Downs and Ups

Dear Liza,

I know you and your school friends started distance learning yesterday. I would be starting school too, in the same situation of being on-line rather than in class, if I hadn’t retired a few years ago.

Encouragement from everywhere…

Because I taught school for thirty years, Fall has always been emotional for me. The joy of seeing old friends and students, the stress of starting new challenges, the fun of doing what I loved, all added up to a bit of an emotional avalanche.

Yesterday was a different kind of avalanche. It started with a pretty routine doctor’s visit. I thought I had a kidney stone and wanted it checked out. After a few tests, I was relieved. No infection, no stone. So I can go home now, right?

Well, because of a heart diagnosis from a few years’s back, they wanted more tests to make sure my heart was all right. This meant a trip to the Emergency Room, which is where they do tests here. Auntie Bridgett had driven me, and when it became obvious this was going to be a longer haul, she went and fetched Grandpa Nelson. They sat in the waiting room while I sat in the bed behind swinging doors.

Occasional hard truth…

SEVEN hours later, after blood draws, sonograms, and MRIs, I was pronounced ‘just fine’ and excused. No idea what the ‘stone’ pain or symptoms were from. My heart is healthy, although I was given the name of a local thoracic surgeon to see ‘to follow up’ on the heart issue, just in case.

We got home near midnight, too stressed to sleep and too tired to think straight. I felt as though I had gone to put my toe in a river and ended up being washed miles downstream. I’m not sure what the bill for this medical fiasco of an afternoon will be, but pray that my insurance covers it.

So, that was the down part of the day. The UP part?

That my people were with me, caring for me, sending me love and concern. Grandpa Nelson smuggling me a Payday candy bar because I hadn’t eaten all day. Auntie Bridgett bringing me the Willamette Weekly crossword puzzle. Offspring worried from afar. Doctors who explained and comforted, even through long hours of administrative frustration. Coming home to a cat who missed us.

And a random flower photo.

Well, sweetie, I hope your day was better than mine. Today I plan to go for a long walk to celebrate being ‘just fine’ and take an oath to stay out of hospitals for a long, long, time.


Grandma Judy

The Astoria Column

Dear Liza,

The Astoria Column

After Auntie Katie, the cousins and I left The Battery Russell, we were starting to think about dinner. Auntie Katie looked on her phone and saw that The Astoria Column was on a hill overlooking downtown, where the restaurants are. Why not go see the column, and then go get dinner?

Astoria Bridge from Coxcomb Hill

We drove under the Astoria bridge, which is over four miles long, and through a thick forest on the way to the top of Coxcomb Hill. We were overlooking the Columbia River, with a view west to the Pacific Ocean and east over miles of forest.

The overcast had gone and we were in dazzling sunlight. We looked at the painting on the 125 foot column, but not for long, because as soon as we found the staircase inside, we knew we had to climb it. IMG_8206.jpg

Up and up and up, around and around…164 spiral steel steps. I just kept holding on to the railing and not looking any further than my feet.

The Astoria Column was built in 1926 with railroad and business money to commemorate Astoria’s role in the development of the northwest. It is patterned on Trajan’s Column in Rome and the Place Vendome Column in Paris. The paintings on the outside show important things that happened in Oregon history.

Finally, the top! The views were even longer, the perspective even better, the breeze even cooler, than below. It was almost overwhelmingly beautiful. We all just stood and stared, feeling light headed.

The View from the Top

Then we remembered. Dinner! Auntie Katie and I knew we were working on borrowed time, as all of us were getting spacey and a tad cranky.  It was time to find food. We walked down, watching our feet at every step, played Animal Impersonator for a few minutes, and headed off

The GPS directed us to Mo’s, which is famous up and down the Oregon Coast for clam chowder.

First Course

Once we had some steamer clams and crackers we all felt better, and we enjoyed watching the sun go down over the water. We filled up on hot dogs, fish and chips and Petrale sole, and were ready for the long drive back to Portland.

The end of a lovely day

Auntie Katie drove, the kids slept, and I watched the forest get dark and thought about how grateful I am for my life.


