Table Mountain awash in color with spring wildflowers

Table Mountain awash in color with spring wildflowers

Hiking this time of year on Table Mountain means color in all directions. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A mosaic of flowers carpets the landscape.

Purple, orange, yellow and white are the predominant colors, with a bit of fuchsia here and there. The dark basalt rock and vibrant green grasses provide contrast.

Oak trees break up the terrain. A few cows munch on the grass, paying no attention to the multitudes of people out on this last day of March.

Poppies decorate the hillside near Ravine Falls. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Table Mountain is awash is color with an array of wildflowers every spring. The abundance and peak season all depends on the winter rains.

Much of the land is covered in gold fields, which makes it look like yellow paint has been strategically dispersed. Sky lupine is interspersed at various locations. The frying pan and foothill poppies are robust. Owl’s clover, bird’s eye gilia, bitterroot and so many other flowers can be found throughout the approximately 3,300-acre North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve.

While the Table Mountain meadowfoam only grows in this area, it did not present itself to us on this particular day.

A few oak trees dot the landscape. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Most of the flowers are short, with only a few reaching 6 inches in height. This is in large part because of the volcanic terrain. Soil here is not great. The height, though, does not take away from the splendor.

In addition to the spectacle of color are an array of waterfalls. They, too, are dependent on rain.

“Typically fissures in the basalt soak up winter rains, forming seasonal streams and waterfalls. In a few places, however, the underlying basalt is impermeable to water forming a temporary pool. Soon to dry up after rains end, only specialized plants and animals adapted to this habitat can survive over time,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the reserve.

Sutter Buttes is often visible. Sawmill Peak was in the near distance. Snow covered mountains farther away.

In all the six of us put in 3.12 miles, which included treks to Hollow Falls and Ravine Falls.

The uneven rock is going to be difficult for some to navigate. In a one-week period ending April 7, search and rescue crews were called out to Table Mountain four times. One was for a fatality; a woman fell 100 feet at one of the falls.

This is a reminder that Mother Nature, as beautiful as she can be, is also still a wild place that needs to be respected.

Despite the inhospitable growing conditions, wildflowers find a way to populate the rocky area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • California lands pass required for everyone 16 and older. They are $4.89 for the day or $27.26 for the year. They may be purchased online.
  • Table Mountain is about 7 miles north of Oroville.
  • Directions: From Chico, take Highway 99 south to Highway 70 to Oroville. Exit at Grand Avenue. Go right, then drive for 1 mile. Go left on Table Mountain Boulevard for a tenth of a mile. Right on Cherokee Road for 6.3 miles north to the reserve.
  • Elevation gain was 208 feet, with the lowest 1,198 feet and highest 1,334 feet.
Wall between U.S.-Mexico an inhumane barrier started by Clinton

Wall between U.S.-Mexico an inhumane barrier started by Clinton

The border wall is imposing as one drives to the crossing in Mexicali, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sitting for a couple hours at the Mexico-U.S. border it’s hard not to think about the imposing wall. Having the “right” passport got me to the States without a problem. But for many others, well, that wall must conjure up so many emotions.

Do those on the south side see a wall that represents hatred or opportunity? Do they see a barrier or an invitation? Do they believe it is necessary? Are they content to be on their side? Do they even notice it?

While the United States claims to be the land of the free, we all know that isn’t true based on how we treat our own citizens. Clearly, it’s not true based on how we treat people trying to get into the country whether it’s by legal or illegal means.

The steel wall separates the two countries, with barbed wire where cars approach immigration at Mexicali. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The southern U.S. border is just more than 1,954 miles, with the Rio Grande making a natural barrier for a significant portion. California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are the states bordering Mexico. About 1,300 miles does not have a fence. Much of the 654 miles of wall was in place before the last president took office.

While Donald Trump made the border with Mexico a campaign issue and touted the building of miles of wall while he was in office, only 47 miles of new primary fencing were erected during his presidency.

A marker at the U.S. border in Calexico, Calif. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was Bill Clinton who as president in 1993 mandated the initial 13-mile wall between San Diego and Tijuana be erected. (Other, less permanent structures had been built in the 1800s in various border towns by both federal governments.)

