A counting of blessings

It’s Thanksgiving Eve, and I find myself counting blessings today. How about you? I’m grateful for family, health, friends near and far (and old and new), my faithful blog readers, and so many more blessings.

I wanted to share with you a few pictures of the things/places/creatures that fill me with gratitude.

This has been a year of transition, but I’m grateful for the place I live. My husband and I landed in a friendly neighborhood, and we get to run on trails by a river that teems with beauty just about every single morning. (The mornings that include rattlesnakes are a bit less lovely than the rest.)


The river in autumn

The river brings with it some amazing animals (look for more on the ongoing salmon run in a future post). Bird watching is spectacular here. And I’m grateful for our next-door neighbor in Raleigh who sent us off on our journey to the left coast with the Sibley Guide to Birds. I miss sitting on her screened-in porch watching birds with her but look forward to a time she and other birding friends will visit. I imagine our walks by the river with anticipation. Will we see kites, hawks, gulls, mergansers, vultures, hummingbirds, egrets, or all of these and more?


A Brewer’s Blackbird glistens in the sun.


An osprey’s feast of fresh-caught trout. May your plate be full of your favorite catches tomorrow.

I’m grateful for a full refrigerator and having completed the grocery shopping. I’m grateful to the Whole Foods several towns away for vegan pecan pie. (I mostly say pee-kan. Do you say pi-kahn?) I’m grateful to have seen the most beautiful tree in a Target parking lot of all places, making my Thanksgiving errands that much better a couple of days ago.


A stunning autumn sight

This autumn has been stunning, and it only took a few rainy days to make that happen. Has fall been fabulous where you are? My dad emailed the other day to say that Raleigh’s fall trees were the most beautiful he remembers in his four+ decades of living there. I asked for photos (he’s an amazing photographer), but so far, no pictures. That’s okay. I’m enjoying the show here, and I’m glad he’s enjoying the show there.

I’m grateful for views of the Sierras that show snow-capped mountains again, a promise and hope of El Niño bringing much-needed precipitation this winter. We’re already behind for the rainy season, but the presence of snow brings me joy anyway.


How about you? What fills you with gratitude? For a little Thanksgiving fun, if you have time over the next few days, I’d love to know:

  • Your favorite Thanksgiving dessert (vegan pumpkin for me).
  • Your favorite tree in fall (just about anything bright yellow, orange or red, but maples if I have to pick just one).
  • Your favorite bird (these days, it’s a toss up between the osprey you see above or owls in general).
  • Your favorite running spot or your favorite place outdoors (too hard to pick just one, but I love a well-shaded running trail that ends up near water of some kind).

Safe travels to you all this holiday, whether you’re going over the river and through the woods, or just out for a walk around the block. Happy Thanksgiving (to my American friends)! And happy Thursday to the rest of you.

Flowers and candles: What we tell the children and ourselves


By now you’ve likely seen the video of the French immigrant father with his small son discussing the terrorist attacks in Paris. If you haven’t seen it, many sites have pulled it  because of copyright issues, but you’ll find it here at the 6:22 mark of the video. (For English subtitles click on the CC icon at the bottom of the video screen, and select English.)

I’d also encourage you to watch the clip right before this sweet father and son, starting around the 4:30 mark. In that part of the video, a French Muslim girl and her mother talk about their reactions. The mother says, “We must be humans and not barbarians.”

The young girl smiles bravely and says she’ll try not to have nightmares. The little boy lets a relieved smile creep across his face as he looks from his father to the flowers and candles. “C’est pour protégé?” he asks. This is for protection? The expressions of both the girl and the boy fill my eyes with tears and my heart with hope.

What do we tell our children and ourselves in times of darkness, when we hear reports of jihadis hoping to spark an apocalyptic war? How do we comfort our children when they see adult fears threatening to overcome our sense of compassion and our common humanity?

Perhaps the French father is on to something that could comfort us all. The candles and the flowers will protect us—not literally from the guns, of course—but because they suggest a willingness and a desire to let goodness rise up, to cause goodness to triumph over the evil.

I don’t know enough of other religions to speak of them, but Christians believe in the capital L Light that triumphs over darkness: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).

There is light and there is darkness in this fallen world of ours. The light is stronger, and the Light will protect us. Perhaps not in the ways we expect or hope or imagine. But to me, flowers and candles are a good start.

This past Sunday, I attended a prayer service at the Episcopal church I’ve been visiting. I’d like to leave you with the evening prayer that we spoke together at the end of the service. May it be an offering of light to you:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Seasons and surprises

Ever have one of those weeks where lunch, if it happens at all, happens at 4:30 in the afternoon standing over some work you have to get done? That’s the kind of week I’m having. The busyness is all for great reasons, and I can’t complain.

However, it means I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and write this week. Still, I want to share a few seasonal happenings for which I am deeply grateful, and one seasonal surprise I’d just as soon do without. I hope you don’t mind a post mostly of pictures.


Rain-soaked maple with leaves turning for fall

We’ve been blessed with good rains the last two Sundays and Mondays, the promise of a much-needed rainy season here. I never thought I’d get so excited about rain. Of course, I don’t always appreciate God’s sense of humor with the timing of answering my pestering prayers for rain. This past weekend, rain started to fall four and a half minutes into a half marathon I was running. Two hours of cold, wet running: fun and not fun at the same time.

I wasn’t sure if fall would be all that pretty here given the drought, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I’m grateful to the previous owners of our home for planting several trees in the yard that are turning beautiful autumn shades.

I’m also grateful to whichever neighbor included this lovely mum as part of my secret “boo’d” gift for Halloween. I’m still trying to figure out the best sunny spot to plant it, hoping it will come back year after year.


Mums and pumpkins glisten in the rain.

