La Nostra Avventura Italiana, 2022

What follows is an epic, old school breakdown of our Thanksgiving week trip to Italy. I spent almost all day Sunday working on it, so I hope it is coherent and interesting. I’ve broken it into sections so you can read in chunks or skip around as you like.


Departure/Chicago

The trip began a little ominously. I woke up feeling terrible last Saturday morning. All three girls had been sick over the previous few weeks, one with a stomach bug, but it seemed like I had avoided all their germs.

But there I was, throwing up for the first time in years, unable to keep even bland food down, and having a hard time getting out of bed. On the freaking day I’m going to Europe for the first time in my life. Wonderful!

Fortunately throwing up for the third time did the trick and I rallied to get ready. Thank goodness I was 95% packed, didn’t need to accomplish a lot that morning, and we didn’t have to leave our house until noon.

Our fight to Paris was out of O’Hare, so we had a three-hour drive to begin our adventure. It was cold, windy, and bright in Indy. When we got up around Merrillville, IN it started snowing. As we passed into Illinois the snow because so heavy it was hard to see at times.

Luckily these were just isolated squalls, and after driving through heavy snow for five minutes we would pass into clear skies and bright sunshine. Weird.

Parking at O’Hare was a bitch. Although we had plenty of time, it was still a little stressful to cruise around for 15–20 minutes and not see a single open spot. We finally found one on the roof level of the garage, parked, and stepped into a wind chill of 11. We were not dressed for that temperature so it was an unpleasant walk at our quickest pace to the nearest elevator.

We got TSA Pre clearance for the entire family a year ago for our Hawaii trip. We didn’t really need it on that vacation, but it paid off big time in Chicago. The security lines in O’Hare were outrageous. Even arriving 2.5 hours before our flight, we may well have missed it if we didn’t have TSA Pre. It took us maybe 15 minutes to sail through that line

I wonder if some people on our flight were stuck in those lines and contributed to the delay we experienced. More about that later.


Rome

It’s hard not to speak in cliches about Rome. The amount of history collected in a relatively small area is staggering. Diving into it can be overwhelming.

We arrived in Rome six hours later than expected, so rather than take the food tour of the Trastevere neighborhood we had booked, we went straight to our hotel and found a little restaurant down the block that had good reviews. We ordered pizzas, wine for S and I, M had her first spritz of the week (she was very excited to be drinking legally with her parents), and tiramisu. It was all very good.

Monday we had an eight-hour, Rome In A Day tour booked. We didn’t see everything the city has to offer, but we sure got a lot of it. We started at the Vatican – a 15 minute walk from our hotel – touring the museums and walking through the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Just. So. Much. Stuff.

M was endlessly fascinated about how we could walk out of Italy into a completely different country simply by crossing the street.

That was the first two hours of the tour. We crossed the street back into Italy, hopped into vans and headed towards downtown, where we walked through the Pantheon and braved the crowds for the obligatory Trevi Fountain pics. I desperately tried to recall what my college art history instructor told us to do if we ever visited the Pantheon, but couldn’t come up with the memory.


After a break for lunch – pizza and pasta for all – we hit the Forum and ruins area. I had seen pictures of the ruins, but they kind of look fake. Then you walk through them and realize, “OK, this is really real.” You can’t help but be floored by how long ago some of these buildings were constructed. Thousands – plural – of years. We get excited here in the States when we find something that is 200 years old. The breadth of human experience on these locations was as impressive as the buildings themselves.

The tour ended at the Colosseum. Again, you see pictures but it doesn’t really come together until you see it from a mile away, then a block away, and then you are actually walking into it across materials people were crowded into centuries ago. Our guide mentioned the cliche “If the stones could talk, they could really tell some stories.” It certainly applies in Rome.


One humorous highlight of our tour was a couple that was in our group, an older Asian woman who spoke very poor English and her 20-something daughter from California. I’m guessing there was a 40-ish year age difference between them; the mother seemed a bit overwhelmed by everything and the daughter may not have been the most mature person in the world. A couple times the mother got confused and thought she had lost her daughter, only to be told they were standing 10 feet from each other.

After the lunch break we noticed they were staying far apart, the mom often going out in front of the group with the daughter straggling behind us. We wondered if they had argued over lunch. A couple times the mom started talking to one of our girls, thinking they were her daughter simply because of their size. A LOT of stifled giggles from our girls when this happened.

As we approached the Colosseum the mom became distraught when she realized her daughter was nowhere to be found. We all looked around, our guide called for the daughter on her headset, but she didn’t appear. So the mom and guide went back towards the Forum hoping to find her. We could hear our guide muttering on her microphone that we were going to miss our time getting inside the Colosseum. They tried calling her, but the mom couldn’t remember the daughter’s phone number. After like 15 minutes the daughter appeared. We never heard where she had wandered off to. Maybe she was just trying to ditch her mom?

Our guide, Monica, was awesome. Super knowledgable, very friendly, and with lots of sly comments not everyone would pick up on. She pointed out how ancient art was often propaganda for whoever was in charge, and while we should admire it, we should realize that sometimes the accepted stories behind them don’t reflect reality.

She also told us how interpretations of buildings and art we’ve held onto for centuries are being challenged with the use of modern technology. The Colosseum, for example, may have functioned differently than we have assumed. I liked that she shared these stories. We may know the broad strokes of history, but getting the details correct thousands of years later is likely an impossible task, yet one that is worth pursuing.

My favorite comment of hers was when we walked by the Italian Senate building and she gave us an update on their political situation.

“We just had our first female prime minister elected. Which was a good thing…even if she wasn’t the one we wanted.”

Several of us chuckled at that. If you keep up on your foreign affairs you may understand why.

It was a terrific way to see a ton of the city in a relatively short span. The weather was perfect, in the upper 50s to lower 60s and clear all day. If you only have one day to see the city, this was the way to do it.

We squeezed into a taxi to get back to our hotel. I don’t think we got the full Roman car experience, but it was still a rather fraught 15 minutes. Especially since I was the one pressed against the front passenger door with other cars inches away.

After an hour or so of recharging it was into another taxi to head to Trastevere for our rescheduled food tour. This was one of the highlights of our trip, and we were so glad we were able to move it to Monday.

Our guide was an Italian-American woman who now lives in Rome and is married to an Italian. She studied cooking, has a masters related to where food comes from, and works for a group that focuses on sustainable food.

Over the next three hours we strolled through the trendy neighborhood sampling various foods.

Our first stop was at da Enzo, a little family-run place that is mega popular. We were sliding in before official opening and there was already a line at least 30 people long. When we left it had doubled. Here we had appetizers, a glass of wine, and C and I shared some tiramisu (Her goal was to eat it as often as she could this week).

Stop two was Spirito Di Vino a wine-focused restaurant in a building with an amazing history. First the chef, who I think can safely be called eccentric, came out to greet us. He asked where we were all from. When we said “Indianapolis, it’s near Chicago,” our standard overseas answer, he exclaimed, “I’VE BEEN TO GARY!!!” I would love to get that backstory! Maybe he’s a big fan of the Jackson family?

One of the other couples in our group was from Columbia, MO; he is an attorney, she is a pediatrician.. We thought that was hilarious. They were nice. M decided to tell them how I hated Mizzou. Smart girl, but doesn’t always read the room well.

What made this restaurant special was its wine cellar. It was built at least 2300 years ago. You could literally smell the history when we went down to tour it. When the cellar was excavated in the 1800s, a very famous statue was found that dated to the building’s earliest days. That statue is now in the Vatican museum and we had seen it in the morning. Today it is a humble eatery.

We drank more wine and had a pork stew that was based on an ancient recipe the chef believed close to what people were eating 2500 years ago.

Next we had some street pizza at Pizzeria La Boccaccia, including one that had potatoes on it that was surprisingly amazing.

Fourth was to a little meat shop run by a father and son that specialized in these amazing pork sandwiches. I could have stayed there all night.

Our final heavy food stop of the night was Rione 13 where we had two of Rome’s most famous pastas: cacio e pepe and all’amatriciana. These were the two best pastas I’ve ever had.

