Volcano! At PAM

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett gives scale to the display…

In May of 1980, when I was living in Eugene and expecting your Daddy David, Mt. St. Helens, a volcano in Washington, had a major eruption. We heard it from 185 miles away, and had volcanic ash coming down for a few days.

Greta Allen’s 1910 portrait of the peaceful mountain

Your great grandpa Lowell was trying to get to Ellensburg to visit his Mom, and couldn’t cross any of the rivers because they were choked with houses and trucks carried along by the boiling hot snowmelt and pulverized chunks of mountain.

Ryan Molenkamp’s “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”

The ability of nature’s power to absolutely dwarf humans was fully on display. And for the next few months, that power has returned, interpreted and revisited, at the Portland Art Museum.

Hank Pander’s “Eruption as seen from SW Cable Street” shows the view from Portland

But before we saw many paintings on the wall, the exhibit introduced us to the place where it happened, with National Forest maps and informational signs. The logo took me right back to camping trips with your great grandpa, and I could swear I smelled his All Spice aftershave lingering in the air.

The artistic portion of the exhibit is an interwoven collection of photographs, taken by both surveyors and artists, as well as paintings, glass work, and constructions made by artists in response to the power of the volcano. Some are as dry as the volcanic dust itself.

Barbara Noah’s “Tag III”, showing that the muppet has become a monster

Others are very personal, showing how the chaos and majesty of the eruption affected lives when the lovable mountain became a deadly monster.

I walked around, enjoying the bucolic, peaceful “Before” landscape paintings of the mountain when it was just a mountain, one of a dozen lovely peaks in the Cascade Range.

Then I rounded a corner to the gallery of eruptions, and smelled Old Spice again! Fearing for my mental health, I looked around and saw an elderly gentleman in a white shirt and tie. He stopped before every painting, talking softly with his companion. Trying not to be creepy, I walked behind him and softly sniffed. Yep. Old Spice.

So in a metaphysical way, great grandpa Lowell got to see all this art inspired by that amazing, inconvenient day, almost forty years ago.


Grandma Judy

First Friday, February 2020

Dear Liza,

Shine Rabbit by Christopher St. John

I got to go to SideStreet Arts Gallery on Friday to meet Christopher St. Johns and see his work. It was raining and very chilly, but I knew there would be fossil shortbread cookies and other snacks, as well as the company of artists. So I headed out.

There wasn’t a big crowd at the gallery, maybe because of the weather, or maybe because being from Eugene, Mr. St. Johns isn’t well known here in Portland. But I think his art will be appreciated here.

Christopher St. John and his work

I particularly enjoyed his ceramics, mostly shallow bowls and figurines that feature what he calls “Shine” animals, adorable rabbits and delicately colored insects. These show his commitment to seeing nature as a vulnerable part of our world, and in need of our protection.

Shine critter bowls

I chatted with the other members of the gallery and enjoyed their work, including Alicia Justice and Michelle Sabatier.

Michelle Sabatier, her new encaustics, and Alicia Justice

This week also marks the second anniversary of the newly organized SideStreetArts Gallery. Auntie Bridgett made this nifty poster to show the members and some of the shows that were highlights of this past year.

Second Anniversary poster

The biggest one, of course, was the wonderful mural Gary Hirsch painted on the outside wall. I am very proud of Auntie Bridgett’s role in making this happen.


Gary Hirsch working on his mural

Grandma Judy

Artsy Cookies

Dear Liza,

Shine Moth, by Christopher St. John

It was First Friday this past week, and there is a new show at the SideStreet Arts Gallery. I got to make a different kind of cookie for it.

Painted Fossil Cookies!

Between having more time and patience, more confidence from watching the Great British Baking Show, and better equipment, I have been getting more creative in my baking. A few months ago I made some sugar cookies that echoed the colors and shapes in the art being shown at the SideStreet Arts Gallery.

This month, for Eugene Artist Christopher St. John, I did something fun, too. Mr. St. John’s ceramics and watercolors reflect an awareness that we humans need to consider our actions carefully so we conserve our natural world and its treasures.

The recipe

Looking at works like “Shine Moth” inspired me to make cookies that could show the delicacy of insects. On Martha Stewart’s website, I found a recipe for “Fossil Cookies” and, with Auntie Bridgett’s artistic help, gave them an artsy spin.

Easy fixings

The dough is very easy to make and handle, and the toy bugs we picked up at Kids at Heart Toys on Hawthorne made lovely fossil-looking dents. The cookies are then frozen and baked at a low temperature so they bake into a shortbread-like, delicious cookie. With a fossil. A pretty, food color painted fossil.

Fossil Cookies

They are also delicious just patted out and cut with cookie cutters.


Grandma Judy


Dear Liza,

President Theodore Roosevelt

I have been reading a lot about Theodore Roosevelt lately. He was President during the time of my story, and my character, Clara, comes to identify with him. So I wanted to know more about him.

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States, serving from 1901 to 1909. I have always admired him for his work against corruption in business and government, and his drive to preserve the natural beauty of our forests and wild lands. He created five National Parks, including Wind Cave in South Dakota and Crater Lake here in Oregon. He hiked with John Muir in Yosemite.

Crater Lake, Oregon

I also admired his philosophy of personal responsibility. He was a great believer in taking charge of your own life and making it the best you could. “It is hard to fail, but harder still to never have tried,” he said. This idea that you make your life , one act at a time, echoed my own father’s belief, which I was brought up with.

But Mr. Roosevelt had some other ideas I don’t agree with. He was a ‘big game hunter’, which meant he traveled all over the world, killing animals and having them stuffed as trophies. I hate this about him. It turns this man I admire into a macho dude I can’t respect.

