Friday, April 28, 2017

A Trip Home - Carver

On the 4th of April, we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland to start a housesit. On the 5th of April, early in the morning, our hosts went to the airport. A couple hours later, we drove to the airport. The reason is that I had applied to the Davidson Academy in Reno, Nevada when we were in Australia. Finally, when we were in Doha, they replied and told us that I needed to come for an interview in Reno. So we arranged tickets to Reno and back for my Mom and I. We flew WOW Air through Reykjavik (because it was so cheap) where we had a 5 hour layover and paid $17 for a small pizza that didn't even fill us up (that was not an exaggeration.)

When we arrived in San Francisco, late at night, we got our rental car and drove over an hour to Vacaville where we stayed in a motel. That way, we would be out of the San Francisco traffic in the morning. Then we drove to Reno, through the Sierra Nevada mountains (through the Donner Pass.) The next day, I did my day of interviews and testing (if you want to hear about this, it comes at the end of the blog post, so let me just finish this paragraph.) A day later, it was time to go back to San Francisco. Unfortunately, we had to pass back through the mountains were we had to buy chains for our car or we wouldn't be allowed through. So we spent $90 on them. At the end, we got someone to help us take off the chains. He got one off but the other was too tight. Finally, we found someone else who got the other off and we gave them to him (with nothing else to do with them.) We stopped at the Jelly Belly Factory on our way back. That time, our flight connected through Reykjavik again with an overnight layover. So we stayed in a hotel and slept without doing anything there. And we went back to Edinburgh the next day.

Now that I have finished the actual journey, I will talk about the day of testing and interviews. I was the only one who didn't come to the optional testing the day before (that you can do if you're worried about not finishing in time) because I was so jetlagged. So I arrived there and we started on our Reading and Science tests. They were multiple choice (except for a small portion of the Science test) and very easy. But right after I finished the Reading (before the Science test), we started something else (which was fine because we weren't expected to finish both of them by then.) We then read and discussed a short story. Then we wrote a rough draft of an essay about it (during that we did our interviews). Then we finished it, had a little bit more time to finish our Reading and Science tests, and then went to lunch. After that, we did a Math test (which was different based on what math class you had last taken, mine was Trigonometry although I have recently finished Calculus), and somewhere in the middle we stopped to do our final drafts of the essay after the teachers gave lots of advice. At the end, we finished our Math and Science tests. I was last because I had spent an hour on one trigonometric proof which even in the end I never finished.

As for the interviews, it was mostly just someone asking questions and me answering them.

Well, recently they responded and said that I got in. This is one of the very few programs where I can learn at my own pace (I only found two that were particularly good and didn't get into one of them.) Currently I am in Ireland and after here we will go back to Florida for over a week so I can take AP exams. After that we go to Bogotá, Colombia and we aren't sure where we will go from there. But by the end of August (actually the start of August because of Syarra's school) we will be in Reno.

Sitting Pretty – Alrica

One of the best discoveries we have made in our travels is not a building or a natural wonder. It is an idea of sharing and it has led to some of our favorite experiences: house sitting.

The basics are these: someone wants to go on vacation, but they have pets, livestock, and a home to be looked after while they are away. (Sometimes it is not all of these, though there is always a home.) They are seeking someone to care for these elements. Others, like us, are looking to experience a new part of the world and to save on lodging costs. No money is exchanged. Housesitting is particularly popular in some of the more expensive areas to live like Australia, the US, and the UK, but they have them all over the world. We have housesat in South Africa, France, Australia, Thailand, UAE, Scotland, and England.

Syarra with Pepsi in Australia

We use a website called Trusted Housesitters, but there are others. New "house sits" are listed by the home owners, and the seekers can then apply to them. The website sends me two emails each day with new sitting opportunities and I scan through them looking for locations and dates that fit our schedule and interests. If you are looking at popular locations, you want to be on top of it, usually one of the first three to apply. The home owners for easier or more interesting sits can get dozens of requests very quickly, and if you aren't one of the first, it is unlikely they will even read yours.

