Planning Your Career: Aim Too High or Aim Too Low?

Sunset through Freezing Fog, Coventry, 1979

Sunset through Freezing Fog, Coventry, 1979

The photo above—which could be titled “In the Bleak Midwinter”—shows the sun setting through freezing fog in University Valley, Coventry, in January 1979. The location was approximately here, although it’s now unrecognizable.

At the time, I was feeling very bleak myself, because I really wasn’t sure why I’d embarked on an Engineering Science degree course at Warwick University, with a view to becoming, of all things, a Civil Engineer. As I’ve described in a previous post, that experience didn’t go well, but, in retrospect, it actually turned out to be for the best, since a short time later I moved to a more prestigious university and obtained a better degree, in a subject that was more appropriate for my skills and interests.

It’s interesting to examine the flawed thought process that led me to make that discouraging “false start” at Warwick, and whether it would even have been possible for me to have made career decisions more wisely in those days.

What to Do with Your Life

Years ago, I heard someone say something like this (in a PBS radio item, I think):

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time worrying about what I was going to do with my life. As I grew older, I came to realize that I should be worrying more about what life was going to do to me!

That may be all too true, but it does nothing to answer the question that occupies the time of many young people (including me, at that age), about what career to choose, and, in general, what path to take in life.

When I was growing up, it was by no means clear what career I should aim for. I seemed to have no access to knowledgeable advice, and the only thing that everyone seemed to be agreed on was that I should not follow in the footsteps of my father! (My father had become a teacher.)

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

What do You Want to be when You Grow Up? Are You Joking?

It has become a cliché that most children are asked at some point what they’d like to be “when they grow up”, and I was no exception. My earliest recollections of my ideas on that topic suggest that I wanted to be a train driver. However, my mother claimed that the answer I gave to that question was that I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps, and be “retired”!

In retrospect, it is now obvious that, had I tried to answer that question seriously, and had I somehow been able to give an accurate answer, nobody would have believed me.

Suppose that, in 1977 when I had to make decisions about what to do after I left school, I had made the following statement about my future:

Well, I think I’ll aim to get a degree in Electronics from one of the world’s top universities, then that should enable me to get a job with the BBC, so I can become a video engineer. Once I’ve mastered that, I’ll move to California to work on advanced video system design. Maybe I should also invent a few new video systems and techniques, to earn me some patents in the USA and Japan.

I can just imagine the kind of response that I’d have received to such a statement! There would have been much rolling of eyes, shaking of heads, and almost certainly some laughter or derision. I’d have been accused of not treating the question seriously.

But the paragraph above describes exactly what I actually did do during the ensuing quarter-century!

To realize just how impossible those predictions would have seemed, bear in mind that, during my schooldays, I’d never used any kind of computer more complex than a digital calculator (as described in a previous post), and nobody in my family had any history of working in engineering or technology. (My father had owned an electrical installation business prior to World War II, but that was really the construction industry.)

In retrospect, it’s obvious that, although my career choice at that age was an important decision, it was really much less important than I was led to believe at the time.

It Seems Easy for Some

In contrast to my indecisiveness, my best friend at school never seemed to have any doubts about what path in life he wanted to follow. He had created his own marionette act while at primary school, which he performed around the Scarborough area, and, when we were at school together, he was always certain that his future lay in show business. I was envious of his clarity of purpose and determination to achieve it.

He went on to win ATV’s New Faces show, on national television, and dropped out of school to pursue his dream, eventually becoming one of Britain’s most successful theatrical agents and managers.

Build Your Own Dream

I had to learn the hard way just how true is the following statement.

If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.

As a young man, I would certainly have found the idea of “building my own dream” impossibly daunting, but nonetheless, time expended trying to define “my dream” would have been well-spent.

This kind of advice is sometimes taken to mean that you should start your own business, but that’s not necessarily the case. You may be able to work for someone else, and yet also gain skills that will lead you towards your dream role.

