This morning I asked Jack “So how’s school going?” as I drove him to school to drop him off.

“Really good,” he replied.

I then said “You seem to be really enjoying school now”

He said “Yeah, I love going to school.”

I was surprised, so I asked “What’s different this year that you like so much?”

… it was quiet for a minute …

The Jack said: “My teacher. Mrs. Knorr is really good for me.”

A few minutes went by.

Jack then told me that he was “…really excited to read tonight, because Mommy told him he can stay up as long as he wants to read on Friday nights!”

On Sunday night, Jack went to bed, and as I was closing his bedroom door while I was leaving his room, he asked for something. I responded with “as long as X, Y or Z were done.” (doesn’t matter what X, Y, and Z are, or what he asked for, by the way. And honestly, I can’t remember).

He replied “yes, they’re done”.

I said, “Okay, you can do that, as long as you aren’t lying to me.”

Dead silence for 10 seconds… then a whimper of a “okay”.

To which I responded “Jack, are you lying to me?” in a slightly harsh Daddyvoice™.

He croaked out a “Yes. Daddy. I lied.”

It was pretty dark in his room, and I couldn’t read his expression, so I said “Jack, are you okay? Your voice sounds a little sad.”

Jack said “I’m a little sad that I lied to you.”

At which point, I turned around and walked back into his room and sat on the bed next to him, and said “Jack, do you need a hug?” He leaned into me, and threw his arms around me and buried his head in my chest.

I just hugged him for a minute, and once he was ready to pull away, I held his arms with both hands, and put his face right in front of mine (remember it was dark in his room, this whole time) and said “Jack, I love you, no matter what, and I’m really proud of you that you just ‘fessed up to your lie so quickly.”

I explained that we’re human, and we’re going to make mistakes. The important part to dwell on isn’t the mistakes, but how we deal with and handle those mistakes. Fessing up to our mistakes quickly, is the mark of a real man… it’s a very adult thing to do, and that I was very very proud of him for doing that.

I told him that he wasn’t going to get what he wanted, because of the lie, but because he ‘fessed up so quickly, I’d reward him with a big hug and some extra time playing outside the next day.

I hugged him again, and this time he hugged me even longer than the first. We just sat there, sharing a moment that I hope will become a pivotal moment for him in his development from a little boy, into a strong honest man with integrity. That’s my hope. I also don’t want him to grow up yet… he’s such a sweet boy…

Right before I left, Jack then asked me what “fessing up” meant. I explained to him that “fessing” is slang for the word “confession” and he said “Oh… riiight! I get it. It’s like telling the truth, even when you don’t want to.”

I gave him a kiss on the cheek while I tucked him back into bed and replied “Exactly! Keep your word, and tell the truth all the time, and you’ll never have to feel sad that you lied. And if you do, just clean it up with the person you told the lie to quickly, and you’ll feel much better, right away.”

He then said “you’re right, Daddy. I already feel better. Love you.”

And I left.

Love that boy. And loving watching him become a young man.

Just had to post this photo of Grayson trying on his skeleton costume:

Too cute.

This past weekend, after Mary and Frank and Michael left, I decided that the boys needed to get out of the house. So, I asked Christine if she wanted to drive out to Enchanted Rock. She said “yeah!” … so we asked the kids if they wanted to go… and of course, they wanted to go…

Then I mentioned it to our neighbors, and offered to take their kids with us, if they wanted to go, so we picked up Jackson around 2:00, and headed out to Enchanted Rock.

The drive to the park is about 100 miles from Austin, so I drove… and drove some more. The boys watched Bionicles on the way.

As we got closer, I turned off the movie, and told the boys to look out the windoes, and tell me what they saw. And that whoever saw the big mountain without any trees on it first was to yell as loud as they could… because that’s when we’d know we were there!

We arrived around 4:00, paid the entrance fee ($6 for adults, kids get in free = score).

After parking, we got ready to hike up the hill. Grayson insisted that he carry the supplies backpack, because it was his backpack. So, I let him. A 40 lb. kid carrying a 10 lb. backpack up Enchanted Rock – I couldn’t believe it. And he did pretty well, btw.

Here are some photos from the hike:

At the top, we sat down and had a snack, and played around a little:

Then we hiked back down, got in the car, and drove home. Got home around 8:30. Next time we’ll leave the house earlier ๐Ÿ˜‰

Oh, and Grayson’s so funny. For some reason he started calling it “Parrot Rock”, so that’s what we’re calling it until he gets it right!

All of the photos are here, if you want to see them all (there’s about 150).

Last night, as we rung in the new year, Christine informed me of her plans to go shopping all day, and asked if I’d be willing to cook the black-eyed peas for our New Year’s Day dinner.

I said “sure, that’d be fun”. She then went to the grocery store to buy all of the ingredients for dinner.

Right before we went to bed, she sent me the recipe for Dave’s Georgia Black Eyed Peas from which is what she intedended me to follow.

I didn’t look at it last night, so this morning, I pulled it up to check it out and to assemble the ingredients:

2 pounds dried black-eyed peas
12 cups water
8 cubes chicken bouillon
1 pound bacon
1/2 cup butter
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 pound cooked ham, cut into bite-size pieces
salt and black pepper to taste

I looked at the above list, and then read over the directions:

1. Rinse, pick over, and place the peas in a large bowl. Cover with several inches of cool water; let stand 8 hours to overnight.
2. Pour the water into a large saucepan or soup pot. Add the bouillon cubes and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the bouillon. Stir in the peas, reduce heat, and bring to a simmer.
3. Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a paper towel-lined plate. Crumble the bacon and set aside.
4. Melt the butter in the pan with the bacon grease; cook and stir the onions until they begin to turn brown at the edges, about 10 minutes. Stir the onions and cooking fat into the peas; add the crumbled bacon, ham, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the peas over low heat for 8 hours, stirring every hour.

We’d agreed last night that since we bought fresh peas, not dried peas, we didn’t need to soak the peas, so I skipped step number one.

I decided to cook and crumble the bacon first, mainly because I was making breakfast, and I figured the kids would want some bacon with their croissants.

