…aka the Pima Air & Space Museum and the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The first time I heard of this place was while watching Can’t Buy Me Love with Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson back in 1987. That was one of my all-time favorite high school movies, and I’ve wanted to visit the Airplane Graveyard ever since.

Scene from "Can't Buy Me Love" - Sneaking over the wall (internet photo).

Scene from “Can’t Buy Me Love” – Sneaking over the wall (internet photo).

Admiring a plane salvaged from the sea (internet photo).

Admiring a plane supposedly salvaged from the sea (internet photo).

I believe this is a  Grumman F-4 Panther (internet photo).

I believe this is a Grumman F-4 Panther (internet photo).

Surprisingly, most of that date scene wasn’t actually shot at the Boneyard, it was filmed at what was then called Bob’s Air Park. “Bob” has since passed away, and most of the yard was purchased by K-Tech Aviation that continues to recycle old aircraft and sell them for parts.

The difference between the recycler and the Boneyard is that the recycler is completely private, and the Boneyard is run by the Air Force as official government storage. The planes are also in much better shape in the Boneyard.

The story Patrick Dempsey’s character tells about pilots reminiscing over salvaged planes from the bottom of the sea or gazing at charismatic aircraft riddled with bullet holes…those planes would probably not have been found in the gov’t storage but over at the recycler.

A T-37 Tweet on "Celebrity Row" with a bunch of Boeing C-135s in the background.

A T-37 Tweet on “Celebrity Row” with a bunch of Boeing C-135s in the background.

A few rows of the massive C-5 Galaxies.

A few rows of the massive C-5 Galaxies.

Driving by K-Tech on the way back from the Boneyard.

Driving by K-Tech on the way back from the Boneyard.

Not sure how you go about visiting K-Tech. But you can take a nice air-conditioned bus tour of the Boneyard if you book it through the Air & Space Museum, which we did. The prices weren’t bad at all…$7 for adults and $4 for kids.

Entry to the museum was also $7 for adults and free for kids, and they had a huge selection of planes from all different eras and had some that the kids could crawl in. Obviously the ones on the base were only military, and we weren’t allowed to get off the bus. The museum also had a nice display on “Women in Aviation” and a hanger dedicated to space exploration.

Me by an F-4.

Me by an F-4.

Air Force One used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961-1965.

Air Force One used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961-1965.

NASA Super Guppy 1965-1995.

NASA Super Guppy 1965-1995.

A model display of the Space Shuttle.

A model display of the Space Shuttle.

I figured we’d be there for a couple hours in the morning. But we (me, hubby, son and grandma) arrived at 9am to avoid the worst of the heat, and the first Boneyard tour wasn’t till 11:30am, and it last for over an hour. A lost interest fairly early on and spent most of the time taking pictures of the imaginary zombies running alongside the bus.

After the tour we were a bit peckish, so we stopped into the museum café called the Flight Grill and had some of the best blue cheese burgers we’ve ever had. A even ate most of his slice of cheese pizza. We didn’t end up leaving until almost 3:00. But it was a day well spent!

N and A checking out the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

N and A checking out the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

A's favorite display...an interactive WWII cockpit.

A’s favorite display…an interactive WWII cockpit.

Cool tri-fin tail on a TWA Lockheed Constellation 1943-1958.

Cool tri-fin tail on a TWA Lockheed Constellation 1943-1958.

We arrived in Tucson on a Saturday afternoon…and the airline had already lost all four of our bags between DC and Phoenix. Technically they weren’t lost, they just missed the connection somehow. So they delivered them about 8:00 that night.

My mom picked us up at the airport and drove us to her little condo complex where we’d rented a three-bedroom unit. We figured we were probably gonna die in the 100F+ heat, but so far it hasn’t been too bad. The vacation rental was almost half price compared to their winter rates for obvious reasons, the AC works well, and there’s a pool, gym, and BBQ area, so we’re pretty happy with it so far.

Vacation rental complex with the Catalina Mtns in the background.

