Photo of the month

What's Glenn have in common with legendary NASCAR champion Richard Petty and President George W. Bush? The number 43. In Glenn's case it happens to be the number of candles on his birthday cake the day this portrait was taken at the Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. Photo by Ben.

July 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas — the colors, anyhow. This is just one day's harvest from our garden, which is happily spitting out tomatoes, strawberries and peppers as fast as we can eat them. Photo by Glenn.

Ben has decided that he no longer wants to have his picture taken, so he is allowing the bottom of this empty glass to stand in for his smiling face. We think it's like one of those avatars that are all the rage online these days. Photo by Roni.

Glenn looks a lot more relaxed than he actually is supporting the weight of our newly arrived Winter Season statue on June 30. She still has a few more yards to her permanent home in the corner of the yard. Photo by Roni.

At last, Winter is at home in her garden. Roni demonstrates that she and Winter aren't too far apart in height, although at 48 inches Winter wins the prize for shortest. Photo by Glenn.

Winter peeks out from behind the leaves of a palm tree that is growing in her garden. Photo by Glenn.

You can see a bit of the color contrast in this sisterly portrait of Summer (foreground) and Winter together. Summer's finish has faded over two years. Photo by Glenn.

We've got sculptures all over our yard these days. We picked up this sleeping concrete cat for half price while shopping at Raley's. He looks comfortable in our fern garden. Photo by Glenn.

No, Ben hasn't changed his mind about having his photo taken, but he was off guard during our July 1 walk at Big Break Regional Shoreline. He's checking out the Delta from a grove of trees at the water's edge. Photo by Glenn.

One of the joys of living near the Delta in July is searching for wild blackberries, which Ben has discovered in abundance. Photo by Glenn.

Here are the berries Ben picked. He borrowed a tissue in hopes of transporting them home, but they didn't fare well in his pocket. Blackberry jam, anyone? Photo by Glenn.

Ben would only agree to this father-son picture because I told him it would be the best birthday gift I could receive. We plan to cut it out and turn it into a 5-inch standup that we'll mount on cardboard. Photo by Glenn.

It's time to unwrap some gifts. This would be the one containing our new propane gas barbecue grill. Photo by Roni.

And this is Glenn's new third generation iPod Nano, which Roni ordered from Ben, who was the first in the family to get a Nano, is envious of the video capability and now wants one of the new iPods for Christmas. Photo by Roni.

We decided that Winter's Garden needed something dramatic to help display her properly, so we built another arbor. Here's the 30 bucks worth of wood all painted up and ready to assemble. Photo by Glenn.

You can see the difference having the arbor makes in this wide angle shot of Winter's Garden. Since the neighbors cut down their pine tree, this corner of the yard has been screaming out for shade. Photo by Glenn.

Another angle of Winter with the new arbor behind her on July 3. Photo by Glenn.

Here's the same scene taken later that evening. This was shot using natural light provided by an LED solar spotlight. The effect is quite dramatic when the rest of the yard is totally dark. Photo by Glenn.

And here is how Summer looks illuminated by spotlight. Photo by Glenn.

Roni's been back at her crafts, making more birdhouses to place around the backyard. This is a castle that will double as a bird feeder. Photo by Glenn.

The mourning doves are ever determined to nest in our yard. This time they chose the top of an old railroad "derail" sign we have standing up against the garden side of our house. Photo by Glenn.

On July 4 we got our best look at the new squabs. Photo by Roni.

We celebrate the Fourth of July with our first cookout on the new gas grill. Glenn tends to the chicken and shish kebabs. Photo by Roni.

What an awesome night for a fireworks show. We lightened this shot a bit to show the color in the evening sky and the crescent moon hanging in the western sky above Antioch. Photo by Glenn.

This is a true color timed exposure of the Antioch fireworks display. Nothing beats a good fireworks show. Photo by Glenn.

A rare sight indeed, Roni has to resort to using a clothesline after our dryer broke down July 5. With the temperature hovering above 100 degrees the clothes got dry in a hurry, but the consensus was that we preferred the convenience of the machine. Photo by Glenn.

