The Grotto and Momma

Dear Liza,

Friday, June 15th, your great grandma Billie would have turned 97. To remember her and celebrate her life, we visited The Grotto in Northeast Portland.

The Grotto

Not because of the religious aspect of The Grotto. Its real name is The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, and it is run by the Catholic Church.

Momma wasn’t Catholic, and she most certainly wasn’t sorrowful. She went to mostly Protestant churches, because that was what she was raised with, but her philosophy always seemed to be more of a Transcendentalist, believing in the Oversoul that created and loves all living beings and expects us to love and care for each other.

But mostly, The Grotto reminds me of Momma because she was a gardener. She loved flowers, trees,  and the birds that lived in them. She loved to quote part of the poem “God’s Garden”, by Dorothy Francis Gurney, which went like this:

Japanese Maple through Rhododendrons

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on Earth.

The Grotto is in two parts. The bottom section, where the parking lot is, has a church, a gift shop, and the grotto for which the place is named, a tall cave in a 110 foot stone cliff. Into this grotto has been placed a copy of the statue called The Pieta. It is a beautiful but very sad statue, and does not make me think of Momma.

But when you pay the ladies in the gift shop seven dollars, you get a token that lets you take an elevator to the top of the cliff. And that is where the magic happens.

At the top, you walk through 62 acres of gardens. There are statues, including one of St. Francis of Assisi, who Momma loved because he cared for animals. There is even a brick Labyrinth to walk on, if you like. There are lawns, ponds and small waterfalls. Banks of laurel bushes and azaleas line the pathways. Maple trees and pines give shade and peace. Roses and rhododendrons give color.

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Japanese Maples and Mugu Pines

The bird population is extraordinary. Happy robins, proud hawks and cranky crows provide bird drama, while the tiny sparrows busy themselves under the bushes.

Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I went together but split up at the top, so we could wander at our own speeds. There were other folks there in groups, some of whom seemed to be very noisy, but Momma would remind me that everyone enjoys places in their own ways. So when there was noise and I wanted quiet, I walked around again until the noisy folks were gone.

Whenever I take time to think of how Momma was, how she treated the world and the people in it, I feel more at peace with myself. It is worth doing, I think.

Great Grandma Billie in her Own Garden

Love, Grandma Judy

Ladd’s Addition

Confusing Street Signs

Dear Liza,

Even though Portland is a big city, there are lots of different neighborhoods, each with its own history and personality. Ladd’s Addition, where Auntie Katie lives, is one of my favorites. It runs from Hawthorne on the north to Division on the south, and between 12th and 21st west and east.

Ladd’s Addition is named for William Ladd, who was mayor of Portland for a year back in the late 1800s. He was a merchant, which meant he bought and sold things. He was very successful. After he had made a lot of  money from his stores, he started buying property. He bought 126 acres of Eastside Portland and, in 1891, when the city of Portland annexed the Eastside, he divided his land into a neighborhood. At that time, there were already streets and houses on the Eastside.

But what makes Ladd’s Addition different was the shape of the neighborhood. Instead of streets that ran north/south and east/west, like the rest of the city, he copied Pierre L’Enfant’s pattern from Washington D.C., and made it more of an “X” shape. Go to googlemaps and look it up. It’ll give you a chuckle.

Lovely old houses
Tree swing? Of course!

I love Ladd’s Addition because of its quirkiness, its huge trees, its family friendliness, and its architecture. Many of the houses were built between 1900 and 1920 from kits that came on railroad cars from stores back east. Newer than the gingerbread-y Victorians of other parts of town, they are Craftsman style, Foursquare, and Federal styles. Some are lovely small bungalows, and others are practically mansions!

And I haven’t even mentioned the rose gardens. Where streets cross between Elliot and Ladd, there are four gardens, called East, West, North and South. These are maintained by volunteers (since the city has had budget issues) and are magnificent. Beds of older and newer varieties grow higher than my head and are obviously very, very happy.

