No longer unemployed

About a month ago I got a job at the local Navy Exchange, hence the lack of posts. That’s not an excuse just a statement of fact. After spending all day walking around the last thing I feel like doing is writing a blog post, especially because I don’t want to write about my work place. If you come visit I’ll tell you all sorts of crap but I don’t like the idea of it sitting online forever.

Every morning I get up around 6 – 6:30 so I can drive in with Greg. From there I was taking the bus to the Exchange but recently I’ve been driving. Prior to this I’ve only been a passenger in the car on Italian highways and now that I’ve been the driver I can say, in all honesty, that the drivers in Maryland are worse. Sure the Italians like to ride the line and hog two lanes at once but in terms of the flow of traffic and the crazy speeds it doesn’t feel any different. I have yet to drive in the city as I am not 100% comfortable driving a standard and there are just too many hills, cars, motorcycles/scooters, and pedestrians for my currently driving ability. Aside from that I just don’t like driving a standard, it requires too much thinking. I much prefer being able to zone out when I drive, it’s my only true alone time and my brain likes to wander. Having to be fully aware of what I’m doing cramps my style. By all means go right ahead and tell me how ridiculous that is and how silly I am for not wanting to drive a standard. “But they’re so FUN to drive!” “All you need is PRACTICE!” “EVERYONE should know how to drive a stick shift!” The best one was “I used to *hate* driving a stick shift but then I moved here and now I LOVE it. You really feel like you’re one with the car. I can sense everything about how it’s running and I know exactly when to change gears. You really should learn to drive one, they’re so much better than an automatic.” Thanks Crazy Random Stranger for you opinion on what I should do! I’m so sad I didn’t think to ask you, Crazy Random Stranger, what else I should do with my life. Should I cut my hair? Should I start wearing palazzo pants and sweater vests? What should I do about my iPhone? Should I get a new one or unlock my old one? Who do YOU think I should vote for in the upcoming election? Before you answer any or all of those questions here’s the deal: I prefer driving an automatic to driving a stick. That’s just how it is. It’s the same as if I said I prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry. Or the beach to the mountains. Or Apple to Windows. I just am who I am and I like what I like.

Wow, well this post didn’t go where I thought it was going but there it is. I’m going to work harder at posting more but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be an every day kind of thing. Hopefully I’ll be more reliable with posting photos as I have been taking a lot of those.

Keep on keepin’ on and I’mma slap your mouth if you say anything about my driving abilities, or lack thereof. People in glass houses…



My green thumbs

Oh, hello. You’re still here? Well thanks for that, I know I’ve been really bad about writing anything recently nor have I kept up with posting photos. I have no excuse other than I’m lazy. And lame. And perhaps in some kind of creative slump. Nothing exciting has been happening lately other than my trans-Atlantic trips. You haven’t missed much.

An update on my tomato plants: they’re growing. They have tiny green tomatoes on them. You didn’t know I had tomato plants? Well I do! I grew them from seeds back in early August and they seem to be doing okay. *knock on wood* Greg is convinced they’ll keeping growing for a long while since Naples doesn’t get the super cold of winter like other places. In fact, it rarely gets down to freezing so they could go for a couple more months. I guess. Who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The rest of my plants are doing well although the Vinca finally kicked the bucket. I’m pretty sure they came with some kind of disease because they didn’t last very long and certainly didn’t look healthy. The lilliputian Zinnias that I also grew from seeds are going strong and sprouting new branches all the time. Probably the most healthy looking of all the plants would be the Begonias and some succulent type flowering things that I don’t know the name of. Apparently they love it here and require little to no care at all. The same goes for the Begonias. I’m tempted to buy more of them just because.

Yesterday while walking around I came across a plant vendor with a single yellow Mum in a pot. Initially I didn’t think I wanted it but since we’re unlikely to really feel any evidence of Fall temperature-wise for another couple weeks I decided it would at least make it feel like Fall in other ways. My hope is to find another one, or maybe a couple more, to bring some longer-into-cool-weather-color to the balcony since I have no idea how long the rest of the blooming plants will last. It’s all a bit of a guessing game.

Most people with balcony or rooftop or even window gardens seem to gravitate towards the green succulent plants that offer interesting shapes but not much in the way of color variety. I’m not opposed to those types of plants but they’re not as cheerful or sunny as flowers so I tend not to go for them as much. I’m sure part of the problem is finding someone that sells flowering plants, I haven’t come across many, and most people don’t feel like taking the time to grow things from seeds.

