Sunday, January 31, 2010

Somewhere Over The Iraqi Rainbow


Ok, so if I sit at that bus stop and tap my ruddy tan boots together 3 times, will I suddenly find myself whisked back to Texas?

If you've been following my posts at all, you've probably figured out, that it's not all that bad here where I'm at. However, I'm just about at the 2/3 point of this deployment, and as tends to happen for many people ... I'm ready to go home. Ana keeps sending videos of Jaiden, or cool stuff like 3-D ultra sound pictures of Joey (baby due in May), and I can't help thinking that these are things I should be there for.

Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not complaining. I'm still deployed with Army guys who have to be away from their families for twice a long as I do. (puts it in perspective) But all-in-all, maybe I'm just getting too old for this stuff. With the High Year of Tenure limiting how much longer I can stay in anyway, maybe I'll just hit up the Transition Assistance Program classes when I get home, and started scouting around for jobs ... the kind where I don't miss Christmas and Birthdays.

Anyway, just a thought. But until then, no more complaining. The military has been good to me over the years. And as far as the "inconveniences" that sometimes go with it, for some reason Super Chicken always pops into my head ... "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it Fred"

hmmm ... I think I need more sleep or something. I just realized, that for today's project365, I took a picture of a rainbow (which doesn't happen often in Iraq), and instead of writing a happy, cheerful blog post to go with it ... I go all Eeyore on you guys.

It's all good though, I'll get over it. And in the mean time, I hope you enjoy the picture (which I only captured because I happened to go outside at Exactly the Right Time ... this was one of those "3 minute" rainbows).

I hope you all make good use of what's left of your weekend ... catch you tomorrow.


p.s. as long as we got started on the "over the rainbow" theme earlier, how about some Bruddah IZ ? ... you know you were already singing it in your head anyway ;-)


Saturday, January 30, 2010

How To Make A Sunset Picture Interesting

sunset interesting

This may surprise some of you, but I'm not a huge fan of sunset pictures. Don't get me wrong, sunset is a great time to take pictures ... just not always of the sky. The thing is, it's not too hard to get the feeling that when you've seen one sunset picture, you've kind of seen them all. Even when I lived in paradise, getting a unique sunset picture was not always an easy task.

Alright then, so why did I post a picture of a sunset today?

Well, for my project365, I have a couple spots/objects/locations around the base that I pretty much know I'm going to get a shot of before I leave. This big gun was on my target list. The thing is, taking a picture of it during the day would have been sort of boring. It's just a big gun. But, catching it right at dusk, with some nice pink clouds in the background makes for a nice contrast. However, please imagine that that pink sky background just by itself, with nothing in the front of it ... yawn city huh?

So I've got two potentially boring subjects on their own, that when combine make for a somewhat interesting picture.

And that's one of the keys to making a sunset picture interesting ... make sure you have something good in the foreground. (I believe we discussed this same topic previously in How to take Fireworks Pictures). Beyond that, the other key to sunsets is under expose, over saturate (just a little), and be aware that days with lots of nice wispy high clouds will usually proceed picture worthy sunsets.

Ok, that's about what I've got for today. If you've taken any sunset pictures in the past (this should be everybody), what did you find that made it "special" for you?


p.s. If you've got a flickr link or something to your own favorite sunset pictures, feel free to share in the comments.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I Need To Vent


Even though I've got about 2 months left, I think tonight was my last poker game at Ali AB. I just took two "bad beats" in a row to get knocked out of the championship qualifier round ... again. I actually have a decent record in the regular poker games. I've won about once a month since I've been here. But every month, they also have a "champions tournament" for everyone who's placed 5th or better in any of the regular tournaments. They have two qualifying rounds, with about 20 people playing each night, with the top 4 going on to the finals, to play for a $325 1st place prize. I haven't made it to that final table yet. Tonight was looking like my best shot ...

I was playing pretty decent, but not great. We were down to 6 people, with 4 qualifying for the next round. Due to the blind structure, almost everybody at the table was "short stacked" (had less than 10x the big blind) with the blinds at 1000/2000. My chip count put me either 3rd or 4th ...

The first hand I lost, was for about half my stack. I bet with top pair (10s) and get raised 5K more by middle pair (9s), make the call for all the other guy's chips; he should be gone ... until he hits another 9 on the river. Ok, stuff happens, I still have 8k chips. Until 2 hands later ...

I get dealt Ace Jack suited, and push in my 8K. Dealer calls with Ace Ten. Everyone else folds. Flop comes AA8. Turn 3. River ... you guessed it, a 10. I was out. Two bad beats in 3 hands.

I don't think I'll be going back. Lately the pool tournaments always seem to be on the same nights as poker. And when I play pool, I win about once every 3 or 4 times I enter. And even better, it only takes about 45 minutes ... much less frustrating than playing cards for 3 or 4 hours, and not winning.

