Thursday, December 31, 2009

Couple of videos from last week's snowstorm

Luca helps daddy shovel the walk:




And this is how Italians "shovel" their driveways:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to all...

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10~11

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I hate snow.

We don't get much snow here but when we do it really sucks. As opposed to back home, where it snows a lot and often, a "snowstorm" here constitutes anything close to 6 inches. And the good thing is that it's usually gone within a week or less. When it does snow here though, things become very difficult. The Italians are terrible about plowing and clearing the roads. In fact, most European countries don't use salt, they use sand instead so the snow stays on the roads and gets packed in, making it worse. Not only that, but mixing snow and slippery roads with Italian drivers - who are terribly reckless even in the best of conditions - is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. Many of them drive in snow like it's not there which leads to many stupid accidents as well as cars sliding off the road and getting stuck or even overturned.

So anyway, we had our first snowstorm this past Saturday. It was good timing since I didn't have to drive anywhere. I actually enjoyed grabbing the shovel and clearing the driveway, so much so that I ended up shoveling three others as well, just to be a good Samaritan.

It snowed again yesterday, all day and we got quite a bit of snow. But this time it really sucked because it's a work day. Now, usually when we get a lot of snow, they end up closing the base so I was hoping they would do that because I am trying to avoid driving in the snow as much as possible. It's not that I don't know how, in fact quite the opposite is true; I grew up in New Hampshire so I'm no stranger to driving in the snow. You may remember that I recently purchased an AWD Volvo XC90. It will be arriving here around January 11th which is obviously horrible timing with all the snow the past few days. When it arrives, I'll be selling my Passat to a guy at work which Im using as my entire downpayment and a hefty one at that. I'm desperately trying to keep the car in perfect condition for the next few weeks until my Volvo comes in. And as you can imagine, I'm petrified that some reckless idiot will cause an accident. That would be very bad. Accordingly, I was praying that they'd close the base this morning so I wouldn't have to drive. But it was not to be. Instead, they issued a late work call - for 0900. This actually made things worse for me as I usually start work between 0700-0730 and if I waited another hour or two, the traffic would be a complete nightmare since the roads still aren't completely clear. So I decided to go in at my normal time when there aren't many cars on the road. We got so much snow yesterday and last night that the driveway and car were snowed in so I awoke at 0400 this morning, had my coffee, checked sports scores, email and Facebook as I always do, then went out and shoveled the driveway. My back is sore from all the shoveling the past few days so the hot shower felt great.

So I drove to work extremely cautiously this morning and still almost got in an accident because some moron was tailgating me since I was driving slower than usual and the roads are still slippery. Fortunately I got to the base without incident but there was more to come. The office that I work in is at the top of a small mountain. As you can guess, the roads were not cleared a single bit and there was no way the Passat was going to make it all the way so I had to park at the bottom and walk all the way up, in 7 inches of snow. Even better, it was sleeting when I started and it soon turned to rain. Thankfully I was smart enough to take my umbrella. I shudder to think about what else this day has in store for me.

BTW, here is the funny postscript to the story; When I pulled through the gate, I asked the Italian guard if he thought my car would make it up the mountain. He looked at my car and replied "Earlier, someone with an all wheel drive Volvo came in and made it...but I don't think you can do it in your car."

*Sigh*

Talk about pouring salt sand in my wound...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas in Italy: Befana the Witch


In Italy they have Santa Claus - his name is Babo Natale - but, unlike most of the rest of the world, he is not the one who brings gifts to the children on Christmas. In Italy, children receive their gifts on the day of the Epiphany which is the day that the 3 Wise Men visited Jesus in the manger, celebrated on January 6th (although many Italians do the normal gifts-on-Christmas day thing). And the person who brings the gifts to the Italian children is a Witch named La Befana. Rather than try to describe La Befana in my own words, here's a description I pulled off some random website:

The Befana is a Christmas witch that comes 12 days after Christmas on January 6. January 6 is Epiphany and is a celebration of the visit by the three wise men to the baby Jesus. La Befana is derived from Epifania, the Italian for Epiphany.

In the distant past the people of Italy thought La Befana was evil. They rang clay bells and made noise to keep her away. Now she is viewed as a gentle spirit that will give gifts to the children of Italy.

According to the Italian legend, La Befana lived on the road the three wise men took on their journey to visit the baby Jesus. The three wise men on camels loaded down with gifts, approached La Befana’s house as she was busy working. They stopped to ask directions to Bethlehem and to ask if she could provide them with food and shelter for the night to see if she might join them on their journey. La Befana was too busy to talk to the wise men. Later she changed her mind and decided she should have gone with the wise men.

La Befana gathered up some gifts and set off in search of the Christ Child. Like the three wise men she followed the bright star shining in the sky. She was not able to find the stable where the Christ Child lay.

Befana did not give up and to this day is still looking in every home for the Christ Child. She flies on her broom to each house that is home to a child. La Befana leaves gifts in every house she visits in case one of them happens to be the Christ Child. If a child is particularly naughty she is said to leave a lump of coal in their house.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some pics from the X Man's birthday

Yesterday was the X Man's 6th birthday. Since it was on a Monday, we celebrated it on Sunday as nobody works on that day. His friend Daniele's birthday is a couple days earlier (he's a year younger) so we ended up celebrating both at the same time. The wife made a cake and put both names on it along with both ages - 6 for the X Man and 5 for Daniele. (Please spare me the "Is the X Man 65 years old?!" jokes, I've heard them all already...)











Monday, December 14, 2009

Luca and the X Man in Venice

For those who haven't seen them yet...




Friday, December 11, 2009

Brian Kelly is the new Notre Dame coach.


It's time to wake the echoes my friend. Notre Dame have themselves a new coach and he seems to be the perfect fit: he's an Irish Catholic lad from Boston (Chelsea) who went to Assumption College (we used to play them in college). He's won at every level and every school that he's coached at.

Welcome to Notre Dame Nation Brian...we're looking forward to our return to glory!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

So this is Christmas.


Christmas, as the song says, is the most wonderful time of the year. Seems like every year I get caught up in the Christmas spirit; usually all it takes is hearing a Christmas song or two. I revel in seeing the tree in our living room, all lit up. But for some reason I just haven't been feeling it this year. We're already into the second week of December now and normally by this time I'm singing "Deck the Halls" in my sleep. We put our tree up this past weekend and then watched "Emmitt Otter's Jugband Christmas". Emmitt Otter has been a Christmas fixture in the Thibodeau household since I was a kid and nothing puts me in the spirit more than watching Emmitt, Ma, Wendell, Doc Bullfrog and the hijinx of the Riverbottom Nightmare Gang every December. But it just didn't do it this year for the first time ever. I guess I've just got too much non-Christmas stuff going on this year, my mind is elsewhere and I'm feeling more stressed than usual. You might even say I'm feeling like a cotton headed ninny-muggins...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

More College Tales - The Rebound.

So anyway, my freshman year was over and I was in rough shape academically. Not only was my GPA sitting at a paltry 2.00, but because of the Renaissance Art fiasco I had accumulated a mere 9 credits. I started wondering if maybe I wasn't college material after all and I probably would have thought long and hard about dropping out were it not for one thing: basic training.

As you probably already know, I had enlisted in the Army Reserves about a month before school started. I did this mostly for the college money as my father had informed me that there was no way he was going to just pay my whole way through college and I figured there was no other way. I enlisted under the "split option" program which means you do your basic training (aka boot camp) and your job school in the summers between school years. That meant that as soon as I finished my first year of college, I had about two weeks off, then headed down to lovely Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training.

