Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Freeway Free at Lake Tahoe: Besides Skiing…

Hiking boots still damp [See two posts ago] we decided ice skating would be the best option for an afternoon. . C started phoning.  One place had a disconnected phone – probably not an option.  We decided to check out the outdoor rink at Heavenly Village. 

HV is a skier’s Disneyland.  The gondolas leave from the middle of a pseudo alpine village with outdoor musicians, an ice-covered fountain, and various boutique shoppes and eateries.  But the rink was dinky – smaller than the San Jose rink beneath the palms.  so we tried Edgewood Lodge – sorry, not open to public. then the inside south Tahoe city Ice rink – reserved for hockey team practice and lessons except for Th-Sun. c thinks she might go on Friday when she is here alone – she brought her skates!

We were inspired, though, by the sign showing where those gondolas ended up – far up the mountain and on the other side of the ridge was the true Heavenly Valley. So we drove up the Kingman Grade (N-207) to HeavenlySki Resort. The gondola that goes up from the Village on US50 ends at a cluster of condos and cabins surrounding a take off point for several busy ski runs. This is literally another side of the Tahoe area, invisible from the Lake.  We were hoping for some impressive lake views, but too many trees.

Nowhere to walk in the resort unless you were carrying skis over your shoulder on the way to one of the lifts, so we descended the Kingman Grade again, parked next to HWY 50, and took a walk along the South Tahoe bike way, then went down to the snow-covered beach and made our way back to our car.  As we returned the sky turned blazing peach and pink and purple, celebrating our explorations.  You can always count on Lake Tahoe to take your breath away, one way or another.



Freeway Free at Lake Tahoe: Fusion Feeding

Busy at Harumi Sushi bar

After our first night of hamburger casserole cooked at the timeshare, C and I felt we should be more adventurous at dining. Not wanting to drive far, we decided to try the sushi place across the highway. Harumi Sushi – good choice!  The place was packed on a Monday night (not that many restaurants open in a tourist town on a Monday) but we managed two seats together at the end of the sushi bar. Although most of the workers and chefs are not Japanese and the tea was not matcha, the edamame was tender, and the White Dragon roll (salmon, spicy tuna, avocado, and more) was only surpassed by the Gabrielle roll (snapper, fried asparagus, sweet sauce, and more.) C had some sake – I tasted, and we split an order of fried cheesecake – a very peculiar sweet which I’m pretty confident is not traditional Japanese.

Toast Tahoe – lower level

For our third night we had planned to dine in South Lake Tahoe, but the Thai restaurant we had hoped to eat at was CLOSED for remodeling, and its sister restaurant at the other end of town was simply CLOSED, and as we had started our culinary search late, we headed north to Zephyr Cove again, to Toast Tahoe. This large restaurant on two levels is obviously equipped to handle large parties, but tonight the upstairs is closed and down in the bar C and I are almost the only diners. Our server is the owner, her daughter buses dishes, her mother and husband are in the kitchen.

No sushi here, but delicious and unusual menu items.  We shared Calamari breaded in toasted coconut, Cindy had crab cakes and roasted Caesar salad, I had mussels in curried coconut milk and rice. Yum.

Since we had failed at finding Thai food previously, we were delighted to find one listed back in South Shore and made Thai on Ski Run our destination. We discovered that this was only one of a little nexus of attractive restaurants off the US50 track – a Japanese, a Nepalese, and an Italian in addition to the Thai, all brightly lit with Christmas lights still up, and all welcoming.  But C had checked out the Thai restaurant online and had drooled at the pix, so we kept to our original plan.  She had a beef curry, I had a not-very Spicy Thai Eggplant/vegetable mix, and we shared, with enough for another meal boxed up afterward for the condo. The restaurant is not as pretty as the pix of its closed rivals, but the friendly and quick service more than made up for the rather bare-bones decor. And I’d come back to this corner of Ski Run to sample the other three restaurants.

Thai on Ski Run beckons on a cold night

Hidden Treasure at Lake Tahoe: LTCC Nordic Center

C and I had promised each other that vigorous exercise would be part of each day at Tahoe, so what to do while my hiking boots were drying out? (See previous post). C had never been cross country skiing, and I had not done it since my children were small, so we set out with a bit of trepidation to find equipment and trails suitable for brittle-boned ski bunnies.

C is a tiger when it comes to locating options. After a short internet search, she discovers that the Lake Tahoe Community College campus includes a Nordic Center with over five kilometers of “groomed trails.” After some misdirection we were in touch with Meghan, who not only welcomed us with the news that we could have a day pass at the Nordic Center for only $7.50 each, but also referred us to Gary at the nearby Sierra Ski and Cycle Works to rent equipment. We set off just before noon.

