Off With Their Heads!

Dear Liza,

Yesterday I went for a walk to see Auntie Katie and drop of Valentine’s presents and cards to the cousins. On the way, I saw two people working in one of the rose gardens in Ladd’s Addition, and I stopped to ask questions.

These two lovely people were pruning the scraggly, winter-dead roses down to about two feet high, and raking up the leaves around the base of the plants. They didn’t give me their names, but said they are part of the “Off with their heads!” group.

This dramatically named group of volunteers usually meet on Saturday mornings between May and September, “deadheading” roses as the blooms fade. Deadheading means taking the spent roses off so the bush will continue to make more roses. It keeps the gardens beautiful for months.

When we moved to Portland, I thought I would be joining a group like this. I had imagined missing my garden and wanting to get out in the mud. But I have been so busy with my history research and story writing, I haven’t gotten around to it! It is good to know they are still there, and that I can go play anytime I want.

Further along in my walk, I stopped at Backstory Books and Yarn, and found two different wools that I want to use to knit Auntie Bridgett a cowl like I made for myself. Stephanie, the owner of the shop, showed me how to knit with two strands of yarn at the same time! It will take some practice, but I will persevere.

I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day!


Grandma Judy

Valentine’s Day

Dear Liza,

It was so good talking with you last night, and seeing how long your hair has grown! I am so excited that you will be visiting next month.

Of course, a holiday of any kind is not complete without cookies. I am baking some for the cousins, and for Grandpa Nelson.

Since you have opened your card, I can share it here. I made it with Auntie Bridgett, who is a wonderful collage artist. She has boxes of papers, from the J. Peterman catalogue to old falling-apart books, magazines and even gift wrap, to cut up and use.

I find that if I have a person in mind as I flip though the paper, images come together and start to tell a story. For Cousin Jasper, there was a giant robot, tiny space dog, and diagonal lines. For Cousin Kestrel, birds perched on branches. And for you, a goofy bird in a heart.

Portland is a city where so many beautiful things are one of a kind, hand made, quirky and silly. It is a collage of everyone who lives here. That’s why I love it!


Grandma Judy

North Central School

Making sense of the story

Dear Liza,

I am still working on my children’s story. Maybe it will get done by the time you can read it! My characters are getting more interesting, and more complicated. My new story planning board has a column for each day, and different colors for different characters. And, of course, I need to research more.

My main character, a girl named Clara, lives on the West Side of the Willamette River, in the more developed, stylish part of 1903 Portland. A character I am developing, a boy named Henry, lives on the more rustic East Side. Many of the streets weren’t paved yet, and only three bridges connected the two sides of the city.

Henry is nine years old and goes to North Central School, so now I get to learn all about this school. This is difficult because the school doesn’t exist anymore, and even before it was torn down, its name was changed from North Central to Buckman, named after a man who did a great deal to develop this part of the city. I am using old newspapers, stored digitally on line, to learn about it.

Most interesting is how children of that time, once they were ten years old or so, were treated more like adults. I have found articles about kids being injured on their way to, or at, work…yes, work. Some worked as newsboys, or in fruit packing plants, some delivering messages or sweeping out stores, but they worked, for pay, instead of going to school. They lived with their families, in boarding houses, or on the street.

There are also want ads in the newspaper where kids as young as twelve were hiring themselves out to do housekeeping and child care chores after school for room and board, so they could stay in school. “Reliable 12 year old girl seeks position.”

Life for kids wasn’t all hard work, though. The Humane Society had an annual show, usually at big theaters downtown, where all the school kids had the afternoon off and put on performances, saw lantern slides of birds, and had a good time. There were contests of every sort, from building bird houses to writing essays, from relay races between Oregon City and Portland, to bicycle races. Churches, the Audubon Society, and the YMCA were very popular and active.

Kids of more prosperous families had a very different life, of course. Piano lessons, train rides, and college educations were available to those with cash and influence.

There seemed to be more death in children’s lives ( forgive the pun) back then. Children died of accidents, measles, infections, and food poisoning, things that are less common these days. There were no carriage seats for babies, penicillin, FDA, or other things to keep kids safe. Smallpox vaccine had been developed, but it wasn’t universally used, leading to some major health problems in crowded cities.

There were more orphans, because parents died in childbirth and all those other things, as well. Extended families, when they could, picked up the slack, but many kids who became orphans joined the workforce.

All this information is letting me create characters that feel real. They have lives that make sense and are based on human needs that don’t change, like food and shelter, safety and affection, self-esteem and the need to prove yourself.

Having fun learning things is a wonderful way to spend a rainy winter!

