Photo of the month

Every now and then it gets cold enough to deposit a few inches of snow atop Mount Diablo. This latest dusting, as seen on Valentine's Day, was brought to us courtesy an Alaskan cold front that left us mostly with a weekend of rain. This shot was taken from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center on Deer Valley Road in Antioch. Photo by Roni.

February 2009

Before launching into this month's photos, a short rant: When are food makers going to stop thinking they're fooling the consumer by giving us smaller portions of the products we buy? On the left is a baby-sized sandwich roll being sold by one bakery. At right is the same bakery's bread purchased a week earlier. No, this is not a fluke; a lot of food manufacturers are doing it to save money. Just be honest about what you're doing! Photo by Glenn.

The master photographer at work in his studio? Well, Ben doesn't spend much time with a camera these days, but he does take his drawing very seriously. We were just having some fun with our camera gear on a Sunday morning. Photo by Roni.

Here's a sight you won't see very often: Eevee letting Glenn hold him. These two don't normally get along this well, unless it involves hissing and growling and the bearing of teeth... And the cat makes a lot of noise, too. Photo by Roni.

Roni practices a technique that Glenn has used over the years to take self-portraits. Her arms are a little shorter, making the task somewhat more challenging. Photo by Roni.

We aren't up the creek without a paddle yet, but we are along the Sacramento River with our camera to take lovely scenics like this one of the drawbridge near Isleton. Photo by Roni.

The Art Deco sign outside the Ryde Hotel hasn't changed much since the 1930s, even as the building's color has altered shades numerous times. We liked the pink flamingo look it used to sport, but the tan isn't bad either. Photo by Roni.

There are no partridges in these pear trees, nor are there any pears you might want to eat at this time of year. The upper branches will soon be pruned to make way for this year's crop. Photo by Roni.

Goats are not native to the Delta, but they are useful for controlling the vegetation that grows along the levee banks. The state is using huge herds of them up and down the Sacramento River. Photo by Roni.

The goats are as puzzled by our interest in them as we are by their presence. Photo by Roni.

A crafty cat hangs from a tree branch at the Clarksburg Marina in Clarksburg. Photo by Roni.

Steel cable used to haul boats at the Clarksburg Marina makes interesting patterns as it sits rolled up on a winch. Photo by Roni.

The water tower for the city of Isleton is backlit along with several trees outside the Levee Cafe. Photo by Roni.

The inside of the Levee Cafe is warm and sunny. Glenn waits patiently for his food to arrive. Photo by Roni.

The circle garden that we built last summer beneath our evergreen ash tree is littered with dead leaves the afternoon of Jan. 13. We recently got around to our raking amd the area looks a bit neater now. Photo by Glenn.

Wisteria pods ripen on the gazebo lattice in our backyard. Normally they'd be popping off the vine before now, but it has been too cold and damp. Many of them finally opened up on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1, an unusually warm day. Their seeds now litter our patio. Photo by Glenn.

We don't see much of the squirrel population after the grapes are done coming off the vine in October, but this little guy has discovered our yard is a great winter salad bar. He's nibbling on a stalk of grass here, but unfortunately he also likes the leaves of the roses in Summer's Garden. Photo by Glenn.

The new arrangement in the writing sanctuary has the iMac on the left and the computer it replaces, the 16-year-old Performa 6118, on the right.. Photo by Glenn.

Eevee does his best impersonation of a roadkill carcass while sunbathing near our patio door. This month we entered some of our favorite photos of both Eevee and Ariel in the annual Bad Cat calendar contest. We'll keep our fingers crossed that poses such as this one find their way into next year's calendar. Photo by Roni.

The doves have moved in and are setting up house on the back patio Saturday, Jan. 31. They haven't yet started raising this year's brood. Photo by Glenn.

A street vendor sells Valentine's Day themed merchandise at the entrance to a shopping center parking lot in Antioch on Feb. 14. Photo by Glenn.

It may be Valentione's Day, but the love sure isn't flowing from these dark clouds as an Alaskan storm system descends on the Bay Area. Photo by Glenn.

The clouds, while not welcoming for outdoor activities, nonetheless make for some striking backdrops in our photos. This is a church located on Lone Tree Way in Antioch. Photo by Glenn.

