Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Events”

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.

Travels in a Teardrop Trailer – Day 3 (cont.)

 

Sis and I spend the morning unloading the wet tent, soggy chairs, and bicycles from the back of the Subaru and setting everything up to dry inside Bro’s garage.  Our plan is to have Bro help us load the bikes on the top of the teardrop when he gets home, so we can take advantage of those bike trails at the campsite.  Except it is still raining.

Bro planned to leave work early for a daylight departure on our two-trailer trek to Ft. Stevens State Park. Somehow that did not work out.  He arrives at 6PM, we finish loading the trailers, truck, and SUV by about 7. It is still raining.  The forecast is for more rain.  We decide to opt out of biking after all.  The bikes stay in the garage.  Everything else fits so easily now!  Off we go in the rain, following Bro’s Titanic.  We arrive at the campground at about 8:30.  The rain continues.  It is pitch dark.  Deja vu all over again.

But this time we have some better options!  To start with, Ft. Stevens State Park’s trailer sites are all pull-through.  No struggles to park! True, by the time we arrive and get set up it is too late and too wet for us to have the planned hamburgers grilled in the outdoor  kitchen of the Titanic.  But in our pop-up kitchen I happen to have all the ingredients for a one-skillet hamburger/noodle casserole which I had planned to offer on our return trip home.  C fires up the inside kitchen of the Titanic, and in 30 minutes we are cozily sitting around the table in the Titanic’s dining area, wolfing down the casserole with the help of a nice bottle of zinfandel from the Titanic‘s wine cupboard.recipe_doc

[You can see from the state of the page how often this recipe has been used.  You don’t need a “thermostatically controlled burner”. Enjoy!]

After dinner and dishes we are not ready to call it a night.  Sis pulls out a game gadget which she brought along just in case.  It’s called “Catchphrase” and is a combination of charades and trivia, driven by a little electronic gadget that one must toss from one team to the next between rounds.  We were in hysterics by the end of the game (how does one act out “Ozzy Ozbourne?”)

Finally we decide it is time to retire to our traveling bedroom next door.  It’s just a few yards to our trailer, and the rain seems not so heavy with a full stomach and recent laughter.  And so to bed.

Coming up in Day 4: Ft. Stevens by daylight, an old friend, a Hidden Gem, and (believe it or not) sunshine!

 

Travels in a Tiny Teardrop Trailer – Day 2 (cont. again)

Map1Dry shoes for Sis, a couple of chocolate bars, working lighters for the stove, and a hot lunch in our stomachs – what could be finer than driving up I-5 as the sky clears and the sun shines on us.  Our operating rule is that the driver minds the road while the person riding shotgun manages the heater/AC and the sound track.   I’m driving so we are listening to Sis’s playlist of Scottish reels, blue grass,  and Nova Scotian folk music.  Not my favorite but she put up with my Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez, and other 60’s relics for the previous day.  Won’t hurt me to listen to something different.

We sail past Eugene, nod to the State Capitol in Salem, and switch drivers. No sooner do Sis’s hands touch the steering wheel than it starts to rain again.  We hit Portland at the height of rush hour in heavy rain, and trudge our way along with what seems like half of Portland’s population across the bridge to Washington.  Only a hundred miles to go!

Just like the night before, it is dark and raining hard when we pull up in front of Bro’s house.  But this time, Bro comes out and takes over, parking our little teardrop with relative ease in his driveway next to his own trailer.  (Sis and I had a hazy memory of Bro talking about how his new house had ample room for trailer parking in the yard next to the workshop, but we dismiss this for now) .  And inside the house is a warm kitchen, with a pot roast bubbling in the crock pot,  a bottle of wine to be opened, and Bro’s wife C showing us to our room, with a big bed and hand-quilted comforter to look forward to.  Is this heaven, or what!

[Sorry, no pix – we didn’t stop for much between lunch and Bro’s place. But tune in next time to find out about that trailer that is parked in the driveway – more than meets the eye!]

 

 

Travels in a Tiny Tear-drop Trailer – Day 1 (cont.)

 

(The picture on the left above shows what the inside of the trailer looks like in the website photo.  The one on the right shows the inside of the trailer in actual use.)

An hour after arrival at Valley of the Rogue State Park, we finally have the trailer reasonably stationed in its space, with the electricity hooked up. My water-repellent wind-breaker is soaked through, and as it is after 9PM, we decide to forego cooking a hot meal and simply make a meal of cheese, fruit, and crackers, with some good red wine, and chocolate for dessert. No worries about the rain, Sis declares, as she has also rented a little tent which can be attached to the trailer door, giving us a dry place to sit while we eat.

The comprehensive directions that come with the trailer  suggest that one should practice setting up the tent attachment in advance so you know how it all fits together. We have not done that. Fortunately we both have head lamps, so we take the chairs out of the trailer and set them aside, take the tent out, and begin to assemble it in the dark and rain, with me reading the directions , and the two of us fitting poles into holes as seems most reasonable. A half-hour or so later, the tent is up, attached to the trailer, and we have secured the rain fly. It’s then  we discover that the chair bags are not water-proof, and after a half-hour of sitting out in driving rain, the chairs inside their bags are sopping wet.

Well, so are we by that time, so we set our chairs and little table up inside the tent, arrange some plastic trash bags on the sodden chairs, and drown our soggy sorrows in wine. I even manage to forgive Sis for having forgotten to bring the chocolate. We hang our wet clothes on every possible protuberance inside the trailer, and prepare for bed.  We find the mis-placed purse! Sis worries about having to get up in the night to get to the rest room, so she carefully sets her shoes just outside the trailer door inside the tent so that she can slip them on if needed.

