Back to the Art Journal

Dear Liza,

Last October, my friend Ruth got me (and a bunch of other friends) started on an art journal. She posted ideas for each day…. draw a ghost, or a tree. It was fun and kept me thinking about new ways to draw familiar images.

Mixed Media Mummy

November brought a different sort of challenge. The ideas weren’t for WHAT to make, but what to make them FROM. Threads, junk mail, bubble wrap, all became part of the repertoire. That was another sort of mental stretch, and was more challenging. I started looking at everything with the thought, “Could I use this?”

Junk Mail portrait

In December, I’m sure there were suggestions, but between bracing for the holiday and being on my own ‘circle’ binge, I didn’t pay any attention. While I like what I made with circles, it is time to come back to the art journal and get out of my own head.

I went in circles for a while….

January is still pretty new, but I like where we are going. So far, the prompts have been concept-based. “Celebrate” and “Sunshine” are what I’ve gotten done, and as you can see, I’m still enjoying circles.

Celebrate!

I happy to have things to pull my brain from its rut.

Sunshine

Love,

Grandma Judy

Peter Mayle’s Sunshine

Dear Liza,

Winter cold and wet is an opportunity for art, sewing, and reading. I just finished David McCullough’s giant biography of Harry Truman, and it was enjoyable and informative. It felt good to read about a President who, though very much in over his head, made an honest effort to do the job well.

But with current political drama becoming almost overwhelming, I am happy to say goodbye to Harry’s battles, and move on to something … lighter.

Peter Mayle at his house in Provence

And I’ve chosen a very different path. The late Peter Mayle, who retired from a London advertising firm to live in the south of France, wrote delightful stories about his life and his neighbors. His first collection was “A Year in Provence”, which made him famous and was made into a film. This second volume is “Toujours Provence” and continues his explorations of the quirky characters he meets.

He tells of a fellow in the next village over who is taught toads to sing La Marseilles for the France’s bicentennial. This places the story in 1989, about as topical as his stories get. In another essay, Mayle describes, in wincing detail, the difficulties of a simple plumbing repair to his ancient house in the hills.

The hills of Provence

All of these misadventures happen under the blazing Provençal sunshine. One August, when it was 85 degrees by breakfast and even the wild hogs slept in the shade, Peter tells of driving to Chateau Neuf de Pape for a ‘degustation’, a wine tasting, that included two enormous meals and countless glasses of wine. After a stultifying lunch, he napped under a tree until awoken for an equally paralyzing dinner.

It is pleasant, these damp, chilly days, to mentally wander the hills of the Luberon, just above Marseilles, with an eccentric, literate Brit as a guide. It sends me to sleep with sunshine.

Thank you, Mr. Mayle

Love,

Grandma Judy

Mossy Goodness

Dear Liza,

Well, it’s raining again. The past few years, Portland has seen drier winters, and we seem to be making up for it now.

All this rain allows for some lovely, if damp, walks. It thins out the masked crowds at Laurelhurst Park.

And it waters the moss. Portland is a city upholstered with fluffy green moss. I love it!

Walls around houses or office buildings become tiny gardens.

The most common materials, like red bricks, become abstract pieces of art or wondrous topographical maps.

Our Lone Fir Cemetery is especially blessed. This grave, already overwhelmed with a maple tree, is softened with a velvety soft green blanket.

The moss isn’t greedy, though. It shares the walls, bricks, and graves with all sorts of plants and animals . After the moss has softened the stone, it holds on to the rain so ferns can take root.

Tiny flowers and entire ecosystems sprout from the fluffy dampness.

Maybe I will bundle up today and go enjoy some rainy, mossy, goodness. Or maybe I will stay warm and dry in my new pajamas and just write about it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Happy New Year!

Dear Liza,

We had a fun, busy New Year’s Eve, just the three of us and Mouse the Cat.

Ruth Inman’s fabulous 2021 calendar!!

Our dinner was take out pizza from Straight from from New York, just a block away on Belmont. It was, as always, delicious, with a nice bottle of local Columbia Crest Red Blend wine. We watched a Jim Gaffigan comedy special and discovered Ari Eldjarn, an Icelandic stand up comedian. Honestly, he is delightful.

But we knew that if we sat on the couch, we would never make it to midnight. So we worked on the newest picture puzzle, a particularly difficult impressionist painting of a rainy, reflective street scene. It has 1,000 pieces! It will take a while.

Auntie Bridgett and I kept up our tradition of making New Year’s Hats from used Christmas wrapping paper. My first idea of a newsboys’ cap totally failed, because, well, paper isn’t fabric. I went for a simpler tam sort of cap, which I was pretty happy with.


We had a FaceTime chat with Auntie Katie and the cousins, who were working on their own puzzle.



Auntie Bridgett made a fabulous wig out of snowman wrapping paper! The framework underneath was thin cardboard stapled together, and the wig had really good movement.