Ok ... rant over ... and in the scheme of things, it's not really anything I'm terribly upset about. But, it was a good excuse to write my blog post for the day :-)


p.s. I apologize to any non poker players reading this, but I figure with ESPN showing it 23 hours a day, a fairly good percentage of people will have at least some idea what I'm talking about.

p.p.s. The picture was taken hand-held, at night (you should be impressed), and it actually is a picture of a vent on the back of a building.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Ziggurat Of Ur

Within the perimeter of our base lies the ruins of The Great Ziggurat of Ur; one of the oldest cities in the world, and one of the best preserved Ziggurats in Iraq and Iran. The chaplains here on post organize occasional tours. We got to climb up on the Ziggurat, take some pictures, and even got a professional guided tour of the ruins where it is said the biblical figure Abraham lived.

I took quite a few pictures, but the one above is my favorite.

I would write more, but to be perfectly honest, if you click on the links in the paragraph above, you can easily explore this subject much more in depth than anything I would be capable of writing.

p.s. short post ... it's been a long day. "see" you again tomorrow ;-)

Update: A few more Ziggurat pictures for Lissie ...


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Military Retirement Less That Four Years Away


Today's picture is called "Hanging up my Uniform". Apparently, that's what I'll be doing in less than 4 years from now. I just went over 20 years in the Air Force at the end of last month. I'd planned to stay in pretty much as long as I can ... which until recently meant 6 more years. Then this morning I was reading an article in my feed reader from the Air Force times, which said that the AF had announced that High Year of Tenure is being rolled back to pre-2003 levels.

What that means to me, is that as a MSgt (which, in all honesty is the highest rank I'm going to make), I now have to retire when I hit 24 years ... 28 December 2013, in my case. So for the rest of the day today, the thought of hanging up my uniform has been on my mind. Once I get back from this deployment, and take some leave, I'll only have 3 1/2 years left in the military. I had already pretty much planned on the idea that Fort Hood was going to be my last assignment ... this news seals the deal. By the time I've been at Ft Hood for 3 years, I won't have enough retainability to make another move.

Ok, so I know I can't stay in the military forever. What the heck am I going to do? Well, fortunately I've already started on a few things. I recently got up off my butt and started taking some classes. I've also been working on making extra money for several years now. I actually still have the idea in the back of my head that Ana and I's silly little home business will get to the point where it provides enough income, combined with the retirement pay, that we can live comfortably. But just in case I'm being overly optimistic, getting a degree is probably a goal that needs to jump way up on my priority list over the next few years. And in the event that I end up having to use that degree to get another job, some of the connections I've been making with all my old Air Force friends here lately, may turn out to be helpful down the line.

The Lesson? ...

"Tomorrow" comes quicker than you think. Make sure you're ready for it.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ciano - Italian Restaurant In Iraq

Italian Restaurant in Iraq

That's right, we've got our own little Italian "side walk" Cafe right here on Ali AB, Iraq. There's actually two of the restaurants here on the post. One of them is in our Air Force section, and one is over near the passenger terminal. Seeing as how we get free, all you can eat, food at the dining hall, I wouldn't have thought that a commercial restaurant would do very well over here. Apparently I thought wrong.

As you can see on the sign, they have steak and chicken dishes, as well as the pizza and pasta you would expect to see. The prices are about the same as what you might find in a smaller "mom and pop" type Italian place back home ... most meals are $8-$15. I've eaten the food a couple of times on the holidays, when they served it free in our big top tent. It was good. And even on days when I don't eat there, I walked by it every afternoon on my way home from work, so I get to experience the aroma of fresh cooked bread and Italian spices.

lol, ok I have to stop now ... it's 11:30pm, and writing about Italian food (which is my favorite btw) is making me hungry. Unfortunately, I don't have time to eat, since I have to get up at 0500.

And on that note, I'm outta here, and off to bed. Hope you all enjoy what's left of your day.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunny Cruise Vacation for Everyone

Taking a vacation means different things to different people. Some people like to be active, see new things, and have exciting adventures. Others want to just lay about enjoying their time off away from work. Whatever your preference for a vacation is, try taking a cruise because it truly has something for everyone.

[caption id="attachment_419" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="photo by Gavdana on Flickr"]docked cruise ship[/caption]

Social aspect: If you’re a social person, there are plenty of people to meet on the cruise! There’s a social committee on board that organizes different events for the passengers. If you’re looking for a love connection, there are single evenings as well. All you have to do is check out the ship’s newsletter to know what social events are going on daily. Even if you’re on a mini cruise vacation, you’ll be sure to score some digits.

Conversely, if you like to relax on your own, you can enjoy quiet times by yourself at the spa where you are pampered and treated like royalty. If you have booked yourself a balcony stateroom, you can enjoy some reading time lounging in the sun by yourself.

