Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chemistry in Action

I started my first batch of ginger beer last night.

The little yeasties are busy making all kinds of waste products--including alcohol! The plastic thingy in the stopper that lets gas out but keeps bugs and other things from getting in is bubbling away. Mimi wasn't too sure about it when she first discovered this!

I caved in and bought a food processor when I was at the local hardware store Wednesday morning buying my shelving. You have to be careful when buying appliances here because camp is 110 V while the rest of KSA is 220 V. That's an anachronism left from the origin of Aramco as an American petroleum company. Anyway, Saco gets a lot of Aramcon business and they know it so they stock a variety of small appliances in both voltages.

I used my new food processor to shred my kilo of fresh ginger. You then make a ginger concentrate by simmering the ginger in a large pot of water for an hour. After it cools a bit, you can add the sugar. My original recipe called for adding the sugar to the fermenting bottle but sugar dissolves better in warm water than cold so after straining the ginger concentrate, I added the 1.5 kilos of sugar to that. I dribbled that tiny teaspoon of yeast into that giant jug of water, added my ginger/sugar concentrate, capped it, shook up a bit, and stashed the jug in a cool spot.

My empty soda bottles are clean and standing at the ready. I should be able to transfer the concoction to them by Monday night at the latest for a second round of fermentation. By next weekend, I should be tasting the results!

Meet Tsingy!

Surrounded by terriers!

Tsingy is a new addition to my household. She is a young female cat, about 2 years old, quite small as all camp cats are. The picture above was taken this morning--she's been here about 36 hours and has already stopped hissing at the dogs and lets them get quite close to her, even lick her (we don't think she had ever seen dogs before Wednesday afternoon). She hasn't left the office yet on her own but I think that she will soon enough. Right now, Tsingy (sing-GEE with a hard g) is asleep behind me and Mimi is curled up on the dog bed to my left.

My friends Paul and Lou-Anne were her former owners. She is a "houseboy" cat, a young stray that wandered into the houseboy camp, later carried to P and L-A's house by their houseboy, and thus adopted by them. The houseboys also take sick and wounded cats to westerners who they know have a soft spot for cats. The houseboys obviously have soft spots for cats too but they don't have the resources to care for them. Houseboys aren't allowed to be members of the Kennel Club (the vet clinic) so taking cats and kittens to people like Paul and Lou-Anne is the best option.

P and L-A recently adopted another cat, a young male cat, solid black and totally beautiful. When their houseboy brought it to them, the cat was horribly torn up and they didn't think it would live but they carried it to the vet clinic where they were told, he'll live, we'll have him back to you in two weeks. So they've kept him ever since. It appears this little black cat was beat up by other cats--and that continued in their house. Tsingy literally hunted the little black cat and beat him up when she could.

So to keep peace, they had to separate Tsingy and their other cat, an orange tom, from the little black one. That wasn't really working out--they are not used to dealing with barriers, who is in, whose turn is it to come into the family room, etc.

I had dinner at their place and mentioned casually that I was interested in acquiring a cat. Do you know that none of my dogs lived without cats? There were always a couple of them around. I figured the terriers would be okay with this.

Well, I have to watch those casual mentions of things around Paul--he jumped right up and said, are you interested in Tsingy? After he explained all of the drama, I thought she might be feisty enough to deal with the terriers and young enough to be flexible and able to learn to live with the dogs.

So here she is. She is white with a partially black head, a black tail, and a black spot on one rear leg.

Tsingy was so worn out from playing with her toys all night long that she didn't hear me come back in with the dogs from the jebels this morning. She didn't wake up until I said her name.

I should explain about the stuffed tiger. Tsingy slept in the guest bedroom at P and L-A's curled up next to this stuffed toy. It was a brilliant stroke of luck that they brought it along. I made her a little nest with it the first day and I think it helped make her feel safer.

