So, despite the fact that it actually turned 38 degrees above zero yesterday here in the Northland, with 40mph gusts, it still feels like winter – the truly nice thing, of course, is that your car actually warms up before you get to your destination. Everyone in this neck of the woods actually is hoping that the groundhog was right and we will only have six more weeks of winter – that would be a delight. By the way, just as a little word or phrase lesson: “neck of the woods” is used often to talk about the neighborhood or location of someone’s home, but the use of the word “neck” really is from an Algonquian language term meaning “point” or “corner.” So, since most of America lived in rural areas for the first 150 years or more of our existence, everyone lived in a corner of the woods somewhere, so the place we all knew best was our “neck of the woods.”
I still hope winter is done by the middle of March…
Since it indeed is the season of snow, and even some ice, and this week is the first time since probably Thanksgiving – or Halloween – that we saw the temps above freezing, and because the wind likes to blow from the Arctic Circle in the north to our home, and since our house faces pretty much northwest, the wind will carry the snow for the most part away from our driveway, and wrap it around the house to our backyard, where it has managed to create a good six foot drift between the back door and the gazebo. All the patio furniture, along with the gas grill, is only a white form as we look out. Cheri mentioned how nice it would be to sit outside, or even in the gazebo, but right now, instead of enjoying a nice cool breeze at the end of the day, we would have to dig a tunnel, and “enjoy” becoming frostbit.
That leaves us with only three options: one, we can watch television all day, which I have always believed is electronic poison to be avoided at all costs; or two, we could continually clean the house, which is also not on my top 100 lists of favorite things to do; or three, as we fallen into the habit, we can continue to put together jigsaw puzzles on the table in the breakfast nook.
The table isn’t so terribly large, but with the table leaf (interesting how we use that term to talk about extending a table’s size) put in, it works about right to build a nice 500 piece puzzle. Ok – I have to tell you where a table “leaf” came from. The word, “table” is from the Latin tabula which means board or plank – flat surface. “Leaf” of course is the foliage of a plant, or a page in a book – nice and thin. Later, it came to be used as a very thin covering of metal, like gold leaf. It also came to be used to refer to a hinged part, or something attached by a hinge. The first methods of extending a table’s size was to attach an extra piece of wood by a hinge, to be called a “drop leaf.” By the 1700s, table makers had fashioned a way of either having two pedestals that would balance that extra piece of wood, or to use some way of separating two pieces of a table, and dropping in a (usually thinner) “leaf” to make the table bigger. See what happens in winter – there is always time to do research…
Anyway, back to the puzzles. As nice as 500 piece puzzles are, for some reason, we have tended to purchase 1000 piece puzzles instead. Not sure why – it’s winter, I guess. So the 1000 pieces barely fit on the table, and after you hunt to find the edges to create that frame for building the rest of the puzzle, it’s tight, but workable. One day, I decided to order a couple of puzzles from our friends at Springbok Puzzles in Kansas City – mostly well-made puzzles, that offer some challenge. I purchased a 1000 piece puzzle of neon signs of all sorts, and thought that would work well for us. Imagine my shock when I got a call from the puzzle factory! The nice puzzle salesperson told me the website description of the puzzle I had ordered was wrong. Instead of being 1000 pieces, it turned out it is a 1500 piece puzzle. She proceeded to try to convince me that what I really wanted was a different 1000 piece puzzle, which they could arrange. Or, she quietly said, they could go ahead and ship the 1500 piece at no extra charge. At that point I realized I was getting a deal, and one thing I am not is a deal-turner-downer. I told her to go head and ship the 1500 one, and we would enjoy it, at no extra charge.
