St. Paddy’s Day!

I’m on deck for the “Danny Boy” sing-off at Frank O’Dowds! Yes, Lisa signed me up…

UPDATE: I came in second.


Our weekend visitors

Adam, Rachel, and Sean were visiting Grandma & Grandpa Lawrence for a week, so they decided to spend a couple of days with us!

They got to our house around 10:00 Saturday morning. After getting settled in, we had an early lunch and then I took the kids to the Kids’ Courtyard playground. On the way, we stopped by the grave of Nelson Dewey, the first governor of Wisconsin. At the park, we all had a fun time running & climbing. (Granted, I did more sitting & watching, but you get the idea…) We left that park and headed over to Schreiner Park. It’s not a playground, but has a par course for exercising. We stopped at a few of the stations, but headed home when it started to rain.

When we got back to the house, Lisa had put together a treasure hunt for the kids. Each had their own set of clues and their own prize at the end. They seemed to enjoy figuring out where each clue was leading them and finding the next clue. After all the prizes had been found, we hooked up the Wii and played a few rounds of Mario Kart. If I recall correctly, I finished in last place each time. I think the age of video games has finally passed me by. Bring back pinball!

When it was time for dinner, we walked up the hill to Happy Joe’s for pizza and ice cream. While we were waiting for the pizza, we played a few games at the arcade. Everyone did great and won something to take home.

After dinner, we made some glow-in-the-dark chalk from a kit Lisa bought. After the molds hardened, we went outside and the kids drew on the driveway. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but it looked pretty good! As you can tell by the pictures, Sean believes I am a “Hooter.” I’m not exactly sure if that’s a compliment.

Sunday morning, we played a little more Wii (I’m much better at Golf than Mario Kart). Adam, Sean, and I then went to the Schreiner Park par course and went through all the stations. It took us a while, but it was a nice day and a nice walk through the park. Some of the stations go through the woods, and the workers did a fantastic job of keeping the paths groomed. We went back home, showered, and headed to McDonald’s (and the Playland) for lunch. Once everyone was tuckered out from playing, we went to Grandma & Grandpa Lawrence’s. We got unpacked, relaxed for a bit, and Chico grilled brats and hamburgers.

Adam, Sean, and Rachel: Lisa and I enjoyed having you visit. We hope you had as much fun as we did!


Twins/White Sox games

After the 2011 Bill Nason Memorial Tournament, I drove to the Twin Cities to pick up Mark at the airport. Mark was my law partner until he left private practice to take a position with the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office. For the past few years, we’ve gone to see the Twins and Brewers play an interleague series in both Milwaukee and Minneapolis. This year, it didn’t work out for us to see any Twins/Brewers games, as they played on back-to-back weekends, right after Lisa and I returned from Italy.

We decided to go to a few games anyway. Mark flew from Milwaukee to Minneapolis on August 5th, I picked him up at the airport, we stayed at a hotel and saw the Twins play the White Sox Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. After the Sunday game, I dropped him off at the airport and drove home. In September, we’re going to see the Brewers play the Phillies in Milwaukee. We agreed to become fans of the home team for these two series. I bought Mark a Twins shirt and he’s going to get me a Brewers shirt or cap in September.

Although the Twins lost both games, we had fun. My cousin Curt let us use his season tickets, so we had great seats. On Sunday afternoon, three foul balls off Joe Mauer’s bat landed within ten feet of our seats. The first was caught by a young man two rows in front of us, just before it hit his mom in the head. One pitch later, a second ball flew right at us. Mark reached up and had it in his hand for a moment, but it spun out, bounced off a couple people behind us, and landed in the aisle. My cat-like reflexes allowed me to beat everyone to the ball and I fought a sizable mob to recover it! Okay, no one else was diving for it, it was right at my feet, and I just bent over to grab it. Still, it was pretty cool. A kid sitting four rows in front of us on the other side of the aisle brought his glove and caught another foul about 3 pitches later.

