Photo of the month

Ben may look like he's posing for the cover of his first solo music album, but he's actually a bit out of breath after having just run several hundred yards through an overgrown Antioch field during our annual blossom walk on Feb. 21. Photo by Glenn.

March 2009

Roni has been doing a lot of baking lately, including her own Mardi Gras king cake recipe. Photo by Glenn.

Here's the king cake all finished and decorated in the traditional purle, yellow and green colors of the Mardi Gras. The coins and beads are some we saved from the cake we mail-ordered last year. Photo by Roni.

The raindrops have disappeared long enough for us to get in our annual spring blossom walk. This year's walk will include a little railfanning as well. Ben and Glenn pose before the start of their walk in Antioch. Photo by Roni.

At the head of the blossom trail is a farm where a family of hens lives. We don't know what species of bird this is, but we likely saw this pair a couple of years ago when they were chicks. Photo by Roni.

The wind and rain has taken its toll on the almond blossoms, which cover the ground like snow at the trailhead. Here's a larger image. Photo by Glenn.

Gathering clouds create an interesting pattern in an overcast sky. Not great light for photos, but an interesting image all the same. Photo by Glenn.

To some it's just graffiti, but to us it's a colorful opportunity for some unusual urban art backdrops for our photos. Ben strikes a pose near a tagged railcar. Photo by Glenn.

The ground slopes up from the tracks in a couple of places, allowing an unusual perspective for Ben's photo of Glenn. Photo by Ben.

Now really, why would someone write this on the side of a train car? Photo by Glenn.

Glenn demonstrates proper gasping technique in front of this tag that seems to demand a response. Photo by Ben.

With a wall full of graffiti behind you it's easy to look street wise, even if the biggest street you've ever set foot in is the four-lane main drag that runs through your own home town. Photo by Glenn.

The lengths some taggers go to accomplish their artistic endeavors are quite astounding. It would have taken a ladder to reach all the way to the roof of this autorack. Photo by Glenn.

Almond blossoms are silhouetted against the gray February sky. Photo by Glenn.

We did say this was a blossom walk, and here are the blossoms to prove it. This bee was busy doing its thing and paid us no mind. Photo by Glenn.

The pink is evident in the emerging buds of this almond tree. Photo by Glenn.

After passing a mile's worth of empty rail cars, we emerged on a meadow in between Antioch and Oakley. It is several dozen acres of natural grasses and trees, with a stream that cuts through the property. Eventually this will be houses, but for now we enjoy its unspoiled beauty. Photo by Glenn.

A lone mustard plant sports one of its pale yellow blooms. Put a few plants together and it's an impressive sight — as you will see a bit lower down the page. Photo by Glenn.

Remnants of an almond orchard along Highway 160 still bloom each February. Photo by Glenn.

We didn't get to the DuPont property on our weekend blossom walk, so on Tuesday, Feb. 24, it took a special trip to see the trees we'd missed. This one has been pruned back; it once was much fuller. Photo by Glenn.

The characteristic five-point blossom of an almond tree blooming on the DuPont property. Photo by Glenn.

Our very own ornamental plum tree is in its mid-winter splendor on Feb. 24. Photo by Glenn.

The plum blossoms last a couple of weeks before the wind, rain and birds do them in. Photo by Glenn.

We had considered dyeing the water in our fountain green for St. Patrick's Day, but thanks to the algae we didn't need to. Photo by Glenn.

We had hoped the doves would be nesting in these baskets by now, but it seems they have chosen a different nesting area after finding neither basket suitable. Photo by Glenn.

Strong winds in late February deposited this enormous tumbleweed in our back yard. Glenn had to use the rake to return it to the other side of the back fence. Photo by Roni.

A bit higher up the page we showed an isolated mustard flower. Here is what happens when you put thousands of plants together. This mustard field is at the corner of Oak Grove Road and Shadelands Drive in Walnut Creek. Photo by Glenn.

Returning to the animal theme of this month's photos, here is a honey bee checking out the rosemary bush in our rear garden on March 7. Photo by Glenn.

This is something we never expected to see. A pair of crows has discovered the fountain in Summer's Garden and checks in every afternoon for a drink. Photo by Roni.

The wisteria in our back yard is budding on March 7. Photo by Glenn.

By March 19, when this shot was taken, the wisteria blossoms are at their best. Photo by Roni.

For a few days, the wisteria blossoms hang like grape clusters from the lattice of our gazebo. Photo by Glenn.

We aren't the only ones loving the wisteria. Several bumble bees buzz around the blossoms on a warm spring afternoon. Photo by Glenn.

A bumble bee hovers near a wisteria blossom for a closer look. Check out YouTube for our video of the bees. Photo by Glenn.

Another view of the wisteria shows it cascading from the lattice of the gazebo. Photo by Glenn.

One of the first poppies of the season blooms in Summer's Garden. Photo by Glenn.

