Midnight Express and Sandusky

We instituted movie nights with a couple friends to host a meal and pick a movie to watch. For our inaugural movie night last weekend, we watched Midnight Express which I’ve seen before, but a long time ago. I felt like I was watching it for the first time because allĀ I remembered was the beginning and the end. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s really well done. It’s about an American in Turkey who gets caught trying to smuggle pot on the plane going home. Anyone who is feeling a tad bit Anti-American and down on our country should feel pretty blessed after watching this movie. Granted it took place in the 70s, but shit like that (i.e., torture and legal inequality) happen all around the world still. By the way, it’s based on a true story so this hashish-smuggling American really was sent to a criminal loony bin. No joke.

Here are the key take-aways. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything.

1. Do not ever disobey the law in a foreign country.

2. Do not ever travel to a country that has bad relations with the U.S. (i.e., Syria).

3. If you’re stupid enough to accidentally cross into the border of a country that has bad relations with the U.S., then you better be tight with Bill Clinton. That’s all I gots to say.

The theme of the movie, imprisonment that does not fit the crime, brings me to pedophile Sandusky’s sentencing today. I mean, Americans have no idea how good they have it. This criminal who essentially raped young boys may get out of jail with good behavior. And even if he doesn’t, the man is going to get 3 meals a day and access to health care. Hello, there are a ton of Americans in poverty who don’t even get that. You might as well commit a crime! It’s so disgusting, I don’t even know what else to say.

So I’ll say, may you rot in hell, Sandusky. I hope some of your fellow prisoners take it upon themselves to give you a taste of your own medicine.

Why Your Parenting Skills Suck

I’m always a bit bummed to hear when close friends are pregnant because I know that our friendship will forever be altered. Parents stop being who they are and devolve into secondary beings whose lives are ruled by these little dictators, otherwise known as American brats.

I’m sure I’ll get flak for the above statement, “You wouldn’t know because you’re not a parent. Wait until you have kids of your own. You’ll see. You don’t understand what it’s like.”

I will say that I do have one friend (I can only think of one) who strikes the parenting balance very well. She doesn’t need to read this post, but the rest of you, please continue.

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal that made me feel slightly vindicated in thinking that parents these days are losing sight of their own identity. The author, Pamela Druckerman, is promoting her book “Bringing Up Bebe” about her own experience as an American mother raising her kids in France. It is getting the same critical attention Amy Chua received for writing “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

Here is the point that I starred, underlined, and highlighted: “We tend to view whether kids are good at waiting as a matter of temperament. In our view, parents either luck out and get a child who waits well or they don’t.”

She posits that French parenting involves, and possibly centers around “me” time, as in “adult” time. Parenting should not be solely devoted to managing the affairs of your child, running around after them, punishing them, screaming at them, watching them throw tantrums. There should be a set schedule of sleep, meals, play time, and adult time! Most importantly, you need to teach children about delayed gratification. Let them cry. As a friend and new father told me recently, “Kids don’t die from crying.”

Let them be hungry. Ditch the ziplock bag of Cheerios in your purse and let them wait until they’re sitting in their high chair during their set meal time. American children have no self-control. How many times did I snort around the freezer helping myself to bowls (bowls, not scoops) of ice-cream because I was bored! When your kids don’t have their Cheerios when they want them, well hell, your cheery day turns into a teary day. WAHHHHHHH! You know what I’m talking about!

It even starts before your little monster is born. In the book, she describes asking a bewildered waiter if the Parmesan cheese in her pasta is pasteurized. Cuckoo, cuckoo.

Be the parent, the adult, the grown-up. Make the kid fit into your lifestyle instead of you living in their doll house.

Birds of a Feather

I wouldn’t call it a nightly ritual, but often enough to call it a ritual: the act of browsing, selecting, and savoring See’s Candies. Unfortunately for me, there is a See’s across the street from the 2 Clement bus which I ride home–a mere seven blocks away–because I’m lazy and what better way to own your languor than to inhale milk chocolate in transit. Fortunately for me, the addictive habit never costs more than a couple dollars. Thank you, See’s management, for keeping your prices low and my sweet tooth satisfied.

The middle-aged man ahead of me in line was redeeming a one-pound gift certificate. Pointing, he indicated two of this, two of that. How about two more of this. Two of that. He was clearly a chocolate-choosing novice. I refreshed the emails on my Blackerry to pass the time.

“Are you Pilipino?” I turned around to face a gray-haired woman, several inches shorter than me. She had that non-American accent. I nodded.

“Do you speak Tagalog?” She continued the line of questioning that most Filipinos ask. I politely told her no. My parents are Ilokano. I understand Ilokano, but can’t speak it.

I wondered why I often get asked these questions by Filipino strangers. Is it because I look Filipino? Is it because Filipinos are friendly? Do other ethnic groups do the same? Do Indians approach others, ask if they’re Indian, then ask if they speak a certain dialect?

Is it because I’m American-born that I don’t feel the need to engage in the same friendly banter when I see someone who looks like they have my same ethnic background? Would I feel differently if I were born in the Philippines?

Money Monday: Retirement

I stopped contributing to my 401k earlier this year when I maxed it out, but I don’t plan on making a contribution to the plan ever. Not a cent. I don’t even know what the formula is for accessing that money. Don’t you have to be a septuagenarian or close to it so as not to be penalized? And by the time we middle-agers reach that age, we should count on the rules changing and working until we’re octogenarians. It’s retirement Catch 22.

That’s supposed to be the American dream? Maxing out our 401ks and living off of that while we whittle away playing bingo at the old folks’ home. No way.

Here’s my genius plan. By the time I’m 50, my mortgage will be paid off. Once that’s paid off, I’ll continue to rent it and use that rental income to pay for the ex-pat life I plan to lead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The location is up for debate, but I won’t be in this hell-in-a-hand-basket country, that’s for sure. I had lunch with a friend who said he is scouting out foreign real estate to buy. That’s a smart guy right there.

Anyone else have non-mainstream retirement plans or purchased real estate outside of the U.S.? Let’s hear from you.

Florence: Where Everyone Recommends, but I Do Not

If I had to plan another trip to Italy or if I had to do it all over again, I would have skipped Florence. How many of you completely disagree with me? I know, I am completely going against the norm, but I like Venice more than I like Florence. Here’s why. Venice is cute and different. Florence….oh my God, I felt like I was back in college hanging out between classes at Cafe Strada. Florence is over-run with tourists and students studying abroad. Every other person on the street spoke English. American English as in they just got off their flights and headed straight to the Florence museums. I read a statistic in my book that there are 7 tourists for every 1 Florentine and that does not count the tourists who only come for the day! For me, it simply wasn’t authentic Italy.

I did not realize that it’s also mosquito season. On our first night, I got a bite on my knuckle that swelled up so badly that I got an allergic reaction with a rash that spread down past my elbow. Right now, I’m suffering from two twin mosquito bites on each thigh. They have not gone away. My knees feel like they’re running fevers. That’s how allergic I am to those damn suckers!

But our best meal thus far was at Acqua Al Due in Florence so I shouldn’t complain too much. That is the only restaurant out of all the meals we’ve had that offered a salad. Hallelujah for something other than pasta!

While the food isn’t my favorite, the desserts are to die for! Gelato every night! And check out the dessert sampler from Acqua Al Due.

Pics from Florence.