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.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon - 10K

Ok, so today's plan was to ride my bike to the metro so that I can run the Marine Corps 10k that finishes near my office, where I'll change then catch the metro to another stop near the interstate where Kacey will pick me up and we drive to Maryland for dim sum with friends at 11. What's complicated about that?

First change of plans was that I wasn't able to sneak out of the house at 0530 as the kids were all up then, so we just loaded into the car to drop me off at the metro. I have never seen the metro that crowded that early on a sunday morning (but I don't usually ride it that early, either). Standing room only until the Pentagon station. Which was packed. The 10K starts at the Smithsonian/Natural history museum, so anyone who didn't get off at pentagon was headed there with me.

Considering how complicated my original plan was, it's probably not surprising that I would forget actually training for the 6.25-mile run. I'd originally signed up to motivate myself to train for it. That kinda back-fired and I'm running it because I paid the admission fee. It was kind of chilly, waiting around in the clear, dark, 40+ F air but I'd previously run in similar conditions so I was dressed for it.

Unfortunately, I think I strained a muscle during my warm-ups, as if I needed another excuse to take it easy
Of course, the whole "no one left behind" plus Marines cheering you on means that you have to be very strategic about where you take your breaks. My strategy was to run 3 x 2-mile sections, and every mile I would pop one of those gatorade jelly cubes to keep my mind occupied.

So yeah, I got passed by an amputee running with his guide dog about a mile to go, then in the last quarter-mile, the first two wheelchair competitors from the full marathon passed me. I'm not taking anything away from those guys, but I should probably train a little more for the next one.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

London Layover

I arrived in London around 1 pm and got the discount day ticket £8.90 for the Underground. Sooo much cheaper than a cab, and provides flexibility and convenience. I later realized that my flight out requires me to be on one of the first trains, as the trains start running later on Sundays. But I still might get to eat the included hotel breakfast and still get there with plenty of time. So, interestingly, if you have a layover longer than 12 hours in LHR, you have to claim your bags. Which totally makes sense, but I'd packed what I needed in my backpack, just in case I could leave it there.

After checking into the hotel, I made contact with an old friend and subsequent dinner plans with her, her new husband, and a family friend of hers.  In the meantime,  I went to Harrods, looking for some Galler chocolate. A few other Belgian brands, but no Galler. Followed that up with a walk around Green Park until dinner. Saw the Canadian WWII monument and the British airmen memorials.
Canadian WWII monument in Green Park, London

British Airmen Memorial, Green Park, London 

Fighters vs. Bombers
When our dinner party had assembled, we walked thru Picadilly Circus, grabbing a pint at what appeared to be a metal bar, then on our way to the Imli Street restaurant for some Indian food served tapas style. Which worked really well, lots of good stuff but not too much of anything. Try it if you're in town. Followed that up with some gelato at Snowflake Gelato? Also good. Walked back to hotel after a good night of catching up.

Finally slept somewhat well. Made it to breakfast around 0635. Grabbed a table by the window, only to notice that two iconic British cars (a Mini and black cab) were parked across the street. English breakfast, of course. Checked out of hotel and walked to the underground. The off-peak fare to the airport from downtown is ~£5.50, and it appears that I might have missed the first train to Heathrow, but the next one follows about 15 minutes behind this time of day. Otherwise, pretty much uneventful travels home.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival

When you hear the phrase "Mullet Festival", what image comes to mind? I went Saturday night, because "Sunday is Family Day (that means no beer)." Admission was only $5, but "Unmarried children under 12 still get in free." Ok, that's all true, but the event is actually to celebrate the mullet, even though I think we all know that it was really for mullets.

Reliving Vienna

Oh, hey, would you look at that...The federal government is open. So my meeting in Vienna is on! However, due to funding constraints, the meeting was delayed by a day so the team did some more preparation and met with interested parties.

After the prep meeting, I went back to the hotel to change and then I walked over to Cafe Sacher for a Weiner melange and Sacher Torte. Along the way to the cafe, I heard (but didn't see) a drum group performance, followed shortly afterwards by what I'd swear was an opera singer letting loose while traffic buzzed around her. Her voice echoed from somewhere I couldn't identify, like she was around the corner of one of the majestic buildings that seem to be commonplace here.  

