Looking Back

 

Dear Liza,

It is a new year, and I am looking forward to some more big changes. I will be coming to Salinas to stay with you for a few months while I teach, and my life here in Portland will be put on hold. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett will stay here and take care of Mouse the kitten, the houseplants, and their jobs…but we won’t be together. This will be weird, and sometimes sad.

Before looking forward, though, I want to look back on the crazy trip that got me here and what I love about Portland.

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Auntie Katie and Cousin Kestrel

During the hot Summer, we learned about getting around on air-conditioned buses and trains. We got to visit our new favorite Laurelhurst Park with Auntie Katie and the cousins. We even walked to the Willamette River and put our feet in!

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View from under the Hawthorne Bridge

It was fun getting to show you all the things in our new city, like the zoo.

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Being a Squirrel

 

The biggest thing that we learned about is the weather. It rains a lot here, and we are getting used to asking Google if we should take an umbrella. It even snows! This takes getting used to, but is such a nice change from highs of 70 and lows of 50 that I don’t mind.

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Snow on the back steps

 

I have fallen in love with the theater and art here in Portland. Theaters are made from old churches, warehouses, and even set up in parks. Art and music are everywhere.

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Young violinist on SW Salmon and Park

People playing music, reciting and writing poetry on street corners just isn’t something we saw in Salinas, and it is a real treat.

And of course, the history! I have been studying about Portland’s past…it’s buildings, trolley cars, and people. It is just about as old as Salinas, but since it is a bigger city, it has more stories.

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I am still trying to find out who this young lady was

There is so much I love about Portland. I will miss it, and then return in June to re-discover my new city all over again.

 

Love,

Grandma Judy

Goodbye Mimosa

Dear Liza,

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The mimosas before the trim    began                                     Photo credit: Bridgett Spicer

There are so many beautiful, huge, really old trees in our neighborhood. Today, there is one less.

Down the block, between us and Babydoll Pizza, a giant mimosa tree has stood for, I would guess, 50 years, probably planted when the house we are living in was new.

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Urban Arborist

Yesterday we saw the cherry picker drive up, along with a trailer,  grinder, and compost truck. I didn’t get a chance to talk to the fellows doing the work…they were busy doing loud, hazardous work, and it was really cold. So I took photos from our window and thought about change.

I loved the trees because they were majestic and spoke of history and caring for one’s urban environment. They were part of this city that is so completely different from whence I came. I longed for change, and found it here. I found a new status quo.

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More change! Camellias blooming!

And now they are gone, and that new status quo is different. I am still figuring out how I feel about that.

One change we love and count on is the flamingo drama down the street. They have now been celebrating New Year’s Eve for several days and looks like they had a marvelous time!

Love, Grandma Judy

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Happy Flamingo New Year!

New Year’s Eve

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Old Courthouse all lit up

Dear Liza,

 

Last night was New Year’s Eve and we celebrated in downtown Portland. The weather was very cold, but delightfully dry…no rain, and just a few clouds, so getting around was easy and everything looked bright and festive.

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Full Moon over Pioneer Square

We walked around downtown for a while, looking at shop windows and people walking by. We visited Powell’s City of Books and the Apple Store. Around 5, we got hungry so we stopped off at Case Study Coffee, at SW 10th and Yamhill  for snacks. They closed at 6, so we wandered some more, finding the lobby of the Hilton a welcoming place with comfy sofas and friendly people.

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Sign at Raven and Rose

By 7 o’clock we were ready for dinner, so we walked over to the Raven and Rose. Located at SE Columbia and Broadway, it is in what used to be the carriage House ( a combination of garage and barn, built in 1883) of William S. Ladd, one of the real movers and shakers of old Portland. The big estate and mansion have been torn down and built over, but this wonderfully restored barn, built in what they call the “Stick” style, has a restaurant downstairs and the Rookery Bar upstairs. It is one hundred and thirty year old, sits in the midst of modern brick and glass towers, and stands out as a jewel from another age.

Our dinner of beet salad, shrimp gnocchi, swede fondant, treacle tart, french fries and ice cream went well with the Pinot Noir and apple cider, and we felt indulged and sated. We chatted about our resolutions for the New Year and our hopes and plans for buying a house in Portland.

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Mr. William S. Ladd

Wandering around some more, we stopped in at the ArtBar of the Antoinette Hatfield Hall and looked at a wonderful Steampunk art show. Steampunk art is a style that uses old industrial things like machinery and combines it in new ways with plants and animals. It is weird and spooky and delightful. After some tea and coffee, we headed across the street to the Arlene Schnitzer Theater at SW Park and Salmon for our main event, a concert by Pink Martini and the Portland Symphony.

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Exterior of The Arlene Schnitzer Theater

“The Schnitz”, as it is called by those who love it, was built as the Paramount vaudeville theater in 1924. It must have been the most elaborate thing in Portland in those days, because it still dazzles the eye. The lobby is enormous and ornate, and every inch of stair banister, ceiling, and wall has been carved, painted, or plastered. We spent 20 minutes just walking around the place!

