Winter Sunshine

Dear Liza,

It is winter in Portland. It doesn’t officially start until December 21, but it’s winter. We have rain which may turn to snow flurries, bridges that are getting icy, and dark, dark afternoons.

But then you look up and the clouds are gone for a while, and the sun comes out! And you don’t care that it is 40 degrees F. You put on two scarves and a wooly hat, and out you go.

We are blessed to live in our Laurelhurst/ Sunnyside neighborhood, with its gardens and hundred-year-old stone walls.

Moss and evergreens glow nicely in the low angled light of a Portland afternoon.

Succulents in a wall resemble magic gardens.

Azaleas and rhododendrons put out buds, defying the seasonal cold. And even though we know that tomorrow will be rainy and grey again, our mammal brains are happy for the light.

Love,

Grandma Judy.

Beauty is Where You Find It

Dear Liza,

I love wandering around my neighborhood. I always see something unexpected.

This little sculpture, only about 6 inches high, sits on a big boulder placed along the sidewalk of Division Street. Placed close to the Philip Neary Church, someone has decorated this accordion player with a rosary. This is one of 8 such sculptures created by Crystal Schenk and Shelby Davis and installed in 2014. Collectively called “This All Happened, More or Less”, these pieces represent ordinary people calmly going about their business, reading, resting, or chatting.

A different sort of unexpected beauty is this graphically painted re-purposed school bus. I haven’t been able to find out what it is being used for now, but it looks like fun!

These bright pyracantha berries, a perfect winter food source for local birds, seem to glow in the sunshine.

And as I walked along, i noticed that the blustery wind was playing with my scarf in a very photogenic fashion. So I played along.

I’ll enjoy the sunshine as long as we have it!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Bright Fall Light

Dear Liza,

This season is mostly a grey one, but every now and the clouds blow away and we have bright, cold, sunshine. That was today.

We did chores during the morning and then headed off through the neighborhood to Zach’s Hot Dog Shack. The noon sun was almost blinding, and made the still-changing leaves magical.

We found some rhododendrons, being a bit early even for them, (or late, it’s hard to know which) popping blooms open just as the rest of the plants have called it quits for the year.

We enjoyed a chilly lunch on Zach’s patio, since the inside was pretty crowded with folks watching football. Grandpa Nelson and I played ping pong, which warmed us up a bit.

The walk home was lit with the warm afternoon light of Fall. This beautiful cat was just so fetching between the orange leaves.

We walked by St. Stephen’s Church, which has been on this corner in a mostly residential area since 1924. It is built of bricks and is very pretty.

It has a large front entrance with doors topped by Mary and Jesus chatting with monks, along with with these delightfully glazed ceramic faces.

And that was our outing for the day. It never really got above 45 degrees, and was just too chilly to be out for long. We came home, read, made art, and cooked.

Just another lovely Tuesday!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Seasonal Poetry

Dear Liza,

I went out for a walk the other day to enjoy the colors and clear my head. Sitting with a cat on your lap, watching the fire burn, though very pleasant, makes me a bit fuzzy headed.

I bundled up, headed out, and got inspired. Here is my take on the seasons.

For The Leaves

The Spring brought us colors of blossom and bloom,

The beginnings of life, bursting forth, making room.

The summer brought jewel-colored fruits of the vine

Apples for a pie and grapes for some wine.

In Autumn the world became darker and cold,

The youth of the spring has grown up and grown old.

No longer bursting, it no longer glows

It flashes an instant before the storm blows

But just for this moment, the wind holds its peace

And leaves us to contemplate

This lovely release.

I hope you enjoy the Fall!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Leaving…..

Dear Liza,

Having lived most of my life in Southern and Central California, home of evergreen landscaping, I am dumfounded every Fall by our colors. The intense yellows of the ginkoes, gold of the birches, the red of quince and the flaming maples, just knock me out.

Laurelhurst Park, of course, is acres of loveliness. But our neighborhood trees, some of which are a hundred years old, also make me understand why people who move from elsewhere to Southern California say “they miss the seasons”.


I guess I get sort of goofy in the Fall. Summer’s flowers and sunshine are so bright, it is almost blinding. In Fall, it is grayer, darker, and… wetter. The bright leaves are our last hurrah of color until spring, and I don’t want to miss it.


So, while I go walking and leaf-peeping whenever I feel sad or restless, I hope these pictures let you see why I love our Fall so much.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Fine Fall Day with the Dead People

Dear Liza,

It has been so pretty this Fall! The air is cool and fresh and the leaves are a million different colors. It was time for a walk to Lone Fir Cemetery.

Auntie Bridgett had a new friend she wanted me to meet, so we went there first. This narrow grave stone marks the grave of Emma Hawthorne. She was our famous Dr. Hawthorne’s first wife. She was twenty years younger than Dr. Hawthorne and died in 1862 after only two weeks of marriage. There are a scant two lines about her death in the Oregonian, which seems weird, since she was the bride of such an important doctor and businessman.

Why was no more said about her, her life or her funeral arrangements, in the local newspapers of the time? Why is she buried in a sloping corner of the cemetery while the rest of the family (including the doctor’s second wife) have large monuments on a sunny hill?