Both dogs were utterly fascinated with her and spent the first evening hovering around the puppy gate in the door to the office. When I introduced them to Tsingy yesterday, one at a time, they simply walked up to her and sniffed her. At that early stage, Tsingy got all puffed up and hissed and growled but she stood her ground. So it was a case of the dog not barking in the night, that is, nothing happened. It was a nonevent. Mimi still has to check that Tsingy is here every time we come back in the house from a walk, even a potty trip. Harry is quite a bit more blase about her now. But even when both dogs rush into the office and stand almost on top of her, Tsingy just sits there and purrs.

Here is Mimi meeting Tsingy the first day. Tsingy is not particularly happy about it--defensive crouch, ears back, and she was growling. Tsingy doesn't seem to be as worried about the dogs now.

She meows and starts purring whenever she sees me and is very affectionate and playful.

I think she'll do fine.

Update: Last night (Friday night), Tsingy joined me and Harry on the couch to watch BBC Antiques Roadshow while dinner simmered on the stove. She curled up in my lap and purred herself to sleep. Aww!

DOG-101 (continued)

There were only 10 slots in my DOG-101 class--and they were filled five days after the class was opened for registration. There are three men and seven women signed up. There was enough interest that there is now a waiting list for the class in case anyone cancels.

I got emails from one woman asking how she would know if her dog was a desert dog. She sent me a picture--I think it is likely the dog has some desert dog in him but he seems to be several generations away from the source and boy, was he cute! He reminded me quite a bit of an Australian Kelpie. I told her it was okay for her to sign up.

Another guy, an Arab of unknown origin but definitely not a Saudi (because of his unusual last name; I asked around at work), emailed me with a picture of his puppy asking if "Brees" could join the class. The issue was that Brees would only be 12 weeks old when the class started but the requirements stated dogs had to be at least 16 weeks. But Brees will have had his shots by then and should be okay to join us so I told him it was okay.

I got some interesting feedback from the woman who coordinates the Community Education program. Apparently, she has been contacted by quite a few people who are pleased to see this course being offered. This kind of thing hasn't been done on camp for at least 6-7 years. Since we will be using a room in the middle school and will have to bring dogs into the school area where they are not normally permitted, into the building even, it is good to know there is reasonably broad support for it.

The first class is on April 10 so I have two weeks to work out some outlines for the classes and make a list of supplies to take with me each week.

More Settling In

I've been quite busy the past two weekends. I finally got my office organized, although in the process, I discovered during a trip to the local stationery/computer/book store that toner cartridges for my two printers are not sold in KSA. And then when I went to Amazon to order them online, I found that Amazon wouldn't ship the laser printer cartridge here. No steps forward, three steps back. But even if neither printer is functional, I brought some order to the office chaos.

This weekend, I bought and installed some shelving in my kitchen in the space where the fridge would go. It looks really good! The new shelves gave me the space to unpack four boxes of kitchen things. I discovered a few items that I was really starting to need!


Nothing is square or standard in Aramco housing so I had to custom fit every shelf. Fortunately, I shipped over most of my hand tools and was prepared to tackle this job.


Dog food update. That stuff is high powered! I am having to feed the dogs less homemade because both were starting to put on a bit of weight. My previous calculations will have to change as a result. Looks like one batch (about USD 25) will last a month, not two weeks. It fills two 9x13 baking pans.


I made a second batch with lamb. This time, I followed the recipe more closely and I think the results were much better. But instead of grating all of those vegetables by hand, I microwaved them then chopped and mashed them up. It made for a more "home style" texture. It's pretty colorful, isn't?

Chicken Elf is Dead, Long Live Son of Earl!

DSL sent me home last month with a bunch of crazy dog toys and plenty more dog treats. Good thing she was thoughtful enough to include more of those gruesome chicken toys because despite careful handling Mimi finally managed to do Ghastly Chicken Elf in.


These chicken toys seem to attract her for two reasons, the most important being the godawful noise they make. With a giant gash in his side, Ghastly Chicken Elf is permanently silenced. (The second reason is the texture. Mimi likes these somewhat soft toys.)

