Floating Through High School

I was dreamy in high school, and I was no scholar in grade school, either. 

After an exhausting childhood, I floated through each dreary awkward rainy day in Oregon, where I grew up, until I left for college.  I did, however read a good deal, and by this I mean, I read voluminous amounts. In many ways, I wasn’t really sitting in my room on Woodscape Drive, or in the library at Sprague High School, but in a New York City Apartment with my favorite author Laurie Colwin, or hiding in the short stories of Checkov, or the novels of Dostoyevsky.  After, I worked my way through the Bronte sisters, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I then peered curiously into a giant volume of the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I later studied in England.  I even went there, to Stratford-upon-Avon where he wrote, and lived in the 16th century.  

Regardless, of my uninspiring high school education, I landed as a freshman at Oregon State University very well read. Which eventually made me a very good writer and an honor roll student.  

Nothing is ever lost, and no time spent self educating, no matter how unstructured, is without value. 

My daughter has inherited both my love of reading and the writing gene, she told me, she wants to go to college and simply read.

And I hope she does.

Love and blessings to all. 

My Father

Lieutenant Colonel Lester E. Chaney
If my father would have stayed on the farm, instead of going to flight school and volunteering for Vietnam, I could have grown up as a normal girl with a father in a normal family. My daughters would have had a grandfather, my mother a husband.  We can never know the exact trajectory of our lives, of course, or of the many lives he saved by going there, only to lose his.

Although, war serves a different purpose in protecting freedoms, I can still understand his attraction to danger, as in its own small way, skiing way too fast down the icy black diamonds, or sliding across a sail boat deck in 30k of wind can make ones heart pound, but war is a different type of danger, and in his case it proved lethal.  

As we send our troops into war, it’s easy to forget the ones whose lives may forever be altered. Or those who come back and can’t forget the things they saw.  Thank you to all who serve. 

Love and blessings to all. 

Then & Now or The First Year

When I was nine years old, I woke to a bright white light, at the time I thought it was a star, but it filled my bedroom, and immediately after, I knew my father was dead. In the morning, I told my older sister he was gone, and then when our mother sat us down at our farmhouse kitchen table to break the news, we told her we already knew. 

I had the same feeling at five a.m. the day my husband died.  I woke with the feeling that a stray bullet had pierced my heart, and I sat up in bed, with an undeniable feeling something was terribly wrong. I stayed there, knees to chin, praying until dawn, when the dispatcher at his office could be reached.

When I got the call, I was calm, because I knew it was coming. I remember thinking, it’s going to be very hot, and I have to get the garbage out. I put on a soft cotton dress, because I knew I would probably have to sleep in it that night. Both my children had sleep overs the night before, so I got in my truck, and picked them both up. 

My younger daughter and I were alone, and stopped behind the summer construction on Moraga Way, I watched her, she looked so happy in the summer sunshine, laughing and talking to me. My eyes stung behind my dark glasses, as every single emotion, I had ever had, when my own father died, coursed through my blood stream, ending in an internal scream. I could not believe that this was happening to my own children. I could not believe it. 

However, strength, courage, and determination kicked in, and I forced myself to find my center, I didn’t have the luxury of anything less, what would happen to my children if I were to give in to these feelings of despair? 

As my beautiful daughter talked to me about her night, I breathed slowly in and out, and returned to my normal calm and peaceful state.  When I had both my daughters together, I told them, and then I called my mother in law. These were possibly the most horrific hours of my life. 

Afterwards, dozens of loving friends swooped in to support us, and the next morning, I was sitting in the parish office at Santa Maria, in Orinda, still wearing that white cotton dress, planning my husbands funeral. 

Ten months later, we are doing fine.  So many people have advised me, just get through the first year, two months to go. 

Find Yourself A New Enemy 

For a myriad of reasons, before my husband died, I would tolerate toxic relationships in my life.  Sometimes, I would think this person really pushes me to be better, when in reality, they were just putting me down, or I would think, I had to tolerate spiteful comments, and disrespectful treatment, because our daughters were friends, or this person was a relative. 

After my husband died, my heart was so raw, I could only be near my dearest and sweetest friends and family.  I could no longer listen to someone tell me not to be so sensitive, when I called them on their bad behavior, or listen to them apologize for the same things, again and again.  With my heart broken, I allowed no discussion, I simply notified them, and swiftly removed them from my life. At first, I thought, I’ll get back to them later, but now that I know how liberating it feels to surround myself with only loving people, I may never let them back into my life.  

To allow myself to be only treated with respect and tenderness, has been an amazing gift to myself, and what an enormously positive impact it has had on my life as a whole.

Initially, there was the fear, that if I kept tossing people out of my life, I would end up very much alone, but this has proven unfounded, and the reverse has been true. I have more friends now than ever before.

I still find myself overwhelmed sometimes, and my life really can be busy with, a business and nonprofit to run, classes to teach, two teenagers, my cats, a dog and a rabbit, but my inner circle is tranquil, and my days are gradually becoming more and more, peaceful and calm. 

