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.
This is an age-old question, often used to jump-start a conversation.
“We met in a class, freshman year at college.”
“We met online, in a dating website.”
“We met through mutual friends.”
“We were “fixed up” by a well-meaning friend who knew someone seemingly “perfect” for me.
“We sat down on opposite ends of a sofa at a party and just started talking.”
“We literally bumped into one another at a concert.”
“We met at a coffee shop one morning, standing in line.”
“We both took our dogs to the park one day and they wanted to greet each other”
However the first encounter happened, it’s still something of a miracle given all the random possibilities. The fact that two people meet and really connect with one another is an amazing phenomenon. We were reminded of that recently when a friend “clicked” with someone, seemingly out-of-the-blue and they’ve been inseparable since.
He swiped right, She swiped right. They met for tea. Then they met for lunch. Then dinner. Once the “interest seed” was planted, the relationship blossomed. They discovered common values, preferences and humor. It rapidly went from being a possibility to being “something.” They’d each hoped to find a “significant other” and cautiously began an earnest search—romantic details as well as practical considerations were clearly in mind. She wanted X characteristics and he wanted Y. Each was determined to find a kindred heart to unlock.
Each was primed and felt determined to find the exact person who would match their descriptions. What were the chances? 50/50? Daunting? One in a million? Our friends took a deep dive into the proverbial haystack and re-emerged with a prize—the ever-elusive needle. Sometimes fate steps in and treasures can be found. Dreams can become reality and love grows, however unlikely it may seem.
We circled the flickering campfire as the balmy day gave way to a cool evening breeze. Quietly inspired by the massive peaks standing watch over the rugged southern California landscape, a momentary hush fell upon us. The day’s end encouraged reflection. Clearly this was a Kumbaya moment, with the expectation of guitar accompaniment. Our daughter scanned the scene and then asked her dad if he brought his guitar. “Nope,” came the matter-of-fact reply. “Why not?” she asked, disappointed. Em searched for the right words, “Because my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be. In fact, I don’t really play just for enjoyment anymore.” Iris’ tone softened, “I didn’t know that.”
Even without songs around the campfire, our adventure was still a delight as we made some sweet memories together. But, that lingering fireside question about the guitar triggered some reflective moments the following day on the drive home. For the past 50 years, we’ve written music and sung together, accompanied by a guitar—always a guitar. We were college-age during the folk music years and imagined that we’d just continue in that mode. The simple question during the camp-out prompted conversation that uncovered a looming realization that our musical form of self-expression is limited. At 71 years of age, we expect a dimming spotlight on our favorite pastime. Perhaps only a certain number of songs remain to be written—20, 15, single digits?
Life certainly has its earthly limits. We’re painfully aware of the ever-diminishing natural resources in the world around us. As much as we try to stay focused on abundance, there’s a subtle ever present thought that scarcity does exist. Everything eventually gives-way to the ages. So, the realization of personal limitations is not really a big surprise.
For us, abundance and scarcity show-up together. Everything is defined by its opposite. Rather than deny the negative aspects, why not look for their value? How can we accept and even find peace with something that we interpret as negative? Acceptance, integration and transition are steps needed to embrace the whole. Maybe pesky tremors can actually point the way to new and surprising possibilities.
Our conclusion: We’ll continue walking our current path with whatever brings us joy for as long as we can. Then, one day an urge will cause us to shift. Maybe we’ll find ourselves being nudged closer to the next dream as Em’s once-steady hands lay down the guitar. That moment will be our pivot-point, when we turn from that which we love and have loved, to something new—perhaps even better. The essence of those curious inflection points in life is captured beautifully in the following poem, “Snowbanks North of the House,” by Robert Bly—from his collection called The Man In The Black Coat Turns:
The mystery of “Why?” remains, quietly hidden in the “When?” We remind each other to “just be nimble.”
Snowbanks North of the House
Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.
The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.
And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.
The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust …
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.
Title inspiration: “Jack Be Nimble,” the 1800s rhyme from England. Good luck was ascribed to those who could jump over a candle stick without dampening the flame. May we all aspire to such daring and resolve in the face of challenge!
The image above is readily recognizable as street graffiti. But expression can take many forms. “What is art?” you might ask. Let’s take that “what is . . . ” question in another direction. For example, “what is food?” Or, “can food be art?” Or, “when does food take a form that lends itself to interpretation?” Are these cheesy hypothetical questions? Perhaps not. For example, what is the difference between making delicious cheese like Parmesan vs processing cheese food? Let’s explore.
