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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.

Troublesome Moose

Thanks, Norma! This Liberty puzzle was a gift to one of our puzzle club’s founding members from her sister, and it was a doozy! Definitely one of our more challenging images, or maybe it was just for me. I’ll be excited to share more images and thoughts about the puzzles I’ve done this season in the coming weeks. It is really, truly, almost time for me to complete our puzzle catalog, after I wrap up a couple of overhanging obligations, notably my will and other end-of-life plans–just in case.

Because as we all know but are reluctant to acknowledge, death is certain, time of death uncertain. I’m fine, as far as I know. A ream of medical tests over the past year has indicated only that I am… aging. Certain symptoms remain mysteries, but I can accept that each human body is different and no one has all the answers. I intend to continue my personal Covid protocols no matter what the rest of the world does, and Dr. Fauci validated this choice in his recent interview with the New York Times.

Work has settled into a predictable and comfortable routine for the time being, winter dictates ongoing hibernation for awhile longer (though seeds have been ordered), and I look forward to days with more latitude for creative endeavors. Heading to bed now after a productive day on the computer, in the sunroom, and in the kitchen. I’d be up another hour glazing the lemon shortbreads I baked this evening but I can’t find anymore butter! So off to bed with friend Peter’s novel Celine, in hopes of a warmish morning tomorrow–like maybe sunny and 20° by the time I get out of bed, and over 60° inside.

Adaptability

Next week it’s my birthday! I’m so grateful just anticipating that I’ll get to have another one! Dawn was going to come over for a birthday dinner and puzzle night. We had it planned for weeks. She was kind enough to agree to isolate for four days prior to our date, and we both planned to take rapid antigen tests shortly before she came over. But because of my high risk factors for Covid, and the Omicron surge, and the fact that we both were, unavoidably, around unmasked people in confined spaces four days ago, and the recent suggestion that the rapid tests may not be as reliable for Omicron, we adapted to a plan B.

I roasted a chicken with garden carrots and some sweet potatoes, and steam-sautéed some garden green beans from the freezer. She baked shortbread. She delivered the cookies and picked up a box of dinner and a new puzzle, and drove the couple miles back home. Then, we zoomed together for dinner, put away our dishes, and opened our puzzles. It was almost as good as being in the same space working on the same puzzle–not quite, but almost. The camaraderie was still there, the quiet focus on the puzzles interspersed with meaningful conversation.

The virus sucks. The ignorance that facilitated and perpetuates the Covid crisis sucks. I feel profound compassion for the healthcare workers who are overwhelmed because of the sheer stupidity of a staggering number of humans. It’s my patriotic duty to stay healthy and well. Given that this is the world we live in for now, I’m grateful for adaptability, and for the ongoing tolerance and acceptance my friends show for my super high risk threshold.

Surviving the Day

Detail from “Yacht Race Off Boston Light,” James Edward Buttersworth c. 1880, Liberty puzzle.

It sounds melodramatic on the surface. Why wouldn’t I have survived the day? Why bother to be grateful for something so mundane? Yet this was the first day I’ve driven beyond Crawford since witnessing that shocking wreck on the highway. I passed the scene twice, on my way to Hotchkiss and back. I ran some quotidian errands–gasoline, picking up cat fud at the vet, a few groceries at City Market–and drove home. That’s all. But I was tense and anxious, not only because of the wreck, but the Covid risk of going about in a county that largely never believed in the virus in the first place, flouted the original mask mandate (down to the Sheriff’s department which became an instant hot spot), and has concluded that it’s through with Covid now whether or not Covid is through with it. In the past couple of weeks the county has recorded roughly 1.1 deaths a day from the virus.

We tend to assume, each morning that we rise alive, that today is just another day to spend like any other day, that we’ll make it through this day without dying; and that’s just ridiculous. Lots of people die every day, many of them without pre-existing conditions and without any warning. Shit happens. I’m learning to take nothing for granted. I was grateful to wake up alive again this morning, and I’m grateful for surviving the day. Each night I try to fall asleep with my pulse pounding in my neck. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful to make it to the hospital (and back) for some tests to try to determine what this sensation is about, and pinpoint the cause of other strange symptoms as well.

