Slow process to become comfortable speaking Spanish

Slow process to become comfortable speaking Spanish

It’s one thing to practice Spanish in the privacy of my bedroom each night, it’s another to try to speak it in front of people.

I got so nervous just asking my nieces what they would like to drink. I know red wine is vino tinto, but I said vino rojo. Then I got more flustered by saying y (and) instead of o for or. They were sweet and encouraging as we got through the beverages. Good thing I was not offering many choices.

I think I have the difference down between taza and vaso. The former would be used with coffee, as in a cup of coffee, while the latter is with wine, as in a glass of wine. I remember at a restaurant in La Paz, Mexico, the bartender trying to explain this to me, but the language barrier was too great.

This week marks 365 straight days that I have been trying to learn Spanish through the Duolingo app. The amount of time spent on the app is totally dependent on the learner. Some weeks I only total an hour, and often it’s not much more than that. Clearly, the learning is going to be slow at this level of engagement.

Nonetheless, early on I was able to use my limited Spanish when I traveled back from Baja to the States in March. At one of the military checkpoints an officer asked what various things in the Jeep. He pointed to my backpack on the floorboard of the passenger side. He said something, but I corrected him, saying, “Mi computadora.” Until I started with Duolingo, I didn’t know the Spanish word for computer.

I was bringing a painting from one friend to another. It was all securely packaged and not identifiable. That brought a lot of interest by the guard. Una pintura, I said. “Una pintura?” he asked quizzically. I said si, and gestured as though I was painting.

While I’m no longer living in Baja, I know one day I’ll be back. The locals make it easy for gringos to use English. While I tried speaking Spanish on occasion, I failed so often that I stopped trying.

But I know I could use Spanish in the U.S. as well. Being multilingual is never a bad thing. I certainly have greater appreciation for people who speak broken English. I understand how hard it is to learn a language and still get everything else done in a day.

One time I was at a store in Baja trying to buy something. I read Google Translate from my phone to say what I needed. The clerk looked at me like that isn’t English or Spanish, what the heck does this woman want. So, I showed her the phone. She smiled, and went to get what I needed. I asked her to pronounce what it was that I wanted. Oh, geez, no wonder she didn’t think I was speaking Spanish. My annunciation was so horrible.

What I like about Duolingo is that it involves reading, writing, listening and speaking. There is a ton of opportunity for review. No moving on to the next lesson without passing the first one. There are some competitive aspects as well—from timed lessons, to competing with friends (or just seeing how they are doing), to earning badges.

I will be happy just learning the present tense and cross my fingers people understand what I’m trying to say. After all Spanish has 14 tenses. English has 12. I’m guessing I use them all; I just couldn’t tell you each one. You can find them on the internet if you are so inclined.

Adios mis amigos, hasta luego.

Reverberations from Jan. 6 insurrection continue

Reverberations from Jan. 6 insurrection continue

How anyone can call the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol anything but an insurrection is beyond me.

Maybe they don’t know what the word insurrection means. The dictionary defines it this way: “a violent uprising against an authority or government.”

Clearly, there was violence. Clearly, it was an uprising. Clearly, it was against the government of the United States.

Those involved wanted to stop the certification of the electoral college that cemented Joe Biden’s win in the November 2020 presidential election.

The uprising didn’t work.

But it did help to further divide the country. It helped to further erode our democracy with people continuing to believe the election outcome was fraudulent. They can’t believe their guy lost when court after court, election official after election official, recount after recount have affirmed Biden the winner.

It’s alarming Republican governors are replacing state election chiefs because they didn’t like the outcome. It’s alarming lawmakers want to tighten the screws on voters’ rights to the point it is difficult to even get to the polls to cast a ballot.

These actions also erode a democracy.

I now firmly believe those following Trump are in a cult. It’s not about being a Republican. It’s about following one irrational man who doesn’t even care about them. Trump is an evil shit stirrer who relishes autocratic control.

Autocrat by definition is: “relating to a ruler who has absolute power.” Autocratic style is: “taking no account of other people’s wishes or opinions; domineering.”

Each day that goes by our democracy is eroding. To think that it is being undermined by people within the walls of the Capitol is frightening.

