Shakespearean Corona Sonnet

Dear Liza,

I have studied a lot of Shakespeare‘s writings, and I love how his plays tell human stories that haven’t changed much since the 16th century. Forbidden romances, jealous siblings, and greedy politicians are all very contemporary.


Poetry has rhyme schemes and beats, called “feet”. The sonnet form I am playing with has ten feet per line, four lines in each of the three stanzas, and a rhyming couplet at the end. The rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. It is called the Shakespearean Sonnet.

Someone else’s take on Trump via the Bard

Many talented authors have been inspired to write parodies of President Trump, because of his personality and seemingly endless need for attention. He seems to have the same “tragic flaws” as many of Shakespeare’s characters. I have been inspired to use a Shakespearean Sonnet to write a poem about our current situation. Here it is:


Corona virus has us locked inside
To try and let the scientists learn more
Though some, inspired by His foolish pride
Head out to let their childish voices roar

But most of us, seeing the greater need
And following directions as we should
Allow the pace of life to go half-speed
And take it easy, for the common good

Now locked away within our cozy homes
We spend our days alone, or with our clan

Imprisoned in our stately pleasure domes
We see our leader as a worthless man

This is the lens through which we see so clear,

It’s Trump, more than the virus, we should fear.


And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.


Grandma Judy

McMenamin’s, Socially Distanced

Dear Liza,

Giant painted tapestry in the Backstage Bar

I’m sure I have told you about our chain of restaurants and pubs owned by the brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin. These two fellows started buying cool historic buildings in 1985 and turning them into places to sell their good food, beer and wine, and have concerts. They have been incredibly successful, now having more than seventy places, large and small.

Jerry Garcia weathervane at Edgefield

Speaking of size, Brian once said, “You can’t have too small a bar. We know. We’ve tried.” Inside their Kennedy School Hotel venue here in Portland, there are bars in hall closets, called “Honors” and “Detention”, which are about fifty square feet each. Tiny. Cozy. Delightful.

Whimsical school kids at The Kennedy School

The coronavirus has temporarily shut them all down, of course. No sunny afternoons at Edgefield. No pinball at the Back Stage Bar. No celebrating Harry Potter’s birthday at the Kennedy School. Big, sad sigh. Seriously.

Breakfast crowd at Kennedy School

Then we got some good news. Some of their restaurants, including the Bagdad Theater just half a mile way, were re-opening for take out! Hooray!! Not only could we get some yummy food and wine to celebrate Friday, but we could support our local guys and do our part to make sure they could weather this crisis.

“The Tempest” at The Mission Theater

We called, ordered, and walked down. Like most things they do, they had planned their partial re-opening well. Social distancing guidelines were taped on the sidewalk and a desk was set up for getting your order to you. Sterilized pens were there to sign your credit card receipt. The managers running the place were masked, cheerful, and efficient.

…and our local Bagdad Theater

It felt so good to have this little bit of normalcy, to eat a great Communication Breakdown Burger and tater tots, and drink the brothers’s yummy Black Rabbit wine, even if we ate it at home instead of their delightful dining room.

A toast! To Mike and Brian and their whimsical empire!


Grandma Judy

Getting off the Couch

Dear Liza,

Mouse and me, doing our Couch thing…

Before we all had to stay inside so much, Grandpa Nelson and I would take long walks all over the city. We walked eight miles to Sellwood one day, and four miles up to Klickitat Street on a regular basis. But now, with social distancing and not wanting to spread the virus, we are staying inside. We sit on the couch with the cat, reading or talking or watching television.


With all that sitting, I got bored, so I baked some cookies. And bread. And marble pound cake. And then it was right there, going stale every minute, so I ate it.

I was getting chunky, and developing butt roots. You know, where your butt grows roots into the couch.

This week I decided to start exercising. I put on some music and jogged in place for a few minutes. I stopped when I got out of breath, but in an hour or so I got up and did another few minutes.


