Photo of the month

Glenn and Ben pose for a Father's Day portrait during an evening stroll along the trail at the Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. Photo by Glenn.

June 2007

A watched pot never boils, but how about a watched grill? Ben eagerly waits for our Memorial Day weekend barbecue to finish so he can eat. Photo by Glenn.

Mmmmmmm... burgers.... Photo by Glenn.

Remember our no-saw gazebo? First of all, we've learned the proper word for it is pergola, and second, it's no longer a no-saw project. We added braces to all four corners to give it some desperately needed stability. Maybe in another two years we'll get around to painting them white to match the rest of the pergola. Photo by Glenn.

We don't have a lot of gardening successes, so when we get one we like to show off a bit. This is part of Summer's Garden at its peak bloom. You've got tea roses on the left and wooly thyme to the right. Photo by Glenn.

Here's a closeup of that thyme. It puts out lots of little purple blossoms. We like the way it creeps along the bricks, too. The secret to this showy display is a magical chemical compound called H2O. Photo by Glenn.

We move from the back yard to the front, where Roni is at work pruning one of our roses after re-barking the strip of ground near the driveway. Photo by Glenn.

Here's a better look at the new bark. We are experimenting with some new landscaping fabric that we hope will work better keeping out the weeds than the cheap stuff we had been using. Photo by Glenn.

This is our "personal" invitation to the June 9 Chevy to the Levee concert with Don McLean. With a cool design like this, how could we not go? Scan by Glenn.

At the concert, Ben has decided to set up his lawn chair away from the stage, not wanting to be too close to the speakers. The area around him filled in pretty rapidly once the music started. Photo by Glenn.

Roni enjoys her barbecue meal while waiting amid dozens of other music fans for the start of the Don McLean concert. Photo by Glenn.

The crowd is growing as we all await the arrival of Don McLean. The big tent in the distance is where the barbecue was served. Photo by Glenn.

Don McLean, left, kicks off his 90-minute performance with a rendition of one of his early hit songs. Photo by Glenn.

Don's looking his age, but he still knows how to entertain a crowd. You can find a short audio clip from his performance here. Photo by Glenn.

This is the artificial lagoon that gives Summer Lake its name. Picture this a few years from now with houses rimming the bank and immaculate landscaping. Hey, this might be your back yard! Photo by Glenn.

During our Father's Day walk at Big Break Regional Shoreline, Ben finds himself a walking stick. Photo by Glenn.

This old fence post marks the end of the paved trail. That doesn't mean people don't still go off-trail to explore the Delta woods on the other side. Photo by Glenn.

Among the unusual things you can find if you go into the Delta woods is a grove of trees that look like they are loaded down with cotton batting. We think this is the down from cattails, which grow in abundance at the water's edge a few yards from here. Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

A slice of American Pie

June 17, 2007

The invitation arrived in the mail one lazy Saturday afternoon. Shea Homes was throwing a party, and they wanted us to come. Us and about 10,000 other suckers. There’d be free food, a car show, drawings for cool prizes, and a concert by legendary singer/songwriter Don McLean. Oh yeah, and by the way, feel free to take a look at some model homes that we’ll just happen to have open for your inspection during the festivities.

We weren’t exactly born yesterday. There is no such thing as free in this world, particularly when it comes to developers trying to move product in a sagging market. But seeing as we weren’t doing anything else June 9, we figured a couple hours soaking in the hot sun and listening to some cool tunes would be worth the price of admission.

So that Saturday afternoon we piled into the car and navigated our community’s overcrowded roads to attend the Chevy to the Levee concert at Summer Lake. Unlike in the famous lyrics of McLean’s 1972 hit “American Pie,” there were no “good ol’ boys drinkin’ whiskey and rye.” What we did find was hundreds of families milling around the model homes, their arms loaded down with sales brochures, plates of free barbecue, and stacks of beach towels and T-shirts. Yes, our kind of place.

It had been a few months since our one and only previous visit to Summer Lake, a planned waterfront community of single-family homes located in the hinterlands of Oakley. Controversial when it was proposed some years back because the land sits in a 100-year flood plain, the developer performed major levee upgrades and created a 25-acre manmade lake where folks who buy in will get to toll the waters in canoes and presumably awake to all the natural beauty one can expect to find on a lake surrounded by million-dollar houses. On that previous visit, we toured the first two collections of the development’s models; the other two groups were at the time under construction.

