Busy Easter

Dear Liza,

Easter Sunday wasn’t as warm or sunny as the day before had been, but it was still nice enough to get out for some fun.

After French practice and crosswords, Auntie Bridgett and I walked by our allotment to see how the seeds are doing. We have sprouts! The radishes and lettuces are sending up tiny green baby bits and I am so excited! I will come by tomorrow with the watering can to make sure they stay nice and moist.

We continued through the neighborhood, past pink drifts and blizzards of cherry blossoms, to the Pix-O-Matic on Burnside. Pix is a fancy French style patisserie. Due to Covid, they have installed high end vending machines to sell their pastries, but also Candy, toys, and odd bits of niftiness. We got a small collection of Easter candies and a pastry called a Shazam to have after dinner. Noticing that Kopi coffee was open, we stopped by and had interesting and delicious Ginger and cardamom coffees, and a blueberry scone. We sat at a tiny table on the sidewalk, watching and listening to all the humanity…..conversations, buses going by, car radios. It was nice to be OUT.

We got home and put the goodies away, did some art, and had lunch. Then Grandpa Nelson joined us and we walked way up into the Laurelhurst neighborhood, loving the spring flowers and blossoms on the hundred year old trees.

We got back in mid-afternoon and it was time to start dinner. I was cooking lamb shanks for the first time, and wanted to give myself time to do it right. Shanks tend to be tough, and need low and slow cooking. I used a recipe from The Spruce Eats online, and they turned out wonderfully! Tender, rich and yummy. I made mint sauce out of our mint from the garden, and it made the lamb even better! Hooray! I love learning how to make new delicious things!

Lamb shanks on the table, decorated with Pam Ferraschi’s ceramics

We remembered to save room for the Pix desserts, however. Shazam is an almond cake with caramel and mousse under a paper thin chocolate wrapping. Delicious!

And THEN it was time for my zoom visit with you, Liza. We chatted, giggled, and drew Easter eggs and bunnies. I showed you the collage I’ve been working on (more about that tomorrow) and visited with your mommy and daddy.

We finished off the busy day with “Escape from the Chateau” and working on a new jigsaw puzzle, and headed for bed.

Not bad for an ‘isolated’ Easter.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Spring Ups and Downs

Dear Liza,

Having celebrated my second lockdown birthday, I have lost some focus lately. Doing art with Ruth Inman and Jody Tockes on ZOOM makes me very happy. So does practicing French on Duolingo, and watching cool British sitcoms and documentaries. But for just a while, these were not feeding what needed feeding.

I got a bit blue. Nothing seemed fun or interesting. I had zero energy and couldn’t carry a conversation. My poor people knew I was sad but didn’t know what to do.

I did a lot of sitting and staring, or holding a book and trying to read. It felt like a light had gone out, that fun was something just out of my reach. I am lucky enough to only deal with this very rarely, and I know it will pass. It is, sort of, day by day.

I go for walks and notice spring flowers and the oddities of our old neighborhood. I try thinking about family and friends, but that just makes me sadder because of the impossibility, just now, of seeing them. I make art and learn history.

I know there is a ramp up out of this darkness, and if I just keep going, I will find it.

See you then.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Playing Around

Dear Liza,

With the weather being so nice and sunny, I have not been making art as much as I did when it was cold. My creative juices have been working to decide what to plant in the allotment. I have even re-designed my garden plot. Here is my new idea, with veggies planted in bunches instead of rows.

New plan for the allotment

But this morning, I got inspired. I wanted to make a flower in a different way, without actually painting a flower. I had gotten inspired by watching Ruth Inman make backgrounds using acrylic paints and old credit cards.

First, I cut a stem, a rose, and leaves from heavy paper and glued them down to the page. Once they dried, I dabbed some yellow, white and blue acrylic paint around. I wasn’t too fussy about where the dabs were.

Then I took an old credit card and used it like a palate knife, scraping the paint around a bit. This mixed the blue, yellow and white together to make some interesting new greens.

I liked the way it looked, but it needed more.

As I put more paint down and scraped it around, I began to despair. It got too dark! It lost the definition of the stem and leaves!

But when I hate a picture, I keeping working until I don’t hate it anymore. I got more delicate and laid in a bit of red and pink for the rose, using a small corner cut from the card for better control.

Better….

I was liking it better, but it wasn’t done. I knew it needed more but I had gotten wary. Was I just going to make it worse? I stepped away for a while. We had dinner and worked on the new jigsaw puzzle.

Close up of the chaotic, joyous effect!

