• Tag Archives Mark
  • Bees

    Spring                                                                             Planting Moon

    Good news.  I can pick up the bees tomorrow.  That makes today a good bit more manageable.  I’ll pick them up, go see John Desteian about getting lost on my way to seminary or college (dreams), take them home, spray them with sugar water and hive them on Tuesday when it’s warmer and not rainy.  A better deal all round.

    (In case you were wondering, this is a package of bees.  A 2 pounder. You can get 3 pounders as well.  About 7,000 bees.)

    Had a Skype visit with the sibs in far away places, the desert and the tropics.  Yesterday evening I sent Mary an e-mail saying yes, I could call this morning.  She had just started her day.  I read a bit, then went to bed, woke up, fed the dogs, ate breakfast, went downstairs and called her at her bedtime, 9:30 pm.  Mark was at 4:30 pm.  While I slept, both of them finished work days.  Seems strange to me even though we do it regularly.

    Just to change things up a bit, it’s raining today.  Don’t want to get into a rut precipitation wise.  Should turn into snow later on though.  Global weirding.  Indeed.

  • Saudi Arabia

    Imbolc                                                       Valentine Moon

    Saudi Arabia.  Mark has been there for well over a year, almost 2, so the day-to-day scene comes more and more into focus, even for me, 8,000 miles away.  Perhaps the oddest piece of information so far concerns postal service.  Addresses don’t work in Saudi Arabia.  To this northern European mind, used to numbered homes and buildings, named streets and precisely divided zip codes this data fails to process.  So much so that we insisted (I insisted) on sending Mark a package for Christmas to his school.  Well, it hasn’t arrived quite yet.

    Apparently the only solution to this problem is to use Fedex or DHS.  Which begs the question of how they find a place, but they must have some kind of system.  So, next time we send Mark a picture of Gertie and a book on the geo-political affairs of Saudi Arabia, it’ll go out Fedex.

    Banking, too, has its peculiarities.  You can’t get a bank account without an iqama, sort of a work visa, and Mark’s school has not been able to arrange iqamas for their first year employees.  This is Mark’s first year working in Riyadh.  An iqama is roughly equivalent to a green card in the U.S.  Without it Mark has to go on a familiar routine for expats in many countries, a visa run.  On a visa run you leave the country where you live, stay away a few days, then re-enter, starting the visa process again, usually for a period of 90 or 180 days.

    Mark also reports that a few students watch jihadi videos and execution videos in his class. His afternoon classes have to stop for the afternoon prayer, then start up again.  The priorities of other cultures, which seem obvious to them, often seem odd or at least unexpected to outsiders.  Mark seems to have adjusted very well to the differences between his U.S. acculturation and the Saudi’s.



  • Video Phone a Reality At Last!

    Spring                                                            Bee Hiving Moon

    Technological victory today.  Mary (Singapore at 10:00pm), Mark (Ha’il, Saudi Arabia at 5:00 pm) and myself (Andover 9 am) on the same video call.  Three little screens with our talking heads beaming in real time (or whatever you call time in the instance where all of us are in different times).  Skype premium at $99.00 a year allows for up to ten individuals on one call with no additional charge.  Even when separated by thousands of miles and the International Date Line.

    (screen looks something like the pic above)

    That was my entire nuclear family on one video call.  Remember when video-phones were sci-fi what ifs?  Not any more.  And, there’s no phone.  Nothing but net.

    Over the last year Mark and Mary and I have moved closer together, seeing each other in person last July and now communicating more regularly than we ever have before.

    Mark describes Ha’il as like northern Arizona, Flagstaff/Dine homelands/Grand Canyon/polygamist Mormon country.  Come to think of it Islam allows 4 wives.  Maybe it’s the weather?

    Mary says Singapore is hot.  When asked how hot, she said, “Oh, I never know.  But it’s really hot.  I know that.”  According to Weatherunderground the current temp in Singapore is 81 with a dewpoint of 77.  That last is the kicker.  By contrast it’s 84 in Ha’il with a dewpoint of 14.  Just to be complete it’s 54 here with a dewpoint of  48.   Of course that’s a daytime reading for Andover, a night time reading for Singapore and an early evening reading for Ha’il.

