It takes a mighty big set of candles to acknowledge a mighty big birthday. Hard as it is to believe, our baby boy celebrated his 21st birthday May 2. Ben is now a fully vested adult. Photo by Glenn.

200 newsletters and counting

May 29, 2015: Welcome to the historic 200th edition of the Gehlke Gazette — well, it's historic to us, anyway. That's one issue every month since October 1998, which is about 199 newsletters more than we thought we'd produce when we started this thing. But we'll keep at it as long as it continues to be fun writing these, and each month seems to find us in the middle of a new adventure (or crisis), or perhaps the continuation of an old one, which is the case this month.

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.


Roni tries to interest some young visitors in the coloring sheets she has available at her Delta Science Center Booth during the final day of Oakley Science Week at the Ironhouse Sanitary District, April 25. Photo by Glenn.


This month's newsletter features lots of intense stares from owls, just so you know. This barn owl was one of the star attractions during the science week event, which featured an owl show put on by the Lindsay Wildlife Museum. Photo by Glenn.


Roni listens along with an attentive audience as Lindsay Museum staff member Jessica Groetsch explains the physical attributes of a great horned owl. Photo by Glenn.


A look you definitely don't want to see if you are a small rodent. Photo by Glenn.


Ben received a 21-balloon salute for his 21st birthday on May 2. Roni stopped by the party store and picked up 21 helium-filled balloons that we placed around the living room along with a couple of rolls of Pokémon streamers — a nod to one of Ben's early childhood loves. Photo by Glenn.


You're supposed to celebrate 21 with an adult beverage, but Ben is perfectly happy to start his day with doughnuts and one of his favorite Starbucks coffee drinks. Photo by Roni.


Oh yeah, about that adult beverage... Ben got his "real" drink when we went out to dinner at Red Robin in Brentwood. With Ben's grandparents and uncle also in attendance, there was more alcohol flowing around our table than we've probably consumed in our home in the past year.. Photo by Roni.


Ben and Grandma Gehlke share a laugh over a cat video before the opening of presents at our house. Photo by Glenn.


I suppose you find this funny? The boy gets the birthday party and all I get is cleanup duty. Photo by Glenn.


Getting our washer and dryer installed was anything but easy. The delivery guys got them as far as the laundry room on Saturday, May 9, but it was up to us to complete the hookup job Meanwhile, the new machines blocked our entry to the garage. Photo by Glenn.


The new laundry ensemble installed, Roni prepares for the first load of wash on May 10, Mother's Day. She joked that given the weeks we survived without a washing machine, she might be the only mom excited about doing laundry on Mother's Day. Photo by Glenn.


One of the drawbacks to a stacked washer/dryer combo? It takes a ladder for someone of short stature to reach the dryer controls. Photo by Glenn.


Does this look familiar? May 15 found us back on Jersey Island for the start of another summer of growing rice for the Delta Science Center's AFRI rice project. The field has already been tilled, now all we have to do is rebuild the greenhouse. Photo by Glenn.


Roni unearths pieces of the greenhouse frame that we disassembled last fall. The door, visible at right, was the only part of the frame we left intact. Photo by Glenn.


Glenn works to assemble to wood frame that supports the front of the rice greenhouse. We were lucky to have some cloud cover that kept the temperature down while we worked outdoors for two days to complete the project. Photo by Roni.


We never got to Yosemite on our vacation, but we sort of got to see half dome. The rice greenhouse is nearly ready to go. All that's left is to cover the PVC hops with plastic sheeting — a task best left for a morning when there is no Delta breeze. Photo by Glenn.


A burrowing owl makes a very rare appearance atop a fence post on Jersey Island. We;re not quite sure why it's winking at us. Maybe it knows something we don't? Photo by Glenn.


Roni joined the "selfie stick" craze when she picked up one on sale at Raley's this month. It's supposed to allow you to control your cell phone camera via the handle so you can capture great moments like this one. She hasn't quite got the hang of it yet. Photo by Roni.


We didn't make it to New Orleans on our vacation, but we found the next best thing at the NOLA Po'boy and Gumbo Kitchen in nearby Concord on May 20. Roni fell in love with the decor and the very authentic cuisine. Photo by Glenn.


Another of our favorite local restaurant dives is sporting a new look these days. The neon sign advertising the Striper Cafe in Rio Vista recently got a fresh paint job and is looking sharp in its spot along Main Street on May 23. Photo by Glenn.

