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Oatmeal

The precious clippers and the dozens of other adorable whimsy pieces made this, like all Liberty puzzles, a delight to assemble.

I’m grateful for this lovely puzzle that brightened the past three dark and snowy days, Indoor Summer Garden by Jenny Wheatley.

I’ve never been an oatmeal-for-breakfast person, but in my quest to eat more healthfully I decided a month ago that I’d try again, and I began to imagine a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and maple syrup. Then I started looking for the oats that I was sure were in the cupboard or pantry somewhere. Not to be hasty, I opted to keep looking for my oats rather than surrender to purchasing another canister. So I double and triple checked the cupboards, and over a couple of weeks in several installments sorted and culled the pantry. Still couldn’t find the oats, so I bought a new bag of Bob’s Red Mill organic oats. Finally I could live the dream! And honestly, it’s been every bit as satisfying as I imagined it would be. I add a tablespoon of protein powder and a teaspoon of maple syrup, and feel ever so virtuous eating oats instead of croissants for breakfast. I’m grateful for oatmeal.

Snowy Saturday

I am NOT violating Puzzle Rule #1: The coffee only appears to be above the puzzle, I would never hold a beverage over a Liberty puzzle.

A quiet, snowy Saturday, sleeping late and enjoying a lattĂ© and a puzzle: I couldn’t be more grateful for these delights, and I know that it is only through the grace of my birth and the conditions that led to this moment that it is what it is. I did nearly nothing of importance today, just relaxed and enjoyed the simple pleasures of food, water, shelter, and space: the essential ingredients of any animal life.

Deconstructed cheese sandwich: smoked gouda melting on sourdough toast, avocado mayo, and a tiny fresh tomato from the sunroom vine. Wasn’t sure the proportions would work out if I spread them all on the toast at once, so I added flavors bite by bite. Because I’m grateful to have the time and ease to be able to do so.
After lunch, Wren naps in my lap.

Come ON! How fantastic is this? Garden clippers that actually ‘clip’! So grateful for the genius of the Liberty Puzzle puzzle master.

Just before dark we went for a walk. Wren was sneezing when she came back from this romp, and I thought she might have gotten a grass seed up her nose. She seemed to have sneezed it out by the time she got back to me so I didn’t worry about it. Playing this back frame by frame I could note the moment she did get a seed up her nose, and see it still sticking out at the moment the video ends. Clearly she got it out because she quit sneezing and has been fine ever since. It was so long that I’d have noticed if she hadn’t relieved herself of it. Super grateful for that!

For supper, just a snack of miso-maple toasted walnuts. So simple, so delicious. Grateful to watch the finale of the 2023 Great British Baking Show, and inspired, though I’m trying to quit.

No-Buy November

I’m grateful for the first real snow of the season, which started last night and has continued throughout the day. We woke to a couple of inches this morning, and at bedtime tonight it’s up to five or six. So it’s been slow and easy all day. The first snow of the year always reminds me of Conrad Aiken’s short story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” and brings that muffled sense of peace and isolation he captured so intimately. Wren knows nothing about that story, dwelling in the moment with a snowball on the deck. Seconds after we came inside a snow shelf slid off the roof that would have buried her.

Any money I saved (and there was plenty) by not buying things I don’t need with money I don’t have was instantly offset by the new starter for the Honda. Otherwise, No-Buy November was a smashing success. I’m grateful for the mindful practice of not being a consumer for most of last month, except of groceries and an essential car repair. It’s reset my spendometer to zero and I intend to creep along at a much slower pace going forward. In fact, I’m planning on a Junk-free January, where not only do I not buy anything I don’t need including junk food, but I’ll work hard on getting rid of things I don’t need or that don’t spark joy.

Obviously, because of the joy they spark and the mental exercise, I won’t be relinquishing any Liberty puzzles. I’m grateful to have a couple of new puzzles from our Maryland satellite library, and started a lovely one today after wrapping up the week’s work.

