Letting Serendipity Steer

Dear Liza,

Saturday was predicted to be our last warm, dry day for a while, so we went out for a drive. We headed for Sauvie Island, where we always enjoy mazes, roasted corn, and lots of fun folks and farm animals.

As we headed north out of town, though, the traffic got very slow. Grandpa Nelson looked at the road directions on his phone and realized that all those cars were headed to the same place we were! No crowds for us, thanks.

We turned right around and headed back the way we had come, but we didn’t want to go home. Grandpa Nelson said “Well, we’ve never been on Germantown Road, let’s turn there.” And we did.

The Germantown Road goes right up into the west hills, twisting and turning and going up and up. We drove through shady forest with the afternoon sun lighting up the trees in the distance, looking just like the landscape paintings I have been learning to paint. It was so pretty!

From there, we navigated by Serendipity, which means randomly turning at various corners and seeing where we end up. We were driving through a very expensive neighborhood with fancy houses and big yards, called Oak Hills.

Then all of a sudden, we saw groups of kids with band uniforms, playing marching band music. Turns out, we had stumbled upon the 32nd Annual Sunset Classic, a band competition, being held at Sunset High School. Eight High School ‘show bands’ from Grants Pass, Tigard, and other schools near and far were performing their combinations of music, marching, flag work, dance, and stagecraft. After some parking snafus, we bought tickets and found seats in the sunny bleachers.

We sat there, totally impressed by the level of playing and choreography.
The first piece we saw all the way through was performed by local Century Marching Band, from Hillsborough. The title was “Per aspera ad astra”, or “Through Hardships to the Stars.” Besides really interesting dance moves and great, modulated playing, this number featured a giant inflatable moon!

The sun was beating down on us, (who thinks to bring sun hats in October?) but we were determined to see a few more. The next really memorable piece was performed by Kamiak High School of Mukilteo, Washington. They performed with backdrops of famous Banksy street paintings and their graphic design was really good.

I wish I could let you hear the music! The drum cadences were strong and fast, made more interesting by half a dozen marimbas, gongs, and other instruments you don’t usually see with a marching band.

After the last band played, there was an intermission before the evening’s awards and more performances, but the sun had done us in. We got back to the car and talked about music, dance, and High School all the way home!

Serendipity had done well for us today.

Love,

Grandma Judy

The Rose Queen of 1941

Dear Liza,

Walking around Portland, we always learn something new. This past Saturday, on our way to see a new pedestrian bridge get installed, we passed the DaVinci Middle School, in the old, classy Irvington/Kerns neighborhood. This school has been here since 1928, and used to be called the Girls Polytechnic High School. The name was changed to Madison High School, then to Da Vinci.

In front of the school is a giant magnolia tree and flower beds with an oval brass memorial. We stopped to see what it was about.

The words say “These rose beds and memorial tree are affectionately dedicated to the memory of Betty Jane Harding, 1923 to 1943, who as princess from Girls Polytechnic High School became Queen of the Rose Festival and so graciously reigned in the year nineteen hundred forty one.”

I was curious, and a little sad. Being elected Rose Queen, this young woman had obviously been smart, pretty, and active in her community. Why had she only lived twenty years?

I returned to my old friend, The Historic Oregonian newspaper, via the Multnomah County Library website. Looking in the newspapers from 1941, I found lots of articles about Betty Jane and her fellow Rose Princesses.

One girl was chosen from each of the 9 public high schools in town (at the time, there are 12 now), and one was chosen as Queen. I am not sure what the criteria were.

Miss Harding, as Rose Queen Betty Jane I, had all sorts of civic duties. She spoke with girls’ groups, posed with celebrities, and encouraged girls to always do their best. She traveled to meet other make-believe Royalty, like King Borealis of St. Paul, Minnesota, to smile for the cameras.

But all this publicity had a real benefit, as well. Betty Jane earned a full scholarship to The University of Oregon, down in Eugene. She pledged to the Pi Beta Phi Sorority and began studying Art.

Betty Jane became ill in 1943 and came back to Portland, where there was better medical care and to be closer to her family. She had surgery for her liver trouble, but sadly, did not recover.

