Nevertheless Joy

On most days I walk my dog Polly to the park in the late afternoon. It’s been a refuge for me during this very stressful time and allows me to decompress from my busy days. Finding a work/life balance can be the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur.

I’ve been extremely focused and because I love what I do it’s possible for me to sit for 10 hours straight writing or managing my other companies. It’s not unusual for me to work from 8-6 without a break, and then sadly to work for another few hours after dinner. It won’t last forever, but that’s what it takes to start a company and get it off the ground.

This short walk gets me outside and I am able to witness the changing seasons. There is nothing better than fresh air and exercise no matter what you’re doing, however, this is especially true in my situation.

Over the past year, I’ve dedicated myself to my clothing apparel company, my nonprofit, and I’ve written two books. I’ve been blessed to be able to work at home on projects that are close to my heart, as well as having time to mother and guide my two daughters. I am also grateful for my beautiful home and the community that surrounds me. It’s been especially fun to write my column for News 24/680. I’ve enjoyed the comments and having people stop their cars in the street to tell me how much they enjoy my articles. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that would happen.

During my walks I always see a few friends along the way. I love socializing with my neighbors, they are from varied backgrounds and have so many interesting stories and insights. Everyone has an expertise and are always helpful in sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Because of them, I need never be lonely. On Saturday nights they BBQ and everyone brings food to share. If I’m home, and am able to attend, I make a point to drop by the park and say hello. I’ve been doing this for the past 10 years. It reminds me a little of Europe where there are always locals sitting in the park playing checkers.

The other day, I was sitting on a park bench and this adorable beagle came running toward me. I picked up my phone to take his picture and before I knew it he was licking my face. I have no idea why he targeted me. It was completely random. No matter what else happens there are always unexpected blessings, and nevertheless joy.

Beagle on his way to say hello…

Love and blessings to all.

Unexpected Blessings

There have been many highs and lows as I travel along this path. One of the low points came over our stormy post drought California winter when on a conference call I had difficulty hearing due to the sound of chain saws. After my call I walked outside to find two of the most beautiful redwood trees topped and pounds of their branches floating in my swimming pool. I ran out my front door and knocked on my neighbors door. If you know anything about trees, you know that groves of redwood trees share a reciprocal system and even though the trees have been cut down the redwoods on my side of the fence will continue to keep the roots alive on the other side of the fence for decades to come. Trees operate as family structures and share nutrients and water.

My neighbor told me they were worried that the trees would fall on their house and they wanted more light. I was polite, but left heartbroken. All of that day and the next they cut and ground the trees into dust. My peaceful grove of trees was gone leaving only the five trees on my side of the fence. Redwoods typically do not fall during storms due to their very deep root structure. The many pine trees that also surround the creekside location where I live will topple as they have a life span of only 30 years, so over the years these are often removed, but never the redwoods.

Although I was distressed I decided I would be hopeful and make the most of it as now I too had a bit more sunlight. I wouldn’t trade a tree for more light, but sometimes we have to except things as they are. Since then, I’ve been cultivating what will be an herb, flower, and vegetable garden. I’ve been working very hard on it with my pick and shovel and I look forward to basil, cilantro, lettuces and flowers this summer.

As someone who believes everything happens for a reason I was not surprised when I walked into my kitchen last night to a room full of tiny rainbows.

The tree that had been cut down obviously obscured the setting sun from coming through my kitchen window.  I have a beautiful crystal chandelier hanging over my nook table and it caught this light and turned it into a thousand little rainbows covering the opposite three walls of my kitchen. It didn’t last very long, but I just stood there in wonder.

It’s the last thing I would have expected, but there it was.  An unexpected blessing.

Cultivating Lemon Trees

When my late husband and I bought our first home in Clayton, California the first thing we did was hire a landscape architect to plant the beautiful backyard we had there.

