Thursday, March 31, 2016

Fine Arts Cluster Night

Tonight was the Fine Arts Cluster Night at Broad Run. So Mom and Dad bid Sam farewell and headed over to the high school. Pete performed with the Theatre group (“Coffee Break” from their upcoming musical) as well as the chorus (“Somewhere Out There”). Today Sam officially dropped out of Spectrum, and got to start going to Resource instead. He was very happy to get his Math homework done in Resource. And of course not having to deal anymore with Mrs. Guillen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Return of the Pain

Dad woke up when Mom’s alarm went off at 6am and she was nowhere to be found. He found her on the floor in the bathroom. She was in a lot of pain and needed to go to the doctor. Dad woke Sam up and told him to get Pete up at 7:45 and for them to get themselves out the door. After seeing the doctor and the radiologist, Mom was diagnosed with a large kidney stone. She had a late lunch, so Dad went with Pete and Sam to Ledo for dinner.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Points for Proofs

Mom went to a birthday party at Donna’s. so Dad/Pete/Sam had some baked ziti and then Pete got cracking on his Biology project that was due at 11pm. Yes, the very same project that caused him to bring his laptop all the way across the world last week. Dad also helped him with his Math homework (derivatives). In addition, Dad helped write out some proofs that log(n)x = 2log(2n)x, for both the case of 2 and the more general n^2 case. Mrs. Littlefield was so impressed with this proof that she gave Pete back the points he had lost on the test plus an additional 5 bonus points, bringing his grade on the test from 86 up to 96!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Back in the USA

Today was back to the dreary American routine – school, Chin Chin, Boy Scouts, trumpet lesson, etc. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Back to the Grindstone

Today was a day to bite the bullet and get the homework and laundry done that were neglected over the past week. Mom, Dad, and Pete also went to the Easter “brunch” at the Rooks’ house from 2pm-6pm. Sam was the only one hungry for dinner, so Dad took him over to Deli Italiano for a few slices. It was nice to be eating some good old “American” food again. Everyone slept pretty well, with no more jet lag to speak of. They even all woke up early on Monday morning.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jet Lag

Mom, Dad, and Pete were ready for bed pretty early after the Jordan trip. Sam inexplicably stayed up. Mom checked on him at 3:30am and he said he was going to bed soon. Dad found him asleep in the kitchen on the table by the computer at 5:30am. He wrangled Sam into bed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Jordan Trip – Day 7

The final day of the trip had arrived, and it would be a long one. Nicole wrangled everyone into the car at 9am sharp and drove up to Jerash. There was quite a bit of walking through the Roman ruins.

One intersection led in separate directions respectively to Damascus, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and Philadelphia (Amman). Dad gave Sam 1 JD to get a bottle of water, after which the vendor showed them lots of cool stuff, including the moving column, bath house, baptismal font, water spout, and lucky leaf growing on the ground in the shadow of the column with the same leaf depicted in the frieze.

Sam was stopped several times by locals wanting pictures with him. You would think they have never seen an American with green hair before!

Sam and Dad decided that in the afternoon they would charge 1 JD for a photo with Sam, or to touch his hair. At the souq, they bought a pair of camel pants for Ashleigh, stuffed camel for Sam, and musical whistle toy for Pete (which he claimed was broken). Lunch was at the Lebanese House, a restaurant on a small hillside just outside of Jerash. The restaurant was so large that it had a playground and elevator inside. The beef, lamb, and chicken kabobs, bread, fries, cheese sticks, and salad were all very tasty.

Nicole drove to the final site of the week - Ajloun Castle. They walked up a very steep hill and then climbed all around the castle.

The walk back down the hill was typical of a Jordanian street - cars whizzed by, inches from the bodies of the pedestrians. At one point near the open intersection at the bottom, with cars approaching from at least 4 directions and no road markings, Pete said to Dad: "I think this is the most dangerous place I have ever been. Not Jordan - just this exact spot." The Jordanians were a very friendly and welcoming people, except when they were behind the wheel. The driving all week had been treacherous and stressful beyond belief. Of course, nothing could equal the sheer terror of Mr. Brad's driving. In fact, Sam was the only volunteer to ride shotgun on the final ride to the airport at 12:30am on Saturday morning.

