My Advent Calendar: Christmas ITALIAN Style!

Mariano's Ristorante - just off of Piazza Grande in Arezzo, Italy!  Tell them Gina sent you!
Mariano’s Ristorante – just off of Piazza Grande in Arezzo, Italy! Tell them Gina sent you!

Here is the rather unassuming entrance to Mariano’s Ristorante in our adopted hometown of Arezzo, Italy.  Walk toward Piazza Grande, turn right past the ancient – and still trickling – fountain, up the narrow cobbled street and it’s about half-way along the path on your right.  Voila! Er, I mean Ecco! 

The couple who owns this small eatery,  Gianfranco and Chef – and namesake – Mariano – go out of their way to make you feel more like you walked into a good friend’s home, rather than a formal dining room.

Just last week when I popped in with a couple of girlfriends for a quick holiday cocktail, Gianfranco set down an assortment of cute little appetizers with our bubbly prosecco flutes that were delicious, unexpected and – Merry Christmas! – FREE!

Have high ceilings you don't know what do do with? Hang a tree or six from them!
Have high ceilings you don’t know what do do with? Hang a tree or six from them!

Dinner here is always an original twist on traditional Tuscan.   And, like the upside- down decorated Christmas trees hanging now from the rafters, these pleasant surprises are what always make me want to come back!

Bravi, gentlemen, and see you again soon!

And for the rest of you out there – where’s your favorite holiday hang-out?

Baci, Gina

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My Advent Calendar: Christmas ITALIAN Style

You know it’s Christmastime when the store fronts are covered in red, green, snowflakes, St. Nick (Babbo Natale here) and the like.

One of our favorite little family-run places on Arezzo's via Madonna del Prato
One of our favorite little family-run places on Arezzo’s via Madonna del Prato

All of our favorite restaurants, cafes and coffee shops are decorated with charming touches.  Coffee shops are really called “bars” here.  It never ceases to make me laugh to hear my six-year-old daughter say – like she did this morning before we walked to her school – “Can we first stop over at the bar?!?

I promise we’re only getting a pastry and sometimes I get a coffee – but never an alcoholic beverage – which they also sell – so the name really does make sense!  It’s all about the bar that you stand in front of to eat behind – not about the beverage.. Wonder why we Americans limit the word to the saloon-type establishments..

Anyway, you really know it’s holiday time when even the local butchers get into the spirit.  Here’s one of our neighborhood macelleria all festooned in holiday swag.

A meat cutter and decorator..
A meat cutter and decorator..

Time to get your Christmas on!

Buone feste, tutti!

Baci, Gina

My Advent Calendar: Christmas ITALIAN Style!

Yesterday, my Advent Calendar was interrupted by .. a wicked bout of stomach flu blech.. but today we resume our regularly scheduled programming: Christmas ITALIAN Style!

Here’s Lulu and the Italian Santa – aka Babbo Natale – from yesterday when Daddy took her out to see him her in Arezzo at Piazza Guido Monaco.  I was sick in bed.

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And yes, that is a GIANT jar of Nutella in the background.

How does Santa look compared to what your area has? What do you think?

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Lulu enjoyed her time and asked him for a “family of cats.” Yow!

Buone Festa, tutti!

As for me, as it is a law that mommies can only be sick for 36 hours, I am back now and no longer in bed…however, not feeling 100 percent.. .. ah, well, hope the rest of the family doesn’t catch the bug!

Baci, Gina

My Advent Calendar – Christmas ITALIAN Style! Too Much Pasta for Santa?!

Today’s delightful Advent Calendar Post features an excerpt from my bookBecause I’m Small Now and You Love Me —  just released this year and full of cross-cultural adventures in parenting and living in Italy.

This, from chapter twenty, is especially fitting for the Christmas season as it explores our daughter Lulu’s deep concern for what she believes is a potentially BIG problem with Santa Claus!

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Excerpted from “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me”

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 also “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 Babbos’ protruded, 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 saxophone.

“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?”

“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, 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 was afraid the old man might keel over before he could 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.

