First Friday in November

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett Spicer staffing the desk

The First Friday of every month, SideStreet Arts, the gallery Auntie Bridgett belongs to, puts on a reception for the new art that is hung every month. It is always fun to go and see what’s “up”.

This month’s artists are monotype printer Katherine McDowell and ceramic sculptor Kendall Jones.

Katherine’s work is colorful, with lots of deep blues and splashes of orange, but also still and restful, because of the horizontal lines. Many of the pieces have an almost ‘sunset’ feel, and I like them very much.

Lake Monotype 393 be Katherine McDowell

Kendall’s ceramic sculptures are of a darker nature. Her portraits of children seem to me to have a hidden meaning, as though these kids are more than they seem. It is a bit unnerving.

Hermanas by Kendall Jones

She also goes in a different direction with some of her pieces, exploring the process of growing up, growing old, and dying. As macabre as they are, I like them better. They reveal, rather than hide. “Yes, we grow old, yes, we die,” they say.

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat by Kendall Jones

Being at the gallery is also fun because I get to visit with the other artists. Dawn Panttaja, who plays in the Karaoke From Hell music group we saw on Halloween, makes delightful sculptures of blue-green mythical characters.

Flying Mermaid by Dawn Panttaja

Gail Owen is a printmaker with great color sense and a contagious, resounding laugh.

Hollyhocks by Gail Owen

Alicia Justice always looks like she just stepped out of one of her own mixed media pieces, classically beautiful and just a bit otherworldly.

Alicia Justice, left, and Gail Owen
Grandmother by Alicia Justice
And a new favorite piece by Bridgett Spicer!!

After Grandpa Nelson and I had chatted, looked and nibbled some treats, we walked home through the neighborhood, enjoying the Halloween decorations one last time before they are replaced by Christmas garland and waving Santas.


Grandma Judy

Karaoke From Hell

Dear Liza,

A really, really tall ghoul…

We have been so busy traveling, I haven’t had a chance to tell you much about our Halloween season here in Portland.

Grandpa Nelson as a Hogwarts’ alumni

It has gotten really cold and dry, with temperatures in the 30s and clear, icy blue skies. The leaves are more than spectacular and make it worth our while to bundle up and go for walks.

Cuddly spider

The neighborhood is well decorated, as usual. Decorations range from downright creepy to cute and cuddly, and it is always fun to see what folks put out.

Creepy former mannequin

Halloween night, we all got dressed up and walked over to The Eagles Lodge, stopping at Apizza Scholls for dinner first. Very tasty.

An Edwardian gentleman is a Ghoul’s best friend!

The Eagles Lodge is an old school Fraternal organization, like Elks and Odd Fellows, and it is run by folks between the ages of 70 and really, really old.

We were there to see a show called Karaoke From Hell. This is a live band that will play for you while you sing any of the hundreds of songs on their playlist. Most karaoke places have a video/ electronic music set-up, but these folks are the real deal. Real musicians, real music. It was wonderful.

Karaoke From Hell

Auntie Bridgett’s gallery colleague, Dawn Panttaja, plays guitar for the band, and it was fun to see her and Alicia Justice, another gallery member, in a different context.

The music options ranged from Ozzy Osborne to Glen Campbell and AC/DC to The Supremes, so we had sweet and gnarly interspersed through the evening. The quality of the band was excellent and the singing was better than I expected. Most of these folks are regulars and practice their songs. It shows, and made for a most enjoyable evening.

Jack o Pumpkins lighted our way home!

We had wine and cider and nibbled the inevitable Halloween candy that was passed out, until we were too pooped to pop anymore. We walked back home in the very dry cold, happy to wake up a bit before collapsing completely into our beds. What a Halloween!


Grandma Judy

Salinas Friends

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Grandpa Nelson and I lived in Salinas for thirty-five years, raising your Momma Katie and Uncle David, running businesses and teaching school. We got to know a lot of people.

Quiet, sunny Downtown Salinas

Of course, for me, most of the people were kids, who have now grown up and moved away. On the other end of life, many of our oldest friends have passed away.

I did have an emotional visit my old school, University Park, but I didn’t take any pictures while I was there. It seemed wrong to interrupt powerful feelings with “smile for the camera” nonsense.

