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In addition to being grateful for peaceful proximity of siblings, I’m grateful for attending an online writing retreat today with my dear friend and mentor, Sarah Juniper Rabkin. I’m so grateful that I met Sarah half our lives ago when she visited Dinosaur National Monument where I was an interpretive ranger for a few seasons. It was one of those rare, random soul meetings, but also I realized later, characteristic of Sarah who greets the world with an open heart and enthusiastic curiosity. We hit it off and have cultivated a long-distance friendship fortified with a few visits through the years. From playing in the mud on the banks of the Green River to writing in the desert, sharing letters and emails and mutual readings of our projects, I’m grateful for knowing Sarah, and for her unequivocal support of my creative endeavors.

Sarah gently juggling the aspirations and egos of sixteen writers through a day of provocative prompts.

Today, she skillfully led sixteen people through a dozen writing prompts, and gracefully encouraged us to share some of our words. It was great to devote the better part of a day to a practice I’ve been neglecting. Over the course of the day in my writings I explored my past, present, and future, through memories, insights, and motivations. It was exhausting! I’m glad I had nothing pressing to do between sessions, though I did manage some housecleaning and laundry, as well as baking the thank-you loaf for the neighbor.

I am definitely getting the hang of this recipe, and am also grateful that I got to share it and support the Bad Dogs through baking their first loaf. So simple, so delicious! And flexible, too. You can bake one loaf, or two loaves, or as I did today, one large loaf and one roll, inspired by the empathetic joy of my most loyal reader. For dinner I enjoyed the warm roll, half with butter and Havarti, and half with butter and homemade chokecherry jelly.

Star Trek

Somehow I thought there were way more than three seasons of the original Star Trek. I wasn’t a Trekkie in my youth–I’m still not. I watched it sometimes when it was on TV back then, and maybe occasional reruns, but it didn’t capture my fancy. I wasn’t a sci-fi fan then, either. In high school, my brother and his friends dragged me kicking and screaming to see Star Wars. I loved it. That was the moment when I learned that sometimes the things I resist the most turn out to be those I enjoy the most. I slowly eased into enjoying science fiction after that, in books, film, and TV. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to get to know Captain Jean-Luc Picard because my glancing attention to pop culture had led me to develop a crush on Patrick Stewart. So I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It became my lunch companion, and over time I settled into a comfortable routine of turning on one episode while I made and ate lunch every day. Or, almost every day. It probably took me almost a year to watch all 176 episodes of the seven seasons. When that was over I conceived the idea to watch all the other Star Trek series. I followed the various incarnations of Starship Enterprise forward and backward in time, until this week I found myself at the beginning of the original series. I’ll leave critiques to the experts, but I’m enjoying it, dated as it is. They certainly lacked the special effects budget of the later series. I wasn’t sure I’d even write about Star Trek until I saw this space creature today.

Here’s why I like it. I got a college degree in Cultural Anthropology. I was thrilled to discover that I could major in people watching. I appreciate the message that threads through every episode of Star Trek: meet new cultures, don’t interfere, live good values. Sure they sometimes get caught in a fiery battle defending themselves, but their main mission is to explore and learn about other beings. Just like an anthropologist. And despite occasional bad behavior, they are largely trying to live with integrity and peace. Plus, it’s just good old fashioned escapist entertainment. Anyway, when I saw this little dog dressed up as a space creature who got split into two halves, the good half and the bad half, in a tragic transporter malfunction, I was utterly charmed by the absurdity. Here’s a picture of the bad half.

Oh no, wait, that’s Wren. She’d been restless for the past couple of days and I thought it was because it was too cold and snowy for her to go outside much. I realized it was something much more fixable than that. I’d started giving her bully sticks in the kitchen, and she stayed in there to chew them. This latest one she wasn’t chewing, and I wondered why. When I finally brought it out to her in the living room she was thrilled. I think she thought she had to keep it in the kitchen, and she didn’t want to be in the kitchen alone working on it. She’s been calm and happy with her chewy in the living room all afternoon. On her new rug. Here’s the bad half of the space creature. I think this would make a great Halloween costume for Wren…

So Much

Most days I’m just grateful for so much. This morning, it was sunshine after a couple of grey days, and a brush long enough to reach the top of the solar panels after a five-inch snowfall overnight. How did I go thirty years before buying a telescoping brush at long last last winter? And grateful for the snowfall!

Grateful for a Bad Dog saying she was ‘going outside to play in the snow,’ which reminded me that I haven’t gone outside to play in the snow for a very long time. I’ve been forgetting to play! Though I’m sure she meant she was going outside to work in the snow on the ranch, I went just to play.

Wren had never made a snowman, as far as I know, so we had fun building one together. And by that I mean, I built the snowman, and every time she charged at the snow I was rolling, I threw a snowball for her to chase. Even though the snow was pretty wet, it didn’t hold together as I rolled, so after being bent over for twenty feet rolling the first ball, I decided to make a Wren-sized snowman.