Ben tests his skill at Guitar Hero III, which his friend Austin let him borrow for a couple of weeks during spring break. Photo by Glenn.

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

The nature of things

March 25, 2009

It’s the first week of spring. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the bumble birds are buzzing around the wisteria, and the weather is warm. Just the way it oughta be. That, and the weeds in our garden are growing taller by the second. Not the way we’d prefer it, but the way things are in March nonetheless. Call it our own version of “March Madness.” Nothing drives us quite as mad as the foxtails overrunning the view of our yard, smothering last year’s progress made towards pretty landscaping. Just a constant reminded that Mother Nature is in charge despite our best efforts to keep her on a short leash.

Mother Nature also proved that she enjoys a good game of hide-and-seek, because since the start of February that is what she has been doing with the sun on the weekends — hiding it behind dark clouds and raindrops. Our fondest wishes for getting in our annual blossom walk in good weather before the end of February mostly got washed away. We had to settle for an overcast Saturday afternoon Feb. 21. After running some morning errands, Roni dropped off Ben and Glenn at the BART park and ride lot on Hillcrest Avenue in Antioch and they followed the railroad tracks east toward Oakley. There weren’t a lot of blooming trees to take pictures of, but there were plenty of graffiti-plastered empty rail cars with colorful tags and slogans, and a large vacant field in which the explorers got separated a time or two. The walk went more than two miles and took about three hours. It might have lasted longer except that the clouds grew more menacing as the afternoon wore on, building up to what eventually became another rainstorm. Ben decided he’d had about as much fun as he could handle once Burger King came into view as the walkers reached East 18th Street along the Highway 160 overpass near Oakley. He got a free lunch for his effort, and a free ride home courtesy Mom, who decided to come by with the car to pick up her boys and who didn’t want to be left out of a rare opportunity to enjoy a chocolate shake.

Although the weather was not ideal for photography and didn’t hold up long enough to get in the last leg of the walk past the DuPont property near our home, it was a good thing we didn’t wait for a better weekend. The rain spoiled two subsequent weekends, and some good wind gusts took away most of the tree blossoms before we would have had a chance to get our walk in. February is undoubtedly the most beautiful month on the calendar in these parts, but the unpredictable weather usually makes it hard to enjoy the show. We’ll have to enjoy our meager crop of photos for this year and wait 11 months.

We shouldn’t have to wait as long for a good opportunity to start on this year’s garden. The weather has been warming up, and now that we’re getting past the windy season it is time to think about strawberries and tomatoes. Roni can’t wait for our next trip to Home Depot or Orchard Supply Hardware so we can stock up on plants. There is plenty of work to do in the yard beforehand. We started with the median strip along the driveway in the front, where last year’s experiment of planting bareroot roses in clay pots sunk into the ground didn’t go so well. Of the five pots, only one of them succeeded in supporting the rose bush it had planted in it; the other four croaked. It could have been a lack of water, or it might have been that the pots didn’t drain the water well enough and the roots got damp feet. We suspect the former rather than the latter.

We decided rather than rely on the lawn sprinklers to water all the roses, we would run drip irrigation to each bush. So while Roni pulled weeds one Saturday afternoon, Glenn converted one of the front sprinklers to a drip hydrant and strung about 100 feet of quarter-inch tubing to each of the pots. We made a run to OSH and took advantage of a 2-for-1 clearance sale on bareroots to pick up four new rose bushes for the front pots and a couple of climbers to put in Winter’s Garden in the back yard. It’s been a couple of weeks since we replanted the front pots and so far things are looking good.

The climbing roses we planted March 23, making sure to put the roots in cages before committing them to the ground. The gopher problem has been less in recent months since we killed several of them last summer, but there is at least one we’ve noticed lurking in the space between the front and rear yards. Eventually he’ll tire of wild weedy salad greens and make his way to where our good plants are located, so best not to make it easy on him.

The wisteria next to our gazebo has been a source of entertainment these past few weeks, which probably says a lot more about our lack of entertainment options than about the fascinating aspects of the plant, but indulge us for a moment... One of the most vigorous growers in our garden, the wisteria seems impervious to underground pests and has taken over most of the gazebo that still houses our neglected spa. During the summer and fall it produces giant seed pods that hang like ripening bananas from the vines. Throughout much of winter, those pods mature and dry out, twisting like springs until the built-up tension becomes so great that they quite literally explode, showering their seeds up to 50 feet away. Usually the pods have mostly popped during the late fall, but we didn’t have our usual run of warm weather heading into winter, so this year a lot of the pods clung stubbornly to the vine well into February.

On Super Bowl Sunday, the halftime show on the field was nothing compared to the wisteria pods popping every few seconds and pelting the house with their contents. By early March, the patio was littered with lima bean-sized seeds and broken husks that crunch under foot. We gathered up as many seeds as we could find and placed them in a quart-sized yogurt container, and the container filled to overflowing. We filled up nearly half of a second container. We are thinking we should go into business and sell the seeds in lots of 10.