After making bacon, letting it dry and crumbling it, I looked around for the onions.


There weren’t any in the refridgerator, so I checked the pantry. Not there either, so I called my wife. She hadn’t bought any… so I skipped the first part of step #4 too… didn’t make any onions.

Next, I figured I’d tackle step number 2: getting the boullion going. So, I checked the pantry for some boullion cubes. I couldn’t find them. So I called my wife. She hadn’t bought any… and thought their might be some chicken stock somewhere in the pantry. There wasn’t.

Now what was I to do? I’d tried to follow my directions, but I could really only accomplish step number three up to this point… so our of four steps, I was only able to complete 1.5 of the 4 so far. Argh… I was a little frustrated.

Then I decided to just improvise. What follows is my recipe for my improvised Bacon and Tenderloin Black Eyed-Peas:

Bacon and Tenderloin Black Eyed-Peas


  • 2 pounds fresh black-eyed peas (dry if you can’t find fresh ones)
  • 12 cups water
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1/2 pound of cooked pork tederloin, seasoned to suit, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 tspn of ground cumin
  • 1/2 tspn of ancho chili powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Optional Prep: If you had to use dry black-eyed peas Rinse, pick over, and place the peas in a large bowl. Cover with several inches of cool water; let stand 8 hours to overnight.
  2. Place the bacon in a large, deep skillet and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until evenly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a paper towel-lined plate. Crumble the bacon and set aside. Save the bacon grease.
  3. Pour the water into a large saucepan or soup pot. Add the bacon grease, ground cumin and ancho chili powder and bay leaf and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to spread out the seasonings. Stir in the peas, reduce heat, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the prok tenderloin, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the peas over low heat for 4 hours (8 hours if you started with dried, instead of fresh, peas), stirring every hour.
  5. Let rest for thirty minutes to an hour, drain of all excess water, serve and eat


Last night, we joined some friends of ours for the Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Austin State Supported Living Center.

The SSLC serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are medically fragile or who have behavioral problems. State supported living centers provide 24-hour residential services, comprehensive behavioral treatment services and health care services, including physician services, nursing services and dental services. Other services include skills training; occupational, physical and speech therapies; vocational programs; and services to maintain connections between residents and their families and natural support systems.

Jack, Grayson and Grayson’s friend Roman all made gifts to donate to the residents of the SSLC before the event. Christine picked me up from work, and we arrived around 6:30 p.m.

When we got to the area where the event was being held, we were treated to some music from Sarah Hickman (who also happens to go to our church and is a wonderful artist).

The kids wrote letters to Santa with help from the residents and volunteers.

Jack told the volunteer “I’m a little nervous, so I can’t think of anything I want. How ’bout we just tell him Merry Christmas, and to drive safely, and I’ll draw him a picture?” and then proceeded to draw a reindeer for Santa.

Grayson on the other hand knew exactly what he wanted. He asked the lady helping him to write “Dear Santa, I would like a soft stuffed animal, and another pillow pet, and a toy baby Jesus.” I chuckled at that point… and Grayson then told me and his volunteer that baby Jesus was born on Christmas, and he wants a baby Jesus to play with this year. Too cute.

After letters to Santa, the kids all decorated their own ornament and got Christmas themed tattoos on their hands.

We were treated to 5 or 6 songs from the “Austin SSLC Choir” which was made up of residents. Two of them had guitars and a few had bells, and they all sang their hearts out. It was special to see them bringing so much joy to the 100 or 150 residents and community members that turned out for the event.

We found the donation area for the gifts, had some hot apple cider, and then found our group of friends and sat down for the rest of the music.

Then, they lit the tree. You should have seen Grayson’s face. When the tree was lit, his chin hit the floor. He was so much in awe… it was awesome.

So, be in awe, this Christmas season… of the immense love and joy that God has for each of us, and if you can, try to put a little bit of that love and joy into everything you do. That’s what I took away from last night…

So precious.

I love Grayson. Tonight, he’s up late watching the Colts vs. the Chargers with me (he napped for 3 hours today), and out of no where he yells “Look Daddy, they’re standing on that big helmet! Did you see? Did you see! Go Horseshoes, GOOOO HORSESHOES!” and then after turning to look directly at me “The Horseshoes are losing to the Lightnings aren’t they Daddy?”

He’s always rooting for the underdog.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on our last day in Italy. I don’t know why… I’d tried to sleep in as much the rest of the trip, and here I was spontaneously waking up way too early.

As I layed there in bed, trying to go back to sleep – it dawned on me that the sun was likely coming up any minute… which made me want to get up to go take pictures. But I also remembered from my days in the Army that nothing quite comes as slowly as a sun that you want to come up, even when you know exactly when it’s supposed to rise. I checked Google from my phone, and the sunrise wasn’t supposed to happen until 6:30 or so.

So I laid there for a few more minutes, resting.

When I noticed the sky was changing colors, I got up and threw on my clothes, and took the elevator to the roof of the hotel. And boy was I rewarded.

The colors were amazing as the sun rose slowly, and the lights in the town were still on.

After breakfast, Christine and I got the car, and drove south towards Salerno, taking in the rest of the Amalfi Coast. Needless to say, the drive was gorgeous.

We even took the road up to Ravello, to see a few more sights, before heading back to the airport. Chrsitine made a little video of the drive up to Ravello, if you want to get a feel for how crazy it was driving on some of the roads in Italy:

We parked the car at the top…

and saw the Villa Rufolo and the Villa Cimbrone, where we got some amazing photos, and learned more about Italy’s history, before grabbing our last gelato’s in the town square, and getting in the car to drive back to Naples.

A quick jot down the coast to Salerno, while Christine read the rest of the Lonely Planet’s chapter on The Amalfi Coast, and we were on the Autostrada (toll highway) headed back to Naples.

We returned our car to Hertz, and paid way too much for them to fill up the tank (the car ran on natural gas, and I wasn’t about to figure out where or how to fill it up in Italian). We got thorugh security and had a fantastic lunch there at the airport, before going to our gate to wait on our plane to London Gatwick.

