Photo of the month

This month we take a little artistic license in creating a portrait of Ben taken on our recent visit to the Altamont Raceway Park for the Pumpkin Smash. For more photos of the event, check out this month's newsletter. Photo by Glenn.

October 2008

Roni loves to cook, so when we found a recipe for garlic tomato soup online, she just had to try it. We can't figure out why it's billed as a soup, given the recipe's use of sliced french bread, but it sure tastes good. Photo by Glenn.

Here we see a seasonal visitor to our back yard. The squirrels only appear in the fall and are attracted by the fruit-laden grapevines. This one is nibbling on weed seeds... Photo by Glenn.

...Of course, when they tire of weed seed, there is always the bird seed. This guy made short work of the bell; it was gone the following morning... Photo by Glenn.

...And the little buggers are resourceful. Can't reach the birdfeeder in the tree? Just climb to the highest point you can reach and jump! We didn't actually see him jump, but there is a branch just above this windmill. Photo by Glenn.

There's a new plant growing in Summer's Garden and we have no idea what it is. We don't think it's poison ivy, but we sure didn't plant it here. It seems to be consuming Summer by the day. Photo by Glenn.

A closeup of the vine reveals its small leaves. We think the birds brought it in. We'll keep an eye on it and see what happens. Photo by Glenn.

No, this is not one of the birds that frequents our back yard. This is a golden eagle that was on display at the Indian pow-wow we attended Sept. 27 at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. Photo by Roni.

And this is one of the dozen or so performers dressed in traditional Native American garb. Photo by Glenn.

A costumed performer takes part in a traditional dance during the pow-wow. Photo by Glenn.

We're not sure how traditional strawberries and whipped cream are to the Native American culture, but they were mighty tasty on the fry bread we purchased from the lone food vendor at the event. Photo by Glenn.

There always seemed to be time for one more dance. The handful of performers on hand took frequent breaks to get out of the blistering heat. Overall, it was an entertaining afternoon. Photo by Glenn.

Ariel allows herself to be photographed on the dining room table in our home. She's been with us nearly 16 years this fall. Photo by Glenn.

Here's the above shot of Ariel converted into a work of art. This is what happens when you're bored and have unfettered access to Photoshop filters. Take a look at a larger version of this pic. Photo by Glenn.

The arrival of fall also means a second wind for our purple sage. This plant has been a hearty grower and now takes up most of the half wine barrel we planted it in. Photo by Glenn.

A closer look at the sage blossoms. We have a resident hummingbird that seems to think we planted this bush all for him. Photo by Glenn.

This is how our chenin grapes looked just a couple of weeks ago, before the birds and squirrels picked the vine clean. The grapes were on their way to becoming raisins. Not much good for human consumption on account of they are loaded with seeds. Photo by Glenn.

Ben pauses while sampling some of the fruit from our grapevine. Photo by Glenn.

What we have here is the aftermath of two days of cleaning the toilet in our master bathroom. The pile is years of lime deposits. Photo by Glenn.

It's a wonder the commode worked at all with all this stuff clogging the pipes. If you don't have hard water you can't fully appreciate what a menace it is on plumbing. Photo by Glenn.

The scale sort of resembles dried concrete, which considering that concrete is made up largely of the same minerals is probably no small coincidence. Photo by Glenn.

This is where you could find Ben for most of his fall vacation, parked in front of his computer chatting with friends online and tapping out moves for his favorite role-playing games. Photo by Glenn.

Roni makes one last check of a recipe prior to a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients. Photo by Glenn.

The late afternoon sun casts some interesting shadows on our back patio through the stalks of our sage plant. Photo by Glenn.

A look at the sage shadow from a higher angle. Photo by Glenn.

You never know what you're going to find when you clean out your garage. These "festive fries" once decorated Roni's car in a festival parade we entered 15 years ago. We finally sacrificed them to the garbage gods. Photo by Glenn.

