Monday, August 22, 2016

Mt. Tabor Park - Urban Sanctuary and Retreat

View looking west from car-free road above middle reservoir
Nature offers us a place for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation. We each find our own special places in nature that speak to us and provide a space of peace and joy. Mt. Tabor Park is one of my special places. Fortunate enough to live at its doorstep, I head into the park frequently in all seasons and always leave in a better mental place than when I entered.

Be In Nature: Every time I enter the park I am amazed. I'm amazed that there's such a natural retreat in the heart of a bustling city. You can hear the birds. You can really feel the breeze. You can smell and almost taste nature. I know the park is teeming with wildlife, and on quiet days you can almost hear the animals going about their business.

There are few places like this within a city, where you can easily escape the urban and reach something more natural - a place where you feel almost outside the city within it.

Reservoirs of Beauty: I'm also amazed at the natural beauty within and outside the park. Of course, the park has those iconic reservoirs. Man made bodies of water that just seem like such a natural fit there. Created originally to hold drinking water and now being disconnected from Portland's water system, the reservoirs give the park a unique feel. The water is soothing. The structure and walls of the reservoir reflect the heritage of Portland and almost take me back in time. It's sad to see the reservoirs go out of use, but they also remind me how life changes and still retains its beauty.

Stairs in Mt. Tabor Park
Urban Volcano: Sometimes I forget Mt. Tabor is actually a dormant volcano. Most of the volcanoes we know  - and can see from the park - like Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Ranier, are larger and well-known peaks. Standing only 636 feet high, Mt. Tabor has been extinct for over 300,000 years. Yet, Mt. Tabor is still a visible peak within the city. Look out towards Southeast Portland from Terwilliger Boulevard, and you can see Mt. Tabor rising above SE Hawthorne. I wonder what life was like here when Mt. Tabor and other neighboring volcanoes were active?

Explore Tabor: Mt. Tabor Park is one of my favorite places to walk. The park is almost 191 acres, and hiking trails meander through the entire park. It's easy to walk for a few hours within the park along different trails. For variety, you can also climb stairs. I also like to take my bike into the park. The roads provide a great circuit for hill climbing and a quick work-out. In fact, there's even a local bike racing series in the park. A few roads are always closed to cars, and Wednesdays are car-free day in the park.

Fun in the Park: The park also offers other recreational activities. The park has a great play ground, a wonderful amphitheater, and plentiful picnic tables. On sunny days, picnickers dot the grassy fields surrounding the middle reservoirs along the soap box derby course. And yes, there is actually an annual soap box derby held every August. There's even a dog park on the south end of the park. Skateboarders flock to the park on car-free days.

Urban Serenity: But mostly the attraction for me is the beauty and serenity I find there. No matter which walking loop I take, I spot great views of Mt. Hood or Portland. I wonder at the forest within the city and the life it hosts. I slow down and have time to just "be" and aware of my surroundings. I find refuge from a hectic life, recapture the joy of life, and feel gratitude for just being alive.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Personal Touch of Barb's Metal Magic

Photo Credit: Barbara Brosh
Every time I sit down to talk with someone for this blog, I'm never quite sure what story I'll hear or what story I'll share. Yet, I'm always entranced by everyone's story and amazed by all the fascinating people living here in Portland. It was the same with Barbara Brosh of Barb's Metal Magic. Barbara's got a pretty neat story. She makes stunning jewelry from metal, wire and stones, but she also embodies a spirit of warmth that brightens those it touches.

The Mettle of Determination: Barbara says she's always been interested in jewelry, so when she retired she set about learning how to make it. She enrolled in classes at Mt. Hood Community College to learn how to work with metal. At first she felt discouraged and wanted to drop the classes. But she stuck it out. She made friends, found mentors, and kept making jewelry.

Creative Fire: Barbara says some of her favorite pieces start as mistakes, which gives her work an organic look and feel. She also has a bit of a penchant for working with fire. She has fun melting things, and loves how the edges get weird. Perhaps she's attracted to the warmth and light of the flame and the enduring passion it represents. I think she has a certain determined creativity, as well as a deep connection with her art that grows over time. In fact, that's how she lives her life.

Photo Credit: Barbara Brosh
Deep Compassion: Barbara was a nurse for many years in many different settings. She worked in a hospital, she worked with the disabled, she worked in a nursing home, and she worked in a corrections facility. She started her medical career as an aide, but went back to school at age 40 to finish her nursing education. She talked of juggling school, work and family. As Barbara spoke fondly of working with her patients, her compassion spoke louder than her words.