We wrapped the night up with some gelato. M was very proud that she had read up on how to tell what the “good” gelato is, and our guide agreed that her research was right-on: avoid the stuff that is super bright and piled high in its bins and go for the gelato that is more muted in color and rests lower in the pan, often covered when the shop isn’t busy.

This food tour was fabulous and worth every one of the 130 Euros they charged us to reschedule when we couldn’t attend the Sunday session.


Florence

Tuesday we woke to rain, which we expected. We Uber-ed to the Roma Termini train station and headed up to Florence for our second city of the week.

By the time we arrived in Florence it was pouring. We all donned rain jackets, pulled hoods over our heads, and marched about 15 minutes to our hotel. After we let the girls take a quick nap we took John N’s advice and went to the Mercato Centrale for lunch.

The Mercato serves as Florence’s central market on its main level (duh) and has a large food court on its second level where you can grab a seat and then pick-and-choose your meal from various vendors. It was a bit packed because of the lunchtime rush, and some folks even stole our first seats, but it was fun to try different things and watch the crowds.

It was still raining lightly after lunch but we stopped at a small coffee shop for hot chocolates and coffees, and I got to experience the joys of the Italian coffee bar. Look it up on YouTube. It was EXACTLY like every one of those videos, which I loved.

Later we decided to try the roof bar/restaurant at our hotel for an early evening snack. The rain had switched to mist, but still only the indoor seats were available. The views were still wonderful. We ordered the evening special, which was a drink and “snacks.” The snacks were a bunch of small bites, which we expected, but they included an oyster, beef tartare, some smoked salmon, and other raw-ish foods. I figured, when in Rome – or Florence I guess – and downed everything but the oyster. M tried the oyster and couldn’t finish, saying it tasted like a fish bowl. The other girls picked at theirs and focused on the chips and mixed nuts. Ninety Euros down the drain for their picked-over plates, but at least the view was nice.

Wednesday morning the rain had moved on and the day was cool and crisp. Our activity for the morning was a three-hour walking tour of the city center.

We began at the Accademia for the obligatory viewing of Michelangelo’s David. I loved this little museum. One of my favorite college classes was that Art History course, and, as with the Vatican museums, it was amazing to see these old pieces of art and how styles changed dramatically during the Renaissance.

L thought the David was “overrated.” I tried to explain why it was so important but she wasn’t having it. I mean, I kind of get it. It’s just a statue of a dude. But often the importance of art is as much about the history that led to its creation, and the way things changed after its appearance, as the piece itself. Maybe she’ll take art history in college and then understand.

After that we slowly worked our way through the city center, spending some time around Piazza del Duomo, passing Dante’s home, making our way to Ponte Vecchio, and ending at the Palazzo Vecchio. The Duomo is outrageous. I’d seen plenty of pictures of its dome. I don’t think I had seen pictures of its marble exterior since college. Again, a little overwhelming trying to understand how it was made when it was made, and how it has lasted this long.

After lunch – pasta for all – we wandered the city streets and did some shopping then returned to the hotel for some down time. After about an hour I was itchy to not waste time on my first trip to Italy, so took a long walk on my own. That’s when I fell in love with Florence. The sun was setting, there were already Christmas lights out, and without a hood over my head or my eyes focused on the map on my phone, I just wandered and took the sights in.

You see these movies filmed in old European cities with their narrow, crooked streets, and think “That’s just part of the city.” But Florence really is this wonderful maze and every turn brings a new surprise. I was amazed at how much shopping there was. How many art stores. How many tiny, neighborhood cafes and bars. Even with all these strange, odd-angled streets, you quickly discover how easy it is to get around once you identify the landmarks.

I spent probably an hour walking without any real plan. I found a couple cool churches not included in our tour. I got into the Palazzo Vecchio’s courtyard. I stumbled onto a very oddly dressed Asian couple who were apparently taking wedding pictures. I got back to our hotel just as the sun was setting and stood above the Arno River taking in the gorgeous view.

We hemmed and hawed and dug through our guidebook and Trip Advisor for at least an hour trying to find a spot for dinner. As we grew more frustrated we threw up our hands and decided to walk towards the city center, hoping we found something. If not, we’d just got back to the Mercato.

Which is what we ended up doing.

It was significantly less crowded than the day before. Joe Bastianich has an American Barbecue restaurant inside. We laughed about it on Tuesday. As we walked by Wednesday evening the lady working flagged us down and offered a sample, “These are burnt ends, have you ever heard of those?” We all started laughing. “Maybe you know them then?” she asked. I accepted the sample. It was not Kansas City quality.

M and I got pasta. It came from a counter where they whipped up your sauce right in front of you. Mine had pumpkin, sausage, cheese, and then a Parmesan cream sauce over everything. Fantastic. M’s had a truffle sauce, which she loved. She’s kind of become a Truffle Person. The rest of our crew got sandwiches and pizza, and S got the pulled pork sandwich from the barbecue place, which was actually pretty good.

On our way home we crossed paths with another American couple, probably in their late 60s. We heard the man say, “OK, we are not moving here, but we can come back.”

I really hope I can return to Florence one day. It was my favorite stop of the trip and I would love to spend more time wandering around the city, plus getting out into Tuscany proper.


Venice

Thanksgiving morning brought a train ride across the country to Venice.

My view of Venice was purely from movies. And I’ve never really understood if the entire city is canals and islands, or if that was only part of it.

So spending two days there was certainly an eye-opener. While Rome and Florence are full of history and charms unique to each city, I don’t know if there is another city like Venice anywhere in the world.

I realize this is not exactly an original observation.

To be honest, Venice kind of doesn’t make sense. Even after spending two days walking around the city and now reviewing my pictures, my constant thought is either “Why?” or “How?” I wonder how many cities with its level of influence on world affairs have the same questions surrounding them.

Our hotel was in the Cannareggio area, which is a quiet, un-touristy part of town. It was a little unsettling to walk the streets of the district and have there be almost no noise. When you remove cars from the equation it reduces that basic background noise level to almost nothing.

We laughed each time we saw a UPS or Amazon delivery boat glide past us.

We had a tour booked for Friday so wanted to just see part of the city while we searched for a lunch spot.

We ended up near the Rialto Bridge and stumbled into a little trattoria that looked promising. While the owner and one of the waiters spoke decent English, the man who took our orders spoke almost none. This made things interesting. But it all worked out wonderfully.

As we studied the menu, the non-English speaking waiter would bring a pan from the kitchen, ladle out a few scoops of whatever was leftover from making other people’s orders onto the girls’ plates. They got to try gnocchi and two pastas this way. C and L both ordered gnocchi after the sample. He put on a big production like we had done something outrageous and then nodded ok and walked away.

S ordered the seafood risotto. When told that feeds two people, I agreed to share it with her. One of our best choices of the trip. The risotto was delivered in a small boat placed in the center of the table. I don’t know, maybe that was kitschy and cheesy, but it delighted us. It helped that the risotto was amazing.

Last year we celebrated Thanksgiving on Kauai with a rather traditional meal in a non-traditional setting. This year it was seafood risotto in Venice. Living right I guess.

Our tour on Friday ended up being just us and our guide, which was a nice change. We took a boat through a good portion of the islands, ending up near our hotel for the walking tour. It was a little more laid back that our other two city tours, less focused on seeing, say, the Colosseum or David, than on providing a general understanding of how Venice works and the history of the island. We spent time in the old Jewish Ghetto. We walked through a secret garden at a home for retired nuns. It was a very different vibe than the other tours but a nice way to wrap-up the week.


Our guide told us how a high tide was supposed to have hit the day before, but the expected waters had not arrived. I believe I linked to a video about Venice’s new floodgates sometime last year. Apparently they worked this time. Much of the island was forecast to be under water, but it remained dry. Lucky us!

Our guide suggested another hidden spot for lunch that ended up being wonderful. The girls and S all had pasta while I had roasted eggplant with marinara sauce.

Following lunch we made the obligatory trek to Piazza San Marco. We were glad we were not visiting in the heart of the summer, when it is jammed-packed with people. We could move around relatively freely and waited in line less than five minutes to get into the basilica.


