Home Recording Studio

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Until the year 2012 I was a 100% analog musician. I had used Finale since 2001, but that was the extent of my relationship with music technology. I was so obsessed with musical “purism” that I foolishly decided as a young person that I wouldn’t so much as write music with percussion in it. Well, times have changed.

In 2012 I began a Master’s degree (2012-2014) in music composition at the University of Utah. During my first semester, I was introduced to Logic Pro which I had to buy and use to create “electro-acoustic” music for a course.

Logic Pro is the professional version of Garage Band. It is an Apple-owned software used to create, record, mix, master, and produce music. These are called DAWs or Digital-Audio Workstations.There are many types of software like Logic: Pro-Tools (industry standard), Steinberg Cubase, Presonus Studio One, Reaper, Audacity, and Reason. Here’s a picture of my Mac running Logic Pro 9.

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Look at them, shop around. I prefer Logic Pro because that’s what I was introduced to. It’s expensive because it can only run on Apple Computers, which are expensive. I know producers who use Cubase, Presonus, and Pro-Tools. I’d recommend something that can run on either Windows or Mac.

Another consideration to make about computers, is that you want at least 16 GB of RAM and a high end processing speed (I use a 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7 processor) in order to run everything smoothly. Make sure the hard drive is solid state as well.

Getting good speed and RAM is cheaper when you buy a PC – it is quite expensive on an Apple computer.

I’ll get into DAWs in another post where I can go into more detail about how effective they are and what you can create with them.

My Epiphany

So I used Logic to record random projects, experiment, and have a good time. In 2014, I bought a midi keyboard to help me make projects go faster in Finale.88 key.jpgIn 2015 I took some extra music lessons from a film composer and I learned from him about virtual instrument libraries. I had known about Garritan Personal Orchestra and others, but I never actually knew how to use them or what their true value was.

I learned from this composer that I should experiment with Eastwest Sound Libraries. My epiphany was that if I could record and produce music in my own house, then I should do it! If God blessed me with the ears and fingers to write music, then why shouldn’t I be sharing that with the world?

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Now these sound libraries produce excellent sounding instruments. I control the instruments from my midi keyboard (which produce thrillingly authentic sounds) and then my DAW, Logic Pro, keeps track of what I input into the program. So after laying down multiple instrument tracks, I can have my computer playing symphonic music back to me that sounds true to life. This is not like finale’s playback button that can make pretty sounds – this can make your heart throb.

So I bought a $650.00 package that came with all the instruments of the Symphonic Orchestra. Those instruments sit on an external hard drive and are at my beck and call. When I need them, they play for me.symphonic orchestra.png

In addition to that, I pay a $29.99 per month subscription to 9,000 other virtual instruments, many of which I use in my studio every day.

I spent the months of October experimenting with these sounds. I made several short demos to show off how great this instruments sound. One day I spend eight hours making this 8 second clip of the Star Wars Main Theme:

I also made some original demos using these virtual instruments:

So once I got familiar with these virtual instruments, I knew that I needed to be able to record as well.

So I took several online courses at Udemy.com one of which was “How To Record Voice Like a Pro.” I waited until these $200 courses were on sale for $15 each. I took online courses in mixing, editing, recording, etc. This was a turning point in my life.

I knew that to start recording I needed:

  1. A Microphone
  2. An Audio Interface
  3. A room that was acoustically treated well enough in which to record audio

Luckily for you and me, there is an awesome package sold by Presonus that contains everything you need to start with.

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This package comes with a DAW by Presonus, a large diaphragm condenser microphone (cardioid pattern), mixing headphones, audio interface, boom stand, and cables.

Everything you need to start recording is in this package. This is one here is only $219.00.

I bought this package and have subsequently purchased another microphone which I LOVE!

 

When we purchased the equipment, we hung hung blankets and mattress pad foam on the walls. The basic idea is that we want to reduce the reflection of sound waves in the room so that reverberation does not come back into the microphone and detract from the clarity of the signal.

We also purchased this reflection filter that seeks to dissipate the singer’s sound waves immediately after being picked up by the microphone.SE reflection filter.jpg

We’ve recorded speech for theatre auditions, pop songs, opera arias, instrumentalists, and more. We create our own minus tracks with my virtual instrument library and we produce our own music from the comfort and convenience of our own home.

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Oh, and once the school year ends we’ll be un-employed besides teaching music lessons so come on over if you want to record, have flute, clarinet, sax, voice, piano, theory or another kind of music lesson. We currently teach voice, piano, flute, and music theory lessons. 🙂

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New Tools in Writing Music – NOTATION SOFTWARE

This is the first post in a series I’m making about how to produce music in your basement. This post is on Notation Software. Other posts will follow on Digital Audio Workstations, Music Sample Libraries, Recording, etc.

Read on to learn about how to use music notation software, what it costs, pros and cons of competing softwares, free software, and more!

Download Finale keyboard shortcuts for Mac here!

Download Finale keyboard shortcuts for Windows here!

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NOTATION SOFTWARE

Notation Software is a program that allows you to write music, create sheet music, insert notes, rests, measures, multiple parts etc. Once you have put notes down on the page, you can press play, and it will play the music back to you.

Buy Finale 2014.5 here.

Get Finale Notepad Free.

Buy Sibelius here.

Get Musescore Free.

Let me first let you know what I have and what I do. I have been using notation software since 2001. I started out on Finale 2001. I upgraded to Finale 2007 when I went to Utah State University. Since then I have upgraded to Finale 2012 and Finale 2014.5 which is the latest version of that notation software. If you want to be relevant, or if you want your software to run smoothly on your computer, you will need to be committed to upgrading your software.

Initial Cost and Upgrades

The latest version of Finale runs at about $600. Once you’ve purchased it, upgrades only cost you about $150. Every 2-3 years an upgrade is released. Upgrades include new features, bug corrections – sometimes they are monumental upgrades, other times  the upgrades are less-noticeable. Some upgrades are free e.g., when Apple released it’s OS El Capitan, Finale 2014 wasn’t going to be compatible with it. So Finale sent out an email telling its customers not to download the operating system El Capitan until Finale released an update that would make finale compatible with it. Then about a month after El Capitan came out, Finale released Finale 2014.5 which was a free upgrade for anyone who already owned Finale 2014, which I did. They took the time to address other bugs with the software, and now Finale is running smoother than ever.

