The Senate, Role Models & Easter Eggs

Ghost Boats by Sydney Chaney Thomas oil on canvas 6×4

When I was fresh out of college I went to work for the Oregon State Senate. There I was the assistant of Senator Jane Cease.

In this fortunate circumstance I attended committee meetings, took notes, wrote letters to constituents, filed legislative articles and prepared her legislative file folders for each vote. I sat with her on the floor of the Senate. Sometimes, I would work for her husband Ron in the House of Representatives. I answered the phone, wrote more letters and scheduled appointments.

I wore navy blue suits with crisp white shirts and pleated skirts. I packed a lunch and ate at my desk on the second floor of the State Capital studying for the law school admissions test or LSAT.

The week before Easter Jane gave me a hand-blown and painted Easter egg that I still to this day have. This was the first time I had ever met a woman who was so many things at once. She was a mother, a wife, a lawmaker, a transportation expert and the President of the League of Women voters.

When she handed me the beautiful hand painted egg it was clear she was an artist as well. It was as if a door had swung open and I was able to walk through it. In that instant she gave me permission to pursue all of the things that I loved in life. No longer was my life confined to such a narrow path.

We never know the impact we will have on another’s life with a simple gesture.

When I was young I was very ambitious. After working for Jane I went on to work for a lobby firm where I managed ballot measure campaigns. It was in this role that I learned to manage marketing campaigns. I worked with advertising agencies on ads, billboards and television commercials to sway voters. I did this for the grass seed industry, tobacco and distilled spirits. Later after moving to California I used these same skills in business as a product manager and marketing director in banking, telephony and technology.

I did not follow Jane’s footsteps in politics, but like Jane I have had many roles with a common thread. Because of her I felt it was perfectly reasonable to study with well known Berkeley painter Joan Finton for five years, have my water color paintings in galleries, and then study oil painting for another three.

In the years that followed my time in the Senate I’ve been a wife, a mother, a writer, a painter and a clothing designer. Because of Janes influence I’ve lead a very rich and diverse life.

I’m interested in what my next chapter has to offer, however, I’m certain painting hand-blown eggs will be a part of it.

Controlled Chaos

This is our third Christmas since my husband’s sudden death in 2016.

The preceding holidays have been difficult needless to say.

Now, almost one thousand days later peaceful is the best way to describe this season.

The last several weeks have been busy and full. From spending time in Portland, many parties and dinners to having family time with my two daughters and our Australian house guest Austin.

For a long time, I would feel guilty if I felt happy. It’s normal to have survivor’s guilt in these situations, however, there comes a point in time when there is simply diminishing returns to sadness.

It feels good to be myself again. Calm, confident, peaceful and happy. I remember wondering if I would ever feel this way again. It took a while, but I’ve earned it and I deserve it.

I’ve enjoyed spending time with my teenage children and their friends. I find them fascinating in their modern opinions and point of view. They’re ecstatically hopeful and fully present for life. They keep me young, optimistic and hopeful.

We’ve stayed up late telling funny stories about what really happened in grade school. It’s entertaining to hear what the kids thought as we raised them. They can recount a dinner party from ten years ago with astounding clarity.

I always knew my presence in the lives of so many children was worthwhile, but it was nice to hear from them that I personally made a difference in their lives.

As I look back on my years as a room mom, a soccer coach, a reading tutor and a mom who could never say no to bringing a gangle of kids home after school to swim and play I can see now how important and meaningful this work truly was.

At the time it felt like nothing more than controlled chaos. Yet, beneath the surface of screaming children, and petty arguments and countless popsicles and ice cream sandwiches lay a deeper meaning to these days. We all simply wish to connect. Our time together means something as we share each other’s memories.

Over the holiday a few of my Children’s friends told me how much they cherished the time they spent with me and my family. They told me how much they loved coming to our house and spending time here. They used words like sanctuary and refuge.

My home has been full of kids and laughter for weeks now. Of course, this is accompanied by the usual amount of chaos. Kids come in and go out again. We hosted a few small gatherings that I will never forget for the pure happiness and joy I could feel around me.

When I moved to Moraga almost twenty years ago I became involved in the Lamorinda Moms Club, Moraga Junior League, and later National Charity League. Through these organizations and our neighborhood schools I met countless children. I knew then that I could never leave Moraga until I saw them all grow up. Committed and invested I wanted to see what these little ones would make of their lives.

I have to say there have been few surprises. The sweet ones are still sweet, the bossy ones are still bossy, but they have all collectively turned into amazing people with worthy goals and dreams.

We never know what life has in store for us, maybe the best we can ever hope for is controlled chaos.

Love and blessings to all.

25th and Harrison

The rain soaked days I spent in Corvallis at Oregon State University were some of the happiest of my life.

