History Day in Salinas

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This morning I woke up and walked to Roosevelt School to attend and help out with the first Local History lecture series. My friend and former Principal, Mary Randall, had organized this group of historians to talk about Salinas of the past, and have some fun, too. There were lots of cookies brought by the Women’s Club, including some celebrating the Claus Oldenberg Statue called Hat in Three Stages of Landing. Delicious!

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Hat Cookies

Before the lectures started I met old friends Larry Smith, who works as a docent at the First Mayor’s House, and Ruth Muldoon. Ruth taught kindergarten here in Salinas for about 35 years and now reads stories to third graders who visit the House. Liz Hibbard, another retired teacher, was there, and Rosalie, a wonderful lady who has worked with the Women’s Club for most of her many years. My School’s head custodian, Cesar, was there, too! Mary was his first principal and they are old friends, so he came. I also talked with Jeanne Garcia, who I worked with when I started teaching 30 years ago. I met Bingta Frankie, a new Board member at the First Mayor’s House. She looked so beautiful, I had to take her picture!

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The Historic Fashions of Bingta Frankie

Since we were gathered in the cafeteria of an elementary school, it felt natural to start off with the pledge of allegiance. Then Hannah Levi and Samantha Scattini, two lovely young ladies, sang a beautiful harmonic rendition of “My Country ’tis of Thee”. Patrick Redo was the master of ceremonies, and introduced former Mayor Dennis Donahue, a very nice man. He asked about Auntie Bridgett, because they are old friends. There was a mosaic (you know how I love mosaics) on the back wall that was from when Roosevelt School was very new, in the 1920s. It shows the Horse Parade, part of the Salinas Rodeo.

Mosaic from the 1930s

Sam Pacheco, who is a teacher at Hartnell College, talked about John Steinbeck. Sam is not from Salinas, but was drawn here by reading Mr. Steinbeck’s stories of the area. Rene Astorga played us music from the 1860s like Old Susannah and got us to sing along. We weren’t very loud, but we had fun.

Anita Mason unraveled the historic riddle of why the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad came across the muddy Elkhorn Slough and through tiny Salinas. Santa Rita had flatter, more solid ground, but the Spanish laws of inheritance, which were still in effect in California, made it almost impossible to sell land that had been part of a Spanish Rancho Land Grant. This was most of the land around Santa Rita. By the time the Railroad figured this out, the Salinas Valley was beginning to boom and they decided to come through the Salinas Valley to move all the grain, dairy and fruit growing here to the rest of the country.

Deborah Silguero gave a very interesting talk about women’s fashion of the 1860s, including all the interesting underwear! Very different from our clothing these days. Mary Randall talked about the schools and social life of the time, and Girl Scout Troop 30110 came and showed us all how to do the Virginia Reel, and got about 20 folks up to join the dance. It was fun, having grown ups and kids dancing together, making mistakes and smiling and trying again.

By the time the dancing was over, I was ready to head home again. What a great day of Salinas History!


Grandma Judy


Disney on Ice (Part 2)

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Our night at Disney on Ice kept getting better. The hockey arena, which I had expected to be cold, was very comfortable and friendly. The show was introduced by the Big Four: Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Belle’s journey into the Beast’s castle was well-told, with a fine dance number performed by flatware and candlesticks.

Old time Disney Guys

This was when I realized that my camera was not catching any nuances of the characters. The bright spotlight turned the beautiful costumes into shiny bits moving about on the ice… this was disappointing, as so much of the delight of telling about the show is showing the show. I also realized that videos were more successful… but I can’t yet insert video into this blog. Blog fail, again. Sorry.

There was confusion in my story-telling soul as the show continued, because the writers had felt the need to frame the showcase of Disney characters as a re-telling of the story of another Disney character, Riley from Inside Out. True, this allowed all the different costumes and colors to make sense, but was also jarring… whatever fantasy world each character would take us to, we were pulled back into the very UN-fantasy world of feelings….Joy, Sadness, Fear, and Anger… the least nuanced, most obvious, and, truthfully, most irritating characters of all.

From Inside Out

That said, I went along for the ride and was not disappointed. The combination of beautiful lighting and costumes, expert skating, great sound quality and classic stories carried me on a wave of Disney joy. Maleficent and her mirror from Snow White showed us good projection techniques. Ariel and Prince Eric did some amazing high-rope tricks, leading me to think “An Aerial Ariel”?

Jasmin and Aladdin satisfied my need for Olympic skating skills with all sorts of lifts, skips, and flips. Then Rapunzel and Flynn Rider raised the bar. A 60 foot long scarf, representing Rapunzel’s hair, dangled from the ceiling and the two skaters grabbed hold and flew, swirled, and counterbalanced each other in a terrifyingly beautiful routine. As we were still catching our breath, intermission was upon us.

Vendors wandered the aisles, selling plastic, light-up spinny toys starting at $15 and ranging to $30. We still didn’t feel the need. Luckily, the Sharks’ Zamboni provided a distraction.

