Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Part 2

I just wanted to give a quick update on Hurricane Sandy- now that it has passed!

In the end, the Washington, DC area and much of the Mid-Atlantic region was really spared.  My colleagues and I agree that the derecho storm this summer was worst!  Of course, that may be WHY we didn't feel the hurricane so bad- many of the tree already fell down this summer :)

But, the south of the hurricane got winds and rain, while the northern part of the hurricane is the part that affected the ocean.  Because of the winds our region got, we actually flooded LESS than normal!  Still some flooding, but nothing like other hurricanes we see.  And people still lost power, but nothing too bad or for too long!  Whew!

Old Town Alexandria, Virginia- about 2 blocks up from the river flooded. (but, this area usually floods with hurricanes! :)

New Jersey in particular and New York secondly did get hit hard from the storm.  New Jersey is where the Super Storm came on shore and so they had the ocean tides, the winds, the rain and everything that comes with a large storm.  New York City and New York was north of the storm and so they got hit hard with the tides.  You may have seen the pictures of the dark part of New York City and the Stock Exchange was closed for 2 DAYS- the first time for weather since the 1880s!  Wow!

I have some friends that live in New York City and around the area and thankfully they are fine.  In fact, it sounds like (on Manhattan anyways- the island) it's really North vs South.  The Northern part of the island is perfectly fine.  The Southern part- the part that got flooded- is still having many problems.

Many people in New Jersey still can't get back to their homes if they are on the coast.  Many places are still without power and I can tell you that this storm brought in the COLD to our area, so the challenge in making sure they stay warm.

If you would like to help our services, please consider donating to the American Red Cross.  We appreciate your help!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Hello from a very wet and windy DC!

Hurricane Sandy is expected to hit land tonight and we currently experiencing a lot of wind and rain and we are told it's going to get even stronger soon.

For anyone in the Mid-Atlantic to NorthEastern Area, please make sure that you are inside and listening to your local authorities!

The Mid-Atlantic and NorthEastern States mostly affected by the hurricane include: Washington, DC; Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  Part of of South Carolina and North Carolina were also affected as the hurricane passed them going up the coast.

For those not familiar with hurricanes, please keep in mind that it is basically a really bad storm.  So, instead of a quick disaster- like a tornado or an earthquake- this is something that lasts for a long time and we usually know in advance that it is coming.  This is great because local governments can give their people plenty of warning time- it's not so good because everything look calm for a LONG time and when the weather is bad, it's normally too late to plan.

If you live on the coast of the ocean- the waves gets very large and flood the area.  Kinda' like a slow tsunami may be the best way to describe it.  If they tell you to leave your home, hotel, etc- LEAVE!  They can direct you to government and Red Cross shelters and other services.  After a certain point, roads WILL close and power WILL be cut- so get out while you can.

If you are more inland- like I am in Northern Virginia- listen to your local government and also what other people say things have been like in the past.  Alexandria, for example, often floods and so many people had to get sandbags to help keep the water out.  Many parts of our area also has old trees and power lines above ground- so normal storms will knock out power!  Earlier this year- at the end of June- we had a very large, unexpected storm, and power was out in some areas for a week!  Thankfully, we know this storm is coming though, so hopefully power won't be out so long.

So- if you currently in our area of the country- STAY INSIDE and listen to your local government representatives.  Some good links are:

Google Crisis Maps
Fairfax County Blog

Certainly, prepare to be inside for about the next 2 days and be prepared to be without power and heat.  We are supposed to get cold, so make sure you have blankets and warm clothing!  Also, government officials recommend that you keep a gallon of water (3.8 liters) per person, per day for drinking and other uses.


Should I be worried about visiting Washington, DC/New York City for other storms like this?

In short- no.  These storms do come up from time to time, but are much more unusual than these storms in places like Florida and other southern states.  And even in those places, they know about these storms in advance and if you HAD to change your plans, you probably would have time to do so.

While the estimates in damage are large, these cities are used to fixing up and moving on.  So, I expect to be back to work about a day after the storm and certainly the tourist areas will probably be up and running as well.  In NYC, some of the areas in the lower parts of the city- by the water- may take longer to come back, but likewise, I expect it to be pretty quick!