Last month we introduced you to the sad saga of our broken washing machine. Our LG front-loader decided it had had enough after just six and a half years of service, so after learning that the repair cost would be almost the same as buying a new replacement, we bought a nearly identical model from Home Depot with the hope that it would be installed beneath our existing LG dryer. It was only after the delivery guys showed up at our home and refused to install our new washer with the old dryer on a bunch of techicalities that we learned replacing a stacked washer/dryer set in a laundry room as tiny as ours was right up there with moving mountains on the list of tasks not likely to be accomplished easily or within one day.

It took a few days with our new washer sitting useless in the entryway to our living room for us to decide that we should buy the matching dryer if we wanted the delivery company to install the new units and haul the old ones away, especially given that we didn't have a bunch of strong friends handy to do the moving bit for free, and hiring someone else to move the machines would have set us back about $300. What most convinced us that popping another $900 for a dryer we didn't need yet was the right move was that we didn't want to gamble on the old dryer dying a few months from now and then having to repeat this nasty delivery and installation process. Yes, this was a bit like when the grocery store tells you you "saved" money by shopping at their store. Perhaps, but it doesn't change the fact that you still shelled out a lot more than that to obtain said savings. We gritted our teeth and made the dryer purchase, expecting that to be the end of our long laundry nightmare.

Of course, we were wrong.

The lingering effects of the port worker strike had caused shipping delays for countless products, and Home Depot told us the earliest we could receive our new dryer was May 9. That meant another two weeks of waiting before we could do our laundry at home, but we figured we had waited this long so another few days of grubby clothes wouldn't kill us. Besides, we needed some time to prep the laundry room for the delivery. We were told the new washer couldn't be installed with our old hoses, so we bought a pair of 15-foot garden hoses to replace the unnecessarily long 25-footers we had been using. We also swept out the cat litter and dust that had accumulated in the laundry area, just so there would be as few obstacles as possible for when the guys came to deliver.

Our new dryer arrived late in the afternoon on Saturday, May 9. It was the same two delivery guys who had brought our new washer a couple of weeks earlier, but this time we didn't get the song and dance about how liability concerns prevented them from touching our old dryer; they used an appliance moving harness and brute strength to haul the old dryer out of the laundry room and onto our porch in about three minutes. We had decided to keep it in the hope that someone would want to buy a working older dryer or that we could donate it to a good cause. The same could not be said for the old broken washer, which we had already paid for the guys to haul away. They wrestled it out of the cramped laundry room and went back to their truck while Glenn mopped up puddles of spilled water from the laundry room floor. The old hoses still contained enough water to cause a small flood, but we'd be replacing them soon enough.

The workers brought in the new dryer, stacked it on our new washer, then wheeled the two units through the kitchen and into the laundry room entrance where it would then be up to us to complete the installation. This was mostly because we still needed to hook up the new hoses we'd bought, and it made no sense for the workers to hang around while we performed what was sure to be another half hour of prep work. We signed off the paperwork, thanked them for getting the new machines stacked for us, and they were on their way.

Leaving us with a new dilemma.

It had been nearly seven years since we had installed our previous washer and dryer, and we had forgotten how we accomplished that task. No matter how, it couldn't have been this difficult. The first challenge was that all the hoses and ducting we needed had been left inside the washer and dryer, the fronts of which were inaccessible because the machines were blocking the laundry room door. With Roni's help, Glenn moved the stacked machines back just far enough so he could reach a hand inside and grab the needed parts. But now there was no room to work behind them, so the two of us wriggled and wiggled the machines forward until there was a gap large enough for Glenn to squeeze through. In the process of doing so, one of the washer's feet snagged the vinyl floor and ripped a chunk out of it. Sigh, another problem. It was then another hour of adjusting hoses and fittings and trying to figure out the proper way to hook up the new dryer vent, which seemed impossibly short. When at last Glenn had things hooked up, he was able to escape the confines of the rear of the laundry room, then together and with great difficulty we started shoving the stacked machines into place. Until we heard the dryer vent pop off. Dang it! That vent just seemed too short to reach, and of course Glenn didn't get the screws tightened correctly, so the piece just slipped right off the dryer. We called it a night and decided to take a trip to Home Depot the next morning.

We bought a bunch of vent parts just to be sure we had what we needed, then we headed straight home in an effort to complete the installation before Glenn had to start work. It was a Sunday morning, Mother's Day, but Glenn had one of his rare weekend shifts at the newspaper, so he wouldn't have all day to work on this project, and Roni didn't want to lose another day when she needed to do laundry! The new ducts did the trick, and soon we were back to wrestling the washer and dryer into place close to the back wall of the laundry room. We added some cardboard pieces under the feet to help slide the heavy machines without further damage to the floor.

