Photo of the month

After a long struggle against the effects of Feline Infectious Peritonitis, our little Rio succumbed to the disease on Friday, Oct. 7, one day shy of his 18th month of life. We buried him in our backyard pet cemetery and created this small marker for his grave. Photo by Glenn.

October 2011

With the arrival of fall, the grapes on our chenin vine quickly turn to raisins under the heat of an Indian summer sun. A spider has set up a web nearby in hopes of catching some of the ever present insects. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and his Uncle Sean rock out in a game of Guitar Hero on Saturday, Oct. 1. Sean came for a visit armed with all the instruments needed for four players to perform classic rock tunes very badly. Photo by Glenn.

The main reason for Sean's visit was so we could attend the Watermelon Bash enduro race at Stockton 99 Speedway that evening. Sean and Ben pose for a picture in the speedway's parking lot prior to the event. Photo by Glenn.

The Watermelon Bash gets its name from the hundreds of ripe melons that are sacrificed in the name of the event. The fans participate by squashing the melons on the track. Photo by Glenn.

We're well into the second half of the enduro race, and there are still plenty of cars running, although not all of them are on the lead lap. Photo by Glenn.

Sean's friend Adam Baggett races in the Watermelon Bash enduro. He finished in the top 10. Photo by Roni.

Seaqn and Ben watch the race from the grandstand. Okay, Sean was watching while Ben was playing Nintendo. Photo by Glenn.

The world lost a great visionary Aug. 5 when Steve Jobs died. We pulled up his tribute page on Apple's website that night on our 27" iMac, one of the many Apple products we've owned over the past 23 years. The world would have been a much different place without Steve. Photo by Glenn.

Our world will be a much different place without Rio, whom we lost to his illness on Oct. 7. This picture was taken Sept. 25. He spent most of his final days resting peacefully under his blanket. Photo by Glenn.

Keeping Rio clean was difficult, as he couldn't move around to use the litter box. Periodic baths were in order. Glenn gives him a good rinsing Sept. 24. Photo by Roni.

Roni spends some quality time with Rio on Sept. 25. We wanted to get as much time with him as we could before the end. Photo by Glenn.

The end for Rio came during the night, and we held his funeral the moprning of Oct. 7. Roni places oleander blossoms on his grave. We'll miss him dearly. Photo by Glenn.

Katy, fortunately, is as healthy as ever. She seems to be adjusting to life without Rio as her constant playmate and companion — just so long as there are plenty of belly rubs along the way, she'll be fine. Photo by Glenn.

The morning of Saturday, Oct. 15, finds us at the Ironhouse Sanitary District for the grand opening of its Water Recycling Facility. Ben helps Roni stuff a few of the VIP bags handed out to dignitaries attending the event. Photo by Glenn.

As the guests begin to arrive, Roni chats with some longtime friends and business colleagues. She has Enrico Cinquini engaged in conversation here. Photo by Glenn.

Ironhouse GM Tom Williams demonstrates the difference in appearance between water entering the treatment plant (right) and what it looks like when it comes out the other end. The water is almost pure enough to drink. Almost. Photo by Glenn.

Following nearly 45 minutes of speeches, district board members and local politicians help cut the ribbon for the new plant. Roni, on stage at left, was recognized publicly for her work coordinating the grand opening event. Photo by Glenn.

After the ribbon cutting came tours of the new plant. A small audience listens to Ironhouse's Joe Mueller explain how the pumps at the membrane bioreactor station work. Photo by Glenn.

Ben enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the sewer plant. Here he poses next to one of the large pumps that sends treated effluent to the San Joaquin River. Photo by Glenn.

The grand opening event featured activities for younger kids too. Those too little to take the plant tour got to hang out and decorate pumpkins at the harvest carnival. Photo by Glenn.

