Book Review: ‘Engineer’s Wife’ not on solid footing

Book Review: ‘Engineer’s Wife’ not on solid footing

Historical fiction can fluster me because I’m often wondering what is true and what isn’t—especially when I know little or nothing about the topic. Sometimes I have to tell myself to go along for the ride, so to speak.

Such was the case with The Engineer’s Wife (Sourcebooks, 2020) by Tracey Enerson Wood. In this instance, she reveals key truths and bits of fiction at the end, so that was helpful, informative and a bit disturbing.

Two of the main characters are real—Emily, the engineer’s wife, really did finish the building of the bridge when her husband got ill. P.T. Barnum is also a real person. But what was so alarming is that the author essentially has these two become romantically involved and that never happened in real life. To me, this was too much literary license.

The book is about how the Brooklyn Bridge in New York got built, which was interesting. It’s easy to take for granted things that are already in place. It’s a marvel how so much has been created without the technology or tools of the 21st century.

But there is so much more to the book than learning some of the details of how such an iconic bridge came to be. It’s about women’s rights, it’s about relationships, it’s about war.

The book starts during the Civil War and concludes with the completion of the bridge. That really isn’t giving too much away.

In the middle of the book it seemed to drag on a bit, but I’m glad I pushed through. Most of the time I was eager for more to see how the story would develop. In the end, though, I was left with mixed feelings about the book. My mom, on the other hand, recommends it—which mostly has to do with her fondness for the Brooklyn Bridge and having been an engineer’s wife.

Bounty of Butte County ag tantalizes taste buds

Bounty of Butte County ag tantalizes taste buds

Olive trees at Calolea Olive Oil tasting room in Bangor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With agriculture being a multi-million dollar industry in Butte County, it’s no surprise those involved in it want to celebrate what they bring to the table.

That is exactly what the Sierra Oro Farm Trail is all about. For $40 (the cost this year) people were able to visit an array of ag related businesses, taste their goods, learn about what they do and get deals on purchases.

The monthlong harvest celebration in October included wineries, olive oil, meat, cheese, jams, lavender, rice and more.

An array of wine and hard liquor to taste at Hickman Family Vineyards. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

According to the 2021 Butte County Crop & Livestock Report, the estimated gross value of agricultural production was $609,955,303, which was $15,429,406 less than 2020. The 10-year average for Butte County is $713,185,710.

This was my first year to experience any aspect of Oro Trails. My friend, Kristin, invited me along for a day of wine and olive oil tasting. While I have gone to a handful of wineries in the area, it was my first time to visit all of the places we went to on this particular Sunday.

The view from Hickman Family Vineyards in Butte County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We headed to the Bangor Wine Region, a place I had not heard of—though that is not saying much. We skirted around Oroville, where we came across acreage that made me feel a bit like being in the El Dorado County wine region; probably because Bangor is in the foothills and a former Gold Rush town. The familiarity I felt also had to do with the unpretentious nature of the wineries themselves. The hospitality and openness of the owners and workers clearly let you know you were not in Napa or Sonoma counties. The emphasis was on the product, not on sales.

First stop was Hickman Family Vineyards where more than just wine is poured. Spirits from Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery are also part of the offerings. These are made down the road by family members.

Inside the Hickman tasting room. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This winery has been open since 2011, while the distillery opened its doors five years later.

I left with some bubbly and grappa moonshine.

Next up was Spencer-Shirey Wines. A few campers pulled in while we were tasting because owners Mary Spencer and Kimball Shirey allow a few trailers to spend the night—for a fee, of course. What a tranquil place to call home while on the road.

Then to be steps from great tasting wines—especially the reds, well, I was a bit jealous we had to keep driving.

An array of delicious choices at Calolea Olive Oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Drive we did, though, to great olive oil. Those trees—they seemed much larger than what I’ve seen before. Monica and Michael Keller at Calolea Olive Oil have Mission, Manzanillo and Tuscan olive trees.

With so many flavors to taste, it was hard to pick a favorite. Nonetheless, I was able to narrow it down to buy a few gift bottles.

The entire experience makes me want to explore more of what Butte County has to offer during Oro Trail days in 2023.

Happily Keeping Up-To-Date With COVID Vaccinations

Happily Keeping Up-To-Date With COVID Vaccinations

I’m continuing to follow science when it comes to protecting myself from getting COVID-19.

I got the latest booster last month. Arm was a little sore the next day so tennis was a no-go, but I could still sit at my desk and work. So, not much of a negative reaction; and I’m someone who has a phobia of needles.

Apparently, my fear of a deadly virus is more pronounced, thus the reason to get inoculated. More than 1 million people in the United States have died from this virus. That’s not a statistic I want to join.

