Photo of the month

Ben gets to hold the diploma, but we all feel as though we have graduated from high school. The June 9 commencement at Freedom High in Oakley marked the end of our 13 years in the public school system. Now it's on to college and work for our only son. Photo by Glenn.

June 2012

Roni ventures onto a boardwalk during a May 18 visit to Cosumnes River Preserve near Lodi. The field behind her was covered in water just a few months ago. Photo by Glenn.

Cosumnes River Preserve is alive with activity in the spring. A butterfly gathers nectar from one of the many blooming thistles. Photo by Glenn.

A clown... er, clowns around at the Contra Costa County Fair during our May 31 visit. Photo by Roni.

Roni points out one of the four photos she entered in the fair photography competition. Alas, this one of a wind farm on a moody Delta morning did not win. Photo by Glenn.

Ah, we have a winner! Roni's picture of the "smiling fair cow" earned her a second place award. Photo by Glenn.

A closer look at Roni's prize-winning pic. A face the judges had to love. Photo by Glenn.

June 1 finds us at the tower raising ceremony for the Discover the Delta Foundation. The top portion of the water tower lies on its side prior to being raised. Photo by Glenn.

A giant crane hoists the tower into position as hundreds of spectators watch. Photo by Glenn.

Workers with the crane company used thick ropes to guide the tower top into position. Photo by Glenn.

Roni poses for a photo in front of the water tower as the final piece is moved into position. Hope those workers have a good grip on that thing! Photo by Glenn.

Ben prepares for his first driving lesson on Sunday, May 27. Getting behind the wheel was the easy part. Photo by Glenn.

The walkway around Summer's Garden gets a fresh coat of mulch on May 24 as we clean up the backyard in preparation for Ben's graduation party. Photo by Glenn.

Roni works next to her water garden, which received several new plants to kick off a new growing season. Photo by Glenn.

Remember Uncle Sam? We started working on a replacement for our original garden display at the end of last year, and only now have we finished painting him. This is Sam holding the original flag from the old display. It looks like Old Glory has been through the war and back. Photo by Glenn.

The completed Uncle Sam display is attached to his stand and holding a dowel that will eventually serve as a new flagpole. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's in a mellow mood on June 8 as he heads to graduation practice and the senior breakfast on his last day of high school. Photo by Glenn.

Saturday, June 9. Ben dons his cap and gown as we prepare to attend his graduation ceremony. Sadly, it's one of the few photos we got of him with the cap, as it disappeared during the ceremony. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and his friend Alex give the good-to-go sign outside the Freedom High gymnasium. Photo by Roni.

The line to get in to the football field for the graduation ceremony stretched down to the street and around the corner by the time people got to go inside. Photo by Glenn.

We made it! Glenn and Roni sit in the bleachers while awaiting the start of the graduation ceremony. Photo by Glenn.

The Class of 2012 is assembled for the final time on the Freedom High football field. Photo by Glenn.

Ben gets a congratulatory handshake as he steps up to receive his diploma. Photo by Glenn.

While attempting to hold on to his hat against a strong wind, Ben poses for the official photographer. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn's dad and brother escape the heat while waiting for Ben to emerge from the gym following the graduation ceremony. Photo by Glenn.

Ben receives a hug from his grandma following the grad ceremony. He lost the hat, but at least he saved the tassel. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and his friend Emily check out the food during the post graduation barbecue. Ben kept that grad gown on all weekend. Photo by Glenn.

Our nephew Robert shows off his new tattoo. Hard to believe it was eight years ago the he was the high school grad. Photo by Roni.

Glenn's brother Sean and niece Shannon ham it up for the camera. He has taught her well. Photo by Glenn.

Our nephew Allen and brother-in-law Tom check out one of the many passing freight trains from the front row seat that exists outside our back gate. This would have been Ben a dozen years ago. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's graduation cake. The sign in the top right corner says, "The Tassel is Worth the Hassle." Amen. Photo by Glenn.

