Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Little Sweet Pea

The hardest thing I will do today is leave my sweet Dyna. She is going to stay with my mother and her dogs and cat. I know she will be loved and well taken care of but I am going to miss her fiercely.

I got Dyna in 2000 from fox terrier rescue. She had been in the Sprucehill Kennel that suddenly fell apart when its elderly owners died. From the day she arrived, she attached herself to Iz, earning the nickname "Mini Me" because she followed Iz around so closely.

When Iz died, I thought Dyna would be the one to mourn but she quite happily transferred her attentions to Gracie and Mimi. She had in fact already started to do this when Iz became so sick.

Dyna is now 11 years old and although she is in excellent health (only a touch of arthritis), I decided not to take her with me. If I could have taken three dogs, I wouldn't have hesitated to bring Dyna but with a limit of two, I decided that she needed to stay in the U.S.

She is a happy little fox terrier, very affectionate and loving. Saying goodbye to her is as hard as letting my Iz go.

Dyna sweet pea, be a good girl!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fun Facts!

The political system in Saudi Arabia is a monarchy and thus it is actually the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You often see this abbreviated KSA. Expats who are traveling are said in slang to be "out of Kingdom" or OOK.

Saudi Arabia has no natural, permanent rivers, streams, or lakes.

A person who works in a country other than the one in which they are a citizen is called an expat (expatriate). It is not a pejorative term and has nothing to do with any sort of jingoistic patriotism or lack thereof to one's mother- or fatherland.

Dhahran is the compound established in 1938 for non-Saudi employees of Saudi Aramco. It is a small city these days with western lifestyles and customs (the 2004 population was more then 97,000). Many Saudis live on the compound now (in the beginning it was restricted to non-Saudis only) but they do so with the understanding that people will dress and behave in a western style that would not necessarily be acceptable outside the compound. These Saudi families have generally lived in the U.S. or Europe.

Aramco is now wholly owned by the Saudi government but it began as a consortiuum of American petroleum companies. For a really excellent history of Aramco, I recommend "Oil, God, and Gold." It can be a bit dry in places but contains a lot of amazing detail and is worth slogging through.

Dhahran is about 10 miles from the shore of the Persian Gulf at a latitude of 26 degrees north. It is in a time zone that is GMT +3 hours. It does not follow daylight savings time. So now, in the fall, Dhahran is 7 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast. In the spring, it will be 6 hours ahead.

Despite being positioned at the same latitude as Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the weather patterns in Dhahran are quite different. This site summarizes the temperatures and precipitation amounts in pretty charts. But in short, Dhahran is hot and humid although the humidity can fluctuate rapidly on a daily basis.

In part because Mecca and Jiddah are located in KSA, it is the most conservative and strict Muslim country in the world. The inexorable influx of satellite and other wireless communications has made it nearly impossible for the religious police to restrict and censor as much as they did in the past. Still, there are few Saudis who will openly challenge any aspect of the current political/religious/cultural system (they are one and the same).

I am a guest of the Kingdom and as such, I have signed documents stating that I will obey their laws and customs. However, as a westerner, I am not required to cover my body, face, or hair. I must dress modestly when off the compound, wearing pants or skirts below the knee and shirts that cover the elbows. I've been told that the religious police can get testy and tell western women they need to wear an abbayah over their clothes or a scarf on their head. One is never to argue with them. Some younger women choose to wear an abbayah off compound but I gather that older women find this new trend somewhat horrific.

Alcohol is not allowed on the compound or anywhere in the country. However, the island nation of Bahrein, a short 20-mile trip from Dhahran, is more than happy to sell alcohol to dissolute westerners and misbehaving Muslims. For example, there is a wine club in Dhahran that meets weekly in Bahrein.

Saudi Arabia does not issue tourist visas.

Arabic text is read from right to left. However, the numbers printed on their currency flow from left to right. I can't get a good explanation for this. The exchange rate hovers around US 1 to SR 3.3. The unit of currency is the riyal.

There are significant restrictions on what customs will allow in. Before you decide to ship me something, check with me first. Dhahran is served by both FedEx and DHL. Some mail order companies who have European branches and European-based companies can ship directly to the compound.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Starting The Countdown

I will be getting on a plane about 2 1/2 days from now. Almost everything has been taken care of. Oh, there are few loose ends but I'm whittling the list down every day.