Too Narrow an Education

One major problem that negatively impacted my career decisions was the insistence on over-specialization, at too early an age, that was a feature of the British educational system. The requirement to concentrate on a limited range of subjects at school, from the age of 13, effectively closed off many careers to me.

I’ll have more to say about this problem in a future post, but I want to mention it here because it has probably had such a negative effect on the lives of many.

The Luxury of Options

I realize that people of my generation and younger can perhaps consider ourselves lucky that we even have the luxury of being able to choose our goals in life. For many people—perhaps the majority—throughout history, those options were simply not available, and their paths through life were largely restricted and predetermined at birth.

For my parents, and many of their generation, their attempts to plan their lives were repeatedly interrupted by major events beyond their control, such as two World Wars in my father’s case.

Even those who managed to avoid taking overt personal risks sometimes found themselves impacted by the misfortunes of others. My mother’s first husband died of tuberculosis (contracted in a Japanese POW camp), which then almost killed my mother (her life was saved only by the development of new “wonder drugs” at the end of the 1940s).

By comparison with my parents’ battles, my own worries and concerns have always seemed trivial, but nonetheless I did have to make important decisions about my future at a young age.

Summary: how to Choose a Career

The best advice I can give to anyone trying to make a career decision now is as follows. In offering these tips, I’m well aware that it’s much easier to give this type of advice than it is to follow it!

  • Don’t fret the details. Don’t waste time trying to predict or plan exactly what you will do. As I showed above, even if your predictions were to be 100% accurate, there’s a good chance that nobody, including you, will believe them! Some people try to plan in immense detail, and are then disappointed when things don’t work out exactly that way.
  • Build Your Own Dream, by aiming to do what you enjoy doing. I realize that this is common “pop psychology” advice. It sounds trite and is usually much easier said than done! However, it has a valid basis. One way or another, you will spend a significant portion of your life doing whatever you choose to do as a career. Choosing to do something you don’t like is therefore a terrible form of self-punishment. You only get one go at life, so you will never get back all that time that you spent being miserable.
  • Don’t worry too much about relative pay or current career prospects. These conditions tend to change with time, so the job situation when you actually enter a field is likely to have changed relative to when you made your career plans. Many jobs that existed when I was trying to make my career decisions simply no longer exist at all, and vice versa. There are also more subtle pressures. For example, I chose Electronic Engineering over Computer Science for my degree, partly because, at that time, I could obtain an apprenticeship in the former but not the latter. In retrospect, though, Computer Science would have been a better fit for my skills and interests.
  • Always aim “too high”; that is, aim for the highest level that you can achieve. For example, if you can get a Ph.D., and if it’s relevant to what you want to do, be sure to do so.
  • Don’t fear failure. Again, this is easier said than done! My parents seemed to have a fatalistic view that, if you tried something but failed at it, you were somehow marked for life as an “irrevocable failure”. In fact, many successful people have experienced some failures along the way, but still their achievements outweigh their failures. They don’t “write themselves off”, nor permanently wallow in self-pity, because of a failure.
  • Treat career advice with caution. I recall many instances when someone said to me, “If I were you, I’d…”, then proceeded to offer some well-meant advice. The problem, in all cases, was that the person offering the advice was not me, and typically had completely different skills, aptitudes and interests from me. For example, an art teacher was never going to advise me to become an engineer, and a science teacher was never going to advise me to become an artist, but what I now do involves both skillsets, so I was right to insist on developing both.
  • Reject advice from “No-Talent Naysayers”. Not all career advice is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, there are many in the world who have no particular talents, and who try to compensate for their own failings by belittling the abilities of others. Such people will invariably tell you that, whatever ambitions you have, you’re sure to fail. I grew up with the British class system, where the typical claim would be that, “People like us don’t achieve things like that”. The best response to such nonsense is not only to recognize it when you hear it, but also to feel sorry for the inadequacy of the person saying it.

Christmases of Yore

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

This rather dark and blurry photo may look like the interior of some European cathedral, but in fact it’s the foyer of the Natural History Museum in London. I took the photo during my first Christmas in London, while a student there in 1981.

