Saturday, December 10, 2011

O Tannenbaum

Last Saturday, we made our trek to get our Christmas Tree. I insist on a "real" tree every year. People may be surprised at this being the tree-hugger that I am, but I am not going into an Old Growth Forrest in the Pacific NorthWest for my tree. It is called a Christmas Tree Farm people! After Christmas, we recycle our trees on our property for mulch. Can't get more tree-hugging than that.

We have been going to Lowe's the past few years as they have nice trees at a nice price. Most of the local sellers ( I would love to support), but I cannot afford $100 for a tree! We zeroed in on the 6-7 foot Douglas Fir section. After a bit a looking, here was this magnificent tree! It was huge! I mean ginormous! No way was this tree 6-7 feet, and it was so full! I asked my oldest to look at the sign for the section for the price...$24.97. Okay, this tree must have been put in the wrong section. What does the tag say? "Douglas Fir, 6-7 ft." Okay, someone obviously put the wrong tag on this tree. Hmmm...a bit of a conundrum. Here is the conversation going on in my head at that moment: "God, am I committing a sin purchasing this tree knowing it was obviously tagged incorrectly. Should I say something? If I don't and purchase the tree, would this be a venial or mortal sin?"

I like to think God answered me with the gentleman who came to our rescue. "Wow, what a beautiful tree! It is heavy! Let me help you get it on the cart. Are your ceilings high enough to fit this tree?" Okay, we are getting the tree! "Yes, we have vaulted ceilings." We go through the check-out....$24.97. No one said anything about it being a mistake. Prayers answered.

Now as we are getting the tree base cut, my hubby asks if I remembered to ask for the military discount? Are you kidding, do you know how much this tree cost? I would really be committing a sin if I  asked for the discount! Besides, I never feel comfortable asking for it. It is my husband who wears the uniform, not me (although he always says, we deserve it for all our sacrifices as a family). He was not going to let me get away without the discount. I go up to the cash register again and very sheepishly ask ( those of you who know me, the Jersey attitude only kicks in after crossing over the Jersey border--outside of the Garden State, although I am not Hawaiian by blood, I am in spirit as Ona always told me)....."Can I get a military discount on this, or is it too late?" The cashier said I needed to go to customer service. Well, that was just too much work for something I did not want to do in the first place. Besides, hubby was distracted with getting the tree tied to the van. Thank goodness he did not ask me about it.

We have a large tree stand, but I was wondering if it was large enough. I asked hubby. He said he thought it would be fine, but after this year, we would probably need a new one. This stand has held many trees, and due to all the rust, one needed a screw driver as leverage to loosen and tighten all the screws that steady the tree.

Here we go. We get it into the house. Yup, the base is too large for the stand. Not to worry as I am married to an USAF CE Dirt Boyz. Off to the shed. He returns with a saw and an ax. Is this overkill or what? Now, he proceeds to saw and hack away at the base of the tree on my freshly shampooed for the holidays carpet. I watched in horror as wood chips, needles and sap were flying everywhere. What could I say? The man was determined to make this tree fit into our stand (not to mention, he put the lights up on the house, the bushes in the front and my favorite Christmas Tree in the back yard with nary a nag out of me).

How does one get a 12 foot tree in a stand without a crane? Trust me, if this man had access to one, he would use it! We put the stand on the tree while the tree was laying down. Then lifted it up. Not bad. Hubby and one of the girls started tightening the screws. After much supervising on my part as to which way the tree needed to be adjusted in order to be straight, I was satisfied. Let go of the tree. And the tree falls down. Thankfully not into the fireplace, or the mantle with the Murano glass, Polish pottery or the Sandra Beorchia painting (my favorite) over the fireplace.

Each time hubby said he got it, and each time my daughter let go of the tree, the tree fell over. Finally, I said, "Why don't I go out and buy a new and bigger stand?" Hubby thought that was a good idea; however, being a Dirt Boy, he was not about to give up. He was going to make the tree fit in the stand, and the stand was going to balance the weight of the 12 ft tree! One more time, hubby says, "I got it now!"  And voila! He actually "made it happen!" Was there ever a doubt?

For good measure, I put 10 pounds of free weights on both of the front legs of the tree stand!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Backpacks and Opels

Anyone who has been to Italy or Europe knows that the streets are quite small. It always amazed me to see Americans bringing their huge SUVs to Aviano. Of course, my husband was one of them. He insisted on having our van with us. I refused to drive it. Some streets barely had enough room for two Fiat Cinque-Cento (500) to pass each other. If you were in an American vehicle on one of these roads, someone would have to back up to a wider section.