Border issues, though, didn’t make significant headlines until after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. This, despite the fact the attack had nothing to do with that border or immigrants from Mexico or any Latin American country.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fences Act, which was to create a 700-mile barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. Five years later, the Department of Homeland Security had blockaded 649 miles; 350 miles were pedestrian fencing and 299 miles were vehicle barriers. This came under the purview of Bush and Barack Obama.

Some areas, like what one sees at the Mexicali-Calexico (Mexico/U.S.) border towns is steel beams more than 30 feet high. At the wall in Tecate plenty of graffiti is painted, giving people pause as they wait to go north. Other locations the fencing is less imposing and restrictive.

Before the pandemic hit there were tours of the border and wall prototypes available out of San Diego.

Graffiti on a section of the wall in Tecate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One thing the current U.S. president did on his first day in office was to suspend further construction of the border wall.

On April 7, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said,  “We don’t believe the wall is an answer. We’ve never believed the wall is an answer to addressing the challenges, the immigration challenges at the border. That’s why we’re proposing investments in smart security at the border, why we’re driving what we see as 21st century solutions for border management, and why we believe we should build a functioning immigration system.”

Walls or barriers of any kind are not the solution to people immigrating to the United States. They are not changing why people are seeking entry into the United States. It is not dealing with the horrid conditions in the countries they are leaving. The wall merely forces people to embark on horrific and often deadly paths to cross the border. There must be a more humane way to help our fellow human beings seek a better life.

Cannabis beverages make is easy to get high without smoking

Cannabis beverages make is easy to get high without smoking

Harold Han, founder and chief security officer for Vertosa, develops cannabis emulsions for beverages. (Image: Vertosa)

To get the buzz of cannabis in a faster, easier to control, more socially acceptable way, the latest focus is drinking it.

“It makes sense as an ingestion method, especially for new consumers. Smoking anything in front of people is not popular,” Aaron Silverstein, managing director and enologist with BevZero. The Santa Rosa-based company specializes in removing alcohol from beer, wine and cider.

“Traditional edibles take a few hours. With beverages, you feel the impact within 15 minutes so you can pace yourself. It mimics alcohol consumption. It’s not a huge part of the cannabis industry now, but I expect it to be significant in maybe 15 years where beverages will be 30% to 40% of all cannabis sales.”

Technology and entrepreneurship have contributed to the growing variety and availability of these drinks. But those in beverage industry complain a slew of unnecessary regulations, like what color bottle they can use, is holding them back.

“It’s by far the fastest growing sector of the industry,” said David Quintana, lobbyist for the Cannabis Beverage Association, based in Sacramento. “This way you can do your vice in public, you can have all the fun without the calories, and it’s a lot cheaper.”

Fortune Business Insights predicts cannabis beverages worldwide will be worth $8 billion by 2027.

Beer must be dealcoholized before cannabis is added. (Image: Barrel Brothers)

“Beverages are one of the fastest growing categories at our store and in the cannabis industry. They are picking up a lot of traction,” said Eli Melrod, founder and CEO of Solful dispensary in Sebastopol. “Basically they didn’t exist in 2017 when we opened and now we don’t have enough cooler space. Still, beverages make up only 2.5% of all sales, but it was zero in 2017.”

Any beverage, except milk, can get a dose of cannabis without running afoul of the law. Wine is okay, if the alcohol is removed.

“The low-dose sparkling waters are hands down the most popular; in single servings and four- and six-packs,” Melrod said. “I think people are looking for ways to relax and ways to unwind. I think people perceive cannabis as a healthy alternative to alcohol.”

House of Saka was founded in 2018 by Tracey Mason, a wine industry veteran, and Cynthia Salarizadeh, whose expertise is cannabis. In 2020, they sold 530 of the 675 cases of wine they produced. In 2021, they expect to produce 7,500 cases. The increase largely has to do with distribution expansion, though consumer demand and awareness of their products are also key.

The company makes alcohol-free Saka Pink, a rosé made from pinot noir grapes, and Saka White, a chardonnay. Grapes are sourced mostly from the Carneros region of Napa Valley. In February, Saka Sparkling was introduced as a single-serve bottle of champagne.

