Photo of the month

It could be anywhere along the Delta, but it happens to be in our own backyard where Glenn poses next to the replica Highway 160 sign post he designed and painted. The mileages on the destination sign are accurate as measured from Oakley. Photo by Glenn.

September 2011

We start off this month's photo selections where we left off last month, with beautiful blossoms from our crape myrtle tree. The tree is still putting on its color show as fall approaches. Photo by Glenn.

You won't see Ben in the kitchen very often, unless it's to raid the refrigerator. Here he is baking a cake for his friend at school. Photo by Roni.

Rio's health has stabilized a bit since last month. We've put him on subcutaneous fluids and steroids, which have perked up his appetite. On Aug. 21 he still had enough strength to hop up on the chair with Roni. Photo by Glenn.

Katy gives Rio a bath. Moments such as this one have become increasingly rare as Rio's health has deteriorated. Katy hasn't adapted well to the change. Photo by Glenn.

Needless to say, we aren't worried about maintaining Katy's weight. She's all belly, and she loves for it to be rubbed. Photo by Glenn.

Ben models some of the attire for his latest SacAnime costume. The purple roses perfectly matched the long purple wig that went with this outfit but isn't pictured here. Photo by Roni.

Ben and his friend Lea pose in their costumes outside the Radisson Hotel on Sept. 3, prior to heading inside for SacAnime. Photo by Glenn.

No, this isn't SacAnime, but rather Gold Rush Days in Old Sacramento, which was taking place just across town, the perfect place for Dad to hang out while the kids were having their fun at the convention. This is Michael Kearney, a docent with the Sacramento History Museum who served as an awesome guide on the Sacramento Underground tour. Photo by Glenn.

The Sacramento Underground tour included a peek under the foundation of this building, where one can still see artifacts unearthed from the 1860s. No pictures allowed inside, unfortunately. Photo by Glenn.

Gold Rush Days featured live variety show performances inside the historic Eagle Theater. Photo by Glenn.

Reenactors show the proper way to load and fire a cannon. Photo by Glenn.

BOOM! Photo by Glenn.

A visit to Old Sacramento wouldn't be complete without a stop at the California State Railroad Museum, especially when admission is free. This is famous Southern Pacific Cab Forward locomotive 4294, the last of its kind. Photo by Glenn.

Western Pacific F8 913 looks factory fresh on the CSRM display floor. Photo by Glenn.

Inspired by our many trips along the Delta this year, Glenn decided to craft his own Highway 160 sign. Here's the pattern ready to be transferred to a sheet of plywood. Photo by Glenn.

With the sign wood cut out, we covered it with Thompson's Water Seal and left it to dry for a couple of days. Photo by Glenn.

Here are the completed signs after receiving their paint and a protective gloss coat. All we need now is a 4x4 post to mount them on and we'll have our own scenic route in the garden. Photo by Glenn.

This is the finished project, installed along our garden path. The signs are attached to the post with picture hangers, so we can bring them in when the weather turns nasty. Photo by Glenn.

Ben Toasted is Army strong. The Oakley Almond Festival's famous mascot poses for a photo with some of America's finest. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's "Facts You Need To Know About Chuck Norris" shirt was a hit as he walked around the festival grounds. Photo by Roni.

The car show attracted some classic chrome. Photo by Glenn.

The band Crosstown 5 performs on the Almond Fest's main stage. We heard a lot of Journey tunes throughout the weekend. Photo by Glenn.

Roni sits inside the Delta Science Center booth during the festival, where she was the entire weekend. No stranger to working at the festival, this was the first time in 22 years that she had staffed a booth exclusively during the show. Photo by Glenn.

Ben worked in the DSC booth to fulfill his senior volunteer hours requirement for high school. All students have to put in 20 hours of volunteer time during the course of the year. Photo by Glenn.

Just one of the unusual creations available at the Almond Fest's food booths. Roni displays a potato that has been thinly shaved in a continual spiral and deep fried, then loaded with toppings. It was tough to eat without the tater tower toppling. Photo by Glenn.

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Summer of Sorrows

September 26, 2011

As another season comes to a close and we look back on the past few weeks, it is becoming apparent that this may be remembered as our Summer of Sorrows. We already were trying to absorb the news that our cat Rio is dying when we learned about the upcoming changes at Glenn’s work, then this month Ben lost his girlfriend and Glenn lost his grandfather just four days apart. Needless to say, we have had better months.