On the right, you can just see the dark outline of part of the huge Diplodocus skeleton (Dippy) that was a permanent fixture in the museum’s foyer in those days. You would be unlikely to see such a thing in any church!

Unlike most students, I didn’t go home to my family during the Christmas break from university, but instead stayed in the student dorms (paying rent, of course), and worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges on Oxford Street. (During Christmas of 1982, I worked at Harrods, but I found Selfridges to be the better employer.)

I knew that, if I were to go back to my home town of Scarborough for the Christmas break, my only employment opportunity was likely to be as a waiter at one of the town’s hotels. While still at Scarborough Sixth Form College, and then after returning from my first term at Warwick University, I’d worked as a waiter at the Red Lea Hotel over Christmas, and that was not pleasant work. The pay was very low and the hours were unsociable. Not only that, but, since I didn’t own a car, I had to walk there and back, or wait in the cold for infrequent buses. Working in London, at Selfridges, was considerably pleasanter, and I was able to take the relatively cozy London Underground tube between my lodgings and my work.

Piccadilly Night Ride

At that age, I really enjoyed spending the Christmas holiday in bustling London, where it felt like it was “all happening”. In retrospect, I must admit that I just remember the place as being noisy, dirty, cold, and dangerous, but I didn’t mind all that at the time.

It really was quite dangerous. There was always the threat of an IRA bomb (which did actually happen outside Harrods in December 1983). Apart from that, simply negotiating the traffic could be hazardous, as I discovered one evening when leaving Selfridges. As I was crossing Oxford Street, the heel of one of my shoes broke, causing me to fall backwards. My head landed only about six inches from the wheel of a passing taxi.

I also took the photo below during Christmas 1981, showing traffic crawling along near Piccadilly Circus.

Traffic in Piccadilly, London, Christmas 1981

Traffic in Piccadilly, London, Christmas 1981

Looking at this photo again now, I can almost hear the noise and smell the diesel fumes!

My reflections in this article should not be mistaken for nostalgia. Although I preferred Christmas in London to Christmas in Scarborough, I don’t miss those days! The Yuletide season for me now, here in California, is much happier than it ever was in Britain.

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

Natural History Museum, London, at Christmas, 1981

Our Yuletide Cards are On the Way

 

Sonoma Winter Birds

Sonoma Winter Birds

All our Yuletide cards are on the way to their recipients, as of Wednesday.

This year’s cover design is called Sonoma Winter Birds, and features a Cedar Waxwing and an American Robin. I took inspiration for the design from something that’s a common sight in our area at this time of year. Wherever there are trees with berries, we see mixed flocks of waxwings and robins descending to feast on the fruit.

The painting was produced with ink and watercolor. For the robin’s breast, I used Japanese-made vermilion sumi ink, which provides a strong festive highlight for the image (and happens to be just about the correct shade of orange-red!).

Robins for Christmas?

In a previous post, about a year ago, I discussed the popularity of Eurasian Robins in Britain, as a seasonal icon on Christmas cards and other holiday decorations. Apparently, that tradition is limited only to Britain, and doesn’t extend to other European countries.

When I was discussing the design of this year’s card with Mary, she pointed out that, in the more northerly parts of North America, some robins migrate south for Winter, and are thus less likely to be seen in the seasonal landscape. In those areas, some people even look out for the “first robin of Spring”, although the idea that there are no robins around in Winter seems to be a myth, according to this article.

Here, in more southerly climes, our resident robins not only stick around for Winter, but the numbers may actually increase, because of birds migrating from the north. Their behavior also changes, presumably because of variations in the food supply. During the warmer months, robins forage alone, or at least not in organized flocks. It’s only in Winter that they travel together with birds of their own species and other species.

QR Code Link

This year, for the first time, I included on the card a QR code that, when scanned, takes you to a landing page in this blog (https://davidohodgson.com/yuletide-letter-2017/). We’ve always included a printed copy of our letter with the cards we send, and sometimes people ask for a PDF version of that. Now, people can just navigate to the online letter, and print a version for themselves in PDF, or any other format, if they wish.

