Icy Magic

Dear Liza,

Just as I was getting used to snow, I started noticing the ice. A icy glaze covered every tiny branchof every bush and tree in the neighborhood, as though they had all been dipped in glass. I couldn’t stop staring at them.

The forecast was for warming Monday evening and rain through the week, so I am glad I managed to see the ice and get the pictures I did.

The sharp, drippy shards of icicles are amazing and alien looking, but something I saw that I didn’t expect was this lovely frozen-bumpy effect on car windows and mirrors. The temperature was so low that the rain froze as soon as it hit.

Sadly, all this magic will be gone by Tuesday morning. Icicles will drip into non-existence. Snow will melt and flow into the bioswales and from there to the river. We will be back to normal, and that’s okay, too.

Weird bubble mirror and Auntie Bridgett

I’m glad the snow doesn’t last long enough to be just “that darn white stuff”.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Snow in Portland! Part 2

Dear Liza,

After we realized the front gate was blocked, we headed out the garage door. Snow was there, too, but we could stomp through and get to the sidewalk, anyway. We walked toward Laurelhurst Park, staring at icicle drips and snow covered steps along the way.

Ghostly garden steps

We watched a cheery parade of folks dragging sleds and carrying plastic trash can lids. Every pair of cross country skis in East Portland was in use. It was like a party!

Tinseled nandina

And once we got to the park, the fun continued. Sledders found the ravine. Big fluffy dogs rolled and ran in the snow, like kids let out of school. People of a certain vintage walked like penguins, taking tiny steps.

The Off Leash area run amok!

At the west end of the park, one of the hundred year old trees had fallen across SE 33rd, barely missing the windows and facade of a house almost as old as the tree. It must have been a windier night than I realized! Of course, the downed tree became a temporary jungle gym for neighborhood kids, who climbed over its frosted branches.

By this time, my phone and I were both out of energy, so Auntie Bridgett and I trudged home. But this snow isn’t going anywhere for a day or two, so I’ll show you more frozen beauty tomorrow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Snow in Portland! Part 1

Dear Liza,

In winter, Portland is mostly a wet and chilly city, not a cold and frozen city. This weekend has been different.

Our patio gnomes, snowed in…

We knew the snow was coming. The weather reports warned of heavy snow, freezing temperatures, and icy bridges. We did extra grocery shopping so we wouldn’t run out of things if we couldn’t drive or walk to the market. And when we went to bed Thursday night, it was snowing.

For me, a girl from the beach in Southern California, there is always something magical about snowfall. Unlike rain, which falls quickly and races away along the gutters, snow comes down at a leisurely pace, as if it is enjoying the scenery along the way. Then it makes little piles, settling in for a visit.

Modern art sculpture of trees in the courtyard…

Friday was a wonderful, mostly-stay-inside day. Grandpa Nelson and I got out to walk around the building just to hear the snow crunch under our boots, then got back inside before we fell in our butts. Tucked back inside, we watched as the snow came and went, with some chilly wind rattling the ice on the branches of the dogwood tree across the way. Even my bonsai forest, The Hundred Acre Wood, out on the balcony, got some snow.

Hundred Acre Wood in snowfall…

When we woke up Saturday, we saw that quite a bit of snow had decided to stay and visit. The little gate that separates our patio from the main walkway was frozen shut, the latch having been welded and glazed by freezing rain.

Frozen latch

Once I got that melted via a hot washcloth (thanks for the advice, Auntie Katie!) I realized that I had a bigger problem. The bottom six inches of the gate were buried in the snow. But my dad would not have been deterred, and I didn’t want to be, either.

I went in search of weaponry, but when we moved from our house in Salinas to our townhouse with no yard, we gave all that away. No shovel, rake, or push room, not even garden trowels. What did I have? A spatula and some cardboard.. I tried, I really did. But no go. There was no going out that way.

These footprints went nowhere!

Sigh. More tea…. more sewing. It could be so much worse.

I will tell you about our victory and adventure in the snow tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back to Map Making

Dear Liza,

A year and a half ago, I started a sewing project to celebrate and explore my new city. I love maps, and sewing them is a way to enjoy the process of city-building.

Bare beginnings…..

I got the basic sections laid out … the west hills, downtown, the Willamette River, and the east side, where we live.

I started by laying in the main parks, Laurelhurst ( and the smaller Lone Fir Cemetery) in the east, and Washington Park in the west hills. I didn’t forget the North and South Park blocks downtown. The dozens of trees in Washington Park took days to pin and sew!

Parks!

I decided that I didn’t want to make a block -for-block exact map, but I did lay in some main streets so it would make more sense. Then I laid in the warehouse district on the east bank.

The Willamette River divides Portland east and west, and so far I have put in the Hawthorne and the Morrison Bridges. They require a level of precision that gives me the shakes, but I like the way they are turning out.

