Saturday, January 15, 2011

I'm puzzled

One way to describe life is as a journey. I think mine is a bit more like a puzzle - the 1000 piece puzzle spread all over the bar in my basement, to be exact. One small difference, my life doesn't come with a picture on the box!

I haven't done a puzzle with more than 100 pieces and at least one Care Bear or princess on it for about 15 years now. But when you get one for Christmas and then make the mistake of opening it and find a high spot to do it on, you slowly get sucked in.

I forgot how doing a big puzzle works, until this little refresher. My dedicated puzzle-doing family raised me to diligently sort out the edges, put them together, and work from there.

But ten whopping years or so into my adult life, I do my puzzles (and my life) a little differently. Figuring out the nice neat edges holds no appeal and provides no big picture. In the enormous pile of 1000 pieces dumped in front of me, no one piece is very meaningful or fitting AT ALL.

So instead I just start with the obvious. The biggest hot air balloon with the most unique colors. The artist's signature. I find the pieces and put them together, two at a time. I quickly despair, and text my sister and tell her I'm probably going to give up now and save it for her to fix in a few weeks. I kind of do life this way. College, OK, choose one, and figure out my major as I go. Another obvious step, marry that great guy I met. And have some kids. Finish grad school. Do whatever seems most obvious. After putting a few pieces together, I actually cheer up a little. I gain a teeny bit of perspective of what this thing might look like, and motivation to work a little more on each balloon.

Then it gets more complicated. What about that big pile of yellow pieces I've sorted out? Shoot, five of the balloons are yellow. Look a little closer, and I can see details that help me figure out where each one goes. Or even two or three at a time!

And that mess off to the side? The other 800 pieces?! Little by little, as I rustle through them, a certain shape or color combination jumps out at me now. Something about staring at, eating with, vacationing by, reading up on that family of mine, that career, that hobby for so long builds recognition. Yes, we would love that house! No, that definitely would not be his kind of birthday present. I start to distinguish between the different shades of yellow on each balloon without even trying. Here and there, a chunk of pieces connects to another. Even a couple of edge pieces get connected. It's actually kind of exciting (yes, a puzzle?!). I think it's kind of like being an entire decade or so into my adult life.

So once the six main balloons have begun to take shape, what's left to get excited about in the puzzle? Ohhh, the connections of course - I love the ones where five or six pieces suddenly connect two chunks together. Suddenly you get an even bigger picture. And the details - the little people and fences in between the big bright spots. Maybe a reflection, big or small, or a balloon I didn't even notice initially. And the edges. Maybe I'll get to them, or maybe I won't (my sister even said she'd do them for me). It kind of amazes me how finding the shapes, matching the colors, noticing the details is getting more interesting and more fun (and occassionally even easier) by leaps and bounds on this thing.

If the progress in my puzzle is really anything like growing up and growing older, I think I like it a lot.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Little facts from Baltimore...

Useful/less things I’m learning here in Baltimore...

The Civil War was also fought in the Mediterranean Sea by ships like this one that we explored in our Inner Harbor. Huh?! Also, I think it would be really cool and really challenging to cook good meals for 100+ people in the kitchen we saw on the submarine on that same trip downtown.

There is a difference between a plantation and a factory, a la 1800. Five minutes away is a factory where the plants and livestock were raised to feed the slaves at the ironworks in the late 1700s, early 1800s. A factory grows what it needs for the workers, a plantation grows more to sell. This house is bigger than Mt. Vernon and Monticello, and also a whole lot closer to us and free.

Maryland was neutral during the Civil War, as I learned from a Civil Warm re-enactor here. But the southern part of the state favored the south, and the northern, the north. Neutrality was good for the government in DC, and also for a skinny state stuck in the middle.

B&O Railroad stands for Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. One of the first railroads in the country, started in the 1830s. And the first rail cars looked more like stagecoaches on wheels. The people on top would often get hit by flying embers.

Big school districts are kind of obnoxious about their red tape. And heat, rain, or one quarter inch of snow will close schools for at least a few hours in Baltimore.

