New Year’s Eve

lit courthouse new years .jpg
Old Courthouse all lit up

Dear Liza,

 

Last night was New Year’s Eve and we celebrated in downtown Portland. The weather was very cold, but delightfully dry…no rain, and just a few clouds, so getting around was easy and everything looked bright and festive.

full moon and lit xmas tree new years.jpg
Full Moon over Pioneer Square

We walked around downtown for a while, looking at shop windows and people walking by. We visited Powell’s City of Books and the Apple Store. Around 5, we got hungry so we stopped off at Case Study Coffee, at SW 10th and Yamhill  for snacks. They closed at 6, so we wandered some more, finding the lobby of the Hilton a welcoming place with comfy sofas and friendly people.

raven and rose sign.jpg
Sign at Raven and Rose

By 7 o’clock we were ready for dinner, so we walked over to the Raven and Rose. Located at SE Columbia and Broadway, it is in what used to be the carriage House ( a combination of garage and barn, built in 1883) of William S. Ladd, one of the real movers and shakers of old Portland. The big estate and mansion have been torn down and built over, but this wonderfully restored barn, built in what they call the “Stick” style, has a restaurant downstairs and the Rookery Bar upstairs. It is one hundred and thirty year old, sits in the midst of modern brick and glass towers, and stands out as a jewel from another age.

Our dinner of beet salad, shrimp gnocchi, swede fondant, treacle tart, french fries and ice cream went well with the Pinot Noir and apple cider, and we felt indulged and sated. We chatted about our resolutions for the New Year and our hopes and plans for buying a house in Portland.

WS Ladd portrait rose and raven.jpg
Mr. William S. Ladd

Wandering around some more, we stopped in at the ArtBar of the Antoinette Hatfield Hall and looked at a wonderful Steampunk art show. Steampunk art is a style that uses old industrial things like machinery and combines it in new ways with plants and animals. It is weird and spooky and delightful. After some tea and coffee, we headed across the street to the Arlene Schnitzer Theater at SW Park and Salmon for our main event, a concert by Pink Martini and the Portland Symphony.

portland theater sign new years.jpg
Exterior of The Arlene Schnitzer Theater

“The Schnitz”, as it is called by those who love it, was built as the Paramount vaudeville theater in 1924. It must have been the most elaborate thing in Portland in those days, because it still dazzles the eye. The lobby is enormous and ornate, and every inch of stair banister, ceiling, and wall has been carved, painted, or plastered. We spent 20 minutes just walking around the place!

schnitzer lobby .jpg
Ceiling of the lobby of “The Schnitz”

Once the show started, the fun really began. Pink Martini is a talented four person group that plays a delightful international salad of music. Backed by a hundred member choir and symphony, the vocalists sang dance hall tunes in French, popular American tunes in English, Opera arias in Italian, and frenetic rock songs in Japanese. The audience, which had kids as young as 10 and folks well past their 80s, clapped and sang and, when invited, many women joined the band onstage to sing Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”.

At midnight we all stood and sang “Auld Lang Syne”, but the show wasn’t over yet.

Full choir, Symphony, jazz band and four operatic soloists joined forces to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in German. It was powerful and wonderful. But it was after midnight, and during some of the quieter moments, I think I might have…dozed off. Just for a moment.

Once the show was over and thousands of happy people filed out of the theater, we caught our Lyft ride home and I was asleep in two minutes.

