The Beauty of Letting Go

Dear Liza,

With the Corona virus having another spike here in Oregon, Governor Kate Brown has called for a ‘pause’. We are not going out to restaurants, even for take out. Our big weekly adventure is grocery shopping. But we do go out for a walk every day, and the leaves have been absolutely inspirational.
So I am playing with poetry again.

Red, like sunset, piled on the sidewalk

Red, like flowers, blowing down the street

Red, like candy, drifting in the gullies

Dancing along to the world’s heart beat

And some haiku:

Leaves on the sidewalk

Colors jumbled like confetti

After summer’s last fling

Arches of color

Bright gothic cathedrals

Welcome us home from the rain

Orange against blue

Making both brighter

Color theory come to life

I hope you like playing with words, too!


Grandma Judy

Moving Forward

Dear Liza,

For thirty years as a teacher, my focus was clear: to be the best teacher I could be. Since I have been retired, I have been figuring out what comes next, what my next focus should be. Two weeks ago today our country made its decision, and we are ready to move forward. And I have decided to help.

Many of our fellow Americans have fallen prey to the notion that it is a dog-eat-dog world, that only the loud and armed have rights, that bullies win. I do not believe this. I believe in the overwhelming power of kindness to heal. The Jewish term for this is “tikkun olam,” repairing the world.

So here are my intentions.

I will help my neighbors. I will donate to food banks, help the homeless, and offer kind words to strangers.

I will help my neighborhood by shopping in local stores and businesses as much as possible, instead of sending money to the bottomless pit that is Jeff Bezos’ pocket.

Grandpa Nelson at the wonderful Helen Bernhardt Bakery

I will help my neighborhood by picking up litter and encouraging others to do so. This weekend while we were our doing our ‘Sunday Service’ we ran into a little girl and her dad. In the course of our conversation, I said, “When you see trash on the ground, you think ‘Someone should clean that up.’” And her dad, without missing a beat, said, “And then you think ‘I could be someone.’” The little girl nodded seriously.

I will offer beauty instead of ugliness, forgiveness instead of anger, gratitude instead of greed. As Gandhi advised, I will be the change I want to see.

My Momma once scolded my dad for spending a whole day of a camping trip picking up trash along a mountain road. “You can’t clean up the whole world, Lowell!”

“I’m not trying to,” he said. “Just this bit.”

So I will just do this bit. Maybe you can do your bit, too?


Grandma Judy

Funk’s Franks

Dear Liza,

Last week when I was walking Auntie Bridgett to the SideStreet Arts for her shift of gallery watching, we ran into a new, delicious place to get lunch!

Charlie Funk and his hot dog cart!

Young entrepreneur Charlie Funk, originally from Chicago, has opened his brand-new hot dog cart at the corner of SE Stark and 28th. He and Funk’s Franks are pleasant and Covid-friendly, and his hot dogs are very tasty!

I bought a Chicago dog, sliding its tinfoil-wrapped goodness into my shopping bag of so I could enjoy it at home. The pickle was spicy, the neon relish crispy, and the tomato fresh and sweet.

Charlie told me that he and his partner have come out from Chicago and will spend the next few weeks in Portland. At the end of the month they will re-locate near our old stomping grounds, in Santa Cruz, California. They should do well there, in the land of warm dry winters and lots of foot traffic.

I wish them well!


Grandma Judy

More Mixing of Media

Dear Liza,

Learning and doing new things is a wonderful way to stay young. Doing the Art Journal challenge with Ruth Inman every week is making me be a better artist, too.

This week I decided to use the mixed media items (address labels, box tops, and can labels) to make a picture that wasn’t about the collage. Let me explain.

I have usually made collages where the paper itself is the feature. The Tootsie Roll wrappers in my bouquet, though bright and fun, never looked like anything other than what they were.

My new challenge was to make a real picture using collage bits. Since I am getting better at faces (by practicing a lot), I decided to draw a face with watercolor pencils, then build the environment with collage.

