Posted by: christinelaennec | December 19, 2014

Christmas spirit, continued

Thank you everyone for your very kind comments about our Christmas preparations in the last post.  I thought I would share a few more Christmassy images with you.

A few days ago J and I went to stock up at Whole Foods on the south side of Glasgow.  J and her family were our downstairs neighbours in Aberdeen, and they moved to Glasgow just a few months before we did.  I feel so blessed to have her nearby, as our friendship has deepened.

Whole Foods (which as many of you will know is an American organic supermarket) has a most wonderful Christmas display:

Gingerbread village at Whole Foods Market in Giffnock.  December 2014.

Gingerbread village at Whole Foods Market in Giffnock. December 2014.

My own efforts at edible forms of Christmas decoration have not all been so successful.  I had such an enthusiastic response to last year’s post, The Good, the Acceptable and the Ugly, in which I included some Christmas cookie anomalies (wouldn’t want to call them failures as such!), that I thought I would share some from this year with you:

This year's runners-up...

This year’s runners-up…

Here we have the scary angel, a snowflake that a silver bird seems to have pooped on, a snowman who looks as if he’s been shot full of silver bullets, a very wobbly star, a dozy flower and a couple of burnt offerings.

It seems to me that the ingredients of the old familiar silver balls, and also writing icing, have changed.  The silver balls never used to melt, and the writing icing doesn’t behave the way it used to.  Well, a poor workman blames her tools!  Nevermind, they are all tasty.

The tree smells lovely.  Here is a photo that includes some very old beads from my great-granny May, straw ornaments that we bought in Bishop Hill, Illinois, and an ornament that we bought when we stayed at the wonderful Izaak Walton Inn in Glacier National Park one December.  We took the train from Illinois, for two days and a night, and then hopped off just next to the hotel.  It was a wonderful couple of days.

The Christmas tree, 2014.

The Christmas tree, 2014.

The little mouse in the red coat with an acorn-top hat is new this year, brought back from Portland, to remember my Dad by.  I don’t really associate Christmas with my parents, not having celebrated it with them for many decades.  So I don’t have the heartache of something missing this year, at least not as far as Christmas goes.

Do you know what the strangest thing is?  When I was let into my Dad’s apartment, in the first week of November after he’d died, all our Christmas presents to him from December 2013 were on his coffee table!  Unwrapped, but unused, and collected in a little pile.  It reminded me of how we enjoy our little piles of presents on Christmas Day, and it warms our hearts to feel so loved by people.  Perhaps that gathering of presents from us reminded him during the year that he was loved and thought of.  Which, of course, is the true significance of any gift.

I will miss my Dad in September, which is when I Christmas shop for my American family and friends, in time to send them surface mail.  As I posted our UK parcels this year, I felt keenly that it’s a privilege that we are all here to enjoy life, Christmas and each other’s friendship.

I wish you a really good weekend!

Posted by: christinelaennec | December 14, 2014


It very much feels like the run up to Christmas now, and I like that.  The living room is looking crowded but “affa bonnie”:

The living room on a December afternoon.  Glasgow 2014.

The living room on a December afternoon. Glasgow 2014.

Our neighbour gave us the huge poinsettia, wasn’t that kind?

We had a friend over this afternoon for coffee, which was really nice. I always love getting this beautiful cloth out, which was a gift from friends in Norway:

Embroidered cloth from Norway.

Embroidered cloth from Norway.

We had banana bran muffins, flapjacks and (store-bought) panettone.  I have also made my pfeffernusse, but they have to ripen for at least a week.  (No pomanders this year.)

I always enjoy decorating the mantlepiece.  The card here is from last Christmas. The Dafter was so terribly ill with ME/CFS that she could hardly lift her head up.  She usually makes us gifts, but last December we told her that she was not allowed to expend energy on this, which she reluctantly agreed.  However, she somehow, with the aid of a snowflake-shaped and a regular paper punch, managed to adorn this card.  Inside there is a very sweet message thanking us for her care of her.  That card means the world to me – and I am so very grateful she is so much better now.