Gary lives up to his recommendation, giving us well-fitted boots, skis, poles, and clear and succinct instruction on how to don and doff our skis. We head up the road to the LGCC campus, beautifully draped in snow several feet deep. The Nordic Center office is in the Campus Library, the entrance to the trails is just across the parking lot next to the Gym. We park, purchase our day passes, sling our skis and poles over our shoulders, clamber up the snow bank, and set off.

Good news:; the sky is blue, the snow is white and clean, the trails are clearly marked (no falling into the creek here!) Bad news: there has been no fresh snow, and the trails are quite icy.  The ice makes for easy gliding on the flats, but more speed than we can handle at first even on the gentle slopes, so we each take a couple of falls on the first couple of downhills.  Ice is a lot harder to fall on than snow, and a lot harder to get up from as the skis kept wanting to sail away downhill.  But we gradually get the hang of it, shuffling along easily and enjoying the beautiful mountains and snowy woodlands scenery.

Gary had told us that we could keep the boots, skis, and poles if we wanted to use them for a second day, and we decide to try a different loop at LTCC the next day, going in the afternoon when the ice might be melting and the going (and falling) a bit less crusty. A good long soaking in the time-share hot tub has kept the bruises at bay, and we are confident that a second day will see vast improvement, especially since we have both watched a couple of YouTube videos on beginning cross-country skiing.

Well, a bit. The trail is still icy, and the downhills are still too hard and slick for our attempts at snowplowing to slow us down noticeably. It isn’t that I fall less often, but I fall smarter and get up faster. And today we have role models to inspire us: the LTCC Nordic Ski Team is practicing for a meet. The young skiers, helmet-less, long-hair flying, bright-colored tights and sweaters glowing against the snow, must have lapped us at least eight times, swooping and darting past like a bevy of dragonflies. We do our best to stay out of their way, but no worries – they use us as if we were obstacles in a slalom course, and toss us words of encouragement as they see us tumble. Who needs the Olympics?

Waiting for you!

Freeway Free Around Tahoe: Through the Ice

Trail to Emerald Bay is under there somewhere!

C and I deliberate about how to spend our first day in Winter Wonderland, and decide to go hiking at Emerald Bay, maybe down to the bay from the trailhead, maybe on the “moderate” trail up to Eagle Falls. After some wrong turns with me driving, we finally plug in the GPS and find the right road, skimming along on ice-free pavement between six-foot snowbanks on either side of the road – until we get to the ridge where the side of the road simply drops away on both sides and I dare not take my eyes off the asphalt to look at the stunning views in either direction for fear of plummeting to our doom.

Bridge is under there!

Six-foot snowdrifts means that access to the trail down to Emerald Bay is blocked by snow, so we default to the “moderate, 400 ft elevation” Eagle Creek loop.  The hike to falls would be easy if the path and all markers were not obliterated by piles of snow.  We struggle, using existing footprints as toeholds, to the bridge, which is covered with a two foot cushion of hard packed snow (fortunately not in the sun, so not slick or icy).

On the other side, it looks like a path has been blazed to go down and cross the creek at a narrow spot, less steep and icy than either the way we had come or the longer loop back to start – so we try it. C goes first, with no trouble until we reach the narrow place where it seems others had crossed the creek.  She gets across but with one foot through the ice bridge down to water.  “That looks dicey,” I thought. “I’ll try a different route” – bad idea!  I break through the ice bridge with one foot in the creek down to my ankle. As I struggle the other foot breaks through also, and suddenly I’m up to my knees in icy water, with the surrounding snowpack almost up to my waist, and me on my back with my backpack sinking into the surface.  Fortunately, C manages to get to solid ground and grab a hand, and I finally flip over and manage to get a knee onto fairly firm snow.  Yes, the way back is less steep and less long, but I squish at every step. 

Next week: Plans B and C

Freeway Free around Tahoe: Settling Into a New Nest

Reno Airport is a small and manageable transport hub full of flashing slot machines and empty kiosks for souvenirs and food.  I meet my travel-mate C at baggage claim, my suitcase arrives promptly, a big red Nissan SUV is waiting for us at Hertz, (to be christened “the Cherry-ot”) and off we go, south and west into the setting sun (glare almost blinding me at the wheel as the sun is directly ahead).