At the last planting with Casey Trees this past Spring I was teamed up with two girls that had moved to DC from other places. This is fairly common in the city and usually doesn’t get much notice from me other than the basic “where are you from originally?” type questions. Since I knew I was moving to Italy I figured this was a good time to ask how they handled uprooting their lives. Their answers were pretty standard – meet new people, volunteer, go to museums, find a job, etc. etc. But one of the girls said something interesting after I explained how much I was going to miss planting trees, she said that everywhere she’d ever lived she found room to plant her own garden. At her previous apartment she’d done it on the fire escape. Before that she’d rented a plot of land in a co-op. It didn’t have to be very big, just a few pots and containers, but it meant that she had someplace welcoming and familiar to go to in a city that she didn’t know as well. I guess I really liked that idea because I get excited when I think about my little garden and look forward to adding new things to it. My goal is to get a little table and chairs so I can actually sit out there and enjoy it. If anyone ever asks me about how to handle moving so far from everything familiar I would definitely tell them to start their own home garden, they certainly wouldn’t regret it.

Creating confidence

There are things about Italians that I don’t understand and probably never will (not using AC even though you have it installed in your house, trying to protect their children from getting a cold by dressing them in 20 layers of clothing when it’s 70 degrees outside, straddling the lane markers on the highway, double parking at a 45 degree angle and then walking away from the vehicle, eating dinner at 9 o’clock at night) but the one thing I really want to become an expert on is their self-confidence. They don’t seem to have any real doubts about who they are and that confidence shows through in what they wear and how the carry themselves.

I know I’ve talked about this before but in the past few months I’ve decided that I want to be more Italian, not in the ways I don’t understand but in the way I want to: I want to be more self-confident and I want it to show through my wardrobe. I’ve always secretly loved clothes (though I love shoes more) but never felt confident enough to wear things that other people wore. Part of the problem is that I don’t know how to take a compliment. It has always bothered me when people say I look pretty, or they like my outfit, or whatever. It’s not that I didn’t want the compliments I just never know how to respond without seeming like I was expecting the compliment.

When it comes to my current wardrobe I err on the side of comfort over style and tend to look more cute than pretty. I’ve been mistaken for an 18 year old which isn’t necessarily a bad thing except when you’re meeting your husband’s coworkers and they wonder (perhaps jokingly, perhaps not) if you’re his daughter. In high school there were a couple girls who, unfortunately for them, looked like they were in their late 20s when they were probably only 16 or 17. When I was 18 a girl that was younger than me asked me if I was over 12. She was serious. I was seriously close to punching her in the face but managed to restrain myself.

Because I usually choose comfort over style I tend to stay away from clothing that is constricting or not cotton based. This severely limits my options and it’s been a hard habit to break. Why would I want to wear scratchy fabric when I could wear nice soft cotton?

That being said if there was ever a place where taking fashion risks would go relatively unnoticed Italy is it. Although Paris would probably be the ideal location but I don’t live there.

Anyway, I just wanted to write about this to help me get over it. I can’t be the only girl that has this issue, right?

Camera lust

This post isn’t about anything except the fact that Canon just announced a new full-frame 6D camera for roughly $2100. Reading through the features it sounds pretty cool:

It packs a 20.2MP full-frame sensor, and an 11-point autofocus system with a single cross-type sensor. The native ISO range is 100 to 25,600 (expandable to 50 to 102,400), and Canon claims it’ll focus in lower light situations than any of its previous shooters. It has a Digic 5+ processor, the same as its more expensive brethren, shoots at a maximum of 4.5fps in burst mode, and boasts environmental sealing against dust and splashes. For video folks, it shoots 1080p video at up to 30fps, and 720p at up to 60fps. There’s an SDXC slot for memory, and it uses the existing LP-E6 battery type (which works with 5D Mark II and III, 60D and 7D), and on top of everything else it’s Canon’s first DSLR that incorporates GPS and Wi-Fi radios into the body, rather than requiring the purchase of costly add-on equipment. – Darrell Etherington, Tech Crunch

There are some down sides. It doesn’t have the same focusing ability of the 7D, the burst shooting is only 4.5fps, and the viewfinder doesn’t actually show you the full-frame of what you’ll be photographing. Still for the price tag it seems like it would be a pretty good deal.

That being said if I had the money I’d still go for the 5D Mark iii simply because it has more to offer. Am I a photographer that needs such a high performing camera? No, but like any consumer I’m willing to purchase outside my skill level with the (probably delusional) hope that it’ll help me improve. Of course it doesn’t really matter what camera you’re using if you’re not good at capturing interesting subjects but it sure as hell makes it a lot more fun to have the best you can afford.

