These stories tend to focus on special individuals or couples who have something in particular to say, or represent something specific worth documenting. They certainly aren’t always big names, or popular figures, but can be quiet and unimposing personalities as well—with a story to tell.
Decaton. Squeaker. Q-T Cat, Inspector General—the list of characters goes on.
Meet your new best friends and a few worst enemies inside this rollicking ROBOTS! card game brought to you by “Border Games.” If you like cards, robots, laughter, strategy, fun and a good mental challenge, you might just give it a whirl. For about $20, you too could get a few kicks from the Robots! Factory.
The idea for Robots! was born one summer afternoon when our son, Aaron, stopped by for a visit. We reminisced about how much we’ve always enjoyed playing Rummy, but lamented that winning is so dependent on the luck of the draw, rather than strategy. We imagined how much more fun it would be if you could change the outcome with a few new tactical maneuvers. Within days, our inventor-son started sending updates on the development of an advanced form of Rummy called “Robots!”
When the kids were younger, our family often played a variety of card games, ranging from Euchre, to multiple player Solitaire, to Kings in the Corner, to Uno, but mostly we played Rummy. Aaron was also fascinated with metal monsters and he loved the mechanical aspect of transformers. So, we imagine that his love for all the variations that card games offer, combined with his keen interest in building and dismantling mechanical things, would somehow blend. It was only a matter of time before we were hit with a creative card game tsunami.
We volunteered to be test subjects, as Aaron wrote and rewrote the rules of the game. He fine-tuned the graphics and learned the intricate art of marketing his new game. As of today, the final version of “Robots!” has been completely designed, produced and delivered. What began as a successful Kickstarter campaign has transformed into a presence on Amazon. Now, we look forward to our evening round of friendly combat on the field of Robots! rivalries. The rest of this story will be found in the future book called “Great Games of the World!”
The farmers of Tuscany have faithfully tended this rocky Italian soil for many hundreds of years—even millennia. Perhaps that seems like an over-statement, but it’s true. The name Tuscany actually derives from the earliest settlers of the region in pre-Roman times, namely the Etruscans. They developed an advanced culture and were known for their peaceful nature. They created transportation systems, mining, art, and of course agriculture. Masters at working the land, their adept hands were the first to fell the trees and pull countless stones from the terra firma. That was 900 BC, which makes for nearly 3000 years of commitment to the land, as of this writing.
When we first came to Tuscany in the year 2000, we were captivated by the natural beauty. But, even more, we were mesmerized by the impeccable instinct to “design with nature.” Especially in the countryside, the villas, landscaping, colors, materials, the reflection of the sun, all worked together to create this seamless tapestry called Tuscany. We were fortunate enough to find our own piece of that landscape. From our simple hillside farmhouse, overlooking the valley, we’ve developed a deep appreciation as well as an obligation to maintain and preserve that which has come before us—for those who will come after.
The name of our farmhouse, which we share with two other Italian families, is Casale Pretena, which simply means, Pretena Farmhouse. But, there’s a twist. It turns out that the name isn’t exactly Italian, and that Pretena is most likely an Etruscan word that has been handed down through the generations. The local lore suggests that this land may very well have been part of an Etruscan settlement on the outskirts of the nearby famous Etruscan town of Fiesole, just three miles down the road. Many generations of farmers who tended this land over the centuries left their indelible mark and name. Just imagine: countless families were raised here; animals provided sustenance; healthy crops fed the young families and animals. Surely artists and artisans were among the early inhabitants, facing life’s many day-to-day challenges. Doubtless, tragedies occurred. but the hard-working people persevered. Because they did, we consider this a sacred site, where that collective soulful energy is still felt today.
Indeed, this place has always been special to us, and we’re humbled by the opportunity to momentarily “tend the soil” in that long line of caretakers. We decided to use the beautiful garden as a canvas of sorts, to honor the memory of those families who came before. As a symbol of their labor, we have planted various ancient farming implements throughout the garden. These are tools that were essential to their lives—held in their hands. Each iron piece peeks out from the lush greenery to remind us that, ” This sacred place belongs to all of us. Take good care!”
We wrote this song 20 years ago when we first found Pretena , conjuring the magic and mystery that surrounds this place. After all these years, this land continues to provide awe and inspiration for us! If you want to read the original story along with the lyrics, you can find them by clicking this link: “My Treasured Heart.”
Following is a photo gallery of the Pretena flower garden. We don’t tend crops and animals anymore like they did over the centuries, but we have done everything we can to create a special sense of the natural beauty of the place in honor of those who preceded us.
Hand-wrought iron, that most elemental art form—forging endlessly creative objects from the earth’s ore, grew as civilizations needed a multitude of durable tools for agriculture, domestic chores, waging wars and simply making life more beautiful. Florence was one of the great European cities where the craft of blacksmithing made its mark on the world, growing into powerful guilds of artisans wielding an iron hand at both the anvil and the body politic.
