Friday, December 31, 2010

State Department Blog RoundUp

On the last day of 2010, it's only fitting to reflect on the year that was and look forward to 2011.  Here's wishing that, wherever you are in the world, you're celebrating the new year with family and friends.  

Here’s a look at how the Foreign Service Blogosphere is ringing in the new year... 

I’ll start it off with my own post.  2010 had its ups and downs, but I’m so happy to be where I am, and I am excited for a new year of (mis?)adventures!

Just US is taking full advantage of living in Israel and getting more in touch with her spirituality.  

Pulling Stakes, with her usual dose of wit and wisdom, tells her family’s 2010 story in numbers.  Kate, you deserve some new shoes after a year of barf!

Small Bits has had a tumultuous 2010 but is excited about savoring each moment of the next year.  (She is also doing a very ambitious RoundUp in a couple of weeks - don't forget to submit and check back!)

Beyond the Cornfields
has a poignant reflection not just on 2010 but on her family’s journey in the Foreign Service. She has some great advice for those of you just starting this adventure.  

Sass and Sweet
is savoring a holiday at home with family, before heading to Beirut and a more complicated trip home for the holidays. 

Crafty Foreign Service is hosting the second-annual Foreign Service Swap.  (Information and instructions on her page.)  I’ve already signed up, and you should too! What a great way to meet new people and learn about a new place. 

You Can’t Get There From Here shows us the hilarious highlights of Rosetta Stone.  The commentary is genius; I’m still laughing out loud. 

Four Globetrotters has a New Years Resolution based on past experience – triathlons should
only be undertaken after careful consideration.  Oh, and training.  

Two Crabs is famous!  Check out their post to find out how.  

Linsey at Rambles and Ruminations, who is hosting next week’s Round-Up, made a beautiful photo tribute to 2010.  Her family had awesome adventures on three continents!  

Wife-Mommy-Woman also did a wonderful photo tribute.  Next year will include another face in the photos! 

Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud reflects on his and his family’s many life events in 2010.  As usual, his way with words and beautiful tributes to the people in his life make it a great read.

The Dinoia Family had a furry houseguest this week, and the whole family agrees puppies are a whole lot of work!

Global Geraghtys had an exciting 2010 and are eagerly anticipating the adventures to come in 2011. 

Kim at Scrivners has many reasons to be excited about 2011 (and continues to be ever-poetic and a wonderful photographer).  

Here’s hoping A Daring Adventure feels better soon so she can enjoy family time in Florida.  

Life in Jerusalem finally made it to the beach after having to spend an extra day at home playing video games because of the snow.  

Bfiles, who starts A-100 next week, quickly learned that flexibility is key, after a blizzard canceled her packout!  Good luck Bfiles, it sounds like you have things well under control. 

What Were We Thinking? celebrated their first Christmas in Tijuana; Lisa managed to keep her husband’s present a surprise for several weeks and several thousand miles – impressive!

Kitty Non Grata has a new work Blackberry; she’s a little uncertain about what this means for her free time.  

Looking for Geckos proves that a picture (or two) is truly worth a thousand words.

Don’t forget to submit a post for next week’s RoundUp at Rambles and Ruminations, and sign up to host a week at A Daring Adventure.  (It’s painless and fun, I promise!)

And with that, Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Times, They Are a-Changin'

I am hosting the State Department Blog RoundUp this week, with the predictable theme of reflecting on 2010 and looking ahead to 2011.  I am not big on making New Years resolutions, but I am very good at reflecting and pondering.

This year has been a roller-coaster of emotions, with some wonderful highs and tragic lows, interspersed with less dramatic ebbs and flows.

Now that I think about it, the weather I've experienced this year has also had highs, lows, and weird in betweens.  I was in DC for two blizzards (and two wonderful weeks of several days with no work) and then in Saudi Arabia for August and September.  With a few weeks of NH winter and months of DC summer thrown in for fun.  Today, it rained for about 30 minutes, and the city came to a complete standstill.  It took me 80 minutes to drive (well, ride) a block and a half. 

In June, we celebrated my grandmother's 90th birthday with a huge family reunion and party.  It was three days of laughter and great food and lots of hugs and story-telling.  Grandma became a great-great-grandmother a few weeks later, which I consider pretty awesome.  To have five generations of family living at the same time is quite an impressive feat. 

In July, we bid farewell to my other grandmother.  As devastating as her death was, I am thankful I was able to say goodbye and support my father during that difficult time. 

August was a tough month.  I moved to Saudi Arabia and immediately, and tragically, lost my beloved Hattie.  I know I mention it a lot, but my life changed so dramatically and needlessly at that time that it's a vivid punctuation in the year.  Two weeks later I welcomed two beautiful kittens into my life.  It may have been too soon, emotionally, but they've become an important (and cuddly!) part of my life.  They're perfect.

This was the year that I truly began my dream career, as a diplomat.  I spent much of 2009 in training, but nothing compares to actually being overseas and knowing I'm serving my country.  It's a source of pride for me, and sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure it's not a dream.  I absolutely, truly love my job, even at its low points.  Not everyone can say that.  

I've met many amazing people this year.  The Foreign Service family is truly a global community, and it's nice to have that network and support system.  Plus my job enables me to meet fascinating people on a daily basis.  And I have a place to stay in some pretty awesome places on every continent...  (I promise to reciprocate when I'm posted somewhere with a vibrant tourism industry.)

After a few years of not traveling much, I finally got back into the swing of things.  I had a great time in WA with my mom and brother in April, my first time to the Pacific Northwest.  I'll be back, definitely.  I visited two new countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt), in a region that's totally new to me.  I look forward to exploring it more in the next two years.  Mom and I had an awesome musical journey to Forth Worth, TX and started a new tradition, following Lyle Lovett around the country.  Not to mention the many trips up and down the I-95 corridor and out to WV, and a pleasant winter weekend in VA Beach. 

So what will 2011 bring?  Lots more travel, starting with a January trip to Israel to meet some beautiful babies and see some awesome people :-).  At least a couple family weddings, where we'll (officially) welcome some pretty awesome people into the clan.  New challenges, opportunities, and experiences at work.  I'm trying not to look too far ahead, but I get to bid again next summer, so the anticipation is building.  I fall in love with a new potential post every month or so.  (Today's find:  Asmara.  Look it up.)

The last few days of the year are always filled with a frisson of anticipation for the new year.  I'll ring in 2011 with friends and colleagues (and then maybe wake up early the next morning to skype-celebrate it with my family as well).

One thing's for certain:  I will continue to torture my cats for my own entertainment.  Right now they're wearing ruffled collars with jingle bells.  Because the box of Christmas presents I ordered them (myself?) just arrived.  To be fair, I used to dress Hattie up in ridiculous things as well.  That's a tradition that will never change.  And sometimes, it's good to have some stability.  Especially in a career/lifestyle that's so dependent on frequent and drastic change. 

And on that poignant thought, I'll end.

Happy New Year!

(Please continue to submit your posts for the RoundUp!)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

State Department Blog RoundUp: Call for Submissions

I suppose it's time to stop procrastinating and actually write the announcement for next week's State Department Blog RoundUp, since Small Bits and A Daring Adventure are both (rightfully) linking here :-).

So here goes!  I am hosting the final State Department Blog RoundUp of 2010, which, predictably, calls for reflections on this year and looking ahead to 2011.  Here are some ideas for posts, though feel free to create your own!
  • Reflections on 2010
  • Looking ahead to 2011
  • I wish I'd known on 12/31/2009 that...
  • The most embarrassing moment of 2010
  • 2010:  The year of the...
  • Resolutions
  • Predictions
In keeping with the new RoundUp format, please link to your blog (or others you want included) in the comments section.  Alternatively, you can email me.

Happy blogging!

(And Merry Christmas!)

