Photo of the month

Ben and his Uncle Sean perform some aerial acrobatics with a pair of flying discs during the sneak preview opening of the Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley on May 19. Photo by Glenn.

May 2007

It's the day we all feared would eventually arrive, but now it's official: Ben is a teenager. Photo by Glenn.

Being 13 doesn't change the fact that Ben's passion remains Pokémon. For his birthday he received the "Pokémon Pearl" video game and a new Nintendo DS Lite to play it on. Photo by Glenn.

The seventh graders studied a unit on the Renaissance, which included a day in which they had to dress in period costume. Ben got to be a peasant while Mom had to exercise her creativity and sewing skills on this project. Photo by Roni.

Ben didn't have a party on his actual birthday due to it being a school day. He made up for it May 12. Ben and his friend John endulge the photographer while waiting to enjoy a piece of that birthday cake. Photo by Glenn.

We take global warming to a new level in our yard: the plants are mostly crispy, but the art is very cool. Photo by Glenn.

Speaking of crispy, our fruitless mulberry is succumbing to poor health. The crack in the trunk we documented in the November 2006 newsletter has spread into one of the main limbs. Just a few branches produced leaves this spring. Photo by Glenn.

This pile represents just part of the pruning that needs to be done on the mulberry if there is any hope of saving it. What you don't see are the 8-inch thick limbs we have yet to remove. Photo by Glenn.

We can always count on poppies to add color to the yard in May. They grow wild and appear wherever they please. This one is growing in Summer's Garden. Photo by Glenn.

Here's a better look at Summer's Garden, which has matured a bit since we planted it last fall. The carpet roses are in robust health, as is the wooly thyme. We've since added an arbor to prop up the chenin grape. Photo by Glenn.

The wisteria growing on our spa gazebo wraps up its blossom cycle by producing dozens of seed pods. They are quite a sight the way they hang like green icicles. Photo by Glenn.

This pink oleander doesn't get much attention, growing as it does in an obscure corner of our yard. The blossoms are stunning against a crystal blue sky. Photo by Glenn.

Caught in the act of trying to drink from the living room fountain, Eevee licks the last drop from his lips. Photo by Glenn.

Saturday, May 19, was a momentous day for our little town of Oakley as we were treated to the sneak preview opening on the new Big Break Regional Shoreline park. Here folks are strolling to the 11 a.m. dedication ceremony. Photo by Glenn.

With the Delta providing the backdrop, dozens of people are on hand for the speechifying. Photo by Glenn.

Sean got stuck in traffic and showed up a few minutes late to the party. Ben was thankful to have someone to talk with during the long dedication ceremony. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Sean check out the view of the Delta from the new Big Break pier. Photo by Glenn.

And here's a better view of the pier. It is one of the only places in town where you can get this kind of access to the Delta. Check out all the green water weeds. Photo by Glenn.

One of the conversation pieces at the shoreline is this giant gear that once did the heavy lifting on a river barge. Everyone had to check it out once. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Sean take their turn inspecting the gear, which was manufactured in 1908. Photo by Glenn.

This is what happens when you don't brush your teeth. A close-up look at the teeth of one of the gears reveals that just about every spider in town has set up camp. Photo by Glenn.

Speaking of teeth, Roni has discovered the stuffed beaver on display in the interpretive tent. We have never seen a live beaver in Oakley... Photo by Glenn.

...But let there be no doubt that they exist. This mature tree, located just behind the gear pictured above, has been gnawed to the point where at least one part of it has been toppled. And we thought gophers were destructive. Photo by Glenn.

Can't blame this one on the beavers. This shipwrecked barge is a more or less permanent fixture of the Big Break shoreline. We don't know much of its history, or if it is connected to the rusted gear. Makes for cool photos, though. Photo by Glenn.

Roni, center, visits with local movers and shakers following the park dedication. Photo by Glenn.

While Roni chats, the rest of us join park ranger Mike Moran for a nature walk along the latest paved section of the Big Break Trail. Photo by Glenn.

The new trail will eventually link up with the existing trail a bit to the east behind the Ironhouse Sanitary District. For now, however, this is literally the end of the road. Photo by Glenn.

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

Having a whale of a weekend

May 28, 2007

If it is true that Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, then we are unofficially having a splendid holiday doing pretty much nothing. That, however, makes a for a pretty dull newsletter, so we'll try to elaborate a bit on the month that has been May.

Our neck of the woods has been in the national news just about nonstop for the past couple of weeks, thanks to a pair of unlikely visitors. Sometime around Mother's Day weekend, a mother humpback whale and her calf swam into San Francisco Bay and made their way into the fresh waters of the Sacramento River, where they have been swimming around in circles near Rio Vista and confounding marine biologists who are trying a variety of tricks to save their lives. The whales — nicknamed Delta and Dawn in some well-intentioned effort to be punny — have been subjected to just about every thinkable harassment and a few unthinkable ones.

When the whales wound up in the Port of Sacramento and refused to turn tail and swim back the 90 miles from whence they'd come, their would-be saviors piped in underwater whale sounds. Then they tried playing the sounds of killer whales, the humbacks' natural predators, in hopes that would scare Delta and Dawn back to sea. Next it was banging pipes together. Then last Friday it was a fire boat spraying powerful jets of water to discourage the whales from heading north. The best these efforts have done is to get the whales south from Sacramento to Rio Vista, where they have remained for more than a week.

