Photo of the month

Just when she was beginning to think she'd never see a bouquet of fresh roses again, Roni got a surprise on our 22nd wedding anniversary. Now if we could only get them to grow this well in our own yard. Photo by Glenn.

March 2010

Ariel tries to help Glenn read. Yes, having a cat in front of the pages makes the process much easier. Photo by Roni.

WARNING: Viewing this month's photos may incite thirst or hunger, especially if you've got a sweet tooth.

Glenn enjoys a margarita as we spend an evening out on Valentine's weekend. The drink was a rare one in that Glenn largely has to avoid alcohol while on his valley fever medicine. Photo by Roni.

We celebrated Mardi Gras a couple of weeks late, but did it in traditional NOLA fashion by ordering a real king cake straight from Haydel's Bakery. Glenn sits with all the stuff that came in the (very crushed) box. Photo by Roni.

The king cake from Haydel's always ships with colorful beads, coins and a collectible figurine. This year customers get this jester. Photo by Roni.

Glenn prepares to dig into a gorgonzola-stuffed burger at Mike's Beef 'N' Brew in Oakley on March 20. Just part of Roni's plan to beef Glenn up during his vacation. Photo by Roni.

The problem with helping hubby beef up is that wifey winds up eating all that great food too. She offered him her share of the calories in this raspberry Italian cream soda from Johnny Carino's, where we went to celebrate Roni's birthday March 23. Photo by Glenn.

What do you get when you combine vanilla and orange cream sodas? Two glasses to shield you from the camera. Photo by Roni.

This is Roni's ice cream cake. Asked if she wanted numerals or traditional birthday candles, she chose the candles... Photo by Roni.

...And here's what two packs of tiny candles looks like all ablaze. Better blow 'em out quick, hon, the cake's melting! Photo by Roni.

It takes a few minutes to yank the remnants of melted wax out of the melted frosting. Photo by Glenn.

Now for something less appetizing... The tub in the little bathroom had serious drainage issues until we figured out how to get the stopper out and clean out a dozen years of gunk. This is the first phase of a series of bathroom repairs we plan to do. Photo by Glenn.

The surest sign of spring is the arrival of poppies and lupines, both of which dominate the landscape near the Ironhouse Sanitary District offices on March 25. Photo by Roni.

The flowers in our yard are doing great too. The alyssum is self-sowing and here is seen overrunning Winter's Garden. Photo by Glenn.

The poppies also have no problem taking over. They have all but swallowed up the cat statue atop what is supposed to be our strawberry terrace. Photo by Glenn.

Aaaaack! The other thing that grows well at this time of year is weeds. They're nearly as tall as our rosemary bush. Photo by Glenn.

Roni and her weedwhacker make short work of those prolific green colonies of clorophyll. Photo by Glenn.

Watch out for the wild woman with her pruning shears. Looking for more plants to whip into shape, Roni starts in on the front yard hedges. Photo by Glenn.

Ben does his part to get the yard into shape, bagging all the trimmings. That's a huge pile he's working through, but he was getting paid by the hour. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn stepped out for a haircut. When he returned, he bore a dozen roses and a bottle of alcohol-free white wine. Happy anniversary, sweetie. Photo by Glenn.

Hopefully these won't be the last roses we see around our house this year. Mr. Gopher dreams about this bouquet. Photo by Roni.

We visited the East Contra Costa Historical Society museum in Brentwood on March 27 for the museum's annual opening day festivities. Photo by Glenn.

Roni chats with some of the museum volunteers, who were dressed in historic costumes. Photo by Glenn.

Where's Mom? Ben takes advantage of modern technology to track down Roni elsewhere on the museum grounds. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn and Ben pose for a photo in front of a huge mustard field in front of the museum. Note the lemon that Ben has tucked under his left arm; it was a giveaway at the museum. Photo by Roni.

Roni takes her turn in front of the mustard field. Ben has lost the lemon but is now holding a crushed Pepsi can. Love those props. Photo by Glenn.

