Navigating by Serendipity

Dear Liza,

Yesterday we decided it was time to visit Mt. Tabor. This is a 636 feet high extinct cinder cone volcano right here in Portland. It is covered with a forest and has hiking trails. We wanted a nice walk up the hill.

As so often happens, we got much more than we bargained for! We wandered into a fabulous event called the Adult Soapbox Derby. This is an annual event that happens the third Saturday of August here in Portland. Teams create vehicles with no engine, that are started by a big push and stopped by their own brakes, that roll down the road of Mt. Tabor three at a time. The vehicles are funny, beautiful, and whimsical.

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Catvan from Totoro

Dozens of people raced, pushed and helped direct people and traffic. Hundreds more  watched from the sidelines with picnics, kids, and dogs. There were food trucks, Frisbee games, and even dancing along the way. We sat in several different places, watching the racers come down, some really zipping along, others just barely moving, but all being met with cheers and applause.

Auntie Bridgett’s favorite was the Kraken, a colorful sea creature that squirted water at the crowd. There were cartoon characters like the Catvan from Totoro and Johnny Cab from Total Recall. And, there were ponies! A My Little Pony car was decorated with pink and purple fluff and driven by two ladies in pony costumes.

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Pony Car

We were glad we had taken a picnic,  because we ended up walking four miles, up and down and around the mountain. By the time the drum corps marched down the road announcing the end of the race, we were ready to find our own car and drive into the Montavilla neighborhood to look around and get some refreshment.

 

GetAttachmentThumbnail-68.jpgWe found The Bipartisan Cafe, a politically decorated place for cakes, pies, coffee, and interesting old political posters. Ice Cold Ice Cream provided Grandpa Nelson with a delicious root beer float, and we were ready to head for home.

So far we still don’t know which car won. But we enjoyed being steered by serendipity!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Settling in

 

Dear Liza,

We have now been living in Portland for one month and two days. We have unpacked almost everything we need, except for the pillows for the guest room for when you and your Daddy come to visit. I will be hunting for them today.

We have started to find some favorite places and things here that I want to share with you.

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Rocking Frog Sign

So far, Grandpa Nelson’s favorite place to walk for coffee and doughnuts is the Rocking Frog, down on Belmont Street. This is an old house that has been turned into a coffee house, and it feels cozy and quiet. The kitchen has stayed the kitchen, where doughnuts are fried fresh on weekends, and orange juice is squeezed fresh when you order it. Their other pastries are delivered from the Fleur de Lis bakery, and are delicious.

The dining room has become the library, with small tables for eating and lots of books for browsing. The living room has squashy chairs, a fireplace and more books. The back ‘bedroom’ has small tables and a cupboard of games to play. There is a small table on the front porch and more tables on the back patio, which is shaded by bamboo and umbrellas.

Auntie Bridgett loves Powell’s City of Books, downtown. We take the number 20 bus to get there. It is a full city block, five stories high, full of books. The books are on all subjects in a dozen of languages, with new and used, soft cover and hardcover books shelved together so you can choose. The children’s book section is huge!

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Powell’s at Night Photo credit:blogtugo.com

Powell’s doesn’t just want you to come in and buy books. There is a cafe for snacks and tables to read, and lots of benches and chairs. They also invite authors to come talk about their books, and invite us to come listen! It is fun to hear the stories behind the stories and be able to ask questions.

For me, it is hard to say what my favorite place is. I really love walking… just seeing the beautiful old houses, trees, gardens and the interesting people.  But if I had to choose, my favorite place is Laurelhurst Park, just three blocks up Pine Street. The hundred year old trees and paved paths make it perfect for walking, biking and jogging. The hawks, owls, ducks, turtles, and squirrels are a reminder that humans aren’t the only creatures that live here.

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Laurelhurst Park

The ravine that the park is built on gives wonderful changes in levels….a brick staircase with 87 steps is a fine challenge for exercising, and kids enjoy zooming down grassy hills on their small bikes. Picnic tables welcome parties and conversations and horse shoe pits, basketball courts and climbing structures invite the kids in.

I look forward to showing you all these and more, and your cousins also want to show you the zoo!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

 

Rose Garden and More

Dear Liza,

This week I got to spend two whole days with cousins Jasper and Kestrel. I will tell you about each day separately.

