Mushrooms! Mushrooms!! Mushrooms!!!

mushrooms-with-sun-2Over the last week these two mushrooms sprouted up in our backyard. Many other little mushrooms appear here & there, but these two are gigantic at 8-inches high (& counting.) Each day they seem to grow a little bigger.

mushrooms-ruler-2Seeing them reminds me of hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  I’ve always liked hobbits, what with their enjoyment of meals (breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, tea, supper, dinner) and their affinity for mushrooms. Frodo feared Farmer Maggot for years after trespassing his fields as a young hobbit pilfering mushrooms, but when he’s in a spot of trouble with the Riders of Mordor, Farmer Maggot aids him (& Sam & Pippin.) An added bonus, Frodo ends up with a basket of cooked mushrooms from Mrs. Maggot, “a queen among farmer’s wives.”

mushrooms-with-treeThose mushrooms in the Fellowship of the Ring lifted the spirits of bewildered hobbits at the beginning of their journey into faraway, dark places. Just like these mushrooms did for me today.

It’s easy to get down looking around our world today where there are so many challenges and places of despair.  (Just contemplating the upcoming U.S. presidential election can be rather bewildering & excessively depressing.)

But look at these mushrooms, growing so big, so tall and proud.

mushrooms-close-upIt’s a weird place to flourish (in our backyard.)

But, hey, they’re doing their thing despite the climate around them. They’re giving hope to all the mushrooms in our backyard to keep on, keeping on.  They may be different sizes and hues, but they’re all mushrooms, big or small.

Yo, people! Like these mushrooms, whatever our countries, sizes, hues (or political leanings), we are all part of this planet EARTH. We are all Earthlings!

Wherever we are placed in this world, let’s try to be beacons of hope like these big mushrooms.  To keep on, keeping on (like Frodo, Sam, Merry & Pippin to where their quest took them: mushroom-less Mordor, Fangorn, Rohan & Gondor…)

We may not be able to control the weather around us, but we can choose hope & emanate light where we are planted.

We can choose…

…to grow our understanding, to grow our desire for peace and be peace, to grow in wisdom, to grow our capacity for mercy to be mercy, to grow in our faith…

…to grow our appreciation to see beauty around us, within us,

…to grow our willingness to change (& be the change our world needs),

…to grow seeds of joy in our lives that combat weeds of despair,

…to grow our ability to love (& receive love) across borders that divide us,

…to grow our courage to stand up for justice, dignity & equality for all,

…to grow our perseverance to hope, even when it’s dark around us.

We can choose to BE hope –

mushrooms-light-in-dark-2–the taller than tall mushroom kind.

grace, peace & ~MUSHROOMS~

Virginia  : )

“Peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.  The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”  J.R.R. Tolkien (The Return of the King)

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img_1696The U.S. Presidential Election is a little over a month away.  Many folks want to sit this one out, but this year it’s more important than ever to VOTE!  My fellow & fellowette Americans, make sure you are registered & then get out there & vote on Tuesday, November 8th.

If you’re having trouble with the Presidential selection options, one friend said to look at the Vice Presidential candidates when making your choice. That sure helped me! If you haven’t made up your mind, check out the Vice Presidential debate on Tuesday night, October 4th, from Longwood College in Virginia.  (Click here for link about the debate:  Longwood College hosts VP Debate.)

Don’t sit this one out!!  Vote!!!!

grace, peace & civic duty

    Virginia : )

p.s. We have never before put up a political sign in our yard (our Papa thought everyone should make those decisions individually.)  This year, however, my brother & I decided to go for it (’twas the logical thing to do.)

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Tempests in a Teacup!@!

tea-teapot-with-teabag“A woman is like a tea bag.  You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

My sister sent a special card this week with this quote on it. As an avid tea drinker,  I brew pots and cups of tea all day long – green tea, black tea, rooibos & herbal teas.  My stash of over 60+ teas fills an entire cabinet. Even though I try to use  it up, there are always so many interesting teas to try whilst gadding about (& we must keep tea businesses thriving!)

Some tea snobs only drink loose-leaf tea, but I’m an equal opportunity tea drinker utilizing loose-leaf AND tea bags depending on the time of day, mood or whatever.  So, this quote got me thinking about women, teabags … and teacups.

