Dark Moments

San Francisco from the Black Pearl February, 2016

I’ve been writing about my journey after the sudden loss of my husband in July, I try to write things that will help others and that are inspiring, however, I will tell you, I have had some dark moments.  

Last week I had a series of nightmares.  I have never been one to have nightmares making this particularly traumatizing for me.  I would then wake at 4 a.m. and be unable to go back to sleep, so I was then quickly sleep deprived. 

I am someone who needs my sleep, and getting four hours of sleep has an adverse effect on my busy and productive life. 

At the same time, I was dealing with the betrayal of a woman who pretended to love me, but did not, and those who should have loved me, but did not.   I spent a good deal of time trying to understand how we can love people who harm us, and I came to no real conclusion, only that because people are family doesn’t mean they are exempt from common decency, and the most basic rules of respect and kindness.

Finally, I took matters into my own hands, and kissed the kids goodnight and went to bed in my pink striped cotton P.J.’s at 8:00 p.m. and took a dramamine.  I love dramamine for sleep and take it the night before a sailboat race if I know the winds are high.  I took it when I was training for my BK license because we had 35k of wind and I was very sea sick the first few days.  Although, I have many sleep aid choices, I like dramamine because it knocks me out for 10 hours with the only side effect being a sense of calm the next day.   On this night, I prayed for sweet dreams and drifted off to sleep.  I awoke the next morning feeling rested and have been fine ever since.  Thank goodness.

As many who have been married 20 plus years know, there are ups and downs in long term marriages.  I’ve spent the last two months playing and replaying all of the memories of those years with my husband, 25 years to be exact.  A quarter of a century.  Most of them were wonderful and I am grateful for them, some of them were not, but they taught me so much about myself, love and forgiveness that I wouldn’t change a single moment. 

The word forgive in Aramaic means to untie.  So I untie myself from the past and move now into my future.  In the sailing world this is called casting off.

at-sunset-sf
San Francisco Bay April, 2016

 

 

 

Insurance 

Santa Cruz National Championship Races, July 2016
As I navigate through these uncharted waters I realize what a great insurance policy an education is.

When I was young I appreciated the privilege I was granted to be given the opportunity to earn my Bachlor of Science degree at Oregon State University as a full time student and the luxury to study abroad at the London School of Economics as an undergraduate, then to go on to graduate school at Lewis and Clark.  And I was especially grateful for all the fun I had and the life long friends I made along the way. But now, I realize how absolutely necessary it is to be well educated.  

I’ve had a grueling week and it’s only Wednesday, but I feel blessed for the education I have, and the professional life I’ve worked so hard to sustain as I raised my children.  My experience as a Financial Analyst, Underwriter, Marketing Director, Systems Analyst, Project Manager, Consultant and Entrepreneur is invaluable to me now as I lay the foundation for my future.  I am using all of the knowledge I’ve acquired, plus learning so much as I move forward. 

On Monday, I met with the tax attorney, on Tuesday I finished our complex tax return for 2015, and took it to our accountant. This morning, I had a meeting with my personal attorney regarding my estate and then with my advisor for the company I’ve been incubating for the last nine months, oceansf.co.  I ended the business day reviewing my teaching schedule for UC Berkeley’s International Program where I teach entrepreneurial marketing.  Now, I sit exhausted, watching my daughter’s soccer practice, and will go home soon and cook dinner.

Thank goodness I am well educated and prepared mentally and emotionally for the challenges ahead. Education is everything, and an invaluable insurance policy for traversing the unforeseen challenges that inevitably confront us in life.  

As we look for schools for my high school senior’s continuing education, it’s not just a degree she will be gaining, but an insurance policy against the storms that life may land her unexpectedly into the center of.  

Although, I wish her only gentle winds and smooth sailing,  I want her to be strong, capable, confident and prepared for whatever weather she may encounter along life’s journey.  

Ocean Beach, Carmel by the Sea, April 2016

Courage

I don’t know how it’s possible to be so afraid, but also know that everything will be fine at the same time.   The cognitive dissonance of my situation coupled with the shock I’ve experienced must certainly be the culprit of these extreme emotions.  Or, this might be the definition of courage.