Cutie Pie Auntie Bridgett!

And of course, Mouse had a fun evening. She sat on our laps when we were on the couch, attacked stray bits of wrapping paper and finally just took over the trash bag. She was confused that we stayed up so late!

At midnight we watched the Ball drop in New York City and I stepped out on the rainy balcony to hear all the cheers and fireworks up and down the street. This has been a difficult, disorienting year. 2021 will be better if we let it.

Stay well, take care of each other. Wear a mask.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Going Out With Joy

Dear Liza,

It is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow we start a new year, and beginnings are always a time for hope.

And for me, that hope has to start with joy. Joy is the basic energy that lets hope grow. It is the deep-down faith that there IS good in the world, and despite what my sometimes gloomy self says, Joy can be found everywhere. My mother would even say that it is our obligation to find it, and when we can, share it.

The simple pleasure of seeing birds fly or rain fall.

The happiness of feeling a connection between strangers.

Of watching kids play.

Staring at reflections.

So after this difficult, isolated year, I am choosing to go out with Joy, singing a celebratory if slightly goofy tune to carry me into 2021 on a positive note.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Between Times

Dear Liza,

This season, between Hanukah, anniversaries, Christmas, and New Years’, has felt very full. Gifts coming and going, lots of ZOOM, and way too much fancy, delicious food and drink. I think I may have sprained a holiday muscle.

I went out for walk in the rain. Not to see the Christmas lights, not to see anything, really. Just to be outside, clear my head, and interact with the world a bit. It helped a little.


Up at the corner between our house and Laurelhurst Park, I did stop to see some lights. Traffic lights, that is.

The dark and the rain made them particularly pretty, and I stood for quite a while under my umbrella, enjoying the reflections and not thinking much of anything.

And when I got cold and the rain started to come through my boots, I headed back home. I know this mood is partly holiday letdown, partly Covid isolation blues, and partly the result of too much rich food and wine. I know it will pass.

So until it does, I will keep looking for the light.

Love,

Grandma Judy

After Christmas Quiet

Dear Liza,

Even in lockdown, it felt like a rush before Christmas. Auntie Bridgett worked hard at SideStreet Arts Gallery making sure folks got their art gifts delivered. Last minute shopping, even online, is stressy. I baked for us, and extra for neighbors.

And now that the holiday has passed, it feels quiet. A little sad. A little more lonely than usual. In need of perspective, I went to visit the Dead People at Lone Fir Cemetery.

The place was more crowded than usual. There was a well-attended memorial for people who had been killed by police brutality, saying prayers for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others. There was also a private funeral in a far corner. Needing just my own company, I avoided both.

I saw what seemed like a million squirrels, mostly plump and happy, dashing about. This fluffy friend had found a corn cob and was enjoying herself heartily.

I stopped by the memorial for James Frush, beloved bar tender, who passed away in the 1870s. The story goes that when Mr. Frush died, his friends carried a large urn from his bar downtown, crossed the river on the ferry, and continued up the hill to the cemetery, to drink to his memory. How much truth is in this we may never know, but the current marker is delightful. Even more so at this time of year, as someone has placed festive fir branches and ribbon around it.

I left the cemetery feeling better, as usual, but I still don’t feel at peace. There is so much emotional support we are doing without these days, even in the midst of our own more-comfortable-than-many circumstances. I miss being able to visit and hug family and friends. I miss having options.

I will make some art, have some Christmas cookies, and take a nap. That should do the trick, for sure.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Seasonal Inspiration

Dear Liza,

Spring…

I started painting this spring. It made sense to paint flowers because are a pleasant, familiar image and, the way I did them, pretty simple. I had not realized that I was painting flowers BECAUSE it was spring. (Yes, sometimes I am a little dense.)

Into summer

This weekend I looked back at my paintings as the seasons shifted. Even when not working from a seasonal prompt, the pictures kept progressing.

Fall, creeping up….


And the latest batch have accidentally proven my point. My spring flowers have given way to frozen landscapes. I have not set out, in most of these pieces, to make a picture of the season. I sit down, look my paints, and pick what appeals to me. I guess my brain is more connected to the wet, dark Oregon winter than I thought. Winter has certainly arrived, and I am feeling it heavily this year.


Maybe today I will try and find spring again, if only in my art, and paint a flower. Or would that would be out of synch, like wearing shorts in the snow?

And becoming Winter.

I am not sure. I have had such fun just painting what comes to mind, I don’t want to irritate the Muse. I’ll see what happens today, I guess.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Christmas Eve Conversations

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was Christmas Eve. Auntie Bridgett was working at the art gallery and I was getting the house cleaned up for Christmas Day. At about 3:00, I walked to “Straight out of New York” to pick up our traditional Christmas Eve pizza. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a selection.

