Downtown Farmer’s Market

Dear Liza,

Now that we are into Late May, the weather is becoming more predictably pleasant, and all the wonderful summer events are happening. Today we took our Magic Bus (the number 15) downtown and walked to the South Park Blocks. These are about 7 blocks that were set aside as open space when the city was first laid out in the 1850s. There are lawns, tall old elm trees, and two of our favorite statues: Mr. Lincoln and Colonel Teddy Roosevelt.

At the south end of the Park blocks is Portland State University. It merges into the city and parks beautifully, combining fountains, lawns, and lovely architecture. Today, we also got to see the Farmer’s Market.

Hundreds of farmers, butchers, wine makers and bakers brought their goodies. We chatted about local honey, learned which sausages don’t have nitrates, and heard the health benefits of herbal vinegars. We bought snap peas, asparagus, and two small basil plants to grow in the window pots now that we have eaten all the lettuce.

There was music from Africa and Hawaii, as well as a young man playing “Mr. Bojangles,”, one of my favorite old songs. There were dozens of places for lunch. I tried a new place, Grand Tang, and ate my pork and green onion dumpling. Yummy!

What makes this market so special is that, while it hosts hundreds of producers and thousands of customers, it is just a few feet in any direction from grassy spots where irises grow and bees find roses. The intertwining of urban and agricultural, hard surfaces and soft foliage, is magical.

I will tell you more about downtown tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

The Beatles! And Other Interesting things…

Dear Liza,

You know about The Beatles. They were a music group that was popular when I was a little girl. Since that was a long time ago, my favorite music group is now being featured in an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society.


But on to the exhibit. It was called “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Beatles!” because those were the words with which Ed Sullivan introduced John, Paul, George and Ringo to America in 1964. The exhibit is small, showing a little bit about rock and roll in America before the Beatles came, then their concert tours here in 1964, 1965, and 1966.

I enjoyed the recordings from news and radio shows of the time, discussing the Beatles as “a sociological phenomenon” and “the four mop tops from Liverpool”. The speed of their growth in popularity meant they went from a bit of an oddity to the center of pop music within weeks, decades before the Internet or social media!

There were the lads’ very own instruments, and some of their costumes, as well as tickets, photos, and all sorts of doodads, including toys and things that were marketed like crazy. I remember kids with Beatles lunchboxes, and I woke up Saturday mornings to the Beatles cartoon show.

The exhibit had places to take pictures, too… four old style microphones lined up so you and three friends could pretend to be the fellows, and an enlarged Abbey Road image. Grandpa Nelson took my picture!

After we had listened to and seen everything inside, we headed out into the City. Auntie Bridgett has become very interested in hexagonal patterns and pavings, so I took some pictures for her.

We enjoyed seeing how the clouds played across the glass buildings, which became mirrors for each other.

We got to see the Hawthorne Bridge go up for a large ferry heading upstream.

I had spicy bao at Kim Jung Smokehouse…yum! But when you are out of gas, it’s time to head home. So we did.

Love, Grandma Judy

Willie, the Dawn Redwood 2019

Willie when she was new, June 2018, with Bridgett and Nelson

Dear Liza,

Bikes, coffee, brunch… these are a few of the things Portlanders are obsessed with. But there is something else, something so ubiquitous (that means it’s everywhere!) are trees. Young, old, and really old, Portland loves its trees.

Our family tends to name new trees that we meet. Bridgett has young fir she calls Oliver, and I have matching Douglas firs I have named Doug and David, after David Douglas, who gave the species its name.

But my favorite tree so far is Willie, a young Dawn Redwood that was planted by the off leash dog area on Laurelhurst Park last spring. It was skinny but leafy. I named it after my Momma and wished it well.

Then came one of the driest summers on record, and we worried. Would Willie survive? Did she lose her leaves because she was deciduous, or because she was dead?

Looking grim, August 2018…

So, when the weather went from cold to warm, I would check on Willie. Was she going to get leaves? Would she live? YES!

Winter 2019

The sequence of pictures goes from last June, when she was new, through late summer’s die off and winter’s bare branches to this spring’s lush new growth.

Yay, Willie! Yay, spring!


May 15, 2019!! Hooray!!

Grandma Judy

Monkey Puzzle Trees

Dear Liza,

In an old movie that I love, the ghost of a sea captain argues with the new owner of his house about tearing out his Monkey Puzzle Tree. I have watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir all my life, but never seen such a tree until I moved to Portland. And now I see them everywhere!

These trees, which grow up to fifty feet tall, have crooked branches that are covered in very pointy spikes. I imagine that’s how they were named…no one could see how even a monkey could climb one! They are native to the mountains in Ecuador. So why are they so popular in Portland?

Well, Portland, being a PORT, was home to many sea captains (like Captain Greg in my old movie), who brought home seeds of plants from their travels. At the turn of the 20th century, it was a popular thing to do, showing that you had been places, but also adding diversity to the Douglas Firs and Maples in the neighborhood. Monkey Puzzles are not what I call ‘pretty’, but they certainly are a novelty.

I found a 1891 article about Monkey Puzzles being used to landscape a new building at Corvallis College, and a 1903 newspaper story where a man was furious that the neighbor’s terrier had endangered his beloved Monkey Puzzle Tree with its energetic digging. Then, in 1905, the Agriculture Building at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition was giving away the seeds (which are about as big as my thumb) to anyone who came by.

