Photo of the month

DARE to resist... door-to-door solicitors bearing cameras. Unless you happen to be peddling autographed collector editions of the latest hot anime series, best not disturb Ben while he's in his inner sanctum. Photo by Glenn.

March 2012

Things are hopping at the annual Antioch Mineral & Gem Show at the county fairgrounds on Feb. 19. Photo by Glenn.

All that glitters is not gold, but it was among the many glittery objects available for purchase at the gem show. Roni looks over some of the settings available for purchase. Photo by Glenn.

The gem show included display cases to show off the exquisite craftsmanship of some of the Antioch Lapidary Club members. Wonder how long it took to design this tiny cat. Photo by Glenn.

This photo is dedicated to the paranoid vendor who thought he was guarding Fort Knox and didn't want us photographing his stuff after not saying a word to the woman next to us with her camera shooting the same crap... er, stuff. Photo by Glenn.

We gladly followed this sign's advice and ate at Hazel's after our excursion to the gem show. Local favorite greasy spoon, what's more to say? Photo by Glenn.

The wisteria buds resemble purple strawberries as they begin to emerge on our back patio in late February. Photo by Glenn.

Roni makes some headway on our spring gardening chores as she takes a pruning shears to the purple sage. It's already putting out new shoots. Photo by Glenn.

We ran the fountain for the first time this year on Feb. 24. The water is still pretty murky because we just did a quick rinse-out instead of the thorough cleaning it needs. Photo by Glenn.

The evergreen ash is living up to its name, already sporting a dense canopy of fresh leaves on March 8. Photo by Glenn.

This is why you get an ornamental plum or cherry tree for your yard — the two weeks out of the year that it is in full bloom. This was taken around its peak on Feb. 19. Photo by Roni.

The cat known as Fake Katy makes a stop in our yard on March 15. This was the last time we saw him (or her) before the cat's owners moved out of their nearby rental unit. Dang, it was a good gopher killer. Photo by Glenn.

Katy isn't quite sure what to make of the egg Glenn dropped while baking a king cake for Mardi Gras weekend. We hoped she'd clean it up for us, but sadly she wasn't interested in the job. Photo by Glenn.

The first of two king cakes is just about ready to roll up. We made one with almond paste filling and a second from strawberry jam. Photo by Glenn.

These are the finished king cakes, iced and decorated. Watch out for the plastic baby inside; tradition says the finder has to bake next year's cake! Photo by Glenn.

It looks like a warm, sunny day at Contra Loma Reservoir in Antioch on March 7, but don't let the blue sky fool you, It was windy and barely 50 degrees. Photo by Glenn.

Kids from one of the Antioch charter schools take part in an ecology game in which they had to portray salmon. At least they got to keep warm with all their running around. Photo by Roni.

What could possibly be more adorable than a little girl and her rainbow trout? Too cute for words. Photo by Roni.

A couple of ducks march boldly toward the kids to investigate their game. They were probably hoping for a free handout. Photo by Glenn.

Roni was at Contra Loma on behalf of the Delta Science Center, which helped sponsor a fish release program that the charter kids took part in. Photo by Glenn.

Egrets are in abundance at Contra Loma. This one had the best seat in the house to watch the day's proceedings from a safe distance. Photo by Roni.

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Digital draft cards don't burn

March 22, 2012

Our little boy is growing up. We’ve known this for a long time, but often these days there are things that serve to remind us that Ben is no longer that same wee lad who used to eagerly count rail cars as they ran past our back fence, or school other kids at Pokémon before he was in kindergarten. Ben is a teenager verging on adulthood, or the age that society will call him an adult whether he and we are ready for it or not.

Ben has been busily filling out paperwork to apply for scholarships to college this fall, a daunting task for him and us, not just because there are a lot of forms to submit, but because he isn’t exactly sure what he wants to study or how we’re going to pay for it all. What we do know is that the application deadline was nearly upon us, so we had to hustle to get everything turned in with i’s dotted and t’s crossed. In the midst of trying to do this, we somehow stumbled across the rules regarding selective service and how if you are a red-blooded American male of eligible age then you must register for the draft if you hope to dip into Uncle Sam’s deep pockets for college cash. No biggie, really. It’s a rite of passage that has gone back several generations, and in the modern era there hasn’t been a military draft since the 1970s. And anyway, it’s federal law.

