Being back in the ballpark an invigorating experience

Being back in the ballpark an invigorating experience

Fans are back in the stands at Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It felt good to actually be in the stands at a Giants game instead of a cardboard cutout like so many people were last year because of the pandemic.

Baseball in person—as is true of most sports—is so much better than watching it on TV or listening to it on the radio. The energy of the spectators (albeit there wasn’t much last Saturday when they got trounced by the Pirates), the sounds of the ballpark, the smells—you just don’t get that without being in the stadium. Fortunately, the vibe was even better the following day when Giants refused to be swept by Pittsburgh.

I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive about even going to San Francisco because of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Headline after headline makes we wonder when the pandemic will really be in the rearview mirror. I’m vaccinated, but I know I am not 100% immune from getting this virus.

Lunch at the ballpark–beer and garlic fries–$25. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Reassurance from my friend Karen, who is in charge of our season ticket group and who had been to the ballpark earlier in the month and who is equally concerned about the virus as I am, convinced me I would feel safe. She was right.

Neither of us cared we were in the minority with our masks on. We wore them outside the ballpark, taking the escalator up, walking to our seats, and then when we left. They were on when getting food and going to the restroom.

Masks were off in our seats. This is because of where they are located—in a handicapped section without people nearby. Had I been in a regular seating area, I’m pretty sure my mask would have been on throughout the game. I’m sure this would have changed the experience in some manner, but not negatively enough to have wanted to be anywhere else.

The stadium isn’t full, but at least there are fans in the stands this year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Mask wearing is easier to swallow than the prices at the park—$10 for garlic fries, $15 for a beer, $40 to park. Then there were the tickets.

Still, it’s the game that is so fascinating. Seeing the entire ballfield instead of just what the cameraman focuses on allows fans to witness everything. A home run in person is so much more exciting live; no matter how good the call is by an announcer. When the ball goes out of the park—wow—the collective excitement is electrifying. The spectators can be entertaining as well—with what they are wearing, yelling, and consuming.

Maybe the two games last weekend were more special because it had been a year of not being able to attend a game. Maybe it was seeing a friend in person (and getting a hug) who I hadn’t seen in two or three years. Maybe it was feeling like a bit of my pre-pandemic life was returning.

I look forward to going back in September … and hopefully again in the post-season.

Live music provides fuel for the soul

Live music provides fuel for the soul

Live music is the most primal form of energy release you can share with other people besides having sex or taking drugs.” – Kurt Cobain

This energy that music provides to performers and listeners is so powerful that even a pandemic could not stop it. Even though big concerts (for the most part) ceased to exist for much of 2020, that didn’t mean live music was not being played.

Lester Wong plays music for neighbors in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Plenty of musicians kept on playing, though the audience and venues changed. My brother-in-law, Lester, is one of the creative ones. He started playing his guitar (with amplifier) and sang songs from his front porch in Chico. Neighbors would bring chairs, sitting appropriately spaced on the law, sidewalk and across the street.

He resumed the sessions this summer. It was wonderful hearing him last week. My first time to hear live music probably since being at La Esquina in Todos Santos, Mexico, in spring 2020. There local musicians would play on most Thursday nights. It was casual, it was free, and always fun to share with friends.

That’s the thing about music, it brings people together. The experience of live music has created incredible memories for me.

The other day a massage client asked me what kind of music I like to listen to. I’m all over the board and didn’t have much of an answer. I’m actually not a big music aficionado. I just like to listen to music. I can’t tell you the history of bands or even necessarily name who is on the radio.

I just like music. In fact, musicals are my favorite genre of movies.

I didn’t know I was missing live music until I heard it again. It wasn’t just the music, but also sharing it with the dozen people who turned out to listen to this solo guitarist.

I’m not sure I’m ready for a large venue or even an indoor one, but hearing my brother-in-law play made me realize live music perhaps means more to me than I had realized.

