Changing seasons bring color and life to many landscapes

Changing seasons bring color and life to many landscapes

Flowers bloom between grape vines in Sonoma in early February. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The calendar says spring is going to arrive next week.

Depending on where you live it looks and feels a lot more like winter and that spring’s arrival will be in the distant future. That’s what happens when there is record snowfall, like what Tahoe has experienced this year.

Those in the flatlands, though, are already delighting in the green hills. Mustard and daffodils are a vibrant yellow, with some already running their course. The almond blossoms are past their peak and will soon be off the trees, ready for the nuts to take hold. Other trees are just beginning to bud.

Spring, outside of snow country, is about life, birth and new beginnings.

The spring equinox in March and autumn equinox in September are the only times when the Northern and Southern hemispheres have essentially equal amounts of day and night.

This is when the sun is directly over the equator, so the earth is not tilting toward or away from the sun.

And it’s the one day when the sunrise will be due east and the sunset due west.

The spring equinox is also known as the vernal equinox.

Kitchen gadgets simplify life for the home cook

Kitchen gadgets simplify life for the home cook

I would not call myself a minimalist, but I am also definitely not the person who needs the latest gizmo. I suppose this makes me much like most of the world where there are a few things I’ve acquired that make my life better, but I certainly could live without.

One of these items I bought in the last six months and the other I’ve had for several years. Both are used in the kitchen.

A tofu press makes a world of difference for getting all of the water out. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The newest item is a tofu press. It does just what its name implies—it presses tofu.

Tofu is packed full of water. To get the best results when cooking tofu one must remove as much water as possible. It browns better with less water, and in turn then absorbs other flavors more easily—which is what you want.

I finally got tired of going through so much paper towel or needing to put a kitchen towel in the wash after squeezing the tofu. Plus, it never felt like I got all the water out.

The contraption is simple in design. The hard plastic fits a normal size grocery store block of tofu. The tofu sits between two thin pieces of hard plastic with holes in them from which the water oozes out. Then a spring is attached to press the tofu. The liquid can then be poured out.

It’s best to start the process at the get-go of whatever you are making in order to release as much water as possible.

One use and I was convinced this was a smart purchase.

An immersion blender is a must for anyone who makes soups that need to be blended. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The other contraption I use is my immersion blender that I got as a gift several years ago. I use it for soups, but I’m sure it could have other applications.

Instead of pouring batches of soup into a regular blender, which can be a laborious process, the handheld immersion blender is used in the pot you are cooking in.

It is so, so easy to use.

If you blend any soups, you must get an immersion blender.

What gadgets make your life easier in the kitchen?

Drones changing how firms, agencies do business

Drones changing how firms, agencies do business

While pictures may be worth a thousand words, drone footage is practically making ordinary camera images seem antiquated.

Drones are redefining real estate videos by flying through houses. They are saving lives by reducing the time for search and rescues. They document capital improvement projects in ways standing on the ground with a traditional camera can’t. For some businesses they are saving time and money.

While the use of drones goes back to World War I, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have come into their own in the last few years as the applications for them continue to grow.

“I think the future for drone photography is limitless. I think we are in the embryotic stages for what we can use it for,” Valerie Walston with the Napa Valley Transportation Authority Walston said. “When I first started looking for a drone photographer it was not easy to find one because most were focused on real estate and agriculture. I needed to find someone focused on construction.”

As the marketing and information specialist for the county transit agency, Walston is tasked with figuring out the best way to showcase infrastructure improvements from beginning to mid-construction to completion.

“These are projects that have three dimensional stories to tell. Without drone video, we would lack that important element,” Walston said. “Everyone appreciates the story being told in ways I cannot with a camera on the ground.”

Jake Bowman, founder and pilot of Napa-based Flutter Shot Media, uses drones in his work in a variety of ways. (Image: Jake Bowman)

Expanding drone uses

Jake Bowman, founder and pilot of Napa-based Flutter Shot Media, has traveled all over the state to help Bob Peralta document fire damage.

For years, Peralta of Bob Peralta Arbor Consulting in Napa walked endless miles to appraise the condition of trees following wildfires. The firm’s clients are often attorneys and insurance companies.