The mantlepiece, December 2014.

The mantlepiece, December 2014.

The little Christmas tree plate was my Granny’s.  I remember her Christmas table entirely set with Christmas china, but this is the only piece that has come to me – and it’s enough.

This past week we had some wintry weather:

Frosty foxglove, Glasgow, December 2014.

Frosty foxglove, Glasgow, December 2014.

Icy underfoot.  Glasgow, December 2014.

Icy underfoot. Glasgow, December 2014.

Michael had to stay home from work for a few days with bronchitis, and the Dafter has still been coughing after a nasty cold.  She has been working very hard to finish her art assignment before Christmas, but last night she was able also to go to a Christmas party.  What a contrast with last year at this time!

The Dafter, off to a party!  December 2014.

The Dafter, off to a party! December 2014.

We are all a bit concerned about her health – we don’t want a horrendous relapse – but I think she knows her body so well now, and is largely able to pace herself.  It will be very good to have some restful days, though.  I myself have now caught The Cold, and have been taking it easy, as I don’t want bronchitis or anything else!

Behind the scenes – or should that be behind-the-sofa? – we have been busy wrapping and parcelling up presents:



Every year we send quite a few parcels, to family and friends.  We also send a lot of Christmas cards.  Living far from so many of the people we love, we’ve always done this.  It’s true that the cost of postage is rising, and also there are quite a few things – nail polish, whisky, etc. – that you can’t send, as they are classified as explosives.  I was told the other day by the post office mannie that if you don’t put a return address on a parcel going abroad, the post office in that country may destroy the parcel.  It is such a shame that the acts of a few people have caused such fear and limitations.  I know many people who have stopped sending Christmas cards because of the cost.

Michael and I feel that this is such a special time of year, often one of the few times of year that we are in touch with friends, that it is worth budgeting for increased costs.  Perhaps if we had family nearby, or were constantly in touch via social media with people, we would feel differently.  But showing people that we have been thinking of them, with presents and cards, remains a priority for us.

I have been taking time every morning to think a bit about Advent, which for me signifies the coming of the Christ, light conquering darkness.  As my minister once said, Advent really should be a Christian mindset every day.  That’s true (for me at least), but it’s especially nice when most people around us are also preparing for a special time, as the darkness of the Winter Solstice closes in.

I hope you are all enjoying the run up to Christmas too.

Posted by: christinelaennec | December 11, 2014

Stormy weather

Those of you who live in the UK won’t have missed the media hoo-ha about the “Weather Bomb” that has come in from the Atlantic:  “explosive cyclogenesis” to give it its technical name.  You can see some photos and read about it here.  I must say I was a little worried about our friends in the Outer Hebrides, when I saw this map, and heard that the Stornoway Coast Guard said that they were expecting unprecedented wave heights:

Map by of tidal swell approaching Britain December 9, 2014.  Black represents waves of 48 feet or more.  Source:  BBC

Map by of tidal swell approaching the British Isles on December 10, 2014. Black represents waves of 48 feet or more. Source: BBC

All schools were shut, and also all medical services, in the Western Isles yesterday.  Most ferries were cancelled. People were warned not to go out unless it was an emergency.  I imagine that the experience may have brought back some scary and sad memories for those who lived through the 2005 storm, in which a family in South Uist lost their lives.

Here in Glasgow, we had thunder, lightning, sleet and some snow, but nothing too dramatic.  I went for a walk to the park, and saw a beautiful rainbow in the snow clouds:

Rainbow cloud in the storm, Glasgow, 10 December 2014.

Rainbow cloud in the storm, Glasgow, 10 December 2014.

I was surprised to see that a number of non-resident swans had flown in.  You may remember that Mama Swan lost her mate this spring, and raised eight cygnets by herself.  About six weeks ago, four of the original eight had left.  They are partly white now, and very handsome.

Four of the eight cygnets hatched this spring.  Glasgow, Dec 10, 2014.

Four of the eight cygnets hatched this spring. Glasgow, Dec 10, 2014.

