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.
A quiet, snowy Saturday, sleeping late and enjoying a latté 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.
Come ON! How fantastic is this? Garden clippers that actually ‘clip’! So grateful for the genius of the Liberty Puzzle puzzle master.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Aren’t we all paddling along in a canoe of fate? I don’t know. But I’m grateful for this puzzle, from a painting by mid-20th century American painter Roy de Forest. I hadn’t heard of him, but was charmed by the image and chose it as my puzzle for this season.
The brick pattern was the easiest to distinguish and assemble, and these were the first few pieces I put together: charming. Using Seymour’s rules I only looked at the lid once (for a long time) before beginning the puzzle, so I knew that this was part of the lower left edge.
Like the image itself, the pieces are extra whimsical. I haven’t found the head of the Yeti in the lower right (above), nor fit in the unicorn, but worked on the canoe which is the centerpiece… and soon had a good start.
Where once the whimsy pieces were all a single cut, the latest Liberty puzzles have evolved so that many, like the faun and the buck above, and the mystery shape below, are comprised of multiple pieces.
I’m grateful for a worthwhile day’s work, followed by a late afternoon starting the puzzle, and an evening stroll with my little pets.
Back at the house after an evening meeting, I resumed play on the puzzle, finding the missing tails of the dragon and griffon. With the peaceful accompaniment of Radio Swiss Jazz, I puzzled into the night, resting my emotions and thoughts in the meditative attention to the lovely challenge before me. I thought of Favorite Auntie, who introduced me to these wooden jigsaw puzzles a decade ago, and felt myself back in her house in Kilmarnock, and later her apartment in DC, sitting in loving companionship across the green felt on her card table, puzzling. She would have loved this one. Magic.
This evening I got my first ever social media hate, on one of my instagram posts in support of a drag queen. It heightened my compassion. I’m grateful for the practice that allowed me to receive it with some equanimity, even though it felt like a slap in the face. And grateful that I didn’t feel compelled to respond to it. I imagined a potential spiral of consequences, if only as simple as another hateful reply back. I contemplated responding with something like, “I feel compassion for your suffering,” but concluded the wise choice was to forget about it. I just noticed it a few minutes ago–it wasn’t remotely how I intended to start this post. So I’m gonna forget about it now!
I’m grateful for waking up alive on this snowy, drizzly Sunday, for a few hours of sunlight, for the first spring bulb tips poking out of the mud, and for the leisure to enjoy listening to some dharma talks while finishing this exquisite Liberty puzzle, Monet’s Studio at Giverny. I’m grateful to our little puzzle club scattered coast to coast for increasing our puzzle options each season. This one only took two days of joyful puzzling between cleaning, baking, reading, and sharing meaningful conversations with friends and family.
It was kind of a rough week inside my monkey mind. I’m so grateful for all the beauty and love in my life, for the support of friends, and for the growing capacity I’m gaining to turn my attention to these gifts, instead of letting meager thoughts depress me for long.
And finally, I’m forever grateful to neighbor Mary for sharing this extraordinary recipe for Big Soft Ginger Cookies. This is the basic recipe, though I make them with Mary’s tweaks, including half brown sugar-half white, and of course butter instead of margarine. I also toss in a few chocolate chips. So simple, so delicious. It’s the kind of treat that fills up your senses so full you can’t be anything but ecstatic while it’s in your mouth.
Two more views of the virgin snow the other day, followed by the plowed driveway today. So grateful for friendly bartering for services and goods in the neighborhood.
Grateful for warmth, color, and comfort inside, as I’m grateful for winter water outside. Grateful as always for a roof over our heads. And grateful for a sweet summery puzzle to do on these dark days, a rainbow of color and texture. Grateful to be alive, and have meaningful work teaching, and have a quiet weekend.
I’ll be teaching the Introduction to Mindfulness course live on zoom starting March 2, from 2-3 pm Mountain Time, only $50 per person for the four-week class. Get it while this price lasts, as I realize I can’t sustain it and will have to raise it some. Check it out and register here.
I woke to this mystery: Where are the mountains? Obscured by clouds. Just as my core values, my solid foundation, can sometimes be obscured by clouds of emotions, ruminations, or fears. But it’s good to know they are still there, to be revealed again when the clouds lift.
I also woke to this lovely little puzzle which I assembled on my desk yesterday while listening to a number of talks online. Monet’s Sailboat at Le Petit-Gennevilliers, a simple 9×12 Liberty with only 272 pieces. It was an easy, meditative thing to do with my eyes and hands as I deepened my understanding of trauma, and how mindfulness, sleep, family systems, and evolution among other things, relate to it. This puzzle seemed to be about 40% whimsy pieces, a high ratio, and they were so delightful.
