Fall’s in the Air

Dear Liza,

All the trees are showing off

We got back from really wet, cold Vancouver and Seattle to slightly drier but cooler Portland. We have had rain, thunder showers, and that wonderful dry, clear cold that people call “crisp”, I guess because breathing it is like biting into an apple.

The leaves are changing, too. The colors that have always meant “School’s Starting!” now mean “Time to get to the pumpkin patch!” and “What should I be for Halloween?”

It is also mushroom season. The owners of SideStreetArts building, Michael Pratt and his wife Rita Larsen brought the artists a whole bunch of Chanterelles that they hunted in the forest. I don’t hunt mushrooms because I haven’t been trained and might accidentally get a poison one. But Michael and Rita KNOW, and we enjoyed the bounty. Delicious roasted with veggies.

These are NOT the Chanterelles. These are growing unharvested in our neighborhood.

Of course, the prettiest part of Fall is the leaves changing colors. This year, I have my own private show! The Hundred Acre Wood, the trees I am growing as a bonsai forest, is changing like all the other trees.

The Hundred Acre Wood, when it was planted in May

The seeds I grew them from came from a tree only a few blocks away, so they feel like they are home.

The Hundred Acre Wood this August (tiny figures installed by you and Cousin Kestrel)

I look forward to seeing the whole cycle play out on my balcony. Life is sweet.

The Hundred Acre Wood this week


Grandma Judy

Delicious Experimenting

Dear Liza,

Playing with food

Tonight is First Friday at Auntie Bridgett’s Gallery, SideStreetArts. Since there are lots of flowers and dots in the paintings by Gary Hirsch and the ceramics by Scot Cameron-Bell, I wanted to make cookies of dots and flowers.

Scot Cameron-Bell’s work

But frosting makes cookies too messy to be around art…

Gary Hirsch’s work
Ready to chill

So I tried a different way.

Instead of frosting the cookies, I made the cookies into the shapes. I used a new recipe with cornstarch, so the cookies keep their shape better and don’t turn into ‘globs’. This was important for the “shape inside a shape” cookie I had in mind.

I mixed the dough, divided it, and colored each part. I wrapped and chilled the parts, then started rolling out and cutting.

First batch…. close, but not quite right

The first batch was rolled too thin, looked like weird fried eggs, and took way too long.

The second batch, using more specific directions and learning from experience, was better. They are toothy, lemon-y and pretty. I like the marbled look better than flat color!

The cookies are just a tad too thick.

Second batch… so much better!

Now I just need to have another chance to make them, and they will be perfect!

Done and ready to be eaten!

Maybe we could make some when I see you later this month!


Grandma Judy

Smith Tower

Dear Liza,

Arctic Club walrus, checking out the Smith Tower

This will be my last post about our trip north. We’ve been home a few days now, and it’s time to catch up.

But I couldn’t let it go without telling you about our venture to the top of Smith Tower. Built in 1914 by L. C. Smith, (of Smith- Corona typewriter fame), the Tower was the tallest building in Seattle until the Space Needle passed it in 1962.

We knew that there was an Observation Deck on the 35th floor, and even a bar featuring 1920s style cocktails. The history of the place and promise of beautiful nighttime views was irresistible.

The rum runner’s engineer turned State’s evidence and became a successful inventor

When we arrived and bought our tickets, we each chose a folder with information about actual people who had worked in Smith Tower. Stenographers, building managers and rum runners (people who smuggled liquor when it was illegal), all were represented. They were Hattie Freeman, who ran one of the four switchboards, Joshua Vogel, the architect, and Al Hubbard, a young engineer who kept the rum runner’s boats working.

The switchboard operator dumped her boyfriend and became a ‘private secretary’

Details of their lives and clues to their futures were sprinkled throughout the tour on the first and second floors. We heard snatches of telephone conversations and radio broadcasts and peeked into cupboards.

Preserved tile and brass details…. sigh…

To get to the 35th floor, we rode on one of a bank of seven brass- gated elevators, which are manually operated by wise-cracking fellows in traditional outfits. Our guide was well over six feet, incongruously tall for his tiny workspace, and kept us entertained during our ride.

Making with the wisecracks…..

Once we were at the top, Grandpa Nelson’s vertigo was again challenged. He stepped out for a a brief moment into the platform surrounding the tower, then thought better if it.

Elliot Bay before the storm

Auntie Bridgett and I stayed out and walked around, stunned by the views of Seattle at night. The clear sky and calm Elliot Bay reflected every light on The Great Wheel. All the glass towers built since the Smith have only made the view more magical.

All those taller buildings give us more to look at!

For our refreshment, we opted for dessert rather than cocktails, and enjoyed ice cream and chocolate cake while gazing about the “Chinese Room”, (it’s not called that anymore, I imagine for political reasons) which is decorated with wood carved ceilings, furniture and objects given by the last Empress of China, Cixi herself.

