Photo of the month

Thirteen years in the making and oh how sweet it is. Ben displays his "Rising Above the Chaos" award that he received for compiling the best overall record in this year's Gehlke Bros. Football Picks competition. The trophy was presented Saturday, Jan. 22. Photo by Glenn.

January 2011

Glenn performs his Christmas Eve ritual of preparing the dough for the Christmas bread. It is one of his few baking adventures of the year. Photo by Roni.

Fresh out of the oven the bread is a lovely golden brown. Photo by Glenn.

On Christmas morning, Glenn documents this year's creation. On a 1-10 scale: 5 for preparation, 7 for appearance and 6 for taste. A bit heavy on the flour, he said. Photo by Roni.

The wrapped gifts await us on Christmas morn. It was a more manageable pile this year. Photo by Glenn.

It's time to open the gifts. Glenn gets an assist from Katy and Eevee. Photo by Glenn.

Meanwhile, Rio finds his own winter wonderland beneath the Christmas tree with the rest of the gifts. Photo by Roni.

Ben shows off one of his gifts, "Assassin's Creed" for the Xbox. This was not a huge surprise; he put a deposit on it two months ago. Photo by Glenn.

Roni is attacked by a giant heron in the midst of our present opening! OK, so it's a metal fake, but a pretty convincing one. The gift of yard art was in honor of her ascendance to executive director of the Delta Science Center, whose logo features a heron. Photo by Glenn.

Here's the gift Roni most wanted — an Amazon Kindle. It's so small compared to the laptop computer she also uses to read ebooks. Photo by Glenn.

The day after Christmas finds us at the Oakland Coliseum for the Colts-Raiders football game with Ben and his Uncle Sean. Photo by Glenn.

We were excited to get to see future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning up close. He and the Colts had a good day. Photo by Glenn.

The scoreboard tells the tale of another Raiders defeat. At least it was a close game. Photo by Glenn.

Katy thinks she might like to partake in our New Year's Eve celebration. However, the champagne is reserved for adult two-legged creatures. Photo by Glenn.

May all your champagne wishes and caviar dreams come true in 2011! (It was actually sour cream herring, not caviar, but that doesn't have the same ring to it.) Photo by Roni.

The first chore for the new year — taking down all the Christmas decorations. We were racing the cold and threatening rain drops to get the outdoor display tamed. Photo by Roni.

While we're thinking about yard work, here is one spot we tackled this month. All those leaves didn't quite fit into our 96-gallon recycling toter. We'll try again next month. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and his friend Haleigh are in their cosplay costumes for our Jan. 8 trip to SacAnime in Sacramento. Photo by Glenn.

While the kids attended SacAnime, we went to Old Sacramento and bummed around for a few hours. Roni takes a photo of the railroad bridge. It was a very cold, gray day. Photo by Glenn.

We enjoyed lunch at Hot & Spicy Cafe New Orleans. Roni poses with her authentic Cajun meal of crawfish étouffée. Photo by Glenn.

And we scored this cool "love fairy" figurine from the clearance shelf at Evangeline's, our favorite Old Sacramento novelty shop. Photo by Glenn.

Jan. 14 finds us in Rio Vista for a late morning road trip. Yep, that's the Rio Vista Bridge over the Sacramento River. Photo by Glenn.

The purpose of our Rio Vista trip was to check out the ferry to Ryer Island for a story Roni was working on. She was chatting with the crew when the boat set sail, leaving the photographer on shore. Photo by Glenn.

We ate lunch at Foster's Bighorn restaurant in downtown Rio Vista. The place is wall-to-wall mounted animal trophies. Photo by Glenn.

We pose for a together photo on the "Rio Vista" sign at the end of Main Street. If we'd used a taller tripod you'd be able to see the bridge in the background. As it is, you just get a glimpse of the towers. Ah well. Photo by Glenn.

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If at first you don't succeed

January 26, 2011

It’s football playoff season, and that means a couple of weeks from now we’ll know who this year’s Super Bowl champion is. But whoever the winner, it surely won’t be as memorable as this year’s Gehlke Bros. Football picks competition, which for the first time found Ben sitting in the lead at the end of the season.