Vacation rental complex with the Catalina Mtns in the background.

My mom has been loaning us her car, so we’ve been able to get out and about. We’ve mostly been in chill mode this last week and have been visiting with grandma, relaxing from the trip, and enjoying the giant American grocery stores. Found a frozen yogurt place and visited three times.

On Friday, we had big excitement in the form of a visitor from California! My best friend since childhood, AF, popped out for a long weekend. So we did more of the same while she was here…visiting, BBQing, swimming, going to grocery stores, and eating frozen yogurt. :) We also had a fun girls’ afternoon and had our tootsies painted. Alas, she had to get back to work. But it was so great to see her!

Pedicures from The Art of Nails.

Pedicures from The Art of Nails.

We do have a few touristy things planned while we’re here like the Pima Air & Space Museum, dinosaur museum, children’s museum, Old Tucson Studios and the Kitt Peak Observatory. I wouldn’t mind taking A to see Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest…but the idea of spending hours in the car is far from relaxing.

I also need to get my driver’s license renewed at some point, since I’ve hit my limit on annual overseas extensions, and it will finally expire this year. But for now it’s just nice to be on vacation. :)

Travel is obviously my favorite thing in the world, or I would probably find a nice quiet job somewhere in the States. I am ecstatic about us moving to Iceland, but I’m also aware that we will have fewer travel opportunities due to its isolation and how small the country is.

With that in mind, I’ve been prepping for three years at a small post and doing some online shopping while on home leave. Since we’ve practically reached our weight limit for shipping, we’ve forgone such things as multiple sets of winter tires for the car and will just have to buy them at post. The cheap craigslist patio furniture will now be purchased at Ikea in country, etc.

But there are a few things that I am still determined to get here and either stuff into our UAB or get into one tiny supplemental HHE shipment, even though we’ll probably have to pay for part of it.

There are three things in particular that I think will greatly improve our activity levels during both the summer and winter that also make my inner child giddy and happy. Because these are items that either I haven’t had since I was 12 years old…or I’ve wanted since then. :)

So here are my big purchases for home leave this year:

1. Bicycle

bike

Huffy Deluxe 26″ Ladies’ Cruiser Bike

2. Telescope

telescope

Celestron NexStar 130 SLT Computerized Telescope

3. Digital Piano

piano

Suzuki Classroom Digital Teaching Piano

And there you have it. I see lots of bike riding with the family on the long summer weekends. I can share and improve my amateur love of astronomy. And I can start teaching A how to play piano while getting back into practice myself. I think these will all be excellent investments!

After my slightly whiny last post, we have officially wrapped up our two-year tour in London and returned to the US for training and home leave. The last couple of weeks were really lovely, and I’m happy that I got to spend some quality time with our best local friends and some great ladies in my office outside of work. We’ve had lunches, dinners, a BBQ and one last summer picnic in Hyde Park.

Our embassy driver picked us up four hours before our flight to compensate for Monday morning rush-hour traffic. So we got to Heathrow in plenty of time and didn’t have to rush. The flight over was an American Airlines code share operated by British Airways, so that was awesome. BA is so much nicer than AA, if I do say so. And we were on an Airbus 380-800, which is the massive two-story number that also happens to be the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft.

Here’s a shot of the THREE jetways leading to our plane…

British Airways Airbus 380.

British Airways Airbus 380.

Our son was a little restless now and then, but he didn’t have any screaming meltdowns on the eight-hour flight or at any other part of the day. And I also got to watch three WHOLE movies because BA lets you start your in-flight entertainment the minute you sit down and continues it until 20 minutes after landing. So that and a couple complimentary glasses of wine made for a very pleasant trip.

AND we actually managed to get a two-bedroom apartment in corporate housing! So it was a pretty great day overall. It’s funny being back in the States though, DC in particular, with the big cars and the American Colonial architecture that looks like something out of a theme-park to me at the moment.