“I take his images and am able to do my work instead of walking 80 to 100 acres. This has only come about in the last couple years,” Peralta said. “It definitely changes my work. (Jake) has taken me out of the field. It saves me time. It’s probably changed 40%of the way we collect data. It’s pretty remarkable.”

What Peralta likes is that Bowman does not merely do a flyover. The flying cameras can zero in on fences, sewer lines, and septic systems.

Bowman creates an orthomosaic image, which is done by stitching together photos to create a seamless, larger detailed image.

“So, now when I’m in a meeting we incorporate ‘Do we need drone on it?’” Peralta explained. “I worked on the (2017) Tubbs Fire (in Sonoma County) and spent a ton of time in Paradise (after the 2018 Camp Fire), but didn’t have these tools back then and they would have been helpful.”

Drone use isn’t limited to things on land. Fishermen are also finding uses for them.

The Fisherman’s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay enlisted Jim Nevill Productions of Bodega to create a 10-minute video to educate people about Assembly Bill 534, the 2021 legislation that would have mandated ropeless fishing gear among other things.

In one day, drones swooped over 10 locations, mostly in the Bodega Bay area. Shots were preplanned to get sunrise and sunset images, the abundance of boats in the harbor, fisherman out at sea; all shown as the narrator tells the fishermen’s side of the story.

For law enforcement, drones are able to replace helicopters. They are quicker to deploy, go places helicopters can’t, and the expense of charging a battery is negligible compared to jet fuel.

Marin County sheriff’s deputies deployed one of their 11 drones in January to assess the flood damage along Highway 37. This was at the request of Caltrans and fire officials. Such mutual aid agreements are common.

Marin County Sheriff’s Office has been using drones since 2018, with the department having created a specific drone team. It was the first law enforcement agency in the county to create a UAV program.

Since the inception of the drone program, the sheriff’s office has acquired drones that are small enough to fly indoors. They would be used to fly inside buildings in which someone has taken hostages or has barricaded themselves.

“If a person can’t go in somewhere, we would not send a drone in there,” Sgt. Brenton Schneider, who runs the drone team, said.

Some drones have loudspeakers and spotlights attached to them. Other drones have infrared tools.

“Because our drones have thermal capabilities we are able to detect hot spots for the fire department,” Schneider said. “In the (2020) Woodward Fire we utilized a drone to get a look at how big the fire was. We could see where they could send resources. Anything we could do from a helicopter we could do from a drone.”

The thermal device is perfect when looking for lost hikers or even missing persons. Drones can cover a larger swath of land faster than people, so they are a vital tool in search and rescue missions.

Another marketing tool

Indoor footage is becoming more popular and almost the norm when it comes to real estate listings.

If you want to be a good agent for sellers, you need to add value and bring people in and I think drone video is a huge asset,” Dylon Baker, owner and Realtor at Baker Estates in Vacaville, said. “When it comes time to market a property its three-pronged: still photos showcase the house itself, your drone video that is a teaser trailer, and using drone video through the house on social media and other websites.”

Bowman, the drone pilot who shoots charred trees, spends 90% of his time on real estate work, with Baker being one of his clients.

He has specifically rigged the drones that he uses to fly indoors. The key he said is to have flawless video, so it’s like a person is walking through the home, not getting stuck somewhere—which can happen if a pilot isn’t well versed at his craft.

Randy Knight, who owns in Sebastopol, also needs to market real estate in an appealing matter. For him, it’s luring people to his vacation rentals.

Sometimes Knight does his own shoots, other times he hires people. He said the first drone he bought about seven years ago cost $1,700. The wind took it and it was never seen again. The last one he bought at Costco for about $400.

“The picture quality is incredible, it’s easy to use, small and compact,” Knight said. “It’s a wonderful thing to have. It displays properties in the best possible light. Photos say so much more than words in the world of vacation rentals.”

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Paradise embracing a future full of recreation in healthy forests

Paradise embracing a future full of recreation in healthy forests

Paradise Recreation and Park District has plans to increase opportunities throughout its jurisdiction. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Paradise is thriving. All one has to do is listen to Dan Efseaff to know this is true.

Efseaff, who has more than 20 years of experience as a restoration ecologist and land manager, is district manager for the Paradise Recreation and Park District. It’s a job he took about 16 months before the devastating 2018 Camp Fire that charred so much of the land that he oversees.