Or at least rule out some icky options. As Francisco said, “When you know what it is, it’s just pain.” When you don’t know what it is, it can grow into a menacing monster. Driving from town this afternoon, the thought of home beckoned like a lighthouse, as it will again tomorrow. If I can only make it there, and back again to safe harbour, then I can finally relax; then I will be happy. Ha! Each day, each breath, a new adventure.

Art

Before I returned Sarah’s puzzle, “Matisse’s Studio” (from artwork by Damian Elwes), I wanted to do it again. My strategy on this round was to pull all the pieces easily identified as the paintings on the studio walls and quickly assemble as much as I could of those little gems.

Having only looked at the box lid once, using Seymour’s Rule, I couldn’t recall which paintings went where in the scheme of things. The flat edges of most of them are designed to trick the puzzler into sorting out more edge pieces than are really puzzle edges.

Having wrapped up the paintings and determined that they did include actual puzzle edges and two corners, I then assembled the sea, with its near beach and far city shore, followed by the balcony. These steps were pretty easy, with the distinctive color of the sea and two key whimsy pieces including a mermaid, and the balcony’s definitive railing.

Assembling the remaining components took more time. Colors and shapes are key, but in true Matisse fashion, Elwes splashed mixed up colors all over the place. Then the brilliant puzzle designer created intricate cuts with flimsy connections.

I persevered, soaking up the bright colors on a couple of grey days, delighting in the details that emerged as each little section revealed itself. So many separate little scenes!

And the precious edges, the flat-edged pieces providing only a skeletal framework, sitting in place awaiting the filler pieces which don’t look like edges at all. Then finally, the delight of completion. I like to save a special piece for last; in this case, a special multi-piece.

Naturally, after finishing the puzzle again, I had to explore more Matisse. He was one of my mom’s favorites, along with Cézanne, and I’m just beginning to understand why. It was fun to see where Elwes got his inspiration. And then to ponder how art evolves over time, from one artist finding inspiration in others, and whole trends, movements, schools, developing through time and space. I loved Art History in college. I’m grateful to have grown up with Art as a value and activity in our home; grateful to have lived near and frequently visited the world-class art museums of downtown Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian galleries; grateful to have seen, felt, absorbed in real life the magnificent works of Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Rubens, Rembrandt, Munch–I’m kind of hating in this moment that the names which come readily to mind are all males, and am grateful to be learning recently of equally talented female artists who were shamefully underrepresented in the art lessons of my youth.

But setting aside that can of worms, here are some random paintings chosen from the many Matisse images available online, which may have been among those which influenced Elwes’ delightful rendering of “Matisse’s Studio.”

Then there was this absolutely irresistible cat, which I’d gladly hang on my wall.
Wallowing in all this Matisse reminded me that I have another Matisse puzzle to immerse myself in again, “Red Room.” It’s been a few years since I’ve done it. Perhaps I’ll pull it out on the next rainy day.

Joy and Sorrow

I was awakened this morning by a soft kangaroo kick in my face, two little furry-toed feet practically in my mouth as Topaz stretched out on her back alongside me. I’m grateful for the little purrball snuggling in the morning. She’s still not quite right in the head, and we may go get her eyes and ears examined next week in Montrose, as none of those seem to be functioning the way they should. But she’s otherwise almost back to normal, and I’m grateful for that.

So simple, so delicious: a homemade roll toasted, slathered with mayo and Swiss cheese and broiled briefly, then topped with homemade bread&butter pickles. I’m grateful for lunch, and especially for ‘the cheese sandwich.’

