Announcing a Guest Blog Series: Travel Memories!

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world…”

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the above words long ago, and while I cheered at Treasure Island as a kid and chilled reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a teenager, it’s now as an adult that I reflect most upon that single statement among all the works of the celebrated author.

RLS and me.  You can just  tell  how much we have in common.
RLS and me. You can just tell how much we have in common.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been to Cairo, Egypt or Kokomo, Indiana (I’ve been to both).  Whether you’ve tasted the finest foie gras in Paris or your Grampa’s famous secret-recipe fudge (both for me again).  Whether you’ve camped at the base of Mount Everest or in a tent in your backyard (okay, I’ve only done the backyard on that one).

At the Pyramids near Cairo.  At the lake near Kokomo.
At the Pyramids near Cairo. At the lake near Kokomo.

It doesn’t matter because – we are all travelers.  And our shared travel experience, of course, is called life.

A mixture of little adventures, funny foibles, mundane moments, tragedies and joys – it’s those life-travel adventures between me and my daughter Lulu that serve as the essence of my upcoming book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me.  I believe it will be richly relatable and one that we can all appreciate.

Buy my book please!
Buy my book please!

So! In the spirit of celebrating travel, I am delighted to announce my new Guest Blog Series:  Travel Memories!

Starting in February, I will be featuring essays from authors, bloggers, editors, and other amazing fellow travelers in this adventure called life.

I already have commitments from dear friends and a couple of accomplished authors like Harper Collins mystery writer Laurence O’Bryan (click here to check out his latest book) and Scribner’s international thriller writer – and veteran CNN anchor – Kitty Pilgrim (here’s her latest offering).  And it’s not too late for you!

I would love to receive an essay from you about a travel memory you may have.  Funny or poignant; from an exotic locale or the municipal pool; with photos or not.  Please email me at GinaLondon@gmail.com with your story of 500 words or fewer.  I can’t commit to posting every one, but I will commit to writing back to everyone who sends an honest, heartfelt submission.

Lulu and me in the field

Buon viaggio fellow travelers!

Grazie!

Gina

P.S. please email me asap with your travel memory. I look forward to reading and sharing!

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Emerging Writers: Guest Post #3 An Emmy Award Winner!

Emerging Writers: Guest Post #3 An Emmy Award Winner!.

via Emerging Writers: Guest Post #3 An Emmy Award Winner!.

I’m featured in big-time Random House mystery writer Laurence O’Bryan’s blog! Please click on the link above to read and enjoy! Grazie and thanks a lot!

The “Princess Effect” Part Two – or – I’m flippin’ my wig…

When you live overseas, gifts from family back home are like treasure.

Early this week, a treasure arrived as Gramma Sheila sent a beautiful lavender sparkly Rapunzel dress and golden braid wig to Lulu.  She immediately tried them on and loved them.  So did I.

For the first day.

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(Above is Lulu – aka Rapunzel – day one)

She traipsed around and acted dainty and sweet.  Making Scotty and me pretend to be Flynn and Mother Gothel – yes, I hate to admit that I’m rather good in the role Mother Gothel. “Mother knows best…”  (If you haven’t seen the movie, “Tangled,” you really should. It’s that cute.)  And Lulu was being pretty cute too.   The dress was a little loose around the shoulders, but we fixed that with a couple of safety pins.  The wig was a little big and wobbly held in place with only two small combs.  But I braided her hair around her crown and that seemed to do the trick.  Lulu even begged to sleep in her costume that night, but I held firm and she settled for the dress and wig to be carefully draped on her guest bed in her room.

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(Above are “Tangled’s” Rapunzel and Mother Gothel)

Day two.  Lulu woke me up waaay early before she had to get ready for school, demanding to put on the dress and the wig.  I usually don’t let her play games or do activities before school, but since this was the first morning since she’d received her prized costume, I let her wear it if she promised to take it off nicely when I asked. And surprisingly she did.

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(Above is Lulu – aka Rapunzel – day two)

After school,  Lulu proclaimed she immediately must be “re-dressed like Rapunzel!”  I slid the dress on her easily.  Scotty even sewed on some purple ribbon in the back to cinch those loose shoulders up.  But the wig was a different story.

“Too loose!” Lulu screamed shaking her head side to side making the braid crown teeter.

“Fix it! NOW!” she ordered.

Even with a handful of bobby pins, I can’t make it perfect.

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(Above are the bobby pins and the wig. It’s not on Lulu’s head because she has run off crying and screaming)

You see, the braid is mounted on hard plastic in a wide circle.  It’s too big for a child and not flexible at all.  Normal bobby pins just can’t really reach from the braid to the intended wearer’s head to properly secure it.

So it kept jiggling.

And Lulu kept freaking.

“YOU’RE NOT NICE!

YOU HAFTA FIX IT!

I HAVE TO WEAR IT TO BE RAPUNZEL!!!

