First Picnic in the Allotment

Dear Liza,

It was so sunny and warm the other day, Auntie Bridgett and I took a picnic to our plot at the community garden. We have planted lettuce, radish, marigold and carrot seeds, which is all we can put in until it gets warmer and drier, and wanted to keep them company as they start sprouting.

Cheeses, fruit and haroset made a nice portable lunch. We each carried a camp chair to set up in the narrow space between our plot and our neighbor’s.

We got to meet Ruth, who is the manager for our garden. She showed us her plot, just across the pathway. She has a lot of flowers growing, and just a few vegetables. She headed off to work on a public plot at the top of the garden.

We set things out and the sun just kept getting warmer! I peeled off my jacket, then my sweater and hat…. down to my tee shirt outside, for the first time in about seven months. It felt fabulous, thank you very much.

We watched tiny birds eat bugs off the kale in the next plot, and heard the crows telling everybody something, very loudly. We noticed evryone’s tiny sprouts coming up and marveled at the beginnings of things.

When all the food was gone, I got up to pull some weeds (of course) and Bridgett got out her watercolors to make some pictures. As always, I enjoyed getting my hands in the dirt.

I harvested some mint that is sprouting up at the edge out our plot, enjoying the shade of the camellia bush. When it was time to go, I carried the weeds, since there isn’t a can for them at the garden. Auntie Bridgett put the mint in her backpack.

Back home, I worked on a watercolor of the camellias I pruned the other day. It’s spring again, and here I am, painting flowers. Funny how that works.

Camelias in my Nicole Curcio vase

Love,

Grandma Judy

Seeds In!

Dear Liza,

Finally! After months of anticipation, we have seeds and a plant in the ground at the allotment. The weatherman has promised we will have no more frost this spring, so it was time to commit.

Chilly Auntie Bridgett, drawing

Auntie Bridgett went along with me, though she is not a gardener; there is too much mud involved for her liking. But she wanted to draw the garden, keep me company, and make notes. That’s what she does.

We bundled up against the chilly morning, carrying the seeds, the lavender plant, and nifty home made garden markers along in a bag. We chatted briefly with other gardeners. After so long in isolation we long for companionship, but we were all there on our own missions. The camellia tree had given us more blossoms, and I realized it may be a good idea to trim it back just a wee bit, to give us more space and sunlight. All good relationships need a little space, right?

Lumpy bed, waiting for some care

The soil was very lumpy, and I spent a lot of time crumbling the clods between my fingers, making a smoother bed for my seed babies. I sprinkled the seeds in and patted the soil gently, laying down a bit of of decomposed straw over the top to keep them damp.

There. The seeds are right there.

When my back was tired and my fingers were numb, it was time to lock the tools back in the shed and head out. Light rain is predicted for a few days, and should get the seedlings started. I am so excited for what happens next!

That marker says “LETTUCE”. That burst of green is a lavender transplant.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Progress in The Garden Journal

Dear Liza,

I haven’t done much work in the garden, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it! My garden journal gives me a place to put my dreams and imaginings down in a art-y, fun, not-having-to-think-too-much-about- it sort of way.

So when the rain comes down and the garden plot is all mud, I dream and draw, get out the collage glue and the watercolors, and have fun making up what I WANT to be doing.

Hopefully, by the time I run out of ideas to paint, spring will have sprung enough to where I can put seeds in the ground.

I am anxious for spring to come and to be able to watch my seeds grow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Spring Ups and Downs

Dear Liza,

Having celebrated my second lockdown birthday, I have lost some focus lately. Doing art with Ruth Inman and Jody Tockes on ZOOM makes me very happy. So does practicing French on Duolingo, and watching cool British sitcoms and documentaries. But for just a while, these were not feeding what needed feeding.

I got a bit blue. Nothing seemed fun or interesting. I had zero energy and couldn’t carry a conversation. My poor people knew I was sad but didn’t know what to do.

I did a lot of sitting and staring, or holding a book and trying to read. It felt like a light had gone out, that fun was something just out of my reach. I am lucky enough to only deal with this very rarely, and I know it will pass. It is, sort of, day by day.

I go for walks and notice spring flowers and the oddities of our old neighborhood. I try thinking about family and friends, but that just makes me sadder because of the impossibility, just now, of seeing them. I make art and learn history.

