Rethinking the words we use when it comes to gender

Words matter. Innocuous as some may be, they can come with baggage not always obvious. It may simply be because we grew up saying certain words and accepted them or we could be oblivious or something else might be going on.

Words like fireman, policeman, serviceman, workman, etc. all probably came into being because only men once had those jobs. It makes sense that firefighter, police officer, service member, and worker are the more preferred words today.

It’s beyond being politically correct. It’s about being inclusive. It’s about not being discriminatory. It’s about being accurate. It’s about evolving.

The use and connotation of words can change. We don’t call someone a Negro today. We don’t say a bundle of sticks is a faggot, though it is. Plenty of examples exist as to words that are no longer acceptable in every day conversation.

Pronouns and other gender distinguishing words are also important to reconsider.

Voters in the Bay Area city of Oakland this November will decide if the Charter (which is akin to a constitution for a city) should have gender specific words replaced with gender neutral ones. Berkeley already did this in 2019.

In Oakland’s Charter, which was adopted in 1968, female police officers are known as matrons.

Where he/him/his is used to refer to everyone and not just men, those words would be replaced with they.

Now if only we could collectively do away with woMAN, feMALE and MANkind, to name a few words, then we truly would be making progress when it comes to having words be less male-centric.

It’s not that I want to do away with my gender. I just would like it tied less to the other one, to be more autonomous and distinctive in the words that are used for it. It probably won’t happen in my life time, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.

Astonishing amount of trash to clean up in statewide event

A suit case and clothes fill part of Little Chico Creek. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Looking over the bridge trash was everywhere. Three bags were not going to be enough. Even worse, we didn’t know how to safely retrieve it.

The leaders of the 35th annual Bidwell Park and Chico Creeks Cleanup said it would be steep to access Little Chico Creek. I failed to ask how steep; instead I said I can do steep. Four women were sent to the same location. Three of us found each other; not sure where the other one ended up. None of us thought we could safely get down the embankments, let alone climb out with bags full of garbage.

One location off Pomona Avenue was so bad I texted the organizers (as we were told to do) to send a truck. There was that much debris. Multiple wood pallets and what looked like debris left a homeless encampment filled the area.

Our instructions were to not dismantle someone’s home. Not a problem.

A city of Chico sign outlines the rules for this greenway. But there is no access to the area without climbing a fence. The garbage isn’t there anymore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The three of us decided to drive to various locations along the creek, which had no water in it, to see if we could climb down.

As we peered over one bridge to assess our access options, a guy asked if we were cleaning up garbage. We said, yes, but not taking anyone’s home. His was living below us along the creek. He said he could rake things up a bit, but wasn’t sure what to do about the garbage. One woman said put it in a pile and someone would get it.

It was astonishing to see all of the trash in the creek bed and along the edges. It’s not the homeless contributing to the trash problem. Apartment dumpsters were not closed, with crap all around them which was then blowing into the watershed.

Clothes were strewn about a suit case. All sitting on the rock bottom of the creek.  Who stole the suit case and who lost it? The clothes looked perfectly fine, as did the suit case; well, at least from my vantage point. This was another instance of not being able to access the discarded items.

Bringing in the day’s haul on Sept. 17 in Chico.

We texted in another location. Organizers said they noted it. Here a mattress with graffiti on it had been dumped. It didn’t look like it was part of someone’s outdoor home, but instead someone chose this public spot to be their garbage can.

We cleaned up trash in some the public rights-of-way near overpasses of the creek. We filled our three large black garbage bags with lots of bottles, cans, food wrappers, clothing, shoes, cigarette butts, cardboard, and a well-worn blanket.

A metal chair without a seat or back and a tire with the rim intact were part of our haul.

All of Little Chico Creek that we surveyed needs attention. With rains coming early (fingers crossed the wet stuff keeps falling), actual water in the creek mixing with all the debris is going to be an environmental nightmare.

Butte Environmental Council put on the Sept. 17 event which was part of the larger 38th annual California Coastal Cleanup Day.

The California Coastal Commission said, “With 60% of the cleanup sites reporting, the statewide count stands at 27,185 volunteers. Those volunteers picked up 220,861 pounds of trash and an additional 29,702 pounds of recyclable materials, for a total of 250,563 pounds or 125 tons.”

Smell of rain a soothing, natural perfume

A leaf catches raindrops on Sept. 12 in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Waking to another overcast day can be so depressing. Then I heard it, and I smiled. That sound that has been absent from California for the better part of three years. Rain.

It wasn’t smoke filling the sky, it was actual clouds.

