Photo of the month

Who is that mysterious stranger lurking in the shadows? Why it's only the neighborhood journalist keeping a lonely watch by the guard shack of a soon-to-be-shuttered newspaper office in Walnut Creek. The parking lot is a lonely place at midnight. Photo by Glenn.

September 2013

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.

What better way to begin our monthly photo collection than with sunflowers. These are growing wild in our backyard. Photo by Glenn.

We'd love to say we planned these, but this is the handiwork of our local bird population, scattering sunflower seeds off their feeder. Photo by Roni.

Winter is probably happy to have a little color to brighten up her gloomy garden. Photo by Roni.

Our chenin grapes, mostly ignored and forgotten this season, have been doing their thing and ripening despite us. Photo by Glenn.

We picked up some bird suet on clearance from Orchard Supply Hardware, thinking the birds would wolf it down. Wolves might, but our birds have just ignored it. Photo by Glenn.

The finches don't quite understand the purpose of our yard art, but they find it a handy perch as they wait their turn at the bird feeder. Photo by Roni.

We don't yet fully understand the inner workings of our Genoa fig tree, so we aren't sure why it spontaneously shed all of its leaves on the same day in August after the last of its fruit had been harvested. What we do know is that it soon sprouted a brand new canopy, so we aren't worried about it yet. Photo by Glenn.

The evening sky is especially lovely with a full moon suspended above some wayward storm clouds on Aug. 17. Photo by Glenn.

Things are wrapping up at the Delta Science Center's rice field, where Roni has been conducting weekly air, water and soil samples. Here she prepares to take an air sample. Photo by Glenn.

Same field, different day. This is right about the same spot where Roni, along with her phone and camera, took her fateful plunge into the muck on Aug. 29. On this day, however, she was just kickin' it while waiting for her sample time to be up. Photo by Glenn.

A pair of river otters slide off their basking rock in a slough on Jersey Island. We've seen many critters in these waters, but few of them like to stick around for us to take their photos. Photo by Glenn.

The office buildings of downtown Sacramento tower beneath a warm summer sky on Labor Day weekend as we head to the convention center to pick up Ben from SacAnime on Sunday afternoon. Photo by Glenn.

A few of the costumed attendees of the SacAnime convention stroll the sidewalk outside the exhibit hall. Multiply this group by about 500 and you'll get an idea of the scope of this huge event. Photo by Glenn.

Mahoroba Japanese Bakery is located in an unusual octagonal shaped building in a shopping center parking lot on Freeport Boulevard in Sacramento. It's an odd location for the yummy treats that lurk inside. Photo by Glenn.

It's the obligatory photo of our pastries we purchased from Mahoroba Bakery. Yes, they tasted as good as they look. Photo by Glenn.

Smoke pours from the eastern slopes of Mount Diablo on Sept. 8, the first day of the Morgan Fire that burned more than 3,000 acres of grassland. Photo by Glenn.

At night, the Morgan Fire casts an eerie glow above the ridgeline. We think the ring of fire in the lower righthand corner may have been backfires set to control the main blaze. Photo by Glenn.

The Heart of Oakley Festival on Sept. 14 was the occasion to welcome the city's new downtown fountain, which was an instant hit with the kids. Photo by Glenn.

Roni chats with a visitor to the Delta Science Center's booth at the Heart of Oakley Festival. It was the DSC's final show of the festival season. Photo by Glenn.

The Ironhouse Sanitary District in August won the California Association of Sanitation Agencies 2013 award for public outreach and education, for efforts that Roni had a major hand in as the district's public relations consultant. It's very exciting to be recognized for the good work you do every day. Photo by Glenn.

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A business for Ben

September 21, 2013

As incredible as it may seem, another summer has come and gone. For us, it has vanished in a flurry of festivals, fairs and work-related projects that have kept us busy from sun-up to sundown on more than one occasion, so thankfully we are due for a bit of downtime.

