Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Saying “Yes””

Legacy (Los Altos Town Crier, June 2016)


A few weeks ago I attended a couple of celebrations which set me thinking.

The first was a reunion of  my high school alumni and faculty members from the ‘50’s, 60’s and 70’s  , a picnic where students had a chance to tell some of their teachers  as well as each other how things they had learned decades ago had affected their lives.

To Claire Pelton, English Teacher:  “I went into tutoring students for AP exams because of your class.  And I can still quote the witches’ spell from Macbeth.”

To Marilyn Young, French teacher: “Because of you I was an exchange student in France.  You met with me and my mother to encourage both of us to travel to France.  I’ve loved France ever since and am going back next month to celebrate my birthday.”

Of Betty Allen, Public Speaking teacher :  “She forced me to get up and speak.  “Impromptu or extemporaneous?” she would ask.  And she allowed no mumbling.  I can still hear her saying,  “Diction,Gary, Diction!”

Of Principal “Dude” Angius: “He knew my name.  He was the principal, and I was a snotty little kid, and he always called me by my name.”

Of Leonard Helton, American History teacher:  “Those little pamphlets on American Problems – it was the first time I understood that there could be more than one view of history, more than one side to a question.”

Of Virginia Kurzweil, typing teacher:  “She made me stick to the rules, and practice. She showed me if I worked hard I could get better, I could do well, not be a nothing.  She changed my life.”

I used to be a teacher, and loved preparing lessons and lecturing, didn’t mind paper-reading, but was a washout at keeping order in the class.  The more academically -inclined students and I had great learning experiences together, but the ones who were just serving chair time made me miserable.  Eventually I was able to switch to another line of work where I got to prepare “lessons” and “lecture” only to interested “students”.  The “lessons” were sales pitches, the “lectures” were sales presentations, the “students” were executives in large companies who needed to be educated on why they needed to purchase the high-end business software I was selling.   I got to travel around the world and enjoyed almost every minute.  The downside:  I don’t think any of my customers is ever going to approach me years from now as I sit in my wheelchair and tell me how purchasing that software changed his life.

The second celebration was a presentation of awards in appreciation of people who had made a difference in their community after retirement.

One man had seen how the character of his town was changing as historic buildings in his town were being replaced by ever-bigger and ever-blander structures, and spear-headed the establishment of an Architectural Review Board to make sure that new buildings conformed to some aesthetic needs as well as engineering and functional ones.

One woman established a non-profit which began as a drive to put books into the hands of children who had few or none, and expanded to include literacy programs and tutoring for parents as well as children in her community.

One man became interested in the trees lining the streets of his town, and became a champion of the Urban Forest, planting and maintaining thousands of trees to refresh the air and eye.

One couple plunged into their community’s government, , serving on committees and taking leadership in local, and state politics, long before politics meant polarization.

Another couple began a scholarship fund to assist students who are just on the cusp of being able to afford college, enabling over 250 students to attend four-year schools.

All this after retirement from their first careers.  I guess it’s not too late for me to leave a legacy. But I’d better get cracking.



Sunshine on the Sports Page (LATC April 2016)


One morning a while ago I sat down with my morning coffee to read the paper.  List of headlines included

  • Tech job engine cooling off?
  • 8 Years in the NFL… then the Downward Spiral
  • Foster child’s death probed.
  • Trump insults walk fine line
  • Officers on Paris terror raid met with gunfire
  • Thousands flee Texas flooding
  • Toxic water worries in Vermont, N.Y.
  • Undercover sting entraps sex-traffickers
  • Republican Senators stonewall Supreme Court hearings
  • Syrian forces advance on Palmyra
  • Climate change accelerating- hottest February on record
  • City, 49ers in dispute over rent
  • Ex-coach faces 10 felony accounts for sex abuse of students
  • Lower drug prices stalled
  • Toy guns spark visit from police

What a world!  No wonder it takes at least two cups of coffee to wade through the variety of bad news, bad outcomes, and bad behavior!