Dear Pat Van Noy and Liza, enjoying lunch

But we did get to take Pat Van Noy out to lunch at Stonies Taphouse and Bistro, and who should we run into but Jim Riley and his pal Liz! Jim has lived in the area for all of his long life, and has been Mayor of Spreckels for many years.

Jim Riley and Liz

He ran Rollick’s Coffee and he and Auntie Bridgett’s stufftie, Harold, were great friends.

Jim and Harold in 2013

We stopped in at the new bookshop on South Main Street, called Downtown Books and Sound. It is an expansion of the old shop, Destination Salinas, just across the street. Well organized, bright and beautiful, it is filled with wonderful books and even shelves from our beloved Logos books, which recently closed in Santa Cruz.

The new Downtown Books and Sound

Both shops are run by Trish Triumpho Sullivan and her husband Dan Beck. Trish is a mover and shaker in downtown politics and business, and Dan is a talented musician.

Trish Sullivan, looking good

Now that we are back home in Portland, we are back into chilly Autumn, and it feels good. As much as I love our old friends in Salinas, I am glad for our new adventure in the big city.


Grandma Judy

Liza Games

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Drawing in the Journal at Steinbeck Center

It is always fun seeing what Liza is up to. Like you and many of your friends, she enjoys Pokemon cartoons and toys, likes to wear unicorn clothes and fairy wings, and she even enjoys going on walking and bussing adventures with me.

And, like you guys, she makes up her own games. When our friend Alicia Justice gave her a “surprise ball” filled with small toys, she used them to create a game. The New Year’s noisemaker became the hockey stick with which she knocked small flies and butterflies through a ‘goal’ made of candle holders.

Noisemaker Hockey?

She likes (and is good at!) making pancakes.

Making pancakes!

She found a project for a bird feeder in Highlights Magazine, involving pine cones, peanut butter and oatmeal. That worked out nicely.

Feeding the birds

She also likes to make words, though she needs a little help. We played with my Bananagrams game, making words about family and geometry.


Since she has just started reading, Mr. Steinbeck’s quotes on rocks around Salinas are fair game. This one, at Central Park, says, “I’ve seen a look in dog’s eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that dogs think humans are nuts.” It took two times through until she realized it was funny, but then she laughed and laughed. “Dogs think humans are nuts!” she kept chuckling to herself.

“Dogs think humans are nuts!” Hee Hee…

But her most complex, repeated game is the one we play at the Steinbeck Center. It spans three rooms, three books, and gets better every time we play it. She opens the curtains at the labor camp in the Grapes of Wrath room, and talks with the children there. “Would you like to come to my party?” she asks.

“Will you come to my party?”

Then we go to the room set up with the Pipe House from Sweet Thursday and pretend to decorate. The most fun is in the Sea of Cortez room, where we get in the small boat and set off, catching fish for the party! Tuna, sharks, and sardines are all fair game, and brought into that small boat. It gets a little harrowing.

Off to catch dinner!

On this visit, one of the skeletons set up for Dia de los Muertos sat in the Pipe House, beside a small brazier. Liza improvised by cooking the make believe fish over the fire. The game ends when all the children come, we eat and play, and they go home to be with their families.

Cooking for friends

I love playing games with Liza, letting her make the rules and figure things out. I think it makes us both smarter.


Grandma Judy

Temple Beth El

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

The Bima at Temple Beth El

While we were in Salinas last week, Grandpa Nelson and I got the chance to take Cousin Liza to our old synagogue, Temple Beth El. It turns out that it was the anniversary, or Yarzeit, of your Great Grandma Mona’s death, twenty eight years ago.

The Yarzeit panel with the lights on for Great Grandma Mona

We were members there for nearly twenty years, and Grandpa Nelson was President for many of those. I helped run the Kosher Luncheon and the Rummage Sale. We attended funerals, weddings, and were involved in loud arguments and tearful reunions. There are lots of feelings tied up in that building.

Hal Hegwer, Leonard Gonzer, and Grandpa Nelson, some former Presidents

Our friend Rick invited us to Friday night services. Rick taught me Hebrew years ago and still teaches the Bar Mitzah and Bat Mitzvah kids. He also helps run fund raisers and maintain the building.