Living along the Delta, we occasionally see some fairly big ships sail past. This chemical tanker was heading toward the Port of Stockton on Oct. 12. Photo by Glenn.

The Bow Sky is owned by a company based in Norway. It had just arrived from the Seattle area. Photo by Glenn.

We are at the Altamont Raceway Park on Oct. 11 for the annual Pumpkin Smash. This is not the audience, but rather the entries in the pumpkin carving contest. Photo by Glenn.

The Pumpkin Smash is a participatory event. Fans are allowed onto the track before the race to help smash an estimated 20 tons of pumpkins on the track surface. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Glenn sit with Glenn's brother Sean in the stands at Altamont, waiting for the fun to begin. Photo by Glenn.

Ben passes the time by working on his drawings while listening to music. Photo by Glenn.

The race gets underway on the track's road course. One of the cars has lost it coming out of the turn heading into the downhill section. Photo by Glenn.

Smoke, crashes, squealing tires, spinouts and pumpkin guts for 200 laps. That's what it's all about. Photo by Glenn.

With just a handful of participants still on track, the Pumpkin Smash reaches its merciful conclusion with the waving of the checkered flag. Photo by Glenn.

And the winner is... who cares? The No. 96 found its way to Victory Lane by skillfully avoiding everything else on the track. Photo by Glenn.

All that racing excitement appears to have been too much for this character to take. But you'd likely hurl too if you just saw all your buddies reduced to mush beneath the wheels of 25 junkyard-quality race cars. Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

A decade of News & Views

October 20, 2008

This month's edition of our family newsletter marks quite a milestone. It was exactly 10 years ago that we launched this website and started posting these monthly updates as both a way to inform our family and friends of our activities, and to chronicle the evolution of our little family over time. We had no idea back then that we would still be publishing more or less faithfully a decade later. But continue to publish, we do. And although we've straggled out the door on the very last day of the month more than once, we haven't skipped a month yet. What that means, for those who have lost track, is that this is the 121st of our monthly missives. We hope it finds you happy, healthy and prosperous, or at least as many of those things as you are able to enjoy in these difficult times.

We are just settling back into our usual routines after a two-week vacation that took us to such exotic locales as the Altamont Raceway, a couple of Chinese buffets and the unexplored depths of our cluttered garage. Laugh if you want, but we hear that "staycations" are all the rage in these days of high gas prices. There was no checkout time on our room, and our accommodations boasted all the comforts of home, so how could we possibly complain?

And who needs housekeeping to change your bedding and clean your bathroom when it's so much fun to do it yourself? As we proved with one of our few home improvement tasks during our respite, the day we tackled repairing the toilet in our master bathroom.

When you've got hard water as we do, over time mineral deposits can build up inside your commode and render it virtually unusable. Being 20 years old, our toilet was in desperate need of a major cleaning or replacement. We opted for the cheaper yet more time consuming method, which meant we had to completely drain the bowl, remove it from the floor, and improvise ways to chip off the concrete-like scale that had settled its way into inaccessible nooks and crannies. It's about a half-day task that we've had to do twice before, and not something we looked forward to doing ever again.

In case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, CLR works reasonably well on light stains, but it is largely ineffective on the thicker deposits we encountered. We went through about three bottles of the concentrated CLR, which is best when poured into the bowl and left to sit for a couple of hours. Yes, the product says you shouldn't leave it in contact with the porcelain surface for more than a couple of minutes, but that appears to be advice designed to sell you more product when you find that the short length of time did nothing to alleviate your problem.

Unable to free the rusted bolts holding the tank to the bowl, Glenn wrestled the entire crapper out to the back yard where, with hammer and screwdriver, he literally chiseled away large sections of lime deposits. He eventually had to use the cutoff wheel of his Dremel tool to slice through the tank bolts and remove the tank so he could turn the bowl upside down and tackle the built-up crud on the bottom. The CLR failed to remove most of the deposits, although it did do a decent job of erasing some of the finest detail in his gold wedding band. (Note for next time: remove jewelry first.)

