Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Nine year olds Adventure in Europe

My dad had a dream “Take kids to Europe for a year” 1 of his life time goals (93 things to do before he died.) “Guess what?” one year ago he made it happen. As we go on our plane to Vienna, Austria I am a bit scared and also excited. I don’t know what it’s going to be like in Vienna but I do know they speak a different language. We start at a hotel then move to a small apartment for around 3 days then we move to our apartment that we will be in for four months. It is pretty hard to communicate when you don’t know the language. Weeks later in Vienna we found out that almost everybody spoke English it was very helpful on our trip. A couple days into our trip we start to plan going places like Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria. You can find out more stuff about our amazing trip like 17,000 pictures and 23 videos all at our family website

We have been traveling Europe a long time and we have visited Berlin to pick up our cousin colleen and we have been to Prague, Czech Republic, Bratislava, Slovakia, and lot’s of places that I cant name. We went back to Berlin to watch the World Track Championships for three days. My mom bought me a T-shirt that I got a lot of world class athletes that were in the WTC (World Track Championships.) I even got the 400m U.S.A Gold medalists to autograph my shirt and probably a couple silver medalists. It’s been really fun to this point. We have moved out of Vienna to go to Valencia for five weeks then to Portugal for a week then to Switzerland where we had my birthday and Christmas (which was really fun). By the time we were done living in Switzerland we were almost half way through our trip. Then lots of fun came in Italy where we lived and skied for three months!!! I learned how to snowboard with my brothers; they taught me how to get down the hill without falling. Like lots of kids my age sometimes you need a teacher and so we got one to teach us do tricks. He was really good and really nice but most importantly he made me a better snowboarder. I tried my hardest to do a 180-degree spin and I did! That’s when I went on more rails and more jumps because I was more confident.

If we learned anything while in Europe for a year it is that shipping things in and out of countries is hard. We tried to ship stuff home but it was not easy and we figured out just don’t ship stuff in or out of Italy. Our shipping problem can be summed up when you hear our “Mom-mom Christmas package story.” It took 2 ½ months to get our presents. By the end of the ski season I did a 360-degree spin!!! Off to Paris but before that we went to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt to snorkel in the Red Sea. We also went to Athens, Greece and took a cruise for five days to tour the Greek islands. When we got back to Athens we picked up a good friend, Christian Thompson. After a couple days visiting the Acropolis and the Parthenon we headed to Paris. Can you believe I got Chicken Pox and had to miss a day at Euro Disney? We saw the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre where I stood in front of the Mona Lisa. She was not very colorful and it was much smaller than I expected. After a month we headed to Rome where we see the Pope in St. Peters Basilica. It was awesome even though we got kicked out off the front row by a bunch of nuns. The Pope was really old but happy inside I think. He had a funny hat and really red clothes. I am glad we got to see and be part of Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.

Our family has gone to a restaurant that is called Hard Rock Café 21 times all in different countries. You can see some of the funny things we did there and find out more at or

We travelled a lot and stayed in hotels for nearly a month at the end of our adventures. Traveling can get pretty boring now that I have done it for a whole year but it’s easier to travel now since I did it a whole lot. At the end of the trip we went to Nice, France, which was awesome because I went parasailing over the Mediterranean Sea. We made the mad dash and then we headed to Belgium where we watched Toy Story 3 (amazing) and had Belgian waffles with fruit covered in chocolate. It was then off to London, England “the home stretch.” It had many tourist places so may I can’t mention them all here.

We did so many cool things like 4x4 ATV’s in Sinai dessert, a gondola ride in Venice, skiing in Italy for three months, riding a camel in Egypt to see the great Pyramids and meeting Santa in Rovaniemi, Finland. I had such a great time I would recommend every boy should go to Europe for a year.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog/paper on A Nine Year olds Adventure Through Europe

By, Pearse Glavin

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Like Johnny Cash said “I’ve Been Everywhere Man”

First a disclosures: This is a long blog so get a cup of tea or coffee and realx. I hope you enjoy the musings of a man on the road with 3 kids and his wife.

I remember it like it was last year, February 2, 1991 when he stood up, surrounded by family and friends, the moment uncomfortable even for one’s big brother, and he began his wedding toast. The room was quiet, attention focused on the always burly Michael. He was about as comfortable in a tuxedo as a lobster entering a pot of boiling water and for 3 minutes he was just as red too. I later learned that he worked on “the toast” for weeks and as the words flowed and the sentences echoed from the crackling audio system you could see heads bobbing up and down in agreement all over that small reception hall. Mike said matter of fact, “Maurice dreams it and Ann plans it.” I’ve thought of that phrase so many times in my almost 20 years of married life and it still rings true this very day. In literature the English professors call it “dramatic foreshadowing” but I’d say it is, more simply, that “brothers know brothers.” Could anyone in that room predict the 2009-2010 Glavin rendition of Homer’s Odyssey, I think not.

The idea I conjured is simple; “Europe for a year,” but Ann’s execution of the idea is simply mind boggling, even to me. Bit by bit as the days fly by, the July 6th departure day loomed like an unexploded rocket left over from the July 4th celebrations. The questions surrounding the trip were as numerous as a precocious 5 year old; you remember the tug on the sleeve as he/she asked over and over, “Why daddy?”, “How come mommy?”, and “When daddy?” We answered a plethora of questions like these from family, friends and co-workers to the best of our ability; sometimes we arched our eyebrows, lifted our arms, shrugged our shoulders and simply said “We just don’t know.” Our parents knew it was a “great thing” but that didn’t mean they weren’t sad and didn’t shed a tear when saying goodbye at the Philadelphia airport as they thought “A whole year without the grand kids.”

As the jet lifted off the hot tarmac, after our connection at Dulles, VA airport, bound for Vienna, Austria, the feeling was a mix of sheer exhilaration and a healthy dose of “Oh my god what have we done?” As the plane crosses the Atlantic Ocean, I think there’s still time to “reverse the decision” spend a few weeks in Austria and then put the kids back in school and go back to work. Can I already be yearning for that familiar feeling that is “life as normal” after a mere 9 hours? Is the specter of doubt so strong that you’d consider quitting before it really starts? To give the doubting burning inside me more fuel, I say to my self “Everyone knows I hate to travel” or at least they should if they know me at all! As the wheels touch down and the pilot announces “Welcome to Austria, first in German and then in English” I grab Pearse and out we go to baggage claim to look for our year’s possessions in “7 bags.” As we wait on the train platform, 3 tired kids and mom and dad, I feel better about our adventure when Seamus says “What’s a Euro?” I think “We’re all going to learn a lot this year.”

Most folks utter the same question when they hear about our 1 year trip of a lifetime, “Do you know how lucky you are?” Obviously, the simple answer is “yes” but there is a much more complex set of feelings behind the entire proclamation “A year away traveling in Europe with your family.” Over the year I learned many lessons and now have many deliberate responses and feelings related to this oft asked question “Do you know how lucky you are?” especially when you consider 365 days, 24 hours per day with 3 boys and my bride. It’s literally, elbow to elbow in apartments, hotel rooms, trains, buses, planes and metros. Some days you wake up in Germany and finish the day in Poland or you leave Norway, spend 12 hours in Riga Latvia and finish in the Arctic Circle of Finland. With all of these experiences I am awed by Ann’s constitution, level headedness and planning skills. I glow when I think of Pearse’s “ginger haired” humor. I marvel at Eamon taking flight from his American made boyhood cocoon. My heart alights when Seamus, standing on the city cobblestones, smiles and asks a total stranger, map in hand and pointing says, “How do we get to this hotel?” Personally, I am inspired by what has become known as “The adventures of Team Glavin”.

We’ve traveled thousands of miles, clickety clack go the wheels of the 61 trains as they dash across the continent of Europe. We’ve made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in 26 countries as the train stopped in cities from Budapest, Hungary to Prague in the Czech Republic from Barcelona, Spain to Rome, Italy. We’ve dined and slept with a “real communist”, speaking and motioning but never understanding a word on the overnight train from St Petersburg Russia to Moscow. We’ve used water closets, aseos, bathrooms and toillets in so many countries our butts are confused and who knew that the softest toilet paper would be in Jerusalem. We laughed when toilets emptied right onto the train tracks and cried when they overflowed down the aisle. How do you say “Lift you feet in Polish?” You pay to go potty in the train stations (20 kronar in Oslo and 1 franc in Switzerland) but you pee in a trough in public for free at the summer festival in Vienna, Austria. Who knew that’s what “Pissar” meant?” We learned to “reserve” seats on the train in second class and we learned to take “first class” if the trip is more than 2+ hours. We rolled suitcases down the cobblestones of Paris and the streets of Istanbul. We learned that a kabob in Lisbon, Portugal is much different than a kabob in Athens, Greece. The kids can spin a tale about what makes a Marriott (great pillows) different than Best Western’s (Free Internet) and beware 4 stars in any hotel in Europe not “American” franchised. In Valencia, Spain you pay for the bus when you get on but in Moscow you get a metro ticket in a chandeliered ceramic tiled hall before you ride the 200 meter escalators down to get on the “red” line to city center (seriously the “red” line takes you to the Kremlin). In some places transportation is on the honor system and in other places they check you twice like in Venice, Italy. Who wouldn’t pay to get on a water taxi, it’s not like you can run anywhere if the man says “Tickets please”? Our 39 flights taught us that you never get behind a woman with 2 bags, a dog and shoes that “tie” and no security guard comprehends that a 9 year old knows how to use a MacBook Pro. It is a riot to see Eamon lean up and gesture to a 75+ yr old man to take off his hat and belt before he goes through the metal detector and imagine our surprise when they thought peanut butter could double as C-4 so no PBJ’s at the airport in Paris.

