Big Little Yards

Dear Liza,

I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, in a town with ranch style houses on good sized lots, with flat, green lawns front and back. They were a lot like your yard in Salinas.

Our dear Peevee heading home from a party

Now I live in Portland, where the houses are close together and the yards are smaller, but they sure are packed with fun, flowers, and even fruit, come summer.
There is apparently a large Faerie folk population in Portland, as evidenced by the number of fairy houses and doorways set into trees. This tiny neighborhood is home to fairies, plastic soldiers and Disney action figures, all living together in harmony.

Diverse Fairy town

Animals are a common theme in garden decoration. This fence top is home to a half dozen hand crafted birds. As the metal ages, they just become more beautiful! Sometimes a real bird will perch right next to a metal one and make Portland even weirder.

Just a bird on a fence…..

Our area of Southeast Portland has been developing since the 1860s, so there have been lots of houses built, and lots torn down. A law here requires that houses of a certain age be dismantled piece by piece, so toxic things like lead can be contained, and antique parts can be preserved. These bits often end up as decorative highlights, as in this Victorian ceiling panel turned garden fence.

Second life for old decor!

And of course, concrete garden haunts. Our damp, cool weather allows gargoyles and ducks to be beautiful while shrouded in snow, or overgrown with flowers.

Garden creatures in Winter….
And in Spring!

In every season, the tiny gardens are lovely and always show me something new.


Grandma Judy

Home Again, Home Again…

Dear Liza,

It was really warm the day Grandpa Nelson and I walked to Mt. Tabor. The grass in the park was golden brown from our unusually dry summer. Even the breeze felt more Southern Californian than Southern Portland.

California-golden grass And Grandpa Nelson

We enjoyed watching the people come and go. The cinder cone that is Mt. Tabor is a favorite for hikers and bikers looking for an in-town challenge. They are resolute going up and joyous coming down.


Not everyone is equally enthusiastic, however. One young fellow who was cycling with his mom kept up a steady stream of complaints as he rode up the hill. “Mom, you said we were just going to the park!” … “Mom, I don’t want to go all the way up!” … “Mom…” But Mom wisely kept riding and eventually he followed her up.

Lovely lichen

It was hot and dry, but the Pacific Northwest is where I developed my love of moss and lichen, and I was not disappointed. I wandered into some usually- shady spots and found several kinds of lichen flourishing on pine branches. The scaly bits will wait patiently until the rains return.

Pines, firs, and blackberries

Once we had caught our breath, we headed down the hill for hot dogs and fries at Zach’s Shack. A sparsely populated, shady patio and a Chicago dog put me right again, with the thirteen eyes of the weird mural watching over us.

Zach’s Shack back patio

Heading home we found new garden delights. Someone has created this hand-hammered, pomegranate shaped metal fire pit and placed it among blackberries and roses. I imagine it is wonderful on chilly September evenings, glowing in the greenery.

Giant pomegranate fire pit

And just a few blocks from home, we found this carefully tended tunnel of bushes and vines, making a cool passage on the by-now really hot afternoon. We appreciated it and headed home for water and a rest.

Lovely shady tunnel

Five and a quarter miles, and well worth the sweat!


Grandma Judy

A Different Rose Parade

Dear Liza,

Spring Skies

I was raised in Southern California, often waking up at 4 A.M.  on New Year’s Morning to stand on the streets of Pasadena to watch the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. The incredible design and engineering work on the floats and the precision of the marching bands was breathtaking.

So of course, now that I am living in Portland, “The City of Roses”, I wanted to experience this Rose Parade. So Saturday morning, after a stop at The Rocking Frog for coffee and sweets, we took the number 15 bus across the river to downtown.

We got off at 4th and Jefferson and started walking, and there it was! A band! a trolley! Kids and people with balloons and dogs, waving and walking. And then….. nothing.

Rain or no rain, FUN!

For an hour.

Rain came, then sun, then more rain. The adults in the crowd hunkered down and the kids found ways to have fun, as kids do. We walked around, since old knees hate to stand still. Finally, we heard a band! Following our ears, we found the rest of the parade.

A magnificently detailed float, portraying a much larger than life cougar and her cub, was the first entry. It was breathtaking, and so large it was hard to get a decent photo.

The first float

Over the next few hours, we saw one other float of that level of professionalism, the Reser’s Fine Foods float which featured an enormous sea otter. A dragon from Alaska Airlines and a giant rainbow trout from PGE were also very nice.

The rest of the parade was not engineered or precisely designed. It was delightfully quirky, human sized, and friendly. Marching bands all played well and were uniformed, except for Kentlake High School, whose members all wore costumes from different video games.

Clowns interacted with the crowd, and “pooper-scoopers” in striped prison garb followed the equestrian units. The women of the Union of Electrical Workers wore Rosie the Riveter “We can do it” outfits and struck the pose with giant smiles. The sailors from the USS Michael Murphy walked and chatted among themselves, rushing to pose for a smiling group photo at the drop of a hat.

Dancing Germans

There were dancing Germans, marching flight attendants with luggage, and the llama brigade.img_6776.jpg

My favorite group of the day was the One More Time Around Again Marching band and twirling unit. These men and women, all “of a certain age”, marched, danced, twirled and played in delightful unison. They did not have “parade face”, but were clearly having fun and inviting us to, as well. Auntie Bridgett gave them the nickname the “Have Fun Every Damn Day of your Life” band. I took a video, but can’t put it in this blog. I posted it on Facebook, though.


As I said, this was a very different kind of Rose Parade. It was homey, friendly, silly and fun, something I didn’t expect from a large city like Portland. People don’t travel from all over the world to be here, which means you can get to know everyone in the parade. You can go to their meetings and join their groups. YOU can be in the parade, if you like.

And I like that very much.


Grandma Judy