Category Archives: Italy

What I’ll Miss, Inspired by Nora Ephron

I didn’t know much about writer-filmmaker Nora Ephron until after her recent passing, but she wrote this list of things she’d miss in life (and things that she won’t miss).  Inspired by this, I thought I would write my own list.  It’ll be interesting to revisit years from now and see if I still feel the same!

Things I Won’t Miss

  1. Commuting to Work
  2. Mommy Wars
  3. Chores
  4. Facebook
  5. Twitter
  6. Bills
  7. Dogs
  8. Cable Companies
  9. Office Politics
  10. Kid Tantrums
  11. Nasty Blog Comments
  12. Endless Striving
  13. Money Worries
  14. Grudges
  15. Aches and pains
  16. Health Insurance Insanity (bureaucracy, denials, etc..)
  17. People who stress out over little things at work
  18. Sunblock
  19. Fast food
  20. California summers (when you don’t live near the ocean)

Things I Will Miss

  1. Motherhood
  2. My Kids
  3. Husband
  4. Family, especially my Mom
  5. Friends
  6. Dancing
  7. Dogs
  8. Kids laughing
  9. Great books
  10. A good cup of cappuccino
  11. Where the ocean meets the forest/nature
  12. Traveling
  13. Learning new things
  14. Good TV shows
  15. Emails
  16. Summer fruits
  17. Blogs and Blogging
  18. Music of my youth
  19. Good FOOD!
  20. California winters

Surprisingly for me, it was easier to come up with “Things I Will Miss”.   While I can be kind of grumpy, there are so many beautiful things that are worth missing.  I didn’t even name sunsets, the ocean or my home.   I think writing this list was an interesting exercise because it focuses on things you’ll miss as opposed to things you love/like.  While I really love my comfortable new ballet flats, for example, it’s not something that I would miss.   I do think my home would make it to #21 but that has less to do with decor than the feeling of home.  I guess in the end it is really the simple things that matter.

For the list of “Things I Won’t Miss”, I ran out of steam by number 13 but thought I would get it up to 20. 

What Things Would You Miss (and Not Miss)?

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Wait, I Do Have Dreams…

When I was reading Chapter 4 of Your Money Or Your Life, I could not come up with good answers related to questions about goals/dreams.  What kind of life did I imagine for myself and my family?  What did I still want to achieve? I had no answers.  Although it was a sad realization, I didn’t really think much more about it until recently.

At a certain age, you know that you won’t achieve “bigger” goals and dreams.  Hell, there’s a high probability that you won’t achieve any big dreams!  To be fair, dreams also change once you reach the real world.  For a while I thought I wanted to work in the movie business but once I found out more about it, I  knew it wasn’t for me.  While I’ve come to terms with abandoning certain dreams, I couldn’t go forward in life without any hopes and dreams.   That’s when I realized that two of my biggest goals/dreams are still within reach and that I already talked about one of these on this very blog.

Here are the Big Two:

Moving Abroad:  I’ve dreamed of moving abroad since my college days.   I don’t remember if I pinpointed a location but Europe was definitely the target. I blame Hemingway or Scott Fitzgerald for this obsession.  Of course now that I’m older, wiser and with a family, I know that the unencumbered starving artist lifestyle is not at all glamorous and not for me at all.  I’ve seen the struggles of immigrants (I won’t glamorize the move by using the term “expat”…) and it’s tough to transplant yourself to another culture, no matter how much you think you’ll love it. 

Speaking Italian (or a romance language) like a native:  I read a very helpful magazine article about how to define your 5 year plan.  A five-year plan is a daunting prospect for  most, so rather than just asking yourself the question and drawing a blank, the article writer took you through steps to get there, starting with listing five past achievements that make you most proud and why.  I came up with more than five but noticed one common thread: I was most proud of challenging projects especially if it involved overcoming fears.  Learning new languages has always been a challenge for me.  While this is a newer life goal, I would love to be as fluent as possible in Italian and I know that I would be very proud of this achievement. 

Now that we’re contemplating a move to Italy, those dreams could become reality (although not without hard work).  So in a nutshell: Two of my biggest dreams are also two of my biggest fears. 

Do you have a five-year plan? 

