Thursday, March 31, 2011

Long Ago Beach Trip

Back in January, the sports club hosted a day at the beach where they had food, music, and water sports.  We went for a few hours, but didn't stay too long because it was just plain too hot and windy.

Sadly, winter is completely gone here, and it feels like we're sprinting right into summer, so there probably won't be very many beach days in our future; it will just be too darn hot!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Photo Series: Greek Lion

This was a beautiful statue we saw in Athens, at the Kerameikos Archeological Museum.

Traveling that Vacation Road

We're off to the airport again tonight, this time headed for Italy and specifically Milan, Florence, and Pisa.  With any luck it will be much smoother than when we left for Egypt and take less time than when we left for Athens.

Every time we've left, it's been for a late night or early morning flight.  This time we're flying out around 3:30 am and will get to Milan around 1:30 in the afternoon.  I think this works great because it gets us started on our trip a bit earlier than waiting until the next morning, and you don't waste a whole day traveling only to arrive at your destination after everything is closed for the night.  This gives us a chance to do a bit of brief site seeing tomorrow afternoon, without having a whole day lost to travel.  On the other hand, it does usually result in a poor night of sleep, which probably isn't the best way to start a nine day vacation.

Either way, we're on our way to this:


Follow our journey:

Or check out our Italy tag!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sights Around Campus

I pass a lot of interesting things when I'm out and about campus, so I thought I'd show you some of the more interesting things.

This pattern is all over our apartment building and the ones near ours.  The architectural style here is very heavy on patterns and geometric shapes, much more than back home.

Almost all of the student ride bikes to class and most of them end up parking here outside the library.  Some days it can even be hard to find a parking spot!

There are tons of windows on campus, and at one point or another they all need to be washed.  Unfortunately the only way to wash them easily is with a cherry picker, so I usually see a couple of these every day.  This is the exterior of the community library.

These are by far the ugliest flower/tree pots I've ever seen.  Some things just don't need to be emblazoned with the school logo; this was one of them.

Palm and date trees are the most numerous trees on campus.  There are other types, but none of them are ones I would recognize.

Flowers blooming on a tree outside of the academic library.  This is one of those trees that's not a palm or date, and therefore I have no idea what kind of tree it is.  It does however have pretty flowers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Photo Series: Beacon

Our beacon of light and enlightenment. Corny.

Weevils in the Kitchen

The most disgusting thing in the kitchen is to see bugs rising to the top of a pot of cooking pasta.  Turns out we have weevils in our kitchen.  I have no idea how we got them, but they were in the pasta, barley, bread, kidney beans, and black eyed peas. So we had to go through all of the dried goods and throw out anything that had the weevils in them.  Every thing else got put into ziplock bags and put into the upper cabinets.  According to the internet, it could take up to a month before weevils appear from eggs, so our lentils, popcorn, and orzo are in quarantine until the end of April.

Probably the worst part about weevils (besides just being gross) is that we have no way of knowing where they came from.  It could be that they came in from outside, or that they were already in one of the packaged foods.  A lot of our dried foods do come from manufacturers in the Middle East, so I'm not sure what the general cleanliness of their facilities is like.

From now on, we'll store open dried goods in zip lock bags or maybe glass storage containers if the weevils can get into plastic.  This is a gross inconvenience, but hopefully we'll get rid of them all quickly.  Or they'll eat us out of house and home by the time we get back from Italy!  Bay leaves and cloves are apparently natural deterrents for weevils, so we might try putting some leaves in the cabinets as a bit of extra protection.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Photo Series: Orientation

I love this shot of Steve sitting through orientation with me back in August.

Broken Windows

Floor to ceiling windows look fantastic and let in a ton of natural light, so it shouldn't be surprising that the designers used them on campus wherever possible.  Almost every exterior window in the academic buildings, research buildings, library, and dining hall are floor to ceiling windows.  Now, the only downside is that some one will some how manage to break them.  So far, we've had three separate windows break, all of them in the library.  

Two broken windows on the ground floor of the library.  These have been broken since the fall.

Downside of a poorly trained maintenance staff is that they probably don't know how to fix them and don't have the materials to do so.  Given how long they've been broken, I'm probably not wrong.

This window is on the first floor of the library over looking the harbor.

Broken glass is pretty.

We're pretty sure the glass panes aren't load bearing because of the large floor to ceiling columns, so their either breaking because they were installed incorrectly (very likely) or because they are smashed with large awkward objects (like moving around ladders tall enough to reach the ceiling).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Campus Signs

Some new official signs have popped up on campus, and I think they're pretty funny.

