Spring Field Trip

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Spring has sprung, but it is also dripping, blooming, and blowing! But we are not letting that stop us. Today was the fourth grade’s walking field trip to Hartnell College to watch the children’s theater show, The Princess who Lost her Hair.

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Daffodils peeking

The weather was windy and cool, but 75  kids, 8 parents, and three teachers headed off from University Park School. We walked through the neighborhood to stay off Central, where the sidewalks are still being reconstructed after the trees were removed, and off West Alisal, a very busy street. Once we got to the Theater Arts building we went right in. We were the only class coming, so we had the whole theater to ourselves. We got the first through 6th rows…great seats! Every student got their own program, and most read about the actors and story before the play started.

A line of fourth graders

The play was performed by 6 performers, 5 of whom were kids. It was an African folktale about a sad but vain princess who believes that her long, beautiful hair is her only source of strength. When a bird asks for a few strands for its nest, she rudely refuses and sends the bird away. The bird, being magical, causes a terrible drought in the land.

In the audience!

A kind beggar woman goes to find the bird and help resolve the problem, having her own adventure along the way. In the end, the Princess and the beggar woman become friends and rule the country together. It is a lovely story of the consequences of vanity and pride, and the need to be kind and respectful to everyone.There was enough music, theatrical magic and silliness in the play to be very entertaining.

As a fan of the theater, I could enjoy the play because the students were behaving so well. As a teacher, I enjoyed the fact that my students could pay respectful attention to live theater.

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The Set of the Princess Who Lost Her Hair

We got back to school without getting wet, and enjoyed the rest of the day writing about the trip and doing our mosaics.

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Kylie’s Garden

During my afternoon, I realized that it was 5 years this week that my Momma passed away. It was that same day that I lost a dear student, Kylie Casada, to brain cancer. Momma’s memorial is her family and the flowers we grow from her garden. Kylie’s memorial is a garden at University Park, which has just this week started blooming. Heather, daffodils and a cherry tree are opening up to remind us that life is beautiful, and that it goes on.

Spring is a time of new beginnings.


Grandma Judy


Finally, Birthday!

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Thanks so much for calling me last night to tell me Happy Birthday! It was the happy cap on a fun evening.


I opened my package from Portland first thing in the morning. Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson sent me a copy of Auntie Bridgett’s new zine, about fonts and typefaces. It is so pretty and interesting! They also sent a cute card she had made, of two cats that look very much like my darling people.

First Card

Of course, the whole day can’t be celebration. It was a Monday, and a school day. My students had all had fun weekends, too, and didn’t seem to want to be in school. Following directions was hard, and treating each other nicely was even harder, so by the time I was done with my conferences, I was done in.

I got home and Auntie Olga, who has this week off as her Spring Break, had done the shopping. She ordered pizza from Riley and Papa’s Pizza, which used to be Mountain Mike’s. I had some tea and fruit and fell asleep until the pizza got delivered and Liza got home from school.

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Woman Cards

We opened some wine and Uncle David got home. He was even more tired than I had been. But he is still good company. Before we ate, I opened my presents! It was an accidental robot themed party! Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson sent me a little robot painted on a heavy domino, from the artist at Botjoy. It’s a tiny robot who is “programmed to love you…to notice all the nice things about you, and, when held to your ear, to tell you why people love you…”. Just the thing for an emotionally exhausted teacher. Perfect.

My presents from Auntie Olga, Uncle David and Liza were wonderful, too. One was a tiny tea robot, who holds your tea bag and looks fabulous. I have enjoyed his services already! There was also a pack of “Woman cards”…a real deck of playing cards with Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, Mary Cassatt, and 10 other female movers and shakers. There were even Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller as the jokers! And there was a “never-ending card” that Liza and her mommy had made that kept opening and opening… it was amazing.

Auntie Bridgett mentioned that there might be a second card in the mailbox, in addition to the one that came with my presents. There was!!

Last card!

After dinner Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson called and chatted until my throat was sore, then I played and read with Liza. Then you called and my day was complete.

I slept the sleep of a 62 year old birthday girl filled with joy, love, and the knowledge that Spring Break is only 3 days away.


Grandma Judy

Adventures in Transit

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

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Auntie Olga, ready to roll!

Today was another adventure. Auntie Olga, Cousin Liza and I went to the John Steinbeck library, but this time, we took the bus! We figured with the bus ride replacing the mile walk, we could enjoy more time at our destination. Since both the number 20 and the number 25 bus run between our house and downtown Salinas, even on a Sunday we don’t wait more than a half hour for a bus, and much less if you plan right.

We left the house earlier than usual, and Auntie Olga still had her coffee cup. Liza found some lemon grass and noticed that the leaves look like hearts! Somewhere along the way, Liza found part of a pencil sharpener and started creating tiny bouquets in it…blades of grass, a tiny belladonna daisy, and some small magnolia seed pods.

