Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Events”

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 25: Getting Hotter

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Not enough to be locked down by fear of the virus. For two weeks I have been locked in, surrounded in my bayside bubble by wildfires raging out of control to the north, to the east, to the south, and to the west. The outside air has ranged from Moderately Unhealthy to Hazardous, as a high pressure dome presses down on our region, keeping the sea breezes out and holding the ash and soot in.

The beginning of the maelstrom was a week of record-setting high temperatures, punctuated by a freak lightning storm which lit over 600 blazes in tinder-dry brush. We had a week of relief from the heat, and then it returned, with temperatures a full 25 degrees above “normal” for this time of year.

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September 7,2020

At the same time, in other parts of the country the most powerful storm ever to make landfall made its way from the Gulf to the Atlantic shore. The Weather Service is all the way to Rene in naming tropical storms, and the hurricane season has not reached its peak.

How can anyone look at these events and not be afraid, not for their own personal well-being, but for our planet? I have grand-children. Scientists have warned for a decade that what I live through in these weeks will be the “new normal” if we are not able to change our destructive patterns of life.

If no other good comes from it, the pandemic has shown us that, if forced and if fearful, we CAN cut carbon emissions by 7% a year. We CAN move out of cars and onto bicycles or our own feet. We CAN live without the latest Something New.

And the trusting faces of our children and grandchildren tell us we MUST.

On Another Subject: Slippery Words

 

seg4When I was a child, my parents moved us from Palo Alto to a small city of about the same size in the segregated South. (It was a bad move, but that’s another story.) My parents were from a part of the country where you were more likely to see an antelope walking down the street than a person of African descent.  I had to learn some new words, and meanings of words.

There was one word that  could be used on the playground if you were using “Eeeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe” to choose out sides for a game, but if you used it anywhere else around my parents you risked getting your mouth washed out with soap.

There was another word that sounded almost the same but was used only by grownups when they were speaking seriously, and you could almost hear the capital letter when they said it.

The ordinary word used in polite conversation, and on rest room doors, and over water fountains, was “colored.”

Usage of this word to label persons of African descent is now archaic, surviving only, as far as I can tell, in the NAACP, almost never spelled out as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.   The preferred word today is Black, capitalized as though it referred to a geographic region or a nationality.

As a child I had never heard “black” ascribed to a person in conversation, although it was used frequently to describe the natives encountered by the hero of my father’s favorite book, “Tarzan of the Apes.”  In that context it seemed descriptive, not pejorative, although the book itself is indisputably racist to any modern reader.  When “black” first came into common usage to describe people back in the 60’s, it sounded rude to me, as would using “red” to describe a person descended from pre-Columbian Americans, or “yellow” to describe a person of Chinese descent.

nomexWhich leads to that awkward expression “person of color.”  Since “colored” historically referred to those people now called “Black”, a new term was needed which would be more inclusive of people who are not of European descent and appearance. This includes those formerly called “Indians” who are now “Indigenous”, also capitalized.  It also includes people originating from south of the US border who were  “Mexicans” or “Spanish” in my youth, and then became  “Hispanics”.  This word has now been discarded as being too deferential to the genocidal Conquistadores.  “Latino” was used next, but this word recently has been interpreted as sexist and supplanted by “Latinx”.

Mysteriously, “Persons of color” does not seem to refer to people of Asian descent.  Somehow they seem to have escaped the baggage associated with having endured prejudice, poverty, and exclusion which other immigrants have carried for generations.  But I am entering a minefield, I know.  Tomorrow may bring some new terms, some new usage, and all I have written here may be outdated and even shameful.  Language is slippery, and morphs without notification.

Maybe we should all just call each other by our names.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 14: We Are In This Together – or Not

20200613_banner_webI read the disheartening news articles at the end of May about the George Floyd protests gone awry.  I read about  looters standing with crowbars at the ready as peaceful protesters marched down the streets of San Francisco and Oakland .  They were waiting for the right moment to turn and smash a window for plunder.  I read about rubber bullets and tear gas and arson and professional criminals driving up in vans to strip computer shops and appliance stores of their goods.