Then the owners look through the requests and decide who might be a fit for them. If I haven't heard anything in a few days, and I really want it, I send a follow-up. If they think we might fit, they message us, and usually a Skype call is arranged. We talk about what the responsibilities are and what the locale is like. We look at questions like: Do we need a car, or can we borrow one? What are the precise dates and when should we arrive (for more complicate sits, we try to get there a couple days early to go through the routine before the owners leave), and when should we leave. And if everyone likes everyone else, it is decided and we start making plans.

We have just left a house sit in Derby, England, where the couple had two dogs but really wanted to take their entire family including grandkids on a vacation. They got to enjoy the sunny beaches off Africa while we stayed in their home and took their two staffies on daily walks and gave them lots of love and attention. Actually it was a bit more complicated than that because their daughter had a puppy that needed watching and one of their staffies got an infection and required daily medicine. Still, walking dogs along city streets and through parks is a great way to see life as if you belong there.

This is Apollo, our Clydesdale in Scotland.

Erich and Syarra get to enjoy walking the dogs in Derby, England with my youngest nephew!

Housesitting for us has been a wonderful way to explore how locals live. We take on the responsibilities and lifestyle of people who start out as strangers but become friends. It is a step up from airbnb's and a completely different experience from hotels. Since a family lives there, the home comes completely stocked with everything one needs to live. Many of our housesit hosts were families that included children. What a wonderful opportunity to play with other kids! And we learn things from just talking to our hosts. Like in Scotland it is illegal to feed kitchen scraps to your chickens! And in UAE, the speed limit is actually 20 KPH more than the posted limit. And all of our hosts have shared their insight into what to see in the area. Always good to have that perspective.

It is definitely not the same as staying in a hotel. Pets have come with all of our housesits (though some don't include pets) and the animals come first. Our sits have included dogs, cats, horses, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, cockatiels, rabbits, hamsters, turtles, fish, and beetles. In France, we looked after 12 horses, 18 chickens, 2 dogs, and 2 cats. That meant several hours each day cleaning out stables, feeding animals, moving horses from one pasture to another. If we spent the day out exploring castles, evening stables needed to happen before we ate our own dinner. Our schedules need to revolve around theirs. It has been a wonderful chance to learn responsibility. In each place, we each have chores to do and we each support each other in making sure that the animals are well taken care of and well-loved. Not all house sits are labor intensive. One of our homes included just two beautiful cats who would curl up and watch TV with us after a day of sightseeing. We have gotten to share the world with these short-term pets. Like hiking with the dogs in a regional park in South Africa or climbing sand dunes with the dog in UAE. Syarra even got to work on her horseback riding in France. And after loving animals for several weeks, it is sometimes hard to leave them behind.
Climbing the dunes with Orlando in UAE.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Study in Stone – Erich

Today's world is one of plastic. We make so many things out of so many varieties of plastic. Oh sure, there is still work in metal, like forks. Except some of those are plastic. And we have wooden items, like chairs. Right, but some of those are plastic. Hmm, what about glass, like windows. (Just let me pretend that fiberglass is just basic glass.) Okay, I have to accept it, plastic rules the day.

It didn't always. There was a time that if you wanted durable, meaningful structures, you worked in stone. The other day we enjoyed a day of stone seeing. It's like sightseeing, but you're seeing stone. See?

We drove into Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, England. On the way, we had to pass under this bridge, made, of course, of stone.

Going under the bridge was by far the better view. Though I could have better tested the strength of the structure from above. While that is true, let's be honest here. I wasn't going to test the strength of the bridge either way.

In the park we visited Arbor Low. It is a historic site, over 3000 years old. But to get to it, one must walk through a farm. And guess what they make their fence walls out of. That's right, stone!
The site is now designated as a historic site. And I figured this must have happened in the reign of Queen Victoria when we saw this stone just outside the heath.
It turns out I was both right and wrong. The site was designated in the reign of Victoria. But the "VR" could symbolize either Queen Victoria or King George V. I would have guessed he would be "GR", but no, I guess the Roman numeral five was the most important part of his name.

