…And While We’re on the Subject…

Dear Liza,

So, the other day I was remembering how my Momma encouraged us to deal with sad times by finding things to be grateful for. And then yesterday, coming back from running errands, I found the Gratitude Tree.

This is a tree planted in the parkway at SE 36th and Main Street. I don’t know how long it has been there, and don’t know how I have missed it until now. Indeed, I may have seen it, but since I didn’t NEED it, it didn’t register. Brains are like that.

Anyway, I stopped and had a good visit with the Gratitude Tree. It carries the website http://www.gratitudedojo.com and is covered with Manila tags, which are attached to a rope by thin wire. Hundreds of people have written what they are grateful for and attached their thanks.

These acknowledgements of gifts great and small made me smile. And, like the Grinch, my heart grew a few sizes. Even in the midst of racial upheavals and violence, an international pandemic and incompetent leadership, there is a lot to be grateful for.

I don’t know who has provided our neighborhood with this wonderful way to put our joy and appreciation on display. I wish I did. I would make them a batch of cookies and write them a limerick.

Cookies don’t travel well online, but here is the limerick.

Down in Sunnyside there is a tree,

That became a ray of sunshine for me.

Instead of berating,

This tree’s celebrating!

And the love’s out there for all to see.


Grandma Judy

Black and White Therapy

Dear Liza,

Since we are staying in so much and we can’t get out for concerts or shows, movies and games have become more important in our evening plans.

Fred and Ginger In Top Hat

Our household doesn’t like some very popular types of movies. The string of DC and Marvel comics-based super heroes do not thrill us. We don’t care for violence or explosions. I guess we are kind of old fashioned.

So, we like old fashioned movies!

Alfred Hitchcock’s classics are very well written and suspenseful while much less violent than modern movies of their genre. We enjoy them very much.

Old musicals from the 30s, 40s, and 50s are wonderful to watch when we need a break from reality, when going out for a hot dog can be a health threat and politics as usual has ceased to work for anyone but the politicians.

Last night we watched 1933s Flying Down to Rio, and it was delightful. Besides the incredible clothes and manic facial expressions, it was Fred Astaire’s and Ginger Rogers’ first movie together. They didn’t play the lead characters, but were supporting bigger stars, Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond as star-crossed lovers. They only had one full-on dance number, “The Carioca”, but their humor and chemistry were obvious, and they went on to make nine more movies together.

So, in case you are old fashioned too, here are my (mostly) black and white movie recommendations:

Nick and Norah Charles on the case…

The Thin Man series, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as society detectives. The original is the best, but they are all good, with actors like Jimmy Stewart in unexpected roles.

Dial M for Murder

Hitchcock’s movies are all good, but my favorites are Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief.

Musicals : Anything with Fred Astaire and/ or Ginger Rogers, and movies with Gene Kelly and his casually athletic dance moves, like On the Town or Brigadoon.

On the Town

I also like the old Katharine Hepburn/ Spencer Tracy pair-ups like Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike. I am a sucker for smart ale my dialogue mixed with romance.

ADAM’S RIB, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, 1949

I hope you enjoy some of these, and maybe discover some of your own favorites.


Grandma Judy

Time Team

Dear Liza,

We haven’t been able to go out to a play, concert, or movie since mid-March, so we’ve been watching more television. We are not fans of police dramas or car chases, scary movies or even sit-coms.

Nope. We like documentaries, history, and cooking shows.

Alton Brown

Alton Brown is always fun and educational in his approach to cooking, and the Great British Baking Show is delightfully dotty. I have gotten more adventurous in my baking because of Mary Berry’s demonstration lessons.

Great British Baking Show!

But the hidden gem is a British series called Time Team. This show ran from 1994 to 2014 on BBC 4 and is all about actual archeological digs in England. It is hosted by Tony Robinson, who I first knew as “Baldrick” on the old Black Adder series, and is unapologetically British.

Dr. Carenza Lewis, Tony Robinson, and Phil Harding

Tony presents the digs, which happen all over the UK, but the actual archeology is done by Dr. Mick Aston, Dr. Carenza Lewis, and Phil Harding. Each of these very real and very educated people has their role to play, because each dig is seen as a story in and of itself. It has exposition, character development, conflict, mystery, and resolution.

