Photo of the month

With the community Christmas tree aglow in the background, we pose for a family photo in front of the new Oakley City Hall on the night of its dedication to the public, Dec. 8. Photo by Glenn.

December 2007

The holiday season gets underway Thanksgiving morning as we watch the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on our big screen TV. Photo by Glenn.

Roni serves up some turkey and candied yams for Ben during our humble Thanksgiving meal. Photo by Glenn.

Our backyard wisteria plant underwent spontaneous combustion in late November as hundreds of seed pods burst open simultaneously. These are just a few of the husks and seeds that littered the yard. Photo by Glenn.

Here's an extreme closeup of the wisteria seeds, which Ben gathered into a large butter tub. Left to its own devices, our vigorous wisteria plant would eventually take over our home. Photo by Glenn.

Eevee does not appear amused by the fact that he has to watch the activity in the yard through the screen door. Photo by Glenn.

We can't recall if there has ever been a time when we barbecued on Thanksgiving weekend. This collection of well-done sausage links probably represents a first for us. It was our alternative to eating leftover turkey. Photo by Glenn.

Thanksgiving weekend is the time when we haul out the Christmas decorations. This is part of Roni's Santa collection, which this year occupies the bench beneath our TV. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is now tall enough to attempt the tricky task of placing the angel atop our artificial tree. He did a pretty decent job. Photo by Glenn.

Sunday, Nov. 25, will live in infamy as the day of the Great Tree Disaster. This was the scene we awoke to that morning after Eevee attempted to climb the Christmas tree and sent it crashing to the living room floor. The table and sofa fared OK, but a few of the more fragile ornaments didn't. Eevee hasn't attempted to climb the tree since. Photo by Glenn.

Some of our decorating went more smoothly than the tree. Part of Roni's expanding village now occupies the knick-knack shelf above our sofa. It looks very nice this year. Photo by Glenn.

Some eager children wait to visit with Santa outside the village toy store. Photo by Glenn.

One of the last roses of the season adds some color on an otherwise gray Dec. 1 in our neighborhood. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn had to mind the thorns around the rose bush while stringing lights near the garage Dec. 2. Photo by Roni.

This shot offers a bit of the flavor (as it were) of our front yard decorations. A row of lighted candy canes leads up the driveway. You can see our wicker snowman to the left, and out little cat statue to the right that we decorate in a red bow this time of year. Photo by Glenn.

The front yard lights as viewed from the window of the writing sanctuary make an impressive display. That's the glow of the computer monitor in the lower right corner. Photo by Glenn.

Dec. 8 we attended the dedication ceremony for the new Oakley City Hall. Here Ben and Roni pose in front of the community tree while about 20 other people with cameras wait anxiously for us to finish with this shot. Photo by Glenn.

One of the attractions at the new City Hall is the "Walk of History" in the plaza, which was paved in part with bricks purchased by local citizens. Roni has found the one we bought during the Almond Festival in September. Photo by Glenn.

To quote Pink Floyd: All in all, we're just another brick in the wall... Photo by Glenn.

This is the inside of the Oakley City Hall. It's pretty state-of-the-art. Note the plasma TV mounted on the wall outside the council chambers. There are four more like it inside the chambers. All the better for those anticipated overflow crowds to watch the proceedings. Photo by Glenn.

Our Dec. 16 visit to San Jose to see the Christmas in the Park exhibit was on the chilly side. Roni, Ben and Glenn's brother Sean are bundled up for the occasion. Photo by Glenn.

Who needs reindeer when you've got several hundred horses strapped down under your seat? Santa puts in an appearance on his hog at the San Jose festival. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is flanked by his dad and uncle as we line up for a picture near one of the exhibits at the Christmas in the Park event. Photo by Roni.

That is one good-looking hot chocolate, Roni. Not bad for three bucks. Photo by Glenn.

Christmas in the Park is a decades-old tradition in San Jose. Different organizations decorate themed Christmas trees, hundreds of which are on display. Roni videotapes one put together by the Red Hat Society. Photo by Glenn.

