Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmastime In This Small Town- Italy

I am often asked what it is like during the Christmas season in my small town called Chiusi. I have spent now a number of holidays here to know what the lineup of festivities are. During the whole month of December, the stores are open on Sundays as well as the other days of the week. The first Sunday in December is devoted to the town fair or "Fiera." The streets are closed to traffic and there are stands outside selling everything from clothing to shoes to food to animals. Every year I get my great wicker baskets at this Fair that I use for magazines, wood, toys, etc. A great bargain. Many people do all their Christmas shopping at the Fair just because the prices are so good.
The last week before Christmas is the most exciting, especially for children. In one of the smaller piazza's, there is a wooden shed named "Santa's House" that is decorated and has a small mail box in the front where children leave their Christmas letters for Santa. On the Sunday before Christmas Santa "drops down from the sky." He actually comes out of a window from a 5 story palazzo and slowly lets himself down a rope while he throws candy down at the children. This takes place in the town piazza and is usually a crowd pleaser. During the week before Christmas there is also the horse and carriage where children or adults can take rides around town.
There may not be the hustle or bustle of Rome, Milan, New York, or London but there is something really comfy and quaint about Christmastime in Chiusi.

How and Why Do Italian Women Pamper Themselves?

After living in Italy for several years, I have discovered some interesting facts about Italian women. I can speak only of the smaller towns where I have resided. Women here have a fast paced lifestyle but not because they have to rush to get to work but because they have to rush to get home! Since the whole family returns home for lunch, it is the responsiblity of the woman usually (mother,wife, grandmother) to have everything ready for a sit down lunch. Since most supermarkets, bakeries, butcher shops, fish markets close at 1pm these means the person responsible for making lunch has to run to get shopping done and then rush home to prepare it.

The whole affair includes shopping, cooking, setting the table, cleaning up afterward on a daily basis. I see women running around like mad people trying to get everything done for their loved ones. It is quite stressful. It is the responsiblity also of this person to do the banking, go to the post office, take care of the bureaucratic papers at the town hall, do the paying of bills. This person also has to wait in long lines at the doctor's office, other long lines to get prescriptions for drugs and medical tests. Usually a family has one person who either works or does not work that is given the task of getting all these things done. Sometimes it is a retired grandmother. Sometimes it is a mother who works part time. Sometimes it is the mother who works full time.

So what happens? Inevitably the women are stressed and they need pampering.
The most common way Italian women pamper themselves is by going to the hair salon. The hair salon in Italy is a phenomenon. I could never understand why an Italian woman would go to the hair salon on a weekly basis in some cases but usually every other week. Now I understand. Women here need pampering and it is very common to go to the hair salon to get some pampering by way of a hair trim, hair set, color, etc. It is their way to get away! There is no excuse necessary to go to the hair salon frequently. It is something expected. Sometimes going to the hair salon means spending hours there waiting for your turn which means hours away from all the running around and stresses. What better way to pamper yourself?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bilingual Children At Home - In Italy

Raising bilingual children at home is a learning process for both the parents and the children. My native language is English and I am almost completely fluent in Italian while my husband's native language is Italian and he is not fluent in English. Since we live in Italy and since our common language (between my husband and I) has always been Italian, we have continued to speak Italian to eachother in the home. This I believe has been a negative influence on our children.

I have always tried to speak only English with our children but I find myself more and more speaking Italian to them just because it is becoming more and more natural for me. I really have to stop myself, think and then start over in English. My eldest child who spoke consistently in English with me is now speaking more and more only Italian. This may also have to do with the fact that he is in preschool and speaks Italian with everyone but me. So after doing some research and talking to my husband, we decided that we will try to bring back the English language in our household so that at home we will speak English with eachother, no matter how strange it might feel. It would be the best not only for our children, but also for my husband who has never taken a formal English language class in his life!

The other thing that happened to us regarding our bilingual children, is that my eldest son after returning from a three month vacation in the United States, began to stutter quite profusely. It seemed like the words just could not come out. After speaking with the kind and helpful people at the Stuttering Foundation and reading their literature (www.stutteringhelp.org), we realized that it is a very normal occurence with bilingual children that may come and go, but that will pass in many instances. After a month of stuttering, he is now speaking normally...but in Italian mostly.

There is a lot of literature available about dealing with bilingual children at home but the best advice I found on www.italiakids.com "Raising Bilingual Children: The Most Successful Methods" by Christina Bosemark or visit www.MultilingualChildren.org. These are both very helpful sites for raising bilingual children. I will let you know how we do! Buona fortuna.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Postal Service in Italy

Have you ever had to deal with Italian postal service? Have you ever had your mail or packages lost and had no idea how to retrieve them? Are you unsure of what you can or cannot send to and from Italy? All these questions come back to haunt us during the holiday season.

I try to avoid as much as possible the Italian post office. I only go there occasionally to pay bills and then we keep our distance from eachother. However now and then I do not have a choice if I want to send packages to my family back home in the United States. I only discovered yesterday, to my delight, that it is much simpler and cheaper to send things by priority mail in big padded envelopes than to send the same things in a package. I can send up to one kilo of articles in a big padded envelope from Italy to the United States and it costs a little over 8 euros (about $11). You can send pretty much anything that is legal like foods, clothing, books. Whereas if you send a package the same weight costs about 40 euros ($56) and there is a long list of items you cannot send.

Receiving packages in Italy is always a mystery until you actually hold the package in your hand. I have had such bad experiences with this scenario. Several years ago, my family had sent me prenatal vitamins for my pregnancy that were stopped in customs for 3 months because they were unsure if they were pharmaceuticals. (You cannot send pharmaceuticals.) After my obgyn wrote and signed a declaration saying they were vitamins and after I paid an additional 130 euros to get them out of customs, I received them. If you don't do these two requirements, they destroy the package or send them back to the sender for a fee. Suffice to say I received the vitamins days prior to my going to the USA to deliver the baby!

Last year was the last straw. My good intentioned family sent Christmas gifts to my boys and to us that we never received. We are convinced there is some family in Italy where the son is wearing a toddler tshirt reading "Obama for President" and the mother is wearing a nice new designer purse.

I have also received birthday cards that are torn and open, with missing money or checks. We now unfortunately or not do not do much gift exchanging by mail. We have pretty much resolved the problem by sending eachother flowers. Long live internet and credit cards!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tips on How to Purchase Italian Womens' Dress Shoes







Here are some insider tips on how to purchase Italian womens' dress shoes. There is a multitude of different makers of Italian dress shoes available in every department store, specialty boutique, outlet, online retailer, etc. However sometimes many of these shoes lack quality and are over priced. What should you look for before pulling out your wallet??
The three most important attributes when buying Italian dress shoes are :
-quality
-fit/comfort
-price
1.Quality- this is probably the most important factor when purchasing dress shoes. If the dress shoe is high quality, there is a good chance you will be able to wear it for years to come. Quality means that accessories or anything applied to the shoe does not come off. It also means that the shoe is not made of synthetic material but of high quality leather or high quality fabric. Look for the symbol showing that the entire shoe is made of leather and not just the tip, bottom, etc. If have your doubts, use your nose. Leather smells like leather and plastic smells like plastic. Ask the salesperson for further information. The shoe should be strong and not have any weak points. The heel should not be wobbly. The trim, lining, sole and seams should be exact without any visible creases. You should never see glue,spots or stains. Every detail should be precise. You should always look for the symbol "made in Italy." Many shoes nowadays have an Italian name, Italian packaging but are NOT made in Italy.
2.Fit/comfort- If the shoe is not comfortable, you will end up not wearing it. Although you will accessorize your closet, you will not be utilizing the shoe. Most of the time if the shoe is a quality shoe as stated above, it will be comfortable and wearable. Don't ever buy a shoe that is too big or too small. Don't ever believe a salesperson that says "oh the shoes will stretch" or "you will grow into them." Also don't buy a shoe knowing you will have to put another sole into it to get it to fit. These tactics seldom work.
3.Price- You should never pay more than what the shoe is worth. How do you know what it is worth? If it is a high quality shoe, you can use the prices of designer shoes as a gauge. If the shoe is high quality, comfortable, Italian and not designer, then its price should not be as high as the designer shoe. A shoe that is not made in Italy should never be priced as an Italian shoe. A shoe that is not all leather should never be priced as an all leather shoe.
I hope you keep in mind these tips before buying those beautiful Italian dress shoes.
Fotographs courtesy of Gerardine shoes (www.gerardine.it)


Monday, December 15, 2008

What Makes An Expat Want to Remain in Italy?

I am not sure what percentage of people who move to Italy, actually remain in the "bel paese." I always suggest to those wanting to move to Italy, to try living in Italy temporarily, before quitting their job or selling their house in their home country. Why? For the simple reason that vacationing in Italy is much different than actually living in Italy. When you are on vacation, you don't have to deal with the majority of things you have to face on a daily basis when living in Italy. I assume this is the case for any country you move to. Vacation is bliss no matter where you go.


