The Sand Castle

A Lady Engineer in Afghanistan or Anywhere…

Monsoon Trough


Monsoon Trough.  That’s what they call it when bucket loads of rain settle into the Atoll and plan to hang around for a while.

But the forecast at noon said “widely scattered showers” through this evening.  It did rain off and on through the day but was mainly dry this afternoon.

I’m working away at my desk and on a roll so decided to skip the 16:10 bus.  The next one would arrive just over half an hour later so I stayed on.


About 15 minutes later the roar in my office was a testament to the torrential downpour pounding our building.  I pulled up the radar.  Lots of yellow and red with the wide expanse of green, and as a bonus, lightning warning for the next hour.


No change in the dull roar overhead as I prepared to leave.  Dropped all my things into my dry bag and rolled it up tight.  Put on my ball cap (brim keeps the rain off my glasses). Pulled my trusty knee-length poncho over my head and securely snapped, tightened, cinched and fastened everywhere possible.

Didn’t matter.

I opened the office door and instantly felt as if I was channeling Jim Cantore giving Irma updates.  Fogged and wet glasses.  Wind.  Rain.  No…  Rain implies droplets.  This was the ice bucket challenge sans ice coming at me sideways out of a bucket the size of the planet. Water already standing inches deep everywhere.

And the bus doesn’t stop at our building.  I had to wade along the sidewalk and across the parking lot for about a hundred yards to the stop, which has no formal bus shelter.  I walked up to the front door to get under the tiny overhang while waiting, but it was a fruitless gesture at that point.  I hadn’t gotten five feet from my own building before being completely soaked from the waist down.  By the time I reached the awning ‘protection’ I could feel rivulets of water somehow trickling down my neck and back.

A few minutes later the Big Bus without A/C comes into view.  Every window completely fogged, including the windshield.  Felt like I brought gallons of water with me as I climbed onboard, apologizing for dripping on people as I made the way to my seat.  Once seated I realized everyone else was in the same state of saturation.

The driver took a quick swipe of the glass in front of him with a rag and we trudged onward.  It was then I realized there was a steady ribbon of water dripping down from a seam on the bus roof into the seat next to me.

Didn’t matter.

Between that and the fact that most of the windows were down about an inch with the rain coming in sideways, and of course the saturation level of the passengers, the inside of the bus had no dry spots.  Yet it was still much dryer than the alternative.

Creeping along on the flooded roads we eventually got to my stop where several of us disembarked.  One lady commented about waiting until it passes but having seen the radar (and knowing how drenched she was already) I advised once more into the breach.

Because at this point I had to retrieve my bike.

Plodded across the street to the bike racks, at this point purposely splashing in the road rivers for fun.  I stowed my bag in the bike basket and set off into the monsoon.

It’s a very interesting sensation riding through water running 6″ deep.  It’s maybe a half mile to my house so I’m pretty much enjoying myself and trying not to run into anything due to the wind gusts and low visibility (fogged glasses, driving rains, flapping poncho).  I get ready to turn up our back alley and realize that if I do I’ll be in water over two feet deep.  Quick swing back onto the road and on a little further before turning into my street.  Water about 6″ deep in the center and deeper at the roadsides.  My pedals were splashing into the water with each revolution.

Turned into my yard and got bogged down in the grass and standing water so walked it the rest of the way around to the back door.  Lightning flashed just as I got there.

Once more warm and dry, our mini monsoon reduced to a light drizzle, typing this up while a chili pie heats up in the oven.

What an adventure – another great day in paradise!


15 September 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rush Hour at Surfway


But not today.

The most crowded time, the longest lines, the lucky-to-find-a-buggy day at our grocery store happens generally on Tuesday afternoons.  That’s because our weekly shipment of fresh produce comes in via plane on Tuesday mornings.  So for me, I hit the Surfway on either Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon to pick up my needs for the week.  Four packages of the bagged Cesar salad kit, a couple of tomatoes, couple of onions, sometimes carrots, mung bean sprouts, a cuke or two, celery.  And whatever I need from the rest of the store as well.

The plane last Tuesday arrived but contained no produce.  Don’t know why.  And so by later that week the produce section shelves were predictably barren, as seen above.

Not to worry though.  Plenty of frozen veg.  Taters and sweet taters.  Cabbage.  Fruit.  Items with longer shelf lives, like cabbage, come in via our every-other-week cargo ship, stored in refrigerated containers.