So- good luck to everyone and listen to your local officals!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My weekend: Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

It's Autumn (fall) in Virginia!  And this year, we have been sliding slowly into fall which has given us beautiful trees!  So, this weekend, we packed up the car and drove to Shenandoah National Park to drive along Skyline Drive.

Shenandoah National Park is a very large park of wilderness along the Appalachian Mountains, which go from Alabama in the South to Canada (Newfoundland) in the North.  Many people try to hike along the whole thing- I think it takes 2-3 months!

At this time of the year, the Park is very busy because of the beautiful wilderness it offers!  In particular, many people drive along Skyline Drive- a road that winds its way along the tops of the mountains to give visitors the best view.

Below are some pictures of our trip I would like to share.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 2, 2012

My weekend: Eastern Market, Washington, DC

This past weekend- after the HUGE storm that blew through the area (jump to the break)- we decided to go to Eastern Market in Washington, DC.

Marketplaces were once common all over the U.S., but they generally have been replaced in neighborhoods with the supermarket chains like Safeway, Giant, etc.  BUT- though it all- the traditional market has survived!

Farmers markets are the most common occurrence that you see in towns and cities across the U.S. Each town/city/county will decide what is the best day to hold these markets and where.  In the Washington, DC, we are lucky to be so close to many farms and to have a population that enjoys having the local produce.  As such, there is a farmers market open almost every day of the week in the different towns.  Fairfax County (where I live) has a list of their farmer markets and schedule online here, if you are interested.  Old Town Alexandria claims to have the oldest continuous running farmers market in the country, and their information is here.

BUT, in this posting, we are talking about the established marketplaces in the U.S.; those in actual buildings! In the Washington, DC, Eastern Market is our marketplace.  Sure, there is the fish market by the river and the farmer markets all over, but Eastern Market is unique in that it has it's own space.  The feel may remind you of the market places in Europe (although ours is much smaller in DC. Larger markets in the US are in Philadelphia).

Eastern Market (National Park Service Information Link here) is Washington, DC's oldest continually operating public market.  It is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, right off the Eastern Market metro stop and a short drive from the Capitol.  (probably a long walk, which I wouldn't recommend in the summer heat!)  It was built around 1873 and only was closed after a fire burned most of the building down in 2007.  Thankfully, they rebuilt the building and it is open and thriving now.

In addition to the indoor market, Eastern Market has a farmers' market outside the building as well as a flea market every Sunday in the school across the road.  Inside, there are many meats, cheeses, sweets, flowers, and pastas sold while outside is the fruits and other produce you find at farmers markets.  The flea market has sellers of jewelry, clothing, toys, home decorations, leather and more!

The area around Eastern Market also has a good variety of restaurants, delis and coffee shops and so in the summer (or winter) when the weather gets to you, you can duck into one of these to enjoy a small treat.  The Market itself also has their own eatery.

So, their was a HUGE storm that blew through our area on Friday night (June 29).  I didn't even know that it was coming until all of a sudden I heard all of this noise!  I looked outside and the wind was going so strong- we had gusts up to 70 mph!  That's hurricane wind!  The rain then did come, although not too much.  The wind has left about half a million people without power in our area and water and other essentials are down.  Thankfully, my house was fine, but when we drove into DC, we saw some of the damage that happened there.  Here are some photos of the downed trees near Eastern Market- this large tree fell across the road!  It took out the stairs to a house, broke some glass and smashed a truck!  Unbelievable!  (we don't normally get extreme weather in DC!)
The Tree that Fell across the road

The staircase is missing on the left and their windows are broken.  The house on the right's staircase is bent.

The smashed truck

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My weekend: The Star-Spangled Sailabration!

Star-Spangled Sailabration?  What is that?

This weekend, June 15-17th, 2012, the U.S. Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland is holding a celebration!  For what?  2012 is the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812 and the battle fought in Baltimore Harbor was the inspiration for the poem for our National Anthem!  June 14th is Flag Day in the U.S. - a day to celebrate the flag- and this weekend's events is a double celebration of the Flag!

As part of the celebrations, they are bringing in a bunch of historic ships and other Navy items.  There will also be an Air Show over the harbor and fort featuring the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels!

I think this will be fun!  I post more once we head up there!