But it’s nice to be “home” where things are just a tiny bit easier and you can plug your appliances directly into the wall without an adapter. So I will sign off and leave you with this song that I’ve had stuck in my head for the last two days.

Our living room mostly packed.

Our living room mostly packed.

So it’s been kind of a rough week! PACKOUT: First of all, we had our HHE packed out on Monday and Tuesday. It was fairly uneventful, barring the fact that they were 30 minutes late and sent three guys instead of the four they’d said were coming. But they still managed to get it all done in two days. They’re coming back next week to collect the UAB.

The annoying part is that we supposedly have 7,100 lbs worth of stuff. We are only allowed 7,200. So all the items we were planning to get out of storage and all the supplies we were planning to buy for Iceland on home leave…are now obsolete, because we would be over our shipping allowance and have to pay for international shipping out of pocket, which we can’t afford.

The really curious thing though is that we only had 5,000 lbs of stuff when we packed out of our four-bedroom HOUSE in Belize. And we got rid of quite a bit more after we got to London and realized we had no space for it in our comparatively little apartment. Yet somehow we’ve supposedly acquired an EXTRA 2,000 POUNDS. I might have to call bullshit on that one.

DAMAGES: We also had to pay $200 in damages for various bits of government furniture for the first time (scratches on dressers, etc). But I suppose it could’ve been worse.

OAKWOOD: We have stayed at the Oakwood corporate housing properties twice during training. The first time we were there for about two months and got a two-bedroom apartment. The second time, we were there for a month, were told that there were no two-bedrooms available and squeezed into a one-bedroom where our son slept in a crib in the living room. This time we’re going to be there for less than a week but again were told we’d be in a one-bedroom.

We put our housing request in back in February. So I spent a couple days going back and forth with them because I couldn’t believe that there was not a single two-bedroom available in the half dozen properties in the DC metro area when we’ve given them almost six months’ notice.

And then they gave me the long and short of it. They prioritize according to family size, length of stay…and I would guess pay grade, even though they didn’t say it. So basically we will never get what we want unless they have no one else to give it to. Another reminder of the lovely government hierarchy.

KID: And our son is not handling the changes well. He was two the last time we moved and didn’t seem to care. This time, he’s almost five and is on an emotional rollercoaster. He doesn’t seem particularly worried that he’s leaving nursery and all his friends (and is quite excited about moving on to big boy school).

But he’s acting out in other ways. The first day he came home after the movers had left, he realized the TV was gone and burst into tears. I’d like to think it was just an outlet and that he’s not actually emotionally attached to the television, but who knows.

Every night since then he’s come into our bedroom once in the middle of the night, and again around 5am. At that point I can no longer sleep since I have to be up at 6:30, so I usually let him crawl in with us. Both mornings I got out of bed before he did, and he was completely irate that I’d left him there sleeping…even though his daddy was crashed out next to him. I’ve done that many times in the past, and it was no big deal. I know he’s stressed, so I’m trying to be patient with him. But I’m stressed too!!

CAT: Yesterday, I took the cat for her third and final vet visit, but she knew it was coming this time and clawed the crap out of me. Then they gave me the bill, which came to almost $500 USD for three visits. Maybe it’s better that we’re no longer buying a bunch of supplies in the States!

And then somewhere on the 15-item checklist on “how to import your cat to Iceland,” I missed two little words. They wanted copies of her paperwork “at least” 5 days before she arrived. I’d gotten it in my head that it was “within” 5 days before she arrived. Just like her health certificate has to be “within” 10 days before she arrived. So yesterday I received a nice email from the Food and Vet Authority saying that I’d missed the deadline, and the cat was no longer going to be allowed into the country.

That’s about the time that I completely fell apart and started crying at my desk.

All that work!!! All that money!! I couldn’t even blame it on the vet strike. I had f*d it up all on my own!! So I had a good cry, then sent them the paperwork and a pathetic email. And…happily…they accepted my late documents and approved her import. Still keeping our fingers crossed that the vets don’t go back on strike on July 1.