So I pulled out one of the new toys, a sporty male chicken in board shorts and tank top. His little wing stubs look quite hysterical poking out of the tank top. He seems to be an acceptable substitute for Chicken Elf.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bark!

Dogs are tolerated but not encouraged here in Dhahran. Outside of camp, they are rare creatures indeed. Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims, usually trot out the same handful of hadiths that state that dogs are unclean, particularly their saliva, and that the only reason to own a dog is for hunting or to guard one's property or livestock. (The issue of unclean saliva and hunting with dogs brings up its own set of paradoxes that are usually ignored.) Hadiths are not statements in the Quran but reports of things said or done by Mohammed recorded after his death by various Islamic scholars. As one Muslim poster said, if you have hadiths that are contradictory, look to the Quran for the true meaning. And hadiths on dogs are all over the spectrum.

You can find many Islamic sites that state that a dog's mouth is unclean. You can find just as many anti-Islamic sites and/or sites by Islamic dog-lovers that state the opposite, a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's. Of course, neither are asking the right question. It has nothing to do with "clean" or "dirty." The pH of a dog's mouth is rather acidic, around 9, compared to 6.5 or 7.5 for a human mouth. The bacteria in a dog's mouth are different than the ones in a human mouth. Indeed, the mouth of a dog performs functions that our mouths do not. Really, the dog saliva issue is a straw man, an argument without weight or merit.

The supposed inherent uncleanliness of dogs is also full of contradictions. The hadiths proscribe keeping dogs in the house because dogs are unclean and therefore your house is unclean. The meaning of "unclean" is taken both metaphorically (religiously impure) and literally.

With respect to the literal meaning of unclean, all of you dog people know that a house is only as clean as you keep it. In my opinion, children are far dirtier than dogs, leaving sticky fingerprints and food trailing in their wake on every surface. Heck, the average adult human sheds hundreds of hairs and thousands of skin cells a day. Mammals are just dirty creatures in general.

With respect to the metaphorical meaning of unclean, many Arab Muslims believe that if they touch a dog, they become impure and can't pray that day; if they touch a dog, they have to wash themselves seven times; if a dog licks them, they have to wash that place seven times; on and on. It has been pointed out by quite a few dog-loving Muslims that many of the negative hadiths about dogs strongly resemble Arab folk tales and like the transmogrification of pagan holidays by the Christian church (though that is not an analogy either the Christians or the Muslims would use), these tales may have been co-opted by early Islamic scholars (those guys who wrote down the hadiths) for a similar purpose.

An interesting blogger called American Bedu put up a post in 2009 about the issue of Islam and dogs. I've added a link to her blog on my blog page. She lives in Riyadh and is an American married to a Saudi. She links to an article by an Arab Muslim vet that states what is and is not haraam (forbidden) with respect to dogs. The site she links to is suspect, as the domain name is owned by PETA. Still, there is some common sense there.

All of this is quite ironic in light of the latest news that a bunch of researchers linked most dogs (exceptions being some very region-specific breeds) to Middle Eastern wolves, finding more Middle Eastern wolf genetic markers in most dogs than markers from other wolf populations. This suggests that people in the Middle East (people who lived many tens of thousands of years before Mohammed and Islam) first domesticated dogs. Of course, on the site I linked to, one nut commented that this research proves that dogs descended from a single animal that came off Noah's Ark--truly, scientific illiteracy and basic stupidity are not limited to any one religion.

But the point is, dogs are an integral part of the development of human culture. Cultural attitudes that promote the opposite view are simply that, cultural, i.e., man made.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cost of Living

Martin and I took an Aramco shopping bus into town this morning to visit what passes for the local hardware store. We then hopped into a local taxi for a trip across town to one of the large grocery stores in Khobar--the meat and produce are much better in the Tamimi store than in the commissary on camp. Not just a little better but orders of magnitude better so it is well worth the trouble and time to make the trip. And then we took another shopping bus back to camp.