I thought deep and hard about what makes an expat want to remain in Italy and I believe it comes down to this:


1.one remains when expectations are met or are surpassed and/or
2.one remains when discovers new positive features in the country he/she moved to


I am sure there a zillions of more reasons people remain but the two that stand out are these.


For instance I was thinking of how lucky I am in my little town to be able to always park pretty much anywhere I want. Even if I am illegally parked in front of the bakery, the street police or vigile know I am getting my ciabatta for the day and will quickly move my car. Or when I illegally park because it is raining and I have to get as close to the school entrance as possible, otherwise my little angel will get wet. It seems the street police have unwritten rules of what we can do and not do under certain circumstances. Well all these are new positive features of Italy that I discovered while living here. Now I don't know if I can handle a normal parking situation in my home country where I do have to abide by the law...all the time.


Also you get spoiled when you live in Italy and certain extras become necessities like espresso coffee at the bar, fresh bread at the bakery, afternoon nap if possible, sleepy Sundays with great lunches, views of rolling hills and olive groves.


So it is difficult to say what exactly makes an expat want to remain in Italy but it has something to do with the positives outweighting the negatives at least for the time being!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Country Living In Tuscany On This Cold Sunday

A typical Tuscan Sunday for us in the Winter is spending the most part of the day home with the fire burning and some cozy blankets munching on "panettone" or "pandoro" (Christmas cake) and some hot tea.

We went out only this morning to go to Sunday Mass and then make a quick run to the grocery store to buy the much needed bread for our "bruschetta". Returning home, we noticed our neighbor Anita had many cars parked in her front yard and one of her pigs was missing. This scenario is always equivalent to one thing...they slaughter one of their pigs for their big Christmas meal and then divide it amongst close family and friends. I have learned not to become buddies with her "pets." In the following days, Anita will surely come by our house with some remnants of Mr.Pig.

For lunch, this Sunday my husband and I decided to stay with Italian tradition and cook our meat and bruschetta in our fireplace. After a great lunch of spaghetti sauteed in a cherry tomato and garlic sauce, bbq steak, cauliflower and bruschetta. We washed it all done with "il vino del contadino," (the farmer's wine) and then celebrated pre Christmas style with "Pandoro" or Christmas cake.

Buona Domenica. Happy Sunday

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to Save Money on Gifts This Christmas

There are a few simple strategies to help you save money on gifts this Christmas. We all know Christmas is not about giving and receiving gifts and with consumers facing a financial crunch right now, these would be even more reason to end the gift exchange. But we know this is not going to happen and it is not realistic to think we will stop exchanging gifts. So here are some great tips to help you save money on gifts this holiday season.

1. Make a list of people and the gifts you want to buy them. Check it twice and then again and again until you have fine tuned it. Is it really necessary to give a gift to the man behind the counter at the gas station? You should be giving gifts to the people you know, like, feel strong about. Bring your list with you when you shop and stick with it. On the list you should have name, gift and budget for gift for each person. You should have a total budget of how much you will spend on gifts this Christmas and stick with it! You don't want to receive your credit card bill after the holidays and wonder how in the world it got out of whack!

2. Do not start your Christmas shopping early. Why? The earlier you shop the more you are going to spend. Don't worry, stores will NOT run out of gifts this year, or any year at that. Don't be harassed by the "only 2 more weeks until Christmas" ads you see and hear. You should say to yourself "yes and I have not spent a dime yet!" When is the best time to shop? Ten days early is more than enough time to start shopping.

3. What you should do before pulling out your wallets is research prices and retail establishments or online stores. You need to comparison shop online before actually buying anything. There are some superb websites to do this. Check out for instance www.pricegrabber.com and www.dealtime.com for best prices, stores and consumer reviews.

4.What to buy? Don't buy items that are frivolous. Buy items that people can use. If your son needs a new backpack for school. Buy it. Wrap it. Put it under the tree. You are teaching him about gift giving and about not wasting money. Does he really need his fourth green Ben 10 watch that he will play with for 2 days and then toss aside? Great gifts can also be foods, wine, useful household appliances or accessories. A gift does not have to be expensive to be a good gift. Think useful and non frivolous. In fact, it may not be the warmest gift but for close family, the gift of money is always appreciated. And if you really want to stay in the spirit of Christmas why not make a donation to a charity of choice in a friend or family member's name? That would be a great gift this Christmas.

Happy shopping and happy gift giving!

Womens' Italian Dress Shoes- Looking Good


There is no comparison. Womens' Italian dress shoes are far more superior to any other footwear. Not only have I been studying the Italian women's style of dress for the past ten years, but I live within the Italian footwear industry. My husband and his family have been making Italian womens' footwear for the past 35 years in Italy. Through them, I have been continuously exposed to everything that goes into making this fabulous product. There is an attention to every detail within every phase of production. The outcome of this work is obvious when you pick up an Italian made shoe and wear it. But even the best Italian shoe will not look good if you don't know how to wear it.

How do you look good wearing womens' Italian dress shoes? You have to know which shoe looks good with your style, body, clothing. Even if the shoe is beautiful, it will not come across if it does not match everything else. Matching does not mean just getting the color of the shoe to match the clothing. For instance you should not wear a knee high boot with a dress slack that has a flair leg. It just does not look good. Here are some tips for matching shoes with clothing:

Weather permitting, the pump shoe can pretty much be worn with everything. It can be worn with dresses, skirts, dress slacks and jeans. Nude color pantyhose or no foot covering is best.
Ankle boots are very much in style this season and can be worn with slacks and jeans. It is very trendy right now to also wear them with skirts and leggings, making sure to wear them with winter tights.
Knee high boots should be worn with jeans (tucked in), skirts, and dresses.

The color and style of the footwear should match the outfit. For instance, you don't want to wear western boots with a cocktail dress or business suit. You also don't want to wear black motorcycle boots with a tan camel hair coat.

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when getting dressed this winter. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Makes Someone Want to Relocate??

There have to be some really good reasons to make people pick up and leave their homes to move to another country. Most times people are moving somewhere where they do not speak the language, do not know anyone, are not employed, nor have a place to live. Yet they still decide to quit their job, leave or sell their home and move to another country. Sometimes it is a matter of following a dream or a desire to just get away.
For many Italian Americans like me, a compelling reason is that we feel very Italian and we move to Italy to see if we can be happy in Italy, our country of origin or origin of our parents or grandparents and so forth.
For many, Italy is viewed as that "bel paese" where the people are smiling all day long, everything moves at a snail's pace in a relaxed atmosphere, great food, wine and espresso are abundantly available everywhere and everyone dresses well! Although these definitely attract the foreigner, I just don't think they are what makes people move here.
Whether it be because you fell in love with someone who lives here, a job took you to Italy, or you really are following a dream, the reasons can be many. I guess the next question would be what makes someone want to stay in Italy??

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Research Before Moving to Italy

After ten years of living in the "bel paese", I think I can safely pass on some suggestions to those considering moving to Italy. The single most important advice is to do a lot of research before relocating to Italy.

You should have a job before moving or at least some strong job leads. Know which city or cities would best suit your needs and personality. Obviously if you want to work for a large corporation, you should not move to a small town in the middle of nowhere. You should spend some time in the city or town you want to move to before you actually move there. You may realize that that city is not what you had in mind or does not offer you what you were looking for. While in that town, talk to as many people as possible asking as many questions that come to mind about living there. Talk to both locals and foreigners living there.

A huge consideration of course is if you will be moving by yourself or with your family. What consequences are there for your companion and/or children? What are the schools like? Will your companion be able to find work if looking? What is the health care like? What are monthly expenses?

Nowadays through the internet you can get a plethora of information from people who have a lot of hands on experience, have been there. The forums are a great place for information. Three great forums are within www.italymag.co.uk, www.slowtrav.com and www.lifeinitaly.com. I wish I had access to these before I moved to Italy! You will find people more than willing to answer your questions.

What I would have done differently? Ten years ago I brought all my hardware (fax,computer, printer) and then spent the following year dealing with transformers, electrical outages, etc. Buy your hardware in Italy. Nowadays the costs are similar and the products too. Plus who uses faxes anymore??! I would have done more research talking to people who had already lived in Italy for years learning the upside and the downside. I was so excited about moving here. I did not want to hear anything negative about it. But it was a tough few years full of disappointments and a lot of loneliness too. I had had high expectations and when they did not pan out, was ready to pack and leave. So do your research and be realistic of how it will be utilizing all the information you have and gather. Let me know if you have any specific questions regarding your wanting to move!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Easy Italian Bruschetta Recipe-The Real Thing


One of the absolute best Italian foods is "bruschetta" or toasted sliced bread topped with olive oil and chopped tomatoes. Here is an easy Italian bruschetta recipe, which I call the real thing. This is how real Italian bruschetta is made:

Easy Italian Bruschetta Recipe
Day old bread (ciabatta,french bread,any wood oven baked bread)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Garlic (optional)
Chopped ripe tomatoes (optional)


First the day old bread should be sliced not too thin nor not too wide. The slices should be about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch wide. (The bread should not be fresh as it toasts better with one day to two days old bread).

