Photo of the month

Standing out in the crowd is easy when you are surrounded by sunflowers as far as the eye can see. Roni and Glenn pose in front of a field near Davis, Calif., on the Fourth of July. Photo by Glenn.

July 2011

Glenn poses for a 46th birthday portrait with our Fall Season statue on July 1. There is a certain family resemblance there. Photo by Glenn.

The First marked not only Glenn's birthday, but it was the first anniversary of the arrival of Katy and Rio at our home. Katy celebrates with a piece of ribbon... Photo by Glenn.

...While Rio seems duly impressed with the momentous occasion. Photo by Glenn.

It's time for some cake. We didn't exactly have 46 candles, but all the better to prevent setting off the smoke detector. Photo by Roni.

Chocolate pudding birthday cake. Mmmmmmmmmm. You know you want some. Photo by Roni.

This isn't exactly one of Glenn's birthday gifts. Actually, he's blowing up a 48-inch beachball for Roni to use in a booth at the upcoming Oakley Cityhood Celebration. Photo by Roni.

Glenn has a little fun with the beachball. He's easily entertained. Photo by Roni.

Inflated, the beachballs barely fit in the back of Roni's car as she prepares to take them to the park on Saturday, July 2. Photo by Glenn.

Roni and her helpers Janess and Linda work to set up the Delta Science Center booth at the cityhood celebration. Photo by Glenn.

A tank of small perch caught in the Delta that morning was a big hit with the kids who stopped by the DSC booth. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Lea joined us for the cityhood celebration, but they spent most of the afternoon hanging out together (or is that all over each other?). Photo by Glenn.

Just before sundown the park is a sea of people who have staked out their spots for the fireworks show. Photo by Glenn.

Let the show begin! The crowd oohs and aahs as the bombs burst midair over Freedom High School. Photo by Glenn.

It's the "Fourth" of July, so we'll enjoy the fireworks awhile longer. Photo by Glenn.

Here comes the grand finale, a multicolored salute to our country's 235th birthday. Photo by Glenn.

July 3, the morning following the fireworks show, Roni thanks the perch for their service and returns them to the Delta at Lauritzen Yacht Harbor. Photo by Glenn.

It's a gorgeous Sunday on the Delta and folks seem to be enjoying the hot weather. This boater does a doughnut for us while we shoot photos from the levee. Photo by Roni.

The summer hot streak is good news for the blackberries, which are just starting to ripen along the riverbank. Photo by Glenn.

At home, we've got the backyard ready for Independence Day. These flag banners were a buck each, so we bought three to decorate the BAP pergola. Photo by Glenn.

The flags are backlit by the late afternoon sunlight, creating a lovely glow inside the pergola. Photo by Glenn.

We spent a lot of time during our vacation fixing up the patio. Among the things we did was to add strings of lights to the inside of the pergola. Photo by Glenn.

Roni relaxes on the patio as we test out the lights for the first time the evening of July 3. Photo by Glenn.

A ceramic cat appears to be watching intently the flame of a citronella candle on our patio table. Unfortunately, the bugs seemed equally attracted. Photo by Glenn.

July 4 finds us on a Delta roadtrip. We stopped for some pictures of one of the huge wind farms west of Rio Vista. Photo by Glenn.

This is what we were looking for. A huge field of sunflowers near Davis, Calif., makes quite an impression when viewed up close. Photo by Glenn.

Last year we hunted for sunflowers in late August and came away disappointed. Not so this year. Photo by Glenn.

The sunflowers are mostly taller than Roni, who tries her best to blend in. Photo by Glenn.

Some people go to picnics on the Fourth. Others watch fireworks. We get our kicks taking pictures of giant flower fields. Photo by Glenn.

Our Delta journey included a stop at the Walnut Grove Iron Works where we picked up some new metal art for our pergola. This scene has a cat, bird, tree and flowers, so how could we not like it? Photo by Glenn.

It just wouldn't be Independence Day without a barbecue. Bring on the hamburgers. Photo by Glenn.

One of our vacation projects got us around finally to building Roni's patio pond. We will transform this unused barrel half into a water garden with the help of some black sheeting fabric. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn wrestles with the pond liner as he tucks it into the barrel. Photo by Roni.

With the excess fabric trimmed the pond is filled with water. Photo by Glenn.

Time to add the plants. Roni transferred her canna lily and parrot's feather from a plastic tub to the barrel. Photo by Glenn.

We purchased a water hyacinth from Orchard Supply Hardware. It started blooming in the car on the drive home. Photo by Roni.

Ben decided his old bed wasn't comfortable anymore, so we chucked it in favor of a futon, which we set up July 6. Photo by Glenn.

