Parmesan cheese

The image above is readily recognizable as street graffiti. But expression can take many forms. “What is art?” you might ask. Let’s take that “what is . . . ” question in another direction. For example, “what is food?” Or, “can food be art?” Or, “when does food take a form that lends itself to interpretation?” Are these cheesy hypothetical questions? Perhaps not. For example, what is the difference between making delicious cheese like Parmesan vs processing cheese food? Let’s explore.

The original Kraft

Turning milk into cheese requires six important steps. Signature techniques have created world-famous products that have literally become art forms, yet the basic steps remain the same. Then, in 1916,  James L. Kraft patented his curious idea. Suddenly, there was a new twist to cheesemaking—American cheese appeared on the scene. Is it a new art form or is it vandalism of an age-old beautiful product? The newly created food soon came to be known as a “modern cheese product”—cheese but not cheese.

Kraft Singles

American cheese is a mild, creamy, salty concoction that is highly processed and artificially colored to achieve a shiny orange-yellow hue. To preserve its luster there needed to be a final touch—individually wrapped in plastic. Although this last step may improve shelf-life, we suppose that its true purpose is to keep the goo from melting together forming some sort of cheesy brick—no, that’s a different product: Kraft Velveeta.

As kids we ate the lower-cost substitute on our burgers, in mac-n-cheese and even as a handy snack sometimes. As adults, however, many of us kicked the pseudo-cheese habit since we have complete control of our eating choices. But, our opinion of that cheesy product took a turn yesterday, thanks to an experience with RJ, our 5-year-old granddaughter.

Where’s the cheese?

Driving RJ home after camp, she enthusiastically called out from the back seat, “Look at the American cheese!” Our response was, “What?” She repeated her request a little louder. This prompted a second response, “What in the world are you talking about?” She said, “Look, right there (pointing somewhere to the left)—American cheese.” Slowing the car, we both peered down the street, more confused than ever.

RJ was right, as usual

Cheryl said, “Oh, I thought you said, “American cheese.” RJ said, “I did say American cheese,” this time pointing slightly behind us since we had rolled a few feet farther. I turned the car around so we could see exactly what she was pointing toward. As we slowly approached the speed limit sign on the right, she said, “There it is!” I stopped the car and we honed our glances more intently. Sure enough, there on the black and white sign were pieces of American cheese randomly stuck over the 25 mph warning, as if tossed for point value like darts.

We immediately recognized the famed cheese product because of the unmistakable sun-faded color, as well as the iconic size of the squares. Evidently their sticky texture and low melting point made them ideal for quick and long-lasting adherence on a warm street sign.

Stop sign—gross!

It appeared that “suburban vandals” had attacked the entire area just nights before. Upon further inspection we found cheese squares on the stop sign, on top of the playground posts and other equipment in the park. They must have used an entire package of cheese-food on their rampage as they ran from sign to sign. But was it a violent outburst or an artistic expression?

Another option

When we were kids, we threw expensive eggs as a sticky statement of displeasure. We never imagined that we could have hurled processed cheesy orange squares instead. But, while the eggs were readily available and easy to snatch out of their carton, those squares known as “Singles,” had to be painstakingly unwrapped before they could be slapped into place or Frisbee-tossed at their targets. If the message of the “suburban vandals” was one of displeasure, the meticulous unveiling of each slice of cheese-food would certainly have quelled their rage. In addition, by opting for the Kraft Singles as their “paint,” the extra time involved could have slowed their escape—caught red-handed orange handed!

Whether the culprits use spray paint on walls or Kraft Singles on signs, the process is pretty much the same. Art or vandalism remains squarely in the eye of the beholder.

So now, for the final question: Did Mr. Kraft commit an act of artistic expression by reformulating real cheese or did he knowingly vandalize a public institution?  We cast our cheesy votes for the latter.

Related Photos

Following is a gallery of pictures we captured of roadside art in Florence Italy. The creativity is wonderful and the implementation must have been a real challenge. Hopefully you can still see what the original sign was signaling, yet discover an unexpected drive-by chuckle as well.

 

 

Ben Day dots

In 1879, the printer/illustrator Benjamin Henry Day invented “Ben Day dots,” those ubiquitous dots that illustrate comics. This invention opened up possibilities for creative expression. Day concluded that images don’t need to be rendered in full color, but rather, could be made from thousands of tiny equal-size dots with varied spacing, color or even overlapping to create a desired effect or illusion. Creating optical illusions is a visual magic act, based on knowledge of how the eye and brain work together to fill in the blanks. The human eye picks up patterns and the brain finishes the rest.