Merry Christmas, Louie Dog

(The continuation of this story...)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Dear Diary,
My boy came home last night! It was such a surprise. I was sleeping in front of the fire. (I was really tired because I was out running around all day while Grandma and Grandpa were at work. I found a great swimming pool toy in the next door neighbor's garage and played with it in the middle of the road. What a great chew toy) Anyway, Grandma came in and had my boy with her! We rolled and hugged and kissed for about an hour! I am so happy! I had to stay up late, though, because my boy was up really late cleaning up our room, vacuuming up my decorations, and trying to fix the door I made into a half door. My boy didn't have to work today, so we just hung out together and I waited in the car when he went skiing this afternoon. What a wonderful day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010
Dear Diary,
My boy went to work today and I stayed home with Grandpa. He took me with him in the truck to go get my Christmas present. I got a new collar. It is shiny and bright. They call it a choke collar and I think I look pretty good in it, if I do say so myself. But my BIG Christmas present said, Canine Home Training System on it. I like it a lot. Grandma and Grandpa call the "The Final Resolution." The picture is below.

I think this is going to be my last diary entry for a while.

Merry Christmas.
Louie Dog

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Louie Dog's Diary

This absolutely hilarious post is entirely thanks to my mother.  My youngest brother went away for a week and left my parents with his year old, 110lb Bernese Mountain Dog/Red Fox Labrador puppy, Louie Dog.  Louie is a very sweet, obedient, and lovely dog... when Dylan is around.  But whenever Dylan is gone, Louie Dog turns into an anxious, destructive, Marley-like basket-case.  

This is the email I received when I got to work this morning.  I proceeded to laugh so hard I almost fell out of my chair and my colleagues came running to see what was wrong.  Then there was the follow-up entry from later in the day that started the laughing all over again.  (Sorry Mom and Dad - it's really funny when you're not living it!)

Happy reading... and be glad it's not your house!

My boy left me today.  Grandma locked me in my boy's bedroom with a nice blanket to lay on, a full bowl of water, some dog cookies, and a nice bone filled with peanut butter and frozen.  It was nice.  I got a little bored and shredded up some paper for variety.  Grandma and Grandpa gave me good lovings, belly rubs, stretches, food, and I got to sit on Grandma's lap for about an hour.

Same ol', same ol'.  Grandma set me in up my boy's room again and locked me in with all my goodies.  I was good but was more bored today, so I chewed up some stuff on my boy's bed, like one of his slippers and a package of plastic cookie cutters and gnawed on his business portfolio a little.  Grandma and Grandpa were still really good to me when they got home and we had a good night.

Locked up in the room again with all the usual goodies.  This time, I watched.  When I got bored, I figured out how to unlatch the door from the inside.  I had so much fun!  Found the roll of toilet paper and decorated the whole house with it until it ran out.  Then, I ate the Christmas wreath on the door, ate Dylan's other slipper, sorted through the trash, ate three baseball caps.  Grandpa was really mad when he got home.

Even though they moved the nail, it didn't slow me down a bit.  After I finished my treats, I opened up the door and - Freedom!  Checked out the trash again.  The bathroom door was closed so I couldn't decorate the house with the toilet paper, but did find some mail to chew on. It looked so pretty afterwards.  I did find where they'd put the remainder of the slippers and the baseball caps from yesterday, so I was able to finish them off.  Ate some yummy cookies from the gingerbread christmas tree Grandma had made.  Grandma and Grandpa did not want to give me belly rubs tonight.

Grandma was at work again but I hung out with Grandpa for half the day.  Then Grandpa had to go to town so he put me in the room again after resetting the latch.  He made a lot of noise with the hammer. Ha!  No problem.  I found a great box of kleenex that was really fun to rip apart.  I tried to check out a cast iron skillet on the stove, but it was clean.  I guess I must have turned on the burner under it because Grandpa was really scared when he got home.  He said something about trying to burn down the house and how lucky it was that he got home when he did.  Found a few other items -- random shoes and gloves to chew.  No sitting on Grandma's lap tonight.

Grandpa was home almost all day today.  He put a new latch on the outside of the door, so I was stuck when he went to town again.  I found a nice tie to eat and was just starting on a new hoodie when he came home.  I spent a lot of time outside tonight...and they won't decorate the tree until someone is home all the time.  It looks stupid there in the living room with nothing on it.  Where is their Christmas spirit?  No one would talk to me tonight.

Grandma gave me FOUR bones today.  Two were stuffed with peanut butter and frozen.  Two had little doggie cookies stuffed into them.  It took me a long time to work those out.  I couldn't figure out how to get out of the room with the new latch on the outside of the door.  So, I took the door apart and jumped through the nice big hole I made.  I had to completely chew up the Jamaican towel to get it all done. Tried to get the toilet paper again, but I couldn't find the end, so I just chewed it up in place. That box of Kleenex was out so I ate bunches of that.  Pulled down a little lamp next to Grandpa's chair but that was no good for chewing and had no decorative value.   I checked out the sink and thought I'd found something good, but it was just coffee grounds so I left it on the rug.  Perhaps I could get out the barn door!  But there are lots of coats hanging there.  I ate the grey jacket because it had stuffing in it.  Grandpa's Columbia jacket had a nice lining that felt so good in my mouth.  Finally got all four jackets down, but that darned barn door wouldn't budge.  Just then Grandma came home from work.  I've been outside for a very long time now.  I heard Grandma and Grandpa talking about a chicken coop tomorrow.  I hope it is something that is fun to chew!!  I hope they feed me tonight.  They just seem so grouchy all the time.  I guess it's because they are so old...

I'll write more tomorrow when I can talk about all the fun I had in that chicken coop!
Louie Dog

Another Louie Dog diary entry:
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Grandpa spent a lot of time last night, going to the store to get a slide bolt (whatever that is…can’t eat it, but the package was good), spreading hay around and buttoning up the chicken coop.  He put me in it this morning before he went to work.  Boring!!!  I greeted Grandma when she was getting in her car to go to work.  The door and screen were no match for me.  Grandma muttered a lot (what am I going to do now? There is no place to lock you up…the dog catcher will get you if I let you stay out but I can’t keep you in the house)…mostly blah, blah, blah.  She gave me two big peanut butter bones and put me back in the coop with a heavy table propped against the door.  Ha!  I’ll figure this out too.  I wonder if I can find that dog catcher she keeps talking about?  Won’t Grandpa be surprised when he comes home from work to find me in the road waiting for him??


Some pictures of Louie Dog - the first two from November; the next three from last April, when he was a (relatively) tiny little puppy. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cultural Faux Pas, in a Red Velvet Bag

I have awesome colleagues.  There's no doubt about it.  I enjoy going to work, and they've quickly become a surrogate family and support system.  The locally engaged staff are also really great about guiding me in Saudi culture and society (even though none of them are Saudi).  So I was thinking of ideas for a nice, non-Christmas-y seasonal celebration.  And I found one.  Something that is a New England tradition and that I remember doing at least a few times growing up.  (Am I right, Mom?)  I bought my kit from the Vermont Country Store, purveyors of oddities and other wonderful goods.  It arrived yesterday.  I convened a staff meeting today to discuss door decorating for the Consulate's contest and to share my holiday treat.  About that time my boss remarked, jokingly, that it was an odd choice for the Saudi context.  And then, for the very first time, I realized how culturally inappropriate my idea might be.

I had brought in a peppermint pig. 

Now the peppermint pig is a tradition begun in upstate NY in the 1880s.  After a holiday meal, families would pass around the peppermint pig in a velvet bag.  Every person would discuss some of their good fortune for the year and then tap the pig with a hammer.  At the end, the broken pieces could be consumed, and there would be good fortune for the new year.

But a pig.  Really, Sadie?  I turned bright red, could barely speak, and couldn't stop apologizing.  (About half our office is Muslim.)  But everyone took it in stride, laughed at my obvious embarrassment, and took turns talking about good fortune and hammering the pig.  I cannot believe it never occurred to me to think about the religious aspect of the pig.  The good news is, I was so obviously flabbergasted by my own faux pas that everyone knew it was truly a mistake.  And everyone did enjoy using the hammer! 

The other great thing about my colleagues is that they'll tell me the truth.  So when I apologized to people individually later on, they told me that they knew I was just sharing a tradition and not trying to offend anyone.  And laughed at me again. 


I still feel bad.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Now With Video Goodness!

It only took a week, but I was finally able to post videos on my previous "Christmas Spectacles" post!