Venice has a similar vibe to Florence with all the curious streets and alleys that have been there for centuries. The obvious difference is the water that can interrupt you path. We found Apple Maps to be very accurate, but a couple times it did send us down streets that ended in water, forcing us to double-back on our path. Some of that could have been more because of network issues and my phone thinking we were one block away from our actual location.

Our only self-inflicted misses of the trip were our two dinners in Venice. Several factors went into this.

We were staying well-away from the areas where most restaurants were clustered. The front desk of our hotel recommended a couple places that were just minutes away, but they were both closed on Thursday, and we thought them too small for our group on Friday.

Restaurants seem very small in Venice, with a focus on sitting outside. It was chilly and not every place was able to squeeze a table of five in.

Our girls aren’t into seafood, which complicates things in a city known for seafood. And they were getting sick of pizza and pasta.

Maybe this was just our bad luck, but Venice also seems a little less English-friendly than the other two cities. It was the only city where we ran into people who seemed flustered when we asked simple questions in English.

So both Thursday and Friday nights we ended up in tourist traps. Thursday’s had the potential to be bad, but ended up being ok. Friday’s choice was not good. Everyone was tired and grumpy and uncommunicative and no one wanted to walk back to where we had already been twice that day in hopes of finding a good restaurant. So we ended up in a spot that took entirely too long to make crappy food.

Oh well, at least it happened on our last night and not our first. Our Rome food tour was expensive, but if you don’t have someone to guide you and are unable to make reservations ahead of time, I can see the value in doing that in multiple cities just to ensure you get good food.


Travel

We booked our trip through Costco. Highly recommended. We did this last year for our Hawaii trip and it seems like a good deal. This booking included all the airfare, our train tickets, lodging, and transfers on each end of the trip.

In general our travel was quite good. As mentioned in the Rome section, we arrived six hours late because of a slight delay with our flight from Chicago to Paris. We had a very tight window to make our connection in Paris – only 70 minutes – which I had been worried about since we booked the trip. But we also figured Costco would not have suggested those flights if that was not a reasonable amount of time to catch a connection at Charles de Gaulle.

My first tip is you really should give yourself at least two hours between flights in Paris. Even had we arrived in Paris on time, we would have had a very tough time catching that connection to Rome. There’s the matter of deplaning on a massive Airbus A350, which took a good 20 minutes. There is navigating from the inbound international terminal of CDG to the outbound terminals, which includes clearing immigration. Coming back that process took us a good hour, and that was early on a Saturday morning.

Fortunately, while we were sitting on the ground in Chicago, I sent our flight info to my sister-in-law who spent years in the travel industry. When we landed in Paris the next morning she had got us seats on a flight to Rome later in the afternoon. There were a couple earlier ones so she suggested we go to the Air France counter and see if we could get on one of them. Those flights were full, but the lady assisting us was very friendly and helpful and adjusted our re-booked seats so we were all together rather than in the scattered seats the AF agent my sister-in-law spoke with put us into.

Thus we sat in Charles de Gaulle for nearly six hours last Sunday morning.

About 30 minutes before we landed in Paris a man had some kind of medical issue. I saw him stand up and walk to the restroom, then his seat mate jumped up and seemed to be kneeling down, assisting him on the floor. Soon all the flight attendants were gathered around him and a call went out for a doctor. Someone near them immediately popped up. S was relieved because the guy who went down weighed at least 250 and might have been out of her area of expertise. Not sure what happened but they didn’t bring a wheelchair or medics onto the plane when we landed.

Air France was pretty great. The food was good, they serve wine and champagne with everything, and the fight crew was super nice. When we stepped onto our plane in Chicago I was greeted by a steward with a jaunty “Bonsoir et bienvenue, monsieur! Welcome aboard!” (Apologies if I’ve bungled the grammar; I never took French.)

The girls and I loved the plane views that were available on our video screens. One was from a camera on the jet’s belly, the other at the top of the tail. These were rendered kind of useless since our flight to Paris was overnight (although we saw some spectacular shots of the sunrise over France) and our flight back to Chicago was over clouds for most of the flight. Still fun to watch takeoff/landing.

Another slight issue was on our return trip through Paris. When we landed we checked the board to confirm our flight to Chicago, but its departure was just beyond the time window being displayed. So we headed to the gate indicated on our tickets. We processed through immigration – taking about 35–40 minutes despite the sign saying it would take 10–15 – went to our gate, and set out to find some food. Our flight still wasn’t popping up on the board so I checked online and discovered it had been moved to a completely different terminal. We were still a good two hours from boarding, but I had a moment of panic when A) we couldn’t figure out how to get out of the terminal we were in and B) I feared we would have to pass through the immigration and security lines again.

After about 15 minutes of wandering/panicking, we finally found someone who pointed us in the proper direction to catch the train to terminal M. We did have to go through security, but that was quick and we found a quiet place to sit for the remaining 90 minutes of our layover.

Sleeping on planes? Surely you jest. I don’t think any of us slept for more than an hour at a time. Going to Paris there were three little kids behind us that were absolute maniacs. The kid behind me was kicking or grabbing my chair constantly. Their parents were across the aisle, not giving a fuck or sleeping, depending on when we looked back.

Coming home we woke at 3:00 AM Saturday Venice time, or 9:00 PM Friday in Indy. A few catnaps here and there, but no extended sleep along the way. We pulled into our garage at 9:00 PM Saturday night. We were in bed and asleep within 20 minutes. We all felt pretty good Sunday morning.

That’s one way to avoid jet lag.

As our flight from Venice approached Paris, we flew over downtown and were able to see the Eiffel Tower, backlit by the rising sun. That was awesome. It was also cool to see so many people on our side of the plane leaning towards their windows to get their glance at it.

All the European airports seemed clean and nice. I’m not sure how they did it, but our bags were waiting for us when we reached the luggage carousel in Rome. We were near the front of our flight, so off quick, and made a short restroom stop, but it took us less than 10 minutes to get from the gate to baggage claim, yet there they were.

Riding the train in Italy was awesome. I’ve never been on a real train before, so riding a high-speed one through the Italian countryside was fantastic. The Frecciarossa trains are clean, quiet, comfortable, and fast. Italian train stations were cool, too. I wish I had more time to wander around in them but we only had about 10 minutes between arrival and our departure each day.

On both of our train rides S and the girls had four seats that shared a table on one side of the car while I was in a single on the other side of the aisle facing another single seat. From Rome to Florence I sat across from a businessman who worked on his laptop and took a few calls.

On our second ride a man was already seated on my side we boarded, but he got off in Bologna. When the doors closed and we began moving again without anyone taking that seat, I stretched out my legs to enjoy the extra space for the last 90 minutes of the trip.

A few moments later the door from the next car opened and a rather dazzling looking woman entered and took the empty seat. I’m telling you, a lot of my good friends would have loved seeing how uncomfortable I was facing this woman, especially with my wife and daughters three feet away!

She talked on her phone the entire ride to Venice. From the little Italian I remember from 25 years ago, I think she spent at least 30 of those minutes trying to book another series of train trips. She got disconnected once and was not pleased. She also called, or took calls from, some business colleagues and may have talked to her dad. She spoke to someone else in very halting English, tapping her nails on the table as she carefully enunciated each word.

And then she talked to “Antonio.” Not sure who Antonio was, but at one point she let out this long, slow sigh and said, “Ohhhh, Antonio.” I couldn’t tell if it was filled with longing or sadness or some other emotion, but it was one of the most erotic things I’ve ever heard. It was stereotypical of how a sexy Italian lady should talk. Again, my wife and daughters were three feet away and I could not enjoy this in the slightest. Don’t tell S, but I will never forget how that lady said those two words.

Another thing I had stressed about since we booked was our transfer in Venice. Actually the stress didn’t kick in until about a month after we initially booked, when our flight time from Venice to Paris changed, meaning we would miss our connection to Chicago. I got on the phone with Costco and within an hour they had re-booked us onto an earlier flight out of Venice. The only issue was this was a 6:25 AM flight, meaning we would have to leave our hotel super early.

