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.

garden tour lompoc 001.jpg
garden tour lompoc 016.jpg

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!

Founder’s Day in Salinas

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Saturday, Salinas celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth birthday! It is called a sesquicentennial, which is fun to say once you get the hang of it. The city really did it right.

My day started at 7 a.m., when I walked to the Train Station. I wore my jeans and school tee shirt but carried my old fashioned lady docent clothes in my bag. At 7:45, there was already a lot of activity in the big parking lot between the Train Station and the First Mayor’s House….fellows barbecuing, people setting up booths, and kids playing around.

I found the area for school booths, and my Principal, Anna Padilla, Vice Principal, Erin Laird, and 6th grade teacher Amanda Nichols, were already at work. We were running two booths, a ping pong ball toss into small glass bowls to win a plastic fish, and a bowling ball roll game that I know is as old as your Mommy. I jumped in and started taping with everyone else.

By the time the festival opened at 9, we were ready! Kids came by and played, tossing and squealing and winning. I got good at catching bounced balls or waiting until they rolled to me, but there was still a fair bit of bending and stooping. Oooof!

We were lucky to be right in the center of things. The stage for all the music performances, including Mr. Jimmy Rossi and his partner Mr. Griffin and kids from all over the district, was just about 30 feet from us. We were facing the First Mayor’s House, so we got to see people coming and going. Some people were in old fashioned costumes, but most were in summer clothes because it was so warm.

After a few hours of chatting with kids, picking up balls and handing out fish, I headed to the First Mayor’s House. I found Maryjane Choate, who was helping organize the docents. She wanted me to be in the dining room, so I changed from Mrs. Drueding into Miss Saphronia Harvey and spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon telling people about the Harvey family. I told about their travels, how they built this house, how it was moved around to different parts of town , and what sort of lovely things are in it.

I enjoy sharing what I know about the history of the family and their things. People who have lived in Salinas their whole lives are always amazed at what a treasure we have here.

I saw old friends, too. Elaine Marbach, who was our school librarian for years, came though with her daughter Amy, and friends from french class and school…. it was like a party!

At about 2:00, Auntie Olga and Cousin Liza came by. Since Liza had been in the house before, she showed her mommy some of the nice things. Then we three went and Olga bought us a nice chicken barbecue lunch from the Sons of the Golden West booth. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was!! I ate half a chicken, a roll and beans, and still had room for salad. Then of course, there was time to play on the lawn…

We toured the festival and Liza played all the games….rolling balls into a tic tac toe board, tossing toilet paper rolls into a potty, and even making a corn husk doll. The hardest game was launching a rubber chicken into a basket… she never got the hang of that one. Down the rows we found jewelry, art, cotton candy, and at the far end, PONY RIDES!!

So Liza had a pony ride. Her legs are long enough that she can use the stirrups and she rode well. Her pony’s name was Macaroni and she was a very pretty pony. All the kids had such a good time. But finally, it was time to go home. We walked backed to the car, finding a lovely tree to climb on the way, and got home for naps. Liza and I were asleep before Auntie Olga, but not by much.

The evening was quiet, with Legos and our new favorite show, Man About Cake. Joshua John Russell is funny and shows us how to make fancier cakes than I ever hope to try…but it’s fun! I highly recommend it.


Grandma Judy

Open House Part 2

My Class, From Where I Stand

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Well, my last Open House has come and gone. It was fun.

More of Karen’s cool art!

We had about 17 of our 26 families visit. Each student had three things they needed to share with their parents:  How they write on Google Classroom, what art they had done, and what their part in our Reader’s Theater is. The school had printed up “passports” for the students to keep track of where they visited and what they did, so I was busy talking to parents as well and stamping passports. It was a busy night!

During the evening I had visits from several younger siblings of students and third graders I knew from the playground. They said they wanted to be in my class next year. “I won’t be here next year,” I told them. “I will be in Portland having more adventures!” They were sad but said I should have a good time.

My old friends from Temple Beth El Synagogue, Francine and Don Johannsen, came by with their 6th great grandchild, who is coming into fourth grade next year. It was good to see old friends, but hard to have much of a conversation in such a busy room! Another old friend, Amy Ish, came by. Amy was an experienced teacher when I began teaching in 1988, and retired a few years ago. She ran for the District school board a few years after that, and still keeps an eye on our District.

Free Books!!!

Before I left for the night, I needed to plug all the Chromebooks back in so they would be charged for more writing by tomorrow. On the way off campus I saw that lots of people were still in the cafeteria…they were getting FREE BOOKS! Since we are changing curriculum, we need to clear out old books for space for the new ones. What a feast!! I got a collections of stories to share with Liza.

The sun was almost down on this very windy evening as I walked home. I felt tired and happy. I have worked hard and done a good job. Now I am ready to do something else.

Love, Grandma Judy

Open House Part 1

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I am sure you have Open House at your school in Portland. Kids put out their work in their class, or prepare presentations, to show to their parents. At the end of this evening, I will have done thirty of them.

Some Open Houses have been nerve-wracking. The year we planned to perform our class play and only half the cast showed up, I was near tears. Then one of the little sisters in the audience said, “I can read, if that would help.” So she and some of her friends read the parts of the missing actors. The play was a great success, showing true intelligence, which, as Stephen Hawking tells us, is the ability to adapt.

Then there have been the sad ones, where kids prepared work and cleaned the room and almost no parents came. “My Dad was busy,” said one the next day. “We had to go shopping.” Really? I wanted to scream at the absent parent. Really? Groceries couldn’t wait one more day?

Then there have been the massive, soul-nurturing successes. A few years, every single parent came, even those who were divorced and not speaking to each other. Other years, former students returned and made me feel like the richest woman on Earth. My favorite may be the year a student dragged his Mom to Open House so he could show her the science experiment we had done where we heated a milk jug until the expanding air popped the cap off, which fell delightfully onto his head. He had to do it a few times until he got it right, but eventually the air expanded and the cap landed. Joy all around.

This year has been a more low-key preparation. My Dragons have written many essays on their Chromebooks, in a program called Google Classroom. They will log on to the computer and show their parents how it works, as well as their writing, and how the teacher can respond to it as they write. They also plan to show off their art, and read some parts out of our Reader’s Theater plays.

I will write again after Open House and tell you how it went.


Grandma Judy