Finally, we reached Arbor Low itself. This is a site where farmers some 3000 years ago built a large circular heath. Essentially there is a hill built up in a ring around a trench built in an inner ring. And inside that trench is a flat circle. On this flat circle were placed standing stones.
Today those standing stones are fallen stones. But looking from the high ring down, one gets a sense that this was an important site for the people who built it. What rituals did they perform here? Why did they need the stones inside the heath? It's not clear, but it's cool. Cool as stone!
After we left Peak District National Park, we headed toward Manchester to catch a plane to Ireland. But along the way, we stopped for a picnic lunch. And what beautiful structure did we see there? Another much larger bridge made of plastic. No, not plastic. Stone!
So when you next reflect on our disposable culture, remember, the world wasn't always this way. Some things, even if we don't know why they were built, they were built to last. And that we know because they were made of stone.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

From Pixels to Celluloid to Pavement – Erich

People often ask us where we are from. Naturally, we respond that we are from the United States. But in many English speaking countries, the citizens are already well aware of that. The moment we open our mouths, it is obvious. (It's not actually the opening of mouths, but the utterance of words that clues them in. I don't think they can tell from our dental work.)

So in those places, they say something like, "Yes, I knew that. Which state?" Well, that's a bit of a quandary. We tend to answer something like "Most recently Pennsylvania." You see, Lancaster, Pennsylvania is where we last had a "permanent home" as opposed to a "permanent address." But we sold that it-would-appear-less-than-permanent home. Now we have an address, namely that of my parents, but that isn't exactly where we are from.

Remember on tests when you had to read a paragraph and then answer questions? Sometimes they would say give the BEST answer, meaning none of the answers were quite dead on, but you had to deal with nuance. So while I might make the argument that I am a citizen of the world, I suppose the BEST answer to "Where are you from?" is Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In Lancaster, you find public works named for people who lived in Lancaster and did great things or in some other way achieved acclaim. There are, in fact, a street, a park, and a middle school named for James Buchanan. He lived in Lancaster and earned his fame by becoming the worst U.S. President in history. (In today's rather partisan society, I'm sure I could find plenty of Americans who would argue that Buchanan has been surpassed in his ranking by either Barack Obama or Donald Trump, depending on which side of the aisle those American find themselves.) Still, Buchanan was President, and he therefore gets things named for him.

Lancaster isn't unique in this regard. I'm sure most cities name their roads, parks, and buildings for the famous who once had humbler beginnings in that city. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that I find the same thing here in Derby, England.

What is interesting is that said famous person need not have ever existed. He, or in this case she, can be fictional.
Yes, here in Derby there is a street called Lara Croft Way. I didn't take a picture of the street itself, because it wouldn't look particularly distinct from any other street you can imagine. Now Lara Croft, of course, is the main character in the Tomb Raider video games. And later she became a character in a movie. And now she is immortalized in the name of a road in Derby.

But she is from here. I supposed one can't say she was born here, not in the traditional sense. But she was "born" here in the more virtual sense. Lara Croft was developed by a gaming company, Core Design, based in Derby.

When a new ring road around the city center was being built, the citizens of Derby were asked to vote on potential names for it. And the winner was Lara Croft Way.

I love that the city has a street named for its most famous video game character. But that's not the only great name in Derby. Check out this one, located right next to the Derby Cathedral.
It's sort of like a cheat sheet about what you are supposed to say after you enter the Cathedral.

There are many other great names too. There is Queensway and there is Kingsway. (They meet, though sadly there is no Princesway or Princessesway that issues from their junction. I guess they didn't have heirs.) There is a shopping street called The Strand, because can you really be a great English city without a "The Strand?" I suspect not.

And perhaps my favorite of all is the street with a name so matter-of-fact, it's almost poetic.
I guess that's my cue to exit this post. But you can probably guess where I'm heading. No, it's not Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That's where I was.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

n Wrongs Don't Make a Right – Erich

Obviously the title is a play on the idiom "Two wrongs don't make a right." But in recording my wrongs, there are far more than two, and they don't seem to have yet made a right. So as a good mathematician, I posit that for any natural number n, that n wrongs don't make a right.

When I say I am recording my wrongs, please understand, I am not talking about major crimes. One of our goals in our journeys was this: Don't become an international incident. And we have done well in avoiding that.