Basic training would have been a tremndous shock under any circumstances but after spending a year in college getting drunk every weekend and sleeping in most mornings when I didn't have class, well...let's just say it was quite a wake up call. While my classmates headed off to summer vacations or internships, I spent two months getting screamed at, being woken up at 0330 every morning, shining boots, doing push ups in the rain, running 5 miles, learning how to shoot various weapons and basically just trying to get through one day at a time. When you look back at it, it never seems that bad but when you're right in the middle of it things looked a whole lot worse. Everything changed for me about 2 or 3 weeks in. My squad had guard duty and I had drawn the 0200-0300 shift. When you're on guard duty you don't have much to do so most people, including myself, spend the hour writing letters to people back home. So that night I was sitting there trying to describe to people back home how much of a nightmare basic training was when it suddenly occured to me that the whole reason why I was putting myself through that was so that I could afford to get through college. And then I started thinking about my disastrous freshman year and I guess I must have realized the folly of putting myself through such hell if I wasn't going to be serious about school. Things changed for me that night. I finished basic training and went back to college with a renewed sense of purpose. I still had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated but I figured that would work itself out, I just needed to get my grades up.

And I did. In fact, in my last three years at Franklin Pierce College I made the Dean's List every semester except one when I missed it by about a tenth of a percentage point. It's always stood as one of my proudest achievements (and I don't have many...).

Unfortunately my disastrous freshman year has always haunted me. For one thing it brought my overall GPA when I graduated down to a 2.8 which is nothing to be proud of, despite my subsequent good grades. Not only that but I was never able to make up the lost credits and ended up finishing 6 credits short of my degree which almost prevented me from graduating. Since I was 6 credits short, I had to go before a review board comprised of professors and faculty members and make a case for why I should be able to graduate with my class. I explained how I turned around my failings from freshman year and how I had completed every class needed for my degree and that the 6 credits were just electives which could easily be knocked out in a semester or two and they agreed to let me "walk". This means I would get to graduate with my classmates but instead of a degree, I would recieve a blank piece of paper. I would recieve the actual degree as soon as I finished those 2 or 3 classes. In the years that followed, I never had a problem getting hired for jobs that I'd applied for so I never bothered to finish those last couple classes. In the end, I didn't actually have to. Colleges can opt to award credits to students for military service as long it somewhat correlates to your degree. In 2003 I submitted a military "transcript" of all the training and schools I had completed with the military and asked them them to review to see if I could get a couple credits out of it. To my astonishment, they replied that what I had accomplished would easily cover my remaining handful of credits and so, a whole ten years after I graduated the first time, I finally received my degree.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More college tales...

So when we last left our hero, he mentioned that he finished his first semester on academic probation. Let's pick it up there...

The root of my freshman year problems actually started my senior year of high school. I'd been accepted to FPC and it came time to pick my class schedule for freshman year but being a high school student, I knew absolutely nothing about how to do it so I went to see my guidance counselor. Your high school guidance counselor is supposed to be the expert on such things but I was unlucky to have a terrible guidance counselor. How terrible was he? Let's put it this way - when he "helped" me with my SAT application, I somehow ended up being scheduled to take the test in Kents Hill, Maine, a town on the Canadian border about 6 or 7 hours away, instead of in Nashua with all my classmates.

Anyway, I took my course manual to him and asked for help. He perused the manual and read the requirements and said "It says here that you will have to take an art class and a music class as part of your core requirements so let's get them out of the way your first semester." I agreed, he told me which classes to enroll in and I did so. When he finished with his recommendations, I looked at my form and noticed there were only 4 classes instead of 5. To graduate with a degree, you'd need 120 credits and the average class was 3 credits so 5 classes per semester is the average (and recommended) course load. I asked him about this and he replied "You don't want to get overwhelmed your first semester of freshman year so it's best to take 4 classes instead of 5 and then you just make up the other 3 credits sometime in your next 3 and a half years, it's easy". Sounded good to me. So my first semester my classes were:

Art, Drama, Music
Renaissance Art
Science for the Citizen
English 101

Normally this might not have been a problem. However a couple weeks into my classes I discovered that the "Renaissance Art" course that my idiot guidance counselor had me enroll in was a freaking honors level art class for Art History majors. I don't know how in the world I was ever allowed to enroll in it in the first place - just about everyone in the class were juniors or seniors who were majoring in Art History and were all advanced. The only way the class would have made less sense to me was if it wer etaught in a foreign language (which a lot of it was actually). So I tried to switch out into a different class but by that time everything else was full and no other professors would accept new students. The only option I had was to drop the class but - and here's where it gets comical - I could not do so because I was only enrolled in 4 classes instead of the normal 5 and to be considered a full time student, you had to carry at least 4. I was stuck. I tried to grit it out but I was in so far over my head I had no chance. I completely bombed the class, finishing with a big, fat 'F'. I did ok in my other classes but the F in Renaissance Art brought my GPA down to 1.75. Anything below a 2.0 puts you on academic probation so there I was, a very inauspicious start to my college career.

Things didn't get any better over the semester break either. As I mentioned earlier, I thought I was interested in a career in radio. We had a campus radio station and I had a show that semester that I enjoyed. It was mostly just talking about sports but it was a nice break from classes. So during Christmas break I called up our local radio station, B106 and excitedly told the DJ that I was a college student and I was planning a career in radio and asked what advice or info he could give me. He told me "Well, I'm not going to lie to you. You're going to spend the first several years of your career bouncing around small towns in the middle of nowhere working the overnight shift for very little money. If you're lucky you might slip into an afternoon drive slot but that won't happen until you've got years of experience under your belt and even then you won't make much money". I hung up and suddenly realized that a career in radio was not for me. Mass Communications was the only thing I was remotely interested in majoring in so that was quite a kick in the nuts.

I sleepwalked through my classes second semester with no idea where I was headed and finished with a 2.25 GPA which was not good but combined with my first semester to put me exactly at a 2.0. I was off academic probation but just barely.

Next time I'll write about how I rebounded...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Franklin Pierce College University


I've been getting notices from my alma mater lately asking me to update all my information for the alumni association as they're trying to update all their records or something. It's been kind of reminding me a of my college days so I thought I'd write a bit about em.

My senior year of high school I applied to a total of 6 colleges; University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State, Castleton State, Franklin Pierce, Southern Vermont and, I think Keene State. The only one I really wanted to go to was UNH of course as almost all my friends were going there. So naturally, UNH was the only school of the 6 that I didn't get accepted to. I had toured Franklin Pierce College and liked their Mass Communication department so I decided on them as my second choice with my mind on a possible career in radio. FPC, at the time, was a small, private, liberal arts college tucked away in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire in a little town called Rindge, right on the Massachussets border. There is literally nothing there except the college but it sits on a lake with beautiful Mount Monadnock in the background overlooking the campus and it's such a gorgeous picture that many people choose it simply because of the view. Of course those same people spend most of their 4 years complaining that there's nothing to do. When I was there, the enrollment was somewhere around 1,300 students so it was very small and they were so big on the small town, family atmosphere that fraternities and sororities were not allowed. A year or two ago, Franklin Pierce College changed their name to Franklin Pierce University for reasons I've yet to fully comprehend.

Looking back, I would have loved to have gone to college far away from home, maybe even on the other side of the country...but I had enlisted in the Army Reserve to help pay for school and I'd have to drive back home for drills once a month so I opted to stay closer to home mostly for that reason. Of course it was my first time being on my own so even though I was only two hours away, it felt like a lot more.

I remember my first day pretty vividly. I had on my favorite pair of acid wash jeans with the legs pegged at the bottom - hey, it was 1989! - and a yellow shirt. My dorm room was tiny, barely enough room for me and my roomate. My roomate was from Connecticut, his name was Paul Keegan but everybody called him "Kegger". He was really tall, a basketball player, and we got along really well. He was pretty laid back, had a girlfriend back home, seldom studied and ended up dropping out due to terrible grades after the first semester. I myself finished my first semester on academic probation. But that's a story for the next post...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back from the doctor - no mumps...YAY!

Doctor ruled out the mumps right away, saying the swelling is not in the area that mumps typically affect. After a full exam, she determined that it's just a virus that is making his lymph nodes on one side swell up considerably. Both he and Luca also got a PPD (TB) shot just to be safe. I thought it was strange that he might have the mumps as he's already received the MMR vaccination. Thank God I was right...

