Saturday Morning Run (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 18)

The fog-like clouds hung low over Lake Superior, the sun trying to push through and welcome the day.

November morning on Lake Superior

Peer pressure is a good thing … when the temperature is in the 20’s (Fahrenheit), and it is more tempting to hit the snooze button rather than roll out of bed and dig out the winter running layers.

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We were reminded how fortunate we are in Duluth to have countless trails and roads with amazing views — every season of the year.

Birch Trees on a Rocky Crag in Duluth

Always grateful for the run.

~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure

How appropriate that the photos I selected to illustrate “treasure” are not the best quality photographs, but rather snapped on the fly (or, should I say, “on the ski”) with my phone this weekend.  I had another post almost completed for this week’s challenge, but it became apparent to me on a relaxing ski through the woods with good friends, as the fluffy flakes added a fresh layer, that I was enjoying one of life’s best treasures — good friendship (made even better by the simultaneous enjoyment of the beauty of the outdoors).  The best treasures are, indeed, treasures of the heart.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Cross-country skiing with good friends

 “I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest. I find I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be. The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.” ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The treasure of good friendship during a winter ski

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ~ L.M. Montgomery

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  ”Treasure” was this week’s theme.  Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here.

Female Friendships: Keeping Me Afloat in the Sea of Testosterone

I love my husband.  I love my teenaged boys.  Thank goodness for my female friendships. These were my thoughts as I drove home from book club this evening.

Endless Summer Hydrangea

In my rather unscientific study of the subject of the differences between men and women, undertaken while raising two boys and enjoying over 20 years of marriage to my husband, I have observed many stereotypical responses to situations that cause me to value things like “chick flick” nights with my girlfriends.  For example, as I sat with almost-hiccupping sobs toward the end of the movie “Marley and Me,” my then 10-year-old son was appalled, whispering to me to “please stop!” even while I heard the sniffles and sobs from throughout the theater.  We stopped by the restroom on our way out of the theater.  I told my son that plenty of other women were in the bathroom drying their tears, and he responded, “Well, no one in the boys’ bathroom was!”  I asked him how he could not have felt like crying, knowing what an animal lover he was.  Without pause, he answered, “It’s not like I knew Marley personally.”

As another example, on a family movie night at home, after I endured the movie selected by the males in the viewing audience — some “Dumb and Dumber”-type movie — I chose “Eat Pray Love” for my selection of the double feature.  The boys wandered off and I had to put up with a running commentary from my husband that included comments like, “Well, I can certainly see why she ended up alone.”  I invited him to find something else to do for the remainder of the movie.  (Thankfully, we do all enjoy a good historical drama or espionage-style thriller, and whether they admit it or not, they enjoy watching “Glee” with me!)

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”~Katharine Hepburn

(I couldn’t resist this quote — I adore Katharine Hepburn, and I know that my husband and boys certainly also have had this thought cross their mind while living with me!)

Stargazer Lily

I cannot recall where I read this, but in a recent discussion concerning the “balance” between family and work,  one writer used the term “blend” instead.  The term struck me as the perfect description of the journey many of us are on, trying to artfully, responsibly blend the different aspects of our lives.  As is often said, you can’t have it all . . .at least not all at the same time.  Words so true.  Reflecting back on the past 20 years of this journey since law school, I am reminded of the important role my female mentors and friends, who were sometimes one and the same, have played in helping me maintain perspective, grow and mature as a parent and spouse, develop as a professional, and find time to be a friend.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

My female friendships include a kindred spirit going back to 5th grade.  We always remind each other “a friend is a friend till the end.”  Despite miles and often years separating us, the flame of friendship burns on, rekindled whenever we have a chance to connect.  I know we will always be there for each other.

New friendships are precious, as well.  While we have finite emotional capacity, as well as limited time, I have found that one should never say she does not have room for another friend in her life.  At different stages of life, time may be limited to cultivate new friendships and it sometimes becomes difficult to maintain old friendships.  And, as troubling and sad as it can be, sometimes friends are not meant to be forever, but rather we are there for a certain time or certain need in each others’ lives.