The Twins were honoring the 1991 World Series championship team over the weekend. The trophy was on display and the team was introduced on the field before Sunday’s game. A few of the players led the crowd in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. We also saw the Kirby Puckett memorabilia area in the Delta SKY 360 Legend’s Club. Some pretty neat stuff, including game-used equipment and one of his Gold Glove awards.

My friend Doug met us for breakfast Sunday morning. I hadn’t seen him for awhile, so it was nice to finally get together. We went for a short drive in his new car and then Mark & I went to the ballpark, where we met Robby Incmikoski while he was setting up for the pregame show. He seemed like a nice guy and appeared interested while talking with me and Mark for a couple of minutes. (No, I don’t think he really cared, but he did a good job acting like he did.)

I’ve been to a few games at Target Field, and I still love it. The view of the skyline is great and outdoor baseball can’t be beat. A few rainouts here and there are worth the move from the Dome, in my opinion.

Ninth Annual Bill Nason Memorial Tournament

The Ninth Annual tournament was held Wednesday, August 3rd at the Oaks Country Club near Hayfield, MN. The weather was fantastic, despite the threat of rain earlier in the day. My cousin Curt let us use his customized “Twins” golf cart. That guy might be a bigger Twins fan than I am!

Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the score card, but I think I won. In fact, I believe I’ve won it each year since the inaugural tournament in 2003. I could be wrong about that, but I’m sticking to that story until someone shows me the official records. Of course, in THIS tournament, using your toe wedge and throwing the ball out of a sand trap are not only allowed, they’re encouraged. (If you knew my dad, you’ll understand why.)

Mom, Brenda and I had a good time golfing and playing a few card games Wednesday night. My contribution to the festivities was a large Mabe’s pizza that I brought from Decorah. Brenda left Thursday morning and Mom & I went golfing with Paul, Kay, & Phil. Again, I think I won, but I don’t have a score card. If memory serves, I shot somewhere around 38 on the front nine and 39 on the back nine. I’m pretty sure my relatives will back me up on that. After golf, we had dinner together at the country club and then headed home.

Another successful BNMT!


Twins/Indians games

Lisa and I went to see the Twins play the Indians on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. It was pretty warm both days, but GREAT baseball weather. It was Lisa’s first trip to Target Field and she was impressed.

We drove up Tuesday morning, did a little shopping, and then headed off to the game. We met Tip, a friend of mine from law school, at The Six15 Room and walked over to Target Field with him. He was meeting some clients in one of the suites, but we were able to chat awhile on Target Plaza.

Both games were great! In the Tuesday night game, the Twins were down 1-0 entering the bottom of the 9th. With the bases loaded and one out, Danny Valencia hit a walkoff single to win the game 2-1. Wednesday afternoon, the Twins were tied in the bottom of the 8th but came up with 3 runs to win. Valencia got the go-ahead RBI. Guy was clutch for two days in a row.

Unfortunately, the Twins lost the first two games of that four game series, so they only managed to split with the first-place Indians. No matter, we still had a fun time and Lisa enjoyed her first Target Field trip!


Day 12 – Headed Home

We got up early to get to the airport in time for our flight home. The cab ride was about 40 minutes (and cost 50 euro. Ouch!)

It was a lot easier getting through the airport than it was when we arrived in Italy two weeks ago. The security lines were fairly short & quite efficient. I didn’t like hauling our bags onto a bus to ride to the plane and then hiking up the boarding steps, but it wasn’t terrible. I’m just accustomed to walking through the gate, over the gangway, and directly onto the plane. As we learned in Ed Psych, we like what we know.

Being self-employed, it was difficult to leave work for two weeks. I’ll see if I have any angry phone messages when we land in a few hours, but I set aside a little time each day to answer emails. Most of my clients were understanding once I explained that I was out of the country and would give more detailed answers after I returned to work. Court notices are all via email, so I was able to keep tabs on all my pending cases.

I’m typing this about 2 hours after takeoff. We had a great vacation. As it was our first trip to Europe, we made a few mistakes, but nothing major. I probably overpaid for a few things, but the experiences we had were priceless. We met a lot of nice people, ate a lot of delicious food, saw some beautiful sights, & Lisa saw more than 20 Rick Steves travel guides (which was always a good conversation starter). We hope to go back again someday. With our flexible schedules, maybe we’ll be able to travel more in the coming years.

