Gravy

For a long time my mother’s younger brother Basil, or simply “Bas” was the heart of our family.

He had a movie star smile, a warm and loving demeanor and his eyes lit up when he talked to not just me, but everyone else. When he hugged you and told you he really had missed you, and was so happy to see you, there was no question that it was 1,000 percent true. I would like to think that I was special to him and undoubtedly I was, yet I always had the sense that he loved us all the same. Now, looking back, I think he did.

When I was a little girl he had a small farm in Langley, British Columbia. It had a quaint little house with a guest room that my sister and I shared. My Aunt Debra was an excellent homemaker and her home was always spotless. When we came to visit she would take pains to make sure her refrigerator was stocked and everyone was comfortable. Our sunny bedroom would be ready with the bed covered in warm cotton quilts.

In the morning, Bas would make everyone breakfast. Bas liked to put blackberry jam on his eggs and this alone was an amazement to us. After breakfast he would take my sister and I to the auction in town. In those days everyone spoke French in Canada even the auctionaire. There would be the smell of chickens and cows and hay in the air.

Later, as Basil became more and more successful, as everyone knew he would, he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. I would often visit as a teenager. My aunts and uncles would take my friends and I to concerts and we would all go out dancing, and have giant family dinners. My other aunts and uncles were near-by and we spent time with them and my many cousins. When I was in college I spent a summer working for him in his commercial printing business. We became not just family, but friends. These were what we would later refer to as the “golden” years.

When I was in my mid-twenties and living in San Francisco, Basil was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Our family gathered around him, but there was nothing anyone could do and he died at the age of forty two.

Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe his passing from our lives, but the worst part was after his death our family scattered in all directions.

Gone were the sunny days on his Chris Craft boat playing backgammon on Horseshoe Bay, the nights dancing and laughing at the Sneaky Pete’s nightclub downtown, or the extravagant dinners in Gas Town. There were no more family dinners where we pushed the furniture against the walls and we all got up and danced.

Before he died I went to see him. We sat in his cheerful living room together. The brain is a funny thing, and because of the tumor he would get lost in time, alternately seeing me as a child, then he would remember I was all grown up. This went on all day long. Back and forth through time and the many days we had spent together. One morning, he was talking about gravy and how much he loved to make gravy, and how important it was to do it right.

He always addressed me by my baby name and called me “Sis” as did all of my extended family. He explained to me in great detail how to make gravy. As an auditory learner I committed his words to memory.

When the time came for me to host my first thanksgiving dinner I stood at the stove and could hear his deep kind voice instructing me in my mind as I worked.

“Sis, there must be absolutely no lumps. You cannot take your eyes off of it for a second.” And so on. It came out silky smooth and perfectly seasoned. Delicious. From that day forward I make the gravy wherever I am whether I’m cooking or not. I am now known as the gravy maker.

You will find me on Thursday making the gravy. Uncle Basil will be with me in spirit as I slowly heat the liquid in the roasting pan and mix the flour and water separately. I will add the mixture slowly, all the while using just a simple fork to stir until the gravy is silky and smooth, and I will not for one second take my eyes from the pan.

Love and blessings to all.

Me and Uncle Basil 1982

Brave

My father went to Vietnam with the first ground troop stationed in Da Nang. He ran search and rescue operations pulling artillery and the wounded from behind enemy lines. He was also a cartographer (the study and practice of making maps) in Korea. He parachuted into enemy territory and created models and drawings of the topography.

He holds a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He earned his masters degree in International Relations from Georgetown University, and served our country for twenty-five years.

He was also a wonderful father. Funny, intelligent and kind. He loved clothes. When I was a little girl he worked in London and had his suits made there. He wore crisp white shirts with gold cuff links and a grey flannel top coat and beautiful shoes. He was also a painter, and his paintings graced my childhood home, and now hang in our Truckee cabin.

My girls and I share many of his personal attributes and interests. We all gravitate toward art, culture, clothes and the outdoors.

As I overcome the many obstacles along my path to following my dreams I often think of him. I remind my daughters and myself to be courageous and fearless. I remember him telling me to be brave and never back down, but to watch out for number one. I’ve worked very hard to impart this to my children and model this behavior.

I was talking to my youngest daughter today about choosing a college and the anxiety associated with the many choices and changes we face right now as a family. I advised her to be fearless. Compared to the wars her Grandfather saw, this is nothing, but life of course is relative.

Step into your courage, I advised her with a smile beneath a smile, and I know she will. The apple rarely falls far from the tree.

Love and blessings.

Each Precious Moment

I came home last night to find my daughter watching a movie with a friend. I sat down with them and looked at them. My daughter lying on the sofa in dark flannel pajamas. Her friend in a grey T-shirt with her shiny hair in a low bun. We talked about colleges, next year, and their futures.

