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.


Grandma Judy

Seasonal Inspiration

Dear Liza,


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.


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.


Grandma Judy

Accidental Cat Games

Dear Liza,

I told you about our advent calendar, where we keep track of the days until Christmas. Auntie Bridgett made us these cute bags and we put candy, trivia questions, or puzzles inside.

Last night we got a ball toss game. Since I used what we have at home for the game, it had yogurt container targets and three sheets of tin foiled rolled up into balls. We three took turns aiming for the targets, with the closest one counting for one point and the furthest one counting for four. The stairs in our house made it even more interesting.

And of course, any time balls are getting tossed around, Mouse the cat gets very interested. She watched for quite a while and then decided that this was really a game for her.

She hunkered down, pounced around, and even batted balls away from the targets. She is a very good goalie. Finally she cornered one and held onto it, bringing the game to a giggly end.

Who needs reindeer games? We have cat games!

Grandma Judy

Fruit cake!!

To be honest, I have never cared for fruitcake. The ones of my childhood were dark, heavy, full of unidentifiable green bits and always seemed to be stale. As a fan of my mother’s freshly-baked goodies, fruitcakes just didn’t cut it.

But Auntie Bridgett loved them, so about ten years ago, I decided to give one a try. Making it a team effort and dedicating an afternoon, we tackled the formidable recipe in The Joy of Cooking. It includes pounds of currents, raisins, citron, and nuts.

Chopping, soaking, and dredging fruit, separating eggs and whipping egg whites, not to mention finding enough bowls to hold all these measured ingredients, literally took hours. But anything is fun if you do it with someone you love.

That first year, not knowing one whiskey from another, we added a very expensive whiskey, Glenfidditch, to the fruitcake. We got properly chastised by Grandpa Nelson for using our best whiskey, which he had bought for our dear whiskey -loving friend Rick. The result was an unintentionally expensive, but mighty tasty, cake.

Over the past ten years, we have made fruitcakes most years. We mix and bake them right around Thanksgiving and give them the first dose of whiskey. We now know to use cheaper whiskey (last years Black Velvet didn’t measure up, but this years’ Evan Williams seems promising) .

We wrap the cakes (the recipe makes two) in a few layers of plastic wrap and place them in a Christmas themed-tin, and find a safe spot out in the garage. They are brought in once a week for another dose of whiskey.

Double-decker fruit cake garage!

We have veered away from Irma Rombauer’s recipe. No currents or citron at all, none of the weird colored dried fruit, making up the difference with more nuts and sultana raisins, and adding orange juice as well as whiskey.

This year, trying for a lighter cake, I even added a teaspoon of baking soda as a raising agent, knowing that even eight whipped egg whites don’t have the power to lift all that cake. We’ll see how that works out.

This past Sunday was its last dousing of whiskey, and it will sit in the cupboard, smelling fabulous, to be tasted Christmas eve.

Yummy Christmas!


Grandma Judy

What Comes in the Mail

Dear Liza,

Since our family and friends are spread up and down California and Oregon, and giving gifts in person is just not possible this year, we have started sending more gifts of food. Companies like Pittman and Davis, Hickory Farms, Harry and David, The Fruit Company, Temecula Olive Oil Company, Nut Cravings, and Barnett’s make and send pastries, nuts, and fruit that are not inexpensive, but always delicious. Food is the perfect gift to send to folks you love but don’t see very often. It doesn’t clutter up the house (at least not for long!), it is always the right size, and it makes for interesting snacking.

My nuts celebrating a package from Nut Cravings

This year, with so many wonderful treats coming to our front door, I have gotten good at making whole meals out of them! The Chipotle cheese from Auntie Bridgett’s brother became a spicy quesadilla, eaten alongside an orange from her Aunt Chris. Afternoon snacks of almonds and dried fruit from your own family make for healthy mid-afternoon eating, and the lemon olive oil from Julie will help turn some weary kale into a tasty salad.

Besides the professionally packaged gifts, we have gotten boxes full of wrapped presents. Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle sent theirs padded with pages and pages of the Los Angeles Times newspaper! It was so much fun reading the articles. She even included the funny pages, and we saw that that clever woman does the LA Times crossword and Sudoku…in ink! Very impressive.

Clever Christy!

Of course, with three of us in the house, and all of us ordering some things that we couldn’t find in town, the new rule is, if it’s not addressed to you, don’t open it! We don’t want to spoil the surprise.

I hope you get lots of wonderful presents!


Grandma Judy

Beyond Circles

Dear Liza,

When I was starting to paint this year, my goal was to make something look like I wanted, making the picture on the paper match the one in my head. I practiced with flowers and faces, going literally from finger painting to things that mostly looked… right.

Flowers that look like flowers

And now that I can do that, I am experimenting more. The circle cutter Auntie Bridgett loaned me has been my latest toy. I love circles, and am enjoying grouping them together, layering them, and even painting over them.

