Monday, December 26, 2016

A California Weekend

We picked up Roxy on Friday at San Francisco airport. She had been in her cage for 18 hours by the time we got her and all she wanted was to be out. We took her for a walk along the Bay and then took her on a three hour drive home to El Dorado Hills. It is wonderful to have her with us. She quickly adapted to her new life and has found a whole lot of new smells to enjoy.

A few weeks back we bought a pass to the local California State Parks which gives us access to some of the parks in the area. About five minutes drive from the house is Brown's Ravine, which is a sort of marina and recreational area, on the edge of Folsom Lake. There are many trails along the lake and into the hills around and Roxy and I went walking early yesterday (Christmas Day) and again this morning. She was overjoyed to be off the lead and ran around sniffing out appropriate sticks to carry. Yesterday, we went for a long walk along the lake edge. It was freezing out and there are a lot of frost and ice on the ground, undeterred Roxy jumped into the lake for a quick swim. It was very quiet and in all the time we were out walking we never saw another soul. The car stood alone in the huge parking lot. When we eventually got back to the car, I felt in my pockets for my car keys, but to my horror they were gone. I frantically emptied my pockets and dumped everything on the ground but nothing. So I tried to call bwo. Of course, her phone was not with her (or something to that effect), and after a dozen or so attempts I figured it was pointless and Roxy and I would just wait in the cold until we turned to ice. I decided that no matter how meaningless I would try retrace my steps and see if I could find my keys, reasoning that they must have fallen out when I took my gloves out my pockets. And there they were, glinting in the sun, not too far from where we started our walk. Our own little Hanukkah miracle.

We had 20 or so people over for a late lunch yesterday. A lot of the folks that relocated from the UK along with us did not really have anywhere to go so we volunteered our house for a Christmas pot luck. It was very nice. Huge amounts of food and everyone seemed to have a good time. Bwo outdid herself as usual and the place looks really nice considering we moved in two weeks back. The consignment store in Folsom can probably close down now that she bought out all their stock. I hate to think what will happen when our stuff eventually arrives from Israel. 

This afternoon bwo, Roxy and I went for a walk in the neighborhood. I have done some exploring and met some of the friendly people around. Initially I was quite disappointed as the only access to the lake from where we live seemed not only quite far but leads straight into a swamp. One big difference from the UK is that almost all land around is private property with no public access. I met a local, Roy, while walking Roxy and he pointed out that you can get to the lake through one of the houses. These lovely people have a sign encouraging people to use their path alongside their house to the lake. So bwo and I took Roxy down to the lake. All I can say is wow! It is really spectacular. The water and and hills, very pretty. While strolling around the water's edge we met another Border Collie owner who filled us in on all the lake accesses in the area. The land around the lake is all state owned with public access and it appears not too many people use it - especially not in winter. So we explored a bit more and found where the trails meet the road not too far from the house. Unfortunately there are steep hills in each direction, so if nothing else, I will get stronger just walking the dog.

It's been a really good weekend and we had a good day today cleaning up the house after the pot luck and exploring the area. Back to work tomorrow but it's a short week and it should be quiet with many a squint out on holiday.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Flip and flop

So we moved into our new house over the weekend. It's nice and all that, but more important news is the shocker that Tarek and Christina are calling it quits on their marriage.

Since we arrived in the US I have been having a hard time filling the evenings and weekends. See, we were staying in temporary housing and then the hotel. Being on the west coast means days start early, but they also finish early with no evening calls at all. So I would get home around 5pm (after starting around 5) have dinner with bwo and then look for something to do. I finished five books so was tired of reading, and found walking without Roxy very difficult. As soon as we put in the first offer on a house, I suddenly needed to do research and so HGTV became my occasional library along with google, YouTube and Home Depot. One particularly slow weekend I happened on "Flip or Flop" on HGTV and slowly started to become a fan. I liked how expensive the shitty houses they bought to flip were compared to what I thought was expensive here in Northern California. Christina's voice bothered me in the beginning but I really liked her taste and style. So I have spent many hours watching them turn really horrible houses into places I would be happy to live in.