We close this month with a sampling of Ben's recent artwork, which you can check out at This one is titled "Dance Diva" and features a character by the name of Kiri Tyabaki. Art by Ben.

This drawing is titled "Over Here, Mr. Black." Ben drew it as a gift to Mom on Valentine's Day. We tacked it to our bulletin board, but Ben prefers we don't call it a pinup, so we won't. Art by Ben.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

Rain, rain, go away... but leave the blossoms behind

February 16, 2009

So, this is Presidents’ Day weekend, and we had looked forward to filling this month’s newsletter with dozens of spring-like photos of blooming trees under balmy, warming skies taken during our annual stroll along the unpaved trails of our suburban terrain. Instead, we are staring glumly out the window at slate gray clouds and enormous puddles on rain-slicked pavement, waiting for the next wave of rainfall that will wash some more of those blossoms from their branches, leaving us with??? We won’t know for sure until we can get outdoors to assess the damage. Really, this is typical weather for us in mid-February. We were joking around this morning that every year Ben and Glenn plan to take their blossom walk, and right at the peak of the blossoms there is a huge storm that comes in just as the walk is planned. 

Fortunately, we did manage to get out on Valentine’s Day, which happened to fall on Saturday this year, and did some “drive-by shooting” of the local trees and the recent dusting of snow on the ridges of Mount Diablo. That is about what you might expect, sticking the camera out the window of a moving vehicle and snapping the shutter at subjects of interest. So while they may not be prize-winning photos, at least we’ve got some snapshots to recall our weather this weekend.

And where was it that we were off to on V-Day? The County Square Asian market in Antioch. Because nothing says “I Love You” like a pound of 40-50 count jumbo shrimp with the heads still on. That’s what Roni needed to prepare a meal of seafood gumbo on Sunday evening, her latest offering in a series of dishes centered around Mardi Gras season. We also have recently enjoyed red beans and rice, and a pair of king cakes. Why all the New Orleans cuisine? Aside from the fact that Roni loves to cook, she has been preparing various recipes so she can photograph them and write them up for online. She recently joined an outfit called Associated Content, which accepts articles on a variety of topics and pays contributors a tidy fortune based on the number of times readers click on their articles. OK, so we are overstating the tidy fortune part by just a bit, but it is possible to make some pocket change, and if she can do that while having fun writing about things she enjoys anyhow, then all the better.

The other reason for dropping in on the Asian market Saturday was because Ben really wanted to go there. This from the kid who normally doesn’t want to go to the grocery store on the other side of the street from our house. His interest in County Square was about the same, until he got involved with the Anime Club at his high school. Recently the club decided it needs to raise some money to support club activities, so they decided one way to do this might be to hold a sale of Japanese-related foods. Mind you, anime is considered a Japanese phenomenon and not Chinese, which meant that not just any old Asian food would do. Ben went to County Square on a mission to locate the perfect items to offer up for the club sale. Of course, some take-home research might be required first. So in addition to Roni’s jumbo shrimp, our cart was quickly loaded down with moon cakes, candies and “authentic” ramen noodles. Anything that had a Japanese lable on it became fair game. We expected to rack up a hefty bill at the register, but even with our cart loaded with groceries and three prepared lunch trays from the barbecue deli counter, we managed to spend less than $85. That’s vastly cheaper than what we normally spend for a few days of groceries at Raley’s. We might just have to start eating more Asian cuisine — once we figure out how to use all the products. 

* * *

An afternoon spent buying groceries in Antioch might be the extent of our travels for a while, given the present uncertainties of the economy. Like many companies trying to cut costs, Glenn’s newspaper announced mandatory one-week furloughs for all employees during the months of February and March, turning what was scheduled to be a one-week paid vacation around our anniversary weekend into a week of unpaid furlough time for Glenn. Not that having the time off is a bad thing, but that’s not the way we’d prefer he take it. Compounding things, the week that was to have been taken as vacation time remains on the books, which means he has to take those days somewhere else or he will lose them because he is close to the maximum he can accrue.

The furloughs were done as a way to avoid more layoffs, which there have been too many of in the past year. Unfortunately, that does not mean there won’t still be layoffs in the next quarter when budgets get adjusted to reflect the ongoing economic downturn that many were hoping would turn around by summer. Now it looks like the turnaround won’t happen until 2010. Sigh.

