Photo of the month

Any time you find Ben wearing a suit it's a safe bet that he's getting into character for a visit to SacAnime. Here he is Sept. 5, posing with his buddy Nick outside the Radisson Hotel in Sacramento, dressed as one of the lead characters from "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya." Photo by Roni.

September 2010

We begin this month's photo selections with a nod to all the cat lovers. This is Rio, who has discovered that the clothes hamper can be as much fun empty as it is with a pile of fresh laundry. Photo by Glenn.

It's Aug. 30, and we are cruising along the backroads of Solano County on Highway 113 in search of sunflowers. Photo by Glenn.

This wasn't exactly what we had in mind when we set out in search of a sunflower field. Denuded stalks are all that is left of a once colorful crop near Dixon. Photo by Glenn.

The excursion is not a complete loss. We soon discover that we are cruising on historic Route 40, which was superseded by Interstate 80. Not quite as nostalgic as Route 66, but it's the best we can do on such short notice. Photo by Glenn.

After heading through Sacramento on our way home, we return to the Delta via Twin Cities Road. We're heading south, which means we won't be visiting Courtland this day. Photo by Glenn.

There's not a lot to see in Locke, and driving through the "downtown" there's not a lot of room to park either. Photo by Glenn.

Walnut Grove is much more photogenic, especially from the public boat dock, where Roni has found something worth capturing on camera. Photo by Glenn.

This is the object of Roni's lens — the Walnut Grove drawbridge, which spans the Sacramento River and connects the town's two halves. Photo by Glenn.

The buildings in Walnut Grove come with a lot of rustic (or rusty!) character. This is the corrugated siding on the rear of Mel's Mocha & Ice Cream. Photo by Roni.

One of the trees along Market Street is in full bloom. Photo by Glenn.

This used to be a movie theater until it closed in the 1960s. It has been beautifully renovated as the new home of Walnut Grove Iron Works. Photo by Glenn.

The original theater sign is displayed inside the ironworks on a wall that was constructed specifically for the business. Photo by Glenn.

The ceiling tiles are mostly originals. Photo by Glenn.

The circular window on the front door reflects the fine craftsmanship of the ironworks' owners. Photo by Glenn.

For customers such as us with modest tastes, there is plenty of yard art available at the ironworks. A representative piece is displayed outside the business. Photo by Roni.

The Antioch Bridge towers in front of us on Highway 160 as we prepare to cross it onto our home turf. Photo by Glenn.

Here's the piece of yard art we picked up from the ironworks. Nothing says Delta like a pair of rusty fish engaged in a romantic kiss. Photo by Roni.

Here's a basket that Rio isn't so crazy about. He and Katy wait inside a carrier for their trip to Martinez to get their rabies shots on Sept. 4. Photo by Glenn.

The kittens are getting along well with Eevee now. They even hang out together during the day. The three of them have found comfy spots on the dining room table. Photo by Glenn.

It's Sunday morning, Sept. 5, amd Ben has invited his friend Nick to attend the semi-annual SacAnime convention in Sacramento. They model their costumes on our front lawn. Photo by Glenn.

While the boys are at the convention, we make our way to Old Town to take in Gold Rush Days. We arrive just in time to see a steam excursion train cross in front of the I Street Bridge. Photo by Glenn.

A horse-drawn buggy makes its way down Front Street, which has been covered in dirt to simulate conditions of 1850. Photo by Glenn.

A docent works on a horseshoe during a blacksmith demonstration. Photo by Glenn.

A reenactor shows how the cavalry did its thing back in the good old days. Photo by Glenn.

Mounted soldiers make an impressive display as they parade through Old Town. Photo by Glenn.

A week later we are at the Oakley Almond Festival, where Ben enjoys some good grub in the shade of a tent. That is, he would be enjoying it if Dad would get the camera out of his face. Photo by Glenn.

Back from the grave and right on the Almond Fest stage, Jimi Hendrix rocks out for an appreciative crowd. Well, it's obviously not Hendrix, but Ralph Woodson, the front man for the tribute band Purple Haze. Photo by Glenn.