The final evening in Jordan had been an enjoyable one. Dinner at the house was grilled BBQ chicken and roasted potatoes, followed by homemade ice cream.

After dinner, they played a spirited game of Pictionary on the mirror in the family room with dry erase markers. Brad dropped them at the Queen Alia airport in plenty of time for the 2:50am flight to Frankfurt. They bought a Petra ornament and some candy to use up the last 5 JD note.

Upon arriving in Frankfurt at 6:30am, Pete and Dad decided that they wanted to go downtown during the 6-hour layover. Sam and Mom stayed back at the airport. Pete and Dad picked up some subway passes and took the 20-minute ride to Hauptwache (5 stops on the S8 line). It was a chilly 39 degrees, but they walked all around the downtown Innenstadt and Altstadt area of the city until 9:15am. It was very quiet, and they enjoyed seeing some of the sights, including a nice park (Bockenheimer), the Main river, and statues of Goethe, Gutenberg, and others.

Returning to the airport, they made it quickly through security (despite the Brussels bombings earlier in the week) and met up again with Sam and Mom at the McDonalds by gate Z54. The flight home was nice, and they had a block of 4 seats all together in the center plane section. The taxi ride back home from Dulles airport brought the memorable trip to an end.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jordan Trip – Day 6

The light Thursday schedule allowed Sam to sleep in until about 9:30. Meanwhile, Dad and Pete walked over to the ATM, where they discovered that Ajab Bank charges 5 JD while InvestBank only charges 1 JD. Score one for the good guys. 

The first stop for the day's exploring was the Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba. 

Nobody felt like paying 1 JD (about $1.50 US) to see a mosaic in the church proving the travels of Jesus, so they went down to the archaeological park where the Jordan Pass got hem in for free to climb around a bunch of mosaics from early AD, while the call to prayer blasted from all of the local mosques in the background. 

They did finally purchase a plate from a vendor on King Talal Street. The shopkeeper said it was 20 JD (“50% off”). Dad offered 15. He said “you do not understand; these are from a factory, so the prices are absolutely fixed 100%... ok I give it to you for 18.” Mom bought a refrigerator magnet with the black iris national flower for 5 JD. The next stop was Mount Nebo for a quick view of the vista where Moses had his spring, and the other side where he saw the promised land. The following 30 minutes was a series of steep hairpin curves down to the Dead Sea. The day passes at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel were only 10 JD. They went straight to the snack bar for some pizza, burger, and chicken sandwiches. 

The food took forever to arrive, but the American explicit rap music playing on the speaker helped to pass the time. They changed and walked down to the Dead Sea. Sam had no problem floating – a miracle indeed! 

Mom applied the mud some to her arms and legs. Dad spotted a new species of water bug. Dad’s eye was burning, so he got out after just a few minutes. On the walk back up the hill, it was interesting to see how far the sea level had fallen since 2000. They showered and went up to sit by the pool for a while. Pete, Sam, and Dad tossed around the football and then the tennis ball, which miraculously hit the railing and deflected back a few times. Dad had told the boys a few days earlier the famous saying that almost applied here: “if you drop your keys in the lava, they’re gone”. 

They drove back to Amman in time for dinner at the embassy cafeteria – salmon, ribs, and burgers – with the whole gang, as well as Andy, and Nick’s friends Max, Max, and Oscar. The boys went back to the house for some dining-room-table ping pong, while Mom, Nicole, and Dad went to the 24-hour bakery, spice shop, and t-shirt shop (to look for a camel t-shirt for Sam).

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Jordan Trip – Day 5

Mom and Dad woke up early to take a walk with Nicole around West Amman. They descended the hill on Al Khabila Street toward the Bedouin village and walked up and down all around the neighborhood. The trash was ubiquitous as it had been all week. 

A Bedouin with his huge flock of sheep walked right past them. 