So check it out here

(Each video took approximately 90 minutes to upload on my ridiculously slow internet connection.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Underwhelming Weird Weather

I'm a little jealous that a great number of my friends and family members have had weird weather patterns this week, from the U.S. to the Middle East.  As much as I hate snow (which is a lot), I enjoyed the novelty of the giant snowstorms in DC last winter.  Or rather I enjoyed the paid week and a half off...  Anyway.

Weather in Jeddah has been unique this week, but, truly, it's nothing to write home about.  Despite that, I will.

Last Thursday (virtual Saturday), the skies were grey, and the sun wasn't shining - for the first time since I arrived at post.  Then, there was a thunder clap!  And a few drops of rain!  I immediately grabbed my cats and took them on the balcony to feel rain.  Which they didn't like.  So I grabbed my camera and took a few photos.  That worked better.  See below.  The rain lasted all of three minutes and only amounted to the few drops you can see.  The thunder and lightning persisted a bit longer.  All in all, exciting, but not nearly as exciting as a Metrodome collapse, snow in Cairo, or ferocious winds in Amman.

In other news, a few pictures of the cats and the tree...  Only one broken ornament and several others knocked off.  It's early days, though...

(Note:  I only allowed tree climbing for the first minute, for photographic purposes.  Since then, it's a quick squirt with the water gun.) 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Spectacles, NH Style

I've spent a long weekend unpacking.  Every box has been opened and looked at, and I'll estimate that I have 2/3 of things put away.  The remaining 1/3 is primarily paperwork from high school, college, grad school, and beyond that needs to be sorted through.  About 8 totes worth.  This will take me a while, so I am not too worried.  There's also a fair amount of random 'stuff' I need to work with.  But I'm feeling on top of things.  I wish my bookcases were here, though, because my coffee table is now too heavy to move, and the armoire in my foyer has about 300 books on it right now.  I honestly did not intend to ship so many books, including everything from my last two years of college, apparently.  Most of this will go straight back into storage.

So I'd like to take a break from unpacking for another Christmas-related post.  When I was home last month, we took my nephew and niece to do the rounds of Christmas displays.  There are three particularly good ones near where we live.  One is a neighborhood that decorates very well every year, with each house getting into it.  It's pretty, but low key.  And not nearly as interesting as the other ones.

One, which was unfortunately closed when we went, which was very strange, is Santa's house.  A local couple has been decorating their house and land and opening them to visitors for years.  They have hundreds of thousands of lights, every blow-up and lawn display known to man, lots of holiday scenes in display cases, and signs in either direction letting you know you're quickly approaching Santa's house.  Their house is decorated with a huge tree, dozens of noisy toys/displays, and hundreds of Christmas dolls and stuffed animals.  And if that wasn't enough, they dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and entertain kids and adults alike every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Other relatives dress up as elves.  They serve hot chocolate and candy canes.  They love to tell stories and make it truly magical for the kids.  And all because they love doing it.  They take donations to go towards the electric bill, which I gladly give.  They start decorating in September for a Thanksgiving-day opening.  Santa and Mrs. Claus dance in the street.  The elves knit.  Kids just gape and stare.  It's great.  Words cannot possibly do justice to the experience, and since it was closed the day we went, I don't have any good pictures.  (My pictures from previous years aren't very good quality.

The other spectacle is my favorite.  A guy spends countless hours programming his hundreds of thousands of lights to music.  And broadcasts it on an empty radio station.  So you can sit in your car in front of the house and watch the show.  Or, since the music plays outside as well, you can wander around the property and experience it in greater detail.  There are three different songs every 15 minutes; I think he must have about 20 songs by now.  He also dresses as Santa occasionally and hands out candy canes.  The kids enjoy it, but I think it's more exciting for adults.  So bear with me; I've posted below a couple of videos and a collage of photos.  You can get a bit of an idea, but know that I only filmed the front of the house.  The display wraps around and goes all the way around the house and on the back lawn.  You can hear the kids in the background making editorial comments.

(Update: the videos are not loading due to slow internet. I'll try again tomorrow.)
(Update #2:  one video loaded!)
(Update #3:  both videos loaded!)


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree... And Bratwurst!

This has been one mother of a week.  Thank goodness it's Wednesday!  (The Saudi version of Friday.)  Work was very busy this week, including a lot of after-hour events.  Which I love.  Until my alarm clock sounds the next morning.  While I don't blog about my work, I do want to say that I visited two centers for children with disabilities this week, and I was blown away.  One was for children with intellectual disabilities, the other for physical.  Both had state of the art equipment and facilities, world-class staff, and amazing foresight and planning.  Every detail was thought of, and each center includes parents in every aspect so the therapies and adaptations can continue at home.  I can't wait to work with these organizations more.  Having spent some time working in special ed before becoming a diplomat, I almost teared up visiting these centers and seeing their resources.  And while they can't meet the needs of all children in Saudi with disabilities, they provide amazing opportunities for hundreds of children to be independent and eventually be productive members of society.  In a country where the rate for physical disabilities is roughly 7% and intellectual ones only slightly less, there's a huge need.  What an amazing couple of places.  Wow.

I had a very pleasant surprise today when I went to the post office - my Christmas tree arrived!!  I had completely given up hope of receiving it before Christmas, which apparently did the trick.  I set it up tonight, and it's perfect.  It's small, only 4.5 feet tall, but I set it on an underused end table in a corner, and it looks beautiful.  The cats, predictably, love it.  Callaghan has been climbing and biting and marveling all night.  I took some pictures and will post once I get the chance to download and organize the six million pictures from the last month...  I haven't yet put any ornaments on; I'll wait till the novelty wears down a bit.

I also received a commissary shipment today including bratwurst, breakfast sausage, and sliced lunch meat ham.  My freezer is content.

In other ways, today was sad.  I was issued my very first Blackberry, very much against my will.  I hate having a cell phone, and now I have two devices.  What I really hate about these things, though, is the fact that people see nothing wrong with checking them while I'm interacting with them.  I think this is the height of rudeness - BBMing, taking a call, constantly texting - while conversing or dining with someone, I do not want electronic devices to be part of the experience.  So I vow not to become one of these people. 

Anyway, I am going to work on unpacking and decorating and Christmas shopping online.  I got a new china cabinet from GSO today, so I can actually unpack and display my good china!  And table linens!  Yay!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ode to Oneida

After a year and a half of Oakwood furnishings and then the welcome kit at post, I have been dying for good silverware.  Perhaps more than most things, I missed high quality eating utensils.  I am fairly particular.  I like flatware to be relatively heavy, but not overly so.  I hate eating off of forks with bent tines.  I like forks with four tines, never three.  I think soup spoons can run a fine line between large enough and too large for one's mouth.  Butter knives need to have some heft and not be too slim at the spreading end.  And you can never have too many teaspoons. 

When I went home for Thanksgiving, it hit me how much I missed good silverware.  I grew up with Oneida flatware; my parents still have the True Rose set they were given for their wedding by my grandparents, and now we have my Grandmother's slightly fancier Oneida set.  So a few years ago, in anticipation of my own kitchen, I bought a service-for-12 set from Oneida, in Flight pattern.  It's a mid-range line - functional for daily use, good looking, but not top of the line.  It has been in boxes since.  So imagine my complete and utter glee when tonight's box contained the entire Oneida set, including hostess serving items!!  I quickly switched out the flimsy welcome kit stuff for my wonderful Oneida.  And eating off it was a dream.  So wonderful.  The little things, eh?

This box also contained some other goodies, including a beautiful tablecloth I bought in Tahiti and promptly forgot about.  It's now on the table :-).  A lot of Easter decorations, including a kitschy deviled egg platter and salt/pepper shakers.  And, completely surprising, some gorgeous beaded decorative flatware I bought in South Africa eons ago.  I'd forgotten about these pieces entirely.  I have two serving spoons, a salad fork/spoon set, a sugar spoon, and six each of dessert spoons and forks.  They're good quality silverware, and the ends/stems (what are those called?) are covered in wire and beading.  Exquisite.  So exciting!  Plus, each set was tied with tissue paper and 'garnished' with a guinea hen feather!!  (If you read my previous post, you'd know about the guinea hen obsession...  I found that tablecloth as well!)