Our new stackable washer/dryer combo is installed in the laundry room July 15. It's a little larger than we anticipated. Photo by Glenn.

Roni pours in the detergent for our very first laundry load. Photo by Glenn.

This is the maze of hoses we had to arrange to connect the faucets and drain pipe to the washer on the opposite side of the room. It may not look pretty, but it works well. Photo by Glenn.

Roni prepares to transfer the finished washer load to the dryer above. This photo was taken before we pushed the stackables closer to the wall. There is more room in the laundry room now. Photo by Glenn.

Back at the grill, this was our third cookout on July 19. We thought we'd try the shish kebabs again, along with some hot Italian sausage and Mexican chorizo. Photo by Ben.

Just look at that! Bet your mouth is watering about now. Photo by Ben.

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Season's greetings

July 25, 2008

Winter has arrived!

That might seem an odd thing to be excited about in the middle of July, but it has nothing to do with the Earth's climatic conditions being askew. We are referring to the Winter Season statue we ordered just after our wedding anniversary in late March. You know, the one that was supposed to be here in six to eight weeks that took nearly 14 weeks to ship from the distant shores of San Francisco to our humble hamlet of Oakley. It surely was a long wait, but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm the day that Statues 'N Stuff called us to tell us our order had at last arrived. That was Monday, June 30, just a couple of hours before the store's closing time. We told them we'd be right over.

Fortunately, Glenn was off work for vacation, as his brawn would be necessary to transport Winter into the backyard once we got her home. At least we didn't have to load the statue into the back of Roni's car; a couple of guys from the statue place were handy to do that for us. They used a heavy dolly to wheel it close to the car, then one pulled while the other pushed to get Winter lying flat across the back seat — all 260 pounds of her. We joked that she needs to go on a diet. To us, she felt more like 400 pounds. Or maybe that's because we aren't as strong as we once were.

Roni backed her car into the driveway so that we could unload Winter as close as possible to her final destination. We still had to somehow lug her from the car to the backyard, and we didn't have the benefit of the heavy duty dolly they'd used at the statue store. What we did have was the flimsy aluminum and plastic dolly we use to move boxes of newsletters about when we bring them home from the printer. It had already survived moving Summer to her garden a year and a half ago, so we decided to give it a shot.

Once we wrestled Winter out of the back seat, it took all Glenn had to wheel her through the garage and into the garden. The journey was made more difficult because the wheels of the cart sank into the sandy soil, so we took frequent breaks along the way. Then once we reached the edge of Winter's Garden, we used planks to get over the lip of the retaining wall and pulled the statue up the makeshift ramp. A bit more wrestling and she was soon standing in place. Phew! We were exhausted, but happy to finally have our statue. Best of all, we had correctly guessed what color to order so that Winter and Summer's stone finish match perfectly, although it is easy to see the difference between Winter's fresh paint and Summer's fading hues, the latter having spent nearly a couple of years exposed to the elements.

We spent time over the next several days getting Winter's Garden in shape. We visited Home Depot and bought four more carpet roses and a couple of bougainvillea bushes to plant around the area. We also went to Lowe's and bought the parts for yet another arbor, which Glenn painted white and assembled in a day. He's becoming proficient at building these. Ben helped us move the fully assembled arbor and kept one leg steady with Roni on the other while Glenn dug the post holes and set it in the ground. We added a couple of hanging baskets and filled them with flower arrangements. Then we topped it all off by positioning a pair of LED solar spotlights to illuminate Winter and Summer for several hours after sunset. The effect is very dramatic.

It all looked very lovely until the big heat wave arrived and nearly seared everything to a crisp. It got darn hot just after the Fourth of July weekend, with temperatures getting up into the 109-degree range. No matter how much water we were already giving our plants, they seemed to want a lot more. Roni hand-watered a couple of times a day, trying to save our new plantings and the garden veggies. We knew it was too hot because even the plants that supposedly like full-sun exposure wilted quickly. The heat wave was brief, fortunately, and now we're back to our unseasonably cool weather No global warming in these parts.

