Friday, September 30, 2011

Yosemite Weekend

Such a long week.  It started out with a trip to the dentist that culminated with a pulled wisdom tooth.  The rest of the week I attended a teacher's workshop every day.  This meant that I had to write substitute plans and go in to my classroom to check on things every afternoon after I got out of the workshop.  Ironically, not teaching is infinitely more labor intensive than teaching. 

Next Friday,  the other 4th grade teacher and I will board a yellow school bus and take our classes up to Yosemite for the day.  Forty-two nine and ten year olds, several dozen parent chaperones and us.  Escalon, where I teach is only about 60 miles from Yosemite, yet the majority of people going on the trip have never been there.  After weeks of unseasonably hot weather, a cold front is fast approaching and we should have rain by midweek.  The children are all praying for snow. I resolutely view anything that happens as part of the adventure.

Tomorrow Bruce and I will leave early to take a reconnaissance trip up there to check everything out.  I'm looking forward to going -- it's been many years since I saw autumn in Yosemite.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Summer's End

 This evening was lovely.  The last of summer is slipping away. 

Hello, autumn!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Duck Dinner

And so this saga ends (more for one of the participants than the others).   I wish that I'd thought to take a picture before Bruce carved the bird up.  I didn't even put a sprig of decorative parsley on it (it was getting late).  Muscovy duck tastes very good -- truly more like a very delicate beef than poultry.  We just roasted it very simply with a sauce of butter, drippings and white wine.  I'm thinking that it would also taste good smoked.  Or with a savory sauce. 

I'm still of very mixed feelings about the whole thing.  It is such an odd, unsettling thing to eat one's own animals.  Logic, though, tells me that by doing our own butchering, all we did was cut out all the middlemen who do it for us.  This will just get some getting used to.

Tonight I had a can of warm soup for dinner because I went to the dentist today to have a temporary crown put on a molar that broke last week.  As a surprise bonus, while he was at it, the dentist also pulled the neighboring wisdom tooth that had caused the original problem.  Oof -- I've seen entirely too much blood these past few days... 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

One Less Drake

The deed was done and Frogpond now has one less drake.  We spent several hours in the morning reading up again on how best to slaughter a duck.  Bruce sharpened his ax, we  put on a large pot of water in the garage and set up everything else needed to do the butchering.  I decided not to watch the actual killing and turned around and plugged my ears for good measure.  When Bruce gave the all clear, I turned around and was confronted by a dead duck hanging headfirst from the tree and a husband well-soaked in bright red blood.  No pix of this (you're welcome!).  The hose was right there, so we did clean-up.

Bruce spent the next few hours in the garage, plucking duck feathers.  Mama had come up for the night and she ended up joining him to help with this.  I went inside to correct papers -- it was impossible for me to see this bird as meat and not the body of one of my ducks.  Now that it's plucked, cleaned and resting all naked in a pan in the fridge, I can more easily view it as something for the table.  It's sobering to have to confront that something like this happens to every chicken we ever buy at the grocery store.  I take some comfort in knowing that our drake had about as fine a life as a duck could have and it's death was swift.  But I'll admit that I had bad dreams last night of trying to rescue my animals -- the last dream ended with clasping a duck to my chest with one arm and a very large sweet lizard in the other... I woke up feeling sad.

Anyway, I'm going to see this experiment through to the very end.  I just Googled "Muscovy Duck Recipes" and printed out several that look promising. Tonight we dine on Roast Muscovy Duck.

To be continued...

Goat Skull

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Second Day of Autumn

This past week went by in a blur, as I madly rushed about, scattered and late for just about everything.  When it's like this at school all day long, I get back to Frogpond in the late afternoon completely zapped.  And then I set myself to do everything that needs attending to around here -- at breakneck speed, before the light fades.  I study the little Zen saying on the side of my blog with the picture of the supremely relaxed bullfrog by it and wonder when exactly I forgot to breathe and go slowly.  And then I make the effort to breathe and go slowly.  So. 

Yesterday was the first day of autumn.  We had a final (I hope) blast of heat last week, with temperatures almost reaching 100 degrees every day.  Tuesday afternoon I took out the camera to see if there was any sign of the new season anywhere -- I'm that sick of the dust and dryness of summer. And there was.

You have to look closely, but here are the first splashes of orange in the tupelo trees.  Hallelujah!

Corny continues on his diet and exercise program.  I know that it would be better (for both of us) if I rode him, but for now it's just got to be lunging in the round pen with the occasional walk around the pond on the end of a lead.  He's not a happy boy, but I'm relieved that he's gradually slimming down. 