Day’s brilliant technique has been around for nearly 150 years, and we’ve all figured out the game. Comic strips are predictably constructed of those pervasive dots. In fact, they’re so obvious that we actually anticipate them. We all know the clever trick, yet it still works like magic—dots can be interpreted as people, animals, buildings, or anything else needed to create a comic strip story-line. It’s as though we all share a secret code, a magic key to deciphering clues.

“Ohhh…Alright” detail

The Pop Artist, Roy Fox Lichtenstein, took the visual illusions to a playful and lucrative new level in 1961. His son challenged Roy to paint as realistically as one of his favorite Disney cartoons appeared. The result was Lichtenstein’s first major piece, “Look Mickey.” He had an “Aha!” moment and the resulting style became synonymous with Lichtenstein’s name. Even his exploration into dots of monumental proportions resulted in the same success—the trick worked better than ever.

Daytime “Opaque” Graphics

The city of San Diego is preparing for the upcoming “Comic-Con International” (comic book convention). The city is abuzz with anticipation. The Marriott Hotel, hosting and supporting some of the festivities, has a sweeping curved glass facade. Right before our eyes, skilled workers applied huge comic-style graphics in the form of an opaque film to “wallpaper” the glass. The transformation was dramatic as the massive window-wall suddenly appeared solid, filled with vivid imagery. However, to our surprise, in the same evening, the huge wall of graphics seemed to have been completely removed. Or, so we thought. How was that possible, and why would they go to all of that expense for just one day? Strangely enough, the next morning the graphic once again reappeared over the entire glass facade.

Nighttime transparency

We discovered that the “skin” applied to the glass isn’t really opaque. It actually has thousands of tiny holes (reverse Ben Day dots) that allow the graphic to look monolithic and solid during the day. Likewise, when the interior lights are on in the evening, the skin seems to magically disappear. The eye/brain team do the rest—always ready to fill-in gaps with the “imagined” missing bits to make it complete. It seems that we are hard-wired with a built-in bias for completion—imagining everything just as we think it should be.

Incomplete information? No problem. We just fill in the gaps and fabricate the missing parts. That message from the brain seems to be enough for us to accept the illusion, in fact we embrace it. But just because we go along with the trick doesn’t mean that what we see is real, true or even complete. Clearly we only need enough Ben Day Dots to prompt us. We then connect, complete and accept  the implied image.

It must be quite Comic-al for the Marriott folks to watch the quizzical and curiosity-filled  faces passing by the facade.

Credits

Marriott Marquis Hotel, San Diego – Graphic installation
“Ahhh . . . Alright” detail – 1964 Roy Lichtenstein
“Ben Day dots” detail MoMA
“Both Sides, Now” – Joni Mitchell – courtesy of YouTube
Featured image above – Marriott graphic screen detail

Related Music

Joni Mitchell wrote about the serious implications of life’s illusions back in 1966 with her famous song “Both Sides, Now.” Over 30 years later, she recorded the song again, but from a more mature, reflective position—a different view of life’s illusions. Her poetry speaks: “I’ve looked at love from both sides now/ From give and take and still somehow/ It’s love’s illusions I recall/ I really don’t know love at all.” You can listen to her 2000 rendition below.

 

 

 

“How much is that doggie in the window
The one with the waggly tail
How much is that doggie in the window
I do hope that doggie’s for sale”

Patti Page popularized the novelty song, “(How much is) That Doggie in the Window?” in 1952, when we had each achieved the magical age of 1. The answers to those questions were clear for us even as children and became underscored as the years went on. Here are the questions, followed by our answers: “How much?”—”priceless” and “For Sale?”—”not a chance.”

Doggie in a bag

If you want to have some fun, put a dog in a carry bag (preferably a small dog) and take it everywhere you go. Doing this in Italy resulted in our pooches becoming our “doggies in the window,” attracting the attention of many passers-by. We began with our dearly departed Izzy-B. Her name was Isabel, but Italians knew her as “Ee-sah-bella.” She was a real sweetheart who graciously allowed us to carry her everywhere—the grocery store, restaurants, running errands—the destination made no difference to her. She never uttered one complaint or showed a lack of enthusiasm. She seemed to bask in the attention of all the friendly folks who greeted her.

After 2 years without a doxie, we adopted her successor Sara, pronounced “Sah-dah” in Italian. We’ve had strangers scheming to sneak her into forbidden places, while others have screamed with glee as they take her little face into both hands to smooch her loudly. Most people can’t resist feeding her tiny treats they carry in their pockets, and we’ve even had her magical power give us direction and grant special favors. Following is just one silly example of the antics:

Doggie in the window

Em needed a haircut in Italy. He’d seen a barber shop in the nearby town of Caldine, just across from the local grocery store. It looked promising, so he thought he’d give it a try. One day, while Cheryl was at the market, he walked over for a trim. As usual, Sara was tucked into her carry-bag and barely visible. The barber spun around to offer Em a seat in the barber’s chair. Suddenly, he saw Sara peeking from under Em’s arm. Barber Giovanni is an avid dog lover and was fine with Em keeping Sara on his lap during the haircut—he simply let the barber’s cape drift slowly down over both of them. Another man entered the shop and Giovanni insisted on giving him a peek at Sara. He carefully lifted the hem of the cape to present a napping doggie. Everyone laughed at the silly sight. Sara glanced up momentarily and then fell back asleep.