I enjoyed watching them, the way the light of the lamp pooled around them, the relaxed way that only childhood friends can sit together. The way their hair fell around their faces in the soft light. Their musical laughter. I sat in a chair next to them, with my legs crossed, just watching them.

As this chapter of my life winds down I realize these are the most ordinary and precious of moments. I’m feeling a good deal of grief now in a way I didn’t before. The beginning of my journey felt much more like something to be endured, but this smacks of pure surrender. It’s not easy to surrender as we all cling steadfastly to what is most familiar.

As an optimist, I am accepting the natural progression of my life, and looking forward to the changes ahead. I am with intention letting go of my old life, and way of doing things, and allowing the new to unfold. Simultaneously, I am treasuring these moments before my last child is off to college, and I myself move on and into uncharted waters.

Over the weekend I had dinner with an old friend. We had met when our children were babies and clocked many hours in the sandbox, at dance recitals, on the soccer field, and at the country club. We talked about how much we appreciated each other and how we had enriched each other’s lives. It was enough to sit together and simply be grateful.

We never know when the last time we will see someone. I remember my husband the day before he died. He’d been in a golf tournament and rushed to Palo Alto to watch our daughter play the championship soccer game at 4 o’clock that Sunday afternoon. He was standing under the eucalyptus trees wearing plaid golf shorts and a white golf shirt. Tan, fit and healthy. He looked up at me and smiled.

I never saw him again.

Recently, I’ve been asked what I like to do for fun. Does sitting with people I love and enjoying each precious moment count?

I think it does.

Love and blessings to all.

Pools, Hotels & Being a Guest

My apologies for keeping everyone in a state of suspense regarding my beautiful family home in Moraga. I had it on the market for a hot second and then changed my mind. As many people on the brink of being empty nesters know it isn’t easy making decisions for our future selves after spending decades holding the course.

Today, I ran into an old friend of mine. Mary is a recent empty nester. She was buying things to send to her son at USC for Halloween. I realized that I am the ultimate empty nester. I will have no children and no husband. I don’t even have an ex-husband nearby. And, sadly I have no parents to care for either.

I had a very busy summer. I continued working on Ocean SF and my three part time jobs. Even though I broke my arm, I literally did not skip a beat. I had my daughters home all summer and Austin Clark for three weeks. It made it hard to imagine ever being here by myself.

My beautiful pool, that sits under a grove of a dozen 120 foot redwood trees, decided to be the problem of the summer. Anyone who has dealt with the pool people know that they are an illusive and extremely expensive group of folks. They also operate under their own set of rules.

For whatever reason, the pool people I employed over the summer insisted the green algae was due to the California fires. I didn’t necessarily believe this, but I thought throwing more money at the pool would certainly fix the problem fires or not. This proved unfounded. We are talking not hundreds, but thousands of dollars later. Interestingly, my entire family became pool experts and could pop the top off of the pressurized water filter with ease. My girls and I know our way around a wrench thank goodness. None of this is bad. Every friend of mine helped in some way over the summer to keep the pool a lovely light blue, as it did not take a village, it took an army. After many months we discovered the problem which was fixed via a u-tube video. More on this later, but you might want to set the pump timing yourself.

As autumn approached I thought I can’t do this again. It’s time to move on. I began to dream of how lovely it would be to live in a hotel. I went to L.A. for work and stayed in a beautiful hotel. At the pool I was handed a towel not a net with a pole at the end. There was music playing, and a peaceful waterfall. I ordered room service from my phone as I sat in the hot tub. What was not to love?

Of course we love what challenges us the most. I came home and listened to the crickets in the creek. My pool with the lights illuminating the redwoods is something no hotel can offer. I also have an amazing fire pit and a beautiful tree house.

My garden is full of repeat blooming roses and every variety of lavender. My lemon tree that I have cultivated for a decade is laden with fruit. My dog sleeps in the green grass. My neighbors walk past and say hello.

I love my quiet creekside location, the tulle fog that comes over the ridge, and the birds that wake me up each morning.

It’s tempting to dream of living in a hotel after so many years of caring for my husband and kids, and everyone else’s kids for that matter. The idea of being a guest sounds delightful.

Yet, Moraga is my home and I’m not alone in holding it close to my heart. It appears that many people have a hard time leaving Moraga. My next door neighbors were here decades before we moved in. My predecessor lived here well into her eighties. I can definitely see why.

My youngest daughter graduates from high school in June. I have many options and opportunities to consider and the possibilities are endless…

Luckily, I’ll still have the dog.

Love and blessings to all.

End of an Era

The time has come to find a new owner for my home in Moraga. This is the home I poured by heart and soul into for eighteen years. We bought it when I was just six weeks pregnant with Siena and Paris was one. The original owner had lived here for thirty years and raised her four children here as well.