Turning milk into cheese requires six important steps. Signature techniques have created world-famous products that have literally become art forms, yet the basic steps remain the same. Then, in 1916, James L. Kraft patented his curious idea. Suddenly, there was a new twist to cheesemaking—American cheese appeared on the scene. Is it a new art form or is it vandalism of an age-old beautiful product? The newly created food soon came to be known as a “modern cheese product”—cheese but not cheese.
American cheese is a mild, creamy, salty concoction that is highly processed and artificially colored to achieve a shiny orange-yellow hue. To preserve its luster there needed to be a final touch—individually wrapped in plastic. Although this last step may improve shelf-life, we suppose that its true purpose is to keep the goo from melting together forming some sort of cheesy brick—no, that’s a different product: KraftVelveeta.
As kids we ate the lower-cost substitute on our burgers, in mac-n-cheese and even as a handy snack sometimes. As adults, however, many of us kicked the pseudo-cheese habit since we have complete control of our eating choices. But, our opinion of that cheesy product took a turn yesterday, thanks to an experience with RJ, our 5-year-old granddaughter.
Driving RJ home after camp, she enthusiastically called out from the back seat, “Look at the American cheese!” Our response was, “What?” She repeated her request a little louder. This prompted a second response, “What in the world are you talking about?” She said, “Look, right there (pointing somewhere to the left)—American cheese.” Slowing the car, we both peered down the street, more confused than ever.
Cheryl said, “Oh, I thought you said, “American cheese.” RJ said, “I did say American cheese,” this time pointing slightly behind us since we had rolled a few feet farther. I turned the car around so we could see exactly what she was pointing toward. As we slowly approached the speed limit sign on the right, she said, “There it is!” I stopped the car and we honed our glances more intently. Sure enough, there on the black and white sign were pieces of American cheese randomly stuck over the 25 mph warning, as if tossed for point value like darts.
We immediately recognized the famed cheese product because of the unmistakable sun-faded color, as well as the iconic size of the squares. Evidently their sticky texture and low melting point made them ideal for quick and long-lasting adherence on a warm street sign.
It appeared that “suburban vandals” had attacked the entire area just nights before. Upon further inspection we found cheese squares on the stop sign, on top of the playground posts and other equipment in the park. They must have used an entire package of cheese-food on their rampage as they ran from sign to sign. But was it a violent outburst or an artistic expression?
When we were kids, we threw expensive eggs as a sticky statement of displeasure. We never imagined that we could have hurled processed cheesy orange squares instead. But, while the eggs were readily available and easy to snatch out of their carton, those squares known as “Singles,” had to be painstakingly unwrapped before they could be slapped into place or Frisbee-tossed at their targets. If the message of the “suburban vandals” was one of displeasure, the meticulous unveiling of each slice of cheese-food would certainly have quelled their rage. In addition, by opting for the Kraft Singles as their “paint,” the extra time involved could have slowed their escape—caught red-handed orange handed!
Whether the culprits use spray paint on walls or Kraft Singles on signs, the process is pretty much the same. Art or vandalism remains squarely in the eye of the beholder.
So now, for the final question: Did Mr. Kraft commit an act of artistic expression by reformulating real cheese or did he knowingly vandalize a public institution? We cast our cheesy votes for the latter.
Following is a gallery of pictures we captured of roadside art in Florence Italy. The creativity is wonderful and the implementation must have been a real challenge. Hopefully you can still see what the original sign was signaling, yet discover an unexpected drive-by chuckle as well.
“How much is that doggie in the window
The one with the waggly tail
How much is that doggie in the window
I do hope that doggie’s for sale”
Patti Page popularized the novelty song, “(How much is) That Doggie in the Window?” in 1952, when we had each achieved the magical age of 1. The answers to those questions were clear for us even as children and became underscored as the years went on. Here are the questions, followed by our answers: “How much?”—”priceless” and “For Sale?”—”not a chance.”
If you want to have some fun, put a dog in a carry bag (preferably a small dog) and take it everywhere you go. Doing this in Italy resulted in our pooches becoming our “doggies in the window,” attracting the attention of many passers-by. We began with our dearly departed Izzy-B. Her name was Isabel, but Italians knew her as “Ee-sah-bella.” She was a real sweetheart who graciously allowed us to carry her everywhere—the grocery store, restaurants, running errands—the destination made no difference to her. She never uttered one complaint or showed a lack of enthusiasm. She seemed to bask in the attention of all the friendly folks who greeted her.
