Photo of the month

Ben gets comfy in the grandstand while waiting for the start of the Pumpkin Smash 400 enduro race at the Altamont Speedway on Oct. 15. It was Ben's first night of live racing action in more than two years and he was eager for the action to begin. Photo by Glenn.

November 2005

We spent October talking about our trip to New Mexico, so this month we'll get caught up on the homefront. It's back to our ongoing battle with Mr. Gopher Too as we fight to save the largest rose bush in our front yard. Photo by Glenn.

The sand mounds forming around the mailbox are the telltale sign of gopher activity. This rose bush is well established and can withstand some nibbling, but over time the constant feasting will lead to an untimely demise. We'll probably have to transplant this rose to save it. Photo by Glenn.

We have mostly wrapped up our house painting. Some of the finishing touches included replacing the outdoor lighting fixtures, including this one near the garage. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn made his first visit to Altamont Raceway near Tracy with his brother, Sean, on Oct. 8. The track is situated in the hills with wind farms a short distance away. Here a sprint car takes a practice lap. Photo by Glenn.

How many checkered flags does one really need to know the race is over? The guy on the flag stand is the race official. The kid is one of the spectators who thought the flag waving looked fun and joined in. Not sure who the guy in the middle was, but he was present for the entire evening. Photo by Glenn.

B-Mods line up for the start of their heat race at Altamont. It's hard to imagine that 36 years ago the Rolling Stones performed their infamous concert here. Photo by Glenn.

The leader board stands out against the (very cold) night sky. Photo by Glenn.

Altamont has an interesting tradition of taking an intermission between the heat races and the start of the features to allow fans to come down to the track and hang with their favorite drivers for a few minutes. Photo by Glenn.

Fans get up-close and personal with the drivers. Photo by Glenn.

Hey, we're not supposed to have spiders this large on the porch after just painting it! OK, so we'll make an exception for the Halloween variety. Photo by Glenn.

Pumpkin lights will help light the way for trick-or-treaters coming to our doorstep. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Roni worked to get the house in the Halloween spirit. Ben attempts to add some scary sound effects for the photographer. Photo by Glenn.

A week after our first visit to Altamont Raceway, Glenn returned with Ben for the final event of the season—the Pumpkin Smash 400. Competitors work on their cars in the pits prior to the start of the event. Photo by Glenn.

Cars entered in the enduro sported a variety of fanciful paint schemes. This one was gussied up like a dairy cow. It was rumored that there was an udder on the undercarriage. Photo by Glenn.

The cars begin to assemble on the track. Photo by Glenn.

They don't call it the Pumpkin Smash 400 for nothing. Pumpkins lining the wall are tossed onto the track prior to the start of the race. Photo by Glenn.

This is a very large field for this popular annual event. We counted at least 41 cars. And they stuffed 'em on a quarter-mile oval. Photo by Glenn.

We stayed through the destruction derby that took place after the first half of the enduro was completed. That's some major mayhem on the infield. Photo by Glenn.

It's harvest time for Ben's pumpkin. On Oct. 30, we clipped the gourd from its vine. Photo by Glenn.

Here's Roni with the homegrown pumpkin. It might not rate a second look at a pumpkin weigh-in, but we were pretty proud of the fact it grew in our yard. Photo by Glenn.

It's a bit late in the year for flowers in our yard, but tell that to the sage plant growing in one of Roni's herb garden barrels. The plant continues to bloom in late November. Photo by Glenn.

How do you know when it's time to replace your living room carpet? When your cat finds the seam and starts unraveling it for you. To prevent Eevee from inflicting further damage we bought a faux Persian rug to throw over the problem area. It will be a nice accent until such time as we are ready to do something different with the living room floor. Photo by Glenn.

We waited until Halloween to carve our jack-o-lantern. Ben dives into the job by stripping the guts out of the beast. Photo by Glenn.

It's a tough, slimy job, but somebody's gotta do it. Dig deep. Deeper. What did you find?... Photo by Glenn.

...Yup, a handful of goo. Photo by Glenn.

So the new jack-o-lantern joins a family of pumpkin people on the front porch. Ben's homegrown critter is on the bucket at left. The three in the front row are plastic or foam. The one on the chair is the real deal. Photo by Glenn.

