A Thanksgiving newsletter marathon
November 22, 2012
It's Thanksgiving Day, and like many folks we are preparing for an afternoon of family, feasting and football. OK, Roni is preparing the feast while Glenn is watching football. Ben is hanging out with his online friends. It's a pretty typical day for us, so much so that it seems hard to believe that we are launching into the holiday season and the final act of 2012. The weather today doesn't make it any easier to tell that it is late November a cloudless sky with temperatures hovering in the mid-60s. No chilling winds. No frost. Just another balmy California fall day.
Actually, we really are thankful for days like this, because it hasn't been the easiest of months. Everything seems to ratchet up a notch once you hit October. Work gets busier, social calendars book up... and then there's cold and flu season. Glenn has had a rough go of it since returning to work in mid-October following his two-week vacation. He was back at work for a little more than a week before coming down with a cold that grounded him for five days. Two weeks after recovering from that, he came down with another bug that lodged itself in his chest and remained there stubbornly. Just as he thought the worst of it was over, a week into the second illness, he came home from work on a Monday night with severe stomach pains. Whether it was an effect of the lingering chest cold or a "mild" case of food poisoning, the result was a loss of five pounds literally overnight and another lost day of work.
Roni and Ben remained healthy, fortunately. But as we write this, Roni is trying to nap in between checking the turkey because she was up late into the night with body aches. Ben, who was determined to wake up at the crack of dawn to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, wound up getting up much later because he has settled into the late-night schedule of a first-time college student school during the day, work and social activities at night.
Anyway, it's Thanksgiving, we're all celebrating it together, and that's something to be thankful for.
Something else to be thankful for is that we survived election season. By now, President Obama's re-election victory is no longer front page news. But oddly enough, the presidential race was never much on our radar; we couldn't even convince Ben to register to vote. The contests that most mattered to us were all local, especially the race for three seats on our city council, a community college bond, and an unusually nasty campaign for three positions on the local sanitary district.
Full disclosure: we have a bit of a vested interest in what happens with the sanitary district. But why the race became so heated is somewhat of a mystery, as the district has been run very competently for many decades. It's not the sort of office most folks covet, unless they happen to be retirees with a love for administering arcane policy and tons of time on their hands. Or people with political motives that have little to do with how well their toilets flush. Our sanitary district operates independently of any city government, which has been a source of friction in this town for many years. The city of Oakley would dearly love to absorb the sanitary district and its multi-million dollar budget to help goose the city's general fund. For the past decade, nearly as long as Oakley has been incorporated, the sanitary board elections have been hotly contested between the old-guard, longtime trustees and politicians who want to stock the board with candidates sympathetic to the city's desires.
This sanitary board election saw three seats up for grabs, but just two of the incumbents running for them. With five candidates on the ballot, it meant that we'd see at least one new face, and two of those other three options were less than desirable. The rhetoric took a nasty turn early in online forums and on one challenger's blog site. There was a lot of unproductive debate about alleged excessive health insurance plans and meeting stipends, and impossible promises about lowering rates that have risen over the years to pay for the district's new wastewater treatment plant. The attacks got personal, which usually doesn't go over well in a small town where folks know the candidates from doing business with them or hanging out with them at social functions.
Given that Glenn recently devoted a day of his vacation to pressure washing graffiti off our back fence, it seemed unlikely that he would easily let it be defaced by campaign signs. Yet he made an exception for our good friend Dr. Michael Painter, who was in a tough fight to retain his sanitary board seat and sort of forced the issue when he started stapling a 4-by-8-foot sign to our fence railing one afternoon. Whether the sign helped or not, we can't be certain, but come Election Day, we waited anxiously for the returns from the county election office.
In all elections, you win some and lose some. While a good portion of the country was celebrating or scratching its head at the presidential results, we were fixated on the vote count in the sanitary district race. With most of the ballots tallied at close to midnight, the good news was that our two incumbents had easily retained their seats and were joined by the one newcomer we supported. The departing incumbent whom we had supported in his bid for the city council also won, so the sanitary district's interests should remain well represented for at least the next two years. The one downer was that the community college bond, a measure we supported because it would possibly help Ben gain access to more of the classes he needs to move ahead in life, fell just short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.
Glenn had to work at the newspaper on election night, as he generally does, and with the exception of getting to chow down on pizza while waiting for the returns to come in, it was a mostly uneventful evening. Despite the fact that some of his colleagues kept a vigil until 3:30 in the morning, most of the races were easily called well before midnight. Ah, the high drama of politics.
