Earth Day at University Park

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Sunday was Earth Day! Liza and I celebrated in several ways. First, we used some wonderful sunflowers given to Liza’s Mommy Olga to make a huge bouquet for the table.IMG_5030.jpg

Then we went out for a walk, to see the lovely flowers everyone has in their gardens. We walked past University Park Elementary School, the school I have worked at for 28 years, which had invited parents, teachers and families to come make the school more beautiful. Liza and I stopped by to help.

Mrs. Gaynor and Miss Nichols

Before we knew it, we had gloves on and were pulling weeds. Rakes and shovels helped, too. Mrs. Gaynor and Miss Nichols, the sixth grade teachers, were in charge of the operation and Ms Laird, our Vice Principal, was there as well. I worked with some former students, as well as younger kids who would be my students if I was teaching next year.  Valerie Beltran is the only current Dragon that I saw there. She and her Mama both worked really hard. Everyone was so helpful and friendly!


Most of the activity was focused on the garden. This area was fenced in a few years ago and equipped with planter boxes. The big school lawnmower can’t get in, so the grass grows like crazy. The planter boxes themselves were also getting overgrown and needed help.

In a different area, kids were painting wooden flowers and long green stems to be placed along the chain link fence that goes around the garden. This will make it prettier and more cheerful. Liza got to paint a flower and then came and helped me pull weeds.img_5060.jpg

At noon, Miss Nichols’ Dad and Mom, who I have known since Miss Nichols was student at University Park, made us all hot dogs for lunch. We were all so hungry, tired and sweaty! But it was fun working with old friends, and getting to know new ones.

Two young people who worked very hard were Brandon and Isabella, third graders in Mimi Nolan’s class. They worked together carrying heavy loads and pulling giant weeds. I taught Brandon’s older brother Christian, so it was nice getting to know him.

I am proud of my school for pulling together and proud my granddaughter helped out, as well.

Love, Grandma Judy

A Very Salinas Birthday Party

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Yesterday was Cousin Liza’s birthday party. Uncle David and Auntie Olga got the tent, bounce house and tables set up at Hartnell Park while Liza and I put her LEGO Rapunzel tower together. She is very good with all the tiny parts!IMG_4914.jpg

The party started at 12, so I had a little bit of time to play in the bounce house before all the kids got there. It is HUGE and strong enough for grown ups to run around and around in circles. Very good exercise. And a nice place to rest, too.IMG_4919.jpg


When the guests started arriving, the Very Salinas part of the birthday became clear. Most of them were children from Liza’s school, but some of the parents were friends of Uncle David from when HE was in school. Rusty Hammersmith, who I knew when he was 8, came with his wife and daughters. Rusty works for a company that fights salt water intrusion. Here in farming centered Salinas, that’s really important. Tony Hartfelt, a good friend from high school and beyond, came with his wife and twin daughters. Tony is a child psychologist and his wife Maryanne is a teacher. We talked about education and parenting…. things we had in common.

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Rusty, David, and Tony

As I was chatting, I saw our old neighbor Leroy walking by so I went to talk to him. He has adopted our old cat Sassy, who didn’t get along with our kitten Mouse. They are all still happy. As we were talking, a group of former students hollered “Hi, Mrs. Drueding!” as they headed to the park.

Then it got even more Salinas-y. Sitting there, surrounded by my son’s childhood friends and their children, my friend Pete Andresen jogged by. His mom, Ruth, is also a friend and tells me all about the history of Salinas. Pete’s coming by made the circle of Salinas feel complete.


When it got to be three o’clock and the party was over, Liza wrapped herself in the Periodic Table of Elements blanket and we headed home while Auntie Olga and Uncle David cleared things up. Naptime!IMG_4997.jpg


Grandma Judy


Liza’s Birthday!