And here he is all lit up. He seems to have a slight case of astigmatism. Photo by Glenn.

Ben got to spend Halloween with his friend Joey from school. The two of them kill time before trick-or-treating by playing on Ben's GameCube. Photo by Glenn.

We didn't go all out on decorations this year, but Roni did a nice job with the lights along the walkway and hanging from our wisteria. Photo by Glenn.

One imperial storm trooper and Batman reporting for trick-or-treat duty. Photo by Glenn.

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

It's Christmas season, bring it on

November 27, 2005

It's hard to believe that November is almost behind us. It always seems to fly by as we make the transition from sanity into the holiday season, wrapping up other projects in time to start wrapping up Christmas presents — or unwrapping them as we get closer to December 25th. It is November during which the seasons here change noticeably from something like autumn into something that resembles winter — what we like to refer to as FallWinter, because our winters in Delta country tend to be mild. Our rainy season doesn't begin in earnest until January, so right now it is cool temperatures with a bit of sunshine during the day and crisp nights that very soon will become foggy. Plenty of time still to do some gardening or enjoy a morning walk up to the grocery store.

We'd vastly prefer the walk to the gardening. Our arch nemesis, Mr. Gopher Too, has been foraging once more through our roses. We recently transplanted most of the bushes whose roots he had nibbled, but we left a couple of the larger plants behind to fend for themselves, including one near our mailbox that has been a steady grower since we planted it there eight years ago. The gopher has been closing in on the plant over the past several months, and recently started munching on the root tips several feet from the trunk. We were close to simply digging it up and relocating it to a planter in our back yard with the other rescued roses, but when we discovered there was still a healthy root system attached to it we decided that moving it would do more harm than good. So the rose remains near the mailbox for now, while Mr. Gopher Too continues to pile up the sand mounds around its base.

We mowed the front lawn last weekend for what will probably be the last time until spring, in preparation for the Christmas decorations we'll be placing there either today or next weekend. Our indoor Christmas decorating got off to an unusually early and strong start yesterday when we assembled our faux tree and trimmed it in a Southwest theme using ornaments we crafted from wood cutouts and clip art graphics we found on the Internet. After five straight years with a tree that looked essentially the same — which is all too easy to do when you're working with plastic needles and wire branches — we attempted to design something that would reflect our recent visits to Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Roni found cutouts of saguaro cactuses that we painted green and then added some whimsical touches to — faces, cowboy hats, large white blossoms. We also painted up cutouts of horses, cowboy boots, western hats and horseshoes. Roni did the bulk of the work, but Glenn and Ben each added their own touches to the decorations.

It took all Saturday to get the tree up, mostly because of the handmade ornaments and the stringing of the lights, which is always a chore regardless of how it is done. We finally finished the tree decorating around 9:30 p.m., which was basically enough time to flip off the lights, ooh and ahh at our handiwork, then head off for bed. Well, that was heading off to bed for Ben. For the rest of us, it was sitting down for our nightly writing session as we pursue our goal of completing a 50,000-word novel before the end of November.

Last month we wrote a bit about our preparations for National Novel Writing Month. This is our fifth go at it, and we are pleased to report that both Glenn and Roni will once again cross the finish line as NaNoWriMo winners. Roni wrapped up her novel, titled "Santa Fe," the day after Thanksgiving. She did so by employing a technique she has used effectively in past years, falling behind the curve in the early going and then surging to victory by stringing together several 5,000-plus word days in the final week. Glenn took a more methodical approach, eking out 1,700 or so words each day on his novel "Catch A Falling Star," which put him on pace to cross the 50K threshold tonight. We are proud of our accomplishments, but neither of us holds high expectations that these works will ever be published. The great thing about doing NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to pace yourself and reach a word-count goal by deadline, but the downside is you are writing for quantity over quality and it usually shows in the finished draft. Turning that draft into a publishable manuscript can take months or years of revision that most folks don't have the time or energy to do. We're determined, but probably not with these latest works.