Love and blessings to all. 

Beauty

If I can write about, fear, grief and death, I suppose I can weigh in on another delicate topic – beauty.

When my daughters were little, I would tell them their beauty was an accident, and what was most important was what they would make of their lives.

In Junior High, and the age of social media, I would warn them, “your looks should be the least most interesting thing about you,” and I meant it.

Anyone who knows me can tell you, the way I look has nothing to do with who I am. Luckily, I’m naturally slim and I love clothes, so I don’t look like I spent 10 minutes, or less getting ready in the morning, but it’s true. It is more often then not the last thing, I think about. 

In college, and beyond it was a tradition for me to go white water rafting down the Dechutes River, in Southern Oregon, Memorial Day weekend. I would literally get on a raft wearing only a swim suit and old lace up canvas sneakers for three solid days. I would stash my tooth brush and car keys in the cooler in a zip lock bag, bringing no makeup, nor hair brush, or beach towel, the nights were so warm we slept on the river bank, without so much as a sleeping bag. I traveled through Europe for four months with only a 22 lb. backpack, full of mostly books. I am still this way. 

Now, my daughter, has an academic scholarship to one of the best Liberal Arts colleges in California. And anyone who spends 5 minutes with her notices her exterior slip away as she speaks. She is eloquent, humorous, and endlessly fascinating. 

If you have a daughter, please send the message early, and clearly, that no one who really matters, cares how you look, and what is found in your heart and mind, is where true beauty lies. And even better, this is beauty that never fades, but grows only more so over time. 

Love and blessings to all. 

Tahoe, Love & Grief

Kings Beach with Polly

I’ve just spent a few days at my house in Truckee, California.  I rearranged the linen closet, the games and puzzles, and walked the trail from our house to the Truckee River Winery and Bocce Ball courts with my neighbors of ten years, but mostly I worked, and grounded myself in happy memories, and the love that was shared there. 

When my husband died last summer, I could see the appeal of the victim mentality.  I was a victim of circumstances, no doubt, but I refused to let it define me. Instead, I decided to allow it to strengthen me.  I listened politely as friends said, you have to sell your Tahoe house, and be realistic. For the record, I will never sell my Tahoe house. Ever. 

I’m not someone who allows myself to be a victim, even when bad things happen to me, I realize they are pushing me toward something I am more suited for.  When my first wedding engagement ended, and I found myself in San Francisco walking down Market Street on my way to work, and spending my weekends in Sausalito, or Napa or Tahoe, I accepted these changes with equanimity.  They had very apparent gifts and benefits. 

At the moment, I alternate between suffering, and the tenable hope that faith and fortitude, are the catalysts of all good things. 

Love and blessings to all. 

Big Change

The biggest changes in my life have always come suddenly and unexpectedly. I remember this as I try to incorporate positive changes into my life, and I become frustrated by how slowly it takes for my dreams to come to fruition.

When I was in my early twenties, I stopped one day to get gas, and met my first fiancé. The night before I met him, the man I was dating had asked me what I would say if he gave me a ring? Grant, who did give me a ring, which I accepted, and I almost married, looked like my twin brother with dark hair and sparkling green eyes. I spent three wonderful years with him, and even though we went our separate ways, those were years I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. 

I ended up at Oregon State in the Alpha Phi Soriety house in much the same way. I was planning on following my sister to our local JC, but late that summer, I met a group of Alpha Phi’s at a party in Lake Oswego, and before I knew it, I was in their pledge class of 1986.

My husband and I spent the first five years of our marriage trying to have a baby. We finally decided to consult a fertility specialist and do IVF, weeks before this was to happen, I went on vacation to Toronto to golf with my aunties. They drank dark rum and lemonade on the course, but the drinks they poured were so full of rum they looked like a Coca Cola. They also smoked. And not just a little.  We started in the morning drinking coffee and sherry, with our cigarettes. Then onto the golf club, followed by drinks on the patio, wine with dinner, then aperitifs with more coffee and cigarettes.  Canadians. 

Because the Universe has a sense of humor, I came home, and to my horror, found myself pregnant.  Nine months later, unexpectedly and seemingly out of the blue, I was holding my precious daughter in my arms. 

In the summer of 2016 my life appeared to have a certain tragectory, but once again, the Universe had other plans. 

As I go through these monumental changes in my life, I try to remember those unexpected happenings, and stay calm, go with the flow, and have faith. 

Love and blessings to all. 

Money, Love & Kids

The Charming Distractions – photo by R. Gee
Throughout my marriage I always worked.  I didn’t brag about it, but I was either consulting, writing, helping other small businesses get started, managing my rental properties or teaching something.

It was a paradox, that by the time I had kids, and was killing it at work, after years of working my way to the top, I couldn’t work anymore. Because I worked for a small company, a technology start up, with under 50 people, I only had five weeks of maternity leave.  Five weeks.  My work was flexible only in the fact that you could set your own hours, and wear whatever you wanted, but you were required to be there most of the time.   I left my five week old baby with my wonderful nanny Elizabeth Blackwell, I knew she was in good hands, but she was tiny and precious to me, and it tore my heart out to walk out the door every day.  So, with this steep cliff, where work required all or nothing, I made the choice to put my family first.

