Hot Minute in Florence

This morning we drove from Venice to Florence. With the Italian Alps in the distance, we passed vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and Tuscan farmhouses. We had free time in Florence before our tours, and we headed down side streets looking for a Trattoria with the local specialty: cinghiale, or wild boar. We found it, and I was happy. Three days here, and I have yet to have pizza. On one of the bridges Gus got harrassed by a man “giving out” bracelets. Gus was just trying to be polite and shake the man’s hand when he engaged him in conversation. It escalated, and the man grabbed his wrist and put the bracelet on. I let Gus handle it, but it was heartbreaking to see Gus raise his hands in surrender as if he were being threatened by a gun. Gus was very upset thinking he’d been targeted for being weak. I told him it wasn’t that he was weak, it was that he was not yet jaded and too nice. Unfortunately that is exactly what this man achieved. Now Gus will think twice before he smiles at strangers and suspect everyone has an agenda. And I hate that. I want Gus to be kind but not be taken advantage of. It was a teaching moment for sure.

After a moderate jog through Florence, as we were running late on meeting our group, we joined our tour guide at the Accademia. They had a wonderful exhibit of historical musical instruments, including some of the very first pianos made for the Medicis. It was a hit with the symphony group. Even after 4 different visits, Michelangelo’s David never fails to impress. I learned a few new tidbits, too. Michelangelo was the only sculptor to work without a plaster model, and the block of marble was rejected by 2 previous artists who considered it too fragile. Michelangelo was nothing if not confident. After that, we walked the city’s highlights including the Duomo (no time to go to the top this time), to the Ponte Vecchio, and Santa Croce. It was a packed agenda, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to see many of these highlights with more time, as well as other noteworthy sites in the city. It was a hot day, and we were tired and thirsty by the end of the tour. Dinner was at a restaurant near Santa Croce, which had some of the best gelato I have ever had. I opted for the Strawberry and Hazlenut combination, and it was a wise move. We are back and the hotel relaxing for another fun day tomorrow: Lucca and Pisa with a concert in a lovely church tomorrow night. I’m excited because I’ve never been to Lucca, and the concerts are always amazing, but I feel the venue will inspire a new level of artistry. 

Que Sera Sera

We had a great tour of St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace this morning before being set free to wander the streets of Venice. Gus and I headed the opposite direction of the tourist traffic and found a lovely spot for lunch and then leisurely walked back to the meeting point through side streets and alleys, which would open up suddenly to hidden vistas and architectural wonders. Though Venice was completely packed with cruise traffic, we could find little corners all to ourselves. On the way to the concert venue tonight, we were at a standstill on the road for about an hour and a half. A fuel tanker was on fire about half a mile in front of us. People made the most of their unplanned stop–they got out of their cars to talk to one another and share water and snacks. I could not have imagined anything of the like happening in the US. There were no horns and no foot stomping in indignant protest. There’s something to be said for the Italian attitude toward whatever comes. At any rate, there was no time for a rehearsal, so we went to dinner and then the venue. The kids had 30 minutes to warm up, as they were still setting up the stage when we finally arrived. The venue was lovely, but the stage much too small for a 40 piece wind symphony. Gus’ piano bench was so close to the edge of the stage, I worried about whether he might tumble off. The group rose to the occasion and delivered an amazing concert. A local music critic was there and pronounced the show, “one of the best things she’s ever heard” (loosely translated). We got back to the hotel around 12:30 am and promptly crashed. It’s off to Florence this morning for our next tours and concert. We are having a wonderful time. Happy 4th of July. Incidentally, the favorite piece of the night was “Stars and Stripes Forever” the Italian audience clapped along and gave us a rousing congratulations on our Independence Day. Lovely audience and people.

Veni Vidi Vici

y3BJMpHCQAWeoGPhHfxFmwAs promised, I’m posting regular accounts of our summer adventures abroad. Yesterday around noon Central Time, Gus and I set out on an almost 6-week stint in Italy and a bit of Switzerland. The travel part of Day 1/Day 2 was fairly unremarkable–the usual complete inability to sleep on a plane, especially when you are in the very last row (very jiggly), the galley behind you is lit up like a 5th Avenue window at Christmastime, and your neighbor’s flesh does not abide by the universally -recognized imaginary plane extending above the armrest, whose boundary is sacrosanct. We made it from DFW to Frankfurt just fine, if not a little bleary-eyed, stiff, and a little violated from being leaned on for 9 hours. The second leg of our trip took us from Frankfurt to Venice to start the tour with 40 Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra Wind Symphony members and their instruments. When we got to Frankfurt, I realized I didn’t have a boarding pass for Venice, and my baggage claim receipts only had Frankfurt as the destination. I rectified (or thought I did) the situation at the Lufthansa counter in Venice. He reassured me the bags would make the plane. I suspected otherwise.