I think it was Tuesday I realized, “Hey, there aren’t any cars in Venice. How are they going to pick us up?”

I figured this isn’t a new problem and had been resolved years ago, but to soothe my stress I shot an email to our transfer company. They assured me they would be there, and clarified we would hop on a private water taxi before taking a car.

I was still worried they would really be there at 3:25 AM. As usual, I was stressing for nothing. The water taxi was waiting outside our hotel door when we came down to the lobby. Big thumbs up!

Europeans do not know how to board or deplane aircraft. The lines to get onto each of our flights were needlessly slow and long. People in row 12 taking two minutes standing in the aisle getting all their carry on gear situated while 400 people stand behind them and wait. As we de-planed from each flight people from behind us came charging forward without saying “excuse me” or pretending they had a connection to make. As I yelled at L’s classmates on our DC trip when they tried to charge up the bus aisle, “We are living in a society, people!”

Coming home we were surrounded by French people who all seemed to know each other. Many of them stopped to chat with the man sitting directly in front of me. One guy talked to him for literally an hour. I was trying to watch a movie (and keep my eyes open) and he was really stressing me out.


Other Comments, Observations, and Tips

We read/watched all kinds of “things to be aware of” posts/videos over the past few months. Maybe it was being out of the busiest of the tourist season but we were never really accosted by anyone. We didn’t see any gypsies until we got to Florence, and then only a couple. We saw more homeless people – not very many – than gypsies or travel scammers combined.

Pretty much everywhere we went in Rome and Florence, people spoke good English. One cab driver was a little rough but everyone else immediately spoke English to us, even when I didn’t notice any of us wearing clothes that screamed “We Are Americans.” I had made some meager efforts to recover un pochino of the Italian I learned in college, but when I tried to use it, I often got it jumbled up with Spanish and sounded like an idiot.

I did find the old adage that if you make any effort to engage people in their language, they will try even harder to engage you in yours. I know a few key words and phrases, and I hope my pronunciations were solid, because everyone I used them on seemed thrilled I was trying.

I LOVE how people are constantly saying “Buongiorno” and “Buona sera” to each other. It is delightful.

I was pretty pleased with how I managed our cash. I think I got a total of €350 in cash over the week. We arrived home with €4.30 left, all in coins.

We were all kind of bummed at how the EU messes up your passport stamps. We got stamped both times we landed in Paris, but got nothing in Italy. I would have preferred two stamps, and an Italian one over the French.

The jetway failed to work when we arrived in Paris from Venice so we had to take the stairs down to the tarmac. M, knowing I have weird travel rules, said now I had to count France as a country since I was walking on actual French earth. Trust me, if you get a passport stamp you count the country, even if you never leave the airport.

We’ve all heard how Europeans eat light breakfasts, often just a coffee and roll. Thank goodness our hotels cater to Americans. It wasn’t exactly an old school Shoney’s buffet, but there were plenty of proteins to fuel us up for our daily adventures.

The big storm that blew through on Tuesday dropped a lot of snow at higher elevations. As we went through the mountains on Thursday the peaks were all bright white.

How awesome was it to be in Italy during the World Cup?!?! Well, not very awesome since Gli Azzurri missed their second-straight WC finals. The games were all on RAI2 and I had them on anytime we were in the hotel. You could usually see them in bars and restaurants. Over there the games are on from 10 AM until 8 or 9 PM, which was great. But no shops full of Italian national team gear.

I thought about getting a Fiorentina jersey, as they used to be awesome. But I couldn’t find one that matched those they wore in the ‘90s when I paid close attention to Serie A. Since my favorite Italian team is Juventus from Turin, I didn’t think it was a good idea to get one of their jerseys, even if they are the most popular team in all of Italy. And since my last favorite Italian player, Alessandro Del Piero, retired like 16 years ago, finding one of his jerseys wasn’t easy. Oh well…

Far be it for me to give the Italians advice on how to present their historic buildings, but I think a few spotlights on Il Duomo at night could do wonders.

Our hotels were all very nice. We had two rooms in each, always either next to each other or just down the hall. Each one had their own little quirks, though. In Rome we couldn’t figure out how to get the wand for the shower to work no matter what combination of buttons we pushed or handles we twisted. In Florence both the bathtub/shower and toilets were set on extra high bases. I was the only one in the family who could touch the floor with my feet while seated on the toilet, and it was a long step down from the shower. We never quite figured out the lights in our room in Venice, and there was a decent chance someone else would turn the lights off while you were showering because they accidentally hit one of two master switches hidden amongst the others.

L was the only person who admitted to trying out the bidet. She said she was going to make a video of it for her friends, I’m assuming from the neck up. I never asked how that turned out because I didn’t want to know.

There were air dryers at most public restrooms. But they are woefully underpowered. Even after a minute of use my hands were always still wet. And I thought their voltage was higher than ours.

The lady who checked us into our Venice hotel’s name was Shadi. S wanted me to ask her if she was the real one.

S was shat upon by a bird twice, once in Rome, once in Venice. I told her Italians believe that is a sign of good luck but she wasn’t thrilled with it either time.

As mentioned, Apple Maps seems to work really well in Italian cities for walking directions. I couldn’t help but think how that changes the traveler’s experience. It’s really hard to get lost, and certainly an iPhone is easier to read than an unwieldy map. But you also spend a lot of time staring at your phone. I made a conscious effort to find a waypoint on the map and then slide the phone into my pocket so I could take in my environment as we walked, not checking my phone again until we hit that next spot on my mental map.

We each took a small, carry-on friendly suitcase plus a backpack. We ended up checking the suitcases, because we didn’t realize there’s a 22 kg total weight limit on Air France what you can carry on. Those suitcases were all packed very tightly but it seemed to work well. I was nearly perfect in my clothing choices, so I would be happy to give you packing advice for your next trip.

M and C both bought some clothes and/or jewelry as their souvenirs. L found some Nike Dunks she had never seen in the States and picked them. That took some creative packing to make sure we could squeeze another pair of shoes in.


La Fine

My friends know I’ve had a long love affair with Italy. Most of that had to do with cute ladies I knew (or wanted to know) in my 20s, but eventually it morphed into something bigger. In the summer of 1995 I tried to spend a few months in Florence studying as part of my extended college experience. My parents nixed that for multiple reasons. I figured I would still get there one day. I didn’t think it would take nearly 30 years to finally do it.

This was an excellent week. I would make a couple minor tweaks if we were re-planning the trip tomorrow. I would add a day or two, as I would want more time in Rome and could spend another full day wandering around Florence. That’s tough to do when you’re traveling with kids during the school year. I’d also avoid that tight connection in Paris and the risks it poses to the rest of the itinerary.

Or, as I said above, I’d be fine taking a Tuscany-only trip, getting into the countryside and maybe even popping over to Bologna.

But those are minor quibbles.

We have M’s senior spring break coming up in March, but after that we may never have another trip like this as a group of five again. I’m thankful we were able to go to Italy as a family, and hope the girls will carry memories of it as good as the ones I will carry.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 80

Chart Week: November 20, 1982
Song: “Heartbreaker” – Dionne Warwick
Chart Position: #28, 7th week on the chart. Peaked at #10 for two weeks in January 1983.

Dionne Warwick has had an amazing career. Hits upon hits, all kinds of notable and interesting personality quirks, a side-career that kept her in the public eye, becoming Twitter famous, and most recently the subject of a bizarre yet endearing Saturday Night Live parody.

I bet most people probably think she’s a little nutty, but in the warmest possible sense of the word.

I did not realize, until I heard this countdown, that her nuttiness went way back. Casey shared an anecdote about how a visit with an astrologer in 1971 changed the course of Dionne’s career. Although not always in the way she had hoped.

Warwick met with the astrologer seeking career advice. Her long run of big hits in the 1960s had dried up. How could she get her mojo back?

This person looked at their star charts, gazed at their runes, peered into their crystal ball, or whatever the hell performance they went through while conjuring up their stories, and told Dionne that she needed to add an “E” to her last name. Why? Because this magical letter was powerful and would add energy to her aura or chi or some such bullshit and get her career back where she wanted it to be.