Connections: I think compassion and connection are a huge part of what drives Barbara. As we chat, she tells me about her class reunions with her 8th grade class. Wow! I'm not even sure I remember but one or two people from my 8th grade class. She also meets up regularly with a roommate she had many years ago while living in San Jose. It's apparent Barbara values her connections with people and remains a loyal friend. How many of us take the time out of our busy lives to stay in touch like that? Barbara is really something special.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Jessica McCarthy and the Creativity Behind Jam On It

Photo courtesy of Jessica McCarthy
Jessica McCarthy is the creative genius behind Jam On It. Jam On It may be in its infancy, but it's about to take the Portland jam world by storm. Jessica is cooking up the most flavor-packed sweet and savory jams I've seen in awhile. She's got a jam for just about everyone. And everyone will be coming back for more.

Jam Envy: I first met Jessica at the pop-up market I hosted in June. Immediately entranced by her engaging personality, I quickly broke down and tried some of her jam. It was amazing. I used to make some pretty good jam myself, but Jessica's jams are unique, very tasty and better than just about any jam I had made or tasted. I got a bit of jam envy.

The Intimidating Jam: Jessica's journey into the world of jam started about three years ago. Jessica laughed and almost proudly proclaimed she was a little scared to make jam at first. Jessica was already an accomplished chef and personal caterer. She was not afraid of the kitchen. But there was just something about jam that made her hesitate.

Pepper Jelly: Jessica started her jam adventure with pepper jelly because it's one of her favorite things. She loves to eat pepper jelly on top of cream cheese sitting on a water cracker. In fact, pepper jelly is kind of her signature jam. Jessica made her first batch of pepper jelly using a food processor. It failed. She hadn't counted on all the extra water from mincing up the peppers in the food processor. So Jessica tried again, this time adding just a bit more sugar. It worked.

Experimental Jam: Jessica talked about the jam book she had at the very beginning. She would look in the book and see interesting recipes, and then she'd just experiment. She'd make up recipes. She'd open her pantry and look in her freezer and experiment. She still works this way. I've got a jar of the lovely Nectarine-Bourbon jam and Basil-Melon jam at home. Jessica says she's got at least 15 flavors of jam in her repertoire. I'm sure there will be more.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Ride of Firsts - Oregon City and The Trolley Trail

Flying A Gas Station - Gladstone
It seems like every bike ride brings a new discovery. It's just so easy to explore new and interesting cool places in the Portland area by bicycle. Last month I took a really fun bike ride of firsts. It once again reminded me why I love living in Portland so much and how much the area has to offer if we just take a look.

MAX First: It was the first time I put my bike on MAX. Yes, after over 8 years here, it took me this long to ride MAX with my bicycle. I think I was partly unsure how it would work, and partly unsure what benefit it would bring.

As it turned out, it was relatively easy to put your bike on MAX. It also was incredibly beneficial. Using MAX really extends the places where you can ride your bike in the area without getting in your car. It was also the first time I was on the new MAX Orange Line. We hopped on the Orange Line at SE Clinton and rode to the end of the line at Park Avenue in Milwaukie, where we easily connected with the relatively new Trolley Trail. 

Trolley Trail: Map Source Metro
Trolley Trail: The Trolley Trail is a multi-use path that runs along the path of the old trolley line to Oregon City. According to Trail Link, the now 6-mile trail is part of a master plan to connect with Oregon City and the Springwater Corridor. It was a beautiful multi-use path, meandering by parks and schools, but with a few tricky street crossings. It was my first time on this path, but it won't be my last.

Gladstone Surprise: The trail terminates in Gladstone. We stopped at a little cafe in downtown Gladstone for a beverage, and what a treat! We got a chance to talk to some locals and had a birds-eye view of the fully restored Flying A Gas Station.

I felt like I had stepped back in time and partly expected Andy Griffith to walk down the street.

Source: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives, via Wikimedia Commons
The Elevator: From there we headed over to Oregon City, partly along multi-use paths and along a few bike lanes on busier roads. Once again, I got to step back in time. I had no idea until a few days before the ride that Oregon City has a public elevator that takes you from downtown Oregon City to the top of the ridge! Built in 1913 as an hydraulic elevator, it was remodeled in 1955 and converted to an electric elevator. It looks much the same today, and is one of only 4 public elevators in the World.

Up Lifting: We took our bikes for a ride up and down the elevator. I felt like I was in a movie set or perhaps even a queue for a ride in Disneyland. The 50's aesthetic remains, and there's even an elevator operator inside. This is not a self-serve elevator! There's this great little vista house at the top, with amazing views of the river and the town below. You must go see this. It's incredible!

