She Was Always There in the Background

Samantha and I at our second school picnic... her mother Dee cheering us on in the background- 1976

Samantha and I at our second school picnic... her mother Dee cheering us on in the background- 1976

From the time I was three years old, she was there... in the background of my world. Her presence was constant, familiar, comforting - and it had a large part in defining the narrative of my life.

Samantha and I at our first school picnic - 1975

Samantha and I at our first school picnic - 1975

Dee's youngest daughter Samantha and I were instant best friends in preschool, and my older sister Rebecca and Samantha's older sister Kyle became best friends too. The four of us together made a formidable team of girl power... one that our older brothers Anthony and Ryan, also best friends, were no match for - neither in number, nor in drama or attitude. Our parents also became the best of friends, and to say that they had a lot of fun together over the years would be a gross understatement. Their solid friendships informed our friendships, and the loyalty between our two families became unshakable.

My parents with Dee and her husband Valentine in Puerto Vallarta - 1978

My parents with Dee and her husband Valentine in Puerto Vallarta - 1978

Dad's birthday party at our house (Dee kissing my dad's right cheek while I inexplicably run around in a box) - Nov. 1978

Dad's birthday party at our house (Dee kissing my dad's right cheek while I inexplicably run around in a box) - Nov. 1978

It's now been forty years. 40. Forty years since that first Egremont school picnic where we all met and became friends, and eventually next door neighbors. From that memory in my photo album of me eating watermelon, to the countless others (birthdays, Fourth of July parties, vacations, school plays, Halloweens, Disneyland visits, and elementary & high school graduations), so many memories of my life include Dee - and some of them were even made possible because of her...

Like when Samantha, Kyle, Becky and I created entire Barbie dream villages, complete with mansions, pools and salons, overflowing out of the girls' room into the hallway to take over the walk-in linen closet... When we visited our first clothing outlet while vacationing in San Francisco and bought bags and bags of new Esprit clothes, excitedly returning to our hotel to put on an entire fashion show for our moms... When I arrived at the Winnetka house one morning, thinking I was picking Samantha up for the beach, and found a huge surprise party awaiting me for my 14th birthday, and all the kids from my 8th grade class there... When we four girls would go to the Northridge mall, eat gooey cookies at Mrs. Field's, and then walk around to check out the latest fashions at Contempo Casuals and Express, feeling so grown up and independent because we were granted a couple hours to explore the mall alone... When we created a teen modeling shoot, dressing up in swimsuits, Flashdance sweatshirts, makeup, jewelry, hair accessories, and very elaborate Madonna look-a-like get ups and used rolls of film to take pictures of each other in and around the Winnetka house for hours... And even years later, when Kyle and I spent day in and day out for months at the Winnetka house, planning, filming, editing, and submitting to film festivals the 16mm film that Kyle wrote and directed and I produced.

Samantha and I posing together after our self-created photo shoot of glamour modeling shots (those of which you won't ever see posted here) all taken in and around her house - 1986

Samantha and I posing together after our self-created photo shoot of glamour modeling shots (those of which you won't ever see posted here) all taken in and around her house - 1986

These fun adventures and wonderful experiences that we had were all made possible by Dee. By her facilitating them with her support, her care, her kindness, her permission, and her approval (at least, we had her approval most of the time). It is true, she did sometimes balk at us, pointing out the ridiculousness of our notions and mildly protesting to some of them; yet rarely did she refuse us the freedom to try them out or take a shot at what we wanted to do.

After Kyle and my film's screening at the Hermosa Beach Film Festival - 1998

After Kyle and my film's screening at the Hermosa Beach Film Festival - 1998

She was easy going... though she may not have seemed to be as such while often aghast by something she had read in the paper, saw on the news, or observed while out and about. She was kind and generous... she enjoyed buying special gifts for others, and would always try to make everyone that visited feel welcome in her home, like they were a member of the family. She was humble... content to observe all the goings on of her children (and her children's partners in crime) that were constantly swirling in her midst.

And she, so it seemed to me, found immense joy in this world of children and chaos that she and Val had created around them... ultimately consisting of six kids and sixteen grandchildren. While her husband Valentine was the fun loving "Buddy" and boisterous life of the party, Dee was the matriarch and steadfast partner proficiently riding the wave of their full and active lives.

She loved and was loved dearly. She allowed us fun and laughter, while still providing us with comfort and security. She personally gave me so much... the lifelong friendships I enjoy with her two younger daughters and son, a second home to feel so at home at, and a place to always go when I needed a friend, a family, or a place to belong.

