Book Review: Stasiland captures life behind the Berlin Wall

Book Review: Stasiland captures life behind the Berlin Wall

What happens when everything you know no longer exists? What happens when you had control and now you are on the wrong side of history?

In Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (HarperCollins, 2002) author Anna Funder answers those questions to some extent. Mostly she delves into the lives of some of those who worked for the Stasi, the secret police in the former East Germany, as well as ordinary citizens.

This book was captivating. It made me think.

My friend, Penny, told me about the book after she made a trip to Germany last year. My only trip to Germany was in 1990. Part of the Berlin Wall still existed, and I was able to chisel off a few pieces.

But that doesn’t mean my understanding of the two Germanys is great. This book actually made me want to learn more. After all, East Germany was not a country for long—from 1949 to 1990.

What Stasiland reveals are the struggles of the people, the corruption of not-so-secret police agency, and the beliefs of those who lived in East Germany when the wall was built and what happened to them when it came down.

It’s not a political book. It’s a history book by way of the subject matter, but it is not a deep, theoretical boring dive into this time period.

It’s a book about people. That’s what makes it so interesting. Real life people telling their stories, their experiences. Funder weaves them all together in a manner that makes sense and certainly kept my attention.

Walters a trailblazer in journalism whose legacy lives on

Walters a trailblazer in journalism whose legacy lives on

It’s hard to find the news on cable news networks. That wasn’t case when there were just the three big networks—ABC, NBC and CBS.

Those were the channels I was brought up on, with the PBS News Hour a later addition—and now the only TV news I care to watch with regularity, with 60 Minutes thrown in when there are segments of interest to me.

Barbara Walters’ legacy is all the female journalists who followed her through the doors she opened. (Image: Lynn Gilbert/1979)

I don’t know how much those news casts helped form me as a journalist. In fact, I never thought about it until this month when I watched Our Barbara: A Special Edition of 20/20. It was all about Barbara Walters, who died Dec. 30, 2022, at age 93.

Being in print/online my whole career I never thought about if what I absorbed on the broadcast side impacted me professionally.

Watching the special where Walters was interviewing people and others spoke about her prowess as an interviewer made me wonder if somewhere along the line during all of those specials of hers that I watched when I was much younger if I was subliminally absorbing some of her skills.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m no Barbara Walters.

But what I have known for a long time is the importance of being a good reporter. In any job interview I have always said my reporting skills are stronger than my writing skills. It’s still an honest assessment of my abilities. All editors I have worked with stressed the importance of reporting over writing.

This is because a good editor can make your words sing even if you can’t. But if you don’t have thorough reporting, even the best writers and editors will have little to work with.

The special I mentioned above is worth looking up. It’s a wonderful two-hour capsule of Walters’ interviews as well as insights about this pioneering woman.

She unlocked the doors for every woman journalist—print or broadcast—who came after her. Every female journalist owes Walters a debt of gratitude.

If you only think she interviewed celebrities, then you don’t know much about Walters. If you think she only worked from a script, then you have not watched her.

Walters was meticulous with her research, deciding which questions to ask in what order. She was so well prepared that she could ask the critical follow up questions. She asked the tough questions. She didn’t hold back.

I know it’s not easy to ask the tough questions, to talk to people in their darkest moments, to ask questions when people don’t want to respond, to be the seeker of truth when people don’t want it to come to light.

Walters was a journalist like none we are likely to see again. Thank you, Barbara, for everything you did for journalism.

North State Public Radio and Sleeping with Strangers

North State Public Radio and Sleeping with Strangers

The fact I have a new book out is not news. But what exactly is Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico all about?

To find out more details about the book listen to this interview on North State Public Radio with Nancy Wiegman, host of Nancy’s Bookshelf. 

Even if you have read the book, you will likely find the interview interesting.

The book is available at your local bookstore and online.

 

Handcrafted pottery is like artwork for all areas of one’s home

Handcrafted pottery is like artwork for all areas of one’s home

Ibarra pottery is all made by hand in La Paz, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Imperfections can actually make something even more perfect.

That’s what happens with handcrafted pottery and glassware. Two glasses or bowls may be similar, even seem alike, but look closer and you’ll see each is unique.

Mexican pottery is full of vibrant colors that seem to draw one’s eye to it no matter where it is located—a kitchen, outdoors, on a table as a decorative piece.