Then I got to the sports page – “CIF Girls basketball: Pinewood socks nation’s No. 1 team.”  Wait – is that our local private school, the primly painted white- with- green- trim establishment that has been steadily expanding along Fremont Ave. next to Foothill Blvd.?  I read more: “Pinewood pulled an upset for the ages…,rallying from a 10-point deficit to beat St. Mary’s, the no.1-ranked team in the country…. ‘We had nothing to lose…, Pinewood’s Akayla Hackson said.  “So we just went for it.’…. When the buzzer sounded, Pinewood, the tiny Division V school from Los Altos Hills, had knocked off the top-ranked team.”

What fun!  Everyone loves David when he has knocked off Goliath (before he got entangled with That Woman.) And when David (or in this case, Davida) is a Local Girl, that makes the story even better.

Further along, another  Cinderella -type story made the Sports mid-section:  “Blue Raiders bag biggest upset in years.”  In the first round of NCAA March Madness, “the No. 15-seeded Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee State ended the title hopes of second-seeded [Michigan State] Spartans in a 90-81 first-round victory that sent brackets around the country into trash cans. ‘I’ll be honest with you, in my wildest dreams I didn’t think they’d hit some of the shots they hit,’ Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.”

Wildest dreams coming true!  Maybe a hint of miracles!  We love that too!  I’m not a big follower of basketball, or any other sport, but I love the story lines, and the way every victory can be made to seem like a moral  triumph, whether  of will over skill, or vice versa.  So much easier to digest over breakfast than the intractable problems of the Real World.

So you go, Pinewood girls!  Keep it up, Middle Tennessee State!  No matter how dark the tales of  wars, natural disasters, and human frailty which fill the world, national, and local news, there’s almost always sunshine in the sports section.




When my older son was two, and ready to move from his crib, I made him a quilt for his first Big Boy Bed.  It was a simple nine-patch design in bright primary colors of calico, hand-tied with yellow yarn in the center of each square, and it stayed on that bed upstairs until the day when his daughter was in her turn ready for a Big Girl Bed.  It migrated to a new locale and a new generation.

When my grand-daughter  K was four the quilt was shredding from much use.  She and I went to a fabric shop and bought pink and purple fabric of her choice to patch the worst of the wear.   I cut the fabric into heart shapes and sewed the patches on by hand.

A few weeks before Christmas I got an email from my son.  “K asked me last night, ‘Do you think Grandma would make me a new quilt?”  Even heart-shaped patches had not managed to extend the life of the old one past an additional dozen years. 20160214_174750web

I called K and asked if she had a color preference (“My room is blue, but it looks cold – I like deep reds and purples” ) and if she had an idea about floral prints vs stripes vs solid colors. (“You choose, Grandma – you have good taste.”) Warmed by the compliment from a fastidious 16-year-old, I plunged ahead, setting expectations not for a Christmas delivery, but maybe by Valentine’s Day.

 It had been some years since I had thought of making a full-size bed quilt.  Walking into Eddie’s Quilting Bee was like entering Ali Baba’s treasure cave – so many beautiful fabrics and colors, in plaids, stripes, calicos, batiks, florals, oriental designs, silver and gilt overlays.  Fortunately my eye was seized and held by a stylized graphic print of flowers in shades of pink, deep red, purple, teal, and green against a dark blue background.  With this as a color template and the help of a shopkeeper who really knew her stock, I assembled an additional seven supporting fabrics. (“Isn’t that electric green a little much?”  “No, it makes the whole thing pop!”  “Is that swirl print too large?” “No, the colors are perfect!” )  I added batting – two layers, to make it cozy – embroidery floss in a rainbow of colors for tufting and tying, and was out the door, only slightly dazed by the hard cost of hand-crafting.

I took it easy.  A month later, with the help of my mother’s sewing machine, my sister who helped lay out the fabrics and sandwich the layers, and my mother’s caregivers who ironed seams and tied knots along with me around the dining table, it is done.  And it is beautiful.

Teen bed

Teen bed

February 13, 2016 – D-day (for delivery) She loves the quilt!  And it looks great in K’s room, for a nano second. ( Within moments it was almost invisible under the teen-age accumulations of stuffed animals and pillows.)

20160214_174733webAlmost immediately a new challenge : my 7-year-old grandson asks, eyes alight, “Can I have K’s old quilt?” But it is faded and worn to tatters.  Can any of it be salvaged? Let’s see what a doting grandma can do.


