Photo of the month

If this is as close to Japan as Ben ever gets then he certainly got a good taste of it on our visit to Japantown in San Francisco on Oct. 1. The enormous Peace Pagoda has been a local landmark since 2001. We needed it to find our way through the city's rush hour traffic. Photo by Roni.

October 2009

One of our resident ground squirrels uses Dedo, one of our statues, as a perch to make sure the coast is clear before foraging for grapes in our backyard. We thought it was funny that they sort of look alike. Photo by Glenn.

Roni takes a photo with her camera while Ben tries to do the same with our cell phone of the spacious aquarium lining the entryway inside the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Photo by Glenn.

It had been a few years since our previous visit to the Academy of Sciences. There have been many changes, but you can still see Claude, the albino alligator. Photo by Glenn.

A young visitor is fascinated by the academy's diver, who was performing work of some sort in one of the aquarium tanks. Photo by Glenn.

The academy is home to Steinhart Aquarium, and close encounters with exotic fish such as these are one of the reasons we really wanted to check out the remodeled displays. Photo by Glenn.

These critters are called Leafy Sea Dragons. Seems pretty self explanatory. Photo by Roni.

The academy's living roof looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, or at least a really bad "Teletubbies" episode. The portholes are functional. Photo by Glenn.

This is what those portholes look like when viewed from inside the academy's tropical rainforest display, one of the new attractions that opened last fall. Photo by Glenn.

A tropical lizard of some sort clings to a branch inside the rainforest display. Photo by Roni.

Hundreds of butterflies roam free within the rainforest dome, and they aren't shy about letting visitors get close to them. Here one spreads its wings while resting on a flower. Photo by Roni.

Beneath the rainforest dome is a glass tunnel through which you can view some of the tropical fish that are part of the display. Needles to say, these people were not part of the display. Photo by Glenn.

Long one of the most popular attractions at the academy, this Foucault pendulum knocks over a metal peg every few minutes as the Earth rotates. Photo by Glenn.

The academy's African Hall has been fully restored and the displays look better than ever. These zebras look like they could walk right out of their diorama. Photo by Roni.

A display in the Japan Center mall reflects the cultural tone one will discover in San Francisco's Japantown. Ben was trying to strike an anime pose, but it didn't quite work. Photo by Roni.

If there is a heaven on Earth for fans of Japanese manga and anime it is the Kinokuniya Bookstore. Ben could have spent the rest of the day (or his life) here. Photo by Glenn.

We had dinner at Mifune Restaurant, where Ben eagerly consumed one of the huge noodle bowls. That bowl probably could have fed the three of us. Photo by Roni.

It was wall-to-wall high school students when Ben and Roni attended the College Night event at Heritage High School in Brentwood. Photo by Roni.

Here's a sight we thought we'd never see: Roni playing a game of tennis on the Wii. History in the Gehlke household was made Oct. 4. Photo by Glenn.

Painting our master bedroom was a major undertaking, so it's hard to blame Glenn for lying down on the job where he was able. The pink ceiling is being transformed to Cancun Sand. Photo by Roni.

In our haste to get the new paint on the walls on the first day of the project, Oct. 5, we painted around any obstacles we were too busy (or lazy) to remove, including a wall clock and the curtain rod. Photo by Glenn.

On day two we worked on the wainscoting behind our bed. Glenn applies yet another coat of Red Brick gloss to the sideboard. Photo by Roni.

Tis is the new light fixture we installed in the bathroom. It looks much nicer than the boxy wood valance we had for years, but it doesn't give out nearly enough light. We're working on ways to solve that problem. Photo by Roni.

With less than two weeks to Halloween, Roni works to decorate the front yard. Photo by Glenn.

Our front porch looks especially spooky this year with the addition of a "scarecrow" Roni constructed from Ben's old Halloween costume. Photo by Roni.

Some of the lighted displays we'll have waiting to greet visitors on Halloween night. Photo by Roni.

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

There's no place but home

October 21, 2009

There was a time when our fall vacations found us hopping in the car or on a plane for a two-week tour of other parts of the country. That was before the recessionary times we’re in sapped our travel budget and forced us to join the legions of “staycationers” seeking ways to have a good time closer to home. We’d done the staycation thing last October and again in March and July, and it was quite a drag. We were optimistic that this fall we’d find a way to get out of town for at least a few days, if not for the huge excursions we once looked forward to.

Our original plan was to head north into Oregon, where we’d check out Crater Lake and maybe do some nature watching at a wolf sanctuary near there. A fun way for us to spend a trip, but maybe not so much for Ben. Then we decided to stick with the tried and true, a three-night stay at Pismo Beach. The thought of all that sun, surf and sand, and the allure of Mo’s barbecue sandwiches, rekindled some fond memories of other great trips we’d taken there.