In January he led a group of curious people through several of the parks in his district. This was one of the field trips during the annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway. Most of us on the expedition were from Butte County, though one couple was from Davis and one woman was from the Bay Area.

Efseaff is a believer in defensible, saying that is why the Terry Ashe Recreation Center in the middle of town survived.

Dan Efseaff, who leads Paradise’s parks department, talks about improvements coming to Bille Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As his department works on plans for what the park system will look like in the coming years, Efseaff wants to create “buffers” that will ideally lessen the impact of future fires. These can be hardscapes, and include ridding an area of flammable invasive plants as well as trimming up ladder fuels.

Fire management comes in many forms, with the rec department an advocate for using goats to munch down flammable flora. March 25 marks the second annual Paradise Grazing Festival.

A pavilion stands at Bille Park that during the Camp Fire became a shelter for about 100 people from the neighborhood. People eventually broke into the building where they were protected from the 50 mph winds, and 70 mph gusts.

“There are a lot of things we can do infrastructure-wise in the future. We need to think how else we would use buildings beyond their main purpose,” Efseaff said.

Bille Park in some ways is more like a traditional city park, though parts of it are rugged—because, well, that’s the natural landscape. By fall a new trail to a grotto should be finished. An ADA compliant trail will be built to a lookout over the canyon where a house once sat. The woman who lost her home left the parcel to the park district with the belief, according to Efseaff, that everyone should enjoy that view.

Coutolenc Park is ripe for opportunities for hikers and mountain bikers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Paradise represents only 10 percent of the park district, according to Efseaff. His staff is responsible for 172 square miles, with acreage going almost to Stirling City, so it includes Magalia, out to Concow and borders Chico.

At the next stop we see an abundance of serpentine rock, California’s state rock. This is off Coutolenc Road. The green reminds me a bit of sandstone in color, but it’s nothing like it in composition.

We cross the street where we can see the Magalia Reservoir and dam. The goal is that Lake Ridge Park (the name may change) will be built in 2027-28. Plans are for it to have a ballpark, welcome center, bike course, ziplines, and more than 15 miles of trails that loop out to Paradise Lake.

Expansion of the old Butte County railway into a multi-use trail is on the district’s master plan.

The pavilion and adjacent building at Bille Park became a refuge for people during the 2018 Camp Fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Coutolenc Park is the largest undeveloped park the district manages. It’s just a bunch of trees, many of them burned. The potential for miles and miles of trails is intriguing. It might be worth coming back with a mountain bike, especially an e-bike.

The district owns this 330-acre park through a land patent with the Bureau of Land Management. This means the BLM retained the timber and mining rights. That in part is why it looks the way it does–like a ravaged, unkempt forest.

“They left us a mess,” Efseaff said. “We will clean it up. We will probably do a broadcast burn in the next year with torches. We need to get this burned and make it a healthy forest.” He was pointing to the growth of flammables like ceanothus and manzanita.

“I’d like to see it go from a conifer to an oak forest that is maintained by fire,” he said. “Within 20 years this could be a healthy forest, a park-like setting.”

Efseaff is a believer that fire is good. Just not fire that burns hot and out of control like the wildfires that have engulfed so much of the state in the last few years. Managed fire, that’s what his department embraces.

At Paradise Lake, not far up the road from Coutolenc Park, are more opportunities for the park district. It has only recently been responsible for recreation here.

Creating event camping and expanding kayaking opportunities are on the drawing board. The old caretaker’s house will be repurposed for public use.

Throughout the excursion Efseaff was always hopeful of what the charred and not burned lands will look like in the future. The array of planned trails should make any outdoor enthusiast ecstatic. It was encouraging to hear about a vision focused on the future and life after destruction.

Ideas for helping every author you know or like

Ideas for helping every author you know or like

I’m often asked what my next book will be about. I smile and say I have a couple of ideas. Which is true.

It’s also true that being an author is not the route to becoming wealthy except for a handful of people. It doesn’t matter if you go the indie route or a publishing company.

That’s why I haven’t started the next book. The bills are getting paid with my freelance and massage work. In other words, the book writing is extra work after everything else is done. And that’s fine. It’s my choice. It’s not a complaint.

