All cut out for the holidays
December 30, 2012
‘Tis the week after Christmas
And that snoring you hear
Is the Gehlkes recovering
After spreading good cheer…
The holidays are just about over, and it seems that they came and went so quickly. They tend to do that when one is absorbed in all the preparation and planning that comes with the territory, as we were pretty much nonstop since before Thanksgiving.
2012 will be remembered as the year that Santa’s elves worked overtime to pull off our Christmas celebration. For the first time in several years, we scheduled a Christmas Day visit with Glenn’s folks to see his parents’ new house in the hills above Hayward. As part of their housewarming gift, Glenn had decided in September to put his woodworking skills to use crafting some road signs to put in their backyard, similar to the ones he designed for our own yard last year. His dad had admired our hand-painted Highway 160 scenic route post along our garden path when the family was here for Ben’s graduation in June, so Glenn decided to make him a similar display as a combination birthday/Christmas/move-in present to deliver on Christmas Day.
Work on the project proceeded at a typically leisurely pace, with Glenn designing the signs on his computer in mid-September, then buying a small sheet of half-inch plywood and cutting out the signs during his vacation in early October. The painting took place over the course of the next two months, with various colors applied on different days, often in a spare hour before Glenn had to go to work. The signs were symbolic of his parents’ new home, which features a steep hill in the backyard and is about five miles east of their old house not far from Interstate 880. The collection included a directional sign pointing to “Hayward” and a roadway marker for California Highway 17 what I-880 used to be known as in its less congested days. There were also hiking and wildlife viewing signs that attached to the centerpiece of the project, a state historical marker pointing to the “Old Gehlke Homestead” five miles down the road.
The project took shape so slowly that we became used to seeing it occupying the corner of our computer desk in the dining room. Still, there was little doubt that it would be completed in time for its Christmas delivery. That was before Glenn received an unexpected request from his mom, who had also admired his work on the set of life-sized cowboy silhouettes he created for Roni last Christmas. What she wanted was grazing sheep to grace the hillside of her new home. Other than those very general guidelines, she left it up to Glenn’s imagination to design the project.
And design he did.
Starting just before Thanksgiving, Glenn combed the Internet in search of suitable sheep pictures that he could convert to silhouettes. He eventually settled on three of them a side view of a large wooly ewe, a profile of a lamb grazing in the grass, and another ewe standing at attention in reaction to the presence of… an intruder? This third sheep was intriguing. What if there really were some predator about that caused the sheep to go into high-alert mode? What could cause such a reaction? Ahhhh yes, a wolf. The project needed a wolf. But not just any old wolf. A big bad wolf. A wolf to provide comic relief. A wolf caricature.
More hours of searching produced a colorful graphic of a comical wolf salivating over its would-be prey. He could be adapted for our project. Roni suggested that what he really needed was a knife or a fork in his knitted fingers, so we tracked down a fork and incorporated it into the graphic. Because we planned to cut the sheep and the wolf from the same sheet of 4-by-8-foot three-quarter-inch plywood, each of the templates had to be carefully fit to the sheet first, so as to make the most economical use of the wood; second, to allow for the sheet to be cut so we could bring it home in one of our small cars. The problem with owning two Toyota Corollas is that neither one will allow us to fit an object wider than about three feet in the trunk if that object also happens to be longer than a couple of feet. Of the three pieces we planned on extracting from our 4x8 plywood sheet, we calculated that only the largest of them would be a fairly tight squeeze.
This turned out to be exactly the case. The day we dropped in on Home Depot to buy our wood and have one of their associates cut it for us, we discovered to our dismay that the largest piece was just about half an inch too big to sneak into the back seat compartment, no matter how much maneuvering we tried with it. We finally laid it in the trunk with the back hanging out over the rear bumper. Roni procured some twine from the nearby Christmas tree stand, and we tied the deck lid over the wood so we could get it all home.
The difficult part out of the way, all that was left to do was cut out the templates and start painting them up. Easy. But could it all be done in the barely three weeks that were left before Christmas? Sure, if that was the only task hanging over us. Naturally, it wasn’t.