Ben likes the futon, especially the fact that it can fold up into a sofa and provides him with more space in his room. Photo by Roni.

Back to business following the cityhood event, Roni is hard at work in her Delta Science Center office July 8. The office is in space donated to the DSC by the Ironhouse Sanitary District. Photo by Glenn.

Hopefully this won't be the last shot Glenn gets to take on his Canon PowerShot S3 camera, which died moments after the shutter snapped on this picture of Roni reading her iPad on the patio. Photo by Roni.

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

Out standing in our fields

July 20, 2011

While most people were celebrating our nation's 235th birthday with barbecues, fireworks and patriotic parades, the Fourth of July found our family on a quest. And what better way to assert your independence than by going against the grain, doing the opposite of what most otherwise sane people are doing to celebrate the holiday? Our goal on this sizzling summer day was to find an elusive field of sunflowers and to photograph it.

You may recall our previous sunflower quest that we attempted late last August which met with less than successful results. After driving for nearly an hour we managed only to find the dried remnants of what must have at one time been a spectacular field near Dixon. We vowed on the spot to attempt the trip earlier in the season next time. We had planned this year to make the trip in June, only to get sidetracked by other weekend activities. We worried that the window of opportunity might be closing, although with the cool weather we've had this summer it seemed possible the growing season might last well into July.

The Fourth of July was the perfect day to try again. We left Oakley in the morning and headed up toward Solano County where most of the commercial farms can be found. But it didn't take long before we found ourselves wandering the backroads west of Rio Vista. While Roni had her heart set on seeing sunflowers, Glenn's passion long has been wind farms, and there are plenty of them in the hills north of the Sacramento River. With Glenn in the driver's seat it was only to be expected that we would pull over for a few pictures of the wind farm between Rio Vista and Suisun City.

That part of the quest satisfied, we quickly returned to the highway and made our way north up Highway 113 into Dixon and past the county fairgrounds where a Fourth of July car show was in progress. Businesses and residences were decked out in banners and flags, a postcard of small-town Americana more familiar on the East Coast.

But no sunflowers. Not even in the field where we had seen them last year. Our limited knowledge of agriculture reminded us of something called crop rotation, in which farmers often let a field go fallow for a year or two in order to let the soil recoup its nutrients. Perhaps that was the case in Dixon, and maybe we were out of luck this year too because the sunflowers hadn't been planted.

Rather than despair, we continued driving north until the road led us to Interstate 80. We turned east on a route to take us into Sacramento. Roni had discovered pictures of sunflowers online that were shot in fields along I-80, somewhere close to Davis. We started scanning the shoulders of the freeway in hopes we might find some here. Then in the distance we saw them, a couple of green fields dotted with yellow. Nirvana. We had found what we were after, but how to get to it so we could stop for photos? We couldn't very well pull off to the shoulder of the interstate with cars and trucks zooming past us at 70 mph. We needed a better way.

We exited the freeway in Davis and consulted Roni's iPad for directions. With the aid of satellite imagery we discovered a frontage road where we could allegedly pull off and see all the cropland we desired. We backtracked about a mile to Kidwell Road and were delighted when it put us right where we wanted to be.

The sunflower field we discovered was at least 40 acres, perhaps larger, and stretched like a carpet to the horizon with flowers nearly six feet tall. We spent a long time photographing them, feeling just a bit silly as we negotiated over ditches and through weeds to get up close to the huge yellow blossoms. We felt a little less silly when we encountered several other folks parked farther up the road with their cameras drawn, doing exactly what we were doing. Apparently the allure of a giant field of sunflowers is too much to resist for travelers accustomed to the boring scenery along this stretch of I-80.

One woman traveling alone asked Roni to take a picture of her standing amid the flowers. What an awesome idea. And why hadn’t we thought of it? After Roni was done taking the woman’s picture we did our own rendition of silly-tourists-in-the-field, caring not a whit how we must have appeared to the young couple with a dog who drove up while we were adjusting the camera for our next shot.

There was a farmhouse a short distance past the end of the road, and we assumed that whoever lived there probably was responsible for the sunflowers. Would they mind so many city slickers popping in for photos? The way we figured it, the flower fields have been part of the area for many years, so anyone into the business of growing them was probably well aware that they attract tourists like bees to pollen. So long as we took only pictures there was no harm done.

Satisfied with our successful mission, we said so long to the fields and continued on in to Sacramento, desperate for something cold to drink. We’d been through the storms and cool weather of late spring and almost forgotten what it was like to have triple-digit temperatures again. So it was only 98 degrees, the effect was the same. We pulled in to a McDonald’s and bought some of their latest fruit freezes for the road. They were all but gone by the time we found our way back to Highway 160 near Freeport and started the lazy drive south for home.

