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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.