I texted Auntie Bridgett about the situation. Maybe “Pizzacato”, the pizza place closer to the gallery, could do better. Their website said they were open Christmas Eve until 4:00. I let Grandpa Nelson what I was doing and walked as quickly as I could up to Burnside Street to check it out.

I saw Johnny, a very pleasant homeless fellow, outside Whole Foods with his cart and “Merry Christmas” sign. I said I was off to buy pizza, and could I buy him a slice or two?

“Honey, they’re closed,” he said. “They haven’t been open all day. I was gonna get my dinner there, too.” He seemed worried. “Where’re you gonna get your dinner?”

“Oh, we’ll figure something out, I guess,” I assured him. “You?”

“I’ll head to the Pearl. There’s a nice Chinese place there.” He smiled and we wished each other Merry Christmas, and I headed to the gallery to talk with Auntie Bridgett.

“You know,” she said, “We have a lot of food at the house. There’s sausage and cheese and crackers, fruit and veggies and fruitcake. We can make a buffet!”She was right, and that was what we decided to do.

Meanwhile, it was an hour before the gallery closed. I looked at the art, she tidied and organized. At about quarter to five, she noticed a box of cookies someone had given to the gallery to share, but no one had eaten any. “They’re going to go stale,” she said. “We ought to toss them out.”

But with so many people without even a proper supper, that felt wrong. I took the box and went looking to offer Johnny cookies to have after his Chinese dinner, but I couldn’t find him. I figured he had already caught the bus to the Pearl.

Unwilling to leave without giving the cookies to someone, I walked to the Laurelhurst Theater where a lady named Jennifer makes her camp. She has all sorts of health problems but refuses to leave the outdoor life. I offered her the cookies and we chatted. She showed me her new down sleeping bag, donated by a generous person. She was having a merry Christmas, she said.

Heading back to the gallery, I spotted Johnny. I told him about the cookies and Jennifer. He smiled sadly, knowing her story better than I did. Then his face lit up. “Hey, I was thinking of you,” he said, and held up a bag from Whole Foods. “I went in to the market to get a cup of coffee and the folks there gave me this for Christmas.” I opened the bag. It was full of unopened packages of sausage, cheese, and bread. “I thought about you not having your pizza, and I’ve got my dinner already. Would you like this?”

I was stunned at his kindness. This fellow who sleeps in the cold by his shopping cart had come into extra food and worried that I wouldn’t have a dinner. He really was the good soul I thought he was.

I smiled. “No, thanks, we got it figured out. Maybe you could share with Jennifer?”

He shook his head. “She don’t eat cheese or meat,” he said. “I’ve offered her lots, but she just eats sweets, her cigarettes, and her wine.” We were both sad, thinking of Jennifer, sick and stubborn. He reached behind him and put the bag of food on a small sidewalk table, part of the Covid conscious outside dining area of a darkened restaurant. “I’m going to leave this here. The fellas will come by later. They’ll find it.” I figured he meant other homeless folks, and asked, “How will they find it?”

“They’re pretty thorough,” he grinned. “Well, thanks again for the offer,” I said. “Have a Merry Christmas.”

“You too,” he said.

And we parted company, with me wondering at the sweet strangeness of it. Each of us was trying to take care of someone else, and were richer because of it.

It felt very Good King Wenceslas. And that’s not a bad feeling.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Christmas Eve in the Neighborhood

Dear Liza,

The rain stopped Christmas Eve, and we got to go for a walk. It was long-underwear, extra scarf wearing cold, but clear and dry. I put on my light-up coat so we didn’t get killed by traffic, and we headed out.

We had expected, with everyone being in lock-down, that there would be more decorations than usual, but there weren’t. Maybe folks are feeling sad, not being able to visit and travel. Maybe they are saving money this year. But for whatever reason, there were fewer houses all lit up.

What there was, though, was pretty nifty. This house goes nuts every year, and I think they add more lights every year, as well. They are lit up from their front fence to inside their front window, and it is staggeringly bright.

These are very traditional decorations. Some of them, like the gingerbread people cut-outs on the far right, I remember from my childhood.


Other houses use a more unconventional set of things to celebrate the holiday, like this “Baby Jesus as television static” nativity scene. It was surreal and wonderful.

On the same porch was this just slightly possessed Easter Bunny, escorted by Malchior and Balthazar.

Then around a corner, we saw a truck idling in the middle of the very dark street. A man was calling to some other folks… offering candy canes at the end of a long handled fishing net.

Holy Smokes, it was Covid Santa, out and about! He and Mrs. Claus, all dressed up in their finery, were ho ho ho-ing around the neighborhood. What a nice surprise!

With that, we figured we had seen the best Christmas Eve could offer, and headed home for hot toddies and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas”.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday, sweetie. I will see you soon.

Love,

Grandma Judy