We pledged not to rent a car or drive ourselves anywhere in Europe. We literally wore out shoes or the kids simply grew out of them. We took our fair share of taxi’s and there’s always an unsettled feeling or sheer terror when you split the family in half at 10:30 PM at the train station like in Krakow, Poland when the 1st taxi pulls from the curb as you follow in taxi #2 with no money and no idea of the hotel name or address. I did my best Hollywood impersonation “Follow that car!” while the driver said “No speeka English.” Some might wonder “Why didn’t I have money?” Well it was clear after a few days and Ann decided that I should not have more than a few Euros at any given time because I spent it on candy for me and the kids or gave it away to folks with various illnesses, maladies or handicaps. I was trying to save Europe 1 euro at a time! There are homeless people all over Europe that think well of this American Family. Thank God for Ann’s money sense because the pock marked, chubby faced thief in Barcelona is still pissed off that he got squatta when he stole my wallet in Barcelona, Spain. No Euros but lots of cancelled credit cards. If he wants he can drive in PA since he got my drivers license and I don’t need it till July 2010!

Folks we meet all over the continent of Europe both friends and family ask “Are you keeping a journal?” Fortunately before I left I received great advice from a friend who said “Write a little bit everyday because even an Einstein-like memory will not suffice.” Ann manages a picture gallery that numbers more than 15,000 photos and I managed to collect enough thoughts and experiences to produce 500+ pages of ramblings and observations about “The year in Europe.” I thought it might be enjoyable to “cut and paste” some stories, real world experiences, hopes, dreams and fears from the journal pages of the potential future book Planes, Trains and No Automobiles 3 Kids and A Year in Europe Without a Plan.

The logistics are staggering but a good backdrop to the stories you are about to read. We literally jumped on 61 trains, rode in 37 planes, stayed in 46 hotels and lived in 11 apartments. We traveled to 3 continents, 27 countries and walked 1000’s of miles in 85 cities. We bought tickets and visited 29 museums including 8 on the “Top 10” listed as “Best in the world” and saw the museum with the Neanderthal “Ice Man” that caused countries to change borders. We visited 22 Hard Rock Café’s, art of a different sort, and learned that a chicken wing in Warsaw is different than a chicken wing in Gothenburg, Sweden. We dared not count “How many Churches?” but there isn’t an architectural style we didn’t see, I know that for sure! Our feet are sore, our bags a bit ripped and stained but our imaginations are burning red hot like a nuclear reaction.
In an effort to give you a sense of “What it’s like” on the Glavin Odyssey I pulled excerpts from my journal, some full days and some just “parts of days,” some with observations and some just plain old funny experiences. It is a glimpse into our “Life on the rails, airports, buses and cobblestones” with a family of 5. Call it a year in review if you like.

Wednesday July 8, 2009 Vienna, Austria “That’s right he’s my son, Pearse come here!!”

It is a night that will be with me for the longest time. Everyone is still trying to adjust to the new time zone and the rise and fall of emotion that can be extremely draining on each person. Sleep has been easy to come by and there has been a lot of it since we arrived in Vienna. While it is only a +6 hour time difference it is clear that transatlantic flight takes its toll on old and young alike. We continue to give Eamon more and more responsibility. One of the things we decided to do was to allow him “management responsibility” for the room with the boy’s. He would shepherd the “night time ritual” including plugging in I-Pods, getting teeth brushed and dressing for bed etc. What I didn’t count on was his deep sleep and inability to hear if his brother’s got out of bed. This isn’t a skill they teach one in college nor is it a skill they teach in any classroom in which I have been instructed. It comes with age like a latent or slow release pill that starts working the first day you bring home that newborn. It becomes the proverbial sixth sense like “danger” or the ability to judge real hurt from simple discomfort. What was the old advertising adage “It’s a daddy thing.”

We had one of life’s true “Oh my God moments” and it only took 2 nights in Austria. From a deep sleep I heard the feint knock at the door, a quick glance at the clock and it was easy to ascertain that it was 1 AM Austria time. As I opened the hotel room door there was a large physically imposing Austrian man standing beside my Pearse and demanding to know “Why is this young boy in the hallway?” I responded a bit surprised “I don’t know”. Still ½ asleep I was trying to gauge “Is Pearse okay?” and “How did this happen?” and “What the hell is going on?” My instincts were firing on all cylinders and I am quick to comprehend that “calm is the right approach”. The stranger seemed more interested in figuring out “Are you his dad?” and “Why do you have 2 rooms?” Naturally all of this takes place with me speaking English and the hallway monitor standing beside Pearse speaking German. Again, my objective is to get Pearse on my side of the door and to get the door between me and this stranger while my heart is exploding out of my chest. It was clear to me that if things got physical I was certainly capable of handling things provided this guy didn’t have a weapon of an any sort and I was certainly sure that I could keep Pearse safe above all else. After considerable “back and forth” it was easy to tell that the strange man had a “few too many beers”. I was able to get Pearse in the room and the stranger, after castigating me and stating more than a few times “I only care that the child is safe”, left without incident.

Pearse came in the room with me snuggled up to his mother and fell fast asleep. His father, heart still racing, spent most of the evening playing “What if” scenarios in his head. I was stunned to think that Pearse could be in such a vulnerable spot and that I didn’t have control of one of the issues that is most important to me “Keep the kid’s safe”. While I knew before I departed America that I would need to give up my “control issues” I certainly did not have this in mind nor was I prepared for this kind of scenario. I will learn from this moment and be better prepared for things like this.

I am sure you are asking yourself “But how did Pearse get in the hallway?” I was perplexed by that very question. Once Pearse settled into his deep sleep I meandered over to the other room 3 doors down and took his place in the bed next to Seamus. Interestingly at about 3:30 AM Seamus got up to use the bathroom. I was still awake and frankly a bit shaken by the events of the “doorway encounter”. Suddenly I hear the door to the hallway open and Seamus is out the door. I sprung from the bed as if it was Christmas morning and Santa just left. As I pulled the door open Seamus was just about to knock to get let back into the room. He was a bit shaken as the bright lights of the hallway surprised him and jolted him into a conscious state that “something wasn’t “right”. This time it was “no harm no foul.” Seamus settled into bed as if nothing happened and the night continued on as the kids deep in sleep and dad wondering, eyes wide open “What have I gotten myself into?”

Suffice it to say the remainder of Day 3 was less eventful than the early morning “reality check.” We managed to move out of the hotel and into the apartment with great ease. We organized a trip to the Orthodontist for a repair of Seamus’ braces. While it was no big deal it is yet another example of the challenges of dealing with a language barrier and how important it is to find folks that are willing to help and to “State your case” for you . I am glad that English is a second language to so many in Austria. It helps to have some street sense and it also helps to show your willingness to be vulnerable, both are good traits to show to the children.

After we visited the orthodontist we walked across the street to visit the landmark “Votive Church”. It is a Roman Catholic Church that is magnificent in its Neo-gothic architecture. I am still in awe of the amazing breadth of the Church both in structure and in its worldwide ancient and modern reach. I needed to say a few prayers too. It was an eventful 24 hrs. Welcome to Vienna!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 “Auschwitz is proof that Evil Exists”

The tour bus to Auschwitz is an interesting mix of commerce and education. I have mixed feelings of what the day will hold. The older kids in a weird way are “looking forward” to seeing the Camp. There is a curiosity and an understanding that something unique is in store for them today. Ann and I already have a plan for the challenges related to Pearse. He is much too young to handle the visuals of seeing “what man is capable of doing to other man” so we plan go in separately or take turns viewing the exhibits and one of us will be outside with Pearse.

As I watch the Auschwitz documentary on the DVD system on the bus, the mood is somber. As if told by the movie director, the sun is morphed by the clouds, the temp turns cold and the rain begins to fall outside as we make our way up the road to the Auschwitz camp. It is indeed eerie as I harken back to the early 1940’s knowing that these roads, railroads and this area was the site of such remarkable human suffering. I have tried to prepare the children for what they are to encounter. I know in my heart that there will be nothing to prepare them for what will be a memorable day in their lives. While the visits to the Krakow ghetto yesterday were sad but enlightening the breadth and depth of this experience will be almost tangible.

