Saturday, March 7, 2015

Un-apologetically Grateful......

Hello readers...............I found this entry in my draft pile and feel like it needs to be shared.  I found myself copying and pasting it into an email to a friend, and thought- I really need to just post it.  I wrote this in July 2014.  And I share it with you now...........

~~~~~~~~~A Saturday in July 2014~~~~~~~~

I sat in the bottom of a shallow grave today, using a pick-axe to break up the stubborn Tennessee clay soil and then scooping it out with my hands.  It had been raining for 24 hours straight, it was muddy, it was hard labor.  I was not alone.  I had help.  But at this moment when I was at the bottom of the grave, I was alone and stewing in loss.  My dog had just died and I felt 100 years old.

Between July 2013 and July 2014, I have been through a year full of loss.  I am debating whether to line it all out here, but then it defeats the purpose of what I am trying to say.

You see, tonight I went to Mass (remember- I'm a proud Catholic!)  I went to Mass to see one of my favorite priests say his farewells before moving on to his next posting.  I sat in my regular seat, thinking of loss.  How tired I am of loss.  Friends moving, people dying, jobs ending, faithful dogs passing on............the list went on.  Again sitting in my seat, I felt 100 years old; all alone and completely surrounded.

Father Charlie talked to us about gratefulness.  Not about loss, not about how much he would miss us, not about the great sadness of his departure.  He talked about how grateful he is to us and for us.  And sitting there, hearing his words, I connected my overwhelming feeling of loss and grief to a feeling of gratefulness with what I have gained from that all the loss.

I am un-apologetically grateful for every loss.  I am grateful for every moment of the last year, where I have said goodbye, or not even had the chance to say goodbye, or plain refused to say goodbye.

We lose so much, and with each loss, it gets harder.  It is harder to focus on the gratefulness.  It is harder to focus on the good that comes from loss.  Sometimes you see it immediately.  Sometimes it takes years.

Tonight, I see my loss, and I see my gain.  And in all things, I find balance.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Well, hey there.......'s been almost a year.  Not quite, but almost.  And I'm back.

Long story short:  Healthcare is brutal and I don't belong there.

I am now in a new job that I love with an engineering firm and there is plenty of room to grow, so I hope they keep me for the long haul.

I am running again, with a fall half-marathon on the schedule, thoughts of a spring marathon, and in the distance........a 50K.

One day at a time..............

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ultra Overload?

I've posted for the Trail Runner Magazine Blog Symposium before- you can see it here.  This month's topic is much different- 

August Topic: Is there too much emphasis in the (trail-running) media on ultra distances?

I've been running for over 3 years- I've run road and trail races, varying from 1 mile to ultra distances.  Both trail and road have their upsides and I enjoy each race I run for whatever it happens to be. When it comes to trail racing, I love technical trails.  I'm terribly slow and time cut-offs make me nervous, but I am at least partly goat.  

At some point, I no longer felt like small distances were enough.  A half-marathon or 10K trail run paled in comparison to reports of the Ultras being run simultaneously across the nation.  I decided to run a 50K so I could be a member of the Elite, despite the fact that I had never done a marathon.  "Marathons are for wussies" I reasoned, buying into a lot of the hype that continues to build around Ultra runners.  I didn't need to run a marathon- Oprah ran a marathon.  I needed a 50K.  That's what the real runners were doing.

And......after months of training......I DNF'd.  Cut off for being too slow.  The report is here, written months later after a very bruised ego and spirit started to mend.  I will attempt another 50K, but not this year.  Maybe next year.

Back to the question at hand: Is there too much emphasis in the media on ultra distances?

The short answer is yes.

 Trail racing is an art form, at any distance.  You go against natural elements- movable and immovable forces of nature- Mother Nature herself can laugh in your face at any moment.  Road races are much more predictable- it's unlikely you will have to ford a river or dodge a wild animal during a marathon in the city.  I can't think of any road races where you start out in warm weather and end up in snow at some point along the route.  Trail racing is, in itself, a bad ass sport.

Notice I said trail racing- not just ultras.

But Ultras are where the spotlight is pointed- it is the current (forgive me) running fad.  We live in a world of extremes and ultra distance races (road or trail) fall neatly into that category.  There is a certain enjoyment in telling people you run 50K or 100K or whatever for fun.  Their expressions can be priceless at times.  The idea of running further than most of them drive, through the mountains, baffles them.  It puts you on a similar plane as Achilles or Odysseus- those demi-gods of old, who couldn't be stopped.  Never mind that Pheidippes ran the original marathon in sandals through the country and dropped dead at the end of it.  The world is full of Pheidippes.  Just look at any Rock 'n Roll Marathon- there are thousands of Pheidippes out there.  Your neighbor or coworker may be one.

