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

Mossy Goodness

Dear Liza,

Well, it’s raining again. The past few years, Portland has seen drier winters, and we seem to be making up for it now.

All this rain allows for some lovely, if damp, walks. It thins out the masked crowds at Laurelhurst Park.

And it waters the moss. Portland is a city upholstered with fluffy green moss. I love it!

Walls around houses or office buildings become tiny gardens.

The most common materials, like red bricks, become abstract pieces of art or wondrous topographical maps.

Our Lone Fir Cemetery is especially blessed. This grave, already overwhelmed with a maple tree, is softened with a velvety soft green blanket.

The moss isn’t greedy, though. It shares the walls, bricks, and graves with all sorts of plants and animals . After the moss has softened the stone, it holds on to the rain so ferns can take root.

Tiny flowers and entire ecosystems sprout from the fluffy dampness.

Maybe I will bundle up today and go enjoy some rainy, mossy, goodness. Or maybe I will stay warm and dry in my new pajamas and just write about it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Happy Hanukkah!

Dear Liza,

Our household celebrates both Christian and Jewish holidays, so this time of year is extra festive. We have our Christmas tree up and the menorah on the table. We have delivered small gifts across town to Auntie Katie and the cousins and wrapped presents for each other in red and green paper.

Our brass menorah, bought from the now-closed Do Re Me Music in Carmel about 38 years ago, was the first piece of Judaica we owned. We love it because it is an abstraction of the word “Hanukkah”, which means dedication, and is different from any menorah we have ever seen. We keep it on the piano all year ‘round, as a piece of art.

The only problem with it is that when the lower candles are all lit, the upper one tends to ….. well….. melt. A slight design flaw. But a small price to pay.

This year we are not making latkes. They are traditional and I love eating them, but for just Auntie Bridgett and me (Grandpa Nelson doesn’t like them) it is a lot of grating and frying mess. Also, we have an extremely nervous smoke detector. So we will pass for now and hope for better things next year.

Because it usually happens so close to Christmas, people sometimes try to make Hanukah an equivalent holiday, but it just isn’t. It is not nearly as important to Judaism as Passover, Rose Hosannah, or Yom Kippur.

But in the middle of a cold dark season, candles are always good.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Diversions

Dear Liza,

it is still rainy here in Portland. If it isn’t raining at any given minute, it has just stopped or will soon start. Such is winter here.

The neighborhood is full of things to see…like this tiny frozen pond up on Ankeny.

Fishing frog and his frozen plastic friends

We get out every day for a walk. But these aren’t the five mile leisurely strolls of summer. Yesterday I put on four layers plus a coat, gloves and fuzzy hat to walk to the market. Grandpa Nelson bundled up to get a haircut. Auntie Bridgett shivered to and from the gallery.

Inspiration and direction

But I keep busy. I am falling back in love with my story. I am making Gingernuts from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible for a brunch at the SideStreet Arts Gallery.

And yesterday I played a Scrabble game all by myself. Not a regular game, but one where I set out to make a pattern on the board. It was inspired by our accidental, real-game situation where we used only HALF the board. “What other patterns could I make?” I asked.

Our real-game accidental pattern…

Each turn is a legal turn and the words are all real words. I had to shift a few letters, but otherwise played by the rules. And I got this .

My solo game, planned pattern.

Like I said, the fun never stops.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Winter Fibonacci

Dear Liza,

Snow has been predicted a few times this month, and we always end up with rain instead. Don’t get me wrong, I like our rain. After years in Salinas with just barely enough, our raging downpours make me very happy.

But snow would be special. This morning we saw a few flakes, and I bundled up to go out….by the time I had my pants on, it was over. Sigh.

Chilly reflections

Still, I am still having fun with Fibonacci syllables. Here’s the latest:

Cold

Wet

Outside

Not for me

I can hibernate

Discover my inner grizzley

Nap with the cat, eat bread with jam

Until spring makes good

Her promise

Of sun,

Warmth,

Light

Love,

Grandma Judy

Grey Skies

Dear Liza,

Jonquils, jumping the gun

January is always a hard month here in Portland. The bright, food-and family filled holidays are past, but spring is months away, and it can feel like a very long road.

Bergenias love the rain and cold

We had a thumping rain storm the other night. It actually woke me up! But come morning the rain had stopped. Since I am mostly over my cold, I got bundled up and went to the park.

Camellia, having a peek

I wasn’t alone! There were dozens of folks walking around….some with their big fluffy dogs, some with kids on tiny bikes or babies in strollers, some tossing handfuls of frozen peas to the ducks. Everyone was chatty and seemed to be celebrating being OUT among their fellow humans. January can feel a bit like a jail sentence to be waited out.