My children only see one side of the coin, however, and I make sure they feel safe even when I do not.

When I was planning the funeral the caterer wanted to move the tables in the church reception room.  I insisted the tables be arranged as they always are after mass when coffee and donuts are served. I did not want my daughters startled in anyway.

Since then, I have been busy behind the scenes making sure that nothing changes for them.  I refuse to even move one stick of furniture.  When the unthinkable happened I gave the kids the typical pep talk you would expect.  It went like this; they are to continue with their routines as before, and this experience won’t change that, they still have their lives to live, and they will continue as before.  As always, they looked at me with their innocent blue eyes the color of cornflowers, and agreed.  It was similar to the discussion we had about not touching the hot stove or running into the street between parked cars.

Yet, I am astounded by their grace in the face of adversity.  Both are doing very well in school.  Paris is a golfer and has shaved 11 strokes off her personal best (nine hole) score from the start of the season.  She has been practicing sometimes two or three times a day, but still this is quite a miraculous accomplishment.  I wondered what type of focus and dedication one would have to have to accomplish such a feat.  Being humble, she attributed her success to a set of golf clubs bequeathed to her by a friend and team mate who graduated last year.

Little sister has been playing soccer since she was five and although she has always been an excellent player she has demonstrated a courage and determination this year that I’ve not seen before.  Today, she scored four goals in one game.  She makes it look so easy, but when she came off the field she said she was light headed and nauseous.  We had to sit in the grass for 20 minutes before she could even get in the car, so maybe it’s not so easy after all.  When I asked her what she thought contributed to her success this year, she said it was her team, that they were doing a great job of getting the ball to her (she plays center forward).  She is full of grace and humility, as well as courage.

After the soccer game Paris and I met with her college counselor. I was suprised to learn her counselor had used her day off, a beautiful warm Saturday, to meet with just Paris and I. We talked about Paris’ college choices and her upcoming interview at USC and campus tours and visits at Pepperdine, LMU and Pitzer.  As much as I want to protect her from all the trials and tribulations that this transition will require, it’s not possible to arrange like the tables and chairs at the church.

All I can say is, I’m looking forward to the day when courage is not an essential component of everyday life.  And grace and humility are all that will be required.

Betrayal

IMG_1556
East Ridge by Sydney Chaney Thomas

When you are grief stricken and vulnerable it’s easy to tell who is there for your good and who is not.  There are people that are suppose to love you, but do not, this is a fact of life.  And I have allowed close to me those who have actively worked against me, and a few others who have displayed such a blatant disregard for the feelings and well being of my family, that I am astonished by their actions and lack of compassion.  I won’t go into too many details here, but they know who they are and exactly what they have done.

As I walk this path, there are many surprising twists and turns along the way.  I’ve written before that I am overwhelmed by the love and support showered on my family by our many friends, loving neighbors and my large and extended family since the unexpected death of my husband in July.  Sadly, there are a few people who have taken advantage of the situation and have not been so kind.

The Christmas before last I spent three weeks in Truckee.  This is typically my favorite thing to do.  We’ve spent most of our Christmas’ there over the last ten years and I love decorating the tree with our collection of snowman decorations, and skiing on Christmas Day and all of our many traditions established over the years, but in 2014 I was working on my heart.  I read the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for the second time and I realized I had lost my heart as a guidance system in my life.  So, I spent a lot of time that vacation reading and writing and thinking about my life, which I often do, and specifically my heart.

One day, the girls went snow boarding and I went to a yoga class in Truckee.  The studio  was very warm, the floor was covered in rose pedals and tiny white candles were placed all around the perimeter of the room.  As the snow outside was falling, the instructor did a pose with us to open our hearts.  I thought this ironic since it was what I had been reading and thinking about.  After the class and all of that day, I could literally feel my heart melting.  It was a strange feeling and I cried a lot that day.  I decided then that I wanted to keep my heart open, as the Alchemist advises, so I would not lose my guidance system and therefore access to my true self.

