January 21, 2017: On the first full day of the President Donald Trump era, we have driven through the "American carnage" that is Oakland to arrive at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park, overlooking the beautiful San Leandro Bay. The occasion for this morning drive is so Roni can attend a workshop for the Trout in the Classroom program, which she helps administer in our area as part of her duties with the Delta Science Center. We'd like to say that this is something she looks forward to each year, but alas it always seems fraught with complications, which makes the kickoff event in January something of a milepost at the start of a long journey to an ultimate disappointment.
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The idea behind Trout in the Classroom is noble enough. Each spring, the Fish & Wildlife Service makes available to participating teachers and their students a few dozen rainbow trout eggs that are raised to hatching stage in specially constructed aquarium tanks, so that students can learn about the life cycle of the fish. Once hatched, the fish are returned to the wild on what usually turns out to be a class field trip to our local reservoir. All the students show up with their teacher and parents to take pictures and celebrate the release. Well, that’s the highlight.
The lowlight — and there are usually several — comes in with the prep work involved in getting the program off the ground each year. There is this mandatory workshop, which Roni is attending today, at which teachers learn the process of raising the fish. They receive lists of materials on how to construct the special fish tanks they must use to raise the eggs. It’s not enough to simply toss a few trout eggs into a fish tank and hope for the best; these tanks must be completely insulated, top, bottom and sides, and include a chiller that maintains the temperature at a balmy 55 degrees. Without the proper conditions, most of the eggs will never hatch. Even with the proper conditions, things can go wrong, leaving some teachers each year to lament that “all my fish died and the kids were disappointed.” Ah, the cruel realities of life, kiddies.
For Roni’s part, she is in charge of the participating classrooms in our region. It is her task to make sure that the teachers have their tanks constructed in advance and receive their fish eggs on the day they are made available from the hatchery in Napa, usually in early spring. The problem is that, for many of the teachers involved, the eggs arrive right around the time of spring break, when kids are away from class for a week or two. The fish eggs can’t be left unattended, which means that either the kids miss the hatching process — the whole point of the program — or they come back to find a bunch of dead fish because there was no one to watch after the eggs while everyone was on vacation. This is the yearly battle that Roni must fight with the teachers and the program’s organizer who doesn’t seem to realize that spring break is a lousy time to deliver fish eggs to classrooms.
But enough about that. While Roni’s at her workshop and we’ve got this lovely view of the O.co Coliseum across from the Oakland estuary on this morning with a break between rain storms, we’ll take a few minutes to recap our month so far.
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ANUARY ALWAYS BEGINS with high hopes. Once we put the holidays behind us and all the projects that seem to hit us through December, we can relax a bit and start focusing again on the goals we put aside during the fall. One of those goals did not involve getting the flu, which is how both Ben and Glenn started the new year.
Whether they caught their bug over Christmas gatherings with family or last-minute shopping at the brick-and-mortar germ factories may never be known, but the effect was that we’ve spent most of this month feeling lousy, shaking off the effects of a nagging cough that just doesn’t want to let go. Even Roni hasn’t been immune. Still fighting off the lingering chest cold she had in November, she found herself sick anew this week, just as she needed to be healthy to attend work and social functions.
Ben got sick first, just a few days after Christmas. He managed not to miss any work because of it, but there were a few days where he sounded as if he might cough up a lung while he tried to get himself up and showered and out the door on time. Glenn came down with the same thing right around New Year’s Day. Actually, he felt it coming on the final week of December, just a small cough that seemed to come out of nowhere, then it mysteriously went away during New Year’s weekend, only to return with a vengeance on Tuesday the 3rd of January. Under normal circumstances he probably would have taken a few days off of work, but the person who usually covers his shift at the paper was on vacation that week, so he decided to muddle through his illness and worked from home. Running a fever and coughing his head off didn’t leave him feeling much good at doing the job, but it got done, and by the following Tuesday he was feeling “normal” enough to return to the office. But being well enough isn’t the same as truly being well, and as we write this Glenn is still feeling very much under the weather. Chest colds are the absolute worst!
Roni had hoped to avoid what her men didn’t, but it seems that her body had other plans this week as she wound up with a runny nose two days before a very important event on her social calendar. The Ironhouse Sanitary District was up for a handful of awards from California Water Environment Association, and she had planned to attend the awards ceremony on Friday the 20th. (Whoever thought to set up an awards show on Inauguration Day wasn’t thinking, but being that it was for sewage treatment perhaps it was appropriate.) What meds didn’t seem to cure, the awards show surely helped when the sanitary district “cleaned up” with four honors. But more on that in a bit...
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ESPITE OUR HEALTH setbacks, we did our best not to let coughing fits and the sniffles stand in the way of making changes in our lives. After all, that’s what January and New Year’s resolutions are all about, right? It also turns out that January is a smashing good time to shop for stuff you need, seeing as how most retailers are doing inventory reduction and clearing their shelves from Christmas.