Eevee has made himself comfortable on the back of Glenn's computer chair, a situation that will only last until he realizes Glenn is sitting there. This was a few days after Eevee's vet visit for a urinary tract infection, so we can only assume that he was still disoriented. Photo by Glenn.

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Pileup on the Information Stupor Highway

March 31, 2010

If you know nothing else about computers besides how to hop on to the Internet and read your e-mail, the first thing to remember is that when someone tells you something is very easy to do, it usually isn’t. Or perhaps it is, if one happens to be a computer science major — which we aren’t. It’s not that we are completely technologically illiterate, having worked with and around computer systems for the better part of three decades, but we don’t exactly keep up with the latest trends in software or geek-speak, and there have been numerous advances in the recent past (which in computer terms would be about the last seven nanoseconds.)

This lack of techno savvy became painfully apparent when we decided it was time to update some of our many websites, including this one, which haven’t had a facelift in some time. We had designed them using good old Hypertext Markup Language, better known as HTML. It was the way to go in the late ‘90s and we were comfortable with it. A decade later, HTML has largely given way to Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, which affords web designers greater control over the appearance of their sites. The downside is that learning how to work with it is sort of like driving a car with a manual transmission after you’ve spent your whole life driving an automatic; it’s temperamental, and if you don’t shift properly you can bind the gears.

In our case there have been no gear grindings, except perhaps of those in our own tired brains as we plod through what at first sounded like an easy project (see our opening sentence) using Adobe Dreamweaver CS4. Last fall, Roni said she wanted to learn how to program in CSS, and so for Christmas she received a copy of Dreamweaver CS4 For Dummies that she has been faithfully reading ever since. When things in the book started getting technical, Roni called in our resident Dummy, Glenn, who rather than wade through the meaty book ventured boldly into her redesign project before realizing CSS bore little resemblance to the familiar HTML code of yore.

We discovered that while Dreamweaver is remarkably adept at generating CSS code, applying that code with little knowledge of how it functions can turn even a simple project into a weeks-long marathon at best and a nightmarish disaster at worst. But as with all things, from learning comes knowledge, and from repetition comes skill. We are still shooting to have some sites redesigned this year, but our timeline has been pushed back a bit.

* * * * *

Web design has consumed such an inordinate amount of time this past month that we have scarcely found time for anything else. Even a week of vacation (two weeks for Ben) seemed to fly by, with the bulk of our adventures being confined to yard work and trips to the grocery store. Oh yeah, we ate out a lot as well. Concerned about Glenn’s ongoing weight loss, Roni made it her goal to fatten him up during his break from March 20-28, and she accomplished this goal by feeding him mostly good old-fashioned calorie-loaded American cuisine.

The dining spree began with a gorgonzola stuffed hamburger from Mike’s Beef ‘N’ Brew in Oakley, then continued over the next nine days with pizza, ice cream, barbecue and Mexican fare. Glenn tracked down a list of popular sandwiches from around the country, so we picked a few out and had them for lunches and dinners. There was a pretty decent interpretation of a meatball sandwich, followed later by a tamale bathed in chili and stuffed in a hotdog bun for a Chicago delicacy known as a Mother-in-law Sandwich. Taking a clue from the “Man v. Food” program on the Travel Channel, we experimented with another cheese-stuffed burger called the “Jucy Lucy.” We wrapped up the ninth day with our own version of The Elvis — a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich that includes honey and slabs of bacon. It tastes much better than it sounds.

But as they say in the TV infomercials, “Wait, there’s more!”

During the week we also celebrated Roni’s birthday and our 22nd wedding anniversary by dining out. The evening of March 23 we enjoyed dinner at Johnny Carino’s in Antioch, feasting on pasta dishes smothered in butter and cream sauces and washing them down with limitless glasses of Italian cream soda. Then we went home to help Roni celebrate her 29th birthday (again) with big slabs of partially melted ice cream cake from Cold Stone Creamery. No, the cake didn’t come to us melted, it got that way after we lit all “29” of the birthday candles. Three days later we found ourselves at the Chinese buffet for our anniversary dinner — a choice made partially to appease Ben, who loves Asian cuisine. We loaded our plates with all variety of greasy goodness and polished off the meal with giant bowls of soft-serve ice cream.