U.S. Forest Service blows it with fire burning near Tahoe

U.S. Forest Service blows it with fire burning near Tahoe

The Tamarack Fire burning near Markleeville started July 4 from a lightning strike. (Image: U.S. Forest Service)

The U.S. Forest Service’s approach to fire management is a legacy of inconsistency that has not been rooted in science, nor has it always been good for the environment, wildlife or humans.

Today, one has to question the wisdom of letting lightning started fires continue to burn in California when the state is so incredibly parched.

The Tamarack Fire burning south of South Lake Tahoe in Alpine County started July 4 from lightning. This is what the U.S. Forest Service, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which manages that area, put up on its Facebook page on July 10 at 4:20pm: “The #TamarackFire burning in the Mokelumne wilderness was ignited July 4 from lightning. The tactical management decision is not to insert fire crews due to safety concerns, however, this is not an unresponsive approach. Smoke might be visible to Pacific Crest Trail hikers but the .25 acre fire is surrounded by granite rocks, a small lake and sparse fuels. Fire poses no threat to the public, infrastructure or resource values.”

As of July 18, more than 18,000 acres had burned, with zero containment.

Officially, the Pacific Crest Trail is closed to hikers, at least two structures are gone, and the annual Death Ride bike event was canceled at the last minute; thus making it two years in a row for cyclists to be sidelined. As of June 20, Grover Hot Springs and the town of Markleeville were still standing.

Why would anyone think it a good idea to let any fire burn today in California, or most anywhere in the West for that matter? This is unconscionable. This is dangerous. This is irresponsible. Whoever made this decision needs to be held accountable.

The map of the Tamarack Fire as of July 18. (Image: National Interagency Fire Center)

The Lake Tahoe region was experiencing record heat at this time. Several fires were already raging in the state. Resources were being tapped. WHY?, I scream, would anyone decide to let a fire burn this summer?

I completely understand the benefits of fire, so don’t even go there.

The state is in a severe drought. Who knows when significant rain will fall again.

The fuels for wildland fires are tinder dry; to the point they are practically explosive. Weather experts have forecast dangerous fire weather for California and Oregon through at least July 19.

2021 could be a record year for fires in many categories. According to the National Interagency Fire Center as of July 18:

  • There have been 34,941 fire incidents this year.
  • More than 2.5 million acres have burned.
  • There are 80 large fires burning today.

The same agency reports that in 2020 there were 58,950 fires in the U.S. that burned 10,122,336 acres. Fire season usually peaks in the fall when everything is at its driest. That’s when the Camp Fire wiped out Paradise in 2018. That’s when the Wine Country seems to always burn, at least regularly since 2017.

The Forest Service, which has been around since 1905, has changed its thinking about fire through the years, which can be seen as a good thing—learning from the past, having more information to make decisions. Early on the agency wanted to suppress all fires.

According to Forest History Society, “To prevent fires, the Forest Service came out in opposition to the practice of light burning, even though many ranchers, farmers, and timbermen favored because it improved land conditions. It must be remembered that at this time foresters had limited understanding of the ecological role of fire. Forest Service leaders simply argued that any and all fire in the woods was bad because it destroyed standing timber. In 1935, the Forest Service established the so-called 10am policy, which decreed that every fire should be suppressed by 10am the day following its initial report.

“(D)uring the 1960s, scientific research increasingly demonstrated the positive role fire played in forest ecology. This led in the early 1970s to a radical change in Forest Service policy—to let fires burn when and where appropriate. It began with allowing natural-caused fires to burn in designated wilderness areas.”

The Tamarack Fire is not the first time the feds have made a mistake in how to deal with fire. Think about the 1988 fires in Yellowstone. Think about all the controlled burns that became uncontrolled infernos; there’s been several in the Lake Tahoe area. In 2019 this happened near Caples Lake.

Fire is a living, breathing phenomenon that depending on the conditions cannot be immediately controlled. The Tamarack Fire, though, could have been controlled. More important, it should have been controlled and extinguished before it became the inferno it is today. Shame on you Forest Service.