Of course, to scan the QR code, you need a scanner app for your smartphone (or similar device with a camera). There are many such apps available free, and I’m not recommending any particular one here. However, the app I use in my Android devices is the Kaspersky Labs scanner:

https://usa.kaspersky.com/qr-scanner

A nice feature of the Kaspersky app is that it warns you if a QR code is malicious, which is always a risk, because the web address to which the code points is not human-readable.

Our New Production Plan Succeeded

Following the card production problems that arose last year, Mary and I agreed on a new “division of labor” for the various tasks. I’m pleased to say that the new arrangements seem to have worked very well, with the unplanned result that we’ve been able to send out the cards earlier than ever before.

We also avoided the atmosphere of “last-minute panic” that has sometimes accompanied the task on previous occasions!

Fire & Frost

Burned Trees at Keysight, Fountaingrove

Burned Trees at Keysight, Fountaingrove

It seems very strange to have to discuss both raging fires and frosty mornings in the same article, but that’s the way things are at the moment. Not only are we still recovering from the Wine Country fires here during October, but substantial new fires are burning right now in Southern California.

Last week, I was asked to go back the Fountaingrove site of my employer, Keysight, for the first time since the premises were closed due to the Tubbs Fire. The photo above shows how trees burned right up to the south side of Keysight’s Building 4, although the building itself was saved.

Nonetheless, all four main buildings suffered internal smoke damage, due to particles sucked in by the ventilation system from the fires outside. Therefore, we went into our former work site last week, with instructions to sort through everything and triage it as: personal items for removal, company-owned items for cleaning, or trash. Everything that will stay on the site must be cleaned before it can be reused, so eventually we will probably have one of the cleanest workplaces in the county!

The only buildings at Keysight that were completely destroyed by the fire were the two relatively small “Vista” buildings, the remains of which are shown below. Those were always relatively insubstantial structures.

Remains of the Vista Buildings at Keysight

Remains of the Vista Buildings at Keysight

Complete Destruction… Almost

Next to the Parker Hill Road entrance to Keysight is a residential area known as Hidden Valley Estates. As shown below, the fire destroyed almost everything in the northern part of Hidden Valley; the entire neighborhood has been wiped out. This Google Streetview shows the same location before the fire.

Devastation in Hidden Valley

Devastation in Hidden Valley

There was also a satellite school next to the Keysight entrance on Parker Hill Road, but that burned down.

I say almost everything was destroyed, because, as shown in my photo below, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Hall on Parker Hill Road seems to have escaped completely unscathed.

Jehovah's Witness Hall in Hidden Valley

Jehovah’s Witness Hall in Hidden Valley

It will be interesting to learn why that particular building survived while everything around it succumbed. Did it have a fireproof roof, or did its isolation in a car park help to protect it?

First Frost of the Season

Moving on to a happier subject, I awoke this morning to the first frost of this Winter season, as shown in my photo of Village Green Park below. As you can see, nearly all the leaves have fallen now, but the church at the far corner of the park has just acquired a new spire, which is actually a covering for a cellphone antenna!

Village Green Park with Frost

Village Green Park with Frost

My photo below shows the antenna cover being mounted on the church, in the rain about a month ago.

Mounting the Cellphone Antenna on the Church

Mounting the Cellphone Antenna on the Church

Our thoughts go out to those in Southern California who are now having to endure what many in our area went through in October. We hope that the new fires will be brought under control very quickly.

Yuletide “Backup” Artwork for 2017

 

Waxwings & Berries

Waxwings & Berries

The picture above is not the artwork for our 2017 Yuletide card, although our cards just arrived back from the printer yesterday, and I’ll be sharing the actual artwork for that as soon as we send out the cards (which I hope will be during this week).

When I began working on a painting for this year’s card, I was painfully aware that the possibilities for messing it up were rife. (In fact, that’s one major advantage of creating artwork digitally instead of via conventional methods; with digital artwork you can always hit Undo!) When working on a conventional painting, it only takes one slip of the brush, or perhaps one drop of spilled coffee, and the whole project is ruined.

