Friday, October 21, 2016

A Sukkah in Folsom

It's been a few weeks since the last post and as expected much has changed. We are now based in Folsom, CA. In a temporary place for the meanwhile, but we have phones, cars and medical coverage. We don't have a house yet, and that's the next big thing. Work has been busy what with the new job in a new office, but the squints here are nice and have made me feel at home. Roxy is still in the UK with Jenny and Karol, she will come over once we have a permanent place.

It has been quite an upheaval this move. I am still questioning myself, but I know from experience that this is just what happens when you relocate your life. I miss the UK, I miss the sounds and smell of Richmond after the rain, the walks through the copse, down the Avenues to the river. I miss Radio 4 and the serious yet tongue-in-cheek, subtle discourse you can find in UK media. It's election time and it is just so loud and barbaric. And yet it's impossible to look away, a train-wreck.

Work in a 7000 person plant also takes some getting used to. So many people with busy bathrooms and busy cafeterias. Here in Folsom the roads are wide and the skyline very broad. There are very cool places around with lakes, rivers and forests. I know we will grow to love it here, it will just take time.

The thing is that it still feels so foreign and far away from all that we know. The kids and family in Israel, Roxy and the friends in England, are on the other side of the world. It's like we are in a strange, strange land, which makes no sense as we are Americans, with California drivers licenses and credit and social security numbers and bank accounts. We have no routine and it's familiar but slightly uncomfortable and different. 

Yesterday I was walking along the second floor passageway between Bld.4, where I sit, and the Bld.5 cafeteria around noon. I was gazing out the windows down at the parking lot, checking out my nice new black Rav4 parked nearby, when I had stop in amazement as a UHual adorned with a portable Sukkah pulled up outside the building entrance.
Out jumped what I assume were some Habadnikim and started to lay some branches over the top. Two maintenance guys came over to see what so I was so absorbing and I ended up explaining about the 40 years in the desert and the mitzvah of eating in a Sukkah under the sky. It was all so incongruous. So out of place in the noon day sun of clean, sterile Folsom. It made me smile. It will all be OK.   

Monday, September 26, 2016

An Empty House

They packed us up today. All bwo' hard work took 5 hours for two packers to wrap, box and stack in the truck.
The truck then drove off to pack all this in a container which was waiting somewhere on the 316, because it was too big for Petersham Drive and caused a major road block. Our container (20ft) will be leaving on 29 September on NYK Daedelus (at least it's not the Icarus) arriving Oakland 1 November.

I did find out one useful factoid. I always wondered why there are always many trucks and 18 wheelers stopped at every lay by approaching a motorway. It seems that the law requires every truck to stop for 40 minutes every 4 hours to let their brakes cool. At least that's what James the packer told me. And he should know.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Working From Home

I know it's not much of a picture but it's a view I already miss. It's the view from our ex-office breakroom. The road to the right leads to the station and sitting at the tables eating salad you get to watch the Strode College students coming and going along with the rest of life in Egham. Our last day at Centrum House was Friday. For those of us moving to the US, we have a few weeks of home working until Visas are stamped and shipping gets done. But today was my first day of working at home with no office. Now I have spent days working from home many a time. My home office is comfortable, I can concentrate and get things done. Somehow today was different though. Knowing the team is done and that there are a few of us spread all over the South West working from home feels very weird. No walk to Waitrose to pick up something for lunch (or Big Fry on Fridays for the sluppest veggie burger and large chips - the chips were killer though).

Well there are only three weeks to go before I start work in Folsom. Lots to do, many miles to cross, we have done a lot and deadlines are approaching. Fun, fun, fun.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Great Grape Harvest of 2016

Bwo thought the grape yield would be low this year. Well, she was quite wrong. Jenny and Karol helped pick the bunches and prune the grape vine right back as it was starting to take over the house. Two full buckets and numerous bowls later, we had many more grapes than we knew what to do with. The Jennys took the buckets and bwo went around and dropped bowls off at the neighbours. Quite a harvest, and you thought you could not grow grapes in the UK. They are actually quite sweet this year.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Musings on the pitter patter of rain on leaves

I think I will miss the rain the most. It's been dry here for a few weeks, but today the rain started while Rox and I were out walking through the little forest near the house. The sound of the rain on the leaves and that fresh smell makes me feel at peace. It's been a busy few weeks, what with packing up and starting the new job. I recon it's been close to 20 years since I started a completely different job. In the past I stayed in the same area, engineering and engineering management. Now it's operations, finance and planning. So far it's been interesting, but challenging as there is a lot to learn. Still experience teaches one that the feelings of inadequacy, and self doubt are natural at the beginning and things will improve. Still we have a long way to travel, a lot to learn and much to do.