Diablo winds a threat to much of Northern California

Diablo winds a threat to much of Northern California

Considering I essentially grew up at the foot of Mount Diablo, one would think I would have heard of the Diablo winds. Nope. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that this phrase has come into my knowledge base.

“Mount Diablo is an actual mountain peak with an elevation of 3,848 feet. This mountain is notorious for strong winds. Typically, when the winds are flowing from east to west out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, they sink as they move into the lower elevation areas of the Sacramento Valley then move up and over the Diablo range,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said. “This wind flow is created the same way Santa Ana winds form. Surface pressure in the Great Basin builds much higher than the surface pressure in the San Francisco Bay Area. This pressure difference causes the strong easterly downsloping winds into the Sacramento Valley and up and over the Diablo range.”

Diablo winds contributed to the 2018 firestorm that leveled Paradise. (Image: Jann Reed)

The term Diablo winds came about after the horrific October 1991 firestorm in the Oakland Hills. Twenty-five people died, 150 were injured, 2,843 single-family homes were leveled as were 437 multi-family units, along with 1,520 acres being charred.

It is in the fall, as well as the spring, that these winds are most prominent. They affect most of the San Francisco Bay Area and reach into other parts of Northern California, including Chico. They are similar to the more widely known Santa Ana winds in Southern California.

These are no ordinary winds. They blow strong, with the ability to have hurricane strength. They also increase the air temperature. Often they are accompanied by low humidity. At their worst they fuel fires and destruction.

The National Weather Service linked these fires to Diablo winds:

  • Camp (2018)
  • Tubbs (2017)
  • Nunns (2017)
  • Atlas (2017)
  • Jones (1999)
  • Tunnel (1991).

It seems appropriate they are called Diablo wind, with diablo meaning devil in Spanish.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the need for fireworks on July 4

Maybe it’s time to rethink the need for fireworks on July 4

Why celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks? The founding fathers and their contemporaries would have to answer that question.

This is because on the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence—July 4, 1777—the party in Philadelphia included pyrotechnics. (Philly was where the First Continental Congress met.) Ever since then fireworks have been part of July 4th celebrations in so many U.S. cities—big and small.

The colorful displays we see today are rooted in human exploration from thousands of years ago.

Fireworks on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe have been named some of the best in the U.S. (Image: Howie Nave)

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, “Many historians believe that fireworks originally were developed in the second century B.C. in ancient Liuyang, China. It is believed that the first natural ‘firecrackers’ were bamboo stalks that when thrown in a fire, would explode with a bang because of the overheating of the hollow air pockets in the bamboo.” The Chinese hoped they would keep evil spirits away.

The APA’s website goes on to say, “Sometime during the period 600-900 AD, legend has it that a Chinese alchemist mixed potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal to produce a black, flaky powder—the first ‘gunpowder.’ This powder was poured into hallowed out bamboo sticks and later stiff paper tubes forming the first man-made fireworks.”

I used to love fireworks. Not so much anymore. The threat of fire and the noise are the main reasons. For cities it’s a huge expense.

In 2015, it cost more than $100,000 for the fireworks display on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. The thinking is the fireworks bring people to the area so the visitors bureau saw it as money well spent. This year others are taking on the responsibility and funding.

With how dry the West and other parts of the country are, it would seem like fireworks should be banned.

When I was just in Tahoe there was a huge display in Stateline on June 22 that I could see from the place I was staying. The first bangs made me think it was gunshots so I started counting in order to relay the info to authorities if need be. Then the noise changed, and I knew it was fireworks. First thought was this was some yahoo tourist bringing fireworks to the Tahoe basin. (The only legal fireworks in Tahoe are sanctioned events.) This was a full-on display, not something one buys on a stand on their way to Tahoe.

I’m just glad my ancient dog’s hearing isn’t good. She used to freak out by noise like this. This time she slept through it.

I didn’t bother to keep watching the fireworks; instead I was just bothered by it.

