It may not be a streetcar named Desire, but when you desire a ride upon a streetcar of yesteryear, the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction is the place to be on a lazy weekend afternoon. Our visit April 28 included multiple journeys around the museum's loop of rusty rails. Here we are aboard former San Francisco Municipal Railway streetcar No. 178, the first one acquired by the museum in the late 1950s. Photo by Roni.

Pulling weeds and pushing deadlines

May 30, 2018: Welcome to May — the month when we go from winter to spring to summer in the space of about a week. The month when one moment we are enjoying the lush green of our front lawn and the color explosion of our poppies and rosemary and ice plants, and the next we are desperately trying to stave off their demise as we dump gallons of water on their withered stems and roots. It is the month of gardening fantasies, as we stare at the waist-deep golden weeds and imagine how it all would look with healthy fruit trees, a bountiful garden, and greener thumbs.

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It's a gray afternoon for our Aptil 28 visit to the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction, where for the price of admission you can ride the streetcars all day long. San Francisco Municipal Railway No. 178 departs for one of its short journeys around the museum's balloon track. Photo by Glenn.


We paid a little extra so we could ride in style on the museum's parlor car, former Salt Lake & Utah Railroad No. 751. Photo by Glenn.


Roni awaits the start of our excursion trip in the parlor car, which features cushioned chairs for a more luxurious ride. Photo by Glenn.


One of the small perks of riding in the parlor car was refreshments included with the price of admission. We enjoyed lemonade and iced cookies for our trip through the countryside. Photo by Roni.


Another of the little extras in the parlor car was fresh flowers and a champagne bucket, presumably to convince us that there could be champagne if the museum decided to provide any. Which, alas, it did not. Photo by Glenn.


A ride on the excursion train affords spectacular views of the Montezuma Hills with their acres of prairie, pastures and wind farms. This area is home to one of California's largest wind energy installations. Photo by Glenn.


Inside the car barn are many other streetcars on display. Some, like this Muni car, are from the Bay Area, while others come from as far away as Australia. Photo by Glenn.


There are good seats to the front... or the middle, or the rear. One of the neat things about the Western Railway Museum is the opportunity to explore the insides of streetcars like this one that once ferried passengers all around the Bay Area's Key System. Photo by Glenn.


Replicas of old advertisements that originally appeared inside the streetcars enhance the authenticity of a ride at the museum. Photo by Glenn.


It's the end of the line for our excursion ride on Muni No. 178. The short streetcar rides last about 15 minutes and take visitors on a roughly 4-mile loop around the museum's balloon track. Photo by Glenn.


The first thing they teach you about trains is to never stand on the tracks because one can sneak up on you. Don't worry about Glenn, though. This particular streetcar is on display in the car barn and isn't going anywhere today. Photo by Roni.


We celebrated Ben's 24th birthday on May 2. We even lit the cake twice so we could get a photo of him with the candles all aglow. No, he wasn't excited about that, but he indulged us. Photo by Glenn.


Ben is hard at work opening his presents. It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it. Photo by Glenn.


Our home already had three Amazon Echo devices before Ben's birthday made it four. He enjoyed our others so much that we decided it was time he have his own. He uses it to listen to Pandora and turn on his party light. Photo by Roni.


May has been full of birthday celebrations. May 19th found us invited to the "Fabulous At 70" party for our good friend Ginny Stemler. We have known Ginny for 30 years, since the days when Glenn worked with her at the newspaper. Photo by Glenn.


It wouldn't be a "Fabulous At 70" party without a fabulous spread of edibles. The dessert table included two cakes, cookies, parfaits and more. There was lots of Filipino food to keep everyone fed. Photo by Glenn.


A few of the many friends and family who attended the party gather for a group photo with the guest of honor. This was about half the number who were at the party during its peak. Photo by Roni.


Because Glenn never seems to have enough places to write in our house, we created another one. This corner desk in our bedroom makes great use of a compact space and was built almost entirely from materials we already had on hand. Photo by Glenn.


Katy is in a rare cuddle mood. Perfect spot for a little cat nap. Photo by Roni.


WInner, winner, chicken dinner! What did Glenn win? Nothing but the opportunity to grill some meat on a nice spring day. You rarely need an excuse for a good barbecue. Photo by Roni.


Main Street is adorned with Chinese lanterns and filled with cultural booths and performers as Locke celebrates its Asian Pacific Spring Festival on Saturday, May 12. Photo by Glenn.