Once in London, we took a cab to our hotel near Heathrow, and both of us were nodding off in the backseat. We were staying at the Ramada, which I believe might have been the nicest Ramada I’ve ever seen in my life.

We grabbed dinner at the hotel restaurant (it was 9:30 at night). I had fish and chips (I was in England… what else should you eat in England when you’ll only be there for one or two meals). Christine had ____. Both were really good. Oh, and I ordered lemonade with my meal… two sips, and I was in love with it, so I asked the waitress how it was made (it was carbonated, so I was sure the bartender made it) … she said “I don’t know, you just push the button next to the Sprite that says ‘lemonade'” which we got a chuckle from. Turns out lemonade is just a more lemony Sprite, I guess. Heh.

We slept in that next morning, and headed to Heahtrow with a few hours earlier than we needed to be there, so we did some shopping at ate lunch at Heathrow, while we waited for our gate to be confirmed. We bought some tea for a friend and confections for the kids.

After boarding our plane, we settled in, and were promptly told that our flight was delayed for at least 1.5 hours, due to the fog. Fog in London? London Fog? Who’d have guessed?

A long flight home, after which we found out that we’d lost our car keys, a rental car to Austin and back, and we were really finally home. Longing for more time in Italy, and glad to be back to our normal lives, all in the same breath.

I can easily recommend Italy more than any other place I’ve ever been… especially the Amalfi Coast, Positano, Capri, Pompeii and Rome. What a fantastic trip. So thankful that my wife found it on Travelzoo and jumped on it almost a year ago.


Oh, and you can go through all of the photos from our Italy trip: Big Camera here. iPhone photos here. No guarantee that they’re in chronological order though ๐Ÿ˜‰

We woke up around 9am, and headed down to the restaurant to grab breakfast in the hotel, and we didn’t have a clue what was in store for us. We were in for a treat.

Our breakfast was a selection of pretty much any kind of pastry one could ask for. My favorite was the peach filled croissants. Christines was some kind of cream-cheese cake. We also had salami and ham with cheese, and then we found out the chef would cook up eggs for us, so I ordered two eggs, sunny-side up. Christine ordered two over-medium. The eggs we were served had to be farm fresh and straight out of a chicken. The yolks were a wonderful shade of orange, and they tasted amazing. We also had our choice of pineapple juice, blood-orange juice and coffees. I had all three!

After breakfast, we walked down to the Fionello beach… the little one on the western side of the town. It was a hell of a walk down to the beach, but well worth it.

Christine even got in and swam, and we took a few rocks to take back to Texas as momentos.

We met a couple from Romania on the beach, and took their photos for them, and they took ours. Their names were Marius and Nina. Marius was in the real estate business in Romania and Nina was a general manager for the Hard Rock chain… her last “project” was opening the Hard Rock in Bucharest… and she’s on vacation for a month before finding out where her next assignment will be. Talk about a fun sounding job!

After spending time on the small beach, we walked over to the large beach (they’re connected by a walkway and more steps) to grab lunch at one of the beachside restaurants. A little priscutto, caprese salad and some wine, and we were sated. Then it was off on a shopping tour of central Positano. We shopped in all of the shops that were open, and bought a few knick knacks and gifts for folks back home, before taking the bus up to our hotel.

To give you a feel for how far up/down the hotel was from the beach, see this next photo. Our hotel is the little white bulding at the top of all the other buildings:

Pretty far hike!

We checked with the front desk, to make sure we had reservations at La Tagliata, up in Montepertuso, and we were assured that we did… and that they opened around 6:30 or 7:00, so we went to our room, and put our stuff away.

We bought a bottle of wine, and some water, and took the 3:20 bus up to Montepertuso from our hotel, except it wasn’t the bus up to Montepertuso… that one didn’t leave until 5:20. Hmmmm. We were put out that we’d be missing the sunset from up there, which was one of our goals for our trip. We ended up doing a little more shopping in the city center, then taking the 5:20 bus up to Montepertuso. Our friends got on the bus with us, and laughed that we were sitting there. It was kind of funny, now that I think about it.

We took the 30 minute ride up the mountains, and enjoyed the views of the seaside and the rose and orange colored skies and seas. And you should have seen the look on Christine’s face as we turned corners and skirted precariously close to the ende of the road, while the oncoming traffic stopped and backed up many time to give the bus the right-of-way on the tiny road up to Montepertuso.

When we arrived at La Tagliata, we knocked on the door, which was oddly closed, which seemed out-of-place to us. We were sure we weren’t that early.

When the proprieter opened the door, she said (in Italian) that they were closed for the night. So, disappointed, we all four decided to walk down to the town of Montepertuso, to see if we could find another restaurant open (the bus only comes by once every 20-30 minutes or so, so waiting wasn’t really an option).

It was dark and the air was crisp with a slight breeze every now and then. We decided to open our bottle of wine, for the walk down the hill… which was an adventure in itself: the cork broke, my cork puller wasn’t much use, so we eventually took a branch off a tree, to poke what was left of the cork into the bottle. It worked, and we enjoyed a light almost bubbly bottle of local white wine on the walk down the hill.

About half way to Montepertuso, I realized that maybe La Tagliata wasn’t actually closed for the night… but just wasn’t open yet, and that we’d misunderstood. So we turned around, and treked back up the hill.

After getting the owner’s attention again, and asking in Italian (gotta love the trusty iPhone translator software we had) she told us “Kochina Finito!” which we all understood as “our kitchen is finished”.

So we walked all the way back to town again… and finished off the rest of the wine ๐Ÿ˜‰

In Monte Perturso (which was about a 15 minute or 20 minute walk down the hill from La Tagliata) we asked a local boy where we could find a restuarant… and he pointed to the Ristorante Il Ritrovo. So we all agreed to eat there.

At dinner, our waiter’s name was “Roger”. I asked him if that was the English version of his name, and if so, how to say it in Italian… he laughed and said “I don’t know, I’m from Brazil” which we all got a chuckle out of.

Dinner was amazing. Lots of meats, tomatoes, and cheese, great wine and good company. The owner and chef came out to visit us a few times, and as we’d seen at other places, the locals started showing up for dinner around 8:00, whereas we’d eaten starting at 6:30 or so…

We took the bus back to our hotel, and went to bed.

