Stardust

PACIFIC CUP START 2018

A friend of mine did the Pacific Cup race to Hawaii double handed, meaning sailing with one other crew member. There are longer races, and solo, but still it’s weeks on the water covering your shift on your own. So, I couldn’t help but ask what it felt like to spend so much time alone day after day with the sun, and the stars, and the wind?

For myself, I know I would be very much changed by spending that much time at sea. I think about my recent past, and all the time I’ve had to myself. It’s been luxurious to spend my evenings reading, or writing, or out with friends. It has been years and years since I’ve had this much time to think and dream and plan. It’s been my greatest joy to have two sets of colored pencils next to my bed to highlight passages from the books I read or to plot out the next few years in pie charts segmented by quarter and color coded.

I’ve learned so much about myself in the past two years. I’ve learned to really love myself in a way I never knew was possible. There have been many ups and downs of course, but I’ve learned to stay the course no matter what happened. This is a wonderful feeling. It gives me a great deal of self trust.

I’ve learned I love maps. Or, charts as they are called in the sailing world. I love plotting a course and navigation. I’m constantly adding to my knowledge of the world.

My friend the sailor looked at me with eyes of the palest green and clear like a calm sea, and told me, “We’re all just stardust, Sydney.”

Stardust indeed.

As the days go by and I watch all of the things I most hoped for come to fruition I believe it’s true.

Love and blessings to all.

Ocean SF, Language Arts and the Side Hustle

Me and Chazz

My company Ocean SF was funded by a private angel investor last August. Because of the funding I was able to start over and build a strong foundation for the future of Ocean SF. I have a new factory in San Francisco and a local team that I am developing with. Things are moving steadily along.

In the fall I reorganized my life so I could focus more seriously on Ocean SF. Having three or four side hustles has been reduced to two. I’m now teaching language arts at the Learning Space in Lafayette. I earned my Adult Education Certification while teaching International students at UC Berkeley. Working with kids allows me to use the skills I learned at UC Berkeley and during my years of tutoring reading and teaching fifth grade literacy classes when my kids were young. I am also a certified ski instructor and taught hundreds of kids to ski at The Northstar Resort Ski School in Tahoe.

This work keeps me close to home and the things I love. My boss at the Learning Center, Sabrina is so talented and I’ve learned so much from her. No one is more passionate and committed to their work. Once again, it’s been wonderful to support another hard working entrepreneur. I also love the kids. I have fifteen students now and seeing them make steady progress and sometimes large leaps in their reading and writing skills has been incredibly rewarding.

I’m still working with Treasure Festival, and am looking forward to catching up with my friends there at the end of the month. I committed to my boss Chazz that I would stay and help him for an entire year. It’s helped me more than anyone though, because it gives me a bench mark for my own progress. I was an entirely different person when I started my first side hustle that billowy day last April. It forced me to step out of my comfort zone and as a result I’ve grown a great deal.

Dedication, hard work and steady progress have been the hallmarks of this past year.

Love and blessings to all.

Chicken, Whiskey and Wild Rice Soup

IMG_5033 Chicken, Whiskey & Wild Rice Soup

I wrote this recipe several years ago and it continues to get a lot of traffic. I’ve noticed it has been especially popular the past few months. Additionally, I was out with some friends and they told me this was their favorite soup recipe of all time. I thought it would be nice to repost it before the winter is over.

Enjoy!

Love and blessings.

***

Soup

Simmering soups are great for two reasons, they make your home smell wonderful (especially when using this combination of spices) and the soup doesn’t need to be pulled out and reheated as loved ones come home.

Pantry Recipes

This is almost a pantry recipe.  By this I mean most of these ingredients should already be on hand.  In my book Real Food for Real People I provide a list of what is needed for a well stocked pantry and it’s a good idea to have several no fail recipes that you can make without much notice (read hungry teens and friends).  My favorite is Penne Pasta with Pancetta  and Peas (recipe in Real Food for Real People).  I almost always have these ingredients and can make dinner for 10 in about 20 minutes.  For this soup, I already had frozen chicken breast, chicken stock in a box, wild rice in the pantry and a few carrots and some celery in the fridge.    The only thing I typically don’t have is a little fresh cream.   It’s a good idea to always have some fresh cream because it does last a long time and it’s nice if others take cream in their coffee.  I also put bourbon whiskey in this!  Maker’s Mark to be exact.  I love a little alcohol to bring out the flavor in these ingredients.  You can also use white wine or some dry sherry.

Adapting Recipes

Below is the recipe I started with.  It is so important to learn to adapt recipes to your personal tastes.  I like deep complex flavors, so I added some complimentary spices that I personally love.  I don’t like to put flour in my soups because I don’t like them that thick.  I find organic ingredients make a big difference in a soup as opposed to a cookie (e.g. an Oreo tastes great even if not organic).  I also love carrots, but celery not so much.  And, I can NEVER make anything without some fresh garlic.  Because of the kids (now teens) I used a wild rice medley.  A pure wild rice would provide an unfamiliar color contrast to the soup that I knew the kids wouldn’t like.  Most kids like white starches making the medley a nice compromise.

