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.

“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.

Healthy never tasted so good.

Recipe for health

Recently we stumbled upon a recipe on Instagram. Our nephew Joshua described a simple dish that we think is worth sharing far and wide.  Josh decided it was time to take some action with his general health. He needed an energy boost and a way to lower his cholesterol without taking meds. So, he developed this natural, organic miracle breakfast that you might find appealing—you know, “set your cork-a-bobbin’,” as we used to say in the midwest (an old fishing metaphor).

Josh and Yuri

In the post, Josh casually boasted about his 35 point reduction in cholesterol. His missive was quite detailed and got our attention. Hmm. Could it really taste as good as he says and be that effective? We fired off a personal message to ask Josh for the details. He graciously shared all the particulars without hesitation and even gave us permission to distribute it “far and wide—the more the merrier and healthier.” We named it the “Poet’s Power Porridge.” (He’s a poet and musician among many other rare and delightful talents.) So, here it is:

Poet’s Power Porridge

Before mixing

Every morning (or thereabouts), begin with boiling water to make one single serving of steel-cut oats. Whilst that yummy base is simmering on the stovetop, chop/combine the other 21 ingredients: walnuts, poppy seeds, black sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, flax meal, pine nuts, cacao powder, turmeric powder, ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground coconut, dried currents, plain yogurt, maple syrup/honey, maca powder, mulberries and a few blueberries perhaps sprinkled on top.

After mixing

Mix all of those crazy-tasty ingredients together with the cooked oats. Add a little almond milk to thin, as you like. And then, in a slow, respectful meditative rhythm that feels right to your body and Soul, take slow bites, savoring the distinctive co-mingling of all those tantalizing flavors.  As Josh says, “It ends up being a nutrient-dense start to your day (or later if you prefer), that can keep you fueled for up to 6 hours.”

So there you have it, a not-so-secret recipe for health, happiness and lower cholesterol, straight from the Poet’s mouth. Give it a try if you’re so inclined and feel free to spread the word “far and wide,” as Josh says. Any comments or testimonials about your experience will be appreciated.

Salute, (to your health!)
Cheryl, Emerson and Joshua

Related Stories

The Fountain of Youth

A quarter cup a day keeps the doctor away! That’s the adage that our friend Giacomo‘s father lived by well into his nineties. A quarter cup of what, you ask? OLIVE OIL. Signor’ Martini actually drank it—in addition to what he typically drizzled over every meal, every day of his life. In ancient Greece, […]

Good for What Ails You

A while back, we experienced a serendipitous moment. While browsing online for a nearby restaurant, we came across one with a curious name: Vino y Otros Remedios (Wine and Other Remedies). The name was intriguing with its suggestion of healing the body with great foods and wines, but it was the many reviews that really sold us. We cross-checked a couple of sites. Yep . . . it looked like a winner. Since it was located only a block and a half away, we were out the door without giving it another thought.

Related Music

Following are three songs where our nephew Josh played his soulful stand-up bass. He graciously brought his gigantic instrument down to our place over an  hour away to spontaneously create and record a single take in our tiny home recording studio. He is a masterful musician as you will soon hear. We are forever  indebted to him for his positive energy and endless talent. Also, if you dig deep enough in our music, you might find his original  composition and recording from the cantina of our Italian country farmhouse. The song is called “Beatrice’s Ghost.”

Get Away

The Way to Love

Say When

Beatrice’s Ghost

 

 

 

This is the second “breadcrumb” we’re leaving along the path that we call “Toward the Light” of aging. 

Let’s face it, no one is exempt from growing older. Some changes may be subtle, while others are more drastic and obvious. This series of posts called “Breadcrumbs” is an attempt to find our way in and through the aging process, while continuing to mature and develop further. So, as we meander and stumble along this trail, we’ll drop as many breadcrumbs as we can. Perhaps, as we follow the clues left by other wise Souls, we too can find our way “Home.”

David Bowie

David Bowie left us all too soon, but certainly seems to have poured his heart and Soul into living Life to the fullest. He created countless moments of meaning, whether through music, film/video, performance, or painting that continue, beyond his physical presence. As we hike our trail, our path, one of Bowie’s clues about life resonates with us. 

