January 31, 2011

Puzzles are some of my favorite simple pleasures—crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles particularly—and my favorite reading genre is the mystery. There’s just something I love about putting things together, figuring things out, not knowing, and then—voila—somehow the pieces come together into a finished puzzle or the knowledge of whodunit.

In doing puzzles, I’m OK with not knowing, at least up to a point. When I get stuck on a crossword clue, I skip it, coming back to it later. If I find I’m skipping a lot of clues, maybe I’ll put the whole puzzle aside for a few hours. When I pick it up again, I almost always do better. The same with a jigsaw puzzle—after trying repeatedly to find an elusive piece, I’ve often come back later only to pick it up and put it straight where it belongs. (Provided my husband and/or son hasn’t hidden the piece from me.)

If I’m reading a mystery that has me stumped, I step back and watch the action without trying to guess the crime’s perpetrator, simply enjoying the writing, the characters and story. Sometimes, the clues I need are just a few pages away (and sometimes I remain stumped).

I find life itself a bit puzzling, don’t you? I only see bits and pieces of the whole, not knowing how choice A will lead to consequence B, which in turn produces outcome C. Some things that seem disastrous often work out to be blessings in disguise—and sometimes the opposite occurs.

I often think of the Chinese parable about the farmer who used an old horse to plow his fields. One day the horse ran away. When his neighbors came to commiserate with the old man, he replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A few days later, the horse returned, bringing with her a herd of wild horses from the nearby hills. The neighbors returned to congratulate the farmer, who replied, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

When the farmer’s son was thrown and broke his leg while trying to tame one of the wild horses, the sympathetic neighbors were met once again with “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A few weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted all the able-bodied young men…leaving the farmer’s son with his broken leg behind.

It can be hard not knowing. When I’m uncertain about my next step, or facing frustrations of some kind, I should take my cue from my behavior with other puzzles: watch the action and enjoy the mystery, or put it aside for a later time when things somehow clarify themselves. If things seem bad, wait and see what happens next. A setback can become an opportunity, and an opportunity can become a setback. I guess the key is knowing that it all fits together, somehow, into the perfect puzzle of my life.

Have you ever had an experience that initially seemed bad, but turned out to be for the good? Vice versa? What did you take away from the experience?


Reading Challenge Update

January 24, 2011

My two reading challenges are off to a great start, and already I'm having so much fun. I'll periodically post about what I'm reading, and I'll keep an updated list on my separate 2011 Reading Challenges page if you want to check in between posts. So far, here's what I've read: 

Off the Shelf Challenge (Goal: 15)

A Pelican at Blandings, P.G. Wodehouse (fiction). I love P.G. Wodehouse and his gentle, goofy humor. This book cost me 50 cents at my library's "Friends of the Library" bookstore and it was delightful from start to finish.  The first paragraph reads: "The summer day was drawing to a close and dusk had fallen on Blandings Castle, shrouding from view the ancient battlements, dulling the silver surface of the lake and causing Lord Emsworth's supreme Berkshire sow Empress of Blandings to leave the open air portion of her sty and withdraw into the covered shed where she did her sleeping. A dedicated believer in the maxim of early to bed and early to rise, she always turned in at about this time. Only by getting its regular eight hours can a pig keep up to the mark and preserve that schoolgirl complexion."

Drinking the Rain, Alix Kates Shulman (memoir). When she turned 50, Shulman, a novelist, began spending her summers alone at her family's cabin on an island off the coast of Maine. Sound romantic? The cabin had no indoor plumbing or heat! Shulman read, wrote, even foraged for food in the tidal pools (particularly mussels) and the area surrounding her cabin. Alone, she discovered the interconnectedness of all life.

A favorite quote: "For years, I avidly read books and eagerly wrote them, systematically trying to stuff my head with all the thoughts of mankind, but always so determined to master a subject or pursue a goal that I seldom practiced the simple pleasures of reading whatever caught my fancy or following a thought wherever it happened to lead. My plans and projects were usually so backed up that no matter what work I was engaged in at any moment, I suspected it ought to be something else." (I know just how she felt.)

The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley (fiction). A new author for me, thanks to Danielle at A Work in Progress. Kearsley's been compared to vintage Mary Stewart (Madame, Will You Talk? My Brother Michael, etc.), and I found her writing very similar. I'm thrilled because I love vintage Mary Stewart!

Verity Grey, Kearsley's protagonist, comes to Scotland to work on an archaeolgical dig searching for remains of a Roman marching camp. "I woke in the darkness, listening. The sound that wrenched me from my sleep had been strange to by city-bred ears. Train-like, yet not a train...the rhythm was too wild, too random. A horse, I thought. A horse in the next field over, galloping endlessly around and around, galloping, galloping...." There are no horses anywhere near the house Verity is staying in--why does she hear them running every night? What other ghostly presences haunt Rosehill?