I left the van to my husband, after all, the man used to drive heavy equipment. I settled on a British car, an Opel. A little two door that barely fit the four kids and I at the time. Let me tell you, this car was great for zooming around Italian streets and parking as well. Driving on the Autostrada was another story. By the time my car reached 100 KPH (62 MPH), the engine sounded like it was being powered by  a bunch of gerbils running on a wheel inside. Oh, how I loved that car. Talk about fuel efficient! Unfortunately, in order to bring it back to the U.S., it would have had to been at least 25 years old, or brought up to American specifications--safety standards. This would be quite expensive. I did not worry about driving my Opel around Italy, but definitely would be fearful in the U.S. It would not fare well in an accident with a car on an American road.

So where does the backpack fit into this story? Well, you would think that I would learn from previous mistakes. That entire issue of shipping ArmorAll in the mail for instance! Aviano AB is split up into sections. You can get from one area to another via the base shuttle. One area has the Department of Defense School for the American children. When school was out for the day, my kids would eventually hop on the shuttle to go to the main base where the exchange was located and where I would pick them up to go home. On this particular day, we were all meeting up with my husband. I was on my way into the exchange when my oldest found me. She did not want to carry her backpack around, and I did not want to go back to the car to open it. Why did I not just give her the key? I will never know. I told her to just put her backpack under the car! Are you seeing the pattern? Not to mention the stupidity here! Put a backpack under a car in a parking lot on a military base in another country! Yes, I was not thinking, nor did I learn anything from our previous adventure.

Next thing I know, they are calling my husband's name over the  system in the exchange. I looked at my husband. Did they just call your name? Oh, and is that a bunch of Security Police running out into the parking lot?! Insert expletive here! Light bulb goes off, and I knew exactly what was going on.  Someone had reported a suspicious backpack under a car in the exchange parking lot. Hubby and I rushed out to my car to find it surrounded by Security Police and my poor daughter getting a very firm lecture. Apparently, she had gone back to the car again.  Then the SP's turn their attention to my husband, explaining the situation. I then blurted out it was my fault, I was not thinking, and I told my daughter to put her backpack under the car. Husband's jaw drops to the asphalt looking at me with that "I cannot believe this is happening again face--mixed with that can't we ever have a low profile at a base and stay off the police blotter?!"

Poor man. Cannot help but feel sorry for him as this was the first of our many public adventures in Aviano!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Italy is for Families!

Not a day goes by that I do not miss living in Italy. What's not to miss?! Great people, great food, fantastic coffee and wine! Beautiful countryside, cities, art and architecture. Italy is also a great place to live or visit with kids! Italians are family oriented, and this is reflected in everyday life. My morning ramblings will reflect this life often. Lucky you! Gorgazzo is one of my favorite places in Italy. It is a beautiful little town and has one of my favorite restaurants in all of Italy. The following is an article that I originally wrote for Italian Visits, with some changes as I ramble this morning.

Gorgazzo is a must see stop in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy.  This charming hamlet makes for a quiet and peaceful sojourn along one’s travels of Northern Italy. Not difficult to find, it is located just off the pedemontana, or “mountain highway” as the Americans living in the area refer to it.  This hamlet is famous for its springs, one of the sources of the Livenza River that flows through Friuli and Veneto eventually emptying into the Adriatic Sea. 

The springs of Gorgazzo are a site to behold.  They have been called, “delizia e tormento di moti pittori,” as they are both a delight and a torment to paint because of their ever-changing colors from the rays of the sun. Italian geographer, Giovanni Marinelli (1846-1900), must have been awe inspired by the beauty of the springs as he penned these poetic words while studying the Gorgazzo. 

“Take the emerald color, the turquoise and the beryl ones, put them into a sea of lapis-lazuli, so that everything mixes and at the same time each of them keeps its own originality and you have that one piece of liquid sky that is called Gorgazzo.”
Geologically speaking, water erosion and tectonic discontinuity created the hollow (el buso) of the springs.  The surface pond was created from the collapse of a vault under the thrust of water.  Although there are many hypotheses, the exact source of the Gorgazzo still remains a mystery. 

Not far beneath the surface is the opening to a cave.  Divers have traveled as far as 131 meters along this very narrow and curvy tunnel, and they still have yet to reach the end.  Unfortunately, some of these underwater explorations have proved fatal, and so this cave has been closed to diving since 1999.  Today, approximately seventeen meters under the surface at the opening of the cave is a guardian, a statue of the Christ.  At Christmas, the Christ is alighted, and there is a beautiful mass with divers. 

