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March 14, 2001

Sometimes you are amazed at the little things life throws your way while other times you are just thankful to be alive at all. That is the sort of month it has been for us Oakley Gehlkes.

We begin with a simple Sunday morning, March 11, when Glenn and Benji decided to share some father-son time pulling weeds together on Dad's long-neglected garden railway. Roni, meanwhile, had departed for some grocery shopping and to pick up some gardening supplies at Kmart. Around 11:30 a.m., Glenn and Benji had the railway looking pretty good when they heard the sound of an approaching Amtrak train on the 1:1 scale tracks behind our back fence. That isn't unusual, as anyone who knows anything about where we live also knows that we get quite a few trains through daily. Nonetheless, Glenn took note of what sounded like a car taking a hard and belated bounce across the tracks moments after the crossing gates dropped. Another driver trying to beat the train, or so he thought. A few moments after the train had passed, Glenn and Benji heard Roni's voice calling to them from over the fence, then Glenn looked up to see an unfamiliar young man leaning over the fence to inform him that Roni had been involved in an accident.

You think this is bad, you should have seen the car that hit her! Photo by Roni.
No one was hurt, fortunately, but Roni's recently purchased Toyota Corolla received a sizable tattoo on the rear bumper. It was only after the insurance policy numbers had been exchanged and Roni was home safe in our driveway that Glenn and Benji learned the rest of the story. It turns out that the aforementioned Amtrak train arrived just as Roni was returning home from the store. She saw the flashing lights at the grade crossing and slowed to stop as the gates began to descend. As she stopped, a young woman driving the car behind her apparently thought they would both try to beat the train and didn't stop, plowing into Roni's bumper at about 25 mph. The force of the impact pushed Roni's car under the gate and into the path of the approaching train. Fortunately there was enough time for both drivers to back out of the way and avoid what surely would have been a disaster. This apparently was the other driver's second accident in six months. It was Roni's first in 20 years of driving and thankfully not her last. We're all happy to have her home in one piece. Our auto body guy tells us that for a paltry $850 the car should be as good as new. Glad this repair's not on our dime!

Roni's in good company in the auto body repair department. The day before her mishap, Glenn tried to take out a speed limit sign at work with the rear bumber of his car. Actually, it was dark and he didn't see it as he backed out of his parking space. He hit it moving about 2 mph, but it is amazing the damage even a small collision will do. A few scratches that hopefully a little touch-up paint will cure.

When the Gehlkes aren't doing demolition derby impersonations, the next best thing lately seems to be NASCAR auto racing. Thanks to some heavy hype by the FOX TV network and a popular computer simulation that Benji and he have been playing, Glenn has rediscovered one of his early interests in auto racing. Every Sunday since Feb. 18 he has been watching the races, taping them so as not to miss a moment of the action. Benji has had only a passing interest in the broadcasts, although he can name many of the drivers and recognizes their cars. Roni has been tuning in as well, at least when it comes down to the final few laps and a shootout to see who will cross the finish line first.

With weird weather such as that we have been having lately it is hard to believe that spring is almost upon us. Despite a new schedule that allows us Sundays for family activities, five recent Sundays in a row featured rain in one form or another. The one weekend excursion we did manage to take (under storm clouds, what else) was to the Napa wine country on Feb. 19 so Roni could shoot photos of the abundant wild mustard in bloom. We ate lunch in the wine cellar at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, which was a welcome refuge from the rain. At home, Roni and Glenn have been taking morning walks on the Marsh Creek Trail through Oakley where there have been many early flowers and a variety of wild critters to photograph. (Those with an interest in Roni's trail photos can see them posted at the Oakley.now Web site in the photo gallery.) We haven't had many opportunities to work in the yard, but this past weekend Roni did manage to get some spring annuals in the ground and we raked out the winter debris and wayward garbage from our front yard flower bed.

Benji, our budding young astronomer, poses with his model solar system that he created with a little help from Mom and Dad. Perhaps we now know the real reason behind global warming: Earth's a little too close to the sun! Photo by Roni.
The past month has been a busy one for Benji, as well. Each February, Ben's school holds a reading marathon with prizes awarded to students who read for a certain number of minutes. Ben easily doubled his goal of 200 minutes and was presented with a Super Reader award in a school assembly on Feb. 28. Although he occasionally complains about the subject matter, Ben has demonstrated great aptitude for reading. This month he began attending reading sessions with the second-grade students in an effort to give him more challenging reading assignments.

Ben also had the chance recently to sign up for after-school activities and chose to take a six-week astronomy class. We introduced him to the unit by building a small solar system using paint, foam balls and floral wire. He took the finished model to class where it was a big hit with his classmates and teacher. Outside of school, Ben has been spending time playing with one of his classmates, Zachary, and improving his computer skills. Pretty soon we suspect he will be writing these monthly missives. Or perhaps not.

The sagging fortunes of California's power-hungry economy are beginning to take their toll on many proud industries, including Glenn's employer. This month Glenn and his co-workers learned of a hiring freeze and budget cuts that have sent a wave of uncertainty through the newspaper. Rising newsprint and energy prices coupled with shrinking ad revenue have been blamed for the situation, which most of us expect will grow worse before it gets better. If the downward trend of the Dow Jones Industrials and the NASDAQ are any indication, all the interest rate cuts the Fed can muster won't come fast enough to right this sinking ship.

And speaking of sinking ships, the tax man cometh. As always, we say in January that we are going to fill out the ol' Form 1040 right away and get it off of our desk, yet somehow we always wind up filing at the last minute. With luck, we'll have the taxes done by the time we go to press next month.

Glenn, Roni and Benji

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