Jelle Marble Runs!!

Dear Liza,

Jelle Bakker

Yesterday I learned about a really cool thing. Since there are are no professional sports to watch because of the corona virus shut down people have been missing having games (any games) to cheer at. John Oliver featured something called “Jelle Marble Races” on his show, “Last Week Tonight”. We were curious, and went to the Youtube site to see.

These are so much fun! In 2006 a fellow named Jelle Bakker, who lives in the Netherlands, created this YouTube channel that shows marble races. These are run on enormous tracks that he creates, both indoors and outside in the forest. He even creates marble sized arenas from Duplo bricks and fills them with marble-fans.

Jelle’s Duplo arena filled with marble fans, cheering their favorites

The runs are interesting and well-made, and the marbles are the big fat ones so we can see them easily. The filming and commentary are comparable with professional sports, with wide angles and close-ups, even split screen and slo-mo for the photo finishes.

The logo (every league needs a logo, right?)

We chose our favorites and were soon cheering. Auntie Bridgett cheered for Blue Moon and Deep Ocean, and Grandpa Nelson and I rooted for an orange and black marble named Nemo. We didn’t win, didn’t care, and had so much fun!

The eight-year-old in me is inspired! Jelle uses sand for his outdoor tracks and smooth wood for inside, but even if you don’t have either of those, I’m sure you could come up with a way to make a fabulous marble run!


Grandma Judy

Spring Rains

Dear Liza,

I know it sounds weird, but yesterday was rainy and cold, so we went out for a walk. We figured that the chilly wet would keep most folks inside, so that we could finally walk through our dear Laurelhurst Park without being unsafely crowded. It worked!

Our hostas, bejeweled with raindrops

True, there were some folks. Dogs need to be walked, after all, and toddlers need time on their scooters. Some folks even took their water repellent tarps out for picnics. But there was space and raindrops and the smells of spring.

Found sunglasses

There were signs of the cooperative life returning, too. These lost sunglasses had been found and hung up in a branch for easy retrieval, and in a show of optimism, the poster for this year’s Pedalpalooza was posted on a tree.

Most folks were wearing masks, and I felt so happy to be in my favorite place. This sculpture, called Triad, by Evelyn Franz, looked lovely as always, but especially with the rhododendrons blooming behind it.

Triad, by Evelyn Franz

I am looking forward to a great spring and summer. It will be different from before, but that’s okay, too.


Grandma Judy

Rationed Sunshine

Dear Liza,

Cats are not quarantined, and can get as much sun as they want!

Having to be inside so much during these beautiful spring days is hard. Our balcony faces north, so we don’t get direct sunshine except when we go for a walk, which we aren’t doing much during these quarantined days.

First dogwood blooms of the season!!

But when we do go out, boy, do we appreciate it! The sunshine. The cats. The flowers.

There is even a new graffiti artist in the neighborhood, who has a distinctive, cheerful style and uses the signature #zzz walking. I have seen two of their pieces, and appreciate the message of supportive silliness.

Social distancing electric cat
#zzzwalking by the Postal Annex

People are mostly wearing masks now, so we wave to each other from across the street because we can’t see smiles. The feeling of camaraderie behind fabric bits is amazing.

I hope you are staying well and happy.


Grandma Judy

New Beginnings Again!

Dear Liza,

No matter what sort of mess we human beings get ourselves into, nature just keeps on growing and changing.

Baby grapes are forming on a tiny vineyard on Belmont Street…

That crazy annual TREE that isn’t a sunflower is charging up to thirty feet tall…

Irises are going absolutely insane…

And Rhododendrons are making a real spectacle of themselves.

It’s really nice to know that there are some things we haven’t messed up yet!


Grandma Judy

Outing and Abouting

Dear Liza,

Ready to head out

We have been in corona virus shut down for two months now, and we have gotten better at it. I no longer forget my mask (and have to go back for it), and I keep an eye up to avoid getting too close to folks. Most people in this part of Portland are wearing masks, but a troubling number, especially those old enough to know better, are not.