That said, I will miss this country. I like the quirkiness and uniqueness of things here. The UK has been around long enough that it does not have to pretend it has it's shit together completely. I like how the country seems to revel in the unusual and different, and yet has a deep appreciation for history. I like the green and the river. And that dogs can walk without leads. In all the time we have been here, only once did a dog pick on Roxy and the owner was so embarrassed that even now a year later she blushes when she sees me. I like the beer, and the New Inn and the number 65 bus. I like the supermarkets that do not have the ridiculous range of choices you find in the US but have what I need set out in a logical and predictable fashion. English understatement is nice too. I will miss this place, the lane at the back of the house and the creaky floors. I hope we will be back someday.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Off to FM, CA

I realized while cleaning and organizing here in Richmond Upon that I have been ignoring the blog. It has been a while, actually since the start of Megiddo, since I have written anything. Much has changed and more will change. In a nutshell, our last day in the UK will be September 30th. The current plan says we will stop off in Israel to pack up some more before taking the blackostrino international life tour off to Folsom California. That's Folsom to the right and up a bit from Sacramento.

Folsom is the world center of my part of the squint empire. The job I am going out to do is different from anything I have ever done before ans so is quite exciting. Of course, bwo and I checked the place out when we visit a few weeks back, and she does not hate it. It's exciting and time for a change.

I will miss this country, this house and this area very much. We would stay if we could. But, the job calls and a change is as good as a holiday. no?

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Chaos Starts

The chaos starts for real today. The last three days have been completely crazy two days on the Tel setting out a grid in Area K and then hours upon hours of work putting up shades in other areas. It been hot and windy. I struggled through both days and helped where I could. Then yesterday I spent the whole day battling to update and install the necessary apps on the four area laptops. Of course, each one had a different problem and I still needed to pack up the cables and other goods for the office. Lots of stress but it's now Saturday morning and all that is left it to pack my and bwo's personal stuff and then get it all into the car somehow. The team arrives this evening so we will go off to the Kibbutz (Mishmar HaEmek) as soon as we are ready. Let the games begin.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Advance Guard Day One

Today was my first day up on the Tel. The real season starts on Saturday so it started out with Mario (Area Supervisor) and I doing some preseason surveying. That took a few hours but we got there early enough that it was not too hot and we made good progress. Around 10am we were done with our tasks and went to help the other areas with their shades. It was hot, windy and hard work. I drank 4.5 liters of water and still ended up with a blinding headache. We worked till 5pm although I did take quite a few breaks as the heat really got to me. We left the Tel and arrived home after 6 where we did some computer prep and more importantly ate some dinner. It was hard and I am already broken and aching all over, it's off to bed now and then up at 5am for another day of prep.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Room With A View

One unexpected joy in the apartment we now live in here in Israel is the window in the shower that looks down on HaHayil Street. I just love the fact that I can be showering, enjoying the solar heated water and still spectate on the happenings as life goes on down below. It's one of those unexpected joys of life. Here is a picture.

Monday, June 13, 2016

It's Nearly Time

The timing could be better, but this has been in the works for two years. In a few hours bwo and I will be on our way to Israel for 5 weeks. 5 weeks of archaeology, heat and aching muscles, and I can't wait. Much planning has gone into this trip. Three full suitcases (mostly bwo's stuff, of course) each at capacity, stuffed to the brim. There are some regrets, we will be leaving Roxy girl with Jenny and then Kathleen and, of course, it's not the best time in squint land. I have saved my vacation for more than a year to make this happen and so it shall.

