Monday, May 11, 2015

Walking Around

Each weekend, while in the UK, I try go on at least one walk somewhere I have never been before. I found this marvelous app called ifootpath which details walks based on your postcode. You can also download the app to your cellphone and follow the excellent instructions as you walk. Some of the walks, especially those in the "Explore Surrey" series have details on the flora and fauna as well as the history of the sites.

This weekend bwo, the Rox and I walked in Banstead Woods. The bluebells were out in force and I just had to take a picture or two. I tried out the panorama feature on my spiffy new phone. 
You can see Roxy, happy as anything, on the left

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pretty England

While bwo is in Israel packing up the house, I have been walking. Twice a day, morning and evening, with the Roxster. It's still chilly in the morning, and crisp. But, the sound of the dawn chorus of the local birds is the only sound until Heathrow wakes up around 5:30am. On the weekend we took off to Weybridge, and the two bottom pics are of the Wey Navigation which apparently runs from the Thames to Guildford. It is a pretty country.





Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spectacular South Africa

Wow. All I can say is Wow. We spent the last week travelling around the Northern parts of South Africa. This is not a part of the country that I ever really visited while growing up. It was spectacular. Jonty and Simone were the perfect hosts. They drove us about 2200 kilometers in our "taxi". From Mapugubwe to Commatiesport and Ngwenya. All four of us had a week to remember. So many different experiences, from walking out of the airport in Johannesburg, to arriving at Selina's house in Parkview it was one great adventure. Here are some pictures to remind myself of this part of the trip.

















Wednesday, March 11, 2015

California

I stopped at one of the many traffic lights on Bowers Ave driving towards 101 on my way to the San Francisco Airport. I looked to my left and was greeted by a strange sight. Not only was the dog wearing dark goggles, but the propeller on his cap was spinning with alacrity in the gentle breeze. Only in California! And why do the traffic lights take so long to change, I even had time to take these pics?


Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodbye Gold Lounge

This is the last time I will be visiting the "Gold Lounge" in Heathrow Terminal 5. My BA gold status expires on the 28th of Feb even though I traveled more last year than ever before. BA are the stingiest when it comes to giving "tier points" towards frequent flier status. The squint corporate only buys the cheapest tickets, and so I earn very few points each flight. After a busy year with at least one return trip to the UK each month, I only managed 900 or so points, and I need 1500 for gold. So Silver it will have to be for me. The only real perk gold status on BA provides is the access to the "first class" lounge. It has decent food and comfy chairs. The Silver lounge is not bad, just much busier. It could be worse I suppose, but sitting here, the second time in a week, I'm just miserable with travel. All I really want is a few months at home, no flying, no airports, no cramped seats and plastic food. No more forced conversations with complete strangers (or recent divorcees crying on my shoulder), no more second rate movies on tiny screens. No more wondering what side of the rental car the fuel tank is.This weekend it's Houston then Sacramento (through LAX) and then back to London for three days and off to SA. At least that will be a holiday (I hope).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The High Commission

We visited the South African High Commission near Trafalgar Square yesterday. The consular section is actually on Whitehall Road  and not in South Africa House as is erroneously stated on the web page, but this was the least of the issues. Bwo and I took the #65 and the tube into the city in order to sort out our status before the planned visit to the old country mid March.

My situation is quite complicated as I have a "new" expired SA passport, but it seems my SA citizenship has been "revoked" because I became a naturalized American in 2000. Bwo's situation is even more confusing as she never had a SA passport of her own, emigrating to Israel on her mother's passport.

After some lengthy discussion it was decided that I need to get a "letter" revoking my SA citizenship thereby allowing me entry into SA on my USA passport. This only took about 4 hours. The major holdup, as eventually became clear, is that the single "letter writer" is also the only cashier. So she had to split her time between the two jobs. The nice lady who interviewed us managed to work out my issues rather quickly - revoke my SA citizenship, provide a temporary letter for travel purposes, wait at least three months for official notification (a new ID number apparently). I then get permanent residence in SA and can reclaim my citizenship if I ever live there for more than a year.

