Feeling festive like days gone by
September 19, 2006
We visited the Oakley Almond Festival this past weekend.
Not so many years ago, an opening sentence like that would have meant a newsletter filled with details of our involvement in putting on our community's premier late summer event. Regular readers are undoubtedly well aware that almonds run deep in our family's history; not because we have acres of farmland with nut-bearing trees growing on them, but because way back in 1990 we became involved with the very first Oakley Almond Festival, the year when Glenn volunteered to be the committee chairperson when no one else wanted the job.
When Glenn's brief tenure as festival co-chair ended after that first year, Roni quickly took up the reins and embarked on a decade-long stint on the committee, much of that time as the festival's chairperson. Year after year our summers were spent in preparation for the third weekend in September, when all the weeks of planning and meetings and frantic searching for entertainment and vendors would all culminate in a two-day party for all who cared to attend. It was a heck of a lot of work, but it was a high like no other watching it all come together and seeing the delighted faces on the people who came to the show.
But in 2004 we gave it all up, or rather Roni finally decided the time had come to take a break. Glenn had shied away from the festival committee years before as the demands of work and family life filled the idle hours he once had to volunteer with the festival. Roni's involvement in the Chamber of Commerce kept her on the festival committee to the point where what had been a labor of love eventually became mostly about labor and not enough about love. So that year we bade the festival farewell and took a long vacation to New Orleans and Texas. The following year we took another long vacation during festival weekend, this time to Arizona and New Mexico.
But a funny thing happened as this year's festival rolled around. We looked at the calendar and realized we hadn't made plans to be somewhere else. And then Ben heard that his school would be entering a float in the Saturday morning parade, and out of the blue he announced that he wanted to go see it this from the boy who refuses to go anywhere on the weekend lest it interfere with his video game playing time.
So on Saturday, Sept. 16, we found ourselves standing at the corner of Acme Street and O'Hara Avenue to watch fire trucks and antique cars and marching bands make their way toward O'Hara Park. It had been three years since our last Almond Parade, but it felt like just yesterday. Ben was excited to see his schoolmates exhibiting their "Panther Pride" on the Delta Vista Middle School float. There's nothing quite like a hometown parade, even one as small as Oakley's. We still get a special feeling when we see those entries traveling along our streets, and the crowds that come out to wave and cheer, knowing that even though we are no longer involved it is because of our involvement that new people have come in to pick up the torch and carry it high so that the festival will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
Sunday found us returning to the festival, only this time it was to check out the activities inside O'Hara Park. Gone are the days when admission was free, but at two bucks a head it didn't set us back too far. The crowd was light and in good spirits, just as we find every year. Roni couldn't take five steps without bumping into old aquaintances, former festival committee members, colleagues from the chamber or newspaper contacts. It's tough to be anonymous when you wear as many hats as she does. We checked out all the commercial and craft booths, strolled through the park looking at the classic car displays, sipped wine and ate ice cream cones, and generally had a good time. Roni received several requests to rejoin the festival committee next year. We may have to tie her down before it comes to that!
It is funny how the traditions of the Almond Festival have remained with us even though we haven't remained with the festival. It also used to be at this time of year when we would invariably make a weekend excursion to the wine country in order to purchase a case or two of wines to pour at the festival. On Sept. 9 we got the urge to make that trip again even though any wine we purchased would be for us alone. We headed out toward Sonoma and stopped off at Cline Cellars off Highway 121, a few miles north of Sears Point Raceway. What makes Cline a destination for us is that they used to be located in Oakley and continue to use Oakley-grown grapes in their products. We happen to know that some of those grapes grow right next door to us on the former DuPont property. We hope it isn't the soil contaminants that give the wines their unique flavor!
Roni purchased a bottle of Oakley Five Reds that we intended to try with dinner that night, but as yet still have not opened. We aren't heavy wine consumers, and to prove that point one need only peek at the wine rack in our kitchen where you will find a dozen bottles dating back to 1986. Does pinot noir keep its flavor over 20 years? There's also a bottle of champagne from Y2K; we never had the heart to open it. One of the bottles in our collection is a 1993 Carnival from Peju Province, which was another of our destinations Sept. 9. We're not sure the '93 vintage is still drinkable, but the '04 we bought this time around certainly will be good with dinner some evening soon.
After the stop at Cline Cellars we cruised on over to Napa, where we enjoyed lunch at the Genova Delicatessen. We got a little carried away and wound up picking up some frozen raviolis and gnocchi for dinner. Then we drove north to St. Helena and stopped at V. Sattui Winery, which was a madhouse as always with all the tourists, not to mention the wedding they were preparing to host. Nonetheless, the place can't be topped for its beauty a large water fountain, rose gardens, and massive arbors that support vines of grapes and wisteria. Such things are great inspiration for what we would like to do in our own garden one day, but alas, that is another story for another month.
The wine country visit, while consuming the bulk of our Saturday excursion, was not actually the main reason we ventured from home. Roni, you see, is addicted to books, and when she heard about the huge semi-annual used book sale at the Contra Costa County main library in Pleasant Hill, well... how could we pass that up? We'd been to a few other used book sales at our local libraries, but this one topped them all. It was so big that the Friends of the Library group had to move it off site to Pleasant Hill's historic little school house, where they set up tables on the lawn and piled them with boxes and boxes of everything from paperback romances to entire sets of encyclopedias. Ben made a bee line to the kids section, and then hunted around grabbing every book on cats he could find. Roni eagerly filled a box with paperbacks that at 50 cents a piece were a cheap way to satisfy her craving for new reading material. Glenn, who reads about six novels a year, rarely buys anything at book stores or library book sales, but he likes to look around for oddities such as rare records and CDs by obscure local bands. He found a couple at Pleasant Hill.
