Photo of the month

The chrome hubcap of a classic car frames an unusual portrait of our family during a visit to Hot Antioch Nights on July 17. It almost looks as if someone tossed a pebble into the middle of a pond. To see more pictures of the day, check out this month's newsletter. Photo by Glenn.

July 2005

Here's one way to beat the summer heat. Eevee tries to rise above it all when he's on his favorite perch on the dividing wall between our kitchen and living room. He doesn't realize that heat goes up. Photo by Glenn.

Roni lights the candles on Glenn's birthday cake, July 1. Photo by Glenn.

Sporting a new shave and haircut, Glenn joins the ranks of the fortysomethings. Ben says we should hurry it up and get to the presents. Photo by Roni.

Glenn unwraps his gift, a Philips DVD recorder that he's using to transfer old home videos and record his NASCAR races. Photo by Roni.

Ben sprouts wings as he imitates the birds along the Marsh Creek Trail. Photo by Glenn.

Summer is berry season along the Delta, but July 1 is still a little early to find ripe ones. Ben isn't giving up hope as we hike along the Marsh Creek Trail in Oakley. Photo by Glenn.

This is Ben trying to look cool. Crossing his arms makes it harder to see the berry juice-stained fingertips. Photo by Glenn.

It's been a long walk. We're about a mile and a half into it on a warm summer afternoon. Photo by Ben.

End of the line. Ben gets to cool his heels for a few minutes at the trail's rest area. Photo by Glenn.

Ben has unearthed a reflector, evidence that people on bicycles once roamed these parts. They were thought to be extinct until we saw one elsewhere on our journey. Photo by Glenn.

This is the start (or perhaps the middle) of our laminant flooring project in the small hallway. The blue is the plastic underlayment. We have just started assembling the planks. Photo by Glenn.

This is the finished floor. Still need to add the baseboards and reducer strips under the doors, but the hard part is done. This shot accurately reflects the new "citron ice" paint on the walls. Photo by Roni.

Raw lumber is stacked in our back yard, awaiting the start of our no-saw gazebo project. Photo by Glenn.

Roni cleans off our old plastic picnic table for use with the new patio area. Photo by Glenn.

The gazebo is starting to take shape. Here you can see one of the 4x4 posts supporting the double sets of 2x6 beams. Photo by Glenn.

Time to paint. Ben and Glenn apply a coat of white exterior latex to the post we showed you in the picture above. Photo by Roni.

All finished. We attached wind toys to the beams, including these wind chimes and a bird feeder, transferred from our fruitless mulberry tree. Photo by Glenn.

The late afternoon sun peeks through the trees and creates a dramatic scene with the finished gazebo in the foreground. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is relaxing on the porch swing in this shot that shows the overall look of the new patio area. Photo by Glenn.

Ben has made himself comfortable on the porch swing with his music, paper and crayons. Photo by Glenn.

This is the new screen door, which we cut to fit in place of the original sliding screen. It's not a perfect solution, but it is good enough. Photo by Glenn.

The Hot Antioch Nights car show brings in a couple hundred hot rods and custom cars, some of them quite imaginative. This entry is from the Hot Rod Hoodlums car club out of Martinez. Photo by Glenn.

Love those flames! There were a lot of flames in all styles and colors. Can we say "ticket magnet"? Photo by Glenn.

Roni has fallen in love with this baby blue T-bird. Photo by Glenn.

Young love in the back seat. This scene of some Fifties teenie boppers pursuing their passion was recreated using dolls. The guy's shirt says "My First Moon." Hmmm. Photo by Glenn.

There was a lot of whimsy on display. These folks used decal eyes to turn their carburetor into the toothy grin of a mechanical beastie. Photo by Glenn.

Seems NASCAR is everywhere these days. Ben poses next to a replica of Scott Wimmer's #22 Caterpillar Dodge. Appropriately, the hood is up, as we have seen it so many times during races this season. Photo by Glenn.

