Jelle Marble Runs!!

Dear Liza,

Jelle Bakker

Yesterday I learned about a really cool thing. Since there are are no professional sports to watch because of the corona virus shut down people have been missing having games (any games) to cheer at. John Oliver featured something called “Jelle Marble Races” on his show, “Last Week Tonight”. We were curious, and went to the Youtube site to see.

These are so much fun! In 2006 a fellow named Jelle Bakker, who lives in the Netherlands, created this YouTube channel that shows marble races. These are run on enormous tracks that he creates, both indoors and outside in the forest. He even creates marble sized arenas from Duplo bricks and fills them with marble-fans.

Jelle’s Duplo arena filled with marble fans, cheering their favorites

The runs are interesting and well-made, and the marbles are the big fat ones so we can see them easily. The filming and commentary are comparable with professional sports, with wide angles and close-ups, even split screen and slo-mo for the photo finishes.

The logo (every league needs a logo, right?)

We chose our favorites and were soon cheering. Auntie Bridgett cheered for Blue Moon and Deep Ocean, and Grandpa Nelson and I rooted for an orange and black marble named Nemo. We didn’t win, didn’t care, and had so much fun!

The eight-year-old in me is inspired! Jelle uses sand for his outdoor tracks and smooth wood for inside, but even if you don’t have either of those, I’m sure you could come up with a way to make a fabulous marble run!


Grandma Judy

Outing and Abouting

Dear Liza,

Ready to head out

We have been in corona virus shut down for two months now, and we have gotten better at it. I no longer forget my mask (and have to go back for it), and I keep an eye up to avoid getting too close to folks. Most people in this part of Portland are wearing masks, but a troubling number, especially those old enough to know better, are not.

Photo credit: Kathy Williams

With Grandpa Nelson having the fevers, fatigue, and general crappy feeling that come with a touch of Covid-19, we are staying home even more. Auntie Bridgett and I get our outside time when we walk to the market for groceries. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are both taking care to keep their carts clean and folks well apart, limiting the number of people in the store.

Safeway is larger and less diligent, but has put in arrows to show “one way” aisles and big dots on the floor to remind folks to socially distance. Even our local Stumptown coffee has painted horse shoes on the sidewalk for safe sidewalk ordering.

A safely socially distanced coffee purchase

Although we can now get toilet paper most days, some things are still in short supply. Ginger root, which comes from China, has been harder to find, and most of the garlic is now coming from good old Gilroy, down by Salinas. And there are some amusing new items showing up!

A powerful (apparently) alternative to toilet paper

In the neighborhood, we are seeing the inevitable signs of spring. Giant poppies are charging out of the ground.


Irises up to my shoulder lean against each other like drunken friends.


Local artists are making bits to amuse folks. This fellow, who goes by the name “Toast Ghost”, paints images on metal and attaches them magnetically to metal parts of the landscape. We found this one stuck on the bolt of a telephone pole!


Well, that’s all the news from here for now. More tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

An Evening in with the Hot Sardines

Dear Liza,

Monopoly has a few downsides!

Since we are in quarantine, our nights out at concerts, restaurants and museums have been temporarily suspended. This has made us think more about how to entertain ourselves at home.

The Hot Sardines!

We play Scrabble and Bananagrams, and have, just once, resorted to Monopoly. We are learning about archeology with Tony Robinson and Time Team. We have movie nights with popcorn and dance parties to Glenn Miller or the Bee Gees. And last night, our favorite hot jazz band, the Hot Sardines, helped us out.

Elizabeth Bougerol and Evan Palazzo

The group is made up of ten people, depending on the venue, but always features Evan Palazzo on piano, Elizabeth Bougerol as their fabulous vocalist, and A. C. Lincoln, a tap dancing percussionist. Trombones, saxophones, a stand-up bass, another drummer and even a ukulele make the magic happen. They focus on jazz from the first part of the twentieth century, about 1900 to 1950. Their repertoire includes Fats Waller’s “Your Feets Too Big”, Sophie Tucker’s “Some of These Days”, and Al Dublin’s “Lulu’s Back in Town”.

The group was live streaming a show they did last year at Joe’s Pub in New York City. That means we got to see the show, called Welcome Home/ Bon Voyage, which was their latest album at the time. It was shown for free, but you could donate to the band if you liked. Musicians have to pay rent, like everyone else, and this is a hard time for them.

It was almost like we were there. We missed the feeling of being part of the crowd, which always makes a concert more fun, but the good part was that when the music got so good we wanted to get up and dance, we DID!

Elizabeth Bougerol has a wonderful voice and fluid jazz style. She grew up just outside of Paris, and many of her songs feature songs we love, sung in French, which we also love. My favorite is “I Wanna be like You” from Disney’s The Jungle Book. She sings it in French because that’s how she first heard it, on a dubbed version of the movie.

As much as I miss being able to get out and about, I think we are all going to be fine. Different, but fine.


