Photo of the month

A bit of Photoshop trickery turns a routine portrait of Ben at the Oakley Almond Festival into a scene of mystical qualities. We desaturated the color of the trees and grass in O'Hara Park and colorized the background, then blew out the highlights to create the "enchanted forest" effect. Photo by Glenn.

September 2007

Returning briefly to last month's yard work marathon, here is what Summer's Garden looks like with the brick seating area and bark installed. It's one of the nicest places now to sit outdoors. Photo by Glenn.

We've owned this 4-foot windmill for nearly 18 years and it's showing its age. We are preparing to repaint it, but first we'll have to find a way to remove the rust. Photo by Glenn.

Our backyard wisteria vine gets larger each year. It is still blooming as of late September. Here is one of several blossoms we recently got to enjoy. Photo by Glenn.

Those commercials you sometimes see about folks transforming the appearance of their tired lawn furniture with a can of spray paint are a bit deceptive. We tried to make an old white chair blue, and it looks like the thing was attacked by a graffiti vandal. Photo by Glenn.

Roni had better success wih our porch swing, which she recovered with some lounge chair cushions purchased at Kmart. Photo by Glenn.

One of the big projects we tackled with the yard cleanup was removing the sand on our back patio and taming the slope above the planter wall. The row of boards just below the fence line is new. It creates a terrace that holds back some of the sand. It consists of old wood reclaimed from the retaining fence that preceded the stone planter wall you see here. Photo by Glenn.

With a chainsaw in one hand and a bit of tree trunk in the other, Glenn appears to be a man possessed. He was in the middle of sawing dead limbs from our fruitless mulberry tree on Aug. 19. Don't worry, there's some of the tree still left. Photo by Roni.

It took a 5-gallon bucket and then some to hold all the grapes we harvested from our chenin grape Aug. 19. All those grapes yielded about a half pitcher of grape juice. Photo by Glenn.

The total lunar eclipse of Aug. 28 was an awesome spectacle, although difficult to photograph with our equipment. This 5-second exposure was made at 3 a.m. Photo by Glenn.

No, this is not the end result of the windmill refurbishing project discussed earlier. This is a new 8-foot windmill we bought online and installed "temporarily" in this location. Photo by Roni.

This interesting structure is Oakley's future city hall, which has been under construction for several months... Photo by Glenn.

...The city plans to help pay for it by selling commemorative bricks, one of which we purchased during the Oakley Almond Festival on Sept. 16. Roni is filling out the form with our message: "The Gehlke Family — Glenn, Roni & Ben." Our brick and others will be installed in a walkway out front of the new city hall. Photo by Glenn.

Roni inpects the merchandise at the Dragonfly Ironworks booth during the festival. Photo by Glenn.

Where else but at a festival can you find so many good, greasy food offerings? Ben is ready to dine on onion rings and a relish dog. Photo by Glenn.

A row of green aliens waits for winners at the speed pitch booth at the Oakley Almond Festival. Ben won a plastic baseball bat here. Photo by Glenn.

This was the first year for a carnival at the Almond Fest. The Ferris wheel and fun house were both popular attractions. Photo by Glenn.

At the festival's classic car show there was plenty of whimsy mixed in with the hot paint jobs and g;eaming chrome. E.T. seems comfy in the back seat of this old Ford. Photo by Glenn.

Roni and Glenn are reflected in the headlight case on a hot rod. Photo by Glenn.

All those great deals at the Butterfly Ironworks booth were too good to pass up. We took this sculpture home and added it to our back fence. Photo by Glenn.

Earlier we mentioned the pruning of our mulberry tree. Here's what we're up against. Last year we attempted to put wood putty in this crack on the main trunk. You can see that the putty is still there and that the crack has doubled in width. There is still new growth on the tree, so we'll give it one more chance next year. Photo by Glenn.

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A few sprinklers with a chance of showers

September 23, 2007

Today is officially the first day of autumn, and as if on cue we've already had our first autumn storm. It wasn't much of a storm, really. Just a few sprinkles and mostly cloudy skies to cool things down from temperatures that are already beginning to head south on the thermometer. This probably doesn't bode well for the Indian summer we usually expect to take us into mid-October. We don't pay much attention to the Old Farmer's Almanac, but our gut instinct tells us to expect an early and rainy winter.

That said, the weather is ideal for yard work, which we haven't been doing much of since sawing into the mulberry tree last month. There's only so long you can stick to one task, and it looks like Glenn reached his limit around mid-August while the sun was still blazing and temps were in the triple digits. That and a bit of discouragement brought an end to the marathon gardening.