Bwo on the other hand has a much more complex issue. She would have to apply for SA citizenship, this is possible because she became Israeli before she was aged 18. This would assign her a "new" ID number. She would then have to revoke her citizenship because she became a naturalized American. She cannot revoke her citizenship without an ID number. So she would have to apply for citizenship in order to have it revoked. Needless to say we took the dozens of application forms they presented to us and left.

All in all we had a pleasant trip to the city. We wandered around Whitehall and the various ministries and strolled along the Thames up to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It's a spectacular city and we do not visit enough. I am interested to see what South Africa scores on my global percentage scale - based on the High Commission (when I finally got the letter it was incorrect, claiming I need to show my British passport on entry) I think SA will struggle to reach the 80% level.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Coffee Excellence

At squint central UK we run on coffee (and of course tea with milk). When I arrived the only coffee available was the "flavia" stuff many here thought was "quite good" (they are rather new to coffee in this tea drinking nation). I found this stuff (I hesitate to call it coffee, more like brown water) undrinkable. So we, the admin staff, bought an "espresso" machine. It was red and had no name. Its coffee pods were generic and the "Italian Espresso" was OK. The machine broke down a number of times, but they are a handy lot here, and it was resuscitated time and again. Finally before Christmas this year it finally passed on, it shuffled off this mortal coil and is making OK coffee for the choir invisible.

After much debate and numerous phone calls Nespresso honored us by delivering a "corporate" machine. It is beautiful. It works flawlessly and its design exudes excellence. I am most impressed. The water tank is larger than the one we have at home, more importantly it fits perfectly beneath the spigot of the water filter machine that it stands next to (see lower picture). The crank handle closes on the coffee capsule with a satisfying crunch and ejects the spent capsule when lifted. The espresso cups (acquired from Nespresso) are perfectly sized for the three (short, med and long) measures of elixir provided by the machine.

The coffee capsules differ from the home version (apparently to prevent theft) and are tightly compressed, flying saucer shaped, foil enclosed delicacies that fit into the slot on top perfectly.

And then there's the coffee itself. Hot, rich, dark with just the perfect amount of foam. Excellence in any form is what I value. 


The machine and it's capsules

Side view, it stands to the right of the water machine.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Signs

Thankfully my time in Folsom CA is nearing its end. I'm off to Houston for a few days and then back home to the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. It has been a long trip. One thing I have noticed and commented upon in the UK is how much the British love signs. There are signs everywhere politely explaining what to do, what not to do, where to go and where not to go. These may even explain why. I have been ranting about how these signs are just another example of the "nanny state" taking over. But, hey, nothing beats California for sign pollution. Everywhere you go there are signs telling you just how dangerous life is. Many of these seem to be based on something ominously called "Proposition 65". Every store you go into has the following signs posted everywhere.



Outside the elevators in our hotel was this sign:


But my overall favorite sign is the one pasted all over the roof of our hotel room. Wherever there is a fire hose sprinkler there's a sign telling you that hanging your clothes on these sprinklers is not a good idea. Damn, I'm just going to have to use the cupboard.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Dog House

You may well ask where's the beloved Roxy while bwo and I jet around the world. Roxy, the wonder dog, is vacationing with "her boys". On arriving in the UK we lucked out totally in being adopted by Jenny and her family. Jenny, who works with me (actually mostly I work for her), introduced us to her dad (the dog whisperer), the family, and their two Great Danes, Talon and Merlin. They are Roxy's boys. She loves them and all of the family as absolutely as only a dog can. So whenever we go away for any extended period, Roxy goes on holiday. She has a great time, with walks to the river, quality time with her friends and endless stick carrying.

Of course we have a WhatsApp group that keeps us updated on our girl's stay. We get wonderful in depth updates, pictures and videos. We cannot thank them enough. I know that Roxy is having the time of her life and is cared for as one of the family. From the first time she stayed with the boys, she decided she is also a Great Dane and now prefers huge Great Dane dog food, which she crunches up with serious attitude. Then there is the whole dragging huge logs around.

We usually send her bed with so she has something familiar to sleep on. It seems it has become quite popular with all the animal members of the household. Check out these pics from the "Roxy News" WhatsApp stream.