Throw in snacks, a bag of pre-sale Easter candy and departure from the regular work week routine, and the net result for Glenn was 7 pounds gained over nine days. We are under no illusions that he will be able to maintain those extra pounds while on his Valley Fever medicine, but at least it’s a step in the proper direction.

* * * * *

Health matters have been keeping us busy of late, which is perhaps coincidental or another sign that we are getting older. Glenn got some positive news this month when his latest blood test showed no measurable levels of Coccidioidomycosis, which is the clinical name for the fungal infection that causes valley fever. However, his doctor remains cautious in light of a later test that showed an elevated white blood cell count, which means another series of tests. Glenn underwent an MRI on March 18 after complaining of pain in his right shoulder that has been increasing since his November hospital stay. The diagnosis is a rotator cuff injury, although the MRI failed to confirm this because the technician didn’t scan the rotator cuff. Huh? Perhaps the upcoming CT scan, x-ray and scheduled appointment with his primary physician will tell us more.

Both of our cats have also been ailing, although we are most concerned about Ariel who is approaching her 18th birthday. She’s never been in the most robust health, but recently she refuses to eat much of anything and can’t hit the broad side of a barn when she uses the litter box. Her legs are old and rickety and she has great difficulty leaping up to anyplace above floor level, which is a problem because she is used to drinking her water on the bathroom counter. We are grappling with the decision of whether it’s best to put her down. Her next trip to the vet is very likely to be her last.

Eevee, on the other hand, was the last pet we expected to have health problems. He’s approaching his ninth birthday and typically he eats like a horse, or at least the very huge cat that he is — a hefty 18 pounds. Then he mysteriously stopped eating for a couple of days in February. We didn’t think much of it because he soon regained his appetite. Perhaps a cold. Then one day a couple weeks later we noticed bloody urine in the litter box and assumed it was Ariel. Blood equals vet visit. For reasons stated above, we braced ourselves for the worst.

The problem is that the litter box is shared by both cats and we couldn’t tell which one was having the issue. So we watched over the weekend and soon discovered that Eevee, not Ariel, was the patient requiring attention. He was running to the box about once every two minutes, scratching furiously at the clay, and producing very little. So Roni called the vet early Monday morning and was advised to bring the cat in immediately. It turns out that he had developed a urinary tract infection common in large male cats that can be life-threatening if not promptly treated. Sounds a lot like kidney stones in humans, although the vet described the condition as crystals that back up into the urinary track and eventually damage the kidneys. She thinks we treated it in time.

Unfortunately, to prevent a reoccurrence of his symptoms, Eevee now must eat for the rest of his life a special brand of cat food called Urinary SO 33. Obviously the marketing department was on vacation when the manufacturer came up with that name. The food is not generally available over the counter, but the vet is happy to sell it to us at $22 a bag. This could become expensive if Eevee actually liked the food, which so far he doesn’t seem to; he’d much prefer Ariel’s. Ariel doesn’t seem to mind the medicated stuff, however. The vet says it won’t hurt her, but then it’s not helping Eevee at the bottom of her gut. The grass is always greener…

We got Eevee back from the vet a few hours after dropping him off. He’d been pumped full of fluids in hopes that he would pee out the infection. This became evident when he promptly peed all over Roni as she and Ben were signing the paperwork (that is, paying the $400 bill) to bring him home.

We’d been warned that Eevee might be incontinent for a few days and were advised to place puppy training pads around the house in the various spots the cat frequents, just in case. Aside from a couple of small mishaps, Eevee was his old self again quickly and had no need of the pads. Ariel, on the other hand, decided she preferred the pads to the litter box. And while she was at it, she also decided to employ the services of the throw rugs in the master bathroom, which are the same blue color as the pads. Argh!

So now the house looks and smells like a hospital, but at least all the patients — human and animal — are home.

* * * * *

We’re several days into spring and slowly venturing back into the yard to resume our never ending battles with weeds and gophers. There seems so much work to do and too little time to accomplish it all.

