Still Strong Inside

Dear Liza,

Our country seems to be in a dangerous place. Our people are fighting each other in Walgreens about wearing masks and in the streets over everything else. Our President is talking crazy about not leaving office when his time is up. People are worried about their health, their schools, and their jobs.

Last week, walking back from downtown, I passed this fallen oak tree in our Lone Fir Cemetery. It was one of the old ones, probably fifty feet tall, and had green leaves all over it. Five minutes before it had fallen, it had looked fine.

Hollow center of a giant

But now that I was able to see into the trunk, I could see the truth. It was rotten on the inside, hollow and useless. I had a shiver of bad literary juju. “That’s like us,” I thought. “We still live in nice houses and have luxuries, but our government has failed to protect us from the evil ambition of this President. We could fall any moment now.”

That sense of dread has stuck with me for days. It has given me nightmares. But it won’t stick around forever. There is still good in the world, and I went out and found some.

Vote of confidence on the Morrison Bridge

I love public art, especially the small bits that sneak up on you. It lets us see good intentions and know that the power for good is there, even when the artist has moved on.

Caring for tiny things on a side street

I love that more people are registering to vote and encourage others. I love that even “the other side” is taking steps to limit the damage to our Democracy. And I hope that when all this energy is acted upon, it will be enough.

Sticker art at Asylum
Always a good idea!

I send you waves of love and hope for a better day.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Yes, Portland

Dear Liza,

Three years ago, we moved to Portland. We came for its urban culture and forested parks, the wide Willamette crossed by soaring bridges, and for Auntie Katie and the cousins.

Soaring bridges…

We found all those things, and more. And even in the pandemic shut down, there is a lot of city to enjoy.

Silly family….
Adorable art….

PAM, the art museum, is a feast for the eyes and spirit, just a walk away. Attendance is limited to keep folks safe, but the art there can carry you away for a while.


Art isn’t just in the museums, either. It is everywhere, bright and outspoken.

Art where you least expect it….

The parks are still wonderful places filled with hundred year old trees, ditzy squirrels, and flowers.

Incredible views and forested parks…

Our city has gotten a bad rap, lately. Mr. Trump says we have been “in flames for decades.” He is lying. Our nightly demonstrations in a few blocks of downtown make him nervous, is all. They show we will stand up to police brutality and racial injustice.

And they are as much a part of what I love about Portland as the museums and the forests. I am glad to be a part of it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Jazz on the Porch

Dear Liza,

It has been a long, long time since we heard live music. Before the pandemic, it was one of the great joys of living in Portland: somewhere close, almost every evening, folks were playing music.

Oh, yes!!

But before the summer outdoor music season even got started, the whole country shut down. Movies, concerts, even outdoor venues, were all closed for the duration. Poop.

While out picking up litter the other day, we saw this sign and confirmed what we had heard talked about: Jazz in the neighborhood!

Gordon Leem and company

Just a block from our house is a lovely front porch where a group gathers to play gentle jazz, for whatever people want to put in the tip jar. Lead by Gordon Leem, the ensemble includes a keyboard, stand up bass, trombone, drums, and some fine scat singing.


It was wonderful. “Blue Skies”, their opening number, celebrated the return to our clear skies after nine days of toxic smoke. Folks slowly wandered in, carrying camp chairs, wine, and snacks. The sidewalks and even Alder Street itself became seating, and no one seemed to mind. The sun started to go down and we all just reveled in being there.

Being out in the world, watching people with their kids and dogs, was as important as the music itself. It wasn’t perfect, of course. A group close by us were so happy to be out of the house they chatted a bit too loudly. But I realized that was part of it. We have missed the luxury of being irritated by strangers.

The tip jar got regular donations, and Gordon reminded us that a part of that money will go to the Red Cross, who is helping lots of people in Oregon who have lost everything. After an hour and a half, it was time to head home. We waved at neighbors ( hard to recognize after months inside and with everyone masked!) , packed our chairs and headed off to dinner.

It almost felt like normal life.

Love,

Grandma Judy

RIP Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Dear Liza,

A very special woman passed away this past weekend. Her name was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a lawyer, a judge, and then a Justice on the Supreme Court, she fought for women to have the same rights as men. She fought and argued and wrote so the phrase, “…because you are a woman” would not have any place in banking, real estate, business, or courts of law.

The Notorious RBG, from the ACLU website

Without Justice Ginsburg’s work, Auntie Katie would not have been able to buy her bookshop. I could not get a credit card in my own name. Millions of women would not be able to buy property or even sign a lease in their own name. Unmarried women would still be controlled by their fathers, married women, by their husbands.