As I write these words I am just back on the bus and just leaving Auschwitz 1 headed to Birkenau a camp known as Auschwitz II and the site of massive exterminations, crematoriums and barracks to house the “workers”. I wanted to capture the first emotions of the visit. I am simply overwhelmed. Images racing through my mind as I recall the glass encased exhibits of human hair, toothbrushes, work uniforms that were only replaced 1 X per year, tickets bought by Jews from Greece to Auschwitz and stark pictures of starved men, women and children. The kids Colleen, Eamon, Seamus and Pearse are moved by the breath and depth of the experience. The entrance to Auschwitz is bleak and nondescript except for infamous gate that has the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” translated to mean “Work shall set you free” Our guide is a young woman certified to give tours. She is knowledgeable and careful with regard to her information and while I know she is practiced at this presentation, I am humbled by her hushed but informative discussion of the various rooms, chambers and exhibits. We learn many facts about the “process” and the conditions of the 2 camps. The human suffering, not so long ago, is palpable both inside the buildings and outside the buildings. I can’t help but think of the massive efforts involved in creating such brutality and the terrible disregard for human life. On a walk from the “wash house/latrine” to the “barracks house” that held 400 people, I talk with Seamus and Pearse about the American right to “Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

Birkenau is a troubling and horrible place. You can see that this camp was built with efficiency of extermination in mind. The dedicated railway yard linking the camp to the Auschwitz rail station is a grim reminder of the German trait for process improvement. We were able to take more pictures “inside the buildings” as these were “re-creations” and thus not “memorials” as were the buildings in Auschwitz. The distinction is made clear to us by the guide and I think there is a 6th sense that we are in the presence of the fragile line that is life and death.
The Nazi’s knew that the “end was near” for their effort to rule the world. Many battles were lost and word was sent to the camps to destroy evidence of the brutal crimes committed. Records, buildings and infrastructure were destroyed. The crematoriums were dismantled and the majority of the remaining prisoners were forced out of the camps. In all they estimate that 60,000 people were marched out of the camps in January leaving some 7000 to be liberated by the Russian Red Army.

We saw the final resting place of Rudolf Hess the Commandant of the Camp at Auschwitz. He was hanged by the Polish Government for War Crimes only feet from the crematorium where he sent so many to their deaths. Today it is a simple pole and cement block with a granite marker providing the description and I as I stood there tears in my eyes I am filled with disappointment that a man could be so brutal to so many others. As the rain beat down on me, I was incapable of moving as puddles formed all around me and I stood there and I wonder and I asked myself “How?”, “Why?” and “For what?”

The bus ride back to Krakow was silent. It was a bus filled with people of all ages yet no conversations were being had at all. It was if the God whispered to each person on the bus that now is a time to reflect on what is Good vs. Evil. Our team heard the whisper as well. I asked the kids to write their blogs with the hope that they would capture their emotions on the written page so that others might learn from their experience when they read the blog for the day Aug 11, 2009.

Everyone on Team Glavin is drained so we hang at the hotel. I took a run to clear my head. It was still a bit wet so I gave the kids some time off for themselves. We decided to spend the last hours in Krakow touring the town and trying to remember the good that is present too. Ann, Pearse and I went off to find the “fire breathing dragon”. The 3 older kids went to town center to watch the crowds, see street performers and enjoy themselves. Pearse liked the statue of the dragon and was even more impressed with his own climbing skills. He was slightly startled when the dragon let out a quick burst of air that was followed by a bellow of fire. He was tickled with himself. He had a satisfied smile and a spring in his step as he says “Now can we get Ice cream?” I have eaten more ice cream in 6 weeks than all of last year and this year combined.
I leave Krakow, glad that I had so many diverse experiences. The town is old, gray and wears the scars of its troubled past around every corner but there is a certain resilience and courtesy in its people that is befitting of a country that is rising from the ashes of Totalitarianism and Communism.

Friday October 9, 2009 Turkey “No really, Belly Dancing is an Art!”

Seamus and Eamon are itching to get back to “kumkapi” or fish alley. They want to videotape the “belly dancer” and Pearse wants to “tag along”. It is funny to watch them “look about” in search of the performer in this sea of people. Ann comments that some of her friends at home would be uncomfortable with all this talk of “belly dancers” etc. but I interject, at least we can control this lesson compared to what the kids are capable of getting on the internet. The alley is 2-3 times more crowded than our first night and the salesman are busy busy busy grabbing and cajoling folks to “Eat here best prices, best food.” Suddenly Pearse yells “I hear those clanging things, I hear them over there” as if he yelled “land ho” from a ship that has been at sea for months. The castanets are barely audible but he is right and I just have to laugh. As we walk towards the sound the lady is working on a second floor veranda and we can’t see her. Oh well I am sure it will happen sooner than later. We are treated to a Turk “making ice cream” and I stop for a chocolate treat. It doesn’t last long as the belly dancer exits the building right in front of us and heads back up the gauntlet. The lads follow, as if in a trance reminding me why Adam had such issues in the Garden Of Eden. Ann and I make our way behind them enjoying the sights and sounds of a festive Friday night in Istanbul. The boys locate a different "belly dancer" and park themselves close to the restaurant so they can watch the performance. Ann and I are but a stone’s throw from the restaurant and we can see Pearse snapping pictures and Eamon making video. Seamus, he isn’t really all that concerned about technology, he is more interested in what is going on and enjoying the dance for what it is. He is a bit worldlier than many his age evidenced in his statement “I really like Istanbul, its cool.” I look at him and say “I’m sure you do!”

Saturday, December 5 2009 “Portugal’s simple Pleasures”

The apartment in Lisbon is so small “you have to go outside to change your mind” but it is really nice and has all the essentials and then some. It is clean and has 3 bedrooms, laundry facilities, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen that works. The apt is right on a main drag and the noise is wafting thru the 17th century windows that look out onto red neon emblazoned “erotic boutique store” across the street. We have a special talent for finding "erotic shops" in every city in Europe. It's just what a dad needs with 2 teenage boys!! The apartment is city living at its finest with high ceilings, small separated rooms, hardly any closet space and a new efficiency kitchen. The kids are delighted to have satellite TV on a flat screen with English channels and fast speed wireless internet. All is good in Lisbon. It’d be a tough place for 5 weeks and climbing the stairs to the 3rd floor will get old rather quickly but we’ll be fine and it is another subtle experience for the kids as evidenced by Seamus’ comment to the real estate agent “What no elevator?”

And so I finish the night in country #13, a cup of tea in my hand and I am watching a WWII movie “Where Eagles Dare” with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in English. I am a happy man. Now if we could just get some chairs with backs I’d be all set.

Life is good!

Wednesday December 23, 2009 Switzerland “Did that Swiss snowman pee?”

We return home a shade tired from the exercise but satisfied that we made the trip to the Oberjoch Mountain again. The boys are excited and they are enjoying the mix of snowboarding, chalet living and connecting with friends and family on the computer. Pearse recalls a conversation from earlier about “good snowman snow” and he and Seamus begin the process of building their Swiss Snowman. I recall, fondly, the snowman days of my Darby youth and put on my boots and go out to offer assistance and a bit of “expertise”. The smile on their faces as I appear just over the hill in the backyard is worth the cold chill of the night as the sun is long past shining and we work by the light of the moon. We pack the snow, roll the balls and laugh at how hard it is to make them round. The second “body part” is so heavy we have to illicit Eamon’s help, so we send our emissary, Pearse, to extend the invitation.

He tells Eamon, “Dad wants you to help us!” Eamon arrives, seemingly happy but without gloves, go figure. Seamus looks incredulous “You came to build a snowman without gloves?” and Eamon responds “Pearse just said daddy wanted me.” And such is the thought pattern of a teenage boy. It only takes a few minutes before the simple enjoyment of 3 boys building a snowman makes for uproarious laughter and engineering miscues. The second ball is so heavy that we have difficulty lifting it onto its “base.” Television “Frosty” seemed so much easier to bring to life. We plot and cajole and shave and chisel and give it one last Herculean effort and with gusto the “second ball” makes it onto the base. Victory is ours! As we place the third ball there is an air of accomplishment and back slaps all around. We get some branches for arms and begin the process of bringing our rather large friend to life. Pearse heads to the house for a hat and a scarf. He returns with mom’s purple scarf, Phillies hat and declares “He’ll be stylin with this stuff” and Seamus is already poking small branches into the head of the snowman and says “He needed some hair.” Our snowman is looking good, Phillies hat intact and positioned so that a photo will capture the Swiss Alps in the background. There is a huge uproar as Eamon finds a stick, places it in the bottom ball and declares for all “He’s a male snowman!” The laughter could have woken the neighborhood. Since we are so far from the house I suggest one of the boys “take a pee” and in the morning when their mother comes down to see the creation we’ll all laugh out loud when Pearse looks surprised and says “Hey he got so cold he peed himself.” I will never forget Eamon and Seamus peeing by the moonlight in front of the Swiss Alps snowman and laughing so hard they can’t stand still. It’s a dad and his 3 boys and a moment in Europe and there’s not a Cathedral in site.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 “Happy St Patrick’s Day now, “Where’s the ER?”

The day moved from hour to hour and all seemed well. We had dinner and began the “clearing of the fridge.” We are days away from the departure of the Italian Alps and there’s nothing worse than throwing out food because of bad planning. We watch a few dvd’s of Ally McBeal for mom and the boys and I watch “Prison Break.” Ann always heads to bed when we start “Prison Break” she hates the whole premise of prison as entertainment and tonight was no different. She has been having an issue with her shoulder that started with a fall while skiing a couple days ago.