Classic cars are lined up on the lawn at O'Hara Park. Photo by Glenn.

We couldn't get enough of festivals during September. On Sept. 19 we went to the Contra Costa Greek Food and Wine Festival in Concord. This is what $18 got us, so Glenn is cutting it up to share with Roni. It was worth every penny. Photo by Roni.

A trio of dancers entertains the crowd at the Greek festival. Looks like the only dance step we'd be up for after pigging out on all the good food there. Photo by Roni.

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Where have all the flowers gone?

September 25, 2010

There is nothing quite so beautiful and inspirational as a field of sunflowers in bloom. We've long had calendars filled with such photos on our walls, and on occasion we have had (minimal) success growing them in our garden. We’ve often paused to photograph the smaller variety that grow wild along the trails we occasionally visit and by the sides of Highway 160 on our drives up the Delta. The one thing we have not had is the opportunity to see a huge field of the iconic large commercial variety up close.

This summer we sought to change that. Roni discovered that there are some commercial sunflower growers near Dixon and Vacaville, just an hour away from us, whose fields are right near the highway. So naturally we decided to pick a day to head out in search of them. We got a bright and early start one Monday morning in August, navigating the various Delta backroads that make up Solano County. We ventured up Highway 113, a two-lane country road frequented more often by farming equipment, ranchers and commuters in search of a shortcut than by casual travelers such as we were.

Where better to stick a field of sunflowers — or any plant, for that matter — than in the middle of the vast desolation that is the flatlands south of Dixon? We did find lots of crops, but so far nothing that resembled the huge yellow and orange blossoms we were after. Our hopes were fading along with our energy levels as we neared the outskirts of town. And then we saw it — an enormous sunflower field of perhaps 10 acres or more, sprawling to the east from the edge of the roadway. There was just one little problem: they were all dead.

This was when we realized that, like the towering flowers that once lived in our backyard, sunflowers have a distinct growing season that doesn’t extend into late August. The seeds had long since matured and the farmers that grew them, presumably wanting to make some money, had sheared off the heads, leaving behind row after row of tall, brown stumps. Certainly not what we’d come to take pictures of, but a teachable moment that reminded us we would have to attempt this in perhaps June next year.

Undaunted by our flower failure, we made the most of our outing and decided to head home via Interstate 80 and Highway 160. Any day you have an excuse to drive past the looming office towers of the Sacramento skyline and then transition to the serene beauty of the Sacramento River as it winds south to the Delta is a day well spent. We used the opportunity to explore a couple of Delta towns we hadn’t checked out in many years, other than from the highway while passing by.

Our first stop was Locke, which is famed as an artists community and one-time settlement of Chinese immigrants from California’s early days. The town has been in disrepair for many years, but there are efforts underway to restore it and turn it into more of a tourist attraction. On our visit, the extent of this effort appeared to be the unfinished construction of a parking lot to the north end of town. We could have used it, as Locke is literally one block long and that street is just wide enough for one car to pass all the SUVs and pickups that were parked near the sidewalk. A dirt road loop connects the “downtown” to some residences to the east, but as we discovered, there is nowhere to park and little for the public to see there even if one could, excepting perhaps the garden that someone had fashioned from discarded toilet bowls.

We found Walnut Grove, a half mile to the south, more user friendly. Not only is the town’s business district larger than Locke by a good six blocks, but it is also more touristy. Nice homes are located on the western side of the Sacramento River, connected to the business area by a steel drawbridge where Highway 160 crosses over the water. There is a public boat dock, provided on the assumption that legions of boaters will tie up there on a nice summer weekend to grab beer and sandwiches from the nearby grocery store. The dock was devoid of activity the Monday we visited, so we headed down there for some good photo angles of the bridge.

Afterward we walked across the highway to Mel's Mocha & Ice Cream where we bought fruit freezes and then sipped them along Market Street while we took photos of the mostly empty storefronts. One of the buildings that wasn’t empty is the old movie theater, which closed sometime in the early 1960s and has since been refurbished to become a decorative ironworks business. We got to talk with the owners — a father and son team — who showed us before and after pictures of the building and happily took our money when we bought a piece of metal art to put in our yard. To say that they did an incredible job turning around the graffiti covered, water damaged structure would be a gross understatement. From the decorative fence in the front to the subtle lighting and preserved original ceiling tiles inside, it’s a work of art. We’ll probably go back just for the ambience, not to mention the metal art.

