Mom’s Question

We will be based at EUI from September for one, maybe 2 years and would like our girls (aged 6 and 9) to start in a school nearby as we’d also like to live around that area. Have looked at Kindergarten school as an option but considering Boccaccio as we’ve heard there are some international families there. Any other suggestions for schools? Is it possible to still get in for September? They speak English and Norwegian.

The Florentine Needs your Help

theflorentine

The Florentine is looking for ideas for an upcoming article on “Fun things to do with kids in and around Florence in the spring”. Niche activities and places, not the usual suspects, which are fun for both children and adults alike now that the nice weather is here. Please send your ideas by email to Helen Farrell, editor of The Florentine, at h.farrell@theflorentine.net

Deadline for submissions is Tuesday 21 April. The article needs to go out in the May issue.

cropped-cropped-logo-for-blog1.jpgFirenze Moms 4 Moms Network will be credited for the contributions from you so thanks for participating in this article.

How to document the lives of our kids through photography – without stress!

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Today I would like to share some thoughts about the way we use photography today. In particular, photographing and documenting the lives of our children.

Years back – before the digital era – we ”saved” the use of our cameras for special occasions such as birthday parties and holidays. We did not post our lunch to Instagram, and everyday life with our kids would usually remain undocumented because each single photo had a cost so we couldn’t just shoot away as we can today.

I think it’s safe to say that things have changed. Never before has photography been so available to everyone. Thanks to digital cameras, smartphones, ipads etc. most people have the possibility of taking photos constantly.

There is however a negative side effect to all this. I believe that a lot of us (myself included) have become a little too obsessed with documenting and capturing everything. We have become so scared of missing even just one little Kodak moment. No matter what we do or where we go with our kids we always have our cameras or smartphones with us and as soon as they do something special, cute or funny the first thing we can think of is this: Photo opportunity!

Birgitte_Br_ndsted_16How many times have you stressed yourself because you felt that you should be taking photos of your kid doing one thing or another? Have you ever watched him/her dance/sing/do school plays/blow the candles etc. through the display on your smartphone? I know I have.

When we decide that a certain moment or a certain event is so important to us and our kids that we have to capture it in order to be able to relive it over and over again ironically enough we actually loose a part of the original ”live” moment. We can never be 100% present and attentive in a situation if at the same time we have to concentrate on taking photos or filming it. And I think that our kids notice. They would rather have us concentrate on them and their performance. I have been asked more than once by my daughter to put away the iPhone or the camera. And I can see why. They ask for our attention and we pull out the camera or the smartphone…

All this is of course natural. We want to save every little detail in our kids’ lives, we don’t want to miss a thing. I’m not saying we are bad parents because of this.

However the thing is this: We do actually miss out on something. We miss a part of the present and the funny thing: How many of these photos or films do we actually really use/enjoy/look at afterwards? I mean except for right after the event, where we have to look at them in order to see what was actually going on, because we were too busy filming or photographing it :-)

I shall be the first one to say that photos are important. Even lots of them. But how many of your photos do you actually print either as a photo book or to hang on the wall? And how many of your photos turn out well? Do you tend to just shoot away, until you get the right photo thus ending up with a lot of useless stuff on your memory card?

I think we need to slow down a bit and start to focus on the quality instead of the quantity. Both in terms of the actual photos but – more importantly – in terms of when we pull out the camera.

Below are a few changes I have applied within my own photography – both on a personal and professional level. I like to refer to them as my ”Slow photography behaviour” :-)

Take less photos
It’s actually very simple. I know you can take as many photos as you like with your digital camera without spending a penny but I suggest you stop doing that right away. Try to act a bit more as if you were shooting with an old film camera with only 24 or 36 frames. How would you use them?

When you take a photo give it some time. Concentrate as much as you can. Try to ”see” the photo before you take it, make sure the light is good, wait until your kid stops moving in order to avoid unsharp photos. In short: Do your best and only when you believe you have the right photo do you push the shutter. If you are satisfied with the result then stop. You don’t need 10 more photos that look the same.

