These are stories about major events that take place in and around Tuscany. They can involve many people and are publicized in some way, or they can be private gatherings of only a few. In any case, they are events that have the power to shift perspectives and possibly even change lives.

Color us sad.

We were born right smack-dab in the middle of the 20th century. Our entire lives have been full of national middle-class possibility. The Great American Dream was truly achievable, if not expected. The idea was so ingrained in us that we never thought consciously about it. Hard work was the key. As Americans, ideals were at our fingertips—the promise of equal opportunity for all, freedom, prosperity and justice. Right? We fully understood the power of that promise and took full advantage of our privilege. Privilege. Back then, we had no idea that being white had anything to do with anything. But now, we clearly understand that isn’t true. As most “people of color” would say at that time, those years may have seemed more like an American nightmare.

The President of the US at the time was Harry Truman, who signed an Executive Order calling for military integration of races in 1948. Shortly after that, in 1954 the Supreme Court declared an end to Jim Crow laws that allowed separate schools for black and white students. That seminal case, Brown v. The Board of Education, signaled the beginning of the end of state-sponsored segregation. 

The famous, Ben’s Chili Bowl

So we were born into the era of desegregation—at least that was our assumption. Seventy-three years later we caught a first-hand glimpse into a different perspective, through a virtual reality documentary film, “Traveling While Black.” The Canadian/American film was directed by Roger Ross Williams and released in 2019. It was both shocking and powerful for us. The film was set in Ben’s Chili Bowl, a well-known diner in Washington DC. Through the magic of 3-D headsets, we sat virtually with three African-American people in a 4 person booth, listening as they talked about their experience as traveling citizens. It seemed so realistic. Clearly, we had lived in different times, places and cultures. The truth is, we were fellow Americans, but to those people of color, we were inhabitants of totally different countries on opposite sides of the earth. What they said was disturbing and deeply sad.

1940 edition

In 1936, during the era of Jim Crow laws mandating segregation, New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green wrote the “Green Book” to help those of color navigate the hostile and often dangerous American highways and byways. The automobile generally symbolized freedom and made leisure travel possible. Disturbed with “separate, but unequal” public transportation, African-Americans bought cars, if they could, to gain some degree of control over their lives. But even though they could travel, they were often met with a hostile experience—routinely denied access to motels, restrooms, diners, and all other necessities while on the road. The “Green Book” became an essential guide to avoid “discomfort, discrimination, segregation and insult,” as George Schuyler wrote in 1930. It truly was a stressful period in American history where unconscionable discrimination was openly enforced until 1965 when many of the laws were finally overturned. But that certainly wasn’t the end of disdain and discrimination.

Tamir Rice 2002 -2014

Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice sat across the table from us at Ben’s Chili Bar, recounting the details of the tragic day when her son died. Everyone in the diner respectfully turned to listen—you could have heard a pin drop. On November 22, 2014 a 12-year-old African-American boy, full of promise, was killed in Cleveland, Ohio. A  26-year-old white policeman, Timothy Loehmann, was the on-duty officer that day. Rice was carrying a replica toy gun which was all the reason Officer Loehmann needed to justify shooting him. The event happened in the blink of an eye. The squad car pulled alongside Tamir, who visibly shrugged his shoulders. In the police camera footage that’s all we saw. But Loehmann responded to the shrug with gunshots. Tamir died the following day. 

Samaria Rice recounting the tragic events

Our experience that afternoon in the Chili Bowl was terribly uncomfortable, as we sat there alongside the community of color. We were riveted to every word painfully shared by Samaria Rice. All eyes were focused on her and also on us, her booth-mates and the only white people in the room. They looked to us for minute indications of shock, sadness, empathy, solidarity—humanity. Whether traveling across our country or even within their own neighborhoods, people of color have told similar heart-wrenching accounts. Tamir’s story is but one sad tale of events—amid countless insults and injury over centuries. We hope that the “regulars” at Ben’s Chili Bowl who were peering into our faces, saw the empathy and humanity they longed to see.

The hope for shared humanity was the overarching message in the “movie. “The “Green Book” remains an important historic reminder that change and promise may be slow in coming, but they are always possible. We must believe that—and make it so.