Monday, we walked from their house to Division Street, where we caught the number 4 bus to downtown, and caught the Blue line train to Washington Park. This is the same bus and train we used to go to the zoo, but once we got to the top of the elevator, we took a shuttle bus around to the other side of the mountain, past the Hoyt Arboretum, which is a huge forest,  the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Holocaust Memorial. But we stayed on until the Rose Garden stop.

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The Rose Garden and forest

The International Rose Test Garden, to use its proper name, is four and a half acres of roses planted on the side of a hill overlooking the city of Portland. There are over 7,000 roses in all! Compared to my 12 rose bushes in Salinas,  this is a BIG garden.

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Cousin Kestrel and an arch

The garden is on several levels, with lovely stairs and rose-covered arches in between. There are fountains, benches, and shady trees. On a clear day, you can see Mount Hood. But it was smoky the day we were there, from wildfires in Washington to the north.

There is even an amphitheater, where there are sometimes plays or concerts. The day we were there, it was a big open space for kids to run and play in. We found a pathway behind the stage to a quiet spot where we ate lunch and built a fairy house out of sticks, flower petals, and leaves.

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Amphitheater

We were very warm after lunch, so decided to take the bus around the mountain to the Children’s Museum, a wonderful building with big rooms for playing. There is a room with a stage and costumes for pretending to be in a show. There is another room for playing with cars and building roads. The Water room is all about faucets and pipes. This museum is a big, happy playhouse! I will take you there when you come to visit.

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The Cow on the porch of the Children’s Museum

We walked back to the elevator. It felt like a long way, because we were tired and the afternoon was very warm. But the train and bus were cool, and when I left the cousins at Auntie Katie’s shop, they curled up with books and read, and I came home to rest.

Being a grandma can be hard work!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Cousins and Shakespeare

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was hot again, but we had fun anyway. Grandpa Nelson’s cousin Sara and her husband Jim were in town visiting their new grandson, and they came by to visit. It was too hot to be comfortable at our house, so we drove across town to Genie’s, a cool cafe across Division Street from Auntie Katie’s store, Books with Pictures. The food was very good and the service was chatty and quick.

After lunch, I went across the other street to Gordito’s Mexican restaurant to get Auntie Katie a burrito for her lunch, since she was working in the store and needed to eat standing up. After lunch we went back to our house and talked for hours about family history and all the cousins…there are a lot of cousins in Grandpa Nelson’s family!

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Grandma Judy, Grandpa Nelson, cousin Jim and cousin Sara

Sara and Jim left to beat the rush hour traffic to Lake Oswego and Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I went out to see some art galleries for First Friday. They are all within three blocks of us, so it was a short, but very warm, walk. Side Street Gallery is closing but will re-open as a co-op, a gallery run by the artists who display their work there.

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Side Street Gallery

Wolff Gallery was mostly collages from photographs. True Measure Gallery had really modern, interesting paintings by Jesse Reno, Jesse Narens and Melissa Monroe.

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When we were tired of the heat we went back home and watched the Giants lose on TV. And I took a nap. About 8:30 I woke up and we decided it was cool enough to go for a short walk through Laurelhurst Park. We didn’t hear the hawks, but quite a ways into the park, we saw lights and heard shouting, and there was a Shakespeare troupe, (different from the one we saw in Lone Fir Cemetery) called “Original Practice Shakespeare”, performing a history play called Richard III.

It is a very good play about a very bad king.

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An actor playing Richard III

“Original Practice” means they do the plays as they were done in Shakespeare’s time (he worked from 1590 to 1613). What is different from modern plays is that each actor is only given their own lines, not the whole script to the play, and they do almost no rehearsals with the whole troupe. This means that the actors make some mistakes, and are sometimes surprised by what is happening, but it is so much fun to watch!

The audience was sitting on fold up chairs and having snacks and water. They were even heckling, which means booing or cheering, during the show. In “Original Practice”, this is totally polite, because the audiences in Shakespeare’s time DID heckle! I guess you could tell if you were playing a bad guy really well, because the audience would yell at you!

Once the play was over, we walked back home. Far off across the park we heard an owl hooting, which made us happy.  We had heard that the owls weren’t in Laurelhurst Park anymore, but if we heard them, they still are. They were awake and hunting, but it was time for us to sleep.

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Love, Grandma Judy

 

Kerns picnic

Dear Liza,

Yesterday it was so hot, we stayed down in the cool of the basement most of the day. We read, played Scrabble, and looked at maps of Portland to see neat places to go visit. once it gets cooler.