I was surprised to see that five other adult swans had joined the resident swan family.  Were they taking shelter from the storm, or blown off course by it?  They were all grouped together.  Although I noticed a bit of hissing between them, there wasn’t any full-blown aggro.  I suppose the severity of the weather over-rode their usual territorial instincts.

Some visiting adult swans, December 10, 2014.

Some visiting adult swans, December 10, 2014.

There was a bit of hissing, but overall solidarity.

There was a bit of hissing, but overall solidarity.

However, one visiting younger swan kept well away from the others.  I presume that, being younger, it would not have come off well in an encounter with the others, or with Mama Swan.

A visiting young swan keeping its distance.

A visiting young swan keeping its distance.

Mother Nature is very wise, even in the city.

I’m pleased to say that all our friends on the islands are fine.  More storms and snow are forecast to come our way.  But now the sun is out and I am going to go for another walk!

Posted by: christinelaennec | December 6, 2014

These days

Thanks again to everyone who entered my giveaway.  I always enjoy doing giveaways, but this one made me particularly happy.  It signified resuming life as it was before I got the news my Dad had died – picking up the threads.  I am still trying to come to terms with his not being on this earth any more.  I remember once reading that grief is like an underground river:  you never know when or where it will come up to the surface.  And that’s been true for me – the craziest things make me sad.  Also, I’ve been trying to deal with mundane legal things from a distance, and that has caused me quite a few sleepless nights.  I know I can’t expect myself to snap back to normal (if I ever was normal!); I have to be kind to myself in this time.

It’s an enormous help that we’re now into Advent.  I really love this time of year:  the season of waiting for the light in the darkness, of preparations, of familiar rituals, decorations and music.

So I have been focusing on what gives me comfort, and I wanted to share some of those things with you.  Roses in December are always especially precious.  I have some in my garden, and there are some beauties in the park as well:

The roses are still blooming in the park.  Glasgow, beginning of December 2014.

The roses are still blooming in the park, against a backdrop of holly trees. Glasgow, beginning of December 2014.

On the 1st of December, we got out the Christmas decorations, and had fun decorating Dad’s sculpture:

Christmas decorations on Dad's sculpture.

Christmas decorations on Dad’s sculpture.  Dafter and Our Son peeking out.

This may sound odd to some of you, but I have found my hand-knitted clothes of enormous comfort.  Here is my best attempt at capturing my Alice Starmore Rambling Roses cardigan, worn with Charlotte Walford’s Cleome shawl:

The comforts of home and knitting.

The comforts of home and knitting.

I love the process of knitting.  Even on the worst days, you can usually have something to show, some feeling of making progress towards a goal.  Oddly, during my 10 days travel to and from Oregon, I completely failed to achieve any knitting.  I took a small project with me, a pattern I had made before, but I kept making mistakes and having to rip it out.  It will be a project for a happier time.  In the meantime I’ve been enjoying keeping warm in wool.

Writing Christmas cards is something I always enjoy.  Best done (in my case) with a glass of Bailey’s and some country-and-western Christmas carols.  What, you don’t have “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” playing at your house?  And why did I not clear away the multiplug needing a new fuse and the magazines?  Because that’s real life.

Writing Christmas cards.

Writing Christmas cards.

One of the very best things these days is that the Dafter has been doing so well.  Last week we had Parents’ Evening, the first one in three years.  She is doing very well, working towards her Higher Art.  We are so proud of her.  She has been managing her three mornings a week at school, and in the last two weeks, has been strong enough to stay a bit more than the usual three hours.  One day she also walked the mile home, but was so exhausted that she couldn’t eat her tea!  So she still is recovering.

Today she is at a city-wide Christian youth event.  Amazing!  We had planned to get the Christmas tree today, and asked her if we should postpone so she could come along.  No, she said, it’s not that important to me, you just go.  Wow!  She’s growing up!  I know it’s difficult for parents when teenagers strike out in their own direction, but after three years of having been tethered mostly to me, the Dafter is more than ready to have some time with others.  We are delighted for her – and also for us!  We had a very nice drive out into the countryside:

By the fire at Oakwood Garden Centre coffee shop.