* * * * *

If one visit to Sacramento is worth a day’s entertainment, then two visits in six days must almost qualify as living there. We may not live there, but the state’s capital city seemed very familiar when we went there again on Sunday, Sept. 5, to take part in the twice-yearly SacAnime convention. In fact, it was Ben who went for the convention with his friend Nick; Roni and Glenn used the time to head to Old Town where the annual Gold Rush Days celebration happened to be taking place.

We’d been to Gold Rush Days several years ago and hadn’t planned on attending this one, but it seemed like a good way to kill a few hours on the hot Labor Day weekend. A lot of other folks thought so too, apparently, because the tourist area was awash in people. The festival organizers had trucked in loads of dirt that they spread over the cobblestone streets to simulate the conditions that existed back in the 1850s. There were horsedrawn buggies parading around offering rides, and people in period costumes wandering the streets and posing for pictures. A Civil War reenactor group did demonstrations of cavalry charges and fired off a cannon, while afficionados of the Wild West staged gunfights in the street to the delight of the crowds. The California State Railroad Museum was running excursion trains with one of its steam locomotives.

We were content to wander around and take pictures of all this, doing our best to stay cool. We grabbed smoked salmon sandwiches from one of the local delis and hung out in the shade of the boardwalk where we were grateful just to have a table to sit at, even if we did have to share it with an older couple. They got to talking and we soon realized they were speaking German. But they also spoke fluent English. We asked them where they were from and they told us Stuttgart, Germany. They had come to the States for some California sightseeing before heading east to Oklahoma to visit family. Given our own German ancestry, it was interesting hearing their stories about life overseas. We spent the next 20 minutes comparing notes and offering sightseeing tips. A pleasant conversation that turned out to be one of the day’s highlights.

We finished the day by checking out some of the knick knack shops before going in search of soft serve ice cream to cool off, which we had just enough time to do before Ben called us from the Radisson Hotel where the anime convention was to say he and Nick were ready to go home. Ben’s wallet was $100 lighter, but he was proud of his latest anime related purchases, including a ceramic coffee mug that has become his favorite drinking cup.

* * * * *

This has been a festival-filled month for us, as September always seems to be. On Sept. 12 we attended the 21st annual Oakley Almond Festival, which proved a bit of a disappointment compared to prior years. However, it is one of the shows that hasn’t been canceled on account of the economy this year, so by that yardstick it was a riotous success. We still had a decent time visiting with old friends, touring the various booths, chowing down on barbecue, and grooving to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix tribute band Purple Haze.

On Sept. 19 we drove to Concord for the 33rd annual Contra Costa Greek Food and Wine Festival at St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church. We had never attended before because the show is usually held the same weekend as the Almond Fest. But this year the only obstacle was the weather, which threatened rain but never quite came through with a downpour. Aside from the muddled mess of a hassle that was the parking lot, we found the festival to be an enjoyable, expensive hour of mostly sampling the various Greek foods that were available. For about $18 bucks we purchased enough food for an average sized dinner and split it between us. Then we popped another $23 on baked goods that included some of the best baklava we’ve ever sampled. We could have gotten by cheaper if not for picking up some extras to take home to Ben, who decided to take a pass on the show.

It’s not too hard to understand why he didn’t want to come. Just the day before, Glenn was able to repair Ben’s iMac G5 computer that had died a slow, agonizing death on account of a faulty logic board. The computer had been out of service for nearly a month while we contemplated whether to fix it or give up and buy a newer model. After checking the prices on Amazon and Ebay we gave up on the idea of upgrading and instead shopped around until we found a refurbished logic board for $185 — a bargain if we could figure out how to unstall it ourselves. Glenn was able to find a good set of directions online and followed all 64 steps faithfully to get the computer disassembled and back together again.