I have to admit that I was never too sure of their coupledom. Tarek seemed a little too conservative and Christina well, she sure is cute, and all that money they were earning, definitely going to cause issues. But, I was still very surprised and saddened to read they are splitting up. Turns put they are not the only HGTV scandal, I just found out Jo and Chip Gaines belong to a church that is a against same sex marriage. Is nothing sacred in this country?

I have got to get a life! 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hopefully it's happening.

It's hard to believe it's been nearly 45 days since I last posted. Looks like we will finally get the house we put in an offer for in El Dorado Hills. Our loan was finally approved on Friday and we are due to close on Wednesday. It has been a very nerve wracking time and I have been very stressed waiting for word from the bank. They really gave me a hard time, which I am led to believe is fairly typical for home loans these days. We are both excited to be finally on our way out of the Residence Inn and into our own place. This will only be the second time in our lives that we own property. I was always happy renting, but here in California it makes sense to buy what with interest rates where they are. 

We have visited our potential property each weekend and have explored the area a little. There seems to be a nice walk down to the lake, although the area is much hillier than Richmond. I think Roxy will be happy. We will send for her as soon as we are settled. Both Roxy and Jenny will be very sad to part as they are very good friends, but we need our girly. I certainly have been putting on weight like crazy without the walks. 

The house has a septic tank. This will be the first time that anyone in our families have not been connected to the sewers probably since my grandparents lived in Lithuania. So it's all rather exciting. More on the house in the coming days. 

Friday, October 28, 2016


We put in an offer on a house. The sellers agreed with our price and then the joy began. What a process. I have spent hours filling out forms and reading various contracts, and we still are far from done. Next is an appraisal and then inspections and so on. The best one can hope, if all goes well (which is doubtful), is to close in 45 days. I suppose it makes sense, as this is the most money I have ever spent in one place (although probably less than the accumulated cost of bwo's potions and lotions over the years).

It's a nice place and hopefully all goes well as I discovered that there is nothing I hate more than looking at houses. I could live pretty much anywhere there is enough room for a workshop and place to walk the Rox. But it is so much more complex than that. I suppose it's not bad that we found a place within two weeks of arriving in the area.

At least all the document preparation is keeping me from being bored on those long California nights with no work phone calls. 

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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Dozen Reflex Loathings

I have been listening to Bill Bryson's latest book "The Road To Little Dribbling" while in the car. I used to think he tries too hard to be funny, but I like this book because he comes across as even grumpier than I am. I particularly liked his notion that "everyone should be allowed a dozen or so things that they dislike without having to explain or to justify to anyone why". He calls these "reflex loathings". His include such things as kettles without an indicator light and people who call an invitation an invite. The has 15 by the way but he justifies this as it's his concept and therefore he can have extras. These cannot be rational dislikes, like traffic jams or Donald Trump. They have to be things that some people will disagree with.

So here are some of mine:

  1. Things that auto-format text for you (like this blogging app) and force you to go to all sorts of tricks and hacks to get things to look the way you like.
  2. People who cannot figure out how to open the toilet doors on an airplane. Worse yet those that don't lock the door.
  3. The Grateful Dead.
  4. Microwaves with dozens of useless buttons. All you need is the 30 second full power increment.
  5. Vegetables that start with A.
  6. Confusing public place doors that do not have an obvious push or pull action. Put a damn handle on the door if you want me to pull and a push plate if I should push.
  7. People who put the lid down on the toilet after use (This is a UK thing, I always think there will be a nasty surprise waiting for me when I lift the lid).
  8. Family videos (especially having to watch those of my in-laws) and most other peoples personal photos.
  9. Any email, whatsapp, SMS that is more than 3 words of Hebrew.
  10. The Archers. Oh and Game of Thrones.
  11. Sitting idle at the table (in a house or a restaurant) after a meal.
  12. Weird fruity drinks (such as banana, apple and raspberry juice). My wife loves these.
That's my current dozen and I reserve the right to change them at will. Give it a try.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Having a Ball

