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Events and Life Mindsets Travel and places

Pride and self-congratulation before the Idiot Tax (we’ll laugh about this later)

Last week, while my family was in Eilat for a long weekend vacation, I made my way to a shopping complex just outside my city.

I was there to do some research for our daughter’s birthday party (check!), look for running shoes (nope!), and one or two other errands.

While I was there, I thought I’d pick up a spare SIM card, just in case (… one of our kids lost their phones).

I thought this was admirably forward thinking on my part, especially given that this was the only place I could buy this SIM card nearby (in some respects, we’re pretty backwards here in Israel), and it usually involves a nauseating 30-40 minute bus ride to get there. 🤢

As it turned out, when my family returned home, my wife informed me that they had left my daughter’s phone in Eilat.

Not to worry, I thought, we could replace her cheap Nokia feature phone (an 8 year old really doesn’t need a smartphone), and it just so happens I have a spare SIM card! 😁

I’m sure you can imagine how proud I was that I had the foresight to buy that spare SIM card!! 😊

My wife and I went off to the mall so I could get a snappy haircut. While we were there, we bought our daughter a cool, new Nokia 3310 phone.

When we returned home, I went online, and activated the new SIM card. I placed it into our daughter’s new phone, and congratulated myself once again.

Not long afterwards, our son emerged from his bedroom with his phone, and casually asked me why his SIM card had stopped working.

It didn’t take me long to realise what I had done. 😱 Pride gave way to shame, and dismay. I had switched our son’s number over to the new SIM, not our daughter’s.

Oh, and once a SIM is deactivated, you can’t reactivate it.

And I was fresh out of SIM cards! 💩

I took a quick look at my calendar, and realised that the only time I had to journey back to that store for a replacement SIM card was, well, today.

So, I tucked my pride, and sense of wonder at how well prepared I was just a few days ago, and started the journey back to the store.

I bought two SIM cards, just in case.

Thankfully I managed to activate the SIM card for the correct number, second time around. All it cost me was my Idiot Tax for not taking a couple extra seconds to check which phone number I was activating the first SIM card for, as I was basking in the warmth of my self-congratulation.

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Business and work Events and Life Travel and places

43

Another year has passed, and it’s my birthday again! 🎉 Quite a lot has changed in the last year. Last year, I looked back on 2017, and where my path had taken me.

42

I pretty much ended my retrospective with the following:

While I don’t have all the answers (not even remotely), perhaps being 42 brings a few answers to the questions that I haven’t been able to answer so far.

42

Becoming an Automattician

The highlight of this year has been joining Automattic as a Happiness Engineer. When I wrote my 42 post, I had just been informed that I’d be joining a group of applicants in January 2018 to do a Trial for four weeks. It was a pretty intense four weeks, and when I emerged with an offer to join Automattic full-time, it was an incredible feeling.

Working at Automattic has changed my life in so many ways. To begin with, I work with incredible teams (both my immediate team, and the broader Automattic team) every day. We have a remarkable diversity of perspectives, opinions, skillsets, and backgrounds. In those times when I imagined what it may be like to work at Automattic, I don’t think I ever really anticipated being exposed to such an amazing team (you can join us too, we’re hiring 😁).

Automattic at Orlando in September 2018

Beyond the team I get to work with, I work from home, and I’m able to choose my availability for the most part. This means I can structure my days around my family, while taking into account where I can contribute more to our overall effort to provide high quality support to our customers, 24/7.

Join Automattic, see the world

Another benefit of working for Automattic is more frequent travel for our team meetup, and our annual Grand Meetup. This year our team met up in Rome for a week of workshops, sightseeing, and generally getting to know each other better. It was the first time I had met my team in person, and my first time in Rome. I enjoyed the trip tremendously.

Posing outside the Colosseum

In September, I joined several hundred other Automatticians in Orlando, Florida, for our Grand Meetup. It was an opportunity to meet even more of my colleagues, listen to inspiring speakers, and experience more of our company culture.

One of the many highlights of this trip included meeting Matt Mullenweg, our CEO. Another highlights was our evening at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Actually, there were so many highlights from that week, I’d probably need a longer list to do justice to the trip.

Automattic at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

An addition to our family

We also expanded our family earlier this year. Gina and the kids had been asking me about adopting a dog for a while. I’d postponed the discussion for various reasons including the fact that we both worked at offices (at the time), and a dog would be alone for too long.