Oven toasting
If you are using an oven, you should preheat it to 400 degrees F. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and bake until top is brownish in color. You should flip them to get them toasted on both sides. Depends on oven, but usually takes no more than 5 minutes total.

Toaster toasting, Frying pan, Barbeque
You can also toast slices in your toaster and keep an eye on them until they are golden brown. You can also place slices in a frying pan or on the barbeque (do not butter or oil pan) and then flip them when they are brownish in color.

In the wood burning fireplace- Best method
Place the slices on your grill and flip them when golden brown.

Take slices out of oven, toaster,fireplace,etc. You are ready for the topping.

Sprinkle salt on slices. At this point garlic is an option. (I personally do not like it). Take a fresh clove and run it across the slice. *

Next pour carefully only the best quality extra virgin olive oil on the slices. The bread should not become soggy with oil. Only enough oil so that the entire slice has oil on it.

You are ready to serve your bruschetta.

-------------------------------

*Tomato topping option
If you decide you want to top with tomatoes. Prepare sliced ripe tomatoes separately in a small bowl, add enough olive oil to help mix tomatoes, add pinch of salt. Add the topping before adding the olive oil.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How Italian Women Dress- Tips for Getting a Better Fit

You know there is something wrong with women who have perfect bodies and great clothes, yet they just don't look good, classy, pulled together. Why is that??
The better question is so if "those" women don't look pulled together, how can the rest of us, who don't have perfect bodies or designer clothes, look good?

It is not a matter of spending more on clothes. It IS a matter of getting those clothes to FIT you. Italian women are aware of this. You hardly ever see for instance an Italian woman with slacks that are too long and drag on the floor. An Italian woman will make sure that her slacks fit her body perfectly, are hemmed just right, have a cuff if appropriate or not. An Italian woman will make sure her sleeves are just the right length under her suit jacket.

It is not an easy task to get every fit right for your slacks, shirt, skirts, jackets, etc. But once you get the hang of it, you will slowly learn how it works and how your clothes should fit. Some people spend a lot of money on a stylist and pesonal shopper to make sure their clothes fit just right. Not all of us can afford these luxuries. Most Italian women do not have these. All you need to do is learn a few easy tips that will help you get the fit right.

1.Never buy clothes that are visibly too small or too large. No matter how great your tailor is, he/she will have great difficulty getting the clothes to look perfect on you.

2.Shirts- Do buy fitted shirts that caress the body and are never too tight. It is classy to wear long sleeves with a suit jacket. The shirt sleeves at the wrist should be visible underneath the jacket. There should be at least one inch of the sleeve showing. Always tuck in the shirt for a more professional look. The shoulders of the shirt should fit and not slouch.

3.Jackets-I like fitted jackets because they just look more pulled together. Stay away from jackets that are sloppy looking. Again, the shoulders should not slouch but fit perfectly around the shoulder. Sleeves should not be too long nor too short. The right length (standing up and with arms rested to side) is over the wrist but never past the thumb joint.

4.Slacks-No low risers here please. Slacks should glide on the body and not be skin tight. The seat should not be baggy. There should not be any visible "breaks" or creases in the pant legs. The hem should not drag on the floor but not be too short that your socks are showing.

5.Skirts-Again skirts should not be skin tight nor baggy. The hem should be below the knee for a more professional look.

These are quick easy tips that Italian women live by. You should use them when you are shopping for new clothes or when you need to get your clothes fitted.

Remember you don't need to have a perfect body, designer clothes, a stylist, nor a personal shopper to look good. The key is the fit.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Italian Evil Eye Curse

What is the Italian evil eye curse? It is a superstition passed on generation to generation by Italians based on the premise that a person has put a curse on you. The curse is a result of the culprit's envy or jealousy towards you sending bad wishes your way. It is much more prevalent with Italian Americans in the USA or abroad then in Italy. It is more common in southern Italy among the older population. In fact it is a practice to give newborn children tiny, mini gold horns to be worn or pinned on their stroller. This will keep away any bad wishes or evil eyes.

Apparently the only way to prevent this Itlaian evil eye curse is to wear the Italian horn or to make the horn signal with your hand. How do you know if you have been cursed? There is no real way with the exception of being hit with perceived continuous bad luck.

Why does this superstition exist in a Catholic country like Italy? I am not sure but know that like this superstition, there are many many more in Italy.

The question is why would you hang around a person who you know would give you the evil eye curse, is envious or jealous of you?? Who are these evil monsters that would send bad wishes to a newborn child?? It truly baffles me!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ready to Wear Italian Fashion

Ready to wear Italian fashion signifies "off the rack" clothes that are made in Italy. In these past ten years of really studying what gives the Italian woman the edge on looking good, most of it comes down to the fact that ready to wear Italian fashion is simply better fitting and higher quality than the competition.

It is easier to look good when you have the advantage of clothing that needs few to no fittings. You can pretty much buy something off the rack and wear it the same day without even getting it fitted to match the curves of your body. Even if the clothing is mass produced in factories, the Italians just know what they are doing when it comes to clothing and fit. Slacks, sweaters, suits, and shirts glide on the body as if they were made for your body. I am talking about high quality clothing made in natural fibers and not the synthetic fabrics. I am talking not only about designer clothing but also clothing made by the smaller less known companies.

How do you find this ready to wear Italian fashion? Since this ready to wear is more expensive than its competitors, you can find it in the best department stores and boutiques. Don't be fooled. Even if you are in the best stores, you need to check labels. I do. I look and see if it is Made in Italy AND if it is a natural fiber. I will not pay top dollar for polyester, acrylic or anything similar. It must be wool, gabardine, cotton, silk,etc. And if it is not, I do not buy it.The natural fibers, if treated well, will last a very long time.
Good luck and happy shopping.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Find a Happy Place - in Italy

First of all I apologize for being absent for a few days but I have been having some problems with the internet and I will leave it at that. I have been thinking of all of my readers out there, whoever you are and this post is for you!

It has taken me awhile to find my happy place in Italy and I guess I just about stumbled upon it only recently realizing that it is my happy place. I will explain.
There is a particular road that descends, twisting and turning from near my home all the way down to the lake of Chiusi. It may be nothing special to someone else, but to me it has become my happy place. I drive down that road to think, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I want to be alone, when I want to relax, when I want to hide, when I want to rejoice. It is my happy place. Let me describe it to you:

It is an asfalted road. Right now it is aligned with trees that are still not completely bare. Leaves of orange, red, yellow and every tonality of these adorn these trees. There are as many leaves on the side of the road as on the trees. There are some homes here and there and some also somewhat hidden. Most of these homes are farmhouses, both restored and not restored.

The soft hills you can see from the road are full of olive groves and fruit trees. Sometimes there will be a farmer working the land. This road hardly ever has any cars but maybe a tractor once in awhile. Going further down the descent on the right side are some Etruscan tombs that are almost always closed so there are no tourists even around. There is one small turnaround with a wooden fence that I know well. It is where me and my husband go when we fight and when we want to talk.

At the end of the descent is the house of our gardner. I know it quite well as I study his beautiful landscaping and then quickly call him to ask if I too can get that flower or tree. Fabio will always respond "ok ok but not now since this is the busy time of year" or "ok ok but not now since it is not the time to plant." My pleas though will always get him to my home!

This happy place has become my happy place for two fabulous reasons. I used to walk it accompanied by my parents visiting from the USA when I was pregnant with my first child. Beautiful memories. Now I drive it to put my second child to sleep. It works like a charm. He must know it is mommy's happy place. As soon as we finish the descent, see Fabio's (the gardner's) house, my son is fast asleep like an angel.

Oh I won't tell you the name of this road as it is MY happy place. You are just going to have to find your own!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to Dress Italian and Look Good - Part II

In my first article "How to Dress Italian and Look Good" I wrote about what gives the Italian woman the edge on class, elegance and style. While the formula for looking good includes copying and then personalizing it, a crucial factor is being body conscious. An Italian woman for instance is very much in tune with her body weight, shape and height. She will follow fashion trends but not at the expense of looking worse.

Let's face it. The majority of us are not super models or athletes. We do not have never ending legs or perfect breasts. We cannot and should not wear everything we see in the magazines. You need to fine tune what you see and then personalize it depending on your body type.

Dress pants for large hips:
If you have large hips, wearing skin tight pants will NOT make you look thinner. Instead dress pants that flow, are not bell bottom and are not skinny look best for the woman who has large hips or large legs. The best colors are dark colors just because they do make you look slender. Dark blue, charcoal, black, dark emerald, dark red for example work really well.

Italian women understand and work with their bodies. They will not sacrifice how they look just for the latest trend. They will not wear for instance the "pant collant" or fuseux which is in style now if their bodies do not permit it. It is just not classy.

Dress pant length:
I wrote a little about how clothes should fit in "How to Dress Italian and Look Good"
but I need to stress that dress pants should not be too long nor too short. You need to get them fitted according to the shoes you will wear with them. Bring the shoes with you to the tailor when you go. The hem should be such that it just glides and barely touches the shoe in the front. When standing up, you should never see your socks or hose. If you do see them, they are too short. The hem in the back should never touch the floor. There should never be a break (visible lines) in the pant leg.If there is, they are too long.

