Photo of the month

Now comes soda time. Ben takes a break with his favorite carbonated beverage during our annual February walk to check out the blossoms near the DuPont grape vineyards in Oakley. He's got his Mardi Gras beads on for good luck, or something like that. Photo by Glenn.

February 2005

Here we are at the start of our blossom walk. Ben has his drink and a plastic bag for collecting any trinkets he might find along the way. Photo by Glenn.

This row of trees is all that remains of what once was a huge walnut and almond orchard. The trees were cut down in favor of the grapes that are barely visible at right. Photo by Glenn.

Walnuts are the first to bloom in late January. They are about at their peak bloom on the day we went walking. Photo by Glenn.

Almond blossoms lag behind walnuts by a couple of weeks. How can we tell the difference between the two?... Photo by Glenn.

...Just look up. All those round things are last year's crop of almonds. They tend to cling to their branches a bit more than walnuts. Photo by Glenn.

This is Ben being silly. What is he doing? He says he is showing off his boxer pose. Whatever. Photo by Glenn.

Weeds are amazing things. Give them a little water and a place to grow undisturbed and they take root. Ben gets a lesson in hydroponics. Photo by Glenn.

Here's Glenn out standing in his field. Ben says this is a height comparison between the person in the foreground and the radio tower in the background. Obviously Dad is much taller. Photo by Ben.

Ben is starting to like the idea of taking his own pictures. Dad poses for a portrait amid the trash piles near the railroad embankment. (Dad, you take us to the nicest places!) Photo by Ben.

We're tired from walking. Let the camera do the work for a while. Photo by Glenn.

We've made it to the BNSF mainline. Ben's bag of goodies is getting too heavy to carry. Photo by Glenn.

Know any NASCAR teams in search of a good tire carrier? Better yet, know anyone who might be missing a tire? Photo by Glenn.

The yard tracks near DuPont don't see much use these days. That rust looks about 100 years old — the same age as some of these rails. Photo by Glenn.

This small orchard is on the north side of the train tracks inside DuPont's buffer zone. The trees survive amid the grapes. Farmers still tend what's left of the orchard. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's been walking for a couple of hours. He's slowed down a bit, but we've heard nary a complaint. Photo by Glenn.

Nothing like being out for a nice walk on a beautiful spring-like Saturday. Photo by Glenn.

Our cat, Ariel, spends most of her day curled up in her favorite box near the bedroom door, where she can peek out the curtain and inspect the back yard for birds, squirrels and intruder cats. Photo by Roni.

Our ornamental plum tree, as seen from the window of the writing sanctuary, is awash in pink blossoms on Presidents' Day. Photo by Glenn.

Ben enjoys beating Dad at a game of Nintendo on a quiet Sunday evening. Photo by Roni.

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The blossoms are awesome

February 21, 2005

Today is Presidents' Day, and in the little patch of meadow we call our front lawn, the ornamental plum tree is putting on its annual show of color. The blossoms aren't as plentiful these days now that the tree is getting on in years and the scale have sucked it dry in places. But there are still enough of the fragrant pink flowers to get one's attention if you happen to be passing by on the sidewalk or driveway.

We pruned the tree back just a little earlier this month. Glenn pulled out the pruning shears and spent an hour or so wandering around the tree's perimeter, snipping here and there, trying to shape up the bottom branches. Ornamental plums like to grow upward, so if you hack off the bottom outward-spreading branches the tree thanks you for it by sending out new growth toward the top. At least that's the theory. We like our tree a little fuller than it probably should be, so we were more conservative with the shears. The twig pile barely amounted to a single bundle by the time Glenn was done with it.

Any homeowner well knows what happens when you tackle a project, regardless of its scope -- that project leads to other projects. Such was the case with the pruning. While we were out fixing up the plum tree, we thought it might be nice to tend to the roses. Our perennial nemesis, Mr. Gopher, has been chewing his way through the front yard since last fall. We've tried to trap him, but either he outsmarted the trap, or the trappers weren't smart enough to know where to nab him. It was only a matter of time before he found a nice meal in the rose bed. He worked his way from one end to the other, nibbling at the roots for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. But roses are a hearty breed. It takes a lot to kill them off, even more than the abuse Mr. Gopher is capable of dishing out.

The worst of the damage was to one formerly productive bush that literally was on its side when we came to its aid. Roni was convinced it was a goner, as not a leaf was left on its brown branches. But upon closer inspection we discovered new leaf buds, a sure sign that its rebirth was possible. Using a piece of concrete to stabilize things, Glenn propped the plant back upright and we pruned it back a little. We are happy to report that a full recovery looks possible.

Full recovery will take a little longer for our back yard, which continues to languish. Glenn pruned off some of the overgrowth from the fruitless mulberry tree, but it has grown so tall that we can no longer reach the upper branches without a pole pruner. Pending our purchase of one, the mulberry has received all the pruning it's going to get this year. February to March is when the weeds make their reappearance, and right now all the ground that isn't otherwise occupied by groundcover or concrete has become nature's planter box. Our beautiful retaining wall with its niches for flowers is quite a sight at the moment. We will have our work cut out for us when the weather improves and we get in the mood for spring gardening.

