Photo of the month

Welcome to our haunted mansion, where strange things happen to otherwise normal looking pumpkins on Halloween night. Even Glenn, our master carver, looks a little possessed when posed next to this year's creepy creations. Photo by Roni.

November 2008

It's twilight on Oct. 19, and one of the solar lanterns on our prgola is silhouetted against the evening sky along with a couple of spiders (just visible to the left). Photo by Glenn.

We were excited about the chance to take a walk over the brand new bridge on the Big Break Trail near our house. Alas, as of Oct. 22 it is still under construction. Photo by Glenn.

While most of our birds have abandoned us for the approaching winter months, the hummingbirds have been enjoying the yard virtually to themselves. This hummer has been raising a racket from the branches of our evergreen ash tree. Photo by Glenn.

What keeps the hummers hanging around is our purple sage, which they come down to feed on several times a day. Those blossoms must taste good. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Glenn make their weekly football picks by candlelight during the Oct. 25 blackout that left us without power for about six hours. Photo by Roni.

What is this we have here? A break from the usual routine? They look sort of like big orange balls... Photo by Glenn.

...But they don't seem to do much. I mean, they're too big to play with. They could probably crush me. Whatever should I do?... Photo by Glenn.

...Let's see, maybe they're edible. Sniff, sniff, sniff... Nope, that must not be it either... Photo by Glenn.

...I give up. I think I'll go back to bed now. Wake me when there's some action in this place. Photo by Glenn.

Halloween is approaching and Roni is putting together a "spirited" display of pumpkin lights along our front path. Photo by Glenn.

As it did last year, the ghoul in our attic has chosen Halloween time to put in an appearance at the window. Don't worry, he's securely trapped up there. Photo by Glenn.

The pumpkin lights look very festive in the darkness of Halloween night. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn sets to work on Halloween carving the first of two jack-o-lanterns. He got some new carving tools this year to make the job easier. Photo by Roni.

And here are the finished pieces. The barfing pumpkin was inspired by similar displays Glenn saw at the races last month. The one eating the apple was patterned after an idea he got from the Internet. Certainly a departure from past years. Photo by Glenn.

Ben, left, and his friend Nick don their costumes in preparation for trick-or-treating around our neighborhood. Photo by Glenn.

Not a bad haul for a couple hours of work. Folks were being generous with the goodies this year. Photo by Glenn.

Meanwhile, our jack-o-lanterns are creating quite an impression on the front porch. The apple gnasher looks particularly sinister all lit up. Photo by Glenn.

Another shot of our lighted pumpkins on Halloween night. The little one at right was a store-bought plastic pumpkin with a battery-powered lightbulb inside. We used candles for the two we carved. Photo by Glenn.

Separated at birth? Photo by Glenn.

On Nov. 9 we attended our first NFL game at the Oakland Coliseum, when the Raiders hosted the Panthers. The pre-game ceremony had the fans on their feet for the national anthem. Photo by Glenn.

Sean, Ben and Glenn enjoy the game from our seats near the top of Section 310. Photo by Roni.

Roni is not a huge football fan, but she came to the game to be part of the experience (and because we bought a ticket package for four!) Photo by Glenn.

Raiders second-string quarterback Andrew Walter gets the start, and here is forced to burn a time out. It was a sign of worse things to come. Photo by Glenn.

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme somehow got this pass off with Raiders defender Tommy Kelly in his face. Photo by Glenn.

These are not flags of surrender from the Raider Nation, but rather part of a halftime show display. Photo by Glenn.

This game was for the birds — which came out in force to torment us during the second half. Photo by Roni.

This is called using your head in an effort to prevent the birds from using it. Photo by Roni.

The stadium scoreboard tells the sad tale. Photo by Glenn.

Ben celebrates the Raiders' commitment to excellence with a souvenir foam finger. And no, we wouldn't let him move the salute to the middle digit. Photo by Glenn.

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A bird's-eye view of the NFL

November 15, 2008

It isn't easy finding cheap family entertainment these days. And if you do manage to find it cheap, it isn't always entertaining. So we had absolutely no expectations when we attended our first professional football game Nov. 9 between the Carolina Panthers and the Oakland Raiders.

The Raiders haven't exactly been lighting up the scoreboard this season, which is probably why we had no trouble finding seats through the Visa Family Pack ticket promotion the team offered to a couple of its lesser games. So what if we were up in the nosebleed section of the Oakland Coliseum and had most of the row to ourselves? There was just that much extra legroom and we didn't have to crane our necks over folks sitting directly in front of us to see the action, such that it was.

We hopped on BART from the North Concord/Martinez station to avoid fighting traffic and the $25 parking fee at the Coliseum. Even though we aren't big Raiders fans, it was hard not to get pumped up when a new group of game-bound riders joined our train at each station, all clad in their silver and black jerseys, mostly honoring players long since departed from the team's winning days.

We arrived at the Coliseum just after noon and waited a few minutes to meet up with Glenn's brother Sean, whose seat we purchased as a birthday gift. He'd been to a few 49ers games, but this was also his first time as a member of the Raider Nation, so we all looked forward to sitting in the peanut gallery together. We found our seats in Section 310, literally two rows up from the top of the bowl. We could have had our pick of just about any seat in the house, but we decided to honor what was printed on our tickets and kicked back to laugh at... er, watch the festivities.

The Raiders didn't disappoint, muffing the kickoff for a turnover and then giving up six points a couple of plays later when Jake Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammad in the left corner of the end zone. We didn't know at the time that we'd just seen the game-winning score. It went downhill quickly from there, as neither side played well on offense with Delhomme tossing four interceptions and the Raiders managing just a pair of field goals. The one highlight was Sebastian Janikowski breaking the Raiders' all-time scoring mark on his second field goal, but it was far too little for this game. The Panthers won 17-6.