But amid the turmoil of the end of May and early June, I took heart from the signs and banners spanning the streets and decking the lawns in my town: “We are in this together”, “We are strong – We will get through this together.”  During the COVID-19 lockdown I had used Zoom and Skype to form new bonds with neighbors, exchanging news, congratulations for milestones, produce, and garden info.  We are a community, safe together.

The Wednesday evening after the weekend of protests-turned-violent I heard laughter from across the street.  The family whose children are normally in camp or in nanny care while their parents are at work were outside in their front yard, parents and children playing volleyball with an invisible net. Work-at-home families are playing together.  The hills across the bay stood out sharp and clear, despite the earlier 90 degree heat.  My neighbors weren’t driving; no driving means no smog.  It seemed that even in hard times, divisive times, there is upside.

That Friday I heard helicopters, then saw a couple circling seemingly right over our back porch.  I checked online – there was a protest march going on down our section of El Camino Real, the main street of California, led and followed by police escort.  It was peaceful, no violence. We are standing together.Los Altos Protest

On Saturday, I drove past downtown  and noticed that Main Street was closed. Another peaceful march circled downtown,  protesters carrying placards, all carefully masked.  It was pretty much a white or light-skinned crowd, marching to show solidarity with people whose experiences most of them had probably never shared. The protests seemed like a way to express community, to meet for something positive. My secure little bubble seemed a good place to be.  We are in this together.

The next Monday we entered Phase 3 of lifting restrictions.  Retail stores were allowed to open, allowing only a few customers in at a time. I drove down El Camino again and saw a line of socially distanced people stretching almost a block up the street.    What could it be for?  A trendy boutique?  A liquor store? An auto supply shop?

They were lined up for The Gun Vault.

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Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot: Week 11 – Celebration!

20200520_170602_resizedwebI was due to have a milestone birthday this month, and we had planned a big family reunion picnic at a central location convenient to my two sons, my sister, and a couple of nieces and nephews. Of course, several weeks ago it was clear that was not going to happen. My friends and relatives compensated with a cascade of birthday cards. It was not quite the same.

“We can still have a picnic,” said my husband. But the morning of my birthday dawned dark and damp – unseasonable rain. Not even a vestigial picnic would be possible. We ate hot soup inside. It wasn’t very comfortable, as we had decided to take advantage of the lack of foreseeable company to get the carpets cleaned, so all the furniture was piled around the edges of the room. Oh well, I told myself. I’ll have a whole year to celebrate this birthday, as soon as I get a chance.

By early afternoon the sun was out, and I was just getting my shoes on to go for a bike ride when the doorbell rang. I opened the door, and there were my two sons standing on the lawn.  They had brought lawn chairs, a bottle of chilled sparkling prosecco with their own champagne glasses, a custom-crayoned picture of a frog from my 3-year-old grand-daughter,  a bouquet of origami flowers from my 11-year-old grandson, and a very classy wooden jigsaw puzzle to help pass the time.

I brought out my birthday cards, my husband brought out a birthday cake, I opened a couple of other presents from my husband and my oldest friend, we sipped the prosecco, and we had a lovely hour-long visit with our sons sitting 6 feet apart on our back patio.  Such a great surprise. 

So, we harvest bits of joy here and there.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 8- the Shadow Comes Closer

Week 8 of Sheltering in Place.

I have developed a routine:

Monday morning is my Aerobics Class on Zoom.

Monday evening I go to a neighbor’s house and we maintain social distancing while tuning into a Continuing Education class focusing on the Roman historian Tacitus.  It’s not a pulse-pounding subject, but Donna is the only adult besides my husband that I see in person these days.

Tuesday morning  I jog around the neighborhood, and then I do a Story Time on Skype with my 3-year-old Granddaughter.

Tuesday afternoon I Zoom with my oldest friend, the one I was supposed to visit in Texas when all this started.

Wednesday morning Aerobics again.  In the evening we often call and chat with my sister in Sacramento.

Thursday morning jogging and Story Time again.  In the evening we often call and chat with my cousin in Ojai, California.

Friday morning Aerobics again.

Friday afternoon we Skype with my older son and his family in Sacramento. In the evening we often call and chat with my brother and his wife in Longview, Washington.