Phlox

Book club is something I have made a commitment to making time for, even as life’s other demands are full.  For a few hours every couple of months, I have enjoyed the company of  old friends and made new ones.  I learn from the perspectives of women who have walked many miles ahead of me in life, as well as those who have walked the same number of miles but on a different path.  I am reminded that we all have burdens, we all have blessings.  I am amazed at the diversity of interests, talents and insights shared around the table, as we sometimes even spend time discussing the book we read (or ran out of time to read, or gave up reading . . . ).  Some discussions require more than one glass of wine!

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Purple Coneflower

The various relationships we have in our lives are important for different reasons.  I love my husband.  I love my boys.  And I am so grateful for my female friends.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ~ Marcel Proust

Ciao! ~ Kat

20 Years of Food and Friendship

The header photo on the home page of my blog is a scene of the Chianti countryside from the drive back to Siena from Panzano.  To me, it embodies a classic Tuscan view — the rolling hills, the grapevines, the olive trees, the cluster of old buildings comprising a little hill town.  It also reminds me of a wonderful tradition that a group of friends have managed to continue over the span of 20 years, culminating in a week together in Tuscany last summer at a villa just outside Siena.  Throughout this post are just a few of the photos from that week.  (Just as I opened my blog with a post on the Pecorino of Pienza, I suspect you may see other photos or future posts periodically reflecting back on that incredible trip.)

The peaceful, relaxing view close to the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto
The peaceful, relaxing view as we drew close to what we called home for the week in Tuscany.

In the early 1990’s, we were three couples embarking on our new careers, six young adults, four of whom had graduated from the same post-graduate institution, and all of whom had relocated to a new community.  While none of us could be called close friends during graduate school, we had overlapping circles of acquaintances, and we reconnected during that first year or so following graduation, as we became part of the young professional community in our new city.  In December 1992, we invited the other two couples to our home for dinner.  We recently had purchased a Greek cookbook, and decided to put together a Greek-themed menu for our informal gathering.  When you are just starting out, and have been living the student lifestyle for so many years, planning such a dinner is a pretty big deal!

The Florence Duomo from Giotto's Bell Tower
The Florence Duomo from Giotto’s Bell Tower

The menu consisted of Tzatziki (the Greek cucumber and yogurt dip) with pita bread and veggies, a Greek salad, Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie), and then one of our friends brought over red velvet cake they had baked.  Rounding out the meal was retsina, a uniquely flavored Greek wine thanks to the addition of pine resin.  The evening was a wonderful blur of conversation, and the hours flew by, ending with a plan for our next dinner gathering a few months later at one of the other couple’s homes.  Before the night was done, I think we may have even brought out some of the Saba Spice (spiced 151 rum) we had purchased during our honeymoon on the little Caribbean island of Saba.  Dinner club was born.

Zucotta (gelato chocolate cake) with Limoncino
Zucotta (gelato chocolate cake) with Limoncino
Ahhh, Brunello . . . what a Tuscan gem!
Ahhh, Brunello . . . what a Tuscan gem!

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.”  ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

A street scene in Siena, Italy
A street scene in Siena, Italy

Every quarter, without fail for 20 years, we have gathered.  One couple moved to a city a couple hours away, we have added six children, and we have had three couples’ relationships stand the test of time between and among all of us.  When our kids were very young, we would bring them along.  During that delightfully busy toddler stage, we tended to hire a babysitter.  But, as time went on, our kids became part of dinner club, and even as teens, they have continued to look forward to our quarterly gatherings.  We parents find that as we get older, the nights end a little earlier, or some of us may be found sleeping in a chair as others talk into the wee hours.  We bring to the table so much in common, yet so much interestingly different.  In this age of polarizing political discourse, it is refreshing to have a group of friends with often divergent views who can have a civil, yet vigorous discussion, and still raise a glass in toast to friendship at the end of the evening, and then move on to a mean game of Trivial Pursuit.  Some meals have been a great gourmet success, while other menus may have recipes we decide to “retire” from our kitchens.  Some desserts have been festively flambéed, while others were just plainly burned.  Good memories all around.

