Sunny Fall Walk

Dear Liza,

Grandpa needed some medical tests done the other day, which of course meant it was time for another adventure.

The lower part of OHSU (Oregon Health and Science University) is in an area of town called the South Waterfront. In the early 1900s, this area was lumber mills and other industry. Then, for years, it was an abandoned, polluted chunk of riverbank. Now, it was been re-built as an ultra-modern ‘village’ of glass tower medical offices and condominiums.

We took the Magic number 15 downtown, then transferred to the streetcar. There is a lot of very noisy construction downtown, and we watched as a tall crane swayed ominously in the wind.

After Grandpa Nelson’s five minute appointment, we started our walk back. The Tilikum Crossing and Willamette were beautiful in the bright fall sunshine, with some brave folks boating on this chilly day.

Tilikum Crossing, the Bridge of the People

We walked to find lunch at Ladd’s Taproom, but it was closed. Heavy sigh of hunger and disappointment.

Traffic on and under the Marquam Bridge

Walking up the hill on Hawthorne we found Burgerville, which was a less than stellar experience but kept us fed. As we continued, we found some retro decor in the outside of Lounge Lizard, these stylized lava lamps.

Cool retro decor

Then we stopped at Farina, a pricy pastry shop that mostly smells $2.50 macarons. I knew Auntie Bridgett had been wanting to sample them, so we bought three to take home. They were delicious. I don’t know if they were $2.50 delicious, however.

Pretty and pricey!

After a rest, Auntie Bridgett and I walked down to The Nerd Out where the owner, our friend Mitch Gillan, wanted to buy some of Auntie Bridgett’s Squirrel buttons.

While we were out, we had a walk around the neighborhood and then a before-dinner drink back at The Nerd Out. Moose Drool Ale for me, absinthe for Auntie Bridgett.

Some of Auntie Bridgett’s buttons
Some decor at The Nerd Out

Feeling very indulged, we went home for dinner and ended the evening by watching The House if Wax, a silly old Vincent Price movie.


Grandma Judy

Halloween Thoughts

Dear Liza,

At our house, we start getting ready for Halloween as soon as we turn the calendar page over from September.

That time of year

Auntie Bridgett brings down the decorations from storage, and we get to say hello to old friends we have collected over the years.

There is The Assistant, who hangs on our balcony and turns in the wind. We got him about ten years ago. He has graced parties and yards and always gives me a start.

The Assistant

But some of our spooky goodies are much older. This wonderful light-up witch was painted by Auntie Bridgett’s Mom Donna about forty-three years ago.

Family heirloom from 1976

Our taste in Halloween decorations is not gory. We don’t go in for blood or guts. We like ghosts that are cheerful or at most pensive, not tormented. We like the notion that spirits hang around at this time of year, but not that they have evil intentions.

I guess if I thought ghosts could be evil, I wouldn’t love visiting cemeteries as much as I do. Lone Fir never feels sad to me, although there have been many sad funerals there, I am sure.

The Stephens’, together again

But the dead are past all that. If they do watch us, it must be from a philosophical position of “well, that’s interesting,” or “those poor people, they just can’t understand.”

A young French lady who passed in Portland…

Maybe that’s why I love Halloween. Besides the pretty colors and cooler temperatures, costumes and candy, it lets me play with the ideas of living and dead, here and gone, timely life and the timeless beyond. It thins the veil, as they say, between worlds.


Grandma Judy

Modern Problems

Dear Liza,

When we visited London years ago, Grandpa Nelson and I saw lots of streets torn up, and the dirt that was being dug smelled bad. Stinky bad. Poop bad.

It turns out that in 2004, London was just pulling out the last of its 1906 WOODEN sewer pipes. “Things in Europe are old-fashioned.” I noted.

Old Seattle sewer pipe

Last month on the Seattle Underground tour, we saw an example of one of these wooden pipes that had been used in Seattle for many years. Since sewers and water systems were invented before steel or plastic, pipes to carry water IN and poop OUT were made by drilling two inch holes in logs and joining the logs together with wooden pegs.

Yes, they leaked. Yes, they rotted. But that was the best folks had, and compared to no pipes at all, they were a modern revolution.

Putting a hole in 34th Avenue

This week, our neighborhood in Portland is getting dug up for new drains and sewers, as well as new bioswales. Bioswales are the little street side gardens you saw here, that help clean the street water before it flows into the river.

Installing a new bioswale

As our population has grown, we need bigger sewer pipes. As our respect for the Willamette River has grown, we are diverting more street run-off to bioswales. I am happy to put up with some noise and street closures to keep our water system up-to-date.

Plastic, not wood! Hooray!

And I am very glad that I haven’t seen a single wooden pipe come out of the ground here!


Grandma Judy

Halloween Movies

Dear Liza,

A big part of our Halloween celebration is watching movies about spooky things. Like our choice in decorations, our tastes in “horror” movies is very tame. No guts or blood ( or at least, not much).

Funny, sweet ghost story, written in 1941

A few years ago we bought a boxed set of Classic Universal “monster movies”, most directed by Carl Laemmle or James Whale. Dracula, Frankenstein (and the Bride of...) The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera and The Mummy, are featured with short documentaries about the directors, actors, and other background details.

The first ghost movie I ever saw was The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I probably watched it because the leads, Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney, were two of my mother’s favorite actors. The story of a widow being befriended by a ghost (who helped her write a novel!) let me wonder if spirits hang around, and why, and what if we could talk with them?

Note: This picture doesn’t look anything like Gene Tierney!!

Last night we watched a more recent movie that plays with this idea of talking to ghosts, 1999s The Sixth Sense. It is scarier than our usual fare, and has some grab-the-person-next-to-you frights.

