Devon on April 13th, 2018

Today I sold the BMW to an Italian used car lot. I hope someone else loves it as much as I did. Now, what new car do I put a downpayment on? Oh, the options!

Devon on March 24th, 2018

While living in Italy, I have had a lot of visitors ask me what the “umbrella” looking pine tree is called all across the Italian landscape. This tree is aptly named the Umbrella or Italian Stone Pine. For my horticulture friends, Pinus pinea.

You may be wondering where the second common names come from (Stone Pine). Well, it comes from the large cones that produce seeds that can be roasted to become the main ingredient in pesto sauce. Yes, it produces pine nuts! If you visit Italy (Tuscany & Umbria in particular) you will not fail to notice these as they dominate the landscape along with the tall narrow Italian Cypress trees.

The tree thrives on well-drained soils and on the coast. New needles are produced in spring and this triggers older needles to yellow and drop, however, it is evergreen. It gets very large with a mature height of 40 to 60 feet.

Devon on July 3rd, 2016

Grand Hotel de La Minerve

I know this is out of the blue. After a lot of deliberation with Jay, we have decided to pack up our belongings, sell the Dallas house, and move to Italy. I know what you are thinking. “WHAT!?” Yes, we are moving to right outside of Rome. And, yes, I have never been to Italy. I lived in Germany for 6 months, traveled all over northern Europe, but never made it to South Europe.

I whole lot of things happened to help make our decision. The job offer was good, we needed a change in our living situation (surroundings), we had an amazing offer on our Dallas house (way, way above asking price), and we wanted to travel. TRAVEL! This was the main drive. So much to see in Europe and the surroundings; Monico (French Rivera), Venice, Florance, Siana, Rome, Pompeii, Almafi Coast, Athans, the list goes on. Itlay is a good “home base” for traveling Europe. Then some places on my wish list and revisiting list: Africa, Scottland/Ireland, Prague, Viena, Netherlands, and of course All of Germany!

Grand Hotel de La Minerve Lobby Skylight

Anyways, so, here it is. We officially moved to Italy on July 3, 2016. The first hotel we stayed at was the Grand Hotel de La Minerve. It’s a stunningly beautiful hotel just a few steps from the Roman Pantheon (27 BC). The city is oversaturated and dripping with art, architecture, fashion, food, prestige, and passion.

After a few days of sightseeing (Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Navona) it came down to business. The legality of moving to Italy was no easy feat. In fact, I would not do it again. If you have ever seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun (wonderful movie, BTW), but it’s total BS. It was almost a year of preparation in Dallas with Italian Visas, Italian Codice Fiscale cards, International Health Insurance policies, bank records, criminal records, birth certificates, High School and University education transcripts, etc. To add on top of that, everything has to be notarized (by a USA notary). If it is a government document, it needs to be sent to the relative issuing State’s Department of State to receive both an Authentication Certificate and Apostille. All documents (ALL DOCUMENTS!) need to be translated into Italian by an Italian Consulate certified translator. After you receive the original documents back (Notarized, Apostille, and Translated), you then provide to the Italian Consulate of your district (ours happened to be in Houston) and they verify the documents with the Italian Consulate stamp of Authentication. This makes the documents legally valid in Italy. Without the Italian Consulate stamp, it’s all just a stack of useless paper.

Once you arrive in Italy, you have 8 days to apply for your Permesso di Soggiorno (Permission to Stay) card. This is another barrel of worms. You need to collect the Permesso di Soggiorno application package form an authorized Poste Italiane (Italian Post Office), fill out the complicated government application form (all in Italian), and then mail it to the police station all in 8 days. The document took Jay and me about 7 days to figure out, mailing it on day 8 at 9am. Once you mail it, the post office gives you a receipt for an appointment meeting with the local Police Immigration office. This appointment is in the future sometimes a week away or months away. Ours was two weeks because our villa is located in rural Italy. What? Yes, I said villa. More on the Villa in a later post. Anyways, at the police appointment, you need to bring copies of all the documents you mailed in the Permesso di Soggiorno package as well as 2 passport photos of you. They ask you questions, verify the documents, and then make another appointment for you in another two weeks for your physical and fingerprints. Then, you wait, wait, and wait. You will receive a text message when your Permesso di Soggiorno is ready for pickup at the police station. Remember you need to do all of this with people that speak little to no English.

Once you receive your Permesso di Soggiorno, you can now visit your Comune’s Ufficio Anagrafe to apply for official Resident Status and Carta D’Identita. This card is done instantly at your visit. It gives you access to a lot of perks. It basically makes you an EU resident. One of my favorite perks is I can use the Airport’s customs EU passport line (saves hours of waiting in line). Other benefits include opening an Italian bank account (without paying ridiculously high fees), register in the Italian health system, import your furniture and household goods dutyfree (that have been in storage in the USA for three months), and stand in line for many other bureaucratic processes.

So, that’s how we moved to Italy. Saluti!

Devon on April 20th, 2016

It’s official, they accepted the offer! Italy, here we come!

