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Dogs on the Furniture

 

57168444387__1F98477E-7666-4419-B5FB-16E46818F7D5My living room looks so lovely without those two huge dog beds in it.

I’ve moved them outside for the morning while I vacuum and rearrange furniture to accommodate a new chair, my first ever grown-up recliner. Last year I bought a fairly expensive couch, hoping that I could recline on that and fulfill two needs with one piece of furniture, but it hasn’t worked out. Degeneration in my spine demands that I finally shell out for a real recliner with manual adjustments. Not electric, since I’m off the grid and can’t add another phantom load to the household power draw. Also, I hear the Colonel’s voice in my head: It’s just one more thing to go wrong.

So, I imagine that in a few years, when my precious dogs give up the furry ghost, there will be one and only one silver lining: My living room looks so lovely without those huge dog beds in it. Meanwhile, they’re outside (the dogs and the beds) basking in the one purely sunny day we’re expected to have all week, while I ready the house for what will no doubt become everybody’s favorite chair, despite my best efforts to keep it to myself.

Speaking of dogs on the furniture, Rosie has found her forever home, in a family with two children who especially wanted a rescue dog. Finally, she is home safe, and I got tingly and teary when I saw the pictures just this morning. Rosie flying after something a child threw, Rosie sleeping on her bed with her new little girl stretched out next to her, Rosie kissing her new children, and this one. Here she snuggles between her two children on the couch. I can’t imagine a happier ending! Or beginning, for Rosie the Dog.

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I can still feel the love from this very special dog when I remember cuddling with her, her soft snout, her firm smooth body wiggling happily, her expressive eyes.

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A six-inch snowfall last week drifted more than two feet in the driveway. So thankful for good neighbors Ken and Joe who both plowed with their tractors.

 

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Houseplants and potted herbs in the sunroom belie the snow blanket outside.

We are forecast to receive 3″-10″ of snow in the next five days, down, thankfully, from the 6″-18″ predicted yesterday. While grateful for the bountiful moisture, I was dreading that much shoveling: the front door to the front gate, the back door to the back gate, compost pile, generator; a network of paths I’ve kept sort of clear all winter, furrows in the surrounding foot of snow, little trails we all use, the dogs, the deer, and I. When feeling extra energetic last month, I shoveled a path from the compost to the pond and back up to the house, and that has stayed worn down by the dogs and deer alone. So funny how even the deer prefer a shoveled path through crusty deep snow.

Despite continuing snowfall and cold temperatures, more and more birds each day are singing and chattering in the trees. Finches, ring-necked doves, piñon jays; last week a juniper titmouse and a nuthatch vied for the hole in the tortoise tree, while another nuthatch and three finches flitted around watching the contest. Redtails, ravens, and bald eagles are circling and perching. Spring is on the way. I can almost feel those crocuses starting to sprout underground.

There is a cluster of juniper trunks outside my kitchen window with a particularly dense canopy. I noticed something dark flicking and twitching high up in the branches several times last week, like a magpie or jay tail. Maybe magpies building a new nest? Finally I remembered while I was outside to go look. I stood in the center of the trunks which open out basket-like from a central base. I leaned back against one stave after another, circling the inside and searching the canopy for any sign of a nest. Nothing.

Suddenly, scrabbling behind me, and up into the top shoots Topaz. Aha. The next day, I did see magpies working on their nest in the juniper out the bathroom window. Such fun to spy on them!

IMG_5778Preparing for the coming storm, I’ve started a 642 piece puzzle which promises to provide pleasure for many days. I love how some of the whimsy pieces overlap with their depictions, like the fallow deer, fox, giraffe, and elephant below. Thanks, Norma, for sending this one to your sister, and Pamela for sharing it! Easily shaping up to be one of my favorites. IMG_5776IMG_5774IMG_5773IMG_5775

As I write, the dogs announce the truck from Lily and Rose backing up to the gate, right on schedule. This family-owned store in Delta sells quality fine furnishings, and will give you extra stuffing any time if you want to plump up any part of your chair. In short order, the new chair is in place, dogs and dog beds back inside, and I am reclining in luxury.

Though chaos and misery born of despots, climate change, ignorance, and greed swirl around the globe, all is right with my little world. My life today is one of the lucky ones: sunshine and firewood, a grilled cheese and sauerkraut sandwich, happy dogs and cats, a new chair, friends on the radio, flowers in the house and waiting patiently under snow. Some days I am more keenly aware that I or someone I love could die without a moment’s notice. So in this moment, I wallow in gratitude for many blessings.

