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


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 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 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


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.