Detail of ceiling of The ‘former’ Chinese Room

We looked at every object, read every piece of information, and enjoyed every minute. Then it was time to head back home to The Arctic Club.

I am so grateful for Grandpa Nelson for planning this trip, and for Auntie Bridgett’s need to photo document everything, or I could never believe or remember all the wonderful things we saw and did.

Life is wonderful.


Grandma Judy

Seattle Art Museum

Dear Liza,

“Hammer Man”, a moving statue, outside the Seattle Art Museum

Of course we had to see the Seattle Art Museum! It had our attention as soon as we got into town, but we only had two non-rainy days to do “outside” stuff, so we put it off. It was worth the wait.

Inside we found innovative, thought-provoking art. “Middle Fork”, a sculpture by John Grade that hovers over the main lobby, is actually a re-creation of a 140 year old hemlock tree that is still standing in a forest east of Seattle. Mr. Grade and hundreds of volunteers built a frame and made a plaster cast of the standing tree, then shaped thousands of bits of re-purposed cedar to echo the interior and exterior contours.

“Middle Fork” hovers over the lobby

I was fascinated by both the work itself and the process. Once again, my father’s reverence for forests tickled in the back of my brain.

Entrancing close-up of “Middle Fork”

On the four floors of the museum was a lot of what I think of as “regular” art. Bronze statues, oil paintings of women and children, religious icons, these are traditional subjects treated in traditional ways. They are lovely and show great skill.

“Portrait of Elizabeth” by Frank Benson

The art that captured my brain and sent me spinning down rabbit holes, however, was unlike anything I had seen before.

“Mina Mina”

First there was a gallery devoted to Dorothy Napangardi, an Australian Aborigine. She was born the same year as I was and died six years ago, after creating dozens of large abstract works in the style of her people.

“Women’s Dreaming”

To me, they felt like aerial views of imaginary cities, or a bustling hive of thoughts jostling in someone’s mind. I stared and stared, until a distractingly loud group of students arrived.

Further along was an exhibition of the photography of Zanele Muholi, who lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. Muholi goes by the pronouns “they/ their”, neither male nor female. Their pictures, all self-portraits, are meant to make us see trans people and our own concepts of beauty differently.

“Ntokakhe II or Own Things or Everything”

The works, all done in black and white and in very large format, pulled me in as I examined the lines where black met white and the traditional met extraordinary.

The last gallery of out-of-this-world art was “Lessons from the Institute of Empathy”. This was a multi-media presentation, including video, fabric sculptures, costumes, and written work.

Meditation mask from the “Institute of Empathy”

The statement on the wall says “Three Empathics have moved into the Seattle Art Museum and established a virtual space where you can step outside your normal, routine self and improve your ability to understand others.”

It goes onto explain that these works are here to help you feel what others feel, to increase your empathy. There were some silly bits about ingesting minerals and fungi in order to re-mix a person’s personality traits, but I appreciated to idea that these costumes and masks might get a person out of their rut about what is “us” or “them”.

Costumes to increase empathy

Since art is meant to allow you to see things differently, this was a successful exhibit.

Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I had all been wandering the museum on our own, but we got together for lunch downstairs. Our feet were sore but we weren’t ready to quit for the day just yet. We returned to the Library and found comfy seats to read, learn something new, and just enjoy the space.

I didn’t know that!

I will tell you about out evening’s adventure tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

The Space Needle…and More

Dear Liza,

The Space Needle

When we were finally able to pull ourselves away from the Seattle Library, we walked along Fifth Street until we found the Monorail station on the 4th floor of the Nordstrom department store.

The Monorail, as the name implies, is a train with only one rail. It was built for the 1962 World’s Fair to carry visitors from downtown to the Fairgrounds, and still runs today.

Later-disgraced Richard Nixon visits the Needle in the 1960s

The centerpiece of the World’s Fair was the 600 feet tall Space Needle which represented America’s fascination with space travel. It is sleek and beautiful, with elevators that whisked us to the top in about 10 seconds. Our heads were spinning!

Auntie Bridgett enjoying the view

At the very top is an observation deck that goes all the way around, so you can see everything in the city. The thick glass walls lean out just a tiny bit, so your selfies get a view of the city below. It was dizzying.

On the lower level was a restaurant surrounded by a glass floor that rotates. The rotation is slow, just one time around every hour, but the glass floor was hard to get used to… it was so far down!

Getting a little freaked out…

When we had our feet on the ground agin, we headed across the Seattle Center to the Chihuly Glass Museum. 78 year old Dale Chihuly has been a glass blower for many years, but he works differently than most glass artists.

Chihuly’s underwater-y world

He lost his left eye to a car crash when he was only 35 and has no depth perception, so he had to develop a team to work with him. He designs the works and teaches his team, then coaches them as they blow the glass and assemble the pieces.