 

Related Story and Music


End of the Line,” written in 2005 also explores the importance of moving beyond a dualistic world-view to become more accepting of differences; less focused on division; interested in breaking down barriers—simply more inclusive. Feel free to check it out if you’re so inclined.

Italy is in a class all by itself.

The incomparable Vespa is known around the world, but that’s just one minor detail in the vast array of Italian accomplishments. The distinctions are many, including: food, art, the Renaissance, the Roman Empire, the Vatican, incredible villas, world-class fashion, fast cars (Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati ), passionate lovers, espresso, the original organized crime group (a dubious distinction), beautiful cities, culture, opera, and the list goes on and on. But, in addition to the many significant accomplishments over literally millennia, there is nothing quite like the unique Italian personality—a tireless energy, generosity and unmistakable presence, easily seen in their facial expressions, synchronized with flamboyant gestures or easily heard in their voices, as they speak. Spoken words sound like poetry, lyrical and lilting. The Tuscans are particularly proud of their language, since their favorite son, Dante Aligheri, invented it.

Traveling around Italy, wandering the towns and narrow back-streets, one can find all sorts of clever, cute, hilarious and sometimes downright unbelievable Italian sights. Following is a gallery of some surprising and often quirky discoveries we’ve made over several decades of living amongst the amazing Italians. They offer a seemingly endless source of inspiration, and yes, humorous, free entertainment. Their most fascinating contributions can be found scattered around in the every-day activities. You absolutely have to love the 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

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.” 

 

Wow! How did this happen?

Last night we watched “The World’s a Little Blurry,” documenting the meteoric rise of the American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, whose actual name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. In 2015, at the age of 14 she decided to record the song “Ocean Eyes” written by her brother Finneas. Then just for fun, she posted the song on SoundCloud. Almost instantly, she was acknowledged with 10 million hits and her career was launched. Then in 2020 she won five Grammys. That same year Forbes reported that she had an estimated net worth upwards of $50 million, even before the release of her documentary-style movie.

Like many creatives, she expresses herself not only in her art, but also in her appearance. You can’t help but notice her brightly colored hair, baggy eclectic clothing and jewelry—lots of jewelry. She was born and raised in Los Angeles. Billie and Finneas were encouraged to be unique, creative and expressive. But LA and and the US are full of talented people. So we wonder, “Why Billie? How in the world did this success happen for her?” 

Gen Z

Billie belongs to Generation Z, sometimes called Zoomers. In fact, she’s one of the charter members of that group—nearly 68 million strong in the US. The general characteristics of this “selfie-generation” according to experts, is that they’re completely comfortable in a digital world, entrepreneurial, and insistent about diversity. They’re mostly unaffiliated with religion, and generally less rigid—blurring traditional “lines,” which results in being very progressive and individualistic.

Reach out and touch someone

But, lurking beyond this seemingly unlimited potential is a blaring contradiction. Although they may be quite connected via technology, they seem overwhelmed with life in general, somewhat lonely and depressed. Why? Of course they exhibit the same needs as every previous generation. Everybody wants love, significance, meaning, and belonging, right?  But the Zoomers have the added overlay of the extreme complexity of today’s world. Imagine being a Gen Z whose reality is constantly changing with rapid-fire high-tech information, coupled with an immediacy of communication and potential influence in the world. In this case, writing a song is daunting and the recording process is another task altogether. Then, and only then comes the marketing, right? No! Gen Z’ers write, record and upload all within days or even hours—the entire world is at their fingertips!

Finneas creating music at home in the bedroom studio

In a way, it all makes perfect sense. Think about it: young Billie is highly charged in a creative environment at home. She considers many different directions for her life, but is naturally drawn to the freedom and expressivity of music which is already a familiar part of her home-life. She adores her older brother Finneas and they develop a collaborative style of writing and producing music together in their bedroom studio. Being spontaneous and comfortable with social media, she probably had no hint of hesitation about putting their first song out on the airwaves.

Billie with her adoring fans

Nearly 70 million young people are listening for words and sounds that reflect how they think and feel about their place in this world. They’re not looking for answers, but rather, a voice that’s poetically and romantically asking their own personal questions. Billie projects a dark but playfully creative persona that resonates with them. Just imagine hearing her music for the first time. Perhaps feeling an immediate resonance, each listener forwards it on to several friends, inviting them, “Listen to this! You won’t believe it. She’s like me. She feels the way I do. She sees me!”