But we waffled on a final decision as vacation time drew near, and in the end we couldn’t decide whether to head north or venture south. So we split the difference and stayed home. Again.

But our lack of a travel destination did not mean we planned to spend two weeks sitting in our living room watching TV. Living in northern California as we do, there are dozens of day trips to be had. Roni started drawing up plans to go on a few, using our house as a home base. The money we saved on hotel fare could be used to have a good time wherever we wound up visiting.

We took the first of those day trips Oct. 1, when we crossed the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Even though we live less than 60 miles away from the city, we rarely ever get over there, so it was interesting to see the progress that has been made on the construction on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. It was a gorgeous day, with temperatures in the high 70s and crisp blue skies. We wouldn’t need the sweaters and jackets we’d brought along just in case.

Our first stop was the A. Silvestri and Co. statuary showroom on Bayshore Boulevard. Not one of your must-see San Francisco attractions, but we wanted to look around because we’ve always liked their stuff and own three of the statues in their seasons series, with designs on getting the fourth — Fall — sometime next year. We ogled the merchandise for about half an hour, wishing we had a larger yard and equivalent budget to expand our collection.

Next we drove north to Golden Gate Park, dodging traffic and red-light cameras, for our long-awaited first glimpse at the remodeled California Academy of Sciences. The academy reopened last fall and we’d wanted to visit it then, but we never did. It had probably been at least five years since our last trip there. We found it disorienting at first having to park in the new underground garage and taking an elevator that let us off right near the front entrance. The inside of the academy is very futuristic looking, with heavy emphasis on glass panels surrounding the mezzanine where the food court is located. We’d arrived around 1 p.m., which didn’t give us a lot of time to see everything before the place closed at 5. We didn’t know where to begin.

We went downstairs to view the repackaged Steinhart Aquarium, which was as impressive as ever with its mammoth tanks of huge tropical fish. By the time we’d finished there, it was time to make our way to the planetarium for our scheduled viewing of the space show, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. At the end of the show we went up to the roof to see the academy’s signature rooftop garden. It’s a little disappointing that rooftop visitors are confined to a small viewing platform, as the garden is spectacular. Grasses and flowers and planted on domes covered with porthole-shaped windows. They look like something out of a science fiction movie, but the windows are functional, providing light to the interior of the building.

After visiting the roof, we grabbed lunch in one of the a la carte restaurants, then checked out the tropical rainforest display, another of the new attractions added in the redesign. Starting on the bottom floor, you walk up a spiral ramp that takes you past tropical plants and animals until you reach the top. Multicolored birds and butterflies dart about, often hovering inches from you. Look down and you see a giant tank filled with exotic fish that can also be viewed from underneath once you step off the elevator that takes you out of the rainforest dome.

We hadn’t left ourselves nearly enough time to see it all. We raced through the space exhibit and the African hall, and never made it to the geology displays. We’d seen all of those in years past, however, and noted that the changes appeared minimal. We had enough time to pick up a couple of postcards at the gift shop before the doors closed.

Leaving Golden Gate Park, we drove a few blocks until we found Japantown. This was the highlight of Ben’s day. We’d read all about the shopping mall and decided to have dinner in one of the many restaurants there — a real treat for Ben, who is fascinated by all things Japanese. It didn’t hurt that the mall is also home to one of the largest manga bookstores in the Bay Area. To quote Ben, “If I ever get $300, I’m coming back here.” The store’s bottom floor was wall-to-wall manga, much of it in Japanese, covering every series he’s ever heard of and probably hundreds more he hadn’t until then. He had enough money to buy a couple of titles, and making a decision was next to impossible. We were in the store for more than half an hour and literally had to drag him away from the display shelves. Even for someone who is less interested in manga, the collections of art books and the full bookstore upstairs offering titles you won’t find anywhere else is fascinating.

We settled on dinner at a noodle restaurant called Mifune. We’d had a late lunch, and the restaurant served such generous portions that we had plenty of leftovers to bring home. Great stuff. It was our first visit ever to Japantown, and now we all want to go back.

We’d thought that San Francisco would be the first of several day trips we would take during our break, but it turned out to be the only one. There’s something that happens when you settle on staying at home for a vacation that makes you less intent on driving anywhere. It’s not like you’re already on a trip and it’s just a few miles down the road to your next attraction; you deal with traffic from home to somewhere, drive all the way back at the end of the day, then wake up in your own bed the next morning and have to decide all over again if you’re up to going out. Maybe we’re just getting old. Anyhow, the extent of our travels after San Francisco was trips to Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Roni decided that if we weren’t going to travel anymore, we could use the remaining week of our break to accomplish things around the house. One of the many projects we’d wanted to tackle but hadn’t because of the work involved was repainting our master bedroom. It had been pink for nearly a decade, and we were both growing tired of the look. We’d been watching a lot of home improvement shows on Home and Garden TV, so Roni had all the inspiration she needed. We settled on our colors, Cancun Sand and Smokey Blue, and spent Sunday, Oct. 4, stripping pictures off walls and preparing to paint. The next morning Glenn tackled the ceiling, working from the bathroom into the bedroom. It was exhausting work, even if our bedroom is smaller than some. By late afternoon we started putting the blue color on the walls. Then the following day we tackled baseboards and the wainscoting behind our bed.