The fellows who seemed to be enjoying the day most were these two, working on their j’ai alai moves. The older fellow stood pretty still, flinging the ball in all directions, while the younger played the part of a Labrador retriever, dashing and catching. It seemed the perfect cure for the January blues.

I spent an hour at the park, looking for bits of color. I found a few of these signs of the coming spring, but I am not fooled. It will be a long, wet, chilly haul. We will have to make our own sunshine.

Forsythia, I think…

Love,

Grandma Judy

Heading Towards the Solstice

Dear Liza,

It is getting dark really early here. This coming Saturday will be the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day (and longest night) of the year. Yesterday, it was pitch dark at 4:30. I am missing those long warm days of summer!

But winter has its own charms. Hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps… snuggling Mousekin by the fire… and the colors I see when I make myself get off the sofa, into three layers of clothes, and into the park.

There are just a few plants that are still green. Out-of-place transplants like magnolias and fuchsias look embarrassed, like they got into the party under false pretenses. Pines and firs keep their needles. Maples and birches drop their leaves in a well practiced dance. And ivy just hangs around, leaves intact, like it hasn’t noticed it is winter. Like if the ivy just ignores it long enough, winter will go away.

And guess what? This strategy works!

Every single year, the winter eventually GOES AWAY! So, I will try to emulate the ivy. Lay low, hunker down, and out last the winter.

Peppermint schnapps will help, I have no doubt.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Squirrel Love

Dear Liza,

I know there are squirrels where you live in Salinas, but here in Portland, they really seem to be everywhere!

They hop across the roads like little flying grey rainbows, dash up and around trees like the police are chasing them, and use the telephone wires as freeways.

Having his say…

The other day on my way home from the park, I saw this fellow sitting on the roof of a house, making that chittering noise squirrels do when they are mad at some one or some thing. I was the only one around, so I guess it was me.

Showing off!

He chittered at me for a while, and when I started to move away, he ran to the peak of the roof, as if to show off his agility. “I can climb, clumsy human, and you are stuck on the ground!” He seemed to say.

Silly squirrels.

Love, Grandma Judy

Wintery Thoughts

Dear Liza,

Mousekin, wondering why I am not being her lap.

The winter cold has always appealed to me, bundling up and going out to feel the chill on my face, and looking at the lights. But this year, as much as I am trying to maintain my adventurous spirit, it feels like winter is turning me into a bear. Not a grouchy bear, just an I-want-to-eat-everything-and-Stay-Inside sort of Bear.

Auntie Bridgett has put up the decorations in the house, and they make very pretty scenes…. gnomes by the tv, Santa cookie jars by the philodendron, and even Ellen Hughes’ little needlepoint village on the windowsill. “Stay in and look at us,” they say. “You don’t need to go outside.”

Pretty decorations from Russia

My still-in-progress story calls me to the computer. “Come edit this mess,” it says softly. “It will be wonderful, but right now, Chapter 20 doesn’t make sense.”

Mousekin the cat looks accusingly at me. “If you get up,” she asks, “who will be my lap?”

Tasty food calls to my bear tummy. “How often do you make really good cornbread?” it asks. “Come have some more, with butter, and then we’ll make cookies!”

Playing with my food…

I know my teacher colleagues are dealing with over-excited students. I know my own children are parenting their hearts out and working hard at jobs they are incredibly good at. But today, I just want to bake. And maybe nap.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Winter Comes Dripping In

Dear Liza,

I know winter doesn’t really start until December 21st, but it feels like it has already landed here in Portland.

The leaves have fallen from most of the maples. The ginkgoes are still blazing yellow, as if trying to hold off winter’s arrival. But it is cold. It is dark. And it is wet.

Inside where it is warm and dry, we are planning for Thanksgiving. The turkey will be bought pre-cooked from New Seasons Markets but the rest will be homemade…two potatoes, two breads, and maybe three pies, as Auntie Katie has offered two!! And cookies, of course.

Evenings are long now that it gets dark at five o’clock. I have gotten fabric out for another ‘Circles’ pillow. I’ve gotten some books from the library to read to help me with my Teacher Voice problem.

Scrabble games are a regular thing. Last night’s went wrong in a spectacular way….we managed to play ourselves into a corner and almost couldn’t finish!

And, although it seems a bit premature, Christmas movies are being listed, researched and pulled from their boxes. The Bishop’s Wife and Charlie Brown, We’re No Angels and way too many of the Christmas Carols. We have our priorities, after all.

We are ready for winter!

Love,

Grandma Judy