We stop at Safeway before stopping at the condo – C doesn’t drink coffee, but guzzles quarts of soda; doesn’t eat breakfast, but eats salami and bacon.  (Modified keto diet.) We run up a bill of around $120, of which about $25 is stuff I won’t touch, and $30 is stuff she won’t touch. But we won’t starve.

I’ve not stayed in a great many timeshares. Worldmark  by Wyndham is not as ritzy as some. The decor is standard house-staging tones of white, gray, and wood tones with granite counters and neutral upholstery and carpeting designed to hide stains.  The highlight is a big walk-in shower with a sit-down stool (I think I landed the handicapped room again). The view out the sliding door to the balcony is of other condos, with lots of icicles dripping down – the big snow was a week ago, and the ice has thawed and frozen more than once.

My magic suitcase and backpack are like Hermione Granger’s infinite evening bag – I just kept stuffing more in, everything from my mother’s handed-down snowsuit to my least thread-bare swimsuit for the spa. I had retrieved some Japanese slippers from a long-ago trip for getting to the spa, but counted on a bathrobe at the condo as a coverup. Nope. 

That’s $120 worth of groceries on the counter.

The kitchen is surprisingly well-appointed, even with small packets of useful spices next to the measuring spoons. I prepare my reliable camping casserole as a Welcome dinner, hoping that C will not pick out the corn and pasta. No problem, and enough left for another dinner for one after I’m gone.

After dinner we attempt to watch TV together, but los interest, and I take up my novel as C knits. I had only downloaded a couple of novels, and one I finished almost immediately. Now on my iPad I only have Washington Black to read for my book club and one copy of the Economist which I ‘d better save for the shuttle ride back to the airport on Sunday.  Oh wait. Worst case, there is a copy of The Brothers Karamazov on my iPad, one of those “always meant to read” downloads.

The next morning I realize the advantage of having a housemate on a completely different schedule. I slept beautifully, got up at 7, had a decadent shower, dressed, fixed breakfast for myself of fruit and coffee (neither of which is on C’s diet), ate leisurely, set up an expense spreadsheet for the trip, reviewed 20 pp of notes for the on-line class I’m taking, and when C finally appears after 9AM I already feel I’ve accomplished a day’s worth of productivity and I deserve to play.

Coming Next: Adventures on the Ice

Freeway Free: How NOT to get outta town

My friend C invited me out of the blue to spend a few days at her timeshare in Tahoe. A gal’s getaway – sounds great! Mindful of recent blizzards in the Sierras, my Personal Travel Agent suggested that I fly to meet C at the Reno airport rather than make a stressful drive by myself. Love to be coddled.

PTA gets me to the airport more than an hour before boarding.  I breeze through check in with the help of a brightly – masked gate agent who affixes my baggage tag for me.  I’m hung up for a few minutes in security as the X-ray objects to the steel shanks in my hiking boots.  Cleared, I stop at the rest room, fill my water bottle, buy an extra Chapstick against cold ($3.80!) and still arrive at the gate an hour before boarding at 12:30

I dig out my Science News, which I expect to be able to finish on the plane.  12:30 comes and goes.  Then the announcement – “The crew for your plane is stuck in Palm Springs. We are looking for a new crew.” New estimated departure: Maybe 2:30.” The announcer doesn’t sound very confident.

I go to the rest room again. I take out the snack I had packed for the plane – a mandarin orange and a granola bar. I find a quiet area and eat very slowly.  Back at the gate there is no change on the board.  I call C, already waiting at the Reno airport. I ask her to go to Hertz and let them know we’ve been delayed, so we won’t lose our car. I wander down to the bookstore.  Ooh, there’s a copy of the latest volume of the “Outlander” series! But maybe I’d better check back before I immerse myself in colonial America.  Oops!  The plane is boarding!  It’s 1:56.  Amazing.

I’m comfy in an exit row with a aisle seat.  Then my seat mate arrives, a very large United crew member dead-heading to Reno for a flight tomorrow.  There goes my elbow room.  He tells me a replacement crew agreed to fill in for the stranded group – above and beyond, out of the goodness of their hearts.  Thanks be to good-hearted crewmen.  I text C “I’m on the plane!” She responds “Hallelujah”

2:35: We are boarded, locked and loaded, but not pushed back from the gate yet. 

2:36: We are detached from the gate, but not actually moving as safety announcements are made.

2:40: We have moved 20 feet backwards.  It’s a 40 minute flight, if we ever get airborne!

I feel like I’ve been indoors in a mask with hot breath funneled up to my eyeballs forever.  It has been three hours. 