Sara: doggie dis-covered

After the long pandemic travel drought, we finally returned to Italy some 2 years later. Although he’d had a few haircuts stateside, Em really liked Giovanni’s technique so he returned to the shop for another trim. As Em entered the barber shop, Giovanni paused over his seated customer. Holding his comb and scissors in mid-air, he greeted Em, “Hello, hello, how’s Sara?”(“Ciao, ciao, come sta Sah-dah?”) Em quickly realized that Giovanni didn’t remember his name—just Sara’s. Em replied that she was waiting in the car with Cheryl, but offered to retrieve her. When they returned, the finished customer stood to leave and Giovanni gestured for Em to be seated. Em placed Sara on his lap just like before, anticipating the same fluttering barber’s cape. Giovanni whooshed the large white bib up and out, then waited for it to settle over them. This time, to Em and Sara’s surprise, there was a new feature in the large cape. A clear window had been sewn into the front of it, seemingly custom-made for a furry friend. Sara was completely visible, giving everyone a hearty chuckle as she peered out through the plastic window (finestra di plastica), a bit puzzled and curious. It may have taken her a few extra seconds to fall asleep. Giovanni explained that the cape-windows are intended for cell phone use. However, we agreed that a dedicated dog-window is much more important and a lot more fun!

So, we return to the original question: “How much is that doggie in the (modified cape) window?”—still “priceless.” We wouldn’t trade our little fur baby for all of Italy, or the entire world for that matter! Our theory was supported yet again: some furry fun is always guaranteed when a dog is in tow.

Related Stories and Music

Puppy Love

Simone and Alessia arrived around mezzogiorno, noon the other day for lunch with us in the country. The sun was bright and the air was clear with that unmistakable fall crispness. We hadn’t seen them for over a year, so it was especially fun for us to have that time together to sit and talk . . .

Simple Pleasures

Sometimes Mondays are all about Tuesday.

What?! Are you confused? Don’t be. Tuesday is the name of our daughter’s chocolate lab. No, Iris does not work in research at Hershey headquarters in Pennsylvania. No, she didn’t adopt her sweet puppy on a Tuesday afternoon, but we do celebrate Tuesdays as double days.

Marking the end of an Era, Mom died on January 19, 2022 at 5 in the morning.

Mom in her 90s

Her lifelong goal was to be 100 years-old, but “Big Rosie” fell a mere 73 days short of that milestone. For her valiant effort and positive attitude, the family has given her a pass and will consider the cherished goal achieved. It broke her heart when our dear dad and her loving husband Harry passed in 2001 some 21 years earlier, but ever the optimist, she never gave up. She was a strong and determined woman.

After some weeks of reflection since Mom’s passing, I’m (Em) overwhelmed with many happy memories. My mere 70 years of life as a “practicing adult” under Mom and Dad’s tutelage have given me opportunities beyond my wildest dreams—too many to recount. However, amid the flood of countless thoughts and emotions, I turn to their legacy of values passed down to me and hopefully through me to our children and subsequently, on to their children as well.

The focused team

Mom and Dad had a shared vision: Love, Faith, Family and Fun. It was just that simple. Those basic elements were apparent every single day in numerous ways. They believed that if they kept their focus on those central values, everything would be just fine—a life full of abundance, success and happiness. It turns out that they were right. It worked!

Memories are the greatest keepsakes that we all inherit, but there were also two tangible memory-pieces that I wanted from them as well. Those two items serve as visual reminders of essential gifts they gave me—those particular attributes that have carried me forward throughout my life.

Dad’s favorite drill

Dad had an old wooden drill that he sometimes used on projects at home. That simple tool now symbolizes his steadfast work ethic and natural capabilities. Constantly busy, Dad made all sorts of things that helped create our strong sense of home—a tireless lover of projects of all types and sizes. He made stained-glass, carved wooden figures and fashioned an intricate plaster replica of the Taj Mahal, loved oil painting and even played an electric guitar. In his spare time, K9VTD became his ham radio presence around the world, giving him untold hours of pleasure. Not many people knew that he built all of his radio equipment from mail-order kits with hundreds of tiny parts he staged and stored in muffin tins. He also designed and built an intricate setting for his miniature train that filled most of the garage, painstakingly making all of the mountains, streams and towns from scratch.