This week I started with some orange and blue watercolor, then lay down some softly colored circles. It sort of looked like sunset-y clouds. To make it look even cloudier, I put white acrylic paint on very softly with a textured meat tray. It was pretty, but what if…..?

I wanted to keep going with the layers. This is where I am noticing my change in attitude. Instead of thinking “what if I mess this up?”, I realize that so far I have invested a few hours of quarantine time, some old magazines, and a tablespoon of paint. So if I mess it up, NO BIG DEAL.

So I lay on another meat tray textured layer of blue, then a few more circles. I loved the layers and texture, and it was starting to whisper to me as to what it could be. Instead of making the picture in my head first, I was letting it lead me along.

I softened the colors with a bit of white acrylic and added a “hillside”of white tissue paper. The pink circle was in the right place to be a setting sun, but it needed to be more orange. A circle cut from a tea box fixed that.

After staring at what had become a snowy hillside at sunset, I saw that it needed some silhouetted trees. I studied other folks’s work and Auntie Bridgett gave me some pointers, and I went for it. After putting in some close up trees and some further away, adjusting my sky color and putting in some shadows, I am pretty happy with it….. for now. I’ll go do something else and have a look later.

So I guess my lesson of the week is to not limit myself as to “just” the pictures I see in my head. The ones that emerge on the paper can be so much more!


Grandma Judy

Donna’s Cookies

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett’s momma Donna makes really good sugar cookies. I mean, REALLY good. And this year, with no travel, we had to make our own!

Sloppy, but accurate!

Fortunately, Donna gave us HER recipe, so we are just fine. We creamed the butter, eggs, and vanilla together, then sifted in the flour, baking powder and a dash of salt, mixed it up and put it in the fridge. While it chilled I hunted for cookies cutters. We don’t have many, since I passed most of them onto Auntie Katie long ago. But we had enough to make it work.

I made some to be left plain, because Grandpa Nelson prefers the cookies just by themselves, and some to make pretty to share with neighbors. I even changed from my usual buttercream and tried royal icing, a new (to me) type of cookie icing that dries smooth and shiny.

Work in progress

When the icing was fresh, it was very runny and hard to control, but after it sat in the fridge (in an airtight container) for a while, it worked much better.

I used the piping bag and Auntie Bridgett used her skill with a butter knife, and together we made some pretty cookies.

Now they just need to dry overnight (covered and protected from curious kittens!) and they will be ready to pass along. Baking is something I do to make me happy, and something I can share with others. It takes the love I have inside and allows me hand it out on little plates.

Merry Christmas!


Grandma Judy

Going in Circles

Dear Liza,

I have told you about the art journal I have been working in.

In October, Ruth Inman urged us to make pictures following prompts like “haunted house” or “sea life”.

Sea Life

In November we were given loose lists of supplies like “junk mail” or “cranberry can label”.

Junk Mail Art

One of my favorite pictures was one made with a printed photo of Cousin Kestrel, a fruit bag, and bits of magazines. It shows her as a flower fairy, which is just about right.

Cousin Kestrel as a nature fairy

On my own, I’ve been working in the Journal. As a matter of fact, I am on my last page! For my last piece in the book, I have returned to a favorite shape. Yesterday, I borrowed Auntie Bridgett’s ek 1 1/4 inch hole cutter and started chopping circles out of papers in my recycling box.

ek cutter and its bounty

But, art being art, when I laid down the background with acrylics and various textures, it looked like outer space! I would need other colors.

Layers of color and pattern for background

I found an old Sunset magazine and looked for cool toned colors and patterns. After lots of playing, I figured where I wanted to put the ‘planets’, and Mod Podged them into place. A few more white flicks from an old toothbrush, and I was done.

My “Winter Universe”

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing art everyday. With fewer outside adventures to keep me busy, being creative and having fun have allowed me to be active and learn something new every day.


Grandma Judy

What’s in the Bag?

Dear Liza,

I told you about our advent calendar, which Auntie Bridgett made from 20 small, beautifully decorated bags in a basket.

We have been opening them for a few days now, and I wanted to show you what we’ve found.

There is candy, of course. Dark chocolate for Auntie Bridgett, milk chocolate kisses for Grandpa Nelson, and fun-size Paydays for me.

I also hunted up some fun historic trivia online, such as :

What was the first purpose-written Christmas song? Answer: “Jesus Refulsit Omnium”, or “Jesus, Light of all Nations”, by St. Hilary of Poitier in AD 375.

Christmas crossword puzzle
  • How old is a six-foot Christmas tree? About 15 years old, depending on species.
  • Who said “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, his precepts!” Ben Franklin
  • When was Christmas dinner illegal in America? The 1600s. Puritans forbade any and all merry making at Christmas, which they held to be a serious time.
    I even created a crossword puzzle (which, by the way, is harder than it looks) and my clever people solved it in record time. Some bags hold games that will take half an hour to play, and some just a little question. After all, we have lots of Christmas movies to watch!
  • Love,
  • Grandma Judy