Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gifts That Really Give

The madness that is known as Black Friday has passed, officially kicking off the Christmas shopping season. Unfortunately, the world financial situation has induced our own local shopkeepers and comune to go alla Americana, bedecking the piazzas and shop windows a lot earlier than normal this year. I admit it's disappointing; I liked the respite and shorter season that we've experienced here the past two years.

I'm not a "mall person". I definitely dislike the "canned" feeling, and prefer the open-air atmosphere of the mercato, and the personalized experience of small, individually-owned shops. But shopping and shipping gifts to the States can be a hassle; I mean, who wants to subject herself to the Poste Italiane if she doesn't have to? Offering prayers for Christmas miracles that the gifts will arrive at their intended destinations takes a lot of faith.

We have also decided in recent years to scale back our gift-giving and refocus our thoughts, energies and resources on the true spirit of the holiday. The gifts we are giving we sanely opted to order online.

In doing so I came across some great sites where you can buy fun, meaningful, or pretty gifts...many of which will keep on giving. Over the next few posts I'll share my finds with you. Today we'll start with "normal" gift sites, whose goods are anything but ordinary.

First off...sites for Traditional Gifts

Sometimes you just want to give something pretty and unusual. That's why I love these sites:

My friend Elizabeth scours Italy to find these gorgeous scarves in luxurious fabrics. Every hue, texture, length and style are just waiting to be snuggled into or draped upon you. There is something for everyone's taste in her offerings. Call me funky but I *love* the silk number with suede fringe!

I couldn't consider myself a good New Mexican if I didn't spread the word about these beautiful and yet practical housewares. The original metal alloy molded into inspired shapes for bowls, platters, candlesticks and vases are perennial favorites (in case anyone is wondering what to buy me, look no further! ;) But the crystal designs are striking, too, and they've recently added porcelain to their line-up.

1000 Markets
I love this site! It brings together independent, talented artists and artisans to market and sell their hand-produced, unique wares. There is so much variety and inspiration here that you could easily spend half a day perusing the offerings. Don't say I didn't warn you.

La Cucina dello Zio Giorgio
I've talked often about my friend Giorgio. He is a chef who owned a restaurant in Rome for many years. Now "retired" (I put it in quotes because he just can't stay out of the kitchen and can't keep himself from concocting new recipes), Giorgio started a private label to produce and distribute foods made from his own recipes. Everything is produced in small batches to his standards. You can order them to be shipped from Rome to your door. Particularly tasty is his Pesto alla Romana and Crema ai Noci e Tartufo.

In the "great minds think alike" category, Texas Espresso compiled a nice gift list, too. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Evviva Maria!

I want to give a great big shout-out to my friend Maria Berry. Maria, you may remember, guarded the nest as a guest blogger (here and here). She is one of my dear friends- a wonderful, vibrant, upbeat person who is fun-loving, witty, and very intelligent. That she has overcome hurdles, crises, and difficult situations while maintaining all those qualities is amazing. She is involved in her community, is a consummate encourager of everyone she knows, maintains a vineyard, and just recently retired from her second (or maybe fifth?) career as a personal trainer.

Sound a little bit like a super-woman? Well, actually she is. Or maybe more like Woman of Steel. You see, Maria recently competed - at the age of 61 - in a heavy-duty bodybuilding competition known as "The Rocky". This is no lightweight affair; according to the organizers it is the "largest and most prestigious amateur bodybuilding, fitness & figure organization in the USA" and is also "the only avenue to the IFBB-The ultimate in Professional bodybuilding, fitness and figure". Yes, I was impressed by that too.

She garnered a write-up and photo spread in a magazine section of the Albuquerque Journal.

Gorgeous, no? She makes 61 looks pretty damn good. You can read the article here.

So Maria...complimenti! Sei bravissima! You have stared the animal of Aging in the face, and given him a good swift kick in the teeth!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Roman Holiday

My sister departed yesterday. It was sad to see her go, and two weeks whizzed by like nobody's business. Our time together was entirely too short and passed entirely too quickly. Our last few days were spent in Rome, connecting with friends...but I'll save that story for next time.

We returned from our mini-holiday in Rome to the news that the new DVD of Roman Holiday has been released! I'm so excited! I was asked to participate in the production of one of the special features on this new release, and am very thrilled to have played a small part in it, since I *love* this movie.

I'm always amazed at how many people sheepishly admit that they've never seen the film. People! Audrey Hepburn. Gregory Peck. Rome. What's not to love?

*Filmed in 1953, entirely on location in Rome
*Ranked #4 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Romantic Comedy".
*Garnered Audry Hepburn an Academy Award. The film won 3 Oscars, and was nominated for 10.
*Audrey Hepburn ranks third on AFI's 50 Greatest Screen Legends (female). Gregory Peck ranks twelfth on the same list for male Legends.
*Peck met his wife Veronique, a French journalist, during a stop in Paris after filming was completed, while promoting Roman Holiday. They were married for 48 years.

If you've not seen it, go! Go now and rent, buy, or download the film! And if you happen to buy the new Centennial Collection edition, be sure to watch the special feature entitled Rome With a Princess. You'll get to see my name in lights ;)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Views From the Motherland

My sister is here for a visit! Hooray! As I've said before, the main thing that I miss from the US is family and friends...and my sister belongs to both of those groups. It's been great having her around to laugh with, eat with, and bumble around with.

We spent about a week in the motherland of Basilicata so she could get acquainted with i parenti (relations) and see the gorgeous landscapes our family came from. We showed her the splendors of Matera where we had the Sassi all to ourselves. The off-season meant reduced numbers, but so did the rain. We made the discovery that the steep stone streets that are so beautiful to behold and wander in sunlight turn to rivers and waterfalls in the rain! Oh well; so we got a little wet. It was still a magical place despite it.

After a few peaceful nights in a mountain-top agriturismo and food-filled days in town connecting with friends and relations, we somewhat regretfully left our home away from home to return to Ascoli Piceno.

I'll be away from the Pinon Tree for a few more days while we continue to show her the fabulous things around here before heading back to Rome to meet up with friends there. See you again soon!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Come Mai Ascoli?

Why on earth did you move to Ascoli Piceno? This question is frequently uttered incredulously by locals, and curiously by visiting Americans or would-be expats. The locals don't understand why Americans would leave the perceived splendors of the US for Italy ("ma, the whole world wants to live in America and you come to live in Ascoli?!") Despite their protests that "Ascoli e` piccolo piccolo" (Ascoli is such a little town), there are nearly 60,000 inhabitants with lots of stuff going on all the time, even if many of the Ascolani say "there is nothing to do here".

Fellow Americans are generally curious about our decision to move and how we picked a fairly unknown city. Since I've been receiving quite a few more emails relating to the topic, I thought now would be a good time to recap the decision and reasons for you.

Our first impressions of Ascoli:
Ascoli Piceno

Our decision to move here:
A Place to Call Home

The exciting things to do:
Men in Tights and Sleepless Nights

Ascoli isn't a tourist town:
Tourists and Trinkets

And finally, why we moved to Italy in the first place:
Dreams Do Come True

Not enough? Bryan has some great photos posted on his blog:
NM 2 Italia

Now you know -probably more than you ever wanted to-about what made us decide on Ascoli.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just Do It!

Today is The Day! Go to the polls and vote! It just feels good to cast your ballot. It's your right and your duty! So Just Do It!

Make it a community affair - check to see if your friends or elderly neighbors need a ride to the polls. Now Go!