After a few hours Ann calls me into the bedroom and said “I need to go to the hospital.” My heart began to race and as the color drained from her face my heart rate elevated in directly opposite proportions. We are in Italy, we don’t know a soul and we need to get medical attention. Ann is not a complainer and fear is written on her face. She is sick. I worry that it’s not the shoulder but something more serious. Calls to Eugene go unanswered. I locate a taxi and we make the hour drive to Balzano. It is amazing what goes through your mind while you are rolling and pitching around switchbacks in the mountains making your way from the highest of mountain towns to the closest “city.” Ann is in pain and you want to make it stop. I can’t help but think “What am I going to do if there is something seriously wrong?” Gene calls, to my delight, and gives me the long distance diagnosis potentials. It is anything from a potential blood clot to nerve damage to bone issues. The slow progression of the pain seems to rule out separation of the shoulder, but no matter what we are going to be challenged to get the right medical care. We reach the ER at 11:30 PM and we hope for the best. Eamon is watching Seamus and Pearse and I hope that we’ll be home before they wake up.

In one of those weird “twists of fate” we wind up in the ER of a hospital called “San Maurizio” or St. Maurice. You can’t make this stuff up. Eugene and I stay in constant contact and it is a true relief to know that he is a call away. The ER is not much different than in the USA except for the “out dated” nature of furnishings and wall tile etc. As I sit and listen to folks bantering in Italian and I hear the occasional moan that needs no language expertise to understand, I think this is what it is like for folks when they visit the USA on holiday and get hurt or worse maybe, if they are illegal aliens and they fear be discovered while getting treated for being sick. I think Gene said it best when he tried to comfort me “moments like these make you grateful that there are educated people all over the world who choose to help people.”

I feel like a fish out of water, I don’t know the protocol or the systems and it is yet another example of the need to put one’s faith in another’s hands. At the same time, all of one’s life experiences come into play as you have a heightened sense of acuity and amazing focus to make sure that we leave with the right answers and a good plan of action for Ann. Gene works the “rolodex” and computer and he connects with colleagues to help me just in case things get really serious, not to say that sitting in an ER in Italy in a small mountain town isn’t already serious.

The Drs. are ready to discharge Ann and the diagnosis is “wait and see” with some pain medicine. Gene is aghast and we see the first major difference in American medicine vs. nationalized medicine. In America, Ann’s pain would dictate more tests and an MRI etc but here she is viewed as not “critical” and if we have issues we can get back to the hospital or see a Dr. in the local town. I ask to see the ER doctor. She is young polite and speaks very good English. I explain the concerns; she listens and assuages my fears about clots etc. The pain medicine is working, Ann is less fidgety and her facial expression suggests that she can be discharged. We call a taxi and pay 80 euros to return home. The whole ride is filled with txt messaging and phone calls to our oldest Eamon and Gene. As I ramble on and on I look out the window of the taxi and am trying to get my bearings and make sure we are headed in the right direction since the human GPS is in a narcotic slumber on my shoulder. I lean up to the taxi driver, a bit unsure of myself and say “We are going to Ortisei, right?”

The incident draws to a close in the 3:30 AM range of Thursday morning. As I lay my head on the pillow, my mind races and the invariable “What ifs” cloud the mind and limit one’s ability to sleep. I am fortunate to have such good people in my life and the thought of losing Ann at such an early age is unsettling and a brutal reminder that “life is short” and “live life to the fullest.” We weathered the storm so far and I will as Eamon said “Remember this night forever.”

Tuesday April 20, 2010 “To London and “X” One off the list of “93 Things to do before I die.”

6:00 AM came and the squad was not exactly sprite about the whole “Time to get up” deal. The lads know it is a short train ride 2.5 hours to London, England and are loaded with books, computers and “let’s enjoy the day” attitude. To think that we are just picking up and going to London from Paris is so cool! The boys know that today’s whole trip is designed to help me realize a “goal” from my “list.” I think it is an important lesson for them that you “must have goals and dreams.” I get that it is silly to want to have a “custom suit” made in England, but it is even sillier to go through life without a love for fun and achievement. A friend of mine said to me one time “’Do you live to work or do you work to live?” I think this year is proof that we are teaching and experiencing that “Life is for the living.” As an added bonus we are also crossing one of the “European “to do” list speeding through the “Chunnel” that Uncle Andrew, my Godfather helped build.

We pop out of the Tube at “Green Park” and make the exciting walk along the street to Piccadilly Circus. It is a great “early” look at London. We’ll be back to London in July as it is the last stop before we make the return flight to home on July 12. It is hard to believe that we can talk about that now since it is really close but there is still much to do. The directions to Anderson & Sheppard are as the Brits would say “Spot On.” We enter thru the door and the chime on the door is nothing but a simple jingle bell. The place reeks of age and decorum if that is possible. The shelves are loaded with a 100+ years of names in books with “measurements,” including Errol Flynn, Lawrence Olivier, Marlene Dietrich, and the great Fred Astaire. The bolts of cloth hang in a display that is appropriate for the fashion they are to create. The leather couch is soft and looks like one you’d see in any doctor’s office or high end lawyer’s reception hall. It reminds me of “Mortimer’s” library room in the movie Trading Places. The atmosphere oozes gentleman haberdashery!

I arranged for all of us to get a “Behind the scenes tour” of the process of making suits. All of the clothing is made on the premises. The cutter is a man named John Hitchcock and he is dressed immaculately in a fine blue pinstriped suit with matching vest and cuff links. He looks more like a salesman than an aged cloth cutter and we find out that he is also the Managing Director of Anderson & Sheppard. He was expecting us and welcomed us with great joy. He was delighted that I wanted my boys to see “How a craftsman works” and the enthusiasm of the children made it all the more fun for the man who could be their grandpa. The Glavin boys saw the wood carvers of Ortisei, Italy and now the tailors of Savile Row, London England. This is an education that you can’t get in the school books. On the table is the “cutting pattern” for the United States Ambassador to Belgium. He ordered 15 suits and the cutter is working away on them as he showed the boys how to sharpen the “cloth chalk” and how they use it to outline the pattern on the specially picked customer cloth. He lined up the pinstripes and then he let Pearse mark some of the suit and follow the pattern for the jacket. Pearse can now say “I helped make the Ambassador of Belgium’s suit.” I wonder how many kids can say that. The small cutting room and pattern room has 3 or 4 men doing different jobs and they showed the kids the many “inside silk linings” that one can pick from for their custom suit. The accessories man also called the “button man” showed them wooden boxes filled with buttons. The kids were amazed that there were so many details to think though and from which to choose. There is a 15 ft high rack of “masonite like” cardboard “patterns” waiting for that call from an Anderson and Sheppard customer that says “Make me a suit in this material.” We saw and felt the special canvas that is placed between the two layers of suit cloth to help it keep its shape but also allow it to “lie when unbuttoned.” There’s a box below the cutter’s table and as he pulled it out I felt like we were in a scene from Harry Potter as Mr. Hitchcock leaned forward, box in hand, and in an attention grabbing moment he whispered “You know we make suits for the Prince of Wales.” It was a precious moment right up until Seamus embarrassingly blurted “Who’s that?” We’re still rubbing off the rough edges on these Irish boys and this moment reminds me there’s still some work to do. The cutter didn’t mind the gaffe and there was a good natured chuckle or two in the room as well. What do you expect from a kid named Seamus?

There was a small suit coat that the suit maker made for the front window as a display piece. It was made from the same cloth for the suit that was used by Fred Astaire in the movie “Singing in the Rain.” The “cutter” looked at Pearse, smiled and said “Have a go at that coat.” Pearse tried it on and we all had a great laugh as he modeled Fred Astaire’s famous Glenn Plaid jacket in miniature. None of the kids knew who Fred Astaire was but we had great fun. At that moment I thought to myself “Mrs. Deely would have been in heaven watching the boys crawling around the shop.” They took us down to show us the “trouser” department, the jacket room and the pressing rooms. It was all quite impressive and in a good way, quite simple. The businessman in me couldn’t help but think “They have great margins and profits.”
Eamon was keenly interested in the whole process. He asked me “Dad how do you know so much about this stuff?” It was both surprising to me and made my day really enjoyable. He was thrilled to see the “cloth selection” process. The books filled with fabrics and different weights. I went with a specific set of goals, a lesson in itself, and laid out my desires for the professional team that was helping me. Eamon learned the different types of fabric, the different types of weights and the different kinds of seasonal choices as well. He accompanied me into the measurement room. A gentleman sits with the “book” and writes down all the measurements as they are called off by the tailors. First there is a trouser man that comes in and he asks a series of questions like “Lined or unlined,” “Button fly or zipped fly,” “Belt loops or not”, “Cuffed or straight,” Narrow, straight or bellowed” as he takes measurements. All of the specifics are marked in the “book.” Eamon was rapt with attention standing to the side. In came the jacket man, Mr. Hitchcock. He was also the cutter that was showing us the whole process. He did the same thing, asking tons of questions about lapels, # of buttons on the jacket, pocket type, pocket angle and size, and # of inside pockets. “Do you want a special lining or just the regular?” The kids wanted me to get “Skull and Cross bones” the flag of pirates for the lining and I laughed when I thought about the recent banking crisis and all the pirates that were involved in that while wearing these types of suits.

