Dear Liza,

A few days ago, Grandpa Nelson sent away for a new record turntable. This is a very old-fashioned way to play music, but we enjoy it very much. Our old, old one was given away when we moved.

Needless to say, most of our records went away, as well….you’d think so. No turntable, no records. BUT. Some records are like old friends, and we kept them. Beatles. Smothers Brothers. The important ones.

Just like being 15 again!

So yesterday, between chores and rain storms, we walked to Music Millennium, a BIG record, cd, and dvd shop just across Burnside from The Laurelhurst Market, where we had dinner when you and your daddy were visiting. They have new and used, rock, pop, jazz, blues, hiphop, movie soundtracks (no Bull Durham or Blues Brothers, but I’ll keep looking) and classical. There were even comedy records, including a “Happy Birthday, Oregon” record by Stan Freberg.

We left that one there, for now.

From Auntie Katie’s High School days!

We did find some lovely old friends and brought them home.

And, in between dinner, shopping, and some exploratory pinball down at the Goodfoote Lounge, we listened. Aunt Bridgett is new to the Smothers Brothers, so we had fun listening with her like it was the first time all over again.

I am pretty new to Manhattan Transfer, so that was new fun for me, as well.

Now humming to myself as we walk down to Cool Cottons, a fabric shop on Hawthorne, to get some fabric for new projects.


Grandma Judy


Dear Liza,

Yesterday I took the #20 bus into town, then the yellow Max train north until the end of the line. There, near (but not near enough to see) the joining of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, is the Portland Expo Center. It is a huge convention center surrounded by a huge parking lot. It felt very much like California, where every building has its requisite slab of asphalt.

Inside, there were hundreds of quilts, and hundreds of people who make, love, and even sell them. I was amazed at the level of workmanship…every corner met exactly, every seam lay flat, every stitch was tiny.


Many of the quilts were traditional motifs like Log Cabin and Texas Star, executed in traditional fabrics. Perfect, but to me, they shared the flaw of a Flemish painting: perfection of technique over …ooomph.

I value ooomph.

For example, there is a whole new (to me) school of applique, where the edges of appliqued fabric aren’t turned under, but very closely machine sewn. This gives the piece an easy, watercolored feel that is delightfully informal. Not exactly high art, but fun and energetic.

Each color on each dog is layered on and sewn…oomph

What I hadn’t expected was the degree of artistry. Not just great precision, but having something to say and saying it. A point of view, a political statement, a cry for love or peace or justice…these aren’t common in quilts. But here they were.

I found the most beautiful, sad political statement of all. This quilt of death dancing with his bride, money falling o of her gown, and this quote:

“Only when the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted, will we realize we can’t eat money and we can’t drink oil”.

Only when…. quilt

Then there were some with both oomph and joy and precision….. which I will share at the bottom of this post.


Grandma Judy

Oomph and precision
Ooomph and precision
Political chuckle

Fall Colors


Dear Liza,

Local trees go berserk
The air feels different. It is cooler, drier and has the smell of the end of summer. Aunt Bridgett and I walked through Laurelhurst Park yesterday for the first time in a week or so, and it felt like visiting an old friend who got a new haircut. All our favorite places and trees were there, but the fall has painted them brilliantly.

Set off against a perfect blue sky
I am off today to visit a quilt show at the Expo Center, which is way up by the Columbia River. I am taking the Y#20 Downtown, then the Yellow Max line, all by myself. It will be exciting to see a whole new part of the city from the train windows! I will take pictures so I can show you.


Grandma Judy

Best crayons ever

Back to…. History!

Dear Liza,

We returned to McMenamin’s History Pub at The Kennedy School on Monday night for dinner, fun and education. This time the subject was an odd combination: The Poor Farm and the Rose Garden.

Another mosaic at The Kennedy School

Let me explain. From 1868 to 1911, there was a farm in the West Hills of Portland where people who were poor or sick and couldn’t take care of themselves could go. At the Poor Farm, there was shelter, food,  a farm to work on, a hospital, and doctors to care for the people. It wasn’t fancy, but it was care, and over time the population of the farm grew from 20 to more than 200. Some of these people were sick and needed the hospital to recover and then go home, but others couldn’t live on their own and stayed for the rest of their lives.

In 1911, some nurses came to see the farm and decided the whole place was no longer acceptable as a health care facility. It was too old and falling apart.

