Photo of the month

All dressed up and ready for some fun, Ben and his friends Haleigh and Nick pose in their costumes outside the Radisson Hotel in Sacramento during the SacAnime convention Saturday, Aug. 29. The weekend-long celebration of Japanese animation and manga attracted thousands of fans. Photo by Glenn.

September 2009

We found this fine fellow on a recent visit to Michael's craft store, where they're getting an early start on Halloween. He's just five inches tall, but we loved the detail. Photo by Glenn.

Roni gets some pre instruction from East Bay Regional Park District naturalist Mike Moran before heading out on the Marsh Creek Trail to count raptors Aug. 27. Photo by Glenn.

It's helpful to know what you're looking at when you're searching for raptors, and Roni is fortunate enough to have Mike Moran's field guide. Photo by Glenn.

Our intrepid crew of raptor watchers has spotted something to the east. It turns out to be turkey vultures. Photo by Glenn.

A kingfisher takes a break on a set of utility wires along the Marsh Creek Trail. Photo by Glenn.

This green heron was spotted along the banks of Marsh Creek. It was well camouflaged to the naked eye. This shot was taken through the view finder of a high-powered field scope that belonged to one of the raptor watchers. Photo by Glenn.

Roni adjusts the collar of Ben's SacAnime costume as she works on the design Aug. 22, a week before our trip to the big show. Photo by Glenn.

And here's the finished costume. Ben, dressed as Kurogane from Tsubasa Chronicle, strikes a pose the morning of Aug. 29, a few minutes before our departure for Sacramento. Photo by Glenn.

Haleigh, Ben and Nick show off their costumes. A big attraction at SacAnime is the variety of characters people dress up as. Photo by Glenn.

As we wait in line at the Radisson Hotel, a girl dressed as Pikachu asks Haleigh, who is dressed in a hat from Gaia Online, to pose with her for a photo. We oblige. Photo by Glenn.

The line to get in to SacAnime is enormous. We've been in line more than half an hour and have another 15 minutes to wait. Photo by Glenn.

With thousands of costumes on display, it isn't difficult to find a few look-alikes. Here's another cosplayer who came dressed as Kurogane. Photo by Glenn.

Roni checks out one of the anime art instruction books at a booth selling manga inside the convention hall. Photo by Glenn.

A packed house sits in on a panel discussion by four anime voice actors. Photo by Glenn.

SacAnime attendees dressed as Sasuke and Orochimaru from the anime series Naruto pose for a photo. Photo by Ben.

Two girls dressed as anime twins Hikaru and Kaoru from Ouran Host Club indulge our photographic whims. Photo by Ben.

These are not more cosplayers from SacAnime, but rather a pair of young raccoons who thought to have some fun on our roof the night of Sept. 1. Sorry the photo is blurry, but it was tought to focus in total darkness. Photo by Glenn.

The raccoons were curious about us. They waited as we caught up with them in the backyard. Photo by Glenn.

The Oakley Almond Festival celebrated its 20th year Sept. 12. A woman checks out the varieties of almonds available for purchase from the festival's almond booth. Photo by Glenn.

Several varieties of wine produced from Oakley-grown grapes are on display in the Almond Festival's wine tent. Photo by Glenn.

A girl from one of the local karate schools does a demonstration on the festival's community stage. Photo by Glenn.

There's not much of a crowd around the carnival early Saturday afternoon. The cloud cover kept attendance down early in the day, but it picked up by mid-afternoon. Photo by Glenn.

Here's a reunion of sorts. Roni, who was in charge of the Almond Festival for five years in the 1990s, poses with festival mascot Ben Toasted. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn was the festival's chairman in its first year, so he gets to pose with Ben Toasted too. Photo by Roni.

An elaborate airbrushed skull design is seen closeup on one of the vehicles in the classic car display at the Almond Festival. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn and Roni are stretched to funhouse dimensions when reflected in the chrome bumper of one of the cars on display at the festival. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn enjoys taking photos and is caught in the act of trying to find his next shot in the reflective chrome of a classic vehicle. Photo by Roni.