That reason pretty much went away when I started working at Automattic, so Gina found us our new furry child. Her name is Nessi, and she’s a rescue who was found with her litter near their dead mother when they were just a few weeks old.

Nessi

It took a while for her to adjust to us in the beginning. She soon became Aaron’s best friend, and she adores Gina and the kids. Her rough start has left her with some pretty deep anxiety issues, and she’s scared of just about everyone outside our family.

It can be challenging at times because her response to a perceived threat is to become aggressive. We’re working on training for her, to help us better understand her, and how to reach her better. When her fear doesn’t overcome her, she’s cheeky, smart, and really playful.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

With everything that’s happened in the last year, I feel like I’m only just getting started with, well, almost everything.

My role as a Happiness Engineer has expanded beyond our core email and live chat support to one to one video support, buddying for new hires who do a support rotation when they start working at Automattic, and even buddying new Trials hoping to join us as full-time Happiness Engineers.

We don’t have a conventional hierarchy at Automattic, so you can pretty much choose your career path. It turns out I have a talent for training, as well as being a support professional. The work is varied, I’m always learning new things, and I have constant opportunities to apply skills acquired in my past careers to my work.

I love that I get to spend more time with our kids. I see them off to school in the mornings, I’m home when they return from school at lunchtime, and I’m around to help them out with homework in the afternoons (well, I’m still working on this part – it’s really easy to become consumed by my work).

Interestingly, even though we could literally work almost anywhere (we just need a relatively quiet workspace and a good Internet connection), I much prefer working from home. The thought of working at a coffee shop has a sort of romantic appeal, but I like being in my space. 🏡

As 2018 winds down, I’m looking forward to growing more at Automattic, becoming better at differentiating between work and my family time so I can spend more quality time with my family, and continuing with my efforts to learn to code that I started in earnest last year.

My focus has been on learning Python 3 the last few months. I really like the language, and I’m trying to build some consistent learning time into my regular schedule.

Next year is bound to bring more challenges, experiences, and rewards. I’m looking forward to it!

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Mindsets Social Web

Thoughts about being off Facebook

I just read Cheri Baker’s post titled “Eight months without Facebook” that touches on my unformed thoughts about being on Facebook.

When I spent a lot of time on sites like FB and Insta, I developed the habit of stereotyping people based on what they shared. I’d unconsciously tell myself that so-and-so is all about being a parent, and my other friend is super career-minded, and yet another friend is a world traveler. Our digital projections can become so strong that we don’t really see our friends (in all their complexity) any longer. And when that happens, it seems difficult to get beneath the surface.

I believe relationships take time. Conversations. Support. An investment in one another. And in that regard, getting off Facebook acted as a sorting mechanism. I found the answer to: Who will make time to hang out? For me that’s a small group, but a treasured one. And sure, it can feel lonely while you look for your people in the flesh-and-blood world. But it gets easier the more you invest in your relationships.

 Cheri Baker

I’m still undecided about Facebook, despite being especially enthusiastic about it in the past. There’s still more value having a Facebook profile than not, at least for me. My family and friends use it fairly heavily, so removing myself from Facebook tends to amount to me removing myself from those circles, to varying degrees.

As Cheri pointed out, stepping away from Facebook only really works if you put in the effort to remain connected to your friends and family. I’ve fallen short here. I tend to become pretty caught up in my day-to-day life with my wife, and our kids, and I forget to reach out to the rest of my family and friends.

If anything, Facebook probably masked my tendency to withdraw by default. The odd thing is that I don’t really consider myself an introvert. Perhaps that is something for me to focus on going forward – reconnecting, and rebuilding relationships that were artificially supported by Facebook.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Thought Catalog
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Events and Life

Pesach 2018

This Pesach is our third in Israel. We hosted the seder and had friends over. It was a good evening, and amazing food that Gina prepared. We also have leftovers that will keep us going for most of the rest of Pesach!

Here are a couple more scenes from our evening:

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Events and Life

Married For 12 Years

Today Gina and I have been married for 12 years. I’ve had the opportunity to wake up next to her almost every morning in those years (well, and a year or two before that too 😁).  I’ve loved my wife since our second date. I’ve driven her crazy in all that time. We’ve raised two amazing kids over the years, and I have her to thank for that.

I hope I have many more opportunities to pay tribute to my long-suffering, immensely patient, and beautiful partner. She and the kids are the loves of my life, and I am a better person with them in my life.