          The Poor Farm in the West Hills               Oregon Historical Society photo

Besides that, the property in the West Hills which had been so remote from town in 1868 was now on the western edge of a city needing to expand, and was very valuable. (Eyebrows up!) The city of Portland wanted to develop City Park, right next door, as “the crown jewel” of the city. Some of the property was sold to be developed into fancy homes, which would be near the newly developed park and have lovely views over the city to Mt. Hood in the east. The Poor Farm, with contagious people living right next door to the new Park and the expensive homes, was a problem. The Farm was torn down and the people moved east, by a town called Troutdale.

But the hills weren’t stable! Every bit of land that was moved to get the hills level caused landslides. No housing development was possible. (Sad sigh from developers.) By then, the city of Portland was even bigger, and City Park was getting too small and crowded. The whole top of Mt. Washington were brought in and developed into the park. The old Poor Farm property became the Oregon Zoo.

Then, in 1915, World War I was raging in Europe. Besides the danger to the people, buildings and gardens that had been developed for centuries were being destroyed. Jesse Curry, a Rose lover in this “City of Roses”, asked the city to set aside land to plant roses brought from Europe, to save them. The unstable land where the houses couldn’t be built became this Rose Garden and tennis courts. The Rose Garden now has 607 varieties of roses and is cared for by paid gardeners and hundreds of volunteers. It has become the Crown Jewel of The City Of Roses, and gets 700,000 visitors every year.

Adorable little girl in Rose Garden

I am learning so much about how cities grow. The basic needs of people don’t change: food, shelter, jobs, and fun. But a city of 2,000 deals with these very differently than a city of 200,000 or 2 million. Change is hard and messy, but necessary.

And, in Portland, you also get roses.


Grandma Judy

Irish History and Walking

Dear Liza,

On Sunday, Auntie Bridgett met up with some fellow artists at the Portland Art Museum for some drawing and talking. I went along to research and walk about downtown. I am still working on my story about Portland and some of my characters are newly arrived Irish immigrants.

During my two hours online, I learned a lot about the history of Irish people coming to Portland. The Potato Famine in Ireland brought many people to America in the 1800s. These people left Ireland so they wouldn’t starve and landed in Boston, New York, or New Orleans, and lived there for years. It was expensive to travel and once they got settled into a new city, it was hard to leave. But some came west to Portland.

Most of these Irish immigrants were not well educated. They had been farmers and didn’t have a lot of other skills. But the men took hard jobs like building railroads and loading ships, while the women cleaned houses. They were successful and improved their situation and their children’s future. They built beautiful churches that we can still visit and schools that still teach hundreds of children.

When Auntie Bridgett had finished with her art, we went for a walk. We headed north from the Art Museum, enjoying the beautifully decorated buildings. My Saturday spent looking at Minor White’s photographs of lost treasures made me appreciate what we still have. We turned west on Burnside and saw another McMenamin’s Restaurant, an impossibly skinny old building restored as a pub.

Skinny McMenamin’s Pub

We crossed the 405 freeway on a very noisy overpass and found St. Mary’s Cathedral, one of the Irish Catholic churches I had been reading about, at NW 18th and Couch! It is “the new church”, being built in 1926, but it replaced a church that was built in 1885 at SW 3rd and Stark, not far from the river, and destroyed by a flood on the Willamette.

St. Mary’s Cathedral

We continued our walk and found more churches! Trinity Episcopal Church, where the first Rose Show was held in 1889, and the Christian Science Church, built in 1909, which is now home for the Northwest Children’s Theater.

Old church, now home of Children’s Theater

Now completely worn out, we crossed back over the freeway and found the wonderful Irving Street Kitchen. It is an old warehouse space decorated with bookcases full of a wild assortment of old books from the Multnomah County library: a Chinese-Japanese dictionary, a book on French history, in French, and one about Russian religious icons, in Russian. There were also American books on music, gardening, history, and even some Dan Brown adventures. It was fun to look at the books while our lunch was prepared. I ordered Succotash, which isn’t a very fancy name, but my wonderful vegetables and egg sure were tasty. Auntie Bridgett had Salmon cakes and they were good, too.

Great place for reading and food!

Fully restored, we found the #20 bus and headed home. It had been another day that left my feet tired, my tummy satisfied, and my head filled to overflowing. Now, off to sleep.