Not much rain fell Monday morning, but it was enough to get everything wet and bring down the temperature.

And that aroma. Mother Nature certainly has a way of stimulating so many senses.

The smell of rain even has a name—petrichor. The dictionary defines it this way: “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”

With our doors open, this petrichor even filled part of the house. It’s like nature’s cleaner—erasing the dust and leaving this scent that is hard to describe. This fresh rain smell is unique, special and soothing.

It brings me hope that more wet stuff will fall this autumn and winter, with fingers crossed the drought doesn’t go into year four.

For now, though, I’m going to keep inhaling Mother Nature’s fragrance.

Lack of escalator etiquette can slow down movement

Some people understand to stand on the right of an escalator, others don’t. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One of the benefits of riding an escalator is to get someplace faster than walking stationary stairs.

But what if you want to walk on the escalator? How often has that desire been thwarted by people blocking your forward progress?

OK, so escalator etiquette is not one of those things you have thought about much. Most of us aren’t on an escalator that often. But there are plenty of places where these people movers exist—airports, malls, ballparks, hotels—so they can be part of one’s life on a somewhat regular basis.

I was taught that when riding an escalator you should stand on the right side, while those who want to walk on the moving stairs should use the left side.

When people stand on both sides it can impede forward progress for those who want to go faster for whatever reason—they are running late, they want a little exercise, they don’t want to be confined next to other people, whatever the case may be.

It can be hard to get ahead on an escalator when etiquette is not followed. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My escalator riding is rare. It happened when I flew in June and again this month when I was at a mall. Wow, people don’t know escalator etiquette. I didn’t want to educate anyone, I just politely said “may I pass you” more as a statement than a question. I thought about saying “on your left” like you do on a walking/cycling path as you pass someone, but thought that would sound a little odd.

People looked at me like I was cutting in line. I was taken aback a bit. Fortunately, I wasn’t in a hurry, but I didn’t want to just stand. Not everyone moved. When they did it was with a bit of attitude. Nonetheless, I thanked them and moved on.

But the experiences left me wondering if I should have explained to these obstructionists that there is actually an etiquette to riding an escalator. Maybe it was a teaching moment that I missed.

On the flip side, there are those who believe everyone will get to the top or bottom faster if people stood side by side instead of leaving one side open that isn’t well used. I can see the logic in this when the escalator is full. But if there are enough people who want to walk, then let us walk.

Rant over.

More people die by suicide than homicide each year

It would surprise me to find a person who hasn’t been impacted by someone dying by suicide. It’s that prevalent.

With September being Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month, we should be talking about this issue now. We should be talking about it every day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 47,500 people in the United States die by suicide every year.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • More than 700,000 people die due to suicide every year. (For comparison, homicides total about 400,000 worldwide each year.)
  • For every suicide there are many more people who attempt suicide. A prior suicide attempt is the single most important risk factor for suicide in the general population.
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds.
  • 77 percent of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally.

“While the link between suicide and mental disorders (in particular, depression and alcohol use disorders) is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness,” WHO says on its website. “In addition, experiencing conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behavior.”

The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline reports, “For every one person who dies by suicide annually, 316 people seriously consider suicide, but do not kill themselves.”

From the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness each year
  • 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 youth ages 6-17 in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder each year
  • 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75 percent by age
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.

All of these statistics are sad, sobering and overwhelming.

Someone I know died by suicide last month. Another family shattered, asking questions that may never be answered.

In California, the Legislature last month passed a bill that would create the CARE Court. People with severe mental illnesses who end up in the judicial system would be provided treatment plans.

The New York Times recently published an article about the importance of reaching out to friends.

“To be functioning at our best, we need to be in a connected state,” Marisa Franco, a psychologist and assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland and author of the forthcoming book Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends told the Times. “Just like you need to eat, like you need to drink, you need to be connected to be functioning well.”

Life is short even under the best of circumstances. Hug the ones you love.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800.273.8255 or dial 988. The three digit code has been available to everyone in the U.S. since July 16. It’s also possible to text 988.

Conflicted about used books

Authors want people to buy their books. Even better is if people read those books and then write five-star reviews so more people will be inclined to buy a copy.

But what happens when the reader doesn’t want to keep that book? Many end up at used bookstores, thrift shops, or sold at garage sales for pennies on the dollar. I even thought it a good thing environmentally.

However, no money from that reselling of the book goes into the author’s wallet. It goes into the cash register of the seller.

Before becoming an author I never gave used bookstores much thought. I suppose I was looking for a deal, or something older. Long ago I stopped “needing” to buy new.