But at 6:00 in the evening, we gathered our folding chairs, cold water and a few snacks and walked to Oregon Park, up between Hoyt and Irving Streets,  for the Kerns Neighborhood picnic,  celebrating the National Night Out.

Oregon Park is not a fancy park, not as as forested as Laurelhurst Park.  But it is a nice park with tall Douglas firs and wide spreading maples, giving lots of welcome shade. There are climbing toys, including teeter-totters, which we don’t have in California anymore.

When we got to Oregon Park, people were beginning to gather, bringing chairs, blankets, or sitting at tables and chairs set up on the basketball court, which was resurfaced and donated by Nike in 2002. (There is a plaque in the corner of the court making sure we know this.)

A small band of fellows about my age set up, and started playing smooth jazz on an electric keyboard, bass, flute, and drums. Just the perfect music for a picnic. Happy, dance-able, and familiar enough to be friendly and welcoming.

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The Kerns Neighborhood Association provided hot dogs and soda, which many families and their kids enjoyed, and a church group set up kids’ games in the shade.We met Thomas, a local minister and music producer, and his sons Kuyper and Tobin, and another pastor named Art.

A group of young adults played frisbee football, and later, just frisbee, with great skill and joy, running and jumping like athletic Labradors.

Raffle tickets for good donated by local stores were sold at a dollar a piece. Grandpa Nelson bought three and  we won a $30.00 gift certificate from Dov Vivi pizza, just a few blocks from home. Other folks won a corn hole game, gift certificates from massage shops and tea, and flotation shop, and Staccato Gelato, a wonderful Italian ice cream parlor just a few blocks from here, next to Whole Foods.

As the sun went down it got a tiny bit cooler. The music stopped, tables and chairs were folded and put in trucks. We gathered our things, helped throw away trash, said goodbye to our new people and dog friends, and walked home in the dusk. Restaurants and bars were full of people cooling off, porches were lit up with their sparkly lights, and we were happy to be here, home, and together.

I hope tomorrow is cooler!

Love, Grandma Judy

All Sorts of Remembering

Dear Liza,

Yesterday, Auntie Bridgett and I started off to send you a package and do some shopping.

The UPS Store is about a mile and a half away, down on Hawthorne. When we started walking, it was cool and breezy. We walked down new streets in the neighborhood, looking at flowers and houses.

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Day lilies smell so good

At the corner of 32nd and Taylor, there was a church that looked like something from a fairy tale. It was built from rough stone and had parapets on the corners that looked like there should be soldiers with bows and arrows up there, defending the castle.

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Redeemer Church, but looks more like a castle

As we walked around, admiring the architecture, a man called from a workshop behind, “You want to see inside?” It was Harry, the caretaker of this marvelous church, and he took time off from working on projects to show us around.

The church was originally built in 1909, but most of it was destroyed in a fire in 1910. It was rebuilt in 1911, and the stained glass windows mostly date from then.

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Stained glass at Redeemer Church

Harry works not only at keeping the heating and electrical system working, for people to be comfortable and the lights and music for the services, but he also builds whatever furniture is needed out of reclaimed wood and furniture. It is all shiny and lovely.

Harry shared some of his life story and the work he does helping people who are having a hard life. We took some pictures, thanked him,  and said our good-byes.

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Auntie Bridgett and Harry

After mailing your package, we went to the Buffalo Exchange, a used clothing store. It was big and crowded, but we found lots of good clothes. They didn’t all fit, but I got a pair of jeans and two shirts. Auntie Bridgett found a few things, too.

After all that, we were worn out and it was really time to head home, which was still a mile and a half away. We tried to stay on the shady side of the street, but as we got to a nice shady corner, I noticed a mosaic across the street, and I had to go look.

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It was a small, beautiful bench built into the wall decorated with tiles, glass, and bicycle parts. There was a sign nearby explaining that this was a shrine, a way of remembering a young man named Matthew Schekel who had been hit by a truck while riding his bicycle across this intersection. All his friends had collected the tiles and things and built this way to remember him, which has lasted for many years. He died in 1998, 19 years ago. Doing more reading, I have since discovered that there is also a scholarship in his name from the local high school. He was a very special, loving young man.