There’s a floral theme, and I started with the easy part, the garden stool. I love, as usual, how the pieces align with the image, as in the bird piece above landing on the bird image. Another trick in this puzzle which is rare in these masterpieces, is at least one piece that fits where it doesn’t belong. I’ve seen this a few times, and know it’s an intentional mind game from the puzzle master, which adds to the delight.

Wrong piece above, and right piece below.

I’m grateful for the luxury of having more than I need, and the wisdom to recognize it. I’m grateful for the lessons of No-Buy November and the motivation to pare down and simplify.

Feeling Useful

Wren likes a belly rub first thing in the morning…

I am grateful for feeling useful today. I got a lot of things done, taking care of myself in several important ways from completing important paperwork to cooking a delicious (adapted) wild rice soup, with several short walks outside in between; getting some work done to meet a deadline; helping others in some meaningful ways…

… and finishing a spontaneous knit hat I started a few days ago when I ran out of Sugar and Cream scrap yarn for dish cloths. I used up some other lovely yarn ends, including a sage chenille and two gorgeous handspun wools. I was able to keep going all day for two reasons I can think of, besides being useful: I enjoyed oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast, and I threw in some full caff beans with my decaf coffee. It’s hard to know (and it doesn’t matter) whether any one of these factors was more important than others: together, they contributed to a very fulfilling day. So simple, so satisfactory: Feeling useful, just being me.

Knitting

I’m grateful that we got a little snow overnight. And so winter begins, and brings with it indoor pastimes.

For a few years I knitted a lot of dishcloths, simple squares of knit knit knit, that took little attention and resulted in lovely sustainable dishwashing utensils that I am still using. I knitted enough to increase my supply year by year, and to give as gifts to others who equally appreciated their unique satisfactoriness in the bewildering and often dissatisfying world of dishwashing products, largely throwaway plastics. I was grateful for that hobby which allowed my mind to rest while my hands were productive; until a series of wrist and thumb injuries stopped my knitting career.

I’m grateful that physical therapy and time and life healed my joints enough that I can knit again. I’d been thinking for a few weeks about getting back to the dishcloth habit, and was inspired to finally do so after a conversation with a dear friend led to her buying the dishcloth yarn and sharing her grandmother’s instructions. I didn’t read them because I had mine in my head, but I did sort my yarns and needles into order and started knitting tonight. I texted her the above picture to thank her for her inspiration, and we ended up on the phone trying to figure out where she’d gone wrong with grandmother’s pattern.

We got it squared away, literally, and she started over. I finished my basic square and decided to try the fancier pattern, which had sounded complicated but was actually simple once we understood it. So while she knitted away in Oregon, I knitted here, and later we exchanged photos of our success. I’m grateful for an old friend turning into a new knitting buddy!

I’m grateful for my other little buddy who fits right under the needles while I work. I’m grateful for my friend and her grandmother; and for the little old lady in the eye surgeon’s office years ago who showed me the simple dishcloth she was knitting and recommended Sugar and Cream yarn when I expressed an interest in emulating her. And my knitting buddy and I were both tickled pink when she first found her grandmother’s handwritten instruction page and it called for Sugar and Cream! I’m grateful to be part of a generations-long tradition of thousands of women using this sweet cotton yarn to knit dishcloths, and for all the multiple thousands of people through the years who have grown the cotton, processed the cotton into yarn, the yarn into skeins, and sent the yarn to the shelves. I’m grateful for knitting.

A Grateful Attitude

I love murals. It’s been a long time since I’d been in GJ before last week, then I was there again today. I hadn’t seen this one, which decorated the flat grey wall in front of the meter on 5th Street where I parked for five minutes to dash into The Hog and the Hen for a Fowl Play sandwich after a morning of appointments. I’m grateful for a grateful attitude as I began this long day. Grateful to Neighbor Cynthia for the portable compressor that enabled me to bring a low tire up to safe pressure, grateful to Neighbor Mary for coming to check on Wren in my absence, grateful for light traffic and few delays, grateful for patience more than once during the day, grateful for a quick in-and-out at the dermatology office to get stitches out, grateful for a jovial neurologist and a fascinating series of tests that revealed nothing wrong with my central nervous system; grateful for getting some errands done on the way home including voting and mailing some important cards.

