Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Blog


If you follow this blog and want to read our new blog about living in Germany, please see the following:

At the Doorstep of the Black Forest

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, November 10, 2013



As nearly anyone who knows us or who reads this blog knows, we have left KAUST and Saudi Arabia for a new life in Stuttgart, Germany. A professional team arrived at our KAUST house on June 8, carefully and meticulously packed our belongings, weighed our boxes to ensure that we did not go overweight, and loaded 31 boxes onto a truck. Nearly five months later, our boxes finally arrived at our new apartment in the Plieningen village of Stuttgart. I am guessing that our boxes sat awhile, then sat longer throughout all of Ramadan and the subsequent Eid holiday, and then were ultimately rediscovered once people reemerged into their offices during daytime hours. The team assisting us in tracking, managing, and delivering the boxes - a Filipino gentleman in Jeddah and a German woman in Munich - pulled together and successfully got everything to us in excellent condition - on October 31. Happy Halloween!

We cleared ourselves satisfactorily from all KAUST departments - housing, banking, schools, technology, transportation, IDs ... - after about 6 weeks and approximately 20 signatures and received our ticket and taxi confirmation, as well as our exit visas a few days prior to our departure. We enjoyed laughs in our sparse house of few dishes or utensils with many friends before we all left for summer. The day we left we called our friends at the recreation center, and they came to claim virtually all items that we had been unable or unwilling to part with until that final morning. As we left KAUST for the last time, I think we all felt that it had been an amazing four years and that we would dearly miss so many friends! We were not sorry to fly away from the Jeddah airport for the final time, however.

We flew to Colorado to have a family and friend reunion and then we flew to Seattle where, once again, we began the onerous and important process of clearing out belongings from our attic, packing another 31 boxes for shipping, and shuttling myriad items to Goodwill and other recycling institutions throughout our end of the city. We had planned a huge garage sale on a Sunday afternoon; unfortunately we had lost sight of garage sale culture in Seattle where most people peruse others' secondhand items on Saturday mornings. We sold about two things, including my old road bike, and then we started donating toys, books, clothes, and furniture to other places where they could find new homes. Hayden and I helped the Large Packing Guy load our boxes on a truck, from which they would be handled and moved several times on their journey to a faraway destination. When those boxes arrived in Stuttgart ten weeks later, they clearly had suffered many throws and tosses from those responsible - they were generally smashed, some were partially split, and one box with our dining room table was missing all together. Nonetheless, few items were broken, remarkably, due in part to my friend Gwen's assistance in carefully packing up everything.

While in Seattle, we enjoyed walks and swims around Greenlake, visits with many friends - some who came to see us and some who were local - and we reconnected with our neighbors. A close friend and his children joined us for a three-day backpacking trip to Spectacle Lake, where we have wanted to take Hayden and Logan for a long time. Though it was arduous and challenging, we all made it safely there and back, despite the fact that I didn't pack quite enough food. Hmmm. Sorry, Britt! When it was time to leave Seattle, I think we all felt rather sad, pondering why were not simply staying there.

We flew to Michigan to visit David's family and several friends who visited, and we took Hayden to Interlochen Arts Camp for his third summer as a camper there. We returned to Colorado for final activities with friends and family, final shopping, and final preparations for our next journey.

David, Logan, and I arrived in Stuttgart, Germany, to begin a new chapter of our family's journey. We have been here for more than three months already, and though the transition has taken time and has been, at some moments, stressful, I think we have mostly made it and are very much enjoying the many cultural opportunities here. While KAUST weekends sometimes felt  dull and empty, weekends here are full with more festivals, museums, and activities than we can actually accomplish. So far we are thrilled we our new lives, which I will begin to describe in a new blog. Please check it out when/if you have time. New blog address will be posted here shortly. Thanks for reading! Goodbye.
Jennifer and the boys

Friday, May 24, 2013

Latest news - South Africa, packing, and goodbyes

Well, months have passed now since my last posting. Since I wrote last in February, we have had cycling races, in which all four of us raced - even me on my new Felt bike - and a kids' triathlon; we have had music recitals, performances, a Sunset Concert in which David performed and another one in which Hayden performed, and Jennifer's workshop in Berlin.

We traveled to South Africa for spring break, driving the Garden Route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. In Port Elizabeth we saw the location and routes for David's South Africa Ironman race in 2011 and went to a vast elephant park, Addo Elephant Park, where we saw elephants, kudu, tortoises, zebras, warthog ... Breathtakingly, the rain stopped as we drove around searching for the many animals living in the park.

 In Kynsna we mountain biked, kayaked in a downpour, and visited the Township with a woman who lives there and runs a foster care program for children.