After a long week of driving around the UK, I decided to remain in Richmond this weekend. All those orange cones were getting me down. It's been pretty misty of late, probably due to the weak spring sun warming the cold air. When I set out with Roxy early on Saturday morning, we took our usual morning route through the copse towards the river. As I walked down past the bin, I saw a nice brightly colored tennis ball and stooped to pick it up. It's the archaeologist in me - I cannot walk by anything interesting and not stop to examine it and to see its origins and purpose. Hmm, I noticed a few more balls on the path to the little green which on further inspection in the dim morning light was littered with hundreds of tennis balls (see above, this was after many of the balls had been removed by passers by). Roxy ran around picking one up then dropping it to pick up another obviously better one which she would drop at my feet, then run off to pick up another. It was all rather mysterious. I mentally build a hypothesis, I reckoned it's the kids who had found a batch of balls in one of the school yards around and decided it would be fun to launch them all over the field. I once found hundred's of golf balls, obviously pilfered from somewhere, strewn across St.Gorges Field near Ham house. At this point in the story (let's call him) Fred appeared.

Now Fred is not the most popular on the copse. He has two dogs, nice dogs (there are no bad dogs, only bad owners, you know) if a little boisterous. We chat about the weather for a moment (this is England after all) and I gesture to the balls with a shrug. He tells me it he who put them out. "Why?" I ask. "Oh they don't bounce so good any more, and people seem to like em" he answers and strides off shouting at his two dogs (as usual). This is Interesting. I picked a few shiny yellow ones, put them in my pockets and walked on, much to Roxy's disgust.

Some background on Fred. I think he's a postman or something. At least that was what (let's call her) Mary, who has a giant black dog, tells me. She hates him. He shouted at her once and she feels he treats her and her huge (gobby) black dog without respect. Bwo and I met her on our way back from my second walk later in the morning. Many of the balls had indeed been removed, but there was still a decent number on the field. Mary seemed quite OK with the balls littering the field until she found out just who had put them out there. Then she was livid. This is not the first time it has happened it seems. As you can see above, Roxy finds the politics of the copse less than interesting. All she wants is someone, anyone to throw the damn ball.   

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Orange Cones

What is with this British love of orange cones? There are millions (I am not kidding, millions) of these littering the highways and byways of the UK. On the M3 going west there is maybe a 15 miles or orange cones, and I have never ever seen a single workman doing anything on that stretch. I have noticed that they have a strange work pattern here when it comes to cones and roads. About three days before they plan to do anything, they block off the road and put down dozens of cones to inconvenience as many people as possible. They then leave them there for a few days, probably for us to "get used" to the idea that the road will be partially blocked for a while. The workers then appear for a few hours one day and dig a hole and scratch around in the dirt, before filling the hole and leaving. The cones then stay around for a week or so, to show us that work has been done.

If this was Israel I would be convinced that the importer of cones was somehow connected (family or friend) of the Minister of Transport, but, of course, that would not be British. Still I am amazed at the sheer number of orange cones that surround us here. Most people don't even notice them any more. They have become part of the scenery and the British are a patient lot. In fact in 1992 then Prime Minister John Major implemented a "Cones Hotline" to allow frustrated motorists to report areas where cones had been deployed for no apparent reason. It shut down in 1995 due to lack of interest by the public (actually was renamed/re-purposed the Highways Agency Information Line or HAIL) and was largely considered to be a waste of public funds. It appears "Cone Syndrome" is now used to describe a piece of legislation that seems to serve no purpose (thanks Wikipedia). 

Last night on the way back from collecting bwo from Heathrow, as we entered the M3, we caught a glimpse of yellow jacketed men setting out more cones. They were actually moving the cones from being in a straight line along the highway to rows of three to five cones perpendicular to the highway. Maybe they just don't have anywhere to store the billions of cones they have so they just keep moving them from motorway to motorway. These looked exactly like the cones I saw on the M11 on my way to Cambridge last week.