Delete bad photos
If on the other hand your photo turns out wrong then delete it immediately. No need to fill up your phone or your computer with bad photos. You won’t be using them again. An idea could be to ask yourself the following question: ”Would I pay to have this photo printed?” If the answer is no then I would let it go.

Reduce the number of situations in which you take photos
Once you start to learn how to reduce the quantity of photos you can begin to reduce the number of times you pull out the camera. Think twice: Is this really something I need to photograph? Do we already have photos from similar situations? I already have tons of photos of my daughter having fun at the playground, so that’s a place where I have more or less stopped bringing my camera.

Birgitte_Br_ndsted_11I have also made a decision to limit photography when we are together with other people. When we go to other kids’ birthday parties or similar events I prefer to just participate, relax and hang out with her and the other guests. Sure I won’t have any memories from the day but I enjoy myself so much more and no one gets stressed.

 

Take your photos – then put the camera away
I am sure we all have some special occasions where we just won’t say no to photos. Our children’s birthdays eg.

What I do is this: I take a few photos in the beginning and then I put the camera away for the rest of the day. Sure I don’t get to document every single minute, but I will still have a few photos from the day and most importantly: I get to live the moment 100%.

Make photography fun
As a photographer I obviously love photos and I do find it very very important to take them on a regular basis. However I prefer to keep things a bit separated. When I take photos I like to be able to concentrate 100% on the photography. Sometimes I will grab my daughter at home and ask if we should do some photos together. She won’t always say yes, but when she does we do these little photo sessions and we have great fun while doing them. Other times I will simply grab my camera and start photographing her while she is drawing or playing or even during breakfast – usually without even interrupting her. This kind of photos often turn out to be the best, they are spontaneous, they are easy to take and they don’t stress any of us.

Print your photos
Ever since my daughter was born I have made an annual photo book with all the best photos from the past year. This is such a great way to actually use the photos. I write a few lines to accompany the photos and I give a copy of the book to her grandparents who obviously love it.

Birgitte_Br_ndsted_12We live in a very digital time but I beg you: Don’t just keep your photos on the computer. Have them printed. That’s what they were meant for. Make photo books or have them framed. There are so many options. A photo is not a real photo until you can feel it between your hands.

So tell me: Do you recognize some of these things from your own life? Or do you already have a balanced relationship with your camera? How do you actually use the photos you take? Do you print them? I would love to hear your experiences and opinions!

Birgitte Brøndsted is a Danish photographer specialized in kids, family and maternity portraits. She lives in Florence with her daughter who is 4 years old. You can see her work on http://birgittebrondsted.com

Discovering our stories: Writing Workshop

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Everything has a story to tell, from a tree with the wind blowing through its leaves to the stranger sitting on the same street corner every day. Stories inspire us to look inward, explore our emotions, understand ourselves, and to share with others what is like to feel what we feel. This workshop intends to guide you towards a deeper emotional connection with yourself through improvisation, interaction through story-telling, and the discovery of how to frame your own story into a literary context. I am a writer who lives in Florence and one of my passions is finding stories that a casual glance might miss. We will stroll through Florence, listen to other writers, and help you build your own fascinating characters out of the people and places that we see. Join me on this literary adventure.  To find out more about the workshop …http://writerinflorence.com/discovering-our-stories/

Ela Vasilescu is a published writer and a freelance journalist based in Florence, Italy. She is currently working on her new book of short stories and is part of the Writers Group in Florence.  She has created and conducted the journalistic project The human behind the artist which consists in interviews with English speaking artists living in Florence.

The Horror with Amazon and Third Party Vendors

amazoncoukAmazon, a well known company, that many of us expats use to get packages for favorites from home, to send gifts to our relatives all over the world, and even to have the ability to order online with a large selection of items ranging from clothes, to kitchen wares, to even household paper goods.  Amazon.it has pick up recently over the past few years to offer a larger selection but before that Amazon.co.uk was the selection to cover things we needed in Europe.  Neither is as big as Amazon.com but the company is definitely picking up and expanding.  They even are possibly starting up a drone delivery system which if it was in place maybe I would not be telling you this horror story of a battle I am in between a third party vendor at Amazon and their supposedly A-toZ Guarantee Claim section for handling disputes between buyers and third party vendors.

