Photo of the month

Romance readers not only do it all night, they also do it in huge conventions held each July. Roni shows off some of the loot she collected during our trip to Anaheim for the Romance Writers of America convention where she got to meet dozens of her favorite authors and carted home dozens of free books. Photo by Glenn.

August 2012

It's July 24, the first day of our trip to Anaheim, and we've stopped at Pismo Beach for lunch. This is the Sandcastle Inn, where we have stayed several times (but not on this trip.) The flag is at half-staff in memory of the victims of the Colorado theater shootings just a few days earlier. Photo by Glenn.

It was a gorgeous Tuesday afternoon. Roni and Ben pose for a portrait on the famous Pismo Pier. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn takes his turn holding up the railing with Ben. Photo by Roni.

The birds on the pier know no fear. They know who feeds them. This seagull was close enough to touch, although it kept a watchful eye on the photographer. Photo by Glenn.

A brown pelican pays the tourists little heed as it preens its feathers while Roni takes its photo. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn isn't so sure that sharp beak won't just reach out and grab him if he gets any closer. Photo by Roni.

Which way to the waves? The surfers didn't get much action from the small swells breaking on the beach. Photo by Glenn.

Sun lovers line the northern end of Pismo Beach. Looks like the place to be. Photo by Glenn.

Ben takes in the beach one final time before we hit the road once more for L.A. Photo by Roni.

In our hotel room the following morning, Roni checks out her goodie bag she received for registering at the RWA convention. Free books are always appreciated. Photo by Glenn.

There's time to relax by the pool before the evening's activities. Photo by Glenn.

This was a fun water feature found poolside at the Anaheim Hilton. The top bucket fills with water until it reaches the tipping point and dumps its contents loudly over the play structure. The kids were loving it. Photo by Glenn.

We line up at the Anaheim Convention Center for the Literacy for Life book signing event the evening of July 25. Roni can't wait. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn attempts to remain incognito, one of the very few males to be found in line for the book signing event. Photo by Roni.

Author Jyne Ann Krentz prepares to autograph one of her novels inside the convention hall. She was one of the biggest stars at the event, and is one of Roni's favorite authors. Photo by Roni.

Roni shows off her personally autographed copy of Jayne's book, "In Too Deep." Photo by Glenn.

Nora Roberts has authored more than 200 novels, many of which can be found on the bookshelves of our home. She was gracious enough to pose for a picture with Roni. Photo by Glenn.

The inside of the third floor ballroom at the Anaheim Convention Center is a sea of literary extravagance as hundreds of romance authors display their books and interact with their fans. Photo by Glenn.

Another of Roni's favorite authors, Karen Robards, is surrounded by her latest novels. Photo by Glenn.

When in Anaheim, you can't escape the influence of Disneyland. The RWA's paranormal writers group held a Disney-themed costume contest on Thursday, and not too surprisingly there were various iterations of the Evil Queen from Snow White. A few of the contest entrants. Photo by Roni.

The meals served at the RWA convention may have been elegant, but the portions weren't always for hearty eaters. This was Roni's "tiny chicken" served as lunch at the paranormal writers meeting. Photo by Roni.

While Roni was enjoying her convention, Glenn and Ben trekked north to Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo by Glenn.

The main attraction at Universal is the new Transformers 3D ride. Photo by Ben.

Glenn and Ben have their photo taken with Bumblebee after survivng their first spin on the Transformers 3D ride.

Ben shakes hands with The Mummy. Dude, you need to work on your grip Photo by Glenn.

It's The Simpsons — Bart, Homer, Lisa and Marge... or the closest stand-ins they could round up.

You must be this tall to horse around with Itchy and Scratchy. Photo by Glenn.

Marilyn Monroe is alive and well, and she is still giving USO performances for the fans at Universal Studios Hollywood. Looking pretty good for 86. Photo by Glenn.

Ben poses for a shot with Deacon, the villain from the "Waterworld" attraction at Universal Studios. Photo by Glenn.

Friday finds us in Hemet for a visit with Grandma Rose, who is ready with a big hug for her eldest great grandson. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Grandma look at some of the vacation pictures on his camera while we relax in the garage. Photo by Glenn.

Grandma is safely strapped into the back of Glenn's car for the ride home after lunch at Hamby's restaurant in Hemet. Photo by Glenn.

