Photo of the month

This mourning dove has made herself a cozy nest in what we thought was a hanging planter basket. Turns out it really was a ready made nursery. Mama dove laid a pair of eggs, which have just recently hatched. Photo by Glenn.

June 2006

First off, a correction. Last month we wrote about the mockingbirds that were nesting on our front porch. As you will plainly see in this photo, that is not a mockingbird sitting on the nest, but rather a finch or something similar. Whatever it was, it took its family and flew the coop in June. Photo by Glenn.

We bought a patio umbrella to take advantage of the nice weather that has finally arrived. Ben enjoys a salad for lunch while Roni waters the plants. Photo by Glenn.

A water wand makes it easier to reach the hanging pots on out back fence. Photo by Glenn.

On May 28 we took a walk along the railroad tracks behind our home. You never know what you'll find on the way, such as this discarded LP. It was pretty warped. Photo by Glenn.

The long shadows of a late afternoon sun and the unusual patterns of the windswept sand create an interesting photo of Glenn and Ben. Photo by Glenn.

Graffiti covers the soundwall along the tracks. Some of it is PG rated. Ben made a game of trying to imitate the pictures on the wall. We can sort of see the resemblance here... Photo by Glenn.

He's getting the hang of this now... Photo by Glenn.

...And the grand finale. The props, such as the Styrofoam "football" Ben is holding, can readily be found on the ground. Photo by Glenn.

With the setting sun at his back, Ben strikes a victory pose in his Oakland Raiders shirt. Now if only the Raiders could do that. Photo by Glenn.

We're having some fun now. We call this our "evil graffiti grins". Photo by Glenn.

From the underbelly of suburbia we turn to something more wholesome: U-pickin berries on the opening day of the season at Pease Ranch in Brentwood. Ben is hunting for ripe boysenberries. Photo by Glenn.

Meanwhile, Roni has her hands full — make that stained — trying to fill her baskets with olallieberries. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is doing quite a job on those boysenberries. His flat is getting quite full. Photo by Glenn.

After the berries we decided to pick some bing cherries. We got about half a bucket. Photo by Glenn.

On the way home we stopped in at a strawberry patch. You can't tell from this photo, but the place was mobbed with out-of-towners. Photo by Glenn.

A few minutes work and our strawberry box is full. We spent $35 on fruit with all the U-picking we did. Photo by Glenn.

This is the hanging planter Roni recovered from our garage cleanup last month. She stained it and hung it up on our patio cover to dry. Quite quickly a mourning dove moved in. Here she is sitting in the basket on June 1. Photo by Glenn.

On June 4, Mama Dove left her nest just long enough for us to see the eggs sitting at its center. She was not pleased about us trying to take this picture. Photo by Glenn.

On June 10, Ben made his second visit of the season to Antioch Speedway and cheered on his school principal's brother in the dirt modified race, the no. 59 of Gary Hetrick. Photo by Glenn.

Oops. The limited late model of David Rosa encounters some trouble on the track. Believe it or not, the tire did not cause the damage to the car, which was like this before it came to rest on the apron. Photo by Glenn.

After the race Ben enjoys his favorite activity, collecting autographs from the drivers. Here he gets the signature of dwarf car driver Ed Johnson. Photo by Glenn.

"Dancin'" Dave Lexer, one of the limited late model drivers, poses for a picture with our young autograph hound. Photo by Glenn.

Some drivers, like Bill Wallace of the no. 4 dirt mod, find ways to get the fans involved. Ben adds his name to the bumper of Bill's car along with the autographs of other young visitors to the pits. Photo by Glenn.

Our gazebo makeover started June 10. This is the last shot of it before demolition. It may not look too bad from this angle, but it was in sorry shape. Photo by Glenn.

June 13. Most of the roof and side support panels have been removed, as has the wooden deck floor. The patio is buried in sand and other debris. Photo by Glenn.

June 25. The demolition job has been done for over a week. The lighter wood is the makeshift truss we constructed to support the remaining half of the roof until we figure out what to do with it next. The patio has been swept clean. Time for a barbecue. Photo by Glenn.

Hey, good lookin', whatcha got cookin'?. Oh-oh, hope that's not what it looks like... Photo by Glenn.

