Peacock Lane, All Lit Up

Dear Liza,

One of our favorite Portland signs of Christmas is the lighting of Peacock Lane.

This four block section of SE 40th Avenue between Stark and Belmont is, for most of the year, just a pleasant neighborhood. But come Christmas, the homeowners pull out all the stops and invite the city to visit.

The other night we joined hundreds of other folks out for a very chilly (37F) walk to enjoy the lights and being out in the community.

The decorations ranged from the homey and cottage-like to the Interstellar antics of Jedi Knights.

Some seemed odd, almost ironic, as if to say “What is Christmas, anyway?” But it was all pretty and entertaining.

It’s nice to be out in the world again, even when we need to bundle up.


Grandma Judy

Christmas Treats from TV Chefs

Dear Liza,

Christmas is a time for sweets, for sure. The Great British Bake Off, along with other fine chefs, have nudged me into new territory.

This year I made my first boiled Christmas pudding! Friend Jofish Kaye gave me my first taste years ago, and chef Jamie Oliver walked me through the process via YouTube this week. You can find Jamie’s YouTube directions here.

It will sit in the fridge, wrapped up tight and soaking up a bit of whiskey, until Christmas.

Last year, I also made the fancy sort of braided loaf that Paul Hollywood expects his bakers to create. With the help of a YouTube baker named Bincy, I made this lovely (and delicious!) thing! Her very detailed YouTube directions are here:

Auntie Bridgett’s favorite Bake Off chef is Nancy Birkewhistle, whose mince pie we so enjoyed last year that I am making it again.

I hope you get inspired to make some yummies for Christmas! Remember, even the ‘failures’ are delicious.


Grandma Judy

Klaus: A New (to us) Christmas Movie

Dear Liza,

Every Christmas, we watch our favorite holiday movies. From “Miracle on 34th Street” to “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas”, we watch and enjoy over a dozen films.

We are fussy about our movies, of course. We don’t count “Die Hard” or “Bad Santa.” We like sweet, old fashioned stories where no one gets shot.

And this year, we found a new one! In looking over lists of movies online, I found 2019’s “Klaus” listed. From the minimal description and reviews, it seemed like a good bet. And it was!

“Klaus” is a delightful animated story about an exiled prince given a seemingly impossible task in order to regain his father’s favor. It is told with humor, slapstick comedy and suspense, with just a whisper of romance. Produced for Netflix, Klaus features voices by Jason Schwartzman, Joan Cusack, Rashida Jones and J.K. Simmons. It made me laugh out loud and was judged “Popcorn Worthy” by Grandpa Nelson.

So, go see Klaus. You won’t be sorry, I promise.


Grandma Judy

First Meringues!

Dear Liza,

Watching all theGreat British Baking Shows in re-runs gets me inspired, I hunted up a new recipe online and gave it a go. I found a yellow cake recipe, with eight (8!) egg yolks and I figured I could add some cocoa into some of the batter and it would be a fine marble cake.

Well, between several false starts (like forgetting to put the sugar in at the right time) and chocolate batter that was like concrete, it was a terrible cake. It is, however, a cake. So I ate it, though I didn’t ask anyone else to.

All this lead to eight homeless egg whites in the fridge. So, what else was I to do but try my hand at meringues?

Eight egg whites and half a teaspoon of salt, whipped to soft peaks, can welcome a cup of white sugar a bit at a time, and then a touch of vanilla and food coloring. Whip for ten minutes, tops, and you have lovely, sturdy, pink meringue! I was stunned.

I got the piping bag and made a few different shapes to see what was most successful. Baked at 120 F for an hour and a half, then left on the sheets to cool in the oven, they were ready to eat. Tiny kisses were easiest get off the sheets, and tight spirals were mostly successful.

More fragile shapes shattered and got eaten on the spot, but little kisses and swirls were bagged up for neighborly gifting.

I love kitchen experiments. Even the failures are usually delicious.


Grandma Judy

Fetching Lala Home

Dear Liza,

After Auntie Bridgett got the house decorated, it was time to get our Christmas tree. We headed down to our favorite Christmas tree lot, just 15 blocks away at 48th and Belmont. The folks there are always helpful, fun, and all their trees are from farms in Molalla, just a few miles from Portland.

We named our new tree Lala, after her hometown, as we named last year’s tree Molly. Yes, we name stuff.

Getting her home was easy, and we even had a plan to get her upstairs to the house without tracking needles up the stairs.

A long rope, a bosun’s knot, and a couple of good pulls, and up she came, from the front patio up over the balcony railing and into the front room.

But of course, she wasn’t really home until she got decorated.

So now she is home, and our home is ready to start the 2022 Christmas season. Happy Christmas!


Grandma Judy

Littering Leaves

Dear Liza,

It is leaf season in Portland! After hanging around on trees all summer, tons of photosynthesizing bits are giving up the ghost and decorating our neighborhood.

We are now at that magical, all-to-short period between green leaves on the trees and slimy, slippery leaf mulch in the gutters. It makes me so happy that I dash about like a squirrel, taking pictures of the lovely, pre-mulch mosaic.

The city of Portland has major infrastructure dedicated to collecting these masses, and most (but not all) of our neighbors are very good about clearing them away. We appreciate this, even as we watch the color drive away, because wet leaves can really trip you up. No one wants to start winter off with a busted hip.

The Fall brings so many changes. Green leaves become brown and yellow. Brown branches, now blooming with moss, become green. Colorful flowers die back and are replaced by Christmas lights.