Ben has been looking for ways to earn money to satisfy his anime habit, so Roni put him to work at minimum wage raking, weeding, sweeping and performing general cleanup duties under her supervision. He did a thorough job on the back patio, removing at least seven bags of garbage from atop and around the spa. He also helped bag clippings from the shrubs in the front yard planter as Roni trimmed back the wisteria and liberated everything else from the thicket of honeysuckle vines that had taken over. Talk about your invasive plants!

Roni whacked the weeds in the back yard, while Glenn cleaned out the fountain in Summer’s Garden so we’d be able to enjoy it again after the winter months. The gophers are ravenous this time of year and have been tearing up every bit of ground that isn’t otherwise protected with barrels or cages. They’ve been active in both front and back yards and lately have grown bored with us and moved on to conquer new territory on the neighbors’ front lawns.

The wildflowers are at their peak now as poppies and lupines take up the baton from the mustard that is about at the end of its season. We don’t have any lupines or mustard growing in our yard right now, but the poppies seem bent on taking over the world. All those plants we let go to seed last summer gave rise to the current crop that began growing in December. We’ve already torn a lot of them out, but left just enough to ensure that we’ll have plenty of color to get us through spring. The wisteria on the front porch is doing well, and every night its sweet cinnamon scent wafts on the breeze.

* * * * *

RAT REPORT: The critter that invaded our attic two months ago may or may not be dead. And it may or may not have friends. Sorry to be so vague, but we haven’t been up to check since Glenn tossed bait blocks around three weeks ago. We’ve heard plenty of eating going on up there, which if one believes the package should result in a dead critter. It’s been mostly quiet, although Roni swears she heard something in the attic on Monday night and then again in the garage Tuesday evening. Our fear is that the first rat is dead but its buddies have been following in its skittering footsteps now that a trail to the attic has been blazed. Next up: checking the garage to seal off all entry points.

* * * * *

We didn’t go anywhere on our recent vacation, so Roni wanted to make sure that we accomplished things around the house — besides fattening up her husband. We decided that if only one thing on the honey-do list got tackled it needed to be the little bathroom, which has been in desperate need of repairs. We started with the leak in the bathtub and the clogged drain. We’d attempted a drain cleanout years ago with little success because we couldn’t figure out how to get the drain plug off. This time Glenn sat down with the Internet and learned what to do, and the result was retrieval of a pile of gunk that might make an EPA inspector blush. Hair, small toys, soap scum and towel threads all had become lodged in the drain to make it nearly impenetrable.

The tub spout, rusted solid from years of neglect, leaked steadily. We already intended to replace the washer in the valve stem — another task we’d once tried ourselves before calling in a plumber — and decided that the drain basket looked so hideous that we’d want to replace that as well. Before we knew it, we were walking out of Home Depot with about $100 worth of tub faucet products and tools.

The general rule is that if you replace a faucet it must be with a product from the same manufacturer, as all the makers vary their products slightly from one another. We picked up a faucet kit from Moen that promised us everything we needed, except for one minor detail: it didn’t fit. Our 22-year-old Moen faucet was incompatible with the newer model, so short of ripping out a portion of the wall to put in a new valve we were stuck with exactly what we already had. Fortunately there are some generic repair kits available, so after returning the incompatible faucet we were able to obtain what we needed and had money left over to buy a new shower head too.

Replacing the drain basket proved to be the most challenging part of the project, requiring the strength of Hercules to break the seal made by the ancient plumbers putty. The first drain wrench we bought didn’t fit, naturally, and the second one worked only with both of us working in tandem, Roni pressing down the top end while Glenn used a pipe wrench to finally loosen the threads.

The tub fixtures are all in place now and they look great — too good for the crappy bathtub they’re attached to, but at least the drip is gone. We’ll be tackling the toilet and sink next, then doing some painting before replacing the linoleum floor and updating the light fixture.

That’s going to do it for March. Gotta get this posted before the month expires hours from now.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 01:17 hrs.

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