My husband was a commercial concrete executive, and he told me he could pour me a concrete patio that looked like a Persian rug and he wasn’t kidding.  He ended up designing and building the most gorgeous patio room that I have had ever seen before or since.  It had lights embedded in the stone walls with concrete and stone benches that ran the entire length of the house allowing us to have parties where we could accommodate 100 hundred people.  We did this a few times in the six years we lived there.  Plus, we had our wedding reception there, our first daughters Christening party, and her giant first birthday party there.

It was one of the most beautiful homes I had ever lived in.  We bought it before it was built and picked out the lot, the floor plan, the fixtures, the finishes, tiles and so on.  We moved in and were married six weeks later. We were very happy there of course, and we had a lemon tree.  My first Meyer Lemon tree. It took three years to bear fruit.  I watered it, fertilized it, worried over it, and gave it liquid chelated iron until it’s leaves turned a glossy deep green.  Eventually, it bore fruit.

When we moved to cool Moraga I was at a loss. The roses and lavender I planted withered and died. I could get very little to grow here as the tulle fog from San Fransisco Bay, just 15 miles away, would descend in the summertime in what has been called San Fransisco’s natural air conditioning. Because of this I finally turned to cool weather plants like; azaleas and hydrangeas and beautiful camellias in red, pink and white.  I am able to grow rosemary, mint and thyme and many varieties of annuals; pansies and violas, vinca minor and impatiens. Tomatoes and basil do not thrive here, nor do the five rose bushes I planted long ago.  And, of course I have two beautiful lilac trees as these have been my favorite since I was a little girl growing up on the farm. In Oregon they grow wild on the side of the road, but in California they are fragile, and must be protected and planted in cool locations out of the sun and wind.

We have a large planter off our patio, it’s a focal point of our .75 acre backyard. We planted a Japanese Maple there initially, because that is what my husband had envisioned, we did a lot of gardening together back then, it was one of the interests we both shared and enjoyed doing together.

When Polly our doodle came along she used the entire tree as a chew toy and it eventually ended up in the middle of the yard roots and all.  Our gardener, Jesus, planted it’s chewed remains on the Eastside of the house where it miraculously came back to life and now thrives.  At the time Jesus asked me what I wanted to plant in it’s original place after the Japanese Maple met it’s demise.  Since my husband wasn’t around, I chose another Meyer Lemon tree.  Again, it took years to cultivate. Four years in, we believed it would never thrive.  Then it started to bloom and now it bears hundreds of lemons year round.  I do not exaggerate when I say year round.  I always have lemons. This has been a source of joy for me.

Recently, however, I am beginning to wonder why I would cultivate just lemons almost exclusively over everything else?  Lemons are tart. Lemons are associated with things that don’t work like cars.  I love my lemon tree, but what about strawberries, or raspberries? When I was a kid we had a raspberry bush outside our backdoor, I could walk by and eat them off their branches.  What about lettuce?  I could grow all sorts of vegetables, berries, and even more flowers. My obsession with lemons and making lemonade must end.

I am again beginning to compost and I will start another smaller garden by my pool house, this space gets 4 hours of sunlight and no more, and I will start new traditions and grow and cultivate what is sweet instead of tart.  A metaphor for life.

Plus, I think I want another rabbit.  I miss my rabbit.

Love and Blessings to all.

Yoga & Healing Trauma & Finding Balance. 

I went back to yoga after a several year hiatus. I started six years ago at a studio in Walnut Creek. At the time, I knew I needed more self care, and it was a start.

It was the first time in my adult life that I became aware of my body as an observer. I would watch my hands as I planked, or watch my knees and ankles to ensure my bones were perfectly aligned. I was instantly good at it. My first class was a level two and I went through the motions with ease. Those classes were an hour and a half long, and the entire process of finding parking in Walnut Creek and so on, took almost three hours, or the entire morning.

It was a commitment to myself that I quickly gave up as the demands of my family intervened that first summer, making doing anything for myself, an impossibility. People have the illusion stay-at-home-mothers have all the time in the world, but they do not. They are staffing hot lunch, or organizing the back to school cake walk, or driving carpool for the volleyball team, or having kids over after school.  Finding time for yoga was priority #25, or lower in those days. After that first winter of going regularly, I went only periodically, if at all.