Instead, I am talking about what we might call a faux pas or two or three or n. I was reminded of them today when I made one of the smaller ones.

You see we took a train today from Glasgow to Edinburgh, then from Edinburgh to Darlington, and then from Darlington to Derby. Note: Derby is pronounced Darby, rhymes with Barbie the blonde headed doll. It is not Derby as would be said after the word Kentucky when not being followed by Fried Chicken.

Though we were on the same train from Darlington to Derby, I had "split tickets." So I had a ticket from Darlington to York, then from York to Sheffield, and then from Sheffield to Derby. At Darlington, I displayed my tickets from Darlington to York. The conductor bid me "cheers" and stamped them. Then after leaving York, I displayed my tickets from York to Sheffield. The conductor recognized us, of course, a family of four with quite obvious American accents. There was another set of stamps and another "cheers."

Now, after we left the station at Sheffield I displayed the tickets from Sheffield to Derby. And now the conductor said "Are you going any further than Derby?" I answered in the negative. He stamped them and told me that I could have just given him more than one set of tickets at once. Oops.

Minor faux pas. He wasn't too mad, and he still bid us "cheers." So that's a good sign, right?

But it made me reflect on the various places in the world where I just clearly didn't do things the right way. In India, I couldn't seem to do anything right. I never understood the expectations of tipping. When someone is doing a service and you offer to pay and they say "No, it's included," you aren't really prepared for them to be mad at you later when you don't pay them enough for the included service.

At one hotel, we were supposed to turn in our keys when we left each day. They don't clean your room if you don't turn in your keys. Another oops.

In the UAE, while at the hospital waiting to take Syarra home after she hurt her leg ice skating, I sat in the waiting area specified for women. The guard was very friendly about moving me. Of course, I was so apparently a Westerner. But had I been paying better attention, there were signs which would have warned me.

In South Africa I was riding a train, and entered the car set aside for a group of school children. Maybe there were going on a field trip. I'm not sure. But I was ushered into another car.

In a variety of Asian countries, I failed to always remember to remove my shoes upon entering a home or place of business. In Bangkok, I had a very difficult time understanding that I had to go through a security check to enter a hotel, complete with sending my bags through the scanner.

And probably most scandalous of all, I have often said, "No thank you," when I was offered tea. In my defense, for a man who does not like tea, I have accepted a lot of it in a variety of countries. But I do occasionally decline, and that may not be the appropriate choice. However, accepting tea and not drinking it is probably just as bad. (Hence my ingestion of more tea in the past year and a half than in the entire previous portion of my life.)

So to everyone on the globe to whom I have offered offense or embarrassment, I humbly say, "I'm sorry." And I do this in the hope that even though n wrongs don't make a right, maybe n + 1 apologies do.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Six Thousand Five Hundred and Seventy Five – Erich

I am Scotland, the land that brought humanity golf. And I have just completed a round of 18.

However, that is purposely misleading, because I did not just play golf. In fact, I have never played regular sized golf (to distinguish it from the miniature variety) before. (I have played many a round of miniature golf, including a few rounds in which I had a toddler in a backpack on my back as I played. It didn't make my playing any worse, because my playing isn't that good to begin with.)

Rather as of today, I have been married for 6575 days. Or for those of you who adhere to the status quo preference for annual counts, on this day 18 years ago, I got married. My Alrica promised to love me through all the stuff, the good and bad (we've had both,) the sickness and health (we've had both,) rainy days and Mondays (which only sometimes get me down,) and, though that last pair wasn't truly part of any vows, she basically said she would love me through everything else. So it includes rainy days, and Mondays, and even lunar eclipses.

Kevin and Mandy took our kids out with them today to explore Stirling Castle. Hopefully one of the kids will blog about it. But this allowed Alrica and I to have some wonderful anniversary time for our exploration, just the two of us. So we braved a blistering wind under the deep gray skies to do just that.

We first visited the Royal Burg of Linlithgow. At one time, this was the home of the kings of Scotland, and eventually the kings of both Scotland and England. (After Queen Elizabeth I died, her cousin James became king of England. He was James VI of Scotland, but James I of England. I wonder if he missed some of his mail because of the change in number.)