Paper ornaments are displayed for sale at the Asian Pacific Spring Festival in Locke. The 100-year-old Chinese community in the Delta has been hosting the festival to celebrate its heritage for several years. Photo by Glenn.


Radio personality and master of ceremonies Jim T. Chong introduces one of the performers during the Asian Pacific Spring Festival in Locke. Photo by Glenn.


The energetic and enthusiastic Stockton Bukkyo Taiko drummers were a major hit with the festival audience, in more ways than one. A fan poses with members of the group prior to their performance. One of the ladies told him she hoped their show would live up to his expectations. It surely surpassed them. Photo by Glenn.


Seeing the joy and intensity in the faces of the Stockton Bukkyo Taiko drummers during their performance was part of the fun. Here is a series of three of them... Photo by Glenn.


One of the Stockton Bukkyo Taiko drummers smiles during a drum routine... Photo by Glenn.


...Just love the concentration in the eyes of this player during the Stockton Bukkyo Taiko drum performance. Photo by Glenn.


The Stockton Bukkyo Taiko drummers salute the audience following their high-energy show during the Asian Pacific Spring Festival in Locke. Photo by Glenn.


From drums we turn to woodwinds and strings as the Capitol Chinese Orchestra of Sacramento performs a mini concert of traditional Chinese arrangements. Photo by Glenn.


A musician uses finger tape as she plays the dulcimer during the performance by the Capitol Chinese Orchestra of Sacramento. Photo by Glenn.


The Capitol Chinese Orchestra of Sacramento is led by Wen Ying Wu, a graduate of China's Central Conservatory of Music, educator and master dulcimer musician. She bids the orchestra to take a bow at the end of their performance. Photo by Glenn.


Women perform a traditional Chinese dance during the Asian Pacific Spring Festival in Locke. Photo by Glenn.


A visit to Locke wouldn't be complete without lunch at Al The Wops, an Italian restaurant that has been a local icon for more than 80 years. Here you can get a great dish of spaghetti and a jar of peanut butter for your toast. Photo by Glenn.


Grapes aren't the only thing springing from the fertile soils of the Sacramento Valley. A trip north on May 24 brought us to Herald, home of the now decommissioned Ranch Seco nuclear power plant. Photo by Glenn.


You can see the abandoned nuclear reactors of Rancho Seco for miles, but this is as close as you can get unless you work there. The area that includes the decommissioned power plant has been converted to a manmade lake and recreation area. Glenn doesn't appear to be glowing yet. Photo by Roni.


After our drive to check out Rancho Seco we stopped for lunch in Galt at the Squeeze Burger. It's one of several restaurants in the region that make their hamburgers with a legendary "cheese skirt," using ice chips and a steaming method while grilling to give the cheese its customary appearance. Photo by Glenn.


Our backyard is always a mess after the winter weeds have shriveled in the spring heat. This is how things looked in early May before we began our annual cleanup. Photo by Glenn.


Some of our weeds are actually wildflowers, such as these California poppies. We get them by the dozens in March and April, and they usually last well into June. We love them because they are pretty and require zero effort on our part to grow them. Photo by Glenn.


Our frog planter might have a difficult time seeing through this succulent rose, which just happens to fit comfortably between froggy's eyes. The rose fell off a much larger plant we have in our front yard, so Roni let it root in a vase over winter and planted it in dirt this spring. So far, it seems to be growing. Photo by Glenn.


We spent a lot of time weeding around Summer's Garden. Determined to not let the weeds return next year, we placed stepping stones and crushed rock around the circle. Photo by Glenn.


This is the finished path behind Summer's Garden. It is much more comfortable to walk on than weeds and sand. Photo by Glenn.

Nothing good ever happens in May, where our yard is concerned. But that rarely stops us from picking up our implements of landscaping destruction as we try to reclaim a small part of what nature has laid waste in the preceding months of rain, wind and chill. And this spring, it seems, there is a lot more wasteland than some years. It probably has a lot to do with all the rain we had a year ago, sewing a vast crop of seeds that are just now sprouting. As with all things in life, you have to choose your battles, and so we focused on a section of our backyard that would give us the most gratification for the least amount of labor.

Roni wanted us to start with Summer’s Garden, because it is the most visible area of our yard when we look out our dining room window. We’ve had landscaping fabric surrounding the circular planter for years, but because sand and dirt are constantly blowing on top of it, the weed barrier was no longer stopping the infestation. We had a bit of leftover base rock and paver sand from our front yard driveway project, so we decided to put it to use around the garden, hoping to fill in the gaps where weeds like to take root.