While Glenn focused on the paint, Roni spent much of her time cleaning. We disassembled the bed so that she could give the carpet a good vacuuming and get rid of piles of cat hair that had accumulated from both our cats who love to hide under there. She dusted shelves and scrubbed down surfaces that are usually inaccessible. Living in a sandy environment and right next door to a busy railroad, we get a lot of dirt and dust that finds its way inside. It felt great to finally get rid of it all.

As easy as applying fresh paint to walls would seem, it wound up taking us more than a week. There was a lot of touch-up that had to be done, and that didn’t include the painting of bathroom cabinets and remounting of shelves, or recaulking the shower and bathtub.

One of the biggest challenges came when we decided to replace the light fixture in our bathroom. We have a double vanity with a huge mirror that was installed beneath a 6-foot valance containing four fluorescent tubes. The valance is an unsightly wood box that we had painted years ago to try and pretty it up. This time we wanted to get rid of it and try a fresh look. It took a hammer and crowbar to detach the valance from the wall. Without the valance, the room looked naked. We painted the wall, patched some holes where the ugly old fluorescent fixture had been, and installed a smaller, stylish fixture powered by three light bulbs. Roni added some shelves on either side of the new fixture. We’ve already discovered we need more light in the bathroom, so now we’re thinking of stringing some more electrical cable through the attic, but that’s a project for another day.

Glenn’s vacation ended Oct. 13, the same day a huge rainstorm descended on the Bay Area. Remnants of a Pacific typhoon that had crossed Japan several days earlier, the storm brought more than three and a half inches of rain to most areas along with huge wind gusts that left the streets littered with tree branches. Hearing that the storm originated in Japan, Ben thought it was the coolest weather system ever. Damage around our house was minimal. Our large windmill in the backyard fell apart and a couple of our wind chimes broke, but at least the roof and fences are still intact. We’ll take it.

There are indications that this may be a wetter fall than we’ve seen in recent years. Another, more routine, storm visited us Oct. 19, leaving the ground damp and soaking the Halloween decorations Roni just put up the day before. We’ve been assembling quite a collection of Halloween knick-knacks, to the point where it’s starting to feel more like Christmas in the effort it takes to decorate. Roni made use of Ben’s costume from last year to create a sinister character seated in a chair at the end of our porch. We’re thinking of rigging it with a microphone and speaker to greet the kiddies. Hee hee. We’re expecting more trick-or-treaters this year, as the recent housing crisis has resulted in many young families moving into our neighborhood to take advantage of the cheaper prices. It would be nice to have more than a half dozen kids visit us for candy.

The one exception to the recent spurt in home sales appears to be the house next door. It has been vacant since April, when it went into foreclosure. The parade of people coming by to check the place out has slowed to a trickle, even as the price has dropped by $5,000. We peeked through the front window a few days ago and can see it needs some work, plus a good exterior paint job. It’s not a bad place, but it is close to the railroad and there are many other houses on the market to compete with it. We’re thinking if it isn’t occupied by Halloween we’ll stick a haunted house sign out on the front lawn — or what used to be the front lawn before it died off.

It’s hard to believe that Ben is already thinking about college. Well, he’d rather not think about it, but at least he is aware that it’s a good idea to plan ahead. In late September he attended the Liberty Union High School District’s College Night in Brentwood, where he and several hundred other students collected information about career choices, colleges and financial aid. Many of the students were juniors and seniors; Ben is only in his sophomore year, but it’s never too early to start looking at what’s out there. He came away from it very interested in the arts schools and picked up all he found on graphic design. Now all we have to do is figure out how to find $85,000 to pay for a four-year degree.

It’s just about November, which means it’s time once again for National Novel Writing Month. We’ve all been contemplating ideas for our minimum 50,000-word stories. Even Ben plans to give it a shot. He received some good practice last month when he polished off a 40,000-word manuscript for a story he calls “Ex. Command,” that is one of his first attempts to write a fantasy-adventure story in the Japanese anime style. For Roni and Glenn, this will be our ninth year attempting NaNoWriMo.

That about does it for another month. Hope you have a great Halloween and an exciting November.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 15:29 hrs.

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