Always on the go

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, hence the lack of posts here, and it’s starting to take its toll. At the moment I’m still in Maryland; I extended my stay for a week so I could go through the rest of my clothes and mail my winter stuff to Naples. When I left I’d packed mostly summer gear with very little cool weather stuff so with the temperature dropping it was necessary to go through the rest of it. Of course it’s not like I have the best clothes anyway and most of this stuff I’d prefer to just get rid of but that’s another story.

Before Greg and I got married I would fly to Italy and stay for 3-4 months at a time. With only two long-haul flights a year I had no problem getting on a plane and dealing with the 8-9 hours of discomfort. In the past four months I’ve done four long-haul flights and I’ve been having a hard time with it. Yes, I know, the decision to fly back and forth was my own but that doesn’t make it any easier. Coming back to MD this last time the flight was nine hours and required us to fly around the remains of a hurricane. My seat was at the very back of the plane and to say it was bumpy would be an understatement. I’ve never been a fan of turbulence but it’s getting more difficult for me to stay relaxed through it. I hate that I have this anxiety, it feels like such a failing on my part. I know there are other people that don’t like turbulence but they seem to deal with it better than I do.

My logical brain knows what turbulence is, the problem comes from the lack of the control over the situation. I don’t want to be flying the plane but, I don’t know, I can’t really explain it. The other issue is the fact that we’re over water. Rational or not I feel like if something were to happen over land we could reach an airport relatively quickly. That’s not the case over the water. Taking a couple Advil PM helps a little because it makes me tired but sometimes I wonder if an anti-anxiety pill would be a better option. Either way I need to work on how I handle my anxiety.

I know some of you let me know on Twitter how you deal with flying anxiety but if you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear about them.

Things I miss about the US

Moving to Italy means adapting to a different way of life. Below is a list of things that I miss about the US, in no particular order:

  1. Target
  2. Wendy’s
  3. Chipotle
  4. Chick-fil-A (politics aside I love their chicken nuggets)
  5. my car
  6. backyards
  7. frontyards
  8. parks
  9. an outdoors that is [relatively] trash free
  10. family
  11. friends
  12. television – specifically Food Network, Cooking Channel, and the History Channels
  13. the dogs
  14. knowing where to go to find things
  15. book stores
  16. REI
  17. snow
  18. radio stations
  19. bike trails
  20. the mall
  21. rootbeer

I kinda thought that list would be longer. None of those things, save for family and friends, are things that I can’t live without they just happen to be things I didn’t realize I’d miss until I no longer had easy access to them. First world problems, right?

Campania: The land of smoke and fire

Garbage and Campania have a long sordid history together. With over 5.8 million people living in the region it shouldn’t be surprising that they have trouble disposing of their waste. Naples is the largest city in Campania but the smallest province. With a population of 3,175,010 people and a population density of 2,625.9 people/sq. km it probably has the most difficulty with ridding itself of trash but also manages to keep the streets relatively clean* considering. In 2007-2008 the problem reached its peak when municipal workers went on strike and refused to transport anymore trash. The garbage piles were higher than the roof of a car and several times as long. They could be found all over the city and surrounding countryside. Since that time the government has worked on solutions to attempt to rein in the overflow.

In Campania the mafia have traditionally been involved in trash management with their main contribution being the illegal dumping of waste into overfilled landfills as well as the dumping of toxic waste and chemicals alongside country roads. This toxic waste seeps into the ground water thus polluting the drinking water and irrigation water of many areas. In an area known as the “Triangle of Death” there has been an increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer which is thought to be caused by the illegal dumping of toxic waste. They also actively burn the trash which puts not just those living nearby in harms way but those that live within breathing distance of the smoke.

In the past few years there was an incinerator built in Acerra as an attempt to help reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills. After being delayed for eight years there were protests against the facility up until (and maybe still) it opened. People argued that it would only create more environmental problems because, they claimed, the trash would not be sorted before being burnt. Incinerating the trash would produce electricity for 200,000 homes, what is more likely is that the mafia used their influence to get people to stand up against the facility.

The mafia are not the only ones burning stuff in the Campania region. In fact, many farmers burn the weeds and debris in order to clear their land for new crops. The obvious problem with this is that these are uncontrolled burns and more often than not what starts as a small fire turns into a raging wildfire that spreads rapidly. Several times this summer there have been fires in heavily popluated areas that started after a “controlled burn” got out of control. The area gets less than 4.5″ of rain on average over the summer months so the brush is very, very dry. Because of this burning there is usually a perpetual odor of smoke in the air and if you leave your doors and windows open, as most Italians do because they cannot afford air conditioning, that smoke and ash come into your house and leave a film over everything. If you drive into the farm areas around the city the smoke has a mix of organic burning and the acrid smell of burning plastic. It is most certainly an unpleasant smell to drive through, I cannot imagine what it must be like to live near it.

