Photo of the month

For the month of December, just call him Father Christmas. Glenn, adorned in his three-buck faux fur Santa cap, is reflected in a Christmas ornament suspended from the ceiling amid our seasonally decorated living room. Photo by Glenn.

December 2008

It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving Day without the Macy's Parade to put us in the holiday spirit. Sure wish we could have been in New York for it, but we'll settle for NBC's fine coverage. Photo by Glenn.

The Pilgrims come riding in on a giant turkey float... Photo by Glenn.

...Which promptly found its way into our waiting oven. Seriously, this is our bird purchased from Raley's. But you knew that. Photo by Glenn.

Roni did her usual able job as head chef in preparing our Thanksgiving meal. Here she dishes up a baked yam for the feast. Photo by Glenn.

At last, Roni gets to sit down to enjoy her culinary efforts. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is thankful for many things, especially the fact that someone left three bottles of Martinelli's cider within his reach. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn's got the whole platter of turkey all to himself. Okay, so he had it for as long as it took to dish up a couple of juicy slices. Photo by Glenn.

It takes three live trees to do the job of one fake tree on this year's Christmas display. We'll keep them in their pots until we plant them in January. Photo by Glenn.

Here are the trees after Glenn got the lights on them the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Photo by Glenn.

With the lights up, it's time to add the ornaments. Glenn had to stand on the table to reach the high spots. Photo by Roni.

Roni did the lion's share of the decorating. Here she adds a few decorations to our lighthouse-themed trees. Photo by Glenn.

The crowning achievement of this year's tree display is this lighthouse constructed from an empty water bottle. Craft foam was used to create the column, and matchsticks and string create a railing around the cupola. Photo by Glenn.

This is the tree display in its final form. You can see a bit of the Christmas village in the lower left corner. For a better look, we've provided a larger image. Photo by Roni.

Roni and Ben pose for a snapshot at the Oakley community tree lighting event Dec. 6. This might have been a group shot, but there were too many people to make it practical. Photo by Glenn.

Hansel and Gretel would feel right at home in this gingerbread cottage that Roni is lovingly crafting from a kit she bought. We had to fight off Ben's cat Eevee, who was intent on licking the gumdrops. Photo by Glenn.

What to do with a bunch of oversized Christmas ornaments when you don't have room for them on the tree? Simple. Suspend them from the living room ceiling. Photo by Glenn.

The suspended balls give our Christmas display an entirely different look. It's almost like being in line at the Santa booth at the mall. Photo by Glenn.

This is one of the two sinks in our bathroom that we had to replace. As you can see, it is quite rusty. Photo by Glenn.

Time to dispose of the carcass. The faucet bolts were rusted solid, essentially making it impossible to remove the faucet from the basin. A great excuse to buy new faucets! Photo by Glenn.

The new sinks didn't fit the opening in the counter, requiring us to saw off a few inches from either side of the hole. The sawing generated a ton of fine white dust. Photo by Glenn.

Here is the first sink all installed and working. That only took... a day. No leaks yet. Photo by Glenn.

Ariel couldn't care less about the new sinks. She's got her own sink on our bathroom counter — a Tupperware bowl from which she gets her drinks. Photo by Glenn.

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Getting real for the season

December 19, 2008

'Tis the week before Christmas and all through our home, the tree lights are twinkling and there's decorating to be done...

Yes, the jolly season has snuck up on us this year like it manages to every year, only this time it seems that finding folks in the Christmas mood is quite a lot tougher than usual. Maybe it's the economy, possibly it's the unusually late occurrence of Thanksgiving, or perhaps it's the fact that we've all been immersed in perpetual politics since last Christmas. Whatever the case, it all feels rather subdued as the big day draws near. But preparations roll along all the same.

Being that we just elected a president who campaigned on a platform of change, it seemed only appropriate that we embrace some change ourselves when it came to our Christmas decorating. We were growing tired of the same old artificial tree with its bottle-cleaner branches after nearly a decade of service, so we decided to get back to our roots (so to speak) and went the natural route. But we wanted something more than a simple pre-cut stick of pine in a water dish that you toss out with the garbage in the end. After giving it some thought, we decided on picking up a live tree.

