Thursdays in the Park with Johnny

Dear Liza,

One of the great joys of living in a big city is that interesting things are happening all the time. Since living in Portland, we have stumbled onto fabulous food trucks, Shakespeare in the Lone Fir cemetery, and neon-lit naked bike rides.

And a few evenings ago, we found Johnny Franco! This talented musician/performer from San Paolo, Brazil, and his group were playing Beatles-esque music near Firwood Lake in Laurelhurst Park.

In the glowing light of early evening, a hundred or so folks sat on the grassy slopes around the lake. People enjoyed picnics, drinks, dogs and kids as bicycles and skateboards whizzed by.

The music inspired a few young ladies to dance along, adding to the festivities.

And judging from the chalkboard posted near the stage, this is a regular, free, Thursday night performance! Maybe we should make it part of our Thursdays. After all, summer doesn’t last forever.


Grandma Judy

First Picnic of 2023

Dear Liza,

Sunday was a not-quite-sunny, not-quite-warm day, but I went to the vegetable garden to pull weeds and pick up the endless piles of Camélia blooms that drop on my plot. By the time I got back to the house, I was all warmed up. So when Auntie Bridgett suggested a picnic, I was all for it!

We made some egg salad, grabbed apples, celery, crackers, and our picnic blanket. The neighborhood was very azalea-forward with almost neon colors.

We noticed that the ground was damp, so we chose a table on the high ground. We kept our jackets on.

Still, the park was pretty, green, and scented with four o’clocks and tulips. An excellent church choir was singing across the road at the Laurelhurst Club, which made everything special.

We enjoyed our simple lunch as the crows and squirrels came by.

As we ate, however, the clouds got cloudier and the breeze got breezier. We finished up with a square of chocolate, packed up our slim supplies, and took a turn around Firwood Lake on our way home. The fireplace felt good as we settled in to watch the Giants play the Brewers.


Grandma Judy

A Spring Walk in the Park

Dear Liza,

It was warm and sunny all day yesterday! Grandpa Nelson went to the zoo, I got some ground eggshells worked into the soil in the vegetable garden, and Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk in Laurelhurst Park.

All our favorite things were there.

Lovely pink magnolias were blooming right over the path, making a fine summery arbor.

A fellow was playing banjo and singing, and lots of folks were enjoying the day.

This sunny and shadowy view of the ravine never gets old.

Even the dandelions are looking good!

On the way home, we ran into this lavender bush that was absolutely alive with bees! Go, bees, go!

And, of course, it’s kitten season. This little guy was pouncing on everything from seeds to bugs to his own shadow, and finally just flumped down on the sidewalk. We are a pretty trio of shadows, aren’t we?


Grandma Judy

Spring… At Last?

Dear Liza,

This winter has felt extra cold and wet. We have, in fact, had four inches more rain than last year, and a few more nights that went below freezing. But spring can’t wait forever!

We are seeing tiny signs of it everyday. Snowdrops have sprouted in yards in our Sunnyside neighborhood, cheering up some very muddy gardens.

This amazingly tall azalea bush in Laurelhurst Park bloomed last week in a burst of energy. This week, leaves too tiny to photograph are showing up.

The local daffodils are thinking about blooming, but aren’t sure. With the cold and snow we’ve had lately, I don’t blame them for being a bit reluctant.

But on our walk yesterday evening, we had a clear sunset, and today we have sun! It is predicted to get above 50F, which means I can spray the protective coating on your book cover and wrap it up for delivery.

See you soon!


Grandma Judy

Personal Messages in Public Places

Dear Liza,

The other day while walking through Laurelhurst Park, we spotted this tree with a hand-written message taped to it. We wandered over to investigate.

It said “Flick and Clever Chris sorry I said mean things.”

Further along, we found a similar message taped to a trash can. “Flick and Clever Chris Sorry for treating you like trash. (Heart) U guys”. I can only imagine what lead to this public apology, but it might have gone like this.

During the summer, kids meet to play in the park. Maybe they are visiting in town or attend different schools, and know each other only from their play at the park. They have no way of reaching each other other than THERE. So, when disagreements happen, that is where apologies happen.

There are other instances, more adult in nature, where private feelings are expressed publicly. A series of STOP signs additions are mostly political, but give us the temperature of the neighborhood.

This stenciled graffiti on a nearby building appeared a few months into the shut down, and expressed my feelings exactly. “Take this enforced idleness to step away from the rush and do some healing.” I realize not everyone has that luxury, but being retired, I have the time.

That’s what I tried to do, and it helped.


Grandma Judy

Summer Solstice Picnic

Dear Liza,

June 21 is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and the official beginning if summer. Here in Portland, it was also our first really warm day. We celebrated by making a nice picnic dinner and walking over to Laurelhurst Park.

We headed off at 6, which is late for dinner, but we still had more than three hours of daylight left. The low sun behind this Japanese maple was stunning.