The shopping buses are provided by Aramco free of charge. They run fixed routes from camp to malls or shops in Khobar and back and they run a couple of times each morning and a couple of times each evening. It can be awkward shuttling large, bulky packages on and off the bus and sometimes standing around in the sun waiting for the bus (it was 97 degrees F here Wednesday afternoon) is just not good for some foods. But even with the limited routes and limited schedules, they are still the best way to get basic shopping done.

Martin and I both agree that it is not a surprise how quickly we came to realize that many things we thought we wanted or needed we could actually live quite well without. And how that was probably a good thing.

Still, we really do need to buy stuff now and then. I thought it might be fun to list the prices of some items I recently purchased. I converted everything to US dollars.

My second level French class. They are providing us with a textbook this time so the cost went up a bit. Still, 10 weeks of classes plus the book only cost me USD 133. My own class, DOG-101, will cost participants USD 53. I have no idea what my share of that is, but I gather it is a pittance, a token fee for my "community-mindedness"!

Propane cylinders for my gas grill. I buy small 14oz red cylinders which each last about 5-6 grilling events, perhaps 2-3 weeks each. Those cost me USD 6.80.

Gas for my car. There is a gas station on camp. Gas costs USD 0.12 per liter. My car only holds 35 L, or about 9.5 gallons. This afternoon it cost me USD 9.60 to fill up my car. I put gas in it about every 6-7 weeks.

I've decided it is time to begin experimenting with fermentation. I found an extremely simple recipe for ginger beer that uses sugar, fresh ginger, yeast, lemon juice, and can be made in a 20 L drinking water bottle. I bought two large bottles of water at the bulk store at the back of the commissary for a total of USD 11.73. I bought a kilo of fresh ginger for USD 2.10. I bought a container of yeast, the smallest I could find in the commissary, for USD 0.93. I bought a 2K bag of sugar for USD 2.10. And I bought 10 two-liter bottles of Coke for USD 1.00 each. Yes, that's right, ONE DOLLAR EACH. I don't drink soda so I poured it all out. After the initial fermentation in the big water bottle, you filter and pour the beer into the Coke bottles for final fermentation. The plastic bottles that real Coke comes in are strong enough to hold the pressure and can be reused for quite a long time (with proper sterilization). I've been told not to try to make beer with bottles holding the local soda varieties--they tend to explode.

Experiments abound. I began my experiment in making food for the dogs last weekend. I am working out various modifications to a meatloaf-style recipe I found on the internet. I made the first batch with ground beef. After feeding the end result for a week, I have discovered why some ingredients are needed and why some substitutions don't work so well. Fortunately, the dogs will eat just about anything. I've cut their kibble consumption by 50% and found that one batch of this recipe will make more than 2 weeks of dinner meals for them.

I purchased the ingredients for a second batch today. Approximately five pounds of ground lamb cost me USD 12.00. I bought a two-kilo bag of rice but I figured the cost comes out to USD 0.80 per batch. I bought a bag of pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower florets for USD 6.50 (they were imported so pricey). I bought 6 local brown eggs for USD 0.80. I bought one local sweet potato and two local brown potatoes for USD 2.00. I bought a hunk of fresh local squash for USD 1.50 and a package of little bitty local zuccini for USD 0.75. Then there are four carrots for USD 1.00, two apples for USD 0.50, frozen green beans and frozen spinach which come out to about USD 0.50 each per batch, and frozen blackberries for USD 0.50 per batch.

Let's say this averages out to USD 25.00 per batch. And let's say I make it 20 times a year so the annual cost is USD 500.

I had previously figured the dogs would go through 5 big bags of kibble a year, conservatively. At $50 per 40 lbs (I'm rounding here, bear with me), that is USD 250. Doesn't seem like a good deal, does it? Homemade is twice the cost of kibble--and I'm still feeding kibble, just less of it.

