These are stories that generally involve only Cheryl and/or Emerson and are most likely about day-to-day activities. They can be engaging the two of them in a whirlwind tour somewhere, or simply about conversation around the fire. Usually, they will have a more reflective side to them, or a particular lesson learned.

Something happened as we drove  home the other day.

Skinniest two-way traffic in Borgunto

Returning from a routine visit into Fiesole to buy a few groceries and for Em to get a haircut, we rounded the curve just beyond the small town of Borgunto, home to the “bottle-neck capital” of Italy. To our surprise, an oncoming car flashed its headlights. It was broad daylight and we wondered, “What’s that about?  Was that a friend and we just didn’t recognize their car?” A few more yards and we encountered another oncoming car. Again, headlights flashed. “What’s going on here? Is there something wrong with the car that we don’t know about?”

Lollipop police

Then, just after the last turn off (and the final escape route) we saw them: Two police officers were randomly signaling cars to pull over for a routine check. Their style and flair in doing such a mundane task was actually a thing of beauty. They each wore the recognizable uniform of the Carabinieri, local police—navy blue head to toe, single-breasted blazer, silver braid around the red and white collar and cuffs, red piped epaulets on each shoulder, single red stripes down each trouser leg, a dramatic white diagonal sash, and black boots, where they store their little hand held “stop sign on a stick” when it’s not in use.

Carabinieri in action

We amuse ourselves by calling those ridiculous signaling devices “lollipops,” and so of course we refer to the historically significant and highly esteemed carabinieri as the “lollipop police.” Oh yes, they carry another piece of equipment at all times, a holstered pistol, which is classified as an “ordinary” weapon. But, as beautiful as they are, these dedicated enforcers of the law are far more than “eye candy.” They are the keepers of all things lawful.

We thought little of the request since we had all the necessary documents—title, registration, and international driver’s license—neatly stashed and at the ready in the glove box. We were seasoned “residents,” models of perfectly honest, part-time Italians with flawless organization skills. We had been randomly pulled over before, so this seemed somewhat routine. We soon discovered that it was anything but!  

The rule book looked sorta like this

One officer strolled over to the driver’s side window, while the second remained at a safe distance, evidently serving as the back-up “protector” just in case a fight broke out. The impressive figure at the window examined the neatly stacked documents in his gloved hand, and then without a word, walked over to his colleague. Together they looked at our documents as we watched their faces change from “cool Italians” to “puzzled police officers.” Then, after several minutes, they opened the trunk of their subcompact Fiat squad car and took out a voluminous book of rules—so massive, it took both of them to pick it up. One started leafing through the pages and then turned it over to his partner, pointing to a particular place on the page. His forehead wrinkled and eyes squinted. We laughed to each other thinking that maybe we had a couple of trainees on our hands. In previous checks, the officers had only made cursory glances at the documents. These guys clearly didn’t know what they were doing—or so we thought.

The first officer returned to our car and said, “C’è un problema. Parlate italiano?”  “There is a problem. Do you speak Italian?” Since our language skills were iffy at best, we said, “No.” We thought under-stating was the best strategy—they might feel sorry for us and let us go. 

Sidelined—our little car given a “time-out”

Without hesitation, the officer continued his explanation in full speed Italian. We clearly understood key words like, invalido, invalid, and knew that we indeed had a problem. We just didn’t know exactly what, yet. Time to call our friend and attorney, Barbara. After about 5 seconds of hearing our explanation, she asked to speak to the officer. We heard her muffled chattering and his responses. We understood quasi niente, almost nothing. The officer handed the phone back and Barbara’s instructions were clear, “You have no chance. You must pay il multo, the fine, sulla strada, on the road. And you cannot drive la macchina, the car—ancora, again. 

WHAT?!! A FINE?!! CAN’T DRIVE THE CAR?!! BUT, BUT .  . . 

A lot, but not nearly enough

Once we realized that we had to pay, we asked, “quanto costa, how much?” (Even tourists can ask “how much” but usually to buy souvenirs and pay the check after lunch). 275 euro was the reply, plus an additional 73 euro for something else, yet unidentified. Nearly 350 total! We asked, “How do we pay?” “In contante, in cash,” came the answer. 

Okay. Let’s review.

We just received a fine of over 300 euro that must be paid in cash right now. We usually have about 40-50 euro between us on a good day. We can’t drive our car to the bank in Fiesole to get the money. Our international driver’s licenses were useless. The only choice was to ask the carabinieri to give us a ride to the bank. 