I only downloaded two books onto my iPad before leaving, and one of them I’ve nearly finished. Will one book and one copy of the Economist last me through four days and the flight back home?   I check – seems some time back I downloaded The Brothers Karamazov as something I’ve always meant to read. This may be the week.

2;46:  WE’RE MOVING DOWN THE RUNWAY!  No, we’re slowing down, moving to a different runaway.  Turning a second time.  A third time.  Are we there yet?  A fourth time.  The engines are making serious revving noises.  Here we go!

2:48: Lift off!   San Francisco looks like a city built of white sugar cubes in the bright winter light.  Lots of boats and barges lined up in the water – supply chain overflow?  Oakland looks just a bit grimier than its gleaming sister city across the Bay. The plane dips and turns right over Alameda; I can almost pick out our old house on Doris Court. Then we right ourselves and head east. 

Thoughts: Travel is chancy these days with airplane crews and bus drivers and other service personnel ravaged by viral variants and supply-chain glitches and labor shortages. My trip by plane and rental car to Stateline NV from the Bay Area took 6 hours; on a good day one could drive the route in 4.  My excuse for flying was “less stressful” but that’s not necessarily so when one’s flight is delayed, the airline rep says, “We’re trying our best but no update yet”, and one is supposed to be meeting someone at the other end.

So, if you are traveling, bring plenty to read, lots of patience, and bon voyage!

Thanks to The Atlantic for this graphic

A Piece of My Mind: Hallowed Ground?

Louisiana Monument

A Millennial friend of mine, touring the Gettysburg battlefield, asked “Why are there all these memorials glorifying people who fought for such a terrible cause?”  It was a question I had never considered despite many visits to the battlefield. 

Yes, Gettysburg is a historical site. Yes, the statues and memorials mark where generals actually stood and watched the battle, where particular battalions fought, and what contribution they made to the course of the battle.  Some of the Confederate monuments, such as the one designed by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mr. Rushmore, have artistic merit in themselves. But some are cringe-worthy.

The scripture on the Mississippi monument, for example:

            On this ground our brave sires fought for their righteous cause; In glory they sleep who give to it their lives

Who can read this today without gritting their teeth?

Mississippi monument

“I read that most of these Confederate monuments were put up in the 30’s at the height of the Jim Crow era, funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy,” my Millennial continued.  “What kind of euphemistic name is that?  If they called themselves “Daughters of Slaveholders”, would they have been allowed to put up monuments in a national park?  Does Germany put up battlefield monuments funded by Daughters of Nazis?”

My Millenial friend went on to wonder “Why is the monument to General Lee the largest on the battlefield?  He was supposed to have been such a great strategist, yet he sent his army to attack a stronger force in a fortified position uphill.  I’m told the professors at West Point use Lee at Gettysburg as a textbook example of what not to do strategically.

“Why does he get a giant statue when he basically did what Tennyson condemned in “Charge of the Light Brigade,” sending his forces into withering artillery fire in the Valley of Death?  Only there were a lot more than six hundred who died for his hubris. And Longsteeet – the only general who had the guts to stand up to Lee and tell him the charge was a bad idea – he only gets a 1/4 life- size statue hidden away from the street in a thicket.”

Virginia Monument

I tried to answer.  “Lee was supposed to be the best general in the Army at the time.  He was offered the leadership of the Union Army and agonized over turning it down. His uncle signed the Declaration of Independence. He symbolized the agony of having to decide between Country and State loyalties.”

“Yes, I know he graduated at the top of his class from West Point,” countered my Millennial. “But what did he learn, except to believe his own hype? He betrayed the oath he took at West Point when he defected to the Secessionists.   Yes, he was descended from Revolutionary War aristocracy.  But he was a still a slave holder, and defended slavery.

My millennial friend went on to ask “Why set aside all this land to commemorate warfare and dying?  The National Military Cemetery and the monument to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address up on Cemetery Ridge say everything one would want to say about the men and boys who died to eliminate slavery in the US and to keep the country together.  The cemetery is what Lincoln called “hallowed ground”, not the battlefield.   These Matthew Brady photos of dead soldiers at Devil’s Den, and the informative signs about the Bloody Angle and the Slaughter Pen –  it’s like a theme park for carnage.”

Confederate sharp shooter at Devil’s Den

We continued along Confederate Avenue, then drove across the valley to the sites of the Union lines from Little Round Top down to Cemetery Ridge.  I was trying to think of a good counter to my Millennial friend.  I’m still working on it.