We got there early so I could show Liza around. We saw the playground and classrooms, then the sanctuary. The new Ark that surrounds the Torahs is big and beautiful. Liza met Joloo, a boy about her age who was there with his Grandma Jeannie. They played foosball and dashed around until services started.

There were only about a dozen folks at services, because the community is shrinking as older folks pass away and young ones move away. The kids sat in the front row, and Cantor Margaret Bruner, seeing her unexpected young audience, included the kids in undressing and handling the Torah.

Cantor Margaret Bruner

Rick helped out by reading a story about Beresheet, the beginning of the Torah, which is called Genesis in English. The story was illustrated using words for water and earth in Hebrew letters.

Rick reading Beresheet

Cousin Liza, who knows English, Spanish and Russian, asked “What kind of language is that?”. Rick answered perfectly, saying, “It’s a language you don’t know yet,” and then translated the Hebrew into Russian. Her eyes got very big and she listened more carefully after that. I think she was impressed.

Both Liza and Joloo were very good during the rest of the service, standing, sitting, following along as best they could. They even helped put the Torah away.

After services, there was wine and bread and cookies, and then the kids played while the grownups talked. The whole evening had an odd time-travel quality, because it felt a lot like when we would take your Momma Katie and Uncle David to services.

Grandpa Nelson enjoying good cookies and company with Liza and Joloo.

I went home and had so much to be thankful for. Exhausted but happy, which seemed to be the theme of this trip south.


Grandma Judy

The Best Beach

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Monterey Harbor

We got to spend a perfect afternoon on our trip south. We borrowed Uncle David’s Tesla and drove to Monterey. We walked around the town, had some Jamba Juice, and gawked like the tourists we are at the sailboats and incredibly beautiful Monterey Bay.

Tide pools

This piece of coastline is so lovely, people come from all over the world to see it! It is one of the few things I have really missed in our move to Portland.

“Why do birds always sit on white rocks?”

Someone I have missed is my dear friend Donald. We met in French class many years ago and have been in each other’s lives since. I know I am richer for it.

Donald says Hi, y’all

Grandpa Nelson and I drove along the coast and met up with Donald at The Fishwife, a seafood restaurant just off Asilomar Beach. This was the first time these two of my favorite fellows had met, so they had lots to talk about. Alexander Dumas and Teslas and politics…. what a joy!

My fellas, talking up a storm

After we ate delicious food, we walked down to the beach and enjoyed the cool breeze, soft sand and really chilly Monterey Bay waters. Donald, like us, loves watching other people’s dogs.

People, plus dogs, plus beach, equals happy!

Being on the beach was so refreshing and bright, breezy and clear, I felt really alive. My body and soul were singing, and my eyes were full.

Takes my breath away every time

All the sights and sounds, large and small, have fed my heart and filled me up.

Tiny, indigenous sandwort


Grandma Judy

Visiting Mr. Steinbeck

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

While I was in Salinas last week , Liza and I got to have one of our favorite adventures. We woke up early, packed some snacks, and headed off to Hartnell College. We usually have a long chat and visit with the Panther, who is carved from black stone and has been in the same spot since 1932. But today, he was wrapped in protective plastic and we couldn’t get near him!

The whole center of the Hartnell campus is being torn up to get ready for what looks like a new building. I will need to research more to find out what. But for today we could only wave at the Panther and head for Central Park, across the street.

Firefighter Liza saving a pretend cat

While we were there, Liza and I played that she was running a restaurant and she served me our snack,then shared it with me. Then we found the play fire truck and rescued a kitten and saved a lady whose house was on fire. It was very exciting.

We walked through the neighborhood and finally found Mr. Steinbeck’s Museum! We got there just as they were opening, and the lady explained that in honor of Dia de Los Muertos, there was a Scavenger Hunt. We found really handsome skeletons made of paper mache all through the museum.

Visiting the labor camp children

We also had a familiar game of inviting the children from the “Grapes of Wrath” labor camp to come to the “Sweet Thursday” pipe house for a party. Then we took the “Sea of Cortez” boat out fishing, caught fish for the party, cleaned it, and cooked it over the paper mache ‘fire’ .

It was a REALLY lovely party with pretend food and pretend friends.

Cooking for pretend friends

We managed to find all the items on our Scavenger Hunt and have a great time, as usual. Grandpa Nelson came and took us to our next adventure, which I will tell you about tomorrow.


Grandma Judy