But it asks the same questions about spirits. What happens when we die? What would keep a person from “moving on” into a peaceful afterlife? Can the living help the dead? Can the dead help the living? I like it for its hopeful answers to these questions.

To get back to our collection of Classic Monster movies, my favorite is The Mummy. Why? Well, it feels mysterious rather than scary, and the Egyptian sets and costumes are pretty to look at, even if not accurate.

But mostly, I like it because the Mummy came back to life, and did all he did, for love. Misguided, a bit over-reaching, but love, anyway.

And love is all you need.


Grandma Judy

Fall’s in the Air

Dear Liza,

All the trees are showing off

We got back from really wet, cold Vancouver and Seattle to slightly drier but cooler Portland. We have had rain, thunder showers, and that wonderful dry, clear cold that people call “crisp”, I guess because breathing it is like biting into an apple.

The leaves are changing, too. The colors that have always meant “School’s Starting!” now mean “Time to get to the pumpkin patch!” and “What should I be for Halloween?”

It is also mushroom season. The owners of SideStreetArts building, Michael Pratt and his wife Rita Larsen brought the artists a whole bunch of Chanterelles that they hunted in the forest. I don’t hunt mushrooms because I haven’t been trained and might accidentally get a poison one. But Michael and Rita KNOW, and we enjoyed the bounty. Delicious roasted with veggies.

These are NOT the Chanterelles. These are growing unharvested in our neighborhood.

Of course, the prettiest part of Fall is the leaves changing colors. This year, I have my own private show! The Hundred Acre Wood, the trees I am growing as a bonsai forest, is changing like all the other trees.

The Hundred Acre Wood, when it was planted in May

The seeds I grew them from came from a tree only a few blocks away, so they feel like they are home.

The Hundred Acre Wood this August (tiny figures installed by you and Cousin Kestrel)

I look forward to seeing the whole cycle play out on my balcony. Life is sweet.

The Hundred Acre Wood this week


Grandma Judy

Delicious Experimenting

Dear Liza,

Playing with food

Tonight is First Friday at Auntie Bridgett’s Gallery, SideStreetArts. Since there are lots of flowers and dots in the paintings by Gary Hirsch and the ceramics by Scot Cameron-Bell, I wanted to make cookies of dots and flowers.

Scot Cameron-Bell’s work

But frosting makes cookies too messy to be around art…

Gary Hirsch’s work
Ready to chill

So I tried a different way.

Instead of frosting the cookies, I made the cookies into the shapes. I used a new recipe with cornstarch, so the cookies keep their shape better and don’t turn into ‘globs’. This was important for the “shape inside a shape” cookie I had in mind.

I mixed the dough, divided it, and colored each part. I wrapped and chilled the parts, then started rolling out and cutting.

First batch…. close, but not quite right

The first batch was rolled too thin, looked like weird fried eggs, and took way too long.

The second batch, using more specific directions and learning from experience, was better. They are toothy, lemon-y and pretty. I like the marbled look better than flat color!

The cookies are just a tad too thick.

Second batch… so much better!

Now I just need to have another chance to make them, and they will be perfect!

Done and ready to be eaten!

Maybe we could make some when I see you later this month!


Grandma Judy

Smith Tower

Dear Liza,

Arctic Club walrus, checking out the Smith Tower

This will be my last post about our trip north. We’ve been home a few days now, and it’s time to catch up.

But I couldn’t let it go without telling you about our venture to the top of Smith Tower. Built in 1914 by L. C. Smith, (of Smith- Corona typewriter fame), the Tower was the tallest building in Seattle until the Space Needle passed it in 1962.

We knew that there was an Observation Deck on the 35th floor, and even a bar featuring 1920s style cocktails. The history of the place and promise of beautiful nighttime views was irresistible.

The rum runner’s engineer turned State’s evidence and became a successful inventor

When we arrived and bought our tickets, we each chose a folder with information about actual people who had worked in Smith Tower. Stenographers, building managers and rum runners (people who smuggled liquor when it was illegal), all were represented. They were Hattie Freeman, who ran one of the four switchboards, Joshua Vogel, the architect, and Al Hubbard, a young engineer who kept the rum runner’s boats working.

The switchboard operator dumped her boyfriend and became a ‘private secretary’

Details of their lives and clues to their futures were sprinkled throughout the tour on the first and second floors. We heard snatches of telephone conversations and radio broadcasts and peeked into cupboards.

Preserved tile and brass details…. sigh…

To get to the 35th floor, we rode on one of a bank of seven brass- gated elevators, which are manually operated by wise-cracking fellows in traditional outfits. Our guide was well over six feet, incongruously tall for his tiny workspace, and kept us entertained during our ride.

Making with the wisecracks…..

Once we were at the top, Grandpa Nelson’s vertigo was again challenged. He stepped out for a a brief moment into the platform surrounding the tower, then thought better if it.

Elliot Bay before the storm

Auntie Bridgett and I stayed out and walked around, stunned by the views of Seattle at night. The clear sky and calm Elliot Bay reflected every light on The Great Wheel. All the glass towers built since the Smith have only made the view more magical.

All those taller buildings give us more to look at!

For our refreshment, we opted for dessert rather than cocktails, and enjoyed ice cream and chocolate cake while gazing about the “Chinese Room”, (it’s not called that anymore, I imagine for political reasons) which is decorated with wood carved ceilings, furniture and objects given by the last Empress of China, Cixi herself.

Detail of ceiling of The ‘former’ Chinese Room

We looked at every object, read every piece of information, and enjoyed every minute. Then it was time to head back home to The Arctic Club.

I am so grateful for Grandpa Nelson for planning this trip, and for Auntie Bridgett’s need to photo document everything, or I could never believe or remember all the wonderful things we saw and did.

Life is wonderful.


Grandma Judy