We got the sad news that Glenn’s Grandpa Melvin Henry passed away in New Jersey the night of Sept. 9, his immediate family at his side. He was 97, which was a good, long life filled with lots of family gatherings and happy memories. It has been a few years since we last saw him and Grandmother, on the trip we took to the East Coast in July 2007. But he was in our thoughts daily, and we know that Grandmother is receiving plenty of support as she deals with the loss of her soulmate. It won’t be the same without the two of them together, but we are grateful for the decades that they were a part of our lives, and Grandpa will be missed by all of us. A memorial service in California is planned for sometime next year.

Ben’s loss is not quite so permanent, but painful to him nonetheless. He and Lea broke up on Labor Day after dating for more than six months, and while we can dig into our own past dating experiences to find words of wisdom and comfort to offer him, there is no cure but the passage of time for the ache of a broken heart. It is a sadness that adds to the challenges of working through his final year of high school, a task that he is feeling more dedicated to these days as he starts to focus on applying to junior college in the spring. It is a lonely process at times, but we reassure him that he isn’t alone and will feel more independent once he makes this important life decision and starts on the road to adulthood.

Last month we told you about our struggles with Rio’s health, and we are sorry to say that even though we have managed to keep him alive a few weeks more, things aren’t really improving enough to the point that we can say he is getting better. We started him on subcutaneous fluids every few days around the middle of August. When the first 1,000 ml bag ran out, we kept him off the fluids for about a week and noticed his health begin to deteriorate quickly. He had an upper respiratory infection that started to clear up once we put him on the fluids, but it came back when we stopped them. What to do?

We renewed the prescription for the Lactated Ringer’s solution and went back to our routine of giving the cat 200 ml every other day, and this time the respiratory issues seemed to disappear. He started eating better, a good sign. But by now he had lost so much weight that he could no longer walk well on his hind legs. He still had enough strength in his front legs to wobble from one part of the room to the other, and for a while was even able to muster enough strength to jump up on the bed with us at night, where he would cuddle up with Roni. As the loss of muscle continued, Rio soon reached the point where he could no longer stand at all. He used his front legs to drag himself across the floor to the litter box, which he could no longer climb into, resembling a car crash victim clawing his way out of the wreckage. He didn’t appear to be in pain from it, but it was getting painful for us to watch.

So we decided to try one more approach, which was to put him on steroids. The vet, having already given up hope for him, allowed us a 30-day supply of prednisone tablets. He has been on the meds for a couple of weeks now. He seems more alert and has a strong appetite when he is fed, which is good because Roni hides the pill inside his breakfast every morning, although he suffers through involuntary body twitches now as a side effect of the medicine. The prednisone is supposed to make him more comfortable, although we aren't expecting to see Super Cat able to suddenly leap tall buildings in a single bound. We'd be happy if he could simply stand upright again. It would be a start.

The biggest problem with Rio's current condition, aside from having to administer regular medications almost daily, is that he can no longer move anywhere. Not to the food dish. Not to the litter box. Which can get quite messy. We've taken to using puppy training pads throughout the living room and in our bedroom. We actually used an entire package as a mattress pad beneath the sheet of our king-sized bed, which we learned through unfortunate experience the first time Rio had an accident.

How much longer will we keep this up before having to let our little guy go? That we aren't sure of yet. We weren't sure he was going to last through the month of September, and the vet's prognosis was for him to go within two months of when he first started showing symptoms of FIP, which began in June, so he has already beaten the odds. So long as he doesn't seem to be in pain and it doesn't set us back much more in the bank account, we'll probably keep trying to save him. Poor little guy.

* * * * *

Keeping an eye on the bank account is something we've been doing a lot of lately, especially with the uncertainty swirling around Glenn's workplace and the economy in general. One thing we have been trying to do is pay down the mortgage on our home, which we started making additional principal payments on last October. That strategy has made a serious dent in our loan balance, although we still owe roughly half of the original purchase price. We are content to stay the course, but our existing 15-year loan doesn't leave much flexibility should we suddenly need to drastically reduce our payment. So it was with that goal in mind that we started shopping for refinance options.