I’m sure people can come up with plenty of good reasons not to get boosted, though I’m guessing I probably wouldn’t agree with most. What still amazes me is people call the vaccines gene therapy. That is a lie; with this being a good story laying out the facts.

While I’m not a big fan of going to doctors, I have done a pretty good job with keeping up with vaccines and the big checkups—colonoscopy, mammograms, etc.

Yes, I know it’s still possible to get COVID even if one is vaccinated. But did you know no vaccine is 100% effective? Even so, I still believe in vaccines.

I’m increasing my odds of not getting this virus or any other disease from which I’m inoculated against. With COVID, I’m also reducing the likelihood I would need hospitalization or die if I were to contract the virus.

I’m super happy to know I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19. I just wish more people were.

Unable to meet the requirements for a Real ID at the DMV

Unable to meet the requirements for a Real ID at the DMV

Logic and government seldom go together. And when the agency is the DMV, well, things always seem to go haywire.

My driver’s license expired on my birthday this fall so I thought now would be a good time to get a Real ID. I tried and I failed.

I still have a regular license.

The Real ID is something the federal government is mandating everyone (not just Californians) have as of May 3, 2023, in order to fly domestically or enter certain federal buildings, like a courthouse. A passport will suffice at all locations if one does not have a Real ID.

Chico DMV has friendly workers, with clients patiently waiting. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“Passed by Congress in 2005, the Real ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government ‘set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.’ The act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibits certain federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards,” says the Department of Homeland security on its website.

In other words, it’s another layer of government from an agency that has only existed since November 2002. DHS came into being after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. The agency is supposed to guard us against terrorism. Considering we seem to have more domestic terrorists than international ones, I question the purpose of this bureaucracy which this fiscal year has a budget of nearly $186 billion.

But I digress.

One more thing, first. The DHS answers a series of questions on its site. One is: Is DHS trying to build a national database with all of our information. The answer: “No. Real ID is a national set of standards, not a national identification card. Real ID does not create a federal database of driver license information. Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintains its own records, and controls who gets access to those records and under what circumstances. The purpose of Real ID is to make our identity documents more consistent and secure.”

Interesting wording on the question—is it trying to build a national database. It may not be trying to, but we know it is building a database.

I don’t really care because I don’t have much to hide—today. But little good comes from the government collecting more data on every single person.

OK, done with that digression.

So, back to why I don’t have a Real ID. I wanted to put my post office box on my license and not my street address. To get a Real ID you have to have a variety of paperwork to prove you are you and your address is your address. I didn’t have a document that had my street address and post office box, so I couldn’t get my post office on the Real ID. And I was one document shy of being able to get the Real ID with my street address because I thought I had what I needed for the PO box.

I was told the PG&E bill should have both addresses. I explained the primary person on that bill is my housemate, aka my mom, and she doesn’t use my post office box. The woman said I could come in with that utility bill, my mom, and my birth certificate—and all of my other documentation. I said I would fly with my passport and skip the Real ID hoopla.

(An aside, the Chico DMV is great—clean, nice and friendly workers.)

The odd part about all of this is that in renewing my license I needed to change my address from Tahoe to Chico. I was able to get a regular license with my post office box on it no questions asked.

So, why can’t my license and passport be enough to get a Real ID? Ask the government, they make the rules.

Thanksgiving a time to be grateful

Thanksgiving a time to be grateful

I’ve never made a turkey. This could matter only because mom and I are hosting Thanksgiving.

Even a day later I’ll still be able to say I have never made a turkey.

Nothing is written in stone that Thanksgiving dinner must include a dead bird. OK, that was a little dramatic, but I am a vegetarian after all. And the last time I remember hosting Thanksgiving was years ago in Tahoe. I’m pretty sure mom made the turkey that year. It certainly wasn’t me.

There will be meat served this year, just not turkey. After all, everyone else who will be at the table is of the meat-eating persuasion, including the other hostess. She’ll be taking care of that part of the meal.

Others in the family are contributing in different ways. In other words, it’s a communal meal of sorts with mom and I the conductors.

Shared experiences (ideally good ones) are the foundation of memories. Building memories is in large part what life is about. Even the not so great memories are pieces that enhance the larger picture. In fact, sometimes it is the dark moments of life that can make the good ones seem even better.

Enjoy this Thanksgiving.

As Willie Nelson said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

Book Review: Engaging read about the life of a fire lookout

Book Review: Engaging read about the life of a fire lookout

I was pleasantly surprised about the depth of the book Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout (HarperCollins, 2011).

And I’m thankful to whomever it was who recommended this book by Philip Connors.

I believe anyone who loves nature will enjoy this book.