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Farewell to Rio

October 25, 2011

We knew eventually the day would come when we would have to say goodbye to our cat Rio, and unfortunately that day arrived Friday, Oct. 7. Death occurred sometime in the night, hours after he began having seizures and could no longer take food or liquids despite our efforts to encourage him to do so. It was a sad ending to a long saga that began in late June when we first took him to the vet for a bout of diarrhea. We learned in late July that he suffered from Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP, and that he wasn't expected to live more than a couple of months. Yet three months and a week later, he'd beaten the odds if not the disease itself.

We had resisted taking him in to be put down, clinging to the slimmest of hopes that perhaps the diagnosis had been wrong and that he might make a miraculous recovery. After all, he was such a young, healthy looking cat. He should be able to fight his way back from what in all appearances was just a nasty respiratory infection. But as the weeks passed and he became progressively weaker, to the point where the steroids the vet had prescribed no longer had any effect, we braced ourselves for the reality that he wouldn't make it much beyond the end of September.

Still, we cared for him as one might a hospice patient, hand feeding him and changing his bedding several times a day, moving his paralyzed legs from one side to the other so he could get comfortable, and helping him spend time in the living room where he could enjoy his spot in the sunshine and be out with the rest of the family. We bathed him, too, as it became increasingly difficult to keep himself clean. Roni purchased several packages of puppy training pads from the store and we used them to prevent him having accidents on the bed and the carpet. For a while this allowed him to continue sleeping with us at night, and he would curl himself up in his favorite spot between us in the bed.

But eventually our best efforts were not enough. He began sleeping more frequently, and for longer periods. At meal time he could barely get the food from the bowl, and even when he did, he would wind up falling asleep in the dish. But overall he seemed to be comfortable until the afternoon of Oct. 6 when he began having convulsions. At that point we knew it was time to do the thing we most dreaded, and we decided to make the call to the vet the next morning.

Thankfully, nature ran its course before poor Rio had to face another frightening trip to the veterinary hospital. We found him still on his bed on the floor where he had been the night before. We placed him inside a cardboard box with a few of his favorite items — an aluminum foil ball, a bulletin board pin (because he was forever stealing them from our desk area), a popsicle stick, a broken heart-shaped refrigerator magnet that said "We love our cats," and a Milky Way candy bar. The candy was Ben's idea, and appropriate since Rio loved to eat chocolate, although not in quantities so large as a whole bar at once. Still, for a journey through eternity, a whole bar might not be such a bad idea.

Glenn dug a grave in the side yard and made a simple wood marker. We all said a few words and did the whole routine of each placing a shovelful of dirt on the casket. Then we covered it over and placed a few pink oleander blossoms next to the marker.

So ends our brief 15 months that we had to watch Rio grow from a mischievous kitten to adulthood with Katy, his "sister" and constant companion. Because the FIP virus can survive for up to two months in the house, we won't be getting another cat right away if at all. We aren't eager to repeat the heartbreak of losing another one so young (and our fingers are crossed that Katy's immune system is in better shape than Rio's was.) But come spring, when the new kittens are up for adoption at the pound and through the animal rescue groups, perhaps we'll change our minds.

For now, rest peacefully, sweet little Rio.

* * * * *

It’s not every day that you can draw a crowd of people for an event put on by the sanitary district, but then it’s not every day that the public gets to tour the inside of a wastewater treatment plant, and a new one at that. We had such an opportunity Oct. 15 when the Ironhouse Sanitary District showed off its new, state-of-the-art Water Recycling Facility here in Oakley.

The plant broke ground in April 2009, and for the past two and a half years we’ve been watching it take shape on what had been a hay field just north of the city. Because Roni helped work on the grand opening event, she got a sneak preview tour a few weeks before the plant went online. It is really quite amazing, with a lot of hi-tech gadgetry that wasn’t available a couple decades ago; nothing like the smelly ponds one might expect from a sewage plant.