The African geese are gradually settling in.  We still keep them penned in the dog kennel most of the time, but let them out in the afternoons.  They nervously wander around and don't seem to have any "smarts" about how to deal with the freedom of the wide world.  This is, I think, going to be a slow process.  We did discover that they love leafy lettuce.  When we throw some in their pen, they dive in and gobble it up.   A good sign!

Finally, Joe the custodian lent us the huge pot he uses when processing the chickens he slaughters.  I brought it home last evening and set it in the carport.  The overriding question of the weekend is whether we can actually bring ourselves to use it. 

We've discovered that there's a huge market for Muscovy ducks and they sell for around $25 a bird.  Joe found this out when he put the four drakes we'd given him on Craig's List for $10 apiece -- his phone rang off the hook from the all the people that wanted to buy them at that price. 

To be honest, I still would rather kill the birds here so that they aren't frightened more than necessary.  But we'll have to see how it goes going through the slaughtering process -- the plan is to kill and prepare a single drake tomorrow (there are several who are rough with the hens, so it will be one of them).  Even if we find that going through this isn't too awful, we don't know if we'll actually enjoy eating Muscovy duck.  I'm very interested to see how this turns out.

The very best outcome would be that slaughtering and preparing a duck for the table, while not pleasant, is doable and not too time-consuming and that the cooked duck is absolutely delicious. A tall order.

To be continued.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Murphy and Arby

Arby was a sedate, rather reserved eleven year old cat when we brought him home from the Happy Tails Cat Sanctuary three years ago.  It took a long time for him to adjust from town life to country life.  He's now fourteen, and much braver than he used to be. 

He used to be very nervous about the dogs, but Murphy has been so persistently friendly that Arby finally relented and warmed up to him.  

Here is Arby; deep in primal hunting mode on the dam.  He very rarely actually catches anything, but that doesn't seem to matter to him. For him, it's endlessly entertaining simply to motionlessly crouch for long stretches of time and wait for something to move.  I figure it's sort of like watching TV.


When we take walks around the pond, Murphy races around at a million miles a minute.  In the pond. Out of the pond. Up and down every sidepath -- and then do it all over again.  That pup is everywhere!  Twice.  We figure that if the path all the way around the pond is about a quarter of a mile, in the time we walk one circuit, Murphy's run five miles.  At least. 

 So, in the midst of Arby's intense Zen stillness as he tries to become one with the dry grass, Murphy races up from the pond.  When he spots Arby, he puts on the brakes and tiptoes up to give his blue-eyed kitty an affectionate bump and kiss. If, by some chance, a mousie had been about to poke it's head out of a hole it's now long gone.

Arby sort of rolls his eyes but takes it in stride (actually, I think he secretly enjoys it).

Murphy doing his Odie Impression

And off goes Murphy again, doink-doink-doinking down the path.

Seriously, who could resist such a happy friend?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

African Geese Come to Frogpond

Even as we're trying to downsize on the Frogpond waterfowl population, more show up.  Our school bus driver/custodian, Joe,  keeps many kinds of birds. Way back last spring we gave him four of our Muscovy drakes and he offered us two African geese.  On Friday, Joe brought them to school (the 4th graders got to meet them), Bruce drove down in the jeep and picked them up, and now they are finally here. 

Aren't they beautiful?  They're about two years old and are a bonded pair.  Until they've settled down here, they'll be living in the dog kennel by the barn.  Their former home was a smallish yard in town, so they have no experience fending for themselves.  I'm already worried about how they will do when they're completely out with the others.  It's a very steep survival learning curve out here, and if they make a mistake they're done for.

So far, they're not too sure about this place.  They can see down to the pond from the kennel and are very interested by all the activity down there in a nervous sort of way...

...and others are interested in them in what seemed like a decidedly amorous sort of way. 



These three pretty little Muscovy hens were fascinated by our exotic
newcomers.  They formed a circle and, bobbing their heads and swaying seductively, gave many sidelong glances to the geese.  They reminded me of Botticelli's Three Graces (I'm thinking that this is probably the first time they have ever been compared to ducks.  I'm OK with that).

When Big Love, our entire duck population's father/brother/husband, came over to check things out, the prettiest of the hens followed along behind. 

She tried to get past him, but he turned into her and made her back up and return to the others.


She, being a very young Grace, did what she was told (but didn't like it). 

In the end, though, she and her sisters (and a few brothers) managed to foil Big Love.  Here they were this morning, perched up in the pine tree that overlooks both the pond...


...and the kennel.

Never underestimate a determined female!