Beyond learning about life as an actual lookout, what makes Fire Season such a great read is that I got to know about a forest that was new to me—the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. It reinforced the history of the U.S. Forest Service’s protocols about fighting fires.

This lonely existence was captured so well by Connors. I could feel the confines of the 7 foot by 7 foot structure as well as his living quarters. But it was the vastness of the terrain outside his windows that in some ways made things feel even smaller.

Fire lookouts are a dying breed as technology replaces humans paid to scan the horizon for smoke. This would not be the job for adrenaline junkies. This would be a job for someone who is comfortable with themselves.

This was a fast, easy, enjoyable read.


Spooner Lake evolves with visitor center, amphitheater

Spooner Lake evolves with visitor center, amphitheater

Spooner Lake and Backcountry Visitor Center is open as of Nov. 17. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the natural beauty of the 13,000 acre Spooner Lake backcountry is captivating in all seasons, a man-made structure has actually enhanced what this Nevada oasis has to offer.

On Nov. 17 the $8 million visitors center and amphitheater was unveiled.

“Our focus is on environmental education and sustainable recreation,” Bob Mergell, administrator for Nevada State Parks, told the assembled crowd.

The amphitheater from which he was speaking is expected to be the center of outdoor programs. Four rows of granite benches, so to speak, form a semi-circle facing the podium. Each is broken into sections for ease of seating, and coming and going.

Philanthropist Linda Pascotto, left, with Amy Berry of the Tahoe Fund. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Mergell acknowledged a project of this size is a group effort, which he pointed out included prison inmates building all the cabinetry inside

The building houses a shop to buy souvenirs, resource guides and the opportunity to talk to someone to obtain more information. Also onsite are indoor rooms for classes or meetings, as well as a warming hut. What might excite many recreationists are the nice restrooms.

Donors are recognized on these metal bears. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With 150,000 visitors to Spooner Lake each year using the 60 miles of trails, the built infrastructure was beyond outdated. Limited parking and a few port-a-potties are all that greeted people. What was there was 35 years old. Even the old kiosk to pay one’s entrance fee looked like a dilapidated hut.

Prior to the festivities, Mergell in an interview said planning for phase three of the project is under way.

“We are going to put in a kayak launch to make the lake more usable,” he said. A fishing platform is also in the works. A start and end date can’t be set until designs, permitting, and funding are secured.

It’s possible to fish at this late that sits at 6,983 feet, but it’s hard to get on the lake unless it’s frozen. That’s when ice skaters show off their skills. It’s about 23 feet deep.

Bob Mergell with Nevada State Parks talks about the Spooner project on Nov. 17. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A price tag for this next phase has not been set, but one of the key donors was at the dedication.

Linda Pascotto, who has a house nearby, has been re-creating in the area since her parents bought a place at Lake Tahoe in the 1970s. Later she and her husband bought their own place.

Pascotto is a philanthropist who has donated to many causes in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Haldan Art Gallery at Lake Tahoe Community College is in honor of her parents, Jim and Ethel May Haldan.

The amphitheater will be the site of outdoor education at Spooner. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

She is one of seven donors to the Tahoe Fund that accounts for that nonprofit’s $300,000 contribution to the current Spooner project. Pascotto and the others have metal bears scattered near the amphitheater with their names on them as a sign of thanks.

Pascotto’s next contribution of $250,000 is for phase three, which she wants to pay for the wildlife viewing platform at Spooner Lake.

“My dad was into wildlife,” she explained after all the presentations were over. “I wanted to do something for my parents.” After all, they are the ones who introduced her to the Spooner Lake area.

‘Guilty Christmas’–A Comical Play About S. Lake Tahoe

‘Guilty Christmas’–A Comical Play About S. Lake Tahoe

The cast of “Guilty Christmas” entertains at the Valhalla Boathouse Theater through Nov. 20. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Be ready to laugh, shake your head and have an evening of fun at “Guilty Pleasures,” the self-deprecating musical comedy about most things Tahoe related.

If this play sounds familiar, then you probably saw the original “Guilty Pleasures” when it first came to the stage at the Boathouse Theater at Valhalla in 2002. That play had multiple iterations through the years.

Then director Dave Hamilton and music director Mark Williams got the idea for a Christmas version of this irreverent show. Covid and snowstorms prevented it from being staged the last two years.

It opened Nov. 15 to a nearly sold-out audience. Get your tickets now as the show runs through Nov. 20.

One of my favorite scenes in the two-act play was “The 12 Days of Quarantine” that was sung to “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It would be hard to find someone who could not relate to most of the lyrics. This definitely received the loudest applause.

While that was one of the numbers that was not Tahoe specific, most were.

All those bearded beanie wearing guys of a certain age have been immortalized in “The Guy from South Lake Tahoe”—a parody about what it’s like for a single woman looking for a man in Tahoe.