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A summer vacation filled with home work

July 23, 2005

Today we decided to do a little yard work. Today the temperature is hovering around 100 degrees. Today seems like a better day to be indoors, so that is where we are after spending a little less than an hour digging up what is left of the front lawn on the north side of our driveway. It's a narrow strip of sod no more than 50 feet long and about four feet wide, but turning it over involves a lot of shoveling and hoeing and carting away heavy clumps of roots in our rickety old Radio Flyer wagon. And that project is a little more demanding than our flabby bodies are up to handling on a day like today. But you wouldn't blame us for for being so dedicated to the yard in blistering heat if you realized how much work we've been doing around the house this past month. It's kind of contagious. Once you get a project or two accomplished you discover a whole new enthusiasm for home improvements and want to tackle more.

It all began around the start of July, when Glenn embarked on an 11-day vacation that was his first real time off since our trip to the South last September. We had talked about going for a drive to a nearby vacation spot for a few days, but became less ambitious as vacation time neared, thinking it would be nice instead just to hang around home to relax. Relax? Well, we all have somewhat different definitions of what relaxation is. Roni's involved tripping over to Home Depot and lining up a few "weekend" projects for her man to complete in between his resting and recreating.

We spent a couple of days organizing our materials list, then on July 6 we cruised the aisles of Home Depot in Brentwood, picking out cuts of lumber, comparing paint chips and contemplating laminant flooring. We had a pretty long list by the time we were done — too long to fit in the back of Roni's Toyota Corolla. But we knew that from the outset and had made plans to have the store deliver the larger goods to us. It was 80 bucks extra for them to deliver, but it was cheaper than having to buy a pickup truck (which we have been considering) just so we could haul building materials. The man at the contractor's desk who arranged our delivery was helpful, even if he wasn't able to get the stuff out to us any sooner than the weekend. That was getting near to the end of Glenn's vacation and wouldn't leave much time to do all we wanted to do.

We had at least three days to kill, so we spent the interim productively with some of the smaller projects on our list. First up: Painting.

It had been a few years since we painted the hallway near Ben's room, and the paint was really showing its age. The hall is one of the smallest areas of the house and is an excellent place to experiment, which is what we planned to do with the paint and the floor (more on that in a moment). We selected a pale shade of yellow called "Citron Ice" and have plans to use it to redo the living room ceiling and kitchen, but we wanted to see how it would look in a place that would be less conspicuous in the event we didn't like it. We bought a new spray gun on our trip to Home Depot, remembering how much easier it makes getting into tight spaces and covering stucco. It will be essential for when we repaint the outside of the house, but for now we were just rying it out. We masked off the doors with newspaper, removed all the fixtures, then let 'er rip. Using the spray gun takes some practice, but it speeds the painting process once you get it right. In no time we had the hallway painted and had made our way into the entryway of the living room.

Meanwhile, we removed the baseboards in the hall before we painted in preparation for the next project: Installing a laminant floor. This was something we had talked about doing for a couple of years in the living room, but we wanted to test it out to see how we liked it first. A word to wise do-it-yourselfers (is there such a breed of handyman?) — It looks easier than it is. We started by removing the old hall carpet and padding, then yanked out the carpet tack strips and swept the bare concrete slab clean. Next we had to undercut the door jambs so that the floor could fit comfortably underneath them. Because we're on a concrete foundation, we had to put down plastic sheeting first. A pro would have had this accomplished in a couple of hours, but it took us all afternoon and early evening.

Finally we reached the stage of actually laying the floor planks. Putting in a laminant floor at this point is essentially like snapping together Lego bricks. All the planks come with a woodgrain pattern printed on them and you simply connect them via a tongue and groove system. Well, it's simple in theory. We went with DuPont's laminant floor product because it was slightly cheaper than the better-known Pergo and already came with the acoustic foam padding attached to each plank; Pergo required a separate layer of foam. We needed two cartons of planks, which ran us about $150. We followed the instructions to assemble the first couple of rows, which presented only minor difficulties. The real challenge came when we got near the end and had to fit the final planks around the door jambs. Glenn was up until around 4:30 in the morning measuring and sawing and hammering in an effort to get everything to fit properly. His methods were highly improvised, but somehow he managed to get the last couple of planks into place the following morning. The instructions say that occasionally you have to use a hammer and tapping bar to coax the planks into locking with one another. We really hammered on the last couple of planks, but never did manage to get them to seat correctly, so there is a small gap between those boards that isn't supposed to be there. But that is a minor problem. The bigger problem is that our concrete slab is slightly uneven in a couple of spots, so the floor doesn't sit flat on top of it. The instructions warn of this possibility and tell you how to correct it in advance. The key words here are "in advance." Ah well, now it creeks a little bit when you walk on it, just like a real wood floor might. Overall this wasn't a bad project for beginners, and the results are passable. We still have to put in new baseboards to finish it off, but it looks pretty much finished. If we do decide to do the living room, however, we will definitely call in a pro.