We woke up just early enough to get all of our stuff packed up, eat breakfast, and make the 9:50 boat to the Isle of Capri (pronounced “KAA-pri”, not like the pants), so we rushed to make it. We got in our car, and rushed down to the marina (not really knowing for sure if the way we were heading was the right way) and we made it with 4 minutes to catch the jet boat.

I’ll also point out that I switched from wearing my super high-tech Columbia hiking/running shoes into my tried and trusted Lucchese boots, today. I was so uncomfortable in those super cushiony shoes… but those boots have been worn on every business trip, and many long Sundays… and are 13 years old… and I couldn’t have had a more comfortable shoe. Those Lucchese’s got me through many more steps in Italy, and I wished I’d have worn them the whole time. Lesson learned for next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

We parked the car, right next to a bunch of other cars… bought our tickets and headed to catch the jet boat. Here’s a quick little video of us driving to the marina (note: the video is taken on the road that does the switchback in this photo). The words at the end will come back to haunt us later in the day…

As we stood in line, this nice little man approached us and said “Are you with a tour group?” and we replied “no”. He then said “well, just go to the front of the line then” … so we did, and we got on the boat.

A few minutes into our trip, and our little friend found us an pitched us on his tour-guide services. He said he already had a few other customers, and that we could join his little group. We talked about it on the boat ride over to the island and decided that it was probably a good idea to join him, as the price he was asking sounded like a good deal. His name was Jerry, and he lived on Capri, and this was how he made a living… finding wayward travelers on the mainland, and giving them his own little personal tour of Capri.

Once we landed on Capri, Jerry got us on a bus. There was Christine and I, an Israeli couple, two Swedish couples, a French couple and a German couple. The first stop on the tour was Anacapri, which was just up the hill from Capri-town. And when I say “just up the hill”, I mean it was up this crazy windy one-lane for the most part road, that hugged a cliff all the way up. Back in the past, the only way to get to Anacapri from Capri-town was to walk up 900 steps that were cut into the side of the mountain.

Jerry jokingly told us that if we saw someone coming down those steps, they wre probably American. If we saw someone going up the steps, they were probably a local. And if we saw someone going up then, then later coming down them, they were probably German. Germans love to hike all over Capri.

We’d wanted to visit the Ruins of Jovis, which is where the Emporer Tiberius set up his first residence outside of Rome because he was worried about being murdered (like 27 A.D.), and made Capri a retreat for the Roman Aristocracy. When he pointed out how far the ruins were from the main towns, we agreed that the trek to the ruins was probably best left to the Germans.

Also, on the way up the hill, an ambulance came screaming down the road at us, and passed us. As they drove by, Jerry remarked “See, there goes another German… he probably died hiking”, which brought a laugh from the group.

After getting off the bus, Jerry walked us past the cemetery in Anacapri, and explained that we were welcome to come visit him at his home in Capri anytime in the next 10 years, but if we wanted to visit him after 10 years from now, we’d need to come find him in that cemetery. It was gorgeous… covered in flowers, as the local residents bring more flowers than usual on All Saint’s Day, which had just passed.

We rounded the corner, and found the Chairlift Monte Solaro to the top of the peak on the Anacapri side of the island. We took it up to the top.

To our dismay, the overcast day, meant that the entire western side of the island was shrouded in clouds, so we couldn’t see “the most beautiful part of the island” where all of the celebrities have their retreat houses. We were actually above the clouds that were rolling in off the ocean, and as they hit the peak of the mountain, they were being pushed up past us. It was pretty ethereal hearing the birds call from below us, but not being able to see them at all.

Since it was off-season, the bar that was normally open at the top was closed too, so we didn’t spend much time at the top.

We took the chairs back down the hill, so we could find Dr. Axel Munthe‘s Villa San Michele, that overlooked the northern and eastern side of Anacapri, all the way back to Capritown. He was a late 1800’s/early 1900’s Swedish psychiatrist who is famous as a humanist and author.

After a tour of his residence, we met Jerry and the rest of the tour group and had lunch at a local restaurant on the way back to the bus. We sat with the Israeli couple, and had a wonderful lunch while making friends from the other side of the globe. There names were Achiva (he went by Kiki) and Iris, and they lived in Tel Aviv, and they were on this trip to celebrate Iris’s birthday (I can’t remember exactly which one… must have been her 29th ;)). We traded stories about our kids (theirs are close to our age), the military, education (Kiki is a professor of statistics), about how they love to come to Italy as often as they can (it’s only 3 hours by plane for them) and about the economies and political climates of our two countries. We really enjoyed sitting with them and getting exposed to their culture. Also, loved learning that many moons ago, Iris was a paratrooper in the Israeli Army. Love that!

After lunch, we boarded the bus again, and went down the mountain to Capri-town. Jerry got us a free sample of Lemonciello and then bid us adieu, to let us explore Capri ourselves. We had about another hour or two until our boat left, so we window shopped, and sat down for a cafe latte and cappuccino overlooking the bay of Naples from the Capri La Piazzetta. It was very nice.

We met up with Kiki and Iris again for the ride on the Funicular (cable car) down the hill to the boat docs, where we shared pictures of Danielle that Evan has just sent me on my phone. Iris told us that her father was only about 1 pound when he was born, and he made it just fine all those years ago, and that he’s still kicking it in his old age, which made us feel better about how tiny Danielle is, and how Evan and Shadel are coping with having a premi baby (she’s adorable, and doing fine, btw).

On the ride back to Sorrento, we sat outside, so I could take some photos of Capri as we left it, and of the coastline of Italy as we approached it. It was just a little chilly up on top of the boat, but not too bad.

Back in Sorrento, as we were walking towards the car, Christine said “Man, I hope our car didn’t get towed.” I think that jinxed us.

When we got to where we’d lost the car, we couldn’t find it… Christine didn’t look happy with me.

I asked a few people where I could find my car and they all said “Polizia” so we looked for the local police.