So, yes, I am officially ready for home leave and a much-needed vacation…and a COLOSSAL margarita from some awesome Mexican restaurant in Arizona. And I promise that someday soon I will again post something fun and upbeat on this blog. :)

Ivan the Terra Bus. Specialized passenger transport vehicle manufactured by Foremost (Canada) that resides at McMurdo Station and is part of the US Antarctic Program fleet.

Ivan the Terra Bus. Specialized passenger transport vehicle manufactured by Foremost (Canada) that resides at McMurdo Station and is part of the US Antarctic Program fleet. (Photo: http://ciresblogs.colorado.edu/antarcticuavs/2012/10)

The Tundra Buggy fleet in Churchill, Manitoba, manufactured by Frontiers North Adventures for polar bear tours.

The Tundra Buggy fleet in Churchill, Manitoba, manufactured by Frontiers North Adventures for polar bear tours. (Photo: http://breathinstephen.com/the-next-great-adventure)

The MAN 8x8 off-road Personnel Carrier, originally built for the German army and now used in Iceland for glacier tours.

The MAN 8×8 off-road Personnel Carrier, originally built for the German army and now used in Iceland for glacier tours. (Photo: http://www.get-married-in-iceland.com/clacier-vehicle-from-ice-explorer)

Photo: flickr/linecon0

Those of you who don’t follow Icelandic news and politics, which is probably most of you, may not have heard of the labor strike that’s been going on since April. Hoping for better wages, it started with about 10,000 workers mostly made up of general laborers, wholesale food service workers (slaughterhouses, fish factories, etc.), and some from the tourist industry and cleaning services.

And they even had the following schedule:

April 30: Work stoppage from noon until midnight.
May 6 and 7: Work stoppages from midnight until midnight.
May 19 and 20: Work stoppages from midnight until midnight.
May 26: General strike begins at midnight.

Then things got a little more serious. Other unions, such as the Association of Academics (BHM), which includes health professionals (nurses, midwives and veterinarians) also went on strike…indefinitely, and frightening headlines started to appear in local and international newspapers:

The Verge: Iceland is running out of meat because of a vet strike.
Bloomberg: Iceland Running out of Burgers as Vet Strike Causes Meat Crisis.
Reykjavik Grapevine: Vet Strike Getting Serious: KFC To Close Due To Chicken Shortage.

All the while I’m thinking, gee, that sucks. I hope the people get what they need, but I also hope the food prices aren’t too high when we arrive.

At the end of May Iceland Review reported that 40 percent of Iceland’s workers were on strike, and in such a small community, as you can imagine, it was affecting everyone.

But for some reason, I never connected the dots until I read this: Dog Refused Entry to Iceland due to Strike (Iceland Review). Vet strike: dog deported or destroyed (Iceland Monitor).

And then it clicked…no vets…no animals being inspected at customs…no pets being allowed into the country. OMFG…our cat is due to arrive in Iceland in two weeks to begin her mandatory month-long quarantine. If there are no vets, she will be refused entry and returned to the UK. She will miss her quarantine window, her blood tests and health certificate will expire…and she will have to go through the process all over again. Not to mention the fact that we’re LEAVING THE COUNTRY, have already paid for a plane ticket to Iceland, and still have to get her into quarantine at some point.

THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF STRESS I NEED!!

So I did what every responsible pet owner would do…I called our London vet to confirm they’d sent her blood tests to a UK lab and not an Icelandic one where they would sit and go bad. I emailed The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), not even expecting a response if they were all on strike. I called the quarantine facility that had not responded to any of my random emails over the last month when I sent them the cat’s flight information.

So you can imagine how relieved I was when both MAST and the quarantine folks responded and told me not to worry, Parliament was meeting that very day to create legislation to end the strikes. And end them they did. Now the headlines in Icelandic papers are saying things like:

Strike called off: waffles time!
Beef is back!
Parliament crushes strikes.
Law On Nurses Strike Passes, Resignations Follow En Masse.