After 2 years without a doxie, we adopted her successor Sara, pronounced “Sah-dah” in Italian. We’ve had strangers scheming to sneak her into forbidden places, while others have screamed with glee as they take her little face into both hands to smooch her loudly. Most people can’t resist feeding her tiny treats they carry in their pockets, and we’ve even had her magical power give us direction and grant special favors. Following is just one silly example of the antics:
Em needed a haircut in Italy. He’d seen a barber shop in the nearby town of Caldine, just across from the local grocery store. It looked promising, so hethought he’d give it a try. One day, while Cheryl was at the market, he walked over for a trim. As usual, Sara was tucked into her carry-bag and barely visible. The barber spun around to offer Em a seat in the barber’s chair. Suddenly, he saw Sara peeking from under Em’s arm. Barber Giovanni is an avid dog lover and was fine with Em keeping Sara on his lap during the haircut—he simply let the barber’s cape drift slowly down over both of them. Another man entered the shop and Giovanni insisted on giving him a peek at Sara. He carefully lifted the hem of the cape to present a napping doggie. Everyone laughed at the silly sight. Sara glanced up momentarily and then fell back asleep.
After the long pandemic travel drought, we finally returned to Italy some 2 years later. Although he’d had a few haircuts stateside, Em really liked Giovanni’s technique so he returned to the shop for another trim. As Em entered the barber shop, Giovanni paused over his seated customer. Holding his comb and scissors in mid-air, he greeted Em, “Hello, hello, how’s Sara?”(“Ciao, ciao, come sta Sah-dah?”) Em quickly realized that Giovanni didn’t remember his name—just Sara’s. Em replied that she was waiting in the car with Cheryl, but offered to retrieve her. When they returned, the finished customer stood to leave and Giovanni gestured for Em to be seated. Em placed Sara on his lap just like before, anticipating the same fluttering barber’s cape. Giovanni whooshed the large white bib up and out, then waited for it to settle over them. This time, to Em and Sara’s surprise, there was a new feature in the large cape. A clear window had been sewn into the front of it, seemingly custom-made for a furry friend. Sara was completely visible, giving everyone a hearty chuckle as she peered out through the plastic window (finestra di plastica), a bit puzzled and curious. It may have taken her a few extra seconds to fall asleep. Giovanni explained that the cape-windows are intended for cell phone use. However, we agreed that a dedicated dog-window is much more important and a lot more fun!
So, we return to the original question: “How much is that doggie in the (modified cape) window?”—still “priceless.” We wouldn’t trade our little fur baby for all of Italy, or the entire world for that matter! Our theory was supported yet again: some furry fun is always guaranteed when a dog is in tow.
Simone and Alessia arrived around mezzogiorno, noon the other day for lunch with us in the country. The sun was bright and the air was clear with that unmistakable fall crispness. We hadn’t seen them for over a year, so it was especially fun for us to have that time together to sit and talk . . .
What?! Are you confused? Don’t be. Tuesday is the name of our daughter’s chocolate lab. No, Iris does not work in research at Hershey headquarters in Pennsylvania. No, she didn’t adopt her sweet puppy on a Tuesday afternoon, but we do celebrate Tuesdays as double days.
Marking the end of an Era, Mom died on January 19, 2022 at 5 in the morning.
Her lifelong goal was to be 100 years-old, but “Big Rosie” fell a mere 73 days short of that milestone. For her valiant effort and positive attitude, the family has given her a pass and will consider the cherished goal achieved. It broke her heart when our dear dad and her loving husband Harry passed in 2001 some 21 years earlier, but ever the optimist, she never gave up. She was a strong and determined woman.
After some weeks of reflection since Mom’s passing, I’m (Em) overwhelmed with many happy memories. My mere 70 years of life as a “practicing adult” under Mom and Dad’s tutelage have given me opportunities beyond my wildest dreams—too many to recount. However, amid the flood of countless thoughts and emotions, I turn to their legacy of values passed down to me and hopefully through me to our children and subsequently, on to their children as well.
Mom and Dad had a shared vision: Love, Faith, Family and Fun. It was just that simple. Those basic elements were apparent every single day in numerous ways. They believed that if they kept their focus on those central values, everything would be just fine—a life full of abundance, success and happiness. It turns out that they were right. It worked!