Petersham Road has had it's fair share of cone work in the last three years. I have probably spent more than a day in total, waiting in serious traffic and having to maneuver around construction obstructions in the road. It's a busy road and the main artery between the transportation mecca of Richmond (underground, overground and SW Trains) and the shopping mecca of Kingston (Primark and pound shops, just ask bwo or look at our Visa bill). But every so often (for example, two nights back) the cones come out. I very rarely see any yellow Hi-Viz jacketed workers, but in the morning there they are, cones aplenty. Like fairy circles except orange and in the road. 

Just wait till I get started on the "Temporary Traffic Signals". Now there's a completely British phenomenon. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Elstead Common

Took a walk today on Elstead Common. It was very cold, but very, very nice. Both Tikva and Roxy seemed to enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Passport Perils

What is it with the women in my family and their passports? I'm not sure how to tell this tale, should it be based chronologically or on the personalities involved? I think I'll go with personality.

First personality is blackdaughtero. On her way to South America a few weeks back, bdo left Israel via London. She gets to the airport and it appears her Israeli passport has expired. She forgot to check (although we had spoken about this months before). They want 1500NIS ($350+) to issue a passport at the airport, which she (or rather I) refuses to pay so they somehow let her leave on her US passport. No problemo she says, I will use my US passport in my travels and all will be good. Bdo spends time and money in London with the Boyf and Shir her travel partner and a week later jets off to Buenos Aries. As she arrives at passport control in Argentina they a demand $160 "reciprocity" fee. It seems all US, Canadian and Australian citizens need to pay this in advance in order to enter Argentina (it seems these countries charge Argentinians to enter, hence the "reciprocity"). Israelis do not have this issue, they are happy to have anyone come to Israel and be ripped off by the general public rather than the govenment. Of course, bdo is outraged, tears flow (I assume), so somehow they let her in on her expired Israeli passport. Turns out that her hostel is next door the Israeli Consulate in Buenos Aries and she gets a new passport in a jiffy at a cost of something like 100NIS. Only bdo.

Second story is blackwifeo's. Last time she left Israel (Dec) seems to everyone's surprise her passport had expired (In November 2015). They let her out on her US passport (sound familiar?) and told her she should renew it in London. After the sad news about Auntie Masha on Sunday, bwo decides she must go back to Israel post-haste. When I drop her at Heathrow Sunday night she is convinced they will let her back into Israel even though her Israeli passport has expired, as she always has the US one for backup. I get a frantic call an hour before her flight is about to take off saying she cannot find her US passport (actually it was more like a text "I LOST my passport. May not let me on the flight"). She used it to get past security but between there and the gate her passport had disappeared. She did no shopping (strange in itself). She runs up and down the airport, back to security, unpacks her bags, searches her pockets (women have no pockets - this is the problem) but no luck. So now all she has is her expired Israeli passport in a country where following the rules is next to godliness. But bwo soldiers on,  she tells her sob story to the ground crew at the boarding gate, and believe it or not they now cheat the system and enter her Israeli passport info to get on the plane, but they have to force it to expire in the future, in fact the following day, or else the system will not let her past the pre-flight passport check. She boards the plane and on arrival in Israel they seem understanding of her plight and let her in. She has an appointment at the US embassy tomorrow and will then go to the Ministry of Interior to get her Israeli passport renewed.

I mean really. What? Are we new at this travelling game?

Monday, February 29, 2016

An Aunt

Auntie Masha passed away yesterday. She was an amazing woman. There were many things that made her special: she was an amazing cook (her cooking is one of the things I missed most when I turn vegetarian), she was well-read, interested in the world, and had views and opinions, she was nobody's fool. She did have the most unbelievable hearing. In the old days she would be in her kitchen in Rehov Shwartz and hear every word we whispered to each other on the balcony on the other side of the apartment, with the door shut. She was always a slight, slip of a woman, who got even slighter over the last few years, but she had a strong heart. Auntie Masha and Uncle Gus sort of adopted me when I first arrived in Israel as a fool-hardy, innocent and oblivious youngster of 17. They opened their arms and made their home in Raanana, my home. They were always there for me during those confusing days of early adulthood. I was so fortunate to have them.

