Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday Summer Solstice Solar Eclipse!

Sunday Summer Solstice Solar Eclipse! Sunday Summer Solstice Solar Eclipse! Sunday Summer Solstice Solar Eclipse! Say that 10 times fast.....So the solstice was on Saturday and the eclipse on Sunday, but parts of the US were still in Saturday....so it all happened on the same day right?!?!

The NASA published path of the eclipse:


I wasn't sure if we would be able to see it as we are not in Oman (which it goes over) but we are close. As I was doing the dishes this morning, I noticed it was oddly dark outside for early in the morning. Didn't think much of it, thinking I had missed the eclipse as I thought it had happened the day before. Then I went up to check my email and looked at the sun for a bit (mistake #2?) and was all, yeah that looks a little weird. So I googled the hours for the eclipse over Doha....sure enough....the oddly dark must have been the peak at 8:30! It was now 8:45 and so I quickly googled an easy eclipse viewer and called Clarissa. We made a pin hole viewer with some craft supplies.


It worked! The paint splatters on the card board I grabbed almost make a little smiley face with the moon shadow!


After our pin hole viewer, I pointed my phone up and without looking tried to take a couple photos. Darkening them doesn't really do much to glare of the fire ball of the sun (may have during the full coverage moment), but there is a moon shaped shadow/light beam to the side. Which is cool!


So that was our Sunday Summer Solstice Solar Eclipse fun!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Springtime Corona Sewing and other crafting....

In an effort to entertain myself (since we couldn't go on trips), as a crafter....I always have supplies...so here's some things I've worked on this spring while we've been staying at home in Doha (The kids school started Virtual Learning on March 11th and just this week on June 15th stores are starting to reopen, but very limited and still with lots of restrictions...ie no kids under 12). Doha did pass restrictions where if two people were in a car, they had to be wearing masks. Richard and Clarissa went on a take-away necessary ice cream run. So we've gotten lots of use out of ours. I've even made a few more with Richard going into the office more and my work load picking up and me needing some for work also.


After I made our masks, I found out my bestie (who works in a doctors office) was not considered high risk and wouldn't be issued any masks. That was unacceptable! So....I made her some....(she has shared them with her girls when they need to go to the store).


Then the next day, I made some for my parents and Richard's parents to go to the store in also. My bestie's shipped Tuesday, I made the parent masks Wednesday, shipped the parent masks Thursday. The bestie's masks arrived in 11 days, while the parents masks arrived in 27 days. Go figure....I seriously need to get better at remembering to take photos. My in-laws did send me a photo of theirs! 


I took a break from sewing and played with my Cricut some...made some fun stuff. Clarissa had gotten that new scooter for her birthday, so we figured a fun way to put her name on it.


I made a monogram for my Girl Scout leader bag (all the second year leaders get them as a Thank You....so now I know which one is mine....).


I made this just because it makes my heart happy when I'm folding laundry...(and it may be true).


Richard and I have a new set of glassware...appropriate for the current conditions. 


I had a few extra empty Nutella glasses, so we gave some extra ones to some friends, also. There was a call for some face masks for the service men and woman up on the base...so I went back to making masks. Knocked out a whole pile of them...I was out of shoelaces and elastic but I had found some parachute cord. It's not as stretchy as shoelaces but does tie pretty good (and if you have a disposable mask you could replace the the cord with the disposable mask's elastic before tossing it). 


After that I knocked out some masks for some friends...some that are PCSing this summer (more comfortable to wear a fabric mask for the long haul) and for some to exercise with when Doha released a you must wear a mask when exercising directive (and a few more for ourselves). Found the perfect use for the Stanley Cup Champions fabric I had gotten!! Our friends PCSing were Blues fans too!


Knocked out a few other projects I had had on my to-do list. Some reusable "sponges". They are machine washable.....we shall see how the last. I have a good bit so we can rotate through them. If they last the rest of our tour, then we saved a lot of sponges from the landfill!


I made Clarissa and I some matching mermaid Pjs. Whenever I think to take a photo, hers are in the laundry....maybe one day I will get a photo....lol. I also made a cover for my serger machine. I modified the pattern a bit to allow me to keep the thread tree up instead of having to lower it every time. Once covered it looks huge...lol.


I also made Miss Isa Lei a little placemat for her food. We wish we had filmed her reaction. She was all, wait, stop, sniff, what's this, why is there a soft mat in front of my food? Okay, I will proceed and eat.


I copied the pattern I used last year making the Girl Scouts S.W.A.P.s holder and made the kids a pin display banner. Clarissa has a few from ice skating (we can't find one at the moment) and the teen is into Disney pin collecting. I've had this felt for a while (bought it when I bought the girl scout swaps fabric).


