Emotional about Plants

weddygarden214png.png
LOMPOC, 1979
garden-tour-lompoc-020-2-25.jpg
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
AFTER
garden tour lompoc 016.jpg
MORE AFTER

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.

IMG_4821.jpg
Liza’s Lemon Tree

Plants and us. We be family.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Adventure to History (Part 1)

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Our adventure yesterday covered some familiar ground also some new adventures. Uncle David gave Liza and me a ride downtown so we could have more energy and time to spend there. It was a very chilly, bright day.

Bright winter sky.jpg
Bright winter sun

Our first stop was the National Steinbeck Center, which Liza had asked to go visit again. She calls it “Mr. Steinbeck’s Newseum”, which I love! We found another one of the big boulders carved with a quote from Mr. Steinbeck. It says, “I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.” This what John Steinbeck did, really. He wrote about this place as a metaphor for all places, all people, all struggles, all opportunity.  His writings were always true to the spirit of the people.

Liza with cutout steinbeck.jpg
Liza and John
Steinbeck stone at center.jpg
Climbing a Steinbeck Boulder

 

 

We took some silly pictures of Liza posing with a life sized cut out of John Steinbeck, then pretended to drive a 1915 model A that is inside the exhibit. I got to be the driver, and this was my view:

east-of-eden-and-car.jpg

 

There is another section of the museum that has the bed John Steinbeck slept in as a child. There are photographs of his school days and his classmates,  a box of books you can read and comfy chairs to sit on. It was so much fun to read, feeling like we were visiting with such a good writer.

Liza reading at Steinbeck.jpg
Reading with John’s school

Liza spent some quality time with her old friend The Red Pony, combing his mane and climbing on and (carefully) off. She visited the poor children in the Grapes of Wrath exhibit, and spent some time watching the captioning on the filmed reading of the novel, picking out words she recognized. She is becoming such a good reader!

She used to magnifying glass to look at the collection of sea animals from Doc Rickett’s Lab, reading the words “Crab” and “Sea Star” but stumbling a bit over “Anemone”. We took a pretend trip to the Sea of Cortez in the little rowboat in the exhibit, looking at the map of Mr. Steinbeck’s and Doc’s trip.

Liza at docs.jpg
At Doc’s Lab

Since it was getting close to lunchtime, we stepped onto the patio and had some cheese, apples and crackers. The sun was bright but chilly, so we had our coats on, but it was delightful. After we ate, we took another quick walk through the exhibits to say goodbye to everyone, then Liza was anxious to go to our next destination: The Harvey House, the oldest house in Salinas.

More on that tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

 

 

Bird Wars

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

rainbow.jpg
After school rainbow

It is spring, and all the birds are getting ready. Here at Uncle David’s house, there are two different groups of birds, and it gets interesting.

Over the back patio and the front porch are small areas of roof that are totally sheltered from the wind and rain. Each isn’t much bigger than a loaf of bread, but every spring they become home to several nests of birds….bluejays in the front, robins in the back. Uncle David calls it the Bird Wars.

The wars start in late February, when the birds start collecting twigs and grass for their nests. The blue jays will be in a bush collecting bits, and a robin will fly in. Whoosh! All the jays fly out in a blue cloud. When the robins are done, a jay flies in and the robins create a reddish-brown flurry as they fly away. The birds never seem to fight each other, but there is a lot of bird-language yelling going on. I have no idea what they are saying to each other.

Once the nests get built, the baby birds come, peeping all day long, front and back. I look forward to the noise! Baby birds sound like spring, hope, and life.

In addition to the jays and robins, there is a flock of sparrows that flies around. They fly to a bush and then hop around on the ground underneath, eating bugs and tiny seeds. The blue jays and robins ignore them, as though the sparrows were too small to be part of the bird wars.

crow 1.jpg
Busy Crow

There is also a crow who is making a nest in the tall eucalyptus tree behind an apartment building. The other day I saw her (or him, I can’t tell with crows) snipping little bits of branches from a curly willow and letting them fall to the sidewalk. There was quite a patch by the time I noticed. I am guessing the crow will come back later and collect the twigs to make her nest.