For those who might not know, every fall since the mid-’80s Glenn and his brother Sean have had an annual competition to see who can correctly predict the most winners of the NFL’s regular season games. The winner gets a small perpetual trophy, which the brothers have been swapping between them since 1994. They took their spirited competition online in 1998, the first year that Ben started trying to pick the games alongside his dad and uncle. Aside from one year that Ben came within a game of out-predicting his elders, he had never succeeded in topping them — until 2010.

In his 13th season, Ben broke through in a big way, finishing 11 games over Glenn, who was second, and 29 games ahead of Sean. Under the rules of the contest, only Glenn or Sean is eligible for the perpetual trophy, but they couldn’t let the accomplishment pass without acknowledging it appropriately. So on Saturday, Jan. 22, Sean joined us for the afternoon and we presented Ben with a trophy all his own. The small “Rising Above the Chaos” award features shooting stars and an engraved plaque commemorating Ben’s winning record. Glenn and Sean presented it to him while the song “Rise Above” by Black Flag blared from the computer speakers. Afterward, Ben mugged for the cameras like a true media celebrity.

Glenn, meanwhile, retained ownership of the brothers’ perpetual trophy, which they have dubbed “The Surfy” because the gold football player attached to its pedestal looks like he’s standing on a surfboard. Glenn has won the contest in back-to-back years, which is the first time that has happened since 2003-04. He is keeping the statuette in the writing sanctuary where he can gaze upon its plasticy goldenness for the next 12 months.

* * * * *

We had a memorable football experience of a different kind this past month when Glenn and Sean took Ben to see the Oakland Raiders game the day after Christmas. Ben had really wanted to go because they were hosting the Indianapolis Colts, and for whatever reason the Colts are his favorite team. Glenn liked the idea of being able to see Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Fame inductee, play live. But after the ordeal they went through just to get into the stadium, they might have had better luck watching on TV from home.

To start off with, Christmas weekend was cold and nasty. We’d had quite a bit of rain in the days leading up to it, and the forecast called for more on Dec. 26. The plan was for Glenn and Ben to take BART to the Coliseum and meet up with Sean in the stands. At least they all had their own tickets. Glenn and Ben were a bit late getting out the door and had to stop at the bank along the way, and those delays were enough to cause them to miss their BART train. They had to wait another 20 minutes to catch the following train from North Concord-Martinez. Being at the end of the line, the train had plenty of room when they hopped aboard about 11:50 a.m., but the cars were soon swollen with Raider fans dressed in their silver and black team outfits and other garb. Some guys in their 20s started talking smack about the Colts and tried to engage other riders in a raucous cheer of “RAI-DERS! RAI-DERS!” much to Ben’s dismay. Glenn and Ben were both glad when the ride ended at the Coliseum station.

It had been two years since we previously attended a Raiders home game, and we still remembered sitting up in the nosebleed seats with little company other than the hordes of ravenous seagulls. The Raiders had been nothing short of awful that year, and there were lots of empty seats. Not so in 2010, when the team was on its way to finishing 8-8 and still had a slim change at the playoffs on the day they faced the Colts. The stadium was nearly filled, and the walkways leading to the main entrances were clogged with people. Ben and Glenn shuffled their way through to the security screeners, where there were pat-downs and bag checks. They had their tickets in hand. So far so good.

Then the screener asked Glenn to open up his camera bag. “Is that a video camera, sir?” Glenn hadn’t thought anything of it, because he rarely uses the analog camcorder anymore and had run out of tape Christmas morning while recording the opening of Christmas presents. The camcorder was just along for the ride in the bag, where it always is. “Camcorders aren’t allowed in the stadium. You’ll have to leave it in your car,” the screener said. “But we came by BART,” Glenn protested. “Then you’ll have to check it at the arena.” The arena! That was all the way on the other side of the stadium, and the game would be starting in 10 minutes. But despite Glenn’s attempt to convince the guard he hadn’t actually inteded to use the camcorder, there was no special dispensation.

