Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 10: The Choices are getting hard

Today I drove to a produce market and bought fruit.  Not amazing, except it is the first time in two months that I have driven my car. (My husband has used it on alternate weeks to keep the battery charged.)

At the market, I wore my face mask.  The market allowed only 10 customers at a time.  Within the market, duct-taped arrows on the floor directed me around the fruit and vegetable stands – if I missed something, no turning back.  I avoided putting my choices in bags as much as possible – everything went into one bag at the check-out station, which was shielded by plastic curtains except where  I could insert my credit card for the check-out.

For a decade we have been asked to bring our own reusable bags to shop. Now reusable bags are possible vectors of infection, and the plastic bag makers are staging a comeback.  All I can do is to pile my fruit and vegetables all together in one cart, let the checkout clerk sort, and put my purchases into one paper bag.

Public transportation, re-usable bags, cluster housing – all those ecologically correct ideas are now hazardous – how can we save the planet now?

Freeway-Free down the Left Coast

For the next two days we amble our way down the Left Coast, hugging the coastline, stopping once in a while to admire the sweeping surfline, the white sand dunes, the rock stacks, the redwoods. We spend a night near Florence at Honeyman State Park, one of the largest campgrounds in Oregon, we are told, but still offering fairly secluded hookups for our trailer and, I suppose, a hundred others.

We stop at Bandon to visit our nephew J, who is living a bachelor life in a fixer -upper in the charming seaside town of Bandon. When he has finished the re-hab, he will rent the cottage out as an AirB&B. On the day we visit it is still missing a fence, kitchen counters and appliances, but he assures us that his first renter will find it habitable when he arrives the following week. We can see what a nice seaside pied a terre it isgoing to be – but not quite yet.

J breaks for lunch and takes us for seafood sandwiches at Tony’s Crab Shack, and gives us a brief tour of Bandon’s interesting spots. That orange globe in front of the house facing the ocean? It’s a tsunami escape pod.

We continue down the coast, crossing into California, where the highway swings inland to introduce us to the towering trees of the Redwood Empire. More on this next week!

Freeway-Free in Oregon: Beach Town

Our next day was spent in Astoria and Ft. Stephens, and I have written about Astoria and its wonderful Maritime Museum in an earlier blog. The following day M and I set off early, determined to cruise the Oregon coast quickly, pay a call on our nephew in Bandon halfway down, and make it to our campsite in the redwoods across the California border in good time.

But we were derailed en route by a sign for Mo’s Seafood and Chowder, and M’s memories of her student days in Corvallis when a bowl of Mo’s chowder was the high point of a weekend. There was a branch of Mo’s in Seaside. So we stopped.

Seaside is also a claimant to being a final stop on the Lewis and Clark trail. Certainly their statue to the adventurous explorers is the most elaborate we had seen, with bas-reliefs around the base and a commanding view of the Pacific at the end of Seaside’s main street.

It was a gray, foggy noontide, but as we walked to and from the car we spotted some enduring signs of the beach party culture that would animate Seaside on a sunnier day, and since the bumpercars, the tilt-a-whirl, and the carousel ware all indoors as a concession to Oregon’s variable weather, why not buy a bug-eyed beach toy to invite the sun to play?

Freeway Free in Washington – Mighty Mt. Rainier

Saturday – Day 7 Mt. Rainier National Park

Our camping spots at Cowlitz County Park are only a few dozen miles from Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a lazy Saturday morning, but after a fine breakfast we four pile into the Big Red Truck and head for the mountain. We move happily along past beautiful green meadows with occasional glimpses of Mt. St. Helen with her top blown off.  Roadside stands offer blueberries and cherries.  Then suddenly – brake lights ahead.

Evidently on a beautiful Saturday morning a lot more people than ourselves have thought that an outing to Mt. Rainier was a lovely idea. An hour and half of inching along later, I hop out of the car to buy some cherries from a stand, and see we are at the gates of the park.   Once inside, we move along quickly past signs saying, “Paradise Parking Lot full,” and stop at the National Park Inn, the first place that offers food.  As we turn on the front porch steps the mountain is looming above us, huge and white and clear against the blue sky.  Wow.

