Beauty is Where You Find It

Dear Liza,

I love wandering around my neighborhood. I always see something unexpected.

This little sculpture, only about 6 inches high, sits on a big boulder placed along the sidewalk of Division Street. Placed close to the Philip Neary Church, someone has decorated this accordion player with a rosary. This is one of 8 such sculptures created by Crystal Schenk and Shelby Davis and installed in 2014. Collectively called “This All Happened, More or Less”, these pieces represent ordinary people calmly going about their business, reading, resting, or chatting.

A different sort of unexpected beauty is this graphically painted re-purposed school bus. I haven’t been able to find out what it is being used for now, but it looks like fun!

These bright pyracantha berries, a perfect winter food source for local birds, seem to glow in the sunshine.

And as I walked along, i noticed that the blustery wind was playing with my scarf in a very photogenic fashion. So I played along.

I’ll enjoy the sunshine as long as we have it!


Grandma Judy

Bright Fall Light

Dear Liza,

This season is mostly a grey one, but every now and the clouds blow away and we have bright, cold, sunshine. That was today.

We did chores during the morning and then headed off through the neighborhood to Zach’s Hot Dog Shack. The noon sun was almost blinding, and made the still-changing leaves magical.

We found some rhododendrons, being a bit early even for them, (or late, it’s hard to know which) popping blooms open just as the rest of the plants have called it quits for the year.

We enjoyed a chilly lunch on Zach’s patio, since the inside was pretty crowded with folks watching football. Grandpa Nelson and I played ping pong, which warmed us up a bit.

The walk home was lit with the warm afternoon light of Fall. This beautiful cat was just so fetching between the orange leaves.

We walked by St. Stephen’s Church, which has been on this corner in a mostly residential area since 1924. It is built of bricks and is very pretty.

It has a large front entrance with doors topped by Mary and Jesus chatting with monks, along with with these delightfully glazed ceramic faces.

And that was our outing for the day. It never really got above 45 degrees, and was just too chilly to be out for long. We came home, read, made art, and cooked.

Just another lovely Tuesday!


Grandma Judy

A Lone Fir Mystery

Dear Liza,

On one of my walks through Lone Fir Cemetery, I investigated this tall graceful monument near the east entrance. I first noticed it because of the name, FIMPEL, which I had never seen before.

As I walked around the monument, I realized there were four names, all with different dates of death, and only two that shared a family name. Curious, I took pictures for reference and headed home to do some research.

Besides George W. Fimpel, who died in 1899 at the age of twenty, the monument remembered his father, George B. Fimpel, who died in 1886, Samuel McDonald, who died in 1898, and Laura V. Mutch, who died in 1904. Why are they all here together? I was puzzled, and the Historic Oregonian website wasn’t much help.

Grandpa Nelson and his membership saved the day!

As clearly as I can understand it, this is a story of Laura V. Howell, who was born in Oregon City in 1859. She moved to Portland and married George B. Fimpel, who worked as a fireman on the railroad. They had two sons, George W. and Charles Howell. Mr. Fimpel died in an accident at work in 1886, when his son George was 13 and his youngest, Charles, was barely six months old.

Laura put up this monument to him and soon re-married, to Samuel McDonald. I cannot imagine the emotional upheaval of bearing a child, losing a husband, and re-marrying, all within the span of a year!

Laura and Samuel had two daughters, Laura L. and Mary Virginia, bringing Laura’s total to four children. Sadly, her eldest, George W, died at the age of twenty, just seven years after his father. Laura buried him with his father and added his name to the monument.

Mr. McDonald died in 1898 leaving Laura with three children, ages 14, 8, and 5. She buried him with her first husband and her son, adding yet another name to the stone.

Laura re-married again, to Mr. Edward Mutch, one year later. Mr. Mutch adopted the girls, now ages 9 and 6.

A few years later, in 1904, Laura herself passed away at the relatively young age of 45. Her surviving husband and children buried her under her family monument, adding her name (shortened to just her first name, middle initial and final legal last name), to the remaining side of the stone. What a complicated life story she wrote in just 45 years!

To bring this family story forward into my lifetime, Laura’s youngest son, Charles, lived for many years after his mother died. He survived serving in World War I and then moved to Los Angeles, where he passed away in 1962 at the age of 76. This means he and I were living in Los Angeles County at the same time!

Laura’s daughter Mary Virginia McDonald stayed in Portland, married a man named Dotson, and is buried in Lone Fir, less than ten feet from her mother, father, and step-family.

To me, this story tells a lot about the times and the people. Laura, as a widowed mother of young children, had no way to support herself or her kids. She needed to be married, so she got married. Premature death was much more common then, caused by anything from falling off a wagon to eating spoiled meat to catching one of a dozen deadly diseases common at the time, and multiple marriages were very common. She persevered and raised her kids.

I am so glad to have learned about Laura V. Howell Fimpel McDonald Mutch and her family.


Grandma Judy

Time with Kes

Dear Liza,

Every now and then, I get to spend some quality time with your cousin Kestrel. She is ten years old and very clever. She likes animals and art and is very good at drawing.

Last week we got to make some art and care for her cats and snake, Sir Isaac Snooten. I haven’t fed a snake in a long time and was a little squeamish about handling the frozen mouse, but Kes had a steady hand and we got the job done.

The art we made took several days, and is still not finished. Kes found a large sheet of watercolor paper and sketched an ocean scene… eels and oysters below the water, sunset sky above. Together, we laid layers of purples and pink watercolors down, then sprinkled salt over the whole thing. We let it dry overnight.

