Mosaics in Portland

Dear Liza,

This will be a short post today. I have a story idea in my head that won’t let me think about much else. But I wanted to share something I have noticed about Portland ….mosaics.

You know I love mosaics. I make mosaics. I teach my students to make mosaics.

Student mosaics
A Mosaic in Progress

There is a lot of public art in Portland, statues, murals, and fountains for playing in. I have posted pictures of your cousins and Auntie Bridgett with statues of deer and lots of other public art. Even some of the buildings are like art. These are all public art, as in, paid for by public money. I respect this, and love it. I like that my tax money goes to make art that I enjoy.

Buckman School Mosaic in Public
The Calico Room Mosaic

The other kind of art that everyone can see is privately funded art that is in public. The Buckman School, in our neighborhood, decorated their retaining wall with mosaics made with donated tiles and dishes. The Calico Room restaurant in East Portland advertises with a wonderfully modern cat mosaic.

These are interesting, pretty pieces of art that we walk by all the time and get to enjoy. They help me see things differently. They inspire me to make my own art. I am grateful for the creative people who share their art with all of us.

“Tell them, dear, if eyes were made for seeing, then beauty is its own excuse for being.” Emerson


Grandma Judy

Something Else has Changed

Dear Liza,

Yesterday we bought a new car! Our dear old VW Golf, Junie B.,  was 16 years old and had hauled us back and forth across the country and now back to Oregon. It was time to donate her to a good cause and move forward.

Junie B, ready to say good-bye

We drove out to Dick Hannah, a Volkswagen dealership in east Portland, and met Allyn Jordan. He helped us get the the car we wanted. Turns out, he had just what we wanted, but it was across the river in Vancouver, Washington. He went there to fetch it while we waited and Auntie Bridgett and I had some lunch. I always forget how long it takes to buy a car….paperwork, waiting, fetching, cleaning, explaining…about 5 hours in all.

Our new VW Golf Wolfsburg Edition

Once our new car was with us, Allyn showed us all the gadgets. It has a blind spot warning, so we can change lanes more safely, and a rear view camera, to help us park without running into things. These are all good.

But there are also toys! A great music system with speakers in the back, air-conditioning (we are having more hot weather) and a phone built into the car are going to make driving more interesting.

The mighty Columbia River

After we had signed the final papers, shaken Allyn’s hand one last time, and fed poor, hungry Grandpa Nelson, we went for a drive to celebrate. Grandpa Nelson drove out of town toward the east and went up the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia is an even bigger river than our Willamette here in town, and must be a mile or more across. It is forested all along the banks and very wild and beautiful. There are huge rock formations and waterfalls. We drove to Multonomah Falls, but it was so crowded the parking area was closed. We will try again some other time. Turning around, Auntie Bridgett drove west until we were able to get out at a vista point to gawk at the huge river and take pictures.

By this time, we were pretty tired. Back in town we rested, ate, and enjoyed looking at, learning about, and thinking about our new car. We still haven’t decide what to name it, and a car isn’t really yours until you name it….so we will let you know.

Happy Family!


Grandma Judy


Visitors for the Eclipse

Dear Liza,

Yesterday, Auntie Bridgett’s Aunt Chris and Uncle Ken came to visit us while they were in Oregon to see the eclipse. We had fun showing them some of our favorite places. They were only here for the evening, so this list had to be short.

First, we walked north on 30th Avenue to Flanders Street, a restaurant called Stammtisch. Their motto is “Sit here, always”. We have been there before, but only for dessert, which was very good. It is all German food, and the menu gives the German name first, then describes what is in the food in English. This can be scary, because you don’t want to sound silly saying the food wrong. But the waiters are very friendly and don’t mind.

The menu has small plates (kleine) medium sized (mitter) and large (grosse). This lets you order just enough and not have tons left over. I like this because regular restaurant portions are always way too much for me!

I ordered the Bier Geschmort Hasen, which is a beer braised rabbit. Auntie Bridgett got a forelle (trout), Uncle Ken got a wienerschnitzel and latkes (fried pork loin and potato pancakes). Aunt Chris got hausgemachte wurst (home made sausage). Grandpa Nelson, of course, ordered frites (french fries). And everything was delicious!

We were there early enough that the place wasn’t crowded, we had a nice long conversation and everyone tried a little of everyone else’s food. Then we needed dessert. We walked just a block,  and there was Fifty Licks, the ice cream place closest to our house. Blood orange creamsicle, blackberry sorbet and carmelized honey cones were ordered and shared. Again, we were ahead of the crowd and saw a line forming as we left.

We couldn’t let them leave without seeing Laurelhurst Park, so we walked over there. The trees, lake, and beauty helped all of us digest our food better. We sat on the bench by the lake and saw the ducks out for their evening swim and a few turtles climbing up on logs to sleep. We walked home and saw dogs chasing balls and being incredibly happy….both the dogs and us!

We had worn ourselves and our company out, but had a lovely time.


Grandma Judy

Eclipse At Laurelhurst Park

Dear Liza,

Today is the solar eclipse that has had all of Portland in a tizzy for weeks. Some people have planned trips out of town to see the eclipse while others have canceled travel because they are worried about traffic from other people’s travel. Hotel rooms and rental cars are booked, food trucks plan to close for the hour of the eclipse and then do extra business afterwards.

Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I are going to Laurelhurst Park, sit in the small forest there, and listen to what the animals do. Will the hawks go hunting? Will the squirrels freak out? Will we finally get to see the owl?

I wrote that part before the eclipse.

It is now after. Here is what happened.

When we got to the park, there were already some people sitting in the big grassy area. They were reading, talking, or playing with their kids, but as we have often seen here, not being obnoxiously loud. Each group respected the other group’s space and quiet.

People waiting for the eclipse

As the eclipse began and increased, the light changed. The white sunlight got yellower, then almost grey, and it made things look flatter. The temperature dropped a bit and a small breeze came up.

At almost 99% totality, (as much as we got here in Portland) we saw things called shadow snakes …shadows of the leaves overhead, but looking curvy. These happen because the light of the sun is bent as it comes around the moon and so makes curvy shadows. Weird and wonderful.

We also saw cloudy shadows moving across the pavement. They were so faint I couldn’t get a picture of them. I found out later they are called Schlieren lines.

Shadow Snakes

After just a half minute of not-darkness, the light began to increase again. The eclipse was ending and we would soon be back to regular light.

It never got dark enough for the animals to think it was night, so the owls stayed asleep and the hawks stayed quiet. The squirrels did their usual squirrel things. It started getting warm again. Grandpa Nelson said it felt like a second dawn.

He walked with us to the corner of Belmont and Cesar Chavez Blvd, where he turned right to go find breakfast and we turned left to go to the Belmont library for more books on Portland  history.

I am learning so much here. Looking forward to your visit!


Grandma Judy



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.

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.

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!


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.

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!

Powell’s at Night Photo

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.

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!


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.

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.

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.


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.

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!


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!

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.

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.


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.

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.

1200501Barn Owl_IMG_8712_2000pxl_0.jpg


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


Grandma Judy