I looked through my old pictures to see if I could find a defining picture of Auntie Masha. Of course, I couldn't. Firstly I only have digital pictures on my machine here, and those were the days of Kodak Instamatics and getting pictures "developed" the store on the corner of Borahov. Any picture like that would be somewhere in our myriad of boxes stored somewhere in the world. I did find the following picture. On second thoughts I decided not to post it. I am sure Auntie Masha would have hated it. She really was one of a kind.

She will always be Auntie Masha to me. I could never image any of my nieces or nephews call me "uncle", but Auntie Masha deserved the respect. She earned it over thousands of cups of coffee and Broadway 100s.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Bus

Most people who have worked for me have heard the "bus speech" more than once. The short version goes something like, "You know, life is like a long bus ride. People get on the bus with you, some people get off. Some ride a long way, some are only on for a few stops, but whether they sit next to you for miles or just stand in the aisles, they all add something to the journey". I have been fortunate in my life to have had some amazing rides with some very special people. Today I had the good fortune of meeting up with some of the Israeli Squints that are and have been on that bus with me.

We had lunch at a pasta place down the road from the Salt Mines. Many of my co-passengers on these bus rides came from all over to share their time. It was great seeing them. They are all doing well in life and work. They are what make this country special to me. I have been very lucky to be able to share my travels with them. (I hope they don't get upset that I posted a picture - we know the camera steals your soul). 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I'm always amazed just how noisy life is in Israel. The Petersham house, while on a busy street between Kingston and Richmond, and directly under the Heathrow flight path when the wind is right, is so quiet. When it rains in the UK, which is quite often, we can never tell and I have to go look out the window in the morning to see if I need my rain gear. Last night, the rain started here in Raanana some time in the evening and went off and on all night. I could hear every raindrop. I hear the neighbors cars arriving and their arguments over how he does not talk nicely (hmmmm). Yes, we now have neighbors all around and opposite and below. I hear their kids coming home in the early hours on the weekends. But mostly it's the elevator that really bothers me.

You know when you move to a new house after 15 years there are bound to be some new noises. The creaks and bangs are different. The doors squeak at a different frequency and the cat's meow echos weirdly. Our new room is on the lower floor, near the kitchen and lounge dining room. We picked this room, because it's smaller and seeing as we are living over the water, it seemed a good idea to let the kids have the upper floor and bigger rooms. What I did not realize is that the wall our bed is against, is right against the lift (elevator) shaft. Every time anyone uses the elevator I hear the door open and close, the whir of the machinery and the door open and close again. Sometimes it starts with the whir then he doors. I can now tell whether it's stopping at the first or second floor. Luckily our building only has two floors and eight apartments, so it's not like being next to the elevator in a 20 story hotel, but still.  

Buckets of Broccoli. Leagues of lettuce.

The Hebrew Squints and I did some volunteer work this morning. We went to help out Leket, an organization that does amazing work feeding the needy with "left over food". Apparently it all started with an American New Immigrant who started collecting left over food from restaurants, then supermarkets and cafeterias, then on to surplus agricultural produce. They are mostly volunteer supported, with a lot of volunteers (55K says the website) and they produce over 1.5 million meals yearly. I particularly like that they don't let food go to waste. 

We arrived to find huge crates filled with lettuce and broccoli, which we had to pack into smaller more manageable trays to be shipped around the country to soup kitchens, schools and other places of need. We then moved onto beetroot and radishes. My fingers were destroyed after two hours, but as usual, I am proud of my squints work ethic. They worked, and worked. We were the first group to arrive and the last to leave. It was good fun and I think we all left feeling we had done something good.