“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”

For us, that short quote carries an extremely important message, basically turning Life upside-down. Rather than feeling as though we are losing cherished pieces of ourselves (disintegrating), he’s suggesting that we are intentionally and painstakingly examining what remains. He suggests that our true Essence is the Pearl we seek. We open and shed that which is unnecessary or no longer needed—eventually letting go of anything and everything that isn’t our “Essential Self.”

Mark Nepo

The poet/philosopher Mark Nepo speaks about this pursuit, this process of life-long “Pearl-essence” in a different, but poignant way when he says, “Like a comet worn to its center by the time it reaches Earth, the gravity of our journey leaves us bare and unadorned as we reach the simple, enduring center where all souls meet.”

However we choose to envision and articulate this life, the process remains the same. We simply consider it the never-ending work of the Soul—the journey of a lifetime. 

Thank you David and Mark! 

Related Stories and Music

Uncommon Promise

We were living in a friend’s cottage south of Florence, a different side of the city for us, providing many new experiences, including a delightful walk into the center of town from the apartment. Trying to distract ourselves from the studio’s much-delayed completion, we were struggling with seemingly constant waiting. It was a challenging time, […]

Out of the Block
This story is about breaking out of social molds and constraints. We felt as though we were sculpting new lives for ourselves and wanted to capture the joy of creativity, the tireless commitment and the surprises that result from such an effort.

Letting Go
With much to consider, our conversations settled on the idea of letting go, and how important it is for us to move on and release that which can no longer serve us—no matter what stage of our life.

Libra is Latin for scale or balance and in ancient Rome became a unit of weight (around 12 ounces), the forerunner of the pound. As the 7th sign in the Zodiac, Libra represents someone born between September 23rd and October 22nd, who may harbor a fixation on balance and harmony. A true Libra may be obsessed with symmetry and strives to create equilibrium in all areas of life.

Equity is also reflected in the familiar symbol for fairness—the blindfolded goddess, Lady Justice, holding the scales of equality. She symbolizes the judicial system’s obligation to one and all, blind to prejudice and bias. Her only focus is balance and equilibrium, conjuring a notion of competing or opposite forces—equally strong. Balance can also refer to emotional stability or calmness, as in, “It took me awhile to regain my equilibrium.” The idea of balance is a practical and symbolic aspect of everyday life.

We were born under the signs of Sagittarius, the archer and Taurus, the bull. Yet we’re curiously drawn to the fundamental value of “balance.” For years, we had a framed picture on the bookshelf of the sketch by artist/sculptor Alexander Calder called “Tightrope Artist,” which served as a playful reminder for the importance of maintaining balance in all that we do. That doesn’t mean for a second that we’ve been able to achieve this illusive quality, but we keep trying.

In a stroke of genius in 1931, Calder broke through the established notion that sculpture was solid, static and stationary by reimagining it as light, delicate and dynamic. Voila! Suddenly the “mobile” was born—many smaller forms leveraged against larger ones. Not only was his sculptural work balanced, but usually swayed in subtle motion, ready for bolder action. 

Calder – Untitled Standing Mobile

Calder’s reinterpretation brought the element of poise into play. Most of us probably understand that balance is essential in our lives, but also feel that balance alone isn’t quite enough. In addition to stability, we find ourselves striving for an even more anticipatory stance—dynamic, poised for action. Like a Calder mobile, our balance is free-floating, with slight movement nearly undetected—awaiting action. With Calder’s shift from “stabile” to “mobile,” stationary balance became the prerequisite for the shift to movement, potential change and graceful possibility.  

Years later, we found an old scale in an antique shop. It hung over the stairway in our former home and now resides in the living room, suspended above the sofa as a hovering reminder of equilibrium, justice and fairness. We like the simplicity of it—rustic and ordinary. It seems perfectly straightforward, with no delicate calibration needed. It’s just a basic everyday scale, suspended on twine and easily gaged at a glance—in balance or out. Simple. The slight turning with the breeze, catches our eye to nudge sweet memories of scouring salvage yards for treasures, as well as being a symbol of that never-ending pursuit of balance. It also serves as a nod to Calder’s mobiles.