And the weather has, in fact, been improving. Things have been noticeably warmer since the end of January, when the temperature started getting up into the mid-60s during the daytime. Glenn packed away his work sweaters before the start of February and hasn't missed them yet, although it still is too cool in our house to go without socks and a sweatshirt in the evening hours. The pattern this time of year is periods of storm action punctuated by periods of sunshine. If you are outdoors-oriented you will become easily frustrated living here this time of year, because it can be sunny goreous one moment and pouring on you the next.

One of the things we like to do in February, weather permitting, is to walk out in the grape vineyard near the Oakley DuPont property and take in the beauty of the blooming nut trees there. It is one of the few places left in our area of Contra Costa County where you can stiff find the remnants of once-vast almond and walnut orchards. Ben and Glenn have been making this trek every year for at least the past five years. Ben's of the age where he grumbles about having to leave his video games and favorite TV programs for the couple of hours the walk takes, but he forgets all about them once he gets into looking for leftover almonds among the branches and collecting "railroad junk" on the leg of the journey that takes us along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe siding at DuPont.

We took our walk Feb. 5, which was a good thing because we haven't had much sun on the weekends since then, and now the peak of the blossom season is past. That's the problem with spring around here. The trees all bloom in late January to February, so by the time spring arrives in March all the blooming is finished except for the flowers.

Last month we told you a bit about Glenn's new job of night assistant city editor at the newspaper. Four weeks into it he is getting used to the new routine, which largely involves managing the cops reporter, fielding phone calls from reporters covering late stories, and orchestrating page assignments for stories on the daily news budgets. It is adrenaline-inducing work, even if not always exciting. At least the hours are the same every day, which has helped him establish a somewhat more routine routine.

Part of Glenn's new routine has been devoting more time at night to things literary, which he had gotten away from in the past year. At present he is helping Roni edit the manuscript for her romance novel, "One Day in September." It is the story of a man and woman in a small Texas town who meet through a case of mistaken identity and fall in love. The editing job is part of a Christmas gift Glenn gave to Roni, and should be complete by the end of February. After that, he plans to return to his own writing for a few months.

The change in Glenn's work schedule offered the promise of more weekend activities. That still might happen, but so far the weather and other commitments have ganged up to keep us at home during February. That hasn't bothered Ben in the least, who is content to spend his free time playing video games and experimenting with his computer. This weekend we upgraded his iMac to OS X so he can use some of the latest software. What it really means to him is that he can now run his Gameboy Advance emulator with fewer incompatibilities. But the primary reason for the system upgrade was so he can use a music composition program called Garage Band, which comes with a bunch or prerecorded instruments and rhythm tracks.

As parents, you always wonder (and worry) what sort of music your kids are going to get into. Ben never had much interest in nursery rhymes, nor has he gravitated to the sanitized versions of rap or hip-hop that are promoted on most of the cartoon stations these days. His genre of choice is electronic music, specifically the soundtracks for his favorite video games. He has discovered that there are numerous websites containing nothing but these game jingle "midis" -- small files that the computer translates into digital music. He has downloaded hundred of these midis, which he organizes in iTunes and plays endlessly. Often he uses the tunes as background music for acting out characters from his favorite games and TV shows. Yes, technology has even changed kids play in the 21st century.

Speaking of technology, do you realize how tough it is to find a new VCR these days? Glenn was faced with this dilemma last week when he determined that our old VCR he'd relied on to tape all his NASCAR races was eating tapes rather than recording them. The problem reared its ugly head during the Super Bowl. Glenn taped the game to watch it later in the day, only to discover that the first half of the broadcast had been mangled in the machine. It wasn't just a tracking issue, apparently. Hoping that the problem might correct itself, he waited until two hours before the first NASCAR race of the season to test the machine, only to discover that things were no better. So he revved his own engine and raced to the mall in search of a replacement VCR.

You can still find VCRs, but they are vastly outnumbered by DVD recorders and their close cousin, the DVR (TiVo, for example). For less than $200 you can find DVD recorders by themselves, or videotape recorders with DVD players built in for around $120. But we didn't want either of those. If you want a videotape recorder and DVD recorder combo, which would have been ideal because of all the old home videos we want to copy to DVD, those start at $300. So rather than shell out the big bucks, Glenn spent $85 and got a Sony VCR with all sorts of bells and whistles that don't change the fact that the technology is still obsolete. But with prices coming down, we'll probably wind up with a DVD recorder before the end of the year so we can transfer over all our old analog videos.

That's about it for this month's thrills and spills. Hopefully we'll get out more in the next few weeks and have more photos to share in the March edition.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, March 26, 2005 at 20:07 hrs.

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