I'm not sure why we need signs designating Assembly areas and I've never had anyone say what an Assembly area is for, but now they're well marked with these snazzy new signs.  I'm more worried about the fourth person who lost either his body while assembling, or the second one who gained an extra head.

These signs and their opposites showed up on the apartment buildings that house single students.  I don't know who is in charge of ordering or making signs on campus, but I'm pretty sure they need that privilege revoked.  I definitely feel like there is an "a" and maybe an "are" missing here, but who knows maybe the school's official language was switched to pidgin.

Every time I see these signs, I get a bit of a laugh, so here's to hoping there are more in the future!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Photo Series: Liquid Crystals

This is probably my favorite art display on campus.  The colors are beautiful.

Spring Rolls

International cuisine isn't something we can just order in or head to a nearby restaurant to get our fill, several weeks ago we tried spring rolls.  Something about other cuisines makes them seem hard to replicate at home and generally challenging, but much to my delight, they are normally so easy to make!

I based our spring rolls on recipes from Little Birdie Secrets and It Works for Me.  Neither recipe fit our needs exactly, as one was for 200 rolls and the other involved pre-cooking the filling.

These were surprisingly easy to make!  Rolling them didn't take long either with two people doing it.

2 carrots
1 head of cabbage
1/2 box of vermicelli noodles
2 cans bean sprouts, drained
1 Onion sliced thinly
3 Green Onions sliced thinly
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 egg white
2 packages of spring roll pastry

Soak the vermicelli noodles in hot water for 10-15 minutes until soft.  Drain and dry thoroughly.

Grate the carrots and cabbage and squeeze out any extra liquid from the carrots. Slice the onions and green onions and combine all of these vegetables in a large bowl.  Add the noodles and mix very well.  After mixing well, add the bean sprouts, soy sauce, and mix again gently to avoid breaking the sprouts.

Allow the spring roll pastry to defrost, but keep it covered with a damp towel as they dry out very easily.  To fill them, place one pastry in a diamond shape and put a few tablespoons of filling in the nearest corner.  Start rolling the wrapper, using the egg white to dampen the remaining three corners.  Fold each side into the middle and continue rolling.  Stack them on a plate until all of the wrappers are filled.

Fry 2-3 at a time in hot oil.  Since this recipe made about 40 spring rolls, we spread the rolls onto a baking sheet so they weren't touching and froze them.  After freezing for several hours, pop them off the baking sheet and store them in a freezer bag.

We tried baking one batch, but we both agreed they were just better fried.

These lasted weeks in the freezer and it was pretty quick and easy to cook up a few at a time.

In retrospect, I probably would have used fewer noodles and added more carrots.  The hardest part of this whole cooking adventure was not having a bowl big enough to mix all of the ingredients easily, so I had to split it into two smaller bowls.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Last week we went to a fun event about the culture of the British Isles.  It was a lot of fun, they had tasty British food, and some cute posters and signs.

This is a World War II era propaganda poster from England inspiring the British people to keep a stiff upper lip.

This play off of the original poster was my favorite.  I would love to have this hanging on the wall in the kitchen!

Mr. Men, Dr. Who, Red Planet, and other products from the British Isles.

Apparently all of these sports are real and have real people participate.  I'm not sure I'd ever go bog snorkeling or cheese rolling, but it was fun to see videos of people having fun doing it.

This poster was so cute! Read it closely and you'll have quite the laugh.

The caterers made this cute cake.  I'm not sure what the flag was made out of though.  It didn't taste like fondant, but wasn't regular icing either.  I'm not even sure if you were supposed to eat it as it was kind of gummy.

All in all, we had a great time listening to music, watching funny videos, and learning about the differences between the United Kingdom and the British Isles.  There's a similar event showcasing Pakistan tomorrow night, so it'll be interesting to learn even more about countries we've never seen!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Photo Series: Introduction

Since we got to Saudi Arabia I have taken over 2500 photographs, and I think we've done a decent job highlighting the best but that's surprisingly less than 450 pictures.  (I can't believe it's that high!)  So less than 20% of the pictures I keep (there are tons that go straight to trash for various reasons) end up here on the blog.

For the time being I thought I'd go ahead and post an extra picture or two, well say monday, wednesday, friday afternoons? It seems silly to have all of these photos just chewing up space on the old hard drive without getting any exposure you know?

I won't have a lot of commentary on the photos, but feel free to ask questions or make comments about them!

Looking out over the "sea steps" from the library.

Saudi Car Show

Like in the US, when men amass a large amount of wealth they have a strong desire to turn that into a classic car or even a whole car collection.  Sometimes they even buy one (or thirty) for their 21 year old son.  Apparently among young Saudis this is becoming more common and some how it's not surprising given the general culture of materialism here in Saudi Arabia.

