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."


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.