Grandma Judy

Another Goodbye

Dear Liza,

In 1990, when my teaching partner, Laurel Sherry-Armstrong and I moved from Hartnell College’s Child Development Center to University Park Elementary, we were happy to become part of an elementary school community. But we were sad to lose the lovely playhouse at the Center.

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Best Playhouse ever, 1990

We mentioned this over dinner one night with my parents, who were visiting from Lompoc. My dad (your great grandpa Lowell) said that he could design a playhouse, and would even build it, if  the District would allow us to put it into our new classroom. Weeks of drawing and discussion, proposing plans and changing them, became months of waiting for the District to get back to us.

Uncle David helping out

Finally, there was good news! They approved the planned two story playhouse, with stairs and a railing, to be built in room 13. Dad took the plans, built the house in pieces (walls, floor, railings, stairs), and drove it up to Salinas.

Painting the pieces

He and Great Grandma Billie, Grandpa Nelson and I, Uncle David and your Momma Katie (who were 10 and 8 at the time), Laurel and her husband George, and our friend Rick, all worked to paint the pieces. Then we put it together, laid carpet on the top floor, and even installed a bookcase and pile of pillows for reading on.

The kindergarten kids loved the playhouse. It was part kitchen, part pirate ship, part reading loft, and part cave. It was good for quiet times and silly conversations. It has been climbed on by, I guess, more than 700 kids over these 28 years.

And now, the kindergarten classes are moving, and the District hasn’t said that it will approve the playhouse for the new space or move it there. The teachers have no guarantee that it will even be on campus when they return for the next school year. Technically it belongs to me, but I only have two days left in Salinas and no way to pull it apart and move it anywhere.

This makes me very sad. There are so many things right with the playhouse, things that are missing in education these days. Imagination, thoughtful quiet time, and changes in perspective.

Fourth Generation

My only remedy was to get up extra early this morning, get you dressed, and take you up to play on the playhouse before it (maybe) goes away. You had so much fun! I looked at every inch of it, from the plaque Laurel put on after Great Grandpa Lowell died to the railing on the stairs, rubbed by hundreds of tiny hands.

When it was time for us to go, I cried a bit and said goodbye to yet another old friend.

     Lowell G. Evans Memorial Playhouse      Built Labor Day 1990                              5-7-21 to 12-7-98


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


Valentine’s Day

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

We have been celebrating Valentine’s Day all this week! We started a few days ago, when Auntie Olga and I spent an evening helping Liza decorate her Valentine cards for her class at school. There were 18 cards, and each one needed a name…. “Elizabeth”, 18 times. Then there were the stickers, then putting them in the envelopes, then sealing the envelopes. Such a production! But we had fun. Liza is getting very good at signing her whole long name.

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 Artist at Work

Then there was the preparation in my classroom. The fourth graders cut, punched holes, and sewed their Valentine’s mailboxes, and then they decorated them with cut paper. They were all different and wonderful.

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Dragon-Made Card

Today I opened the present Auntie Bridgett left for me when she left on Sunday. There was wonderful lavender soap and lovely pink socks. The picture on the socks is a little girl and her pet squirrel, each saying “…No, YOU act normal.” There was also a handmade card from my sweet Bridgett. One day I will have a show at an art gallery with all the one of a kind cards she has made me over the years.

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Card and Socks!

Then, during the day, my vice principal Erin brought me a bouquet of flowers that had been delivered from Auntie Bridgett and Grandpa Nelson! There were roses, carnations, and day lilies in a beautiful vase..they looked so pretty on my desk, surrounded by spelling lists and bottles of Elmer’s glue.

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Flowers from my Sweeties

During our school party, I received so many lovely cards and presents from my Room 10 Dragons! Two stuffed bears, a panda, candy candy candy, and a coffee cup. Such wealth! But more important is the love and respect of my sweet students.

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My School Goodies

Finally, this afternoon, Cousin Liza got home from school with HER goodies from school. Cards, candy, stickers, and even bubbles to play with at the park. She sure has nice friends.

I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day in Portland, too.


Grandma Judy