Fire scares me. An errant spark in any town could be devastating. Then there is the garbage. To think of all that crap that lands in Tahoe. A lawsuit a few years back sent the fireworks to the Nevada side of the South Shore where environmental rules are less stringent than in California.

Maybe it’s time to find another way to celebrate the Fourth and other events without fireworks—at least during a drought.

An unexpected message from a friend who is gone

An unexpected message from a friend who is gone

The other day when my phone told me my voicemail was getting full I started deleting calls, but not all of them. For a while I’ve kept messages from various people so I can hear their voice again if something were to happen to them.

Morbid? Maybe. But it paid off. This voicemail issue came up the day after I attended the memorial service for my friend Del Laine. I started going through the voicemails and there were several from her. I couldn’t listen to them all; it was just too hard.

Del Laine

But I have them for when I want to hear her voice. I wish I had looked at the phone sooner to realize they were there. Sometimes things happen for a reason, so I won’t beat myself up for not listening to the past sooner. I’m sure I wasn’t ready.

More than 100 people were at her celebration of life on June 19—all by invitation. That’s a lot of people for a woman who was 90 when she died. She touched so many lives.

She was a force—mostly for good. Del loved Tahoe, especially the city of South Lake Tahoe. She was the first woman mayor and later influenced politics from behind the scenes.

I will always be grateful for her support (even when she thought going to Mexico was crazy), her interest in my writing (right down to wondering how to market the next book that isn’t even done—though she is one of the few to have read part of it), to allowing me to go through her extensive library to pick out some books (I wish I could discuss them with her), to our disagreements about people (some of whom were at the memorial), to talking local and national politics.

I miss you, Del.

Here is the obituary I wrote per her request.

Company repurposes other firms’ garbage into practical commodities

Company repurposes other firms’ garbage into practical commodities

Wine, tote and other bags started out as banners for the Marin County Fair. (Image: Steffen Kuehr)

When Steffen Kuehr looks at discarded fire hoses, he envisions belts, dog leashes and drink coasters.

When he looks at vinyl event banners and all those billboards along highways, he sees totes, wine carriers and messenger bags.

Kuehr, through his Santa Rosa company TekTailor, takes other people’s garbage and repurposes it into functional items. It’s called upcycling—the transformation of waste into a product people want.

Among his most ambitious undertakings was to look at what might be done with thousands of pounds of fire hose from the 2019 Kincade Fire that burned in northern Sonoma County and the 2020 Glass Fire that ravaged parts of Napa and Sonoma counties. Once a hose has been damaged it cannot be used for another fire.

“The fire hose was not easy to work with because it’s thick and hard,” Kuehr, 46, said. “We have to create products around the characteristics of the material. With the fire hose we soak it in a tub with natural cleaning liquid, power wash it, and hang it to dry.”

Each TekTailor product has a tag explaining what the original product was. In this case the drink coasters were once hoses used to fight fires in Northern California. (Image: Steffen Kuehr)

The company had 4,700 pounds of hose from the Glass Fire and another 2,500 from the Kincade Fire. The width and pattern in the hose help determine what it will be in its next life. During the holidays the biggest seller for TekTailor was the coasters made from the fire hose. A set of six costs $20. They are still available; with more than 700 having been sold.

Recology Sonoma Marin was the waste company responsible for disposing of those fire hoses.

“Steffen opened my eyes to all the reuses instead of burying (the hoses). It has awesome markings. He has made it into floor mats, into belts, dog leashes and wallets,” General Manager Fred Stemmler said.

The primary reason Recology wanted to partner with TekTailor was to keep the hose out the landfill. A bonus was not having to pay $560 to get rid of the material.

“Our company’s focus is on zero waste even though we are a garbage company,” Stemmler added. “I wish more people were thinking like (Kuehr) and making goods with resources that we think of as trash today.”

Kuehr doesn’t pay for the material he receives from a company. He makes his money by reselling the new products via the retail store in Santa Rosa and on the company’s website, as well as selling product back to the companies which gave him the reusable goods.

He shies away from putting products in other stores because at some point they cannot be reordered. That’s the nature of a constantly changing supply chain. Is the business financially successful?

