The Ride of a Lifetime! After sixteen years of trying to live in Italy as "true Italians," we set out to write a book about our experiences. As it turns out, we ended up doing a lot more than just writing a book because we decided that to capture the essence, we really needed music, poetry, drawings, videos and more. So, that's exactly what we did. You can find our complete body of work at www.uncommonpromise.wordpress.com. We hope you can visit us from time to time—let us know what your personal adventure looks like. Perhaps we can all glean some inspiration to go out and write a new chapter in our own stories! Wishing you the best, Cheryl and Emerson

What does it mean to become a grandparent? Hmm. Could be a question for the Magic 8 Ball.

We Won!

We don’t remember being asked if we wanted to be grandparents, nor did we ever try to influence the process with pressure or even subtle hints. For us, our children have always been gifts of a lifetime. For them to become parents is their choice, not ours. We maintained an attitude that it would either happen, or it wouldn’t happen—surprise us! That’s part of what makes becoming grandparents so special. We were bystanders, observing the realization of someone else’s dream, not ours. Having a baby once removed is something bestowed, rather than requested—offered rather than sought. It’s a lifetime achievement award  granted when you least expect it. We keep our heads down, push forward and focus on our own life. And just when you look away for a second, “Ta-da!” That’s exactly what happened to us, an almost magical “Abbracadabbra! and Poof”! It turns out to be much more than a lifetime achievement award. It’s more like we just won the lottery of life!

We Got it Covered

As the due date crept closer, we asked Em’s sister and her husband what advice they would offer to would-be GPs since they already had nearly a decade of experience on us. She said, “It’s all about time. Make sure you give them quality time and lot’s of it. Presence.” He said, “It’s all about back-up. Make sure you’re always there to help out when they need it.” For us, those were great responses that fit together hand-in-glove. Creating time is a sharing, proactive and generous gift that gets filled to the brim with surprises—whatever they want, and plenty of it. Providing back-up is a responsive and action-oriented stance, encouraging us to remain at-the-ready, poised to supply custom-made solutions where timing is everything. Their responses were so poignant for us, reflecting each of their personalities perfectly, but also representing two sides of the same GP coin—active and passive. That’s why partnerships are so powerful when we complement each other.

The Official Cups

Weeks later, after the little bundle of All Things Good had arrived, it dawned on us that we needed to name these new “active and passive” roles we were now assuming. What would be our new monikers? What grandparent names could be unique for us? They had to be playful and spontaneous, not too serious since we would be learning on the job. Little did we know that those questions had already been considered by our daughter and son-in-law. We received our new names, emblazoned on coffee cups, announcing  that we would henceforth be Moops and Goops. PERFECT!

Rosie June

The way each of us steps into the big grandparent shoes is totally different, with a style uniquely our own expression. Therefore, Moops and Goops—one-of-a-kind names. Perhaps Rosie June will update those descriptors as the years pass to suit her particular age and stage. In the meantime, we are hopefully on our way to becoming the best Moops and Goops possible, head over heels in love with our little sweetie. We offer time and back-up to this growing family—knowing full well that there will come a day when it’s time to back-up, make room, and give way to untold possibilities. And we will cheerfully follow her lead!

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Listen. . .Shhhhh!

Poetry and music are powerful forces, actively shaping our world whether we realize it or not.  The poets and troubadours are those sensitive souls venturing out into the inexplicable, teasing, coaxing it into our consciousness. This glimpse provides us with the faint outlines of who we are beneath the familiar trappings of culture. Preoccupied with the drone of the ordinary, the mundane, the every-day, we sometimes need a nudge from a visionary to stop us in our tracks, suddenly catching our undivided attention—as if taking our face in both hands and saying shhhhh! We listen intently. We hear the message for the first time. Something stirs within. We may unexpectedly and suddenly feel deeply. Perhaps we are taken aback with innocence and a penetrating honesty. And sometimes, we spontaneously weep at a sobering revelation.

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Brandi in Concert

This type of awakening recently happened for us. We must admit that we were predisposed, already poised to find meaning, both obvious and hidden within music. For years we have admired the music, lyrics and irresistible poetry of Brandi Carlile, the talented singer, poet and prophet in this age of accountability. In the middle of our tumultuous 2017, she stepped forward with a new musical story to tell, called The Joke.

