Jigsaw Puzzles in the Time of COVID


Next to our kitchen we have a folding table devoted to a jigsaw puzzle. How many have we completed since March? Maybe five or six. Most have 1000 pieces. Some, like the one below, were difficult and frustrating. Usually the hardest bits are large areas of one color or a gradation of similar colors, like an expanse of ocean or sky.


My husband likes to join me when I work on a puzzle. His struggles are doubled because of his dementia and his red-green color weakness. Still, he likes the companionship of doing this together.

The most difficult puzzle came as a holiday gift. It involved puzzles within a puzzle. First challenge: there were only two shapes in the edges. Usually we start by searching out all the flat edge pieces that make the frame. To assemble the frame of this “Escape” puzzle, we had to match the colors and design. But—second challenge–the picture of the puzzle IS NOT the picture on the cover! So we were left without a reliable reference.

It took me a while to figure that out. For example, on the cover there is a black and white cat sitting on a pink stool. In the puzzle–no cat.

Once we had all the pieces in place—not necessarily the right place—we realized that there were codes and math problems to solve in order to find the antidote to the poison taken by the chef in the story that accompanies the puzzle. Along with the story came a sealed envelope with the solution. We were able to decipher some of the codes and runes, but (I sadly confess) we gave up and peeked at the answer.

IMG_7632 (1)

Some of our friends say vehemently, “I hate jigsaw puzzles.” I, for one, enjoy the challenge, and the satisfaction of tapping a piece into place. A while ago, a puzzle aficionado and friend purchased several boxes of jigsaw puzzles. We’ve been passing them around among our socially distanced group. Each time someone finishes a puzzle, she signs the inside of the box top.


Sometimes a critical voice in my head asks me why I’m wasting my time on this activity. “It’s relaxing and it’s fun,” I say, so I tell the voice to shut up, and go back to peacefully doing the puzzle.


Bird Feeder, Briefly


bird wildlife no person nature

Photo by daniyal ghanavati on Pexels.com

Three days ago, we hung a bird feeder from our balcony. The first day, we had no customers.  By day two, the birds had discovered this new, no-work source of food.  The sparrows and finches came in hoards.  My husband said, “This is better than TV!”


That same day, we moved the feeder to the corner of the balcony so the wasted seeds would fall away from the neighbor’s deck below us.  The birds were going through the seeds so fast that I ordered two more bags and a suet cake.

We had some special visitors: a redwing blackbird, and a downy woodpecker came by.  Our downstairs neighbor to the left installed a gigantic tube feeder on day three.  The birds told all their friends.

On day four, I got an email from the manager of our apartment complex.  We are asking everyone to take down their bird feeders.  They cause a mess and draw unwanted pests.

Down came the bird feeder.  In its place we hung our wind chimes. I canceled the order for more seed and suet.  I cleaned the bird poop off the railing.

We’ll miss watching the bird show out our glass door.  Now we’ll have to get our bird watching at the college pond and friends’ houses.  Too bad.

selective focus photo of downy woodpecker on tree trunk

Photo by Dariusz Grosa on Pexels.com

The Wrong Poem

I am not wrong. Wrong is not my name.
– writing prompt from June Jordan 


An old boyfriend of mine once asked me, “What would be the defining phrase of your life?”



My name is not wrong.

My name is not good enough.

The pink eraser is there

on top of the pencil,

but if I use it,

I am not good enough.


The algebra twists me

into paroxysms of wails

x is unknown

y is imperfect.

I am not A or B, but

my C is wrong, and

I am not good enough.


The big father raises his eyebrow

when I say what I know.

He doesn’t like what I know.

He says I can think it

but I can’t say it

because my truth is wrong, and

I am not good enough.


The yogi man and his ex-wife

tell me how

to bring back a slackening brain,

to fight the blackening blankness,

with COQ10 and mushroom powder,

exercise and cortex power.

Even if I do all they say, all day,

every day.

I will still be

not good enough.



My Musical Ambitions


When I was ten years old, I told my mother, “I don’t want to take piano lessons anymore.” She answered that she’d let me stop lessons, but added, “You’ll regret it when you’re older.”

Truer words…

At age nine, I had already begun playing guitar. After a few lessons from a college student, I learned to play enough chords to accompany myself as I sang. Although I’ve never gotten much better, the guitar has been a mainstay. But spurred by fantasies–I kept acquiring other instruments.

Sometime during college I bought a cheap dulcimer. It was little more than a trapezoid box with four strings. I tried hard but unsuccessfully to figure out the chords Joni Mitchell used in her recordings. Later, my first husband gave me an exquisite dulcimer. Made in Asheville, N.C., it had a matched wood back and friction tuning pegs (tricky). Its beauty did not improve my playing.

During my college years, I also bought a saz. What was I thinking? I probably got it because it was so pretty. This I never learned to play.


Another instrument attempt was a violin. I may have traded in my classical Aria guitar for the fiddle. I even took lessons from a master fiddler. My cat would be stretched out in a patch of sun. When I opened the violin case, he’d sit up in alarm. Then he’d bolt for the nearest exit.

Now let me pause here and say that I did actually practice these instruments—for a while. The desire to play didn’t carry over into the rigor of daily scales. My interest wasn’t focused and I’d drift away.

By this time, I knew quite well that musical proficiency requires obsessive practice. It didn’t stop my musical dreams. In Ireland, I bought a couple of pennywhistles and a bodhran (round Irish drum). At home in New York, a little red concertina caught my eye.