As my story begins with the usual, I have a health condition that causes me to not be able to go out shopping for long hours getting gifts for my children.  So I rely a lot on online shops to handle my Christmas gifts. I could probably be a share holder with Amazon, because of the amount of purchases I  make through them.  The reason I have always used Amazon was because of the quick deliveries, friendly customer support, easy returns, and appropriately handling disputes or complaints.  I mean just recently I was able to contact Amazon.it in English to file a warranty on a cell phone I purchased 1 year ago that completely died.  I provided all the documents and they so nicely sent SDA to my door the next day to pick up the dead phone.  They mentioned that my phone was discontinued and they did not have a replacement so they would credit me a full refund.  Which was great because then I was able to purchase a replacement phone through them.  We even had a credit card issue because a year ago it was a different card which had been closed and they so kindly explained how to go about getting the reimbursement to the new card through the bank.  Within 4 days I was able to ship the phone back, get the credit and get a replacement phone all during the week between Christmas and New Years.  This is unreal in Italy but it happened. Amazon.it Customer service was wonderful and polite and answered all my questions in English never the less.

As I said I ordered my gifts from Amazon for Christmas.  I ordered all on December 1st so that it had plenty of time to arrive by Christmas.  I used both Amazon.it and Amazon.co.uk, but I do check where the seller is located even with shipping from Amazon sometimes the package is coming from either Germany, UK or even US.  That in mind giving 24 days to get to my house for Christmas should be plenty of time even though it is a busy time of the year.  Most of my packages arrived some cutting it close to the wire.  There were 3 that were still not here by the 23rd of December.  One vendor so nicely contacted me through email saying the package had shipped but would not make it here by Christmas and they were very sorry.  I thought Ok and waited until this week to contact them again mentioning that it still did not arrive, where they so kindly apologized and reimbursed me for the item.   As of today it still has not arrived. Another item I contacted the vendor where they responded

We totally understand your situation. If the shirts do not “show up” within 4 days we will cancel the order and refund your money. Then it is most likely that the shipment was lost during the process. We are very sorry for the inconvenience that may have caused. Kind Regards,

 

Those shirts did arrive on the 24th so good to go and no problems.  That T-shirt company is buXsbaum a third party vendor on Amazon.co.uk  This item had a delivery estimate of December 05, 2014 – Thursday, December 11, 2014. Now I know these are estimates but there has to be a cut off as to when a package should finally arrive at the buyers house. I mention this vendor because as you can see they were very respectful and reasonable.  The package did arrive so we did not have to pursue any further disputes with this company.

That leaves the last one, a Minecraft Creeper T-shirt ordered from the third party vendor again through Amazon.co.uk called Trenz Shirt Company INCI contacted them like I did with the other T-shirt company on December 16th wondering if the package was going to get to my house before Christmas. This one had a tracking number for the USPS (United States Postal Service) and according to that tracking system this package has been all over the place by this date. Mind you the shop is located Loganville, Ga USA.  The package labeled on the USPS tracking system was stated as an International Letter (this is a T-shirt not a letter) went from:

1 Pre-Shipment Info Sent to USPS December 3, 2014
2 Arrived at USPS Facility MIAMI, FL 33112 December 10, 2014 9:43 am
3 Arrived at Sort Facility ISC NEW YORK NY(USPS) December 10, 2014 11:17 am
4 Departed USPS Facility MIAMI, FL 33112 December 10, 2014 11:17 am
5 Processed Through Sort Facility ISC NEW YORK NY(USPS) December 10, 2014 1:35 pm
6 Arrived Miami, UNITED STATES December 11, 2014 12:54 pm
7 Departed Miami, UNITED STATES December 11, 2014 5:37 pm
8 Departed Milan, ITALY December 13, 2014 8:12 am
9 Departed Frankfurt, GERMANY December 13, 2014 5:38 pm
10 Departed Frankfurt, GERMANY December 15, 2014 4:58 pm
11 Departed Vienna, AUSTRIA December 16, 2014 7:12 am
12 Departed Milan, ITALY December 16, 2014 9:59 am
13 Processed Through Sort Facility ITALY December 18, 2014 2:45 pm
14 Customs Clearance ITALY December 18, 2014 6:43 pm
15 Customs clearance processing complete ITALY December 30, 2014 4:08 pm
16 Addressee not available – Addressee advised to pick up the item ITALY December 31, 2014 4:02 pm ????

In looking at this tracking of my package I would already say something is not right with their system.  How can a package be in Miami and New York at the same time? Why would it go from US to Milan then to Germany, Austria then back to Milan?  Okay fine. When I contacted Trenz Shirt Company on the 16th I wrote:

I am hoping this arrives. By looking at the USPS site tracking I have seen that it has gone to Milan then Germany then Austria back to Milan again.  It is on track to Firenze correct?

They so kindly responded,

It looks like they may have misscanned. Its in Italy. I will watch the tracking though.

I figured okay they are looking into it and maybe we will get it by Christmas. Still it did not arrive so on December 23rd I contacted them again:

I am still waiting for this and of course still hoping to get it by tomorrow, but not sure if it will even show up.
Do you have any way to find out where this is? From the tracking number I see it finally cleared customs on the 18th but I still have not received it.
Let me know thanks,

Their response:

It may be with local carrier. I see it cleared customs on the 18. I will try to contact USPS to see if I can get an exact location.

I have not heard back from the vendor so I contacted them again on December 27th because nothing had changed on this tracking system the USPS is using.

Just letting you know we did not receive this as of even today. I am still hoping to get it since my son very much wanted this shirt but do not know what to do as in how long to wait for asking for the reimbursement and if it will ever get here.

Their response to my message:

Ok. I am still awaiting response from USPS on this item.

I get the automatic email of the tracking system on this package on December 30th stating the same “Customs clearance processing complete ITALY December 30, 2014 4:08 pm”  Nothing new.  December 31st arrives I am home with the whole family all day we do not leave until 8pm at night. I was shocked to receive an email of the tracking system on January 1st stating “Addressee not available – Addressee advised to pick up the item ITALY December 31, 2014 4:02 pm”  There was no attempt of delivery and there was no slip put in the mail box stating that there was an “attempt of delivery/ avviso di ritiro” let alone where to pick up a package.

avviso_di_ritiroThis is not new if a package is attempted to be delivered the Poste Italiane puts a yellow card in your box saying that they attempted to deliver and if they are going to return the next day or if you need to pick up and the address of the post office. We live in big city there are probably 50 or more offices in Firenze.  Without having this slip I have no way of knowing what office this package is at, if it is even at an office since the system has been so fishy to begin with. But since I was home and no one came, I immediately messaged the seller.  Mind you the package was ordered December 1st, shipped December 3rd and it was January 1st and I still have not received this package.  I wrote

According to the tracking system it claims they tried to deliver to us yesterday at 4 pm but we were here and did not receive anything asking to pick up the package and do not even know the location to pick up the package. Just letting you know. Maybe they will try to deliver on the 2nd because of the holidays. We will see.  We paid EUR 32,00 where  19.06 EUR was shipping which took over a month to get to us. I am really starting to get frustrated and annoyed that we paid so much for shipping to get the package to us by Christmas  and still have not received this package.