The day was warming, so we decided to head back instead of exploring Oregon City further. We altered our return trip just a bit, and rode along the new bike paths from the Park Avenue MAX station to downtown Milwaukie. This is now an easy and pleasant ride along the new multi-use path down to the Milwaukie waterfront. What a great way to explore new areas, and I'll go back again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Claudia Lucero and Urban Cheesecraft: Sharing the Joy of DIY Cheese

Source: Urban Cheesecraft
The story of Claudia Lucero and Urban Cheesecraft is one of those stories that just gives you goose bumps. It's a story of a woman who went to her kitchen to preserve and cook real food and also to solve a problem. Her solution was so ingenious and her energy so contagious, the idea quickly turned into a business that caught on fire. Claudia's business, Urban Cheesecraft, is really quite simple. She teaches you how to make your own fresh cheese in just about an hour, and she sells kits and books and teaches classes to get you started.

Something About Pickling: It all started Claudia tells me with a CSA membership from a farm out in Troutdale. You get lots of fresh vegetables and fruit from a CSA, and Claudia wanted a way to use and preserve all of it. Claudia began pickling and preserving her bounty. I think she had fun doing this, and began to explore other types of fermenting and preserving.

Fermenting at Home: Soon Claudia began experimenting with fermented dairy, such as homemade yogurt and kefir. She learned about the healing properties of fermented food, and wanted to incorporate more of it into her family's diet. The typical processed yogurt and kefir purchased in the supermarket lack the healing probiotics found in naturally cultured dairy and are full of fillers and preservatives. Claudia liked making her own healthy natural yogurt and kefir at home in her kitchen.

Some Cheese Please: It wasn't long before Claudia also began learning how to make cheese. Claudia says it's not that hard to make fresh cheese, such as mozzarella, on your own. Aged cheeses, like parmesan, are another story. While researching how to make her own cheese, Claudia discovered that most of the recipes and instructional material were for making large quantities of cheese and not really practical for a family. This didn't stop Claudia.

Family-Size Cheese: Claudia took the age-old cheese making techniques and transformed them into recipes for family-size yields. She tested her recipes in her kitchen until she got them just right. She collected the ingredients and tools needed to make the cheese. She discovered making good cheese at home really wasn't that hard and was kind of fun. Wanting to share this discovery with others, she put it all together in a nice little DIY cheese kit for making cheese at home.

Investing in Cheese: Claudia was working full-time when she started making cheese. After developing her idea for cheese-making kits, she decided to invest a small sum of money in herself to make the kits and put them on-line. Claudia says her kits were found quickly on-line and started selling. It seems people like the idea of making their own cheese. Claudia says the kits are a fun and easy way to try fermenting your own food and to try different kinds of cheeses. She's now got recipes for 16 kinds of cheeses you can make in less than an hour.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Meet Local Makers Summer Pop-Up Market

Ullika Pankratz of UP Design Lounge Design Studio and I have put together a special “Meet Local Makers” Summer Pop-Up Market. We are transforming Living Room Realty's beautiful Southeast office on June 18 into a pop-up market place for the day! Stop by and enjoy this great opportunity to meet and shop from some very talented local makers. Many of these artists have been featured on this blog!

I hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Southeast Portland Tool Library: Sharing Gets Your Projects Going

Source: Southeast Portland Tool Library
I stopped by the Southeast Portland Tool Library awhile ago for a tour. This place is amazing. It's similar to walking into your friendly neighborhood hardware store or tool shop that carries most of the tools you're going to need for just about any at-home project. The library has lawn mowers, weed eaters and shovels and hoes. It also has woodworking tools, power tool accessories, and bicycle repair tools. Southeast Portland residents have access to all kinds of tools without opening their wallets.

True Library: I met with the current board President, Jim Benton, who said the tool library operates very similarly to a book lending library. If you live in the geographic area served by the tool library, you just sign up and begin using the library. Visit the library during its operating hours, peruse the shelves (and floor displays) for the tool or tools you need, and then check out the tools for a week. All free of charge. New users have the opportunity to make a one-time donation when they sign up.

Source: Southeast Portland Tool Library
Community Sharing: I asked Jim how the library gets all of its tools - and there are lots of them. He says the tools are mostly donated from people who live in Portland. It's really the sharing economy in action. Someone buys a tool and realizes it's just sitting on a shelf or in the garage unused most of the time. So the person donates it to the library so more people can use the tool. Or, someone realizes they don't need three shovels, so two of them go to the tool library. And so it goes. The community is pooling its resources together so all members of the community can share instead of purchase and consume. It's a wonderful spirit that also strengthens the community.

Volunteer Sharing: Of course, the Southeast Portland Tool Library is a volunteer operation. Accordingly, the library is currently open two nights a week and on Saturdays. (Check its website for the current schedule). Jim tells me the library's volunteers are its most valuable asset. I can see why. Volunteers check out the tools and get to know the people who use the library. The volunteers maintain the tools and the space they use at Hinson Baptist Church. The volunteers are the soul of the library.