Photo of the month

The city hall in Sonoma, Calif., provides the backdrop for a portrait taken with the GoPro on Tuesday, July 2. A chance to test out Glenn's new camera (and escape triple-digit heat) brought us to the Wine Country on a photo expedition. Photo by Glenn.

July 2013

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.

After weeks of waiting, Roni finally got to transplant the rice plants in the Delta Science Center's experimental field on Saturday, June 22. She had lots of volunteer help. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn got down in the muck to help pull rice plants during the transplant party. Photo by Roni.

The rice plants are moved to the adjacent field with assembly line precision. Photo by Glenn.

A Freedom High School teacher shows how it's done. The roots of each rice plant have to be pressed into the soil, row by row. Photo by Glenn.

Tired and muddy, the volunteer rice planters celebrate a job well done. Now we just have to wait for the plants to mature. Photo by Roni.

The biggest challenge facing the rice crop now is the local geese and ducks that view the field as their own personal pond and salad bar. We have some ways to deter them... hopefully. Photo by Glenn.

The rice field must be kept flooded, which creates an ideal habitat for thousands of tiny fish that have found their way in from the Delta. At least we won't have to worry about mosquitoes. Photo by Glenn.

Ah, the temperature is spiking just in time for our week of vacation. Nothing like triple digits when you're cooped up in a house with no air conditioning. Not much fun being outside either. Photo by Glenn.

The melting candles say it all. Glenn philosophically says that 48 is the number of 5-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, so perhaps some of Jimmie's good luck will rub off this year. We'll see. Photo by Roni.

A new camera is just what Glenn needs to further his photographic endeavors, and to keep this newsletter stocked with pictures. Photo by Roni.

Roni has lost a little weight on her Subway diet, but not that much. The Big Blue Chair at Cornerstone Sonoma makes everyone feel small. Photo by Glenn.

Yes, the chair is a belittling experience, but it's all in the name of art. Photo by Roni.

When opportunity knocks, don't hesitate to walk through the door... even when it leads to nowhere. Photo by Roni.

Roni adds her wish to the other hundreds of ribbons in the wishing garden at Cornerstone Sonoma. Photo by Glenn.

Roni strikes the pose with one of the metal sculptures — and she hasn't even had a drop of wine. Photo by Glenn.

We've moved on to City Park in Sonoma, where Glenn is using the GoPro to take a wide-angle shot of City Hall, similar to the picture that we used as our Photo of the Month. Photo by Roni.

Roni doesn't get many opportunities to use the GoPro, so she had a blast playing with it when we stopped at Peju Province winery near Rutherford. The winery's statues made ideal subjects. Photo by Glenn.

Here's one of the shots we took with the GoPro. We attached the camera to a PVC pole and raised it up above the Peju Province vineyard while using the iPad to take the shot remotely. Photo by Roni.

We wrapped up our wine country trip with a stop at the iconic grapecrusher statue south of Napa. We'd seen it from the road numerous times, but had never figured out where the entrance to the parking lot was. Photo by Glenn.

The perspective on this shot makes it look like we're as big as the statue, but this guy dwarfed the two of us. Photo by Glenn.

Roni thought the grapecrusher's face was a little creepy. Mainly he just looks like he's intent on his work. This Photoshopped image brings out the detail in the sculpture. Photo by Glenn.

The GoPro is handy for a lot of things, but a remote bird feeder cam doesn't appear to be one of them. We left the camera on a stand filled with peanuts in hopes of getting video of the local jays, but they were spooked by the camera and avoided the feeder. Photo by Glenn.

Every summer vacation needs a project, and ours was to build a pair of Adirondack chairs. Here we have all the pieces cut out and ready for sanding. Once the pieces are painted we'll be ready to assemble them. Photo by Glenn.

July 4th finds us, as always, camped out on the DuPont rail siding to watch the Antioch fireworks display. The new Canon camera performed well at capturing the colorful bursts. Photo by Glenn.

Oakley held its fireworks show Saturday, July 6, during the annual Cityhood Celebration. Roni was at the show to represent the Ironhouse Sanitary District and the Delta Science Center. Here she is working in the ISD booth. Photo by Glenn.

