Navigating by Serendipity

Dear Liza,

Yesterday we decided it was time to visit Mt. Tabor. This is a 636 feet high extinct cinder cone volcano right here in Portland. It is covered with a forest and has hiking trails. We wanted a nice walk up the hill.

As so often happens, we got much more than we bargained for! We wandered into a fabulous event called the Adult Soapbox Derby. This is an annual event that happens the third Saturday of August here in Portland. Teams create vehicles with no engine, that are started by a big push and stopped by their own brakes, that roll down the road of Mt. Tabor three at a time. The vehicles are funny, beautiful, and whimsical.

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Catvan from Totoro

Dozens of people raced, pushed and helped direct people and traffic. Hundreds more  watched from the sidelines with picnics, kids, and dogs. There were food trucks, Frisbee games, and even dancing along the way. We sat in several different places, watching the racers come down, some really zipping along, others just barely moving, but all being met with cheers and applause.

Auntie Bridgett’s favorite was the Kraken, a colorful sea creature that squirted water at the crowd. There were cartoon characters like the Catvan from Totoro and Johnny Cab from Total Recall. And, there were ponies! A My Little Pony car was decorated with pink and purple fluff and driven by two ladies in pony costumes.

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Pony Car

We were glad we had taken a picnic,  because we ended up walking four miles, up and down and around the mountain. By the time the drum corps marched down the road announcing the end of the race, we were ready to find our own car and drive into the Montavilla neighborhood to look around and get some refreshment.

 

GetAttachmentThumbnail-68.jpgWe found The Bipartisan Cafe, a politically decorated place for cakes, pies, coffee, and interesting old political posters. Ice Cold Ice Cream provided Grandpa Nelson with a delicious root beer float, and we were ready to head for home.

So far we still don’t know which car won. But we enjoyed being steered by serendipity!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Walking, Walking by the River….

Dear Liza,

Yesterday Auntie Bridgett wanted to get out during the day and write for her comic strip, so we set off to find a new coffee shop. We walked down Burnside past Heart and Grendel’s, and settled in at Ristoretto on Couch for some pastries, chai and coffee.

After an hour of relaxing, reading, writing and listening to some pretty weird music, we headed off again. We walked past some very interesting new buildings, like “The Fair-Haired Dumbbell”, and I realized we were only five blocks from the Willamette River. We had been talking about making time to walk along the river, so we did!

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Fair-Haired Dumbbell

But you simply can’t start a major adventure on just coffee and a hand pie. Wandering down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (we call it MLK) we found the Sheridan Fruit Company. It is SO much more than fruit! They make sausages, cheeses, have a food truck, and a whole grocery store that has been there since 1906! The whole place smells fabulous. We shared the Seafood Creole Special of spicy shrimp, sausage, polenta and veggies and felt properly fortified for our journey.

 

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Sheridan Fruit Co., since 1906!

There is a huge freeway that runs between the east part of Portland and the River,  but with Googlemaps and patience, we followed bridges over freeways and under bridges and found the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. It is named for a woman who was mayor of Portland and in the Oregon government for years, and this wonderful path follows the Willamette River for one and a half miles.

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Vera Katz Statue Photo credit mygola.com

Along this path are water fountains, bubblers, benches, sculpture, trees, and even floating public docks to sit on and even jump into the river from, if you like. A few fellows did, and it looked like fun, but we didn’t…wet and drippy are not a good way to walk around town.

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Auntie Bridgett, me, the Hawthorne Bridge, and the Willamette River

We walked to the south end, just under the Hawthorne Bridge, and then north to the Burnside Bridge, up a long flight of steps, and turned east towards home. It had gotten warm and we were pooped. We walked up Ash Street and realized we had walked six miles! No wonder we were tired!

We sat on the couch, drank lots of water, and both fell asleep. After dinner, when it was cooler, Grandpa Nelson joined us and we…..walked some more! Just through Laurelhurst Park this time, not even a whole mile, but the breeze was cool and dogs and kids were playing in the park. It was worth it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

PS The flamingos are celebrating a birthday AND the eclipse! Check out this picture!

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Flamingo birthday/eclipse party

Ice Cream Walking

Dear Liza,

Last night we wanted a nice long walk, and we wanted ice cream. We headed south, toward Division Street.

Just down our own block, we walked past the house where the flamingos are out in the yard. They were all wearing eclipse glasses!! This cracked us up. The whole city has gone eclipse crazy, with lots of visitors coming to Oregon to see next week’s solar eclipse. Hotels and rental cars are all booked. But these flamingos are ready.

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Eclipse-Ready Flamingos

We walked through a lovely neighborhood called Sunnyside, with interesting gardens and all sorts of decorations, like the Giving Tree, where people are invited to write what they are thankful for and hang it on the tree, announcements of neighborhood picnics, and cats.

