Category Archives: Neighborhood

Exploring the sewer

We’ve had to have the RotoRooter guys out twice so far this year, so we took their advice and arranged to have a team come out, excavate a possible blockage in the line and do a “spot repair.”  They arrived about 10:30 this morning.

Five and a half hours later, we all know a lot about our sanitary plumbing that we didn’t know before.  The house is 100 years old, and it turns out that the sewer main and its associated inputs are also about 100 years old, and the main line is clay pipe.  We’ve also discovered three sewer cleanout openings we didn’t know we had, one of which had a lower cleanout lid leading to a flapper valve (meant to prevent backflow from the street into our yard, which is slightly lower than the line in the street). 

The expert they sent out (a very experienced supervisor) believes all our backup problems relate to the flapper valve, which had rotted away from its attachment and was rolling around loose on the floor of the main pipe.  The expert was quite surprised to find this valve in our parking strip, next to the street; he said they’re usually placed right near the house.  But there it is, and they had to dig up about 4 inches of dirt and several Algerian iris plants to expose the cleanout lid. 

The good news is that, although there are some minor issues with the main pipe, the flow to the street from the house is unobstructed and the clay pipe is generally intact.  Now that they’ve removed the loose flapper, he thinks we should have no more backup issues.  The area where we thought we had a blockage turned out to be a junction with a former storm drain, which was patched into the main sewer many years ago, and was closed off and capped by our neighbors more recently, when they redid their own plumbing.  So we don’t need anything more now except putting everything back together, re-laying the concrete they dug up beside the house (where the old storm drain was), and leaving all the cleanouts accessible.

And this is a good thing, because if we ever do decide to do a trenchless sewer main replacement, it will require digging up the street out near the main (an Oakland city requirement) at our expense.  With traffic management, and repairs to the street.  And that will cost us somewhere in low five figures.  I asked why they have to dig up the road if the replacement is “trenchless,” and they pointed out that they have to be able to get at all the ends of the line.

If we ever sell the house, we’ll have to do it, because of the local requirement, imposed by the local water company shortly after the major remodel we did in 2012!  If we tried to do that remodel now, we’d also have to do the sewer line replacement.  Since we don’t plan to move out any time soon, we’ll worry about that later.

Also posted in Family Tagged , |

Visiting Point Reyes

On December 29, Jim and I decided to drive over to Point Reyes Lighthouse and see if we could see any whales.  It was a mild sunny day, the Friday before New Year’s, and he thought there might be a smaller crowd than on the actual weekend, when we’d have to park well away and ride a shuttle bus in.

We drove over in the late morning and were stunned to find very light traffic – on Interstate 80, on 580 over the Richmond Bridge, and almost no traffic at all on Lucas Valley Road, which we took out to Highway 1.  We planned to have lunch in Point Reyes Station.  As we got to Highway 1, we saw the first serious traffic of the day – apparently everyone else was going to Point Reyes Station too.  We parked and started to look for a restaurant, and were stopped by an older woman who was standing on the corner marveling at the crowds.  “I’ve never seen so many people here,” she said.  She then turned to us and asked, “What are you two doing here?”  We laughed and said we were on our way to Point Reyes.  She wasn’t hostile, merely amazed; we chatted briefly and she recommended a restaurant.  Point Reyes Station is a very small town.

After lunch we drove on out to Point Reyes.  If you’ve never done it, it’s a long drive, through farm country – you do the entire trip on Sir Francis Drake Blvd West, turning off Highway 1.  The directions on the park site say turn off Highway 1 onto Bear Valley Road, but that shortly becomes Sir Francis Drake West.  At several points the road ran through the inhabited areas of local ranches; once we had to stop and wait until the cattle finished crossing the road.  It’s very beautiful and very far from anywhere else.

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Also posted in Nature Tagged |

Fire in the Hills

Of all the things that have gone wrong this summer, I didn’t need this afternoon’s fire in the Berkeley hills:

It started at 5 acres and 3 hours later seems to be under control (at 10 acres).  But I was here in 1991 for the Oakland Hills fire and it’s not anything you forget.  I’m still nervous on hot days with an east wind.  My husband is off backpacking, and there’s just a limit to what I could evacuate in my little car, all by myself.  And the real test will be tomorrow – the 1991 fire was supposedly put out the day before, but it wasn’t all gone, and the next day’s stiff winds blew it up into a firestorm.