By the fire at Oakwood Garden Centre coffee shop.

(More cosy knitting – the pullover is an Alice Starmore design, “Little Rivers,” which I finished knitting one cold Easter on the Isle of Harris, and the scarf was a present from a lovely friend).

Do you suppose the Dafter didn’t want to come because she is embarrassed by us?  In our silly hats?

Cringe Factor 30!

Cringe Factor 30!

We found a beautiful tree, and also a lovely wreath made on a willow base – no foam or wire frame to throw out in January, hooray!

O Tannenbaum:  our Christmas tree, from the Forestry Commission in Aberfoyle.

O Tannenbaum: our Christmas tree, from the Forestry Commission in Aberfoyle.

I have been wondering if the ivy outside the back door doesn’t perhaps need a bit of a trim, and could be used to decorate as well?

Hedera "Glacier" outside the back door.

Hedera “Glacier” outside the back door.

Recently, in the midst of Michael’s work trips away and me feeling exceedingly washed out, a long-awaited pond was installed in our garden!

A pond in our garden!

A pond in our garden!  Note the hellebore in the background has started to bloom.

Can you see the raindrops falling on the water? It has a little pipe that circulates the water and makes a lovely noise.  The garden designer is going to bring us some Canadian duckweed, and possibly frog spawn (exciting!!) in the spring.  We’ve never had a pond before, but are looking forwards to attracting more wildlife into the garden.  I had meant to research plants to place around the pond, before I was called away to Oregon.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

So there is a great, great deal to be thankful for and to appreciate.  Coming to terms with things has once more demonstrated that the ways of the heart are mysterious, and somewhat outside of time as well, I think.  In the words of the great philosopher Pascal:  “Le coeur a ses raisons, que la Raison ne connaît point”:  the heart has its own reasons, which Reason doesn’t understand in the least.  But the heart will always understand warmth, love, light and the familiar surroundings of home.  And Christmastime only intensifies all that.

I wish you all a peaceful and happy start to December.

Posted by: christinelaennec | December 2, 2014

Giveaway winner!

Thank you all so much for entering my 503rd post giveaway.  I really enjoyed reading your comments, especially hearing about people who have been reading for some time, how you came to find my blog, and what you like about it.

Waiting for the big moment!

Waiting for the big moment!

I didn’t actually have the Dafter’s help because – get this – she was at a friend’s house!  Such a normal thing for most teenage girls, and a very recent occurrence for her.  So I drew the winner’s name on my own, and it is…

….. drum roll…….

The Winner!

The Winner!  (The Hopeful Stripy Scarf is saying:  GET THE SCISSORS AWAY!!!)

Sue Blazzard!  Many congratulations, Sue!  I will email you to get your postal address.

To everyone else, thank you so much for taking part.  Happy beginning of December, and of Advent, and I hope things are going well for you this week.


Posted by: christinelaennec | November 30, 2014

Giving Thanks 2014

As the last Thursday in November is an ordinary working day in Britain, we usually celebrate our Thanksgiving meal on the last weekend of the month.  Yesterday was our second Thanksgiving in our new home in Glasgow.  I loved getting everything ready.  I know our preparations will seem childishly simple compared to some of the lavish Thanksgiving table decorations I have seen in blogland!  But I loved ironing a tablecloth and picking a wee bouquet from the last of the garden’s offerings:

Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving table, 2014

Tilly very much enjoyed having us quietly working around her.  She stayed in her favourite spot by the dining room radiator, napping and listening.  Once the house got a bit louder, she took herself off to the Dafter’s bed upstairs, but every time we or our guests came and went, she appeared at the bottom of the stairs to join in hellos and/or farewells!  She is a very attentive cat that way – she monitors the house’s activities and is like a little feline doorman, even on non-festive days.