 

 

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Tiny free library Photo credit: secondhand-goods.blogspot.com

 

We stopped at one of the tiny free libraries that are in many of the neighborhoods around here. They are smallish boxes, like a cupboard on a pole with a (sometimes) glass door. I had brought a book to share, a copy of “It was a dark and stormy night” that I have had for years. I traded it for a new copy of “Junie B Jones is a Party Animal” which I can share with you when you come up.

 

When we got to Division Street, about a mile south of our house, we stopped at Salt & Straw Ice Cream. This is a famous ice cream shop and there is always a line. We only waited a few minutes, time for me to decide on a tiny but delicious strawberry basalmic and pepper ice cream cone. Grandpa Nelson got a cinnamon snickerdoodle milkshake…he loved it! We sat in a nice shady patio and enjoyed our ice cream while happy kids ran around, giggling like goofballs.

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Salt and Straw!!!

 

Auntie Bridgett prefers frozen yogurt to ice cream, so we walked just a block up Division to Eb and Bean, a tasty frozen yogurt shop. She had a peanut yogurt cone, which was very, very good.

Heading home, we walked up Caruthers Street, and the name was very familiar. The other streets around it are Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant, who are all Civil War heroes and Presidents. Once I got home I realized that I had just photographed Finice Caruthers’ grave in Lone Fir Cemetery the day before, and read about him in my Portland history book, “Portland: People, Politics and Power”, by Jewel Lansing. Caruthers was a pioneer in Portland, getting one of the first Donation Land Grants just south of the main part of downtown.

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Finice Caruthers’ Grave

He was one of the men who made decisions that got the city started. He died young, with no children to carry on his name, so he is mostly forgotten. But this street, and now you and I, remember him! The history of this city is long and complicated, but I feel like I am starting to put some of the pieces together.
On our return walk, we saw more gardens, and cats. We had walked about three miles, so we were tired out. But it was a lovely evening!
Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Settling in

 

Dear Liza,

We have now been living in Portland for one month and two days. We have unpacked almost everything we need, except for the pillows for the guest room for when you and your Daddy come to visit. I will be hunting for them today.

We have started to find some favorite places and things here that I want to share with you.

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Rocking Frog Sign

So far, Grandpa Nelson’s favorite place to walk for coffee and doughnuts is the Rocking Frog, down on Belmont Street. This is an old house that has been turned into a coffee house, and it feels cozy and quiet. The kitchen has stayed the kitchen, where doughnuts are fried fresh on weekends, and orange juice is squeezed fresh when you order it. Their other pastries are delivered from the Fleur de Lis bakery, and are delicious.

The dining room has become the library, with small tables for eating and lots of books for browsing. The living room has squashy chairs, a fireplace and more books. The back ‘bedroom’ has small tables and a cupboard of games to play. There is a small table on the front porch and more tables on the back patio, which is shaded by bamboo and umbrellas.

Auntie Bridgett loves Powell’s City of Books, downtown. We take the number 20 bus to get there. It is a full city block, five stories high, full of books. The books are on all subjects in a dozen of languages, with new and used, soft cover and hardcover books shelved together so you can choose. The children’s book section is huge!

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Powell’s at Night Photo credit:blogtugo.com

Powell’s doesn’t just want you to come in and buy books. There is a cafe for snacks and tables to read, and lots of benches and chairs. They also invite authors to come talk about their books, and invite us to come listen! It is fun to hear the stories behind the stories and be able to ask questions.

For me, it is hard to say what my favorite place is. I really love walking… just seeing the beautiful old houses, trees, gardens and the interesting people.  But if I had to choose, my favorite place is Laurelhurst Park, just three blocks up Pine Street. The hundred year old trees and paved paths make it perfect for walking, biking and jogging. The hawks, owls, ducks, turtles, and squirrels are a reminder that humans aren’t the only creatures that live here.

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Laurelhurst Park

The ravine that the park is built on gives wonderful changes in levels….a brick staircase with 87 steps is a fine challenge for exercising, and kids enjoy zooming down grassy hills on their small bikes. Picnic tables welcome parties and conversations and horse shoe pits, basketball courts and climbing structures invite the kids in.

I look forward to showing you all these and more, and your cousins also want to show you the zoo!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

 

Faeries in Portland

Dear Liza,

I have told you how much fun it is living in Portland. I have told you about the plastic flamingos that go on camping trips and the silent dance parties in the park. But I haven’t mentioned the Faeries.

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Flamingos out camping

First, there is a shop called Fernie Brae, not far from us on Hawthorne Street. It is a combination of art gallery, museum, and shop, all about faeries. Tiny pictures, statues, jewelry, and plants all take you inside a special, delicate world. Cousin Kestrel had part of her birthday here. There were tiny keys to open tiny doors and find magical gifts. She and Jasper enjoyed it very much.

