Out… and then Down

Dear Liza,

Lovely blooms whose names escapes me…

This week I took advantage of a sunny day and went out for a short walk. It’s good to see that even with most folks inside, the rhododendrons and trilliums are open for Spring. The smell of jasmine makes invisible patches of sweetness that catch you by surprise.

Trillium!

There are still quite a few joggers and dog walkers in the park, and it’s not always possible to properly socially distance, so we walk in the neighborhood. Many folks have taken to crossing the street mid-block to avoid too-close contact, and there is usually a smile or friendly wave that goes with this, acknowledging each other but staying safe. People can be pretty darn wonderful.

Someone’s gift to a venerable tree

We are continuing to be careful but I may have caught a touch of the bug. Grandpa Nelson went out for groceries yesterday because I was feeling really tired, and Auntie Bridgett is just getting over a nasty spell of fatigue.

We are good at taking care of each other. Lots of ginger tea, fruits and veggies, and quiet time for naps will pull us through.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Happy Birthday, Vincent!

Dear Liza,

A suitably simple supper

March 30 was the birthday of one of my favorites artists, Vincent Van Gogh. He was born in 1853, so we celebrated his 167th birthday. We ate homemade French onion soup with crusty bread from Grand Central Bakery, and watched Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Vincent in “At Eternity’s Gate.”

Our spirit alter to Vincent

Vincent was born in the Netherlands, and his father was a minister. He tried to do a lot of jobs before turning to painting, including art dealer and minister. Dutch painters (those from the Netherlands) used mostly browns and grays at the time, and he didn’t start using the bright colors we love until he went to Paris to paint in 1886.

When Bridgett met Vincent, 2008

He didn’t stay in Paris for long, but took his new love of color to the south of France when he moved to the little town of Arles. His deep blues and shimmering golden wheat fields capture, for me, the essence of the Provencial region.

Although he is now one of the world’s most famous painters, during his lifetime he sold only one painting. His mental health was unsteady and he didn’t take proper care of himself. He ate too little and drank far too much, and had long periods when he was hospitalized. Through all his troubles, he was supported by his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris.

In the last two years of his life, Vincent did over 200 paintings and 100 drawings. These are the vibrant irises, wheat fields and self-portraits we know him by.

Wheat fields with crows, painted the same month he died

Vincent died in Arles in 1890 of a gunshot wound at the age of 37. For years it was believed he shot himself, but now some folks say he was shot by some boys in the town, though there is no evidence of this. Movies like “At Eternity’s Gate” and “Loving Vincent” propose this idea, but we may never know.

Vincent Van Gogh had a hard life and an eye for color that was ahead of his time. He said he wanted to paint “to show people how he saw and how he felt.”

His works are gifts to our eyes and our souls.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Harder than I thought

Dear Liza,

The shut down because of Covid-19 is now in its third week here in Portland. It is starting to get me down a little.

Drippy, empty, rush hour

The last time I sat down with anyone besides Auntie Bridgett or Grandpa Nelson was March 11, when I had a cup of Golden Fire tea with dear Misha Moon at the Rocking Frog. Now, with the extra time imposed on us, we have both finished drafts of our stories that we were talking about.

That same day I met a good soul named Roger, and we exchanged stories of our childhoods in Southern California. His had a stepdad who was a building inspector in Watts, not far from where we lived for a while in Bellflower.

Our local hangout, closed up tight

Grandpa Nelson and I had lunch at McMenamin’s Barley Mill the next day, just before they closed up shop for the duration.

These are the sort of chance meetings and conversations that I have taken for granted, and now, for a while at least, they are over. I miss my species.

Mouse enjoys some inter species time with Luna

We eat, chat, read and write, here in our pleasant little house. There is enough room that we can be alone when we need to be, and we have games and movies and food, and even enough toilet paper. There is nothing really wrong, as long as we stay inside and away from people.

And yet, there it is…

So, I heave a big sigh and tell myself to get over it, and decide what to do today.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lucy Knisley Tells Her Stories

Dear Liza,

I got an order of books delivered to my doorstep from Auntie Katie’s shop, Books with Pictures! In it was the latest by my favorite graphic novelist, Lucy Knisley. Lucy is a 35 year old artist, writer, and musician who lives in Chicago. She is talented, funny, and (sometimes painfully) honest. I am accumulating quite a collection!

