Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Freeway Free”

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 6 -Lockdown Extended 4 more weeks!

 

Cooped up with the morning paper and the hourly news, one would think the apocalypse is at hand.  A walk in nature is called for, but where does one go during lockdown?   Many parks are closed, or have closed the  parking lots  in order to discourage crowding, or at least have cordoned off picnic tables and playgrounds.

20200403_172027webWe found a little oasis not too far from our home – theBlackberry Farm Preserve.  Normally, this green dell offers visits to farm animals and truck gardens as well as grassy paths, but these tours and visits are now locked off.  The playground and picnic areas are also marked as dubious.  But the stately redwoods, the creek,  the twisted bay trees, the fearless deer, and the feral vincas are all still available to soothe the restless mind.

 

 

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?

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: Exploring Astoria

[AKA “Travels with a Tiny Teardrop Trailer – Day 4 (cont.)”]

20191020_132703docAstoria is way out on the furthest northwestern tip of Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River. It is the oldest city in the state of Oregon, founded in 1811, and named for John Jacob Astor, the New York investor whose American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria at the site. (Yes, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York is also named for him.)  In bygone years Astoria was a bustling harbor, with schooner after schooner fighting her way past the dreaded Columbia River bar to pick up timber, fish, and furs, dropping off supplies and merchandise for the well-to-do families of  trappers, fishermen, and lumberjacks.

The Victorian heart of the city was demolished by fire in 1922.  This happened to coincide with the peak population – above 14,000 – so there were resources and energy to rebuild in the Art Deco style of the 1920’s.  Fortunately for architecture buffs, the population began a steady decline shortly after rebuilding, as port activity moved inland to Portland, and northward to Seattle.  The last fish cannery closed in 1980, the last lumber mill closed in 1989, and the railroad service was discontinued in 1996.  This left Astoria with a population of under 10,000, no funding for demolition/modernization in the town center, and plenty of warehouse space for the brewpubs and artist cooperatives which began to move in.

20191020_154102webWe stopped for lunch after our museum visit at the Rogue Public House, a brewpub located in a re-purposed fish cannery out on a pier just down from the museum.  We enjoyed their boutique beer, plus an excellent pizza and salad.  Then we took advantage of a temporary cessation of rainfall to stroll the delightfully un-restored, un-modernized, un-redeveloped downtown.

The downtown is haunted by the ghosts of retailers past:  the signs for JC Penney and Sears still deck the storefronts, though the shops underneath are now boutiques such as Garbo’s Vintage Wear, Purple Cow Toys, and Arachne’s Hand-Crafted Yarns.  Our favorite was FinnWare, a wonderful collection of Scandinavian design and décor, made even more special by a flotilla of Christmasy items sparkling and spinning on display.

We also stopped in at several of the art galleries which line Commercial Street, just to gawk at the creativity on display and wonder who actually puts these things in their houses.  The Riversea Gallery was particularly comprehensively amazing.

20191020_134111webAt one end of Commercial Street is the wonderful wedding cake-like Liberty Theatre, located, of course, in the Astor Building.  (See photo above.) We were visiting in October, so the Box Office was spectrally staffed.

After an hour or two of strolling and shopping we had had enough retail therapy and headed for the beach.  The sun was actually shining as we hit the sand at the tip of Oregon.  We could see the remains of the Peter Iredale rusting peacefully in the distance, one of the victims of the treacherous Columbia River Bar.

shipwreck

Will the sunshine stay?  Will we be able to use the outdoor kitchen on the Titanic ?  Or will we head back to that cozy brewpub as refugees?  Stay tuned!

 

 

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!

 

Freeway Free in France: the other national cemeteries of Normandy

20190605_093503docWe are all familiar with pictures of the American Cemetery in Normandy, with its rows of white crosses stretching into the distance.  I had not known that the United States was the only combatant in World War II which offered families of its dead an option to repatriate their remains for burial in the US.  The nine thousand plus graves at the American Cemetery are only a third of the fallen.  These are those soldiers who had no family, or whose families lacked means or desire to hold funeral rites at home, so they preferred to let the government bury their dead.