Like magic, suddenly everyone knows and loves Billie Eilish and can’t get enough of her personalized musical view of and from the Gen Z perspective. Creating a musical narrative of her life is just Billie doing exactly what she loves to do with her best friend/brother, all the while being coached and encouraged by loving parents.

Sizzling spark of energy

Billie Eilish is the classic electrical spark, the confluence of powerful forces at play—the right person at the right place on the right platform at the right time. Boom!

There’s really little reason to wonder how or why Billie Eilish became a phenomenon. Her passion is that she speaks (or sings) from the heart on behalf of millions. To quote philosopher, Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” Seems that Billie’s bliss is both magnetic and magical.

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.”

 

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!

 

 

 

2020

What did you do over the Pandemic Sequester?

As for us, we basically laid low, hunkered down, worried about all the wonderful people working the front lines in the battle to heal. We cheered and clattered with wooden spoons on pans at 8:00 pm, as everyone in our neighborhood poured out onto their porches and balconies. We video-chatted with our loved ones, read everything we could find, watched some great movies, shows and documentaries, focused on self-help, exercised, did lots of remote therapy work and on and on and on—much like so many of our fellow Americans. 

But there was one other thing we did that perhaps helped us keep our sanity while processing everything that was swirling around us in the news each day—we wrote music and stories together, a privilege that we’ve enjoyed for the past 20 years. We were “working from home” before it became a necessity. 

Following are the stories and music that showed-up for us during the turbulent and often disturbing year, 2020. We decided to collect them all together for our continuing reflection and conversations, asking ourselves and each other, “What just happened?”  It certainly wasn’t all bad. Overall, our assessment is that it was extremely sad and devastating, but also an interesting and transformative time that we shall never forget. This post includes a quick synopsis and links to each separate story that will serve as our way of documenting what 2020 inspired, as experienced by two 70 year old Patriots from inside their apartment looking out—for 10 months, and counting!

Music and Stories 

Lightning Rod

January 1, 2020

Lightning rod sculpture

Not knowing about the pandemic that was stealthily making its way to the US, we started the year with hopeful introspection, working in therapy on ourselves and our relationship, anticipating an even better year than 2019 had been. Fortunately, it was the therapy that prepared us for all that was to come—global turmoil, chaos and unbelievable sadness. The world was suffering in ways too many to count.

Playing with Echo

May 17, 2020
Then came the beautiful springtime and the May birthday of our dear Rosie June. Even a pandemic can’t dampen the contagious youthful energy of a birthday celebration. We were captivated by the creative mind of our 3 year-old granddaughter. As she arrived at her newly remodeled home, she discovered an unexpected playmate for the first time ever—ECHO. They were suddenly best friends!

No Better

June 1, 2020
Summer arrived and we found ourselves returning to a more reflective mood as the harsh realities of the global catastrophe became clearer and closer to home. The new fears and concerns were layered on top of what was already overwhelming heartache for many people—regular life. Divorce left a friend lonely and all alone—not quite what he imagined. We could see firsthand, how the accumulating psychological weight was dangerous for all of us. You might think we would all KNOW BETTER!

Lucky Day 

July 1, 2020

We were missing family due to the isolation of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders—becoming quite sentimental. Simply being together with loved ones suddenly seemed like an incredible luxury that we used to take for granted. Em’s brother sent an old audio recording of a song that Em had sung for his Mom and Dad for their 50th anniversary. We decided to seize the opportunity to recreate the gift of the original music, bringing it into today’s world as a way of commemorating that special time of family gatherings and freedom—the ability to hug, laugh and celebrate without masks or fear of risking harm to those we love. 

Quiet Comes Along 

July 13, 2020
The heat of summer matched the heat of battle required to fight the relentless virus. For us, and perhaps even for others, we felt a need to create an adult “lullaby” for the times. We know that soothing songs are  important for children, so we pondered that they could be equally meaningful to calm grownups. We acknowledge those responsible for the safety and healing of others. With that in mind, we decided to write a quiet, relaxing and hopeful song that would lull us into much needed rest, peace and compassion.