Happy New Year!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

False Spring

Dear Liza,

Yesterday, December 30, 2017, was the warmest day we have had in a month. The blue sky was decorated with puffy clouds, and the temperature got up to 50 degrees! Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk. We noticed some premature gladiolus flowers shooting up through the mud. The warm weather has them fooled, perhaps.

wells fargo from east side
Wells Fargo from east side

Our first stop was Triumph Coffee at SE 12th and Ash. A busy, friendly place, with comfortably mismatched furniture. it is what Linus Van Pelt would call sincere. Neighborhood folks were enjoying coffee and having conversations. I didn’t see a single laptop open. Bridgett testifies that the coffee is excellent, and I stand by their carrot zucchini muffins. We got our goodies to go, and continued on our way.

big-pink-from-west-side.jpg
Big Pink from east side

We walked on Ash until it ran into Sandy Boulevard, a major street that runs diagonally through east Portland. It makes some connections easier, of course, but also creates really interesting angled corners. Portland has a lot of these odd corners, like on the west side where Burnside hits every street at an odd angle, and in Ladd’s Addition, with its “x marks the spot” plotting.

From the obtuse corner of 10th and Ash, we could look west and see the two tallest buildings in Portland, “Big Pink” and the Wells Fargo Building. It is nice to be able to find landmarks and get a better picture of where you are in relation to other things.

We turned left and followed Sandy southwest until it became 7th Avenue, and followed that to Morrison. In that neighborhood are many old industrial buildings that have been re-purposed. The Troy Laundry, a brick building from 1913, is currently for sale. I am sure it has an interesting future.

troy laundry.jpg
1913 Troy Laundry Building

Heading back towards home on Morrison, we found Auntie Bridgett’s new favorite place: The Grand Central Restaurant and Bowling Lounge at 808 SE Morrison. This two-story playground for grown-ups (and kids) is in the old Grand Central Public Market building, which was built in 1929. It has bowling, a restaurant, two bars, pinball, Pac-man, air hockey, shuffleboard, skee-ball, driving games, pool tables, and giant televisions. It looks like a great place to spend a long wintry afternoon, and is not far from our house! Hooray for accidental discoveries!

exterior bowling alley.jpg
Bowling on Morrison!!!

We left the bowling alley, smiling, knowing we would be back soon, and continued east on Morrison. We went through the Lone Fir Cemetery to say hello to the dead people, and got to chat with some squirrels and tourists, as well.

disco ball bowling.jpg
Yes, a disco ball in a bowling alley…..

We said a special hello to little Genevieve Gray, who died in 1912 when she was only 3 months old and is buried under the tiniest headstone I have ever seen. It is about 7 inches by 10, and is tucked under huge trees at the far northeast corner of the cemetery. I know visiting the cemetery might seem morbid, but it gives me perspective. I always leave with a sense of hope and purpose.

genevieve gray's grave.jpg
Little Genevieve Gray

Back home, we headed off for shopping and reading. See you soon, sweetie.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Castletown at McMenamin’s

Dear Liza,

Last night we went back to the McMenamin’s Kennedy School. The weather was really stormy, so we took a Lyft car.

JD Kennedy portrait mcmenamins.jpg
Portrait of John D. Kennedy, founder of the school

We ate in The Boiler Room, which is decorated with wonderfully steampunk-y pipes and things, as well as having odd and interesting paintings on the walls. Auntie Bridgett and I shared an Aztec Salad of lettuce, corn, beans and spicy tortilla chips and Grandpa Nelson had his french fries.

kids-birdhouses-photo.jpg
Photo of kids and their birdhouses

 

 

 

 

 

 

We noticed several themes in the photos and paintings…they echo each other. In one wing of the school, there is a large photo of some kids holding birdhouses they had made. In a different corridor, there is a painting based on that photo. I love discovering this place, bit by bit!

kids birdhouses painting.jpg
Painting based on photo!

Another interesting thing we learned was that this school, The Kennedy School in Northeast Portland, was where Mike and Brian, the McMenamin brothers, went to elementary school. So they saved their own school!

We were at the school to listen to an Irish music group called Katie Jane and Castletown which was playing in the Gymnasium. The room is small for a gym, but is a nice open space with a rug in the middle for echo-control and so tables and chairs don’t damage the wooden floor. In front of the stage, however, the floor was left bare as an informal dance floor.