The Shaq in action

At first they seem surprised, but soon realized that it was the only possible solution. So we climbed into the backseat of the subcompact Italian squad car, sequestered criminals locked in, and headed in the direction of town. One officer apologized for the inconvenience. “Mi dispiace per questo, I’m sorry for this.” Then, the other officer decided that small talk was in order, probably since they didn’t often have captive Americans on board. “Gioca pallacanestra?” We gave each other blank stares in disbelief. Then he offered in stilted English, “Bahs-keet-ball, you play?” Oh yeah . . . that question. Em is 6’5” and so it’s the single most-asked question of his entire life. (But in Italy, his height earns him the distinction of fetching top-shelf items at the grocery stores for many Italian mammas). The officer went on to say that it was his dream to play basketball—with Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq is 7’-1”. Mr Carabinieri is  maybe 5’-8” in his police boots. The idea made us chuckle but we didn’t let on—B-ball talk or not, we were still in trouble with the law. 

As luck would have it, the local carabinieri headquarters is directly across the street from Banca Toscana. Once out of the car, we headed into the bank before returning to finalize our paperwork at the carabinieri headquarters. Fiorella, our favorite teller saw the looks of dismay on our faces and immediately asked, “Che è successo, what happened?” We mumbled our new vocabulary words and phrases, “la macchina, multo, sulla strada, carabinieri.” She said, “Mamma mia! Quanto costa? She shook her head side to side, grimaced and offered her condolences with a deeply sincere sadness, “Mi dispiace. I’m sorry.”

Off to Driver’s Ed—Italian style

After making the report and paying the fine, we were told that neither of us could drive the car. The car documents showed that we had not done the mandatory revisione, which is the bi-annual service/safety check required by Italian law. Unfortunately, we didn’t know such a law existed. The car was to be parked until the revisione could be scheduled. In addition, they confiscated Em’s US driver’s license just for good measure, since we had resident status and were required by Italian law to have patenti italiani—the much dreaded Italian driver’s license. Oops! 

So here’s the riddle: Can a car, that can’t be legally driven, arrive across town for a scheduled appointment, when driven by people who can’t drive because they don’t have valid driver’s licenses?

Answer: Maybe.

This is actually a trick question. The answer is always forse, maybe in Italy, no matter what the question is.

A friendly hello, or goodbye—you choose

The two pleasant carabinieri officers kindly returned us to our car with strict orders not to drive it—except for our immediate drive directly home (that favor required some significant begging and groveling). We were under strict orders that the car was to remain parked until we were legally able to drive it again. We promised to comply as we climbed out of the back seat of the tiny squad car. Then, in one wonderful moment of total linguistic confusion, rather than saying “Goodbye,” Mr Carabinieri extended his hand, and in an effort to close on a high note of international accord, simply said, in English, “HELLO.”  Then he turned in confident military fashion and climbed back into his government-issued Fiat squad car. Their work was finished. 

They surely went immediately to Riccardo‘s bar for coffee, but as for us, our “problemi“ problems had just begun!

This is a true “Italian Moments” story that took place in Fiesole Italy in the spring of 2005.

You might be interested in another kind of “Italian car story,” except this one has a happier ending—called “True Italians.”

Rose Louise Kleis Martlage Henneke.

Rose at home

Wow! Quite a powerful name, don’t you agree? Of course, it is fitting, since she’s such a powerful individual. She’s definitely one of a kind, and today is her 99th birthday. If you were to meet her, we think you’d like her. Oh, sure, she has a few little quirks and peccadillos, but who doesn’t? And if you were to tally the pros and cons of her life, it would be HEAVILY weighted toward the pros—thereby making her an absolute “PRO” at this messy business of living. We’re impressed with her stamina and desire to achieve the sweet age of 99, and offer our congratulations along with a few hearty compliments on her admirable style as well.

A part of the dream come true

Born on April 3, 1922, she was Alice and Will’s third child making her the lucky last one in line to get the lion’s share of abundant parental doting, with the bonus of a big brother and sister adding to the dotage. She set-out to create the best possible version of the “American Dream” (which was impressed onto everyone’s psyche at the time). Her goals were simple: deep and sustaining faith, member of a church that she cherishes, a loving husband, healthy and happy children, and of course a safe and beautiful home in the suburbs. For her, it was a fairy-tale come true, and couldn’t get any better. Even as she lived her dream, she saw her fair share of sorrow and heartache, as well. True to  the custom of the day, when troubles arose, she just prayed, shed a few tears, then propped herself back up and started in again—powered by undaunted drive and persistence which was her hallmark.