For us, the action on the field took a back seat to the doings in the stands during the second half when the neighborhood seagull population descended by the dozens in search of leftover food. We'd done a pretty good job polishing off the hamburgers and garlic fries that Roni picked up in a big box from one of the concession stands, but at the end of our row someone had left another box loaded with leftover fries. The birds were all over that like... well, use your favorite fly analogy here. It didn't help that a few frustrated fans were throwing food at the birds in an attempt to frighten them away, which of course did nothing but encourage them. The birds became more aggressive as the game neared its conclusion and the wind kicked up. The Raiders caps we'd passed up at the souvenir booth were starting to look pretty tempting at $35. We ducked for cover under our jackets and sweaters.

The game reached its merciful conclusion and we headed out of the half-empty stadium with the die-hard fans who have grown used to witnessing this sort of thing. A talkative fellow wearing a radio headset paced us as we walked down the concourse and apologized for the team's lackluster performance. "I'll apologize because Al Davis won't," he said, vowing to return in two weeks when the Raiders host the Chiefs.

We made it back to Oakley by 6:30 p.m., even including the 15-minute detour we took across the San Francisco Bay because we missed our transfer station.

The football game certainly was the highlight of what has been a busy few weeks. November, of course, is when we entertain our inner authors and take part in National Novel Writing Month. For 30 days between the first of the month and its last, we try to knock out an average of 1,667 words each day with the goal of reaching 50,000 words and a completed novel... or rather, a draft of a novel. This being our eighth year as participants, we dare say we're experts at pacing ourselves if not our prose. Glenn's been a bit ahead of Roni thus far as he passed halfway to the goal on Nov. 11. But Roni usually closes strong and will probably reach the finish line before Glenn does.

Another high point was Halloween. We had no idea what to expect by way of turnout among trick-or-treaters this year, given the high number of foreclosures in our area. But we guessed that any downturn from the economy might be offset by the fact Halloween was on a Friday night for a change. We stocked up on candy just to be safe.

Ben didn't trick or treat last year and sort of regretted not going. So this year he invited over his friend Nick and they went out together — Nick dressed as some character from Spiderman and Ben decked out as the Emperor of Evil, or so he says. Of course it picked that week to start raining, so we weren't sure how many houses they'd be able to hit before the deluge. There were a few sprinkles early in the evening, but not enough to keep people away. Ben and Nick came back with huge hauls. Judging from their bags, folks were being generous with the goodies.

We had a lot of leftovers, unfortunately. We started the evening giving out small handfuls and worked our way up as the night progressed. But any hope that the numbers would swell never came to pass, and we wound up with three big bags of chocolates and a couple of smaller bags of the hard candies that nobody wants.

Roni went all out on decorations, as she always does, lining our pathway with pumpkin lights and adding some new spooky characters to our front porch. We stopped in at the Spirit Halloween Superstore and picked up a party strobe light that we used to attract attention from the street. And one again Glenn braved the dust in the attic to place a ghoulish figure in our attic window. We also piped spooky music out Ben's bedroom window to help set the mood. It was worth the effort to hear a few trick-or-treaters comment on the display.

As mentioned last month, Glenn got inspired seeing the pumpkins on display at the Altamont Pumpkin Smash and tried to get a little more creative this year. The result was a pair of sinister looking jack-o-lanterns, one gnashing its teeth on an apple and the other hurling its guts out across a table and into a mixing bowl. He liked them so well that we kept the display on the porch for a week until the pumpkin barf started growing fur (which while adding to its authenticity also made a stinky invitation to the fruit flies.)

It was sort of too bad that Halloween didn't happen Oct. 25 instead. That was the night of what has come to be known as the Great Oakley Blackout of 2008. OK, so we're the only ones who have called it that, but it was a pretty wild night nonetheless.

We were all settling in around 6:30 p.m. for a Saturday evening of computer games and watching TV when the power wigged out and we found our entire neighborhood thrust into darkness. Not a big deal until we stepped outside a few minutes later to see thick plumes of smoke drifting our way from the east, and bright flashes of light to the west. Were we under terrorist attack?

Ben and Glenn put their shoes on and took a walk around the block to check out the situation, only to discover that police and fire trucks had closed off the exit to our subdivision near the railroad tracks. So they turned around and walked the other direction until they encountered a second road block. No way out and no way in to our homes for hundreds of people. It was definitely feeling like martial law.

More curious than ever now, Glenn and Ben slipped through the gate on our back fence and took the mile walk down the railroad tracks to the Vintage Parkway overpass, came in through the Centromart shopping plaza and walked up to the top of the overpass to get a better view. Most of Oakley was dark. Cars were being allowed into our subdivision from Vintage Parkway, but they were being detoured around the road block. We walked as far as they'd let us and found the cause of the trouble: An underground PG&E vault that had shorted out and caught fire, briefly threatening a couple of homes. The problem caused several other transformers to blow out, which explained the bright flash we had seen.

There was no serious damage, but we were in the dark until 11:30. It made us realize how dependent our society has become on electricity. We spent the rest of the night huddled around candles for light as Roni used what little reserve battery power she had on her laptop so she could read, Ben played his Nintendo DS, and Glenn listened to his iPod. Heaven help us if there's a major catastrophe that leaves us without power for days or weeks.

Now that the two-year presidential campaign is over it will be interesting to see if the world can adjust to life without the constant barrage of election news. We are surely ready to focus on something other than exit polls, scandals and projections, and if the economy starts to recover we might be excited to think about Christmas once again. Us and the retailers. Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and will celebrate the coming holiday season in the most patriotic way you can by going out and buying something made in the USA.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 02:05 hrs.

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