We told you last month about the battle with the sprinklers. Well, just as soon as we got cracks and leaks repaired and pop-up heads converted to drippers, a power outage rendered our sprinkler timer defunct. The solution was to run out to Lowe's one weekday morning and pick up a new unit. Not too costly, and much more advanced than the clunky old unit we'd had. Only took us a week before actually making the purchase. Then all we needed to do was install it and turn it on. Uhhhh... install it? Yeah, as in disconnect the wiring octopus from the old unit and connect the red wire with the first terminal, the yellow wire with the second, and so on... Ah yes, a task best reserved for a weekend.

So we waited four or five days until Saturday, then procrastinated an extra day for good measure. It was a Sunday afternoon when Glenn at last got the old box off the wall, the new box wired, and had plugged it in to test it out. Yahoo! There was water flowing once again. The brittle front lawn slurped happily. We let it cycle through once just to make sure all the rewiring was done correctly and then set a final program to let the timer do the job on its own. When Glenn returned a few minutes later to double check why the sprinklers didn't pop on automatically the second time around, he was dismayed to find the timer display dead. Wha? Transformer was still warm. He checked the fuse. Yup, blown.

Not a problem, just run out to the store and get a new fuse. A task best reserved for another day. So we waited a day or two before visiting Radio Shack to pick up a new 0.75 amp fuse. And wouldn't you know that they only come in a 4-pack? Ah well, good to have some insurance in case the fuse blew a second time. We returned home, waited a few more days until the following weekend, then plugged everything in and reprogrammed the timer. We ran a test cycle. It worked fine. Hooray, success!

Monday morning came along and the sprinklers were set to go off at 9 a.m. Waking just before 9 and lying in bed, Glenn listened for the sound of running water. There was none. Perhaps he had programmed the timer incorrectly. He went outside to investigate and discovered the power had quit again. Arrrgh!

Third time's a charm, as they say, but before committing to waste a third fuse on this endeavor Glenn researched the causes of blown fuses in sprinkler lines and learned that bad wiring or a faulty solenoid on one of the sprinkler valves could be to blame. He commenced a thorough check of the wiring connections at each valve. He stripped old wires and reattached them with wire nuts and electrical tape, making sure there were water-tight seals and that no bare wires existed that might touch each other and cause a short circuit. Everything looked good on the first five stations.

Then came station six. The valve located behind our kitchen is ten years old, having been installed shortly after we bought the house and planted a back lawn. Somewhere along the line it had sprung a leak, and a couple years of water spurting out onto the solenoid had corroded it. Could this be what the troubleshooting guide had meant? Only one way to find out: replace the solenoid. Of course we didn't have a spare on hand, so all Glenn could do was disconnect it from the circuit. Guess what? The timer hasn't blown a fuse since. All there is to do is (eventually) run out to the hardware store and pick up a new valve to replace the leaker.

But now fall has arrived and the project just doesn't seem urgent anymore. The blast furnace that was cooking our plants for three weeks while we had no sprinklers decided to shut down once we got them turned on again, so now although we have regular water, it's only supplying withered, crispy landscaping. *Sigh* (Wrote it that way for Ben's benefit — our in-house literary critic...) We'll let the plants revive over the fall and winter then try again in the spring.

It's too bad we have given up on the gardening again, because recently we've been making additions to the art collection that have made it more fun to hang out in the back yard. We were poking around on the Internet one weekend last month when we ran across a discounter selling replica farm windmills. We've owned a 4-foot model for several years, but had always thought it would be fun to have one of the 8-footers. For around 40 bucks, how could we go wrong? Well, we'll tell you...

First off, the box we received via UPS looked like it had gone through the war. The protective packing materials were virtually nonexistent, allowing the unassembled parts to bang around during shipment. Naturally they were scratched and dented. Compounding the problems, the box appeared to have been opened before and there were parts missing. Nothing to do but call the company and have them send out a replacement. They were good about it, but why the first box ever left their warehouse in that condition was inexcusable.

We got the replacement and followed the instructions that were written in something vaguely resembling English. We weren't dealing with American-made quality here, but we bought it for the cheap price so you get what you pay for. Somehow all the parts fit together and we got it moved to the backyard without it falling apart. We weren't quite sure where to install it, so we set it on the bare sand between Summer's Garden and the now-pruned mulberry tree. Temporarily, of course, until we decide what we really want to do with it. Which means it will probably be in the same spot three years from now. At least we can see it from the dining room window, and it spins very well on those breezy nights we have here.