Sure enough, the bags did not make it to Venice on our flight. Ours were the only ones out of the group of 40. The line at the lost luggage counter was quite long, and the caffeinated/sleep-deprived teenagers were restless. We sent them on the the charter busses to the hotel, and we’d get a cab when we were done. Watching airline-abused people wait in line to shout at people who had nothing to do with the missing-luggage status they were currently enjoying, was irritating on one hand and sad on the other. The behavior on display–rudeness, yelling, crowding around the windows separating the prey from the predator–was appalling. I started to realize why Americans are often characterized as entitled, boorish, and lacking a certain perspective. Bright note: turns out the main instigator of popluist missing-my-luggage mayhem was Canadian. A foul-mannered Canadian in the wild–very rare indeed!  We had the choice to have the luggage delivered to the hotel the next day or wait for the next plane, most likely carrying our luggage. We opted to wait, since they are playing a concert in Venice tomorrow, and he needs his tuxedo first thing. A 2-hour wait turned into 3 when that flight was delayed, but eventually, the belt started churning, and our bags came flying out of the chute. We took an expensive cab ride out to the burbs, but we are here, fed, and trying to keep our eyes open until 10pm. Having suffered much worse travel kerfuffles, we are undeterred for adventures aplenty. Tomorrow is a tour of Venice and then they perform a concert at a local venue.

Have Your Elf a Merry Little Christmas





December 15, 2018

RE: Suspicious Doings in the Milhizer Household:  investigation of a bunch of redacted stuff and other holiday-related nonsense.

On January 1, 2018, redacted name here contacted this Bureau’s Dallas Field Office citing suspicious circumstances related to the subjects in question. Based on the evidence provided, an 11-month surveillance of the subjects was conducted. As such, I tender the following observations related to their behaviors and recommend proceeding with a full investigation.

Eric, aka “White Lightning” is often found with a laptop studying graphs and 12-month forecasts under the auspices of “providing Texas with 100% clean energy at low cost with no contract, no hidden fees, and no hassles.” A bunch of other stuff here. Preposterous! This front of Pogo Energy is clearly a cover for the vast illicit syndicate bent on disrupting the power grid. It’s extremely effective, having achieved incredible growth in the first year of business. “White Lightning” is cunning, but slow, given his advanced age, having turned 50 in March. His main disguise consists of newly acquired reading glasses.

Barbara, aka “Schoolio” has infiltrated the school system, infecting the minds of juniors and seniors using poetry as propaganda, developing an extensive cell of Emily Dickinson devotees. She has been in this post for 5 years, having penetrated The College Board and compromised the AP Exam with uncharacteristically high results from her students by Something we can’t even mention here. We have intercepted an abundance of correspondence to colleges and universities across the country disguised as recommendation letters. Cryptographers are working around the clock to break them. Her tell is the continued use of the Oxford comma. She operates a base out of Northern Michigan in the summer. “Schoolio” and “White Lightning” have been in partnership for 23 years.

Gus, aka “Jazz Hands” is the leader of the high school cell. He graduates next spring and will undoubtedly continue his mission at the university of his choice. We have a TSA alert on him given his extensive tours of prospective syndicate sites across the country. Major targets include Harvard, Northwestern, Rice, Vanderbilt, and Columbia. He recently obtained a driver’s license under the alias redact this information He can often be found studying languages, watching foreign films, or practicing piano. This all points to an elaborate code the syndicate has developed for communication and transfer of information among members.

Nate, aka “ColombiaKing” is the muscle of the operation. He continues intense physical conditioning through tennis and golf lessons. We suspect sailing is a cover for learning to tie knots for potential use in torture and coercion. His preferred communication method is 80s guitar solos and tunes on the newly acquired Euphonium, which may also double as a torture tactic. His mission is to recruit unsuspecting 12-year-olds into the faction, particularly girls, it seems.

Service animals Sheba “FlufferNutters” and Otto “Spotted Wonder Dog” serve no appreciable purpose as far as we can discern.

