Love & Money

Truckee, California 2009

My husband was the most generous person I have ever met. When we first began dating, I asked him to join some friends for my birthday. My girlfriends made the reservation in the city, and we all showed up with our dates. 

When the bill came, my friends pulled out their wallets, but my husband insisted on picking up the tab. The bill was $1,200.00, he did this sort of thing all the time. 

After we got married, a check could not hit the table without him picking it up. But, on the reverse side money rolled in from all directions and soon, as a couple, we had more money than we knew what to do with.

I began to expect this, and understood how money flowed both in and out of our hands. One day, after Paris was born, we went to the jewelry store, I had Paris in my arms. My husband bought me a 5 carat princess cut diamond in a hand carved diamond platinum band. 

He would buy cases of good wine to share with friends, and when we bought our Tahoe house we loaded it up with the neighborhood, friends, and tons of kids. 

When the bottom fell out of the stock market and commercial construction imploded, we spent more time at home, ordered pizza on Friday nights, and had BBQ’s and camp outs in our backyard.

When we first moved to Moraga, I would be approached in the grocery store, by older women, collectively, they would tell me to enjoy every moment. I would think to myself, “they must have amnesia.”  I was so exhausted by my newborn and two year old, it was hard to enjoy anything. 

However, I heard this so often that I believed it had merit, and I made a conscious decision to savor sitting in the stuffed cow and pig chairs with my toddlers watching Disney Princess movies, among the other activities of a busy mother. 

The only thing that ever really mattered was that we had each other. And now we don’t.  We only have our memories, and that ring now sits in the bank. 

Love and blessings to all. 

Kids, Church & Grounding

My little Siena is mostly an angel, but sometimes she is not. And on these rare occasions, I have to decide how to punish her.

As an easy going, and live-and-let-live type of person, this is the most difficult aspect of parenting for me. 

Mostly, I turn a blind eye to Siena’s antics, as they are relatively harmless, compared to her sister, who at the same age, attracted car accidents, like bees to honey. 

However, on a recent occasion, Siena crossed the line, and it was time to send a message, and teach her a lesson. So, I grounded her for one month. But, I gave her the option of going to church with me every Sunday for the entire summer instead.  I sold her on this by telling her that it was only 12 hours, compared to 30 entire days, and being a bit of a math wiz, she agreed.

Because she has integrity, she hasn’t missed a Sunday yet, and it’s been four weeks. 

This past Sunday, there was an elderly gentleman behind us, and during the Lords Prayer, Siena and I reached out, and held his hands between us. His skin was as thin as paper, but I could feel his spirt through his hand, and the even and measured tone of his voice as he recited the prayer in a clear strong voice.

It moved me literally to tears. 

Love and blessings. 

Mothers Day & The Charming Distractions or Never the Less Joy

Never the less, there is joy.  My charming distractions spent the entire day with me yesterday.  It was one of the happiest in many months.  I woke to the sound of pots and pans in the kitchen, then there were eggs, and a champaign flute full of green juice.  Then presents.  They both got in bed with me and fell back to sleep.  I got up, and wrote about my own mother, Home Again, that I posted yesterday.

We then went on a hike through the Moraga hills with Polly, our family dog, then to dinner at Prima in Walnut Creek.  Over dinner we talked about where we would live if we could live anywhere in the world.  I said, I would have an apartment in the city (San Francisco), a boat in Tiburon, and a farm house in Napa.  So now that I’ve set that intention, we will see what happens.  This is the way I’ve done things, I decide, and then work towards it.  I wanted an acre parcel with a pool in Lamorinda, I wanted a ski house in Tahoe, and now I want something new.

My girls would like to live in London and Paris, but I secretly hope one of them will come back and live in our house in Moraga to raise their family.  This is what many Morgans do, they venture off, and return to Moraga to raise their children.  It’s such a wonderful family town and I am so grateful for my time here.

We ended our beautiful day with a movie. I could not be more thankful for my life and charming children. 

Love and blessings to all. 

 

 

Nine

vineyard

Watercolor on paper w/ ink by Sydney Chaney Thomas

In recent months I’ve been thinking and writing about bravery and courage and the hero’s journey (read PacCup Race to Hawaii).  I also wrote about how I had been given the gift of being misdiagnosed with a terminal illness only to find that I would eventually fully recover* (read Misdiagnosed).

The summer I thought I was dying was one of the most profound periods of my life and during that time I wrote a collection of short stories, titled NINE.  The nine stories are like the spokes of a wheel that touch on the events of that year and how each would define and inform the trajectory of the wheel (e.g.my life).