By 9:30, Pete was ready and they headed out for a day in Amman. Sam hung out this day back at the house. First, Nicole traversed the busy city traffic through Rainbow Street, stopped briefly at the Sydney Hotel for a quick geocache hunt, and negotiated the twists and turns up the hill and narrow streets to the Citadel. They walked around the Citadel and museum for an hour or so. 

Mom and Nicole were mobbed by a group of schoolgirls wanting to talk to them and take their picture. 

Then they went down the steep winding hill and steps to the main drag in Amman. Pete and Dad got some sha warmas and brought them over to the outdoor cafĂ© (Hashem) where Mom and Nicole were eating Falafel. 

After lunch, they walked through the shops and markets. Pete and Dad found a plate they liked, but Mom convinced them to wait and see what was in Madaba. The candy shop was a fun ordeal, where no less than three vendors came up with various prices for Pete's assorted bag of candy. Then some random guy showed up from thin air to collect the money from Pete and hand it to the cashier. Pete also bought a large lemon and pomegranate at the large produce market. The vendors sang out their wares at the various booths, including chants of “Half Dinar! Half Dinar!” at what Dad called the Jordanian dollar store. Dad saw a shop with nice Vans that upon closer inspection turned to actually be “Yans”. 

Mom and Nicole wound their way back up the hill to the car, while Dad and Pete scaled the Citadel wall, crossed a grassy field, and found a breach in the gate. They proved that the fortress was still a bit vulnerable to a creative and determined attack by international forces! After returning home, Mom and Nicole headed out to their Jordanian cooking class.

Meanwhile, Pete, Sam, and Dad went with Mr. Brad to pick up Nick at school and go over to the Royal Automobile Museum.

They finished up at the Taj Mall food court for dinner and dessert. Security at the mall was amusing – you walked through the metal detector, the alarm goes off, and then the guy waves his hand near you like he’s patting you down, and then you proceed into the mall. The Sbarro did not look too good, so Sam got Papa John’s while Pete got Popeye’s. Pete went with Nick to Pinkberry, and Sam to Haagen Dazs. Dad picked up his new Arabic Atari t-shirt, and it was time to head home.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jordan Trip – Day 4

Pete woke early, tucked his pajama pants under his blanket, and got dressed. He headed out with Mom for some rock climbing. 

Sam joined Dad for breakfast, and actually ate an omelet (new food) and some preserves on a pita. 

Sultan tossed the bags into the Toyota for the brief ride over to meet the camels. The 45-minute camel ride to the village was plenty long enough for Mom. Sam’s camel was named “Alian”, and was tethered to Mom’s and Dad’s. Pete’s camel was un-tethered, and a bit ornery. It was a fun ride, accentuated by the camels stopping to stoop down and fight over every bit of brush along the way. 

Sultan drove the crew back to the parking lot, and it was time to head to Petra. They filled the gas tank with some 90 octane and enjoyed the scenic drive. There was a cool playground at the scenic overlook, where Pete slid down a rusty slide of questionable integrity. Lunch was at the pizza shop just outside of the main entrance to the Petra site. The Wi-fi there was “not working today”. It was a cute place - the shopkeeper would frequently call out to “Hamdan!” when anything needed attention. The pizza was not the best, but enough to tide everyone over until dinner back in Amman. They parked the car up on the hill, and walked down to the Visitors’ Center. Pete found a replacement pair of sunglasses at one of the shops. The vendor wanted 10 JD, but they haggled him down to 8. Next was the long walk down to the Treasury, and then around to the tombs and other sites in the old Petra village. 

