Downtown with the Cousins

Dear Liza,

The cupola

It is hot again here in Portland, so I made sure my Monday with Jasper and Kestrel included lots of air conditioning and water.

We took the number 4 bus downtown to the Pioneer Courthouse. This nifty building was built in 1875, and is still being used. It has a wonderfully old elevator that feels like a birdcage, and lovely steps, as well. We enjoyed both as we headed for the main attraction, the cupola!

Cool old elevator

A cupola is a little tower with windows that sticks out the top of a building. The courthouse cupola was built because this was where customs officers could come and see what ships were in the port of Portland. In those days, this was the tallest building around, so you could see the river from here. Not anymore, I’m afraid.

But we enjoyed the old bubbly glass, the views, and knowing that we were in a special place. Looking down, we saw Pioneer Square, which is called Portland’s Living Room because of all the public events there. Once we climbed down from the cupola, we crossed the street and had snacks there while listening to bluegrass music.

Pretty carpeted stairs

But it was getting hot. So we headed up to the Oregon Historical Society, which is air conditioned and free, since I am member. Their main exhibit was about Oregon State University (OSU, Go Beavers!) and many of the famous and influential people who graduated from there. There was information about Linus Pauling, The McMenamin brothers, people who invented whale tracking technology, the fellow who invented the computer mouse,  and much more. There was also a soft comfy couch for Grandmas.

Tracking whales

Having filled our heads with history and science, we walked to Director’s Park, where there is a fountain designed for playing in. The kids got wet, splashed other kids, and generally had a good time. We ate a cobbled together picnic in the shade, played a big game of Connect Four until tempers started to fray,  and then we headed home.

Kids and water

I had brought storybooks to read, and Kestrel had lots more. Jasper practiced Spanish on his Duolingo program. We made dinner, Auntie Katie came home, and Grandpa Nelson came to fetch me. I was one pooped Grandma Judy!

When it “cooled down” to 88 degrees at 9 o’clock, Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk. The moon was almost full and the park was beautiful, but it was still too warm to be comfortable. Tomorrow will be a quiet inside day, I think.



Grandma Judy

Sunday Parkways

Dear Liza,

Grandpa Nelson and me on the Tilikum Crossing Bridge

Bicycles are very popular here in Portland. Not just to play with, but for people to get to work and school. The city makes this easier by designating some streets as greenways in the neighborhoods, where bikes are the main traffic and cars are discouraged.

But riding downtown or along busy streets like Division is still hard because there are just so many cars. So since 2007, the city and local businesses and hospitals have organized a fun way to enjoy riding in different parts of town. It is called Sunday Parkways.

Just the place for third breakfast!

For the five warmest months of the year, one Sunday a month, in one section of the city, streets are closed to car traffic in a loop from 7 to 10 miles long. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett got to ride in our Sunnyside/Belmont neighborhood in May. Grandpa Nelson and I rode through the industrial and downtown area this past Sunday.

We started with coffee and pastries at Trifecta on 6th street, because every good day starts with third breakfast. I got to chat with a delivery person for B Line, a company that delivers Trifecta’s baked goods to restaurants and stores by bike! He said he liked being “in the middle of the future.”

When we saw other cyclists passing by (dozens of them, right in the middle of street!) we knew it was time, and off we went. The path for us was marked with signs and helpful folks willing to provide shade, water, directions and advice.

We rode up to the Moda Center, an indoor sports arena, where a bike fair was happening. There were booths for registering your bike, music, food, and a huge event with the Portland Trailblazers basketball team. It was so crowded, we had to get off and walk our bikes through the people.

Traffic downtown

When we were past that, we continued ACROSS THE STEEL BRIDGE. It couldn’t be closed to traffic, since it is so busy, but we got one lane to share for the bikes going in both directions. Downtown it was crowded again, with booths and so many people. Think of it like when you go for a Sunday drive and everyone else in town does, too.

But the joy of riding with thousands of other people on a warm sunny day is no small thing. Last year, over 74,000 people rode on some part of the Sunday Parkways. That is about half the population of all of Salinas!

In an unexpected historical moment, we passed the Simon Benson House. Mr. Benson was a lumberman from the 1800s and 1900s whose good works have lived after him. He donated money for Benson Polytechnic high school, the land where Multnomah Falls is, and the wonderful always-running water fountains called bubblers. One of them in right in front of his house!

Simon Benson House

Coming home, we rode over the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. This is the newest bridge in the city and is just for trains, buses, pedestrians and bikes. NO CARS, ever. We stopped to enjoy the view and chatted with some folks riding with three generations of family, and took each other’s pictures.

Back on the east side of the river we rode on the Vera Katz Esplanade, created by a former mayor and named for her. There was a band on a barge playing music, more treats and happy people.