November 16: From the Land of Bikinis to the Land of Missoni

Chiara of the Blonde Salad blog, wearing Missoni

Part of the reason for my new interest in shopping has to do with our move to Italy (still in the “someday” stage).  While California appears to be fashion-conscious, it really does have a casual anything goes vibe that makes it easy to ignore trends.  That’s why I am a little obsess about upgrading my wardrobe right now.  I aspire to land in Italy with a preppie, casual California style that is unique yet not horribly off-trend in the land of Missoni, Marni and Armani.   Yes, my plan for moving right now consists of shopping for clothing…I do plan to hold off on shoe-shopping til I cross the pond. I’m not that insane.

While I have visited Italy many times, my perception of Italian style is limited. It will be interesting to see if my ideas change once I actually live there.  Right now, I am inclined to think that Italian style does not come cheap.  However, there are ways to mimic Italian style on a budget.

Real-life Italian style is also about the elegant, finishing touches and how you put it together.  Even if you don’t have a huge bank account, you can mimic Italian style with smart choices, creativity and attention to detail.  When I think of quintessential Italian style, I remember a woman I saw in Parma — she was riding her bike along the cobblestone streets, her long brown hair waving behind her.  Her outfit was simple and elegant — elegant slim black pants, black flats, and a crisp white buttoned shirt — what caught my eye and made the outfit was the finishing touch:  a long double/triple strands of pearls that carelessly caressed her neck.  It’s the small touches that complete an outfit.

Tailoring is key.  This is common advice in any fashion magazine.  However, Italians seem to take this seriously and you see the evidence of it especially among the well-dressed men.  Overall, tailoring is an inexpensive way to take your style to a higher level.  Note: If you’re new to my site, I’m referring to native Italians, not the Jersey Shore stereotype of Italians.

Spend more on a few classic pieces and spend less on trendy items.   In general,  Italians are more trend-conscious than Americans.   That’s because when something becomes popular in Italy, everyone from young to old (male and female) seem to be aware of it.  If a trend isn’t gender-specific (say, a certain way to tie your scarf or a certain color), it really appears to be EVERYWHERE.  Obviously if you are following trends, it can get hard on the budget.  However, a good rule of thumb is to never spend too much on popular trends.  As much as you love the current trend, it somehow always look outdated the next year.  For example, a few years ago the color lavendar was super trendy in Italy.  A budget-conscious Italian friend bought a pretty lavendar scarf and wore it all season. Fashionable and smart!

Appearances are important.  In L.A., you can get away with going out in your sweatpants. Hey, it’s even a badge of honor to wear fashionable yoga outfits around town.  In Italy, attire is definitely more formal.  In other words, even if you’re picking up cigarettes at the corner tabacchi, you don’t want to look like a bum.  This isn’t cheap because it means you have to have nice casual clothes along with work clothes.

My husband reminds me that it’s better to maintain your individual style rather than follow the herd.  I completely agree.  Even if I adapt my style somewhat to Italian trends, I think that no matter where I end up, I’ll always have my own California style.

10 Years From Now…

A Sweet Fine Day had an interesting post about her 10-year plan, some of which involved her business and some that were personal.  This was a planning exercise for her small business group but something that we should all do in our personal lives.

I used to be a planner (although in 2-3 year increments) but the past few years have been about the here and now, and survival.  No, we’re not broke and struggling but I also don’t feel like we’re moving ahead. I suppose that this isn’t an unusual feeling. It’s common to reach a plateau when you hit your 40s; in fact, I read an interesting post on Brazen Careerist about hitting your peak earning power in your 40s.  That’s a scary thought but also comforting if you’re where you mostly want to be and are tired of endless striving.

I think I’m still working out my 10-year plan but I do see living in a foreign country in my future and hopefully more time with my kids and some sort of career.  If I get braver, I’ll post up my Italy in 2012 (or 2013? 2014?) plan…

July 6: A Simple Vacation

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

I was inspired to write this after reading a few posts over at Apartment Therapy which has  had several posts over the years about making the most of a vacation at home and on making the most of summer

The truth is, as much as I love vacations, vacation planning is not always simple.  Even if you book a cruise or some all-inclusive deal, there may be some research involved or price comparisons.  Even the most “laid-back” trip often involves some excursion planning and transportation-related headaches (from getting to the airport on time to finding the nearest restroom while on the road).   A “stay-cation” is no picnic either, because you often end up doing errands and no one is making the bed for you, i.e. it doesn’t feel like much of a vacation.