What is Finale Like?

Finale lets you set up a score the way you want. You may choose the instruments and their order. You can also let Finale put them in “score order” for you. You can import and export files into MUSICXML files which allow you to transfer files between competing softwares i.e., Finale and Sibelius.

Finale Start Up

This is how you set up your score. You select them on the left and add them into the box on the right. You can let the instruments default into score order, or use the arrows on the right to manually adjust the order. The instrumentation can be edited later on in the score editor, but doing so can corrupt your file. If you confuse the program, sometimes you need to copy and paste the contents of the measures into a new clean document. This is one feature that I’d like to see fixed later on.

Score Set up

You type in the info that you’d like to make appear on the score. This info can be edited easily later on.

 

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You select your time signature, key signature, tempo, and number of measures. All of these things can be easily changed later on. You’ll easily be able to transpose, change keys, change time signatures, adjust tempos and so on. You can also select a variety of other asymmetrical time signatures.

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Your work station will then look like this, and you’ll have a toolbar across the top of your screen which will help you access a number of different options from transposing, to inserting cautionary accidentals.

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One of the most useful tools I have is my 88-key midi controller. I bought this in October of 2014. Since then, it has been part of every technological music project I’ve ever done.

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Buy a midi controller here.

I use this midi controller to speed up my data entry into finale. It can literally save you days of work. You can use the hyperscribe option Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.47.59 PM in finale to insert music in real time. You need to adjust the parameters so it knows how picky to be with the rhythms you play into it e.g., you can tell it not to record anything faster than an 8th note – then if you accidentally play something too quickly, it will interpret it as an 8th note.

You can also use the speedy entry tool  Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.47.51 PM  to use the midi controller to control pitch (not in real time.) Both the hyperscribe, and the speedy entry tools are very useful.

Some other features that I love are the abilities to export the file as midi data (then it can be read by any program that reads midi files such as pro-tools, logic pro, garage band, etc.,) and the feature that allows me to export my music into PDF files.

The great thing about PDFs is that you can print on any size of paper and make it as big or small as you’d like, and you don’t lose ANY resolution. Everything stays crisp.

I’ve used Finale to write my Master’s Thesis, prepare music for commercial publication, and  various other projects. Here are some of the final products:

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These are screen shots, so the resolution isn’t great. But the actual files look flawless.

Finale’s Competitor: Sibelius

Finale’s main competitor is Sibelius. I’ve heard from many trusted sources that Sibelius is better than Finale. If you are new to notation software, you should start with Sibelius. I hear it is more intuitive and less bulky.

If you are very competent with Finale and you truly know it like your phone number, then you shouldn’t be reading this part of this post, and you should stick to Finale. I’m in that boat, I have years beyond years of experience with Finale for various projects which have required much more than a casual knowledge of it. At this point it would slow me down a lot to switch to Sibelius.

Your notation software will only get you so far. It will not help you produce music from your home, it will help you create sheet music for others to perform and publish your music.

FREE NOTATION SOFTWARE

Finale Notepad is a free version of Finale. It is extremely limited, but it may be useful for simple projects, and as a trial software.

http://www.finalemusic.com/products/finale-notepad/

Get Musescore Free.

NEXT POST:

Digital Audio Workstations

Resumé – Shane Mickelsen

Shane Mickelsen

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EXPERIENCE

West Jordan Symphony

Music Director – November 2015 – Present

The Piano Guys

Aural Music Transcriber – various projects – 2015

Co-arranger for book of Piano Solos – 2015

Cottonwood Heights Symphony

Guest Conductor/Clarinetist (summer 2015)

Utah Philharmonic Orchestra (independent contractor)

Associate Conductor – 2015

Interim Artistic Director – 2014 – 2015

Bass Clarinetist – 2014 – 2015

Music Teacher – American Heritage of South Jordan – 2013 – Present

Choir Director – current

Band Director – current

Orchestra Director – current

Latin Teacher – current

Private Voice Teacher 2012 – Present

Private Music Theory Teacher – 2012 – Present

USU Chamber Singers 2007-2010

Album, Show Me Thy Ways – 2010

Performance at Yale University – 2009

USU Opera Productions

Director/Conductor, The Wolf and the Seven Kids – 2010

Melchior, Amahl and the Night Visitors – 2007

Chorus, Luisa Fernanda -2008

Chorus, Martha – 2008

Chorus, La Rondine – 2009

Vicar, Scenes from Albert Herring – 2010

Pinellino, Gianni Schicchi – 2010

ACDA Men’s Honor Choir 2006

RHS Symphonic Band/Marching Band/Orchestra/Madrigals/A Cappella Choir

Clarinet 2004-2007

Drum Major 2006-2007

Riverton Children’s Choir Member 2000-2003

EDUCATION

University of Utah                      2012-2014

Master of Music – Music Composition

Utah State University                2007-2010

Bachelor of Music – Vocal Performance

Private Theory/Composition/Orchestration Study

Christine Mickelsen 2003 – 2007

Sergio Bernal – 2009

Mark Emile – 2009

Steve Roens – 2012-2013

Miguel Chuaqui – 2012-2014

Merrill Jenson – 2015

Voice Study

Gary Sorenson 2004-2007, 2014-2015

Cindy Dewey 2007-2010

Private Violin Study (summer lessons to increase familiarity)

Savanna Seaman – 2014

National Association of Teachers of Singing member

National Association of Music Educators member

Utah Music Educators Association

George N. Parks Drum Major Academy (2006)

Awards

University of Utah – Composition Scholarship – 2014

University of Utah – String Quartet Composition Competition Runner-up – 2014

USU – Outstanding Contribution to Opera Award – 2010

USU – Robbins Award Nominee – 2010

USU – Full-Tuition Vocal Scholarship Recipient

USU – Opera Quartet Scholarship Recipient

1st-Place NATS Winner – 2006

2nd-place NATS Winner – 2007

3rd-Place State Fair Classical Music Competition – 2007

3rd-Place State Fair Classical Music Competition – 2006

Eagle Scout Award Recipient

AP Music Theory Test score 5/5

Skills

Electronic/commercial music

Skilled with recording/mixing software Logic Pro 9

Finale 2014

Eastwest Symphonic Orchestra Virtual Instrument Library Platinum Plus

Skilled Pianist/Accompanist

Music Arranger/Composer

Orchestral/Choral Conducting

Voice science/pedagogy

Italian language teacher

Latin Language teacher

English Language teacher

English Grammar teacher

Woodwind Instruments (Clarinet, Flute, Oboe, Saxophone etc.)