A few weeks ago, we somehow ended up having a little car show on campus thanks to the Yacht Club.  I wish I knew where the cars came from, but they all had Saudi license plates, so they must have been semi locally owned.

They were pretty cool cars, so I thought they were worthy of sharing.

I liked the color of this Mercedes.  Color was basically how I picked my favorites.  Any of the technical or antique details were lost on me.


This lime green Mercedes was just adorable.  The green hubcaps were a nice touch too.

As a safety precaution they had a fire extinguisher for every single car.  Every one.  Most of them were sitting right behind the car, but these three were lined up on the stone pavers.  It was probably the highest density of fire extinguishers on campus!

I wish the window had been rolled down further.  The inside of this car was really cool.

Steve really liked this old El Camino.

The car show was at the marina in the evening so all of the boats were docked in the harbor.

All of the plates were from Saudi Arabia, which have both Arabic numbers and letters on them as well as their English counterpart.  Reading license plates was what helped me learn to read the Arabic numbers.  Also on the sign for this car, they accidentally called it a Tornado instead of a Toronado, but that's close enough right?

I really liked the headlights on this car. They looked like eyes ogling at everyone.

A 1962 Ford Thunderbird

This 1936 Auburn Salon Phaeton is a car from a company that didn't last beyond 1936, but it sure does look cool. I loved this metal tubing on the side of the car.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How We Get Ready to Travel

We're preparing for our trip to Italy so I thought I'd highlight some of the resources that we use as we prepare for our trips.

When it comes to flights, we're always looking for something that is as cheap and as short as possible.  We don't want to spend our entire trip in airports so the total flight time and layover time are important to us.  Direct flights out of Jeddah are almost unheard of so we can't avoid layovers unfortunately.  At this stage in our travel planning we try to be incredibly flexible because the tickets are usually the most expensive part of our trip.  By looking at many destinations, we can focus on finding a cheaper flight instead of having our hearts set on a very expensive destination.

We had been using Expedia and similar aggregators but then thanks to SocialWeasel we heard of SideStep.  Since we heard of it a few weeks ago, it was merged with Kayak, but all of the functionality that we liked is still there.  We haven't used it to buy tickets yet, but so far searching for flights seems easy and awesome!  It allows for flexible date searchs, which we haven't found to be very common when looking for international flights, and it allows you to search for more than one destination.  I think this will be a huge time saver when we start planning our trip in May since we can look at many different variations within one search, instead of having to run ten or more different searches.

For example, I used it to search for flight to Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome with departure and return dates spanning a week each.  That's 108 different prices with one easy search!

Naturally, after buying tickets we focus on a place to stay.  There are many hostel search engines out there but we prefer HostelBookers because we think it's easy to use and they don't have booking fees like some of the other sites do.  I especially like the map view feature because it's nice to see where the hostels are in relation to each other, the metro, and the city center.  One downside of this site is that we are dinged a small international purchase fee from our bank, since it processes through the UK.

Books are hard to get here and English books are even harder so we don't have the luxury of picking up some travel books and using those to guide our trips.  The library on campus does have a small travel section, but it’s woefully pathetic and focuses primarily on Middle Eastern destinations.  Instead, we make our own travel books by researching sites to see on Lonely Planet and Frommer's.  This could easily be a disorganized mess, but by using OneNote I can create a virtual notebook for each trip and maintain my need for order and structure in my life.  We get maps and details about the hours, cost, and description for each site we want to see.  We group them by location to come up with a rough plan for our days.  We also throw in any other information we might need, like hostel and flight reservations, metro maps, and a chart to keep track of expenses.

We try not to check luggage and focus instead on limiting ourselves to carry-ons only.  We don't have fancy travel packs, just a couple of rolling suitcases we got as a wedding gift.  Eventually it might be nice to get backpacks designed for travel as well as one of these beautiful SeV jackets, but for now we try not to be caught up in the desire for fancy and expensive travel gear.

There are many great articles out there focusing on what to pack and what to leave out, so I don’t think it’s necessary to try to delve into that.  I do wish that I had some lighter clothing that dried faster, but we have to make do with what we have.

So that's what it takes to get us on the road!  Travel planning can be a lot of work, but it's so much fun to read about all of the places that we'll get to see.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Yarn in Italy

The Harry Potter scarf I made during
 my Sophomore year of college.
If you've never moved your entire life to another country you might not have any idea what you acutally need to pack, and this is the problem I ran into when we moved here to Saudi Arabia.  There were obvious things we needed to pack like clothes, toiletries, and a few sentimental items, but for other items we had no idea what to bring.  The biggest mistake I made while packing was not bringing enough hobby materials with me.  We bought two of Amazon's fantastic Kindle (although we had to get the older 2nd generation instead of the newest ones) so that we didn't have the extra weight from a lot of books, but I didn't bring any knitting needles or yarn.