“With regards to company revenue, I’d rather leave that information out. Not big enough yet to brag about it unfortunately,” Kuehr said. Plus, he is also into philanthropy, with some of the proceeds from fire hose sales being given to a nonprofit that benefits firefighters.

Steffen Kuehr of TekTailor is alwasy looking for new material to upcycle. (Image: Joseph Kenney)

Kuehr admits what he needs to do is better tell his story and that of the products.

“Every project, every material, every banner has a cool story. That is what gets people’s attention,” he said.

To help tell that story most of the end products come with a tag showing what the original discarded item looked like and the company it came from.

For now, most of what TekTailor works on is from the North Bay. Kuehr would be willing to expand his territory if the business with the goods paid for the shipping. He also needs to know he can do something with the product and then sell it. He doesn’t want a lot of material hanging around either to be made into something or ready to be bought.

He is willing to experiment. Kuehr took a roll of artificial turf from Sonoma Raceway and didn’t ask for more. “It was so dirty there was not much we could do with it.”

TekTailor’s 12 employees have access to more than 60 industrial sewing machines in the 20,000-square-foot Sonoma County warehouse.

“We have a lot of different machines here,” Kuehr explained. “We have machines to set snaps and grommets on products. We have a heat stamping machine so we can do leather labels with embossed logos.”

Kuehr took over the company in 2010 from his in-laws.

Billboards, burlap sacks, vinyl banners, old linens and more are all products the seamstresses and tailors at TekTailor work with.

“Billboards tell part of the marketing story of a company,” Kuehr said. His background is in marketing so his creativity comes from that standpoint, not as someone who sews.

Clover has bought some of the mini-shopping bags made with its billboards as gifts for employees. The general public has access to the product via TekTailor’s website.

Burlap bags once full of coffee beans are now pillows. (Image: Steffen Kuehr)

“His stuff is a much higher quality and has unique design features to it. It is generally in line with what we paid before, but much higher quality and cooler options,” Kristel Corson, chief revenue officer with Clover Sonoma, said. “The larger billboard tote bags are incredible in durability. They are far stronger than the typical Trader Joe’s shopping bag.”

Kuehr approached the Petaluma-based dairy company a couple years ago about repurposing the vinyl material on its billboards; something Clover had not realized was a possibility. The company has eight billboards throughout the Bay Area that are changed out quarterly.

When it is held, those who attend the Marin County Fair are able to buy products made from the banners used at previous fairs.

“The messenger bags are always popular, as are the tote bags, and the wine carriers,” Libby Garrison with the fair said. “During the holiday boutique the single bottle and double bottle wine carriers were really popular. I like the clutch purse. It’s a makeup case with a zipper pocket.”

In three years the fair has kept 258 yards of vinyl fabric from going to a landfill. This is from the pole and street banners used in 2017, 2018 and 2019 fairs.

“The advantage to working with Steffen and TekTailor is he picks up banners, cleans them, and remakes them and sells them through his website. The organization gets a percentage of sales so it’s a win-win all around,” Garrison said.

Weaver’s Coffee & Tea in San Rafael has given TekTailor burlap sacks from around the world that originally had more than 100 pounds of coffee beans in them. Some bags are more colorful than others, and the burlap is not all the same.

Alvarado Street Bakery in Petaluma has provided bags from wheat berries. Bags are 4 square feet in size, as well as 4 feet high when full of product.

At the fine linen rental company La Tavola in Napa decommissioned table clothes and other linens have been upcycled by TekTailor. Once the material is stained it is taken out of circulation and then repurposed by Kuehr’s people. Mostly the linens become tote bags. Some of the tablecloths are sold as fabric in TekTailor’s store. Custom napkins were created for one customer.

“We have made one-off products. A little architecture firm had three little pull out banners that we turned into six or seven tote bags that they bought for their team,” Kuehr said.