And so to bed.

Will the rain ever stop?  Will Sis be able to find her shoes in the dark? Will we get a hot breakfast?  Stay tuned!

 

Freeway-Free in France: Ceremonies (LATC July 3, 2019, for our Veterans)

20190606_102633docI had the good fortune to be among the 12,000 + invited guests at the 75th anniversary ceremonies commemorating the D-Day landings in Normandy.

All 12,000 + guests were brought in by shuttle buses from staging areas in nearby towns (except for the VIPs, like Presidents Macron and Trump and their supporting cast, who arrived by helicopter). The security lines were long, but we passed the time checking out the helicopter arrivals, and applauding the mostly wheelchair-bound, heavily be-medaled D-Day survivors as they wheeled past on the way to the VIP tent.

20190606_114147cropWe were among the last 4000 to arrive at the American Cemetery, and the stage and podium seemed several football fields away in the distance.  But giant Jumbotron screens gave us close up views of Air Force One (both jet and helicopter) and its occupants as they landed, and of President Trump’s ceremonial greeting of guests President and Mrs. Macron onto what is considered American soil.

When we took our eyes from the screens, we looked out over a sea of white crosses, each decorated with a  American and a French flag,  stretching beyond the audience area for even more hundreds of yards. So many dead buried in tidy rows, as if drawn up for a regimental parade. An occasional Star of David marked a grave instead of a cross. A rare cross with gold lettering indicated a Medal of Honor recipient. An occasional soldier is “known only to God.” It seems right that all the soldiers are equal in death, except for those singled out for their valor.  The son of a US President has the same marker as an unknown soldier.

Before the speeches, national anthems were sung.  During the speeches, 12,000 people listened quietly.  President  Macron thanked the veterans who were present in English, and presented four of them with the French Legion of Honor (including air kisses on both cheeks).  President Trump told stories of the heroics of two D-Day soldiers, then turned to shake their hands personally on the stage.

Afterward, the ceremony continued.  We heard taps played by a distant trumpet, followed by a 21- gun salute, delivered by three mighty howitzers aimed out over Omaha Beach. Five fighter jets flew over in the missing man formation. A platoon of other military aircraft filled the sky, emulating the flocks of fighters and bombers on D-day.  Finally, a second squadron of nine jets, trailing red, white, and blue contrails, roared across the sky.20190606_130439doc

The whole event was both humbling and satisfying.  We had paid appropriate homage to those who fought for us, and in doing so honored those who are still fighting.

Our French guide had told us that, in France, the D-day landings are never referred to as an invasion.  Instead, they were the forces of liberation. Tomorrow, if this piece is published on schedule, will be Independence Day.  Let’s celebrate our own liberation with due ceremony, while remembering those we owe it to.

[Article first published in the Los Altos Town Crier this summer;  still appropriate as Veteran’s Day approaches.]

Freeway Free in California: San Jose’s Japantown

20190713_144402docSan Jose’s Japantown, centered around the intersection of Jackson and Fifth Restaurant, is one of only three remaining  centers of Japanese culture in the US (the other two being in San Francisco and in Los Angeles.)  Almost destroyed by the forced internment of most of its citizens during World War II, it has bounced back as a nucleus of Japanese restaurants, shops, and community organizations.

If you go to Japantown, it’s best to start with a good meal.  Kubota’s on 5th is an upscale favorite of local Japanese businessmen and their visitors from Japan.  I’m a big fan of their chirashi, which comes with a really good tofu salad along with a sizable bowl of rice topped with generous slices of raw fish.  If you want a more casual meal you might try Gombei,  the sister restaurant around the corner on Jackson, which specializes in sushi.

20190713_134425webAfter lunch, a stroll along 5th street on the other side from Kubota’s will lead you to the San Jose Betsuin Buddhist Temple, with its serene garden inviting some digestive meditation.  If you can, enter the temple and admire its beautiful sliding shoji screens, gilded lanterns, and handsome icons.

From the intersection of 5th and Jackson, a stroll up and down Fifth Street gives you a chance to browse in shops featuring Japanese anime action figures and bobble-head toys,  music stores featuring Japanese stringed instruments and taiko drums, houseware stores, and a variety of Japanese and Korean restaurants and tea shops.

My favorite is Nichi Bei Bussan – a gift shop which has been in business over 100 years, featuring all things Japanese, including kimono fabric and patterns, whimsically decorated socks designed to be worn with flip-flops or Japanese sandals, beautiful tea sets and platters, origami paper, craft books, gift wraps, Japanese graphic novels and magazines and charming, helpful sales people who will gladly help you find the perfect item.

After shopping, time to reflect on the history of Japantown. Go back down Fifth street past Kubota’s and find the memorial sculpture and garden next to the Nissei Memorial Building housing the Japanese American Citizens League.  It’s worth studying each face of the three-sided memorial before visiting the Japanese American Museum just a few doors further down.

The Japanese-American Museum traces the history of Japanese immigrants in the US, from their being imported as easy-to-exploit agricultural laborers to their forced removal to concentration camps during World War II.  The museum includes videos, recorded intreviews, and a replica of a family’s space at Manzanar, one of the relocation camps.  You cannot spend time in this museum without feeling a bit queasy at how easy it seemed to have been to deprive thousands of U.S. citizens of their rights, even as our country  fought against the same arbitrary cruelty as seen in Nazi Germany.

On a lighter note, try to schedule your visit to coincide with one of the special festivals.  I recently happened to arrive during the summer Obon Festival, which featured dancers, taiko drummers, men and women in traditional costumes, lots of food and crafts booths, and an open house at the Buddhist temple offering one-hour classes in “Buddhism 101”.

 

 

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