One for the road
July 12, 2012
Continuing with a new tradition of roving reports, this month's newsletter comes to you from the backyard of our home. Specifically, it is being composed beneath the shade of the evergreen ash tree behind Spring's Garden, which in itself is an unremarkable locale unless you consider all the river sand surrounding it, which is great for digging one's toes into while trying to write. Just think of it as our little strip of beach without the ocean waves, bathing suits and sunscreen. Or crowds. Are you feeling it yet? We could certainly get used to it, and hope to now that the Gehlke Family News & Views editorial staff is more mobile.
Our newfound mobility comes in the wake of Glenn's birthday, which among other things saw the unboxing of a new Gateway netbook computer. More than just another computer system in a house that seems to be overflowing with them, it was Glenn's first laptop and his first Windows machine. The latter fact alone was enough to make Ben think that Dad had finally come over from the dark side of the computing world. But fear not, Apple fans, Macs still rule in our home. The Gateway PC was merely the right tool at the right time.
Let us explain. We've owned Macintosh-based laptops for nearly 10 years, both of which have been predominantly used by Roni for business. The first of those, a 13-inch G4-based iBook, outlived its useful life around early 2008, but we have kept it around as a spare for word processing and in-a-pinch Internet surfing, although the battery no longer holds a charge and it must be kept plugged in. That machine was replaced in 2009 with Roni's current 13-inch MacBook. It's still in use but showing its age, and now does odd things like when the trackpad stops working or random characters start inserting themselves into documents. She's looking to replace it sometime before the end of this year.
Glenn has been looking for better ways to accomplish his writing goals, but recently finding quiet places to write in the house has been increasingly difficult. The Writing Sanctuary has become a repository for boxes of stuff that would normally go in the garage if we had room to put the stuff there, and because it shares a wall with Ben's room and because Ben is home more now that school is out, the opportunities for quiet time are less frequent than ever. The substitute work areas the living room or the bedroom closet haven't been as comfortable to work in. The last resort seemed to be writing outdoors, but being tethered to a laptop with a dead battery limited where Glenn could work. Waiting for Roni to hand down her ailing MacBook wasn't a good option either. Clearly (in Glenn's mind) he needed a better way.
That better way turned out to be the Gateway LT4004U, a 10.1-inch netbook with 8 hours of battery life that weighs in at a hefty 2.65 pounds and offers some limited online abilities such as web surfing and email. It was all he needed, and at $229 turned out to be a good gamble for a birthday gift. The netbook features a nearly full-size keyboard, so working on it is almost as convenient as typing on a regular keyboard. The screen is very tiny by laptop standards, but the type can be enlarged to something that Glenn finds comfortable to view with his aging eyes. Best yet, the computer's light weight makes it so incredibly portable that it can be carried just about anywhere and moved at a moment's notice such as right now when the backyard sprinklers came on and forced us to relocate to the patio. Water. Bad.
Anyhow, Glenn is falling in love with his new netbook, and love of the writing process has proven to be a contributor to better writing or so say 4 out of 5 writing doctors who recommend netbooks to their patients.
The netbook was this year's birthday rite of passage for Glenn, who turned 47 on July 1, but it was not the only highlight of the day. Falling on a Sunday, it afforded the opportunity to get out and explore a bit, so it was decided that we should hop in the car and go somewhere. Roni voted for Napa and the lush greenery of the wine country, with its dozens of boutique wineries and fine art displays. But being that it was Glenn's birthday, he got to make the choice of destinations. He liked the idea of roaming forgotten backroads in the Central Valley, perhaps checking out the desolate urban world that is Stockton, and the remote backwaters of the eastern Delta. So it should come as no surprise that when we did finally pile into the car to begin our drive, we compromised on a place that we both knew we could enjoy: Waterbird Regional Preserve in Martinez.
Martinez isn't exactly Napa Valley, but it does provide plenty of scenery in the form of hundreds of acres of tidal marshland. And while it doesn't offer the redevelopment area charm of Stockton, Waterbird sits not coincidentally across from the Shell Avon oil refinery, which provides an inescapable industrial ambience. In fact, the preserve was created as the result of a settlement with Shell following a spill in the early 1980s that contaminated a fair amount of the wetlands.
Today the wetlands is a little oasis amid the refinery pipelines, railroad sidings and bustling Interstate 680. It's not a prime destination for nature lovers, but it's pretty cool if you happen to be a weary migrating duck or one of the resident snowy egrets. The preserve, now maintained by the East Bay Regional Park District, is the centerpiece on the hilly property that features precisely one trail that takes visitors up along the ridgeline where one can view the uninterrupted splendor of the refinery and freeway to the west, or the Carquinez Strait with the famous mothball fleet of retired military vessels to the east.
We were eager to check out the preserve, having driven by it on many occasions on the way to elsewhere. We parked in the mostly deserted parking lot and took a few pictures from the fence overlooking the preserve not the best viewing location because a row of towering yarrow plants blocked the way. Roni saw several egrets, but they were so far away that not even her 300mm zoom lens could capture them at a reasonable size for photo prints. We decided to take our chances on the ridge trail, hoping that Roni's ailing knee would be up to the climb, albeit a short one.
The trail actually took us further away from the marsh, however, so we eventually charted a new course down an unmarked path through a golden field of dried grasses that rimmed the banks of the wetlands. The birds weren't in a cooperative mood, though, and they teased us by sheltering amid the islands in the center of the marsh. Ah well, at least we got to say we saw the place.