Ibarra’s Pottery was founded in 1958 by Julio Ibarra and Juanita Chavez. They met in Mexico City where they were both studying art. They decided to join forces and create pottery together.

In the mid-1980s they moved to La Paz in Baja California Sur to where they had family. In many ways it was like starting all over as the Ibarra art was not locally known.

Julio Ibarra died in 2015, while Juanita Chavez was still working there last year.

In April 2022, Ibarra’s Pottery celebrated what it called its evolution in La Paz from 1987-2022.

Ibarra’s factory and shop is a couple blocks from the malecon in La Paz. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today, the La Paz shop is run by the founders’ daughter, Vicky Ibarra. A third generation is also becoming potterers.

While they don’t like people to take pictures onsite, the pottery makers post pictures online of the finished work and of employees painting what is essentially a blank canvas. There are even videos of how the clay comes into being.

The store/factory in La Paz is continually turning out new work. Plates, glasses, wall hangings, pitchers, and so much more are handcrafted right there.

If you don’t find what you are looking for or you have an idea for a piece, special orders can be placed.

One of Ibarra’s Facebook posts sums up why handmade art is so wonderful, “When you are buying a handmade piece you must know it might have some small defects and you can’t blame the artisan. The truth is: it makes it unique. Why? Because when you are creating something with your hands no matter how careful you are sometimes it’s impossible to make it exactly like the others.”

A post on Ibarra’s Instagram page says each piece takes about two weeks to complete. All of the Ibarra pieces are lead free. What I have bought can go in the oven and dishwasher, though I haven’t done so.

I love that each is signed on the bottom, so you know it’s an Ibarra. (They carry other works at the store.)

To me, Ibarra pottery is functional art.

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Deets:

 

 

 

Questioning Pacifico’s sponsorship of U.S. Ski & Snowboard teams

Questioning Pacifico’s sponsorship of U.S. Ski & Snowboard teams

Beer and skiing are two things that go well together. Stopping for a beer with friends on a sunny day was an ideal break. Or maybe it was consumed post-skiing in the hot tub.

However, it wasn’t until this ski season that I paid attention to the U.S. Ski & Snowboard teams having an official beer sponsor. It’s Pacifico. While the beer is still made in Mazatlán, Mexico, it is owned by behemoth Constellation Brands.

Pacifico is an official sponsor of U.S. Ski & Snowboard. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Prior to Pacifico’s sponsorship, Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma was the beer of choice.

The Pacifico deal is good just for the 2022-23 season. The original deal with Pacifico started in 2019 and was to last through the Winter Olympics earlier this year.

This makes me wonder what is really going on. A one-year sponsorship deal isn’t much. So, who wanted what and who said no? Is a longer deal in the work or will another beer take over?

I understand the need for sponsorships—it’s about making money. I understand the desire to be a sponsor—it’s about getting your product in front of more people.

Pacifico’s website says snowboarding sensation Jamie Anderson is one of its athletes. That means she is most likely making money directly from the company. This 2021 video has the Lake Tahoe resident talking about what is important to her—all about eating correctly, yoga and those sorts of things. Everything she said and what I know about Anderson makes me believe a Pacifico has probably never touched her lips. Not once in the video does she mention drinking alcohol nor is she seen consuming any. But Pacifico is in her fridge; though she grabs something green. The beer is out on the back deck as she does yoga.

I often wonder about truth in advertising, in sponsorships, and in endorsements of products. Maybe that’s why I don’t buy products because a celebrity is pushing it. Does that person even use the product they are getting paid to endorse?

I wonder if the money is worth selling something you don’t use, you don’t believe in. I don’t know if Anderson did this, but we know others have and will continue to. It seems selfish to lie to your fans—whether you are a sports star, a movie star, a politician or someone else with influence.

Be authentic. Promote what you believe.

Place of worship an architectural history lesson

Place of worship an architectural history lesson

The church at New Clairvaux Abbey is a work of art. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Rays of sunlight beam through the windows. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the detail in the stonework. The triple-arched Gothic entry is stunning.

The church at New Clairvaux Abbey is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a magnificent structure that is a blend of old and new. The guest entrance is through a 200 pound wooden door.

According to our tour guide, it was built to last a thousand years. Considering the history of the abbey already goes back about a thousand years, it seems appropriate this place of worship in Northern California should last another millennia.