While the original “Guilty Pleasures” had a driving scene about driving 50 on 50 (as in Highway 50), the holiday show starts off with “Winter Driving” and the hazards of being on the road with tourists.

Another memorable segment was “I Have Seen the Light” which saw Scrooge, who is a greedy developer, reliving Tahoe past to see what he created that is now Tahoe present and what Tahoe future might be.

Vacation rentals were not spared, nor was the South Lake Tahoe City Council or TRPA.

One would not have to be a local (or former local as the case may be) to understand all the references, but it sure helps. An out-of-towner isn’t going to appreciate the reference to the Jamie Orr-ification of South Lake Tahoe.

If you want a night of frivolity that will have you laughing, applauding and making you appreciate South Lake Tahoe despite all of its imperfections, then go see “Guilty Christmas.”

Get rid of polling, focus on issues and educate yourself

Get rid of polling, focus on issues and educate yourself

The media’s fixation with polls needs to end.

I understand a candidate taking a poll or having focus groups to gauge what people are thinking. That will help them to solidify their platform and message. This would be akin to companies doing market research.

The polls that bother me are the ones asking people who they are going to vote for, what you think of a candidate, potential candidate, or current elected. Who do these polls help? What is the purpose? Why should an individual care?


I don’t care that more than 60 percent of those polled (that doesn’t mean more than 60 percent of the population) give a thumbs down to President Biden. He’s certainly not my favorite president. Depending on how the polling question were phrased I would be part of that 60 percent.

However, that does not mean I would rather have his 2020 opponent in the White House. Never would that be the case.

Plus, polls are only as good as the answers received. In other words, were the respondents being truthful? With the outcome of the recent election, one might surmise the pollsters were lied to.

Let’s get rid of polls and talk issues. Let’s talk solutions. That’s what matters.

One of the problems is we have an ill-informed electorate that struggles to or is unable or unwilling to talk issues.

But dammit that’s not good enough. You can’t whine about gas prices, food prices and whatever else without knowing why prices are escalating and who can actually do something about it.

Have you looked at corporate profits? Do you know who wants corporations to pay their fair share of taxes and who has given them more tax breaks?

If people were asked what they thought about the Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law this year, would they have an opinion? There is so much to this bill that it is understandable to be overwhelmed by it and not comprehend it.

According to the Senate, these are some of the things the Inflation Reduction Act will do:

  • Enacts historic deficit reduction to fight inflation.
  • Lowers energy costs, increases cleaner production, and reduces carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030.
  • Allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices and caps out-of-pocket costs to $2,000.
  • Lowers ACA health care premiums for millions of Americans.
  • Make biggest corporations and ultra-wealthy pay their fair share.
  • There are no new taxes on families making $400,000 or less and no new taxes on small businesses. We are closing tax loopholes and enforcing the tax code.

The CHIPS and Science Act is another huge bill that passed Congress and was signed by the president this year. This will bring more jobs to the United States and will mean less dependency on China.

Also passed this year were the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Biden also signed the Safer Communities Act. This is the first major piece of gun legislation to become law since 1994.

I mention all of these laws because I know most people know nothing about them.

People who are not in Biden’s party (I’m not in it either) have told me he isn’t doing anything. Look at the above legislation and other laws that he has signed. You may not like these laws, but you can’t legitimately say he is not doing anything. And, of course, he is not doing this alone. The House and Senate first had to approve them.

It’s time the media spend more time on issues and less time on polls. Then maybe we would have a better informed electorate. Of course this is assuming people actually want to become informed. After all, there is a lot of legitimate information out there if people were paying attention and cared.

Book signing and sales in Tahoe at Valhalla Holiday Faire

Book signing and sales in Tahoe at Valhalla Holiday Faire

Sleeping With Strangers BookIt seems appropriate that my first book signing and in person sales of Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico will occur in Lake Tahoe where the whole hosting adventure began.

I will be one of the 30 vendors at the annual Valhalla Holiday Faire on Nov. 18-20.

In addition to selling and signing my latest book, I will also have copies of my outdoor books: Lake Tahoe Trails: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks, The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes, and Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks.

More information about each book is available online and then click on Books on the upper right side.

All books may also be ordered at your local bookstore or online.



Event Details:

  • Date and time: Nov. 18 4:30-8pm; Nov. 19 10am-5pm; Nov. 20 10am-4pm
  • Location: 1 Valhalla Road, off Highway 89 on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe near Camp Richardson
  • Cost: Fair is free
  • Book prices: Range from $10 to $20. Cash, check or Venmo accepted.
  • Sale: Cosmetically challenged copies of Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons will be on sale for $15—a 25 percent discount.

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