“French Milk” is an autobiographical story of her trip to Paris with her parents when she graduated college. She loves that city of light, museums and food as much as I do, so I knew we had a lot in common. Her stories are amusing because people are funny, but not forcibly FUNNY.

The next book I fell in love with was “Relish”, about cooking and her love of food. Again, cooking, food…there is a theme here.

Last year I found “Kid Gloves”, about her difficulties getting pregnant and giving birth. It was so real and heartfelt that some of it actually hurt to read, but was at the same time so real and joyous that it was worth the pain (sort of like the birthing process itself).

And now, I have “Go to Sleep (I Miss You)”, about her first year with the new baby, whom she calls Pal. Again, her truth matches mine. I laughed out loud and cringed along with her discovery of needle-sharp nursing baby teeth and the self-losing love of new mothers for their babies.

From Go to Sleep (I Miss You)

Lucy makes the humanity of new motherhood real and sweet, while not minimizing the very real stinkyness or discomfort. I can’t recommend her books highly enough, especially to those folks interested in Paris, food, and new motherhood, respectively.

All this quiet time inside has reminded me how much I enjoy reading! And now that our weather is warming up a bit, the balcony can become my new den.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Strange Planet

Dear Liza,

During the corona virus shut-down, Auntie Katie has set up a website so people can shop her bookshop, Books with Pictures, online. I did, and got my delivery the other day. It is more books all at once than I have bought in quite a while, and I am feeling very, very wealthy.

The first one I read was “Strange Planet”, by Nathan W. Pyle. It is a delightful look at humanity through the experiences of little alien beings who do what we do and say what we say…. sort of.

The literal terms they speak in makes you re-think your own experiences while getting all the fuzzy feels of being with friends in a way we just can’t at the moment. In the language of these little dudes, group selfies are called “friendship documentation” and sun tans are “star damage”.

A mother says “Please point to your imperceptible trauma” for “Show me where it hurts”, then kisses it and sends her child off to “Sustain a slightly worse injury.”

This would be a fun book for parents and kids to read together, and you could talk about the different words… or the parent could translate into more basic words, for the time being.

I meant to tell you about all the books here, but I couldn’t do them justice that way. I will take my time reading them, and tell you all about them as I do.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Sewing for… Just Me

Dear Liza,

Isaac’s second quilt

I learned to sew back in college, when I needed inexpensive clothes to work in, and since then sewing has been a useful, interesting hobby. I sewed prom dresses for Auntie Katie, baby quilts for friends and family, and clothes for dolls and stuffties.

Tani with Naio’s quilt

Sewing has been a gift I can give to those I love.

And now, I’m doing some just for me. It may not turn out to be anything, but since I’m stuck inside and my story is on hold for a while, what have I got to lose?

Our neighborhood in Salinas…University Park School on the left

I love maps, as you know, and have spent some time trying to combine quilting and map making. I made you this map of our Salinas neighborhood, and this More abstract one of where the Salinas River flows into the ocean near Castroville.

Where the Salinas River meets the sea
Promising fabric….

A few years ago, I found this map-printed fabric. It looked perfect, like scenery from an airplane… what wonderful things could I do with it? Well, as it turns out, not what I had planned. The sections are TINY and not suitable for the appliqué I wanted.

Frustrated, I decided the printed lines were not the boss of me.
So this is my new project, where it is now. It looks pretty clunky, but we will see.

Some promises are harder to keep…

And since this project has not been promised to anyone, I can proceed into the unknown without fear of disappointing them. It is for me, and I know the risks.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Some Signs of Life

Dear Liza,

Even though most of the city is shut down to keep everyone home, socially distanced and safe, some folks are still out and about.

Urban arborists and gardeners are out, making sure the yards are pretty, and that trees are trimmed before the summer growing months.

Yesterday, I stepped out to watch two fellows from General Tree Service do some maintenance on a big alder tree across the street. Alders tend to collect dead wood, they said, and this one had branches hanging over the power lines. They had shinnied up the tree to take down the branches, then ground them into mulch.

And before they left, they swept and collected most of the leaves and bits. They did a very nice job. I thanked them for doing such a good job and giving me an interesting show. They said they were happy to be working at a job they enjoy, especially when so many folks are stuck at home.

Some restaurants are still open, as well. Last night we had a take out burrito and DIY Taco bowl from Laughing Planet on Belmont, as a change from home cooking and to support our local businesses. Then we watched “Clash of the Titans”, the 1981 version with Harry Hamlin.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about my new sewing project.

Love,

Grandma Judy