This weekend brought some lovely surprises. Even though the weather was really warm on Saturday, Grandpa Nelson suggested a walk. “Let’s head down to Division,” he said. “There’s ice cream, and gelato, and even frozen yogurt.” So we headed south.
The sun was hot, and the sidewalks got hotter as we walked. It was afternoon, but the shade wasn’t much help. “Maybe we find a pub a little closer?”Grandpa sighed. We agreed, and found the delightfully decorated McMenamin’s Bagdad Cafe and theater, down on Hawthorne. They had food and drinks, A/C and friendly folks.
Some pretzel fondue, tuna sliders and beverages later, we were refreshed and ready to head off. Grandpa Nelson was still feeling the heat, so he headed for home. Auntie Bridgett and I continued on to Laurelhurst Park. It can be full of surprises.
And it was. We found an impromptu violin concert along one end of the lake, and a reading of a play I’d never heard of at the other. Both had collected small but appreciative audiences. We listened for a bit and walked on.
I love walking in the park when it is buzzy! There were folks walking dogs, playing frisbee, and practicing circus tricks with hoops and slack ropes. Kids hollered and ukuleles were strummed. It is a like all the best of life, just out playing on the lawn.
When we left the park we were absolutely vibrating from all that human energy! And the surprises weren’t done yet. Growing on a telephone pole-supported grape vine were the beginnings of this year’s grapes.
Friday was a very busy day! Cousin Jasper has been promoted out of the fifth grade, which means he is on his way to Middle School next year. He has been accepted into Winterhaven, which is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics magnet school. This is a perfect fit for him and I’m sure he will do well.
Because of the school district’s COVID restrictions, only his immediate family went to the ceremony, but there was a very informal meet-up at Seawellcrest Park in the evening. Of course, we took cake. It had been raining all day but was dry enough for kids to run around and for us to eat and hug and be silly.
When we had had a visit and Jasper got into a really long line for hot dogs, Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I headed off to our next activity. We drove up to one of our favorite places in town, The Kennedy School. This is one of the McMenamin Brother’s renovated old buildings, created from a public school that was closed in 1975 and is now a delightfully funky hotel, several restaurants and bars, and two concert venues.
We were able to show our vaccination cards, get wristbands, and go around the property unmasked, which was very nice. I have missed seeing people’s faces and smiles, and having unmuffled conversations. We ate dinner in the downstairs Boiler Room. Cheeseburgers, sliders, fries, and cocktails filled us up and gave us energy for our NEXT activity!
Three do’s in one evening! Are we mad? Yes!
We took our cocktails and headed upstairs to the Gym, which has been gently made over for food service at tiny tables and has a small stage at one end. We were there to see Brigid’s Crossing, a trio of Kevin Foley, his wife Jill, and their daughter Kayleigh, who play traditional Irish music. The tables are set well apart for COVID, and the room felt a bit bare. But once the music started and folks began clapping, slapping tables and even singing along to ‘Galway Girl’, ‘No, Nay, Never’ and countless jigs, it was a heart-swellingly full room.
It was our first show in fifteen months, our first time out enjoying what our city has to offer. Our first “I’m back, Portland!” evening. And it was lovely.
When the music was done, we jigged down the hallway and out to the car. Auntie Bridgett drove us through dark streets and we got home, so tired we could barely make it up the stairs, and fell into bed.
Dear Liza, The waterfalls and green forests of the Gorge were very pretty, but Grandpa Nelson’s back started bothering him, so we said good-bye to the drive and headed for home.
“I should at least feed you both lunch,” he mumbled as we drove along, feeling badly about cutting the day short. “There’s Edgefield! Let’s go there!”
So Auntie Bridgett pulled off the freeway and we headed to McMenamin’s wonderful country retreat. This is such a unique place!
In 1980, Mike and Brian, the McMenamin brothers, bought the land and buildings of the abandoned Multnomah County Poor Farm. The Poor Farm had operated from 1911 to 1982 as a place of refuge for folks who had nowhere else to go. It provided room and board, work, training, medical care, and companionship for hundreds of people over the years.
The grounds have been delightfully landscaped and the buildings repurposed into a hotel, a spa, and a dozen bars and restaurants. There is also a golf course, a brewery, herb garden, wine tasting room, and a large outdoor music venue. And, like all of their properties, there is art everywhere you look.
We ate a delicious lunch in the courtyard of the Loading Dock Grill and watched other people’s dogs play. Then we walked around, marveling at the good work the landscapers have done, creating intimate spaces enclosed by trees and rhododendrons connected by neatly paved paths opening onto amazing views. It was easy to imagine, sitting at a table and looking out through the trees, that we were the only people on the property.
We visited the gift shop, getting some Black Rabbit wine and Herbal Liqueur Number 7, a special favorite of Auntie Bridgett. And then at last we headed home, where Grandpa could stretch out and recover from his birthday.
Now that we are almost all vaccinated and the world is opening up, we will certainly return to Edgefield and enjoy another day.
On Friday we got to visit Cousin Kestrel, Cousin Jasper and Auntie Katie and give Kestrel some birthday presents.
Grandpa Nelson and I decided to make a day of it, so we walked the two plus miles down to Books with Pictures. We stopped at Palio to get some pastries and met the family across the street from their shop and house.
We enjoyed the croissants and little apple pies, had a nice visit and got to say hi to our friend Misha Moon when she came by on her way to My Vinyl Underground, the record store in Auntie Katie’s basement.