Theodore Roosevelt, big game hunter

I knew that he invited African American educator Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House in 1901. This led me to believe he was ahead of his time in his racial thinking, and that he saw other races as equal to his own.

Booker T. Washington and the President

But reading more of his own writings and policies, I realize that in his dealings with Native Americans, Filipino people, Hawaiians, Japanese and African Americans, he fully believed that white people were the superior ‘race’.

He wrote that “The world would have halted, had it not been for the Teutonic conquests in alien lands.”

In other words, he believed that white people taking over North America, the South Pacific, India, and other places, made those places better. This belief is called “American Imperialism”.

Imperialist Teddy

So Teddy Roosevelt did not grant to different-looking people the respect he claimed as his own. He believed that you were the master of your fate, but only if you were a white, male American. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

So now, I have some decisions to make. Do I continue to have my character admire and relate to Teddy, with all his faults? Do I even mention his short comings? Or do I find a way to include my own ambivalence about him?

Being a teacher, I want to get the information right. Being aware of human failings, I know that any ‘hero’ I set up, upon the closest of looks, will be found to have faults. And I had not expected the story to have to deal with any of this.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board, as they say. I’ll keep you posted.


Grandma Judy

The Carrol Raaum Swing Orchestra

Dear Liza,

A clear, cold evening

Last night we went out to a new place to hear some old music. First, we took the magic 15 downtown to Killer Burger for dinner, enjoying the warmth and lights and people watching.

Warm lighting at Killer Burger

We walked down a block to The Rialto Bar, which is also a pool hall. It had a surprising amount of space for downtown, where square footage is pricey. We got Guinness, Two Towns Cider and vanilla vodka, and headed downstairs to the Jack London Bar for the music.

The music venue had a lovely basement-y feel, low ceilinged, dark walled, and warmly lit. A bar ran on one side, small copper topped tables faced the low stage, and everything had an old-time jazzy feeling. This was completely appropriate, since we had come to hear some vintage music, ala Count Basie, Cole Porter, and Glenn Miller. And this eleven piece group of trombones, trumpets, saxophones, a stand up bass, piano and drummer, delivered.

Eric Olsen, trombonist and frontman

At the break I got to talk with Marco Pissarro, who plays alto saxophone. He gave me a little background on the band.

Ellen Vanderslice swings one out

Carrol Raaum was a semi- retired clinical psychologist when he came to believe that music had healing properties for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases that effect the brain. He put the band together to play at retirement homes and memory facilities as well as parties and celebrations of all kinds. Mr. Raaum passed away in 2008, but the band continues his good work.

Lovely copper topped tables play with candle light

Ellen Vanderslice and Morgan Dickerson both play trombone and also do vocals. The band played classics like “ Take the A Train”, but also a new arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale”. Some of the harmonies were hit and miss, but the overall effect was delightful.

Their ‘frontman’, the spokesman for the band, is Eric Olsen. He plays trombone and looks a little like Danny De Vito. After the show when I congratulated him on his ability to keep all those jazz musicians working together, he shook my hand and said, “Hell, I taught fourth grade for forty years. This is easy!” I can relate.

When it was nearly ten, the band was done for the evening, and so were we. We called a Lyft car and got home, glad to be out of the 32 degree night air and into our warm pajamas.


Grandma Judy

Art on the Wall

Dear Liza,

We like to have lots of art around at our house. Auntie Bridgett is an artist, so some of our walls are covered with her work. It is cheerful and sometimes silly, and it always cheers me up.

“Le Harold Agile“ by Bridgett Spicer

This past Christmas, Auntie Bridgett gave Grandpa Nelson and me a new piece of art! It is called “Let it Be” and was painted by Mark Dunst, whose studio we visited last fall. We like his work so much that Auntie Bridgett invited him to show his work at the SideStreet Arts Gallery, as well.

“Let it Be” by Mark Dunst

Anyway, Bridgett took some time Sunday and hung “Let it Be” in the hallway by the dining room. It nestles nicely next to Johnny Apaodaca’s painting of a Umbrian Lake. It is wonderful.

New art in our gallery…

We have other Portland art on our walls, as well. Sharon Jonquil’s encaustics greet us coming up the stairs.

One of Sharon Jonquil’s encaustics

But we actually got our very first piece of art by a Portland area resident in 1981, before we ever moved here! We were living in Eugene, Oregon, and a neighbor had decided he didn’t want his paintings anymore. He gave us our choice, and we chose this wonderful bicycle painting. He is now living in Troutdale, just east of town. Thanks, David Gettman!

Our favorite painting….

I wasn’t raised with art. My parent’s house had a Robert Wood seascape print over the stereo and my mother’s paint by number landscapes by the TV. I feel blessed to have real art, and real artists, in my life.


Grandma Judy

Spring Color

Dear Liza,

Yes, it is still grey and wet here, but new life is popping up out of the mud. Every walk shows me new things.

Some daffodils are blooming, but those up the street are still biding their time. They will explode into yellow in a few weeks.

Beauty springing up from the mud

Other bulbs are coming up, too. These tiny iris live just down the block and are making the most of any sun we get.

Only six inches high, but lovely

Laurelhurst Park’s ravine area is a flooded, muddy mess, with an occasional happy Labrador splashing through. But near the top of the hill, the camellias are blooming.

Two different varieties of camellia, celebrating

The first crocuses are up, having a week of delicate glory before getting pummeled by the rain.

Paper-delicate crocuses

And, as always, the moss makes everything soft, wet and green. This old portion of a sidewalk from 1911 has been rescued, moss and all, and been installed in a yard. I love that someone appreciated it enough to do that. I sigh in quiet joy.

109 year old paving …


Grandma Judy