The hallway painting and floor project took a little more than two days, which brought us to Saturday, July 9, the day of our delivery from Home Depot. They never promised us a delivery time, but of course they wanted us to wait around all day so that we'd be here when the guy showed up. He didn't show until late in the afternoon, and to top it off the delivery did not include a pallet of 150 cobblestones we'd ordered to make a path in our front yard. Oh sure, they would deliver them to us on another day, but it sure made the Saturday shipment look paltry. What we got was a small pile of lumber and a screen door, which we immediately carted to the back yard.

We didn't accomplish much Saturday, but that allowed us to conserve our energy for Sunday's round of home improvements: The back yard patio.

We've written before about our plans to dismantle the old redwood gazebo that came with the spa that came with the house and has been deteriorating over the years. Somehow we've managed to put that off while we tried to figure out what to build in its place. In the meantime, we've sweltered through a couple of summers with the sun beating through the patio doors of our dining room and nothing outside to block the sun's rays. The screen to the patio door had long ago been damaged and we just hadn't gotten around to replacing it. With our sandy environment, a lot of grit gets deposited in the tracks of the sliding glass doors and screens and jams the rollers, so we wanted to avoid that problem if at all possible. Glenn had some crazy notion that he could attach a regular screen door in place of the sliding screen, so among our list of items purchased from Home Depot was an $88 vinyl screen door that we simply had to saw to size and attach somehow. It took the better part of an afternoon and a couple of trips to the hardware store to acquire the appropriate screws, but without too much fuss Gless was able to get the new door in place, and it operates as good as it looks. No more baking in the house on hot summer evenings because we don't want to let the skeeters in. Now when the Delta breeze cooperates we get a nice wind tunnel effect through the living room and realize what we were missing.

The door was just part of the patio project. Next it was time to assemble our no-saw gazebo. We call it that because, as the name suggests, no sawing of wood was involved in its construction. Thanks to ingenuity (and laziness) on the part of the designer, we came up with a simple plan that (we hoped) would be both functional and elegant while simple to construct. Boy was it simple! We slapped together four 4x4 posts with double sets of 2x6 crossbeams to create an approximately 10x12' frame of green douglas fir, then at the top we screwed on a dozen 1x3 pine boards at roughly even intervals. We painted everything white, hung up a few wind toys from the rafters, and voilá — less than an afternoon to assemble the frame, another afternoon to paint it. No saws were needed, all the measurements were eyeballed, and it sits freely on the patio's concrete slab. Will is survive the next Loma Prieta? Perhaps not, but if it survives the daily shaking it gets from passing trains then it is good enough.

Our hope is to further cultivate our barrel gardens so they can support wisteria, grapes or some other vine plant that will crawl over the top of the gazebo and give us natural shade. Maybe two or three summers from now. In the meantime, we are all excited about having this nice structure on our patio. Glenn likes the fact that it was easy to put together and looks decent. Roni is happy that there is a chance to block out the sun that hits our dining room every afternoon. And Ben likes the fact that he can take his lunches and dinners outside to eat at the old plastic picnic table we cleaned up and set outside the door. It's sort of like having our own sidewalk café, except there's a lot more self-serve involved. Roni repaired the top of our porch swing and set it up between the old gazebo and the new one. At night you can lie on the swing and gaze up at the stars. It is very relaxing.

All of this might have seemed enough for one vacation, and because the gazebo got finished on the very last day of Glenn's stay at home there was no time for more major projects. But that didn't mean we weren't inspired to do more. On Tuesday, July 12, Home Depot finally delivered our cobble stones on a big wooden pallet that they plopped in our front yard. It would have been nice to have them while we had more time to deal with them. As it was, we had to let them sit for a few days until we found a block of time to dig up the lawn and install them. We thought that was going to be the following weekend. But after several days on end of working around the house and then several more of just plain working, By Sunday we were ready for some fun.