I spend a lot of time at the computer with my embassy job and photography work. I ended up propping my feet up for comfort. I felt bad using the UPS (and paranoid I'd start it beeping by hitting a button with my foot), so I made a scrap buster ottoman/foot stool. It's not quite full to capacity yet....so apparently I need to sew more and get more scraps. 


I love the fabrics I used for the patterns. It makes me heart happy!


I've also made some fun t-shirts with my Cricut. 



As we approach the two year anniversary of the eviction of my thyroid, this one seemed appropriate. You can barely even see my scar anymore (but for some reason during zoom calls I find it very noticeable).
 

The teen is binge-watching Community on Netflix at the moment. So we had to have a fandom shirt.


Of course we can't forget Father's Day swag (and a what about me shirt...lol). 


So that's what I've been making this spring, while staying at home.....guilt free crafting at its best! 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Pros and Cons of Living in Doha, Qatar

In anticipation of our impending bid season, I'm doing a little 'pay it forward' to other bidders out there by describing some pros and cons of our post. I'll keep with five of each (like I did previously with our other post, Suva and Tbilisi). So without further ado, here are some pros and cons for Doha.

Pros:

1. Modern. Since the country oil industry really boomed about 50 years ago, so most development/growth has exploded has occurred recently. That along with the profitability of gas/oil industry the country has lots of money to spend (and when you have money your can import your own cows and milk them with a state of the art rotary milk parlor (I talked about after I had gone to Baladna Farms). All the high rises (and the sky line changes constantly) are shiny, modern, and unique.


2. Surprisingly ecologically diverse. When we got here, I had a book from Amazon waiting for us. Initially you think desert - there is going to be a whole lot of nothing. I've been out to the mangroves kayaking, gone birding, to the coast for a beach cleanup/girl scout trip, and gone SCUBA diving...each time I've seen some interesting critters. I also know there are whale sharks and the largest dugong population outside of Australia offshore (those are a bit more elusive and you can't easily spot them).


3. Lots of variety activities for entertainment. For kids, I've mention Clarissa does Girl Scouts, there is also Boy Scouts, ice skating, hockey, swimming, baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, horseback riding (it is high demand to to take lessons with Arabian horses!!), academic games, biking trails (apparently there are several that run parallel to roads but do not cross traffic if that is your thing). For adults, a lot of those activities have adult leagues as well. In addition, when we went to the Al Zubarah Fort we passed groups of cyclist out for a ride (motor and pedal), there are SCUBA groups, fishing groups, bowling leagues, Friday brunch clubs, card game/mahjong groups to just name a few. 


4. Museums, museums and more museums. There are a lot of museums/places to stimulate the mind. With the metro recently opening getting to them has gotten easier as well. There is Katara, a cultural village; the Museum of Islamic Art, which houses art from the entire region; the recently renovated Qatar National Museum, telling the history of the country and its people and wildlife; the Fire Station Art Gallery, which displays modern art; the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, I haven't been here guessing sport stuff; the Qatar National Library in addition to being amazing library it also houses a historical exhibit in the basement on the country's heritage. That is just in Doha! Outside the city there is also the UNESCO site and Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum to name a few! Though the metro and the museums are all temporarily closed due to COVID-19.


5. Phenomenal Air Conditioning. After coming from Fiji, where you'd be sweating in the grocery store doing your weekly shopping due to no AC in the store (and that was at the big chains!), it has been wonderful to shop in the cool. At times, you do have to throw a jacket/sweater so you aren't covered in goose bumps shopping, lol. There is even outdoor air conditioning at Katara, World Cup/sports arenas, and some of the bus stops! Our house has nine units just to keep it running at optimal temperatures. Here's some pictures of them....they are not tiny little air cons like we had in Fiji that would fill up with gecko eggs....note the name....these are heavy duty "Desertmasters"!


Cons:

1. The Hot Summers. This is a no brainer, Qatar is primarily desert on the located on the 25°N latitude (the Florida Keys are the only part of the US that is located in the 25°N latitude). Though, Qatar is an oddly humid desert, so with the 100°+ temps thrown in with 30+% humidity.....heat indexes can get hot. Just as people living in cold areas really don't go outside in the winter and just get bundled up for the dash from house to car and car to store; in Doha, we don't go out much in the summer during the day. We make the mad dash from AC cooled home to the AC cooled car to AC cooled mall. We will walk to the pool at night and it is still sweltering and feels like stepping into an oven. You will be practically dried off in the 5 minute walk home from the pool (and that is after the sun has gone down). (The dash pictures below are from May....it gets even a bit hotter by August. I got the humidity from our indoor/outdoor thermometer).