I'm back!!  We had a great time, although I think this was their first year planning it and it showed a bit.  There were signed on the highway to park at the B&T Stadium, but the bus took us to the ships and not the Fort!  The ships are great and we would have LOVED to go on them, but our friends were at the fort!  Actually, a general (seriously, that's who another sailor said he was!) ended up finding a car and driving us over to the fort... isn't that nice?  All of the sailors/staff were SUPER nice and helpful and I think showed a really good example of everything good about the Navy and in general American behavior.

Having said that- I hope next year they figure out more of the logistics regarding getting people to the Fort and also food... The line for food was around 1.5 hours to get anything and they were running out!

They did have live video feeds to the Inner Harbor which was very nice!

So, we meet up with my friends and their kids and ate and got to watch the Air Show!  Amazing displays by some of the different divisions and then a display by the Blue Angles!  All of the displays are great, but watching the Blue Angles perform is truly a treat.  The stunts they do are just amazing to see!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Traveling Internationally- The Passport & Visa Basics

Passport  The Visa  Visa Application Process  The Interview   My Notes  After the Interview  Your visa

Whenever you travel abroad, it's a great idea to go through a checklist of information.  Even if you have gone abroad before, don't forget that the world is an ever-changing place and policies and situations can change very quickly.

With one, you are nobody!  Your passport is (usually) your ONLY official form of identification while abroad.  You can not enter any country without a valid passport- including your home country.  Your passport declares who you are, what you are a citizen of, and where you have traveled to.

Before you go abroad, you will want to make sure that you passport is valid for about 6 months after the return date of your trip.  Some countries will not issue a visa unless your passport is valid for that long.

To see more information about the passports and how to apply for one, please visit the Department in your home country that issues passports.  (Home Office, Interior Office, etc)  The processing times may vary depending on a variety of circumstances and so you'll want to start this process very early on!
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(Note: I am not a lawyer and do not work for USCIS or the Department of State.  The information below comes from my personal experience and online resources.  Always, always- even if you hire a lawyer- read through as much information from the official office about the visa process.  Only you are responsible for your application)
A visa is a document, or more often a stamp of sorts, that shows a person has been authorized to enter the area for which the visa is issued from.  If your home country and US have a visa waiver agreement (ex, you are from most countries in Europe), you will acquire the visa at the port of entry to the United States.

In some instances, you may be required to get a visa prior to travel by going to the U.S. Consulate in your home country.  In this case, the visa is provided, but it is worth noting that final entry approval comes from the immigration official at customs.

If you are coming to the U.S. for tourism or short term business, you will probably get a
B1/B2 visa.  This visa category is specific to people visiting the United States.  If you are a  diplomat or a U.S. permanent resident, you may have other procedures.  (U.S. permanent residents go through customs as if they have a U.S. passport)

A B1/B2 tourist visa is a non-immigrant visa.  This means that you will show to the embassy that your purpose is to return home after your travels in the U.S. While in the U.S., you are not authorized to engage in any kind of employment under this visa.

Am I from a visa waiver country?
The following countries have a visa waiver agreement with the U.S.:

AndorraHungaryNew Zealand
BelgiumItalySan Marino
Czech RepublicLatviaSlovakia
EstoniaLithuaniaSouth Korea
Greecethe NetherlandsUnited Kingdom

If you have a passport from these countries, you will get your visa upon arrival to the U.S.  Please double check that this information is current by going to the webpage of the U.S. consulate in your home country.

If you are a resident of the countries above, but don't hold a passport, you will need to get a visa to the U.S. based off your passport.  You can apply for the tourist visa while in your host country. (in most cases)
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What is the visa application process?

Visa applications always sound so complicated!  This is really your first introduction to the U.S. and to U.S.  bureaucracy .  Unfortunately, in pretty much all countries, bureaucracy is not the most pleasant experience.  (this goes for both citizens of that country and otherwise!)  But, no worries- even though it may sometimes seem otherwise, the people at the embassy really do want to help you get your visa!  You just need to make sure that you do everything just right.

Steps to apply:
Below are the basic steps for applying for the visa.  Always look at the U.S. Consulate webpage for the country you are in for the most up to date information.  Many embassy recommend starting the visa process about 90 days before your expected departure date to the U.S.

1. Find the U.S Consulate for the country you are in.  From that webpage, you can view where they are located (because you will need to go there!) and how to apply.

2. From the U.S Consulate  webpage for the country you are applying from, look for the non-immigrant visa link.  For the U.S. Consulate in Amman, Jordan, this link is under Visas> NonImmigrant Visas> How to Apply for a Visa.  This page has all of the links you need.

