Inspiring Students, Part 1

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

One of the many reasons I have loved teaching all these years is meeting such fantastic young people, my students, who are just at the beginning of their life’s journey. They are 8, 9, and 10 years old. They are just figuring out who they are, what they love, what they are good at, and what is important.

This year, I have many students who have surprised me in different ways. I will tell about one of them now, and one tomorrow. They are both boys, who I will call B and R so I don’t embarrass them. A few people reading this will know who I mean, and that’s okay.

B has not had an easy life. Lack of parental attention gave B the feeling that he didn’t matter, that nothing he did or said made any difference. When schoolwork got hard or boring, he simply left the classroom. He walked around the school grounds. He “eloped”, as the behavioral psychologists call it. Trying to keep him in class lead to even worse behavior. Without his parents’ stepping up, the problem just got worse.

And the longer he spent out of the classroom, the further behind he got, and the more impossible the classwork became. The whole thing seemed like a problem with no solution. He eventually put himself and a few friends at risk by jumping the fence and wandering off from school. The police were called.

Then the school called Tucci Learning Solutions. This is a private company that specializes in helping students who behave badly to behave better. They provide one to one aides who stay with a student all day. The aides help with school work, but mostly they encourage the student to do it. They provide comfort, structure, conversation, and caring. They are well trained and professional. In my class, anyway, the aide has become the caring, firm parent figure that B never had and that I, a teacher with 25 other students, could not be.

In the 3 months I have been in class, I have seen B go from an angry, belligerent boy who didn’t care about anything to a student who will follow directions (mostly) and asks for replacement papers when he loses his, who will write a paragraph about his Spring Break or do a page of addition problems. He wants to do well. He cares about himself and others. He wants to learn and believes he can.

Because of his years of “elopement”, of course, he is behind academically. He is getting extra tutoring in math and reading, and is improving. But the biggest change is in his taking responsibility for himself, his actions, and his progress. Seeing this and projecting forward, I can see success down the road for B, where before I saw only disaster.

Gives me faith in humanity.


Grandma Judy

Moving Day

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Well, today was the day! The movers went to our old house in Portland at 8:00 this morning, picked up all the furniture, boxes, and books, books, books, and put them in their truck. They drove the eight blocks to the new house and up all those stairs, and by 4:00 this afternoon, it was done.

Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett called me this afternoon, so tired they could hardly talk, but so very happy that all our things were together. They are planning on taking some nice hot baths in the giant bathtub, then getting a well deserved night’s sleep on the beds, which they still need to make.

Of course, there were some issues that caused difficulty. Auntie Bridgett dropped something big and heavy on her next-to-the-pinkie toe and it is all purple and sore. Our dresser is half an inch too big for the spot we need it to go, and we will dodge a corner for a while.

Mouse the cat spent all day in the downstairs bathroom at the old house, wondering what was going on, and, probably, sleeping. But when the last box was off the truck and the movers had driven away to get their dinner, Auntie Bridgett brought our kitten over to the new place and let her out of the carrier. Mouse nosed around, sniffing all the boxes and chairs, looking in all the corners and trying to jump on all the counters. But Auntie Bridgett let her know that was STILL not allowed.

After a while, sure that she had most of her things and most of her people, Mousekin settled down for a nap.

When she woke up, she found the window to the balcony!

Oh, look! Outside!!
Mousekin napping






I am so happy that my people are settled in our new home! They settled in enough to relax, putting the dining room table, piano, and wine rack in place. I wish them a quiet, restful evening.

And then, when school is out, I get to go see it, be there, and live there. Amazing.


Grandma Judy

Back to Salinas

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Monday was my day to fly back to Salinas for the last two months of the school year, and of my 30 year teaching career. We slept in because Mouse the cat let us, then had breakfast, packed my suitcase, and went for a walk in Laurelhurst Park. We took Auntie Bridgett’s last gnome that was still at the old house.

We had already hidden a different one in the yard of our local plastic flamingo flock, in amongst the rhododendron bushes. It was well hidden, but someone must have seen it, because there were Easter eggs hidden nearby. We wanted to put the last gnome somewhere it would be seen, but only if you really looked. We found the perfect place and tucked the gnome away. I hope he makes people smile.

We stopped at Oblique coffee to get fortified what would be a long day of packing for my two wonderful people, and then Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett helped me load my stuff into the car and drove me to the airport. We all held hands all the way, because we are going to miss each other so much.