It was at this point, about a year ago, that I ran out of ideas. I couldn’t figure out what to put in next. So I folded up the map and set it aside.

And this week, after months of painting, baking, and writing, I figured it out. The map came back out and I started putting in the Laurelhurst and Sunnyside neighborhoods, where we live. I used a blanket stitch to show the rows of Victorian houses, and added dozens more trees.

The last three days work!

And today, while listening to the Impeachment hearings, I put in most of the buildings downtown. There will be more streets downtown, and more embroidered details as they are needed.

I’m sure there will come a time when I run out of ideas again, and will pack the map away for a while. But for now, I’m sure having fun with it!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Poetry on My Mind

Dear Liza,

I was happy to find a new friend at Lone Fir Cemetery! Mr. Samuel Simpson was a poet in Oregon, living from 1845 to 1899. His most popular piece was called “Beautiful Willamette”, and he was much loved here in Portland.

Many of Simpson’s poems were collected and published years after his death in The Gold-Gated West: Songs and Poems (1910). W.W. Fidler explained just what had made the work of the “Oregon Bard” so attractive:  “He met completely that excellent definition of poetry which says it consists of ‘good thoughts happily expressed in faultless rhyme and meter’”.
My momma would have agreed with this definition of poetry, and I think she would have liked Mr. Simpson’s work. Here is the first stanza of his most popular work:

Samuel Simpson’s headstone at Lone Fir Cemetery

From “Beautiful Willamette”


From the Cascades’ frozen gorges,
Leaping like a child at play,
Winding, widening through the valley,
Bright Willamette glides away;
Onward ever,
Lovely river,
Softly calling to the sea,
Time, that scars us,
Maims and mars us,
Leaves no track or trench of thee.

Samuel Simpson

His work wasn’t popular with critics, though. Like most of the poetry of this area, his was referred to as “an avalanche of tripe” by folks in New York.

Poetry seems to be creeping up on me lately. I listened (and re-listened, again and again) to Amanda Gorman read her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden. Her words encouraging We the people to reach into our best selves and grow into our role as peaceful, powerful Americans was moving and modern. The strong, jostling, internal rhymes made you jump quick to follow them. They reminded me of the Slam poetry I heard (and read) at the Rubber Chicken Slams back in the 00s. It was visceral and powerful.

And this week, Auntie Bridgett found a collection of Robert Frost’s poetry in the tiny free library down the street. This particular collection was edited by Hyde Cox, man who had known the venerated poet when Mr. Cox was a boy. The poems in this collection are particularly appropriate for young readers, but, as Mr. Cox says, they are good for their elders, too. “How many things have to happen to you before something occurs to you?” Mr. Frost asks us.

Last night I read a few of the poems before I went to sleep, reading them through, finding the rhyme scheme, tiptoeing through the imagery. I poemed myself to sleep reciting one of momma’s favorites, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

I’m not sure where all this poetry is going to go. It will swirl around in my head for a while, and then we’ll see.

Maybe I will write a poem for Valentine’s Day!

Love,
Grandma Judy

Big Little Yards

Dear Liza,

I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, in a town with ranch style houses on good sized lots, with flat, green lawns front and back. They were a lot like your yard in Salinas.

Our dear Peevee heading home from a party

Now I live in Portland, where the houses are close together and the yards are smaller, but they sure are packed with fun, flowers, and even fruit, come summer.
There is apparently a large Faerie folk population in Portland, as evidenced by the number of fairy houses and doorways set into trees. This tiny neighborhood is home to fairies, plastic soldiers and Disney action figures, all living together in harmony.

Diverse Fairy town

Animals are a common theme in garden decoration. This fence top is home to a half dozen hand crafted birds. As the metal ages, they just become more beautiful! Sometimes a real bird will perch right next to a metal one and make Portland even weirder.

Just a bird on a fence…..

Our area of Southeast Portland has been developing since the 1860s, so there have been lots of houses built, and lots torn down. A law here requires that houses of a certain age be dismantled piece by piece, so toxic things like lead can be contained, and antique parts can be preserved. These bits often end up as decorative highlights, as in this Victorian ceiling panel turned garden fence.

Second life for old decor!

And of course, concrete garden haunts. Our damp, cool weather allows gargoyles and ducks to be beautiful while shrouded in snow, or overgrown with flowers.

Garden creatures in Winter….
And in Spring!

In every season, the tiny gardens are lovely and always show me something new.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Bernies and Jackalopes

Dear Liza,

Even with the lockdown, there is always so much going on! If you stop and look around a bit, the world is a busy place.

Two Bernies on books….

First, Auntie Bridgett has a cousin who got a 3-D printer, and the first thing she thought to make were some delightful teeny tiny Bernie Sanders models! They came to us last week, and are currently perched on our mantelpiece. I have tried to find little tableaux for them to be in, and haven’t found anything suitable yet. Any suggestions?