A Piece of My Mind: The Oreo Epidemic

You’ve seen them, popping up like mushrooms all over our community.  My husband and I call them “Oreo houses”.  They are typically new construction, often built on spec, with  the “For Sale” sign going up as soon as the lollipop trees are in the ground.  They are painted stark white, almost always with matte black trim, the color scheme of an Oreo cookie.  

Often the Oreo house will have board and batten siding, so that the shadows of the battens relieve the starkness of the white.  The roof is usually gray metal.  Sometimes the Oreo house will have touches of natural wood – maybe the garage door and the front door.  Sometimes a facing of gray rock adds additional texture.   

When I first spotted an Oreo house, maybe back at the beginning of the pandemic, I thought it a strange color scheme.  Don’t they know that stark white will show every speck of dirt?  And every trail of rust or moss from a downspout?  And that the white paint will yellow in the sun? The black trim was such a harsh contrast.  And the black front door – so unwelcoming.  I shrugged mentally and thought “Each to his own taste. No more unusual than the lavender house with pink trim up on Los Altos Avenue, or the purple house with the stainless steel door on El Monte.”   

But then I saw another one.  And another. Now almost every residential street in town has at least one Oreo house. Furthermore, the decor seems to be contagious. Traditional ranch houses from the 50’s suddenly have their used brick painted over in stark white, with matte black shutters and window trim.  Even the handsome 1920’s Prairie School home with its outbuildings taking up a double lot down from the high school has, between one of my trips to downtown and another, been painted stark white. 

 The venerable historic train station (now a restaurant) has changed its adobe /redwood color scheme colors to Oreo. And at the south end of town, the contagion has swept across an entire shopping center. 

As many of our children are being forced to emigrate to more affordable housing in Texas and Idaho, are these ghostly white houses an omen of our future as a ghost town? 

There is hope.  An otherwise completely Oreo house on one of our main streets sports a bright blue roof instead of the common gray or black. If I could only spot one with a red door….  

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I stood in line (masked, but not distanced).

I rode in a bus (masked, but not distanced).

I flew in a plane (masked, and with a vacant middle seat).

I ate inside at a restaurant (not masked, but distanced).

I served myself food in a cafeteria (with a disposable glove, masked).

I ate meals in a dining hall with people who were supposed to be vaccinated, but no proof was required. (not masked, not distanced, lots of open windows).

I went to an outdoor live music performance (not masked, distanced).

I went to an indoor theatrical performance (singing from the stage, not masked, not distanced, no windows) that lasted two hours.

I attended several lectures, and emceed a variety skit night (not masked, not distanced, lot of open windows, everyone had provided proof of vaccination) each lasting at least an hour.

I had a COVID-19 test when I got home.

Negative – I got away with it.

Risk

My friend called me, her voice tinged with panic.  “Do you think we should do this, with the Delta variant and all?”  We were planning to fly together to a women’s fitness camp on the western slope of the Rockies that we both had attended several times in past years.   

I reassured my friend.  “We are all responsible adults.  The people are all women we’ve known for years now.  We’ll be outside most of the time.”   

“Ok, I just needed to hear that.”  We continued with our plan that she would drive to my house the night before our trip, meeting me and my sister, and the three of us would be driven to the airport early the next morning by my Personal Travel Consultant, AKA husband. 

It happened that my son came down for an overnight visit the evening before the other women arrived, and he stayed working from our upstairs “office” for the day until joining us for happy hour and dinner the eve of our departure. 

“You’re going to be sharing eating space with a bunch of people you don’t know?  And just taking their word that they’ve been vaccinated?”  My son was so upset that he jumped to his feet and had to walk up and down on the street outside for several minutes to settle down.  He and his family had been to a party a couple of weeks earlier where “everyone was supposed to have been vaccinated, but the hostess called us the next day to let us know that a guy who left just ten or fifteen minutes after we arrived had just reported testing positive for COVID-19. So we were all exposed.”  His faith in folks’ “word of honor” is badly shaken. 

But I need to go.  I need to look at something different out the window, preferably something more than 30 feet away.  I need to hear some different voices.  I need to vary my diet from the familiar favorite offerings of my Personal Chef (AKA husband.) I need to stop reading about chaos in Afghanistan, earthquakes in Haiti, flooding in Tennessee, overwhelmed hospitals in Florida, hurricanes in Louisiana, wildfires in the Sierras, and attempts to overthrow the governments in Washington DC and California.  

When he returned to our back patio, I tried to reassure my son in the same way I had reassured my friend.  He listened, and then smiled with resignation. 

“Mom, I have just one thing to say to you,” he said.  “Make wise choices.” 

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