I know there is a ramp up out of this darkness, and if I just keep going, I will find it.

See you then.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Playing Around

Dear Liza,

With the weather being so nice and sunny, I have not been making art as much as I did when it was cold. My creative juices have been working to decide what to plant in the allotment. I have even re-designed my garden plot. Here is my new idea, with veggies planted in bunches instead of rows.

New plan for the allotment

But this morning, I got inspired. I wanted to make a flower in a different way, without actually painting a flower. I had gotten inspired by watching Ruth Inman make backgrounds using acrylic paints and old credit cards.

First, I cut a stem, a rose, and leaves from heavy paper and glued them down to the page. Once they dried, I dabbed some yellow, white and blue acrylic paint around. I wasn’t too fussy about where the dabs were.

Then I took an old credit card and used it like a palate knife, scraping the paint around a bit. This mixed the blue, yellow and white together to make some interesting new greens.

I liked the way it looked, but it needed more.

As I put more paint down and scraped it around, I began to despair. It got too dark! It lost the definition of the stem and leaves!

But when I hate a picture, I keeping working until I don’t hate it anymore. I got more delicate and laid in a bit of red and pink for the rose, using a small corner cut from the card for better control.

Better….

I was liking it better, but it wasn’t done. I knew it needed more but I had gotten wary. Was I just going to make it worse? I stepped away for a while. We had dinner and worked on the new jigsaw puzzle.

Close up of the chaotic, joyous effect!

I was in pajamas by the time I figured out what was needed. I pulled out the art supplies and worked for about five minutes, laying down a scraped bit of white here and there around the leaves. Now I liked it.

I really enjoy this new way of painting! It is unpredictable and surprises me with colors and textures. One color will cover another, or reveal it, and it makes my eyes sing. I love staring at a picture I painted and seeing things I didn’t expect.

Who knew?

Love,

Grandma Judy

Spring Light

Dear Liza,

It is still cold here, getting down to freezing overnight a few times this week. But spring is coming, bit by bit, and now that the time change has put us in the sunlight more, I have been getting out in it.

Shadows on the path at Laurelhurst

One day this week I took a walk by myself around Laurelhurst Park. As much as I love walking with Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett, walking alone gives me a chance to stop and just stare at light and blossoms, shadows and branches. The low afternoon light makes everything prettier.

Another day, I stopped by the allotment to pull some Lesser Celadine weeds that I noticed around the gate. These weeds are so invasive and harmful that they are listed on a national registry of noxious plants. There is even a website here in Oregon to report infestations. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/45750

Pretty, but invasive!

While I was there I met Rachel and Joel, two other new gardeners. It was good to be able to show them what I have learned about these new weeds.

And of course, the trees are blooming! Auntie Bridgett calls this Pink Season, and for good reason. Portland has had a wet, cold winter, and the ground is still very soggy. But sunshine and hope are right there, waiting.

I hope spring is pretty where you are, too!

Love,

Grandma Judy

The New Hundred Acre Wood

Dear Liza,

I am sad to say that my bonsai forest, the Hundred Acre Wood, has died. The smoke from forest fires last summer threw off the trees’ seasonal cycle, and they didn’t survive the winter.

Hundred Acre Wood, before the fire
Hundred Acre Wood and unfortunate peasants, in the snow

So this weekend I replanted it with three new trees we got at Portland Nursery.

Cypress, cotoneaster, and larch

Replanting is always an exciting thing! It has the promise of new life and new beginnings. In doing a bonsai, it is creating a miniature world that I can visit right out on the balcony. I can imagine I am in a spinney in Wales or just up in Forest Park.

The New Hundred Acre Wood

Even in regular times, I spend a lot of time in my imagination. But this past year’s restrictions have given me even more reasons to walk around the backwoods of my mind, and it’s nice to have new trees, even tiny ones, to walk under.

Love,

Grandma Judy

For Tim

Dear Liza,

Your great uncle, my oldest brother Tim, is having a birthday next week. After enjoying making an Art Journal for myself and a book for my friend Pat, I decided to make a book for him, too.

Tim is eight years older than me, so even though we grew up in the same house, we were at different parts of our lives at any given adventure. He taught me to climb trees, fish, and change the oil on a car. He joined the Marine Corps when I was 10 and retired when I was 40. He was, and still is, a rascal.

