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?

March madness

This tough winter just doesn’t seem to want to leave. Yesterday the trees and early flowers were coated in ice, and today a cold rain dampens the earth and my spirits in equal measure.

Even the usually cheerful UPS man was down when I saw him. When I called out to ask how he was, he said, “I’m ready for the sun to come out!” Me, too. How about you?

I know spring is coming, and it will defeat winter in the end, but the lingering bad weather brings with it its own kind of March madness as my friends and neighbors try to put on brave faces about the weather (“It could be worse!”) and more school closings (“Maybe we won’t lose another day of spring break.”). We’re trying to carry the bliss of beautiful hints and spring and warm, sunny days scattered in with slick roads and wintry mixes and general cold grayness.

At least there’s college basketball to distract us, right? I grew up in a place where this time of year is sacred – not only for Lent and Easter approaching – but also for conference basketball tournaments and then the NCAAs. It was perfectly normal from elementary school through high school to watch basketball at school, occasionally writing essays about the game in French to justify the TV on in the classroom.

There are many who believe tournament time is at the very least worthy of its own national holiday(s). That’s the place I come from, the place where March madness is a perfectly acceptable disease, and you’re the odd outlier if you don’t suffer from it.

There were games last night, and there will be more games to come, but today, to escape the other sort of March madness, I ventured out on this cold, rainy day, looking for signs of spring. Here are some of my favorites to share with you:

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Witchhazel is already blooming.

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Peach blossoms getting ready.

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Another kind of peach tree, ready to welcome spring

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Buds on a weeping smoothleaf elm

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More peach blossoms — they were my favorites today.

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An empty trellis waits for spring.

You may remember my post a few summers back about the passion flower. This trellis is where their vines will reappear when the weather is right. If you need a shot of summer right now, revisit the post.

I’m clearly not the only one suffering from March madness, given some of the art installations I discovered on my journey:

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What?

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A new monster has emerged from the soil over the winter.

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Turned mad from a prolonged winter?

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The tail end of the mad monster

I hope these photos bring you some smiles, along with the knowledge that nature knows it’s time for spring to arrive. In the meantime, scroll down for another way to beat the madness that March brings.

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Tread carefully around those whose eyes are filled with any variety of March madness.

It’s hard to turn anywhere without seeing a March madness bracket of some sort (favorite Southern city, favorite rock songs, favorite desserts). I’ve been thinking that if the four seasons were each brackets, how on earth would winter’s bracket have sixteen things? I mean, I could see the other seasons needing play-in games, but winter? I struggled, but here’s my list of winter’s 16 (I hope you’ll fill in the lines yourself):

(1) Christmas
(16) Snow days (The lowest seed this year for being the obnoxious Cinderella team that won’t quit)

(8) Sledding
(9) Fires in the fireplace

(5) Hibernating snakes
(12) Soup

(4) Camellias
(13) Fuzzy socks

(6) Less chafing while running (Non-runners have to trust me on this one.)
(11) Low humidity

(3) Hot chocolate
(14) Indoor track

(7) Down comforters
(10) No poison ivy

(2) No mosquitoes
(15) Fewer gardening chores

So who would win winter’s bracket? What did I leave out that you think should be in this bracket? Is there any winter team that could take on spring and therefore meet the autumn/summer winner in the final match-up? Which season would win it all and why? Jump in the game with your thoughts below.

Late bloomers (flowers and people)

Right after Christmas, my camellia looked ready to bust out in gorgeous blooms too numerous to count. One perfect bloom had even opened up. But then came the coldest weather we’ve had in years. The buds stayed tightly shut and browned a little at the tips.

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I thought the camellia buds would stay like this until I plucked them off.

Slight warming and then bitter cold repeated again and again until I had given up hope that any of the buds would open. But then, this past weekend, we had a glorious stretch of spring weather, and my camellia bush embraced the change:

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Just one of the open camellia flowers

The one above, tucked toward the house and away from the harshest of the winds, managed to avoid browning much at all. Even the ones with browner tips, though, make me happy as I see them open one after another. I think they’re all beautiful, brown bits and all.

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A little brown around the edges, but beautiful nonetheless

I can relate well to these late bloomers in my garden. I’ve always thought of myself as a late bloomer. My teenage years felt like torture while I waited to catch up with my friends. I’ve had a few career starts and stops and redirections while trying to discover what path I was supposed to be on. My marriage came later than most of my friends, though not as late as some (I had a great aunt who married for the first time just before she turned 60!).

I was even a late bloomer when it came to running, an integral part of my life now that I hope to continue for the rest of my life.