What would make things easier is if I had more book sales. That goes for all authors. So, I have a couple ideas for how you can help every author that you know. And this goes for ones you don’t know, but like and want to support.

Write reviews—and make sure they are 5-star reviews. Reviews help drive sales. They influence other readers. In fact, write those reviews for people who are selling anything. It helps them, too.

Cut and paste what you wrote and put it on every applicable site—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and every other place you can think of.

Sleeping With Strangers BookThose negative reviews you like to write. Stop. Or at least stop and think before you hit post. Maybe a call or email directly to the person or business would be more effective than public condemnation. This is true for opinions about books, restaurants, and other purchases.

There are snarky people out there who want to hurt those of us selling products online. The day my latest book (Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico) was available on Amazon—so before anyone actually had the book in hand—someone left a 1-star rating. No words accompanied the rating, so no actual review. I’m guessing it was from someone who doesn’t like me. (Still plenty of those people in Tahoe. Such are the hazards of being an honest journalist.) Nonetheless, it drags down my overall rating.

If someone really thinks the book is worthy of only 1 star, that would be different. After all, when I was in a book club I gave a book all zeros. So, I understand not everyone is going to like every book. But I didn’t post my thoughts online. I understand the work involved to write a book and applaud anyone who does so.

Speaking of book clubs, that’s another way to help authors. Choose your friends’ books. Or maybe once a year choose a local author.

Last year a book club in Todos Santos, Mexico, read Sleeping with Strangers and then I was able to be the guest author. This was so much fun for all of us.

A club in Chico is reading the book this month. I know because I hand delivered the books. I’m hoping other clubs are reading it, too.

If I can’t attend in person, I could do so via Zoom if you wanted. It never hurts to ask any author to be an integral part of your book club.

Oh, and it comes to sharing books. Well, I understand that helps you financially, but it does nothing for the author. Sorry, just had to put that out there.

The most important thing is to keep reading books. Support authors. Support bookstores.

The irony in writing the last sentence is that sales through bookstores is where I make the least amount of money, unless I’ve supplied the store with the books. But they are who I want to support. A society without bookstores, well, that is a depressing thought.

So, after you buy your next book at your local bookstore, go write a 5-star review about the store and then another 5-star review about the book.

Book Review: Gloria Steinem’s words as relevant today as in 1983

Book Review: Gloria Steinem’s words as relevant today as in 1983

It’s not a good thing when you read a book that came out 40 years ago and the same problems outlined within the pages are still happening today.

I found Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983) by Gloria Steinem to be a page turner. This is a collection of articles of which all but two had been previously published. So, in reality, the words are even older than 40 years.

Anyone who cares about women’s rights—which should be everyone no matter gender or age—is bound to get something out of this book. It’s educational by it’s subject matter. It’s sad because of how far we have not come. It’s timely because the same rights she has spent a lifetime fighting for are evaporating seemingly every day.

Steinem has a way with words that grabs the reader even when writing about difficult subjects. And she is so incredibly creative when things are little less serious.

In this collection of works are five essays about women you all have probably heard of, but maybe have not read the sentiments conveyed by Steinem. The subchapters are titled: Marilyn Monroe: The woman who died too soon; Patricia Nixon flying; The real Linda Lovelace; Jackie reconsidered; and Alice Walker: Do you know this woman? She knows you.

 Walter Cronkite, remember, the book came out four decades ago, wrote this about the book, “For those of us who have long admired Gloria Steinem’s reportorial and writing skills, there has been concern that this side of persona had taken a back seat to her activism as a feminist. Now we have proof that nothing has been lost, for she has combined her talents and her advocacy here in what surely must be the definitive philosophical and historical work about this movement that, belatedly, has transformed our society.”

Sadly, 40 years later this book is relevant and should be read by women and men so one equality might be achieved.

Mother Nature puts on a show at Black Butte Lake

Mother Nature puts on a show at Black Butte Lake

Black Butte is in the foreground with the coastal range in the distance covered in snow. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Snow isn’t usually the focal point when the highest elevation of the hike is 764 feet.

But it was on this last Saturday of February. The bitter cold storm that inundated all of California brought the white stuff to sea level.