The other thing we've had to contend with in the past few weeks is smoke. California got hit with a rash of lightning-sparked wildfires the last week of June, and the smoke from those fires continues to hang around the Bay Area. For a while it looked more like Los Angeles of the 1970s with all the smog, but the sunsets were certainly awesome. We got it a bit worse along the Delta because the wind currents naturally funnel into the Sacramento-San Joaquin valleys, where all the smoke settled, so even while some Bay Area towns got relief from the smoke, we were stuck with it for three weeks until the weather conditions changed.

The air quality officials recommended folks stay indoors and limit physical activity as much as possible during the smoke invasion, but that didn't stop us from enjoying Glenn's birthday and the week leading up to Independence Day. Glenn was off work that week for a much needed vacation while Ben continued his summer break leading up to the start of high school. (More on that in a moment.)

We celebrated Glenn's 43rd birthday with a home-cooked dinner of enchiladas and dessert of hot fudge pudding cake, which Roni succeeded in making exactly like they serve at Hometown Buffet, one of our favorite dining spots for special occasions. In fact, we had planned to eat there for Glenn's birthday specifically because he was after the dessert. But when Roni discovered the secret recipe — Hershey's provides it free for those who are Internet connected — we decided there was no need to leave the comfort of home and waste gas to drive 20 miles to Tracy or Concord just for the dessert. Instead, we went to the Golden Dragon in Antioch a couple of days later to enjoy our buffet. No cake there, but plenty of other Asian delicacies, including crab legs, which Ben consumed with abandon.

Glenn received three birthday gifts: an iPod Nano to take his music on the road, a 12-inch statue of a flying pig, and a Weber propane barbecue grill. It is our first gas grill and replaces the 10-year-old charcoal cooker we'd been using for all our backyard cookouts. Roni had been eyeing the gas grill for a while with the hope that it will be easier to use and that both of us will be more likely to want to cook outdoors. Glenn has always been the grill master in our family, mainly because getting the fire started was a tricky business. With propane, all you do is open the valve, ignite the burners and go.

We made our first barbecue of hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken on the Fourth of July — the perfect complement to an evening of fireworks. Ben and Glenn went out along the DuPont rail siding around 9:15 p.m. to catch the municipal display presented by Antioch. It's the perfect spot to watch the show because it is far from the crowds and traffic yet close enough to get a good look at the bombs bursting in air. We'd missed last year's show because we were on vacation in King of Prussia, Penn., in the middle of a torrential downpour. No rain in these parts on Independence Day.

With gas prices up and our travel budget largely depleted thanks to our ongoing yard improvement projects this year, we decided not to take any trips this vacation. That did little to preclude us from going shopping, and we made several forays to the home improvement centers for things we needed. It was on a Saturday visit to Home Depot the day after Independence Day that we were casually eyeing some of the sale items and caught ourselves lingering once again over the clothes washers and dryers. We do this occasionally, imagining what it would be like to have one of the new stackable sets that would free up some space in our overcrowded laundry room. Home Depot was running a pretty good special on a pair of LG units — 10 percent off, free delivery, free disposal, no-interest financing for a year, a $50 gift card, and a $200 energy efficiency rebate from PG&E and the water district. If they offered any more incentives they'd be paying the customers to walk out the door with the appliances.

Nonetheless, we weren't in the market for a washer or a dryer. Our trusty Whirlpool set may be 17 years old, but it was still running strong, cleaning clothes effectively if not efficiently. Still, the stackables had long intrigued us and a deal like this was tough to pass up. Unfortunately, we weren't ready to part with the cash. Ah well, maybe someday when the old machines conk out, we finally agreed. And that was that. We left the store without giving it much more thought.

...Until later that evening.

