Photo of the month

Lake Tahoe? New England? Try Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, where we got to enjoy a very rare snowfall Dec. 7 and 8. Temperatures dipped along with the snow level in many parts of the Bay Area, marking one of the earliest starts to winter we've had in years. Roni looks like she's having fun as she poses for a portrait along the Nortonville Trail. Photo by Glenn.

December 2009

Just a few days out of the hospital and we've put Glenn to work topping the tree. This looks a lot easier than it was. Photo by Roni.

Roni's Christmas village has been a staple of our holiday decorating for several years. Her collection now occupies the entire display table. Photo by Roni.

There are so many buildings in the village collection that some of the smaller ones have to reside on one of our living room shelves. The winter scene is all lit up at night. Photo by Roni.

Roni is bundled up for the cold weather during our Dec. 7 walk to the pier at the Big Break Regional Shoreline. There was no protection from the wind or the chill along the Delta. Photo by Glenn.

The lower foothills, viewed from Big Break, are covered with snow. A rare sight indeed. Photo by Glenn.

This cormorant, perched atop the rigging of a dilapidated dredger, seems unfazed by the cold. Photo by Glenn.

We've moved on to Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve to check out the snowfall there. We're a day late to the party on Dec. 8, but there's still a lot of the white stuff visible on the ground. Photo by Glenn.

The Nortonville Trail road was extremely muddy. We walked about as far as we dared so we could get a better look at the snow. Roni is taking a photo of it. Photo by Glenn.

Roni's shoe is caked with mud and leaves during our walk up the trail. Photo by Roni.

The snowfall is more like shaved ice by the time we see it, but at least it's cold and wet. Photo by Roni.

The obligatory shot of Mount Diablo, covered head to toe in snow, taken from our new fave photo spot: Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Antioch. Photo by Glenn.

We dreaded this happening one day. We awoke one morning to find our Spring Season statue toppled from her garden perch. The ground beneath her base was unstable and shifted despite our efforts to stabilize it. We don't think much damage was done, fortunately. Photo by Glenn.

Spring lies amid the fallen leaves of our evergreen ash tree, where she will have to remain until we get better weather to raise her 260-pound body. Photo by Glenn.

Here are Ben and his friend Nick, engaged in their favorite pastime after school: a game of Magic. Photo by Roni.

Roni gives a thumbs-up as she models the winner shirt we bought to celebrate our successful completion of National Novel Writing Month. Photo by Glenn.

It wouldn't be Christmas without some holiday baking. Roni sets out a line of freshly decorated sugar cookies so the icing can harden before they get packed up for gift packages for Ben's teachers. Photo by Glenn.

BNSF Railway spent a week building a dirt haul road behind our house. We aren't really sure why, but curiosity compels us to check it out the morning of Dec. 19. Photo by Glenn.

It's about the closest thing to public art we have in Oakley — a mile-long wall of graffiti that stretches along the railroad tracks. Some of it, like this green character, has been here for 13 years. Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

Of snow and Christmas and a decade gone by

December 27, 2009

We had every intention of getting this month’s newsletter out before Christmas, but much like our unsent Christmas cards, intentions don’t translate to the written word. And so we find ourselves sitting here a couple of days after Christmas, oversaturated with sugar and caught up with the sorting of our gift piles, contemplating a return to the workaday world that awaits after the holidays expire and with time to reflect on the month gone by.

We hope your Christmas was enjoyable. Ours certainly was, although a bit less extravagant than in other years. Ben made out pretty good, as always, scoring a graphics tablet for his computer and a Nintendo DSi with a built-in camera function that he has been putting to good use posting photos on Facebook. He laments that he is “becoming like Dad,” which means that he suddenly has a desire to photograph everything. He actually said the unthinkable yesterday when he said he wanted to go somewhere just so he could take pictures. This coming from the kid who thinks a 5-minute drive into neighboring Antioch is a long trip.

Glenn received the new “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” videogame for the Wii, and he has been dutifully blowing away Russian terrorists and saving the world from the threat of nuclear annihilation. We remarked that it feels odd to have this as the only new videogame in our house this Christmas; usually we add three or four new titles, and most of them are for Ben.