Since they are all called by their first names, I will, too. Mick is the academic, fascinated by Anglo-Saxon history and dubious of anything too obvious. Carenza is enthusiastic but cautious, making sure the diggers don’t damage history while exploring it.

Dr. Mick Aston and his stripey jumper

And then there’s Phil Harding, who has the best voice on tv. He comes from Wiltshire, southwest of London, and has a West Country accent like Rubeus Hagrid. He is enthusiastic about every aspect of his work, happiest on his knees with a trowel, looking for bits and bobs of history. His main answer to every conflict is, “Ya gotta dig.”

Phil Harding

There are other folks, of course. Geophysics, the folks who see into the ground with radar and magnetometers, archivists who find the old records, and the artist who makes everything come to life. They all add to the mix for a perfectly satisfying dive into British history.

I have learned about Iron Age foundries in the Midlands, Roman villas near London, Anglo Saxon churches in Cornwall, and even a World War II Spitfire crash in Brittany, on a rare foray to the Continent. Time Team is like a class with five of the coolest professors ever.

I know you like learning new things. Maybe you could find Time Team on YouTube, like we did, and enjoy!


Grandma Judy

Sunny Walk, New Things

Dear Liza,

We had some errands to do yesterday, so Auntie Bridgett and I went for a nice long walk. And since all the places we needed to go were down on Hawthorne, we saw how that street is changing during the lockdown.

One of our gnomes, lurking in the ferns….

We saw that Chez Machin, a lovely French bistro type place, has changed its name to Frog and Snail. I am hoping it is just a name change and the owners are the same. They are nice folks, and too many people are losing their livelihoods because of the shutdown. We will have a taste of their frogs and snails when the city opens up more.

Chez Machin is now Frog and Snail

We still found a lot of businesses closed, but the art and messaging is beautiful and hopeful. I took pictures as a way of holding tight onto goodness and love.

I have been so dismayed these last few days at the level of anger and violence that has swept over Portland and the rest of the country that I sometimes just want to curl up and sleep until all the hatred has passed.

But love, beauty and just plain human goodness are making themselves heard, too. And that gives me comfort.

Yep, just that.

After dropping off dry cleaning and mailing packages, we stopped at Hawthorne Liquor. Auntie Bridgett is on a mission to find a certain kind of yummy cognac that we had on an Air France flight, years ago. We have yet to find it anywhere in the city. But I did have time to wonder at this improbable bottle of pear brandy!

How did they DO that?

On the way home we stopped at Whole Bowl for lunch, which we ate while sitting on the chairs outside the temporarily closed Common Grounds coffee shop. We stopped at Chase bank to return someone’s lost credit card, and enjoyed some more street art.

Big smiles come from small stickers!

By the time we got home, we had walked nearly three miles! I felt pretty accomplished, after these long months of too much sofa-sitting. Maybe we can put ourselves out of this hole, after all.


Grandma Judy

Reaching Out

Dear Liza,

Yesterday morning, I was feeling a little sad. The weather here is turning warmer, and the flowers are blooming. It is my favorite time of year to be out and walking, and we are cooped up inside. I thought about what my Dad, your great grandpa Lowell, would say about that. “When you feel down, find someone worse off, and help them,” was always his advice.

So I tried to think who might be feeling even more cooped up than me, and I thought of the very elderly folks who live in our local senior care facility, Laurelhurst Village, up on Stark Street. I was sure the couple hundred folks who live there feel lonesome. I wanted to see if I could help.

Chelsea Madewell (great name!) got back to me, very happy to have letters and cards come her way to distribute to the residents who don’t get regular letters. Photographs and other pictures would be welcome, she said. So I have been writing!

I guess I have some practice at this, from writing letters to my big brother and other ‘older’ friends. Our cat, springtime in the neighborhood, old movies and books, and food, are always good topics. I stay away from politics, because life is hard enough without all that.

I spent the afternoon composing letters and collecting cards from my Momma’s stash and Aunt Bridgett’s card box. There were lots of birthday cards, so I made a special bundle for those. Everyone wants to get a card on their birthday, and in a facility as large as Laurelhurst, they must have one nearly everyday.

I spent this afternoon making some cards to include. They look very childish, but that’s just fine.

Cards to send off…

Great Grandpa Lowell was right. I feel better already.


Grandma Judy

Being Neighborly

Dear Liza,

Last night we had a patio party with a few of our neighbors. With each household staying in our own little yard and safely distanced from each other, we had some wine, cake, and much needed conversation.

