Open House and …..

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Last night was a busy one. Cousin Liza’s Montessori School on Hitchcock Road had their Open House. After a quick dinner Auntie Olga, Liza and I drove out to the school, across a tiny road through lettuce fields. There were only a dozen or so families, since this was the Open House just for Liza’s class. The older and younger students have their Open Houses separately.

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Liza’s Planet

I love the Montessori School. It is laid out so practically, with everything within easy reach of the students. The lessons are clear and quiet and teach order, patience, fine motor skills, reading and math skills, and even housekeeping. Liza was able to show us the “Teens Board”, where she creates the numbers 10 through 19, using digits and beads.

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Teens Board

She washed a mirror, experimented with things that float and sink, made bubbles, and even sorted items according to which letter they started with…. using cursive letters! She was having such a good time and we were impressed with the calm and confidence inspired by her teachers.

When our time was up, we left and took Auntie Olga home,  picked up Uncle David, and drove out to the Monterey Airport to pick up…Auntie Bridgett! Yay! On her way back to Portland from a week in San Diego visiting Cousin Madilyn and her family, she is stopping by Salinas for a few days. I have missed her so much!

Auntie Olga had cheese, crackers and wine waiting for us when we got back to the house, and we ate and drank and then headed for bed.

I am looking forward to spending some real quality time with my darling Bridgett before she has to go.


Grandma Judy


Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

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Uncle David

Yesterday evening Uncle David invited the across-the-street neighbors over for a barbecue and s’mores.When I got home from school, I helped thread the strips of steak, along with tomatoes and peppers, onto the skewers for shish kebabs.

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Table Outside
Dinner waiting for company

Then we moved the big table outside so we could eat out on the patio, and Uncle David pulled the bounce house out of the shed and inflated it. Liza had fun making sure it was ready!

Mark and Lindsey have a 2 year old named Daniel He brought a small dump truck and enjoyed playing with it in Liza’s sandbox. The grownups talked and the kids played so well together! Liza had fun showing Daniel her toys and was very good about sharing.

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New Friends

When the fire was ready, we put the rack of shish kebabs on, and it sure got hot fast! Mark and Uncle David decided there was just too much fire, so they moved the kebabs to the oven to finish. By that time, it had gotten chilly and they moved the table back inside, as well. The wide doors make that very easy. They didn’t even take the candles or dishes off!

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Doing the Dinner

Dinner was good…we are still learning how to cook over the fire, but it was tasty. Then came the best part: S’mores! I’ve decided that I prefer just plain roasted marshmallows, but watching grownups being kids again is sure fun.

When Daniel started getting tired, the evening ended peacefully. It had been successful and fun. I went to sleep with dreams of marshmallows dancing in my head.


Grandma Judy

Winter Gardening

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I know it is raining and cold up in Portland where you live, but here in Salinas, it feels like summer! Today was 75 and very sunny.

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Liza with the Hoe

On Sunday, Liza and I took advantage of this lovely weather and started to do some work in the garden. When Auntie Olga and Uncle David bought this house before Cousin Liza was born, there were rose bushes in the back yard. With everyone working so hard and being busy, the roses have been ignored, and one even had a tree (and not a pretty tree, more of a ten foot tall weed) growing right up through it. My first job was to get the tree out, then prune the rose so it had a chance of growing back pretty.

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Weed Tree

Uncle David has some nice tools in his shed, including a fine, strong pair of long handled “loppers” which work great on thick branches. At the bottom, I finally needed to get out the pruning saw, but it was worth it to see the rose ready for spring.

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Pruned and Ready for Spring!

Cousin Liza was very helpful. There are tiny weeds and long bits of grass growing in the flowerbeds. I chopped them with the hoe, then Liza pulled them and threw them into the trash can, which is taller than she is.

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Tiny Liza, Big Trash Can

We made a good team, and by the time Auntie Olga and Uncle David made scrambled eggs and salad for brunch, we were hungry for it!

Glorious Spring!

Then came the adventure. Our books were due at the Steinbeck Library, so we three girls packed snacks and headed off.