On July 17, we went to the Contra Costa County fairgrounds in Antioch for the annual Hot Antioch Nights car show. Not quite sure why it is called that, since the event is one day only and does not take place at night, but it's a minor quibble. The show attracts a couple hundred hot rods and custom cars and features '50s music, arts and crafts, and plenty of Americana. Ben didn't think he would be interested — until he got to the fairgrounds. We had a hard time holding him back as he checked out all the flame decals, fancy paint styles and whimsical touches that the car owners use. The weather was hot, just the start of a summer heat wave, so afterward we stopped off at Baskin-Robins for ice cream. Being that we were close to Orchard Supply Hardware, we paid a visit to check out their lighting fixture sale.

We'd talked for a long time about replacing the chandelier in our dining room, and seeing as how all the lights were half off and we'd been sprucing things up the past few days, how could we refuse? We couldn't, of course, so we returned home with a new chandelier that Glenn finished installing just as the sun set and the room got dark. So far it hasn't caught fire, which might be the mark of success for such a project.

We've dwelled on all the home improvement projects this month, but other things have been happening as well. On July 1 we helped Glenn celebrate his 40th birthday. He marked the day — which happened to be the first day of his vacation — by getting a haircut and then taking a walk with Ben on the Marsh Creek Trail. His present was a DVD recorder, which he has been putting to use recording NASCAR races and transferring home videos onto DVD. He's trying to convert about eight years of VHS-C tapes and so far has made it through about two months worth. The project may outlast the useful life of the DVD recorder.

There was no lack of Fourth of July fireworks in our town despite the fact that they are illegal in our county. We hung out at our usual viewing location near the DuPont property to watch the Antioch municipal display while the bombs from nearby neighborhoods burst in air. Oakley held its own fireworks show the week before, so much of the luster of seeing a show on the Fourth had worn off. Not even Ben could last until the end of the Antioch display.

Speaking of Ben, he has been enjoying his summer vacation while he awaits the start of sixth grade at a new school. He's a little apprehensive about starting a new grade with unfamiliar classmates, but we have reassured him that he will make new friends, just as he did in fifth grade. He has been trying to fight off boredom by playing video games, watching cartoons and — heaven forbid! — reading. Don't think kids these days read enough? Ben just polished off a book written by a local author for a teenage audience called "Be-switched." He has been reading chapter books and walkthrough guides for his favorite games. He devours content on the Internet when it is something he is interested in. He has zero interest in the new Harry Potter novel, but then he never really got into the first one in the series. When he gets inspired, Ben will sit at his computer and write short stories about his favorite characters. He has been doing this a lot lately, sending the finished products to Dad at work via e-mail. Perhaps we have a budding young author in our midst.

Our stove is at last repaired. After putting it off for a couple of months, we finally called Sears and had someone come out to replace the oven igniter. They charged us $225 for about 10 minutes of work. That's about $125 for the part and tax, and the rest for labor. We figure that works out to about $600 an hour for labor, which is better than most attorneys make. Think that maybe it's time to invest in Sears-Roebuck stock. Or not.

The temperature dipped enough in the time it took to write this that we were able to return to our path project in the front yard this evening. We hadn't intended to install the path on one of the hottest days of summer so far, but we decided it was necessary when the neighbor kids started taking the cobble stones off the pallet this week to support ramps they were making for skateboard tricks. They were nice enough to return the stones at the end of the day, but we figured it was only a matter of time before they started coming back damaged or not at all. So the three of us worked quickly to remove the old sod — weeds mostly — and lay the stones between our side yard gate and the driveway. We finished the stone laying by 9:30, working mostly in the dark. Tomorrow we'll try to finish the project, which involves expanding the rose planter area. But we'll probably not do what we did today and go out midday when the sun is at its hottest.

Hope you stay cool through the summer heat. See you next month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben
This page was last updated on Saturday, August 27, 2005 at 00:34 hrs.

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