Chatting with John
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Liza explaining her bouquet

She was explaining all the bits of loveliness in her creation when we noticed that Rick’s brother Kevin was riding up on his bike! We had hugs all around before the bus came and took us to the Steinbeck library. We turned in books, got new ones, and Liza made us a fabulous pretend lunch from the library’s toy kitchen. We realized that we weren’t just pretend hungry, we were really hungry!

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Liza’s food truck

Auntie Liza suggested lunch downtown, so we walked to Portobello’s new location on Main. They were closing in 15 minutes, so we took our seats at a table outside to enjoy our burgers and quiches. The food was very good, and I introduced Auntie Olga to Messiah Beer. The weather was cool, but we had coats and were very comfortable.

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Driving Auntie Olga

In the Steinbeck Center, Liza had fun showing her mommy all her favorite things…the red pony, the model A car, the children in the migrant field camp, and Doc Ricketts’ boat. And as she looked at the exhibits, Auntie Olga’s mind was racing…how could she use this museum as a teaching resource for her class at Central Coast High School? John Steinbeck’s work encompasses history, literature, and science. The museum itself is a graphic artist’s dream. I got the business card of the director so Auntie Olga could contact her about curriculum.

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“I nearly always write…just as I nearly always breathe.”

When we were done at the museum, we walked just across Salinas Street to the transit center and caught a bus within a few minutes. We walked the few blocks home and nodded off into napland.


Grandma Judy

Birthday Walk

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

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David and storm clouds over  Santa Cruz

Even though my birthday isn’t until Monday, we did the celebration on Saturday. Uncle David and I went to Asilomar and had a long walk in the wind and sun, which was just what I needed! It was bright and cold and absolutely perfect. The clouds over the bay gave us a pretty good picture of what was happening elsewhere… rain over there, clear over there.

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Arriving at Asilomar

The clouds kept changing! It was wonderful. We saw some rock stacks, and I managed to add two rocks to one, getting a picture before it fell down.

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Rock Stack

One thing I love about the ocean is that it puts things in perspective. “How long have you been working on that?” It asks. Then it chuckles. “Don’t worry…I’ve been eroding this cliff for a thousand years, and it’s still not done.” It lets me breathe to know there is so much tangible power that isn’t my responsibility.

The birds kept us company. A flock of sandpipers scurried over the rocks and sand, seeming to disappear when I pulled out my camera. Seagulls soared and crows bickered.

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Find the Crows

David and I climbed over some rocks and up a small cliff face, and found the boardwalk that lead back to the road, then walked up the hill to The Fishwife. It is a bright, friendly restaurant that is fancy enough to have good food and wine and be pretty, but comfortable enough to chat with the waiters and come in with a little sand on your shoes.

The Fishwife

David and I only waited a few minutes until Auntie Olga and Liza joined us, and we ordered lunch! Calamari appetizers, Pasta Primavera, barramundi, and grilled salmon were our choices, with Liza having the chicken tenders. We drank a light Angeline Pinot Noir which went well with all the delicious food.

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Auntie Olga

We ate and drank, then Olga and Liza went to Dennis the Menace Park and I, being lazy, had Uncle David take me home. The wind and sun and good company had worn me out.


Grandma Judy

Friday Night with George and Mimi

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This evening I did something very different: I went out for the evening! My dear friends George and Mimi Niesen invited me for dinner and a show.

The Madonna del Sasso

The dinner was one of the Friday night fish feasts at Madonna del Sasso. This is the Catholic Church with the largest social hall and kitchen, so the whole Salinas Catholic community gets together and puts on seafood feasts every Friday during Lent. I’d only ever been inside the church, which is spacious and lovely. The social hall is huge! There were probably 20 tables with 8 people each, and they were mostly full. People were coming and going, talking, eating, drinking really generous pours fairly good red wine from plastic cups, talking to old friends.

This Salinas tradition is very popular and raises money for all the Catholic churches and services in town. It is attended by folks from other churches, too. I saw friends from Temple Beth El and a lovely lady from St. Ansgar’s Lutheran.

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Room full of happy people!

But before the wonderful grilled shrimp, there was half a steamed artichoke, salad, garlic bread, and pasta with sauce. There were desserts, too, but after all that dinner was gone, I was stuffed.  We said thank you to the servers, who were all volunteers, and headed off to the next part of our evening.

George drove us over to Hartnell College for their Music Extravaganza! It was an evening of music performed by the Orchestra, the Choir, Piano students and the Jazz Band. George said “It’s good to see that music is in good hands!”

The teachers who lead the groups we saw were Sandy Rudo, who heads the choir, and Steve Ettinger, who leads the Jazz Band. Their skill, as well as their affection for their students, was delightfully evident. We heard southern gospel music, selections from “Hamilton” and “Moana”, Chopin, La Llarona (which, fittingly, always makes me cry), George Gershwin, and Count Basie.