This was not an easy decision, it felt like one day I was in the city eating lamb chops and drinking Veuve Clicquot with the PR girls, and the next I was in Vietnam, where the twenty or so members of  the Lamorinda Play Group ran through my house as I made homemade play dough, from Martha Stewart magazine.

I was absolutely not cut out for the role of stay at home mom.  The children had me wrapped around their tiny fingers, and I was a glutton for punishment in the volunteer department. I was room mom six times, coached four soccer teams, taught CCD, served hot lunch for eight years, was on the PTA board, the NCL board and did every possible auction money raising activity known to man.  And I was a perfectionist.  The house, the cars, the kids, the lawn all had to be perfect.  Other friends, would yawn as their sinks filled up with dishes, and their children napped for five hours.  Not at my house.  There was very little sleeping at my house.  The charming distractions didn’t like to sleep, and they were very mischievious dare devils, on top of that.  I left Paris watching a cartoon one afternoon, and came back to find she had moved her sand box into the family room, minus the box.  They loved to unmake the beds, or fill them with sand, get undressed after I dressed them, throw up to get their way, climb trees and scream for help, paint their hair purple and run through the house shaking their heads, and so on.  My friends with boys felt sorry for me.

All of this made going back to work at Wells Fargo feel like a spa day.  The problem was that when I got home at 7 oclock my little girls would ask, “when will your working be over?” and tear my heart out.  I made the decision, to let go of the big jobs, that were personally and fianically rewarding, for those that allowed me to integrate my work with my family.   I wrote my book Real Food (Amazon), did part time consulting work, and was able to be a ski instructor at Northstar Resort for three years.  I helped other working moms who didn’t have the luxury of being close to home, but most importantly, I had the priviledge of being a day to day integral part of the lives of my own children, and their many friends.

When it is all said and done, and I pack up my beautiful daughter and drive her to college to begin her own life in September, I doubt I will wish I had spent more time at work.

No regrets.

Love and blessings to all.

Having it All & Last on The List

Recently, I’ve been looking at the analytics on my website. Last on The List is the most viewed post, followed by Betrayal.

I wonder what is it about these topics that pulls people in? Is there something unifying in these experiences, that make my readers feel less alone?

As mothers and wives, I believe we do suddenly find ourselves overwhelmed with the myriad of duties required of the modern woman. I remember finding myself alone for twelve or so hours with a new born, and a two year old. I had a five bedroom house and an acre of gardens, and since I was “lucky” enough, to be able to stay home, I had no help. None. I took the babies to Home Depot and bought a lawn mower. I assembled it in the family room while watching over the kids, then mowed the lawn at nap time. This went on for a few years!

I cleaned the house, I started a business, I threw amazing dinner parties.  I weighted 117 lbs.  my husband went to work as before, and kept his Saturday tee time at the Country Club.

The words, “having it all, means doing it all,” became the motto I lived by. When I took a marketing consulting assignment at Wells Fargo Corporate in San Francisco, it felt like a vacation. Riding Bart, sitting in meetings, working quietly at my desk comparatively was an extracurricular activity, like a hobby. 

Since we didn’t need the money, my husband would call me and tell me to quit. He would ask, “why did you have children if you didn’t want to take care of them?” Even though, I loved my work and the sense of accomplishment, and independence it brought, I acquiescenced.

So, now I’ve had 10 months alone, and I am, with the exception of providing a warm, safe and nurturing home for my teenage daughters, first on my list.

I’m not going to lie, it feels pretty good.

Love and blessings to all.

Mothers Day & The Charming Distractions or Never the Less Joy

Never the less, there is joy.  My charming distractions spent the entire day with me yesterday.  It was one of the happiest in many months.  I woke to the sound of pots and pans in the kitchen, then there were eggs, and a champaign flute full of green juice.  Then presents.  They both got in bed with me and fell back to sleep.  I got up, and wrote about my own mother, Home Again, that I posted yesterday.

We then went on a hike through the Moraga hills with Polly, our family dog, then to dinner at Prima in Walnut Creek.  Over dinner we talked about where we would live if we could live anywhere in the world.  I said, I would have an apartment in the city (San Francisco), a boat in Tiburon, and a farm house in Napa.  So now that I’ve set that intention, we will see what happens.  This is the way I’ve done things, I decide, and then work towards it.  I wanted an acre parcel with a pool in Lamorinda, I wanted a ski house in Tahoe, and now I want something new.

My girls would like to live in London and Paris, but I secretly hope one of them will come back and live in our house in Moraga to raise their family.  This is what many Morgans do, they venture off, and return to Moraga to raise their children.  It’s such a wonderful family town and I am so grateful for my time here.

We ended our beautiful day with a movie. I could not be more thankful for my life and charming children. 

Love and blessings to all.