The next time we got together, it was time for the water. Layers of purple and teal gave depth to the ocean, and Kes collaged tissue paper at the horizon for the setting sun. We cut small wave shapes from paint samples to glue down as the surface of the water, and that’s where the piece stands now, about half done.

I can’t wait to see what happens next!


Grandma Judy

An Evening at Suzette

Dear Liza,

Eating inside restaurants is only just now starting to feel safe. Covid chased us out onto patios and into the ”to go” line, but as Portland’s vaccinations have grown and more places are requiring proof of vaccinations to enter, we are more confident.

So Sunday, we spent a very pleasant evening at Suzette Creperie, one of the small restaurants just a block from our house. We met our new friend Judy (yes, another Judy!) for drinks and dinner.

The food is always tasty at Suzette, and the service is friendly. But what I really love is the ambiance. This word means the feeling of the place, the atmosphere…. how it makes you feel. Suzette, especially on a dark, chilly evening, reminds me of Paris.

And that’s always good.

Even Judy noticed it. This was her first visit and she said it felt like she’d ‘walked into a different world.’

For a few hours we had drinks, crepes, onion soup, and other delicious things, and shared stories. It was a warm way to spend a chilly evening.


Grandma Judy

Remembering Leroy

Dear Liza,

I love that our city has a Street Art Association that helps local artists create murals on the walls of our stores. The SSA has helped create dozens of murals filled with history and art.

And today I got to see a beautiful new example. On the west wall of our little Belmont Market, some folks were painting a memorial to Leroy Sly Scott, a homeless man who lived in our neighborhood for almost thirty years. In my conversations with him, we talked about life, God, and goodness.

Leroy and his bust sculpted by the late Jim Gion

This past year, Leroy became very sick and was taken in by some kind neighbors. In his last weeks he rested peacefully, in a warm bed with a roof over his head. He passed away knowing that he was not alone.

Leroy’s portrait was designed and painted by Kyra Watkins and the lettering was designed by Alicia Schultz and painted by some of Leroy’s friends. The lettering spells out Leroy’s favorite quote from a Digital Underground song, and says, “All around the world, same song.”

As I stood chatting with the painters, a traffic officer stopped by to tell them they had to move their vans, which were parked in a loading zone. Everyone was pleasant, but the officer was very clear. “I have to see you move them.”

Later, as the sun was going down, the work was almost done.

I will walk over today and see how it turned out, and think about Leroy, and God, and goodness.


Grandma Judy

New Art Comes Home

Dear Liza,

At the beginning of October, we visited SideStreet Art Gallery’s new show and bought a wonderful ceramic plate created by Rabon Thompson. We had to leave the plate at the gallery, though. It was part of a show, and moving it would make everything cock-eyed.

But Friday, we got to bring it home!

Of course, that led to the big question. Where should it go? Our walls are already pretty full of wonderful art, collected on our travels and from local artists. I plan on actually using the plate as a plate sometimes, so I wanted to have it close to the dining room. Bridgett found the perfect place!

Once we got the plate home, we realized that it has the same colors as our favorite painting, done by our friend David Gettman over forty years ago. Bridgett found the perfect place, where we can actually see the plate and the painting at the same time.

Of course, hanging it in that spot meant we had to move the Gary Carmody art, which meant moving other pictures. It was a domino effect of re-hanging.

But now, all is well. The pictures and new plate are handy and harmonious, and all is right with the world.

Grandma Judy

Some Serious Rain

Dear Liza,

In Portland, winter is wet and grey. That’s part of what I love about living here. But usually, the rain is slow and gentle… a few days of rain can total an inch or so.

But this past weekend, we had a STORM. The rain came thick and fast, blowing against the north, then the south, sides of the house, waking us all up. There were almost three inches of rain in just a few hours!

Luckily, Portland is designed for rain. The streets are properly built to make the water flow into the bioswales, which collect water and let it soak gently into the ground instead if carrying trash and pollutants to the river.

With a well designed city and a nice warm house, I can sit by the window and smile with the rain.


Grandma Judy

The Bonsai in Fall

Dear Liza,

My newest planting of The Hundred Acre Wood is starting to feel the effects of Autumn.


In the spring when they were new, the trees were pretty spindly, but they plumped up nicely in summer. The freaky cotoneaster got even freakier! But I’ll wait until winter to trim her.


Two of the trees, the tall larch and the cotoneaster, lose their leaves, so are doing the most changing. The larch, especially, is looking unwell, but that’s seasonal. The chubby evergreen juniper is just happy and green.


I love seeing all this change happening on my own balcony!


Grandma Judy

Ken, the Oak Tree

Dear Liza,

You know how much I love walking in Laurelhurst Park. I feel very close to some of the trees, especially the younger ones that I have gotten to see grow up.

This past Spring, several of our old giants fell in a big windstorm. This is a natural way for a tree to die, but it is still sad to see. This oak fell over with some of its roots still in the ground. The City cut most of the tree away to keep the paths safe and the dog park clear.

And someone decided that the remaining set of roots should protect a NEW tree, and planted one, right there. We named it Ken.

This summer we have enjoyed watching Ken grow. He has gained about a foot in height. He is growing almost as fast as you are!

And now it is Fall, time for Ken to change his leaves and have a nice long rest for winter. I can’t wait to see his new leaves pop out come March!


Grandma Judy