Warwick followed the advice. It worked for a minute.

She partnered with The Spinners under the name “Dionne Warwicke” on the number one hit “Then Came You” in 1974. This broke a stretch of nearly five years without a Top 10 song, and was the first number one track of her career.

That bump from the extra E was short-lived, though. Her career and personal life went into the tank shortly after.

Warwicke’s songs barely cracked the Hot 100 or didn’t chart at all for the next four years. She clashed with the producers she worked with. Her album sales plummeted, to the point that Warner Bros. dropped her. Adding insult to injury, she also got divorced.

In 1978 she came to her senses and dropped the “E,” going back to plain, old Dionne Warwick. She soon signed with Arista records and brought in Barry Manilow as her producer. Within a year, she was back in the Top Ten when “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” peaked at #5.

I wonder how Warwick looks back on these days, and how she allots credit and blame. If she gives that astrologer credit for “Then Came You,” don’t they also deserve blame for the four barren years that followed? I’m guessing she was sympathetic to that person, as the third act of her public life was as a spokesperson for the Psychic Friends Network.

Again, nutty but nice.

Dionne Warwick was always a little too old, both physically and culturally, and a little too schmaltzy/adult contemporary for me. This song, though? It is solid. There’s an easy explanation for that: it was one of the last big songs that The Bee Gees were responsible for.1 The brothers Gibb wrote and produced Warwick’s Heartbreaker album. She wasn’t crazy about this song, but gave in to Barry Gibb’s insistence that it would be a hit. Later Maurice Gibb said he regretted giving it up, believing it could have propelled The Bee Gees back onto the charts.

You can’t miss all that Bee Gees DNA inside the track. Their harmonies are unmistakable. They were so freaking good at writing hooks and melody. Warwick delivers her lines expertly. This was the 28th Top 40 hit of her career. She had one more monster hit a few years down the road, but it was the product of one of the biggest collaborations of the Eighties. This wasn’t a bad way to end her Top Ten career as a solo artist. 7/10

1. But not the last. “Islands in the Stream” would be even bigger a few months later.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 79

Chart Week: November 23, 1985
Song: “Separate Lives” – Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin
Chart Position: #3, 8th week on the chart. Peaked at #1 the week of November 30.

(Note: To tide you over during our Thanksgiving vacation, I’ve scheduled a couple posts to drop while we are away. I’m hoping all goes well and they appear on time and have the appropriate media files attached. If something goes wrong, please forgive me. I will correct upon our return.)

As happens on occasion, this post is more about a story tangentially tied to the song than the song itself.

On this week’s countdown, Casey shared an anecdote about Phil Collins and his once-in-a-lifetime chance to play with a Beatle when he was a teenager.

In 1970, as George Harrison was recording his debut solo album, *All Things Must Pass*, nineteen-year-old Collins signed on as a session musician.

When he arrived at the studio, Collins was given some conga drums and asked to play on a track. He was not given any direction, just told to join in with the guitar part. Jacked up by the chance to perform with one of his heroes, Collins played the hell out of those congas. One problem: although he was a drummer, he had no idea how to correctly play the congas. Add his enthusiasm to his lack of technique, and soon his hands were bleeding.

Eventually the session came to an end, Collins was handed a check, and he left.

A few months later when the album hit record stores, Collins rushed out to buy it. He skimmed through the liner notes, but did not see his name listed as a musician. When he listened to the track he had played on, he realized that the album version was nothing like the song he had played on.

Fortunately, he had never cashed the check. For years he used that as proof that he had, indeed, played with George Harrison (and Ringo Starr, who was also at the session, and Phil Spector, who was producing it).

That’s the story Casey told. It is pretty good.

But it didn’t end there.

Years later Collins ran into Harrison at an event. He asked George if he remembered that session and why a different version of the song made the album. Harrison said he did not recall those details and that it was probably Phil Spector who made the decision about what version made the album. He added that he still had all the master tapes from those sessions and would be happy to send them to Phil so he could review them.

A few weeks later the tapes arrived at Collins’ home. When he listened, he heard absolutely horrible conga drums ruining the track. To make matters worse, when the song ended, he heard Harrison telling Phil Spector to “get rid of the lad on the congas, he’s crap.”

Collins was devastated. Was he really that bad? Yet he still called up Harrison to thank him for sending over the tapes. While on the phone he asked George if he had listened to them. George replied no, he had not. Phil told him about Harrison’s comments on the tape. George paused and said, “Shit, man, I’m sorry, what else can I say?”

They talked for a few more minutes before George began laughing uncontrollably. Collins was taken aback. “What are you laughing about?”

That’s when Harrison came clean.

“After you asked me about that session, I brought in some new players to re-record that track, and asked the conga drummer to play the worst part he could ever imagine!”

That is a first-class, A-level, Mt. Rushmore prank! Jim Halpert would be proud.

As for this song? Blech. It was on the soundtrack for the movie White Nights, and intended to be the big, soaring single from that album. Which it kind of was. It went to #1 for crying out loud! Yet, it was not the biggest song from the movie. Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me,” which was in the film but not on the soundtrack due to licensing issues, was an even bigger hit. It topped the charts for a month to “Separate Lives” one week. And while both songs were nominated at the Academy Awards for best song from a motion picture, it was Richie who took home the Oscar.

I’ve come to appreciate Collins’ work more in recent years, but songs like this I would be fine never hearing again. It sounds more like someone trying to sound like Collins than an actual Collins song. Which makes a little sense, as he didn’t write it. Marilyn Martin is wonderful, and you hear why a lot of people thought she was going to be a star. But her performance doesn’t save the tune. I’m glad this one has pretty much disappeared. 2/10

Friday Playlist

I’ve pretty casually mentioned a couple times that our family had a trip to Italy planned. The time for that trip has arrived.

Tomorrow morning we will drive up to Chicago, hop on a flight to Paris, and hopefully end up in Rome by early afternoon Sunday. Over the next seven days we will be exploring Rome, Florence, and Venice. We have lots of cool stuff planned that I will, of course, tell you all about it after our return.

When we booked the trip back in July, it felt like we had ages before we would leave. It’s hard to believe our departure is almost here. It’s a touch overwhelming.

We are all very excited. S has been to Europe/Italy before, but that was nearly 30 years ago. I’m guessing some things have changed. This will be my first time crossing the Atlantic.

I have a couple posts queued up for next week, so check back if you have time for two new Reaching for the Stars entries.

I’ll wrap up this week with a few songs about or inspired by Italy. I couldn’t find a good song about Florence. Don’t know if that means they don’t exist or I just couldn’t find them.

Arrivederci e Buon Ringraziamento!

Kid Hoops: Denied

L’s team came up short in the City championship game Thursday.

It was a tough, defensive matchup between two teams that knew what their opponent was trying to do. The difference was St O got to the basket more than we did, and hit a couple big threes to stretch out a lead on their way to a 30–20 win.

It was 4–4 after one, and we were down 10–8 at halftime. L hit a 3 midway through the third to cut a four-point deficit to one, but St O countered with a 3 on the next possession which kicked off a 16–7 run over the remainder of the game to pull away.

L led us with 10 points, but took a lot of shots to get there. St O took away our inside player, who only scored four points and never shot a free throw. In fact, we only shot two free throws for the game while St O shot 15 (hitting eight). A lot of that was because St O did a better job getting their guards lanes so they could drive and we fouled them trying to recover. L, on the other hand, rarely had open lanes and when she could find an angle to attack usually had three defenders waiting on her at the rim.

It was a terrific environment. It felt like all of St P’s was there to watch. One of L’s travel teammates played – and won – the small school division championship earlier. She stayed to watch, and their travel coach brought two other teammates to watch. The coaches from both high schools were there. We went through a stretch in the fourth quarter where L was trying to take over and missed four or five straight long jumpers. Each time she put a shot up, you could hear all the St P’s kids prepare to go nuts if she made it, and then the air go out of the group when she missed. It would have been cool if she hit a couple of those and we got to the game to the last minute like the first time we played St O.

