The purpose of this blog is to inform those who are interested about my journey as one of three students from around the world who earned placements at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing as a result of the Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy. Family, friends, colleagues, aspiring engineers, and any other followers are welcome to visit this page and, if desired, give me feedback or ask questions. It is an effort to streamline documenting the next 12 months for all of these varying audiences, some of which do not participate in social media.

I have never written a journal, never written a blog. This is a first for me. This being the most meaningful and fantastic opportunity I could ever dream of, I would like to share best I can the details of what goes on in my day-to-day during the academy. I am incredibly honored to have won a placement at Infiniti-Red Bull Racing, and I seek to make this opportunity worth everything it possibly can be.

I will write once or twice a week, depending on the accumulation of events and catching up on the previous few days. If you'd like, you can sign up for email notifications for when I create a new post! See the link toward the bottom of this page. I hope you all enjoy, and thank you so much for visiting!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

No Place Like Home

Well, it’s been a while!  I got caught up in the holiday and took some time off, being a bit lazy at getting back to this.  I suppose you could call it the off-season for my writing.  But it’s definitely been an exciting time as of late!

Jumping back for a moment to the week of Christmas, I flew home to be with my family for a week.  I've really missed them.  Being abroad can be hard like that, especially because I hadn’t expected to see most of my family for at least a year.  As I begin to pay back student loans and put money into savings, I don’t have the extra cash to fly back to the United States, even for Christmas.  So, Santa was very generous to gift that!

Jason was also nice enough to drop me off at Milton Keynes Central in the wee morning hours on Sunday, and I took the train to the Tube to the airport.  When I got to Heathrow, it was mayhem.  Since the luggage conveyors were not working, everything had to be handled manually (aka slowly), causing the line to stack up throughout the departures terminal.  Despite getting there a few hours early, passengers for my flight and other earlier US Airways flights had to be escorted to the front of the line to get luggage checked in on time and make the planes.  Though uncertain and somewhat stressful, I did make my flight.

Dad waiting at arrivals in Philly

When I arrived in Philadelphia many hours later, my first news was that my luggage, containing all of my gifts for my family, was left behind in London.  Same story with at least 30 more passengers.  My parents waited for me at arrivals, and we shared some warm embraces.  To continue the happiness, we went straight to the luggage claims office and waited in line for about an hour to give details on where to deliver my luggage.  I was estimated to receive the luggage by the next day (Monday) or Tuesday.  Luckily, I had all of the really important stuff I needed for the next few days with me, so this wasn’t as troubling as it could have been.  Finally we went home, and my mom cooked a really nice meal of chicken marsala while we caught up.  It felt great to be home!

On Monday, my dad had off from work, so we had a father-and-son day out on the town.  Even when I spent time in New Jersey during my years in university, it was rare that we’d get a day to hang out together.

A New Jersey breakfast staple, pork roll.  Mmmmm

I made the two of us a hearty breakfast and then headed to the barber shop.  I’ve cut my own hair for years, but it is nice every once in a long while to go with my dad to his barber shop and get a proper cut.  Kevin and Jeff are brothers that own this small place a few miles from our house, and in a traditional American way, half of the experience is small talk.  For regulars like my dad, it means they know him well, including all about what’s going on in my life, and they seem to be genuinely pleased whenever we come in the door.  We shared a few stories and some laughs while on the chairs.  The whole thing is a timeless tradition that doesn’t happen often enough.

Always a good day with Dad!

Afterward, we headed to a liquor store to get some beer for the Christmas week.  Maybe you guys haven’t noticed, but I appreciate a good beer, as does my dad.  And for those of you who think all we have in the States is Budweiser and Coors Light, the American craft beer scene is incredible!

Good craft beer from California, New York, Maryland, and a few internationals

More great craft beer from Vermont, California, New York, and Michigan

Just ask my cousin Tommy, the head brewer for a chill-vibe microbrewery called JDub’s in Sarasota, Florida.  He makes the best IPA I’ve ever tasted, called Up Top! IPA, along with a bunch of other creative and awesome beers and ales.  No, that's not him in the preview...

JDubs Brewing Company - "What we're all about!" 

In an effort toward cultural enlightenment, I think a clarification is in order.  Beer in the US is generally referring to anything with hops and barley (or at least colloquially), and ale is a genre of beer.  In the UK, ale and beer are strictly two different things.  This may be more accurate, and I would accept that.  Ales are what are often served at room temperature in the UK, while beer is served cold.  Of course, we in the US serve all of our beers (thus, ales) relatively cold!  Light beers made to be consumed at freezing temperatures are absurd, but I’ll admit that some of the British ales, as with some American ales like Ommegang’s Three Philosophers, are by nature pretty tasty closer to room temperature.  However, consuming a beer above 50F (10C) is just wrong, to me anyway.  So, that’s the story of what’s served warm and what’s not.

