John Steinbeck in Town

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

As you may know, Salinas is the town where John Steinbeck, the famous author, was born and raised. His family home still stands on Central Avenue, open for luncheons, along with its gift shop, The Best Cellar.

I was thinking the other day that if you could be a school kid in Salinas at different periods of time (and not get any older as the time passed), you would have been taught very different things about John Steinbeck.

In the decade of the 1910s, you wouldn’t have been taught about John, you would have been in school with him. He attended the West End School (where Roosevelt Elementary now stands) and Salinas High, when it was still on West Alisal Street. John was a fine football player and wrote for the school paper.

In the 1920s you might have heard gossip that John wasn’t attending classes regularly at Stanford, after his parents were so happy that he got in. After 6 years of irregular attendance interrupted by travel and odd jobs (like being an apprentice scientist at the Spreckels Sugar Factory near town), he left without graduating and moved to New York.

In the 1930s John’s name became a hated thing in Salinas. You would have been taught he was a Socialist and un-American for his views about labor and unions. His book In Dubious Battle told of the striking farm workers and the horrible living conditions and injustices they faced. The growers, who were (and are) the power and money in town, resented his point of view and many copies of his books were burned. This happened again when The Grapes of Wrath was published. Though wildly popular, the book was criticized for vulgar language and showing the growers as greedy men.

In the 1940s you would have heard about John’s travels with the Army in World War II and his part in directing documentaries about the war. And maybe questioned his being labeled a Socialist.

East of eden and car.jpg
The Infamous Book now celebrated in the National Steinbeck Center

In the 1950s you would have been warned not to read East of Eden because of its scandalous story, but amazed by the street by street accuracy with which John described Salinas.

By the 1960s, John’s local reputation was mended somewhat by his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize  in Sweden and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson. In 1968 you would have been taught about  the death of John Steinbeck, great writer and local hero, who had written so many American classics and put our little town on the map.

Sign to Steinbeckgarave.jpg
Sign to help tourists find his grave

And, if you were paying attention, you would have noticed how a city’s opinion of a person is closely tied with that city’s own self-interests. And often, still is.


Grandma Judy






Sunday Fun

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Liza and I had a fun day together. We both woke up early and spent some time playing with the Bananagrams game. We play it by making words by themselves instead of crosswords, because Liza is still learning how to read. She is getting good at sounding out words and finding letters!

When Auntie Olga and Uncle David woke up, David make pancakes for breakfast. They were delicious, and the last one, which he poured very, very slowly, had this beautiful spiral pattern on the back. Beautiful and delicious!

Then, off for a small adventure. Since Liza was feeling a bit sniffly, we wouldn’t be walking all the way to the library. But we did walk to Hartnell Park, just up the street. We played hide and seek and then she found some new friends to play with. They made sand castles and had a good time being silly together.

Auntie Olga came and drove us to the library, where we met a school friend of Liza’s and a former student of mine who is now in 7th grade! We got some lovely new books.

By this time, the pancakes were wearing off and we were HUNGRY. We headed to Yangtse’s Taste of Thai on Main Street where we met Uncle David for lunch. A whole bunch of yummy food later, it was time for home and naps, for Granddaughter AND Grandma.

After we woke up, before the sun went down, we had time for one more adventure…the bike! Liza is still needing help balancing, so I do a lot of running and balancing, which is exhausting but fun. While we were resting on the sidewalk, an old friend came by and we visited. He is the stepfather of one of my favorite former students, and it was fun catching up on news.

Finally, dinner of yummy leftover Thai food and new library books for story time! Another successful Sunday on the books.


Grandma Judy


Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This is not a fun post. It is sad and scary. You may want to skip it. Fair warning.

Today I went to a teacher training, but we were not learning how to teach. Our wonderful trainer, Kelly Hendrix, vice principal at Mission Park School, was teaching us how to keep ourselves and our students alive in the event of an active shooter on campus. Let that sink in for a minute. We have fire and earthquake drills. In Portland there are even volcano drills.

Chart showing increasing body counts of shooting. Columbine is near the center of the chart, the Las Vegas shooting is on the far right.