It was in the midst of this pitched campaign that the Ironhouse Sanitary District held its Oct. 27 open house to celebrate one year since the opening of its new Water Recycling Facility. As she did last year, Roni worked to coordinate the day's activities, which included a barbecue lunch provided by the Oakley-Delta Lions Club, a pumpkin patch for the kids, demonstrations of sanitary district equipment, and tours of the award-winning, state-of-the-art treatment plant.
Seeing how raw sewage is transformed into water that is almost safe enough to drink may not sound like an exciting weekend activity, but apparently many people found some value in it, because the tours were packed. Dozens of people turned out for the event, some from as far away as Concord and the Central Valley, where news about the open house had been published in the Modesto Bee.
It wasn't as crowded as a year ago, when politicians and local dignitaries helped welcome the plant's arrival, but most who came this year seemed to have a good time. The highlight was the plant tour, and although we have taken it several times through the course of Roni's work with the district, it never ceases to amaze us how efficiently the entire purification process works. There is a part of the treatment operation called the Solids Handling Facility, where solids left over from the digestion of raw sewage are dried and compressed into a substance that resembles dirt to be trucked away to a landfill. The solids presses are run only once a week, and because the open house was happening on one of their off days, Roni had to make a video of them in action.
We got the exclusive tour of the solids process on a Wednesday morning and shot video footage like Spielberg filming scenes for his next Hollywood blockbuster. OK, maybe it was more like a low budget B-movie, but cameras and props were involved. The resulting footage was compiled into a 5-minute video that was looped on a TV during the open house tour so folks could get a sense of the process. It was our first attempt at using iMovie, and the results weren't half bad.
We've been tapping at the keys for a few hours now, and the turkey is out of the oven and cooling while Roni tends to some of the trimmings. The Cowboys are trailing the Redskins 28-13 at the end of the third quarter. Maybe that's enough time to tell you about Halloween.
Say what? Yeah, it's Thanksgiving and we're still stuck on Halloween. Such is life.
Anyhow, we celebrated it as we usually do, decorating the front porch, carving pumpkins and passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. But things are a little different now that Ben has outgrown his candy crawling years. Oh, he's still plenty interested in receiving the goodies, but he knows it's easier to hang out with friends whose candy bins are well supplied, or wait until the crowds have departed and then sponge off Mom and Dad's leftovers. No need to go door to door and beg for the treats.
That doesn't mean kids Ben's age don't still like to dress up, they just do it in groups so as not to look out of place among the younger kids. Ben and his friend Aaron dressed as characters from one of his favorite computer games, Minecraft. The game relies on blocky graphics that look like something out of the early days of home computing, so it was relatively simple for Ben to design his own costume from cardboard boxes that he covered in construction paper. The most we really got to see of the costume was as he modeled it before heading out the door to Aaron's house on Halloween night, then again when Ben and a group of five friends he'd been partying with swung by later in the evening, to scoop up soke of our aforementioned leftovers.
We received nearly five-dozen trick-or-treaters this year, a sensational number for us. And thanks to a desire on Roni's part to decorate differently, they landed on a front porch that looked a little more haunting than in past years. A couple weeks before Halloween, we stopped in at the Spirit Store in Pittsburg to look into some new decorations. After goofing around in the costume section, photographing ourselves with spooky props, hiding behind various masks and adorned in silly hats, we picked out an 8-by-12-foot plastic banner which when displayed creates a scene from a haunted cemetery. This we hung on one wall of our porch entryway, covering the rest of the area with our usual assortment of cobwebs, spiders, bats and shrunken skulls. We hauled out our little strobe light, strung some mini lights along the walkway, placed our pumpkin/jack o'lantern collection on an old end table, and cranked up a spooky soundtrack on the computer. For extra entertainment value we dangled a couple of plastic spiders from cobwebs at strategic locations around the porch, so that our visitors would be sure to run into them.
Roni made a few of her favorite Halloween dishes, as usual. The highlight this year was meatloaf stuffed inside bell peppers, which were carved to resemble jack o'lanterns. Glenn used apple slices coated with peanut butter and miniature marshmallows to resemble ghoulish teeth, a creation he learned about on the Internet. And of course we had our favorite Werewolf in the Waldorf Salad with its walnuts and cranberries. We purposely didn't buy a lot of extra candy this year, but nevertheless had plenty to eat ourselves into a sugar coma as the night progressed. Ah, we wouldn't want to have Halloween any other way.