For Dee - and for her presence in my life - I am so very grateful.

At Disneyland with most of Dee's family (i am in the back row in yellow and the only non-family member in the bunch) - 1996

At Disneyland with most of Dee's family (i am in the back row in yellow and the only non-family member in the bunch) - 1996

Rest in Peace
August 6, 1932 - March 1, 2016

 
 
Postscript: I read the above eulogy at Dee's funeral on March 8, 2016. Dee had six kids total, but her three youngest children were the exact ages of my older brother, my older sister and I. The six of us were the best of friends all through our school years, as were our parents.
the six of us - 1979

the six of us - 1979

As my dear friends mourn the loss of their mother only one week ago, I identify all too well with what they are feeling right now. I also know the feeling of loss they must have felt when my mom died almost ten years ago, also losing a woman that was like a second mother to them. Our two mothers played such an important role in each other's kids' lives, much more than I think any of us realized when we were young.
It's strange, when you lose people that have always been there, it indelibly changes the landscape of your life.  Although the death of my mom was sudden and tragic and she was taken much too soon, the years since her death have ushered in a time where my other elders have begun to naturally fall away... dropping out of my life one by one and leaving me to go it alone and forge out my place as an elder myself, to my children and nieces and nephews. Although all this is expected and a part of life, it is never easy; yet, it teaches us acceptance, and it hopefully reminds us to be grateful for those key people in our lives that are still here with us.

Would Have Been 69

My mom would have been 69 years old today.

Random thoughts on her and her life have been flooding my brain since I awoke this morning. I decided I would tune into them and write down whatever comes to mind, and then post them on my social media accounts throughout the day along with old photos as a tribute to her on her birthday.

As an artist, photojournalist, and journalism major, she would have LOVED this. I do it for her.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

(Here is what I ended up posting via Instagram and Facebook on this day...)

October 9, 2015
10:27am

My mom would have been 69 years old today. I can just imagine the jokes she would have made about that fact. Happy Birthday, Mom. ‪#‎photojournlist‬ ‪#‎happybirthday‬ ‪#‎missyou‬ ‪#‎memoriesofmom‬ ‪#‎wouldhavebeen69‬

 

October 9, 2015
12:58pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She got married, graduated college and had her first child, all in '69. If she was here, she would have been sure to make that correlation and would have reveled in the memories of that year. Happy Birthday, Mom. #1969 #touring #ontheroad #thesixties #happybirthday #missyou #‎memoriesofmom‬ #wouldhavebeen69

 

mom tribute 3.jpg

October 9, 2015
2:48pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She was most happy when she was with all four of her children. Here in Napa, on what was to become my dad's vineyards, she was elated. Traveling, on vacation, adventurous road trip, time with her kids, and wine... for her, it couldn't get any better than that. Happy Birthday, Mom. ‪#‎napavalley‬ ‪#‎happybirthday‬ ‪#‎missyou‬ ‪#‎memoriesofmom‬ ‪#‎wouldhavebeen69‬

 

October 9, 2015
5:37pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She was the editor of the yearbook in both her high school and college, and she earned her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. Being groomed by her mentors to set the NYC magazine publishing scene aglow upon graduation, she shocked them all and instead chose love. It is because of this choice that I exist. I know she would have loved seeing me grow as a writer, and I guarantee she would have been my writing’s most devout follower. Happy Birthday, Mom. #editor #journalism #writer #happybirthday #missyou #‎memoriesofmom‬ #wouldhavebeen69

 

October 9, 2015
10:35pm

My mom would have been 69 years old today. She had me at 25 years old, an age when I was off working on film sets and still figuring out who and what I wanted to be. By then, she was a wife and a mom of three and she already knew who and what she HAD to be for her family. It was not easy. It's only now - as a wife and mother myself - that I fully understand that. Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you. #motherlessdaughter #happybirthday #missyou #‎memoriesofmom‬ #wouldhavebeen69

The Road to You

When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of an athlete. I never participated in any team sports, nor did I have any kind of athletic goals. I think the reason was the not-so-unique combination of shyness, insecurity, and a fear of taking risks. Yet these qualities only reared their ugly heads when I was around people I didn't know. As I was often under close observation in public as a child, seen by many but not heard by most, my shyness was in direct correlation with the pressure I felt to be perfect and the feeling of being sized up and judged by others.

