Monday, December 24, 2007

there and back again...

Once again, I write this from far, far away. This time, I'm in Swansboro, North Carolina... just off the crystal coast and north of Camp Lejeune. Last time I wrote, I had returned from a great trip to the Pacific coast of Oregon. I spent one day doing laundry, then drove out to Baton Rouge to visit my sister Colleen and her family. Before we got together, I drove thru downtown and had a Frostop rootbeer in a frozen mug. Frostop was my first real job... a fifties style diner where the rootbeer was the only reason to come back. Was still sickeningly sweet... but good.

I met up with Colleen and her family for a top notch Cajun seafood dinner, and hung out with the kids for a few hours. With the exception of a massive nosebleed and an upset stomach... we had a good time.

The next morning, I took off on the longest drive I've ever attempted to give my truck to my last sister, Sandi. Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Swansboro, North Carolina. Unfortunately, it didn't start off too well. My stomach was tearing me up the whole way... which made the hourly stops very necessary. Thankfully, I made it to Augusta, Georgia in pretty good time... no major slowdowns or incidents... thank god.

I left Augusta around four in the morning (couldn't sleep... spend most of the night in the bathroom) in the pouring rain. Didn't help that I left my window down the previous night and had to sit on a cold and soaking wet seat...

I drove for a few hours and got to Florence, South Carolina. I pulled off to use the bathroom, and noticed that my truck was making a grinding noise. I drove into a McDonalds, and saw some smoke coming from my engine. I filled the engine coolant reservoir, and let the truck cool off for a little while. I took off again, and made it about five miles north when my temp gauge pegged out... while I was on the long and narrow bridge crossing the Great Pee Dee River. Billowing smoke started to pour out of my engine and I pulled off as soon as possible.

So there I was... about three hours away from my destination in a broken-down vehicle, in the middle of nowhere South Carolina, in the cold and pouring rain. Almost started to freak out... but then the general silliness made me bust out laughing. I took some good pics while waiting two hours for the tow truck.

Sandi and the kids drove down for lunch while the truck was being repaired. Turns out my water pump burned out... could have been worse...

Spent the past few days touring the coastal towns and beaches of North Carolina. Beautiful little seasides and saltwater marshes... and toured the old Fort Macon. We shucked oysters one night with the neighbors and played cornhole in the yard... good times.

We just had Christmas and opened some presents. I'll be arriving back in Houston on Christmas day wearing my new Swansboro football t-shirt...

I wish everyone a very merry christmas... peace on earth... goodwill towards men...


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From one trip to another...

I finally left my job. My last day was December 7th with the City of Houston. To my amazement, they threw me a going-away-lunch... and everyone actually came! Granted, we went to Ninfa's, about one step up from Taco Cabana... but it was better than nothing. Over my over-friend chimichanga, I received high praise from my bosses... which came as a complete shock to me! I honestly didn't think I accomplished one damn thing of significance while I was there, but listening to them you would have thought I saved the mayor from a burning building. Honestly... I was a little touched by the whole thing. My last day was spent shredding everything in my desk and finding a way to ditch at lunch.

As a gift, they gave me a pen, a keychain, and a business card holder with the official City of Houston seal. Thank you for your tax dollars...

That evening, I packed everything up from my sister's house (feeling like a Clampett) and moved in with my parents. My mom recently redid the kitchen, so I'm sharing a room with a glass dinette set and some bar stools. I only had a few days to get settled and relaxed, then mom and I flew out to Portland, Oregon to visit my sister, Kim. They flight was fine, but long. The ticket said it was a direct flight to Portland, but we couldn't figure out why it was taking seven-and-a-half hours... turns out all Southwest flights on the west coast stop in Oakland... oops.

Still, we had a blast at my sister's. I got to spend a ton of time with her absolutely adorable little girls, and got smeared with butter by a... well... buttery one-year-old. Wanna play a magic trick on your friends, spend a few minutes with your nieces, then surprise them with their grandma under the Christmas tree... and poof... you'll never see them again...

