The Neighborhood Next to Ours

The neighborhood next to ours in Portland

Back when we lived in Portland, the neighborhood next to ours was filled with street after street of large, beautiful homes, with big, green, well-manicured lawns and exquisite landscaping. The homes run the gamut of styles, from English Tudor to French Provincial, 50s Post Modern to Old Portland Foursquare, Mediterranean to Dutch Colonial. Volvos, BMWs, Mercedes and other high-end or new cars often sat in the driveways, and several of the homes had swimming pools. It seemed at least two, if not more, homes on each block had signs in the yards proclaiming that renovations, remodeling, or landscaping work was currently taking place there. The streets were lined with huge, leafy elms which kept the streets cool and inviting even on the hottest days, which was why I enjoyed walking there in the evenings during the summer.

It used to be my dream to live in this neighborhood. I wanted a beautiful lawn and landscaping, a bigger house for our family, a big elm tree in front. And for a while, Brett and I probably could have bought one of these homes. We instead bought a cheap house with a tiny yard up the hill from this neighborhood, with no trees at all in front. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made considering what happened to Brett’s income a few years later. Because we bought the cheap house we were able to weather his loss of income and then climb out of the debt that we accrued. We’d have gone bankrupt if we’d bought the bigger house, but instead made a profit when we sold our house before moving to Hawaii.

The cheap house turned out to be a great house, perfect for our family in a perfect location.

These days I shudder when I think about the prices of homes for sale here on Kaua’i, or in other places we considered moving, and the annual taxes on those homes. I can only imagine how much the upkeep would be, as well as things like heating them in the winter or cooling in the summer. We had a small patio installed at our cheap house, a real wake-up call to what extensive landscaping and maintenance would cost (a LOT). I don’t even want to think of how much we would have paid to furnish a larger home, even with vintage or used furniture. Actually, a bigger home would probably have ended up mostly unfurnished, but I’m sure we would still have been craving stuff to fill it rather than feel satisfied with what we had. We would have been living in neighborhood full of Joneses, trying to keep up with and most likely failing and feeling miserable about it.

This is our dream apartment for the future. Brett and I can happily imagine living a space this size these days (photo credit: Beazy/Unsplash)

I never saw it coming back then, how minimalism has become more and more attractive to us as we grow older. We don’t want or desire so much space now, so much room to fill and maintain. We’ve learned how to live in small spaces, including how to carve out individual space so we don’t feel crowded, even in a one-room studio. The older we get, the fewer things we want to own. It’s been a surprising journey finding how little we need or want, and what we can easily let go of.

I can no longer imagine myself in one of those big houses back in Portland. These days I admire houses around the island but don’t covet them any more. I’m no longer looking at real estate websites and dreaming about the houses that might work for us somewhere. Our dreams these days are of living in other places around the world, borrowing someone else’s house for a month or so, for as long as we are able, and then finally ending up in a small apartment, with just the right amount of stuff.

TCB in Portland

They’re all grown up now, but we still can’t wait to be together with these three again for the holidays. (This picture was taken in Guangzhou, less than a week after YaYu joined our family. WenYu was in the first grade, Meiling in the third. YaYu wanted things her sisters had, so we had to get her a puffy vest too while we were there – she chose a shimmery one!)

Our stays back in the U.S. are always a chance for Brett and me to take care of business and reassess what we have and what we need going forward, and our coming six weeks’ stay in Portland will be no different.

The #1 item on our list this visit is to have a wonderful reunion and Christmas holiday with our daughters. They will begin arriving in Portland on the 18th of next month, and WenYu and YaYu will be staying with us until we depart in January. Meiling has to go back to work, so she will leave before the new year arrives. Her boyfriend, K, will also be spending a couple of days with us before they go back. The girls are already requesting food they want me to prepare while we’re together, but it’s going to be a bit of a challenge with one now a vegetarian and two lactose-intolerant. Meiling has set up our annual Christmas ‘Secret Santa’ exchange and everyone is getting their wishlists posted. However, my favorite thing already about this year was Meiling saying, “It’s not about the presents anymore, Mom, it’s just about us all being together again for a while.” 

We’ll also be getting together with friends and are looking forward to that!