Love, Grandma Judy

North Central School in 1898!

Ice Games

Dear Liza,

With the storm had come and gone, the weather didn’t warm up very much. Some of the snow melted, but the ice stuck around in really interesting places. Gutters, where the snow melted and then froze before it could go anywhere, have become works of art. This big puddle on 29th Street had what looked like Hokusai’s famous print of a wave.

People have been getting creative, wanting to make snowmen but using what they have instead. Note the daffodil leaves next to this tiny creation.

This looks like a crater on the moon, but is really a birdbath that got frozen. I love the way the cold changes everything into something else.

Finally, I saw this tiny slope still covered with snow, and pictured fairies about an inch high scooting down on sleds made from….maybe bottle caps, spinning around yelling “Wheee!”


Grandma Judy

Another Set of Flurries

Dear Liza,

On Friday, we got a winter storm warning, which is the city’s way of saying “Get what you need now because the roads are going to be awful very soon.” We had already done our shopping, so we were fine. We have food, matches, blankets, a kitten, and each other. We just enjoyed waiting for a big storm.

We waited a long time! Finally it started, and came down very prettily for a few hours. Saturday morning, we had about two inches of fine snow. I went for another walk, seeing all sorts of things I had never seen before.

Auntie Bridgett’s gnomes, a gift from her Grandma Bea, were standing very bravely in the front patio, patiently waiting for summer, I think.

There were actual icicles hanging from the moss on a tree, where the snow had melted and been caught and frozen mid-drip. Amazing.

The Daphne bushes, which smell so sweet, have stopped in mid-bloom, deciding to wait for days when the bees will be by.

And once I got inside, I warmed up and stood by the window with the Paperwhites, enjoying their scent and looking at the cold outside. We were both grateful to be inside.


Grandma Judy

A New Best Friend

Dear Liza,

Art at The Best Friend

The other day I walked down to Auntie Katie’s shop, Books with Pictures. It was chilly and rainy, and I had a lovely walk through the Craftsman Style homes and ancient trees of Ladd’s Addition.

Auntie Katie’s friend Jay was visiting from New York, and lots of folks were coming by to say hello. I offered to get lunch for Katie since she needed to be behind the counter. She asked for a Margo Mango smoothie and salad roll from the food cart across Division Street.

Modest store front

I admit, I’ve been going to Books with Pictures for two years, and have never even noticed the food cart! The Best Friend, as it is called, is wedged between The Beer Mongers on one side and Genie’s cafe on the other. But it’s like The Leaky Cauldron…once you know it’s there, you won’t forget it.

The place is run by Margo and her assistant, whose name I didn’t catch. They are very friendly, and make wonderful smelling (and tasting!) fresh food. Smoothies, coffee and teas, and delightful fresh rolls and wraps.

Delightful water feature!

While I was waiting for the smoothie, I had a chance to get a good look at the covered patio area. Wonderful bright art, interesting tables and even a fountain made out of tea pots make the whole thing as fresh and friendly as Margo herself.

On my way home, I enjoyed seeing the signs of spring that are blooming and popping up everywhere…camellias, bulbs and hummingbirds are everywhere!

Every day brings wonderful new things!


Grandma Judy

Tiny Library Architecture

Dear Liza,

Out walking the other day, Auntie Bridgett and I found a new Tiny Library. I’ve told you about these before…small weather proof structures where people can drop off and collect books. There are a few in Salinas, but Portland seems to be a sort of epicenter.

Suspended Tiny Library

I have seen them in the shapes of blue British Police boxes, little cottages, and even Dia de los Muertos shrines.

But yesterday was the first library I have seen that was suspended. Yep, you read that right. It is dangling from a giant tree in the parkway. The library hangs from lightweight chains and has a glass door, rustic hardware and a roof made of tree bark. The bark still has moss and lichen on it! If Bilbo Baggins’ Shire had a tiny library, it would look just like this.

Bilbo would feel right at home

The tree was probably planted around 1905, when this part of the neighborhood was being developed, and is an ecosystem of its own…ferns, mosses, and squirrels make it their community. Standing under the tree felt as sacred as being in a church. Books, nature, and good people who appreciate both make the world wonderful.

Bioswale under construction

On the way home, we saw some new construction in the neighborhood. Taylor Street is getting some bioswales! I’ve told you about these… sunken gardens, lined with stones, where rain water collects and filters into the ground water. People have them in their yards, and the city of Portland installs them along the streets. They keep water from washing trash and pollutants into the Willamette River.

I love so much about my new city!


Grandma Judy