So Glenn gave Ben his ticket with instructions to go find his seat next to Sean while he hurried along the concourse to the personal items check-in, paid the clerk three bucks and handed over the camcorder, then worked his way back through the security screening line to enter the stadium. By the time Glenn finally made it to his seat it was midway through the first quarter. At least Ben and Sean had hooked up after Ben used the cellphone to call his uncle and received directions on how to find his way to the right section of the cavernous stadium.

As for the game, things went mostly well. The Colts won a competitive contest and the rain held off just long enough to get the game in. Glenn and Ben went back to the arena to retrieve the checked camcorder and then headed toward BART amid the sea of unhappy Raider fans. They didn’t count of the clot of people attempting to enter the pedestrian bridge leading from the stadium to the BART station. It was sort of like trying to squeeze sausage through a meat grinder, with thousands of people being funneled down to into a half dozen lanes on the bridge. It took more than half an hour, but they finally reached the BART platform and caught their train back home.

Yes, a memorable day attending a pro football game, made more memorable by the surreptitious videos Glenn shot using the video feature of his Canon PowerShot S3 digital camera. Hey, they never said still cameras weren’t allowed!

* * * * *

So this is 2011. It seems like the holidays plod along, then all of a sudden the new year is upon us and things get very busy. We’ve been traveling around the Delta and working — occasionally both at the same time.

Such was the case Jan. 14 when we took a drive up to Rio Vista to check out the ferry boat on Highway 84 that runs across the Sacramento River to Ryer Island. Roni was trying to gather information about the ferry, the Real McCoy, which is being upgraded with a new boat at a cost of several million dollars in taxpayer money. Ryer Island is a mostly agricultural island in the middle of the Delta that is home to a summer resort and a couple dozen residents. The ride across the river takes less than three minutes and is free.

We hadn’t intended to spend long at the ferry slip; the boat was waiting on the Rio Vista side when we drove up, so we parked the car by the shoulder of the road and Roni got out to talk with one of the ferry workers. They walked back to the boat while Glenn lingered on the shoreline taking pictures. Next thing we knew, the captain was pulling up the access ramp and the ship was on its way across the river with Roni still aboard. But we weren’t talking trans Atlantic travel here. The boat picked up its lone passenger on the Ryer Island side and was quickly back across before Roni had wrapped up her conversation with the deckhand. The upshot: the new ferry, Real McCoy II, was still in drydock somewhere and no one knew when it would actually arrive in Rio Vista. Caltrans, which owns the ferry, has continually delayed a media event it plans to welcome the new vessel. So at least Roni got more information than she would have otherwise.

Having checked out the ferry, we still had some time before Glenn had to leave for work, so we decided to run into nearby Rio Vista for lunch. It was a great day for it — the warmest weather of the year so far, with temperatures hovering near 60 degrees and lots of sunshine. We hadn’t been to Rio Vista on a visit in a long time, so we cruised around for a few minutes until we located a promising restaurant, a place we had heard of before called Foster’s Bighorn.

Foster’s has a gimmick, and it’s none too subtle. From the moment you walk through the front door into the bar area, you are scrutinized by a hundred pairs of eyes. Not human eyes, but the unflinching gaze of row upon row of wild animal heads, stuffed and mounted on every available wall. The heads are actual big game trophies collected by William Foster during his many safari expeditions of the 1930s and ’40s. Foster wanted to expose Westerners to the wild animals of the world, so he opened what is today the bar and restaurant that bears his name as a sort of museum where the trophies are on display to a curious public.

If the bar area made an impression on us, then the restaurant was even more memorable. The small dining area is surrounded by tall walls that provide room for the largest of Foster’s collection, including bison, elk, bobcats, a giraffe and the biggest prize of all: the enormous head of an African elephant, tusks included. The tourists are easy to spot, as like us they spend more time looking at the walls than at the menu.

The food was uninspired but decent, and the price was right. We ordered lunch specials of fish and chips and fried calamari, along with two cups of their clam chowder. It was an interesting hour. And at the end of it we learned something else that the locals undoubtedly already knew: Foster’s doesn’t take charge cards. Cash or check. Really? There are places that still do that? Fortunately we had enough dinero to cover the bill without having to scrub dishes or run next door to the closest ATM machine.