Two other major work-related projects were on our plate during the months of November and early December. The first of those was the Delta Science Center’s annual Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Educational Resource Calendar that is distributed for free to about 7,000 fifth-grade students in the DSC’s coverage area. The calendars have become more elaborate each year, and this year we planned on designing the best one ever. The problem is that as the calendars have become prettier, the time to design them has increased substantially. We donate the design work, so the only thing in it for us is the pride that comes from seeing the calendars hanging on walls throughout the coming year. Still, we want to make the project as cost-effective as possible because the nonprofit DSC has limited resources for their production and distribution. After some hunting around, we discovered a way to get the quantity they needed printed for a little more than half the cost of what they had paid in previous years. The only catch was that we had to pick them up ourselves from the printer.
In the past we had worked with a local printer and his middleman for such four-color print jobs. That meant all we had to do was provide a disk with our completed graphic files and wait until the boxes of printed materials showed up on our doorstep. It was convenient, but not cost effective. This time we worked with an online printer who just happened to have a print shop in East Oakland. We started designing the calendar in early November and by the end of the month were ready to upload the job to the printer’s computers to begin the prepress phase or so we thought. There is always a learning curve when doing something for the first time, and despite doing our best to follow their instructions we still managed to provide them with a couple of unusable PDF files before we finally worked out the bugs to their satisfaction.
But each hiccup in the process cost us time that we could ill afford. Roni hoped to have the printed calendars in hand no later than Dec. 14, which would still allow some time to distribute them to the local schools before they went out on winter break. With the delays in getting a proper PDF file uploaded first because we incorrectly marked the bleed lines and the second time because they wanted us to resize our document the delivery date got pushed back to Dec. 19. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that we first had to sign off on a hard copy proof of the calendar, which was to be sent to us via FedEx. Receiving it through the mail would take an extra day, so bright and early one morning we hopped in Roni’s car and made the drive to East Oakland to pick up the proof in person. The printing company is located in a warehouse in the industrial area, not the best part of the city, and we had to navigate our way through the graffiti-covered neighborhoods along 34th Street to find it. The proof was a thing of beauty, and we would have signed off on it then and there if not for a photography error Roni discovered; a picture of an endangered species we had meant to swap out in favor of another image was inadvertently left unchanged. It was a simple fix, but it meant that the printer had to issue us another hard copy proof before they would print the job.
After a series of phone calls with their customer service rep in which we agreed to see another hard copy, Roni was able to get the printer to expedite the job at no additional cost, and the calendars were promised to us by Dec. 15. It was a load off our minds, especially knowing that one of the DSC’s board members, Dr. Mike Painter, had offered to use his truck to pick up the job in Oakland so we wouldn’t have to go ourselves.
But then something (else) unexpected happened. Dr. Mike had to deal with a personal matter and wouldn’t be able to pick up the calendars. There was only one thing to do when the printer called to tell Roni the order was ready and waiting: We had to pick it up ourselves. But there was no way we would be able to fit the 67 boxes in the back of her Corolla not even both of our Corollas so we soon found ourselves at the counter of an Antioch U-Haul franchise, signing our lives away on the 24-hour rental of a $40 van. At least, that’s what it says the price is before you tack on stuff like mileage, gas, insurance, dolly, blankets… blankets? No, we didn’t need the calendars to be warm and cozy, but the U-Haul website conveniently added the blankets onto our order when Roni placed it. We got the clerk to comp them off our bill and were merrily (warily?) on our way.
Glenn drove. The trip to Oakland was uneventful, fortunately. Despite the threat of rain and our unfamiliarity with the larger rental van, we managed to find our way back to the print shop where we were told to back into the loading dock so the boxes could be more easily loaded. You want us to back this rental van in through a doorway that barely has enough clearance for a bicycle? Gulp. With Roni providing hand signals like a skilled air traffic controller, Glenn inched the van safely up the loading ramp, and four of us transferred the 67 heavy boxes from two pallets into the cargo van’s payload.