LDS Mission – Rome, Italy (2010-2012)

COMPOSITIONS

Children’s Opera, The Wolf and the Seven Kids

I Believe, song for solo voice and piano

Piano solo, Campi flegrei

Clarinet Trio, Il regno celeste

Song Cycle, Silvia

I. Silvia

II. La luce che fu

III. Risplenderai

String Quartet No. 1

I. The Window

II. Beyond

III. In Time

Symphonic Poem – Voices (commissioned by Utah Philharmonic Orchestra for Sept. 11 Memorial Concert)

Amazing Grace (Arrangement premiered by Utah Philharmonic Orchestra)

Co-arranger of The Piano Guys’ Book of Intermediate Piano Solos to be published by Hal-Leonard in Late November 2015

Various Orchestral Film Demos created with EastWest virtual instrument library and Logic Pro 9

 

 

Amazing Grace | New Music Video

Here is our new music video of “Amazing Grace.” In our last post we discussed how we had originally arranged it for orchestra, reduced it into 7 clarinet parts, and made a recording of it.

Now we’re going to discuss the process of making a music video.

After we were finished recording the music track (click here to read about how we did that) we called up Dane Christensen, our awesome videographer, to schedule a filming appointment. He ended up not being able to make any appointments work as he now lives in California. So we called up Tanner Nielson, Dane’s buddy, and made an appointment with him. He is awesome as well!

Family Picture!

Family Picture!

FILMING

We decided to head up to a mountain trail in Layton, Utah – a location that Tanner suggested – and we brought:

  • Bb Clarinet (my new professional model – yayyy!)
  • Bass Clarinet (cheap model which I bought new in January of 2014 – it cost me $1,700, and while it’s not the ideal instrument, it was cheaper than these amazing Buffet models.)
  • Baby in carseat/blankets/diaper bag
  • iphones and/or portable bluetooth speakers

It’s important to have the speakers. Even if you can perform your music perfectly in the filming setting (say you have a piano and all the instruments you need) you’re not going to film the actual music. If you did, you would not get the best studio recording sound that you would want in your music video. You should first make the music just how you want it in the recording studio and then mime/play along with it in the filming. In the end, the audio from the filming will be deleted and replaced with the audio from your studio recording.

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We went out to a trail and I turned on the track to play along with. (Play along with the exact same track you’ll be using in the final audio/video mix – if you don’t, then your words and notes won’t line up properly.)

We filmed me on my little clarinet in one location. I played along with the track (which was playing from my iPhone in my back pocket). I then did the same thing with my bass clarinet and we repeated the process in a few other locations on the mountain trail.

While I played the clarinet, Kacee was feeding our baby girl. After twenty or so minutes, I took the baby and burped her while Tanner filmed Kacee singing. We then got some shots done together while the baby lay in her carseat as close to us as possible and as far away from the spiders and dirt as possible.

Burping the Baby

Burping the Baby

In the end we got some drone shots and Tanner almost crashed his drone into the trees. Pretty funny story when told by someone other than myself. Ha… 🙂 No really, still pretty awesome and funny. 🙂

So then in the end Tanner took all the footage back to his house and then lined up the best footage with the awesome master track which we had prerecorded. This is facilitated by the fact that we were playing/singing along with that track.

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And that’s how we got this beautiful video! Thanks Tanner and Clive!!!!

Here’s a demo of the orchestral version:

The process of arranging and recording “Amazing Grace”

Hello awesome people!

Today we want to tell you a little bit about our process in writing, recording, and  filming music. We have a brand-new audio track that we’ll be filming in the coming weeks. Click here to read about the filming of this music video.

Me and My

Me and My “Little Clarinet”

WRITING THE ARRANGEMENT

Last year (2014) I had the opportunity to conduct the Oquirrh Mountain Symphony (now Utah Philharmonic Orchestra) in a September 11 Memorial Concert. I composed two pieces for this concert including this arrangement of Amazing Grace. I used Finale 2014 to notate my orchestral scores.

Orchestral Score

Orchestral Score

This image shows a draft of that score.

Kacee and I wanted to make a recording of this music but we cannot afford to hire an orchestra to record it for us.

Cut off view of Orchestra Score

Cut off view of Orchestra Score

So I transcribed the piece for 5 Clarinets and 2 Bass Clarinets with the idea that I would record each line individually and then put them all together in the end. There were only a few issues with transcription:

  1. I cannot play the Clarinet as high as a professional violinist can play (at least not well). This means that I needed to make some octave adjustments which leave the clarinet version less expansive than the orchestral version.
  2. The Clarinet has a smooth attack. The sound on the clarinet begins with moving air. This is very different from the piano or drums which both use percussive strikes to elicit sound. Think of it like a coloring book. The Clarinet gives you color between the lines, while the piano and drums provide the dark outlines with their percussive attack (the piano then provides notes and color after providing the dark lined attack). This means that a clarinet-only piece will lack certain feelings of definitiveness. It will be airy and uncertain – kind of like really watered-down/flat soda.
  3. Along with the last issue, there is the lack of DIVERSITY in the tone color if you only use one kind of instrument. I think of clarinets as blue and purple, flutes as silvery pixie dust, Trumpets as vibrant yellow etc. In a clarinet-only ensemble you may have dynamic and harmonic contrast, but you will struggle to find contrast in TONE COLOR.

So these are the problems which presented themselves. How did we fix those problems? Well, read on! We basically solved these issues with a single solution.

We added piano to about 75% of the piece. By adding the piano we gave those darker/definitive lines to shape the color. By adding the piano to the clarinet lines we created a composite color (basically create a new instrument sound). The doubling of Clarinet and Piano is a satisfying blend. This only occurs when they play in exact unison – octaves don’t really count.

