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


What a Tuesday!

Dragons on Chromebooks

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Tuesday was such a fun day at school! For most of the day it was a regular schedule, with kids working on their Chromebooks on Imagine Math and Imagine Learning. These are individualized learning programs that help kids who are behind catch up, and encourage kids who can to move ahead of the class.

At lunch, I walked with my friends Leslie and Heather, and we enjoyed the warm weather and fun conversation. It’s nice to get out of the classroom and just walk.

After lunch we had quiet reading time, which today was more like chatty reading time, which is okay every now and then. Then we got a call from the office! The Kids Eat Right folks were here!

Kids Eat Right is a program is a group of young people who go around to schools and teach kids about nutrition and food preparation. They bring all their own equipment and recipes that kids really like. Today the kids, in groups of 5 or 6, were assigned jobs: chopper, recipe reader, adder, stirrer, and server. During the directions there was a lot of noise and laughing, but once the food came around, the kids were all business. “What do we do next?” I heard from a group. “Hey, Mr. Recipe Reader, what do we do next?”

Angel enjoying the snack

At the end of the 45 minutes each group had made and eaten their fruit and yogurt parfait, cleaned up their mess, and was on the way to the next exciting thing.

US National Mountain Biking Champion Jeff Lenosky and his partner Christine had returned to University Park School to show us some stunts, give life and biking advice, and invite us to the Sea Otter Classic, the biggest mountain biking festival in the world, which is held just outside town at the Laguna Sec Race Track.

Jeff did some wonderful stunts, jumping his bike up onto steps and doing wheelies in circles. Coming off his truck, he slipped and almost fell, but caught himself. “That’s why we call them accidents, no one expects them to happen,” he said.

Jeff Lenosky, Mountain bike Champ

During the fall the chain of his bike broke and he couldn’t pedal anymore. This disappointed me, because I know he usually finishes his show by jumping over a teacher or two, and for the last few years, I have been one of the teachers! I love the applause and the excitement of watching the bike fly RIGHT over me!

But Jeff didn’t let a broken chain get in his way, and neither did I. He asked for two volunteers and my old friend Mr. Burgess joined me. Jeff scooted his bike, like a pre-schooler, and jumped over both of us. It was so fun, and since this is the last year I will be able to do it, I’m glad I got to.

oWouldn’t you?

And you know what I did after school, right? I came home and took a nap! That was a lot of excitement for this Grandma Judy. Now I am resting up for the next adventure.


Grandma Judy

John Steinbeck in Town

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

As you may know, Salinas is the town where John Steinbeck, the famous author, was born and raised. His family home still stands on Central Avenue, open for luncheons, along with its gift shop, The Best Cellar.

I was thinking the other day that if you could be a school kid in Salinas at different periods of time (and not get any older as the time passed), you would have been taught very different things about John Steinbeck.

In the decade of the 1910s, you wouldn’t have been taught about John, you would have been in school with him. He attended the West End School (where Roosevelt Elementary now stands) and Salinas High, when it was still on West Alisal Street. John was a fine football player and wrote for the school paper.

In the 1920s you might have heard gossip that John wasn’t attending classes regularly at Stanford, after his parents were so happy that he got in. After 6 years of irregular attendance interrupted by travel and odd jobs (like being an apprentice scientist at the Spreckels Sugar Factory near town), he left without graduating and moved to New York.

In the 1930s John’s name became a hated thing in Salinas. You would have been taught he was a Socialist and un-American for his views about labor and unions. His book In Dubious Battle told of the striking farm workers and the horrible living conditions and injustices they faced. The growers, who were (and are) the power and money in town, resented his point of view and many copies of his books were burned. This happened again when The Grapes of Wrath was published. Though wildly popular, the book was criticized for vulgar language and showing the growers as greedy men.

In the 1940s you would have heard about John’s travels with the Army in World War II and his part in directing documentaries about the war. And maybe questioned his being labeled a Socialist.

East of eden and car.jpg
The Infamous Book now celebrated in the National Steinbeck Center

In the 1950s you would have been warned not to read East of Eden because of its scandalous story, but amazed by the street by street accuracy with which John described Salinas.

By the 1960s, John’s local reputation was mended somewhat by his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize  in Sweden and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson. In 1968 you would have been taught about  the death of John Steinbeck, great writer and local hero, who had written so many American classics and put our little town on the map.