Tilly giving thanks for warm radiators

Tilly giving thanks for warm radiators

Our first guest was Our Son, who came through from Edinburgh.  He and Michael cooked our meal, and really enjoyed their time together in the kitchen.  As you may know, Michael loves to cook; Our Son has been working in a restaurant, and Michael said he learned a thing or two from him!

Two cooks

Two cooks

Our second guest was our dear friend T, who came down from Aberdeen.  I have no photos to show you of the meal itself (glazed parsnips were involved) but T took a photo of the four of us together afterwards:

Family photo!

Family photo!  Thanksgiving 2014

I think T first joined us for Thanksgiving 20 years ago, and we have kept up the tradition over the years.  It is a very precious thing to me that we could all five be together around the table to give thanks.  And goodness knows, compared to last year when the Dafter was struggling to get up and down the stairs, we have a great deal to be thankful for.

And there was birthday cake!  Coffee-flavoured cake, made from a recipe given to me by our friend who grew up in this house and lives just a few streets away:

Birthday cake!

Birthday cake!

T was surprised and pleased.  He “doesn’t like a fuss” – but just a gentle fuss is quite nice.

And to finish, two more photos of our amazingly grown-up children:

Our Son

Our Son

The Dafter

The Dafter

We had a lovely day, including a walk in between the meal and desserts (there was also pumpkin pie), and plenty of chances to catch up and chat.   By the end of the day, I had another reason to be very thankful.

In case you haven’t already seen, I am doing a giveaway on Tuesday evening, December 2nd, 8 pm GMT – details here.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 24, 2014

503rd blog post giveaway

Dear Readers,

I was very fond of you before recent events, and I have even more cause to be grateful for all your kindness now!

Towards the end of the summer, I realised that at some point I would (amazingly) hit the 500 post mark.  So I decided I wanted to do a giveaway, of something I had made myself.

I don’t know if you recall that, in the process of making my Hopeful Stripy Shawl, I had to get the scissors out and slice a bit of it off?

Painful design modification using scissors!

Painful design modification using scissors!

I finished the shawl (posted about here) and got an idea about the stripy slice that I had inadvertently created.  I had more purple sparkly wool and so put it back on the needles and made a border for it, resulting in this:

hopeful stripy scarf draped on me

Hopeful Stripy Scarf draped on me

Here is a better view of it:

hopeful stripy scarf draped on a chair

Hopeful Stripy Scarf draped on a chair

It’s made of Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze, a 70% mohair  / 30% silk yarn which is light, not scratchy (for me, anyway), and surprisingly warm.  The colour sequence of the stripes is from Kaffe Fassett’s Wentworth cardigan pattern.

As things have turned out, the giveaway isn’t perfectly timed with my 500th post, but hey that’s life…

If you’d like a chance of winning my Hopeful Stripy Scarf, please leave a comment.  I shall pull a name out of the bowl (quite possibly with the Dafter’s assistance) on Tuesday, December 2nd, at 8 pm GMT.  I’m happy to ship worldwide.  Who knows, you might have a warm, colourful and hopeful scarf to put under your Christmas tree for yourself or a loved one!

Wishing all my American friends a very good Thanksgiving if I don’t see you before then.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 22, 2014

Oregon Impressions

My sincere thanks to everyone for your caring comments.  I so much appreciate them.  I’ve been home for a week now, and am feeling more settled.  I have been trying to process lots of different things – inevitably – and one of the things I’ve been thinking about was the sense of culture shock that I had upon going back to Portland.  Was it because the trip wasn’t planned in advance?  Was it because I was in a bit of a state of shock about my father’s death?  Or is it because I’ve been away from the USA for over 22 years now?  (Previous to this trip I had returned in 1995, 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2011.)  Who knows!

Anyway, here are some of my impressions.

On the airplane from Amsterdam, and particularly while standing in the long lines at passport control and baggage claim, I was perplexed by something.  I kept noticing these women who all looked as if they belonged to, or were descended from, some kind of minority group.  They had almost elfin features in some respects, but large-ish lips.  They looked girlish, but their skin wasn’t young.  I wondered what sort of ethnic group they belonged to.  And finally, just as I was going through customs, I got it:  these women had all had plastic surgery!