We gave it contrast by leaving some sections as clarinet-only, and we gave life to the high violin lines by leaving them for the piano instead of the clarinet.

Here’s what that 7-clarinet reduction looks like:

Clarinet Version

Clarinet Version

Now you need to know that I do not claim to be a clarinetist – I just really like that instrument, and I happen to own four of them.

Three Clarinets, one Bass Clarinet, two flutes

Three Clarinets, one Bass Clarinet, two flutes

So yes, there are many clarinetists who could have done a much better job than I did… but hey, I own the instruments, I might as well put them to good use!

RECORDING THE TRACKS

We went to our friend Clive Romney’s house to record the tracks. I brought him a copy of score (and dedicated it to him). Bringing a score makes the process a lot easier; it saves you time and money.

I sat down at the piano and recorded a “practice track.” We would then have that track as a reference point in recording the other tracks. This track would not be present in the final product. This track needed to represent the exact timing of the final product as we would use it to match the other tracks. I would also add pulsating 8th notes to act as a make-shift metronome.

I got out my clarinet and put on the headphones and sat in front of the microphone. The practice track came on through the headphones and I recorded the first clarinet track in time with the practice track.

Practicing the Bass Clarinet for the Recording

Practicing the Bass Clarinet for the Recording

Sometimes I wouldn’t play exactly in time with it, and I needed to go back and re-do it. We repeated the process until all five clarinet tracks were completed, and two more bass clarinet tracks were complete.

Once the clarinet tracks were done, we put Kacee in there where she sang like an angel. When she finished, I added the “real piano track,” to give added clarity where it was needed.

KAcee singing

Today between general conference sessions, I went back to Clive’s to add my input in the mixing process. With about ten different tracks happening simultaneously, we needed to boost some sections, and make others less-prominent.

CONCLUSION

So that’s how we got this track. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a really fun thing to do! Click here to read our post about filming this music video!

O Divine Redeemer | New Music Video

Hello all, and welcome back to the Brick Playhouse!

We are just finishing up all of our nesting projects in preparation for our little one coming in about one month. The most exciting project of all, will be our new lullaby CD we made for our future little girl.

We have been singing and making music for the entire duration of Kacee’s pregnancy so far. Kacee has sung at the Met Competition, we’ve been taking and teaching voice lessons, singing in choirs, and singing together at our piano at home.

In other words, our little one is very familiar with a lot of music already. And we’re not talking about vibrations being manufactured by speakers and entering the womb through the mediums of air and skin – we’re talking about about a seemingly omnipresent resonance from a mother’s voice gently oscillating the womb from the inside.

This is why we’re making a lullaby CD for her. We want to remind her of all the beautiful music she’s been learning in there. We want to make her feel at home by hearing the song of her mother’s voice and her daddy playing the piano.

And here is our first music video made from our album of lullabies for baby girl.

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And here’s a shoutout to our awesome videographer: http://www.srndpts.com

I Believe – New recording of a song I wrote while on my mission

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Credo – I Believe <——— Click here to hear the song

Most people who know us know that Kacee and I met in 2008 at Utah State University studying vocal performance. Maybe fewer people know that we dated in 2009 and I, Shane, left to serve an LDS mission from 2010 – 2012. We corresponded while I was gone and we decided to get married in March of 2013.

While I was on my mission, Kacee sent me these words in a letter. I had never heard the music that accompanied the text, so I decided that I would write some music of my own to this text. I had very limited access to a piano so I actually wrote it without one. When I had composed the piece I sent it back to Kacee, and I also had the opportunity to perform it a couple of times on my mission – once with Sister Ryan. In this recording linked to this blogpost, I am playing the piano and my wife, Kacee, is singing:

I believe for every drop of rain that falls
A flower grows,
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night
A candle glows.
I believe for everyone who goes astray
Someone will come to show the way.
I believe, I believe,
I believe.
I believe above the storm
The smallest prayer, will still be heard.
I believe that someone in that great somewhere
Hears every word
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
Or touch a leaf
Or see the sky,
Then I know why I believe.

Lyrics by: Al Stillman, Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Shirl Jimmy

Credo – I Believe <——— Click here to hear the song

New Windows and Doors/Dining Room Transformation

During the months of June and July (2015) we decided to undertake quite a few different home upgrades: we decided to update our doors, windows, and dining room.

Our doors used to be these plain and brown ones. They were functional but were not the most attractive. We’re not planning on selling this house anytime soon, but we always ask ourselves what potential buyers would want to see upgraded in our home (if it were on the market).

Old brown doors

Old brown doors and ….. Violin???

We went to Lowes Home Improvement Store to buy our doors. We had to special order them because our measurements were off by 1/4 inch. We basically had to pay $65 per door instead of the $35 because we didn’t have standard sized doors. Either way, Lowes was much cheaper than Home Depot would have been: The Home Depot wanted upwards of $130 per door. No thanks – ciao gotta go!

Something got messed up in our order and our pick-up date got moved back several weeks. When we came to pick up the doors on the final estimated arrival date, we saw a 15% off sale on custom-ordered doors. We asked them if we could have that discount since our doors were so late. They obliged and we got a $41 in-store credit certificate.

We fit the doors into the back of our 2013 Chevy Cruze. We bungy corded the trunk shut and headed down the road. All was fine until we hit the first speed bump on our street. We damaged a panel by going too quickly: the trunk lifted and came down on a hollow panel in the door – it’s nothing a little wood glue can’t fix. 🙂

loading doors up from Lowes

loading doors up from Lowes

We painted them outside and then installed them that same day. We used VALSPAR – Bistro White from Lowes. We used a semi-gloss sheen on the doors and trim and a satin sheen on the walls.

painting doors

This panel on the top-right is the one that took some damage. It’ll fix up fine.

install new doors

A few weeks earlier we had painted the hardware and door knobs with Rust-Oleum. They look good as new. We painted them oil-rubbed bronze.

Final product

Final product

We even used that paint on our door bell:

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The paint looks nice and works really well.

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WINDOWS

The windows of this home are original from 1971. They have moss growing in them and they allow the sun to cook the inside of our home. We decided in June to call Window World and get a quote for new windows.

