Puzzles and patterns

I received a couple of jigsaws among my Christmas presents. This one has been a challenge! The process of sorting the pieces and finding their place has been quite slow but I have enjoyed it. There have been “Aha” moments when an illusive piece suddenly appeared, or when a strangely coloured piece fitted unexpectedly.

Slow progress…

But now it is done, and although I am missing the fun of doing the puzzle, I am enjoying the result too.

Finished! 👏🥳🙌

I think doing this puzzle has given me joyful moments on several levels. One is on the level of play, enjoying the indulgence of a non productive activity just for sheer fun of doing it.

Another level was that moment of celebration -albeit quiet – when I had done it! (No I didn’t dance around the table.)

And another level is to do with the joyful harmony of sorting and pattern making. Completing the puzzle involved making repeated connections of shape and colour, corners and edge pieces, subtle shades of pink, red, yellows and blues, straight lines and curvy florals.

Ingrid Fetell Lee (see my earlier post) describes patterns and rhythms as “a timeless source of joy” because “their structured repetition of elements establishes a baseline of harmony”. All over the world pattern is used in decorative art of all kinds. Pattern making in its many forms, in sounds as well as visually, has been shown be helpful in to relieving stress and anxiety. The jigsaw is a patchwork quilt pattern from one of my personal favourite designers Kaffe Fassett . Find more of his designs here.

I’m not sure if I am ready yet to break up my completed puzzle, but I am certainly going to be more aware of the patterns all around me which provide that underlying joyful harmony. And of course I’m ready to make more patterns, whether it is knitting, stitching, painting or another jigsaw…

Looking up

This morning as I look up though my window I see sunshine on bare branches, and beyond there is a clear blue sky. What a contrast from yesterday morning when I drove the local lanes in thick grey mist, car lights on and vision obscured by drizzly rain. And what a difference it makes to my feelings.

There is something about light and space, and being able to see beyond, which creates a buoyant mood, and lifts my feelings. It was on another sunny day this week we walked along the beach, enjoying the vast sweep of sea and sky. We watched surfers in wet suits as they waited, boards poised, ready to ride the crest of a wave.

As Ingrid Fetell Lee describes, many more of our phrases describing joy contain ideas of being lifted up – eg. on cloud nine, walking on air, swept off our feet, in high spirits. The idea of floating above earth, or riding a wave, brings feelings of elation and freedom. Freedom is one of the aesthetics of joy, and so is transcendence. Transcendence as experienced in those moments of awe and wonder when we are conscious of a vastness way beyond us.

Often in these moments we look up, into the clear blue, or to gaze at the moon or stars. Gazing out to a wide horizon of sea or hills, creates that sense of light and space which lifts our mood.

So today I need to get outside, keep my head up, stand tall, eyes open…

EDIT Out walking this afternoon – I looked up and saw the moon.

Winter pickings

At this time of year our allotment and veg patch is pretty much a blank muddy canvas. And after a sharp frost recently even the last few flowers from last year have given up.

But yesterday’s visit to the allotment did produce a harvest to add to my January joy finding.

Yes, there was a bit of a muddy coating on most of the vegetables, but there was also an abundance of sensory pleasures from this small crop. The sprouts felt like large firm marbles, and came off the stalk with a satisfying snap. The leeks, while not huge, were standing tall, and came out of the ground with long roots like tousled hair. Their pungent oniony smell filled the car as we drove home. The purple of the broccoli and the rainbow stalks and veins on the chard were as colourful as a bouquet of flowers. The firm ball of a cabbage, felt almost as though it was asking to be tossed around and played with!

Ingrid Fetell Lee talks about the aesthetic joy of abundance. Abundance not as an accumulation of things, but of finding and surrounding ourselves with a rich sensory palette of textures, colours, patterns, sounds and aromas. My veg harvest certainly did that, and it tasted pretty good too.