3. Put together items you made need for your application.  This includes a digital photo to upload into the online application.  I found an example DS 160 online here, but please keep in mind that these forms do change from time to time and the consulate may ask for additional items at any part of the visa process.

What does "DS" mean?  DS stands for Department of State.  Most forms submitted to the Department of State (U.S. Embassy) start with DS and then a number.  Forms that fall under other immigration categories often start with an "I" - ex. I-20 for the F-1 student visa.
4. Go to the online DS 160 application and complete all of the questions and upload your  digital photo.

5. Print out the DS-160 "Confirmation Page"

6. Make an appointment through the U.S Consulate for the country you are applying from. In the U.S. Embassy in Amman, this link is on the  How to Apply for a Visa page.  If you'd like to know how long it takes to get an interview appointment, please see this page and select the city you are applying from (where the U.S. embassy is located).  Please note that these dates are the average wait times.
As of 21 May 2012, it takes 25 days to get an appointment at the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan for a visitor visa.  The visa itself takes 1 day to be processed.  

7. Pay the application fee (as of 21 May 2012 it's $160) before your interview as directed by the U.S. embassy.  In Jordan, the fee is to be paid at any branch of the Cairo-Amman Bank.

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What is the interview like?
(I'm taking this directly from the U.S. Consulate webpage in Amman, Jordan, but please let me know if you find it confusing and I'll try to write it out better)

  • If you are the spouse of an applicant, please bring your original marriage certificate.
  • Note: If you are between 14 and 80 years old, we will request a scan of your fingerprints.  Please avoid the use of henna before your appointment.
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A good rule is to bring anything you can think of and provide the consulate officer the basics and then bring forward more documents if they ask for it.  (Show your employment letter, give rental/housing deed later if asked)

I don't approve of lying about things like marriage- it may work in this case (or may not), but it may mess up any future applications you submit through the consulate.

Note #2: Fingerprinting

As they mention, please don't use henna before the appointment.  Also, please ensure that your hands do not have any healing cuts that may obstruct a clear scan.  I once had a student who had a wart removed from a finger and so that finger could not be scanned while healing.  Instead of studying in the U.S. for a year, she had to wait until the finger healed and ended up only able to come to the U.S. for one semester (because she was too late for the start of the academic year)!  It sounds crazy, but they must have a clear scan of your hands.

Why?  When you enter the U.S., they will scan your hand again to verify that it's really you.  Sounds like lots of security, but it's a daily part of what we go through in the U.S.  (it's one of those crazy things that sounds worst than what it is in practice and one of those things that are just different than what you may be used to)

The normal processing time is one day in many locations.  The embassy will contact you according to how you wrote on your application with the result.  They may even give you an answer on the same day as your interview.  If they give no anwser, you will know the result when they mail back to you the passport and either your visa inside or, in some cases, with a form with a refusal clause/reason.

In many cases, if they approve your Tourist visa application, it may be good for multiple years and for multiple entries.  This is great!!!

If you are refused a visa, there really isn't much of a re-consideration policy other than re-applying and going through the whole process again.

Note:  I find that for applicants from the Middle East, the women have a bit of an easier time getting the visa then men, although it comes down to the consulate officer you meet with and the evidence of your ties to your home country.  The consulate officers are not trying to not have you come to the U.S., but they need to document your qualifications for the visa- so the documents are important.
Also, re-applying can get costly and time consuming and annoying, but I do hear of applications getting approved the 4-5 time the person applied.  ...I can only guess they like persistence! :P

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After my visa application is accepted

Yay! Your visa application is approved and you can now enter the U.S. as a tourist!  Make sure that you make a note of:

  1. The valid dates of the visa- You can only travel to and from the U.S. within these dates.  Once your visa expires, you MUST be out of the U.S.A. or you can be deported and never allowed back in.
  2. Multiple or Single Entry?  Even if your visa is good for 5 years, if you have a single entry, that means that once you enter the U.S. on the tourist visa, you must get a new visa before you can enter the U.S. again- even if the dates are still valid.  If your visa says Multiple Entry (usually marked by an "M"), you can enter more than once within the dates of the visa.
  3. Your name- Does it match the spelling from your passport?
  4. Your birthdate- Does it match the Month, Day and Year on your passport?  

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