Rose and sweet daughter Sue

She always told us she was going to live to be 100. We believed her, but never quite imagined what that prediction really meant or would look like. Now we’re beginning to get an inkling. So, in anticipation of her upcoming 100th year, it seems appropriate to honor her magnificent dream as she charges forward toward achieving her goal. We sang “Happy Birthday” to her this morning and she giggled. We don’t question whether or not she’ll celebrate the next one, because knowing her, she WILL, and possibly even set a new goal. She lives life with a Master Plan—the way she wants things to turn out. In fact, we always joked that she was a “dessert-first planner.” When creating a menu for a dinner party she would consistently decide on the dessert, then make the rest of the meal play toward that end. This upcoming 100th birthday is her “icing on the cake,” and you can be sure she’s in the “kitchen” making everything just right!

Cheers!

This story isn’t just about Rose, or the magical age of 100, or the goodness of a life. Rather, it’s about the power of vision, commitment and determination. Those qualities are readily available to all of us no matter what our name, stage or age. They’re free. Please join in a metaphorical toast to all of us—our hopes, dreams, visions and goals. “Here’s to the power of positive thinking!” Mom’s will-power and the way she lives her strategy is a model for us all. That unmistakable approach and style remains simple. She merely sees this complex world through “Rose-colored glasses.” Well done and happy Birthday!

We love you!

Note: The photo of the 99th birthday party was taken by T.C. Christenberry

The Espresso experience is so much more than drinking a cup of coffee.

Of course the ultimate espresso can only be found in Italy. Case closed. Nothing can match the total experience of the morning espresso and pasta, pastry at a real Italian neighborhood bar. What makes it unique? Hmm, well . . . we’ll take a shot at it?

Caffè Lorenzo

It all starts at Caffè Lorenzo, in the small burg of Pian di Mugnone just outside of Firenze, Florence. In this example, the barista is called Fiore, standing in position wearing a black apron, facing the beautiful stainless steel espresso machine with his back to us as we walk in. A quick glance into the gleaming mirror alerts him of our arrival. Without a second’s hesitation, he slides two more mini saucers with bitsy spoons onto the counter and continues his finely choreographed moves in pursuit of the “real” thing. No motion is wasted. Time is of the essence.  He prides himself in knowing what each of the regulars drink, so the option to change-it-up is pretty much nonexistent, unless you yell it out immediately. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. Fiore and his cohort Marta both know that we’ll be choosing a delicious pastry as well, and Marta stands poised with tongs in hand to claim our prize. 

Artistic expression

There’s a captivating rhythm to the process—a morning cadence of steady percussive sounds: the hissing of milk being steamed; constant clinking of the tiny ceramic cups lined up like soldiers guarding the bar; the relentless banging of the spent grounds into the handy pivoting bin; all punctuated by random plucky calls of completed orders. Ahh, music to our ears!  

Okay, but what’s so compelling about such an ordinary “Italian breakfast” experience?

Well, all of the regulars are there with warm greetings as we walk in the door. Some, inevitably offer our little doxy Sara a handy, pocketed doggie treat. If no goodies are forthcoming, Marta may disappear into the kitchen to fetch Sara some pastry scraps. She’s done this so often that Sara watches for Marta to duck into the adjacent room. Intense excitement ensues.

Tasty treats from the kitchen

People are packed into the small space, so there’s a sense of being in a tiny kitchen, having to turn sideways to let someone by, or carefully reach over people to grab an extra napkin. Of course, the true Italian downs a classic espresso within two quick sips—maybe three. Any longer and you risk having your cup swiftly swooped away to make room for the next one. So, we’ve learned never to take a finger from the cup until we’ve completely finished our morning elixir. The staff watches every move to insure that each customer’s completely satisfied.

Since there aren’t any rules about lines in Italy, it’s a bit of a fast action free-for-all where courtesy counts and patience matters. Italians typically don’t queue in any obvious order, but are quite generous in letting someone ahead of them at the cashier (their least favorite part). It’s a messy process for sure, but maybe that’s what makes it so endearing. 

No Roberto today

Although the coffee is delicious, it’s just one small piece of the overall experience. An image of the coffee bar is the first thing that comes to mind whenever Italy is mentioned. It’s definitely the first thought upon waking up to an Italian morning. Strangely enough, it takes us 20 minutes just to get to Caffè Lorenzo, and we’re only there about 15 minutes max. As we leave, we look for our friend Roberto, sitting on his balcony above the bar, waving friendly hellos and remarking about the day. We always leave smiling, satisfied and certain that everything is right in the world, or at least in that small part of Italy—and that’s well worth the hour spent and the 2 euro price tag. 

Our granddaughter spent last weekend with us.