As Ben had decided searching for sunflowers sounded a lot less fun than chatting online at home with his friends, it was just the two of us for the day. We phoned him from the road to let him know we’d be home in an hour or so, then proceeded to dawdle our way along Highway 160 through some of our favorite Delta towns. We dropped in on Walnut Grove to check out the Walnut Grove Iron Works where we had once bought some cool rusty metal art for our backyard. They had an enticing collection of pieces on display, so we wound up spending more than we should have for a couple new sculptures to hang on our large pergola. We then stopped in Isleton to have lunch at Isleton Joe’s restaurant. So our “hour or so” home turned into about three hours. Not that Ben noticed or cared.

We hung the new artworks on the BAP pergola and still found time and energy to have a proper Fourth of July barbecue with burgers and corn on the cob. Some traditions you just gotta do.

* * * * *

You’ll notice we made no mention of fireworks on the Fourth. That is partly because the holiday fell on a Monday this year and also because some of the larger municipal displays had been scaled back or canceled on account of budget cuts. Antioch, which in years past put on a great show, decided that blowing 80 grand on a fireworks show when the city is laying off police officers and has pared its staff to skeletal levels might send the wrong idea to taxpayers. Brentwood saved its fireworks for the Cornfest the following weekend. That left Oakley, which moved its display up to Saturday, July 2, to coincide with the annual Cityhood Celebration.

Believe it or not, Oakley is officially 12 years old. It incorporated on July 1, 1999, and every year since then there has been some sort of event to commemorate the anniversary. Somehow we had managed to avoid the festivities all these years, at most watching the fireworks from afar instead of jockeying for position in traffic afterward with thousands of other revelers. But this year we had another reason to be at the show: the Delta Science Center booth, which Roni was coordinating.

The Cityhood Celebration took place in the park behind the Freedom High School football stadium. Roni went early in the afternoon to start setting up the booth while the rest of us sweltered at home until closer to the 5 p.m. opening of the show. Ben and his girlfriend Lea got a ride over with Glenn, and we got a great parking spot close to the field.

The DSC booth was mostly set up by the time the rest of the family arrived. Roni and her small band of volunteers had raised a canopy and hung up patriotic banners and signs, as well as put out piles of brochures under paper weights to prevent them from scattering in the late afternoon wind. They had also brought a cooler full of water plants and fish collected from the Delta that morning to display for visitors. A big part of the DSC’s mission is to educate people about the Delta and its ecology, so having the plants and fish on display was pretty important. The fish — perch — turned out to be a huge hit with the kids especially, and many families stopped just to look at them. In fact, traffic by the booth was so busy between 5 and 9 p.m. that Roni never had a chance to leave. She sent Glenn on a mission to find food, and he returned with a pair of sausage sandwiches that we both agreed would be incentive enough to return to the Cityhood Celebration next year as well.

We knew the park was getting busy, but when you’re sitting in a booth all evening you don’t realize how busy until you get up and stroll around. The park was loaded with families who had come with their blankets, chairs, umbrellas and tents to stake out a viewing spot on the lawn. Not even the Oakley Almond Festival could boast a crowd so huge. We speculated that many of those in attendance were from neighboring cities whose fireworks shows had been canceled or weren’t until later. Folks were in good spirits, playing the various carnival games that were there, visiting with friends, batting beachballs around and playing Frisbee. When the sun went down people started passing around glow sticks, and a few brought out sparklers despite the local ban on fireworks and the fact that a crowded park isn’t the best venue for such incendiary devices.

When the skies darkened enough, around 9:30, the sanctioned fireworks display began, and for the next 20 minutes we were treated to a spectacular display of the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air, right up to the grand finale that concluded in a shower of sparks and the crowd’s roar of approval. We agreed that it was great to see an Independence Day fireworks celebration up close for the first time in several years, and perhaps we will find our way back to the park again next time.

* * * * *

This month's newsletter has the unique distinction of having been written in three locations. The section just concluded was penned in the Writing Sanctuary. The opening section on our Fourth of July expedition was created on a laptop in the walk-in closet of our master bedroom (we kid you not.) The part you are reading now is being tapped out at 12:30 in the morning from the cushioned seat of one of the chairs on our back patio, beneath what we refer to as the BAP pergola — shorthand for Big-Ass Pergola, which it seemed like at the time it was built last October.

We've been spending a lot of time in our backyard this month, thanks in large measure to the many improvements we've been making to the patio since we liberated it from the old spa in March. We still have yet to convert the spa to the pond that we intend it to become, but at least it is out of the way on the side of the house and doing no harm while the hole Glenn dug for it gradually refills with sand.