In Cape Town, we drove around the peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope. The location of the blending of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans was both spiritual and humbling. It was awesome, in the true sense of the word, to stand at that geographical southern point of the entire continent. Later that evening, we ate dinner at a restaurant near the Water Front - Quay 4 - where Hayden sampled ostrich, kudu, and warthog. We wondered if he ate the kudu we had just visited earlier that day on the peninsula. Logan tried oxtail soup, with an actual ox's tail. If nothing else, the boys have learned to be daring eaters who are willing to try new foods - and who even expect to do so. As Hayden said, "I will probably never get to eat this anywhere else." (The ostrich was the favorite for each of us, I think.)

Since South Africa we have been gearing up for our big move. We have accepted jobs in Stuttgart, Germany, where we will be heading in August. We will be heading to the United States for the summer to see family and friends, to clear out our own house and send what we need to Germany (and to sell or give away things we kept for four years and don't even miss), and to do some hiking and backpacking, weather permitting. The boys will do an ultimate frisbee camp in Seattle, and Hayden will attend Interlochen Arts Camp for creating writing and guitar for the third summer.

We have pared down our belongings in Saudi Arabia, had a couple of garage sales, closed our bank account, turned in our health cards and ID cards, sold our motorbike ... So many things to do to pack up and move to a new continent. We will actually need winter clothes now, and we will be able to eat pork whenever desired or buy a nice bottle of wine for dinner. At times the steps needed to move on seem like hurdles that cannot be hurdled, but then another step gets done, and it seems that the light at the end of the tunnel is, in fact, growing closer.

We are grateful to be leaving at a point where we have been here long enough to have much to miss. We each recognize the professional and engaging colleagues we have enjoyed working with for four years; we work at KAUST with probably the tallest, the most athletically talented, and the most humorous group of teachers at any international school. I doubt if another international school offers as many tall teachers we have. We have musicians with their own bands and athletes who compete in competitive races of several types. We have laughed so much with many of our colleagues, particularly but not limited to those with whom we lived in the Marriott Jeddah for nine weeks and started The KAUST School. Recently at a faculty meeting, where more than half of the teachers are departing, we reminisced about the early days with rats in our houses and in the school, the ubiquitous fire alarms, the floods, the backing up sewage, and getting driver's licenses (for males only, of course). We all recognized how much we have accomplished and how meaningful and valuable our relationships have been and will continue to be.

With three weeks to go, we have much to accomplish, but we mostly want to have time with our friends and to make plans for meeting up again ... somewhere. What a ride it has been ...

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tour of Middle East Airports


We recently went to London for a conference. We took the boys and were met in Heathrow by our friend, a former KAUST neighbor who, with his wife and three kids, has relocated back to the U.K. He collected our children and headed home so that Hayden and Logan would have friends to hang out with and activities to do which would be far more satisfying than residing in a hotel for three days. It was a successful but exhausting conference, and we enjoyed watching the activities of people strolling up and down the streets in Kensington. We appreciated the cool, bracing, and sometimes wet, weather for its vast difference from Saudi.

Towards the end of the conference, we visited our friends and collected the boys. As we prepared for our returns trip to Jeddah, we were grateful that we were traveling with only carry-ons, since our layover enroute was brief. We returned to Heathrow and, after enduring the most excruciating bag search of our lives, were finally free to head to the gate of our Qatar Airlines flight to Doha and then, we thought, the connecting flight to Jeddah. Our flight from London was about 20 minutes late in leaving, causing some concern since we were supposed to have only one hour layover in Doha. We landed in Doha, went to the gate, and soon discovered that all ten of us from London trying to make the Jeddah connection would be prohibited from accessing the flight, though it was still on the ground. Tempers flared and voices raised - the flight to Jeddah left without us. We were shuttled into another line with many other people who had missed flights. Eventually, we were booked on another series of flights the following day. We were escorted to a new line, processed for a temporary visa for Doha and requested to sit and wait for a shuttle to the hotel, where we were able to sleep about two hours before a too-early wake up call for breakfast and a return shuttle back to the airport where we again waited for a flight - to Abu Dhabi! We endured another three hour layover and, ultimately, got on our final flight to Jeddah, arriving fifteen hours later than planned and missing another school day!

Since we spent a good deal of time in each of these airports, I did observe some things. Flights from Doha, Qatar, head to every continent on the planet except for Antarctica. Who would have thought? You can fly from Doha to Melbourne or Hanoi, São Paulo or New York; you can fly to China, several locations in India, Bangkok, several destinations in the United States or Europe. In Abu Dhabi, we discovered that there are rolling carts available for people to push their bags around which are large enough for Logan to be pushed around by Hayden until the airport staff prohibited it. Oh, the things you can learn ... 