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Last Wednesday was Cousin Liza’s 5th birthday. For me, it was a regular school day. But Liza got to give cookies to her classmates at Hitchcock Road Montessori, go shopping for the perfect small cake, and come home for a nap before her birthday dinner.IMG_4902.jpg

I got to teach my school kids, including reader’s theater practice, then come home and rest. I made dinner like a regular Wednesday. Auntie Olga set the table with beautiful china and her father’s silverware, and we ate and had wine and watched Liza unwrap family presents. She got a fluffy tutu from her mommy and a subscription to Highlights High 5 magazine from me. We have read through one issue already!

During dinner, Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett called from Portland. It was good to see their faces and hear their news! I miss them both very much.


After presents and dinner and even after cake, we measured Liza. She is 47 5/8 inches, or 121 centimeters. Yes, she is tall for her age.


Grandma JudyIMG_4800.jpg


Talkin’ About Gulliver’s Travels

Inez don Carlos

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Today we had a visitor to class. Her name is Inez don Carlos and she is a dear friend. She has a cat named Gulliver who travels all over the world. He sends our class, and lots of others, postcards from all his travels. We have postcards from South America, China, Russia and Paris.He is a very good teacher for geography and history.

Inez works from her home and can be reached at or

On these postcards, Gulliver writes (or asks Inez to write, I am never quite sure) interesting things about the places he is visiting. He has told us about the ancient Olympics in Greece, cats running from chefs in Thailand, and Gulliver himself accidentally getting locked in the old Montana jail.

Taking Questions

So of course, when Inez came, the kids ( whom I call The Dragons) had lots of questions for her (and Gulliver, who didn’t come, because he is traveling). What’s his favorite toy? (A catnip ball.) What color is he? (Orange and White with black stripes). How does he travel? (Airplane, car, walking…) Has Gulliver ever been to Paris? (Yes, and he has a French girlfriend.) Is he afraid of anything? (Yes, getting his tail stepped on.)

The only picture Inez has of Gulliver was drawn by dear Auntie Bridgett Spicer, who is a wonderful cartoonist. Inez projected it up so the kids could get a feeling for his handsome self.

The Traveling Cat Himself

After answering lots of questions, Inez asked the Dragons some. She brought out a large traveling bag and asked, “If you were going camping, what would you put in the bag? (Food, flashlight, cell phone, matches…) What about a trip to San Francisco? (Money, camera, nice clothes, good walking shoes…)

Cat Art

The Dragons started working on art projects that are all about cats, but didn’t get them finished in time. I will mail them all in a package to Inez when she gets back home to Montana.

What a nice day at school!


Grandma Judy

Emotional about Plants

LOMPOC, 1979
LOMPOC, 2012

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This week, I have been thinking about the plants in my life. Plants that have been special me and my family, particularly my Momma, Billie Evans. Momma was a real gardener. She knew the names of every plant, and if she didn’t know, she looked it up or asked Mr. Bishop, who ran the nursery around the corner from our house in Manhattan Beach.

Momma had a few plants she was emotionally attached to. There was a large hydrangea, a full 8 feet in diameter and higher than her head, that she loved. It held pride of place in our front yard. It had been a wedding gift from her former landlady, Mrs. Ray, in 1947. She loved that plant so much. But she loved Daddy more, and when he had to move it to put in an extra driveway for the trailer he was building, she took cuttings and made the most of it.

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When my parents retired and moved to Lompoc, their yard was a mass of overgrown wild mustard. It was weeks of work just to have bare ground to start with. But over the years Daddy nurtured his vegetables and fruits, his berry vines and green beans, and Momma grew her flower garden. Daddy shopped for the best seedlings; Momma got cuttings from friends.

When she’d walk you around the garden, she’d say,”That’s one of Nadine’s roses, isn’t it doing well?” “Those geraniums are from Mr. Tucker…he says they are so old, you can’t buy them anymore!” She loved her plants, but that was really an extension of the love she had for people in her life.

When Momma couldn’t live by herself anymore and we needed to sell the house in Lompoc, I made sure to take cuttings from every geranium. They thrived in my garden in Salinas and are now in pots on our patio in Portland. They, like Momma’s garden, are an extension of the love of these people. The lilies that grew so tall by her lemon tree are now lighting up a corner of her Grandson David’s yard in Salinas.