I’m grateful she chose to eat the vegetables first, red cabbage lips and a carrot nose, so I could eat the M&Ms.

She hauls her carrot prize a few feet away to devour in peace.
Proud retriever of a snowball, the only thing I’ve thrown for her in six months that she reliably brings back!
And, practice makes perfect. I’ve solved the challenge of the sourdough loaf, I think, though I’ll have to wait til I cut it open in the morning to know for sure. The main difference is not trying to let it rise overnight as the instructions call for, but to mix the dough first thing in the morning, and bake in the evening. Altitude makes such a difference with baked goods, and I’m just figuring out how to compensate for significantly lower atmospheric pressure at 6800′ with bread. I’m grateful for finally beginning to understand the wisdom of opportunity inherent in failure: “If we can remember that life is a messy playground filled with opportunities to grow, cry, laugh, fail, succeed, love, lose, win, and learn, then we can more easily let go of our fears of imperfection and insecurities, and focus on simply doing our best…” (Daily guidance 12.29.22, Laura Bartels, Mindful Life Community)

Resting

I’m grateful for the mental exercise of this gorgeous puzzle that occupied my free time for the past ten days, a record long time from start to finish. It was so challenging in so many ways, and I’m finding it challenging even to write about it. I’ve taken a lot of pictures of the process, and noted my thoughts along the way, and I just haven’t found the hours it will take to do it justice in a post. But I intend to! I’ll have to start right after lunch to avoid getting to normal blog time and finding myself too spent to do it. Maybe tomorrow! I’m grateful tonight, after a full day, for resting.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful today for orchid blooms coming on again as they do each winter. Here’s one of the first, a little one I pulled from a pot it outgrew. I’d been saving this hollow log for months until the right orchid happened along. This looked pretty tragic when I put it in there, but it immediately revived and after only a few weeks in the log it started a flower spike, and has now graced me with its first blossom.

And, I’m grateful to have my desk back! I normally leave a puzzle up for a couple of days after I finish it, but it’s been ten days without my desk, and using the computer on the sideboard or my actual lap was getting uncomfortable. So after photographing each bird card in the puzzle this afternoon I broke it down. It’s very gratifying to spend time with all the pieces again disassembling the puzzle, remembering how puzzling some of them were along the way, recalling the satisfaction of finding matches, or simply delighting again in the whimsy pieces and the genus of the cut designer.

The Tropic Bird was one I gave a lot of attention to searching for its subtle colors. One thing I love about it and many others is how the bird is the juxtaposition of the image of the bird on one position with a whimsy piece of the bird in a different position; here, diving in the image, and rising in the puzzle piece. That’s just damn clever!

Birds of Paradises

See the elephant, saddled, with a joyful rider?

I feel a little like the lower red bird in this picture: “WTF?” This is definitely the hardest Liberty puzzle I’ve done in my decade of doing them. And in a way, the most fun, because it is so hard. It’s several dozen (feels like a hundred) tiny puzzles in one. I’m grateful to know a little bit about birds of paradises, the many tropical habitats and the myriad birds that inhabit them. I know what a rhea and a cassowary look like, that hornbill species have various styles of keratinous casques on top of their bills, that many wild pheasants resemble their domestic counterparts with more flamboyant colors, that there are several varieties of actual ‘birds of paradise,’ and so on. So matching birds to their names was not as challenging as it might have been. Naturally, I’m using Seymour’s Rule, in which I look well at the box top once, and never again. My strategy for this puzzle has been this:

First, to piece together the main title, ‘Birds of the Tropics.’ After putting together the title three nights ago, my next step was to pull out all pieces with bits of bird names on them, and piecing those together. This puzzle is a compilation of trading cards published c. 1889 for Allen and Ginter cigarettes, by a tobacco company in Richmond, Virginia. This came as a surprise to me when I looked it up. I’m glad I did–it gave me a clue to the Tropic Bird, which has til just now been only a title, widely separated on the table from its swooping white image.

Noticing a lot of reds, I decided to group all pieces with even a speck of red in them, and begin to build birds onto their names red first.

Some of the reds don’t belong to bird cards, but to a few vignettes scattered throughout. It’s taken two days of balancing between concerted focus and intermittent play to get most of the bird cards started, and only a few of them completed. I’ve stalled on the red strategy but not given up on it; meanwhile, I’ve branched out to yellows and dark blues, and am also constantly scanning for particular shapes that stand out. Many of the birds are represented not only by their colorful images, but also by a whimsy piece the shape of the bird.

I’m familiar with the bright fiery hues of tanagers native to the US, so I was searching all the red bits for something to attach to the Paradise Tanager above. I finally decided to ask Siri for help, and he pulled up a pile of images all resembling this adorable bird below. As I added a couple more pieces to the card title, I became perplexed: I don’t see how those brown tail feathers are going to turn into a Paradise Tanager… unless they got it wrong in 1889? But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Pleasant surprises are consistently part of the Liberty puzzle experience. I’m grateful for this warm long-lasting pleasure to turn to throughout this cold holiday week.