Memories are the greatest keepsakes that we all inherit, but there were also two tangible memory-pieces that I wanted from them as well. Those two items serve as visual reminders of essential gifts they gave me—those particular attributes that have carried me forward throughout my life.
Dad had an old wooden drill that he sometimes used on projects at home. That simple tool now symbolizes his steadfast work ethic and natural capabilities. Constantly busy, Dad made all sorts of things that helped create our strong sense of home—a tireless lover of projects of all types and sizes. He made stained-glass, carved wooden figures and fashioned an intricate plaster replica of the Taj Mahal, loved oil painting and even played an electric guitar. In his spare time, K9VTD became his ham radio presence around the world, giving him untold hours of pleasure. Not many people knew that he built all of his radio equipment from mail-order kits with hundreds of tiny parts he staged and stored in muffin tins. He also designed and built an intricate setting for his miniature train that filled most of the garage, painstakingly making all of the mountains, streams and towns from scratch.
Any projects that were needed around the house, he did himself. Fortunately, as the youngest I was always his sidekick, learning by both watching and doing. He taught me resourcefulness, commitment, perseverance, kindness, patience and problem-solving. To this day, I’m a willing volunteer if something needs a little adjustment or major repair. For me that simple wooden drill captures all of those wonderful qualities he quietly wove into the fabric of who I am. The many lessons and skills he taught me, by example, have served me well.
Mom was the consummate mother who resumed tap-dancing at 50 years old—all I wanted was her patent leather tap shoes. She loved to dance as a child with her older sister, Margaret, on the Garfield Park stage. She was a natural performer and it showed-up in every aspect of her life. So when we three kids became young adults, she decided to dust-off her tap dancing skills, navigating her return to the “stage” with grace, dignity and enthusiasm. A young dance teacher gave her lessons and as her “performer” persona reappeared, I saw a new spark of life flash in her eyes. She turned the music up loud and tapped away in the garage where the concrete floor created the perfect click/slide sound. The rhythmic beats echoed as she tilted her head and gracefully extended her arms, swaying and tapping to her heart’s content.
She had no intention of performing for anyone (although she graciously accepted an occasional request). Mom just loved the process, the practice and the promise—forever a little girl at heart. So, for me those shoes symbolize her love for life and an unfaltering zest in everything she did. Just like Dad, she modeled values, hopes and dreams for us kids. I always saw her as youthful in spirit, socially engaging with others and being as entertaining and joyful as possible. Her tap shoes sit prominently on the living room bookshelf. A quick glance there reminds me to make every minute count as I aim for those same qualities.
Mom and Dad together also gave me a tangible model of what it looks like when committed partners create family, striving toward a vision so big it requires a team of two kindred spirits. They produced a legacy of love that continues to trickle down through each generation, soaking deeply into every cell of our being. That’s immortality!
Thanks Mom and Dad for all you gave me. May I allow your selfless gifts to flow through me over the course of my lifetime, hopefully adding my own little tweaks and twists to your beautiful story. The “Rose and Harry” playbook will live on forever.
Our Tuscan adventure taught us that strength, power, intellect, efficiency, and capability are genderless qualities. And sometimes they are named Barbara.
We were determined to find a one room art/music studio in Italy—full of romance, abundance, creativity, magic, wonder, and beauty. Essentially, we wanted to immerse ourselves in the powerful Feminine Energy of the Tuscan Hills—the epicenter of the legendary Italian Renaissance, that incredible experiment in humanity. Florence (Firenze) whispered to us and its rolling northern hills beckoned. Our plan seemed simple enough. We longed to “birth” something new from deep within. However, life is messy sometimes, and cross-cultural life can be downright chaotic.
We found the perfect place, unfortunately in ruins. Our friend Pietro said, “This project sounds tricky. There’re many Italian laws you MUST know and follow. You need a good attorney (avvocato). You need Barbara!” Even though her specialty is corporate law, as a favor to Pietro, Barbara agreed to assist. She was an absolute godsend and without her, our dream wouldn’t have been fulfilled. She not only speaks English, but she’s great fun and definitely knew how to work through the intricacies of the Italian bureaucracy.
It just so happened that Barbara was pregnant with her first child when we started working together. We soon met her husband, Giacomo and our Italian adventure expanded. They were starting their family and we were beginning our dream journey at the same time. As the years passed, we came to understand the significance of Barbara and her baby.