Ponte Vecchio ~ Florence, Italy
Ponte Vecchio ~ Florence, Italy

With this history, as we began our 19th year of dinner club, we discussed the idea of doing something special to celebrate this tradition.  The hour approached midnight at one of our quarterly gatherings, and we finished up dessert (a bit later than usual, although 10:00 p.m. is not an unusual time for our dessert course, since our evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with appetizers, moving on to salad and the main course at a time that depends on how organized the hosts happen to be that day — as our kids have become older and more involved with activities, we find our organizational levels decreasing in equal proportion, although I admit to my husband and I being the ones who are routinely delinquent on the organizational front), the conversation again turned to marking this significant anniversary.  There may have been a few bottles of wine involved throughout the evening. . .

A view from San Gimignano, Italy
A view from San Gimignano, Italy

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” ~ W. C. Fields

San Gimignano from La Rocca
San Gimignano from La Rocca

As we discussed our options, the kids floated in to pick up a piece of dessert, and joined in the conversation.  We adults first discussed Napa — a weekend of wine country for just the parents!  Delightful, relaxing!  Oh, but the kids have become part of the tradition, so perhaps a weekend in Chicago was more family-friendly, yet still had some appealing foodie aspects.  What about a cruise?  Alaska?  The Caribbean?  Nah . . . . what about . . . Italy?  The kids all cheered — “Yes!  Italy!”  As we all laughed; yes, nice idea, but what a pipe dream, kids!  But, hey . . . life is short, isn’t it?!  And, what better destination for a group of food-loving friends than Italy, right?!  So, amazingly, over the course of the next year, we made our dream a reality and committed to sharing a house for a week in Tuscany.

Looking toward Panzano, Italy
Looking toward Panzano, Italy

La vita e breve” ~ “life is short”

The view of Siena we enjoyed driving to and from the Villa del Cielo
The view of Siena we enjoyed driving to and from the villa

Being the Type-A trip planner, I researched a variety of vacation rental and villa options, and emailed my findings to the other couples in our group.  We ultimately decided on a lovely villa just outside of Siena, the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto.  I was impressed with the communications I had with Rentvillas, inquiring about the rental, and the property satisfied (at least on paper) some element from each of our “wish list” items of what we had hoped to find when renting a house in Tuscany.  For me, I did not want to be so far afield from neighboring towns that I spent the whole day driving for sight-seeing; for another, having a nice property where she could just sit and unwind without others around was important; for another, a beautiful view; for the kids, a pool to share; and for all of us, enough bedrooms and baths so we still liked each other at the end of the week!  The villa exceeded our expectations, and as we walked onto the property and met the first family to arrive at the house, two of us found ourselves grasping hands and jumping up and down euphorically, looking and sounding like school girls, “I can’t believe it! It doesn’t seem real!”  But, indeed it was real, and spending time at that house every evening, as we came back together after typically going in different directions to sightsee during the day, was probably everyone’s favorite memory of our week together.

The "Butcher of Panzano" ~ Panzano, Italy
The “Butcher of Panzano” ~ Panzano, Italy

We shared tips and experiences from our different travels to surrounding hill towns; my husband met the “Butcher of Panzano” (his — my husband’s, not Dario Cecchini’s — highlight of the week!) and ordered several steaks to pick up later in the week to grill at the house for everyone to share; we had a local chef come to the house one night and cook for all of us so we could enjoy a meal together seated around the table for 12; and other evenings we enjoyed taking turns cooking, using the fresh herbs available on the grounds of the villa.  Best of all, almost every night, we sat outside with a glass of Italian wine (or limoncello!) in hand and enjoyed the incredible view of the Tuscan hillside, pinching ourselves for our good fortune to have this time together in such a beautiful setting.

A beautiful evening view from the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto
A beautiful evening view from the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto

Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” ~ Julia Child

Do you have a food tradition that has become an integral part of your life?

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

The cherub statue in the gardens at the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto
The cherub statue in the gardens at the Villa del Cielo with Caminetto (and now my Gravatar!)