But this….this idea that we must try to outsmart and outrun someone who has come specifically to kill us and our children…this is a whole new level of scary. Also scary is the fact that since most shootings last a total of 5 minutes, law enforcement folks will probably arrive after the shooter is done. We will be on our own for those terrifying moments, needing to think fast and be smart.

ALICE stands for alert, lock down, inform, counter, and evacuate, which are the steps (not necessarily in that order) that are encouraged in this training. Before, our directions have been limited to “lock the door, turn off the lights, get under the desks”. Then people noticed that in many mass shootings, there were a lot of dead people under desks. So, then what?

ALICE acknowledges that there are no easy answers and that every single situation, even room to room within a school, will be different. Hiding, if necessary,  is best done behind a well-barricaded door, and children should be spread out in different parts of the room, not a dog pile, so they will be able to get up and move if it becomes possible to evacuate or necessary to fight.

Yes, fight. If you cannot get out of your room and the shooter is in there with you and your students, ALICE encourages you to know your resources and act fast. Things to throw, to distract a shooter and keep him from aiming. The kids can help by screaming like banshees or, my favorite technique, “swarming”, where everyone grabs a piece of the shooter and hangs on for dear life.  Scary, yes, but better than sitting still and waiting to be shot. Besides, the image of 26 kinder-babies bringing down a psycho is very satisfying to my imagination.

The OODA Loop shows the mental processes a shooter (or anyone) goes through to make a decision. Disrupt this, and you can slow a shooter down for a few critical seconds.

The last part of our training was acting out scenarios in which Kelly and her head custodian Gumaro, played the part of the shooters, armed with Nerf guns. We teachers played teachers and students and had beanbags and squishy balls with which to retaliate. Depending on where our class was when we became aware of the incident, some of us ran, confronted the shooter, or barricaded the door. One group was so well hidden we didn’t realize they were still in there! But even in our state of readiness, we had a few “casualties”.

Kelly Hendrix, our trainer

By the end of the morning we were all exhausted, hyper-adrenalized (if that’s even a word) and a bit sadder and wiser. I feel it was the most important training I have received in 30 years of teaching, because all our work goes nowhere if our students are dead.

And that’s the reality of it. Sorry for the sad story.


Grandma Judy

Inspiring Students, Part 2

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Yesterday I told you about my student, who I called B, and his troubled life and how Tucci Learning Solutions helped him. Today I will tell you about R, another boy in my class.

When I met R in January, I barely noticed him. In a class with quite a few rowdy boys, R sat at his seat in the back row and didn’t do much…he didn’t make trouble, but didn’t write or read much, either. From the front of the room I saw mostly a boy with his head down.

Now, I know I should have noticed sooner, but 26 kids, new curriculum and new rules made for a slow dawning in my brain that R was doing something at his desk. Whenever I got close, he would shove papers into his junk heap of a desk and try to look like he had been working.

So one day after school I pulled out the crumpled mass of papers. Crayons, markers, pencils and shavings, as well as bits of paper and old snacks, came out as well. My first impulse was to wad the mess up and throw it all out. But I flattened them out and looked at the drawings. There were dozens of them, and some very detailed and well done. I put them in a pile and talked to R about them the next day.

“Your drawings get all mashed in your desk,” I said. “Would you like a folder to keep them safe?” He stared at me for a moment, then smiled in relief and chose a few drawings to keep at school in the folder and took the rest home. The next day during my read aloud time, R worked happily on his drawings, not worrying about hiding them.


The next week in art, R made paper cut-outs. This week he has drawn a desert, to help illustrate our spelling word. I suppose he numbered it because he plans on doing more deserts.

When I collected the spelling lists prior to giving the test, I was pleased to see that he was still drawing….he had illustrated his spelling list to help him remember the difference between desert and dessert…

God bless the artists!



Grandma Judy

Inspiring Students, Part 1

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

One of the many reasons I have loved teaching all these years is meeting such fantastic young people, my students, who are just at the beginning of their life’s journey. They are 8, 9, and 10 years old. They are just figuring out who they are, what they love, what they are good at, and what is important.