The last thing we wanted to do was tack on 30 years of debt, nor were we eager to shell out thousands more in loan origination fees. Because our loan balance is relatively small, some lenders would require us to take cash out to meet a minimum amount they would be willing to fund. Fortunately our existing loan is with Wells Fargo, which we discovered has a simple refi program for customers like us who are current on their payments, aren't underwater, and who don't plan to take cash out of the deal. And because we had purchased our loan in 2002, the favorable interest rates these days meant we wouldn't have to pay any of the closing costs and could still save on total interest fees if we stick to our current payoff schedule. Best of all, we would cut the minimum monthly payment in half. With an online application process, it seemed like a no-brainer. But we still had some questions.

So on Sept. 16 we found ourselves sitting across from a loan agent at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Antioch. We hadn't planned to close a deal that day, but once she crunched the real numbers for us and satisfied our questions, there was nothing much holding us back, and we signed up for a new 15-year fixed. We didn't come close to getting the lowest interest rate — not because our credit isn't excellent, which it is, but because our only out-of-pocket expense will be the public notary on the closing documents; the bank still has to make its money somewhere. With luck, we can keep up our accelerated payments and recoup the built-in fees.

* * * * *

September is always a busy month for us, especially when it comes to the Oakley Almond Festival. We've been involved with the festival in one way or another since it started in 1990, as coordinators, consultants, publicists, patrons or vendors. But one role we had never played before this year was that of exhibitor, which changed when Roni signed up to have the Delta Science Center booth at the show.

Now we're no strangers to organizing the DSC booth, having done it a few other times this year. Actually, we've averaged about a show a month since May, most well attended, but some less so. We just weren't sure what to expect from the Almond Fest crowd. Turns out that we were our own best company for most of the weekend.

Roni packed all her gear in the car and headed to the park early Saturday morning with Ben to set up. Ben probably would have preferred sleeping in a bit later on his day off of school, but he was using the festival to fulfill most of his volunteer hours to satisfy one of his senior graduation requirements, so it was a bit like work without getting paid. Roni and Ben interacted with the sparse audience until Glenn dropped by around noon to relieve them in the booth and so we could all grab some lunch.

One of the main attractions of the DSC booth this summer has been plastic tanks of fish that one can find in the Delta. They were such a hit at the Oakley Cityhood Celebration and the Martinez Beaver Festival that Roni brought them back for the Almond Fest. Her DSC colleague Mike Painter and his son went out on their boat that Saturday morning and caught a good variety of small bluegill, a black bass and carp. Because the fish are used to swimming in a much larger environment it is crucial to keep the water in their tanks well aerated during the show. We use a battery operated pump that is powerful enough to split into four air streams, so each tank gets its own air filter. Even so, the fish are subject to overheating when the afternoon sun is at its peak, so as the day progressed Roni slid the tanks further back in the booth to keep the fish out of the direct sunlight. The weekend of Sept. 10-11 was a fairly warm one, however, and despite her best efforts she lost all of the carp by the end of the first day.

Not wanting to freak out little kids at the show who might wonder why the fish were floating belly-up in the tank, she transferred the dead carp to one of the 5-gallon buckets we use to cart the fish to and from the show, the idea being that we would dispose of it when we got home. But after a similar incident in August, we had disposed of the bodies in our outdoor garbage can and came to regret the decision mightily as the odor in the can remained for weeks afterward. We decided that this time it would be best to plant the late fishies in the garden, where they could do some good fertilizing the plants.

But life gets busy, and good intentions sometimes get forgotten. With day two of the festival still on tap, we left the bucket on the front entryway where we would remember to attend to its disposal once the weekend was over. But then a new week began and we got busy with other projects, and the forgotten fish remained in the bucket. Seeing as how the bucket wasn’t getting emptied, we decided to move it to the back patio so that it would be closer to the garden where it would eventually be needed. At least the bucket was sealed, except for the small hole in the lid where we inserted an air hose to sustain the (live) fish when we transported them to the show.

A couple of days later we noticed that things were getting a bit smelly. It’s really time to dump that bucket, we said to each other. But things were still busy, and gardening wasn’t on the schedule. It had waited this long, we could hold off another couple of days until the weekend. By the time Saturday arrived, not only was the odor getting stronger, but flies had found the hole in the lid and were going in and out. It was definitely past time to do something about it. Plan or not, the thing was getting dumped.