We dug out all the concrete stepping stones and thoroughly weeded the pathway. That also meant pulling up the landscape fabric, which wasn’t easy even though we used the rake to hook it and yank it up. We smoothed down the sand and then placed some 18x18-inch concrete stepping stones around the garden, keeping them as tightly spaced as we could. What gaps remained we filled with the crushed rock. It may not be perfect, but it is much cleaner than when we started. Roni is excited because she can more easily access the bird feeders, which we rearranged a bit now that we no longer have the Wandering Webcam working and don’t have to take its position into consideration.

From the garden, we worked our way out to other parts of the yard that needed weeding. We pruned all the mock orange plants that line the kitchen wall, and we pulled weeds around what used to be our train garden between the kitchen and the neighbors’ house. That planter area is being taken over by a pine tree that started several years ago from seed. The tree is just now starting to mature and get taller. We hope that by removing the weeds and accumulated junk from its base that it will now have an easier time getting the water and light it needs. Behind the tree and next to the fence is an oleander that has also been competing with weeds. It started from the seeds of a huge shrub that some former neighbors removed — much to our dismay — so we’d like to help it get huge like its predecessor. We weeded the whole area, and then also cleared the ground near the dying remnants of our evergreen ash tree.

Slowly we are recovering the yard. It has been about a month and a half since we began, taking advantage of the bi-weekly green waste recycling schedule of our garbage company and making sure to put out full bins of weeds for them to take every other Friday. There is never enough room in that lone bin.

For Ben’s birthday he wanted to have a party and get our family together to help celebrate. But with conflicting schedules and the logistics of planning, it took until May 28, Memorial Day, to get everybody assembled, and by then we were also celebrating the birthdays of Glenn’s mom and sister. So because we were already in the process of weeding the yard, we took the opportunity of party planning to also clean up the patio areas. That was a bigger chore than either of us expected. It had been about six years since our last big family gathering here — Ben’s high school graduation party — and there were still remnants of that day strewn about the yard. The worst of it was the debris left behind by the wisteria, which each year deposits a new crop of seeds and dried up husks on the concrete, where they mix with the dirt and sand that blows in. It took us a couple of days to get everything pruned and swept up. We pulled back all the cinder blocks surrounding our barreled crepe myrtle tree and swept out all the dead leaves and spiders. We removed debris from the barbecue area and shoveled away sand that the gopher had deposited over the sides of our retaining wall. Hard to believe that all of this was transformed into a comfortable area for people to gather during the family party, which at final count saw 14 people in our house at once, on a day when the temperature topped 92 degrees.

That kind of heat may be fun for outdoor picnics and summer lounging by the pool, but it has literally been murder for our front lawn, which has been struggling ever since we planted it last August. It rebounded well during the winter, when rain and cooler temperatures prevailed, but since we mowed it for the first time this spring, fertilized it, then mowed it again two weeks later, it has been looking browner than ever. Roni has been diligent about watering the lawn, but perhaps it still isn’t getting enough water. We decided to try a liquid fertilizer and are now keeping an eye on the grass to see if it greens up.

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W

E HAD BEEN suffering a bit of cabin fever during April, thanks to the warming weather and Roni’s hectic schedule that hasn’t allowed for a lot of free days to do things. Glenn has been spending a lot of time writing, so even when the weather has been inviting he hasn’t gotten outside except to pull weeds. We needed a change of scenery. We have found several opportunities during this past month:

• On April 28, we paid a visit to the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction for the first time in several years. The place is devoted to the history of electric streetcars that once were a principal mode of transportation from the Bay Area to the sprawling countryside beyond. We used to bring Ben here when he was excited about trains, so it has been nearly 20 years. We had never seen the new visitor center or interpretive displays, so that was fun.

The museum is neat because you can ride the old streetcars all day if you wish. There are two excursions, one which takes visitors on a 15-minute ride around a small balloon track, and the other which heads south through the prairie for about six miles along a restored portion of electrified rail that once was part of the Sacramento Northern system. We started with this longer excursion ride, which lasts about 45 minutes. We paid a little extra for the upgraded seats in the parlor car, where for the price of admission riders can sit in comfortable lounge chairs and enjoy a glass of lemonade and some iced cookies. A motorman operates the three-car train while a docent explains the history of the area and points out landmarks along the way.