Our last two anniversaries:

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Events and Life Mindsets

Being a parent gives you superpowers

Parents often tell their kids they have superpowers of some sort. My favourite myth (which may actually be true) is that mothers can see through walls and whatever our kids are doing on the other side of those walls.

Fortunately kids believe this long enough to give us time to come up with something more plausible (and similarly effective) as they grow older.

Leaving aside the myths, there are times I think we really do develop some kinds of superpowers as parents.

One of my superpowers is the ability to hear a crying child over some background noise (in my case a fan in our bedroom) in the middle of the night and be on my feet and in my child’s bedroom before my conscious mind has even realised that I’m awake.

That sort of thing still amazes me after more than 9 years.

Image credit: Chris Barbalis

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Events and Life

Celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary. It really doesn’t feel like Gina and I have been married for 11 years.

Jac 105.jpg

It feels like we stood under that chuppah just a few short years ago but then I realise we have a 9 year old son and a 6 year old daughter. Then there was also the conversation I had with our kids this morning over breakfast where they pointed out that I was just 30 when we were married.

So, ok, I’ll concede it has been 11 years. Still, it doesn’t feel that long, especially when I look at my wife and how young she still seems.

I won’t go into our story and reminisce about the last decade or so in this post. I did that last year so I’ll just point you to that post if you are curious about how we met and how we grew as a family since then.

I realized that I omitted one little detail in that 10th wedding anniversary post. I knew from the start that Gina would become my wife. I knew it from around the time of our second date.

What I have been thinking about this morning is just how much Gina has taught me about being a better husband, friend and father to our children.

I can’t say I have always listened to the wisdom that she has shared over the years. At the same time, those times when I do pay attention leave me a better person for having done so.

Gina is a wonderful mother and a very patient and understanding wife. I have probably driven her completely crazy many times in our 13 years together (we met in November 2003) and she has still stuck by me and supported me through many tough times.

We are slowly building a new life here in Israel and I can’t think of anyone else I would want to do that with. We have two amazing children who are the embodiment of so many of our qualities. Just as Gina helps me become a better husband and friend to her, our children challenge us to be better parents to them.

For my part, I am really glad she said yes all those years ago and that she remains my partner in this crazy adventure.

Happy anniversary, angel. Love you tons, with much!

Categories
Events and Life Mindsets Travel and places

Becoming Israeli is the hard part

Becoming an Israeli citizen was easy. Becoming Israeli is the hard part.

I feel like I am going through a rough patch in my relationship with Israel and my Israeli friends, neighbours, colleagues and fellow inhabitants of this little strip of hotly contested land. It has been almost a year and a half since we left Ben Gurion Airport as newly minted Olim Hadashim (“fresh meat” as my former Ulpan put it, with a smile).

Finally home in Israel where we belong

When I wake up in the mornings and head out the door, I’m usually thinking about whether I’ll make the bus rather than the fact that I have woken up in our new home in Israel. It’s not to say I don’t have that thrill anymore. It’s just that it doesn’t happen as often in my typical day. The daily routine has a tendency to take over and sideline the sense of wonder that seemed like it would never subside when we first arrived.

We could communicate better

I also feel like we don’t talk much, Israel and me. More specifically, it feels like I just don’t know what to say. I literally don’t have the words and that leaves me feeling like an outsider. Sure, people still try help me (most of them anyway) but the last month or so have definitely been Very Bad Hebrew Months for me.

On top of this communication issue, routine stuff seems to take up a lot of mental and emotional bandwidth. Consider your day-to-day pressures and stresses and add a factor of partial knowledge of the language it is all expressed and handled in. It can be more than a little intimidating at times.

Thankfully, my recent staycation with my mother gave me a break from my daily routine and much needed perspective on what living in Israel means to me.

Connecting with Israeli life

On the third day of our mini-break during Chol Hamoed Pesach, we all took a trip to Jaffa and walked around the market. It was my first time there and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pretty pleasantly surprised. The market stretched across a few streets and felt so typically Israeli. In one section people sold just about anything that wasn’t biological and breathing. Some sold old cameras, coins and other antiques. Others, usually next door, sold old fax machines and other junk that probably hadn’t served a useful function for about a decade.

We had terrific Shakshuka in a little Greek restaurant across from stores selling old fashioned film lighting equipment and an eclectic collection of vinyl LPs, only some of which I recognised.

This man sitting outside his store fascinated me. I love his old lights.
This man sitting outside his store fascinated me. I love his old lights.

