the end of the innocence

last night, JD started asking some probing questions. it quickly became clear that he no longer believed in Santa Claus and was going to have us admit it. come to find out, the boy hasn’t believed since Kindergarten. he just couldn’t believe that a giant bunny rabbit hopped from house to house with candy and stuff for kids all over the world. it seemed preposterous to him and he was just sure the bunny would have been arrested for breaking and entering. well, JD was in our bed and Ellie soon came in as well. all 4 of us on the bed with the dog. JD couldn’t contain himself any more and he just started laughing, which made me laugh. Ellie asked why we were laughing and then JD said it’s because my beard looks funny . . . and that made me laugh harder. and by this time everyone was laughing. eventually we turned to Ellie and asked her about her beliefs. she played along for a minute, thinking that she didn’t want to ruin it for JD. but eventually she let us know that she’s known for years. we all laughed a bunch more and the kid told stories about how i’d slipped up here and there (e.g., forgetting to do the tooth fairy once and coming back the next day, leaving toy packaging out in a bag for stuff in stockings, etc.).

eventually it was time for the kids to go to bed (it was about 10:30 when our session together ended). JD stayed in with Paula and Ellie went back to her bed — i went out to watch boxing. anyway, Paula said that JD then cried. why? because he just didn’t want to grow up. he’s having such a fun time being a kid and he doesn’t ever want to grow older. Paula explained that there is much fun in being able to make your own decisions and choosing your own destiny. i think part of this came on because the kids saw “Where the Wild Things Are” at the movie theater earlier that day . . . and JD cried during much of that movie as well. i think a lot of stuff was just hitting him all at once today. quite the overwhelming day, but he came through very well and the first thing he did today was jump up next to me on the couch and put his little arm around me and sigh with a little chuckle, “dad, that was fun last night, wasn’t it?” yes it was.

School is out

the end of the year came and went and now we’re enjoying summer vacation. on the last day of school, Ellie’s teacher gave everyone an award for this and that. Ellie earned a best behaved award. after everyone got the award, the teacher then gave a final award . . . he talked it up as the person who is a great students and who is always ready to learn and encourage others to do the same. he said it was a teacher’s pet award as well and he said a few other complimentary things. while he was describing this student the other students in the class started pointing at Ellie. sure enough, the award went to Ellie. i was there and i couldn’t have been more happy for Ellie. a great finish to 3rd grade.

as we were packing everything up, we ran by Ellie’s class to grab the last little bit. JD’s teacher was talking to Ellie’s teacher (Mr. Keller) and i made a joke to Ellie’s teacher and said that JD just wants to skip 2nd grade and jump right into Mr. Keller’s 3rd grade. without missing a beat, JD’s teacher said, “and he could probably do that just fine.” a fine end to the year — a year where the kids missed the first month and 1/2 of school while traveling through Europe.

Paula is reading some book all about the foods we eat. she’s decided that we eat too much processed foods and she’s making changes. sweets are gone and all purchases are now healthy. we have a garden outside that is our biggest yet and we’re growing all sorts of veggies and herbs, etc. Paula is getting Vegetarian Times and i have to admit that some of the recipes are pretty darn good. that being said, Paula made veggie sloppy joes not too long ago and JD was so excited when he heard “sloppy joe’s” . . . when he got the dinner table and saw that it was actually veggie sloppy joe’s he started crying. it was too cute. he couldn’t be more meat and potatoes, but that doesn’t stop Paula as she just keeps making the good food and JD sighs and eventually his hunger wins out and he’ll try stuff and realize it’s at least edible and sometimes even decent. hopefully his taste buds mature a bit or this new healthy diet is going to really be difficult for the boy.

Sean on the news

so, i was interviewed for a story about iPods in education because a local school is using these mp3 players in their classes. 22 seconds of my interview made it onto the newscast . . . and they fail to mention my name or give me any credit, it’s me. unfortunately, they quickly put up the name of a female teacher at an area school — so i cover it up (or try). anyway, here it is —

Milan

day 14 (9/15)
our hotel had a terrific included breakfast. they also have a coffee bar included and my cappuccino was one of the best — the barista will custom make any kind of coffee drink you want as part of the breakfast — like having our own Starbucks.  we headed into the city centre of Milan and shopped a bit and then visited the giant Duomo (Massive Cathedral). the detail and ornamental structure of this building is incredible. after lunch, i took the kids shopping while Paula and her parents went to the top of the Duomo (it’s her parents’ last day as they fly out tomorrow AM). the kids and i visited a Mercedes apparel store and then back to the Ferrari store. JD couldn’t resist. and he bought another Lego thing with his money. I even bought myself a shoulder sling pack with a Ferrari logo on it for urban hiking (e.g., to hold my camera and a light jacket, etc.).