Solano County and the Montezuma Hills are one of the last bastions of rural land in the Bay Area, so much of what you see along this route looks as it might have a half-century ago. Except for the wind farms, which are now a dominant feature of the landscape. There is a display inside the museum that shows a 1:87 scale model comparing a streetcar to one of the gigantic 1.5-megawatt wind turbines that can be found in the nearby Shiloh wind installation.

At the end of the long excursion ride, passengers were invited to tour the inside of the museum’s car repair shop. This was another place we had never seen, but we decided that we didn’t want to get started with another hour-long guided tour and opted instead to check out the museum’s exhibits and gift shop before finishing the afternoon with one of the 15-minute excursion rides on the loop track. We also made sure to walk through the car barn where there are at least a couple dozen other streetcars and rolling stock on display, all in various states of repair. After our museum visit we drove into Rio Vista and enjoyed a tasty lunch at Tortilla Flats restaurant.

• On May 12, we traveled up the Delta to Locke to check out the Asian Pacific Spring Festival. Glenn had wanted to see the show since last year, when he missed the weekend because of a rare scheduled Saturday work shift. With no work to get in the way this time, we had all day to visit and take photos.

Locke is a tiny Chinese community that was established more than 100 years ago. Most of the original residents and their descendants long ago departed, and today there are just a handful of native-born Locke residents living here and operating some of the small businesses that line Main Street. The town was designated a historical landmark and the state parks division along with the Locke Foundation now administer its preservation and many of its activities, the Asian Pacific Spring Festival being just one.

The festival featured about a dozen booths selling authentic Chinese crafts, free tours of some of the town’s museum displays, and lots of multicultural entertainment. We arrived a bit after the start of the event, so we missed the Chinese lion dancers and karate demonstration, but we did get to enjoy a performance by the Stockton Bukkyo Taiko drummers and songs by the Capitol Chinese Orchestra of Sacramento. For lunch we had spaghetti at Al The Wop’s, a famous local dive known for its steaks and for providing jars of peanut butter as a condiment for spreading on toast. Some traditions die hard.

• On May 19, we attended the 70th birthday party for one of our longtime friends, Ginny Stemler. We met her nearly 30 years ago while Glenn worked for the newspaper in Antioch. She was one of the paper’s two librarians responsible for clipping and archiving articles from every edition, and for helping reporters research the old clips and microfiche.

The party was held at a private residence in Antioch and attended by perhaps 50 people. Ginny is Filipino, and many of her friends and relatives are as well, so it was no surprise that the menu offered a lavish spread of Filipino favorites including a roast pig that the hosts barbecued themselves. The pulled pork was excellent, as well as the noodle dishes and desserts that were served. We had the opportunity to visit with Judy Gutierrez, who is still Roni’s editor at the paper. We also made a couple of new friends, Richard and Miriam from Brentwood, with whom we share several common interests. It turned out that they had just returned from the same Mexico cruise we took last September, so we had great fun comparing notes about our travels.

We did our best to talk over the live band that the hosts hired for the event, unbeknownst to Ginny. We had only expected to put in a quick appearance just to congratulate her and say hello, but we had such a good time that we wound up being among the last to leave near the end of the evening.

• On May 24, in preparation for the birthday/Memorial Day party we were planning, we decided to take a drive to Lockeford to pick up sausages for the barbecue. The town is home to the Lockeford Sausage Company, which is known far and wide for the delicious smoked links it sells at fairs and festivals. We figured it would be more fun to grill sausages than the hamburgers or chicken we usually cook.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones with the idea of grilling sausages over Memorial Day weekend, because the line for the shop stretched down the block. We waited for nearly 90 minutes to get inside, order 15 pounds of meat, and haul it back to the car where it barely all fit in the cooler of ice we had brought with us just for the occasion. We bought 14 smoked Dakotas, four Hawaiian links, a couple each of jalapeno, cajon and bacon links, a Bavarian brat, smoked kielbasa, jerky sticks, and a slab of bacon. It was a lot of meat, but it provided more than enough for our party and we still have several left in the freezer for future meals.

From Lockeford we drove about 16 miles north to the town of Herald, which is home to the former Rancho Seco nuclear reactor. Why? Because Glenn had read about it and was curious to see it, and it was something fun to do while we were sort of in the neighborhood. The nuclear power plant was decommissioned in 2009 and stripped of its equipment. The spent nuclear fuel rods are housed permanently in a concrete bunker on the property. You can’t go inside either place, obviously, but you certainly can’t miss it if you are driving into the foothills along Highway 104. The towers are visible for miles around the area of mostly farms and ranches. The only reason they haven’t been torn down is that the Sacramento Municipal Utility District deemed it was too expensive, so they remain an ominous reminder to the region’s nuclear past.