As dusk fell near the end of seven hours of Glenn playing the tidy bowl man, it became apparent that the job would take longer to complete than expected. Good thing we have two bathrooms, even if Ben didn't much like the idea of having to share his. We packed up our tools with plans to return the following morning to finish the job.

"But what about the hole in the floor?" Roni asked when it became clear the bathroom would be out of comission for the night. "Are you just going to leave it uncovered?" Uh, sure. It's not like anything's going to happen before morning, Glenn reassured her. But she was not satisfied. "What if there's something living down there? What if a sewer rat comes in the house? What if..."

Sewer rats? What did she think this was? New York City? Seeing there would be no simple solution, Glenn tried to convince her that our sewer line was rat-free and promised to keep the door to the room closed. In the unlikely event something did pop out under cover of darkness, it wouldn't get farther than the confines of the toilet room. We went to bed, visions of a working toilet dancing in our sleepy heads — or something like that.

Sometime around 4 o'clock in the morning, we were in blissful stages of slumber when the both of us heard a distinct high-pitched chattering sound. Roni sat straight up in bed. "What the hell was that?" It was more an accusation than a query. Admittedly it sounded rather rodent-like. When we turned on the light and inspected more closely, we discovered a rug that had been near the closed bathroom door was moved, as if something had crawled under it. Our cat Ariel was on the prowl.

This was all Roni needed to see to convince her that one cat would not be enough to handle whatever intruder had made its way into the house, so she released Eevee from Ben's room to help stand guard through the rest of the night. It was after this that Glenn found a large mixing bowl to place over the open drain and secured it with the heavy lid from the toilet tank. Whatever had come in — if it had come in through the sewer pipe — wouldn't be finding its way out that way unless it had the strength capabilities of Mighty Mouse.

We never did find out what it was that had chattered its way through the house that night, but the next afternoon Glenn hurriedly finished the cleaning project and by evening had the commode sitting back in its proper place. Joy that it flushes properly once again, and hopefully will continue that way for another two or three years.

It's really hard to top a vacation that includes cleaning one's toilet, unless that vacation also includes cleaning one's garage. The wise planners at the local garbage company give us two special cleanup days a year during which we can dispose of extra piles of accumulated debris. Those cleanups are usually in May and again in October, and wouldn't you know that the fall event fell the week of Oct. 6-10 — the last week of our vacation. So instead of frolicking off to someplace fun like San Francisco to see the newly reopened Steinhart Aquarium, we tramped to the garage to paw through years of accumulated dust and junk to pull aside the few items that would be sacrificed to the garbage gods this round.

It is amazing how much cardboard you can accumulate in less than a year. Most of what we tossed was old cardboard boxes, and those we didn't break up got used to house more junk that we lovingly tucked away until the next semi-annual purge. The danger of keeping all that stuff is that eventually you have to look through it and you become sentimental. Instead of being ruthless, you wind up saving 90 percent of the things you probably should get rid of. This is why self storage facilities will never lack business.

Not all of our vacation time was spent doing household chores. We left time to go out for dinner on a couple of days at our favorite Chinese buffets in Antioch. On Oct. 1 we got together with Glenn's brother, Sean, who just happened to be working at a job site in Antioch, and we trooped over to Somersville Towne Center in Antioch for a buffet meal. Several days later, the three of us enjoyed the lunch buffet at the Golden Dragon. True, it wasn't the barbecue we had envisioned getting from Mo's Smokehouse up in Chico, where we had talked about taking a day trip to, but it was probably just as fattening.