The X Man might have the mumps.

We're taking him to the doctor in about an hour to find out for sure but it certainly looks like the mumps. One side of his neck, underneath his ear is all swollen up and is painful. He's already had the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination when he was younger, he's not running a fever and doesn't feel sick but I can't imagine what else it could be.

I'll post an update upon returning from the doctor.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Commute.

You may recall that a few months back I made a post saying that, although I am happy to be back in Italy, all is not roses and sunshine. I believe the phrase I used was "Be careful what you wish for". I spent my entire two and a half years in Heidelberg trying like hell to get back here to Vicenza somehow, some way. People misunderstood that and took it as me not liking Heidelberg and Germany in general but nothing could have been further from the truth. We LOVED our life in Heidelberg. We loved everything about it except one thing - it wasn't Italy. But I often said, if I never got back to Italy, I would be very happy staying in Heidelberg.

When I got my old job back here I knew instantly that there were many things I would miss about Heidelberg. I have since come to realize that the thing I perhaps miss the most is the commute - or lack thereof - that I had. The base I worked at up there was within walking distance. A long walk to be sure, but walkable nonetheless. But driving there and back each day never took more than 10 minutes and in the morning with little to no traffic, it was not uncommon for me to reach the base in about 5 minutes.

Coming back to Italy, we were adamant that we wanted to live in our old town, Caldogno. We practically had roots there, many friends and neighbors which was a major reason why we wanted to come back here and we were fortunate to find a nice house only one street away from our old place. During my first 6 years here, one of the few things I really hated was the commute to and from the base. It took anywhere from 15-30 minutes but it was all traffic, lights and crazy drivers and was a considerable source of stress for me as I HATE sitting in traffic and even moreso dealing with idiotic drivers, which is commonplace in this country. So I get back here and find out that I'll be working at a satellite facility which is about 15 minutes away from the main base. And it just so happens that it's 15 minutes in the opposite direction. In other words, my hellish commute, such a source of stress for me, is double what it was last time I was here. There are basically only two routes to this base from my house and either way I go, I have to deal with traffic and crazy Italian drivers so it's usually the lesser of two evils. I also have to work an earlier schedule because if I leave the house later than 7-7:15 am, it will take me at least 45 minutes to get to work. This cuts into my ability to establish some kind of pre-work exercise routine in the morning.

I don't know why it stresses me out so much. I mean, it's not like driving in Boston, Rome, Naples, or a big city like that. It's just that sitting in a car in stop and go traffic for a half hour grates on my nerves. It's so bad that when I'm in the car on the way to and from work, I can literally feel my blood pressure go up and often get stress headaches. In the States it wasn't as bad because I listened to talk radio a lot which distracted me but there is no talk radio here. I sit there alone with my thoughts which, believe me, do not make very good company.

Anyway, there is a very good possibility that we will be relocating back to the main base within the next 2-3 years so I keep telling myself that it's not forever and will get better eventually but in the meantime everyday is a freaking nightmare driving to and from work. Definitely one of the worst parts of being back here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Should be here by Christmas...


Thanks to my buddy Wayne who got me a great deal...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Wall.


The Berlin Wall has been in the news quite a bit recently as yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the day it officially "fell". All the news coverage really takes me back to my own personal experiences with the Wall, limited though they are.

I was born in the early 70's and so growing up the Cold War was going strong and it often inspired much of the culture we were exposed to growing up. There were the James Bond movies whose villians usually were, or had dealings with, Soviet Union. And of course, Pink Floyd's 'The Wall". There were also popular songs about the Cold War. One song in particular made me much more aware of Germany's role in the Cold War and that was "99 Red Baloons" by Nena. Nena was a German pop singer and as the song gained popularity in the early 80's, the original German version - "99 Luftballoons" was also released. I developed a bit of interest in Germany and Berlin and the Wall in particular. I remember President Reagan's famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" speech in 1987. And I remember watching news footage the day the Wall finally fell and Berlin became a united city again. I'll never forget the images and the joy and celebrations...you just could not help feeling the enormity of what was happening. But alas, I was in my freshman year of college and was too preoccupied with other things to really take it all in.

In 1998 I joined the Army and went to Germany. I was a bit older than most of the other people in my company so I had much more interest in the history of the country and being stationed there, I was just constantly inundated by the history I'd only read about or seen on TV growing up. It was probably the main reason why I became so enamored with Europe to be honest. I took my first trip to Berlin in the spring of 2000 and spent a few days touring around, taking in as much of it as I could. I was completely floored. It was like being in a living museum. So much of the history I grew up learning was literally all around me; the platz where Hitler held book burnings, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie...I was just overcome. I spent several hours in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and could have spent several more if I'd had time. The Checkpoint Charlie museum is filled with the history of the Berlin Wall, complete with photos and stories of hundreds of escape attempts (there were about 5,000 successful attempts). It was, by far, one of the most amazing museums I've ever seen. As I was seeing all of this, I just kept thinking to myself "This was all happening while I was growing up a world away." Seeing what those people were going through compared to what I had in the US at the same time, it just made me realize how lucky I was. I also went up into the Fernsehturm, the 1,200 feet tall TV tower in the former East Berlin. There's a revolving restaurant at the top now and I sat there drinking a beer staring down at Berlin...it was so high up that you could literally see what used to be East Berlin and what used to be West Berlin, even 11 years after the Wall had come down. But there was construction everywhere and I just had the feeling that if I came back a few years later, I probably wouldn't even recognize the city. And I was right.

A few years later, in 2003, I had a great opportunity to see Berlin again, completely free. I had to go there for work but all I had to do was bring some passports up there to an Army officer and then wait for him to process some visas. The process took a week so I basically had nothing to do except sightsee for the whole week which was right up my alley. I spent an entire afternoon in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and then walked around looking at the few pieces of the Wall that still stood, most now covered with graffiti. But sure enough, the city had changed. So much of it was new and nowhere was the city's progress more evident than Potsdamer Platz - once a veritable wasteland, it's now a modern area with some futuristic looking buildings and bustling city traffic.

The Berlin Wall has really become one of the most inspiring and influential parts of my European experience. I'm still fascinated by the history of it and the stories of the people who were affected by it. The most memorable moment for me came during my first trip to Berlin; as I was sitting in an outdoor cafe enjoying a beer and taking in the scene around me, I noticed that there were elderly people all around me, just sitting there eating and chatting and it struck me how similar Berlin is to any other major city I've been in like Paris, Rome or London. Then the thought occured to me as I watched the old people who were probably in their 80's...imagine the history that those people have witnessed in their lives. Everything I learned in school or saw in the movies - the rise of Hitler, World War 2, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Berlin and Germany - these people personally witnessed all of it.

Just made me realize how much I have to learn.

(I've got a bunch of pictures of the Wall, the escape attempts, the Fernsehturm and more on my website: Click Here.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

SITREP

In case anyone is interested, here's an update on what's going on in our world...

Wife and kid came back last weekend after 5 weeks in the Philippines visiting her family. Since they've been back Luca has become an insufferable mama's boy. He's 18 months old now and he's still breastfeeding. This might be normal, I don't know, but the X Man stopped after 7 months. In Luca's case, it's obviously a comfort thing. Also, he can't stand to be away from the wife for a second and is constantly clinging to her. It's impossible for her to cook or clean or do much else. We have found one thing that helps a bit though - we put some Sesame Street videos on Youtube and he'll sit and watch them for a while with no fuss. He's still adjusting to the time change and usually wakes up in the wee hours. He's at his happiest when he wakes up too, just wants to play and dance. And man, can he dance. I've never seen a kid who loves to dance as much as Luca. The first sound of any kind of music he stops what he's doing and starts shaking his behind. And not just to music either, he'll dance at anything. The wife has a really funny video of him in the Philippines, her father was sawing a board and he was dancing to the sound of the saw going back and forth. He's got some moves too, I really need to capture him on video and post it to Youtube. We had a firend over for dinner this past weekend and he just could not stop laughing all night watching Luca dance.