We’re currently caught up with all lodging reservations and flights, at least through our time at our mystery destination. We still have to find transportation from there back to the U.S. but there’s no hurry – it’s something that can be done next year when we’re in Japan. I’m also checking on flights from Boston to Tokyo in March – WenYu plans to come and stay with us for a week, and as we did with her sister we’ll be helping her out with the cost of her flight.

Other things to be taken care of when we’re in Portland are:

  • Medical and dental appointments. Brett’s doctor will be checking to see if the condition that was discovered this past summer has progressed or whether it’s holding steady. If things have changed Brett may have to have (outpatient) surgery while we’re there. His dental work is just to finish up work that was started last summer, but nothing major (or expensive, thank goodness). I don’t need any further dental work, but I am due a refund of a couple of hundred dollars!
  • Restocking our medications. Most of our prescription medication refills are automatic, and are mailed to Brett’s sister and will be forwarded, but we will also need to request an “emergency supply” for a couple of prescriptions, an extra 90 day supply to get us through the time we’re out of the U.S.
    I’m looking forward to getting these curls shaped up!
  • Getting our hair cut. Both Brett and I need hair cuts, and Brett needs a beard trim as well, although we have decided to purchase a beard trimmer for him going forward. My hair is a big curly mess these days and pain to fix, but it’s finally long enough that I feel safe getting it shaped up. I found a salon in Portland that has a curl specialist (she does nothing but cut curly hair) and will be making an appointment with her. It’s not going to be cheap but if she lives up to her reviews it will be worth it. I also plan to get a manicure and pedicure just before we get ready to leave for Hawaii.
  • Getting caught up with our mail. Brett’s sister will be sending us a big envelope with the mail she’s collected for the past three months. Going through it doesn’t take long as we don’t get much mail these days, but it’s still a chore and seems to always set up one or two other tasks that need to be taken care of. If we decide to continue traveling we are thinking of changing to a mail service, although that will depend on the cost.
  • Assessing and re-provisioning travel supplies as necessary. This isn’t going to be as big of a task as it was last year because when we leave Portland we will be first going to Kaua’i, and then on to Japan, where we can get U.S. products like cold medication, shampoo, lotion, etc. at stores there or the exchange and commissary in Japan. There are some things however we can’t get, like curl cream for my hair (it’s available on Kaua’i but costs more), and those things we’ll have to resupply in Portland as we won’t be back in the U.S. for nearly six months.
  • Reassessing our clothing. We always do this when we’re back in the U.S. although this task should be quite easy this year as both of us have been wearing and enjoying everything we’ve brought along this time, unlike our first year when lots of things went unworn or were found to be impractical. We also will be adding our warm weather clothing back into the mix (it’s currently in storage). Although I would like to get a winter hat, neither of us has any intention of buying anything new unless we get gift cards for Christmas.
    We occasionally have treated ourselves to slices of cake (Victoria sponge and coffee & walnut) after long walks but such things will stop after we gat back to the U.S.
  • Reestablishing good eating habits. I’m frankly a bit shocked that my clothes still fit. Between the hot chocolate with marshmallows, afternoon biscuits, toffee puddings, Cadbury chocolate, and all those tasty scones with clotted cream and jam I definitely haven’t been as careful about what I’ve been eating as I was last summer and I feel like I’ve grown larger once again. Brett’s also put on a bit of a belly. The only thing that’s saved us from blowing up like balloons is the amount of walking we’ve done here, but that’s been curtailed this past month by the weather. Anyway, it’s back to low carb/keto eating again when we get to Portland – we’re actually looking forward to it.
  • Setting up a budget for Japan. Because of the cost of our housing in Japan (which is still an amazing bargain for the space we’re getting and the location), our daily spending average, while we’re in Japan, is going to drop even more, and we need to assess before we go what we’ll have available each month to cover food, transportation, and other expenditures and then work out a budget and figure out when we’ll exchange dollars for yen and for how much. I’m grateful now that I picked up the book Secret Tokyo when we were in Bath with so many free things for us to check out and do when we’re there this time.
  • Buy Christmas gifts for the grandchildren. This is a big deal as it’s the only time we personally give them gifts (we usually send a check and our son or DIL purchase gifts for them there) and we want to make them memorable. We have a budget, and know what we want to get our grandson, but haven’t figured out something yet for our granddaughter. We plan to visit Finnegan’s toy store when we’re in Portland to get some ideas.