Portland itself is a very busy city with lots of traffic, freeways and construction.  Here is the view from my father’s apartment.  You see the West Hills in the background, the building they call “Big Pink”, the two black towers of the Steel Bridge.  The autumn colours were really beautiful.  I had only gone back in the summer (and once at Easter), so I hadn’t been in Portland in the fall for a very long time.  The foliage was stunning.

View of Portland from my father's apartment.

View of Portland from my father’s apartment.

My darling friend Gay (who last visited us in 2010 – I posted about it here) arranged care for her son and came down from Washington for three days to help me.  Gay and I have known each other since childhood, and although separated for many of the intervening years by geography, our destinies have had a lot of parallels.  She too is a full-time carer of her child.

Years ago, I had said to Gay how I dreaded the day my father would die, as I knew it would be my responsibility to go through his things.  (I was the only member of my birth family who had remained in touch with him.)  “Call me,” Gay said, “I’m good at that kind of stuff”.  When I got the news, I emailed Gay that Dad had died, never dreaming she could or would come to help me.  But she did, and there can be no greater gift.  With her help, love and encouragement – and also wonderful help from my father’s best friend – we managed to clear my Dad’s flat in less than a week.  My father, who had written to me in the spring saying he was done with life, had gotten rid of so many of his possessions (and creations, sadly) that it wasn’t the enormous task I had feared all those years ago.

Gay and I had dinner at – of all places – an Ethiopian restaurant!  My, Portland is becoming cosmopolitan.

I kept being quite confused about how to use my credit card in the States.  Whereas in Britain, you must key in your PIN number to make a charge to a credit card, in the States (or Oregon at least), you merely sign.  And furthermore, no-one ever seems to check your signature against your card!  At some places, you have to sign on one of those parcel-delivery pads, where your signature looks as if you are a very untalented forger who has had far too much to drink.  “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t match,” I was told.  “No-one’s does!”

Gay and I at an Ethiopian restaurant.

Gay and I at an Ethiopian restaurant.

My father’s best friend and I arranged a memorial gathering.  I was able to choose flowers for a bouquet for this occasion at an organic supermarket (there are quite a few such places).  I was highly amused that amongst their beautiful selection of flowers they had globe artichokes!  I included an artichoke because, although I love flowers as you know, my father could never understand why on earth you would grow things you couldn’t eat!  So the flowers were for me, and the artichoke was for Dad.  The lighting isn’t great in this photo – the colours of the flowers were very pleasing indeed.

Memorial bouquet, with artichoke.

Memorial bouquet, with artichoke.

I didn’t take my camera along with me, so these photos are all taken on my little phone.  Everyone seemed to be absolutely glued to some kind of device or other.  My sister chuckled at my handset (just 2 years old) because it was so small and old-fashioned.  On airplanes, streetcars and even in their cars (!) people were interacting with a screen.  I asked, “Isn’t it illegal to use your phone while driving here?”  “Oh yes!” came the answer.  But it seems to be an infraction on the same level as jaywalking.

On Sunday, my mother and my sister and I all went to church at our old church:

First United Methodist Church, Portland, Oregon.  Its youth group helped me survive my teenage years, and it's where I was baptised at age 16.

First United Methodist Church, Portland, Oregon. Its youth group helped me survive my teenage years, and it’s where I was baptised at age 16.

I think I have mentioned before how close the Methodist church (well, this one anyway) and the Church of Scotland are in terms of their services.  However, there was one thing you wouldn’t see in a mainstream Church of Scotland.  There was a woman knitting two pews ahead of me!  She glimpsed my hand-knitted jacket and during the Sign of the Peace she asked me if I’d made it and was a knitter too?  It was a beautiful service.  We sang Be Thou My Vision, which is one of my favourite hymns and was certainly a good thing to think about during this trip.