I also didn’t think much about borrowing or lending a book. When it came to sharing books I thought it was merely a nice thing to do. Same theory goes for using little free libraries in neighborhoods. I didn’t consider it taking money from the author.

I’m rethinking that philosophy now that I am an author. It’s a lot of work to write a book. I think that person should be paid for their efforts whether I like the book or not.

Authors only make money from that first sale.

They can be paid a few ways. When working with a publisher an advance is often paid. Royalties from actual books sold don’t come in until that advance is paid off, so to speak. It’s also possible to get a flat fee. Self-published authors get money each time a book is sold—this could be online or at a brick and mortar outlet. It all depends how the distribution has been set up.

But that $20 book isn’t $20 in the author’s pocket. It is much, much, much less. Publishers and retailers (including Amazon) take a big chunk. After all, they are in the business of making money, too.

For those who self-published, they also can (and should if it’s going to look professional) have the expense of the book being edited, covers designed, the book being formatted, and it being put on various platforms. So, it takes a lot of book sales to break even, let alone make a profit.

But it’s not so simple for me to say I will never read a used book or to tell someone not to. I’m too much of an advocate of reading to say that. Plus, I know plenty of people cannot afford new books, especially printed ones.

It just seems like the author ought to be able get a percentage of used book being sold. But then again, it’s not like Chrysler would benefit if/when I sell my Jeep to a private owner or trade it in to another dealer. Furniture manufacturers and the like haven’t gotten another dime when I’ve sold something on Craigslist or through Facebook Marketplace. I could sell artwork in my house that the creator would never benefit from. That list of items that can be resold without compensation to the originator is seemingly endless.

I don’t know the answer to the question of how to get the original creator of something compensation from the reselling of their product. That’s probably because there isn’t one. One and done. That’s how it is.

I suppose in the end I’m just happy people are reading, whether it’s a new or used book. It’s a heck of a lot better than burning or banning them.

At 150-Years-Old, Chico Continues To Grow

Each day it seems like another vacant parcel in Chico is being turned into a construction site for homes or commercial development.

In the short time I’ve been here (going on 18 months) the growth has been amazing. Coming from Tahoe where new construction was limited, I’m just not used to this. From what I see being built near my end of town (the southeast) it doesn’t seem like city staff or electeds put a lot of thought into what got approved. The roads were not designed to handle the density of housing and commercial enterprises being built.

We all know water is a precious resource. At least most of the landscaping does not include grass.

Chico is 150-years-old this year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Chico was incorporated 150 years ago on Jan. 8, 1872, after being founded by John Bidwell in 1860. I wonder what all the people who inhabited this 33.5 square mile city in the 1800s would think of it today.

While I’m a newbie to Chico, I have been coming here since 1974 when my oldest sister started college at Chico State University. She returned more than 30 years ago and started a family here, so I’ve been coming nearly every year before I moved here. She’s in a more established area of town so I didn’t see the growth as a visitor.

I know we need more housing. We are an example of a city with a homeless problem gone wrong—though it’s gradually being addressed thanks to lawsuits, judges and people who care.

Chico had a population of 101,475 as of the 2020 Census. It’s been on a steady growth pattern, with the largest influx coming after the 2018 Camp Fire that wiped out the town of Paradise. Those people needed somewhere to land; Chico was it and many have never left.

Chico is the biggest city in the state north of Sacramento. Driving around the sprawl makes it feel big. But the political shenanigans make it feel small—in a bad way. The downtown makes it feel small in a good way.

One of the best things about Chico is the university, which brings an energy to the area—especially since it is right downtown. All of those red brick buildings, many dating to 1887 when the college first opened as the Northern Branch of the State Normal School, gives it a bit of an East Coast feel. Or maybe brick just makes me think of the East.

Hopefully, when the city celebrates its next milestone all of the land will not have been completely paved over. After all, it is known as The City of Trees.

No Regrets 20 Years After A Life-Changing Decision

We all have life-defining moments we can point to. One of mine occurred 20 years ago this month.

I moved to South Lake Tahoe in August 2002. This was my second time to live in this mountain town. The second time to work at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. I thought I would live there forever. I thought I was taking my dream job; one I would retire from.

Life had other plans for me, as is often the case.

I had been working at the San Francisco Chronicle as a copy editor and news editor. It was the easiest job I had and the one that came with the biggest paycheck. I was so unfulfilled. I wanted out of the Bay Area. I was tired of commuting an hour from the North Bay. I was living alone after a 10-year relationship went south. I needed a change in so many aspects of my life.