Today my car is being washed and detailed. I will take some photos of it and create an online ad for it before I leave. Given the popularity of Honda Elements (try to find a used one--they are pretty rare), I don't expect my mother to have any problem selling it. (If you know someone in the Richmond/Williamsburg/Norfolk Virginia area who might like the car, have them get in touch with me!)

My Element was a really great car. I got a bit teary when I was taking out the dog crates for the last time yesterday. I'll miss it.

On a more positive note, I think that we may have found a home for Jack. It's not a done deal yet, but my SFT friend Julie is confident that our lovely Mr. Jack is going to charm his way into his new family's hearts in short order. The plan is for her to drive him to meet this new family this coming Saturday.

I have been so worried about Jack and since I left him with Julie in Nashville, he is never far from my thoughts. In the past few years, he has mellowed, calmed, and become the most loving, sweet dog, perfectly happy to float around in the middle of the pack getting pushed around by all of my bitches. I know that I've mentioned in other posts how in the past couple of years he and Harry frequently slept spooned together at night. Jack deserves his own perfect new family. It has been hard for me to be patient and even harder to think that I might have to get on that plane not knowing what was going to happen to our Jack. I had to reject several leads that Julie came up with because it always seemed something squirrely came up once I started talking to them. But so far, this new family in Alabama sounds perfect, "smooth fox terrier heaven."

Just to make sure I don't jinx anything, I'll move on to other topics but say that I hope to be able to post photos and good news soon.
I spent the weekend with another of my dog friends, DSL, who lives in Fredricksburg. She also has a smooth fox named Meggie as well as a big BC named Crash. On Saturday I watched DSL do some herding practice with Crash. Here is a picture of them with a small group of sheep. It was raining lightly but of course that never stops herding practice!
DSL's Meggie is a littermate to one of Julie's bitches, so it's all one big happy smooth fox family!


Shelob in the window.



I'm staying these last few days with my mother and her husband in Williamsburg. A small sunny room upstairs has been designated as the cat room. It took no time at all for Mimi to figure out that she could watch the front of the house and the driveway from the cat perch. Every time we leave the house, she is in the window watching us, and every time we return, Mimi is in the window still watching. We think that she stands there the entire time we are gone! As soon as she is sure we are heading for the front door, she streaks out of the room, down the stairs, and sticks her long nose out the door as soon as it is cracked open. She's a very silly girl.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Road Trip

Julie, the Circus K9 Smooths, and Julie's 16 yr old Geena begging.
Silly Mimi in Nashville.


We made it to Virginia at last. I left Jack with my friend Julie in Nashville but Dyna, Mimi, Harry, and Bhumi the cat made the entire trip.
Bhumi did great, all things considered. Two nights in hotels (La Quinta, of course), two nights at Julie's, hauling litter box and crate and other cat gear around. He only started to protest in his crate in the car on the last day. I was pretty tired of traveling at that point too! He's not yet settled in here at my mother's but he knows where his food, litter box, and water are, so we have decided to leave him alone and let him sort it out for himself.


Dogs on the bed in a La Quina just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. That's Dyna tucked in between two pillows on the far side.


I didn't particularly hurry because I was hauling a small trailer. And I thought it cruel to leave Bhumi in his crate in the car for more than about 7 hours each day. The dogs got plenty of breaks at rest areas. The weather was excellent and taking lots of small breaks was good for me too. Even at that leisurely pace, we covered 1400 miles in about four days of driving.




Harry checking out boxes before the movers showed up in Keller.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Travel Visas!

Everything started telescoping pretty quickly last week. I got my travel visa to Saudi Arabia, a very big hurdle cleared. The movers showed up last Friday and packed all of the things I decided I could just not live without. It took them all of three hours! All but one large box of items will be sent by boat and will show up about 3 months after I do. I chose the things for the E box, sent by plane and arriving a couple of weeks after me, very carefully: my Mac, some dog bedding, some key technical books, that sort of thing.

A few days earlier, I finished packing the suitcases that will fly with me--all FIVE of them. One contains a bag of dog food. All of them are overweight. But paying those extra bag and overweight bag fees will still be cheaper than shipping those items. And it ensures that I'll have plenty of clothes, meds, and other key items right away.

The biggest hurdle cleared last week was the final approval of the dogs' travel documents. This one sentence sounds so simple but the process was, well, simply insane. Timing was horribly tight. None of the docs can be more than 30 days old but as you continue to read, the series of steps required could easily take longer than that if there was any sort of snafu along the way.