This is probably a good example of why Cheri should be the one to order those things. It arrived in a BIG box. Actually, a rather LARGE BIG box. Remember my comment on how a 500 piece puzzle fits rather nicely on the top of our table? When you triple that size, it’s sort of like trying to put a quart of mashed potatoes in a pint container. The word that comes to mind is “spillage.” As we began to work on the puzzle, taking it out of its BIG box, it was apparent that the greater challenge, even beyond putting the 1500 pieces together, was going to be finding out how to put the 1500 pieces on a 500 piece table. We ended up with pieces in the box lid and the box bottom, and a very tenuous setting left over, with about every square inch of the table covered with pieces, and actually with a number of them stacked up on top of each other. Oh well, that’s the fun of winter puzzling…
We have one more factor that enters into our puzzling, even with a 500 piece beast. Actually, there are two factors, each having four paws. We have three cats who control our home – two males and a female. The female is what you might call a five-gallon cat. She’s a big girl, and usually stays pretty close to ground level, since she gave up jumping up and down off of high surfaces, due to the force needed to move a significant mass of feline either up or down. However, the other two have never learned or been taught that there is a surface on which they should not jump. Thor, our Siamese, acts that way because he is continually cold/freezing. He has never met a lap he hasn’t liked. Hermes is our other 14-pound big boy. He is always curious, which is fun when he carries large elastic bands in his mouth down the stairs to the family room in the evening, howling and letting us know he’s coming with every step.
When you take a curious or cold cat, and combine that with a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle – well, it’s not the best arrangement. And you know, cats really don’t listen if they don’t want to. They just go on their merry way, wreaking chaos and destruction at every turn. We have been working on the puzzle for the last two weekends, which is the only time it seems that both of us can build the thing. Over the last two weeks, I expect we have had an invasion of either one or both marauding cats, jumping up on table, on the puzzle, and just tearing things up. First of all, they have no sense of boundaries – they walk all over our work without a care in the world. They also are born with the surfaces on their paws that are meant to grip, but when they are mixed with glossy paper on the top of a puzzle piece, they end up having the pieces stick to perhaps four paws at the same time. Cats don’t like stuff stuck to their paws. What they do, of course, is that they flip those stinking little paws, sending puzzle pieces flying off the table, if we are lucky, or caroming into a hundred other pieces on the table, like a huge game of billiards, which in turn sends each of those to hit more piece, and disaster unfolds before your eyes. If indeed they do decide to be not quite as destructive, they tend to sit on top of the pieces, and happy as can be, they begin to wag their tails. I’ve seen entire scenes of trees or park benches disappear off the end of the table with only one swipe of the tail. It’s really rather remarkable what they are capable of.
Finally, when they decide they are bored with the whole affair, they jump off the table, which requires them to use their hind legs as catapults, which in turn slide yet other swaths of pieces all over God’s green earth.
It feels as though we have built the same 1500 piece puzzle about three times over so far, with no end in sight – maybe Spring will come, and free us from our imprisonment…
I’ve heard folks remark many times, “Well, in a perfect world…” and then they describe what their perfect world would encompass, which is usually very close to them getting their own way in a situation. I have a secret for you: there is no perfect world. There’s not even a world in which you can be guaranteed to have your dreams come true. Sometimes, what happens to us is far less joyful than just having a cat knock your jigsaw puzzle around. Sometimes, this world seems to be so imperfect that it breaks our hearts, or sends us so very close to the sense of despair. People we love get sick and die. Communities we love get embroiled in constant battles, not to find the truth, but to just see who will win and have their own way. Even sadder, sometimes deep in our own hearts, we give up a little, or we grow cold, or don’t care, or seek revenge, or dig a moat around our lives, and never let the drawbridge down. In case you are curious, by the way, the word “moat” is from the French motte, which originally meant the mound on which the castle was built. Often the mound came into being as the ditch was dug around it, leaving a “moat” that we know today.
Back to that perfect world. Sometimes what happens to us are bad things, unexpectedly destructive, like a cat on a puzzle. Sometimes, we just make mistakes, like getting a 1500 piece puzzle. I’ve said many times before that it is a greater matter, not of what happens to us, but what we do with it when the cat knocks the pieces all over kingdom come. Actually, I believe our perfect world is the result of what Jesus taught us so long ago. “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” he said. He didn’t mean for us to never make a mistake, or an error of any kind. What Jesus meant was for us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that every response we make, every answer we offer, every reaction that comes from us would be rooted and grown solely in the love that our Creator offers to us. When bad things happen, it’s not the end of the world. And even if it were, it’s not the end of our eternal life. There are worse things than having imperfect stuff happen to us. Far worse would be if we made the choice to not love, when we could indeed love, and forgive, and comfort, and challenge, and make perfect that which is not, because love pervades all that we do, and all that we are.
Have a blessed week, and enjoy the rest of your winter. It can’t last forever.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.