Betty Jane is buried in the Lincoln Memorial Park, which is a few miles south of here. At her funeral, her fellow princesses walked as an honor guard and volunteer Rosarians acted as pallbearers. Everyone who had admired Betty Jane as Rose queen was saddened by her early death.

I guess if I insist on learning new things, some of them are going to be sad. But I am happy to know more about the folks who have lived, and died, in this city.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Seen on the Sidewalks

Dear Liza,

Portland is a big city, which I sometimes forget here in our little neighborhood. There about 650,000 people just in the city, and lots more in the surrounding area.

And as a big city, we see all sorts of odd, unexplainable things. Here are some of them.

…A sparkly mask outside the Electric Castle’s Wunderland, which is very popular for kids’ birthday parties.

A cartoon of a grumpy Dennis the Menace calling someone a “Nerd”.

And a sign showing that the city is making sure the local squirrels are safe.
Have a good weekend! See you soon!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Takin’ it Downtown Part 2

Dear Liza,

After we said good-bye to Jack at Cult, we headed off for a sit down and some refreshment. We knew where there was a good coffee place, so we headed a block up and a block over to Barista. Iced coffee and some A/C sure help on a hot day!



Grandpa Nelson felt better, but was wearing out quickly. He decided to get on the number 20 and head home. Auntie Bridgett and I still had a few places to visit, since we’d come all this way. Along the way, we passed this delightful doorway. Of course, they are a frame shop!!


We continued to Oblation, where they sell nifty cards and writing supplies, including selections from their International Pencil bar. I thought it was a joke, but Auntie loved it!


We also enjoyed looking at their collection of restored manual typewriters.


Our final stop of the day was Dick Blick, a good sized art supplies store. They have just about any pens, pencils, paints, brushes, paper, canvas, beads, plaster, or clay you could want.

They also have a very earth friendly up-cycled basketball court as their floor.




Well, downtown is coming back to life. There are some folks still living on the sidewalks and in the parks, which isn’t really good for them or the city. Some stores are closed and some are damaged. But I am crossing my fingers that the worst is behind us.

And with that happy note, I show you some of our lovely old skyline… trees, clouds, and the Benson Hotel, built in 1913.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Auntie Beeswax

Dear Liza,

Did you know that your Auntie Bridgett Spicer was a cartoonist? From 2009 to 2012, her comic strip called Squid Row ran in the Monterey Herald newspaper. It was about an artist living in a touristy seaside town. Since Auntie Bridgett was an artist living in Seaside, California, it made perfect sense. The strip was really popular, too.

A sketch of Auntie Beeswax

After we moved to Portland, she took a few years off from cartooning to do painting. She joined the Sidestreet Arts Gallery and helped make it a better place for people to see and buy art. And now she has starting cartooning again!

The city of Roseport and some characters

Her new comic strip is called Auntie Beeswax, and will be in the Willamette Week newspaper here in Portland. Auntie Beeswax is an eccentric lady who lives in “Roseport”, a thinly disguised version of Portland. She keeps bees, cats and chickens, rides her bicycle everywhere, and is an organic gardener. In other words, she is a delightfully ordinary Portlander. But she always does things just a little differently.

Rough draft of a comic strip

The comic will be about her adventures, and will include a young niece who learns about life ‘outside the box’ from her Auntie Bee.

Bridgett Spicer herself

I am so happy to see Bridgett smiling and sketching, getting her stories all ready. I look forward to reading about Auntie Beeswax!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Things You See in Portland

Dear Liza,

Portland, like any big city, has some problems. Too much traffic, people sometimes stealing cars and things, and sometimes, very loud motorcycles. But Portland is also a lot of fun.

Portland is famous as a bicycling city. We have greenways that have low car traffic and work like highways for bikes. We have bridges that are only for bicycles, people, and trains… no cars! But I’ve lived here almost four years and I’ve never seen this……

One answer to the parking problem!

This is a tiny old house just across the road from the entrance to our Lone Fir Cemetery. It has been fixed up by the young family that just moved in, and I’m guessing they let the kids choose the stickers on the new planter!

And, even as some businesses are closing because of the pandemic, some are opening!!