Her heartfelt message

One afternoon, during quiet time, she spontaneously declared that she’d like to send her mom and dad a text. So we opened a phone and set the screen for texting. She immediately started typing and talking. It was amazing to watch her dexterity with the phone, as she narrated her intended message. It was sweet, heartfelt and emotional as she spoke, “Dear Mom and Dad, I miss you so much and send you love from my heart to your hearts.” Her little fingers danced across the keypad. Then, tiring of the meaningless jumble of letters and pretend words, she tapped the emoji button and was immediately delighted with her discovery. She quickly scattered out a smattering of images. Her joy increased noticeably. After a few minutes with many rows of tiny icons, we declared the message complete. Smiling at her accomplishment, she intuitively tapped the send arrow.

Needless to say, her parents were both thrilled and a little confused with the missive. We actually had to do a followup text to make sure they knew it was Rosie’s message and not ours. They later admitted that they seriously thought we might have sent it, which was a bit disquieting (uh, oh, we’re worrying our children now). 

Our sad-face message to Rosie

That next day Rosie went home and early that evening we received her bedtime text. She had taken the liberty (with some supervision) to send us one of her unmistakable messages. Thrilled but not confused, we rapid-fire returned a similar style text to our little communicator. We thought it was great fun to have another way to “play” together. Later that evening, we talked to her mom who told us how excited Rosie was to get our follow-up message, and that she studied each and every emoji carefully to understand what we were saying. Then, she turned to her mom and said, “They must be sad about me leaving. The very first picture is a crying-face.” 

Ah, the power of the image.

Curious, we decided to dig a little deeper into the origin of those amusing little snippets that so frequently lace and illustrate our messages these days. The word emoji actually comes from the Japanese characters forming the word “picture” or “pictograph,” The emoji idea was born in 1997, and the mother of that invention was the company, SoftBank. Erroneously, emojis were thought to have been originally “invented” in 1999 by the Docomo company, but that credit was incorrect. 

2018 Apple Poo
’97 SoftBank Poo

The dispute was finally settled—the credit goes officially to SoftBank. They were the first to create and circulate the initial “emoji set” around the globe. Those little short-hand graphics have become well known and widely understandable icons no matter what age or culture. SoftBank also claims proud authorship of the most iconic original emoji of them all: the “Pile of Poo.” It apparently expressed an essential and versatile sentiment, qualifying it as one of the original 90 emojis. Even today, after nearly 25 years, it still garners ample groans, chuckles and poignancy every time it pops-up.

Pure emotion!

People often assume that the word emoji was derived from the word “emotion.” Not so. But since they can, in fact, capture a complex emotion with condensed accuracy, those clever little symbols are pretty much ALL about emotions. They are tiny compressed Rorschach blots of colorful information with the ability to convey far more than words. They are power-packed arrows that aim straight to the heart of the matter. Emojis communicate where words often fall short. The subconscious has an uncanny way of pulling the essence from a jumble of stuff. That’s exactly what happened with our granddaughter.

It’s true. We were absolutely saddened to see little Rosie June leave, but couldn’t capture the feelings in so many words, “We hate to see you leave,” or “Come back soon, promise?” or “Call us later!” Yet, she got the real message with unmistakeable accuracy since the sad crying face was the first emoji on the text. With such directness, the “true” message was both sent and received.

How simply elegant!

You might also enjoy a related story with music called “Without Words,”

Life is a puzzle.

Iris the Master Puzzler at work

Our daughter Iris has earned the moniker of “Puzzle Master—Master Puzzler,” for a simple and very good reason: that girl can really work a jigsaw puzzle like no one else! She’s been known to stretch across the table to pluck a piece right out of someone else’s hand if necessary. The small cardboard cutouts fly fast and furiously as she pops them in one right after the other. She uses color and shape seamlessly, rarely referring to the box lid for guidance. Upside-down, sideways, sitting or standing makes no difference. Oh, and by the way, she ALWAYS pockets one piece to insure that she gets to make the ceremonial closing play. That’s important to her for some reason, so we all automatically glance her way when searching for the last missing piece. She protests at first, then mock innocently checks her pockets, suddenly feigning surprise. Voila!! She produces the missing piece and righteously pops it into place—definitely one of our best family rituals! 

Each day a new piece

Of course, we see a similarity in our tradition of working family puzzles and working through the “puzzles of Life.” After all, every moment of every day we locate a new piece of the “Life picture”—like an opening into the future, an inviting doorway. We carefully check for fit and color-match, experimenting and perhaps asking, “Does that look right?” Even squinting or shifting perspective can leave us with doubt as we ask the person next to us, “I can’t tell, does that piece fit or am I forcing it?”

Rainy day discovery

While on an early morning walk after an evening rain, Em spied something curious on the brick sidewalk downtown. Oddly enough, it was a single jigsaw puzzle piece. How strange! But in that instant, the lonely lost part flipped a switch in his brain. He had been working through one of Life’s conundrums—searching for a clue, a missing piece or two that would lead to a logical conclusion. Suddenly, everything fell into place. Ahh! That’s the way it magically happens sometimes.