And the best sentence I’ve ever read: “Vets will be returning to work today…”

BUT we’re not out of the woods yet. “The bill passed on Saturday calls for all strike action to be halted until 1 July and for the parties involved to use that time to strike a deal. If this does not happen, the case will be sent to a court of arbitration.” That’s the day our cat is supposed to arrive in Iceland. If the vets go back to striking that day, we’re screwed.

I guess all we can do is keep our fingers crossed, watch the news reports, call the quarantine facility the morning that she flies, and come up with a Plan B…just in case. Such is life in the Foreign Service when you have pets. Have I mentioned that we’re thinking of adding a dog to our family?

 

A new sculpture popped up in the northeast corner of Hyde Park near Marble Arch last month. The seriously awesome sculpture of Genghis Khan by Dashinima Namdakov, that’s been there since 2012, has been replaced by another one of his pieces called She Guardian. Apparently there’ve been mixed reviews of She Guardian, but I think SHE is fantastic.

Namdakov is a Russian sculptor born in Siberia and is one of eight children. His family has its roots in an ancient and respected clan of Mongolian blacksmiths called Darkhan. And he has an amazing way of adding movement, passion and mythology to his pieces.

She Guardian.

She Guardian (internet photo).

Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan (internet photo).

Bletchley’s been on my bucket list since we arrived. I saw the movie Enigma years ago and FINALLY got around to watching The Imitation Game on Friday night. Such a sad and amazing story. Definitely leaves you with mixed emotions.

Bletchley “was the central site of the UK’s Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), which during the Second World War regularly penetrated the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers.”

The Mansion House at Bletchley Park.

The Mansion House at Bletchley Park.

One of the rooms in the mansion.

One of the beautiful rooms in the mansion.

And Alan Turing was one of the main figures at Bletchley. He was responsible for German naval cryptanalysis and pioneered modern computers. “Turing’s pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic; it has been estimated that the work at Bletchley Park shortened the war in Europe by as many as two to four years.” (Wikipedia)

The embassy CLO had organized a trip to Bletchley for Saturday with a nice little twist to it. It was going to be led by Sir Dermot Turing, Alan Turing’s nephew and one of the Bletchley Park trustees. It was neat to see him, but in the end it was a little underwhelming as we didn’t really get a chance to meet or talk to him.

He addressed our group for about 10 minutes with a bit of Bletchley history and his recommendations for what to see. But it was difficult to hear him as we were all outside, and the wind was quite loud in the trees. Then we were released to explore on our own.

Sir Dermot Turing, Alan Turing's nephew and Bletchley Trust trustee.

Sir Dermot Turing, Alan Turing’s nephew and Bletchley Park trustee.

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Sir Dermot.

But Bletchley in itself was a beautiful campus with very interesting buildings. The Mansion House was well organized with a lot of the film sets still up for visitors to view. And the huts were decorated the way they had been during WWII and were fun to wander through. We didn’t pause for too long in any one space with the four-year-old, but they also had a café and a lovely playground with an oversized chess set that happily distracted him.

So I would highly recommend it for a family day out from London. The train ride from Euston Station is less than an hour. And Bletchley is currently running a two-for-one admission special if you show your train ticket.

Part of the film set for "The Imitation Game."

Part of the film set for “The Imitation Game.”

An Enigma machine on display in the museum.

An Enigma machine on display in the museum.

Grabbing a classic British cab in front of the Houses of Parliament.

Grabbing a classic British cab in front of the Houses of Parliament.

I’m a little late jumping on this band wagon, and I know at least one fellow blogger has posted her pros and cons about London. Some of ours are the same, but some are different, so I thought I’d throw mine out there anyway for anyone thinking of bidding on London this summer.

There’s also a great little roundup of Copenhagen and other posts and their pros and cons over at The New Diplomat’s Wife.