Day 11 – Rome

Today was our last full day in Rome, and we made it count!

We purchased the Roma Pass, which allowed us to see a few sites for free and others at a discount. We used the pass to see the Colosseum, Forum, & Borghese Gallery. We also stopped to see the Capuchin Crypt (not covered by the pass, but really interesting).

Learning about the lives of the ancient Romans at both the Colosseum and Forum was amazing. I could go on and on here, but you’ll easily find better information online. The size of the Colosseum & the history of the Forum (including the place where Julius Caesar’s corpse was burned) were both remarkable. The stories behind the building of the Colosseum and its history were all new to me. The tours of the Colosseum and Forum took us a little under three hours.

We then headed to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. They’re not terribly historic, but they’re great to look at. We had something to drink, did a little shopping, and took a ton of pictures.

We left the Spanish Steps and headed over to the Borghese Gallery. On the way, we stopped to see the Capuchin Crypt. Wow. It’s built from the bones of over 4000 monks. There are also some full skeletons dressed in robes. There is a sign at one point that tells visitors, “what you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.” It wasn’t a long visit, but it was interesting.

We walked past the U.S. embassy and were told no pictures were allowed. I was kind of surprised. It’s the exterior of a huge building visible from the street. It’s not like I was looking to take pictures of sensitive documents. Oh, well.

The Borghese Gallery is surrounded by a beautiful park. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but we were able to see some awe-inspiring works. As I’ve mentioned, Lisa is much more “artsy” than I am, but even I found the Gallery to be worth the visit.

We took a taxi back to the hotel, had a drink on the rooftop terrace, and then went to dinner at the restaurant next door (the one with the great pizza from Tuesday night). After dinner, we came back to the hotel, showered, and packed for our flight home.

The biggest problem with vacations is that they have to end!

Day 10 – Rome

After our long day yesterday, we slept in a bit today & had breakfast on the rooftop terrace. We had a great view of the city while eating a wonderful breakfast. (I liked the bacon; Lisa liked the croissants, both plain & chocolate.)

After breakfast, we headed to the Vatican Museum. We took a lot of pictures, except in the Sistine Chapel, where pictures are not allowed. It’s amazing to see the riches the church has accumulated. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts are all on display, along with a multitude of Renaissance (and earlier) paintings and sculptures.

But the Sistine Chapel was incredible. We used the Rick Steves audio tour and got a brief lesson on the history of the chapel and Michelangelo’s work. The ceiling is much more than just The Creation of Adam. Michelangelo’s history of the world (from creation through Noah’s Ark) spans the length of the ceiling, while the Last Judgment dominates the wall over the altar. The Last Judgment isn’t as famous, but I thought it was more impressive than The Creation of Adam.

After visiting the museum, we headed out to St. Peter’s Square. What a spectacle! A huge open area filled with hundreds (maybe thousands) of people at the base of the basilica and the Pope’s residence. We were planning to go into the basilica, but the line was unbelievably long and in full sun. By the time we got there, we were tired and didn’t feel like standing in the scorching heat for another hour or two. So we took pictures of the exterior and headed back to the hotel.

We had dinner down the street from our hotel at another street-side cafe. Again, we were treated to great food & great wine. We also had some street musicians stop by to play for us a few times.

We hit the rooftop terrace for a bit before going to sleep. Our trip seems to be coming to an end WAY too soon!

Day 9 – Rome

We got up EXCEPTIONALLY early to start our tour to the Amalfi coast & Pompeii.

The tour was taken on three minivans with 6-8 passengers each. At first, I wondered why they didn’t take one bus instead of three vans. But I figured it out soon enough.

We rode for about 3 hours down to the Amalfi coast. What gorgeous views! Quite a few celebrities have homes in this area & our guide told us that the standard home sells for millions of dollars.