We decided to head for the Jaffa/Yafo port and were given directions from a shop owner in typical Israeli fashion. He dismissively told us not to bother with “this Waze” and to just walk straight ahead over a couple roads. It was the sort of direct, helpful and somewhat no-time-for-nonsense advice I have come to identify as typically Israeli: direct, somewhat arrogant but motivated by a desire to help. That short conversation was a highlight of the day for me because it seemed to epitomise what it is to be Israeli for me.

Going back to where it all began

From Yafo, we took a bus to the Palmach Museum for a tour. If you haven’t been to the Palmach Museum and you’re interested in the early years of what became the IDF, you can’t miss it.

Near the entrance to the Palmach Museum
Near the entrance to the Palmach Museum

The museum is experiential and follows the journey of a group of immigrants to Israel as they join the forerunner of what became the IDF; battle the British and, later, Arab armies to secure Israel’s independence. The exhibits are a combination of themed rooms, video footage and reimagined conversations between the group as the conflict progresses.

Unlike most Israelis who have lived here for some time, I haven’t had the experience of fighting in a conflict or losing people I care about to a war. Just the same, following the story in the museum affected me profoundly. I could never compare what I felt going through the museum to what millions of Israelis have and continue to experience but, at its essence, I felt a connection of some kind to the tragedy that unfolded before us.

Watching the group’s story progress and remembering what I have learned about the conflicts leading up to the War of Independence left me with the strong sense that this is also a part of my history even though much of it predates me and my family has no direct connection to it.

I left the museum feeling a stronger connection to Israel’s history than I ever did to South Africa’s history. Israel’s history is the latest chapter of my people’s history.

Part of our reality

Now that we are here and living here, we face the same threats that our neighbours and friends do. Israel’s enemies don’t draw distinctions between new immigrants and born Israelis. We’re all Jews, we’re all Israelis.

We watched one of the memorial services for Yom HaZikaron one night this last week and one of the speakers mentioned how military service and speaking Hebrew are integral to Israeli life.

Our children may well serve in the IDF when they are old enough. I hope it won’t be necessary for them to serve but if the history of our people is any indication; one day they will be drafted and we will add the experience of seeing our children step into the harm’s way. I don’t look forward to that at all. I don’t think any parent does. At the same time, were it not for the young men and women who have done that, and continue to do it, we wouldn’t live in the only Jewish state.

For now, our kids’ biggest challenges are improving their Hebrew, doing their homework and finding time for all their friends.

Becoming Israeli

When I think about them, Israelis feel a lot like an extended family, most of whom I don’t know and may never meet (some, I probably don’t want to meet). You have all sorts here. Many, like our friends, are hard-working, family-oriented people who continuously help us out and smile on the rare occasion I break out some Hebrew in my very Anglo accent.

I have also come across the Sabras with their tough exterior (mostly when dealing with me) and that sensitive, inner warmth (mostly when interacting with our kids). There are the Haredi who look like they have trundled out of the 18th century and who most other Israelis tend to leave pretty much to themselves. When I think about the personalities I have encountered, it’s a lot like taking your extended family of mixed nuts and expanding it into a population of millions with multi-faceted cultural and linguistic quirks to keep things interesting.

I sometimes think about how few Jews there are in the world and how much energy other groups spend trying to keep us down and push us around. It probably explains a lot of why Israelis tend to be so, well, Israeli. When you are a nation that waited thousands of years to be re-established and has had to fight every day since then not just to survive, but to thrive, you can understand why Israelis can be a little challenging at times. Becoming Israeli is also a lot to do with internalising that history at a visceral level.

Finding my Israeli identity in Hebrew

Still, becoming Israeli doesn’t come naturally for me. I enjoy how Israelis tend to be pretty frank with each other. On the other hand, my limited Hebrew remains a stumbling block for me. I understand more than I did before but not knowing pretty basic words can be extremely frustrating, depressing even. I feel like I am missing some vital “Israeliness” ingredient. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it.

There is so much to love about Israel and, like any family, it can drive you absolutely crazy more often than you may like. On the other hand, I have had so many experiences that leave me amazed that we live amongst such compassionate and engaged people.

I have so much to learn about being Israeli. A lot of that will come as my Hebrew improves (לאט לאט). As for the rest of it, becoming Israeli, maybe it comes more naturally the longer we live here and experience more of what it means to be part of this feisty nation.

Postscript: A few words from my wife

My wife recently published a related post on her blog simply titled “Home” that is worth reading too:

Home