It's been quite a party, judging from the collection of empty beverage cups on our coffee table. Photo by Glenn.

Even our statue girls let their hair down for the day and got in the party spirit. Spring shows us her wild side thanks to a makeover courtesy Sean. Photo by Glenn.

The new visitor center at Big Break Regional Shoreline is nearly completed and will open later this year. Visitors will get a great view of the wetlands from there. Photo by Glenn.

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

Pomp and circumstance

June 16, 2012

The dust is still settling — literally — on Ben’s high school graduation party, which found us surrounded by more friends and family than we have been surrounded by in a long time. And what’s more, both house and hosts survived the encounter remarkably well, with only pleasant memories and piles of windblown sand to remember the day.

Graduation 2012 is in the books, and so too is Ben’s time at Freedom High School in Oakley, a place that Roni notes we have been involved with since the day the school district broke ground on the campus nearly 20 years ago, before we actually knew we would one day have a child graduating from there. The school has grown with the community in those intervening years. The vacant fields that once surrounded it are now filled with two-story houses. The sidewalks that once were little more than dirt and weeds have been paved and beautifully landscaped. The large pit that was carved out at the corner of Neroly Road and O’Hara Avenue during the school’s construction is now a lush green park with a small wetlands area, adjacent to what became the Falcons’ football field that on Saturday, June 9, served as the stage for Freedom High’s 14th commencement ceremony.

Our big day began bright and early at 7 a.m., as we awoke to get ourselves showered and ready to be at the school by 8:15. Roni had bought a new outfit for the occasion, and Glenn made a rare appearance in a tie; he ditched the idea of wearing a suit jacket as well when he determined it was too wrinkled even for his taste. The only one not too worried about what to wear was Ben, who already had the required navy blue cap and gown that he and his 522 classmates would wear at the graduation. He wouldn’t have minded dressing in old jeans and tennis shoes, but Roni saw to it that he had a nice pair of slacks, a dress shirt and new shoes for the occasion. If for no other reason, he’ll need them later when he starts job hunting.

We dashed out the door, running late as always, and made our way to the high school wondering how far out in the sticks we’d have to go to find a parking place. Rather than battle for a spot near the football field, Roni parked us at the far western side of the campus, using the logic that we wouldn’t have to fight as much traffic when it came time to leave. That seemed a reasonable plan, given that the place was already swarming with graduates and their families by the time we arrived. We hadn’t gotten any good photos of Ben in his cap and gown and really wanted to take some of him with us before the ceremony, but we were worried that we were running late, so the pics would have to wait until after the pomp and circumstance. Roni made some last-minute adjustments to his attire and we dropped him off amid a sea of blue-clad grads outside the front of the school gym, where the class staged for its processional.

Meanwhile, the two of us hoofed it over to the football field to find our seats, wanting to get settled before the show began. We soon learned that we had rushed for nothing. The gates to the stadium hadn’t been opened yet, and the line to get in was already stacking up along the sidewalk in the parking lot and out to the street. We took our place in the queue, commenting that it was good we hadn’t arrived later. But we had it easy compared to the people who arrived half an hour later, when the line stretched all the way out to the corner of Neroly and O’Hara, more than twice as long as it had been when we arrived. We avoided the wandering vendors selling leis, strings of beads and bottled water and finally made our way into the stadium around 9 a.m.

It was only then that the size of Ben’s class truly sank in. We had graduated from much smaller high schools, not one attended by nearly 2,500 students. Even with the 523 teens that had chosen to partake in the ceremony, there were still more than 100 empty seats of those that didn’t. The class was so large that the school limited each graduate to nine guest tickets to attend the event, and we had to make some tough decisions as to where our tickets went. But our family circle is relatively small compared to some, and there were groups in attendance that obviously had begged or bartered their way into additional seats for the show.