“Native Baskets”

For a while I didn’t like this method, thinking it was a “Here, go make this” sort of operation, but Mr. Chihuly leads every part of the process…he just can’t do it himself.

Fragile glass spears mingling with curvy nature

By the time we had seen his museum, I admired him very much, as well as enjoying the play of light, space, plants, and even the Space Needle.

Space Needle through Chihuly’s Glass House Garland


Grandma Judy

Seattle Library

Dear Liza,

Henry Moore statue across the street from the Seattle Library

Since your Great Grandma Billie was both a school and public librarian, I was practically raised in libraries. As a teacher, I spent thirty more years loving these places dedicated to protecting and sharing books.

Amazing interior space!

And in Seattle, we found revolutionary architecture combined with a love of books and community service.

Opening in 2004, this 11-story steel and glass building was designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Nothing in it seems to be at right angles, which made Grandpa Nelson uncomfortable for a while. There is also a three story overlook that lets you appreciate the amazing architecture ( and give you the willies!).

View straight down from the fourth floor overlook

The library uses elevators, escalators and stairs to help folks get around, but also something new to me, the “Books Spiral.” Starting on the ninth floor, books are shelved according to the Dewey Decimal System (most libraries use it), but instead of dividing the sections up by floors, you walk down (or up) the spiral on gently sloping ramps. The floors are flat and level, and the ramps go around the outside walls.

walking down the Book Spiral

This is great for browsers like me, who hate stairs! I wandered by books on cartoons (I pulled out a Doonesbury and read a few), biographies, plays, and old sheet music, enjoying the books like they were art in a gallery. It was comfortable, fun, and very friendly.

Just browsing!

Adding to the friendly feeling was the cafe downstairs, with lots of light, sunny seating. A security guard explained that his loved his job because he worked in a safe, welcoming community space dedicated to people and learning.

Welcoming, friendly people and spaces

Homeless people, especially in cold, wet weather, will spend a lot of time in public libraries. Instead of chasing them away, Seattle’s library has certain areas where they are welcomed, so they can rest, use the bathrooms, and stay warm. It is working well so far, said the guard.

Map of Seattle in 1890. The Duwamish River is the wiggly line bottom center

On the level with maps, I found an amazing experience that I didn’t take a single picture of, because it all happened in Virtual Space. With a VR headset on, I found myself in a canoe on the Duwamish River, paddling, gathering berries, cooking salmon, and picking up trash. It reminded me of camping trips with your Great Grandpa Lowell, who loved and respected the forests we visited.

The experience also helped teach me the history of this area. Seattle was founded by white people on the banks of Puget Sound, along the Duwamish River. These folks weren’t the first people here, though.

Wonderfully tactile world map

Before they came, the river was the center of life for the Duwamish people, who used the river for all their needs: food, transportation, clothing, and cleaning. As white people moved in, they wanted to use the river for different things, and have straightened, deepened, and polluted the river so that it isn’t good for anything but moving big ships through.

We all enjoyed our hour or so in the library, but the rest of the city was waiting to be explored, so we headed off, knowing we would come back soon.


Grandma Judy

South to Seattle

Dear Liza,

We woke up at 4:30 to catch a 6:00 train. Why, You ask? Because Vancouver is in Canada, which is a different country, and it takes a long time to make sure a whole trainful of people fill out the right forms and have their passports.

I realized that as early as 4:30 was to me, it was nothing compared to the mother of two young boys, one of whom had misplaced his stuffed toy. Mummy did a fine job calming him down, letting him know that the stufftie was indeed in the pocket of his raincoat, and was safely in the duffle, though he couldn’t get it just now.

We got to know other children on the train. There was a toddler whose first language was Spanish who enjoyed talking to the cows in the fields along the way. Long after the cows had been left behind, she kept saying “Yeeeeee Ha!” in an amazing variety of voices. Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson put in their earphones.

There were a group of Chinese ladies across from us, enjoying the views and taking lots of pictures. They spoke only Chinese to each other, but could read English from signs and booklets. It was fun watching them react with such surprise to things that are common sights to us, like lumber mills and mud flats.

Taking pictures of Mud Bay…. which is very muddy.

And finally we pulled into Seattle!

We walked up hill after hill from the King Street Train Depot to the Arctic Club. This wonderful building was built in 1917 by a group of men who had made their money in the Alaskan gold rush. They actually tried to join another popular men’s club in town, but were turned down because they were “new money”.

One of the dozens of walruses on the Arctic Club facade

The building has walruses as decorations along the outside of the building and next to each hotel room door inside. They are on rugs, napkins , and coffee mugs.

For a bit of variety, the lounge is decorated with a giant glass polar bear.

This looks like the sort of place Phileas Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne’s story ”Around the World in Eighty Days” would have stayed.

More on our adventure in Seattle tomorrow!

In case you didn’t know what it was…..


Grandma Judy