We headed home after a couple hours' visit, stopping at McDonald's for a couple of tall frozen fruit drinks to cool us down on what was turning out to be a hot afternoon despite the atypical cloud cover we'd received.
That evening, the plan was to go out to dinner for Glenn's birthday celebration. He had chosen Lumpy's Diner in Antioch because of its great menu of burgers and milkshakes. Unfortunately, we had failed to take into account that the restaurant isn't open on Sunday night. We settled for the next best thing and went to Red Robin in Brentwood instead. Three large burgers and three huge malts later, we dragged our swollen stomachs home for the opening of gifts and singing of the birthday theme music.
But no one was in the mood for cake or ice cream on the heels of a big meal. Not to mention the fact that the cake hadn't even made it from the bakery yet. We had picked up a box of pineapple upside-down cake mix from the grocery store that Roni said she'd make up, but as often happens in our home, plans change and projects get preempted. The cake mix was still in the box and no one was hungry for it anyway, so we just stuck a couple of "4" and "7" candles on top of the package and used it as a stand-in during the birthday ceremony.
Cake or not, Glenn was satisfied with the day's events and wouldn't have it any other way.
Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday this year, which is about the most awkward day possible for a mid-week holiday. In most years that wouldn't be an issue to us, because we have long taken vacations around the Fourth and Glenn's birthday. But this year we diverged from our routine and Glenn had to work that week. The Wednesday Independence Day created more of an issue for the cities and groups putting on Fourth-themed events. Do you launch your fireworks on the holiday proper, or do you go with them the week before or the week after?
Locally, Antioch brought its fireworks show back for the first time in two years after raising the $55,000 it needed to pay for the event. They launched them as usual on the proper holiday, and also as usual we watched them from home. That is, Roni stayed at home while Ben went out with his friends and Glenn ventured into the DuPont railyard to take photos. Fireworks are illegal in our county, so a good municipal display is the best way to watch the light show. That doesn't mean that no one else was launching their own fireworks, and there were plenty of homegrown displays competing with Antioch's for attention. But nothing beats the real deal, so by the time they hit their grand finale there was little doubt who had the bigger budget.
Oakley delayed its fireworks show until Saturday the Seventh. It was the occasion of the town's 13th annual Cityhood Celebration, and Roni had to be there anyway to run her Delta Science Center booth, so it was a good excuse to go stick around and watch the show afterward. We got there at 3 p.m. to set up the booth and there were already a few families staking out their viewing spots on the grass for the show that wasn't scheduled to start until 9:30. The festival portion of the day officially ran from 6 to 9 p.m.
The DSC booth shared space with the Ironhouse Sanitary District, and because Roni also works with them, we knew everyone there. It was like being at a big family gathering, with a lot of longtime friends from the community stopping by to visit. DSC set up its popular fish display that is always a hit with the kids, and the ISD folks gave away reusable shopping bags and beach balls. The red, white, yellow and blue balls were a popular item, and once folks learned who was giving them away, the booth was mobbed with people looking for them. Most of the balls were of the smaller, 7-inch variety, but the sanitary district also brought a handful of 36-inch balls that they labeled with their name and dispersed to the crowd in hopes that people would play with them and generate attention for the district.
Shortly before the fireworks show the Freedom High School park basin was swollen with visitors. Glenn set up both our tripods outside the DSC booth one for still photos and the other for video while Roni shot handheld stills with her compact camera and iPhone. The fireworks were well documented, by us anyway. It was a great show, set to patriotic music and capped with a dazzling finale that left the crowd satisfied (unlike what happened in San Diego.) We stuck around until about 10:30 to help with cleanup, and got home with plenty of time to catch reruns of the NASCAR race at Daytona and root beer floats for dessert.
We've enjoyed some other getaways this past month. On Father's Day, we took a drive up the Delta to explore a few new backroads. We headed through Rio Vista and up to Ryer Island, where we took the new ferry across the river for the first time. Ryer Island is on the Solano County side of the river and doesn't see much traffic. We looked around its eastern end and checked out Snug Harbor, a little campground resort, stopping along the way to take pictures of the orchards, vineyards and river. We wound up, as we often do, in Walnut Grove, where we had lunch and walked around the town a bit. We picked up another bit of yard art from our favorite Walnut Grove Iron Works before heading home.
The following Saturday, June 23, we visited the Brentwood Farmers Market that is held every weekend on First Street. The place gets pretty busy with everyone coming out to pick up fresh locally grown fruit, breads, flowers, pastries and other goodies. Cherries were still in season, so of course we wound up buying a couple big tubs of them and spent the rest of te week eating them.
After cruising the market we wandered down the street to see the revamped City Park with its new City Hall/Community Center complex. The place has been open since the end of 2011, but it is so seldom that we get to Brentwood anymore that this was our first visit since construction began a couple of years ago. It is hard to believe that this beautiful structure with its sweeping architecture, sunny walkways, mosaiced fountain and decorative murals replaced the frumpy and dumpy city hall that was a staple of community life when we first moved to this part of the county in 1988. The old city hall, library and Delta Community Service Center were all bulldozed. In their place was built the new larger City Hall, a spacious convention center, and a four-story parking garage. The park, which once had a gazebo as the centerpiece, now features a picnic area with a modern playground. There is still lots of lawn, but the landscaping has been redesigned and now features a large rose garden that flanks a bronze statue of a farmer sowing seeds. Definitely not your father's downtown Brentwood, but a very nice display.
That's going to do it for July. Have to let the netbook batteries recharge so it will be ready to take on the road for our next adventure. Until then, enjoy the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.