300 Days of Duolingo

Dear Liza,

Languages are so much fun to learn! You get to find out where words come from and how they are related. You figure out ways to remember hundreds of new words. And in the end, you are able to talk to people from other countries. That’s a pretty good pay off.

I made it!!

This weekend I reached my 300th day straight of doing half an hour a day of French lessons on the teaching site, Duolingo. Auntie Bridgett and I make time for it every morning, right after breakfast. We work separately, sitting side by side on the couch for company and help. Let’s face it, with hundreds (maybe even a thousand by now) of new words, sometimes I just blank out.

“This is silly,” I’ll say. “What’s cupboard?”

“Placard,” she’ll answer. “It’s masculine.” It’s important to know that. Every noun (a person, place, or thing) in French has a gender, masculine or feminine, and that tells you how to spell the words that describe it. The gender isn’t always what you think it is.

“Robe”, which means dress, is feminine, so that makes sense, but so are the words for “car”, “orange”, and “house.”

Auntie Bridgett uses her sketchbooks to draw pictures to help her remember how words go together.

Words that are masculine are “coat”, “bicycle”, and “garden.” Sometimes to help me remember the gender of a noun, I will think of a cartoon showing the thing with long eyelashes if it is feminine, or a mustache if it is masculine. Be careful, though! Mustache….. yep….. is feminine.

So now I head off toward the next 300 days. With any luck, by the time I get to that milestone, we will be able to travel to France again, and put all this learning to use.

Paris at sunset

I know it is silly to be homesick for someone else’s home, but I sure miss Paris.
But at least when we go back, I’ll be able to have a conversation!


Grandma Judy

European Dreaming’

Dear Liza,

I still have my cold, which means I am napping about five hours a day. But in between cups of tea, chicken soup and the naps, I am thinking about our next trip to Europe.

Christmas decorations in Paris

The last time we were in Europe was the winter of 2014 -2015. We spent a cold, bright Christmas in Paris and took the train north through Ghent and into Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve. We visited the Christmas market in Cologne and wandered sparkly streets in Strasbourg.

Auntie Bridgett made us a lovely Christmas in our apartment

That cold winter trip had been an experiment. Grandpa Nelson’s company was planning on sending him to Europe long term, and we had to know: Would we be happy in that sort of cold? Turns out, we would, but the company changed its mind and we came to Portland instead.

Since then, I retired, Grandpa Nelson got sick and is better, and we are settled here. It’s time to venture back.

This will be a fall trip, warmer and brighter than winter, but not as crowded as summer. We are blocking out our route. We are thinking of landing in Dublin (where Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett scoped out the good pubs a few years ago). We could rent a car and drive on the wrong side of the road to see ancient burial monuments and 16th century castles, eating lots of seafood pie on the way to the very southeast corner of Ireland to catch a ferry.

The ferry, which looks more like a cruise ship, would be our hotel and transport overnight to Cherbourg, France. From there we would visit Bayeux, home of the magnificent Tapestry I studied (and partially copied) in Junior High School.

From the Bayeux Tapestry website (historic cartoon embroidery!)

Afterwards, we would take the train to Paris to complete our trip and celebrate Auntie Bridgett’s birthday in her favorite city.

Happy travelers, caught in a Parisian summer shower.

But for now, I am drinking tea and spending a lot of time in the couch, looking at maps. I love illustrated daydreams!


Grandma Judy

Harold the Traveling Stufftie, Part 2

Dear Liza,

Harold on Air France

I have told you how Harold came to be with us and his travels in America. Did you know he has been to different countries, as well?

When we took our trips to England, France, Ireland and The Netherlands, Harold came along. I made him a backpack to hold his passport and sketchbook. I even wrote a poem about his getting ready for our winter in Europe!


Ode to travel preparations

Twas the week before travelin’ and Harold’s been busy
Packing and checking and getting all dizzy.
His backpack is filled up, his papers in order
(In case he gets stopped as we pass through a border)

All that’s left is waiting for the day that we leave
As he reads up on places to go, (by Rick Steves)
Paris for Christmas, with church bells and lamplight
Amsterdam for New Years, fireworks at midnight

His lovely beret keeps his head nice and warm
His scarf compliments his soft chubby form
So follow along and we’ll see where he goes
Harold and his people, through rain clouds and snows.

Harold in France


The wonderful thing about traveling with a stuffed animal is that they make friends everywhere. Old people wave from across the train. Children have their stuffties wave, too, and even if we don’t speak the same language, we have shared a smile.

Harold visiting a castle in Ireland

Harold has visited noblemen in Ireland, learned about our favorite Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, and tried to visit a castle (they didn’t answer the door).


Harold has so many adventures, they may even need their own storybook sometime. But for now, he is enjoying having lots of snuggles with Cousin Maddie.


Grandma Judy