There was also a set of bamboo cooking tools; I am a sucker for wooden spoons, and the rest of my collection is in HHE#2.  These went perfectly into the pottery utensil holder I unpacked yesterday! 

It's past my bedtime, but I just had to write about my silverware.  I am such a kitchen gadget/utenstil geek...  And I've never had all my stuff in one place before.  Most of it is still new in original packaging.  So I'm giddy over my discoveries - not just seeing them again, but finally getting to use them!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas #1 - UAB and HHE, Yay!

It's Christmas!  For the first time this month!  I predict two more.  Actual Christmas.  And the delivery of HHE number 2.  Today, my UAB and HHE number 1 were delivered.  The UAB was packed recently, so I knew most of what was in there.  I was excited to see that I put my Wii and Wii Fit inside, in addition to my blender and all my linens.  My bed is now fully customized.  I have my memory foam and better-than-down mattress pad, 1200TC sheets, a better-than-down all season comforter, egyptian cotton blanket, and my amazing down duvet with damask stripe cover.  Plus two better-than-down pillows and two better-than-down plus memory foam pillows.  Plus my body pillow.  Plus my panda, a large stuffed animal I've had since high school.  So while my bed is overly warm and Brookstone and Macy's own my first-born, I am now sleeping in a cloud.  So wonderful.

The HHE is all from storage.  I haven't seen some of it since July 2009.  I haven't seen most of it since 2004, or even before then.  I shipped more than I needed to, with the intent of getting rid of a fair amount.  And though I've only opened about ten boxes so far today, I already have a good pile to give away and a huge trash pile.  All of this stuff needs to be inventoried, so I'm taking one box at a time and doing it right.  My spare bedroom is floor to ceiling boxes, but it's not as bad as I first thought.  The little bit I've done today has already made a huge difference.  I am appreciating how much of this is packing materials, the environmental concerns notwithstanding. 

My cats have never been happier.  Packing materials are like catnip.  They're alternating between jumping out of boxes to scare each other, purring at my side to tell me how happy they are I brought the boxes into their lives, and chasing each other through the maze that is the spare bedroom. 

What else have I discovered.  Let's see.  A gorgeous jewelry armoire I bought in 2005 and had yet to unpack.  Lots and lots of beautiful hand-hooked wool rugs from my tenure working retail.  Dozens of CDs that have yet to be imported onto this laptop, including my favorite Christmas album and three Lyle Lovett CDs I'd been looking for.  Books galore, including high school and college yearbooks, all the copies of computer magazines I wrote for in high school, the last three Harry Potters, and a bunch of unread novels.  I am really glad I switched to Kindle, though the lingering thousands of pounds of books I own still exist.  I know there are boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments.  I worked at Hallmark for ten years, so my collection is large.  All my decorative and functional items from trips over the last ten years are in the boxes; I can't wait to see some of them!  I have an entire collection of guinea hen stoneware and related items from South Africa.  (I am somewhat obsessed with guinea hens.)  I found the few boxes of things from my grandmother when she sold her house and moved south a few years ago.  This includes an exquisite tea set; I don't yet have a safe cabinet to store the pieces in, so I only unwrapped a couple and gushed before safely storing them again.  Six million photo albums.  Stuff from my college dorms that will probably mostly get thrown away.  And many, many boxes of miscellaneous 'stuff'. 

I have been planning my dream kitchen my whole life.  Most of my dishes, glassware, serving glassware, electronics, pans, and gadgets are in HHE#2.  A few gadgets were in my UAB, which was fun.  And there's kitchenware scattered throughout HHE#1.  I'm hoping to find my silverware somewhere in there.  Haven't seen it since 2007 or so.  Not entirely sure it made it into a shipped box.  Hoping it did.  So I'm gleefully packing away the welcome kit items as my own, far superior, items arrive. 

Lots of framed photos and art are appearing, which is great.  When it all comes in I'll have a fun time hanging it all.  For now, fun to look.  I am beyond thrilled to have found a duplicate copper wall plate of the one hanging in my parent's kitchen, which I bought in Bosnia in 2001 (Erin:  Mostar).  I've always loved that very simple plate and completely forgot I bought one for myself.  A $10 purchase, but I am so excited.  Sand paintings from Lesotho.  Acrylics from a friend of my host family in Hungary.  My own attempts at artwork from elementary and high school. 

So while I'm angry at myself for shipping so much, frustrated by the small housing at post (a long story), overwhelmed by all there is to do and unpack, I'm excited.  And I have motivation to keep plugging away at it - the drawer where I'm storing my Christmas presents sent back with me by my family is currently blocked by boxes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oops, My Bad.

My cats have been driving me crazy tonight.  Jumping on counters, jumping on the table, jumping on the stove (when it was on), jumping on the refrigerator, jumping on me and the computer.  Whining.  Crying.  Knocking over their full water bowls.  Getting into cabinets.  Biting me.  Shredding all paper in sight.  Lather, rinse, repeat. 

It didn't help that now two of my three A/C units in the kitchen/living room are not working and it's hotter than blazes in there (I really should call someone; the first one being broken didn't bother me so much...).  So I was grumpy.  And spent most of the evening yelling at them, throwing them off of me, squirting them with water (my training tool, not a medieval punishment, I promise), and just generally being disagreeable. I chalked their behavior up to punishing me for leaving for so long.  Or perhaps for leaving to go to work today.  They're cats, who knows.

Then I went to make sure their room was all set for the night.  And realized they were out of food.  Now, they had food when I left this morning, so they weren't starving.  But it still made me feel bad.  I filled their bowls, and they immediately settled down and starting gobbling up their Meow Mix.  They're quiet now.  I feel like a bad pet owner. 

Ask me if I still feel this way at 4am when they sense impending daylight (in several hours) and start meowing outside my door for their morning wet food allowance. 

I promise never to take the internet for granted again. Or at least until the next time I lose home internet.

(Written Monday night... Didn't have home internet until a few minutes ago.  Long story...)

Fair warning:  this blog is a random collection of thoughts.  I'm exhausted and jet-lagged, a dangerous combination.

I arrived home in Jeddah at 11:45 last night, after 28 hours of travel.  My very good friend L, who is from the same town as me and now lives in London, was able to get on the same flight to Heathrow as me.  So we traveled down to Boston, hung out in Logan, and then flew to London together.  That made the first 13 hours of travel a whole lot more fun!  Plus we wrangled two seats next to each other, despite the best efforts of the surly and passive-agressive American Airlines check-in agent.  About halfway through the flight we tried to figure out the last time we'd flown together.  Even though we travel together as much as possible, we usually drive or meet somewhere.  We realized it was back in 1995, when we traveled to France for three weeks for a twinning inauguration between our town and one in southern France.  Accompanied by two other close friends and three adult chaperones, we had the time of our lives on that trip!  That was actually the first flight for both of us as well as our first overseas experience.  We both got hooked.  L has lived on several continents and traveled widely, just like me.  Our friendship has endured for two decades, and we're always dreaming of our next trip.  (The current shortlist:  Morocco, India, Turkey.)

I had a relatively short layover in Heathrow (3.5 hours).  That may sound like a long time, but it can take up to two hours to transfer terminals there, so you just never know.  Luckily I had plenty of time after clearing security and airline check-in, so I had a hearty breakfast (including pork, of course) and was able to spend an inordinate amount of time (and money) at Harrod's.  More on that later.  Anyway, the next flight went smoothly, and we landed in Jeddah only a few minutes late.  I breezed through immigration and customs (thanks to our wonderful expeditor team) and was on my way home.  My driver looked at my three suitcases and just shook his head and laughed.  So, I did a little shopping in the U.S.  Mostly for foodstuffs I have a hard time getting here.  Salad dressings.  Jams.  Seasonings.  Clotted cream.  You get the idea.  I weighed my options a few days before leaving home and decided it would be about the same price to ship my purchases as to buy another suitcase and pay the extra baggage fee.  I opted for the get-it-quicker option.  And just now, when I unpacked, everything came through intact!