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Dressed for excess: SacAnime, Take 2

September 19, 2009

Anyone with doubts about the growing influence of Japanese cartoons — aka “anime” — on Western pop culture need only have been in Sacramento the last weekend in August. That was when several thousand costumed teenagers and twenty-somethings descended on the Radisson Hotel for the summer SacAnime convention, a three-day celebration of superheroes, fantasy, science fiction and all things related to Japanese culture as depicted on video screens and in comic books known as manga.

We had been planning to attend the summer show since January, when we went to the winter SacAnime convention at the Scottish Rite Center and had a great time. We bought heavily discounted tickets well in advance, and Ben invited along his friends Nick and Haleigh. He would have loved to invite more, but there was no more room in Dad’s car.

Part of the fun of SacAnime, we learned in January, is that many of the attendees go dressed as a favorite character from the anime shows, something called “cosplay.” Ben wanted to be sure to go in costume this time, so he enlisted Roni’s creative abilities and she designed a Kurogane costume based on one of the characters from “Tsubasa Chronicle.” We could have purchased one pre-made on the Internet for $185. Roni spent significantly less than that. She picked up a few yards of fabric and other supplies from the craft store and used some reference pictures she found online to freelance her own design. Glenn helped by applying ample amounts of red duct tape to the costume, which did a great job holding things together without the need for expert sewing skills. Ben served as his own model for the costume, indulging Roni’s many alterations. The end result wasn’t half bad.

The organizers of SacAnime decided to move the convention to the Radisson for the first time after people complained the Scottish Rite Center was too cramped for the growing number of attendees. Glenn had been to the Radisson many years ago and knew it wasa popular spot for business conventions, but that parking could be tough to find. We had no idea just how tough until we got there.

Arriving about an hour after the doors opened at 10 a.m., we found the parking lots around the hotel quite packed. It looked like we might spend the rest of the day just trying to find a place to park. We were in luck that there was a strip mall next door to the hotel with lots of vacant storefronts and a parking lot that hadn’t been discovered by very many people. Consumed with guilt and a bit of apprehension that we might be towed if anyone found us out, we parked in a very out-of-the-way stall that was just a few hundred yards’ walk to the hotel. We did our best to look inconspicuous as we left the car, although it’s rather tough to look inconspicuous when you’ve got three teenagers with you dressed as cartoon characters.

There was a line outside the front of the hotel, so we took our spots in the queue and watched the parade of other people in costumes pass by as we waited eagerly to reach the doors. It was shaping up to be a frightfully hot day; the temperature was already 88 degrees at 10:30. We knew there would be air conditioning waiting inside, and in just minutes we’d pick up our reserved tickets and be off for our day of fun. But it wasn’t quite that easy.

When we got through the doors into the lobby, we discovered the line snaked around a corner and down another hallway. As we inched along and turned another corner toward the Radisson’s courtyard restaurant, we discovered the line continued through the restaurant and on to yet another hallway. It was a lot like waiting in line for one of the popular rides at Disneyland, where they cleverly disguise parts of the line so you don’t realize how incredibly long the wait actually is. After more than 45 minutes in line, we finally got to the registration desk to collect our badges. That was when we discovered the punch line to this cruel joke: we were in the wrong line! Turns out that because we bought our tickets in advance we could have waltzed right up to the registration table without more than maybe a 5-minute wait. Perhaps it was a character building experience.

The Radisson may have been billed as a larger venue, but there were perhaps three times the people we’d encountered in January. The narrow halls were jammed to capacity, and moving anywhere at times was impossible. We shuffled along like sardines in a can looking at tables where artists drew cartoon characters and sold their designs. There was a video game room with tournaments in full swing, and a darkened theater playing anime cartoons. We inched our way to the vendor room, where once inside Roni gave Ben some of his allowance money and he quickly vanished into the crowd with Haleigh and Nick.