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New Books

It was such a warm day, we kept having to find shade to rest in. We drank all our water.

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Resting in the Shade
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Liza and I on the Panther at Hartnell

The library was nice and cool and we didn’t want to leave, but we managed to make it all the way home under our own power. Then, of course, was nap time.

I love my weekends. As John Steinbeck said, “There’s always something to do in Salinas.”


Grandma Judy

Monterey Adventure

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Yesterday, Cousin Liza and I got to go on another adventure. We walked to Sunshine Donuts on West Alisal for a treat and, more importantly, change for the bus. I haven’t figured out Monterey-Salinas Transit’s pre-paid system yet, so I am a slave to dollar bills and quarters. We found our bus stop and waited, not very long, in the strong morning sunlight.

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Playing with Shadows

The number 20 bus took us through fields and across the Salinas River. This is a very odd river, as rivers go. It flows north, which not many rivers do, but is also an UNDERGROUND river most of the year. The rocks that form the bed of the river are porous and when there isn’t enough water, the water level drops below the rock level, and the river disappears! It is still flowing, though. Airplanes taking pictures show water flowing into the bay, even when the river looks dry!

We continued past Marina and the big shopping area at Seaside, catching my first look at the Monterey Bay since last July. It was so bright blue and beautiful, a perfect January-summer day. We got off the bus at The Window on the Bay, a wonderful park that Mayor Dan Albert of Monterey created years ago by having the city buy of the small businesses in this spot so people could play and sit here and see the Bay. When Mayor Albert retired, he said it was his greatest achievement as Mayor. I agree.

Walking through the flowers and volleyball courts, we got to the beach. We took off our shoes and got used to the feel of sand on our feet. Cousin Liza had fun deciding how wet to get…first just the bottom of her feet…then we rolled up her overalls a bit. Then just her ankles… and we rolled them up a bit more. Then she stopped being afraid and got wet clear up to her knees, and the overalls did too! But that’s part of the fun.

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Wet Feet Liza

We built a princess’s sand castle that ended up having a face made of rose petals, seaweed and rocks. There was a smaller castle nearby, “for the prince”. No idea who he was….

There were a lot of people having fun on the beach! We saw a girl’s surfing club, a kayaking class, and people walking their dogs.

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Surfing Class
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Liza and the Princess Castle

For lunch, we said good-bye to the sand and walked to Sapporo, a wonderful Japanese Restaurant and sushi place by the Monterey Yacht Club, above The London Bridge Pub. We had a view of the harbor. We saw some young sailors bringing in their FJ sailboat. They reminded me of Liza’s Daddy David, years ago.

guys at yacht club.jpgWe did the kid’s maze and watched the waiter make “training chopsticks” for Cousin Liza with a rubber band and a roll of paper. We ate grilled shrimp, spicy tuna, and rice. So tasty!

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Delicious Lunch

By now it was really warm, and all our layers of clothes from the morning were stuffed into my bag. We headed to the Monterey Transit Center on Tyler. Liza climbed up a great concrete wall and we played Story Cubes until the bus came. After our long day in the sun, Liza had a little nap on the bus, but woke up just at the right time so we could walk to her house. Then we BOTH napped!

After dinner, Liza’s Daddy decided we should have a fire in the backyard and make s’mores, and then we went for a walk around the neighborhood. This was just about a perfect day!


Grandma Judy


Adventure to Valentines

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),

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Three Adventurers!

Sunday was another long walk and adventure, but this time your Mommy came with us! We packed salami, cheese, apples and crackers, along with plenty of water, and walked down West Acacia. We showed your mommy where the fairies live by the big rock and the nice benches at Mission Park School.

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Where the fairies live (notice their bells!)

We walked all the way to South Main Street, then turned right and walked to the MYO Frozen Yogurt shop, where we met our dear friends George and Mimi Niesen for treats and conversation. It is always good to talk to these lovely folks; they are busy doing such interesting things!

When we had finished our yogurt, we walked to George and Mimi’s house. In their front yard was the box of succulents Auntie Bridgett gave Mimi when we moved to Portland last year, and they are still growing well! Nice to see they are happy in their new home.