This is a good neighborhood for birds. The lawns all have lovely worms, the schoolyard has leftover sandwiches and chips, and the eucalyptus and palm trees are like bird condominiums. In the morning and evening, the trees seem to be shouting at each other.

crows twigs on sideak
Crow’s collection of twigs

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Goodbye, Old Trees!

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Salinas is an old city, as I was reminded of yesterday at Salinas History Day. It is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and some of the houses still standing were built in the 1890s, over 100 years ago. Back then, Central Avenue was a street lined with expensive, fashionable, Victorian style houses; two story wooden houses with pretty gingerbread details and delicate paint jobs.  Central Avenue was also home to hundreds of trees, planted when the neighborhood was new.

In recent and not-so-recent years, these trees have gotten too big for their parkways. Their roots have cracked sidewalks and lifted them up to 45 or 50 degree angles, making walking hazardous, especially for the elderly. On walking field trips, when crossing University at Central, I always directed my students to cross the street and continue “until the big tree, you’ll know it when you see it.” And they did.

pile of chips.jpg
Pile of chips from ancient tree

But not anymore. As I was walking to Roosevelt School yesterday, my path was blocked by a pile of wood chips on the sidewalk, marked with caution tape, and a BIG place where the tree was NOT. This carnage was recent…I could smell the fresh wood. I stopped and stared. How could it be gone? I took some pictures and continued on my way, thinking about how long that tree had stood there, how many field trips it had seen, how many birds had called it home.

As I continued west on Central, there were more…dozens of trees, some four feet in diameter, no longer there, damaged sidewalks removed, sand laid down for pouring new ones. The destruction  was systematic and thorough.

treestump.jpg
Four foot diameter stump

I noticed evidence of the damage the trees had caused…streets and driveways uplifted and distorted, pipes damaged, branches that had grown through power lines, still dangling when their trees were gone. I know why the city arborists needed to remove the trees. I understand, really. But I will miss them, anyway.

street repairs.jpg
Street Repairs

I also noticed a pattern. Magnolia trees were mostly left intact, with just their invasive roots trimmed when the sidewalk was removed. Are the magnolia trees younger? Are they more amenable to having their roots trimmed than other trees?

magnolia.jpg

There was a spot where the repairs had been completed and the sidewalk was clear and fresh. I am sure the people who walk down Central everyday to get groceries or to walk their children to school will appreciate the easier path.  And I hope they remember the old trees fondly, as I will.

Love,

Grandma Judy

new sidewalk.jpg
Fresh, safe sidewalk

Party in Prunedale

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

Liza yard Thomas's.jpg
Liza in a Fabulous Backyard!

Yesterday Cousin Liza and I went to a party in the hills of Prunedale, just north of Salinas. Our friends Kitty Petruccelli, her husband  Mike Godin, and their kids Isaac and Rhys were visiting from Florence, Massachusetts. They were staying at the very cool home of Thomas and Susanna.

Rhys trampoline.jpg
Rhys on the Trampoline

It was chilly there, though not snow-cold like up there in Portland, but the sunshine was so bright and the sky so blue, it felt almost unreal. When we got there, we saw Rhys, who is going-on-seven, jumping on the trampoline. Liza watched for a while, then climbed up and let Rhys bounce her, then got up her nerve and jumped very well. She was having so much fun!

liza-rhys-trampoline.jpg
Liza and Rhys

 

Inside, the grownups were setting out delicious vegetarian food and talking. Along with our hosts there was Bill Minor, who plays piano and writes poetry, his wife Betty and their son Tim, who coaches high school track in Reno, Nevada. He and I talked about teaching and why we love being able to make a difference in kids’ lives.

Angela der Ramos, who I met, along with Kitty, at a writing class at UCSC in 2001, arrived and told us about her work with the teacher’s union and her run for the CTA board. She, too, is making a difference, but from further up the teaching/administrator/policy making food chain. Her energy and truth-telling is always amazing to me.