But I can't get good dog food here (the food sold in the vet clinic on camp, Royal Canin, lists first and third ingredients as corn--bleah). Either someone traveling to the US has to bring bags of kibble back in a suitcase or I have to have it shipped. And it might indeed cost me USD 200-300 to ship 200 lbs of dog food here. In the end, I may cave and do that anyway. But for now, I'll continue experimenting with homemade. It's fun and the dogs are of course quite willing to play along.

Monday, March 15, 2010

DOG-101

Check out the course listing that just went up today on the Aramco Community Education site:



This is unrelated to dogs but I also registered today for the second French language module. Two two-hour lessons a week for 10 weeks will cost me a whopping USD 160. Madame Hala, the same instructor I have now, is teaching it. She's quite the grammar Nazi but that's probably good for this early stage.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Going To The Dogs

I work with a guy named Paul. He's Canadian, perhaps quintessentially so. The cultural differences between westerners get oddly magnified here but even so, I think that Paul could be a poster boy for Canada (the english speaking part, at least). Paul is a field geologist who specializes in structure and very old rocks. He's a very good exploration geologist too.

Paul is nominally my supervisor in many of my work activities. However, we were thrown into our current positions in a moment of crisis and our roles quickly became blurred so that we are actually partners with such a strong sense of shared purpose that we can sometimes finish each other's sentences. I really like working with him because even though we have radically different approaches, we always seem to end up with the same solution. He's a good guy to work with.

His wife, Lou-Anne, is also Canadian. Both of them are heavily involved in one of the so-called "friendship groups" that meet on Friday mornings. That is code for groups of Christians of various denominations that meet to conduct religious activities. They keep a low profile of course (for example, wearing religious jewelry is prohibited) but Aramco certainly knows what they are up to as it actually approves visas for people to come and live in camp who have no other function than what we'd just have to call "minister" or "priest". But I am straying onto a tangent here.

A few days before I left on my trip to the states, in one of those casual moments of chitchat between office crises, I mentioned to Paul that I had been toying with the idea of looking into setting up a dog training class, that working with my dogs had been a primary hobby of mine before I took the Aramco job. But I said I wasn't sure how to go about it, and whether appropriate space could be found, etc.

Really? he said. A good friend of his and Lou-Anne's from their "friendship group" just happened to be in charge of the adult education program in the Aramco schools. He told me that she's the one who can help me with all of this--that's her job. He said, I'll put you two in touch with each other. So he sent her an email introducing me, and Susan replied back to me literally in minutes.

She was so excited, she told me, because she is constantly being asked by camp residents if there was some sort of dog training class. I don't know about "constantly" since there are more Saudis on camp than expats and with the exception of the Filipinos, most Arabs are terrified of dogs (plenty of fodder there for another post), but let's accept she was using a bit of hyperbole for effect.

After quite a few emails back and forth, we worked out some parameters for the class. The stated goal of the class is to teach basic obedience and manners, maybe a few tricks if we have time. No more than 10 dog/handler pairs, no puppies (dogs at least 10 months old), owners would have to produce Kennel Club registration (the camp vet clinic), and I and Community Education reserved the right to turn away any dog.

This last might seem a bit odd but there are quite a few of those desert dog saluki hybrids on camp. I'd have to say based on my own observation that 75% of these dogs show overt dog aggression. The aggression seems to be stress/fear (they have a gigantic bubble of space they like to keep clear around them) combined with plain, simple nastiness caused perhaps by poor socialization/crappy breeding/who the heck knows. I have heard of them attacking other dogs out in the open areas but I've not seen it nor has it happened to us yet. Still, we've had a couple of close encounters and what I've seen of these dogs I don't much like. I believe they could pose a risk to other dogs (primarily because of ignorant owners who don't know how to read the signs of stress in their desert hybrid dogs and other ignorant owners who don't know when their own dogs are being impossibly rude) and I don't want to deal with them. I told Susan that I would consider a separate class for just those dogs because so many of them need more than basic dog obedience. Their issues go far beyond just a lack of manners.