The Pusher

September 8, 2020
By the fall, our spirits were tattered and worn with all of the death, destruction and division. It seemed that our president wouldn’t  or couldn’t stop the chaos, and intentionally added incendiary rhetoric to it every day. We felt like the dynamics of conflict and negativity were determined to push and push and push us to the brink—of what we didn’t quite know. Life felt, we imagine, like a powerful drug overdose—we were given far more bad news than we could tolerate, and the situation went from dangerous to dire.

Follow the Leader

November 23, 2020
Late fall brought us to a fever pitch with the upcoming presidential election on top of the pandemic. We thought things couldn’t get worse, but they definitely did. We were struck by the awesome power of a charismatic leader. As if in a trance, people seemed to follow their hero no matter where he decided to lead them. Hearts and minds had already been captured and there was really nothing left to think about—just FOLLOW! The danger to our democracy was palpable! 

Feathers and String

December 31, 2020
Exhausted yet hopeful, we closed out the year by returning to the way we started—reflection. This musical story is about a deep meditation on love, joy and compassion in the midst of the horrific, ongoing winter wave of the pandemic. We found ourselves relying on meditations to keep us centered and resilient—musing about the mystery and magic that abides in every day, no matter what life tosses our way. We pondered the power of a smile, even though masked. We decided to trust the awesome logic of the universe. We know that healing is in the future. 

 

 

The last line of the message was left unfinished.

Our therapist said that WE would need to complete the sentence later. That evening, after re-reading the notes from the day’s session, we both paused at the unfinished line as if slowly, cautiously walking up to the edge of a cliff. We each knew the answer. Then together, we spoke the missing words like the powerful ending of a sacred song—we whispered. “Her Destiny.” Silence followed as we pondered the significance of what we had just spoken. Hmm. Something shifted.

That moment was actually foretold 17 years prior as we put the final touches on three important musical stories: “Out Of the Block,” “Swinging Statues” and “Letting Go.” Looking back, we hear the words of those songs describing in great detail what was happening within us then. And now, they speak about what is happening once again, but in an even more powerful way.

It was 2004 when those songs first appeared. Little did we know that just over a decade later, on the 17th of May, in 2017, our sweet little granddaughter would arrive in this world—a force to be reckoned with. And now, four years later, we’re faced with the awareness that in this our 70th year, we must prepare for our own “Transformation.” We ready ourselves to pass on that which was promised.

Our promise is our Destiny writ large—a message magically scrawled among the stars. The time to deliver is upon us and we are prepared to do our part. Like in a relay race, the crucial handoff that only we can make is fast approaching. And, our granddaughter is undoubtedly determined to carry it forward in her words, deeds and the precious DNA. The lineage shall continue unabated and unaltered, on into the distant future—forever and a day! Destiny.

Music and Story

Out of the Block

In 1999, we found ourselves on a partnered journey of discovery in Florence Italy where we fell in love with the city, the people and the glorious history of the Enlightenment. There, we were moved by images of Michelangelo in his studio workshop, carving the stone to release the form hidden within. That was a major turning point as we felt the same urgent chisel, chipping away at us. We were beginning our own personal works of art—our destiny, waiting to be revealed! But it’s more than that. We now see that “lineage” links multiple destinies together. Like a relay race, each relies on those who come before!

Out Of the Block

Swinging Statues

We opened ourselves to change, not knowing exactly what that would look like. It reminded us of the childhood game of Swinging Statues. Regaining our balance after a few extreme spins was always exciting: What would we look like? Who would we be? That simple game set us in motion, twirling and tumbling in surprising ways. Invigorated, yet quite unaware, we were preparing ourselves for something grand that would happen. Well, later has finally arrived. Twenty years have landed us in a form never quite imagined. We scramble back into position, take another deep breath and extend our arms again—ready for one more spin. This is our destiny—directly tied to the destiny of our precious little granddaughter.

Swinging Statues

Letting Go

Beginnings and Endings have a lot in common. They both challenge us to reach deep inside, trust completely and let go! Any step we take toward our destiny requires that we begin something new and end something familiar—trade what we know and love for the unknown. That’s just the way it’s been for us. Without the ability to let go, we would be stuck in the past. Destiny requires us to listen closely to intuition and heed the call. The discomfort of not knowing has been our only path forward. Surrender. Release. Then soar! We are ready, once again.