We packed up our holiday decorations on New Year’s Day, as we always do, and slowly moved our living room back into place. It was while we were doing this that Roni brought up again how our two recliner chairs have been showing their age and are to the point where they just aren’t comfortable for her to sit in anymore. We bought our current living room set nearly a decade ago, and while Glenn has been a big fan of the sofa, Roni has always preferred the chairs. It’s a good thing we bought two of them, because as one finally began to wear out a few years ago, she was able to pull the other one into constant service. Alas, it too has started to go, with wires beginning to emerge through the fabric and poking in uncomfortable ways and places.
One of the things on Roni’s Christmas list was a new chair for the living room, and although it didn’t show up under the tree, Glenn agreed that it would be fine to invest in a new one if that was something that was important to her. So on New Year’s Day we went out to do some chair shopping and naturally wound up in the appliance department at JC Penney. No, we did not find recliner chairs there, but they sure did have a great sale on over-the-stove microwaves, and after checking out the display models and chatting with the sales clerk for a bit, we left the store all but convinced that we should get one.
In fact, a few days later, we did place an order on a Samsung microwave and convection oven combo that we liked. JC Penney had a great deal where the unit was $100 off, and because it cost more than $300 we got free shipping. Woot! We could have paid an extra $69 to have it installed, but given that it shipped with an installation kit and we were just swapping out the old hood over our stove, how difficult could it be to do it ourselves?
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HE NEW MICROWAVE arrived Jan. 10, and it took two delivery men to bring it into the house. They left it in the entryway, where it sat until the weekend when Glenn had some time to work on the installation project. Step one was the simple task of taking down the existing hood over the stove. At least, it should have been a simple task. We had replaced the hood years ago because the one that came with the house was so greasy and grimy that we took the paint off the metal when we attempted to clean it. That replacement had been a snap, except for the duct work inside the cabinet; the 8-inch vent to the outside wall was installed incorrectly by the developer, so there was a large gap that allowed cold air and bugs to come inside the kitchen. Not a good thing, so we had bought a can of expanding foam and used it liberally to seal the gaps between the vent and the duct tubing.
Flash forward to now, when Glenn attempted to remove the hood. He undid the screws and wiring the way the instructions told him to, but when he tried to pull the hood off the cabinet, it wouldn’t budge. He thought that perhaps he had missed a screw or two somewhere, but no, he discovered that the expanding foam had expanded its way into contact with the hood and was now holding it fast in a death grip. The only answer was to scrape off all the foam so the hood could be liberated. Having done this once before, when we removed the spa from our back patio, we will attest that chipping off old foam is neither easy nor particularly fun, especially when the foam is coated in cooking grease. Ick.
After several hours, Glenn finally managed to remove the hood and cleaned up the last of the foam from the vent opening in the wall. We went to Home Depot to pick up some new ducting supplies and an electrical box because we had to convert the bare house wires into a standard plug for the microwave to connect to. So far so good. Step two involved installing the mounting bracket that would attach the new microwave to the wall. There were some paper templates that the manufacturer provided for this purpose, and we followed the directions methodically, locating the wall studs, drilling holes, and making sure to install the toggle bolts through the drywall as required. We knew we barely had enough clearance to make the microwave fit between our cabinets, so we crossed our fingers that we had followed the template correctly and centered the bracket where it needed to be.
The most difficult part of the installation — we thought — came when we hoisted the microwave into position over the stove and on the bracket. It was too heavy for one person, so Roni took one side of the unit while Glenn got on the other, and after a lot of huffing and puffing we heard the microwave successfully click into the metal tabs on the bracket. Roni held it in place long enough for Glenn to attach a pair of stabilizing bolts through the top cabinet. And everything fit! We stepped back and marveled at our success. All that was left to do was plug it in and attach the vent. Uh... the vent. Hmmmm. Much to our disappointment, the microwave’s vent sat too close to the wall to connect our new duct work, and even if it had been farther away it still wouldn’t have left enough room to attach the tubing to the wall.
So far, we have searched in vain for a solution. There are many special parts used by heating and air conditioning professionals. But we are not professionals and the home stores don’t offer much in the way of solutions for unusual circumstances. What it will probably mean is having to fabricate our own duct from sheet metal and duct tape. In the meantime, we have a lovely but functionless new microwave installed above our stove, still wrapped in its protective plastic, waiting for the day in the hopefully near future when we’ll finish hooking it up and get to cook something in it.
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NE PROJECT THAT we weren’t able to put off, unfortunately, also involved duct tape. It was the same day as the aforementioned boxing of the Christmas decorations that Glenn was attempting to place an item on the top shelf of our entryway closet when, peering into the darkness, he noticed something unusual about the ceiling. Shining a flashlight at the spot confirmed our worst fear: we had a water leak. We knew the day would come soon when we had to consider replacing our aging roof, but we had been lucky to not have any major issues before now. How bad was the leak? Well, apparently bad enough that it had soaked a portion of the closet wall and penetrated deep into the wall of the adjoining hall bathroom. There was some buckling of the drywall, but so far the damage wasn’t too major. That could easily change with a series of major Pacific storms blowing into the Bay Area in the coming days. We knew that we needed to find the source of the leak quickly and patch it before the next wave of rain.
