A SLO Birthday Celebration

With no intentions of slowing down with age, my birthday celebration continued with a trip to San Luis Obispo (SLO) County. SLO is one of my favorite places in California. If you asked me 25 years ago what I would be doing now, I would have told you teaching in a school in SLO County and selling taffy seaside.

This was the first time I’ve ever taken a solo trip to SLO. In fact, it’s the first time I have traveled solo in my 20 years of marriage without saying goodbye to someone that had passed on or was near passing. Birthdays are THE gift– the gift of time that not all are privilege to!

First stop, Avila Lighthouse Suites directly across from Avila Beach. We’ve been to Avila Beach around 4 times now in the last 10 years that we’ve lived in California and this by far is my favorite place to stay. I like being able to park the car and walk everywhere. They also have a pool, hot tub, lots of lawn games, fire pits and a really nice complimentary breakfast with waffles, pastries, yogurt, eggs, protein, bagels and beverages served from 7am to 10am. Rooms are clean and spacious (550 square feet) offering a separate room with a loveseat, TV, and wet bar complete with a fridge. Rooms typically range between $400-600 a night. Avila Beach has a cute little strip of restaurants and shops beachside that have everything you need. Kraken Coffee always has a line but it worth the wait. Hula Hut is the go-to ice cream spot. There is a park, swings and picnic tables and barbecues on on the beach, plenty of sea life, sea shells and gorgeous sunsets. Certainly, easy to see why this was my first choice.

Literally a 5 minute drive from Avila Lighthouse Suites is Avila Valley Barn. This is a place I’ve always driven past but kept earmarked in the back of my mind, “One day I’ll stop!” It’s more geared toward younger kids (families) with pony rides, opportunities to feed goats and pet freely roaming chickens, but they do have a really nice barn filled with lots of homemade deliciousness! The line was long, but that didn’t stop me from bringing back home two apple hand pies to share with my loves. There are also lots of cute photo backdrops that would be perfect for getting pictures for holiday cards.

Continuing on, just south of Pismo Beach is the Monarch Butterfly Grove. This is one of only five sanctuaries in the state that host monarch’s from freezing northern winters. Plan to walk as parking is always full around the area. It’s always such a sight to see!

Before heading to Paso Robles for my second night, I stopped for lunch at the iconic Madonna Inn. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve driven past here but always heard about the pink theme that runs throughout, the food and cakes from the bakery. I was able to skip the 30-minute wait to be seated by sliding up on a bar stool which is first come, first served. After my turkey sandwich, I asked for a slice of their most popular cake to be boxed to go– Pink Champagne! Even the name is pretty! …And, while I’m not a fan of white chocolate, I do think making it pink does make it tastier, right? Be prepared though. This is no average cake slice. At $12 a slice, I could hardly eat half. Worth the visit though for a special occasion!

Art, Live music, food and California stars,…what more could you ask for? Originally launching in 2019, Sensorio in Paso Robles has been on my artist bucket list!

I before dusk and was able to witness the lights come to life.

This entire event is magical.

Come for the lights, stay for the music and food trucks– it’s a total vibe that I know you’ll appreciate as much as I did. Wear flat shoes, dress for the weather and take your time getting lost in a space where time almost feels like it stands still.

King of the Road

Years ago, I saw my first tumbleweed while driving on Interstate 5 in California. It took me by surprise because up until that point, I only pictured them in places like Texas. Much like Texas though, the winds that sweep over the I-5 give the road a good dusting of dirt with thirst only “damn water” (for those of you paying attention to the politically charged posted signage) cures.

The I-5 runs through California, Oregon, and Washington. Our driveway to Disneyland is almost 5 hours (roughly speaking). This particular trip marks my 8th trip on it since November, 2022. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve driven it since moving here in 2014.

I like driving and suspect I picked that up from my Dad. I grew up in a “car family” and many of my best memories with my Dad were showing his 1955 Chevy at car shows and long car rides to nowhere in particular. He said that driving helped him think.

With the abundance of rain this past winter, a new chapter of life has been given along this California highway. New flowers accompany a superbloom, greenery and even ponds where visible cracks once rested in the farmland. I’ve driven with dawn and sang with sunset while easing off the gas to reach for some crackers and pay “”CHiPs” some respect. I’ve held my nose through the visible feedlot of Harris Ranch and held my breath through the Grapevine. I’ve thanked nameless farm hands for their labor and cursed gas stations that charge $7.15 a gallon.

This trip though was like none before. In the early morning with my 17 year old asleep passenger side, I saw a glimpse of my Dad out of the corner of my eye. I did a double take as I saw him immersed in the reflection of the passenger side window as though he was riding alongside me. I was confused but comforted at the sight of seeing him so happy. He was waving, going strong on his Harley with his black hair flying back, smile plastered on his face mouthing, “Hello! Hello!” My eyes began to swell up in disbelief… I turned forward and then looked at my window…and then back to the passenger side window where only a truck was now.