Looking back now I know that the people that shaped me the most lived in that house on the corner of 25th and Harrison. People can say what they like about sororities, but what they taught me there has stayed with me my entire life.

The number one rule in our house was that you never disparage a sister. We were not allowed to talk smack about each other. It was simply not done. This created an atmosphere of harmony that allowed sixty girls to live happily and peacefully together.

We were also required to be ladies at our fraternity functions and if we were not we got a chat on the back porch by our President.

What the Alpha Phi’s cared about the most, however, were the academics. Our chapter had been number one in grades for many years. When I was going through rush I chose Alpha Phi for this very reason. I was terrified of flunking out and ending up back where I had come from. Freshman had mandatory study tables and every test that Oregon State had ever administered was in our study files in a filing cabinet called the vault. Tests were never allowed to be removed from the tiny room where the vault was located. This room in the basement was called the dungeon and had a 24 hour quiet rule.

The senior class the year I was a freshmen was comprised of the most lovely and intelligent group of women I have ever met before or since. They would play their flutes and violins together on the third floor and the music floated down the street and could be heard blocks away as I walked down fraternity row in the late afternoon light. When these women graduated they went on to become doctors, lawyers and leaders of all kinds. On the other hand, my pledge class was full of a group of Catholic girls who were wicked smart, and also a ton of fun. I think we were a bit of a disappointment to the upper classman, but they worked with us, and we had our fun and still got good grades.

The Alpha Phi’s had high standards and I fell quickly into line. Because of them I was on the Dean’s list eight times. They gave me my first lesson in work life balance teaching me that it was possible to work hard and also have fun. Through the four years that I lived among them I developed compassion, integrity, a strong work ethic combined with self discipline, and the ability to work within a group for the collective good. But more than anything else, my years in the Alpha Phi house taught me to treat other people with kindness, love and respect.

Alpha Phi was an excellent fit for me from the start and the friends I made there are more than friends they really are sisters.

When my older daughter had to write a letter to the society she joined at college she wrote about growing up with my sorority sisters and their children and she wanted that experience for herself.

The love and support of my sorority sisters shaped me in so many positive ways and made me the woman I am today.

This past weekend I traveled home to Portland for our annual holiday brunch. It was no surprise to anyone that my big sis and I had gathered a group of friends to go downtown the night before. I was blessed to have two of my sisters travel with me and to be able to spend time with my dear friend Maureen and celebrate my birthday.

Needless to say it was a whirlwind trip. When I returned home and had time to reflect on the weekend what was most interesting to me was that nothing had changed and absolutely everything had changed. In my mind, my sisters were still young women, but they were also mothers and wives and CFO’s. I can say that the young girl was not completely gone, she was still very much present. It was beyond endearing to see eyes light up and the girl appear when we talked about old boyfriends and those few short years we spent together when everything was ahead of us and nothing behind.

You can’t go back in time, but you can take the time to reconnect.

Love and blessings to all.

Basketball, Change & Forward Motion

Austin Clarke (center) San Francisco, California

Recently, I’ve been sitting in the stands watching our family friend play college basketball. Austin Clarke, also known as “Aussie” is Marty Clarke’s son. Marty coached the St. Mary’s basketball team and Austin moved across the world from Australia with his family to play for Camplindo High School.

While waiting for the team to warm up I thought about the first time I watched Austin play basketball. Camplindo was in the championship games that year and I sat in the stands with my daughter. I was a different person then. I was married and for lack of a better term a “house wife,” although I had a small marketing company and did many websites and newsletters, I never failed to get dinner on the table and the laundry done. My work and personal interests came dead last in my daily list of priorities.

The next time I saw Austin on a basketball court was at Cal. I sat in the stands with my daughter, and Austin’s family. I was a recent widow. My heart was still broken and I watched the game as if in slow motion. The team ran from one side of the court to the other as if in a time delay. Austin, as was fitting for this period, was injured and on the bench. Even though he didn’t play his sunny smile never faltered.

Two years later, I’m sitting peacefully in the auditorium at Sonoma State watching Austin’s team play San Francisco State. They win easily by 20 points. Austin shoots three pointers elegantly into the basket as his High School coach looks on. I’m by myself this time as my daughter is away at college now and Austin’s family has since returned to Australia. Austin was in the Bay Area with his team from Southern California playing in a tournament.

I’m a completely different person now. My company is getting ready to launch, my children will soon both be in college, I rarely cook dinner, the kids do their own laundry. I’m on the cusp of so many good things that I can hardly sleep at night. My family is happy and everyone is in forward motion.

It’s true that nothing stays the same. Change is the only constant. Except for Austin. He’s simply always been a joy to watch.

Love and blessings to all.