The lights on San Jose's tree change colors and blink in various patterns. It's an impressive display. Photo by Glenn.

The sun is setting on San Jose, and the lights of the Ferris wheel and street carnival brighten the evening. The party is just beginning for many folks, but we're heading to dinner and then home. Photo by Glenn.

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Counting down to Christmas

December 23, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas — at least now that the shopping is mostly done. Every year it seems that we start out with the best of intentions to get our present purchases out of the way early, and every year we wind up pushing the holiday preparations right up to the last minute. It's a little different this year in that Christmas falls on a Tuesday, which makes means Christmas Eve falls on Monday, a workday. That means that the stuff we normally reserve for Christmas Eve, such as the wrapping of gifts and baking of Christmas bread and a nice family meal around the dining room table all has to be done by Sunday night...

Which is why we're procrastinating by writing this month's newsletter instead of juggling all those other fine tasks. Oh, don't worry, they'll all get accomplished one way or another. The wrapping we'll do tonight while listening to Christmas music during the quiet hours as we come down from our sugar highs brought about by consumption of candy and baked holiday goodies. So bad for our diets, but so comforting in their traditions. After all, what would Christmas be if not for the endless supply of sweets that traverses our tables? You simply can't resist them all, nor should you; it just makes you crave the carbs and calories all the more.

But before we get back to the serious business of the Christmas countdown we wanted to take a few minutes to update you on the doings around our homestead since Thanksgiving weekend. You'll recall if you read last month's missive that we had a mishap with our Christmas tree. Such an inauspicious start to the holiday season. For most of this millenium (that makes it sound like forever, huh?) we've been doing the artificial tree thing. Every year we have a brief discussion about whether to pick out a pre-cut tree for a change of pace, and every year we take a look at the price and figure that the old pipecleaner display has been serving us well enough to do the job for another season. Sure, it's had its share of abuse over the years. We've bent the branches every which way to get the tree to look more full. It leans a bit to one side. It has been used as a playground by both of our rambunctious felines. Still, once the 30 million lights and decorations are in place, it looks about as natural as any real tree.

Unfortunately, it is a bit temperamental when it comes to assembly. The metal base has a ring that is supposed to lock in to the bottom section of the trunk. The locking part assures that the trunk doesn't accidentally pop out and that the tree stands straight and true. The manufacturer probably didn't count on the fact that we place our tree on a pedestal, which sits on a pine and particle board table that we built for it, so it isn't right on the floor. They probably also assume that 15 pounds of Russian blue cat won't be nesting in the branches, which is what Eevee attempted to do Sunday morning, Nov. 25. We were jolted from our beds by the loud crash in the living room as the fully decorated tree slipped from its pedestal and collapsed, cat and all, to the living room carpet. We heard the tinkling of shattered glass and instantly feared the worst for some of our cherished decorations. Those fears were confirmed when we went to survey the damage through sleep-filled eyed. Our beloved Jeff Gordon No. 24 globe had been pulverized into a zillion shards of glass. Plaster chips had come off of some hand-painted ornaments we had made together 20 years ago, before the year we were married. Ben's whimsical SpongBob SquarePants ornament emerged with an amputated arm.

Yet for the key items we lost — none of which we felt good about — the tree emerged miraculously little worse for the disaster. After fluffing out the branches and reattaching most of the ornaments, we hoisted the tree back onto its stand and this time made certain that the locking ring was tight. Eevee, who was undoubtedly the most surprised of all by his trip to the floor, hasn't attempted to climb the tree since. It marks the first time since we have had him that he hasn't climbed the tree multiple times in the same year. Either he learned his lesson or kissed that particular one of his nine lives farewell.