The X Man is doing great in school although the schedule is rough on him. the Italian public schools are free but have a shortage of money so not everybody gets to go Monday - Friday for a full day. Kids who have one parent that doesn't work (like the X Man) go to school half a day (8:15 - 1:15) Monday through Saturday. I totally hate this. I mean seriously, making a kid go to school on Saturday?! That's just cruel. Plus it ruins our weekend as we pretty much lose Saturday. It seems to be taking its toll on him too, he's starting to dislike going to school. everyday he asks how many more days he has to go and often pulls the "I don't feel good" routine in the morning.

We're also having trouble with the X Man's behaviour lately. He obviously doesn't like not being the center of attention and often acts out to get some attention back on him. He was good while the wife and kid were away but since they've been back he's reverted to his old ways. I try to be patient but find myself yelling at him a lot which I don't like because I've inherited my dad's bad temper and the last thing I want is for him to grow up scared of me the way I often was with my dad. Also, the X Man's car addiction has been replaced by a Transformers obsession. Whereas he used to not go anywhere without a car in his hand, now he will seldom be seen without one of his Transformers in his hands. Every day day he begs us to watch the Transformers cartoon on Youtube. He is truly obsessed.

On the homefront, things are fine as well. The wife currently is down with the flu - in fact, I'm leaving work soon to go take care of the baby so she can rest and recover. I'm sure i'll be coming down with it soon as well, not looking forward to that. I'm also in the market for a new car and will be test driving a new Volvo XC90 this week. I've already got a loan in place and will be selling the Passat to use as a down payment so if the test drive goes well, I'll be buying the Volvo. We've got friends coming down from Germany and up from Florence for Thanksgiving in a few weeks so we're looking forward to that.

That's pretty much it for now. If you read this, then consider yourself caught up on things...

Friday, November 06, 2009

Me and the X Man

Devil's Forest Pub, Venice

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Wife and Kid are Home

Great to have the little guy home

And it looks like they left just in time as another typhoon battered Manila a few hours after they left and several flights were cancelled. But it's great to have them home and have things back to normal a little bit. Luca is still adjusting but he seems to have developed some bad habits during his time away. He's become a complete mama's boy and even worse he is prone to throwing temper tantrums. That's something the X Man never did so it's new territory for me. I may have to call Supernanny if it keeps up. But he's still as cute as ever and still completely addicted to dancing. I'm hoping to post some cute videos of him dancing in the next few weeks.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I Don't Particularly Care for MPs.

I've never really been one to buck authority. I do believe we need laws in a society and the military is no exception. Despite this, I cannot stand military policemen ("MPs" for short). They are some of the most arrogant, hypocritical people I've ever met in the military. I'm sure there are some really good ones but I've met and observed so many bad ones that it's impossible for me to have a favorable opinion of them, especially when you see them doing the very things they are so fond of giving other people tickets for such as speeding or parking in no parking areas. They get a little bit of authority and it goes right to their heads and affects their ability to use common sense and reason. For example, an MP on base once gave me a ticket for going 13 MPH in a 10 MPH zone. I assure you, I am not kidding.

The base here is one of the worst I've seen. Part ofthe problem is that most of the MPs here are Reserve or National Guard units that come here for a few weeks to do their time, then go home. They throw on the uniform and suddenly they all think they're freaking Serpico. And to make matters worse, most of them are young E3's or E4's which means they've only been doing it for a couple years or less. They are not content to come to Italy for a few weeks, do their job, enjoy the sights and go home. Nay, they feel they must leave a trail of ridiculous tickets and harassing traffic stops in their wake. Consider this story...

We have a shoppette on base which is like a little convenient store. It's the kind of place where people run into real quick to pick something up or drop a movie rental off. There's an expansive area in front where you are not supposed to park at but people do all the time when they are just dropping a movie off as it takes about 20 seconds to run in and run out. About 5 years ago I was on base with the wife and the X Man (who was just a baby) in the car and we needed to return a movie. There were no parking spots and I didn't want to have to unhook the baby seat and carry him in so I pulled up to the front and told the wife to run in and drop it off. No sooner did she get out of the car when I noticed an MP car so I backed out so as not to get a ticket. As soon as I did, the sirens came on and he proceeded to follow me with the sirens blaring as I parked in an open spot. I can hear him on the radio calling it in and then a few minutes later he gets out of his cruiser and slowly walks to my window WITH HIS HAND ON HIS GUN. I'm watching all of this thinking "WTF, do you think me and my newborn baby are packing heat?!". He asks for the usual documents and I tried to explain that I was just dropping my wife off to return a movie but it didn't matter, he tells me "When I see you stopped in front of the shoppette, for all I know, you could be inside doing your grocery shopping". Seriously, he saw my wife get out of the car and he saw me sitting in the drivers seat with a baby in the back. He then proceeded to hold me there for TWENTY minutes while he ran my info and then let me off with a warning to "Watch yourself next time" as he might not be as lenient.

Thank you Cagney, say hi to Lacey for me...

Well I had another incident this morning. We had a cold snap last week and one of my headlights went out. Changing a headlight on my car is no small feat, the entire thing has to be removed and replaced and it's way above my knowledge and skill level. Since I had to go to Germany for work this past week I figured I'd get it fixed when I got back. So I'm driving onto the base this morning and sure enough, there's a reservist MP who takes my ID, then asks me to turn my headlights on for him. When he sees one of them is out he tells me to pull into the temporary holding area and asks for my license, registration, proof of insurance, etc. Then he disappears for 15 minutes before I even get a chance to explain that it just went out and that I just got back from Germany so I haven't had a chance to get it fixed. He comes back, gives me a ticket and asks me if I have any questions. My reply was "Yeah, here's a question, how am I supposed to get my headlight fixed right away when it takes two weeks to get an appointment at the garage on base?". The kid looks at me and says, very condescendingly "You can change a headlight yourself". Well, I started to go off on him about how replacing a headlight on my car is a big job and that I just got back from Germany but then remembered that MPs are complete dickheads so I just stopped my self and said "Nevermind, just give me the damned ticket."

There is a reason why the MPs are the most hated people on military bases. If anyone has any MP stories, please feel free to share in the comments section...

The Wife Comes Home Tomorrow.

Thank God.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dinner at the Neighbors.

Our neighbors are Calabrese, that is, they are from the region of Italy named Calabria. Calabria is found way down south, in the "toe" area of Italy that is kicking the island of Sicily. Giorgia and Daniele are their names and they also have three daughters, two who live with them and one who lives in town, and a grandson, little Daniele who I previously wrote about on here. Giorgia is a teacher in the X Man's school and she is wonderful, we love her to death. The whole family is great actually and we love having them as neighbors. In typical Italian fashion, they always want to have us over for dinner. Although I love eating dinner over there, I have to decline sometimes for a couple reasons; first, like most Italians, they eat dinner very late, usually around 8 or 8:30. That's just way too late for me as I'm usually in bed by 9 since I get up around 0430 for work. Also, dinner at their house means way too much food for me. A normal Italian meal has 4 or 5 different courses, then they force dessert on you and then maybe some cheese or fruit afterwards, not to mention the vino flowing freely throughout the meal...it's just too much for me, especially late at night.

With the wife away, I think Giorgia took pity on me and the first week asked me to come have dinner with them. I didn't want to be rude but I explained that they eat too late and that I'm usually in bed around 9 so I would have to pass. She understood and was not offended but since I mentioned that weekends were better since I don't work, she wanted to invite me on a weekend but every weekend so far has been either full or they have been in Tuscany visitng her brother. She invited us for lunch this past Sunday but we had plans to be in Venice all day so I had to decline once again but I felt bad so I agreed to come to dinner on Wednesday. It worked out perfectly as there is an American kid named Jeremy staying with me this week, he is the son of a girl I went to school with back home. He's a freshman in college spending his first semester in Florence on an exchange program and he's on semester break so I offered for him to come up here if he wanted to see Venice and experience some real Italian culture. Well, let me tell you, if you want real Italian culture, go to dinner at an Italian's house.