This is a new shop in Belmont, just down the block. It sells all sorts of ‘spooky’ things…. dolls with scary eyes, jewelry that looks like bats and skulls, and Ouija boards. There are posters of Vincent Price that Auntie Bridgett really likes, because of his spooky movies.

This is someone’s delightful outdoor shelter, down on Market Street. It has seating, a small fireplace and delightful shade, all made of cement, mosaic, tree branches, and old wine bottles. It is a work of art you can sit in! I love coming across these jewels. They are just part of what makes Portland special.

I can’t wait until you can come visit and see all our nifty things!

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Very Happy Mother’s Day

Dear Liza,

Sunday was Mother’s Day, and it just about wore me out! It started with a huge box of wines delivered from our weirdest local wine shop, “Pairings”. Your Daddy David had asked Jeff, the owner, to send us some wines. His directions were “light-ish reds, and interesting labels are a bonus”. And boy, did Jeff deliver!

A delightful collection

We set the wines aside for the moment, and did FaceTime with Auntie Bridgett’s family. Her niece Madilyn had had her first communion, and between that, moving into their new house, and Mother’s Day, there was a lot of happy energy on that call!

For lunch, Auntie Bridgett and I walked to Suzette, just down on Belmont. We thought we’d get take out, but there was only one other customer in the cafe, so we took a table by the door and enjoyed wonderful, interesting, Nicoise Salads.

Ahi tuna, eggs, asparagus, potatoes, arugula, and teeny tiny cornichons!

The salad was a surprising balance of flavors and textures, and so filling, we saved the other half for dinner. The owner, Jen, has done a good job of redecorating during the Covid shutdown, and we enjoyed looking at walls that were not our own.

We watched the Giants lose to the Padres, did some drawing, and then Auntie Katie came! She had taken the afternoon off from her bookshop and walked up to bring me my Mother’s Day present, a wonderful mug by Michael Grubar at Stark Street Studios.

And then it was time to head to the Jazz concert.

Gordon Lee and his small jazz band were putting on one of their free Front Porch concerts down at Alder and 32nd. About fifty folks brought folding chairs, wine, and snacks to enjoy fellas on piano, drums, a stand up bass, and both an alto and a tenor saxophone play music. Jazz Standards, like “Nature Boy”, as well as new pieces like Gordon’s ode to the former President, “Sulking on the Golf Course”, were delightful, as was the parade of kids, dogs, bikes and regular folks. It was pure Portland.

We enjoyed some of the wine your daddy had sent, a light red wine called “Syrahcha”, a combination of Syrah and Shiraz grapes, found right near here in the Columbia River Gorge. It was tasty and went well with the cheese, apple, and blue corns chips we had for snacks.

We were pretty worn out by the time we got home, and there was still Art with Liza time! I am glad we mostly just chatted, and I hope you got your werewolf drawn. Mine is still just a twinkle in my eye. We got to visit with your Momma Olga and Daddy David and hear their plans for summer trips to Denmark and Russia.

As the last entertainment of the day, we snuggled down in the couch to watch Escape to the Chateau, with Dick and Angel Strawbridge building their business at Chateau Le Motte Husson.

This morning I used Auntie Katie’s gift for my morning cuppa, and it is perfect!

What a life, right?

Love,

Grandma Judy

Walkin’ the Neighborhood

Dear Liza,

I love where we live! Sunnyside, in Southeast Portland, is the best!

Grandpa Nelson, chatting on the balcony

There are hundred year old houses, townhouses like ours, and brand new builds. Some of the trees were planted last year, and others have been here a long, long time. Heritage tree number 241, a Japanese maple, has probably been in the front yard of this house since it was built in the 1920s.

Because of how closely the trees and houses are spaced, winter, when the trees are bare, is the only time to get a picture of it.

Sunnyside was started in the 1890s as a trolley car neighborhood. Folks would live here, a few miles from the mud and stink of downtown, and be able to take the newly installed trolley cars to work.

From the 1900s…..

Back then, the houses and lots were bigger.

As the city became more crowded, newer houses were built in between the original ones. Each was built in its own style. These three very different houses stand within two blocks of each other.

1950s….


…. and 2020!

There are some industrial buildings that are being up-cycled, as well. Jacob’s Garage, which housed the trucks for the Belmont Dairy, is now a set of very cool condominiums, having kept its brick-Ish charm.