As luck would have it, a friend of mine was aquatinted with the famous writer, Adair Lara, and I was able to meet with her and have her read my work.  Adair was very encouraging, calling my writing “lyrical”, a term that I cherished, since she is friends with Amy Tan who wrote the beautiful novel, The Joy Luck Club and if any work is lyrical it is hers.   I worked tirelessly for nine months, but in the end I couldn’t finish the project as it was deeply personal in nature and required things from me that I was not yet ready to give.  In many ways I was simply too terrified to put myself out there as a writer, so instead of calling on my courage and doing the fine tuning and hard work necessary to publish this book, I decided to take the safer route.  I shelved it, and wrote my cookbook Real Food for Real People (available on Amazon) which includes recipes and stories from the years my children were small.

Then, as I began thinking about my next book, which I hope will be the story of my race to Hawaii, I remembered this work and felt compelled to breath life back into it since this would require an equal amount of bravery.

As you will see, the themes in NINE are quite serious; and after my near death experience I felt compelled to enjoy the light hearted years of my children’s childhood since my own childhood had been very different. But we can never really escape from our roots for it was this farm, where we grew and raised most of the food we ate, that continues to inspire me to be the cook, mother and person that I am today.

Below is the central story, or the hub of the wheel that begins the series of nine stories that rotate around the year that my father died and I lived on a beautiful farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

It is with bravery that I put this on my blog as it is so different from my usual topics: the recipes inspired from this farm and childhood.

Once again, thank you to all of you who have helped me along the way and have encouraged me to continue to write and be my authentic self.

* I was eventually diagnosed with Sarcadosis by UCSF and was cured by an acupuncturist and violin maker in Berkeley. 

 

NINE

by Sydney Ann Chaney Thomas

I lie in bed with him for hours and he talks to me. He tells me stories about when he was a pilot in the war, he teaches me how to predict the weather by the shape of the clouds. He teaches me their names, cumulus, stratus, cirrus, he tells me these are their Latin names as he lay, slowly dying. I pronounce them as best I can and commit his words to memory.

Transported to and from the hospital in a military helicopter, the police in our small farming community are concerned. They think he is trafficking drugs. My mother laughs at this, but is livid, maybe even beyond livid.  She loses much of her good humor in the years my father spends dying.

We pray for him, kneeling in the pews of the Catholic Church, never has there been more futile an activity than this. Nevertheless, we continue this practice every Sunday, the three of us, my mother dressed impeccably, my sister and I with our shiny hair pulled back, matching dresses and black patent leather shoes. Together we kneel, stand and kneel. We cross ourselves with holy water as we leave. My mother holds my hand, white knuckled, through the parking lot.

On our way home, I watch the orchards disappear as we pass: pear, apple and walnut. As the car speeds up they pass in patterns that make me dizzy to watch. We stop in town and my mother buys us each a black berry milk shake. This is our treat for being quiet in church. We sit outside on metal benches in the weak sunshine watching the cars go by. My mother stares at us while she smokes a cigarette. We look back at her and say nothing. There’s not much to say at this point.

My mother begins drinking all of the wine my father has been making from the small vineyard on our property. The barrels sit aging by the back door in our kitchen and my mother siphons the liquid out with a turkey baster, but who can blame her? My sister and I are vacuuming and ironing clothes. The ironing board hits me at the clavicle. I am ironing polyester. I am ironing her polyester muumuu. I am ironing her polyester bedspread. It is slippery and I try to keep it on the board. My mother walks by me without comment. She is losing not only her good humor now, but her judgment as well.

The summer days are cool on the farm, the rains have continued into June and now we await the arrival of my grandmother. My mother spends days cleaning and baking for her mother, she tells us Nana is selfish, but you can tell my mother loves her and seeks her approval. When my grandmother does arrive, she walks around in a purple satin negligee and ignores us. She buys our younger cousins candy, but not my sister and I, she says she just got a little something for the little ones. And my mother, well, she simply goes berserk.

They think it is Agent Orange, a pesticide used in Vietnam to clear the vegetation from the jungle, which is causing my father’s lungs to disintegrate, but they can’t be sure, they just don’t know. There is no cure, no treatment. We can only wait and see what will happen.

Men die on battlefields all the time; soldiers slaughtered, bombs explode, guns are fired – it happens all the time. For thousands of years, more even, men are lost to war.