However, we’re not all master-puzzlers and we don’t always magically find the missing piece we’re looking for. Wouldn’t it be nice if Life came packaged in a box with a specific number of pieces and a picture on the front? Would you ever agree to work a puzzle without a picture? We think not. Yet, we patiently fit our lives together, piece-by-piece with very sketchy, if not absent information, all the while knowing that we basically have to work it alone. 

The missing piece of Life’s puzzle

Let’s face it, our little puzzling metaphor has its limits, but there are still some valuable insights: 1) Even though some pieces my be difficult to find, we have to be vigilant and patient to get just the right match; 2) don’t hesitate to reach across the table if necessary when you finally see what you’re looking for; 3) sometimes we need to shift our position to get a fresh perspective; and 4) humor with some good old-fashioned belly laughter is essential. But remember that there may be a trickster among us. Don’t get discouraged—because someone may have just slipped a critical piece of your puzzle into their pocket, momentarily hiding it from view. Rest assured that eventually all of the pieces will fall right into place. 

Following is a song we wrote a few years ago about this very process, called: “Fitting Pieces.” 

 

Autumn arrived in Italy.

South side of the Arno

Turning from warm summer breezes in the shade, to cool gray rains, the fall season clearly was approaching. Winter wouldn’t be far behind. We were grateful to be staying in a friend’s small unused apartment in Florence, just across the Arno river, with easy access to the historic center—a delightful 10 minute walk. We enjoyed being in a different part of the city, which offered us new perspectives.

We had stayed in many different places over the past four years as we waited for the long-delayed completion of our dream-studio in the nearby Florentine countryside. Our romantically naïve plan was to run off together to a peaceful place of inspiration, leaving behind the often hectic pace of the Silicon Valley. The Tuscan hills beckoned.

Awesome view

We imagined ourselves living a simple life in nature with just the bare necessities—a small stone one room studio with an awesome view, where we could write stories and music about our experiences of life in Italy. We planned to share heartfelt conversations in front of an old open Tuscan fireplace, while sipping on hot mugs of coffee—dreaming, creating, spinning story and song into contemporary fables and fairytales that could actually come true. Still very much in love after nearly 30 years together, we were up for the challenge of taking our relationship to the next level, whatever that meant—longing to find out.

We decided to recommit

The message of another delay in the project arrived on that cold rainy day, and we felt our patience fray. Frustrated and deeply saddened by the thought of yet another problem, we actually considered ending the project. Just call it quits. As we talked it over, though, the vision slowly started coming back into view. We reminisced about our feelings and desires that led to this dream in the first place. We found ourselves re-engaging, breathing new life into our intentions. Determination and commitment rallied to fill in the gaps as we took a collective deep breath. Looking into each other’s eyes, we both felt a shared resolve.The answer: the dream must continue. The strength of our partnership literally rose-up in that moment of need to protect our fragile possibilities.

As is our custom, we turned to music and story to sort out the jumble of feelings we were experiencing—the hope, love and appreciation for both the challenges and successes. We decided to write a song to commemorate that time as if we were getting married again—recommitting to our shared vision, the romantic dream, the Tuscan studio. It became a  ceremony of rebirth (Renaissance) in our little borrowed home in Florence.

Music can sort things out

Friends Patrizia and Virginio dropped by for an unexpected visit later that evening. We had just finished a rough version of the song, and decided to sing it for them. They quietly listened as we stumbled through our newly penned lyrics and still-settling melody. Little did we know, that song would became the touchstone for this journey of the heart. We were delighted to share that moment of celebration and hope with them as they unknowingly became silent partners in our autumn sojourn.

On that cold, damp fall night, we did exactly what our hearts desired, fulfilling the essence of our shared dream. We vowed an Uncommon Promise to one another, knowing that it would be strong enough to carry us through—whatever was to come!

Music

Uncommon Promise

Here’s the song we wrote nearly 20 years ago to commemorate that turning point—commitment no matter what! It remains a touchstone for our relationship to this day. The name is as you might expect, “Uncommon Promise.”

Note: This post became the first to be recreated into a podcast with additional commentary, also under the name of “Uncommon Promise.”

Fogged in

We awakened to a gray morning in the valley with fog just outside the window so thick you could see it hanging in clumps. Cheryl turned to me and said “Come stai oggi, how are you today?” “Sto male, I’m not well,” I said with a coarseness in my voice. It seemed that my sinus condition had worsened in the night and had reached a critical point. It was clearly time to see Francesco, our local pharmacist to ask what could be done for my deteriorating condition. 