Jim came out to our house and showed us how cool the windows are at Window World. He even stood on the windows and jumped up and down: they did not break. He showed us the warranty they come with: Lifetime warranty for any reason, transferrable to new owners! That means that whoever owns this house after us has a lifetime warranty on those windows too!

He showed us how they insulate the home and do not let heat in etc. They also pop in and out so you can easily clean them.

We were amazed and bought brand new windows!

Mossy Windows

Mossy Windows

The crew came and took out our old windows leaving a nice little hole in our house.

Window removed from Nursery

Window removed from Nursery

Here is the before picture:

Old Windows

And this is what it looked like after – the job only took 2 1/2 hours!

outdoor new windows

All New Windows Installed

All New Windows Installed

We really like that these new ones didn’t come with any moss.

New Window

New Window

New Window From Interior

New Window From Interior

One little thing at a time, we are making this house something exceptionally beautiful.

Dining Room

We also made some updates to our dining room this month (July 2015). This is how it appeared on June 1, 2014:

Dining Room on June 1, 2014

Dining Room on June 1, 2014

One $16 light fixture later, our dining room has become a rather cool place to hang out!

New Light Fixture

New Light Fixture

The quadro from IKEA was a welcomed touch as well. 😉

Dining Room in July 2015

Dining Room in July 2015

Front and Back Porch Lights

Hey guys!

One year ago in the summer of 2014, we replaced our front porch light fixture. Now that we’re using our back yard more and more, we replaced two more on the back porch. Hope you like it!

Front Porch – July 2014

The original one kind of gave off the Cantina vibe.

Original Light Fixture

Original Light Fixture

Front Door

Front Door

We went to Lowes and bought one that was nice and pretty:

New Light Fixture

New Light Fixture

Shane never thinks to change clothes to work on projects. He just starts painting or whatever and waits for reminders to change into “project clothes.”

Shane Never Changes Clothes

Shane Never Changes Clothes

In the end, this one suited us better. 🙂

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Back Porch – July 2015

Now in July of 2015, we decided that our back porch needed some updating as well. Here’s what it looked like before:

back proch 1back porch 2

We decided to get rid of the nautical theme and go with something a little different.

Since we plan on spending more time in the back yard this year, we really needed to get these fixtures in working order.

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When we removed the light fixture, we found 46 years of larva and bug nests in the form of crusty dust. It was interesting to remove all of those nice fossils…

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We mounted the new fixtures.

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And here they are!

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And they give light to all that are in the house – or outside of it. 😉

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Christmas in Italy

As many of you may know, I served a mission in Italy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2010 – 2012. I could not wait to bring Kacee back to meet the people and see places that I learned to love so much. So in April of 2014, we bought ourselves some airline tickets that would fly us out on Christmas Eve from Salt Lake City to Paris, arriving around 11am on Christmas day, and then from Paris to Rome, arriving around 4pm later that day. We hope you learn a lot and enjoy hearing about out trip! We love all of our Italian friends and are so grateful to the Esposito and Valentini families for having hosted us!

This map shows my travels and assignments to different cities as a missionary (2010 – 2012):

  • Rome (July 2010 – October 2010)
  • Sciacca, Sicily (October 2010 – January 2011)
  • Naples (January 2011 – September 2011)
  • Bari (September 2011 – January 2012)
  • Reggio Calabria (January 2012 – April 2012)
  • Rome (April 2012 – June 2012)
Rome - Sciacca - Naples - Bari - Reggio Calabria - Rome

Rome – Sciacca – Naples – Bari – Reggio Calabria – Rome

Below is our travel itinerary for our Christmas vacation December 24, 2014 – January 12, 2015

Rome to Naples to Bari, and back to Rome

Rome to Naples to Bari, and back to Rome

December 25, 2014

We arrived in Paris at 11am after hardly sleeping on our flight across the Atlantic. We were able to spot the White Cliffs of Dover and the English Channel as we approached France from the North. I couldn’t help muttering the little French I know under my breath as I anticipated spending the next couple of hours in the Charles De Gaulle Airport. Kacee spent her first Euro on a French Macaron cookie. Kacee absolutely loves those!

Christmas Day 2014 in Paris

Christmas Day 2014 in Paris

As we flew away from Paris we caught sight of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

When we arrived in Rome we took our luggage to the Leonardo Express and bought two tickets into the Roma Centrale Station.   When we exited the train we went outside to the bus stop of the #90. It was pretty dark – about to 6:00pm. Normally the bus stop is crawling with people of all races, colors, smells, exhaust and pigeons. Finding only the pigeons, we quickly realized that the bus would not be coming. We walked over to the opposite side of the main transfer station where the majority of the bus lines were parked. Along the way we asked to find out where the #90 would be stopping. We found the #90 parked in the spot nearest the train station. It was very difficult to find because they had changed the bus’ color. When I lived in Rome they were green – these new ones were purple.

We loaded our luggage into the bus and eventually we departed from the Capolinea or top of the line. It was too dark to see where we were or where we were going. The drive was taking longer than I remembered so I asked a few people if they knew how far away the Sempione stop was. Someone told me that it was significantly further ahead, but I didn’t trust them. A few stops later, knowing that we were getting off a little early, I told Kacee we should get off. I changed my mind in an instant, and then changed it again; we ended up getting off and we began a very long walk.

We had gotten off way too soon. We followed the electrical wires that marked the route of the #90 (it was a line that served some electric busses) for about thirty minutes before we arrived at our intended stop at Piazza Sempione. The city reeked of smoke and we were very tired from traveling since the day before. The streets were all paved with cobblestone and marble which rubbed the wheels on the bottom of the luggage raw. I’m not sure that Kacee had confidence in me that I knew where I was taking her, but we both felt relieved when we made it to the piazza. Our hotel was located just off of the main street. Before stopping at the hotel, I asked Kacee if she wouldn’t mind trying a kebab for dinner. I absolutely loved them when I lived in Rome, so we went to my favorite kebab spot which just happened to be located right in Piazza Sempione.

