Monthly Archives: April 2014

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

I highly recommend this book by the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, star of the “Space Oddity” YouTube video filmed aboard the ISS.

While we typically think of astronauts during their “finest” moments like spacewalks, launch, and homecoming, it’s incredible to hear Hadfield describe the years of preparation and training required prior to a mission. For an astronaut, the moments of glory only come so rarely. The real job, day in and day out, is preparing and helping others on the crew to be prepared for those moments. It’s far from glamorous but helps to ensure safety and success for all involved.

Lemons on the Trail

Anyone who visits the Cinque Terre quickly realizes that it’s a stunningly beautiful place. While portions of the trail were closed during my visit, I hiked much of the path that runs high above the Mediterranean coastline and connects the five towns. In spite of the clouds that day, I had never experienced such a peaceful and relaxing pace of life shared by locals and even tourists who have the pleasure of visiting.

After passing through the exquisitely picturesque Vernazza, I continued toward Monterrosso. I made my way past villas, farmhouses, and vineyards perched along the coast. Just ahead, I saw some fellow hikers stopped at what appeared to be a rustic-looking lemonade stand. It was covered in vines and had chicken wire stretched across the front. A small section of the mesh had been cut out to allow the exchange of cash for fresh-squeezed lemonade. Pulpy lemon carcasses were scattered on the table in front of the friendly vendor.

An Australian couple had arrived just before me and purchased the last of the lemonade squeezed that day. When I learned this, the proprietor of the stand confirmed that he was out of lemonade, but did have limoncello. In my relaxed, vacation-high state of mind, I said “of course!” I didn’t know what I had just ordered but quickly got the idea when he poured the translucent yellow liquid into a shot glass. The Aussies, still nearby, turned toward me and asked, “You know that has alcohol in it, right?” Going with the flow, I responded with a resounding “Oh yeah, of course!” I didn’t actually know.

I threw back the delicious limoncello and bought a small bottle to take home as a gift. After thanking the lemonade man, I continued on my trek to Monterroso with a fun story under my belt and a little bit of limoncello in my system.

Today, it hit me that my dad is a master at uncovering small life-experience gems like this one. He has a way of delighting people by asking a curious question at the grocery store, at a store in Indiana’s Amish country, or anywhere for that matter. The lesson for me has been that these types of everyday experiences will not pass you by – they’re usually hidden, but there for the taking. However, without a dash of curiosity and sometimes a bit of risk-taking mixed in, you will pass them by.

Epilogue: I went through Rome’s Ciampino airport to head home. The bottle of limoncello was above the 100ml limit permitted in carry-on baggage but I decided to “forget” about it. If it was flagged by security, I’d play the forgetful, dumb American card and, worse case, have to throw it in the trash. I was indeed flagged for a bag check and the friendly Italian security officer asked me to unpack my things. He could sense I was a little nervous and told me to take my time. He even asked where I had traveled and how I had enjoyed Italy. When I produced the good-sized bottle of limoncello, he verified that it was sealed and said “OK – you can keep it, but next time you can’t bring this. Have a good trip!”