Glenn got up on the ladder and went into the attic to see what he could see, but it had been a few days since the previous rainfall and there were no telltale signs of water infiltration. It was impossible to spot the water damage to the bathroom and closet through the attic insulation. We would have to wait and reinspect while a storm was in progress.
That opportunity came a few days later while Glenn was in the grips of the flu and none too excited about the prospect of crawling around in the musty, dusty attic diagnosing leaks. Despite his feverish state, he went up for a look-see in the rain and quickly discovered the source of the leak — a large hole surrounding the bathroom vent pipe that should have been covered with a collar to prevent exactly what was now happening. There was no mistaking the water that was dripping its way along the vent, down to the insulation. And there was quite a bit of it. But the middle of a pounding rainstorm is not the time to crawl up on the roof for repairs, so we crossed our fingers that the wall would survive another day or so until things dried out enough for a trip up the ladder.
The thing that puzzled us for the next couple of days was what had become of the collar on that vent. Had one of our roving opossums or raccoons somehow removed it? Did it blow away in heavy winds? It was only when Glenn finally had a chance to assess the problem from above that he found the answer: the protective collar was still in place, but the rubber it was made from had badly deteriorated through nearly 30 years of exposure to the elements, leaving ample space for water to seep in. Using a roll of bright blue duct tape, Glenn sealed up the hole while Roni watched anxiously from the ground below, shouting words of encouragement like, “Don’t fall!” (It may sound obvious, but it made perfect sense at the time, given Glenn’s depleted condition as he battled the flu.)
Realizing that one rubber collar had failed got Glenn to wondering about the condition of the other roof vents. Ignoring Roni’s pleas for him not to get closer to the edge of the roof, he slid his way down a few feet to the vent for the master bathroom and had his suspicions confirmed. There was a large hole there, as well. Larger, in fact, than the one he had just taped up. So this vent also got the tape treatment and we are now contemplating how we want to go about re-roofing. It will probably be sometime this summer, and despite Glenn’s insistence that he can do the job himself, it will probably involve hiring a roofing company to make it happen more quickly. They can get it done in three days; we might get it done in three months. For now, we have pretty blue tape that really stands out against the otherwise charcoal color of our roof.
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HIS HAS BEEN a pretty big month for Roni, who on Jan. 20 celebrated at the Concord Hilton as she and the Ironhouse Sanitary District received four awards of excellence from the California Water Environment Association. In addition to the district winning honors for Plant of the Year and Collection System of the Year, it also was recognized for Community Engagement and Outreach Project of the Year and Newsletter of the Year — two categories that Roni was deeply involved in as the district’s public outreach consultant. As winners at the regional level, Ironhouse now moves on to the statewide contest held in April in Palm Springs. We don’t know yet whether we’ll attend the event, given travel considerations and convention registration expenses, but we’ll be eager to find out how Roni’s work stacks up against some of the biggest wastewater reclamation districts in California.
Roni is also the proud new owner of a current model MacBook Pro, which she bought just before New Year’s Day to replace her 4-year-old Mac laptop that began shutting down at random while she was using it. It was more than she wanted to spend, but the need to have a reliable work computer won out. Because this is Apple’s cutting edge machine, there were a few adapters and such she also had to purchase in order to hook up her now outdated USB peripherals to the new hardware. Apple loves to make its products thinner and lighter and tack on new features such as 5K retina display, touch bars and USB-C connectors that few people can actually use with existing technology. We’d be happy just to have more RAM, a super-sized hard disk, a microphone jack and DVD drive, but those things aren’t happening or coming back, so we’ve been dragged into the future under protest.
Perhaps suffering from a bit of computer envy, Glenn also bought a new machine this month, although not the replacement for his 27-inch iMac with its failing graphics card. His new “toy” is an Asus Flip Chromebook, a 10.1-inch 2-in-1 laptop that is a cross between a netbook and a touch-screen tablet. Because it runs on the Google Chrome operating system and has full integration with Google’s suite of Cloud-based software, Glenn bought it mainly as an alternative computer for his work at the newspaper, which also relies on Google, WordPress and several other web-based applications.
The Chromebook is by no means a speed demon, but its 4GB of RAM and 16GB eMMC drive are peppy enough that it handles most tasks reasonably well. With a price tag of $259 it’s hard to go too wrong. Glenn is still trying to set it up in a way that is comfortable for his work routine, and he has hopes of eventually moving some of his personal writing efforts (including this newsletter) to Google Docs once the kinks are worked out. Perhaps by next month.
Well, now it’s back to trying to track down a new recliner and figuring out how to install the vent on our new microwave. Perhaps we’ll have some progress to report on one if not both fronts next month.