Pandemic Journal, Day 410

I finished the Almaniac and sent in my answers this afternoon; I have hopes of having done well, but I’ve been fooled before. I’ll find out next week.

We started seriously looking at flights for our upcoming trip to Iceland and ordered Rick Steves’ Iceland book. The tour doesn’t include a lot of time in Reykjavik (we do go out to the Golden Circle for a full day), so we’re thinking of staying two or three days after the tour and exploring the city. After that, we’ll fly to Boston to visit our son – this is all, of course, assuming that the COVID-19 situation remains good in the US and Iceland. The horrifying news from India makes me wonder, but I can hope.

Pandemic Journal, Day 409

I like trivia, but there are days when it can get a bit out of control, and today was one of them.

I’m currently in three Learned League mini-leagues: 21st Century Literature (which started today), LGBT, and General Knowledge Puzzle League. I am in no danger of winning any of them – but I’m trying my best, which meant attempting to answer 18 questions between the three mini-leagues today.

I also look at every day’s One Day Specials – today, there were four: Curves, Lewis and Clark, Spiders, and Trees in Literature. Each one has twelve questions. I didn’t enter any of today’s contests, but I did read the questions carefully.

My pub trivia group meets every Thursday evening on Zoom – some weeks, we just talk, but today, we actually tried answering questions that the organizer of the trivia had used…in 2011. It was fun, but some of the questions had aged badly.

And finally, I’m doing the 2021 Spring Almaniac. There are 81 questions, which you answer by doing research in the World Almanac. The question packet and Almanac arrived in late March, and I answered the first few questions right away. I brought it with me last week on our vacation – and never looked at it. Today, I looked at the packet and discovered that the deadline is Monday, so I spent three hours on it this afternoon and answered 35 or so questions – I still have 23 to go.

Fun, fun, fun!

Pandemic Journal, Day 408

It was virtual Monday today, so we went to the JCC for our weekly Monday session with our trainer. The JCC is moving slightly closer to normality – they no longer take temperatures before allowing you to enter, but they have started checking membership cards again.

After being worked out, we decided it would be better to walk early before it got any hotter; we followed the CDC’s new guidance and left our masks at home! It felt weird. I guess that’s the new normal!

Pandemic Journal, Day 407

We left the Residence Inn Goleta a little after 10; again, we were in no hurry and stopped frequently along the way, mostly to stretch our legs and make sure Diane’s Fitbit was happy.

Lunch was at the Urbane Cafe in Santa Maria – both of us had tri-tip sandwiches, of course. We got there about one minute before the lunch rush hit – the line built quickly behind us!

I had thought about stopping in Paso Robles for wine tasting, but decided that it’d be better to go there when we had room in the car for lots of wine. But we did stop at Scheid Vineyards in Greenfield to enjoy their garden (Diane took lots of flower photos!) and a tasting – we brought six bottles home – there was enough room in the car for that!

Pandemic Journal, Day 406

We left Palm Desert at 10:30am; we weren’t in a rush because we only planned to go halfway home tonight, staying overnight at the Residence Inn Goleta.

We almost stopped for date shakes one last time at Hadley Fruit Orchards but there was major construction on I-10 at the Morongo Trail exit and I couldn’t get into the right lane quickly enough to get off the highway!

Lunch was at Zait Bistro in Fontana, chosen by looking at Yelp after we’d gotten off the highway to stretch our legs. Diane had Chicken Kebab and I had Chicken Shawarma – we ordered the small plates and had plenty of food. It was good, not great, but I’d go back if I were in the area.

Our next stop was a quick stop at Griffith Park in LA, which was supposed to be just long enough for Diane to meet her Fitbit’s demand for 250 steps per hour from 8am-5pm. Of course, I also checked my email as long as I was stopped – and there was an email from the travel agent handling our Iceland trip asking for us to fill out one more form – so I downloaded it, marked it up, and emailed it back to them. That took long enough for the next hour to start, so Diane got those steps in, too.

We stopped again to look at the beach near Ventura (and so Diane could get her 3pm steps). It was brisk, but very pretty.

After checking into the hotel, we drove to Goleta Beach – it was very brisk (we had to hold onto our hats), but that didn’t stop people from enjoying themselves, like these two:

There were flowers and birds, too, of course.

We got takeout from Kyle’s Kitchen – Diane had a very nice Ahi salad, while I went for a burger, fries, and a side Kale and Cranberry salad to be slightly healthful. The burger and fries were OK; the salad was very good.

Tomorrow, we go home!

Pandemic Journal, Day 405

We wanted to explore Palm Desert today, and thought that taking a walk in a park would be a good way to do it. Civic Center Park looked plausible, with paved walking paths. But when I got in the car and searched for “Palm Desert Hikes”, I didn’t see it – so we looked at the hikes that were nearby. The Cross Trail looked promising – the first comment on AllTrails called it a “very short easy trail”.

I should have looked at the description on AllTrails instead of the comments. The description calls it “moderate”, notes the length as 2.3 miles out and back, with 613 feet of elevation gain. We were wearing sneakers – our hiking boots would have been more appropriate. And I parked where I saw a bunch of cars soon after I turned off the highway, about half-a-mile from the trailhead – those cars belonged to houses in the neighborhood near the trail; there was plenty of parking at the trailhead.

The trailhead gave us a clue about what to expect – it was dry and rocky. After about 25 minutes, we turned around and returned to our car; then we drove down to Civic Center Park which was, as advertised, green and loaded with walking paths. And flowers. And waterfowl.