Sharks Zamboni

The second half started with a long re-telling of Finding Dory. The costumes weren’t as successful as some, making the skaters look like fish-human hybrids in a weird way. Also, Hank the octopus seemed to be an oversized, remote-controlled Roomba, with little movement or character. I don’t know how I would have done it better, but it didn’t magic me.

Hank the Octopus


Then came what all the little princesses had been waiting for: Frozen! The story was shortened to focus on the relationship of Anna and Elsa, with enough Olaf for pathos and Hans and Eric for romance.


frozen castle on ceiling.jpgThe final number featured a self-driving bridge and an ice castle that unfolded from the ceiling. “Let it Go” rang through the arena as Elsa skated her heart out around the rink and up the staircase, nearly touching the crystal lights dangling from the ceiling. Hundreds of little girls and their mothers sang along. We were riveted.



Grandma Judy


Disney on Ice (Part 1)

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Last night Auntie Olga, Cousin Liza and I had such an adventure. We drove all the way to San Jose for dinner and a show! The dinner was at Bluefin Sushi, a very pretty and delicious Japanese restaurant. We had the sushi sampler and Liza ate all of her California Roll. Liza’s glass of apple juice came with lots of ice, which she hates, so Olga fished it out …with chopsticks! The idea of having too much ice on our way to and show on ice gave us the giggles. I opted for hot tea, which felt very good on my Friday-afternoon-teacher-tired throat.

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Inside Blue Fin Sushi, San Jose

The GPS in Auntie Olga’s phone had found the restaurant, so we let it guide us to the parking lot, as well. There were only about 15 minutes until the show started, so the lot was almost full. We got Liza into her full Princess Elsa finery in and beside the car…pink and blue winter boots, sparkly dress over her school clothes, and a long blonde braid. We joined the flow of tiny princesses and their (mostly female) guardians and headed down the sidewalk.

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Olga and Liza

The lobby at the top of the impressive staircase was packed with people, souvenir booths, photo booths, and snack stands.

Liza and I at the base of the Shark Tank’s steps

We didn’t need any of it, so we high-tailed it to our seats. Having just come UP a long flight of steps, it made sense that we would go DOWN another, into the ice arena used by the San Jose Sharks hockey team and known as The Shark Tank. This evening it was less shark and much more princess…. magical lighting, mysterious sets tucked up on the high ceiling waiting their turn, and hundreds of spinning, sparkling, flashing lights on toys held by children.

The Shark Tank with added Magic

I was amazed at how a hockey arena could be filled with light, lightness and color. Lights under the ice, moving light effects and music turned what is usually a noisy, collision-filled space with Disney magic.

I have been a Disney fan most of my life. The Disneyland Park opened when I was one, and I can’t count the number of times I have visited. I think I have seen every Disney movie at least once, and I can sing a frightening number of songs by heart.

Seeing this show reminded me of why I love Disney. The stories are about following your dreams, taking risks, and realizing your heart’s desire. True, in the 1950s the dream was finding your Prince Charming and holding on forever, but the stories have grown. They now encompass dreams of devotion to family, personal empowerment, literacy over ignorance, and embracing one’s different-ness. Mulan, Merida, Belle and Elsa are my heroes. And they were all on the ice in San Jose.

I will tell you more about the show tomorrow!


Grandma Judy







Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

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Liza figuring things out

One of my favorite things to do here at Uncle David’s house is read books with Liza. She loves “If you give a Mouse a Cookie” and anything about dinosaurs. Lately she has been reading more to me!

She is learning letters and sounds at her school, and a few months ago she noticed OPEN signs on stores we could go in. Then she saw the same sign on the Steinbeck Library! We checked out books in the Word Bird Series, and she is enjoying recognizing some words and figuring others out.

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She is starting to read everything! The other day she wanted more light in the kitchen so she found the remote control Uncle David made and read  “…k…kitch…kitchen!” She pressed that button and turned the light on. She was so excited! I am sure she will be reading before she goes to school, just like your Mommy did.

Remote Control for Lights

In Uncle David’s house there are also books in Russian, which are gifts from Auntie Olga’s Mommy, Baba Alla. There are bright and colorful, but I can’t read them! I only know four letters in Russian, the four that spell “Liza”.

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Beautiful Russian Book

I don’t know if I will be able to learn to read Russian, but I am practicing speaking it.

“Liza, kudah tapitchki?” (Liza, where are your slippers?)

“Ya niz naito.” (I don’t know.)

“Na.” (Here)

There is sure a lot of learning going on here in Salinas!


Grandma Judy

Party in Prunedale

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

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Liza in a Fabulous Backyard!

Yesterday Cousin Liza and I went to a party in the hills of Prunedale, just north of Salinas. Our friends Kitty Petruccelli, her husband  Mike Godin, and their kids Isaac and Rhys were visiting from Florence, Massachusetts. They were staying at the very cool home of Thomas and Susanna.