This year, we’re not planning any big trips.  Nothing complicates travel like young children and I don’t want to haul strollers and diapers around.  I’m just taking a few days off here and there.  However, over the years, I have learned some tricks for simplifying my vacations:

  1. Pack Smart.  This means pack light and clothes that mix and match well.  No browns and blacks.  If you pack light enough, you can avoid checking in luggage which also simplifies life.
  2. Don’t overplan. As tempting it is to see and do everything, try to stick to a short “must-do/must-see” list.  Otherwise you’ll just tire yourself out and not enjoy the trip as much anyway.
  3. Use kayak.com or www.farecompare.com for airplane ticket comparisons.  I found farecompare.com to be the best website because it grabs deals from several sources.  My best find was $600 r/t (maybe $700 after taxes and fees?) to Italy one summer.  If you have other favorite sites, let me know. [correction: Earlier I had written that kayak.com was the best source but I just remembered that the best deal I got was through farecompare.com]
  4. Live in a tourist destination.  It’s much easier to enjoy a stay-cation if you live in a part of the country that people visit.  After all, people are attracted to your town for a reason so there’s probably a lot to do.  Note: I’m not suggesting that anyone moves but living in Los Angeles with connections in Italy definitely has perks.

How do you keep your vacations simple and fun? 

Simple Living, Italian Style: The Kitchen

This is a second in my series examining simple living, the Italian way.  I’m intrigued by the Italian outlook on life and find that it meshes well with the American simplicity movement, but with a zest for life (la dolce vita) that gives it a more joyful twist. 

I’ve written before about our tiny kitchen and 10+ year old dishwasher (the little dishwasher that could…) but I don’t want people to get the wrong idea.  We have all that we need and can afford a newer dishwasher when the time comes.  What got me thinking about the kitchen again was Frugal Scholar’s recent series on kitchen renovations.  During the process, she started pining for an $8,000 French stove…until she imagined a French friend rolling her eyes in shock at that silly indulgence.

This tale of French frugaliy reminded me of Italian frugality, which I think might be rather similar when it comes to cooking and kitchens.  The only difference is that the frugal French friend sets you straight with an eye-roll while an Italian would probably find a friendlier way to tell you.  Both cultures are known for excellent cuisine and boast some great home cooks, yet the “dream kitchen” of granite counters, stainless steel sinks, Viking stoves and restaurant-quality appliances is a distinctly American one.

During the recent housing boom, Americans were bombarded with glossy lifestyle magazines and TV shows that paraded dream kitchens and renovations. At the same time, the media touted kitchen renovations as fool-proofed investments and banks easily approved home equity lines of credit.  No wonder Americans started believing that bigger is better and more expensive is even better.  If you have a giant house, you want a giant kitchen, right?

In Italy, there wasn’t a massive housing boom brought on by easy credit. I believe it was and still is common to put more than 20% down on a house.  I’m sure that it’s easier to resist the allure of walnut cabinets and $8,000 stoves if no one around you is spending like mad on kitchen renovations.

Perhaps Americans subconsciously believe that a high-end kitchen will result in good cooking and fun dinner parties with friends and family (as pictured in the numerous glossy magazines). The thinking goes like this: “I hate slaving in the kitchen but if I had X and Y, I would cook more. And if I cook more, I’d invite people over and spend more quality time with friends and family.”  At least that’s my theory….

The kitchen is truly the heart of the Italian home and this cannot be bought.  Don’t get me wrong.  Most of the Italian kitchens I’ve seen have good cabinetry, nice appliances and excellent tilework (no cheap linoleum), yet very few are flashy or decked out like a restaurant kitchen.  If you know how to cook, you’ll realize there’s little need for a fancy dual-range double oven or mega-refrigerator. In general, due to history of home-cooking and food-loving culture, Italians are better able to appreciate a well-used kitchen over an idealized dream version.

As with all generalizations, there are caveats.  I don’t know if younger Gen-Y Italians are more likely to want a restaurant-style kitchen.  If Italians do brag, it may be about clothing, trips or other things.  My personal history has also affected my perception. I remember listening to a colleague brag about her expensive stove and other fancy appliances; she was the typical aspirational spender, with a house bought with zero percent down, a designer clothing addiction, and a lease on a luxury car on a middle-class salary.  A friend owned several high-end pots and pans that sat unused for years. I’ve known many who considered fancy kitchens a status symbol in the vein of luxury cars or a sauna.  Maybe what bothers me most is the huge disconnect between reality and fantasy!

It’s nice to daydream but I think we could all benefit from re-imagining our dream kitchens as a more functional, simpler place.  At the end of the day, it’s not about the expensive pans or appliances, it’s really all about the food.