With the pods off the vine there was room for the new blossoms to emerge, and they did just that the first week of March. By the middle of the month we had a gazebo full of robust, sweet-smelling purple blooms, and every bee this side of the Sierra Nevada knew our address. The bumble bees in particular can’t seem to get enough of the flowers. We’ve taken to calling them bumble birds, because they are about the size of the humming birds that occasionally visit our yard. They also tend to be poor navigators, and if you don’t duck they may fly right into you. Maybe they’re intoxicated on wisteria nectar. The bees are fun to watch as they amble about from flower to flower for hours in the afternoon. But they’d better enjoy the moment, because the blossoms are already beginning to fade and give way to the green tendrils that signal the plant is ready to expand its territory for another season.

For those who have been waiting for a dove update, you’ll be happy to learn that there is a nest and there are eggs in it. But the nest is not where we were expecting. After trying since the end of January to construct a nest in each of the two baskets we’d provided on the back pergola, the doves that had been settling in decided not to make the baskets their nesting home. We don’t know where they finally wound up, but it’s not where we can see them. Perhaps that’s why they chose not to nest there, because they didn’t want us peeking in on them. That did not seem to be a concern for another set of doves that took to nesting in the wisteria on our front porch. They constructed a nest right at the entry way and close to the house, where mama dove is clearly visible (and forever watching us sternly.)

Speaking of watching things, have you checked out the stock market lately? If you can trust what has been happening with the Dow Jones Industrials average since March 10, the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy may be working. Ben Bernanke says the recession should be over by December, but our theory is that people may be in a spending mood now because it’s spring and we’re all sick of hearing how rotten the economy is. The economic chart we pay closest attention to is our own, of course, and there are still plenty of signs that the health of our local economy isn’t good. With our anniversary approaching, we considered the idea of buying the next member of the Four Seasons statues series we have been adding to our back yard. We popped in on our favorite Oakley statuary business, Statues ‘N Stuff, to find out about placing an order, only to discover that they are selling their inventory and going out of business. Bummer. Another casualty of the recession? We don’t know, but it makes sense that when times are tight and folks can’t afford their mortgages that they won’t be spending the rent money on yard art.

And there are still plenty of foreclosures to be had around town, although they have been selling more briskly than last fall. We recently saw two more on our block, including the house of our next door neighbor. At the start of March there were some workers there clearing away yard debris and cleaning out the garage, then we saw the padlock on the door and a notice in the front porch window that the place is being maintained by an asset management company. It’s still a great time to buy a house if you can afford one. The government is practically giving away money. Too bad so many people have lost jobs and can’t afford to borrow.

Our connections to the virtual world have been growing in the first thee months of the new year. Roni especially has been checking out the many social networking sites as she seeks new ways to promote her Romance Book Scene blog. You can now find her on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, where she has hundreds of friends and followers. She also continues posting photos on DeviantART, and recently joined Gaia Online at the insistence of Ben, who has been heavily active in that particular virtual world. Roni also started up a couple of other blog sites, one a continuation of our somewhat defunct site devoted to Oakley news, and another called “Recipe for Fun,” which is a collection of how-to craft and cooking articles inspired by her writing for Associated Content and Helium. If you are having a hard time keeping track of it all, just imagine how we feel! It’s a lot of work for Roni, but the effort seems to be paying off as more and more readers have been discovering Romance Book Scene. Authors have been hearing about the site and are starting to seek it out.

Roni’s online endeavors have served as an inspiration to finish the long-pending update of the Gehlke Family Home Page, so one day you may open this site and find it looks totally different than what you’re used to. Then again, maybe it won’t. It sort of depends on what inspiration strikes us and when.

This is a good week for inspiration, as Ben and Glenn are both on vacation and have lots of time to kill. Actually, Ben is on vacation and Glenn is on furlough for a week, trying not to think about the money he isn’t making while enjoying some badly needed leisure time. Ben got to borrow a copy of “Guitar Hero III” for the Wii from his friend Austin, who is traveling  for a few days, so we have been having Guitar Hero tournaments in our living room, driving Roni crazy with the clicking of the keys on the guitar-shaped game controller. It’s a lot like the olden days of playing air guitar while rocking out to records in your bedroom, except that you’re being scored as you play. The game is addicting. Ben has mastered a few of the songs on the easy level, and Glenn has progressed to the medium level in career mode.

With Ben’s friend returning home this week, we knew the game would soon be leaving us. So it was a bit of an impulse buy on Sunday when we were at Toys R Us to pick up the new Pokemon DS game Ben had reserved and saw the Guitar Hero III game on the clearance table. Now we have our own copy of the game so Glenn and Ben can spend hours practicing all those tricky guitar riffs at their leisure. Maybe by next month they will have started their own heavy metal band.

We’ll write more about our spring vacation next month. Right now it is time to take part in the government’s more familiar form of economic stimulus known as income tax filing. See you in April.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 18:01 hrs.

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