Katie Jane and Castletown mcmenamins.jpg
Katie Jane and Roger with dancer

The group is made up of three people: Drew is the pony-tailed drummer, Roger plays guitar and sings the low bits, and lovely Katie Jane, on violin, is the star. Her Irish fiddle playing soars and makes everyone want to dance! The audience was very mixed, but there were about 6 families with small kids who got up and did just that when the music started.

grandma dancing irish mcmenamins.jpg
Doing a turn with Grandma

I enjoyed this part the most, I think… kids just having fun with the music, helping smaller ones, and even doing a crazy turn with their grandma. Castletown played Irish tunes, some American Gospel, and even some Rockabilly, but all were dance-able, some sing-able, and all very, very entertaining.

When the band stopped at 9, we tipped them and told them how much we enjoyed the show, and headed off. Our Lyft driver picked us up before we even had time to get wet, and we were home and safe by 9:30.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Twist Your Dickens

Dear Liza,

I want to tell you about a show we went to see in December. We are all great lovers of “A Christmas Carol”, a wonderfully spooky Christmas ghost story by Charles Dickens, so Grandpa Nelson got us tickets to go out and celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.

First we went to Henry’s Tavern, a restaurant on the corner of NE 12th and Burnside. This is an old brick building with high ceilings because it used to be the Henry Weinhard Brewery, where beer (and root beer, during Prohibition) was made for almost a hundred years. The character of the bricks and history made the building feel very special, and the food, wine and beer, were good, too. I had a Peanut Buster Burger, a hamburger with peanut better on it, which was surprisingly very good!

After we were full, we walked a few blocks to The Armory, a theater made out of, well, the 1891 Armory, where the Oregon National Guard used to train and store their weapons and equipment. It is now several theaters in one building.

Dickens stage cartoon.jpg
Stage set at Twist Your Dickens

Twist Your Dickens was almost ready to start, but before the show there was a short class on improvisational theater. Twist Your Dickens is performed by the Second City Production Company from Chicago, a group which is famous for having launched the careers of Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Steve Martin, and dozens of other comics and actors. They practice improvisation using the “Pillars of Improvisation”, developed by Viola Spolins back in the 1960s.

My favorite pillar is “Yes, and…” where, as an actor, you accept whatever thing your partner presents, for example, “Here is the rabbit you asked for” and add to it, such as, “It’s about time, the wedding is about to start!” This allows you to create a scene that is funny, fast, and unexpected. It is fun to do as a game, too. Try it with friends!

There was another unexpected element in this performance, a few people who stood on the side of the stage and performed the show in American Sign Language. Their gestures and facial expressions were wonderful to see, and as entertaining as the rest of the show.

ASL at Dickens.jpg
ASL signing at Twist Your Dickens

I didn’t take any photos during the performance, because that’s just rude, but I got a few the stage and the women signing. This photo is from the show’s website.

scrooge at Twist.jpg
      Scrooge meets Marley                                       Photo credit: Twist your Dickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

The play follows the outline of “A Christmas Carol”. We meet Mr. Scrooge, who is greedy and hates Christmas, and who is visited by four spirits who help him realize his awful ways and become a better person.

But with improvisation, characters sometimes make up their own lines, and other characters have to accept the new information and make it work (see “Yes, and..” above.) This lead to hilarity where the actors sometimes got so tickled they couldn’t say their lines…this is one of my favorite things about improv!

The lightning-fast costume changes went off without a hitch, with the seven actors playing hundreds of characters in the 90 minute show. By the end, when Scrooge buys the giant turkey and celebrates with the Cratchit family, we were all laughing and exhausted. We made our way out of the theater, to the bus stop and home, each of us breaking into laughter as we re-played scenes in our heads.

