Tree of Memories

Dear Liza,

Well, our new Christmas tree is up and decorated. It looks so pretty, sitting by the window of our new home. But I love it mostly for the memories it is decorated with.

Auntie Bridgett has ornaments from her childhood in Eureka, California. Her first Snoopy ornament, along with two ceramic angels she painted with her mom when she was seven, hold precious memories for her.

Auntie Bridgett’s Angels



I have some ornaments that belonged to great-grandma Billie. The pine cone is so fragile, I am surprised it has lasted the sixty-or-so years it has, and her love of birds is shown in all the feathered friends now perched on my tree.









Great Grandma Billie’s Pine cone and birds

We have bought ornaments on our travels, too. Admiral Nelson is from our trip to London. He is no relation to Grandpa Nelson.

Admiral Horatio Charles Nelson (No relation)

Sometimes, the connection is harder to see. These tiny gnomes are from Cologne, Germany.img_2125.jpg

When we were there, we heard a tale that hundreds of years ago, a bunch of little men would come every night and do people’s chores….clean the house, milk the cows, stuff like that. The story continues that a young housewife became curious, and wanted to see the little men for herself.



When she surprised the gnomes at their work, they got mad and left, never to return. Needless to say, the town was very angry with her and even built a statue of her, to warn against investigating magical things too closely.

I love that so many stories play out in my head when I look at our tree. I love that we get tell the stories again, every year.


Grandma Judy

Gearing up for Christmas

Dear Liza,


Yesterday we spent all day, in one way or another, getting ready for Christmas. First thing, Auntie Bridgett and I walked out in 36 degrees F to go shopping. Hawthorne Street, just a bit south of us, has so many wonderful, locally run shops! Asylum, Kids at Heart, Tender Loving Empire, and Memento all have really interesting items that tickle my funny bone. We had a good time choosing special things for our special people.

When the lunch bell in my stomach started going off, we knew it was time to get home. Leftover chicken and cheese made for delicious burritos to keep our spirits up.

Miles and the new tree

Then, the three of us headed off to the big quest of the day: The Christmas tree! Last year, we drove all over town looking for a lot we liked…and finally found a small lot at Belmont and 48th. We went there first this year.

We usually get a Noble Fir, but standing very tall and shaggy, was a Nordman. This was a new type of tree to us, but we liked the height and slightly careless look , so we had the nice fellow tie it to Miles’s roof and took it home.


Sneakin’ in the tree

Our new garage is narrow and pretty full, so it took some real maneuvering to get it in and upstairs…but once installed, it fit perfectly. Grandpa Nelson put up the lights and I brought boxes of ornaments in from the garage, for Sunday’s decorating.

After resting a bit, we wanted to go visit the Open Studio of our friend Nicole Crucio, who makes ceramics. We met her at an Art Show this last summer, when we were headed for Silver Falls. Nicole’s studio is in southeast Portland, in her basement, with a good sized kiln and lots of space. We enjoyed looking at her vases, plaques and paintings.

Nicole Crucio’s work by the fire

She shared her show the her friend Jeni Lee, who does wonderful acrylic paintings with raindrops!! These capture the beautifully atmospheric conditions here in the Northwest and feel cool and welcoming.

Jeni Lee and her raindrop acrylics

At Nicole’s, we also met her dog Stevie, who is very sweet and loves to show off her tricks. She does a figure eight between Nicole’s legs, rolls over, and dances. She was fun. We also ate some cookies from the Morsel Code Cookie Company, baked by a lady who wants cookies to taste good but be less bad for you! Amen to that. Very tasty, indeed.

Nicole and Stevie, showing off

Back home, Auntie Bridgett started the wrapping g of the goodies we had bought on Hawthorne ….coming to you, heading the San Diego for kidlets there, and some staying here in Portland.

Tomorrow, we decorate the tree!!


Grandma Judy

Hanukkah Evening

Dear Liza,

Two kids, two menorahs…

We finally got to spend a Hanukkah evening with Auntie Katie, Jasper and Kestrel!