Resting

Wren doing Arts & Crafts at doggie daycare yesterday. I’m grateful today that we both got to rest at home. I napped in the morning, I napped in the afternoon, I showered and rinsed my achy nose; I read, ate, read, talked with people; I rested all day and now it’s time for bed. I actively appreciated so much of what I did and didn’t do today. Namaste.

The Right Tools for the Job

I received a bamboo beaded curtain today for the pantry doorway. It’s an odd size, and in more than 25 years I haven’t been able to find an actual door for it. I used a blind for awhile but after a couple of times repairing the strings it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. The beaded curtain isn’t the perfect fix because the strands are too far apart to really block daylight, which is important when pickling or simply storing home canned goods. I may need to buy a second one and install it a half inch to the side; or, I might find another solution to supplement the beads; or I might do nothing more. Either way, I’m grateful to own, and know how to use, the right tools for the job. I’m grateful, almost every time I do a little home improvement project, to the Colonel for teaching me to use tools, and the value of the right tool for the job. I’m grateful for this little Makita battery-operated drill/screwgun that’s served me well for many years. I’m grateful for my mother’s high-school ruler that I ran across deep in her old desk drawer some years ago. I’m also grateful for blue painters’ tape, and for the Trans Handy Ma’am‘s tips.

I stumbled upon her on Instagram and have joined her 143,000 followers. She’s been a burlesque performer for many years, but her day job has been in home maintenance. She offers basic tips with a side of compassion, and I’ve learned a few things from her, like how to use a piece of painters’ tape to measure and mark something for hanging on the wall, or in this case on the doorway. Most of her followers are women, many are single mothers, and many are renters. She focuses on the needs of this demographic, and often wraps her segments with, “And remember, you’re worth the time it takes to learn a new skill.”

Lightern

I’m grateful for finding a few boards of heartwood, aka pitch pine, fatwood, or lightern, among the firewood. This dense, resinous wood doesn’t split easily, but even a small chip can start a fire instantly.

I’m grateful to have found Hook & Loom rugs a couple of years ago when I was looking for a new, environmentally friendly kitchen rug. I bought a couple of small throw rugs then, too. I’m grateful to have remembered Hook & Loom when I started shopping for a new living room rug last month. I ordered some swatches to better determine what I want for the new, streamlined aesthetic now that I don’t need all my beautiful maple flooring covered with rugs to protect my dear departed old Stellar dog from slipping and sliding. After a day with them on the floor, I’ve only eliminated two options, but here they are all together. Three are wool, one is organic cotton, and the rest are recycled cotton. Wren can’t decide her preference either, though she has certainly enjoyed skidding around on all of them. We’ll decide by the end of the week.

I’m grateful for sweet potatoes, and for a snow-day lunch today of a baked sweet potato and a bowl of garden beans. I finally shelled the rattlesnake pole beans last week, and only got a small bowl full, so I soaked them overnight, sautéed a small garden onion, and tossed in some Scotch bonnet pepper flakes from last year, and a healthy shake of Penzeys Arizona seasoning, for a hearty bowl of beans to accompany the buttery tuber. So simple, so delicious!

Off

Guess what?

I was heading up to get the mail this afternoon when a cowgirl rode her horse out of the woods and handed me part of the string of lights that disappeared from the tree outside my front door. She found it tangled in the barbed wire fence between my woods and the neighbor’s barn. I’m so grateful to know that it came off, and am telling myself the story that because she found part of it so far from the house it means the deer was able to escape all of it unharmed. I’m grateful for my good neighbor and her thoughtfulness in bringing me the evidence.

I’m also grateful that another neighbor braved the cold, clear day to come over and cut off some of my hair!

I’m also grateful for the OFF button on the TV remote. I let myself get sucked into the first season of ‘The White Lotus’ a month ago. I found it oddly compelling, and so watched the second season also, just catching up tonight with the penultimate episode, which took a very dark turn. I can read and watch all kinds of things, but one of the things that really disturbs me is certain kinds of betrayal. I turned the TV off and found myself shaking and jittery. I had to do a vagal nerve meditation to calm myself. Obviously, though, I’ll watch the season finale which airs tomorrow, but maybe not for a few days, and only because I hold out hope for a particular character’s unlikely deliverance. And also because of a grudging respect for the show’s virtuoso storytelling.

It’s been time for pizza for awhile now, so I made a simple sourdough crust this morning that was ready by evening, topped it with half a garden onion, some Blot peppers out of the freezer, homemade marinara, sliced olives, and mozzarella. Instead of a pan, I baked it in the iron skillet like the ‘crispy cheesy pan pizza’ recipe calls for, and see no need to ever cook pizza any other way.