Experimenting last winter with flavors I found I loved dried tarragon in most anything.  I also like my onion almost nonexistent.  I know it adds great flavor, but I never want to see it in a soup, so I dice onions very small.  When I read this recipe I thought it might be a little bland for my tastes, but by using just a small amount of dried spices like tarragon, paprika and curry I was able to pump up the flavor.  The fresh garlic and whiskey didn’t hurt either.

 

IMG_5037 Original Recipe

 

Sydney’s Chicken, Whiskey & Wild Rice Soup

Ingredients

4 tbsp unsalted butter

2 celery stocks rinsed and chopped into small pieces

4 carrots cut into small pieces

2 cloves of finely chopped fresh garlic

1 small onion diced fine

2 lbs. chicken breast cut into bite size pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons of chopped fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon each salt and white pepper

1/4 Whiskey

2 quarts organic chicken broth

2 cups water

1 cup wild rice medley (combination of brown and wild rice)

1 cup fresh whipping cream

Preparation

Melt the butter in a large soup pot or deep dutch oven and add celery, carrots, garlic and onion.  Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes and then add the raw chicken, fresh thyme, tarragon, paprika, curry and salt and pepper.  Stir well and cook until chicken turns white and then add the whiskey and cook for anther 2 minutes.   Ingredients should be well incorporated.  Add the broth and water and bring to a soft boil then add the rice.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer as long as you can stand it (1-2 hours).   Add the cup of fresh cream and allow to heat through before serving.

IMG_5029

 

 

Marriage, Darwin & Change

Oil on Canvas by Sydney Chaney

The fog rolls in from the San Francisco Bay and hangs like a shroud around my home in the hills to the East. I look out the window and can see the silvery green of the olive trees in my front yard, but not even an outline of the houses across the street. The entire neighborhood is wrapped in a cool white blanket.

I’m sitting in bed on a Thursday morning drinking my French roast coffee from a large white mug. I’m reading the news, my email and checking my analytics. I feel safe and peaceful here. I know I am watched over by the spirit of Lorraine Source who lived here before me for three decades. When we bought the house there were six quit claims in the loan file at the title company. She lived here with her six husbands quite obviously taking shit from no one. A woman ahead of her time.

On that day I was pregnant with my second daughter and had my white haired sixteen month old in tow.

From the moment I saw the house I fell in love with it. Classic and traditional; not too big, not too small. A place I could live forever.

Comforting in every way. With two furnaces, upstairs and down, the entire house is quickly warm even on the coldest of days. The rooms are graceful and full of natural light. Once inside it feels like a warm hug. I know that I can live here as long as I want to. That is a done deal. The question that remains is do I want to?

At the purchase I imagined I would host my grandchildren here. My girls would come home and sleep in their childhood rooms with their husbands and their babies beside them in the same bassinet they slept in. In the summer they would play in the pool like they did when they were little. We would have music playing and burgers on the grill and cold lemonade. Shrieks of laughter would float across the creek and happiness would prevail.

The same is true for the Tahoe house. In winter, we would all be together like we always are. My future grandchildren occupying the bunk room with the snow flake pillows and four matching bear quilts on each bed.

The future that awaits me now is decidedly different. Although, we are happy and stable, there are big changes ahead. My daughter will be in college next year. I will be running Ocean SF, but from where?

My company gives me what I’ve always wanted which is an ability to drive change. This is ironic as now I am facing changes on every level of my personal life. As open as I am to moving both physically and figuratively I still resist. It feels entirely distracting to move households and that is the deciding factor at the moment. On this foggy Thursday it’s a time of contrasts; the peacefulness of my quiet home against the backdrop of exhilarating new beginnings.

I’ve dedicated my life to positive growth. I’ve refused to accept anything less than forward motion. I’ve never backed down from anything or anyone. I never let fear hold me back.

I think the trick now is not to let go, but to be willing to let go. The future I thought I would have has altered, but I am open and prepared to adapt. And, as Darwin’s theories proved, to adapt is to thrive.

After all, that’s what my predecessor did. She sold the house, moved to Arizona and got married again.

Love and blessings to all.

Change is Good

I could feel the idea float down as I drove through the fallow winter landscape from Sacramento to San Francisco. The fields were grey and spread out into the distance in the dim winter light. The idea was that I can fall into fear and indecision, or I can step into my power and create a life that is truly magical.

This was early December before I decided to let my daughter buy me a plane ticket to Rome on Wow air as an early birthday and Christmas present. Initially, I thought spending New Years in Rome was a bad idea. Looking back now this is laughable as it was one of the most cherished memories of my lifetime.