When I left Tahoe the first time I said I would come back 10 years later as managing editor of the Tribune. It took me 13 years.

Would I do it again knowing the outcome? Absolutely.

Kae Reed hiking in the Sierra mountains in 2015. (Image: Susan Wood)

Would I take that job knowing that I would get fired as managing editor 17 months later because I refused to blur the lines between editorial and advertising? Yes.

One of my favorite memories is telling the publisher my news hole was not for sale and then being told it was not my news hole. It was one of many nails I helped drive into the coffin of my career at the Trib. At least I walked out the doors that fateful January morning with my integrity intact and a solid grip on my journalistic ethics.

I had a staff of 13. The paper was a broadsheet that came out five days a week. We weren’t afraid of writing stories that ruffled the powers that be. We weren’t afraid to publish stories when there were drug busts/ABC infractions at restaurants that were also advertisers. (All acts that shortened my tenure at the Trib.) We were doing good work, trying to make the paper better with each issue. Ninety-nine percent of those who worked for me were incredible people, many of whom I still call friends to this day.

It’s never been a great paper because of upper management and ownership. It’s the residents who are losing the most. I still say South Lake Tahoe and the entire basin (and Truckee) are a journalists’ gold mine. There are so many stories to unearth, some sitting right out in the open. It still frustrates me knowing all of the news I know that is not getting written and I don’t even live in the area. But that’s another story.

Being fired is scary. It tests you in ways you don’t want to be tested. Someone, if not several people, is telling you that you can’t do the job. That does a doozy to your self-confidence. That makes you question how you go forward. They have taken your income away, but the bill collector still comes knocking.

A lot of people showed they cared. Del came over with a copy of Writers Digest, saying I needed to get out there and freelance, and not leave town. My friend Julie offered me a job at The Appointment Biz, the company she still owns, for which I will always be grateful. It’s not on my resume because it’s not relevant to my career as a writer, but that job is so relevant to my life. It is what allowed me to stay in Tahoe until I figured things out. The Tahoe Mountain News became my outlet for local writing. I will forever be thankful to Taylor (who I had worked with at the Tribune in the late 1980s) and Heather for letting me write for them even though I came from the Trib and was living with someone who was still a reporter there. They knew my journalistic integrity and trusted me. It was the start of rebuilding my confidence.

Being fired changes you. At least it changed me. Work took on new meaning. After that I never worked for anyone again outside of being a freelancer or doing contract work. It’s liberating. It’s also daunting not having a regular paycheck every other week. I haven’t had employer health care or a company-sponsored retirement plan since then. I also don’t have to show up to work every day, don’t have a work wardrobe, don’t have to commute, can say no to an assignment, and multiple days of the week I play tennis in the middle of what would be a traditional workday.

If I hadn’t been fired, I presumably would have kept working 50-60 hour weeks and still gotten paid for 40. Such are the hazards of management. I would not have grown as I did. I would not have enjoyed so much in life that I have. So, in many ways, getting fired made my life better. It just took a while to realize it.

Being fired showed me who my friends were and weren’t. It was eye-opening. I was no longer in a position of power, such as it were. For the non-friends, that meant something. I could no longer do something for them. Of course they probably still haven’t figured out I wasn’t doing anything for them, I was covering a story because it was the right thing to do. This was another lesson, realizing how many users there are in the world, or least in a small town.

It was also a lesson in true friendship. That’s what I hold on to. Too many people to count who were there for me. They lifted me up at one of my lowest points. They didn’t ask me what I could have done differently to not be fired. (Not much and still be able to look myself in the mirror each day.) They didn’t tell me how I brought this on myself. (Which I had because of what I believe in.) They didn’t judge me. (Plenty of others did.) They knew I didn’t need judgment because I was being hard enough on myself. (Others didn’t seem to understand that.)

My friends checked in on me. They helped with job leads. They took me out for a drink. They made me want to stay in Tahoe.

Stay I did. My roots grew deeper, my friendships stronger. I took up tennis again—with so many lasting friendships from the court. I started hiking more. I started making peace with the past. I started dreaming again. My writing took off in different directions—including starting an online news site. I also resumed massage, first working for others and then starting my own business. Writing and massage have always brought me great balance, and continue to today.

Eventually, I got tired of the cold and the snow. Winters were no longer fun. In an ideal world I would have spent the winters one place, and summers in Tahoe. I made that work for my last three years. It was perfect. Those years also allowed me an opportunity to connect with Tahoe without working there full time, without being immersed in the politics, in the strife and the crap. It made me appreciate the area in a different way that is hard to do as a full time journalist. It brought me a sense of peace and a renewed love for the area.