Grandma Judy

Architectural History

Dear Liza,

Architectural history is a fancy term that means studying old buildings. Portland has been building since 1845, so there have been lots of buildings. Some have been torn down for new buildings, freeways, or parking lots. Some, being made of wood,  have burned or been damaged by floods on the Willamette River. But many if them are still standing.

This guy used to help hold up a building

On Saturday, Grandpa Nelson and I walked about a mile to SE 7th and Grand Streets, to the Architectural Heritage Center. This is a group of people dedicated to saving old buildings, or at least pieces of them. Inside were statues, windows, and decorations from many buildings that had been torn down.

She was over the door of the old Ladd Building

There we also photographs of these buildings along Front Street  taken by Minor White. This area had been a busy and very prosperous part of the city at the turn of the century, and many of the buildings were made of cast iron, which was the newest way to build.

Cast iron is strong, durable, and can be made with incredible detail. Delicate curves and flowers were cast into the pillars that weighed tons and held up 10 story buildings.

Stained glass window saved from Richard B. Knapp House

But in the 1930s and 1940s, these buildings needed to come down to make room for a new highway, and the city wanted to record them properly before they did. The city hired Minor White, a famous photographer, to make portraits of the buildings. These lovely photographs are  on display. The photos were beautiful and showed so much detail, but they were also sad, like pictures of someone you love who has died. But we also learned there are still about 50 buildings that use cast iron, including the very nifty New Market Theater Building (which isn’t new at all, but very old).

Minor White’s self portrait with arches

After we had looked and talked and learned, it was time to start home. Grandpa Nelson knew of a new cider house on Belmont Street, on land where they used to keep goats. We walked and walked, figured out we were on Morrison and not Belmont, turned around, walked some more, and finally found the Schilling Cider House for a snack and a cider. It was tasty.

Bubble Man outside the Schilling Cider House

We also learned something new. This is a restaurant that does not take cash money. It is a “card only” pub. I didn’t know this was even legal! On our dollar bills it says “For all debts, public and private”. But it turns out, states can make laws that allow businesses to only take credit cards. Weird. I guess in some cases, money CAN’T buy you love (in the form of cider, anyway…)

We finished our snack, walked home and napped, and met with Auntie Katie for pizza at Dov Vivi. It was so good! Corn meal pizza crust with veggie toppings….sweet and filling. Then home for chat and finally to sleep. What a long, learning, exhausting day!


Grandma Judy

Mardi Gras and Pinball

Dear Liza,

Friday nights are usually fun here…we find something different to do. But last night, the different came to us! Or rather, it went by us.

While we were having the first chili of the year (because it’s finally cool enough that cooking is fun), we heard a weird noise outside. We are used to loud noises here, since we live a block up from a yoga studio and many lovely places to eat and drink. But this was not traffic, car alarms or delivery trucks.

Mardi Gras coming down Pine Street

What is was, was a Mardi Gras style marching band! Dixie land jazz musicians and people in white suits waving streamers, were marching and sauntering right down the middle of our street. We went out and stood on the back porch, clapping and waving, and realized it was a wedding! In with the musicians and revelers was the happy couple, waving at everyone and looking goofily happy. The procession mosied on down towards the Goodfoote Lounge and the music faded..but what a treat.

The nice people who got married chose to share all that joy and silly and music with a whole neighborhood of people they don’t even know, and we were grateful. Serendipity seems to be guiding our lives at this point, and I am happy to go along for the ride.

Later, with the memory of Dixieland jazz still ringing, we walked down to a new place, the Belmont Inn. This is a pub at SE 33rd and Belmont which we have walked past many times and wanted to see what it was like.

Grandpa Nelson being silly

There were six pinball games! One, “Star Wars” was more expensive than the others but not very much fun. The best one by far was “The Monster Bash”! Five games for two dollars, and monsters that move, cool voice overs, and sounds effects. We had way too much fun for grown ups. Auntie Bridgett and I played, mostly, but Grandpa Nelson got into the game, as well.


We wandered home thinking how lucky we are to be living in this fun city. And when we got here, we had a package! Eight, count them, eight classic monster movies had been delivered! Frankenstein, Bride of, Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Invisible Man, and Phantom of the Opera, along with histories and how-they-were-made features, the theme of the evening!  How can life get any better, I ask you?

SO, after an already full evening, we made popcorn and watched Bride of Frankenstein and drifted off to bed. I love my life!

And you, of course,

Grandma Judy