Photo of the month

Roni is all smiles, and why shouldn't she be? She's celebrating her 50th birthday surrounded by flowers, thanks to a bouquet courtesy of her in-laws and the bountiful blossoms of our backyard wisteria vine. Photo by Glenn.

April 2012

Ugh, it's tax time! Roni conducts the annual ritual of sorting through a shoebox full of receipts in search of those all-important deductions. Photo by Glenn.

Even the cats get to participate at tax time, although their idea of participating is somewhat less helpful. Photo by Glenn.

This is a cool copper wind spinner thingy we got at a deep discount from Raley's. It takes a pretty stiff breeze to get it working — try tornado strength. Photo by Glenn.

The signs of spring are all around our garden. One of the many ladybugs roaming our yard makes its way along the edge of the strawberry terrace. Photo by Glenn.

We don't have many poppies in the yard this spring, but here's a nice orange one growing in one of the planter barrels near our side fence. Photo by Glenn.

The wisteria is absolutely loving its new home on the BAP pergola. This is by far its best blossom output in the decade we've had the vine. Photo by Glenn.

This is a sight we haven't seen in our yard for the past two years — mourning doves nesting on our back patio. Dad keeps watch while Mom sits on March 23. Photo by Glenn.

And speaking of March 23, it is Roni's 50th birthday. We went with an all-gold theme this year, in honor of her golden anniversary. The balloons in the dining room feature congratulatory messages on all sides. Photo by Glenn.

Roni poses for a birthday portrait with some of her golden props. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn prepares to enjoy his meal as we dine out at Applebee's for Roni's birthday. Photo by Roni.

Back home from dinner, it's time to dig in to Roni's ice cream cake. We did the numeral candles this year to avoid setting off the smoke alarm. Photo by Glenn.

A special present for a special birthday girl. A new 40" LCD TV for the bedroom. Photo by Glenn.

Ben enjoys the spoils of Roni's birthday present, as our old 36" tube TV makes its way into his bedroom. Photo by Glenn.

Katy is quite OK with the new TV, which leaves her more room to perch on top of the display stand. Hey, you make a better door than a window! Photo by Glenn.

"Everyone else got TV sets and all I get is this crummy lei?" Photo by Ben.

We visited the HALO animal shelter in Oakley to support their art sale fundraiser. We commissioned caricature artist Big Al to draw Eevee and Katy together... Photo by Glenn.

...Here is the finished work, compiled from two reference photos. We think it captures their personalities well. Illustration by Big Al.

Who says Easter fun ends once the kids are grown? Roni and Ben still enjoy dyeing eggs. Photo by Glenn.

A few of the finished Easter eggs sit in the carton to dry. Photo by Glenn.

Easter candy is something you never outgrow. Photo by Glenn.

When the Lowe's delivery truck shows up in our driveway it means there's a big project afoot. It's bright and early on April 14 when the pallets of retaining wall blocks start stacking up near the garage. Photo by Glenn.

This is what 650 unassembled retaining wall blocks looks like. Five pallets of backbreaking hauling work awaits. Photo by Glenn.

Ben helps move some of the heavy blocks into the backyard. Photo by Glenn.

The blocks stack up along the back fence, closer to where they will be needed. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn is exhausted after moving 252 blocks in one afternoon. Photo by Roni.

Now comes the fun part. Glenn digs out the trench where the new retaining wall will go. He's already made a lot of progress. Photo by Roni.

Here is a completed section of the new wall, which when finished will be 104 feet long. Photo by Glenn.

These are edible flowers that Roni prepared for our 24th wedding anniversary cake. They have been dipped in sugar and are drying before being applied to the iced cake. The experiment wasn't half bad. Photo by Glenn.

Would you believe that we had never had a martini before March 30? Scratch another item off the bucket list. We take part in happy hour at Mike's Beef 'N' Brew in Oakley. Photo by Roni.

Is Roni getting tipsy, or is it just your eyes? Like 007, she prefers her martini shaken, not stirred. Photo by Glenn.

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She's our golden girl

April 25, 2012

It’s not every day that someone in the household celebrates a major milestone birthday, although for us, 2012 marks a couple of significant personal anniversaries. Ben, of course, is on the threshold of 18 in just a little more than a week from now, and we’ll be sure to have more to say about that next month. But meanwhile, Roni celebrated a key birthday of her own on March 23 when she hit the big Five-Oh. Let the “over the hill” jokes begin, but we beat you to them a decade ago when we celebrated her 40th birthday with black steamers, balloons and enough gag gifts to last poor Roni a lifetime.

This being her all-important 50th birthday, we thought something a little classier was in order. Fifty is the traditional year of all things gold, so it was only natural that we should go on a decorating quest that incorporated the color into the theme of the celebration. Glenn made a run to the local party supply outlet one morning and scooped up every gold thing he could find that had to do with birthdays… or weddings. It is amazingly simple to find party stuff for golden wedding anniversaries. The gold foil confetti “50s” were as at home in Roni’s birthday décor as they would be at an anniversary bash for a pair of old marrieds. Likewise, so were the gold balloons, the gold inflatable table centerpieces, the gold Jordan almonds and the fancy plastic Hawaiian lei. Uh, perhaps not the lei, but it was the right color and kept things from getting too formal. How can a star birthday guest not be in a good mood when draped in a large golden lei?

