Photo of the month

The Gehlke clan gathers in the kitchen of Glenn's parents' house in Hayward for a Thanksgiving portrait. The oven may not have been working well, but we didn't let it dampen our fun as we gathered around the table for a holiday feast. Photo by Roni.

December 2013

To see any of these photos larger, or as a slideshow, view our Flickr gallery.

Glenn puts our seemingly infinite supply of wisteria hulls to use as he crafts a wind toy using the hulls and some scrap plywood. Photo by Roni.

Here's the finished product. We wouldn't exactly call it a wind chime, as the pods don't make any noise, but they are fun to look at. Photo by Glenn.

Our sage is at the peak of its bloom in early November. It frames our patio statue Asis very nicely, and the hummingbirds love it. Photo by Glenn.

We got new neighbors the week before Thanksgiving, and with them came... Numbnuts. Photo by Roni.

It's Thanksgiving morning. What better way to begin the day than with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the big screen? Photo by Glenn.

Normally Roni would be hard at work preparing our Thanksgiving dinner, but for the first time in years she only has to worry about the one dish we are taking to share later in the day. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn's grandmother and brother Sean enjoy their Thanksgiving meal as we join the feast at the Gehlke homestead in Hayward. Photo by Glenn.

After dinner there is time for getting silly as we all check out the sunroof of Sean's new Ford Fusion, which he picked up slightly used from our Grandma Sorenson. Glenn's dad documents the moment from an insider's perspective. Photo by Glenn.

Not to be outdone, Glenn proves that he also knows how to goof off. Quick, somebody close the roof! Photo by Roni.

The sun is setting over the Hayward hills, and so to does it set on another Thanksgiving filled with happy memories. Photo by Glenn.

We may not have had leftovers from our turkey day meal, but that gave us an excuse to honor Hanukkah with a Saturday feast of latkes, matzo balls and borscht. Photo by Glenn.

With a short Christmas season upon us, Roni sets out to get the tree decorated. We decided to make popcorn strings for this year's tree. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn demonstrates the proper technique for displaying popcorn strings. We made ours using popcorn, licorice and cranberries. Photo by Roni.

Roni puts the finishing touches on our tree, which is themed around peppermint candies. She did most of the decorating herself. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn designed our tree-topper from a round of Styrofoam, a little paint, glue and glitter, and a string of red mini lights. Photo by Glenn.

A Star Wars marathon on Spike TV provided good background as we did our decorating. "Trust your feelings, Luke..." Photo by Glenn.

We don't see too many praying mantises in our yard, but this year we've found four, including this one that was trying to blend in with our small patio pergola. Photo by Roni.

Roni has been very interested in the comings and goings of birds in our yard, and it seems like we have more of them this year than ever. A Stellar Jay perches on our Highway 160 sign in search of more peanuts. Photo by Roni.

Roni gave a talk about Delta wildlife to children at the Walnut Grove Library on Dec. 11. The presentation was booked at least nine months ago, and Roni was happy to volunteer her time on behalf of the Delta Science Center. Nearly 70 kids attended the event. Photo by Ben.

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The dog days of autumn

December 19, 2013

We got our first peek at the new neighbors the day we were out front pruning back the honeysuckle that had turned the planter near our back bedrooms into a tropical jungle. It was a few days before Halloween, and Roni had decided that we couldn’t let the season pass without putting out some lighted decorations, but she wanted to tidy up the overgrowth first, so we spent part of that Saturday thrashing our way through the tangled brambles like courageous Spanish explorers.

It was while we were engrossed in liberating the oleander and guava tree from the vines’ tenacious embrace that the property manager drove up to the house next door with a middle-aged black family in tow. The house had been vacant since the end of August when the previous owners finally moved to their new home in Valley Springs, and we had grown used to the weekly parade of prospective renters. We’d had bets going as to whether anyone would move in before the end of the year, and we weren’t disappointed that no one had snapped the place up; our previous neighbors, as friendly as they were, had four young children and a yappy little dog that made it impossible to find peace in the backyard on the rare days that trains hadn’t already intruded upon it.

