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