Auntie Bridgett found the five pound barbells upstairs, and I started jogging around the house while carrying them. It’s been four days now, working out for about twenty minutes a day, and I am feeling better than I have in weeks. I look forward to my three times a day ‘music and moving’ sessions.

I choose the music for pep and happy connections. Vince Guaraldi, Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” most of the Hamilton soundtrack, or anything by ABBA, get my heart singing and my blood pumping.

And energy

My body is happier, my mind is more rested, and I don’t feel the need to eat everything in sight. It’s good to know that when I am allowed to go for a long walk again, my body will be able to.


Grandma Judy

Zooming Along

Dear Liza,

It is ironic that being unable to get out and about here in town has gotten me closer to friends far away.

Ruth Inman

My friend from high school, Ruth Inman, now lives in Illinois. She is an artist who makes all sorts of cute cards and mixed media pieces, and the other day she invited me to an art group she hosts in an online program called ZOOM. She does a lot of these meetings, and even runs classes online.

This group of women all live near Ruth in Illinois. Some of them are professional artists and, since everyone is staying home, are doing art in their basements or extra bedrooms instead of their studios. I did mine in the dining room, because my office desk is too tiny to allow art supplies and messes.

My art from the session (I’m still not sure if it is finished)

It was so much fun! It was run less formally than a class, and was more like coloring with Cousin Kestrel. Ruth gave us a supply list and ideas, and we’d play with it while she worked in hers.

Ruth’s piece from the same session!

We chatted about other things as we went along, of course: Dogs, friends, and news of the virus. Illinois has extended its stay-at-home orders into June even as Georgia is lifting theirs, which none of us think is a good idea. Everyone has a very conservative attitude about physical exposure. “Why would I shake your hand?” One of them said, “I don’t know where it’s been.”

Lori Lee Bowles Sampson, a professional artist, did this one

By the end of the session, we all had really different looking art using cardboard, tissue paper, water colors, and sharpies. And that’s okay, because it is ART! And there is no wrong.


Grandma Judy

Earth Day, 2020

Dear Liza,

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. I was in 8th grade and knew nothing about it. By the next spring, I had started high school, met your Grandpa Nelson, and gotten a new bunch of friends. We all celebrated Earth Day that year by planting African violets around what was then called The New Building at Mira Costa High School, in Manhattan Beach, California.

It felt good, being out there in the sun with other idealists, feeling we were making a difference, making the world better and more beautiful.

In the fifty years since, we have seen a lot of movement toward this ideal. Solar power, wind power, more awareness of one’s “carbon footprint”, and the idea that living closer to nature is better. Counteracting those advances are the powerful forces of corporate greed, and a current President who believes whatever his corporate buddies pay him to believe. This tug of war has been going on since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, but every year it feels more desperate.

Even the cars are resting

And now, with the country mostly locked down and staying inside, what have we learned? For one thing, that many of the jobs that people have been commuting to, burning gallons of gas and creating tons of greenhouse gases, can really be done from home. We don’t have to trash the world to make a living.

I hope people take this time to re-think their habits, and see that home is good, peace is good, and that madly dashing from one place to another doesn’t make their lives better.

And that’s my soapbox speech for Earth Day, 2020.


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

Seven Years Old!

Dear Liza,

Two days old, still very tiny, and still crying a lot

Just seven years ago, you were born in Salinas. I was living there too, just a few blocks from your house, and because I had good substitute teachers, I got to spend a whole week with you, all day, every day, after you were born.

Newborn babies need their mommies most of all, for nourishment and loving. Their daddies need love and support, and time to learn how to care for the tiny new one. But the mommies and daddies need lots of rest, as well as laundry done and food cooked, and the babies need to be washed and rocked. That’s where Grandmas come in.

Feeling better!

You weren’t my first grand baby, or even my second, but you lived just blocks away and I got to see you so often! Day by day you cried less and looked around more, recognizing faces and songs, becoming the delightful person you are.