As we read the lyrics and watched her video, we were struck by the musical message. Afterwards, we talked about its meaning. The song is powerful, poignant and spellbinding. There is a lingering sadness in the realization that within our society and extending to the world, we have hurt each other countless times over the years through the relentless priority given to masculine energy. For decades (maybe even centuries) we have pushed forward at the expense of others.

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Seeking Balance

Brandi speaks of the symbolically shy and sensitive “boy,” and the under-appreciated, suppressed “girl” that live within each of us, no matter who we pretend to be or what face we decide to show the world. That image makes us sad because we recognize the painful truth of her descriptions. But she pivots in the chorus, to remind us that she has “been to the movies” and knows how it ends. Her vision and faith in the wholeness of humanity comes through, delivering an overwhelming sense of hope for the much needed emergence of the feminine energy as the under-appreciated equal and balancing partner to the forceful masculine energy. This balanced being, melding both halves, represents who we are deep within—or at least strive to be.

Throughout 2017, we have all witnessed the destructive power of excessive masculine energy run-amok. It has finally been exposed, laid bare, open for the world to see. The reality of imbalance has been made visible right in front of our eyes, never to be forgotten. We interpret Brandi’s message to be that this overtly masculine phase of humanity is coming to an end as it finally “spins, and scatters in the wind.” “Let ’em laugh while they can,” because “the joke is on them.”

We invite you to read the lyrics, share them with someone, and have a conversation about Brandi’s beautiful message. You may want to listen to the music and watch the video again. The vision Brandi shares here is of course her own, but we too feel a special connection and resonance. We’d like to know your interpretation!

Brandi’s “Joke” is really not a joke after all! This post was written on January 22, 2018, the date of the second great Women’s March.

Video – The Joke (live studio recording session)

Video – The Joke (official video)

“The Joke” by Brandi Carlile

You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy?
With your quiet voice and impeccable style
Don’t ever let them steal your joy
And your gentle ways, to keep ’em from running wild
They can kick dirt in your face
Dress you down, and tell you that your place
Is in the middle, when they hate the way you shine
I see you tugging on your shirt
Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

You get discouraged, don’t you, girl?
It’s your brother’s world for a while longer
We gotta dance with the devil on a river
To beat the stream
Call it living the dream, call it kicking the ladder
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

Pratomagno View

The Pratomagno mountains near Florence are full of wonderful moderate hiking trails. Many of them are anelli (rings) that are relatively easy half-day treks, perfect for a cool early-morning start that finishes before the summer day heats-up. The trails wander through the dense wooded hills, crossing small villages with charming farm houses, ruins, villas, country churches and castles. Everything is picturesque so there are photo-ops at every turn.

Ferrano Castle Tower

One especially interesting circular hike is called the Borselli-Ferrano anello, where you will find the beautiful Castello di Ferrano and Chiesa di Santa Maria (1574), along with interesting country farmhouses and knock-your-socks-off panoramas that are sure to slow you down for a prolonged gander. Following are some photos we took that will give you a feel for the historic buildings, terrain and scenery.

We have written two other related stories about similar hikes, in the same area that you might want to check out: the ruins of Lavacchio and the Nippozzano castle. Both hikes, guarantee a delightful morning in nature, with significant Tuscan scenery in which to contemplate. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!

The ancient proverb “Seeing is believing” has been around since 1639, and means that only tangible evidence is truly convincing. However, living in Italy has shown us that just the opposite can also be true—”believing is seeing.” Thus begins a short tale about a window.

Our First Attempt

We live in an old Italian farmhouse in the hills north of Florence. The Italians take tradition and culture very seriously, so the look of the buildings and the landscape are guarded like gold. Construction formulas have been around seemingly forever, so details can rarely change—if ever. In a farmhouse, for example, there’s a formula for natural light-to-interior space. But there is also a formula limiting openings in exterior walls. It was not unusual to have a large blank wall, punctuated with only a single small window and a door. So if you want a second window, for more light or to balance the facade—well, that’s just too bad. There’s no way the formula can be altered. But in our case, the aesthetic sensibilities outweigh the formula. We are bothered by a large bleak, blank wall. Okay, we know that the formula was derived long ago when too many windows meant heat loss. But central heating is all the rage now, right? So what to do?