Taking a work break

Any projects that were needed around the house, he did himself. Fortunately, as the youngest I was always his sidekick, learning by both watching and doing. He taught me resourcefulness, commitment, perseverance, kindness, patience and problem-solving. To this day, I’m a willing volunteer if something needs a little adjustment or major repair. For me that simple wooden drill captures all of those wonderful qualities he quietly wove into the fabric of who I am. The many lessons and skills he taught me, by example, have served me well.

Mom’s tap shoes

Mom was the consummate mother who resumed tap-dancing at 50 years old—all I wanted was her patent leather tap shoes. She loved to dance as a child with her older sister, Margaret, on the Garfield Park stage. She was a natural performer and it showed-up in every aspect of her life. So when we three kids became young adults, she decided to dust-off her tap dancing skills, navigating her return to the “stage” with grace, dignity and enthusiasm. A young dance teacher gave her lessons and as her “performer” persona reappeared, I saw a new spark of life flash in her eyes. She turned the music up loud and tapped away in the garage where the concrete floor created the perfect click/slide sound. The rhythmic beats echoed as she tilted her head and gracefully extended her arms, swaying and tapping to her heart’s content.

She had no intention of performing for anyone (although she graciously accepted an occasional  request). Mom just loved the process, the practice and the promise—forever a little girl at heart. So, for me those shoes symbolize her love for life and an unfaltering zest in everything she did. Just like Dad, she modeled values, hopes and dreams for us kids. I always saw her as youthful in spirit, socially engaging with others and being as entertaining and joyful as possible. Her tap shoes sit prominently on the living room bookshelf. A quick glance there reminds me to make every minute count as I aim for those same qualities.

The Family project

Mom and Dad together also gave me a tangible model of what it looks like when committed partners create family, striving toward a vision so big it requires a team of two kindred spirits. They produced a legacy of love that continues to trickle down through each generation, soaking deeply into every cell of our being. That’s immortality!

Thanks Mom and Dad for all you gave me. May I allow your selfless gifts to flow through me over the course of my lifetime, hopefully adding my own little tweaks and twists to your beautiful story. The “Rose and Harry” playbook will live on forever.

Love, Emerson (and Cheryl)

Music – “Where Forever Waits”

Related Stories and Music

We also wrote the following stories and songs over the years as the life of Rose and Harry continued to unfold before us:  “Lucky Day,” “Yesterday Me.” “Rocking Chair,”  “Lover’s Leap” and “99 Years,” “Where Forever Waits.”

Credits: The featured image at the top of the post is Rose Louise in 1942 at the age of 20.

Our Tuscan adventure taught us that strength, power, intellect, efficiency, and capability are genderless qualities. And sometimes they are named Barbara.

Tuscan Hills

We were determined to find a one room art/music studio in Italy—full of romance, abundance, creativity, magic, wonder, and beauty. Essentially, we wanted to immerse ourselves in the powerful Feminine Energy of the Tuscan Hills—the epicenter of the legendary Italian Renaissance, that incredible experiment in humanity. Florence (Firenze) whispered to us and its rolling northern hills beckoned. Our plan seemed simple enough. We longed to “birth” something new from deep within. However, life is messy sometimes, and cross-cultural life can be downright chaotic.

Just a one room studio

We found the perfect place, unfortunately in ruins. Our friend Pietro said, “This project sounds tricky. There’re many Italian laws you MUST know and follow. You need a good attorney (avvocato). You need Barbara!” Even though her specialty is corporate law, as a favor to Pietro, Barbara agreed to assist. She was an absolute godsend and without her, our dream wouldn’t have been fulfilled. She not only speaks English, but she’s great fun and definitely knew how to work through the intricacies of the Italian bureaucracy. 

It just so happened that Barbara was pregnant with her first child when we started working together. We soon met her husband, Giacomo and our Italian adventure expanded. They were starting their family and we were beginning our dream journey at the same time. As the years passed, we came to understand the significance of Barbara and her baby.  

The site was cleared

The spring was filled with tough negotiations, promises, miscues and confusion. The developers were a challenge to work with, but Barbara remained calm and collected throughout the process. She was up against a negotiating team of 80% men, which made the game even more fun for our Wonder-Woman attorney. Single-handedly, she charged forward with confidence and negotiated everything we needed to close the deal. Although Italy remains a patriarchal society and Italian men basically still run the show, Barbara was amazing and a real powerhouse. We were certain that we had tapped directly into the fierce Tuscan heart of ancient Feminine Energy and perhaps we even caught a glimpse into the not-too-distant future. We just stood back and watched her do what seemed to come natural—the impossible.

That summer Barbara and Giacomo welcomed their first daughter. We shared their excitement as we all greeted the new addition to our Female Power Team. We felt an immediate emotional attachment to their sweet daughter. After all, she was in the room with us (in utero, of course) during all of the negotiations and debates. With our young new partner and renewed enthusiasm we turned our attention to the promise of a completed arts studio. 