Maryland’s flag is the only state flag with a coat of arms in it. Kinda funky looking, but kind of cool.

Cardinals are much more common than orioles here. Am I in Illinois still?!

Watching the sun rise over the ocean is fairly blinding compared to watching it set over the ocean.

The Appalachian mountains are actually more beautiful and vast than I expected, even to me (CA mountain snob) and John (CO mountain snob).

You can go up inside the Washington monument in D.C. (I haven’t yet though). There’s also an older monument to Washington here in Baltimore.

Cool stuff, eh?

a quick look back...

December flew by, the first half spent busier than ever with new friends here, and the second half busier than ever with a house full of John's family. Both wonderful! John, his brothers and Dad, and the girls spent New Year's Eve day in Washington DC, leaving me to the first quiet and solitude I can remember during the entire year. Here's what the silence brought to mind, as I thought back over a remarkable month, fall, and year. An epically long post with 31 things I'm thankful for. Enjoy :). (Cutting and pasting has messed with my format, but I'm just going to pretend I don't notice!)

1. Silence for the first time in weeks to collect my thoughts. Ahhh, peace and quiet.

2. 2. A big, big house with lots and lots of room. Plus a big, big yard. For hosting lots of family.

3. 3. Stomach stuffed full from a skillet breakfast that IHOP would die for.

4. 4. Silence in the house. Sleeping babies.

5. 5. Abby’s giant sparkling eyes and toothless smile that cheer me up. Always willing to help with a smile, especially with her baby brothers.

6. 6. Rachel’s LOUD belly laughs and hollers that help us take life up a notch every day. Long blond hair and legs growing longer every day. And reading!

7. 7. Baskets of clean laundry folded on the floor.

8. 8. Being at peace with the messes that I can see in every direction in my house.

9. 9. The furnace clicking on.

10. 10. Bigger paychecks, so balancing the bills and savings is less pressing and less depressing, especially in winter.

11. 11. Danny and Jimmy, strong and healthy enough to climb up almost everything, to bang pans loudly, and to make a serious addition to my grocery bills.

12. 12. The babies making each other laugh.

13. 13. John on the floor with 4 kids climbing happily all over him. Bringing home (bigger!) paychecks. Listening to me. Moving me around the country. Throwing me on the bed any chance he gets.

14. 14. Brothers-in-law to make us laugh louder and more often.

15. 15. Mother-in-law visiting peacefully and doling out love and presents to all. Free dates!

16. 16. Father-in-law hanging around. Having random discussions about religion or politics or whatever that are easy and interesting.

17. 17. Skyping with my own extended family, all of them, for a glimmer of my own family over the holidays.

18. 18. Boys sleeping through the night. Enough energy for me to run a bit again, cook a little, play a little.

19. 19. Views of the hills and so many trees out my window.

20. 20. Touring new things around the area. Time in Baltimore/on the east coast to explore.

21. 21. Dates with John to the doughnut shop and Panera.

22. 22. Not a thought given to work for two weeks.

23. 23. Girls having fun with their relatives.

24. 24. Ticking clocks, humming refrigerator, passing traffic. Sounds that were strange 5 months ago and are now “home”.

25. 25. Friends waiting to call up after the holidays. No one was waiting 5 months ago.

26. 26. A little bit of sun peeking through the clouds. Zero snow on my sidewalks.

27. 27. An impromptu visit with friends from far away.

28. 28. A husband, children, and in-laws that give me such a sense of belonging and family. And eat the food that I make them.

29. 29. A refrigerator, cabinets, and kitchen permanently bursting with food.

30. 30. Thought-provoking and civil discussions about nihilism and religion. Bible stories told a little bit differently that keep me thinking.

31. 31. The end of this year. Babies turning 1, exploring and loving Baltimore, moving to Maryland with jobs, a summer with Dad and Leslie in California, 7000 miles, John graduating, house selling, Danielle helping, money in the bank, Abby thriving at a new school, Rachel learning to read...