L was a mess after the game. It didn’t help that she got elbowed in the throat in the third quarter. She was in pain, angry, played bad (in her eyes), and we lost her final CYO game. She was in tears for several minutes while she tried to recover from the elbow, and then when the coaches called off trying to foul in the final 20 seconds she lost it again.

The CYO director and Bishop Chatard coach ran the too-long trophy presentation after the game. The coach handed L the runner-up trophy and she quickly handed it to someone else. When we were taking pictures she refused to hold it. She is always in the middle of team pics and but last night she moved as far away from the trophy as possible. I respected the bitterness.

It was a really fun season. We had great coaches, the girls improved, and our little three-game winning streak over the past week was a fine example of eight kids learning to play together even when two of them were the focus of the offense. L’s teams had only won one tournament game in the previous four years, and that was way back in fourth grade. This year they knocked off the undefeated regular season champs, pounded St J in the semis, and gave the eventual champs a good run for 16 minutes or so.

We practiced Wednesday and I liked how the head coach closed practice. He told the girls it was a big game, but it was still just one game. They would all play in bigger games in some sport in high school.

I hope that’s true for L. She obviously has a lot of basketball ahead of her, health permitting (knock on wood). But it meant a lot to her to be playing her last game for St P, with four of her classmates for the last time together, and with three seventh graders she really gets along with. She took the responsibility of being the leader, and was devastated by letting them down (again, in her view). Hopefully she uses this as motivation to keep improving her game and can build on the overt leadership skills she began to show this season.

It sucked to lose this one, but at least they had the opportunity.

Reader’s Notebook, 11/17/22

Five Decembers – James Kestrel
I cheaped out when I bought my Kindle and got the one that has “special offers,” a euphemism for constant advertising on its sleep screen. All so I could save $50 or whatever.

This book was often featured in those ads late last summer. I’ve found a lot of the books that Amazon pushes are crap, so I discounted it. Until I saw it land on a best mysteries of the year so far list. I’m glad I saw that list, because this was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

At its core it is a pretty standard murder mystery. A couple bodies are found in a shack on a farm above Honolulu. The investigating detective then shoots and kills a man who shoots at him while he is searching the crime scene. Noir-ish escapades follow.

Ah, but what makes Kestrel’s story special is that the murder takes place Thanksgiving week, 1941. As you may know, if you’ve read your history, something big happened in Honolulu a few days later. Kestrel makes that part of the story, in a pretty amazing way.

Detective Joe McGrady thinks he has a solid lead, one that has him hopping across the Pacific in pursuit of a person of interest. He lands in Hong Kong on December 6. The next day he is captured by Japanese forces who were invading that island and sent to a prison camp back on the Japanese home islands. However, as he is being registered into the camp, a Japanese man pulls him aside with an offer of freedom. It seems that the man has a direct connection to one of those murders back in Honolulu, and wants to keep McGrady safe so he can continue his investigation when this new war between Japan and the US no doubt ends quickly.

Again, if you’ve read your history, you know that short war was not what happened. The man, and his daughter, hide McGrady until Japan surrenders in 1945. Some bad things happen in those years, especially towards the end when the US is fire-bombing Tokyo nightly.

At the end of the war McGrady makes his way back to Honolulu, reclaims his job (briefly), and sets to unraveling the case that the rest of the HPD force has forgotten about. He brings it to a conclusion in a satisfying manner and then returns to Japan for a pretty wonderful ending.

A quick, pulpy read that is absolutely terrific. It also made me want to go back to Hawaii.


The Quiet Boy – Ben H. Winters
I’ll always read former Indy resident Winters’ work, even if none of his recent novels have matched – to my tastes – his wonderful The Last Policeman trilogy. This was no different; a solid read, but nothing great.

Winters often brushes up against sci-fi without ever fully committing. That is the case here. At the center of the story is a young man who suffered a brain injury and emerged from a medical procedure in a strange, semi-vegetative state. He endlessly paces in loops, but shows no emotion or ability to interact with people. He also never eats, drinks, sleeps, gains or loses weight. Word gets out and he becomes the center of some often uncomfortable attention.

While he is the pillar the story is built around, it’s not really about him. Instead it is about the legal battle over his medical care, and then a related murder that takes place a few years later. Winters focuses on the grief of his family and their desire for revenge, the attorney (and his son) who believes he has stumbled onto a massively lucrative case only to lose badly, and the “medical expert” who was expected to be the star witness in that attorney’s case.

There are some interesting moments in those personal tales. But I wanted to know more about that kid and what was really going on with him. Winters hints at another world, with sinister consequences for opening it up, but we never really get to the meat of that angle. That ends up being a tease for the rest of the story. And as character after character disappoints the reader, it is hard to say what remains is as compelling as the potential of that kid’s story.


Upgrade – Blake Crouch
Speaking of border-line sci-fi, Crouch’s latest also delves into that territory. Set in the near future, he writes about a human “upgrade” virus and the battle to keep it from infecting the world’s population. This virus, crafted by a geneticist who has already, accidentally, caused a massive famine the world is still recovering from, turns people who survive its infection phase into super humans, with unbelievable strength and intelligence and healing powers. It also kills a lot of people. Her hope is that these super humans will cease the endless squabbling that has prevented “normal” humans from solving the problems of the world. But her son, who she infected against his will, realizes that even with these super powers, humans will still fight for power and control of each other, and battles to prevent the virus’ introduction into the general public. His prime opponent in that effort is his sister, who also has the virus. Holy sibling rivalry!

There’s some cool stuff in here, but the story felt a little rushed to me. And also lacking in some depth that made me wonder if it was written more as a vehicle for a screenplay. Like Winters there is less exploration of the What Ifs and more focus on the family dynamic at the story’s core.

Maybe that means I need to read some real sci-fi.

Jayhawk Talk: Winning Ugly Is Better Than Losing


Nothing like a (very) late game on a Tuesday night to get the real college hoops season started!

First, although I got many texts asking this question, I should clarify that I did not go to the KU-Duke game last night. This is the first non-Covid Champions Classic game played in Indy I have not attended. The first two times friends came up with tickets and went with me. Four years ago I literally got the invite seven hours before game time.

But, strangely, people don’t like traveling to Indianapolis on a random Tuesday in November unless absolutely necessary. So no ticket hookup. I checked tickets online a couple times and for the seats I could get, they were awfully pricey. When you live in the Kentucky fan sphere of influence it jacks up the market. Plus, knowing KU would be the late game meant L probably wouldn’t be interested in going.[1]

Instead we went to the Cathedral girls game – it was CYO night! – and I was home just in time for the KU game. Well, that’s what I thought. Then Kentucky and Michigan State played two overtimes and I had an hour to kill.

Worth noting it was the first time I watched basketball on our good TV since April 4. I did not have to change seats this time. In fact I was pretty chill all night as I sat watching in my National Champions hoodie.

You can’t take too much from these games. They are always exciting because of the opponent and platform. Most years all four teams are integrating a bunch of new, young players and the games are kind of stinky. The result may be close, but it is rarely good basketball.

Still it’s fucking fun to beat Duke.

Not that it was easy. Once Jon Scheyer made some defensive adjustments and Duke’s length started bothering KU the game got disjointed on both ends. The concerning thing for KU was how hard it was to score. We knew that would be a problem this year. The Jayhawks fell into Hero Ball mode way too easily, though, chucking up early shots and settling for 3’s on a night they were not falling.

The second half was super frustrating. Was KU really going to blow an 11-point lead and give Scheyer the first big win of his career? It did not look good.

Thankfully Gradey Dick came alive in the last three minutes and keyed a 15–5 run to steal the win.

Again, you can’t make too many definitive conclusions about this game. For all of Duke’s talent, they are still missing a key player, learning to play together, very young, and will certainly be much better in a month. KU was missing its head coach and two guys who likely would have played serious minutes last night.

We did see that KU is going to be an absolute bitch on defense. DaJuan Harris and Kevin McCullar Jr. are going to wreck people all year. The rest of the team doesn’t have to do much when those two are in, but they all seem to understand how to play off them. I don’t know if the team will match the 2020 team’s defensive ceiling, but they may be better across all five positions which will make them extremely formidable.