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Ceiling of the lobby of “The Schnitz”

Once the show started, the fun really began. Pink Martini is a talented four person group that plays a delightful international salad of music. Backed by a hundred member choir and symphony, the vocalists sang dance hall tunes in French, popular American tunes in English, Opera arias in Italian, and frenetic rock songs in Japanese. The audience, which had kids as young as 10 and folks well past their 80s, clapped and sang and, when invited, many women joined the band onstage to sing Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”.

At midnight we all stood and sang “Auld Lang Syne”, but the show wasn’t over yet.

Full choir, Symphony, jazz band and four operatic soloists joined forces to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in German. It was powerful and wonderful. But it was after midnight, and during some of the quieter moments, I think I might have…dozed off. Just for a moment.

Once the show was over and thousands of happy people filed out of the theater, we caught our Lyft ride home and I was asleep in two minutes.

Happy New Year!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

False Spring

Dear Liza,

Yesterday, December 30, 2017, was the warmest day we have had in a month. The blue sky was decorated with puffy clouds, and the temperature got up to 50 degrees! Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk. We noticed some premature gladiolus flowers shooting up through the mud. The warm weather has them fooled, perhaps.

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Wells Fargo from east side

Our first stop was Triumph Coffee at SE 12th and Ash. A busy, friendly place, with comfortably mismatched furniture. it is what Linus Van Pelt would call sincere. Neighborhood folks were enjoying coffee and having conversations. I didn’t see a single laptop open. Bridgett testifies that the coffee is excellent, and I stand by their carrot zucchini muffins. We got our goodies to go, and continued on our way.

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Big Pink from east side

We walked on Ash until it ran into Sandy Boulevard, a major street that runs diagonally through east Portland. It makes some connections easier, of course, but also creates really interesting angled corners. Portland has a lot of these odd corners, like on the west side where Burnside hits every street at an odd angle, and in Ladd’s Addition, with its “x marks the spot” plotting.

From the obtuse corner of 10th and Ash, we could look west and see the two tallest buildings in Portland, “Big Pink” and the Wells Fargo Building. It is nice to be able to find landmarks and get a better picture of where you are in relation to other things.

We turned left and followed Sandy southwest until it became 7th Avenue, and followed that to Morrison. In that neighborhood are many old industrial buildings that have been re-purposed. The Troy Laundry, a brick building from 1913, is currently for sale. I am sure it has an interesting future.

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1913 Troy Laundry Building

Heading back towards home on Morrison, we found Auntie Bridgett’s new favorite place: The Grand Central Restaurant and Bowling Lounge at 808 SE Morrison. This two-story playground for grown-ups (and kids) is in the old Grand Central Public Market building, which was built in 1929. It has bowling, a restaurant, two bars, pinball, Pac-man, air hockey, shuffleboard, skee-ball, driving games, pool tables, and giant televisions. It looks like a great place to spend a long wintry afternoon, and is not far from our house! Hooray for accidental discoveries!

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Bowling on Morrison!!!

We left the bowling alley, smiling, knowing we would be back soon, and continued east on Morrison. We went through the Lone Fir Cemetery to say hello to the dead people, and got to chat with some squirrels and tourists, as well.

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Yes, a disco ball in a bowling alley…..

We said a special hello to little Genevieve Gray, who died in 1912 when she was only 3 months old and is buried under the tiniest headstone I have ever seen. It is about 7 inches by 10, and is tucked under huge trees at the far northeast corner of the cemetery. I know visiting the cemetery might seem morbid, but it gives me perspective. I always leave with a sense of hope and purpose.

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Little Genevieve Gray

Back home, we headed off for shopping and reading. See you soon, sweetie.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Castletown at McMenamin’s

Dear Liza,

Last night we went back to the McMenamin’s Kennedy School. The weather was really stormy, so we took a Lyft car.

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Portrait of John D. Kennedy, founder of the school

We ate in The Boiler Room, which is decorated with wonderfully steampunk-y pipes and things, as well as having odd and interesting paintings on the walls. Auntie Bridgett and I shared an Aztec Salad of lettuce, corn, beans and spicy tortilla chips and Grandpa Nelson had his french fries.

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Photo of kids and their birdhouses

 

 

 

 

 

 

We noticed several themes in the photos and paintings…they echo each other. In one wing of the school, there is a large photo of some kids holding birdhouses they had made. In a different corridor, there is a painting based on that photo. I love discovering this place, bit by bit!

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Painting based on photo!

Another interesting thing we learned was that this school, The Kennedy School in Northeast Portland, was where Mike and Brian, the McMenamin brothers, went to elementary school. So they saved their own school!

We were at the school to listen to an Irish music group called Katie Jane and Castletown which was playing in the Gymnasium. The room is small for a gym, but is a nice open space with a rug in the middle for echo-control and so tables and chairs don’t damage the wooden floor. In front of the stage, however, the floor was left bare as an informal dance floor.