Here we saw some of the older architecture of the city. But of course the center piece is the Royal Peel, a park named for the wooden wall (the pele) that once protected it. In this Peel is a loch formed by a chunk of ice left behind by a glacier. We walked around the loch, with the wind battling us.
A woch around the loch
I realize Alrica's face is sort of halfway between smile and about to cry. I swear it is because of the wind and not her reflection of having been stuck with me for 18 years. (At least for the sake of my ego, I hope it was the wind.)

Then we visited the Linlithgow Palace.
The North Face (not the sportswear company)
No, it's not a going concern anymore except as a historic site. But it was the royal residence and the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. Here she is, well, not her in person, as she was beheaded. But a statue of her that still has its head.
I'm much taller standing on a pedestal... and retaining my head
We went from there to Blackness Castle. (In my mind, I pronounce that blackNESS and not BLACKness, but what do I know?) Blackness Castle is right at a point on the beautifully named Firth of Forth. I don't know why the Forth River has a firth, but I'm glad it does. I wish it had three more so that one of them could be the Fourth Firth of Forth.
It isn't even black
The castle had an interesting history. It's builder had it taken away from him by the king. A couple generations later, another king hired his illegitimate cousin to make improvements. He was so impressed with his cousin he had him legitimized (though how that exactly happens is unclear.) But then the king was told his cousin was plotting against him. It's not certain whether or not that was true, but either way, the recently legitimized cousin became an even more recently euthanized legitimized cousin.

We had a delicious lunch. I had steak pie under a puff pastry and my bride enjoyed a burger with haggis on top of it.

And then we went shopping.
This picture is entirely gratuitous
No, contrary to any romantic expectations, this was not shopping for the perfect anniversary gift. It's just after you've been traveling with only three or four outfits, your pants wear out. You need to replace them.

It was a perfect way to celebrate my marriage to my wonderful bride of 18 years. And while I still have no interest in playing golf, I'm ready to start another round of 18.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mr. Smith Goes to Edinburgh – Erich

It will become apparent, in the duration of my post, that my verb tense in the title is incorrect. Setting that aside, yesterday I took a jaunt into Edinburgh.

We are staying at a farmhouse in Scotland. At the moment, Uncle Kevin, Aunt Mandy, and Konnor are visiting us. And yesterday, we caught a train into Edinburgh.
I realize that this is written and not an audiobook (or a podcast as that would be the more appropriate analogy.) But I do want you to internally pronounce Edinburgh as you would were you here. It is ED-in-b'rruh. That last part is like one and a half syllables, so the whole name is about 3.5 syllables. And if you are a local, you might shorten it even further, combining the ED and the in into a single syllable that sounds mostly like EN. EN-b'rruh. Either way you wish to pronounce it in your head is fine with me. But don't say ED-in-burg. It's not like Pittsburgh and this sure ain't Pennsylvania.

Edinburgh is a great mix of modern and traditional. Case in point, check out this ATM, disguised as a phone booth.
Imagine if Clark Kent tried to duck in here to put on his own disguise
There is some beautiful old architecture.
It's like a building wearing a crown
But the city is very modern. We stopped by an outdoor Flea and Food Market. While there, we tried some corn and crab fritters. More bizarre, we saw a dinosaur.
The picture doesn't capture the sound effects. The guy was going "RAWR!"
Okay, it was a man staying in that apartment with a dinosaur costume. But it was still unusual. I'm not sure why he decided to put on a show, but since he did, what could we do but watch him roar?

We walked along the Royal Mile. There were many sites along the way, but I think my favorite was a churchyard. Why?

First, we approached the church and Syarra asked what it was. I suggested we go look at the sign in front. It turns out that sign was a list of celebrities buried in the churchyard. I was looking through the list and my eyes popped out of my head. Adam Smith is buried here!

I was super excited, but Kevin and Mandy thought I was just being sarcastic. After all who would care about a guy named Mr. Smith? Of course, I knew him as the father of economics, author of Wealth of Nations, the guy who said we don't have to stick to this feudalism system, it will all be fine if we go to free markets.