Really Happy “Strike it Rich”

Of course, the odd arrangement of streets makes Ladd’s hard to navigate. It is easy to get disoriented when going around the central circle, as there are no right angles and ten streets to choose from. But you get the hang of it after a while, and if you get lost, at least you are in a nice neighborhood!


And I get the walk through this paradise whenever I visit Auntie Katie’s house or even her shop, which is just on the other side. Life is sweet in Portland.


Grandma Judy

Family Artifacts

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This evening you two took ownership of your Great Great Grandpa Louis’s oriental rugs. This makes me very happy, because it means they will stay in the family, and you will get to tell their story. I am sure your Grandpa Nelson told you all about it when he helped you lay the rugs out in your play room and bedroom, but I will tell what I know here.

Jasper, cars, and the rugs

The two rugs, along with a hallway runner that has since been lost,  were originally bought in 1932 with the money Great Great Grandpa Louis Fein made on a bet. He bet a friend that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would win the presidential election of that year. Mr. Roosevelt won and Louis took his winnings and invested them in these fine rugs.

Eight years later, Louis died while on a business trip in Montreal, Canada. While we were there a few years ago, Grandpa Nelson did some research to find out where Louis was when he died, why he was there, and what he died of. There wasn’t much information. That was just at the start of World War II in Canada, and the war was all the newspapers were covering. One middle aged Jewish man from  Atlantic City, New Jersey, wasn’t big news. We think he may have been working to help evacuate Jews from Europe. We think he died of a heart attack while staying at a boarding house because all the hotels were full of officers organizing the war effort. But we don’t know for sure.

The rugs stayed in the family, though, staying with your Great Great Grandma Hannah Fein after Louis died. When she moved in with your Great Grandma Mona and her kids Nelson, June and Dorothy, they played on them. Grandpa Nelson has told me of driving his tiny cars through the ‘forests’ of the rug, around their patterns. Eventually  the rugs came west with Hannah when she moved to California. They were given to your Grandpa Nelson by Great Great Grandma Hannah when she moved to a rest home.

We got the rugs just about the time your Uncle David was born, with your Mommy Katie coming soon after. We used them in our houses, and your mommy grew up on them. Sleepovers, popcorn spills, and even My Little Ponies parties happened on those old rugs.

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Jasper, Kestrel, and Great Great Grandpa Louis’s rug!

They moved to Portland with us last year, and now we are moving to a smaller place and have no room. I am so happy the rugs will have more children and grandchildren to play on them!


Grandma Judy

Too Many Books!

Kitten and wall of books

Dear Liza,

You remember our house in Salinas. We had a whole room for books…three walls of seven foot high bookcases. Plus books in the family room, living room, guest bedroom, and Auntie Bridgett’s office downtown.

We don’t have that much space here.

Temporary overflow

The rooms in our new house are bright and friendly, but a bit smaller than before…so, less room for books. We gave away tons before we left town, to friends, students, The Salvation Army, but there were still too many.

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Tiny Free Library

Our new house is a short walk from the lovely Belmont library and within fifteen minutes of Powell’s City of books. That sort of availability makes living with less easier. But sometimes a person just needs to pick up The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to read before bed, you know? So we kept Steinbeck, Twain, Heinlein, Asimov, Schultz, Shakespeare, and a fair–sized avalanche of art books.

Selling Books at Powell’s

It turns out that the local library, the tiny free libraries, and Powell’s are part of a larger book ecology, a circle of life for books.  These places also accept books! Yesterday we carried bags and bags of books to the Powell’s on Hawthorne, and they bought quite a few of them, giving us $39 in gift certificates! Bonus: What they didn’t want, the library accepted, and gave us a receipt for our taxes.

Win. Win. Win. Circle of life. Buy a book, sell it back, buy it again, give it away…


Grandma Judy


Urban Agriculture

Dear Liza,

With the weather getting warmer and sunnier (in between showers) the gardens of Southeast Portland are flourishing. And not just flower gardens, although the roses, peonies, ranunculous, chrysanthemums and Shasta daisies are going berserk.