2. Drivers. With a country full of expats, this is not a huge surprise. I think traffic circles cause the most gray hairs. While it is better than Georgia's free for all, you always have to be prepared for the random car coming from the far inside lane to exit the traffic circle. In addition, if you don't jump into the traffic circle quickly enough the car behind you is always kind enough to alert you to go (seriously, if you honk it isn't going to make me go get t-boned by incoming traffic). The second the light turns green, somebody 5-6 cars back will be laying on their horn for people to go. If I am getting ready to make a left turn at the next intersection in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, if you flash your high beams at me repeatedly I'm not going to move right just so you can go fast and cause me to miss my turn being unable to get back over. So we just shake our heads a lot and say "really?" when someone does something crazy or think "slow down, I'll go when I go" if someone tries to hurry us along. Here's a little blip of a quiet traffic circle where you see the exiting from the inside lane, an almost t-boning as oppose to slowing down to yield into the intersection, and construction all in 40 seconds.....


This little summary was recently published of 'reminders of what not to do' (because so many people do them). 

3. Growing Pains. The country is gearing up for World Cup 2022. Therefore infrastructure needs to be upgraded and repaired, so there is a lot of road construction. At one point, over a few ice skating classes even though I was taking the same road home, the road/route changed each day. The country is also removing roundabouts, so more road work associated with that. For anyone bidding, this will likely not be a con by the time they arrive.


4. Water & Hair/Skin problems. We live in the desert, so water is scarce (obviously). From what we understand, most of the tap water is desalinated and then chlorinated. This leads to it causing problems with dry skin and hair falling out in the shower at a more rapid than normal pace. Apparently, this problem is not unique to Qatar. It's a general problem through out the Middle East. A recently article was written about it here. So after our first few months, I was starting to name the daily hair balls that would fall out of my head in the shower they were so huge (I'm only slightly kidding). I ordered us a shower filter on Amazon. There are also some available locally at Ace Hardware and at the different hair salons (the one I got also adds vitamin C to soften your skin after removing the chlorine/other impurities). I feel it has helped with my hair loss. I just changed out our filter (which I do every 3 months)....Here is the before and after.....eeh! We do get inexpensive refillable 5-gallon cooler water for drinking just because it is chilled and it has been recommended since drinking desalinated water all the time can throw off your electrolytes and cause other health risks. Though given from a biological safety point the tap water is fine, we are able to cook with and brush our teeth with the tap water and not be concerned.


5. Prices/Sin Tax. So having access to everything has its draw backs. It is expensive to get things here from New Zealand (looking at you delicious golden kiwi), Europe, and the United States....the stores aren't going to eat that cost. So you see your favorites in the store, but get sticker shock. Some items we deem too expensive and go without or only buy for super special occasions (ie birthdays, good report cards, etc). Prior to our arrival, we used a cost of living calculator, things seemed to be on par with DC prices BUT I think that calculation has a lot to do with brand and may have been done before the embargo occurred in June 2017 which has affected prices as the routing of goods into the country has changed. In addition, Muslims don’t drink alcohol or eat pork because they are following the scripture. Therefore it is not available in grocery stores and they certainly do not have package stores on every corner. In fact, we are lucky enough that there is one shop in town that we can purchase alcohol and pork products at. The items are obviously also imported and typically expensive and add on to that "sin tax" - it makes them super expensive. Luckily, Mason and I don't eat meat, so we don't need to buy much pork. Obviously, the kids don't drink and I very rarely have a drink (I cook more with alcohol), so we can get by going to the store every few months. At the beginning of 2019, the sin tax increased by 100%....Eeek.


To summarize, we have felt like Doha has been a bit of a hidden gem. After living in 2nd and 3rd World Countries, it has been a bit of a cake walk here.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

TSP & Quicken 2019

So as you know, we typically take R&R during the summer (this summer due to C-19 it is still TBD).....but given all the extra 'stay at home' time Richard and I finally tackled something we'd been putting off for a while....and it ended up not being all that difficult. I've decided to share our 'imperfect work around' to the TSP and Quicken problem. For those not in the know, TSP is the US Federal employee retirement program - it stands for Thrift Savings Plan and is the 401(k) equivalent for civil service and military. 

We have been using Quicken for a while and recently upgraded to Quicken for Mac 2019 with the online/mobile features (so if we ever do go on R&R, I can keep things up to date while gone for a month or two by updating it online, then when I get back home the desktop version will sync with everything I did online and I won't spend days playing catch up). Unfortunately, Quicken and TSP don't play nice (aka unlike other investment accounts that will automatically download information). This has been a common problem for a while (from what we read, it is something to do with paying for fees/allowing software access and TSP just doesn't have time to bother with Quicken). We found some stuff about downloading CVS files and importing but everything we found either had to with the Windows version of Quicken, really old versions of Quicken, or the links were dead. So we finally figured out a work around - it's not perfect - we use the end of quarter data versus using live or transaction by transaction data, but it gives us a general idea as to what's going on in the account - something we haven't had for the last 7 years....so I'd say that is a much greater improvement. So I'm going to stop babbling about it and show you what we did. 