We were surprised by how much mud there still was under the grass! Weeks of rain have made things very soggy. We had to search quite a while before finding a dry -ish spot.

When we were finally able to unpack our chicken salad, crackers, berries, cherries, veggies, and celebratory beverages, we settled in to watch and listen to the human show…. people on bikes, kids on scooters, dogs pulling their skateboarding owners, joggers pushing strollers…. you know, Portlanders.

Behind us, several folks played on guitars, and down the hill, a lone ukulele. It was marvelous.

But old bones don’t like sitting on the ground for long, and it was eventually time to go home.

We headed out of the park, thinking how lucky we were to be able to live in this pleasant corner of the universe.


Grandma Judy

Ken II, the (New) Oak Tree

Dear Liza,

Last summer I told you about the new oak tree planted in Laurelhurst Park. It was planted right at the roots of a huge oak that had fallen in a spring storm the previous year.

We watched as this new tree, which we named Ken, took root, got green, lost leaves during the fall, and came back this spring. We celebrated his new leaves.

Then, a few weeks ago, an unknown person, for unknown reasons, ripped the top off young Ken and threw the leaves to the ground. We were heart broken. I didn’t tell you about it at the time because it was just too senseless and sad.

I am telling you now because I have a happy turn in the story to tell. Ken’s sturdy roots have sent up new shoots to replace the damaged top! Look there, right at the bottom of the trunk. Oak leaves sprouting up!

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Amid all the petty lawlessness, war and climate change, it is nice to know that this tree has not given up.

Way to go, Ken!


Grandma Judy

2022’s First Adventure

Dear Liza,

You and your Daddy came to visit us last week! And you got here HOURS early. You caught us in our pajamas! Soon, however, I got dressed and you and I were off on an adventure. I showed you my vegetable garden, and you helped me pick up the camellia blooms that fall into my plot.

Then we walked over to Laurelhurst Park. You climbed right up on the big oak tree that fell last year. I had never looked at it from this angle, down in the ravine. It looks very tall!

By the time we wandered back home, everyone had had some breakfast and I had a look at Elephante, your big stufftie. He needs some mending and cleaning.

At lunchtime, we all walked over to Straight from New York Pizza. With the heater on, it was warm enough in the patio to enjoy lunch. It was delicious and just what was needed after your long drive. Grandpa Nelson and your Daddy headed back to the house, while Auntie Bridgett, you and I picked up Elephante and the car, and went to run some errands.

First, we drove to TypeSpace, Tony Valoppi’s shop where he buys, repairs and sells old typewriters. Bridgett found a Triumph from 1966 that has a French keyboard. She was very excited! And while she was checking it out, Tony introduced you to the world of typewriters.

You found one with cursive keys and enjoyed it very much. You got the hang of it quickly, and even wrote a personal paragraph. But we left that one in the shop.

Meanwhile, Bridgett was getting to know her French machine, including how to install the ribbon and adjust the margins.

With the typewriter carefully tucked in the car, we went by Cool Cottons to find some matching fabric for Elephante. You want his tummy fur replaced with a smooth cotton, because you use him as a pillow. We found the fabric and thread, but the sewing will wait for tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

Another Change at the Park

Dear Liza,

Our Laurelhurst Park is always changing. Old trees fall, new ones are planted. Ducks migrate in and out, rains flood the low spots, and leaves sprout, grow, and fall. Banks of azaleas blaze into bloom and slowly fade.

There is a new Aptos redwood planted at the south end of Firwood Lake.

We named him Rene, after the Pastor at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California.

Another change was a bit sadder. There was this weird old stump near the west entrance to the park. I don’t know when the tree came down, but it has been in this magical sort of shape for years. Folks have tucked gnomes and bunches of flowers inside, or hidden Easter eggs for hunts.

A few months ago, we noticed that the hole had been made bigger. Then, a few weeks later, someone had tried to start a fire inside it. The fire hadn’t caught, but the park managers must have decided that the stump was no longer safe.

This evening, we saw that the stump had been taken down, and I’m not sure what the final decision about it will be. I know the park mangers want to keep the park, and everyone who visits it, safe. Still, it makes me sad.

So that’s the news from here, for now.


Grandma Judy

Blinding, Freezing Days

Dear Liza,

After staying inside for two whole days because it was just too cold to go for a walk, I bundled up and made it as far as the park. The temperature has been below freezing at night and never above 40 for days, but the sky has been blinding bright.

It is a crazy, bright, beautiful combination.

Of course, all the sunshine is encouraging new spring flowers.

Hyacinths grow just a few inches high, but camellias are budding way above my head!

There are some I don’t even know the names of, but they sure are going to town!

Once I got to Laurelhurst Park, I found a bench in the sun and enjoyed watching the people parade go by. Of course, it was still cold, but I was determined to soak up the sun. I lasted almost half an hour before I needed to get back inside.

I hope your weather is pretty and pleasant.


Grandma Judy