This one went from a 2 alarm fire to a 5 alarm fire in 3 hours, but I’m not the only one who remembers 1991.  The local fire departments dumped resources onto it; last notice I find says it’s moving toward Contra Costa County, behind the Berkeley hills.  I drove home from downtown Oakland this afternoon and saw the smoke, and it stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically; I kept driving).

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And I Didn’t Have a Camera

Returning from the gym on Easter Sunday, in the course of an errand I was driving down San Pablo Avenue near the 580 overpass, instead of rolling straight home on the freeway.  While driving, I saw a truly wonderful sight.  Two cars in front of me was a car containing a person in a white rabbit suit, waving to the people on the sidewalk!  I couldn’t see the details until we both got into a left turn lane.  The car was an ancient pale yellow Dodge GT convertible, top down, with an original California license plate from the ’60s – 3 yellow letters and 3 yellow numbers on a black background. It had fins.  I couldn’t tell you who was in the rabbit suit because all I could see was the back of its head.

And when I dived into my purse for my smartphone – I realized I’d forgotten it.  So all you get is a verbal description from me; but it absolutely made my day.  Happy Easter to all.

Also posted in Personal Tagged |

Sunset over the Bay

I took these photos on October 12 – that’s how long it takes me to get around to things.  On October 12 I attended the Oakland East Bay Symphony‘s 25th Anniversary Gala (I’m a board member of the parent organization, East Bay Performing Arts).  The Symphony decided to have its Gala in the new Penthouse suite in the remodeled U.C. Berkeley Memorial Stadium; and I figured it was the only chance I’d ever get to see the penthouse suite, since I don’t attend Cal football games, and if I did I’d be sitting in the cheap seats.  I’m also annoyed at the U.C. Regents for (among other sins) spending all that money to reinforce a stadium which is still sitting Right On the Hayward Fault – the fault trace runs the length of the oval.

But it was a nice party, and the food was good, and the view as the sun set was amazing.  I’ve taken panorama photos of San Francisco Bay on other occasions (see my gallery Views of S.F. Bay, which includes these photos and a few more from this session), but usually I’m using my Canon T3i or its predecessor.  In this case the only camera I had was my old smartphone, an HTC Droid Incredible 2 (since replaced).  Also, I’m usually somewhere on Grizzly Peak or Skyline Boulevard, looking down from a much higher vantage point. I think I got pretty nice photos that evening, I hope you agree.

Here’s the Campanile at dusk:

Campanile at dusk

The Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands:

San Francisco Bay

And the Campanile as the lights came on:

Campanile lights

By that time it was getting too dark for my measly phone camera to cope, so I quit.  But it was a lovely evening.

Also posted in Photography Tagged |

East Bay Mini Maker Faire

A week ago I spent Saturday at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire, a wonderful place for the gadget minded to hang out.  I had two reasons for being there.  The first was that my singing group, TOSCA, was performing on the main stage – in fact, they were the opening act, performing Ward Swingle’s Music History 101.  TOSCA is The Oakland Symphony Chorus A La Carte, and you can find more about them on the Oakland Symphony Chorus web page.  Page down to the bottom on the right side for contact information.

Here they are waiting to go on:

TOSCA waiting to perform

They sang valiantly, competing with 8-year-olds swinging hula hoops, and a swing-the-hammer-ring-the-bell arrangement in the next field that shot huge bursts of flame into the air at unpredictable times:

TOSCA on stage

Outdoor performances are always trying but they sang their best.

Mr. JazzBo

The jazz tune was great until the sound system died in the middle of it 🙁  The costumed young woman at the right was their “time machine,” who “moved” the performance from era to historical era.  I wasn’t singing because back in August I came down with walking pneumonia and I missed too many rehearsals to try to perform this complicated music.

After the performance I went off to my volunteer stint at the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Instrument Petting Zoo, which was extremely popular.  I didn’t take many photos there – I was too busy cleaning the mouthpieces of the flute, the trumpet, and the trombone (and the conch shell), before the next person picked one up to try it!

I did like the little Zen fountain behind the booth:

Zen fountain

After my shift was over I wandered around, and could not resist a photo of the Intergalactic Imagination Transporter – that’s what it says on the door.

decorated car

This is my second Mini Maker Faire and they’re always fun.  If one happens near you, drop in on it, you never know what you’ll find.  I remember with pleasure the booth surrounded by 9 year old kids, each madly swinging a small bottle – they were making their own butter!  They were right across from the beekeeper’s booth, with its hive of live bees.  A lovely day.