Sunday, February 21, 2016


Alon posted a pointer to this "NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert" and I have watched it five times over the last few days. It makes me so happy. The joyful, smiling cellist, and the semi-serious one in the middle and the Marge Simpson one drumming on the end are so cool. And then there's the dude. I love it, It's one of the best things I have seen on the internet for ages. Watch to the end.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Home Again

I arrived in Israel yesterday afternoon after a pleasant and emptyish flight. I whipped out of the airport, collected my rental car and zoomed home all in about 40 minutes from row 35D to front door. I like coming home to this new apartment. The boy (bso) had actually gone shopping and moved all the junk that had collected out of my office. All in all the apartment here on HaHayil street is light and airy. It now has enough of "the look" that it feels like home. It was great to see bso. He is in good spirits, having done well at university this semester and enjoying the time off. I did the family rounds last night for dinner and after. All are doing OK, except my aunt who is not doing at all well. I hope this week goes well for her. The strain on her children, my cousins, is enormous. Sigh!, all around us people are getting old and health becomes more and more central.

Well I am happy to be here in the holy land, but I do miss bwo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Of Stents and Stones

Stents and stones can break your bones ..... The stent is out and I am home nursing a sore left side and trying not to bite through my tongue when I pee. It burns. I spent a pleasant night in the New Vic Hospital. The food was not as good as last time, but the nurses are caring and my surgeon (called a Consultant in this country) seems competent. Well at least he has sense of humour. I did not sleep much last night after the procedure which seemed to take way longer than it was supposed to. I was back in room 33 at around 8:30pm. Having precious little else to do (I got tired of learning Python quite quickly) I collected the fragments of the boulder they crushed as they came out of me. It seems this is to be expected with a 12mm stone. Here is a picture. Note that these are just the fragments, they claim the got the big bits out with their "special tools".
That's a pound coin. The bits are hard and sharp, no wonder it's eye watering sore when they pass. It's all rather fascinating.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Quiet House

We just dropped bdo off at Heathrow on her way to South America for her "tiyul". She has a ticket back in June and who knows where she will be till then. It was most frustrating for me to watch just how disorganized they are, these young people. They were packing till the last minute and out shopping in Kigston till a hour or two before leaving for the airport. I hope all goes well for them and they have the experiences they are looking for. Come home safely girlygirl, I miss you already.

In other news, tomorrow is national, well at least blackpetero, Stent Removal Day. I'm not to eat from 10am and then into the hospital at 2:30pm and surgery starts at 4pm. That probably means I will get seen at around 7pm, by then I will be starving and full of headache. I will be happy to see the end of the stent. I have been peeing blood from time to time (this is normal according to the interwebs) and it is uncomfortable a lot of the time. Then it's off to Israel on Friday, so I better make a speedy recovery.

It's nice to have a quiet house again.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016


On Friday I visited a squint office in Bath. What a cool place to work. It's in the center of town, a few hundred meters from the Abbey and the Baths. Given the chance I would move there in a shot. The drive from the M4 was spectacular. It helped that it was a sunny day with clear skies and not the usual gray winter horizon and the traffic was unusually light. One of the advantages of winter is that the trees here shed their leaves so the views open up. In summer these views are often masked by thick green foliage. It was very cold though. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The View

I found out today that London has 13 protected views. These are views that cannot be tampered with for any reason. Turns out I walk by one of these most Sundays. The view of St. Paul's Cathedral from Richmond Park can be seen from the path between Richmond Gate and Pembroke Lodge. It looks like this:
Most Sunday mornings before most of the UK arises, Roxy and I walk down to the river and along the tow path to Richmond where we climb up the Terraced Gardens past The Wick into Richmond Park through Richmond Gate and walk down to Ham gate and then back home along the avenues. It's one of my favorite walks in the world. Along the path in Richmond Park there is, of course, a sign with an arrow "St. Paul's Cathedral, 10 Miles" and you can look through the trees and on a clear morning see the dome of the Cathedral in central London.

