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, December 26, 2014

Downsize and Safeguard Your Digital Documents

I've been putting off this post about digitally backing up (or replacing) your files for a while, but there's no time like the present to get organized. And I realize that we all have our own organizational methods and preferences, so I'll try to keep the focus more on the "what" and "why" with less emphasis on the "how". When I say files I mean any document or photo that is either physical or digital.

Why back up your important and irreplaceable files? The answer's in the question: they're important and irreplaceable. You see it in the news every week: houses & lives destroyed by natural disasters, accidents, and other events outside of our control. Being in the Foreign Service, we not only have to contend with possible evacuations as well as being under a maximum weight for shipping our household effects halfway around the world every couple of years.

"On the plus side, now there are no files left to back up."
Philip and Karen Smith/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
So, there are a couple of things to consider in your back-up plan. I try to approach every plan using the P-A-C-E planning method:
  • Primary: These are your original documents. Keep them in a fireproof safe and/or on your computer. 
  • Alternate: These are copies of the originals that you don't keep next to your originals (because that's like keeping all your eggs in one basket). Consider keeping a copy of really important papers (Birth Certificates/IDs/etc) at a relative's house and photos on a removable harddrive or spouse's computer in case you drop your laptop.
  • Contingency: Let's say you kept both your primary and alternate files are in your house and it caught fire or flooded. I keep electronic copies (scanned if they were originally hardcopy) in the cloud (Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox, etc.) Compare the best cloud services here. There are also several photo storage options on the cloud, but know what their download/recovery policy is. For example: You have to pay Shutterfly to get them back (but it's totally worth it if they have your only remaining copy of the photos). 
  • Emergency: This is less about having a filing system and more about having access to your info if all else fails. What if your Apple account gets hacked? I recommend using an independent, alternate cloud system (ie, if you use Apple as a primary, use DropBox but don't use your AppleID email as your log in...because you would no longer have access to your Apple account). Also, I've found that emailing myself the scanned copy of files allows me to keep one record in the email as well as wherever I downloaded it...this has come in handy a number of times when the only access I have is to my email and the information was needed ASAP.
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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Year in Review: 2014

So, to say that 2014 was rather busy might be understating it a bit. Here are the highlights in case you missed them. You could also consider this the digital version of our Christmas letter if we didn't have your address. Oh, and our address has changed yet again...so friends, let us know if you want our new one.
We're never going to be one of those perfect family photo families.
Key Moments of 2014:
  • Went to a Maple Leafs v. Washington Capitals hockey game
  • Successfully treated our cat for hyperthyroidism, then picked him up in Asheville, NC
  • Took a family trip to Boston for Greg to attend his fraternity's annual reunion
  • Went to Douthout State Park with Kacey's brother's in-laws.
  • Spent Easter in Pensacola with family
  • Kacey and Greg got to drive fast, commandeer vehicles, shoot guns, use tourniquets, and generally hone their responses when thing go sideways at the "Crash Bang" class.
  • We took a day trip to the DuPont's Winterthur estate to see a Downton Abbey exhibit.
  • All sorts of Halloween & Thanksgivings Day activity.
Anna, Elsa, and Olaf...Sven took the picture.
  • Kacey became a Georgetown-certified instructor of English as a Foreign Language
  • We executed perhaps the most complicated move I've ever done...the only thing that could make it more complicated would have been shipping a car. I mean, really, it's an international move (with stuff going by air, by sea, and to storage) with two small children and two pets punctuated by the Christmas holiday season. Read the full story here.
Other Trips:
Misc:
  • Finally added photos to the posts from Greg's Great American Road Trip (2002)
  • Uploaded Kacey's journal from her SEA Semester experience (1996), we hope to upload the photos in the next couple of months.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Moving Day - Pack Out Day

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress during a move is to start your preparations early enough. One of worst ways? Pulling an all-nighter to get your house in order while simultaneously trying to pack for being on the road for three weeks between two different climates with two kids and pets in tow. Yeah, we took the second option.

But the hard work and lack of sleep paid off. All we had to do was point and say "This room is UnAccompanied Baggage (UAB), that side of the room is going with us, and that side is going to storage."
Our UAB pile
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Moving Day - Tips &Tricks for Pre-move Preparation

The most hectic part about Foreign Service life has to be transition phase between assignments, also referred to as Permanent Change of Station (PCS). More than just a move across town, international moves are a multi-day event that require some preparation before the movers show up if you want things to run smoothly. This post is focused on what to do in the day or two before the movers show up. If moving day is still a few weeks or months out for you, I've also got another post with tips and tricks to downsize before a move in the weeks running up to moving day.

Probably the most important thing to remember about moving day is that the movers will pack everything they can when you're not looking. Trash left in garbage cans is a good example. There are somethings they won't pack, like batteries, candles, and other things that can start a fire or explode (like lightbulbs). The best thing you can do is make sure that the stuff you don't want packed isn't even in the house...put it in your car if you can. If you can't get it out of the house, put it in a room or closet that you can lock or put tape across the door saying something to the effect of "DO NOT PACK THIS ROOM!"

That said, make sure that there is nothing in the Do Not Pack room that you actually want packed. We used our master bathroom, but realized after the fact that we forgot to pull the bathmats out...so we had to pack them in our carry-on luggage.

There are some important things to keep out of the movers' hands:

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Mrs. Spearman: A Remembrance and Commitment

At first I struggled to remember exactly what her class was like. When Dr. Cunningham died I had a flood of vivid and exact memories wash over me. With Mrs. Spearman I had to think… was that the year we read Things Fall Apart and The Bride Price? Or was it Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man? Didn’t we read Langston Hughes poems? I remembered the room at the far west end of the first floor hall, some of the other students in the class and vaguely some presentations we made. But then, I remembered-- one of the strongest memories in all my high school years. It came back.


“Kacey, why do you want to be a doctor when you can write so well?”
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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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