There are stairs leading down to the springs at various points along the stream.  Visitors will surely enjoy removing their shoes as they descend the steps to dip their feet in the cool water on a hot day.  For those couples wishing to experience the romance that is Italy, it is a pleasant feeling to have your feet washed by the one you love in the springs of the Gorgazzo. 

For visitors traveling around Italy with kids, this is a place for families.  Children will enjoy feeding the fish and the ducks that swim in the “cielo liquido.” 

The restaurants here offer delicious, yet affordable meals, and they have a play area for young children as well.  This added benefit allows time for mom and dad to reconnect over a delicious meal that can be leisurely enjoyed while their children are happily playing.  In the evenings, travelers will enjoy sipping their glasses of wine while listening to the music of a live band.

Couples and families alike will enjoy taking a stroll through the hamlet that is Gorgazzo.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Never, Never Send ArmorAll in the Mail!

 I must preface this morning's rambling with a few words. The "incident" of which you are about to read took place about one month prior to 9-11.  I have always looked back on this experience with humor. Humor mainly over the events that took place(Of which I take full responsibility) leading up to the "incident." Please do not in anyway think that I am making light of the USAF, or its members. The proper protocol was being followed as the safety of the base and the people on it were of major concern.  The tragedy of the following month more than validates how the situation was handled by the Air Force.

The kids and I had only been in Biloxi, MS for about two weeks. My husband had already deployed. We were brought to Mississippi by the military for my husband's current special duty assignment with the Navy SEABEES in Gulfport.
 I was on my way home from dropping my older three children off at school that morning. Rose, who was two at the time, was with me. As I drove into military housing, I saw a security police car pass me in the opposite direction. I immediately checked my speed. As I pulled into the driveway, I noticed that the SP had turned around. "Great and what did I do" were my initial thoughts? When I got out of the car, he addressed me by name. Panic set in. Did something happen to my husband? This current deployment had him working with explosives. As the Airman started to explain why he was here, I started to relax. Apparently, a suspicious package had arrived at the base post office. It was addressed to my husband. There was no return address, no postage and to make matters worse, the package had oil stains! Do you see where this is going?
  Relief! I knew what it was. It was the package I had mailed prior to leaving Hawai'i. It is now necessary that I give a brief history on the package in question.

 After our initial packing up of our household goods (about two months before we would be leaving), some items were forgotten. My husband's ratchet set and about 5 bottles of ArmorAll. We would have one more pack up about a week before leaving. This was a small container of "necessary" items that would arrive at our destination quickly. My hubby said to be sure these forgotten items were in that packing. Really, ArmorAll?! Is it that important?! Hubby had to leave 2 months ahead of us for training, so he was entrusting the care of his ArmorAll to me. As you will see, this was a mistake on his part!
  Final pack up day arrives, and I sort of forgot about the ratchet set and the ArmorAll. Was this my subconscious trying to get rid of the blasted ArmorAll? I could give the stuff away, and then just tell hubby it got lost in the move. I have done this before. Hubby: "Honey, have you seen my soccer cleats?" Me: "Why, no sweetie, they must have gotten lost during the move."  Mind you, I got rid of those cleats two PCS's (Permanent Change of Station) back, and he is just now noticing he no longer has them.
 Alas, some of my items got left out of this pack-up, so I needed to pack everything up and send it on in the mail. This was mistake number #2. Mistake #1 was forgetting the items in the first place! I put together a rather large box, full of the ArmorAll, ratchet set and some minor items of mine. I wrapped the box in brown paper (mistake #3). I addressed it to my husband's P.O. Box at the base in Mississippi, and finally, I put a return address label on the box (mistake #4). I mailed it from the main post office at Honolulu International Airport.