The bleachers on both sides of the football field filled to capacity. The school focused all the action at the north end of the field, setting up the podium in the end zone facing rows of folding chairs that left the graduates with their backs to the audience. At the start of the ceremony the grads paraded in from both sidelines, meeting up at the south end zone and then heading up field to their seats amid a robed gauntlet of teachers and school faculty. It was a less than ideal arrangement for the audience, who had to guess which side of the field their student would enter from. In our case, we were on the west side of the field and Ben entered from the east. We didn’t see him until the time he at last got called up to receive his diploma.

As the time neared to start the ceremony and seats in the bleachers became increasingly hard to find, we became more protective of the spots we were reserving for our family. Ben’s cousin Robert wandered by and Roni was able to flag him down so he could sit with us. Glenn’s parents and brother Sean had made the drive in from Hayward, and they arrived just in time to collect the remaining three seats we had saved, just as the graduates assembled for their processional.

With everyone seated, grads and guests alike, we spent the next two hours baking in the bright morning sun and listening to the usual array of congratulatory speeches and inspirational messages. The principal spoke. The salutatorian spoke. The valedictorian spoke. Both class presidents spoke (and did we really need two?) Finally, they got around to calling out the names of the graduates. We put our cameras through their paces while they proceeded through the alphabet, still desperately trying to locate our son from far across the stadium amid the ocean of look-alike outfits. It didn’t help that the names weren’t being called exactly in order, so when we heard a couple of G-names tossed in among the C’s, we scrambled to get the video rolling at the same time we were firing off still frames.

At last Ben reached the stage, wrestling with a stiff breeze to keep his cap attached. “Benjamin Joseph Gehlke…” the announcer boomed, and Ben walked up and grabbed his diploma. We cheered, although he undoubtedly couldn’t hear us amid the crowd. He paused at the end of the stage for the official photographer, one hand shaking the hand of an administrator while the other hand was readjusting the cap that had blown forward on his head. And in an instant it was over. He returned to his seat and that was the last we saw of him until the end of the ceremony. We sat impatiently through the remaining 300 or so names and sighed as one of the class presidents made yet another speech at the end of it all. Never has there been a graduation ceremony with more speechifying.

At last came the moment everyone had waited for, when the class was dismissed and the jubilant grads tossed their caps into the air amid hugs and handshakes. We had anticipated this and were ready with our cameras to capture the colorful spectacle. Unfortunately, all the photos we had shot to that point filled our camera cards to capacity, so when Glenn tried to take the photo of flying gradwear, nothing happened. Roni was shooting video, but she didn’t capture the instant the caps flew off. So in the end we have only our feeble memories and these words to remind us of the scene when the caps came off and were scattered downfield by the strong wind, a few ending up well past the 50-yard line. By the time Glenn reloaded the camera, the grads were filing out and the audience was hastily vacating the bleachers to go meet them near the gym.

Now we would have a chance to get those formal cap and gown shots of Ben surrounded by uncles, parents and grandparents. But when Ben emerged from the gym with his official diploma to replace the fake one they handed out during the ceremony, he was missing his cap; he had lost it amid the flurry of caps the seniors had tossed into the air, and even though Roni had inscribed his name inside the band, there was no way any of us wanted to fight our way back through the crowd to the football field to search for it. At least he had somehow saved his tassel.

We lined up for family pictures beneath the school’s electronic sign, which periodically flashed a message congratulating the graduates. Many probably went home that day feeling nostalgic for the campus they were leaving behind for the last time, but we could only think how wonderful it will be next fall when we no longer have to fight our way through traffic twice a day to drop off and pick up our son from school.