Skirts:
Italian women do not wear mini skirts or full skirts if they have large hips and legs. Doing so just makes them look larger. So pleated skirts are out. Instead these women will wear fitted skirts (not skin tight) or A line skirts (if in style) which have give a slendering look. The hem of the skirt can be just below or just above the knee. A this time, very long straight or flowing skirts are not in style. In any event, long flowing skirts are not attractive for larger women.

Jackets and Shirts:
Here the word is fitted. Italian women do not wear non fitted jackets nor shirts because they just look lousy. They make you look like you don't care. A jacket or shirt that is not fitted means that it lies large like a sac over you and does not glide on your curves. Even if you are large, fitted looks better. You don't necessarily have to go to a tailor to get it fitted. You can buy it already fitted. The tailor will just make it look better. Look for shirts that have elastic (on label) in them which will help it cling to your body. It should not be skin tight.

Shoes for larger women and / or short women:
I have studied the Italian women for years and although they love shoes and will follow every new shoe trend, they will not sacrifice what they look like for a fleeting trend. Mocassin shoes or flat shoes just don't look good on larger women or women who are not tall because they seem to accentuate your weight and your height, making you look larger and shorter. You may be able to get away with it if you are large and tall. On the most part larger women just look better with at least a little heel. The heel gives the perception of lengthening the leg and that is never a bad thing! If you just hate wearing heels, consider wedge heels that give you the height without sacrificing too much comfort. Nowadays both winter shoes and summer shoes are available with wedges. Some wedges are even invisible to the eye but implanted into the shoe.

Boots are a must for the winter for every woman. Italian women own at least one pair of black boots and if possible brown boots that they interchange according to the color of their clothes. Again these boots should have at least a little heel or a wedge. Boots can be worn with pants, skirts or dresses.

These are just a few of the important facts I have learned while studying the Italian woman and how they dress according to their body type, never sacrificing how they look for style.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Genuine Italian Pizza Dough- Recipe

The secret to a good pizza is making genuine Italian pizza dough. Can this only be learned through years of experience? Absolutely not. All you need is the right formula, the correct ingredients, and a good working oven. Unfortunately an Italian cook would never tell you that as it is a rare thing of an Italian to pass on a good, easy recipe. Well here is a real recipe on making genuine Italian pizza dough from an Italian...me!

You can literally make the dough in five minutes time.
Here are the ingredients:

Lucia's Genuine Italian Pizza Dough and Pizza

Dough
3 full cups of flour (type 0)
1 cube of fresh yeast
luke warm water (1 cup approx)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Dash of salt

Topping
tomato sauce or peeled tomatoes (1 can)
olive oil
dash of salt
dry mozzarella

Preheat oven at 400 degrees.

Makes approx 2 medium size pizzas.

Heat 1 cup of water with the fresh yeast. It should be only luke warm and not hot. Use a fork to break up the yeast as best as possible in the water.

Take a mixing bowl and add flour, make a hole in the middle where you will then add the water and yeast mixture slowly, working the flour first with a fork and then slowly with your hands. The mixture should be sticky and not dry. If it is dry, add more lukewarm water. If it is too liquidy, add more flour. The consistency is key. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to help knead the dough. Leave it in a ball in the same mixing bowl and cover with a clean dry kithen towel.

Let rise at least 1 hour, but two hours is best.

After dough has risen rework it kneading it and put some olive oil on your hands to work it.

Butter the pizza pan and then drizzle flour on it. You can now shape the dough on the pan. Use a bit of olive oil to help you shape it, making sure it does not tear. The dough should be thin but not so much as to tear.

Next place tomato mixture (tomato, olive oil, salt) on the dough evenly.
Lastly, evenly scatter grated mozzarella cheese over pizza

Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Raise bottom of pizza to make sure is not white.

Traditional Foods of Italy

People always ask me what are traditional foods of Italy. There are regional differences in what Italians eat but having lived and visited various parts of Italy, I can say that there are staples and ingredients that have become known as the traditional foods of Italy.
Throughout the peninsula of Italy you will find that Italians eat pasta in all shapes and sizes. Pasta is either homemade "fatto a mano" or machine made and is either with or without eggs. Everyone has their favorite manufacturer of pasta and they range in quality and also in price. Pasta is a staple and often eaten everyday at least once a day.
Other traditional foods of Italy include tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic. Tomatoes are both used as an important ingredient or eaten alone. Tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, ripe tomatoes, tomatoes for salads. There are a multitude of different types and uses. This is an essential vegetable in the Italian diet. Olive oil is also very important and is used at every meal both to cook with and to dress your favorite dish. One should not forget that garlic should always be present in every kitchen. Put the three together with the other essential staple, bread, and you have got a great "bruschetta".
In the bread category, pizza is up there on the list of traditional foods of Italy. Pizza originated in Naples and is eaten all over Italy with great enthusiasm. Again we have all types of pizza: "la margherita " cheese and tomato sauce, "caprese" white pizza with cherry tomatoes, "quattro stagione" pizza with four different toppings and so forth.
The lunch meats and cheeses are very important traditional foods of Italy and include prosciutto, salami, coppa, mortadella, etc. Finally the cheeses are made up of mozzarella, pecorino, and parmigiano to name only a few.
These are the staples that are never lacking in an Italian household. Of course Italians love meat, fish and vegetables but they are secondary to the aformentioned. No wonder they call them "i secondi" seconds and "i contorni" side dishes!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Italy Customs, Traditions, Lifestyle

Italy customs, traditions, and lifestyle are rather complex but if someone were to ask me to summarize them, I would say that these factors are based on pride, image, food, resilience and humor.

Pride is an attribute that lingers in Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle. Italians are proud of who they are. It is a boastful population but not in the negative sense but rather in a constructive way. They will boast about everything from their political party and why it is the best to why their olive oil is better than the neighbors'. They are proud of themselves but not necessarily of what they do. It is rare that you hear an Italian say that his profession is better than the other's. They are proud of their possessions which takes me to the next attribute.

Image and working on your image is probably one of the most visible traits of the Italian which is seen within Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle. It is no wonder that Italian design is considered the best for clothing, footwear, handbags, automobiles,etc. It is commonplace that you dress to be seen. You drive that car to be seen. This is how it has always been in Italy. The famous "passeggiata per il corso" or stroll along the main town street is what allows the Italian to be seen. Image is everything.

Alongside these traits is their food. Food is at the center of everything and Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle revolve around food. Doctor appointments, important company meetings, conferences revolve around food. You just do not make appointments anywhere near the time of a meal. You just do not. On the most part in Italy everything shuts down during that all important time of day...meal time. And just before meal time, there is a fervor of traffic and movement....to get to that meal. Oh and do not ever dare say "it's just food" which equates to saying something derogatory about a loved one!

There is no population more resilient than the Italian one. This is another trait that runs throughout Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle. A population that on the most part has to depend on itself without the help of a successful social or political structure. These are people who really know how to survive even with the meekest economy, year after year. These are people who get by. They will do what they have to do to make things work.

The last trait that runs rampant in Italy customs, traditions, and lifestyle is humor. Italians really know how to look at life, be positive, let things roll off their shoulder. Italy is not a place for panic, stress, anxiety or "having to get there on time". You get there when you get there. Italians have a way of using humor to alleviate problems. Italian humor is special, low key and not sarcastic. Often times they are laughing at themselves!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Italy, Celebrating Christmas

In Italy, celebrating Christmas has many meanings. No matter where you are in Italy, celebrating Christmas equates to being with the family, going to mass, exchanging gifts, seeing friends, eating and drinking.... a lot.

The backdrop is always the same in every household on Christmas day. The fireplace and Christmas tree are lit. There are opened gifts scattered all around. There is every type of food and drink available in all corners of the house. It is a lazy day that begins with opening gifts and eating a traditional Christmas "dolce" like torrone or panettone. Then you get very dressed up and go to mass at the local Church(if you don't go to midnight mass) and then stick around after mass to see and talk to all your friends.

In Italy, celebrating Christmas revolves around the meal. Some families have their Christmas meal in the afternoon as a lunch while others have their meal late in the evening as a dinner. One thing is for sure that there will be every type of food, drink, sweet imaginable. Often times huge big baskets of food are exchanged as gifts and these end up on the Christmas table....prosciutto, coppa, salami, pecorino fresco (fresh), pecorino stagionato (aged), etc etc.

After lunch or dinner comes dessert with the panettone in all its varieties ...chocolate, fruit, glazed, not glazed, with nuts, without nuts, vanilla flavor, lemon flavor, etc.

After the meal and dessert comes coffee and then the digestivo (digestive) which is usually grappa or limoncello. For those with weaker stomachs, chamomile tea is usually suitable!

To top off things in Italy, celebrating Christmas means a game at cards called tombola which is the typical Christmas game. Not sure why but it is only played this time of year.

Lastly, one hopes that celebrating Christmas means something special to Italians and that when everything is said and done and eaten, this holiday means being thankful and observant of their religion and Savior. Buon Natale.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Italy Naples Attractions

A positive outcome of the mess caused by the trash emergency is what has been called a rebirth of Naples Italy and the new and old attractions of this city. Naples has its problems, no doubt, but there are few cities in the world that have the incredible charm of Naples and its people.