We have heard rumors that she died by suicide, which at the time was considered a sin against God. While we have no proof, that would be one explanation for what seems like shabby treatment.

While we were thinking about young Emma and her lonely fate, we sat on a low wall and listened to the chestnuts rattle through the branches and thump to the ground. It is Conker season, for sure. The squirrels and Auntie Bridgett dashed about, collecting them, and I just love being part of it.

Further on, we found another new friend. Several years ago I wrote about a local drummer named Andrew Loomis who had a wonderfully down to earth epitaph on his headstone (Life is good sept the parts that suck). Now, it seems his younger brother Matthew has passed away, and has joined Andrew in his space.

There were more graves, which I’m sure have their own stories, but my eyes were so full of the beautiful leaves!

This time of year has a quiet, lovely melancholy which I find comforting. The nearness of death is not scary, somehow, but peaceful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Fall in the Neighborhood


Dear Liza,

Maybe it’s because our summer has been so hot and dry, but Fall is falling hard here in Portland. Leaves are falling in piles earlier than usual. The change from heatwave to rainfall seems more abrupt.

In our lovely, funky Sunnyside neighborhood, the lush flowers of summer are dying back, waiting to be trimmed into their winter rest.

Plum, apple, and fig trees are all over the neighborhood, planted decades ago by resourceful homeowners. Some folks gather them up and share them, which is really nice. One house on Taylor Street even provides little boxes to take them home!

Other folks seem overwhelmed by the abundance and the fruit just falls and rots, smelling like a brewery. Not terrible, but a terrible waste.

Piles of leaves are everywhere. They make for a seasonal carpet and art materials, as well as pulling nutrients back in the soil. But I know once it rains, we will have ‘leaf slime’ in every gutter.

So it is when summer ends. There is a melancholy, especially when it feels like Covid has cheated us of another summer’s concerts, plays, and festivals. But I am ready for Fall. The inside time and contemplation, and the creativity that come with it, are okay by me.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Sunday, Busy Sunday Part 2

Dear Liza,

We sorted through our garage sale treasures and then headed south to Division Street. The Richmond neighborhood is so pretty, with the household gardens in full late summer glory. Grapes, plums, apples and even Asian pears called to us.

A local knife sharpener named Sato was working his whetstone magic at Moore Coffee Company, one of our favorite places for an afternoon hang out. I had brought along my favorite knife, a gift from Auntie Katie 15 years ago.

We dropped the knife off with Sato and decided to try a new food truck for lunch. “Let’s Roll” offers bowls, burritos or wraps filled with poke, tempura, and other spicy delights. It was just what was needed!

When we were fed and happy, we walked by Carter and Rose to see their tiny planters with handmade ceramic snakes, and then back to Moore Coffee. Sato had finished my knife and had started his lunch!

We ordered iced coffee and tea and engaged in some serious Sunday loafing: Reading the Sunday Funnies, people watching, and enjoying the progress on the alley’s new mural.

Now in a state of total Portland bliss, we ambled home. It had gotten very warm, we had walked more than three miles, and I was pooped.

A long nap and a few chapters of Jane Eyre got me ready for the next event of the day.
And that’s a story for tomorrow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

First Autumn Chore

Dear Liza,

It is two weeks until the Fall equinox. We can see the end of summer from here.

In my garden, white powdery mildew has started taking a toll on my pumpkin plant, and because I didn’t recognize it early enough, it has spread to the zucchini. I have learned that watering too late in the day is a main cause of this, and will NOT be doing that again next year.


I did a big trimming the other day to try and minimize the damage.

I wore the rubberized gardening gloves your Mommy Olga gave me from her last visit to Russia, because they protect me from the zucchini plants, whose long, hollow stems have tiny hairs that give me an itchy rash.

I cut off leaves that had any mildew in them, so it wouldn’t continue to spread. Unfortunately, this meant cutting just about all the leaves off the pumpkin! I hope there are enough leaves to make food for the plant to let my second pumpkin finish growing!

The tub of leaves was so heavy I just barely got it home. I know there will be lots more to haul over the next few months, and I’m glad I have my trusty red wagon.

Meanwhile, I found this lovely handmade doll by a telephone pole in the neighborhood. I rescued her and perched her on my watering can, and she will be a protective spirit for my garden. I have named her Mlezi, which is the Swahili word for Guardian.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Glowing Fall

Dear Liza,

We had a slow walk around Laurelhurst Park on Thanksgiving, to settle our dinner and enjoy being out in the world. Laurelhurst was planted in 1913, so most of the trees are huge. It feels like a tame forest and is my favorite place in the city.

Auntie Bridgett takes some pictures

This Fall, Firwood Lake is covered with duckweed and looks more like lawn than a pond. It is oddly beautiful.

Firwood Lake and oak trees

The old-fashioned lamps look beautiful against the trees in any season.

Ginkgoes and lamppost

The bright yellow of birches and ginkgoes brightens up the darkest corners of the woods.

Ginkgo glowing down the way

On a day when we were not with friends or family and were feeling a little sad, it was good to get out and be part of the beauty.

I hope you have a good week.

Love,

Grandma Judy