There are so many different kinds of teacups, just like there are so many different kinds of women – shy, authoritative, introverts, extroverts, reticent, magnanimous, leaders, servers, thinkers, doers, tall, short, thin, traditionally-built, well-rounded, well-grounded, flighty…

Some of us are fragile, like this china tea cup… (note the rose!)

tea-rose-china-cup-emptyYet, when boiling water pours into the fragile cups of our lives, we make strong tea.

tea-rose-china-cup-fullLike my Mama – so very fragile, yet she demonstrated incredible determination and strength as she took care of our bedfast quadriplegic Papa for so many years.

tea-mama-bluebird-upThis is one of Mama’s porcelain cups, a treasured memory of countless shared teatimes. Like her, it’s so very beautiful.  A reminder of how she loved blue birds & appreciated the beauty of creation – a conscious act that can elevate our minds & spirits, especially when times are tough.

tea-turtle-mugSome of us are like this sturdy, hand-pottered mug. Unique. Like turtles on a fence post, placed somewhere maybe not of our choosing, but the teabags of our lives give strength to others when tempests arise.

tea-kenyan-cupWe women are a diverse bunch, like this Kenyan cup & saucer from a tea set made by women in Nairobi.  When the disparate parts of our lives tear us apart, we can drown in our sorrows, or swirl them together into something beautiful for God & for others.  We can choose joy, even when suffering limits the strength of our teabags.

tea-spode-cupAnd some of us are just ordinary, like this tea cup I use every morning. It’s a little cracked around the edges and well worn over many years, yet it’s still a beautiful cup. That’s the thing – women come in all shapes, sizes & hues, yet most of us lead ordinary lives.  As the hot water of life’s challenges steep us, we may get a little cracked around the edges, but in time we can find we are stronger because of what we have endured.

We may be ordinary, yet extraordinary, because… we are WOMEN!

grace, peace & teatime

Virginia : )

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Quickie Quote: … on drowning (or not)

Here’s a quote for our mind muscles to ponder…

“You drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it.”  Paulo Coelho

Sometimes when life overwhelms us we fall into the rivers of doubt and despair.  As adverse currents pull us away from shore, we need to focus our minds and hearts on things above and get our tushis out of there.

grace, peace & quickie inspiration

Virginia : )

Photo:  Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

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Rio Olympics: Inspiration in victory… and defeat(!)

The Summer Olympics in Rio are winding down, but what a thrilling ride it’s been as athletes pushed the envelope of what’s possible, crushing world records with physical acumen and dedication, that we, the world watching, can hardly fathom the countless preparatory hours spent for those few minutes on the global stage. Defeat and injuries have also shared our TV screens, the decimation of dreams at times hard to watch.

Yet in victory, defeat and even disastrous mishaps there have been some truly inspiring moments this year in Rio that will be hard to forget.  Watching Michael Phelps come back after hitting rock bottom a few years ago to lead the U.S. swimming team to incredible feats – his maturity in and out of the pool something to behold.  Seeing Katie Ledecky in her quiet joyful way smash world records, having fun (her words), lifted our spirits.

Then there are the Simones. What an absolute treat to see Simone Biles (and all the U.S. gymnasts) excel, but there’s something about her exuberance that makes her excellence as an athlete all the more inspiring.  I’m not one for watching lots of swimming, but I caught the women’s 100-meter freestyle race – the fact that Americans actually made it to the final seemed like quite an achievement.  Then Simone Manuel WON!  Her look of surprise after touching the wall was priceless. Still gasping for breath out of the pool, her immediate response to NBC was: “All glory to God…”

Simone Manuel is the first African American to medal in an individual swimming event. What a great cause for celebration considering the context of segregated pools in our painful American history.  In that initial interview, you could see that significance hit her – so much now overcome.  What a powerful influence and impact she has achieved in her sport, our country, and to the world – to be more, and do more Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.

Since my brother likes beach volleyball (something about those uniforms?) we avidly followed Kerri Walsh Jennings with Misty May-Treanor in her previous three Olympic gold medal endeavors.  This year when Kerri Walsh Jennings teamed up with April Ross, we tracked their progress through the first week of matches. For sure, we were a little nervous when they struggled a bit with the Swiss, but they prevailed.

Watching Kerri Walsh Jennings succeed again (& again) has been inspirational, but nothing, NOTHING, like watching her reaction this week to defeat by one of the Brazilian teams that kicked them out of gold medal contention & into the bronze medal match.