Roni, who very much enjoys decorating for the holidays, had decided this year's Christmas tree theme would be lighthouses. Her idea was to make up ornaments out of paper and craft foam that would grace the branches of whatever tree we picked out. It soon became apparent that such plans would require more space than a single 6-foot tree would allow, so by the time we actually headed over to Home Depot for some Christmas tree shopping, we had decided to be completely different and get three trees instead of one.

It had been 10 years since our last outing to pick out a real tree, yet Mother Nature remembered just how much we enjoy shopping the lot in pouring rain. Not! We were thankful for the store's awnings as we loaded up our cart with a 6-foot Monterey pine, a 4-foot Alberta spruce, and a 2-foot Italian stone pine. Our trio of trees is environmentally friendly in that if we can keep them alive until January, we'll be able to plant them in our yard to watch them turn into 30-foot monsters that shed needles all summer long. But that wasn't why we bought them. We thought they would look great together on our wood display table that normally is very crowded with the much fuller fake tree.

Glenn enjoyed the ease of stringing lights on our Christmas trees, except for the fact that the needles were less forgiving than the fake tree's needles. He wound up with more than a few cuts on his hands. But the live trees, even inside their buckets of dirt, were easy to move from the living room floor to the display table where, once fully lit, Roni added the ornaments.

The smallest tree is decorated in candy canes and features a string of red and white lights. There wasn't much room on it for anything else, although Roni placed a red bow at the top. The medium tree got a multi-colored string of large lights and a handful of ornaments. It is rather narrow and its branches point upwards, which doesn't leave a lot of space on which to hang things. The large tree — the Monterey pine — is very full with dense needles that tend to clump near the trunk at the bottom. We can barely get a watering can inside the bucket to give it an occasional drink. It took several strings of lights that we set up with flashers. On its branches Roni placed cutouts of lighthouse photos she found on the Internet and from places we visited last year.

The only thing missing was a topper for the large tree. Roni found a craft project online in which you can make a lighthouse from an old soda bottle and some craft foam. We modified the design a bit so that it lights up using a single Christmas bulb and sits on top of the tree's crown. Glenn even added a railing around the cupola made from matchsticks and a piece of string. It was exactly the nautical touch our display needed.

With what space was left on the display table, Roni put together her Christmas village. She bought a ceramic lighthouse to add to her collection and placed it on a ledge overlooking an ocean made from blue craft foam. The sea laps at the edge of a snow-covered village. Glenn remarked that it looks a bit like Galveston before it was visited by Hurricane Ike. So in the interest of safety for the villagers in this low-lying community, we erected hurricane warning flags at the top of the medium-sized tree. They must be working, because so far there have been no storm sightings in Santaville.

While at Home Depot we also picked up some oversized ball ornaments that we had originally intended to hang from the branches of our ornamental plum tree in the front yard. But we nixed that idea out of concern that they'd either blow off in the wind or get pilfered by the kids who wander our block. We instead suspended the balls on fishing line from the ceiling of our living room, where they appear to float like a galaxy of multicolored planets. They are just high enough that we don't bump into them (intentionally) when we walk through the room.

Outside, we decorated the plum tree with six strings of blue mini lights. We also set up an animated deer and a couple of plastic spiral trees along with LED candy canes and snowmen lining the driveway. There are strings of lights adorning the shrubbery and over our garage. In the attic, we took down our Halloween ghoul and replaced him with the plastic light-up Santa and a blue rope light that we hauled up there last year. PG&E is very happy with us for boosting their quarterly profits.

It was only because of Roni's focus on the preparations that we managed to get so much decorating done in such a hurry. We literally hadn't finished cooking the Thanksgiving turkey before we were hauling out boxes of ornaments from our garage and closet. Our concern was that if we didn't get most of the decorating done by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, we might give up on it because we were getting too close to Christmas. Really, you have to put up your lights and stuff early to get the full enjoyment for all the work you put into it.