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Grammar Gripe

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I can’t do it any longer. I can’t not say anything. I don’t want to offend people, or sabotage their world views, or judge them. I just want to enjoy being a living incarnation of the magnanimous force that created this universe and keeps it in eternal unfathomable motion. I just want to be a good person.

My dear friend gave me a shirt last year that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I am. Even though sometimes the rules are ridiculous, like punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks. I can’t help myself. It’s the one thing I can do. It’s the one thing that I love. I learned grammar like a fish to water, and therefore, I can play with it. As a writer, I can play with grammar.

But you? You news writer for NBC who wrote for Miguel Almaguer to say, “Downloaded more than a hundred million times, prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Prosecutors were NOT downloaded more than a hundred million times.

Yet that is is actually, in fact, what Miguel said, with his grammar. There is no dispute about it, if you agree with the laws of English grammar: the prosecutor was not downloaded more than a hundred million times, The Weather Channel app was. That sentence, if you want to be educated about it, should read, “Prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App, downloaded more than a hundred million times,  was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Now, how hard is that to understand? You should have learned that in sixth grade, NBC writer.

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My contribution to Christmas Dinner was peach pie. 

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I pulled whole peaches from the deep freeze and microwaved them for two 30 second hits, mixing them up between, rolling the bottom peaches to the top, letting the top peaches slide down the inside of the bowl. 

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Peels and pits to the side for compost. Their skins really do slip right off, and they practically break in half. Still partially frozen but juicy, they’re so small I can put them in the pie shell in halves, pit-side down, round shining essentially fresh peach halves.

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I did bake the bottom crust first. Having finally figured out to add a little more water at this altitude right off the bat, and mix fast but not too much. 

My friend’s husband Steve was right: you have to use your hands; a pastry cutter won’t result in the right size butter inclusions. You need tiny, uniform pockets of butter (or butter/lard) to make the pastry flaky. That’s science. I don’t get it exactly but I’m beginning to experience it, and I believe experience is what makes a pastry chef, or anyone, an expert at something, whether they can explain the physics of it or not.

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A nearly perfect peach pie: enough peaches to fill and round the pie plate, mixed with some sugar (not too much), and a palm-full of tapioca, stirred, and left to sit. Crusts mixed, chilled, and rolled; the bottom crust baked for around ten minutes with parchment paper weighted with beans; filled, topped, and baked, like, forever.

I think my new oven is not quite calibrated for my altitude. I think ten minutes at 450 degrees would be ideal. Then filled and quickly covered, crimped, and replaced in the oven for another ten minutes. Then, the book says, bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes. 50 minutes came and went, another ten, another ten, it took forever to even start to brown. Once the peach juice bubbled up inside the edge I took it out of the oven. Mmmmmm, the aroma.

Pastry baking science aside, how hard is it to comprehend that United States President Donald Trump flat out lied? He promised during his campaign, and was elected on the promise that, Mexico would pay for the wall.

It infuriates me that people, whatever their alliance, are not outraged, are not bombarding their Senators with phone calls and emails, exclaiming that this Shutdown is not good for America, and that Trump promised Mexico, NOT WE, would pay for any wall. He lied to you!

If every one of the nearly one million Federal workers who are working without pay, or not working without pay, would call their Senators and tell them whether or not they favor this Trump Shutdown, maybe, he says, for years, I bet that Congress would hear a whole lot more NOs than they would YESs. Every one of these people, whether they support or oppose Trump, counts on the income, purpose, and dignity of their job with the Federal Government. Trump does not speak for them. They speak for themselves.

This is a broken promise masquerading as some other closet monster. It’s monsters all the way down. The squirrelly (no offense to squirrels) course that this person’s chicanery and abuse takes is exceptionally skillful. The guy is a magnificent manipulator. And I’ve come to know some damned skillful manipulators through the years, even as recently as last summer.

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Thanksgiving’s pie was apple/plum, both from last year’s harvest, in the freezer. I figured out the crust mixing physics that time, but not the cooking science, so it had soggy bottom, ick. Also, the apples were undercooked, too al dente for my taste. Otherwise, a good mix of cinnamon, sugar, tart apple, and more tart, but less of, plum, just a layer on the top.

