Saturday, October 22, 2016

A day at the beach

In addition to the Embassy in Riyadh, the United States has two consulates in Saudi Arabia.  One is in the oil rich Eastern Province on the Persian Gulf in a city named Dharan.  The second is in the historical and commercial city of Jeddah, located on the Red Sea.  Jeddah is a sea port and the closest major city to the pilgrimage cities of Medina and Mecca.  Due to a staff shortage in the Consular Section in Jeddah, I volunteered to spend two weeks there in October helping them out.  Sara and Jack decided to join me.

The worst thing about Jeddah is how effing humid it is.  When we got off the plane we started sweating immediately.  As hot as it is in Riyadh, you don't sweat all that much unless you spend significant time in the sun.  Not in Jeddah - just boiling hot.

The best part about Jeddah is the sea.  The coast line is pretty and expansive.  They have an aquarium that Jack and Sara went to.  They have the world's largest fountain (take that Fountain Hills, AZ) and, of course, they have beaches.  The first question any Westerner asks about going to the beach in Saudi Arabia is "do women have to wear burkinis?"  The answer depends on what beach you are going to.  We passed by a few public beaches and we saw few women on the beach and the women we saw were just wearing regular burkas in the water.

But the real highlight in Jeddah are the private beaches.  These beaches are secluded, private, beaches that only admit foreigners (no Saudis allowed).  They allow western beach wear for both men and women.  In addition to the pristine white sand beach and the ocean, they had beach chairs, a lawn for sports, a nice pool, a bar (still no booze) and a restaurant.  You had to pay about $40/adult to get in, but the price was totally worth it.  We went with another family that I knew from language training who are posted in Jeddah and we had a great time.

* As an aside, we had a lost in translation experience on our beach day.  We wanted to have a place that Jack could nap while we were at the beach, so I booked a (not-cheap) room at the hotel attached to the club -- or so I thought.  The hotel I booked was a different hotel a mile away with a similar sounding name.  This hotel was a disaster - it was dirty, there were no towels, no crib, our neighbors were loud with kids screaming outside until 2 (I'm so old).  The hotel was technically on the beach, but this beach dirty and the water had trash in it.  Not what I thought I was getting when I booked the hotel.
World's tallest water fountain

Sunset at the private beach club

Our impromptu "crib" when the hotel didn't have one

This was not the nice beach

Friday, September 16, 2016

It's always been for my Mom

Despite my New Year's goal to write in this blog more frequently, I have failed miserably.  Part of it is having a baby at home, part of it is questions about how public I want my life to be in Saudi Arabia, but mostly it has been because Mom died this summer.  She died suddenly at home from a heart attack.  She died in my dad's arms.  I was at FSI when I found out.  It was a week before my Arabic test and 8 days before we were supposed to have a big family reunion.  It sucked.

Since then, I haven't been able to blog, not because I haven't had things to say (Passing my Arabic test, the pack-out from hell, Saudi Arabia is fascinating!), but because I didn't know how to start writing again.  How do I write anything about this summer without talking about the massive hole in my heart and my soul?  I didn't (don't) want to write publicly about her death.  But skipping over it and pretending it didn't happen wasn't an option either.  So every time I thought about writing something, I had this giant decision to make - talk about Mom's death (and it's impact on every

thing, every moment this summer) or skip over it on the blog.  This choice blocked anything else I wanted to write.  This post is my feeble attempt to address the issue.

And that brings me back to writing this blog.  It sprung from letters I wrote home when I was a high school exchange student in Italy.  By the time I was a college exchange student, I had upgraded to an email list serve.  When blogs started to gain popularity I switched formats again and I started this blog in 2010 just before I started A-100.  Whenever I wrote, I always knew that whatever I wrote, Mom would read it.  She was my audience.  Others could and did read what I wrote, but I always wrote with her in mind.  If I wasn't willing to tell my mother a story, I knew I shouldn't blog about it.  And my Mom was a great audience.  She would always comment to me (either online or on the phone) about what I wrote.  She loved my stories.  I always assumed that at least 80% of her love for my stories was because I was her son and maybe 20% was the writing or the story.  I've always been okay with that.

Right now, I don't know if I will keep blogging or not.  For 6 years, blogging has brought me joy. Today, it only brings me sadness.

I miss you Mom, I love you the most.
Thanksgiving in San Antonio
Drinking beers at the British High in Belize
Dancing at my wedding

Sunday, June 12, 2016

I didn't drown

I finished the triathlon last week and most importantly, I didn't drown.  Although I probably didn't do as much training as I should have, I managed to complete the swim in about 25 minutes, which was five minutes faster than my goal.  For the most part, I alternated between freestyle and breast stroke, which helped me keep my breath while continuing to move.

Although the swim portion went faster, the bike leg went slower due to a leaky front tire.  I pushed through on a flat tire for most of the race.  Not fun, incredibly slow, but I still got done.

The run was the easiest part - just a 5K run.  For the first time all day, I actually managed to pass other racers (all of whom had already passed me on the bike, but still) for the first time all day.

I finished the whole race in just over 2 hrs.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

In the deep end (again)

For the last year or so, I've talked about doing a triathlon.  Crossfit is too expensive here, I had been getting bored with running and I've realized that I need a goal in order to effectively work out.  I simply don't have the motivation to just work out regularly without a plan and a goal.  I don't push myself.

So, with the support of my wife (she bought me a nice bike for Christmas), I have begun training for a triathlon in June.  This week, I started my swim training in earnest by joining a "master's swim class" at the YMCA.  It is completely kicking my ass.  Although I learned how to swim as a kid and I know all the strokes, etc., my form is crap.

Frankly, I am embarrassed by my complete lack of skill in swimming.  It is WAY harder than I thought it would be.   I struggle with breathing, kicking and "pulling" (as I learned the part with your arms is called).  Not only am I relegated to the "slow lane" during the class, but I am also easily the slowest of the three guys in this lane.  I can barely swim 50 meters without needing a rest. It reminds me of how awful I was at running when I started.  I am still not a fast runner - I never will be - but I can run  5 miles if I need to.

To make matters worse, we swim A LOT.  When I was learning to run, my first race was a 5K.  During practice, I only ran that distance once or twice before the race.  I mistakenly assumed the same theory would apply to the swim in the triathlon.  For my tri, I have to swim 750 meters (30 lengths of the pool).  The WARM-UP at the first practice was 500 meters!  The total work out was 3400 meters.  I am limiting my workout to an hour, so I only did about 2200 meters. That is still three times the length of my race.

As bad as it has been (and it's been pretty bad), I just have to remember how it was when I started running and how it was when I started cross fit.  In both cases, I was by far the worst person doing this when I started.  But, over time, I improved (incrementally) and other worse people started up.  Improving my technique and building my endurance made it so I eventually wasn't the worst.  I assume and hope that will be the case again with swimming.

Additionally,  I went on a long bike ride (7 miles) a few weeks ago.  I could barely walk for 3 days, so we'll see how that goes.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


C was hit this weekend with a monster snow storm with around 20 inches of snow over two days.  I had to shovel 6 times and my car is still not out of the snowbank.  Work closed early on Friday - the whole city was shutdown over the weekend and work is closed again tomorrow.

Here are a few photos of the snow -
2:30 pm Friday - snow begins

4:30 pm Friday
6:30 pm Friday - after first shoveling
12:30 am Saturday - I've shoveled twice already
Saturday morning
Saturday morning - before shoveling
Our stairwell was a snow drift - Saturday morning before shoveling
Saturday morning from our bedroom
The dogs exploring the back yard
The aftermath on Sunday

The alley between our house and the neighbor's house - Sunday morning