Flowers on My Table

Dear Liza,

As the Corona shut down continues into summer, the world outside continues to get more beautiful day by day. We have had an unusually cool summer so far in Portland. I remember our first summer here, with temperatures of 111 degrees for a few days, and am grateful that we are enjoying mostly mid-70s . This, plus a few random showers, have made the flowers very happy.

Feeling pleased with water colors and pencils

Being inside most of the time, I have tried my hand at water coloring different types of flowers. I started with daisies and moved onto sunflowers, shading them with colored pencils as needed. The other day I found a great picture of some coneflowers online, and worked to paint them.

Tackling some coneflowers….

I was pleased with my first attempt, and am working on my second. The slight tremor in my right hand isn’t getting in my way as much as I expected and I am feeling more confident.

A second go at the same flowers….

Then yesterday, or our way to the market, we met this fabulous specimen! A real, live coneflower! I took her picture and will use it for my next attempt.

The real thing!

Art imitating life imitating art imitating life….. It’s a perfect cycle.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Kestral’s Zoomy Bithday

Dear Liza,

We have now celebrated our fourth family birthday under the Corona virus isolation. Cousin Kestrel turned 9!

The guest list

As before, it was a Zoom birthday party. But this time, Auntie Katie made cupcakes and delivered them to the guests’ houses! So we got cupcakes with tiny dragons, kittens, and birthday candles on them. I know it made her day more complicated, but it sure was nice.

Kestrel and Jasper were at their Daddy Dave’s house, and once all the cupcakes had been delivered, we all lit the candles, sang, and blew them out. It was almost like being together. Kestrel opened her present from her Denver grandparents, a pretty dress with flying unicorns (which are called alincorns, as you know) printed on it.

I didn’t get a picture of Red Bob, sorry….

Dave had set up a Minecraft game online so everyone could play together, but since everyone has different equipment, it took a while. Vivian, one of Kes’s friends, passed the time by introducing us to her pencil topper, a one inch high rubber toy, who she calls “Red Bob.” Apparently he has a theme song, which goes, “Red Bob will eat you, Red Bob will eat you.”

Of course, this started us all on a line of thinking… Red Bob should be a YouTube star! He needs a melody for that song, and a refrain, something like “Yum, yum yum…”. This could be great!

Lenin’s fireworks

When the technology fell into place, we got another surprise. Kes’s friend Lenin had put an effect into her Minecraft world so that when Kestrel walked to a certain place and had her character jump on a rainbow colored keyboard, FIREWORKS were launched! It was so pretty and unexpected, and everyone was impressed.

When dinner was ready at our house, we excused ourselves and said goodbye and thanks to everyone for inviting us to such an unusual party.

I hope you have a nice day, sweetie. See you real soon.

Good night, everyone!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Hazel Hall, Poet

Dear Liza,

One of the shops I love most in our little Sunnyside neighborhood is called Noun, “a person’s place for things”. It has a delightful collection of curated second hand things and newer artwork, and is temporarily closed, of course. But it has a wonderful new window display that has taught me new things.

NOUN…A person’s place for things

In the window is this hand lettered and sewn paper creation that looks like a quilt with writing on it, and I got to stop and read it the other day. It is called Nobody Passes and it goes like this:

The day is set, like a stage for feet

With a ridge of white clouds painted high

Across the canvas of the sky,

With pavement gleaming and too clean,

A shimmer of grass that seems too green,

And houses alert in every side,

Showing a stiff and conscious pride.

The day is a stage and life is a play,

But nobody passes down this way.

I was intrigued, and looked up Helen Hall online. She was born in 1886 and lived in northwest Portland. When she was about twelve, either because of a fall or scarlet fever (history is slippery) she became paralyzed and could only get around by wheelchair.

Since her house was a typical Victorian with steep, narrow stairs, Helen spend most of the rest of her life in her upstairs bedroom. When she got older, she started taking in sewing work that she could do from home. Her sewing machine was set up by the window so she could look out.

She started writing poetry, mostly about her work and what she saw happening on the street outside her window. Her poems became well known, and were published in The Nation and Sunset, among many others. Her poems were praised and “true” and “poignant”.

Hazel died in 1924 at the age of 38. Her home, at 106 NW 22nd in Portland, still stands and is on the National Register of Public Places. There is a small park next door, and seems like a good place for us to visit,once we can go out and visit.

I love learning new things about my wonderful city. I hope you get to come see me real soon.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Fairy Gardens

Dear Liza,

I have told you about our Rose Gardens, our Japanese and Chinese Gardens, but did you know Portland has Fairy Gardens?

They are harder to find than the City gardens, but this may be on purpose. Fairy-folk are a bit shy among us Big’uns, so these tiny marvels are not mentioned in any city guidebook. When walking through neighborhoods, you have to keep your eyes open and look down amongst the rocks and hedges. The telltale signs are pebbles in a curvy line, an over-large mushroom, or tiny doors leading into hillsides.

Another thing that makes Fairy Gardens hard to find is that they are so small. An entire community of fairies can fit in even a Portland sized yard, tucked between rose bushes and towering dahlias.

