Saturday, December 27, 2014

A day in Doha and some other catching up.

Alright it seems that 21 months is more than enough time between posts, but a quick getaway, and an opportunely received email titled "Wondering about you" from a grandmother, made me feel sufficiently guilty about my failure of blog duties. So to this end, I will update about life now, and just leave some short bullet points about the places we have been since my last post and hopefully supply other entries for those at a later time ;-)
  • March 2014: Kent and Ci-Ci to Bahrain for Youth Conference
  • May 2013: Kent to Doha, Qatar for work
  • August 2013: Family to London, EuroDisney, and Paris
  • September 2013: Kent to Doha, Qatar with friends
  • October 2013: Al-Lula / Medin Salah, Saudi Arabia
  • November 2013: Barbara and Ci-Ci (the child formerly known as Courtney) to Bahrain for Girls Camp
  • December 2013-January 2014: Family Christmas in Idaho and Utah
  • January 2014: Ci-Ci (the child formerly known as Courtney) school trip to Geneva Switzerland for Model United Nations (MUN)
  • February 2014: Kent to Doha, Qatar for work
  • March 2014: Kent and Ci-Ci to Bahrain for Youth Conference
  • April 2014: Kent, Ci-Ci, and Caitlynn to Al-Lith, for diving with the whale sharks (not dangerous and didn't see any :-(
  • May 2014: Kent to India for a friends wedding
  • June - August 2014: Barbara and the kids in Idaho for the summer
  • October 2014: Kent to Idaho for Sarah's wedding, and an unexpected funeral in Colorado
  • November 2014: Ci-Ci and Caitlynn to Bahrain for Girls Camp 
  • November 2014: Ci-Ci to Budapest with school for Yale Model Government, Europe (YMGE)
  • December 2014: Grandma Connie came to Saudi Arabia for Christmas
And this all culminates with Barbara and I running away to Doha for the weekend while Granny stays with the kids at KAUST. Not sure if this make me the best husband or the worst dad/ son ;-)

There were some hurdles to jump through to make it happen,  including all the taxis from KAUST being booked up for the day of our departure, but the biggest hurdle was a major power outage that affected all of KAUST the day before we left.  A crane somewhere between KAUST and Jeddah took down our power lines which left the community without power for about 3 hours and we didn't have power fully restored to the research campus until 8PM. Once that was restored we had to wait for a number of systems to get activated before I could give the all, clear to resume research activities. Because of some technical difficulties I wasn't able to send that note out until 3 hours before my friend was taking me to the airport. So to say I tasted the bitter before the sweet would be an understatement,  but I am glad it was mostly worked out before I left.

So enough about that,  let me tell you about Doha. Why Doha you may ask? Mainly because it is close by, has a good vibe, and the resort pictures looked nice ;-) As the previous travel log would indicate I have been to Doha a couple for business and pleasure and enjoy the feel of it. Temperature wise, it has a broader range  than KAUST,  so it gets hotter in the summer and cooler in the winter.  While we were over on this trip it was about 65- 70 degrees while we walked around Friday night, with a low that night of about 60. Unfortunately due to scheduling constraints we were only able to getaway for 1 night but what a great night it was. Since we knew it was going to be a quick trip, we used some of our Marriott Rewards from our Chase Marriott card to stay at a the Ritz-Carlton Sharq Resort in Doha.

Though we had few reasons to leave, we did manage to get out for a walk and ended up eating at Ric's Kountry Kitchen Now if you have eaten at Ric's in Bahrain you may feel let down in Doha. In Bahrain they have some really tasty pork dishes, but in Doha they do not. The country fried steak is yummy and the country gravy is good, but you will feel let down if you are expecting bacon :-( On the other side, they had a Christmas tree and that was a welcome site :-)

Regarding the family, we are doing well. The current highlight is obviously having grandma Connie with us for Christmas. 
Before she leaves, I think that she, Barbara, and the kids are going to the beach and then we will take her to Economic City for her final night in town. So far we have taken her shopping in Jeddah (always an adventure ;-), snorkeling, and some other fun wandering around.