Roxy is comfortable being watched over by her boys
Her bed is very comfy

I love this picture of her most comfortable sleeping position

Notice how all the dogs like her bed. Even if it's a little small.

Monday, January 12, 2015

There and Back Again

Some of the Houston family with Mom

Once again I'm on the road (in the air actually). Thankfully Bwo travels the long flights with me this time. We stopped off in Houston to visit with the family for a few days. My mom's light shines less bright. She is very confused and can't remember much. She is currently convinced that she was moved onto this place from the "other" place. "They" even set her furniture up in the same way and put her name on the door. She was amazed. Her body is healthy but her mind is steadily slipping away. It's sad. She was always so on top of her game, but now just looks on with a confused, questioning look. Looking as if someone just spoke to her in Basque. We are moving her to an assisted living home from her independent care place she has been in for the last seven years as they don't seem to be able to give her the care she needs. That is definitely going to confuse her even more. My sister and brother are wonderful. They patiently help her detangle the web of confusion she lives with. As sisteraria said "we are not a family of patient people" so this is surely a test. They pass with flying colors.

I'm now on the flight heading to Sacramento for two solid weeks of work. On the way to the airport we drove through rain as is only seen in Houston. But, as always, it passed quickly. Bwo will join me later this week, so I have that going for me, which is good. I'm tired of this travel. The guy in the row in front of me is picking his nose digging for diamonds and the guy in the window seat is sniffing and snorking constantly, I just hope he does not have Ebola (should I offer him a tissue? He is like 6ft 10 and may not take kindly to meddling). I feel sort of two dimensional and a glassy, like I'm fading away. I miss my kids, my wife, my dog, my home, my family and my mom. Jesus, stop feeling so sorry for yourself!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

She's 21 Today

Our little girl is 21 today. She is a force in the universe and I am immensely proud of her. I miss you, girly girl. Have a wonderful day and a joy filled year. Remember the two lessons that I remind you each year: All boys are fools. Watch what they do and ignore what they say.

Love.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Perfect UK Weekend

The weather was perfect for late September, this weekend. Not too hot, not too cold. On Saturday, after a long morning walk with R, I went down to the river to watch the end of the Great Rive Race. This is a 21.6 mile rowing race from the Docklands in London to Ham House, on the river near our house. Three hundred plus boats of all shapes and sizes took part. Very festive, indeed. Jenny bought me a beer and we got to watch all the crazies row in. Here are some pics (note these are from the Richmond Blog Page, as I was too lazy to take any pictures myself).

On Sunday, bwo, R and I went off to Wentworth Arboretum. They have a real autumn in this country, with changing leaves and busy squirrels. The drive there, through Surrey, is spectacular. If I did not have to commute into Egham for work, I would seriously consider living (or buying) somewhere like Godalming or Bramley or Cranleigh. But it's not to be, our ties to our homeland are still too strong. Anyway here is a picture of some of the autumn colors from Winkworth.
This is a pretty country.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of you out there. Shana Tova. I like this video.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Back To The Salt Mines

Jo's "artistic rendition" of WL10/12 in SQ. N10SW
Well, it's over. Our four weeks of excavation ended Thursday evening. The Megiddo team will continue for another three weeks, but bwo and I will only be in Israel till Tuesday and then it's  back to the UK (rocket's willing). It was sad to say goodbye to the team. We have all grown quite close over many breathless trudges up the Tel, bucket lines, filthy clothing, strong coffee with waflim and egg based meals. And then there is the archaeology, which was fantastic. This was my third season digging at Megiddo, and I am starting to get a clue. At the start of the season I got to work in Square O9, the best square in the best area (Area K). There were a number of questions surrounding Tomb 100 (in O9) which I got to ponder with Mario (Area Supervisor and all around best person). Once we were done with this, I got to move around and work on various other issues. On the last few days I got to excavate and document an interesting grinding stone/pebble assemblage.