We found the Polizia Stradale, which wasn’t the local police (they’re more like a national version of the State Troopers). After realizing they didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Italian, I whipped out my iPhone, and using the translation book I’d bought, I asked “Dove la automobile?” which is “where is the car?”

The policeman that was driving pulled out his phone and called on of the local police, who was having coffee or something in the restaurant across the street. After talking to him, he tried to explain to me that my car had been towed, because it was in a no parking zone, and that I’d need to find a taxi to go get it, pay the tow, then pay the ticket to the Sorrento police. I think I understood about 1/2 of what he was telling me.

So, we found a nice taxi driver that thankfully spoke fluent English (he’d lived in California for about 15 years, as a marble installation contractor before returning to Sorrento years ago). He found the local police man, got the story, and then explained everything to us, and of we went in search of our car.

Our car was in S. Agata di Golfi, which is a picturesque little Italian town that straddles the moutain between the Gulf of Naples and Gulf of Salerno on the Sorrento Peninsula. It’s only about 4 kilometers from Sorrento, but that ride cost us about 70€, but, it was actually kind of fun. Beacuse the driver spoke English, we got a little mini-tour out of it.

We learned that the local farmers put nets over their lemon trees to protect the lemons from hail storms, as the hail will damage the skins of the lemons, which isn’t acceptable, as the skin is the part that’s used to make he local lemonciello. We also learned that the nets under the trees meant that those were olive trees, and the locals want any olives that fall off to fall into the nets, where they are more easily gathered than onto the ground. It also protects the olive skins more than letting them hit the ground, which means the olives will be a little less acidic than if their skinds are bruised.

We stopped at an ATM machine on the way to pick up our car, just in case the tow truck driver wasn’t kind to us, as they pretty much set their own rates. Luckily he only charged us 150 €, and we were free to go… though we now have a parking ticket from Sorrento that we haven’t paid, and I’m not even sure I know how to go about paying it.

We did get to see the sunset from the tow lot, and amazingly it was gorgeous.

We got into our car, and made our way towards Positano and the Hotel Villa Franca… which, let me tell you… if I thought the drive into Sorrento was tough, the drive into Positano was insane. That highway is called the Blue Ribbon Highway in the guide books, and that’s pretty accurate, I think, because if you stray off the ribbon of road that they call a highway, I could see how easily your body could be found the next day, and it’d likely be all kinds of shades of blue.

Luckily we made it to our hotel without driving past it (the road in Positano is one-way, once you get into town and driving all the way back around to our hotel would have taken at least thirty minutes).

We checked in, and headed up to our room to check out the room and the view. It was night-time, but we could tell that it was going to be gorgeous during the day (it was already pretty enchanting at night).

We put on some clothes that would be suitable for dinner, and decided to walk down to the town square for dinner.

We headed down the hill towards the square, taking the steps, and I tried counting how many steps we’d made. After about 100, I stopped counting, and in another 100 or steps, we hit the main road again, and realized we were at most 1/2 way down the hill, and taking the steps were killing my legs (and Christine was wearing heels… likely not the best choice for trapsing around this town). So we walked down the rest of the way on the main road, which was much less of a grade, and thus was a little easier, even if it took longer.

Once in the square, we found a few little shops to poke our heads into, and then ran into our friends from Texas.

We decided to eat dinner together, and headed down to the water to eat at a restaurant on the beach. We chose Chez Black.

Christine and Tobin ordered the Sea Bass. I had the seafood and pasta dinner, and Lee ordered pizza. It was GOOOD. When we were done, we asked for our check, and the guy said “why… nothing else is open… there’s no where else to go… wait here, I’ll bring you something” and a few minutes later he showed up with some lemociello and roasted chestnuts for us. We ordered another bottle of wine, and enjoyed the evening some more, before heading back up the mountain to our hotel.

Lee thought it’d be fun to walk up the steps, so I cussed his name for a good thirty minutes while we trudged up the hill… vowing to take the bus next time, no matter what.

We turned in for the night, with our balcony doors open, hearing nothing but the sound of waves hitting the beach. It was pretty awesome.

We woke up around 8:30, ate breakfast, and got in the car, headed north out of Sorrento towards Pompeii.

About a third of the way there, we pulled over in an empty parking lot to take some photos of the view from the roadside of Sorrento and the last couple of towns we’d driven through. It was just gorgeous.

As we got back into the car, we saw the shop owner that owned the parking lot we were sitting in, and we realized we were sitting in a little inlaid wood factory’s parking lot, so we decided to stop in, as he was opening the shop up.

We ended up spending an hour and a half in the store. They had some amazing work, and the owner’s uncle made Christine some flowers and her first initial while we watched him work on his band saw. It was pretty awesome to watch. The owner’s name was Michele (Michael in American) and he spent a lot of time with us explaining his business and the art of it all. Turns out his uncle started working for the factory when he was 9, and had been at it for 61 years. Michele had joined the Italian Navy and retired when he got married, and came back to the family business to run it upon retiring. What a great experience at Miss Bellevue … if you’re on the Sorrento Peninsula, I highly recommend stopping by their showroom!

We fell in love with a table that was 5,500€, and was just gorgeous. I kept reminding Christine that we had to pay our taxes on our house in January, while she tried to figure out how to buy the table. As we were finally leaving, Michele offered Christine a job next summer, after which he’d give Christine the table… so if you hear that we’re living in Italy next summer, you know why ๐Ÿ˜‰

After spending more time than we’d planned at the shop, we got in the car headed for Pompeii.

We ate lunch with a couple Christine had met at breakfast that morning. He was a government contractor working on military contracts, so we had that common bond, and enjoyed the lunch.

After lunch, we toured Pompeii, which was pretty amazing. Lots of old stuff that looks much like it did ~2,000 years ago. Christine and I were amazed at how advanced their civilization was… water/plumbing, painting, riches, poverty, brothels, etc… they had it all. We were also amazed at how much damage the eruption of Vesuvius did to the city of Pompeii, and the surrounding countryside. I mean, just thinking that the sea used to come all the way to the Puerto Marina (the gate we entered, which used to be the gate to the marina) and is now a good few miles from Pompeii, shows just how much stuff landed around Vesuvius when it blew it’s top. I mean, just wow!