Although we'd love nothing more in the world than the luxury of spending all our spare time working on our novels, the fact is that there are always other things going on. We spent the October newsletter talking about our trip to the Southwest, so here are some quick hits on other recent activities:

* October was a great month for auto racing action, as Glenn, his brother Sean, and Ben all had turns visiting Altamont Raceway located between Tracy and Livermore. On Oct. 8, Glenn and Sean went to the track for the first time for the final race of Altamont's regular season. They showed up at 5 p.m. and hung around until the last checkered flag fell sometime after midnight, when just about all the other spectators had gone home. There was a stiff wind blowing through the Altamont Pass that night, so the two brothers nearly froze their buns off heading back to their cars.

The cold apparently was not much of a deterrent, however, as Glenn returned the following week with Ben so they could see the annual Pumpkin Smash 400 enduro race and accompanying destruction derby. It was Ben's first live racing event since he went to a NASCAR race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma in June 2003. He was a little more attentive this time, mainly because in an enduro there is enough slam-bang action to keep even non-racing fans interested. The program had about 41 cars race 400 laps on the track's quarter-mile oval, with rules that pretty much said anything goes. When a car broke down or was otherwise disabled, it was left on the track where it expired, creating new obstacles for the remaining drivers. At 200 laps the race was stopped for an intermission, during which a destruction derby was staged on the infield dirt. We could have stuck around for the second half of the enduro, but by then we decided we'd gotten our money's worth and that it was time to head home.

* Roni stepped up to the next level of her journalism career with the launch of the East County Times on Oct. 24. The new daily paper serves eastern Contra Costa County from Pittsburg to Discovery Bay and replaces the thrice-weekly Ledger Dispatch, which was the sister paper of the weekly Brentwood News for which Roni had written her "Our Back Yard" column on Oakley life for the past seven years. The editor of the East County Times decided to bring Roni's column into the daily, where it now appears under the heading of "Around Oakley" on page 3 each Thursday. The East County Times has a circulation of more than 40,000, so her audience has multiplied four-fold.

* Rumors began swirling this month about the possible sale of Glenn's company, Knight Ridder, under pressure from dissatisfied shareholders who are tired of seeing their stock value shrink. There is no telling where this might lead, or when a sale might happen if that is the course the company's board decides to take. The annual shareholders meeting isn't until April 18. Newspapers are a tough industry to invest in right now because there is heavy pressure for information providers to move to the Internet, and newspaper companies have been slow to come up with a model for turning profits through their online efforts. We are keeping our eye on the stock ticker and communications from corporate headquarters in San Jose.

* We've been shopping around for a new mattress to replace the one we've been sleeping on for nearly 15 years. It's long overdue, but it may have to wait a few more weeks while we search for a decent sale. We got a severe case of sticker shock wandering into a couple of the major mattress showrooms, expecting to find something decent in a king for under $1,300 and seeing nothing in that size for under $2,500. And to discover that some of the "specialty" mattresses are going for $5,000-$8,000 has made us rethink our options. Sure, there are plenty of ads for cheaper mattresses. We just have to start looking at them more closely. The idea is to get a better night's sleep, but we sure won't be able to if the bed we finance is half the price of a new car.

* We celebrated Halloween with our traditional feast of frightening foods provided by Roni and a night of trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. This year was a little different as Ben invited his school friend Joey over to join us. Together they played video games on the GameCube until it was dark enough to go out. Joey dressed as an imperial stormtrooper from Star Wars, while Ben donned a Batman costume. Each year it seems more difficult to find people willing to open their homes to trick-or-treaters, so we expanded our route by a block to catch some houses we don't normally visit. It is amazing how creative folks get at Halloween time. Either they put out nothing at all, or they go all out with gadget and gizmos to create little graveyards and haunted mansions. Both boys came away with a ton of candy. Ben handed in a good portion of his collection in exchange for trading cards, another tradition we've followed the past few years.

* Thanksgiving was a simple affair, as the three of us celebrated Thursday proper with a homecooked meal of turkey, potatoes, yams and stuffing. Roni tried some new things with the turkey, basting it with a honey glaze that made it good and juicy out of the oven. It was an unusual Thanksgiving for us in that Glenn didn't have to work, but there was still plenty of work to do as we spent the afternoon counting newsletters for one of Roni's clients.

That's all for this time around. Next month we'll share our photos of the Christmas season. Until then, hope that your Christmas season is filled with merry-making.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, December 17, 2005 at 13:39 hrs.

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