Therefore, I decided to create a simpler piece of “backup artwork”, which I could use for the card if some disaster befell the main painting. Thus I created the vaguely “Charley Harper” style design shown above, using Corel Draw.

Fortunately, I didn’t mess up the main watercolor artwork, so I didn’t need to substitute this design. Nonetheless, I realized that I could easily adapt it for use as a decoration for our return address labels, so that’s what I did.

I mentioned on another page that I had decided to stop producing “Asian New Year” designs for the return address labels of our cards, because the time taken to do that detracted from the creation of the card itself. Thus, things worked out well for me this year!

Thanksgiving in Sonoma

Sonoma Plaza at Sunset, Thanksgiving 2017

Sonoma Plaza at Sunset, Thanksgiving 2017

Following up from the previous post, we did indeed have Thanksgiving dinner at the El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma Plaza. As the photo above shows, there was a beautiful sunset, which was a little surprising, since it had been overcast earlier in the day, with a few drops of rain.

As shown below, El Dorado Hotel is largely back to normal following last month’s disastrous fires, and has a large banner outside thanking the first responders to the disaster (as do many other buildings).

El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, Sonoma

El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, Sonoma

Our meal at the hotel did not disappoint. Everything was delicious, and the portions were so generous that Mary and I both came away with “doggie bags”, which will provide further meals today. (In fact, they should have been called “kittie bags”, because our cats were treated to some leftover turkey when we got back home!)

The holiday lights in the Plaza had been formally switched on the previous weekend, and, as usual, most of the trees are lit, including the large palm tree at the South end of the square.

Palm Tree at Sunset, in Sonoma Plaza

Palm Tree at Sunset, in Sonoma Plaza

Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

The photo above, which I took yesterday afternoon, shows autumn-shaded vines by the side of Occidental Road.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, so we wish everyone a happy holiday. If you’re not in the US, then this probably isn’t a holiday for you, but enjoy your day anyway! (When I lived in the UK, nobody even thought about Thanksgiving. However, since I left 30 years ago, it seems that my birth country has adopted some commercial aspects of the US holiday, such as Black Friday.)

As we did last year, Mary and I plan to have our Thanksgiving dinner in Sonoma. We’re looking forward to it, in anticipation that it will be just as excellent as last year’s feast!

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Although I won’t be working for the remainder of the week, I do expect to be busy… working on this year’s Yuletide card design.

The weather here today is clear, dry and pleasant, but apparently Southern California is expecting temperatures in the nineties! Whatever the weather is like where you are, enjoy your holiday!

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

While driving home yesterday afternoon, I noticed what I at first thought was a rainbow in the Western sky, and took the photo above.

However, it couldn’t be a rainbow, because it wasn’t opposite the sun, as shown in the second photo below, where I’d changed position slightly so that the building did not block the sun. When I finally discovered what it was, it gave me a title for this post that sounds like it would make a good name for a Spaghetti Western!

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

It was in fact a Sun Dog, an atmospheric phenomenon that I hadn’t previously noticed here. The scientific name is parhelion, which doesn’t explain a lot since it’s just from the Greek for “beside the sun”.

The location of the photos is just off North Wright Road in Santa Rosa, near a place that used to be called Leddy Junction (before 1947). This was where the North Western Pacific Railroad’s tracks were diverted during the 1930s to connect to what had been the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad’s line. That allowed the trackbed of the duplicate NWP line to be sold to the state, for the construction of what’s now Highway 12.

In my photos, you can just see a pair of rails glinting in the sun. Those are the remains of a spur that once connected to the “main line”, which passed through where the row of bollards now are, on the left in the photos.

This is the current Google Streetview of this location. (I managed to avoid including any portable toilets in my photos!)

Autumn Leaves in the Park

The view below was from our bedroom window, one misty morning during last week. The trees surrounding Village Green Park are now displaying their full autumnal shades, and in fact the leaves have begun to fall.

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

That may have been my last chance to photograph autumn leaves this year, but we do have the Thanksgiving holiday this coming week, so maybe I’ll stumble across some more somewhere.