But at an Ultra, there are fewer Achilles', fewer Odysseus' to watch; to envy.

Local "short" trail races are fine for the mundane- the casual runner.  The ambitious runner may take on a trail series, collecting points as the year wanes on, maybe hoping to place among the local leaders.

True Runners seek the Pinnacle of endurance, of strength- the Ultra.

We no longer satisfy ourselves with mediocre.  We live for extreme.  Extreme Home Makeover, Biggest Loser, the new reality survival show currently on network TV.  Vegan diets, Paleo diets, no-carb diets...........We want faster results, faster phones, faster cars, faster finish times.  Winning an Ultra is EPIC.  Breaking a record at an Ultra- you are an Immortal.

Where does that leave us mere mortals?  Lost in the shadow of the Ultra where we plod along on our 10K trail race, meeting up with old and new friends as we progress through our local series.  Aspiring to run an Ultra one day, not just to finish it, but to set a personal best and become an Immortal in your own life?  Perhaps.  To those runners of lightning speed and unceasing endurance, our races are mere stepping stones to greatness- things long conquered and forgotten in the dust of longer races.

Ultras have their place in the runner's universe, and they do demand respect.  But I don't think that they deserve the hype.  One day they too will pass into the shadow of something newer and better.  In the meantime, I would rather run a challenging single track 10K through the woods than a 50K run around and around the same loop.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

All or Nothing

My cell phone contract is about to expire.  I am finally free to choose the best company and plan currently on the market.  (and subsequently get locked into another contract.......but that's another problem altogether.)

As I peruse the available phones and plans, I don't know which phone to get.  The plans are pretty much all alike, with the exception of who actually offers even the smallest tidbit of service away out here in the sticks.  I just can't decide which phone to pick.  I love my smartphone.  I can do all manner of things with it, whenever I want.  I especially love that I can text and chat via wifi, which is a huge bonus out here where there is no cell phone service available on my sofa.  I consider myself a chronic "over-sharer" although I do make an effort not to.  There are days when I share everything though!  (appropriate things anyway.......) 

In utter contrast, part of me craves the simple life, without all the (literal) bells and whistles.  A life where I can just go out and be.  A life that was once the norm, is now considered weird and difficult.  I shock enough people when I tell them that we don't have cable television at our house and mostly watch PBS.  Imagine the looks of horror I would get if I pulled out a flip phone!  It would probably make the 6 o'clock news.  (Although most people would read about it on their Facebook newsfeed........)

Is it possible to live simply while being completely connected?  We read about air pollution affecting our environment every day.  But what about social pollution- can't that be just as toxic? 

I feel extremely hypocritical sitting here writing an online blog about the simple life, social pollution, and questioning my capacity to over-share.  But, then comes the question- if I don't put it out there, who will?  I once wrote a blog entry (elsewhere) about the merits about physical books versus e-books.  A "friend" read it and proceeded to mock me viciously about my use of electronic media to talk about why e-books will never replace real books.  He remarked that I should have "just written the blog entry into a notebook and stuck it on a shelf in the hopes that someone might read it" because that was essentially what I was arguing for. 

I see commercials urging people to get outside and "unplug" at the same time that I see commercials about a new camera that you can snap a picture with and it INSTANTLY uploads it to your Facebook feed where your friends can comment, like, and share.  I think my favorite is a commercial where two people are hiking in the mountains when suddenly the trees and landscape morph into a casino.  Instantly the hikers are jubilant and their hiking garb is swapped for casino swag. 

So what can I do?  It seems to be an all or nothing proposition.  Either embrace the social media world and succumb to social pollution (if there isn't a pic, it didn't happen!) and essentially become one of those people who drive through the mountains and stop only to snap a picture of the black bear on the side of the road while the Rangers try to keep people away..............OR..............become some sort of crazy person who eschews social media and is seen as elitist or reclusive, depending on who is doing the viewing. 

Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? 

Mountain Mornings

"The mountains are calling and I must go."
-John Muir-

It's been unusually cool in my part of the world for the past few days.  Cool enough to have all the windows open to let the cool air in, pretty much unheard of in late July.  Late July and then into August typically leave us in the throes of what I call "suppression heat" where it is so hot and humid that you just lay there, trying not to sweat.  I love the lush green that comes along with that humidity and heat, but I love it from the confines of the air conditioned living room.  So, to be able to keep the windows open for three days and nights straight.............amazingly wonderful.