We got dressed and went downstairs, and as was our custom, we flipped through the Italian dictionary to make sure that we had all of the words we needed to get right to the point. This was not the time for a miscue in communication—say it right one time, get some medicine, and then back home into bed.

Feeling well-prepared for the conversation, we got in the car and Cheryl drove us to Fiesole, the nearest town, where we hoped the pharmacy would be open. (We’ve been told by many shop owners that they are ALWAYS open, unless they’re not.)  I went in while Cheryl kept watch with the car, illegally parked on the sidewalk out front (that’s normal). To my dismay, Francesco wasn’t there, so I had to explain my condition to his associate/pharmacist I had never met before. I thought to myself, “My issue is rather simple and fairly common so it shouldn’t be a problem. With the season change, surely sinus issues are addressed daily.” With my confidence bolstered due to my self-reflection and recent language lesson brush-up, I approached the counter and stated my case. 

I’ll never forget that look!

I began my explanation in a pleading tone befitting someone not feeling well. I said, “Ho un’infezione nel mio seno, I have an infection in my sinus.” The look on the pharmacist’s face was one of both astonishment and confusion. Checking for possible errors, she cautiously asked me to repeat what I had just said, and so I did—loudly enough for everyone in line behind me to hear. Each customer was suddenly privy to the personal details of my condition. She then repeated it back to me in a questioning tone, with a look of slight repulsion, she began pointing to her breasts. What!?

My new best friends

Now, this really confused me. At first, as unbelievable as it may seem, I thought there was an outside chance she was hitting on me. Was I delirious? Surely, in my condition and in the pharmacy line, of all places, this could not be the case. Then, I instinctively pointed to my nose. Instantly, she was relieved about our seemingly imminent first date, and the issue was suddenly clear. There was an almost audible sigh of empathetic relief from all of my “new best friends” behind me. I turned and offered a polite but awkward smile. The pharmacist quickly prepared an appropriate remedy. I paid her in cash and gathered my gift-wrapped package (they sometimes do that in Italy and we have no idea why). I shuffled through the door, breathing a raspy sigh of relief, eager to begin administering my new healing regimen.

As I approached the car, I detected a look of embarrassed concern on Cheryl’s face. It seems that while I was inside the pharmacy, she was outside, practicing her reading skills. There was a large poster in the pharmacy window advertising a cream for breast enhancement. She had spotted the word seno and knew that I was inside at that very moment, asking for some help with my seno. Oooff. She knew before I did that, depending on the context, the word seno is unfortunately, the same for both sinus and breast (why oh why would they do that?) With 450,000 words in the Italian language, evidently, they couldn’t add one more? There was no pronunciation or even a grammar error this time. 

I’ll do better next time

To this day, I’m still troubled by the incident. Why, given the two choices between sinus or breast, did the pharmacist think that I meant breast, since I am obviously a man (I did though, at that very moment question my own masculinity). I was sure she could clearly hear the raspy nasal tone in my voice that indicated a sinus infection. Maybe I inadvertently placed my hand on my chest, giving her the wrong visual cue.

So from that day forward, I’m extremely careful to make sure my hand gestures are tightly synchronized with what I’m trying to say—just like any good Italian!

Turning toward the Light.

Cheryl’s mom had a funny saying, “One day, we’re all going to wake-up dead.” This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s actually a humorous nod to an inevitable reality. 

Kane Tanaka

Hey folks, that’s the truth of the matter. We all WILL die, even though some people seem to defy that reality. For example, the oldest person living (as of Jan 12, 2021) is Kane Tanaka in Fukuoka, Japan—born the same year as the Wright brothers’ first powered flight. Imagine that! For some of us, the earthly end will arrive much sooner than it will for others, but eventually, even Kane will take flight. But at 118 years, she wants to delay her own “take-off.” She thinks she’ll be ready when she’s 120. Why is that any better than 118, you might ask? Only Kane knows?

So, what’s her secret to longevity? She says it’s all about “Eating delicious food and studying,” Okay, we can do that, but frankly, there must be a bit more to consider!

Living well is one desire that many of us surely share. However, for some, the topic of mortality has rapidly moved to the top of the list. We represent just two Baby-Boomers, two septuagenarians. But let’s face it, In order to even consider a powerful “lift-off” from this earthly adventure, it makes sense to examine our pasts—which may then require a little clean-up work. We’ve always tried to “keep house” as we go, checking in with the expertise and wisdom of select therapists along the way. But, over the past several years we’ve decided to “up our game,” deliberately and methodically digging into lingering issues or limiting perspectives. We feel that this deeper dive will help better prepare the Way. Now, together, we are ready to design a “grand finale” for this human experiment. Here we go!

