Portland Parkways

Dear Liza,

As I have told you before, Portland really likes to ride bikes. Kids ride to school, grown ups ride to work, and everyone rides on the weekends, just for fun.

During the warmer weather, the city sponsors an event called Portland Parkways one Sunday a month. Each month, the ride is through a different part of the city.

This past Sunday was the first one of the year, and it started right up the block at Laurelhurst Park! Since it was the first time we’d had the bikes out, we needed to put some air in the tires and get some practice in.

The Park was going to be a ‘hub’, a place with entertainment, snacks, repair booths and places to get information on all sorts of groups. We went early and met folks from “Friends of the Trees” and “Friends of Laurelhurst Park”, two groups I am really interested in. Grandpa Nelson talked to a fellow about bringing Major League Baseball to Portland.

There was a jazz band playing in the dog off leash area, so we hung out and enjoyed for a while, having pretzels and chicken hot dogs to make sure we started with lots of energy.

Then we started off on the eight and a half mile circuit, guided by chalk marks on the road, traffic barriers, and lots of helpful folks who stopped traffic for us and shouted encouragement. We rode through some very familiar streets, then south all the way to Clinton and east almost to Mt. Tabor!

There were a lot of wonderful downhill swoops and some tough uphill slogs, but I didn’t get off to push, not even once. This was a major victory for me.

At Ivon Park we stopped at the Portland Police booth and registered our bikes. It was free! Bike theft is a real problem here in Portland, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Along the way were other hubs to catch snacks or a rest, visit with people or just watch the wonderful parade of biking humanity go by.

All the way around and back to Laurelhurst, where more music was going on, as well as the Cascadia Circus fun zone, where kids and grown ups could play. A few more snacks and back home to rest our weary bones.

What a wonderful day out and about!


Grandma Judy

More Saturday Fun

Dear Liza,

After we saw the beauties of the Farmer’s Market, we walked along the Park Blocks, enjoying the dappled sun and people watching. Auntie Bridgett hadn’t found lunch at the market, so we stopped in to the Portland Art Museum cafe to get her a salad.

The museum has closed “The Map is not the Territory“, the exhibit with the floating rocks piece by Annette Bellamy, and is currently setting up something Auntie Bridgett is REALLY looking forward to, “Paris 1900“. This will include paintings, decor, and styles from what is called La Belle Epoch, or Beautiful Era, in France. It will be gorgeous, I am sure.

We wandered a bit in the courtyard of the museum, enjoying the outdoor pieces like “Rhododendrons”. I like looking at one piece of art through something else, or just past something else, seeing how they go together.

Today I noticed how the tower of the First Congregational Church made a pretty arrangement with the giant Orchids, the elm trees, and Mistral #2.

I also realized how much I enjoyed exploring this lovely city with my wonderful people. How lucky can one Grandma Judy get?


Grandma Judy

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