Every walkabout shows us new things! As flowers come up and trees leaf out, some of the hard lines are masked and softened, but the architecture of the turn of the century is still here if you know how to look.

Besides, where else can you find a tiny free library right next to a dinosaur-infested dogwood tree?

I can’t wait to share it with you!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Another Landmark Gone

Dear Liza,

It has been a hard spring for trees here in Portland. With so many of our tall giants being over a hundred years old, extreme weather takes a toll.

The other day in Lone Fir Cemetery, we saw with sadness that our General Joseph Lane Tree was gone. This maple tree memorial to the first Territorial Governor of Oregon Territory had come down in a storm and been removed.

The General Lane tree in 2017, with Pioneer Roses in the background

I can find no record of when this tree was planted. It may have been an accident of squirrels or an anonymous memorial to a loved one, as are many of the trees in Lone Fir. In 2009, the Pioneer Rose Association chose it as a memorial to General Lane and listed it as a Heritage Tree, and it joined a list of more than 300 other magnificent trees in the city.

It stood in the center of the cemetery, just across the way from the memorial to the soldiers of the Civil War and the Pioneer Roses of Oregon garden. It was Heritage Tree #295, and stood 100 feet high with a spread of 105 feet. It looked like it would stand forever.

I know in my head that this sort of thing is inevitable. Trees, like humans, are living things and subject to injury and age. But they are also landmarks, survivors of the past lasting into our present to remind us of who has come before.

Remains of the General Lane tree, 2021

But in my heart, I mourn for these living monuments. I wonder what finally broke them? Was there more we could have done? What will we do to remember them and honor their life?

And seeing that these monuments can’t last forever, I become obsessed with recording what we have, right in this moment, because I know that someday I will look and they won’t be there.

This year the city of Portland has lost many monuments. The statues of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, even the Thompson Elk, have been vandalized and removed for their own protection. I understand some of the arguments against who they memorialize (except the Elk) but these statues were part of the downtown I loved and I miss them.

Time keeps sliding by. Let’s see and appreciate what we have while we have it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

What a Day! Part 2

Dear Liza,

After I had rested a bit, we continued my birthday by all working on the Gia Whitlock puzzle. It is so pretty! The colors are amazing and I love that I got to see her process on the SideStreet Arts Art Talk last week.

Then there was a delivery from our local flower shop, Flower Bomb! Grandpa Nelson had ordered a Spring bouquet. It is gorgeous! Hydrangeas, lilies, dahlias, two tiny tulips, even a Love Lies Bleeding. Sad name, gorgeous flower. The unusual color scheme of the bouquet coordinated exactly with the Gia Whitlock puzzle and Michele Maule birthday card, and looked great in our Nicole Cursio vase! It was amazing.

Bunch of flowers….

For dinner, we braved nasty weather and walked to Monster Smash, a great food truck just behind the Belmont Station tavern. We got burgers, fries, some cider and beer from the tavern, and ate in their very noisy, but socially distanced patio. It was weird being with people again, but felt good.

We got home before the storm hit, and got a delivery of an edible fruit arrangement from Auntie Bridgett’s momma Donna. That, with a little cheese, will be lunch tomorrow.

Bunch of fruit

Then, as if the day wasn’t perfect enough, Auntie Katie and Cousins Jasper and Kestrel stopped by, bringing a wonderful ranunculus in an owl planter. It will live on the porch for now because I don’t want the pretty blooms beaten up by our spring winds.

I took these lovely people to see the allotment and we agreed that they should come and help me put seeds in the ground when it gets dry enough.

Bunch of family!

Our dessert was the lovely French creations we had picked up way back at the beginning of the day from the Pix 0 Matic Patisserie. They were delicious, delightful works of art. We ate them slowly and loved every bite. Our better selves knew we should save some for later. Nope. We ate them all up!

Being well fed and completely worn out by affection and good wishes, we curled up on the couch and watched William Powell and Myrna Loy solve crimes in The Thin Man, watched an episode of Foxes Afloat blog, and wafted our way to bed.

The Jane Avril pastry looks just like her poster by Toulouse-Lautrec!

What a great way to turn 65!

Love,

Grandma Judy