Christmas decorating is pretty much a ritual around our home. The holidays start in earnest the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day, where once the turkey and stuffing are consumed and we've slept off the tryptophan it's time to trek out to the garage in search of the decorations. We've accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, most of which Roni has neatly packed away in four large plastic tubs. The stuff that doesn't fit in the tubs lies in haphazard piles throughout the garage and in the closet of our entryway. In fact, Christmas decorations and wrapping supplies take up most of the space in the tiny closet. We're thinking of adding a room on to the house just for holiday decor. Just kidding, of course, but sometimes it feels like we need one. The tree comes out of its box, the table and stand are extricated from their inconvenient and inaccessible storage places in the garage, and Glenn works on their assembly while Roni goes through the miles of light strings to find the one or two that still work. Then Glenn spends the next several hours stringing lights, occasionally cursing and muttering about how the next tree we get will have the lights pre-installed. With luck, the lights are on the tree in time for Ben and Roni to start hanging decorations from the branches before it's time for Ben to get off to sleep. It's an all-day chore, which we accomplish while listening to the several hundred Christmas songs we've accumulated through the years.

As we do each year, we attempted to theme our tree with decorations that are representative of the places we have traveled to and our ever-changing interests. A few years back it was Poké mon characters, then NASCAR cars. Two years ago, following our trip to Arizona and New Mexico, we made little cactuses to liven up the tree. This year it was lighthouses and barn stars. Roni found a good mail order place where she bought a couple dozen little tin stars like the kind we saw a lot of in Amish country in Pennsylvania, and two dozen ceramic lighthouses painted in Christmas colors. We broke one of the lighthouses before we even hung it on the tree, so we were sure that when the tree fell there would be a number of nautical casualties. However, all the lighthouses survived. We also have an angel with a ceramic head for a tree-topper. We worried for its safety in the fall, but it also escaped harm. Ben has grown tall enough that he took it upon himself to place the angel at the top of the tree when we were decorating. He did a pretty decent job that was undone in the tree's fall. We got it back into place after the tree was resurrected, using a broom handle to turn the angel to face the direction we needed her.

Because just putting up the tree and cleaning the living room to accomodate it takes so much out of us, we usually put off the outdoor decorations until the following weekend. Meanwhile, Roni spends the time getting her Christmas village into shape at the tree's base. It is because of the village that we started using the pine table with our tree. About a decade ago we had a train layout each Christmas and used the table to glue down the track. By the time we abandoned the trains the village was growing so large that it easily consumed the table space, and Roni had to add smaller tables to hold the new ceramic buildings she was acquiring. This year she did something new, clearing off the bottom curio shelf over our sofa and turning it into one long snow-covered city block. It looks very cool with our suede brown living room walls providing the backdrop for the lighted houses and pine trees.

We got around to the outdoor lights the weekend of Dec. 1-2. Before doing anything, we had to prune the wisteria that is taking over the front porch and a section of the roof above our entryway. Wisteria is a vigorous vine, and we discovered its tentacles pushing into the attic above the garage. We pruned about a third of it and it still could stand for more trimming. Probably after the lights come down next month. That Sunday, Roni strung the lights through the trees and bushes while Glenn assembled our pair of spiral Christmas trees and lighted snowman beneath the ornamental plum tree. This year we added an animated deer to the display. Its motorized head sways to and fro like a bovine with mad cow disease — that is, when the power is on.

We've been trying to troubleshoot an intermittent failure of our GFCI circuit since late July. That's the surge protection that controls all the outdoor plugs and the ones in the bathrooms. The problem has driven us batty since the Christmas lights went up. The lights will work fine one night, then when we go to plug them in the next night there's nothing. We head out to the garage to find the circuit breaker has tripped. We reset it, plug the lights in for another night and repeat. We have unplugged all the appliances from the GFCI line and used only the Christmas lights on it and there is no difference in the problem. It's not that the circuit trips while the lights are plugged in; it seems to happen between the time the lights are unplugged and the next time we plug them in. Maddening. We have been trying to look on the bright side that if we can only turn the lights on once every other night it should save money on our PG&E bill. But 'tis the season, and who wants to have a yard full of darkened Christmas decorations? So in the new year we'll be adding "electrician" to our list of needs along with "lawnmower repairman" to figure out why our power mower suddenly went kaput as we were trimming the grass to put up our yard display. Sigh.

