Camping with Our Dads

Dear Liza,

Your Daddy David told me that you and your classmates got to go camping last week. I spent almost every weekend of my childhood camping, so I know how fun it is!

Two year old me, on top of the world!

Your great Grandpa Lowell, my dad, was a great camper. He loved and respected the forest and desert and made sure we were responsible with our trash and our campfires. He always found just the right balance between “just like home” and “roughing it”.

Ten year old me, hydraulic engineer, and Grandma Billie

My favorite thing was playing in whatever water was around. I would make bath tubs for my troll doll, Tina, or soaking tubs for me.

Dinner, caught by Grandpa Lowell and Uncle Tim

When I graduated from High School, my mom’s gift to me was a really good typewriter. My dad’s gift was a ten-day backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park with him, Uncle Tim, and Grandpa Nelson.

Me, Grandpa Nelson, and Uncle Tim, 1974

What an adventure! Grandpa did all the planning, mapping us out a route that was easy hiking with good scenery, near Jerky Meadow. He made sure we all carried enough supplies but not too much weight. We took off two days after my graduation.

We started very early one morning and by that afternoon we had been passed by several badly organized groups of loud, littering hikers. They rambled through the forest with their radios blasting music, yelling and dropping gum wrappers.

“Are we gonna be stuck with them for the whole trip?” Grandpa Lowell wondered out loud.

Just chillin’…

That evening, while we were relaxing, Uncle Tim took off for a walk. He came back in about an hour. “I found our spot,” he said. We put our packs back on and followed him, cross country, for about two miles.

“This is more like it!” Dad said. We were off the trail far enough that we didn’t hear anyone else. We had a whole bend in the river to ourselves, with a sandy bank to spread out on and tall rocks to climb. It was the perfect gift for me, a ready to move out high school graduate who needed one more chunk of childhood before launching into the real world.

And while finding these pictures, I found another: Your Daddy David and Grandpa Nelson, on a hike to celebrate David’s Bar Mitzvah.

Your Daddy David and Grandpa Nelson, 1993


Grandma Judy

Old Friends

Dear Liza,

Our Christmas tree is a look back at our lives. When your Daddy David was little, Grandpa Nelson and I attended synagogue and celebrated Hanukah. There weren’t any Christmas ornaments in the house!

But we had both been raised with Christmas, and Great Grandma Billie had lots of ornaments. When Auntie Bridgett came to live with us, she brought lots of them… breakables and stuffies, religious and silly, you name it.

Kitty’s duckies

She loves Christmas so much that we started celebrating it again! And I am glad we did. Some ornaments remind us of dear friends who aren’t nearby. Kitty Petruccelli ‘visits’ us every year with her silly rubber duckies.

When Great Grandma Billie got older and came to be closer to us in Salinas, she got to see our tree with some of her ornaments and Bridgett’s, as well. It helped her feel at home.

Momma’s pine cone

When she passed away, her decorations let me celebrate a little of her joy and history.

Ornaments let me celebrate other people, as well. A former student, known as Ex, made this for me about 20 years ago. He was a sweet soul with a hard life. I have no way of knowing where he is now, but I wish his happy heart well.

Ex Wells’ sweet face

When we travel, Auntie Bridgett makes sure we get a souvenir that we can see every year. Here is a tiny gnome form Strausburg, France.

From France…

This delicate wooden scene came from the Christmas market in Cologne, Germany.

…and Germany

Every year we pick up a few ones, so we keep making new memories.


Grandma Judy

Oh, Christmas Tree

Dear Liza,

Mousekin checks the lights

Yesterday was predicted to be the only dry day for the next week, so we went out and got our Christmas Tree. We stopped by the Eagles Lodge, where we went for Halloween Karaoke, and they had good trees, good prices, and a nice fella to help.

We found one just the right size and named him Herby.

Grandpa Nelson doing his part….

Once we got Herby home, we did the usual hauling up the stairs, getting him settled in his stand and vacuuming up the needles…and then we all went to do other projects for a while. Decorating the tree feels more like an evening thing.

First, Grandpa Nelson put on the lights. This involves long strings of glowing bits, which Mousekin thinks are just for her. It’s always a challenge to get them safely on the tree, and we say a small prayer for the survival of the tree.

No, I’m not in the way!

We put on Vince Guaraldi’s light piano jazz (he does the Charlie Brown Christmas music) and started dressing the tree. It is smaller than usual so we were more choosy this year, only putting on our favorites.

Admiral Nelson, from our trip to London

Usually, an ornament is loved not for what it looks like, but where it came from. Ornaments that have survived from our childhoods, that belonged to your Great grandma Billie, or from our friends or travels are especially sweet.