When we finally got home and I was resting, I thought about all the people and lives that have been in this neighborhood before us. The hundreds of people who built the Redeemer church, and the thousands who have gone there since 1909; Harry, who takes care of it all; and young Matthew, who lived such a good life that I remember him, even though I never knew him. This place has a deep history I am just beginning to appreciate.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Walking and Talking

Dear Liza,

Yesterday morning I did a lot of reading. I am enjoying “Sacre Bleu”, a fantasy story by Christopher Moore. After lunch, I walked to Auntie Katie’s store and back. I wanted to return some things Jasper and Kestrel had forgotten from our trip to the zoo, and give everyone hugs. I also got to see their new acrobatic tricks and watch a local cartoonist teach some older kids how to draw.

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Inside Auntie Katie’s Store

Googlemaps says it is 1.7 miles to Books with Pictures from our house, so I walked 3.4 miles there and back. The weather was warm, but I walked in the shade when I could.

I enjoyed walking down streets I hadn’t been on before and seeing how people have decorated their big front porches and small yards. Many older houses, from the 1900s and 1920s, are along Salmon and Taylor between about 20th and 29th. People have porch swings or comfy chairs set out, to visit and chat with people walking by. Some have little twinkly lights hung from the rafters, so it always looks like Christmas, or a party. There are even bicycles, mosaics, sculptures, fountains, and pink flamingoes!

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Porches in Portland are very interesting!

After I got home and put my feet up for a while, Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I walked to Crema, our local coffee place, at the corner of Ankeny and 28th. We were meeting our new friends, Craig and his wife Sherry, who we first met on a walk around the neighborhood, when we saw Sherry trying to get a good photograph of the Joan of Arc statue in Coe Circle. We asked what they knew about the statue, and the conversation was so much fun we wanted it to continue, so we decided to meet for coffee.

That conversation lasted another 2 and a half hours! Like good friends do, we talked about everything…our lives, kids, troubles, people we had met, things we thought about. Not wanting so say goodbye but needing to head home and take care of business, we made plans to have dinner with them in a few weeks.

We got home and worked for a few hours, then had dinner. When it got cool enough, we took another walk, south toward Sewallcrest Park. It is about a mile from our house. There is a community garden, where people rent small plots of land to grow vegetables on. It was fun to see people and their dogs working and enjoying the evening.

Further along the park, we heard shouts and yelling. It was a kickball game! Two teams of adults, with their kids and dogs “helping”, were kicking and running and having a fine time. The game ended with a score of  7 to 1, but no one was sad…just smiling and happy and playing.

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Adult Kickball at Sewallcrest Park

We walked home, and I was finally tired. I had walked more than 5 miles during the day and was ready to be lazy. We snuggled on the couch and then went to bed.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Accidental Delights

Dear Liza,

Last night, after the weather got cooler and we were all done with work, Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk. We were headed for Colonel Summers Park, but we got distracted.

We saw signs that said “Shakespeare in the Park” with an arrow pointing…not to the park, but to the Lone Fir Cemetery, which I have told you about before. I like watching plays by William Shakespeare, and so we followed the signs. In the middle of the cemetery, we found a small audience sitting in lawn chairs around one of the war memorials, and people performing a play called Troilus and Cressida. There were hardly any sets, just enough to give the idea of “where we were” for the play, which was an army camp.

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Actors in Troilus and Cressida at the Lone Fir Cemetery

There was no lighting, no microphones, and the costumes were very simple. But it was wonderful to see not only the actors, but the audience there, on a warm summer evening under the tall trees in the cemetery, enjoying theater. We watched the show for a while, then quietly left. I made a note to myself to read the play as soon as I get my Shakespeare books unpacked.

Continuing our walk, we followed Belmont Street west and realized we were only a few blocks from Revolution Hall, the former Washington High School that is now being used as offices for different businesses, concerts, and restaurants.

It is a beautifully designed brick building from 1924 and there is a small restaurant on the roof that has a wonderful view of the city. Since it was almost sunset, we decided to go up and enjoy some wine and watch the sun go down. It was pretty crowded up there on the big flat roof, but we found a table to sit at and watch as the glaring sun dipped behind the western hills and turned the whole sky a soft pink.

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Washington High School, now Revolution Hall

 

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The view west from the roof

Grandpa Nelson said we should get home before dark, so we started walking back along Stark Street towards our house. We saw the Penny Market open, a tiny building on an almost dark street. We went inside, got some ice cream and met Tom, the man in charge. He was very friendly and happy to be living in Portland, too. We got home, tired after our more than 2 mile walk, and got into pajamas.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Klickitat Street

Dear Liza,

The other day I told you about our busy day at Pip’s Doughnuts, IKEA and Costco. There was another exciting part of that day. We drove down Klickitat Street!

