Tag Archive | hands

Puzzling

 

The daily ritual rumcokes in classic insulated plastic cups.

The ritual lunchtime rumcokes in classic insulated plastic glasses.

The Tuesday after the West Virginia Incident, I arrive at Auntie’s apartment just in time for a rumcoke. The only midday drink I allow myself is the ritual lunchtime rumcoke with Auntie (with a teaspoon of lime juice; yes, it’s a cuba libre but we call it rumcoke). It sets the pace for the remainder of the day, demarcates the functional morning from the restful afternoon. There will be no going out, no exertion, no stress for the rest of the day. And after that comes the welcome relief of the evening cocktail. We are even more relaxed. Still, it takes me a few days to let go of the jitters I carried with me the whole trip.

The third night she says, You’ve visibly relaxed since you started puzzling.

Visibly?

I realize she’s right. Since I turned my frantic mind to the first wooden jigsaw puzzle the afternoon before, its writhing thrashing threads have calmed noticeably with my deepening absorption in the second puzzle.

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I found an aged cardboard box when I finally went through the last of the Colonel’s papers a few weeks before I left: small, sturdy, dirty ivory color, Pastime Puzzle in green on top, Parker Brothers address and logo. Inside the lid a label:

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1931. Auntie and I puzzle over whose it might have been. The Colonel would have been twelve. Maybe it belonged to his mother, or one of the aunts. Or maybe it was a puzzle my father did when he was still a sweet smart little boy. The puzzle takes us all afternoon, just 80 pieces. It’s more complicated than it first appears.

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I’m still jumpy when we finish it, and after letting it rest a few hours while we appreciate it some more, she puts it apart and back in the box, and I pull out a new Liberty puzzle from the cupboard where she’s had it waiting for my arrival. The first night I beat her twice at cribbage. We don’t get another chance to play once we start puzzling together. It’s a different kind of fun. Just being together, our minds on the same game, we are easy, happy.

Working the same puzzle again today, warmth of the woodstove at my back, insulating fog blurring snow-dusted junipers, fences, gates outside, sun-powered light overhead, again I feel the demons releasing my brain as I turn my mind to more details in the image: how the thin triangle of sidewalk adjoins the woman’s feet, there is a small piece of chimney down by her skirt, how the roof line meets trees on both sides of the chimney, how the roses grow, which way the light glows in the windows, how the pieces are delineated.

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Many visual elements of this puzzle were outlined with a jig saw wielded by the man called 37. Each of these puzzles was individually cut by a person (with a number) with a jigsaw, probably an early electric one. This adds another perspective on this little random leftover creation. #37 looked closely at the shapes and colors, the structure of the image, and cut accordingly. This makes fitting many of the pieces even more challenging, the chimney and the woman in blue most obviously, but the second time around, when I’m halfway through and stymied, I see that much of the puzzle is cut this way, with distinct boundaries in the image (sidewalk to grass, roof to wall) cleanly sliced. Well, jiggily sliced. You can almost retrace #37’s steps with the saw: first he cut it in half… With this deeper understanding the second time around, I finish the puzzle in just over an hour.

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So I’m home again, like the woman in blue at her cottage. Though my garden sleeps today under snow, the day I arrived home it looked as though I’d never left. The same few patches of snow on the ground, the same soft green things still green, partridge feather, lamb’s ears, powis castle sage, sagebrush, iris leaves. Wait, iris leaves still up and green in December? The deer in the yard. In the house, the kittens have been so well cared for that they hold no grudge at my return after my long absence. They look just a little askance at us for a few minutes before crawling up with me on the futon, prancing about, flopping down on the kitchen floor, waiting for their afternoon food. They are bigger, to be sure, a month older in a fast growing year, but still sleek and happy and full of wit. The houseplants, the orchids, all thrive.

Inside and out, the house seems the same. Elsewhere in the world, terrible changes continue in unsuspecting lives. I also am changed by the challenging journey I’ve just completed, but I’m not sure yet how. I left November seventh, not ready; perhaps it was an inauspicious day. With the Mothership now unloaded and most of my physical baggage stowed where it belongs, I continue to unpack my travels and travails, mulling over blessings and tribulations, fear, love, confidence, and mental stability, natural beauty and human nature. When these reflections overwhelm me, I’ll pull out one of my Liberty puzzles to untangle my mind.

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Holiday Hands and Cookies

 

Pamela grating nutmeg on farm fresh eggnog in the ancestral Cantonese punchbowl.

Pamela grating nutmeg on farm fresh eggnog in the ancestral Cantonese punchbowl.