Kim lives in a little ag town called Albany in central Oregon... mostly sod farms, wineries, and mills. We took an hour's drive west through the misty hills and hit the Pacific. Damn that was beautiful!! We walked along the beach and saw a myriad of lighthouses perched hundreds of feet above the rocks. We strolled through little towns that looked so much like Cabot Cove I kept asking where was Jessica Fletcher and the sheriff...

Ended up at the Yaquima National Park, walking along the lava rock beach... the rocks polished like glass from the water. As the waves crash, it sounds like pouring marbles into a bag... the little black spheres tumbling up onto the larger rocks and washing back into the water. We saw harbor seals playing in the surf. To say it was beautiful just doesn't do it justice.

The next day, we took off to the east, heading into the Cascades. I was supposed to go skiing, but a lack of snow put a hamper on that. Instead, we hung around a very nice house in the middle of the woods and just dicked around. We ended up sledding with the kids, sipping on hot chocolates, and playing cards and Yahtzee. All the while getting toasty with a roaring fire and beer chilling outside in the snow flurries.

We had a layover in Oakland on our return trip. After bumming a smoke from mom, we stood outside and slowly saw a group form up on the curbside pickup. It consisted of a bunch of very good looking people wearing Santa hats (fine), one in an elf costume (ok..), one elf (goofy but seasonal..), and one wearing a banana suit. I accused my mother of dipping her cigarettes in angel dust...

Good trip... really good trip.

While I was away, my new employer sent me books to study. The Expert Expatriate and Understanding Arabs. I have two weeks before I leave, and I feel woefully underprepared. I've studied my Arabic, but not nearly enough. I have the manuals to prepare for the classes that I will teach, but none of the textbooks to go back and cram. And all the while, I'm on a whirlwind marathon of traveling. I have one day at my parent's house, and tomorrow I'm off to Baton Rouge to visit another sister. The next day, I have a two-day drive to the Atlantic coast of North Carolina to visit yet another sister!

I'm the one leaving... why the hell couldn't they come a visit me??

So far, I'm three books, two lab manuals, four sets of fingerprints, one college subject, two-thousand miles, a Christmas, and an upset stomach short of being ready to move to the middle east...

Sounds about par for me...


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's a karaoke Christmas...

I went up to Dallas to spend the weekend with a close college buddy. He and his wife were having a party, and wanted to see me before I moved. As soon as I got there Friday night... I knew it was going to be one of those weekends.

They were knee deep in cleaning products, nothing was ready for the party the following night, and the house smelled faintly of incontinent dogs. I love these two people with all my heart, but every time I go up there for some type of party, they never seem to have anything planned out in advance, and that always initiates a three-day argument. Let me take an aside... I'm not married... hell, I've never even been in a really long-term commitment. So I am not an expert, or barely even knowledgeable on the topic of married life. Couples fight. But I beg of you... please... when you have out-of-town company who drove four hours to spend a very precious few hours with you before he moves eight-thousand miles away, would it kill you to not send me upstairs to sit quietly while you and your wife bitch at each other! I personally loved it when they were openly fighting during the party itself over who got to run the karaoke machine... classic.

It was a great party, though. I still don't like karaoke, but obviously I am in the minority on this one. The next day we went and played absolutely horrendous golf with a couple we met the previous night. Scott kept catching me staring at the woman we were playing with... but I would have beared her children if she would have let me.

So far, everything with the move seems to be going very well. I still have some financial issues to deal with, but it's all coming together. One thing I'm upset about is my Arabic lessons. I bought a little workbook and some CDs to try and pick up some basics. I was doing really well for about two weeks until the quickie move and end-of-job issues started popping up. Hopefully I'll have some more time to study in the next few weeks... but considering my travel schedule... that probably won't happen.

My current job with the City ends in two days. Until last year, I had never quit a job in my life for reasons other than "I'm moving away" or "I'm going to college." My previous job I interviewed for and won during my last semester in college. Let me tell you... that is one of the greatest experiences ever... not so much starting your career... but knowing that for one full semester you only need D's. Anyway, I worked at that company for almost nine years, quickly moving up the ranks of technical staff and then management. Towards the end, I was really getting tired of what I was doing. I had nowhere else to climb in the company, and my friends and family could tell that I was sinking under the stagnant waters quickly. My parents were openly wanting me to quit and do something else. This came as a shock to me; as my dad had worked for the same company for 27 years, I thought that the long-term employment with one company was the only way to go. But, bolstered by their support, I started looking around, found my current job, and quit. I can honestly say that the day I turned in my resignation was one of the hardest days of my life. Even though I knew I couldn't keep working there, I had grown up in front of these people, and many of them were considered very close friends.

