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.

Love,

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.

Love,

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
e;

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

French at Home

Dear Liza,

For most of my life, cities like Paris, Nantes, and Bordeaux were unimaginably far away. Not just in miles, but in culture, language, and history. The family I grew up in liked to travel, but didn’t care much for languages that weren’t English or countries that weren’t the good old U. S of A.

My folks, on top of the world

I studied Spanish as part of preparing to teach in California, which made sense to them. But when I started studying French to enjoy our trips to Europe more, their eyes sort of glazed over, as though I were learning how to chat with bumblebees. “They’ll speak English if you just go to the right places,” they said, with a knowing nod, as if other countries were just being stubborn.

Us, on top of the Arc de Triumph

When I first met Auntie Bridgett, one of the things we had in common was that we both wanted to learn to speak French. My school district offered discounts on Rosetta Stone, a wonderful online language learning app, and I used it for a year. Then we took a class at Hartnell College, and Shawn Quione made the lessons fun and interactive. We also met our friend Donald, whom we still hold dear.



The semesters ended, classes got canceled, but our French was improving. When we traveled to France, we could order lunch (granted, there were a few misfires) and read the memorial plaques and museum signs.

It’s nice to understand!

When we moved to Portland, we thought about attending a French class at Portland Community College, but we kept putting it off. And now we are in shut down.

Enter Duolingo! This free online app has been allowing me to keep learning and practicing French even when there is no way to take a class. It is easy, encouraging, and just repetitive enough to drill things like indirect object pronouns into my thick head. There is a silent mode, so I can practice and not bother anyone, and also a mode to listen to the spoken French.

I have now been practicing for a half hour every day for 155 straight days, and am working my way through the French translation of “Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu”.

My latest challenge

I love being able to keep learning. It is good for my mental and emotional health to struggle a little, as well as plan for a time when we can get on planes and travel again. And maybe the next time I travel to Paris, I can take you with me!

Love,

Grandma Judy


Happy Birthday, Grandpa Nelson!

Dear Liza,

A hand-painted sign from the Cousins!

This past Sunday was Grandpa Nelson’s birthday, and we celebrated it inside. He is still weak from the bit of Covid he’s had, which has been mostly fevers and fatigue, so it was a slow day.

But even a slow birthday needs some celebration. Auntie Bridgett had made him a beautiful painting of our beloved Laurelhurst Park, so he can visit even when he isn’t feeling well. It isn’t quite done yet, she says. It needs three people (us!) walking along the path. She also made one of her delightful, hand painted cards. Handy Hand was so pleased!

I made a new type of ginger cookies, and they turned out very well. Grandpa had some after breakfast and some more after dinner, because a nutritionally balanced birthday is important.

Ginger cookies…

We ordered ice cream online from Fifty Licks, a local ice cream chain, and Auntie Bridgett went to fetch it. We got two pints for us to share and a chocolate milk shake for the birthday boy.

Auntie Katie and the cousins came by, after she had closed the bookshop, and stood just below our balcony. They banged cowbells and held up a great “Happy Birthday Grandpa Nelson” sign the the kids had painted. I wish I had taken a picture of their smiling, masked faces looking up, but I was too busy laughing and crying at the same time. It was wonderful, raucous, and celebratory.

Off the Balcony delivery system

I lowered some of the cookies and one of the pints of ice cream down in a basket-and-yarn rig that was half Rapunzel and half Swiss Family Robinson, and got the job done with just the right amount of whimsy.

We were chatting, and just then your Daddy David called us for a ZOOM video chat with the whole family! After a few minutes’ adjustment, and Auntie Katie and family dashing back to their own house, we had the three of us, both our kids and all their kids, looking at each other. It was so nice.

Us, you and your daddy and mommy, and Auntie Katie and the cousins, all Zooming along

Auntie Katie and the cousins ate their ice cream and cookies, and you all had your dessert there in Salinas. We talked about what art and video games we had been doing and how tall the kids were. Everyone was even able to toast Grandpa Nelson with a glass of whatever they were having. The call went on for two happy, silly, hours.

By then, Grandpa Nelson was pooped. Everyone logged off and we three sat quietly for a while, listening to our nervous systems as they quieted down. I showed Grandpa Nelson the slide show I had made of photographs of him from when we has a little boy to now, and it was a nice walk down memory lane.

The Birthday boy, his dog Sky and sister June, a few birthdays ago.

When we finally had to let go of the day, we ambled upstairs and drifted off to a happy, exhausted sleep. I am so glad you all got to celebrate with us.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Another Quarantine First

Dear Liza,

Making the meeting fun!

I’m sure, after we are all free from the threat of Corona virus and free to wander about as we please, this part of our story will be a short, odd, chapter. But for now, it is where we are, every day.

Sausages and yummy cheese

Last night, Auntie Bridgett’s art gallery, SideStreet Arts, had their first ZOOM First Friday. Folks logged on at their houses with their own snacks and drinks, and we got to talk with artists Amy Rudinger and Michelle Sabatier about their art. Amy is a talented metalworker and Michelle is a gallery member and wonderful encaustic artist. That means she makes pictures by melting wax onto a surface.

One of Michelle Sabatier’s encaustics

Auntie Bridgett and I set up at the dining table, with wine, crackers, nifty goat cheese, sausages, and a bottle of Cotes du Rhone wine. Grandpa Nelson is still feeling tired from the fevers he’s been having, so he escaped upstairs.

It was fun to see familiar faces, and in their own homes! We saw one lady’s family heirloom sofa, another’s bookcase, and our dear Alicia Justice sewing away on one of her delicate, personable dolls.

We learned about how Amy goes to Mexico every year to gather the special coppers they mine there, and how she has learned from the artisans there. She says that her copper vessels and their wonderful patinas are ‘part chemistry and part magic,’ and I believe it. They are lovely.

Amy Rudinger’s copper vessels

During the event, a lot of folks logged on, listened for a while, and chatted. Even my friend Ruth Inman joined us from Illinois. I became aware, slowly, that pieces were being sold. Ruth noticed it, too, and said, “How do I log-on to buy before something ELSE I love goes away?” I’m not sure if she did make a purchase, but a lot of folks did! It was a very big sales night.

Actually, this shut down hasn’t been as bad for business as we all expected. Businesses that have figured out how to stay in front of their customers online and continue selling, like Auntie Katie’s Books with Pictures and SideStreet Arts, are having really good months. It is harder work, to be sure, with mailing and delivering, but if the alternative is going out of business, it’s worth it!

Hoping we can look back on this time knowing we did our best.

Love,

Grandma Judy

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.

Himself

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:
**********

ODE TO A REAL TRUMP

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy