All Process, Not Much Product… Yet

Dear Liza,

It has been a fun, happy, busy weekend! I made a stencil I really like to use in my Art Journal. So far I haven’t finished with it yet, but it is showing promise.

Fun with stencils

I also started whacking away at the two dozen or so blogs I have written about our wonderful, historic Lone Fir Cemetery. I started simply copying them, then realized that with just a little tweaking, there is a story there about Portland’s history that could be worth telling. I am currently paddling in some very deep water, and enjoying it very much.

Little Ada Smith

There was also a delightful surprise purchase from Jehnee Rains, who runs Suzette, our nearby Creperie. Since she has has greatly reduced business for the ten months of quarantine, she is selling a lot of her catering supplies to raise a bit of cash and simplify her life. Auntie Bridgett saw some ‘bee’ themed bottles she wanted, and I saw cookie cutters, so we threw on clothes some and walked over.

I now have these great beauties to play with, and the cookie dough mixed for delivery to Auntie Katie and the cousins.

Score!

I also found a map of Portland I was sewing on last winter and ran out of inspiration for, which is looking more promising now.

Downtown, the Willamette, and our Sunnyside neighborhood

I feel like I’m gunning my engine at the starting line, and can’t decide which race track to run first. I need to take a breath and focus…. or not. I’m sure it will all work out.

Having fun, thinking stuff!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Insomnia

Dear Liza,

I have rarely had trouble sleeping. As a teacher for thirty years and a working mom for twenty of those, I was so tired by bedtime that I was asleep before the lamp was cool. My body and brain had been running so fast all day, it was bliss to just shut down and go away for a while.

The kids, circa 2008…..

But lately, there has been trouble in sleepy-nigh’ night paradise. There are lots of perfectly good reasons for this.

We are in the middle of an ‘atmospheric river’ that is currently dumping seven inches of rain on Portland. I am a good sport about rain, but going for a real decent walk just isn’t as much fun. So I’m not getting as much exercise as I probably should.

Auntie Bridgett, being a good sport

Age may have something to do with it. What seem like little aches during the day become (you’ll forgive the expression) real pains in the neck, and can make finding and keeping a comfortable position difficult.

And then there is the news. Last night my brain kept running scenarios, not of plans, not anything I could help or stop, but scenes from a hypothetical disaster movie called “How it Ended for (your city here).” People were smashing things. Roads were blocked. It was like being in the Capital, but there was no place to be evacuated to. It was just us, and them. I won’t bother attaching photos. I’m sure they are etched into your brain, as well.

So this morning I am hobbling by on two hours sleep, determined to do the day as best I can. To not get snippy with my people, to do art and French and exercise and pet the cat. To do the day and be ready for sleep when it is done.

I wish the same for you.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Long Distance Visits

Dear Liza,

Being so far away from you is hard. So is being just across town from the cousins here, but not being able to have a real visit, to hug or sit in the couch and snuggle.

My cartoon from when we practiced ‘spheres’.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to stay in touch. We have been having ZOOM visits and doing art together, practicing drawing toys and trying to make 3-D objects look right. Cousin Kestrel even joined us for one of these art hang-outs, and it was fun to have you both in one “place”.

From the 2016 calendar

And today, a gift that I look forward to every year has arrived. It is the Shutterfly calendar, featuring YOU.

When you were a tiny baby, your Mama realized that she loved posing you for pictures, that your Daddy was really good at taking them, and that I loved getting them. You even got to like the posing, too! A family tradition was born.

You and your beautiful Mama Olga last year

The oldest ones, when you were tiny baby Liza, have been put high up in the garage for safe keeping, and I can’t get photos from them.

But the last few, from 2016 on, are on my shelf and I can visit with you whenever I want.

That latest Liza

We will get to have a real visit soon, but until then, it is nice to be able to see you!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back to the Art Journal

Dear Liza,

Last October, my friend Ruth got me (and a bunch of other friends) started on an art journal. She posted ideas for each day…. draw a ghost, or a tree. It was fun and kept me thinking about new ways to draw familiar images.

Mixed Media Mummy

November brought a different sort of challenge. The ideas weren’t for WHAT to make, but what to make them FROM. Threads, junk mail, bubble wrap, all became part of the repertoire. That was another sort of mental stretch, and was more challenging. I started looking at everything with the thought, “Could I use this?”

Junk Mail portrait

In December, I’m sure there were suggestions, but between bracing for the holiday and being on my own ‘circle’ binge, I didn’t pay any attention. While I like what I made with circles, it is time to come back to the art journal and get out of my own head.

I went in circles for a while….

January is still pretty new, but I like where we are going. So far, the prompts have been concept-based. “Celebrate” and “Sunshine” are what I’ve gotten done, and as you can see, I’m still enjoying circles.

Celebrate!

I happy to have things to pull my brain from its rut.

Sunshine

Love,

Grandma Judy

Peter Mayle’s Sunshine

Dear Liza,

Winter cold and wet is an opportunity for art, sewing, and reading. I just finished David McCullough’s giant biography of Harry Truman, and it was enjoyable and informative. It felt good to read about a President who, though very much in over his head, made an honest effort to do the job well.

But with current political drama becoming almost overwhelming, I am happy to say goodbye to Harry’s battles, and move on to something … lighter.

Peter Mayle at his house in Provence

And I’ve chosen a very different path. The late Peter Mayle, who retired from a London advertising firm to live in the south of France, wrote delightful stories about his life and his neighbors. His first collection was “A Year in Provence”, which made him famous and was made into a film. This second volume is “Toujours Provence” and continues his explorations of the quirky characters he meets.

He tells of a fellow in the next village over who is taught toads to sing La Marseilles for the France’s bicentennial. This places the story in 1989, about as topical as his stories get. In another essay, Mayle describes, in wincing detail, the difficulties of a simple plumbing repair to his ancient house in the hills.

The hills of Provence

All of these misadventures happen under the blazing Provençal sunshine. One August, when it was 85 degrees by breakfast and even the wild hogs slept in the shade, Peter tells of driving to Chateau Neuf de Pape for a ‘degustation’, a wine tasting, that included two enormous meals and countless glasses of wine. After a stultifying lunch, he napped under a tree until awoken for an equally paralyzing dinner.

It is pleasant, these damp, chilly days, to mentally wander the hills of the Luberon, just above Marseilles, with an eccentric, literate Brit as a guide. It sends me to sleep with sunshine.

Thank you, Mr. Mayle

Love,

Grandma Judy

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Seasonal Inspiration

Dear Liza,

Spring…

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.

Love,

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!

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

Day After Thanks

Dear Liza,

We spent yesterday being thankful, and it was a full day. My life has been blessed, full, funny, a bit unusual, and very, very happy.

Me, out and about

I am thankful for being alive and healthy. My body at 60-plus years is still running, although a little rusty. With proper maintenance it should have a lot more miles in it.

We three

I am thankful for my dear people. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett love me with all my faults. They are my people to look after and cook for, to play with, to dance and draw and do puzzles with.

Almost everyone!!

I am thankful for my extended family. You and your Mom and Dad, Auntie Katie and the cousins, are not within hugging distance at the moment. But all things pass and before very long we will be hanging out at the Laurelhurst Park, or back on the beach in Monterey together. Meanwhile, we send letters and zoom and know we are loved.

Just keep learning, just keep learning…

I am thankful for learning. Being able to keep my brain young by learning French, art, and history makes everyday challenging and fun. I have always preached about “life-long learning” but never fully appreciated it until now.

Portlandia, in all her glory

I am grateful for our home here in Portland. This city has been such a fine place to retire, with art, theater, and all the urban buzz. The buzz is muted for a while, but will return with gusto, I have no doubt. And with Portland’s energy and social awareness, that will be a fine thing to see.

I am grateful for Democracy. The American Experiment wobbled for a while, but seems to be righting itself. I am glad to be able to have faith in our country’s future.

Gratitude is a great mindset. Hang onto it!

Love,

Grandma Judy