Monster magic

Yesterday I spent a while making a simple accordion book for some small drawings. The drawings were Pokémon monsters created by my 6 year old grandson, which he sent to me for my Christmas stocking. They brought smiles to my face as I thought of him drawing them and losing himself in the pleasure of creating these fantasy characters. Not monstrous monsters but magic monsters. I wanted to preserve these special gifts in some way, so I made the little scrap book.

William’s magic monsters

Like the transformer toys my grandson loves to play with, these monsters belong to the world of superpowers, where the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary, and the mundane hides magic. Magic is one of the aesthetics of joy as described by Ingrid Fetell Lee. “Magic – and the permission to believe in it – is one of the true joys of childhood”.

A belief in magic was not something which featured much in my own rather literalistic and religious childhood. Belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were not encouraged, But magic was still important to me, and it is perhaps significant that some of the few books I have kept from my childhood are about fairy animals, fantasy worlds and imaginary adventures. And I only have to look at all the films and TV series available to watch to realise that fantasy, science fiction and imaginary worlds have never gone out of fashion, and not just for children.

Magical stories from my childhood

Perhaps in our modern technological world where global communication, AI and virtual reality are common place, we forget the magical wow and curious wonder moments of earlier science which contributed to their invention. After all the youthful Einstein is said to have wondered about travelling on a beam of light…

Perhaps I need to see the world through the eyes of six year old to find more of the magic aesthetic of joy.

Marigold surprise

2022 has started with rain here, but it is certainly not cold. In fact it is unseasonably warm, the UK recording its warmest New Years Eve on record yesterday. In terms of climate change that may not bode well, but there are compensations.

Our local Hardy Plant Society is doing a New Year flower count today encouraging us all to get outside to find any plants in flower in our gardens right now.

Well I may don coat and wellies and venture outside later. But in the meantime here is a joyful little find from our soggy allotment yesterday. We went to pull a few leeks and found this bright marigold shining in the mud. Usually a flower of the summer months this one is still blooming in winter.

The aesthetics of joy in this little find seem to me firstly of energy, especially its colour. For me yellow is associated with the sun, warmth, and light, all of which are in short supply at this time of year. Secondly there is the aesthetic of surprise, of something showing up where and when it is least expected. And there is an aesthetic of harmony in its shape, not perfectly symmetrical, but a pleasing form and complex patterns in its centre.

Happy joyfinding…

Where to now?

I checked back to my last blog post and was shocked to discover it was in February! Back then the way ahead felt flimsy and uncertain, and in many ways the year has continued in the same manner. Even so some substantial and robust life changes occurred for my family in the shape of two additional grandchildren, Emily born in March, and Harrison in September. Amazing to think they weren’t here when I posted last. Now they are very much making their presence felt, and we enjoy their company whenever we can.

January is often a time when I try to post regularly as a way to give myself some structure through this long grey month. In years gone by I have written “small stones” or sketched small items. And in January 2019 I reflected on seven years worth of past Januarys!

So what about January 2022?

One of the gifts I received this Christmas is this book, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. I am still reading the early chapters but I am finding it encouraging and inspiring, especially in these difficult times.

The author identifies and writes about ten aesthetics of joy, Energy, Abundance, Freedom, Harmony, Play, Surprise, Transcendence, Magic, Celebration, Renewal. She suggests tips for finding joy in our ordinary surroundings, and recognizing which of these aesthetics are present in what we enjoy.

I would like to follow some of her guidance as we head into 2022. She suggests keeping a Joy Journal, so I will endeavor to make it a joyful January by doing just that.

And even though it’s not January yet here are three of my Joy givers. They embody the aesthetics of energy, play, celebration, frequent surprises and so much more.

Happy New Year everybody!

Persevering through February

The nice thing about writing a blog is that I can re read it myself, even if no one else does! I can revisit previous years and remind myself of past scenes and insights, so often still relevant. This February seems to have been very gloomy, our weather, and local and world wide events as well as my mood. Looking back over previous years I realise that February can often feel that way for me.

