Happy Brain

Dear Liza,

This has been a good week for figuring stuff out. Whether that is because of the new brain exercises I have been doing or not, I think I will keep up with them. A happy brain makes a happy Grandma Judy.

Left- handed portrait of a neighbor

Drawing pictures with my non-dominant hand has made my whole body work harder. My left hand is figuring out how to hold a pencil, my right hand makes a fist, thinking she should be doing something, and my brain works overtime, making sense of the whole situation. It just seems to wake everything up!

Grandpa Nelson, enjoying the sunshine

This week I have gone on more walks. The sudden sunshine after weeks of rain is part of the reason, of course. Blinding sunshine through winter trees is just good for the soul.

Mapping out the day

But there’s more! For the Art Journal, I have made art I really like. Mapping my day as a board game and planning my ‘dream houses’ (yes, there are more than one!) have kept me happily introspective.

One dream house by the sea…

I have also figured out how to re-write my blogs so they can be printed. I sigh big sighs as I hunt up photos from years ago and cuddle up close to the feelings that they conjure.

…and one in Paris!

All of these are good things. Art, writing, figuring things out, and sunshine. I am enjoying them, but also very aware that I am using them as emotional armor against what seems like an approaching storm in our country. In the coming weeks, I am going to need all the joy I can get.

Defensive happiness. It works.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Insomnia

Dear Liza,

I have rarely had trouble sleeping. As a teacher for thirty years and a working mom for twenty of those, I was so tired by bedtime that I was asleep before the lamp was cool. My body and brain had been running so fast all day, it was bliss to just shut down and go away for a while.

The kids, circa 2008…..

But lately, there has been trouble in sleepy-nigh’ night paradise. There are lots of perfectly good reasons for this.

We are in the middle of an ‘atmospheric river’ that is currently dumping seven inches of rain on Portland. I am a good sport about rain, but going for a real decent walk just isn’t as much fun. So I’m not getting as much exercise as I probably should.

Auntie Bridgett, being a good sport

Age may have something to do with it. What seem like little aches during the day become (you’ll forgive the expression) real pains in the neck, and can make finding and keeping a comfortable position difficult.

And then there is the news. Last night my brain kept running scenarios, not of plans, not anything I could help or stop, but scenes from a hypothetical disaster movie called “How it Ended for (your city here).” People were smashing things. Roads were blocked. It was like being in the Capital, but there was no place to be evacuated to. It was just us, and them. I won’t bother attaching photos. I’m sure they are etched into your brain, as well.

So this morning I am hobbling by on two hours sleep, determined to do the day as best I can. To not get snippy with my people, to do art and French and exercise and pet the cat. To do the day and be ready for sleep when it is done.

I wish the same for you.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Brain Work

Dear Liza,

I have known for months that the art I have been doing during the lockdown is making me happier. I have a fun project to do everyday, connect with friends and family over ZOOM, and I get to learn new things.

Now, it turns out it maybe making me healthier and smarter, too. One of the challenges last week had us drawing something with our non-dominant hand. For me, that’s my left, which is usually pretty useless. It was hard!

First non-dominant hand drawing

Just figuring out how to hold the pencil, how much pressure to apply, then making the lines go where I wanted…. it wasn’t pretty, I tell you. Because my notebook has a large spiral binding, I needed to turn the whole thing upside down so it didn’t get in the way of my left hand.

Second….

But I kept at it and finished a drawing of our French press coffee maker that was not terrible. I did some reading about this sort of exercise. “Using your opposite hand will strengthen neural connections in your brain, and even grow new ones”, says Jeff Rose, who began using his left hand because of an injury. “It’s similar to how physical exercise improves your body’s functioning and grows muscles.”

Third….

Well, I thought, I could use some of that! Maybe in addition to my daily routine of doing a French lesson, eating lots of veggies and getting some exercise, I should draw with my left hand, like a set of Frontal Cortex crunches.

So I did. The drawings got better, and I got braver. I did some left-handed watercolors with the drawing, which made them prettier, if not actually better. Because my view is limited, I started copying photos of our cat and of poppies in our old back yard.

Fourth.

And last night, when you and I were drawing together on ZOOM, I realized that by using my left hand everyday, my right hand has gotten smarter! I was able to draw my stuffed dog Sammy much better than I could before. Maybe the fault isn’t in our hands, but in our brains. Maybe I have been forming new pathways in my old brain!

So, go do some non-dominant hand drawing. You will feel clumsy for a while, but it will pay off.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Long Distance Visits

Dear Liza,

Being so far away from you is hard. So is being just across town from the cousins here, but not being able to have a real visit, to hug or sit in the couch and snuggle.

My cartoon from when we practiced ‘spheres’.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to stay in touch. We have been having ZOOM visits and doing art together, practicing drawing toys and trying to make 3-D objects look right. Cousin Kestrel even joined us for one of these art hang-outs, and it was fun to have you both in one “place”.

From the 2016 calendar

And today, a gift that I look forward to every year has arrived. It is the Shutterfly calendar, featuring YOU.

When you were a tiny baby, your Mama realized that she loved posing you for pictures, that your Daddy was really good at taking them, and that I loved getting them. You even got to like the posing, too! A family tradition was born.

You and your beautiful Mama Olga last year

The oldest ones, when you were tiny baby Liza, have been put high up in the garage for safe keeping, and I can’t get photos from them.

But the last few, from 2016 on, are on my shelf and I can visit with you whenever I want.

That latest Liza

We will get to have a real visit soon, but until then, it is nice to be able to see you!

Love,

Grandma Judy

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

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

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 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