Learning the perks of baking for the family…

When you were about two, you could stand on a chair at the kitchen counter and help when we made bread and cut vegetables for our Wednesday night dinners. I loved showing you how to trim the rosemary from the garden and introducing you to my old dolls and favorite stuffed animals.

and helping in the garden.

And when I retired and we decided to move, the hardest part was moving away from you in Salinas. Jasper and Kestrel, your cousins are up here, but with the coronavirus shut down, I can’t see them, either. So I am spending some time missing you and those first years we knew each other.

Hanging out with Cathy, Bubbles, and Elefante


Grandma Judy

Up and At It Again

Dear Liza,

Pretty Florentines!

I have always known that I am happier when I am busy. Part of why I am sad during the shut down is that I have not been able to do research at the library or go for long walks around town.

After my friend Ruth cheered me up, I woke up this morning and decided to bake some cookies. I will to get them to Auntie Katie to share with her family and deliver to some of her Books with Pictures customers on her delivery route.

Ugly, but still delicious, Florentines

I like baking, and the good thing about baking fancy cookies like Florentines is, even when they are too ugly to give away, they are delicious! So, I cheered myself up by baking and eating cookies.

Sidewalk art

Then Auntie Bridgett and I celebrated Friday by getting take out dinner from Hoda’s Mediterranean Restaurant just a block away on Belmont. It was delicious, and enough food for lunch tomorrow, too. And we even got a short walk around the neighborhood to see the pretty dogwoods blooming.

Blooming dogwoods

I hope you are happy and helping your Mommy.


Grandma Judy

With a Little Help…

Dear Liza,

Grandpa Nelson, me, and Ruthie, many years ago

I don’t know if you know it, but some other people read these letters I write to you. One of my oldest friends read my letter about being sad yesterday, and she wrote me!

Her name is Ruth Inman and we met in high school, a whole long time ago. We were in choir together and had lots of fun singing and being silly together. Then life got complicated and she moved away, and we lost touch. Many years later, we found each other and Grandpa Nelson and I stopped to see her in Illinois on our very first trip to Europe.

A more recent picture of Ruthie.. isn’t she pretty?

Then a whole bunch of years went by again and we found each other on Facebook! She is still in Illinois, and she is an artist, like Auntie Bridgett! We have so much in common, sewing and loving art and finding our footing as grandmas and self-quarantined people.

Her words of encouragement helped pull me out of feeling sad, and I got up and did some things… filing old bank statements, making chili, going for a walk (yes, I wore my mask). And sure enough, I felt better.

It’s sure nice to have friends out there in the world.

Love, Grandma Judy

Auntie Katie's Finding a Way

Dear Liza,

You know that Auntie Katie has a bookshop called Books with Pictures. She sells comic books, graphic novels, illustrated histories and biographies, and all sorts of wonderful stories. Her store is at 1401 SE Division Street here in Portland and has been doing very well.

But how can you sell books when people can’t come into your store because of the corona virus shutdown? It isn’t easy, surely, but Katie is finding all sorts of ways.

She has set up a Personal Shopping page on her website ( so people can tell her who they are shopping for, what topics they like, and how much they want to spend. Katie knows her books so well, she can match any reader with something they will like.

Before the shut down…

She has set up subscriptions so that people can get their favorite newly-released comics every month, or Katie herself will choose books like the ones customers have enjoyed in the past.

Delivering for the people!

She is doing curbside pick-up of these books, so that while you are out getting groceries, you can let her know you are on the way and she’ll have the books ready for you with proper social distancing protocols.

Katie is even doing deliveries! She is driving all over town in the evenings, dropping off books on people’s doorsteps like a literary Santa Claus.

I have always been proud of your Auntie Katie. She makes brave choices and works hard to make them work. She values her community and they, in turn, value her. If anyone can make this work, she can.

Working hard!


Grandma Judy