BevZero’s Silverstein, whose company removes alcohol from beverages, said it does not make sense to dealcoholize everything. For example, to do so with vodka would pretty much leave water. Spirits like tequila and bourbon that can rely on wood barrels to be part of the taste profile are also not good candidates for dealcoholization, he said.

For those wanting to imbibe a cannabis cocktail there are other ways to satisfy that craving by being a mixologist at home or on the road by adding cannabis liquid to a drink.

“It’s like a little ketchup packet that has liquid in it. It has 10 (milligrams) and you dump that into your mocktail,” explained Annie Holman with The Galley in Santa Rosa. “The packets are discrete; you can bring it in your purse.” Some are flavored, some aren’t.

The Galley can create these liquids and other beverages for companies in its kitchen, as well as bottle the product. Mobile bottle operations can be brought in if needed, as is similar to what some wineries do.

However, beer presents a different set of obstacles when it comes to taking the alcohol out because if in the process, too much oxygen gets in, it will ruin the batch.

“The big draw to beer is hops. Hops and cannabis are related to each other. There is a natural synergy,” said Wes Deal, co-founder and brewmaster at Barrel Brothers Brewing Company in Windsor. “Anytime you dealcoholize beer the flavor changes because alcohol does have flavor, and it affects mouth feel.”

He continues to experiment with taking the alcohol out of his line of beers to see what works. To start with the brewery has infused an IPA and a blonde ale. The products hit the market last fall. Valhalla Confections in Santa Rosa infuses the beer with cannabis and handles the distribution to dispensaries.

Beverages infused with any component of marijuana cannot be shipped across state lines because the product is illegal at the federal level. CBD derived from hemp is regulated by the 2018 U.S. Farm Act, which allows for sales from one state to another. This is because the legislation no longer classifies hemp as a controlled substance. The law is the main difference between CBD derived from hemp and marijuana. That is why some beverage makers are using only CBD from hemp.

SipCozy is one of those companies. While the company is based in Florida, winemaker Meredith Leahy resides in Napa. Only California grapes are used in the product. The initial production in 2019 was 600 cases of a 2018 Grenache Rosé blend that was infused with 40mg of broad-spectrum hemp extract. The $18 bottles are sold online right to consumers who reside in states that allow this.

Some dispensaries carry a variety of cannabis beverages. (Image: Solful)

Technology has allowed for the rapid growth in the number of cannabis beverages. The first iterations of cannabis drinks are described by industry veterans as liquid with sticks and twigs. It wasn’t until people figured out how to infuse the cannabis oil with liquids that they became palatable. Emulsions are needed so the oil and beverage don’t separate.

Few companies are in the emulsion business. The one most people point to is Vertosa in Oakland.

“Emulsions start with extracted oil. We emulsify them into an ingredient. Emulsions you see every day are in milk, ice cream and salad dressing. It makes it dispersible in water. We all know oil and water don’t mix. Emulsions make oil and water mix better,” explained Austin Stevenson, chief innovation officer with Vertosa. “We make it stable so it won’t separate. So it won’t float at the top or sink to the bottom.”

No one cannabis emulsion works for every beverage. A lot of chemistry is involved. This is because the liquid the emulsion will be infused with has different components. That IPA and blonde ale at Barrel Brothers Brewery are nothing alike, therefore the cannabis emulsions are just as different.

Whether the product is going to be in a can, glass or plastic also plays a role. If a product is pasteurized or had a chemical treatment, will help determine the appropriate emulsion.

Stevenson said it can take a few months before the food scientists settle on the correct emulsion for an individual product.

Beer and wine with cannabis adds another layer because first the alcohol needs to be removed.

“We pioneered the use of these processes in wine about 30 years back. We’ve always been constantly improving, maybe not radical jumps, but with the ability to have greater quality,” said Silverstein with BevZero.

BevZero is the sister company of 30-year-old ConeTech which developed the dealcoholization method. BevZero was created to do business with the cannabis industry. “We remove alcohol at low temps so we don’t harm the wine at all. It’s a very short process. We separate aromas, dealcoholize, then add aromas back.”