California Movin’: Thirty Years Ago

Golden Gate Bridge from Treasure Island

Golden Gate Bridge from Treasure Island

I arrived at San Francisco Airport for the second time exactly thirty years ago today, on Monday, 16th November, 1987, but on that occasion I did not have a return air travel ticket, and I was planning to make a home in California, for a while, at least.

This is the third in the series that covers the events of that time, when, while living and working in Southern England, I was offered a job in California, decided to accept it, and moved here on what turned out to be a permanent basis. The first post in the series was It was Thirty Years Ago Today, and the second was California Confusin’.

Living in Foster City

When I arrived, my employer had obtained temporary accommodation for me at the Residence Inn in San Mateo, which was very pleasant, but too expensive to be a permanent home. My boss recommended that, for long-term accommodation, I should look in nearby Foster City, which is a modern waterfront community with many apartment complexes.

I did look there, and eventually signed up for a one-bedroom apartment in Beach Cove Apartments, a large complex on Catamaran Street. Although these units were generally regarded as barely adequate by locals, by comparison with my accommodations in Britain they seemed palatial and well-equipped. For the first time ever, I had my own phone line, and—wow!—an automatic dishwasher!

The photo below shows part of my apartment in Foster City. The only item visible in the picture that I brought with me from the UK is the hi-fi system, which I’d bought in London while a student there. Everything else was bought or rented in California. Just visible, on the right, is my new answering machine, which was to cause a completely unexpected change in the direction of my life, as described below.

My Apartment in Foster City, 1988

My Apartment in Foster City, 1988

Driving

California officially only permits visitors to drive on an out-of-state license (so spelled!) for 10 days. After that, you’re required to apply for a California license. Thus, I began the process of applying, which required both a written and practical test. Although my prior experience of driving in Britain actually worked against me (because it made me seem too confident for the California examiner), I did eventually pass both, and had my first California license by December 1987.

What Credit History?

One significant problem that my employer had failed to warn me about was that, despite having a job and a Social Security number, I would be completely unable to obtain credit in the US on arrival. In Britain, I had already bought several cars on credit, had two credit cards, and had credit accounts with several stores, and I was oblivious to the fact that my UK credit rating would be totally meaningless in the US. My credit history outside the US simply didn’t appear on the records, so it effectively didn’t exist.

Buying a car turned out to be a significant problem, because of my lack of accessible credit history. Eventually, I was somehow able to persuade one dealer to grant me credit via General Motors Acceptance Corporation (probably only because it was a secured loan).

Once I had obtained the car loan, and began making payments, I was able to begin building a US credit history. Nonetheless, for the first year or so, I had to depend entirely on my British credit cards, sending my payments to the UK in US dollars. It seemed “so unfair”, but in fact the time passed quickly. After only 18 months, I’d built up sufficient credit history that I was able to buy a brand-new Ford Mustang, as shown below.

My 1989 Ford Mustang, in Monterey

My 1989 Ford Mustang, in Monterey

Northern California, Where the Girls are Warm…

When deciding whether to move to California, the idea of finding romance there was definitely the last thing on my mind! As I mentioned in the previous article, I did not even have a girlfriend in Britain, and had essentially given up on dating during my undergraduate years.

I must have heard the Steve Miller Band’s song Rock’n Me on the radio in Britain many times since its release in 1976, but I had always completely ignored its lyrics! Part of the lyrics say:

I went from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma

Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.

Northern California where the girls are warm

So I could be with my sweet baby, yeah

I had emigrated to California strictly for professional reasons, to get a better job. Nonetheless, something completely unexpected happened after I moved to California, which eventually led me to begin dating again. Strangely enough, it happened because I bought an answering machine!

In my British accommodations, I had never had my own phone line, and of course there were no cellphones in those days. When I rented the apartment in Foster City, it came with a dedicated phone line. Given the 8-hour time difference between California and the UK, I was concerned that people from Britain would try to call me in the middle of the night. I decided to invest in an answering machine, so that at least they could leave me a message.