 

 

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Inside Fernie Brae Photo credit: Morgana Krinsley

Then there are the regular gardens that people make to enjoy. These gardens are regular people sized, but have fishponds, tiny lights, and mosaic paths through them. There are also statues of frogs, flamingos, and all sorts of animals. Birdhouses and even bat houses make the animals feel welcome. Many of the trees are so old, there are hollow places in them that look exactly like faeries would live there. Moss growing on all the walls feels like faerie carpet.

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Person sized Garden

But some people seem to want the faeries to feel even more at home. They build tiny gardens that are faerie sized within their own people sized gardens. These have tiny gates, benches, plants, even houses. There may be stepping stones the size of bottle caps.Whenever I see one, I want to make myself very small and go visiting!

Love,

Grandma Judy

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Faerie Garden in a person’s yard

The Big Library Downtown

Dear Liza,

Yesterday Auntie Bridgett and I took the number 20 downtown. We had a good time shopping, and then decided to look inside the beautiful building that is the main branch of the Multnomah County Library, at SE 10th and Yamhill.

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The main branch!

The outside looks like a church, or an ancient Roman temple….tall and bright with large arched windows. We went up the wide steps and through the heavy glass doors into the cool space, a nice change from the muggy heat outside. We were in the first foyer, where a rack held all the bus line schedules I’d been looking all over town for. There was also a coat room and bag check.

Going through another set of glass doors, we were in the main lobby. It was bigger than your house! There were long desks on both sides of people helping folks check out books, doing research, and taking care of books.

But what made my heart leap was on the right: The door that lead to The Beverly Cleary Children’s Library. I’ve told you about Beverly Cleary; she is the lady who grew up here in Portland and wrote so many wonderful books for children. She donated some of her money to the library and they made this huge room into a magical place for books and kids.

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Once you walk by the lovely wood carving of Alice in Wonderland, you see the circulation desk standing by a giant bronze tree. The tree, which is 12 feet tall and reaches clear up to the ceiling, is covered with shapes and creatures from stories…bears, turtles, plants, and magic lamps.

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Close up of the TREE!

I spent a long time looking at it with some little girls who were there. I stood in happy, silly joy for a long time, just enjoying the fact that this huge place is here for the children of this city, to encourage them to read and love books.

We walked across the lobby and found the Popular library, fiction stories for grown-ups, then up the stairs to the periodical room, where you can check out magazines from now or even years back. There is also a science and business library.

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Science and Business Library

The other day, when I walked to the Belmont Branch of the library, (a much, much smaller library closest to my house), I got a library card..which means I can check out anything from this magical place, too!

I feel like I am part of a special club, a club that allows me secret knowledge…about anything I want to look for. I am so excited!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Art, bocce, bugs, and chess

Dear Liza,

On Tuesday the cousins and I took the number 4 down to to Portland Art Museum. There was a lot going on before we even got inside! The giant orchids were still there, and there was a piano painted like a raccoon. Several people came up and played a song or two, then wandered away. It was sort of magical.

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Raccoon Piano

There are statues in the courtyard that I hadn’t noticed before. They are called Her Leaving, It Up and It Sitting. They are tall, lumpy figures covered with what look like rivers of paint.We imagined we were tiny and the statues became mountains with caves. We followed each river of color as it flowed into others and down ‘waterfalls’.

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Her Leaving

Inside the museum we looked at portraits by different artists. We played my favorite game of making up what we think the person in the portrait is thinking. A young lady looking tired with an accordion on her lap is thinking, “I want to go ride my new bike!” We saw shiny silver dishes and statues carved out of smooth, white marble.

But our favorite room had three pieces of art by Jennifer Steinkamp. They were moving, digital trees ten feet tall, projected onto the walls. The trees were growing and changing as we watched. The bare branches got covered in pink and purple blossoms and leaves which rustled in the breeze, changed color and fell, and the bare tree began spring again. It was hypnotic, and we sat for a long time watching. Jasper and Kestrel had fun going around the room, pretending to gather the leaves.

At lunchtime, we walked outside to the South Park Blocks, areas of shady grass with benches and statues, to eat our lunch. We saw some people playing bocce ball, tossing balls at a small target. They were having such fun that Jasper watched and got invited to make the last throw.

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Bocce Ball Players

Then an incredibly big, beautiful bug joined us on our bench. About two inches long, he was very patient and let us get very close to look at him. I looked him up later, and he is an Alder Boring Beetle.

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Very Patient Alder Boring Beetle

After lunch we walked down to Director Park. This park isn’t grassy, but has a big fountain that is good for wading, a cafe with a big shady patio, and a chessboard bigger than your bedroom. The pieces are about two feet tall, light and easy to move. Jasper and I played a good game while Kestrel watched cat videos on my phone. We listened to a violinist play over by the fountain.

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Chessboard in Director Park

It felt like the perfect time to end our perfect day, so we walked past some lovely statues of forest animals and caught the number 2 bus back home. I am sure enjoying getting to know your cousins.

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Cousin Kestrel and a deer

Love,

Grandma Judy