The company responded ignoring the fact that it was now a month and no item has arrived:

It appears they will be trying again today

Where Trenz Shirt Company sees that they will try again today, I have no clue, because the last final entry on the tracking system was that they attempted and that it was being held for pickup.  The company did not acknowledge that it is taking too long for the package to arrive, they did not respond to the fact that now I was getting frustrated, they did not care that I paid a lot for shipping and that the package again did not arrive.  On January 2nd there was not another attempt to deliver and again no yellow slip saying where to pick up a package.  So at this point, it was time to file the claim through Amazon’s  A-to-z Guarantee that they set up to handle disputes from customers and third party vendors.  I felt okay maybe we will get somewhere.  January 3rd I wrote both an email to Trenz Shirt and Amazon A-toZ Guarantee stating that by this point I have not received the item I ordered and I would like it fully refunded.  Since January 3rd every day the messages were going back and forth me asking for a refund and them both Amazon and Trenz telling me to pick up the package at an unknown post office.  I mean really Amazon A-toZ should have told the company that it has been over a month and the package did not arrive that they should just reimburse the buyer instead of sending messages like:

We are writing to follow up with you concerning the A-to-z Guarantee claim filed for order 026-######-#######. The seller has supplied USPS tracking number LZ#########US, which shows that a delivery was attempted for this shipment on 31/12/2014. We ask that you contact the shipping company directly to arrange for the delivery of this merchandise. We ask that you confirm by replying to this message that this item has been received and the claim may be closed. Please note that if we do not receive a reply within 3 business days, we will assume the issue is resolved and your claim will be closed. We appreciate your cooperation with this request. Thank you for your assistance in this matter and for choosing Amazon.co.uk.

So basically, the A-to-Z Guarantee Claim account manager believes the USPS tracking system (even with all the irregular places, dates, and times on it) that the item was attempted to be delivered (when I stated that it had not and that we did not receive a notification where to pick up). Then they want ME to contact the shipping company directly to arrange delivery (what the H_LL did I pay 19.06 EUR for shipping to get it by Christmas and now I have to find out where the package is?) On top of the fact that when you look to find any information on the USPS site for an international package, they only give the information to the person shipping not the person receiving.  The seller at this point should have reimbursed me the amount and filed a claim with the USPS to find the package and ship it back to the company or start a claim for a lost package.  I am not sure how they were able to write that the package was attempted  delivery, but that was just not true.  Amazon A-to-Z Guarantee Claim should have handled this by now instead of placing all that searching etc on the buyer.  Then they state “Please note that if we do not receive a reply within 3 business days, we will assume the issue is resolved and your claim will be closed.” I have sent replies only to get the same response that the supplier now says the tracking number giving for USPS is the tracking number for Poste Italiane (which it is not) and that the package is at FIRENZE GAVINANA INES  no address just a name. If you look up on the Poste Italiane site for the the office it does not come up.  It you take the name Gavinana that is 30 to 40 minutes opposite direction from where I live so not really the post office in my location (which is where packages are usually at for pick up if they tried to deliver at my house). I do not drive. Come on get real, why is it I have to fight for a package that is lost somewhere that was not delivered to my house and even if it was attempted (which it was not) on December 31st delivery it would have been 28 days since shipping that it took to even supposedly get to my house. Now I have to keep responding in these 3 days to keep the claim open or Amazon.co.uk is going to drop it saying it has been settled.  They have not put any input what so ever in this matter. They are not doing anything different then if I was handling it with the company directly.  This is all totally unacceptable customer service from both the t shirt company and Amazon.co.uk.

What Amazon.co.uk does give you now for disputes, if you choose to take it, is a credit to be used on Amazon.co.uk that they have no problem immediately giving me.  Why would I take a credit to order something that might not get to me like the package I am dealing with now?

At this point, I will not purchase anything more from Amazon.co.uk or Trenz Shirt Company again.  In fact I might just look for other alternatives to Amazon in general, if they are going to treat their customers, like I have been treated the past few days. I would advise you to do the same and if you do order from Amazon, be very aware of the third party vendors even if Amazon is shipping the item.  Amazon takes no responsibility in the actions of the third party vendor even though they have now more than two million third party sellers on their sites that made up 40% of their shipping for the year 2014. They also recently experienced a glitch between repricerexpress.com and Amazon.co.uk, where the third party vendors got hit hard when the glitch caused their products to go on sale for 1p. So using third party vendors on Amazon, Buyer Beware.