The invisible stuff

The second year of the project crept by very slowly, as the construction company readied the site, cleared and prepped for building to begin. There was visible activity, but at a snail’s pace. We had devastating periods of discouragement, due to the contractors’ inaction and constant internal conflicts. To say that it was exasperating would be an understatement. But soon, we received wonderfully distracting news, Barbara and Giacomo announced that a new baby would be joining the family.

Soon, their second daughter was born and the Power Team increased. Barbara was now super-busy with her full-time job as a lawyer, our project and two little girls (bambine) in tow. Since they had become a family of four, they needed more space. So, Barbara and her husband casually added more construction and relocation projects to their to-do list—without even flinching. They were busy times indeed with many changes, EXCEPT for the studio project which continued to drag along at a the pace of an old Tuscan turtle.

Stone walls appeared

As time passed with very little progress, we were nearing the end of our patience. We even entertained the possibility of scrapping the whole project. Once again. Barbara made a quick intervention, saying  “WHEN (more accurately, WHENEVER) the project is completed, it will have definitely appreciated in value.” She emphatically said we would be FOOLISH to withdraw from the contract. Since Barbara was a force of nature to be reckoned with, we followed her advice, immersing ourselves into writing more music and stories—the perfect distraction.

What seemed to be a relatively short time later, Barbara gave birth to her third baby. Unbelievable! Another sweet little girl joined the team representing another substantial increase in Feminine Power. Compared with our slow-motion project, it was incredible to note that 3 perfect little people had been born into our tiny sphere of “family.” How could this happen? How is it possible to create three baby girls in less time than it takes to rebuild/restore an old Tuscan barn? 

Finished Studio?

We finally moved into our dream studio at the end of the four-year odyssey. Although no one could deem it “move-in ready” by any means, our studio was finally a reality—just a wee bit late (più tarde). Somehow, all the delays and consternations were curiously within the limits allowed by Italian law (don’t ask). Never-the-less, we had keys in hand. So we turned our attention to the yard, or as the Italians call it, the GARDEN. We quickly learned that trees are masculine and the fruit is feminine as we focused on “bearing fruit.” Soon enough, we had enclosed and surrounded our little stone studio with lush vegetation—a soft green embrace.  

The Studio Goddess

Our dream studio could not have happened without Barbara, Giacomo and their three sweet little girls. The overwhelming presence of Feminine Energy inspired us. And yes just like the garden, it takes both the masculine and the feminine to make it work, but we’re thinking about an ideal balance of 80/20—majority Female Power. Our little project nestled in the Tuscan hills remains as a powerful symbol for us as we remember that simple truth: “The future is female!” 

This is a true “Italian Moments” story of actual events from 1999 – 2004

Related Stories and Music

 

The story called “Good Girl” speaks to the essential life-giving power of feminine energy.

We wrote another short story and music a few years back about our romance with Tuscany called “Tuscan Hills.” Check it out if you’re so inclined. 

When first arriving at the site of the ruins, we were captivated and swept away in the mystery of it all. We called it “My Treasured Heart.”

“I began to piece together another part of the puzzle—one that was hidden deep in our DNA. I found that we inherit the emotions and beliefs of our ancestors. Programmed into our very cells, these deeply embedded patterns influence our health, wealth, and relationships.”

DNA

Margaret Ruby, a pioneer in the fields of personal growth and self-healing, penned those words. Her book, “The DNA of Healing”, is a captivating read. Studies have shown that our DNA isn’t as permanently fixed as previously thought. More than being just about our physical attributes, it seems there’s a DNA underbelly made up of nuances, habits, behaviors and expectations. Rather than a fixed set of genetic characteristics, our DNA is malleable and dynamic. That realization leads to three very important ideas:

  1. Your DNA has been shaped by those who came before you, imprinted with the patterns of THEIR life experiences and beliefs, whether limiting or encouraging. The results are quite often unintended genetic consequences.
  2. Those evolutionary changes, both positive and negative are automatically stamped into the fabric of YOUR life and consequently, generations to come. However, those pesky, undesirable nuances can actually be snipped out of the DNA and replaced with something that does work.
  3. In her book, Ruby describes this conceptual micro-surgery. You can easily and safely be guided through the process by a specially trained therapist to eliminate limiting patterns forever!
Cultural overlay

Still there exists the age-old question of Nature vs. Nurture. In addition to those interior genetic patterns, there are powerful external structures that dictate much of what gets programmed into our lives in the first place. Yes, the forces that shape us come from deep within our genetic structures, but also from outside us in the ever-present cultures we inhabit.