However.  The plane bringing in this week’s anxiously awaited produce was cancelled for today.  Mechanical issues.  No produce (and no mail).  OMG how will we survive?!?  LOL

It’s amazing to watch the Facebook traffic at such times.  The natives are getting restless and I’m not talking about the Marshallese.  You’d think we were about to succumb to scurvy or something.  Kwaj indeed can be paradise but with it comes the quirks of delayed shipments, occasional shortages and other inconveniences.  Oh, I’ve been sucked in and whined at times too, and I need to avoid that, but I am happy here in our remote, isolated little slice of heaven that is Kwaj.

Anyone want to bet that someone will bring up produce shortages at COL DeOre’s first Townhall meeting here in a week or so?  It’s happened before.  We all remember the great cauliflower vs. cabbage debate from earlier this year…

11 September 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Signs of Paradise III


We don’t like the sign above.  We do like the sign below.


These are located outside our Post Office.  And since we only get incoming mail twice a week, the Post Office is generally busiest on those two particular days (Tuesdays and Thursdays).  But sometimes things happen and we don’t get mail.  The plane is diverted elsewhere.  The plane arrives but other goods ‘bumped’ the mail off…

When we go nearly two weeks seeing the red sign and then finally the green sign goes up, as happened last month, there is a mad rush to the post office at the next open window time, as you can see in the photo below.

Lines at the PO

It’s Christmas for everyone at such times.  Mail day is not merely getting a pile of bills or a package or two.  It’s going grocery shopping, clothes shopping, WalMart/Target shopping, back-to-school shopping, getting care packages, getting surprises, getting presents and Amazon Prime day all rolled up into one.  The bikes with trailers or with baskets and bungies converge on downtown.  Finding a “package card” like the one below in your mailbox is like finding a golden ticket to the chocolate factory.  Yes, we get excited about the simple things. It’s our connection with the rest of the planet.


What does the “B” mean on my package card? Ah the mysteries of the postal service…

“B” is for a small box or package. “A” is for a medium box and of course “C” is a large box.  Yes I stated that correctly.  Check it out for yourself on the sign below.

But when the mail mysteries get too great Mr. Postmaster Ruiz will help decipher the rules, fill out your customs form or track down your package that somehow went to Hong Kong on its way from Louisville to Kwaj.

Ah, mail day…


If you missed the previous Signs of Paradise posts, you can get I here and II here.

7 September 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , | 2 Comments

Weather or Not


For the most part, the weather on Kwaj never changes.  It’s partly sunny, hot, humid and windy with a chance of rain.  That’s it, nearly all of the 365 days of the year. is useless here.

Oh, it may rain most of a day.  It may not rain at all.  The wind may occasionally die down to doldrums level.  I have heard thunder twice in nearly 7 months.

As a diehard weather buff (if I lived in Kansas I’d probably chase tornados) I do tend to miss any variability in the weather forecast.  I miss thunderstorms.  And while I do not yet miss snow and temperatures below freezing, the occasional daytime temperature that dips below 80 degrees F would be nice.

We pull up the RTS radar to see if it’s going to rain in the next 10 minutes, but that’s about it. We need to know the tide schedule if going reefing or sea glass hunting.  We may want to know how hard the wind is blowing and from which direction, if we plan to go boating, fishing, diving, sailing.

All of the weather information, along with tide tables, sun and moon tables, can be obtained through the RTS Weather website, or its channel on the AFN telly.

The screenshot below is an example of our weather forecasts (you’ll have to click to enlarge if you actually want to read it):


The local weather experts are highly skilled in the intricacies of atoll weather patterns, but that doesn’t change the fact that the weather variations can be incredibly subtle most of the time.

If I seem to be complaining, I assure you I’m not!

We accept the weather quirks (or lack thereof) because we are daily treated to spectacular skies, colorful sunrises and sunsets, rainbows, ocean breezes, magnificent vistas, warm tropical waters…

You never need long sleeves or a jacket to ward off the chill of the evening (unless you’re inside in the A/C).  No winter – or spring or fall – clothes need be taking up space in the closet.  No drawer or bin stuffed with mittens and scarves and balaclavas and foot warmers.  No worries about freezing pipes or having to let the water drip from the faucets on frigid nights.  No scraping ice off windshields or digging out from a big snowstorm.