The roads down to the coast are incredibly narrow and twisty. If a bus is coming around a corner from the opposite direction, other vehicles need to stop and pull over to let it pass. Buses can’t even reach some of the lower roads. (Hence the use of vans.)

We were able to take a few pictures at one stop, wander through Amalfi for a bit, and had lunch at Positano. The views were all incredible. Houses built into the sides of cliffs overlooking beautiful water. No wonder the rich and famous make this their vacation homes!

After lunch, we headed for Pompeii. You can get more info from Wikipedia than I can provide, but we really liked it. We saw examples of homes, shops, bakeries, and (Lisa’s favorite) brothels. It seems that Pompeii was the Las Vegas of its time. It was the last port before Rome, and merchants and sailors would stop to relax and enjoy themselves. Vesuvius is about 7 miles away. The explosion (which they can pinpoint to the day and time), rained soot & rocks for three days. The people weren’t killed by lava (as I had always thought), but by the poisonous gases and the 15 feet of ash and pumice that buried the city. The city remained buried for over 1500 years. Our tour guide, Gaetano Manfredi,¬†was great, one of Rick Steves’ favorites!

After Pompeii, we headed back to the hotel on another 3 hour ride. We weren’t interested in going out, so we just had pizza at the restaurant next to the hotel. We must have just gotten lucky, because it was the best pizza we’ve had since being in Italy! Nothing fancy (just tomato sauce, cheese, and prosciutto), but all the ingredients were out-of-this-world delicious.

By the time we got back to our room, we’d been gone for 16-17 hours. A long day, but really interesting and definitely worth it!

Day 8 – Florence to Rome

Another travel day. We took the train to Rome (much easier this time, as we kind of knew our way around the train station) and arrived at our hotel around 2:00. I did get taken in by a guy posing as an official tourist assistant who convinced me to take his buddy’s cab to the hotel. I ended up overpaying for the cab ride by about $30. Oh well, live and learn.

We found a laundromat and went to do laundry. The manager of the place was really helpful. He showed us where everything was & how long things would take. While the clothes were in the machines, Lisa & I sat at a small sidewalk cafe, had a drink, and relaxed. The laundry took a little over an hour, and we were back at the hotel around 4:30.

The hotel didn’t have the biggest rooms, the best service, or the most friendly staff, but the rooftop terrace was great! It had a beautiful view of Rome, comfortable seating, and lots of shade. Plus, the bartenders were a lot friendlier than the other workers. We sat up there for a couple of hours and ordered supper around 7:00.

We went to sleep a little early again, as we had to be ready to board the van for our trip to Pompeii & the Amalfi coast at 6:45 the next morning.

Day 7 – Florence

We were able to sleep in today, as our first stop was the Uffizi Gallery, just across the street from our hotel. Taking a tip from Rick Steves’ travel guide, we asked the hotel to make reservations for us at both the Uffizi & Accademia galleries. Without a reservation, you can wait in line for hours to get a ticket. With the reservation, you just walk up to the ticket window at the appointed time and don’t wait at all.

Lisa enjoyed the Uffizi more than I did. I appreciated the history of the paintings and the skill that went into creating them, but I’m just not as “artsy” as Lisa is. We spent about two and a half hours walking through the museum and looking at paintings (and a few sculptures), most from the Renaissance period. The original Birth of Venus was great to see, as was the more titillating Titian Venus of Urbino. The main hallways have many sculptures, all great works of art (and most showing male packages).

We grabbed a late lunch and headed over to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. “David” is by far the main attraction at the Accademia, but there are also other sculptures and a few paintings. We used a Rick Steves iPhone app to get a guided tour around the statue. I’d seen pictures of “David,” but seeing him in person was incredible. Fourteen feet tall, carved from a single block of marble, no drawings or models to guide the artist (apparently, Michelangelo did all his work freehand). At one point, I turned to Lisa and said, “it’s amazing to see what we can do.” (Disclaimer: I’m only putting myself in Michelangelo’s group as a fellow member of the human species. I probably should have said it’s amazing to see what other people can do.)