So future updates will be from kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Light in the World

So now we know that we will need to leave the UK sometime around September. So every time I walk out of the door into the fields and paths around the house and along the Thames, I feel I need to appreciate every moment left here. This place has been wonderful for bwo, Roxy and I. We will miss our little house and the lovely area. I have been taking hundreds of pictures with my phone, still most are rubbish, but below are a few that I really like. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tough Week

It's been a very tough week. I notified my UK squints that we were closing the UK offices and that our work together as a team would soon be over. It's particularly hard as they are excellent engineers and while I understand the corporate strategy, I still struggle with the human (and material) cost. I have no idea what this means for bwo and I. I suppose it will be back to Israel sometime in the nearish future, but when is not clear at this point. I would like to spend more time in the UK as I really like it here. The weather agrees with me and it's heaven for the dog (walking the dog is where I seem to spend a lot of my free time). But I will first get my team organized before I can think about my future.

All in all I cannot complain. It has been a marvelous three years here and I have learned and grown. I don't know of many other companies that would have supported me as well during this relocation. I can really only blame myself at this point for lack of future clarity. Over the years I have moved away from the hands on technical work that is indispensable and become just another management drone. While I have been writing a lot of code for the archaeological season and have worked out how to get some of the data accessible from the cloud, programming has become a hobby. Still, it has been fun and challenging. So finding the kind of job I dream about could be hard.

One of my first thoughts when all this became clear was that everything would fall slap bang in the middle of the Megiddo dig, as it indeed seems it will. The UK has some strict laws governing site closures and we will undergo an extended period of consultation only after which the team will be let go. Seeing as I belong to a different geo, my story is way more complex, and is completely unclear at the moment.

All in all, it sucks and I have had trouble staying focused this week. I'm not the only one. At least the typical post apocalyptic black humor is always better in an English accent. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Bank Holiday

It's a "Bank Holiday" weekend, an English public holiday, so we have Monday off. Bwo is still in San Diego bonding with her family, so I have been out walking. Yesterday (Sat) I did the "Epsom Downs and Walton on the Hill" walk on ifootpath. It was wonderful. We watched race horses galloping by in training and came across foxes, rabbits, squirrels, deer and all sorts of birds on the footpaths. It was pretty cold early in the morning with some frost, but Roxy and all the wildlife seem to love it. The only downside was that dogs must be kept on a lead before 12 noon due to the horses. The walk took us past Walton on the Hill and this is where I want to live, I think. It's lovely little town surrounded by open fields and rolling hills.

This morning Roxy and I walked down to Richmond Park and Isabella Plantation. The flowers are not in full bloom yet, perhaps another week, but it is still very colorful. We were the only two there at 7am this morning, so it was absolutely quiet with only the sound of the birds. We sat for about a half hour by the little lake just breathing. Spring is really something in this country.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


It's been a tough few weeks here in squintland. Layoffs are happening all over the world and good people are now out looking for jobs. Of course, those of us on this side of the ocean are still waiting to hear our fate, although I am not optimistic. So it's been a stressful time for all. Bwo is off with her San Diego family in sunny California, and it snowed here yesterday. I know I should be down and depressed, but honestly, I am fine. Change is good and maybe it's about that time for us.

On top of it all I started watching Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe on Netflix while lazing around last weekend. I was a little disappointed with all the CG and "pyrotechnics" at first but by the second episode I was hooked. There is nothing like huge existential questions like "Why are we here and where do we come from" to put this short stay on earth into proportion. The immense size, diversity and age of our universe is just so mind boggling that the every day issues like employment seem to pale in comparison. I have since watched his Wonders of Life and started on the Wonders of the Solar System last night. These have really helped keep me grounded. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

10 Israeli Whys

i. Why is it that drivers here feel they need to "take an option" on the next lane while driving. What is wrong with the lane you are in that you need to have 10% of your car in the adjacent lane? Pick a lane and go with it.
ii. Why do drivers here feel that they need to swing half their car into the adjacent lane when making a U-turn at a traffic light? There is enough room usually to make the turn without encroaching into my lane and nearly wiping me out.
iii. Why is it that our Israeli ISP is not able to get the whole static IP address thing together? They are as useless as BT in the UK.
iv. Why is it that lawyers never call you back unless it's about your payment?
v. Why is it that the squints here in Haifa seem unable to handle the simple task of flushing the toilet, not to mention using the brush to clean up after?
vi. Why is it that the bathroom next to our bedroom, downstairs in our apartment, has only a cold water faucet? Would it have cost that much extra to put in hot water?
vii. Why does the Coke machine at squint central Yakum only have Coke and Coke Zero? Diet Coke is the second best selling soft drink in the world but it's missing in Yakum.
viii. Why has BA changed from an A320 to a 777 on my usual routes to and from Heathrow? I'm not complaining, but it's a whole lot more annoying people in one place.
ix. Why does it seem that each time I come back to Israel I seem more disconnected and it's harder to find sense in what I do?
x. Why are borekas just so delicious?