Our Saturday started bright and early, as we had to make a balloon run to Raley’s, where a clerk filled up 30 party balloons with helium. These we ferried over to the sanitary district offices where we used them as attention-getters on directional signs from Main Street and on a couple of the booths that were set up on the property. The district rented a 60x40-foot tent and a sound stage to accommodate the anticipated audience and provide a place for speakers and a live band. There was a kids area with a face painter and pumpkin decorating, district employees set up displays of sewer cleaning trucks and testing equipment, the Lions Club served up free meals of barbecued chicken, hot dogs and tri-tip, and several local politicians came out to help with the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

About 500 people showed up to listen to the 45-minute parade of speakers, then most of them immediately jumped in line for the free grub. Ben and Glenn hurried over to the line for the plant tour, where a truck pulling a hay wagon shuttled groups of 20 or so people out to the new plant. The folks on the wagon were genuinely excited, which could be explained by the fact that most were curious to see the inner workings of an often mysterious process, and by the fact that there isn’t much else to do in Oakley on a Saturday morning.

Our tour guide was Joe Mueller, a recent hire by the district who was brought on board for his expertise with the new equipment. You couldn't have asked for a more knowledgeable source. With a cameraman from the county community access cable TV station in tow, Mueller took our little group up stairways and through mazes of pipes, across catwalks overlooking ponds of bubbling sludge, and inside buildings where gears turned and generators hummed. And only once did we really notice much of an odor — at the headworks facility, where raw sewage is brought into the plant to begin the treatment process. Foul gases are vented underground to the surface through a field of wood chips.

We saw several screens the sewage passes through. The first removes large foreign objects such as paper towels, plastic wrappers, rubber gloves and such. The second screen sifts out fine particles larger than 1 mm and deposits them in a garbage bin to be carted away to the dump. From there the water goes to anoxic and aeration basins where large mixers stir the sewage and bacteria feed on it to break down the biosolids. Once the water makes its way through the ponds it gets filtered some more in something called a membrane bioreactor, a series of tubes sort of like the process a water softener uses to remove minerals from drinking water.

Finally, the treated effluent gets a blast of ultraviolet light to kill off any remaining microorganisms, then it is piped to Jersey Island to irrigate hay fields or sent to the San Joaquin River. This is the first time our wastewater has been sent to the Delta, so naturally there is great interest in its purity and the effect it will have on fish and wildlife. To answer some of those concerns, Tom Williams, the district's general manager, held up a couple of glass jugs during the dedication ceremony illustrating the cloudy gray water that comes into the plant versus the crystal clear water that comes out. It isn't quite pure enough to drink, but it is pure enough that for the first time in its history the district will have to buy fertilizer to put on its hay crops; the nutrients that remained in the water from the old treatment process have been so thoroughly removed.

Roni was in high spirits following the successful grand opening event, which she should have been, given the weeks of preparation that went into the planning. Now we're hoping she will be able to take a break as we head into the holiday season.

* * * * *

We are still waiting to learn the future of Glenn's job sometime in the next week. A plan to eventually close the existing newspaper office and lay off up to 120 people is supposed to happen Nov. 1. But at least one thing is certain, which is that we won't have to worry about making high mortgage payments if times get tougher.

On Saturday we completed the paperwork for our mortgage refinance through Wells Fargo. They sent us a UPS package with a couple of beefy sets of legal papers that all we had to do was sign and have notarized. To say it was painless might be stretching things a little, but compared to buying our house originally and refinancing it once before, this loan was a cakewalk. If all goes well and we can continue to make our accelerated payments, we'll shave a month off our previous loan in addition to owing less interest. If not, then our monthly payment will drop to less than half its current level. Either way it's a win.

And speaking of mortgages, it looks like we will soon be getting new neighbors again. The folks to the north of us bought their home only a year and a half ago and are already trying to unload it. They're hoping to get $215,000 for it, which in the current market is probably optimistic. We're hoping it doesn't turn into an investment property and get rented out like another house two doors down that currently hosts at least one family living out of an RV in the driveway.

That's going to do it for October. We're so far behind on things that we haven't even hauled out the Halloween decorations yet. Maybe we'll get some jack-o-lanterns carved in time for the trick-or-treaters next Monday.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, November 18, 2011 at 11:00 hrs.

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