London: The PROS

Travel – Granted it’s been more expensive than I was hoping for us to travel as a family, but you still can’t beat the proximity to all of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. And if you’re not too picky, there are a bunch of low budget carriers that can get you there for less. You can also take the Eurostar and be in Paris in about the same amount of time as it would take to fly…considering it would take you an hour to get out to Heathrow or Gatwick, and you’d have to arrive the required two hours before your flight.

History & Culture – Even if you don’t get out of the UK, every square foot of these islands has 1,000+ years of history. I’m trying to remain calm when I think of all the things that I haven’t had a chance to do yet. But because the sheer number of possibilities is so overwhelming, I could never do it all anyway.

1st World Convenience – Yes, they speak English, they have (fairly) reliable internet and satellite television,  and my favorite big-city perk…grocery delivery! That’s right, people, I haven’t schlepped my groceries from store to house in almost two years. I hate shopping, and I hate crowds. London grocery stores are tiny as a whole. So this feature has spoiled me silly at less than £5 per delivery.

Transportation – Be it a black cab, the underground tube or a red double-decker bus, London public transportation is safe and reliable…as much as any system can be. We brought our car and really wish that we hadn’t. The government shipped it, but I had to spend about $700 on new tires, emissions tests, fees and other modifications to make it road ready, plus monthly insurance. And we’ve literally only driven it half a dozen times. It would’ve been easier and cheaper just to rent a car now and then. Especially considering the fact that our building only allows you to park in one of their 20 spots for two weeks at a time. We finally just got a city parking pass and left it on the side of the street (and yes, it’s a bit more dinged up now).

Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) – Lots of posts have a bit of a COLA, but London has one of the highest, and it really does make a difference in your paycheck…at least at my level, it does. There are quite a few posts that have a very high cost of living (Tokyo, Moscow, Sydney) but a disproportionately low COLA. So I’m listing this in the pros.

The CONS

Crowds – I used to think I’m a people person, but I’m really not. People exhaust me. Large crowds of people make me want to go into a hole or never come out again. Even in London, one of the greatest retail and fashion cities…I still shop online. Because there are just entirely too many people here…especially in the summer. BUT if you do manage to get off the main streets like Oxford and Regent, you can find some fairly quiet neighborhoods.

New Embassy Split – The US Embassy will be moving in 2017 from its historic address on Grosvenor Square to a new location south of the Thames by Battersea Park. The international schools however will remain where they are. The embassy has already started housing people in residential areas around the new embassy to ease the housing lease transition and make sure there are enough properties available. This has a HUGE impact on the daily commute. So be very aware that there are two distinct locations where you can be housed and at some point your commute is probably going to shift when the new embassy is up and running.

Pollution & Allergies – I hadn’t thought of London as being particularly polluted. It supposedly rains a lot, so the air should be clean, right? And it’s obviously much better than during the Industrial Revolution and better than in the developing world. BUT it actually doesn’t rain as much as I thought it would. And the mild weather means that there are allergens pretty much all year round. And there actually is a significant amount of air pollution in central London. We’ve had chest coughs off and on for most of our tour. You should’ve seen the reports that came out on how much the pollution dropped during the bus strikes!

Expense – It is ridiculously expensive to live in London. That said, it’s not really the cost of things in the city but the exchange rate that kills you. We paid $1200 a month for a lovely full-time daycare in Colorado. In London our son attends a beat-up little nursery school that costs £1010 per month (beyond the government subsidized 15-hours a week)…depending on the exchange rate, that could be $1,500 or $1,900. It’s painful.

Community – I recently read a comment on someone else’s blog stating that community at post is not separated according to rank or job status but according to family status (single vs married vs young children vs older children). And I have certainly found that to be true both here and in Belize, presumably for the basic reason that these are the people you are most exposed to and can plan with. But it’s even worse in London because I know several lovely people that have children our son’s age, but we’ve never gotten together because they go to different schools and are scattered across town. In Belize we had one good set of friends. Here we have one really good set of friends. I guess if you make one good set of friends at each post, you’re doing pretty well. ;)

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and are not attributed to any government organization.

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