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.
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 white;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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!
This past Sunday was Grandpa Nelson’s birthday, and we celebrated it inside. He is still weak from the bit of sort 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
It is ironic that being unable to get out and about here in town has gotten me closer to friends far away.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.