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?”

*      *      * 

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—- We’ll stop for now… but burning questions remain!! Will obese Santa die an untimely death? Will he take Lulu’s advice and go on a diet?!? To find out what happens to Lulu and “Babbo Natale,” please zip over to Amazon and buy my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me.”  Adventures in parenting – and Italy!

Buone Feste, Tutti,

Baci, Gina!

P.S.  If you buy my book, please let me know and I’ll mail you an autographed – by me and Lulu – bookmark! There’s still time to get them for thoughtful Christmas gift-giving! Grazie!!!

Advent Calendar – Christmas ITALIAN Style!

Christmas ITALIAN Style! Today’s Advent Calendar post features a evening of Christmas card making at Arezzo‘s darling children’s bookstore: La Casa sull’Albero “The Tree House” !!

When you travel with kids, pop into a children's bookstore and see what activities they have planned - could be a fun and inexpensive opportunity!
When you travel with kids, pop into a children’s bookstore and see what activities they have planned – could be a fun and inexpensive opportunity!

This place does great activities for children in a cool colorful space.

Luilu and her friend Zoe get serious about Christmas card art!
Luilu and her friend Zoe get serious about Christmas card art!

But what I really liked was that one of the finished products featured a sun-glass sporting Santa playing an electric guitar!!

A lovely "cervo" in the winter woods.  And a rockin' Saint Nick!
A lovely “cervo” in the winter woods. And a rockin’ Saint Nick!

 Jingle Bell Rock Italian Style!

Buone feste, tutti!!

Baci, Gina

 

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.

Lesson learned


In which I glimpse into the future and the past

Babbo Natale, aka Santa Claus, brought Lulu a scooter (mani pattino) for Christmas. It’s pink with a little yellow flag and Lulu loves it. She loves it so much that she has been pestering me for the last several weeks since the weather has become nice, to take the scooter out “into the country.” That’s Lulu-speak for taking it into town – evidently phrased that way because we have to walk along so many country roads until we finally reach Arezzo’s historic center.

Of course, I keep saying no because I know exactly how this trek will go.

Lulu will happily scooter along for maybe a third of the way and then she’ll get bored, get tired, who knows, and will hand the scooter over to me to carry the rest of the way. So, I keep saying no.

This Saturday morning was the same thing.

“Pleeeeeeze!” Lulu began. “Can I take the scooter out in the country today?”

“No, Lulu,” I said.

“But why? What else are we going to do today?”

All right, I thought against my better judgment, we don’t have anything else to do today. It’s a national holiday (the Festa della Repubblica to commemorate when Italy finally got rid of its monarchy) and so nothing is open anyway. Why not put this to a test?

“Okay, we’re going to try it,” I tell Lulu, “But here are the rules: Mommy is NOT going to touch the scooter. It is your responsibility one-hundred percent of the way.”

“That’s fine,” Lulu said, “I gonna go all the way scooterin’.”

Well, we made it about past our gravel road and to the little cluster of neighbor houses, which is about a seventh of the way, and Lulu began to whine. She didn’t want to scooter any more and she didn’t want to push and walk it either. I said, “Let’s turn around then, this experiment is over.” She cried that she wanted me to take the scooter in my hands and just “carry it into the country.” I politely, but firmly, refuse.

“You need to take care of it, Lulu,” I said, “Remember, it’s your responsibility.”

She whined. She yelled. I sat on a stone wall holding her while she cried about her predicament. But eventually, she dragged, pushed and scootered that darn thing back the whole way. As I promised, I didn’t touch it once.

When we finally made it home, Lulu carefully “parked” her scooter, got a glass of cool juice, and then proclaimed, “I only want to go in the stroller into the country the next time from now on forever.”

I gave her a hug.

P.S. How many times did my own mom caution me, warn me, maybe even threaten or beg me not to make a choice I was set on making? How many times have I ignored her, thinking I knew better, only to realize afterward, what a bad choice I had made? How about you? How have your kids learned painful lessons? How have you?

Ciao for now!
Love, Gina