I searched through the entire churchyard. Luckily Mandy found his grave for me.
Here lies Adam Smith
You must be important when you get a quote over top of your resting place
The quote was engraved on the ground before the tombstone. In case you can't read it in the picture, it reads, "The property which every man has in his own labour as it is the original foundation of all other property so it is the most sacred and inviolable"

I don't get to use the word inviolable often enough. My spell checker wants me to know that the spelling of labour is not inviolable. Or I guess to remove the double negative, that it is violable.

Mr. Smith was born in Edinburgh, and though he died elsewhere, he was brought back here to be interred.

Kevin, Mandy, and Konnor went hiking up the peaks at Holyrood Park to get to Arthur's Seat.
But as Syarra's leg is still hurting from her ice skating incident, we sat in the park at the bottom of the hill and enjoyed a warm Scottish afternoon.

And then, as sort of a final hurrah to our day in the big city, we got a late lunch or early dinner. Whichever you prefer. We went to a delicious bar/restaurant called The Royal MacGregor. And there we had some pretty traditional favorites.
Bangers and Mash
Ah, Bangers and Mash. Guess which part is the bangers and which part is the mash.
Halloumi Burger
This burger is topped with fried Halloumi cheese. I learned that Halloumi is originally from Cyprus, though we were first introduced to it in UAE. And it is so good!
Fish and Chips
Just seeing fish and chips makes you want to call someone "Guv'ner," doesn't it?
Haggis Tower
You can't say you've tried Scottish food without some form of haggis, can you? This one is haggis on the bottom, mashed potatoes in the middle, and mashed turnips on the top. And then you drizzle a whiskey butter sauce on it.

That was my first experience with haggis, and it will not be my last. Quite enjoyable. Even Konnor thought so.

So there is a quick report on the day that Mr. Smith was already in Edinburgh for quite some number of years, and Mr. Goldstein went to Edinburgh. Are those preferable verb tenses? Is verb tense really so inviolable? I wish Mr. Smith could weigh in on the controversy.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Swedish Swish – Erich

I am not giving accurate expression justice when I say that we did not do Sweden justice. We were barely there long enough. But what a beautiful country.

We had a one day layover in Sweden, flying into Stockholm airport one morning and flying out the next. We considered going into Stockholm itself, but chose a different route. Instead, we rented a car and went north from the airport to Uppsala.

Uppsala is really the second Uppsala. First we visited Gamla Uppsala, which means Old Uppsala. We visited the Royal Mounds there.
West Mound in the foreground, Middle Mound and East Mound going back
These three mounds are burial sites, though there is not a consensus on who exactly is buried there. Legends and reports from historians of long ago say each one houses a king. But in the 20th century, archaeological research was done there which suggests that may not be the case. In the east mound, they found belongings that indicate perhaps a woman was buried there. Though it is not conclusive.
You are allowed to climb the mounds
What is known is that these mounds date back to the 7th century. Uppsala was an important capital. Here Odin and Thor were worshiped, and kings ruled over Vikings. Uppsala itself is not on the ocean, but there is a river that provides access. However, the river had a few cataracts that made it less than appealing as a transportation hub.

This becomes important later. See, the area eventually became a Catholic region. And a large church was built right near the Royal Mounds. It was the cathedral of the area, and the archbishop had his seat there. But in the late 13th century, the cathedral burned. And the archbishop asked the pope to move a few kilometers down river to a smaller trading town that had easier access to the sea. The pope agreed, but with one condition: If the cathedral moves, then the name Uppsala must also move. So the trading village was renamed Uppsala, and Uppsala was renamed Gamla Uppsala. A new church was built on the site of the original cathedral, but the archbishop was no longer seated there.

However, the new cathedral can be seen from Gamla Uppsala, or at least its steeple can be. We went into Uppsala itself to get a better look.
The modern cathedral
Now Uppsala is quite a large and complete city. But it is filled with bike paths and bikes, which we loved seeing. Plus, is there anywhere else with skies so blue?