Dragons chatting with Fairy folk in the Northeast

I love finding Fairy Gardens all over our city. Clearly, fairy-folk only establish their gardens among sympathetic, gentle humans, and I like that Portland has been given the Fairyfolk stamp of approval.

A thriving village in the Southeast

Also, I think fairies are wise gardeners. They know enough to leave the giant trees alone, focussing on the tiny weeds that can choke a flowerbed. They encourage the ladybugs, bees, and butterflies in their efforts to keep the flowers safe and healthy.

Cousin Kestrel is very helpful to our local fairies

I hope you can come visit soon, so we can go find some Fairy Gardens together.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Our Fourth

Dear Liza,

I saw that you had a walk along the lovely coast at Monterey and even a barbecue with your mom and dad. Here, we all went for nice long walks through the old, tree filled Laurelhurst neighborhood.

Fourth of July in Laurelhurst

The flowers are so beautiful and the yards kept so pretty, it is almost like some house and garden tour. Houses here were built from 1917 to about the 1950s, so there is a lot of variety, and the lots are steep because every house had a big cellar. The trees grow fat and wide and make lovely shaded walk.

Dahlias that look like fireworks…

We had a nice big bowl of soba noodle soup for dinner, and started watching an old Jimmy Stewart movie called “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” about an idealistic young man learning, and doing something, about corruption in government. In about the middle of the movie, I wanted to walk out to see if I could find the lunar eclipse. It would only be visible during moonrise. My wonderful people agreed to pause the movie and we headed out.

Weird, funny, true poster….

We saw this poster, which is funny and true and sort of sad at the same time, and we saw (and heard!) folks setting of fireworks, but we never got to see the moonrise. The same trees that make us love Portland so much make it hard to see the horizon.

Out of hundreds that heard, the only ones we saw

We got home and finished the movie, with Jimmy Stewart (guided and inspired by Jean Arthur) giving a filibuster in the Senate and smashing the political machine that was running his state. Right triumphed, evil was stopped, and all was well.

Jimmy Stewart, fighting corruption

It was hard to fall asleep, because the fireworks were so LOUD they shook the windows. After weeks of seeing video of political protests with some buildings set in fire, it was hard to relax.

Jean Arthur and Thomas Mitchell help out

If we are, as some people say, in a revolution, I imagine we may be hearing more of these disturbing sounds.

Sigh. Big fat sigh.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Mixing It Up a Little

Dear Liza,

Human beings are creatures of habit, they say, but I have always disagreed. I like to go on adventures…walking eight miles to Sellwood, bussing across town for a hike, taking the train to Vancouver and biking around the city. But as we go along in the quarantine, I realize how much I am leaning on my habits. Especially in uncertain times, we feel the need to do normal things in the normal way.

Starting simple

Here, that means morning coffee with news on the sofa, writing blogs, then crossword puzzles, then French practice on Duolingo.

The recent addition of online watercolor classes with Ruth Inman in Illinois has helped fill Tuesday and Thursday mornings with art and conversation. It has also given me courage to make more art.

Little flowers are less daunting

The other day I painted my first sunflower. I had been doing little daisies and simple roses, which feel less daunting. Sunflowers are imposing. They are flower royalty that literally looks down on everyone. They have gravitas.

Floral royalty

And when I got it done, I felt pretty good about it. I asked Auntie Bridgett. “It’s not bad,” she said kindly. “But you could use some colored pencils to bring it out more, to make it pop.”

My first thought was, “What if I screw it up?” But I slapped that thought down, stepped over it, and moved on. We walked to Collage down on Division Street and bought me some Vera Thin pencils along with more watercolor paper.

Painted, penciled, and almost done

I started playing. Painting like before, but with the knowledge that some parts would be enhanced or shaded with pencils. I learned about complementary colors and how to use them for emphasis, that shadows are never black, and that short lines can make lovely curves. It is another tiny step outside my comfort zone.

Back to daisies, but with more oomph

This using of paints and pencils, or pastels and collage, or crayons and paint, is called mixed media. You mix bits that you already know, some you don’t, and come up with something new. This is an interior adventuring, and one I am enjoying very much.

Maybe it will keep my adventurous muscles strong for when I can go adventuring outside again.

Love,

Grandma Judy

…And While We’re on the Subject…

Dear Liza,

So, the other day I was remembering how my Momma encouraged us to deal with sad times by finding things to be grateful for. And then yesterday, coming back from running errands, I found the Gratitude Tree.

This is a tree planted in the parkway at SE 36th and Main Street. I don’t know how long it has been there, and don’t know how I have missed it until now. Indeed, I may have seen it, but since I didn’t NEED it, it didn’t register. Brains are like that.

Anyway, I stopped and had a good visit with the Gratitude Tree. It carries the website http://www.gratitudedojo.com and is covered with Manila tags, which are attached to a rope by thin wire. Hundreds of people have written what they are grateful for and attached their thanks.

These acknowledgements of gifts great and small made me smile. And, like the Grinch, my heart grew a few sizes. Even in the midst of racial upheavals and violence, an international pandemic and incompetent leadership, there is a lot to be grateful for.