Alternatively, my daily existence at home was one of privacy and security, without the intrusion of close neighbors and with tons of room and freedom to play. Running around our green fields and orange groves, and lying on the lawn daydreaming while gazing up at the blue sky and tops of olive trees, my home life as a child rendered me a bit anti-social when out and about in the world. No perfection, structured rules, competitiveness, or team cooperation was required to climb the huge fig tree on our property. Existence and free play at home was non-confrontational, non-judgmental, and void of any pretense or façade. There, I was free to be me; and there is where I most wanted to be.

I did take ballet at five years old, but my mom said I had to stop at six because she didn't think I took it seriously enough. I was SIX. Not sure what she expected, but I obviously wasn't fulfilling her expectations. My older sister and I also took ice skating lessons for a while; but the appeal of being like Dorothy Hamill wore off pretty quick when the discomfort of frozen toes and wet tights got the best of us.

1979 - My sister and I outside the Topanga Mall Ice rink in Woodland Hills, CA

1979 - My sister and I outside the Topanga Mall Ice rink in Woodland Hills, CA

In junior high, my report card of A's was blemished by the B's I received in Physical Education (and ironically, Typing). I wasn't awkward or uncoordinated in any way, I just didn't like to participate in P.E. My skinny and not so tough girl persona defined me as the antithesis of the athletic-type; or at least I allowed it to define me that way. I dreaded running laps around the school track, especially on those really hot days in the valley where you felt like you were going to melt into the pavement. I took a rare risk and tried out for cheerleading in the eighth grade (with the hope of breaking out of my shell at school), but, not surprisingly, I didn't have the pep required to make the squad.

Instead, I took piano lessons, loved art projects, and collected rainbows and puffy stickers. I also escaped into stories, sometimes in books, but most often by watching sitcoms on TV and movies on VHS tape. I can recall many days after school sitting down on the couch watching hours of Three's Company, Diff'rent Strokes, and The Facts of Life with a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies in hand, and with no desire to be anywhere else.

I recognize now that I definitely used television and film to escape the realities of my life during those early teenage years... medicating the disillusionment and stress of dealing with my parent's divorce and the sadness and upheaval of losing my childhood home (the aforementioned ranch with the green fields, orange groves and fig tree). 

Television and film really did their job for me, suspending my disbelief and beguiling me into a intense love affair with fictional narratives and old cinema in those impressionable and formative years. And as a skin-'n'-bones teenager, my indulgence in those Thin Mint cookies didn't prompt me to see physical exercise as a necessity. Couch potato-ing suited me just fine.

In college, I gained some significant weight after a whole year of eating dormitory food consisting of bagels & cream cheese, pizza, sugary cereals and soft serve ice cream. Since I grew up in a house of wheat bread, Quaker Granola and fruit roll-ups (sure signs of "health nut" parents in the 70's and 80's, but laughable by today's standards of health and wellness), as opposed to my friends' regular diets of Wonder Bread, Fruit Loops and Ding Dongs, I had thought I had a good sense and palate for healthy eating.

Yet that first year of freedom to indulge in whatever, whenever, showed in my fuller, rounder face and body, and the "freshman fifteen" I gained was actually more like twenty. It didn't help that I spent most of that first year at UC Irvine sitting in class, studying, writing essays and term papers, and watching movies. 

My sedentary existence was curbed by sophomore year when I shared a dorm room with Giselle, a female student athlete on a track-and-field scholarship for long-distance running. Of course, she ran cross-country in high school, was in great physical shape, and had the most muscular legs I had ever seen on a girl... the stark opposite of my physique, one a bit plump for my thin frame with no muscle tone of which to speak. My new roommate was a physically healthy and mentally positive person, and she became my first close friend that was into fitness or competitive sports.  

Her introduction into my life was also my introduction to running. For the first time, I wondered if it would be something I would like to do. I remembered my aversion to the track in junior high, but the idea of running now intrigued me. She agreed to teach me about training for endurance running, showing me how to run using the proper form and technique, how to pace myself, how to breathe, and where to focus my attention.

I began to run regularly that year and loved it. It worked for me. Finally, I had an alternative to sitting and escaping into the latest romantic comedy romp. Going outside for a run gave me a place to be by myself with my thoughts... to feel empowered to be the me that I was, as I was.