Dining: On a cruise ship, the food experience is truly second to none. You can have a formal dining experience or if you prefer, you can go for the buffet style which is open 24 hours. The cruise has something for all different taste palates from esgargots to pizza.

Activities: Although the ship has great amenities, you are in fact traveling. Unless you are on a cruise to nowhere where you tour the surrounding harbor for kicks, you will be stopping at a port of call. Here, you set foot ashore and take in the local landmarks and see how the locals live. If you feel like plunking down extra money, you can take on guided onshore excursions. You better do your homework first though because the excursions are all so tempting and you’ll be scratching your head at the last moment to figure out what to choose.

In short, no matter what you enjoy about a vacation, a cruise has something for everyone to enjoy.

Dust Storm Blowing In


Anybody who's been to Iraq is all too familiar with blowing dust. Any time the wind picks up the dust is usually not too far behind. It blows in on the breeze and then proceeds to get into Everything! Not only that, but (more directly related to my job) it's apparently not too much fun to try to fly in either.

Fortunately, in the winter time we don't have too many bad dust days. Sometimes in the summer though, the visibility will be less than 2 miles for weeks at a time. Today however, was one of the rare winter days where we did get a pretty decent dust storm. We just had a cold front go through, so by mid-morning, the winds were were blowing fairly briskly from the west. We noticed on the satellite image first that it looked like conditions were deteriorating upstream. After a few more frames, there was no doubt; the dust was coming. About an hour later, the leading edge of the dust storm was visible on the horizon. And if you look close at my picture above, you can (almost) see a couple of helicopters racing ahead of the wall to make it back to the base before the visibility dropped too far. They made it.

As far as dust storms go though, this one wasn't terribly impressive. The visibility eventually fell down to under 1 mile ... but it was a gradual descent. That seems to happen a lot in this location. I really haven't seen any dramatic walls of dust this time; where the visibility goes from 10 miles all the way down to 1/4 mile or less in the course of 5-10 minutes.

That wasn't the case during my deployment in 2007 when I was further up to the north. This is one of my favorite pictures from the whole time I was there:


Unlike the dust storm that we had here today, which was caused by strong straight-line winds, the wall of dust above was the result of a collapsing thunderstorm. This phenomena, typically called a Haboob, happens when a high based thunderstorm reaches maturity, and begins to dissipate into very dry air below. As the rain falls, it evaporates, causing the surrounding air to become cooler, and more dense. This cool dense air rapidly descends towards the ground in the form of a downburst. When it reaches the ground, it picks up the dust, and begins to spread out in all directions ... with a dust wall similar to what you see in the picture at the leading edge. These strong outflow boundaries can sometimes travel for hundreds of miles, picking up, and depositing dust along the way.

The really great part is, it's not always real easy to predict exactly when and where a haboob will form. But hey, it makes my job of trying to forecast the weather over here that much more interesting. Right ?

I hope this little basic meteorology lesson didn't bore anybody too much. Who knows, it might even come in handy if you live out west. Next time you see dust on the horizon, you can say "Look it's a Haboob" ... then just smile at the strange looks you're sure to get. ;-)


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Do Drink The Water


A deployment trip to the desert is one of the few tropical travel destinations where you are most definitely Encouraged to drink the water ... lots of it. And they make it real easy for us. All around the post, there are pallets full of bottled water, free for the taking. Plus, most offices, rec centers, and the gyms have coolers where you can also get a nice cold bottle.

Reminding people to drink plenty of water is actually part of our pre-deployment training ... I'm not even joking. This time of year, it's not really that big of a deal. The weather is quite pleasant actually (most afternoons the high temp is between 65 and 73). But during the summer time, when the high temperatures can sometimes top 120 F (50 C), if you're not drinking water, you can get dehydrated with a quickness.

I did get a chuckle when I first got here in October. I went into the bathroom near our office, and there on the wall, right above the urinal, is a little chart that helps you determine whether or not you're drinking enough fluids. It's got 3 blocks, with different shades of yellow. You're supposed to compare it to the color of your pee ... then based on which picture you matched up with, the chart tells you how much extra water you should be drinking.

Useful tool, for a serious subject ... but still ... something I might expect to see on an elementary school bathroom wall ... then again, it was a men's room ... and most of our wives would probably argue (relatively convincingly) that we're nothing but big kids anyway. ;-)

p.s. sorry Heather, this place is a desert ... couldn't find any flowers to take pictures of. But just to prove I'm not only about the "guy stuff", just click on this little guy below to see some flower pictures I took in Hawaii:
purple lily

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mitsubishi L200 Pickup - I Like This Truck


For the past 3 1/2 months, I've been cruising around our base in the little Mitsubishi pickup truck that you see pictured above. It's by no means the biggest, fastest, or strongest truck around. But it is fun to drive. It's got a little diesel engine, 5 speed manual transmission, and shift on the fly 4 wheel drive. It seats 4 or 5 of us relatively comfortably, and when we need to haul something off to the dump, or to the air terminal, we just throw it in the short bed.

