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, February 23, 2014

Touring Boston with Kids

This was the most under-planned trip our family has gone on to date. The primary reason for the trip was for me to go to my fraternity's annual reunion event, one that I've attended only once in more than a decade due to being out of town or other scheduling conflicts. And it's entirely likely that I won't be back in the country to attend the next several, so it's now or never (which is why we went in February).
Ice skating at the Frog Pond
In general, the plan was to spend Friday in Boston and Saturday in Cambridge. On the drive up, Kacey picked out a number of places that we could take the kids, even with the February weather in Boston. We did so much that we wore ourselves out.
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Monday, February 17, 2014

Brussels: The Art of the Brick

You've probably heard of this artistic use of Lego bricks already, but I think that this is the first time The Art of the Brick has made its way to Europe. As a lifelong LEGO fan, it was really fun to see this different way of approaching creativity. The gallery was effectively four different groups. The first group were original works by Nathan Sawaya, predominantly monochromatic sculptures about the human condition. The second group were recreations of famous paintings, both in two and three dimensions. The third group were recreations of sculptural icons. The last group were a collection of things that I really couldn't figure out how to categorize. Either way, these pictures do not do justice to the sculptural works of art and you should try to see the exhibit in person if you get the chance.
Human Condition





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Famous Paintings Recreated in LEGO
The Scream...now in 3-D!
There are roughly four layers on this one giving it that sense of depth
Chinese Horse cave painting and the Bayeux Tapestry

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Brussels Without Plans (Again)

After my flight landed and I made my way to the hotel, I had to find something to do with my time in Brussels, again. So, I strolled on down to La Chaloupe D'Or on the Grand-Place for dinner. I got there right around sunset, and since it was a cloudless sky, I was able to take some pretty good photos of the area.



 But the real reason to go to this area is not to see these beautifully gilded old buildings gleaming in the setting sun (but you should still try to see it if you get the chance). The reason I like to go here is simple: Chocolate. Everyone has their favorite: Leonidas, Neuhaus, or - for me - Galler. I really can't describe to you how much better fresh Belgian chocolate is than any of the others, so put it on your bucket list to try some. It might even come in a box like this:

While eating dinner, I saw an advertisement for The Art of the Brick exposition here in Brussels and it just so happens I have nothing to do tomorrow except go see it. Having finalized my plans, I walked back home and passed an art installation about icebergs that really needs a video to convey the experience.




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Adana, General Impressions

After a week in Adana, Turkey, here's what I'm going to remember: I got to try Raki (licorice liquor) and Efes lager which were both decent; fermented black carrot juice is an acquired taste; free carrot Turkish delights at the hotel;  shish kabobs and mousses for dinner. At least I didn't go hungry here.


I saw herd of sheep on way to airport, maybe a protest of some kind or just bad city planning?
See the sheep under the orange banner?
Sabancı Merkez Camii
(Sabancı Central Mosque)





a fish from the river
It was kind of funny to see guys in suits facing the wall to put their belts on after passing through the secondary security screening. Then again, the first step in the Turkish Airlines emergency video is to "loosen neckties". The meal service also had metal flatware... I didn't know airlines still did that anymore (at least not for coach).

The night air was heavy with the scent of wood-burning fireplaces. And Hazy. I had the presence of mind to keep my camera on me while boarding and got this pic of the Taurus mountains in the haze.
I'm the shadow on the left, blocking traffic on the stairs
I did get exit rows on both flights, but I doubt that my gates at Istanbul could have been any farther apart. But in the course of walking through the entire airport, I did get to see a wide variety of people in transit, notably one group of men and women travelling together that I'm assuming were on a religious trip. The women had the usual black abaya, but the men were wearing white terrycloth robes and sandals like they got lost coming out of a spa and found themselves at the airport. The little kid that was with them was also in white but was wearing the terrycloth more like a shawl. I had briefly considered taking a picture of them but didn't for two reasons. 1) I wasn't sure about their religious views on photography. 2) we were all processing customs and immigration...so I figured a picture didn't warrant bringing undue attention on myself from the Turkish authorities.  

Once through security, I walked to the end of the international terminal, turned a corner and kept going, went down some stairs and went farther still. Gate 504. I had just walked up to my departure gate when they started boarding.
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

My First Week as a Project Director

   So, this was my first week as a Project Director (PD) for an OBO construction project. Normally, I fill the role of Construction Executive (CE) back in D.C., but the project was short staffed and I knew the intricacies better than anyone else. As an added bonus, I'm also the project's Contracting Officer's Representative (COR), so I get a little more responsibility than your regular CE. So now, in addition to having a whole bunch of titles, I also get to walk the earth and basically be in charge of what is turning out to be a very tricky project. Hopefully, a public release will come out about the project some time after it's completed so I can talk about it a little more.