For lunch, we stopped at an Ikea. Yes, the famous Swedish store Ikea. There is a cafe in each, as you often find the States. But the cafe in a Swedish Ikea is, well, more. It's bigger. There are more choices. There are more people in it. And your drink selections are all kinds of fruit flavors we would certainly never have at home like elderberry and lingonberry. I even got a lingonberry sauce with my meatballs! Yum!
Just a piece of the much larger picture
You would have to see it to properly compare it to those at home. But calling it merely a cafe inside an Ikea doesn't do it justice.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Incident - Syarra

If you have read The Third Time Hydrant - Erich, you know that I have been wounded and that I can't walk well without pain. I have not been ice skating for quite a few years and I was out of practice. It was getting easier to not lose my balance I was skating to a wall and as I reach it my right leg swung up and hit my other leg taking a chunk out of it. It was gushing blood and it really hurt. In a few minute I was sitting, a cloth was putting pressure on my leg. People keep telling me not to cry as waves of pain were washing over me. We tried to figure out how to get Carver and my dad to know where we were. The people who worked at the ice skating rink said someone would be waiting. Then an ambulance came. Then the driver had to decide which hospital to go to. By this point in time my mom was with me and we were off the ice which we were sitting on (and freezing on) for quite a while. 

The ambulance was terrible I can explain why in two words: speed bumps. I was strapped into a hospital bed laying flat. As we passed over the dreaded speed bumps I could feel the blood rushing through my leg, up then back down. Also as the painful things were passed over by the ambulance it felt like I was upside down. Which to some extent I was. And last of all as we ran over the frightful things waves of pain collapsed upon me.

As I lay in the hospital waiting after we arrived, my leg throbbing in pain, and I was moved to a hospital bed I saw a nurse. She said it was superficial and I would be fine. My mom had to go and give them information. It was confusing to them that we did not have insurance. In the UAE everyone has to have insurance as a requirement. It was not something they could stitch. So no procedures had to be done. 

Carver and my dad arrived and while it wasn't that long it felt like forever to me. At that point we told them what happened. They wanted our passport so my dad and Carver went to get them also they needed to feed the animals so they went back for that as well about half an hour later they came back by this point they had said we could leave and it would be free or we could get admitted to the hospital. I decided that I would like to go and so we went home and I sat for two day spending my time on the couch watching movies. I re-watched all of the Lord of the Rings movies even though I had watched them before. By now it has been five days I can limp around but I can still over do it and it still hurts.

The Third Time Hydrant – Erich

I know you've been expectant. Yes, I did get a picture of a fire hydrant in Al Ain, UAE. Here it is.
Wait, wait, there's a story to this one
It wasn't easy to find a hydrant, by the way. They don't seem to have them in the neighborhoods of Al Ain. I'm not sure how they handle fires and the water needed to fight them. But I did find this one.

However, I didn't take a picture of it when I first saw it. I didn't even take it the second time I passed the hydrant. It wasn't until the third time that took the photo. And why? Well, that's a bit of a story.

You see, we had a bad stretch there for a couple of days. Two hamsters and one turkey that we were caring for died. We were house sitting. We were caring for ducks and chicks and geese (better scurry) and turkeys and guinea fowl and cockatiels. But that's just the birds. There was a tortoise (our reptile). Plus we cared for plenty of mammals, one dog named Orlando, two cats named Mongy and Zaine (not sure on the spelling of either), two hamsters (who so far as I can tell didn't have names), and three rabbits (named Bun Bun, Princess, and Lady Grey.) No, there were no amphibians, but just in case that bums you out there were some fish and some insects we had to care for as well. Yes, beetles, but mainly because their larvae are the food for the fish.

The turkey, it seems, had just reached its time to die. The hamsters, I have no idea what caused their demise.

That was the start of the bad stretch. Next, we went to visit the Hot Springs at the foot of the Jabel Hafeet Mountains which straddle Oman and UAE. But the water was cold! What? I should really say the water was cool. This was a hot desert, so even with just the natural warming of sun and air, there isn't really cold water there. But it was not hot as one might expect.