    Both Mary and Mark are at the ends of their terms, with exams and grading and all that fun stuff on the other end of the teacher-student relationship.  Mark has a classroom full of cement workers.  Mary teaches students at Singapore’s National Teacher’s University.   Mom would have been proud.

    Forgot to mention on the call, but I have a tour for ESL students tomorrow.  Both Mary and Mark have ESL backgrounds.

  • A Third of the World Between Sibs

    Winter(?)                                  First Moon of the New Year

    Both sibs have sent photographs recently.  Mary has taken several pictures of elephants in a series placed around Singapore.  They’re part of a fund-raiser to help Southeast Asian elephants.

    Mary lives within short walking distance of the Botanical Gardens of Singapore, a delightful collection of Southeast Asian plants placed on large grounds.  In fact, she used to work there when her university had its campus on the grounds.

    The fund-raiser reminded me of the Charles Schultz cartoon characters St. Paul had up a few years back.

    Singapore is an unusual place, a city-state like days of yore, think Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rome, Venice.  It refers to itself as the air-conditioned nation.  Mary refers to it as Asia-lite.  I enjoyed my visit there a great deal.

    Mark, on the other hand, is in a much less humid environment, Saudi Arabia.  He is in his fourth month teaching English in Ha’il, a former caravan serai on the pilgrimage route to Mecca.  It sits in the northern third of the Arabian Peninsula, near the center and has some elevation, about 3,000 feet.

    He has settled in there, having taken trips into the desert three times over the last couple of months.  The first time he went dune bashing in motorized vehicles. The second time he  visited a camel breeding operation run by a student, black camels, and in his most recent foray wandered the desert where this photography was taken.

    That puts me in the heart of the North American continent, Mary at the tip end of the Malaysian Peninsula, near Indonesia and Mark in the sands of storied Arabia.  That must be about a third of the way around the world to each sibling.


  • Overseas Ellises

    Samain                               Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Brother Mark has settled in to Ha’il.  So much so that he visited, by their invitation, a group of cyberjournalists who run an online newspaper where he participated in an interview, drank tea, then left after shaking everyone’s hand, apparently a cultural expectation.  He says he has three photos and a youtube clip as a result of the visit, though I’ve not found them yet.

    Sister Mary sent these cute clips of elephants in the air-conditioned nation.

    They’re part of a fund-raiser to support elephants in Southeast Asia.

  • Woolly Mammoths, 6 pm

    Samain                            Moon of the Winter Solstice

    First time at the Marsh, out on Minnetonka Blvd.  The Western burbs version of a California health spa.  In a small room off the dining area for their food service was a sign:  Woolly Mammoths, 6:00 pm.

    Inside were Bill , Warren , Frank , Stefan and Mark.  Tales of the trip, yes, but mostly we were there to support Warren whose mother received a cancer diagnosis two days before Thanksgiving.  She’s now in hospice care at an assisted living center, asking only for palliative care.

    Warren has been intimately involved with both his parents and his wife’s parents in their aging and decline.  They represent a degree of love and concern in that situation seen all too rarely.

    On the way back I couldn’t find any music I liked, so, as I’ve done a lot lately while driving, I turned the radio off and entered into a road trip state of mind, a little bit country and a little bit Zen.


  • News from Ha’il

    Fall                                                            Full Autumn Moon

    News from Ha’il*.  Mark reports having to leave a restaurant with a friend because it was about to close for prayers.  During prayers many businesses in Saudi Arabia lock customers in so they can continue shopping or eating.  This is at least three times a day, could be more since there are five prayer times.

    He also commented on the number of funeral homes:  0.  Families inter their own dead, then have three days of mourning.

    Likewise:  no cinemas, bars, karaoke places or houses of ill repute.  But, there are Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Bengalis, Philipinos, Brits, Americans, New Zealanders, South Africans.

    The area around Ha’il has very old mountains and looks like Monument Valley or Arizona, he says.

    Interesting to have an embedded informant in the heart of Arabia.  More illuminations to come.


    * Ha’il is largely an agricultural centre, specializing in grains, dates and fruits. A large percentage of the kingdom’s wheat production comes from Ha’il Province, where the area to the northeast, 60 km to 100 km away, consists of irrigated gardens.
    Ha’il is well-connected to other urban centres to the south, by road. Buraydah is 300 km southeast, Riyadh is 640 km southeast and Madina 400 km southwest.
    Modern Ha’il is city of a widespread centre, and numerous parks.