I first had to get new rabies shots for both dogs. They weren't due but they had to have those shots within six months of their travel to KSA. Then I had to get a letter from my vet, addressed to Customs in KSA, stating each dog was either a watch dog, hunting dog, or seeing eye dog (Harry and Mimi are now officially watch dogs). Then those got sent to US Department of Agriculture along with Form 7001, the standard export form for dogs. I sent those docs FedEx with a prepaid return FedEx envelope enclosed.

When those came back in just a couple of days with a fancy USDA seal on Form 7001 and the vet letter, I then had to get authentication from the Texas Secretary of State. But this fine office cannot authenticate federal documents, which is what Form 7001 is (federal trumps state in this case). So I had to make copies of each set of docs, attach a short letter stating those were copies of the originals (included in the same package), have that letter notarized, then send all of that to the Texas Secretary of State. But when I called, I found out that that fine office would take up to 10 business days to authenticate then return them. So I bought a round-trip ticket on Southwest from Dallas to Austin for the next day, called the pet sitter to let the pups out a couple of times, and flew to Austin, borrowed a friend's car, drove downtown, and had the materials (really, just the notarized letter) authenticated in about 10 minutes. This produced a new page with a shiny gold seal attached to each set of documents, now numbering 8 pages for each dog.

The next step was to send everything to Washington to the US Department of State for authentication by the US Secretary of State. Yes, that would be Secretary Hillary Clinton. They told me they would keep the documents for five days. I FedEx'ed everything to them along with yet another prepaid return FedEx envelope. Annoyingly, the Columbus Day holiday fell in the middle of this but at last the documents showed up with a super duper fancy page added to each set. Gold seal, embossed stamp, Clinton's signature, the whole shooting match. All that for only $8 per set!

Whew! The last step was to send everything to the Saudi Consulate in Houston for final approval. I sent everything by FedEx with yet another prepaid return FedEx envelope.

After sending those off, I slipped back into major stress mode. What if I had failed to jump through all of the necessary hoops? What if I didn't do things in the right order or had made a mistake in the documents? What would I do if the Saudis didn't approve the documents?

But good news at last--there is a spiffy stamp (like a postage stamp) and some Arabic text along with an official looking signature.

The biggest hurdle of all is yet to come. That is of course actually making the trip itself. But more on that later!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Cats (3)

The final gathering of the cat pack in Texas.

Bixter
Okay, so you guys absolutely have to check out the pics that Gosia posted on her blog! She reports that Bix is now acting like he owns the house. He has certainly taken charge of his harem of lovely girl kitties. He even rolls on the bed in the morning with the BCs! No doubt that he's settled in nicely. Bix was originally from Salt Lake City--he's done quite a bit of traveling before ending up there again.

Lola
After a lot of worry, I finally found a home for Lola--it's literally cat heaven. Marla and David live out near Waxahachie (south of Dallas). They have two goldens, two BCs, and a lovely cat named Smokey. There are cat scratching posts and climbing castles all over the house--even in the bathroom!


They even built an enclosed cat yard with ramps and snoozing spots up off the ground for maximum fresh air exposure. The cat yard is bigger than some rooms in my house! Lola has never been outside so she might need some time to get used to that perk.


Marla reported that Lola is greeting her and David with enthusiasm and much purring. Lola is of course eating well but that little piglet would never miss a meal. Marla has already started introducing some of the other animals. Smokey is a super nice boy and was very curious about Lola when we arrived, not at all hostile or worried.


What a relief to know that Lola is going to have a wonderful life in her new home.

Bhumi
After a tiny bit of arm-twisting, my mother agreed to take Bhumi.


I thought he'd make the best fit into her household. She has a very old male cat named Freckles. Bhumi is the most gentle of all of my cats and should create the least amount of drama for the old guy. He will also do well with her dogs. He'll get to see his new home in about a week. When Bix left for Salt Lake City, both Bhumi and Lola moped around for days. But I don't think Bhumi misses Lola much. He seems to be relishing his new role as the only cat. He's following me around with the dogs just like Bixter used to do.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Throwing the Switch

I've now turned the blog over to invited readers only. I plan on this being a temporary state of affairs. I had to do it because I was being harassed by a former coworker.

