Thursday, June 28, 2012

Travel: Early and Often

When my son Daniel was five years old, I took him on the trip of a lifetime: we spent a few weeks in Rome, Italy, where I rented a tiny studio apartment so that he could get a taste of living like a Roman does.

Many people, however, thought I was crazy for taking my son in the first place. "He's not going to remember anything!" they said. And, "That's an awful lot of money to spend - he's too young to appreciate it!"

Also, two weeks before we left, he tripped down the stairs at his Grandparent's home and broke his arm. Yet another reason added to a long list on why I shouldn't take my son to Italy with me.

I was a single mom at the time, and pretty broke having just finished grad school, but I was set to start a new, public school job in the fall, and I had the entire summer free, they make waterproof casts nowadays, and my son was curious and excited about the prospect of traveling to far away lands, so I asked myself, as I often do: If not now, when?

Freshening up in una fontana 

I spent my last year in college in Rome, and I ended up falling in love and staying long afterward. By age five, my son had already heard countless stories of my adventures in Rome. I was so eager to share the beauty of Italy with him, and he was (and is still) a bright and curious boy. Before our trip, I taught him some Italian so he could communicate if only a bit. I read him books about Rome and told him what to expect. He helped pack his suitcase (i.e. filled up a suitcase with Legos between his clothes). I taught him to navigate the airport and he lugged around his very own carry-on.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do: Breakfast on the go with fresh tarts from the pasticceria in the
Piazza di Testaccio.  

Daniel was awestruck by Rome, in the best way possible: in that child-like wonder way. The fountains around every corner thrilled him - you could drink the freshest water ever from them! The food, the smells, the other language ringing in his ears - he just soaked it all in, like the little sponge all children are. The history was lost on him, but he was enchanted by Bernini's elephant at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, by the Pantheon, which had an excellent ramp for racing matchbox cars and a cool hole that rain poured through at its center, by the many Spanish steps that were so fun to race down, and, of course, by gelato. I promised him a gelato every day and I followed through (admittedly an easy promise to make).

Racing matchbox cars down a ramp in front of the Pantheon
We had our little apartment, which meant I could cook some meals at home and gave us the opportunity to shop in the open-air markets (and save money by not paying for a hotel every night and not eating out all the time). Apart from the expense of an air ticket (which is discounted for children), I really didn't spend much money on him. Well, yes, I did end up buying him just about every toy and gadget that was in vogue with the street vendors that summer (flying UFO's and stretchy balls with lights inside them).

The Italians adored my son. The shopkeepers and restaurant owners and waiters - actually, come to think about it - just about everyone - doted on him. People gave him little trinkets and special desserts left and right. By the end of the trip, he was speaking basic phrases in Italian with a charming little accent. I insisted that he order and ask for things himself, and I sometimes let him lead the way around the cobblestoned streets and piazzas. I would ask him to figure out the train and bus schedules, and have him count our coins. I think this all gave him a boost as he started on his own journey into self-confidence.

To this day, my son is the best travel companion ever: he is in charge of watching the arrivals and departures and gate changes; he's the one who figures out the wifi. He is extremely open to new languages and cultures. He has read many a book on Roman gladiators and gods. He has furthered his Italian speaking skills and often uses them with his little sister. He sounds almost snobby when he orders in Italian restaurants because he pronounces everything correctly!

And my son did remember Italy. He remembered the drunk lady, fishing for coins in the Trevi Fountain, he remembered the craziness that ensued after Italy won the World Cup, he remembered how we used to stay up super late at night and always catch the latest bus (Bad Mom Alert: I never bothered to adjust the two of us to the new time schedule - we just stayed out late and slept in). We returned last summer, and he remembered many of the places I'd taken him before. He remembered his favorite gelatos and pizzerie; the sights and sounds were all too familiar. He feels close to Italy now, I'd say; they have a past together.

I can't even express how happy I was to introduce my son to another country. It was a complete and utter joy. I am convinced that children should travel early, and often, and I can't wait to explore more of this wonderful world with my children.

Celebrating Italy's World Cup Win

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

North Avenue Beach

The BEST thing about Chicago in the summer: the beach!

Seriously, Lake Michigan this morning was simply sparkling. The waves were crashing in, the water chilly but swim-able, the sand glistening. 

My daughter the beach bunny was in heaven. She dipped in her toes then jumped into a wave, chased the seagulls, built sandcastles, buried her legs in the sand, and just giggled and joyfully ran along the shoreline. She is currently completely out of gas from our morning trip to the beach and snoozing away. 

I wouldn't set foot on North Avenue beach on the weekends, but on weekday mornings, it's practically empty and just heavenly. 

My 11-year-old son is now a Junior Lifeguard in training and I couldn't be prouder. He's a strong swimmer and now is his chance to learn some new skills, including paddleboarding, rowing, and basic rescue skills. And this is one morning drop-off that I don't mind! 

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Monday, June 25, 2012

#makesmesmilemonday My Cowboy and Cowgirl

My son spent this last week shoveling poop, among other things. And he loved it. Really.

He spent one week at Horse Camp, where he learned to care for and ride horses. Because Horse Camp was in the farther western suburbs, he spent the week with his grandparents. Every evening, we chatted about the horses who he came to know well and by name. And every evening, his little sister asked me sadly, "Where's Loni?" (She calls him by this pet name - Loni - short for Fratellone, big brother, in Italian.)

On Friday his little sister and I arrived to pick him up for his last day of camp. The counselors told me that every day my son asked - just to be certain - if his little sister could go for a ride with him. He carried her in his arms and introduced her to all his new friends, both the human kids and the horse ones. And then he snapped on her helmet and took her for a ride on one of his favorite horses.