This year, I have many students who have surprised me in different ways. I will tell about one of them now, and one tomorrow. They are both boys, who I will call B and R so I don’t embarrass them. A few people reading this will know who I mean, and that’s okay.

B has not had an easy life. Lack of parental attention gave B the feeling that he didn’t matter, that nothing he did or said made any difference. When schoolwork got hard or boring, he simply left the classroom. He walked around the school grounds. He “eloped”, as the behavioral psychologists call it. Trying to keep him in class lead to even worse behavior. Without his parents’ stepping up, the problem just got worse.

And the longer he spent out of the classroom, the further behind he got, and the more impossible the classwork became. The whole thing seemed like a problem with no solution. He eventually put himself and a few friends at risk by jumping the fence and wandering off from school. The police were called.

Then the school called Tucci Learning Solutions. This is a private company that specializes in helping students who behave badly to behave better. They provide one to one aides who stay with a student all day. The aides help with school work, but mostly they encourage the student to do it. They provide comfort, structure, conversation, and caring. They are well trained and professional. In my class, anyway, the aide has become the caring, firm parent figure that B never had and that I, a teacher with 25 other students, could not be.

In the 3 months I have been in class, I have seen B go from an angry, belligerent boy who didn’t care about anything to a student who will follow directions (mostly) and asks for replacement papers when he loses his, who will write a paragraph about his Spring Break or do a page of addition problems. He wants to do well. He cares about himself and others. He wants to learn and believes he can.

Because of his years of “elopement”, of course, he is behind academically. He is getting extra tutoring in math and reading, and is improving. But the biggest change is in his taking responsibility for himself, his actions, and his progress. Seeing this and projecting forward, I can see success down the road for B, where before I saw only disaster.

Gives me faith in humanity.


Grandma Judy

Moving Day

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Well, today was the day! The movers went to our old house in Portland at 8:00 this morning, picked up all the furniture, boxes, and books, books, books, and put them in their truck. They drove the eight blocks to the new house and up all those stairs, and by 4:00 this afternoon, it was done.

Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett called me this afternoon, so tired they could hardly talk, but so very happy that all our things were together. They are planning on taking some nice hot baths in the giant bathtub, then getting a well deserved night’s sleep on the beds, which they still need to make.

Of course, there were some issues that caused difficulty. Auntie Bridgett dropped something big and heavy on her next-to-the-pinkie toe and it is all purple and sore. Our dresser is half an inch too big for the spot we need it to go, and we will dodge a corner for a while.

Mouse the cat spent all day in the downstairs bathroom at the old house, wondering what was going on, and, probably, sleeping. But when the last box was off the truck and the movers had driven away to get their dinner, Auntie Bridgett brought our kitten over to the new place and let her out of the carrier. Mouse nosed around, sniffing all the boxes and chairs, looking in all the corners and trying to jump on all the counters. But Auntie Bridgett let her know that was STILL not allowed.

After a while, sure that she had most of her things and most of her people, Mousekin settled down for a nap.

When she woke up, she found the window to the balcony!

Oh, look! Outside!!
Mousekin napping






I am so happy that my people are settled in our new home! They settled in enough to relax, putting the dining room table, piano, and wine rack in place. I wish them a quiet, restful evening.

And then, when school is out, I get to go see it, be there, and live there. Amazing.


Grandma Judy

Back to Salinas

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Monday was my day to fly back to Salinas for the last two months of the school year, and of my 30 year teaching career. We slept in because Mouse the cat let us, then had breakfast, packed my suitcase, and went for a walk in Laurelhurst Park. We took Auntie Bridgett’s last gnome that was still at the old house.

We had already hidden a different one in the yard of our local plastic flamingo flock, in amongst the rhododendron bushes. It was well hidden, but someone must have seen it, because there were Easter eggs hidden nearby. We wanted to put the last gnome somewhere it would be seen, but only if you really looked. We found the perfect place and tucked the gnome away. I hope he makes people smile.