Monday, April 4, 2016

The Sculpture Park

This past weekend we went to The Sculpture Park in Churt (near Farnham in Surrey). It's well worth a visit. There are hundreds of bits of art scattered between the trees in a wonderful woodland setting. The weather was perfect on Saturday morning and even better was lunch at Bel & The Dragon, a very nice country inn across from the park's entrance. Both the food and the beer were excellent. We had a good day.

Friday, April 1, 2016

She's 4 today

Roxy is four today. It's probably not her actual birthday, we don't really know that date, but after she was rescued the vet guessed she was born some time in late March, early April of 2012. So we picked April 1. She has been a gift to all the family. She is a good dog. According to my Fitbit we have walked somewhere in the region of 7500 Kilometers together. She has loved every step. She has chased hundreds of rabbits, caught tens of thousands of balls, cost thousands in vet bills and every second has been pure joy. She does not complain in the rain or snow or frost, she love dips in the river and rolling in the muddy puddles and she loves anyone who just looks at her with fondness.

She has given us so much more than we could ever return. We did not buy her anything fancy or make some sort of stupid doggy cake. Roxy and I just went out for her favorite walk, through the copse, down cutthroat alley, past the playground and next to the horse pasture, onto St. Georges Field with the ball, then onto the big field chasing the ball and flying as high as she could, had a hundred pee stops, through the gap and into the Thames (she lost the ball in the river and sadly watched it float away in the strong current) back home past Ham House and onto the avenues. Once home she got her two treats and lots of water.

A good girl.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Weekend

It's been a good Easter weekend. Except for a quick ride to Hounslow to drop off bwo I have not had to drive since Thursday evening, this is splendid. Rather I walked a lot in the area. The weather has been very strange. It hailed yesterday and 10 minutes later the sun was out and the sky blue. This morning Roxy and I went out in torrential rain and hurricane force winds, by this afternoon I had to take off my North Face as the sun warmed my back, and now it's dark and pouring again.

I spent a while doing some stuff I had put aside for too long. I played with my Raspberry Pi. I set up the camera and my first project will be a wildlife camera. I am still researching how much juice it will need and if one of those external phone batteries will do the job. It's a cool little computer (I bought the Pi 3 - it's the British thing to do). For £30 you get this excellent little computer. With a power supply and SD card and case and camera it comes to closer to £50, but it's a great thing to play with and I'm working on improving my Python.

Besides doing some reading I also watched Michael Pollan's (of Omnivore's Dilemma fame) Cooked on Netflix. I was not too impressed with the first episode, but the next three were all excellent. Definitely worth a watch. All in all his major point is that we should spend more time in the kitchen cooking. He makes a great case, much of which I always believed and agree with. He has harsh criticism for the food industry, who's goals, he claims are to get us to cook less and buy more prepared food as it's more profitable.

Today is bwo's birthday. I am very grateful to have her in my life. I watched a TED talk by the guy who runs the Harvard Study that has followed people for 75 years. He came to the conclusion that happiness comes from being connected to others. Having people you can rely on, not being lonely, close connection to family and friends is what made people the happiest (you can watch the 12 minute video here). Sounds simple and obvious, but I know how lucky I am to have someone who will stick by me through thick and thin. As bwo and I grow older, we have our differences, but underneath it all there is deep love. Happy birthday bwo, have a happy, healthy year. Let this year be the best so far.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Favorite Tree

My current favorite tree is this giant Ceder of Lebanon in the little forest on the corner of River Lane and the tow path. I visit it every day and am just amazed at is stateliness and majesty. It must have seen a whole lot in its life along the river. The pictures really suck and don't do it justice. Come see it for yourself.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Toad Crossing

One of the most splendid thing about the British is their loves for signs. There is a need to explain things, politely mind you, to everyone. I came upon this one a few days back on our walk through Richmond Park. Each spring the road just past Ham gate is closed for "migrating toads". It's just lovely.