A follow up on this:  I did in the end have to take the credit because to protest with the credit card company with such a small amount would have been an hassle.  But I will always watch where the shipment is coming from and where I am buying from.  As long as you stay with Amazon itself you will be treated with respect and most likely get your package.

Related articles:

  1. Amazon shipped 5bn items in 2014, with 40% from third-party sellers
  2. Amazon sellers hit by nightmare before Christmas as glitch cuts prices to 1p
  3. Amazon refuses to compensate sellers for 1p price glitch

 

Substitutes in Italy: Borax | Firenze Mom

https://firenzemom.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/borax.jpg?w=162&h=162Borax I remember using it in the US for many different things.  The compounds that make up Borax are:

Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate,
is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid.
Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft colorless crystals that
dissolve easily in water. from Wikipedia

Here in Italy it is called Borace or better yet the name  Percarbonato di sodio.

For places where to get it look at: Substitutes in Italy: Borax | Firenze Mom.

 

Florence unfriendly to children? Not to my child

2014-10-09 11.39.16Florence can seem as a child unfriendly city for many, mostly because of its famous history and rather large, constant flow of tourists. The image of a toddler running around and chasing pigeons on the rocky beach in front of Palazzo Pitti for example, just doesn’t fit the picture somehow, but I can honestly tell you there is nothing more beautiful than seeing the future playing on the stones of the past.
When we had our daughter, my husband and I were constantly asking ourselves about places where we can take her, so we can all have fun together. We have tried numerous things, from going to aperitivos at child friendly bars to taking her to playgrounds and specially designed entertainment centers (ludoteche), but none of them ever made her as happy as the bar from the corner of our street. Ephia as any toddler has a lot of friends on our street: the people from the bakery, the people from the tobacco shop, the people from the pharmacy, but her favorites are the family that owns the bar, especially their son, the bartender. He is the kind of guy that every kid would love and he knows exactly what to say and how to act around them which makes his bar be filled with children and happy parents all the time. He became my daughter’s best friend and every day when we go for our walk she drags me there, just to see him and give him the perfect smile and “Ciao!”. On some days, when he is not around, we get to the door, she begins searching for him and when she realizes that he is not there, her lower lip starts to tremble, her chin gets pushed into her chest and then she takes my hand asking to leave the place instantly. Yup, that seems like real friendship to me and as I have seen, this is the story of any child that goes into that space.
The first thing you can notice when going inside are the dozens of drawings on the right wall, which have been made by all the children who stepped foot in there, as a present for the bartender. The bar is called Torello and although it’s rather far from the center of Florence, near the Scandicci area, I would highly recommend this place to any parent who wants to enjoy their cup of coffee, one of the best cappuccinos in town or just a nice evening aperitivo, while watching their children having fun and constantly smiling. This man is like a magician and has that vibe that fascinates and draws kids his way, always having a smile on his face and a joke on his lips. Maybe we all should have a bartender like that in our neighborhood, just to make our mornings a bit more smiley.

Article written by  Ela Vasilescu

 

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About the Author:

Ela Vasilescu is a published writer and a freelance journalist based in Florence, Italy. She is currently working on her new book of short stories and is part of the Writers Group in Florence.  She has created and conducted the journalistic project The human behind the artist which consists in interviews with English speaking artists living in Florence.

Because she believes that stories can make us look inward and explore our emotions better, she is always on a quest to finding those stories which cannot be seen with the naked eye. She has conducted a series of theater workshops and this year she has created a storytelling workshop for children “Let’s invent stories together!”. She is also collaborating with F.E.S.T.A Theater and the Canadian Island kindergarten at the moment teaching various theater and English workshops. www.writerinflorence.com

 Related Articles on the Blog:

“Using words and images to capture your audience”
Story Telling Workshops