But on the upside the Jabel Hafeet Mountain is jagged and cool looking. Plus, right? Happy again!
I can just imagine tectonic plates crashing into each other when I see this
We wanted to go hiking up in the mountains, but it turns out, that's not allowed. Oh! Sad again.

Let's go back to happy. We did go to visit the Camel Souk, where they just sell camels. If you want, you can just drive up, buy a camel, load it into the trunk (though it probably won't fit) and drive it home. Or you could ride it.
Have hump, will travel
Now you're wondering what this has to do with a hydrant. Well, it's really about where I saw the hydrant. You see Alrica and Syarra went ice skating. There is a skating rink in the Al Ain Mall. Carver and I didn't want to go skating, so we got groceries and then returned to pick the ladies up. But when we got there, the cupboard was bare. Or at least there were no female Goldsteins to be found.

We asked at the place where one rents the skates and learned that part way through the skating, Syarra had taken a spill. The blade of one skate had gone through the other leg, nicking an artery and spewing blood everywhere. She had been taken to Al Ain Hospital in an ambulance.

Fortunately, Google Maps could find this hospital and Carver was a great navigator as I raced (though never exceeding the speed limit) there.

Side note to cut the dramatic tension: In UAE, speed limits are bizarre. If you see a sign that says 80 (meaning 80 kph) the speed limit is actually 100 kph. If you see a sign that says 60, then you can go 80 kph. Apparently, the signs are listed at 20 kph less than the speed you are allowed to go. I don't know why this is. Why not just tell people the actual speed limit? I guess it reinforces the basic math skills of adding twenty. And I'm in favor of reinforcing math skills.

Back to the main story: Carver and I reached the hospital and parked. And I did see the hydrant there, the first one I had seen in UAE. But I didn't take the time to photograph it because I was in a hurry to find my injured daughter.

She's fine. It was a bad wound, but didn't hurt the muscle or bone. She is still walking with a limp because of the pain of the wound, but it is healing.

Anyway, with the running here and there, I didn't get a picture of the hydrant until the third time I passed it, when I knew Syarra was going to be okay.

Want an amazing fact? Emergency care and ambulance rides are free in the UAE. We didn't pay anything for Syarra's medical emergency. Wow!

Lest you feel too bad for us, look at what I did discover at the grocery store.
Compare and contrast: Doughnuts on left vs. doughnuts on right
Apparently what makes a doughnut American style is the stripes.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

In the Eye – Erich

If you had to choose a great flavor that kids love, what would it be? Think on that for a moment, I'll get back to it.

We spent two great weeks in Al Ain, a city in the Abu Dhabi Emirate of the United Arab Emirates. It's on the border with Oman.

Al Ain is amazing in that it is a spot where people have lived sedentary lives for much longer than the rest of the nearby area. You see Al Ain is a natural oasis surrounded by desert. The name Al Ain means The Eye or The Spring. If you look at a map of the Arabian Peninsula, you can even imagine one wet area in this location as an eye next to sort of a rhinoceros like nose.

What it is means is that while the rest of the Arabian Peninsula was home to either nomadic herders or coastal fishing villages, in this one spot there was a community of farmers.

We visited the Al Ain Oasis, which is a huge publicly owned date plantation. We learned how the people of the area invented a form of canal irrigation called falaj irrigation. A falaj is the name for one of the canals, and its plural is aflaj. I'm sure the original aflaj were not made of concrete, nor did they have white plastic gates to cut off different branches.
Falaj, not a word we get to say often enough
In addition, the ancient people discovered three tier agriculture. First they planted date palms which grew tall enough to give shade and some relief from the heat. Under that was a layer of fruit plants. And then at the bottom were vegetables.
See it's not all oases!
And though the water and oases are very impressive and life-giving, there is something majestic about the desert itself. And one of the beautiful things in Al Ain is that you are allowed to just drive into the desert and get out of your car and walk around. We enjoyed taking some walks up dunes and runs down them. Some of us who were young and spry even rolled down the dunes. (I was not among their number.)
There is a whole lot of this
And after a hard day of rolling down dunes, why not kick back and enjoy some cream cheese. After all, it's the taste kids prefer!
Oh boy, Mom! Cream cheese!