Archives

Podcasts

I’m grateful for finishing this fun puzzle of Carmel, with all its miniature businesses, restaurants, shops, and homes, little people in windows, giant garden gnomes, and myriad other tiny details. It was challenging in a different way than the birds puzzle, and easier but not much. I’m grateful for puzzling friends and sharing puzzles.

I’m grateful for podcasts, of which I listen to quite a few when I’m puzzling. I listen to Lions Roar podcast, Upaya Zen Center podcast, NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, Catherine Ingram’s “In the Deep,” and several others, including random recommendations from trusted friends, and one I stumbled upon the other day, The Brain Health Revolution podcast. This particular episode is a marvelous overview of research from 2022 including correlations between napping and dementia, cannabis use and cognitive impairment, and evidence that some people in a coma may be conscious–followed by a lively discussion of how we don’t even know what consciousness is. It’s a couple of neurologists, Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, with an easy way together, sharing their enthusiasm about the research in their fascinating field.

I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to have the world at my fingertips, from the laser cutters at Liberty Puzzles, to the digital opportunities for learning and growth.

First World Problems

I led a meditation this morning that began with inviting everyone to share a ‘first world problem,’ and ended with some time to ponder gratitude, impermanence, and perspective. The theme occurred to me as I was telling a friend before the meditation started that I had to drink tea instead of coffee because I was out of decaf. Three days in a row I’ve enjoyed full-strength coffee, but this body can’t handle it, so I brewed a weak pot of Earl Grey. Even that gave me indigestion, but that’s beside the point. I laughed as I ‘complained’ about this, and said “First world problems,” then told her about the first time I heard that phrase.

It was in Moonrise Espresso a hundred years ago, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. I walked in and was complaining to someone about something inconsequential, and a guy I’d never seen before looked up from his laptop and said, “First world problem, huh?” I was speechless, then laughed out loud. I understood instantly what he meant, and it was a moment of awakening. Perspective! But it took awhile for that insight to really sink in, and inform my entire way of being. Practicing mindfulness, one of the first things we learn is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. I wake each day in a bed with a roof over my head, turn on a tap to get water, and have a choice between coffee and tea, both of which come from faraway lands. I’m in reasonably good health, and am content with my life. In the context of starvation, climate displacement, war, and countless other desperate human conditions, I really have nothing to complain about.

This doesn’t mean that everything is always peachy and I have no right to complain, or be unhappy or scared if real trouble arises, or wish things to be other than they are. It simply means that I can keep things in perspective, and not waste energy fretting the small stuff. It means that a momentary frustration is just that, momentary, and losing the internet for a couple hours, or a clogged drain, or any other inconvenience, isn’t going to ruin my day or even my mood. It also means that I’m aware of great suffering in the world, holding compassion for those suffering and wanting to help where I can. And it means that I can bring compassion to myself also, recognizing when things are really hard and not just annoying, and be more supportive and caring for myself and others, and more resilient in challenging situations. I’m grateful for the perspective of ‘first world problems.’

Getting snowed in at the end of a quarter mile driveway could also be seen as a first world problem. That I even have a driveway that long is an enormous privilege, for which I’m immensely grateful. That I even have a driveway. I’m grateful for friends with big trucks! I didn’t get back out to take a picture after the Bad Dogs dropped off groceries, but am sure grateful they were able to punch through the drifts to get down here.

Little Tiny loves the snow, but not when it’s up to her shoulders. It’s the first time we’ve been out that she has jumped on me to pick her up and carry her home. I’m also grateful to be making progress on the puzzle, enjoying the warm sunny view while the fire warms and lights the house inside, even as clouds and wind blow outside.

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!

The Gift of Giving

No wonder the parrot was squawking! I’m grateful I was able to spend this delightful Christmas Day working on the puzzle and corresponding with loved ones.

It took about 30 minutes to open and appreciate the small pile of gifts under my tiny tree. I was grateful to receive these tokens of knowing and loving me from my dearest friends, thinking of each as I opened them, and feeling the meaning in each gift. This brief bright joy was the icing on the cake, after the joy I’ve cultivated these past weeks as I’ve baked goodies to deliver near and far to loved ones, holding them in my heart all along. I’m so grateful for the gift of giving. I’m also grateful for the little wiggly gift that keeps surprising me with her joyful presence every day.

I’m grateful to know why I have a tummy ache and am so tired I can’t stay up as late as usual: sugar sugar sugar. I wasn’t the only one baking, and the past couple weeks have been overloaded with sweet treats from hither and yon. Who needs a cookie exchange?! I’ve tried to keep up but I throw in the tea towel. Next week is gonna be self-care week in all the healthy ways I’ve been letting slide.