Saturday morning jogging again

Sunday morning I do yoga. In the evening we often call and chat with my brother in Texas.  In Texas they take the threat of COVID-19 a lot less seriously than us Hot-Spotters do.  My brother always asks me, “Do you actually know anyone who has had the virus?”

This week, I can answer, “Yes.”

One of my favorite professors at college died of COVID-19 last week.  He was in his 80’s, had had a stroke some years back, and was being cared for in one of the most well-equipped and competently-staffed elder care centers in the country.  Somehow, the virus, no respecter of money and privilege, made its way to him and had its way with him.

The world is a little bit darker.

 

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot: Week 4 – What to do during Lockdown

20200322_165641webWhat can you do when you are in lockdown mode:  all restaurants, libraries, schools, and museums closed.  No non-essential travel. Social distancing (no one closer than 6 feet) enforced, so no neighborhood potlucks, no coffee klatches, no bridge or mahjong or chess or poker. The streetside kiosks that normally are covered with announcements of events sales,  and meetings are stripped bare.

1. Tend to the garden.  After a month of record drought in February, we have had drizzling rain day after day.  Still I was able to get outside with a pair of shears and vent my frustrations by whacking away at my overgrown lantana.

While outside, I discovered that the orchid plants I had inherited from my mother and stuck away in an untraveled corner of the yard had unexpectedly burst into furious bloom.  An upper, much needed!

2. Get organized.  I sorted all the fabric in my fabric stash by color and by size of scrap.  I have enough to make two dresses for my grand-daughter as well as a rag doll with matching outfits.  Unfortunately, my scraps are overwhelmingly red, yellow and blue, while her favorite colors are purple, pink, and green.  All fabric stores are closed, so she will have to make do.

3. Read all the magazines that have been accumulating in the magazine rack.20200317_133136web

4. Clear the clutter.  One by one I hope to clear a drawer a day. The bottom drawer next to the sink was my first target.  It was jammed with the utensils I seldom use (A mango splitter, an egg slicer, turkey lifters, etc.) and spare parts for hardware we know longer own. (If you don’t know what it is, and the plastic doesn’t match any appliance you currently own, it’s probably safe to toss it.)

On walking around my neighborhood – still allowed, thank goodness!- I can see that clearing clutter is a favorite pastime.  Bags of “Free toys! Free Clothes! Free !!” are lined up along the street. Normally these items would have been sold at a rummage sale, or taken to Goodwill, but rummage sales don’t work for groups of less than 10, and no charities are open to receive donations.

5. Set up a jigsaw puzzle table.  Unfortunately, I get obsessive about this, and have to limit myself to adding three pieces at a time and then walking away.

6. Read the books on the Someday I’ll Get to This Shelf.  I finished off “The Fourth Hand” by John Irving (a winner) and started and gave up on “The Emperor’s Children”.  Both are now down the street in the neighbor’s Little Free Library.  Now I’m working on “The Belton Estate”, a minor work by Anthony Trollope, who is always good for  providing interesting characters and lots of words.

7. Learn how to socialize online.  I have Zoom’d my dancercise class and my writing group, and Skype’d a story hour with my granddaughter. Hey, the 21st century isn’t all bad!

8. Go for a bike ride.  It’s a way to get around without compromising social distancing.

9. Find a way to contribute. I recruited a neighbor’s daughter who has been kicked out of her college dorm to take my place at the food bank. It didn’t feel as good as doing it myself, but it helped.

10. Clean the garage.  I haven’t actually started this one yet.  But it’s amazing how many things you can get done when the alternative is cleaning the garage! Look how much progress I’ve made on that jigzaw puzzle!

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Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 3 – Things Cutting Closer

20200318_095207webDespite our vote to continue, my dancercise class is cancelled – no meetings of more than 10 people allowed.

Instead, the teacher set up a Zoom class.  Prancing around in my family room is not quite the same, but I did keep moving for an hour.

