Donna Leota: The woman behind the mother

In January I came across the most interesting and beautiful necklaces. What I didn’t know at the time was that the woman designing them was just as special. When Donna shared her short article of inspiration, I just knew I had to learn more about her and share her insights with you.

Who is Donna Leota?

On any given day, the answer will be different.  When you ask someone  “who” they are, their first response is to tell you “what” they do. It may take a while to get to the “who”.

My education consists of a degree in Humanities, which is just a fancy way of saying I took mostly science and art classes. Science being very exact, Art…not so much. Art won, but not before taking a detour to becoming an optometric technician.

I had my own business in the Bay Area for 18 years, as a designer/painting contractor. Getting a contractors license didn’t make me a better painter, faux finisher, or plasterer. It just made me legal. I still broke the same rules before and after I got the license. Mixing incompatible paints and glazes made a more interesting finish. I had the pleasure of working on one of the 49er’s homes, as well as some places in Carmel—our favorite get away.

In the 80’s, I had quite a little stint customizing earrings to match women’s clothes. Whenever I see those HUGE colorful earrings in old photos, I cringe.  I was asked to do a trunk show at Nordstrom. Admittedly, I was ignorant about how selling jewelry to buyers worked. When the buyers wanted to place orders and asked for SKU #’s, I was lost. I didn’t know what a SKU # was. The earrings were all one of a kind. Kiss of death. They all walked away without buying a thing. Kind of funny, kind of sad.

Seven years ago we moved to the “other” wine country on the Central Coast. Reinventing myself, I started “Vintage Finishes”, worked on some wineries and various estates. I also did some artwork for Idylle Clothing, my sons’ company. Recently, I came full circle and started a new line of jewelry. This time the pieces are more purposely “one of a kind”, no SKU #’s (just names).  I’m proud to say it will remain that way. To heck (for now) with mass production.

Describe your children and your relationship with them.

Before my children, came my husband Dave. We’ve been married nearly 32 years. He is a Chiropractor/Functional Medicine doctor. More than that, he is my hero. He has the ability to diagnose and treat conditions in patients that no one else could figure out. Myself  included.  He loves me unconditionally and his level of care crosses over from his family to his patients. His intuitive heart makes him a fantastic father.

Tyler, our first born is 29 years old. He is married almost 4 years to Stacey, a very beautifully talented photographer. I would say Ty is an artist/engineer “type”. He and I share the “gift” of dyslexia so we both have unorthodox ways of doing things. He can build or fix anything, but never uses instructions. We joke about how he could get someone to the moon—just (maybe) not get them back. Ty is an artist in every sense, totally melancholy and the child that can make me laugh until my ribs hurt.

Ty and my second son Drew started a business 6 years ago—Idylle Clothing. Recently, they had the distinction of seeing Stephen Tyler on both American Idol and in Rolling Stone magazine wearing 2 different shirts of theirs.

While Ty is the creative heart and direction of Idylle, Drew is the engine that drives and balances the company.

Drew is my 25 year old and recently married sweet Courtney. She grounds Drew.  As talented as Ty is artistically, Drew is equally as gifted in finance, marketing, troubleshooting or ANYTHING that has to do with numbers. He is a live wire who never stops thinking. Drew has a singleness of purpose…that makes me weak. When he was in 3rd grade he made a great little income selling his sister’s Halloween candy on the playground.The only reason he got busted was because the crowd around him grew quite large. At 12 he made his first investment and did billing for a large contracting company. He is my born leader.

Jordan is our beautiful 23 year old daughter. She is thoughtful but sarcastic, sensitive to others, but stubborn. Jordan doesn’t say a lot but when she does, it’s powerful. She gets me. She thinks I’m funny—in a good way. She has her massage therapy  and “deep tissue” licenses.  Currently she is working full time and going to school to become a P.T.A. A breath of fresh air is the best way to describe her.

So as not to sound like an obnoxious Christmas letter, we have our challenges. We lost our 2nd born son, Collin, to S.I.D.S . It changed the face of the way I view everything.  I can only say that if not for that unfathomable loss, I would not have my Drew or Jordan. The timing would have been much different.