On the drive home we realized that having the van afforded us some rare opportunities, and we took advantage of one of them when we pulled in to the Pittsburg Home Depot and bought three full sheets of plywood, an 8-foot 4x4 post and a couple of two-by-fours that we needed for Glenn’s sign and sheep projects. No cutting required, and we didn’t have to duck to make room for the oversized lumber. The other benefit to having the rental truck overnight was that we were able to reload it the following morning with the five empty pallets we had inherited when we ordered our retaining wall blocks from Lowe’s last spring. Lowe’s was more than happy to take them back if we could find a way to deliver them, and having the van made it easy. We dropped off the pallets, pumped 10 gallons of unleaded fuel into the tank, and returned the vehicle to the rental place right on time. Our “$40 van” ran us about $130 by the time the bill was settled, but it had been worth it to save the cost of shipping the calendars.
The following week Roni spent driving the calendars to as many of the local school districts as she could, managing to distribute more than half of them on her own. Glenn resumed work on his Christmas gifts. But both of us had to juggle those tasks along with a crushing deadline for a newsletter that a client needed to have to the printer before Christmas. Work comes before play, so we tried to clear the deck quickly in order to capture as much time as we could to don our other caps as Santa’s elves.
We were barely two weeks from Christmas, and all Glenn had been able to do with the sheep project was to cut the patterns. He still had to trace them onto the plywood, cut out each piece, and paint everything. The sheep proved to be fairly easy once they were cut, relying mostly on a base coat of white latex paint for their wool and a top coat of black for their legs and facial features. The eyes were painted in a metallic blue.
The wolf represented a bigger challenge. Not only was his pattern more intricate, but Glenn managed to purchase the wrong blade for his jigsaw which slowed down all the cutting. Plus it started to rain the Saturday he tried to do the cutting, so he only got a little ways before he had to put it aside until the following morning. The wolf’s cartoonish design made for a lot of tracing from the pattern to the wood, then there was the matter of having to add the various colors while keeping the paint from slopping too much outside the lines. Much of the paint required a second coat. Then all the highlights had to be painted in black, a painstaking process that took nearly 12 hours over the course of three days. But through steady work it slowly came together, and by Christmas Eve we were applying the finishing touches of clear acrylic sealer to all the completed pieces.
Glenn outfitted the 4x4 post with screws and test-fit the road signs for his dad’s gift. He pre-drilled holes in the stakes that would support the sheep and the wolf. Then together we packed the creations in cardboard and concealed them in gift-wrap for the trip to Hayward. The wolf almost didn’t fit in the trunk of Roni’s car, but somehow we coaxed it in, then laid the package of three sheep and the box containing the road signs on top of it, with the 4x4 post poking through the passenger compartment to fit comfortably between the front seats. There would still be room for Ben to sit in the back seat, and we wouldn’t have to take both cars, a real plus.
We had spent so much time working and preparing gifts for others that we nearly missed out on Christmas for ourselves. Roni, who usually has all her shopping done by early December, hit the malls with less than a week to spare. Glenn, who typically waits until the last minute to do the bulk of his shopping anyway, was nonetheless in panic mode when he went out in a driving rainstorm on Dec. 23. We were both aided by the other’s printed wish list, despite the fact that neither of us could conjure any items we truly felt a need to have wrapped and waiting for us under the tree on Christmas morning.
There was no such ambiguity about Ben’s wish list. He made it abundantly clear that he wanted needed a new desktop computer capable of running Windows 8 along with a suite of software to help him through his college years. OK, the software for college thing sounded noble, but having a spiffier way to play online games with friends certainly wouldn’t hurt. The problem was that he didn’t know much about the specific system he wanted and we hadn’t spent any time looking for one. We finally made our way to Best Buy the morning of Dec. 21 and spent far too long comparing features of the various models and listening to geeky sales associates with very bad colds and little practical knowledge try to sell us on one brand or another. In the end, we walked out of the store with an HP Pavilion P7-1414. It may not have been the flashiest or most expensive model, but it seemed to have pretty good specs for what Ben might need it for. For a monitor we chose a 24-inch Westinghouse LED television, figuring that Ben could also use it to hook up his Xbox, Wii and any future cable TV box he might acquire.