   That said, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) would probably blow a gasket (and I might lose my job) if I posted any pictures of the actual project, generally it's poor practice to talk about project status publicly until after it's competed. But, considering that all the local taxi drivers know where the American Consulate is and that someone sitting outside the gate can see lots of concrete trucks going into the compound, I don't think I'm letting the cat out of the bag to tell you that we were pouring concrete.

   Speaking of cats, there were several on the project site, and for that matter, lots of cats everywhere. I counted four beside the road as I rode in the cab from the airport and the hotel. From what I hear, almost every post has some sort of resident animal. From a public health point of view, cats might have fleas but they keep away rats, so you really have to pick your vector.
The project site cat
  As you might have been able to tell from my shoes in the pictures, the soil at the project site is largely clay. So when it rained, things got nasty. I think I ended up growing about 3 inches as I walked across the site because each step added a small layer of clay to the soles of my shoes. Even more inconvenient, the computer I needed to type my reports on was inside the consulate and pretty much the longest path possible from the front door. So, even with scraping and washing and brushing the clay off the bottom of my shoes every time I needed to log in, I couldn't get it all off every time. I'm sure the cleaning ladies are going to love coming in and seeing little flecks of clay everywhere. In addition to getting caked in clay, my shoes were also wearing out from old age. So, after my last day on the site, I went over to the mall and bought a new pair to replace the barely serviceable ones. I ditched the muddy old pair I had been wearing in a trash bin on the way back to the hotel.

Getting rid of shoes always seems weird to me, because the good ones stay around a long time. I can usually remember when I got rid of a particular pair, because it was like saying goodbye to a good friend and travel companion for the last time. Like when I climbed Mt. Fuji and the soles of my hiking boots were worn clean off.

  Anyways, the week is over and I'm exhausted. Have I mentioned yet that after working a full 60-hour week (through Valentine's Day, I might add), I'm now headed up to Brussels for a different project? With luck I'll get some sleep on the flight, but I probably won't.
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Monday, February 10, 2014

Frankfurt to Adana

There are roughly 5 things I like to eat/drink every time I pass through Germany: Pastries, gummi bears, Haribo cola gummis, apfelsaftschorle, and bratwurst. I picked up the first four as I transited the airport. Since I did so at 8am, the bratwurst wasn't really an available option. OK, I suppose I'd also try to get a a pint of radler or spezi or zigeunerschnitzel as well...as some dozen other German staples. Man, do I miss the food here.

A couple of unusual things: it still surprises me when people in the exit row don't know that they can't block the emergency exit during takeoff/ landing. While I'm not sure how often it really happens, this was the first time I've seen a flight attendant relocate a non-english speaker (a requirement to sit in the exit row).

Also, flight #1 made a point to say we could use our phones the entire time (pre-take off to post-landing) but flight (same airline, different jet) #2 kept old rules. Then again, flight #2 also lacked any entertainment system, so maybe the plane was destined to be boring for the rest of its existence. I fell asleep pre-taxi, waking up 20 minutes later for breakfast...then back asleep for the remainder of the flight. Even the breakfast on this flight was boring. Perhaps the only interesting thing during the entire flight was an article in the in-flight magazine basically saying that I shouldn't be going where I'm going.


But what if the warning directly applies to the specific region you're headed to?
Upon arrival in IST, I breezed through passport control since I already had a visa. Once in the domestic terminal, I had a semi-serious debate with myself about getting something from Starbucks, again. On one semiconscious hand, I can barely keep my eyes open or focus on my smartphone while I write this. On the other cheapskate hard, why buy a boutique cup of coffee in a land that has a type of coffee named after it? Also, being loaded up on caffeine would interfere with catching up on my sleep. Back to the first, drowsy hand, being alert might allow me to notice more things like the Otisabi comic books that seem far too adult to be placed in plain sight right next to some über-pink Disney and Barbie books. 
Barbie on the left, half-clothed woman on right.
Ultimately, I opted to push through without coffee, even though the sheer volume of typos  was ridiculous...and the corrections were for naught as I misread the "Keep/delete" pop-up of my app-based writing tool which resulted in discarding all changes I had just made. Several times. But I got everything edited and same slightly before the flight information board showed "Go To Gate".