We have a TSA watch on the suspects given their likely imminent expansion, having traveled domestically to Boston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Florida and Nashville in the past 11 months. They undoubtedly attempted to establish global channels through a trip to Italy last June and continue forays with an upcoming “vacation” to Spain over the holidays. More “college visits” are also planned through the Midwest in March. “Schoolio” and “JazzHands” will also be using the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra European “tour” as a front to cement ties in Italy this July.

These suspects should be treated with caution and should not be approached, so my cover is not compromised.

R. Mueller, code name RoMu, the elf. RM on a Shelf (1)

Attachments: Video Surveillance



Tweet Nothings

Dear Friends and Family,

Once again it’s time to reflect on the preceding year, which seems to have marched out of our lives with exceptional haste. We seem to out-do ourselves with the activity level every year. With that in mind, and since Twitter is the new government-sanctioned means of communicating vital information and policy, here’s the Milhizer year in review in bite-sized chunks. Enjoy.


That about says it. Twenty seventeen was full of adventures for all—new school for Nate, new job for Eric, piano competitions for Gus, new sport for Barbara and travels to Scotland, England, Boston, and Michigan for 7 weeks in the summer. Twenty eighteen promises to be equally as busy. Now that it has launched, hopefully Pogo Energy will continue to grow. Gus plays as a finalist in a concerto competition in January. We are traveling to the Northeast to visit college music programs over spring break, and we are looking to take a big family trip in June. We also hope to spend as many weeks in Northern Michigan this summer as we can. We wish you a wonderful holiday season and happy 2018.


The Milhizers

Obligatory Slide Show



Basket of Adorables

Dear President-elect Trump and patriotic, faithful readers of the Milhizer Christmas Letter 2016,

As time is running short and unconventional qualifications are trending, we would like to submit for your consideration our candidacy for the following cabinet posts based on our extensive experience and in-depth assumptions of the scope and responsibilities of each department.

Department of Labor:

Eric Milhizer has set a new record for the number of jobs held in 2016. In fact, his recurring re-employment is part of the reason new jobs created is at a record high! Having moved three times in the past 12 months, he has a comprehensive understanding of the labor market and especially the fickle nature of “turn-around” small companies who have, in fact, little interest in turning around. Eric’s range of experience is vast, as he his spending his “job intermission” doing quality woodworking projects and teaching himself Swift programming. #retooling!

His next confirmed role will be Driving Instructor for a local teen. Full disclosure, he was a member of the IBEW Local 538 in the summer of 1986 while re-wiring the Ford-Mazda plant in Flat Rock, Michigan; however, he has never been to China, nor has he ever knowingly employed under-age workers—mostly because he can’t get his under-age sons to do any work.

Department of Education:

Barbara Milhizer has been to private school, paid for private school, been to public school, and is in her third year of teaching in public high school. In that time, she has taught an extremely diverse student body – both AP and non-AP kids, those who drive Jeeps and those who drive Lexuses, and even one kid who actually liked The Scarlet Letter. She has tremendous experience in communicating with millennials through lectures delivered entirely via Snapchat and memes. She is adept at both teaching to the AP exam and ensuring that her juniors and seniors develop life skills, such as punctuating correctly, not nounifying words with the addition of –ment to any word, and developing a love for poetry, books, and life-long learning, while assuring their parents they will still go on to medical school. In her free-time, she grades papers, plans new lessons, and explores what additional banned books she can teach. #jobsatisfactionment

Department of Energy:

Gus Milhizer is uniquely qualified for this position, as he has more energy than has previously been measured in any individual, much less a teenager. Though having just started high school, Gus is excelling in his classes as part of the Carroll Medical Academy. He plays percussion in the band and piano in the jazz band. He auditioned for, and made, the Philharmonic for the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, where he spends Sundays playing percussion and piano. He was named Dancer of the Year in 2016 and performs hip hop and contemporary dances with his company, DV8. And although his social media has been hacked by his parents, results only yielded extensive searches on best movies, directors, and movie quotes. He will start learning how to drive this December, allowing him to be in 2 places at once in order to accommodate his schedule.