Also posted in Personal Tagged , , |

The Shirt King of Oakland

Walking along Lakeshore Avenue the other day, I passed a dry cleaners’ window I hadn’t noticed before:

shop window

The actual sign said “George’s,” above the motto, but I couldn’t get it with my phone without stepping out into the street.

The window caught my eye because of the old laundry equipment.  You can’t see it from this angle, but the iron with its cover flipped back is full of charcoal briquettes (probably originally lumps of coal); that’s how you ironed laundry before electricity. A friend of mine once lived on a boat – when I visited them I saw her Coleman iron, a mid-20th century version of the coal-fired iron.  Hers was more modern looking than the ones on eBay but it still had its pressurized tank of white gas.

Next to the coal-fired iron is its predecessor, a flatiron – you had two of those, one to sit on the stove and heat up while you ironed with the other.  The wringer, of course, is obvious; and though it’s hard to see, there is a washboard tilted against the left side of the window. The blue thing that looks like a pistol is (I think) an old sewing machine.

Why am I so interested in old laundry equipment?  According to family legend, once upon a time my grandmother supported her five kids by taking in laundry and washing it “on the board.”  These were all tools she might have used.  Thank God I never had to do that!

Also posted in Photography Tagged , |

The Bridge in the Truck

One of the things I like about the Bay Area is its unpredictability.  You never quite know what you’ll run into.  Today we ran an errand in Emeryville and parked in the lot across from Home Depot.  I got out of the car and found myself staring straight at this, in the next parking space:

Bridge in truck

Yes, that is a model of a suspension bridge – looks like the Golden Gate bridge to me – made of barbed wire and scrap metal, sitting in the bed of someone’s pickup.

My first shot was a little off center, although it clearly does show the cross-braces on the suspension towers (which is why I think it’s the Golden Gate).  I backed off and took a better centered shot:

Bridge in truck

It’s a good thing I took those pictures right away, because when we got back to the car, the pickup had been replaced by a minivan with no interesting features at all.  I don’t know if the bridge belongs to an artist, or just a metalworker who likes bridges.  Given that we were less than a mile from The Crucible, I sort of suspect this may be connected with that institution.  Just maybe.  But – who knows?

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Lunch in the Yard

On a beautiful day like this – sunny, light breeze, 82° – I often have lunch in the back yard, surrounded by plants and, occasionally, critters.  As I was eating today’s lunch, I heard a noise and turned to see a scrub jay land on the board edging the rose bed.  It’s hard to miss a scrub jay.  They’re almost a foot long head to tail, with a 15″ wingspan, and most of the bird is bright blue.  Since he (assumption, I can’t tell them apart) was only 10 feet or so away, I expected him to take off, but he hopped around the brick patio a bit, poking his beak, and finally extracted a string of dried grass.  Then he took off, heading for the mass of greenery at the back of the yard (an English laurel, 2 camellia bushes, 2 full grown trees, a shore pine and a live oak, and a ceanothus).

Hm.  I wonder.  A few minutes later he swooped by again and perched on top of the garage, again digging with his beak in an indecipherable glob of gup on top of the insulator where the electric wire enters the garage.  Can’t you find something nicer than that, I wondered.  But he picked up something he liked and vanished again.

I think we have a nesting pair of scrub jays.

Also posted in Nature, Personal Tagged |


We had a little excitement this afternoon.  My neighbor knocked on the door and said, “We have bees.”  What?  I said.  So he pointed to the tree in parking strip, ornamented with dark clumps of swarming bees, buzzing loudly.  As we stood around and wondered whom to call (Animal Control in Oakland is basically hopeless, though I think there’s a local guy who will remove swarms), the swarm moved from our tree to his tree, then swept onward to a yard about 3 houses down the block.  The whole thing took less than 10 minutes; I saw them last, through binoculars, orbiting around each other just short of the overhead freeway, a block away.

I wonder if they ever found a place they liked, to build a new hive.  The yard at that end of the block is posted as an official wild nature reserve, maybe they settled there.  Better them than me.  I like and approve of bees but I don’t want to raise them.

Also posted in Nature Tagged |