For Ben, it's been pretty much downtime all the time as continues his job search and tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life. It has been a struggle. Disappointed that he has received few callbacks for interviews and running out of places locally to apply, he continues to invest his time in his artwork and writing, his two passions outside of video gaming. The trick is to figure out how he can make those endeavors profitable in the short term, or perhaps even longer term if that is where his talents and desires take him.

One thing for sure is that he loves Japanese anime and manga, and for perhaps the eighth time in four years that love brought him to Sacramento over Labor Day weekend for the semiannual SacAnime convention. As has been his routine the past couple of conventions, he rented a hotel room with several friends and they attended all three days of the show at the Sacramento Convention Center, where they donned costumes and mingled with hundreds of other like-minded anime fans. The show has grown so dramatically over the years that it has changed venues twice, and there are now so many mostly teens and twentysomethings attending that they literally spill out onto the sidewalk in their costumes, making for quite a scene in the otherwise staid downtown business district.

Normally when Ben goes to SacAnime he is looking for unusual merchandise to buy, but this time he went with an eye to how he might be able get involved in selling some goods to other conventioneers, and he spent some time chatting up his friends who run vendor booths during the show. If he could make a little money off the convention, it might be enough to support what has gotten to be an expensive habit. Being that his parents are in the graphic design and promotion business, we all brainstormed a bit and came up with the idea that he could start his own button-making business, selling pins featuring his original artwork and other manga-themed items.

Ben was excited about the prospect of kicking off his new business venture with a booth at the January SacAnime, and we began the process of shopping for button supplies, researching the industry, and getting him started with coming up with a name and a website. But some of the wind went out of his sails when he tried to reserve a vendor booth the first day applications were being accepted and found out there were no spaces available. Apparently others have learned that once you have a coveted vendor space you don't ever want to give it up.

Still, making buttons – as well as magnets, keychains, prints and the like – can be a lucrative business if taken seriously, and for Ben it represents an opportunity to be entrepreneurial instead of having to work a boring retail job or go back to school, which is something he's decided he isn't ready for. Time will tell, but for now we have our sights set on Oct. 19, when Ben plans to have a small booth at the Oakley Harvest Festival.

* * * * *

Roni has been keeping her eager eyes on Apple these days in anticipation of the company's release of its new iPhone 5S. It has been more than two and a half years since she took the smartphone plunge with the iPhone 4 and doesn't see now how she ever lived without it. She especially loves its compact built-in camera functions and uses them all the time for her numerous posts on Facebook.

But she isn't thrilled with the quality of the iPhone 4's images, and so was very excited to learn that the 5S model is supposed to have upgraded photo and video capabilities. She planned to be in line bright and early Sept. 20, the day the new phones were to be released to the public. In the meantime, her trusty iPhone 4 has been soldiering along on our many excursions, documenting fairs and festivals, Delta drives, and many a restaurant meal. It has also been a handy tool for photographing the Delta Science Center's rice project in its various stages, and that is what she was doing with it Aug. 29 when disaster struck.

As part of the rice project, Roni had to take weekly air, water and soil samples at the DSC's farm on Jersey Island. That has meant getting down in the mud and wading out to specific locations to install sealed air chambers and poke them with hypodermic needles, not easy to do when you are also attempting to shoot video and take notes, which is why Glenn has tagged along for many of the test sessions when Roni has had to fly solo. That way, he was able to take the pictures while she was able to do the work.

That was the case this particular day. Glenn was on shore juggling his camera along with the empty air-sampling vials, timing the samples using the stopwatch of his cellphone, while Roni slogged through the muck with the syringe and her PVC air chamber. Suddenly there was a loud splash and Glenn looked up to find Roni trying to recover from a tumble into the water. Normally this would have been uneventful, as she has "gone swimming" at least a half dozen times since this project started, as did Glenn once, on his birthday. But this time Roni had gone down with her phone and camera in her pockets, and neither one had weathered the fall well.