Roni pulled together a large load of laundry and the washer did its usual work, thumping and squealing its way through the job. But when it came time to spin the clothes dry... nothing. She pushed the starter on the dryer and it refused to come to life. "Looks like we'll be heading back to Home Depot tomorrow," we said.

On Sunday, we did get back to Home Depot after checking a few other appliance stores. We'd considered sticking with a top-loader washer like we'd been using because it would have saved us some money. We also considered just buying the dryer, because the washer still worked if just barely. But in the end we faced the grim reality that it was only a matter of time before the washer died too, so replacing them both at once seemed the way to go. And besides, we really liked the stackables. By that evening we had placed our order for the LG washer and dryer and were busily making plans for what we would need to do to accommodate them in our laundry room.

We arranged delivery for July 15. That gave us about eight days to get the room in shape. It was an utter disaster area to be sure. It had never been painted in 20 years, and there was a collection of greasy dirt under the old washer and dryer dating back to 1991, when we first moved in and bought the set. We'd decided to paint and put down fresh linoleum, so the first step was to haul the old units out to the porch. Our laundry room is tiny, about eight feet long by less than three feet across. It barely accommodated our old washer and dryer, and in order to get the stackables to work would mean removing one of the cabinets on the wall where the dryer had been. We decided it would be easiest to relocate the washer to the same side the dryer was on, so the cabinet above the dryer had to go.

Getting the cabinet off the wall was easy enough with a hammer and crowbar. Getting it out of the room was extremely difficult. The cabinet's face was just wide enough that it couldn't get around the door jamb no matter how it was maneuvered. Eventually we had to remove the moulding from around the kitchen door. Once the cabinet was out, we reattached the door moulding and spent a couple of days painting the walls yellow and the trim white to match the colors in our kitchen. Then came the floor. We'd picked up some sheet linoleum and vinyl paste and read up on what to do. We decided to lay the new floor directly atop the old floor, which seemed easier than ripping out the old linoleum.

Cutting the new sheet of linoleum to fit involved first making a paper template of the floor's contours. So one night Glenn was on hands and knees cutting out the pattern, taping the pieces together and fighting off the column of ants that decided it had to check out the empty laundry room. He sprayed Ortho on the uninvited visitors, but decided to stop for the night because there were too many bodies piling up on his template. Our cat Ariel didn't know what to make of all the work in "her room." She's used to the laundry room being the place where her food and litter are stored. Even while the paper template was being laid, we managed to clear a spot for her food dish and her bed so she could eat in peace away from the other cat. The next evening, Glenn returned to the ant homicide scene only to find that they had returned with a vengeance when they discovered the food dish sometime during the day. There was much vacuuming and more ant spray. Eventually we beat them back enough to finish the paper template.

The new vinyl has a pattern that looks like a wood plank floor. Cool. Using the template, we cut the sheet to size and then laid it in the laundry room. Another day was spent tweaking the fit before it was ready to be pasted down. Of course we ran out of vinyl paste midway through, but fortunately there'd been enough to complete the area where the stackables would rest. We could always finish laying the opposite end later.

With the painting and floor mostly done, it was time to turn our attention to the plumbing. Because the water and drain hookups are available only on one side of the room, we had to route hoses from the opposite side to reach them. With apologies to professional washing machine installers everywhere, we bought a pair of 25-foot garden hoses and 20 feet of corrugated drain hose that we routed from the water taps and drain pipe around one wall, up and over the kitchen door, then down the other side. We used conduit brackets to keep everything bolted to the walls. It wasn't pretty, but we hoped it would do the job.

All of this we managed to finish before the morning of July 15. When the Home Depot guys showed up with our new washer and dryer, you should have seen their eyes bug out when they assessed our creative solution to the plumbing problem. "We can make the hoses work," one of them explained in broken English, "but the drain pipe, it no fit." Oops. This is when we discovered that not all washing machine drain hoses are alike. We'd used the one on our old machine as a guide and bought a 1-1/4" line. The stackables use less water and don't need as big a discharge hose. We would have to make another trip to the store. In the meantime, we had the guys hook up everything else and told them we'd finish the job later. We couldn't understand most of their conversation in Spanish as they installed the washer and then stacked the dryer on top of it, but we suspect it was on the order of "What made those stupid Gringos think they could ever make this work?"