Now a year later, I feel angrier than I did last year. I wrongly assumed everyone involved would be arrested by now, if not behind bars. This includes elected officials who were involved; from Trump on down. The fact that some of the culprits are still in Congress is mind boggling.

My last hope is the congressional committee investigating the insurrection will come up with definitive proof of who knew what when, what they did or did not do, and will make people accountable for their actions.

Most everything these insurrectionists did Jan. 6, 2021, was broadcast live on television and the internet, with footage aired around the world. Still photographs also captured the scene. People on the ground wrote about the event. Plenty of participants shared their personal experiences, proud of their involvement as they posted selfies on social media.

How anyone could think the actions of this group were justified is beyond me. I suppose one has to be a white supremacist or a Trumpster to believe the actions of the mob that day should be condoned, even celebrated.

It’s time to stop letting the Trumpsters dictate the narrative. It’s time to get involved. It’s time to elect people who understand, respect and want the United States to be a democracy. We must keep doing our part to ensure Black Lives Matter, that the truth is taught in schools–not revisionist history, and that equality for all becomes a reality.

Trying to be hopeful for a joyful 2022

Trying to be hopeful for a joyful 2022

I’ve stopped saying it can’t get worse because I kept being proven wrong. I guess that’s what happens when you are living through a pandemic. It’s not like I have a lot of experience with something like this.

I actually feel like I’ve been affected by the pandemic more in 2021 than I was in 2020. In 2020 it was like we were all in this together even though some people neither wore masks nor stayed 6 feet apart. But most of us seemed to care, we wanted to support the businesses that were able to stay open, and to help those who found themselves abruptly unemployed for no fault of their own.

We even seemed to have hope a year ago, knowing a vaccine for this coronavirus was on the horizon, and holding the belief it would then speed the demise of the pandemic.

I feel less hopeful than I did a year ago.

I feel like I’m going to continue to be learning the Greek alphabet for the unforeseeable future, what with all the names of the virus’ variants. While delta and omicron are the better known, the World Health Organization has also used alpha, beta, gamma, lambda and mu for other strands.

I’ve resorted to asking people if they are vaccinated before they are allowed in my home. If the answer is no, they wear a mask or aren’t allowed to enter.

I have declined social gatherings because I didn’t want to be indoors around people who I didn’t know their vaccination status.

I’ve only massaged people who are vaccinated.

I continue to wear a mask in stores and the like.

I worry about next summer’s family reunion that was originally scheduled for 2020. A reunion that I am hosting in Lake Tahoe. Many family members are anti-vaxxers. Do we ask people to identify as vaxxed/unvaxxed and then let everyone decide if they want to hug, mingle, be close to each other? Do we wing it and become that large group gathering known as a super spreader? Do I stay home? Trust me, the latter has been on my mind for months.

What brings me hope is that my close friends—wherever they live—are vaccinated. This is leading me to already have more plans on the calendar than I had in 2021. OK, so that isn’t really saying all that much. Still, it’s encouraging.

While the future social gatherings with vaccinated friends brings me hope, I also wonder if as a society we are not only becoming more divided philosophically and politically, but now physically. How are we to overcome our differences, to understand each other’s points-of-view, to find compromise if we are self-segregating based on a vaccine? I don’t have that answer.

All I can do is try to listen to those I disagree with, to not shut them off, to invite conversation. We may not change each other’s minds, but maybe we can find a way to appreciate, respect and live together in this world without name calling, threats or violence.

2022 will be what we make of it. All we can control is how we react to things. Remember, you can disagree with someone without being disagreeable.

Happy New Year!

CO2 shortage is a bad thing for multiple industries

CO2 shortage is a bad thing for multiple industries

Despite an excessive amount of CO2 in the atmosphere changing the Earth’s climate, throughout the country that same gas is in short supply, creating problems for breweries, wineries, as well as contractors and the health care industry.

Rich Gottwald, CEO of the Compressed Gas Association, said, “Right now you read or hear about CO2 almost always in a negative context, but it’s necessary for a lot of applications.”

Dry ice is the frozen form of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and wineries use it during harvest. Spread over grapes, the heavier gas displaces oxygen to keep the produce from spoiling.

“For this year’s harvest we had 30 percent less (CO2) to sell,” explained Glen Irving, sales manager with Complete Welders Supply in Napa.