We ended up eating around 8 and what a freaking meal. Antipasto was prosciutto crudo from Tuscany, then bigoli all'anitra (fat pasta with duck meat) which is a speciality of the Veneto region where live. After that they brought out a huge plate of homemade polpette done in Calabria style. Polpette is similar to a meatball except it's mostly flat instead of round and they make theirs with meat, cheese, parsley, cream and one or two other ingredients I can't recall. Absolutely delicious. Along with the polpette was a big plate of a special sweet salsiccia (sausage) from Asiago, the famous alpine town nearby known mostly for it's cheese. As a contorni (side dish), there was also a huge plate of steak fries (which I avoided) and a big bowl of salad. I was completely stuffed but then Daniele insisted on bringing out the big block of Asiago cheese and then a big bowl of roasted chestnuts. Dessert was a torta (cake) with pear on top. We also had three different kinds of vino.

The food was amazing but the best part of the night, as it often is, was the fellowship. The entire evening was spent with us learning a lot of Italian language and culture as well as introducing the neighbors to a lot of American language and culture. That kind of thing has always been one of my favorite parts of living in Italy. And it was quite an experience for Jeremy as well, as he was able to practice his Italian and the look on his face was priceless and I'm certain that he will keep that experience in his mind forever.

I didn't get any pics from dinner but I found a few online of some of the dishes:

Prosciutto Crudo

Bigoli all'anitra


Polpette

Monday, October 19, 2009

Update on the Wife

The main reason the wife and kid went back to the Philippines was because her family had decided to hold a huge family reunion this month. Unfortunately the typhoons came one after the other and her family's farm was hit hard, losing all of their crops before they had a chance to harvest them. the reunion was scheduled for Saturday, October 17th and I was wondering if they would even still have it since they are still recovering from the floods but I heard from the wife on Saturday and she said that all of her aunts and uncles and other relatives showed up and that it was a fantastic time. She says it was weird seeing family members that she hasn't seen in 20 years and I can just imagine but I could sense the excitement at it all. She says that everything is fine and the recovery is going well. Her family is just in love with Luca and having a ball with him and he is enjoying himself quite a bit, playing with his cousins and grandparents. hopefully she's taking a lot of pictures and videos so I can post some of them when they get back. They're arriving back in Milan on Saturday, October 31st.

On the homefront everything is well. I had another great weekend with the X Man. We spent the day in Venice again yesterday and he was well behaved and didn't whine a bit, I was quite surprised. When we got home he went right over to Daniele's house for the rest fo the evening before going back to Giampi and Agnese's house for the week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sometimes I Wish I Were Italian. Or Irish. Or...


I'm French. More specifically, I'm French Canadian. 100%. As far as I know, there is only French blood running through my veins. Both my mother's and father's side of the family can be traced immediately back to Canada, most of them to Quebec. Growing up, French Canadians - lovingly referred to as Canucks - were predominant in my neighborhood, my town and my schools. Most of my classmates had last names like Levesque, Francoeur, Boucher, Gagnon or Cote and many were fluent in French. Most of my older relatives spoke French and when I got to high school I started learning French partly because I wanted to feel like part of my heritage. After college my brother and I went to Montreal and Quebec a couple times and for the first time I saw where my family had come from. When I got to Europe in 1998, I cherished every trip to France because I wanted to sort of get in touch with my ancestry and culture. I even got a tattoo of the Fleur-de-Lis, the symbol of Quebec (also their flag).

But the truth is, I've never felt much nationalistic or ethic pride in being French Canadian. Over the years I've come to be envious of people with other backgrounds. Italians, Irish, Germans, Mexicans, Filipinos, hell even Puerto Ricans. They have so much pride in their heritage and wear it like a badge of honor. Italian Americans and Irish Americans in particular, two of the proudest groups there are in the US. There are plenty of Italian Americans who are 3rd, 4th or even 5th generation but they can still speak the language and still identify themselves as more Italian than American. Italians have made a huge mark on the US with their food, culture, etc. Same with the Irish, I mean they even have their own holiday. All of these groups have identifiable cultures. French Canadians...not so much, unless you want to count meatpies, construction, sheetrock or drywall. Somehow, saying "Kiss me I'm French Canadian" doesn't have the same ring to it as "Kiss me I'm Irish" does.

The funny thing is, living in Italy for almost 10 years now I've developed a lot of Italian traits and can even speak the language decently. In some ways, I'm a lot more "Italian" than many of the real Italian Americans back in the US but because my blood is 100% French Canadian, I'll never part of the club. I've accepted that. But sometimes I wish that I WAS Italian. Or Irish. Or one of those other nationalities who have so much pride in their heritage. In the meantime, I guess I'll just have to say "Je me Souviens!"...and pass me another piece of meatpie.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

5 Underrated 80's movies

1. Big Trouble in Little China

2. Adventures in Babysitting

3. F/X

4. Masquerade

5. Shoot to Kill

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love...Exciting and new...

A few weeks ago I finally got Sky Italia. Sky Italia is the satellite TV package in Italy, it's got about 800 channels ranging from sports to variety to movies to music. I'm loving it so far as I get all the soccer I can handle and occasionally a movie will come on that I haven't seen in a while (Last week it was "Major League"). One of my favorite channels is Fox Retro. As the name would imply, it shows a bunch of stuff from the 70's and 80's so I love it. i'm enjoying watching shows I haven't seen since I was a kid but I've been surprised at how many of them just don't hold up very well. There is one show however that is just as enjoyable now as it was 30 years ago: The Love Boat.

It comes on a few times a day and I'm loving it. It's amazing to see how many famous people were on it, every episode is like a who's who of American culture. The storylines are laughable, the acting is over the top, and the jokes are corny at best but I don't care. The Love Boat rocks. And the theme song! you cannot hear the Love Boat theme song and not feel happy. You just can't.

The Love Boat Theme Song

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Disaster.

I thought the worst of the storms was over in the Philippines but apparently I was wrong. Typhoon Parma completely destroyed the Pangasinan region, where the wife is staying with her family. I spoke to her on the phone yesterday and she described the devastation to me, it sounds really bad. The good news is that her family's house where they're staying somehow escaped the flooding and everyone is safe and sound. The bad news is that the farm and all of her family's crops - basically, their entire livelihood - have been lost to the flooding. The bridge that leads the highway was also destroyed but she says it should be fixed by the time they are supposed to come home at the end of the month. I was worried about Luca and told her that if it was really bad she might want to think about coming home early but she says the worst is over and the waters are already starting to go down. Plus, the house is fine so there's not really much danger for them at this point I guess. It's probably good that she's there right now as she can help them buy things that they really need to recover. We're going to do what we can to help them get back on their feet but I'm sure it won't be easy to recover from something like this. She sounded pretty upbeat about everything on the phone though so I'm not too worried about her and Luca.

In a way, it's kind of ironic; the last time they had a flood this bad was almost 20 years ago. In that flood they also lost everything and were so desperate that the wife, as the oldest girl in the family, had to go to Hong Kong and take a job as a domestic helper to help support the family. About 10 years after that, we met. And now she's back home visiting her family with our youngest kid and it happens all over again. At least this time she's in a much better position to help them...

Friday, October 09, 2009

The X Man and Daniele


One of the best things about coming back to Italy is that the X Man has started school and has plenty of friends his own age. We live in a duplex and the people who live in the other side have a grandson living with them named Daniele. Daniele is 4 years old, one year younger than the X Man and they've become best friends. Almost every day Daniele goes outside in the driveway which is separated from our front yard by a little wire fence, and starts his familiar chant: "Xavier...Xavier...Xavier..." and he will not stop until the X Man goes out to the terrazza and visits with him. It's actually kind of cute. Daniele asks everyday if Xavier can come to his house and he usually does. He probably spends more time next door than at home and often eats dinner over there. The neighbors absolutely love him and love having him over as he's a good influence on Daniele.