Last summer, I broke my wrist, but I promised myself I would return to yogo when I had healed. This week I took my first class from Esther at Humble Yoga. With my business partner in Montreal, I had a little more time, and more flexibility.

It’s been a stressful time in my life. Some of that stress was negative, and I had to dig deep to with grace handle the demands on me, now however, those demands are mostly positive. Having to meet with large banks who are interested in my company, or going to events where I meet tech billionaires increased my blood pressure like you would not believe.

Staying up all night preparing decks was just part of it, even deciding what to wear tested my cortisol levels. As an environmentalist, I didn’t want to go buy anything new. It seemed an oxymoron to pitch a sustainable clothing company wearing a polyester dress made in China. So, I went to the consignment store and bought a vintage dress by American designer Nanette Lepore. It was not cheap either. It was black, sleeveless and beautifully tailored, perfect for the warm October day.

This particular meeting went well, but all of it landed me by the end of October deeply depleted. I did all of the things I usually do in times of stress. I carved out time to be alone, I stayed home instead of going out. I walked my dog in serene settings, I cleaned up my diet and lowered my caffeine intake, I went to church, and yet even sleeping was stressful. I would wake up and not be able to go back to sleep. Then, because I would be afraid I would wake up, and not be able to go back to sleep, I couldn’t fall asleep.

Recently, I read that yoga heals trauma. They are teaching it in prisons and it’s having an enormously positive impact. It teaches so many good things, to breath oxygen into every part of our being is not even the most beneficial aspect, it teaches awareness and the ability to control the mind body continuum. Trauma is trapped in the body and yoga, studies show, is the antidote to releasing it.

As a single mother trying to support my family, I still feel guilty taking this time out for myself. But, when Esther asked our class to think about why we were there, the dominant thought I had was to find balance. After three classes, I do feel more balanced. I also feel rested and relaxed. If I can heal the trauma of the last year or so, that would be an added bonus.

Namaste.

Love and blessings to all. 

Surgery & The Northern California Fires

I knew there was a problem when I went to bed on Sunday night. I saw the report on my iPad that there was a small fire in Napa. The wind was howling outside, and I could hear my beautiful Birch trees hitting my house and windows.

The wind was also tapping the blinds against the windows down the hall. Even though, it was a warm night, I walked around the house closing all the windows. 

I remembered, my market umbrella was up, and I went outside to close it. Later, as the winds picked up further, I went back into the darkness and pulled the entire umbrella out of the table and left it on the patio.

By morning, smoke was in the air, and my pool was full of branches. However, I had other things to worry about because my daughter was having knee surgery the next day. 

I called the surgeon and asked if I could pick up the prescriptions that day, so I wouldn’t have to leave my daughter after the surgery. Without her Dad around, and no reliable family to help, I have to plan ahead. 

In the morning, I ran all the errands, and got gas, and went home to get everything I could done before the next day. 

My wooded acre of land was a mess, but the winds were still dropping branches and I had other things that took precedence. My business partner was in LA with our Sales Director in meetings for Ocean SF, and I was either on the phone with them, or texting them and our pattern maker, who had been evacuated from her home in Irvine. 

In the end, our neighbor Dan, had made a list of everything Siena needed, and showed up the next day with her favorite foods and drinks. During surgery he waited with her at the hospital, while I went to the pharmacy, and picked up her perscriptions. 

Meanwhile, around me Northern California is literally burning down. Beautiful Calistoga a place of tremendous beauty and tranquility, has been reduced to ash and rubble. 

This has been the theme of the last year or so, and I have become a master at focusing with military precision on one thing no matter what else is going on around me.  It’s possible, I inherited this quality from my father, a decorated war veteran, but it’s something I wish I didn’t need. 