We had a wonderful experience standing in the shop and doing the “custom suit deal.” While we waited a guy came in and picked out material for a “Formal white dinner jacket.” Eamon said he really knows what he wants. I looked at him and said “Son you don’t buy clothes like these unless you know what you want and how to get it!” A smile cracked and the wheels were turning for him. I walked out the door happy and satisfied that the reality of getting a custom suit made for myself met my imagined experience. Having the boys with me turned out to make it all the more pleasurable and not something any of us will forget. When I put on my suits or my new sports coat the lads will know “We were there when they made that for my dad!” What’s that famous commercial “Train ticket from Paris to London 180 Euros, new custom made tweed suit coat 800 Euros, spending a day in an English Tailor Shop on Saville Row with your 3 son’s, PRICELESS!”

Sunday May 23, 2010 “6 Red Tickets” to Pentecostal Mass with Pope Benedict XVI

There's a clear excitement as we make the early morning preparations for Mass with the Pope. It is my deal to get the troops out of the rack and get everyone fed. We need to walk to the Basilica by 7:30AM and we're really not sure what we are in for today but we know it will be special. After pancakes and tea we leave the apartment for the brisk walk, first along the Tabor River, and then we head left to the main road to St Peter's Square. The walk is beautiful and while we hope we aren't too far back in line we just have to deal with what happens.

As we get close to the gates we see that the line is already pretty far back wrapping around Bernini’s columns. I am disappointed in myself initially because I knew this was an "early man's game". When it’s “first come first serve” I know we just need to “out hustle” folks to get to the line first but it is harder with 6 people. We adjust; wait in line like the rest of the folks and people watch as the crowd swells. Folks are holding their RED tickets like special lottery tickets and we are all winners today since we’ll attend Mass with the Pope in St Peter's Basilica. It is just an amazing thought and a dream come true. We have a full hour before we go through the metal detectors. It is weird to even write those words. Do you really need metal detectors to see the Pope? The world is crazy.

As we wait and wait it is clear that the "line" rules are for others as we see one religious sister after the next roll to the front and skip the line. I think “Well if everyone else is doing it, let's get Eamon, Seamus and Pearse on the task.” They head to the front of the line and when the gates open they scoot through security and head to the Basilica to secure seats. The line is in pretty good humor and the folks are all anticipating the entry to the Basilica. As we make our way to the front I can see Seamus and Pearse squirt through the front of the line and make the mad dash to the Basilica. They are all set to reserve seats for us. As we make our way a woman asks “Can I get in here with you, I’m 70 years old, the line is too long and I won’t be able to see the Pope?” She was grateful when we said “yes” and she loved to talk about her trips and the religious places she’s visited. She was French.

As we walked past security and the metal detectors I was filled with a sense of “How great is this?” The entrance into St. Peter’s was awe-inspiring as the Basilica was decorated in brilliant red for Pentecostal Sunday. We’ve been in the Basilica a few times now but this visit is really amazing. You can feel it “in the air” that you will really be doing something special. We spot Eamon and Seamus; they are separated by a few rows and Pearse is right up against the barricades. Each boy has a perfect spot to see the Pope process into St. Peter’s. It is wonderful to feel the energy and a real “goosebump moment” just thinking about it. Seamus tells me that he had “first row seats” and then a nun came and kicked them out saying “These are reserved.” I knew it wasn’t true and I chuckled to think that they lied to a young boy in St Peter’s Basilica and “The home to the bones of the First Pope” but these are crazy times, I guess.

It is a 1 ½ hr. wait for the Pontiff but it is surreal and wonderful at the same time. We get to look at the baldacchino, the canopy over the Pope’s Altar, and study the art and the statues of the great leaders of the Church. You can’t turn your head without a fantastic view of an amazing statue, painting or mosaic. The Altar was made by Bernini and Pearse says “Of course it was Bernini.” There is religious, clergy and nuns in every view from right to left. There are Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Deacons and sisters of every order imaginable. As we get closer to the procession of the Pope the pace picks up and the buzz is clear as the men prepare the Altar for Mass. The barricade along the main aisle seems odd but it isn’t hard to understand why it is necessary especially after the deranged woman knocked the Pope down at Christmas Eve Mass this past year . The cameras are ready and the lighting is brilliant as the Vatican prepares to beam the Mass to ardent Catholics in St. Peter’s Square outside and the Catholic television networks around the world.

I am not sure if the kids really know how fortunate they are to be in this spot on this day. A billion Catholics would love to be in their seats. The crowd begins to buzz and in the back of the Basilica we hear clapping. The Pope emerged from his elevator that goes from the residence to the Basilica and he is making his way to the immense bronze doors at the front of St Peter’s Basilica and its “Show time.” A quick glance up the aisle and it is amazing; there are Cardinals and Bishops walking in rows of 2. They cover the entire length of the main aisle. Pearse is leaning over looking to his left to his right since his seat is “on the aisle”. As the procession starts everyone pushes to the aisle hoping for that great picture. I have to watch out for Pearse to make sure he doesn’t get crushed by folks that want their moment and he is so small they’ll hurt him since the barriers are permanent. He has an African religious sister that befriended him and is watching out for him, protecting him and explaining what is going on. I see Eamon and his mom with our friend Josh looking up the aisle and waiting for the Pope.

The moment you see the Pope is magical. We’ve seen the Pope a number of times but this is a unique and wonderful environment. The first glimpse of the Pope is all one can ask. His Red and Gold Vestments are like something from a Disney movie the colors are so brilliant. The Pope moves from his left to his right and occasionally shakes a hand or greets a young child. He is old but he is happy and feeds off the energy of the crowd. His red shoes are a crowd favorite and the brilliant gold Shepherd’s Cross is awesome. As he gets close the crowd pushes behind us but we are in a great spot as he walks raising his hand to bless everyone as the crowd makes the sign of the cross like a wave in a stadium.

Pope Benedict stops at Eamon and Ann’s location about 4 rows in front of us. There is a family dressed in red and the 4 kids are 3-6 years old. The Pope takes the boy in his hands and kisses his forehead. The mom and grand mom bless themselves as the tears of joy run down their faces. Ann snaps a “Once in a lifetime” picture of the Pontiff as he is 2 feet away. His gold lined red vestment spilling over the barricade and his security detail is right with him so no one grabs him or holds onto him. No one means him harm but it is easy to see that they get caught up in the moment and want to stop time and hold on to their “moment with the Pope.” There are folks all over the Basilica mesmerized and emotional at their great fortune of being with His Holiness. It is such a warm feeling to experience this faith filled place with folks from all over the world.

The Pentecostal Mass is awesome. It is 2 hours long but goes so quickly as you watch the wonderful choreography and the importance of tradition in the Catholic Church. I will never forget the sight that as the priest rises to say the Gospel all of the Cardinals and the Bishops put on their Mitre’s and it is a sea of special hats facing the Pope. The crowd watches as the Pope has the gold and jeweled Mitre placed on his head by his assistant priest. His red velvet chair is positioned immediately in front of the Altar and he is in fine view of the entire Basilica. The Homily has a special feeling because we know that Fr. Giertych, our new acquaintance, reviewed it for The Pope. It is a pretty neat connection to make with the kids. We are so fortunate and so blessed.

The Mass ends and the recessional is a replay of the Processional. The excitement is palpable as folks work to get to spots where they can get a great photo of the Pontiff. The Pope weaves his way from right to left and is as happy as he was 2 hours ago. I think “It must be hard to be on for every event” but it is each persons first time seeing the Pope and that’s what they remember. He shakes a few hands, and gives the blessings as he walks by. He moves a bit faster this time because he must get to his residence to see the crowd outside and “Address” them after the Angelus. It is a full day for the Pope with the Catholic faithful.

As we exit St Peter’s Basilica the “The Square” is filled with folks chanting “Papa.” It is our 3rd Sunday seeing the Pope in his residence window. Funny but we’ve been in the same spot all three times. He is waving and speaking and the Catholics are excited to hear their leader. In a weird way, we’re just trying to get home so we can pack for our train trip to Naples this afternoon. It is an easy but extremely crowded walk to our apartment. It is a beautiful day in Rome and folks are milling about enjoying the sunshine and the culture of this amazing city.

Thursday, June 3 2010 Germany plays Bosnia but “scalping tickets is an art”

Another guilt free sleep day. They seem to be coming more frequently now. The kids are worn down and the need to get “up and down” for events is wearing thin. I was afraid of that when we left Rome, especially for me, but we have 5 weeks left and we need to enjoy the experience as much as we can. I think when Ann gets home she will need to sleep for a week after managing the gang for 53 weeks. I have my laptop and tea, sitting on the bathroom floor again, writing and communicating with the outside world. At 7:00AM the bathroom is the only place where I can write without disturbing Pearse and Ann while they sleep. It is like a comedy skit when Ann knocks on the door, “Can I use the bathroom?”