At PDX, I had a Yumm! Bowl for lunch and found a cute bear wearing a Portland hoodie as a gift for Cousin Liza.

The flight was quick and pleasant, because I listened to Hamilton the whole way. The flight is shorter than the show, and I remembered the stage play as I listened to the music. Uncle David picked me up and we caught up with news as he drove back to Salinas. We stopped at BJ’s burgers and had a very delicious pizza before heading home to rest until Auntie Olga and Liza got home.

Later in the evening, Dinner was done and it was still light! Yay Spring! Uncle David got out Liza’s bike and helmet and they practiced in the back yard for a while. When they were tired of pushing and pedaling, Liza and I played with bubbles for a while, using our jackets and the porch lights after the sun went down. Then it was bedtime for Liza and me.

We both go back to school tomorrow!


Grandma Judy

Passover Easter Moving Craziness

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,After a week of moving box after box of dishes, pots and pans to the new house, some nice strong fellows from West Coast Piano Movers came and carried our heaviest and oldest belonging down eight steps, into their truck, then up two flights of stairs to our new living room. They were very good sports about it, but man, is that thing heavy! It was a wedding present to Grandpa Nelson and me forty four years ago and has been following us around ever since. It was nice to sit down and bang out some Carole King in the new place.

On Saturday, our newly ordered dishes came in, but were not nearly the quality we wanted and one even had a chip. So a trip to the most depressing mall in Portland, called Mall 205, was in order to return them without paying a shipping fee. Finding nothing even close to what we wanted, we found ourselves on a wild goose chase to the Washington Square Mall in the south west. Washington Square is all posh, all glitz. There is a Tesla dealership with cars gleaming like jewelry. There are Williams Sonoma, Macy’s, AND Pottery Barn. There are at least two stores that just sell make up. It was retail overload.

And because it was nearly noon and I was hungry, I freaked out a bit. I have only had a few anxiety attacks in my life, but malls are a definite trigger. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett knew I needed to eat, so we went to the nearest restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. In my hungry, panicky state it looked like Cesar’s Palace, a den of noisy overindulgence. But there was food and water and I felt better. We went back to Willams Sonoma, picked up the dishes, and headed home. Exhausted but victorious, we had a well deserved sit down.The object of our quest

Of course, this was also Easter and Passover weekend. We celebrated Passover Saturday night with leftovers from the Cheesecake Factory and a bottle of Don Chapin’s wine that we have been holding onto. Grandpa Nelson had his first taste of matzoh for the year and a blissful look settled into his face. We lit a mismatched pair of candles and blessed everything in sight.

And Sunday was Easter! I woke up early, cleared packing stuff off the table, and snipped some camellias from the bush outside. Auntie Bridgett, who usually does such a lovely job decorating, was not able to this year, but that’s no reason it shouldn’t be pretty. After a nice morning spent feeling blessed and happy, Auntie Bridgett listened to a live streaming of the church service from Twin Lakes Church in Aptos instead of going to a new church here. She will find a local church, I am sure…but not right now.

And of course, the flamingos celebrated in their yard. I head back to Salinas today and will miss Portland until June. See you then, kidlets.


Grandma Judy


Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Last night I received the last in a long line of birthday presents. Grandpa Nelson bought tickets to the touring company of Hamilton for your mommy and me, because she is the one who introduced me to the music and story of this fabulous play two years ago. Both of us, along with thousands of other folks, have been listening, singing, and dancing to the music. But Broadway is a long ways from both Portland and Salinas, and it seemed impossible. But the touring company came to Portland and Grandpa Nelson went on line last fall to get tickets for the show.

First, of course, was dinner. We took a Lyft car to pick up your mommy (and got hugs from you two as a bonus), then headed off for dinner at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern. Yummy Willamette Valley Pinot noir and Spire’s cider came along with great french fries, sushi, Kung Pao chicken and fish tacos. We ate and talked until it was time to Lyft over to the Keller Auditorium.

We had time to buy some souvenirs. I got a tee shirt that says RISE UP that I can wear to school and tell my students about the story of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant who helped write the rules of our country. Your mommy got a show book so she could tell you the story of the show we saw, with pictures of the actors.

We had good seats, in the 14th row, right on the aisle to the right side. I have listened to recordings of the Broadway show for so long, I figured I had it all memorized. But every actor put their own spin on the lyrics, so it was new all over again. Your mommy and I were both afraid we would be disappointed that it wasn’t the Broadway cast, but we agreed that it was a whole new set of people to fall in love with. The funny parts, like when the pompous King George sings a sad break-up sing to his colonies, made us laugh. The sad parts, when young Phillip died, made us cry like we didn’t know it was coming. And the music was always, always beautiful.