‘Tis the Season, Here’s the Reason to Give the Gift of Life (Los Altos Town Crier, Dec.2015)

‘Tis the Season, Here’s the Reason to Give the Gift of Life

My brother is not allowed to donate blood.  He contracted hepatitis while serving in VietNam.  My brother-in-law is not allowed to donate blood.  He was exposed to  malaria during his Peace Corps tour in Cameroon. My friend Nathan is not allowed to donate blood.  Gay men are not allowed to donate for fear they might be carriers of HIV.  My nephew is not allowed to donate blood.  He has a genetic blood disease. My former boss is not allowed to donate blood.  He travels to India every year to visit his family.  For various reasons, almost two thirds of the US population are disqualified as blood donors.  I am among the eligible 38%. I can, and I do.

Here’s my  Top 10 Reasons to Donate Blood, in ascending order :

The blood center where I donate has lots of fun contests and give-aways to lure me in; for example:

10: The Stanford Blood Center where I donate has an annual competition with rival al’s Blood Center – you can help the local team!

9: The Stanford Blood Center hosts an Annual Barbecue for donors at their Mountain View center  next door to El Camino Hospial – yummy! 

8: You get other excellent freebies every time you donate: movie tickets, tickets to Stanford sports, Baskin-Robbins  ice-cream coupons, photo books – it varies. C

7: If you donate four times in one year you get a really cool T-shirt.

6: Every time you donate you earn points toward more neat stuff – jackets, tote bags, license plate frames – check out what’s going on at your local blood donation center!

5: The cookies and punch in the recovery room are delicious. 

At any blood donation center the following will be true:

4: You can get your blood tested for 17 infectious diseases and your temperature, cholesterol,  and blood pressure checked, with no co-pay.

3: A pint’s a pound:  Donating blood is an easier way to lose weight than three hours on the treadmill.

2: How many chances do you have to lie back in a comfortable chair with absolutely no interruptions for a half-hour?

And the final and best reason to donate blood:

1: You can save a life.

 Less than 3% of the US population actually donates blood.  Reasons given not to donate include”

                 “I’m afraid of pain” (It doesn’t hurt),

                “I get dizzy at the sight of blood” (So close your eyes!), “

                “I don’t know where to sign up” ( or call 888-723-7831 for a convenient time and location) ,

                “I’m too busy” (It takes less than an hour, and you’ll feel so good afterward!)

And the #1 reason given for not donating blood (17%)

                “I never thought about it.” 

If you’ve read this far, you don’t have THAT excuse!  Hope to see you at the Blood Bank!


January 8 – To Celebrate Today

One of my informal resolutions for the year is to try to find something, however small, to celebrate each day.  Thursday was a day particularly rich in small beauties and achievements – here is the list I jotted down that evening:

Jogging around the neighborhood this AM – squads of people driving to work, moms and dads shepherding their kids to school, some kids non-escorted walking seriously eyes averted from “stranger danger.”

Helped Mom figure out how to print an envelope on her printer (Where IS the upper cassette?)

Lunch at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero – warming fish chowder and an excellent spinach salad. Checked out the quaint general store and deli and the vintage stuff for sale in the coffee shop (Ancient LP:The Beatles – England’s #1 musical sensation!)Pescaderosurfer

Then to Pescadero State Beach, watched a surfer catch a perfectly cylindrical wave and ride it at least a hundred yards up the beach.

On the way home, a flock of wild turkeys grazing the pasture at Filoli, a small herd of deer in Arastradero Preserve.

wild turkey

Chinese class, with technology and FaceTime bridging the gap between California and Colorado, where my teacher is having a month of skiing in between keeping our lessons going.

A very lovely dinner at Mom’s, cooked by her caregivers, but under her supervision, followed by good conversation about ideas, things we had been reading. A bravura performance for my mother at 93!

Home to a warm fire and making plans to go to San Francisco for lunch and some museums. Settled down with an unexpectedly good book of essays by Ann Patchett (The Story of a Happy Marriage – many essays on writing – my sweet spot!) with Smetana’s “The Moldau” burbling in the background .



Trust (Los Altos Town Crier, January 2014)

California Hillside Dec 2013


We trust that the sun will rise in the east, and that the day will be 24 hours long.

We trust that the earth will not shake under our feet, and that the ocean will stay in its place, rising and falling within its tidal bounds.  Sometimes this trust is betrayed – there is an earthquake, there is a tsumani.