The hours fly by and we meet Josh at the Frankfurt Cathedral. It was rebuilt after the Americans and English bombed the crap out of this city during WWII. It is wild to sense that only 60 years ago we were mortal enemies and millions of people died because of a nut and now we travel freely on the same soil. Politics and power can yield such horrible results. As we make our way to meet Josh we pass by the stadium or stadion as they say in German. There is a soccer game tonight. It is called the “friendlies” as the countries prep for the World Cup. Germany is playing Bosnia Herzegovina. I know Josh is a huge fan of International soccer and I ask if he would be interested in attending with the 3 boys. He looks like a kid at Christmas and he is all for it and excited at the possibility. We begin the search for tickets which can be complicated by the “German holiday” and the fact that we speak “zero” German. As expected we learn from folks that the game is” sold out.” The plan is to get the boys to the stadium and look for any availability at the ticket office because as I tell the kids all the time “you never know.” We put Josh, Seamus and Eamon on the Tram # 20 and off they go to the stadium with money in their pockets and hope for another European experience.

The gang keeps me informed of the “ticket buying” progress by txt message. The stadium ticket office says “no tickets.” The crowds are swelling but I know the kids are fine as Josh has a good sense of how to get in and out of situations. Eamon and Seamus have seen me do all kinds of stuff at stadiums and they know the drill. Their last resort is to “scalp” in the parking lot and Eamon text messages me and says “we got 3 for 100 euro each, we’re in the stadium.” I told Josh before he left us that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity so if the tickets are available and you have enough money “make it happen.” I am not sure he would have done it without that push since he is a grad student and every dollar is measured at that time in one’s life. Pearse, Ann and I watched the game at the bar and I felt great knowing that my kids and our friend got to see the World Cup German team play their last game before the start of the 2010 World Cup. I love this kind of stuff that’s for sure and when Josh said “Seeing a National soccer game in a European Country stadium is a life goal” I felt great about how it all unfolded. The kids joked with him, “Mr. Morris, is it on your list of ‘100 things to do before you die?’” It was way better than seeing another cathedral I bet!!!
Life is good.

Sunday June 6, 2010 D-Day

We managed to make Mass at 5:15 yesterday and for that I am glad. Our apt doesn’t have air conditioning and the beautiful warm evening walk of last night brought some humidity and a million mosquitoes in the early AM. The entire family with the exception of Ann was bitten all night and so sleep was at a premium. The apartment is quaint and in the middle of the city making everything in “walking distance” but without air conditioning and sleep we are on the edge a bit today.

The city of Amsterdam is beautiful. It is well managed from a tourist perspective with small picturesque houses, angular streets and amazingly integrated bike paths. You can’t walk 20 feet without hearing the “cha-ching” of a bike bell. It is a way of life here and lends itself to one explanation for the question “Why is everyone so tall and so skinny in Amsterdam?” Like the houses the people are angular and narrow and seem not to care about the fast life that is usually part of city life throughout the world. It has clearly lived up to its reputation as the “quietest city” on the continent. There isn’t the incessant honking of car horns and the screaming “get out of the way” in whatever language. I found Vienna to be the most “gentlemanly like city” but Amsterdam, the way I am experiencing it with the family, is clearly equal to Vienna in that sense.

Pearse is struggling with the terrible mosquito bites and the welts are rising before my eyes. In addition to his bites he has yet another reaction to a medicine that I gave him. He reminds me of Joe and Mike with his sensitivities to different things and he’ll learn to manage that as he gets older. The other kids are hanging strong even though they are tired as well. We are fast approaching the final month of the trip and while we’ve “been on vacation for a year” the team is exhausted and a bit irritable overall. The mere mention of the words Church or museum brings the look of “not again” and I can understand that feeling because occasionally I have to hide the same feeling. We’ve seen probably 200 renditions of “St. George killing the Dragon” and countless renditions of the apostles, the saints and our Lord in various New Testament scenes. I wish I had better retention for these things but as the saying goes “The leopard doesn’t change his spots.”

We make the required walk to the “best” museum in Amsterdam. It houses many great and famous works of Rembrandt the greatest painter the Dutch have ever produced. It is a nice experience because the museum is under massive construction so they moved everything into a gallery in a museum. In a couple hours you can see all the great works where if it was the regular museum it could take all day. I force the kids to plow thru the museum and help them see some of the major works and do my best to relate the things I’ve learned via the audio guide. I am still amazed after 20+ museums that there is so much in a painting that “I miss” until it is painted out and again I find myself saying “I wish I took an art history class.” So much of my academic career was “Just survive” that the joy of learning never took root until it was almost over. I hope in a small way that this European adventure sparks a different appreciation for the experiences that learning provides. Josh brought a nice perspective for the kids with his curiosity and love of learning. He loves art and makes it “cool” for the kids. When we look back on Josh’s time with us that will be one of the many things we’ll remember about his visit.

Once the team returns, Josh and I head out for a walk. The “underworld” of Amsterdam is infamous. I didn’t want to leave the city without seeing what so many folks are talking about when they says “You gotta go to Amsterdam.” I get the “coffee shop” concept and that you can buy marijuana and hash right over the counter. Occasionally as you walk by a doorway the odor is so strong I feel transported to the “break” in our old neighborhood in Darby. The smell of pot is one of those “you never forget it” smells and this is no different. I also know that no matter what guys tell you that smoke “pot” it isn’t the panacea for relaxation. I have no interest in the stuff and I am glad about that.

Josh and I wind from street to street looking for the Red Light district. It is famous the world over and like any man I am interested in how it all works. It isn’t as easy to find and I am surprised when I try and match up my “expectation” to what it actually looks like in person. The stories from the “young guns” that back pack through Amsterdam are always graphic and filled with phrases that start with “Unbelievable” and “You won’t believe your eyes” and “Watch your wallet”. As we move into the “Window district” it’s late Sunday afternoon. I am sure it was more raucous last night as Amsterdam is the home to famous bachelor and stag parties the world over. The windows are ½ filled with prostitutes beckoning for you to come over. My immediate thought is I’m glad Ann didn’t come with me and “What a way to have to make a living.” I hear it all the time “These girls make a lot of money” but who cares. Once I saw it I felt sad; perhaps it is my age or the fact I have 3 kids I don’t know. The business model is as old as dirt, separate men from their money or goods with the allure of sex. On this street there isn’t any pretense and the message is clear, “If you have enough money you can get anything.” I chuckle when I hear “It’s legal” and the entire window dancing class of girls are “tested.” Anybody want to buy a bridge? There are plenty to go around with all the canals here in Amsterdam.

So, I check off “visit the Red Light” district from my Amsterdam list. Josh and I head home and gather the troops for a trip to the Amsterdam Hard Rock Café. It continues to be fun and Josh loves to see the kids enjoy the trip. It is Sunday and as the day winds down Josh, Ann and I take a stroll looking for a pub that serves Amsterdam’s legendary assortment of beers. To our dismay most things are closed and the night life expired at about 4 AM this morning. Most of the pubs are closed and the pace of the Amsterdam citizen is one of “get home” and get ready for tomorrow. While it is mildly disappointing it is in a weird way comforting and a reminder of “Sunday in America.”

So, we call it a day here in Amsterdam. There aren’t any celebrations of D-Day here but I know and the kids know that without June 6, 1944 Amsterdam might still be part of Germany.

Sunday June 20, 2010 Happy Father’s Day fishing in Norway

The start of the day is slow but that’s because there’s no real rush. Yesterday’s trip up the narrow and mind blowing fjords is still the highlight of the trip to Norway but today will be one for the memory books as well. The fishing trip is booked and we leave from the harbor at 12:00. Ann and I are the only ones to make breakfast since the lads are sleeping and there’s no reason to wake them. They were up late “hanging out” after Pizza dinner at Pepe’s Pizzeria and playing in their small ante room that doubles as the separate bedroom. We have the “family suite” at the First Hotel and it is a solid find in this quaint city; it is clean, centrally located and the rooms provide everything we really need. Ann and I continue to manage the process well with occasional challenges to our relationship because we simply get little time to ourselves since Pearse is often in the “roll away bed” next to us. The pace for team Glavin while fast at times and agonizingly slow at times is for the most part what the mind and body expect when you consider a “year away.” We continue to be fortunate that the kids remain healthy and that they enjoy the last weeks of the adventure. They’ll have a million stories and experiences to look back on and we’ll always say “We spent a year away as a family” and that is the true treasure.

We get to the dock and the vessel looks like an old fishing boat from the movie Jaws. It is simple in design and form and our Captain is right out of central casting. I organized the trip via phone and frankly I had to do most of the work to get him on the same page. He was not overwhelmingly cooperative which makes you wonder “Why be in the people business if you hate serving people.” I met him last night to give him the deposit and now I have to go and get the bait this morning. One of the bonuses of looking for bait is that the kids all get a chance to try the roast beef like “whale meat.” It is colored like a piece of steak and you can tell it is precious as the “counter salesman” are judicious in sampling it; they give you just enough to get you to buy it. The “Whale tasting” is met with a few crinkled faces and a couple Glavin boys saying “not too bad.” The search for mackerel doesn’t go that well who knew you could get whale meat in town but there wouldn’t be mackerel in sight. I have to call the Captain, Igrid (you can’t make that name up), and get a suggestion for different bait. It is not a good way to start an expedition knowing that the preferred “bait” choice for the local sea is not available. We wind up with shrimp after I hand my phone to the guys at the fish market so they can speak Norwegian. We leave with a bag of shrimp and a lot of hope.