According to Ruby, “The Matrix is the system of beliefs that we have come to accept as truth—a giant web of ideas that we believe is right or wrong, good or bad. The Matrix is the rules we as a society have created that dictate how we should live our lives.”

The Matrix

“The Matrix Trilogy” is actually mentioned in her book as a cinematic touchstone. Within the scope of a movie we see how dangerously powerful the “made-up web of rules” is in determining what’s possible in our lives. We tend to think that our days are just being “played out” with very little thought about our own accountability. Ruby suggests we begin snipping the ties that bind us inexorably to the past—both internally and externally—that block the full expression of our better-selves. As we see the context of our lives differently and more holistically, we can begin layering change upon microscopic change, both within and without, to become free—an action that creates a positive impact for many generations to come. 

In medicine, once a genetic mutation dead-ends, that mutation no longer exists within a family. The threat of risk ceases. The same thing is true with behavioral “mutations.” For example, we often hear about the necessity of breaking the “cycle of abuse.” Future generations reap the benefit of such an intervention. So, if we see the value of that positive change, doesn’t it follow that we can permanently re-direct other behaviors and thoughts as well?

Subtle forces influence our world

The Matrix Trilogy recently birthed a sequel. The 4th Matrix movie is available to stream and watch in the comfort of our homes. Anticipating this installment, we decided to re-watch the first three movies in preparation. Cinema can often be powerful in depicting the unyielding patterns of a given culture. In this particular instance, watching the shows has strengthened our resolve to look inward at the “genetic code”—whether physical, psychological, mind or body. Simultaneously we’re examining other established programs, the “exo-genetic codes”—whether political, societal, or other subtle constructs that influence our world. Once we see those external forces at work, we can never un-see them. Then, if we decide, they CAN be changed!  

Related Stories and Music

Footsteps

Footsteps

This story is about the patterns hidden deep within each of us that block us from becoming our very best Self—self-sabotage at its worst.

Green Book

Take a look at the disturbing underbelly of our American culture and the powerful limitations created in our not too distant past and unfortunately, our present day as well.

 

Here we are, greeting the new year—2022. During this time of reflection, resolution and gratitude, we would like to extend a simple “Thank You” post to honor three special people who have had a major impact on the direction of our lives.

Twenty years ago we embarked on a new direction with our relationship—namely: writing and recording music. We had things to say and decided that our shared interest in music would provide the perfect medium for us to speak, creating “musical stories” to notate our shared Life experiences. Our intention was to capture and preserve moments of meaning for us, that might spark a feeling or jog a memory for someone else along the way. Since our songs are more like folk-narratives, we often joked that no one would ever dance to one of our songs.  Our musical adventure opened a new pathway for us to explore individually and who we could become together. But we had no idea how to actually make music. So we needed lots of help with our chosen path that was both exciting and daunting at the same time!

Jim Bruno

By 2001 we had written13 rough-hewn songs with only guitar accompaniment and wanted to turn them into our “musical story,” as we had long imagined. We wanted to sing together as equals, in harmony, creating “one voice.” Our first discovery was Jim Bruno from San Jose. He had started performing professionally at the age of 12 and was known as “Little Jimmy Knight.”—a child prodigy with amazing talent. Jim plays multiple instruments, writes music and is a consummate performer, but above all, he loves to teach. He immediately began teaching us to make the most out of our untrained voices and how to harmonize to become that “one voice.” He also showed us how to record our vocals and hear the subtle nuances in our singing. Ultimately, he recorded the vocals for our entire first album—allowing us to learn by doing. He also taught us how to perform and provided our first audiences allowing us the freedom to experiment. We value Jim as both a teacher and friend, remaining forever grateful for the countless hours of inspiration and patient guidance he offered. 

Tom Tomasello

As Jim began to expand our vocal capabilities, it soon became obvious that we needed someone who could turn our simple guitar chords and vocals into musical arrangements. Jim pointed us to just the right person—Tom Tomasello—a gifted musician, performer and writer with his own recording studio. In the early days, we were mesmerized as Tom  listened to us play/sing a tune just one time through. He’d typically jot a few notes, test a few sounds, and then spin around to spontaneously play keyboard accompaniments with complete instrumentation. It was truly amazing! We spent many days together in his studio, working out arrangements. It was an unforgettable experience. As with Jim, Tom also became a friend and collaborator who taught us the basics so we could continue on our own as soon as we felt confident enough.  

Tardon Feathered

Finally, we had the 13 finished songs completely arranged and Tom suggested that we should consider having them “mastered.” We were unfamiliar with the process, so Tom sent us to the Master-Mind himself, Tardon Feathered at Mr Toad’s Recording Studio in San Francisco. Mastering is the process to boost and balance the finished arrangement so the individually developed songs had consistency when played together. Who knew?Voila, the tunes suddenly became the “musical stories” that we had set out to create. As helpful as each teacher/guide was in helping us develop independence, we came to understand our practical limits. Tardon’s hearing was so finely turned and the equipment was so far beyond anything we could manage, we decided not to try the procdss on our own. He mastered our first 4 albums, which we could never have done alone. Of course, he also became a friend and mentor. 