Whenever it rains here in Southern Iraq (which fortunately isn't often at all), the place turns into one big mud hole. On those couple of days, the 4 wheel drive comes in very handy. But even with all 4 wheels engaged, we've still had quite a few "slip and slide" adventures on the roads ...

One morning, it had rained about 1/2 an inch overnight, and we were driving to work. Due to some construction, we had to take a little detour onto a windy dirt road. Would have been no problem, except parked all along one side of this dirt road was a very long convoy of 18-wheeler semis. One of my forecasters, Dave Smith was driving the truck. We spent about 3/4 of a mile slipping from one side of the road to the other, just barely missing the big truck bumpers several times. Dave was really enjoying the ride. The LT and I, on the other hand, were less enthused ... accidents mean paperwork ... and I hate paperwork !!!

Anyway, as I said, I really like this little truck. And since I traded in my car before I deployed, I will be in the market for a new vehicle when I get back home. Unfortunately, they don't sell this model in the United States. And even more unfortunately the closest relative is a truck called the Mitsubishi Raider, that doesn't appear to get very good reviews. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to enjoy this truck while I'm here, and look for something else when I get home.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Travel the World as a Travel Writer

If you travel the world as much as I do, you may have thought about how convenient and amazing it would be if you could make money while doing it. When I travel, I keep logs of everything I do and see, so it’s not that large of a step to put my logs into article form. If you are very observant, have a unique eye, and are a decent writer to boot, you should consider traveling the world as a writer.

Although it is very hard to make a full-blown career out of travel writing, it is possible to make money. It is also possible that if you get a story idea accepted by a publication, that they will send you on location to write it. There are also other perks like, when writing for a well known magazine, getting your accommodations comped by the hotel you are writing about.

Being a writer is a great way to make money while you travel. But you have to remember that it is a job, it will take time and effort during your trip. You will also need to know the right way to write. These days everybody thinks they are a writer with the advent of the internet. Anyone can post their trip logs and journals on their blogs for free and become “published”. This, however, does not mean that the writing is any good.

You will need to take travel writing courses in order to know how to write so that you can make money. Since there are a lot of free travel sources out there, you need to make your writing worth paying for. A course will show you what different publications are looking for in travel articles. They will show you how to focus your articles and how to write concisely.

Tequila + C130 Flight = Very Bad Day


For you non-military types, this is a picture of a C-130 Hercules. It's a plane that's been flying, in one form or another, since before I was even born. And still today, it remains a workhorse ... especially for intra-theater airlift. But that's not the reason I chose it as my picture of the day.

You may have noticed the title of this blog post up above. Yes, there's a story behind it. My buddy Lou Pell just mentioned it on one of his facebook status updates about a week ago, so the memory is (re)freshed in my mind.

So it's circa 1993. We've been deployed down to Brindisi Italy for about 3 months, providing weather support to special ops/search and rescue aircraft flying into Bosnia. It wasn't a bad TDY at all. San Vito AB was still open at the time. We lived in big tents, but we still shopped in the BX and Commissary, and went to the base club almost every night. And that's where the story of the C-130 ride from hell comes in ...

It's finally time to go home. We're excited, we're going to get to see our families again. Our relief is in place, and is already working. We are scheduled to catch our flight home at 0630 the next morning. So what were we going to do with the rest of our time in Italy? You guessed it, we went straight to the club ...

And proceeded to do shot, after shot, after shot of Tequila. I think we left the club sometime between 2:30 and 3am. How in the world we woke up an hour and half or so later to even get to the flight line is beyond my comprehension level; but we did ... unfortunately. Now I don't know how many of you reading this have ever ridden on a C-130; but I gotta tell you, it's a slow, noisy, cold, and Very Bumpy ride. I don't remember exactly how long the flight back to England was ... 6 1/2 or 7 hours maybe. However long it was, if I ever needed an excuse to stop drinking Tequila I got one ... but good.

I suppose the one bright side was that by the time I actually saw my wife and young son when we got off the plane, there was absolutely no danger of throwing up on them ... my stomach was way empty by that point.

Anyway, is there a moral to this story? Just the obvious one. No deeper meaning that I can come up with. I suppose we could have just stuck to beer. Then again, I suppose we could have just not gone to the club too.

But hey, if I hadn't been at least occasionally "young and dumb", I wouldn't have nearly as many self deprecating stories to tell now that I'm older, and supposedly wiser. ;-)


Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Socialized Health Care


I've enjoyed the benefits of "socialized medicine" for my entire life. First as a military dependent, then on active duty for the past 20 years. Once I retire from the Air Force, I'll continue to have excellent health care benefits; for myself and my family. Because of this, I'd love to be able to say that the current debate over health insurance reform doesn't really affect me. Except that it does ...