One of the many strong women she enabled….

There have been hundreds of thousands of words written about Justice Ginsburg, and though I have nothing new to add, I felt the need to appreciate her here.

As we all worry about what the next few months will bring for our country, I hope we can live up to her example of standing up for what is right, going out on a limb, and making a difference.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Neighborhood Updates

Dear Liza,

The fires are still burning in Oregon and California, and many thousands of folks have lost their homes. Locally, the winds have shifted, so we here in Portland are not suffering. The only damage we have so far is that my bonsai, The Hundred Acre Wood, was left outside for a few days of smoke, and its leaves have shriveled.

Very shriveled Hundred Acre Wood

I’m not sure if it is totally dead or if the smoke has just caused it to go into a sort of premature hibernation, but for now it is getting regular care out on the balcony. We will see what happens come Spring.

We walk around our neighborhood a lot, and when we do, we notice things. New paint jobs, blooming cherry trees, sunflowers taller than our heads. And sometimes, trash. Sometimes, a lot of trash.

This morning Auntie Bridgett and I gathered up our trash buckets and bags, our new grabbers, our new VOTE masks, and headed out.

All kitted up…

Our day working with SolveOregon.org last month made us feel empowered to help. We don’t have to just step over the trash and disapprove of it. We can DO something about it. It is what my dad would want us to do.

Be the change you want to see….

We picked up lots of paper and cigarette butts, beer cans, old nasty socks and even masks. Following the SolveOregon guidelines, though, there are some things we won’t touch. These jugs, for example, contain materials that are likely to be toxic, and have been sitting on this curb for months and months.

Nope, not going to deal with those!!

I have researched which city department is in charge of removing such things (Environmental Quality) and called to make them aware of the situation, and gave the address.

I like that we can take charge of a part of our world. Little changes can help. Litter pick up. Donations to local charities. Buying from local shops. Voting, voting, and…. voting.

Acting locally, making a difference.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Art In the Darkness

Dear Liza,

It has been a really difficult week. Heavy smoke from the Oregon fires has kept us inside and is making everyone feel sick. The virus that President Trump ignored is still killing a thousand people a day, and our government seems determined to punish anyone who disagrees with it. It has been very hard to find any happy.

The gloom is almost too much….

Yesterday I wrote a letter to my brother Tim (yes, I type my letters) and illustrated it with forests and smoke. It was a sad picture, but it made me feel better to put something in paper.

I gathered up my watercolors and played with some of the skills Ruth Inman has taught me in our online art group.

First, I taped the paper down, and really soaked it. While it was wet, I gave a wash of bright yellow and orange, making sure it was nice and random.

While the paper was still damp, I used a toilet paper roll to make big circles and a rolled up strip of regular paper to make small ones…. just a few. Then I let everything dry.

This next process takes the longest because you have to let things dry between layers. If you try and paint everything at once, it all runs together. Over the course of the afternoon I put in the petals and centers of the flowers.

When that layer seemed “done”, I let it all dry. Then I got out the Elegant Writer pen Ruth had sent me and put in the details of the flowers. It was fun to see the orange and yellow pop against the black lines.

And I felt better. Something about the bright colors, the creative process and the control of this little piece of paper allowed me to feel joy for the first time in days. I recommend this ‘art therapy’ to anyone feeling sad.

We will get through this and find light in the other side, I know. And art will help.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Treasure Island Evolution

Dear Liza,

I wanted to update you about a project I have been working on for a month now. It is my painted and embroidered version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

RLS’s Treasure Island, my watercolor interpretation

It started out more like RLS’s desert island, but since I knew I was going to spend a lot of mental time there, I wanted it to be greener and prettier. Billy Bones went mad for a reason, you know, and I don’t need more crazy-making. I need less. So I added rivers, some real mountains, and a nice lush rain forest.

My first layer, paint on fabric

Having painted it “as a first layer”, I needed to figure out the next layer. Lay in the outlines, then stitch some mountains, then… maybe some rapids? Yes, this was coming along.

Basics, and a few mistakes

There were mistakes, of course. I put in what I thought was very cool texture that Bridgett said looked like obstacles the Germans put on the Normandy beaches on D Day, so they had to go. This led me to more organic lines, which I really like. More texture, more naturalistic colors, a weird marriage of map and landscape.

More naturalistic lines feel better

This project is giving me so much pleasure. Something to do with my hands, to work off the fidgety Evans energy during these shut-in days. A place to create and visit that is green and lush, far away from political and environmental ugliness. And the freedom to make a piece of my world, just as I like it.

