Signs of Spring

Dear Liza,

Yes, the snow is barely melted in the neighborhood, but the sun came out yesterday and showed us some signs of spring.

A mighty Laurelhurst tree, down in the storm

At Laurelhurst Park, the totally saturated ground and heavy ice from our last storm caused another great tree to fall. This is on the edge of what I call The Ravine, and has been in many of my photos of this part of the park. It was angular and leaning and beautiful.

It is sad to see such a fine specimen down. This cusp between winter and spring can be difficult to navigate safely.

The same tree a few winters ago….

But there are more gentle signs of spring. Tiny crocuses coming up beside napping angels.

Early blooming trees cheering us up and letting us know that winter doesn’t last forever.

The list of folks getting vaccinated grows every day, making us all safer. And when we get ours, life will get more mobile and more fun. Then I will get to come visit you. And that will be very sweet.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Icy Magic

Dear Liza,

Just as I was getting used to snow, I started noticing the ice. A icy glaze covered every tiny branchof every bush and tree in the neighborhood, as though they had all been dipped in glass. I couldn’t stop staring at them.

The forecast was for warming Monday evening and rain through the week, so I am glad I managed to see the ice and get the pictures I did.

The sharp, drippy shards of icicles are amazing and alien looking, but something I saw that I didn’t expect was this lovely frozen-bumpy effect on car windows and mirrors. The temperature was so low that the rain froze as soon as it hit.

Sadly, all this magic will be gone by Tuesday morning. Icicles will drip into non-existence. Snow will melt and flow into the bioswales and from there to the river. We will be back to normal, and that’s okay, too.

Weird bubble mirror and Auntie Bridgett

I’m glad the snow doesn’t last long enough to be just “that darn white stuff”.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Snow in Portland! Part 2

Dear Liza,

After we realized the front gate was blocked, we headed out the garage door. Snow was there, too, but we could stomp through and get to the sidewalk, anyway. We walked toward Laurelhurst Park, staring at icicle drips and snow covered steps along the way.

Ghostly garden steps

We watched a cheery parade of folks dragging sleds and carrying plastic trash can lids. Every pair of cross country skis in East Portland was in use. It was like a party!

Tinseled nandina

And once we got to the park, the fun continued. Sledders found the ravine. Big fluffy dogs rolled and ran in the snow, like kids let out of school. People of a certain vintage walked like penguins, taking tiny steps.

The Off Leash area run amok!

At the west end of the park, one of the hundred year old trees had fallen across SE 33rd, barely missing the windows and facade of a house almost as old as the tree. It must have been a windier night than I realized! Of course, the downed tree became a temporary jungle gym for neighborhood kids, who climbed over its frosted branches.

By this time, my phone and I were both out of energy, so Auntie Bridgett and I trudged home. But this snow isn’t going anywhere for a day or two, so I’ll show you more frozen beauty tomorrow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Snow in Portland! Part 1

Dear Liza,

In winter, Portland is mostly a wet and chilly city, not a cold and frozen city. This weekend has been different.

Our patio gnomes, snowed in…

We knew the snow was coming. The weather reports warned of heavy snow, freezing temperatures, and icy bridges. We did extra grocery shopping so we wouldn’t run out of things if we couldn’t drive or walk to the market. And when we went to bed Thursday night, it was snowing.

For me, a girl from the beach in Southern California, there is always something magical about snowfall. Unlike rain, which falls quickly and races away along the gutters, snow comes down at a leisurely pace, as if it is enjoying the scenery along the way. Then it makes little piles, settling in for a visit.

Modern art sculpture of trees in the courtyard…

Friday was a wonderful, mostly-stay-inside day. Grandpa Nelson and I got out to walk around the building just to hear the snow crunch under our boots, then got back inside before we fell in our butts. Tucked back inside, we watched as the snow came and went, with some chilly wind rattling the ice on the branches of the dogwood tree across the way. Even my bonsai forest, The Hundred Acre Wood, out on the balcony, got some snow.

Hundred Acre Wood in snowfall…

When we woke up Saturday, we saw that quite a bit of snow had decided to stay and visit. The little gate that separates our patio from the main walkway was frozen shut, the latch having been welded and glazed by freezing rain.

Frozen latch

Once I got that melted via a hot washcloth (thanks for the advice, Auntie Katie!) I realized that I had a bigger problem. The bottom six inches of the gate were buried in the snow. But my dad would not have been deterred, and I didn’t want to be, either.

I went in search of weaponry, but when we moved from our house in Salinas to our townhouse with no yard, we gave all that away. No shovel, rake, or push room, not even garden trowels. What did I have? A spatula and some cardboard.. I tried, I really did. But no go. There was no going out that way.

These footprints went nowhere!

Sigh. More tea…. more sewing. It could be so much worse.

I will tell you about our victory and adventure in the snow tomorrow!

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

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