Just shooing the occasional gecko off your kitchen table on your way out to enjoy life in paradise…

23 August 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sunrise Sunset


It occurred to me the other day that while I have posted on FaceBook many of the phenomenal sky scenes experienced here on Kwaj, I have not shared any with my blog pals – I offer the most sincere and abject apologies.  This post will rectify that oversight and remember, if you click on the pic it should open a larger view.

The above pic was taken from the catamaran one morning just after 0600 on the way to Meck, and it is my absolute favorite sunrise pic to date.  It is a glorious example of God’s handiwork and was wonderful to watch the progression from dawn’s first light to full daylight.  No telling how many pics I snapped in that timeframe.

Here are a couple other sunrise shots:

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Hard to pic favorites actually, so here are several glorious sunset captures.  I have a lot more sunset shots than sunrise, mainly because I’m not always out and about at dawn’s early light.

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I am truly blessed to live and work in such paradise.

I’ll leave you with an unusual sunset shot – instead of looking to the west I took it from the east side of the island looking south towards the distant rainbow.  The guys in the water are net fishing as the light fades…


6 August 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , | 10 Comments

New Wheels


Threw off the training wheels and graduated to a two-wheeler.

The tryke has been a great starter bike for me to get back into the whole realm of bike riding again.  I mean, it had only been nearly 40 years since I had last been on a bicycle.

But the three-wheeled workhorse is a heavy bike and quite the chore to use for longer rides against the wind.  It also looks like it’s a hundred years old already instead of barely 6 months – the Kwaj corrosive environment has taken its toll.

I still use Old Faithful to make mail runs and haul the crock pot to potlucks and such, but I’m loving the new ride.

It’s a Sun Streamway with a wonderfully low step through, 3 speeds and rust resistance.  No hand brake cables to rust and freeze up or break.  Plastic fenders.  Ordered it through our local Kwaj bike shop and paid a pretty penny, but it will be well worth the price.


She took a while to get used to though.  Gravity still bites.  I didn’t fall or crash, but certainly looked like a little kid on his first two-wheeler, wobbling back and forth down Heliotrope Street like a drunken sailor.  One takes gravity for granted when one does not have to balance herself, her Amazon mail and a grocery sack or two – the tryke kept me blissfully ignorant of such things.  Mounting and dismounting is much more of an art on two wheels as well.

The other difference in riding a two-wheeler is having to use the kickstand or a bicycle rack.  With the winds we have here bikes regularly blow over, even in a bike rack if the rail gap is a bit too wide.  No such worries on the tryke, just stop and walk away.

Many short trips finally got me comfortable enough to start riding down to the office, so now I’m on the Streamway mostly and the bus only occasionally.  I feel like I can go so much faster and easier, and although slogging home against the stiff headwind is still a chore it’s not quite so difficult (and my knees don’t scream at me the next day).

Time to ride my new Sun bike off into the sunset, or at least, off to watch the sunset.


4 August 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Prinz Eugen

Prinz Eugen in 1945

The Prinz Eugen.  A heavy German Cruiser from WWII.  Why would this be included in my blog posts depicting life here at Kwajalein?  Because it is sitting upside down in the lagoon just a few miles northwest of where I am sitting.

The nearly 700-foot long Prinz Eugen launched in 1938 as part of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, but was ultimately surrendered to the British Royal Navy then transferred to the US Navy as a war prize on 13 December 1945.

About six months later due to significant difficulties in keeping the ship’s propulsion system operational, the now USS Prinz Eugen was designated to be a “participant” (ie. target) in Operation Crossroads nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll, just a couple of hundred miles north of here in the Marshall Islands.

The ship actually survived two atomic bomb blasts: Test Able, an air burst on 1 July 1946, and Test Baker, a submerged detonation on 25 July.  The Prinz Eugen was moored about 1,200 yards from the epicenter of both blasts – she suffered no significant structural damage from the explosions but was thoroughly contaminated with radioactive fallout.  The irradiated ship was towed here to the Kwajalein Atoll for further study, where a small leak went unrepaired due to the radiation danger.

Prinz Eugen

In late December the Prinz Eugen started to list badly – the Navy attempted to tow her to a site for scuttling but she capsized and sank on 22 December, just off the island of Enubuj.  The ship’s stern and center screw propeller (she had three) are visible above the water line.  (One of her screw propellers was salvaged and is on display at the Laboe Naval Memorial in Germany.)