Roni and Glenn made their way outside to the lake that is the focal point of the hotel. Several other people were already there trying to find a few inches of unoccupied terrain so they could sit down, visit with friends or take pictures of the many cosplayers. The degree of complexity of the costumes ran the gamut from those like Haleigh who wore a simple Gaia Online hat, to people who came dressed as warriors in full battle regalia complete with giant swords.

When we rejoined the mass of humanity inside the convention hall, we checked out the vendor booths until it came time for lunch. Roni had done a wise thing and packed sandwiches in a cooler that we had waiting for us in the car. It gave us an excuse to avoid searching for lunch at the Radisson, but more importantly it allowed us to escape the crowds for a bit while we walked back to the car to get the food. Fortunately the mall parking lot still had plenty of spaces open, so we were less worried about overstaying our welcome; we didn’t want to hog a spot if the lone merchant in the vicinity, a Mexican restaurant, was swamped with customers. It wasn’t. Nonetheless, Roni bought some nachos from the place just to make sure. We sat in the shade around the car and ate lunch while the kids compared notes about what they had already seen and purchased.

After lunch, we trooped back to the hotel for round two. While the kids went their own way, we hid out in the auditorium to listen to a panel discussion with four voice actors. The hall was standing room only, but we were content to find an unoccupied corner of the room to sit down for an hour. After one last swing by the vendor room to spend what was left of our souvenir money, everyone met up and decided it was time to call it a day. The temperature in Sacramento had reached 107 degrees by the time we started for home, so we found a Burger King and bought a round of frozen drinks that were consumed before we got back on the freeway. It was a fun afternoon, but we prefer the chill of January to the blistering heat of August.

* * *

Our other outing this past month found us at the Oakley Almond Festival on Sept. 12. This was the festival’s 20th year, and having been involved with the first show in 1990, we didn’t want to miss it. Well, Roni and Glenn didn’t want to miss it; Ben said it wasn’t his cup of tea, but he came along for the ride. A tropical weather system moved in on Friday night, so there was lots of morning cloud cover and we weren’t all too sure that it wouldn’t rain on the fest. Apparently there were a lot of others who felt the same way, because attendance was pretty sparse Saturday morning. That made it easy to walk around and visit with people in the craft and commercial booths. As a columnist for the local newspapers and a past Almond Fest chairperson for several years, Roni knows just about everyone. We didn’t get very far very fast.

Fortunately for Ben, he was able to hook up with a friend from school and they were able to see the entire festival in the time it took us to talk with friends and reminisce about how far the festival had come since its early days. Roni slid him a twenty and he was gone most of the afternoon, trying to win stuff on the carnival games. We were content to stroll the grounds and pick up freebies from the commercial booths and grab some hamburger box lunches that we consumed beneath the shade of O’Hara Park’s trees. By then, the sun had finally emerged from behind the clouds and the temperature was rapidly on its way to the mid-90s.

We wrapped up our Almond Festival visit by having our pictures taken with Ben Toasted, the festival’s mascot. It seemed only appropriate that we celebrate the anniversary of our involvement with the first festival by taking some pics for the old scrapbook.

* * *

We’ve been experiencing the patter of little feet around our home this past month, but it’s got nothing to do with small children or pets. These are the pattering feet that wake us up around midnight as they go tromping across our rooftop in search of late night mischief. When we first heard them, Roni thought the sounds were coming from our attic. Her initial thought was that we’d been invaded by rats, but whatever was causing the noise was much too large.

Preferring not to believe that our attic was infested, Glenn grabbed a flashlight and ventured into the front yard to find the source of the noise. What he discovered was a pair of young raccoons perched on the roof above Ben’s bedroom. Roni joined him and together we tried to get a peek without frightening them away. They seemed as curious of us as we were of them. After staring back at us for a minute, they made their way across the peak of the roof to the back of the house, where we later found them cavorting near the chimney. Eventually they tired of us trying to take their picture and made their retreat.

