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

Getting to Know Our Plot

Dear Liza,

Well, we got our garden plot in the Blair Community Garden! I mean, we knew that we had one, but today we got the actual number and the combination to the garden’s lock. So of course, Grandpa Nelson and I walked the two blocks over to have a look at our new dirt.

The part covered by the burlap… is all ours!

It is a ten by ten foot (exactly the size of your daddy’s room when he was growing up) raised bed. It has a gentle southward slope, and is bordered by a cyclone fence (good for tying tall sunflowers to) on one side and someone else’s plot of land on another. I am sure this other gardener and I will get to know each other as the season progresses.

Me and my dirt!

And I am looking forward to meeting my other fellow gardeners, as well. The Community Garden Program in Portland is 46 years old, and is not just “here’s your dirt, come plant stuff” situation. It is practiced as a stewardship program, a way of helping overcome societal prejudices and inequalities, of bringing people together by gardening, providing for people and caring for the land.

Our plot, off to the far left, in the midst of everyone else’s.

So, tomorrow I need to go to the used clothes store and get some coveralls so I can start digging! I am excited, happy, and looking forward to my summer adventure!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Stepping Away from the Map…. For Now

Dear Liza,

A little over a week ago, I pulled out an old project to work on. It is a map of Portland done in appliqué and embroidery. I have been adding and adding, trying to recreate the intricacy I see in my head, on the fabric.

The East Side

Oregon Poet William Stanford was once asked, “How do you know when to stop editing?” He replied, “When it stops feeling creative.”

And that’s where I am, for now, with my map. In the last ten days I have added dozens of buildings, streets, and trees. I have gotten braver and freer with embroidery. I even think I know what I want to do with the river.

The West Hills, Downtown and the Willamette River

But it has stopped feeling creative. I feel like I am adding in desperation, thinking this next tree will make the difference. And it just isn’t. So I will set it aside again for a while and come back to it later, with fresh eyes.

Mouse likes to be right in the middle of the creative process!

That ‘later’ may be next week or next year. But it will be waiting for me.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back to Map Making

Dear Liza,

A year and a half ago, I started a sewing project to celebrate and explore my new city. I love maps, and sewing them is a way to enjoy the process of city-building.

Bare beginnings…..

I got the basic sections laid out … the west hills, downtown, the Willamette River, and the east side, where we live.

I started by laying in the main parks, Laurelhurst ( and the smaller Lone Fir Cemetery) in the east, and Washington Park in the west hills. I didn’t forget the North and South Park blocks downtown. The dozens of trees in Washington Park took days to pin and sew!

Parks!

I decided that I didn’t want to make a block -for-block exact map, but I did lay in some main streets so it would make more sense. Then I laid in the warehouse district on the east bank.

The Willamette River divides Portland east and west, and so far I have put in the Hawthorne and the Morrison Bridges. They require a level of precision that gives me the shakes, but I like the way they are turning out.

It was at this point, about a year ago, that I ran out of ideas. I couldn’t figure out what to put in next. So I folded up the map and set it aside.

And this week, after months of painting, baking, and writing, I figured it out. The map came back out and I started putting in the Laurelhurst and Sunnyside neighborhoods, where we live. I used a blanket stitch to show the rows of Victorian houses, and added dozens more trees.

The last three days work!

And today, while listening to the Impeachment hearings, I put in most of the buildings downtown. There will be more streets downtown, and more embroidered details as they are needed.

I’m sure there will come a time when I run out of ideas again, and will pack the map away for a while. But for now, I’m sure having fun with it!

Love,

Grandma Judy

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Bernies and Jackalopes

Dear Liza,

Even with the lockdown, there is always so much going on! If you stop and look around a bit, the world is a busy place.

Two Bernies on books….

First, Auntie Bridgett has a cousin who got a 3-D printer, and the first thing she thought to make were some delightful teeny tiny Bernie Sanders models! They came to us last week, and are currently perched on our mantelpiece. I have tried to find little tableaux for them to be in, and haven’t found anything suitable yet. Any suggestions?

Found on a walk…

There are lots of little eccentric bits around the neighborhood. Houses with pumpkins still perched on the porch, skeletons posed as Santa Claus, and little triangular rocks with Google eyes.

Daniel Haile’s delightful work at SideStreet Arts

And, of course, there is the work at the SideStreet Arts Gallery! A local illustrator named Daniel Haile does tender portraits of all sorts of folks, but this baby Jackalope sitting in a bowler hat is my very favorite.

Since it is the third anniversary of the gallery, Auntie Bridgett did a series of things in threes. She loves bees, so they are all over the place. There is always something new to see.

I hope you have a wonderful week !

Love,

Grandma Judy

Going Out With Joy

Dear Liza,

It is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow we start a new year, and beginnings are always a time for hope.

And for me, that hope has to start with joy. Joy is the basic energy that lets hope grow. It is the deep-down faith that there IS good in the world, and despite what my sometimes gloomy self says, Joy can be found everywhere. My mother would even say that it is our obligation to find it, and when we can, share it.

The simple pleasure of seeing birds fly or rain fall.

The happiness of feeling a connection between strangers.

Of watching kids play.

Staring at reflections.

So after this difficult, isolated year, I am choosing to go out with Joy, singing a celebratory if slightly goofy tune to carry me into 2021 on a positive note.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Reflections on the Rain in Laurelhurst

Dear Liza,

For the last few days, we have been in a river…. an atmospheric river, to be exact. This is a system of very wet air that has blown up from the tropics, bumped into our cold air, and is just dumping water like crazy. This is a lot of rain, even for drippy Portland.

Perfect reflections


So of course we went for a walk to lovely Laurelhurst Park. The hillsides are muddy and very slick, so I stayed on the path. The last thing I need from 2020 is a busted bottom. The puddles forming by the path made perfect mirrors to appreciate the majestic trees and gray skies.

Firwood Lake has had a particularly thick layer of duckweed this year, looking more like a soccer field in some areas. But at the east end, a surreal swirly effect is finding new ways to be beautiful.

And just as I thought the swirly green and black water couldn’t get more weirdly beautiful, a raindrop plopped in and created concentric circles.

Life is beautiful, even (or maybe especially) in the rain.

Love,

Grandma Judy