It has been a really difficult week. Heavy smoke from the Oregon fires has kept us inside and is making everyone feel sick. The virus that President Trump ignored is still killing a thousand people a day, and our government seems determined to punish anyone who disagrees with it. It has been very hard to find any happy.
Yesterday I wrote a letter to my brother Tim (yes, I type my letters) and illustrated it with forests and smoke. It was a sad picture, but it made me feel better to put something in paper.
I gathered up my watercolors and played with some of the skills Ruth Inman has taught me in our online art group.
First, I taped the paper down, and really soaked it. While it was wet, I gave a wash of bright yellow and orange, making sure it was nice and random.
While the paper was still damp, I used a toilet paper roll to make big circles and a rolled up strip of regular paper to make small ones…. just a few. Then I let everything dry.
This next process takes the longest because you have to let things dry between layers. If you try and paint everything at once, it all runs together. Over the course of the afternoon I put in the petals and centers of the flowers.
When that layer seemed “done”, I let it all dry. Then I got out the Elegant Writer pen Ruth had sent me and put in the details of the flowers. It was fun to see the orange and yellow pop against the black lines.
And I felt better. Something about the bright colors, the creative process and the control of this little piece of paper allowed me to feel joy for the first time in days. I recommend this ‘art therapy’ to anyone feeling sad.
We will get through this and find light in the other side, I know. And art will help.
I try not to focus too much on scary or sad things, especially when I am writing to you. But some days they are all I can think about.
People are getting sick with Corona virus while our President calls doctors liars and sells beans from his office. Peaceful Protesters here in Portland are taken away in unmarked vans by armed Federal Police. The whole country seems to be having a nervous breakdown.
Many years ago, there was a TV show called “My So-Called Life”. It was about a teenage girl and her problems of growing up. One day she said, “Mom asked me how school was today. It was like it is every day, like a drive-by shooting. You just huddle down and wait for it to be over.” That is sort of how I am feeling.
But this could go in for months, or even years, before a cure or vaccine allows us to go back to some sort of normal life. Before we can travel to Paris or go to the movies, and not be afraid of the people we see. So while I am huddled down, I try to find the joys.
I can’t articulate them very well at the moment, but here are the sights that lift my spirits.
I love you very much, Liza, and I hope I can see you soon.
Human beings are creatures of habit, they say, but I have always disagreed. I like to go on adventures…walking eight miles to Sellwood, bussing across town for a hike, taking the train to Vancouver and biking around the city. But as we go along in the quarantine, I realize how much I am leaning on my habits. Especially in uncertain times, we feel the need to do normal things in the normal way.
Here, that means morning coffee with news on the sofa, writing blogs, then crossword puzzles, then French practice on Duolingo.
The recent addition of online watercolor classes with Ruth Inman in Illinois has helped fill Tuesday and Thursday mornings with art and conversation. It has also given me courage to make more art.
The other day I painted my first sunflower. I had been doing little daisies and simple roses, which feel less daunting. Sunflowers are imposing. They are flower royalty that literally looks down on everyone. They have gravitas.
And when I got it done, I felt pretty good about it. I asked Auntie Bridgett. “It’s not bad,” she said kindly. “But you could use some colored pencils to bring it out more, to make it pop.”
My first thought was, “What if I screw it up?” But I slapped that thought down, stepped over it, and moved on. We walked to Collage down on Division Street and bought me some Vera Thin pencils along with more watercolor paper.
I started playing. Painting like before, but with the knowledge that some parts would be enhanced or shaded with pencils. I learned about complementary colors and how to use them for emphasis, that shadows are never black, and that short lines can make lovely curves. It is another tiny step outside my comfort zone.
This using of paints and pencils, or pastels and collage, or crayons and paint, is called mixed media. You mix bits that you already know, some you don’t, and come up with something new. This is an interior adventuring, and one I am enjoying very much.
Maybe it will keep my adventurous muscles strong for when I can go adventuring outside again.
Yesterday we got to do something normal! That is, something we have done since we have lived in Portland. We drove out to pick blueberries on Sauvie Island. Sauvie Island is the largest island in the Columbia River, and is a big dollop of farms and wild area just minutes from downtown Portland.
To get there, we crossed to the west bank of the giant Willamette River, drove north a bit, and then crossed the tiny Multnomah Channel, and there we were. Pastoral paradise.
Now, of course there were accommodations for Covid-19. We all wore masks, kept our distance, and used the farm’s boxes to keep from giving them any of our germs.