Devon on April 11th, 2016

Jay and I did a house scouting trip around my birthday in 2016. Jay had done research on Italian properties for 6 months to a year prior to making the decision to actually move. Within 3 months of moving, we contacted a delightful British Relator, Alison Holland (in collaboration with the Alfano Consulting Agency), that moved to Italy 15 years prior. She helped us navigate the Italian real estate market with our requirements:

  • Within 2 hours to Rome
  • Within 2 hours to Florence
  • Private Single Family Home
  • No adjacent Neghibors (No views of other house’s walls from windows)
  • 2-3 Bedroom
  • 2+ Bathroom
  • 2,500+ Square Feet
  • 1+ Garage
  • Outdoor Kitchen/Eating Area
  • Gated/Fully Fenced Property
  • Olive Grove

With our distance requirements, our area of searching focused on the “state” of Umbria. Rome is in the Lazio “state” and Umbria is the “state” just north of Lazio and East of Tuscany. Umbria is often called the country’s green heart. We call Umbria Tuscany’s brother. It’s known for its medieval hill towns, dense forests, local cuisine including foraged truffles and wines. Umbria is a land of unspoiled natural beauty. The rolling green hills shelter hidden art towns, peaceful lakes, and ancient monasteries waiting to be explored. Lesser-known than its famous Tuscan neighbor, Umbria is often overlooked by visitors from abroad. Particularly when it comes to real estate. The environment and ambiance are dominantly the same as Tuscany, however, untapped by foreign buyers, the prices of homes are considerably less than in Tuscany.

Situated 1.5 hours north of Rome and 2 hours south of Florence, our search took place in the Terni region of Umbria. We made the City of Orvieto our home base during our two-week search. According to Rick Steves, “Orvieto is one of the most striking, memorable, and enjoyable hill towns in central Italy. It sits majestically high above the valley floor atop a big chunk of Tufo volcanic stone, overlooking cypress-dotted Umbrian plains. A visit here will reward you with a delightful, perfectly preserved, and virtually traffic-free world highlighted by a colorful-inside-and-out cathedral and some of Italy’s best wine.” Other notable cities within 1 hour: Todi (on river Tiber), Terni (Birthplace of St. Valentine), Assisi (birthplace of St. Francis), and Perugia (capital of the Umbria).

On our visit in April 2016, we toured 6 homes that we had done research on back in Dallas. The first home we toured could not have been more perfect. Just 30 minutes east of the famous medieval hill-top town, Orvieto. It was truly, love at first sight. The property is around 5 acres with over 300+ olive trees. The native forest vegetation was allowed to thrive along 3 sides of the property lines, nestling the property into a forest pocket. The house faces south opening up over the southern olive grove allowing for an unobstructed panoramic view over the Terni valley.

The grove is split by the public street, allowing the northern part of the property (adjacent to the house) to be complete fenced with an electric vehicle gate on the private driveway. With the house being in a forest pocket, you feel completely private with no views of adjacent neighbors. Our other requirements were also perfectly matched: 3300 SF, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, 1 garage, and an outdoor kitchen with wood burning pizza oven. It’s built as a duplex house, however, the two living rooms are connected by a french door that allows the house to be opened/used as one. In our minds, if we ever wanted to, we could close the doors and rent out the other half for extra income. After touring the other 5 properties, this property was leaps and bounds superior to anything else we viewed. Other properties had terrible views, neighbors within a few feet, steply unusable yards, dead olive groves, no fences, dilapidated pools, horrific layouts, low ceilings, extremely outdated, etc. Back at our Orvieto hotel, we made our “reservation offer” for the first property and crossed our fingers; flying back to Dallas the next day. Next post, did they accept the offer?

 

Devon on November 26th, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I have so many things to be thankful for: a loving family, everyone’s support, my new job, a nice home, and our many travels & experiences throughout the year. This year we traveled to: South Padre to visit Joe & Barbara’s condo (March), Riviera Maya, Mexico for our friends destination wedding which happened to also coincide with my 30th birthday (April), Las Vegas (June), our Family fishing trip at Nelson’s Resort in Minnesota/Canada (August), touring the vineyards in Napa Valley for Jay’s 35th (September), Iowa for Dr. Joe K. Moody’s distinguished faculty award ceremony (October), and a weekend trip to Austin on Jay’s actual birthday (November). Looking forward to a great holiday season with lots of dinner parties and visiting loved ones. Should be a nice wrap up to the year. Happy Holiday Season to you and yours!

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Devon on May 11th, 2015

sOIt’s been a big year! I turned 30 this year and made my first big career change. After 6 years at Archiverde, I switched to Studio Outside to become a Project Leader. Studio Outside (sO) is relatively the same age as Archiverde. The main principles (Tary Arterburn, Chip Impastato, Mike Fraze, and Bill Millsap) formed sO in 2010. While based in Dallas, sO has significant commissions across Texas and the United States and significant experience in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Asia. The major differences between the firms is size and project type.

sO has over 40 employees and is still growing. The projects range from residential, ranches, public gardens, campuses, public parks, retail/mixed use, and subdivision/planned communities. I’ll primarily be focused in the commercial and retail/mixed use sector. A big change from high-end residential, but a welcomed new experience.

