What's behind door number one? Why, it's a new side-by-side refrigerator! Roni goes all Vanna White on our new Kenmore 25.4 cubic-foot fridge on Sept. 12, which arrived and was installed less than 24 hours after the compressor on our old model gave up the ghost on a hot summer day. Photo by Glenn.

The dog days of summer

September 17, 2014: Life was a lot different before last November when we got new neighbors in what is now the rental unit next door to us. We'd just been through a couple years of living next to a young family with a gaggle of boys that would romp and play in the backyard, and we had grown used to having to close our patio door many evenings when they would get so loud that we couldn't take it anymore. When they left for good at the end of August 2013, we suddenly found ourselves spoiled by all the peace and quiet that came with their departure. For nearly three months we were able to sit out on our back patio and hear the crickets at night — that is, when the trains weren't doing their usual thing. We didn't care, though, because it had been so long since we'd been able to enjoy our yard without unwanted neighborhood noise.

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

Many in the Bay Area were literally jolted out of bed the morning of Aug. 24 when a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Napa region. We were awake in the wee hours ourselves watching news of the damage, some of which can be seen in this screengrab off our TV from KTVU-2. Photo by Glenn.

A very tired Glenn shows the effects of two hours of sleep while he monitors earthquake reports from our dining room early Sunday morning. Photo by Glenn.

Here's a critter you don't want to encounter with bare feet. Katy discovered this scorpion skittering across our living room rug on Aug. 28. Cats seem to have no fear. We deposited this fellow on the other side of our back fence that borders railroad property. Photo by Glenn.

It has been a long summer at the Delta Science Center rice field on Jersey Island, and at last the plants are starting to flower. This is how the crop looked Sept. 5. It should be getting rice kernels by now. Photo by Glenn.

On our way back from Jersey Island we were shocked to discover that the old Centromart building in Oakley was being torn down —a project that started literally in the time while we were at the island. This former grocery store had stood in town since at least the 1960s, but is making way for redevelopment. Photo by Glenn.

With a cloud of dust and the sounds of snapping lumber and breaking glass, what was the Centromart roof is reduced to rubble. The building was a local landmark, but also an eyesore that no one will miss. Photo by Glenn.

Speaking of eyesores, our front yard landscaping has taken a serious turn for the worse during this summer of drought. Roni decided the least we could do was to rake up some of the dead grass and leaves in our front planter area. Photo by Glenn.

It may not win any Good Housekeeping awards, but this is 100 times more attractive than what it looked like before we went at it with rakes and pruning shears. Next step is to put down landscaping fabric and cover it with something more attractive than bare dirt. Photo by Glenn.

In the neverending battle to escape the incessant barking of our neighbor's dog, this is our new best friend. While it has not cured the problem, it has had some effect on the duration of the barking fits. We keep searching for a permanent solution. Photo by Glenn.

It served us well for 10 years, but our old refrigerator suddenly stopped working on Sept. 10. By the next morning we were off to Sears to buy a replacement. Here we've cleaned it off as it awaits recycling. Photo by Glenn.

Roni and Ben get their first look at our sleek new refrigerator moments after it was delivered before 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 12. It's really huge for our kitchen, and barely fit the space available. Photo by Glenn.

Ben sorts through the box of magnets that were removed from our old fridge. A new appliance is a good time to decide which magnets are worth keeping and which ones it may finally be time to let go. Photo by Glenn.

That changed with the arrival of new tenants and their two dogs that we not-so-affectionately named Numbnuts and Buttmunch. Numb, the larger of the two, has a low-register voice that projects with such volume it sometimes sounds as if he might be standing in our own yard. Worst of all, he uses that voice all day and all night long, barking at everything that moves beyond his back fence, including us, sometimes going off every five or 10 minutes for extended periods. Munch is the little guy with the yappy voice. He is more easily ignored, but because the two dogs spend all their time outdoors together and play off each other, Munch serves to instigate most of Numb’s barking behavior. It’s a vicious cycle that has been playing out almost every day for nearly 10 months, and frankly we were growing weary of it.

For months our conversations have kept coming back to what we should do about the neighbors’ dogs. Because it seems that the neighbors have no intention of doing anything themselves, that left it to us to either ignore the situation — impossible — turn them over to the city code enforcement department, or come up with some other creative answer. Not eager to take the legal route, we investigated some quieter options for regaining a quiet environment.

That search led us to a whole category of dog training devices, each with its own features and merits, but none that seemed likely to accomplish the task we had in mind. So-called “silent whistles” aren’t, and some plug-in or wearable electronic gadgets seemed either too expensive or unpredictable in their performance. That was until Roni stumbled across one by PetSafe called the Outdoor Ultrasonic Bark Control. We’ve always been skeptical of such devices, but this one got decent reviews and had a money-back guarantee... and we were desperate for a solution. So we shelled out the $61 including shipping and decided to test it out.