Anyways, I'd picked Thursday instead of Friday for the torte because I thought the line would be shorter. And it wasn't so bad. Since I was alone, they seated me fairly quickly at the bar. For some reason, I'd remembered the torte as really dense and almost nonporous. This time around, it seemed a little dry. But that was just the cake part. The chocolate icing was probably what i'd remembered, and it was still as rich as i'd expected it to be. Here's a recipe for Sacher Torte.

And while i'm making a conscious effort to slow down and "just be in the moment", the best I can manage is to eat a forkful of torte, then type a sentence of this update into the notes app on my phone that I dare not let connect to the internet while in international data roaming mode. Then I take a sip of coffee. And repeat. Yeah, that counted as a sentence just so I could have another bite sooner. Pausing to collect my thoughts, I'm tuning in on the music. I realize it's U2's Running to Stand Still somewhere between the lyrics "Talk without speaking / scream without raising your voice" and "she is raging / she is raging / the storm blows up in her eyes." That song was followed by some hip loungy stuff that I'd never be able to pick out of a playlist.

On the wandering up Kärntner Straße towards the St. Stephen's Cathedral, I heard an accordionist playing hava nagila. Check it out:

Followed shortly after by a TARDIS sighting here:

It's much bigger on the inside than it looks.
Made my way up to the cathedral and then headed back to my hotel. Along the way, I grabbed a bratwurst in a baguette and an Orange Fanta. They just taste better in Europe. Then I also picked up some "erdbeer and himbeer gelles" along with some Mezzo Mix and a big, yet cheap (0.99 euro) bag of Haribo gummi bears. I'm totally reliving my previous time in Europe with all this food. 

So, I figured that I might as well hit Schnitzelwirt (Neubaugasse 52) for my last dinner in town. The last time I was there, on my solo trip to Vienna back in 2002, they were advertising Schnitzel the size of UFOs. And they are still big. Along my walk, I'd stopped into about three bike shops to see if any of them carried this new-fangled smartphone mount for bicycle handlebars, called the Finn bike mount, even though it's made in Austria (not Finland). No luck, and apparently at this time you can only order it if you have a European delivery address. Boo.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Even though the Federal Government is shutdown, the State Dept is still able to use previous funding to support some of its missions (which highlights the understandably frustrating inconsistency in the federal government as to what activities are essential). Lucky for me, at least two of my projects fall into a/the "supportable" category, so I was authorized to travel (even though it's entirely possible that I get furloughed while TDY, and then who knows how that would all work out).

My first stop is Vilnius, Lithuania. But to get there, I had to leave on Sunday, meaning that I would actually be working on Columbus Day, a Federal holiday, during a time when the federal government is partially shut down. Situations about government ridiculousness like this is probably why Parks and Recreation is the first thing I look for on the in-flight entertainment. If there's more than one episode, it will be a good flight. And this flight had 3 episodes.

As it turns out, I can't drink coffee while watching Louis C.K. For example, this "compressed area of bad thought" in "Oh My God"I had just sipped some coffee out of one of those little Styrofoam cups as he launched into it. I know it's so wrong on so many levels, but I couldn't swallow because i was smiling, and I couldn't stop smiling because i was trying not to laugh, and I was trying not to laugh at how ridiculous it was that i was in this situation because i was listening to a guy describing such an awful turn in logic.

Arriving in Vilnius, I finally got out into the city just before sundown. I walked down Gedimino Prospecktas, which was lined with trees at the height of fall colors, the golden leaves shining like stars beside the streetlamps. 

It seemed almost like a movie scene: a clean boulevard that was just busy enough to not be distracting as the camera follows some romantic comedy couple. 

Dinner was at Kompanija (Gedimino Pr 31). A pancake with ham served with butter and creme, a delicious lamb stew, 0.5l of Pilsner Urquell, and some sort of fried ice cream balls with berry compote.

Also, the old white buildings blend in to the overcast sky, so that gold plating really gleamed. Vilnius feels very much like what I think many Americans imagine a European city to be. The streets were mostly paved with bricks, the old buildings ranged from modern to soviet-era and much much earlier.

Everywhere you look, there were slender people in dark clothes that look like extras on their way to film a elf scene in Lord of the Rings. 

One of the folks I met with told me that Lithuania translates to "land of rain", which would be apt as there was some form of precipitation(fog, rain, drizzle, mist) almost the entire time. But i like that kind of weather.There were also lots of electric trolleybuses that I think look like they could be left over from Soviet times, kind of neat. I didn't ride on any, but maybe next time. Actually, considering it was overcast and gloomy most of the time, I'd have to imagine that living here before independence would have been a bit depressing.

