Naked Trees

Never in my life have I seen such obvious changes in the seasons. Having lived in Florida my whole life, I generally wore flip flops 9 months of the year and ballet flats the other three. I had a solid tan year round and Christmas generally required a cardigan thrown over my tank top.

As we’re heading into our third season here, I can’t help but marvel at the evolving landscape. When we first moved here this summer, the trees were a lush, rain forest green.

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Of course, that was mostly do to the large amounts of rain that we got, but the mountains were teeming with life. Then, the temperature started to drop and in a matter of only a couple of weeks, the leaves changed into brilliant hues of gold, red and orange.

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The mountains looked like a quilt that would, coincidentally, have matched my living room decor beautifully. Then, I went out of town for one weekend and when I came back, some of the trees had slowly started to lose their leaves. I was angry and sad that autumn should depart so soon. I was worried about what our trees would look like without their lovely leaves. Of course, I worried needlessly because even when they’re naked, there’s still a quiet beauty in the mountains, especially on days like this.

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In contrast to the vivid colors of autumn, I almost feel like I’m shooting these pictures in a sepia tone. When you’re driving on windy mountain roads, everything is neutral and mild and you almost feel as though you should whisper.

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When the trees are naked and exposed, you can see things that would be invisible to you otherwise, like this gorgeous waterfall. The Irishman and I had driven down this road probably a dozen times and had never known that it was there.

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I’m waiting anxiously for our first snow because I can just picture these branches dusted with white. Yes, it will be cold and yes, there are days when I’ll probably be wet and miserable, but there will also be hot chocolate and warm living room fires and cuddling under blankets.

I know that I’ll be ready to kick winter to the curb come March, but spring will be all that much sweeter after the winter days that are coming.

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Thankful

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Thanksgiving! I spent the first 7 hours today in the kitchen cooking (and sampling) and then spent the 8th hour cleaning it up. When it was all done, I walked into the living room to find all of the boys sleeping (with the exception of my father, who retired to the upstairs bedroom because my brother takes up the entire couch). I’m not sure where my mother went off to, but she’s probably upstairs sleeping too.

I decided to take a couple of minutes to write a stream of consciousness list of things that I’m thankful for.

1. My life in general. Seriously, I feel so blessed on a daily basis.
2. My boys.
3. That my parents are still with me for another year.
4. My brother, who over the years has become one of my best friends.
5. My health! Every time I step out for a run, I’m grateful for the strength in my body.
6. Stability. Having a job and a house and a full fridge.
7. Being a girl. That I can be both strong and vulnerable and no one will give me a hard time about either.
8. My friends, who allow me to step away for months on end and then let me back in.
9. Bold nail polish, which almost hides my discolored runner’s toes. Gross!
10. My furry family, each member of which adds something of his or her own to our crazy little household.
11. Automobiles, because life is a highway and I want to ride it all night long. Seriously though, I love the open road and driving it alone.
12. Books that take me to another place and time.
13. The gym.
14. Liberty.
15. Chapstick.
16. Sunshine.
17. Football.
18. Having a motherland and a culture that I’m tied to so closely.
19. Beer.
20. Denim.
21. My Chi flat iron.
22. Photos.
23. A good memory.
24. Flannel sheets.
25. Central heating and air.

Now, please excuse me while I go curl up in #24 so that I can dive into #12, while enjoying #19.

Heat-Seeking Kitty

If you ever want to know what the warmest spots in your house are during the winter, just follow a cat. Please see exhibit A.

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This is Payton sitting in the window sill. This is Payton sitting in the window sill directly above the heating vent. He realized that when the curtains are closed, the hot air is forced directly upwards and it creates a pocket of warmth in an otherwise incredibly drafty house. Clever, my bionic cat, very clever.

Biscotti

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I was first introduced to biscotti back in my coffee shop days. I would occasionally buy one of the packaged ones that we sold and while it was okay, it certainly didn’t knock my socks off. A couple of years later, my mother’s friend dropped off a batch of her homemade biscotti using her secret family recipe. I smiled politely and plopped it on the counter top, where it sat forgotten for a couple of days.

(Fast forward a couple of days.)

As I made my coffee on that fateful day, I threw a couple of the Italian cookies on my plate and sat down to watch The Today Show. And then I took a bite. And then my life changed forever.

I called my mom and asked her to please call Debbie and to beg for the recipe. I would swear on my soul, on my mother’s soul and on the soul of my beloved bionic cat Payton that I would never reveal the sacred recipe to anyone. She scoffed and was unmoved by my pleas (as relayed through my mother). Ok, so really she just politely said, “Fat chance, sister,” but you get the point.

A couple of weeks later, she sent my mother an email with a biscotti recipe that she found online and said that it was fairly close to her own. So, I spent the first 6 months of Parker’s life tinkering with it. Altering it. Improving it. And now, I’m posting it here for all of the world to see because I want everyone to share in my gleefulness. Hmmm, perhaps she was on to something by not entrusting her top secret recipe to me?

Anyway, here we go:

10 tablespoons butter, softened (a stick and another small chunk)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoons Anise seeds (in the spice isle of the store)
2 Tablespoons Pernod, Sambuca or Ouzo (licorice flavored liquor)
2 cups flour
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat your oven to 325 (if you have a convection oven, use that feature instead). Then, put your anise seeds and your Ouzo (or liquor of choice) into a ramekin and microwave it for 15 seconds.

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Next, if you’re like me and you NEVER remember to soften the dang butter, just throw it on a plate and microwave it for 30 seconds at 20% power.

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Works like a charm. Now throw the butter and the sugar together in the mixer and mix on medium until it’s thoroughly creamed (and coating the outside of your bowl).