Grandma Judy

Parody of Sonnet 29

Dear Liza,

Here I am again, playing with Shakespeare! One of his more famous Sonnets is Number 29, which starts, “When in disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes…”. It talks about how hard it is to be down on your luck and jealous of other people’s successes, and how nice it is, in those hard times, to have someone in your life who loves you best.

Inspired by our current global mess, here is my take.

The Man-Child

Parody of Sonnet 29

Now in disgrace upon the global stage
Our once-proud nation fumbles forward, blind
Led by a man-child driven by bent rage
Fueled by the remnants of his tiny mind

In Germany their leader knows the facts
And South Korea quickly got the jump
But here the scientists all got the ax
If, in their knowledge, they spoke anti-Trump

But there is hope out in the country wide
In folks who want to keep their fellows safe
We can be careful, even stay inside,
 E’en when the confines of our houses chafe

To save ourselves from tantrum throwing men,
We need to be the grown-ups, once again

Hope you are well, and stay well!

Love, Grandma Judy

Working on the Bonsai

Dear Liza,

Just about one year ago, I planted some birch and maple seedlings into a shallow pot and named it The Hundred Acre Wood. I have always been fascinated with bonsais and wanted to create my own tiny forest.

The Hundred Acre Wood, May 2019

Of course, there is more to bonsai than just sticking seeds in pots. Their beauty is in their perfect proportions and their aged, rugged beauty. Most fine bonsais, like those displayed at the Japanese Garden here in Portland, are hundreds of years old, taking generations of gardeners to create and maintain.

One of the bonsai at the Japanese Garden

The gentleman showing the bonsais told a story about a man who had taken on the care of an ancient bonsai and then died suddenly. The Guardians of Heaven asked him if he had arranged for the care of his bonsai and when he said “No,” he was sent back to get that in order before he would be allowed to pass away. A bonsai is a serious commitment.

The Hundred Acre Wood, September, 2019

My Hundred Acre Wood lives on my balcony, getting just an hour of direct sun a day, and it seems to be doing well. Since it is a year old now, I have started to try and develop the gnarled, twisted trunks that I admire so much.

Hundred Acre Wood, being trained to lean

Using a soft yarn to be gentle on their fragile trunks, I have given most of them them a lean, all in one direction, to look like they have all been subject to the same winds. I have tried three different techniques to hold them at about a 45 degree angle: yarn tied to a rock; yarn tied to the pot’s support; and a stick, wedged against the side of the pot. It’s like a science experiment that will play out over many years.

My bonsai is a good companion, especially in quiet, slow times like the current shutdown. I can lavish attention on it or just give it the required water, and it is fine. I can wander its tiny acreage and escape myself for a while.

I look forward to watching it grow and develop over many years.


Grandma Judy

Smiling Anyway II

Dear Liza,

It was nice to see you, your Mommy and your Daddy on our Mother’s Day ZOOM call yesterday. It was nice to visit with Auntie Katie, too. I am surrounded, as much as I can be, by people who love me. That is a real gift.

Auntie Bridgett and I even got out for a bit of a walk. We avoided the park, because we had seen dozens folks heading that direction and knew it would be too crowded to safely social distance. We walked through our Sunnyside neighborhood and enjoyed seeing flowers, kids on bikes, and even a “Free to a good home” bicycle sitting on the corner. I hope it finds someone nice.

We were happy to see Stumptown Coffee open, and got an iced coffee to help our closest coffee shop. I found the image of the day there, in this magnificent lupine growing out front. The angle of the sun was such that it highlights the Aalto Bar, which isn’t even open now, but that’s the way the photograph clicks sometimes.

We also found this cartoon by a local artist, posted on a telephone pole, that sort of said it all for me at that moment. Amidst the flames, we sit in our houses and cope. “This is fine,” we say.

So, for now, I will be fine, even when I’m not. I will appreciate and relish the beautiful while quietly acknowledging the underlying “What the Heck?” aspects of our current situation. It’s a delicate balance.


Grandma Judy

There Will Come Soft Rains

Dear Liza,

I went out for a walk to the grocery store the other day, and took some pictures of our fabulously colorful Portland spring. There were not many people out, because of the shutdown, and the combination of uncanny quiet and lush flowers reminded me of something and tickled in the back of my brain.

I just figured out what it was.

There is a poem called There will Come Soft Rains, by Sara Teasdale. She wrote it 1918, in response to the horrors of World War I that the world was living through at the time. The Spanish Flu, spread by the movement of soldiers and lack of health measures, swept across the world at that time, killing 63,000 American soldiers, more than the enemy‘s weapons did.

Sara Teasdale was feeling as some of us are now, despairing of our capacity for self destruction, and the poem tells of the beauty of nature that will go on when mankind has finally wiped itself out.

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows calling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous whit

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Our country has lost, so far, 72,000 people to Covid-19. It is so sad that it hurts to think about it. But most people are doing what they can, staying inside, wearing masks, sending help to family and neighbors, supporting the doctors and nurses. We are being our best selves. This is how we will survive.

And then we can get out into the springtime again.


Grandma Judy