My most recent indulgence was a harmonium. I intended to accompany the chanting of kirtan. The instrument still sits in the corner of the living room under a yellow quilted cover. To play this particular harmonium, it must be lifted out of its box to rest on two tiny supports. That in itself makes access difficult. Soon after I bought it, the harmonium developed a sticky key. It’s not hard to pick out simple melodies on the keyboard. But, as with all my musical acquisitions, the harmonium languishes in the corner while I engage in my preferred creative pursuits.

We sold most of the other instruments when we downsized to the apartment. I still have my guitar, the harmonium, and a couple of pennywhistles. In my next lifetime, if I can’t be enlightened, I hope to become a proficient musician.


The Help


While reading Expecting Adam by Martha Beck, I had an epiphany of sorts. In her memoir, Beck tells the story of the birth of her second child, a son named Adam, who has Down syndrome. During the gestation period, Beck experiences multiple contacts with a spiritual presence or presences. She calls them “Bunraku puppeteers,” likening them to the black-clad artists who manipulate the life-sized puppets in Bunraku plays in Japan.

Beck’s pregnancy is harrowing, plagued with serious ill health and emotional trauma as she and her husband anticipate the birth of this “imperfect” child. And yet she continues to get loving help and messages from the “puppeteers” and from her unborn son. Her husband also receives guidance from this other realm.

While reading this story, I recalled events in my life that have indicated the presence of benevolent helpers. These helpers seem to form four groups.

  1. The Nudgers

The Nudgers either insert thoughts of kind action into our minds, or push us to put an idea into action. Particularly when I’m in meditation, I’ll be given a thought that may persist for days until I finally act on the suggestion.

  1. The Visitors

The Visitors are spirit presences who briefly come into the physical world to assist in a particular situation, often a dangerous one. The best and most recent example in my experience occurred on a warm day last fall.

My husband and I were returning to New Paltz on Albany Post Road. I was driving. After the stop sign at the fork of Albany Post Road and Route 299, I turned right, coming up on Wallkill View Farms. There were many cars in the parking lot, and Route 299 was also busy with traffic. I’m not a speedy driver, so I was probably going about 40 miles per hour when a white car pulled out from the parking lot, directly in front of me. To the right were a fence and rows of parked cars. To the left was the other side of the road. With no time to consider, I slammed on the brakes and swung left into the opposite lane.

A black sporty car was barreling toward us. The driver swerved off the road. It  almost felt choreographed. No cars crashed. Shakily, I pulled into the parking lot. The black car came and stopped next to us. The driver was livid. He sputtered and yelled, but I don’t recall his words. I do remember babbling something about angels, either that he was one or one had been present. He made a snarky reply. For me, the sense of presence was strong, and still is.

angel 1

  1. The Saints

The Saints are those enlightened souls who have chosen to incarnate and assist us blundering human beings in our lives on planet Earth. I am blessed to have spent time in the loving presence of one of these amazing personages, but that’s another story.

  1. The Avatars

The Avatars are God incarnate. These are the great leaders. Some, like Jesus, were/are quite prominent, and some have done—and do–their work modestly and quietly.

virgen de guadalipe

For Beck, the birth of her son and raising him changed her entire way of being in the world. Her story reinforced my experience that helpers are there if we only open up and let them come in.

adam and martha

                                                                            Martha Beck and Adam

Ferns in Santa Barbara


This maidenhair fern is flourishing in our apartment.  It’s a first for me, having success with a fern.  But all of our houseplants are happy. The light is diffused by the curtains and it shines all day through the glass doors of the dining area.

Whenever I water my plants, I’m reminded of my brief employment as a worker in a commercial greenhouse in Santa Barbara.  It’s amazing that the manager even hired me, because all the other workers there were Latinos.  He assigned me to the Boston ferns.


The greenhouse itself was huge.  The ferns were propagated on one end.  At the other end were the more delicate tropical plants, like African violets.  Massive fans at either end cooled the building.  Despite the constant wind, the greenhouse was hot and humid.

Only women worked in the ferns.  We moved among long  raised boxes of soil with racks of hanging ferns overhead.  The process, as I remember it, was to remove baby ferns from the mature hanging plants and put them in the beds below.  When the babies grew large enough, we transferred them to small plastic pots.  Eventually, those ferns were ready to be put into a hanging pot.

I liked working with the ferns.  It was often quiet, although Spanish erupted and flew around in bursts.  The women were cheery and kind.  They taught me what to do.  I learned their names, but not much else.  Today, were I in the same job, I would have asked more questions and learned more Spanish.   At that time, I was in my twenties and the boundaries of my world were more self-involved and limited.

After a few weeks, we were joined by another white woman.  She had a couple of kids and was struggling to provide for them.  Cindy had a wry sense of humor.  She kept me entertained.  I enjoyed working with her until she started pushing her religion on me.  Cindy was Christian.  She seemed to feel it was her duty to convert me.  Things weren’t so amusing after that.

One afternoon, an official-looking van parked outside the greenhouse.  Two of the male workers were taken away by the I.N.S.  The women huddled together and whispered. I didn’t know much about illegal immigrants.  The event confused me more than anything else.  Of course, the majority of the greenhouse workers were probably illegal.

A couple of months into the job, the other workers and I began to suffer from sore throats and headaches.  It wasn’t difficult to connect these symptoms to the pesticides being sprayed at the other end of the greenhouse.


I complained to the manager.  “The chemicals are making us sick.  Can’t you spray after hours?”

“You only smell the additives they put in.  It’s not harmful,” he answered.

But I could see the skull and crossbones and read the instructions on the bottles.  I could see the special masks worn by the men who sprayed the plants.

A couple of days later, I was “let go.”