So I've got 8 weeks of one-hour lessons offered indoors on Thursday afternoons (that's our Saturdays; all of the shops in town are closed then, as they are everyday from 1130am to 4pm. That covers a couple of of the five prayer periods per day. I digress again.

I have clickers and may spend the first lesson teaching handlers how to use them--but only if I think there is interest in that. Of course, we would progress through sit, stay, down, nose touches, and work on recalls. Leave it is always an excellent skill. I may also work on loose lead walking and perhaps even some simple cone work. If there is interest, I could teach crate games. But crates are hard to come by here. If owners don't already have them, that may not work well.

Earlier I ragged on those awful flexi leads, and Gosia noted my comment about buying nylon leashes during my trip to the states. She said, why not use rope? Well, suitable rope is as difficult for me to obtain here as leashes and I suck at tying knots. Plus I didn't think of that. But money is not an issue on camp so offering nice nylon leashes to class participants at some reasonable cost will work out just fine. I mentioned this to Susan and she told me that other instructors of different types of courses such as photography and art often sell special products to their students.

None of this is a money-making venture. Selling leashes for a dollar or two over my cost and the small payment I get for teaching the class don't represent much of a contribution to the "money" bucket. I'm driven to give this a try out of the desire to do more dog-oriented activities. Who knows, I may get enough people interested in something like rally obedience that we could hold small tournaments or some such. But that is way off into the future.

I have an outline drawn up. But I'm opening the blog up to your suggestions. What else do you think I should cover? How should I break the lessons up? Do you have any teaching tips that you want to share with me?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Harry lounging. March 2010.

A couple of days before I returned to the magic kingdom, I realized that I was looking forward to going home. This was immediately followed by a second realization that I was now thinking of Dhahran as my home. That is an important transition--and a necessary one if I am going to make this adventure work.

Mimi showing how nicely she will sit-stay. The bookcases and a bed were the only pieces of furniture I shipped out here. March 2010.

There are some important milestones that I am dealing with. First, American employees of Aramco don't vest in the retirement plan until they are with the company for 5 years. Second, I think I will earn "enough" money in about 9 years (more on what is "enough" in a bit). But if I stick it out here until I am 60 years old, then my health care is fully paid for until I die--as long as I remain a US citizen. I figure I will take each one of these as they come.

The "enough" money ties into a joke that was relayed to me by several people when I arrived last fall. See, you start working at Aramco with two buckets, one labeled "shit" and the other labeled "money." As the buckets fill, you can shift contents between them. But eventually, one of those buckets is going to start to overflow and that's when you know it is time to go home. I'm assuming that my "money" bucket will overflow first but you never know.

But back to this home issue. I hate my Motel 6 apartment. I hate that I have no yard for the dogs. But it is MY grotty little apartment and the dogs seem to be fairly happy.

The dogs ecstatically playing with new toys pulled straight from the suitcase. March 2010.

I boarded Harry and Mimi in a kennel when I was on leave. The kennel is part of the Kennel Club here on camp. The vets aren't that spectacular but the office staff are very friendly. I took a tour of the kennels a few weeks before my trip. Traditional indoor/outdoor concrete runs with two large fenced areas for exercise (also concrete). But everything was very clean. The kennels are staffed by a bunch of enterprising Filipino guys who also work as orderlies as the hospital. They moonlight at the kennels to earn extra money. They seem to genuinely enjoy taking care of the dogs and cats. I'd have to say that Harry and Mimi came out of there in better shape than they usually do when boarded. No signs of stress, no bloody pads from pacing and fence running. No signs they had been fighting with each other (although I did leave emphatic instructions to separate them during meal times).

My grotty Motel 6 room. It was a squeeze to get into these 810 square feet even with no furniture. You can see from the picture below that my new refrigerator won't fit into the dollhouse kitchen. Fortunately there was a convenient alcove in the living room.


Since I don't plan on staying in this crappy apartment for any longer than I have to, I decided not to take on anything ambitious like painting walls. But I did hang all of my pictures. In this view, you can see Harry's Onyx plaque hanging in the middle of the stairwell. DR!, I miss you guys!