The fireworks show is still a couple of hours away, but hundreds of families have already staked out their viewing spots on the Freedom High School park lawn. Photo by Glenn.

We had a great viewing location from the ISD booth. It was a great 20 minutes. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn shot the Oakley fireworks show with his new Canon, while Roni used her compact camera and we had the GoPro running nearby. It was easily the most documented fireworks show we've ever watched. Photo by Roni.

Glenn has been getting interested in astronomy, so he tried out the Nikon D5100 one night on some celestial objects. Here is the Big Dipper as seen from our backyard just after midnight on June 30. Photo by Glenn.

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Leaving the nursery

July 19, 2013

After more than 10 weeks of fending off ravaging winds, inconsistent water supplies and our own lack of knowledge about farming matters, the day finally arrived when volunteers with the Delta Science Center got to transfer the tender young rice plants that have been growing in greenhouses on an isolated corner of Jersey Island. Roni planned Saturday, June 22, as the day for the transplanting and sent out announcements via social media in hopes of attracting any willing bodies she could find to help tackle what we expected to be a daylong chore. Volunteers would be a good thing, because without them it would probably be a party of three doing the work of dozens.

We slept on that knowledge uncomfortably during the nights leading up to transplant day, wondering if anyone would come through in the DSC's  hour of need. Turns out there are more than a few angels out there ready to pull on rubber waders and get their hands dirty.

The weather may have been our greatest ally. Coming off a week in which summer began with summer-like temperatures, Saturday promised more mild conditions as we arrived at the rice field before 9 a.m. to welcome our hardy volunteers. Our friend Mike Painter had already been at work removing the six tattered greenhouses that would no longer be needed, casting them to the side of the gravel road for future disassembly, revealing the plots of green shoots inside. The young rice had grown into thick green tufts that resembled a newly planted lawn ready for its first mowing. But unlike grass, rice needs space to thrive. It doesn't like being crammed next to its neighbors, so the individual plants must be separated and replanted in order for them to mature.

Our helpers began arriving a few minutes after we did. An older woman who had read about the rice project in the newspaper had come out to help with the transplanting out of curiosity. She brought her rubber boots and her sun hat. Diane Burgis, one of our Oakley City Council representatives, showed up with nearly a dozen summer interns in tow; Diane offered their services for the day because she is forever looking for projects to keep her young volunteers busy, and the rice project would be a new experience for all of them. Our students from Freedom High School who had taken part in the rice research a few weeks earlier also returned, along with their teachers.

What we had fretted would be an understaffed party of three quickly swelled to an army of nearly two dozen as we listened to Rongzhong Ye, one of the UC Davis researchers, explain how to put the rice in its new bed. First we would need to pluck the young rice plants from the nursery and separate their roots, rinsing them off in the muddy water. Next, others would gather the bundles of plants and take them next door to the 400-square-foot flooded field, where they would replant them in neatly spaced rows.

The volunteers set off eagerly, with Diane's kids ganging up on the first two rice plots like crows descending on a freshly plowed field of corn. Roni, who was all too familiar with walking through the muddy field, oversaw the initial operations by giving directions from the mud-free levee top. Glenn joined the kids, slipping on his rubber concrete boots and a pair of surgical gloves in a vain attempt to keep his hands from getting muddy while pulling the plants. The muddy water merely worked its way underneath the latex and the end result was the same. We quickly found that you can't simply pull the rice out by its leaves or they rip free of the stalk. You have to tunnel under the roots and force them up, out of the mud. The plants also like to cling to each other, so it takes some effort to separate the roots enough to reach each individual plant. In the rush to clear the nursery, most of us eventually lost patience with the most clingy plants so passed along a few in large clumps.

In the next field, kids and adults from the school started planting the rows, using a length of rope with incrementally taped-off sections as a spacing guide. Because the field was already flooded to a depth of three inches, the tricky part was having to feel through the soft top layer of mud to find the firmer bottom. The roots for each plant had to be buried as deep in the soft stuff as possible, or the odds were high that they would be washed away by wind and wave action. It was a bit of trial and error, and there were a fair number of plants that had to be replanted later.