Kebab in Rome December 25, 2014

Kebab in Rome December 25, 2014

Kebab place in Piazza Sempione

Kebab place in Piazza Sempione

After that delicious dinner we made it to our hotel. This is how we felt:

It was a long walk! December 25, 2014 in Rome

It was a long walk! December 25, 2014 in Rome

The hotel room was heated to a very high temperature and we needed to open the windows to breathe. The bed was very small  – I think that the hotel may have made a mistake there – and it was quite hard as well. It was very nice, though, and a great deal at 51 euro per night.

Somehow we found enough energy to go for a little walk after we showered and unpacked a little bit.  The hotel was situated equidistant from both the Rome 2 meeting house and the mission home. We took a walk that evening visiting both locations before retiring for the evening.

December 26, 2014

The next morning we awoke to a beautiful day outside: birds singing, church bells ringing, the silence of people recuperating lost sleep from the Holiday. We headed down for breakfast which was being served in an elegant hall decorated to the finest detail of molding and boasting a massive chandelier. They served juice, chocolate croissants, tasty mineral water, hot chocolate, and a few forbidden beverages. I mainly had chocolate croissants, and yogurt. Kacee enjoyed the chocolate croissants, salami, cheese, and hot chocolate.

View from the Sunrise Hotel Window December 26, 2014

View from the Sunrise Hotel Window December 26, 2014

We returned to Piazza Sempione to catch a bus en route to the shopping mall at Porta di Roma. Most everything was closed due to the holiday, however we managed to get on the roof of the shopping mall to get this picture of the Rome Temple:

Rome Temple December 26, 2014

Rome Temple December 26, 2014

We weren’t there long before a mall cop on a segway came and told us that we were in forbidden territory. So we left. The Rome Temple (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is located right across from the Shopping Mall and the Roman IKEA. We tried to enter the IKEA next, but had no luck due to the never-ending holiday.

The buses in Rome are quite an enigma, but we managed to get on the 338 (headed in the correct direction) off to the outskirts of Rome and beyond. This time we were headed to the Buffalotta zone outside of the Great Circular Highway A.K.A. the G.R.A. We got a little lost but eventually got on the right track. We asked directions of an elderly man who told us to go in a direction which I believed to be quite incorrect. The only problem was that the only way to get where we needed to go was to follow him along his path. We had to go very slow (staying back about 200 feet) because if we had passed him, he would have realized that we didn’t take his advice to go the other way. Eventually we had to pass him (walking along the opposite side of the street) and when he saw us he started screaming directions at us in a very commanding way. All I could shout back was, “Thanks, but we’ve gotta go this way!” as we hurried off to Via della Buffalotta from Via di Tor S. Giovanni where we had mistakingly ended up.

We arrived by foot at the Bethel of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rome. I had made many friends there as a Mormon Missionary nearly five years previously. While many of my missionary companions felt threatened by the Witnesses (or had had unpleasant scripture reckonings with them) I always felt a really soft spot in my heart for them and what they spend their lives doing. I had also had an occasional unpleasant encounter or had felt perhaps provoked or attacked, but most visits were kind and pleasant. I would always confront them anytime that I saw them. Most of the time it’s hard to do that. I imagine that when the Witnesses see the Mormons and vice versa, they/we feel a sense of urgent competition – or thoughts go through our mind: “how are we going to counter their bible attacks today?!” While these thoughts were likely the default, I would always confront them and ask how they were doing, how the work was going, and that I respected their commitment. I knew firsthand how hard it was to talk to people about my religion especially when it was often spat back into my face or desecrated before me. I had real empathy and sympathy for them because in my mind (they being more well-known in Italy than we were) they were treated extremely disrespectfully by the majority of Italians.

So I made a lot of friends with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and we were there at the Bethel to visit them. We entered the gates and told them that we were there to visit Marco, Eric, e Chezia. They let us in and we got to chat with a bunch of them in the very beautiful lobby. We seemed to arouse some interest in that we were Italian speaking Americans who were not Witnesses. We took a tour of the whole place with our friends. At the end of the tour we were walking outside near the entrance when I saw a man that I recognized. I turned to Marco and said, “Is that man a traveling overseer? I know that guy!” Marco returned to grab the man. When he approached I said, “I know you – you gave a talk in the city of Bari in December of 2011.” I had been in attendance at a JW meeting in Bari and had heard the man speak. Then the man remembered me, that he had spoken with me in the streets of Bari and had invited us to the meeting. It was crazy to relive some of those memories.

Then some of the JW friends secretly organized a SKYPE session to speak with my best JW friend, Giacomo. We toured the audio/visual dept. of the JW base and they got Giacomo on Skype. We had originally planned to see Giacomo in person, but he had been transferred to Columbia (yes, the country in South America) so we couldn’t see him in Italy.

After all the cheek kisses of all the JW friends, we left and went to our hotel to relax for a little bit. We then went out to go see my old missionary apartment in Fidene. We went out there and Kacee had her first Italian (Roman-style) pizza at the same place in which I had had my very first Italian pizza in 2010. When we paid for the pizza, I saw a pass-along card behind the register with a picture of Jesus on it. I pointed to it and told them that I had given them that pass-along card. They then recognized me as being one of the Mormon missionaries – I of course, recognized all of them.

Kacee's first Italian Pizza in Fidene (Northern part of Rome)

Kacee’s first Italian Pizza in Fidene (Northern part of Rome)

December 27, 2014

The next day we visited St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) at Vatican City - December 26, 2014

St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) at Vatican City – December 26, 2014

Vatican City - December 26, 2014

Vatican City – December 26, 2014

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For lunch we decided to walk to Trastevere, a neighborhood in Rome known for its truly authentic roman dishes. When we arrived in the neighborhood, I bluntly asked the people in the street, where I could find the restaurant that made the best amatriciana. They pointed us to this BLESSED restaurant called “Da Massi.”

Ristorante Da Massi in the neighborhood  called

Ristorante Da Massi in the neighborhood called “Trastevere”

The FRIED BUFFALO MOZZARELLA was soooooooo good………….

Fried Mozzarella at

Fried Mozzarella at “Da Massi”

And the pasta, Bucatini all’amatriciana, was absolutely TO DIE FOR! The picture below is the same dish from a different restaurant in Piazza Navona, but I had to include it because we didn’t have a good picture of the dish from Da Massi’s in Trastevere. The bacon (pancetta) atop the pasta was so tasty and crispy, that I am almost crying right now that I’m not there right now!