My choices were to constantly post things that were a direct insult to him, to create a new blog that he didn't know about, or to go invitation only. He's thick enough that either he wouldn't know I was trying to insult him or else he'd interpret it as an invitation for further harassment. And I like my blog just the way it is. I don't want to change the name. And I really don't want to introduce a bunch of negative crap. That's not the purpose of this blog at all. So I was left with the third option.

Welcome!

Jack Playing Ball with Dyna

video

Here's a silly video of Jack and Dyna playing ball in the backyard earlier this summer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Grooming The Smooth Fox Terrier (2)

Here is the second grooming video featuring Jack's butt and Mimi's tail. I decided to break it into two pieces to make sure it would display on everybody's system.


video

Here are some helpful hints for keeping it simple:
  • Never groom a dirty dog. Dust and grime will dull your knives and scissors.
  • Never strip a wet coat.
  • Good thinning shears are worth every penny you pay. Don't scrimp on this tool.
  • A grooming table makes the entire process so much easier.
  • Learn how to trim nails. Be patient. Be confident. Be zen. But keep the Clotisol close by in case you fail at patience, confidence, or zen.
  • The tail should look like a smooth, even cylinder with a rounded tip when you are finished. Hold your thumb over the end of the tail so you don't nip it with the shears. Better that you cut your thumb than the dog.
  • Groom outside if you can. Less mess to clean up.

video

Grooming The Smooth Fox Terrier (1)

As soon as I got sucked into the world of smooth fox terriers, I got sucked into grooming. The coat on these dogs lies tight and flat to their bodies. Nothing shows off a fit, muscular smooth fox terrier like a clean, well groomed coat. I showed in conformation for a while and learned how to groom them up to their eyeballs. A careful show groom on a smooth fox might take as many as 8 hours spread over two or three days and requires an entire box of tools and equipment. You'd think a dog with such a short, smooth coat is a "brush and go" sort of affair. Oh, my, no. Grooming a smooth fox requires shaping and trimming every hair on their bodies. Every single hair.

Fox terriers are double coated, with a coarse, tight outer coat and a much finer under coat. Stripping pulls out the loose guard hairs and thins the under coat, giving them a clean look and greatly reducing shedding. I used to strip with a fancy German stripping knife but I'm all for using the Furminator these days. You can cut the dog's skin and damage their coat just as easily with either tool so stripping knives are not for the total novice. However, the Furminator is very easy to use.

Even as a dog sport competitor, having my dogs show up to a trial looking trim and clean is always important. Because they are not that common of a breed, I wanted my dogs to always look their best every time they went to a tournament or trial. I always groomed my pack before a trial, even the dogs that were just along for the ride!

Grooming your dog yourself gives you a chance to examine the dog closely on a regular basis, allowing you to run your hands over their entire body. Any irregularity shows up quickly. And some aspects of grooming help keep the dog healthy, such as clearing their coat of loose hair.

Once I stopped messing about in the conformation ring, I devolved my grooming routine into something much more simple. Every week I clean their ears, trim their nails, and clean their teeth. Every month or two I strip their coat and trim fuzzy butts and flaggy tails. (I don't worry anymore about the lizard feathers on their necks, even though the neck gets a lot of attention in a show groom.) They get bathed every couple of months unless they are particularly dusty or smell doggy.

Here is the first of two videos on simple grooming of the smooth fox terrier. This one features Mimi. And yes, isn't that a lovely purple smock I'm wearing? If you ever once got itty bitty sharp-tipped fox terrier clippings into a sensitive place, such as, oh, under your sports bra, you too would own this particular fashion accessory.


video

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Invited Users Only!

Folks, I am moving the blog to invitation only.

Sorry for the inconvenience. It's always one boor that spoils it for the entire group.

You will need to email me if you want to continue to read the blog.

You have 3 days to contact me before I turn off access.

The Dogs Say: Whatever Is Going On, We Don't Like It

Dogs generally don't like changes to their routines. While I make a strong effort to stick to their regular feeding schedule, all of the activity going on at Circus K9 right now is throwing the concept of routine right out of the window.

Strangers coming by the house to look at things to buy, maybe even coming into the house for the furniture, realtors and their clients walking around opening cabinets and closets, packages being delivered several times a week, doorbell ringing, phone ringing constantly. All of this activity is taking place with a constant background of packing. I have at least four separate staging areas so I might be carrying items from one room to another (and sometimes back again), taping up boxes, wrapping small items in paper. Constant commotion.