My daughter has been slow to recover, she’s not bounced back as expected.  She has been in a great deal of pain, so much so that I’ve been on the phone with her surgical nurse off and on for days. We’ve had to try several strategies to help her, and maybe today will be the day she turns the corner.

I lie next to her at night, and let her squeeze my hand. While she sleeps, I secretly check the Internet for the status of the fires. I close my eyes and pray for recovery of my daughter, the fire victims, the brave emergency response teams, and myself. 

The second surgery to repair her ACL is planned for November. Initially, the date was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but I moved it. On Thanksgiving, God willing, we will be sitting in our cabin in Truckee watching the snow fall.

Love and blessings to all. 

Being Excellent Where You Are

Occasionally, I will tell my kids how much I disliked being a stay at home mother.  And this really upsets them, but what would appear to be a luxury to one person, can be torture to another.

Often, my friends who worked full time will tell me they did what I did, and also worked. However, they did not. I will not go into how I turned myself inside out being the Junior Highschool recycling garbage monitor, teaching literature to sixth graders, or ironing our pillow cases with the lavender water I made from the lavender I grew in my garden, and so on. Because those things are unimportant, but what I did do that was important, was to listen to the hopes and dreams of the generation of children that surrounded me during those years. 

When my daughter was being bullied, I would go to school and have lunch with her in the cafeteria. No one noticed because I was there so often people thought I worked there.  I did everything from tutoring to weeding the school garden. I even played my violin for my daughter’s classes, most people don’t even know that I play the violin.

I taught embroidery to both girls fifth grade class. We embroidered covered wagons on canvas, during the pioneer history module, but mostly I talked with them while teaching them to sew with a needle and thread. The first year, I met a little boy named Albert, and he would sit on my lap the entire hour I was there. He was one of my favorites.

Working at a paid job has a predictable pace, and most projects a beginning, a middle, and an end. And you can take a break at lunchtime, and eventually go home at night. Motherhood for working and nonworking mothers alike is another matter all together. 

Nothing in my life, before or since, took more from me as a person, or was as physically and emotionally demanding as being a stay at home mother. 

My house was as clean as a whistle, not some days, but everyday. I often hosted after school pool parties for twenty-five. I made my own play dough and my own pasta from scratch with Italian flour that I bought at a special grocery store in Napa. So, clearly I brought much of this on myself. 

Now, I rarely make my bed, and cooking means I grill chicken, and toss it into a salad at 8 p.m. And, I get a second chance to return full time to the work I love. 

After the way things turned out, I’m happy I took the time to create a warm, peaceful, and beautiful environment for my family and many friends. 

Those days now feel like a dream. It’s as if I was an entirely different person then, however, being excellent at what I did helped to create many happy memories that laid a solid foundation for my children. 

After their father died, I told them often that the past predicts the future. And, although it might be hard to believe, they would one day be happy again. 

And so it goes.

Love and blessings to all. 

A Rich Full Life

Many people wouldn’t think of me as lucky from the outside looking in, but every single morning before I get out of bed, I count my blessings. And it doesn’t take very long for me to feel grateful for the many good things in my life. 

First of all, I’m in excellent health. On most days, if I’ve not burned the candle at both ends, which I often do, I feel fantastic. Then, I have my wonderful family, and in particular my spectacular daughters. Then, I have the most hilarious golden-doodle, named Polly, and her two side kicks the black and white cats, Dash and Jam. 

Next, I have friends galore. And make more everyday. I have been spending time with my sailing friends this week. Especially, my business partner, and my sailing instructor Tom. There is nothing like a common interest to connect and deepen ties with people.

But, I especially love my neighbors and my beautiful neighborhood. I have so much love and support here that I feel blessed everyday. My neighbor Sandy, who brought Paris’ bedding to her college dorm in LA after we forgot it, my dear friends Craig and Denise who help me with everything I do, including building Ocean SF. My husband’s three best friends, and their families, that are always here for us. And, my neighbor Alecia, who made me the beautiful pearl and rose quartz necklace I’m wearing above. And Barb, who I met when our daughters were two, who took me to the polo tournament where the above photo was taken a few weekends ago. 