We’ve rented a car for our entire time in Portland so that we’re able to easily pick up the girls and return them to the airport along with ferrying them around while they’re with us. Having a car will also allow us to easily take care of errands, food shopping, etc. All of the above is going to keep us busy but not overwhelmed, and I sort of expect our time in Portland to fly by, especially the time we’re together with the girls.

Farewell to Portland (for now)

We love Portland – always have, always will!

We have had an absolutely wonderful summer in Portland. We rested and relaxed, got our health and dental care taken care of, met most of our summer goals, and ate lots of locally-grown fruit and vegetables. But now it’s time to move on and continue our travels. We are ready to go.

We’ve almost finished our packing, the apartment is almost cleaned, and we have just a couple of things left to take care of in town before we board our flight on Saturday evening. We will fly directly to Reykjavik, Iceland and transfer there to a flight to London Heathrow.

How lucky we have been to be able to hike through the forest park near our apartment.

Other than a very few hot days, the weather in Portland this summer has been absolutely ideal. Days have mostly been sunny and temperate, the night temperatures perfect for sleeping.

We started off our stay here a bit in the hole after a couple of big shopping trips to Costco, Trader Joes, and Winco but we’ve managed our spending since then and will be leaving town well under budget, ready to face a new, lowered daily spending amount. Other than visiting the art museum and the zoo, we saw and did everything we wanted to while we were here. We will miss our westside apartment up on the hill, along with its proximity to OHSU and the nearby forest park and hiking trails. We’ve loved being able to easily get around town for the most part without a car.

Best of all, we’ve loved catching up with our friends here, always the best part of coming back to Portland.

But, here we go again! We’ll check into our hotel out by the airport tomorrow afternoon after stopping off to put a few more things into storage (our summer clothes, for example – we won’t need them in England). On Saturday at noon we’ll return our rental car and head over to the airport, where we’ll have a bit of a long wait. We’ll eventually get our bags checked in, head to our gate, and will Portland a little after 7:00 p.m.

What a great summer we’ve had – thank you Portland!

#Portland: Pittock Mansion

The front of Pittock Mansion still looks out over the city. The main entrance, with its arched doorway, is located to the right of the center room on the ground floor.

Located high in the northwest hills above the city, Pittock Mansion is one of Portland’s brightest jewels, and one of our favorite Portland places to visit. Built in 1914 by Henry Pittock and his wife, Georgiana, the mansion not only boasted sweeping views of the city but incorporated the latest technology of the time, including a housewide intercom system, a walk-in refrigerator, an elevator, and indirect electric lighting.

Visitors today approach the mansion from the back and enter the house from the porte-cochere. The mansion has four floors including the basement and attic.

Both Henry and Georgiana separately came to Portland by way of the Oregon Trail in the 19th century, and Henry built his fortune as the owner and publisher of the Oregonian newspaper. Together, the Pittocks were instrumental in transforming Portland from a small logging town into a modern city, and they were active in raising funds for several local charities.

While the entire home is beautiful, my favorite room is Georgiana’s sewing room, part of the master bedroom suite on the second floor. Georgiana often entertained her friends here.

The period sewing table.

Georgiana died in 1918, and Henry in 1919. Family members continued to live in the mansion until 1958 when the last one moved out (he had actually been born in the house – the Pittock household consisted of nine extended family members when Henry and Georgiana lived there). The house suffered considerable damage over the years, especially during the Columbus Day Storm in 1962, but the city rallied to save and restore the mansion and it opened to the public in 1965. It is currently operated by Portland Parks and Recreation and staffed by volunteers. The home and the estate manager’s home were added to the National Historic Register in 1974.

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Some of the Lewis & Clark Exhibition memorabilia located in the basement Social Room. These particular items were located in one of the small circular “card nooks” which sit on the sides of the large, oval main room (which was used for billiards).

We also viewed a special exhibition about Portland’s 1905 Lewis & Clark Exhibition, which attracted participants from all over the world and rivaled any other world’s fair to date. Pittock had been instrumental in bringing the fair to the city.

You can never have too many coffee mugs!