Peppermint Bark

I’m grateful for the Bad Dogs, for so many reasons, including the right candy canes.
A layer of melted bittersweet chocolate on the bottom then chilled, with a silky chocolate ganache layered on next. That took an hour to set, before melted white chocolate could be spread over the top.

This triple chocolate peppermint bark took awhile to get to, and all afternoon yesterday to make, but it is worth it! First there was the abominable cherry candy cane challenge, but I gave those away to the substitute UPS driver who got stuck in my driveway. Once I had the right candy canes, there was promised biscotti to bake and ship, and of course some other things to do like work, vacuum, feed myself and the animals, and so on. One lesson in perspective that I’m beginning to absorb is the shift from “I have to…” to “I get to…” do whatever it may be, like laundry, dishes, meetings. What a life full of opportunities I enjoy! That there are dishes to wash, and a sink and hot water and soap; that I own a vacuum cleaner and power it with the sun; that I’ve never known a day of involuntary hunger in my life. I’m grateful for all these things I get to do. And I’m grateful for the right candy canes, and the time in an afternoon to smash them up.

I tried the old-fashioned way first in a mortar and pestle, but it was long hard work without much satisfaction…

So I took the big pieces that wouldn’t break up and put them in my little garlic grinder; after pausing a few times to shake and dislodge stuck pieces, they finally started to break up. As always, I’m grateful for the right tool for the job–or even one that comes close.

Finally, everything was in place, though the candy cane chips didn’t want to stay there. Somebody was busy cleaning the floor as they fell off the counter. I’m grateful that I could share this candy with some friends to brighten this overcast Christmas Eve day.

I’m grateful for a pretty good loaf of bread, and to give it to friends, but it wasn’t perfect, so I’m grateful I have enough flour and time to try again tomorrow.

And finally, I’m grateful that I finally found the Paradise Tanager just before closing down the puzzle for the night. It’s coming together beautifully, and I might just get it finished tomorrow. I’m grateful for puzzle fans near and far who have shared their enthusiasm for Liberty puzzles, and look forward to writing more about this one tomorrow.

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.

My Vegetarian Cousin

I tell her often enough, but I’m going public tonight: I am so grateful for my cousin Melinda. There’s so much I could say about why, but for now, let it be enough that she is unknowingly influencing me to eat more and better vegetarian meals. I haven’t eaten much meat for more than thirty years: that which I do eat I usually know who raised and/or killed it. This is a foundation of ethicarian cuisine, to eat local animals that have been humanely raised or to eat wild animals that have been skillfully hunted. But I’m losing my taste for what little meat I do eat, as evidenced in my sudden, radically unexpected aversion to bacon. Melinda’s been a vegetarian for a long time. I’m grateful for her sharing vegetarian recipes and websites when I inquire after she mentions some delicious meal she’s made. Last week she shared this recipe for lasagna rolls. So simple, so delicious!

I added some fresh minced oregano and rosemary from the sunroom, to brighten up the frozen spinach and homemade marinara.
It was a tough call, to title this My Vegetarian Cousin or Good Neighbors. Wren met Jake for the first time today. He could not help himself. He was halfway across the 40-acre field before I noticed him, and he froze, watching us walk up the driveway. He’s a good dog, and he knew he shouldn’t keep coming. But I encouraged him: ‘Good boy, Jake, c’mon!He trotted halfway again, and Wren got excited. He finally succumbed to temptation, and she ran under the fence to meet him. It was adorable. They ran a little, sniffed a little, and then she got over-excited and fell into her wheezing so I picked her up. He’s such a good neighbor. He walked with us a few steps, then trotted up the driveway and cut back across the field.
And finally, another teaser for the Birds of the Tropics post, coming soon. This puzzle is SO much fun!

Immersed

Red cabbage immersed in brine days ago is fermenting successfully! Sauerkraut is in the fridge now to wait five days for full flavor.

I’m grateful to be immersed in a new puzzle for the holiday week. More to come on this delight.

Every Living Moment

Such a sight to wake up to…

Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day. Once again, we stare into the dark hole of a madman’s mind, shudder at images of unfathomable suffering, face a nuclear threat I thought we left behind for a wiser century. On top of climate catastrophe and ongoing global pandemic we now confront looming world war. Life is fleeting and uncertain. Love your people, your little things, the moments that bring you joy and meaning.

A sure sign of spring, the garden rake standing with the snow shovel.

I did a selfish thing this year. I ordered a birthday puzzle, and I put it together all by myself, and then I framed it and hung it on the wall, without letting anyone else assemble it. I may have breached a Puzzle Rule… but then again, I write the rules and I don’t recall one that says every single puzzle must be available to everyone. Sorry, guys! This one was just for me. One of these days I’m going to paint the green wall blue, and I wanted this on there when that happens. Couldn’t risk a chipped or stained piece–even though Puzzle Rule #1 is No food or drink on the puzzle table, I often catch a little grease spot on a puzzle someone else has done.