But things are not always rosy between the X Man and Daniele.

Daniele, although being a year younger, is bigger than the X Man. He's also a brute who doesn't always play well with others. When the X Man is with him, he becomes a lot more unruly than normal and suddenly has trouble listening to the wife and I. I've had to drop the hammer on him a few times and he seems to have learned his lesson. But overall, I'm happy that he has Daniele to hang out and play with, it's good for him to have a best friend. Yesterday, Daniele's grandmother picked up the X Man after school and he played with Daniele in their driveway. When I got home after work and walked up on the terrazza, the X Man was clinging to the fence and in a soft, weepy voice said "Daddy, I want to come home". I saw that he was crying so I asked what happened but he didn't want to say, he just kept saying he wanted to come home. So I went over and he met me at the end of the driveway and took my hand. I picked him up and told Daniele to tell his grandmother that I was taking him home but she was sitting on their steps and jumped up when she heard me and came over. Whatever had happened, she didn't see it and had no idea anything was wrong until she saw the the X Man was crying. When she asked him what happened, he told her that Daniele had hit him. Well she flipped out and started chasing Daniele around screaming at him, it was actually kind of comical. She apologized to me and I took the X Man home and he was fine. According to him, he wanted to "pick a flower for mommy because I miss her" and Daniele wouldn't let him and an argument ensued which resulted in Daniele hitting him several times.

I'm sure it's all been forgotten and Daniele will be outside today calling for him like every other day. But it looks like I'm going have to teach the X Man to defend himself...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Quick Update

Nothing much new to report. Got a few emails from the wife; her and Luca are doing fine. They haven't gotten hit too hard by the numerous tropical storms that are wreaking havoc on the Philippines fortunately but they've been having rain constantly which makes it impossible to do much except sit around the house. Because of this, she reports that she's pretty bored and ready to come home already. Luca seems to be doing fine except that he caught a little cold and has a runny nose. They all went to her mom's church on Sunday, when they walked in the congregation was singing some praise and worship songs and Luca is such a music nut that he promptly ran to the front and started dancing which made everybody just go crazy. He's become as popular as the X Man was when she took him there. It's great that her family is able to spend time with their grandkids.

On the homefront, everything is good albeit uneventful. I have to take a day off here and there to watch the X Man when Giampietro and Agnese go out of town which I always enjoy. It's a bit difficult but between them, myself and our next door neighbor Giorgia, we are able to make it work with his school. I was kind of worried that he didn't like being shuffled around between all of us but yesterday I told him "See, there are so many people that love you and want to spend time with you that we have to take turns!" and he got a big smile on his face. It was a great fatherhood moment for me. They don't happen to me very often but they do happen. Overall I think he likes staying with Giampi and Agnese most of the time. They are like grandparents to him and spoil him rotten which he loves. We're very lucky to have them in our lives.

That's pretty much it. I'll post another update next week or so.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Daddy and the X Man in Venice


Took the X Man to Venice today for a little while. Didn't take many photos but here they are:

Click me!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Wife and Kid Are Fine

For those who haven't been following, there is/was another huge typhoon that hit the Philippines this weekend called tropical storm Parma (How ironic). It was supposed to be even worse than the one that hit last weekend causing massive flooding and damage and almost 300 deaths.

Anyway, got an email from the wife this morning and she said they are fine, apparently the new storm all but passed right by them. All they got was some rain. For anyone who is curious, her family lives in the San Fabian area in the Pangasinan province, near Lingayen Gulf.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Joke of the Day

Q. Did you hear about about the man who got a viagra stuck in his throat?



A. He got a stiff neck.




Thank you, I'll be here all week...don't forget to tip your waitress and try the veal...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bonding With the X Man.


With the wife and Luca gone, it's just me and the X Man here. Unfortunately my work schedule makes it impossible for me to bring him to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon so he's staying with Giampi and Agnese during the week and I see him after work. I have him all to myself on the weekends though and I am really enjoying the time alone with him. He really is such a great kid, well behaved and very polite. Giampi tells me that the people around town are so impressed by him and his good manners, always saying please and thank you and such. He's also very affectionate and often says "I love you daddy" right out of the blue. Just melts my heart. He constantly cracks me up with the things he says too, you never know what he's going to come up with next. For instance, we had this exchange on the way back from the airport last weekend:

X: Daddy, do you like the day or the night?
Me: Umm...I like the night because I can sleep.
X: I like the day because I can learn stuff and go to school and have a lot of adventures.

Anyway, I was hoping to take a few trips on the weekends while the wife is away but I think I'm just going to hang out with the X Man instead...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wife and Kid Arrived Safely

There were a few nervous moments for me after reading about and seeing video of the flooding in Manila this weekend but I got an email from the wife this morning saying the flooding had gotten better by the time they arrived yesterday. Her aunt picked them up and they should be at her family's place in Pangasinan by now so I guess there's not much to worry about anymore unless another tropical storm hits. Apparently the flooding was some of the worst ever there with over 100 people dead, over 2,000 missing and hundreds of thousands without homes or electricity.

On the homefront things are fine. Had a great day with the X Man yesterday, just a couple of guys hanging out. He left for Giampi and Agnese's house last night and will staying with them during the week as my work schedule will not allow me to bring him to school or pick him up. Since Giampi and Agnese will be bringing him to school in the morning and picking him up in the afternoon, they said it's easier if he just sleeps there each night. I'll probably go over after work to see him and maybe have dinner. They are very excited about it too, they really adore him as if he is their own grandchild and especially now that he is fluent in Italian. The X Man is thrilled too, he absolutely loves staying with Giampi and Agnese. For my part, I'm completely ecstatic to have the entire house to myself. I cherish the peace and quiet. Don't have to close the door when I go to the bathroom, I can walk around naked...it's faaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Wife and Baby are Away...

The wife and Luca left out of Milan last night headed for Manila with a layover in Abu Dhabi. Her family decided to hold a huge family reunion so her and Luca will be there about 5 weeks, returning on October 31st. Unfortunately the timing could not have been worse as Manila is currently suffering from some of the worst flooding in its history due to tropical storm Ketsana that dumped the equivalent of an entire month of rain on the area in 6 hours. I've been very worried as the situation in Manila is extremely dangerous right now - estimates say that 80% of the city is underwater - but the last thing I read was the the airports in Manila and northern Philippines have been reopened so hopefully the situation is improving. As I write this, their flight from Abu Dhabi is waiting to take off so there's still several hours until they arrive in Manila. I've got status updates on the flight being sent to me as they occur so I'll be tracking closely.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Favorite Pizza

I've had dozens of different kinds of pizza during my time in Italy. When I first arrived in 2000, the first pizza that I was addicted to was "spinaci e ricotta" (spinach and ricotta cheese). Eventually I started experimenting with different toppings and combinations. For a while I was partial to "proscuitto e funghi" (Italian ham and mushrooms) and then after that I discovered just plain old pizza con olivi (pizza with olives).

Then a few years ago while we were living in Germany and visiting Giampietro and Agnese, we took them out for dinner. They suggested going to a nearby restaurant called La Fenice, (Italian for "The Phoenix"). Normally when we go out to eat with them I've noticed that they usually each order a different pizza, eat half, then switch. However on this night they both ordered the same pizza. It looked liked nothing more than just cheese and cherry tomatoes so I paid it no mind but at one point Giampi told me about the pizza - it was called "Estate del Sud", which means "summer in the south". The south of Italy, particularly in the Naples area, is known for great pizza and great food in general featuring delicious produce and ingredients. So on the Estate del Sud pizza was just tomato sauce, mozzarella di buffala (mozzarella cheese made with the milk of a water buffalo which is only made in the south) and some kind of special cherry tomatos that are only grown in Sicily and only in the summer months so the only time you can get this pizza is when the tomatoes are in season in Sicily. The finishing touch is a bit of basilico (basil).