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Happy succulent

Then we went inside and made Valentine’s Day cards! Mimi had doilies, paper, and all sorts of pretty things to cut and paste, and we had lots of fun.

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Delightful George

But the time came, as it always does, where the energy is gone and nap time is calling. We phoned your Daddy who came and fetched us. We thanked our friends, went home, and had naps.

PS. I can’t show the Valentine’s cards…it would ruin the surprise!!



Lovely Mimi




Grandma Judy


Downtown Book and Sound

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),

Saturday was another walk to Old Town Salinas for brunch with a friend at First Awakenings. This time I met Terry Soria, who I started working with about 15 years ago. We understood each other and made each other laugh on difficult days. We worked together for a few years, then lost touch. Then, four years ago, I got to teach her grandson! I was so happy to get to talk about the joys and frustrations of teaching with her.

Terry Soria, who understands

While I was downtown, I stopped in at Downtown Book and Sound, run by our old friends Trish Triumpho Sullivan and her husband, Dan Beck. Dan, who  is a musician and artist,  was working on a new tune on his guitar when I arrived. Trish is an artist and community activist and out of the shop at the time.

Downtown Book and Sound

Downtown Book and Sound is part music shop, part bookstore, part art gallery, and part visitor’s center. There is always good art on the walls, good music playing, and someone interesting to talk to. The chartreuse window frames make it easy to spot at 222 South Main.

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Marilyn, by Trish Sullivan

Dan and I talked about life and family, then I scooted out.

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Dan Beck

In the past few years, the city of Salinas has started investing in more Steinbeck-themed art and activities. I found this giant boulder at the corner of Central and Homestead. It says, “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that dogs think humans are nuts.” John Steinbeck.

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Steinbeck rock at Central and Homestead

I also visited the beautiful new Tony Teresa Baseball Diamond at Hartnell College! There was an exciting game going on between the Hartnell Panthers and the College of the Siskiyous Eagles. It was tied 1 to 1 when I left. Hooray for baseball season!


Grandma Judy

College Baseball!

Learning Russian

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),

Your house here in Salinas has two languages: English, which is your Daddy’s (and my) first language, and Russian, which is your mommy’s. Since I am spending so much time here, I am trying to learn some Russian! Your mommy is my teacher.

My Russian Teacher, Olga

I like learning languages. I learned some Spanish in High School and continued so I could better talk to my students and their parents here in Salinas. Later, I learned French so I could travel in Europe and talk to the people I met.

In many ways, Spanish and French are easy to learn. Both share an alphabet with English, and the languages work the same in many ways. Much of English is handed down from the Romance Languages, like French, Spanish, and even Italian.

Russian is a Slavic language spoken by 260 million people, making it the 6th most used language in the world. It didn’t have a written alphabet until the year 863, when two monks from Greece created an alphabet for it, using Greek and Roman letters. Russian is a very complicated language in this written form, and is hard to learn to read.

Fortunately, I am learning like a baby does. Your Mommy holds up a slipper and says the word for slipper, I repeat it, and then I know the Russian word for slipper. I have not learned the proper Cyrillic alphabet, so I write everything as I think it would be written using the English alphabet.

Slippers, as I write them, are “tapitchki”. “Molowka” is milk. To say “Hello”, you say “pree-vyet,”, and good-bye is “paka”. One interesting and confusing thing is that you use the same word, “pajalsta” for please and you’re welcome. Thank you is “spaseeba”.

So if someone asks for some slippers, it goes like this:

“Tapitchki, pajalsta.” (Slippers, Please)

You give them the slippers. “Na.” (Here.)

“Spaseeba,” they say. (Thank you)

“Pajalsta”. (You’re welcome.)

So the conversation begins and ends with “pajalsta”. Kind of nice and balanced. I try and practice a little each day, with you or your Mommy, or even your Daddy, who didn’t learn any languages in school but has learned Russian from your Mommy.

I hope I can keep learning.


Grandma Judy