After I had installed the answering machine and recorded my greeting on it, something odd began to happen. I came home from work several times to find messages from anonymous women, explaining that they had just called to hear my “cute accent”! That was something that, for obvious reasons, had never been regarded as in any way special in Britain, but now it made me begin to think that perhaps there was something about me that might be deemed “attractive”!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d obtained seriously distorted preconceptions about California from American media. As such, I assumed that California women would be impressed only by bronzed “surfer dudes”, and would have no interest in pasty-faced Brits such as me!

My Sweet Baby: Mary!

My Sweet Baby: Mary!

I Won’t be Home for Christmas

Ever since I moved away from my parents’ home in Scarborough, it seemed to have been assumed by everyone (including me) that I would return there to spend each Christmas with the family (or what was left of it). While I was a student, those visits were very short, because I was working in Selfridges or other London stores over the Christmas period, so I had to get to Yorkshire and back during the brief period that the stores were actually closed.

My feelings about those visits were very ambivalent. On the one hand, there was little point in staying in London or Andover when my few friends there were also absent (visiting their families). That would have made for a very lonely holiday. On the other hand, I had no friends or activities left in Scarborough, so spending the time there was also quite lonely.

Of course, it would have been very unrealistic to expect my family to leave Scarborough to visit me at Christmas, because I was living in small bedsits or houseshares, which could not accommodate guests. Nonetheless, by 1987, I was becoming anxious to find a solution to the problem, whereby I could find a reason to stay in my own part of the world during the holiday period.

Union Square, San Francisco, At Christmas

Union Square, San Francisco, at Christmas

Moving to California solved this problem once and for all. It simply was no longer practical for me to return to Scarborough at Christmas, so I had to spend it in California. Although that was a little lonely for my first Christmas there, my employer was accustomed to hiring engineers from Britain, and so went out of their way to ensure that we were to some extent included in the seasonal activities of other families.

Working Three-Day Weeks?

I’d also given no thought to the fact that the week after I arrived in California was Thanksgiving, which of course is not celebrated in Britain. As such, my employer treated us to Thanksgiving Lunch at work, then we had two days of the week off.

During the lunch, my employer’s CEO leaned over and mentioned to me:

We don’t do this every week, you know…

A Good Start

As I began to settle in to my new apartment and new job, I felt that I had made a good choice, and I saw little evidence of the problems and disappointments that some had predicted.

In every aspect, my new life was no worse than my previous existence in Britain, and, in many ways, it was much better.

Autumn Leaves & Woodpeckers

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

I took the photo above yesterday afternoon, showing a spectacular display of autumnal leaves by the side of Arnold Drive, in Eldridge, CA, in the Sonoma Valley.

I mentioned in a previous post that the “Turning of the Leaves” tends to occur later in California than in Britain, because of the warmer climate. In fact, many native California trees (such as Live Oaks) are not deciduous at all, and do not shed their leaves. Thus most of our seasonal displays are due to imported species, including, of course, grapevines.

Yesterday, I visited Sonoma for the reopening of the Depot Park Museum, which had been delayed for a few weeks due to the recent wildfires. On the way home, due to heavy traffic on Highway 12, I took Arnold Drive instead, and spotted autumn leaves at many points along the route. Here’s another view of the leaves in Eldridge:

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

Incidentally, just in case anyone is wondering, Arnold Drive is not named after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but after General “Hap” Arnold, who lived in a ranch near Sonoma for many years.

I also stopped briefly at General Vallejo’s Home in Sonoma, which is now a California State Park. The idyllic location is surrounded by trees that are populated by noisy Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus). It seems that some of these woodpeckers have taken to using the wooden eaves of the Swiss Chalet barn at the site to store their nuts, as shown in the closeup below.

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

I was even able to get some video of the woodpecker in action, although the deficiencies of the camera video system are painfully obvious at maximum zoom!

 

Naturally, the wildfires had a serious negative impact on the tourism industry in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. However, as these photos show, most of the region is undamaged, and local businesses are eager to encourage visitors to return.