The company makes dry ice at its Napa, Rohnert Park and Stockton locations and supplies North Bay wineries, microbreweries, metal fabrication businesses, as well as laboratories, universities and an Air Force base.

Without carbon dioxide, beer would be flat. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“The past three months have been very tight, but we are just about out of the worst of it. There are all kinds of issues that affect CO2 supply. Regionally one of those issues is the use of CO2 during the harvest season for grapes by wineries,” Mike Guilford, head brewer and production manager at HenHouse Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, said.

In the big scheme of things, the almost 9,000 brewers in the United States use a fraction of the CO2 consumed in the business world. Nonetheless, without that gas it would mean having to drink flat beer, thus making it a vital ingredient in every can, bottle and keg.

“The beverage industry is a fairly low user of CO2 and breweries are fairly small. Small brewers are at the far end of the supply chain,” said Chuck Skypeck, technical brewing projects manager at the Brewers Association. “It is expensive to move. It needs to stay cold. The best way to travel is by rail.”

The trade association representative noted most breweries are not adjacent to train tracks, thus necessitating the delivery by tanker truck, which adds to the cost.

Brendan Moylan is dealing with a spike in CO2 prices for his breweries—Marin Brewing Co. in Larkspur and Moylan’s Brewing Co. in Novato. He’s been operating them for 33 and 26 years, respectively.

“As something as simple as a cylinder of gas was $2 or $3 a month for rental. Now they are charging $20/month rental. It’s not nickels and dimes, it is dollars and dollars,” Moylan said. “We were profitable at the breweries for a number of years. They have not been for the last couple of years for a number of reasons and CO2 is one of them.”

The small, portable CO2 cylinders are exchanged between client and gas distributor. They often are used when breweries go to festivals and other off-site venues. Moylan said his refillable containers at the breweries can hold hundreds of pounds of the gas, with a cost of $1,000 to fill one.

At HenHouse, which has its production facility in Santa Rosa and a tasting room there and in Petaluma, the cost of CO2 has increased 60% this year.

Not only do breweries consume CO2, they also off-put it in the production phase.

Guilford, who manages production at the Sonoma County brewery, is taking a proactive approach to the carbon dioxide issue because he doesn’t anticipate the supply chain returning to pre-pandemic levels, nor the price coming down.

“We recently purchased a CO2 recapture system. It will be installed by the end of the year and will allow us to capture some of the CO2 that is coming off our fermentations,” Guilford explained. “This used to be a technology that only very large breweries used to be able to possess. But Earthly Labs out of Austin, Texas, has produced a unit that is perfect for our size brewery. Basically, during fermentation, yeast is eating sugar and creates about equal amounts of alcohol and CO2. Right now, most of that CO2 is just released to the atmosphere. What we will be able to do is capture that CO2, turn it back into a liquid, and store it until we need to use it.”

This means HenHouse won’t have to buy as much CO2, it will be using a cleaner product because it won’t be sourced from a refinery, and the company will reduce its carbon footprint.

Guilford didn’t put a price tag on the recapture system, but said it should pay for itself in about three years.

“I think the brewing community as a whole needs to take responsibility for our environmental impact and (the CO2 system is) one way to do that,” Guilford.

Complete Welders Supply, with its headquarters in Rohnert Park, is one of the largest CO2 distributors in Northern California.

In addition to supplying CO2 for adult beverages, CWS provides the cannabis industry the same gas. Many indoor grows use the gas to increase plant yields by enhancing the photosynthesis process. Plants become more robust as they absorb the CO2 in combination with light. CO2 can also be used in the extraction of cannabis oil.

Carbon dioxide is what gives popping candy that zing, carbonated beverages their fizz, and fire extinguishers compression to shoot foam. The gas is also used when casting molds to make them harder. Larger abattoirs often use CO2 instead of electrical guns to stun animals before they are slaughtered. Nail guns and other construction tools operate because of the gas as well. It can also be used in water purification plants.

A new customer for Complete Welders Supply during the height of the pandemic was LGC, Biosearch Technologies, which has facilities in Novato and Petaluma.

“They manufacture components for COVID test kits. One of the things they need is dry ice to produce this,” Irving, who works in the Napa branch of CWS, said.