Two stand-outs for the evening were young Monica Mendoza and Alexis Munoz. Miss Mendoza sang in the Choir, picked up a flute and played a solo, then, with pianist Alexis Munoz, accompanied the Chamber Singers. Then she grabbed her saxophone case and ran down the hall to play with the Jazz Band!

Alexis Munoz played piano as accompanist to the Choirs, then played for the Jazz band…later we learned that he has only been playing piano for a year. Wonderful talent, great skill, great fun. We wandered out of the Music building, and past the pool to the car. We were still glowing with the joy of hearing such lovely music in this small town of Salinas.

Thank you, George and Mimi, for a wonderful evening out in Salinas!


Grandma Judy


New House!

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Even though I am here in Salinas, Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I have just bought a new house in Portland!!

About a month ago, after looking at many houses that were too expensive or in the wrong neighborhood, my two wonderful people found this nice condominium just a few blocks from many of our favorite places. Laurelhurst Park….3 blocks away.  Lone Fir Cemetery, the Belmont Inn, the Nerd Out…all in the neighborhood. The number 15 bus to the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society…. two blocks away.

Lone Fir in fall
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Desserts, Drinks, and Action Figures!

It was within our budget, new enough to not need major repairs, and bright and sunny. It has room for Auntie Bridgett to paint, for me to write, and for Grandpa Nelson to work on his computer. It has a patio where I can grow a rose or two and a balcony for all of Great Grandma Billie’s geraniums.

Auntie Katie’s friend Alyssa Isenstein-Krueger is a Real Estate Agent with Living Room Realty and helped my two people get in to see the place before the first Open House, so they got first dibs. And boy, did they dib!

We made an offer that afternoon. There was a lot of traffic over the internet with signing papers and passing banking information, but the final papers couldn’t be signed over the net…they needed to be signed in person. A notary named Jasmin printed out the papers and we met in the delicatessen department of the Nob Hill on South Main. So I signed the papers for my house in Portland in the grocery store I shopped at here in Salinas. Nob Hill is the bridge, sort of, between my life here and my life there.

I signed the papers on that rainy evening of the Union march at the Board meeting, going directly from signing papers to marching in the rain. What a day that was!!

The “Three” of us in front of the new house

Tonight, Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett had a bottle of wine at the new place, sitting on folding chairs, and we had a Facetime visit with all of us having wine here, to toast our new home. My two sillies brought along a large ceramic duck to stand in for ME.

We are all emotionally exhausted and ready to have a new nest to feather and be comfortable in. I get to see the house next week when I go to Portland for Spring vacation, and I am looking forward to deciding where everything will fit.

I can’t wait to start my new life in my new home!


Grandma Judy


Union Politics in Salinas

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I have been a teacher in Salinas for almost 30 years now, so I have been a member of the local Salinas Elementary Teacher’s Council for that long. A Union is a way for people to join together to make sure their jobs are safe, fair, and that they can make a decent wage doing it. Unions have been helping workers for hundreds of years. Through protest, strikes and other peaceful means, Unions have gotten rid of Child Labor, given us the weekend and the minimum wage, and made sure factories are safe to work in.

The Teacher’s Union here in Salinas has been having a disagreement with our administration. The disagreement is mainly based on how District money is being spent. Teachers and classified employees seem to be the last thing anyone wants to invest in! We want to be able to make our house payments and have reasonable health insurance for a good price.

The administration tells us this is too expensive. They want to keep our pay low while asking us to do more work….deal with disruptive behaviors, be mental health counselors, and give tests we don’t have any control over. They say that if we work more days, they will pay us more, and that THAT is our raise. But getting paid more for working more isn’t a raise…it’s just working more for the same rate of pay.

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Teachers Taking it Outside

About 18 years ago, the teachers here in Salinas joined together in a big way to fight a different set of administrators over pay and benefits. And now we are at it again. Monday night about 75 teachers marched outside the District Office on Main Street in the rain, wearing our lovely teal SETC shirts. Kids came along and held signs. We waved at cars and they honked back at us in support. When the Board meeting was about to begin, many of us walked inside and stood at the back of the room or took seats in the audience. Some held up their signs.

When the Board walked in, the President asked that we put down our signs. We declined. He said this was a place for civil discourse. We stood quietly, with our signs. He referred to one of our teachers as “Honey” in explaining why we needed to stay quiet. This was not received well.

He asked our President, Oscar Ramos, to tell us to stop cheering for speakers. Oscar said that, out of respect, we would not interrupt anyone who wanted to speak, but we would cheer appropriately when moved to do so. The President wasn’t happy, but graciously allowed us to speak and keep our signs up. I was curious what would happen if he hadn’t.

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A Sea of Teal

I had to leave before the meeting was over, but I was proud to have been able to take part in this protest with my Union. I was happy to see young and old teachers working to support their fellow teachers. I was proud to exercise my freedom of assembly and speech. And for the first time in way too long, I was proud to be an American. It felt good.


Grandma Judy