I did not have the same feeling when I quit the City. In fact, I was extremely anxious and excited about quitting this time. I enjoyed the work, and some of the people were very friendly. But in my job I'm completely separated from everyone, by physical location and the nature of my job. No one knows exactly what I do, or how it melds itself into what they do... and you know what... neither do I. That is my biggest concern with the City, is that there is a huge lack of focus and direction from our leadership. My current boss gets these grandiose' ideas, will have absolutely no knowledge or insight into what planning or preparation is required to make his plans a reality... and will assign his woefully under trained and ill-equipped staff to get results. Just doesn't make for a successful bureau.

I'm really concerned for my laboratory. I handle most of the hands-on workings of a very complex analytical system; including all the quality control and data analysis. I'm actually writing this entry in my mobile lab while the turbopump warms up. The two other members of my team... aren't here. In fact... they're never here. Neither of them spends any more time in the lab that what is absolutely necessary, and neither of them have a grasp on the workings of the systems. This isn't that they're not as good as me... it's that they don't have a fucking clue as to what is going on. This... makes me really worried.

But, at least they're taking me out to lunch tomorrow to celebrate my leaving... even if it is to Ninfa's...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'm out...

Finally got out of my house. In fact, I was pretty much booted out on my ass... but the results are the same. After the person who was going to rent my house backed out at the last minute, I thought I was going to be stuck with paying the mortgage even while in Qatar. But just one day later, a very nice couple took and look and put in an application. Yet again, one minor detail... they wanted to move into the house in two days.

Well, let's just say that the past few days have been action packed with excitement... getting credit checks, packing more boxes, rewriting leases, moving things into storage, cleaning the carpets, getting new insurance, canceling utilities, forwarding mail... all good things. The couple have two young kids and they were really wanting to get into a house before their dad left... he was being deployed to Iraq, again, in just one week. He is a captain and a munitions officer with the U.S. Army. His wife said that they've spent their whole married lives together moving from rental to rental... so this was just another day... so another house to put together and get dinner ready for the kids. Godspeed...

Quick note of congratulations to my insurance agent, AJ. This week, he played in the Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League's equivalent to our Superbowl. Unfortunately, he and his Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Still, a great job for "Flight 97!"

Had a nice respite from the packing and moving to attend the wedding reception of my friend Katie's mom, Georgene. Had a really nice time rousing about with her family's Michigan contingent (pirogi lasagna, anyone?) and drinking a well-stocked supply of mimosas. Ended up talking about my soon-to-be-move, and everyone was really supportive and very cool... all except one silver-haired acquaintance. Right when I got there, Katie mentioned that this one person was a bit of a horse's ass, and to watch myself. This person, whom I have known for a whole fifteen minutes at this point, quickly paced up to me an grabbed my very shocked cheeks. She looked me over like a slave trader and said, "You need to be very careful... you're going to be a target for them. Yep, they're all going to hate you because of your blue eyes and light skin. You need to be on watch at all times... maybe even carry a knife..."

Silver-haired lady, thanks for your concern. I promise to wear those huge sunglasses old people wear when they get their eyes dilated and vigorously pursue tanning, all the while hiding either a machete or a katana somewhere on me at all times... you dumbass...

The moving company came on Tuesday to pack up all my things that are being shipped overseas. Now, I was given very specific instructions on what I could and could not bring, including an unbreakable weight limit of 450 lbs. I kept whittling my piles of clothes, sports equipment, textbooks and pictures down until I thought I was under the limit. Turns out, I only had 193 lbs. of crap. I could have brought so much more stuff... but I still don't have a good idea of what I really need over there. Everything else I own is in a rundown storage locker collecting dust and mildew for the next few years. I don't know why, but it always seems funny to me that everything I own... the goods and toys and comfortable chairs that everyone works so hard to acquire... everything fits comfortably into a 300 square foot space... with plenty of room left over.