...Phew! Just a chicken. Actually, Mama Dove and the first of her babies appear to be doing just fine. We noticed the hatchling June 24. Hopefully the other will follow soon. Photo by Glenn.

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Slice it in half

June 25, 2006

Where has the first half of the year disappeared to? A few months ago we were building fences in the rain, then one day we looked at the calendar and it was the solstice, and we looked out the window and there was a blazing sun high above us, and we wiped the sweat off our brows and checked the thermometer hanging from our gazebo and saw that it was over 100 degrees. Just like that, spring has turned to summer. Just like that, the year is rapidly nearing halfway.

Yet it seems that our yard projects are still far from finished. We have a mountain of old wood parked beside our evergreen ash tree that Roni has been itching to have removed. It's funny how the further you get into a project the more your notion of it changes. Back in February we had this neat little idea that we would recycle the discarded fence boards by converting the better ones into planter boxes for the garden. We would saw them, sand them, and turn them from useless debris into something useful again. We'd give our garden the rustic look, the kind that gets featured in gardening and home improvement magazines. But as February became March, then April, and eventually May and June, our enthusiasm for woodworking waned considerably. Recently we have begun to see that wood pile for the eyesore it is, and are counting down the days until the big yellow Dumpster from the garbage company swoops into our driveway so we can cart it all away.

Why the wait? Because big yellow Dumpsters aren't free, and we want to make sure that all the crap we can cram into one is ready for cramming when the time comes. Part of that collection will be the remnants of the aforementioned gazebo.

All things wear out, alas, and so too has the 12x16-square-foot gazebo that has been a part of our back yard for as long as we have lived in Oakley. It came with the spa, which itself has sat unused since at least the turn of the century. Pieces of redwood lattice have been falling off the roof for years, and the rafters have become so warped from a decade-plus of weather exposure that they could form the hull of a small boat. The thing is splintering and succumbing to the forces of gravity. It has to go.

At least that was where we were headed until we came up with Plan B. Roni wanted to pull the whole thing down and be done with it, but that was problematic because the gazebo also serves as an arbor for a vigorously growing wisteria vine. We put the plant near the gazebo about five years ago in hopes that it would eventually do what it is now doing — cover the lattice. Not even Mr. Gopher figured out how to do in the plant, so we couldn't very well be the method of its demise. Our compromise plan was to tear down half of the gazebo — the part unattached to the wisteria — while letting the remaining half stand a bit longer while we figure out what new permanent temporary structure we wish to replace it with.

So on Saturday, June 10, with electric screwdriver and crowbar in hand, we began the task of disassembling half the gazebo. Any illusions we had of taking the thing apart easily quickly faded when we discovered that it had been constructed with the screw heads cleverly concealed between boards, which in turn were connected by screws that had also been covered by parts of the lattice rooftop. It was like one of those old Russian nesting dolls, where you pull apart the first doll to reveal a smaller doll inside, and on and on until you get to the final one. The weekend project became a week-long affair, as each morning we worked for a couple of hours to unpeel another layer.

At last, Glenn dismantled the final roof panels on June 15 and built a new joist from 2x4s to prop up the sagging roof that remained. We had successfully sliced the gazebo in half. The redwood deck that had been part of the dismantled half was conveniently assembled from three 4x8-foot sections, which the three of us lifted off the ground one at a time and onto the top of the spa for temporary storage while we figure out what to do with them next. Where the raised deck had sat — sand. Piles and piles of sand. At least 15 years accumulation of sand, mixed with lost toys and wayward tools that had found their way through the gaps between floorboards. Ben and Glenn spent an afternoon shoveling the sand into buckets that we transported to our garden. We worked some more during Father's Day weekend until we could see the concrete patio again. Now the gazebo is a lot smaller and the patio emptier, but Roni already has plans for how to use the reclaimed space. Stay tuned...

All the backyard activity hasn't seemed to disturb the birds, who continue to build their nests in and around our home. The latest visitors to the maternity ward are a couple of mourning doves who took advantage of an empty wooden hanging planter to construct their nest and lay their eggs. We had rediscovered the planter while cleaning the garage last month, and Roni decided to make it usable again by cleaning it up and restaining it. She hung the thing up to dry overnight, which was all the invitation the doves needed. By the following day, Mama Dove had imported a few strands of straw and was already making herself at home. It seemed an odd place for a nest, especially given that the basket is plainly visible from all sides and spins freely in the breeze, but the birds don't seem to mind. And best of all, we get a bird's-eye view (pardon the expression) of them from our dining room window. The research we did suggested dove eggs take about two weeks to hatch, but it was going on four weeks coming into this weekend and we were wondering if the eggs might be duds.