1. Log in to your TSP account. Go to Statements. Download all your Quarterly/Annual Statements (I found it was easier to download than view. If you take too long, you tend to get booted off and have to do the whole log in process again). I gave the statements easy names like 2013 Q1, 2013 Q2, etc. We did Richard's first and then mine (I only worked as CLO a bit so I only have a few statements).


Once they were downloaded, I took all the end of quarter information and entered it into excel. I'll figure out how to share a blank copy of this excel sheet, no need to re-invent the wheel. I've circle the values I took from the statement. Only the first statement would you need the beginning number of shares (which should be 0). All future statements you will only need the Ending Balance numbers as I have Excel calculating the Starting Shares for you (but you can verify the number if you want).


For each statement, I entered the End Share Price and the End # of Shares for each Fund we have any Investments in. Excel then calculated the # of shares bought (end - start) and the total cost (shares bought x end share price). I'm aware Total Cost is like Dollar Balance on the statement but you need all the extra decimal places for Quicken to calculate the Share Price properly. 


All my undergrad/grad school data entry skills are still sharp. This part took only an hour or so, I spent more time opening pdf's than entering numbers. Now for getting this into Quicken. It's possible we could have made a cvs file and done it one step, but I probably would have spent longer figuring out how to do that then just entering it. 

So now into Quicken for Mac we go. First thing we need to do is make our TSP Account. So go up to the top, click the + for 'Add Account', then select Investments, then select 401(k).


At this point, a screen pops up asking you to enter your bank name. You can try to search TSP or Thrift Savings Plan, but it won't find them (unless something has changed and after reading this post they felt bad and are now playing nice). So save yourself the time and click the 'My bank is not in the list' and then 'Add Manual Account' on the next pop up.


At which point you will be presented with an Add Opening Balance info screen. Enter your start date and balance, then click finish. 


Your account is made. You can click the little settings button on the bottom right hand side and change the name of your account (must be on transaction entry format - to switch just click on transaction or portfolio below the name).


Now to start entering your quarterly contributions. Click the 'Add Button' on the bottom left side (again must be on the transaction entry format). Enter the date the quarter ended, then select 'Add Shares'. The format will change to what you see below. Change the date of acquired to match date the quarter ended. 


For Security add the TSP fund. The first time we did this, we had to add our own (as they aren't in the system and we are updating it all manually). After that, we had a nice drop down list. 


Then you enter total cost and number of shares. I would always check that the Quicken calculated Price per Share matched the Statement Price per Share on the Excel spreadsheet (a little data verification while entering). Then Save.


Once everything is entered you will see them listed under the transactions.


You can then switch to the Portfolio format to view how everything looks together. Here's just the sample one.


Here is Richard's pretty portfolio graphic. All in all, I think it took us 2-3 hours to enter all 7 years worth of 5 funds worth of data (we split it up over 2 days and took turns entering/reading off really long ##.##### numbers). When you're stuck at home....it's a "fun" project to suddenly get a pretty graphic that looks like this! 


Now you might be wondering, how can you see that C-19 March 2020 stock market dip and the start of the recovery if you are only entering quarterly data? You can add closing price data anytime you want....daily even. So if you log in to your TSP account. You can see what the share price is on any given day. Select 'Account Balance' on the side bar and after that screen opens, you can adjust the date at the top You can also go to this website which posts TSP data without being logged into your account!!


You can then take these share prices and input them into Quicken. While on Portfolio view, click on the share who's price you want to update and it brings up this option window. Select 'Edit Security'. After you select that, it brings up this next screen. Click on 'Price History'.


In the Price History, you will add a new price History. Enter the date and the Closing Price you got off the TSP 'share price for the day' page. Then click the Add button. 


Just like that you will have pretty wiggles in your TSP Investment profile graphic. We've decided Richard will log on to TSP on Saturday's and get the closing price on Friday's and I will update Quicken. A nifty feature is if I update the price history for his L2040, it automatically updates the price history for my L2040, etc. For this, we have a little spreadsheet (we've put it on google sheets to share between us since we have different computer profiles).


From this point on, it will be easy to quarterly continue to update the share values as well the new shares acquired. It should only take a few minutes to keep on top of it. 

That ladies and gentleman is how a Marine Biologist and a Political Science major outwitted the software!

If you want to do this for your own investment account, feel free to use our spreadsheets. For the Spreadsheets, they are now in Google Sheets (similar to Excel). Click here to download.