The next day I went skiing with just Paris.  It was ten degrees below zero at 7:00 a.m. when I had walked the dog, and it was not much warmer by mid morning.  It was so cold that we had to stop at the small lodge at the top of Northstar for hot chocolate.  Paris being a teenager was wearing a fleece jacket.  And as we were leaving the lodge to go back out into the cold she asked me if we could trade jackets, and being her mother I handed over my warm down jacket without thinking and wore hers.  We had run into our friend Brad Helms and the three of us left to ski the blacks on the backside of Northstar.   With fresh snow and the low temperature the conditions were perfect and we skied all of the afternoon.

I had never been so cold, but it felt good.  It felt completely purifying, like the cold could kill every single thing that could ever be wrong with you.  Later, I read an article that cold therapy is now being used to treat many diseases and I wasn’t surprised because I felt on that day my heart had been completely healed and I could be open to whatever came next in my life.

That was not quite two years ago, but it feels like an eternity.  I am stunned that so much has changed since that day, but the decision to keep my heart open has remained and because of it I can feel when people are hurting me.  I no longer stuff it with a Snickers bar and pretend it’s not happening.  I bravely feel it and it hurts like hell.

The good news is, now I know who these people are, and I can protect myself and my family.  And if I want a Snickers bar I can have one, not because I need one, but because I want one.

 

Forward

Lake Tahoe 2016
The way forward is slowly taking shape.  As I’ve written before, I refuse to make sudden changes as I cope with the unexpected loss of my husband in July.  My daughters are back in school now, and slowly healing.   I believe in routines, and that they add structure, and help us to mend like a cast on a broken bone.

As for me, I’ve been taking things very slowly.  I feel intuitively that this is a time for me to rest, reflect and get my affairs in order.  So, I am taking time to see friends, sleep, read and lovingly care for myself and my teenage daughters like they were two years old again.   

I am packing their lunches and driving them to school.  Even my Senior in high school gets little zip lock bags full of cookies, apples, mini candy bars, and cheese puffs.

I then go back to my office and work on the “affairs” part of my life, or I don’t.  Yesterday, my college friend Debra came into town, and we went to 4th Street in Berkeley and had breakfast at Bette’s Diner and then to the Yacht Club where we sat silently watching the boats sail in and out of the marina.  My older daughter was home sick, so we picked up soup for her and cold medicine.  Normal.  The new normal.

Today, I talked to a company in Silicon Valley, and as I consider going back to a big job again, I realize life is moving forward.  I can see myself at 5 a.m. driving to Santa Clara again, but I won’t be able to get my Sophomore from school, make her an after school snack, and take her to soccer, or move forward as quickly with my entrepreneurial ventures or continue to teach at UC Berkeley.  Trade offs.

When I am in the getting my affairs in order mode I work on my trust, this is my number one priority, since I like to do dangerous things in my spare time, like ski and race on sail boats in high winds.   As a result, I’ve been thinking about my legacy.  I used to think my happy family would be my legacy, but we don’t always get what we want, so maybe my legacy is something else.  Like my non-profit, or a building with my family name on it like my friend Sandra Floyd.  Or even just my house in Truckee in the Tahoe Basin.

The Truckee House Thanksgiving 2015
Polly First Snow Fall 2015
Before I was a sailing enthusiasts, I was and continue to be, an avid skier.  We bought the Tahoe house in much the same way as we bought our Moraga house, the delapitated doll house, that I wrote about a few weeks ago.  It was my girlhood dream to have a ski house, my husband was very apprehensive since no one makes money on a ski house.  I’ll say that again, no one makes money on a ski house, and he was very apprehensive.  However, he turned out to be the one who loved the house more than anyone.

The house has an unobstructed view of the Martis Valley and Northstar.  You can see the Snow Cats at night grooming the runs from the upstairs living room. Even though we rent the house when we’re not using it, a giant family portrait hangs in the entry way, family photos sit in the bookcases, and the furniture is in exactly the same place as it has been since we bought the house almost ten years ago.  It’s like walking into a time capsule.

I want my great grandchildren to stay there and learn to ski like my children did, I want them to sleep in the bunk room with the bear quilts, and learn how to play poker in the kitchen with M&Ms, and have pancakes at the island in their long johns and build a snowman on Christmas Eve, and all of it.  So, the title to the house will be held in a trust with an endowment fund.