Grandma shares her record collection. We are about to listen to "The Magic of Mantovani" on her stereo turntable. Photo by Glenn.

Ben clowns around with one of the Japanese fans found on Grandma Rose's bookcase. Photo by Glenn.

It's time to head back to Anaheim, so one final group photo to tide us over until next we meet. Photo by Glenn.

Saturday morning, and almost time to head home. Roni is still attending conference workshops and still collecting freebies. She overran her bag and had to cart her books around in a separate box. We needed a separate suitcase to bring everything home with us. Photo by Glenn.

Believe it or not, this was the first time we actually had to take a photo of the outside of our swanky hotel. There is a lot of construction taking place on the street out front. Photo by Glenn.

After checking out of our room the only place to hang out was the hotel lobby. Ben is happy anywhere so long as there is Internet access. Photo by Glenn.

On the trip home we stop at Philippe "The Original" in Los Angeles, home to renowned french dip sandwiches. The place is packed on a Saturday afternoon. Photo by Roni.

Glenn sits at a table with his meal inside Philippe. It took more than 20 minutes to reach the order counter. Photo by Roni.

Roni brought home just a few books from the RWA convention. Here they are — all 74 of them — piled up in the living room. Photo by Roni.

Five days on the road and we still (barely) have the energy to attend the 40th annual Delta Pear Fair in Courtland on Sunday morning. Roni enjoys her pear cobbler. Photo by Glenn.

Pear crisp or pear cobbler? Which one is better? Aw heck, we'll eat them both. Photo by Roni.

One of the Pear Fair princesses gives a wave to the crowd during the popular "Pearade." Photo by Glenn.

What would a parade in an agricultural community be without a John Deere tractor? Photo by Glenn.

The decorations and visual humor always make the Pear Fair worth the visit. As the sign on the float says, "Courtland is in Pearadise." Photo by Glenn.

These pear freezes had better be good, because the wait time to get them was longer than the wait at Philippe in L.A. It was a warm day. Photo by Glenn.

A successful Pear Fair visit is measured by three factors: getting a whole pie to bring home, finding a bumper sticker, and collecting the current year's commemorative pin. Mission accomplished. Photo by Glenn.

Sticking with the agricultural theme, here is what we have growing in our yard. The chenin grapes are ripening nicely and look almost ready to harvest. Photo by Glenn.

Hate seeds? Then you're better off with these red flame grapes growing on the other side of the yard. We haven't seen this many bunches of grapes on this vine since before the gopher nibbled its roots several years ago. Photo by Glenn.

This is the first bloom on the most recent water lily we added to Roni's patio water garden back in the spring. We were glad it was orange, because we already have a red one. Photo by Glenn.

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

Finding romance in the land of the mouse

August 22, 2012

You’ll have to pardon the “cheesy” title of this month’s newsletter — or perhaps you don’t — but it seems somewhat appropriate for the type of vacation we just wrapped up. Did we say vacation? That has been a foreign word in our vocabulary since March 2008, when we took our last bonafide getaway to the white sands and blue surf of Pismo Beach. The four years since then have been marked by the currently popular “staycation” that was a result of lack of time or lack of funds. So how would we fare being on the road again?

What finally got us out the door and in the car was a love of books, or more specifically romance novels. The Romance Writers of America, of which Roni in a member, holds a large convention each summer that rotates around the country. This year’s stop was Anaheim, Calif., which is the closest the convention has been to us since 2008. Roni has long wanted to attend one, and we figured this might be the best opportunity. It would be four days of book signings and workshops and networking — not the sort of family vacation we’re used to in which we spend days in the car driving from city to city in some unfamiliar locale. Or would it be?

We started planning the trip in February, originally thinking it would be our first vacation without Ben. He’s old enough now to stay home on his own, and given his lack of interest in tagging along to some of our recent destinations, we fully expected him to opt out. But he surprised us when he said he wanted to come with us. So we booked a room for three at the Hilton Anaheim, which was literally across the street from the convention site.

We were out the door for our trip by 7:15 the morning of July 24, a Tuesday. The convention didn’t begin until the following evening, so we thought it would be nice to take a leisurely drive along the coast to enjoy some scenery other than the barren landscape that is Interstate 5. Highway 101, we had forgotten, can be just as monotonous at times once you escape the traffic congestion of the Bay Area. Despite leaving home 45 minutes earlier than we had planned, we wound up getting to Pismo Beach a bit later than our hoped-for 1 p.m. arrival.