With the cusp of the new year, we realize once again, that it takes a village to nurture dreams. We all need vision and determination to make things happen, but we also need the expertise and creativity of professionals who know their craft. We also need open-minded and kind-hearted helpers, willing to give away a few secrets of the trade. Each guide took us down a slightly different path to a unique place around the “musical fishing pond.” In his own style and way, each guide taught us to fish—to eventually do things for ourselves whenever possible. In three short years, we finished 4 albums and had built confidence.

So here we are, some 20 years later—still fishing. We pause for just a moment as this new year starts “rocking and rolling,” to thank that “band” of extraordinary talent who took the time to patiently help us help ourselves. You guys are the BEST (although we still can’t write a song you can dance to).

Sincerely,
Cheryl and Emerson

Music

Following is that first song we ever wrote and produced together some 20 years ago today. We named it “Never Sleep,” which was even more appropriate than we ever imagined at the time. We continue notating life as we walk this path together, with eyes wide open, in awe of the unfolding Journey.
 

Palazzo in Firenze

Once upon a time, in a magnificent palazzo in the center of Firenze (Florence) Italy, lived Beatrice Portinari with her adoring family. They spent their summers and weekends in the cool Florentine hills in her family’s serene villa—the quiet and lush Tuscan countryside unfolding just beyond the city. Italy, in 1275, was on the cusp of the Italian Renaissance, poised to leave medieval times behind.

Tuscan hills at Villa

“Bice,” celebrated her 8th birthday with a lavish party at her country villa. There she met young Dante Alighieri for the first time. The 9 year-old-boy found himself speechless—love at first sight. More than just smitten with her beauty, he sensed something deeper. Her presence seemed to exude a spiritual quality, an aura of perfection. Had Dante seen an angel? Perhaps. Would his life ever be the same? No.

Dante Alighieri

Dante also lived in Firenze, but his family had a country villa, as well. In fact, his country home was just a ten-minute walk from Beatrice‘s place. Even though they shared a geographically small world, they only encountered one another a few times in their lives. Sadly, Bice died at the age of 24, but her influence remained a constant companion in both Dante‘s writing and in his dreams—she was his muse and inspiration.

Likeness of Beatrice

Dante‘s book La Vita Nuova was written about his love for Beatrice. His adoration was neither physical nor earthly, but was rather an ethereal, aspirational, platonic or even agape love that inspired his journey toward enlightenment. In Dante’s La Davina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), Beatrice appeared as a guide to lead him into Heaven. While Dante could only approach Heaven, Beatrice took her seat next to God, as an amazing divine spirit—truly other-worldly.

We imagine our “Best Self” as a modest reflection of Heaven’s perfection. In order to move toward our “Heavenly Best,” don’t we all need a muse—someone who inspires, guides and leads us to our highest possibility? How romantic a thought, to be smitten by an earthly presence who shows us a way that we could otherwise never even imagine. For us, the story of Dante and Beatrice presents a powerful, idealistic yet tangible image—a vision to help us navigate this Life on Earth and beyond.

Credits

Featured image above: Dante encounters Beatrice in the historic center of Florence, Italy C1285—this painting is dated 1883 by the artist Henry Holiday, on display in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England.

Dante: Painting by Attilio Roncaldier 1801-1884, Ravenna, Museo Dantesco.

Beatrice: Painting by Washington Allston 1819, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Related Stories and Music

Winter’s End
This musical story and lyrics were written by Cheryl, alone in Tuscany on a cold winter dusk as she gazed out the window toward the beautiful Villa Portinari. Following are her poetic musings put to music. 

Beatrice’s Ghost
This music was spontaneously written and recorded in our Tuscan cantina by Joshua Housh in 2009—inspired by the mystery of the nearby historic villas of Beatrice and Dante.

Brood. What a complicated plucky word!

Brood—Noun

It began as a bouncing baby noun in merry old England some 900 years ago—meaning the young offspring or a family of young ones. Then after 300 years of good solid use, it morphed into an alternate form—an adjective. For example, they began referring to a “brood-flock,” which refers to birds kept for breeding. Suddenly the word brood had emerged as a full-fledged descriptor instead of just a thing. Then later that same century, the word transitioned once again into the highly coveted verb form (in addition to retaining its previous noun and adjective positions).

Brood flock—adjective

As cool as it was to become an action word, inaction remained the mode of the hen house— brood carried the original meaning of “attending to,” such as to brood eggs. In this instance the word implies the passive incubation of the offspring. The goal was to simply sit on the eggs in the nest to make something happen—to hatch a chick. So the brood-hen brooded her eggs, anticipating they’d soon become her family of little ones—her brood. Does that mean you could actually “brood a brood from a brood flock?” Exactly.