When I was young my grandmother told me that when your children are young they tread on your feet—when they are older, they tread on your heart. It made no sense to me then. It does now. Sometimes it almost seems impossible to keep sound relationships in a family. Once in a while the matrix completely breaks down and what once bound you together, falls apart and you’re left with nothing to do but wait for healing.

What inspires you?

First, the Bible. It’s full of God, history, and thankfully a lot of dysfunctional people (families) whom God used anyway. It allows me to feel loved, sane and distinct which gives me freedom to be who He created.

Second, my family. They push me when I’m onto something interesting, and pull me when I’m exhausted. I’m usually either slow on the uptake or jumping off cliffs, ready to build wings on the way down. My family is my anchor and the reason I’ll never quit.

Third, is music. Of course, music. Depending on the day, I listen to anything from Zero 7 to Sting to Burt Bacharach. If I feel the need to get up and dance, I do.

What have you learned about yourself as a mother and what are some insights you have as a mother with grown children?

When the children were young, I was a little too paranoid. While they were teens, still paranoid… O.K. I’m still a freak. It doesn’t change, my margins for coping just grew a little larger.

It’s so hard to have a whole human being, come from your loins, and not want to take every hit for them. But you can’t. I learned not to die on every hill but looking back I wish I had learned this sooner than later..  I use to pick any “olderish” mother’s brains who had well behaved, well adjusted “olderish” kids. The jury isn’t really out until they’re more independent and that was just too long for me to wait; so I asked a million questions of these mothers so my chances of raising decent people would be greater. Be a student of your children and study them. All of us are hardwired a certain way and we need to give them as many tools as possible to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Guide them, nurture them, but for heaven’s sake don’t make them the center of their own world. Or yours.

Children stop being “children” at some point but we never stop being moms. The transition of our role in their lives is so nebulous. I say there is no perfect way to do it. Just punt, pray and learn to adjust.

Laugh at yourself a little more, hold on a little more loosely and realize that when you think you “got it”—you don’t “got it”. Each age as they grow is uncharted, and because each child is different, it keeps you from having any frame of reference. Very scary stuff. As long as I kept some “absolutes” and a solid foundation, I could allow a little “shifting” sand to bounce me around with grace…

What is something you know for sure?

Truthfully, I don’t believe there is much in life that is “for sure”. If you buy into that ideology, you will not only stop growing and learning, you will continually be disappointed. I do have ONE invariable for myself. God. All you have to do is watch the waves. Those are “for sure”. They ebb and flow whether I’m there or not. The sun and moon rise each day without fail. The same God that created them is my constant.  All else is subject to change.





To read more words of inspiration from Donna Leota -


  1. Carol Rischer said...

    LOVED the article!! Donna – you really are amazing!!
    I’ll call in the morning – so we can talk.

    Love you so much!

    Jul 13, 2011 at 9:09 pm
    • Carol Rischer said...

      I love Donna Ramsey. She loves the Lord, loves people, and is SO CREATIVE!!!

      I’m thrilled to call her my friend!!

      Carol Rischer

      Jul 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm
  2. Carol Rischer said...

    I love this dear woman. Every word about her is true. She loves the Lord, loves people, and is SO CREATIVE!!! She is an amazing role model!!

    Carol Rischer

    Jul 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm
  3. SPEEDbit said...

    Hey Donna! You are a true woman of inspiration and character. We love your approach to creating jewelery. Each piece is a true reflection of yourself. The TRUE way. Keep up the great work and keep sharing it by blogging!!

    Jul 20, 2011 at 8:37 am
  4. Paula Kalmeta said...

    I read this and your words are true to who you are. Strong, yet willing to make yourself vulnerable for the right reasons. Keeping your faith and family at the core of your priorities, decisions and values. And, you are the most artistic and creative person I know with a color wheel in their cerebral cortex. I love you friend! You are authentic and realistic about life and you call it as you see it. No surprises with you and that is real to me. I appreciate that in a person.

    Jul 25, 2011 at 12:13 am
  5. HipMum said...

    Thanks again Donna – I have read this so many times now and find a new gem from your insights every time.

    Aug 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm
  6. Carol Tisza said...

    I read this and cried through most of it. Thank you for opening yourself up for all to see and for those reading it to be blessed — including me.

    I love you, sister-in-law!

    Sep 07, 2011 at 2:08 am

Share your thoughts