Brett and I were inspired by our visit to Pittock Mansion to make a rare souvenir purchase: two big, sturdy hand-thrown pottery coffee mugs with an image of the mansion on the front. They will get lots of use!

Closing Out the Books for July

We had another low key month, spending wise, and were able to keep our daily spending average at $39.99/day, still under budget but a little bit higher than last month. Once again this month we had several no spend days, and even though we had one big shopping trip to Costco and Trader Joe’s we spent less than we had on previous trips. Most of the upfront expenses for our getaway out to the coast were paid for in June but we did indulge ourselves at lunch and dinner the first day, spent $$ on cheese and other goodies in Tillamook, and bought a large amount of salt water taffy to divide up for the girls. We also spent more at the farmers’ market each week in July (berries, berries, berries!) and had to reload our public transportation passes. The first payment on my dental work didn’t help our daily average either.

We also had some big expenses come out of our travel fund this month. We purchased YaYu’s ticket back to Pennsylvania at the end of August, and also a round-trip ticket for her to come to England in October. I’d been checking prices but could never find a really good match between price and schedule for the London ticket, and ended up paying just slightly more than I wanted (less than $100) but got her an itinerary with non-stop flights each way that will work with her upcoming fall class schedule. I did make one other big travel purchase this month as well – I’ll have a post up about it next week!

Otherwise, I feel like we are in good shape heading into August. We still have quite a bit of food on hand that has to get eaten (almost too much it seems – why did we buy so much butter?) so we will have fewer trips for groceries. There are just two more local outings we’d like to make, to the art museum and over to see Pittock Mansion once more. We’d like to reserve a Zipcar for the latter visit as public transportation is not convenient. Brett has only two calligraphy class meetings this month so that expense will be cut in half. We plan to go out to dinner at a downtown restaurant one evening with our friend Joan, but will order off the bistro menu in order to stay within our budget.

Our goal for this month is to get our daily expense average for Portland even lower than it was in June and July. We will be on a tighter budget when we get to England in September (because of upcoming college expenses for YaYu) and one of our primary August goals now is to re-sharpen  our frugal skills.

#Portland: The Japanese Garden

Peace, serenity, and harmony weave themselves throughout Portland’s Japanese Garden

“This is a place to discard worldly thoughts and concerns and see oneself as a small but integral part of the universe.”

Brett and I knew that no stay in Portland would be complete without a visit to the Japanese Garden, located in Washington Park in the west hills. The Garden overlooks the city and yet is a world away, transporting visitors to a soothing location where they can relax, unwind, meditate, and realize a sense of peace and harmony no matter the season or the weather. The tranquility of the Garden envelops you the moment you enter, and everyone who enters seems to slow down in order to be able take it in.

There’s an leisurely climb from the ticket office through stands of Douglas fir to the garden’s entrance gate.
Seating is placed throughout the garden so that visitors can not only stop to rest but reflect on the views as well.
Heavenly Falls is one part of the double-level Strolling Pond Garden. As in all Japanese gardens, although everything appears to be completely natural, each part of the setting and each stone and plant was carefully designed and placed for maximum effect.

Designed in 1963, each section of the garden incorporates the three main elements of Japanese garden design: stones, water, and plants with stones forming the bones of the landscapes, water the giving the garden its life force, and plants providing the fabric of the four seasons. The Portland Japanese Garden contains eight distinct garden styles ranging from a traditional tea house to a raked rock garden to meandering streams and a spectacular view overlooking the city. Each garden design is asymmetrical, and presents an idealized form of nature within human scale so that visitors feel a part of nature versus overwhelmed by it. Seating is placed throughout the garden so that visitors can stop to reflect on different views and landscapes as they rest.

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The cost to enter the garden is $18.95 per person for adults, $16.25 for seniors aged 65 or older, students are $15.25 and children $13.25. Although the price seems rather steep, it is very easy to lose track of time once inside – Brett and I easily spent more than two hours wandering through the garden, often stopping to sit for a while to take it all in. The Garden also has two gift shops and a restaurant, and visitors are allowed entrance into the art exhibits that are shown in the Pavilion Gallery. The Garden has a parking lot at the bottom of the hill but Brett and I rode public transportation to the Oregon Zoo and then took the free shuttle over from there.