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Katie Jane and Roger with dancer

The group is made up of three people: Drew is the pony-tailed drummer, Roger plays guitar and sings the low bits, and lovely Katie Jane, on violin, is the star. Her Irish fiddle playing soars and makes everyone want to dance! The audience was very mixed, but there were about 6 families with small kids who got up and did just that when the music started.

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Doing a turn with Grandma

I enjoyed this part the most, I think… kids just having fun with the music, helping smaller ones, and even doing a crazy turn with their grandma. Castletown played Irish tunes, some American Gospel, and even some Rockabilly, but all were dance-able, some sing-able, and all very, very entertaining.

When the band stopped at 9, we tipped them and told them how much we enjoyed the show, and headed off. Our Lyft driver picked us up before we even had time to get wet, and we were home and safe by 9:30.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Twist Your Dickens

Dear Liza,

I want to tell you about a show we went to see in December. We are all great lovers of “A Christmas Carol”, a wonderfully spooky Christmas ghost story by Charles Dickens, so Grandpa Nelson got us tickets to go out and celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.

First we went to Henry’s Tavern, a restaurant on the corner of NE 12th and Burnside. This is an old brick building with high ceilings because it used to be the Henry Weinhard Brewery, where beer (and root beer, during Prohibition) was made for almost a hundred years. The character of the bricks and history made the building feel very special, and the food, wine and beer, were good, too. I had a Peanut Buster Burger, a hamburger with peanut better on it, which was surprisingly very good!

After we were full, we walked a few blocks to The Armory, a theater made out of, well, the 1891 Armory, where the Oregon National Guard used to train and store their weapons and equipment. It is now several theaters in one building.

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Stage set at Twist Your Dickens

Twist Your Dickens was almost ready to start, but before the show there was a short class on improvisational theater. Twist Your Dickens is performed by the Second City Production Company from Chicago, a group which is famous for having launched the careers of Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Steve Martin, and dozens of other comics and actors. They practice improvisation using the “Pillars of Improvisation”, developed by Viola Spolins back in the 1960s.

My favorite pillar is “Yes, and…” where, as an actor, you accept whatever thing your partner presents, for example, “Here is the rabbit you asked for” and add to it, such as, “It’s about time, the wedding is about to start!” This allows you to create a scene that is funny, fast, and unexpected. It is fun to do as a game, too. Try it with friends!

There was another unexpected element in this performance, a few people who stood on the side of the stage and performed the show in American Sign Language. Their gestures and facial expressions were wonderful to see, and as entertaining as the rest of the show.

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ASL signing at Twist Your Dickens

I didn’t take any photos during the performance, because that’s just rude, but I got a few the stage and the women signing. This photo is from the show’s website.

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      Scrooge meets Marley                                       Photo credit: Twist your Dickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

The play follows the outline of “A Christmas Carol”. We meet Mr. Scrooge, who is greedy and hates Christmas, and who is visited by four spirits who help him realize his awful ways and become a better person.

But with improvisation, characters sometimes make up their own lines, and other characters have to accept the new information and make it work (see “Yes, and..” above.) This lead to hilarity where the actors sometimes got so tickled they couldn’t say their lines…this is one of my favorite things about improv!

The lightning-fast costume changes went off without a hitch, with the seven actors playing hundreds of characters in the 90 minute show. By the end, when Scrooge buys the giant turkey and celebrates with the Cratchit family, we were all laughing and exhausted. We made our way out of the theater, to the bus stop and home, each of us breaking into laughter as we re-played scenes in our heads.

What a wonderful anniversary!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Frozen Fog Forest

Dear Liza,

Today the snow started melting. There was a little rain and the temperature was predicted to get all the way up to 45 degrees! I had lots of work to do inside after all of our company, so I was happy to stay in and be warm.

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Snow and leaves

By the afternoon, however, Auntie Bridgett was ready for a walk, so I went with her.

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Icy Steps at Laurelhurst Park

We hadn’t been to Laurelhurst Park since the snow, because we didn’t want to slip on the ice…but we figured by now it would be gone…right? Well, not so much. There were lots of clear paths, but lots of ice, too. Some places it was very slippery and easier to walk by the bushes, where the dirt made a soft, but muddy, path.

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Dog and people at Laurelhurst Park

The fog was so beautiful between the trees and down in the ravine part of the park. There were several people out, playing with their dogs or just walking…even a young man jogging, over the ice, IN SHORTS! Some people are a little crazy, I think.

The trees were dripping from all the snow and ice that had been stuck on their branches, which got my hat wet, but I didn’t mind.

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Lamppost for Mr. Tumnus….

As it turned out, the temperature never got above 37, and will get below freezing again tonight, so the water and slush will probably re-freeze and be scary and slippery again. I am glad I got out today.

Love,

Grandma Judy