Every stitch makes it better!

Art may save me yet.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Showing Up

Dear Liza,

It is now less than fifty days until the national election, where 331 million Americans will choose to keep Donald Trump as our President or get a new start with Joe Biden.

I have been so angered and saddened by how our country has been run for the last three and a half years, I wanted to do something to make my voice heard. But Covid has made all meetings dangerous, and here in Portland, attending a protest can land you in the hospital.

So what to do? Sending donations to candidates is good, but our finances are tiny compared to Mr. Trump’s giant boat-owning followers. Some of my friends in Salinas have been writing postcards through a group called Postcards to Voters, run by a fellow who goes by the nickname Tony the Democrat, to encourage people in other states (who they don’t even know) to vote. Just vote.

Postcards to Voters, last year in Salinas

Vote. Show up. Get heard. And if our country is as good hearted as we all hope it is, the right candidate will win. Migrant children will be released from cages. Breaking the law, even if you are rich and white, will have consequences. Scientists and doctors will be listened to on medical issues. And maybe, slowly, America will begin to be respected around the world again.

My letters

I have started writing letters with a group called Vote Forward. They have lists of folks who usually don’t vote, and I write a note to them, encouraging them to do so. My first group of twenty are all in Texas, which has become an important ‘Swing state’. I am hoping to have a say in helping our country on the road to recovery.

And then I can know that I showed up. I got my voice heard. As my father would say, I gave a damn.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Thinking about Evacuation

Dear Liza,

Let me start by reassuring you. We DID NOT have to evacuate. The nearest low level evacuation zone was ten miles south of us. But we have been breathing smoke for days, and seeing the fires advance, so … it was on our minds.

Miles away, but still terrifying…

We saw news photos of families living rough, using their car hoods for dinner tables in soot-covered parking lots. They had taken food and water, and were grateful to be getting by. But evacuation is more than just, “What do I need for a few days on the road?”

Evacuation is also, “If my house were completely destroyed, what do I want to save? What is worthy of space in my vehicle? What possession is AS IMPORTANT to me as food or water?” Ah, now you see. It’s about trade-offs.

The important things

Each other, of course, and dear Mouse the kitten. Important papers, insurance, passports, the things that prove you exist, have rights, and own stuff. Food, water, sanitation things, especially in a Covid flavored time, are vital. Clothes, of course. But then what?

Computers? Probably, as much of our information and family memories are stored in them. Family heirlooms? Yes, but which ones? Photo albums? Stuffed dog Sammy, or the WWI German helmet? The three volume Shakespeare collection or the twenty pound Picasso book?

Sammy and the Dude

For us, one thing that we knew would be in the car was a painting by our neighbor, David Gettman, more than forty years ago. This oil painting of a bicyclist has been a centerpiece of our houses ever since, and a new place never feels like home without it. We all agreed it was worthy of space. It is art and friends, history and beauty, all at once.

The Bicyclist in our Salinas house

Looking forward, we are expecting rain. The fires are becoming controlled and our air more breathable. But the climate, even in mossy Oregon, is changing for the drier, and we may well be in this situation again.

We can’t carry the fear of evacuation in our hearts every day. But maybe we will be more prepared, mentally, for next time.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Smokey Birthday

Dear Liza,

All our birthdays this year have been affected by the corona virus shutdown. But Auntie Bridgett’s had the added Barbecue flavor of the horrendous fires that are raging in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Bears say Happy Birthday!!

Because of the smoke, Portland is experiencing Hazardous air. Yep. Lately, it hasn’t been safe to go into a restaurant, or store, without a mask. Now, it’s not safe to go out, period. Our regular masks won’t help.

New technology holder…

So Auntie Bridgett’s birthday was a stay-inside affair. Presents were opened, including a giant book of everything from the Picasso museum in Paris, a fabulous bag, and a new doo-hickey to help her film her how-to videos.

Giant Picasso Book!

French Cooking radio played as we had a two woman painting party, inspired by “Ball Players on the Beach” by Picasso. We have such different styles, but we sure had fun!

The inspiration….

..

My take…
Auntie Bridgett’s take…

A quiet afternoon gave way to dinner plans. Since Paris was on our minds, we put it on the menu by ordering delivery from La Moule, a French place down on Clinton. A giant bowl of mussels in white wine, crusty baguettes, pate, and a nice red wine made for a filling, French-feeling meal.

French dinner….

A game of Scrabble, a Giants loss, and a Baking show, and it was time to say goodnight to this weirdest (so far) birthday.

Bears and cats make it all okay….

Love,

Grandma Judy