Naked face and some tentative background…

Once I got the basic proportions in, I built my cityscape background from junk mail. I made them very vertical so they looked like tall buildings. Auntie Bridgett showed me how to make the perspective.

Then came the hard part, making the face. Auntie Bridgett suggested making my character monochromatic, or all one color. I chose blue.

The more I drew, the more I liked it. Shading cheekbones and eye sockets is something that definitely takes practice! Putting in sky and what I thought was a street made it more ‘real’.

He needed a face, so I made eyes out of box tops and junk mail, with eyebrows from address labels, and lips, mustache and goatee from security envelopes.

His hair is made from address labels, with a little black acrylic sponged on to make it more uniform in color. I kept liking it, so I put some details in the background with an Elegant Writer and a few clouds to give perspective.

Looking again, I realized the ‘street’ really looked like an overcoat, so I put in some lapels. And voila! I call him Georges, because he looks French, stylish, and a bit paranoid. I hope when you see this, you will try making a collage picture, too!


Grandma Judy

My Life in Gardens (Part 2)

Dear Liza,

Since I was raised with gardens, I have seen the benefit of them on the mind and spirit, I have enjoyed sharing gardens with the children in my life.

Many years ago, I enjoyed watching young Isaac Godin explore my poppies.

Young Isaac

While being a docent at at First Mayor’s House in Salinas, I enjoyed encouraging g students to taste and touch sheep’s ears (useful for toilet paper), mint (for indigestion) and aloe (for scrapes and burns).

Maria meets aloe

While I was staying in Salinas with you and your family, we had some fun with gardens, too. You helped pull weeds at my dear University Park to celebrate Earth Day.

You even got the hang of hoeing weeds to help your own garden grow!

My mother was a fan of the Frances Burnett story, “The Secret Garden”. She understand that when you nurture the earth, you nurture your own soul. I believe it too, and hope you continue to grow by helping gardens flourish.


Grandma Judy

My Life in Gardens (Part 1)

Dear Liza,

Last night it was below freezing here in Portland, and the high temperature today will be 45. Our winter is here, whether the calendar calls it that or not.

Momma’s house, seen through her back garden

On dark cold days, I miss gardens. My mother was a gardener her whole life. After Dad died, she said caring for the garden everyday was her reason for getting out of bed. I gardened for years, and was afraid I would miss it when we moved into our townhouse. I haven’t, though. Well, maybe, sometimes.

Tha lady herself

When we travel, we always visit the public gardens. Not just beds of flowers, the lay-out says a lot about the esthetic of the people who created them.

Victoria, B.C.’s Butchart Gardens were built in 1909, by Jennie Butchart, the wife of a Portland Cement millionaire. She hated the ugliness his quarries left behind, and spent years developing different styles of gardens to fill them up with beauty.

Gardens in front of Buckingham Palace show glory and power. This happens a lot in Europe, where kings needed to impress other kings.

Buckinghom Palace showing off with geraniums

Versailles’s gardens were built by France’s Louis 16th to impress his courtiers with the infinite power of the monarchy, to keep them in line. As it turned out, his courtiers weren’t who he needed to be worried about.

Built to impress, Versailles goes on and on and on….

The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris were built by Catherine Medici on the grounds of her private estate. They are now what Grandpa Nelson calls “The Best Park in the World”, full of flowers, lawns, and statues, but also cafes, marionette shows and pony rides in summer.

I will tell you about sharing my love of gardens tomorrow.


Grandma Judy

Celebratory Walk and Some Art

Dear Liza,

While we were reading the news and doing Duolingo this past Saturday morning, we heard a “Whoop!”from outside, a random celebratory yell.. We opened the window. More whoops, some car horn honks….

“Turn on the news!!” And there it was, CNN calling Pennsylvania’s ballot count for Joe Biden, putting him over the top and making him the President Elect of the United States.