Of course, people wanted to have a living souvenir of the Exposition, and many trees were planted. In the more than a hundred years since, many have died or been chopped down, but once you start looking for them, you see them, especially here on the Eastside of Portland, where housing was growing just around 1905. But some of the trees are babies!! They must have been planted recently, from1905 seeds. Very nice, but prickly….

I love learning more about my new hometown!


Grandma Judy

St. John’s Bizarre

Dear Liza,

Portland has grown over the years by spreading out to fill empty land, and also by incorporating smaller town that were near the City. East Portland became the Eastside of Portland in the 1890s, and St. John’s became part of the city in 1915.

Because it was separate for so long, and because it is eight and a half miles north of the city center, it still feels very much like a small town rather than part of a huge metropolis. We enjoy its small-town-ness when ever we go, and we spent Saturday there for their annual St. John’s Bizarre.

I know you are thinking, “No, you mean BAZAAR, like a market.” Nope. Bizarre, like weird. It was, and it was wonderful. We got there in time to see many of the parade units setting up their floats and costumes, and got to chat and smile with mermaids, pirates, and portions of the beautiful St. John’s Bridge. Then we found the parade route and watched everyone go by.

There were a dozen marching bands from local Middle Schools and High Schools, playing really good music. They are always Grandpa Nelson’s favorite part of any parade, because he was in his marching bands in school.

My favorite parts are the community groups, the folks who make their place special and vibrant, who show you the nature of the neighborhood. I enjoyed the colorful dancers from St. John’s Pride and the Rise Up Against Extinction group, which fights the use of pesticides in the area.

After the parade, we found yummy food and cold sodas and, most importantly, shade! It has been really warm lately, and was 88 degrees Saturday. There were lots of food trucks and they all smelled good. Grandpa Nelson found the Pip’s Doughnuts and Auntie Bridgett and I had spicy chicken sliders.

As we enjoyed looking at the crafty area, we found our friend Jack Kent selling his Sketchy People books! He was doing good business and having a fun day talking to folks who love his drawings.

As we sat in a lovely cool cafe, we realized we were parked a mile and a half away, so we braced ourselves and headed off, finding the shady side of the street whenever possible.

Making a quick stop by the grocery store, we got home and crashed, resting up for the adventure tomorrow!!


Grandma Judy

To the Nursery

Dear Liza,

My momma, your great grandma Billie, was a gardener. She had gardens that grew flowers and fruit, roses and rhubarb, and she loved coaxing things from the soil. When she was a child in Oklahoma, she struggled against marauding chickens, drought and dust storms to raise a crepe myrtle bush to the ‘majestic’ height of two feet. She even got a few blooms.

When she moved to California during World War II, she had window boxes in her apartment, then she and great grandpa Lowell bought a half finished house in Manhattan Beach and made it into the home of my childhood. After they had gotten the walls and roof on, momma started on the garden and kept working on it for thirty five years, complete with flower garden in the front and veggies behind a rose covered fence. She continued this magic at her last home in Lompoc, where she and great grandpa Lowell turned a wild mustard field into a garden that was featured in a city tour.

I learned gardening from her, and have been happy to play in the dirt at whatever home I found myself. Our new home in Portland doesn’t have much in the way of acreage, but I am finding ways to have fun with it.

The other day, I walked a mile down Stark (stopping for lunch at the Belmont Station) to choose the right pot for a new project: a bonsai forest. Last winter I picked up a few birch and maple seeds and stuck them in pots, and now I have seedlings. It seemed like a perfect time to begin.

Portland Nursery has a huge selection of pots. I needed a shallow, not too big place, so the roots would stay small and the trees could grow in proportion. I found just the right one and spent a happy afternoon building my new make believe place. I have decided to call it The Hundred Acre Wood, after Winnie the Pooh’s home.

Now I will nurture and trim and watch it develop, maybe adding a ceramic snail or fairy along the way.

I will never be the gardener my Momma was, but that’s okay. I am the gardener I have become.


Grandma Judy

Then …More Art!

Dear Liza,

After I had seen all the wonderful art, Grandpa Nelson and I headed across the street to the Oregon Historical Society. They have a fun exhibit on the history of beer that he hadn’t seen, but I was there for an exhibit that is more art than history… contemporary quilts!

The theme of the exhibit was “On the Edge”, and was interpreted by about two dozen artists in beautifully different ways. The quilt above was called “On the Bluff Where I Live”, and looked sort of like the quilt I made for you a few years ago, being a map of our old neighborhood in Salinas, except that the artist’s neighborhood is on a bluff overlooking the Willamette River, and she used embroidery for names instead of beads. My quilt is below.Other quilts showed different edges…technology, sanity, shorelines, day and night. They all were interesting in different ways, encouraging me to finally get out the fabric I bought months ago to make a quilt about my new neighborhood here in Portland. I get nervous, because once you cut fabric, you are committed. But, really, what have I got to lose?

Full of art, history and inspiration, we were hungry again! We headed to Kenny and Zukes, the best Jewish deli Downtown, and had a nice kugel and root beer floats. Then, headed for home to watch the Giants beat the Cincinnati Reds.



Grandma Judy