And in a truly inspired decorating touch, I decided to store my front loading washer and dryer in my office (covered with the lovely floral sheet and topped by all of my suitcases). This of course only leaves me about 10 square feet for an office but it saves me storage fees and possible damage to the washer and dryer for the two years they would have to be stored in unknown conditions.


I got news when I was back in the US that my house in Keller had finally been foreclosed on. The lenders dragged that painful experience out for 8 months. While I wish that things had turned out differently, they could have been much worse.

And here I am, back home.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Conspicuous Consumption 2

I'm currently in the US, in Virginia. I spent a few days with DSL and am now at my mother's house.

The trip between KSA and the east coast of the US is quite long, almost 20 hours of planes and airports. The 8-hour time difference is proving difficult to adjust to. I am never sleepy at the "right" time now!

Sadly, one of the main reasons I came home (it's a quick trip too--only 10 days on the ground) was to shop.

Not wanton, random shopping. No, I came with a list.

Ibuprofen. Who would have thought that ibuprofen was so hard to come by in the magic kingdom? I bought three 500-pill bottles of it. The more alert amongst you might wonder why I don't have a friend ship those over to me? Those kinds of items don't pass customs. You have to hand carry them in.

And shoes. All kinds of shoes--casual flats, dress shoes for pants and skirts, sandals, and sports shoes. Can't find shoes my size in Khobar. They are certainly available in Bahrain but that would take an entire day and the prices in Bahrain are totally crazy. Of course I know about Zappos. But depending on the brand and style, I can wear anything from a 9 1/2 to a 10 1/2. And their return policy? Doesn't apply for international locations. It is a $100 flat rate for me to ship anything back. Zappos is not a convenient solution for me while I am in KSA.

Dog toys. DSL loaded me up with a box full of toys and treats, and Julie in Nashville provided a toy and treat infusion last month, but I wanted to pick up a few more of Harry's favorites while I am here. Mimi has broader tastes in toys (e.g., ghastly chicken elf) so is easier to please but Harry loves his bear babies--loves'em to death, I'm afraid. The new one I brought over last October is now a stinky shapeless rag.

It looks like I might be teaching a dog training class on camp later this spring so I needed some supplies for that too. There are no pet stores in Khobar like we think of pet stores so if I want students to use nylon leashes instead of flexis (those horrible things are far too common on camp), I have to provide the leashes. They can't just pop 'round to the store and pick one up. More on this very interesting topic as it evolves!

I've been wrestling with the dog food problem. I had a kibble infusion at the end of November when a coworker brought back about 40 lbs in his luggage. And another friend who is visiting Canada has space and is bringing me another 40 lbs or so. But this is not a long term solution. I have considered having kibble shipped to me but I am afraid the cost might be too much. DSL suggested that I try making their food from scratch. I can certainly get cheap, good quality meat and bones, a variety of grains and fresh vegetables, etc. I can even get food processors and those kinds of appliances in KSA. While I still have a good supply of kibble, I think that I will give this a try.

My list seems pretty mundane, doesn't it? But the shopping frenzy isn't entirely unexpected. You have to live in KSA for a few months to figure out what you can live without, what you can find reasonable local substitutions for, and which items are simply unobtainable.

What are you doing right now?

This is as close to a "facebook status update" you are ever going to get from me. At work I spend all day on a computer. I rarely have free time to do more than check personal email for issues that need immediate attention. I turn on my computer at home perhaps twice a week--on the weekends, never in the evenings after work. I spend my evenings in class, socializing with friends, or with my dogs. I am never going to create a facebook account. What's the point, really, if I only update it once a week? I already do that with the blog. And I prefer navel-gazing in the form of narrative or essay. For the most part, the great majority of us live routine, even boring, lives. The quotidian details extracted from context seem thin to me. The joke about updating your status with the comment that you are "updating your status" becomes all too real.