Post Script:  The geese appear to be completely unimpressed by the entire lot of them.  Just as well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Classroom Shrine to Japan

Since all I can think about right now is school, here is something that my students got together in the classroom this week.  We were reading a story called "Grandfather's Journey" about a young Japanese man who travels to this country just before the Second World War.  This sparked lots of discussion about Japan, WWII, Pearl Harbor and the Atomic Bomb.  Then the discussion turned to 9/11.  I'm always startled both by what the students know and what they don't know (one boy hesitatingly asked, "Exactly what is a terrorist?").  It's always so interesting to watch and listen to what the students have to say -- the key is in asking the right questions. 

Then the students began bringing in things from Japan: a pair of wooden shoes, a fan, a parasol, a bottle of saki (full!), a poster showing the characters for Beauty, Truth, and the like from a students father's tatoo parlor, photos and medals from the war, a music box ("made in Japan"), a doll, oragami cranes...It started as a trickle and it grew to a flood of things.  By today, we had so much that the items had overflowed the little desk I was using to display them. 

It's spontaneous things like this that remind me why I love teaching.

I especially need to focus on this tonight because tomorrow (Saturday!) I must attend an all-day science workshop. 

Off to bed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Other Glover Brover

The Glover Brovers still live under Bruce's gloves on the front porch.  They have sort of taken over the front of the house.  Nighttime is when they emerge from under the gloves and stake out their territories around the front door.

 Their forces are spread out all over the area .  No bug is safe.

They may be small, but they're definitely a tough lot. 

The last Glover Brover is the scariest of all...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Corny's Diet Setback

Corny's strict diet of a meager half flake of hay twice a day continues.  I'm not exercising him as often, but he still gets run around three or four times a week.  He's hungry and unhappy.  The last week or so, acorns have ripened and are pattering down from the oaks in the pasture.  Corny has taken to eating them.  Acorns have a bitter taste (tannic acid) and can be toxic to some horses -- obviously not to him.  They also are fattening.  Sigh.  It may sound like this is the diet setback I'm referring to in this post's title.  I wish.

On Monday evening I cleaned out Corny's pen and forgot to go back and latch his gate.  I didn't realize this until very early Tuesday morning when I heard Bruce hollering from outside that the horses were out.  Luckily, they hadn't gone anywhere and stayed around the house.  Corny had no reason leave -- he'd broken into Sarah's rubber food container and consumed almost an entire bag of  Equine Senior.  That's about 40 pounds of high-calorie horse chow.  Horses are notorious for being able to literally eat themselves to death, and this was exactly how they do it.  I was furious with myself for leaving the gate open and very worried that Corny might colic or come down with laminitis (both life-threatening conditions).  Bruce was able to work from home that day, so he could keep an eye on our boy. 

To my relief, although Corny is an utter pig, he also has an iron constitution.  Other than looking a little uncomfortable and pooping out some of the BIGGEST horse turds I've ever seen, he showed no outward ill effects from his food raid.  OK -- well, he also did look a little puffier around his middle.  He had cause.

Yesterday evening we cut and then raked out all of the dry grass from the round pen.  Then we moved Corny down there and hopefully this will be a better place for him; at least for now.  As you can see from his face, he's not happy with the changes in his life.  He promises not to ever eat another acorn and to never, ever walk out of an open gate without permission again. 

Not surprisingly, I don't believe him: he stays in the round pen.

A little while ago I went down to check on him and kiss the baby boy goodnight.  If he could have managed it, he would have cuddled in my lap.  He looked so sad and lonesome.

But a mama cow and her calf came to the rescue.  They wandered over to munch on the mountain of dry grass we'd raked out of the pen.

When I left, he went over to hang out with them from his side of of fence.  Thank goodness for bovine baby sitters.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dead End

Here is another sign that I'm absolutely in love with.  This one is smack dab in the center of what would be the center of Copperopolis if it were big enough to have a center.  Which it isn't and doesn't. 

Bruce, I and Murphy discovered this sign one hot Saturday morning while waiting for the Jeep to be worked on in town (if there was a town.  Which there isn't).  We were just killing time,  aimlessly wandering up and down the streets behind the shop, when we were stopped dead in our tracks by this.    -------->

OK, the sentiment on the sign is, in itself, fabulous: so boldly informing the reader that their GPS is wrong.  But then, the writer goes on to mispell "private."  How stunningly adorable is that????

I love this town (even though it's too small to really be a town)!!!