Last Thursday evening was the Winter Music Performance at Hosford-Abernethy School. The sun was just going down as we all walked from their house to the school, about two blocks. It was already very cold, but we were properly bundled up.

I love old school buildings! They have high ceilings, which at Abernethy, means beautiful soaring murals of kids doing art, geography, gardening, and music.

Abernethy’s murals

The program, put on by Ms Lannigan’s and Ms Logan’s Second Grade classes, was directed and partly written by the school’s music teacher, Mr. Hall. There were six songs, some of which, like “Frere Jacques”, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” and ” Zum Gali Gali”, I sang when I was little!

Mr. Hall wrote “The World Greeting Song” and ” I Am We”. The first is a fun call and response song about ways of saying hello in different languages. The audience did a fine job repeating ‘hola’ and even ‘nihao’, but we got lost in some of the other greetings. “I am We” is about the different winter holidays and how many days each is celebrated.

Mr. Hall and his performers

After the show, we walked back to Auntie Katie’s house. It was very cold and dark, and not even 6:00 yet. We made latkes (Kestrel broke the eggs nearly perfectly) and enjoyed them with applesauce and chicken, lit candles and opened presents. Kestrel had made Katie a pretty coaster out of a tile. The silliest gift was the Marvel comics printed leggings I had found for Katie at a vintage shop!

After dinner, Grandpa Nelson played video games with Jasper while we ladies made cookies. The recipe is from Auntie Bridgett’s Momma, Donna Spicer, and worked very well.

Cracking with Care

Since the evening was running late, we decided to used broken up chocolate gelt for decorations instead of frosting the cookies. There were squirrels and acorns, kestrels (the bird), owls and octopi. They were delicious!

We left before bedtime, full of latkes, cookies and the love of family.


Grandma Judy

Animal Friends

Dear Liza,

Mousekin in her new favorite place

Today I went on a walk and got to see some interesting critters. Then I got home and hung out with another one.

On my walk to run errands, I met three free range chickens. According to their sign, the are Froggy, Zen and Wolfie. They have a lovely chicken coop and yard, but love to explore. As I knelt down to take their picture, they came right up to say hello! A woman was walking by with her baby, and it appeared they were all old friends. The chickens clucked their way over and the baby laughed like crazy.


Free Range Friends

Further along, I saw a sad sight….a beautiful old tree had blown down in the wind. It missed all the cars on the street, which was something of an automotive guardian angel miracle. Looking at the trunk, I saw that the whole inside of the tree was dry and rotten, with what looks like termite damage. The tree had probably been dead for years, just waiting to be knocked down.






Dead Tree Falling

As I was looking, these two sweet corgis came by, saying hello to me but clearly upset at the loss of a fine peeing tree.

Corgis saying goodbye to an old friend

After walking about three miles, all my errands were done: dry cleaner, banking, doctor appointment, and shopping. I got home, chilly and tired, and sat in front of our lovely fireplace. Mousekin is loving it, as well. Second only to Grandpa Nelson’s lap, the hearth is her favorite place to be.


Grandma Judy

Falling into Winter

Dear Liza,

Firwood Lake at sunset

I am so happy to be back in Portland after our trip to Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, all the water is pumped in and does what it is told. Fountains. Swimming pools. A tiny green oasis here and there.

But in Portland, the water comes of its own accord, from the rains and rivers, wandering about with its own agenda. It is planned for, accommodated, and appreciated.

Our Firwood Lake in Laurelhurst Park is a natural low spot in the park, and catches all the water that falls in our lovely, hundred year oldĀ  forest. The Park planners were wise enough to use the environment rather than fight it, to make the lake a focal point and ecosystem instead of a muddy ball field.

Graced by a gingko

The leaves are still falling, but the trees are running out. The small building in Laurelhurst Park, which houses the bathrooms and maintenance office, is graced by the nearby gingko tree.