In the previous three Olympics Kerri never lost a match.  That’s a heck of a lot of wins.  But, I must say, watching her reaction to her first Olympic defeat inspired me so much more than all of her victories.  When the NBC interviewer asked about the word ‘joy’ she had written on her hand, she responded, “In all moments, when life is tough, when life is great – always be grateful. I am a blessed woman and today doesn’t make me any less blessed.  It makes me more determined.”

Determination that drove Kerri Walsh Jennings & April Ross against the #1 seeded Brazilian team, Talita and Larissa, in the bronze medal match to come from behind to win one of the best beach volleyball matches we’ve ever seen.  The next day Kerri Walsh Jennings said that this medal will have a special place up there with all her gold: “we earned this bronze medal!”  Indeed, they did.

Getting third place, or not getting a medal at all seems tough after so much hard work.  I understand this a bit.  Years ago I ran the two-mile for my high school track team, a challenge since the best girl in state ran in our district, plus my best friend also ran it – always ahead of me! For two years the best I managed was third place here & there, but not enough points to earn the track pin for my varsity letter.  My senior year as I debated the grueling training (10-15 mile work out runs) & whether it was worth it (or not!) Coach Zanka said, “Hey Virginia, we need a high jumper. Since you’re a cheerleader & jump a lot, why not give it a try?” Try I did — and made it to districts, and even regionals, finally earning my track pin, much cherished after three years of trying.

For many athletes just getting to the Olympics is a a BIG DEAL.  Making into a final is also a BIG DEAL, especially in track & field where over 120 teams competed this year. There’s a great deal of pressure in the heats & semi-finals to win to move on to the final. One of THE MOST inspirational moments from these Olympics came in the women’s 5,000 meter heats when Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand fell, tripping American Abbey D’Agostino who immediately stopped to help Nikki up.  As they both started back to run, the New Zealander returned the favor when Abbey fell down from a knee injury. Both finished the race… and hugged.  Abbey blew out her knee, so most likely she won’t be competing for months, but what an inspirational legacy she leaves from these games — reflexive “small acts of kindness.”  May we emulate her example when others stumble and fall around us (literally & figuratively) to lend a helping hand.

Oh, then there’s Ashton Eaton. Earlier last week we saw him fully supporting his Canadian wife Brianne Thiesen-Eaton as she took bronze medal in the heptathlon. Watching him compete this week in the decathlon definitely caused a few heart palpitations. It’s certainly a tremendous physical feat over two days of so many events to win gold, but what touched my heart is how Ashton and Brianne really supported each other (even on different teams.)

And what the Eatons support off the track is also inspiring …

Supporting one another is also a take-away from these Olympics. In the team events it’s a bit more obvious (soccer, basketball, volleyball, water polo…) but it was also evident with American sprinter Allyson Felix (i am such a groupie) and the 4×100 relay team. When things didn’t go well after the dropped baton in the qualifying heats, they hung together, moving on to qualify by themselves, and then win the gold medal in the final. Even from brief interviews, it’s easy to see how they support each other on & off the track.

Most of us will never win a gold medal – or any medal for that matter! But we can be inspired by these amazing athletes, the winners AND the losers: all those brave enough to compete.  We don’t have to be defined by our defeats and failures. We can learn from them and draw determination to try again… and again, if necessary, to reach our goals. Sometimes we may need to take a circuitous route to reach them (like doing the high jump to get my track pin.) Other times it’s just the journey that matters, how we do what we do.  With joy?  Open to opportunities to help others? To take a seat supporting the success of others?  Or, as we can, blazing a path for others to follow…

Olympic_flag_bordergrace, peace & Olympic inspiration

Virginia : )

“Have you thought about the talents God has given you? Have you thought about how you can put them at the service of others? Set your stakes on great ideals that enlarge the heart, that make your talents fruitful. Life is not given to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in return. Do not be afraid to dream of great things!”   Pope Francis

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Martha, Martha …

Today we remember Saint Martha – Martha so busy in the kitchen while her sister, Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus.  Later we encounter Martha and Mary as Jesus dines with them again in Bethany.  Since this visit comes after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we can imagine Martha worked long & hard in the kitchen preparing a special feast.  In the Gospel of John we don’t hear any complaining from her then, just “Martha served” while Lazarus reclined at the table with Jesus.