The Prinz Eugen is now a popular destination for boating and diving, being so easily accessible from Kwaj.

Prinz & Birds

Freaky Fact:  The Prinz Eugen still holds a full complement of fuel and ordinance…

10 July 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Signs of Paradise II


The strange, unusual and interesting is everywhere you look on Kwaj.   It has been a few months since my original Signs of Paradise post, and since then several more have caught my eye.

This one in the photo above is gorgeous in my eyes – I love it.  The colors, the mix of metal bits and shells…  Perfect.  Created by the wife of one of our Project Engineers, it hangs in a hallway in our office and livens up the ubiquitous beige walls.


For the sign above, every time I see it I’m the slightest bit annoyed.  There’s the same notice in each of the shuttle buses.  Why do they use the incredibly obscure and awkward word “standees” instead of the much more normal and un-annoying word “standing”?  Same number of letters, same amount of paint or printer ink, same message given…    Even spell-check doesn’t think it’s a word.  There’s a phrase here for such things:  It’s not logical, it’s Kwajical.

Another shuttle bus sign lays out the rules of riding and I’m most particularly thankful for #7: No open fish containers allowed.  So far this has not been an issue, for which I am eternally grateful.


The sign below is simply screaming for a colorful caption, but I will leave that to your own devices and imagination.


This next stumpy little speed limit sign makes me wonder.  Is it meant for the wind, the waves or the weed growth?  Or perhaps the crabbies?  It’s certainly too far off the little roadway to apply to us golf cart operators, especially since most of our golf carts won’t go that fast.


The “sign” below does not lie.  I’ve been on that stretch of road and if anything, it may be understated.  My brain always reads it as “Rough Road Ahead”.   The “Road Rough” is again what I consider awkward phrasing and always makes me think of “redruM”…


Not quite signs per se, but some of the statements that show up on our mail are interesting to me.  “Diplomatic Mail” makes me feel very important, and sometimes I do forget that we’re living within the “Kwajalein Missile Range”, although no one here calls it that.  RTS – Reagan Test Site – is much more the norm (and correct terminology).

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This last sign is one of my favorites – I’m not sure how old they are but there’s a few around the island.  All hand painted – all depicting some poor stick figure getting conked by a coconut.  This particular example is outside the Vet’s Hall.   Did someone think people might need extra reminding when hanging out here?


6 July 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , | 2 Comments

Ahhh, Bliss…


Yes, it is every bit as inviting as it looks.

The adult pool here on Kwaj is open 24/7 every day except Friday, when it’s closed for cleaning.

Ergo, the best swim day is Saturday when everything is all sparkly clean and fresh (with the exception of some rusty spots).  And so it also follows the worse day for swimming is on Thursdays, when the edges and surfaces around the pool get a bit slimy.  Don’t get me wrong – “worse” is relative and it’s still wonderful to jump into the cool salty chlorine-y water and get a break from the heat and humidity.  Kind of like that saying, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day working…”

I generally hit the pool for an hour of lap swimming 3 days a week, immediately after work.  The water work is great for my arthritic knees and because it’s always so refreshing and beautiful, it absolutely doesn’t feel like exercise.  And particularly blissful as there’s usually very few or no other people around.

Since I’m riding my bike to work most days now, after a long work day then the grueling couple miles riding back to “town” against the head wind from work to pool, finally getting into the beautiful blue waters are always, “Ahhh, bliss…”  Even if I have to swim in the rain.

It’s funny though – on windy days even in the pool one direction is easier to swim than the other.  Often the water is really churned up and choppy because of the wind – I expect to see white caps one of these days.

But some times the wind is almost calm, and a lot of times the sun is shining in a blue sky with puffy white clouds, and all the time it’s warm – on those days my bliss runneth over.

Freaky Fact:  Swimmicus Interruptus has occurred.   So I’m about to leave work yesterday and head for the pool when an announcement came down:  “Pool Closure Notice – Due to an issue with the pumps, both the Family Pool and Adult Pool will be CLOSED until further notice.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”  *sigh*  Time for some extra bike riding – bliss will have to wait…


26 June 2017 Posted by | Kwajalein | , , , , , | 8 Comments