Happy Brain

Dear Liza,

This has been a good week for figuring stuff out. Whether that is because of the new brain exercises I have been doing or not, I think I will keep up with them. A happy brain makes a happy Grandma Judy.

Left- handed portrait of a neighbor

Drawing pictures with my non-dominant hand has made my whole body work harder. My left hand is figuring out how to hold a pencil, my right hand makes a fist, thinking she should be doing something, and my brain works overtime, making sense of the whole situation. It just seems to wake everything up!

Grandpa Nelson, enjoying the sunshine

This week I have gone on more walks. The sudden sunshine after weeks of rain is part of the reason, of course. Blinding sunshine through winter trees is just good for the soul.

Mapping out the day

But there’s more! For the Art Journal, I have made art I really like. Mapping my day as a board game and planning my ‘dream houses’ (yes, there are more than one!) have kept me happily introspective.

One dream house by the sea…

I have also figured out how to re-write my blogs so they can be printed. I sigh big sighs as I hunt up photos from years ago and cuddle up close to the feelings that they conjure.

…and one in Paris!

All of these are good things. Art, writing, figuring things out, and sunshine. I am enjoying them, but also very aware that I am using them as emotional armor against what seems like an approaching storm in our country. In the coming weeks, I am going to need all the joy I can get.

Defensive happiness. It works.


Grandma Judy

Trying to Make it Work

Dear Liza,

I have written almost 1,000 blogs since July 2017, using the WordPress.com site. I have written about Portland’s history and places to visit, as well as the joys and difficulties of everyday life here. I am now thinking of turning all this writing into small books, which could go out into the world.

I hope to compile blogs on one topic (starting with our historic Lone Fir Cemetery), print them out, and offer them for sale. Auntie Bridgett Spicer does this with her wonderful Art-O-Rama zines, collections of writings and art that she sells online and at the SideStreet Arts gallery.

The difficulty of moving my Word Press writings into any other format, in order to print them out, was my first challenge. I asked Bridgett and read Q and A pages, looking for a way to make it work. Then I found something by a knowledgable fellow who basically said, “Wordpress doesn’t want you to do this. It is made to not allow you to do this.” Hmmm. Well, then, I’ll do it another way.

So today I start doing it another way. I will hunker down and re-type my blogs about Lone Fir, using a split-screen to make sure I don’t drift too far from the originals. I will fetch my photos from Pictures and splice them in. I will tighten up language and get rid of repetition, while trying to keep the language fresh and fun.

I am excited about this new level of exposure for my writing, even though I have no idea where it may end up. As Gandalf said, “You never know what may happen, once you set foot outside your door.”

Off to write!


Grandma Judy


Dear Liza,

From 2016 until last spring, I worked just about every day on a story that I wanted to be published, printed, and used in the local schools. I had plans for this story. It was going places.

It was a fictionalized history of Portland in 1903, and to make the history correct and interesting, I researched everything from the conditions of children working in fish packing plants to the layout of elementary schools. I created some characters I really liked, and a few that were loathsome.

And then, last February, I just stopped. It was like a brain fever broke and I didn’t need to do that anymore. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, there were a few factors involved.

Children, 1903
  1. My favorite character idolized President Teddy Roosevelt. The more I learned about Teddy’s racism and imperialist views, the less I wanted this character to admire him. Since that was central to his motivation, it sort of fell apart.
  2. I realized that for a really dramatic story, terrible things have to happen to my characters. I don’t like to even think of terrible things happening to children, much less write about them.
  3. I realized that it was the research, the hunting of details, that I loved the most. The writing of the story was secondary.
House from 1903

Also, since I have lived here in Portland, I have met a few people who have published their stories. The books are well-written, well- researched, and entertaining. But the folks say that their experience with the publishing industry was miserable, frustrating, and made them pretty much zero income. So why go there?

Ego? That would be just sad. Wealth? I’m comfortable, thanks. Fame and fortune? Nope.

But I still have this research, these interesting bits of history and trivia of life back then. How to share them without publishers? Well, maybe you’re looking at it.

Online publishing is a popular venue, costs next to nothing, and demands fewer compromises. And it seems to be just about as profitable as print publishing (that is, not at all.) So maybe I will go back to my notebooks, find the best bits from my research, and put them in this blog.

Watch this space!


Grandma Judy

It’s a Process, it’s a Process….


Dear Liza,

Today I am thinking of a lot of things. My old friends and colleagues at University Park are starting a new school year, and I am thinking about how excited and stressed out they are at the job ahead of them. Teaching, like so much in life, is a long process.

I am also dealing with a process. After researching Portland history for more than a year, I am realizing I STILL don’t know enough to write the history story I want to write. I know the history, but the story is not working.

Fortunately, I have good people in my life to help. Auntie Bridgett and I talk about history, truth, and accuracy, so I can understand how I feel about writing a make believe story inside an historic story as a way to make the history easier to understand. It is a tricky needle to thread.

I have Grandpa Nelson, who reads more than I do, giving me new ways to think about the plot of the story. One day he suggested making my story into a mystery! That sounded interesting, because there is a bit of a mystery in it already. Then I realized I haven’t read enough mysteries to know how to write one. How do I add clues in an interesting way? How do I write a believable young detective for 1903?img_9329.jpg

Like Hermione Granger, when in doubt, I head for the library. Nancy Drew, here I come! I checked out three of the hundreds of Nancy Drew books, and am taking notes, just as though I were in a class. I am learning the basics of character, clues, plot twists, and making a story interesting and detailed without drowning in description.

But in the midst of all this learning, I was beginning to get discouraged. Maybe I can’t write the story. Maybe I’m not smart enough, or creative enough. Maybe I am fooling myself.

Then my dear sister-in-law Christy sent me a book called The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie. Feeling pretty unproductive anyway, I sat down and read it. This delightful book is written from the point of view of a stray cat who gets adopted by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in India. In the stories of the cat’s life, the writer teaches Buddhist precepts in down to earth ways. We see that putting others first is a true cause of happiness and that patience with one’s own failings is necessary. I finished the book and felt rejuvenated.

I had been getting in my own way. First, I stopped trying to write for a few days to sew and cook and do things for the people in my life. Having success, even in making cookies, while focusing on others instead of myself, was a wonderful feeling.  I took Auntie Bridgett to a new place for lunch, the Im Jai Thai, on Belmont, and got healthy, delicious food for the body and soul. IMG_9324.jpg

I may not be good or smart enough to write the story YET, but I can be, and I will be.

It’s a process. And in the meantime, I will read, take notes, and make clothes for a recently homeless doll.

Love, Grandma Judy