We get a table at the Inn almost instantly, Pia the waitress assures us that she will be “right with us, in a flash” and literally runs away.  15 minutes later she reappears, takes our order and sprints off again. So far, so good. But we hadn’t noticed the number of tables waiting for food, and the very limited number of servers.

An hour later, we get our food.  The sandwich is smushed into a basket along with some French fries, the soup is just warm. The fish and chips are “ok”. Short staffing is the issue.  But where are all the teenagers and college kids who should be working in the national park for the summer? 

The gift shop is a restorative stop, and then there is that mountain.  After soaking it in for a short bit, we take the historic trail around the old mineral springs through a drop-dead- lovely fern/cedar/wetlands forest.  We count 21 kinds of wildflowers, dip our fingers in the sulphur springs which were the first attraction near the Mountain, and marvel at the gnarled stumps of toppled cedars (rivaling redwoods, I have to say).

It is three pm and we must be back at the camp by 8:45.  We drive up to paradise, stopping here and there for more Mountain views, now beginning to be enhanced by wisps of peek-a-boo clouds. We get to paradise.  the parking lot is indeed full, with folks circling and circling. We abort and take the wonderfully scenic other road back down to Hwy 12 and our camp-. Dinner tonight by Miche and me – veggies burritos.  Yum. Chris has two. 

Freeway Free in Washington: Camping by the Cowlitz

Off to Cowlitz Falls County Park.  This park is maintained on behalf of the public by the Lewis County Public Utilities District. There are actually no falls here, as the river has been dammed for hydroelectric power, and the only access to the river, the boat ramp, was destroyed in a flood and is being repaired. Aside from the misleading name, this is a lovely quiet place with lot of shade, lots of woodsy trails between sites and restrooms, a sunny meadow with a volleyball net, a horseshoe pit (equipment for both available from the ranger) and a playground.

We set up in adjoining camp spaces, our tiny teardrop next to C&C’s Trailer Mahal. Instant conversation starters with folks strolling through the camp.

Then, just to make sure we meet everyone, we walk the dog, an adorable little white mop of a thing. Nothing like a cute dog to make instant friends along the trail.

The next morning we are just finishing a tremendous breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast (Thanks to C&C’s full kitchen) when our nephew P arrives with his wife T and five lively children. 

Fortunately Cowlitz [no]Falls has lots of distractions to offer. A walk to the river.  Fallen trees to climb. Back at the camp, Grandma C has provided plenty of hot dogs, sodas, chips, and watermelon, while Auntie M has a box of trailer games. Five-year-old G is surprisingly deft at removing blocks from the Zenga tower!

I’d forgotten how exhausting family gatherings can be for us empty nesters. M and I tumble into our trailer while C&C are still admiring the moon over a last glass of wine.

Tiny Trailer Travel 2 in 2022 – Day 3: Stayin’Alive up the 5

After the heat of our second day, the cool of the next morning at Schroeder County Park finds me up early. I find a small hotel soap cake in my dop kit and take a shower, even washing my hair with the soap.  Feels wonderful.  M wakes, sees my wet hair, and follows my example. Breakfast again of strawberries, blueberries, granola, yogurt.  We both feel great.  What could be nicer, with the river sparkling, the air fresh, and the heat wave broken!

Locked, loaded, and leaving by 10 ,  we are proud of the improvement in our getaway time. We think we have an easy 3.5 hour drive up to our brother’s house straight up I-5 in Washington state, so we are open to a scenic detour. M calls friend in Corvallis to invite them to meet us in Corvallis’s central park for lunch – M is eager to show her old haunts, and the detour would be pretty.  but the friends are on their way from Corvallis down to Winters along with another couple that M knows well, and are on I-5 headed the other way.  We rendezvous at a Wendy’s in Eugene and the five friends are soon in full catchup mode, with lots of exclaiming, explaining, and suggesting.  I feel like a hat rack, but it’s ok.  I use the loo.