  Rose and I climbed into the SP car to be taken to the base. The Airman radios into the base commander, General***** that we are on our way. OMG! They called in General ***** over my box of ArmorAll? Once we are on base and close to the post office, I notice that they have cordoned off a wide area around the post office. I say to the Airman, please let me look at the package as I can confirm that I sent it, and it is safe. He relays this information to the General who says absolutely not! (I bet General Hammond would let Carter check it!)  In the meantime, I can hear the chatter over the radio. They are getting the robot ready to go in to check the package, as well as some talk of fire hoses! Can it get any worse? At this point, the Airman has been told to take me back home.
  Needless to say, I was stewing for the rest of the day. Frankly, I was worried about that damn ArmorAll! (Seriously, I was feeling terrible over what had unfolded due to my lack of forethought.) Later that afternoon, I went over to my neighbor to talk to her about the "incident."  Her husband overheard the conversation and came out, saying, "That was YOU?!" (Did I mention that he was the Chief of the Security Police at the base?)  Me: "Yeah, that was me--sorry."   I then asked for any news on my package. He told me to wait about 1-2 days, then I could pick it up  from the base post office. Fantastic! Now, you are probably thinking the story ends here. Not quite.
  After two days, I went to the post to pick up the package only to be told that I have to pay the postage. "Excuse me, " I said, "Do you really think that the post office in Hawai'i would ship a package (that cost me $50, I might add) for free?" We are all about Aloha, but not $50 worth of Aloha! "You do understand that I paid for this package to be shipped? One of the reasons this "incident" occurred was the fact that the postage label fell off along with the return address label." After my tirade, I was told to furnish a receipt, and I could get my stuff.  Normally, this would have been a problem, but as fate would have it, a receipt existed some where in Hawai'i. At the time I was mailing this box, I was sending out some mail for a certain organization(the one that is the foremost authority in the world on breastfeeding). Both transactions were  on one receipt. We had the best ever treasurer, to whom I gave the receipt; and of course, she filed that receipt. A phone call later, a copy of said receipt was out in the mail.
  About a week later, I am back at the base post office with the copy of the receipt in hand. I turned over the receipt. After scrutinizing the paper, I was then told by the clerk that I still owed postage. Apparently, I was not charged for the full weight of the package. My response was that "there was no way that the Main Post Office at Honolulu International Airport would make this mistake! And did it occur to you that the damn package weighs more now as the box and its entire contents were drenched by a fire hose?!" After the clerk conferred with the supervisor, I was told that indeed, I did not owe any extra postage, and I could drive around back to pick it up. And there it was.....a soaked box that looked like it had indeed exploded with the contents all over the place. And there was every last bottle of that ArmorAll! By the way, we are still transporting this stuff with every PCS; however, I did learn my lesson: Never, Never Send ArmorAll in the mail!
  Unfortunately, for my husband, this was only the first of "incidents" to come that have forever ingrained our family name into the the history of the USAF.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

To Bidet or Not To Bidet.....that is the question!

   I sit here this morning drinking my coffee. This morning's brew is German, one of my favorites! Now, I am thinking of and missing Italy. I can connect the dots on this one.  Back in June of 2004, we were on our way to our new home in Italy via military flight with a stop over in Germany.  Did not see much of the country that day. Just the tarmac and terminal. Oh.... and the restroom! Now, I know the women out there will understand the importance of the restroom, especially if you have kids. I remember the days when I would sit my kids on the toilet(with either the cut out paper or toilet paper on the seat) in the public restroom and tell them not to touch anything! They would either hold my hands or just sit and balance. They became quite good at it actually--sitting and balancing!

  To my pleasant surprise, the restroom was dare I say...immaculate. I would later come to realize this is a German trait. (My mother is German, but I never quite understood it until I visited Germany!) And what an amazing toilet! I was quite impressed with the European toilet—now here’s a toilet my Ms. Rose cannot pee out of! At the time, Rose was 5 years old. The way her pee flowed up and over toilets, you would think she was a boy! But no, this toilet was the one that could contain my Rose. Oh, the joy of not having to wipe up stray pee from this child anymore.  Oh and the way these toilets flush. The entire mechanism, you do not mind touching it. No more flushing with your foot. In any case, you would have to use a yoga asana in order to flush these toilets with your foot.

 After about 2 hours,  it was on to Italy where our first two months were spent in a pensione, which is like an apartment/hotel. Here was my first ever encounter with a bidet! Now, initially, I thought the bidet was a bidet; but being from the U.S., the only bidets I have ever seen were in the movies.  This one looked a little different.   I decided it had to be a urinal and told the kids thus.  Don’t laugh, the other American kids in the pensione insisted it was a sink in which to wash your feet! 

  I have to tell you after three years with a bidet, I find it to be the most amazing cannot live without invention! Really, besides being able to rinse certain areas clean, it is great as a bath tub for babies, and go ahead wash those feet while you are at it! 

  Once you have a bidet, you will wonder how you ever lived without one. Oh how I could not understand those Americans who used their bidets as a storage for their library reading material.  Did they still not know that this was a bidet? Did they not yet know the many fantastic uses of this beautiful invention?

   Oh how I have missed having a bidet for the past 4 years! I keep telling my husband that we really need to put one in our bathroom. He keeps mumbling  something about having to re-route the plumbing.