The latest attempt at cleaning up the area involves shipping the trash to Rotterdam where it is burned in their incinerators for electricity. The goal is to send one ship-load of trash a week to the Netherlands. Hopefully this new strategy works because the area cannot afford to have any more build up of waste, there’s just no where to put it.

In looking around for information about this problem I came across a website by a collective of Italian documentary photographers. It paints a pretty good visual picture (no pun intended) of what’s been going on in the area for the past two decades.

*If you’ve been to Naples you know that the streets are not “clean” by any western standard but compared to some areas they are immaculate.

Where to go from here?

I graduated from the University of Maryland a while ago with a BS in Biological Science (Zoology concentration) and a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. What was I going to do with those two wonderfully expensive degrees? In my fantasy life I was going to be a Criminalist and work in the FBI lab. In real life I’ve done jack shit with them though not for lack of trying. (Side note for UMD: You can stop calling me in an attempt to get money for scholarships or whatever because until your degrees start making me money you can’t get any from me. Sorry.) I was able to find internships that sort of allowed me to use what I’d learned but none of the jobs were permanent nor did they, with the exception of my time at REI, hold any promise of promotion. And they certainly didn’t provide any benefits.

On the last day of class at UMD I decided that I would never go back to school ever again because I DIDN’T HAVE TO. That was the greatest realization of my life. After being required to go to school for 13 years by the State of Maryland and then voluntarily enrolling in a top notch University and spending five years there I was (and still am) thrilled that I didn’t have to take another exam for the rest of my life if I didn’t want to. My vow was broken a short time later when I enrolled at Montgomery College to get a certificate in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems. I loved my time there; the teachers were excellent, my classmates were fun, and the material was by far the most interesting stuff I’d ever learned about. After graduating from UMD with slightly less than stellar grades I pulled a 4.0, Dean’s List, and National Honor Society trifecta out of my hat at MC. To this date it’s my proudest accomplishment.

So what’s the point of all this? The point is I’m realizing that to better myself careerwise I may have to go back to school and get a Master’s degree. The problem? I don’t know what I want to get a degree in. People who have gotten their’s highly recommend figuring that out before applying and commiting to any kind of degree program. I couldn’t agree more. My undergrad was spent taking classes in a degree field that I had convinced myself I was interested in. It wasn’t until I took a few classes in Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJS) my junior year that I realized how much I liked them and (surprise!) how easy it was to get good grades because the subjects were interesting. After adding the second degree in CCJS I spent half of my first senior year and all of the second enjoying myself in my courses. The other eye-opener was during the final semester of my second senior year (got it?) when I took an ecology course as a credit filler. I absolutely LOVED that class. It was at that sad moment that I realized the horrible mistake I had made. I didn’t like biology, I loved ecology and environmental science. I think I’d always known that but didn’t want to admit it, for whatever reason. Many of the same CORE courses are required for both degrees but I would have been able to avoid the upper level biology classes in which I struggled so much. Just check out these course titles, I want to take every single one of them.

That, my friends, is why I haven’t seriously persued getting a Master’s degree. I’m terribly afraid of making another, potentially more expensive, mistake. My undergrad turned out all right in the end; I received two degrees, and with the help of my good grades in the CCJS classes and a long list of Literature classes (which also got me close to getting a third degree), my GPA was/is just a few tenths below a 3.0. It’s not that I regret my undergrad I just wish I’d been more aware of my options. That’s mostly my fault but I also hold my academic advisers partly responsible for not questioning my intentions. I just wish someone had asked me what I was really interested in. Anyway, it’s too late for shoulda coulda woulda now.

So my questions for you, you who have gone back to get your Master’s or you who are still deciding what to do: how did you decide what to study? Did you pick a school and see what they offered? Or did you pick a degree field and find a school that offered it? Did you go into a field that was completely different from your undergrad or continue along the same path? I want to know all of it. Anything you can tell me would be a great help because I truly don’t know what I want to do.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a giant flying insect! Run away!