Trying to remain optimistic is difficult when all you keep hearing is negative. We’ve been investigating other ways to make money, trying to create something to fall back on if times get tighter. With the stock market wallowing at historic lows, it seems like a great time to do some investing if you can come up with the cash to put into it. Of course, unless you are a savvy day trader, you have to be prepared to leave the money in there for a time before your investment pays off. Glenn, who has been watching the financial reports closely since September, was eager to try his hand at picking some quick winners. But before scraping together real cash to put down, we decided to test his plan out on paper first. He staked a paper investment of $10,000 in Apple Computer and Wells Fargo, both of which have proven track records and are historically stable performers. The first day he turned a tiny profit. The following day he suffered a huge loss that he has yet to recover. A week into being a fantasy trader, Glenn’s portfolio is down about $800. Yup, better prepare to be in it for the long haul unless you know what you’re doing.

Fortunately it takes little overhead to be a writer, and that is where Roni is concentrating her efforts. She has been busily freelancing for the local newspapers, and on the side has been writing articles for Associated Content and a similar online syndicate called Helium. She has earned somewhere in the neighborhood of three figures — a whopping $3.50 — but she is encouraged that over time she can continue to earn royalties the more she publishes. Already she has posted stories about Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day crafts, and is preparing her jambalaya recipe. She also is getting more involved with Romance Book Scene, the website she started last month to review and promote romance novels.

The financial rewards from Romance Book Scene have been minuscule so far, although she has earned some income from affiliate advertisers. The non-monetary perks have been many, however. Roni has heard from several authors whose works she has reviewed, receiving offers of free books and merchandise to give away in contests. It is feedback like this that keeps her going and determined to build the site over time. Already she is offering advertising space on the home page. Starting at $20 a month, you can post a picture of your book cover with a link back to your website and information about how to buy it. She set up an account to accept PayPal payments. We’ll see where this leads.

* * *

Looking out the window of the writing sanctuary at the moment, the dark skies are slowly parting with promises of sunshine later in the day. Being that it’s already 12:30, that won’t leave a lot of daylight hours to take a walk through soggy fields. Still thinking…

But current stormy conditions aside, the hints that spring is definitely around the corner are legion. Our flowering plum tree in the front yard is living up to its name, pink blossoms today just beginning to come out for their annual show of color.  The couple of front yard rose bushes the gopher has yet to destroy also are budding. If it weren’t for the fact their roots are so well established, they both would have been goners a couple of years ago.

Also, the mourning doves have made their return to get a jump on nesting season. At least we assume they are the same pair that have been coming to the yard every year for the past three years. Either that or word has spread among the avian community that we’ve got the best baskets available for procreation. In past years they were setting up nests in the large wooden hanging basket we had attached to one side of the pergola on the back patio. But over the fall, the heavy basket broke free yet again from its metal hook and crashed to the concrete below. It’s the third time it has fallen and, frankly, we think it’s unsafe for the doves to use another season. So the wooden basket for now remains in a battered heap on the patio table. However, last summer while cleaning the garage we found a couple of decorative wicker baskets attached to macrame ropes that once had held some fake ivy we displayed in the living room beside our old television set. The baskets were just gathering dust, so we decided to put them to better use as “dove baskets” on the pergola. One of them we hung near the patio door, while the other we placed nearby where the wooden hanger had been. The doves showed up around mid-January and started looking for their usual basket. They must have finally decided it wasn’t returning, because by Jan. 30 they were busily building their new nest inside the wicker basket.

With the rains, the doves haven’t been spending much time in the basket. We thought it was too early for them to be nesting anyhow, seeing as the laying season doesn’t begin until late March or early April. Maybe it’s like the housing market for humans, and they’re just trying to stake their claim before the competition becomes too fierce in the spring. The wicker basket is smaller yet deeper than the wood one. The mama dove barely fits into it; all you can see from the window is her feathered tail sticking up above the rim. We won’t get to observe the nesting process as easily as in past seasons, but the squabs should be better protected from the elements with the wicker basket’s higher sides.