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I know that seems like a lot of butter, but you have to trust me on this one. I’ve tried to cut the amount down and the cookies just get too dry and brittle. It’s definitely worth the calories in this one. Okay, now add in your eggs one at a time.

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And then add in your seed/Ouzo mixture.

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Finally, slowly add in your flour (which I’ve already combined with the salt and baking powder).

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The dough is going to get pretty thick, but keep mixing it until all of the flour has been incorporated.

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Alright, now stir in your almonds with a spatula, making sure to work them all the way through.

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Once your dough is mixed, spread a piece of wax or parchment paper on the counter top and pile the dough on it.

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Wrap the wax paper around it and form a tight ball. I usually then add a layer of plastic wrap.

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Now, throw this sucker in the freezer for 30 minutes. It will be MUCH easier to work with when the butter has once again solidified, otherwise it’s just a sticky mess. If you’re thinking that this looks a bit labor intensive, it really isn’t. When Parker was first born, I would make the dough the night before and refrigerate it overnight. Then, I would bake it the following morning. I literally did this on a weekly basis. Of course, you can also double or triple the recipe and keep dough balls in the freezer, but I was entirely too sleep deprived to think of that back then.

Okay, fast forward 30 minutes. Cut your dough into two pieces and start working them into two logs that are roughly 1/2 inch tall and 3 inches wide. I usually use a little bit of flour to help facilitate this process.

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Now, bake for 20-25 minutes or until just golden brown.

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Pull them out of the oven and let them cool for 5 minutes. Then, using a sharp, serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1 inch cookies and lay them on their sides.

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Throw them back into the oven for 4-5 minutes, flip them over and bake for another 4-5 minutes. And then. And then.

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There really are no words for what happens when you dip a homemade biscotti into your favorite coffee and then take a bite. It’s just something that has to be experienced. So this holiday season, treat yourself and make some biscotti magic. You won’t regret it.

Way Up High

Even since we moved here 4 months ago, the mornings have more or less looked like this. It’s beautiful in a creepy, ethereal kind of way. I grew up with bright, immediate sunshine first thing in the mornings, but the mountains are slow to wake up and take their time letting go of the last vestiges of nighttime mystery.

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I’ve been driving through this a lot to get to the gym in the predawn hours, but things are going to get pretty interesting when the weather gets cold enough for snow and ice. I’ve been checking the weather religiously and thus far, we haven’t hit the freezing point yet, but winter is just around the corner.

The good news is that I’m the only one on the road, so no one will overmuch care if I’m going 30 miles an hour with my high beams on. As a precaution, both cars are snow/ice ready. The little Acura now has top-of-the-line all weather tires and we traded in our rear-wheel drive truck for an all-wheel drive Subaru. Still, say an extra little prayer for this Florida girl will you? I’m pretty sure that I’ll pee my pants the first time that I slide on a patch of ice.

Runner’s High

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I was at mile 9 and things were not looking good. My breathing was irregular, my thoughts were disjointed and I’d had to fight for every mile of this run. I promised myself that I would just take it one iPod song at a time and that inch by inch, I would make it to 12 miles today if it killed me. It had thus far been an ugly run, but an ugly run is better than no run at all.

And then a new song started. It was a good one. My stride changed to match the beat and then everything happened at once. A chill went down my spine, goosebumps broke out from my scalp to my toes and adrenaline surged forth from my core.

The pavement disappeared from beneath my feet and there were no thoughts at all in my head. There was only focus. It’s as if my existence shifted to another dimension. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. My legs moved of their own volition and they were weightless. In the span of 30 seconds, it’s as if someone reset my time clock and I was starting with fresh legs. With a grin on my face and sweat streaming down my back, I put the pedal to the metal and streaked through my last 3 miles. Feeling victorious, I felt only the thrill of the last three miles; the first 90 minutes of pain all but forgotten in the aftermath of adrenaline and relief.

That, my friends, is the runner’s high. It’s a feeling akin to riding a roller coaster or jumping out of a plane, the only difference being that you have to work for it. It doesn’t happen with every run and the timing of it varies, but I can tell you that I’ve never experienced it before mile number 4.

I know some distance runners that chase it like a drug, but it’s never been the “goal” for me. I run because I like how I feel when I finish. I like how my legs look when I’m logging 20+ miles a week and I love how life in general never leaves me winded. But the runner’s high? That’s just a nice and unexpected bonus and today, it was payment for gutting it out even when every cell in my body was dying to just pack it up and go home. And for that, I am grateful.

Bathing In The Sun

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There is something so incredibly indulgent about bathing in the sun.

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When I was in high school, I would spring out of bed on weekend mornings to see if the sun was out. If it was, I would do a dance of joy and quickly pack up an afternoon’s worth of stuff before heading off to the beach, which was only a mile away.

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With the wind in my hair and the sand between my toes, I would close my eyes and soak up the sun. In that time and space, there were no worries and no stressers. There was only warmth and an incredible lightness of being.

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It was almost as if my internal batteries were being recharged. I would leave feeling peaceful and content. The universe was once again aligned and I was prepared to handle another week of school, swim practices and teenage drama.

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When I see one of the cats grabbing a patch of sun, it brings me right back to that place and to the knowledge that I will never be quite that carefree again. Sure, I can lay in the sun and enjoy the feel of the breeze caressing my skin, but it’s not possible to lose myself in quite the same way since I’m now the momma.

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So Payton, please don’t let me disturb you. Your next meal is just on the horizon, your litter box is clean and the dogs are contained in the next room. In other words, you don’t have a single thing to do except allow the late afternoon sun to warm your fur and wait until the dinner bell rings. Enjoy my friend.