About 10 months prior to this experience, just two months after my Dad passed away, my car was rear ended by another car at a red light. The very next day, still shaken, I drove the kids to school without the radio or any music on. As soon as I dropped them off at school and I began to turn the corner of the drop off line music filled my car from a song that wasn’t even a part of my library:

Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
As I walk through this world
Nothing can stop the Duke of Earl
And-a you, you are my girl
And no one can hurt you, oh no

That accident could have been so much worse. I’m so thankful the kids, my husband and our dog were not with me– one thing seems clear though, I wasn’t alone. Someone was watching over me.

Almost a year to the day he passed away, he figured out a way to break one more barrier after death. Driving along the I-5 made me think too, Dad. It looks like you can conquer anything in this world and beyond. A visit to this world from some new plain in which your new chapter seems like one hell of a ride.

Dream as you will, believe as you may… See you down the road.

Civic’s Day Keynote for San Ramon Valley Unified School District

Good Morning!

First I want to thank Generation Citizen in partnership with San Ramon Valley Unified School District, supported by the San Ramon Valley Education Foundation for offering tools for this rising generation to build civic skills and make America the inclusive multi-racial democracy that we need. Generation Citizen began in 2008 as a student project, much like your projects presented here today. Thank you to the student leaders in this room for sharing your talents and lens with us. Your thoughtfulness, engagement and research to vibrantly highlight systematic root causes for issues that not only matter to you, but SHOULD matter to us all.

Fun fact! I was born on election day in Chicago in the wake of Watergate. From the time I was a young child, every time my Dad and I would drive down the Eisenhower Expressway he would loudly exclaim, “That’s where the first Lady President was born!” It took me awhile to 1) Understand what a President was and 2) connect that he was talking about…me. “President” should be a part of every 5 year olds vocabulary! Now, while only some of us are born on Election Day, there is no secret sauce in genetic code when it comes to being an elected official. Anyone that wants to serve can. While we have yet to elect a female president in this country, I’m confident that it will happen because of your generation.

Schools do not JUST produce students that read and write- they help develop citizens that will shape our world in a way we have yet to dream or imagine. What better platform than schools to launch lives into purpose? Events like today are important to cultivate an environment where we continue to embrace and encourage civic engagement and participation early on. You are never too young to question or advocate for something you believe in. You need not need a degree or money to rally a cause.

Youth voice is important in democracy because when you learn how to explain your point of view, you will learn how to lead and influence being the changemaker our community so needs. We are not short on topics that need attention! And while I’m sure many would like to talk about the quality of school lunches (which isn’t a local issue- it’s national), all one needs to do is tune into a school board meeting to witness how marginalized our LGBTQIA community must feel, how whispers of censoring and book banning have worked its way into the halls of present day academia, racism, safety, bullying, diversity, inclusion, mental health, access to the arts, funding for our schools, the impacts of social media, food insecurity, housing needs… This is not easy work! Today is not the end of your journey, it’s merely the beginning!

While our school district has made much headway in the last few years with intentional efforts to do the important work of equity and inclusion in a framework where youth voice is more centered in discussions and decisions, such as having a student board member, panels and committees that youth serve on. It’s okay for us to celebrate that while also questioning if we could be doing more or something different to serve, cultivate and support …not the future leaders of tomorrow, in case you needed a reminder– just look around this room- the Leaders of NOW.

While kids can’t vote, how we as adults vote certainly impacts them. So volunteer on a campaign to learn the process first hand, apply to be on a commission, work for a non profit or start your own. Anywhere that youth is on the agenda by adults, show up. After all, being a citizen isn’t who you are- it’s what you do! And YOU truly inspire!

Thank you!

Holiday Greetings!

When I was younger, my belief in Santa Claus was fueled by the special magic that my Dad poured into the season with every story, detail and image he crafted up in my mind. I probably believed longer than I should have but my big green eyes held such a devout love and trust for my Dad that there was no room for doubt in my mind woven in the fabric he delicately weaved in animated versions of hearing bells and hooves on rooftops. There comes a day when that belief is challenged and we are forever changed. Some call it a rite of passage to “learn the truth.” For me, that day came while hosting a friend for a playdate. Over a Big-Mac, my eyes began to swell as my mouth dropped in shock and my heart filled with hurt. “My little brother still believes in Santa,” my friend laughed, sprawling back into the chair with a fist full of fries. I could feel my Dad’s eyes on me. She quickly paused, noticing the look on my face, “Oh, you didn’t know?” As.if.those.words.helped.the.situation. Needless to say it was a short playdate. As we said goodbye to my friend, my Dad closed the front door and immediately exclaimed, “What a HORRIBLE little girl! Is it any wonder why Santa doesn’t visit her?” I slowly stopped crying, sniffed up my tears in between big deep breaths and through broken words uttered, “Ye-ah… Y-e-s.” With a confidence as though his life depended on it, he looked at me with his steel blue eyes and hugged me with a reassuring, “I love you.” Looking back, I know it wasn’t so much that I believed in Santa, but rather, with every fiber in my soul, I believed in my Dad.