Pismo is a natural pit stop on the way to Southern California. Other than the fact that it is convenient, the town also holds fond memories for us of previous vacations spent watching the sunset from the balcony of our hotel and strolling the famous pier. It is also home to one of our favorite restaurants, Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ, where we of course had to stop for lunch. Although we have been to Pismo several times, rarely have we been at the height of the summer vacation season. The place was swarming with sun worshippers and tourists, quite a lively scene for a weekday afternoon. We walked out to the end of the pier, taking in the crowds and getting some close-up looks at the local seagulls and pelicans that clearly have no fear of people. The weather was perfect, and it made us regret just a bit that we hadn’t decided to spend the night there.

We regretted it a whole lot more once we returned to the road. It was already 3:30 and we still had nearly half the trip ahead of us. Glenn’s plan was to follow Highway 1 a ways and enjoy the scenery, but we quickly realized that doing so would put us into Anaheim well after nightfall, and there was something unappealing about the idea of driving through the notoriously congested L.A. traffic in the dark. We wised up and elected to remain on Highway 101. Despite that, we still had to drive through the heart of Los Angeles and wound up limping into Anaheim at close to 8:30. It was a very good thing that there are restaurants located in the hotel lobby.

Roni had chosen our hotel well, keeping Ben in mind when she booked a place with a food court on the premesis. The Hilton has a Sbarro Italian eatery, Baja Fresh Express and several other take-out joints, not the least of which is a Starbucks coffee house, much to Ben’s delight. For somewhat fancier dining the hotel has The Mix restaurant and lounge, which we took advantage of for the free buffet breakfasts we got to enjoy as part of our room booking. Ben almost got more out of the hotel than we did, basking in the luxurious accommodations. That is, luxurious compared to anything he’d get back home. He spent much of Wednesday roaming the 14 floors with camera in hand, taking pictures of the lobby, pool and conference facilities when not hanging out at the wood computer desk in our room on the ninth floor overlooking one of the hotel’s courtyards. We were literally a block from Disneyland, and we had read how one can view the nightly fireworks show at the theme park from the hotel rooms. Well, perhaps if your room was facing the park, which ours wasn’t. We would have had to go to the roof of the parking garage for a better look, and none of us felt like doing that.

Wednesday morning we had planned to go for a short sightseeing drive before the start of Roni’s conference, but the previous day’s driving marathon had left us tired, and the prospect of having to navigate the busy freeways again so soon was less appealing than simply hanging out at the hotel. Instead, Ben relaxed in the room while we sipped adult beverages on the pool deck until it was time to head over to the convention center.

The RWA conference was taking place in the nearby Sheraton hotel, but for Wednesday night’s Readers for Life literacy event they booked the third floor ballroom at the Anaheim Convention Center. The event is a romance novel fan’s wet dream, featuring more than 600 authors signing copies of their books, with proceeds going to charity. The ballroom was filled with dozens of tables lined with books, buttons, stickers, magnets, candies and just about any other advertising specialty you can imagine. We got in line around 3:30 p.m. for the event that didn’t start until 5, because Roni had heard from others how busy the hall can get. Especially for A-list authors such as Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz, who had signing tables all to themselves near the back of the room. We were reasonably close to the entrance, but by the time the doors opened the line stretched to the end of the third floor lobby and back to the escalators. Glenn noted that the ratio of women to men in line was about 150-to-1.

When the doors opened it was a stampede past all the lesser-known authors to the rear of the ballroom. Glenn waited in the Nora Roberts line while Roni headed directly to Jayne Ann Krentz’s table and picked up her personally signed copy with virtually no wait. Glenn was one of the first dozen or so people waiting for Nora, so Roni was able to slip into the spot and got to the author within 10 minutes; the tail end of the line stretched around the back of the ballroom and down another aisle. Nora had brought a limited number of her new hardback novel, which meant that only about two dozen fans were going to be able to get a signed copy. What poor planning. Roni found that she could buy a signed copy from the Barnes & Noble shop at the convention the following day, so she decided to wait on Nora’s $30 novel. It turned out to be a good move, because the bookstore price was 20 percent off, plus she was able to use our Barnes & Noble card for an additional discount, and later she was able to get the book authographed personally by Nora Roberts during a seminar she attended.