The rains have brought huge puddles to my running trails, and dodging them makes for a fun challenge. The dog is less picky. She runs straight through the puddles. She loves the rain, too, mostly because she likes getting toweled off when we get home.


This puddle stuck around all last week and got refilled with the new rain earlier this week.


A bit of fall red amid all the green trees. I like its reflection in the river.


More puddles and fog rolling in, a battle between the wet ground and the rising sun

Now for the unpleasant surprise. No one told me there would be two (!) yellow pollen seasons here. This is how the front porch has looked for the last couple of weeks.


There ought to be a warning that California has two yellow pollen seasons!

My supply of allergy medicine is dwindling. Guess this is a sign of happy trees, though, and so I will try not to gripe so much. It’s a nuisance more than anything, and it makes me even more grateful for the rain.

What seasonal happenings are you enjoying most these days? What surprises would you prefer hadn’t come your way? I hope the joyful bits outweigh the unpleasant ones for you.

Traveling animals

My husband and I were driving to a race Saturday morning and heard an interview with Wendy Williams, author of the new book The Horse. NPR’s Scott Simon asked Williams why humans and horses are so drawn to each other, and she said something I just haven’t quite gotten out of my mind. She called both humans and horses “traveling animals.”

The concept struck both my husband and me. As frequent travelers and avid runners, we  can embrace Williams’ description of humans as traveling animals. It seems the perfect way to describe us.

On one of our favorite North Carolina running trails, bicycles aren’t allowed, but horses are. For the most part, runners and horses coexist well. I’ve learned to call out if I’m nearing a horse and its rider. Sometimes, it’s clear to me that I can trust the horse even if its rider is a bit daft. On beautiful days, especially weekends, trails are packed with horses and runners alike, traveling up trails and down, heading toward mountain tops or scenic overlooks or low-lying lakes.


Horses and their riders out on a beautiful day while I hiked with my camera


One of my all-time favorite horse pictures: a horse rests before the ride back down the mountain

For those ultra runners among us (I haven’t yet succumbed to that level of challenge/training rigor/resilience/insanity, but my husband has), we can thank horses—or perhaps the want of a horse—for the birth of the 100-mile trail race.

This Saturday marks the lottery opening for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, now more than four decades in the making. Look at the history of the race, and you’ll discover it all started with a horse race. But in 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh hadn’t replaced his lame horse and, not wanting to miss out on a race he had enjoyed in prior years, decided to run the race on foot. He completed it just 13 minutes shy of the horse race’s 24-hour limit. His effort that day inspired a foot race that has become one of the most prestigious of ultra marathons. (Don’t miss the superb Salomon video The Original highlighting Ainsleigh and the history of Western States.)

From Old Testament times onward, we humans have been traveling animals, and other animals have tagged along with us for the journey, inspiring us and helping us reach places and realize dreams we might not otherwise achieve.

How about you? Do you consider yourself a traveling animal? Do you prefer to travel on foot, by bike, on horseback, in a car, on an airplane?

Pumpkin mania

The brave woman stood at the temporary sink, surrounded by children holding small pumpkins to rinse off and take home. Was she a teacher? A parent? A courageous volunteer taking part in an elementary school field trip to a pumpkin patch?

I didn’t stop to ask but drove carefully past the cluster of children and their pumpkins. I had come to the pumpkin patch because of nostalgia.

Driving through rural Virginia a few weekends ago, my husband and I passed several fields dotted with pumpkins. Those fields made me long for a proper pumpkin patch, and my bare porch begged for a few pumpkins. So I took my own field trip yesterday, a solo visit to a pumpkin “farm,” really a patch where someone else had already done the picking.


Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere


Cinderella’s stagecoach in the background?

I wandered around, taking pictures, enjoying the laughter of parents and children as they picked out their perfect pumpkins. I thought of Linus falling asleep in the pumpkin patch, waiting and hoping for the Great Pumpkin’s arrival. I kept my eyes open for the best pumpkins.


Someone had fun decorating old farm equipment for the season.


A wheelbarrow-full assortment of pumpkins and gourds

Even though the pumpkins had not grown right here, the working farm couldn’t have been too far away. There were a few goats resting in a pen, and several chickens scrambled around the pumpkin yard, frazzled by gleeful children yelling, “Mooooom! I want to catch the chicken! Chick! En! Catch the chick-en!”


Can you spot the chicken in this picture?

I guess by this point in pumpkin season, the chickens are ready for Halloween to come and go. They’ve also either gotten in some good sprint training or have found their own favorite hidey holes at the pumpkin patch.

Have you been to the pumpkin patch, farmers’ market or local grocery store to stock up on pumpkins? If not, there’s still time. The pumpkins (and the wagons) are waiting.


Our porch is no longer bare. We’re almost ready for trick-or-treaters (there’s candy still to buy).

This year will be a very different sort of Halloween for us. We’ve moved from a neighborhood with 60+ school-age children to one that has maybe four or five who are still the right age to trick-or-treat. At least there will be some pumpkin cheer on our porch to let the neighborhood kids know to stop by our house for treats. And the adults have already gotten into the Halloween spirit, leaving secret gifts at each others’ doors and putting up signs to say we have been “boo’d.”


A happy front porch, graced with pumpkins and a spattering of rain

We’ll keep our pumpkins as Thanksgiving decorations, but I always feel a bit odd about not carving a jack-o-lantern. My dad always carved one for us growing up, and maybe that’s part of the nostalgia that won’t let me skip buying pumpkins each Halloween.

How about you? Do you carve jack-o-lanterns—either simple or elaborate? Or do you keep your pumpkins whole to double as Thanksgiving decorations? What other ways do you, your family and your neighbors like to celebrate Halloween? However you celebrate, let me wish you and yours a very happy Halloween!