Ever since Hattie's untimely and tragic death, I've been overly paranoid about leaving my cats.  Even though my housekeeper comes by every day and checks in on them (she's amazing like that), I still can't help but worry.  It has nothing to do with the level of care they're getting (stupendous) but with lingering emotions from the trauma of losing Hattie the way I did.  It was really only the last few days of my holiday that I realized that the worry was weighing on me, when I started having nightmares about coming home and finding them dead.  So even though I rationally knew they were fine, I didn't really relax until I walked through the door and saw them healthy and happy.  Jeddah's airport continues to be a difficult place for me to be because of the memories of Hattie's ordeal.  And I spend a lot of time there for my job, which both helps to normalize the place and serves as a constant reminder of what happened.  It's an interesting emotional roller coaster.  I often sleep poorly after a trip to the airport.  Time heals, though, and it's getting better.  And the two furballs currently curled up on either side of me help too.

I went to sleep last night thinking about how to rearrange the furniture in the guest bedroom so as to maximize space.  This morning I walked in the room to look at the dimensions and found that my housekeeper had already moved the furniture into the exact configuration I'd been thinking about.  We never talked about this.  I think she can read my mind :-).

And now back to Harrod's.  I knew when I planned this trip home that I would be spending Christmas away from my family for the first time ever.  So while I soaked up family and holiday spirit while home, I also apparently decided that Christmas was going to come to me.  I ordered my first artificial tree (which may not make it here until after Christmas) and several LED candelabras, bought decorations for my office (glittery penguins, a camel, and a flamingo - because they're pretty), ordered a fruitcake and familiar Christmas goodies, and bought traditional mince pies at Harrod's.  I didn't expect the sweets to arrive so soon, but I picked up my fruitcake this afternoon.  It's in the freezer; I'll take it out when I'm needing a holiday pick-me-up in a few weeks. 

That's my random blog post of the day.  I've had a VERY busy and somewhat stressful week, although fruitful in many ways as well.  My UAB and the first of my HHE shipments are being delivered tomorrow, insha'allah.  Of course this isn't the fun HHE shipment but rather the random one from storage.  But I do get to see what has been in storage for up to 10 years...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Radiation and Groping and Blurry Groins, Oh My!

Due to the nature of my job and lifestyle, I travel frequently.  Which means spending a lot of time in airports and on planes.  So I've been observing the growing hubbub about airport body scans and enhanced pat downs with curiosity and horror.  So I'm going to vent in the following paragraphs.  It's my blog, after all. 

My mother said something the other day that made a whole lot of sense.  She noted that people COULD complain about so much having to do with airline travel, but they are choosing to complain about the one thing that is being done FOR them.  Look at it this way:  we now pay for checked baggage, food and drinks, leg room, early boarding, pillows, head phones, and all manner of other things we used to get for free when we flew.  We put up with surly flight attendants, even surlier fellow passengers, and seats that are less comfortable than those in a doctor's waiting room.  All of these issues deserve complaining about, and we've seen some as changes have been instituted.  But the complaints and public outrage about full-body scanners and enhanced pat downs, which are there to keep us safe, is  way, way out of proportion, in my opinion.  This is not being done to us so much as for us.  There's a big difference.

I was lucky enough not to lose loved ones on 9/11, but I watched the Pentagon burn from my college campus, encountered tanks on the street corners in Georgetown, and mourned along with the entire nation.  And maybe it's just because I've been living in Saudi Arabia, where the media has been heavily covering the recent toner cartridge bombs, but I feel we came very very close to another horrific tragedy just a few weeks ago.  I wonder if our collective memories don't extend back to last year and the underwear bomber?  Is that why we're so up in arms about the implementation of scanners and pat downs?  Are we focused on cargo and checked baggage these days and don't recall last year?

I agree, there are definitely concerns about the technology and/or radiation of the scanners and about the invasiveness of pat downs.  And I think those who simplify the issue by saying, "if you don't like it, don't fly," aren't acknowledging the very real concerns of millions of people.  But I do think we need to work with TSA to find solutions rather than trying to disrupt travel by opting for pat downs.  I am glad National Opt-Out Day wasn't a success (for the sake of so many holiday travelers), and I laughed when I read accounts such as, "That's it? That's all there is to it? Why is the media making such a big deal? I've received more invasive pat downs just going to a rock concert." 

When it comes right down to it, enhanced pat downs need to occur privately and preserve as much dignity as possible for both parties.  And we need to address radiation and privacy concerns for full body scanners.  But TSA has been tasked with keeping air travel safe, and it's a daunting task, and they are not implementing these measures for fun, no matter what the critics may say.  And speaking as someone who flies a lot, I want my fellow passengers adequately screened.  I want to be able to relax.  In my teeny, tiny seat.  With a teeny, tiny soda.  Under my own blanket and resting my head on my own pillow, with my own headphones.  With no leg room.  With a crying toddler in the row in front of me.  And in back of me.  With an inedible meal on my tray that doesn't lie flat because the person in front of me is reclining their seat.  With flight attendants who wake me up frequently with long advertisements about credit cards over the PA system.  And a fellow passenger in the window seat next to me who insists on getting up every five minutes but refuses to switch seats.  And $200 poorer because I checked bags.  And, most probably, on an American carrier on a trans-Atlantic flight that doesn't have in-seat entertainment...  Can you tell I'm really looking forward to twenty-seven hours of travel this weekend?  But, and it must be said, going through security at Logan and Heathrow is the least of my concerns.  Bring on the screening!

*The blurry groins reference in the blog title comes from Dave Barry's airport security experience

Happy Thanksgiving! The post in which I proclaim thankfulness...

Perhaps it's the massive amount of turkey and its accoutrements consumed today, but I am suffering a bit of writer's block right now.  Or perhaps it's the fact that I just spent nine hours wrangling my four year-old nephew, which, when he's consumed sugar, as he did today, can exhaust six adults.  Which it did.  In any event, I'm not in a creative enough state to tackle Just US's great roundup topic this week - "I'm Thankful I've Learned."  So, I'm going to do the ubiquitous "I'm Thankful For..." post instead.  Bear with me.

I am of course incredibly thankful for my phenomenal family and friends, who make it all worthwhile.  I'm thankful for my nieces and nephews, who remind me what it's like to be a kid again.  (Even though one of them is perilously close to being an adult, which makes me feel old.)  I'm thankful for my job, which has changed my life in so many wonderful ways.  I am thankful for my colleagues, near and far, who make the journey far more interesting and form the world's greatest support group and travel network.  I'm thankful for technology, which allows me to stay close with all of the above, even when I'm thousands of miles away.  I'm thankful for the pets in my life - cats, dogs, and even my brother's rabbit.  I'm thankful to have had seven wonderful years with my faithful friend Hattie, who I still think about and miss every single day.  (And now that I'm tearing up, let's change the tone a bit.)

I'm thankful for APO and pouch, which allow me to be a shameless American consumer and enjoy online Black Friday deals.  Come to think of it, I'm thankful I have no compulsion to venture out to the stores at 4am on Black Friday.  (More power to those that do; I just get my crazy in different ways.)  On this subject, I am incredibly thankful for  In so many ways.  There are millions of other things for which I'm thankful, but writer's block strikes again. 

And it's worth saying again - my family, friends, and colleagues are truly amazing.  Wishing all of you as wonderful a Thanksgiving as I was able to enjoy at home in NH today, surrounded by loved ones. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Viva la Vice: A Tale of Depraved Indulgence

There exists in Saudi Arabia a government body named the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.  The famed religious police, or mutawwain, operate under the auspices of this committee.  I have been lucky enough not to encounter any mutawwain thus far, but they are a fact of life in KSA.  I actually really like the English translation of the committee's name, because who's not for the promotion of virtue?  Granted my idea of vice is very different than theirs, and I tend to be pretty liberal in my tolerance of the (legal) vices of others.  I knew that I'd encounter limits on certain freedoms in KSA, especially as a woman.  But I find it's not the restrictions I worried about at first.  Being back in the U.S. for a short break has me contemplating the way I feel about some of these said restrictions. 

