Still Strong Inside

Dear Liza,

Our country seems to be in a dangerous place. Our people are fighting each other in Walgreens about wearing masks and in the streets over everything else. Our President is talking crazy about not leaving office when his time is up. People are worried about their health, their schools, and their jobs.

Last week, walking back from downtown, I passed this fallen oak tree in our Lone Fir Cemetery. It was one of the old ones, probably fifty feet tall, and had green leaves all over it. Five minutes before it had fallen, it had looked fine.

Hollow center of a giant

But now that I was able to see into the trunk, I could see the truth. It was rotten on the inside, hollow and useless. I had a shiver of bad literary juju. “That’s like us,” I thought. “We still live in nice houses and have luxuries, but our government has failed to protect us from the evil ambition of this President. We could fall any moment now.”

That sense of dread has stuck with me for days. It has given me nightmares. But it won’t stick around forever. There is still good in the world, and I went out and found some.

Vote of confidence on the Morrison Bridge

I love public art, especially the small bits that sneak up on you. It lets us see good intentions and know that the power for good is there, even when the artist has moved on.

Caring for tiny things on a side street

I love that more people are registering to vote and encourage others. I love that even “the other side” is taking steps to limit the damage to our Democracy. And I hope that when all this energy is acted upon, it will be enough.

Sticker art at Asylum
Always a good idea!

I send you waves of love and hope for a better day.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Yes, Portland

Dear Liza,

Three years ago, we moved to Portland. We came for its urban culture and forested parks, the wide Willamette crossed by soaring bridges, and for Auntie Katie and the cousins.

Soaring bridges…

We found all those things, and more. And even in the pandemic shut down, there is a lot of city to enjoy.

Silly family….
Adorable art….

PAM, the art museum, is a feast for the eyes and spirit, just a walk away. Attendance is limited to keep folks safe, but the art there can carry you away for a while.


Art isn’t just in the museums, either. It is everywhere, bright and outspoken.

Art where you least expect it….

The parks are still wonderful places filled with hundred year old trees, ditzy squirrels, and flowers.

Incredible views and forested parks…

Our city has gotten a bad rap, lately. Mr. Trump says we have been “in flames for decades.” He is lying. Our nightly demonstrations in a few blocks of downtown make him nervous, is all. They show we will stand up to police brutality and racial injustice.

And they are as much a part of what I love about Portland as the museums and the forests. I am glad to be a part of it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Jazz on the Porch

Dear Liza,

It has been a long, long time since we heard live music. Before the pandemic, it was one of the great joys of living in Portland: somewhere close, almost every evening, folks were playing music.

Oh, yes!!

But before the summer outdoor music season even got started, the whole country shut down. Movies, concerts, even outdoor venues, were all closed for the duration. Poop.

While out picking up litter the other day, we saw this sign and confirmed what we had heard talked about: Jazz in the neighborhood!

Gordon Leem and company

Just a block from our house is a lovely front porch where a group gathers to play gentle jazz, for whatever people want to put in the tip jar. Lead by Gordon Leem, the ensemble includes a keyboard, stand up bass, trombone, drums, and some fine scat singing.


It was wonderful. “Blue Skies”, their opening number, celebrated the return to our clear skies after nine days of toxic smoke. Folks slowly wandered in, carrying camp chairs, wine, and snacks. The sidewalks and even Alder Street itself became seating, and no one seemed to mind. The sun started to go down and we all just reveled in being there.

Being out in the world, watching people with their kids and dogs, was as important as the music itself. It wasn’t perfect, of course. A group close by us were so happy to be out of the house they chatted a bit too loudly. But I realized that was part of it. We have missed the luxury of being irritated by strangers.

The tip jar got regular donations, and Gordon reminded us that a part of that money will go to the Red Cross, who is helping lots of people in Oregon who have lost everything. After an hour and a half, it was time to head home. We waved at neighbors ( hard to recognize after months inside and with everyone masked!) , packed our chairs and headed off to dinner.

It almost felt like normal life.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Art In the Darkness

Dear Liza,

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.

The gloom is almost too much….

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Smokey Birthday

Dear Liza,

All our birthdays this year have been affected by the corona virus shutdown. But Auntie Bridgett’s had the added Barbecue flavor of the horrendous fires that are raging in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Bears say Happy Birthday!!

Because of the smoke, Portland is experiencing Hazardous air. Yep. Lately, it hasn’t been safe to go into a restaurant, or store, without a mask. Now, it’s not safe to go out, period. Our regular masks won’t help.

