Spring… At Last?

Dear Liza,

This winter has felt extra cold and wet. We have, in fact, had four inches more rain than last year, and a few more nights that went below freezing. But spring can’t wait forever!

We are seeing tiny signs of it everyday. Snowdrops have sprouted in yards in our Sunnyside neighborhood, cheering up some very muddy gardens.

This amazingly tall azalea bush in Laurelhurst Park bloomed last week in a burst of energy. This week, leaves too tiny to photograph are showing up.

The local daffodils are thinking about blooming, but aren’t sure. With the cold and snow we’ve had lately, I don’t blame them for being a bit reluctant.

But on our walk yesterday evening, we had a clear sunset, and today we have sun! It is predicted to get above 50F, which means I can spray the protective coating on your book cover and wrap it up for delivery.

See you soon!


Grandma Judy

Happy Nutty Pi Day!!

Dear Liza,

Did you know that March 14th is a special day for MATH? It’s Pi Day! Since the number Pi (which is useful for figuring out the area and circumference of a circle and lots of other things) is usually rounded to 3.14, March 14 is a day of celebration for all things Math and PIE.

This year, instead of going out for pie, I made one. Actually, I made a bunch of little blueberry tarts. And since Auntie Bridgett has some problems with gluten, I made my first ever nut-based pie crust.

I used the Basic Nut Pie Crust recipe from the FOOD52 website. It is very simple, just ground walnuts, a little sugar and salt, and some butter and egg white to hold it together.

When all the ingredients were mixed together, it was a nutty, delicious sort of play dough!

I sprayed muffin tins with baking spray, then used my wet fingers to smush the dough into a crust in each tin, and baked them at 325F until they were all light brown and smelling delicious. Then I went hunting for a recipe for the filling.

I decided on the Allrecipes site, and found their recipe designed to be used with frozen berries. The filling thickened quickly and I spooned it into the cool tart shells. The recipe calls for baking the tarts for 30 minutes, but after just 10, the crusts were getting too brown, so I pulled them out.

Once the tarts had cooled, I put them in the fridge to wait until after dinner. I served them with some yummy yogurt, and from the look on Bridgett’s face, I’d say they were a success.

I love trying new recipes, especially when they turn out so delicious!


Grandma Judy

Back to Collage

Dear Liza,

I had a lot of fun making the illustrations for your story, and I learned a lot about composition and color while I was doing it. Now I’m back to making postcards with it.

I used one of the first drafts of the ‘people’ in your story for this one, along with the intense colors from our Portland Art Museum magazine. The words are the packaging from the Awesome Socks I get every month from your dad. I love their motto, “Don’t forget to be awesome!”

This cutie-pie pirate skeleton dude was in an Animation magazine and just needed an acrylic speckled beach and some vivid sky, again from our PAM magazine. The tricky part was cutting out all those skinny bones! The sun helped fill up that bare corner.

Auntie Bridgett’s adorable cartoon of an artist’s mannequin was in a years-old pile of scrap paper. I used it and a page from an out-of-the-garbage Rand McNally Atlas to make this card about heading your way soon.

My most recent project is the cover for my travel journal for the trip. Pages from the Atlas, joined with a fashion eyeglass picture, a scene from the AAA travel magazine, and a bunch of words made it look just right.

And yes, I admit to altering the map of Europe so that Amsterdam and Paris would fit in the same pair of glasses! So sue me.


Grandma Judy

Making a New Stufftie

Dear Liza,

One thing I love about spending time with Cousin Kestrel is that she is always thinking of new projects. These keep me on my toes as we work together to problem-solve.

All projects involve problem solving…. What fabric to choose? How big should it be? How will we connect the bits? What will we do next? These are the sort of teachable moments that I love to watch happen.

A few weeks ago, when Harold came home from San Diego, Kes said that we should make a new stufftie to keep him company. We dug through the big fabric box and she chose the remnants of the same fabric I had used years ago to make placemats for your mommy! It was very pretty, but there wasn’t a lot left.

Kestrel cut pattern pieces out of newspaper, trying to make them big enough to allow for the seam allowance. She pinned and cut and quickly got the hang of running my old Pfaff sewing machine.

Once we started hand-sewing the parts together, it became clear that our new friend’s head wasn’t big enough! There wasn’t enough fabric…. Or was there? Some clever piecing allowed us to make a head of proper proportion, and was barely noticeable on the back of his head.

By sewing and stuffing each section of the stufftie separately and hand-sewing the sections together, we created a delightfully floppy friend. Kes said the fabric pattern looked like a teacup, so we named him Chashka, which is the Russian word for teacup. Kes chose some weird, wonderful spiral buttons for his eyes, which she will attach later on.

Thursday afternoons sure are fun around here!


Grandma Judy

A Little Birdhouse in Our Soul

Dear Liza,

I know Spring is coming, even though we are still under chilly, drippy skies, and I want to be ready. It’s way too early to start any plants in the veggie plot (as I learned last year), but I want to do SOMETHING!

But let me start from the beginning.

Last month, our dear friends Kitty and Mike came to visit with their sons Isaac and Rhys. I took care of Isaac when he was tiny and am very pleased to see him grown up and applying to colleges.