The flight from IST to ADA might have been eventful, but I have no idea. I was approaching 20 hours of travel after already being awake for 10 hours before I started. I only remember being awake to see sunlight breaking through overcast clouds just after takeoff, and the water and clouds merged together into a blurry gray background while a solitary cargo ship was illuminated by a brilliant golden ray. Upon landing, there was a Saudi 747 at Adana, which I thought was odd because--in my mind--it's a small airport and no place for a large plane like that. 
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Sunday, February 09, 2014

DC to Frankfurt

   Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Somewhere over the Canadian Maritimes, I experienced an in-flight emergency on my flight to Frankfurt. Here's how it happened:

   Everything was going proceeding normally, by which I mean Dulles TSA staff continues to insist on not accepting my Customs & Border Control Global Identity card for Precheck (despite an apparent agreement to the contrary) on American carrier tickets using international code-shared flights operated foreign carriers who really can't participate but that's immaterial to the fact that the ID applies to *me* and not the airline, so who I'm flying on shouldn't make me any more of a risk. But I digress.

   The flight was about two hours in. I'd just finished watching Gravity, and maybe there was some foreshadowing in those 90 minutes of watching Sandra Bullock fall to Earth in various metal containers remarkably similar to the Lufthansa jet I am. Yeah, maybe not the best idea I've had. Who am I kidding; she's awesome, the movie deserved all those awards, and Lufthansa's planes have got to be way more comfortable than a Russian spacecraft (there are USB ports in the armrests for crying out loud). Anyways, I'd just finished the pre-meal white wine and pasta, and received a glass of red wine (which I normally avoid due to an unfounded anxiety of spilling it during turbulence) to finish off the meal while watching an episode of Modern Family. And then it happened.

  Maybe I missed something due to the distortion (parallax?) that exists along the edge of my glasses, or maybe my focus was dulled from that first glass of wine, but in less than a second, the red wine in my glass previously sitting motionless on my tray was now a full inch lower and my tray was splatted in a dark burgundy like a scene from some B-movie slasher film. Droplets of red liquid oozed over the edge of the tray, pooling on the jeans and pullover that I'd planned on wearing throughout the duration of the next ten days. The trickle through the tray hinge may have also landed inside the shoes I had removed shortly after takeoff.

  May Day, May Day! I was able to recover from the disaster by quickly staunching the flow with the napkins whose existence I had previously taken for granted. But it was too late: my brownie had suffered irreparable damage and was now the kind of bastardized dessert that Doctor Moreau probably dreamed about when he wasn't sober. My brownie had absorbed more wine than it could physically hold, and its over-saturated flavor was almost unpalatable. Almost. But I wouldn't recommend it. If I had it to do over again, I should have ordered a cognac or brandy...the caramel flavor would have been perfect spilled over that chocolate creation.
Like a crime scene at 30,000 feet.

  To drown my sorrows, I finished off what was left of my red wine and got another glass of white wine, just in case I spilled again...so I wouldn't have to relive that experience. On the bright side, it looks like the dark clothes I'm traveling in didn't absorb too much or stain, and the alcohol's kicked in enough for me not to really care too much. Win-win. With luck, maybe this will all seem like a bad dream as I munch on an apple turnover during my layover in Frankfurt.

Side note: there was a group of dozen or so, predominantly female, older teens/coeds wearing red shirts identifying them as part of a Studies Abroad for Global Education (SAGE) group. While I didn't talk to them (because really, I'm like twice as old as them and when strangers do that it's a little creepy), they seemed like an interesting bunch and their website sageprogram.org has more info.
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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Asheville, NC

We spent the weekend in Asheville, NC with family who drove up from Florida. Or, to be more precise, we were collecting our cat back from family in Florida who had been caring for him there after a round of radiation therapy in Atlanta to treat his hyperthyroidism. 

Why that treatment instead of something local to DC? Second, there aren't that many places doing that kind of treatment for cats. For starters, this was one of the only treatments that required zero maintenance after completion. Being in the Foreign Service requires answering some rather interesting questions like: "When we're overseas, will we be able to get the cat's medicine in-country, find someone to give him that medicine if we have to evacuate, or find a local vet to treat him if his condition deteriorates?" These are all somewhat challenging questions, but fortunately the Department of State has lots of information about life at post for inbound personnel. 

But there's always a catch, right? My particular job and future assignments aren't known all that far in advance because of variables like congressional funding approval and contractual qualification obligation. So, we have no idea where we'll be going next which makes all that reference material about the post somewhat irrelevant. Which is why we went with the nuclear option to irradiate the cat. He had to be in isolation for about two weeks, which we were about to do with the assistance of Kacey's parents and their second house which they are renovating. It would have been nearly impossible to keep our kids away from the cat, but we probably could have used this link (explaining radiation from Fukushima).
Anyways, that was why we ended up in Asheville, the approximate midpoint between the cat's recovery location and his usual residence. We made the most of it by going snow tubing (but the cat wasn't interested in participating).


Hey Y'all, watch this:



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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...

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