We stopped at Oblique coffee to get fortified what would be a long day of packing for my two wonderful people, and then Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett helped me load my stuff into the car and drove me to the airport. We all held hands all the way, because we are going to miss each other so much.

At PDX, I had a Yumm! Bowl for lunch and found a cute bear wearing a Portland hoodie as a gift for Cousin Liza.

The flight was quick and pleasant, because I listened to Hamilton the whole way. The flight is shorter than the show, and I remembered the stage play as I listened to the music. Uncle David picked me up and we caught up with news as he drove back to Salinas. We stopped at BJ’s burgers and had a very delicious pizza before heading home to rest until Auntie Olga and Liza got home.

Later in the evening, Dinner was done and it was still light! Yay Spring! Uncle David got out Liza’s bike and helmet and they practiced in the back yard for a while. When they were tired of pushing and pedaling, Liza and I played with bubbles for a while, using our jackets and the porch lights after the sun went down. Then it was bedtime for Liza and me.

We both go back to school tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

Passover Easter Moving Craziness

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,After a week of moving box after box of dishes, pots and pans to the new house, some nice strong fellows from West Coast Piano Movers came and carried our heaviest and oldest belonging down eight steps, into their truck, then up two flights of stairs to our new living room. They were very good sports about it, but man, is that thing heavy! It was a wedding present to Grandpa Nelson and me forty four years ago and has been following us around ever since. It was nice to sit down and bang out some Carole King in the new place.

On Saturday, our newly ordered dishes came in, but were not nearly the quality we wanted and one even had a chip. So a trip to the most depressing mall in Portland, called Mall 205, was in order to return them without paying a shipping fee. Finding nothing even close to what we wanted, we found ourselves on a wild goose chase to the Washington Square Mall in the south west. Washington Square is all posh, all glitz. There is a Tesla dealership with cars gleaming like jewelry. There are Williams Sonoma, Macy’s, AND Pottery Barn. There are at least two stores that just sell make up. It was retail overload.

And because it was nearly noon and I was hungry, I freaked out a bit. I have only had a few anxiety attacks in my life, but malls are a definite trigger. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett knew I needed to eat, so we went to the nearest restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. In my hungry, panicky state it looked like Cesar’s Palace, a den of noisy overindulgence. But there was food and water and I felt better. We went back to Willams Sonoma, picked up the dishes, and headed home. Exhausted but victorious, we had a well deserved sit down.The object of our quest

Of course, this was also Easter and Passover weekend. We celebrated Passover Saturday night with leftovers from the Cheesecake Factory and a bottle of Don Chapin’s wine that we have been holding onto. Grandpa Nelson had his first taste of matzoh for the year and a blissful look settled into his face. We lit a mismatched pair of candles and blessed everything in sight.

And Sunday was Easter! I woke up early, cleared packing stuff off the table, and snipped some camellias from the bush outside. Auntie Bridgett, who usually does such a lovely job decorating, was not able to this year, but that’s no reason it shouldn’t be pretty. After a nice morning spent feeling blessed and happy, Auntie Bridgett listened to a live streaming of the church service from Twin Lakes Church in Aptos instead of going to a new church here. She will find a local church, I am sure…but not right now.

And of course, the flamingos celebrated in their yard. I head back to Salinas today and will miss Portland until June. See you then, kidlets.


Grandma Judy


Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Last night I received the last in a long line of birthday presents. Grandpa Nelson bought tickets to the touring company of Hamilton for your mommy and me, because she is the one who introduced me to the music and story of this fabulous play two years ago. Both of us, along with thousands of other folks, have been listening, singing, and dancing to the music. But Broadway is a long ways from both Portland and Salinas, and it seemed impossible. But the touring company came to Portland and Grandpa Nelson went on line last fall to get tickets for the show.

First, of course, was dinner. We took a Lyft car to pick up your mommy (and got hugs from you two as a bonus), then headed off for dinner at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern. Yummy Willamette Valley Pinot noir and Spire’s cider came along with great french fries, sushi, Kung Pao chicken and fish tacos. We ate and talked until it was time to Lyft over to the Keller Auditorium.