But the picking was the same. Pulling pounds of juicy berries off bushes, planning the dozens of cobblers and muffins, is very satisfying, in a hunter-gatherer sort of way.
Among the bushes, we listened to parents chat with their kids and smiled at our first post-Covid babies. We watched dozens of swallows swoop low to get berries, only slightly discouraged by the broadcast hawk shrieks. We reveled in just being outdoors, being part of the world. As the box filled up, we picked slower, not wanting our time to end.
There is so much of Sauvie Island we haven’t seen yet. There is a nature preserve full of water birds. There are farms that specialize in Marionberries.
But eventually, the call of lunch got too loud to tune out, and we needed to head off. Of course, this lead to another adventure! More tomorrow.
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 don’t know if you know it, but some other people read these letters I write to you. One of my oldest friends read my letter about being sad yesterday, and she wrote me!
Her name is Ruth Inman and we met in high school, a whole long time ago. We were in choir together and had lots of fun singing and being silly together. Then life got complicated and she moved away, and we lost touch. Many years later, we found each other and Grandpa Nelson and I stopped to see her in Illinois on our very first trip to Europe.
Then a whole bunch of years went by again and we found each other on Facebook! She is still in Illinois, and she is an artist, like Auntie Bridgett! We have so much in common, sewing and loving art and finding our footing as grandmas and self-quarantined people.
Her words of encouragement helped pull me out of feeling sad, and I got up and did some things… filing old bank statements, making chili, going for a walk (yes, I wore my mask). And sure enough, I felt better.
It’s sure nice to have friends out there in the world.
For weeks I’ve been wondering if I should start making masks for us and other folks to wear for some level of protection from the Coronavirus, either in catching or transmitting it.
I looked on line and there were many different kinds of masks being sewn by home seamstresses like me, but no one could agree on what worked, what would help, what was a waste of time. So I waited.
Now, the CDC has said that some form of cloth masks is better than nothing, and we should all be wearing them. So I got out the fabric and started making these really basic cotton fabric masks.
These aren’t medical level protection, and they don’t even have filters. They are sort of a glorified spit guard. But they are better than the nothing we’ve been using.
There was a learning curve, of course. Two layers of some fabrics, plus the folds to help the mask fit, is too thick to breath through easily. So, lighter fabrics are good, and sometimes one layer is plenty.
A friend mentioned that each person should have two masks, one to wear while the other is in the wash, so now I’m making two per person.
And once I posted the pictures of Auntie Bridgett looking so cute in hers, family has been asking for some! I am having fun sewing, mailing, and using some of the cool fabrics I have collected for years.
This week I took advantage of a sunny day and went out for a short walk. It’s good to see that even with most folks inside, the rhododendrons and trilliums are open for Spring. The smell of jasmine makes invisible patches of sweetness that catch you by surprise.
There are still quite a few joggers and dog walkers in the park, and it’s not always possible to properly socially distance, so we walk in the neighborhood. Many folks have taken to crossing the street mid-block to avoid too-close contact, and there is usually a smile or friendly wave that goes with this, acknowledging each other but staying safe. People can be pretty darn wonderful.
We are continuing to be careful but I may have caught a touch of the bug. Grandpa Nelson went out for groceries yesterday because I was feeling really tired, and Auntie Bridgett is just getting over a nasty spell of fatigue.
We are good at taking care of each other. Lots of ginger tea, fruits and veggies, and quiet time for naps will pull us through.
The shut down because of Covid-19 is now in its third week here in Portland. It is starting to get me down a little.
The last time I sat down with anyone besides Auntie Bridgett or Grandpa Nelson was March 11, when I had a cup of Golden Fire tea with dear Misha Moon at the Rocking Frog. Now, with the extra time imposed on us, we have both finished drafts of our stories that we were talking about.
That same day I met a good soul named Roger, and we exchanged stories of our childhoods in Southern California. His had a stepdad who was a building inspector in Watts, not far from where we lived for a while in Bellflower.
Grandpa Nelson and I had lunch at McMenamin’s Barley Mill the next day, just before they closed up shop for the duration.
These are the sort of chance meetings and conversations that I have taken for granted, and now, for a while at least, they are over. I miss my species.
We eat, chat, read and write, here in our pleasant little house. There is enough room that we can be alone when we need to be, and we have games and movies and food, and even enough toilet paper. There is nothing really wrong, as long as we stay inside and away from people.
So, I heave a big sigh and tell myself to get over it, and decide what to do today.