Found on a walk…

There are lots of little eccentric bits around the neighborhood. Houses with pumpkins still perched on the porch, skeletons posed as Santa Claus, and little triangular rocks with Google eyes.

Daniel Haile’s delightful work at SideStreet Arts

And, of course, there is the work at the SideStreet Arts Gallery! A local illustrator named Daniel Haile does tender portraits of all sorts of folks, but this baby Jackalope sitting in a bowler hat is my very favorite.

Since it is the third anniversary of the gallery, Auntie Bridgett did a series of things in threes. She loves bees, so they are all over the place. There is always something new to see.

I hope you have a wonderful week !

Love,

Grandma Judy

The Egyptian Brothers

Dear Liza,

After a few really rainy days, we had a cold, clear Friday. Fridays are the evenings we try and give some business to our local restaurants, as well as giving me the night off from cooking.

Sadly, some of our favorite places have closed, at least for the duration of the pandemic. The Hob Nob and the Belmont Inn just around the corner, and the Rocking Frog down the way, just weren’t able to make business work with only take out or delivery.

But in a city with thousands of people who love to eat out, there will always be something. Last night we ordered take out online from The Egyptian Brothers, a food truck at the food cart pod at 28th and Ash. On the walk over to pick it up, we enjoyed the sunset colored clouds and the patterns made by power lines, and the parade of folks walking their dogs to Laurelhurst Park and home again.

The Food Court has metal fire pits and some outdoor heaters set up in the middle of carts featuring Tobiko Bowl Japanese food, Wolf and Bear Lebanese, FOMO Chicken, and the Crepe place, make for a cheerful atmosphere. Quite a few folks were seated around the fire or at tables, socially distanced, but not very masked.

It was refreshing to see people talking and laughing, having some beer or wine with friends. It felt almost normal. But it didn’t feel like I wanted to stick around.

Our dinner was ready when we got there, smelling delicious. We headed home in the gathering dark, getting hungrier by the minute. Grandpa Nelson had opened a bottle of Columbia Crest Red Blend, and we enjoyed our lamb gyros with tzitziki sauce and wine before our Scrabble game.

Grandpa Nelson won handily, Auntie Bridgett came in second, but I think I had as much fun as anyone. Happy Friday! Welcome to your weekend!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Birthdays and Birds

Dear Liza,

It is SideStreet Arts’ Third anniversary! The gallery Auntie Bridgett shows at, and is a partner in, is having a big on-line (and tiny in-person) celebration. You can see all the art at SideStreetArts.com.

Happy Birthday, SideStreet Arts, at the corner of Ash and 28th

And because every party needs flowers, we stopped at our favorite flower shop, Flower Bomb. Solara moved her business from a truck to a shop front at the corner of Stark 29th last February, and has been doing very well.

As a matter of fact, the place was a bit chaotic. Solara is having a pop-up shop down on Division in the days between now and Valentine’s Day, and was busy both taking a delivery and sending plants off. Good business is busy business!

Also, there was the small matter of a tiny bird who had flown into the shop and was having trouble finding his way out. The tall ceiling and perches kept him up high, and he couldn’t see all the doors and windows left open for him to escape. The rumbling delivery truck was probably scary, too.

As Auntie Bridgett collected chrysanthemums and stargazer lilies for the bouquet, I tracked the little feathered friend from light fixture to twig wreath to potted plant, trying to get pictures. He was easily ten feet over my head, and never stayed still for more than a few seconds.

As we finished up and the truck got ready to pull away, we were hopeful that the little guy would find his way out. If not, I’m sure Solara has a bird feeder and birdbath in her inventory to keep him comfortable him for a while.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lefties and Landscapes

Dear Liza,

As I have gotten more into drawing and painting this past year, I have realized that there has been a whole long list in my head of “things I can’t do”. I’ll bet most people have this sort of list, and it makes decisions for them even when they don’t realize it

“I can’t write an essay every single day!” I wailed to myself, thinking about starting this blog in 2017. I have proven myself wrong 943 times so far.

My latest lefty drawing…

“I can’t draw with my left hand,” I have said since…. well, since I could draw at all. Recently, with practice and an adjustment of expectations, I have proven myself wrong again.

And now, I am tackling “I can’t do landscapes.” I am watching YouTube videos, finding the artists who go slowly enough for me, like Alan Owen, a Scotsman who is lovely to listen to. I am staring at landscape photos and watercolors, looking for the magic so I can reproduce it. And I am practicing. A lot.
With very mixed results.

On my own……

In “All That Jazz”, choreographer Joe Gideon tells one of troupe, “I don’t know if I can make you a great dancer. I don’t even know if I can make you a good dancer. But if you keep trying and don’t give up, I know I can make you a better dancer.”

With Alan Owen’s guidance.

And better is all I’m looking for right now.

Love,

Grandma Judy