When we first came to Italy, we were drawn to the innovative use of iron in every aspect of life. The built environment is intricately laced with the art of unseen hands—practical solutions to everyday problems. The craft completely surrounds life with nearly indestructible objects in hues from black to gray, to rusted and worn. Our imaginations were captured by the endless subtle signatures from the rhythmic taps and blows of the hammer, a tireless trail of style, strength and determination. Each blacksmith coerced and cajoled the stubborn ore into the shape of their dreams. Every visible piece of iron is a testament to the will of man over material. We too, longed to immerse ourselves in the artistry of everyday forms that characterized the ancient Tuscan culture.
As we assembled our little studio in the Tuscan Hills, we took special care to bring as much iron to the forefront as possible. For us, we could hardly get enough of the soulful stuff. Wherever the artistry of iron could be applied . . . it was. Looking back, we’re amazed at how many different places it appears, assuming its humble functional role. However, there isn’t a day that goes by without sincere appreciation for the craft. For example: a palm glides effortlessly down a smooth iron stair rail; the hand-forged latch on the door gets a quick release; an iron window grille frames the rolling hills; wrought tools are easily grasped to stoke the warming fire; there’s a familiar straight handle that opens the cantina; a decorative iron chair by the front door offers an inviting stop to tighten a shoelace; a graceful iron and glass canopy at the front entrance protects us from a sudden downpour; and daily, we enjoy an ancient fire-front shield which hangs as artwork over our Tuscan fireplace.
Countless moments of contact with the works of the artisans grace our lives each day. The Tuscan experience would not be complete without them. The very soul of this place moves within those nearly invisible, habitual iron-ore-encounters. With each simple touch or glance, we’re instantly connected to the unnamed craftsmen who helped build this magical place. Their presence is felt around us in unassuming ways, surrounding our routines like strong hands support a child. We are honored to be among those who have shared this experience—a secure form of life that’s truly “ironclad.”
Following are some images from around our house, both ancient hand-wrought and cast objects from the blacksmith’s forge. Also included are some contemporary forms inspired from the ancient craft that still carry the energy of the original art forward. We hope you enjoy them. Maybe one will inspire you to add some trusty iron into your own environment, as a reminder of the sturdy handmade world that was forged so many years ago.
What does it mean to become a grandparent? Hmm. Could be a question for the Magic 8 Ball.
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!
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.
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!
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!
Poetry and music are powerful forces, actively shaping our world whether we realize it or not. The poets and troubadours are those sensitive souls venturing out into the inexplicable, teasing, coaxing it into our consciousness. This glimpse provides us with the faint outlines of who we are beneath the familiar trappings of culture. Preoccupied with the drone of the ordinary, the mundane, the every-day, we sometimes need a nudge from a visionary to stop us in our tracks, suddenly catching our undivided attention—as if taking our face in both hands and saying shhhhh! We listen intently. We hear the message for the first time. Something stirs within. We may unexpectedly and suddenly feel deeply. Perhaps we are taken aback with innocence and a penetrating honesty. And sometimes, we spontaneously weep at a sobering revelation.
This type of awakening recently happened for us. We must admit that we were predisposed, already poised to find meaning, both obvious and hidden within music. For years we have admired the music, lyrics and irresistible poetry of Brandi Carlile, the talented singer, poet and prophet in this age of accountability. In the middle of our tumultuous 2017, she stepped forward with a new musical story to tell, called The Joke.
As we read the lyrics and watched her video, we were struck by the musical message. Afterwards, we talked about its meaning. The song is powerful, poignant and spellbinding. There is a lingering sadness in the realization that within our society and extending to the world, we have hurt each other countless times over the years through the relentless priority given to masculine energy. For decades (maybe even centuries) we have pushed forward at the expense of others.
Brandi speaks of the symbolically shy and sensitive “boy,” and the under-appreciated, suppressed “girl” that live within each of us, no matter who we pretend to be or what face we decide to show the world. That image makes us sad because we recognize the painful truth of her descriptions. But she pivots in the chorus, to remind us that she has “been to the movies” and knows how it ends. Her vision and faith in the wholeness of humanity comes through, delivering an overwhelming sense of hope for the much needed emergence of the feminine energy as the under-appreciated equal and balancing partner to the forceful masculine energy. This balanced being, melding both halves, represents who we are deep within—or at least strive to be.
Throughout 2017, we have all witnessed the destructive power of excessive masculine energy run-amok. It has finally been exposed, laid bare, open for the world to see. The reality of imbalance has been made visible right in front of our eyes, never to be forgotten. We interpret Brandi’s message to be that this overtly masculine phase of humanity is coming to an end as it finally “spins, and scatters in the wind.” “Let ’em laugh while they can,” because “the joke is on them.”
We invite you to read the lyrics, share them with someone, and have a conversation about Brandi’s beautiful message. You may want to listen to the music and watch the video again. The vision Brandi shares here is of course her own, but we too feel a special connection and resonance. We’d like to know your interpretation!
Brandi’s “Joke” is really not a joke after all! This post was written on January 22, 2018, the date of the second great Women’s March.
You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy?