After running around for a bit more, my dad and I went home and hung out some more.  Later that evening, my sister Jen and brother-in-law Joe came over with their kids Ryan (10), Joey (7), and Alexa (3), and we had a great time catching up and hanging out.  The kids are awesome!  Joey has autism, resulting in a very sensitive social experience at times.  Alexa suffered a perinatal stroke and was born with part of her brain essentially missing, and so she struggles with balance and coordination and has some mild learning and speech disabilities.  Yet she is the happiest little girl in the whole world.

For all of the trials and tribulations that this family goes through to maintain health, I’ve never seen somebody handle it with such amazing grace as Jen.  Of course, Joe has provided a rock solid foundation to support her, and Ryan is an incredible big brother and role model to both Joey and Alexa.  Jen goes way beyond what is necessary to provide for her kids’ health and happiness by embracing the situation, promoting awareness of the medical issues, and raising money for charity, having even coordinated her own fundraising event of well over one hundred people.  And this only scratches the surface of her life.  For all of the things I’ve seen and accomplished, I stand in awe of Jen.  There is a lot to be learned from these types of experiences.

Jen, Joe, Ryan, Joey, and Alexa

Love ya, sis!

For the next day and a half, I relaxed at home and prepped my gifts for Christmas, thankfully receiving my luggage Tuesday evening.  

Christmas Eve is a big deal in my family.  My mom has three sisters, and typically all four families (which mutually live within 20-30 minutes of each other) will come together along with my grandma for a big Christmas dinner with her awesome homemade soup, gift-giving, and Christmas shenanigans.  As my generation starts to grow our own families and/or move away, an unfortunate side effect is that this type of Christmas celebration becomes more difficult logistically and financially…which is tough to handle on a sentimental level.  We’ve always had a great time together, and there are a lot of great memories from these times, so naturally it is a bit dimmer when somebody cannot attend or it’s not the most feasible option.  This year was the year that my parents decided to break off into our own Christmas Eve dinner, though we would meet up later to spend time with the whole family at my Aunt Cindy’s house.

Steve, Heather, Hayden and Avery
Love these kids!

My brother Steve and sister-in-law Heather joined us for Christmas Eve dinner, along with their kids Hayden (7) and Avery (5).  These kids are absolutely hilarious, witty, and a lot of fun.  Sometimes a bit too fun for their own good ;)  Avery is also my goddaughter, and she is a riot.  The kids played while we all conversed and my mom cooked.

Ellis Island, Wall of Honor in foreground
Immigrants would see the Statue of Liberty greeting them as they arrived to Ellis Island

My mom’s side of the family (and a lot of New Jersey for that matter) is of Italian descent.  My great grandmother has her name on Ellis Island’s Wall of Honor, commemorating her immigration to the United States in the 1910’s.  Though only my grandmom and I speak much of any Italian anymore, we all cherish that heritage, and we keep in touch with the Italian side of our family who live in Florence and Borgo Montenero.  One Italian-American and Roman Catholic tradition that we’ve wanted to do for years is the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Sometimes referred to as La Vigilla in Italian (The Vigil, referring to the wait for the birth of Jesus), it’s a simple Christmas Eve tradition in which seven courses of fish or other seafood are served for dinner.  The meal has its roots in traditional Roman Catholic abstinence from meats on of the eve of holidays.  Seven is the go-to number, but the origins of this are not known for sure.

Anyway, my mom cooked a fantastic dinner.  This was extra impressive for the first year!  The seven courses were:

  1. Lobster Bisque
  2. Bacon wrapped scallops
  3. Shrimp scampi
  4. Linguine with clam sauce
  5. Lobster ravioli
  6. Cod
  7. Crab cakes
Christmas Eve - Seven Fishes!

After giving ourselves time to digest and cleaning up from the meal, we headed on over to my Aunt Cindy’s house.  Most of the family was there, and it was nice to see everybody and catch up.  A trio of my younger cousins had come back from their first semester at different universities, and it was cool to hear some stories from them.  We exchanged $2 gifts (our creative, fun, and inexpensive tradition for inter-family gift giving) and took some goofy portraits with assortments of Christmas props.  It was a fun night!

Finally, it was Christmas morning!  My parents and I will generally spend the morning doing our own thing at the house and exchanging gifts.  Later in the day, we have started going to either my sister’s house or my brother’s house for Christmas Day brunch, which we used to host at my parents’ house in the past.

I received all sorts of awesome gifts from Santa, but the best by far (beyond the flight home, of course) was the framing of my diplomas from the University of Maryland.  It’s absolutely beautiful custom framing, and I love the embodiment of how it commemorates the seven years I spent obtaining the two Bachelor of Science degrees in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering.

Beautiful custom double diploma frame :)
This year, my parents and I along with Jen’s family met at Steve’s house.  Heather put together yet another awesome brunch while the kids played in Steve and Heather’s beautifully renovated basement.  We exchanged gifts, and among other things, I received a multimeter from Steve and Heather, and then Jen painted this awesome canvas for me by hand!