With the house looking festive, we were able to focus our efforts on Christmas shopping and attending holiday-season events. On Saturday, Dec. 6, we joined our fellow Oakleyites in the cold outside City Hall for the annual tree lighting event. Actually, we arrived just in time to hear the crowd counting down to the moment when the mayor threw the switch to light the tree. There were so many people that we had to park across Main Street at the Centromart parking lot and walk over to the plaza. We were in the middle of the crosswalk when the lights came on and the choir started singing carols. Fortunately we didn't have to hang around in the cold, as we were able to go indoors and grab some free hot chocolate from the Lions Club volunteers.

The retailers at the local shopping malls have undoubtedly been glad to see us as we make our rounds in search of gifts. Most of what we've bought has been for Ben, guaranteeing that at least one of us will have some cool presents to open Christmas morning. Roni and Glenn have simpler wish lists this year, favoring practical gifts in hopes that the economy straightens itself out soon and we won't have the constant threat of layoffs influencing our purchases, or non-purchases as the case lately tends to be.

Which is not to say that we haven't had some big expenses recently. The folks at Antioch Toyota should send us a nice Christmas card after we dropped close to $1,500 on them in recent weeks for service to both our cars, about two-thirds of that for three or four hours of labor. And the stock holders at Lowe's and Home Depot might realize an extra fraction of a penny in their dividends this quarter after we decided it was time to replace the sinks in our master bathroom.

The sinks weren't something we planned to do now. That was until the morning that Roni looked for something under the counter and noticed that it was basically raining in there. When we bought our home eleven-and-a-half years ago, as a condition of the FHA loan the sellers had to replace all our bathroom sinks. Naturally they went on the cheap and installed metal basins that rusted away. We knew if one was finally kaput then the other one soon would be also. So we decided to upgrade and picked out a couple of nicer china basins from Lowe's.

The hope was that we could just yank out the old sinks, which were under-the-counter models, and pop in the new basins, which are an above-counter design. Of course the old sinks were circular while the new sinks are oval, so that meant we had to saw into the vanity to make them fit. We also decided it was better to go with new faucets rather than recycle the grungy ones we'd been using. That meant changing the shutoff valves on the water intake pipes to accommodate the new screw-on hoses we would need to connect to the faucets. And oh yeah, you have to get a drain to put in the bottom of each basin. So our simple sink replacement project became a semi-major job that consumed all of a Sunday afternoon and part of Monday and Tuesday morning.

The good news is that the sinks look great. They are white, with a braided rope pattern along the edge of the basin, and Glenn didn't completely destroy the vanity in the process of installing them. The bad news is that now that we see them installed in our bathroom, we realize how outdated the rest of the room looks and are eager to do more renovations. Perhaps in the new year.

Ben has been preparing for his first semester finals in high school and eagerly counting the days until winter break. He recently joined his school's Anime Club and has been spending much of his free time working on his art technique. Japanese anime and manga is all the rage these days, and many of Ben's friends are into it. They all enjoy watching the cartoons on TV, playing the video games, collecting trading cards, writing fan fictions and drawing their favorite characters. Ben is getting much better at it. He finds pictures of the characters online and prints them out to use as a reference, then he draws them freehand. You can see his work displayed on DeviantART.

Roni and Glenn both completed their National Novel Writing Month projects on time in November. In an unusual twist, Glenn wrapped up his novel six days early, while Roni had to go on a writing binge to finish hers on Nov. 28. In past years it has been the other way around, with Roni finishing first.

And finally this month we bid a sad farewell to the last of our red-eared slider turtles, Rhedd Butler, who now paddles in that big turtle pond in the sky. We found him floating in his tank the day before Thanksgiving, a victim of what, we aren't sure. Roni fears he may have been electrocuted by a faulty heater, but the more likely cause would seem to be old age. Turtles can live a very long time, but we had him for nearly 19 years and he was fully grown when we got him. We have no idea how old he was. We buried him in a corner of our garden near his former tank-mate, Scarlet O'Hara.

Wishing you the merriest of holiday seasons, peace, and hope for a more prosperous new year.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 15:39 hrs.

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