Hundreds of people have gone to see the whales. After all, it's cheaper by far (and warmer) than popping for the price of a Mendocino whale watching tour in January. We have not, although Roni was intrigued that they are so close to us. Perhaps if they ever make it back down to Antioch we'll peek out there and see what we can see. The problem is that the whales are in poor health, and efforts to save them have been suspended through the end of Memorial Day weekend. Apparently it was decided the whales needed a break from all the harassment techniques so that they don't become too stressed. But they'll have to leave soon if there is any hope they'll survive, because there are no krill in the Delta. Without their staple diet, the whales will eventually succumb.

If your only exposure to the Delta region has been through tracking the whales then you are missing out on a lot of cool stuff this area has to offer. There's nothing quite like being along the Delta during the summer months, and if you are a regular reader of this newsletter then you have undoubtedly seen our photos and read some of the tales we've told about the fun things there are to do around here this time of the year.

Until recently, Oakley had limited access to the Delta except through its couple of private marinas. That changed May 19 with the preview opening of the new Big Break Regional Shoreline. The shoreline is part of the East Bay Regional Park District and has been under development for some years. It is less than a mile from our home, but until the opening we hadn't been there to check the progress. We were pleased with what we saw, as were most of the couple hundred people who attended the opening day festivities.

The shoreline park is more than 1,500 acres of wetlands and a pier upon which anglers will be able to fish and nature lovers like us will get to walk out for a spectacular view of the San Joaquin River. There is also new paved trail that eventually will connect with the existing Big Break Trail a mile to the east, giving us some new places to explore behind our subdivision. The opening event included speeches by all the expected politicians, a tent with exhibits provided by the park district, and a guided walk on the trail that Glenn and Ben took with Glenn's brother Sean, who was visiting for the day.

We are eager to go back for a hike before mid-July, when the park will close for several more months while construction work continues. Hence the reason this month's "sneak peek" event.

Aside from that one little excursion, our travels have been few, other than to doctor appointments, work and the grocery store. In some ways that suits us just fine. Weekends have really turned into down-time for our whole family as we unwind from weekdays spent going to doctor appointments, work and grocery shopping... and school. Ben definitely is eager for the onset of summer vacation next month when he'll get time away from the rigors of STAR testing and his daily interactions with teachers and peers.

Ben reached an important milestone May 2 when he celebrated his 13th birthday. Officially that makes him a teenager. It also makes us the parents of a teenager, with all the requisite challenges that come with the title. We've survived the first three-and-a-half weeks without too much ado. For his birthday, Ben received the two presents he most wanted: The Poké mon Pearl videogame and a new Nintendo DS Lite to play it on. His old DS met with an untimely demise when the case cracked when it dropped one day. The machine died a slow death over several days, and Ben was climbing the walls without it for nearly two months. Making the loss more difficult was that his friends at school got the new Poké mon game more than a week before Ben's birthday. He spent nearly 10 days lobbying for the game before he actually received it. He's in Poké mon heaven now, currently trying to figure out how to use his game's wi-fi capabilities to connect to the Internet. He is disappointed that the Nintendo DS doesn't have software that is compatible with the Macintosh. That might mean we'll have to buy a Windows-compatible computer soon — his solution, not ours.

Because Ben's birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, he didn't have the party he wanted the day of. In April he attended the birthday party of one of his school friends, John, who invited over a half dozen kids and had lots of cake and candy and Chinese food for dinner. Ben liked that and wanted to do the same. We set up a party for May 12, but in the end only his friend John was able to make it. It didn't seem to spoil the fun much, as the two boys spent the afternoon discussing the finer points of computers, video games and anime. Ben got to have his cake and ate it too, along with several slices of the pizzas we ordered for the four of us.

Since getting our plasma TV in January we have gotten into the habit of watching movies on Saturday nights. Roni frequently will pick up a DVD of a recent release at the local video store, Glenn will pop up a batch of popcorn, and we'll curl up on the sofa for a couple of hours of home theater entertainment. One of the first things we did when setting up the TV was to purchase a surge protector. We had heard from a lot of folks that it was the very minimum thing you should do to protect your investment, and it seemed like good advice. On the night of May 14, heeding that advice paid dividends.

About a quarter past midnight the power on our block shuddered and went out, then a second later it hiccuped back on with equipment destroying force. There was a loud pop in our living room and then nothing for about two hours while we waited in darkness for PG&E to restore the transformer that had failed. That was a nerve-wracking two hours during which we feared the TV had suffered a fatal blow. But fortunately the surge protector had done its job. Although it was no longer functional, it had saved all the A/V equipment attached to it. We weren't as lucky with Roni's fax machine, which had been plugged into a regular outlet and bit the dust. So we're out the cost of a surge protector and fax machine, both of which we are filing claims on through PG&E. But that is a far lesser hassle than what could have happened. Let this be a case study in the virtues of surge protection if you are on the fence about whether it's really necessary to buy a hundred-buck power strip.

So all of this brings us back to Memorial Day weekend, which has been blissfully uneventful. We've done the oligatory watching of NASCAR and Indy 500 races, checked out a DVD of Denzel Washington's movie "Deja Vu" (which we both recommend), barbecued some hamburgers that were consumed with corn on the cob and potato salad, done some minor gardening and home improvement projects, read some books, surfed the Web, enjoyed some music... and most important, wrote this newsletter. Which is now at an end.

Lest we forget the real reason for Memorial Day, a special thanks to the fallen members of our military who gave their lives so that folks like us can have the freedom to enjoy a three-day weekend of trivial pursuits such as those we've just shared with you.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 02:49 hrs.

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