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(Above is Lulu furiously huddled on our steps in the dining room and yelling at me to “FIX IT AGAIN” after I said I think the wig should have a time-out)

A while back, I wrote an essay defending what is being batted about as the “Princess Effect” – here’s that essay, if you’re interested.  While some complain that it’s dangerous to encourage little girls to pretend to be little princesses, I was all for it.

I may still be, but now minus the |@#$%^!@ wig.

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Ciao, tutti!

P.S. please, oh, please – tell me parents – of that gift you were first so delighted to see little Junior get – only to completely wish it had never crossed your home’s threshold later..  I am misery and I need company!  😉

P.P.S for more stories of Lulu with plenty of her unique brand of tantrums and freakouts, US Preorder sales are NOW underway for my upcoming book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me”! Click here to check it out!

 

Trek to Trevi

This week, we took the train down to Rome – and like any proper tourist, we made the pilgrimage to the Trevi Fountain.

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At 86 feet (26 meters) high and 161 feet (49 meters) wide, the facts establish it as the largest fountain in the Eternal  City. But the allure goes far beyond its impressive size as we were in a city that’s chock-full of big and impressive fountains.

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here’s Lulu at some other awesome fountain – not Trevi –

So, just what is it about the Trevi?

It’s really not all that old.  The sprawling marble and rock sculpture was completed in  1792 – which is almost modern times when you’re dealing with a city like Rome.

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It wasn’t made by one of the big names – Michelangelo had long died by then – and two different artists are credited with the design.

But it certainly is enthralling.  Lulu loved the “Taming of the Waters” theme with the water god Neptune watching over Tritons struggling with gigantic sea-horses or hippocamps.  Muscles are bulging everywhere!

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And it is also surprising. The impressive piece is nestled in a small piazza at the convergence of three narrow cobbled streets.  As I looked out at the other tourists gathered, the fountains magnificence seemed magnified by the small area over which it presides.

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Most of all, I think for me, it has a great legend.  If you turn your back to the fountain, raise a coin and toss it over your left shoulder into the water, it ensures you will come back.

Apparently it wasn’t just me.  As we left the Trevi, I asked Lulu if she liked it.

She said, “It’s fantastic, and ‘cause we paid, we can go again to Rome!”

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Ciao, tutti!

Love, Gina

Till next time, Who’s been to Rome? Did you see the Trevi? Throw in a coin?  What did you think?

(P.S. Take Lulu with you on your next visit to Italy! Presale orders in the US are available now for my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – Life and Italy through the words of my then four-year-old!)

The holidays aren’t over until the Italian “Witch” comes to town

As a special holiday treat for you, below is an excerpt from my new book, 
“Because I’m Small Now and You Love Menow available for preorders in the US and to be released world-wide on Valentine’s Day from Sakura Publishing!

Enjoy!

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A CHRISTMAS WITCH FOR YOU OR SANTA CLAUS ISN’T THE ONLY ONE COMIN’ TO TOWN”

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In the United States, of course, he’s known as Santa Claus.  When we lived in France, Lulu called him Père Noël, and now here in Italy, he is adorably known as Babbo Natale.  I say “adorably” because the word “babbo” is a very special Tuscan contribution that doesn’t translate simply as “father.” It has a more endearing and intimate meaning; like “daddy.” Therefore, the Italian holiday gift-giver isn’t “Father Christmas,” he’s “Daddy Christmas.”

“He’s extremely chubby,” Lulu said one December day.  And it was true.  As Arezzo shopkeepers started putting up their holiday decorations around the Corso Italia and other roads within the town’s medieval historic center, all the red-costumed, white-bearded Babbosprotruded paunchy tummies were just like the image of our American jolly old elf made famous by Clement Moore, Thomas Nast and the Coca Cola company.  We were standing outside of the Rustica Bottega Toscana watching a large animated Santa Claus, er, Babbo Natale, play the saxaphone.

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“He must eat a lot of pasta,” Lulu observed.  “And gelato.”  I had been working on Lulu to try to get her to eat more “healthy foods” and I admit I had mentioned that a daily diet of ice cream or spaghetti with butter and parmesan would not help her grow fit and strong, but could make her become soft and “chubby.” I didn’t want to give her a complex, but I did want to stress “you are what you eat.”  With her observation about the apparent poor eating habits of this robotic Santa, it appeared she’d received the message.

“Mama, is it true,” Lulu began. “That if you are too chubby, your heart will get squeezed and you will get dead?”

Okay, I also admit that I may have talked about cholesterol clogged-arteries and how excess body fat can lead to heart attacks, but I promise I wasn’t trying to scare my four-year old into eating vegetables. Well, maybe a little.  And now here she was worried about old Saint Nick.

“Well, yes, Lulu,” I replied, not sure where I was going to go with this.  I mean, I had never said that being overweight made someone a bad person, just that it was unhealthy. But, how do I balance the conflicting concepts that an obese old man – who obviously has not been making good eating choices – was still wise and wonderful enough to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys of the world?  “It’s true that it can be dangerous for your heart if you are too chubby (we don’t say the word “fat” in our house), and so I think Santa, er Babbo Natale is probably on a diet.”

“That’s good, Mama,” Lulu looked visibly relieved.  “I don’t want Babbo Natale to die.”  I knew it. She’s afraid the old man might keel over before he can fly around the world and bring her her loot.

“He’s not going to die, Lulu,” I said. “Santa Claus, er sheesh, Babbo Natale, whatever his name is, is going to live for a long, long time. I don’t think he’ll ever die.”

“He will if he keeps eating everything bad for his body,” Lulu said.

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That night Scotty helped Lulu write Babbo Natale a letter.  Lulu dictated and Scotty wrote.  First, she requested that Babbo bring her a snake, and then she asked, “Are you eating anything healthy to help you get skinny?”

Fortunately, later that month, when Babbo Natale visited Lulu and her classmates at Bianca Maria Bianchini preschool, he gave each little child a wooden toothbrush and toothpaste holder with a tiny egg-timer fastened to the front.  It was designed to help the child brush longer, so for me, that was a clear sign of promoting good health.  I mentioned it to Lulu.

“See, Babbo Natale wants you to have clean teeth. That’s a healthy thing!”

“He was still chubby,” Lulu said.

We looked forward to another personal Babbo Natale sighting that week as Scotty, Lulu and I made our way to Arezzo’s public library.  The sezione ragazzi, or children’s section, had been advertising that Babbo was going to make an appearance that evening and read a story to the kids.  The library is in a 500 year old former government palace festooned with carved coats of arms from the past centuries of ruling families on its stone exterior. It is a magnificent building and while I doubted they would feature a sleek and svelte Santa, I imagined a visit there would be especially traditional and memorable.

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Well, it was definitely memorable.  For the moment Babbo Natale stepped through the door, it was plainly obvious to both Scotty and me that this petite person wearing a baggy red suit and white beard was no babbo, but was instead a mamma.  We raised our eyebrows and stifled laughs.  The kids were already seated in a semi-circle around a large empty chair that “Babbo” proceeded to daintily perch upon.  He/she asked the children what they wanted for Natale, read them a story in a high-pitched voice and then passed out caramelle or candies. I hoped maybe Lulu hadn’t noticed.

“Looks like Babbo Natale has lost some weight (and height),” I said to her afterward holding her in my arms.

Lulu leaned into my ear and whispered, “He was a girl, Mama.”  She had noticed.

Finally, the morning of Lulu’s first Italian Christmas arrived and she awoke to discover that the real chubby male Babbo Natale had somehow managed to survive another season – at least long enough to deliver Lulu her loot.  Babbo left her the pink scooter she had been clamoring for – after she thankfully tired of the snake idea.  Lulu also got a pink children’s digital camera with more bells and whistles than our grown-up one thanks to my mom and my stepdad, Jerry.  Scotty’s parents, my sister, and our cousins rounded out the rest of her presents in assorted books and toys.  It was a real holiday haul.

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But it wasn’t over.  Babbo Natale is a relative new-comer to Italy’s wintertime gift-giving tradition.  Long before they adapted and renamed our American Santa Claus, Italians had La Befana to deliver sweets and presents to children in their stockings.

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La Befana is an old woman who rides around on a broomstick and leaves goodies for the kiddies on the eve of Epiphany in January.  But, in spite of what you might think, our Italian friends point out that she is not a witch. She just needs the broom to fly on and then apparently uses it to sweep the floors of everyone’s home before she leaves. She is always depicted smiling and wearing a patched soot-speckled dress, because she comes down so many chimneys.   Instead of leaving cookies and milk for her like Santa Claus, Italians set out a glass of red wine.  So, while she may not be a witch, she is tidy and likes a little vino; definitely my kind of woman.

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Oh, and she is also usually portrayed as thin. I mean she only has a broomstick to ride, not a giant sleigh pulled by reindeer, so it makes sense.  I hadn’t made any big deal about that particular distinction when right around this time, Lulu and I met La Befana in person.  We were at the Magnifico shopping center when a woman wearing wire-rimmed spectacles and dressed in a black shawl and peasant-type dress came by to give Lulu a treat.  She appeared not to be some randomly shabby stranger, but to have been sponsored by the shopping center.  Trailed by kids, she was holding a broom in one hand and a large canvas sack of treats in the other. She was also beautiful and lithe and athletically on roller skates.

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Lulu, who was only just learning about La Befana, looked up at her in awe.  The not-quite-a-witch was lovely and lean and kind.  A holiday heavyweight she could happily believe in.  The woman smiled down at Lulu and patted her head. She said something in Italian that I didn’t catch and reached into her bag.

She gave Lulu an orange.

Lulu looked back up at La Befana and quietly said, “Grazie.”  Then she looked over at me and said in English, “I like Santa Claus better.”

Chubbiness and all.