I don't drink, so the official ban on alcohol doesn't bother me in the least.  I rarely wear the abaya anymore; I think I've worn it once (and even then unbuttoned) since the beginning of October.  There's only been one event I couldn't go to because of my gender (and it was something I wasn't particularly interested in anyway).  But what I really miss the most?  Bacon.  And driving. 

Who knew bacon would turn out to be one of my biggest vices?!  Certainly not me.  And since I can occasionally get bacon and other pork products through special circumstances, it's not like I'm completely cut off.  It's more the idea of bacon, if that makes sense.  Pork products are the butt of many jokes among my friends, pun intended.  It doesn't help that I have a lot of friends serving in Muslim countries who frequently post about their own bacon withdrawal or their convoluted ways of obtaining it on Facebook.  It's a classic case of wanting what we can't have, and the constant conversation keeps it at the forefront of our minds.  One friend, who shall remain nameless, convinced herself that her overdue baby wasn't coming out because she was feeding it a steady diet of bacon, having found her underground supplier.  She tried quitting cold turkey.  I think she lasted 12 hours.  Part of that was overnight.  (Baby has since been born and seems not to have been influenced one way or the other by pork products.) 

So what was the first thing I ate when I left KSA?  Pork sausages in Heathrow, of course.  I got really upset one day last week when the ham sandwich I'd ordered turned out to have turkey instead.  And while I don't have pork with every meal, I at least consider it a whole lot more than I normally would.  I thought this might just be me until I had breakfast last week with a high school classmate who is currently teaching in Saudi.  We're both back for Thanksgiving and met to catch up.  And we both ordered something with bacon.  She told me that she is trying strategically to work pork into most meals.  I started laughing and said I knew exactly what she meant.  So it's not just me. 

Driving is a whole other thing.  I knew I would miss this.  I love driving.  A lot.  A lot lot.  But more than driving, I love getting into a car and losing myself in the act of driving.  It's a time when I can either think hard about things or not think at all.  I love listening to the radio, music, or books.  It's a time to be by myself, to explore my surroundings, to just be.  And while no sane person would wish to drive in Saudi (there are no rules of the road but lots of senses of entitlement), I do.  Because it's less about the physical act of driving than about going places independently.  As it is, I have to call motorpool and plan ahead.  And then plan for how long I'll be wherever.  Spontaneity is seriously restricted.  And the other thing is never being alone in the car, so I lose that bubble.  And even though our drivers are great and very accommodating and friendly and immensely helpful, I wish I wasn't totally reliant on them. 

It wasn't until last night, when I ran errands for several hours by myself, that all of these feelings coalesced quite clearly.  I was alone with a car, with no specific time I had to bring it back (gotta love sharing vehicles), with nobody needing to know where I'd be at what time.  It was freeing.  It's interesting, because I hadn't felt this loss of independence so acutely in Saudi.  I'd felt it to some extent, but that feeling of freedom let me know what I was missing all along.  So I'm not sure what I'll do with this new realization, but I am coming to realize that this is the hardest part of culture shock for me. 

I almost had to sit down in the grocery store.  Not only was I there by myself, with my own car, but there was pork and alcohol for sale.  I had to stop myself from thinking "haraam!"  I had to laugh.  Tomorrow I'm going to a movie theater.  To see a film about magic.  Now if that isn't haraam, I don't know what is :-).  Viva la vice while I can, I guess!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ebates: A Testimonial

And now, a break from your regularly-scheduled, commercial-free programming.  

I usually don't advertise on this blog, but with the holiday season I want to make sure everyone knows about Ebates.  Basically, you go to the Ebates homepage, choose your online retailer, and click the link to the retailer's site.  Then, you get a percentage cash back on whatever you purchase at said site, automatically.  The percentages  usually range from 2-10% with special deals all the time.  Plus Ebates collects and displays all the free shipping and discount coupons for online retailers, so I find I do much less research before purchasing.  The only major online retailer I use frequently that isn't an Ebates participant is Amazon.  But just about everything else is represented.  (If you put items in a shopping cart but then close your browser prior to purchasing, you don't get the points.  So click through the Ebates site every time you intend to purchase.)  I have been using this for less than six months and already have gotten about $110 cash back, just on normal purchases.  Right into Paypal, or via check!  At first I thought it would be a pain to click through Ebates every time, but it's an easy site, and it's worth the extra two clicks. 

So, here's my advertisement.  If you are a new customer and sign up using THIS LINK, you and I both get $5 bonuses on your first purchase.  That simple.  So, particularly for those of you overseas, it's well worth signing up.  Then you can start referring people for more bonuses.  Plus, you don't have to get any annoying emails from them if you don't want.  Though I allow about one a week to see if anyone is doing double cash back or anything fun.

(I am not receiving anything from this personal endorsement, aside from the $5 referral bonus everyone gets.  I just truly think it's a worthwhile site.)

So, click here!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Phenomenal Lyle Lovett

Being at home in the US this week has allowed me the time and quick internet to catch up on all my favorite blogs.  And to realize how little I've been posting lately.  Need to be better about this.  I've posted a couple things already (not Cairo yet, it's still hanging over my head...) but want to get caught up from last weekend. 

One of the things I miss most about being in KSA is the lack of cultural outlets.  No movie theaters, concerts, theater, etc., unless we put it on.  I think there are some underground-ish venues and performances, but it's not quite the scale I was used to in DC.  Or even in NH, where I live near Dartmouth and have access to all the great artists who come to Hanover.  Last year in DC I went to see LOTS of musicals, concerts,  sporting events, and various shows, including some of my favorite performing artists.  So there's some cultural shock this year.  Pun intended.  So when I knew I was coming home, I made a short list in my head of who I wanted to see and started researching shows.  Dartmouth wasn't featuring anything I'm dying to see, nor were the local opera houses.  And none of my favorite bands would be nearby.  So I started thinking.  If I could see anyone, who would it be.  And the answer was easy.  Very easy.

Lyle Lovett.

Most people aren't too familiar with Lyle Lovett, except perhaps his slightly wild hair and slightly wilder marriage to Julia Roberts.  They know of him, but they don't know his work.  Which is a shame.  Because Lyle Lovett is one of the most talented songwriters and singers of all time.  His lyrics are pure genius, his genres diverse, and he's a fabulous entertainer.  I grew up listening to Lyle Lovett, and, even now, he's one of the few artists my brothers and parents and I will ALL listen to without complaints.  I have all his albums and follow his career closely.  I started going to see him in college and do so as often as I can.  Which is easy when I'm in the US since he tours much of the year.  I last saw him in November 09 in DC, right after his latest album came out.  Even if you're a skeptic, go see Lyle Lovett and His Large Band in concert.  This touring group usually has 10-15 members, on all types of instruments and vocals.  Some have been recording and touring with him for decades, and some are newer.  But they're all phenomenal musicians and/or singers.  Without exception.  LL has a way of arranging his songs to best fit the musicians/vocalists he has with him, and his repertoire is large and diverse enough to accommodate this.  As a result, every concert is phenomenal.  Hands down.  Not to mention he's got a fantastic, dry sense of humor and amazing stage presence.  He has a way of making a large concert hall seem like an intimate venue.  His narrative and conversations with the audience throughout his shows keep people coming back year after year. 

Enough gushing.  So I looked on his website, and, sure enough, he was touring.  But nowhere near NH while I'd be home.  So I started thinking about traveling to see him.  And then I started thinking of taking someone with me.  And then I remembered my mother's birthday was coming up.  So I started appraising his concert venues for their ease/cost of getting to and from.  One venue won because he was performing in the same place two nights in a row.  Near an easily-accessible airport.  And that's how I chose Fort Worth, TX.  I had my mom take a day off from work before I told her why and asked my dad if he wanted to come too.  He said no, because it involved flying.  Which he doesn't do.  But Mom was game, as usual.  She and I like crazy travel adventures on a whim.  So I booked the concert tickets.  And the flight.  And the hotel.  And the rental car.  And started getting really excited and exclusively listening to Lyle on my iPod, as I do before every concert.  Another bonus?  This would be my first trip to Texas.  A travesty, I know. 