My newly-retired feet, a few Summers ago

This was remarkable. I know it shouldn’t have been, but it was. When I was growing up, everyone on the street knew everyone else. We knew what grades their kids were in and which dogs were friendly. But since moving to Portland, we have stayed mostly to ourselves, or just sitting on our nice balcony.

The Courtyard in Fall

Our neighbors are all younger than us, folks who work demanding jobs that keep them inside their houses or away at work for long hours. The lock down has kept them from working so much, and has freed them up. So after Grandpa Nelson mentioned that one of our neighbors seemed a little cabin-feverish, I sent an email, and voila, a party ensued.

Paperwhites enjoying the view in Winter

Our courtyard is pretty any time of the year, and especially nice in spring. The wisteria at the end is starting to green up, but isn’t blooming yet, but the dogwoods and camellias are showing their colors.

We sat and talked, sharing life histories and funny stories. One neighbor who is a surgical nurse gave us the inside scoop on how things are inside the Portland hospitals. (“Amazingly, not too bad,” she said.)

After a few hours, and with one fellow needing to leave to join a “Virtual Happy Hour” with colleagues, we exchanged emails for later meet ups.

We took our folding chairs inside and thought about how ironic it was that what finally got us out to meet our neighbors was…. being told we had to stay inside.

Life is funny that way, I guess.


Grandma Judy

It’s the Little Things

Dear Liza,

We have been staying inside a lot lately. Most days we don’t even step out the front door. And with our chilly spring, even the balcony isn’t very inviting.

Trees in Springtime lingerie

Yesterday when Grandpa Nelson and I walked half a mile to the grocery store, it felt like being let out of jail. We noticed the chilly sunshine on our faces and the tiny leaves sprouting from the trees, looking like lacy underwear. We noticed the kids on the trampoline, jumping high enough to laugh and wave at us over their back fence.

Neighborhood love showing itself

When we got home, we noticed that the dining table was covered with my mask-sewing stuff. Solution? A picnic! Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson moved the coffee table, laid out Momma’s picnic tablecloth, and put together a tray of crackers, Hard boiled eggs, goat Brie (yum), and fruits and veggies. It was a nice break from ordinary dinner, and let me start sewing the next day without having to set everything back up.

Indoor picnic!

And all over the neighborhood, we are noticing that neighbors are reminding each other that they are loved. We find notes posted on poles and chalk writings that make us smile and feel connected. Even when I’m not out in it, I love our neighborhood.


Grandma Judy

Happy Birthday, Vincent!

Dear Liza,

A suitably simple supper

March 30 was the birthday of one of my favorites artists, Vincent Van Gogh. He was born in 1853, so we celebrated his 167th birthday. We ate homemade French onion soup with crusty bread from Grand Central Bakery, and watched Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Vincent in “At Eternity’s Gate.”

Our spirit alter to Vincent

Vincent was born in the Netherlands, and his father was a minister. He tried to do a lot of jobs before turning to painting, including art dealer and minister. Dutch painters (those from the Netherlands) used mostly browns and grays at the time, and he didn’t start using the bright colors we love until he went to Paris to paint in 1886.

When Bridgett met Vincent, 2008

He didn’t stay in Paris for long, but took his new love of color to the south of France when he moved to the little town of Arles. His deep blues and shimmering golden wheat fields capture, for me, the essence of the Provencial region.

Although he is now one of the world’s most famous painters, during his lifetime he sold only one painting. His mental health was unsteady and he didn’t take proper care of himself. He ate too little and drank far too much, and had long periods when he was hospitalized. Through all his troubles, he was supported by his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris.

In the last two years of his life, Vincent did over 200 paintings and 100 drawings. These are the vibrant irises, wheat fields and self-portraits we know him by.

Wheat fields with crows, painted the same month he died

Vincent died in Arles in 1890 of a gunshot wound at the age of 37. For years it was believed he shot himself, but now some folks say he was shot by some boys in the town, though there is no evidence of this. Movies like “At Eternity’s Gate” and “Loving Vincent” propose this idea, but we may never know.

Vincent Van Gogh had a hard life and an eye for color that was ahead of his time. He said he wanted to paint “to show people how he saw and how he felt.”

His works are gifts to our eyes and our souls.


Grandma Judy