Lots of fish and other sea creatures, and lots of seagulls, feathers, clouds, and sailboats. This one practically fell together despite the tricky colors, whose grays and blues were reflected not only in the water here, but also in the sky today as I disassembled the puzzle.
The mountains did reappear briefly between snow squalls this afternoon. By bedtime almost a foot of soft, light snow has fallen. I’m grateful for this abundant replenishment for our mountain aquifer, and for the moisture that will melt into my own little garden. Just yesterday I noticed the first tiny threads of crocus leaves peeking up from the soil. I’m grateful for making friends with impermanence, knowing that in another day the sun will shine again on our valley, that this much-needed snow will nurture wildflowers, wildlife, crops, and our own bodies as winter thaws into spring, spring into summer.
I’m grateful for finishing this fun puzzle of Carmel, with all its miniature businesses, restaurants, shops, and homes, little people in windows, giant garden gnomes, and myriad other tiny details. It was challenging in a different way than the birds puzzle, and easier but not much. I’m grateful for puzzling friends and sharing puzzles.
I’m grateful for podcasts, of which I listen to quite a few when I’m puzzling. I listen to Lions Roar podcast, Upaya Zen Center podcast, NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, Catherine Ingram’s “In the Deep,” and several others, including random recommendations from trusted friends, and one I stumbled upon the other day, The Brain Health Revolution podcast. This particular episode is a marvelous overview of research from 2022 including correlations between napping and dementia, cannabis use and cognitive impairment, and evidence that some people in a coma may be conscious–followed by a lively discussion of how we don’t even know what consciousness is. It’s a couple of neurologists, Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, with an easy way together, sharing their enthusiasm about the research in their fascinating field.
I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to have the world at my fingertips, from the laser cutters at Liberty Puzzles, to the digital opportunities for learning and growth.
I led a meditation this morning that began with inviting everyone to share a ‘first world problem,’ and ended with some time to ponder gratitude, impermanence, and perspective. The theme occurred to me as I was telling a friend before the meditation started that I had to drink tea instead of coffee because I was out of decaf. Three days in a row I’ve enjoyed full-strength coffee, but this body can’t handle it, so I brewed a weak pot of Earl Grey. Even that gave me indigestion, but that’s beside the point. I laughed as I ‘complained’ about this, and said “First world problems,” then told her about the first time I heard that phrase.
It was in Moonrise Espresso a hundred years ago, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. I walked in and was complaining to someone about something inconsequential, and a guy I’d never seen before looked up from his laptop and said, “First world problem, huh?” I was speechless, then laughed out loud. I understood instantly what he meant, and it was a moment of awakening. Perspective! But it took awhile for that insight to really sink in, and inform my entire way of being. Practicing mindfulness, one of the first things we learn is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. I wake each day in a bed with a roof over my head, turn on a tap to get water, and have a choice between coffee and tea, both of which come from faraway lands. I’m in reasonably good health, and am content with my life. In the context of starvation, climate displacement, war, and countless other desperate human conditions, I really have nothing to complain about.
This doesn’t mean that everything is always peachy and I have no right to complain, or be unhappy or scared if real trouble arises, or wish things to be other than they are. It simply means that I can keep things in perspective, and not waste energy fretting the small stuff. It means that a momentary frustration is just that, momentary, and losing the internet for a couple hours, or a clogged drain, or any other inconvenience, isn’t going to ruin my day or even my mood. It also means that I’m aware of great suffering in the world, holding compassion for those suffering and wanting to help where I can. And it means that I can bring compassion to myself also, recognizing when things are really hard and not just annoying, and be more supportive and caring for myself and others, and more resilient in challenging situations. I’m grateful for the perspective of ‘first world problems.’
Getting snowed in at the end of a quarter mile driveway could also be seen as a first world problem. That I even have a driveway that long is an enormous privilege, for which I’m immensely grateful. That I even have a driveway. I’m grateful for friends with big trucks! I didn’t get back out to take a picture after the Bad Dogs dropped off groceries, but am sure grateful they were able to punch through the drifts to get down here.
Little Tiny loves the snow, but not when it’s up to her shoulders. It’s the first time we’ve been out that she has jumped on me to pick her up and carry her home. I’m also grateful to be making progress on the puzzle, enjoying the warm sunny view while the fire warms and lights the house inside, even as clouds and wind blow outside.