Much of the land surrounding the reactors is still owned by SMUD and now houses a solar energy farm and a natural gas power generation plant. There is a recreation area to the east that includes a manmade lake and hiking trails. We had planned to check it out, but we balked at the $12 day use fee and decided we’d had our fill of the shuttered reactors. We headed for home on Twin Cities Road, which conveniently leads back to Highway 160 via Walnut Grove. It took us through the town of Galt, where we had lunch at the Squeeze Burger restaurant and then checked out the Tractor Supply Co. on the other end of the shopping center.

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I

N GLENN'S ONGOING quest to find a quiet place to write, he now has yet another option: a corner desk that he built for our master bedroom early this month. The idea came about on a lark, and was constructed largely from materials we already had available in the garage.

The concept was pretty simple. We cleared out a 3x3-foot corner of the bedroom that had been collecting clutter, then we screwed a pair of 1x3-inch boards to each wall to support the sides. The desktop itself was made from a sheet of three-quarter-inch plywood that we had bought for another project and never used. We measured out a diamond shape and then laminated the board with some vinyl flooring planks we had left over from our guest bathroom remodeling project. The planks are secured to the plywood with silicone construction caulk.

With the planks secured to the wood, we used a handheld circular saw to trim off the edges, then took the finished top and laid it in the corner on top of the support boards so that the surface is about 27 inches above the floor; that seems to be the ideal height for comfort. Glenn tested it out and realized very quickly that the top needed to be fastened down so that it wouldn’t move while typing on it, or worse, flip over! He added a 1x2-inch brace across the middle of the desktop for extra support, then used three angle brackets to anchor the top to the brace and the two wall supports. That did the trick.

The only part for the desk he had to buy was a strip of plastic quarter-round that he caulked to the front of the desktop to provide a smooth edge on which to rest his wrists. The remaining expenses were for computer equipment, but they weren’t directly related to this project. Glenn had wanted a larger monitor for his main computer in the dining room, so when he purchased a 24-inch LG monitor from Costco, it freed up the old 17-inch Dell to use elsewhere. He moved the Dell into the bedroom and purchased a couple of cables for it off Amazon so that it can serve as a dock station for his Chromebook, like the similar setup he made in the Writing Sanctuary the month before. He added a spare keyboard and his bluetooth mouse to control the dock station. We later picked up a portable rechargeable LED light that attaches magnetically below a bookshelf so that he can see more easily in the dimly lit corner at night.

The bedroom corner desk was supposed to be a supplemental option for times when the Writing Sanctuary dock station isn’t available, but Glenn likes it so well that he has been using it even when he could find peace at the other end of the house. With the pending arrival of summer and hotter days, however, he may soon prefer being in the Writing Sanctuary where it is much cooler.

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B

EN'S CIRCUITOUS PATH to earning his driver’s license continued this month as he tried and again failed on his second attempt at the driving test. This was not quite the heartbreak of his initial effort in April. Unlike that experience, in which he failed to make it out of the DMV parking lot before the examiner ended the test, he at least had a few minutes to drive through the streets of Pittsburg before encountering the obstacle that did him in — this one in the form of a traffic signal that he says went from red to green as he was slowing for a stop in traffic. The driver behind him leaned on the horn, and the examiner determined that it was a “critical error” and failed him.

Despite the disqualifying incident, the examiner allowed him to complete the course, which he generally scored well on. At least now we have an idea of what needs work before Ben makes his third try at the exam in late June. His learner’s permit expires in early August, so time is starting to become a factor if he doesn’t want to have to reapply and begin the process all over again. He is more than ready to be done with it, if for no other reason than we’re tired of seeing the inside of the Pittsburg DMV. Even though he had an appointment for 1:20 p.m., he didn’t get to go on the road until 2:45, and that’s a long time to have to sit in the heat with nerves fraying over whether you’ll do well on the test. We hope that the third time’s a charm and that he’ll be ready to fly solo behind the wheel before July.

Sorry if this newsletter seems more disjointed than usual. We’ve fallen behind with our many other activities and are racing a deadline to get it posted before the end of the month. Please send positive vibes Ben’s way so he can pass his next driving exam and maybe we’ll have better news to share in June.

 

Glenn, Roni and Ben