Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

4 weeks, 3 kids, 1 van, 16 different lodgings, 5400+ miles, 12+ National or State Parks and Monuments adds up to 1 Epic Adventure.

American Southwest Family Vacation 2017

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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

DC is unpleasant w/o A/C

Ok, so our townhouse has two air conditioning units and one of them up and died last week. Sadly, even though I'm technically a licensed professional engineer that specialized in HVAC, I'm still not a technician. The best I could do was check the circuits, change the filters, test the thermostat, and identify where the problem was. One of the copper lines had frosted over, so the coolant wasn't flowing and it was likely that a pump had failed. This was confirmed by the technician.

So anyways, it's now something like Day 4 without A/C on the top two floors (where the bedrooms are) and DC is still unpleasantly hot. Yes, I know, I've been in hotter places without A/C but to be able to walk through a thermocline inside your house is a little ridiculous. We're talking around a 15-20 F degree difference. We've been lucky to have rainstorms to cool down the air fast enough in the evenings, but we've still got several fans going to force air circulation through the upper floors.

Ok, this was actually in Germany during the summer, but the sentiment is the same.
What's amusing to me about this whole thing is that it's almost the exact opposite of what happened to us in Germany when we accidentally forgot to remind our landlord to refill the fuel oil tank and we had no heat during a cold snap in the German winter. This time, we've lost our cool in the summer heat of the muggy swamp known as greater D.C. But chances are, if we were overseas and something like this happened, we'd probably be more tolerant of the situation because in the greater scheme of things, there really are worse things than having to sleep on top of the sheets with a fan blowing on you.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Welcome to the Dollhouse (that I built)

I think that I mentioned earlier that Kacey and the kids left the Outer Banks headed for Florida while I headed back to D.C. The plan is to rejoin later this week, and I had a little over two weeks of "alone time" to get all the various projects completed that there just isn't time for with two little kids around. On top of that, even those plans got changed when I decided to construct a doll house during the girls' absence to surprise them when they get home. My mom gave me the Greenleaf Arthur Dollhouse Kit during her last visit, and I figured "How hard can it be?"
All the parts are here, this should be easy.
For starters, I've never built a dollhouse. So, I had to read up on techniques and methods. And buy more craft stuff! So, before our trip to the OBX, I took our three-year-old to Michael's, which, truth be told, is one of my favorite stores where I can let my imagination run wild. I let her pick out the colors of paint (with some guidance) and also picked up the hot-glue gun, brushes, exacto blades, etc but I didn't tell her what I was making. She just enjoyed walking around a big store with so much new stuff. I never thought of myself as having a hobby, but I guess making things counts. I'm going to miss Michael's when we go overseas.

Anyways, in the spirit of going above and beyond, I thought it would also be a fun idea to make the house look like it was built by toys. Fortunately, I still have a lot of my childhood toys in keepsake boxes in the closet so I pulled them out for this very special assignment. You may recognize the Constructicons, the Lego XXL mobile crane (set 7249), and G.I.Joe Tollbooth in some of these pictures. But to ensure that the girls' interests were being kept in the forefront, Paddington Bear was selected as the Quality Assurance inspector.
The project site
Lessons learned:
1) Mark your pieces with the part name when you're popping them out of the sheet. Also, perhaps more importantly, make sure you get ALL the parts out for that step at the same time. I think I had three iterations of painting the trim because I kept finding parts that I overlooked. Step One of "Put all trim on the walls" took about three times longer than it needed to because of this. But you definitely want to have all the big parts finished before gluing things together, as it's much easier to work on a flat surface than the highly constrained area that results after you've glued things together.
This is when I realized that there was interior trim to be installed.
2) You can make dollhouse wallpaper out images printed on bond paper, sprayed with acrylic, and mounted with spray adhesive. I used this dollhouse wallpaper website for several rooms in the house. This saved a lot of time in painting and I think it is a much better product because of it. Also, I found some Peter Rabbit wallpaper that I used for the bedroom. The trick to cutting the paper to size (including window openings) was holding the paper in position on the wall and then looking at a sunny window. The hole I need to cut out was illuminated for me to trace and cut out. Easiest part of the whole project.
Wallpaper laid out for sealing
Installing the walls
Interior work is almost completed
3) Hot glue is a fickle mistress.  You only have a few seconds to get a long piece into position because one end is cooling down to a nearly unworkable temperature by the time you finish applying the bead of glue to the length of the piece. You simply have to pre-fit all the pieces to make sure they would go into position easily the first time. Also, sometimes you have to cut out the glue you just put down to get the next piece in position. I had to remove the front of the second floor and re-install it because the glue used to bind the second-story floor to the walls interfered with it. Thirdly, hot-glue, as the name implies, is hot. I must have scalded my fingers a half-dozen times trying to get the difficult-to-access trim under the porch roof glued into position. One technique I developed to remove excess glue was to let the glue cool a little bit and then just rub my finger over it, since it preferred to bond to itself than to the painted parts.
The trim was delivered by rail
Perhaps the most time consuming part of the project was the shingles. It took three hours to cut them out of the sheet, and even longer cutting them to fit the angled roof. The best tip I read on this was to use masking tape to keep all of the shingles together in strips until they are glued to the roof. Another good tip is to mark up the roof with grid lines, so that there is some sort of reference for aligning the shingles before the glue cools.
As you can see, there are a lot of shingles.
Overall, I did get the project done in the time I had planned for, but I definitely didn't get it to the quality I had hoped for due to the fact that I didn't actually work on it for as long as I had planned to. Shortly into the project, I realized that the amount of sanding required to get the parts to my expectations of smoothness was unrealistic and impractical. I also probably should have had more ventilation, as I had to stop working every once in a while because I was having difficulty concentrating. These stopping points became apparent when I realized I had glued parts in backwards, or misread the directions, or some other lack of attention to detail. But I'm satisfied with the final product, and I think the girls will be, too.

