Photo of the month

Katy investigates while Ben designs his jack o'lantern on Halloween. Our kittens were very curious about the whole process of pumpkin carving. Photo by Glenn.

November 2010

Welcome to our Halloween fashion show, where our kitties model the latest in costume couture. Here is Eevee, wearing a dazzling crown and purple robe. But he doesn't need the clothes to know he's the king. Photo by Glenn.

Katy is stylin' in her witch's outfit, with a traditional pointed hat that also doubles as a feed bag for those who like to eat on the run. Photo by Glenn.

Busy as a bee. That's definitely our Rio, who looks stunning in his black-and-yellow striped bumble bee costume. Better get your pictures quick before he buzzes off to his hiding place under the bed. Photo by Glenn.

And this is... wait, how did he get in here? Ben, our human model, dons a Shadow the Hedgehog hat, which served as his quickie Halloween costume. Photo by Glenn.

Yes, Halloween time always means decorating at our home. We have assembled enough phony pumpkins over the years to create a nice little patch of them on the front porch. Photo by Glenn.

To our great disappointment, one of the pumpkins we purchased from WinCo was rotten before we got to carve it. See how we coped with this below. Photo by Glenn.

We gave Ben the good pumpkin so that he could carve it. Here he has removed the top and is preparing to disembowel the hallowed gourd. Photo by Glenn.

This is Ben's jack o'lantern, designed in the image of one of his favorite anime characters. Photo by Glenn.

Here is what became of the rotted pumpkin. We sawed off the bottom and tipped it on its side, then Glenn carved it into the face of a crying cat. (Hey, you'd be crying too if you lost a third of your body.) Photo by Glenn.

And here's our cat pumpkin all lit up at night. Photo by Glenn.

All the pumpkins are lit up on the front porch, waiting for trick-or-treaters. Photo by Glenn.

Ben didn't go trick-or-treating this year, but there was plenty of fun food at our house, thanks to Roni. These are sandwiches she made in the shape of spiders. Katy might want to give them a try. Photo by Glenn.

What's the rule about the cook always being first to try her own cooking? Roni, dressed in her cat ears, nibbles on a spider leg. Could she be impersonating Katy? Photo by Glenn.

We went from summer to winter weather within a week during November. One of the season's first good rain storms left a large puddle on the back patio where the spa used to be. The new pergola is reflected in the water's surface. Photo by Glenn.

Ben takes a photo while being photographed. Alas, his camera recently broke and he is trying to decide how to repair or replace it. Photo by Glenn.

And speaking of things needing to be repaired or replaced, we killed our old microwave and had to buy a new one. This 1,100-watt Emerson is larger and more powerful than our old Sharp. It also comes with a rack and can brown meals such as pizza. Photo by Glenn.

The chenin grape in our backyard is showing its fall colors, The grapes are mostly gone or turned to raisins. Photo by Glenn.

We attended the Fall Craft Fair at the fairgrounds in Antioch on Nov. 14. Roni is checking out the wares at the Italian charms booth. Photo by Glenn.

Santa Claus had some down time before Christmas, so he spent it at the craft fair taking requests from the kids. Photo by Glenn.

The craft show included a handful of booths selling fair food such as this funnel cake we split between us. They're making ours with apple pie topping. Yummm. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn transports our funnel cake to a picnic table. Does he look ready to dig into that whipped cream topping? Photo by Roni.

Such a work of deep fried art is almost too good to eat. Almost. We'll take a few more pictures first. Photo by Glenn.

Remember that autumn grape picture up above? Here's what it looks like when you have a whole field of grapes in their fall foliage. This is the vineyard on the Du Pont property in Oakley, taken Nov. 18. Photo by Glenn.

Katy and Rio practice the art of synchronized window gazing. Not sure what they were looking at, but it must be interesting. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn catches up with one of our old friends, John Papini, during an Oakley retirement dinner for Ironhouse Sanitary District board member Lenny Byer. Photo by Glenn.

It's officially the holiday season when Santa makes his grand entrance while the credits roll at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. Photo by Glenn.

Roni and Ben are seated and awaiting the start of Thanksgiving dinner... which will be commencing just as soon as Dad puts away the $&*# camera. Photo by Glenn.

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

November 28, 2010

This was originally going to be a Thanksgiving themed newsletter filled with reasons why we are thankful that this November wasn’t like the last one, but seeing as we are three days past Turkey Day and are now staring out the window of the writing sanctuary looking at the twinkling lights of our front yard Christmas decorations, it seems more appropriate to look ahead than behind.