Inside Window

We decided that we could hang an old metal grille on the outside wall. Of course, we’d paint a soft gray border around it to suggest a typical Tuscan window, traditionally framed with pietra serena (stone). So that’s what we did. No wall was pierced in the placement of the “art” as we call it, and everything we’ve done is “temporary,” which means “removable” to the authorities. We could simply paint over our faux window one day, as if nothing ever changed. Our first try was to use wood shutters, but they didn’t weather well. So we moved on to an iron solution which would last a lifetime. Our eventual imaginary window solution was pretty doggone convincing, but we weren’t quite finished yet. No. We realized that we needed a corresponding window on the inside as well. So, we went to the nearby town of Sieci, to a Mercato di Usato (the market for old, used things), where we found a sweet little wood window with beveled glass. After cleaning and refinishing, up it went, behind the mosquito net over the bed in the guest room. Voilà!

The Old Iron Grille

As you can see, our collective imaginations took a slight detour when the real window was vietato (forbidden). Now, we have the window that we thought the blank wall yearned for, some 18 years later, with one little missing caveat—you can’t actually see through it. But that doesn’t really matter. We turned a “No!” into a definite “Yes!” and nobody got hurt or did anything too drastic in the process. Seeing the window is almost believing it. But for us, the notion of believing it first provided the possibility, which ultimately made artistic expression possible. We may not have an actual opening onto the nearby moody valley, but sometimes a vision is better than a view!

 

One might call an abandoned house a haunted ruins, but we like to think of it as a container, filled with stories just waiting to be told and retold—built and rebuilt—lived and relived.

Peaceful Setting

While walking the woods and back-roads of Tuscany, it is inevitabile that you’ll come across at least one unexpected hidden gem. The other day, while hiking the Borselli-Castelnuovo anello (circle or loop) in the early hours of the morning, we found one of those ancient places called the “Houses of Lavacchio.” Not every ruins is noteworthy, but this one made us pause longer than usual as we got wrapped-up in its story—his-story (or rather, her-story, since we all know that houses are female).

Lavacchio Ruins

Who lived there? When was it built? What were the people like and were there children playing? Why did they leave? Was it their dream to be perched up on that hillside at the top of the mountain called Pratomagno with an incredible panoramic view of the Tuscan hills beyond? Why hasn’t anyone bought it to breathe new life into those old stone walls? And so the questions and conversation continued as we walked the long and gentle road leading to the houses, imagining the past and the future of this forgotten place. It was easy to drift into fantasy amid the cool summer breezes and the tender sounds of the country—the birds, the buzzing of the bees and even a baby cinghiale (wild boar), scurrying from the underbrush along the side of the road, confused and running for cover.

Slowly Collapsing

The roofs of the ghostly houses were mostly long gone, now becoming great piles of splintered wood beams and clay tiles, randomly collapsed into the rooms below. Plants were growing everywhere in and around the decaying rubble, vying for their own claim on the future. Even the brick and stone walls were falling into the fray—water creeping into every vulnerable cracked mortar joint to expand with each consecutive freeze and thaw—slowly . . . oh so slowly—pushing and prying away at every weighty piece that was carefully and intentionally laid in place by strong  hands. The first people of Lavacchio surely meant for their labors to last longer than their lifetimes, in fact they anticipated the houses would be there for generations to come. Actually, as true Tuscans they would have set their sights on nothing short of “forever.”

Imagine It

We don’t know when it was built, but the years for Lavacchio could easily be counted in the hundreds since the crumbling of the roof and walls to this point in time surely would have taken the better part of a century. We imagined that some new, vibrant, young energetic pioneers will arrive some day and be overcome with vision and the spirit of adventure. They will claim this lost artifact as their own, and return that sacred space perched on the side of the mountain to its former glory. Falling in love with the remote life, they will likely create a vegetable garden, and will perhaps tend chickens, cows, pigs, rabbits and sheep—many of which will live in the restored stalls beneath the houses. Of course a few cats and dogs will complete the picture along with a horse or two for evening rides through the wooded hillside. Life will certainly be sweet.

Road to Lavacchio

Until then, we will continue to enjoy our hikes and allow ourselves to fall madly in love with the thousands of romantic Tuscan possibilities, as our vivid imaginings of exciting reclamations abound. Oh, those dreams and futures that lay waiting to be discovered and recovered from beneath the rubble! This tarnished gem just happened to be along trail number 25, on the “road to Lavacchio.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We love hiking the Tuscan “anelli” (rings).