Roni was surprised with tickets to see the upcoming Pro Bull Riders event in Sacramento, which is something she’s wanted to see for a long time. Having been to a small rodeo in Livermore a few years back and being the big fan she is of all things country, it seemed like the perfect gift.

Our holiday dinner was a bit of an adventure. Roni prepared a roast of lamb with baby carrots, and thyme popovers. Dinner was getting close to done when she opened the oven to add some water to the lamb roast, just to make sure it stayed moist. The cooler water hit the glass baking dish, which promptly shattered into a zillion pieces all over the floor and the inside of the oven. As we swept up the mess, we had visions of the scene from the movie “A Christmas Story” in which a pack of dogs steals the family’s Christmas turkey and the family winds up feasting at the local Chinese restaurant while the waiters sing off-key Christmas carols. Fortunately the glass didn’t get into the lamb, and we were able to salvage dinner by completing the cooking on our propane barbecue grill. Another Christmas memory made.

Earlier this month it looked as though Christmas might be memorable for other reasons, when the snow level dropped to a range not seen in our area of Contra Costa County for a couple of decades. A cold snap the morning of Dec. 7 blanketed the hills with snow at their lowest elevations. We’re used to seeing a frosted Mount Diablo in winter, but not normally in the fall, and certainly not for miles along the foothills.

Glenn was still off work at the time, but his doctor had encouraged him to take longer and more frequent walks, so we decided to walk at the Big Break Regional Shoreline that afternoon. The view of the snow from there was enticing. We didn’t get any snow in Oakley, just a lot of cold air. We walked out on the fishing pier that overlooks Big Break on the Delta. Glenn’s lungs are still healing from his bout with pneumonia, and while he thought he would be up for a longer walk, Roni didn’t want him to chance it. As it turned out, she was right. The cold air quickly did him in, and he was short of breath as we walked back to the car. For the rest of the day he experienced violent coughing fits. He swore he wouldn’t make a similar mistake of going out in the cold again without more protection.

But the allure of the snow was too powerful. That night we saw pictures of Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve that some of the East Bay Regional Park District rangers had posted on Facebook. The preserve was blanketed. Looked like they could have been taken in the Midwest, not the California Bay Area. Curiosity got the better of us on Tuesday morning, Dec. 8, when we drove up there just to have a look around. We hadn’t even intended to get out of the car, just cruise through the parking lot.

But as soon as we saw how much snow there was, even though some of it had already melted away overnight, we knew that our drive through visit was going to last a little longer. The park was allowing free entry for the day, which didn’t hurt as we hadn’t brought any cash with us. We parked in the main parking lot near the head of the Nortonville Trail and decided to walk up — just a little ways. Not too much, because we didn’t want Glenn to start feeling the effects of the hike on his lungs.

The trail climbs slightly for the first couple hundred yards. Not too strenuous. Once we reached the summit it was a nice downhill walk for a bit. Well, we’d come this far, so why not reward ourselves with the easier stretch. We’d only go as far as the point where the trail splits… Roni kept asking Glenn how he was doing. “Fine,” he’d tell her, “not feeling winded at all.”

At the fork in the trail there is a narrow path that heads sharply upward through a grove of trees, and a wide dirt road that veers off to the right. We weren’t going to take either of them, but there was a large patch of snow further up the mountain and it looked like the road would give us better access to take pictures. Perhaps just a little farther… Roni agreed, but she said we should take it slow because we were on an incline now and it was forcing Glenn to breathe more heavily. Just to the point where we can see the snow close up…

Halfway up the trail we remembered that dirt, when combined with water, even frozen water, has a way of turning to mud. Black Diamond’s clay soil was becoming slicker with every step. We headed onto the shoulder of the road to gain traction on the grass growing there… until the banks along the shoulder got steeper and we were forced back onto the wet dirt. “I think we should turn back now,” Roni said. “Just to the top of the ridge there,” Glenn said, his feet sliding on the ooze. There is a cattle gate at the road’s next crest, just past the spot where the snow was at its thickest. That seemed a likely spot to stop, take our pictures, clean the muck off our feet, and turn around.

