May 30, 2016: We're sitting here on a quiet Memorial Day enjoying a lazy three-day holiday weekend and all this beautiful sunshine, if not the 100-degree heat that is arriving with it. And we're procrastinating, as usual, so it's time to get down to business with this month's newsletter.
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We're in the midst of birthday season, which in our house runs from late March to the start of July. Both of our families saw a lot of springtime arrivals, with both Glenn's mother and sister born in May, and Roni's sister, nephew and mom all born in June. Roni gets things started for us in late March and Glenn wraps them up in July, and in between comes Ben — born May 2. It seems hard to believe that it was 22 years ago, sometimes even for him.
Ben's birthday sort of sneaked up on up this year, and as usual we found ourselves out shopping a day or two ahead of time with little in mind for a gift aside from the list he had provided us of video games and anime-related merchandise he wanted. Roni, ever in search of the perfect present, decided we should visit Hot Topic at the Streets of Brentwood on a Saturday morning while Ben was at work. We are huge fans of Hot Topic, even if its target audience is somewhere between the ages of 8 and 18. They've always got trendy clothing and collectibles that appeal to the rebellious youth in all of us. The store is one of the few places where you can find Captain America, Pokémon and Super Mario gear stocked next to T-shirts of Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and other rock 'n' roll dinosaurs, or in our case, shirts featuring images of demonic cats. While Roni agonized over video game-themed merch for Ben, Glenn plucked out a shirt of a ferocious Bengal cat that looks like our Katy flying on the back of a fire-breathing dragon. He dubbed it "Cat out of Hell."
As all shopping trips do, ours wound up at Best Buy. Roni hadn't found "the" gift for Ben and we hoped electronic gadgetry would succeed where all else had failed. But with no major electronics on his wish list we were still at a loss. That was until we stumbled across the Samsung Gear VR display near the cell phone counter. We didn't know anything about this product until we picked it up and started playing with it. Essentially it is an affordable virtual reality option that works with the latest Samsung cell phones. You wear it like a pair of glasses and play downloadable VR content by hooking it to your Samsung Galaxy S6 or above. The demo we saw had us virtually walking through an old wooden shack. Some sort of adventure game. Other programs, which cost around $10-$20, can take you on a virtual tour of the solar system, or allow you to play games. The sales guy told us you can also stream Netflix so that it's like sitting in a theater to watch a movie.
It all sounded very cool, and we knew that we had found the perfect gift. Well, it would have been perfect except for the fact that the minimum hardware requirement called for the Galaxy S6, and the phone we had purchased for Ben's last birthday was an S5. Doh! We eventually tabled the gift idea, but not before thoroughly investigating the upgrade options on our existing cellular plan. Given that Ben had only had his phone for a year, we weren't eligible to upgrade to the newer model without paying full price for a new phone, and spending $700 just so he could enjoy a $99 pair of VR goggles didn't seem like a viable plan. Maybe we'll investigate it again around Christmas time.
Even without the perfect gift, Ben still received several things he wanted, including tickets to the September SacAnime convention in Sacramento and two movies from the "Star Wars" Steelbook collection — the first and seventh movies in the Bluray series sold through Best Buy. He also got to enjoy a pre-birthday dinner with his grandparents, aunt, uncles and cousins. On Sunday, May 1, we all got together in Livermore at Buffalo Wild Wings. It was our first visit to the chain chicken restaurant and sports bar, and although we have a franchise much closer to us in Brentwood, we agreed to the Livermore location because it was mutually close to everyone. The one thing we didn't plan on was that Livermore was celebrating its Wine Country Downtown Street Festival that day and had closed off the streets surrounding the restaurant. Our dinner get-together started at 6, which was just as the festival was winding down. We had to detour around the closed streets, but fortunately we were able to find decent parking on a side street just across from the restaurant. The rest of the party were waiting for us inside the restaurant when we arrived.
Buffalo Wild Wings, with its walls of big TVs playing sporting events of every imaginable type, probably would have been a hopping busy place on a normal Sunday evening, but the restaurant was dead on this night, probably because the festival had discouraged crowds. We didn't mind. There were appetizers to go around the table, and when it came time to order our meals we of course jumped at the chance to sample the boneless wings with the chain's famed variety of sauces. Ben had been to the local restaurant a few times with friends, but we had yet to try it and were sure to order one of the hotter coatings — the Desert Heat dry rub. Turns out that it was only the second-hottest flavor on the menu, and we didn't find it intolerable.
It would be less than two weeks before we got another crack at the "really hot" wing recipe, called Blazin'. It was a Saturday evening when Roni and Glenn went out for a dinner together that we journeyed to the Brentwood Buffalo Wild Wings and bought a large order of the traditional wings — the ones with the bones in them — and got four sauce choices with them. Along with the Blazin' we got Asian Zing and Bourbon Honey Mustard, as well as one of the milder promotional flavors. This time we weren't disappointed. The Blazin' truly was spicy hot — the sort of heat that kicks you in the mouth after you've finished eating, and if you take a glass of water then it just spreads the pain around. Not that we didn't enjoy it. The restaurant has a challenge in which contestants have to eat 12 Blazin' wings in six minutes. Glenn thinks it might be doable, perhaps with some more conditioning. Speed eating has never been his forte, but he thinks he could handle the spices if they don't corrode his stomach lining first.