Bwo drew sections (the picture above is the result of one of her more artistic moments). This required her to accurately draw walls and baulks which meant a lot of measurements. She also took on her natural role as the mother of the area. She doled out cookies, medicines, massages and advice. They will miss her more than me in K. And yes, she admitted on the way home that she had a great time and will come back in two years time. No one seems more surprised by this than bwo herself.

The last week or so has been a little surreal. We had a rocket alarm one night at around 10pm as we were all dropping off to sleep, and the usual black humor surfaced as we all huddled in the stairwell in our dorms. Some of the young volunteers were a little freaked out, but unfortunately these things are a reality here at the moment. We had another siren in Raanana yesterday. Who knows where all this is going. I just hope we are able to fly out on Tuesday. At least bdo has not been mobilized (yet).

So tonight I'm sure to will get a huge dose of "Sunday Evening Feeling" (except it happens on a Saturday eve here) as I go back to the salt mines tomorrow. I'm looking at a very busy six day week (Sunday to Friday inclusive) to get back up to speed. There is no doubt that the last four weeks have been like a dream come true. I can only thank everyone who had any part in making it so special. I am eternally grateful.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The end of week three

It's Friday at the end of the third week of digging. I am sitting in my comfy chair with my feet on the bed here in Raanana. I have had a wonderful time at the dig. My body is tired and sore but all in all it has been more that I could ever have wished. Having bwo with me has made a huge difference. She quickly became the "the mother of Area K" and a complete and useful member of the team. We have spent all day together. We get up at 3:45 am and drive to the Tel together. Work together in Area K ( sometimes even in the same square). Drive back together, eat lunch together, nap in our room together and then have dinner and sleep together. It has been great. Way better than I could ever have imagined.

One more week of digging and then it is back to the real world.  It is hard to keep the real world at bay here in Israel. What with the occasional work email, the World Cup and kidnappings and then a wedding on Wednesday night (it was great to see the other Ostrins in full force) I cannot say I have completely disconnected. I prefer it this way rather than getting back to a bunch of issues and emergencies.

Blackdaughtero came out for a few days to help dig last week. So now nearly all of us have seen what it's like, although I am not expecting blacksono to rush to the heat of the Tel any time soon. He is still working at the vet and seems quite happy with life. Now that bdo has finished the army she is working at waitressing at a coffee shop here in Raanana. So all is good. I have napped much of the day away and now it's time to prepare Friday night dinner for the local family. I think it's curry tonight. Back to the Tel tomorrow afternoon for the last week. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

First Week at Megiddo 2014

It's pretty outrageous that I have not posted since March. Just have not felt the need at all. We are happy in our life in Richmond. Roxy is a constant joy. Work has been challenging but fulfilling. The kids are alright. Then exactly a week ago we arrived in Israel for a four week stint digging at Megiddo. Right now, I am sitting at home in Raanana on the weekend and I am sore. Every muscle aches, I am battered and bruised. After three long showers, I still feel sandy. Even though I was thorough in my application of sunblock, the skin at my hairline is rather tender. My fingers feel like they have been loaned to me by someone who scaled Everest without gloves. But, you know what, I am perfectly happy.

I was needed this week and that's really all that matters. There were times I ran around like a headless chicken, but I managed to get a huge amount done. Not only on the Tell, where I am supervising (what I think is) the best square in Area K, but also in the Tech Office. It seems that somehow with age, comes a completely undeserved level of deference. People I have huge respect for seem to be looking to me to answer complex issues and then don't even question. It's very good for the ego. At work, the decision process is long and convoluted, but seeing as we only have seven weeks to dig at Tel Megiddo, decisions must be made quickly and implemented immediately. It's such a refreshing change.

Bwo is with me at the dig this time. It has been wonderful to be together. Not only does it mean I have a (mostly) sympathetic roommate, but I think she now understands just how intense all this is for me. She drew some sections up on the Tel (recording the surface of walls in the area), and did a great job, despite being sure that what she did was hopeless. It is extremely hot on the Tel and the walk up and down is killer and she has been suffering. I think I managed to convince her to spend until breakfast with us and then go back to Givat Haviva (where we are staying in a sort of field school with decent AC). Oh, yes, we wake up a 3:45am to leave the room at 4:30 to arrive at the Tel at 5am to start work. Breakfast is at 8:30. Back to GH for lunch at 1pm then I am busy with all the post dig procedures.