In California, we trust that between April and November it is safe to plan a picnic or a camping trip or an outdoor wedding.  The weather will be fine.  Once in a while there is an untimely diversion of the jet stream, and we have you-tube videos of drenched brides and soggy wedding cake.

We trust that between November and March we will have rain.  Rain that replenishes the snow back in the Sierras, delighting skiers, snowboarders, owners of second homes at Tahoe and children of families who rent those homes for a weekend.  Rain that makes our hills in December look like sleeping giants under softly curving blankets of green, tempting us to send pictures eastward to rouse the envy of our snow-bound relatives.

Sometimes a resilient high pressure ridge deflects the rainclouds, and we have drought burning our hills into barren gray, and tempting our eastern relative to ask us if they should bring their own water if they come to visit.

We trust in government, to provide safe roads, safe airways, safe airports, safe city centers, safe food and drink, safe industrial practices, safe working conditions.  Sometimes this trust is betrayed, and we have government shutdowns, locked-down schools, grounded aircraft, epidemics of salmonella.

All of our decisions are based on trust.

We trust in colleages.  Sometimes our trust is betratyed – there are moles in the FBI, there are back-stabbers at the office, there are businesses that fail and paychecks that bounce.

We trust in fellow citizens to follow the rules of the road, to pay attention while driving, to get their children vaccinated, to stay home from work when they are ill.

We trust in neighbors to watch our homes, but not invade them.

We trust in family.  if I jump from the wall, Daddy will catch me.  If I hurt my knee, Mommy will make it better.  If I need a place to stay, my sister will welcome me. Sometimes our trust is betrayed.  There are abusive parents, bitter divorces, family feuds, estranged children.

We trust in friends.  A triumph can be shared.  A secret will go no further.  Sometimes our trust is betrayed. When that happens we feel anger, bitterness, resentment.  The foundations of our world are twisted.  We blame others for our pain.  We feel we can never expose ourselves to this kind of pain again.

But if we cannot trust, we cannot love.  We cannot laugh, or be child-like, or share any kind of intimacy.  A world without trust is a world without smiles, without community, where all the headlines are grim.

My New Year’s wish:  May you trust freely, and may your trust be well – earned.  And may it rain.

The Power of Yes

Years ago, living with my family in California after completing  my master’s degree, I received a call inviting me to fly east for an  interview for a job on the East Coast.  I was already in the final stages of negotiating a job down in San Diego, so I turned down the invitation. My mother, a very positive force, scolded me for turning down the invitation and the free ride to New York – what harm could it do to check it out?  I ended up accepting the East Coast job.  In the first few days on the job I met a colleague in my new department who eventually became my husband.  What would my life have been if I hadn’t said “Yes”?

Much later, now living with my husband and children in Oakland CA, I received another job interview invitation, this time to work for a small software company across the bay in Mountain View.  Although we were considering moving, the Peninsula was not on our short list, being too expensive.  However, my then job was clearly going nowhere, so I accepted the invitation to interview just for the practice.

At the same time, my parents were discussing subdividing their acre of land, and invited  my husband and I to buy half the parcel and build a house next to them.

I ended up accepting the job, we agreed to the land purchase offer,  and I commuted for a year while we built a house on the land where I had grown up.   Where would we have ended up if I had not said “Yes” to that job interview and land buy?

Once established in our new home, I resolved to say “Yes” to any friendly overtures from my new neighbors.  My mother took me to a friend’s annual Mother – Daughter Tea, where I met a woman about my age.  She mentioned that she loved to exercise every weekend at the local community college, and gave me her business card in case I would like to join her.  To her surprise, I called her up, and she became one of my closest friends over years of regular exercise together.

Last year I was visiting a friend who teaches at Monterey Peninsula College.  One of the many foreign students in her class had invited her to come visit and perhaps do a training course for her business: training  women to lead trekkers in Nepal.   My friend was planning to do a two-week trek as part of the visit and said in the casual way friends do, “Why don’t you come with me?”  To our mutual astonishment I said “Why not?” and because I said “yes” I enjoyed one of the most enthralling adventures of my life.

So I’m giving you fair warning: If you make me an offer, extend a casual invitation, suggest some joint activity – watch out!   I’m very likely to say “yes” – just to find out what will happen next.

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