In the end we made it home safely and, I suppose, that is ultimately what matters most.

Thanks for reading. More news to come ... bike races, kids' triathlon, future plans!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Christmas traditions


After trying to write more often and keep up on the often mundane and occasionally interesting details of our lives, I suddenly realized once again that weeks had gone by, and I had not written a blog posting. Since I last wrote about receiving my glorious and fast Felt road bike, I have been trying to ride two - three times per week, often in the dark early morning hours when virtually no one is on the road except for fast-driving security officials arriving - perhaps late - for work.

We spent our fourth incredible, festive Christmas holiday in Seefeld, Austria, at Beck's Hoamatl. We have rented the same cozy apartment for four years and are welcomed each winter by the embraces of the owner and her adult daughter. They always provide us a large bowl of fruit and bring out all of the items that we have intentionally left in the past - mugs, puzzles, a game, and old magazines. We have been so blessed by this relationship and, despite our lack of German, we have developed a relationship with them that makes it feel like home every time we go. The snow and skiing were as fabulous as ever, better in some ways, and the food was scrumptious. We eat out at a few favorite restaurants but cook our favorite, often pork-oriented, meals at 'home' most nights. We always rent our downhill equipment from Modern Ski, located perfectly at the base of the ski hill in town. The owner and his staff welcome us each year and get us fitted for gear for the ten days. Each morning we collect our gear for the day and each afternoon we return it, exchanging the equipment for small tokens which will allow us to collect the exact same set of equipment every day without having to lug it all the way home each night. It's a perfect set-up. We rent our Nordic equipment at Norz, right on the start of the Nordic trails, again welcomed by the owner and a young guy named Remo who generously gets David and me the classic or skate gear we want every day.

 The boys took some downhill lessons, as usual, and they each competed in a ski race on the last day of lessons. We skied together some days and with some KAUST friends who were visiting Seefeld on some other days. At the end of our stay, Hayden and Logan humored us with two days of Nordic skiing; they showed their true competency and strength on skies when they were strong enough to ski to a nearby village for lunch - about 5 km away. We were so proud of their developing abilities and their positive attitudes to 'give Nordic a try' again after their jumps and thrills on downhill skies. When we were in Seattle, we used to go cross country skiing nearly every weekend in the winter at Kongsberger ski club, but the boys have gotten more into downhill skiing these past few years.

We played Ticket to Ride, enjoyed cozy fires, exercised each and every day with skiing and lots of walking, slept deeply, bought a Whoopi Cushion (which provided the boys lots of laughs, of course), and embraced the refreshing winter cold!

When the boys are in lessons and David and I have completed our cross country ski, we occasionally go to Sauna Welt for the afternoon. We soak and lounge in saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, resting rooms, and pools. It's a luxury we enjoy usually once per trip. I miss Seefeld more this time than usual, perhaps because we are uncertain whether we will get to return again. Nonetheless, our four years there have provided traditions for our family far from home and, I suspect, will be the trip the boys remember longer than any other.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Little Silver Bike a.k.a. Car-Free for Nearly Four Years


Old and new bikes - all well used
You may, or may not, remember that we were serious bike commuters, David and I, in our pre-children days. I biked to Vashon Island each day to work at The Harbor School, while David biked to Bainbridge Island to teach at Hyla Middle School. (Prior to that he bike commuted to The Overlake School in Redmond and later to Lakeside School.) As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I biked to Seattle University every day for grad school during the winter that we were blessed with 100 Days of Rain in a Row. I didn't dry out that year until mid-July. Once we had children, David continued as a bike commuter, but I ended up driving more due to parenting needs and fewer work hours. We bought a used Subaru Ouback, which I loved, just before Hayden was born, and we sold it just before we moved to Saudi Arabia.

David and Logan fixing LSB - December 2012
Since we have been here, we have been a car-free family for three and a half years now. We bike everywhere, though honestly nothing is farther away on our campus from our house than maybe 4-5 kilometers - in the summer months that feels like a much greater distance due to the heat and humidity. We are currently a family with ten bikes at KAUST, plus one collecting dust in our Seattle attic, one in Portland living with friends, another one in Seattle residing with friends, and one in Colorado waiting for Logan's next visit. Virtually all of these bikes were used when purchased, even David's time trialing bike for the South Africa and Hawaii Ironman races was purchased secondhand from a friend who had just competed in Hawaii the preceding year.