With your quiet voice and impeccable style
Don’t ever let them steal your joy
And your gentle ways, to keep ’em from running wild
They can kick dirt in your face
Dress you down, and tell you that your place
Is in the middle, when they hate the way you shine
I see you tugging on your shirt
Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts
Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them
You get discouraged, don’t you, girl?
It’s your brother’s world for a while longer
We gotta dance with the devil on a river
To beat the stream
Call it living the dream, call it kicking the ladder
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared
Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them
One might call an abandoned house a haunted ruins, but we like to think of it as a container, filled with stories just waiting to be told and retold—built and rebuilt—lived and relived.
While walking the woods and back-roads of Tuscany, it is inevitabile that you’ll come across at least one unexpected hidden gem. The other day, while hiking the Borselli-Castelnuovo anello (circle or loop) in the early hours of the morning, we found one of those ancient places called the “Houses of Lavacchio.” Not every ruins is noteworthy, but this one made us pause longer than usual as we got wrapped-up in its story—his-story (or rather, her-story, since we all know that houses are female).
Who lived there? When was it built? What were the people like and were there children playing? Why did they leave? Was it their dream to be perched up on that hillside at the top of the mountain called Pratomagno with an incredible panoramic view of the Tuscan hills beyond? Why hasn’t anyone bought it to breathe new life into those old stone walls? And so the questions and conversation continued as we walked the long and gentle road leading to the houses, imagining the past and the future of this forgotten place. It was easy to drift into fantasy amid the cool summer breezes and the tender sounds of the country—the birds, the buzzing of the bees and even a baby cinghiale (wild boar), scurrying from the underbrush along the side of the road, confused and running for cover.
The roofs of the ghostly houses were mostly long gone, now becoming great piles of splintered wood beams and clay tiles, randomly collapsed into the rooms below. Plants were growing everywhere in and around the decaying rubble, vying for their own claim on the future. Even the brick and stone walls were falling into the fray—water creeping into every vulnerable cracked mortar joint to expand with each consecutive freeze and thaw—slowly . . . oh so slowly—pushing and prying away at every weighty piece that was carefully and intentionally laid in place by strong hands. The first people of Lavacchio surely meant for their labors to last longer than their lifetimes, in fact they anticipated the houses would be there for generations to come. Actually, as true Tuscans they would have set their sights on nothing short of “forever.”
We don’t know when it was built, but the years for Lavacchio could easily be counted in the hundreds since the crumbling of the roof and walls to this point in time surely would have taken the better part of a century. We imagined that some new, vibrant, young energetic pioneers will arrive some day and be overcome with vision and the spirit of adventure. They will claim this lost artifact as their own, and return that sacred space perched on the side of the mountain to its former glory. Falling in love with the remote life, they will likely create a vegetable garden, and will perhaps tend chickens, cows, pigs, rabbits and sheep—many of which will live in the restored stalls beneath the houses. Of course a few cats and dogs will complete the picture along with a horse or two for evening rides through the wooded hillside. Life will certainly be sweet.
Until then, we will continue to enjoy our hikes and allow ourselves to fall madly in love with the thousands of romantic Tuscan possibilities, as our vivid imaginings of exciting reclamations abound. Oh, those dreams and futures that lay waiting to be discovered and recovered from beneath the rubble! This tarnished gem just happened to be along trail number 25, on the “road to Lavacchio.”
We set out on a Friday morning in search of some simple, older halogen light fixtures. The task seemed straightforward enough. But we soon discovered that our little errand morphed into a scavenger hunt. One store led to another and then another and so on. The fixtures we needed weren’t readily available anymore. From big box stores to small shops, our prospects waned. Finally, at an old electrical supply store, the owner pondered our dilemma and suggested we go to TAP Lighting in Hillcrest. He said they probably wouldn’t have the lights in stock, but they might be able to order them for us. FAT CHANCE, we thought. But since it was on our way home, we could at least swing by. He jotted down the address and then added, “It’s a unique store with a jungle of lights!” His description got us interested, since it sounded like our kind of place.
During casual conversation, a trusted friend mentioned a great place at Liberty Station in San Diego called “Moniker General.” They said that it’s the best coffee in the city! In addition, they also sell surfboards, and stuff like that—which explains the “general,” as in general store? As you might have predicted, the next morning, bright and early, we headed to Liberty Station on Point Loma, curious to sample a uniquely delicious cup of coffee. No doubt, we were also intrigued about the surfboard thing.
We’re currently living at the bottom of a steep cliff in Lyon, France. Behind us is a sheer wall of rock about 170 feet, or 52 meters high. It comes crashing almost directly down from the area above with a gentle horizontal slope at the bottom directly into the Saône River. (more…)
A strange thing happened while taking our yard clippings to the local collection site for recycling. Upon arrival, we heard a loud chorus of birds somewhere on the ground around the bins, but they didn’t fly away when we approached. It was more like mournful yowling. Between the sack of grass clippings and under nearby rubble, we squinted to see the face of a small kitten. (more…)
Cheryl & Emerson
Quality time is great—but quantity time is what relationships are built on! Take time to partner.