While they were here, we visited Creative Culture. This is a wonderful space where you use their tools and supplies to make your own crafts. It isn’t cheap, but it sure is fun! They also serve amazingly huge milk shakes, which Isaac enjoyed as his 18th birthday dessert.

The boys made nail and string art, which was interesting but very noisy. Bridgett made a small terrarium. I painted a birdhouse, and I am really happy with the way it turned out.

This morning, Auntie Bridgett got up on a ladder and hung it on our balcony. It looks fabulous! All I need to do is put out the “For Sale” sign and wait for some birds to move in.

Of course, we will call them Kitty and Mike.


Grandma Judy

Getting Revved Up

Dear Liza,

We are starting to get ready for our trip to visit you!!

We have dusted off the passports, bought the tickets, and arranged for a sweet cat-sitter for Mouse. We are looking at all our travel books, feeling homesick for dear Paris and three other cities we have never even been to.

With weeks still to go until we leave, I have been channeling all this travel energy into an art-y calendar. This has allowed me to do my worrying in advance, looking at days that will be spent on planes, trains, and bicycle.

Each day has a color that shows what sort of energy I’m expecting in that day. Some days are bound to be more chaotic than others… our first day in Paris (notice the green swoosh of the Seine flowing through those days) and the Sunday when Auntie Katie and the cousins will join us (and you) in Horsens.

Of course, this is all speculation, but it is a harmless place to get my ideas and dreams for the trip down on paper when words escape me.

See you soon, my love.

Grandma Judy

C’est Fini!!

Dear Liza,

Your book is finished!! Two solid days of being snowbound in Portland got me focused and brave enough to get it done.

After using a heavy grommet punch to put holes in the fabric covered spine, I clamped the pages, illustrations, and covers together. Ruthie Inman had sent me a whole book-sewing kit as part of her continuing role as “Judy Nudger”, getting me over being afraid of new things.

It must have worked, because here I am!

Using the awl from the kit, I pushed and twirled through all 70 pages, then started sewing! This is a technique called Stab Binding, and it was wonderful! I watched several YouTube lessons, then made up my own pattern.

I had been looking forward to this part, and it didn’t disappoint.

How satisfying to put the whole project together with my own hands!

See you soon!


Grandma Judy

Not Quite Done Yet!

Dear Liza,

Every time I think I’m nearly done with your story, I trip over the next step.

It took about five months to get the story itself written. Research on Denmark and its geography took a while, then making up how to get around and what should happen next, as well as how to create coded clues, kept me very busy and were lots of fun!

Once the adventure was written, I realized that it needed some illustrations. So there were a couple of months of noodling around with colored pencils, paints and collage. I looked at my favorite illustrators for inspiration. I studied Eric Carle, Margaret Wise Brown, and Dr. Seuss. I ended up with a combination of Henri Matisse and a clever third grader.

Since this is going to be a hand-made, hardcover book, I needed to come up with a design for the cover. It had to be like the inside illustrations but different enough to not give the story away.

Printing the pages took longer than I expected, as well.

Wrestling with Microsoft Word running on an Apple Mac was a test in checking every box and knowing when to walk away rather than smacking the equipment. I lost count of how many pages got printed too small, sideways, or just totally wrong. Let’s just say I have plenty of scratch paper for my next project. But it eventually worked out.

What’s next? Printing the illustrations, punching holes, and lacing the whole darn thing together!!


Grandma Judy

Tying Up Loose Ends

Dear Liza,

I have been working on the illustrations for your story, “Adventure Grandma”, for months now. It has taken a long time because I have no training in art or design and am making the whole thing up as I go.

I started with drawings, but they were not as bold as I wanted.

Then I tried collages made of ‘found’ papers from magazines and packages, but it was too much of a mishmash.

I wanted all the pages to go together, to have some elements in common, so I painted my own. A strong red, soft yellow and several different blues and greens did the trick. For the abstract people, I painted a little orange and lots of black on several sheets of mixed media paper.

Then I designed pictures that had diagonal lines, to show movement and action.

I am very happy with how the illustrations have turned out!
Now I am doing hand to hand combat with my computer to get the story printed out the way I want. I promise it will be ready for you in Spring!


Grandma Judy

Washing Harold

Dear Liza,

Our stufftie buddy Harold has had a busy life down in San Diego. He has been an emotional support stufftie for Madi, who is just your age and has needed lots of hugs. He has been to sleep-overs and out on bike rides through the neighborhood.

It was time for a bath. The problem is, Harold’s body is made of a knitted chenille fabric which has gotten very threadbare over the years, and we were afraid the usual washing techniques might be too much for him. So washing machine, or even hand-washing, were out.

He got baking soda. Put in a bag, sprinkled with baking soda and shaken gently, Harold looked, for a while, like a dusty snowman. I took him out on the balcony to shake him off so I didn’t make drifts in the house.

He was much cleaner, but his face, which had gotten lots of post-cheerleading, make-up laden hugs, was still schmutzy.

I rubbed gently with some dish soap, pulling off layers of color, and eventually knew I had to stop.

Here is our boy as he is, happy to be home, much loved, and a bit cleaner. He doesn’t look like he did fifteen years ago, but who does?

None of us can be bathed back in time.


Grandma Judy