It’s hard to look at a new neighborhood on a map board or in an artist’s rendering and get a sense of what it will really look like once the houses are in place. Now that a few blocks are built and folks have moved in, it looks like it will be a nice place to live. Well, don’t all new subdivisions look like nice places to live?

Like most of the cars that turned in at the development when we did, we weren’t there to buy a house. We wanted to hear Don McLean. First, we had to follow the parking attendants who directed us away from the models and the sparkling new neighborhoods down East Summer Lake Drive, essentially a boulevard surrounded on either side by soundwalls. We parked by the curb and then lugged ourselves and our beach chairs to the nearest shuttle bus pickup site.

Beach chairs? Yup. The invitation we received in the mail said the Don McLean concert would be held in a grassy park and that we could set up our beach chairs on the lawn to enjoy the music. Remind us again why you never want to trust a sales brochure? OK. For starters, there was no grassy park. The “lawn” consisted of the sandy loam hardscrabble Oakley is famous for, and in mid-June that ground is loaded with weeds — foxtails and thistles and wild sage. The promoters had foreseen the problem and brought in a portable dance floor with a plastic rug that they laid out in front of the concert stage. We were feeling a bit silly wandering around with our red, blue and yellow beach chairs while most everyone else appeared not to have brought theirs. We felt sillier still when we saw the tier of bleachers and white plastic seats the promoters had thoughtfully provided.

The chairs weren’t a total waste, however, as we were able to set them up about three rows back from the front of the stage. That is, Glenn set them up while Roni and Ben went off to the food tent to pick through the leftovers of what had been a big burger and chicken barbecue. It was lucky they did, too, because all that was left were a few wings and baked beans. The servers said there was more on the way. Perhaps there was, but we grabbed what we could and didn’t go back to check.

It was while Roni was investigating the food that she ran into a couple of old friends we hadn’t seen in years. If there was any question that all this free food and fun was resulting in any sales, our friends laid such speculation to rest when they announced that they had plunked down a deposit on one of the new houses. Sweet. They probably just paid for Don McLean and the printing of all those full-color invites and some of those T-shirts folks were walking around in. Say... where do we get us some of those???

There wasn’t time to ponder that, because the concert was about to start. We took our place on the “lawn” and got comfy while a spokesman for Shea Homes rattled off winners of the company’s raffle for Home Depot gift cards and a video iPod. We had arrived too late to collect the stamps we needed to fill up the entry blanks we hadn’t bothered to pick up. Apparently, those who toured around the development on the little shuttle buses that resembled San Francisco cable cars got a different stamp at each location they stopped at. That was also how they were getting the freebies like cotton candy and popcorn... and those awesome towels.

Being the big music fans we are, we couldn’t wait to hear Don McLean live. We had his greatest hits album during the first years of our marriage and just about wore it out listening to the likes of “Vincent,” “Winterwood” and “And I Love You So.” Then of course there was “American Pie,” which regardless of your generation you probably know by heart, as most of the folks in the audience claimed to.

Our enthusiasm was not shared by Ben, unfortunately, who probably would have preferred a trip to the dentist over a couple hours listening to “Dad’s music.” (We corrected him, of course, that it was in fact Grandpa’s music, but that didn’t seem to change his mind any.) Ben was resigned to an afternoon wasted at some concert he couldn’t care less about — until he got flagged down by one of his school friends moments after we arrived. The kid saw Ben with his Nintendo DS and that was the last we saw of Ben until after the last refrain of “American Pie” sent the audience dancing to the exits.

As for the concert, Don McLean still knows how to entertain a crowd, even if his voice can’t carry a tune the way it used to. He struggled with some of the lilting high notes that once were his signature, although his adoring audience was willing to forgive the imperfections. At one point he said he had written a lot of songs over his career, to which one woman hollered, “Play them all!” He played around 20 of them during a 90-minute set that ended with a 13-minute rendition of “American Pie.”

While McLean sang about taking his Chevy to the levee, we gazed out upon the barren yet soon-to-be-developed levees of Summer Lake and wondered what this place will look like 20 years from now. Will it still be a swanky community where folks will want to call home? And what will these new houses be selling for down the line? Probably not the $525,000 to $800,000-plus they’re advertised at today. In the 10 years since we bought our home in Oakley, the appraised price has more than tripled. Perhaps that’s atypical of California’s real estate market, but it is a huge factor that leads most people to buy.