The firm itself is located at the entry gates to Fair Park in Dallas — only a 12 minute drive from my house. The office’s space was beautifully renovated to accommodate all the new hires over the past two years. The people are welcoming, smart, and focused. I would guess the average age of the employees would be around 37ish.The office has a good focus on team building by holding many social events, retreats, after hour happy hours, and volunteer opportunities.

One of the major perks of the new job is the benefits package: medical/dental/life insurances, disability, 401K, jury duty compensation, maternity/paternity leave, potential 7.5% yearly bonus, yearly continuing education stipend, holidays (with half days before all major holidays), and 3 weeks paid vacation for under 5 years and 4 weeks paid vacation for over 5 years, both with 40 hours of rollover per year. That means I could potentially have 4 weeks paid vacation starting in 2016 and 5 weeks paid vacation in 2020. Oh! and the other major perk: the office maintains a half day Friday schedule year-round: 9 hours M-R, 4 hours on Friday. Awesome!

More later…

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Devon on February 13th, 2015

ContinuingEducationIt finally happened. 2015 is the first year I have to start my CE (continuing education). I guess it’s true, my profession is always evolving, growing, and changing… but really? I just went through a 5 year program to get my degree, a year internship, and then 3 years of professional licensing exams… only to have two years off before starting my yearly 12 hour CE requirement to renew my license (every year, BTW). It’s just… I guess I understand, it’s just frustrating.

All registrants must complete at least 12 Continuing Education Program Hours (CEPH) per calendar year. All 12 CEPH must include the study of subjects related to your profession and be pertinent to the health, safety, and welfare of the public:

  • At least one of the twelve hours must be related to sustainable or energy-efficient design
  • At least one of the twelve hours must be related to barrier-free design.
  • At least eight of the twelve hours must be structured activities, (classroom/classroom equivalent)
  • A maximum of four hours may be self-directed.

At least 4 of the hours can be self-directed. Such as, reading from books or professional magazines. Even touring and visiting buildings, historic sites or landmarks that incorporate elements of your design profession fall under self-directed study. But some activities that you would think would work, are not approved.

The other 8 hours are required to be structured classes (in a classroom or online course) — which cost money. Not only is my yearly license renewal fee $305, I have to pay for 8 hours of classes. At RedVector.com (a CE provider), they have online classes you pay for packaged or individually. The packaged Landscape Architecture 12 hour class is $377! Or you can pick and choose classes. Selecting the minimum requirements comes to about about 4 classes, totaling $288. With the cheapest option, renewing my license every year comes to about $600.

There is another option. You can go to the National (or State) Landscape Architecture Annual Meeting and EXPO. But if it’s not in the city you live, you have to factor in travel cost, lodging, and the registration fee. The Texas ASLA Meeting and Expo is coming up so I’ll use that as the example. The registration price (for early bird ASLA members) is $265. The event is in Galveston, TX, so we need transportation; flight from DFW to HOU is $220. But that’s only to Houston, so we need to rent a car for 3 days, coming to $180. Did we add the hotel yet? Additional, $226 (and that’s at the Red Roof Inn). Totaling a whopping $891 (not including food, tips, taxes/fees, entertainment, so on). And the national meeting is about double that price.

All in all it’s just expensive to be a Landscape Architect. I guess all this weeds out the people that don’t have a passion for it.

P.S. If you are just starting out like me, the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners offer a 1.5 hour course over CE Practice and Procedures for about $35. It gives a few helpful hints. For instance, 1 CEPH is a Continuing Education Program Hour. One CEPH equals a minimum of fifty (50) minutes of actual course time.

Devon on December 25th, 2014

IMG_5291Merry Christmas everyone! Another Christmas has come and gone. This Christmas Eve, we went to the midnight candlelight service then went on a tour of christmas lights around Kessler Park, Texas and got home late. Christmas Day, we slept in late — noon to be exact. We had breakfast and started Christmas dinner. Of course, starting dinner at noon meant we were ready to eat at 8pm. After dinner — around 10pm — we started opening stockings and presents. We opened gifts, had mulled apple cider, and chatted until the wee hours of the morning!

Devon on November 28th, 2014

CircleLights1895I was in Indianapolis, Indiana over Thanksgiving this year. On a tour of the city, we went to City Center where they erect a “Christmas Tree.” Well, I use that loosely. It’s actually strung lights on the permanent Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Downtown. It’s been called the worlds largest Christmas tree — I guess largest shaped Christmas tree would be more accurate. Even the Indianaians know it and have a personalized song to the tune of the Christmas Carol “Oh Christmas Tree”:

Oh concrete thing, Oh concrete thing, How lovely are your branches. Oh concrete thing, Oh concrete thing, You have no friggin’ branches. You are the largest Christmas tree. Well then again, no not really.

Oh concrete thing, Oh concrete thing, I see a mom who’s freezing, Dad’s been drinking whiskey. They drove downtown, Parking cost ten bucks, They stood around and froze their butts, To watch the tree and dear Daddy, Get lit up like Christmas.