After church, the three of us went for brunch at the Heathman Hotel.  When we were quite young, our family lived in a rented house whose landlord was Mr. Walter Powell.  He used to take our family out sometimes to the Heathman Hotel, and Sarah and I would be treated to Shirley Temples.  I still recall the thrill!

Me, my mother and my sister.  Brunch at the Heathman Hotel, Portland, Oregon.

Me, my mother and my sister. Brunch at the Heathman Hotel, Portland, Oregon.

I was amazed by the number of waiting staff who were constantly in circulation, attending to our every need or perceived need.  America, the land of endless glasses of ice water!  Our waiter, Gabriel – aptly named, as he was an angel – took the above photo of the three of us.

Going back to Portland circa 1970, one of my father’s abiding passions was carpentry and woodworking.  (He was an academic in his professional life.)  My Dad helped Mr. Powell, our landlord, with a venture he was starting up.  My Dad designed and built the first bookshelves for Powell’s Books.  At the memorial, one of my Dad’s colleagues told me that at the time he had remarked, “I hope Mr. Powell is ready to lose his shirt!”  But my Dad believed in this crazy idea that there could be a successful used bookstore in Portland.  While I was there, I had occasion to visit the massive Powell’s Books, run now I believe by Mr. Powell’s son.

I spent a few hours one morning in downtown Portland.  I was surprised or had forgotten that nothing opens up until 10 am.  Here is the library, where I spent many a happy hour reading magazines, in the music room going through records, in the crafts section, and studying in the little-used map room.  I was too early to go inside on this visit, and noticed a lot of homeless people queuing up outside, waiting for 10:00 to arrive.

The Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon.  My refuge for many years.

The Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon. My refuge for many years.  I was so happy to see that the elm trees are still doing well.

On previous visits, I had already seen that the character of downtown had changed tremendously since my childhood.  I used to spend a lot of time downtown.  In the 70s and 80s you could get just about anything you needed downtown.  There were several department stores, a couple of “five and dimes” (I regularly scoured the fabric and pattern sections), stationery stores, a fruit market, and so forth.  Nowadays there are extremely pricey shops and restaurants.  If you needed a box of band-aids in downtown, I’m just not sure you would find any.

What you will find everywhere are coffee shops.  Here’s a nice one across from the library:

The Case Study, a coffee shop across from the library.

The Case Study, a coffee shop across from the library.

Coffee in Portland (perhaps the US generally?) seems to have become VERY complicated.  I was completely befuddled when someone asked me whether I wanted my cappuccino “dry” or “wet”.  “Isn’t it liquid?” I asked.  The precise terminology and the proliferation of choices really threw me.

Another thing I really noticed, along with the fall colours, is how large all the trees in Portland are now!  I think it’s wonderful that throughout the city there are so many, many trees.  I am also very proud of Portland’s public transportation.  I actually had a temping job at the bus company years ago, when they were discussing the possibility of installing light rail.  The light rail trains and the streetcars are just terrific.  They are clean and pleasant, and priced very affordably.

Tram or light rail tracks in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Streetcar or light rail tracks in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Most of the time I was there, I relied on friends and family to ferry me about in a car.  I hardly walked at all for the first week of my visit.  Even with good public transportation, I think it would be difficult to live there without a car, as I used to do.  I was actually asked for help using the light rail by a man who hadn’t taken public transportation for over 25 years – his car had broken down and his wife needed hers for work.

Towards the end of my visit, my sister and I had some fun together.  She took me to the Beaverton Bakery:

My sister Sarah outside the Beaverton Bakery.

My sister Sarah outside the Beaverton Bakery.

I was very amused by the selection of baked goods.  Here are some of their iced cookies:  footballs, basketballs, rulers (pink and green), turkeys, corn cobs, acorns…  We bought a wishbone cookie and made a wish.  Since I went vegetarian I haven’t had a real wishbone, so it was nice to have a cookie one!

Inside the Beaverton Bakery.

Inside the Beaverton Bakery.

Sarah took me to a lovely place for a walk.