Sign to Steinbeckgarave.jpg
Sign to help tourists find his grave

And, if you were paying attention, you would have noticed how a city’s opinion of a person is closely tied with that city’s own self-interests. And often, still is.


Grandma Judy






Sunday Fun

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Liza and I had a fun day together. We both woke up early and spent some time playing with the Bananagrams game. We play it by making words by themselves instead of crosswords, because Liza is still learning how to read. She is getting good at sounding out words and finding letters!

When Auntie Olga and Uncle David woke up, David make pancakes for breakfast. They were delicious, and the last one, which he poured very, very slowly, had this beautiful spiral pattern on the back. Beautiful and delicious!

Then, off for a small adventure. Since Liza was feeling a bit sniffly, we wouldn’t be walking all the way to the library. But we did walk to Hartnell Park, just up the street. We played hide and seek and then she found some new friends to play with. They made sand castles and had a good time being silly together.

Auntie Olga came and drove us to the library, where we met a school friend of Liza’s and a former student of mine who is now in 7th grade! We got some lovely new books.

By this time, the pancakes were wearing off and we were HUNGRY. We headed to Yangtse’s Taste of Thai on Main Street where we met Uncle David for lunch. A whole bunch of yummy food later, it was time for home and naps, for Granddaughter AND Grandma.

After we woke up, before the sun went down, we had time for one more adventure…the bike! Liza is still needing help balancing, so I do a lot of running and balancing, which is exhausting but fun. While we were resting on the sidewalk, an old friend came by and we visited. He is the stepfather of one of my favorite former students, and it was fun catching up on news.

Finally, dinner of yummy leftover Thai food and new library books for story time! Another successful Sunday on the books.


Grandma Judy


Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This is not a fun post. It is sad and scary. You may want to skip it. Fair warning.

Today I went to a teacher training, but we were not learning how to teach. Our wonderful trainer, Kelly Hendrix, vice principal at Mission Park School, was teaching us how to keep ourselves and our students alive in the event of an active shooter on campus. Let that sink in for a minute. We have fire and earthquake drills. In Portland there are even volcano drills.

Chart showing increasing body counts of shooting. Columbine is near the center of the chart, the Las Vegas shooting is on the far right.

But this….this idea that we must try to outsmart and outrun someone who has come specifically to kill us and our children…this is a whole new level of scary. Also scary is the fact that since most shootings last a total of 5 minutes, law enforcement folks will probably arrive after the shooter is done. We will be on our own for those terrifying moments, needing to think fast and be smart.

ALICE stands for alert, lock down, inform, counter, and evacuate, which are the steps (not necessarily in that order) that are encouraged in this training. Before, our directions have been limited to “lock the door, turn off the lights, get under the desks”. Then people noticed that in many mass shootings, there were a lot of dead people under desks. So, then what?

ALICE acknowledges that there are no easy answers and that every single situation, even room to room within a school, will be different. Hiding, if necessary,  is best done behind a well-barricaded door, and children should be spread out in different parts of the room, not a dog pile, so they will be able to get up and move if it becomes possible to evacuate or necessary to fight.

Yes, fight. If you cannot get out of your room and the shooter is in there with you and your students, ALICE encourages you to know your resources and act fast. Things to throw, to distract a shooter and keep him from aiming. The kids can help by screaming like banshees or, my favorite technique, “swarming”, where everyone grabs a piece of the shooter and hangs on for dear life.  Scary, yes, but better than sitting still and waiting to be shot. Besides, the image of 26 kinder-babies bringing down a psycho is very satisfying to my imagination.

The OODA Loop shows the mental processes a shooter (or anyone) goes through to make a decision. Disrupt this, and you can slow a shooter down for a few critical seconds.

The last part of our training was acting out scenarios in which Kelly and her head custodian Gumaro, played the part of the shooters, armed with Nerf guns. We teachers played teachers and students and had beanbags and squishy balls with which to retaliate. Depending on where our class was when we became aware of the incident, some of us ran, confronted the shooter, or barricaded the door. One group was so well hidden we didn’t realize they were still in there! But even in our state of readiness, we had a few “casualties”.

Kelly Hendrix, our trainer

By the end of the morning we were all exhausted, hyper-adrenalized (if that’s even a word) and a bit sadder and wiser. I feel it was the most important training I have received in 30 years of teaching, because all our work goes nowhere if our students are dead.

And that’s the reality of it. Sorry for the sad story.


Grandma Judy