Yeah, that was hand painted by my awesome sis!

Of course, my gift to everybody was to kit them up in Infiniti Red Bull Racing gear!

Lighting wasn't ideal, but you get the idea.  Go Infiniti Red Bull Racing!

We spent the rest of the day hanging out, playing card games, and watching some TV.  It was nice to just relax for a while!  My parents and I stayed until fairly late before calling it a night.

My mom had off from work on Friday, which then gave us a chance to hang out for the day!  After running some errands together, we decided to spend the afternoon in downtown Princeton, about 20 minutes from my house.

Nassau Inn

My dad used to bartend at the Nassau Inn in Palmer Square in Princeton, and we picked that as our destination for a late lunch and a drink.  The place is really cool, dimly lit with tables that people had been carving into for years.  In ways, it’s quite like an English pub.

Afterward, it was nearly dusk.  Having not strolled around Princeton University in some time, I thought it’d be cool to walk through there for a little bit before the sun set.  The prestige of this university is something that’s hard to ignore as you walk around, thinking of the great minds that have walked the same grounds.

Princeton University

A great day in Princeton with Mom!

Nassau Street is the main street of Princeton, lined with shops and restaurants of all sorts.  My mom and I visited a bookstore and then a wool shop, where I bought a really nice wool/cashmere scarf which will make an appearance in my next post.  We walked around for a bit more before heading home.

My cousin Trevor and his wife Maria, who happens to have also been my friend since elementary school, made a surprise visit to the house, since they were in the area visiting Maria’s family.  We’re all close, and again it was just about hanging out together, so it was a nice visit.

Maria and Trev
After that, I rounded off my day by catching up with my best friend, Erica.  Erica and I have been friends for well over a decade.  We met by playing together in the orchestra in middle school, where she was on viola and I played the cello.  We both stopped playing after our freshman year in high school because it was no longer fun at the high school level, and we remained friends.

Whenever I’m home, we’ll catch up usually by going to Atlantic City with a group, or to Surf Taco, which is an amazing Jersey Shore fish taco chain restaurant, or to one of the local bars around Hamilton.  This time we went to Killarney’s, a place where it’s easy to see old faces from back in the day.  It’s one of the more popular Hamilton bars, and it was absolutely packed.  But we found a couple of barstools and caught up for the rest of the evening.

Erica and I at Killarney's Irish Pub in Hamilton during St. Patty's Day a while back.  Mom creeped into this one!

A few other friends were scattered around, and I ran into a good friend of mine, also named Eric.  The three of us have hung out before, and yes, it does get confusing with names!  Anyway, Eric and I played soccer (sorry, football for you Brits, calico for the Italians) together for years and also was friends with my cousin Trevor through high school.  Since he lives and works in New York City, we don’t catch up all that often anymore.  So that was another great surprise!

On Saturday morning, I went back to my hometown’s CrossFit where we had done the filming back in the summer.  Catching a workout and talking to my few friends there made for a good start to the day!  Unfortunately, I needed to pack for most of the rest of the day in preparation for my flight back to the UK on Sunday.  I did squeeze in some time to buy some good American beer for bringing back to England and to visit Trevor and Maria at their new home.  Well, “new” in that I had not visited yet.  Trevor is a fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, and his home is a large piece of land on a state park that is part of his responsibility to watch over.  We shared a couple of beers and some gingerbread men they had baked after giving me a tour of the property.  It’s a neat place to hang out and get together, and the two of them have outfitted the place to have a very genuine and homey feel.

I went back home for one last hurrah.  That evening, Jen’s and Steve’s families come over along with the Kinney’s.  Brad and Debbie are the parents of my friend Jeff, who I’ve known since I was a little kid.  They live around the corner, and Jeff now lives in Arlington, Virginia, an awesome town right outside of Washington, D.C.  Similar to my friend Eric, Jeff and I don’t get to catch up much anymore except for when we’re both back home.  Brad and Debbie often will come and hang out, and they’re a lot of fun.  Having everybody together for a change was fun, and of course my mom made another great feast, and we had a good night!  It was a fun sendoff for me.

The next day, I finished packing and headed to the airport in Philadelphia.  I took an indirect route back to the UK, but I still made it back for a full day’s work on Monday!

Spending Christmas at home was great, and this was one of the best I’ve had.  I love hanging out with my family.  It was hard missing them for these past few months, mainly because we are a tight knit bunch and I didn’t know when I’d next see them; it’s a lot different when the next trip to see them is planned.  My family is one of, if not THE, most important things in life to me.  It’s one of the hardest things about living abroad, though admittedly I need to make more use of Skype!  Regardless, wherever I end up, a requisite is to be able to afford to travel back to see my family regularly.  There’s no place like home.


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