Some varietals are easier to do this with than others, like a lot of white wines. Alcohol has weight and texture, which needs to be considered when removing it from a product. Silverstein said replicating the flavors of a big, bold cabernet would be hard to do.

“When you remove alcohol from wine, you remove quite a lot. You lose weight, sweetness that the palate can recognize. And you lose flavor so we work really hard to build back the flavor profiles. We work with a natural flavor compound,” said Mason with House of Saka.

All beverages in California must be made with cannabis grown in the state.

“The quality of the cannabis extraction is super important. Only certain emulsions work so you have to be careful,” Mason said.

Those is the cannabis beverage industry are working with the state to rejigger the rules including packaging, transportation and distribution.

Beverages fall in the same category as all cannabis products which are eaten, which has created hurdles the industry folks would like to abolish.

When California voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016 cannabis infused drinks were not part of the equation. Because cannabis beverages didn’t exist at the time as a standalone sector it was thrown in with all edibles. That is coming back to bite the drink industry. Edible cannabis is anything that is a food or drink.

“We need to be decoupled from regulations that regulate edibles,” Macai Polansky, founder of the Cannabis Beverage Association, said.

At the time the regulations were created, the rules were written so packaging hid the contents, to dissuade children being attracted to cannabis-laced brownies and gummy bears.

“We need to educate policymakers that these are very safe products. While we take seriously that kids should not get into them, the rules around child-proof packaging need to be deregulated a bit,” Polansky said. The added restraints ultimately drive up the cost of the product.

Quintana, also with the CBA, said, “We will be doing a lot more legislatively this year.” He pointed out how today cannabis wine cannot use a traditional green bottle because cannabis containers must not be see through.

“I see some (changes) as lower hanging fruit than others. I hope what will change is the restriction on bottle color. That is just absurd,” Mason with House of Saka said. Their bottles are painted to conform to the rules. This adds to the final price.

California law regulates bottle color and labels on pot infused wine. (Image: House of Saka)

What is written on the packaging is also governed by the state.

“They prevent us from using any language that relates to alcohol. For instance, infused wine can’t even say non-alcoholic wine,” Polansky said. “They can’t put it comes from Napa unless they can source the cannabis from one producer. Cannabis usually is from cultivators from around the state. They can’t put that wine is in there. They have to put fermented grape juice.”

Cannabis beverages per state law must also carry an expiration date even though many would likely never grow too old to consume. That means makers face the prospect of a sales slump which leaves product in a warehouse waiting to be distributed, then expiring and becoming unsellable.

In transporting product, the rules dictate trucks are supposed to be owned and not leased. While loose leaf marijuana easily can be driven around in a van, pallets of beverages need trucks. The regulations require purchasing trucks which are not often needed on a daily basis.

“Distribution is challenging. (Cannabis beverages are) a very different economic model for distributors. What we have had to do is partner with distributors who have a forward facing view and realize beverages are the future,” Mason said.

Entrepreneurs with an idea for a new cannabis beverage but who lack one of the various licenses from the state to operate in the marijuana world are out of luck or need to partner with someone who is licensed.

For Holman with The Galley in Santa Rosa, “The biggest thing the state needs to do is put in a brand license. They don’t have a path for licensing.” At her 8,300-square-foot cannabis manufacturing and distribution facility she only works with licensed individuals or companies.

The California Department of Public Health Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch, which regulates cannabis beverages, dodged a question regarding its opinions about changing current legislation surrounding edibles so the beverage sector could operate by rules the industry deems more appropriate.

“Members of the public are invited to voice their opinions for how the regulations can be improved by sharing their comments during meetings of the Cannabis Advisory Committee,” Corey Egel, spokesman with the state, said.

Polansky hopes if federal rules surrounding cannabis change, that cannabis drinks one day will be on store shelves everywhere.

All cannabis infused food products must be sold in a dispensary and not at a regular retail store. At the end of 2019, California had 1,440 dispensaries, according to Statista. This compares with the 28,432 stores in the state that are licensed to sell alcohol by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

When California is ready to change the law it could look to Canada which in 2019 began allowing the sale of cannabis infused beverages in retail stores.