It affects us all.

I don't want to get too far off on a rant here. >>Begin Rant<< But suffice it to say, that when it comes to politics, I'm a proud member of the "mushy middle". I've got absolutely no use (or respect) for those members of congress (or the public) on the Right, or the Left who's "principals" (ie: ideology) tend to stand in the way of getting anything productive done. Why is compromise considered a 4-letter word in today's political arena?

I'm not an expert on the health care field. But it seems to me that our congress just spent 3/4 of a year working on plan to at least try to address reforming a system that is so obviously broken. And now, because of one election in Massachusetts, many people seem to be cheering the idea that reform has been "killed".

I have to wonder, if no bill passes; a year or two from now, when the health care crisis has continued to get worse (ie, more and more expensive), will many of these same people then be blaming "the government" for not fixing it?

Speaking of fixing it ...

For my friends on the Left: The health care bill that the Senate already passed, can be voted on by the House of Representatives "as is", and signed into law by the President. (the fact that there's now only 59 votes in the Senate doesn't matter) For those Liberals who oppose the bill because it doesn't go "far enough" (ie, it's too "conservative"); do you really, honestly, think that you're ever going to be able to pass a bill that has "everything" you want, with no concession to the other side? And do you really honestly think that "nothing" is better than "imperfect"?

And on the flip side. To my Conservative friends who are cheering: ... Now what? Do you honestly think that when it comes to our heath care system that the status quo is acceptable? If it turns out that your side does "win" a political victory by blocking the Democrat's proposal, what is the Right's Alternative Plan? ... and before anybody points me to Eric Cantor's website, let me rephrase ... what are the Republicans willing to propose, that has any realistic shot of garnering the support of the 25-30 Democratic Senators it would need to pass? Because let's be honest, any thing less than that is just posturing.

I do have at least one thing in common with many of my more ideological friends ... I'm big time pissed off about the way things are going in this country.

But I'm not mad because the politicians don't always do exactly what I think they should. (it would be scary if they did ... I'm a smart guy, but I'm not always right).

No, I'm pissed off that so many people in our country seem to view politics almost more like a "sporting event", than as a way for society to solve some of the real world problems that we face. Highlighting the differences between those on the Left and those on the Right might make for compelling Cable TV, Talk Radio Shows, and Political Blogs, but it certainly doesn't do much for the prospects of actually addressing some of the very real long-term issues that we (as a country) have already put off for much longer than we should have.

I like this quote: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." ~Harry S. Truman

Unfortunately, in today's world it seems that we (as a society) are disproportionately more concerned with who does or doesn't get the credit ... regardless of whether or not the problem is ultimately ever even addressed; let alone solved. Compromise is against the rules. (both sides can't be allowed to "win" at the same time)

It's a all a big game ... until it's not.

>>End of Rant<<

p.s. my picture of the day, above, is the wall mural in front of our little clinic here at Ali AB, Iraq.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Trip To The Out House


Being "Fobbits" who never leave the base, we really don't have it all that bad on this deployment. But we do still have guys that complain about having to get up and trudge through the cold and the mud if they have to take a pee in the middle of the night. Unless you're a Full Bird Colonel or Sergeant Major/Chief it's highly unlikely that there's a bathroom in the trailer where you sleep.

The photo above is what the "potty buildings" look like from the outside. But don't ask me why I'm even sharing this information with you.

Yesterday was cold and rainy. I had a headache and was generally grumpy and unmotivated all day. I didn't take many pictures, so when I sat down in the evening to pick one, and write a blog post to go with it, there wasn't much to choose from. Then to top it all off, my Internet service went out.

So, in hindsight, it's probably appropriate that the photo I ended up choosing is of the "crapper" :-D


p.s. I'm going to date this post Jan 20th 2010 so that it stays in the right order on the blog, but I'm not actually hitting the "publish" until just now ... on the 21st ... after I've already put up today's picture/article.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Ipod Makes Me Feel Old

green ipod

Should the realization that probably 95% of the songs currently on my ipod were recorded before the ipod was even invented make me feel old?

Ana used to make fun of me when I was at home, because I bought an ipod, but very rarely listened to it. Well since I've been here, I'm making up for it. I listen to music every day while I'm at the gym for our daily workout. Two things recently occurred to me ...

  1. I need more music, some of these songs are starting to repeat pretty often. Unfortunately, with my slow internet speed, it's probably not gonna happen until I get home in the spring.

  2. Most of the songs on my ipod are from the 70s or 80s. Not really surprising, since that's when I was a teenager, and thus most interested in music.

Just to give you an idea of what I'm taking about, today while I was on the elliptical machine, the shuffle feature gave me a nice 3 song in a row stretch ...