Secretary of State:  

Nate Milhizer is a natural candidate for Secretary of State, as he has vast international experience, having already logged international trips to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Canada in his short 10 years. Last March he presided over a diplomatic mission to his home country of Colombia, where he won hearts everywhere we went. He is a master negotiator and can extricate us from sticky diplomatic situations, having assured his teachers that he is “the master of getting out of things.” He can smooth over any international incidents with his natural charm, masterful magic tricks, and by playing the full Bon Jovi catalog on the guitar. Hobnobbing with the ambassador set will not be an issue, having spent his summers at sailing camp in Michigan and learning to play tennis and golf this fall.

If you are truly serious about Making America Great Again, the Milhizers are clearly the only reasonable choices to take on these positions, and we can save the taxpayers with a 4-for-1 relocation package! We’ll be waiting for the Tweet announcing our appointments…



Or, maybe we’ll just keep doing what we love, finding the joy in family and friends, reading great books, and embarking on new adventures. We’re excited for what awaits us in 2017 and wish you a year full of peace, health, joy, and love.

The Milhizers


We already paid for this promotional video; here it is (so we can write it off as campaign expenditure)


School Daze – Milhizer 2015

This year’s annual Christmas reckoning comes to you yearbook style. It was a year where Gus entered boldly into teenhood and Nate demonstrated some latent talents. My year of teaching high school English flew by, and Eric job-hopped to a great new position he’ll start right after the first of the year.

Looking back there were many accomplishments: I survived my first year of teaching and went back for a second. It’s pretty cool to spend my days talking about poetry and have someone say, “I never liked to read before” or “I love poetry!” I was honored to have been a small part of 150 kids’ lives. This year I’ve added an AP class, and I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m not sure they are, but they can address that in their own holiday letter.

Eric started a new job last August, and it served as a great learning experience leading to his new job as head of marketing for a web hosting company. He’s thrilled to be in a new industry and in a turnaround situation that is poised to do very well with a little marketing help. Eric is teaching himself Swift programming for an educational app he is developing. At the rate he’s going, it’s sure to be a hot holiday must-have come Christmas 2019.

Gus (8th grade) played his first public piano concert and wedding, spent another summer at Interlochen Arts Camp, and blew away the ACT as a 7th grader. He is still in the hip hop company and will test for his 2nd degree black belt after the holidays. He continues to be a respectful, happy-go-lucky kid, and we’re just waiting for the surly teenager to emerge.

Nate (3rd grade) started out the year with a broken big toe. Monopoly accident. Long story. Last spring, he decided to try baseball, and 2 seasons in is the lead pitcher and has several hits and runs to his credit. In his last game of the season, he pitched a no hitter. He traded in the piano for the guitar, and his only complaint is that playing the guitar makes him too popular and thus gives him “some issues with the ladies.”

As always, a major feature of our year was travel. We spent spring break in Costa Rica and took a summer trip to the northeast, hitting Boston, Maine, and Montreal. While Gus was at Interlochen, Nate and I spent a month in Northern Michigan, where we enjoyed all things cherry-enhanced.

The upcoming year promises to be as eventful. Spring break will take us to Colombia. It will be our first time back since adopting Nate. We’ll be in Northern Michigan again for a month this summer, and who knows where else in June. This year will bring Nate braces and Gus to high school. It will provide both Eric and myself career challenges and rewards (hopefully Eric’s will be more economically advantageous than mine, but mine make for awfully entertaining stories).

We wish you a happy, healthy 2016. Roll film…

-The Milhizers

Report Card: Milhizer 2014

This year’s assessment reflects our performance normalized against state success standards and improvement over 2013 benchmarks.

Business: A

Eric left T-Mobile in August to become head of marketing for Sage Telecom. In 4 months, he has already filed for a patent, created a new brand, and launched a new marketing strategy. Being in charge has its advantages, namely getting all of your ideas past the head of marketing.

English: A

On the same day Eric started his new job, I began teaching Junior English at Carroll Senior High School. I am combining my love of books with my creativity and bossiness. I love it, and it’s all worth it to hear a football player tell me he “loves poetry.” I even had a student paint my portrait as a project. He gave me eyebrows, so it was an automatic A.

Economics:  B-

While Eric’s job was a significant increase in responsibility and pay, suffice it to say, I went the other way. My job is enriching in other ways, none of which is salary, benefits, grading, administration, failure conferences, armed combatant training, or lesson planning. But it’s all worth it when the lightbulb goes on and students shout, “Wait, that’s irony,” and they’re mostly right.

Math: D

Last year I bought a new Christmas tree. The 8′ tree we had was overwhelmed by the 20′ ceilings. We finally hauled the new one out of its 3 boxes last weekend, and while a 12′ tree is appropriate in a 20′ room, it is not appropriate when your tallest family member is 5’9″.