* * *

While the weather may not be cooperating for walks this weekend, it was a much more pleasant day Jan. 13 when, on a lark, we decided to take a morning excursion up Highway 160 to shoot photos along the Delta. Ben was in school, and we had a few hours before Glenn had to leave for work, so we set out before 9 a.m. for what we thought would be a short trip no farther than Rio Vista, about 20 miles to the north. Roni’s recent foray into DeviantART has turned her on to taking photos once again, and she hoped to grab some of the beautiful scenics our Delta is noted for so she could post them to the website. We’d decided on the trip three days earlier, while driving the same route to attend the SacAnime convention with Ben and his friend John.

Although we were fortunate not to have rain, we did have plenty of fog. So much fog, in fact, that some of the views we most hoped for — drawbridges over the Sacramento River, for instance — were obscured in the mist. It was also chilly, but at least we had bundled up in preparation. We drove north, stopping every so often to take a picture, not too concerned with the time as we knew we had plenty. If you know anything about the Delta, however, a liesurely drive can easily consume hours and take you far from where you thought you would end up. We eventually passed Rio Vista, then Isleton, and wound up in Ryde, several miles to the north. From there we got off Highway 160 in favor of Highway 220, which meanders west and then north some more via a place called the Grand Island Mansion, where people often go for weddings and big banquets. We continued north, taking photos of the many pear orchards with their bare branches being pruned in preparation for the next growing season. We wandered down some more backroads and found other bridges along river banks lined with oaks and willows and berry brambles.

It was after photographing all these sights that we came to discover we had reached the Clarksburg Marina, a good 50 miles from home. And the time we’d had so much of to use as we wished was suddenly growing short; we needed to start heading home. We backtracked along Highway 160 until we reached Isleton again, where we stopped off for lunch at the Levee Café. We made it back home with time to spare, our camera loaded with images from our adventure, a few of which we’ll share with you in this month’s photo gallery. You can see more at Roni’s DeviantART website.

* * *

Speaking of DeviantART, if you haven’t checked out Ben’s work lately you really should. He has been drawing up a storm and recently used some tips he learned from one of his anime drawing books to come up with some creative new portraits. We sometimes think that if we left him alone for several hours he could spend the entire time working on his website and not know we were gone. He has invested many hours building the site and daily posts dozens of new pictures and episodic stories he has written. We don’t quite understand it all, being behind the curve when it comes to the workd of anime, but we do think he is improving.

* * *

This month’s newsletter is being composed in the writing sanctuary as usual, but with cutting edge technology. Well, it seems cutting edge compared to the technology it replaced: a 16-year-old Macintosh Performa. Sadly, the trusty Performa suffered a catastrophic disk failure in early January, wiping out nearly six years of newsletters and Glenn’s literary efforts. The good news is that more than 95 percent of all those writings were backed up elsewhere. (Word to the wise: ALWAYS back up!) The bad news is that the 5 percent that wasn’t backed up is now in all likelihood hopelessly lost, and there were a few things that Glenn regrets mightily having lost. While the old drive could easily be reformatted and the old computer continue to be used, Glenn opted not to do so on the outside chance he might still be able to recover fragments of his lost work.

Besides, 16 years is an eternity in the computer world. The Performa, which still had a floppy disk drive, doesn’t have USB ports and boats a limited 16 megabytes of RAM. It can’t easily be expanded beyond its current configuration or networked with the other computers we own, so it was time to upgrade to something more recent. Something more high-tech. Something like Ben’s old iMac. Actually, it was our new iMac in August 2000. We gave it to Ben in March 2004 when we bought our first eMac, and replaced it with the exact same model bought off Ebay a couple years later when the power board died. Ben stopped using the iMac for good after we got him his own used eMac for his birthday last May, so since then it had been gathering dust in the writing sanctuary.

Glenn spent most of the last half of January performing data recovery on the old machine and transferring files to the iMac, then cleaning up his work area to accommodate the iMac’s larger profile. He has slowly been returning to the business of writing at night, his efforts interrupted by work and life’s other daily demands. He hopes to carve out more time with the upcoming furlough.

* * *

It looks as though the blossom walk will have to wait for another day. It’s closing in on 3 p.m. and while the patches of sunlight continue to punch through the clouds, the overall tone of the weather this Presidents’ Day has been established since morning. We’ll just hope the blossoms can hang on for another week or two and allow us to get out with the camera on a nice day soon to photograph them. We’ll have blossom pics next month, we promise!

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Monday, March 23, 2009 at 01:20 hrs.

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