On our way again.  We stop for lunch at another rest stop.  We stop for gas and check the GPS. Hmmm.  What was a 3.5 hour drive at 10 AM is now, at 2, after driving 2 hours all told, still a 3.5 hour drive.  What had been a clear blue shot through Portland is now blood red.

It takes us two hours to get through Portland. We are delayed a bit by M’s fear of the electric connection coming loose again, so we pull off on Swan Island, home of rail yards, lovely homes, and lot of homeless encampments. Vagrancy and loitering used to be crimes, but certainly there should be a better alternative to jail time than these ugly shambles.

A homeless campsite on Swan Island’s Lindbergh’s Beach. (KATU)

Once we clear the Columbia it’s an easy half-hour to Kid Brother’s house. We get a warm welcome, a bedroom for each of us and a tour of the latest quilts, wall hangings, glitter dot pix, and other crafty things which KB’s wife has put together since our last visit. .the fully de-frosted salmon in our cooler provides the centerpiece for a fine meal, with side dishes from KBW’s well-stocked fridge, and wine from KB’s well-stocked cellar.

KB plans to retire in March of 2023, and he and WBW are planning some long long trips in their long long trailer. There are sights to see north of the border, relatives to visit in Idaho and Montana and Texas and California. When vagrancy comes packaged in a 30-foot trailer, it becomes a lot more glamourous.

Tiny Teardrop Trailer Travel 2 – Day 2

Up by eight in our RV Resort near Castle Crags, hoping to beat the heat on a hike up to a waterfall and scenic viewing platform touted as not to be missed on the Camp brochure.  Turns out the trailhead is up the highway a bit, so we lock and load, out by 10:30.  We locate the trailhead, but the parking lot is already full of earlier birds than us, and there is no easy spot for the trailer, so we forego, and head up I-5 for Oregon

We stop in Ashland and lunch with M’s college roommate and her partner. Allison is a retired lawyer and her partner Madge is a retired CPA.  They live in a craftsman bungalow remodeled tastefully and surrounded by a lush garden of fruit and flowers and art objects, a dream of retirement come true.  The conversation is focused on the artistic life of Ashland, the lively drama scene and how it accommodated to the pandemic, and the advantages of bungalow life vs condo life.

Three of us decide to walk to Hither, a cute-as-can-be brunch/lunch spot about a 10 block walk away – the dog needs exercise and so do we. It is HOT.  The trip there is downhill, and we are in no hurry. I stop often to admire some interesting old house or flowers or pretty art thingy, but by the time we get to Hither’s shady outdoor patio we are ready for iced tea/beer/iced coffee. They are out of avocado toast, but herbed scrambled eggs are delicious.

The walk back is even hotter. And more uphill.  We pick the shadier sides of the street, and don’t stop as often.  M and I are sweltering by the time we get back to the house.  Maybe Ashland is not the perfect retirement paradise after all. We worry about the next few days, with 100 degree temps also predicted for our destination.

Brief goodbye’s and on our way again in our air-conditioned cocoon, which we now appreciate even more.  We stop for gas.  Still hot.  We look for the closest Baskin-Robbins. Tucked around a corner we find it after cruising the hot asphalt parking lot from one end to the other.  Thank goodness for the walking option on GPS!  Mint chocolate chip, very berry strawberry, and triple mango swirl do a lot for our attitudes.

And much cooler weather as we arrive at familiar-from-last-trip Schroeder County Park west of Grant’s Pass does even more.  We set up painlessly, put our camp chairs at the edge of a rise which wafts a cool breeze directly up from the river, and relax. Later we go down to the river and wade again, waving at rafters and kayakers as they pass. Then we bring out wine, hummus, cheese, crackers, and veggies to dip, and by the time we have nearly finished the wine we realize we don’t really need to cook dinner.  Bed and books look good.

