Photo of the month

Room for one more? Our debris bin is nearly full, but Glenn seems convinced that Ben will fit nicely between the old fence boards and bags of weeds. No, we didn't really ship him off to the garbage company... this time. Photo by Roni.

July 2006

July 1 finds Glenn another year older, if not another year wiser. This is the face of 41 — a little thinner than a year ago, and with a touch more gray. Photo by Glenn.

Ben gets a kick out of the birthday card he prepared for Dad. Looks like Glenn's enjoying it too. Photo by Roni.

We ventured to the Alameda County Fair on July 8. Ben's not all that interested in the doll house he's looking at with Mom, but he was on a hunt for all the cats he could find in the Young California building. There were three in this display alone. Photo by Glenn.

Roni tries out a new cowgirl look at one of the hat vendors at the fair. Photo by Glenn.

What would the county fair be without horse racing? (Contra Costa County, but we won't go there.) This is the final turn at Alameda County Fair, and the frontrunners are locked in a fierce dual for the finish line. Photo by Roni.

And the winner is... not this horse. But you sure can see the dust fly as he barrels down the front stretch. Photo by Roni.

If horses don't get your pulse pounding, you might want action that's a little more down to earth. The All-Alaskan Racing Pigs, on their stubby legs, are about as close to the ground as racing thoroughbreds come. Photo by Glenn.

Mama liked the roses... These winning buds were on display in the horticulture building. Photo by Glenn.

Nothing says "fair" like a Ferris wheel. But you'll never get us up in one of those. Tossing darts for stuffed animals is about the limit of our carnival activities. Photo by Glenn.

Mom and Ben rest their feet amid the winning art displays. The temperature was easily over 100 degrees. Photo by Glenn.

Our debris bin from the garbage company arrived July 13. Ben was convinced the thing smelled bad and is holding his nose here, but actually it was very clean inside. Photo by Glenn.

By Friday, July 14, most of the wood has been removed from our back yard. Glenn works on a few of the remaining 4x4 posts. Photo by Roni.

And here is the wood pile loaded up in the bin. As you can see, there isn't much room left. Photo by Roni.

And then there was none. Sunday afternoon finds our bin quite full. We've added some bagged weeds, pallets, concrete stumps and our old kettle barbecue. Shut the door, honey. Photo by Roni.

The end result of our cleanup is a much cleaner garden area. Most of the weeds have been removed. Photo by Glenn.

And here are the trees, liberated from the wood pile. Ben is showing that you can actually sit under the ash tree — if you don't mind getting stickers in your tush. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is proud of his cherry tomato bush, which he started growing in a container at school. He transferred the container to his home garden, and on July 16 finally harvested a small crop of ripe fruits. Photo by Glenn.

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Load it up, haul it out

July 22, 2006

It took more than half the year, but our fence-building odyssey that began with a vicious storm on New Year’s weekend, culminated in mid-July with a marathon cleanup session.

After months of talking about what should be done with the mountain of old fence boards we had accumulated in our back yard, Roni finally made the call to the garbage company and ordered up one of their giant yellow debris bins. It was quietly deposited in our driveway the morning of July 13. At least we assume it was done quietly, because it was waiting there when we stepped outside that morning to make our rounds, and no one had seen or heard the truck that brought it.

This sucker was huge for the likes of typical residential customers such as ourselves, who are used to the 64-gallon toter we have to wheel down to the curb every Wednesday night. The dimensions were about 8 feet wide by 20 feet long and 4 feet high — enough to contain all the wood we had and then some.

Naturally we had selected one of the hottest weekends of summer to do our cleanup. Glenn spent a couple of hours Thursday and another four hours on Friday gathering up stacks of rotten boards and piling them into the debris bin. We hadn’t planned to make much headway before Saturday, assuming that there was too much wood to clean up in the few spare weekday hours we had available, but by the time work ended Friday afternoon we had already reached the ground around the evergreen ash tree, the first time we had seen its roots or the lower third of its trunk since January.

If you are like us and enjoy keeping a low profile in the neighborhood, then having a large object like a debris bin deposited in your driveway isn’t a good way to maintain anonymity. You might as well erect a billboard with flashing lights on your roof that screams “LOOK AT THIS!” The person Roni spoke with at the garbage company said we should be sure to lock the bin's doors and keep the top covered because some folks will have a tendency to “help” you try and fill your empty container. After all, there’s so much room, how could anyone possibly fill it all themselves?

That was what we thought when we saw the thing empty. We looked at each other and said there’s no way we’re going to use up all that space. Ha! Our neighbors, with whom we cooperated to replace the fence on our sideyard, must have been thinking the same thing, because they approached us about taking some items off their hands, or rather out of their garage. Sure, we said, check back with us in a couple of days and we’ll work something out.

But a couple of days later, Saturday morning, it was clear that our offer had been extended prematurely. With all the fence wood accounted for, the bin was already more than half full and we had yet to round up items from the rest of our yard and garage that we wanted to dispose of. In fact, that was one of the main goals in ordering the debris bin, not just carting away the remnants of our fences. We also had half the wood from our old gazebo, piles of disassembled furniture and baby stuff jamming up the front of the garage, sacks and sacks of weeds raked from the garden, and pallets — boy did we have pallets — from ancient deliveries of retaining wall blocks and rolls of sod. Not only did we no longer wonder if we would be able to fill the bin, but we wondered if there would be enough room to handle all we wanted to get rid of. Our neighbor Gustavo recognized the situation as well, and we politely agreed that the idea of sharing the bin wasn't going to work.