When I was packing, I was trying to be realistic and honest about how much free time I would have and had this been anything like undergrad, I wouldn't have had much time for crafts and fun, but that ended up being wrong.

The grocery store on campus has a few balls of yarn, but no knitting needles, and I haven't been able to find a store in Jeddah that has craft supplies.

Our trip to Italy should be able to rectify this though!  I found a couple of posts about yarn shops in both Milan and Florence and with the addresses of about eight different stores I certainly should be able to find at least one of them.  I'm hoping to get at least one set of needles, size 8 preferably as they are my favorite size, and maybe 4-6 balls of yarn depending on the price.

After browsing around Ravelry (a great pattern/yarn/advice search for knitting and crochet), I'm still captivated by the idea of knitting a pageboy cap.  But since that would require knitting in the round, I'll need to stick with something a bit simpler.  I also loved waffle stitch afghan, but it's knitted on a loom, so that won't work either.  I think I'll try have to keep searching for the right project to make with any new found supplies.

I still love these mittens I made during a summer camping trip with my mom after my freshman year of college.  They're a bit more worn now, but ready and waiting for me when I get home.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Interesting Internet

As always there is a lot of great and interesting articles out there on the tubes if you know where to look, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites.

The author of Everything Everywhere had an interesting piece in The Atlantic about the myth of the authentic travel experience.  I especially enjoyed his comparison to a cultural zoo.  It's fascinating to learn about new cultures and different people, but we shouldn't be so surprised when they happen to be a lot like us.

Do Mi's post about how having One Thing wasn't enough blew me away.  In many ways I can relate to this.  There are so many activities I've started and never stuck with such as scrapbooking, sewing, knitting to some extent, and the eight different instruments I played between the ages of 9 and 18.

As an adult (or someone nearing an adult) it's easy to discount children's books as childish and silly, but Jonathan  Fields has a great list of seven children's books with important life lessons.  We all should have paid more attention to these, and I'm definitely going to check the library on campus to see about re-reading them.

This next article Steve found and it absolutely cracked me up.  Go read about how scientists are searching for life on Earth by looking at photographs!  Yup, the European Space Agency is now searching for life on Earth.  In reality, if we can figure out a way to know if there's life on Earth when it takes up less than 1 pixel, then we can do that for other planets.

Finally, a link to a youtube video (or two).  Steve first introduced me to Molly Lewis's music when he sent me a link to her cover of Poker Face, which I promptly fell in love with because it rocks and Poker Face quickly became our spring break anthem as we drove out to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  Several years later, she wrote a serenade to Stephen Fry and nary a week later ended up performing at his Harvard lifetime achievement award celebration.

So go feast on the glory that is the internet, because seriously when in our lives have we ever had so much greatness at such easy reach?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sights From My Porch

Earlier in the week when I wasn't sleeping well at night, I would often still be up around 6 am when the workers started.  I was surprised to find three cherry pickers within view of my back porch and grabbed some pictures of them.  This was  just after West Street (now my computer background), which reminded me that I haven't taken many black and whites lately.

Nifty, eh?

Traffic cones pop up and disappear all over the place around here.  Within 10 minutes they were gone.

These guys were working directly behind our porch and didn't mind if I took pictures of them!  It's quite rare to be able to photograph people here.

Another worker sitting in the shade.

Hanging out on the cherry picker.  I especially like the golf cart.  The workers use these all the time to get around

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kitty got a Present

Whenever we need to take Algebra out to visit the vet, she had to ride along in a modified cardboard box kitty carrier.  It did serve the purpose, but it was kind of embarrassing to take her out in a duct taped box.  While I was at the dentist, Steve went to Al-Ballad (Old Jeddah) and did a bit of shopping.  One thing he got was a proper kitty carrier.

This is the carrier Steve found in Al-Balad.  It's adorable.

Here's kitty checking out her new carrier. Umm, Algie, your body is supposed to go inside with your head poking out.

We also needed to have one so that we can take her on the plane when we come home.  We're a bit concerned about her traveling on an 11-13 hour flight so we're trying to be as prepared as possible.  Now that we've gotten this carrier, we aren't sure that it was the right kind.  The airlines are very strict apparently about how animals can fly, and we need to make sure that we know what is the right way.  Despite being strict, it hasn't been easy to find much information from their websites, and we don't even know which airlines we would have to deal with coming home.

I'm sure kitty will figure it out eventually, right?

Has anyone traveled with cats before and have advice to share with us?