The house has always had its own personality. Beautiful, warm and elegant. In the winter there are separate furnaces that heat up the rooms on each level before the coffee is made. In summer, the trees and creek side location keep the rooms cool. When the kids were little they would walk home after school with their friends and I would often have a dozen kids in my pool. In those days, I had a second refrigerator dedicated solely to drinks, popsicles, and ice cream sandwiches.

When the girls became teenagers, the five bedrooms came in handy. With many places to sleep I often wake up with five or six house guests who have stayed over night.

A neighbor left me a message today calling the house a monument. From the day we moved in the neighborhood had an opinion about the house from the color paint we chose to the way we decorated for Christmas.

My late husband decided to paint the house brown. I have no idea why I agreed to this, but I did. When the paint went up the neighbors didn’t like it. We painted over it within days returning it to the original creamy vanilla. We painted the front door five different shades of red, but after much discussion returned it to black.

The first year we lived here I was told I needed two Christmas trees as the previous owner had one in each street facing bay window for thirty years. Many of my neighbors grew up here, and I heard this so many times, I finally acquiescenced and it became a tradition in our family.

My father was military, so I grew up in Europe, Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC. Then, my parents retired to a horse ranch in Oregon. I went to Oregon State and lived in London before moving to San Francisco. I had never had the kind of roots that I’ve given my children. It has been my fondest hope and dream that they would have lifelong friendships and the stability of a home and family steeped in tradition.

Today, my sorority sister Susan was here. She’s been a part of my life since I was eighteen years old. She too recently dismantled her family home. We sat in my kitchen talking about being mothers and wives and what the future holds for us.

Soon, I’ll be moving on to my next chapter, but I am grateful for the time I’ve had here. I’ve loved our beautiful house, and our kind and loving neighbors, and the many traditions we together hold dear. To say it’s been wonderful would be an understatement. I’m excited for the next family who will live here. I’m sure they will make it their own, but I do hope they have two Christmas trees.

Love and blessings to all.

Mothers & Daughters

The cool night air in Tahoe over the weekend alerted me to the changing seasons. I went home, packed up, and now I sit in a hotel room in Los Angeles, California.

I’m here to drop my daughter off at college and to attend meetings for my company Ocean SF.

On my last night with my daughter she told me I was the love of her life. I think there are some unusually companionable mother-daughter pairs and we are among them.

My younger daughter and I have a similar relationship, but together we are more like water. We rarely disagree and she infuses even the most mundane situation with her charming and unusual sense of humor. My older daughter and I are fire and ice. We test each other. We debate. Then, come back together stronger than before. Her teenage years were difficult, but I can already see in her the woman she will become. Strong, intelligent and confident, I can’t imagine what she will do. I know the experiences of my own life limit my vision for her. She will do things that I don’t now know exist.

Recently, I’ve been very thankful for the women who have shaped me. My stunning mother Joan, and my grandmother Nellie Cody Burke. I can now appreciate their courage, their deep love, and the lessons they imparted as I too have now raised a daughter.

I strolled through the bookstore on campus before I left. The shelves were lined with so many books that I have already read, but many more are left to read. There is always so much more to learn.

After checking out, the love of my life hugged me in the warm sunshine, and I turned and walked away. It seems impossible that I could leave someone I love so much behind. Yet, it is necessary that we both turn the crisp white page to a new chapter.

Love and blessings to all.

Kris Carlson, Friends & Synchronicities

On a random Sunday, I was at home trying to decide if I wanted to attend a party up the street in my neighborhood. In recent months, I’ve sworn off anything that makes me feel uncomfortable or brings me back to the past. I dislike attending parties alone and events that pull me from my present back into my past are now typically avoided as I feel I cannot move forward while clinging to the past. Therefore, I’ve made a concerted effort to look forward, try new things, meet new people, and embrace my future.

This event would bring me back into the heart of my former life. I remember the day I met the hostess Dana Windat Dowell. My children were tiny, perhaps two and four. I was talking to Dana at Rancho Laguna Park, and when she took off her sunglasses she revealed the most stunning green eyes I had ever seen. Beautiful inside and out, we’ve stayed in touch over the years as we’ve raised our kids, and I would often attend her yoga classes. Dana is also the author of Yoga Girl, a Children’s book.

My schedule has been very busy. I’ve been working my side hustles, picked up some consulting work, and I’m doing the due diligence for my clothing apparel line. It’s been an intense period of my life, I recognize it won’t last forever, but I need to pace myself and I now literally have to schedule time to stay home to rest.

It’s also summertime, and I’ve had a good deal of social obligations and milestone birthday parties to attend, so I decided I would skip it.

As my girls headed out the door, they said, “You really should go to Dana’s. You love Dana.”