Leftovers are great! The Mac n’ Cheese that keeps on giving. After Boyz Lunch last week I got a few more meals from the pasta pan. First I Mexicali’d it up with homemade salsa verde and fermented hot sauce from last summer’s harvest. The next day, I simply topped it with a fried egg and bacon.

Gratuitous egg-yolk picture, because the deep orange yolk of Bad Dog Ranch free-range organic eggs just looks so delicious.

Another leftover treat used up the second half of the sourdough pizza crust which I had frozen, topped with leftover herbed oyster mushroom roast. The recipe calls for a complicated skewer construction to mimic a roasted meat, but I simply topped the red onions and rosemary sprigs with the marinated mushrooms. It smelled amazing as it roasted, and delivered a complex spicy umami flavor and remarkable texture.

Seasonings for the mushroom marinade, including homemade paprika and home-frozen garlic cubes since I was out of fresh.
Tossing mushrooms in the mix after adding soy sauce and olive oil to the seasonings.
Ready for the oven…
…and ready to eat. So simple, so delicious!
Dessert that day was coffee ice cream topped with dark chocolate M&Ms.

I know how fortunate I am. I really am grateful, almost every moment of every day. And when the suffering of others begins to feel remote, and I forget to be grateful for the food, the skills, the luxuries, the beloveds, the beauties of the life I’ve been graced with, all it takes is one phone call to remind me of my blessings.

The proprietor of the neighborhood pub died over the weekend, shocking the community. Another reminder to seize the day. His passing leaves a big hole in the fabric of the valley. I don’t know the details and I didn’t know him well, but I can see him clearly, smiling as he inquired about our entrée, shopping at the local grocery, bringing a special cocktail or dessert to the table…. awarding Deb the prize for best Halloween costume, back when we went to big parties. Another untimely death, she said, though we both know we’ve reached the age when no death of anyone older than us is untimely. Even though it almost always feels too soon.

This Monk Wears Heels

Two top passions meet in this discovery, Drag and Dharma. It was inevitable. “Makeup is just color,” says Kodo. (Photo borrowed from Lion’s Roar)

What a wonderful thing it was to wake up alive yesterday, and to spend such a beautiful day as I did. All the love and kindness that flowed my way, the quiet fun of contentment, the luxuries of food, technology, and time to be mindful. A few pleasant surprises came up including this Lion’s Roar podcast in which Buddhist monk Kodo Nishimura discusses gender, authenticity, injustice, dharma, drag, and his new book, This Monk Wears Heels. I was enchanted.

Another pleasant surprise was finding my favorite necklace which disappeared a week ago. I wasn’t worried: I knew it was in the house, and I would find it eventually. I had the faintest recollection of watching it slide off of something and thinking ‘I’ll get it later.’ Over the week I checked behind every table, desk, bookshelf and counter I thought I might have set it on. Only when I started housecleaning yesterday and moved a pile of magazines on the coffee table did I find it. It had only slid off a short thing, a stack of books next to the stack of magazines. I remembered then that when I lay down on the couch for a nap, the chain broke, and I set it on the books and drifted off to sleep.

After a quietly productive day, it was time for Cousins’ Zoom Cooking, a new feature for me and My Favorite Cousin. She had never used puff pastry before. I haven’t done a lot with it, but just enough to know the only hard part is making the dough, so we bought frozen. Deb’s spanakopita the other day had inspired me, so we made an easy appetizer in less than an hour, Spanakopita Bites. The Fruitloop Gourmet Lending Kitchen came through with a mini muffin pan for me.

It was a delightful first run for my birthday apron, all the way from Peru via Dog World in Florida. MFC was wearing her special new apron from Ukraine. How funny that we both had been given handcrafted aprons from across the world, a grateful coincidence.

Spinach-herb-feta-egg filling all tucked into little pastry pockets, brushed with egg, and baked at 400 for 25 minutes. So simple, so delicious! MFC ate one of hers. I ate half of mine.

I was so pleased to wake up alive again today, and grateful for leftover spinach filling cooked with the leftover egg and some spices, rolled with bacon and sour cream into a couple of tortillas. Who says tortillas have to be reserved for Mexican food? They’re a great wrap for any kind of filling. Then, after a little more tidying up, I started one of two new puzzles which also came as a pleasant surprise yesterday, when a dear friend who’s moving soon dropped them off. It was just a regular weekend, but it felt like a festive holiday. I’m grateful for life’s simple pleasures this weekend, and grateful to the many people who made each of them possible.