“Farm hands,” she says as I turn the camera on her, grating nutmeg onto the eggnog. Two gallons, at least, of deep yellow, delectable concoction, consisting largely of homegrown eggs and liquor. The Bad Dog Ranch girls came early to mix the eggnog in the ancestral punchbowl that I’ve talked about but have not used since I’ve lived here. In the family since the late 1800’s, it’s one of those heirlooms that only came on out very special occasions. It’s been in a trunk for twenty years. Poor thing. Like an opal it needs to breathe, to see the sun from time to time. The punchbowl had a very nice afternoon, did a great job, and got a lot of admiring attention.

The Holiday Cookie Exchange has quickly become a favorite tradition in the past few years up here on the mesa. Each woman brings a couple of dozen cookies, and a tin or tub to take home that many. People pull out all the cookie stops with some of their creations. This year we had seventeen lovely women from all three towns and the valleys and mesas scattered among them. There were occasional hijinks from the dogs, who were otherwise gracious. Snow lay across the land outside, still tall on every twig, on fences, outlining everything white, but paths and patios were clear; the ground was so warm when the storm hit last night that snow didn’t stick too much to bricks and concrete. I knew we’d be warm inside, all our happy warm energy, and kept the door to the mudroom open, where boots filled the floor and coats, hats, and bags were stacked on every surface.

 

Green tea - white chocolate sugar cookies

Green tea – white chocolate sugar cookies

Earl Grey shortbread

Earl Grey shortbread

Salted Nut something fantastic, with a frisson of marshmallow.

Salted Nut Roll Bars, with a frisson of marshmallow.

Delectable handmade Pizzelles, with a garnis of pecan sandies.

Delectable handmade Pizzelles, with a garnis of pecan sandies.

Classic assortment

Classic assortment

Chocolate Kisses, like a cross between a truffle and shortbread.

Chocolate Kisses, like a cross between a truffle and shortbread.

Perfect Molasses cookies.

Perfect Molasses cookies.

Three-nut baklava, yum.

Three-nut baklava, yum.

Kahlua chocolate shortbread

Kahlua chocolate shortbread

A delicious surprise, club crackers magically toasted with almonds, brown sugar and butter.

A delicious surprise, club crackers magically toasted with almonds, brown sugar and butter.

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It wasn’t possible to taste even one of each kind of cookie, there were just too many. Most had labels; there was a small table devoted to gluten-free offerings. Fortunately, some people brought spiced nuts, ham biscuits, apples and cheese and crackers, to balance the sugar fiesta. The holiday music of my childhood, choral and instrumental Christmas works, played in the background of waves of conversation. All that sweeping and rearranging furniture paid off, creating lots of smaller sitting and standing areas, so that seventeen broke into five or six more intimate groupings, rearranging themselves through the afternoon, and each got to visit with all. Our stories wove together, catching up the threads of the neighborhood, the past weeks and months of our lives since we’d last seen each other, pulling the safety net of love in our community a little tighter this winter day.

Everyone also got to fill their tubs or plates with more cookies than they brought, and somehow there were still dozens left over. How did that happen? The math didn’t add up but the sense of plenty flowed through us.

 

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“Old hands,” said one of them as I was taking pictures. “We all have old hands,” I said. And lucky to have them, I thought. The stories they could tell. The meals they’ve prepared, the fences they’ve built, the babies they’ve held. The lives they’ve lived, these hands all gathered here around this generosity of cookies.

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Well, all of us have old hands or farm hands or both, except for the one beautiful daughter who came, a young mother herself, and she brought a baby! With the baby snugged to her chest in a cozy wrap, Rocky couldn’t get enough of them both. If he’s ever seen a baby that young it was when he was a baby himself. He was fascinated, and maybe a little jealous. The big catahoulas, bouncy as Tiggers, relegated upstairs or outside for the whole afternoon, were jealous of the littlest dog, who got to sit on the lap with the baby. But several people took a break from the cookies and walked out through the snowy woods to the canyon rim; the big dogs got their joy escorting guests on their walks. I wallowed in gratitude all afternoon.

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Marla brought a beautiful strudel for dessert! Like anyone needed dessert. And it was gone in no time. Some people went home, saying “I need a nap!” Some people took their nap in situ.

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The baby behaved as well as the dogs, as cloudy afternoon wore on to dusk. People drifted off as they needed to leave, to check on a puppy, to feed a husband, to get home before dark; half a dozen stayed to watch the last of the Broncos game on TV. Suddenly it felt like any holiday I ever spent with family growing up, sitting around chatting and laughing, sated, with the soft drone of a football game (even though we were all women, it struck me sweetly) lulling everyone off to sleep. 

