Beauty in a broken world

A year ago today, I ran a 5K in Atlanta, what would turn out to be my last in-person race for a long time. I was there alone, my husband home sick with the flu. The day before, I stood outside in a fierce wind, watching as elite runners competed for their spot to represent the United States in the Olympic marathon. Both of those days, I was surrounded by strangers, all of us screaming for our favorite runners or pushing our own lungs and legs to their limits along the race course.

Today looks very different, although there’s again a fierce wind blowing, what with March coming in like a lion and all. Instead of being surrounded by strangers, my husband and dog are my constant companions. As the pandemic stretches on, along with the agonizing wait for my turn at the vaccine, I find myself looking for the beauty in this broken world.

So here’s my idea: Each day for the next 31, I’ll share an image that carries beauty into our broken world. The beauty may be manmade or Godmade, or it may just bring about a beautiful emotion without being inherently beautiful itself.

Today’s image inspired my plan:

Blue Nautilus by Gretchen Lotz

A nautilus here in the mountains grabbed my attention. What was a sea creature doing so far inland, rising out of the ground against the snow?

I haven’t gone back to visit this sculpture since the snow melted, but I suspect it stands out better against the snow than it would against a grassy field. As I stood admiring it and wondering at it, I resisted the urge to run my fingers along its surface. It was enough to admire it from a distance.

Join me for the hunt?
Where do you see beauty in a broken world? Want to join me for the next 31 days with your own images? If so, feel free to comment below with your Instagram handle, and tag your Insta posts with #beautyinabrokenworld.

Full confession: Instagram isn’t totally my thing even though I think it’s perfect for what I’m asking us to do. You can find me there @pixofhope. I look forward to the next 31 days with you as we share where we find beauty in a broken world.

Playing with plants

Fall means racing season for my husband and me, and this past weekend we headed to Atlanta for a race near there. We arrived early enough on Friday that we had some free time in the afternoon, and so we headed over to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

In previous trips, we had never carved out enough time to visit for long enough to justify the steep admission fee. I was thrilled to go, especially when I saw what was waiting for us there: a special exhibit of larger than life plant sculptures, called mosaiculture (combining the words mosaic + horticulture).

I have never seen anything like this before, but I love the idea of playing with plants to create mosaic patterns and larger-than-life pieces of art. This living art is the work of Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal, and the Atlanta exhibit is the first major one in the US.

If you live near Atlanta, I highly recommend getting to the botanical gardens before the exhibit closes on October 31. (And if you’re with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, isn’t there a way you could keep a few of the sculptures permanently?)


This trip was all about packing light, and so I only had my new cell phone with its improved camera on it. I was pleasantly surprised with the way the photos of the mosaiculture exhibit came out. I couldn’t wait to share them with you!


One of two giant butterflies at the garden, this was the first of the sculptures I saw.


At first, I thought this was a horse, but then I saw the unicorn’s horn.


What’s not to love about this shaggy dog?


A happy giant blackberry. I couldn’t get the light right for a good photo of his friends the strawberry and the blueberry.


One of many cute rabbits invading a garden


My favorite of the rabbits


This one is titled Earth Goddess. She’s 25 feet tall and weighs 29 tons! There’s a lot of steel and concrete underneath that natural facade.


To help you get an idea of her scale


These fish rotate together on an axis, and they are aptly named “Dancing fish.”


Hssss. One of two cobras facing each other as they tower over the garden visitors.


A detail from one of the cobra’s tails. Now you understand why it’s called mosaiculture, right?


The second cobra, with a side view of its hood

Ever since being terrified by the cobras in the animated Rikki-Tikki-Tavi that played on television once a year when I was a child, I have not loved cobras. But I actually think the cobras were my favorite of the sculptures. Which sculpture is your favorite?

Fall scenery and other restorative happenings

I’m feeling unsettled today, though I’m not completely sure why. Maybe it’s the unending days of dreary, gray weather where I live. Not cool weather, which this runner would welcome, but dreary and humid and warmer than it should be for this time of year.

Maybe it’s too many pieces of unexpected news and delays and bothers and too many Christmas catalogs piling in the mailbox too soon.

Maybe it’s because I’ve come back to reality after a wonderful time away with my husband. We visited a land of sunshine and leaves changing and beauty all around us and came home to gray all around.

Is it gray where you are? Or are you feeling a bit unsettled today? Care to escape for a short time? Then I hope you’ll pause and rest a few moments here and let these photos restore you.

Beforethepeak_2013 Ducks_2013 FallCardinal_2013 Leafonfire_2013 MoreFallColor_2013 Rocksandchangingleaves_2013 Stillwaters_2013 Undertheoverhang_2013


Do you know one of the things I love most about Fall? It’s a time to look up and look far but also to look closely at detailed beauty. It’s a time drenched in blazing color.

And extra this week, some links that are restoring me:

Did I miss something you came across in the past week that restored you? Feel free to share it below by leaving a reply.

What to do during the shutdown

You may be wondering what to do with your time while we all wait for broken politics and broken politicians to reopen the National Parks. I have a few suggestions.


National Parks are still closed eight days later, and though there’s access to some places, some of the closing measures seem punitive, designed to make citizens as mad as possible.