But when Ben learned about the requirement to register, you’d think it was the Vietnam era all over again and he’d just been called to pick up an M-16 and go overseas. After an hour or more of pitched debate in which taking up residence in Canada figured prominently, Ben decided that he could still be a conscientious objector without having to worry about a $250,000 fine and jail time for failing to register, and should the day come when we do declare war on Iran or North Korea or some other Third World country and the draft is reinstated, he could revisit his geopolitical beliefs then.

Filling out his draft card was a dirt simple process compared to the old days, when one had to lick a stamp and autograph an envelope. All he needed to do was surf to the selective service website, click a couple of links, fill out a form and he was good to go. Or not go, should he make that choice one day. But we reassured him that he’s only eligible to be drafted for eight years and the likelihood is slim. In the meantime, he is clear to try for those college grants that are probably equally unlikely because they are based on Mom and Dad’s ability to underwrite his education. We’ll see.

Ben still has a few weeks before his 18th birthday, when he will officially be old enough for military duty, but that didn’t stop his friends from ribbing him about filling out his draft card. It was a topic of discussion among his Facebook pals, as have been other issues concerning life, relationships and political causes. It’s the age of discovery of the great big world that awaits after high school. And while he isn’t happy about joining the draft, and isn’t completely sure about this college thing, and doesn’t really see the point in registering to vote for a presidential primary or general election that are still a few months away, he is still curious about the things we were all curious about as young adults.

Take religion. It is a fact that we haven’t been much into it as a family. Glenn never had any sort of religious upbringing as a child, and Roni came from a household that was half Catholic and half Jewish. So it isn’t too surprising that Ben has forged his own views on the subject, waffling from at one point being a self-avowed atheist to lately being open to the idea of seeing what this church thing is all about. On March 18, he got his first taste of a real live church service at Golden Hills Community Church in Brentwood, where he attended to check out the youth group with his friend Aaron. He described the experience as interesting and plans to go back, although it remains to be seen how involved he wants to get in the youth group. It helps that his friend, girlfriend and others he knows are members of Golden Hills, so that gives him some common ground while he explores his feelings about God and where it fits in his life.

* * * * *

Regardless of whether one believes in a higher power, something seems to be at work concerning the bizarre weather we’ve been having. As someone else at Glenn’s work observed, spring came before winter this year. No sooner did we leave February then the balmy 70- and 80-degree days we’d been enjoying reverted to cold, rainy, windy afternoons and nights. A few days ago we were back to bundling up in our sweatshirts and wondering if there would be a late dusting of snow on Mount Diablo.

The late burst of winter weather has been good for our garden and the area wildflowers. Mustard and poppies are blooming at last, after finally getting a good drenching courtesy of Mother Nature. Our crepe myrtle tree that we’ve had planted in a barrel on our back patio for more than a year and a half is already putting out new leaves, which cheers our hearts because last year it didn’t do that until very late in the spring and we feared it was dead. We’ll see if it gets blossoms earlier this year, too.

We never have worries about our wisteria, which blooms like clockwork around the start of March. Last season we got a nice crop of blossoms on the back patio, the first year since we raised the vine up on the BAP pergola. This year’s bloom is even bigger and better. The pergola is awash in light purple blossoms, and because it is such a vigorous grower and put out extra shoots that we were able to train around the older pergola outside the dining room window last summer, for the first time we also have blossoms just beyond the sliding glass door. The bumble bees have only started to discover them.

Seeing the garden springing back to life makes us eager to spend time pulling weeds and sprucing up the landscaping, a task we have avoided for much too long as work and other activities have taken over our lives. Not that our yard is the worst one on the block, but it won’t be winning any Good Housekeeping prizes any time soon, either. Our neighbors to the north of us have been hard at work in their yard for the past month or so, extending a retaining wall in their rear yard and cultivating the gorgeous green front lawn they keep surrounded by a white picket fence. By contrast, our adjacent parkway is filled with weeds, dead leaves, some anemic rose bushes and a couple of wild oleanders surrounded by gopher mounds and clusters of sweet alyssum. When the neighborhood dogs aren’t doing their business on our lawn, wayward scraps of garbage are gathering in our front planter bed. It is disheartening, to say the least. But that is a chore to be tackled later this spring.