My neighbor Mike was in a horrific skiing accident several weeks ago, was comatose for several days, tore his shoulder apart.  He has recovered wonderfully from the brain injury, but he has no use of his right arm.  The surgery needed to repair  the torn tendons and muscles has been classified “elective” during the lockdown.  If too much time passes, he may use the use of his arm permanently.

A pack of coyotes wandered up our  unusually quiet street from the creek at the end of the cul-de-sac.

I received notice from the Food Bank where I volunteer that, as I am considered “vulnerable” to COVID-19 due to my age, they can no longer accept me as a volunteer.  This hurts!

I canceled my annual trip to Texas to visit my #1 Brother and my Friend-since-4th-grade.20200323_115431web

Grocery stores are setting aside an hour each morning exclusively for us vulnerable folks to shop.  My husband waited 20 minutes in line, as people were admitted in small numbers in order to maintain the recommended 6 -foot social distancing.

One of our local newspapers has announced that it will no longer publish a paper version;  it’s too expensive to publish without the ad revenues from restaurants, theatres, and real estate companies.

If the media shut down on us, how will we know what to be afraid of?

Life Goes On in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 2

20200313_115218docLast week I mentioned that life was slowing down in my area due to the COVID-19 spread, and suggested going to a museum as a way to avoid both crowds and stress.  Things have changed in a week!

Monday: The Nutrition Center where I volunteer has changed its procedures:  instead of letting the homeless/indigent clients line up and pick their own bread, produce, and packaged goods from the shelves, each client will receive pre-bagged groceries as their number is called.

At noon I showed up for my dance class’s annual lunch at a popular local Chinese restaurant, only to find it had been cancelled the night before.  (The instructor mis-typed my email address so I hadn’t received the message.) The restaurant, normally crowded, was nearly empty except for people picking up takeout.  I had wondered when I found a parking spot right in front.

Tuesday:  My sister’s choir was about to have its first rehearsal with an orchestra in preparation for a gala spring concert.  Rehearsals and performances have been cancelled.

My dance class usually has about forty participants.  On Wednesday and Friday we were down to about twenty-five, but we  voted to continue the class as it relieves stress and preserves sanity for those who continue to attend.

Thursday: I was planning another lunch with a friend who was coming to town to see her grand-daughter perform in a school musical.  The performance was cancelled, so my friend is not coming.

20200313_115207webA neighbor and I were planning to carpool to an adult education class at nearby Stanford University.  The class has been re-vamped to take place on-line until further notice.  My brain will get dusted, but the friendly chats on the way to and from class will be lost.

Friday: My grandson’s school is closed for deep cleaning for three days.  His sixth-grade class camping trip is up in the air.

Friday: My husband bought tickets for a piano concert in a beautiful venue in San Francisco at the end of March.  The concert is cancelled

Saturday: #1 Son, the benefit auctioneer, has had two of his booked auctions cancelled.  March and April are normally the height of the charity auction season.

He was also planning to take his family to Seattle to visit his daughter in university there.  The university is closed, with classes being held on-line.  Seattle is another COVID-19 hot spot.  #1 Son cancelled the trip.

20200313_115201web#2 Son is organizing a neighborhood meeting to strategize how to assist parents who can’t work from home since the local day-care center is closing.

Sunday: On his most recent trip to the grocery store, my husband bought extra toilet paper and canned goods (SPAM?  We haven’t eaten SPAM since our first year of marriage!)

The local libraries announce that they are closing.  Fines will be suspended for the duration.

Monday:  When I do my pickups at two local groceries for the Nutrition Center, I notice that there is NO CHICKEN in either store  – the only poultry available at all is previously frozen turkey back and wings.  What’s with this?

I get word that despite our vote, our dance teacher is cancelling the remainder of the session as anxiety deepens over the COVID-19 virus.

Local museums announce that they are closing (I hope you took my advice last week while you could!)

Monday afternoon:  we are warned that effective at midnight, our county along with six others will be in lockdown mode: only essential travel, only essential businesses to be open (pharmacies, grocery stores, food markets, doctor’s offices are included, but restaurants must close unless serving takeout.)

What next? Stay tuned for a Life in Lockdown.