We had time to buy some souvenirs. I got a tee shirt that says RISE UP that I can wear to school and tell my students about the story of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant who helped write the rules of our country. Your mommy got a show book so she could tell you the story of the show we saw, with pictures of the actors.

We had good seats, in the 14th row, right on the aisle to the right side. I have listened to recordings of the Broadway show for so long, I figured I had it all memorized. But every actor put their own spin on the lyrics, so it was new all over again. Your mommy and I were both afraid we would be disappointed that it wasn’t the Broadway cast, but we agreed that it was a whole new set of people to fall in love with. The funny parts, like when the pompous King George sings a sad break-up sing to his colonies, made us laugh. The sad parts, when young Phillip died, made us cry like we didn’t know it was coming. And the music was always, always beautiful.

I didn’t take pictures of the performance, because that is rude and against the law. But there was one backdrop for the first act, an abstracted version of brick walls and warehouses, and one for the second act, abstracted wooden buildings.

The rest of the sets, desks, chairs, and so forth, were brought on or taken by actors during the play. The costumes were modified

versions of costumes from the 1700s, enough to give the idea of the period but simple enough so they were not the stars of the show. There were also a new creation, a form-fitting costume that evoked the time but was not specific to either men or women. It allowed all members of the cast to be guests at a dance, be soldiers or shopkeepers, simply by putting a jacket or cape over the basic costume.

But the stars of the show were the wonderful writing and fine actors who pulled us into the story of a brilliant young man with a need to be part of something bigger than himself. He found a country ready for independence and fought with all his mind and might to help make that happen. The play lets us see his brilliance but also the selfishness and pride that were his downfall. It showed the people around him, the personal and political feeling of the time that helped shape our country.

When the play was over, we walked from the Keller across the Willamette River, talking about the play. The water was dark and lovely, sparkling with a few lights. The Hawthorne Bridge, which your mommy says is her pet bridge, is the oldest bridge in the city. We walked a ways, then called for a Lyft which got us both home.

It is past midnight now, and I need to get to bed. It is also almost April, and I can truly say that I am finally birthday-ed out. Thanks, everyone!


Grandma Judy

Making it a Home

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Slowly, the new house on 33rd Avenue is becoming our home. The kitchen is set up, and I have made a few lunches there….reheating chicken soup and bread and a few burritos. I’ve mixed some dough baked chocolate chip cookies, although they weren’t as good as usual (because my recipe book with all the improvements is in Salinas) I was able to make some bread in the little bird style Liza and I were looking at, and it turned out really well. Auntie Bridgett and I even chopped a bunch of apples, raisins and walnuts to make haroset, a favorite Passover food. Lots of cinnamon makes it spicy, and a splash of red wine makes it all meld together. Yummy!

Grandpa Nelson wants the house to be as “new” as possible when we move in, so he arranged to have the air conditioning, heater, vacuum system, and carpets professionally cleaned. No old leftover dust for us! We get to make our own dust!

We have moved over the yard decorations, like the geraniums in pots and Grandma Billie’s “Welcome to my Garden” sign and a few gnomes, except one which has been secretly placed in the flamingos’ yard, as a way of saying thanks for all the joy those silly birds have given us while we lived in this part of the neighborhood.

Today I plan to re-pot our Norfolk pine, named Tiny Tim (because he did NOT die) into the pot our Japanese Maple, named Marley, after the Jamaican singer, has just vacated. Poor Marley didn’t survive the heat of last summer and his larger pot will allow Tiny Tim to carry on more successfully.

It makes sense, literarily speaking…. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s partner Jacob Marley dies and his ghost coms back to tell Scrooge he must change his greedy ways or he will suffer after death. This change allows Scrooge to help the Cratchit family, so Tiny Tim doesn’t die. So Marley dying the save Tiny Tim is poetic.

I only have a few more days here in Portland before I go back to Salinas to finish the school year. When I return in June, my home will be set up and lived in, and the cat will be happily enjoying sunny afternoons in the balcony. and then another adventure begins.


Grandma Judy