Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Travel”

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot- Week 29: Getaway Gone

Our favorite getaway spot, just an hour and a half from the busy Bay Area, has been the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove.  This historic retreat was originally a YWCA leadership camp , with historic redwood buildings designed by Julia Morgan, who also designed many of the buildings at William Randolph Hearst’s La Cuesta Encantada in San Simeon (AKA Hearst Castle).    The Center is nestled amid cypress trees and sand dunes just across from Asilomar State Beach on the quiet side of the Monterey Peninsula, separated from touristy and cutesified Carmel by the gorgeous twisting 17-Mile-Drive along the Monterey coastline. .

For the first part of the Lockdown, the Conference center was commandeered by the State as a place to quarantine people who had been exposed to the virus.   After the first surge, the center was emptied and sanitized, but its conference business had dropped to zero.  It reopened to the public only a few weeks ago.  D and I were desperate to get away from our same daily rooms, and reserved a night.  That week the wildfires blazed up, and the Air Quality in Pacific Grove was rated Hazardous.  We rescheduled.  Two weeks later the fires were contained, the air had cleared and we were on our way.

Usually the Conference Center is humming with conferees, who might include  quilters, nutritionists, corporate retreaters, and many other groups.  But there are usually a few unfilled rooms which are available at reasonable cost to the non-conferring public at the last minute.  If you have breakfast in the Dining Hall you will sit at whatever table is not filled, and be liable to have an interesting conversations with whatever genial strangers share the table.  The Lodge is full of teenagers waiting their turn at the pool table or conferees scanning brochures about local activities, or picking up souvenirs at the Park Store.

But that was Before.

As we drove in, the parking lots were nearly empty.  The lodge itself was posted with the first of many signs notifying visitors of curtailed services. “Lodge open for check-in from 2PM to 8PM.”  It was 3PM, so we entered .  The cavernous lodge was empty except for the young lady at the reception desk and one computer jockey at a well-isolated table.  The room was posted with signs saying “[fill in blank] is not available to guests at this time.” (e.g. swimming pool, lodge fireplace, park store, pool table, piano…).  The brochure stand was empty, but we invited to hold up your phones to a QRcode to download information.  The Dining Room was closed also, as were the bike rentals.

All the same, it was a wonderful getaway.  We could sit on our balcony among the cypress trees and look out to a sparkling ocean.  And when we walked down to the beach, we saw that there are some family pleasures that even COVID-19 cannot close down.

Life in a Covid – 19 Hot Spot: Week 26 – The new Normal?

My sons have always gone camping together in September.  The only miss in the last 15 years was the September that the younger son got married.  This year any campground that was not already restricted by COVID-19 was shut down due to wildfires raging through the state and national forests.  What to do?

Solution: Urban camping.  We have a back yard which has a lawn.  Occasionally wildlife (rabbits, possums, raccoons, an occasional coyote pack, an occasional deer) appear unexpectedly.  And we have adjacent foothills so far unscathed by fire.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20200919_095141web-1-e1600887575283.jpgSo we had a family reunion, properly distanced.  The campers set up their tents in the yard (separate tents, properly distanced)  and set off for a 16-mile hike which included a fair segment of asphalt and sidewalks, summited the local peak (Elevation, 2,812 ft) and a stop at a local pub able to serve a cold beer with outside seating.

Cooking out was pretty civilized, using our Smoky Joe for burgers, and sitting around our propane-fueled portable fire pit for after dinner cookies and conversation, six feet or more apart. 

The next morning the guys settled for a breakfast of coffee and French toast made in our kitchen, rather than bacon and biscuits on the camp stove. We ate together on the patio, using single-use plates and napkins and utensils fresh from the dish washer.  

No, it wasn’t the same.  But it was still a slice of wonderful to see and hear my family together in real time, real space.  I’ll take it.

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.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot: Week 21 – Cutting Closer to the Bone

YosemiteB

LIMITED ACCESS ONLY – PERMIT REQUIRED

I’ve gotten used to the lack of retail therapy as most stores have limited access, and aimless browsing is discouraged.  I’ve gotten used to the empty parking lots around offices, schools, and churches.  I’ve gotten used to meeting friends on ZOOM rather than meeting them for lunch. I’ve gotten used to take-out food rather than white tablecloths at my favorite restaurants. I’ve gotten used to bringing my own folding table and chair when I visit a park.

I put up with cancelling a trip to Europe (my husband’s bad knee wouldn’t have stood the trip anyway), cancelling a long weekend at a hideaway inn to the north, cancelling the family reunion picnic we had scheduled for my milestone birthday this year, cancelling my grandson’s 6th grade graduation, my other grandson’s high school graduation.  My monthly visits to help look after my toddler grand-daughter have morphed to bi-weekly story times on ZOOM.

County Library: Contactless Holds Pickup and Material Return Now Available

KatieSurprisecropI’m just beginning to feel some fraying in the social fabric. My son refused to get together for a mid-point picnic between our homes, as his son and daughter had recently traveled and he couldn’t guarantee they weren’t infectious.  For the same reason my other son canceled a planned joint camping trip with his brother’s family – an infection in his four-room apartment would be a disaster, and he couldn’t risk it. Still not “serious”, no-one is ill, but when families are afraid to meet, that’s wrenching.

On the other hand, my sister and her husband just returned from an expedition to Yosemite.  They were able to obtain a day pass, they set off at an ungodly hour of the mroning, and by 10AM they were beginning the hike up the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls. She said “It was like I remember from my childhood – no shuttle buses, but not so many people, and no crowding on the trails.  We picnicked at the top of Vernal Falls and dangled our feet in the pool beyond Nevada Falls.  It was lovely.”

Maybe this is the preview of our future: much- curtailed activity and options for most of us, but for the few who are able to maintain their income stream,  travel safely, obtain the right permissions, and keep their health, a rather pleasantly emptied world.  It’s not the future I want.

Yosemite: Ways to Get a Reservation

Four icons for the four permit types

 

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?

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 7: Nature’s soft side shows in Spring

Nature has been throwing  us a lot of nasties in the last months – pandemic, killer tornados, smothering snow, torrential rain, and historic drought levels, to name a few.  And then, as if to make up for the tantrums, she sends us a Spring as lavish and luscious as any I can remember.  From native-plant gardens,  to cultivated rose gardens, to bursting containers, everything that has ever thought of blooming in my own garden and my neighborhood is out-doing itself this year.

Above: Poppies, sage, lupine, and blue-eyed grass from a native-plant garden in a nearby park.

Above: calendula, roses, raphiolepsis and orchids in my own garden.

Above: ranunculus border, tulips, wisteria, and rhododendron from a heritage garden nearby.

Above: cultivated roses at a neighboring university campus.

I hope these pix refresh you a bit, especially those of you who are still snowbound as well as lockdown-bound.  Spring still arrives, in spite of everything!

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?

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.

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