I didn’t take pictures of the performance, because that is rude and against the law. But there was one backdrop for the first act, an abstracted version of brick walls and warehouses, and one for the second act, abstracted wooden buildings.

The rest of the sets, desks, chairs, and so forth, were brought on or taken by actors during the play. The costumes were modified

versions of costumes from the 1700s, enough to give the idea of the period but simple enough so they were not the stars of the show. There were also a new creation, a form-fitting costume that evoked the time but was not specific to either men or women. It allowed all members of the cast to be guests at a dance, be soldiers or shopkeepers, simply by putting a jacket or cape over the basic costume.

But the stars of the show were the wonderful writing and fine actors who pulled us into the story of a brilliant young man with a need to be part of something bigger than himself. He found a country ready for independence and fought with all his mind and might to help make that happen. The play lets us see his brilliance but also the selfishness and pride that were his downfall. It showed the people around him, the personal and political feeling of the time that helped shape our country.

When the play was over, we walked from the Keller across the Willamette River, talking about the play. The water was dark and lovely, sparkling with a few lights. The Hawthorne Bridge, which your mommy says is her pet bridge, is the oldest bridge in the city. We walked a ways, then called for a Lyft which got us both home.

It is past midnight now, and I need to get to bed. It is also almost April, and I can truly say that I am finally birthday-ed out. Thanks, everyone!


Grandma Judy

Making it a Home

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Slowly, the new house on 33rd Avenue is becoming our home. The kitchen is set up, and I have made a few lunches there….reheating chicken soup and bread and a few burritos. I’ve mixed some dough baked chocolate chip cookies, although they weren’t as good as usual (because my recipe book with all the improvements is in Salinas) I was able to make some bread in the little bird style Liza and I were looking at, and it turned out really well. Auntie Bridgett and I even chopped a bunch of apples, raisins and walnuts to make haroset, a favorite Passover food. Lots of cinnamon makes it spicy, and a splash of red wine makes it all meld together. Yummy!

Grandpa Nelson wants the house to be as “new” as possible when we move in, so he arranged to have the air conditioning, heater, vacuum system, and carpets professionally cleaned. No old leftover dust for us! We get to make our own dust!

We have moved over the yard decorations, like the geraniums in pots and Grandma Billie’s “Welcome to my Garden” sign and a few gnomes, except one which has been secretly placed in the flamingos’ yard, as a way of saying thanks for all the joy those silly birds have given us while we lived in this part of the neighborhood.

Today I plan to re-pot our Norfolk pine, named Tiny Tim (because he did NOT die) into the pot our Japanese Maple, named Marley, after the Jamaican singer, has just vacated. Poor Marley didn’t survive the heat of last summer and his larger pot will allow Tiny Tim to carry on more successfully.

It makes sense, literarily speaking…. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s partner Jacob Marley dies and his ghost coms back to tell Scrooge he must change his greedy ways or he will suffer after death. This change allows Scrooge to help the Cratchit family, so Tiny Tim doesn’t die. So Marley dying the save Tiny Tim is poetic.

I only have a few more days here in Portland before I go back to Salinas to finish the school year. When I return in June, my home will be set up and lived in, and the cat will be happily enjoying sunny afternoons in the balcony. and then another adventure begins.


Grandma Judy

Illustrated Poetry

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Even though the moving people don’t come to move the furniture until next Wednesday, we are making countless trips with boxes for the new house. Since the kitchen is “my domain”, as Grandpa Nelson says, I need to get it set up so I can find things when I move back up in June. I think he is afraid of lost baking equipment delaying cookie production, but I am happy to get it organized.

In addition, yesterday I made four trips back and fourth on foot, new house to old house and back again. The walk is only about 10 minutes and the spring color is worth every step. I have decided to use one if my favorite poems, and my own photographs, to express my joy in the season. I apologize ahead of time for any errors in spacing. This is special poetry.

INJUST by e.e. Cummings

In Just-

Spring when the world is mud-

Lucious the little lame

Balloon man

Whistles far and wee

And eddieandbill come

running from marbles and piracies and



When the world is puddle- wonderful

The queer

old balloon man


far and wee

and bettyandisbell come dancing

From hopscotch and jump-rope and





goat footed

balloon man whistles


and wee