Some of Naples attractions that you should not miss include:
- the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina which has been open for three years and is the result of the restoration of Palazzo Regina on Via Settembrini.

-the doll hospital called "l'ospedale delle bambole" is a delightful place where broken toys are given new life.It is on Via San Biagio dei Librai 81.

One of the best attractions includes Naple's eateries. The locals have their preferences for just about everything and will boastfully tell you where you can get the best food, drinks, etc. In fact, just about everyone will agree that the locals prefer to have their coffee at Spaccanapoli, at bar Nilo, where they say there is no comparison.

Naples is also the birthplace of fried fast food which includes "crocchette,arancini, panzerotti". Again locals will tell you the best eatery for these is at Le Belle Figliole in Forcella. For those who have a sweet tooth "la sfogliatella" is in piazza San Domenico Maggiore at Scaturchio. For dinner don't miss Cicciotto at Marechiaro. Appetizers include fried mozzarella and fried baby octopus. For happy hour "il migliore" or the best is at Bufala Cafe' at Via Luca Giordano 33 after 7 pm.

Another attraction not to miss is the best place to see the sunset! Lungomare or seaside between Mergellina dn Castel dell'Ovo is the best place for this view. It is no wonder you will find a plethora of couples exchanging glances and embraces in this spot!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Travel Throughout Italy on a Budget

With the world stuck in this financial crisis, it is no wonder that Italian tourism is suffering. Right now the only thing that can increase tourism and turn things around for the travel sector is the strengthening of the American dollar and the abundant travel bargains going on in Italy.

All throughout the Italian peninsula you can find special hotel, bed&breakfast, car rental packages and so forth.

Check out the following specials I found:

Bed & Breakfasts:
In Volterra (Pisa) you can get a double room in an apartment for about 40 euros per person. This is a 10 percent discount on their prices. Check out www.bbitalia.it for properties, pictures and prices. I suggest however that you try to get references before making reservations through the top travel forums. My favorites are www.italymag.co.uk and www.slowtrav.com.

Long Term Property Rentals:
Here is a partial list of some property rentals (long term) available right now in Umbria through www.diamanteimmobiliare.com:

-Castiglione del Lago vicinity: furnished apartment on the ground floor with large garden. Euro 500/month Ref.CDL0750
-Castiglione del Lago vicinity: furnished detached villa on two levels with garage,laundry, porch and garden. Euro 700/month Ref.CDL0729
-Citta' della Pieve vicinity: furnished apartment on the ground floor with private garden,cellar, and garage. Euro 500/month Ref.CDP0701
-Paciano: restored ground floor apartment with own entrance with living room, kitchenette,bedroom and bathroom. Nicely finished Euro 350/month.Ref.PA0631
-Cortona: unfurnished restored three story house with storage on the ground floor. Euro 450/month Ref.T0731

You can get more longterm property rental information through www.casa.it which lists all the major real estate agencies which on the most part also do property rentals.

Car rentals:
For car rentals, try www.italycar.net. You can rent an economy car for 23 euros per day. Again, get references from the travel forums if you can.

I will be on the lookout for more bargains..

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where to Eat in Chiusi and Cetona When You Travel to Italy

It has taken awhile to know the best places to eat in and around my town of Chiusi (Siena) Italy. One of the advantages of being married with a Chiusino is knowing the ins and outs of the best eateries. Keep these places in mind should you visit the Valdichiana area.

Chiusi (Lake)
The Restaurant "Da Gino" is literally one minute from the lake. Don't be put off by the look of this restaurant as it looks more like a big cafeteria than a quaint Italian restaurant. The owners Claudio and his sister Manuela have been running this place with their family for over 30 years. This place is a favorite among locals. The pici pasta are extraordinary and made by hand and the grilled persico is a lake fish favorite. I suggest both. The meat is also very very good. Don't forget cantucci and order the house red wine which is usually very good.

Chiusi (lake) Directions:from freeway offramp go right toward Chiusi. You will see a sign on the left with Lago written on it before getting to old town. Turn left and follow all the curves and signs until you reach the lake. You cannot miss it. They are open for lunch and do make reservations for dinner as it is always crammed with people.

Chiusi (near freeway offramp)adjacent to Il Patriarca Hotel
The locanda "La Taverna del Patriarca" is about five years old and has become a favorite of locals. The environment is quite nice, intimate and the owners have paid close attention to every rustic detail. My favorite dish here is Pasta con i Ceci, a garbanzo bean soup with homemade noodles. Very good.
Directions: from freeway offramp turn left. You will immediately see the Hotel Il Patriarca to the left. Turn into their parking area and the locanda will be to the right of the hotel.

Chiusi Scalo

There are two places that make a good pizza. Il Punto and Lo Scalo. I suggest either.
Directions: both are walking distance from the train station. Il Punto is directly perpendicular to the train station. Just walk straight and you will hit before reaching the Church. Lo Scalo is to the left of the train station.

Cetona
The restaurant "Da Nilo" is a must if you visit this area. The owners and cooks just know what they are doing and this place has been a favorite with the locals for many many years. The environment is nice, but loud. Be sure to order "pici a ragu" which is homemade pasta with a meaty tomato sauce.
Directions: once you have reached the cental piazza of Cetona on foot, on the left you will see a sign with the restaurant name. The restaurant is one minute by foot up the road on the left.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Tips on Children & Italian School System

Many parents have asked me to discuss raising children in Italy and especially the school system. I am by no means an expert on the subject but can just write about what I personally have learned. I have to admit that the thought of placing my childen in school in Italy terrifies me largely because I am not familiar with it. I was born and raised in California and have no idea (aside from what my husband tells me) what schools are like here in Italy.

The system is quite different and is changing as I write this post. With new decrees becoming laws, the Italian school system will be facing new challenges. Right now for instance, elementary school children have multiple teachers for multiple courses. They learn English at 6 years old and many students attend school also on Saturday. It just all seems so different than when I was a student in Los Angeles.

What mostly concerns me is the quality. I have heard good and bad about this so cannot give a judgement. It depends of course on many factors: the school, the child, parents' involvement, the teachers, the materials, the environment, the school system etc. etc.

The single most important piece of advice I can give parents is to get informed and get involved. I found that once I got to know the teachers, the environment, many of my fears vanished. Now I make a point to try to be as involved as possible. When I can, I join parents' committees, take part in meetings or even donate my time in teaching English when I can to both teachers and students. Any involvement is highly appreciated by the school and teachers and I can become acquainted myself with them.

I see many parents who will be making the move to Italy on forums asking for advice, suggestions, feedback. This is great and an invaluable tool. Get to know what it is all about. Information is power. The more information you have, the more you will feel comfortable with your childen attending school in Italy.

Once your children are in school in Italy, do not stop speaking with them in their native language. This is important as you, the parent, in many cases will be the only person giving the child that second language.

I will keep blogging on this subject and pass on to you what I am learning here in Italy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poor Italy

Not all my posts are going to be on the upside. I read some alarming statistics regarding the poverty level of Italians and I thought I would pass the information on to you. The data is from Corriere della Sera Magazine (Nov.13 2008) with a photograph of an elderly woman (not a homeless person) going through trash looking for food:

1,000,000 is the number of jobs that are estimated to be lost in Italy in the next six months.

0 is the growth for Europe while Italy is in a recession.

35,000 is the estimated number of jobs to be lost in the next few months within the companies of Alitalia, Unicredit, Merloni, Telecom, Fiat and Natuzzi.

1000's are the workers who will lose their jobs within the small and medium sized companies that work in some way with the larger aformentioned companies.

84 of 100 are the families that are risking home foreclosure and are being saved by loans and other forms of special installment payments.

1 of every two is the Italian in June of this year that could not afford to eat in a pizzeria.

The article continues by stating that tens of thousands of families that once could count on two incomes (husband and wife) will have to make it with only one income. Incomes will be halved but it will not be possible to cut drastically the lifestyle because these are not families that lead a comfortable lifestyle and that will only have to sacrifice the superfluous. In the large part of the cases those who will be hit the hardest by the recession will be those who already had a hard time getting to the next paycheck. So naturally, having less money means consuming less and adding to the already contracting economy.

"This is the situation and it is only the beginning. The worst is yet to come."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fashion Trends in Italy this Autumn and Winter

Living in Italy gives you an advantage of knowing first hand what is in and what is out with regard to fashion trends. Without a doubt, if something is trendy it will be very visible both in boutique windows and on just about anyone walking the street. Here are a few of the many Autumn/Winter trends for accessories:

- the "pantacollant", the footless microfiber pantyhose that can be worn with either a long sweater just covering the backside or with a short full mini skirt. These pantyhose can be worn with either ankle high boots or pumps.

- handbags are either large with a short handle or the clutch

- animal prints on everthing from handbags to purses to jewelry to pumps to lingerie

- lace covered handbags or footwear

- retro sunglasses are large and round

- pumps have pointed toe, are very high with a very thin heel

- denim on boots, sneakers, backpacks, handbags and caps


More to come...