The last part of the ride (as it often is) is coming back up the hill to our house. You understand that rivers are always at the lowest part of the land, and that we are 33 streets up from that. It adds up to about 150 feet of elevation change, which feels like an awful lot at the end of an 8 mile ride!

Finally home, we drank lots of water and enjoyed the wonderful cool rest of knowing we had done something very special, and very Portland.


Grandma Judy

Stuff on the Sidewalk

Dear Liza,IMG_8847.jpg

Here in Portland there are lots of things that are different from Salinas. One of these is a form of recycling that we call Stuff on the Sidewalk.

When people are moving and they have stuff they don’t want anymore, they don’t always drive to Goodwill or save it up and have a garage sale. They just put it in a box or bag, walk it to the sidewalk, and leave it there. Then people walking by go through and take what they want. It is a perfect way to move stuff from where it isn’t needed to where it is.

It sounds like an awful mess, and sometimes it is. Sometimes people spread the stuff all over. But usually people put things back in the box, leaving the rest for the next person.img_8848.jpg

We have used Stuff on the Sidewalk, too. When we first moved to Portland, we had boxes and boxes of… boxes. And papers and bubble wrap. We bundled it up, put it out, and voila! It was gone, heading off to help someone else move to their new home. We have given away office and art supplies, dishes, and clothes this way.

We have found stuff, too. Several of our pint glasses and a few small plates came to us from boxes on corners. I found my new purse in a box, practically new and a lovely red leather.img_8857.jpg

The other day, Auntie Bridgett and I were headed for Yen’s Salon to get haircuts, and we saw a small pile of really old coloring books sitting neatly in the parkway grass. I picked them up. Published in 1948 and 1952, they were used by two little girls named Karen and Joyce Hegland, in 1952. I figure that Karen, who could have been about 10 in 1952, is about 76 years old by now.

Personal history is my favorite thing!

As we waited our turn for haircuts, I looked more closely at the books. They didn’t just have pictures to color, but poems about holidays and seasons (including St. Swithens’ Day), illustrated stories to color, and are a window onto the style and manners of the time. I am still not sure what I will use these lovely artifacts for, but I know they have found a home with me.

A Poem for St. Swithens’s Day

If it should rain St. Swithens’ Day

T’will rain all summer long

At least that’s what our elders say,

Of course, they could be wrong.


Grandma Judy

Return to Cascadia Circus

Dear Liza,

Carrot and Foxglove the Clowns

Since it is summer, you went horse camp and Cousins Jasper and Kestrel went to Circus Camp! Friday, I took the number 15 east to Taborspace to see their show under the “little” big top. This is the only tented circus in Oregon, and even though the tent is small-ish, it lends shade and a real special atmosphere to the show.

Like last year, the kids spent a week learning how to balance, walk on stilts, work as teams to do tricks, and be confident in front of an audience. They are older and more experienced, and I was more impressed than ever.

Ringmaster Paul

The Cascadia Circus is a non-profit group run by Paul, Ringmaster, jokester and independent operator. His British accent and clownish ways make everyone feel comfortable doing new things. Jasper made up his clown name of Carrot, and Kestrel was Foxglove.

Juggling scarves

They juggled scarves and rings, walked on tight ropes (18 inches off the ground while holding Paul’s hand), balanced on balls and did gymnastic poses. It was delightful! I hope they go to Circus Camp next year, so I can see another show!


Grandma Judy

Confident on stilts!

Washington Park, Part 2

Dear Liza,

Yesterday I told you about the Fireman’s Memorial, The Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden. Today I will tell you what came next.

These next paragraphs are sad.

Feeling like my bucket of humanity was full, I decided to head down the hill. Along the way I saw signs for the Holocaust Memorial. The Holocaust was a terrible time in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s when the leader of Germany, Adolph Hitler, decided that his country (and all countries) would be better if there were no Jews, gypsies, artists, gay people, or anyone who disagreed with the government. He ordered his government to kill over 6 million men, women and children. That is the Holocaust.IMG_8585.jpg

The entrance to the Memorial feels almost accidental. You see a doll left on a bench, then a broken suitcase on the path. Then a baby shoe and a damaged menorah. You realize these are made of bronze, and that they are here to show the chaos and horror of being stolen from your own life and hustled away on trains to camps where you will be killed. img_8587.jpg

Walking forward, there is a curved wall with plaques carved with writings from people who survived this Holocaust. On the back are names of people who died.

Having had my soul filled with beauty and joy from the gardens, it was now overflowing with sadness at the cruelty of humanity. I sat and stared and cried for a while.IMG_8590.jpg

Again starting down the hill, I saw a sign to the Lewis and Clark Plaza. Huh? That’s where President Teddy Roosevelt dedicated the Lewis and Clark Memorial in 1903! That’s a location from the story I have been draining my brain on! So of course I had to walk over. The platform is made of brick, with a tall granite column with state seals from Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana. Somewhere under the brick is the time capsule Teddy buried on May 21, 1903. But the historians have misplaced it. So it is still there. Cool.IMG_8597.jpg

I spent a while picturing the crowds that stood in the pouring rain that day, listening to speeches, bands and choirs and cheering for the President and the country.