We went with Danish Modern for the furniture

Here's the link for the entire project documented in pictures.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Kulturhavn 2013

I was lucky enough to find myself in Copenhagen for a weekend, which just so happened to coincide with the Kulturhavn Sommerfestival. I was tipped off about it by one of the locals I met with on Friday, so I had enough time to look it up online and download the guide to my phone (even though it's written in Danish and all I could use were the maps & shuttle schedules). Which, as it turns out, wasn't necessary because there were lots of hard copies freely available.

It took about 45 minutes by shuttle boat to go from one end of the festival (Sydhavnen) to the other (Refshaleøen), and even though there was a festival ferry schedule, the ferries followed their normal one. I actually started out in the middle of the festival near Islands Brygge Nord and walked through the largely sport focused area. There's a swimming area in the harbour, which seems crazy to me that they've been able to keep the harbour clean enough to swim in.
Kids jumping into the Harbour pool
There was also a kayak polo match area, which was a more like water polo in canoes than lacrosse on boats. I think it would have been cool to see them using the paddles to pass the ball, but no such luck.

I did get to see one player flip over after really muscling the ball, so that was kinda funny but I didn't get a picture of it.

There was also a speed stacking club exhibit, which really deserves a video. Check out the kid in red, then the guy in blue. The girl on the right proves that I didn't speed this up.

Around the Sydhaven area, there were all sorts of paddleboard activities. I was seriously considering giving it a go (it was free, after all), but after looking at the sky I decided that maybe I didn't want to be out on the water when the skies opened up.
And it's just as well that I passed on paddleboarding, as it started to pour about 8 minutes later. I was already at the shuttle boat platform and was able to stay mostly dry by leaning against the paneled railing (it was raining hard enough sideways that a two foot swath of dry space was created by the railing). Being on the water in that would not have been fun.

On the 45 minute boat ride to the north end of the festival, there were all sorts of rowing clubs out on the water trying to drum up interest.

I disembarked the ferry near the Kastellet and had fish & chips for dinner while listening to a DJ play some sort of trance/ambient music while watching the harbour traffic. It was nice and sunny, but there was also a pleasant breeze keeping the temperature right near perfect.
My weekend run around the Kastellet kinda looks like a sea turtle to me.
Walking back through the city center, I got a little lost and found these great little yellow houses. On initial inspection, the windows look like they'd be really drafty. But when you get up close, you can see there's actually a second set of windows inside doing the bulk of the temperature regulation (I even saw one with a bathroom vent connecting the two window sets).

I eventually found my way to the Rosenborg castle where folks were just relaxing on the open green space. Google goggles actually identified this picture as "- København, Danmark Landmark". Good job, Goggles.

Rosenborg Castle & RRR
Just as I was leaving that area, I saw two guys riding in a rickshaw carrying a bike in front of them and smoking. Ah, such a healthy lifestyle!
And they were following a bachelorette party convoy as well

On one of the main pedestrian shopping streets, I saw a guy really hitting the bottle. Or, technically speaking, he was playing a variety of bottles and making some decent music. One couple was even dancing!

So, yeah, that was a pretty eventful day without really having any sort of plan. So far, I've ridden the Metro, the bus, the S-Tog (light rail), and the water ferry. I really want to try riding a bike like EVERYONE else here, but I have no idea where I'm going and it's hard to bike in city traffic with a map open in front of you.
Yes, she is wearing high heels on a bike
The bikes here look old school. Most have a permanently attached lock on the rear triangle that goes through the spokes to lock it down. teenage girls are looking at their phones while riding. Women and men are dressed in everything from shorts & flip-flops to business attire and high heels. And there are plenty of spots on the S-Tog and water shuttle too. I can't think of anywhere in the US that comes close to this level of transportation integration, but if you find a place, let me know.


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