    1836: A local dynasty is established with Ha’il as its centre, by Ibn Rashid. Ha’il thrives from controlling the pilgrimage route across the desert, connecting Mecca and Iraq.
    1891: The Rashidi clan make Ha’il the capital of large parts of Arabia, known as Najd.
    1902: Najd loses Riyadh, but is recognized as a kingdom.
    1908: The Hijaz Railway opens, beginning the decline of Ha’il.
    1921: Following an attack by Ibn Saud, the rulers of Ha’il has to surrender.

  • The Final Harvest

    Fall                                                Waxing Autumn Moon

    Going out today to collect the rest of the rest of the harvest.  A few potato plants I missed the first time around remain.  Leeks, those Musselberg Giants.  Some carrots, some chard.  Beans.  Rain has appeared in the forecast for the first time in weeks.  A good thing, but it reduces the clear days for harvesting and mulching.

    When I get those leeks inside, chicken and leek pot pies come next.  I’ll use carrots and maybe a potato or two.

    Still no news from Saudi Arabia.  The weather has cooled down in Riyadh, only 93 today.

    Been pushing to finish the fourth book of Game of Thrones, but will have to give up on ending it before the cruise.  Too many words, not enough hours.  I’ll have to finish it in a deck chair. Darn.

  • Back to the 50’s

    Fall                                          Waxing Autumn Moon

    Kate and I had dinner tonight at Jax.  Instant 1950’s.  Even the crowd seemed largely–though not exclusively–from that era.  Including us of course.

    This is a place where they print your name on matchbook covers when you make a reservation and where the signature dishes are steaks, more steaks, and lobster.  It has a wood paneled dining room, a garden area with lit-up trees and a huge stone fireplace.  Linen napkins and too heavy cutlery.  Waitresses and busboys in black and white.

    The service is cordial, the drinks look generous and the dining room has a quiet, clinking atmosphere conducive to intimate conversation.  Rowdiness, back slapping, football on TV, foosball and air hockey just don’t belong here.

    We parked in Lobster Lane and walked across the street to this brick covered building.

    Our meal celebrated our time with my brother Mark and what we hope is a successful conclusion in Saudi Arabia.


  • All Ha’il

    Fall                                              Waxing Harvest Moon

    First communication back from Mark in Saudi Arabia.  He says he hasn’t set up his computer yet and that the school seems to have a good connection.  He mentions the school is in Ha’il*.  Guess that’s where he is now.  So far that’s all I know.

    Met with the Woolly’s last night at our once and forever location:  the Black Forest.  Tom Crane, Mark Odegard, Frank Broderick, Scott Simpson and Warren Wolfe showed up.  We went around the table, catching each other up on this and that.  Mark’s leaving.  Our cruise.  Tom and Roxann’s trip to Florida.  Mark O’s knee.  Warren’s upcoming article on Medicare.

    Scott and I talked about something called latency trading.  Here’s an article that explains some of it.  The part it doesn’t explain is the drive, now well established, to position large supercomputer networks as close as physically possible to stock exchanges around the world.  Why?  To capture the millisecond advantage in data transmission that results from close proximity to the data feed itself.  Each millisecond can mean tens of millions of dollars in trading advantage.  According to Scott, physical proximity can yield as much as a 3 millisecond advantage.  Do the math.

    On the drive home, the half Autumn moon hung in the night sky.  The moon roof was open and stars shone down through it.  The air was mild, with just that hint of fall.  Perfect.

    *Ha’il (Arabic: حائل‎ Ḥā’il), also spelled Hail, Ha’yel, or Hayil, is an oasis city in Nejd in northwestern Saudi Arabia. It is the capital of the Ha’il Province. The city has a population of 356,876 according to Ha’il Province.

    Ha’il is largely agricultural, with significant grain, date, and fruit production. A large percentage of the kingdom’s wheat production comes from Ha’il Province, where the area to the northeast, 60 km to 100 km away, consists of irrigated gardens. Traditionally Ha’il derived its wealth from being on the camel caravan route of the Hajj. Ha’il is well known by the generosity of its people in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world as it is the place where Hatim al-Tai lived.