The day was tiring, but without a grateful attitude it would have been grueling. The sandwich lacked cheese, but included Turkey, Brie, Apple Chips, Lettuce, Tomato, Cucumber, Pickled Red Onion, Cranberry Aioli, on Thin Ciabatta. I asked for no cucumber and extra aioli, and while it was delicious, it simply wasn’t big enough. The apple chips added a surprising crunch. There was a moment on the drive up there through the high desert, with the window down and the radio playing The Eagles, that I felt as carefree and light as I did the first time I drove across the country through a continually unspooling novel landscape. I used to love to drive the back roads. Now I’m grateful for a fleeting nostalgia now and then, and solid sense of belonging to home.

Perspective

Wren and I went to town today for PT. I’m grateful to be learning about the nervous system, and how to help heal a long-ago yoga injury in my low back from the bottom up with some nerve ‘flossing’ exercises, and from the top down with some neck exercises. While we were in town, we stopped to bring a little love to a friend who gets out even less than I do. She hadn’t met Wren before, but I was not surprised at how quickly they took to one another. We sat together outside, and between Wren cuddles, I read her poetry to her from the four wonderful chapbooks we made over the years, years ago. I was moved all over again by the beauty of her words, which I hadn’t read or heard for a long time; and I was moved by her vivid response as she completed lines with me, laughed in recollection, and appreciated our connection. I’m grateful for this time with her, and the perspective it gave to both of our lives.

A Delightful Saturday

I slept til eight. I’m grateful for generally good sleep most nights, even though I’m a night owl, and grateful for a late wakeup some weekend mornings. And grateful to wake up to a bright late September morning, a cup of coffee, a chocolate croissant, and apricot jam, on a patio I built, with a spectacular view.

I got to take my time arranging art on the blue wall, interspersed with some housecleaning, some good listening to Radio Swiss Jazz, the Buddhist Wisdom for Life Summit hosted by Tricycle, and the Collective Trauma Summit. It’s downright amazing to have the world at my fingertips in my remote little mud hut. I’m grateful for the beautiful and meaningful artwork I got to hang on the wall.

I realized only after I hung all the art that this is essentially a memorial wall. On the far left, a piece of folk-art from Amy’s Uncle Neville, a renowned regional artist; above the lamp is my mother’s last painting titled ‘Fractured World’; above the Monument Valley photo I took (in its way also a memorial) hangs a watercolor by another renowned artist Dick Higgins who was a dear friend and teacher of Auntie. The framed puzzle, ‘Oiseaux: Varieties of Birds,’ is an illustration by 19th Century artist and naturalist Adolphe Millot, and also in part inspired the blue wall.
The only artist still living on this wall is the fox painter, Daniel LogĂ©, whose painting I bought in a past life as a gallery owner. The rest of them have died: Richard Van Reyper painted the mountain meadow, my mother in her Oils Phase did the Lilies of the Valley and in her Pastel Phase the portrait, and my dear friend Darlene painted ‘Cats on the Furniture.’ I don’t remember who took the photo of me building my house, but my Fairy Godmother Thelma who is cheerleading me in the image, and who was instrumental in me finding this land, left this earthly plane just a few years after I finished the house. Until the day I myself die, I will be grateful to Thelma for helping me find this little place of peace.

I’m grateful for the blooming Maximillian sunflowers, which are the definitive herald of autumn, and for my Garden Buddy who gave them to me. And I’m grateful for a simple and delicious vegetarian dinner of Roasted Cauliflower with Sweet Chermoula and Yogurt. I didn’t know what chermoula was until I ran across this recipe, and it is a delicious sauce! I didn’t have sweet paprika so looked up (world at my fingertips) a good substitute, and ended up using half as much ground Aleppo pepper plus a squeeze of tomato paste to approximate the taste. I also didn’t have cilantro, and precious little parsley, so subbed dried parsley. With olive oil, honey, lemon juice, and some other spices, it was so yummy I could have eaten the whole recipe but disciplined myself to save some for tomorrow. I’m grateful for a delightful Saturday, and for the presence of mind to appreciate an easy, joyful day.