I simply don’t understand this quagmire, but instead of letting it make me despondent, I’ve searched for ways to be grateful and to fill my time with activities that soothe and heal and calm my soul.


Nothing beats a stunning sunset at the close of the day. I could have missed this one had I been focused on watching the nightly news instead of sitting on the porch swing at the close of day.


The federal government can’t shut down autumn. Get outside. Visit a state park (or even parts of National Parks that you can still get into. Or simply go for a walk in your neighborhood.

Fall is here, and it’s bringing its beauty with it. The government can’t mess up some things. So go outside and look for the change of seasons. Visit a pumpkin patch. Go leaf collecting. Fill up your bird feeders and see who’s still around looking for seeds.


Good reads!

Even if the weather isn’t cooperating where you are for outdoor adventures, or autumn hasn’t yet made an appearance, there are still ways to tune out the shutdown. Read a good book!

I’ve been catching up on my unread book pile lately and thought I’d share some of them with you.

A friend and fellow writer posted an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber on her Facebook page recently, and as soon as I listened to the interview, I was hooked. Bolz-Weber is the author of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, a stunning memoir in which Bolz-Weber describes the damage done to her as a child growing up in an ultra-conservative church, her subsequent path through alcohol, drug abuse and recovery (not to mention a few tattoo parlors) and into a Grace-filled life as a Lutheran pastor. If you have read this book, I want to sit down and talk about it with you over coffee.

But this book isn’t for everyone. It may not be for you:

  • If you mind salty language (Bolz-Weber can make even sailors blush sometimes).
  • If you think church shouldn’t welcome certain groups of sinners (not you, of course, but the really bad sinners like drag queens, swindlers, alcoholics, government officials … ahem).
  • If you think God’s grace can only happen to certain people who then go on to live out perfect, conventional, acceptable lives.
  • If you think a female Lutheran tattooed “pastrix” (a pejorative for women pastors) has nothing to say that could change your heart about or for God and those whom God calls us to love (our neighbors, our enemies, ourselves).

Anyway, like I said, if you read the book, I’d love to discuss it with you.

Since I like to alternate between fiction and nonfiction these days – an easy way to cleanse my reading palate – the next book I picked up was Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling, the fifth in her Inspector Gamache series. I don’t want to give too much away because it is a mystery and is the fifth in a series set in a small Canadian village with characters I’ve grown to love, but I will tell you this: The Brutal Telling is Penny’s best book yet. There are more in the series, and I’m woefully behind. So she may have better later books, but The Brutal Telling is haunting and magical and masterful. I love what Penny writes on her website about her own books: “If you take only one thing away from any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.” This belief in goodness comes through in the way she writes, and the goodness in her complex characters shines through even the darkness inside them.

Next up on my list to read: Alberto Salazar’s 14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life. That’s not a typo. This world-class runner, now a coach to running greats such as Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenheim and high school phenom Mary Cain, spent 14 minutes dead. No pulse dead. My husband has already read the book, and I’m looking forward to the inspiration it promises.

How about you? Are you finding good ways to distract yourself from the government shutdown? What about your favorite books that you’ve read lately? I’m always looking for recommendations to add to my to-be-read book stack.

The most beautiful summer day

After my husband got back from his morning run on Monday, he told me he wished he could have bottled the day. The morning was so beautiful, and he had run through a field of wildflowers, and the weather was perfect and drier than usual for summer around here, especially this summer when we’ve joked about building an ark a lot more than usual.

He had to dash off to work, but I wanted to find a way to help him remember the day. Monday was, quite possibly, the most beautiful summer day. Ever. Yesterday was a close runner-up. So I hiked up the trail he ran and took some pictures along the way.

Whether your summer has been perfect or too wet or too scorched or too busy to spend much time outside, I thought you might enjoy coming along with me for a glimpse of the most beautiful summer day.


The view early into my hike (locals will have no trouble guessing where I was)


Turning a corner, I saw a herd of cows grazing and lazing in a field


An interested calf


My favorite of the calves, probably because he’s the same brown shade as my dog


A breathtaking expanse of Black-Eyed Susans and other wildflowers


A lovely wildflower … or is it a weed?


Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly on a Joe-Pye Weed


The iridescent beauty of the Pipevine Swallowtail


A closer view

In my attempts to identify the Pipevine Swallowtail and the almost translucent butterfly below, I stumbled upon a cool butterfly identification website.


The field of gold hummed with grasshoppers, bees, birds and butterflies.


A sulphur butterfly: Cloudless Sulphur? Pink-Edged Sulphur? Colias eurytheme, maybe?


A jellyfish in the woods?


This lily goes by two names: Turk’s Cap Lily or Carolina Lily

The turk’s cap lily (Lilium michauxii) is also known as the carolina lily and happens to be the official wildflower of the state of North Carolina.


A group of Turk’s Cap Lilies


If my Leafsnap app is to be trusted, this is a striped maple, with its whirligig seedpods hanging down like grapes.

I haven’t mentioned Leafsnap in some time. It’s a fun (but not infallible) app for identifying trees.


By the time I finished my hike, the cows had moved to a lower pasture to graze. I love how the calves are squished together in a line.

Which image is your favorite? How would you describe your most beautiful summer day?