Erik Erikson

We first shifted our gaze to the future when our wonderful therapist Dr. Jody Saltzman referenced the work of the German-American psychologist Erik Erikson. He authored the now famous “Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development”—of which the last and final stage is “Maturity” (from ages 65 to death). Ooff! That last hurrah has also been referred to as the phase of “disintegration.” YIKES! That doesn’t sound good! However, upon further study, the “virtue” of that stage, according to Erikson, is “wisdom.” Hmm. We became intrigued and decided to check that out!

We are stardust

We began our own little research project to uncover the possibilities that lay ahead. We strongly preferred the word “transformation” rather than the ooky term, “disintegration.” Oh, sure, we know about the “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” thing, but disintegration sort of signals a painful “falling apart.” No, thanks. So, our mission is to turn this time in our life from “the beginning of the end” to just “the beginning.” With thoughtful enthusiasm, we jumped right in. 

Once we decided to explore the topic, we found ourselves sorting through some amazing information. It will definitely take some time, determination and patience, but early indications suggest that irresistible clues are scattered all around us. Transformation is not only possible, but appears to be the preferable “calling” at this juncture.

Finding our Way

Mind you, our interest is certainly not about “staying young,” (too late for that) but rather about making the most of this truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to “grow old and get wise.” We also suspect there might be others who are approaching similar crossroads. So, as we meander and stumble our way along this trail, we will drop as many breadcrumbs as we can. Perhaps, as we follow the clues left by those before us, we too can find our Way “Home.”

We’ll keep you posted!
Cheryl and Emerson—fellow travelers

This initial post will be followed by an ongoing series called “Breadcrumbs.” To find the complete list of entries to date, just enter “Breadcrumbs” into the Stories “Secret Search” box, and they will all magically appear.

You might also check out our related music and story from 2008 called “Toward the Light.”

 

My body felt like lead. “Who are you? What do you want.”

Somewhere in the stillness of the night, I became aware that I was dreaming. Or was I?

Okay. I’ll admit it. I had a really tough day! A good night’s rest is often the best remedy when the “toughness” sets in, so we hit the hay before the clock even turned to double digits—which is really early for us. We usually see every double digit, and witness single digits again before calling it a day.

I was sure that sleep would offer me an escape from the day’s stresses—at least I hoped so. Usually deep and satisfying sleep is often a refuge. This night began with promise, but shifted abruptly shortly after drifting off. I steadied my breathing and remember the sensation of falling asleep and releasing the day’s worries. I was right on track in the beginning. I shifted my weight to the far side of the bed to give Cheryl and our little doxy Sara more space. I was hovering in twilight sleep.Then suddenly I wasn’t!  

Fast asleep

My nightmare began. I dreamed I was asleep in a long narrow room totally unfamiliar to me. All alone on a skinny single bed, I was peacefully slumbering, laying close to the far corner of the room opposite the door. Suddenly, the door opened and someone or something entered. In the darkness with dim shadows I saw it silently moving toward me. It was a pale creature, formless, yet weighty. Startled, I had the urge to wake myself from this terrifying encounter. I tried to sit up, but couldn’t move either my legs or arms. They felt like lead. Still groggy, I called out, “Who is it and what do you want?” But my voice was as frozen as my arms and legs. From my lips I heard a low guttural, creepy sound something like: “Bhough eez zhit ehhhh bwaht zhou whwanndt?” Needless to say, there was no response from the silent intruder. I struggled again to get up and confront whatever it was, but it just kept floating/sweeping toward me as if sadistically enjoying my night-time terror.

The “Entity”

The “Entity” swooped low at the foot of the bed, then circled around me moving ever-faster. Then it approached the corner of the bed close to my head. I could feel an icy cold air following its movement. I tried again and again to simply turn my neck to see it more closely, but all efforts were in vain. I absolutely could not. It sensed my growing fear and somehow hovered both behind and beneath me. Dimensions and depth blurred. In a fit of desperation, I mustered every ounce of strength, flailing in the air with my hands over my head trying to disrupt its sinister plan. In my last best hope, I took one great vanquishing swipe into the darkness.

I was jarred into semi-consciousness with the sound of a heavy steel lamp crashing onto the wood floor. I bolted upright, disoriented. At that point, the bright ceiling light came on, blinding me. Suddenly Iris was up and on high alert. She was awakened by the crash, but of course, the “Entity,” was nowhere to be found. The only source for the sound clearly fell to me. Boy, did I ever feel ridiculous!