The city of Portland has 53 community gardens. These are empty lots in residential areas which have been built up with raised beds, fenced and gated. People put their name on a waiting list, wait their turn, and get their hands dirty! These gardens are part of Portland Parks and Recreation Department and are a wonder to see.

All winter the gardens wait in the rain, their plots under cardboard (to keep the weeds down) or gloriously muddy. Around March, intrepid Portlanders head out in boots and slickers to place stakes or build teepees. And by June, things are busting out all over!

Yesterday while we were out walking we saw sunflowers higher than my head, beds of lettuce, and waves of berry bushes. Climbing devices await peas, beans and tomatoes. Joyful gardeners smile idiotically with the sheer joy of sunshine and soil.

Of course, with all this love of agriculture, not everyone is willing to wait for their turn in the community garden. Some folks just plant their dream farm right in their own front yard! Many yards are overshadowed by giant trees, but those with sunlight find a way.

My parents were suburban farmers. They fortified the sandy soil of Manhattan Beach, California and grew carrots, lettuce and kohlrabi. We had fruit trees and artichokes. I currently have no burning need to become an urban gardener, but it is nice to know there is a way, should the need arise.


Grandma Judy



Dear Liza,

Spring in Portland is an exciting time. You don’t know, hour to hour, if you will have sun or rain. Trees that have been bare all winter get dusted with petals before their lacy green petticoats come out.

Spring Canopy

The ground smells alive as the rain and mosses work together to create life.

Each Rhododendron bloom looks like a perfect bouquet.

Wild roses and strawberries burst with buds and fruit, bright red against the dark shady soil.

The state flower, Oregon Grape, which isn’t a grape, can be found putting on its tiny sour fruits.img_6880.jpg

I remember walking around this very neighborhood, just about a year ago, apartment hunting. I saw a yard with its just- out -of -the -flat zinnias and thought how optimistic the gardener was, planting heat loving zinnias in what I thought was the perpetual damp of the northwest. But last summer’s heat set me straight, and I walked by the zinnias everyday, being reminded of how much I still have to learn about my new home.

Optimistic zinnias

Being in our old neighborhood, I got to visit the flamingos! They are all decked out for Pride Day next weekend, lead in their own parade by their friend duck playing a kazoo. I smiled to see that our gnome is still lurking in the bushes, chuckling as people spot him.

Proud Flamingos


Grandma Judy

Second Sunday Potluck

Dear Liza,

Our new house is a condominium in the Belmont/ Sunnyside neighborhood. There are two sections. The one next door was built in 1999 and ours in 2006. They are both nice, and a little different from each other. Our section has smaller ground level patios, but we also second floor balconies. I don’t know what the other differences are because I haven’t been inside any of our neighbor’s houses.

But last night we got to meet some of them! It turns out that there is a potluck in the patio between the two sections every second Sunday of the month at six in the evening. It drizzled off and on all day yesterday and by evening, it was a good steady rain, but that didn’t stop the potluck. Tents and tarps were put up, tables and chairs squeezed in underneath, and twenty people brought food, wine and conversation.

What a pleasant evening! We all kept our jackets on, but we shed hats and got cozy. As the new people, we were trying to learn everyone’s names while eating all the delicious food. There was a fine roast beef, pasta with meat sauce, a rice and artichoke casserole, and chicken shish kabobs and our contribution, broccoli salad. There was white wine, red wine, sparkling wines, and even a red ale that tasted almost like cherry coke.

Then came the desserts! Our chocolate chip cookies went over well, but the stars were Eric’s Mexican chocolate ice cream (with cinnamon) and Jaqueline’s peanut butter brownies.

As the evening progressed we needed to push up on the tarp occasionally to spill the accumulated water, but everyone was a good sport about getting a bit damp here and there. “This is Portland!” They said.

When we were all full of food and wine and talked out, we gathered our dishes and leftovers (we brought home just three cookies) and our damp chairs, which we will air out in the morning, and walked the thirty feet to our place.

Pajamas and the Tony Awards, quite a few glasses of water, and then bed.


Grandma Judy