Yesterday, I woke up in the chilly air buried under my quilts and blankets in a warm little cocoon of perfect snugness, whacked the snooze button on my alarm (it was 0430!!) and gave myself 5 (or 15) minutes to enjoy the cold outside and warm inside.  I love that feeling- when I was a kid, I grew up in a house that didn't have a lot of heating in the back where the bedrooms were.  It would be around 40 degrees in our rooms most mornings, so you learned early that you leapt from bed and hustled down to the kitchen or living room where the woodstove was.  I grew up in the "frozen north" where I once saw the thermometer reach 56 below zero.  Not counting the windchill.  Living in the south doesn't often provide those cool mornings to enjoy.

Once, I spent a significant amount of time in the mountains not far from here.  (Not the Smokies.)  I had the opportunity to spend weekends up on the top of a mountain in a little house and I was able to wake up to mountain mornings that are cool and beautiful, where you can see the steam coming off your coffee and you need a hoodie to ward off the chill.  While I no longer go to that house, I have held onto that feeling of peace and contentment that I would always feel up there.  The last three mornings have reminded me of that feeling and how much I miss it.

The above quote from John Muir keeps cycling through my mind and makes me "itchy" which is to say, makes me want to run away from home and live in the mountains (with my family, of course).  This isn't logistically possible, since I just got a new job in the city, kiddo is in school, and a host of other things that make me a grown-up and limit my ability to simply drop everything and run off into the sunset with abandon. 

But at least I know what I want, so that someday, when the timing is right, I will be able to point my compass in that direction and drink my coffee every morning on my mountain porch, where the sun is crisper, the birds sing sweeter, and all the world is in harmony.

Photo Credit

Monday, July 15, 2013

AuntaLee's Sugar Cookies

My sister, now known as AuntaLee by all the assorted nieces and nephews, found this absolutely amazing sugar cookie recipe a few years ago when my son was little.  We grew up on our Gramma's sugar cookies, but the recipe she found........soooo good.  It's probably got something to do with the 1.5 cups of butter.

I love whipped butter and fluffy, so sinful.....

Last month, when Little Man turned 7, he got a giant duck cookie cutter for his birthday.  Let me back up a minute and explain that he loves ducks.  LOVES.  I don't know where it came from, but there it is.  He has been chomping at the bit to make some duck cookies, but everytime he's asked about it, the timing is off.  It's late Sunday afternoon, or I just made banana bread, or we didn't have butter.

On Saturday, the stars aligned.  He went to run errands with Grammy-Gram, and I cleaned the kitchen.  In the process, I realized that if I made the cookie dough while he was gone, it would have time to chill, and we could have the cookies finished before church Saturday night.  Imagine his glee when he came home to discover that I had sugar cookie dough chilling in the fridge.

Cookie Dough...........

Be liberal with your flour- this stuff gets sticky once it warms up a bit.

He was very patient in waiting for the dough to be ready (I let it chill about 2 hours.  Overnight makes it too stiff to really roll out.)  Then began the fun of rolling and cutting.  We had our giant duck cookie cutter, as well as a little duck cookie cutter.  We alternated filling pans of BIG Quacks and little Quacks.

Ducks in a row.......

One note- These cookies do not brown on top.  They stay very pale and soft.  The first time I made them, I overbaked them waiting for them to turn brown on top.  Check the bottom instead.

These guys are baked......see how pale they are?

But their bottoms are perfect!

Once they were baked and cooled, we had just enough time to ice them with "ducky yellow" lemon icing, which is fairly easy to create, and extremely delicious on these cookies.  For the smaller cookies, the dipping method was the easiest way to ice them.  For the big ducks, I used a spoon to dump some icing on the cookies and then spread it out.  Kiddo added yellow sprinkles to some, but we made sure to ice ALL the cookies.  Otherwise, I end up with a container of unadorned, uneaten, stale sugar cookies.  And that's just sad.

I think he ate as much icing as he used.......

Without further ado, I give you.......AuntaLee's Sugar Cookie Recipe, as well as a quick primer in how to make lemon icing.

AuntaLee's Sugar Cookies

 1 1/2 Cups (3 sticks) Butter, softened
2 Cups white sugar

4 Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla

5 cups flour (I use 2 cups white whole wheat and 3 cups all purpose)
2 Tsp Baking Powder (Rumford or Trader Joe's are the best ones)
1 Tsp Salt

1) Beat butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy

2) Add eggs and vanilla, beat until combined and fluffy

3) Add flour, baking powder, and salt  (I use my dough hook for this part)

4) Cover and chills dough for at least 1 hour.