Then on Saturday morning, the 24th of June, we looked out the dining room window and saw something new in the nest — a tiny head with rumpled gray and white feathers. We aren't sure exactly when the chick hatched, but it couldn't have been more than a day old. It was cuddled into mama's chest, moving around and blinking every now and then, but it hasn't made a sound yet. And so far we haven't seen its brother or sister. In fact, since we snapped a chance photo of the empty nest with two eggs in it three weeks ago, we haven't seen the dove off her nest since. For all we know there may only be one egg in it now. But we'll keep our eyes on the new family.

Ben is on summer vacation following his graduation from sixth grade June 8. In what may be a record, he uttered the most famous two words of all vacationing youths — "I'm bored" — less than two hours after coming home from his final class. A state of boredom seems not to have slowed him down much, as he has plowed through several books in Erin Hunter's "Warriors" series in less than two weeks. It took awhile for Ben to get into the fantasy series, but he is fond of its feline characters and has since taken to trying to rename his cat Eevee to something more Warrior-like: Graytail. While this has been a source of annoyance for Mom and Dad, the cat doesn't seem to know the difference or care. Eevee/Graytail continues to show a fondness for sleeping in the sun behind the living room chair, ambushing our other housecat, Ariel, and attempting to break out of the house by way of the living room window screen, unfortunately.

Ben's spare time combined with his love of all things cat made it only natural that we should take a trip to the multiplex to see the new "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties" movie June 17. Ben sold it as a Father's Day present for Dad, but it turned into more of a treat for Ben who laughed his way through the famous cartoon cat's on-screen antics.

Glenn and Ben have been spending a lot of quality time together this past month, as they spent another night watching the races at the Antioch Speedway on June 10. Just like their first visit to the track together back in late April, they ventured into the pits at the close of the show to visit with the drivers and collect autographs. Ben couldn't wait, having discovered the first time out what fun it was getting his program signed. One of the dirt modified drivers is the brother of Ben's school principal, so Ben was an instant fan. At the end of the night, Ben not only got the driver's autograph, but got to see his principal as well. Ben came home with several new souvenirs, a handful of autographed "hero cards" that the drivers give away to their young fans, and a program guide filled with autographs. He said the evening was the best of his entire life.

Other family excursions in the past month included a trip June 3 to pick berries at the Brentwood U-pick farms. All the winter and spring rains did a number of the crops, so many of the local ranches opened weeks later than usual, and what fruit they had wasn't expected to be as plentiful as other years. We didn't have any trouble when we stopped off at Pease Ranch on opening day to pick boysenberries and olallieberries. They might have been a bit more ripe, but the quality was decent and the price was great. As usual we managed to buy far more fruit than we could possibly eat, although Roni made good use of it by making a boysenberry pie. We also got about a half bucket of cherries and a large flat of strawberries that were mostly eaten as snacks and were gone by the end of the weekend.

On June 24, we took a drive out to one of the new housing developments going in on the opposite side of town. The place is called Summer Lake and is Oakley's first waterfront development, being constructed on a manmade lagoon. We toured the models just to see what they're like, because it has been many years since we've checked out model homes. They were gorgeous, needless to say, and priced to sell from $541,000 on up. The houses off water will be close to $1 million by the time that phase is built, featuring 4-car garages, 5 bedrooms and baths, giant kitchens and tons of other amenities that people demand in fancy waterfront homes. We aren't looking to buy, but a tour always makes you imagine the possibilities. We especially had fun in the largest model, which comes in at over 4,300 square feet and is far too much house for our little threesome. Ben liked the idea that he could choose a room from among the four small bedrooms and have the rest as playrooms. We loved the views of the water and the master bedroom suite that alone is about the size of our entire house. Sad thing is that even at those prices, that's cheap real estate in the Bay Area. Those houses will sell in a heartbeat, packing our already overcrowded roads with yet more traffic. Welcome to suburbia.

That's about it for now. Have a fabulous Fourth of July weekend.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, July 22, 2006 at 02:38 hrs.

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