A Piece of My Mind: How Much Do You Need?

I recently spent time with several different friends who have “downsized”.

One couple is selling their four-bedroom, three bath house with the aim of cashing out the equity, buying a smaller home in a less expensive location, and using the extra cash to follow some lifelong dreams. 

Twenty five years of accumulation now fills the two car garage from floor to ceiling, except for a narrow aisle to allow access to the building inspector. It includes furniture inherited from grandparents, portraits of ancestors, and many beloved books.   They plan to consign the dining-room furniture and donate the sofa, the piano and half the book cases to an NGO, but still worry about how they will fit the things they really love or need into a mere two-bedroom, one bath house with a one-car garage.

A second friend has moved into a two-bedroom one-bath house with a one-car garage after a divorce.  His home is filled with art and artifacts related to his life and interests, and he does have bonus space: a basement stairway leads to a fully equipped wood shop and foundry where he can hone his woodworking and brass-casting skills.  Every corner, every bookcase, every picture (and there are a lot of them) holds a story relating to his life.  It is the perfect home— for one person.  Yes, he has downsized, and wrapped his life around him.

My third set of friends have left a home that  accommodated a family of nine, including two natural and five adopted children, now all grown and gone.  They moved to a three-bedroom 2 bath house. The new house is smaller, but it feels big, as it is perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean with  270 degree views from the living room, study and kitchen. Every wall, every nook, every cupboard is filled with items salvaged, discovered, given, or retrieved – a thousand stories.  It is the home of two people but it feels as though it also comprises a small art gallery and museum.

I also visited a younger friend whose business is taking properties that scream “Scrape me!” and turning them into attractive AirBnB one-month rentals for young professionals.  His prospective renters need an attractive and functional bathroom; a kitchen with a stove, oven, sink and microwave, and the minimal necessary pots, pans, and utensils;  a bedroom with good reading lights and a comfortable bed for two people;and a sitting/eating space near the kitchen with a large screen TV and internet access.

I made these visits with my sister who owns a small teardrop-shaped trailer which includes a king-sized bed, lots of storage nooks under the mattress and above the bed space, a small TV screen and DVD player, heat and AC, and a kitchen with a two-burner stove, a microwave, and a battery-powered chest refrigerator.  We traveled comfortably for 11 days. I had enough clothing to keep comfortable from the cold foggy shores of Washington state to the searing summer heat of California’s Central Valley.

A one-bedroom Air BnB or a traile, give you a simplified life, but a life with no sentiment, no memories, no past. 

So how much of your past do you want to bring along when you “downsize”?  How many memories do you think you will need?

Tiny Trailer Travel 2 in 2022 – Day One

My sister promised me two trips in her tiny teardrop trailer as Christmas/birthday presents. For our second expedition with her favorite toy, we decided to do a variation on an earlier trip, going north to visit our brother in Washington state, but on our way we also planned to visit old friends up and down I-5 and US-101.

We had planned to leave early in order to beat the heat on I-5, but domestic circumstances (which I resolve NOT to talk about in this series) delayed our departure until nearly 11:30AM. We had loaded the trailer’s refrigerator with a fresh-caught frozen salmon courtesy of M’s neighbor, a partially-pre-cooked hamburger casserole courtesy of my Personal Travel Agent, some gourmet cheese, assorted fruit, hummus, and enough wine to keep us merry as we camped our way up the valley.

M drives for the first two hours, straight up I-55 aiming at Mt. Shasta.  We stop for lunch at a rest stop, where our little cocoon is dwarfed by the semis also taking their breaks in the lot marked for “Trailers and RVs”. The rest stop offers shade and a bit of a breeze, and duly fortified we proceed to our first camp spot, Railway Park Resort at Dunsmuir. We pull into the registration office past box cars and cabooses that have been re-purposed as lodge rooms for families, a gift shop, and a history museum. A Dining Car is now a restaurant. But we have our own traveling accomodation, and continue further up the road to our RV site in a different area.