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Sorry friends, I didn’t ask your permission. But you kind of have to assume, knowing me, you might show up here one day. I love this picture. It expresses to me the ultimate in community. When I moved here almost 27 years ago, I could never have imagined how lucky I would become, how grateful for so much in my life. Every day that I wake up, I thank my lucky stars. For waking up at all, for the day ahead in this place, for community at ever-deepening levels.

So, that’s grammar and the president’s lies out of the way. Back to the allegation that TWC, our go-to weather source (and admittedly a drama queen of a station), has been illegally stealing our private information. “The app deceptively collected, shared, and profited from private location data of millions of consumers….” Miguel went on. Then he introduced the LA City Attorney, who said:

‘Think how Orwellian it is to have a third party you never had contact with know where you’ve gone for a therapist, for a date, for what you did last night…’

“Banking on TWC brand, the Weather Company, owned by IBM, operates the app… which manipulated users into turning on location tracking, using valuable personal data, for commercial gain.” Owned by IBM? Why should this be surprising? We’ve all signed those agreements we never read. We’ve all been complicit in so many ways in the prostitution of our privacy.

I’m sick of it, I tell you, sick of it. All of it. It is all I can do to get out of bed in the morning some days. But there is so much to live for, so much to get out of bed for, that I can sometimes set aside the incessant enervation of our species’ chatter, to enjoy the day.

Today, “another bluebird day across the state,” said Colorado Public Radio. It was spectacular. Blinding in its perfection. Every second with eyes open was a calendar photo. And the minutes and hours or portions of hours spent indoors with friends, or alone, were succulent every second. I could not be a more lucky human being.

IMG_5246.jpgSo much I don’t have, yet so much more that I do. Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day.

 

 

 

Evolution of a Jigsaw Puzzle Addict

This essay first appeared in the Montrose Mirror in 2013. I’ve been addicted now for almost four years, and I still can’t wait to start the next one. 

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The challenging pepper puzzle in Ajo, $2.50 from Dollar General, starts my slide down the slippery slope from passing interest to obsession.

Jigsaw puzzles, I’ve heard, are good exercise for your brain. I hadn’t had much experience with them since I was a child, when I could get absorbed in them for hours at a time on vacation at Virginia Beach or in the Blue Ridge Mountains; in my adult life I haven’t considered them worth the time. But on a recent trip across the country they popped up everywhere. Admittedly, after the first two, they did not appear spontaneously; I sought them.

The night after I arrived at a friend’s house in Ajo, Arizona, she pulled out a dollar store jigsaw puzzle. Diagonally striped fields of many colored tulips converged at a windmill against a blue sky.

“If we finish this in…let’s say, two hours, we get a million dollars,” she announced to her sweetie and me. This was, for me, a new approach to solving a puzzle. I played along. It was something they liked to do for their own reasons, among them that this was her family tradition.

At first I wasn’t comfortable with it. I felt rushed, and distracted by my sense of incompetence, as she fitted sections together one after another and I sat there dazed by her alacrity. I couldn’t see as fast as she did, or I couldn’t discern the specific relationships among colors and shapes as quickly. Eventually, I let go of that resistance and settled into my own pace. After all, what did it matter? The two million was imaginary anyway. I was pretty sure I’d get another cocktail whether we made it in time or not.

The next day we agreed to start another puzzle on the condition that there be no deadline; we’d leave it up and drop in together or alone to work on it at our leisure. This was the tradition I grew up with. I ran out to Dollar General and spent seven dollars on five more puzzles to choose from. I told my aunt on the phone about my renewed interest in puzzles, and my bargain purchase.

“Mary Pat loaned me a puzzle that cost a hundred dollars,” she said. I was incredulous. “We can do it when you come.”

That evening in Ajo, we ceremoniously disassembled the Netherlands landscape. Before we took it apart, each of us said a few words of appreciation about the puzzle, and what it meant to us.

 

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Ritual disassembly of the Windmill puzzle.

“I’m grateful to this puzzle…” began my friend, and as she continued with heartfelt sentiments we began to giggle, then to chuckle. Our improvised tributes built one upon the other until, by the time the three of us had each had our say, we couldn’t stop laughing. We rocked in our chairs and doubled over, gasped and squeaked, tried to catch our breath and laughed again, practically wet our pants, in one of those exhilarating, exhausting fits of uncontrollable mirth that only happen when you’re completely at ease with your companions, or sometimes when you watch America’s Funniest Home Videos.

We cast secret votes to choose which puzzle to start next. I confess to voter fraud— I cast an extra ballot—I couldn’t choose between the peppers and the jellybeans. Both were 1000 pieces and looked devilishly challenging. The peppers won.