After seeing the big names she’d come for, Roni went from table to table checking out all the authors and their offerings, picking up a few books in the process. She chatted with members of her Black Diamonds romance writers club, many of whom had also made the trek to Anaheim for the convention. By the end of the evening she had a sack full of books and freebies, and had met a number of her favorite authors in addition to some new ones. She spent $58 on the handful of books she had collected, which was chump change compared to the hundreds that several people rang up in the name of charity.

Back at the hotel room, Roni tallied up the books she had so far. In addition to the half dozen books she’d bought that night she had received another dozen for free just for registering for the conference, and a nice shoulder bag to carry them in. She might have been satisfied with that haul alone, but the convention hadn’t officially started and neither had she. Over the next three days Roni would amass more than 70 titles, most of them free. We joked that the collection would satisfy her reading needs for perhaps a week.

* * * * *

While Roni got into full convention mode on Thursday morning, attending a full schedule of classes she had signed up for, Glenn and Ben found their own entertainment. Given that we were camped out less than a mile from Disneyland, it was only natural that we would stroll across the street to spend the day at the amusement park. Natural, but not likely for a variety of reasons. Glenn isn’t a huge fan of Disney’s corporate greed, while Ben felt he was too old (or perhaps too cool) for the kiddie rides and cartoon-themed attractions at the “happiest place on earth.” This didn’t mean that he was opposed to cartoon-themed attractions somewhere else, so long as the theme fit his notion of what an 18-year-old should be enjoying.

It was Ben’s idea to check out Universal Studios Hollywood, which was merely 35 miles to the north — 35 miles in Los Angeles commute traffic, or about an hour 15 minutes each way. But Glenn signed on to the idea because it would be something the two of them could do together, and because he hadn’t been to Universal Studios in 25 years. The previous visit was memorable in that Roni and Glenn went with her cousin Susie and Susie’s future husband Rob. We spent a couple of hours in the park watching the Miami Vice stage show and taking the studio tour before someone offered us free tickets to attend a taping of a new NBC sitcom called “She’s the Sheriff” with Suzanne Somers. We took a bus from the park to the network’s Burbank studios for the taping, which ran for several hours. By the time the bus dropped us off at the park again it was close to nightfall and we had missed most of the attractions there. To make matters worse, the TV series was a dud, ranked one of the 50-worst shows of all time by TV Guide.

This visit to the park was much different. Ben’s reason for wanting to see it was the new Transformers 3D ride that had opened just two months earlier, so we made it our goal to go there before anything else. Glenn and Ben left the hotel early and got to the park around 8:30, well before the bulk of the crowds arrived. They quickly made their way to the park’s Lower Lot, where the Transformers ride is. The wait was already 20 minutes, but that was nothing compared to the hour-plus lines that would show up later in the day. Despite the $80 per person park admission charge, the consensus opinion was that the ride was worth it.

If you haven’t been to an amusement park in a while and aren’t familiar with how computer technology has changed things, imagine the Transformers ride as sitting in a movie theater with 3D glasses and your seat starts moving in sync with the action on screen, so you feel as though you are on a roller coaster without actually being on one. There was some roller coaster-like action, but most of it was an illusion, and a fun one at that. The ride takes you on a visually stunning spaceship romp through a war-ravaged city as giant robots — the Transformers — battle it out all around you and at various times try to destroy your ship while you and your 11 co-passengers hold on. There are moments when you get sprayed with water, blasted by wind, and seared from the heat of an exploding missile.

Somehow most riders survive the experience to ride again, which Ben and Glenn eagerly did about an hour later, when the wait time was approaching 40 minutes. As luck would have it, there are two lines at the Transformers ride — one for groups of two or more, and one for single riders — the idea being that single riders are used to fill gaps in the four-person seating rows when there are three people in a group. Glenn looked at Ben and said, “You look like a single rider, right?” And so they got in the single rider line and turned a 40 minute wait into 2 minutes, taking their second spins in cars that departed just moments apart.

But that was the only time they were able to game the system that day. As the afternoon set in, the crowd grew to the point where even the unpopular rides had half-hour waits. Not as bad as Disneyland, but not insignificant. The longest wait turned out to be the Studio Tour, which was close to 50 minutes for the chance to ride into Universal’s back lot and see sets for Psycho, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Earthquake, Desperate Housewives and others. Glenn and Ben got soaked on the Jurassic Park water ride, flew through the 3D world of Springfield on the Simpsons ride, watched John and Sarah Connor battle killer cyborgs in The Terminator 2: 3D attraction, and experienced pyrotechnic hijinks at the Waterworld show.

