Strange Icy Magic

Dear Liza,

I grew up in Southern California, and have lived the last 30 years in Salinas, where ice and snow almost never happen. So having a few days to really get out and see what ice does to a familiar neighborhood has been fun.

First, clothing. Three shirts, long underwear under jeans, wool socks and boots, plus scarves and hats. Gloves, too,  if you want to keep your fingers.

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Footprints in fluffy Snow

Next, walking. Any kind of movement becomes very thoughtful. Since the ground is squishy or slick, and cement is hard, you pay a lot more attention to your feet…the actual placement, checking for traction every second.

This means you need to stop in order to look up, which you must do, because everything is so different. The snow that fell three days ago had changed from fluffy and soft to grainy and icy, and has melted and re-frozen a few times, making some weird shapes along the way.

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Icy Camellia Bush
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Ice on our stump

 

 

The evergreen camellias common in yards around here hold up to the ice well, even forming molds which the ice flows into. It was amazing to hold one of these!

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Camellia Ice Mold

Familiar things, like our gnomes on the back steps, take on new meaning. Not just “I’m a gnome” but “I’m a really freezing, patient gnome.” The plaster sun becomes a study in irony.

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Winter Sun

We had such a wonderful visit from Great Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle, showing off this new city that we love. We walked the neighborhoods, looked at houses, saw art museums and bookshops, ate Babydoll Pizza and marathoned Christmas movies. We are now ready for a few days of downtime before the new year.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

Family in Portland

Dear Liza,

Merry Christmas!

Your Great Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle have come up to spend the Holiday with us, and we have been showing them the town.

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Carolers at Kennedy School

The first day they were here we had dinner, then drove up to the McMenamin’s Kennedy School to show them that wonderful space and listen to the Dickensian Carolers. It was so wonderful! Every time I go there, I see new art work.

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Artwork at Kennedy School

The next day Grandpa Nelson and Cousin Kyle got dressed early and walked down to the Rocking Frog for fresh doughnuts and cinnamon rolls. Then we all walked around Laurelhurst Park, which was COLD and almost naked of leaves.

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Freezing, happy family

After lunch, we headed downtown via Lyft car, which with this many people, is cheaper than the bus, and did some shopping at Powell’s City of Books.

Then, carrying the 20 pounds of books we had bought, we walked down to the Portland Art Museum to show them the Laika exhibit. Kyle is a big fan of the Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings movies, so he was delighted. We all enjoyed it, as well…it is the sort of show you can see many times and always see something new.

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Kyle and monster from Kubo

After resting and snacking at the museum cafe, we hired another Lyft car and got a ride to Auntie Katie’s store, Books with Pictures. We shopped and visited, then we all (including Katie, who got off work) over to the Double Dragon Restaurant, at SE Division and 12th,  for dinner. It was noisy, but the food was good and sitting down was a nice break. Grandpa and Auntie Katie wanted ice cream, so we walked (more walking!) down to Fifty Licks Ice Cream on Clinton Street, where, in spite of the cold, we all ate ice cream. I had the blackstrap gingersnap…so good!

When it seemed that we had bought, eaten, and seen everything, we got another Lyft home and fell asleep watching the classic movie, The Bishop’s Wife.

What a great day!!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Laika in Portland

Dear Liza,

One of the very nice things about living in a big city like Portland is all the museums and places to learn new things. The Portland Art Museum, called PAM, is one of those places. Because Auntie Bridgett is an artist and we all love art, we became members of PAM and got to visit a special show that opened last weekend and goes until next May. It is all about Laika.

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Maquette of a Scene from Boxtrolls

Laika is a movie company that makes stop-motion animated films. Their four movies so far are Coraline, ParaNorman, Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. These movies are made, not by drawing the animation so that the pictures seem to move, but making puppets (called maquettes) with wire inside them, and filming them so THEY seem to move.

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Coraline

In stop-motion animation, every tiny gesture is made by hand, then photographed, then the next gesture. It can take days of work to get a minute of film done. Everything in every shot is created….the sets, the sky, the toys the kids play with, leaves and the wind that blows them.

In PAM, many of these sets and maquettes were on display, as well as tiny props (Coraline’s teddy bear, Kubo’s guitar), and they were all works of art. The teddy bears were the tiniest things, and a 20 foot tall robot monster from Kubo was the largest. It was incredible, scary, and beautiful.

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Twenty foot tall Robot

At a conversation about Laika, the presenter said that these movies are art not only because they are beautiful, but because they deal with humanity and the problems we face; isolation, belonging, friendship. The stories ask questions about who is human, what is family, and why we need each other.

Sometimes looking at art makes you see things differently. When we got home and I was making dinner, I cut an onion and saw a face! I played with it a bit, and got this funny thing. Then it all got chopped up and put in the pan.

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My own puppet

 

 

I hope you come visit sometime before the show is over so I can take you to see it!

Love,

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

Going Downtown

thumbnail_IMG_1431Dear Liza,

On Friday, Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I took the #20 bus down Burnside towards downtown Portland. We passed some useful shops that we will visit some other time, like Stitch in a Hurry alterations and the Whole Nine Yards fabric shop.

We got off at 10th and Burnside, right across the street from Powell’s City of Books, which I have told you about before. We walked down 10th Street, looking (and sniffing) for someplace good for lunch. About the same time I smelled pastrami, Auntie Bridgett remembered an old fashioned deli called Kenny & Zukes…and there it was!

The whole place seemed to be vibrating. Cooks rushing around the kitchen, waiters dashing around bringing food, and customers talking with their hands and playing with their children made everything move. The deli has a large chalkboard for take out menu things like smoked salmon, bagels, and bialies. Grandpa Nelson has given them the award for the Best Ever french fries and he also had a root beer float made with PDX Sodaworks Root Beer that he said was “heavenly”. Our pastrami sandwiches were also very good..nice and thick and juicy.

After lunch we walked some more and found our destination for the day: PAM, the Portland Art Museum. In the courtyard out front, near 30 foot tall statues of orchids, a bunch of people were setting up for a party. But more about that later.

We met a lady at the front desk named Tricia, and she helped up become members of the Museum, which means we can go in for free every day, if we want.

Now, here is where I have to make a confession. Whenever I go into an art museum, I have such good intentions of taking notes and studying each painting carefully. I take my journal and camera and… then don’t. I walk through the galleries, looking at each painting, but only stopping when something interests me. I may take a photo of a piece but totally forget the artist, or title, or what country it is from. Very often, I make up silly things for the people to say….I have fun and I enjoy the art. But I am not a very focused student in the museum. I am more like a kid in a candy store.

We wandered around until we were tired, when we had coffee and cookies at the museum snack shop, then wandered some more. When our eyes were full and we couldn’t see another painting, we had dinner at McMinamens, just down the street. Auntie Bridgett got a phone call and we arranged to meet some friends at the big party in front of the Art Museum. It was actually an art party! 30 artists sat at tables and drew or painted their own kind of pictures, and we got to watch them, and if we liked the picture, we could buy it. After an hour, those artists went to get dinner and 30 more came to paint and draw. Besides being fun and a chance to see and meet lots of local artists, the party raised money for kids’ activities at the museum.

By this time it was 8:30 and we had been out and about since 11. It was time to go home. We caught the # 15 bus home and walked to our new house from Belmont Street,  enjoying the cool of the evening and seeing all the people out walking and on bikes. I think this was the sort of day we hoped for when we moved to Portland.

I am glad we had a happy, fun day, because tomorrow, all our furniture will arrive from Salinas, and it will be a busy, hard-working day!

Love,

Grandma Judy