So I decided to remind him of some of our childhood adventures. I chose six to include and did a bit of writing and illustration for each. They are silly and short and should tickle his memory.

Trees played a big part in our childhoods. Climbing them, mostly, to test our wits and have space to ourselves.

Of course I included Momma’s recipe for Heavenly Buns, her go-to quick lunch that fed about a million neighborhood kids.

Camping and learning about outdoor living was an every-weekend activity. We learned about making fires, cooking in cast iron dutch ovens, and, one Thanksgiving, burying a turkey in the ground with coals and hot stones. “I bet it’ll work,” Dad grinned. He was right.

Since I had made the book small to fit in Tim’s pocket, but wanted to tell longer stories, I got creative about the page design. Accordion folds and other devices let me fit the stories in.

Maybe the best summer ever…

I am really enjoying this ability to tell stories and make them into books all by myself! A lot of my last few years have been spent researching and writing a story, and in the back of my head I was always wondering… “How is anyone going to see this?” Well, maybe I have solved my problem. We’ll see.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Getting My Hands Dirty

Dear Liza,

It is still too wet and chilly to plant seeds in our garden plot, but there is a lot of work to be done, anyway.

Our plot, 25G, waiting for us…

The City of Portland has 57 of these Community Gardens, in a program that has been running since 1975. When you sign up to have a plot, you pay between $20 and $220, depending on the size of your plot, and promise to help maintain the whole garden, donating a few hours during the year to keep things in good shape.

The hated Lessor Celadine!

Our General Manager, Ruth, sent out an email alerting us to work that needs doing. Public paths need weeding and covering in burlap, to make them less muddy. Fence lines need to be cleaned up. Vacant plots need help.

Ruth described the newest weed invading the garden, the Lessor Celadine, so perfectly that I recognized it right away. It is a type of wort with pretty round leathery leaves and a bright yellow flower. It is tempting to leave it alone, but apparently it spreads like wildfire and will take over an area.

So on Monday, I put one of our trash-collecting buckets in Dickon my red wagon, put on my coveralls and gardening shoes, and trudged up to the garden. I had decided to weed one of the public paths, a ten foot by three foot section that was weedy and goopy with mud.

Enjoying the silence, solitude and physicality of it, I sat right on the ground and dug in. I found the Bermuda grass stolens and dug them out, as well as the hated Lessor Celadine. An hour and a half later I was muddy and worn, but very, very happy. The path looked better, too.

All cleaned out and ready for burlap
In the rubbish!

I met a fellow gardener when I went to fetch the old coffee bags we use for covering the paths, and we chatted as we rested. Using Dickon the wagon to carry the heavy burlap, I covered the path with recycled coffee sacks.

Burlap keeps the mud down…

Then I packed up my weeds and trudged home, feeling every one of my 65 years. But I knew a hot shower and rest would set me right.

I am so happy in the garden! Being peacefully alone while being part of a decades-old community is wonderful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lefties and Landscapes

Dear Liza,

As I have gotten more into drawing and painting this past year, I have realized that there has been a whole long list in my head of “things I can’t do”. I’ll bet most people have this sort of list, and it makes decisions for them even when they don’t realize it

“I can’t write an essay every single day!” I wailed to myself, thinking about starting this blog in 2017. I have proven myself wrong 943 times so far.

My latest lefty drawing…

“I can’t draw with my left hand,” I have said since…. well, since I could draw at all. Recently, with practice and an adjustment of expectations, I have proven myself wrong again.

And now, I am tackling “I can’t do landscapes.” I am watching YouTube videos, finding the artists who go slowly enough for me, like Alan Owen, a Scotsman who is lovely to listen to. I am staring at landscape photos and watercolors, looking for the magic so I can reproduce it. And I am practicing. A lot.
With very mixed results.

On my own……

In “All That Jazz”, choreographer Joe Gideon tells one of troupe, “I don’t know if I can make you a great dancer. I don’t even know if I can make you a good dancer. But if you keep trying and don’t give up, I know I can make you a better dancer.”

With Alan Owen’s guidance.

And better is all I’m looking for right now.

Love,

Grandma Judy