One of the things we did while fixing the sprinklers was to install drip lines along the back fence where we put up a row of six clay pots last summer. We'd had ivy growing in them, but it didn't last long without regular water. Roni decided against replanting until the drippers were in place. But rather than have a bare fence to look at, she got the idea of hanging metal art on the fence panels above the pots. We've shown you before what the art looks like — simple pieces picked up from craft stores. But lately we've been looking for specific artworks that interest us that we can install on the fence.

We found one of those unique pieces during our visit last weekend to the Oakley Almond Festival. There was a booth there from a place called Dragonfly Ironworks based locally that traced designs on metal and then paints them up. The prices were great. We both liked one of a silhouette of a cowboy on a horse giving a flower to a young woman. Must have been the romance thing. So we took it home and replaced one of the old art pieces on the fence with the new one. Now we're looking at some of Dragonfly's other pieces and thinking how they might fit into the yard. We suggest you check out their website if you're into that sort of thing.

The Almond Fest celebrated its 18th year this September, which as organizer Bruce Connelly said makes mascot Ben Toasted old enough to go to war, smoke, get a tattoo and vote. Pretty frightening thought. (Guess Bruce forgot we married Ben off several years ago and even ran him as a candidate for president and nominated him for Oakley Citizen of the Year, but who remembers such things?) This year the festival included a carnival for the first time. We didn't get to go until Sunday afternoon, and things were pretty quiet by then. Probably not a good thing for the Chamber of Commerce in terms of gate revenue, but wonderful for families looking for some local fun with plenty of room to roam about. We broke our diets to enjoy tri-tip from the Lions Club booth while Ben feasted on a hotdog and onion rings. We chased it down with soft-serve ice creams. So bad for us, but oh so good. Ben of course wanted to check out the carnival games. He won a little glass picture of a cartoon character at the dart toss, and a plastic baseball bat from the speed pitch booth. He clocked at about 30 mph. Gonna take some practice if he hopes to be the next Randy Johnson.

The other thing we did at the festival was to purchase a commemorative brick that will become part of the front walkway at the new Oakley City Hall, which is currently under construction off Main Street across from Vintage Parkway. The hall has been somewhat controversial because some of the council folk wanted to place the inscription "In God we trust" over the entrance. The idea got some negative press, so they switched the inscription to "E pluribus unum." Anyhow, for $40 you get a standard-size clay brick with three lines of text, or for $75 they give you a larger brick. We stuck with the small one and wrote: "The Gehlke Family — Glenn, Roni & Ben." Now we'll have to go to the dedication whenever it finally happens and look for our brick.

Roni has been getting a lot of use from her iBook laptop computer since March, when Glenn gave her a disk full of e-books to satisfy her insatiable appetite for reading material. We took the iBook on vacation with us to the East Coast where it performed admirably as a repository for our digital photos and as remote connection to the Internet. But shortly after our return home it began behaving oddly. The computer would occasionally freeze and then not boot up when we went to restart it. We thought it might be a goner until the next morning when it booted up fine as if nothing had happened. About the same time, a row of keys on the keyboard stopped working. This all seemed to indicate it might be time to buy a new laptop.

Instead, we took a chance that the problem was a faulty hard drive. We invested a couple hundred dollars in the project and upgraded to a larger drive, added 512 megabytes of memory and replaced the keyboard. Then we crossed our fingers. Following the do-it-ourselves surgery the machine has been performing flawlessly for about three weeks. Roni is happy, as not only does she have her e-book reader back, but she also has a way to get back into her writing. She had been working on a couple of manuscripts before the computer problems. Now she hopes to finish one and submit it to a publisher. Yes, we've talked about doing that in the past, but she's getting much closer.

Ben has been involved in his own creative projects. A huge fan of Pokémon and similar adventure-based fantasy games, Ben has created a fantasy story using his own characters. He plans to post it online once he gets it finished, but if you'd like a preview of the characters you should check out his space elsewhere on our website. You can also visit his channel on YouTube to see some of the videos he has created. With the help of his friend John, he recently discovered how to conduct Pokémon battles over the Internet on his Nintendo DS. The eerie thing is he can actually chat with his opponent through the DS while they are playing, so occasionally he wanders through the house carrying on what sounds like a telephone conversation without the phone.

Glenn, meanwhile, has been massaging the plot for one of his novels begun last November as part of National Novel Writing Month. There has been substantially more plotting than writing of late, but he hopes to return to the writing portion by January. In the interim, he submitted another travel article on lighthouses that was first published today in the Contra Costa Times. He isn't sure if it will be distributed over the wire service, but for now it is up at the CCT's website.

That's all for now. We're hoping the weather holds out for a few more weeks so we can do some sightseeing in October and have clear skies come Halloween night. See you next month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 16:27 hrs.

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