Pews where the monks conduct their prayers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Dwite, our guide, told us that about 35 percent of the stones used to build the church were from a 12th century “chapter house” that was originally part of Santa Maria de Ovila Cistercian Abbey in Spain, another 35 percent were cut in Spain, while the remaining sandstone came from Texas.

According to information provided by the abbey, this is the “largest example of original Cistercian-Gothic architecture in the Western Hemisphere, and the oldest building in the United States west of the Mississippi.”

The pipe organ came from a church in Redding. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It will be four years this month since the church opened for worship. But during the pandemic, the facilities were closed to the public until late last year. To witness the monks in prayer in their sacred place was a bonus to the day.

We were all quiet as we sat in the visitors’ area while the monks drifted in, bowed and then went to their assigned pews. It was the shortest service of any denomination I’ve attended. Mostly it was about being quiet, with a prayer and a song part of the ritual.

While the monks who reside in this monastery in Vina, about 20 miles north of Chico, worship multiple times a day, we were there for just one session. This was the conclusion of our guided tour.

Guided and self-guided tours at the monastery are available. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Self-guided tours available Monday-Saturday, 2:30-5pm.
  • Docent led tours available all but Sundays by appointment.
  • More information is available online.
  • Address: 26240 7th St., Vina

 

Book Review: ‘Vanishing Half’–Choosing A Different Life

Book Review: ‘Vanishing Half’–Choosing A Different Life

Becoming someone else. We’ve all probably thought about it, if just fleetingly.

But what would the consequences be?

Stella and Desiree Vignes are twin sisters who grew up in a small town in Louisiana where the lighter skin you had the better. But no matter how light they were, the fact they were whatever percentage Black still made them Black in the eyes of the law and society. Well, that is until one passed.

The Vanishing Half (Penguin Random House, 2020) by Brit Bennett is the story of these sisters and the other people who are close to them. One decides to cross over—claiming to be white, while the other finds the darkest man she can to marry. The book spans the 1950s to the 1990s.

While this is a work of fiction, it’s easy to imagine people choosing the lives the sisters each picked. The other characters are also believable, which makes the story plausible. Still, something about it truly read like the fiction it is.

It took me twice to get into the audio book. Like any book, sometimes you have to be in the right mindset. So it was with this one. But once I got hooked I was glad I kept listening.

Rethinking the whole business of New Year’s resolutions

Rethinking the whole business of New Year’s resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are not something I often think about.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of room for change or that I don’t want anything or that I don’t have dreams for myself, others and the world at large.

Perhaps, it’s that I think the positive changes I would like to see can’t be summed up in a resolution. Maybe this ritual of making New Year’s resolutions seems trite when so many are broken before January is even over.

Change takes work. It takes time, diligence, will power and the acknowledgement it may not come on the first try.

That’s why I believe anyone who wants change needs to make it a lifetime endeavor. Even if you succeed with one desire, there will be more.

We humans are a work in progress just as is the world we inhabit. So, maybe everyone’s lifetime resolution should be to leave the world a better a place.

Yes, we will all have our own definition of better. But we only get one shot at this thing called life (at least as far as I know), so why not resolve to make it a better world while we are in it and for those who are left behind?

This isn’t a Jan. 1 kind of resolution, but an everyday commitment to do better, be better, think better, live better for myself, those I love, those I don’t know, for my community, the places I visit, and the places I’ll never set foot.

Happy New Year!

Museum captures 300 years’ of cowboy history in Baja

Museum captures 300 years’ of cowboy history in Baja

Tools of the vaquero at the cowboy museum in El Triunfo. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The smell of new leather wafts through the entrance, an appropriate greeting for a museum all about cowboys.

Museo del Vaquero de las Californias (MuVaCa for short and the Cowboy Museum of the Californias in English) opened in the tiny Baja town of El Triunfo the first week of November. (It’s still hard to believe this was once the most populated town in Baja California Sur.)

This ode to cowboy history is as well done as the mining museum (Museo Ruta de Plata/Silver Route Museum) that is on the same street.

The museum captures more than 300 years of cowboy traditions throughout the Baja peninsula. Details include aspects about life before the Spanish arrived, their influence, life after they were conquered, and the war with the United States that resulted in a large swath of Mexico becoming part of the U.S.

One display points out, “During the war between the United States and Mexico, rancheros and vaqueros joined together to defend their lands. On December 6, 1846, at the Battle of San Pasqual (in present day San Diego County), Californios defeated U.S. forces while armed only with lances, swords, and a few firearms.”