No Electricity.

If you live in Italy then you have to grow accustomed to having your electrical and water supply turned off several times a year for about 4 hours each time. This occurs either because of a problem the providers are working on or because they are doing some kind of updating on their systems. You have to learn to organize yourselves around these inconveniences and if you work outside of the home there is usually little inconvenience. However if you are like me and are home and have small children to tend to, it can get a little annoying.

I however have become a pro at dealing with these matters. I have flashlights positioned in all corners of the house for particularly dark days not to mention a dozen or so candles. If I know ahead of time (and seldom you are given notice),I make sure I have used the appliances I need. It is dreadful being stuck with wet hair because you cannot use the hairdryer for instance. I make sure my cell phone is nearby because my cordless phone will not work.

It does not help to get angry that you cannot do the things you intended to do so you just have to make the best of it. Suffice to say on this particularly dark thunderstorm Thursday, I, my husband and our toddler had a very romantic lunch by candlelight!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Extracurricular Activities for Children in Italy

Many parents have asked me about what activities are available for children in Italy. I can speak of my area which I know of first hand. The larger cities of Florence, Rome and Milan have many activities for children.

In Chiusi and the surrounding areas there is nothing similar to what we have at home in the USA like My Gym or Gymboree which are classes for the toddlers and Pre K children that mix group exercise with play and following instructions in a fun enviornment. There is nothing available for the under 4 crowd in Chiusi but once they do turn 4 then there are activities available: sports, music, dance. The most popular athletic courses are swimming, soccer, judo followed by tennis and volleyball for the older kids. There is one woman who offers piano lessons in the neighborhood and there is one dance class in Chiusi. The best way to find out about courses is through the town hall (comune) of the town you will be staying in or moving to. Also get to know other parents of your town since word of mouth is still the best way to find reliable, fun, safe activities for your children. I have found that referrals is still the best way to go especially in small towns.

There is a wonderful website I have found that offers all kinds of information for children and activities. It is www.italiakids.com. It is divided by region and gives great tips about raising children in Italy and much much more. For instance, I have found that a trip to Florence is well worth the visit. There are two museums for children that I know of that are cited on the site: Institute and Museum of the History of Science and Museo Ragazzi (children’s museum).

I know that there is a lot more out there and I will keep my eyes and ears open to keep you posted on what I personally find.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Italy's Reaction to Obama Victory

It was very interesting to be on this side of the world taking in the reaction of Italians on the Obama victory. There were no festivities in the streets as we saw in the United States but the general concensus I think was a positive sigh of relief. The feeling has been that when the USA is sick, the world suffers the consequences. Italians are waiting for change.

The economic crisis is blatant all across the world and Italy has been in an economic mess for some time now. Unemployment is at an all time high, productivity and consumer spending are at an all time low. Many industries have been directly affected by the American financial crisis and specifically by the weak dollar. Tourism has been down for some time now and Americans admit that although they would love to visit the bel paese, it has just gotten too expensive. They opt for other countries or to stay at home. The Italian food, clothing, footwear industries are really suffering too. Exports have been down due to the weak dollar.

With this said, Italians are waiting for the recession to turn around in the USA so that they too can begin to benifit from a stronger America. All eyes are on the United States right now to turn things around. Italians like everyone are hoping it will be sooner rather than later but who knows?

Details about Daycare and Preschool in Italy

I received several requests for more information regarding what daycare and preschools are like in Italy so I thought I would give you some detailed data regarding my first hand experience in Chiusi.


Daycare

My youngest has been going to daycare for about a month now and I am pretty familiar with the premises as I also attended "mommy and me" classes there. The daycare is divided into two sections and each section has a total of 14 children with 3 daycare teachers for each section. One section is for the younger children ranging from 11 months to 2 years old while the second section is for children from 2 years old to 3 years old. The children arrive from 8:30 am and can stay either until lunch time (noon), after lunch (1:30), afternoon (4 pm or 6 pm). The fee is around 350 euros a month if the child stays for lunch and leaves by 1:30 pm. If the child stays all day the fee is around 380 euros. Daycare is from Mondays to Fridays from September to June and sometimes available in July.


The environment at daycare is very clean with appropriate toys and everything (tables,chairs) is sized for the little ones. The day's program is scheduled whereby they play, snack, play outdoors (weather permitting), eat lunch, nap, play. It is very well organized and the children know exactly what to expect as far as routines. There is a mailbox for each child and everyday the teacher writes a note to the parents saying if the child ate, slept, had a bowel movement. At a first sign of sickness the child's parents are immediately called to be taken home.


Although I had my personal doubts about sending my child to daycare, (He has his first daycare flu right now which is not pleasant) I have to say that the daycare here is very good.


Preschool

Here we have the option to choose between sending our children to the public preschool which is free or to private Catholic preschool which has a fee. We opted for the private preschool and this is our child's second year with the school. I cannot talk about the public preschool as I am not familiar with it but I can say I am happy with the private one.

Here the children are divided into two classes. There are 25 children in each class and each class has one teacher and an assistant. The children can stay until noon (lunch at home) or after 1:30 pm up until 4 pm with lunch served at school. The fee is 70 euros per month plus 5 euros for each meal they have. You do not pay extra if you stay until 4 pm.

Their activities are well organized between table work, group work, snack, exercise, outdoor play, lunch, work. The environment is clean and the staff welcomes parents to talk to the teachers about their children, if necessary. They organize two recitals plus a big party for carnival every year. Again I have to say that we are happy with this school and I would recommend it highly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

American Patriotism is Alive in Italy

It is special to know that when you live abroad like I do, something fabulous happens with regard to how you feel about your native country. Although I live in Italy, am Italian American, my husband is Italian and I definitely have always had a strong Italian background growing up, I feel and believe my home is America. I have talked to many expats who feel the same no matter where they come from. It is not that I don't like Italy. I obviously would not be here if I did not! It is that being away from home makes you appreciate it all so much more.

With the recent presidential election between Obama and McCain, I have felt more and more wanting to be in the United States. I am so proud to see how many voters showed up in line to vote yesterday. I too voted absentee and am proud in doing so. The backbone of America is based on its people and it is sometimes difficult to explain to others who are not American that we Americans really believe in the American dream. We tell our children when they are young that they can aspire to be whatever they choose to be and with hard work they can succeed. This just is not understood in other countries mainly because it does not exist.

I taught English briefly at a middle school here in Chiusi. I remember telling the teenagers that learning English is important for their future. A boy raised his hand and stood up and said in Italian to me, "Teacher I do not need to learn English because I will never leave this town or do anything." I thought to myself who put that idea in his head? Why doesn't he think that he will do something grand as an adult! Why? Mostly because you really have to have the right contacts to do pretty much anything here. I am not bashing Italy but speaking from my heart and my experiences. Sometimes you get lucky and someone sees you actually have skills. It can happen and it did a couple times to me with two jobs I had. But I also had potential employers actually tell me that they could not hire me because they had to hire the nephew or cousin or son or etc of someone else. Yes this goes on also in the United States but I don't think it is so rampant as it is here in Italy.

Could it be a case of "grass is always greener?" Perhaps. I don't know for sure. All I know is that when Italians ask me what is it like being American, my eyes light up and shine. I say the American dream is alive and well and it is a good time to be American.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dealing with the Italian Language

I often get asked how I do with the Italian language. I have to say that I was fortunate since I was raised learning both Italian and English. We spoke both languages at home and like many Italian Americans we would go back and forth even within the same sentence in both languages. I also picked up a great deal of the dialect from Abruzzo since I am first generation American and my parents spoke both the dialect and Italian language at home. I also took Italian language courses in college and did a summer abroad in Perugia which all helped my Italian get better. Although I had all this background prep, I still am not completely fluent in the language.

In the early years of my being in Italy I would make many mistakes speaking. I still make mistakes. In fact not so long ago I went into the bank and said I needed to go into their safe! I meant to say I wanted to go into my safe deposit box. One little word gone wrong and they were about to call the police!

Italians I have to say are helpful on the most part. You can tell from their faces if they are not understanding something. You get that strange look like something is not quite right. Funny thing, they really do not correct you but just nod their head and try to understand what you are saying. Maybe they think correcting you is rude. I am not sure.
I still sometimes have problems with knowing which new words are feminine or masculine. It is a matter of memorizing them on the most part. Why for instance is table "il tavolo" masculine while chair "la sedia" is feminine?? My son keeps asking me these questions and I just don't have a logical answer for him!
In the early years the use of the word "Dottore" baffled me. It seemed everyone had a title and had to be called "Dottore". This is much more prevalent in the South I believe as titles are big there. If you graduate from University which is a great feat in itself, you are given the title of "Dottore". Now I stubbornly only call the medical doctor "Dottore."
"Dare del Lei e tu." It is considered impolite to address a person you don't know, a professional, an older person with the word "tu" or you. You must address them with the word "Lei". To stay on the safe side I use "tu" only with close friends and family.
Italian is not an easy language to learn and experience has shown me it is also how you speak and not what you say! I try speaking with confidence in a loud voice and surely I am given the attention I deserve. I guess body language has a lot to do with it but that will be for another post...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bargain Shopping in Italy

People think that if you want to dress stylish, you have to spend a lot of money. I see more and more here in Italy women who dress well and who bargain shop. So it can be done. Women here love to shop and with the financial crisis no better in Italy then anywhere else in the world, money is spent wisely.