Handing the soggy instruments to Glenn, she expressed concern that they might both be fried. In the case of her compact Canon camera, that seemed a real possibility. Water poured out of the battery compartment, and there was significant condensation on the electronic viewfinder. Incredibly the camera still worked when we tried to take a photo, but it didn't sound well, so we shut it off and decided to let it dry out. The iPhone, on the other hand, seemed barely scathed. There was some dampness around the edge of its protective case, but it dried off easily and, when Glenn turned it on, it responded promptly and predictably. We reattached the case and didn't worry about it any further... until we got it home.

That afternoon, Roni was frantic when she went to use her phone and it wouldn't turn on. Thinking the battery might have run out of juice, she plugged it into its charger, but still nothing. It was then that she started reading on the Internet about how a wet phone might not malfunction immediately and that the worst thing you can do to one that has gotten wet is to try to use it. Oops. So much for that. Now we were left to find a Plan B. While others had reported varying degrees of success with trying to dry out their iPhones, the one recurring suggestion was to use dry rice as a desiccant.

So Roni hurried to the grocery store and bought a 1-pound bag of rice and buried her camera and phone in separate tubs of the stuff. The directions said to leave the devices in the rice for a day or so and see if there was any change. After 24 hours the phone was still dead, and Roni was starting to come to grips with the idea of having to settle for the soon-to-be outdated iPhone 5 as an emergency replacement instead of the 5S she had her heart set on. "That would be just my luck," she said, "to have to buy a new phone three weeks before the new model is released."

Then on Saturday night, just before our drive the next day to Sacramento to pick up Ben from SacAnime, Glenn tried the damaged phone one last time, holding down the power button for several seconds, and suddenly the little Apple logo appeared on the screen. We crossed our fingers as it rebooted, and once it had, Roni put it through its paces and determined that it was no worse for wear. The rice had done its trick.

As one of Roni's friends joked with her later when she recounted the story, "Rice got you into this mess, and rice got you out." How very true. The same could not be said for the camera, which despite never losing all functionality had suffered the electronic equivalent of brain damage. The photos it takes are still passable if not excellent, but the bigger problem is that the camera forgets its date and time settings the moment it's turned off. So it looks as if we'll be replacing Roni's camera in the near future, but she's waiting to see how she likes the new iPhone's photo abilities first.

* * * * *

It's not every day that we get a front row seat to a major wildfire, but that's pretty much what happened Sunday, Sept. 8, when a 3,300-acre blaze broke out on the eastern slopes of Mount Diablo. Dubbed the Morgan Fire, for its origins in the Morgan Territory area of the Diablo range, the fire lofted plumes of dense gray smoke that drifted our direction and headed north over the Delta. It was fortunate for us that the prevailing winds carried the smoke over our home rather than smothering us on one of the hottest weekends of the summer. We were able to keep the doors and windows open and were never bothered by the drifting clouds.

The same could not be said for hundreds of residents near the blaze, who were evacuated from their homes as the flames spread over the course of the next four days. It was a remarkable testament to the firefighters that although dozens of structures were threatened, none were lost. Still, it was a spectacular display that we were able to observe from the safety of our backyard. That Sunday night, we walked out along the railroad tracks behind our fence and trained our cameras on the flames some 15 miles away, remarking at the eerie red glow poking up from along the mountain's ridgeline. Some people took timelapse videos of the fire, and the smoke pouring off the summit made Mount Diablo resemble a volcano.

The worst was over by Tuesday, and from our vantage point it is nearly impossible to see the charred ruins of what had been thousands of acres of grass and scrub land.

* * * * *

We mentioned previously about Ben's visit to SacAnime. The fact that he goes with friends who also don't drive has meant that we usually wind up sharing carpool duties with other parents to or from Sacramento. This year we arranged to pick them up on Sunday afternoon, so we tried to make an adventure of it by taking a leisurely drive up Highway 160. We stopped first in Walnut Grove and checked out a couple of the gift shops we'd not visited before, then we made our way into downtown Sacramento, where we struggled to find a parking space near the overcrowded convention center.