In other words, the Mexicans won at least one battle before losing the war.

Information is written in English and Spanish, as is the case at the mining museum.

The detail in this saddle is exquisite. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Walking in there are displays of cowboys in all their garb. The circular layout then leads visitors to the small theater where a film (also in English and Spanish) gives a thorough history about the vaqueros up to present day.

This is a good foundation to have before visiting the main museum which is in a separate building across a walkway that includes a tiered concrete seating area where outdoor presentations could be conducted.

There is so much to read, see and absorb in the museum that it would make sense to go multiple times. There is no way to grasp everything in one visit.

While the story and evolution of the Baja cowboy are fascinating, I seemed to be most enamored by the clothing for the people and the horses. The detail in the saddles was stunning. It was like artwork.

One display said, “The Baja California Sur saddle was designed to manage cattle safely in the harsh environment by protecting mount and rider from spines and thorns.”

The desert is not a forgiving place so protection is necessary, even today.

Museo del Vaquero de las Californias in El Triunfo has been open since early November. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Because living off the land is hard work no matter where one does it the early vaqueros had to be resourceful.

“As the population grew, hides, tallow, milk, cheese, and other products were transported through the Sierra of the peninsula to towns and cities that depended on the ranches for their supplies. In Alta California, the international tallow and leather trade gave rise to a boom; some families amassed huge tracts of pastureland for thousands of cattle,” one display reads. “The importance of livestock ranching as the economic base and the proliferation of wild cattle prompted the systematization of rodeos, the establishment of controlled herds, and the mark of ownership through branding.”

Today, one does not have to go far out of any town in Baja Sur to come across a ranch. Cowboys are still very much a part of the 21st century.

“The mountains of Guadalupe and La Giganta are home to hundreds of families who live a life similar to their ancestors of over 300 years ago,” the museum teaches. “Today, nearly 5,000 people continue living much of that lifestyle: tending the garden; making tools, leatherwork, cheeses, and knives for sale preparing food; and performing the many tasks it takes to remain on the ranches.”

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Details:

  • Hours: Thursday-Monday, 10am-5pm
  • Cost: 100 pesos ($5) adults, 75 pesos for BCS residents, 60 pesos seniors
  • Email: info@muvaca.com
  • Address: Calle Ayuntamiento (entre Gral. Márquez de León y Minero Num. 1), El Triunfo
  • Website
Lassen park’s visitor center worthy of a stop

Lassen park’s visitor center worthy of a stop

The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at Lassen Volcanic National Park is a destination unto itself. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

There’s a good reason the word “volcanic” is part of Lassen Volcanic National Park’s name.

This park in Northern California is home to all four types of volcanoes that can be found throughout the world. Lassen Peak is a plug dome, Brokeoff is a composite, Prospect Peak is a shield, and Cinder Cone is, well, a cinder cone volcano.

While I’m an advocate for getting out in nature in all seasons, I’m also one who likes to learn a bit about what she is seeing.

Hiking friends had told me to take the time to peruse the visitor center. I finally found the time this fall on a drive with mom. It was definitely worth it.

A few times a day the visitor center shows an incredibly informative 20-minute movie called “The Story Behind the Landscape.” (The visitor center is closed Mondays and Tuesdays in the winter.)

Enjoying all that the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center has to offer is time well spent. When the building opened in 2008 it was heralded as the park’s first year-round visitor center. It is located about one mile from the southwest entrance.

The name comes from what the Mountain Maidu call Lassen Peak, which means Snow Mountain.

While Lassen Peak hasn’t erupted since 1921, it could again.

The National Park Service website says, “The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maintains a National Volcanic Threat Assessment that considers the relative threats posed by U.S. volcanoes and identifies which volcanoes warrant the greatest risk-mitigation efforts by the USGS and its partners. The Lassen Volcanic Center (is) one of 18 volcanoes assessed as very high threat.”

Lassen became the 13th national park in August 1916.

Besides the film being educational, the visitor center has displays that captivate. Some are interactive—good for youngsters and the not so young. After all, the entire park is a geological wonder. Bumpass Hell “is the largest boiling springs area west of Yellowstone,” according to information at the center.

One sign talks about how the location of the park is where “four significant biological regions overlap—the Cascade Range, the Sierra Nevada, the California Central Valley and the Great Basin of Nevada.”

If you don’t have the time or desire to snowshoe or hike in Lassen, take the time to be enthralled by the visitor center.

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