Greeks, Pastries, and Clouds


Dear Liza,

I am sorry I haven’t written to you this week. My story about the history of Portland is making my brain very full of this place, but at another time. June and July of 1888, to be exact. My character is a girl named Caroline and she is visiting Portland for the first time. In telling her story, I hope to show people (especially kids) what Portland was like in those days.

Ominous clouds

But yesterday was day full of the present. The weather was very threatening…heavy clouds layered with happy cumulus, alternating with bright sunshine. But it was Saturday and the Greek Festival was being held just a few blocks away on Glisan Street, at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Curious about what we would see, he took hats, umbrellas, and boots, and off we went.


Holy Trinity Church

We have walked past the church many time, a beautiful, imposing brick church with domes and ornate crosses. We walked past it again on our way into the festival area.  The organizers had wisely set up tents over almost the entire area, in case of rain. The first thing we saw was the dreaded “talents” (tickets) table.

Many festivals are using this system, because it allows money to be kept safer. But it also makes all customers wait in three different lines buy anything. One to buy the tickets, (in this case, the Greek themed “talents”), a second line to buy whatever you want, and then a third line if you need more or wanted to return extras. It takes a lot of the spontaneity out of shopping.

Yummy honey filled pastries

We did break down and buy a tray of Greek pastries, and nibbled them. They have wonderfully complicated names. Kataifi look like shredded wheat biscuits but are butter, nuts and honey filled, very sweet and goopy. Koulourakia are butter cookies with sesame seeds on top. Grandpa Nelson held the box while Auntie Bridgett and I went to tour the church. Food isn’t allowed inside.

The church was lovely. High walls, ornate and imposing paintings, perfect mosaics and glowing stained glass windows. This church seems to be of the opinion that people are very small, God is very big, and without the priests, people have no chance of understanding the eternal being.

Greek Orthodox Icon

I do not share this opinion, but I appreciate the beauty, anyway.

After we got home and ate a few more pastries, Auntie Bridgett and I walked through the park.


Holy Trinity Church


Giant leaves!

Squirrels are running everywhere, bounding like small grey rainbows, trying to remember where they have hidden acorns. More leaves are down, some enormous (notice Bridgett’s foot by this one), and the forest smell is almost overwhelming, it is so alive and sweet.

So, today we got to visit two magnificent places. Although the church was nice, I find God more in the forest.

No offense intended, Holy Trinity.


Grandma Judy


Busy Sunday

Dear Liza,

Sunday was a fun, busy , slightly rainy day. Auntie Bridgett and I walked down to Hawthorne Street to visit some new shops. There is a fabric store called Cool Cottons, run by a nice lady named Marie. The shop is in an old house that Marie has turned into a bright, friendly shop with a rainbow of lightweight cotton blends, perfect for quilting! I will be getting lots of fabrics here.

For Kestrel’s pants

But today I was shopping for fabric to make clothes for Cousins Jasper and Kestrel, and I found some of that, too. A bright yellow for Jasper’s Triforce Zelda pants, and a huge rose print for Cousin Kestrel’s. I will start sewing them today.

Inside Cool Cottons

Auntie Bridgett was across the street in Excaliber Comics, where she met some nice people and bought “Too Much Coffee Man”. In this story, he is having trouble writing a story, so he writes about having trouble, and pretty soon has written a story. Silly but true.


Inside Vintage Pink

Not really needing anything but curious, we walked into Vintage Pink, right across the street from Excaliber. There are wonderful furniture, dishes, records, clothes, and pictures from the 1950s to the 1970s, all in great condition and arranged beautifully. It didn’t have that dusty ‘attic’ smell that so many vintage shops have. It was more like visiting a very cool aunt’s apartment in 1963. I found a pair of grey pants that fit!!! They came home with us.

We enjoyed a cup at Coava Coffee and then headed home. The rainy day turned sunny and we sat and watched the Giants win their last game of the season with a walk-off home run by Pablo Sandoval, a nice way to end a very dismal season.

By the afternoon Grandpa Nelson was ready to get out of the house, so he and I walked around Laurelhurst Park, enjoying the dogs and the wonderful forest smell of the wet trees and ground. Turtles and ducks were out, enjoying worms and bugs.

Finally, there was a book signing at Auntie Katie’s shop, Books with Pictures, at 11th and Division. We drove down and listened to the author, Lacy Davis, and illustrator, Jim Kettner, talk about the process of writing their new graphic novel, Ink in Water. It is funny and sad and true, well written and drawn with a flair that feels easy. We bought a copy of the book and a Hilda and the Trolls Doll, who was half price and needed to come home with Auntie Bridgett.

Lacy Davis and Jeff Kettner
Auntie Bridgett and our new things

What a wonderful, busy, walk-y sort of day. Tomorrow, sewing, writing and cooking!


Grandma Judy



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