Still with no clear idea about what plant could best use the fish fertilizer, Glenn dug a hole in the sand near the stump of the old mulberry tree and unsealed the lid of the container. He was instantly overcome by the odor of putrefied fish. Despite holding his breath, the odor still permeated his sinuses. The water in the bucket was ink-black, and when he poured it into the hole there was no visible evidence that fish had ever been in the bucket, as they had completely decomposed. But oh what a stench!

Glenn hurriedly covered the hole, turned the empty pail upside down, took the shovel and leaned it up against the house and went inside to escape the smell. The entire yard smelled like death, and we could only imagine the rest of the neighborhood wondering where that delightful odor was emanating from. We pictured the police knocking at our door to search our property for whatever body we’d buried there.

It was amazing how bad the smell was. Even though we were all in the house, the odor seemed strong and was becoming worse. There was no breeze out, so it couldn’t be blowing in through the back door, could it? That was when Glenn remembered that he had left the shovel leaning up against the house right outside the door. The blade had come in contact with the water when he was filling the hole, so now it carried the reek of dead fish as well. He grabbed the shovel and carried it to the opposite side of the house and buried the blade up to its top in sand. Phew!

A few hours later the air had cleared enough that we could once more venture into the yard without gas masks, but it was a valuable lesson learned about why not to store dead critters unrefrigerated for more than a couple of hours on a hot day.

* * * * *

Labor Day weekend usually signals the end of summer vacations, but for us it has become synonymous with the semi-annual SacAnime convention in Sacramento, where thousands of costumed teens converge on the Radisson Hotel to celebrate all things manga. Ben has been going to these shows for almost three years now, and every one is an opportunity to dress up as someone different. This year was the first time he got to go with Lea, which they had been planning for months, and they had decided to go in look-alike attire based on characters from the same cartoon show. Normally the three of us go to Sacramento together, and Roni and Glenn head off in a different direction while Ben and his friend enjoy the show. But this time we did things differently.

The Saturday SacAnime show conflicted with Roni’s Black Diamonds Romance Writers Club meeting, which she wanted to attend, so we turned her loose on the writing club while Glenn drove Ben and Lea to the convention. It was a seasonably warm day, and Glenn spent it by heading downtown to the Old Town district where the annual Gold Rush Days celebration was taking place.

Being the history buff that he is, Glenn always enjoys hanging around Old Town and learning about life in the Gold Rush times. For Gold Rush Days, the promoters haul in tons of dirt that are spread out on the streets, and people dress up in period costumes. Horse-drawn wagons and gunfight re-enactments mix with gold panning demonstrations, folk music and samples of the same cuisine the miners ate. Best of all, the many museums in the area are open with free admission all weekend long.

For Glenn, the highlight of the afternoon was taking part in the Sacramento Underground tour offered through the Sacramento History Museum. For $15 (as it was not included with the price of museum admission) visitors got to venture inside two of the original Gold Rush-era brick buildings to learn about how the entire city was raised 22 feet during the 1860s. Sacramento sits in a flood plain at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers. For much of the city’s first decade, it was flooded. Faced with the possibility of losing its state capital status to San Francisco, the city leaders came up with the plan to physically raise every building and all the streets in town. The project took years. The foundations of many buildings were raised inch by painstaking inch using teams of 74 men operating seven jacks each. With other buildings, what had been the ground floor became the basement, and new floors were added to the top.

The Sacramento Underground tour takes a look in the basements of two of the old buildings, where visitors can still see the remnants of businesses that once used the space to store unwanted junk. In the 1970s, archaeologists unearthed tables, chairs, pottery and pictures from what had once been a bordello. You can see the location of an original Pony Express stop, and walk along what once were above-ground alleys while pedestrians and vehicles rumble by on present-day streets and sidewalks directly overhead. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the buildings, but there are a few good sites online where you can see some news clips and learn more about the program.

Glenn spent close to six hours wandering the streets of Old Town, finishing his day with a visit to the California State Railroad Museum before heading back to the hotel to pick up Ben and Lea from the convention. The trio stopped for dinner at McDonald’s before heading back home along Highway 160, the two teens bantering about the fun they’d had at SacAnime. Little did we know it was the last activity they’d share as a couple.

Yes, it’s been a rough month, but a memorable one. We hope to have happier news to share next time.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 13:19 hrs.

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