The Summer Book--Tove Jansson (fiction). Jansson is a Swedish writer, who is known mostly for her children's books. I also discovered her through Danielle. (I've gotten tons of great book recommendations from Danielle's blog--you should check it out!) Reading this book felt like being wrapped in a warm summer day--pleasant in chilly January. It tells the story of a 6-year-old girl and her grandmother spending the summer on an island off the coast of Finland (I must have a thing for summer island books!). It's more like a series of vignettes than a true novel, but each story is quietly beautiful. From page 36: "[Grandmother] turned on her side and put her arm over her head. Between the arm of her sweater, her hat, and the white reeds, she could see a triangle of sky, sea and sand--quite a small triangle. There was a blade of grass in the sand beside her, and between its sawtoothed leaves it held a piece of seabird down--the taut white rib in the middle, surrounded by the down itself, which was pale brown and lighter than the air, and then darker and shiny towards the tip, which ended in a tiny but spirited curve. The down moved in a draft of air too slight for her to feel."

Vintage Mystery Challenge (Goal: 4-6)

The Crime at Black DudleyMargery Allingham. This is her first "Albert Campion" mystery, and a pure delight. I found Allingham's writing flowed easily and made me want to keep reading. I also enjoyed the characters in this story, and I will be reading more of her work. (Sorry I don't have a quote for this one--I returned it to the library before I wrote this post!)

I've requested my next book from the library: The Norths Meet Murder, by Frances and Richard Lockridge.

What are you reading right now?

Everyday adventures

Get the Hose

January 21, 2011

I had a couple of blog post possibilities in the works for today--but after I arrived at the barn this morning to find this:

I began to rethink my day.  I have never seen Tank so dirty before in all the time I've had him.

Apparently, he felt the need for a mud bath. 

And he still had his breakfast on his face (the brown stuff on his nose is bran mash).

Fortunately, it was warm enough today to hose him off instead of curry and brush all that mud and sand off him.



Find a Happy Place

January 17, 2011

It’s gray and rainy outside today, and my plans for a walk with my neighbor and a trip to see Tank have been postponed or cancelled. I’m curled under a blanket with my computer on my lap catching up on emails and convincing myself that in a little while I’ll hop on the elliptical for some much-needed cardio to replace that walk.

If you’re looking for something to brighten up a rainy Monday (or any other dull sort of day), here are three cyber-destinations that help me find a happy place: Check out the picture under “Clean Baby Smell.” Sutitled: "Good news…served daily." When you’d rather read about heroes than horrors, check in here.  Daily inspiration for your inner gypsy. (Thanks, Laure Ferlita, for sending me a link to this blog.)

Bonus destination:  Please click here for a great post about creativity, self-esteem and body image written by Elizabeth Patch.

OK, enough fooling around--time for that cardio…

P.S. I’d like to say happy anniversary to Larry, my husband of 23 years—he qualifies as a both a pleasure and an adventure, sometimes at the same time!

Word of the year


January 14, 2011

All through the hectic holidays, I avoided taking time to focus on a word of the year for 2011. It was almost like I was afraid. It’s a big commitment—I’ve got to live with this choice all year!

Finally last night I sat down with a long list of words I’d compiled over the past few weeks. The first word that had popped into my head was “possibility”—with echoes of Emily Dickinson’s line, “I dwell in possibility.” One morning I woke up with the thought, “I want to create beautiful things,” so I added beauty/beautiful to the list. I love my life and don’t want to change it—I just want to make it richer and more vibrant. Vibrant, bloom, more, fruitful and flourish were the next additions to the list. These all had their merits, as did the half dozen other words that I had to choose from. But nothing resonated with me quite the way “open” did last year.

I find that I often discover what I really think about things by writing about them, so I took up my list and started writing random thoughts about what I want 2011 to be like, what I want to focus on this year, and so on. This year I want to improve my level of confidence, to live more consciously and have more fun! I want to flourish instead of feel as though I’m bumbling along just making do. I’m ready to heal some old emotional wounds—BUT I don’t want to be so serious and earnest all the time. I want to be more light-hearted instead of worried and anxious. And that’s when a word sent a tingle up my spine: light. Light, not heavy; happy, not sad; bright, not dark. Open the windows and let in the light. Get rid of excess—weight, stuff, wrong-headed beliefs—and lighten up. Maybe that’s why I started the year off cleaning out my office?

Light has an aspect of consciousness to it that appeals to me: casting light onto my thinking and my actions instead of operating in a rote manner. It has a positive connotation, a certain brilliance. It can be a noun, verb or adjective. The properties of light are quite intriguing and offer scope for future analogy. “Light” works perfectly with “open”: the door is cracked, the window is open, the light can shine in.

So. Here I am with my bright, shiny new word of the year. What effect will it have?