Martha’s sister, Mary, is once again busy at the feet of Jesus. After dinner, “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.”  (John 12:3)

Martha sometimes gets a bad rap. When she huffily asked Jesus to let Mary help her during a previous dinner party, Jesus said Mary needed to stay where she was: learning at His feet.  Then later when Jesus headed toward Lazarus tomb, Martha cautioned Him about the smell.  She was definitely a detail oriented, ‘make-it-happen’ kind of person. Since she obviously managed the food prep for the family, she most likely was intrinsically involved in the household budget.

If Mary blew a whole year’s wages on perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus, don’t you think she would have run it by her sister, the budget queen? Yet, we don’t hear any objections to this extravagance from Martha.  I can picture her next to Mary, holding a cloth (so the perfumed oil won’t stain the carpet : ) … this costly anointing, costly worship of Jesus came from them both, because they both loved their brother Lazarus… and Jesus.

… We hear much about costly worship, those who have laid down their lives for Christ, and those who live sacrificially for Him in places where fumes of death, destruction and devastation permeate the air.

But there are all kinds of perfume pleasing to God. Imagine the sweet perfume of Martha’s sweat in a Middle Eastern kitchen making a delectable feast for Jesus (preparing many dinner parties during my 5-year stint in Bethlehem, my most fav offering was a 7- cheese veggie lasagne — it was very HOT for the cook!)  Imagine the perfume of Mary’s heart, to wipe dirty feet with her hair … part of her very self.

Sometimes our perfume literally takes what’s messy & makes it clean.  Like a double diaper change for a baby, a messy bed clean-up for a caregiver, or laundry duty…

When love sometimes gets messy – we can offer (by the grace of God) the perfume of our forgiveness, compassion, understanding… and love.  When life is at times very hard – we can offer the perfume of our joy (by God’s grace) amidst suffering.

Perfume comes in all shapes and sizes… small things done well, God-given gifts shared, big sacrifices that cost, but all done in love, for love, by love — fumes of love anoint the fragrance of our perfume.

perfume 2As we move through these challenging times, remember Martha & Mary’s examples: Mary physically pouring out costly perfume, Martha helping foot the bill & prayerfully supportive (after offering her perfumed sweat in the kitchen…)

grace, peace & fragrant perfume(s)

       Virginia : )

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small acts of kindness

What does it mean to be kind?

Kin” and “kindred” connote family. Kindred spirits are of like minds and hearts.

To be kind means to treat others like my kin, like family, with respect, care and compassion. To be and do something nice for them.

With all the derogatory, divisive rhetoric going on now in the U.S.A (& around the world), we could use more acts of kindness.

A smile.  A warm greeting. (In the south where I’m from, that’s a given…)

A look in the eye that says, ‘hey you, we may look different, but I value you – you are precious in God’s sight and precious to me.’

Folks are scared these days.

African Americans are afraid.  Police are afraid. Red-headed white chicks are afraid!

But we are all kin – whatever our hue – human kindred.  Human beings of human doings that sometimes leave us undone.

Looking around it might all seem too big for one person to do anything that matters.

Big acts begin with small acts done all the time.

Small acts of kindness …

Today I experienced an act of kindness when I went to get the mail.

Kindness mailerEach month I receive a devotional guide that I read every morning & evening. For some reason my August issue went astray, but a kind person took the trouble to mail it on to me.  This required an envelope and new postage ($2.20).  I was so touched & grateful to receive this (it would have been missed!)  There was no return address to send a thank you.  Whoever did this act of kindness, THANK YOU!

There are so many ways we can make small acts of kindness that benefit others. Holding doors open? Not rushing to close elevator doors when others are coming but here’s an idea, holding them open?

Returning from our Canada trip, I wrote many Trip Advisor reviews to recognize excellence, but also to help family owned eateries, businesses, hotels.  It gobbled up a bit of time, but blessed to do it.  Local restaurants appreciate a good word, too – taking 5 minutes to write a review can make a difference.

Is kindness a reflex?  After taking care of my Mama, it has become a reflex to offer assistance when I see an elderly lady struggling with packages, or getting across a street. It’s an honor to help because it’s like helping Mama.

I still have a ways to go (running late for appointments I’m the one who tends to zap the elevator doors closed like lightning.)  But there are always opportunities if we’re on the lookout for them – like the act of kindness that touched my heart today.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  Mark Twain

grace, peace & kindness grooves

 Virginia : )

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