This new family didn’t check out the vacant rental for too long, but when they emerged from inside they were laughing and chatting amongst each other, and we both knew we’d be seeing these folks again soon. Or would we? Days and then weeks passed and there was no new activity next door. The “For Lease” sign remained planted in the front lawn. Then on Nov. 21 they returned with a fleet of cars, a moving van, and a small army of helpers to get them settled in. And so ended our brief interlude of peaceful days and nights in our little cul-de-sac.

There are only two wishes we have whenever the house next door changes hands, as it has several times over the past couple of decades. First, we hope the new tenants will keep to themselves. Second, we hope they will be quiet. We usually don’t expect the latter, nor did we have it with the past three families that lived there, so we were cautiously optimistic after two days without hearing so much as a peep from the property. Then on Saturday morning we were startled awake by a low-register bark that seemed to be coming from our backyard. Perhaps it came from the railroad tracks, as we’ve had strays wander past the back fence. But then we heard it again. And again. And again. “Oh yay, the new neighbors have a dog,” we groaned in unison.

And so they did. Two of them, we discovered later — one large hound with a tenor’s voice and the other a yippy little carpet muncher. The main thing they had in common was that they barked a lot, and when one of them got started barking it would set off the other one. What got them going seemed as random as when they chose to fire up their vocal chords. They would bark as people passed by on the sidewalk behind their fence. They would bark at unseen critters in the middle of the night. They would bark at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m.... on into the morning and all through the afternoon, late into the evening. And they would bark at us when we dared venture into our own backyard. Curiously though, they wouldn’t bark at the trains — thank God for that.

As the temperatures began to dip after Thanksgiving we began to wonder if the owners would take pity on the little monsters and bring them indoors, but they seemed immune to the cold weather. BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip! All day and all night. Glenn was the first to come up with a nickname for the big dog: Numbnuts. (Well, we assume they probably were if he was spending his nights in sub-freezing temperatures.)

You always want to be neighborly if you can, but the daily canine serenade was swiftly wearing on our nerves. Even Ben, who could sleep through a nuclear attack during the daytime and doesn’t mind pulling all-nighters, claimed to be disturbed by the incessant barking. But at least his room is at the front of the house; we were taking the brunt of the audio onslaught in our rear bedroom, where it often felt like Numbnuts was shouting at us from our back patio. In truth, he was standing on the neighbor’s retaining wall and peering over our fence, barking into our yard. Something had to be done. But what?

Oakley has an ordinance concerning barking dogs, and it would have been very easy to drop a dime on city hall to file an anonymous complaint. But it would have been pretty obvious who complained, and that would only create enemies — the last thing we wanted to do with new neighbors. We didn’t want to sic the city on them anyway, we just wanted our sanity back. We turned to the Internet for advice, and researched such products as chemical repellants, silent whistles and no-bark collars, none of which seemed like viable alternatives. Finally we decided the best thing to do would be to either knock on their door or write them a letter and plead with their sense of basic decency to do something to quiet the dogs.

Just as Glenn was working up the courage for the task at hand, more than two weeks after the barking symphony had begun, the Bay Area got a visit from Jack Frost. It was cold like we hadn’t felt in a long time, with overnight temperatures hugging the low-20s. We were too busy worrying about keeping ourselves warm to concern ourselves with what was happening next door — or wasn’t. We woke up the next morning to... silence. “Did you hear the dogs last night?” Glenn asked Roni. “No,” she confessed, “not since before I went to bed.” “I wonder if they brought them inside,” Glenn said. “Don’t get your hopes up,” she replied.