Calder mobile at the National Gallery

We’ve decided to keep the Calder sketch and the rustic antique scale as reminders of the basic need for balance and equilibrium in our lives. Yet, we continue to be fascinated with the notion of being poised for action. Alert and at the ready, we wait and watch with quiet anticipation, imagining our very lives to be similar to a dynamic Calder construction. Will there be a dramatic sweeping movement or just silent subtle shifts, drifting slowly in the breeze of inspiration? We’re eager with anticipation. After all, isn’t Life a series of balancing acts, of repeated efforts to regain equilibrium? Let’s examine the possibilities. Let’s weigh the options.

 

Lines Blurred

Ever heard that statement? Someone decides that he/she has reached some sort of limit, set a boundary, stopped an affront. Before that moment, supposedly all options were on the table. When lines are blurred, sometimes even an individual can’t be clearly defined. So setting boundaries is a healthy practice, right?

So then, what’s the difference between a boundary and a wall?

Sharp Contrast

That simple question triggered an unexpected hours-long conversation with us. We started talking about the importance of setting appropriate “boundaries,” defining individuality, privacy and important limits. We talked about how creating clear “edges” can improve relationships. These kinds of boundaries tend to be created in words, body language, expressions, personality and social constructs. The rub is that the very idea of clear boundaries begs the question of staying “open” to interpretation, remaining flexible. Black and white may be too much contrast. In other words, at what point does a healthy boundary actually morph and solidify into an impenetrable wall? Often a clarifying boundary can become an unintended barrier—harsh and unforgiving, resulting in a loss of communication and community.   

Walls are physical structures, that allow passage by permission only. Our homes are constructed of physical walls, defining and protecting our lives inside. They make us feel safe and secure. 

Fences Between Neighbors

Robert Frost says in his famous poem, Mending Wall, that Good fences make good neighbors . . .” But this line (often quoted out of context to suggest the value of division) is actually lamenting a lack of connection and intimacy. The opening line of the poem is Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it . . .” So Frost is actually saying that a wall is unnatural, that Nature will eventually erode the man-made structure and break it down. He imagines asking his neighbor, “Why do fences make good neighbors? Before constructing a wall, maybe, Frost imagines a more pertinent question that he might ask of himself, What I was walling in or walling out? 

Openings Between Walls

Maybe if we develop strong personal definitions, we actually don’t need physical walls. It’s only when someone oversteps a personal value, that we respond by erecting something stronger, more visible, obvious. We might see and hear the symbolic walls being constructed, in a door slamming shut or someone retreating to another room of the house. If we respect an individual’s personal edges, perhaps walls would be totally without merit, un-needed. Maybe walls could be relegated to just shelter and safety, rather than barrier status.

26 Seamless Schengen Countries

Before Europe became the European Union, travel between countries was more arduous. Border crossings were comprised of agents checking documents to control who was let in or kept out. Then, suddenly, borders were open, especially in the Schengen Area, the world’s largest visa-free zone, made up of 26 countries. The agreement created seamless movement between member nations for residents and visitors alike. Roads had always continued between neighboring countries, but after the agreement, the arm and check-point that “sealed” the country in, was simply removed (or abandoned). There may have been a few geographical edges of countries, but for the most part, countries flowed from one to another. Nature didn’t stop at the outline of France to become Italy. (Although the famed French baguette seems to have been denied entry into any neighboring country.)

So, perhaps well-defined personal edges and open borders are really what makes the world a better place—something to talk about together.