They climbed around a bit, took some dangerous pictures, and were getting tired so they headed back. Dad did not find any geocaches, and Mom did not see everything she had hoped to see, but it was still a decent outing. On the walk back, the boys took a break, and Mom said “I’d prefer not to stop, so I’ll meet you back up by the Visitors’ Center.” This is when the boys hatched a plan to run and catch up with Mom. She was looking in her bag when they ran by, so they kept right on running past her and around the corner. When she spied them sitting and waiting about 15 minutes later, she was quite shocked that they had gotten in front of her. She asked if they had purchased a mule, horse, camel, or carriage ride, but indeed they had not. Dad and Pete hiked up the hill and brought down the car. They all drove back to the Fishers’ house for some baked ziti. Sam was quite glad that Wednesday would be the light day on the agenda.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jordan Trip – Day 3

The day began with Dad and Nicole driving to the Amman Donut Factory (where Dad almost got short-changed for the first of three times during the week), while Mom packed up the cooler for the overnight trip to Wadi Rum. Everyone scarfed down a donut or two and then piled into the Nissan SUV for the four-hour drive to Wadi Rum. The trip across Jordan (with Dad driving) featured a smattering of small towns, mostly-marked speed bumps, Al Zumayla, Al Qatrana, Al Hasa, Jurf Al Darawish, Ma’an, Quweira, and  finally Wadi Rum. At the Visitors’ Center, Mohammed’s brother introduced himself as one of the five brothers who run the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp. He sent them to the parking lot 6 km ahead, where they met up with Sultan and hopped into the 4x4. 


There was some debate to establish the validity of the group and confirm the reservation, but Ayeed ultimately pulled up a sheet on his phone with the reservation name so everyone was relieved and ready to proceed. They proceeded through the small Bedouin village and to Lawrence’s Spring, the first stop on the tour. There are many references to Lawrence of Arabia, which was filmed and set here, on the tour. This park is also where they recently filmed the 2015 best picture nominee, “The Martian”. Pete grabbed his laptop bag and began scampering up the mountain. Dad and Sam went the other direction to take some pictures of a lone tree. Mom convinced Pete to come back down, as there would be much more climbing later. The next stop was lunch (turkey sandwiches and fruit) at Khazali Canyon, washed down with some Bedouin tea. 

The tea was sweet and tasty, with a hint of cinnamon. Pete tipped the sleeping tea-master 1 JD, and headed off into the rift in the rock for a short hike. There were some primitive drawings in there, along with some ancient inscriptions from the Qur’an. The next stop was the Natural Bridge. It was pretty windy and narrow on the bridge, so Sultan took a quick picture of the unfortunately off-centered family after which they scampered back to safety. 

Pete then managed to scale up higher and somehow drop his sunglasses. He scampered down the steep back side of the rock in search of the glasses (still with laptop bag). Dad, Sam, and Sultan drove around to find Pete somewhat stranded on the other side. Sultan quickly took off his sandals and ran up the steep face to help guide Pete back down. 

The next stop was “Lawrence’s House”, which looked more like a pile of stones (with another inscription). The last stop was another rock with inscriptions, where Pete took a “nap” in the small indent in the formation. Finally, they arrived at the Luxury Camp. Their tent (#11) was pretty hot inside. Sam stayed back to read in the tent while Mom, Pete, and Dad headed over to the sand dune for some sandboarding. It was started to get chilly in the evening air, but the hike through the sand kept them warm. The dune appeared to be close by, but deceptively it was about a 15 minute walk, plus another 10 minutes for Dad to chase Pete as he scaled a long hill with the board. Pete soon discovered that you need a pretty steep hill to sandboard. There were several failed attempts. Finally, there was some brief success on the steep part of the dune grade. 

Mom and Pete headed back to camp, to find a shivering Sam now reading under several blankets. Dad hiked until sunset in search of a geocache atop a different nearby sand dune. Dinner at the camp was chicken and rice. 

Everyone enjoyed playing “Timeline” in the “lobby” tent after dinner. Sam actually won every game that they played as teams. It was a chilly night, but everyone bundled up and slept well.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jordan Trip – Day 2

Saturday turned to Sunday somewhere over Northeastern Canada, and everyone tried to get whatever sleep they could before touching down in Frankfurt. Pete and Dad were determined to find McDonalds for lunch. After a long bus ride to the terminal, long walk to another terminal, train ride, and security re-entry, they were pleased to in fact spot the golden arches. Sam had a few bites of his “chicken burger” and most of a McFlurry with some disappointing M&Ms. Dad and Pete were lucky to get more standard fare.