By the time they found their way back to the car for the return drive to the hotel, it was approaching 7 p.m. That’s barely prime time for serious amusement park fans, but this was Glenn and Ben’s first major theme park experience in several years, and both of them were growing weary from walking all around Universal Studios and the accompanying City Walk shopping mall. We all rallied at the hotel with a few minutes to spare before the fast food restaurants in the lobby closed, grabbing Sbarro pasta bowls to take back to the room. Roni, meanwhile, had had an adventurous first day at her conference, where she discovered that the classes she’d signed up to take weren’t nearly as much fun as going to the various book signings that were taking place at the same time. Her book haul was growing, but now she had a better idea for how she would handle the rest of her time at the RWA convention.

* * * * *

The following day, Friday, found us going in different directions yet again. While Roni headed back to the conference to hear keynote speeches from Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz, among others, Glenn and Ben were back in the car for another hourlong freeway tour. At least this time the drive was going against traffic as they headed east to Hemet for a visit with Glenn’s grandma, Rose Sorenson. It had been more than four years since our previous visit, but this was our first time there without Roni. The temperature was a blistering 97 degrees, so Glenn and Ben were looking forward to getting out of the car and into the cool of Grandma’s house. She was waiting in her garage when they pulled up at the front curb, and the three of them sat there a bit looking at photos of the trip Ben had taken with his camera.

When it came time for lunch, Glenn drove the three of them to Hamby’s restaurant on the southeast side of town along Florida Avenue, which has become Grandma’s new favorite eating place of late. The food was pretty good, although finding a dish on the menu that proved to be available that day was a challenge. Grandma had to change her order three times, Glenn twice, and Ben finally got fed up with the lack of ingredients and settled for a plate of french fries.

Back in the cool of Grandma’s living room, Glenn started sifting through her pile of old vinyl record albums and together they cued up a few tracks on the stereo turntable. The playlist included Mantovani, Martin Denny, Peggy Lee and Spike Jones. No doubt it had been many years since the last time some of those artists had made music in Grandma’s house, with the likely exception of Mantovani, whom she still plays often. Ben didn’t get the fascination with spinning the oldies, as it was much like a typical weekend at our house when Dad pulls out his enormous MP3 collection of obscure records. It was too bad the video camera wasn’t rolling when Glenn coaxed Grandma out of her easy chair for a quick spin on the dance floor, which was no mean feat given her sore back. She’s still got the moves, even if she isn’t as spry as she was when those songs were leading the hit parade.

There was time for the obligatory group shots outside on Grandma’s driveway before Glenn and Ben got back into the car for the trip back to Anaheim. Ben got his revenge for the living room concert during the hourlong car ride, as he hooked up his iPod to Glenn’s car stereo and it was hard rock, techno and dub step all the way home.

* * * * *

We were all just starting to get into the vacation when Saturday rolled around and, just like that, it was all over. We planned to hit the road for home that afternoon, after Roni wrapped up a couple of morning workshops at her convention. Ben and Glenn packed our suitcases and got us checked out of the room. They carted most of the luggage back to the car, which was inconveniently far away on the third floor of the hotel’s parking garage. One large suitcase contained all of Roni’s books, in addition to a bag of dirty laundry. We’d bought just a handful of souvenirs on the trip, which was a good thing when it came to getting everything to fit in the trunk of Glenn’s car.

Just when Glenn thought he’d gotten everything packed comfortably, Roni called to say she’d picked up another big box of paperbacks and needed to drop them off before going to her last workshop. So it was back to the lobby, across the street and over to the Sheraton Hotel next door where Glenn collected her latest loot. But Glenn and Ben had already signed out of the room, so rather than run the books back to the car, they sat in the lobby of the Hilton and worked on their laptops for about an hour until Roni rejoined them. The Mix Lounge in the lobby was all decked out for the London Olympics, with three large-screen TVs playing news of the Games and graphics of the Olympics rings and flaming torch projected on the floor. There were miniature American and British flags adorning all the planter boxes. It was quite festive. Anaheim apparently is the host city for the U.S. men’s and women’s volleyball teams, so this was their moment in the spotlight.