It took a thousand days for his body to disintegrate, literally. Agent Orange, Vietnam – not everyone survives Vietnam, least of all the frontline of De Nang. If they can kill an entire jungle, how should one man survive? Then again, other men were there who did survive, what of those that didn’t die? It was just one of those things. No ones fault, everyone’s fault, war.

He left Vietnam with the chemicals in his lungs – lodged deep inside, the chemicals that kill jungles can kill men too, it appears, sometimes, but only slowly.

He had volunteered to go there. Volunteered. It seems so hard to understand why someone would do that, but he did.

For a thousand days I watch him die. Later when asked where my father was, I would say, “My father died when I was nine.”

Sometimes, people would say, “Oh, you didn’t know him then,” but the opposite is true, my brain is infused with him because of it.

But, how could I explain? So, I would just stand there and say nothing.

It was clear he was dying; it wasn’t something someone would need to tell you or something that could be withheld. I understood easily by observation, that our days together were numbered, and I took note of them as they passed.

Even now, I can close my eyes and remember what it was like to lay beside his skeletal body at night, watching the horses graze in the moonlight. I remember the white moon in the sky, the dark blue shadows of the horses bodies as they grazed, his fragile thin frame next to mine, still warm. Just thinking this, I can hear my mother’s voice, scolding me, “Don’t be so dramatic,” she would say, a warning not to indulge my sorrow, not to name it or speak of it. I was not allowed that extravagance, it was too big of a luxury then and the same is true now.

One man. One soldier. He is just one casualty of war.

But, I never stop thinking of him as if my growth was stunted, at the age of nine, by loving him. A part of me remains forever nine – living in that house – on that land – in that valley.

Later, I waited patiently for my own daughter to turn nine so I could watch her. I wanted to see what a girl of nine was, both intellectually and emotionally. I wanted to gage that age through her. See how sophisticated she was, how child like, understand what I had been when I had lost everything that was dear to me.

My mother left us at a pig farm the day they put him in the ground. We missed his twenty one gun salute. The hogs were neatly penned in their long open barns, the white house stood alone at the end of the road. I sat watching the gravel drive, waiting for her.  The sky turned lavender, and then, the sun went down. It was January. She pulled up and took us back to the farm.

 

 

 

Sydney on Motherhood – Misdiagnosed

As the year comes to a close I have taken time to look at my analytics and discovered some of my most popular posts are those that touch on the topic of motherhood, so I wanted to write something on this topic to close the year.  2015 has been one of the most spectacular for me.  I have learned so much and can finally see myself becoming the person I could have only dreamed of being.  It has been a long journey with many twists and turns along the way, but I am thankful for my experiences, good and bad, as they have shaped the person I am today.

 

Misdiagnosed

Ten years ago I was misdiagnosed with a fatal lung disease. My children were just four and six. I was given the news the day before my daughter started first grade. Nothing could have been more dramatic for a mother. I wore dark glasses and cried behind them on the first day of school. Luckily, all the other mothers and kids were crying too and no one noticed.

Huge epiphanies arose from the news. Everything I had valued up to this point was worthless. I was willing to give up everything in the world just to watch my children grow up. It took several months to go from, “get your affairs in order, Sydney” to “do you know how incredibly lucky you are?”

From that day forward I have really lived. When I was sick, really sick, I would lie in bed and wish that I was well enough to sit in my backyard and have a glass of wine. That was all I wanted to do. As time healed me (and an acupuncturist in Berkeley), I started to plot my future. I decided that I wanted to buy a house in Tahoe and be a ski instructor. I had always wanted to do that, but had thought that ship had sailed, but life sometimes hands us a second chance. So I took it and made it happen. I had always thought I would be a writer and I started to write. I had always wanted my children to have a dog, a black dog like I had growing up, so along came Polly.

I’ve continued to live my life through the lens that our days really are numbered and what we do with them matters greatly.  As I move through each day I am acutely aware that I am a reluctant role model for my daughters and all of the extraordinary young people I come into contact with.    I know I must do my best to be my best self.

I read once that the most important thing that I can teach my children is to tolerate anxiety, and I believe this is the single most important thing all of us can do as we attempt to live fearlessly.  Courage is necessary to attain our goals and dreams no matter what they are.   I wrote about this theme in my blog post on December 8th, Pacific Cup Race to Hawaii, and as out of my comfort zone as I am casting off from San Francisco to Hawaii – I am going to be fearless and do it.

When you are told you’re lucky to have six months to live, and you survive that, nothing else really bothers you that much.