Great Grandma Billie’s pine cone

This year we even have a new one! Grandpa Nelson bought one of Kat Mistry’s crocheted doughnuts at SideStreet Arts so our tree is delicious, as well as beautiful.

New doughnut!

Merry Christmas!


Grandma Judy

Chilly Laurelhurst

Dear Liza,

You knew I couldn’t stay inside forever, didn’t you?

View down the Ravine

Yesterday afternoon, after two days baking, writing, sewing and listening to music in the house, I went out for a walk. It wasn’t even four o’clock yet, but it was very much going-on-dark.

I carried the umbrella, because it was raining, but it mostly got in the way of me looking up at the trees. I folded it up.


The park wasn’t empty. There were couples and singles, out walking. Mostly without dogs, which is unusual, and no joggers at all. Maybe the ground was too slick for them.

Poetic not-quite-solitude

I like walking by myself sometimes, because I can think my own thoughts and not worry about trying anyone’s patience as I take six pictures of the same tree. Dark, rainy afternoons are especially good for this.

Branches forming a halo

On the way home I enjoyed watching the traffic signals reflecting on the wet road. What a pretty planet we live on!

Even the traffic signals are pretty!


Grandma Judy

Very Merry Cash and Carry

Dear Liza,

Pretty wintry display

Auntie Bridgett’s art gallery, SideStreet Arts, opened its pre-Christmas sale and show this weekend, and it is delightful!

Artsy Christmas ornaments

Grandpa Nelson and I walked over to the gallery on the way to the movies (we saw “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and then stayed longer afterward to walk Auntie Bridgett home in the rain.

Chayo Wilson’s textured ceramics

The Very Merry Cash and Carry show is fun because it has different rules. Usually, when you buy a piece of art from an art gallery, you need to wait until then end of the show (maybe a week, maybe a month) to take the art home. This is because the art has been arranged carefully and if one leaves, the others look lopsided or incomplete.

Melody Bush’s Excavated Books are amazing

But for Very Merry, people are buying for Christmas presents and want to take the art home right away, so the walls are hung FULL of art. When some leave, the walls are still pretty. Also, artists bring extra work that is kept in the back room to fill in the spaces.

Alicia Justice shows her Krampus

On Friday there was a good turnout and lots of sales! We also got to visit with Alicia Justice as she made some of her felt dolls, which are beautifully detailed. She showed us photos of her Krampus dolls, which always sell like hot cakes. Krampus is an evil monster that deals with bad children… sort of the anti-Santa.

Kat Mistry has new work being displayed in a new glass jewelry case to keep it safe. She also has a new raspberry beret, which is very adorable.

Kat Mistry’s new beret


Grandma Judy

Wintery Thoughts

Dear Liza,

Mousekin, wondering why I am not being her lap.

The winter cold has always appealed to me, bundling up and going out to feel the chill on my face, and looking at the lights. But this year, as much as I am trying to maintain my adventurous spirit, it feels like winter is turning me into a bear. Not a grouchy bear, just an I-want-to-eat-everything-and-Stay-Inside sort of Bear.

Auntie Bridgett has put up the decorations in the house, and they make very pretty scenes…. gnomes by the tv, Santa cookie jars by the philodendron, and even Ellen Hughes’ little needlepoint village on the windowsill. “Stay in and look at us,” they say. “You don’t need to go outside.”

Pretty decorations from Russia

My still-in-progress story calls me to the computer. “Come edit this mess,” it says softly. “It will be wonderful, but right now, Chapter 20 doesn’t make sense.”

Mousekin the cat looks accusingly at me. “If you get up,” she asks, “who will be my lap?”

Tasty food calls to my bear tummy. “How often do you make really good cornbread?” it asks. “Come have some more, with butter, and then we’ll make cookies!”

Playing with my food…

I know my teacher colleagues are dealing with over-excited students. I know my own children are parenting their hearts out and working hard at jobs they are incredibly good at. But today, I just want to bake. And maybe nap.


Grandma Judy

Neighborhood Lights

Dear Liza,

According to the weather news, this winter is supposed to be drier and warmer than usual. In November we got 2 inches of rain instead of the usual 10, and it was a few degrees warmer most days.

Between us and the park…

Well, we aren’t seeing rain, but it sure has been cold! Crystal clear, cold skies with air that hurts a little to inhale. This means that we aren’t walking much after dark, and haven’t had a chance to see many lights.

But here’s what I have so far, from our Sunnyside Neighborhood and the Laurelhurst area just around the park.

Crazy fuschia in a tree
Our new friend Matthew’s homage to Snoopy and Woodstock

Well lit, old fashioned houses make for such lovely shapes against the darkness. I am looking forward to showing all these beauties to Auntie Christy and Cousin Kyle when they come up to visit!

Our cat Mousekin enjoying our lights!


Grandma Judy