There is something special about Lake Tahoe. It will always be home even when I’m not there.

Surrounded By Joy In The Cancer Free Zone


Joy and AJ in the cancer free zone on April, 30, 2012. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A cancer free zone. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something like that existed for people battling this insidious disease?

Joy found one. On occasion I would go there with her. Almost always with AJ, her dog. Sometimes it would be just me and AJ, as I was the official dog walker when Joy was battling cancer. After Joy died in August 2012 I couldn’t go there. It was too sad.

But I went back in July. It was too important not to. Fortunately, our mutual friend Lisa accompanied me on my journey to put some of AJ’s ashes along the north edge of the Upper Truckee River near the mouth of Lake Tahoe.

AJ had become my dog after Joy’s death. It seemed only natural the two should be together in this way. The river is where Joy’s ashes were placed by her sister.

The cancer free zone was where Joy went to escape all things having to do with her cancer treatments. I doubt she ever could. But she tried. When I was with her in the CFZ there was no talk of cancer. Not a problem. We had so many subjects we could cover, mostly political in nature—local and national. I miss those talks. I miss our email exchanges. And I miss our dog.

A search of CFZ (cancer free zone) in my emails turned up 17 between me and Joy, as well as others who were on some of the string of correspondence.

One from April 30, 2012, by Joy says, “… instead of waiting for the call from Barton, I looked at the dog, she looked at me, we both put on our raincoats and said screw it, we’re going for a long walk. We went back out to the lake to the point where Trout Creek empties – my original Cancer Free Zone – and enjoyed the solitude, the drizzle, the bird songs, and the scenery.”

An email from me to Joy on March 18, 2012, said, “And it’s because of you I like going to Trout Creek/LT … since you are the one who first took me there. AJ and I talk about you (in good ways!) when we are there. I feel connected to you there … I think that’s why I like to take AJ there. I don’t ever go without one of you.”

South Lake Tahoe failing residents, visitors who play tennis

South Tahoe Middle School tennis courts are in horrible condition. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It is nearly impossible for the public to play tennis in South Lake Tahoe because the four courts that are available are dangerous.

I did not feel comfortable last month running on the courts at South Tahoe Middle School. While the nets are better than the last time I played there, the surface is horrific. Large cracks are a broken ankle waiting to happen.

These courts in the center of town were once in great condition. In fact, Lake Tahoe Community College used to use them for its tennis classes.

It’s unfortunate the college several years ago removed covered tennis courts from its master plan. Equally sad is how when the city of South Lake Tahoe was putting its recreation plan together a few years back tennis was not part of the equation.

What’s probably even worse is Lake Tahoe Unified School District’s approach to the sport. LTUSD owns the 10 public courts in the city. There are the four dilapidated ones at the middle school and six playable ones at South Tahoe High School.

The problem with those six taxpayer-funded courts is they can only be used by non-taxpayers—students and their opponents. At all other times the courts are locked.

Tennis courts at STMS are in lousy condition. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I grew up playing on public courts in the Bay Area; the same courts where I eventually would play four years of varsity high school tennis. I play on public courts now in Chico, which are in even better condition than the private club in town. South Lake Tahoe is a big enough city that is should have decent courts open to the public.

When those courts at STHS were first resurfaced they were supposed to be open to everyone.

A Sept. 2, 2010, article in Lake Tahoe News quotes then LTUSD Superintendent Jim Tarwater saying, “Those will be open to the public, just like at the middle school. Tennis is big in South Lake Tahoe. I could see tournaments coming up here. My dream would be to cover the six at the high school.”

His other dream that never came to fruition was partnering with the city and LTCC to build two more courts at STMS.

The courts cost about $350,000 to overhaul in fall 2010. From that same LTN story, “While the project wasn’t originally part of the Measure G facilities bond, a line in the contractors’ contract made it logical to repave the courts. The contract said if the workers could not park at STHS, they would be paid an additional 15 minutes at the start and end of their day to compensate for the time to get to the work site. This was going to add about $400,000 to the nearly $25 million project going on at that time. The district decided it would be more prudent in terms of time and money to have the workers use the tennis courts as a staging area, lose access to them for a season and then have them rebuilt.”

South Tahoe High’s courts have never been open to the public and that’s a shame. Tennis is such a wonderful sport for all ages. I can’t even imagine if I had not had the opportunity to play on public courts way back when and even today.

Come on South Lake Tahoe and Lake Tahoe Unified, you both can do better when it comes to providing residents and visitors an opportunity to play tennis.

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