We wanted date shakes with lunch, so we drove to Shields Date Farm, only to find a one-hour wait for a table. We didn’t want to wait that long; a Yelp search showed the Big Rock Pub a few minutes away and it was a good choice, even though we were limited to their Sunday brunch menu. I had chicken and waffles and Diane had a Farmer’s Omelet, both tasty. Adult beverages were also consumed.

And then we went back to Shields for the date shakes!

Pandemic Journal, Day 404

This morning, we attended Torah Study and services at Shir Hadash, almost as easily as if we’d been at home.

After services, it seemed like the most appropriate place to eat would be a Jewish deli – all of the friends we’d visited on the trip had praised Sherman’s Deli in Palm Springs, so we drove there and had a nice meal. We arrived at the tail end of the lunch rush; they offered immediate seating inside or “soon” outside, and we went for the inside seating. It was a lot more crowded than the place we ate yesterday! The food was better, too – Diane and I split a Reuben and a piece of cheesecake.

We’d made reservations at the Palm Springs Art Museum and arrived five minutes before our time slot. They took our temperature and scanned our tickets, but I don’t think they looked at the time. We’d been at the museum on our previous visit, so we concentrated on the temporary exhibits. There were two with Agnes Pelton paintings (one of her landscapes and one of her Transcendentalist paintings) and one called “Gerald Clarke: Falling Rocks”. Clarke is an Native American artist whose works use “humor and wit to expose historical and present-day injustice” – I really liked the exhibit.

Downtown Palm Springs was hopping – except for masks, you really wouldn’t have thought anything unusual was happening. Restaurants were busy, people were talking and walking, and it was a lively scene indeed. It was hot and we were thirsty, so we stopped at the first place we saw that said they sold water – it was a head shop, Can Be Done Well! They had a cooler full of unenhanced beverages, and the person behind the counter was friendly – what’s not to like?

There’s construction going on in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Actually, it’s NOT going on – the area was excavated a while ago and is being used for art installations until the construction proceeds further. The biggest installation is David Černý’s “Crawling Babies” – it is certainly an eye-catcher!

Pandemic Journal, Day 403

We spent today at one of our favorite places, Joshua Tree National Park. The NPS website warned against possible long lines at the Joshua Tree and 29 Palms entrances, so we drove east on I-10 and entered at Cottonwood, where there was no line at all. We stopped at the Visitor Center and took a short walk, then drove north on Pinto Basin Road, stopping frequently for photos.

Three hours later, we left the park for lunch in 29 Palms – Yelp guided us to Andreas Char-Broiled Burgers, which we’d chosen because it offered outdoor dining and bison burgers. The outdoor dining was a choice of picnic tables in the sun – on the other hand, the restaurant itself was air conditioned and almost empty, so we had our first indoor restaurant meal in more than 403 days in what I can confidently describe as “less than splendor”. But the food was OK and the people were cheerful and helpful and it was clean and we’d been vaccinated so it was all fine.

After lunch, we went back into the park at the 29 Palms entrance and drove along Park Blvd to get to the Joshua Tree exit, stopping frequently for photos.

Once we left the park, we drove to Windmill Market in North Palm Springs for a date shake and then back to the hotel – there were no photo stops.

It was a very good day.

Pandemic Journal, Day 402

The day started early because I was Toastmaster for the Silver Tongued Cats meeting this morning. I had chosen “On The Road Again” as the theme of the meeting, and our Table Topics Master asked amusing questions about road trips (for example, “What would you ask Willie Nelson if you went on a road trip with him?).

After the meeting, Diane and I took a walk through the resort and enjoyed the flowers and birds.


We had lunch at Ernie’s Bar and Grill at PGA West with a friend from trivia, then visited her at her house on the Palmer golf course. On the way back from PGA West, we stopped at Shields Date Farm for a delicious date shake and a quick walk through the garden there. Unfortunately, they’re not showing “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date” because of COVID-19, but it’s available online.

We made dinner in our unit – in previous stays at Westin timeshares, the kitchens have been well stocked with pots, pans, and the like, but this time, we’ve been surprised by what’s missing, like measuring cups, colanders, and wine glasses. I’m not sure what’s going on – I didn’t think the resort’s COVID precautions and closures should affect kitchen equipment.

Pandemic Journal, Day 401

Our hotel stay was reasonably comfortable, but I have to say that I miss the breakfast buffet of old (especially the waffle-maker). A grab and go bag is just not the same thing – fortunately, we’d brought cereal and fruit with us, so we had a decent breakfast anyway.

We took the obvious route from Bakersfield; I had meant to stop at the truck stop just before the descent on the Grapevine, but I missed it and we had to go all the way to Castaic before finding more civilization. Yelp pointed us to Sam’s BBQ and Grill – unfortunately, the sign on the outside of the building read “Castaic Food and Deli” and we drove past it several times! It’s a small takeout restaurant inside a truck stop, with Mexican food and BBQ; Diane and I both had the Tri-tip sandwich, which was pretty good and quite filling!

There was a crash on the 210 (I’m in Southern California, so I’m following local custom and using the definite article) that tied up traffic for a few minutes. When we got up to the scene, four lanes had to funnel down to one to get around the wreck; I was impressed by the courtesy of the drivers making the merge go fairly smoothly and fairly. It’s not that way at home!

Dinner tonight was another first-in-a-long-time – we ate with another couple, friends from Shir Hadash who moved down here a few years ago. We ate at Koutouki Greek Estiatorio in Palm Desert, sitting outside…without masks! We were all fully vaccinated, of course, and it was not possible to wear masks while eating – but it still felt very strange, almost naughty!

After dinner, Diane and I had dessert at Lappert’s (not worth the caloric cost, I’m afraid), which let us enjoy the last bit of sunset.

Sunset in Palm Desert