Roni wrapped the computer and monitor separately, so when it came time to open the gifts we put the TV under the tree and squirreled the computer away in our bedroom; Ben was so expecting to get the computer that we wanted to keep him guessing as long as we could. He was crestfallen when he unwrapped the TV set and thought that was his last major gift. But he didn’t have long to wait for the real deal. Roni gave him a much smaller package that contained a book on Windows 8. Ben scratched his head and said, “This would be really useful… except I don’t have Windows 8.” Without missing a beat, Roni said, “Then I guess you’ll have to go find it in our bedroom.”
It took a moment for the comment to register with Ben, who was still stewing about not getting his computer. We couldn’t help but laugh at that point. He tried to convince us that he had us figured out all along, but we knew we’d gotten him. In any event, all was forgiven once he found the big box hiding next to our bed and had it unwrapped. We set up computer and monitor in about half an hour and soon Ben was busily putting the machine to work registering software and downloading updates. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to tear him away from his new toy to make the trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
By the time we were ready to hit the road it was already 1:30 p.m. and had started to rain. Had we decide to sing “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go…” it might have been appropriate. The roads were wet and crowded. We’d never been to Glenn’s folks’ new house, as they only bought it around September. It is situated in the Hayward Highlands, and reaching it meant crawling along the hillside through Castro Valley and Hayward. Fortunately we had good directions and arrived without incident. The whole family was there Grandpa and Grandma Gehlke, Glenn’s brother Sean, his sister Jennifer and her husband Tom, and our niece and nephew, Shannon and Allen. We got the grand tour of the house before delving into the gift exchange. Everyone was naturally curious as to what was in the three large packages we’d brought, and even though the sheep were perhaps the worst kept secret of the day, the wolf managed to surprise. We had hoped to help install the cutouts on the hill behind Glenn’s parents’ house, but the weather hadn’t cooperated much and it was starting to get dark. The art installation would have to wait. We fetched the posts from the back of the car and left instructions on how to contact our “customer service department” for assistance with the gifts.
We enjoyed a fine ham and turkey Christmas dinner around the huge dining table, after which we feasted on a delicious assortment of pies, cakes and cookies that people had brought to share. We visited until it came time for us to head home around 8 p.m. We arrived home exhausted from the day and all the days leading up to it, but not so tired for Ben that he didn’t find the energy to stay up all night “working” with his new PC.
The day after Christmas found life slowly reverting to its normal course. While most folks headed to the malls in search of sales or the return line, we took both our cars into Antioch to be smogged no post-Christmas discounts there and then drove to Orchard Supply Hardware to pick up storage containers and to see what Christmas leftovers we could find. What we came away with was a patio pot that was the perfect size to fit Roni’s new statue.
While Ben was lusting after his new computer, the rest of us were having a less luxurious Christmas highlighted by several books and calendars. Glenn’s major gift was a promise of a canoe rental and lessons at Big Break Marina in Oakley, while Roni got to unwrap a space heater for the living room and a mystery package that resembled a dead body. Not only did it resemble a body, but it came wrapped in a blanket and yellow police caution tape. All that was missing was a white chalk outline. The present inside was a statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite that had been on the discount shelf at the Kirkland’s home goods store. The reason for the 40 percent markdown was that the statue had an enormous hole in its base and a chunk ripped off one corner as the result of sloppy handling. She was definitely a fixer-upper, but not beyond repair. In fact, all it would take was some creative decorating to hide her imperfections. Try as he might to walk away, Glenn found himself drawn irresistibly back to the Goddess of Love, and ultimately she made him pull out his credit card and buy her. (That’s his version of the story.)
The pot we found at OSH was the perfect size to hide the statue’s base. We bought it along with a bag of pea gravel and arranged the goddess sturdily in the center of the pot and placed her on our back patio where we can see her from our dining room window. She is smaller than our Four Seasons statues, but she complements them perfectly in appearance.