Soap Box Derby

Dear Liza,

I know I have told you that one of the things I like most about Portland is that the grown ups here like to be silly and have fun, just like kids. Today we went to see the Adult Soap Box Derby up on Mt. Tabor, where a lot of really smart people get together to design push cars…just for fun.

Babe the Blue Ox of the Lagers (Loggers)

Auntie Bridgett didn’t go, because she was not feeling well, but Grandpa Nelson and I drove up to Tabor Bread for breakfast. This is the bakery with the wood fired oven I told you about last week. Their quiche and rye doughnuts are just as yummy as their breakfast cookies!

We continued east and parked just at the base of Mt. Tabor. Thousands of people go to see the Derby, so parking is pretty tight. And of course, it’s all uphill to walk there. We followed the crowds up trails, cross country, and along roads, up and up.

Teletubbies on the Road!


At exactly 11:00, we heard the shouts as the first group of cars headed down the road. Each race has three cars in it, and they are timed. After a few races, the slower cars are eliminated, with races and eliminations continuing until there is a winner.

Some cars are built for speed, low to the ground with smooth turning wheels and careful engineering. The Tabor Accounting Group had the fastest car I saw, though I don’t know the final winner yet, and I didn’t get a picture because it was moving so fast!

Others are built just for fun, like the big rainbow slice of birthday cake and Wall-e. One, called The Rainmaker, had a water cannon and sprayed the squealing crowd as it went by!img_9617.jpg

The event was very typically Portland. Lots of kids, dogs, happy people, food and beer. The rules are few and even those are loosely enforced. Some people brought picnics and blankets, spread out on patches of dried grass (still no rain!) and got comfy. Others, like us, walked to the top to see a few starts and all the cars, then made their way down to the finish line, enjoying the mountain and the crowds, the scenery, and being outdoors.


It is fun to see what mechanically clever people can do when they decide to get together and have fun. I am sure many fine engineers and scientists may get their start designing a better, faster, slice of cake for the Derby.


Grandma Judy

Shakespeare on the Mountain

Dear Liza,

A new favorite place!

On Friday night, we tried a new pub for dinner, The Thirsty Monk, on SE 32nd just off Hawthorne. Actually, we had been there last summer, but only for a beer on a hot day while the Hawthorne Street fair was going on. We had tacos, french fries, and yummy chips. We have now added it to our list of favorite places!

Friday night was also the first play of the season for the Original Practice Shakespeare Company. As I told you last summer, this is a group of people who put on free Shakespeare plays in the city parks, and they don’t rehearse! Each actor has his or her own lines on a scroll in their hand, but they don’t practice together and don’t know what the other actor’s lines are.

The top of Mt. Tabor

As you can imagine, this leads to a different sort of play. The lines don’t flow smoothly and sometimes the actors get lost. There is a prompter, like a referee, who gets them (and us) back on track. It feels very improvisational, and is sometimes disjointed. Last summer, we saw some good plays and some that were hard to follow.

The Price of Admission

The play was performed at the top of Mt. Tabor, just a few miles east of our house. It has lovely views west to the city and east to Mt. Hood, trails for hiking, roads for driving, and stairs to the top. The stairs were a challenge, but it felt good to earn our way into the free play. I took pictures and enjoyed the views, as well as watching the people who came to see the show.

Downtown Portland from the summit

But the play was hard to follow, even though it was one we all knew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In addition to the un-rehearsed quality,  all the lovers were played by women. The “he” and “she” pronouns that usually helped keep track of players were gone, and at Intermission many people, including us, decided it was too chilly to try to follow the play, and we all headed back down the mountain and drove home.

Still and all, a lovely evening!


Grandma Judy


Dear Liza,

Spooky crows at sunset

Things are really getting ready for Halloween up here! People are decorating their lawns and porches with graveyards, skeletons and big spiders. It is a nice blend of creepy and friendly….Not “Come get scared”, but “Come get scary with us!” The yards look good during the day, and I look forward to walking out after dark to see how they are lit up.

Front yard grave yard
Mr. and Mrs. James Stephens, who owned the cemetery first

Besides neighborhoods pretending to be graveyards, there is our actual graveyard, The Lone Fir Cemetery. They gave a delightful, strictly once a year after dark tour, called The Tour of Untimely Departures. A group of volunteers called The Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery put luminarias along the main roads of the cemetery and guide groups through, with people playing the deceased and telling us their stories of life and dead.

No one jumps out or tries to scare you, but the stories all ended badly, or they wouldn’t be on the tour….Untimely departures, in this case, means they died before their time.

Professor Van Allsburg

After visiting the dead folks at Lone Fir, we came home and got dressed up for a Halloween Party given by our friends, Jack and Verity. We were all professors: Grandpa Nelson was The Idea Guy, Doctor of Smartness; Auntie Bridgett was Dr. I.E. Plinth, history of art, from Slug University; I was Dr. Beverly Pilkey Van Allsburg, Professor of Kid Lit. At the party we met Beetlejuice, Arthur Dent and a random alien lady, Pocilanus Rex, demon pig god, and many more characters. It was great fun and we stayed very late.

Idea Guy

The next day we slept in because of our late night. But when I was ready to face the world, Auntie Katie called and suggested we meet at Mt. Tabor and go for a walk in the woods there. I took at #15 east and got off at exactly the opposite end of the park, so I had a good long walk before we got together, but the forest was so beautiful, I didn’t mind.


Dr. Plinth

When we met up we had a snack picnic under a laurel tree, found a drained reservoir and practiced our echos, and gathered rose hips and lemon balm for making tea. Then it was time to head home. We met up with Grandpa Nelson at Fifty Licks Ice Cream for a treat, then got home to watch the Astros win a game of the world series with a bunch of home runs.

Cousins in the woods!

What a weekend!


Grandma Judy