Elsewhere, Ellie bought some back to school outfits even though the kids first day of school won’t be just just over a month. but, even i thought the outfits were quite cute and how can a little gal visit Milan and not get caught up in fashion? towards the end of the day, i also bought some Ray Ban aviator glasses as my prescription glasses i had brought cracked. JD refused to go shopping for clothes for himself . . . i think that once he bought his Ferrari Lego thing, it was all his mind could think about. heh. oh yeah, when you buy 2 things at the Ferrari store you can sit in one of the Ferrari Indy cars. both Ellie and JD got to sit in one and i took their pictures. i’ll post photos soon, i hope.

day 15 (9/16)

Paula’s parents take off early today. i drive Paula to the American school of Milan. we all go in but JD, Ellie and i leave to head into the middle of Milan. i have a woman i met online years ago who has invited us to stay with her family. i end up driving into parts of Milan where only locals with permits are allowed. ah well. we finally figure out how to find my friend’s apartment in the city and she directs me to park my car in their garage space. Ana introduces us to her two little boys and takes us up to their apartment — very nice. this apartment has 4 bedrooms and JD and Ellie get one and Paula and i also get one.

Ana gives us a key to her apartment and the kids and i take a subway into the city centre. we explore around a bit and then meet Paula who has take a subway from the American school into the city centre. i should point out that a bunch of Africans are waiting on the steps up from the subway and they grab JD’s arm and put on a string bracelet before he knows what is happening. they’re yelling “free” “free” so i let them put one on me, too. that’s when they then ask for donations. i say, “i thought you said ‘free'” but they’re too busy asking for money . . . and they are much bigger than me. so i give them 2 Euros. this upsets JD and he rips his off.

after another fun day in centre and around the big piazza we take the subway back to Ana’s house for dinner. we had planned to take her family out but Ana decides to make dinner at her house (she uses a Bimby — Paula wants one, badly). we feed the kids and get them to bed and then stay up eating and talking late into the night. Ana’s husband, Gianni, is in advertising and had a big meeting with a new client earlier today. the new client was an expensive Brut maker and gave 2 bottles to Gianni. he opens one after our dinner and we all taste a very nice Brut — not my favorite kind of drink, but it’s still good. Ana’s English is pretty good and Gianni’s is even better. we spend time talking about the differences in our countries and life and our personal histories. this is a very fun evening. even though we’ve all just met today, i felt like we were hanging out with longtime friends. of course, Ana and i have known each other for a decade in online forums, so there’s that.

day 7 (9/8)

today we jumped on a bus to the train station. i bought tickets and we rode a train for an hour to emerge in Pisa. jumped on a bus and 10 minutes later we were viewing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. wow! i took many photos, which are available here. we had lunch near the tower with a view of the tower and then it was time for us to go up. Paula’s dad, Paula, Ellie and i all climbed the tower — over 250 steps. JD and paula’s mom stayed down to take photos of us from the ground (JD wasn’t old enough). i shot much video of the kids around the tower and then of Ellie narrating things going up and on top. i’ll get that edited and posted soon as well. but let me tell you . . . being on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is breathtaking. it leans much more than you can believe when looking at it. and climbing stairs away from the lean turns really steep. it’s got the most beautiful views of Pisa and the Tuscan region beyond. wow!

we finished up and got back to the train station. just before our train was to leave, it was canceled. we finally got on one and made it back to Florence in time for dinner. it was a sidewalk cafe and i think most of us agreed that it was our second best meal of this trip. mmmmm. JD was the most hungry person in our group and his pizza took the longest to cook and came out very last. heh. the look on his face was priceless. after dinner, we hit up the vendors. Ellie and Paula bought scarves and a little purse for Ellie. i bought 2 ties (why, because i got 2 silk Italian ties for $8 total). i also grabbed a new hat. JD bought a famous Italian Futball player (soccer) jersey. i made JD talk the vendor down from $10 to $8 and it worked. we grabbed some gelato and called it a night. can’t wait to head to Cinque Terre for a week starting tomorrow. i think we all need some rest and relaxation on the beach.

finally online — EUROPE Edition

today is our first connection to the internet. ooh, how tough it’s been — NOT!!!

i should have photos available later tonight at this link: http://flickr.com/photos/jayhawk

day 1 (sept 1 & 2)
we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at what would have been close to midnight our time . . . i had zero sleep and it was already nearly 7 AM — ouch. plus, the place was quite confusing. it took Paula and me about 45 minutes to figure out the pay phone to dial the person we called to get our car. finally we were off and right onto the Autobahn. zoooom! as we neared Austria, we stopped in a fairly small German village for lunch. it was quite cute. i found parking and some young 20-something guys tried to explain to me that parking wasn’t free; you needed a paper clock thingy on your dashboard. eventually, we figured things out and the guys gave me their paper clock for our car. when we finished, i set the clock back on their car along with a few Euro dollars. off to Austria . . . the Alps. we drove through tunnels and meandering mountain roads until we reached Innsbruck. what a beautiful town in the Alps. this community hosted the Olympics back in the 60s, i believe and is about 130,000 people. we had a nice hotel just across the river from the main old town area. 2 minutes from our hotel, we found an Italian eatery with an Italian owner and his son. the son spoke 5 languages and was our waiter. i think we all agreed that it was one of the better meals we’d ever had. what a way to start our trip.