Anyway, I'm staying my sister's house for a week, just until my job here is finished. This weekend, I'm headed up to Dallas to visit my buddy Scott. With any luck, we'll both get soused and play some god-awful golf.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving... sorta...

Lots of things to be thankful for... new job, decent health, lots of travel, family is doing alright, friends still haven't killed me yet, Aggies beat the hell outta' t.u. With all the changes happening around me, I'm really thankful for all the blessings that haven't even happened yet.

Turns out that the renter I had lined up for my house (signed most of the documents and everything) has backed out of the deal. I'm not too terribly upset at the news; I'm sure I can still get a renter fairly soon. I'm only upset because I planned everything on the house being rented by now. The almost-renter wanted the house by December 1st, so I got to work and started packing. My dad and I (mostly my dad) moved everything out of the house and into storage this week. Currently, my furnishings consist of a small TV, one chair, one end table, a mattress on the floor, and my upturned cardboard box/computer desk. Most of my clothing is in storage or in suitcases, and I'm ready to get out of here. Now... I'm stuck in limbo.

Spent the Thanksgiving holiday hunkered down trying to pack away the last few bits and pieces of my housewares. Spending three straight days in a vacant house with not much to do but clean gets a little old. Now I've got to take myself and the dog and go hide out in a parking lot somewhere while an agent comes by this morning to show the house. I guess I should take the time to practice my Arabic.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Take this job and shove it...

Well, absolutely no turning back now. I turned in my notice a few days ago. Thankfully, it went really smoothly, although I did have to sit through a two-hour gap meeting on filling the holes that will be left by my departure. I really didn't think that very much would need to be accomplished before I left, but my boss is looking for me to be "proactive."

So, in the next four weeks I need to complete two presentations for the EPA (done), organize all my files into catagories and save them all on a flash-drive (done), get the modem fixed on the mobile lab (done), and sit-around scratching my ass (done). Now you know why I really wanted to leave this job.

When news got around work that I was leaving, I was a little surprised by the reactions. I was thinking people would be glad that I was going overseas and taking a challenging and exciting job... the exact opposite of where I currently work. Instead, everyone here was a little morose about me leaving. I got a lot of comments ranging from "it's too hot there" to "they're all terrorists." I explained Qatar and the position, but people really weren't too thrilled about it. Either I didn't sell it good enough, or maybe they don't want to think about leaving their jobs.

Generally, the people I work with are nice and very amiable... if not very social. But most of them have seemed to fall into their routines, and do not want anything to change. You get the sense that they just want to stay under the radar, don't do anything that would make them stand out or accept extra responsibilities, and just wait for their pension to mature. You could ask anyone here how much time 'til their retirement, and most will know it to the day. I just can't spend any more days sitting at my desk or in my lab not doing anything of any worth. God I'm bored here.

Just spent a few nice nights with Patricia, who was in town for a conference. Went out and had dinner and drinks at The Gingerman, Poison Girl, Rickshaw, Onion Creek, The Hobbit, Ziggy', and everywhere else that served vegetarian food (her) and had a patio for smokers (both). Had a blast and said our goodbyes today.

No takers on the house, yet. If this thing doesn't rent, I'm gonna have to burn it down for the insurance money. All the little things and nicknacks are packed up and ready to go. Just have the garage and the bathrooms to go. I'm thinking of hiring some day laborers when moving day arrives this time. I figure a hundred bucks and a bucket of chicken is worth saving my back.

Got my tickets to Oregon for mid-December to visit my sister Kim and her family. I've never traveled to the Pacific Northwest, and am dying to see what all the hubbub is about. Hopefully, we'll head to the mountains for a day or so and hit the slopes. Kim's kids are getting a surprise when I arrive... so no hints...


Sunday, October 28, 2007


After about a week of wondering what was going on with my relocation, I got the news the my boss received my info and that the paperwork is in the system... now the hard stuff begins. Since I've never traveled overseas, much less lived overseas, I am clueless when it comes to the minutiae of immigration. I have a twelve-page packet on how to get my police clearance for Qatar. I'm already got the four sets of fingerprints done, but not quite sure in which order I'm supposed to send them to DPS, TX Secretary of State, US Dept. of State, and the Qatari embassy... all for notarizing.