Because there were initially more rice pullers than planters, eventually we reached the point where there were hundreds of plants lined up on the banks and it was decided the people should shift their attentions to the planting effort. With more people in the transplant field it was necessary to start another planting row opposite where the first group had been working, and soon there began a spirited competition between the two crews to see who could finish their half of the field first. Diane tried to encourage her volunteers to take water breaks so they wouldn't get dehydrated from working in the growing heat, but most of the kids didn't want to stop because they were trying to finish planting before their friends.

Working in the muddy field isn't easy, and there were more than a few spills taken by the volunteer crew. Nothing more than pride was injured, although the manual labor proved to be an eye-opener for most of the youngsters who never realized planting rice wasn't as easy as the folks in places like Thailand make it look. "Stay in school," quipped one girl.

With so many volunteers helping, the work party wrapped up by 11 a.m., and we were treated to deli sandwiches trucked in by Dr. Painter. All that remained of the nursery was a few stray shoots and a muddy hole in the ground, while one rice field was nearly filled. The original plan had been to plant two fields, but there wasn't nearly enough rice in the greenhouses to do that, so it was decided to leave the second field vacant and toss in any leftover seed we had available. Muddy, tired, but filled with a sense of accomplishment, the volunteers gathered in the rice field for a victory portrait before rinsing off and heading on their way. We'd licked a seemingly impossible task with the help of our little "flash mob" and now had the rest of the weekend to chill out.

* * * * *

"Chilling out" was something we would have liked to do the first week of July, when Glenn was on vacation and there was time to engage in some activities that had nothing to do with rice farming. But there was nothing cool about the weather, as we found ourselves in the grips of a serious summer heatwave, the likes of which we hadn't experienced in a couple of years. We went through at least six straight 100-degree-plus days between June 29 and July 4, which gets a bit old in a house without central air conditioning.

The highlight of those sweat-filled days was our daily foray to the Subway sandwich shop across the street where we picked out a footlong sandwich that we split for lunch and dinner. Everyone knows about Jared Fogle and how he lost a couple hundred pounds eating nothing but Subway sandwiches. Roni decided to try her own version of the Jared diet, and the rest of us followed along to see what would happen. Glenn lives off sandwiches during the work week, but they are much smaller than anything one might buy from Subway, so he wasn't expecting to lose any weight. For Ben, the sandwich-a-day plan meant a break from his weekly shopping trips to Raley's; we've been giving him the equivalent of what we'd spend on his food every week in the form of a gift card he can use to select whatever meals he chooses. However, he was missing the ability to eat out at fast food restaurants, so the Subway thing allowed him to do that while actually saving us a few dollars on the food budget.

For Roni, the Subway sandwiches have made a big difference in just the few weeks she has been trying them. She doesn't put on mayonnaise, oil and vinegar, or salt and pepper -- all the things that turn a healthy meal into a less healthy one. So far she has lost nearly 17 pounds and is feeling better about her health. She wants to get more in shape so she can tackle some of the trail walks we've signed up for as part of the East Bay Regional Park District's Trail Challenge. She has also been attending water aerobics classes a few days a week in Antioch to gain muscle tone. It's working so far, so she wants to stay with it awhile.

Glenn quickly tired of the Subway diet, especially because there is nothing he likes better when on vacation than eating foods that may be tasty but aren't especially healthy. However, he didn't like the idea of packing on 10 pounds before heading back to the office, and to that end the Subway plan helped him keep the weight gain to less than 5 pounds. He still prefers his own homemade sandwiches. Sorry, Jared.

Glenn did get to enjoy his junk food on July 1 when we celebrated his 48th birthday with Italian sausage sandwiches, ice cream, and chocolate pudding cake. It was a stay-at-home twist from our family's earlier two birthdays this spring when we went out to restaurants to celebrate. Glenn's gift request list was very short, but the presents made up in quality anything they may have lacked in quantity. As his main present, Glenn received a new Canon SX50 HS camera to upgrade his 7-year-old Canon S3 that was showing its age with every photo. He'd had his eye on a new one for more than a year and was quite eager to test it out.