Because of my illness, I learned that the simple things are the most important; the people we love, good books, cotton sheets, hot coffee, flowers in a vase, a loyal dog and of course, a glass of wine in the backyard watching my daughters turn cartwheels in the green grass.  These are things that money can not buy.  Be brave my friends, and wise with what you value, and with what you teach your children to cherish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken & Veggie Riso

Chicken & Veggie Riso

Riso

                    Chicken & Veggie Riso

When my kids were little I made this at least once a week.  They were not the best eaters, so I would put them both in the bath tub and feed them this by hand while they splashed around.  There was no other way to get them to eat the peas, tomatoes, red peppers and chicken in this recipe. They would then drift off to sleep freshly bathed with full little tummies.

Riso looks like rice, but is actually pasta.  This is a very forgiving recipe as it gets better over time and can be reheated and is excellent hot or cold. Kids love it!  This is a quick weeknight dinner with leftovers for lunch.  Serve with lots of crunchy sourdough bread and fresh butter.

Ingredients:

1 box of Riso pasta

16 oz. of chicken broth (see home made recipe in my book Real Food (Amazon)

1 lb skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup white wine

2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil

1/4 bag of frozen peas

10 or more kalamata olives, pitted and quartered

1/2 red pepper, diced

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese balls

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (hold pepper for kids)

Freshly grated parmesan

Fresh basil for garnish

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and pour yourself a glass of white wine (any kind, it doesn’t matter).

When oven is preheated place a 1/2 a cup of white wine and the chicken in a baking dish and cook for 30 minuets or until chicken is white inside. Put chicken stock on to boil. Pour yourself another glass of wine and put on some music.

Cook riso as per package instructions, but turn off the burner about 5 minutes early and allow to cook. This way you are sure not to burn it. In a large pasta bowl add sun dried tomatoes, frozen peas, olives and diced red pepper. When the chicken is done cut it up quickly with poultry sheers, no need to dirty a cutting board and add to mixture.

Fold cooked Riso into the chicken mixture. Add Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls or not. It is good cold as well as hot. Pour more wine if desired.

Mother’s Little Helper & Other Wisdom

Mother’s Little Helper & Other Wisdom

IMG_5738

My Littles

It felt like, one day I was eating caviar toasts and baby lamb chops washed down with a few glasses of Veuve Clicquot Champagne with my P.R. agency, and the next I was a stay at home mom with a 22 month old and a new baby.  I sat terrified most days waiting for my husband to come home from work.  I’m ashamed to admit this, but I remember envying my husband’s commute to work.  I would have done anything to be alone for 35 minutes listening to music and drinking my French Roast winding through the Berkeley hills.

I have moments of nostalgia when I dream of holding one of my babies in my arms again,  but mostly I am just happy to have survived those early years. My mother died when I was young and my dear mother-in-law didn’t sugar coat it when she told me, “I’ve already raised my kids.”   I had a magical nanny when I worked South of Market in San Francisco and I was able to retain her a few hours a week when the girls were very small, but mostly I was very much on my own.   One of the more hilarious activities was taking the baby and two year old grocery shopping.  The small town where I live has a good number of retirees, so I was constantly approached by these lovely women and told to cherish every moment.  I would be so exhausted and both kids would be screaming and all I could think was they must have amnesia!   They were also the generation of Mother’s Little Helper (click for the Rolling Stone’s famous song).  The rest of us had to white knuckle our way through it.

I discovered that taking the kids to dinner was not a night off for me, so I started cooking more at home (see my author page on Amazon to read more about my book and easy kid friendly recipes). At about 5 o’clock I would put the littles in front of the T.V. and mix myself one very tall drink and take it outside and water my flowers, and then I would start dinner.  With kids under foot and a stiff drink taking the edge off it was important to have some forgiving recipes.  I had wanted to give my book, Real Food, the title Easy Recipes for Drunk Moms, but my editor, Neo Gariby didn’t want my readers to get the wrong impression.  However, I’ve recently stumbled upon Thug Kitchen which I love and now I don’t think Drunk Moms was such a bad title after all.  I especially adore the bad language!  I’ve sworn off swearing to be a better role model for my children, but there is nothing like colorful words when describing cooking and eating good food. Once I perfected my evening routine things got easier.  If I’m not nostalgic for the screaming grocery store scenes, I am for those quiet summer evenings with the flower pots spilling over with fragerant flowers and my children fed and bathed.   I would read to them  and then tuck myself into bed at 9 p.m.  Those really were the best of times and because I am not the sort of person to ignore good advise I really did cherish every moment.