* * * * *

The graduation ceremony was only the beginning of our long day of celebration. Immediately afterward, we headed back to the house to welcome a long list of family and friends we’d invited to a barbecue. Ben had really wanted to have a party, so we agreed that it would be fun to have a few folks over to spend the afternoon with us. After all, we had spent most of May fixing up the backyard and this would be our chance to share some of the results of that hard work while relaxing with a few guests. But our idea of a few guests and Ben’s were quite different. He set up the invites through Facebook, and before we knew it there were 30 people on the guest list. Not that we didn’t welcome them all in, but it made planning for the event a little more challenging, especially trying to determine how many hamburgers to buy; some of the invitees were friends of Ben’s friends whom we barely knew. Even Ben didn’t know a few of them well. We gambled that not everyone would stop by and got 24 burger patties and a pack of hotdogs to satisfy the younger ones who might not want a hamburger. Combined with the salads, chips, crackers and dips we also got, there was more than enough food to go around, not to mention the extras that folks brought with them to share.

In the end we wound up with around 20 people, including ourselves. Glenn’s parents and brother Sean were there, along with his sister Jennifer and her husband Tom and their two children Shannon and Allen. Roni’s sister Jacki and her husband Kevin came over from the graduation, as did their son Robert. Ben brought in his good friend Aaron, who brought his sister and a cousin. Ben’s former girlfriend Alexis stopped by, too, as did a couple of other high school friends we haven’t seen a lot of. The older kids spent most of their time hanging out in Ben’s room playing the Xbox, while the adults hung out in the living room and backyard enjoying the shade of our pergolas and ash tree and the cool breeze. Shannon and Allen, the youngest of the party guests, had a ball exploring our yard and digging in the sand. Glenn had moved several wheelbarrows full of sand from the site of our future pond to beneath the ash tree, so it was much like playing on the beach without waves. Allen, now 6 years old, especially liked the fact that he could get a front-row viewing spot for every train that went by, so he and Tom made a dash for the back gate every time the crossing bells sounded. It brought back fond memories of when Ben had been that age and did exactly the same thing, when trains were still a big thing in his world.

About the only thing that didn’t cooperate for us was the wind. The stiff gusts that had scattered mortarboards during the graduation ceremony also whipped up clouds of sand off the top of our new retaining wall and showered the patio with it. We had to keep all the food covered, and even that was no guarantee against a few gritty pieces of hamburger meat. We had swept the patio thoroughly a couple of days before the party, and it was hard to tell by Saturday afternoon. The seats of the big cushioned chairs we have sitting underneath the BAP pergola filled with sand the moment someone stood up to leave. It was pretty crazy weather.

The party wrapped up around 7:30, after we served up slices of the big cream-filled graduation sheet cake we’d picked up from Costco. We’d picked up a bucket of ice cream to go with it, but after all the food that had been consumed there wasn’t much calling for it, and we totally forgot about it sitting in the freezer. We spent the rest of the week polishing off the leftovers. Overall, a great weekend and a memorable way to send Ben off into the “real world.”

* * * * *

Speaking of the real world, Ben finally got behind the wheel for the first time on May 27. Now that he has his driver’s permit in hand, he has the next year to get up to speed on the rules of the road on his way to becoming a full-fledged, functional, licensed motorist. Glenn took him for his initial driving lesson to Apollo Court in Antioch, which was an ideal place to practice given that is was mostly deserted on Memorial Day weekend. They had hoped to use the parking lot for the adjacent baseball fields, but the gate was chained shut as the fields aren’t open outside of Little League games.

Ben completed his driver education class nearly two years ago and had never been behind the wheel, so this was all new to him. The first lesson was as basic as it gets, covering the parts of the car, how to start it, and how to move backward and forward. Once he’d had the opportunity to shift gears and turn the wheel a few times, we coasted to the end of a driveway near one of the office buildings and then made laps between one of the parking lots and the court. It wasn’t quite as monotonous as watching NASCAR drivers turn laps at Pocono, but it was about as challenging for an inexperienced driver. Ben did well, managing not to hit any of the few parked cars in the lot and only once making contact with the curb when he took a turn a bit tighter than he should have. By the end of the session his confidence was growing and he was eager to step on the gas, although Dad reined him in and told him to save the pedal-to-the-metal for when he’s ready to go out on the busier streets — which won’t be happening for a few more lessons.