day 2 (9/3)
we all  woke up around 4:30 in the morning and had trouble staying in our rooms until the hotel started breakfast at 7. off to Italy. it only took us less than 2 hours to get to Italy through the Alps. the mountains in Italy were large as well. we emerged near Verona and that’s where the GPS got confusing. it tells us street names, but the pronunciation is not very good, to say the least. off to Padova for a few days. our hotel in Padova was right across the street from the Basilica of Saint Anthony. big tourist attraction. it’s also in the old town. i had to drive on road after road that was barely wide enough for a car and i had guys on mopeds speeding on by me — and bikes as well. needless-to-say, i couldn’t find parking and then the GPS would have to steer me all around to find the hotel again. extremely confusing. i even ended up on a dead-end . . . and it took me a long time to turn around because of so little room. i was blocking bikers and pedestrians and it was highly stressful. come to find out, our hotel had parking. doh. we walked around the old town and into the Basilica tour. we also had our first gelato . . . we’re hooked. mmmmm.

day 3 (9/4)
Venice! we took a bus to the train station. 6 of us cost $14 to ride the train to Venice — about 1/2 hour ride. Venice is an experience. i cannot imagine a more touristy place in the world that isn’t Disney World. we took a boat ride from the station to the bridge Rialto. walked the rest of the day . . . i even managed to learn to navigate Venice quite well. fun to walk. we hit Saint Marks Square, but this place is shop after shop after shop after shop. and people, people, people from everywhere. i noticed so many cultures and different kinds of “cool” that nothing was really cool in Venice; you just were. we all decided that 1 day was enough and that we probably wouldn’t do Venice again in our lives. but to experience once was worth it.

day 4 (9/5)
woke up in Padova and had coffee. i thought i was ordering coffee . . . it came out as espresso — a small cup with super strong coffee. almost like liquid coffee beans, straight. YUCK. i can’t figure out how to get a coffee but i have now figured out that they know cappuccino, so that’s what i’ll have from here on out. jumped on the highway to head to Fanano. Fanano is in the central/west part of Italy and is located in another Alps area. beautiful. this is where Paula’s great grandparents came from. Paula’s mom is near tears as we arrive in the small mountain community (talk about meandering roads — sheesh!). folks here drive fast on these tiny roads. i had to pull over and let many folks pass me. i am having great difficulty with road signs as i don’t know what they mean. i am scared to drive faster many times because i have no clue what the speed limit is. so i let someone pass me then i keep up with them a safe distance behind. i am starting to speak Italian enough to say basic conversational things — Paula has a bit more and the kids are even using Italian these days. we walk from our hotel about 10 minutes to the town center. mucho activity. Paula’s mom meets people who speak enough English to converse and they know her family name and soon another guy is called in. he lives in Chicago and spoke with Donna on the phone last month. he also has a house here in Fanano and fills us in with all of the details, etc. The kids found Monkey park — a giant park of ropes and obstacles for climbing. very neat. they enjoyed it a bunch. they even met a boy who spoke perfect English. he had lived in the USA but his parents recently divorced and he was now in Italy.

day 5 (9/6)
still in Fanano. today we drove to the cemetery to look for distant ancestors. not much luck, but we found a lot of names that were known. the views from this area are just spectacular down into the valley. we also drove to a super small town where Paula’s great grandparents actually lived (about 3 km away). it was up even higher and had even better views of Fanano. we switched to a bed and breakfast in the town center today. great move and everything is happening right outside. in fact, today was the huge Festival for the Immigrants. we joined the town in the festival. we even sat at the head table with the mayor and his family. they all spoke English as did a number of other people, so we were able to have many conversations. i even spoke with an older Italian man for about 20 minutes — he spoke no English, but we managed to say much to each other. the kids went back to Monkey park and played again. we also had 2 big scoops of gelato to end the evening.

day 6 (9/7)we left Fanono and drove through the mountains for a few hours. skinny roads and high elevations. we had to pull over twice for Ellie as she just couldn’t handle the hairpin turns over and over and over and over. but we emerged and found a hotel in Florence. wow! this place is a 4-star hotel, which is incredible and it’s cheap. it’s on the outskirts of Florence, but right on the bus path. we hoped on a bus and were in Florence in time for lunch (20 minute ride). Florence was awesome. this is the city to visit if you’re coming to Italy. everything is great. it’s got some of the tourism stuff like Venice, but it’s actually got stuff to see and do and not just mostly shops. today was very, very slow with regard to tourists. we ate lunch and headed over to the museum to see the statue of David. Paula was scared it would be hours of standing in line . . . and most days it requires a reservation in advance. well, we showed up and walked right in. i mean, we walked right in. amazing. David was incredible. even Ellie noticed how detailed the the veins on David’s hands were. the statue is just huge. i’d guess it was 20′ tall and 30′ on the stand it was on. amazing!!! we looked around the museum more and then headed to the Cathedral. wow again! amazing art everywhere. statues, painting, and everything. we headed over to the river and the famous bridge before heading back to the Piazza (plaza) center for dinner. i love this city! we all enjoyed it.