Recently, one of my neighbors sent me the following note. It was so generous and kind it brought tears to my eyes. 

“Dear Sydney,

I have been thinking about you a lot over the last few weeks knowing that a year has passed since losing your husband. I have not seen you in years nor spoken, but I do want you to know that I have always admired the woman, and Mother that you are. You have been a true role model from the day I met you. My daughter, has always spoken of you with admiration and your unconditional kindness towards her made her love being in your presence. Both Siena and Paris are so fortunate to have a loving, attentive, involved, active and beautiful Mother who truly loves her children. I believe Paris must be heading off to a College, and that must be an exciting yet difficult transition after your past year. These next two years will be very special for you and Siena. Time is precious as you are aware, and it’s never too late to tell someone how wonderful they are. So before I turn in I wanted to let you know how much I admire you and if you ever need anything I’m here for you.”

People like this, and the precious town I live in, give me deep roots, and a priceless sense of security. 

Love and blessings to all. 

Being Stabbed In The Back

I was taught that if you don’t have something nice to say; then it’s better to say nothing at all, this was taught to me by people who didn’t have a nice thing to say about anyone.

As a result, I dealt with petty jealousy and back stabbers silently. I guess this is how you groom a child to be a docile woman. But it’s true, I let many things slide and even when I did speak up I would then forgive even the unforgivable. I had my heart invested and who among us wants to be alone in the world?

After a year of soul searching and painful and time consuming personal growth, I have come to a quiet and peaceful place where I am content and calm. After the worse has happened, what is there to be afraid of?

A close friend of mine taught me that it’s possible to love someone and not have that person in your life. And it’s the same with forgiveness. It takes a great deal of courage to forgive. I can now forgive with the insight that people who behave this way are suffering greatly. 

Compassion is not weakness, and true strength is found in softness.

Love and blessings.

Grounded

Manicotti

I’ve finally started to feel grounded again, after a busy few weeks, I thought spending time alone in Tahoe would make me feel better, but it didn’t. 

What has helped me has been to come home, water my pink and white flowers, and pots full of impatience, pansies and daisies, tend to my basil plants, and trim my beloved Meyer Lemon tree and cook for my children. 

I should have known this, because nothing comforts me more than the fog rolling in and cooling off my creekside home in the summertime. I love the wildlife that thrives in our beautiful town, and the way we are so close to the city, but feel so far away. 

There is no better feeling than puttering around barefoot, watering the plants, and making dinner for the kids.

Love and blessings. 

Separating the Future from the Past

Speedboat Beach, Lake Tahoe

I now have a day to separate my future from my past. I wanted the one last thing that I did for my husband to be beautiful and it was.  We spread his ashes yesterday at dawn on a beautiful summer day in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We spent the day as we had planned at the beach with our friends and then, last night, some of our closest friends joined us for dinner at our home in Truckee.

Three families that we have raised our children with, and skied with ,over the years were here for dinner, as were my husband’s best friends, or the original Bushwood golf foursome. My close friend Debra, as well as my kids and their friends.

It was a beautiful evening in every way. We have closure now and some sense of peace, or as much as is possible, although, I’ve come to realize there are things you never really get over, you just learn to live with them gracefully, and not allow them to influence your happiness.

I feel that I have done everything that I could to honor the vows I took when we married, I ensured his life was honored, and his wishes were respected.

Now, that is behind me, I want to write another book, I’ve also been asked to teach again next year at UC Berkeley. I enjoy my work on The Trident Project and Ocean SF and that keeps me very busy.

Someday, our boat Solana will be in the water, and I’ve been invited to sail around the world,  after my youngest heads to college, in 2019.

I’ve worked hard to lay this foundation, and be a role model for my children.  Hard work generally pays off, and with that being said, I now step into my future.

Love and blessings to all.

Best Friends Jeff, Chris and Dan
Lake Tahoe