At last the machines were in place and it was time to turn on the water. Unfortunately the laundry room faucets are 27 years old and the hot water washer had eroded away to nothing. When turned on, the hot water valve leaked all over creation. So Roni headed off to the hardware store in search of a new washer while Glenn tried to remove the handle from the faucet. Guess what? The handle doesn't or wouldn't come off, so the only way to fix the problem appeared to be buying a new faucet. But our house is just old enough that the faucet was soldered in place, not one of the newer types that can be screwed on or off, so it would have required a plumber to do the job for us. Argh! Glenn found a workable temporary fix by wrapping some pipe tape around the inside of the faucet stem, creating enough of a seal that the valve no longer leaked.

We were feeling pretty good about things again until we went to turn on the water once more and discovered that now the faucets were fine, but the hoses leaked. Yes, the brand new 15-foot hoses we had purchased from Home Depot were of poor quality and leaked from their fittings. Also, they were slightly too short to reach the washer when under pressure, so they ripped their retaining brackets from the wall. More problems. At least we were able to get water to the washer and do some laundry, even if we did have to keep a giant bucket beneath the faucets to catch the steady stream of water leaking from the hoses.

Never had we done so many loads of laundry at once. It had been nearly a month since the old washer's demise, and we had limited our wash to just the necessities — underwear, Ben's work uniform, a few shirts — stuff that didn't put too much demand on the old washer's drum. Now it was an all-out laundry orgy. Roni joked that she was probably the only woman excited about doing the laundry on Mother's Day. The washer and dryer are more efficient than the models they replaced, and the clothes got dry in a fraction of the time they used to. Still, the machines ran long into the night. We worried we might wear them out before the end of their first week of service. At least now all the clothes were clean again.

Glenn has since replaced the leaky 15-foot hoses with the two 25-footers we had before, and all our leaks have stopped. The delivery guys told us that our new machines are supposedly built better than the older ones that broke down on us in less than seven years. Let's just hope it is a long, long time until we have to repeat this odyssey.

* * * * *

I

T APPEARS THAT 2015 will be the year of milestone anniversaries in our family. We celebrated Glenn's grandmother's 100th birthday in April, Glenn turns 50 in July, and Ben hit the all-important 21 on May 2. Of course you are supposed to celebrate a 21st birthday with free-flowing booze and a visit to Vegas, but that's not really Ben's style; he was just as happy chowing down on a Sunday breakfast of doughnuts and his favorite Starbucks coffee drink before heading out with his friends later in the day to see the new Avengers movie at The Streets of Brentwood.

That gave Mom and Dad a chance to run out to Best Buy and finish shopping for Ben's birthday gifts. He had been wanting a smart phone for some time, and now that he has a job he is in a position to be able to afford the monthly increase on our AT&T contract. He asked specifically for a Samsung Galaxy S5, which if you know anything about tech gadgets is not the latest and greatest model in the Galaxy line of cell phones. That was a good deal for us, because AT&T was offering incentives on the older model and we were able to pick up the one he wanted very inexpensively. He wanted a blue phone, and we were able to get him exactly the one he asked for. We laughed about it, because once you stick the phone in its protective case, you can't tell what color it is. Just to compensate for that, we made sure to get him a blue case, too.

The fun part for us was that Ben didn't know we were getting him the phone, so when we activated it at Best Buy that afternoon, it immediately cut off the service to his old phone. He discovered this while he was at the theater, tried to send a text, and got a message that his phone's SIM card wasn't working. He and his friends assumed the phone was broken. The good news was that we had made plans to meet up with Ben at The Streets after the movie to take him to dinner at Red Robin with his grandma and grandpa and Uncle Sean, so he didn't have long to worry about his old phone.

Dinner was on us, so as you can imagine there were few inhibitions about ordering drinks beforehand. Ben had already said he wanted to try a real adult beverage in honor of turning 21, so with advice from the rest of us he carefully chose his mixed drink while the rest of us had margaritas and beers. We don't go out drinking much, but tonight our table looked like we could keep up with the best hardcore boozers.

After dinner, we headed back to our house for cake and presents. We'd picked out an ice cream cake from Stone Cold Creamery for Ben and topped it with the largest numeral candles we could find — a giant "21". While at the party center picking up those candles, Roni had also bought streamers and 21 balloons that she filled with helium that morning and which we spread around the living room in a 21-balloon salute. The streamers were for a kid's Pokemon-themed party, but given Ben's continuing love of the animated TV series they seemed appropriate. The funny thing was that everyone was so full from dinner that most weren't hungry for cake right away, including Ben, who once he opened his new cell phone was off to the races programming in contacts and checking out its features.