Accomplishment

I’m grateful for finding what I needed to spackle the nail holes in the green wall… I got home from the hardware store with spackle and realized I didn’t have a putty knife. I pondered for a short while, confident that I had something somewhere that would work, and thought of my mother’s box of painting supplies upstairs in the craft-storage room. I was so happy to find her old encaustic knife, which I had a vague memory of having seen there.

I’m grateful today to have finally accomplished a project I started dreaming more than a year ago, after getting ‘wall envy’ from seeing the blue wall in my cousins’ house on family zooms. The tired, quiet green I’ve had on my one painted wall for almost twenty years was ready for a change and so was I. I bought the paint last fall but winter came before I could open it, and then one thing after another… Procrastination is one of my growth edges… This week, after some encouragement from a good friend, and feeling no pain in my shoulders for a month, and a narrow window of ideal weather for it, I took the plunge.

The 48-hour forecast was perfect: highs around 80, lows in the high 40s, and clear skies. I could keep doors and windows open all day and close half of them overnight, to keep fresh air flowing in the whole time. First I cleared off (i.e. boxed to tackle later) the stuff on the desk and dresser that stood next to the wall, and pulled the furniture away.

Then I photographed the artwork so I’d know where to put it back later, and left those nails and hooks in place. I pulled the C-hooks and plugged their holes with long brads, hoping that I could roll over them and then pull them out after the paint dried to replace the hooks. (I pulled a few small nails where there were studs and tried to plug those holes with smaller nails but that didn’t work: the roller pulled them out right away.)

I called the hardware store in our little town to ask if they had a mechanical paint shaker. “Yes,” she said, “but we’ve had to draw the line at shaking other people’s paint. If it’s not completely sealed shut it makes an awful mess.”

“I haven’t even opened this!” I exclaimed with hope, “but I certainly understand if you can’t do it.” She was happy to shake my unopened paint can and would not take compensation. I was grateful for her generosity. I remembered to buy a jar of spackle while I was there, and filled in the empty holes in the wall. Then I taped off the perimeter, thermostat, switch, and outlet.

Commitment! No turning back once I’d cut in the blue paint.

It’s been hard to adjust the photos to reflect accurate colors as the light kept shifting throughout the day. This morning I spread out the alleged ‘heavy-duty’ plastic dropcloth I’d purchased at the same time as the paint, brushes, and roller setup. While everything else was better than I could have hoped, the dropcloth was about as heavy-duty as I am! Amazon will hear about this deception. Then I started rolling on the paint.

After four hours dry-time, I repeated the cutting-in and rolled on the second coat. I could not be happier with the result!

I only let it dry a couple of hours after the second coat before pulling the tape and hanging the first two pieces back on the wall before the light faded. Yes, I missed a spot with the spackle, oh well. And as I watched the paint dry, I realized I wanted to swap out a few art pieces, so I pulled my mother’s pastel portrait of her Aunt Gretchen from the shadows where it has lived for years, and returned it to the same place it held even longer ago, when the green wall first replaced the original peach wall from the housebuilding in 1995. I look forward to playing with the rest of the wall art tomorrow!

Somewhere in there, I also accomplished another masterpiece cheese sandwich, with smoked gouda, shredded romaine, and garden tomato.

Though I knew some basics, including taping off edges and spackling, I was so grateful for the tips on rolling and some other aspects in this wonderful book from the Trans Handy Ma’am. I’m delighted to support her work empowering trans people, and making the world of home repairs more friendly and accessible to introverts like me. Her motto is “You’re worth the time it takes to learn a new skill!” Thanks, Trans Handy Ma’am, for helping motivate me toward a real sense of accomplishment.