Skypeck, with the Brewers Association, explained that more than 40% of CO2 in the United States comes from the production of ethanol, with the other 60% mostly from the production of petroleum products and ammonia based fertilizers.

Gottwald with the Compressed Gas Association, said, “A lot of CO2 in this country for food and beverage grade comes from ethanol in particular. Ethanol is used as a blending agent in gasoline. We get CO2 in production off ethanol. We liquefy and clean it up and sell it.”

The trade group represents about 140 companies.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, people stopped driving. The domino effect was refineries cutback production and many ethanol plants shutdown. Some have not reopened, which has kept the CO2 supply in a state of flux.

In late 2020, the Marathon Petroleum Manufacturing plant in Martinez closed after sputtering at the onset of the pandemic. Marathon is the largest refinery in the United States, with 13 other locations.

It was the main supplier of CO2 for Matheson, which distributes various gases throughout the country. Matheson also has retail operations, including in Santa Rosa, and its bulk department is in Vacaville.

“When Marathon stopped producing fuel that stopped our raw supply (of CO2),” said a salesperson not authorized to officially speak for the company.

That refinery is being reconfigured into a renewable diesel plant. When operational again it could loosen the supply chain chokehold.

“As a renewable fuels facility, we anticipate capturing in the range of approximately 65,000 to 75,000 metric tons (of CO2) per year once the facility is operating at full capacity,” Jamal Kheiry, Marathon spokesman, said.

“When our Martinez facility was operating as a petroleum refinery, we captured and sold about 41,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. Last year, in the first few months of the year before we idled the facility, we captured approximately 22,000 metric tons.”

The Martinez facility expects to be back online next year, with full production slated for 2023.

Even though Compressed Gas Association’s Gottwald said, “Why ethanol and fertilizer are good is because it gives very pure CO2” he knows entities are working on other carbonization processes like nitro. But he said that doesn’t have the shelf life like CO2 does.

Skypeck with the Brewers Association knows new processes will have to be developed to keep beer carbonated because CO2 supplies are going to change what with the push for electric vehicles. Electrification will mean the ethanol and oil refinery industries are likely to produce less CO2 even when the pandemic supply chain kinks get worked out.

“There are new technologies being developed that are to capture CO2 directly from the air, but at this time it really only works on a really large scale,” Skypeck said. “I imagine in 10 to 15 years it will look really different. But what it will look like I don’t know.”

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

Mexico team part of the NBA for first time in history

Mexico team part of the NBA for first time in history

A Mexico City professional basketball team is affiliated with the National Basketball Association for the first time.

The Capitanes de Ciudad de México is part of the G League, which is the NBA’s minor league circuit. Still, it’s professional hoops.

This is the first time any major league sport has been able to claim all three North American countries as participants. And it’s the first time the NBA has had a team from any place other than the United States or Canada.

The Capitanes were supposed to make their debut last season, but like so much of 2020, that didn’t happen. Instead, the first games were this fall.

The team first formed in 2016, where it competed in Mexico’s Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional.

A huge thing that is a little different for the Mexico City team is that all of its games were on the road. The intent, though, going forward is for their games to be on their home court. The pandemic will determine what the future holds. The Capitanes wrapped up the regular season Dec. 11 with an 11-11 record. The Capitanes are scheduled to play two non-regular season games in January in Las Vegas.

Practice and operations, for this season, were out of Fort Worth, Texas.

Of the six players called up to the NBA from the G League this season were two from the Capitanes.

Child care chaos talking toll on working moms

Child care chaos talking toll on working moms

It’s being called the “she-session,” the “mom penalty” and the “mom-demic.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of women in the workplace has dropped by 1.8 million since the start of the pandemic, with the number of women working hitting its lowest level since 1988.

The reasons include a lack of child care, including changes in policies at those facilities, and increased fees.

Back in 2020, when school was supposed to start in September, 863,000 women left the workforce. Men did, too, but only 168,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The choice to walk away because of child care needs and the disproportionate loss of jobs was more predominately female than male,” Robert Eyler, an economist at Sonoma State University, said of decisions being made in the wake of the pandemic.

Melissa Parker, 27, of San Rafael didn’t have the choice to stay unemployed. The single mother was determined to work in order to care for her 3-year-old daughter, Katalina Jaraillo.