I was sick for most of last week (sorry dad) and took some time off from work. Thought it would be a good time to get my travel physical and blood work done... and get some extra-strength vitamin C in the process.

Started packing up my stuff today. For some reason, packing always takes me forever. I pack two boxes, need to take a break, pack another, look through another... never getting much done. I was able to pack up three bedroom closets and my office. Problem is that I'm unsure of what to pack and what to set aside. I'm given a 450-pound limit on shipping my stuff to Qatar. I was told not to bring dishes, electronics, and furniture. I was told to bring sports stuff and towels. Well what about everything else?! Should I bring DVDs, music, books... what about my golf clubs, or my bike?? Unfortunately, I don't have any good ideas. I checked out some blogs of ex-pats in Qatar, and they all say completely different things... depending on how much they make and where their housing is located.

Also, all the stuff I plan to bring to Qatar... I can't pack. The shipping company MUST pack all the items. So I have to leave them sitting out in a bedroom... all the while trying to show the house for lease.

So, what do ya bring? It's like the news stories about the California fires... you're told to leave your house immediately... what do you grab? What, in all the stuff that you've collected and kinda brings you joy, do you take with you??

Friday, October 19, 2007

let the journey begin...

things are happening really fast right now... let me give you a quick recap of the past few weeks...

One month ago... My coworker was beaten and robbed at gunpoint while making his way to work by the exact same path I had taken during the middle of the night for the past five weeks. Knew right then I needed to start looking for another job.

22 days ago... Got an email from my old advisor and mentor at Texas A&M University in College Station about a job opening at TAMU at Qatar. Listed a link and I checked it out. Looked pretty cool and really challenging, so I got to researching Qatar and the city of Doha.

15 days ago... Was a guest lecturer at TAMU's Horizons in Chemistry class (think career day for big kids). Had a lot of fun with the freshmen and really enjoyed the experience. After class, spoke with my advisor about what he knows about Qatar. He said that everyone who went over there loved the experience, and many have stayed on for good. That really peaked my attention.

11 days ago... Went searching for info on Qatar. Found out about Education City, the TAMUQ support office,, and about four hours of Google Earth. Suddenly found myself wondering what life would be as an ex-pat.

8 days ago... Decided to apply online for the job. Honestly didn't think I had a chance in hell to get it. Spent two hours filling out the forms and hit "submit." Was inside my mobile lab trying not to fall asleep when my phone rings ten minutes later. The man on the line (we'll call him "boss" from here on out) says he'll be in College Station in a few days and would like to meet me.

6 days ago... Tell mom and dad about the interview, both are thrilled to death.

4 days ago... Call in *cough* sick to work and head to TAMU. Meet with boss and associates and had a great interview. Got tons of information and a really positive image about life and work in Qatar. Meeting finishes with an unofficial job offer. I ask for a few days to go over it. Head to my parent's house and start drinking early. Watched the DVDs on Qatar and it looks amazing. On the way home, it hits me that I made up my mind the moment I walked out of boss' office. I had that rarefied feeling of doing something absolutely perfect... at that moment, nothing could have shot me down.

2 days ago... I get the official offer letter. Have two quick questions that are answered immediately with the best possible replies. I officially accept the offer. I start in just over two months... wow...

Now... too many things going on in my head. What to do about my Baby, house, family, friends, truck, stuff, money, pension... what to bring... what to wear... what to eat??? Bought a learning Arabic book. Still need to pass a physical and complete lots of paperwork before everything becomes official. A little scared, but massive change always does that for me. So far my friends and family have been very supportive and enthusiastic. Pretty sure dad wants to me take it just so he can come visit. Decided to quit my current job early (really early) so I can spend December visiting my family and friends before I leave.

Decided to start this blog to keep everyone informed of my progress in the preparation, the move, and job and the life of an ex-pat... also it's a lot cheaper than international calls. I'll post some pictures as I move along.

This is gonna be fun...