Heartbreak

Where’s Wren? She’s fine, enjoying the fall colors in the canyon. The title has nothing to do with Wren.

Yesterday I stopped to visit an old friend I had not seen since before the pandemic began. Besides the risk of contagion there were a couple of other reasons I hadn’t seen her for so long, but as soon as I sat down with her I regretted my long absence. “It’s so wonderful to see you!” she exclaimed. “I love you so much!”

“Your face is so beautiful,” she went on. She patted her forehead, “Your head, with the beautiful mind, and your eyes, and your beautiful mouth! To make words!” as she rubbed her fingers around her lips. I laughed and said, “It’s wonderful to see you, too, and I love you so much.”

“We’ve been friends for a very long time,” she said, “since we were just little girls,” and she held her hands child-high above the deck where we sat. “It’s been a long time, for sure,” I said, “maybe not as long as all that.” I reminded her how and when we had met.

“It’s so wonderful to see you!” she exclaimed. “I love you so much!” I echoed her words back to her. “You’re so beautiful,” she said, “your hair, and your earrings look so good on your ears, and your pretty hat.” My heart was breaking. I moved my chair around to sit next to her and held her hand. She had quite the strong grip for someone over ninety, though she had moved ponderously and seemed quite frail when she stepped outside to sit with me.

The propane truck arrived just then to fill the house tank, with its engine and pump cacophony, and so we sat quietly, taking in the fall colors in the trees and shrubs around us, smiling at one another and making occasional hand signs and mouthing “I love you,” until they were done and left. Quiet thundered down.

“God bless us and keep us safe from all harm, in Jesus’ name, Amen,” she said. In thirty years I had never once heard her pray. “It’s so wonderful to see you! You look lovely. We’ve been friends for such a long time, since we were just little girls, and here we still are. We took to each other right away.”

That was true. “Like ducks to water,” I said, and she laughed.

“We’ve been friends for ever so long,” she said, “and look at us now, still friends!”

“Yes,” I said, “two little old ladies sitting on the porch, still friends after all these years,” and she said, “Will we be friends forever?”

“We’ll be friends forever,” I said. “We’ll be friends in the next life too, and I’m sure we were in our past lives.” She laughed again. It felt so good to make her laugh. The Alzheimers that began attacking her beautiful mind so many years ago had advanced dramatically since the last time I’d seen her. Though I’d called every month or so for the past few years, I had not seen the change, and the conversations had followed the same repetitive pattern though with a different theme: How are you, what have you been up to, how are you, what have you been doing, how are you… Her seeing me in person added a new element. Each time she told me how beautiful I am and how much she loves me, my heart cracked open a little bit more.

I sat with her for about half an hour and could tell when she closed one eye that she was beginning to tire, so I tapped on the door and her partner came out to help her back inside. I told them I’ll come back next week. “You promise?” she said. “I promise.”

“God bless us and keep us safe from all harm, in Jesus’ name, Amen,” she said as I left. I’m grateful for the heartbreak that made me softer.

I was grateful for the serene beauty along the road home, and the quiet time it afforded me to metabolize the emotions moving through me. I was grateful to return home and find the internet still out, and grateful it remained out until after I went to bed. None of my usual entertainments (read, ‘distractions’) were available to me, and so I nursed the heartbreak quietly, letting it soften more and more the hard edges of my prolonged voluntary solitude.

Into the softness of the heartbreak I let flow the joy of finishing the puzzle. Another pair of dancers, as my friend had danced the last time before this that I’d seen her. The precious tiny star in the dancer’s hand, and the simple pleasure of spotting the piece that fit it across the board and knowing exactly where it went.

That moment that comes late in almost every puzzle, where you’re sure, you are certain, there’s a piece missing because you’ve looked all over for it — and then, suddenly, it’s right in front of you and has been all along.

And then that sense that there’s not enough room for all the pieces you have left, especially the big groups — where can they possibly fit?

And then you find where they go, and the rest of the pieces flow into place smoothly one right after another…

… and then the puzzle is complete, put back together, and so is your heart.