I’m kind of a bug wimp. I don’t mind bugs when they’re outside where they’re supposed to be. I DO mind bugs when they are in my house. Last week we had a bit of a run in with a rather unpleasant looking insect known as a cicada killer. It decided that because it was dark outside and light inside it was going to join us for the evening. As Greg has recently learned I tend to freak out when flying gross things are in the room. He was tasked, by me, to get rid of the hideous thing. Normally I’m all for catch and release but this thing was not going to allow that. I may have told him that they sting in order to induce a greater sense of urgency. He doesn’t know that they rarely do.

Currently in Naples there is a huge issue with cockroaches. It’s not that there are any more than usual, it’s the claim by local politicians that a certain species of cockroach has invaded the city, is forcing out the native population, and it can all be traced back to the Aeolian Islands. By the way they talk we should be squashing swarms of the red beasts whenever we walk outside. I can honestly say I have not seen a single one since this supposed infestation began. The upside of this dramatic environmental disaster is they’ve been working a little harder at cleaning up the trash. They even closed our street for parking one evening just so they could go through and collect some (note: not all) of the trash that had accumulated anywhere but the dumpster or recycle bins. You’d think that if they are so concerned about environmental hazards and the potential spread of disease that they would blame those who are truly responsible and work to keep the trash from piling up year round instead of just worrying about it every now and then.

Habits are a hard thing to break and I’m not sure the Neapolitans will ever be able to break their habit of just dumping trash wherever. Nor will they ever be able to break the hold certain unsavory groups have over their government. Just know that when you come visit this vibrant city the people who live here don’t like the trash any more than you do.

In the weeds

When I was younger I was the IT person in the family. If something ever went wrong with our PC (and when didn’t it?) I was the one that had to go on and figure out the problem. More often than not I just formatted the hard drive and started over. That only worked for a few months before something would bog down the whole thing all over again. For this reason I hate using Windows based products. They just annoy the crap out of me. When you’ve been burned a couple times by something you grow tired of dealing with it.

About six years ago I made the [very expensive] jump to Apple with the purchase of a shiny new 15″ Mac Book Pro. When I opened the box I was immediately smitten. It was so new and fancy and the most expensive single item I’d ever bought myself. Yes, I had never paid more at one time for any one item than this computer and that was only six years ago. What can I say?

I hadn’t used an Apple computer since middle school so it took some practice to get the key strokes down and to figure out where everything was hiding. In the six years I’ve had it I haven’t installed a whole lot, it’s used mostly for web stuff and photo editing, but it has gotten slower over time. The last operating system upgrade I did was Snow Leopard. When Lion came out I didn’t see any particular reason to jump on board because everything was working just fine. This past week when Mountain Lion was released I figured, what the hell, and paid my $20 to move to the latest OS. I can’t be 100% sure but I’m 99.99999% positive that was a big mistake. What was a relatively smooth running machine has turned into a slow, twitchy, sometimes completely frozen object of annoyance. The most noticeable change for the worse is the fact that I can’t get Wi-Fi connectivity, especially if the computer has gone to sleep for any period of time. Greg has no problem connecting to the network but no matter what settings he changes and no matter how many times I play with the, very minimal, settings on my end nothing happens. The other annoying thing that occurs when I do happen to get online, but also sometimes unrelated to the internet, is that the entire system freezes and the fun little spinning beach ball shows up. Sometimes it clears itself quickly and things are moving again but in the time since I’ve “upgraded” to Mountain Lion I’ve had to do a hard shut down seven times. Seven. Do you know how many hard shut downs I used to do before this upgrade? Maybe seven IN A YEAR. And it probably wasn’t even that much.

Unlike what Greg will tell you I am not a hard core Steve Jobs/Apple nut. I like Apple products because they’re easy to use and don’t piss me off like Windows (I truly hate Windows, I am not being facetious), and I’ll gladly recommend them to anyone who has tired of fighting with Windows, but I don’t think they’re without flaws or room for improvement.

While searching through the support site on I’ve come across others who are having the same problems as me and they have much newer computers, so I know it can’t be completely due to the age of my machine. There are a lot of suggestions of things to try that “really work!” and then a few minutes later a post saying “oops, nevermind, it’s still doing it.” which is disheartening. Reading through their suggestions I’m not even sure I understand what they’re talking about anyway. For once I’m at a complete loss as to what to do. I’m in the weeds and can’t find my way out. I’m sure Apple has their people on it, they’re looking for a fix for this bug, but what happens if they don’t? Sometimes I really dislike the fact that I’ve become so reliant on technology, I almost envy the Amish and their restrictions on its use. And then I look at my really nifty iPhone and my slightly outdated Mac Book Pro and can’t imagine my life without them.