I don’t know who has provided our neighborhood with this wonderful way to put our joy and appreciation on display. I wish I did. I would make them a batch of cookies and write them a limerick.

Cookies don’t travel well online, but here is the limerick.

Down in Sunnyside there is a tree,

That became a ray of sunshine for me.

Instead of berating,

This tree’s celebrating!

And the love’s out there for all to see.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Gratitude

Dear Liza,

It seems there is a pendulum in my emotions that swings back and forth. Most days it is somewhere in the middle, and I go through the days happily reading, painting, and cooking.

But every few weeks or so, the pendulum swings all the way to total energized happiness, and I walk for miles and make cookies. A few weeks later, it swings back, and it is a struggle to get out of bed and make conversation.

My people

I know we are all going through this together, but we are doing it mostly alone. And it’s hard, sometimes. My Momma was a big fan of gratitude in times like these. She grew up in Dust Bowl Oklahoma and didn’t have much in terms of clothes or toys. But she loved her tiny flower garden and her dog.
So now it’s my turn.

Near family

I am grateful for:

My family, near and far. The near ones hold me together with love, patience and silliness, and the far ones remind me that we will all be together again someday.

Far family

Old friends. Some I know from kindergarten, high school, or just last year. But the network is there and lets me remember my connected-ness.

My health. This is a gift that I try not to abuse or take for granted.

Wind and clouds

Flowers, plants, wind, and clouds. The other day, watching the wind make the trees dance in the sunset was the highlight of my day.

Crossword puzzles, baking, and art. These small challenges keep my brain active and make me laugh. Also, cookies!

Well, I feel better. I hope you find a lot to be grateful for and that it brings you joy.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Black and White Therapy

Dear Liza,

Since we are staying in so much and we can’t get out for concerts or shows, movies and games have become more important in our evening plans.

Fred and Ginger In Top Hat

Our household doesn’t like some very popular types of movies. The string of DC and Marvel comics-based super heroes do not thrill us. We don’t care for violence or explosions. I guess we are kind of old fashioned.

So, we like old fashioned movies!

Alfred Hitchcock’s classics are very well written and suspenseful while much less violent than modern movies of their genre. We enjoy them very much.

Old musicals from the 30s, 40s, and 50s are wonderful to watch when we need a break from reality, when going out for a hot dog can be a health threat and politics as usual has ceased to work for anyone but the politicians.

Last night we watched 1933s Flying Down to Rio, and it was delightful. Besides the incredible clothes and manic facial expressions, it was Fred Astaire’s and Ginger Rogers’ first movie together. They didn’t play the lead characters, but were supporting bigger stars, Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond as star-crossed lovers. They only had one full-on dance number, “The Carioca”, but their humor and chemistry were obvious, and they went on to make nine more movies together.


So, in case you are old fashioned too, here are my (mostly) black and white movie recommendations:

Nick and Norah Charles on the case…

The Thin Man series, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as society detectives. The original is the best, but they are all good, with actors like Jimmy Stewart in unexpected roles.

Dial M for Murder

Hitchcock’s movies are all good, but my favorites are Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief.

Musicals : Anything with Fred Astaire and/ or Ginger Rogers, and movies with Gene Kelly and his casually athletic dance moves, like On the Town or Brigadoon.

On the Town

I also like the old Katharine Hepburn/ Spencer Tracy pair-ups like Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike. I am a sucker for smart ale my dialogue mixed with romance.

ADAM’S RIB, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, 1949

I hope you enjoy some of these, and maybe discover some of your own favorites.

Love,

Grandma Judy

All Those Blueberries

Dear Liza,

We finally got home with our groceries and all those blueberries, and man, was I tired! We put out feet up, had dinner, and finally had the energy to deal with our fruity bounty.

Auntie Bridgett has sharp eyes!

First, they needed to be washed. These wonderful berries from Columbia Farms are organic, but bird poop and tractor dust are not welcome in my kitchen. We dumped them in the sink, swished them around, and scooped them into our biggest bowl.

Ready to get frozen and bagged!

Since most of these berries are going to spend the next six months or so in our freezer, they needed to be dried and then frozen individually before being bagged and stacked.
This process happened in several stages, since our freezer is small.

Meanwhile, I found a new recipe for blueberry cobbler. The one I used last year, from Martha Stewart, was too sweet for our tastes. This one, from the All Recipes website, had less sugar.

All Recipes Blueberry Cobbler before being devoured

Recipe:

Combine 3 cups berries, 3 T white sugar and 1/2 c orange juice in an 8×8 pan. Set aside.

In a small bowl, blend 2/3 c flour, 1/4 t baking soda and a pinch of salt.

In a medium bowl, cream 1/2 cup butter 1/2 c sugar, 1 egg, and one t. Vanilla until light and fluffy. Just bring together with flour mixture. Spread topping evenly over berries. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes.

I added 1/2 oatmeal to the topping for more crunch.

Once the cobbler was cool enough to eat, we piled some in bowls and slurped it up. It was so good! And, of course, we had some for snack the next day. And the next. It was even better after a rest in the fridge.

I plan to enjoy these berries for months to come, and maybe even make a nice blueberry cobbler for Christmas!

Love,

Grandma Judy