When Roni wrapped up her final class we hit the road for home, making our third pass through central Los Angeles in five days. We had decided to stop there for lunch, at a popular deli called Philippe the Original. We’d learned about it from an episode of “Man v. Food” on the Travel Channel, so we knew the place could get busy on a weekday. But we weren’t prepared for what we encountered on this Saturday. The lines stretched from the front counter to the back of the ground floor dining area. We were lucky to find a place to park, and luckier still to find a table on the second floor to eat our meals, which took more than 20 minutes to order because the line was so huge. The food was decent, especially if you like french dip sandwiches, which is Philippe’s specialty.

From L.A. it was a straight shot up I-5 over the Grapevine and through the heat of the Central Valley. We stopped for Baskin-Robbins ice cream at a truck stop outside Bakersfield, and that was the last place we ate until we got home at 10:45 p.m. The cats weren’t so much happy to see us as they were relieved that we had decided to return after five days. Poor Katy took some coaxing to get her to come out from under our bed. But some soothing words and a handful or two of cat treats had her forgiving us by the time we went to bed. We were tired from the long drive, but we all agreed it had been a great trip.

* * * * *

Hurrying home on Saturday had a purpose beyond simply saving a night on hotel fare. Sunday, July 29, marked the 40th anniversary of the Delta Pear Fair in Courtland, and Glenn was determined to be there for it. Attending the annual one-day festival has been a tradition in our family for nearly as long as we have lived near the Delta. The parade, history exhibit, craft booths, car show and pear pie are not to be missed. And so it was that we dragged our tired bodies back into the car for the 45-minute ride up Highway 160 to Courtland at 9 a.m. That is, Roni and Glenn made the drive; Ben decided that he’d had enough traveling to last him awhile, even if pear food was involved. It was the first fair that he has missed.

We didn’t think we would spend too long at this year’s fair, mainly because we were both tired. But being around all the people and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells is infectious, and it put us in the mood for a fun afternoon. We bought our pie and a loaf of pear bread first so as to make sure we got them before quantities ran out — which they did by noon. We also trekked over to the history display in the school gym to pick up this year’s souvenir pin and a few bumper stickers. And of course we had to get festival T-shirts. Before we knew it, we were loaded down with purchases and Glenn had to make a run back to the parking lot to put them in the trunk.

When he returned to the festival grounds he found Roni sorting through the used books for sale at the Sacramento Public Library booth. Like she needed any more books! But she was able to find a few titles she wanted. Next it was on to the craft show where we picked up a trio of mounted Delta prints by local photographer Michael Pieretti. And we didn’t escape unscathed from some of the other booths, where we bought a couple of metal yard art sculptures to add to our growing backyard collection. It was time for a second trip to the car.

With all the walking around we did and having not had breakfast before we left home, it was no wonder we were both famished. We got our taste of pear goodies at a booth selling both pear cobbler and pear crisp. We couldn’t decide which one to try, so we bought them both and split them. Heaven in a bowl. From there it was on to the Lockeford Sausage Co. booth for a couple of sausage sandwiches, always a culinary highlight. We ate them on hay bales that were sitting out in the direct sun because there were no seats to be had in the huge shade tent, where folks were gathered to listen to the Jay Rollerz party band and the duck calling contest.

We had no sooner finished our sausages than it was time to start the parade — or as they call it in these parts, the “pearade.” Whatever it is called, it is usually fairly brief. We’ve been to the festival some years when it was over and done with in less than 10 minutes, but not this year. They got a decent turnout with the usual lineup of dance studios, antique farm equipment, queen contestants and fire trucks. Or maybe they looped around the block a few times. Whatever, the show went on for at least half an hour, much to the delight of the audience.

People sometimes ask us why we go to the Pear Fair each year, because it is always the same and there are limited activities beyond checking out the booths and the carnival games. We go precisely because it is old and familiar. It is so much a part of our summer routine that we’ve become friends with some of the vendors and look forward to bringing home that special pie each year. We love to hate bumping along the dusty dirt roads of the parking lot and the exit route. We enjoy looking for the Pear Lady in her green and yellow costume. We like biting into those Lockeford sausages. And we love the growing collection of family photos and video we’ve compiled through the years of our many visits, chronicling how we’ve changed against the constant background that is the festival. Will we reach a point where we’re ready to give it up?

So long as we live here and are still healthy enough to get there, not likely.