So I got home last Wednesday night.  Mom and I left early Saturday morning.  Very early.  Especially for her, since she and my dad had gone to see a concert the night before, and she only ended up with two hours of sleep.  I slept on the 3 hour bus ride to Boston.  She watched the movie.  We both slept on the two flights.  We landed at DFW, got our rental car, eventually found our hotel (who knew there were two Hyatt Places within a mile of each other!?), and rested briefly.  We drove in early to Fort Worth and parked downtown with the intention of finding a place to eat.  Which was more difficult than we imagined, since apparently November 13 in Fort Worth was a BUSY night.  Between the concert and a film festival and something else, downtown was buzzing.  And beautiful.  We didn't mind walking around looking for a restaurant with a decent wait list.  We settled on a nice Tex-Mex place and had a delicious dinner, including my second favorite enchiladas of all time.  (But keep in mind my standards are pretty low/quirky; the first best are in Cape Town.)

One of the bonuses about this concert series (aside from being in Lyle's home state) is that the performance hall is phenomenal.  The Bass Performance Hall in downtown Forth Worth is about 12 years old and considered one of the 10 best in the world.  I can see why.  Beautiful architecture, very inviting space, the hall itself is gorgeous, and the acoustics are amazing.  I rate it highly. 

Concert number 1 was phenomenal, for lack of a different word in this blog.  I expected nothing less.  I tapped my toes and my fingers and laughed and smiled the whole way through, as did Mom.  I will spare you the details, because I could gush for paragraphs.

The next day we slept in and had breakfast at IHOP, one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  We headed into Fort Worth and down to a top tourist attraction, the Fort Worth Stockyards.  We had no expectations and were pleasantly surprised.  Sure parts of it were touristy, but there was some authenticity as well (a live cattle auction!).  And who doesn't like pretending to be a cowgirl for a day?  The highlight of the day was the cattle drive.  Twice a day cowboys and cowgirls drive the Fort Worth Herd of longhorns around the Stockyards.  My only previous experience with a cattle drive was the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  There's no comparison.  This 'drive' could more accurately be described as a saunter.  Which was great, it gave me time to snap photos and video and enjoy the scene.  But it was still slightly underwhelming. 

A day of shopping and sightseeing complete, we drove back into town to find a restaurant.  And drove and drove.  Nothing sounded good.  We checked a few menus but didn't find anything that struck our fancy.  So finally we settled on a nice BBQ place where we could get a decent steak.  We crossed the road, and just then my mother grabbed my arm and said, "Lyle Lovett," in an eerily calm and steady voice.   I looked up, expecting to see a concert poster.  Instead, right in front of me, was Lyle Lovett and his girlfriend April Kimble.  O.  M.  G.  I could have died.  I was rendered speechless.  They were in a bit of a hurry (to get to a private barbecue dinner I found out later), but he politely thanked my mother when she told him how much we enjoyed last night's concert and that we were coming back again tonight.  And as he walked away I called after him, "we came all the way from New Hampshire just to see you!"  He looked back, smiled, and doffed his hat.  Ten gallon of course.  And then they walked off into the sunset.  Or into Sundance Square.  Same thing.  Wow.  But wow.  There's a fine balance of being star struck and wanting an autograph and photo and wanting to let the poor guy walk down the street without being accosted by crazy ladies.  I think we stayed pretty centered, no matter how much we wanted to veer into crazy stalker fan. 

Dinner was good (how can you go wrong with fried okra, filet, and pecan pie?), but I was just completely star struck.  I started hoping for a shout out during the concert.  He occasionally does that sort of thing.  The concert was as amazing, if not better, than the first.  The set was slightly different, including singing about 1/3 different songs.  No shout out.  But it was still positively awesome.  Phenomenal even.  And the fourteen hour travel day the next day was worth it too.  (Fifty minute weather delay in Charlotte meant missing our bus in Boston by 5 minutes and having to wait an extra two hours.)

So the moral of this blog is, I love Lyle Lovett.  And His Large Band.  And I am going to make a tradition out of traveling someplace new every year or so to see one of his concerts.  (My secret fantasy is to recruit him for a State Dept overseas tour...  If anyone has any suggestions as to how to make this a reality, I'm all ears.)  He is, in a word, phenomenal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No More Houseguests!!

In a previous post, I alluded to some unwelcome household guests.  The good news is that they're gone.  The bad news?  It took significantly longer than it was supposed to, right in the middle of an incredibly hectic and stressful week.  A week later, I am able to look back on it without my heart rate going through the roof.  And so here's the story, along with some lion cat photos.

The plan was simple.  I would pack all of my belongings into plastic bags and then boxes.  They would be removed and put into a locked vehicle in full sun for a full day, enough to kill any lingering bugs after washing and drying fabrics at high heats.  Meanwhile, the offending soft furniture would be removed, the apartment fumigated, and, several hours later, the new furniture and all my belongings brought in.  I arranged to take the cats to the vets for a day of grooming.  I rearranged my schedule to be at home for the morning and evening moving times.  I did all the packing. 

And everything went smoothly at first.  Cats to groomer, check.  Belongings moved into truck, check.  Icky furniture removed, check.  And then we found out that the four hour fumigation treatment would actually be forty-eight hours.  Cue nervous breakdown.  No place to sleep.  No suitcase of belongings for two days (everything spread out across boxes).  No provisions for the cats.  And, worst of all, no time to do laundry and pack for my trip home just a few hours after being allowed to move back home.  Deep breath in, deep breath out.

I could write a long post on the 48 hours of drama, but the short story is that everything worked out.  Funds were mysteriously found to pay for two nights in a hotel after I started making faces at the suggestion I sleep on the gurney in the med unit.  Several boxes were delivered to my office so I could cobble together a few outfits and necessities for the hotel stay.  The vet agreed to board the cats, but only after I made a trip there to pay a 2000 riyal deposit ($533), even though the final bill would be a whopping 150 riyals ($40).  My colleagues were, as always, helpful and accommodating.  And I was able to move back in at the scheduled time on Tuesday (imagine that!), after picking up the newly groomed cats.  And the warehouse guys did an impeccable and quick job of moving my stuff back in.  I managed to get the laundry done and pack my bags, as well as unpack most of my belongings.  And let me tell you, my new bed is soooo much better.  Before I had a king-sized bed.  Which sounds nice.  Except the mattress was equivalently comfortable to a toddler bed mattress (complete with crinkly plasticky covering).  And had no box spring, just resting on a wooden platform.  So now I have a relatively comfortable queen mattress and box spring with a decent headboard.  Best of all, I can use my own linens.  Which should hopefully arrive when I get back to Saudi in a few weeks. 

The new couch and arm chairs and worlds better than my old couches.  These new ones are just FS-standard Drexel couches, but they are at least comfortable and better-looking than my brown burlap monstrosities.  Now I just need to get rid of the drapes.  Yellow, really? 

But what really kept me laughing and in good spirits all day Tuesday was Griffin.  I'd asked the groomer to just trim his long hair.  This was interpreted as "give him a lion cut."  Don't get me wrong, I think the lion cut is hilarious.  But that's the problem.  I can't stop laughing at cats with it.  Which can be scarring.  Griffin is very proud of himself and is soft.  But he's hysterically funny to look at.  See photos below.  I started using Picasa and am experimenting with photo collages.  The one below contains a few pre-grooming cat photos, pics of my moving chaos (along with glimpses of the ugly brown couches), and after pics of the furniture and cats. 

Turkey Day Travel

Sara at Wife-Mommy-Woman is hosting this week's Blog Roundup on one of my favorite topics - Thanksgiving travel. 

Late November is perhaps the time of year when, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I start getting pangs of homesickness.  So much so that I've only spent three and a half Thanksgivings away from my immediate family.  My freshman year in college, I went to my aunt and uncle's house in VA for a wonderful weekend with family and friends and food.  My junior year in college, I spent Thanksgiving in a literature class at the Sofitel Hotel in Khon Kaen, Thailand.  We didn't get classes canceled, but we did have class while eating a buffet lunch that included turkey.  Three years ago I loaded my suitcases full of pumpkin pie filling, french fried onions, cream of mushroom soup, and cranberry sauce and flew to Oxford, England, where one of my best friends and I made a traditional American turkey dinner for her flatmates and classmates.  Last year was the half year. 