We filled most of the bin on Thursday and Friday, and although we had little room left after that, filling the remaining space took the better part of Saturday and Sunday. Removing the fence boards, which had all been neatly stacked from the beginning, was easy compared to rounding up common debris. We wound up having to break down a couple of the pallets because they didn't fit in the bin fully assembled. We had to hand carry a half dozen concrete post stumps that weighed in excess of 150 pounds each. Roni and Ben worked in the garden for hours raking out the accumulation of weeds and shoving them into Hefty bags. The sacks, while not adding much weight to the collection overall, did add plenty of bulk.

When we had packed in all we could fit by late Sunday afternoon, we closed the doors to the bin and marveled at just how much junk we'd had in our yard. The sad thing was that we could probably use another bin to get rid of what remains in the garage. Now all we worried about was whether the trash company would be able to haul the bin away Monday morning. They charged us $380 up front, which was good for the first three tons. Every ton over the first three is an extra $70, so we could only hope that we hadn't exceeded the weight limit with all that wood and concrete. We must not have, because there was no knock at our door Monday morning telling us we had to authorize another charge to our credit card. Apparently the truck that hauls the bin has a built-in scale and can determine the bin's weight on the spot, and they won't remove it until you pay up.

With the debris container gone, our driveway looked emptier than we had seen it in recent months. So does the back yard. We can now see what Mr. Gopher has been up to while the boards were hiding his nefarious deeds all those weeks. He was busily pushing up dirt mounds around the roots of the ash tree. We have already established that gophers like to nibble at the ash tree's roots, which was a major cause of it going into shock a few years back. The tree has since recovered and the root system is much more established now, so we don't fear for its safety as much, but its neighbor, the fruitless mulberry, has also been in poor health since last summer and we wonder if it too hasn't been gopherized. Our next call will likely be to an arborist to see what can be done to save our 30-foot "Independence Tree," so named because of the fact it was planted on the Fourth of July in 1997.

It seems that our yard is a neverending work in progress. Now that the cleanup is done we need to focus our attention on the sprinkler system, but it has been so doggone hot these past few days that all we want to do is hide away in an air-conditioned room. That is exactly what we have been doing today. When you wake up before 10 a.m. and realize it's already too hot to work outdoors, you know you're in for a scorcher. Roni was out and about this afternoon doing grocery shopping and reports that the trusty thermometer outside Oakley Chiropractic Clinic read 117 degrees. There has been some question about the thermometer's accuracy, so we usually rely on the ones in the dash of our Toyotas. Roni's reported 113 degrees. Ah, what's four degrees when you're up that high? It's still too dang hot to be outside.

But attempting to cool off inside isn't easy either. Not when there is a power outage every hour or so, as we have experienced today. The first one, around 4:45 p.m., interrupted the progress of this newsletter among other effects. Since then we have had four more outages, all lasting less than 30 seconds. They are about as predictable on a day like today as folks waiting in line for hours to buy 99-cent gasoline. Now at 11:30 p.m., the power has blitzed a total of five times and the outside temperature is still a toasty 95 degrees.

The heat didn't bother Ben much, as he finally had a chance to get in some play time today with his friend Joey from school. The two of them got together over at our place for four hours of Nintendo action. Ben still has a couple of weeks left before heading back to class for the beginning of seventh grade. He isn't so sure he's ready to do that, but he does know that too much time on his hands hasn't always been a good thing. He's bored with his toys, bored with his books, bored with TV... Bored all around, basically.

You would think that with so much boredom he would welcome the chance to get out of the house and do something fun, which is what we attempted to do July 8 when we went to Pleasanton on the next to last day of the Alameda County Fair. Years ago the fair was an annual tradition for us, but we hadn't been to Alameda's in at least the last three years. It hadn't changed much, which is a good thing. Still plenty of farm animals, exhibits, carnival rides and hokey entertainment to satisfy our yen for old-fashioned fun. Roni looked forward to checking out the horse races. We found a shady spot on the upper plaza level and hung around long enough to see one of the races. Ben couldn't get into it, and frankly if you aren't putting money down on the outcome it's not quite the same.

We had better luck at the Young California building, where all the 4-H and youth exhibits are located. Ben got interested in counting how many cats he could find in the displays. We don't remember the final tally now, but it was more than 130. Bet you never knew that cats were such an integral part of fair projects. We didn't stay nearly as long as we could have, partly because it was blistering hot and also because Ben's patience wore thin after a few hours. The final straw for him was when we went to the carnival and he had a good run at the dart toss. He popped five out of six balloons and won a "large" prize, which in our inflationary world translates to a 6-inch stuffed Curious George — certainly not the huge stuffed animals he'd had his eye on, and hardly a just reward for a hitting percentage not achieved by any major league ballplayer. It was at that point Ben decided carnival games are a rip-off and that he had seen enough of the fair for this year.

Last month we told you about the mourning dove that took to nesting in an old hanging planter Roni rescued from the garage. The dove laid two eggs in the nest, one of which had hatched by the time we posted the June update. Well, turns out the second egg was a dud. It was left behind in the nest after the one hatchling took wing and departed with mom just before the end of June. Funny to think that the birds go to all that work and set up house anywhere that's convenient, only to abandon the nest, never to return, once the kids are ready to fly.

Finally this month, we want to extend get-well wishes to our grandpa and great-grandpa Bernie, who is in the hospital after suffering a fall at home last weekend. You and Grandma are in our hearts and our prayers. Bless you both.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Sunday, August 20, 2006 at 22:23 hrs.

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