5) Preheat oven to 400 degrees

6) Roll out dough- about 1/4-1/2 inch thick

7) Cut into shapes and place on ungreased cookies sheet.

8) Bake 6-8 minutes (look at the bottoms, not at the tops!)

9)  Cool completely, ice with lemon icing, and ENJOY!

Mama's Lemon Icing

Take about 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix in straight lemon juice to desired consistency.  It makes a lemonade type icing that is so good on these cookies!  We also added yellow food coloring so our ducks would be yellow. 

Here's how I dip them:

Holding the cookie upside down, touch the face of the cookie to the icing.  Don't push it down into it or you will end up with WAY too much icing.  

When you pull it back up, let the extra drizzle off for a few seconds and then turn the cookie over and let it dry on a wire rack.  Some may run off the sides on the first few while you get the hang of it.  Don't worry- they are still delicious. 

Questions, comments, concerns- let me know below.  I would really love to hear about your Hippie adventures. 

Peace & Love Y'all- Hippie Mama

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Choosy Moms Choose..........Hippie

My son hated peanut butter.  Hated.  Jif, Trader Joe's, Peter Pan, Creamy, Crunchy................nothing worked.

So I gave up.

Until.......I tried Hippie.

Oh Yeah.  Hippie Peanut Butter hits the spot.  He LOVES my Hippie peanut butter.  And who can blame him?  It's fresh and he watches it go from peanuts to peanut butter before his big brown eyes.

There is something magical about watching something morph or grow or change.  As soon as we get home from school/work every day, he is in the garden, checking to see what's grown, what's changed.  When I make bread, he likes to watch me work with the dough and then watches it bake through the little window on the oven door.  He is learning to make his own cookies, and prefers to test the dough before they are baked and then eat them hot immediately after, complete with dramatics of "MAMA!  These are TOO good!  MAMA!" 

This kid is the kid that steals cooling pies off windowsills and eats them in the hayloft. 

My favorite part of making Hippie Peanut Butter is how easy it is.  And I know what's in it.

Here's what's in Jif Creamy Peanut Butter:

Uh-huh.  Rapeseed?  What is that?  Mono and diglycerides?  Ew.

Here's what's in Hippie Peanut Butter:
Peanuts, Salt.

Uh-huh.  See what I'm saying?

So let's get down to business, shall we?

First things first- peanuts.  I go to (surprise surprise) Trader Joe's and get my peanuts there.  I use one bag Honey Roasted (so obviously more than just peanuts- I know) and one bag 50% less salted.  The combination is ideal for my family, who prefers their peanut butter be a little sweeter than just straight peanuts, and the 50% less salt helps keep the saltiness and sodium in check. 

You may use whatever peanuts you prefer.  And if you feel a little "yeah, right Hippie Mom, homemade peanut butter.  Psh."  Then make a small batch first to try it. 

Here's what you do:

Dump the peanuts in the food processor. Press go.

If you have a teeny tiny food processor, please be aware that you may have to give the little motor cooling breaks so you don't fry it.  Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.  Let's just say that after I made my first batch, I received a new GIANT food processor that can handle the load and doesn't smoke when I use it.  

At first, the peanuts look like pebbly dirt. 

Peanut Pebbles..........

Then they start to clump. 

It's hard to get a good picture of peanuts in the processor........

Then they do what I call the Peanut Tsunami where this giant peanut wave works its way around the processor bowl, devouring all the other peanut pieces. 

Eventually it starts to smoooooth out. 


When it hits smooth and creamy, without any weird lumps or bumps twirling around in there, it's done.  (If you like crunchy, toss in some more peanuts and run the processor again just to break them up into smaller pieces.)  

Refilling the Hippie jar.

Go ahead and taste test it- it will be a little soft and warm.  Grinding peanuts causes friction, which causes heat.  It's all good, because warm, soft peanut butter pours so much easier into a jar.  (I use an old Jif jar, or a glass Mason jar- whatever is handy.)  Once you pop it in the fridge for a few hours, it will stiffen up to a firmer consistency, or you can leave it out and it will stay soft.


Once you realize how easy homemade Peanut Butter really is, you can make it and give it to your friends and family.  Introduce them to the wonder that is Hippie living.  A fresh loaf of bread, a jar of Hippie peanut butter, and a jar of local Honey would make an excellent housewarming or hostess gift. 

Questions, comments, concerns- let me know below.  I would really love to hear about your Hippie adventures. 

Peace & Love Y'all- Hippie Mama