Bucatini all'amatriciana - my Favorite pasta

Bucatini all’amatriciana – Shane’s Favorite pasta

We picked up some Gelato near Vatican City on the way back to the subway train.

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December 28, 2014

December 28 was a Sunday. We attended church in the Rome 2 ward, where I had served as a greenie, and was also the area I was serving in when my time came to return home. Abbiamo visto delle…. wait a second… I just literally was about to go off in Italian… We saw some people that I knew and loved so much. Everyone we saw got and gave a whole lot of cheek kisses. (Always go to the right first so you don’t accidentally get hit on the lips.)

After church we went to the BEAUTIFUL Ladispoli to visit our friend Diana.

When we lived in Salt Lake City in 2013, I went to Temple Square very often. As a teacher I had summers off, and Kacee worked during the day. One day on my visit to Temple Square, I met Diana who was serving as a missionary on Temple Square but who was from Ladispoli, Italy. I gave her some referrals of people I had taught in Italy and Kacee and I ended up running into Diana 3 or 4 times on Temple Square. She is really nice and we both really like her.

Our friend Diana!

Our friend Diana!

We loved chatting. After that we ran into the missionaries in Ladispoli. We chatted with them too.

For dinner Norma e Daniele hanno inv….Norma and Daniele invited us over for dinner. They fed us polenta all’amatriciana it was very good. I can’t get enough of that sauce! They had a beautiful apartment that overlooked the Rome Temple Site. The view was BEYOND amazing! They were so kind and so nice, we talk about them a lot and we think they are great!  Kacee was even brave enough to practice some of her Italian aria texts for them, and they gave her some awesome diction advice.

Beautiful Ladispoli

Beautiful Ladispoli

December 29, 2014

The next set are pretty self-explanatory…

Molding atop the Colosseum

Molding atop the Colosseum

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It was absolutely FREEZING!!!!!

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We then enjoyed a Neapolitan-style pizza at Pizza Forum conveniently located very near the Colosseum. We also NEEDED to get inside. We could not feel our fingers or toes. (Also check out this lady’s stylin’ coat!)

Pizza Forum near the Colosseum (Neapolitan Style Pizza)

Pizza Forum near the Colosseum (Neapolitan Style Pizza)

Pizza Forum

Pizza Forum

We came home in the late afternoon not to venture out again due to the cold weather. We watched some Italian TV (the recent show about the Hitler assassination plot [Valkyrie?] – pretty interesting to watch in Italian).

December 30, 2014

Visit to the Roman Forum.
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This arc was commissioned by the Roman Senate to commemorate the Roman’s conquest of Israel.IMG_3737

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

This church is believed to be built upon the traditional location of the prison which held captive the Apostle Peter and Evangelist Paul.

IMG_3866We could not help going back to Pizza Forum….

Diavola Pizza from Pizza Forum

Diavola Pizza from Pizza Forum

That night, we returned to the JW’s Bethel to have dinner with our Witness Friends. We love them so much! We had a wonderful time talking about the various misunderstandings that plague both of our belief systems – the funny stuff mostly. When we told them that Kacee had sung Doretta’s song from Puccini’s La Rondine at the Met Competition, Marco ran back to his room and pulled out a box of CDs and libretti. We just love how cultured Italians just have these on hand! This was a great night. Marco made pasta and fried cinnamon tortillas in honor of his American guests.

Our Jehovah's Witness Friends in Rome

Our Jehovah’s Witness Friends in Rome

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December 31, 2014

On this day we both took more than 25,000 steps. My pedometer said so. This is huge because I average about 3,500 steps every day that I don’t take a walk… (most days are like that). We walked all around Rome from the Vatican, to Piazza Navona, to the Pantheon, to Trevi Fountain, to the subway, to the Spanish Steps, back to the hotel, to the laundromat, to the new year’s party, and back to the hotel. At the new year’s party we also danced for hours which racked up several more steps.

Fountains in Piazza Navona

Fountains in Piazza Navona

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

We partied with the young men and young women at the church until the countdown signaled the launching of many fireworks (some launched dangerously close and purposefully at other people). When the clock struck midnight everybody gave the person next to them two big cheek kisses, and then we all went in a line and kissed everyone. Italian culture is so kind and open!

January 1, 2015

We left our beautiful home in Rome early on the first of January. We rode the train down to Naples, home of the infamous volcano Vesuvius (pictured below on the right). Gino picked us up from the train station and took us to his home where we stayed for nine whole days! That was awesome and really kind of them!

The Beautiful Napoli!

The Beautiful Napoli!

January 2, 2015

Down by the sea we couldn’t help eating all the treats. Here we had gelato-topped crepes with Nutella…. 🙂

Crepes and Gelato in Pozzuoli al Lungo Mare

Crepes and Gelato in Pozzuoli al Lungo Mare

January 3, 2015

On this day we walked down from Maria’s house to the Cumana train line at Arco Felice where we learned that the train would not be coming or going from that spot. The man behind the counter was older and very entrenched in the Neapolitan tradition making his accent very thick and nearly impossible to understand. We did understand enough to figure out that the train would not be coming, that we would need to buy some tickets, and that we would need to get on a bus to take us to the next train stop. The bus arrived immediately and we hurried on it. It took us to the Cumana stop in Pozzuoli where we waited to board the train. I brought a copy of the Book of Mormon with me in Italian so I could place it with someone that day.

The electronic ticket validator at the train stop was not working so we needed to validate our tickets by hand by writing the date and time on the back. We became somewhat popular on the train because we had a pen to offer to other passengers in the tight quarters of the train. I made the comment to all within earshot that I had incorrectly validated my ticket by writing 03/01/14 (day/month/year is the Italian way) instead of 03/01/15. This lead into more conversation between us and the entire back half of the train. We met Dora and about 7 members of her family. We explained that we were Americans but I had lived in this area as a missionary 4 years earlier, how we love Naples (Italians really appreciated that we love their homeland), and the story of their whole family.

