Winter roses

We’ve had a recent cold snap, and though last week I may have poked gentle fun at rainy day behaviors out here in California, I have to make fun of myself this week. I am quickly losing my tolerance for cold.

Monday’s cold weather brought a bitter wind, and all I wanted to do was hide inside—after a morning run, of course. I have to dust off the winter running clothes every now and then, right?

It was cold here over Christmas, too, and when I returned from balmy North Carolina after the holidays, I knew I had to tackle a winter gardening chore: pruning the roses. (Not my favorite gardening activity, I’ll confess.) I left three stems taller than the rest because small buds graced them, and I hoped they might bloom, despite freezing temperatures in December.

One bud finally began to open within the last week. So I cut all three buds to bring inside and finished the pruning chores.

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To me, this is the exact color of dusty rose

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Playing in a winter wonderland

It may not feel like winter where you are (or where I am, of that matter), but I’m enjoying some time off and playing in this wonderland—snow-covered or not.

I hope you won’t mind me taking a break to enjoy time with family and friends this week. I’ll be back next week to greet the new year with you.

In the meantime, to encourage you to head outside, here’s a photo of someone who loves to play outside, no matter the weather:

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My pup with her favorite tennis ball in her favorite kind of weather (from 2014)

Blessings to you at the close of 2015. I’d love to hear how you’re wrapping up the year and ringing in a new one!

The first four California seasons

“Have you noticed we all say ‘Y’all’ now that you’re here?” One of my critique group members asked me this after saying the word herself. I’m not sure, but I think every member of the group had just said, “Y’all” in our wrapping-up conversation. It’s true. I’ve rubbed off on them, as they have on me.

I’ve been pondering this and other changes today. You see, one year ago today, I was on a plane, my dog in the cargo hold, flying across the country where my husband waited for us to begin a new adventure. And what an adventure it has been so far.

I sat at a cafe this morning—sipping an artful latte—and read a journal entry I wrote after my first week here.

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What had already grabbed my heart by the end of that first week was one of my great loves here: the river and the beauty and life that surround it. I thought I’d share with you some favorite moments (and photos) from my first four seasons here.

Winter
Along with the river, the mild weather of this region and oranges growing in my own yard are some favorites of winter here.

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The riverbank is greener in winter because it’s the rainy season. This photo is from before my dog met a skunk. I can tell from the darker brown of her coat, pre-peroxide baths.

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Just one of the delicious oranges from our yard

Spring
Although some flowers bloom through winter here, spring really is beautiful, ushering in abundant blooms and drawing wildlife out of hiding. The trees leafing out means more shade, too, a welcome presence along running trails.

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The earliest blooms of spring

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An Anna’s Hummingbird visits purple flowers near the river.

Summer
There’s no way to sugar coat summer here: it is ridiculously hot. But the mornings are cooler (compared to what this Southern girl is used to) and dry. I didn’t enjoy trying to finish runs by 6:30 each morning, but I definitely embraced the lower humidity.

Dragonflies darted happily around the yard and posed patiently for photo ops. A baby owl grew up in a nesting box attached to our house. I’m hoping for a repeat of all of this next summer.

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Fall
Fall is my favorite season anywhere, and so it’s no wonder that this fall brought many happy moments. Clouds returned in September, followed by a handful of rainy days. The Sierra peaks in the distance have slowly turned white with snow. Trees transformed into vibrant colors, and at least one osprey followed the salmon run up the river. Fall here offers much to celebrate, and with the cooler weather, it’s easier to embrace being outside no matter the time of day.

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Leaves aflame (not with fire but with fall color)

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King of the river?

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One of countless salmon swimming upstream

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The Sierra peaks are even more snow-covered than this now. A promise of drought relief?

All the year round
I’m grateful for so many people and things that have remained steadfast the whole year. For my husband who has patiently weathered my homesick moments and encouraged my attempts at establishing roots here. For family and friends far away who’ve made the effort to keep in touch. For new friends who have embraced me into their lives (and into their language, too). All y’all are wonderful! 😉

I’m grateful for the great running and races here. For coffee shops and wineries and San Francisco not too close but not too far either. For Yosemite within driving distance. And, oh, the stars. How could I forget the stars? It’s darker here than anywhere I’ve ever lived. Just the other night, I noticed some stars in Orion I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway for me this year—a reminder I see weekly as I drive along a certain tree-lined, windy road—is that no matter where I live, this is truth:

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This message resonated with many of you, too. In my tree signs series, a majority of you chose this sign as your favorite.