The package arrived Sept. 8 and Glenn eagerly opened it. The gadget runs on a 9-volt battery and is designed to look like a small birdhouse, except that instead of a hole for a bird to fit inside there is a speaker that emits a dog-deterring tone whenever a built-in microphone on the unit detects a dog’s bark. The device has a selectable sensitivity range of 15, 30 and 50 feet. We tested the device to make sure it worked, set it to 30 feet, and then hung it up on the arbor in Winter’s Garden, pointed over the top of our fence directly at the spot where Numbnuts likes to hang out and bark in our direction. Then we left it alone to observe the results.

Almost instantly the barking serenade ceased! Two days went by and we heard nary a peep out of the neighbor’s yard. We knew it was working when Roni went out to feed the birds one morning and Numb was standing in his usual spot looking at her over the fence. He let out one sharp bark, then gave a quieter half-bark, then shut up. Could it really be this simple? For months we had suffered in silence — or lack of silence — when all along we could have had back our peace and harmony. We laughed at the idea the neighbors might start to wonder what was wrong with their dog and have to shell out good money for a vet to tell them his bark reflex was perfectly fine.

But alas, few things in life are surefire guarantees. By Friday there were signs that the dogs were getting used to the unpleasant tone the device emits. Numb was clearly testing its range, driven by an overpowering need to stretch his vocal cords and the presence of the gardeners in his front yard. The two dogs spent their time racing from one side yard to the other, barking lustily in the corners unprotected by the ultrasonic device and quieting themselves when they passed by the corner closest to our arbor. Glenn boosted the range of the device to 50 feet that night. On Saturday morning the two dogs were back to their barking ways, and on Sunday we had periods in which Numb was back to barking over our fence.

One thing we have discovered is that even though the barking hasn’t entirely ceased, its patterns have changed. When the dogs do bark, they don’t go at it quite so long, and more often than not they are keeping to their own side of the yard. The product says it can take up to two weeks for the device to work, and that it should be turned off whenever you go away so that the dogs don’t become desensitized to its sound. Maybe we’ll have to try that. The jury is still out and the verdict hasn’t yet been rendered, and while this doesn’t appear to be a complete solution to the barking nightmare, it is a better answer than any other we have found so far.

* * * * *

THERE ARE TIMES, such as with noisy neighbor dogs, when silence is a good thing. Then there are other times, in the case of kitchen appliances, when silence is a very bad thing indeed.

The silence that got our attention happened the night of Sept. 10, when Glenn noticed that the refrigerator didn’t sound quite right. Instead of the motor kicking on to run the compressor, there was a click followed by a hum followed by another click and then... nothing. He didn’t think too much of it until the next morning while going about his breakfast routine, when he noticed more condensation than usual on the floor of the unit beneath the water dispenser. Had someone spilled and not mopped it up? It was then Ben noted that some frozen items in the top freezer weren’t as frozen as they should be. In fact, they were all thawed. Uh oh.

When Roni came home after a morning of running errands, the first thing Glenn told her was, “We have a serious problem.” True enough, the refrigerator was no longer keeping its cool, and with temperatures approaching the century mark, this was no time to have a malfunctioning fridge. Roni told Ben to start eating the food in the freezer before it spoiled and we were soon off to Sears to shop for a new refrigerator.

Before you ask, yes, we did consider calling in someone to take a look at our fridge. There is a good chance that it could have been repaired. But given that the symptoms of the problem indicated a malfunctioning compressor unit that might set us back close to $500 or more by the time we were done, coupled with the fact the refrigerator was 10 years old and showing its age in other ways, we decided replacing made more sense than repairing. For about the same price we’d probably be able to get exactly the unit we had, which we were generally happy with.

What we didn’t anticipate is that the unit we had bears no resemblance to what is on the market these days in the appliance department. One thing we really liked about our old Kenmore was that it had a water dispenser inside the refrigerator compartment. You just opened the door and there was the tap, ready to fill your glass. If you wanted ice, well, you opened the freezer section and scooped some out. Nothing fancy about it. But time marches on, and what was considered a desirable feature in 2004 was nowhere to be found on the simpler models we looked at in 2014. We’d been spoiled by the water feature, and the only way to get it now was in the pricier side-by-side models, the kind where the dispenser is built into the outside of the door. We quickly found that our $750 budget was unrealistically low for what we were looking for.

The time to shop for big-ticket items is before you need them, when you have the luxury of looking around and weighing cost and features of various models. But the clock was ticking and the temperature rising on a busy Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile, the food was spoiling back home in our busted fridge. We were under the gun to make a quick purchase decision. Inside of three minutes from the time we walked in the door at Sears, we were already looking at the sleek, black side-by-side model that we would wind up buying. It had the ice/water dispenser that we had to have, and it was priced at the low end among those in its class, at $1,000 — a mere $250 over our budget. We jotted down the specifics in our notebook before heading over to Lowe’s for a little comparison shopping. But once we discovered that Lowe’s line of refrigerators trends toward folks with huge kitchens and budgets, we were shortly back at Sears to talk with the sales clerk.