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E DON'T PARTY as well as we once did, and the birthday gathering in Livermore proved to be more than any of us could handle for one weekend. Ben's birthday proper fell on Monday, the day after the Buffalo Wild Wings experience. He really wanted to take us — or have us take him — to a fancy sushi restaurant in Concord where he had eaten before with friends. We weren't too excited about another drive all the way into Concord during commute hour, and we tried to talk him into going somewhere closer to home. As it turned out, Ben had to work that morning and was pretty exhausted when he got home that afternoon, so even he thought sticking close to home was the better option. We wound up getting the sushi he wanted, but we ordered it for delivery from Savor House in Oakley. We had our anniversary dinner there in March and were impressed with the quality of the sushi. Ben says it's not as good as the Concord place, but he wasn't complaining while he scarfed it down that Monday night.
We had a pretty tasty red velvet ice cream cake from Stone Cold Creamery that we were able to purchase at a discount because we picked up a pack of gift cards earlier in the day from Costco. While we were there, the customer service person convinced us to add Ben onto our Costco account so that he can take advantage of the cheaper prices on the occasions when he wants to buy items in bulk. He doesn't do that too often and we weren't sure giving him his own card would be worth it, but the membership fee is prorated based on the remaining time of our membership, which in our case expires in August, so it only cost us about $15 to let him "experiment" with a membership of his own for the next four months.
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ONI HAS BEEN hard at work since the end of last year taking part in the Delta Protection Commission's leadership program, which we've written about here before. In May, she officially "graduated" from the program and received her certificates of recognition during a commission meeting in Isleton. The dozen or so participants, representing a cross section of business, civic and environmental leaders from throughout the Delta region, attended monthly workshops held in various communities and were assigned to committees focused on tackling challenges the Delta faces.
Roni's group focused in part on tourism and public relations. She gave a 2-minute slide show presentation at the commission's May 19 meeting, which took place in the upstairs meeting room of Peter's Steakhouse in Isleton. We got stuck in traffic for bridge work at Three Mile Slough on Highway 160 and missed the reception for her leadership group, although we were seated in time for the meeting's beginning and the presentations. The meeting hall once was an Odd Fellows lodge and is part of the first building constructed in Isleton, built in 1880 as a mercantile. It still has the original wood floors. The downstairs is now the bar and restaurant, where we had dinner together after Roni's presentation was finished.
Roni isn't sure what she will do with her newly gained Delta knowledge, but at least she has some lovely certificates presented to her by our state assemblyman, state senator and congressman.
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LENN HAS BEEN playing the role of supportive husband during the month of May, accompanying Roni on her various adventures. One of the more interesting ones came May 7 when she got assigned to cover a Holocaust remembrance event in Brentwood for the newspaper. The Congregation B'nai Torah opened its doors to the public for the ceremony, so we were expecting a lecture-style presentation in a meeting hall. What we actually got was the synagogue's regular Saturday service, which in this case took on the Holocaust remembrance theme.
Had we known this was an actual church service we would have worn something more formal. As it was, we came dressed in our weekend grubbies — T-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes — looking convincingly like the outsiders we were. Adding to that was that we were the only members of the public outside the congregation who bothered to show for the two-hour service, Roni carrying her reporter's notebook and Glenn lugging his camera bag. Oh yes, did we mention that Glenn got volunteered to be the official photographer for the day? A role he didn't mind, but one that made him all the more conspicuous as he worked his way through the room taking photos — in his new "Cat out of Hell" T-shirt, no less. Do cats and flaming dragons have a place at a solemn Holocaust remembrance event? Well, they did in this case. We sat in the front row to get a better view of the proceedings.
The ceremony included the placement of memorial stones around sacred candles, and the recounting of Holocaust survivors' tales by the granddaughter of one, and a man who grew up in Russia during the second world war. You can read Roni's article of the event here.
The event ran from 10 a.m. to noon, so afterward we went out to grab lunch to bring home. Bagels, of course.
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PEAKING OF CATS out of Hell, Eevee has been with us for nearly 16 years and shows no signs of slowing down, although he was showing signs of a suspicious growth on his left hind leg. Roni discovered it one afternoon while petting him, and when she touched it he seemed annoyed. The growth was a round lump that we thought might be a cyst. If it was hurting him, then a trip to the vet was in order.
It was the Monday before Ben's birthday when Roni made the appointment. The doctor took a biopsy and sent it off to the lab after she couldn't confirm the tissue sample on her own under the microscope. We were starting to fear the worst — that it might be cancer — when she called us a few days later and told us that the test showed it to be nothing more than a bug bite. Maybe so, but it was one heck of a bite. We assumed a spider. The vet told us that if it didn't go away on its own in a couple of weeks that we should bring Eevee back in to make sure that it isn't cancer the test might have missed. With the price of vet visits, as long as the cat isn't in obvious pain we'll probably just wait and watch. The lump is still there, as of this writing, but so far Eevee seems none the worse for wear.
OK, that's going to do it for this month. Time to fire up the barbecue for some holiday hamburgers — just as soon as we head back to the store to pick up the hamburger meat we forgot. Doh!