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Rhys on the Trampoline

It was chilly there, though not snow-cold like up there in Portland, but the sunshine was so bright and the sky so blue, it felt almost unreal. When we got there, we saw Rhys, who is going-on-seven, jumping on the trampoline. Liza watched for a while, then climbed up and let Rhys bounce her, then got up her nerve and jumped very well. She was having so much fun!

Liza and Rhys


Inside, the grownups were setting out delicious vegetarian food and talking. Along with our hosts there was Bill Minor, who plays piano and writes poetry, his wife Betty and their son Tim, who coaches high school track in Reno, Nevada. He and I talked about teaching and why we love being able to make a difference in kids’ lives.

Angela der Ramos, who I met, along with Kitty, at a writing class at UCSC in 2001, arrived and told us about her work with the teacher’s union and her run for the CTA board. She, too, is making a difference, but from further up the teaching/administrator/policy making food chain. Her energy and truth-telling is always amazing to me.

As the afternoon moved along, Liza found a sand pile in the yard and she and Rhys played there for a while, then Thomas started gathering firewood, and Liza helped him. She helped lay the fire in their new fire pit, just up the hill from the house. She has lots of practice from helping her daddy.

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Fun is Where You Find It!

There is also a very nifty guest house, which used to be a barn. It has one room downstairs and one upstairs, connected by a ladder. Thomas showed Liza how to use the safety bar to get up and down. We liked looking out at the trees from the top floor. It was like being in a tree house.

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Brave Liza on the Ladder

Once the fire was built, people started moving out to the yard. It was chilly enough that the fire felt good, but Thomas stayed in bare feet. My phone stopped working, so I have no photos of faces around the fire, which I was hoping to get. I also have no pictures of Kitty, Mike, Angela, or Bill…blog fail, sorry.

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Liza and Thomas Contemplating their Fire

When it got near bedtime, Angela gave us a ride back home and we had a late dinner of crab salad that Auntie Olga had made. Very tasty.

Then a little bit of Mary Poppins, and off to bed.


Grandma Judy


Sniffles and Memories



Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I think I must be fighting off the cold bug that’s been going through my classroom. This morning I woke up with an icky throat and stuffy nose. Since I wasn’t needed to do anything today, I decided to really take care of myself and see if I could beat it.

I had a breakfast of healthy muesili and yogurt with blueberries, then had many cups of tea and went to bed. I read until I fell asleep. I repeated this pattern for chicken soup lunch and leftover dinner.

At 6:00, Cousin Liza and Auntie Olga got back from the ocean and brought me a lovely camellia flower! I asked where they found it and Liza said she had found it on the ground and just picked it up! Florist by serendipity.

Gifts to My Heart

She found a vase in my room that we put water in and then the flower. It looks beautiful sitting between the mirror and a photograph of my lovely people taken when they were in Dublin, just a few years ago.

Memory is a funny thing.  Their trip to Dublin seems like so long ago,  yet my mother’s passing and Liza’s birth, which happened the same year, seem like only yesterday. Maybe it’s the cold germs.

Tiny Baby Liza



Time to drink some more tea and head for bed.


Grandma Judy

Valentine’s Day

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

We have been celebrating Valentine’s Day all this week! We started a few days ago, when Auntie Olga and I spent an evening helping Liza decorate her Valentine cards for her class at school. There were 18 cards, and each one needed a name…. “Elizabeth”, 18 times. Then there were the stickers, then putting them in the envelopes, then sealing the envelopes. Such a production! But we had fun. Liza is getting very good at signing her whole long name.

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 Artist at Work

Then there was the preparation in my classroom. The fourth graders cut, punched holes, and sewed their Valentine’s mailboxes, and then they decorated them with cut paper. They were all different and wonderful.

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Dragon-Made Card

Today I opened the present Auntie Bridgett left for me when she left on Sunday. There was wonderful lavender soap and lovely pink socks. The picture on the socks is a little girl and her pet squirrel, each saying “…No, YOU act normal.” There was also a handmade card from my sweet Bridgett. One day I will have a show at an art gallery with all the one of a kind cards she has made me over the years.

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Card and Socks!

Then, during the day, my vice principal Erin brought me a bouquet of flowers that had been delivered from Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson! There were roses, carnations, and day lilies in a beautiful vase..they looked so pretty on my desk, surrounded by spelling lists and bottles of Elmer’s glue.

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Flowers from my Sweeties

During our school party, I received so many lovely cards and presents from my Room 10 Dragons! Two stuffed bears, a panda, candy candy candy, and a coffee cup. Such wealth! But more important is the love and respect of my sweet students.

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My School Goodies

Finally, this afternoon, Cousin Liza got home from school with HER goodies from school. Cards, candy, stickers, and even bubbles to play with at the park. She sure has nice friends.

I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day in Portland, too.


Grandma Judy