The local markets

In fact the local outdoor markets or "mercato" are packed full of locals and tourists with people walking away with bags of clothing, shoes, accessories, food, housewares, etc. There is a bargain to be had. In Italy you can find really nice clothing for instance at these local markets. My trick is that I go to the vendors where I see the more elegant women hanging out. Remember when I spoke of copying others in "How to Dress Italian and Look Good." These vendors have the nice articles at good prices. Granted you cannot find much stuff made in Italy but that is also the case for the stores which often times have price tags two or three times more than the local markets.


Stores

It is not so much where you shop, but more when you shop. You should know if you are an avid shopper to plan your trip to Italy around this tip: there are two major sale seasons in Italy. One sale is at the end of the Summer and the other is the after Christmas/end of Winter sale. The end of Summer sale begins after August 15th (holiday) and lasts until mid/end of September. During this period you can find all the summer clothes or footwear at great prices. Sales begin at 10% off the first week and then get slashed down to 50% and even more sometimes. The after Christmas or end of Winter sale begins after January 6th (holiday) and ends by the end of February. During this time period you can find all winter wear and footwear at fantastic prices. Again the first week you can save 10% and then more in the subsequent weeks.

Outlets

Italians now know where to go for factory direct, better priced products. Having lived in Arezzo for several years, I quickly learned from my Italian girlfriends where to go and I return the favour as only a true American would do to my visiting friends. Ditching the museums, we substitute culture for couture!

Designer Clothing & Footwear

I Pellettieri d’Italia or Prada is located at Localit√† Levanella, SS69 in Montevarchi Levanella (Arezzo). Prada speaks for itself and this outlet is no longer a secret seeing the hordes of tourists waiting for its doors to open each day. This warehouse offers suits, coats, shirts, bags and shoes. You do have to really hunt since many items can still be very pricey. However you can take home a beautiful Prada pair of shoes for as little as €60. The outlet carries much apparel and accessories from past seasons and it is not always easy to know what is the most recent. But the vast assortment with that beautiful Prada label makes the search all worthwhile.

The Mall which is near the town of Incisa, just south east of Florence, is at Via Europa, 8 in Leccio Reggello (Florence). This includes outlets of Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Sergio Rossi. It is conveniently located since it is a short distance from the Fendi and D&C outlets.

Dolce & Gabbana Outlet, Loc.S.Maria Maddalena in Pian dell’Isola (Florence)
Fendi Outlet, Via Pian dell’Isola 66/33 in Rignano sull’Arno (Florence)
Village Outlet at Sinalunga (Valdichiana). There are hundreds of stores some designer but many pronto modo or knock offs of designers. For instance there is an outlet store called The End where you can buy (I did) 4 winter sweaters for under 100 euros total. You cannot beat that.

Of course bargain shopping entails patience and each time you come to Italy you will learn where to go and not to go to buy things. It has taken me ten years to know where to go if I don't want to be ripped off! Also often times the chain clothing stores offer decent quality clothes at decent prices: Benetton, Sisley, Stefanel, Luisa Spagnoli, etc. Let me know what you have found bargain shopping in Italy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What to Buy When You Visit the United States

Due to popular demand I have put together a small list of the things we have learned to be worthwhile to buy in the United States and to bring back to Italy. With the favorable dollar you can really stock up in the USA. These are for both those who live in Italy permanently and for those who want to bring a gift back to friends in Italy.



For expats:

Tylenol and Advil- sounds funny I know but cannot get through the winter without them and no I am not addicted!


Cheerios original cereal- have found the honey flavored one but still have not seen the original Cheerios.

Office supplies



For both expats and Italian friends:


High count cotton bed sheets- I always buy new sheets in LA when I come home since I find the cotton to be nice, compact and you really don't even need to press them (great advantage). Remember that bed sizes are different in Italy and a Queen American size will fit a matrimoniale Italian size.


Designer Makeup- you can get some real bargains in the USA with the buy one free gift system. This just is not the case in Italy.


Athletic Shoes & Levi Jeans - These are very expensive in Italy.


Clothing - Casual wear like tshirts, jeans, and sweatsuits are much cheaper in the USA.


Electronics - these too are much cheaper in the USA


Baby clothes, toys, accessories- No, there is no Target out here so stock up on as much as you can!


Books and Music- I know you can get these off the net but they make good gifts to bring back. I like to buy English language books for my children too.

Housewares- kitchen towels, pot holders, table cloths, place setting table mats, runners, etc

Christmas decorations

I am sure there are a lot more but these come to mind. Let me know what your favorites are I may have left out.


Monday, October 27, 2008

What to buy when you visit Italy

My family has been visiting Italy from the United States for over forty years and before that my parents lived in Italy and now I live in Italy. So I can say we have become experts in knowing what products to buy in Italy to bring back to the U.S. Although the euro/dollar exchange rate has not been favorable, there are still must haves:

Clothing/Shoes/Jewelry
There is no doubt that if you can still find Made in Italy clothing in Italy, go for it as they just fit better!
There is no comparison. Italian shoes are the best in style, comfort, and assortment.
It is not easy to find 18 kt gold jewelry in the USA that is also stylish. You will not do wrong by buying it in Italy.

Leather Handbags,Wallets,Belts
You can still find very affordable ones at local mercato.

Coffee
We don't know why but the coffee you buy here, even if has the same brand name, just tastes better. If you buy a bag of coffee beans at a bar, beware as is very costly. You are better off getting a brand name bag at the supermarket. We like Illy.

Parmigian Cheese
Is much cheaper in Italy than in the USA. Make sure you get it vacuum packed and keep it in the fridge until ready to pack.

Big Salt (Sale Grosso)
I heard you can find this now in LA but in case you cannot, buy it in Italy (very cheap). Throw a dash of it in your boiling water when you make pasta to make it taste great!

Zafferon, Funghi Porcini (dried)
I am not a big user of these but heard friends rant and rave about buying these in Italy

Olive Oil and Wine
I have not found a suitable way to bring these back so welcome input by you guy:)

Do not even think about bringing back prosciutto, salami or anything of the sort. It does not go over very well with the customs people!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Old Wives' Tales...Italian version

Wow here I can write a book about all these weird beliefs pertaining to all sorts of things. Let me say that it is not just the elderly people who think this way but even young people. Talk about passing on from generation to generation.

The Wind Chill

Ok something has to be said about "la corrente dell'aria" or the draft. Apparently if you leave the windows open and a draft occurs you will get sick. Some people take this further by saying if you go out without a scarf, hat and coat on in the winter you will get sick. ..even if its 30 degrees celsius. And even further you must wear all of the above if it is raining because if you get wet.....ah then you will get the dreaded flu. How is it then that you take showers and not get sick?? Anyhow I got into a heated debate with someone on this and had to have the pediatrician (bless his heart) tell this person it just is not so. The person however by the look on her face was not convinced. Must I say this same person will not open shutters without a scarf around her neck??

Taking a Bath when you are sick

Yes there are still people who believe that if you take a bath while you are sick you will get even sicker. Especially for children. So these poor kids that already feel like crap because they are sick, also feel dirty.

Going in the water after you eat

You must not go in the water, take a bath or anything of the sort after you eat because you will die. You have to wait two hours or so before going into the water. I am not sure exactly what the medical ramification is but something having to do with bad digestion. Anyways just don't do it.

Don't sweep over someone's toes

If you pass a broom over someone's feet, that person will not get married. This is more a superstition but thought I would mention it.

The illnesses associated with the change in seasons

It was not until I arrived in Tuscany that I heard to beware of when the seasons change as they cause all sorts of problems ranging from fatigue, sleepiness, hunger, headaches, colds, coughs, etc. Don't know exactly what it is that causes these but they do.

The Circus Brings Dreaded Illnesses

My personal favoritel! This is one I learned in Chiusi. Circus animals and trainers bring and spread diseases. Talk about bad publicity! I say yes if you happen to kiss the elephant who has a cold! It has nothing to do with the fact that the Circus comes every January-February (flu season!!) ??What do you say to people who say this?? I now say nothing at all and just nod my head a lot.

I welcome you to let me know of other odd beliefs you have heard of in Italy!

Learning How Not to Waste in Italy

I have learned many things during my time living in Italy. Perhaps one of the most important things that I do pass on to my children is how not to waste. Having been rasied in the United States I often took for granted the supply of water, gas, electricity etc. Things now have changed I believe worldwide and I do not think people are wasting at least not consciously doing so. Aside from the expense of wasting, it is just wrong on so many fronts.

So now I do not take ten minute showers. I do not make too much food that I will later throw away. I do not keep the hose running outside to water flowers. I do use paper bags. I do turn off the light and open the shutters. I do recycle everything I can of the older child for the younger child! I do not throw away day old bread but heat it up the next day. I do make bags for charity and bring to the church what does not fit anymore or toys that have been outgrown. I do turn off the heat and put on another sweater. I do walk to the store instead of taking the car.