While there were splotches of snow along the trail, the bulk of what was of interest was in the distance, enshrouding the coastal range.

Mother Nature is one interesting creature.

While the 16 of us from Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventurers were bundled up to ward off the 40-something degree temps (who knows what it was with the wind chill), a few wildflowers were holding on for dear life. Field marigolds, blue dicks, and dicots dominated the landscape.

The scenery at Black Butte Lake is a mix of rock, grass, flowers and water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A couple more weeks and it is sure to be a carpet of color here in the green grasses that are set against the dark basalt rock.

Black Butte Lake near Orland was formed in 1963 when Black Butte Dam on Stony Creek was built. When full it has a surface area of 4,460 acres.

“The dam reduces flood risk for the surrounding communities and provides irrigation water to agricultural lands immediately downstream of the dam,” according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

On our 5.2 mile hike we barely touched the numerous trails. After all, the lake is 7 miles long and has a shoreline of 40 miles.

The view of Black Butte Lake, the butte and the coastal range from the parking lot. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

After crossing the paved dam we headed up a mostly single-track route that was a mix of hardpack dirt and basalt rock. Our destination was the top of Black Butte.

The views here are stunning. Even more amazing, though, is one would not have to set foot on any trail because the vista from the parking lot is outstanding.

Once at the top of the butte, instead of going back the way we came we headed over the other side onto what really wasn’t a trail. I would not need to do this route again because of the hidden rocks under the grass and slickness of the wet ground.

Still, we were thrilled to be out on the blustery day seeing terrain most of us had never visited before.

Museum captures history of California’s missions

Museum captures history of California’s missions

California Missions Museum in Sonoma County tells a brief story about the 21 missions in the state. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While it’s possible to find a slice of California’s mission history throughout much of the state, the one place that captures all 21 of these sites is in Sonoma County.

It’s appropriate that the California Missions Museum is tucked into a back corner of the Cline Family Cellars property. This is because on July 4, 1823, Father Jose Altimira founded Mission San Francisco Solano by erecting a cross on what is now the Cline property. The actual mission was eventually built five miles away near the town square of Sonoma.

The replicas of each mission were commissioned for the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco. When they went to auction several years ago Nancy Cline bought the collection for more than $20,000. The museum opened in 2006.

Pre-pandemic the museum, located on the back of the winery property, was open every day the winery was open.

Stain glass originally at the mission in San Francisco is part of the Sonoma County museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

When I was there in early February the museum was being used as the wine club members’ tasting room. No one stopped us from meandering around. And in a follow-up call to the winery an employee said people could visit the museum for free Friday-Sunday.

The unfortunate part of how it’s set up now is that it doesn’t feel very welcoming. In some ways it’s like you are crashing a private party with the wine tasting that you can’t partake in.

Plus, with how close some of the tables are to the displays, it was hard to see everything. In addition, while more things were obviously on display upstairs in a balcony area, the stairs themselves were cordoned off.

While I realize businesses are still adjusting to life post-pandemic, it’s shameful Cline isn’t doing all it can to make the museum more accessible and to welcome those who are visiting it. Not a single person at the winery acknowledged our presence.

A brief commentary about each mission is situated at its replica. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even with the off-putting reception, the museum was still an interesting place to visit. A replica of each of the missions (and these only represent the ones in present day California, not all of the ones that are in Baja) is enclosed in acrylic cases. Many look similar, but all are unique in their own right.

At one end of the wood building is a large stained glass window that came from Mission Dolores in San Francisco.

A book meant to look like it was written centuries ago in calligraphy is at each mission display telling a bit about that particular site. For instance, about Santa Cruz, the 12th mission, it says, “In 1840 an earthquake wrecked the church building and a tidal wave completed the ruin.”

Regarding the Santa Barbara mission, museum-goers learn that today it is being used as a college for Franciscan priests.

As for Mission Solano, the one in Sonoma, “The site was purchased in 1903 by Mr. William Randolph Hearst, the publisher, and he deeded it to the state of California as an historic landmark. Since then it has had the best of care.”



Address: Cline Family Cellars, 24737 Arnold Drive/Highway 121, Sonoma

Phone: 707.939.8051

Hours: Friday-Sunday when the winery is open

Cost: Free



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