What a wonderful anniversary!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Frozen Fog Forest

Dear Liza,

Today the snow started melting. There was a little rain and the temperature was predicted to get all the way up to 45 degrees! I had lots of work to do inside after all of our company, so I was happy to stay in and be warm.

leaf and snow.jpg
Snow and leaves

By the afternoon, however, Auntie Bridgett was ready for a walk, so I went with her.

park steps snow.jpg
Icy Steps at Laurelhurst Park

We hadn’t been to Laurelhurst Park since the snow, because we didn’t want to slip on the ice…but we figured by now it would be gone…right? Well, not so much. There were lots of clear paths, but lots of ice, too. Some places it was very slippery and easier to walk by the bushes, where the dirt made a soft, but muddy, path.

dog in foggy forest.jpg
Dog and people at Laurelhurst Park

The fog was so beautiful between the trees and down in the ravine part of the park. There were several people out, playing with their dogs or just walking…even a young man jogging, over the ice, IN SHORTS! Some people are a little crazy, I think.

The trees were dripping from all the snow and ice that had been stuck on their branches, which got my hat wet, but I didn’t mind.

foggy forest 2.jpg
Lamppost for Mr. Tumnus….

As it turned out, the temperature never got above 37, and will get below freezing again tonight, so the water and slush will probably re-freeze and be scary and slippery again. I am glad I got out today.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Strange Icy Magic

Dear Liza,

I grew up in Southern California, and have lived the last 30 years in Salinas, where ice and snow almost never happen. So having a few days to really get out and see what ice does to a familiar neighborhood has been fun.

First, clothing. Three shirts, long underwear under jeans, wool socks and boots, plus scarves and hats. Gloves, too,  if you want to keep your fingers.

footprints deep snow.jpg
Footprints in fluffy Snow

Next, walking. Any kind of movement becomes very thoughtful. Since the ground is squishy or slick, and cement is hard, you pay a lot more attention to your feet…the actual placement, checking for traction every second.

This means you need to stop in order to look up, which you must do, because everything is so different. The snow that fell three days ago had changed from fluffy and soft to grainy and icy, and has melted and re-frozen a few times, making some weird shapes along the way.

camellia bush ice.jpg
Icy Camellia Bush
stump ice.jpg
Ice on our stump

 

 

The evergreen camellias common in yards around here hold up to the ice well, even forming molds which the ice flows into. It was amazing to hold one of these!

camillia ice shell.jpg
Camellia Ice Mold

Familiar things, like our gnomes on the back steps, take on new meaning. Not just “I’m a gnome” but “I’m a really freezing, patient gnome.” The plaster sun becomes a study in irony.

plaster sun snow.jpg
Winter Sun

We had such a wonderful visit from Great Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle, showing off this new city that we love. We walked the neighborhoods, looked at houses, saw art museums and bookshops, ate Babydoll Pizza and marathoned Christmas movies. We are now ready for a few days of downtime before the new year.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

Snow for Christmas!

scuffs in snow.jpg
Scuffs in the snow

Dear Liza,

This morning when we woke up, snow was predicted. The temperature was 30 degrees, and there were heavy clouds, and before we knew it, there it was…the light rain became…snow!

gnomes begin snow.jpg
Gnomes at the beginning

For a while it couldn’t make up its mind to sleet or snow, but then it decided to snow. Soft, fluffy, flakes drifting down and actually sticking, making the streets, our gnomes, and everything white….Or at least sort of white.

gnome end snow.jpg
Gnomes at the end

We needed to make a trip to the Whole Foods a few blocks away, and it took quite a while to get there. The sidewalks were icy and slippery, so we walked mostly on the crunchy grass. Parking lots, with their expanses of asphalt, were scary and we went slowly, like awkward baby penguins.

mint snow .jpg
My mint on the porch

Once we got back in from the market, we decided to enjoy the weather from INSIDE. I don’t mind being cold, or even wet, but I don’t want to fall and break anything…that would spoil Christmas!

Of course, the same kids who play with tiny drones and frisbees in the summer were out in the snow, scooping and scraping to get enough snow to throw at each other. It was fun to watch them, from INSIDE!

 

kid snow
Kids in the snow

Love,

Grandma Judy