The sun was starting to set around 4:30, so we finished up our tour of Pompeii, and got in the car to drive out to the tip of the Sorrento Penninsula.

We didn’t make it all the way to the tip, but we made it to Massa Lubrense, which is one town further west than Sorrento. It’s a tiny little town built up on the cliffs over-looking the Bay of Naples, and it’s very cute. We visited the local cathedral, and saw a private cermony taking place in the chappel next to the cathedral, then bought some clothes in a shop, before heading back to Sorrento for the night. I got two shirts (that we later discovered were actually made in Bangladesh) and Christine got an italian made sun dress that was very cute.

On the way back into Sorrento, we decided to park and do a little shopping before finding dinner and heading back to the hotel for bed.

Christine woke me up at 4:15 this morning. She never did get to sleep last night. I wasn’t happy to be getting up this early. At all. In fact I was probably quite the ass this morning. Sorry babe.

We walked to the train station in the dark and boarded our train at 4:50 or so. It departed pretty much right on time at 5am. It was pretty dark so all we saw on the way to Naples was the grafitti on the walls at the other trains stations and the lights of the tunnels and the other trains heading towards us on the adjacent tracks. Grafitti is a real problem in this country, I think.

I did some people watching. The people are definitely fashionable (which is to be expected in Italy, I guess) but the aren’t any more fashionable than people in… say cities like… New York or LA. At least not at 5am. There was one young man with some killer D&G glasses and another with three earings. Those two were pretty fashionable. The coats with fur hoods were pretty prevalent.

When we got to Naples, we had to walk upstairs to go from the local trains to the faster Eurostar TGV trains. Once we found the right platform, we walked across the street to a coffee shop. I paid for two fruit filled sfogliata and two Americano coffees. Christine took the tickets for the pastries while I grabbed the coffee. We drank our coffee standing at the coffee bar just like the locals, then we went and boarded our train, saving our pastries for the commute.

The Italian countryside was beautiful (again, as long as you overlook the graffiti that is pretty much everywhere). We saw grapes and all kinds, plenty of other kinds of crops and lots of livestock, along with the local ranchers and farmers in their fields. Truly picturesque… like something out of Godfather II. Cities built into the sides of hills… etc – all at 180 km/hr in super comfortable seats.

About half way to Rome, I checked out the dining car. Again, standing only to drink my espresso and walking down the aisle of a train moving that fast around curves isn’t easy… And our coach happened to be the farthest from the dining car. Learned a lesson there.

Once in Rome, we grabbed a taxi from Roma Termini to the entrance to the Musei Vaticano. It was about 12€. Maybe.

Oh, and it was pouring rain. I mean, like a Texas thunderstorm, pouring rain.

We went into the Cafe Vaticano, across the street from the Vatican and had a coffee and a cafe latte and some free lemon pound cake. Yum.

We then met our tour guide Tiffany (from Indiana of all places) and waited for the tour to start. Viator Tours was the tour company. They did a good job of getting us into the Vatican and showing us around, while keeping us out of the rain, and the tour group we were with was limited to 20 people… and we saw a few groups that were 40+ people, and that didn’t look like much fun.

I could write a whole book about all of the stuff we saw (and I’m sure there are already hundreds of those) so I’ll just try to recount a few of the highlights.

First, I have a huge amount of respect for the role the Catholic church has played in Rome’s history and the preservation of the city and the art in the city. I was surprised to find so many examples of non-Christian yet religious art: Sphinxes, obelisks, statues of Greek gods and goddesses, among other priceless treasures. I was also crazy surprised to learn how much the old Popes (think Middle and Dark ages here) were much more than political and spiritual leaders… The were basically emperors, just with a new God.

The map room is proof of that… We were both taken aback by how large the maps on the walls were and how accurate they were considering that to make them, the guy that the Pope hired had to basically climb lots of mountains, take measurements of the coastlines and other mountain tops from where they were and the put all of the measurements together to make a map, which the Pope then used to create a battle strategy against the barbarians and pagans that needed a little whipping here and there.

Then we pretty much owe the Renaissance period arts to the Popes during that period. They produced Michaelangelo, Bernini, Rafael, etc… We also owe lots of conspiracy theories to their secrecy after the Protestant Reformation. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in turn owe their names to the Popes. Pow. Bet, you didn’t see that reference coming, did you?

The Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) was amazing. Like wow. Oh, and don’t take photos in there (there are plenty online, so you don’t need to). I almost got thrown out for just picking up my camera to chest level to turn it off. Christine wasn’t impressed with me at that point ๐Ÿ˜‰

After the Vatican, I was pretty overwhelmed with the amount of power that the Vatican has wielded for so long, and I understand where a lot of that power comes from, I think. And I can tell you at the time, I was so glad to have made the trip to Rome… and it was only lunchtime.

We had lunch at Ris Café, not far from St. Peter’s square. It was good, although I should have checked the prices better… Nothing like paying 50€ for some risotto with white truffles… Oh well, it was good, and I don’t need to eat white truffles again if I don’t want to pay for it.

After lunch we went back to the same place we started at to meet the same tour company and got on a bus to visit three more churches that belong to the Vatican, but aren’t inside Vatican City. We visited the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. St John’s was my favorite, I think by far.

Right before St John’s we visited the Steps of Jesus and watched more than a few pilgrims climb the stairs on their knees… Saying three prayers on each, before being rewarded with being able to touch the place where Jesus’s blood dripped onto the top step from his crown of thorns as he went to see Pontius Pilot for his judgement (yes, they took the steps out of Jerusalem and brought them to Rome). At the top, we saw the Image of Christ, that existed in the Lateran Palace.

Oh, and the relics in these churches are real relics. Like: the spear that stabbed Jesus while he hung on the cross. The chains that held Paul when he was beheaded. Parts of the manger that Jesus was born in. The bones of Peter and Paul…

Awesome stuff man. Wow. I’m still moved as I write this.