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The Destination

We typically drive to a trail head, hike the route and return to our starting point. Each anello is unique. The one to Nipozzano Castle was exceptional! If you like castles, wine, beautiful Tuscan scenery, we suggest you visit the site called Sentieri di Toscana (Tuscan Trails). The Nipozzano is nothing short of magic. It is a hilltop hike which took us about 4 hours, including miscues, intentional wandering and many photo stops along the way. Have a look at the photo gallery we’ve included and the details to get you into a hiking frame of mind.

Frescobaldi Vineyards

On a slightly overcast mid-November day, we set out in search of the castle. Summer would surely have found the small town buzzing with activity, but we prefer feeling like we’re the only ones to ever discover a place, so an off-season, unplanned visit is perfect for us. However, with a little planning during the high-season, you will likely find a few tours available, and possibly discover a wine tasting reward at the end of your trek. Nipozzano is home to the famous Frescobaldi brand, one of the ancient Italian names synonymous with fine wine. The vineyards completely surround the castle.

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1000 Year Old Castle

Here’s some background about the castle-town Nipozzano. The castle dates back to the year 1000, and is nestled in the heart of Tuscany just a bit north-east of Florence. Situated on a picturesque hilltop in the Appenine mountain range, it was originally built as a fortress for the protection of Florence, which is tucked into the Arno River valley below. Local lore has it that in centuries past, the word nipozzano, meant “without well.” Since the entire region can be somewhat arid and rocky, you can imagine how the location is considered perfect for vineyards. Early records indicate that during the Renaissance, famous artists/sculptors such as Donatello would visit the castle to buy wine. This was also the “neighborhood” where author/poet Dante Alighieri wandered the romantic hillsides in the 1300s. He surely would have been familiar with the famous castle, vineyards and olive groves.

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Albereta Beyond

The hike begins and ends in the small town of Albereta just outside the larger river-town of Pontassieve, which is situated east of Florence. A description of the trail and a Google-earth map are the only links you need to find your way up the quasi-gradual slopes toward the castle above. The marked trail meanders along the surrounding hillsides making the climb fairly moderate. So as not to fatigue trekkers, you’ll find yourselves zigzagging, always upward. As you circle higher toward the castle, you will enjoy the ever-changing, absolutely beautiful distant views. Soon, among the manicured olive groves and earthy stone walls, you will arrive at the destination. Wow! What vistas of the expansive vineyards, villas and farms below! After enjoying the magical panoramas from atop the castle, the return route descends more steeply down the hillside toward the Arno and Albereta.

We hope you enjoy the following photo gallery, and plan to visit Tuscany for a hike or two on the thousands of gorgeous trails—each one a picture-postcard photo at every turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Ceiling Fixture
Simple Ceiling Fixture

We set out on a Friday morning in search of some simple, older halogen light fixtures. The task seemed straightforward enough. But we soon discovered that our little errand morphed into a scavenger hunt. One store led to another and then another and so on. The fixtures we needed weren’t readily available anymore. From big box stores to small shops, our prospects waned. Finally, at an old electrical supply store, the owner pondered our dilemma and suggested we go to TAP Lighting in Hillcrest. He said they probably wouldn’t have the lights in stock, but they might be able to order them for us. FAT CHANCE, we thought. But since it was on our way home, we could at least swing by. He jotted down the address and then added, “It’s a unique store with a jungle of lights!” His description got us interested, since it sounded like our kind of place.

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Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 4.36.39 PMIt all started with a cup of coffee.

During casual conversation, a trusted friend mentioned a great place at Liberty Station in San Diego called “Moniker General.” They said that it’s the best coffee in the city! In addition, they also sell surfboards, and stuff like that—which explains the “general,” as in general store? As you might have predicted, the next morning, bright and early, we headed to Liberty Station on Point Loma, curious to sample a uniquely delicious cup of coffee. No doubt, we were also intrigued about the surfboard thing.

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Welcome to our new site!

We have decided to bring all of our work together into one location—from multiple sites to this one, which will continue to be called “Uncommon Promise,” since our original commitment made in 1998 to partner in a new way, is stronger than ever. The site is still being developed, so you will probably find a little more content added each time you visit. When completed, it will include all of our original music, videos, stories, drawings and e-book called “Time to Partner,” and some other bonus links as well. All told, the site comprises nearly two decades of creative collaboration that we call the “Ride of a Lifetime.” Stop in to see us any time! Following is the song (and story) we wrote to capture the sentiment of the unique partnership we have been trying to develop over the years.

p.s. You can also visit our expanded version of the story of how it has evolved over nearly two decades at our site called “Journey.”

And the ride continues!

Cheryl and Emerson