There is just not an infinite supply of everything and sometimes seeing the simple way of living of some Italians tells me I can do that too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Travel Tip for Italy

It may seem like a really simple piece of advice but knowing ahead of time the day of rest or "giorno di riposo" of stores in Italy is very important for the traveler. There is nothing worse than finding everything closed down in a town you had planned on spending the afternoon in. In Italy every week stores, pharmacies, bakeries, etc close a half day. Depending on the town you are in, this day of the week is different.
For instance here in Chiusi all the grocery stores are closed Wednesday afternoons except the big grocery store called PAM in the shopping center (Etrusco). This shopping center is almost adjacent to the Chiusi freeway exit. All the other stores are closed Monday afternoons and everything is closed on Sundays. Remember also that everything is closed during lunch hours and very few stores have "orari continuati" or open during lunch interval. So that means stores are open from 9 am to 1 pm and then reopen at 5pm to 8 pm. Banks are open from 8:30 am to 1 pm and then reopen from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm. They are closed on Saturdays too. You really need a calendar to write and remember all these hours!
The stores in larger cities of Milan,Rome and Florence may or may not adhere to this because of huge tourist traffic. Usually if there is a sagra or town festival like Eurochocolate (Perugia, 19-26 October) all the stores stay open to accomodate visitors.
In any case it is a good idea to do your homework beforehand and contact the city hall or "comune" of the town you will be visiting to find out when everything is shut down. Hope this helps!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Cost of Living in Italy

I will be writing a lot about the cost of living in Italy because many people who are thinking of moving to Italy want to know how expensive it is to live here. I can only talk about my experiences.


It is very difficult to say if it is more expensive or not than in the USA for many factors which I will not get into right now. I can tell you how much I spend for various things with a four person family (2 adults and 2 children), living in a small town in Tuscany.


Daycare is expensive for Italy standards in our small town but much cheaper than back home in the USA. We pay approximately 350 euros a month for 5 days a week, half days and lunch & snack included. Private preschool on the other hand is about 120 euros a month 6 days a week, half days and lunch included. Our child could stay until 4 pm with no increase in cost. A babysitter would cost about 7 euros per hour.


Doctors and medical care in general can be expensive if through the private sector. What is the difference between private and public? If you go through the public sector, you have to schedule an appointment through the USLL and most often your appointment will be in months. You have to see the doctor they advise you to see for your town and specialty. Everyone has the right to see the public doctor or dottore della mutua. These visits are free or you pay only a minimal amount. If instead you prefer to see a private doctor who takes appointments it costs about 70 euros (pediatrician). Blood tests vary. Again if you do them through the public sector they are free or minimal. If you do them privately, they can cost between 70 and 150 euros depending what exactly you are having done.



The cost of gasoline is expensive. I pay about 70 euros to fill up my tank which lasts me about 2 weeks time. I do very little driving and only around the town. The gas bill for our home is about 850 euros every two months in the winter. Food costs us around 100 euros a week. Electricity and water bills cost 150 euros and 75 euros respectively every two months.

If you have any specific question on how much something costs let me know as I would be more than happy to share any information I have.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Those Long Lunches in Italy

Something has to be said about lunches in Italy. They are long....but good! We had a great day yesterday having lunch at a farmhouse in the hills surrounding Chiusi and Cetona. The occasion was the baptism party of a baby boy named Luca. After the mass, which of course, we were late to, we were to meet the entire party at the restaurant within a beautiful farmhouse called Larco Naturale (www.arco-naturale.com). You can see the pictures. The place is really nice and the owners Luigi and Enzo have taken time to make every rustic detail appropriate to their surroundings.

We had a wonderful lunch which began with an appetizer of prosciutto, coppa secca, mozzarella wraps and crostini (bread with toppings). Next two pasta dishes of ravioli topped with cherry tomotoes and tagliatelle (wide pasta) with a tomato sauce. After this was the secondo or meat dish of veal and roasted potatoes. Then the cake, spumanti, coffee, grappa and limoncello. Don't forget all the wine!! A wonderful meal.

The children spent most of the day outside playing with the puppies, cats and rolling around in the grass! There were walks in between the meals for easy digestion. Suffice to say we arrived at 1 pm for lunch and left at 5 pm!! A fantastic Sunday outside with marvelous warm weather taking in all that Italy has to offer!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Schools and Raising Children in Italy

My post on raising children in Italy is really a request for information and experience from those who have raised or are raising children in Italy. I have to say that I am concerned as any parent would be about the education system in Italy. I have heard both good and bad about the public school program and really would love to hear from people on this.

I finally found a site that is devoted to children in Italy...www.italiakids.com and I understand that soon there will be also a forum whereby you can actually meet people in your area of Italy that have children to plan play dates,etc. One thing that I have always been looking for since I have had children is to meet other native English expats with children in my area of Tuscany.

There are so many changes going on right now in public Italian schools. The private sector is very small in Italy and non existent in my area. I have heard that the elementary schools are good while the middle school and high schools do not properly prepare the students for university. I have heard that it is very subjective according to who your teachers are and if you are "simpatico" to the teacher or if the teacher likes you. Yeah but is this so different in the USA??

Changes that are going on right now include introducing the "grembiule" or apron in elementary schools. This is worn in preschool to keep the clothes underneath from getting dirty but also to dissuade against wearing name brands,etc. Most parents are for this change!
The other change for the entire school system is introducing the "maestra unica" or single teacher instead of having many teachers. This would mean laying off thousands and thousands of teachers. There is much controvery over this measure as you can imagine and the first "sciopero" or strike is scheduled for October 30th. Parents and students are both pro and against this. Right now children even at the elementary school level have several teachers for multiple areas of study (math,language,history,etc).

I want to hear from expats regarding the Italian school system, these changes and their experiences!!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Culture Clash as an Italian American in Italy

I have talked to fellow Italian Americans about this topic before and it justifies to be discussed. There is something about being Italian American that makes you want to get to know the country that, in my case, my parents' came from. Growing up I always felt very Italian and when I decided to move to Italy I figured this is going to be easy and I won't have any problems with culture clash because hey I am Italian. Wrong. I might as well have been Japanese, Indian or any other nationality. The only thing I had going for me was I spoke the language pretty well and understood almost everything. But I still had and have at times culture clash.

The food I ate as an Italian American in the USA is different from the food I eat here. Italian Americans eat spaghetti and meatballs which they do not eat here. Yes they have spaghetti but meatballs are not so big, at least where I live. I get a kick when I speak to other Italian Americans from Canada or the East Coast because they can tell you all sorts of things they did as Italian Americans and just figured this is how it is in Italy. Foods are different, words are different and lifestyles are very different. Italian Americans know all the dialects from all the small towns around Italy. If I use a Abruzzo dialect word talking to my husband (Italian) he will look at me like I am an alien of some sort. He has no idea of what I am saying. Can I hear from some Italian Americans about this??

Lifestyles are different. I am still very American in that if an appointment is at 1:30 pm that is what time I should be there. But here everything is so easy going. They say don't worry no one expects you to be there exactly at that time. Here there is nothing wrong with waiting at the doctor's office for two hours because he does not take appointments. We once waited at the hair salon for four hours and I only stayed because I was in dire need for a wedding! So culture shock is still very big for me even though I am Italian American and have lived here for 10 years!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Client Beware of Property Rentals and other Tours in Italy

I just read an article yesterday on the New York Times webpage regarding property rentals and how clients have to be careful of what they rent. I have written a post on Property Rentals in Italy and I cannot stress enough how important it is to do your homework ahead of time. As the article states as well, nowadays it is so easy for any property owner to rent property and you do not always get what you are promised or think you will be getting. There is nothing worse than arriving at what is supposed to be this perfect villa in Tuscany and it turns out to be a nightmare. Unfortunately anyone can pretty much rent anything and the same is true for Italy.
The article goes on and states that renting a property where a third party is involved like a property management company is a good idea but I have to say that the use of these companies in Italy is still not so widespread. In fact I welcome readers to let me know of any good companies they know of in Italy and I am going to do my own research as well.
Also you really need to have referrals of others who have stayed at the property. Better if these are through people you know but this of course is not always possible. I am not saying that all properties are going to have problems but being careful and prudent is never a bad thing.
The same holds true for tours in Italy you sign up for. Again through the internet any Gianni or Sophia can host a specialty tour. Again get referrals from others who have done that cooking school, language school or bike tour. Be weary of activities that promise too much. In other words you cannot learn the Italian language through a four day course or become a culinary expert in a three day stint in Umbria!
As an American living in Italy I am very protective of my fellow American visitors. I always stop and try to help them out if they are having difficulty and if I hear of anyone being taken advantage of, I try to step in. I have been there and in the early days here I was ripped off a couple of times too. Italy can be a wonderful place to visit and it is up to you to come prepared and be prudent. I also welcome readers to tell me about any great or unfortunate experience they have had in the Bel Paese. Buon viaggio!