Yes, Christmas is just around the corner, and because Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 25 this year, that leaves little time to get the decorating done if there is any hope of enjoying it. We usually start the process the day after Thanksgiving Day. While the rest of the world is out bargain hunting at crowded malls, we are hauling out our 7-foot faux tree and its display table and planning how to set up Roni’s Christmas village. That’s most years.

This year, we got started on the tree three weeks earlier than usual. We had gone to Wal-mart in Antioch the afternoon of Nov. 6 to search for a new microwave oven (more on that in a moment) and wound up getting ornaments for the tree as well. This being the first Christmas for our kittens, Katy and Rio, we feared what might happen once the tree was up and they got around to exploring. Remembering back to the Great Christmas Tree Cat-astrophe of 2007, when Eevee brought down the tree and shattered several of our favorite ornaments, Roni thought it would be wise to stock up on unbreakable ornaments. Wal-mart had several plastic ones coated in glitter that we liked. We decided to theme our tree in blue and silver, so we bought a few of the ornaments we liked in each color, then we found blue and white strings of mini lights. We squirreled them all away until Saturday morning, Nov. 27.

That day, we hauled the tree out of the garage and Glenn went about assembling its three sections while Roni unearthed the boxes of holiday decorations from our hall coat closet. Of all the boxes of things we have in storage, at least half of it seems to be holiday decorations. Glenn usually lugs out a 3x6-foot plywood table that has to be assembled so we can display the tree in our living room. But this year we thought the table would be too inviting to the cats, and Roni didn’t want them lounging in the middle of her Christmas village. So instead of the big table we opted for a 2x2-foot table just barely big enough to hold the tree stand. Unfortunately, this mini table was too tall; it made the angel tree topper scrape the ceiling. We ultimately decided to forgo any sort of display table and keep the tree on the floor for the first time in several years.

It turned out to be a good move, because almost immediately after we had the tree decorated, Katy and Rio were both trying to climb it. It is hard to be mad at them when they are so cute, but we’ve been firm about keeping their paws on the ground. It’s been two days, and so far the tree is still standing.

On Sunday, we focused on the front yard. After giving the lawn one last pass with the mower for this year, we cleared a path through the garage clutter and located the outdoor lights and decorations that had sat hidden for the past two years. Yep, TWO years. With all that happened last year with Glenn in the hospital and then on the mend at home during December, we never made it outside to put up our yard display. So this year held special meaning for us. “Are you sure we didn’t put up decorations last year?” Glenn pondered as he untangled the segments of our metal-and-wicker snowman. “It seems like we just did this.”

We wrapped our flowering plum tree in strings of blue and multicolored lights, after pruning off some of the more unruly branches. Roni put up strings of lighted candy canes and snowmen along our driveway, and lined the entryway and garage in lights. You might not guess it to look at it, but the display is scaled back from several years ago, although any display is elaborate compared to what we had last year. PG&E will love the additional revenue come January.

So we are now officially ready for the holiday season to begin, even though we are a long way from figuring out what to get everyone for presents. Guess we’ll just have to cross that bridge as the month of December progresses.

One item that won’t be on our Christmas list (we hope) is a new microwave over. We took care of that earlier this month after Glenn’s attempt at being a home handyman backfired. We had a 7-year-old Sharp microwave that worked fine except for a broken turntable. After months of cooking dinners that were burned in one spot and still frozen in others, Glenn one day unplugged the unit and unscrewed the access door to the turntable motor. Just a broken motor? How simple could this be to replace? We looked up the part online and found it several places for around $23. Unfortunately, all of them were mail order and we thought we’d check out a few of the nearby appliance stores to see if the part was available to take home the same day. So in the meantime, Glenn reassembled the microwave—sans defective motor— and we continued to use it.

Less than five days later, Ben attempted to put his frozen meal in the machine and there was a bright spark, the power flickered, and then the unit went dead. Seems the bare wires that had once connected the turntable motor got crossed and shorted out the electronics. Game over. Time for a whole new oven.

So we made our aforementioned trip to Wal-mart and picked up a new Emerson 1,100-watt, 0.9 cubic-foot microwave with a browning feature that allows us to stick pizza or chicken on an upper rack and produce crisp, tasty meals. Whatever. The thing is bigger than the unit it replaced and a bit more powerful (by 300 watts.) We celebrated our purchase with a frozen pizza and a box of microwaveable popcorn.