The moment of truth came when, with Ben looking on, Glenn hit the power button and… nothing happened. It seemed that the do-it-yourself repair project had been a bust, and we contemplated what to do with a non-returnable logic board for a computer that no longer functioned. But undaunted by the initial failure, Glenn persisted with the project and eventually found another site with some tips for getting the thing to work. He tried the suggestions and… success! And a huge sigh of relief. For Ben, it meant no longer having to borrow our creaky old laptop or rely on his iPod Touch to change his Facebook status and converse with his friends online. Good times.

Good times is also the theme of Glenn’s physical health this month, as he not only got to abandon his daily dose of fluconazole but also attended his final physical therapy appointment to help him through his case of frozen shoulder. His (occasionally followed) regimen of exercises has strengthened his right arm and shoulder to the point where he has regained almost full mobility and is in much less pain. As for the fluconazole, the doctor is having him take two more blood tests which, if they come back negative for coccidioidomycosis, will be the end of his treatment. Keeping fingers crossed.

* * * * *

Our kittens Katy and Rio are looking much less like kittens and more like small cats. They are just past 5 months old and rambunctious as ever, even as they have gotten away from some of their endearing kittenish habits. They still love to zoom about the house as they chase after each other or after flies or just because. They awake usually around 6 a.m., with the sunrise, and proceed to crawl over us in bed until Roni awakes to feed them.

Katy has discovered the counter in the master bathroom and likes to go up there to explore. She occasionally will drink water droplets that are left in the sink basins. She also goes up on the kitchen counter by way of the garbage can so she can nibble on the bowl containing Eevee’s special urinary tract food. Roni has taken to relocating the bowl to another counter Katy has yet to discover. Rio has been going up on the computer desk in the living room since he first learned how, and much of his time has been spent removing pins from our bulletim board. When he tires of the pins, he takes down entire squares of cork. If you leave a box of tissues out where he can find it, he’ll pull them out one by one and shred them with his teeth. He’s a pill, but we still love him.

On Sept. 4, Glenn and Ben took them to the county animal services shelter in Martinez for their rabies shots, which we had already paid for when we adopted them in late June. Glenn borrowed a cat carrier from one of his coworkers and it was large enough to comfortably fit the two of them. They were reluctant to go inside when we put them in it at home, but they were even more reluctant to come out once we set the carrier down in the vet’s exam room. The procedure went swiftly and without incident, and we had them back home within the hour.

While all this was going on, Roni was in Antioch attending the first of her Black Diamonds Romance Writers Club meetings, which she had looked forward to and was a bit disappointed because many of the members didn’t show up on account of the Labor Day weekend. She plans to give it another try in early October, during the group’s next monthly meeting.

* * * * *

Fall is finally here, and with it comes vacation for us. Ben is wrapping up his first semester exams at school, and Glenn is preparing to take a couple of weeks off of work for… more work. The plan this time, in lieu of any long trips, is to do some upgrades on the back patio. Roni has long wanted to remove the spa and its dilapidated redwood gazebo. We’d been postponing the project for several years, but gravity has its own timetable; the lattice and support posts are getting close to dismantling themselves, which will leave our wisteria vines with nothing to climb on. The hope is that we can at least get rid of the spa to give us room to construct whatever we wind up building to take its place. If you want a non-functioning 8x8-foot hot tub and can come move it yourself, it’s all yours.

We are also in the market — finally — for the last of our Four Seasons statues, Fall. We’d wanted to buy her in March for our wedding anniversary, but at the time we were pouring tons of money into new carpets and paint and had to wait. Unfortunately since then, the nursery from where we ordered our previous statue, Spring, has decided to go out of business, meaning that we will probably have to drive to South San Francisco to purchase this one directly from the manufacturer. Perhaps that is a fitting way to finish off our collection. We should be placing the order this week and hope to pick it up in time for Halloween. Not that there is any rush, but it seems like a reasonable goal.

It’s time to wrap up this newsletter and get to work on the fall honey-do list of projects. Just more to write about next time.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Monday, October 18, 2010 at 12:24 hrs.

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