There were also gold streamers, of course, which we draped from the ceiling fan and the light in the dining room, stringing them from one corner of the living room to the other, so that when Roni awoke the morning of her birthday, the room was a festive yellow and gold.

Normally when it’s your birthday you get to enjoy it at your own pace, but Roni’s time was anything but her own. Her social calendar was fairly occupied, as she was invited out for lunch with her friends and clients, and for coffee at Starbucks with her sister, neice and nephew. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it gave Ben and Glenn more time to finish gift-wrapping and setting up for the evening’s party happenings.

We had several folks ask if we were planning a big gathering to celebrate Roni’s birthday, and while we briefly considered organizing one, we settled instead for the quiet evening at home approach. Or rather, we spent some time at home after going out to eat dinner with half of Antioch. We had a few stale gift certificates for Outback Steakhouse, so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to use them. But being that it was a Friday evening, Outback was a total mob scene when we showed up to eat around 7 p.m. We hunted around in vain for a parking space, then finally decided to save the Outback for a quieter day of the week and instead made our way across town to Applebee’s. It took awhile to get seated, but the meal was pleasant despite the crowd. You’d never guess we are in a slow economy by the looks of the Friday night dining scene.

At home, we pulled out Roni’s traditional favorite ice cream cake and did the birthday singing thing. We decided to get the cake from John’s Ice Cream this year instead of Cold Stone Creamery or Baskin-Robbins as we had done in years past. The cookies ‘n’ cream was excellent. Roni is partial to pralines flavor, so just for her we bought a separate quart of the pralines so she could have a scoop of it with her cake.

Despite repeated interrogation efforts by her husband to probe for what might constitute her ideal birthday present this year, Roni had a hard time settling on any one thing. It’s sort of like by the time you reach her seasoned age that you have most of what you want or need to be happy, so that was pretty much like giving Glenn carte blanche to choose the perfect gift for her — short of a new Apple laptop, which she has had on her wish list for a while now to update her MacBook that is starting to feel its age. We figured the current model has another year or two of useful life.

What didn’t have a lot of useful life left was the old tube TV in our bedroom, which after more than 11 years has been threatening its demise with increased frequency. Its 36-inch screen was doing more snapping, crackling and popping than a bowl of Rice Krispies in milk. We’d talked about replacing it after it finally died. But the temptation to do so earlier made a nice tie-in with Glenn’s desire to get Roni a memorable gift, and so it was that the huge box she unwrapped at the end of the evening revealed a 40-inch Samsung LCD set.

It wasn’t something Roni had expected, but she wasn’t complaining about it either. Now we would have a good TV in the bedroom again after spending the past five years with the old tube set that had been in the living room up to the time we got our large screen plasma set in 2007. Ben was more than happy to take the old tube off our hands. He set it up on the floor of his bedroom where it makes a cool set for playing video games and watching Netflix on his Wii.

With the old 100-pound set cleared out of our room, we spent the rest of the night hooking up the new Samsung and testing out its settings while getting comfortable on our bed — truly the most ideal TV viewing spot in the house. As one of Roni’s gifts, we got a wireless Sony Streaming Media Player so that we can play our Netflix account on our bedroom TV. It’s got a lot of other capabilities too, including access to the Internet, YouTube, music stations and more.

The TV and the streaming player turned out to be the perfect gift, because they arrived at the beginning of Glenn’s vacation just as we got started with a streak of nasty weather that brought rain and gloom for most of the next week. Instead of pulling weeds and sprucing up the garden as we had planned to do, we hid out in the bedroom watching Netflix shows. Roni got us started watching the old CBS series “Jericho,” so over the next few days we watched all 29 episodes. It’s amazing how quickly you can get through an hourlong TV show when the commercials are removed and it’s compressed to 43 minutes.

We finally had occasion to use our gift certificates to the Outback a few days later when we celebrated (belatedly) our 24th wedding anniversary. We had planned to do the dinner and a movie thing on March 26, our anniversary proper, but life got in the way, as it often does. We ate out the following day, and found that Tuesday night beats Friday night by a long way if you are trying to avoid crowds.

* * * * *

At last, Lowe’s has its retaining wall blocks on sale again. This may not seem important until you realize that we have been waiting for this occurrence since last May, when we decided as an experiment to test a few out along the slope behind our BAP pergola. In 2000, we lugged several hundred plantable concrete wall blocks into our backyard to replace the sagging 3-foot-tall wood retaining wall that had been in place since before we moved in. We salvaged the redwood boards from the old wall to use as a makeshift retaining fence for the soil piled above the replacement wall. And for more than a decade that system worked well enough, although it wasn’t wholly effective. Over time, the sand blew down and piled up in places we didn’t want it, such as the patio, and the gophers had a grand time tunneling over, under and around the boards. We wanted something a little less… rustic.