I’m grateful for the delightful diversion provided by this charming puzzle full of exquisite detail both in the artwork and in the laser cut. I used to enjoy doing these puzzles with other people sometimes, before the pandemic. It’s an intimate act to sit heads bent close over a puzzle table, singing along to music or chatting amiably, passing each other pieces that fit with the different sections we’re working, cheering each other on. I also used to enjoy doing them alone, so I’m grateful that my pleasure hasn’t been diminished with my cautious solitude.

I learned recently of several more Covid infections in vaccinated friends, so I’m even more grateful for getting the booster. I watched with deep emotion the trailer for the new documentary “The First Wave.” As a culture, perhaps as a species, we are about to drop all precautions and pretend that this ongoing pandemic isn’t happening, despite the evidence of what we see and know. Why? Because we’re tired of it; we want to get back to normal. Like that’s ever gonna happen. This stunning film chronicles four early months in 2020, and filmmaker Matthew Heineman told The Guardian, “One of the greatest tragedies of Covid is that we as a general public were so shielded from the realities of what was happening…. If it was easier for journalists and film-makers to get inside hospitals and to show the public how this was all actually going down, how people were dying and the horror of what was happening, I think it would have changed the narrative…. It saddens me that this issue that could have brought our country together further divided us, that truth and science became politicised.”

And for a refreshing change of pace, because we must also experience joy as well as outrage, check out the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards from NPR, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. My favorite is the “Majestic and Graceful Bald Eagle.” Maybe. I’m grateful for Kathleen for many reasons, including finding this in my inbox this morning.

Cosmic Time

I’m grateful today that I had no real ill effects from the booster; grateful that I slept long and well last night, and that everyone I love (that I know of) woke up alive this morning. Even though CC felt poopy after her booster shot yesterday, she was still alive and still had her sense of humor; even though S had a kidney removed last week, the cancer is gone and he’s recovering well; even though Topaz still isn’t quite right in the head, she’s getting better and she snuggled most of the night. And grateful there are many more people whom I love and who love me, and as far as I know they are all fine.

Grateful I’ve been able to spend a couple of hours throughout the day on this delightful puzzle, assembling tiny vignettes one at a time and then piecing them together and noticing even more brilliant details. And some subliminal influence must have been at work this morning, because I craved and made a bean and cheese burrito for lunch, on one of those delicious gigantic spinach tortillas from Farm Runners, with homemade fermented hot sauce. Grateful for groceries and for growing food.

I’m grateful that I can still walk to the canyon even without a dog, which I did for the first time today–I think for the first time ever. There was a lot more to notice since I wasn’t keeping at least one eye on a dog the whole way: various birds, silence, the feel of my own footsteps. As I sat in silence on the bench, pondering things, there was a sudden noise which I recognized as something crashing down in Ice Canyon–but there was hardly any ice. I got up to check it out, and just inside the curve visible above, there had been a rock slide. I got so lost in contemplation that I plumb forgot to take a picture of the aftermath. I’ll do that tomorrow. The next thing I did was call my friend who once upon a time took a photo of me standing under the tiny waterfall, where now there is a pile of boulders–right where I had been standing! In cosmic time, it was a near miss. I’m grateful for perspective, for humor, for true friends, and for more time to puzzle…

I’m also grateful for Krista Tippett and her podcast “On Being,” which I’ve been listening to during this puzzle. Yesterday I caught up with Katherine Hayhoe, chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, and climate ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, talking with Krista about how we can still put the brakes on the climate crisis. “Talk about it,” is one of her main strategies, and she makes a strong case for that. Today I listened to Pico Iyer talking with Elizabeth Gilbert about solitude, gratitude, and mindfulness, three of my favorite things.

Everyone Survived

I’m grateful for another puzzle. Last night I dropped into the delightful magical realism of “San Miguel de Allende.”