Plus I sold my bed so we are all sleeping on the floor. This isn't as terrible as it seems as I've built quite a comfy nest out of sleeping bags and blankets, but it simply isn't the normal state of affairs.

The dogs do not like any of this at all.

They are all slightly on edge, jumpy and prone to react to the slightest sound, real or imagined. Jack and Dyna stick to me like burrs, never more than a few feet from me even when I'm moving around. Mimi and Harry have become particularly needy, an emotional state that I don't like nor do I encourage in my dogs. But I can't just ignore them--they are all worried and anxious.

The loading and carting and boxing and packing and moving frenzy is accelerating. Moving day is scheduled for next Friday and I've still got quite a bit to do. I hope the dogs can hold themselves together for a few more days.

Friday, October 09, 2009

For Service, Take A Number

After having spent the past several months subsumed by the job search, I thought I would share some thoughts on the matter.

We already all know there is a complete breakdown of general civility in American society these days and it certainly extends into the realm of the job search. If you are looking for a job now, don't expect to receive acknowledgment of resumes submitted or received. But what I thought was more egregious was to actually go out on an interview, one that might even involve travel to another city, spend hours with various people in a company, and still receive nothing upon my return. No "thanks for your time" or even a "you aren't what we were looking for; good luck." I even had professionals look me in the eye and tell me, "we'll get back to you next week" only to never hear from them or their company again. I've heard some radio news reports suggesting this is a widespread phenomenon now so I don't think it is due to my general prickliness.

But is it only complete and utter rudeness behind this failure to observe minimal etiquette? Being the cynic that I am, sure, I do believe that most of this behavior is the result of poor breeding and a lack of understanding of basic rules of communication. But there are probably also two other factors at work. First, in this current economic climate, every job opening, even for skilled professionals, has many dozens if not hundreds of applicants. Hiring managers are overwhelmed with applications. That doesn't excuse their behavior but I think we can agree that their company's system for handling that many applications doesn't work very well and needs to be fixed. Second, and this is the big one, I think the lack of interview followup in particular speaks directly to the company itself. If they don't treat candidates whom they have chosen to woo any better than that, how do you think they are treating their current employees? Red flags go up.

Interviews themselves are tricky things. If the people interviewing you can't articulate what they are looking for at the beginning of the interview, chances are you are not going to get the job. Of course, the opposite is true, too. Sometimes it's clear they have an ideal vision of what they are looking for--and you are not that ideal. I went on one interview where I delicately inquired about the person who had previously filled the post. I wasn't looking for dirt but trying to understand what their expectations and urgency might be. Turns out he moved higher in the organization and was still present as an advisor. The entire committee began to gush and glow, one person even saying, "oh, he is a saint!" I knew right then, 10 minutes into an hour-long interview for which I drove 2 1/2 hours one way, that I was not going to get the job. They were not trying to fill the position, they were trying to find a clone of their saint.

On another interview that I set up via email, I was told by the hiring manager that there would be a "group interview" on such a date at such a time. I thought she meant that I would be interviewing with all of the principals of the company at one time. Bad on me for not asking for clarification. I showed up for this interview only to see more than 20 people, men and women, all more or less my age and frankly, looking a lot like me, crowded into the front office. It was lke some bad zombie movie only with better skin and clothes. I was appalled. If that hiring manager couldn't winnow down the applications she received any better than that, then she'd very likely be a terrible boss, indecisive and prone to frequently changing her mind, unsure of her own decisions. Besides that, I'm at a point in my career where I won't participate in cattle calls.

My last example is the best of the worst. The company flew me to Houston, put me up in an expensive hotel the night before, hired a town car and driver to shuttle me around. Not a huge expense considering their operating budget but not inconsequential either. You'd have thought they were actually interested in me. I spent almost 8 hours in their offices, meeting one on one with principals, giving an hour-long technical presentation, examining and discussing technical data. It took several hours before I realized that even though support staff were crammed into cubicles in large work areas and people were moving around all over the place carrying maps and photos and such, I never once heard any one laugh, I never once saw any one smile. I never heard "water cooler" gossip or cheery greetings or discussions about the kids' weekend soccer match. My mother described it as "positively Dickensian"--by which she mean late 19th century, early industrial London, grey, grim, dirty, people walking around hunched over, jaws clenched, hungry, cold, wet. Captured it perfectly. I wouldn't have taken a job with that company even if they had offered, which they did not. No, not sour grapes. That is simply the truth.