Freeway Free in California: A Serene Escape from COVID-19 Stress

20200310_123757webI live in a COVID-19 hotspot – 43 cases and one death since the beginning of March – and public and private events are being cancelled left and right to prevent transmission.  So what is one to do if you are healthy, not in one of the “vulnerable” groups, and needing some relief from the stress of it all?  Maybe it’s time to visit a local museum.

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is one of my favorites.  I visited this week and found plenty of parking in the Civic Center Garage ($12.00 for 5 hours), two featured exhibits of great interest, no crowds, and decent food at the museum restaurant.  And if you are looking for stress relief, Asian art is all about serenity.

20200307_121146webThe exhibit that drew me to the museum featured Zhang Da Qian (Chiang Dai-Chien in traditional transcription) who was the Pablo Picasso of 20th Century Chinese art.  His work spans styles ranging from impeccable copies of venerated Chinese master artists of the past, to modern splash-ink impressions worthy of Jackson Pollock.  He lived in mainland China, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, and California, and in each venue did his best to promote appreciation of Chinese art.  One of the featured works in this exhibit is titled “Scholars on a wilderness path”, but the giant monolith in the background must be Half Dome.

Other paintings include a marvelous white gibbon, a black horse grazing in a blue-green pasture, a Tibetan dancer, several giant lotuses, and landscapes formed from giant splashes of ink enhanced with a few brush-strokes to define space, foliage, light, and dark.

After studying Zhang’s various works, a stroll through the adjacent Korean gallery offers a different range of experiences.

You can admire a glowing white “moon jar”, pristine on its wooden shelf, and discover an Asian precursor of the classic patchwork quilt, made from silken scraps.

Or perhaps you will spend some time in another featured exhibit, called “Awakening” which walks you through several centuries of Buddhist tradition, juxtaposing ceremonial vessels made from human skulls, many-armed monsters intricately carved and painted, and dainty gilded bronze sculptures celebrating sensual tenderness.

Or maybe some of the more modern pieces will appeal to you, like this sculpture by Liu Jianhua formed of letters and Chinese characters on view just outside the Korean section. 20200307_121012web

The museum restaurant,Sunday at the Museum, features Asian style street food such as Vietnamese Pulled pork sandwiches, Japanese ramen noodles,  and Chinese dumplings.  You order at a counter and the food is brought piping hot to your table.  Of course you could get better Chinese food in Chinatown, better ramen in Japantown, but the setting attractive and the service is fast and friendly.

If you have children tossed out of their school/daycare, the museum usually has some activities geared toward children set up either in an activity area or  in the Shriram Learning Center on the first floor.

Freeway Free in Oregon – the Columbia River Maritime Museum

[AKA: Travels in a Tiny Trailer – Day 4]

20191019_143112webIf you are going camping in a tiny trailer, and you left your bikes at home because the forecast call for a 99% chance of rain,  better hope you can find some indoor activity to pass the time!  If you are camping at Ft Stevens State Park you are in luck, because you are only a short drive from the quaint town of Astoria, [more on this later] and its Columbia River Maritime Museum. 

 

The CRMM is an amazing little museum with exhibits including early navigational charts, an IMAX theater showing films from Jacques Cousteau and others, a comprehensive map of shipwrecks at the mouth of the Columbia River, and a sea-sickness-inducing recreation of what it is like to be on a Coast Guard cutter going out to rescue mariners during a Pacific storm.

20191019_123504webIf you are going to spend some time in a small museum on a rainy weekend, it helps if  Executive Director happens to be an old friend from college.  Dr. Samuel E. Johnson and I had more than a few memories dating back to our freshman year Ballroom Dancing classes together. (I took the class to fill a Physical Education requirement; I suspect Sam took it because at that time the ratio of men to women at our college was officially 3.5 / 1, and it was chance to meet girls.)

In addition to being a very good dancer, Sam is an accomplished raconteur and a dedicated evangelist on behalf of his museum.  Sis, Bro, C and I spent a couple of hours being fascinated by a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, coupled with stories of plans for the museum’s future expansion and enhancement.

If you go, plan to spend a couple of hours exploring, especially if you take in the IMAX film.  You might not get the hands-on tour, but you won’t be sorry for the visit.

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