Mouse was fascinated by the news!

We danced, we sang, we got dressed, we needed to get out and walk. Grandpa Nelson woke up and decided he needed to go with us. We waved to folks who smiled and waved back, sang, danced, and honked their horns. People in the park were happily walking dogs. The whole city was celebrating!

Happy trees in the Park

We stopped by Oblique Coffee for two pounds of their fine dark roasted beans, and the folks there were happy, too. We all felt as though we have been holding our breath and clinching our teeth for four years.

Between happy thoughts of new beginnings for our country (after the remaining 72 days of Mr. Trump’s term are over) and the lovely chilly morning, bright with leaves, we had quite a nice morning.

Weird Masonic symbol with Googly eye

Back home, I felt that I wanted to make some happy art. My first thought was “Making a New World”. I pulled some papers out of my collection, and laid them out very slowly, not thinking much, just eyeballing the colors.

The beginning of my celebratory collage

I cut a circle out of scrap paper and glued the collage papers onto it, overlapping and just playing. Once it dried, I cut out the circle out and put it on a page in my journal, then added some words. A little shading, and I think it’s done.

Sing “Thanks” Everyone!

We ordered pizza for dinner and watched our Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and President-Elect Joe Biden make their first official speeches to a socially distanced crowd in Delaware. They spoke of healing, caring, and uniting our bruised country, of fighting the corona virus and not each other. I was happy all over again at hopeful new beginnings.

Looking forward!


Grandma Judy

Making Faces

Dear Liza,

I have been practicing drawing faces. My first one was Frankenstein, who is pretty easy. I mean, he’s make believe, and already dead, so that helps.
Faces of people who aren’t make-believe or dead are harder.

I will show you my other faces, if only so you will see how difficult they are to get right!

Frankenstein, still my most successful ‘human’.

There are proportions that are supposed to be used when drawing a human face. The eyes are halfway between the top of the head and the chin, the bottom of the nose is halfway between the nose and the chin…. someone said these are ‘just guidelines’ but it turns out, if you don’t pay attention, things go really wrong, really fast.

Sketch of basic proportions

For example, Lips should be human sized, not muppet inspired. These are size 10 lips on a size 6 face, I think. Eyes should … well, I’m not sure what they should do, but these are clearly wrong.

Totally scary FAIL of proportions

I got frustrated, and took a few days to play with collage, and, following Ruth’s advice, made some backgrounds. I felt better and strong enough to try another face.

Okay, I said, this is better. The eyes still aren’t quite right, but she definitely looks human. There may be hope. I liked her well enough to cut her out and tried placing her on my newly painted backgrounds.

She sort of disappeared into the pink, so I gave her some more shading and tried her in a darker setting. She not only looks human, but also like she is in a place, maybe out for a walk or solving a mystery.

I feel like there is reason for hope and I will continue to practice and learn. Here is my lesson from this: Most things are really hard at the beginning. You will sort of stink for a while. But if you want to get better, don’t give up.


Grandma Judy

A Literal Walk in The Park

Dear Liza,

After an awful, nervous night and long cranky morning worrying about election returns, Grandpa Nelson took me out for a nice walk around Laurelhurst Park.

Morrison Street has turned into a colorful tunnel

Nothing soothes rattled nerves like walking around and noticing the colors of leaves, happy dogs chasing frisbees, and little kids on teeny tiny bikes.

Duckweed through aspens

The duckweed was still giving Firwood Lake that odd soccer-pitch color, and it looked weirdly beautiful through the yellow leaves.

Light filled tunnel across the park

There weren’t many people in the park, but those there were were all dressed for the chilly weather and making the park even more picturesque.

We just did a slow lap, then back home. I started working on a new face, which I sketched while looking at a picture of you! If it turns out okay, I will show it to you soon.

As the day goes on and more election returns trickle in, I am feeling better about the future of our country. Fingers crossed!


Grandma Judy