Transitions are sweet, kissing one season goodbye and welcoming another. Happy Fall.


Grandma Judy

Chilly First Friday

Dear Liza,

Last Friday was very cold but not wet, so Auntie Bridgett and I bundled up and walked over to First Friday at SideStreet Arts Gallery. Although she is not a member anymore, she still has art on the wall and lots of friends there.

I wore my light-up hat because by the time we stepped out at 4:30, it was dark outside! These short winter days sure make me appreciate light. And warmth. And art!

The gallery is all decked out for Christmas, with several small trees decorated with hand-made ornaments. Our friend Melody Bush has carved these whimsical Santas from basswood.

Besides Christmas themes, there seemed to be birds everywhere!

Amelia Opie made this bright owl from wood and clay…and there was a whole flock of birds along one wall! Scott Cameron Bell’s Ceramics, Jackie McIntyre’s paintings, and even a raven book carving by Melody Bush.

I got to visit with Anna Magruder, a new member of the gallery, about her paintings that bring history to life. I had recognized many of the images from my history research. Here, she shows a fictionalized Abigail Scott Duniway leading women to vote.

When we had seen all the art we could digest, it was off to find dinner. The temperature was dropping quickly, so we dashed across 28th Street to The Bivy, a pod of food carts. We enjoyed the wood fire pit as we waited for our dinner of chicken crepes to be ready, then walked home enjoying the Christmas lights in the neighborhood.

I hope you have a wonderful week!


Grandma Judy

Out of One Holiday and Into Another

Dear Liza,

We are still eating some Thanksgiving left overs, but Christmas is definitely on the way! Auntie Bridgett, the patron saint of Christmas decor, has been very busy.

After she made the house pretty and bright with four boxes of gnomes, candles and ribbons, we took her out for a walk in the cold. We managed to time it between rain showers.

The clear weather and bright leaves were so classically Fall! Even at 47 degrees, we were comfortable because we wore lots of layers. We walked down to Hawthorne Street and did some people watching, but didn’t go into the shops. Too crowded!

We saw some relics from Halloween out in yards, meeting their inevitable fate with a smile… sort of.

We made a long two mile loop down Hawthorne, to 43rd, then back past the library and into our nice warm house. Tea and pie all around, please!


Grandma Judy

Remembering Thanksgivings

Dear Liza,

This Thanksgiving, I spent a lot of time feeling grateful for the special people in my life. Not just the family that was here, but those who are far away or who have passed on.

This giant Turkey platter was your Great Grandma Billie’s, and was on every holiday table when I was growing up. I have recently found out that a dear friend and former student, Sammy Rios, has the same platter. It was her mom’s, too.

This delightful ceramic bread pan was a gift from Bridgett’s mom Donna years ago. It makes delicious bread and good memories, even when Donna is in Fallbrook and we are here.

I was thinking of you and your family a lot, Liza. This silly set of snack plates from your Momma Olga years ago made me smile and think of all our holidays together.

And while I was remembering, I found this photo from Great Grandma Billie’s kitchen in Lompoc, with Grandpa Nelson introducing your Daddy David to the joys of Turkey.

Also from that kitchen in Lompoc, the whole gang! Great Grandma Billie, Uncle Jim, Uncle Tim, corners of Lynn’s and Wade’s heads, me, and Grandpa Phil Conway, with your Daddy David on the table.

It is nice to remember good old times, but I don’t want to get lost in them. There is so many reasons right now to be joyful.

Happy Everything! See you soon.


Grandma Judy

Thanksgiving Together

Dear Liza,

While you and your folks spent Thanksgiving day in The City of Lights, the rest of us all got together at my house in Portland.

After a Turkey mix-up was sorted out (with Laurelhurst Market giving us the best service ever and a fine upgrade) we got everything started and Auntie Katie and Cousins Kestrel and Jasper came over.

Auntie Katie and Jasper taught Bridgett and me how to play role-playing games. The most well known of these is Dungeons and Dragons, of course, but there are lots of others. We were playing Magical Kitties.

We got to make up feline characters with personalities and magical powers, as well as their humans, who had troubles for the kittens to solve. It was fun, and next time it will be even better because we will know more of what’s going on.

We had lots of food, too. The giant half Turkey cooked well in the crockpot, the pumpkin purée got spiced, and veggies were roasted. There was homemade bread, of course. I had baked a regular loaf and four smaller round-ish loaves, which Kestrel transformed into a “bread Turkey”. It was fun, and just as tasty as ever.

We took a long walk after supper, and we saw some lovely Christmas lights (Which I totally forgot to take pictures of, stay tuned), and then back for PIE! Beside delicious apple and pumpkin pies, Auntie Katie made something absolutely new.

This is a Hanishi Custard pie, which is also called Faerie Pie, made with eggs, cornstarch, and vanilla and colored with butterfly pea flowers. It had a Graham Cracker crust flavored with rosemary and lavender. It was amazing; sweet without being sugary, soft and creamy. A Thanksgiving Day triumph of pie.

My contribution to dessert was Grandpa Nelson’s favorite, Pinwheel cookies. The apple and pumpkin pies sat beside them on the counter until knives and forks came out and we ate until we were hopelessly stuffed.

By then, the thread of the game was lost and it was time for the evening to end.
We divided up leftovers and loaded our fridge and Katie’s car, hugged our last hugs and headed in for ginger tea and bedtime.


Grandma Judy