Anyways, the next day's lunch was at the Ukrainian Borsch restaurant.  Soup, chicken, potato, and bread. Super fast with the set menu. Had some "Kbac" pronounced "Kvass", tasted a bit like apple beer. Apparently, kvass can be made from anything fermentable.

I got to the airport over two hours early, even though our car had to pass a minor accident between a large truck & a small car on overpass. Since the policy here is you don't move anything until the police arrive, it blocked one lane of an already constricted road. 

Since I had some litas left over and I doubt that very many money exchanges outside of Lithuania probably want them, I bought a little amber cat (35 litas) for my trinket collection then changed my remaining litas into euros. I got back some change in litas that didn't quite add up to a Euro bill, so I pulled out the representative denominations of the coins and used the left over change to buy a Fanta limonade that tastes like bitter bubble gum, and a bag of skittles. 

So, yeah, my overall experience here gets Lithuania added to my "places i'd like to go back to" list...that I don't really have. Not sure if I should start one of might get overwhelmingly long.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Dining in DC: Zengo

While it's rare that Kacey and I get to go out to nice places to eat (because two over-tired children kinda ruins the atmosphere), last night we were able to eat at ZENGO, a Latin-Asian "test kitchen" near the Chinatown metro stop. Actually, it was right next door to the Chinatown gate, so it's pretty easy to find (but we walked right past it the first time because we were looking across the street.
When we went, the theme was Peru-Malaysia. It was also Mojito Monday. The interior is decorated with warm woods like you'd find in South America, but with the clean lines that hint as the Asian inspiration. I don't take pictures of food, but these descriptions should make your mouth water. Here's what we had, and it was all delicious:

Passion Fruit Mojito; Pineapple Mojito; and a fantastic "Shiso-jito", which is made with Peruvian Rum / Fresh Shiso / Fuji Apple / Fresh lime.

Duck Confit - Daikon Tacos with curried apple and orange coriander sauce. The taco shell was a paper-thin, three-inch diameter slice of daikon radish and you assemble the meat, veggies and salsa yourself. 

Tagalog-style Churrasco Steak with a calamansi citrus-soy marinade / grilled onion lemongrass mojo / green herb chimichurri sweet potato tostones. Get this for the tostones, and enjoy the steak too!
Zengo Fried Rice, with shrimp, duck, pork, egg, snow peas, carrot, bean sprout, and cilantro. 

Asian Pear Empanadas, with warm cajeta / dulche de leche ice cream / sesame. It was like hot caramel apple pie!
Mexican Chocolate Tart, with cocoa nibs / cinnamon whip / chili ancho anglaise.

Mexican coffee, made from Grand Marnier / Kahlua / coffee / with a caramelized sugar rim.

I'm definitely keeping it on my list, here's the Yelp listing: Zengo-Washington

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

How Apropos...priated.

So, Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) looks to be getting off to a rocky start.

It's particularly poignant for me, as Oct 1, 2013 marks the one-year anniversary of my separation from the U.S. Air Force. So, how should I celebrate? Just showing up at my new job seems a bit understated, but considering all the political (in)action over the FY14 budget, I'm just glad I got this in my State Dept email on Sept 30th:
"Employees and contractors should report for work on Tuesday, October 1, 2013, as usual, and continue reporting to work until instructed otherwise by my office.  These Department employees will be paid for their work on the regular schedule." 
How'd I get so "lucky" when other federal workers are getting furloughed? It's due to the fortunate fact that most State Department construction funds are considered to be "no-year" or "zero-year" they don't really expire like "FY13 dollars". Compare that to some of my friends in the park service, who have to close up shop because they can't use FY13 money (because it's now FY14) and don't have FY14 money to spend (because it hasn't been appropriated).

But all this fiscal talk isn't new to me. My last job in the USAF involved a 5-year plan (ie, FY13-FY17 dollars), and we ended up moving some projects around so that construction would be completed before the funds expired. When I left the military, I knew there was no way I would ever go back to the DoD voluntarily as a civilian or a contractor because their funding gets cut in order to pay the folks in uniform (or for the latest "toy"). I mean, that sort of prioritization is great when you're in uniform, but not so much when the tables are turned.

Wanna get really wonky about Title 22 construction funds? Check out this link to 22 USC § 4852 - Diplomatic Construction Program.

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