The kids got out of school on the 18th and will be out for 3 weeks. I guess this is the norm for international schools, but it is the first for ours. The downside for me is that it means everyone is in school until June 11th. Current plans have them leaving for the U.S. on the 15th with me following on the 4th of July. This year they will return with me on August 6th which means about 3 weeks before school starts, so they should be far from jet lagged ;-)

Besides YMGE Ci-Ci is learning bass guitar and working on a big project for school. As part of the completion of the IB Middle Years Program (MYP), students undertake a personal project that is large in scope and they actually started at the end of 9th grade. For Ci-Ci's project she has chosen a reef cleanup and designed a bag for divers to collect trash while they dive. To be fair we chose this partly to have an excuse to dive ;-) but she also organized a cleanup dive, will write a final paper, and participate in a presentation. So this in addition to her normal course load is keeping her BUSY, but she is handling it very well. It is a stark change from when we first arrived and she had too much time on her hands. Either the school accreditation has upped the standard, or the academics have caught up to her ability (I think it is both).

Caitlynn has also found herself with a large plate that she is keeping full. She is still doing violin and Spirit Squad and since my last posting those long months ago, Caitlynn has also received her PADI Junior Open Water dive certification. In addition to her certification dives, she has dove in Yanbu (where we saw a shark :-) and Jeddah. For her PE class they spent 6 weeks learning to sail. I have to admit that getting out for bowling suddenly sounds a lot less exciting ;-)

Whitney continues with piano and seems to have a great talent for it. It is getting harder to tell whether Barbara or Whitney are playing. If it is a complex piece then it is easier to tell, but the gap is closing and I couldn't be more pleased. Her instructor now is very talented as well and they seem to be a good fit. In terms of schooling, she still thinks math is too easy, but she grabs it so quick that this would probably be the case regardless of the class. So when she is bored still does Khan Academy (that guy deserves a Nobel prize). She has also taken to sewing and enjoys that as well.

This Fall Ben split his time between soccer and rugby. He is still learning both, but he stuck with the soccer through the course, and he has committed to rugby through the school year. The rugby has really helped his ball control so he can catch and handle the rugby ball (and an American football ;-) much better. In school he has taken to the guitar and even played while the other students in Grade 3 sang along during the winter program.

Barbara is working this year as the school librarian and LOVING it. Over the last couple of weeks she spent her downtime shopping for kids books. This was heaven for both of us. She could go crazy buying all sorts of kids books for the kids at the school, and we didn't have to pay for it ;-)

As for me, my colleague and friend just returned to a position back at Cornell, so we are missing him. On the other side that opened a position as the Laboratory Safety Supervisor, to which I have been appointed. It is a little intimidating because he was so good that it seems I could only mess things up. Fortunately I have a great team and have the mentorship of many great managers past and present to serve as my example.

I could obviously go on and on and ON, but I should tie this post up, or I will never get anymore started. Best wishes to all and know that you are missed by us.
Love to all.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Diving Deep to build relationships at KAUST

One of the things that KAUST offers us is the opportunity to enjoy unique experiences at a great rate.

Recently, Ci-Ci and I decided that it was time to spend some quality time with just the two of us so we took scuba diving lessons in the Red Sea. Though it only really took a week to actually get it done, we had a bunch of scheduling issues that drug it out. We were hoping to complete it after we came back from Dubai at Christmas. Ci-Ci had a week after we got back which made it seem like it would have been perfect timing, unfortunately we came back with colds and you can't go diving when your head is stuffed up because the you can't equalize the pressure in your ears. Plus I had a tough time with my ears equalizing after the flight from Dubai and it seemed to take a couple of weeks to get it straightened out. When I was finally ready the dive shop was unavailable for a couple of weeks.

The stars finally aligned the second week in February and we were able to get the dive classes started on Saturday (the first day of the work week). First we took a couple of quizzes and a test on our reading/ videos. Monday we showed up at the pool and started the real diving course. The first night showed us how to put the equipment together and disassemble it (5 times to be exact ;-), then we got into the pool to do some assessments. We had to float/ tread water for 10 minutes, then we swam 10 laps with a snorkel and flippers. The only downside of all of this was that it was on the surface and KAUST had been in a little cold spill (which means low 80's), but the wind made you really chilly. Ci-Ci was shivering once we finally got to the scuba portion, but we were able to position her near one of the pool jets shooting warm water into the pool and she was able to make it through.

The next night we had a scheduling conflict, but the instructor was AWESOME and just had us come in on Wednesday night (like Friday in the US). This time Ci-Ci brought a long sleeve shirt and was much more comfortable. We finished up in the pool and headed out for our first open water dive on Thursday morning. We got on the boat and went about 45 minutes away from campus. There were about 6 of us doing our first dives, and about a dozen people out to snorkel. We geared up and jumped off the boat into the water which was surprisingly chilly (about 24C/ 75F). It wasn't bad while we were moving, but there were a number of exercises that the instructor had to observe each person doing so we had a lot of waiting 12 meters below the surface, but it was exciting. We finished the exercises, swam along the reef for a little bit, and then came back to the boat to eat lunch and change tanks. After lunch we did it again.

