Training camp

June 17, 2000

We're a little later than usual with this month's missive because the past few days have found us busier than usual with our seemingly endless list of projects.

We begin this month with a recap of what we did on our spring vacation -- or rather in this case what we didn't do. We didn't go anywhere, which is perhaps a first in the annals of Gehlke Family vacations. Glenn used the first part of an 11-day break to tie up work on the new retaining wall, then promptly switched gears and embarked on a monthlong expansion of our garden railway. The task proved to be more work than even he had imagined, involving the removal of about 150 square feet of sod and the transporting of perhaps two or three yards of sand. The sand came from behind the old retaining fence in an area that had been planned for a second brick staircase. The original plan was to carve out a rectangular niche for the stairs and then fill it with mortared cinder blocks and concrete rubble backfill. By the time he was done stealing sand from the area to use on his railway, Glenn had dug a five-foot-deep pit that took a lot more than a few pieces of scrap concrete to fill. In went the concrete, the old sod, some scrap wood and whatever sand could be mustered from other areas of the yard. So now you know what a garbage dump really lies under those rustic brick steps you'll see next time you come for a visit!

Normally a project that turned out to be as major as the railway expansion became would have wound up being spaced over several weeks, if not several months. But its rapid completion became more of an issue when we learned in late May that Benji's kindergarten class would be coming over June 13 for a long-talked-about field trip. The goal suddenly was no longer having a few extra feet of mainline on which to run a train, but a well-landscaped, reasonably complete product to show the kids on the big day. So the railway took on retaining wall-like commitment.

The grading and new trackwork were completed in about a week, but then followed the sticky process of deciding how to landscape. Home Depot again became a familiar destination as we loaded up Roni's car with bags of decorative rock, containers of lobelia, silver thyme, various pine and cypress trees, alyssum, cacti and other construction odds and ends. While Glenn designed, Roni raided the craft stores for decorative bird houses and scale-sized figures.

As we neared the day of the field trip things were looking pretty good. We were putting the finishing touches on the garden and had cleaned up the yard well enough that it could host a couple dozen pint-sized visitors. Roni had whipped into shape Benji's HO layout in his bedroom and the Christmas layout, which was pulled out of storage just for the occasion. But naturally, fate intervened.

On Sunday the 11th, Glenn returned home late from work to discover water cascading from underneath the garage door. As this is not a normal place for water to be emerging at our house, we quickly determined that the problem must lie in our 12-year-old water heater. True enough, the bottom had rusted through and we now had a nice river of warm water running through the garage. The next morning, in addition to a myriad of last-minute preparations for Train Day, Roni ordered our new water heater from Home Depot (we're thinking of buying their stock soon...) and we paid them to install it. Big mistake. The plumber they contracted with to do the installation soaked us for an extra hundred bucks to correct various "code violations." It would have been more, but Roni read him the riot act and he backed down a bit. Needless to say, we have expressed our disapproval of this plumber's tactics to the appropriate agencies. Still, for those who have never had the misfortune of losing a water heater, be prepared to shell out some bucks. It is somewhat ironic that we spent $700 to restore our hot water at a time of the year when most folks are spending their money to keep their air cool and their swimming pools pristine. To each his or her own.

Train Day, June 13, dawned bright and sunny. Benji's kindergarten class showed up at our doorstep around 12:15, and for the next three hours they got to play with model trains, listen to train music and sing songs, watch an Operation Lifesaver video, see the garden railway, make train cookies, do train crafts, see the real thing over our back fence and enjoy lunch under the gazebo. All seemed to have a good time, despite temperatures that rose into the low 100s. The kids cooled off by running through the lawn sprinklers and then we hosed them down once again for their walk back to the school. The yard survived and so did we!

As we wrap up this month's newsletter we also prepare to wrap up Benji's year in kindergarten. June 23 will mark his transition to first grade and the start of another three-week vacation before classes resume in mid-July and he will have to leave for school three hours earlier than he does now. He is still a bit apprehensive about the impending change, but he seems to be growing more used to the idea, as are we.

Enjoy the start of your summer vacations or otherwise and we'll see you again in July.

Glenn, Roni and Benji

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