The spring was filled with tough negotiations, promises, miscues and confusion. The developers were a challenge to work with, but Barbara remained calm and collected throughout the process. She was up against a negotiating team of 80% men, which made the game even more fun for our Wonder-Woman attorney. Single-handedly, she charged forward with confidence and negotiated everything we needed to close the deal. Although Italy remains a patriarchal society and Italian men basically still run the show, Barbara was amazing and a real powerhouse. We were certain that we had tapped directly into the fierce Tuscan heart of ancient Feminine Energy and perhaps we even caught a glimpse into the not-too-distant future. We just stood back and watched her do what seemed to come natural—the impossible.
That summer Barbara and Giacomo welcomed their first daughter. We shared their excitement as we all greeted the new addition to our Female Power Team. We felt an immediate emotional attachment to their sweet daughter. After all, she was in the room with us (in utero, of course) during all of the negotiations and debates. With our young new partner and renewed enthusiasm we turned our attention to the promise of a completed arts studio.
The second year of the project crept by very slowly, as the construction company readied the site, cleared and prepped for building to begin. There was visible activity, but at a snail’s pace. We had devastating periods of discouragement, due to the contractors’ inaction and constant internal conflicts. To say that it was exasperating would be an understatement. But soon, we received wonderfully distracting news, Barbara and Giacomo announced that a new baby would be joining the family.
Soon, their second daughter was born and the Power Team increased. Barbara was now super-busy with her full-time job as a lawyer, our project and two little girls (bambine) in tow. Since they had become a family of four, they needed more space. So, Barbara and her husband casually added more construction and relocation projects to their to-do list—without even flinching. They were busy times indeed with many changes, EXCEPT for the studio project which continued to drag along at a the pace of an old Tuscan turtle.
As time passed with very little progress, we were nearing the end of our patience. We even entertained the possibility of scrapping the whole project. Once again. Barbara made a quick intervention, saying “WHEN (more accurately, WHENEVER) the project is completed, it will have definitely appreciated in value.” She emphatically said we would be FOOLISH to withdraw from the contract. Since Barbara was a force of nature to be reckoned with, we followed her advice, immersing ourselves into writing more music and stories—the perfect distraction.
What seemed to be a relatively short time later, Barbara gave birth to her third baby. Unbelievable! Another sweet little girl joined the team representing another substantial increase in Feminine Power. Compared with our slow-motion project, it was incredible to note that 3 perfect little people had been born into our tiny sphere of “family.” How could this happen? How is it possible to create three baby girls in less time than it takes to rebuild/restore an old Tuscan barn?
We finally moved into our dream studio at the end of the four-year odyssey. Although no one could deem it “move-in ready” by any means, our studio was finally a reality—just a wee bit late (più tarde). Somehow, all the delays and consternations were curiously within the limits allowed by Italian law (don’t ask). Never-the-less, we had keys in hand. So we turned our attention to the yard, or as the Italians call it, the GARDEN. We quickly learned that trees are masculine and the fruit is feminine as we focused on “bearing fruit.” Soon enough, we had enclosed and surrounded our little stone studio with lush vegetation—a soft green embrace.
Our dream studio could not have happened without Barbara, Giacomo and their three sweet little girls. The overwhelming presence of Feminine Energy inspired us. And yes just like the garden, it takes both the masculine and the feminine to make it work, but we’re thinking about an ideal balance of 80/20—majority Female Power. Our little project nestled in the Tuscan hills remains as a powerful symbol for us as we remember that simple truth: “The future is female!”
This is a true “Italian Moments” story of actual events from 1999 – 2004
Related Stories and Music
The story called “Good Girl” speaks to the essential life-giving power of feminine energy.
We wrote another short story and music a few years back about our romance with Tuscany called “Tuscan Hills.” Check it out if you’re so inclined.
When first arriving at the site of the ruins, we were captivated and swept away in the mystery of it all. We called it “My Treasured Heart.”
“I began to piece together another part of the puzzle—one that was hidden deep in our DNA. I found that we inherit the emotions and beliefs of our ancestors. Programmed into our very cells, these deeply embedded patterns influence our health, wealth, and relationships.”
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:
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.
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.
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!
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 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?
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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 thebeautiful 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.
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
Cheryl & Emerson
Quality time is great—but quantity time is what relationships are built on! Take time to partner.