One thing we won't have to worry about in the new year is our new furniture. The salesman at Lane Home Furnishings told us when we purchased it last month that it would probably arrive right around Christmas and he was right. We got a call from the store Thursday asking if we could take delivery on Christmas Eve. Something about how they didn't want it sitting around their warehouse. We had sort of hoped that it would arrive after the new year to give us time to remove the holiday decorations and clean up a bit. Instead, we are spending part of today shuttling out the old sofa, chair and loveseat to make way for the delivery guys when they show up on our doorstep. We expect sooner rather than later, as who wants to make late deliveries on Christmas Eve? The bad news is that we'll have to store the sofa and chair in the packed garage for a few days until the garbage company comes around the end of the week. The good news is that Roni's sister and her family were interested in the loveseat, so Kevin and our nephew Robert showed up this morning with their pickup to haul the thing back to their house. We sort of hate to see it go because it's got some life left in it, but are happy that they'll get some use out of it. The sofa and chair, on the other hand, are shot. The fabric is peeling and the frame of the chair is falling apart. The set was a bargain when we bought it and it has served its purpose well.

Speaking of new things, Oakley dedicated its brand new City Hall on Dec. 8 with a tree lighting event, music, activities and tours of the new meeting home for our local City Council. It's sometimes hard to find the community spirit in our town, but there was a good turnout for the tree lighting despite the chill wind that had most people consuming free hot chocolate and apple cider and running indoors as soon as the dedication was done. It's a state-of-the-art place, with large plasma TV sets on several walls so folks can watch the proceedings from outside the chambers. The interior of the building is beautifully designed. Our little city is coming right along, getting more official with the arrival of the new city offices. The main reason we attended the dedication was because it was also to public's first chance to see the "Walk of History" in the plaza outside the council chambers. During the summer the city sold commemorative bricks that anyone could have engraved with their name or a slogan. We bought one of the small ones for $40 during the Oakley Almond Festival. Because of where the city's Christmas tree was displayed in the plaza, some of the bricks were hidden. We found ours, however, in one of the squares to the right of the tree. And like everyone else who was there, we crowded in to take our picture next to "our" brick. Hopefully our small part in City Hall's creation will be there for many years to come.

Many cities get in the holiday spirit this time of year, and one of those that goes all out is San Jose. On Dec. 16 we drove down to visit Glenn's brother Sean and spent the afternoon touring the "Christmas in the Park" display in the downtown area. It was the first time we had been there for the festival in four years, and what a treat it is. There are several blocks of Christmas trees with themed decorations created by many of the nonprofit groups in the Silicon Valley, interspersed with animated displays of Santa and his elves and people from various walks of life engaged in Christmasy activities. This year there is an ice skating rink, which looked busy. There was also a carnival outside the Tech Museum. We stopped off at the museum's gift shop before heading out to dinner.

Well, the time is getting close to when we'll have to wrap up this newsletter and stop procrastinating on the other tasks that await. But before we go we thought you might enjoy this odd little item:

Roni and Ben were at home one evening a couple of weeks ago, on what had been a seasonably warm autumn day, when they began hearing "pinging" sounds against the living room window. They thought it odd to be hearing what sounded a lot like rain, given that it had been sunny without a hint of clouds in the sky. The sounds continued for a while until suddenly the pinging grew more intense. That was when they went to investigate and discovered a rarely seen phenomenon that occurs when a wisteria vine sheds its seeds. The seed pods were literally exploding simultaneously. Hundreds of them. The hulls shrivel up through the summer until so much tension is built up that they open spontaneously, shooting their seeds dozens of feet in every direction. Seeds and pods rained down on our patio and backyard. Ben went outside to collect the seeds and Roni feared that he might be injured by them as they flew from the vine. A day or two later, we went out to collect the seeds and clean up some of the debris. Ben had enough of the hard, black seeds to fill a butter container. Although we love our wisteria and would certainly like to grow more in other parts of the yard, we don't have much use for so many seeds. We're thinking maybe we should start up a business selling them on the Internet. Or maybe we'll just give them away. It's not like we won't get more where these came from.

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. All the best for a safe and prosperous 2008.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 01:10 hrs.

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