Physical Education: B

Nate and Gus are bringing up the average here. Gus continues to compete in Tae Kwon Do tournaments, and he has joined a performance hip hop company in addition to his regular dance company schedule. Nate enjoys golf lessons, and spent 3 weeks in sailing camp on Crystal Lake in Michigan. He’ll be trying spring baseball this year.

I still teach yoga, but I’ve had to drop down to 1 class/week with my new schedule.

We also took a family ski trip to Breckenridge for spring break. Let’s just say I’m killing the family average here, though contributing significantly to the ongoing success of Advil.

Music: A+

Gus spent 3 weeks at a piano camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan this summer, and has already signed up for next year. The difference in his playing is remarkable. He plays piano for the middle school Jazz Band and percussion in the top concert band.

Nate continues his piano and guitar lessons, and has an impressive ability to play by ear. He was in 2 musical theater productions this year. His big frustration was having to prompt others with their lines. Amateurs.

Study Abroad: A+

This summer we were able to take a fantastic trip to Ireland, Scotland, and England with the boys and my mom. Everyone kept up with my punishing itinerary, and we were able to see quite a bit of countryside on both islands. The highlight was a visit to Castle Lachlan for the MacLachlan Clan Gathering near Inveraray.

Health: A

We’ve enjoyed another year of health and happiness. We’ve got no complaints, other than I have a hard time staying up past 9 pm.

Overall Score: Exceeds Expectations

We wish you all A+ holidays and a generous curve on 2015. Now for the filmstrip:


The Milhizers

Back to the Land: Catching Fire

photo 1-3I flew too close to the sun. I tried to run before I could walk. After consulting The Art of Manliness blog, I found I should be making foil packet meals. My mom used to make these foil meals for us even when we weren’t camping. My brother called them foul meals. Gourmet or not, I was not going to be defeated by hamburger.

Armed with several recipes, Nate and I headed off to the local family-run market. On the menu was lemon pepper chicken and hamburger patties with cream of mushroom soup, onions, potatoes, and carrots. Why 2 meals? I figured if I could get a fire going enough to cook one, I’d better strike while the iron was hot, quite literally. Also, it doubled my chances that at least one would be edible.

I decided the curious metal cylinder that I’d put aside yesterday as a grill accoutrement too advanced for my skill level could actually help me. I stacked wood in it vertically, and put kerosene soaked newspaper trails through the holes leading to its center. Like lighting the olympic fire, I placed the torch in the lighter fluid haze, and poof! Instant fire. I dumped the flaming wood out into the bowl of the grill and removed the cylinder.

As I let my fire mellow and settle in, I went to pre-soften my potatoes and carrots by boiling them.

I read that I should let the fire die down and put my packets directly on the glowing coals. Since again, I’m operating with wood, not charcoal, I curiously never got glowing coals. I got really hot ash, which I decided was just fine. Well, turns out that’s messy when you try to flip. Luckily I had triple-wrapped my packets, so we were safe from straight-lining carcinogens.

I decided to re-stoke the fire and put the packets on the grill instead, manliness be damned. I gave the hamburgers 30 minutes and the chicken an hour.

I checked them, and realized I never flipped the chicken. But both were cooked through, with one side exhibiting faint notes of char. I’m not sure if the foil pot roast burgers were good or not, but there is immense satisfaction in eating something you cooked over an open flame in the middle of nowhere with no help. Nate ate most of his, but he’ll eat anything and in large quantities.

I was giddy with success, and I still had both eyebrows. Nate grabbed the supplies, and I reinserted the cylinder to get my fire going again for s’mores. I still had a few small flames, but I thought I needed more. Well, I guess the cylinder works best as a starter, not a re-starter. I managed to set the wooden handle on fire. Why would the handle be wooden? Well, it’s not anymore.

Anyhow. Next we’ll try foil fish with dill and lemon. That whole adventure took about 3 hours from start to finish, not including the shopping. And I didn’t have to hunt or field dress any of it.

I’ll leave you with a couple of observations about living in a 750 square foot house

1. You can live in a lot less space than you think you can provided you have a lot of hooks.

2. You cannot lose your cell phone in 750 sq. feet because everything is literally within your field of vision at all times.

3. Temperature control is accomplished with either one small space heater on, or alternatively one window open.