Just to keep things fair, we went to Lowe's to purchase the replacement drain hose and clamps to connect it to the washing machine outlet. It is a see-through polyvinyl material, so when the washer drains we get to see the wastewater sluice through the hose on its way to the sewer. How exciting. Fortunately none of the hoses is visible from outside the laundry room, and if you look at it from the kitchen you'd never guess the maze of tubing behind the wall.

What was visible, however, was the washer and dryer. The new units are slightly deeper than the old ones, which means that they stick out farther into the middle of the laundry room. And although the installer guys had sort of pushed the appliances back to the wall, they had left a lot of wasted space behind them. We needed to reclaim about five inches so that we could open our garage door more than a sliver. All we had to do was slide about 360 pounds of washer/dryer across our newly laid floor. It took both of us and a folded-up throw rug to shove everything back without damaging the linoleum. We cringed a little as we heard the aluminum dryer duct scrunching against the wall, knowing that we had to take care not to crease it. We didn't quite get our five inches, but we got enough to open the garage door comfortably wide without banging it into anything.

We'd been waiting more than a week to do our laundry and had accumulated a mighty big pile. Roni probably won't admit it, but she seemed to go out of her way to create as many loads as possible as an excuse to put the new machines through their paces. We'd never had a front-loading washer before and were amazed at how little water this one uses. The cylce runs a bit longer than our old machine, close to an hour, but the clothes come out acceptably clean and the machine places a cheery little jingle to let you know they're ready, so maybe it's not a bad trade off. The dryer is speedier, taking just 40 minutes to polish off a load.

The real benefit is that now we have more space to maneuver whenever we need to get into the garage. Before, we had to trip over the cat box and whatever else was piled up in the aisle between the washer and dryer. Now, we can stand in the area where the washer once was and open the door without disturbing the kitty litter or food dish. It actually makes going out to the garage enjoyable again.

Our laundry room adventures may be over, but our high school adventures are just beginning. Ben starts his freshman year at Freedom High School on July 30, and the past week has been filled with preparations. On July 14 he attended freshman orientation, and then July 21 we both went with him for that wallet-draining experience known as registration. There are 3,000 students at the school and registration is spread over four days. We went on the third day thinking that the lines would be shorter than the first or last days. But we didn't see much benefit; the line was still long. We had to verify our residence within the district, pick up class assignments, take an ID photo, purchase gym clothes, order a yearbook, chat with a counselor, and finally pick up a stack of textbooks. Total time: about two hours.

We actually fared pretty well with the checkbook, spending $87 for registration fees and another $45 for portraits. A friend of Roni's with twin girls in the 10th grade shelled out $267 on account of lab fees, which we didn't need to pay this year. We also didn't have to buy a parking pass or pay for school busing, or purchase a discount card for admission to dances or sporting events that Ben (for now) doesn't plan to attend. What ever happened to the days of a free public education?

Glenn endured another round of layoffs at the newspaper this month, with eight editors and 29 non-management editorial employees losing their jobs between June 27 and July 11. As always, we are thankful he still has his job, but hold no illusions that this will be the last wave of job cuts. The economy continues to take its toll on ad revenue at the same time that news readership is migrating to the Internet. Online may be the place to be one day, but right now newspapers are having a tough time making it a successful financial model. We wait until the next round.

And finally this month we'll leave you on an upbeat note. Make that an upbeat musical note. In our neverending effort to provide you with interactive features on this site, we've cobbled together a page that displays the currently playing music selections on our iTunes playlist. If you are ever curious what we're listening to at a given moment, the page updates itself every three minutes. It's title and artist listings only; no sound samples. It's still a work in progress, but hopefully it will evolve in time.

See you in August.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, August 15, 2008 at 12:36 hrs.

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