We’ve been putting the microwave through its paces during November between heating up Thanksgiving leftovers, warming mugs of cocoa, and popping bag upon bag of popcorn. None of us can recall having consumed so much popcorn in one month. Lately it has become Glenn’s snack of choice while spending his late nights working on his latest manuscript for National Novel Writing Month.

Yes, November as always finds us tracking our daily word counts as we race against the clock and our own fatigue to complete a 50,000-word novel within 30 days. For the 10th year in a row we will both be “winners” of the event, despite neither of us being particularly satisfied with the direction our stories took. Ah well, that’s why NaNoWriMo’s slogan is “No plot, no problem.” It’s about quantity first and quality second in November. We’ll have the next 11 months to work on the quality part if we choose to pursue these projects further.

On the subject of books, Roni recently applied to be a judge for next summer’s RomCon convention in Denver. The three-day event in August is a festival of romance books featuring author talks, book signings, dinners, social activities and more. Judges are sought from all over the world to read the nominees for various award categories that will be presented during the convention. We haven’t heard yet whether Roni will be selected as a judge, but she is excited about the possibility of perhaps going to the convention next summer.

* * * * *

We always get a chuckle about referring to the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day as the “holiday season” when, for us, it seems like there is so much more happening between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

We tried to do Halloween up right this year after last year’s disappointment of Glenn going into the hospital on Halloween afternoon to begin his 24-day stay there. We had the best intentions to go all out on decorations and candy and traditional Halloween fun. But then we got behind on things as we always do, and our plans to create our own spooky cemetery scene with homemade gravestones, lighting and sound effects went by the wayside. Then Ben was unable to get together with his friends for the night as he usually tries to do, so he was disappointed. That didn’t mean we didn’t still find other ways to have a good time.

We picked up a couple of huge pumpkins from WinCo and decided to carve them Halloween afternoon, but when Glenn picked them up to move them to the dining room table for carving, the bottom of one of them nearly dropped out. It had somehow rotted inside, rendering it a soggy mess. We gave Ben the good pumpkin to decorate, then Glenn went about sawing off the rotted parts of the other pumpkin in an effort to save what he could for decorating. After discarding about a third of it, Glenn turned it into a crying cat complete with pointed ears and spaghetti noodles for whiskers. We put a candle behind it and it worked just fine for a nighttime display, even though the spaghetti wilted after being exposed to the heat of the candle flame for several hours. Ben’s creation was an anime character wearing headphones. Both jack o’lanterns were colorful additions to a festive outdoor display that Roni threw together two days before Halloween. She loves to decorate and wasn’t about to let the day go by without some sort of decorative acknowledgment.

Ben wound up doing the honors as candy distributor, passing out Reese’s peanut butter cups, M&M’s, Snickers, and Hershey’s chocolate bars to an estimated 45 trick-or-treaters. It was a good number for us compared to some years when we were lucky to get half a dozen. Maybe it had something to do Halloween falling on a Sunday night, or perhaps it was the result of the foreclosure crisis that has brought many young families with kids into our neighborhood this past year. Whatever the reason, it was fun to see the kids getting into holiday again.

For the final days of October there was a holiday of a different kind around the Bay Area as the San Francisco Giants made their historic run to their first World Series championship in 56 years. We aren’t huge baseball fans, but it was hard to not get swept up in the black and orange wave that washed over the region as the Giants beat the Texas Rangers in five games.

Then we had a spurt of Indian summer-like weather that kept temperatures into the mid-80s through the second week of November. It was perfect weather for checking out the Fall Craft Fair at the Contra Costa Fairgrounds in Antioch on Nov. 14, where Roni and Glenn enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of browsing the booths and eating funnel cakes while listening to a live band playing ’50s cover tunes.

On Nov. 21 we attended a retirement dinner for Lenny Byer, a longtime member of the Oakley community who has served on a number of public boards for more than 40 years. He lost his reelection campaign for the Ironhouse Sanitary District on Nov. 2, and he has been in poor health for a number of months, so the occasion for the dinner was somewhat bittersweet, but it was a good opportunity to reunite with some old friends from the community we hadn’t seen in some time. There was a great tri-tip, chicken and pasta dinner prepared by our longtime friend John Papini, and there were plenty of funny tales told about the guest of honor, who despite dealing with the effects of his medicine was there to accept all the accolades.

That’s going to have to wrap it up for this month if we hope to post this online before December. We’ll be taking off our NaNoWriMo caps in another couple of days and have some more time to enjoy the bright lights of the approaching Christmas season. Until next we meet, have a fun-filled December.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 02:09 hrs.

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