Sonoma Raceway has been a partner with TekTailor since May 2016 when it comes to signs at the track. Vinyl banners, which are not biodegradable, are what get repurposed. The best seller from the raceway has been the 50th anniversary banner from 2019.

Steve Page, who retired last year as the raceway’s general manager and president, initiated the relationship with TekTailor.

“It dawned on me we were sending a lot of material to the landfill when we were changing out the corporate banners,” Page said. “We have huge walls that face the track; I would say dozens. Some are more than 100 feet long. They are designed for the TV viewer from a distance.

“It’s an ingenious initiative on Steffen’s part. It’s wonderful for us to know we are not dumping all of this into the landfill and there are cool products on the market.”

Page has as an iPad case and a couple wine carriers from those banners. The track has given out wine carriers filled with wine to drivers, team owners and others.

“Our goal is to work with more big businesses to turn them into more meaningful corporate gifts, to move away from the old random swag. We can turn their banners into unique products that let their story live on,” Kuehr said.

This article first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

A lifetime of memories slowly finding their way to a landfill

A lifetime of memories slowly finding their way to a landfill

This once-beloved childhood outfit is so inappropriate today. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

How many containers does one need that say memorabilia or keepsakes?

I’m down to two and still whittling away at what goes and what stays. Yes, it would have been more prudent to have done this before I moved it, but that didn’t happen.

I did purge quite a bit when I sold my house in Lake Tahoe three-plus years ago and put everything in storage. Unpacking I realized I regretted the thoroughness of the process. I thought I had kept my Harry Potter books. Nope. They are replaceable. My childhood teddy bear—gone. That made me sad and mad. Bad decision.

A few important headlines in the last 40-plus years that are being kept. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Why would I keep my Brownie uniform and frayed jacket from my swim team—both from elementary school age—and not my panda bears? I had two. I have a thing for pandas, which dates back to living near Washington, D.C., when they were first brought to the United States from China.

Speaking of that era, what I still have is the invitation to the 1973 inauguration of President Richard Nixon. My parents had kept their residency in South Dakota and were able to secure tickets for the six of us. I was in second grade, but still remember parts of it.

President Richard Nixon’s 1973 inaugural invite. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I also have the newspaper from when he resigned. I have several newspapers and other publications with significant headlines. I have other publications with my byline that I can’t find online. Like when the mayor of South Lake Tahoe was arrested.

I sent an unopened Disney publication to my friend Denise. A San Francisco Examiner sports section went to Karen. I thought they’d both appreciate them more than me.

I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day examining why people keep and toss certain items.

Diaries/journals still need to be read to decide what’s worth keeping. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My goal is to not move “crap” again or have to have someone go through it when I’m gone. I know if I put it in a bin and toss it on a shelf it will sit there. That’s why they are in an inconvenient place for me in the garage—so I’ll do something about them. And I am, but it’s a slow process.

The Brownie dress and swim jacket are landfill-bound. So is this outfit that I absolutely adored. I think I practically lived in it. My mom made it for me. It was two pieces. Purple was the dominate color. The print, oh, my, so inappropriate today. It was a panda in a rickshaw being pushed by a caricature of a Chinese man. Yes, I loved, loved, loved that outfit.

I have a stack of diaries/journals on my desk. Some I’ve gone through and tossed. A couple from travels I’ll keep. The rest will make for what I expect to be uninteresting reading one day. I’d rather go through them than leave them behind for others to discover. Of course I don’t know what’s in them anymore. I’m sure they would make for good fire starter.

The jacket is history, but the award is still in a box until its fate is decided. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A few things I don’t know what to do with. Keep or ditch the high school diploma? Keep or ditch some awards that meant something to me in the moment but are nothing I would put on a wall today? And those letters from family, friends and exes … do I read them all to decide what to keep? I haven’t kept every correspondence, but I have a lot.

Then there are all my baby teeth. So gross. I really thought I had ditched them in Tahoe and was disgusted to see I still had them. Trying to wrack my brain why I thought this was a good idea.

Pieces of the Berlin Wall that I actually hammered off—definite keepers.

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