It turns out that being protected no one or nothing can do anything to mess with this view (and the 12 other classic views). The view was created in 1710 and apparently has stopped development of high rises around Liverpool Street Station as tall buildings would mess with the line of sight. In the words of Bill Bryson, who's new book "The Road To Little Dribbling" I am reading and where I found this tidbit: "It's all quite splendid".

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Turn's out She's right

It's a say day for blackpetero. It seems that all along bwo was right - it's not what you say it's how you say it. Squint Central UK hosted a "MicroInequities" course today. It all boils down to the small messages you send when you communicate. These, usually unconscious, subtle messages can impact interaction with others in the workplace and in life. You know what they mean, the raised eyebrow, the look away, the sigh and the insincere affirmative. Saying "that was brilliant" when you mean just the opposite. This is all part of the push for a more diverse and inclusive workplace that has gripped our industry.

So in the end it seems that bwo is right as usual. She has been telling me for years that what I say is meaningless, it's how I say it and obviously I usually say it badly. The goal of this program is to make you more aware of the effects of body and spoken language in your interactions with others. I obviously suck at this. The good news I can practice at home with a world's expert on how not to say stuff.

Hopefully this blog is not dripping with MicroMessages.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Full House

The daughter, bdo (blackdaughtero), arrived in London yesterday. She and her travel partner are stopping off on their way to South America for their multi month backpacking trek. I am more worried about this than I was during all her years in the army. I suppose it's a father's lot to worry while the offspring gallivant around the world. All they have as far as an itinerary is concerned is a flight to Buenos Aires and one back from São Paulo. It's good to be young.

In other news BFE (the boyf) arrived today. I reserve judgement as anything I say can and will be used in evidence against me. Roxy seems to like him.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Picture

I stopped blogging regularly a few months before Avril left us. And once she was gone I really didn't feel like writing much. I know she used to read all my posts and in some way she was one of the people I was writing to. I miss her and til now I have not been able to write about Avril much as it was too raw. I started this blog up again because it feels like life is changing again and this is a good way for me to record the passing of days.

While I was in Houston last weekend, we went to one of the (many) storage units we, as a family, rent. While I was looking for some documents of my parent's, I came across the "big box of photos", which is not so big any more. We took it home to look through and while pouring through faded old black and white pictures of my parent's youth, we came across this picture of Avril, and I have to say it brought on misty eyes and a lump in throat. This is exactly how I will always remember her, in that silly, frilly coat and that smile. I am so glad I found it.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Long Haul

Dave retired today. Thinking back, in the thirty or so years I have been working this is the first retirement of someone I have worked closely with. The thing is that our industry was young when we started work and we have matured along with it. I am now a sort of elder statesman and the people my age and older are on the retirement track. I used to think, once upon a time, that I would have a hard time with retirement. I believed I need the work to keep me feeling meaningful in this world. Funny how that has changed over the years. I am jealous of Dave and would like nothing more to be able to give up work knowing I could take care of the wife and kids, do archaeology, build guitars, go study something, travel.

I never thought my dad would be able to retire. He was certainly a workaholic. When he time came, he left his job, packed up 35 Mill Park Road and moved to Raanana and then to Houston. He was always busy and happy. He did his stamps, made sandwiches and collected money for the trampiyada and generally took time to read and drive miles to buy Diet Coke at a discount. I don't think he missed the "salt mines" for a minute.

Sadly this is a long way off for me, both financially and age wise. Today, it was sad to say goodbye to Dave, he was one of the first that welcomed me to squint central UK. He was a giant in history of 3D graphics. We had a nice dinner last night, pizza at lunch, and a nice toast this afternoon. An MacBook rather than a gold watch. I wish him much luck on this new journey.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Can't make this shit up!