The clerk initially tried to upsell us by saying that the unit we wanted wasn’t in stock at the warehouse and couldn’t be delivered until the following Monday, so perhaps for a couple hundred dollars more we might want to buy its kissing cousin in a stainless steel finish that could be delivered that afternoon. Besides, it had a better ice maker, blah, blah, blah. But when he realized we weren’t going to change our minds on the black Kenmore, suddenly he was able to locate one that was available for delivery Friday morning. Not only that, but he could get us free disposal of our old unit with a $50 rebate from PG&E. Would wonders never cease?

The purchase made and delivery day scheduled, the only fear we had was whether the new fridge would fit in the space we had for it in our kitchen. Sure, we’d taken some measurements around our cabinets, but the clearances were so tight that Glenn feared he might have to move the cabinets higher on the wall, or at the very least sand down the bottom lip over the top of the fridge. We decided to take our chances and wait for the delivery men to work their magic.

The truck from Sears arrived at 8:30 the morning of Sept. 12, catching Roni by surprise as she scrambled to clean out the old fridge. We had fortunately already mopped the floor underneath the old fridge, because it was filthy and disgusting from years of dust and accumulation of scattered dry cat food. Bottles of condiments, rotting veggies and thawing frozen goods lined every available counter of our tiny kitchen, as well as the dining room table, as Roni pulled stuff out of the old machine and handed it off to Ben and Glenn. In the five minutes it took to finish the cleanup, the three-man Sears crew had our new refrigerator unwrapped on the driveway and ready to move in. They first carted off the old unit, then moments later hauled in our new giant black box using a canvas sling they wore between them. They set it down and hooked it up and didn’t even scratch it as it just squeaked in under the height clearance.

The new fridge takes some getting used to. Its color perfectly matches that of our stove and dishwasher, but it leaps out at you in ways its predecessor never did. It’s just so... huge. Despite its 24.6 cubic-feet, the fridge’s innards are only slightly larger than our old unit, and because the shelves are stacked vertically from floor to roof, with the freezer compartment on the left door and the refrigerator on the right, there’s a lot more stretching and bending to retrieve items. Not to worry about that point too much, because since much of the old food had to be tossed and we sunk all our cash into the purchase of the fridge rather than new food, there’s nothing to put on the shelves yet anyway. That will change soon, of course.

The ice maker is the feature that has received the most attention. We love the fact that you no longer have to open the door to reach the water dispenser, but we have yet to master the trick for getting the water and ice cubes to land in the glass as opposed to on the floor. There is a choice between cubes or crushed ice, as well as a light that is handy for when you are fumbling in the dark for a cup of water. But the new fridge is also much louder than our old one, so until we get used to its clunks, thunks and hums, it will probably be a distraction in our previously quiet kitchen. At least the food is cold again.

* * * * *

OUR LONG FESTIVAL season is just about done for this year, although Roni still has one more big one to go next month in the form of “FishTales 2,” the second annual fundraiser for the Delta Science Center’s educational calendar that we design and print about 7,500 copies of. The event will take place Oct. 18 at Big Break Regional Shoreline and include food, games for kids, and local speakers sharing their stories about Delta history. Tickets are $25, and every one sold goes to pay for the calendar printing bill. Last year’s event made the difference between having a calendar and not doing one, so obviously it’s a big deal to us. The stories will be told in the amphitheater around the park’s campfire pit as the sun goes down. Everyone had a great time last year.

A lot of groups are doing fundraisers right now, and we attended another one Sunday, Sept. 14, at the East Contra Costa Historical Society Museum in Brentwood. They had a pretty good barbecue that was attended by several hundred people. We got to check out some of the changes at the museum since our last visit there some months ago. They now have a restored one-room schoolhouse that was brought to the Byer-Nail House museum site, and they have made extensive upgrades to the landscaping. It’s a great place to just wander through and see some of the old farming implements and technological artifacts that shaped East County a century ago. As usual, we spent more time taking photos than eating.

The day before the barbecue, Roni attended the annual Heart of Oakley Festival in our fair city’s rapidly changing downtown plaza. This is the event that replaced the Oakley Almond Festival, but there are few similarities beyond sharing a date on the calendar. The plaza recently received a new amphitheater to accommodate the city’s outdoor concert schedule, and a new veterans memorial is going up on the corner of Main Street and Norcross Lane. Earlier this month, demolition crews tore down what had been the vacant Centromart grocery store building across from City Park to make way for a soon-to-be-built Grocery Outlet store. Those changes go along with the revamp of the rest of the strip mall that accompanied the opening in July of a new ACE Hardware store, the unveiling of a huge public water fountain, and the relocation of La Costa Mexican restaurant to its swanky new digs a year ago. Progress is happening. The festival gave locals a chance to see all that positive stuff, and for Roni it offered yet another opportunity to operate information booths for the Delta Science Center and the Ironhouse Sanitary District. She’s a busy gal.

Well, we’re getting ready for some well-deserved vacation time now, so it’s adios for this month and hoping to come back in October with some happy tales based on our happy trails... wherever they may lead us.


Glenn, Roni and Ben