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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Douthat State Park

This week is known in my wife's family as "the week in the mountains," since my brother-in-law's wife's mother's extended family goes to Douthat State Park every year. Did that relationship make your head spin? Since we are in the area, we joined them.

The last time we did this, we used a specialty baby carrier backpack from Phil and Ted. We've taken it to Canada, Mexico, and a few other places. It's more like your traditional internal frame backpacks, just with a baby compartment (and integrated feet so it stays upright when you set it down). They've since updated the model a bit, but you can see from our pictures taken while climbing the Mayan Ruins at Kohunlich that it is a very stable & reliable backpack. But we forgot to bring it with us this time. Which, considering that we had planned on hiking every day on one of the several trails at the park, kind of complicates things.

So we stopped by Target and test-fit an ERGObaby Baby Carrier in Galaxy Grey. The first thing that strikes you about the design is that it's really, really compact. While it seems like it's just backpack straps and a hip belt, it really is well made and comfortable. Three great things about it: 

  1. You can actually feel the baby breathing 
  2. It can be worn in front or behind the adult, and
  3. It's not too difficult to get on or off once you figure it out (it took me  about 5 donnings & doffings).
So, yeah, problem solved. Since our car was packed with all sorts of stuff to support a family vacation to the mountains, not having to figure out how to get a rather bulky backpack worked in amongst all the camping/hiking/cooking/baby/toddler/dog in the car was also a perk.

Now that we are finally properly provisioned, we headed in to the park. And guess what met us there: a tree that had just fallen across the road during a wind storm (it had also been snowing at one point during the drive down).

We did some hiking, and some not-hiking, and here are the photos:

So, yeah, a pretty good time in the woods.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bid Season is Now Open

After what feels like months of hearing "the future assignments memo is in routing for clearance," it finally showed up in my inbox. However, as far as I can tell, the Foreign Service Construction Engineer assignment process is significantly different from other Foreign Service assignments because we're not filling a position that's being vacated by someone heading to their next post. Rather, we create a position for the duration of the project and it goes away when the project ends. Imagine penguins hopping onto an iceberg while knocking off penguins that are already on the iceberg into the ocean. It's kinda like that, but the metaphor needs work.

First step: Analysis. Because there are only so many projects to choose from, the choices are limited to start with. Now filter by appropriate positions/grade, compatible schedules (some are short notice moves), and desired scope (new construction vs renovation). What I'm left with is a stratified list with about 3 projects in the top tier, 6 in the middle tier, and 4 bottom tier options. But there are also a few other projects in the mix that I stand little chance of getting because they are above my grade. 

Second step: Research and Development. I've started the research by downloading post information, specifically to cull out projects that don't meet our requirements for schools and pets. Pets are actually a pretty big deal in the Foreign Service, judging by the American Foreign Service Association website page dedicated to pets. Then there are considerations like hazard/hardship pay, R&R trips, and benefits like that. There are also the intangibles, like how well the project has been managed through the design phase, up to the point it's handed over. Would you willing jump onto a train wreck in progress? Maybe to get away from something worse, I suppose.

Last step: Bidding. This is my first time through, so I really don't have any experience in this area. But what it sounds like to me is that I send in my rank-ordered preferences to the upper management who sit around a big table and try to figure out the best matches for people to projects without pissing off too many people or setting a project up for failure by assigning someone who doesn't have the right skill set for that particular project. I imagine it's kinda like that scene from Moneyball where all the scouts are discussing the players.

Anyways, I've got about 10 days to produce a list to submit, and even then, it's entirely possible that my preferences are disregarded as policy dictates that my first two assignments are considered to be "directed" assignments. So I go where the needs of the service dictate. Fortunately, policy also dictates that it also means that I'd have to volunteer for an Afghanistan/Iraq/Pakistan assignment...which isn't going to happen in the foreseeable future. The real question is how long until I find out where I'm going so I can start preparing for it.

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