Not even noon and I had a long list already of things I’m grateful for today: Waking up alive and spooning a purring kitty, swimming bare legs in cool sheets, not having to jump out of bed right away to take any dog out for a walk; stepping outside into a brisk sun morning, flowers on Stellar’s grave, saying a prayer for him that makes me feel a tiny bit better, sun for the solar panels, hot coffee, Telesangha, a new puzzle. Then I drove twenty minutes to a fairly well-stocked grocery store where I could also get a Covid booster. I’m posting early today, anticipating that by evening I’ll be very, very sleepy…

I’m grateful for the clever charm of this puzzle, and the whimsical genius of the cut-designer.

Driving home from shopping, I was pondering my gratitude for a seamless errand run: in and out of Farm Runners where they had everything I wanted, close parking at City Market, an uneventful booster shot from friendly pharmacy staff, and a trunk full of groceries. I was grateful to see many more people wearing masks in the store, grateful I can afford to feed myself, grateful for all the hands, hearts, and minds that went into supplying the grocery store from the growers and makers of the foods I purchased, to the drivers and lifters and the infrastructure that made it all get to this little out of the way store, to the roads and those who built and maintain the roads… I was happily contemplating all these things, when, just around the curve by the big red barn, I witnessed a horrific accident unfold.

Fifty yards ahead, an SUV was apparently turning around, pulling from the shoulder onto the highway right in front of the southbound pickup truck in front of me. The truck braked and swerved as the SUV continued to turn across into the northbound lane. I pulled over and pulled out my phone as soon as I saw the truck clip the front of the SUV, which got pushed aside. It didn’t look too bad at that point. But the truck continued off the road down a shallow bank, and then it got really ugly as the truck seemed to roll over several directions all at once, parts of it flying off into the highway with fresh each impact. The truck came to rest. It was smashed to bits. By that time I had 911 on the phone. “Is the truck on its wheels?” the dispatcher asked. I wondered why she asked that, but was happy to say that it was.

The SUV pulled over on the intersecting road. A middle-aged woman got out. By the time I had finished describing what where when, the young man driving the pickup had also gotten out. I was immensely grateful to see him on his feet and inspecting the damage, so grateful that everyone survived. They both began to remove debris from the road. I was grateful for a cell phone and service, grateful there was no blood, no need to administer first aid. There was a lot of oncoming traffic, which slowed and passed around. Another guy pulled over and got out. I waited awhile to make sure there was nothing more I could do, then drove on home, experiencing the very human reaction of feeling grateful that, this time, it wasn’t me.

I drove very carefully. I thought about how radically different today turned out for both of those people than either of them expected, how each of them suffered trauma in their different ways, and I felt deep empathy for both of them. I was very grateful to get home to my quiet little life in my quiet little house in my quiet little yard.

Acceptance

I realized the second I hit “Publish” last night that I had just spouted something old, a view at odds with what I actually currently believe. Yes, intellectually, philosophically, mentally, we are each alone; but, fundamentally, energetically, elementally, spiritually, we are All One. All sentient beings are interconnected in ways Western science has yet to fully comprehend, but at the forefront of consciousness studies is the dawning recognition that we are literally all connected. So, when I remember this, and I think in cosmic terms, and even in the sense of community, networks of friendship and support, I do recognize that I’m not really alone.

Further, I really feel this in my bones, my inherent belonging in this world teeming with life. From the microorganisms living in symbiosis with my body whose cells outnumber my human cells 10:1, to the insects in my summer yard, to the brilliant avifauna of tropical forests represented in today’s completed puzzle, we depend upon each other. We are all animated by the same force. We just don’t really understand what that is yet, or what to call it. Life. But I feel it. I’ve lived close to the earth for most of my life in one way or another. The boundary between inside and outside is quite permeable at my house. Even as a little girl climbing the poplar tree, and hating boys who burned ants with a magnifying glass, I’ve felt my connection with all living things profoundly for as long as I can remember. It’s made for a hard life, among a species who’s so hard on the planet. I’m grateful for acceptance, resilience, and equanimity, all recent acquisitions which contribute to contentment and joy, even in times of loss and grief.