We were en route to Pianura, a town a bit more inland which required that we go into the main city before switching lines to go out there. It turned out that Dora lived in Pianura. When we exchanged contact information at the end of our journey, we wrote ours inside the Book of Mormon and handed it to her. “The whole book?” she exclaimed. “Yes, the whole book,” we replied.

We parted ways and got on the other train to Pianura. We walked all over town looking for Sister De Biasi’s house, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. After a couple of hours we decided to leave and walk to Fuorigrotta (3.3 miles) which really was a very long way after walking all over Pianura for two hours! We walked along the highway sans sidewalk. It was tiring but satisfying.

The red lines indicate our train’s journey to Pianura, the blue lines represent the distance we then walked back to Fuorigrotta after walking all around Pianura.

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When we arrived at Fuorigrotta, we found Ninfa’s old house. Ninfa was a lady we had baptized in June of 2011. She died of cancer about ten months later. When we came back to her house in 2015, her name was still written on her door: her apartment seems not to have been occupied since. Her name can be found below (Ninfa [G]aborno)

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After seeing Ninfa’s house, we stopped to eat some pizza. It was Kacee’s first Neapolitian Pizza in ACTUAL NAPLES! Don’t you love that ball of MOZZ right there in the middle? Yummy.

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January 4, 2015

We went to church in Pozzuoli. I had served in this branch for nine months as a missionary from January of 2011 until September of the same year. Another missionary, Elder McBride had found, taught, and baptized my brother Evans (EE-Vawns). I came into town the next week and taught Evans with my companions afterwards. In my nine months we saw Evans three times (at least) a week, and never once did Evans miss sacrament meeting. I was so glad to see him 4 years later still loving his life and still loving Jesus so much.

Evans at Church in Pozzuoli!

Evans at Church in Pozzuoli!

This is the view from the rear balcony of the church… Yes, churches along with everything else in Italy have balconies.

View from the Church

View from the Church

Kacee at the Church in Pozzuoli

Kacee at the Church in Pozzuoli

After church we went to have dinner with the Bonner family. In the Pozzuoli branch there are a handful of American families because of the nearby American military bases. The Bonner’s actually moved into the branch in the summer of 2011 while I still lived there!

The Bonner Family

The Bonner Family and Evans and friends

January 5, 2015

On Monday we went over the hill into the center of Naples. We rode the Funicolare (the staircase-shaped train) – it’s just a set of stairs on a track powered by a pulley and cables – it is awesome!

Funicolare a Montesanto

Funicolare a Montesanto

At the top of the mountain, we found this cameo shop. We later found that Kacee’s grandmother had bought a Cameo from this exact shop with uncle Aaron many years ago when Kacee’s Uncle Aaron was serving as a missionary in this beautiful city!

Cameo Shop

Cameo Shop

The view was stunning and gorgeous!

Vesuvius in the background

Vesuvius in the background

View from the Castle

View from the castle at the top of the hill near the cameo shop

We came back down the mountain via the Funicolare and headed toward the street called San Gregorio Armeno.  On our way, we found this very beautiful church. The four corners of this conjunction archway represent the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Inside a Catholic Church near San Gregorio Armeno

Inside a Catholic Church near San Gregorio Armeno

CD cover cropped june 2015

After a long walk, we found San Gregorio Armeno, which is a bustling alleyway/street filled with shops selling homemade nativity sets and hand-painted figurines.  Kacee really wanted to buy a nativity in Italy, and we found a beautiful one in a glass dome!!

We headed back to Gino and Maria’s for pranzo

Maria is a fabulous cook. I ate at her house once a week for nine months, and she has never ceased to amaze me!

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That evening we went out to find and visit old friends!

Friends in Pozzuoli

Friends in Pozzuoli

Here is the family that hosted us in Pozzuoli: Maria, Gino, and Anna Maria. I had the privilege of baptizing Anna Maria (Maria’s aunt) in July of 2011.

La Famiglia Esposito

La Famiglia Esposito

January 6, 2015

We went to Mergellina to get some gelato. I got free gelato here as a missionary thanks to Elder Dugdale who made friends with the owner.

Shane got free Gelato here as a missionary

Shane got free Gelato here as a missionary

The view is beautiful.

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One can even see Vesuvius.

Vesuvius

Vesuvius

This day Giuliano, Maria’s son in-law, took us to tour the cool spots. He took us to Miseno where we got these shots.

Sunset from Miseno

Sunset from Miseno

Mediterranean sea.

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Crystal clear water.IMG_4452

And some more.

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If you’re familiar with Roman history, this was the spot from which Pliny the younger viewed and recorded his account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.IMG_4476

January 7, 2015

We went early in the morning to Pompeii. We absolutely LOVE Pompeii. I teach a Latin class at school that takes place in this little town. When I come here it all feels so real!

This is the Forum – the center of city commerce and government.

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I love these beautiful streets.

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This is the villa of Caecilius Iucundus. My latin curriculum center’s on this man’s life and family.

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This plaque indicates that it is his house. When the excavators found this house, they found a steel safe box in which they found artifacts of this man including a bust of his head, banking records, and other interesting items.

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This volcano in the background destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D.

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After visiting the great city of Pompeii we had some pizza at Pellone. It is my absolute favorite of all the pizza that you can get in Naples!

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We may or may not have gone back that evening with Gino e Maria…  Needless to say, we were stuffed.

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January 8, 2015

WE LOVE POZZUOLI.  Everything about this place is beautiful.

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On our last evening in Pozzuoli, Maria made us a cake with our last name on it!

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January 9, 2015

They took us to Caserta where we took our train down to Bari.

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January 10, 2015

This is one of my favorite Catholic churches in Bari. I think we could employ its design as a ski-jump!

Bari

Bari

Our friends Ettore e Gabriella took us to Polignano which was stunning!

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January 11, 2015

They also took us to Albero Bello which was also amazing. We love Gabriella and Ettore – they are so nice. We love ALL ITALIANS!

Albero Bello

Albero Bello

On our last day we got this awesome picture with their family in their living room.

La Famiglia Valentini

La Famiglia Valentini

January 12, 2015

The next day we returned to Rome to the same hotel, we had our last Italian pizza with our favorite naturally fizzy water, and we flew home to America never forsaking the dream to get back there as soon as we possibly can!

Last pizza in Rome

Last pizza in Rome