As the afternoon moved along, Liza found a sand pile in the yard and she and Rhys played there for a while, then Thomas started gathering firewood, and Liza helped him. She helped lay the fire in their new fire pit, just up the hill from the house. She has lots of practice from helping her daddy.

Liza Rhys sand.jpg
Fun is Where You Find It!

There is also a very nifty guest house, which used to be a barn. It has one room downstairs and one upstairs, connected by a ladder. Thomas showed Liza how to use the safety bar to get up and down. We liked looking out at the trees from the top floor. It was like being in a tree house.

Liza ladder Thomas's.jpg
Brave Liza on the Ladder

Once the fire was built, people started moving out to the yard. It was chilly enough that the fire felt good, but Thomas stayed in bare feet. My phone stopped working, so I have no photos of faces around the fire, which I was hoping to get. I also have no pictures of Kitty, Mike, Angela, or Bill…blog fail, sorry.

Liza Thomas firepit.jpg
Liza and Thomas Contemplating their Fire

When it got near bedtime, Angela gave us a ride back home and we had a late dinner of crab salad that Auntie Olga had made. Very tasty.

Then a little bit of Mary Poppins, and off to bed.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Downtown Book and Sound

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),

Saturday was another walk to Old Town Salinas for brunch with a friend at First Awakenings. This time I met Terry Soria, who I started working with about 15 years ago. We understood each other and made each other laugh on difficult days. We worked together for a few years, then lost touch. Then, four years ago, I got to teach her grandson! I was so happy to get to talk about the joys and frustrations of teaching with her.

soria.jpg
Terry Soria, who understands

While I was downtown, I stopped in at Downtown Book and Sound, run by our old friends Trish Triumpho Sullivan and her husband, Dan Beck. Dan, who  is a musician and artist,  was working on a new tune on his guitar when I arrived. Trish is an artist and community activist and out of the shop at the time.

book-and-sound-2.jpg
Downtown Book and Sound

Downtown Book and Sound is part music shop, part bookstore, part art gallery, and part visitor’s center. There is always good art on the walls, good music playing, and someone interesting to talk to. The chartreuse window frames make it easy to spot at 222 South Main.

marilyn art.jpg
Marilyn, by Trish Sullivan

Dan and I talked about life and family, then I scooted out.

Dan beck.jpg
Dan Beck

In the past few years, the city of Salinas has started investing in more Steinbeck-themed art and activities. I found this giant boulder at the corner of Central and Homestead. It says, “I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that dogs think humans are nuts.” John Steinbeck.

steinbeck rock.jpg
Steinbeck rock at Central and Homestead

I also visited the beautiful new Tony Teresa Baseball Diamond at Hartnell College! There was an exciting game going on between the Hartnell Panthers and the College of the Siskiyous Eagles. It was tied 1 to 1 when I left. Hooray for baseball season!

Love,

Grandma Judy

dugout.jpg
College Baseball!

Old Friends

Dear Liza (and Jasper and Kestrel),

Down here in Salinas, we had more Christmas presents waiting for us. Auntie Olga’s Mom Alla got a new kippah for Grandpa Nelson, and it looks wonderful!

IMG_2007.jpg
Handsome Grandpa Nelson

I am having fun getting to know Salinas again. Grandpa Nelson and I went walking and found some old friends, a Tiny Free Library and Squirrels, both just like we have in Portland.

IMG_2008.jpg
Tiny Free Library

We have been eating at our favorite places, too. We had Mexican food at Michael’s in Old Town Salinas. I haven’t found Mexican food this good in Portland. Maybe I need to keep looking.

IMG_2014.jpg
Uncle David and Liza

Last night we got dressed up and went to dinner at Patria, our favorite spot in Old Town. They have great food, friendly people, and their house wine is called Troublemaker and is delicious.

IMG_2009.jpg
Michael’s

We also visited people friends. Rick showed us his model of Notre Dame Cathedral that he had made for Christmas. I told him and the family all about Portland and they caught me up on news here.

 

 

IMG_2022.jpg
Rick his Cathedral

I am glad I will be here all spring!

Love,

Grandma Judy