Now it has been almost a week, and the dogs have been absent from the backyard. We think they are still next door, but being kept inside where they can entertain their owners. We don’t know what prompted the sudden change. Were the owners concerned about the weather? Did they wise up to the problem on their own? Did someone else report them? Now we’re worried that someone else did turn them in and now they’ll think we did it. We haven’t even met them yet.

So for now, peace has been restored on our little cul-de-sac, but will there be a “silent night” come Christmas? Only time will tell if this is the end of the story of Numbnuts and his carpet munching sidekick.

* * * * *

Roni will take her work with the Delta Science Center to a new level next year when she joins the Contra Costa County Fish & Wildlife Committee as an at-large representative. Roni became interested in the committee through her contacts at the DSC and her rice growing experiment, having attended meetings for a number of environmental, science and conservation groups. She hopes that serving as a committee member will give her a better understanding of the role government plays in Delta and wildlife conservation efforts.

The 10-person committee advises the county board of supervisors on fish and wildlife issues that affect the county, according to the committee’s website. It makes recommendations to the supervisors for how money from the Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fun (i.e. fines) should be spent, distributing roughly $80,000 a year in the form of grants to various environmental organizations. The DSC won’t likely be the recipient of any of those funds, Roni says, because agencies in which committee members are involved are exempt from applying.

To win the seat, Roni had to submit an application and then attend an interview process Dec. 9 in Martinez where she answered questions along with several other applicants posed by county supervisors Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff. She didn’t think she stood much of a chance at the post after seeing her competition, some of whom had bigger credentials and more experience.

But Roni was pleasantly surprised a few hours later when she received an official email saying that her name was being placed in nomination for a Dec. 17 vote by the board of supervisors.

We’re all excited by Roni’s success, but there is little time to celebrate as the days wind down to Christmas and we race to finish work on the DSC’s 2014 calendar, which has to find its way to and from the printer before the end of the year.

* * * * *

And speaking of Christmas, it’s one of those unusual short holiday seasons when Thanksgiving falls later than normal and you lose a few precious days for yuletide preparations. We joined Glenn’s parents and siblings in the Hayward hills for Thanksgiving Day, marking the first time we haven’t cooked our own turkey feast in more than a dozen years. For a while it looked as if there would be no turkey at all, after Glenn’s folks’ oven went bonkers and they had to race the bird to brother Sean’s house to finish cooking. But all was well come dinner time, and we gathered around the banquet table for a tasty feast.

We normally get to setting up the Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving, sometimes even tackling the decorations Thanksgiving Day while the turkey is cooking, if we have our druthers. We did not have druthers this year. Nor did we have much enthusiasm for decorating on the weekend, so it was late Sunday evening when Roni took over tree-lighting duties and got the thing decorated before the start of another work week that would have assured the tree didn’t get up for another few days.

As it was, we never got as far as the front yard, which has disappointed Roni quite a bit. We normally put out a decent collection of decorations and string lights in the ornamental plum tree, but it is appearing that it might not happen at all this year. Good news for our PG&E bill, but bad news for spreading Christmas cheer. And shopping? What’s that? We’re destined to be hitting the malls on Christmas Eve with the rest of the unprepared masses, it would seem.

We did make it to the stores the day after Black Friday to pick up decorating supplies for our tree. We decided to theme it this year around candy, using real candies and a few fakes to hang in the branches. Ben designed a couple dozen buttons that we clipped to the tree’s faux needles, and Glenn manufactured a large red-and-white peppermint swirl as a tree-topper using a circle of foam, paint, glue and glitter. He poked a 20-count string of mini lights into it and it really completes the display. Roni came up with the idea of making popcorn strings that we made using fishing line, popcorn, cranberries and licorice pieces. The birds will get a post-Christmas treat once we undecorate.

But right now it’s time to wrap up this newsletter so we can get back to work on the Delta Science Center calendar. It’s so hard to believe that another year has almost found its way into the history books and there is still so much left to do. Hope you all have a very merry (and warm!) Christmas.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 13:20 hrs.

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