All the roses throughout the test garden are in bloom in June, Portland’s Rose Festival month, and the garden is full of sensational aromas.

Located at the bottom of the hill, and across the parking lot from the Japanese Garden is the International Rose Test Garden, containing over 10,000 rose plants of over 650 different varieties. Rose cultivars are sent to the garden from all over the world to be evaluated. It is the oldest rose test garden in the United States, and roses are in bloom from April through October. Admission to the garden is free.

My favorite roses are always the multicolored ones.
Both Brett and I named this rose our favorite, the Coretta Scott King, a grand floribunda.

A Visit to Portland’s Chinese Garden

The entrance to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in NW Portland. The garden is like an oasis in the middle of several large office buildings and busy streets, but views of the buildings were considered and incorporated into garden views.

It was a walk down memory lane for Brett and I when we entered Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden this past Thursday. We made frequent trips to the garden when we lived here, both to visit and attend special events with the girls, to the point we purchased annual memberships for a couple of years. The classical Suzhou-style walled garden, which takes up a full city block, was designed by Kuang Zeng and constructed by 65 artisans from China, with completion and the garden opening in the fall of 2000. Over 500 tons of rock were brought over from China, including large scholar stones from Lake Tai, where the acid water of the lake carves stones into fantastical shapes. Located in NW Portland near the former Old Town Portland’s Chinatown, the Lan Su Chinese garden blends in among the modern buildings in the neighborhood. Suzhou is a sister city of Portland, and the name Lan Su means “Portland-Suzhou” as well as “Garden of the Awakening Orchids.”

A scholar stone from Lake Tai in China sit at the entrance to the garden.

Paths and courtyards through the garden are paved in designs created by Chinese pebbles inlaid on their sides.

The garden was carefully designed to express the elements and harmony of yin and yang, and can be enjoyed in any season or any weather. Spade-shaped drip tiles were installed so the sound of dripping water could be enjoyed while viewing the garden in the rain. The pointed tiles seen throughout the garden are decorated with five bats representing the “five blessings:” long life, good fortune, good health, a love of virtue and a painless death.

The spade-shaped tiles on the roof are drip tiles decorated with a design of five bats. The water running off them when it rains creates a pleasant sound.

Openings in the garden walls served as frames for the setting behind the wall, like viewing a painting. This view highlights a stone from Lake Tai, set in the back.

Lan Su Garden is made up of twelve vistas, each one expressing a separate element, with views designed to reflect nature’s harmony. Some of the views are from rooms that look out into the garden, such as the Reflections in Clear Ripples, the Scholar’s Study, or Hall of Brocade Clouds. Both interior and exterior doorways and windows throughout the garden frame views so that they appear like paintings that one can stop to admire and contemplate.

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Although it was rather chilly, and rain was imminent, we took our time walking through the garden. Besides the garden experience, Chinese-themed art works and prints were being sold (some from China), and there were also several other activities and displays throughout the garden, including a family altar with ancestor photos in one room and a chance to learn your fortune, Chinese style, in another. Although we didn’t go in, the two-story Tower of Cosmic Reflection contains a traditional Chinese tearoom, where one can sit and linger, enjoying views of the garden while sipping tea and nibbling on dumplings or other treats.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is the largest Suzhou-style garden in the United States, and contains over 100 different types of plants, with 90% of them indigenous to China (the actual plants didn’t come from China but were found in nurseries and gardens in Oregon, both public and private). Some of the plants in the garden are over 100 years old. The garden experience is truly one for all the senses.

Many of the old restaurant signs remain in the Old Town neighborhood although the restaurants are now all gone, either closed or moved to SE Portland.

Located at NW 4th Avenue and Burnside Street is the Old Town Chinatown Gateway, dedicated in 1986.

After we left the garden, Brett and I walked around Old Town Chinatown, coming upon many of the restaurants where we had dined that are now shuttered and closed, with only their signs remaining. We could remember eating at almost everyone of them, whether it was for dinner out, dim sum on the weekend, a banquet benefiting the Immersion program or some other occasion. Some of the restaurants moved to SE Portland, but most are now only a memory. Although the neighborhood has improved somewhat and new businesses have moved in, we could tell Old Town has we retained its run down feel, but we never felt unsafe and were glad for the chance to visit again.