I know you haven’t read them yet, but there is a wonderful series of books by Beverly Cleary that all happen on Klickitat Street. Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy and neighbors Beezus and Ramona Quimby have lots of adventures. For many years I didn’t know that it was a real street in a real place, but it sure is!

Beverly Cleary herself grew up in this northeast section of Portland, on 37th Street just down a bit. She was labeled a low reader in first grade, and as she said, “To be in the Blackbird group was to be disgraced.” Her own school librarian encouraged her and she had caught up by third grade, and was told by her sixth grade teacher that she should be an author. Mrs. Cleary grew up to be a children’s librarian who was frustrated because there weren’t enough books that really interested children. She began writing and published her first book, “Henry Huggins”, in 1950. That is six years before I was even born!

Beverly Cleary used her own childhood as a model for her stories, which deal with the everyday joys and dilemmas of childhood. They are funny for children and adults and feel very real in their approach to family life. She liked the name Klickitat because it reminded her of the sound of knitting needles.

Today, Klickitat Street is still in the middle of a pretty part of the city, a neighborhood called Roseway, far enough out from Downtown to be quiet but still very busy. The street is one of the most heavily used of the “Bicycle Throughways” in Portland, roads that are signed for bikes and where car traffic is discouraged. These throughways make biking much safer and more fun.

Today I have been writing letters to friends, reading one of my favorite books, Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, and listening to the crows. This afternoon Grandpa Nelson and I will ride our bikes to see cousins Jasper and Kestrel be in a circus from their summer camp. I am sure enjoying life up here in Portland!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Pip’s Doughnuts and Other Happy Discoveries

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Dear Liza,

Today we needed to go to IKEA for some house things and Costco for some food things. Grandpa Nelson knew that it would be a long day of walking and shopping, so he decided that we should start off with local happy.

Pip’s Original Doughnuts and Chai, on NE Fremont, was the perfect place. It is different from every other doughnut shop in several ways. First, there is no glass case with doughnuts to choose from, because every single doughnut is made when you order it and served hot. YUM!

Another difference is the size of the doughnuts. They are tiny! Each warm, perfect bundle of fried goodness would fit in the palm of your 4 year old hand. About three small bites, or one greedy mouthful.

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Finally, there are not dozens of kinds of doughnuts. The day we were there, there were six. Grandpa Nelson had cinnamon and sugar. Very sweet and good. Auntie Bridgett had Nutella, which she pronounced “The best doughnut I’ve ever had in my life.” I had a wickedly sweet and savory mouthful called Candied Maple Bacon, the essence of which I would like to eat every day of my life.

Doing some doughnut math, we reckoned that a regular cake doughnut would equal the size of about three Pip’s. So you can mix and match and share with friends and get to taste more deliciousness without feeling like a doughnut hog. Well, feeling a bit less like a doughnut hog than usual, anyway.

After thoroughly enjoying the doughnuts, dog- and people-watching and warm hospitality of Pip’s, we got on with the business of the day. When we moved from Salinas, we tried to get rid of things we didn’t love. We had owned several really ugly lamps, and we left them behind. Wandering IKEA’s maze of showrooms, we came upon the perfect lamp. It would fit in well and gives a nice warm light. We also found an office chair for Grandpa Nelson that will help his back, and lots of small things to make the house work better.

After a small lunch at IKEA’s cafeteria, we headed for Costco. We found two giant shelf units to help organize the garage. Moving here, we collapsed three art areas and two offices into one space, so there are a lot of things that need storing…books, art, tools… and we want them to stay dry through Portland’s notoriously wet winters. Getting them up off the floor and into plastic bins seems a good idea. We also found cashews, walnuts, peanuts…you know, Grandpa Nelson food.

Back home, we assembled the lamp (which does, indeed, look perfect by the piano)  and moved one of the last boxes into a back closet so the lamp had a happy place to be in. Grandpa Nelson built his chair, we installed things in the kitchen, and crashed. Hours of shopping just wear me out!

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Later in the day, I got an invitation from Auntie Katie to hear a storyteller at her book store, Books with Pictures. Gretchen Peterson told a really interesting story about her new super hero, Iris Eldinger. We talked about storytelling and teaching and how much the two are alike.

Auntie Bridgett and I walked home just as the sun was going down. We stopped several times to look west, over the bridges on the Willamette to the city shadowed in pink clouds. It was the perfect ending to a lovely, productive, delicious day.

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Love,

Grandma Judy