We decided on a drive up to the wine country the next day, not only to provide ourselves with more interesting photo subjects than our typical local destinations, but also to escape the blistering heat that was forecast to hit 109 degrees in our town. The forecasts are always a bit off, and because we weren't home that day we'll never know if the mercury hit its anticipated heights, but it didn't matter because we were traveling along Highway 37 east of Vallejo and loving the sight of the thermometer in Roni's car hovering around 80 degrees.

We had a vague plan to check out the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge that sits north of Highway 37 between Vallejo and Sears Point, but summer isn't the best time to look for migrating waterfowl, and so we abandoned that idea in favor of checking out the tourist spots on the way north to Sonoma. Our first stop was at a place called Cornerstone Sonoma, an art-themed collection of shops, galleries, a restaurant, and something called The Gardens where visitors can walk around and view some incredible sculptures.

The Gardens is sectioned off into a couple dozen plots, each one designed by a different artist. Among the sculptures are a giant rusted steel horse running through a tall grass meadow, a collection of oversized bird houses painted in a rainbow of bright primary colors, a PVC grid holding an array of plastic daisy pinwheels, and a reflecting pool with a metal gazebo-like structure accessible by railroad ties. But our favorite exhibit was the wishing garden where visitors could write out their wish on a strip of metallic ribbon and tie it to one of dozens of chains suspended from the top of a caged room. It was fun being surrounded by thousands of wish ribbons and getting to read some of the wishes.

After lunch at the Park 121 Cafe, we drove north into Sonoma and hung out in City Park where we took pictures of the duck pond and set up the GoPro for some wide-angle shots of City Hall. Later we dropped in on the Sonoma Cheese Factory, a local institution, and picked up a minuscule block of teleme and another of chaumes. We ruled out heading next door to the Sonoma mission, but given that the temperature had picked up quite a bit since we’d left home, that didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Roni decided instead that we should head over toward Napa because we were so close, so we wound up driving all the way to Rutherford and stopped at our favorite winery, Peju Province. It is seldom that we buy wine there anymore, although that was how we first discovered the place nearly 25 years ago, when we found we liked their white wine called Carnival. (We still have an unopened 20-year-old bottle that probably isn’t much good anymore.) Our previous visit there last fall saw us come home with a pair of wine barrel halves, and Roni had hoped we might find more of them on this visit, but that wasn’t to be. The wine barrels are only available at certain times of the year, we were told, and there is no rhyme or reason as to when. You just have to keep checking on availability.

Instead, we contented ourselves with taking pictures of the winery’s sculptures and fountains. Roni got the GoPro as a birthday gift in March, but she hasn’t had many opportunities to play with it, so she spent most of our Peju visit getting her use of the camera. We were rushing our visit a little because we had arrived close to closing time, so we had to hurry to get in our pictures of the grape vineyard before they closed the gates.

We drove home by way of the Silverado Trail, a 20-mile-plus highway that hugs the hills and affords a view of some of the most picturesque properties in the Napa Valley. We put the GoPro on the dashboard and recorded the entire drive, thankful we’d had the opportunity to get away from home for the day.

* * * * *

The heatwave subsided just in time for the Fourth of July, and although we didn’t specifically have any plans for that day, it was nonetheless nice to catch a break from the summer sizzle. Our trip to Cornerstone Sonoma had gotten our creative juices flowing once more. There is nothing like looking at art to bring out one’s inner artist, and Glenn had promised Roni after sitting in the oversized Adirondack known as “The Big Blue Chair” that he would attempt to build some just for us. These would be more human sized, but not particularly fancy.

Glenn found some construction plans online and spent an afternoon calculating the supplies he’d need, then we were off to Lowe’s to select our lumber. We picked out some good pieces of 8- and 10-foot pine boards and carted them back home. Glenn spent much of the next day sawing them to size, then began the arduous task of sanding them all. Probably an unnecessary step since we planned to paint the wood rather than stain it, but he was having fun with his new sander and it gave him something to do during his idle mornings the week he went back to work. As of this writing the 48 pieces of sanded wood are awaiting their paint, and then we have to glue and screw the parts together.