In the neighborhood, Christmas is going up in eccentric ways. This Japanese maple tree’s leaves haven’t been raked in two years…but it has lights. img_1964.jpeg

This majestic house, which we can see across Cesar Chavez Boulevard through the now-bare trees, has very conservative decorations, which seems suitable to its old fashioned style.

Waiting to see what happens next!


Grandma Judy


Art in Las Vegas

Dear Liza,

Welcoming Statue

Besides seeing a wedding in Las Vegas, we saw art! As I told you yesterday, Chihuly made the glass work for the ceiling of the lobby. Hundreds of other unknown artists and craftsmen and women created statues, carpets, mosaics, ceilings, and even chocolate fountains.

Art Underfoot

Wonderful pieces of art were everywhere, even in small, out of the way corners. These delightfully complex collages, by an artist called Rafferty, were hanging in the part of the lobby where you check your luggage.

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Out of the way collage

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama had an installation called The Infinity Room, but they were booked up past our stay. She had a studio set up next to the Infinity Room, however, where we got to see some of her color palettes and assistants in action.

Kusama’s Studio set-up






Richard MacDonald, a California artist whose work I have admired in Carmel galleries, had an exhibit just outside the O Theater, where the Cirque de Soleil show is being done. His art matches the physicality and perfection of the Cirque show exactly.

Richard MacDonald’s amazing work

And, of course, Picasso. This isn’t just a restaurant named after the painter…there are dozens of his original works hung on the walls! They sort of winked and teased as we walked by, but of course, people were enjoying their own special dinners right in front of them, so we didn’t stare or take pictures. Maybe fabulous art in such a public place isn’t such a great idea… with your eye and mind pulled in different directions, it’s hard to pay proper attention. At an art gallery or museum, you are there to look at art. At the Bellagio, you are seeing art as you pass by…to dinner, to the pool, wherever. The mindset of quiet contemplation is lost.IMG_1940.jpeg

All that being said, I was amazed and impressed at the level of art and artistry shown in the Bellagio. It is still not my type of place, but I have to admire their attention to detail.


Grandma Judy

Las Vegas Adventure

Dear Liza,

Ceiling of Bellagio Lobby by Chihuly

This past weekend, our dear friend Nate got married. He lives in Virginia, she lives in Toronto, Canada, so of course they got married in Las Vegas! Go figure.

We left Portland in drizzling cold Saturday morning, getting to cold but eye-breakingly clear Vegas before lunch. The high desert, with its bare mountains that look like weaponized shards of broken pottery, has a special, fierce beauty. There was snow on the higher mountains, giving a Christmas-y look to things outside. Inside, the decorators took care of things.

In the Conservatory

The city of Las Vegas has about as many full time residents as Portland, but many times the visitor rate…every year, three times as many people come to visit as live there. That’s a lot of coming and going! The airport is exhaustingly full, of people and full of slot machines!

Room for slots but not enough seats!

Once we arrived at the Bellagio, we relaxed in luxury. A huge jetted tub, view of the Strip, and the fountains all made us feel like royalty. We looked pretty spiffy, all dressed up.

Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett, looking beautiful

Nate’s wedding to his sweet Natalia was held on a terrace by the famous Bellagio fountains, and the happy couple looked wonderful. They had chosen the music and fountain show, Frank Sinatra’s “Fly me to the Moon.” The fountains are impressive in person, but too big to capture in a photo. Once we were inside and the lights came on, I got this shot.img_1945.jpg

The mother of the bride holding the bouquet was traditional…the back drop of Jumbotrons certainly wasn’t. But hey, Vegas, right? And, of course, I didn’t get a single photo of the bride and groom together! There were three full-time photographers, shooting and angling and directing folks, so I know there will BE pictures. I just didn’t get them.

Iconic Vegas Wedding Picture

After eating and drinking too much at the reception at the best restaurant in the city, we slept in and had the longest travel day ever getting home. Mousekin was happy to see us, and we all slept like the dead.

Heading home!

We have discovered some important things.

1. Love makes anything possible.

2. We are not Vegas people.

3. Drink water whenever you can.

4. There’s no place like home.


Grandma Judy