Forward motion into the future.  Moving forward…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Till There Was You


​​Many people don’t believe in love, but I do. 

Tonight, I was privileged to be a guest at the 30th wedding anniversary party of my dear friends and neighbors, Tina and David.  

As I begin to resume my routines and return to my life and social obligations, I realize how blessed I am for the rythym of my life.  And for the many things that  do go right, and for the people and places that comprise our fondest memories and witness our most treasured moments.

I’m sure for my friends, and certainly for me, tonight was one of those.  Before the replica of the wedding cake of 30 years ago, a compromise cake of chocolate, hazelnut and raspberry (because marriages are made of compromises) was served, Ruthie and Rachael sang the song, “Till There Was You” to their parents. It was the song from the first dance at their wedding.  

I can’t help but imagine what it must have felt like to think back to that day, not being able to envision what the future would hold, and then tonight to be standing in California under the stars on a beautiful night surrounded by your friends and family, as your daughters are singing to you so many years later. 

I’m guessing it would feel pretty magical. 

And, the compromise cake, like many things that are beautifully melded together, was delicious. 

Salmon, Pecan & Nectarine Salad

Finally, I feel like cooking again, although there isn’t much cooking involved here. But this was super delicious, nutritious, and easy to put together.  And will probably be included in my Easy Recipes for Lazy Moms cookbook.  Nectarines and salmon go amazingly well together as do pecans and goat cheese.

What you can’t see is that there is warm jasmine rice at the bottom of this bowl.  I then layered a salad of nectarines, goat cheese and pecans tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.  I cooked the salmon as per my good friend Jackie Novick’s instructions, in the oven at 400 degrees, with lemon and a tiny bit of butter for about 20 minutes.

I made this for myself late one night and then took the entire thing upstairs, and sat in bed and read a book.  Comfort food at it’s best.

 

 

 

 

 

Faith

I live in a beautiful five bedroom house.  What an amazing thing to say, I think as I write this, and the house sits on an acre lot with a swimming pool and a treehouse and a creek that flows behind it.  Beautiful deer and birds and squirrels greet me everyday.  I have a grove of redwood trees and flowers galore.  How blessed am I, is a thought that goes through my mind often.  After my husband died, my children, naturally at 15 and 17, wanted to be out with their friends, so I found myself rattling around alone in this big house. The house itself is comforting.  It has the floor plan of a traditional doll house.  If you took the exterior wall off the back it would look exactly like the doll house I had growing up on the farm.  Symmetrical rooms, upstairs and downstairs, and a stair case in the middle.   The house is painted a creamy white with black shutters, a big front door in the center, and twin black flower pots full of pink and white flowers sit on each side.

Even though, I myself was an executive with a start up software company that would eventually be sold to Intel, I still had to beg my husband to buy me this house, because it was in extreme disrepair.  At the time he would have done anything, including buying me a life size dilapidated doll house, to make me happy.

On the day we saw the house for the first time, I was just nine weeks pregnant with the beautiful Siena, and Paris, the apple of our eye, was home with our nanny appropriately named Elizabeth Blackwell who spoke six languages.  We bought the house “as is” with no contingencies, and to say it was a total fixer upper is putting it mildly.  It needed new walls, new floors, new ceilings, new bathrooms, new landscaping, a new roof, and new windows.  It took four months of renovations before we could even move in.  My husband threatened several times to tear the whole thing down and start over.

I think back to those days now, as so much of this life for me is ending.  I remember how much faith I had in all of it, and how my faith has always allowed me to smoothly sail through the many ups and downs of raising a family and married life.  My faith has been a constant companion throughout my life.  And on this day and the many others that has lead up to it, my faith has been with me and has filled my prayers with gratitude for the countless blessings of my life.

Yesterday morning I had breakfast with my husband’s best friends, Dan and Jeff.  They look at me with kind eyes and ask what I’m going to do now.  And I don’t know, but I do know that God will guide my steps as he has always done, and we will be fine.  I have perfect faith that we will be more than fine.

 

I have two cats, a dog, a rabbit and two almost grown kids who inhabit what was once, and will remain, a very happy home.