* * * * *

We’ve spent a lot of time this month sharing our travelogue, which hasn’t left much time to talk about anything else. But what would an edition of “News & Views” be without a home improvement horror story? So we’ll leave you with this one:

One of the biggest fears we always have when planning a vacation is what happens to the house while we are away. Finding a good house sitter isn’t easy, and even though we were fortunate enough to obtain the services of our nephew Robert, what would happen in the event of something truly unexpected? For instance, a fire or a flood. It was a few years ago on the eve of another vacation that the pipe to our front sprinklers broke, and had it happened a day later we would have come home to a huge water bill.

So it was almost a case of deja vu when we awoke early Sunday morning, two days before our Anaheim trip, to the sound of something dripping in our master bathroom. The something turned out to be the tank to our toilet, which for reasons unknown had decided the years-old patch job we’d make on its cracked porcelain wasn’t good enough to last a few more days. Glenn figured another layer of caulk should hold it together, so that day he took the toilet apart, dried off the tank, and applied a new bead of silicone both inside and out. After letting things dry for a few hours he refilled the tank and listened. No more leaks. We were good to go.

Or were we? To play it safe, Glenn left a bowl under the tank to catch any drips that he might have missed.

The next morning we awoke and checked the bowl, and to our dismay it was already half full. The repair obviously wasn’t working. The answer was obvious: time for a new toilet. Yeah, just what we wanted to deal with the day before our vacation. But it wasn’t as though we hadn’t known for years that we needed a new toilet. We have hard water, and the mineral deposits have numerous times built up so thick that not even hydrochloric acid will eat through them. Taking the toilet off its base every four years or so for a thorough cleaning was a lot of work that never seemed to solve the problem. So we decided this was the best excuse we were going to have to replace everything. So it was off to Home Depot for a whirlwind trip through the plumbing aisle.

Who would guess that buying a new toilet is on a par with shopping for a new car? There are lots of options — like do you want a “standard height” or “chair height” model? Do you want a traditional, elongated bowl or a compact, round bowl? Do you want a standard flush or a pressure-assisted flush, or the high-tech “dual flush” model? We hadn’t given much thought to any of those things, because what we most wanted was a simple toilet that would do what it was designed to do without forcing us to take out a second mortgage. Yes, the prices run the gamut from bargain basement to upwards of $300. It’s a toilet, not a piece of designer furniture!

We spent several minutes comparing features and prices, paying close attention to where they fell on the flush power scale. Home Depot uses little meters ranging from 1 to 10 to give customers an idea of how powerful a toilet’s flush is for the amount of water it requires. An 8 was good. A 10 was even better. We wanted a 10, and we wanted it for under $100, which helped narrow our choices from around two dozen to about two. We felt rather silly running back and forth comparing sales tags until we were joined by another family of four people who were even more discerning than we were. Obviously they had purchased bathroom fixtures before.

We were in a bit of a hurry as Roni had a meeting she had to get to, so we settled on the $98 chair-height model with the elongated bowl and the number-10 flush. Best yet, it came packaged with everything we would need to install it, including the tank, seat, bolts, hoses and wax ring for the base.

While Roni hurried off to her meeting, Glenn tore into the box and, following the directions, had the new toilet installed in less than an hour. Everything was going great until he tried to close the bathroom door and discovered why it matters whether you have a compact or elongated bowl. The rim was just long enough that it blocked the door, and the only fix that didn’t involve returning the toilet to the store or sawing the door was to turn the toilet at an angle on its base. This was far from ideal, but it bought the necessary clearance and we decided we can live with it.

As for the 10-powered flush, this thing is truly amazing. Our previous toilet was 24 years old and took a full minute and several gallons of water per flush. Forgetting the fact that it was no longer very efficient because of the mineral buildup, it was never a water saver to begin with. Our new Super Toilet takes less than a gallon of water and completes its job in under 10 seconds, and so far we haven’t had to use a plunger on it once.

With the toilet installed we were ready to head out for our vacation the next morning. We were a wee bit apprehensive about Glenn’s plumbing prowess and considered shutting off the water supply just in case it sprang a leak in our absence, but we decided we were being paranoid and that this fix truly was a fix about which we could relax. And considering the toilet was still there when we returned, and the master bathroom wasn’t swimming in a foot of water, apparently Glenn did something right.

Well, hope the rest of your summer leaves you as flush with excitement as ours has. We’ll be back with new tales in September.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, September 14, 2012 at 01:09 hrs.

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