Three days later it was time for me to hit the road, and we weren’t halfway done. But we were having fun with it, and I could feel my brain getting in shape. I asked for photo updates as I drove across the continent to Virginia to visit my aunt.

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My first wooden jigsaw puzzle since I was six years old opened a new door to art and obsession.

The day after I arrived at Auntie’s, she produced the hundred dollar puzzle, a “Classic Wooden Jigsaw” from Liberty Puzzles, 506 pieces, and just over 12×18 inches. The image was appealing enough, an antique print of an American Express Train smoking through an imaginative landscape, but I couldn’t see the point of paying all that cash for a puzzle that small just because it was made of wood and came in a nice box with tissue paper.

As we started unpacking pieces and sorting out edges, I became enchanted. The pieces felt good, in the first place. Then, instead of the standard innie and outie pieces in a few basic shapes, we found intricate representations of couples dancing, cowboys on horseback, ballerinas, mermaids, shooting stars, bison, birds, pinwheels, horse-drawn carriages and more, and connecting pieces of complex curves and squiggles; every piece was unique.

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Whimsy pieces include starbursts, people, animals and other recognizable things, often related to the puzzle image.

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A whole new aesthetic world had just opened its door. I looked on Amazon, just out of curiosity, to see what wooden puzzles I could find. I never intended to buy one. But when I found a print of hummingbirds (actual, astonishing, and some extinct) by Ernst Haeckel, the nineteenth century polymath who coined the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” I succumbed despite the price tag. I know this puzzle will be assembled many times by many friends, and more than pay for itself in entertainment value.

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Liberty Puzzles arrive prettily packed and continue to please from there.

The big day arrived! We saved the puzzle til happy hour, then sorted the edges. There weren’t enough edges! Amazingly, there weren’t even any corner pieces. We had advanced to another level of challenge. Auntie held up the box top, with its small image, and said, “Take a good look.” Then she whisked it away. What! This was the tradition of her friend
Seymour, who let you have one long look at the box top then took it away for good. I put my foot down.

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Edge pieces don’t look like edges, and corners don’t look like corners. More than one puzzle to this puzzle.

With this puzzle, my brain really kicked in. We had it close to complete before we could even finish the edge; many edge pieces simply came to a point between two others. We reveled in the assembly every spare minute for three and a half days. We were building art. The last night we worked til we were falling over sleepy. We didn’t want to finish, yet we couldn’t stop. As you get close to the end of any jigsaw puzzle, pieces find their places faster, the tempo picks up; we forced ourselves to quit til morning. Then, sleepy-headed in pajamas, we dove back in and finished. The satisfaction of completion only slightly outweighed the longing for another wooden puzzle.

I looked up Liberty Puzzles online, and found a small business in Boulder, Colorado, that offers hundreds of wooden puzzles, with hand-drawn whimsy pieces and puzzle-cut patterns. For a little more money, you can get your own image turned into a custom puzzle. (Uh-oh.) From their website:

“Before the advent of cardboard puzzles, almost all jigsaw puzzles were made of real wood and cut by hand. The United States has seen two prolonged jigsaw puzzle crazes, one in the early 1900s, and the next in the late 1920s and early 30s during the Great Depression. Jigsaw puzzle collectors prize old wooden jigsaw puzzles for their intricacy, craftsmanship, and the “heft” of the pieces. For the serious jigsaw puzzler, there is nothing quite as satisfying as plunking a wooden piece into place.”

And it’s true. Searching the table for a particular color and shape, then finding one that doesn’t look anything like you expected, and dropping it into the perfect spot, does feel pretty great.

Also from the website: “Traditionally, jigsaw puzzles came without a picture of the puzzle image on the box. Most simply had a title to tease the puzzler about what the image could possibly be.” I guess Seymour was on to something. Liberty offers customers the option of no image on the box.

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Artist/naturalist Ernst Haeckel’s print becomes a stunning, difficult, and gratifying puzzle.

Of all the adventures I anticipated in crossing the continent, developing a jigsaw puzzle obsession was not one of them. Yet it has been one of the more gratifying results of this journey. I’ve broadened my horizons, learning different styles of puzzles and puzzle doing; I’ve resurrected the pleasure of conversing and laughing over a puzzle with dear friends and family. Collaborating on puzzles has not only sharpened my brain, it’s also helped me to cultivate generosity and patience. I can’t wait to start the next one.