The PADI certificate requires 4 dives over 2 days to complete the program. Unfortunately we have "Book Club" every Friday and would not be going out until the next week. We were trying to get this all completed before made my whirlwind trip to the USA in late February, but Karma did not want that to happen. We were scheduled to go out the next Thursday to complete the program and a colleague of mine was going to be going through the course this week and so it was going to be fun to go out on our 2nd set of dives when he was going for his first. Unfortunately when he came into work on Sunday he said that they only had a couple of people so they canceled his course that week. Hearing this I sent an email to confirm that Ci-Ci and I were still on the list to go on Thursday. They confirmed that we were, and I breathed a sign of relief. When were arrived at the boat on Thursday we were met with the sad news that unfortunately our names did not make it to the list and we were out of luck, since they have to deliver the Coast Guard a manifest of passengers a couple of days before the boat leaves.

A sense of humor is the one thing that is critical when living in what is largely a start up. I am sure it was worse in the beginning, and it is getting better, but stuff like this will still happen so you just learn to "smile and wave". The good side of it was that they would comp us each a dive besides the trip that we were supposed to go out on. So Ci-Ci told me to quit crying and we went to breakfast at the diner. The next weekend was my QUICK U.S. run so we were not going to make that week and I had planned to take the following weekend off to regroup. Unfortunately Ci-Ci had a basketball game show up on the calendar for pretty much every week in March, so we scheduled the last Thursday in February for our dives. We decided to transfer our comped dives to Barbara and Caitlynn so that they could go snorkeling while we were diving. So we paid for Ben, Whitney, and rentals for their gear and the whole family went out.

Besides going with the whole family we were also lucky because my colleague was able to finally get his classes completed so he was out for his first set of dives. Additionally another colleague was going diving with us as part of there Ship Wreck certification. The bonus for us was that since they were doing this dive, we would get to go around the wreck as well :-)) This friend also had a camera so you can see some of the great things that we were able to experience.(

When it was all done, Ci-Ci did great and we had a great time. I think that this could be one of those things that the family all gets into, but for right now, this is our thing, and I am cool with that. :-)

Best wishes to all,


Monday, January 21, 2013

From KAUST to London and Paris

Visit Paris Museums & Galleries Free

The next big adventure

Fresh off of the success of our first international "holiday" to Dubai, we have started to plan the next. It looks like the finalist is going to be 3 weeks in Europe. One of our next adventures has us headed to London and Paris. We will go to London in early August and probably take the train to Paris.

So far we have locked in the airline tickets and Barbara scored an AWESOME Priceline deal in London. One of the difficulties with us is finding accommodations for 6. So Barbara bid $85 USD for 2 rooms and got a yes for a Marriott near Hyde Park!!! It is still more expensive than our little American minds like to deal with, but we were stoked given what we have been seeing. We will see how it actually turns out, but for now it was exciting

We still need to lock down the lodging and transport to Paris, the "Paris Pass", and the details for Disneyland Paris.

Paris Lodging

In the end we will probably try the Priceline option in Paris, but for right now we are looking as some of the vacation rentals we can find. Unfortunately Craigslist is just full of scammers (they should just not even have that option on the page. I didn't see one option on there that did not look like a scam, but I digress, but has a pretty good inventory so we are hoping that something will work out in our favor.

Paris Pass

In Paris it seems that the "Paris Pass" is going to be a great deal for us. It includes a pass for the Paris transportation network, another pass for a number of the Paris museums/ galleries, and other perk such as the Big Bus tour that shows many of the Paris icons.

This will be one of my first times relying exclusively on public transit for my family, so we will see how it goes, but for now it seems like the "Paris Pass" is at least going to help check some of the transportation boxes and some of the "cultural" boxes. Plus the good thing about it would seem that it will give us the incentive to visit some of the museums that are not on the normal must see sights. We will just leave if we dislike it. Instead of feeling like we paid some money and should at least try and find some redeeming value.