* * * * *

On the subject of properties, this has been a busy month in our area. The rental house a couple of doors down the block from us cleared out just before St. Patrick’s Day weekend, ridding us of a couple of families that kept a trailer home in their driveway and a large work vehicle parked in the street. The net effect was that our normally huge cul de sac was extremely cramped. The house right next door to the rental is occupied by some guys who run a car repair shop on the premises, so there are always three or four cars sitting in the street there too. If only they’d move, but that doesn’t seem likely. Now we just hope for a quiet family to move into the rental unit.

On a bit more personal level, Roni’s sister Jacki and her husband Kevin lost their home to foreclosure at the end of February after trying unsuccessfully to do a workout loan with Bank of America. They moved to Oakley just a few years after we did, but they were hoping to move a bit closer to the Bay Area for the sake of giving Kevin a shorter commute to work. They were fortunate to find a rental house in nearby Antioch that allowed Jacki to keep her many pets, and they are participating in a program that will help them save money for a down payment on their next property should they decide to buy again in a few years.

It’s tough to see someone actually go through the foreclosure process. You hear a lot in the news about uncooperative banks and loan scammers and the shark-infested waters of real estate auctions and cash-only investors. Having witnessed what happened to Jacki and Kevin, we are more convinced than ever that it is all true. But hopefully there is an end in sight to some of the madness as the economy continues to right itself and the housing market starts to stabilize. Three years ago, at least a half-dozen houses on our block were in foreclosure or on the verge of it. Today, all but a couple are occupied — most of them by the families that own them. Our next door neighbors with the picket fence had attempted to sell their place last fall, but they took the house off the market this winter and have been trying to fix it up more. Looks like they’re in it for the long haul. As are we.

* * * * *

Roni has now been at the helm of the Delta Science Center for more than a year, and while it’s only considered a part-time position with part-time pay, the work she’s been doing to promote the center’s activities has been a full-time task. She was involved in recent discussions with the East Bay Regional Park District concerning the DSC’s use of the new visitor center at Big Break Regional Shoreline. The two groups had reached a tentative agreement last summer to allow the DSC space inside the soon-to-be-opened visitor center, but plans changed around the end of the year when budget constraints forced the park district to downsize the project, resulting in no room for the DSC. That development led to weeks of high-level discussions between the park district management and the DSC board members and local politicians, and the latest is that some sort of mutual agreement appears near. We really hope so, because the DSC volunteers have worked very hard for a couple of decades to see the Big Break project become a reality and they deserve to share in that accomplishment when the visitor center officially opens to the public.

Meanwhile, Roni recently wrapped up her annual report to the DSC board, and there was no shortage of achievements. She documented grants won, programs sponsored, festival booths staffed, classroom presentations given, and her many hours spent developing websites, writing press releases and shuttling back and forth between Oakley and various Delta communities to meet with organizations and deliver calendars. A very exciting year that can only be matched by what she has in store for this year. And it’s already started out with a bang.

On March 7, we drove to Contra Loma Reservoir in Antioch to watch as students from the Antioch Charter Academy took part in a fish release program the DSC helped sponsor with the California Striped Bass Association. The kids had raised a bunch of fish in their classroom and were learning about the ecosystem as they took turns letting the fish go in the shallows of the reservoir. Roni had hoped to document the program through photos, and true enough, she did take a lot of photos of kids pouring out baggies of water, but the fish were so small that they were difficult to see. We wondered if they would be able to survive in the wild long enough to become anything more than bait for the bigger fish.

On top of that, the weather was windy and cold. We were thankful for having brought along our sweatshirts and jackets, which still were scant protection from the air currents. The dozens of ducks and geese along the banks didn’t seem bothered by it at all, and they boldly marched along the grassy field despite the noise from the kids running and screaming nearby. It had been many years since we last visited Contra Loma, and we had never been to the area of the park where the picnic grounds were located, being more familiar with the shallow swimming lagoon on the opposite side. It looks like an inviting place to take a walk sometime, and perhaps we’ll do that one day when the temperatures warm up a bit.

* * * * *

That’s about it for this month, as we try to get this newsletter posted before our upcoming birthday and anniversary weekend. Ben’s on his last long break from school and Glenn has a little vacation time coming up, so there will surely be some new adventures to share next month. …That is, when we are finished with tax season!

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Friday, April 20, 2012 at 00:27 hrs.

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