On nights when KU is hitting outside shots, they are going to be really good. While I think last night was an especially bad outlier, there are still going to be plenty of games when KU shoots in the 20% range from 3. Those are going to be ugly as hell.

McCullar still looks like he’s pressing on offense. Once he settles down that will help a lot.

The inside game is going to be a concern all year simply because of the combination of skill/size/experience the Jayhawks have there. Last night showed, though, that the combination of KJ Adams, Ernest Udeh Jr, and Zuby Ejiofor can provide moments of decent play. Ernest was a little too turned up. Zuby seemed clueless but gets his hands on every rebound. Zach Clemons did not play last night because of injury, and he’s not looked comfortable inside in the first two games. I don’t know if that group will ever inspire true confidence all year, but at least we know they will be serviceable.

Weird observation: KJ Adams is starting to remind me of Richard Scott. You look at a built, 6’7” kid and expect him to be super athletic. KJ has ok ups, but nothing spectacular. He’s low key kind of slow. Dude knows how to use his body, though. He doesn’t have anything close to Scott’s offensive game – he’s frankly terrible if he doesn’t get a lob or can just lay it in – but he takes up space and knows how to pass out of the post. And credit where due, he made a couple important baskets last night.

It’s a cliche when Jay Bilas does a KU game, but the team showed the championship DNA he loves to talk about last night. Wilson and Harris, especially, never seemed rattled. They came from 16 down in a national championship game. What is being down five to a bunch of freshmen in November? This team is TOUGH, and when Bill Self returns to the bench next week, he is going to absolutely love that.

A fun win, simply because it was a win over Duke, in a very ugly game. KU fans should get used to that, as I think more games than not will look like this rather than 85–78 wins that are free-flowing and fun.

Oh, and in Kyle Filipowski we had a new Dukie to hate! That dude is good, though.

Rock Chalk, bitches.


  1. Although she made me feel a little bad Tuesday afternoon when she said she was interested. I told her this morning the game ended around 12:30 AM and she was glad she was in bed before tipoff instead of downtown.  ↩

Surviving, Advancing

Two down, one to go.

L’s team won their CYO A League City basketball semifinal 35–20 Monday night. It wasn’t as easy as the final score makes it look, though.

When she woke up Monday her left knee was still swollen and sore from whatever happened to it Saturday. She had already taped it up and was hobbling around when I came down for breakfast, saying it still hurt and was difficult to move.

After school she seemed to be walking better. When she got in the car we had this conversation:
“How does your knee feel?”
“It’s not good.”
“Think you can try to play tonight?”
“I’m not going to not play.”

Gamer, warrior, heart of a champion, etc.

There was rejoicing from the coaches when I let them know she was going to give it a go. As I dropped her off at the gym door, her teammates started screaming when they saw her in uniform.

The coaches and I agreed we would let her warm up, see how she felt, and if she was good, they would keep her on the bench as long as possible. This was risky because she’s our only true point guard, and we knew St J likes to press and trap.

She warmed up, gave us a thumbs up, and the coaches told her she would be the first sub. But we jumped out to a nice lead early, the refs weren’t calling many fouls, and our girls were playing well. So she sat.

We were up 11–5 after the first quarter and 17–12 at halftime. St J has just one good player, and you can sag off of the entire team, daring them to shoot. Our girls were getting steals, five in the second quarter alone. And our best player was both dropping in buckets and getting to the line. She had 10 points by halftime.

We scored on the first possession of the third quarter and then hit a lull. With around 3:00 left in was down to 19–16. One of our players had taken an elbow to the cheek on a rebound and seemed completely lost. The girls handling the ball suddenly looked super shaky. It was time.

L made her first appearance with 2:48 left in the quarter. We immediately gave up a basket as no one knew who they were guarding, and the lead was just one.[1]

L brought the ball up, came off a screen, and flipped it to the roller who dropped it in.

Next possession, same play, same result.

Next possession, same play, this time she took it to the basket and missed badly. But we got the rebound, she re-set, and hit a cutter for another layup.

Three possessions, three assists, seven-point lead. Deep exhalations by the adults on the bench.

Over the next few minutes she took a couple other shots that looked bad. Both were on drives and she struggled to push off her leg and elevate. So when she lined up a 3 from the corner I thought it had no chance.

Shows what I know.

She swished it to put us up 14, the St P’s crowd went nuts, our coach called time and subbed her out. Her teammates (carefully) jumped on her as she walked off the court with a huge grin on her face.

She played about five minutes in two shifts, dropped four assists, had a steal, hit that three, and steadied us when things were getting dicey. Not exactly a Willis Reed moment, but close enough for CYO.

After the game she said she felt fine and was mad that she didn’t even break a sweat.

L keyed that run but it was her best friend that carried us. She scored 20 and had over 10 rebounds. She dominated the boards in the fourth quarter as we pulled away. Really, the entire team played well. They are understanding how to guard people so much better than a month ago. They are chasing rebounds and loose balls. They are even setting good screens. And now they’ve won two tournament games with L sitting on the bench for the better part of five quarters. It isn’t always pretty, but they’ve been getting it done.

Now it’s on to the City championship game Thursday. We thought we were going to play St N again, which would have sucked. Not just because St N has the best player in CYO and beat us in September. But because that’s also the group of girls who beat L’s kickball team in the City championship game twice. I think playing St N in another City championship game would have been way too much pressure on our girls. Or maybe just us parents.

However, St N was upset by St O, who beat us by four last month. The only reason St O won that game was because we couldn’t rebound and got lost on defense. Exactly the things we have gotten so much better at.

So I’m saying we have a chance.


  1. L almost always guards the ball. But the coaches wanted to hide her on the wing. I think that threw everyone off for that possession.  ↩

Weekend Notes

FNL

Regional Friday in Indiana with teams fighting to make the final four in their respective classes.

For the second time this year Cathedral traveled out west to Brownsburg, where they lost their only game of the season, 42–35, back in August. They trailed by 21 much of that game and only a furious, fourth quarter comeback made it close.

The wind was blowing again Friday and that had a huge effect on the game. It also helped that both teams were dialed in on defense. Each side missed makable field goals in the first half because of the wind. Brownsburg capitalized on the CHS miss just before halftime and took a 7–0 lead into the break.

The Irish scored on their first possession of the second half. The teams traded punts. BHS missed another field goal. M’s boyfriend pounced on a loose ball, giving CHS a short field. M’s grade/middle school classmate, who is the starting running back, pounded it in from one yard out to complete the drive, and they led 14–7 going into the fourth quarter.

The Irish ran clock much of the fourth quarter but were stymied by going into that stiff breeze. But the defense held every time Brownsburg had the ball. The Bulldogs got their last chance near midfield with under 3:00 remaining, but without any timeouts. The drove, had fourth and goal with under 20 seconds left, but two Irish DBs knocked the potential tying pass down.

That gave Cathedral their first-ever regional title in class 6A. Their reward: a rematch with Center Grove next week in semi state. That game will be played at Cathedral’s “home” field, a field Center Grove still bitches about having to play on a year ago.[1]

I had to go pick up C and some of her friends who went to the game. I planned to get there in the fourth quarter and listen on the radio. Maybe I would walk over and sneak into the stadium if it was close. The windchills were down in the 20s so I kept my ass in the car with the heat on. Only problem with that plan was that, in the final minutes of the game, the radio feed kept cutting out. I missed multiple plays because the of broadcast going completely silent. Two of the plays I missed were fourth downs. That added to the stress of the listening experience. All the girls were completely frozen afterwards so I chose wisely.

A couple funny stories from the drive home.

While discussing the game they were talking about how bad the kickers were. I told them the wind was a big factor and that the radio guys said the CHS holder had saved his kicker once by taking a bad snap and getting it down in time for the PAT. I heard one of the girls mutter, “I don’t think the hold has much to do with the kick.”

Well ok then…

For some reason C and her friends started talking about an Elton John song. During the discussion one of the friends said, “I always get Elton John and Elon Musk mixed up. Elton’s the singer, but he also invented the rocket, right?”