I went outside and watered my flowers and thought about it. It was a beautiful night and I could be there in five minutes and be home in the same amount of time if I was uncomfortable or tired. So, in the end I went.

From the moment I saw Dana I knew it was the right decision. She greeted me with open arms and poured me a beautiful glass of wine in her gorgeous kitchen. As we were talking we were asked to come outside because Kristine Carlson was speaking. Kristine is a powerful speaker and you could have heard a pin drop as she spoke.

If you live in Lamorinda it’s likely you’ve heard of Kristine Carlson. Best selling author, wife of the late, Dr. Richard Carlson and extraordinary friend and mother.

Kristine and I have several mutual friends, so I knew it was just a matter of time before I met her. It was absolutely worth the wait. She gave me a signed copy of her new book, From Heartbreak to Wholeness: The Hero’s Journey to Joy. I took it home and started reading it. It was full of wisdom and held many answers to my most pressing questions.

Yesterday, I was able to meet with Kris in Walnut Creek. It was miraculous to talk to the author about what she wrote about in her book. In particular unlikely coincidences.

Over the past few years I’ve experienced synchronicities. Most recently, in one day, I had a lunch date with a man named Chris, but my truck wouldn’t start. Chris from road side assistance called to tell me he was on his way. This was confusing because I thought it was the former Chris who I had just spoken to. Later that same day, I attended a party in San Francisco and the home was owned by a man named Chris and the chef was also named Chris. When I broke my arm my orthopedic doctor was named Chris. Then, I meet Kris Carlson. When I told her this story she laughed and said the Universe was playing with me. This was good to know, as I thought I was just going crazy.

I will write more about her book when I’ve finished it. Until then, happy summer.

Love and blessings to all.

“Carlson is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and leader in the field of transformation. After collaborating with her late husband Dr. Richard Carlson to create a publishing industry phenomenon with the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series—selling more than 25 million copies worldwide—today, Kris is emerging as a profound teacher in the areas that matter most to the human heart: how to heal and how to love.

She has been featured on national radio and television, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, The View, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Kris’ books, include Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love; Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women; Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms; An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love: The True Story of the Best Gift Ever; and Heartbroken-Open: A Memoir Through Loss to Self Discovery. In her forthcoming book, From Heartbreak to Wholeness: The Hero’s Journey to Joy.”

Moving On

After much consideration, I’ve decided to stop writing my blog and focus my time and energy on other endeavors. I am deeply grateful to the thousands of readers from over 72 countries who have come along with me on this journey. You have helped me to grow through my own experiences and taught me the power of community.  I will miss your comments and constant encouragement. I will continue to write my column for 24/680 News on the topic of women in business.

I want to leave you with these final words.

Courage cannot be attained without experiences that require us to call on our strength. This is how we learn fearlessness. Circumstances that require courage allow us to learn and grow as we test our own inner strength. Often, I wish for the past two years to have never happened and that they could be erased forever from my memory. I think back to the person I was when this began and my happy and mostly carefree life with gratitude. However, without my trials and tribulations and meeting them head-on I would not have attained the fearlessness I have now. It has not been easy, yet it has made me as strong and brilliant as a diamond set in spun gold.

Only through fearful circumstances can we learn to build and strengthen our courage. Now, there is nothing that I am afraid of and for that I am very grateful.

I am looking forward to the next chapter and it’s here.

Love and blessings to all.

Love Songs

Since I started the side hustle(s) I’ve worked almost everyday. Since the work is fun, and gets me out of both the house and my head, I’ve excepted more work than I should have.

I worked eight days straight and then spent my day off meeting with the nonprofit I sponsor (Sailing Initiative) and doing more work. I then stayed at the Yacht Club drinking wine with my friends Fran and Betty. Then, upon returning home I ended up talking to my cousin on the phone until midnight further exhausting myself.

I knew I was in need of a break, so I took a few days off to go to Truckee to rest and clear my head.

In the kitchen where I work they play love songs all day long. This has had an adverse impact on me making me think long and hard about my late husband and our twenty five years together. It’s easy to forget so many things in a long term relationship, but trust me there is a love song to go with each and every phase to jog your memory.

My late husband and I were next door neighbors, and he worked in Oakland and I worked in San Francisco. He would drive me to BART because he didn’t want me to get my feet wet. Yes, I wore Italian suede shoes, but it was unlikely my feet would get wet living in drought ridden Northern California. Nevertheless, he dropped me off and picked me up every day. I hope to one day meet someone who will love me like that again.

Last night, in Truckee I picked wild flowers from around our home, and took a Coors Light (this is what we drank in our 20’s) down to Lake Tahoe and sat with our dog Polly near where we sprinkled his ashes.

Then I drove back to our cabin and sat on the deck and watched the sun go down like I’ve done a thousand times before.

Peaceful. Grateful. Letting go.

Love and blessings to all.