My world changed. My body transformed. I saw it morph back to the skinny version I had in high school, but this time it came with some muscles and curves I had not enjoyed in adolescence. I ran consistently all through my junior and senior years of college, and it kept me fit and relatively sane as a Film Studies undergrad, when my daily existence involved watching endless hours of films, editing endless hours of footage I shot, and sitting for endless hours at the computer writing my Film Theory term papers.

I continued running after graduation and throughout my 20's while working in the film industry. It remained my source of strength and empowerment those years of working on film sets and studio lots where, often frustratingly so, my youthful and attractive female frame and countenance got me more attention than my skill and passion for the art and entertainment I wanted to create. I looked to running for peace, quiet, acceptance, introspection, and blissful solitude in a life and career that didn't afford me these virtues often, if at all.

In the year 2000, a fictional Nike ad campaign for women's running was the focal point of the film What Women Want. In the ad, the image of a woman running alone on a road is seen while the following is heard: "You don't stand in front of a mirror before a run and wonder what the road will think of your outfit. You don't have to listen to its jokes and pretend they are funny in order to run on it. It would not be easier to run if you dressed sexier. The road doesn't notice if you're not wearing lipstick, does not care how old you are. You do not feel uncomfortable because you make more money than the road... And you can call on the road, whenever you feel like it, whether it has been a day, or even a couple hours since your last date. The only thing the road cares about is that you pay it a visit once in a while. Nike. No games. Just sports."

As a single, professional woman, who was also a runner, I LOVED this. It spoke to the twenty-seven year old version of me who ran a fast three miles a day at least five times a week. I connected with the sentiment behind it and the comfort of not feeling measured by or valued for my looks, my job, my youth - at least not when running. The freedom from the judgment of society in general, and Los Angeles in particular, was palpable when I ran. Alone, just me and the road, that freedom and feeling of pure acceptance was very powerful.

Today, these many years later, I am still running. I get the same feeling now as I did when I began. While running, there really are no games - no one to impress, no one to try to look good for, no one to try to amuse or pretend to be amused by - it's just you, moving your body, feeling the wind, relishing the solitude, and basking in the peace that comes with time to yourself, to your own thoughts, to living life at your own pace.

I sometimes wish I could put life on pause - slow it down, take a breath. Do some things before other things inevitably have to occur. Pause a moment in time and FEEL it - experience it for what it is, independent of everything else - before everything else has its chance to weigh in. I feel like I'm racing the clock so often that there just isn't enough time to fit in the things I want to say, do, feel, write, accomplish, BE.

So instead, I take a mini-vacation every time I run. Running, to me, is my life on pause. My mind is free to think what it wants, my body is free to move how it wants, and I feel free of any limitations and restrictions that may currently weigh on me. Using my physical strength to move my body forward down the road is such an amazing feeling and gives me an inner strength and determination not found elsewhere.

That sedentary, skinny, screen-obsessed kid eating piles of cookies and binging on sitcoms and rom-coms would never have thought she'd feel this way when she grew up. But it seems the journey of life is like a road you run on, leading you to you - the you you are going to be as you grow, mature, love, and learn. The you you are going to live with all of your days.

I've slowly come to recognize that this "you" is ever changing. That you aren't strictly defined by where you've been. That where you are and where you are going are yours for the making, and that the road of your life will continue to define you throughout this life's journey. 

There is no getting away from it. It just happens. Without your consent or even sometimes without your knowledge, the curves, detours and dips in the road of your life will change and define you in ways you may never have expected or could have ever anticipated. I never would have thought I would be a runner. Not judging from where I began. But I am. And I am so grateful for that.

If you can't or don't like to run, I guarantee that you can get a similar experience, with equally beneficial feelings and results, from a number of other physical activities that may be a better fit for you and your personal journey. Just find what works for you and DO IT. Take those moments to feel like your authentic self within, independent of all the judgments and labels of others. Enjoy the freedom from all of the comparing and competing that plagues our society and honor the you that you are - perfectly imperfect - exactly as you are inside and out, right now.

I find it on the road. The road leads me to myself, and I love where it takes me.

An Imperfectly Charmed Life in Perceived Paradise

As a mother of two and wife of one living for the last thirteen years in Malibu, California - "the 'Bu" as I never actually call it, but as many affectionately refer to it - I spend my days driving up and down the coast highway to and from school, ballet, violin, soccer and cartooning classes, with food market, public library, state beach and park visits sprinkled in.