(If you’ve chosen a word or theme for the year, please share!)

We all walk in the dark and each of us must learn to turn on his or her own light. ~Earl Nightingale

100 Things I Love

I Love a Good List

January 10, 2011

It’s the second week of 2011—isn’t it about time for a good list? And I mean, a good one, full of simple pleasures and joys.

A few years ago, I compiled a list of “100 Things I Love” as an exercise in something self-help-y I was reading at the time. If I recall correctly, I was to pull it out when feeling a little blue, just to remind myself of how many things there are to love in my life.

When you have to make a list of 100 things, some interesting items appear. Alongside the expected—family, friends, chocolate, libraries, horses and books—appeared the more unusual:

Mahjong Titans (a game I play on my computer)
Yellowstone (we visited a couple of years ago and I'm dying to go back)

Yellowstone--did I mention we were there in June?
Shoes (you don’t have to take your clothes off to try on shoes)
The smell of leather (mmmmm).

Here are a few more, in no particular order:

Crossword puzzles
Robert Bateman’s art
Anne of Green Gables
Old houses
Flea markets
Walking in the woods
Being alone
Homemade bread
Flannel sheets
Fires (in the fireplace, not the forest!)

What would you put on your list of 100 things? Share a few with me—I’m always looking for more things to love!


Future Imperfect

January 07, 2011

Reading this post reminded me of a concept I’ve heard about that comes from Japanese culture: Wabi-Sabi. To sum it up in a rather general way, wabi-sabi is the art of finding and honoring beauty in the imperfect.

Now this is a concept I can get behind! I love the look of old and imperfect things. I buy distressed furniture, partly because we tend to distress things ourselves even if they don’t come that way, but also because it appeals to me. I find old pieces with a few battle scars much more appealing than something brand new and sleekly perfect. However, wabi-sabi is more than a design aesthetic. It’s a whole outlook on life, an outlook that “[acknowledges] three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect,” (Richard R. Powell, Wabi Sabi Simple).

Wabi-sabi doesn’t just put up with imperfection—it embraces it. That’s a good thing for all of us. I’m guessing you’re not perfect—I know I’m not. When I find myself bogged down in the same old issues, now I see I need to go beyond accepting that I’m imperfect all the way to loving my imperfections. This really goes against the grain for those of us in a culture that believes all personal faults should be eradicated immediately, if not sooner.

Perfect doesn’t exist. Imperfect—with all its glorious faults and detours and mistakes-that-turn-into-blessings—does. So today, let go of one thing you’re still a perfectionist about. Examine and embrace the flaws you see. Let the beauty of wabi-sabi wash over your life.

To learn more about wabi-sabi, go here.


Clean Sweep

January 03, 2011

I love watching cleaning/organizing shows on TV. There’s something cathartic about purging a home of what’s not needed anymore, cleaning it thoroughly, and putting back only what is useful and beautiful. I really wish someone would come to my house and do it for me, but since I don’t expect that to happen, I’ve gotten started on my own clean sweep.

I actually started a few weeks ago on our home office, which my husband and I share, because it had become what we only half-jokingly called “the pit of despair.” One wall is a built-in bookshelf with a flat surface halfway down, and more shelves and a cupboard where we keep our shredder below that. The flat surface had become stacked with piles of books, files, papers and miscellaneous stuff that I hate to admit belonged to me. So one weekend, I tackled the area. After going through everything, discarding and filing and moving things to different spots, I dusted and neatened up the whole space. Now, when I sit in my rocking chair first thing in the morning, to read, think or do morning pages, I love looking at the light shining onto many of our travel souvenirs and the spines of so many treasured books. I’m still in the process of purging my files and cleaning off my desk (the holidays forced me to take a break) but I’m almost done.

Part of the finished project

My office hasn’t been the only focus. I’ve also scrubbed out my tack trunk at the barn (it had at least an inch of dirt in the bottom of it) and all my grooming tools, and several other cleaning and organizing projects wait in the wings.

While I do all this cleaning and purging, I also have time to pull out my attitudes and beliefs, give them a shake and try them on for size. Do they still fit? Are they true and useful to me, or are they holding me back from my goals and dreams? It’s time to let go a few of them, too, I realize—especially the ones that begin with “I should” or “I can’t.”

Once I clean out the old, my next step will be to see if there are any little touches, such as fresh flowers or a pretty basket to hold art supplies, that will inexpensively warm and brighten my spaces. I also swap outdated or wrong beliefs and attitudes for new, more positive ones: “I will finish writing my book this year,” for example.

A brand new year seems like a good time to do a little purging, whether it’s of papers and clothes or of attitudes and ideas. I feel a sense of relief and lightness as I clear away the clutter of things I no longer need or want, and let go of outdated ideas and negative thoughts.

How about you? Are you cleaning out any old ideas and attitudes in this new year? What are you replacing them with?