New technology holder…

So Auntie Bridgett’s birthday was a stay-inside affair. Presents were opened, including a giant book of everything from the Picasso museum in Paris, a fabulous bag, and a new doo-hickey to help her film her how-to videos.

Giant Picasso Book!

French Cooking radio played as we had a two woman painting party, inspired by “Ball Players on the Beach” by Picasso. We have such different styles, but we sure had fun!

The inspiration….

..

My take…
Auntie Bridgett’s take…

A quiet afternoon gave way to dinner plans. Since Paris was on our minds, we put it on the menu by ordering delivery from La Moule, a French place down on Clinton. A giant bowl of mussels in white wine, crusty baguettes, pate, and a nice red wine made for a filling, French-feeling meal.

French dinner….

A game of Scrabble, a Giants loss, and a Baking show, and it was time to say goodnight to this weirdest (so far) birthday.

Bears and cats make it all okay….

Love,

Grandma Judy

Helping the City, Helping Ourselves

Dear Liza,

On Thursday we got a chance to do good work for Portland. Grandpa Nelson got us signed up with a group called SolveOregon, who use volunteers to cleanup and repair around the state.

Our group downtown

We got up early and drove downtown to help with litter clean up. Except in the area just around the Federal Building, (where the protests and conflicts with police have been happening every night for three months), most of the storefronts are fine and businesses are open.

A whole bunch of people, patiently waiting to help!

Our check-in location was at the Mark Spencer Hotel, where ninety masked but friendly people waited in line to get directions and equipment. We collected our long handled grabbers, gloves, and plastic bags, and headed off.

It was slow going, because most of the litter we were picking up were small, like bottle caps or cigarette butts. It took us a while to get the hang of handling the grabbers. We walked along, heads down, focusing on the sidewalk. About every fifteen minutes we would look up and check in with each other and figure out where we were.

I am sorry for the lack of photos to tell this story, but it was difficult to use my phone while wearing gloves, a mask, and carrying a bag and grabbers. I made a choice to do the work well instead of photo-documenting.

As we walked along, we were pleasantly surprised by folks’s reactions. People would roll down the window of their cars and holler “Thank you!!”. A postal worker stopped us and told us how much he appreciated our help to make the city better. Auntie Bridgett made sure he knew that we appreciated his work, too.

Half of our neighborhood’s haul

After two hours, we had a satisfying amount of garbage in our bags, and were pretty much done in, and turned in our grabbers. We chatted with Sarah, our group leader, who let us know we could help in other ways, and directed us to the website to check it out.

Lunch!!

We had a wonderful, filling lunch at the Zeus Cafe, a McMeniman’s restaurant just a block from where we were working. I hadn’t realized how hungry or tired I was! By the time we got home, I could hardly walk up the stairs.

A nice thought for the day. And maybe, the year.

I am happy that we spent a few hours doing something to help our city. We have had recent problems, caused by the pandemic and social unrest, but we are also just a big city with millions of people smoking, doing business, and eating. It takes maintenance to keep it up.

And today I got to help.

Love,

Grandma Judy

…And Back Again

Dear Liza,

Once I got to the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, I had intended to head right back home, but my Dad’s voice whispered “Go home a different way, so you see something different.”

Art made with cables and sky

So I continued across the bridge to the Westside. The pedestrian walkway has recently been finished and makes for a very pleasant, if warm, walk between the bridges. There were more adventurers out and about.

Kayakers out and about

I found Poet’s Beach, a side path lined with stones that are carved with poetry written by students, years ago.

Thanks, Phoebe!

It is loud, because it is right under the double decker Marquam Bridge, but worth a read and a visit.

The extremely loud Marquam Bridge

By this time, my feet and my phone batteries were telling me it was time to head home. I decided to cross back over the Hawthorne Bridge. I love the views of bridges from other bridges!

The Marquam, Tilikum, and Ross Island Bridges… from the Hawthorne.

Of course, political statements are everywhere. I liked this re-purposed public service message.

You can see a lot of Portland from bridges, too. Joggers, cyclists, the Burnside Bridge and the Convention Center are all in these shots.

Once I was back on the Eastside, I realized I was hungry, and came upon Asylum, a food Court on the site of Dr. Hawthorne’s Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. This much-respected institution stood from 1862 to 1883. It closed when the good Doctor died and burned to the ground a few years later.