* * * * *

THE END OF the month found Glenn on a 12-day vacation from work. It came right on the heels of a stetch that found him working 10 days straight, largely because he had to cover a weekend shift and was filling in for a person who was on vacation. The reward, if you can call it that, was that he got a pair of in-lieu days that he tacked on to what was already scheduled to be 10 days off. May is not a normal vacation month for us, but the original plan was that we were going to use the time to travel to visit Roni's sister Donna and her husband Pete, who live in Pennsylvania. We had been making tentative plans to get together since last fall — first in Florida, then in New Orleans, finally in Pennsylvania — but those never quite gelled, so what wound up happening was that we didn't go anywhere for our vacation.

It worked out okay, even though the extent of our travel was a drive to Sacramento on Memorial Day weekend. Roni wound up mired in work she couldn't break away from, and Glenn managed to take some leisure time to write and listen to music — two of his favorite activities — and get some use out of our neglected Netflix account, viewing nine movies in 10 days. We still found plenty of time to go out to eat, checking out several different restaurants that fattened our bellies and lightened our wallets. Among our favorite finds was an authentic New Orleans-style diner in Concord we had never heard of, even though it has been around for a few years. The place, called NOLA Po'boy and Gumbo Kitchen, is run by a pair of sisters who grew up on the bayou and obviously learned a thing or two about good cooking. Glenn ordered the jambalaya and Roni tried the crawfish etouffe, and both were equally delicious. For dessert there were beignets, which we brought home for later. All very yummy.

We also found time to start on the third season of the Delta Science Center's experimental rice-growing project, which Roni has been taking part in through the DSC's partnership with UC Davis. This year the research team is trying a new variety of rice in the Jersey Island field, so Roni first had to drive to UC Davis on May 15 to collect a large sack of the stuff. The rice has to germinate for several days before it can be planted, which is a good thing because we had to rebuild the Jersey Island greenhouse first.

We had disassembled the greenhouse at the end of last summer, completing the process that Mother Nature had already started the previous growing season. The Delta's fierce and unpredictable winds take their toll on the sheet plastic we use to cover the greenhouse frame, so it's best just to take everything apart when not in use. We bought 2,000 square feet of new plastic and some additional supplies from the home improvement centers, then spent three days reassembling the frame on the island.

Roni's colleagues at Ironhouse Sanitary District had already helped her plow the fields with their heavy equipment, saving a lot of time and effort. We were able to recover most of the framing materials we'd used last year, so all we had to do was add a few screws and nails to get things up and running again. We loaded all our gear into Roni's car and set up a table and chairs at the work site for a couple of afternoons of construction duties. The weather cooperated well in the beginning, giving us clouds that kept the sun from beating down on us too much while we worked. Glenn reassembled the frame for the front door and constructed a new wood support frame for the back of the greenhouse. We found all the 20-foot PVC pipes we'd used to form the ribs of the greenhouse, so we reinstalled them on the rebar stakes that were already in the ground and attached to the foundation.

The tough part came when it was time to cover the frame with the new plastic. We made our first attempt on Friday, May 22, late in the afternoon. We should have known better. The wind always picks up in the afternoon, and we only had the two of us to unroll the long sheet of plastic and hold it down while nailing it to the wood foundation. It was a disaster from the get-go. We thought that if we spread the plastic over the top first, the gentle wind coming in from the northeast would help hold it against the frame while we tacked it down with staples on one side, then came around to complete the other side. What actually happened was that the wind did hold the plastic down until we unfurled it over the top of the greenhouse dome, at which point the plastic turned into a giant sail and was all but ripped from our hands. We fought the wind together and managed to staple a piece of one side to the foundation, but the moment we let go to move on to the next section, the wind ripped the staples up like they were cheap cellophane tape. The plastic was getting ruined and there was no chance we were going to complete the job that afternoon.

We bundled up the plastic under some boards and cinder blocks and left it to fend for itself over the Memorial Day weekend. Meanwhile, Roni sent out the call for extra hands, so when we returned to the site Wednesday morning there were three new volunteers to help us. It was a good thing, too, because even though the winds are supposed to be calmer in the morning, on this day they were actually blowing more than they had been on Friday. It took all five of us to get the plastic anchored down, with Glenn securing the edges to the foundation using roofing nails and 4-foot pieces of redwood lattice. He hammered while Roni directed the operation and the three volunteers served as giant human clamps to keep the plastic from sailing away. It took a bit more than two hours before the job was done.

Now the greenouse is up and ready for the next two months of growing rice seedlings. Roni says it will get easier now that the hard work of setting up the greenhouse is out of the way. We think she may be seeing things through her rice-colored glasses, but we'll cross our fingers and hope that this year's project goes smoothly from here on in.

That wraps it up for this month. Enjoy the impending arrival of summer.

 

Glenn, Roni and Ben