While I'm not going to turn into Miss Manners, this experience has reminded me of the importance of civility and respect when dealing with other people. I've been making an effort to do a better job. I don't expect reciprocation. Only my own behavior reflects on me.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ship? Store? Sell? Give Away? Throw Away?

Today was an end to an extremely long and tedious process, one that has lasted most of the summer. Today I had my estate/yard sale.

Ever since Aramco first approached me about the job, I realized that I needed to do some pruning of my household goods. As a single female, I will always and only be allotted one-bedroom housing in Dhahran. One bedroom and perhaps not even a very spacious one.

So back in June, I started walking through my house, looking at every single thing that I own, and asking myself a series of questions: Do I want this thing with me in Dhahran? Do I need it there? Would I have room for it? If the thing was valuable in some way, was it worth paying years of storage unit fees to keep it? Did it have sentimental value or only economic value? Would someone else buy this thing? Could I replace it later? If nobody would buy it from me directly, was it worth donating? Or did I just need to quit messing around and toss it out?

There were additional complications. Of course. If I wanted to have the thing with me in Dhahran, could I let Aramco move it on the slow boat? It would be up to 3 months before it arrived. Would the thing fit in my allotted air freight box? The so-called E box usually arrives a couple of weeks after I do but it has limits on size and weight. Could I carry it with me in my luggage on the flight over? I'm planning on taking four suitcases (and paying the airline overage fees with no protest) to ensure I have immediate access to critical items for me and the dogs. Plus getting unusual things through customs is often easier if they are in checked bags. But those suitcases are only going to hold just so much stuff.

If the item was to be stored, it had to be securely packed and labeled. Actually, once I made the pile of "store" items, getting that stuff packed was straightforward. But there's now the little matter of how to get all those boxes to Virginia.

I posted ads for things to be sold to my dog sport yahoo group lists and Craig's List. So far, I have had tremendous success with this subset of my things. My former things. I posted my CL ad and had the estate/yard sale this morning. In a giant, five-hour push of effort (with the help of two friends), we sold nearly everything that was left. The pile of stuff to take to Goodwill will fit in a couple of boxes. It's really amazing what people will buy at a yard sale. A nice antique wardrobe that we thought would be gone right away is still here while opened, partly used boxes of nails sold in the first hour. The process of putting prices on things for sale was very helpful in pushing some things right into the trash.

My house is not entirely empty. One room is full of boxes (ship and store). There's still the odd bit of furniture (my dining room table and chairs)--but no beds. I sold all of them on Craig's List, usually within hours of listing them. I'll dispose of the remaining bits of furniture the same way. All of my clothes are in suitcases or boxes--ask me to find a specific item and I simply could not do it. One room is a chaos of towels, blankets, sheets, and sweaters. I'm still sorting that mess out.

Although much work remains to be done, I feel like today was a significant milepost. I've pared my house full of things down to the essentials. I feel lighter.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Poo Delivery

This past Monday I flew to Houston for an orientation at Aramco Services Company. The main part of the day was spent with a former expat's wife who gave several presentations on different aspects of life and work in the compound and the Kingdom. Her story was fairly typical of most that I've heard so far: she and her husband went over there planning to stay for a couple of years and ended up staying for 20! She brought her own personal photo album--it was helpful to see relatively recent and unstaged shots of the housing and compound.

Along with the presentation, there was a series of medical procedures one after the other throughout the day. They took blood (three vials) and urine samples, a chest xray, and gave me a TB skin test.

Prior to my departure, I received a package from them with two plastic sample vials--I had to collect some of my own poop and, using the little sporks attached to the inside of the lids of the vials, transfer it into each of the sample vials. The vials contained different liquid fixatives and after carefully sporking poo into the little plastic tubes, I had to close them up and give them a good shake. Mmm. It was a very unpleasant process all around.

Samples carefully sampled and vials tightly closed and labeled--I thought the worst part was over. Oh, no, not at all. I still had to get through TSA at the airport security gates! You know the drill: liquids, properly stashed in a plastic ziplock, must be taken OUT OF YOUR BAG and placed in the plastic bins.

Yeah, I could only imagine that conversation: "Ma'am, what exactly is this?" "Um, that would be samples of my POO!"

Fortunately, that ended up only being a product of my own fertile imagination. No problems with TSA, poo safely delivered to the Aramco medical office in Houston.