My heart now not only filled but double shelved and overflowing with the best and worst of humanity, I finished my trip down the hill. Along the way I met a young mother with a toddler and infant, who asked me directions to Washington Park. I hope she enjoys it as much as I did, and hoped secretly the children slept through the Japanese Garden.

Love, Grandma Judy

Washington Park, Part 1

Dear Liza,

Tiny bit of inspiration

Lately, I have been feeling like my brain is empty. People call it Writer’s Block, but it doesn’t feel blocked, it feels like a big hollow hole where a bunch of happy ideas used to be.

So I decided to go out and fill it up.

I got on the number 15 bus and headed for Washington Park. As the bus was going up the hill on Burnside, though, I pulled the cord to get off. I saw something I’d only read about: It was Fireman’s Park, a monument built in 1911 to honor David Campbell, who was fire chief from 1893 to 1911 and died fighting a fire, running in to a burning building to get his men out safely.

Memorial for David Campbell

The fountain is under repair, but the bronze plaque is handsome. There are also small plaques recognizing other firemen who have lost their lives on duty, from J. Hewston in 1892  to A. Berg in 1948. Firemen’s Park is on a very noisy bit of land, so I moved along up the hill for some contemplation.

At the base of Washington Park there are several entries.  I took the ancient looking stone steps. There were signs, which kept me from wandering too far in the wrong direction, and I eventually found the Japanese Garden. I climbed up the new steps through a forested ravine to the new entrance. At last, the serenity I was searching for!IMG_8478.jpg

Well, no. Everyone comes to the Japanese Garden in summer. There were old men with walkers, active grandmas with all the grandkids, and young people walking past 100 year old Bonsais, staring at their phones. Not what I was after.

There was visual serenity once I waited for for groups to pass, but as a teacher, children’s voices cannot be tuned out. I either want to answer their questions, remind them of their manners, or suggest they go play somewhere else, none of which was appropriate. So, noise.

The view that restores souls

I enjoyed it as best as I could, enjoying a nice quiet lunch at The Umami Cafe in the new Japanese Educational Village and walking through the entire garden again. Better.


I discovered the Robert and Debra Zagunis Castle Wall, built here with Oregon granite by a 15th generation Japanese stone mason. It looked very formidable and gave me a first hand visual of the walls at Osaka Castle, which I have been reading about in Shogun by James Clavell.

Castle Wall

But I wasn’t full yet. I walked down the ravine and across the road to the International Rose Test Garden. It built in 1917 to make sure the European rose varieties being decimated by World War I weren’t lost entirely. It is huge, beautiful, and, today, much quieter than the Japanese Garden. I visited here last summer with Cousins Jasper and Kestrel, and it is still wonderful.IMG_8567.jpg

I will tell you more about my day tomorrow!


Grandma Judy


Able to Enjoy Outside Again

Dear Liza,

For the last week, it has been uncomfortably hot in Portland, over 90 degrees during the day and barely dropping to 70 at night. It has been hard to sleep and impossible to go for walks.

But today, it was blissfully cool! Auntie Bridgett and I walked all the way to the Fred Meyer store, almost a mile away, to buy ink for the printer. It is time for her to print and send out her zine, which is called Art-o- Rama. This month it is about her study of Picasso and experimenting with abstract art.

As we passed Sunnyside Environmental School, we met a boy named Jase. He was dribbling two basketballs at the same time and had misplaced his dad. The two of them were on the watering crew for the gardens around the school. Jase used Bridgett’s phone and left a message, but headed off to find him. I had great confidence in a happy outcome, so we headed off.

We did the shopping and headed home, passing Sunnyside School again, and there was Jase (and his dad) and some other boys playing basketball. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes.

The rest of the afternoon, we all worked on our own projects, then had dinner. The weather was still lovely, so we three walked to the Postal Annex to send off Bridgett’s zines. Walking in our neighborhood is always a treat. The oldest trees make pockets of deep shade, younger trees make dappled patches, and bright sunlit yards are full of tomato plants and flowers.

Since the new surface on our balcony isn’t dry yet, we enjoyed our shady patio downstairs instead. We haven’t done that much, and it was fun! We got to visit with new neighbors Kara and Trevor and watched some crow drama. The sun went down and it was time to head inside.

The forecast is for just a few more days of pleasant weather, then it’s supposed to get horribly hot again. We will enjoy what we can and take lots of pictures to remember this once the seasons change and it starts raining.


Grandma Judy