The flight to Amman was not as nice a plane as the one to Frankfurt (no TV screens), but it was a shorter flight and Pete/Sam got a nice two seat row all to themselves. 

Mr. Brad met the weary crew at the airport to help them get through customs, and after a harrowing drive to Amman and the house on Al-Iftikar Street, now the Jordan Spring Break trip was officially in full swing.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Jordan Trip – Day 1

Mom told everyone to have their stuff ready to pack by noon. The final bag count was:

  • Pete - gray suitcase + laptop bag (for working on Science project)
  • Sam - Matching orange suitcase and carry-on bag
  • Mom - Large new orange suitcase + 2 small carry-ons
  • Dad - Backpack
Pete and Sam somehow found out that today was a special day at 7-Eleven where you bring any size container and fill it up with slurpee. Sam brought his big Cubs cup from Chicago and Pete brought a large flower vase. He will probably not do this next time, since he ended up with an upset stomach to start the Jordan trip.

Mr. Cary was waiting out front at 7:30 to provide a ride to the airport. Unfortunately, he was 12 hours early, since the flight was not until 11:00pm. Once that was resolved, the family made it to Dulles airport and got checked in with plenty of time for some dinner at "&pizza".

There was a spirited discussion at dinner of who would sit in which seats on the plane, with cell phone avatars being shuffled around as tokens in the debate. Somehow the upshot of all this was Dad getting the middle seat on both flights. Pete did some work on his Science project while waiting at the gate.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Just in Case

Pete was driving and playing some good tunes from The Book of Mormon. Dad was tapping his feet on the floor of the passenger side of Mom’s car. Mom generally leaves things in her car, so there is usually a random assortment of stuff in there. Dad noticed an odd cracking sound under his feet. It was a receipt from Hair Cuttery. It’s not clear why Mom was keeping this in her car, but maybe she was planning to return the hair cut if Pete decided that he didn’t like it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Help Yourself

Dad had a coupon for Antonio’s Pizza, and convinced Pete that they would be back by 7:40 for him to work on his History assignment, so everyone headed over there for dinner. This place will probably not be in business for much longer. There was one customer there (more than usual), but he did not seem to be buying anything as he was just using the Wi-Fi to watch March Madness on his laptop. Pete went up to buy a drink, but the guy behind the counter just handed him a cup and said “help yourself”. During dinner there was an odd assortment of people walking by outside with kettle bells.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Udvar-Hazy Field Trip

Sam had his field trip today to the Udvar-Hazy center. He said it was mostly standing around and listening to boring guys talking about planes. But he enjoyed it somewhat. Here is a picture including Sam, from the live UStream link that was broadcasting the session on the SR-71 Blackbird:

Unfortunately they did not answer any of Dad’s excellent page of questions. The other disaster was the lunch at McDonalds. Sam’s burger had mustard on it, and he doesn’t like McDonalds fries (?) so he just had a pop tart when he got home at 3:30pm. At least it was better than going to English class!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Genomics Review

Dad grilled up some steaks tonight and then helped Pete study for his Biology test after returning home from his horrible “Thirsty Thinkers” meetup. It was interesting to ask Pete about the Genomics material in his textbook, which was a topic that did not exist when Dad took High School Biology. Fortunately, Dad had taken a Coursera class on the topic last year so he was pretty familiar with it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Biology experiment

Pete got some help this evening with his homework. Dad helped him with his logarithms for Math, and Mom took some pictures of him conducting his Biology experiment.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Pete helped Jennifer today with her film class project. They went up to Purcellville to film a movie that sounded pretty funny. Sam had chore week this week so he stayed home today.

Just before bed, Pete and Dad spotted Sam's math homework on the kitchen table. They noticed a number of issues with the one problem (#3) that Sam randomly chose to do on the page.

N = steak (just steak)

The stray mark in the circle makes the answer look like N = 15

Since steak costs 5 steaks (no units shown in answer) the answer must be 0

Sam squeezes all the work into the one column, with all that empty space. Why doesn't he start higher up?