“There really should be no reason these beverages (cannot be) sold in the same cooler as alcohol in my opinion,” Polansky said. “That is a long time out, maybe 10 or 20 years to get there. Once we have the data, arguably there will be no reason cannabis shouldn’t be sold in traditional retail.”

This article first ran in the North Bay Business Journal.

Book Review: Hungry Cyclist a trip worth taking

Book Review: Hungry Cyclist a trip worth taking

Eating one’s way through a vacation can be normal. Even a long cycling adventure is not out of the ordinary.

Fifteen thousand miles of pedaling in more than 2½ years through North, Central and South America, well, now that’s an adventure that is neither normal nor ordinary.

That extraordinary feat is exactly what Tom Kevill-Davies did. The Hungry Cyclist: Pedalling the Americas in Search of the Perfect Meal (Collins, 2009) starts in New York and ends in Rio de Janeiro. He doesn’t hold back on the good and bad of life on the road. There were plenty of imperfect meals.

Each chapter ends with a couple recipes. Many will likely not be added to most people’s meal rotation, but they are intriguing—like Armadillo Stew and Beaver Tail Soup. Others could be keepers like The Perfect Fish Taco and San Ignacio Date Cake.

Because Kevill-Davies is British his stories about traveling through the United States are seen from a different perspective than had this been written by someone who grew up in the U.S. He goes through the northern states and parts of Canada before heading south through the three West Coast states. Then it’s onto Baja, mainland Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Besides his gastronomic experiences, Kevill-Davies is expressive about the people he meets, the land he traverses across, and the interactions he has. The Hungry Cyclist will take you on a delightful journey that most tourists will never encounter. One of the things I loved most about the book is that he sought out authenticity and he got it. It reinforces that the journey is so often more important than the destination.

Home ownership and a new roommate

Home ownership and a new roommate

I sit here in my office looking at blank walls. Decorating will happen soon. It’s still impossible to park either vehicle in the garage. But the kitchen is done, I have a brand new bed to sleep in that has a base that can make me into a Kae taco, and the back yard beckons with its garden that is also a delight to a plethora of songbirds.

Home. I have a rather permanent one after three years of being a bit of a nomad.

Chico is about 90 minutes north of Sacramento. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I bought a house in Chico in March. My mom is my roommate. She’s 86, a survivor of the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in 2018.

I’ve been visiting Chico since I was in fourth grade; so a really long time. That’s when my oldest sister, Jann, started college. She and her husband, Lester, moved back years ago and raised their three kids here. Another sister, Pam, also went to Chico State University, so the trips to this town as a kid just kept happening.

This city of more than 90,000 people has always been a place I’ve enjoyed visiting. Now I get to explore the area on a deeper level—something that hasn’t happened yet with all the boxes that came out of storage.

I love that it has a real downtown, stores/restaurants that are welcoming, road and mountain biking, and that famous brewery.

When things start to open up as the pandemic allows, being in a university town will be incredible because all that it will have to offer along with the energy of college students.

For now, I’m trying to figure out who to play tennis with, how to get the word out that I’ve started an outcall massage business, and generate some more freelance work.

Living with mom is the easy the part—so far. She’s agreed to dust; I’ve agreed to clean the floors. She’s agreed to take care of the plants; I’ve agreed to cook. The cost of TV service is hers; the hot tub care/expenses are all mine.

While Tahoe is no longer my address after nearly 19 years, it will always be part of me and someplace that I will visit often. Plus, I know there are a few more books in me with Tahoe themes—and Baja. For now, I am focusing on getting settled and seeing what this part of Northern California is all about.

Saying goodbye to friends, the mountains and desert

Saying goodbye to friends, the mountains and desert

Sharing a final sunset on the beach in Todos Santos with Laurel, Kerrie and Jill. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’ve never said so many goodbyes in such a short amount of time.

While one friend appropriately described my leaving Baja as driving into my future, the other part of the sentiment is that I was leaving something behind.

This third time to leave Todos Santos was definitely more permanent. I’ll be back, but not for a winter, at least not anytime soon.