I have two littles that are by my side for what seems like 99% of my day; and although I love them fiercely in spite of myself, I have an ever present desire to escape from the encompassing chaos they have brought to my formerly organized and efficient life.

I earned a degree in Film Studies and worked both amateurishly and professionally in the Hollywood film and television industry for ten years. I traded the insane hours and surrealistic existence of film sets and working in the vacuum of the studio environment for the cool coastal breezes and flip-flop mentality of beach living, a surfer husband, and the unique opportunity to help launch a surf/lifestyle company. My life and career made another drastic shift as I took on motherhood (enter the chaos), and I realized that parenting is a challenge that made my years as a single, career woman in the male-dominated film industry seem like a cake walk.

Born in Hollywood, California, I was raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles County, the daughter of a notable musical entertainer of the 1960's and 70's, spending most of my time in the swimming pool to escape the blistering heat of the San Fernando Valley, riding my bike, and running around our ranch property barefoot. I traveled to Las Vegas as a child as often as the members of the Rat Pack did in their heyday. My father headlined the main showrooms of all the major casinos along the Vegas Strip, and my siblings and I spent our time there swimming in the hotel pools, playing carnival games at Circus Circus, and wreaking havoc backstage in the halls and green rooms before the show. Making our own Shirley Temple cocktails and collecting autographs of the revolving acts of comedians and lounge singers opening for my dad's group, we were certainly a unique sight. A kid in Vegas in the 70's was like a nonsmoker in Vegas in the 70's - you didn't see many. It made for a memorable childhood; one ripe with drama and dysfunction juxtaposed with glitter and glamour... and sequins.

ranchkids.jpg

In my youth while back in LA, I recall driving along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Malibu on long treks in the family station wagon from the valley over the canyon through the mountain tunnels to spend the day making sand castles at Paradise Cove or playing in the waves at Zuma Beach. For me, then and now, the drive along this PCH was and is a wholly sensory experience, with sights, smells, and sounds that only the coast offers... the sharp horizon where vivid blues of clear sky and glistening water meet, the salt water scent in the air, and the seagulls cawing in the ocean breezes.

For many, the idea of Malibu sparks visions of palm trees, movie stars, and lazy days by the pool of a sprawling mansion, martini in hand... long sessions down at the beach, surfing the waves and lying in the sun... everyone here just "living the dream" in paradise.

This artwork, "Along the Malibu", by retro-realism artist Kerne Erickson, seems to perpetuate this concept of Malibu as a place of carefree amusement, breathtaking views, and extravagant luxury. In it, an elegant woman and her dog on the back patio of the historic Adamson House in Malibu is depicted in the foreground, and surfers at the world famous Surfrider Beach alongside the Malibu Pier can be seen in the distance.

This general perception, or shall I say misconception, of what Malibu unequivocally is like, isn't the whole story, especially not for this small beach community's year-round, non-gazillionaire residents.

It is also not what this blog is, or will be, mostly about. I don't live on a large estate, I haven't had any plastic surgery, and I don't regularily dine at Nobu with Sting (although I wish that last one was true).

These days, as I drive along PCH, I am not a young girl wearing a swimsuit and coverup (usually a ball cap and Uggs) blasting tunes on the radio (unless it's the kids' "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" music), or anticipating a fun, coconut suntan lotion-scented day on the sand (let's just say the scents in my kid-filled life are not of the tropical variety).

Instead, I am a woman who lives and travels daily along the 27-mile winding strip of Malibu coastline between the mountains and the sea, running errands, shuttling kids around, and doing my best to survive an imperfectly charmed life in a place perceived as "paradise" by those from the outside looking in. 

My life is, and has always been, far from perfect, despite how it may appear to others. We all have our challenges to surmount and certain circumstances to cope with; and the hope is to somehow find the grace, fortitude, and strength to take them on every day without giving up or cracking up.

Trying to create or keep up with the illusion of a "perfect" life is something that I have no interest in doing. So, I don't. Not in my life, and not in my writing. I had a big helping of that "need to be and look perfect" ideology thrust upon me in my childhood, as I often felt as if I lived in a fish bowl, and had to play a part that made me often feel seen but not heard; so much so that I perpetuated my perfectionist tendencies into young adulthood.

It took a while for me to finally learn that this way of life does not serve me well. But thankfully, I learned.

This is only my fifth post on this blog so far, so as I write, and as you read, I aim to always be as authentic, candid, and real as I can. It's the me that I am these days, for better or worse; and so that's what you're gonna get.