At some point this morning bwo texted me "I swear, you can't make this shit up." and I swear you can't. Here's the story. Near the corner of Sandy Lane and Petersham Road a few houses down from us live a nice gay couple S and R. Nice guys. S looks after the Rox from time to time and they have two little dogs Lily and Poppy. Next to them live two other gay guys. For the sake of the story let's call them Guy1 and Guy2. Now not all has been well in the lives of Guy1 and Guy2. S and R have had all sorts of trouble with them. Particularly Guy1. He apparently has been abusive and threatening. S and R complain of shouting matches that continue to the early hours of the morning. I stumbled upon Guy1 sitting outside on the ground in the lane while walking Roxy one morning at 5am. He invited me in for coffee. I did not accept. Rumor has it that Guy1 and 2 are selling their house and planning a move to Houston. This could not happen soon enough for S and R.

I awake at 5am this morning after a troubled night's sleep fighting jet lag to a bothersome flashing light coming through the blinds. I think this is probably some medical emergency as we have some elderly neighbours. I looked out the window to see a number of police vehicles on Petersham road and no passing traffic at all. Hmmm, interesting. I dress quickly and take Roxy out the front door to see what's going on. To the right (see picture below) the road is cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. To the left a solitary bus is standing all alone except for the driver who is looking up at one of the houses (X marks the spot). I walk over to him and ask what's up. He says there is a jumper on one of the roofs of the houses and seeing as he cannot make a U turn, he is stuck there. Sure enough I can hear Guy1 shouting and ranting at the top of his voice. Repeating the same chants over and over. The police are stationed below looking up and pleading for him to come down.
The bus driver tells me that they have closed off Petersham Road from The Dysart to The New Inn (all directions given based on local Pubs). This means no one can get from Kingston to Richmond or vice versa. Luckily it's still around 6am, so traffic is light. After a few minutes a policeman comes over and asks us to go further away as "things are coming to a head". I walk Roxy round the block and back down the back lane to get back home. Bwo and I go out the front door to see what's up and a nice policewoman asks us to stay inside because Guy1 on the roof decided I was Guy2 when he saw me outside and this has made him more agitated.

The prospects of getting to work any time soon did not look good so we offered the police outside tea. This was a good move as this elevated our status from nosy neighbours to useful citizens in the eyes of the UK constabulary. So much so that they offered to let me back my car out, move the five vehicles blocking the road and take down the crime scene tape temporarily so I could get out and go off to work. Amazing what a good cuppa can do. So I made it out, stopping on the way to give a ride to a stranded commuter waiting for a never appearing bus.

It seems the "incident" went on till around 10am causing all sorts of havoc in Richmond. A "van without windows" took Guy1 away eventually, according to bwo's report. She also spent time on the phone with S  (of S and R) getting the scoop from up close. Seems Guy1 started throwing roofing tiles and parts of the chimney pipe down on the masses of police below. He possibly also assaulted Guy2. Looks like he has been arrested, which worries S and R as this means he probably will not be emigrating to the US any time soon. And people dare say the UK is boring!

And if you don't believe me you can read the story in The Richmond and Twickenham Times.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Our Siddy

Sad news for us this afternoon. Seems the kids needed to put Sid down. He has been getting more and more frail as he gets older. Sad indeed.
Sid and his sister Nancy, knocked on the door of HaNevel street in our first winter in Israel (Dec/Jan 2000/2001). They were tiny, wet homeless kittens and after a close examination of all houses in the 2005 subdivision, they decided we should look after them. A nice South African/American family that would make sure they always had a warm house and good food. Sid was the serious one. While is sister Nancy was a Ninja and lived for the attack, Sid was always very regal and stately. He was not big on chasing things and mostly loved to lie on the bed with his mom, purring. He grew into a big handsome chap, the patriarch of the cats of HaNevel 3. He was not a big fighter, but would arch and hiss and spit at any young whippersnapper that dared intrude into his space.

According to the latest WhatsApp message bso now at the vet and they have decided his time is up. We had 15 great years with Sid and he will be dearly missed. No one purrs better.