In 2012, the city of Lompoc invited Momma to have her garden on their city garden tour. Hers was listed as “The Friendship Garden” because the majority of her plants came from friends. People came by and visited all day. She was frail by that time, but she was so happy to walk everyone around and tell them about her garden.

Now, here in Salinas, there is a new generation of family getting attached to plants. My granddaughter Liza was born just 5 years ago. On the day she was born, a friend and I moved a small lemon tree from an awkward spot in her family’s backyard to a better place by the fence. That is Liza’s lemon tree. She knows the story of it and tells me about it when we play out in the yard.

Liza’s Lemon Tree

Plants and us. We be family.


Grandma Judy

The Beauty of Perspective

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

As a mother, grandmother, and teacher, I have had many opportunities to ponder the mystery that is (are?) children. They have been my hobby, my joy, my exhaustion and my job for over 38 years.

Jasper, figuring things out

When they were tiny and mine, I was desperate to keep them fed and clean on little sleep and and even less money. As they grew, I realized that their minds needed to grow, as well. We invented games with words, sticks, food, blocks…anything to get them thinking.

Once I started teaching, my partner Laurel and I made games (but we called them lesson plans) that helped our students’ brains grow. How does watercolor paint act in the rain? What if you could paint a giant blue whale with tiny hand prints? Can you really have small children make traditional Japanese fish prints with Today’s Catch from Phil’s? (Yes. Yes, you can.)

More stuff to figure out

I kept up the games in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and now 4th grade. I noticed that I could tell which students had had the benefit of games like these. Children who have conversations with their adults talk and listen better. Children who talk about shopping while shopping understand numbers and counting better. Children who are read to and tell stories do better in every aspect of school.

A while back, I got to start thinking about how to make games for tiny children again, because you, Jasper, came along, followed by Kestrel and Cousin Liza. Smelling vanilla, touching feathers, rolling down hills and splashing in puddles were our curriculum. Singing. rocking, and dancing were our music department.


And now that I am a live-in Grandma for a while, I am having fun making more games. Since Liza is beginning to know about words, we are reading books and playing with letters. She is getting braver, so we practice with bikes and climbing trees. She loves to color, so her Daddy, your Uncle David, brought home a giant gecko he printed out.img_4778.jpg

And as she grows intellectually, her lessons get more complex. What is history? What happens when people die? How do people live together peacefully? Big questions help little brains to grow.IMG_3556.jpg

So, with this perspective, I appreciate even more the silly games young mothers play with their babies, the constant connection of tummy packs, the mental stimulation of singing to, and dancing with, our babies.

So, keep it up, Moms and Grandmoms, Dads and Granddads, babysitters and Nanas!

Love, Grandma Judy

Spring in Salinas

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I know you are still having rain in Portland, that warm, soaking spring rain that I am missing. Here in Salinas, the weather can’t make up its mind.

Last weekend, I walked in the rain to Mission Park School. This snail looked so pretty against the wet sidewalk, I photographed him. People who know how I used to stomp on any snail I saw know that this is progress in my karmic journey.

Snail, out snailin’

Out walking today, I saw signs that spring is progressing. The wooden sidewalk that your mommy and Uncle David would beg me to pull their wagon over (for the bumps) was looking pretty and green.

Bumpa bumpa…..

Flowers were blooming, and I found a robin’s egg shell laying under a tree, where the Momma bird was being very vocal, letting me know that I  should go away.

Robin’s egg shell




At a friend’s house, I noticed the return of the headless statue!! Hooray!! Auntie Bridgett loves this statue and we worried when it disappeared. But there it is, big as life and still headless. You go, headless statue!

Stalwartly Headless


Meanwhile, in Uncle David’s garden, some bulbs I got from Great Grandma Billie’s garden years ago are starting to bloom. They are wonderfully tall lilies, and they get as high as Liza before they even bloom. But today, one went from a bud in the morning to a full bloom in the afternoon. I expect some sort of explosion very soon.

Lilies this morning…..




Lilies this afternoon!