Frankly, as aspiring authors, we find there are few things as sobering as a used book bin. You have this dream that one day you're going to write the Great American Novel and it's going to climb to the top of the bestseller list and you will become a household name and your words will be read by future generations a hundred years from now. And then you see how fleeting success can be. All those discarded books piled in box upon box, read once and forgotten. Some author's months or years of effort summed up in a dusty hardbound discounted to a buck, and still they can't give it away. Of course, we try not to think about that when we're busy hunting for bargains.
We managed to spend $22 for a nice assortment of used books and a CD. But that was barely enough to hold us through the weekend. Come the following Saturday, immediately after the Almond Parade, we hopped in the car to head back to Pleasant Hill, where this time the library was having its annual book giveaway. We thought it was going to be all the unsold leftovers from the previous weekend, but whereas that sale had been mostly contributions from the general public, the giveaway was strictly titles pulled from the county library's own shelves. You'd think that from a parking lot lined with thousands of freebies we'd be able to bring home several boxes of goodies, but in the end we barely filled one box. There were no children's books, much to Ben's chagrin, and the adult fiction offerings were mostly stuff that didn't interest us. Guess they didn't interest too many others either, because they'd been sitting there a week already with no takers. Where do all those books go if no one claims them by the end of the giveaway? We shudder to think.
After picking over the freebies, we drove a few miles west to Lafayette to check out their library's semi-monthly book sale. We didn't realize it wasn't an all-day affair, so by the time we arrived just before noon they were already closing shop. The volunteer staff were kind enough to indulge us a few minutes as we looked around their storage area while they finished wheeling their carts inside. We thought we were going to get out of there without spending more than five or six dollars, but then Ben asked if they had any books on cats, and when they pointed them out he went a bit overboard with Mom and Dad's money. Ah well, as long as he reads them.
September has always been a favorite month for us, even beyond our fond memories of the Almond Festival and some great vacations we've had. It seems to be a mello transition from the summer malaise to the stresses of the holiday season. There is time to catch up with old friends and put in a little work on home improvement projects. Last year it was painting the outside of our home; this year it was painting the interior, specifically the kitchen.
Our kitchen walls hadn't been touched with a paintbrush in more than nine years. That was when we bought the place and covered over all the eggshell white surfaces with shades of peach. Now those peach colors are definitely showing their age, covered in grease and grime that was too high for us to reach without a ladder. So not only did we pull out the ladder this time, but we spent a weekend day just scrubbing off all the crud. Among the things we learned from this experience: Easy Off works great for removing grease from ovens. It also works great for removing paint, even if that wasn't your intention. We discovered this the hard way while trying to remove some particularly stubborn grease buildup on one of our light fixtures. Good thing we're planning on replacing them soon.
After cleaning the kitchen, we painted it with a hi-gloss version of Citron Ice, the same shade we used on the living room and in our hallways. It is amazing how far a fresh coat of paint can go toward improving the look of a room. Now Roni has designs on repainting Ben's bedroom and his bathroom. Glenn says there is no timetable for those projects, however.
On Aug. 26, we did some of that catching up with old friends we mentioned earlier when we took part in the Ironhouse Sanitary District's employee barbecue held at Lauritzen Yacht Harbor in Oakley. While we aren't technically employees of the district, we do some consulting work for them through Roni's business, which is how we got the invite. It was a great afternoon that included a potluck barbecue lunch and activities for the kids. Glenn and Ben got involved in a game of volleyball with a few of the youngsters, while Roni visited with district personnel. Ben's favorite part of the event turned out to be an air jump and waterslide, where most of the kids hung out. Ben didn't bring his swim trunks, but he didn't let that hamper his fun. He merely took off his shirt and ran through the water with his jeans on, pausing long enough to grab lunch and dessert. There was plenty of good stuff coming off the grill, including fish, hamburgers and deer meat sausage links that seemed to be a hit with most of the attendees.
Despite the fact that as we write this we're in the middle of a typical late-summer heatwave, the days have been getting cooler. The weather has been perfect for taking walks, which we have been doing more frequently now that Ben is back in school. On Sept. 11, as the world observed the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we were out strolling the tree-lined paths at the Antioch Marina. It had been so long since we'd done any serious walking that our shins were sore afterward, but it was a good kind of sore. We're both more health conscious these days, with Roni trying to limit her salt intake and Glenn trying to shed excess pounds. He's down 21 pounds since the start of the year, and is now trying to focus on toning up. Roni continues to make use of her treadmill and has also seen her weight dip. Ben just thinks we're both crazy. We tell him he might feel differently when he's our age, but at 12 you think you'll live forever and couldn't care less about cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or your ultimate inevitable demise.
Well that's a heck of a downer on which to end an otherwise upbeat newsletter. So instead, we'll look ahead to autumn and the October missive, which should be a good one. We've got a new digital camera on order and a few more excursions planned that hopefully will give us a good chance to put all its features to the test. Until then, have a good month.
Glenn, Roni and Ben