Fortunately we are not for want of a water garden, as Roni already had the makings of one inside a plastic container that she set up on the patio temporarily to grow her canna lily and parrot's feather. The day after Independence Day found us at Home Depot picking up supplies to make her patio pond permanent. We got a 7x10-foot black plastic liner and a pump kit and used those items inside a half whiskey barrel we already had sitting around. The liner was more than huge enough and there is plenty of leftover. We tucked it into the barrel, cut off the excess, stapled the fabric to the rim, then filled the thing with water and were pleasantly surprised when there were no leaks.

Roni had her heart set on a fountain in the new pond, so we picked up a plastic nozzle from Orchard Supply Hardware to attach to the pump. The only problem was that the nozzle didn't fit, so Glenn wrapped the connector with about half a spool of pipe tape to make everything work. The nozzle sprayed magnificently — perhaps a little too magnificently. Within a few hours there was more water outside the pond than inside, so we had to lower the flow a tad in order to avoid having to refill the pond every day. Roni added a water hyacinth to her plant collection on the same day we bought the pump, and it was so hot in the car that the thing was blooming by the time we got it home. It puts out beautiful purple flowers. We laugh that we paid a couple of bucks for it from the store when we easily could have walked down to the Delta and scooped out all we wanted for free. They're considered an invasive species and are a menace to boaters, so it's not like anyone would be missing them.

Constructing the pond was just part of what we did on the patio. With the weather finally turning hot we have been spending more time out there in the evening, which is usually the only place in our house to get cool when there is no Delta breeze. Roni likes to read out there, but that gets tough to do once the sun goes down. So we picked up a few strings of mini lights that Glenn ran in between the BAP pergola's mighty beams. We connected them to the house power via a 50-foot extension cord, so for now we just plug them in when the mood strikes us. They give off a pleasant glow, just bright enough to read by yet not so bright as to feel like we're sitting in our living room. Think outdoor dining at a nice restaurant. We've actually enjoyed several meals out there, and during Glenn's recent vacation we watched Netflix on Roni's iPad.

The one drawback to our patio arrangement is that there isn't yet enough cover from the afternoon sun, although the wisteria is filling in nicely and will eventually provide a dense canopy. In the late afternoon, the sun hits our seating area full blast just before it dips behind the neighbor's fence, blinding us. We solved the problem somewhat by buying a 6-foot roll-up shade that we can lower during those uncomfortable couple of hours when the glare is at its peak. The ultimate solution is to replant the tree that we lost when our mulberry finally gave up the ghost this spring.

We decorated the pergola with flags and banners for Fourth of July, and we've been adding a bunch of yard art to it, including the large metal piece we picked up from Walnut Grove and several smaller items we've found at the dollar store. Our crepe myrtle tree, still without blossoms, seems to be growing okay and looks mighty festive with some of the lights hung amid its branches. The patio really has turned into an inviting place we want to be.

* * * * *

The first week of July coincided with Glenn's vacation, and although he and Ben both had time off, Roni still had enough work to do that we didn't go anywhere far. We're still hoping to get away for a few days perhaps this fall. Nevertheless, we made the most of the situation with the things we did manage to do around home.

We celebrated Glenn's 46th birthday on July 1 with pizza and his favorite chocolate pudding cake that Roni made. Ben wondered how Dad could possibly be happy with his only gifts a garden wind chime and a couple of Xbox games, but Glenn reminded him that his major gift had been the iMac last month, which far exceeded any birthday budget he might have been entitled to.

Ben made out almost as well in the major purchase department. He had been complaining about the comfort of his bed for some time, and finally decided that sleeping on the floor beat using his old mattress. That was the point at which we decided to take him out bed shopping. He fell for a futon at Big Lots, which he liked better than the idea of a traditional mattress because he could fold it up into a sofa and gain some space in his bedroom. Somehow, with a bit of assistance from our helpful sales associate, we managed to muscle the frame and pad into Roni's car for the short drive home. It was a tight squeeze as usual, with the ends of the pad protruding through both rear passenger windows. The car sort of looked like Mickey Mouse with huge puffy ears.

Ben is happy to have the new bed in place, and occasionally he even sleeps on it when he isn't up all night tapping out instant messages to his friends or playing games on Nexon. But soon it will be back to school to start his senior year, so hopefully he'll get himself back on a regular post-summer sleep schedule.

Yep, Ben's a senior. We walked him through the gym on July 20 so he could register for his classes, and we are still trying to pick out which pose we'll use for his senior portrait. We may have to take out a second mortgage to pay for the prints, but hopefully there will be some available to distribute come Christmas time. No one ever said graduating from high school was cheap.

Well, the battery on the laptop is running out along with our topics list, so that's gonna do it for July. We'll see you again next month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 01:37 hrs.

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