Pre-COVID Parker was a self-described entry level worker at an accounting firm. Even though she had been there two years, the company laid off everyone except the higher ups.

She said she was suddenly out of work and without day care because it temporarily closed at the onset of the pandemic. When the center first reopened only children of essential workers were accepted; Parker didn’t qualify.

She adapted, but said it was awkward at times having to interview for jobs virtually when her toddler could be seen standing behind her.

Parker now works for a plumbing company. However, in October she used up all of her sick time to stay home when Katalina was ill. Even though she is at the same day care facility in her hometown, it changed the rules by not accepting any sick kids, even if it’s just a cold.

Even with vaccines for more children expected to soon, it’s anyone’s guess if the “no sick child” rule will be permanent or if infants and toddlers will be allowed to be inoculated against this virus. More rigid rules have consequences. It means parents unable to go to work. It means employers coping with fewer workers on any given day.

Parker’s job requires her to be at the office and she can’t leave a toddler home alone.

Working part time isn’t an option for most people. Besides the loss of income, it can mean losing an employer’s health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid time off, as well at the potential of not advancing in their career.

“Women with children under age 6, who made up 10% of the pre-pandemic workforce, account for almost a quarter of the unanticipated employment loss related to COVID-19,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Policy Hub reported in September. “This research, along with supporting evidence, suggests that day care limitations, rather than school closings, appear to be a constraining factor on the availability of workers to fill open positions in the current economy.”

Marin County, where Parker lives, has some of the highest costs of day care in the Bay Area, according to Aideen Gaidmore, executive director of Marin Child Care Council based in San Rafael. The average price for full-time infant care in the county is $2,000 a month, with $3,600 the highest. It costs about $2,600 for preschoolers, and $700 a month for after school care.

Pre-pandemic the organization had 5,588 child care slots. In March this year that number was 3,327.

Parents may pay a hefty price for child care, but statistics show the workers, mostly women, don’t make much money.

“Our community really needs more (child care) teachers. Unfortunately, more people are leaving the field than coming in. A lot of it is wages. They don’t make enough money for a community where it’s expensive to live like Napa,” said Erika Lubensky, executive director of Community Resources for Children in Napa.

The most recent data the organization has reveals that as of January this year 11 small child care sites in Napa County which cared for 120 children had permanently closed since the government mandated shutdowns started in March 2020.

“As of January 2021, while the state of California was experiencing a closure rate of 30% for child care centers, Napa County’s closure rate was closer to 25%, thanks to government support and private philanthropy,” Lubensky said.

Melanie Dodson, executive director of Community Child Care Council, said Sonoma County lost 62% of its child care slots since the pandemic started. She knows some will come back, but no one knows if they all will.

“With child care we’ve seen increases in costs because of cleaning and staffing is hard to find. Even the providers who are open have not been able to go back up to their full capacity so they are having to charge parents more because of the few spots they have,” Dodson said.

While child care in the United States has been a fractured system for decades, the pandemic exposed the cracks in the foundation.

The Council for a Strong America released a report in January 2019 — so pre-pandemic — titled “Want to Grow the Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis.”

That study states, “Examining the economic impacts of the nation’s child care crisis on working parents, employers, and taxpayers describe the consequences. The verdict: an annual economic cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue.”

With care for youngsters being such a huge problem, the Biden administration is considering human infrastructure such as child care in its overall infrastructure bill. In this last legislative session California lawmakers earmarked more money for early childhood schooling—classes before traditional kindergarten.

According to the U.S. Treasury, “The United States invests fewer public dollars in early childhood education and care relative to gross domestic product than almost all developed countries; ranking 35th out of 37 countries tracked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.”

Lubensky with the Napa County child care nonprofit likes the prospect of additional pre-kindergarten programs. But when they are only for a few hours a day, that doesn’t solve the child care needs of workers. Most can’t leave work to take their child somewhere else.

“What our families need is full-day care and appropriate care for the age,” Lubensky said. “(Child care) was a system that was broken before the pandemic.”

Higher wages, mental health counseling, and flexibility for parents are all things that Professor Sarah Lee believes needs to be incorporated into the workplace.