The Captain says about 5 words to us as we board the boat. He is busy pouring saltwater all over the deck. He later says “Salt water preserves the wood.” I never knew that to be the case but it isn’t exactly this guy’s first day on the sea so I can take comfort in the fact that he knows what he’s doing. We pull from the harbor for the 30 minute ride to the fishing places. Pearse is antsy and asks 10 times “When will we get there?” and “How long til we start fishing?” The excitement of the event is one of the great things about the outdoors. You love the anticipation and the apprehension in dealing with the unknown and today is no different for the 3 boys. I am surprised that Ann cam along as she isn’t a big fan of the water and I thought for sure that the lack of familiarity of the Sea would be a deterrent but she simply ‘Didn’t want to miss it.” Who can blame her since I’d argue we’ll never fish in the North Sea again.

We finally reach our spot and get the rods baited and ready for the first “drop.” I manage Pearse and the Captain tells me we have about 40-50 meters to the bottom and the plan is “Drop to the bottom and fish up.” Pearse and I work as a team and I drop his line in the water first. I hustle to get the other guys baited up and ready and they drop their lines in as well. I make a quick check on Pearse’s line as I show him how to reel in the line and “BANG” we have one on the line. Pearse light up like a pinball machine as the tip of the rod is bending like an upside down “J”; he reels it in and I help him. The brothers are looking and they can’t believe that the 9 year old is already leading the pack with a potential fish. We signal the Captain to let him know we have “one on the line.” As we pull it up and the line gets closer, the blue/green water allow us to see the shinny belly of the fish. Pearse is jumping up and down and screaming “There’s 2 fish on the line, there’s 2 fish on the line.” The captain has the gaffe and we pull in the 2 fish on Pearse’s line. The excitement for Pearse from everyone is just awesome. The fish are Pollack and one is 14” and the other is about 18.” All I can think is “We’re out on the North Sea, fishing on Father’s Day and we caught some fish, it doesn’t get any better than this!”

Monday, June 28, 2010 The French Riviera

The beautiful Mediterranean Sea calls us. It seems like the days start later and later and I wonder “Is that possible?” The breakfast buffet is wonderful and the language wafting across the restaurant is a foreign vacation melody we’ve come to appreciate and expect. There are more Americans here than I expected and the conversations are about travel, what brought them to the French Riviera and the ever present subtle “one ups man ship” that is part of the Riviera fabric. I think of Thurston Howe III from Gilligan’s Island with the fake accent, constantly saying “lovey” and the talk of yachts and country clubs. What’s the expression about “old” money, “Those with old money don’t need to tell folks they have money?”

We have a fun breakfast and the renewed energy in the kids is a real pleasure to be experience. I suspect that the short time we have remaining is the reason for the excitement from Eamon down to Pearse. It might also be the “Call of the Sea” like Herman Melville once said. We have a fun conversation about the things we’ll do when we go home and I chuckle when I hear “sleep” as one of the important things to “catch up on.” I am starting to think that Ann, Eamon and Seamus all believe that “sleeping” in Europe doesn’t count as rest. Pearse likes the fact that Seamus joined the sleep team as a “late member” because he gets on the websites he wants without issues with the older kids. The breakfast conversation continued as we discussed the importance of being prepared for the questions from our family and friends at home like “What was your favorite place?” and “What did you do that was exciting and or disappointing?” “Where did you go or what did you do on a daily basis?” When we really talked about it the conversation really flowed but it was clear that the experiences were like giving a thirsty man a fire hose from which to drink. Eamon said “Dad I can’t even remember all the places we’ve gone this year.” That is my point exactly. It takes effort to answer these questions that are sure to come. We pieced together the trips and experiences from month to month and as we laughed and said “Oh yeah” about 50 times it was clear that we really have been as the Johnny Cash song says “I’ve been everywhere man.”

Finally, I say to all “Thanks for taking the journey with us.” We lived an amazing year and shared “life on the road” for real. You have no idea how much we treasured hearing from you while on the “trip of a lifetime”; it was like a soldier receiving “letters from home.” Sometimes we got boxes filled with goodies to remind us of tastebuds we thought gone forever and we're greatful to the McTaggart gang and Ann's girlfriends, especially Mrs O'Connor, who organized those important " just girls" video conference calls. We all know Ann wins "Saint of the Year" after spending 53 weeks with 4 boys!!! It didn’t matter if it was by email, UPS, skype or thru the “feedback button” on the website “We are here and you are,” you made us feel "missed" and that is more important than you could possibly know. Pop-pop Glavin’s daily email was like a 6000 mile life preserver from America that wrapped around us in Russia, Israel,Poland, Sweden and Turkey to name just a few. Ever the teacher, Pop-pop taught our kids that the written word and saying “I Love you” makes the most challenging days brighter! To our visitors Colleen, Sam, Mom-mom, Kristen, Aunt Mary, Christian, Denis, Marla and Josh you brought excitement and a reminder that “family and friends” anchor the human spirit.

I joked with Ann that by the time you get done reading this “blog” we might be in your living room.

So, goodbye from London, England, we will see you soon and as I said many many many days in my journal “LIFE IS GOOD!”

Team Glavin

Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Seeds or no seeds?”

The train from Cologne, Germany is just perfect; it is sleek and ready to speed us to Amsterdam, Holland. We’re early enough to box out the other Europeans which is essential since luggage space is a premium especially on a Class 2 car like we’re riding today. We’ve looked at the “train coach schematic” so we know exactly where coach #22 will be situated on the long thin concrete platform. This is our 50th train for team Glavin so we’ve got this down to a science. Eamon, Seamus and guest Josh will attack from the North side of the platform paying particular attention to the grey hairs that think lines are for amateurs while Ann, Pearse and Dad with the “big ass” orange duffel will flank everyone from the south. It is a well rehearsed battle plan that has produced many victories in Vienna, Rome, Warsaw, Zurich, Balzano and countless other destinations along the rails of Europe during this 1 year adventure. In fact, our platform confidence is such that seasoned train travelers, even the Germans, seem to find us when they have a question.

The train slides into the rail yard and we watch as rail car #16-17-18 go by us. There’s a lot of platform and “crap” is all I can say as coach #22 slides by us and is still moving and halts 75 meters from our position and now the scramble is on with 6 people and 6 bags plus a food bag (gotta have peanut butter and jelly ready at all times). As the saying goes “The best laid plans” and as we rush up the platform, sweat now pouring off dad, we have to do some “field” adjustments. Pearse knows his role as he jitterbugs in and out with Seamus, butting in line like the seasoned pros they are. I see the looks and body language from a few adults that say “Who owns these kids?” I see Seamus’ trademark orange shorts as he hoists Pearse and the bags up the stairs ahead of us. Eamon and Josh add to the luggage rack that Seamus is guarding like a supply depot army Sargent and Dad places the orange taco-like duffel bag between car #21 and #22. As the Cologne Cathedral spires jut into the sky to our right I will always remember its sheer size and beauty and the fact that it is right next to the Cologne train station. All aboard and the doors close on yet another European city for Team Glavin.

The ride to Holland is uneventful and we relax and prepare ourselves as the train makes the short 2 hr journey to the central station Amsterdam. It is the city of many reputations and as expected that changes by the hour and the street. I know I am in for a special 5 days when Pearse asks “Dad why does the city flag have XXX on it in red and black? We are far enough in front for me to say “I don’t know ask your mother!” We walk by and over canal after canal as boats with chairs and couches float by us making the 700 level of the old VET seem like a pajama party. Amsterdam is the land of “anything goes” and I wonder how long it will take “Frick and Frack” aka Eamon and Seamus to notice the 3 things that keep any kid rocketing through puberty interested and focused “scantily clad girls in windows with red lights”, Coffee shops that aren’t “coffee shops” and chocolate treats made into shapes that would make Michelangelo’s David blush.

It doesn’t take long for the innuendo to fly. The souvenirs shops are a combination of “get your orange colored Holland "clog-like" slippers next to stuff that used to be sold with a brown bag around it when I was a kid. A walk down any aisle yields chuckles from front to back and the boys clearly planned a divide and conquer strategy as Seamus is yelling from one side “Hey check out the girl’s boobs that change color pending the temp of the liquid” no sooner do we get over to end that diatribe when Pearse yells out “What’s a latex nurses costume?” to the roars of teenage boys all over the store. Ann is looking for Christmas ornaments bringing new meaning to “ho ho ho” and I am thinking why bother it’s Christmas in June for Eamon and Seamus. Straws shaped like anatomy and t-shirts that have sayings that congress legislates against but …. well let’s just say that falls into the category “Do as they say not as they do” on that one. The 1st amendment is alive and well in Amsterdam.

As we make the walk back to the apartment the laughs are flowing and Mom is clearly outnumbered. Sometimes the situation just calls for letting the fire burn itself out. Just when the embers seem cold we happen past a string of “coffee shops.” Pearse looks up, smile on his face and says “They have brownies” as he makes his finger tips meet like a science teacher announcing a surprise quiz. He looks at the outside menu like he’s been taught and is happy the menu is in English too. Hey mom “Do we want those brownies ‘with’ or ‘without’ seeds?” He looks up, eyebrows furrowed; a look of confusion creases his small freckled face. Ann looks at him, smiles and says “I don’t know ask your dad?”