But the following two nights, the little masked bandits returned. Not only did they find their way back to the roof, but they turned the top rungs of the pergola on our back patio into a ladder that they used to walk to our nearby porch swing. There, they leaped across the gap to land atop the swing, which gave them easy access to the top of our spa gazebo and the wisteria pods growing there in abundance. We don’t know if they were eating the pods or just playing in them, but their activity caused the entire gazebo to shake and we were none too sure that in its decrepit state it wouldn’t collapse under their weight. Wouldn’t somebody have been surprised!

Like our resident mourning doves that arrive each spring and nest in our yard until late summer, the raccoons have been frequent visitors as well. We assume they must have a next nearby, as we have seen full grown adults on serveal occasions. These latest sightings have been of critters half the size. We wonder once they get to know us if they will make a point of stopping by more regularly.

* * *

Are you tired of seeing your grocery bills go up and up with no end in sight? We are too, which is why this month we’ve been doing comparison shopping at some of our local stores. We wondered if it would be possible to save $400 a month on groceries, which one would think would be tough to do in the current economy, yet it seems we’re close to that goal.

We have been longtime Raley’s customers, partly because they give great service and we’ve gotten to know all the employees at our local store, but also because they’re convenient to us being just across the street. But the store has never had a reputation for affordability, unfortunately. A point that was driven home when we did our shopping Sept. 5 at WinCo in Brentwood. It’s one of those big warehouse-style grocery stores that sell products in bulk and cut corners by making you bag your own groceries. From the moment we entered to the time we checked out a couple of hours later — yes, it took us that long to inspect every aisle — we felt as though we were on a race track in some massive game of bumper cars. The place was a mob scene. But we did save money at almost every turn. Canned goods were a dollar cheaper each; laundry detergent, three bucks less; cheddar cheese, purchased by the brick, for the same price as one less than half the size at our usual store.

We managed an entire week’s worth of grocery shopping for under $180, which almost never happens because we go to the store a couple or more times a week for various items we run out of.

On Sept. 12, we tried the experiment again by shopping at Smart & Final in Antioch. We were less impressed, however, because it felt like a warehouse store with traditional supermarket prices, which is to say that we didn’t save much and still had to bag our own stuff. Foo.

For now it looks like we’ll be WinCo customers. Maybe one day food prices will catch up to the state of the economy again.

* * *

One of the biggest news stories of the year broke Aug. 26 with the discovery of Jaycee Dugard, who had been kidnapped near Lake Tahoe 18 years ago, alive and living with her abductors in nearby Antioch. The home of Phillip and Nancy Garrido, where Jaycee had been held captive since 1991 and fathered two daughters by Phillip Garrido, is less than five miles from our home. The story has made international headlines and attracted some of the biggest names in tabloid television to our normally humble hamlet. Geraldo Rivera interviewed one of the reporters from Glenn’s newspaper, as did the BBC. We’ve had TV helicopters and news vans patrolling the area in search of any crumb of information they could find. There have been incredible tales of people paying thousands of dollars for exclusive interviews with family members and for items that belonged to Garrido or Dugard. The whole story has been fascinating and nauseating all at once.

The latest twist came this week when the Hayward and Dublin police departments joined the search of the Garrido property for possible evidence connected to the disappearances of Michaela Garecht and Ilene Misheloff in 1988 and ’89 respectively. The police have been holding daily press conferences, and the families of the missing girls have been waiting anxiously for any news of the investigations. Most people in Antioch and the vicinity who have been watching this story for the past month just can’t wait for it to be over. All communities want to get noticed, but usually for things less sensational that being the home base for serial kidnapper/child rapists.

* * *

In closing this month, we acknowledge the return of football season and that great family tradition that is Gehlke Bros. Football. From now until January, weekends in our house will be consumed with talk of predictions and lots of sports action on the big screen as Ben and Glenn try to correctly pick the weekly winners along with Glenn’s brother Sean. The guys have been online since 1998, but this year they are posting running commentary on Twitter, as well. Week 1 was a wash; all three contestants compiled 13-3 records. Looks like it’s going to be another tough, but always entertaining, autumn.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 00:15 hrs.

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