  • Paradise by the Dashboard Lights - Meatloaf (recorded in 1977)

  • Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen (recorded 1975)

  • Footloose - Kenny Loggins (recorded 1984)

All great songs ... but all, depressingly, could definitely be classed as "oldies".

Oh well, I like what I like. I do kind of wonder though, when my son Justin is my age, will he still be listening to rap? ;-)


Martin Luther King Wall Mural


"As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be Free"

That's the quote from Dr. King, painted on a wall mural here at Ali AB, Iraq.

I told you I was going to get more pictures of some of the really cool painting on the walls around the base. Today's, was a really perfect coincidence. We drive our truck almost ever where around here. But there is also a pretty good bus system ... which I rode on a fair bit when I first got here. Well today, I needed to come back to my room a little bit early, so I left the truck for LT, and took the bus. Of course I had my camera with me. I didn't actually have a good plan for today's picture, but knowing that it's the MLK holiday, I had hoped to capture an appropriate image ...

Well, it just so happens, that when I got off the bus and started to cross the street, the picture you see above was right in front of me. I have not been on this particular street in about 2 months. I didn't remember that this mural about Martin Luther King was even there. What are the odds, that today of all days, I would decide to take the bus, and get off at the stop right across the street from this mural?

I guess I needed to see that mural. And I needed to share that quote.

Something to think about as you enjoy what's left of your long holiday weekend.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Morning Donut Run


Yep, that's right, it was a totally different kind of run today. But hey, sometimes it's just gotta be all about the sweet stuff. Why is that? What is it about our physiology that makes us have such a strong desire to put something into our bodies that is so obviously not good for us?

Don't get me wrong ... I love me some donuts. But dang it, I'm supposed to be trying to lose weight, and get in shape while I'm here. And having to walk right past several big bins of tasty treats every morning certainly isn't making it easy.

Oh well, if that ever turns out to be the biggest challenge I face on any given day, then I think it's safe to say that life is pretty darn good. ;-)


p.s. I picked these up primarily with the intention of taking a picture ... but eventually ended up eating that chocolate one.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Saturday Morning Jog


There was a half-marathon at Ali AB this morning. I didn't run in it, because I had to work. Ok, actually even if I hadn't been working, as I told Lt. Puckett when he asked if I wanted to sign up ... if I'm going 13 miles, it'll probably be in a car ... or at the very least on a bicycle. That said, had I somehow mustered up the motivation to go for a nice long jog, I think the group pictured above would have been just about my speed.

Even when we're deployed, we're still expected to get our pt workout in at least 3-5 days a week. It's not really that hard, as there 3 big gyms on the base, miles and miles of roads, and special events such at this half-marathon on a fairly regular basis. In fact, they even mirror some of the bigger events back in the states. For instance, I know that we will be having our own running the Boston Marathon in April ... I'll already be gone, but I believe the LT and Kevin want to run in it, if they're still here. Last time I was deployed here, in 2007, I was with a unit from Hawaii. They had "local" versions of both the Honolulu Marathon, and the Great Aloha Run ... which at 8 1/2 miles is more in my range ... I actually did run in the real thing while I was stationed in Hawaii.

For right now, my preferred workout is still a nice easy 2-3 miles on the treadmill ... listening to some tunes, or checking out a good show on the tv. It's funny, I never liked running on treadmills before (think fear of being one of those guys in the funny videos who flies off the back, might be a factor), but now, I put that little safety clip on, and I'm good to go. Might have to continue running indoors a couple of days a week, even after I get back to Fort Hood in the spring.

Until then, I'll just keep truckin along here.

Hope you have a FuN weekend.


Friday, January 15, 2010

International Living in Panama

Long gone are the days when Panama served as a overseas banking safe haven for drug dealers and other unsavory criminals.  Manuel Noriega is long gone and Operation Just Cause, which was the U.S. invasion of Panama under President George H.W. Bush is now more than 20 years past.  In those 20 years, Panama has come a long way and is now both the biggest and fastest growing economy in Central America.  It has a burgeoning international banking and business sector, is successfully overseeing a profitable transformation of the Panama Canal, and is attracting large numbers of foreign expats.

Panama is consistently named on of the best places for expatriates to retire to for the biggest bang for their buck.  On the narrow isthmus that connects North and South America, Panama has two coastlines, one facing the huge, deep waters of the Pacific, and the other facing the more placid, serene waters of the Caribbean.  This makes it easy to find an affordable beachfront condo within close distance of Panama City.  There are tons of activities to choose from, ranging from scuba diving to deep sea fishing, and enough cultural events to stack your schedule full.  Panama and Panama City itself are incredibly developed, with new infrastructure projects being started constantly.  The revenues from the Panama Canal and its export driven economy have given Panama the cash it needs to develop.


