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.

“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. 

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

We Won!

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

We Got it Covered

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

The Official Cups

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

Rosie June

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

No, that’s not a typo!

Two Rs are intentionally included to make the name of this fascinating new idea and company memorable. In fact, we think it’s about to revolutionize the way we think about travel!

Here’s the skinny: (more…)

Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to create super sports cars to compete with Ferrari, which already had a 16 year head-startan almost impossible challenge. He was 47 years old at the time, and already a famous Italian entrepreneur. People thought he was crazy to risk his fortune to build specialty cars that were clearly an unjustifiable extravagance. But the strong-willed businessman was already a proven success. He reasoned that if he could amass a fortune making tractors, why not sports cars? In November of 1963, he unveiled his first masterpiece—the 350GT. The rest is automotive history. (more…)

Legends are made of high drama. Some have a smattering of gruesome details. We find both in the story of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy).

As the patron saint of Sicily’s ancient city of Syracuse, Santa Lucia’s image is scattered around the city. We didn’t think much of it until we spotted the strangest delicacy in a window of the local pasticceria, pastry shop: eyeball cookies. (more…)

Over 2,000 years ago, the comic playwright of ancient Athens, Aristophanes said: “Let each man exercise the art he knows!” We think he had it right.

Yesterday, we were having lunch in Fiesole. It was balmy in the shade of the street-side cafe. We were fascinated, watching the installation of a new sculpture, a colorful contraption, on Piazza Mino. Made of hundreds of small brightly enameled pieces, all fastened together into a collage; much like one of those erector set creations of 50 years ago—wheels, gears, nuts and bolts, angles and edges. The sun really made this one pop! It was playful and riveting. We liked it. (more…)

Ah, Spring! It’s that magical season that reminds us that what was closed and silent begins to open, open, open.

Immediately in front of us is the most incredible display of hope and faith in each new day. The Tuscan spring of this year arrives in all its splendor. Millions. No, billions of tiny tentative forms peek from beneath hardened bark, choosing to go one more round, to continue Life’s cycle, to shake off the blanket of winter. Shades of gray transform into delicate green, pink and yellow buds, right before our eyes. Blossoms. Flowers. And we anticipate the unfurling of leaves for shade in the months to come.

We are moved by the intensity of nature’s confident and bold statement. Choose life! Choose growth! Choose transformation! (more…)