“In some ways the pandemic has really disrupted the status quo, which is a great opportunity to look at what we define as the standards for work and reset some of our norms,” said Lee, of the Barowsky School of Business at Dominican University of California in San Rafael. “I think there are a host of different policies and programs that could be put in place to help employees. These issues are not new, it’s just that the pandemic is amplifying some of these issues that have been underlying for a very long time.”

People are using the upheaval of the pandemic to hit the “re-do” button on their work lives. Some are leaving their jobs permanently, many are changing careers, while some are furthering their education.

This time period is being called “the great resignation” because of the number of people quitting their jobs. In early October, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 4.3 million people, or 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs in August. This was a record.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported 309,000 women age 20 or older voluntarily left the workplace in September. This means they quit their job or are no longer looking for one.

Hello Alice, a firm that helps entrepreneurs launch a company or build on what they have, has experienced a substantial uptick in business since the pandemic started.

“We are seeing the dynamics of the women joining the platform change. What we have seen this year is they haven’t started a business yet, but have a really good idea or are in the launch stage. That dynamic is more present with females than males,” Megan MacDonald, vice president of marketing, said

“As it relates to industry level data, we see more women in beauty and self-care on a percentage basis in the launch phase than last year, and similar with arts-entertainment-recreation,” MacDonald said. “Our owner growth from 2019 to 2020 was up 1,100%.”

As of the second quarter this year, more than half of the women using Hello Alice were at least 40 years old, with three-quarters of the women with a small business being mothers.

“We heard loud and clear early on that people used the destruction of COVID to do lot of self-reflection to decide if what they were doing for work was what they wanted to do for work in the future,” MacDonald said.

Women more than men have a history of having jobs that don’t pay well. Brookings Institution found that in 2018 46% of all working women and 37% of men work in low-wage professions, with the median hourly wage being $10.93.

Employment recruitment platform ZipRecruiter reports people want out of retail and hospitality and into work that can be remote.

Housekeeping at lodging properties are jobs often filled by women. While travel came to a screeching halt for much of the world and hotels laid off staff, the return of tourists and business travelers doesn’t mean the jobs have returned as well. Chains like Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt are offering daily room cleaning for additional fee. Guests are saying no, and that means fewer housekeepers are needed.

Then there are those with the means to retire sooner than expected.

Goldman Sachs estimates nearly1.5 million people retired since the pandemic hit. In large part they were able to because of the skyrocketing stock market. In August, the S&P 500 doubled in value from its pandemic low of 2,237 in March 2020.

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

Caldor Fire’s scar a reminder of nature’s fragility

Caldor Fire’s scar a reminder of nature’s fragility

Tell me granite can’t burn and I’ll show you the remnants of the Caldor Fire.

So many people, people much more knowledgeable about fire than me, had said the granite in the Sierra Nevada mountains would act as a natural fire break.

They were wrong. So, very wrong.

The Caldor Fire scar goes on for miles. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was the second fire in history to cross the Sierra Nevada range. It did so Aug. 30. The first time this occurred was just days earlier, on Aug. 18, when the Dixie Fire that wiped out half of Lassen Volcanic National Park crested the Sierra.

It is startling to see areas along Highway 50 where the land and rocks are black. While granite is one of the hardest rocks on the planet and can’t actually burn, it is not immune to being scarred by the wrath of a wildfire.

The trees behind Holiday Market in Meyers are now blackened. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In Meyers the fire’s path is easy to see. The same is not true from the heart of South Lake Tahoe. Behind the Holiday Market (the former Lira’s) the hillside is more black than green.

So many hiking/biking trails will be forever changed. Yet, at the same time, Tahoe Rim Trail Association and TAMBA officials have been assessing their assets, and are eager to make them accessible again. As with any destruction that includes the loss of vegetation and infrastructure, rebuilding, regeneration and renewal are immediate as well as time consuming. Dealing with the aftermath of the Caldor Fire will be no different.

A fire hose near the Mount Ralston trailhead. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In the end, the Caldor Fire consumed 221,835 acres. Only a fraction of that was in the Lake Tahoe Basin—9,885 acres. Of those, the soil burn severity in the basin was categorized as:

  • 271 acres severe
  • 4,193 acres moderate
  • 3,903 acres low
  • 1,512 acres unburned/very low.