This time last year I was exploring Wendel Berry’s poem which starts “When despair for the world grows in me…” even though at that point we did not know what lay ahead, (probably just as well!) But reading it again today reminds me of his answer to “come into the peace of wild things”. Some of our daily walks recently have been wet, muddy and slippery, but we have encountered some wonderful natural beauty in spite of the gloom, and felt some of the freedom Wendell Berry writes about.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

During the grey days I have also been glad of my continuing participation in an online Stitch Club. The most recent workshop by Jude Kingshott included a stitched fabric book made from scraps and recycled cotton lawn. I found hand stitching on very thin almost translucent fabric quite a challenge. It felt so insubstantial and unstable. Flimsy was the word. It felt like my hopes for the immediate months ahead, unpredictable and uncertain. But stitch by stitch I plodded on and I have now finished a little booklet of bright cheerful flowers, albeit flimsy.

The cover…
And pages…

“Perseverance” is the name of the space craft which has finally reached Mars this week. I have not achieved anything quite so remarkable, but it is a familiar theme. Even my art journaling echoed it.

Perseverance seems the order of the moment, so let’s keep keeping on, stitch by stitch, step by step, flower by flower, and we will get through the February mud and gloom to more solid ground and clearer skies.

A month of moments

This month, the first one of 2021, has been a month of restrictions, lockdowns, a month of not seeing people, not travelling, staying at home. Many days have been grey and wet. We have had some light snow, rare here in the south, but not enough for fun and games. The news about the Covid virus has been generally gloomy with increasing casualties, both amongst those who have become ill, and those who have been caring for them.

I am grateful that I have not been in either of those categories, but nonetheless the mood of the month has been miserable. At the beginning of the year I set myself a daily challenge to make a small picture with collage, paints or pens, capturing something about each day, birthdays, things I saw, ephemera or a doodle. They are only 1.5 x 2.5 inches in size, and made in the little book I bound together. Some days I forgot and had to play catch up, but 30 days later they make a surprisingly colourful collection.

A collage of moments

As I gaze out on yet more grey skies today this little collection reminds me to keep my eyes and heart open. Those fleeting insignificant moments may seem transitory and boring, but they contain our treasure.

Some ephemeral moments must be given a memory, because the temporality of an instant may radiate a twinkle of eternity.
― Erik Pevernagie

January Journal 2021 – first pages

First six sketches and doodles in my mini journal. My attempts to express moments, objects or observations from each day.

Following the thread

Two years ago today on this blog I started a January of reflections. I decided I would look through my January posts from the previous seven years and select one for each day to carry forward for the year ahead. Little did I know what that year would bring, or indeed the following one, and probably best that I didn’t know!

My friend Niki commented on that post for January 1st 2019 “Perhaps it is as well we don’t know what our journey in life will entail … as both sunshine and heavy rain experiences are best appreciated or tackled as they come without anticipation or dread, and past experiences bring both the appreciation and strength needed to get through.” How right she was!

This was the view from my window on January 1st 2014
The view this morning, different weather, different cars, the same window!

A lot has happened since that first photograph. I have had the joy of getting to know my first grandchild, and the sadness of losing another before there was a chance to know him. There have been happy get togethers and reunions with family from far away. There have been the difficult recent months of distancing and being apart, staying connected only briefly or online.

It is often only as we pause and look back that we realise just how far we have travelled. As we take in the view behind we see things from a different perspective and find our priorities changing. But some things remain the same, and they are often small. As I reflect on my blog and journals I notice how often it is the garden, the seasons and growing things which recur constantly, and with a steady regularity.

A poem I have recently copied into my personal anthology is “The way it is“ by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

This unchanging thread is what sustains us through the changes of time, but it is often hard to explain what it is. Mark Nepo in a lovely book I received for Christmas describes it like this. “To discover the thread that goes through life is the main reason to listen, express and write” Drinking from the River of Light

So, hard though it often is, I am going to attempt to find a time each day this month to pause, and listen, and then express in some way what I have seen or heard or noticed. Express can be defined as “to squeeze out” and I guess it may sometimes require some effort rather than be an easy flow. So I will keep it small. I have made a little journal, ready for a doodle, a quote, a drawing or even just a splodge of colour. Who knows! Watch this space.