If I had a drink in my mouth I would have spit it out. There was some discussion and finally C asked me who was who. I gently told them that Elton was indeed a singer, and he sang about a rocket, but was not, in fact, the man who invented the rocket. Then one of the girls piped up, “Oh, Elon Musk owns Space X, right?” They laughed which allowed me to laugh, too.


Kid Hoops

It was CYO tournament time Saturday. We opened play against St B’s, who beat us a week ago by two. They went undefeated in the regular season, but we felt like we cracked their code a little in that game. We were going to let them shoot from outside but take away the lane and then concentrate on not turning the ball over after rebounds.

We had two practice this week to prepare. In the first, as usual, some of the girls were messing around and L was not having it. When practice was over she took the players into the locker room and told them, “I’m not losing in the first round of the tournament again! Thursday everyone needs to pay attention and stop messing around. We can beat St B’s if we focus.”[2]

Damn, her first players-only meeting!

One of the coaches snuck in and reported she heard one of the other 8th graders say, “Everyone needs to turn their ADHD off!” Hard core!

Saturday we led 6–5 after one, 14–9 at halftime, and then really took off. We out-scored them 10–3 in the third quarter. In the fourth St B’s just chucked and chucked and chucked to try to get back in it. We got a couple runouts, hit a couple free throws, and closed it out 32–18. What a win! Our girls were composed (for the most part) and made St B’s panic instead of us.

The win was especially big for one major reason: L injured her knee in the second quarter and barely played in the second half. We’re not sure what she did. I heard the coach next to me say “Oh shit!” and looked up to see L wincing and grabbing her knee just before halftime. At the break we had S run over and take a look. L said it felt like it needed to pop but that she hadn’t gotten hit or landed funny. She started the half on the bench, went in for a few minutes, but asked to come out and never went back in.

The knee wasn’t immediately swollen, S couldn’t find anything structurally wrong, and L passed every ligament test S could whip up at home. So we are hoping it is just some tendinitis and it being a new sensation freaked her out. But it is worrying. Especially with (potentially) two more games this week.

The great news was that we handled St B’s pressure (for the most part) without L for nine minutes. We don’t have another true point guard so any kind of pressure is always an adventure when L is on the bench. It wasn’t always pretty, but we went from +10 when she sat down to winning by 14.

When L was still in, there was a dead ball where a referee called her and a St B’s girl together and talked to them for a moment. When they separated L had the strangest grin on her face, like “Why was he talking to me?” It was our ball so she dribbled up the court, that girl picked her up on D, L crossed her over, took her into a screen, and the St B’s girl ended up on her ass. I’m not sure if she tripped or if she just hit the screen weird, but it was hilarious that happened right after their conference. After an offensive rebound on that possession, L got the ball in the corner and drained a 3 over this girl, her only basket of the day. She had the biggest Eff You grin on her face as she got back into the defensive end.

Later she told us that girl wouldn’t let go of the ball after the whistle when L was trying to give it to the ref so we could inbound. L yanked it away, the girl fell down, and L tried to help her up. But she slapped L’s hand away. The ref was telling them to stop fighting for the ball when he blew the whistle.

Whatever happened to L’s knee happened shortly after that, so I’m hoping it wasn’t some kind of karma thing.

On to the final four. Monday we play a team we did not play in the regular season, St J. They also went 4–3 in the regular season, losing to St B’s by 12. They also beat a team we lost to. We beat them last year in a very close game. So hopefully an evenly matched game. And hopefully L is ready to go. We will accept all prayers and positive vibes for those willing to share them.

In the quarterfinal before us St L, who we crushed last week, was playing St N, who beat us in the first game of the year. We walked in at halftime and St L was up by 11; we heard they had been up by 16. But St N has the best player in CYO. And she WENT OFF in the second half. St N’s scored 30 points in those twelve minutes. She had 22 of them. She dished out two assists. The other four points came from the free throw line by girls who got fouled after that girl’s passes. She will be a problem if we are lucky enough to face them Thursday.

Update Monday morning L’s knee was swollen and sore. Not promising for tonight. 😬


KU Football

Well it had to happen: a dumb loss. Yes, Texas Tech beat KU 43–28, which seems comfortable. But it still felt like a game KU should have won and pissed away.

Another bad start on both sides of the ball, digging a hole they never quite climbed out of. Although the defense adjusted and played well in the middle quarters, they still struggled giving up big plays all night. I don’t know if that was an issue of scheme or personnel, but it killed KU. The tackling was often very poor; they missed more than twice as many tackles as they have averaged through the first nine games. On offense Jason Bean’s limitations were clear. He made some huge plays. But also missed some easy plays and made a couple horrible decisions that ruined KU’s chances. Throw in two missed field goals – both off the right upright! – and it was a thoroughly frustrating night.

Devin Neal had another huge game, which was cool. I get how you ride the hot hand but it’s a little concerning that no other RB got a carry until the final possession of the game. Someone else needs to be able to spell Neal for a play or two, as he was looking tired late. And that was before Bean nearly got him killed with a bad pass.

Two really tough matchups left for the Jayhawks. Ultra-talented but forever disappointing Texas next week. The Longhorns will no doubt be looking to avenge last year’s overtime loss, plus they lost a massive game to TCU Saturday. Then a trip to Manhattan for the regular season finale against K-State, who have the inside track for a Big 12 title game appearance. At this point I’m just hoping all the important players stay healthy so they are available for the bowl game. Another win would be cool but my confidence in getting one is pretty low.


Colts

So maybe hiring Jeff Saturday was the right move? Or at least that’s what a few local were loudly proclaiming last night, after the Colts somehow managed to beat the “mighty” Raiders. I had to unfollow one local media personality because they were being so over-the-top in their blasting back at everyone who criticized the hire last week. If this person truly has this much passion about the subject they need to dial it back. I think it was, likely, more an effort to get in/stay in the good graces of Saturday and the Colts org. But I’m a cynic…

Anyway, not a great game, by any means. But it was enough. It sure helped to being playing the Raiders, who might have the worst defense in the league. And it was still a struggle. So let’s not all…insert Harvey Keitel quote from Pulp Fiction here.


Weather

We knew it was going to happen. But like this? This was unexpected.

Nearly three inches of snow in much of the area Saturday morning. Two days after it was 75. Ironically the last time we had this much snow this early was exactly three years ago to the day.


  1. A reminder that Cathedral has no true home stadium. They’ve bounced around various public school fields for years, but lately have settled on a stadium about a mile from campus at a school that was once an IPS high school but is now a middle school. Even though Center Grove won that game last year, and finished as undefeated state champs, they have not stopped complaining about having to play on natural grass in the rain last year. Props to the Pope for calling in rain all week. It nearly worked!  ↩
  2. She told me this later.  ↩

Friday Playlist

“October Passed Me By” – girl in red
DAMMIT! I meant to include this last week. I guess it still applies.

“Honey” – Romero
I just learned that this song is a couple years old, but it appears on Romero’s first full-length album that was just released, so it’s getting a second round of love from the music blogs. It’s a terrific little scorcher, and they are from Australia, so what’s not to like?

“Cartoon Earthquake” – Blondshell
You can blast Spotify for a lot of reasons, mostly for how little they pay artists. But they do make it easier than ever to access the music of new, upcoming artists. And now they are pushing some of them forward with their Fresh Finds program. Blondshell is an act I discovered through Fresh Finds. This is some quality indie rock right here.

“California” – Low
Mimi Parker was revered in indie rock circles. The drummer and co-vocalist for Low died this past week. I tried but could never really get into their music. This probably isn’t the best choice since she just provides background vocals here. But it’s also the only Low song I ever really loved (I could play “Just Like Christmas,” which she does sing lead on, but it’s not Thanksgiving yet).

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – Gordon Lightfoot
Forty-seven years ago this week.

“Veteran’s Day” – Johnny Cash
Props to all of those who have served, in times of war and of peace.


“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” – Prince
A check of the blog archives says it’s only been a little over two years since I shared this video. But for a song this good, that’s probably too long.

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