Photo credit: Kathy Williams

With Grandpa Nelson having the fevers, fatigue, and general crappy feeling that come with a touch of Covid-19, we are staying home even more. Auntie Bridgett and I get our outside time when we walk to the market for groceries. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are both taking care to keep their carts clean and folks well apart, limiting the number of people in the store.

Safeway is larger and less diligent, but has put in arrows to show “one way” aisles and big dots on the floor to remind folks to socially distance. Even our local Stumptown coffee has painted horse shoes on the sidewalk for safe sidewalk ordering.

A safely socially distanced coffee purchase

Although we can now get toilet paper most days, some things are still in short supply. Ginger root, which comes from China, has been harder to find, and most of the garlic is now coming from good old Gilroy, down by Salinas. And there are some amusing new items showing up!

A powerful (apparently) alternative to toilet paper

In the neighborhood, we are seeing the inevitable signs of spring. Giant poppies are charging out of the ground.


Irises up to my shoulder lean against each other like drunken friends.


Local artists are making bits to amuse folks. This fellow, who goes by the name “Toast Ghost”, paints images on metal and attaches them magnetically to metal parts of the landscape. We found this one stuck on the bolt of a telephone pole!


Well, that’s all the news from here for now. More tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

An Evening in with the Hot Sardines

Dear Liza,

Monopoly has a few downsides!

Since we are in quarantine, our nights out at concerts, restaurants and museums have been temporarily suspended. This has made us think more about how to entertain ourselves at home.

The Hot Sardines!

We play Scrabble and Bananagrams, and have, just once, resorted to Monopoly. We are learning about archeology with Tony Robinson and Time Team. We have movie nights with popcorn and dance parties to Glenn Miller or the Bee Gees. And last night, our favorite hot jazz band, the Hot Sardines, helped us out.

Elizabeth Bougerol and Evan Palazzo

The group is made up of ten people, depending on the venue, but always features Evan Palazzo on piano, Elizabeth Bougerol as their fabulous vocalist, and A. C. Lincoln, a tap dancing percussionist. Trombones, saxophones, a stand-up bass, another drummer and even a ukulele make the magic happen. They focus on jazz from the first part of the twentieth century, about 1900 to 1950. Their repertoire includes Fats Waller’s “Your Feets Too Big”, Sophie Tucker’s “Some of These Days”, and Al Dublin’s “Lulu’s Back in Town”.

The group was live streaming a show they did last year at Joe’s Pub in New York City. That means we got to see the show, called Welcome Home/ Bon Voyage, which was their latest album at the time. It was shown for free, but you could donate to the band if you liked. Musicians have to pay rent, like everyone else, and this is a hard time for them.

It was almost like we were there. We missed the feeling of being part of the crowd, which always makes a concert more fun, but the good part was that when the music got so good we wanted to get up and dance, we DID!

Elizabeth Bougerol has a wonderful voice and fluid jazz style. She grew up just outside of Paris, and many of her songs feature songs we love, sung in French, which we also love. My favorite is “I Wanna be like You” from Disney’s The Jungle Book. She sings it in French because that’s how she first heard it, on a dubbed version of the movie.

As much as I miss being able to get out and about, I think we are all going to be fine. Different, but fine.


Grandma Judy

Parody of Sonnet 29

Dear Liza,

Here I am again, playing with Shakespeare! One of his more famous Sonnets is Number 29, which starts, “When in disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes…”. It talks about how hard it is to be down on your luck and jealous of other people’s successes, and how nice it is, in those hard times, to have someone in your life who loves you best.

Inspired by our current global mess, here is my take.

The Man-Child

Parody of Sonnet 29

Now in disgrace upon the global stage
Our once-proud nation fumbles forward, blind
Led by a man-child driven by bent rage
Fueled by the remnants of his tiny mind

In Germany their leader knows the facts
And South Korea quickly got the jump
But here the scientists all got the ax
If, in their knowledge, they spoke anti-Trump

But there is hope out in the country wide
In folks who want to keep their fellows safe
We can be careful, even stay inside,
 E’en when the confines of our houses chafe

To save ourselves from tantrum throwing men,
We need to be the grown-ups, once again

Hope you are well, and stay well!

Love, Grandma Judy