We packed up our beach chairs and found Ben and were preparing to leave when the Shea Homes mouthpiece got back on stage and encouraged all of those who were milling about to tour the models if we hadn’t already done so. Yes, we still had a precious few minutes to salivate over the professional interior decorating and landscaping. Oh yeah, and scoop up those free towels and T-shirts. Let us at ‘em!

We gave up the idea of taking the shuttle bus to the models when we realized how long the line was. It would be quicker to walk the three blocks to where they were located. We got our exercise strolling the bicycle path that runs along the greenway among the 50,000-volt utility towers. It was more exercise than we’d planned, lugging the beach chairs along with us. Each group of models offered a different door prize, so we made sure to get our T-shirts first. On the other side of the street we picked up the towels. Then we decided to take a look at the houses. Hmmmm.

We know what you’re thinking about now. You’re expecting the part of the story where we were so swept away with the models and their roominess and all their fancy new amenities that we made an impulsive decision to plunk down a fifty grand deposit and actually take home a new home. Sorry to disappoint, but we kept our empty wallets closed on this particular Saturday, content to return to our more humble, partly paid-for abode with an armload of freebies and some pleasant memories of a great concert put on by a rock-n-roll legend.

* * * * *

Summer's almost here, and we've been getting some very summer-like weather to match. Today being Father's Day, Ben thought it would be appropriate to take Dad out to the park for a game of Frisbee or the like. That might have seemed appealing in mild May, but when it's 96 degrees at three in the afternoon, the thought of chasing after flying plastic disks leaves plenty to be desired. Better to hide out in an air-conditioned room at home, or failing that, hang out at an air-conditioned shopping mall, which is what we did.

Actually, we pretty much have devoted the whole weekend to furthering capitalism, starting on Saturday when we hit the local Target store and scooped up summer garb for the three of us. Roni and Glenn did the shopping while Ben got together with his friend John and John's dad for a trip to see the "Fantastic 4" sequel at the movie theater. We accidentally sent him out the door without money for the ticket or refreshments, so our first stop was at the theater where we intercepted the three of them as they arrived. Roni shoved a twenty in Ben's hand and we boogied down the street to Slatten Ranch in Antioch.

Two hours and two-hundred bucks later, we were on our way home with our loot — yessir, yessir, three bags full of shorts, shirts, socks, swimwear and some other stuff that didn't start with "s".

Sunday was more of the same, although in keeping with the spirit of Father's Day we focused our shopping on electronic doodads. We wound up at Best Buy because we had $55 in bonus cash we'd earned when we bought our TV back in January and had to use it before it expired. That's a pretty sneaky trick on their part, because they know that rather than letting it expire you'll probably use it for another big purchase, which is what we did. Well, not too big, but then it's not every day that we buy a new camcorder. With summer fun in mind, we bought a JVC GR-D770 miniDV camcorder, replacing an older model we'd used since 1994. The new one is a fraction of the size of the older unit and light enough that we can tote it around easily. It was on sale, so with our bonus cash we got it for around $200.

It was a fun Dad's Day sort of purchase, but we got it with the whole family in mind. We hope to get Ben involved shooting videos, too. He is excited about it because he has been getting into posting things on YouTube and thinks the minicam will make that easier. We've also talked about helping him create some movie scripts. Who knows? Soon you might be able to see his creations online.

We'd hoped to try out the new camcorder's capabilities this evening, but it took longer than planned for the battery to charge, and if we were going to get our trip to the park in then we couldn't wait around too long until the sun set. The temperature dropped a lot this evening, so we went for a walk out at the new Big Break Regional Shoreline trail we wrote about last month. The place was quite busy, which is a good sign; it just means that the park will get a lot of use once construction is complete next year.

We walked past the trail's end and down to the marsh along Big Break. We heard plenty of frogs and saw hundreds of blackbirds. We also passed a lot of families out strolling with their kids and dogs. A handful of people lined the fishing pier, but no one seemed to be catching anything. We stayed out about 90 minutes, just long enough to get some exercise and give Ben the satisfaction of saying he'd done something fun with Dad on Father's Day. But summer's coming and there will be lots more fun on the way.

Hope your hot fun in the summertime is way cool. We'll see you again next month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 02:23 hrs.

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