Anyway, Giampi had me try a bite and I can't even describe my reaction. I'd never tasted anything like it, the flavor was just indescribable. I've since ordered pizza with mozzarella di buffala and cherry tomatoes at other places but the taste doesn't even come close. I've not found any other pizza like the Estate del Sud at La Fenice. It is far and away the best pizza I've ever had in my life. Unfortunately summer is over now so we have to wait til next summer to enjoy it again.

Here's a couple pics of the Estate del Sud (click to enlarge):

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumn is upon us.


You may have heard me say it many times before but autumn is far and away my favorite time of the year. For most people spring is the time of year that represents renewal but for me it's the fall. For me, the fall is when everything is coming back to life. For the first 22 years of my life it meant that the school year was starting up again. It means that the football, soccer, basketball and hockey seasons are starting up again. This was always the best time of year for me growing up because I was such a soccer nut - nothing made me happier than playing soccer and so the fall was the best time of the year for me. The fall meant Saturday mornings at Brickyard Field in Litchfield. Later on it meant soccer practices after school and bus rides to places like Milford, Derry and Merrimack for games.

I guess I don't really know exactly what it is that makes autumn my favorite time of year. There's just something comforting in it, something that brings back all the fondest memories of years gone by. Growing up in New England, fall was always magical if for no other reason than because of the leaves changing. My brother has traveled all over the world and seen more places than anyone I know and he says that New England during peak foliage season, when the leaves are at their most colorful, is still the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. I'm inclined to agree. I was fortunate to attend college at a small, private school tucked away in the mountains in southwest New Hampshire called Franklin Pierce College (Now called Franklin Pierce University). It sits at the base of Mt. Monadnock, the second most climbed mountain in the world after Mt Fuji, and is right in the heart of leaf-peeper territory. "Leaf-peeper" is the term that refers to the droves of tourists that flock to the area in the fall to admire and photograph the vibrant foliage colors, many of whom come from as far away as Europe and Asia.

It's not that often that I find myself missing home. But seeing pictures of the foliage definitely brings back some very fond memories.

By the way, here's a great one-stop website for New England foliage:

www.yankeefoliage.com

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fatherhood Moment



Luca falls asleep sitting on my lap...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm growing a beard.

I'm a lefty. And my surgery a couple weeks ago was on my left shoulder. One result of the surgery is that I'm not able to lift my left arm much higher than my shoulder which makes simple things like brushing my teeth, combing my hair and shaving nigh impossible. So here it is a couple weeks after my surgery and I haven't even attempted to shave so I've got a pretty good beard started. Although I've done the goatee thing a few times since getting out of the Army, I've never attempted to grow a full beard so since I had a good two week start I figured I'd keep going and see how it looks. It's coming in pretty nicely so far and although I had planned on shaving it off in a week or two, I have received a few compliments on it and I kind of like the way it looks. I guess you could say it's growing on me - literally and figuratively. So I'm keeping it for now. When it starts getting unmanageable in another week or two I might end up shaving it off but until then I'm kind of digging it. Here's a few pics...



Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Update, Part 2

Shoulder is coming along slowly but surely. I'm getting quite a bit of my old range of motion back although I've still got a ways to go until I'm back to normal. I had my follow up appointment with the orthopedist yesterday and he told me that, looking a tthe post-surgery reort, the doctor ended up doing a lot of other stuff than what was originally planned so once he got in there he must have seen something that didn't show up on the MRI. But I'm out of the sling for good now, all the bandages are off and I'm able to do a little more each day with my left arm/hand. It is still very sore when i move it though and I still pop a couple percocet when I'm at home, assuming I'm not driving anywhere. I start physical therapy this coming Monday so hopefully I'll be back to normal soon and I'll be able to start back up with my kettlebells before the end of the year...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Update

Well, it's been over a week now, my shoulder is getting better, the bandages are off but I still don't have very good range of motion. I am going to attempt to drive to the base for the grocery shopping in a couple days. If that goes well then I will be going back to work on Monday as scheduled. While I'm not looking forward to going back to hell work, I am going absolutely crazy sitting at home with nothing to do. I ran out of movies/tv shows after about 4 days so mostly I sit on the couch watching stuff on Youtube or wasting time on Facebook. This is not how I prefer using my vacation time I can assure you.

Anyway, nothing else to say except I'm glad that September is here and the cooler weather. With it come soccer and football season so I am a happy boy...

Monday, September 07, 2009

My wife is leaving me.

Well, for a month anyway. Her family is having a huge family reunion back in the Philippines in October so she is headed back for a little over a month to spend time with her friends and family. She is taking Luca with her as her family hasn't seen him yet but the X Man will be staying here with me since he will be in school and 5 weeks is too much time to miss.

They'll be leaving out of Milan (much cheaper than Venice) September 26th and returning October 31st and the wife is very excited to see family members she hasn't seen in many years. As for me, I doubt I'll be doing much while they're gone as the X Man will still be here but I'm hoping to do a trip or two if possible. The hardest thing will of course be working around the kid's school hours. My work schedule will make it difficult if not damned near impossible to bring him to school in the morning and pick him up afterward but fortunately Giampietro and Agnese will be around to help. Not only that but our neighbor Giorgia is a teacher at his school and will be helping out as well. It'll be difficult but it should work out somehow. I'm also considering hiring a part time maid to help out with the housework. Unless there's someone out there who wants to come stay with us for a month...anyone?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Surgery report

This will be short as it's hard to type with only one hand...

Surgery yesterday went fine. It was obviously not a pleasant experience but thank God it's done and I can look forward to a healthy shoulder again once it heals.

The surgery itself went good but it was not without incident. When I woke up I wasn't feeling any pain except my throat which hurt like hell. The nurse explained that I had stopped breathing in the middle of the operation for some reason and they to shove some kind of tube down my throat to get me breathing again. Other than it was routine but then in recovery my blood pressure shot up and I ended up staying an extra couple hours until it came down to acceptable levels.

Right now I'm home with some kind of strange, futuristic, uncomfortable sling on, I can't shower for the next 4 or 5 days (sponge bath!) and I've got a bunch of percocet to deal with the pain although it hasn't been too bad yet. I'm off of work until the end of next week and I'm bored already...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Two more days...

Only a couple more days until my shoulder surgery and it feels like forever. My shoulder has been really hurting the past couple days so I'm actually really looking forward to going under the knife and getting this damned thing fixed once and for all. It's almost as if my shoulder knows it's getting operated on and is trying to make my last two days as miserable as possible. My coworker is taking me up to Aviano tomorrow and we'll stay overnight there since I have to be at the hospital by 0630 on Wednesday. I'll be home probably Wednesday night and then I'll be taking a week or two off from work to recuperate. I won't be able to lift my arm past my shoulder for a few days or so and I won't be able to drive for at least a week so I'll be confined to home and it's going to be extremely boring as I haven't set up my satellite dish and only get a few Italian channels and of course I can't drive anywhere. Times like this I wish I lived back on the Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg. Caldogno is a nice town but there's not a whole lot to do there. Also, the X Man doesn't start school until the 14th so the house will be anything but peaceful and quiet. I'm going to go to the library today or tomorrow and pick up a few books I guess. I'm also planning on chopping all my hair off since I won't be able to brush it for the next couple weeks...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bees are trying to kill me. And my family.



A few months ago the wife was walking around town with the kids. Suddenly a bee appeared out of nowhere and flew close to the X Man. He is terrified of bees and when he saw it he flipped out and ran out into the street to get away from it. Fortunately no cars were driving by at that moment or he would have been run over for sure. It's pretty scary to think what could have happened if a car actually had been driving by at that moment. I shudder to think about it.