That's a picture of what remains of the wall I removed on Wednesday and Thursday. Very interesting (for me at least). Even with the daily headaches from the bright sun and the aching body, I am having the time of my life. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Soggy Leaves

Garbage and recycling in our area is collected on a Tuesday morning. All this is lovely. Here in Richmond they are very efficient and never miss a collection. Over last summer, green things grew. And grew, and grew. Soon our back yard was like a jungle and when the wisteria on the front wall started to climb into our bedroom, we decided that it was time to do something. Bwo found a gardener. Like all service people in this country, he (Henry?) came from Eastern Europe. He was good though and could really teach our 80% gardeners in Israel about real work (these Israeli gardeners are really around 40% actually). Not know the rules we let Henry? filled dozens and dozens of huge black garbage bags with green clippings, branches and leaves. He took a few hours, carrying these through the house, and stacked them 5 high outside the front door in place for the recycling people to take away. There were so many they blocked the sun.

Richmond council, of course, did not agree with this. After a few weeks went by and no one picked up our clippings we checked into the council webpage. We found out that either you buy the council approved recyclable yard waste bags or else drop some cash on an "official" yard waste bin. So we bought some bags. Absolute rubbish they were. They certainly were biodegradable, as they completely dissolved after a few days out in our wet weather. Moving the stuff from one bag to the other was also a giant pain. So the mountain of bags outside the door stayed and grew more and more rotten. Finally we broke down and bought the nice green bin you see in the picture above. Yard waste pick-up occurs only once every two weeks and once the bin is emptied I cram it completely full with some of the left over soggy, rotting clippings. The good news is that now, nearly six months after this joke started we are finally down to having only two huge bags left to have collected. That is assuming they emptied our heavily full bin this morning.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Curling

It's been a strange time here in wet Surrey. Squint central got flooded and we needed to move to a location further west near Reading. Lots of stress and pressure, but the squints are up and running in record time. This place is a little dismal. No windows which makes me sad.

In the central area of this building they have a TV that seems to be on constantly. I hate this. I have a irrational hatred of TV playing while no one is watching. It is constantly set to the Winter Olympics, which here in the UK means constant curling. I never thought anyone cared about curling, but I was wrong. The UK men's and women's (number one in the world) teams are both in medal contention. What a sport. The constant drone about stones and sweepers has become too much even for famed British wildlife commentator David Attenborough who made this tongue in cheek video (He lives in Richmond by the way).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere


This is the sight that awaited me when I drove into squint central UK this morning. Yes, we are flooded. The Thames has been rising and flooded its banks in Surrey. I needed my wellies to get into the building. And still the water continues to rise. This is not good.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

ill

I am finally getting back to normal. I got back from the US last Sunday. It is always wonderful to get back to my family, and after two weeks away I was overjoyed to be home. I took the girly for a long walk, bwo made dinner and all was good. Monday morning I took bso to the airport for his trip back to Israel, and then went off to work. Sometime around mid afternoon I began to feel the jetlag creep in so went home.

By Monday evening I was shaking and shivering like a leaf. My temperature climbed through the room and I started to feel very, very bad. I was out for a full week. Completely knocked out. I could not do anything, no reading, no tv, no work, no nothing - just hurting all over. I don't remember missing a week's work due to illness for 30 years. Two doctor's visits and multiple NHS calls later it turns out I got a bad dose of the flu, and then some sort of chest infection. Today, Wednesday, more than a week from when this nightmare started I am finally starting to feel my strength returning. It was a week from hell.

What was amazing through all of this, was my wife. I have been known to give her a hard time, it's true. But should you be sick, there is no one in the world that can take better care of you. No one is more sympathetic and patient. No one is more gentle and loving. After a few days of laying near death in my bead, sweating and freezing, moaning and complaining, I could not even stand myself! Bwo was there day and night, "now, nowing", feeding, hydrating and just looking out for me. I am so dammed lucky.