I will fill you in as we go along this planning process, plus I have some more updates from our Dubai trip that we took at Christmas, but I haven't transferred the photos yet. Hopefully I will get it posted before CiCi and I start diving next week and add a whole new topic for discussion ;-)

Best wishes, KC
Explorers Hotel at Disneyland Paris

Explorers Hotel at Disneyland Paris

Explorers Hotel at Disneyland Paris is located close to Disneyland Paris, Golf Disneyland Paris, and Centre commercial Val d'Europe. Additional points of interest include Sealife Aquarium and Aquarium Sea Life Paris. Hotel Features. Dining options at Explorers Hotel at Disneyland Paris include 3 restaurants. A bar/lounge is open for drinks. The hotel serves a complimentary breakfast. Recreational amenities include an indoor pool and a children's pool. This 3 star property offers a meeting/conference room and audio visual equipment. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in public areas. The property has a theme park shuttle, which is complimentary. Tour/ticket assistance and tour assistance are available. Guest parking is complimentary. Additional property amenities include a concierge desk, an arcade/game room, and multilingual staff. This is a smoke free property. Guestrooms. 390 guestrooms at Explorers Hotel at Disneyland Paris feature coffee/tea makers and safes. Accommodations offer garden views. Beds come with pillowtop mattresses. Bathrooms feature shower/tub combinations with handheld showerheads, and hair dryers. Wireless Internet access is complimentary. In addition to desks, guestrooms offer phones. Flat panel televisions have satellite channels and pay movies. Rooms also include ceiling fans and windows that open. Guests may request irons/ironing boards, hypo allergenic bedding, and wake up calls. Housekeeping is available daily. Guestrooms are all non smoking. Notifications and Fees: This property offers transfers from the airport (surcharges may apply). Guests must contact the property with arrival details before travel, using the contact information on the booking confirmation. A resort fee is included in the total price displayed The following facilities will be closed from 17 September 2012 to 19 September 2012 (dates subject to change): Swimming poolOne of the dining venues Some properties have extra fees for amenities or services that may apply even if you do not use them. Government fees or taxes also may be charged to you when you check in or check out. This property told us they will charge you for the following: A tax is imposed by the city: EUR 1.1 per person, per night We have included all charges provided to us by the property. However, charges can vary, for example, based on length of stay or the room you book. The following fees and deposits are charged by the property at time of service, check in, or check out. Airport shuttle fee: EUR 18Airport shuttle fee per child: EUR 15 (one way), (from 3 to 12 years old) Additional towels/sheets fee: EUR 2 per stay The above list may not be comprehensive. Fees and deposits may not include tax and are subject to change. Notifications and Fees: This property offers transfers from the airport (surcharges may apply).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Christmas in Dubai (Part 1)

This year for Christmas we decided that Dubai would be the site for our first overseas Christmas experience and what a choice it was. We had some highs and lows, but all in all everyone enjoyed it.

We traveled to Dubai on Thursday the 20th and returned almost exactly 8 days later (actually 8 days and one hour, but who is counting ;-). From the moment we landed in the airport we knew it was going to be a different experience than we have had in Saudi. For starters while the official religion is Islam, Dubai caters to all people and nationalities. They are obviously a very proud country as flags drape numerous homes sometimes from the roof all the way to the ground, sort of like a giant slide.

As I mentioned we were able to tell immediately that there were distinct differences from Jeddah (JED) and Dubai (DXB) with the greatest being the level of cleanliness throughout not only the airport, but the whole city. The service was also very good, which is an additional distinction from Jeddah. We arrived at passport control and found lines and respectable ques to keep people in order. The biggest surprise was that we thought that we would have to get a Visa, but US citizens can stay for 30 days with nothing but a passport :-) We were directed to a "Fast Track" line and though there were about 20 people in front of us we were done in about 20 minutes.

From passport control we went and collected our baggage with one of the numerous carts that were freely available. After a little bit of a walk we collected the rental car and headed out to our hotel.

Barbara had found us a great deal on 2 rooms (the joy traveling with 6 people) through at the Premier Inn Dubai Investment Park. The rooms were comfortable enough that we didn't mind being there, but we also didn't feel a great need to just sit around since the sitting couch is also made into the bed for the 3rd person in each room (if you have a 4th person there is a rollaway bed that fits between this couch-bed and the queen sized bed. The kids liked it and left it up in their room, even though Ben stayed with us). It was a little bit away from various locations, but compared to staying in the heart of the action we saved more than enough money that we were able to rent a car and commute to them.

Barbara didn't realize the scale of the map that she was looking at and in hind site thinks that next time we will try and sacrifice the money so that we can be closer to the sites and use the public transit systems since getting lost was not an uncommon occurrence. The driver in me is not sure that I am willing to give up my ability to flee, but the married part of me says that I should at least give it a chance and see where it goes because it did seem like we spent a lot of time in the car trying to find places that hopefully the cabs or buses would already know their way to.We will see how that goes on the next one.

I will post some of the ups and downs of the experience later, but long story short, we had a great vacation in Dubai and highly recommend it to anyone considering the trip.