After a while Grandpa Nelson suggested we play some games. This started with a race, which Auntie Katie won. Then Kestrel taught us a game called Gargoyle. In this game, the person who is the Gargoyle sits with their eyes covered (today, we used our face masks!) and guards an object. The other players try to sneak up on the Gargoyle and steal the object.
The Gargoyle needed to be able to hear the other players’ footsteps and call them out, and because of the street noise on Division Street, this was really hard! But it was fun to be sneaking and having to stifle our giggles. Jasper won that one.
After some other games and chalk art, we headed over for some ice cream from Zeds, the ice cream truck parked in the parking lot of Books with Pictures.
It was moving past lunchtime when we headed for home. Pastries and stolen ice cream licks just aren’t real food, so we stopped at McMenamin ‘s Barley Mill up on Hawthorne. On their very thinly populated open porch, we had cider, a wonderful oatmeal stout, and a veggie burger. Their fries were a letdown, but everything else was delicious.
By this time we were over-sunned, over-fed and over-walked, and we were still a mile from home. We found the shady side of the street and just kept at it, covering almost six miles by the time we crashed.
I’m sure I have told you about our chain of restaurants and pubs owned by the brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin. These two fellows started buying cool historic buildings in 1985 and turning them into places to sell their good food, beer and wine, and have concerts. They have been incredibly successful, now having more than seventy places, large and small.
Speaking of size, Brian once said, “You can’t have too small a bar. We know. We’ve tried.” Inside their Kennedy School Hotel venue here in Portland, there are bars in hall closets, called “Honors” and “Detention”, which are about fifty square feet each. Tiny. Cozy. Delightful.
The coronavirus has temporarily shut them all down, of course. No sunny afternoons at Edgefield. No pinball at the Back Stage Bar. No celebrating Harry Potter’s birthday at the Kennedy School. Big, sad sigh. Seriously.
Then we got some good news. Some of their restaurants, including the Bagdad Theater just half a mile way, were re-opening for take out! Hooray!! Not only could we get some yummy food and wine to celebrate Friday, but we could support our local guys and do our part to make sure they could weather this crisis.
We called, ordered, and walked down. Like most things they do, they had planned their partial re-opening well. Social distancing guidelines were taped on the sidewalk and a desk was set up for getting your order to you. Sterilized pens were there to sign your credit card receipt. The managers running the place were masked, cheerful, and efficient.
It felt so good to have this little bit of normalcy, to eat a great Communication Breakdown Burger and tater tots, and drink the brothers’s yummy Black Rabbit wine, even if we ate it at home instead of their delightful dining room.
A toast! To Mike and Brian and their whimsical empire!
Last night we went back to the McMenamin’s Kennedy School. The weather was really stormy, so we took a Lyft car.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Hello from Portland! Fall keeps passing, with most of the trees completely bare now. The ginkgo in Laurelhurst Park is a rare exception, but is fading fast.
On Friday, Grandpa Nelson and I walked down to Hawthorne Street to have dinner at another McMenamin’s restaurant. This is The Baghdad Cafe and is delightfully quirky, with oriental rugs on the walls, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and the signature McMenamin’s hand-painted murals decorating any bare spot. The food was very good! I had a Harvest Moon Salad, with roasted sweet potatoes, pecans, and goat cheese …mmmm…
After dinner we walked a whole 20 feet to the Baghdad Theater, where the new Pixar movie, Coco, is showing. The Baghdad Theater is also decorated in the whimsical style of the McMenamin brothers, and we enjoyed looking at the design details before the movie.
The movie itself was stunning. The animation is bright and colorful, and the story is real, human and beautiful. It also has is sad in spots, so take a tissue. We laughed out loud in parts, and cried like babies in others. The movie is about family and music and finding oneself.
After we recovered from the emotional roller coaster of Coco, we walked another 20 feet, past a small cigar bar (too stinky!) called Trump’s, to the Back Stage Bar. Still a part of the Baghdad property, this is a long, narrow room with a ceiling at least 50 feet high. It used to be the backstage of the theater, where all the giant canvas backdrops were stored. It is now weirdly wonderful, with some of the backdrops, old neon signs, pool tables and pinball, and a perfectly restored old cherry wood bar. Up to our earlobes in emotion, visual beauty and music, we walked home through a nice drizzle.
Saturday afternoon was Cousin Jasper’s eighth birthday party. I foolishly left my camera at home, so have no pictures of the boys playing video games or the cake Uncle Dave made with a game controller done in frosting on top. Auntie Katie, her friend Chelsea, cousin Kestrel and I escaped the video game nuttiness by reading comics in the other room.
On Saturday evening, Auntie Bridgett came home!!! She had stayed in San Diego with her sister for the week and we missed her like a tricycle misses its last wheel. She had caught a cold and we spend the rest of the evening keeping her warm and making sure she drank lots of tea.
Sunday was another big adventure: Getting the Christmas tree! After several wild goose chases, Grandpa Nelson remembered seeing a sign for a lot at 48th and Belmont….and there were trees! It just started drizzling when we found the perfect one and the nice young fellow loaded it up on Miles the Volkswagen (who we protected with a heavy packing blanket, of course). Our tree was so fresh it still had moss and leaves on it from the forest, and is just wonky enough to be charming.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening choosing the ornaments to go on it. Auntie Bridgett has so many ornaments, they don’t all fit, so we only put our favorite ones up….some are from your great grandma Billie, 50 years ago, and some are from our more recent travels. I love that every year we get to re-tell our story with the decorations.
It was so nice this morning to wake up to the tree, Auntie Bridgett back home, and a kitten sleeping on the rug.