The space has a steampunk cartoony vibe, with trash containers that made me laugh and really tasty food.

I had pot stickers from the Thai place and enjoyed some people and art watching.

The Asylum gates ….

Once I was fed, I still had a mile walk, all uphill, to get home. I paced myself, admiring gardens, appreciating shade, and visiting with nice folks. I had done what I had intended to do, walked a total of 6.2 miles, and it felt good.

By the way, as you can tell, Portland is not “in flames”. We are fine. The protests are being exploited by the President and his allies who want to use Portland as an excuse to use strong arm tactics against his political enemies. He is lying.

Took the words out of my mouth!

Stay alert, stay well, and remember I love you.

Grandma Judy

Flowers and Balance

Dear Liza,

I think I am like most folks, lately, in that I am living on a seesaw. I alternate between reading every word of the news, needing to understand and make sense of the politics, economics, and natural disasters, and just needing to NOT. To NOT read. To NOT analyze.

Dahlias tall enough to look you right in the eye!

My walks are a good time to NOT. Instead of analyzing, I notice. I photograph. I appreciate. It gives my brain a short focus lens that is very restful.

It is just past sunflower season, as I’ve talked about before. But the dahlias are getting taller than my head.

The nasturtiums are playing nicely with all the other flowers.

And the onions, like me, are dancing beautifully while going to seed.


I know I am a grownup, and I need to Pay Attention to the world. But I can’t let it suck me down. Flowers help put me back in balance.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Signs of Love

Dear Liza,

With all of us staying in our houses, chatting with folks has become a much rarer thing. We can chat with neighbors for a minute or two when we sit on our balcony, but they are all in their way somewhere.

Conversations with strangers, which is one of the best things about living in a city, have almost come to a complete halt. Folks scurry by behind their masks, not wanting to give or catch the virus.

But people need to communicate. It’s part of our nature and it leaks out all over the place.

Advice from neighbors…

And, on my walks in the neighborhood, these little things make my heart smile.

……making sure we know that their Naked Ladies are for us to enjoy…
Love Wins is a big theme here, one I thoroughly endorse

We have places we go, knowing which hours are best to find them uncrowded. Zach’s Shack, the HobNob, and Rendezvous all have outdoor seating, tasty food and friendly folks.

It IS special. Life IS short.

We have recently learned that another favorite haunt, The Rocking Frog, will be closing down and moving somewhere else in a few months, when their lease is up. With so many businesses closing and other changes happening so fast, we truly need to remember to show signs of Love while we can.

Love,

Grandma Judy

“Out” For Dinner

Dear Liza,

On Fridays we try and go out for dinner. When we lived in Salinas, we went to Patria, or to the many restaurants in Monterey. Here in Portland, between our bustling neighborhood and easy bus service, we had hundreds of places to choose from.

Dinner out, back in the day (last year!)

Had, I say. In the pandemic, with public transportation feeling like a disease vector on wheels and many places closed up or only doing take-out, our elegant end of the week tradition has been trimmed back.

Auntie Bridgett sketching away…

I like cooking and don’t mind eating my own food, so for me, the “going out for dinner” was mostly about the “out” part. A change of scene, watching folks and chatting with servers, being in the hustle and bustle. Watching Bridgett sketch interesting characters. Watching Grandpa Nelson wave at babies from across the room.


This past Friday, we packed peanuts and half a bottle of wine, bottles of water, and some picnic utensils into a bag and walked down to Sea Sweets, a poke place on Hawthorne. Auntie Bridgett and I got poke bowls, filled with spicy raw salmon, brown rice, seaweed salad, kimchi corn, and pickled ginger. We also got an ice cold ginger beer for Grandpa Nelson, because it was really hot.

Sea Sweets yummy poke bowls

We packed up these delights and continued south to Seawellcrest Park for the “dinner out” part of our evening. We found a socially distanced piece of shade, spread the blanket, and ate up. About thirty feet away, a fellow was exercising. Further off, two young men were playing basketball. And far across the park, happy dogs met and ran and sniffed each other.

Our dinner

It was a warm, pleasant, very un-elegant dinner out, and I enjoyed it very much. As we headed home to watch baseball, I thought about how we create the world by our attitudes.

With the country shut down, in conflict, and worried about our upcoming election, we can still find happiness and peace. And those are valuable resources.

”Table” for three
Bright and breezy decor at the new place…

I hope you are enjoying life to the best of your abilities, being kind to those around you, and staying well.

Love,

Grandma Judy