Related Stories and Music

Stone by Stone

The sound a hammer makes when it strikes a steel chisel is unique—it’s a dull, metallic, muffled clang as the chisel bites deeper into stone or mortar. As I rounded the corner of the country studio, I heard the familiar sound, then caught sight of the hammer swinging high and squarely driving the chisel a fraction of an inch deeper. […]

The Great Wall of Lucca

China isn’t the only country that built walls. Italy certainly crafted a few of their own over the centuries. However, there is one very special wall around the old center of Lucca in Tuscany, that might even win first place if we held a “cool walls” or a “most excellent” competition. They were really serious back then about “drawing the line” […]

Locks

This song was jotted down at the dining room table in our old Victorian house on Main Street in 1978. Cheryl had taken our one-year-old Aaron to Florida to visit her folks. Em was so self-focused, he preferred to stay behind rather than go with the family. He wanted undisturbed time to work on restoring/remodeling […]

Credits
Schengen and Featured image courtesy of the internet commons. Drawing by M.C. Escher
All other photos/drawings/music by authors, or purchased from Canva

Coffee is an integral part of Italian culture.

Intreccio

Every morning begins with an espresso, a cappuccino, or a caffè macchiato (an espresso, stained with milk). A fresh pasta, pastry, typically accompanies the coffee. Just those two simple ingredients constitute collazione, breakfast. There are coffee bars in almost every town, even tiny burgs where there are few, if any other shops. We’ve enjoyed the simple ambience of many and how they must compete for the loyalty of locals. Now that the Tokyo olympic games are over, we thought it would be fun to conduct our own little competition for the best Tuscan coffee bar this season!

The criteria for judging this play-off has been established as follows:

(1) best espresso—duhh?

(2) friendliest barrista/staff 

(3) yummiest pastries—whether made in the back room kitchen or brought in daily from a nearby pasticceria, pastry bakery

Sara waiting to go for coffee

(4) best dog treats (Our ever-present doxy, Sara insisted.)

And since we’re reasonably sure that we’ve visited just about every bar in Tuscany at least once for the past two decades, we consider ourselves “expat-experts” of sorts.  

Three outstanding bars made it to the last round of the competition after extensive discussion and debate. The finalists are: 

Bar Cesare in Florence, definitely excels with its in-house pasticceria. Their sfoglia con ricotta, crispy-layered pastry with sweetened cheese, are so delicious that it jostles memories of the famous cartoon dog who floated mid-air with delight when he was given a dog treat. But alas, Bar Cesare offers absolutely NO dog treats. Sara gave it a “dew claw down” (the doggie version of a thumbs down). In fact, the owners, staff and patrons pay very little attention to Sara. Too bad guys! 

Cafe Lorenzo, (which we have written about before) is located in Pian di Mugnone. Great ambience, yummy pastries (made fresh every day on site) and macchiati—so good that we had to restrain ourselves from excessive savoring, to accommodate the rapid 2-sip custom. However, despite their strong competitive scoring, their dog treats are always scraps of cornetti (croissants). So, due to that avoidable, yet critical omission of actual heart-healthy dog treats, we moved on. Sorry Lorenzo

Outstanding K9 hospitality

Cafe Plineo, located in the river-town of Sieci, proved to be the toughest of all competitors. Their coffee is excellent; the owners are delightful; they have a pastry called an intreccio—a cinnamon braided pastry with walnuts (with an outlandish premium 10 ₵ surcharge); and they ALWAYS, ALWAYS make-over Sara and give her a wholesome dog treat just for being cute. Needless to say, Plineo won the competition “paws-down” with the warmed-up intreccio and hearty treats for sweet Sara. According to Sara, they won by a nose—which, for a dachshund is a significant point margin. 

Walter, Simone & 2021 Trophy

Congratulations to Walter (say Vall-tear) and Simone (Mario, unfortunately wasn’t there for the closing ceremony). We appreciate all that you guys do each day to make our Italian bar-hopping experience more delicious and enjoyable—also, for the heartfelt hospitality you extend to dear Sara, our poochy companion. She appreciates your attention to the moon and back.

So, Dear Readers, if you ever find yourself near the small town of Sieci, along the Arno river, you must stop at Plineo for a taste of an incredible intreccio and where you can get a dog treat to go!

Thus ends the annual “Best Italian Bar” competition for 2021 (special pandemic edition). 

Ciao, ciao, ciao!
Cheryl, Em and Sara

You might also enjoy another doggy/bar story complete with music called “Isabella“—written in 2013 about our other previous Italian Doxy companion.