It is HOT, but in the shade bearable. We see other campers returning from a swimming pool located back in the railroad car section, but it seems like too much trouble to change clothes and hike over to share a pool with a bunch of teenagers and tots. Instead, we explore and discover a creek near our site ideal for wading in.  Oh bliss!

Returning with wet feet to our camp, we discover that the electrical connection to the trailer has come unplugged. We can’t know how long we have been driving without blinkers or brake lights, but long enough so that the salmon is completely thawed.  We cross our fingers against botulism and hope for the best. Our first night meal is the partially pre-cooked casserole layered with noodles and cheese in a frying pan, super easy to fix, and we have some (warm) red wine to wash it down and some chocolate covered cranberries for dessert.

M’s sleeping bag has a velcro-fastened interior lining, so we could pull off the warm layer and sleep under the lightweight sheet. Despite the heat of the day, the trailer cools fast with side windows and a ceiling vent open. We have no trouble falling asleep.

NEXT: Finding Friends and Family – Day 2

Hard Facts

Photo by Kevin McCartney

I love this country.  I get a little teary when I first see the American flag flying after a trip abroad, or when “The Star Spangled Banner” rings out over an Olympic podium or a baseball field.  My US passport is my most prized possession. I pay my taxes willingly as “The price one pays for freedom” per Ben Franklin.

Still, some facts are hard for me to face:

  • The United States US has the shortest life expectancy of 21 developed nations – 77 years, compared to top-ranked Switzerland at 83 years. (per a Town Crier article 6/2/22)
  • The United States has the highest infant mortality rate of the top 8 developed nations -5.9/1000, almost triple that of top-ranked Japan at 2.0 fatalities/1000 (World Health Organization)
  • The United States has the least effective health-care system overall among 11 high-income countries, even though it spends the highest proportion of its gross domestic product -almost 17%- on health care. (based on % of population covered for core needs, life expectancy, infant mortality rates – the Commonwealth Fund). 
  • The United States has the highest level of income inequality of the seven G7 countries, out-ranked world-wide only by Russia, India, and Brazil.  (Brink News, Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book)  Income inequality in the United States is at its highest level in fifty years, and increasing. (US Census Bureau, 2018 figures.)

And for me the most troubling facts, because they hit close to home and seems so preventable:

  • In the United States the #1 cause of death in those under 18 is gunshot wounds
  • People living in a household with a gun owner are seven times as likely to be shot and killed as those in a gun-free home. (Stanford University study of nearly 18 million Californians).
  • Handguns were used in three out of four US suicides in 2018.
  • Despite claims from anti-gun-control groups that better mental health care, is the solution to gun violence, the amount  the United States spends on mental health is only 5% of total health care spending. 

I’m waiting for legislators opposed to the Affordable Care Act to propose their modifications or improvements to the coverage.

I’m waiting for the legislature to provide funding for those small local treatment centers which were supposed to be more effective than the state mental hospitals that were closed.  

I’m waiting for those who claim mental disturbance is behind gun violence to explain why someone with a history of mental disturbance should be able to buy a gun anyway.

I’m waiting to see Texas GovernorRon deSantis’ proposed legislation for increased funding for mental health services.

I’ll probably be waiting for a long time to come.  But the facts keep getting harder.

Hidden Gems: Ruth Bancroft’s Cactus Garden

Ruth Bancroft’s legacy garden in Walnut Creek, California is a small plot of land full of wonders. Ruth Bancroft’s family had a farm in Walnut Creek; she was attracted to a rosette-shaped succulent, and this grew into a fascination with succulents, cacti, and numerous other drought – tolerant plants. The result is a fantasy garden of growing greenery, some of which looks as though it originated on another planet.

Despite years in the general area, and having heard about the Ruth Bancroft Garden, it took a family wedding to draw me there. Now I’m eager to go again with visiting friends.

It’s spring, folks! You’re going to see some gardens!

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