After lunch, we strolled down to the end of Main Street and hung out near City Hall where there is a small park that overlooks the Delta. We had a few minutes to snap some pictures of the Rio Vista Bridge and gaze out at the handful of pleasure boats and barges lining the banks of the Sacramento River. Sort of made us wish we owned a house there, although we wouldn’t much enjoy driving through the fog at this time of year.

* * * * *

Rio Vista was our second trip up the Delta in less than a week. On Jan 8, we made what has become a new January tradition in our family when we traveled north to Sacramento so Ben could take part in the winter SacAnime convention at the Radisson Hotel. This was Ben's fifth SacAnime, and this time he attended with his friend Haleigh, They both went in costume, so for the time they were with us we got some interesting glances from folks wherever we went.

We dropped them off at the hotel and then made a day of it by heading first to Arden Fair Mall for breakfast at Cinnabon, and then downtown to catch a home and garden show at the Sacramento Convention Center. It was more home than garden, which perhaps shouldn't be too surprising since it was the beginning of January and the temperature outdoors was 42 degrees and no one in his right mind was thinking about laying sod or planting ferns. There were lots of companies trying to interest us in solar panels, water softeners and sun rooms. We even caught a cooking demonstration by a presenter trying to sell her audience what appeared to be an all-in-one pot and steam cooker. Lots of information, none of it very useful for us.

But it was a good way to kill some time and escape the winter chill on what had turned out to be a cold, gray day, even by Sacramento standards. We didn't last long on the short walk from the parking garage to the convention center, and by the time we got back to the car we were eager to have lunch someplace where we could get warm. We drove a bit more to Old Sacramento, where we browsed a few of the novelty shops and then dropped in on the Hot & Spicy Cafe New Orleans for lunch. Afterward we strolled down to the river's edge to take pictures and reminisce about other visits to Old Sac while we waited for Ben to call us and say he was ready to head home.

It turned out to be a good day all around. Glenn was happy to get out of the house and explore, Roni found some fun little fairy figurines on clearance at Evangeline's, and Ben got to spend time with his friends and came home with a bunch of anime loot he purchased at the show.

* * * * *

Perhaps in the not so distant future Ben will be taking those trips to Sacramento by himself. With the resumption of school after the Christmas break, the lad is now taking driver education at school. Pity his poor parents who will have to find a way to add him to the insurance bill when he actually hits the road with his learner's permit. We're only kidding, of course. It is actually a very good thing that Ben is learning how to drive. If he gets good enough, we can always make him our designated driver while we kick back and enjoy the scenery on future trips!

Roni has experienced boom and bust cycles in her business, but right now she is enjoying plenty of work thanks to her largest and longest clients, as well as her new assignment as executive director of the Delta Science Center. Roni has jumped into the new role with both feet, recently submitting a grant proposal that the center hopes will result in funding for equipment and educational field trips. She recently started working for the center a couple of days a week out of a donated office at the Ironhouse Sanitary District in Oakley. We all expect to hear great things out of the DSC in the weeks and months ahead.

Glenn, meanwhile, continues to face the uncertainties of the newspaper business. His company is imposing mandatory furloughs once again, so he is looking forward to a weeklong unpaid vacation at the end of March. This also appears to be the year of the dentist chair, as Glenn started the month by going in to have a broken filling replaced and then followed it up with a root canal two weeks later. He is looking at three more appointments between now and Valentine's Day, two to complete the root canal and another for a routine cleaning, so he will be on familiar terms with the entire office staff by then.

We didn't talk about Christmas in this newsletter, which was not our intention; it just worked out that way. Hopefully the pictures here will provide a small taste of the day, Suffice it to say that we all had a lovely time, waking up much earlier on Christmas morning than planned because Ben got an early start and convinced us that we should too. There were fewer gifts under the tree, but the ones that were there were more than enough to keep all of us satisfied. Ben and Glenn both picked up some video games they wanted, and Roni got the Amazon Kindle she had asked for — after all the other gifts had been opened and she thought Santa had forgotten her. Glenn was a bit disappointed in this year's edition of the Christmas bread, which came out a bit too floury. However, he got a redo a couple of days later when he baked a loaf for his coworkers, and that batch turned out much better. There's always next year.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 02:38 hrs.

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