On top of this, there are a lot of different benefits seniors retiring to Panama can cash in on.  There are discounts offered on entertainment venues, airline tickets, restaurants, prescription medicine, and even health care.  Speaking of health care, Panama has many private health care options to choose from that have state of the art equipment and Western trained doctors for a fraction of the price that they cost in the United States.  Prescription drugs and health insurance are also both more available and inexpensive than they are in the U.S.

For more information on living in Panama and other exotic locations, visit the Beachfront Property Guide.

Mauritius – The Most Beautiful Island In The World

If you are looking to plan an island getaway, but want to go somewhere more special than your typical island experience, plan to visit Mauritius. It is one of the best tropical islands in the world, known for its vastly beautiful landscapes and friendly and accommodating people.

When looking at information on Mauritius, most of it is geared towards the beauty of the island. Mauritius is actually made up of a group of 20 islands, but the main island is the largest and most populated. Mauritius is sheltered by barriers of coral reefs, forming natural, crystal clear lagoons.

Mauritius has miles and miles of white beaches that look over the aquamarine waters. The beaches are great for sun bathing, surfing, sailing, and windsurfing. There are also some great adventures you can take while on the island. Try mountain climbing, or hike through the forests. Visit some of the beautiful waterfalls, or take in the sites of the giant Victoria Amazonica water lilies at the SSR Botanical Gardens.

Mauritius Sunset

A great way to see all of the vast marine life around Maritius’ coast is to take a submarine ride on the Blue Safari. You will also see some ship wrecks dating back to the 17th century. If you are a diver, there are also great diving sites and you also have the option of night diving.

The island is loaded with historical sites, geographic variation, and limitless activities if you want to get away from the beach for a bit. Also, take a trip to Mauritius’ mountainous island Rodrigues. It is little known and has private beautiful beaches, and the country’s best diving sites.

If you are after some nightlife, visit Grand Baie. It is the island’s party town and has great restaurants and shopping.

Whatever you are after, you will find it in Mauritius - a little taste of paradise.

Watching Avatar On DVD In Iraq


Actually, we'll probably watch Avatar tomorrow. This evening, we watched a movie called Zombie Land. (very quick review: A "self aware" zombie movie. We laughed our asses off ... which I think was the intention). Anyhow, we get our movies from the local bazaar (most posts have a few local merchants who are allowed to set up shop), for anywhere from $2-$4 each. I feel slightly guilty, for not waiting til I get home to pay full price for the "real thing" ... but only a little bit ... it's not like we have other options to see some of these flicks.

Now don't get me wrong, especially with something like Avatar, the experience of watching a dubbed version on a little tiny TV is almost not worth the effort. But I guess that's only fair. (hopefully it will still be in at least some of the cheapy theaters when we get home in the spring)

On that note, that's about all I've got. I apologize for the short post, but one of the after effects of poker night is that I'm usually pretty tired the next day. Tonight, I'm ready to just read a little bit of my book, and hopefully go to sleep at decent hour.

For those of you back in the world ... TGIF ... don't have too much fun if you go out tonight.


p.s. when I say "we" get our movies from the bazaar, actually that doesn't include "me". I haven't bought any this time. But I will admit to watching a few. ;-)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Poker Night At The Big Top


Like many other guys, I became addicted to Texas Hold em poker a few years back. I love to play the game. Fortunately, the rec center over here sponsors a tournament 3 nights a week. We usually get anywhere from 70 to 100 people show up. It's free to enter, but the top three finishers do get prizes ... usually gift cards. I've won my fair share already in the 3 months I've been here so far. But even on nights when I don't win, the real value for me is that it gets me up out of the room. Everywhere we go around base, I'm constantly running into people I know from the poker game. I've even made a few friends that I'll probably keep in touch with even after we get back home.

I started playing Texas hold em after watching a couple of late night re-runs on ESPN2. I played mostly online. Never for a lot of money, but always enough to make it interesting. I am fortunate I guess, that I did a bit of gambling (pool and slot machines) when I was a teenager living in England. I had a good job, and no bills, so it was all in good fun. But one life-long lesson I learned at the time about gambling ...

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER play with money that you can't afford to lose !!!!!

What I really like about poker, is that while it's definitely gambling, there is also a fair amount of skill involved. Even in our little free tournaments, when we get down to the final table or two, most of the faces are usually pretty familiar. My attitude about poker really changed after I read a book, and it dawned on me that to be good at poker, you need to have skill in two areas ... Math, and Psychology. It's a very interesting game to try to master.

And I know Ana (my wife) is just going to say I'm rationalizing, but I do think it can be a valuable use of my time. If you play a lot of poker, you get to practice things like; decision making, risk management, and having patience ... traits that can be invaluable when applied to other non-recreational endeavors.