This is the first year I won’t be addressing a Christmas card to my Dad. He joined the angel choir on July 3rd. My Dad always claimed I got my singing voice from him as he was a member of his HS choir. He’d then proceed to show me a few of his dance moves in the kitchen and turn back to me with a smile and say, “Maybe you got your dancing from me too?” He was a skinny kid with iconic black glasses that grew up in the projects of Chicago, a child of a single mother who received a K-12 Catholic education, loved antique cars (and speed), had a job parking cars at the age of 13 and could speak to people of all walks of life with no judgment or air. He told me he was planning on becoming a priest until he met my Mother. Together, they worked hard and created a beautiful life. Thirty years after my mom passed away from cancer at 47 when I was in high school, cancer would also take him away in my 47th year.

After learning that there were no treatment options left and that he’d be placed in hospice, my Dad shared with me, “Being told you’re going to die is hard.” He looked up at me from his hospital bed, eye to eye, reflecting a sharp piercing glimpse of our souls, “I think it would be easier if you just went fast. You won’t forget me, will you?” Being able to say goodbye to someone is a rare gift. It’s one I will always cherish. There are no guarantees on when we make our next transition, but we can make the most of the opportunities given now to say what we feel to those we love and care about. By sharing stories of those that pass, we keep them alive in our hearts. My father’s death has uprooted a lot of emotions from my mother’s passing as well. It’s also made me ponder the thought of who will keep me alive in their hearts by sharing stories when I’m gone? My friends, when you discover the answer to that it becomes crystal clear as to what your priorities are in life and helps you to become laser focused on those hearts above all things. This season, my wish for you is that you give someone a reason to believe (in whatever…themselves, a goal, a hope…you) and that you embrace every opportunity given to share what’s written on your heart with those who matter most. Those are the people that will keep your stories forever tucked away in their hearts.

Our boys are now young men and our dog is furr-ever our toddler. We now have two teens attending high school! The realization that you really only get 18 summers with your children has become a bit of a stinging reminder with every inch they tower over us with. The easy years, the simple years really are when you’re knee deep in diapers, bottles and toys. Now, they have their own educated and informed opinions that can question the best of parent logic. “We celebrate these moments,” I hear a whisper in my head gently nudge and remind me of that lesson learned back when they were in pre-school. When they exert their independence, we as parents are doing our job well.

21 years later from our first date…From Chicago, to Minnesota, to our little slice of heaven of Danville, we count all our blessings daily, sometimes in the form of hugs and tears of joy. Merry Everything!

The Story of 47

My Grandfather on my Mother’s side died at the age of 47.

My Mother died at the age of 47.

My Sister died at the age of 47.

My Father died this past July when I was 47 years old.

In 8 hours and 43 minutes, I will turn 48 years old. When I lived in Chicago, I use to visit my Mom’s gravesite on my birthday carrying a balloon with the message of “It’s a Girl!” After my Mom died, sometimes my family forgot my birthday. That’s when I found comfort in not forgetting my Mom. Sitting next to her gravesite one year, among the golden and pink hues of fall sunset, I realized that my birthday isn’t just about me. Pausing to count my blessings and taking stock of all those that I appreciated and was grateful for, helped fill the void and added such life to those years.

Turning 48 is not something I take for granted. It’s a weight I have carried for years from a trauma hidden in the folds of life that first took root when my Mom passed. It’s the whisper right before you blow our your candles to inhale that invites Miss Anxiety to your birthday party. It’s the grace that glides on blistered feet. When you’re a child that experiences such, especially during your formative years, you don’t comprehend the enthusiastic rally calls from adults that comment about your resilience. What you may call resilient, I lived as trying to just get by. Trying to make some sense out of what was happening. Trying to understand the why and what happens next. Independence and responsibility came early in life, not exactly by choice.

When you’re a child that experiences such, you don’t associate the description of resilient with your song book. It’s the crowd that hushes back at you with phrases lost in time- as with most well intentions. You learn to create your own playlist for life.

Every layer of life that has brought me to this present and accounted for moment is a celebration. I refuse to make any attempt to mask my laugh lines. I’ve learned in my 48 years that in the tedious process of peeling back layers in search of growth to be your authentic self, well, it ebbs and flows.

On one of my walks before my birthday this year, I came across the most beautiful fall foliage. It was the reminder I needed that letting go of what you no longer need (or serves you) is a beautiful thing. In turn you make room for so much more love, peace and happiness and growth– all the ingredients that matter when trying to live with intention. By the love from my husband, joy my children lift my heart with and daily miracles I remain open to, at 48 I remain beautifully unfinished with much room to grow. Exhale. I see you 49.