In fact of the ten bikes currently on location here, only three were purchased new. One bike was given to David when he was sponsored by Mark Nobilette as a triathlete in 1985. My old commuting bike was purchased from a Seattle police auction after an earlier bike had been stolen from our Ballard backyard. Logan typically ends up with Hayden's hand-me-downs, which suits him just fine. Hayden's bike, which is used every single day, was purchased new but will eventually probably be Logan's. David's mountain bike was purchased from the same friend who sold him the Ironman bike. I purchased a new mountain bike in Switzerland a few years ago but use it nearly every day. David's Cannondale commuting bike, already used when purchased in Boulder right after we were engaged in 1994, has more than 50,000 cycling miles. Privately, we have all sort of decided that the Cannondale may not leave with us when we go, neither will the police auction purchase, or, sadly, the Little Silver Bike that was given to us by friends for our kids to learn to ride bikes, just as theirs had.

Logan learning to ride in Seattle, 2009
The Little Silver Bike (LSB). This bike was the learning-to-ride bike for the two children of friends of ours - son now in college and daughter a junior in high school. (Coincidentally, this is the same friend who later sold David his time trial bike for South Africa and Hawaii!) The LSB was passed on to other friends, whose two children also learned to ride on that bike and are now each in high school. Eventually, it ended up with us, training wheels and all, and Hayden learned to ride on it. I remember when David took him to West Woodland without the training wheels. David steadied the bike, and Hayden kept asking, "Are you holding on? Are you holding on?" David kept saying he was, though Hayden was across the playground, riding well by then. Hayden moved to a bigger yellow bike, also purchased used (and now living with friends in Seattle), and Logan ultimately got the LSB. We brought it to Saudi Arabia, with training wheels, though Logan was riding it without the trainers shortly after it was unpacked. He now has Hayden's older bike, but both boys like to play on the LSB or use it when their regular bikes have flats that David cannot fix immediately before school. Hayden's gangly legs force his knees into the handle bars, but he seems as content as ever.

Building a fort with bike boxes.
I just bought a new road/race bike from a shop in the UK. After a long and convoluted wait in the Jeddah customs office, plus two car trips (for the bike) to KAUST and back to Jeddah for various customs confusions, my bike is now beautifully assembled by my very competent spouse. Many thanks to Mr. Mohammad from Saudi Post, who called from Riyadh and ultimately persuaded customs to release my bike to be delivered to me at KAUST rather than requiring me to go to Jeddah to collect it myself.

Therefore, three Evans' bikes will probably be donated to others here at KAUST. Sadly, the bikes that will be left behind all have sentimental value, but I am doubtful that we can take them all.

I must confess that we do also have an old rickety and loud motorbike that we bought when we were first here and all of the cycling was occasionally too much for five-year-old Logan. It still works, but we rarely use it any longer. When we need to go to Jeddah, the best deal around is the bus that heads to the hospital and malls each day. We take advantage of that when needed. And, of course, we take a taxi to the airport. Most families here have cars, and that suits their needs well. We just have enjoyed our time without one. Plus - bike boxes make such creative toys!

Hayden biking in Seattle on a bike that now lives with friends.
Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mountain-biking in Saudi


Life on a compound can get a little tedious. Each weekend, we wonder, Do we play badminton or go swimming? Do we go to the beach or play tennis? Unless you are really into mall shopping in Jeddah - no, thank you - or searching for carpets and antiques in the souks, life can get rather dull at times. This last weekend, however, we participated in a mountain bike trip to Wadi Haqqaq, which was radically different than our usual relaxing weekend. We left in the early morning darkness, driving with about twelve others to a site where we could begin cycling. Because we have had a bit of rain lately - just a bit - there was actually a thin carpet of green grass stretching under the thorn trees, whose 1-2 inch thorns we carefully. We biked through deep sand that made the bikes come to a standstill, we rode up and down rocky hills, and we arrived at Wadi Haqqaq where the pools of water drew several of the group in for a cooling off - until we felt little nibbles on our toes. It was a nature extravaganza.

Hayden and Logan each biked about twenty hard miles. Because the weather is slightly cooler now and the extreme humidity of the summer has somewhat dissipated, we drank more normal quantities of water and snacked on delicious dates. The group was a diverse mix of nationalities, but most people were far stronger mountain bikers than myself. Nonetheless, the leaders kept us all together, and the follow-car was available with extra water, tools, snacks, and seats for anyone too tired to continue. We all made it the entire way to Mushroom Rock and back, with a slight detour to the swimming hole at the Wadi.

Incredibly, the area was remarkably clean. Often when people go into the desert for driving or camping, they return with stories of trash strewn everywhere. We generally found little trash, except around water pumping areas and wells.

The trip was definitely another highlight for our lives in the desert, and we hope to go on more such mountain biking excursions. Thanks for reading! Jennifer