Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Ben celebrated his 18th birthday WITHOUT ME! I missed his fifth birthday, too. But, I've been there for all the others, including the one that started it all, July 20, 1995. Standing in for me are Kathy (center front) and Rick (standing). Around the table from the left are Gerhardt and Karen (Kathy's sister and brother-in-law) Jim (Valery's friend) Ben, Geoff (Kathy's son) and hiding behind Kathy's hat is Gerhardt (son of Gerhardt and Karen). The bucolic setting is Toad Ranch, home of Rick and Kathy. Ben spent the two days leading up to this celebration visiting with Kathy and Rick.

Last year, I didn't get a birthday picture of Ben, but here's what I posted about the day:
Friday was Ben's seventeenth birthday. He seems so adult in many ways and yet so young in others. I guess that's what adolescence is all about. We celebrated quietly, he started the day with his traditional birthday batch of monkey bread and opening gifts from me -- a few nature and science books. I hope he likes them. And then ended the day with strawberry shortcake.

This picture was taken right around his 16th birthday when he was re-uniting with friends Trevor and Anna in El Dorado Hills.

And here's Ben at 15, blowing out birthday candles while great grandparents, Bernice and Arlan wait for their piece of the berry cobbler.
Here we are with 14 candles on the cake. Notice that both boys are taller than me by a few inches.

Just a year earlier when Ben was 13, we were all the same height.

So, what's Ben been doing lately, you ask. As near as I can tell, he's doing the same thing he did in Missouri, observing nature up close and personal. Here are a few of his photos I lifted from his Facebook page. The captions are his.
"I looked at a small patch of ground in the middle of a field and found lots and lots of dead insect parts! So I put most of them in this little collection. It is amazing how much of this stuff you can find anywhere!"
 "This ant on a plant was close to where I found those insect parts, so I like to think of this one as the custodian."

" Lots of black ants and black aphids, showing off the mutualism commonly found between these sorts of insects! These were near a river on the way to Lake Margaret in California."

"This is what California's Lake Margaret looks like."
And this is what Ben looks like when preparing to check out the hives kept by Bill, the husband of Amy Schulze, Ben's (and Logan's) second grade teacher. Ben spent the day with them exploring their property on the American River in Coloma. Several of the above pictures were taken by Ben that day.

When he's not staring at insects, he has been doing volunteer work at Pride Industries, a workplace for people with disabilities. His aunt Valery works there and Ben has been going to work with her three days a week. He's been writing safety procedures for the use of manufacturing equipment.

His STEP program at UC Davis begins August 17th and I'm going to be there to participate in the parent orientation. I can't wait to see Ben again. I can't believe how much I miss him, how much I love that boy, and how proud of him I am.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How I Spent the Rest of My Summer Vacation.

 Ben, Danny, and I arrived in Sacramento on Tuesday afternoon, June 11. Colleen was at the airport to meet Danny and whisked him off as quickly as she could. I kind of think she had missed him just a little. Ben and I made our way to the rental car office, picked up a spiffy red Chevy Impala, and drove to Valery's in rush hour traffic. I was nervous about being in heavy traffic after my years in Missouri, but it went very smoothly. We spent a quiet evening playing Mexican Train, well, not too quiet, we laughed ourselves silly and then went to bed exhausted after a long day of travel and a two hour time change.

Wednesday afternoon, Lisa Cardwell and I went to the Purple Place for a drink and some munchies. 
That place hasn't changed a bit in appearance, but the menu has definitely gone upscale. A friend of hers joined us after a bit and we enjoyed getting acquainted while watching the world go by. Then I stood up, announced it was time for me to get going, said my good-byes, and left. It didn't even dawn on me that I had left them with the bill until sometime the next day. I was mortified. 
Before going to the Purple Place, I got to see Lisa's kids Cameron and Alexandra. Cameron has grown so tall and is just a super nice personable kid. Alexandra is quite a talented singer and guitar player. Cameron plays guitar too, but he didn't perform for me this trip.

The second full day Ben and I were in California together, we went out to Davis to go bike shopping. We cruised the city streets looking for bike shops. We saw lots of bikes, including this beauty
but finally settled on this one. Selling points were: the color, green, which is Ben's trademark eco-symbolic favorite; the chain guard to protect against the battering campus bikes suffer; the rack, suitable for mounting saddle bag-type baskets; the absence of a derailleur, the gears are enclosed in the hub of the rear wheel, to prevent parking rack damage; the handy-dandy bell on the handlebars, ubiquitous to Davis bikes; the very sturdy lock affixed to the frame; and the overall form, fit, and function. I hope it serves him well (and doesn't get stolen!). He pedaled it around the campus right after purchasing it and it magically found its way to the Bohart Museum of Entomology where Ben enjoyed staring at exotic insects and visiting with a PhD student who worked there. I do hope Ben will be able to work there in time.

While Ben was off exploring, I was visiting with my dear friend Nancy. She took the train (and car and BART) from San Mateo to meet me in Davis for lunch. She also met this engaging bit of sidewalk art. Oh, how I love Davis. I could envision retiring there, should I ever retire. She looks terrific (I meant Nancy) and as always it was wonderful to spend even a few hours with her. We had lunch and strolled for a while. Colleen just happened to be passing through Davis on her way to San Mateo, so she was able to give Nancy a ride back to her car parked at the BART station. The day was perfect, maybe mid-80's, nothing like the beastly heat they have endured the past week. We really hit it lucky.

The next week, Ben and I drove up to Pioneer to visit my high school friends, Jack and Linda. Linda has been recovering from a difficult surgery and is taking things a bit slow. But, we had a nice, albeit brief visit. I regret not getting any photos of either Lisa or Jack and Linda. 

The day before I left, Ben and I made my ritual visit to Robin's grave and washed off the headstone with champagne, saving the last mouthful to drink a toast to her memory. It's so hard to believe all these years have past.

Many of Ben's ancestors are buried in Gold Country cemeteries.  We made a stop at Placerville's Union Cemetery where the Blair marker stands at the highest point in the Cemetery. There are maybe a dozen people buried in the plot, but not all of them are noted on the marker. The cemetery has records of who is buried there.

Dinner at a Thai restaurant with Valery's friends, Dorothy and Chuck, was a real treat. We must have sat at our table for 2-1/2 hours, but no one seemed to mind. Ben and Chuck really hit it off. Chuck is a Chemistry professor and they found much to talk about, scientist to scientist. Dorothy is a quilter and I enjoyed visiting her studio on a previous visit to California.

Foodie that I am, no visit to California would be complete without sampling some of the fresh produce I miss. So, I had some fresh Sloughhouse corn, yummy artichokes, and asparagus. We can get corn, artichokes, and asparagus in Missouri, but they just aren't the same.  

And I came home all alone. Ben stayed with Valery so he can start UC Davis in the fall and Danny traveled home separately on Friday.