* * * * *

It has been an interesting few weeks for Roni since we last wrote. Last month she decided to enter some of her photography at this year’s Contra Costa County Fair, the first time she has entered a fair exhibit in more than 20 years. She spent a week sifting through her photo collection and came up with four images that she liked well enough to enlarge and hand in to the judges.

On Thursday, May 31, the fair’s opening day, we took advantage of the free early-bird admission and spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds in search of her photos on display. They were hung in the crafts building along with hundreds of other entries. We had modest expectations, given the competition and the fact that this was Roni’s first experience entering, and true enough, three of the four pictures struck out in the judging process.

But then we found the fourth one — a shot of a smiling cow she had taken at last year’s fair — and were excited to find that it had been awarded a second place ribbon. The win proves that Roni still has an eye for a good photo more than 25 years since her college days, when she learned the fine points of how to wield a camera. She now has the matted picture back home — along with the ribbon and its accompanying $20 prize — that she hopes to frame and display prominently on one of our many bare walls.

We didn’t spend much time at this year’s fair aside from checking out the photos and making a quick pass through the livestock barn, but it looked like it would be a good show compared to last year when it rained for the entire four-day event. We had beautiful warm weather the morning we went. We had a few minutes to stop by the county Farm Bureau booth and visit with some longtime friends from Oakley, and we capped off our day with a stop at the soft pretzel booth, where we plunked down $28 for four large pretzels — one we shared for lunch and the rest we brought home for snacks and to share with Ben, who had to be in school that day and didn’t want to go to the fair that much anyhow.

The following day found us at the Delta Farmers Market near Rio Vista where there was a huge ceremony to mark the raising of the historical water tower at the site of the future Discover the Delta Foundation’s visitor center. The huge double-tanked tower had been transported to the site several months ago from the opposite shore of the Sacramento River and left sitting on its side near an apple orchard behind the farmers market. Recently the Discover the Delta group built a new concrete pad for the tower and hired a crane company to reassemble it at its new home. The lower part of the tower was in place prior to the June 1 ceremony, which was the occasion of the topping-off event where the second tank would be hoisted into position.

The tower topping was supposed to happen around 3 p.m., but there were delays in preparing for the big lift, so the actual event didn’t happen until nearly 5:30 p.m. We spent the time roasting under a relentless sun and listening to a band perform covers of Eagles and Jimmy Buffett tunes while folks drank wine and sampled the fruits of the farmers market. At last the workers were ready for the lift. Two huge cranes raised the second tank upright from the sandy orchard floor and slowly hauled it skyward. On the ground, workers with thick cables guided the legs into position so that the top tank seated correctly on the steel girders of the lower tower. It was an amazing process to witness, one which elicited rousing applause from the audience when at last the crane set the top tank down in its permanent home.

We’ve been to the farmers market and visitor center a few times since it began to take shape at the southeast corner of the Highway 160/12 junction. It is exciting to see it finally turning into something that people can use.

Equally exciting is the approaching opening of the visitor center at the Big Break Regional Shoreline here in Oakley. As you will recall, the building was originally planned as the future headquarters for the Delta Science Center, but changes in the building’s design and the site’s mission mean that the DSC likely won’t be spending much time there. The East Bay Regional Park District held a soft opening for the visitor center the first week of June, during which Roni got to tour the inside of the center for the first time and see the classrooms and exhibit areas that are part of the project. It will be a great addition to the park when the center officially opens to the public a few weeks from now. The DSC hopes it will eventually be able to offer occasional educational classes at the site. We’ll see how that goes

That’s about it for June. We can’t wait for the start of summer and hope that it will hold plenty of fun adventures in store for us and for you.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 02:24 hrs.

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