Fourth of July fell on a Thursday, which meant that some local fireworks displays took place on the weekend instead of the holiday proper. Antioch held its show on the Fourth, so Glenn made his annual trek into the DuPont railyard with his camera gear to take photos. He was especially eager this time to try out the new Canon camera, which boasts a 1,200 mm optical focal length. The higher resolution allowed him to get right on top of the action, despite being a few miles to the east.

We got our next shot at the fireworks two days later, when Oakley held its annual Cityhood Celebration in honor of the city’s 14th birthday. Roni had to work that day, operating information booths on behalf of the Delta Science Center and the Ironhouse Sanitary District, so she headed over to the Freedom High School park basin early in the afternoon to set up and Glenn decided to bicycle over a few hours later. The evening was a bit chilly, but not too cool to watch the fireworks show. Roni’s booth did brisk business, as visitors were eager to play a Plinko game for a chance to win prizes such as imprinted reusable shopping bags, pens, magnets and grease funnels. The kids were all after the inflatable beach balls, and we saw a lot of folks playing with them as they waited for the skies to darken and the fireworks to begin. It’s a great little family show that always draws a huge crowd by 9 p.m.

About the only thing that went wrong with the weekend had nothing to do with the show, but everything to do with the weather in the days leading up to it. Roni had ordered some bullfrog tadpoles online in hopes of having them to share with kids visiting the DSC booth at the Cityhood Celebration. The tadpoles come from the Carolinas but are shipped via two-day delivery to ensure their safe arrival. Safe in mild weather, anyhow. As fate would have it, the package was shipped in the middle of the heatwave, and on the day of its delivery sat in the back of a smoldering UPS truck until very late in the afternoon. Despite the inclusion of a freezer pack with the tadpoles, the little guys were all dead by the time they arrived on our doorstep.

The company Roni ordered them from promised to make good, and a week later a new set of tadpoles arrived without a single casualty. Roni transferred them to a 2-gallon aquarium where they are happily swimming around. We hope to have frogs come this fall.

* * * * *

The dismantling of the newspaper offices where Glenn works continued this month with word that the remaining staff will be relocated to a new, smaller facility sometime this fall. There are still no buyers for the old building, but that hasn’t stalled efforts to clean up the place and prepare for the move. The facilities crews recently brought in huge Dumpsters and began throwing away everything from old paperwork to entire office suites. A two-day event was held in the warehouse where employees were allowed to take just about any furnishing they wanted for free and bid on some more unusual items, such as an old grandfather clock and framed artwork. The stuff that wasn’t claimed went right to te dump – desks, filing cabinets, shelving, cubicle partitions and more.

Why not try to dispose of it on Ebay or Craigslist? Apparently the used office furniture market was saturated during the peak of the Great Recession, and anyone who needed it pretty much has what they want now. While Glenn didn’t snag any of the furniture, he did manage to rescue some history books that were being discarded from the newsroom library. You can’t simply throw away your history!

We were quite surprised late last month when the doves suddenly returned to one of the nests on the patio pergola and settled in for the duration. It is late in the nesting season, but doves have been known to nest until August, so perhaps it is just here we’ve rarely had them into July. They picked out one of the hanging baskets across from the dining room window where we can easily observe them. This week we noticed one baby in the nest, so that makes three successful clutches this season and one dud. That’s a banner year in our yard.

We’ve been getting more interested in bird watching these days, which perhaps is a natural course of getting older, slowing down, and taking more time to observe the world around us. We love watching the blue jays and finches battle over the bird feeders, and so we thought it would be fun if we could set up a webcam near the feeders to observe them up close and get pictures of them. We’ve been trying to use the GoPro to spy on them, but they all seem too wise to its presence and don’t come down to eat when we put it out. We’ve got a few hours of footage showing nothing but an empty feeder. It’s very nice footage, but we want birds. We’ve added it to our ever-overflowing wish list to construct a backyard webcam, so don’t be surprised one day if you suddenly find one online that you can view.

That’s about it for now. We’ll see you again next month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 13:20 hrs.

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