After viewing “David” for a little under an hour (we were mesmerized), we went back to the hotel to rest our feet a bit before dinner. We had a delicious meal at Parione, another hotel recommendation. I’ve always been a 30-minute meal kind of guy; throw down some grub while watching TV. But our meals here have mostly been slow, relaxing affairs. Tonight, we had a nice bottle of wine, a small appetizer (prosciutto with melon and sangria), and very reasonable servings of our main courses. (I’ve noticed the portions are smaller here. Clearly going for quality over quantity.)

We walked back to the hotel and had another glass of wine on the rooftop terrace before going back to our room to pack for our train ride to Rome tomorrow morning. The plan is to do laundry in Rome one last time before coming home on Friday.

Day 6 – Florence

We had to get up early this morning to catch our bus for the “Best of Tuscany” tour. The tour took off from the bus/train station, about fifteen minutes away by foot. We met our tour guide and got on the bus for the first leg of our trip.

Our first stop was in Siena, a medieval city. You can learn more about Siena by doing an Internet search; all I can say is it was beautiful. The second oldest road in Italy, a road the Romans took from Florence to Rome, goes through the heart of town. The oldest bank still operating in the world is located in Sienna. The city’s main trade was currency-exchange. Merchants would stop on their way to either Florence or Rome to sell their goods, borrow money, or change currencies. The Piazza del Campo was impressive. A huge, shell-shaped plaza that still hosts a 600 year old horse race twice a year. The story behind the race is interesting, but we were told you have to see it a few times (and maybe even live in Siena) to really understand it.

After Siena, we stopped at a farm/vineyard just outside San Gimignano. As beautiful as the views were in Siena, these were even nicer. We took a short tour of the farm and had a lunch of bruschetta, pasta, cheese, Tuscan biscotti, and four different wines. Delicious food with wonderful scenery.

Next, we headed to San Gimignano. We had time to ourselves, so we just wandered about the small village for an hour or so. We had some gelato at the Gelateria di Piazza, home of the World Champion Ice Cream Maker (I didn’t even know they had competitions for that), took some pictures from a spot with the most fantastic views we’ve ever seen, and chatted with some fellow tourists at a little restaurant on the main square.

Our next stop was Pisa, home of the famous Leaning Tower. The whole city (at least, the parts we saw) is beautiful, but the Field of Miracles is the highlight. I climbed to the top of the tower and got an amazing view of the city and surrounding countryside. I could really feel the tilt even when walking up the stairs. From the top, it’s a little creepy for someone who is already uneasy with heights.

We walked around Pisa for a little while and then headed back to the bus and the ride to Florence (about an hour and fifteen minutes). We got back to the hotel a little more than twelve hours after we left, so it was a long day. We decided to eat supper on the rooftop terrace and call it a night. Tomorrow, we have reservations for the Uffizi & Accademia galleries.

Day 5 – Venice to Florence

Today was our first European travel day. We got up early to finish packing, shower, and have some breakfast. We knew it would take us about 35 minutes to get to the train station via vaporetto, so we allowed plenty of time. (If you miss your train, you’re out of luck. They don’t just let you take the next one.)

The train ride was really nice, much better than flying. We had leg room, plenty of storage space for our bags, and a very comfortable trip. It took us about 90 minutes to get from Venice to Florence.

Once we arrived, we took a cab to our hotel. (It was about a 15 minute walk, but we didn’t feel like making it while hauling our luggage.) I asked the clerk at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation, and she suggested we try Buca Mario. She made a reservation for us while we got settled in.

We sat on the rooftop terrace and had some bruschetta and a glass of wine (Lisa) and a beer (me). The terrace looks over the Arno River and it was sooooo relaxing to just have a drink and look at the city.

After a couple of hours of unwinding, we went back to the room, freshened up a bit, and walked to the restaurant. The map the hotel gave us was indispensable. The restaurant was fabulous. Great food, great atmosphere, and a great waiter. I could go on, but I doubt that even the people who love us most care what we had to eat.

We walked home through a few piazzas, had some gelato (of course), listened to a little live music in one of the squares, and finally went to bed. It was a great day and much less stressful than our first day in Venice!