Last spring, we bought 77 12-inch keystone interlocking blocks just to test them out on a small segment of the wall. Rather than stack them tightly next to one another, we built the wall with 4-inch gaps between each block, thinking that the pattern would provide gaps for planting and would echo the look of the lower wall. What leaving those gaps did was create holes for weeds to grow and for the gopher to shove dirt through. We decided this time around to build the wall the conventional way, which meant rebuilding the experimental section we had done and ordering another 650 blocks to complete the project.

Unlike the first 77 blocks that we carted home in the back of Roni’s car in several trips last year, we knew the way to go was to have this order delivered. The extra 80 bucks proved to be a good investment when the Lowe’s flatbed truck showed up early Saturday, April 14, and the driver used his forklift to wheel the five pallets we’d purchased onto our driveway. He stacked them two-up, side by side in front of the garage door. At 126 blocks per pallet, plus a few extras on the largest pallet, it would take a good long time to cart them to the backyard.

Glenn spent the rest of that day moving the blocks mostly on his own, taking them six at a time in the plastic wheelbarrow we’d bought last spring to haul dirt. Roni, still nursing her sore ankle, offered moral support by working in the garden while Glenn made trip after trip to collect more concrete. Ben thought he would help too, tempted by a bounty of 10 cents per block, until he discovered that 20 pounds a pop is a major drain, physically, even with the aid of a dolly. He was good for 21 blocks before he decided Dad could keep the change. In all, we emptied three pallets during the weekend and left the remaining two for another day.

The nearly 400 blocks we moved was more than enough to get things started. Glenn stacked most of them along the back fence so they would be easily accessible when it came time to move them into place. Starting by the stairs in the garden, he removed all the old retaining boards, excavated a mostly level trench, and started placing the blocks seven courses high. Completing a few feet each day, Glenn managed close to 40 feet in the first week. It’s far from a perfect effort, but it is mostly straight and tall enough to do its job of holding back the soil adjacent to the railroad grade. At this rate the project should be finished sometime early next month.

The reason for building the wall now is that we want to clean our garage. It’s sort of a domino effect. Once the wall is built, we’ll have a place to put all the sand from the hole we dug for our garden pond project. Once the sand is moved from the hole, we’ll be able to lower the old spa into the ground and fill it with water to become the pond. Once the pond is installed, we’ll be able to get to all the garbage that is trapped in the side yard and rent a Dumpster to haul it away. Once we get the Dumpster, we can empty a lot of crap out of our garage. Once we get rid of all the crap in the yard, we’ll be able to reach the back corner where Glenn wants to build a shed. Once the shed is built, we’ll have more space to organize gardening supplies and get them out of the garage. Once we have emptied out the garage, Ben will be able to hang out there with his friends like he has been begging us to be able to do for years now. Of course, by the time that happens he’ll be a college graduate and won’t care anymore, but that’s the way it goes.

And speaking of college, Ben has applied and been accepted to community college. He filled out the application online himself and was quite pleased to receive notification that his application was accepted and being processed. What he wasn’t counting on was that the acceptance was for Contra Costa College in San Pablo, when he thought he was applying to Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. We’re still looking into what this really means, but be assured that he’d rather stick close to home than have to commute to the west side of the county.

What Ben would truly like to do is sign up to attend Academy of Art University in San Francisco. We’d love to see that happen for him too, if that’s what he wants to pursue as a career, but the reality is the tuition is close to $100,000 and out of his league and ours. So we’re all in agreement that starting at the community college to finish off his general education and transferring to get his bachelor’s degree is the more affordable alternative. Plus it will give him the opportunity to find out if this college gig is right for him. Considering that he is counting the days to the end of high school and ready for a break, not fully eager to enter the workforce or settled on a career path, junior college is likely to be a daunting experience all by itself.

* * * * *

The mourning doves have passed over our yard the last couple of years for nesting purposes, and we had begun to wonder if we would ever have them back. We used to enjoy watching them when they nested in the baskets hanging from our pergola near the dining room window. We hadn’t seen them in so long that we were quite surprised to find a couple making their nest on the patio the same day as Roni’s birthday. What a cool present.

Rather than setting up house in one of the baskets we had provided for such use, the doves chose a spot above one of the cross braces in the pergola. You never know for sure what they see in a nesting location. After sitting on the nest through three weeks of rain, wind, heat and predator birds, mama dove appeared one morning last week with a healthy looking squab sitting alongside her. A couple days later we saw a second baby. They made their first flight on Sunday, April 22. We didn’t see it happen, but the nest was empty and the two adults were keeping a watchful eye over one of the fledglings. We have a sneaking suspicion that the second baby dove may have met a cruel fate, as it was not with the others and the nest has been plundered by blue jays several times. If the other baby makes it then it has beaten long odds against its survival. We’ll hope.

That’s gonna have to do it for this month. Already, May is looking like it will be busy as well. We’ll have more to share next time.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 00:56 hrs.

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