Letting Go

 

“Is there a more isolated house?” 

Climb aboard!

It seemed a simple question to pose to two Italian realtors. Without hesitation, we soon had our answer. Almost immediately, the more practical of the pair, feisty Inga, was at the wheel, maneuvering the old Jeep up the steep terrain. Her associate, Patrizia, stunning in her white knit pants, fitted shirt and lavender scarf tied stylishly around her neck, occupied the passenger seat. As Inga revved the engine, Patrizia turned and smiled to reassure us that everything was okay. Just after we turned off of the main road, Inga immediately threw her weight into the steering wheel for a hard left and we continued a steep climb. At one point, all we could see from the back seat was the dashboard because the road was completely obscured from view, due to the car’s jolting angle. Surely, this must be the top, we thought, as the grade leveled out a bit and we found ourselves passing between enormous old vacant barns and rusted grain silos. Inga paused only momentarily, grimacing as she engaged a stubborn gear, and then yanked the steering wheel hard to the right and away we went into the woods. 

Arriving at the top of the mountain

Surprised, we continued to climb up the rugged hillside, while brush and bushes slapped both sides of the Jeep. Rocks rolled down the hill while others crunched beneath the spinning tires as we bounced and jostled our way along. We felt a sudden lurch as Inga course-corrected after unintentionally dropping a tire into a huge pothole. Patrizia turned once again to offer another cautious, silent smile of reassurance. A few hundred feet further, Inga nearly stood on the brake pedal, bringing the Jeep to an abrupt halt. She then shifted into neutral, cut the engine and with a sharp tug, engaged the parking brake. Just for good measure, she kicked a large stone under the back tire. Then, as if nothing unusual had just happened, Patrizia smoothed her hair, adjusted her scarf and said with a gracious smile, “Andiamo, let’s go!” We emerged from the back seat to see—ruins. Not just something in need of minor repairs—serious ruins.

Barn In Ruins

There before us, was a small, dilapidated stucco, terra cotta and stone barn with a 3-inch wide diagonal crack running from its fallen roof all the way down past its dirt floor. Near the barn stood the delicately balanced pile of stones that once was a large house, as evidenced by a remaining 10-foot high stone corner. One wall jutted up far enough to hold the crumbling remnants of an old stone window opening. The adjacent partial wall was completely overgrown with vines that had surely gone unchecked for at least—umm, maybe 100 years?

Overtaken by nature

We couldn’t get too close to either the barn or the house, since brambles and weeds obstructed our way, completely covering the lower levels. We heard wild pheasants warbling in the nearby meadow. With nimble fingers, we lifted thorny branches and edged cautiously closer, remembering that in the undisturbed, abandoned parts of Tuscany there were undoubtedly many resident snakes—vipers among them—watching our every move.

The peaceful valley

We stood, staring from the ruins into the magnificent valley below. From that perch at the top of the hill we saw multiple layers of blue and gray mountains receding into the distance. Directly below us was an intimate valley in various shades of lush green vegetation. The landscape was broken with the occasional yellow stucco farmhouse, a castle tower and a couple of grand old villas. Silvery grey olive groves dotted the hillsides. Vineyards followed the contours, rolling like gentle green waves. On our far left, nestled within a distant pine grove stood a centuries-old monastery, Madonna del Sasso, with its own commanding view of the amazing valley. We were mesmerized, taking it all in, gazing into the distant past, smitten by the current breath-taking view—lovestruck.

Patrizia casually mentioned that Dante Alighieri, had a country home just down the hill in the late 1200s. She went on to say that he even penned his famous Divine Comedy while staying there. We were lost in thought. Then, after several minutes of silence, she said, “Allora, che pensate, so, what do you think?” 

Her question snapped us back to reality. With a quick glance and subtle nod to each other, we answered, curiously at the same time, “Perfetto, perfect!” Inga and Patrizia locked eyes and slightly raised their eyebrows. We’re sure we heard one of them utter to the other, “Pazzi Americani, crazy Americans!” Yet, we knew better. These RUINS would be the source of our inspiration. To rebuild the fallen stone walls was the perfect metaphor we needed to begin building our own dreams.

This story is a true “Italian Moment” that took place in the spring of 2000.