listen to the howler monkeys in the rainforest



Hello down there!


Undaunted.


Related Links:
Share:

Thursday, August 04, 2011

My Air Force Experience: Appeal Denied (3 of 11)

Anyone familiar with the military knows that appeals are anything but a sure thing. There are no historical rates available because the process is basically a review of the existing outliers (10 U.S. Code § 14502). For the Special Selection Board, “They” say that your appeal package will be compared against a sample of your peers from the original board. I think the standard is that they compare your package to the lowest five that made the cut and you have to beat one of them. But the diversity of military duties makes this all but impossible to compare apples to apples (within specialties) without reconvening the entire board: Did I as an engineer perform better than a pilot, a security forces officer, a logistician, or a personnelist? Hard to say.

UPDATE 8 MARCH 2015: Sign the petition to Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that calls on the Department of Defense to close a loophole and allow the GI Bill Transfer of Education Benefits to spouses and children for service members who could not complete his or her service agreement as a result of involuntary separation due to non-selection for promotion, just like it does for everyone else that gets forced out when the military needs to make personnel cuts.

The logical circle that develops is: “You would have been promoted if your record was good enough, but since I’m reviewing your record at an appeals board…something in your record must not have been good enough, so we’re not going to promote you.” What was wrong with my record was that the  Air Force Personnel Center misfiled my most recent performance report, and while they did apologize...it was too little, too late. Even so, they agreed to review my whole package as it would have met the original promotion board, but I wouldn't really be measured against my peers.

As you probably figured out, my appeal was denied. The starboard engine is officially dead. I’ve got one shot left at getting promoted or I will be required by law to separate from the military no later than six months after the second promotion board’s recommendation is finalized, per paragraph (a).(1) of 10 U.S. Code § 632 - Effect of failure of selection for promotion: captains and majors of the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps and lieutenants and lieutenant commanders of the Navy.


To read more about the promotion appeals process, the odds for promotion above the zone, and my own military-to-civilian transition, Click Here.

On a wing and a prayer
So...how’s Plan B, the Foreign Service? Due to non-disclosure requirements, I can’t say too much about the Personal Narrative Questions (PNQs). But imagine trying to use a very limited number of words to describe the experiences that you think best represent what the Foreign Service is looking for.
You only get three weeks to write and refine them after passing the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) before the window closes and your entire application package is reviewed by the aptly named Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP). These are the folks who decide if I get invited to the Oral Assessment (OA)… the metaphorical equivalent of getting my parachute harness on and shuffling to the door.

There is a considerable amount of time between submitting the PNQs and getting the invitation to the OA. I submitted my PNQs around 19 July 11 and I’m still waiting for my OA invitation…hopefully sometime in September.

If you're looking for books about transitioning out of the military, these are useful:



To read my Entering the Foreign Service mini-series in chronological order, Click Here.
Share:

Where on earth is Roatan?



Roatan Island, Honduras



Driving out to the reef?


And then the kid started to freak out...

Hold on a minute, I'm taking a mental picture!

Related Links:
Share:

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Mayan Ruins at Kohunlich



Costa Maya, Mexico
The Mayan ruins at Kohunlich


Temple of the Masks Kiosk
Like Daddy, like daughter 

We're going to climb that?
Yep.



I may look cool, but it was hot that day.
Nature reclaiming the ruins

Related Links:
Share:

Monday, August 01, 2011

Cruising around the Gulf of Mexico

We're taking an extended family vacation this week, including grandparents, aunts and cousins.
After driving from Pensacola to New Orleans yesterday, we boarded the Norwegian Spirit and set sail for Mexico, Belize, and Honduras!
Share:

Featured Post

End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

Honest Post Reports