The High-Low Cost Of Travel

A while ago, I wrote a post that that mentioned the travel habits of Europeans versus Americans.  With our lack of vacation time and isolationist tendencies, it’s no wonder many Americans have never left the country. One commenter added that another major reason for this disparity is costs.  There’s a huge difference between a trans-Atlantic flight and inter-European flights. 

The comment inspired me to go back and tally up my travel costs.  Since I didn’t really keep tabs in my 20s or early 30s, it’s impossible to know how much I spent back then but I’ll try:

1 ) First Trip to Europe –  the poor college student with a giant backpack days (when the Euro didn’t exist and the dollar was strong!)

I think the plane ticket costed at least $1,000+.  I didn’t shop around at all. I just went to the Student Travel center and purchased my ticket.  Since I was backpacking for 3 months, I think it was worth it.  I believe I had at least $2,000 saved up for the entire trip.  I stayed at youth hostels most of the time, ate a lot of picnic-like lunches, and never went inside a discoteque.  I was more of the museum-going, cafe-people watching type of traveler.  I had a credit card but only planned to use it for emergencies.  Estimate: 3 months for approximately $3,500 including airfare — I really had no idea though and a favorable exchange rate made it possible.

2 ) 2nd trip to Europe

I’m sure I spent a lot more. I can’t remember how much more.  I was just happy that I could now afford a nice, budget hotel.   Although I didn’t really pay attention to finances at that point, the best thing I ever did was NOT charging vacations on my credit card.  Yes, I worked hard and deserved fun.  No, I did not want to pay for it months or years after the tan has faded.  Estimated cost:  3 weeks for $2,000 (?)

3 ) Subsequent Trips to Italy  – the “having an Italian husband has lots of perks” days

Other than plane tickets, we don’t have to spend much to visit Italy.  Some people spend more on domestic trips than we do on international travel.  I do use kayak.com, farecompare.com and a host of other sites to find the lowest possible airfare. One year, I got two r/t tickets for $650 each, including taxes and fees, during high season.   I have no idea why this particular flight was selling for $200-300 less than other flights that pulled up on the same search. It was on a major airline, not unusually long nor with extra connecting flights.  Needless to say, I jumped on it. 

Of course, traveling still adds up.  We often want to do side trips.  We have to pay dogsitting costs.  We always want to eat well.  However, in Italy, it’s very possible to eat well at small affordable trattorias rather than five-star restaurants.  You just have to know where to go!  And of course, we eat many delicious meals at home.  Total: 2 weeks at $2,000 for 2 people (including airfare)

During my late 20s and 30s, I also travelled to China, Argentina, and Mexico.  We have relatives in China so we don’t have to pay for much other than airfare. It’s not cheap but I think you can find deals also.   Argentina flights are not cheap.  Right now, airfare to Buenos Aires is hovering around the $900 mark (not including taxes and fees).  Last time, I paid closer to $700 per ticket total.  I’m hoping that wasn’t a fluke.  We had a great time there and would love to go back.   You can eat very well for little and you can stretch your budget by staying at bed & breakfasts or apartment rentals.  As for Mexico, it’s just a hop and skip away from Los Angeles, so almost every Angeleno can visit for very little money.   To keep it budget-friendly and more authentic, we avoid mega-luxury resorts in favor of smaller towns and hotels.

Among Americans, I do consider myself well-traveled.  (I’m not counting Europeans and others with many more vacation days than I’ll ever get!)  I know people who have traveled more but many more that have traveled much less.  However, now that I’ve looked back, I realize that luck and sacrifice have played a big part in my ability to travel.  Most people don’t have relatives with guest bedrooms in far-flung places.  While my friends complain about visting in-laws in [insert domestic suburb here], I complain about visiting Italy yet again.  

We have also made sacrifices that allow us to travel.  We don’t own fancy cars or a flat screen TV.  We try not buy into the consumerist culture.  We also don’t own a home.  Of course we’re not renting  just so that we can travel!   However, a house in Los Angeles is very out of reach at this point and we don’t want to be house-rich and cash-poor.  I do understand that for most people, owning a home takes priority over everything else.

I still think that the poor student backpacking through Europe is an important rite of passage. I’m just not sure how feasible it really is in this day and age.  If you can only go to Europe once, that is the time to go. You get a long summer break.  It’s fun to meet other young travelers at youth hostels. No matter how materialistic you are, you can probably live on less at that age than any other time.

Among your peers, do you consider yourself well-traveled?  Do you wish you could travel more?  How much have you spent on traveling?