But wait! There’s more. That simple little B-word morphed once again. In this case, brood took on a whole new meaning—that is, to dwell gloomily on a subject, or to be in a state of depression. Gosh, that sure took a turn! With that shift in definition, brood adopted its most popular meaning today. It seems that everyone but a chicken farmer would agree.

Brooding Mood

So what if we combine the two meanings of “gloomy mood” and “hatch”? What then? There are definitely times when we become discouraged, uneasy, bored or confused with our lives, sensing something isn’t quite right—that pretty much nails the depression part. Then if we embrace this “hatching” idea, maybe we can shift that gloomy introspection into an unmatched force for change. Think about it. We withdraw, go inside and ponder the possibilities. We create a cocoon of sorts that protects us from being disturbed while contemplating life and healing our wounds—the important work of the Soul. A “dark night” for sure. (A grateful nod to Thomas Moore.)

Voila!

After a time of stewing and ruminating, we crack out of our protective shell. We emerge a bit musty and disheveled on shaky legs. Hmm. It seems that we have experienced a quiet transformation, a hatching of sorts amid the dark confusion. Perhaps clarity, direction and determination are birthed from our silent retreat of fretting and waiting—sitting with the discomfort of it all.

The real trick is to know when the brooding is finished.

New vision dawns

A hen who sits too long on the eggs may stifle the hatching process. But chickens, with their instinctive nature, seem to know just the right amount of time to relax into their stationary routine. After all, the purpose of the brooding (action) is to eventually produce a brood (noun). Results! Change! Birth! Hopefully, we humans have a remnant of innate “hen-wisdom” or “bird-brain” thinking as well. Will we know when to stop brooding? Will we sense when our innovative idea or new vision has already been hatched and it’s time to get on with it? Well, let’s not count our chickens.

Invitation to reflect

Let’s face it. Wouldn’t we rather just peck around the hen house instead of hanging-out in that dark dingy interior space? Of course we would. But on the other hand, if we want to produce a change and make a real difference we may need to go inside for a while, because something beautiful wants to be born. We can choose to forcefully resist, insist or just calmly sit with it, and let the potential magic happen.

Music

Following is a song we wrote to explore this idea of incubating a different future. Of course, we called it “Brood,” (the noun, adjective and verb forms).

Related Story and Music

Narrow Ledge

Years ago, we wrote another personal story with music about depression, called “Narrow Ledge.” When we find ourselves brooding, yet falling deeper and deeper into despair, there are many different helpers who can throw us a lifeline. There’s always a solution!

If you have a great life, but still sense a longing for something more; if you ever considered acting on your special dream that has waited patiently for what seems like an entire lifetime; or if you’ve ever tried to create, or even change a long-term relationship, this book may be for you.

The title is Time to Partner—Relationship Changed Through Dreams, Intuition, Trust and Courage.

The story of our journey into a new way to partner together is now available thanks to the wonderful capabilities of Apple Books. Originally, we documented our process of personal change by writing the story and then binding the books by hand—creating only 27 copies. That was over 20 years ago. However, more recently, technology has opened doors to other possibilities.

The entire book has been transformed into a digital format, exactly like the original (amazingly close, except for a few improvements). The new version includes stories, art, poetry, quotes and 14 original songs. In the book we share the details of the first four years of our partnered journey, openly disclosing the dissatisfaction, risk, creative spark, intuition, dream and magic exactly as it happened. Now, our hope of sharing it with a broader group has become a reality. As we pass the 50-year mark in our relationship, we think it is a good time to reissue the digital story.

Join us on our adventure

You can easily get the e-book with just a few clicks. However, the app is only available at the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Simply go to Apple Books and search for Time to Partner—download for free and you’re ready to start reading, viewing and listening.

Below is a short video called Accidental Authors, we made as a way to introduce the book. Check it out to discover something that might spark your own insights and inspirations. Also, feel free to share the link with any friends you think could be interested. Basically, we’re inviting you to take Time to Partner!

Cheryl and Emerson

Accidental Authors (Trailer)

Uncommon Promise (Music)

An “uncommon promise” became extremely important to us in the early years of our relationship. We knew we had to become impeccable with our word, and open and honest like never before. It was then, that we decided to use “Uncommon Promise” as the name for all of the art, music and stories we were creating together. Then, we decided to write our feelings of recommitment into a new song so we could capture that feeling and sincerity for all times. At that moment, we envisioned our journey into a stronger relationship like trying to discover an unimaginably beautiful Pearl. We haven’t yet uncovered everything we’ve been searching for, but remain committed to the quest.