Lisa, counter clockwise from left, Jill and Kerrie allowed Kathryn to be their regular fourth for three winters. (Image: Scott Bosch)

I knew this saying goodbye thing was going to be difficult when I got teary-eyed telling Tony, the guy who delivered my pesos for writing for the Gringo Gazette, that I would not be coming back. He isn’t a friend, he’s not my editor, he’s just someone who always had a smile for me. Someone who was genuinely kind. Someone I will likely never see again in my entire life. He was also my first goodbye.

Tears fill my eyes now. The computer is a blur. I need a tissue.

The sadness is mixed with so much joy. The sadness isn’t just leaving Baja, my friends and the life I created there. I’m also leaving Tahoe. How often does one move entail leaving two places? Two sets of friends? Two ways of life?

Tahoe friends Joyce and Ron are now full-timers in Cabo San Lucas. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m happy about the move I made; it was my idea after all. Those details will be in another story. This is about my goodbyes, which because of my decision to move means I brought all of this on myself. The sadness is also a testament to the importance the people and places are to me.

The last 10 days in Todos Santos the social calendar suddenly became full. We all knew I wasn’t just leaving for the summer. JR told me he hoped he’d see me on a court again as he walked me to the gate. I wanted to hug him goodbye. Hugs during a pandemic, though, are frowned upon. I spent a couple hours talking to him and his wife, Geri, after we played mixed doubles that Friday. It was normal and relaxed. I know we’ll find ourselves on another tennis court somewhere in the world.

Anne and Ray didn’t know I was in escrow on a house in Northern California when we met for our final breakfast. They became friends after staying as Airbnb guests at my sister’s place in Todos Santos the previous winter. I don’t know when our paths will cross. They are travelers, so perhaps their van will make it to my driveway.

Cocktails before dinner with Scott, Gail and Marilyn in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Knowing March was going to be chaotic I asked some of my Tahoe tennis friends who I’d been Zooming with while in Baja if we could have another session before I headed north. I didn’t know when we would all be on the same screen again, let alone see one another in person. They will be easier to rendezvous with than my Baja friends just because of proximity. Our lives are already complicated with only one of the six actually in Tahoe for the winter. Still, I needed to see them together before I embarked on my next adventure.

Dinner at Tim and Susan’s was bittersweet. For two winters I lived across the street from them. This last winter I was with friends in Todos Santos instead of at my sister’s. I was so used to seeing Tim and Susan on a regular basis. This season we gathered twice. Damn COVID. They were the best neighbors I could have asked for; and friends who will be there when I return.

Tim and Susan are the best neighbors anyone could want. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Scott and Gail are two of the genuinely nicest people I’ve ever met. Something about tennis people, I guess. Libations and the sunset sinking over the Pacific, dinner and conversation, fire pit and more talk. I couldn’t answer when I’d return.

I don’t know—it’s what I kept saying when people asked when I would be back. As long as AJ is alive, I don’t expect to fly anywhere because I no longer want to leave her with anyone. As long as my mom is alive, I can’t imagine wintering again out of the country.

A trip to Cabo was made to say farewell to Joyce and Ron. Their Bella is aging just like AJ, so not sure we’ll be seeing our respective dogs again. But the humans, we are bound to rendezvous in Baja or Tahoe.

The hardest Baja goodbye was with Jill. She and Robert, along with their dogs Rubi and Pepper, opened their casita to me for more than four months. In that time we became even better friends. A big hug goodbye. Then tears filled my eyes and words were useless.

There were so many goodbyes on the tennis court—mostly in Baja, but one last day in Tahoe, too.

Jill and Kathryn spent many hours while walking dogs and drinking wine discussing serious and not so serious topics. (Image: Robert Bland)

With Carolyn and Bob now wintering in the Palm Springs area, I was able to see them outside of a Zoom call for lunch as I drove north.

I was in Tahoe less than a week before arriving at my final destination. Rosemary and I walked through her neighborhood trying to stay in the sun and keep me off the ice; Baja made me a little soft! Joyce was wonderful in arranging a few hours of tennis in the Carson Valley. I got a little front porch catch-up time in with Denise and Steve before the cold sent us in search of warmth. Sue, well, she again welcomed me and AJ into her warm home and hot tub, poured wine and put up with my scatteredness as I prepped for my transition.