Apparently we've had a yen for Asian cuisine, because we also dropped in on the grand opening Oct. 11 of the new County Square Market in Antioch, which is a specialty grocery store that sells Asian food products. The store has been eagerly anticipated around these parts for almost two years, and the grand opening was heavily attended. We had to wait in a line that stretched from the front door to the parking lot, as they were only letting in a few shoppers at a time. The aisles were so crammed with people and their shopping carts that it was tough to move about, but we shuffled through with the rest of them to get at the free samples and check out the unusual products for sale. Roni was there to cover the opening for the newspaper, but we were mainly just curious to see what all the buzz was about. It's the only place we know of in our neck of the woods that sells live blue crabs that customers can fetch right out of the bin. They also had tanks of live catfish and lobster, in addition to freezers full of squid, shrimp, octopus, and our new favorite sea critter, the idiot fish. If you see a picture of one with its huge eyeballs you'll understand why it has that name.

We picked up a few frozen versions of foods we enjoy at the Chinese buffets and brought them home for lunch. Nothing like those sesame seed-covered rice balls after you've fried them up in your own hot oil. (No one ever said any of this stuff was healthy for you!)

Our multicultural activities also took us to Los Medanos College on Sept. 27, where we dropped in for a traditional Indian pow-wow. Roni had wanted to see one of these while we were on vacation in New Mexico three years ago. This one certainly wasn't as large as those we've heard about in the Southwest, but it did feature a selection of Native American crafts and food, as well as costumed dancers and live musicians. It was brutally warm to be out in the sun that day, so we and most of those in attendance flocked to the shade of the college's buildings, which were well removed from the area where the dancers were performing. It made the whole event look deserted, even though it got a small but decent turnout.

We're gearing up for Halloween in a few days, and one of the recent traditions we have come to look forward to is the annual Pumpkin Smash enduro race down at Altamont Raceway Park near Tracy. Glenn and Ben drove down to meet Sean at the track Oct. 11. They parked themselves in the bleachers for five hours to see about 25 cars tear it up on the track's road course and third of a mile oval. One of the highlights of the event is when they let the fans go down on the track before the start of the race and smash several tons of pumpkins on the asphalt. Ben decided this year that he was too old for that, but there were enough others who wanted to join in the fun that there was no lack of participation. They brought out a big water tanker afterwards and used it to put down soap suds to make the track more slippery. The result was plenty of fender benders and a lot of spinouts. A little more than half the field survived to take the checkered flag.

Our own Halloween decorating is getting off to a slow start. We recovered a few of the decorations from the garage during our cleanup day, but we're still tinkering with ideas about how best to display everything this year. We stopped in at Target the other day and collected a few more plastic jack-o-lanterns and a small gargoyle statue that Roni plans to add to our front porch collection. Inspired by the pumpkin carving contest at Altamont, Glenn and Ben have plans for emulating one of the designs when they carve this year's jack-o-lantern on Halloween day. We'll keep you in suspense until next month, but it has something to do with guts and puking. We also are trying to decide what to do with the attic window, which we used for the first time in last year's display.

However the Halloween preparations go, we aren't sure who will be seeing them. Last year was an abysmal year for trick-or-treaters, we suspect in part because of the impending real estate collapse. Things have only gotten worse since then, although three of the five vacant houses we reported on last month have sold — two of the regular listings and the other a foreclosure that had been sitting on the market for nine months. The buyers of the foreclosure have been doing extensive work on the place, including removing what had been a second-floor balcony. There are still plenty of other properties on the market here, unfortunately.

We've pretty much grown exhausted by the news of the world in the waning days before the general election. Watching day after day of stock market gyrations and pundits analyzing presidential politics is enough for most of us to cheer the end of the campaign cycle in a few days. It would be nice if both of the candidates started talking about the issues facing us instead of hurling petty accusations at one another. But such is the nature of politics.

It's about that time when we buckle down for a month of insanity — and no, we aren't referring to the election this time — when we prepare to churn out another 50,000 words in the name of literary excellence. We are speaking of course about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it is affectionally known. Roni is hauling out her archives of story ideas in search of one she wants to whip into shape during the month of November. Glenn is still in search of a topic, but whatever it winds up being he promises it will sustain him for 30 days. Check back next month to see how it all comes together.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 16:41 hrs.

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