I’ve been quiet on the running front on my blog lately, mostly because of a nagging injury which is healing after I finally admitted I needed to try something different. A great physical therapist, discipline when it comes to the stretches and exercise she gives me, and a new way of running seem to be the right recipe. I am improving, and I am getting faster in the process (bonus!).

I often wonder how my running life might have gone differently if I had started when I was younger and thinner and free of injury. By the time I started running in my early thirties, I had already sprained a toe (for which I blame Riverdance and my barefoot attempts to follow along in my carpeted living room), and I had struggled with weight gain.

But what if I had used the injury and extra weight to keep me from trying to run at all? What if I had let myself believe I was too old to pick up a new activity? I might never have started running, and then, I might never have discovered the beautiful things in me that running has helped me see. The discipline. The courage. The stubborn streak (oh, wait, I think I knew about that one before running.). The mental toughness. The physical strength.

I might never have understood the community – and the camaraderie – of runners. I might never have visited some of the beautiful places I’ve encountered on my runs. I might never have shared my love of running and the ways it has made my life immeasurably better with the girls I coach. I would not have been the me I am now.

So to those of you who feel like late bloomers, who feel like that tightly closed bud on the camellia bush that may or may not open, I say to you: Let yourself bloom. Don’t ever let anyone convince you it’s too late to bloom, or that you’re too damaged or imperfect. When you bloom, you’ll see: you will be beautiful.

As a little gift to you today, to encourage you to bloom, here’s a little something I made to share with you:

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Are you a late bloomer in some area(s) of your life? Are you afraid of what might happen if you bloom imperfectly? Did this post inspire you to try something new? I’d love to hear from you in the space below.

Flurries and flowers

This morning started with the lightest of flurries. I may have rolled my eyes as I saw the snowflakes flutter down. Spring paid us a visit last week, and some early flowers have started to bud, and after this week’s cold snap, warmer weather is on its way. I’m ready.

Though today started out cloudy and dreary, the sun has come out – not enough to chase the cold away but enough to make the day less dreary.

I wanted to share some of the early spring flowers with you for the same reason. These pictures may not drive the cold away, but maybe they too will take away some dreariness we may feel in the lingering winter.

Because today is a bittersweet day in the calendar for me and several I hold dear – a day that would have been the 12th birthday of one of the sweetest girls I have ever known, a girl who loved purple and wore tiaras as much as possible and turned everyday moments into celebrations, a girl who left us too soon at six years old – for her memory, I want to start with this purple Lenten rose.

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A purple beauty

I find these early blooms a solace, a promise that winter will soon leave. And I thrill to walk out in the garden and see what new flower is pushing its way up out of the cold ground.

The crocuses usually come first, and they must have really enjoyed the colder-than-usual winter. They’re showing off more than they typically do:

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Dainty crocus blooms are usually the first whisper of spring

The other Lenten rose varieties also seem to have thrived through this winter, and I’m enjoying the different varieties.

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Pink Lenten roses, the happiest of my Hellebores

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I love how this one looks like a tiny inverted tulip.

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This variety is producing flowers for the first time, and I’m excited to see them open.

Just yesterday, I noticed my hyacinth bulbs poking up through the mulch. They were a Valentine’s gift from my husband several years ago, and I’m always happy when they come back in February.

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New life among the squirrels’ winter leftovers

Orchid babies!
Even inside the house, there’s new life abloom.

On Saturday, we had some friends over, and one of them wandered in from the room where I keep two orchids – one a gift from my husband and the other a gift from my mother-in-law.

My friend is great with plants, but she enthused about how well my orchids are doing. “I always kill mine, but yours have babies!” she said, wanting to know my secret.

My secret is that I’m following my mother-in-law’s advice and spraying them with a bottle filled with water and orchid food. These are the first two orchids I’ve managed to keep alive for any length of time, and I was happy a few weeks back when I noticed the one from my husband had sprouted new leaves. I’m optimistic, but even if there are no new blooms, I’m content that it’s still living and growing after more than two years here.

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Maybe this one will bloom again?

I was looking at both of them again later that evening and noticed something new on the other orchid, the one from my mother-in-law. I don’t know how I had missed it, but there it was:

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Getting ready to bloom

This will be the first orchid I’ve ever had bloom from “scratch.” And considering that I usually commiserate with orchids when they come into my home, sad that they couldn’t go to a better home for their own sakes, I’m pretty darn excited about the prospect of this one opening up.

For all you orchid growers out there, any tips on repotting? I’d love to transplant both into permanent pots instead of the plastic ones they came in, but maybe I should just leave well enough alone?

For the rest of you, what flowers signal the promise of spring? Do you have a favorite that you look for each year? What ways have flowers given you solace?