So many friends have offered a place for me to stay when I visit. And I look forward to welcoming them to my new home as well as meeting someplace to share new experiences.

While you may not have been mentioned here, all of my friends mean the world to me. All of you are as vital to me as oxygen and water.

Aloe much more than a pretty succulent found in gardens of Mexico

Aloe much more than a pretty succulent found in gardens of Mexico

Aloe plants, while not native to Mexico, grow well in the desert climate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While aloe vera is a go-to remedy for sunburn, the more than 500 species of this plant have other uses as well.

Aloe is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and foods.

Even though the spines are usually thorny, it is easy to cut one off to harvest. They feel rubbery. Squeeze hard and the gel comes out in a thick, syrupy form. This can be applied directly to a burn, though don’t be surprised if your skin turns purplish. It washes off without the discoloration remaining. This discoloration isn’t likely to occur with store bought products with aloe in it.

Aloe vera blooming in February in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Be sure to keep the serum away from pets because it can be lethal if swallowed.

Human consumption of aloe, though, is possible in different forms.

According to Healthline, “Aloe vera gel has a clean, refreshing taste and can be added to a variety of recipes, including smoothies and salsas. The aloe vera skin is generally safe to eat. It has a mild flavor and a crunchy texture, perfect for adding variety to your summer salads. Alternatively, the skin can be enjoyed by dipping it in salsa or humus.”

Gel can easily be squeezed from the aloe plant for personal use. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m not ready to try aloe as an edible, at least not directly from the plant, even though plenty of data shows it can help with digestion and other issues. And certainly don’t eat the gels found in stores that are designed to help with burns. Those will most likely have additives that could be harmful if swallowed. Only consume products that are designed for that purpose.

Aloe is found throughout the Baja peninsula, though the plant is not native to this desert. Those in the know say it originated in Arabia, Somalia or Sudan.

As a succulent, aloe vera needs very little water. But it does need to be pollinated to bloom. That is why those kept as a house plant year-round are not going to flower.

Bond of friendship strengthens with shared living experience

Bond of friendship strengthens with shared living experience

No need for an ocean view with a private, tranquil garden to live in. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Last summer Jill sent me a text saying they would not be letting anyone stay in their casista in Todos Santos because of COVID. Robert, her husband, said not so fast–let’s invite Kathryn, she’s family.

I didn’t spend much time thinking about my answer. I had already decided not to go back to my sister and brother-in-law’s place in Baja because my dog, AJ, could no longer navigate stairs. I was undecided about my plans for the fall. This offer solidified them.

Jill and Robert with their dogs Rubi and Pepper. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Property-mates—it was the best living situation I’ve had with friends.

Same property, different buildings. An incredible garden separated us. The bonus is that it was edible. Papaya, mango, and banana trees along with the vines of passion fruit clearly are wonderful for eating, but they were also beautiful to look at. Then there were the raised beds. The eggplant would not stop producing. (I may never need to eat another eggplant the rest of my life.) Unfortunately, I left too soon to benefit from the tomato harvest, which from the previous two years I knew would be prolific and sweet.

Comfortable outdoor area at the casita was also an ideal yoga location. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Several Bismarck palm trees dotted the landscape. It was like silvery fans quacking in the breeze. They hovered over the more common aloe and other desert flora. This creation was Robert’s doing, but something he and Jill took pride in.

Fortunately, the dogs—AJ, Rubi and Pepper—got along just fine. Pepper was aloof toward both of us, but finally warmed up to me and was happy to get a massage. Rubi is much more social, and even tried to get into the casita a few times.

The garden seemed to have something new to admire every week. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The living arrangement was ideal because it was like being with people but not. We each had our own dwelling, so there was no getting in the way of each other. We shared meals on occasion. Catching up during “toddy time” on their porch was a ritual several times a week. We each brought our beverage of choice, though sometimes that, too, was shared.

Jill and Robert’s casita is a perfect winter home. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This together time underscored the need no matter my living situation to carve out time when electronics or something else is not the focus. Just talking. Just being. Human interaction. Caring about each other’s day. Solving the world’s problems. Conversations sometimes more mundane. It was bonding, deepening friendships, creating memories.

The only negative about the whole situation was it ended too soon.

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