As we head toward Christmas and a new year, I hope you’ll pause for a moment in all the busyness and ask yourself what you have loved about each of the last four seasons. What stands out to you? I invite you to share a few of your joys and delights from the year in the comments below.

O, Yosemite!

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. (John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra)

Let the mountains bring peace to the people. – Psalm 72:3

Have you ever been somewhere and not wanted to leave? Somewhere that filled you with boundless energy and measureless peace at the same time? Yosemite is such a place for me.

My husband and I made a trip there last week, our second time ever visiting Yosemite and our first since moving here. Our goal is to visit Yosemite in all four seasons. The weather was kind to us, and we didn’t have to put chains on our tires. We spent time hiking and running and strolling. Sometimes, we stood still, awed by the splendor rising up to surround us.

If you long for nature’s grandeur, come to Yosemite. If you need a reminder of your smallness, come to Yosemite. If you need to be rejuvenated in body and mind, come to Yosemite.

You may not be able to drop everything right this minute and make your way there, and so I’m sharing some favorite photographs with you. Will you carve out a little space at the end of this busy day and sit with these views? I hope they fill you with peace and renewed energy in equal portion.

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This bobcat was the very definition of nonchalance, paying us no mind as it went about its business. (Apologies for not being able to get a front-end picture)

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On the way to Mirror Lake

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Half Dome on an overcast morning

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A thin winter coat of snow

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Mirror Lake

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Half Dome with the skies clearing

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Words fail me: Yosemite falls with rainbow and snow

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Fog through the trees

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Another quiet moment

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Ubiquitous (and well-versed in the music of a snack bag opening)

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Saying goodbye in the valley

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Sun and snow at play

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Impossible not to stop and look back

Have you ever been to Yosemite? What was your favorite part of your visit? If you’ve never been, did any of the photographs inspire you to start planning a trip?

Snow, ashes and forced pauses

I ran yesterday morning, not long or far, but I was grateful to be able to run. After a year+ of fighting an injury, I’m starting to run consistently, and that’s a gift I do not take for granted.

I know, too, that if I had not moved from North Carolina to California, I would not have been able to run yesterday. Or today. Or tomorrow. Raleigh is covered in ice, and if there’s one surface I refuse to run on, it’s ice (not to mention that 18º is my minimum temperature for running even on the driest road).

I hear that snow is falling there now, adding to the layers of snow, sleet and ice—a pretty sight if you can watch it from the warmth of your home, but miserable if you have to go outside for long. A howling, bitter cold is coming next.

Here’s NOAA’s seven-day forecast for Raleigh:

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There’s the kid part of me that already misses snow days. Photos on Facebook show sledding and snow falling and the world blanketed in a glazed white. Schools stay closed, while families stay inside and read books, watch movies or play games. They make smores and hot chocolate and cinnamon buns.

My dog has always loved snow days, especially when it snowed enough to fully bury her tennis ball and turn it into a popsicle to dig up over and over. I know she doesn’t remember what she’s missing, but I miss it a little for her, the unbridled glee she felt on those days. Here’s a shot of her from one of our snow days last year:

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Part of me doesn’t miss these snow days, though, especially as cold as Raleigh is right now. Aside from the inevitable cabin fever, there is fretting for my husband and others like him who have to navigate icy roads to get to and from work.

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There’s the knowledge that children who rely on free or reduced lunch programs at school are going hungry. And there are the cries for help from homeless shelters bursting at the seams with dangerous white flag nights one after another. For too many, snow days mean fighting for life. (If you’re blessed with plenty, consider a donation to Backpack Buddies or the Raleigh Rescue Mission?)

Because of the icy roads, churches are canceling Ash Wednesday services. In its cancellation notice, my Raleigh church invited members to mark the occasion at home or with neighbors. I hope many of my church family will take them up on that suggestion.

Snow days force a stop in our regular pace of life, and maybe that’s something else I miss.

So much distressing news across the world has me reeling more than usual lately: 21 Christian Egyptian martyrs; three muslim students (all shining young Americans who grew up in my hometown) shot dead in a senseless act of rage; continued extremist violence in Nigeria; even anti-Semitic activity at nearby UC Davis. I cannot make sense of any of it.

The snow blanketing the roads doesn’t cover these troubles, but it does force a pause, a community’s collective inhalation. And it provides still, quiet moments to help us decide where God is calling us to spend our energies next.

The same could be said of the ashes that mark us this first day of Lent. They do not hide our faults, but they do encourage a change from our normal routine and an examination of how we are to prepare for the season ahead.

Sometimes it’s in the pauses that God can move us the most.

To my friends in snowy places, how are you pausing? To my friends who cannot imagine living in such cold places, what encourages you to pause?