At breakfast we gathered around the table to review the night’s events. I told Cheryl the sordid details of the intruder’s attack. Always objective and curious about dream symbolism, she matter-of-factly said that the “Something-Entity” may have represented my “Shadow” coming to challenge me. Would I control it or would it control me? My response was the same as always, to fight back. That is my fatal mistake, it seems. To disown the shadow sets up battle lines, as a war ensues that can never be won—by anyone. And, once again, I sadly end up attacking and destroying my own “LIGHT.”

Integration

Perhaps this little night-time vignette has finally made it clear. The only way for the LIGHT to prevail, is to INTEGRATE with the shadow. The power of the shadow is in its ability to provoke. If I’m not provoked, perhaps it will settle down. “Wholeness” is the only viable strategy. I finally got it! Then, I walked into town to the hardware store to get the necessary supplies to fix the broken table lamp.

Moral of the story: Rest assured, the LIGHT always wins in the end—eventually! Why not just let it happen sooner, rather than later?

Welcome to an amazing episode in the continuing story of Sara, the Wonder Dachshund. Cheryl: I will tell this story as best I can from the details Em recounted as he lay on the sofa recovering from his “urgent adventure” with Sara.

Secret weapons – nose and empathetic eyes

Dogs are incredible creatures. Did you know they have about 300 million smell sensors in their noses—about 50 times more than we do, mere humans? On top of that, their brains are 40 times more capable of analyzing those smells than the big person next to them. As if that isn’t enough proof, they can also sense pain/distress and will come to your rescue, trying all their wiggly, licky tricks to comfort and console, or even just lay on you. Anything to heal and make things better. We call it fur-therapy. Now, that’s a “best friend!”

Shivering Sara

The other day, Em was experiencing his share of stress around long-overdue feedback on things like relationships, communication, negative behavior, leadership style etc.—you know, ordinary things like that. He was working at the computer when our little longhaired dachshund Sara came to his side and wanted something. He picked her up to find she was shaking uncontrollably, which was really unusual. Thinking she might desperately need to go out, he leashed her up and hurried out into the grass. She did a token tinkle, but immediately started heading east across the lawn, pulling hard like there was something urgent that needed her attention (also not like her).

Trolly and train crossing

The leash was taut with Em in tow. Laser-focused, she jumped the curb and jaywalked them across Union Street. She stopped, momentarily sniffing and inquisitively looking up at a man on a platform 15 feet away—but no, he was not involved in this chase. Lurching left, she ran through a parking lot where she had never been before. Leaving the lot, she sniffed out a signal and immediately took a right turn, south down the sidewalk toward the trolley tracks. Then they bolted across the tracks where Em had to literally hold her at bay while traffic cleared on Harbor Drive. When the light changed, they were off again on a tear across six traffic lanes and a median of palm trees.

Marriott entrance

Without hesitation, she jumped the curb on the other side and launched up the ramped-drive toward the Marriott entrance. Sniffing as she ran, they circled around past the entrance (thankfully they didn’t need to go inside), taking a hard right toward the loading dock. Holy Moly! Em yelled to the guard as they darted by, asking if it was okay if they passed through to the other side. He said “the guard at the end will definitely open the gate since he’s afraid of dogs,” as he laughed out loud. Em shouted-out a quick “thanks” as his hair wafted in the breeze of the loading dock wind-tunnel.

The wind tunnel

Like clockwork, the guard opened the gate as they fast approached—a perfectly orchestrated team event and they were off and running toward the promenade along the marina. Those little dachshund legs were a blur as Sara scurried and sniffed her way to some unknown destination. Em mused that this time, the leash was pulled tight enough to pluck a low Bb, like on a stand-up bass.

They then crossed the promenade where she did the most remarkable thing: she literally jumped up on the bayside retaining wall (never before had she done such an exuberant thing in her entire life), and stood there like a statue looking out over the water. Evidently, the mysterious fugitive had made a cool get-away—apparently confounding his scent amid the boats gently rocking in the bay. After a moment of determined gazing, she jumped back down onto the promenade and then retraced their exact route back home—still sniffing and pulling Em along behind her like a man obediently following his fearless leader.

Ready to sleep

Arriving at home, they went inside as if nothing unusual had just happened. Sara immediately fell asleep. Em and I puzzled over her urgent adventure, wondering what in the world it was all about. Since she can’t talk and has no opposable thumbs to write her story, it remains a mystery. Then, a possible explanation dawned on us: What if she had sensed Em’s stress about insensitivity and over-assertiveness—his “leadership crisis”? She knew he needed help. We imagined her concocting a little adventure, combining her expert sense of smell with her innate human sensitivity to teach that “old dog” a new trick?

She decided to give him a first-hand experience that he would hopefully NEVER forget: the importance of learning how to FOLLOW.

Shivering Sara needed a warm hat!