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Last Hands of Last Year

Ellie making gravy

Ellie making gravy

Michael carving turkey

Michael carving turkey

Mary pouring wine

Mary pouring wine

This last series of hands from last year only make me want to keep collecting hands. These first three are from Thanksgiving dinner at my house. There are not a lot of restaurants where we live, just a handful, and most are so far away that we usually prefer to share meals at one house or another. There are many excellent cooks in my circle of friends, and we live in the boonies. One or two nights a week some or many of us come together to break bread; usually everybody brings a dish to share, sometimes one person prepares the whole meal or the bulk of it. And boy do we eat well!

Deb rolling cookie dough

Deb rolling cookie dough

Joli reaches for candy

Joli reaches for candy

Mary opening a homemade vanilla creme sandwich cookie

Mary opening a homemade vanilla creme sandwich cookie

Dawn dunks a cookie

Dawn dunks a cookie

Jim makes pizza

Jim makes pizza

JT serves soup

JT serves soup

Joli serves linzer torte

Joli serves linzer torte

Cynthia carves the roast

Cynthia carves the roast

John wears a napkin ring

John wears a napkin ring

Deb dances Rocky

Deb dances Rocky

Connie grates nutmeg onto homemade Brandy Alexander

Connie grates nutmeg onto homemade Brandy Alexander

Todd holds Rocky

Todd holds Rocky

Cynthia slices homemade sourdough

Cynthia slices homemade sourdough

Chris serves Chicken Marbella

Chris serves Chicken Marbella

Michael plays with his gag gift

Michael plays with his gag gift

Todd contemplates Rummy Kub

Todd contemplates Rummy Kub

Hands Around Home

Harvesting carrots

Harvesting carrots

Somebody asked me why I take pictures of hands. I think there are a lot of reasons. They do so many interesting things, and in what they do they show a lot about their person. They can be graceful or strong, active or still, and they can capture the essence or the soul of a person. They’re beautiful. They’re candid. Most of the hand photos I take are not posed (except for my own, because I’m not quick enough to catch myself unawares with the camera). It’s less invasive to snap a person’s hands than a person’s face. Most people get self-conscious when you aim a camera at their face, only a few seem so anxious about having their hands photographed. Those are some of the reasons. Also, it’s just plain fun.

Corwin holds a honeycomb

Corwin holds a honeycomb

Julia carries Rocky

Julia carries Rocky

Dawn pats her dad's dog

Dawn pats her dad’s dog

Harvesting potatoes

Harvesting potatoes

Philip eats a chicken

Philip eats a chicken

JoAnn holds Tasha

JoAnn holds Tasha

Holding a bird that hit the window

Holding a bird that hit the window

Deb reaches into the pig bowl

Deb reaches into the pig bowl

Suzi teases Teddy Kittidy

Suzi teases Teddy Kittidy

Pamela raises the cat

Pamela raises the cat

Rosie pats Rocky

Rosie pats Rocky

In my year-end review of photos, I’ve collected my favorite hands, one more round to come. The garden is under snow; morning rounds aren’t happening. Maybe a midday trip out to fill the bird feeders and sit in the sun for a few minutes by the iced-over pond, take a walk through the woods with the dogs. Mostly I’m inside, feeding the fire in the wood stove, working on the computer, playing piano, cleaning the house. It’s an interior time of the year for me, a hibernation of sorts. This morning when I drove to the grocery store I realized I hadn’t been off the mesa for a whole week, and it felt positively bold to drive down the hill toward town.

Tonight I gather with friends, many of whose hands are here, hands that have helped me through the past year, will carry me through the coming year. For all these hands and more I am grateful every day.

More Hands Across the Country

Auntie cuts her homemade key lime pie

Auntie cuts her homemade key lime pie

Amy indulges in Happy Hour food

Amy indulges in Happy Hour food

Aunty eats fried sugar toads at Something Different

Aunty eats fried sugar toads at Something Different

Sallie holds the Skyline

Sallie holds the Skyline

Candace prepares hors d'ouvres

Candace prepares hors d’ouvres

Candace serves hors d'ouvres

Candace serves hors d’ouvres

Auntie sorts the puzzle pieces

Auntie sorts the puzzle pieces

Rick finds a crab

Rick finds a crab

Auntie finds crab shells

Auntie finds crab shells

Auntie cracks lobster

Auntie cracks lobster

Loving the cat

Loving the cat

Auntie works the wooden puzzle

Auntie works the wooden puzzle

Judy works the train puzzle

Judy works the train puzzle

Sallie drinking wine

Sallie drinking wine

John adjusts his sculpture

John adjusts his sculpture

Tony does physical therapy

Tony does physical therapy

Gaytha collecting eggs

Gaytha collecting eggs

Rita plays with a puppy

Playing with the puppy

Melinda divides the pastries

Melinda divides the pastries

Rita enjoys a cocktail

Enjoying a cocktail

I’ve been shooting hands since the first of the year. This is the second installment, wrapping up the best of the hands from my travels last spring. Next episode, hands from around home.