If you don’t believe all of that stuff happened, I dare you to visit Rome and these places and not come away feeling a little less sure of your own convictions. I’m bit saying you’ll wall out of the Vatican a born again Catholic, but it’s hard not to feel the power of the Spirit in these churches. Really.

After St. Mary’s (the last church) we ran to the Roma Termini, and found that there was an express train leaving the station about seven minutes from when we got there. We had a choice: try to buy tickets at self-service kiosk and make the next train or get in a long line and have to wait an hour for the next express. I opted to try the kiosk (Christine said “we will never figure thus thing out”) and luckily it had a button with the flag of England on it, which I assumed meant “English”.

About a minute later we had two tickets to Naples, or at least that’s what I thought I bought. We raced to figure out which platform to go to, and where we couldn’t find our trains on the first schedule board,

I looked at Christine and said “just keep up with me and we’ll find it.”

A few minutes later we found out train and the platform number and headed that way. I was perfectly perplexed when we saw the destination on our train and it wasn’t Naples. I looked at Christine and said “Where the hell is Reggio Calabria?”. She laughed and said “It’s south of Naples, near Sicily, so I think we are good.” So we boarded the train. We found our coach and confirmed with the other passengers we were sitting near that we were on the right train in the right car and at the right seats.

About a minute after we sat down and got comfortable, the train left the station, and I smiled and said “Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.”

Christine agreed and the proceeded to take a quick little cat nap on the way to Napoli. Cities built into the sides of hills… etc – all at 180 km/hr in super comfortable seats.

The gentleman sitting next to me on the train worked for either the Salerno government, or the Italian government in Salerno, and had been in Rome for work for the day. He was extremely nice, and very gracious as he tried his best to help me make sure we got off at the right stop, and we talked about the difference between Italian and American politics, albeit very light conversation, as I wanted to steer clear of making any inflamatory comments… and I don’t know anything about Italian politics. He did tell me to be very careful with my camera in the Naples train station, and I thanked him for the advice and help.

Once at the Napoli station, we found the bathroom (and 2e€ later we were able to pee) then our train platform. A nice young Italian woman made sure we got on the right train to Sorrento, and an hour or so later, and we were back in our town.

We were exhausted after the long day, so we popped into the Pizzeria da Franco on the way back to our hotel, and were treated to quite literally the best pizza we had in Italy.

After finishing our pizza, and one bottle of wine, we saw a local eating some fresh Parma Ham with cheese and bread, so we ordered a platter. Christine started to protest, and the waiter said “no, no, no, it’s not too much, I’ll bring it out” and so we enjoyed a second bottle of wine with the best proscuitto and cheese we’ve ever had.

And the bread… oh my gosh, the bread was awesome. I asked how it was made, and the waiter said “some flour, some butter, some egs, and ham and sausage, and cooked next to the pizza in our oven.” I think it was the ham and sausage that made it so good… not dry like all of the other sourdough bread we’d had at other restaurants… it was very moist and rich, and the perfect compliment to the parmessian and mozerella cheese and ham we were eating.

And the wine cups were plastic:

Mmmm. Multo beuno!

Day two in Italy started a little slow. Christine woke up at 6:30am and decided to get some more sleep. She woke up around 9:30, got herself ready for the day and then woke me up around 10. 12 hours of sleep never felt so good.

We decided to make today our Sorrento day. So we left the hotel and went walking. And boy did we walk.

We met a couple from Dallas that bought the same package we bought from Sceptre Tours (found them on Travelzoo) in the main piazza overlooking the windy ass road that goes down to the marina/beach. It was fun meeting them and we promised to have dinner with them in Positano later in the week since we are staying at the same hotels and such.

We relied heavily on Rick Steves’ advice and guides and took his “walking tour” of the city. We started at Fauno Bar. After grabbing a cafe latte and an americano and some small pastries, we took off on our walk.

We saw lots of cool things thanks to Rick Steves. If your coming to Sorrento or Italy in general, I can’t recommend his books enough.

First we saw some steps down into a huge gorge that dated back to 500 BC.

Then we saw a courtyard that serves as an example of an 13th century aristocrat’s courtyard. After that we saw a cathedral with amazing inlaid wood doors and Stations of the Cross. Specifically all of the Stations of the Cross were amazingly intricate. Sorrento is known for it’s inlaid wood furniture and accessories. Local artisans’ families have been producing it for centuries.

We continued out walk back to Piazza Tasso (where the Fauno Bar is located) and then headed towards the Bay of Naples to Piazza San Antonio. St Anthony is the patron saint of Sorrento. We visited the church on the square where his remains are kept in a crypt below the alter. The walls were lined with pewter ornaments bearing the phrase “Per Grazie Resivuto”. We’re not sure what the means, but think it is a offering of thanksgiving for answering prayers of saving or helping a loved one.

We had lunch at L’ Antica Trattoria. We were seated by the owner Aldo and waited on by his son Luca. Aside from the cheesy piped in muzac (think instrumental versions of “Ebony and Ivory”) we were blown away. I think I said “fucking amazing” two Christine two or three times. And it was only a three course meal. It concluded with pumpkin creme brule. Amazing.

The sparkling blush wine we started with was very bright and cheerful. Then we had some local olives (very mild) and local potatos that were fried into chips.

The salad with tempura fried risotto and broccoli was simply amazing. The dressing was basalmic vinegar and honey!

For the main courses, I had a perfectly cooked beef filet than was lean, but not too lean, while Christine had the local white fish. Mmmm. My side were sliced potatoes with grilled onions stacked between the potatoes (think potatoes au gratin but without the cheese, stacked up and just slightly crispy on the edges). We also shared a bottle of red wine from Ischia that while a little rough on the nose initially was fantastic. We also shared a bottle of red wine from Ischia that while a little rough on the nose initially was fantastic. Wonderful lunch. Actually… Fucking Amazing!

After lunch we veered off Rick Steves’ walking tour and found the cathedral of St. Francis and the nunnery that is attached, which happen to be situated right at the top of the cliffs overlooking The Bay of Naples to the north of Sorrento. Christine had the privilege of paying .50 Euro to use their bathroom.