Black granite stands out while heading down Echo Summit. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A few chimneys are visible when driving, but nothing to the extent that was first described by some news outlets. That doesn’t make the loss of someone’s home any less sad or the experience any less harrowing just because I could not see the damage.

Most of the houses reduced to ash were farther off the main highway. The fire destroyed 1,003 structures, and damaged another 81.

An army of firefighters, winds blowing in the correct direction and a bit of luck prevented the Tahoe basin from losing any structures.

The sun is a reminder life goes on after a fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Five people were injured in the fire that started Aug. 14. No cause has been released. It was fully contained Oct. 21. The Caldor Fire got its name from the old logging town of the same name and a road with that name.

Lookie loos are not allowed at Sierra-at-Tahoe. Only those with a delivery or an appointment are allowed to drive up the road to the ski resort. Too much damage to the ski area’s infrastructure and precarious trees are preventing it from opening in 2021, but officials aren’t ready to write-off off this entire season.

In so many locations stacks of trees are piled not far off the highway, looking as though the forest had been clear cut. Perhaps they can be salvaged and turned into something other than mulch.

Thousands more trees will need to be felled. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At the Mount Ralston trailhead on Highway 50 the devastation is immediate for hikers. About 100 feet from the parking area numerous granite boulders are now black instead of gray.

Traffic is slow going through American River Canyon, at least it was on the Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. It’s one-way in multiple locations. In some ways it felt like a funeral procession. I was mourning the loss of the forest, the destroyed habitat, the demolished homes, the lives forever changed. Vehicles were not passing each other even when they could. Most of us drove below the posted speed limit. This pace allowed for reflection, sorrow and tears.

It’s time to put the kibosh on material gifts at the holidays

It’s time to put the kibosh on material gifts at the holidays

Gift giving at the holidays is a wasteful, crazy sham.

What is the point of gifts at Christmas and Hanukkah?

Some consider the Christmas ritual tied to the three wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus. What that has to do with today’s hoopla is beyond me. Let’s be honest, giving me a gift or me giving you one at Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. This holiday gift giving is a bizarre custom.

How much stuff do people really need? (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Another reason I’ve been told there is all this holiday gift giving is to show the recipient you like them, care for them, love them, they mean something to you, blah, blah, blah. If the only way you know someone cares about you is through some material item wrapped in colorful paper, that isn’t much of a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to give and receive gifts. I just prefer to give a gift on someone’s birthday—to make it all about them. Though what I hear about children’s birthday parties these days makes even those occasions seem steeped in materialism and the parents trying to outdo each other. Sad.

I love gift giving at some random time because I saw something that made me think of that person.

The expectations of what one hopes will be under the tree, in a stocking or at the daily candle lighting is off the charts. The problem is when we expect a gift. And to think we indoctrinate children into these rituals in their infancy, then perpetuate the nonsense each year until perhaps one day some adult realizes the fallacy in this gift giving.

According to the National Retail Federation, the amount of money people spend on Christmas gifts has been increasing, with 2020 being an exception. The annual average expenditures were:

  • 2016 … $589
  • 2017 … $608
  • 2018 … $638
  • 2019 … $659
  • 2020 … $650.

That isn’t where the spending stops. It goes on with decorations, specialty foods and cards.

Financial services company Tally Technology reports, “In 2020, a MagnifyMoney survey found the average shopper took on $1,381 in holiday-related credit card debt. Just five years earlier, they took on just $986 in holiday debt. That’s a 40 percent increase, despite spending only $45.22 more on average in 2020—$952.57 in 2015 versus $997.79 in 2020.”

When people go into debt to buy gifts for any occasion, well, something is terribly wrong with our priorities.

The number of gifts given or received should not be an indication of how much someone cares about you or you about them. Stop the gift giving—even for children.

I realize numerous businesses of all sizes make a substantial percentage of their annual revenues in the fourth quarter. This means if the buying frenzy were to abruptly stop, it would have serious economic consequences. But what if we dispersed that spending throughout the year?

What if we spent some of that money on doing things with people instead of buying things for people? I know I have more life lifelong memories of experiences than I do of material objects.

A true gift this holiday season would be to say no to material gift giving. Give your family and friends, even your community, your time. It’s much more valuable and meaningful than anything you could ever wrap.

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