I think we can safely say that this was one of the happiest moments in Chiara's life, riding a horse for the first time with her big brother, who, in her eyes, is a real cowboy.

And I'm so proud and excited to see my son so excited about learning new things!

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Cirque Shanghai Promotion Code

We loved Cirque Shanghai! Here's a review and a pic of Chiara with two of the talented performers

And here's a promo code. Receive $5 off adult tickets (reg. $19.50 - $29.50) using the code EMPEROR online at

N.B. There will be additional performances on Tuesday, July 3 at 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. and our 4th of July schedule on Wednesday, July 4 is 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The Navy Pier fireworks on July 4th will begin at 9 p.m.

Don't miss this amazing show - a must-see for summer 2012!
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Open House at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago

The Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago and Italidea (Chicago's Italian language school) are hosting a summer Open House on Thursday, June 28th from 5:30 - 8pm. 

Guests will be able to explore the Italian courses offered this summer at Italidea, meet the teachers, and attend free trial lessons, while enjoying live music entertainment, sampling authentic Italian cuisine, and drinking a glass of prosecco.

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For more details regarding the Open House or to RSVP, please click here.

#makesmesmilemondays Portrait of an artist at work

This morning involved: play dough, a twirl on a Merry-Go-Round, a visit to the zoo, pineapples sprinkled with coconut, chimpanzees that were putting pieces of poop in their mouths and spreading it around (to establish territory...), a pinwheel, a goat that tried to eat my dress, and whew! at last! a nap.
While big brother is away at equestrian camp this week, learning how to care for and ride horses, I'm having a little priceless fun with my favorite two-year-old. 
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Friday, June 15, 2012

Last day of School!

Finally! It's the last day of school! And thankfully, I have a little pal with me today to help clear out my classroom.

Cheers to the summertime!
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

#makesmesmilemondays Summer in Chicago

It's that time of year again.... I trade in my life as a busy working mom, teacher and writer for that of a busy stay at home (and working part time as a writer) mom. 

At the end of every school year, I give myself a pat on the back: I somehow managed to get the kids bathed and fed, dressed and out the door each and every day; I managed to teach 175 students a thing or two or three; I managed to take time out and do a few fun things for myself, too. It's difficult - this work/life balance thing - but being a teacher and a mom and a 30-something woman has its more than its share of rewards. I am truly embracing and savoring this stage in life.


Ciao Studenti! 

One huge reward: Summertime! 

And better yet: Summer in Chicago! Time to play with my family and take in all the sunshine that I missed this past winter. We'll be staying more local this summer, and enjoying Chicago at its summery best. We'll also be taking another camping trip and making a vacation out of two weddings we are attending, one at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and one in New Buffalo, Michigan. 
The timeless Grand Hotel

Hello summertime in the city!

This summer my son with be participating in the Chicago Park District's Junior Lifeguards Program and I couldn't be prouder. He's always been a strong swimmer and this will be his chance to hone his skills (and maybe hook himself up with a future summer gig!). My daughter will be taking an Italian class and a once a week gymnastics class. Other than that, we'll be eating lots of Popsicles, hanging out at the beach and our local pool, and soaking up summer.

Just a few more days and school's out for the summertime! Non vedo l'ora!
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Friday, June 8, 2012

Betsy McCall: Retro Paper Doll Printables

Do you remember Betsy McCall?
Betsy in the 1970's. I love the giant pretzel as an accessory. 

I loved Betsy McCall! And I had completely forgotten about her until The Little Style File reminded me with a post on Facebook.

The Bleu Door has an entire collection of Betsy McCall printables, from the 1950's to the 1990's. Seeing them again snapped me back to the days when as a little girl, I carefully cut out Betsy and dressed her and dreamed of visiting the places that she traveled to with her family. I loved how her fashionable clothing matched with her travel destination. I can't wait to share Betsy McCall with my daughter when she is just a tad bit older.
Betsy in the 1960's

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tracking Flight Fares with Yapta

Here's a great online tool that I use to track flight fares: Yapta helps you track pricing on specific flights and hotels, and alerts you when the price drops, helping you get the best deal on your travel reservations. There is even an iPhone app you can download and use to track real time price changes.

The cherry on top is that if the price drops again after you buy, Yapta will refund you the difference.

YaptaPrice Change Alert
The price of the 6:25pm non-stop to MCO on American flight that you're watching for your trip has dropped in price to $315.60To purchase this flight go to Trip Details.
6:25pm non-stop to MCO on AmericanChangeCurrent

-3% $315.60

I'm planning on taking my son to Universal Orlando, on a quick two-day visit to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (My daughter will get her payback in the future, I promise!). The prices for this short jaunt are dropping about 3% every day - I'll nab the tickets when I see prices hold steady.

I can't wait to visit Hogwart's Castle!

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Monday, June 4, 2012

#makesmesmilemondays Typical Texts Italian Teachers Receive from Ages Old Students on Friday Nights

I'm at the point now where I've been teaching soooo long, over ten years now, that I'm starting to see my students here and there, in my community and beyond, making a difference and just plain living their lives. (I'm an Italian instructor for Chicago Public Schools)  Thousands of students now, have passed through my classroom doors. Many of them are moms now, or dads, and fire fighters, and graduate students, and policemen and filling just about every job you can imagine around the city of Chicago. 

Every now and then I'll bump into a former student of mine, or receive a text message (sometimes addressed to my former name, as in the text above, it's been so long) or a telephone call or better yet a visit in my classroom. I am so happy to see them make their way though high school and beyond. But please, don't hold me responsible for any tattoos! 
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