Soldiers from other countries were buried near where they fell. There is a cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers in Bayeux, with tombstones rather than crosses.  There is a Canadian cemetery near Caen.  And, most ironically, there is a German cemetery. at LaCambe, also near Bayeux.

The German cemetery is quite different in look and feel from the rows of white marble favored by the victors.  One enters the cemetery through what seems like a large arch, but once inside, the spacious entrance gives onto a small room with a memorial wall on one side and a listing of the cemetery’s occupants on the other. Exit into the cemetery is through a narrow and low door.  The symbolism, we were told, is that the soldiers entered the war as a group, but died individually, one by one.

The central feature of the cemetery is a tumulus which contains the remains of mostly unidentified German soldiers, topped by a black lava cross and two human figures, one of Jesus, the other of Mary.  Scattered around the grounds are groups of black crosses, some slightly larger than others.  The individual graves are marked by brown plaques laid flat in the grass, each bearing the names of two German soldiers, with their dates of birth and death, and sometimes merely the inscription “Ein Deutcher Soldat”. The plaques are made of German clay.

In school we learned Rupert Brooke’s elegy “The Soldier” which begins

If I should die, think only this of me:
      That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
France has ceded the land which contains the World War II cemeteries to the respective nations which maintain them.  (Thus President Trump acted as host for ceremonies on D-Day at the American cemetery, arriving first and greeting French President Macon and his wife as guests.) It is sobering to realize that this corner of France will be forever Germany, peacefully coexisting in death with its former enemies.
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Freeway Free in France: Tales of War in Bayeux

20190604_154859docBayeux was the first French city to be liberated by Allied Forces.  Troops marched into the city on a street bordered with cheering townsfolk who waved French and American flags, and offered kisses from happy young women and fresh baked treats from older ones.  The Germans evacuated so quickly that they had no time to organize a defense, so the most of the medieval structures remained intact.

20190604_134313webWe first stopped at Bayeux Cathedral, with its mix of old and new stained glass, its ornate Gothic verticality, its mystic paintings decorating the crypt beneath the alter.  The apse was decked in French tricolor, British Union Jacks, Canadian maple leafs,  and American stars and stripes.  Behind the altar there was a large concert band practicing for Prince Charles’ visit the following day (Wed. June 5).  This was a truly excellent brass ensemble, plus some woodwinds and tympani.  The sound reverberating through the cathedral was thrilling.  One piece was “The Spitfire Overture” and another, appropriate for a visiting Brit, was the lovely, noble main theme from “Jupiter” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst.  My partner, a music-lover with bad knees, stayed in the church for the whole rehearsal while I wandered around the side chapels and lower levels.

20190604_145313webRight across from the cathedral is an old store front set us as a Lace Museum, with lovely examples of the prototypically Breton/Norman craft.  Unfortunately, I have since read that the Lace Museum is in danger of being closed, as it is funded by the city of Bayeux and patronage has been light.  So don’t forget to stop in!

Just down the street is a more modern museum of Breton arts and crafts, housed in a former bishop’s palace, with lovely landscape paintings, more lace samples, and a well-stocked gift shop offering post cards and booklets about the medieval city, its role in World War II, and its artistic heritage.

20190604_161740webOf course, Bayeux is most famous for that other artifact of war, the Bayeux Tapestry, now displayed beautifully in a circular museum which allows the entire 200 feet of  embroidered cloth to be shown, accompanied by an audio commentary provided through headsets to each visitor.  (This device not only fills you on details a guidebook may have overlooked, but it artfully keeps the visitors moving forward as the audio commentary moves forward to the next panel.  No pause button. ) Notice the way the borders complement the action, with dead and dying soldiers, archers, and mythic beast bordering the action-packed cavalry sequences.  The Bayeux tapestry is like an early graphic novel, with leading characters easily identified by distinctive dress or hair, and scenes of ribaldry aleternating with the diplomacy and bloodshed.  Definitely a Don’t Miss!

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.]

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