As I begin to make concrete decisions about my future I can see that I have a very clear and distinct choice. I can cling to the past, I can even live in the past as many people do. I can keep the status quo and allow fear to be my guide keeping me safe, but stuck, or I can completely break with the past and put all of my energy into building a spectacular future.

When my daughters were small I knew the most important thing I could teach them was the ability to be comfortable with change, being alone and trying new things.

Often I would get calls from the mothers of their school friends asking which extracurricular classes my daughters were taking. These well meaning mothers would suggest we sign up together so the girls would have a friend. I would explain that we did not do things this way.

It did not make me popular on any front to drop my six year old off alone at an oceanography class at UC Berkeley. I even avoided the cliques in dance classes signing up for the off days of my daughter’s friends. Thus putting them in the opposite cast as their regular school friends. This allowed them to meet new people and be comfortable on their own.

I grew up on a fifty acre farm. I spent a great deal of time alone. Our dog, the barn cats and the horses were my friends. Rainy afternoons were spent indoors with my books. In this way I became my own best friend. It allowed me to go to school in London without knowing a soul. To travel through Europe alone. To leave the security of my hometown and move to California. To meet new people, take interesting jobs, fall in love and so on.

After twenty years in Moraga, I’m comfortable with my cliques. I have friends galore, a beautiful home and a wonderful life. Yet, change is good. I want to evolve and have new experiences. I want to believe that I can not just have a good life, but a great life. This means I will have to step out of my comfort zone in so many ways. Am I scared? Yes. Will it be worth it? Probably.

Love and blessings.

One More Day

As January and a new year begin, I also find myself in the second half of my youngest daughter’s last year of high school. Therefore, I am simultaneously shutting things down while beginning what will be my next chapter.

I’ve always been a planner with big goals and dreams. I love timelines and project plans and any form of matrix for decision making. I’ve essentially mapped my entire life out on paper. Yet, as someone who studied computer science I’m adaptable. All of my plans include those decision points that allow for “yes” or “no” thinking and the associated variables that lead to a second work flow.

When my husband died suddenly, the entire schematic changed dramatically. As a planner I had to adapt. This is also not dissimilar to the product mapping I did as a Marketing Director. I was required to look at where I was, where I was going, where everyone else was, and all of the variables that flowed in. Elements like college choices, how to pay for everything, where to live, what work to pursue, how to balance two kids, two homes, two cats and a dog. Needless to say, it took all of my skill, knowledge, and creativity to get through the last several years and attain the results I was seeking.

Most of the decisions I have made have been based on these two central questions; how can I protect the mental heath of my daughters after tragedy and how do I build a strong foundation for myself that will allow me to emotionally and financially support myself and them?

As with anything in life, if there is a will, there is a way. Although, I am a rational logical thinker I infuse my plans with faith. I believe faith is the magic that makes the impossible possible. So far, the course I charted in my darkest hours, is coming to fruition.

My older daughter is in London studying finance. She just finished another college semester with a 4.0. Was it easy? No. It was full of pitfalls and unbearable sacrifice.

Like train tracks that run in parallel, while I am planning a secure future, I am also living my life day to day. Often, I remind myself that these days are precious. I will regret not being present and enjoying them fully. Because of this I host my daughters friends. I spend time with them. I listen to them and most importantly I love them unconditionally. It took a long time to do this, but I can now accept them for all of their undefined beauty, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies.

My youngest daughter just finished finals and now has only one more semester of high school left. Soon, she will be off to college.

This morning I was talking to her and her four girlfriends that had spent the night. The bedroom floor was littered with clothing, the night stand covered in dishes from the night before. The flowered sheets and pink bedspread tousled. The girls were relaxed and sleepy, and as I approached laughter was the predominant element.

I told them one day you will remember this moment and wish for just one more day like this. Carefree, happy and hopeful. A typical January morning and the five of them in pink pajamas and sweatshirts lying in bed together. They looked at me and smiled. A beautiful poignant moment I will not soon forget.

It feels strange to not know where we will all be. By this time next year all of the most important decisions will be made and the girls will likely be in different places as their college choices are wide and varied. I am deciding what I will do next. I am getting to a point where I can think more concretely about where I will be and what my life on my own will look like.

As usual, I am mapping out my future. I am developing my diagram and working on those hexagon decision points.

Change. Transition. Adaptability.

Yet, no matter how beautiful the present, or how compelling the future there remains a desire for the past accompanied by the wish for one more day. Sometimes, the thought of holding one of my babies in my arms again will creep into my consciousness. The memory of the weight, and smell of each child as an infant is still like a dream. Or, for my daughter it might be the wish to be lying in bed on a sunny January morning with your four best friends before your lives have begun.

Either way. One more day.

Love and blessings to all.

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.