I was living in DC and was all set to spend Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle's house again, with most of the extended family.  Which is always a fun time.  Except that I knew that all three of my brothers and all the assorted nieces/nephews would be gathering at home in NH, for the first time in forever.  I hadn't planned to go home because missing work on the Friday after would mean losing per diem for that day, and I didn't want to deal with that.  But Wednesday morning of Thanksgiving week, I woke up feeling like I wanted to go home.  So I started thinking.  I decided it would be rude to miss Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family in VA (I really wanted to see all the cousins et al), but since my brothers wouldn't all be there until Friday, I might be able to do both.  What's a 500 mile drive each way when it's holidays at home??  So, feeling a bit crazy, I called my above-mentioned friend (also living in DC and from the same home town), and she agreed to join me.  We planned to leave after dinner on Thursday, drive through the night, and then head back Sunday.  Crazy, indeed.  The best part?  We didn't tell our families.  I had a really hard time not telling my parents (especially as I tried to figure out where everyone was sleeping while on the phone with my mom), but I managed. 

Thursday morning I packed everything up before heading over to my aunt and uncle's.  Hattie got really worried when I pulled out suitcases, thinking she'd be left behind, so I left the suitcases in the apartment while I went to VA.  Thanksgiving was, as always, a lot of fun.  When all the aunts and uncles and cousins and Grandma get together, we tend to reminisce and laugh hysterically most of the time.  Lots of good senses of humor.  I felt badly leaving so soon after a delicious dinner, but everyone understood.  (They're used to my crazy ideas by now, but I promised to email when I got home to let them know I made it safely.)  A quick stop at home to pick up the luggage and Hattie, a quick stop in MD to pick up L, and we were off!  We left about 8:30 pm and made great time almost all the way.  The only traffic we encountered was getting onto the GW Bridge in NYC.  We switched off driving and caffeinated well and reached our hometown at about 4:30am.  We made awesome time, in other words.

I dropped L off at her house (making sure she made it inside before I took off, as we weren't sure the doors would be open) and headed home.  My plan was to bed down in the kids' room (some of the only open space at that time of night).  About an hour later, my six year-old niece woke up and found me on the floor next to her.  She gave me a big hug and then ran into my brother's room, where my three year-old nephew had snuck into at some point during the night, yelling "Aunt Sadie's here!"  My brother of course didn't believe her and did a double take when I popped my head around the door.  My nephew woke up at about that point, so I got another big hug and then went into the living room to watch cartoons with the kids.  I tried to nap in a chair, but that was futile.  After another hour, my father woke up.  He walked downstairs, saw me, and smiled brightly.  Cue another big hug.  My mother woke up a bit later.  I was in the kitchen with my brothers and the kids, and Mom was still a bit sleepy.  She gave everyone good morning hugs and kisses and only noticed me as she went to hug me and realized I technically shouldn't be there.  The surprise visit home was a huge success - the surprised looks on everyone's faces was well worth the long drive and lack of sleep. 

I napped a little bit, had another round of hugs when my older brother and oldest nephew arrived a bit later and had a great day hanging out.  Thanksgiving is always around birthdays - my mom's and my nephew's - so that was another impetus to go home.  My nephew's third birthday was that day, so we had a fun family dinner and party for him that night, complete with turkey cupcakes!  Hattie was happy to be home as well, enjoying being able to go outside without a leash and chaperone, and she lapped up the extra attention.  She was a phenomenal car traveler - just happy to be going somewhere with me.  We would stop every few hours for her to relieve herself and stretch, but she was always content just to sleep in her bed in the backseat. 

Saturday I went into town to visit friends and colleagues, making my usual rounds.  Lots more surprised faces and hugs.  All around, a perfect November weekend in NH.  L and I started back to DC early on Sunday, taking a slightly circuitous route through NJ so as to miss some of the traffic on I-95.  This allowed us to stop at my favorite Italian deli and bakery in Raritan to get sandwiches and cannolis!  We of course hit traffic on 95 from the MD border to 495, but it was doable.  We just turned on the Christmas music and reveled in our weekend.  L's family had been as surprised and happy as mine, and she made the family/friends rounds all weekend as well. 

So this year I of course thought about surprising the family again, but the logistics were a little more complicated.  Things like needing a ride home from the airport and having a bed for three weeks.  That sort of thing.  So I made plans early, got decent flights at a decent price, and secured almost three weeks off with only six days of work missed by stringing together lots of Saudi and U.S. holidays.  I got home late last Wednesday night and have been enjoying the cooler weather and family scene.  My mom and I went to Texas this past weekend (blog post on that coming), and now I'm looking forward to a busy couple of weeks with lots of family, friends, and food :-).  So for me, more often than not, traveling for Thanksgiving is well worth the expense and hassle.  Whether from 500 or 6,000 miles away.  (We'll see if I'm still saying that the 27th-28th as I travel back to Saudi with a bajillion other holiday travelers...)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

UAB (for lack of a clever title)

Since I don't blog about work here and these days my life is all work all the time, I haven't had a lot of meaningful input for blogs.  I know I still owe a Cairo blog.  It may or may not happen, realistically.  I'm on vacation starting after next week, so we'll see how bored I get.  My work event for tonight was canceled, and I'm about done repacking (more on that later on), and dinner was easy to procure (shwarma from the on-compound restaurant), so I have a little bit of extra time before bed.  So I'll participate in this week's State Department Blog Round-Up, the theme of which is "what I wished I packed in my UAB."

Honestly, I don't know.  Because I don't yet have my UAB.  For a myriad of reasons. 

I arrived in country almost three months ago.  It took a month to get my residency permit, which was the first step before I could apply for my customs exemption.  Which I didn't do right away.  Because.  Shortly after moving into my permanent housing, I discovered that I was not moving into an empty place.  Oh no.  I won't go into the sordid details, but it became painfully clear (literally) that the media-darling pests of the moment in the US are resident in my apartment.  Ew.  It's a horrifically long story, but I am still waiting for a solution.  It has not been the greatest two+ months.  But next week my apartment and all of my belongings will be sanitized, all soft furniture (including mattresses) will be replaced, and hopefully my roommates will be history.  Meanwhile all of my belongings that have been heat-treated are in bags inside boxes so they stay pest-free, and the remaining belongings are awaiting heat treatment.  So I am basically completely packed up, except for a few clothes and necessities. 

In the middle of all this, my UAB arrived.  I heard last week that it had cleared customs and is ready for delivery, along with half of my HHE (but the boring half, not the fun half with my kitchen stuff, books, and decorations).  I refuse to have it delivered until my apartment is sanitized, for obvious reasons.  So while it should have only been two months without UAB, it'll be three+.  Add to that the fact I'm going on vacation right after the apartment gets sanitized, so I really won't have my UAB until the end of the month. 

What have I missed the most, and what am I glad is arriving in my UAB soon, though?  That's easy!  My bedding - down comforter, comfy pillows, high TC sheets and duvet cover.  Hangers!  (My housekeeper leaves me a note every time she comes that I need more hangers.  But I have TONS coming and can't justify buying more right now.)  I think my iPod sound system is in there; if not, I should have put that in!  I think I threw in enough toiletries to get me through until HHE arrives; would do that again.  A few essential kitchen gadgets.  Really important photos in frames, ones I wanted right away.  A few decorative items to make the place feel like home.  I've resisted looking at my pack-out list to see what else, because I want it to be like Christmas when it finally gets here. 

All of the things I've ordered since arrival are sitting in boxes in my office; I don't dare bring anything else home until the place is clean and pest-free.  Those are things like throw pillows, a couple pairs of shoes, another comforter I bought on sale (I love comfy bedding), a knife set, a couple of board games, clothes, etc.  Plus my gorgeous new mosaic mirror (featured on our Consulate Facebook page, if you want to take a look) and some hand-woven baskets. 

I actually think I did a pretty good job of organizing my UAB.  It weighed in at 214 pounds without the packing materials - for the first time in my life I estimated packing correctly!  It's got some awesome stuff in it.  So I look forward to receiving it.  And not having roommates.  One more week.  I hope.  I really really hope.