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!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Assignment: Jeddah

I just found out where my next post will be: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This will actually be my second assignment (DC was my first assignment), but it's my first overseas posting with the Department of State. So, I guess that technically that makes this my true "Flag Day."

The Flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
So, naturally, one of my first questions (after all the obvious ones) was "What does the writing on the flag actually say?" It turns out that Wikipedia knows that too: It's the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith.
"There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God"
Now to hit the interwebs and find more about expat life in the KSA. One of the better blogs I've found so far is Jeddah-blog.com, not to mention all of the State Department resources and these ex-pat blogs.

For those following along, our FSCE bid season opened on 11 March and I submitted my bids ranked 1-10 (accounting for factors like job scope, school facilities, and general lifestyle) by 21 March, even though I only needed to submit 6 preferences. Just over two months later, I was approached by the office director to ask me if I'd take an assignment to Jeddah (which wasn't even on my ranked list). As it turns out, many of the projects I bid on fell apart in any number of the following ways: lack of funding, lack of host country approvals/permits; design issues; contractor issues. You name it, it can kill a project. So, I'm happy I've been assigned to one that's actually going to happen, and will now begin the process of preparing to head overseas yet again. And that includes starting the self-taught Saudi Arabic language lessons through FSI, as engineers rarely get formal language training.
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Friday, May 23, 2014

Anticipating Memorial Day Weekend in Washington D.C.

The office is somewhat quiet as it's the Friday before Memorial Day. If you didn't know, there are lots of Memorial Day events in Washington, D.C. and most locals try to get out of town before the tourist traffic pours in. Seriously, folks, if you're coming into town, use the metro and don't even think driving because you won't find parking...assuming you can navigate the road closures.

A screenshot of DC traffic before noon the Friday before Memorial Day.
  Click here for real time updates.
Since the office is quiet, I thought I'd share some humor. This one is about riding on the metro.

This sketch can apply to just about any office with a technical staff and a non-technical staff. I frequently find myself in the role of "the expert," but fortunately my coworkers don't (usually) fall into the other categories.


Have great weekend!
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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Civil War Reenactment at New Market

Based on a tip from my mother-in-law's former students, we went to see the 150th Reenactment of the Battle of New Market. I'm not a historian, or really even a fan of Civil War era in general, but these folks put on a good show with a remarkable attention to detail.
As we rolled along the battleground, the cannons were booming and the forces were moving towards each other while spectators watched...kind of like they did in the first battle of Manassas.


Since we'd arrived fairly close to the end of the day, we weren't charged for admission. Using some of that saved cash, we bought some kettle corn and handmade lemonade as we strolled among the white canvas tents where merchants in period costumes sold civil war memorabilia. Lots of little boys with guns and guys with VMI gear, because VMI cadets fought in the battle of New Market.




If it's possible to check off something that's not on your bucket list, we just did that. On the way home, we stopped into Front Royal and had lunch the Main Street Mill Restaurant. I had a tasty burger followed by funnel cake fries for dessert. So, yeah, a pretty good day.
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Shenandoah National Park

Our extended family went on a camping trip to Shenandoah National Park, which is a manageable 2-hour drive from D.C. if you avoid the Friday afternoon traffic jams on I-66. One of the more scenic ways though the park is along Skyline Drive, which is $15 per car if you don't have a National Park pass.
Just one of many scenic vistas

After being roadblocked blocked by defiant deer, we reached our campsite in the middle the park after roughly 30 minutes of driving on the tortuous mountain road. At various times during our weekend stay, we saw several groups of deer, bears, and at least one groundhog.

Clearly, there is one smart deer in the group (on the left).
My dog didn't like the deer as much as we did. 

We were able to reserve two adjacent slots in the aptly named Big Meadow campground. I actually didn't get any pictures of the meadow, but you can Google it. The campsite had all the conveniences: enough shrubbery for some privacy, fire pit & picnic table (and they allow pets). The bathrooms were close enough to see from our campsite, so we were comfortable letter our 4.5-yr-old go there by herself (in daylight). There were reportedly quarter-operated showers, too, but no one in our group felt like braving the low 40F weather to find out.

The information center has some great info about the history of Shenandoah and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that made it was what it is today. There's even a section about segregation during that time, which seems obvious now but I don't think I ever learned about in school.

Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast with some of my mother-in-law's former IB students who also happened to be in the park, the family decided to go for a hike and then see if we could catch a Civil War reenactment at New Market.
This is how you photobomb.
Just another peaceful vista on our way out of the park.
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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rejected by Amazon

The good news: Amazon will still take my money to send me stuff that I order from them. Which is pretty good. The bad (or perhaps simply more direct) news is that my account on Amazon Associates was rejected per their email:
Thanks again for joining the Amazon Associates program. We’re reaching out to you because we have not seen sales activity on your account.
At the time your application was submitted, you were given access to Associates Central and the link building tools located there. However, we haven’t recorded a referral from your account yet.
Associate accounts that have not referred a sale to Amazon.com within 90 days of sign-up will be automatically rejected.  However, if your account is automatically rejected, you will be welcome to re-apply to the program in the future.
Which, let's be honest, was going to happen anyways because very few people read this niche blog, and none you who do read it are looking here to buy stuff I'm reviewing. But, on occasion, there are some hilarious data analysis moments when a random search engine picks up on this blog...I'm assuming it's a search engine, and not some really bored Mossad agent passing the night shift by surfing the internet.
Ziva David, is that you?
While I suppose that I could say that I need to post more interesting stuff on here to raise readership (I do need to do that), I could also say that you, my readers, need to buy stuff (don't worry, I won't) because "I have failed because you have not helped me..."
Anyone care for a jelly donut?

So, I'll probably still continue to post links to stuff on Amazon but am (still) under no illusion that anyone's buying it.

Update: On May 24th, I received an email from Amazon Associates saying "Congratulations, your application to the Amazon.com Associates Program has been approved." Which is odd because I didn't take any action to renew the application. Oh well, guess they don't mind me plugging products that no one buys...

What it does mean is that you can once again read more of our product reviews or visit the Passport Stamp Collector Store on Amazon.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

May Day - Vienna

Because my work trip happens to span the May Day holiday, there is nobody local for me to work with today. So, after breakfast, I met for an hour or so with a few of my project team members who were also in town. After that, I went out on the streets. May Day, for those that aren't familiar with it, is a popular labor holiday and frequently has union and/or Communist party overtones. So lots of red everywhere, even more so because one of Austria's national colors is red.
Labor parade assembling next to the Opera
And what's a parade without music?
Or the passing of idealism from one generation to the next?
Daddy, I can I be oppressed when I grow up?
Or for that matter, supporting the right to arm bears mice?
Is that a Mauser rifle he's carrying? 
From the Ringstrasse, I cut through the Volksgarten where people were just hanging out. There was also an accordion-player who I couldn't help think was making some sort of Godfather performance art statement.
Just horsing around?
I made my way to the Rathaus where the speeches were being given. Now, in case you were worried, no one presented any overly-impassioned speeches in German...but I couldn't help expecting things to break that way. 
Vienna Rathaus
Communist literature...make up your own joke about why it's tied down.
I had a bratwurst and radler near the Rathaus, enjoying the mild weather and sunlight. After lunch, I made my way back to the hotel by way of the /link/ Spanish Riding school. 
Spanish Riding School dropouts? 
Lots of Russian/slavic language tourist groups were out, I only caught enough of the guide's speeches to determine roughly what language group, but I'm no linguistic expert. Since it was a holiday and I had nothing to do, I took a nap at the hotel in the middle of the afternoon with the windows open.

I woke up to the Opera broadcasting live footage of their performance from outside my window.
I typed up some stuff on the computer while listening to live opera through my open window for a little over an hour. During a break, I went down to the street and picked up a falafel durum from a street vendor (lots of Turkish food vendors here in Vienna), then ate it while watching the remainder of the performance on the screen. Once I finished my dinner, I headed towards the /link/ Stephensdom, stopping along the way to listen to some street musicians.
Seriously, Vienna is alive with the sound of music (fun fact: the Sound of Music movie is known as My Heart, My Song in Austria because, come on, there's some serious competition here). Along my walk, there were several different performers, but I forget the specifics because I was distracted by the gelato that I was munching on. Once I'd walked through the city center and out to Schwedenplatz, I hopped on the U1 back to Prater where /link/blog I was last night to see how much could have changed in a day. 

Turns out, quite a bit. There was an Italian band playing "Hey Mambo" as I walked up to the fairgrounds, and the crowds of drunken smokers were very dense. None of that was there yesterday.


A flume ride, mid-spray.
The "Y" shaped thing is the Black Mamba
The empty go-cart track from yesterday was packed today
I had come over to Prater for the fireworks scheduled for 10pm, but by about 9:15, I decided it just wasn't worth it to me to stay so I went back to the hotel. Overall, a pretty active day doing just about nothing.
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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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