Yesterday I was driving back to the base and I was on a little small road that is barely big enough for two cars and has drainage ditches on either side of it. As I'm driving, some kind of big bug flies in through my window and almost hits me in the head. I look down at my leg and there it is, a huge freaking bee sitting there looking ominous. Well I hate bees almost as much as the X Man - especially after getting stung at work a couple weeks ago - so I temporarily lost control of my faculties as I saw this ugly thing sitting on my thigh. When you're behind the wheel, there's nowhere to run so I instinctively slapped it with my open hand as you would a mosquito. Fortunately that killed it but as I looked up I quickly realized that I was in the other lane with a car headed right for me. Thankfully I looked up in time and swerved back over to my lane. Had the timing been different, I could have easily either hit another car head on or ended up in the drainage ditch on the side of the road. It's funny because over the years of driving down that road, I've often seen cars overturned in one of those ditches. I'd say I've seen it about 5 or 6 times. I've always laughed to myself and figured it was the Italians driving too fast and crazy that they went off the road but now I'm starting to realize that it was probably the bees. They are apparently as cunning as they are frightening and ugly. They tried to take out the X Man a few months ago and failed. They tried to take me out yesterday and failed. From now I roll my window up whenever I'm on that stretch of road - they may be smart but they will not outsmart me. I'm on to them now.

Beware the bees.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Top 5 of Italy

Yesterday a friend mentioned that her and her daughter might take a vacation in Italy and asked me what the 5 things I would recommend are. Immediately I thought this might make a good blog post so here goes...

5. Bologna. People are always surprised when I tell them this but I really think Bologna is one of the best kept secrets in Italy. I've often said that Bologna features the best food in all of Italy and since food is a major reason why a lot of people come to italy, it's surprising to me that Bologna isn't more popular. One of the best tasting dishes I've ever eaten in my life was a plate of freshly made tortellini cooked in a balsamic vinegar sauce at a little ristorante next to Il Due Torri (Two Towers) called Tinellos. Bologna is the capital of the Emilia Romagna region which is Italy's culinary heartland. In Emilia-Romagna you find balsamic vinegar from Modena (Pavarotti's hometown) as well as the city of Parma, famous of course for Parmesan cheese and Parma ham. For gelato lovers, Bologna is generally known as having the best gelato in all of Italy as well. But it isn't just the food that attracts me to "Bologna la Grassa" (Bologna the fat). There is quite a bit of history there as well. There is a big Duomo worth seeing as well as the famous Two Towers, all of which have an interesting and quirky history behind them. Bologna is also home to the oldest university and the university population drives a surprisingly enjoyable nightlife scene. Bologna is truly a hidden gem.

4. Florence. I sort of have a love-hate relationship with Florence. One on hand, there is no shortage of things to see there. It is, after all, the cradle of the Renaissance. However it's so famous and beloved that everytime I go
it's so unbelievably crowded that it's difficult to enjoy as much as I normally would. For me the highlight is the area around world famous Duomo, perhaps the most famous in the world. One tip I give people is to wake up early, around 6 or 7 and go walk around before the tourists arrive. Then, just as it opens, climb to the top of the Campanile (bell tower) that stands next to the Duomo for some of the most spectacular views of bella Firenze. Florence is the undisputed king of Tuscany so the side streets are littered with enotecas where you can sample some of the best vino in the world. Not to mention that some of the most famous and beautiful works of art reside in Florence, most in the Uffizi Gallery. The Ponte Vecchio is famous but these days is nothing more than one big outdoor jewelry shop. Despite the crowds, Florence is a wonderful city with no shortage of man-made wonders to marvel at.

3. Cinque Terra. Some friends took me to Cinque Terra for the first time way back in 2000 and I was instantly smitten. You won't find glorious churches and expensive works of art here; this is nature at it's finest. Cinque Terra basically consists of 5 little small fishing villages on the Ligurian coast that have evolved into a popular tourist destination over the years. The entire area has been turned into a national park and is a popular hiking destination as well.
What makes them special is the way they are positioned on the water with the mountains so close to them that they seem to be pushing them into the sea. Each of the 5 villages has its own charm and personality but my favorite is Vernazza. We usually go there every 4th of July to relax and enjoy life as it should be. In some ways, Cinque Terra is Italian living at its best. The pace of life is slow and sometimes the most enjoyable thing is to just sit in the pizza with a glass of vino and watch the children play in the water. The seafood is plentiful and delicious and the scenery is some of the most beautiful and dramatic in all of Italy. I'm a big hiker so that's one reason I love Cinque Terra so much. The hikes are the most enjoyable I've ever done. I can't say enough about the place, it's just magnificent.

2. Rome. I really go back and forth with Rome on whether it's my favorite or my second favorite. For most people it would probably be number one but this is my list so I'm putting it as #2, although in reality it's probably more like 1A. Rome just might be the most famous city in the world and for good reason. So much of the world's history was influenced by Rome in some way. I'm a huge history buff and Ancient Rome has always fascinated me so whenever I go to Rome - and I've been there I think 6 or 7 times now - I find new things to discover and explore. Rome is so big you'd need a month to really see everything. You could spend an entire week exploring the Vatican. One of my favorite things about Rome is that you can get blown away just walking around. The list of historical places in Rome reads like a history book: The Colosseum, The Pantheon, Circus Maximus, The Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain, The Forum, Piazza Navona, The Campidoglio, etc. Rome is huge and this is perhaps one of its few turn offs. The Metro goes around the edges but if you want to explore the city center, you either take a bus and risk getting pickpocketed or you walk. For me, I love exploring big cities, there's such an energy and excitement to them and Rome is right at the top of the list. You can choose to visit all the famous monuments along with the crowds, you can sit in one of the many piazzas and sip vino as you watch the struggling artists work, you can take an evening passagiata down Corso Palladio with all the lovers, young and old alike, or you can cross the Tiber and relax in Trastevere, Rome's Bohemian area. The city is packed full of bars and pubs too and I once spent an entire weekend visiting as many different pubs as I could. Rome is mysterious and seductive. She is historic and wondrous. And I always miss her tremendously if I go too long without seeing her.

1. Venice. I'm sure that many people would disagree with me on this and I can certainly understand why. There is no middle ground on Venice, most people go and either love it or hate it but believe me, you cannot form an accurate opinion of Venice from just one visit. I'm fortunate to live a mere 30 minute drive from Venice and have been going continuously since I first came here almost 10 years ago. Venice has its turn offs, the crowds being probably the biggest. I would say that Florence and Venice are the two most crowded places I've been to in Italy. In the summertime, the heat in Venice can be oppresive, the humidity brings out the mosquitoes and the combination of the two can make the canals give off a less-than-appealing odor. Despite all this, I have always enjoyed Venice immensely. I've been there no less than 50 times and I can honestly say that I have never not enjoyed myself. Every time I go, it's like seeing it for the first time. I never tire of walking around along the canals, over the endless bridges, taking in the eroding splendor of what was once the most powerful empire in the world. Venice is expensive but savvy tourists can get by cheaply. There are also parts of Venice where tourists seldom venture. It's joy to discover these areas. Perhaps I enjoy Venice more than the average person because I've learned my way around it by now and yet despite my familiarity with Venice, she always manages to show something different every time I go. Venice has so much to offer for those who are willing to accept. If you want to see the real Venice, the best time is very early in the morning and late at night. During these times, all the tour groups and tourists are back at their hotels in Mestre, the industrial wasteland across the lagoon on the mainland where the cheap hotels are. I like to walk around Venice around 6 or 7 in the morning. The city is almost completely empty except for some locals getting ready for the day. It's like you have the entire city to yourself. Several years ago a friend and I did an impromptu pub crawl in Venice and it was so enjoyable that it has become a regular tradition. Pub crawls in Venice are different than in any other city as the enjoyment is as much in seeing the city at night as it is in enjoying the drinks and cameraderie. I don't do much when I go to Venice these days. I mostly just like to wander aimlessly through the streets and back alleys, pop into the Devil's Forest or the Fiddler's Elbow for a pint (or 3), grab a panini and just take it all in. Being in Venice gives me a sense of comfort. Venice is unique, there is no other place like it in the world.