LOL, and after all that, I'm only back here writing this already because I didn't win tonight. Got knocked out in 9th. Oh well, it was still fun. And besides, the next game is only a couple of days away. ;-)


p.s. the picture above was taken during an actual live hand. I took the shot with the camera basically down on my stomach, while I was looking at the cards, deciding how much to bet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Doing My Laundry In Iraq


In some ways, being deployed is almost like getting to experience childhood again. I have someone cooking all my food for me. There are plenty of "after school activities" at the Rec center. And best of all, "doing laundry" consists of putting it all into a canvas bag about once a week; dropping it off at a little building, which is conveniently right on the way to the parking lot; then picking it up, cleaned and folded, 1 or 2 days later. (all for "free" by the way)

Today's picture is of Miss Lulu, who has the contract for the laundry service here in the Bedrock (Air Force) area of Ali AB. All of the people who work there are really friendly. Dropping off and picking up laundry always seems to involve lots of smiles, and at least a little bit of friendly conversation. Unlike some of the other KBR laundry drop-offs on COB Adder (another name for this base), what's really nice about Lulu's is that they do all the washing right there in the building. This allows for a quicker turn-around, and a little more piece of mind, that all your clothes will still be there on pick-up day.

I do crack myself up a bit though, when it comes to laundry. Apparently, some guy habits just never die. After reading about how relatively easy it is to "do" laundry, can you help me answer this question ...

Why is it that I still almost always end up waiting to turn in my bag of dirty laundry until I'm nearly out of clean underwear?

Deep thought for the day.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Freeze Or I'll Shoot


In case you couldn't figure it out ... when I go hunting (which is pretty much every day) ... my weapon of choice is my Canon camera. Seriously though, since I started this project365 picture a day, that image above is pretty much how many people might be likely to see me ... peering out from behind the lens. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go. And I take pictures of anything that catches my interest.

For instance, this picture below is the one I really wanted to use for my 12 Jan picture of the day:


Unfortunately, I just couldn't come up with any sort of story to go with it.

And besides, I'd like to be able to look back on these pictures at some time in the future and have them invoke fond memories. lol, and if I'm having fond memories of a wall ... well, that would be sad.

As for the picture that I did choose to use for today ... not the greatest photograph in the world ... reflected off the back of the truck mirror (seems to be my favorite "prop" lately) ... but it works ... mainly because I have very few pictures of ME.

Ok, enough rambling. Time for homework, then bed.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Perhentian Islands are a Tropical Paradise

The Perhentian Islands are a small group of coral lined islands off the coast of Malaysia not far from the Thai border. These islands offer something for every kind of traveler and are amazing tropical islands that everyone should see.

The two main islands of Perhentian are known as the big and small, or Besar and Kecil. Besar is a bit more expensive as it is geared towards families or vacationers wanting a more relaxed and luxurious stay. Kecil has cheaper accommodations and is popular with backpackers. The other three smaller and uninhabited islands lie off the coast of Kecil.

You will want to visit the Perhentians between March and October, as outside of this period is monsoon season where a lot of the islands close down. There is no airport on Perhentian, so you get there by ferry. The main form of travel on the islands are either on foot, or by water taxi which will take you to other beaches or to the other islands.

perhentian islands beach

The islands are pretty much untouched by any human construction, making for a beautiful scene of white sandy beaches, pristine water and a backdrop of the green lush jungle. Activities on the islands are mostly water-based. You can snorkel, dive, kayak, and of course sun bathe. If you are more adventurous, you have the option of venturing into the jungles on a trek.

The Perhentian islands are known especially for its great diving spots and for the sharks and sea turtles that you can view. If you are not a diver, you can normally spot the marine life by snorkelling. The coral around the islands is also known for being extremely colourful and abundant with different species of fish.

The Perhentian Islands are definitely a tropical spot that you should see. And as they are still not overly popular with tourists, they offer a more authentic island experience.

Desert Chapel Wall Mural


Pretty much all over the base here, there are these really cool murals painted on the concrete T-walls. In many cases they are representations of the units who work in the adjacent buildings ... as is the case with this picture outside of the Air Force chapel.

The chapel is about a 3 minute walk from where I live, so it was a logical choice that this would end up being the first mural picture that I included in my project 365 pictures. I've still got about 3 months left here though, so expect to see about a dozen more between now and when I leave.

Ok, tonight is going to be an early night for Todd ... I'm outta here, hope you all have a happy Monday!


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Keep Your Eyes On The Road


Sometimes in life, it sure can seem like all of the really good stuff is already behind us. Especially when we find ourselves going through tough times.

But here's something to keep in mind ... while it's ok to occasionally take a quick glance in the old rear view mirror, and reminisce about all the beautiful scenes from our past; don't ever forget that the future can actually provide much more vivid imagery ... because only with our tomorrows do we truly have the power to shape reality to fit our dreams.

... and on a lighter note; if you spend too much time admiring the sunset in your mirror, you might just forget about what's ahead, and plow right into a dumpster. (I didn't do that btw ... but it certainly sounds like something that I might do) :-D