I was in pajamas by the time I figured out what was needed. I pulled out the art supplies and worked for about five minutes, laying down a scraped bit of white here and there around the leaves. Now I liked it.

I really enjoy this new way of painting! It is unpredictable and surprises me with colors and textures. One color will cover another, or reveal it, and it makes my eyes sing. I love staring at a picture I painted and seeing things I didn’t expect.

Who knew?

Love,

Grandma Judy

The New Hundred Acre Wood

Dear Liza,

I am sad to say that my bonsai forest, the Hundred Acre Wood, has died. The smoke from forest fires last summer threw off the trees’ seasonal cycle, and they didn’t survive the winter.

Hundred Acre Wood, before the fire
Hundred Acre Wood and unfortunate peasants, in the snow

So this weekend I replanted it with three new trees we got at Portland Nursery.

Cypress, cotoneaster, and larch

Replanting is always an exciting thing! It has the promise of new life and new beginnings. In doing a bonsai, it is creating a miniature world that I can visit right out on the balcony. I can imagine I am in a spinney in Wales or just up in Forest Park.

The New Hundred Acre Wood

Even in regular times, I spend a lot of time in my imagination. But this past year’s restrictions have given me even more reasons to walk around the backwoods of my mind, and it’s nice to have new trees, even tiny ones, to walk under.

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

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

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

Abstract…. Reality?

Dear Liza,

You know about abstract art. It is all about shapes and colors, light and dark, and most definitely not about showing what things really look like. There is reality, and there is abstraction. They are two different things. Right?

Right.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at my photos from our trip to Fort Stevens beach and saw a whole lot of abstraction. Lines. Fragments. Blobs.

If I did the research, I could write a thousand words on the psychological connections between reality and abstraction. Some Ph.d’s undoubtedly have.

But I just wanted to show you some really pretty, interesting shapes that I will be playing with in my paintbox. And to show that the line between reality and abstraction isn’t so clear, after all.

Keep looking. Keep thinking.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Day Away from it All

Dear Liza,

We have been very caught up in the excitement about Mr. Trump’s leaving the White House and President-Elect Biden’s inauguration. Grandpa Nelson and I have been following the news for who was getting pardoned, who was being appointed, and what was going to happen next. Maybe we were a little too focused.

So Grandpa Nelson decided we needed a day away from the computer, ipads and television. Auntie Bridgett was enlisted and we all went to the beach.

The bright day glowed as we drove west across the Tualatin Valley and into the Coastal range. The forest was a combination of blinding sun and deep shade, acting like a strobe as we zipped past. Since it was the day after the MLK holiday, traffic was light.

Since Covid has made us wary of any restaurants with only indoor seating, we went right past Camp 18, a delightful log cabin that serves enormous cinnamon rolls. In Gearhart, we found Grizzly Tuna, a tiny drive-through serving tuna and chips, fish tacos, and other (mostly) fried goodies. We grabbed some for Auntie Bridgett and me, then drove to Dairy Queen for Grandpa Nelson, and ate right in the car.

We continued up to Fort Stevens State Beach and the wreck of the Peter Iredale. This is one of my favorite places on the coast so far. The wide, flat beach is great for walking, and the long views and whipping wind are good for over-stuffed, urbanized brains. It was sparkling, chilly, and wonderful.

We did notice something we weren’t as crazy about, though. Cars on the beach. This is an historic thing on the Oregon Coast, actually. Years ago, when the roads between small towns weren’t very good, the wide, flat beach was the best route. Now that the roads are smooth and reliable, most folks use them. But driving on the beach is still allowed, and a few trucks made zipping passes as we walked along.

We walked, as my Dad would say, “until we were half tired”, and found a nice long to sit on. We didn’t talk much, just stared at the waves and the tiny sandpipers, watched Auntie Bridgett sketch, and thought non-political thoughts.

When it was time to go, Auntie Bridgett found a surprisingly heavy stick, which she immediately adopted and began dragging along. We named it Sticky and traded off walking it down the beach, pulling it along like a reluctant pet. We walked and dragged, all the way back up to the wreck of the Peter Iredale, and left Sticky there, resting against the iron ship’s remaining ribs.

We tucked into the car and followed the Columbia River home, gawking at tiny towns and enjoying glittering views of the river through bare winter trees. The sun was just going down as we pulled into Portland, got stuck in traffic on the Fremont Bridge, made a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong side of the river, and eventually got home.

What a fabulous, squinty-bright day!

Love,

Grandma Judy