We collected Ben, then went for lunch at a place called Republic Bar & Grill just a couple of blocks away from the convention center, where Ben regaled us with tales of his convention experience. He was tired from having stayed up most of the night in the hotel, and broke from spending all his cash on souvenirs, but his phone was filled with photos of the many cosplayers he'd met during the three days.

Keeping with the spirit of the weekend, we stopped off at a Japanese bakery called Mahoroba in South Sacramento on our way out of town. We thought it would be fun to let Ben have a taste of some authentic Japanese cuisine, not to mention that we liked the idea of having some dessert for later at home. Turns out the place is quite the hidden gem, with rave reviews on places like Yelp. They serve up a variety of pastries that very much resemble cream-filled puff doughnuts, although the fillings here come in a variety of unusual flavors, including red bean and green tea. It seemed like we picked out one of just about everything in the store, but in the end it only wound up costing us about 10 bucks. We know will be back the next time we're in the area.

* * * * *

Roni's work schedule has resembled a rock band on tour this summer, with most of her weekends consumed with running booths for the Delta Science Center or Ironhouse Sanitary District at a number of area fairs and festivals. The latest of those was the Heart of Oakley Festival on Saturday, Sept. 14. Held in Oakley's newly revamped downtown plaza, the first-year event took place on what would have been the Oakley Almond Festival's weekend had that show not been canceled two years ago. Needless to say, we still get a little nostalgic for the days when Ben Toasted used to parade around O'Hara Park and the scent of fresh roasted almonds greeted you at every turn.

The Heart of Oakley Festival is not the Almond Festival. For starters, the venue is now in the downtown business district as a way to showcase City Hall and the shiny new storefronts at the corner of Main Street and Vintage Parkway, where the most successful tenant by far is the La Costa Mexican restaurant. They probably derived the most business from the festival, as the plaza outside their store is the site of a new water fountain that was dedicated that Saturday. It is already a hit with the kids, and most of them made at least one pass through the cascading waters.

Roni did her usual stint in the DSC booth, along with volunteer Linda Hardcastle. Next door, the sanitary district got lots of attention with its display advertising that visitors could learn how to make bacon soap from their leftover kitchen grease. A few folks actually wanted to buy the display samples, not realizing they weren't for sale. It is such creative efforts that in August helped the district win the annual statewide award for public outreach for small public agencies, an honor that Roni shared as part of her consulting work for them.

The festival went well, but Roni is thankful that there won't be too many more before the end of the year. Next up is the DSC's "Fish Tales" fundraiser Oct. 12, where guests will be treated to an evening of Delta-related storytelling and hors d'oeuvres to raise money for the DSC's 2014 educational resource calendar.

* * * * *

Glenn has developed an addiction lately to candy, although not the kind that his dentist would object to. He made the mistake of starting to play the Candy Crush Saga game on Facebook early last month and in short order has worked his way through more than 300 levels. Despite the game's addicting qualities, it has not always been fun, as he discovered on troublesome levels 267 and 290. But being tenacious — and just a bit stubborn — Glenn has worked his way past the occasional roadblocks as he marches along the path to... wherever the Candy Crush Saga path leads. It seems to be a trail with no end.

The game is a pleasant distraction from more important concerns, such as the recent and long-awaited announcement that the newspaper will officially relocate its offices to a newer, smaller suite a couple of blocks away from the present location on Oct. 26. The remaining staffers have already been told to start tossing years of old paperwork, books, notes and anything else that isn't essential for the move. So much trash has been removed over the past several months that the building is pretty much an empty shell already, and it is only a few hardy souls and the cockroaches who still haunt its silent halls.

The good news is that the final cleanup and move won't take place until after Glenn returns from his fall vacation, just getting under way. Hopefully by next month we'll have some other news to share with you that doesn't involve rice! Have a great month.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 13:20 hrs.

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