Starting out on a walk through the woods.  Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

Starting out on a walk through the woods. Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

Everyone kept telling me, “You don’t look exhausted!”  I was never sure quite how to take this, but I have noticed that people in the States often say to each other, “You look [fill in the blank with a positive adjective]”.  Did I used to do this too?  It seems strange to me now.  I was completely running on adrenaline, and didn’t sleep at all well until the last night of my stay.  Anyway, in the above photo I was very happy to be in the woods.  As I recently posted, I love the forest.

The place Sarah took me is called the Jenkins Estate.  The Jenkins family settled here, and in 1912 gave the land and the buildings to the city of Tualatin, one of Portland’s suburbs.

Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

What a beautiful front porch:

Jenkins Estate, main house.  Tualatin, Oregon.

Jenkins Estate, main house. Tualatin, Oregon.

I asked Sarah if the trees often fell on the houses – something I never bothered worrying about when I was growing up surrounded by tall trees!  She said that it’s a good idea to have an arborist check trees near your property, but that the wind was rarely strong enough to bring them down.  She said 40 mph winds would be considered really strong.  I said that in Scotland we regularly get much stronger winds than that.  And just then, as we were walking through this beautiful forest:

The forest, Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

The forest, Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

“Ka-changgg!”  Down came either a small tree or a large branch, some ways off from where we were.  You should have seen us jump a mile and clutch one another!

The morning that I left, before I took the light rail to the airport, Sarah took me out for a coffee at her favourite independent coffee shop.  Once again I was mystified by the huge amount of choices available, so she translated.  I was amused by the tip jar, which read:  “Afraid of change?  Leave it here!”

Coffee shop in Beaverton, Oregon.

Jim and Patty’s Coffee shop in Beaverton, Oregon.

And I began my 22-hour journey home, which included a mad sprint through the airport in Minneapolis, as I had 40 minutes (gulp!) to get my flight to Europe.  This, apparently, is considered “plenty of time” by the airline!  A lesson for next time.  I was just so glad I was relatively fit and well!

Although he had destroyed or perhaps given away so many possessions and creations, my father had left one statue specifically to bequeath to us.  It is one of my very favourites:

Umbrella sculpture in bronze and wood, by my father.  At home in Glasgow.

Umbrella sculpture in bronze and wood, by my father.  The statue is now at home in Glasgow.

I brought back a few other things to remember him by, and of course the Dafter will always treasure the marvellous doll’s house that he made for her.  And so, while I continue to absorb the fact that there will be no more letters or sculptures or drawings from him, I continue to be very glad I could make this journey to take care of what he could not, and to honour his life.  By this past spring, he was more than ready to move on, and so this is what we must do now too.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 17, 2014


Thank you all very much for your kind wishes and condolences.  I’m back home now from a rather gruelling trip back to Portland.  I am still trying to process all that happened there, and recover from jet lag.  I accomplished a lot and gave my Dad a good send-off.

A misty morning in Portland, Oregon.

A misty morning in Portland, Oregon.  November 11, 2014.

I’ll be back to blogging properly when I’m able.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 3, 2014

500th blog post: Not As Planned

James Galway climbing rose

James Galway climbing rose

Dear Friends,

Amazingly, this is my 500th blog post.  As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, I had planned to have a giveaway in celebration, and I will do that as soon as I can.  However, this weekend I received a phone call – the kind that you try to prepare yourself for, but never can completely.  My Dad died peacefully in his sleep in Portland, Oregon.  So I am heading back tomorrow morning.

My Dad and I managed to build a good relationship in the last few years of his life, and there was nothing left unsaid or unresolved.  I have a feeling of freedom now, when I think of him.  My main concern is Michael and the Dafter, but although it won’t be easy I know they will manage for 10 days without me.  They have both urged me to go, to have this experience of closure and farewell.

You have all been such amazing supporters through our trials with ME/CFS, our move to a new city, and just the normal things that life throws at all of us, and I thank you most sincerely.

I am using an old photo of James Galway climbing rose from our garden in Aberdeen, because just this morning my new James Galway rose has bloomed here in Glasgow.  All is ultimately well.

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