While Glenn played a delicate balancing game with each muddy step he took, Roni had made it to the cattle gate and was shooting away. Glenn arrived a couple of minutes behind her, out of breath and eager to clean the layer of gray mud from his sneakers. It was worth the climb, however, as the snow was gorgeous here. It looked like a postcard from New England. It was probably a good thing that we did show up a day after much of the snow had melted, though, because nearby Rose Hill Cemetery would have been an ideal photo location with snow covering the headstones, but it was another steep climb up muddy terrain, and neither one of us felt up to the challenge. Most of the snow there had already melted by the time we took our walk.

Despite the strenuous nature of the hike, Glenn handled it well. It convinced us more that he was ready to return to work following his hospital stay. He had planned to go back Dec. 7, but asked for another week when it seemed he was still having problems breathing comfortably and felt his energy levels were low. The extra week proved beneficial, and he went back Monday, Dec. 14, putting in a full 40 hours for the first time since late September. His return was greeted enthusiastically by his coworkers, some of whom had not heard more than that he had been hospitalized. He spent a good chunk of his first day back recounting the story of his Valley Fever and cleaning out his e-mail inbox, which had filled up and shut off during his extended absence.

We’re happy to have Glenn back at work, but we’re happier still that he is gradually recovering from his illness and getting his strength back. We could have used some of his energy during holiday decorating. This year Roni took on the task of stringing the Christmas tree lights, which is traditionally Glenn’s job, and we never got around to putting up decorations outside; we usually rely on Glenn to climb the ladder to light the ornamental plum tree and trim back the wisteria on the front porch. He did manage to hang up the large multicolored ornaments we suspend from the living room ceiling, but only after tackling the project across three days. Standing on the ladder for more than a few minutes left him winded and dizzy. The dizziness seems to have passed, and with his lung function slowly improving, perhaps by spring he will be able to take longer walks without shortness of breath. We’re all hoping.

Another project we needed Glenn’s strength for was the resurrection of our Spring Season statue after she toppled from her garden perch the first week of December. When we installed Spring earlier in the year, we built her garden from bags of premium soil mix we picked up at Home Depot. While the soil may be great for growing plants (which has yet to be seen), it never compacted well. Spring sat on spongy ground and constantly wobbled. In November we noticed that she was starting to lean backward, so we made some emergency repairs and propped up the base of her pedestal with sand from our yard. We thought that would do the trick.

Then one morning Roni was getting Ben ready for school and looked out the window to find Spring on the ground. Despite our repairs she had somehow managed to fall backward and to her right. Her back struck the retaining wall blocks that make up her garden, and she landed on her head, face-up, in sandy soil. We immediately feared the worst for her. Concrete is tough, but not when dropped from the height Spring fell from. We expected to find her head broken off, or some other significant damage. We went outside to inspect her and were amazed to find all body parts intact. But we couldn’t really see her back where she’d struck the bricks. We’d have to lift her to do that, and recalling the effort it took us just to move her into the backyard, we decided to wait for better weather.

Spring lay in the sand for nearly three weeks, her body surrounded by the fallen leaves of our evergreen ash tree, getting pelted by rain. Finally on Dec. 24, things had dried out enough that we could make the repairs to her garden pedestal and try to pull her 260 pounds upright. This time Glenn dug out some of the planting soil and installed a concrete stepping stone as a base. Then, with the help of Roni, we hoisted her up to a standing position. Luckily her foot-end had remained hovering over the garden when she fell, so we didn’t need fancy ramps or a dolly to get her back into the garden. We slid her into position on the stepping stone and then checked out her backside. A few scuffs from where she’d hit the concrete wall, but nothing to mar her appearance. Phew! We made sure the stepping stone is secure in the ground and that she doesn’t wobble. It’s much better now, but still not perfect. We may yet need to dig up her garden and install a bed of plain old sand for her to stand in. Meanwhile, we’re checking on her position every day or two to be sure she isn’t listing to one side or another.

It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over. It seems like we just started 2009 and now it’s time to put it in the history books, along with the decade of the double aughts. Remember Y2K? Yeah, that seems like forever ago. But it was before Facebook and Twitter and the iPod. It was before YouTube and 9/11 and the mortgage meltdown. Before our country’s first black president. It’s been a crazy decade. The next one’s sure to be a wild ride, as well. Here’s our hope that whatever lies ahead, the new year will at least bring you health, happiness and prosperity.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, January 29, 2010 at 01:38 hrs.

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