We then walked down the cliffside pathway to the beaches of Sorrento and then around to the marina. What a fun stroll that was. Christine even took her shoes off to play in the water a little (and so she can say she’s been in the Mediterranean Sea).

We took the bus back up the hill (and it was an all electric bus too, btw) and found the Sorrento Circumsuvencia (train and bus station). We bought tickets for the early train the Naples for our trip to Rome tomorrow. And on the way from the train station to the hotel, we stopped in a few shops, lolling for nothing in particular, but finding many beautiful things: cashmere, nativity sets, inlaid wood, shoes, you name it. It was there.

When we got back to the hotel, we rested for a few minutes, and I took a call from a client.

Then we were off again in search of train tickets from Naples to Rome, and some better advice about our travel options. We found the local travel agent’s office and met a wonderful young lady that while originally from Sorrento grew up in Australia, and had a perfectly British accent. She sold us two tickets for the Eurostar from Naples to Rome and gave us good directions about how to change trains, and when to head back from Rome.

We had wine and a light dinner at B_______ where we were served by the owner’s son. We were treated to a lively conversation about the state of the Italian economy, public vs. private schooling in Sorrento and where to eat in Positano and where to shop in Naples. I asked the man what his name was and he answered “Luigi” to which Christine responded “heh, that’s perfect!” The food was good and te conversation was great. Oh, and the wine was really good.

We walked back to the hotel, timing the walk to the train station on the way. After getting into our room, we Skyped with Jack, Steven and Grayson for a few minutes before turning in for the night.

I think I eventually fell asleep around 1am. Not sure if Christine ever did. We were both a little anxious about our day in Rome tomorrow… And getting up at 4am.

Got to IAH at 12:30 or so. Our flight was delayed 2 hours so I sweet talked the BA agent at the British Airways Lounge into letting us into the club, even though I didn’t have the requisite level in their frequent flyer program. That few hours in the lounge was our first exposure to the British. This nice Englishman sitting near us gave us advice on both Italy and what to do in our short few hours in London on our return flights. We departed at 6:30pm from Houston.

The lights in Houston seemed to be sparkling as the treetops blew in the wind blocking their view from above momentarily. It was a nice send-off as we headed for the Atlantic.

Later in between naps on the plane Christine saw lights on the horizon in the pitch black darkness. This didn’t make sense because we were over the ocean. Realizing they were stars touching the horizon was such a treat (even during the somewhat sleepless night).

We landed at around 8:40am London time. Nothing like watching the sunrise from 30,000 feet over Belfast, Ireland. Amazing:

Took the National Express motorcoach (bus) from Heathrow to Gatwick. Lots of cars I’ve never seen on the roads, and even though they drive on the wrong side of the road, it seems to work. Didn’t spot a single stop light… Just roundabouts.

The British countryside was quite picturesque with it’s sheep and cows and massive draft horses on the hills as we drove by. Very Emily Brontë/Wuthering Heights-ish.

At Gatwick we grabbed some coffee and water and yogurt for breakfast. Then sat around for a few hours, waiting for our flight to Naples. I played on the iPad. Christine shopped and freshened up.

Had lunch at Cafe Rouge. French Onion soup and Toulouse Sausage salad. It wasn’t bad (much better than American airport restaurants).

We boarded our plane to Naples in time and luckily got seats in the exit row with no one in between us. I watched two episodes of season four of The Tudors. Christine read Pride and Prejudice. We were treated to a gorgeous view of the sunsetting with a crescent moon rising while flying over France.

We landed in Naples. Walked down steps to a bus that took us to the airport (reminded me of flying into Mexico to be honest), and got our bags. A few minutes later we were at the Hertz counter renting a car. The lady told us we were “getting a bigger car at the smaller car price”. A Fiat. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a “bigger” Fiat, but said “Great, grazzie!” once we found the car we put our large suitcase in the back and our other two bags in the backseat. Heh. “Bigger” ?

The drive from Naples to Sorrento was insane. It was dark, raining a little and I was driving a tiny manual transmission car on roads where I couldn’t even read the signs.

I’m talking crazy (Click the image above and zoom in on the area around Sorrento to see all of the switchbacks and tunnels and stuff). We got off the highway in Naples on accident. In probably the worst neighborhood of town. Hookers. Trash. You name it. And we had no idea where we were. Thank God for Google maps. Grazzie a Dio!

After figuring out where we needed to be, and agreeing to stop yelling at each other, we got on the right road and drove to Sorrento. The maps don’t do the drive any justice. It’s a crazy drive. Even more so in the rain at night.

I think Christine takes after her mom. At least her passenger skills (love you Mary) but that may be because I drive like her dad (you too Frank). ๐Ÿ˜‰

We finally made it. Two or three tunnels. Lots of hairpin turns. Lots of other cars. And scooters. And sometimes in our lanes coming at us!

Hotel Gardenia awaited us. And it was nice. Nice in that it was open and was where it should be. We were ready to be done driving ๐Ÿ˜‰

After we checked in, we walked down the street a little to the first restaurant we saw open. It was really just a bar next door to a pizzeria. We ordered two glasses of red wine and one marghatitta pizza. After our second glass of wine, we had a chocolate croissant and decided to call it a night. It was 9pm and we’d been up for basically 34 hours or so traveling.

So glad to be in Italy.

Jack’s school is having a “Week of Caring and Sharing” this week… part of the celebration is that the school is having a food drive, coat drive, and pet food drive all week. The drop-off location is right in the front of the school…

Jack told Christine that he really wanted to participate, so this morning, we left for school early, and Jack and I spent five minutes putting the donations we’d brought into the right bins.

When we were done, I asked Jack if he felt good giving people something that they needed, that we had that was “extra” for us. He grinned and said “Yes sir.”

I high-fived him, and then squeezed his hand. He leaned in and hugged me, and then went to assembly with the rest of his class.

Sometimes, its the unspoken love and pride that evokes the most emotion. Tonight I’ll tell him again how proud I am of him for participating in the week of caring and sharing.

Oh, and if you want to know what’s going on at Jack’s school, I’ve found the PTA’s website to be pretty useful:

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