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Day at the Swiss Guard Barrack’s by Pearse

One day we were walking in the Vatican and my dad recognizes someone that he met in Bermuda. His name is Andréas and he was a Swiss Guard. We say “hi” and the end of the conversation he says that “ I will try to get you in the Swiss Guard Barrack’s” since he was a Swiss guard. At dinner my dad told me the story of Andréas and how he knew Pope John Paul II. The story is that Andréas became a Swiss Guard and at Christmas he was crying in the Swiss Guard Barrack’s because this was his first Christmas away from home. His duty was at night to guard inside an area in the Vatican for a long time. (When I mean long time I mean four or five hours of just standing) Then these big doors open right behind him and someone walks down this really long hallway. When the person gets around twenty feet away from Andréas he realizes that it is Pope John Paul II. The Pope greets Andréas; then the Pope says thank you for guarding the Vatican and walks away. The Pope had seen in the light that Andréas had been crying so he turns around walks back to Andréas and says, “Let me guess this is your first Christmas away from home.” “Yes your Holiness,” says Andréas and then the Pope blesses Andréas and walks away. Three days later as I wake up from my good nights sleep the person that my dad met in St. Peters Square, Andréas, my mom tells me that Andréas sent us an exciting E-mail. The E-mail said that Andreas would give us a tour of the Swiss Guard Barrack’s at ten O-Clock.

About an hour later we walk into Saint Anne’s gate and Andréas says “hi” to the three Swiss Guards guarding Saint Anne’s gate in Italian. I walk in an office right outside of the Barrack’s and say to myself “ This is going to be really COOL!” My family and I are in the Barrack’s and Andréas tells us the history of the Swiss Guards and how they are the private army of the Pope which began in the year 1506. Every May 6th the new Swiss Guards are inducted and that is why Andréas is here to help the new guards. We are outside where they train the Swiss guards to stand really long and I walk along the training area and I see a Cafeteria an arch and a bathroom. Andréas walks down stairs and I am pretty sure I got to meet a high ranked Swiss Guard right next to the armory. We walk in the armory where they hold the uniforms and armor and Andréas shows us the multicolor striped uniforms with the colors Orange, Blue, Yellow, hats of black, and some uniforms have Red. About ten minutes later we walk in where they hold the guns I make a HUGE smile at Dad and say “AWESOME!” I look around with my brothers there making smiles in the video camera. All of the weapons are more than 100 years old except for two new guns. Andréas tells us more history (I’m not really listening because I’m looking at the guns, maces, spears, and crossbows.) About 10 to 20 minutes later we leave the armory and see the Halyards where the uniforms are (Halyards are the spears that are thrown in the air.) Now we are headed to Saint Anne’s Gate and Andréas shows us the Swiss Guard pictures. “Hundreds of people were Swiss Guards” Andréas tells us in his Swiss accent. We get to Saint Anne’s Gate about ten minutes later Andréas says “bye” and we leave Saint Anne’s Gate…

I just visited the Swiss Guard and I was amazed, flabbergasted, I was definitely not disappointed! My favorite part obviously was the armory, which I think that would be normal for a kid my age. I hope that you enjoyed my paper/blog on the Swiss Guard Barrack’s.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

One of a Kind Shoes…No Really!!!

We’ve all seen the TV shows, watched the movie Pretty Woman, and heard the stories about Rodeo Drive in California. Sure, it’s a cliché “Woman love to shop” but not my Ann. Anyone that’s shopped with her on Black Friday knows her “No muss no fuss” style. She gets in and out of store after store with her list in one hand and cloths sizes in the other, a pencil at the ready to check it “off the list.” Her closet at home is a testament to 16 years of Catholic School education where black and blue is a wardrobe description and not that of a prize fighter’s face in the 12th round of a championship bout.

You can’t be in Paris and not be aware of the fashion all around you. My stalwart Ann is crumbling under the barrage of images on every street corner and in every fashion house window. Like the sirens singing to Odysseus, they call her to their windows hoping to lure her to the sparsely filled shelves that scream expensive but exclusive. You brain tells you “That isn’t right for you” but your heart says “Go ahead you’ll never know unless you try, it might feel sooooo goooood.” I think I saw that same message in a “Don’t do drugs” advertisement, didn’t I?

Over the course of 4 weeks we walked by hundreds of shoe stores, block after block zig zagging as if trying to lose someone that was following us. We saw shoes that would make the fish in the Red Sea cry they were so colorful and shoes that looked like they were left over from a “fitting” for the gladiators at the Coliseum in Rome. The shoes came in every color and style one could imagine and Monet and Degas would have been proud of the beautiful pastels flowing in the windows like canvases of the impressionist paintings. It really is like walking around an outdoor museum.

Then, one late afternoon, with the sun dipping past it zenith, there they were, standing upright, a truncated toe cap with white outlined bows in exclusive, soft, matching leather and calling Ann’s name. She looked at them wantonly with guilt red betraying her desire on her face. You could hear the bad angel say “just this once.” There they sat, a pair of pink/coral high pumps, poetry on heels, and a Shakespeare love sonnet looking back at her through the window. As if a cruel joke by the gods, in the adjacent window is the exact model in traditional black and white. I stood at the magnificently clean glass window and watched the civil Irish war raging on Ann’s countenance. With each facial contortion a different question: “Are Coral/pink shoes really practical?” “Will I get much use from them?” “Aren’t the Black/White one’s equally pretty and more sensible?” “Who buys pink/coral color shoes anyway?” I listened closely and while she didn’t say it I swore I heard “What would my mother think?” eek from her subconscious. I say to myself, “I can’t wait to see the WWIII battle once she turns’em over and gets a load of the price!” I’m considering getting some stadium seating and selling popcorn.

I didn’t have a stop watch but I am pretty sure that a sun dial would have been more appropriate as I waited for the magical sound that the shop door makes when it opens. You know the one; it’s the sound that made Pavlov famous, where the wolves, I mean the inside sale people, respond to the bell like a steak just landed on the polished white tile floor. Deep inside as she walked towards the shoes on the acrylic shelf Ann prayed silently that they didn’t have her size which would spare her this whole experience and make it easier for her. When she picked them up off the shelf I swore I heard a celestial hymn ooze from the speakers as if to say “Buy these shoes” and you’ll walk with the angels. Where are those Victoria Secret wings when you need a pair?

The French sales woman was curt but professional, eyeballing our “American-ness” that is so plain to all the Europeans. She wasn’t quite sure if Ann was the dreaded “shoe kicker.” Was she going to “try them on” to FEEL like someone that warrants a shoe of this fine quality or is she a REAL player? Frankly it’s a jump ball, Ann could be either today! I felt like a resident in the operating room watching the professional sales rep dissect every conceivable barrier to a purchase. She’s a pro as she relates the story of the handcrafting and how the cows cried to give up this soft leather. As if we needed a sign the exclusivity is clear because these are the only 2 pair of shoes on display in the whole store, one in coral/pink and the other in the dreaded black/white. There are a limited number of outfits hanging from the silver racks and a couple of them could have been mistaken for colored dental floss. Does that tag say “1200 euros?” YIKES!!! As the sales woman figures out that Ann is “serious” she informs Ann that they make this shoe in a “quantity of 1 in each size.” I almost burst out laughing when she said “Once you buy this pair no one else in all of Paris will have your shoe.” Should I tell her we’re leaving for Italy tomorrow and I want the same promise for Italy, Germany, Denmark, Finland, England, and America or my money back?

I appreciate her sales effort and the fact that a pair of shoes can elicit such feelings in a woman and I am equally shocked that these shoes are turning Ann into Cinderella. Ann “hems and haws” not betraying the thousands of years of Irish DNA coursing through her veins and she feels the conflict of being reckless against the pull of common sense. It is like a playground battle tug-of-war going on in her mind and her eyes are giving away that fact that her “practical” side is losing. She looks up from the stiff black leather couch and she doesn’t have to utter the phrase, it is written on her face, “Should I?” Now for a husband this isn’t quite the equivalent challenge of responding to the question “Does this make me look fat?” but it is fraught with intrigue. If you say “go for it” too fast then you run the risk that you haven’t agonized quite long enough to appreciate the depth of such an important decision. If you say “No” you run the risk of stomping on the one chance for your wife to “buy pink/coral shoes in Paris” thus running the risk of disappointment and anger all the way through the rest of Europe’s 70+ days of travel. You search your mind and heart for just the right timing and the perfect turn of phrase. The clock is ticking, your heart rate is increasing and you think of 19 years of marriage where these rare moments pop up, looking for the kernel of experience that will allow you to say just the right thing. I look into her hazel eyes and say with the best voice I can muster, “Why the hell not!” I pause, hoping, a bit unsure if that was gonna do it and then a big smile from Ann and a quick “Yeah why the hell not!”

Ann floated out of the store, sent a few text messages and e-mails to “the girls” informing them of her new cocaine like shoe habit and then went to her first meeting in the next Church we saw; it started with the phrase, “Hi my name is Ann and I’m a shoe - aholic.” Hi Ann!