Favorites on Thanksgiving Eve

Happy Thanksgiving Eve to my U.S. friends and family. I hope your grocery shopping is done, and if not, may the parking spaces be close and the lines be short.

For those of you following along with my NaNoWriMo updates, this past week was the toughest so far. The words didn’t flow, and neither did the ink (several more pens are done). Not counting what I wrote yesterday—a decent writing day—that I still need to type up, I’m at 29,546 words.

I’m hoping for a productive writing afternoon, and then this evening, I’ll be making my mother’s cranberry relish for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner with friends.

Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving or having an ordinary day in some other part of the world, I hope you have a great day.

I’ll leave you with a few favorites from the week:

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A hummingbird’s Thanksgiving feast

Continue reading

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.)

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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?

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A Brewer’s Blackbird glistens in the sun.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

The thrilling prospect of a personal worst

You’ll hear runners talk about PRs or PBs or BQs (personal record, personal best, Boston qualifier), but there’s one alphabet-soup abbreviation that most runners don’t like to think about, much less talk about: PWs, the personal worst time a runner has recorded for a given distance.

Runners revel in PBs. PBs mean that we’ve been working hard to accomplish greater speed and all the hard parts of our training plans are finally starting to pay off. And don’t even get me started about BQs. It’s an exciting goal to attain a qualifying time for Boston, a marathon where you must have a proven time to even get to register for the race. PWs, though? They’re just not fun.

But I have to admit: I’m pretty excited to try for a PW this weekend. Continue reading

What I meant to say

As a writer, I always have ideas and plans and words swirling around in my head, but sometimes, when I actually sit down to write, I forget details I meant to say. Last week’s post is a perfect example.

In talking about resolutions, I wanted to delve into whether our resolutions arise from a sense of lack or a sense of gratitude, but I completely forgot about adding that part in as I sat writing the post. Happily, I remembered for this week’s post.

In thinking of resolutions within the framework of gratitude, an example may help. For instance, if I say that I want to run faster this year, I need to determine whether that desire stems from a feeling that I’m inferior to other runners and should try to catch up or a more healthy desire to challenge myself with a new discipline and goal because I’m running well at my current level but am also blessed with the feeling that I could get even better. Do you see the difference? To the outside world, the result looks the same, but what’s at the heart will determine whether my plan to get faster is worth pursuing.

Toward the end of December, I came across two different discussions about the concept of gratitude that made me think about how and why we make resolutions.

The first came in a newsletter for ZOE, an amazing organization whose mission is “helping orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.” ZOE is all about empowerment instead of hand-outs: helping children gain skills and keep their families together through training and loans that forever change the trajectory of their lives.

I never read one of ZOE’s newsletters without feeling deeply moved and without taking away some piece of wisdom from the children themselves. In this newsletter, a ZOE participant in Mutare, Zimbabwe, said, “I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be enrolled in this great program. The elders have a saying, ‘Kusatenda Huroyi’ (it is a sin not to appreciate good things).”

His statement made me wonder how differently we would live if we embraced Kusatenda Huroyi, if we made it essential to appreciate the good in our lives, even the simple good, instead of taking so much for granted or assuming these things are our right to have.

This week alone, I’ve found myself grateful for (among many) a coat and gloves, a warm home, pipes that didn’t freeze, and a flexible schedule that allowed me to run when the polar vortex was not at its punishing worst. There’s a much longer list of things I’ve overlooked but should be openly grateful for.

The second place where I encountered a new take on gratitude was in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra. Perelandra is the second in Lewis’s space trilogy and takes place mostly on Venus (aka Perelandra), where the trilogy’s hero Dr. Ransom meets and converses with a beautiful lady, who, though she thinks of herself as young and naive, has a lot of wisdom to offer Ransom and us:

“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit
rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds
a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and
another is given. But this I had never noticed before—that the very moment
of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.
And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there.
You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of
turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you
could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.” (p. 59)

How often do I do that in my own life: barely register or even completely miss the good in my present circumstances because I’m so busy reaching for the “good thing” I’m expecting or hoping for? How often do I let my soul turn after the good I expected instead of the good I now have? How often do I make the real fruit in my life taste insipid?

So maybe “presence” needs to be my resolution for the year, a greater awareness that makes me recognize and acknowledge and celebrate all that is good in my life instead of endlessly fretting over the many supposedly better things that I want.

I’m not suggesting that you toss out your plan to run more miles this year or finally organize your closet or exercise at least three days a week or watch less television or whatever other resolutions you have made. I’m simply asking that you look at the why behind your resolutions to see if there are ways you might be missing the good that you have got.

One more thing before I go
By the way, if you’ve read Perelandra, I’d love to discuss it with you sometime (not here, of course, because I don’t want to ruin any surprises for its future readers). There are images that haunt me from it, usually revisiting me when I’m out running and thinking. It’s not action-packed, but it is a beautifully crafted tale.

Lewis had such a gift for capturing our imaginations with fundamental truths that resonate because we know them to be unerringly correct. He was a master at holding up the beautiful mirror to reality that was his fiction, and in so doing, revealing concepts to us that we might have ignored or misunderstood in his nonfiction. But I’m grateful that he wrote both.