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




History on Display in Salinas

Dear Liza,

Salinas is an old city, founded in 1872, and has some lovely old buildings. I will tell you about some of my favorites.

In the 1890s, four buildings were built at each of the corners at Gabilan and Main Street, and were deliberately built not to match. They each celebrate a different architectural style of the time. The buildings are now restaurants, offices and an antique store, and maintain much of their original charm. My favorite is the McDougall Building.

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The McDougall Building

The curving alley of Italian Stone Pines along West Alisal, College and Hartnell  Streets were planted many years ago to mark the edge of the campus of Hartnell College. These magnificent trees take considerable management, but their effect is one of grandeur and solidity.

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Italian Stone Pines

Originally built as the Jeffery Hotel at 269 Main Street in 1928, this building is now used by CHISPA, a housing assistance service. It is the tallest building in Salinas at six stories plus basements. The very modern remodeled lower section doesn’t match the original 1928 facade on the upper stories.

The Jeffery Hotel, now the CHISPA Building

The Salinas Jail was built in 1931, and housed prisoners until the 1990s, including United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez in 1970. It is currently under rehabilitation after years of being used for storage and, for a few years, not being used at all.

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Historic Salinas Jail






I love wandering around town and seeing all the history.


Grandma Judy


To the toy store…and beyond!

Dear Liza, (and Jasper and Kestrel),

Sunday started with breakfast with a teacher friend, Vickeye Welch. We met at First Awakenings at the corner of Main and Gabilan and chatted about friends and future plans.

Once I got home,  Liza and I set out on another adventure. She had asked for some beads to make necklaces out of, and with so many local stores closing, The Club House, which is a lovely store that used to be “Educational Stuff” was the only walk-able choice.

We set our sites, packed snacks, and headed off. Knowing it was going to be a long walk, we by-passed our closest park, Hartnell Park. We continued down West Acacia, stopping to rest on the shady benches at Mission Park School.

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Chillin’ at Mission Park

Arriving at The Club House, we shopped. It is a bright and very full store, with lots of wonderful things. It was hard to stay focused! We found a Melissa and Doug wooden bead set that was designed for Liza’s age, and got that. A snack of some cheese sticks and Hawaiian Rolls, and we were raring to go.

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The Club House

Realizing the library was …..sort of….. on our way home, we walked up Main Street in that direction.

Liza enjoyed getting to climb the wonderfully old California Pepper trees on the front lawn of Salinas High School. A jig-jog through the neighborhood, and we found the John Steinbeck Library.

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Liza and the pepper tree

This is the library I took my kids when they were small, and it is well maintained. There are computers for kids to work and play on, a toy area with kitchen and play food, and of course, books. We checked out Pete the Cat and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear?,  then Liza made me a pretend snack of soup and a sandwich, and we headed off again.

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Full view of pepper tree!

Passing Hartnell College, Liza recognized the home of her new friend, the Panther! So we visited for a while, playing with the long afternoon shadows.

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Liza and John Steinbeck

As usual, the last leg of the journey was the hardest. The wind picked up and the sun went behind some clouds, and it got cold! We plowed on, stopping for a few minutes at Hartnell Park before trudging the last block home.

Fun with shadows!

Being in the nice warm house took all our energy away, and we both were asleep very soon. The nap revived us in time for dinner… and I know I’m going to sleep well tonight!


Grandma Judy


Old Friends

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Liza and my hat

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),


The very best thing about being in Salinas is seeing my old dear friends. I sometimes find them randomly. The other day a former student, Jesus, was buying cookies at Blue Aces Bakery where another old friend, Katrina, is working. Out for a walk, I ran into Mr. Rossi and his wife.

Neighborhood Squirrel

But today it was planned. I had a lunch date  with Pat Van Noy, a teacher who had retired by the time I met her 15 years ago. It was cloudy as I walked down Acacia Street and Main Streets to Ellie’s All American Restaurant on South Main Street, not quite two miles away, but sunny and pretty warm by the time I got there.

Pat and I talked about her life, taking care of her son’s two chihuahuas,  playing bridge, and singing in her choir. We talked about mine, getting used to teaching again and how I am adjusting to living in Salinas. We have teaching in common, so we talked about students and classroom troubles and administrators.

Pat at a Christmas Party a while back…Photo credit: Bridgett Spicer

But it always came back to “You seem to be having such fun.” And I am. My dad always said that the world was pretty wonderful, and if you weren’t having a good time it was your own darn fault, and I feel very much the same way. I work hard…we all do. But that means we are being useful. Doing a hard job that I love keeps me mentally active and walking all over town keeps me strong.

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to live in Salinas, then leave it, and then come back for a short stay. It gives me perspective and lets me visit the people I love.

Off for more adventures today!


Grandma Judy





Dear Liza, (and Jasper and Kestrel),

I have been a teacher for almost 30 years, and I love it because every day is different. Some days are more awful, some less. Today was one of the rare almost perfect days.

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How we fit it all in….

In my fourth grade class, we are starting to learn about geology and the changes that happen to the earth over long periods of time. While looking in a book at the library, I found an activity that I knew the kids would like and would help them understand how sedimentary rocks form. If only I could pull it off!

Supplies (we didn’t use the oil…)

First, I needed to get supplies. Because of the closing of Beverly’s Fabrics in Old Town Salinas, we needed to go to several different stores to find plaster of Paris. That and styrofoam cups where the purchased supplies. Jo-Ann’s crafts and fabric saved the day! For the objects to be fossilized in the sedimentary rocks, Liza and I made a hasty search in her backyard for small sticks, leaves, and flower petals. This morning, a nice fifth grader fetched sand from the play yard for me, and I found some beans in a math game I don’t use anymore.

Getting 25 kids to handle goopy plaster of Paris in a classroom without getting it all over is tricky…we had to take turns and stay out of the way of the folks working. There was an assembly, library time, and Fun Friday to work around, but we did it.

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Hands at work

By the end of the day every student had poured three separate layers of plaster of Paris into their cup, with something different fossilized between each layer. The cups will rest on the back table until Monday, when we will cut the cups and reveal the rocks! I have a feeling I should take some small hammers, for those who want to see the inside.

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Rocks resting for the weekend

This is my last few months teaching, and I am getting a little misty about leaving. I know there are other adventures to be had, but nothing that gets out there and changes lives as much as teaching.

I will miss it.


Grandma Judy