Changing gears; this has been a strange weekend.  It's been impossible not to do a lot of thinking about 9/11.  I'm still trying to come to terms with this cataclismic event that happened ten years ago.  On this Sunday morning, September 11, we awoke to the power being off.  My first thought was that terrorists had done something during the night.  That's the reality of the world I live in today. 

As it turns out, the power was out because of an outage from numorous lightning strikes in the area over the night.  We also had a lot of nearby grass fires.  Luckily, none were too close.  By noon the electricity was back on and we were back to normal.  Still, the day felt surreal and unbalanced.

I think that September is my least favorite month.  It is such a tired month.  No longer summer, but still hot.  Not quite autumn, but still over and done with.  Everything is dusty and on its last legs.  The chill of autumn is longed for.  I can hardly wait for the winter rains...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Meet Murphy

Murphy is right in the center

Murphy.   He's a Border Collie/Labrador Retriever cross and is now about a year and half old.  He comes from an "accidental" litter of 12 puppies that were born on the dairy where one of my former students lives. 

It took several days for me to decide which of the puppies to take home.   I would stop by the dairy on the way home from school and just sit with the puppies and observe them dinking around and playing.  I loved at least three of them...  

...but, after a lot of reflection, this little guy was the one who came home with me.  He had that certain "something" that I was looking for.  Such a cute little boy!  I liked how he looked directly into my eyes.

 Seal and Arlo, our older Border Collie/Lab mixes gradually accepted Murphy as one of the pack.  They are brother and sister and have now reached the ripe age of 11.  Murphy's energy and playfulness has been good for both of them.                                                                     
And this is Murphy today.  He's absolutely in synch with everything at Frogpond.  He loves to swim.  Chases anything that is thrown.  Adores the cats.  Is gentle with all the birds.  Guards the house with his life.  Loves his place in our family.  And he and Bruce have a bond that is amazing.  I can't imagine life here without our boy.   

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This is what happens...

...when you don't shake the eggs.

Yup, twelve (plus or minus) more baby ducklings have hatched.  I simply couldn't bring myself to shake those eggs.  No excuses -- I just couldn't do it.  So now we have a whole new brood of babies to deal with. 

We've steadily gone forward with our plans to logically deal with our overpopulation of ducks.  We bought this freezer last weekend and set it up in the garage.  Now we have a place to store all of those hypothetically butchered drakes.
We'll see what happens.  I can't even shake an egg.  Can I do the whole duck slaughter thing???

                                                         I hope so (I think).  Stay tuned.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cribbage, Frogpond Style

    I used to think that I didn't like playing sports or games because I had an uncompetitive nature.  For years I gave myself moral Brownie points for not enjoying trying to best my fellow human beings -- my heart simply being too kind and evolved to take pleasure from this sort of juvenile one-upsmanship.  However, I now realize the real reason I don't like to compete:  I absolutely hate to lose.  I am, to put it bluntly, a really bad sport.  Therefore I only play games where I have a very good chance of winning (or, when I was much younger, had a very good chance of cheating at and not getting caught).  Anything involving throwing or catching a ball or (God forbid) running really fast has always been way down on the list of things I will do because I'm really bad at all of them.  But put certain games in front of me, and a ruthless gleam comes into my eye and I'm ready to do battle and mop up the floor with my foe.  These days, that foe is generally my own dear Bruce.  Which brings us to...

The Breakfast

 Cribbage.  Most weekends Bruce prepares a breakfast/brunch and we settle down at the table to eat and play a game of cards.  Saturday morning he made a fabulous fritatta with bacon, cheese and our own purple potatoes accompanied by toast and Frogpond blackberry jam.  Sadly, I didn't think to snap a picture until after we'd consumed two wedges of the fritatta -- it was that good.

 The game proceeded sluggishly for me; I just never could quite catch up.  My pegs are the dark ones in back of Bruce's silver ones.  OK, I don't like to speak ill of Bruce, but I think that he was inwardly gloating.

  As we rounded the last corner, he had a great hand and his pegs zipped around it.  My little pegs were left choking on their dust.  At this point I tactfully mentioned to Bruce that dark grey storm clouds were about to spill over the horizon.  He didn't care.  Not. One. Little. Bit.  

    And then, just like that, the tide changed.  I looked at my cards and saw that I was holding twenty-four points.  To the celestial sound of harps twanging and angels singing, my little black peg did its own bit of zipping forward. Suddenly I was in spitting distance of Bruce's lead peg.  In the exact same instant that he got a worried look on his face, I began smiling and golden sunshine was spilling through the clouds (umm...did I mention that I hate to lose?)

 Bruce had the last deal.  He shuffled.  And then dealt me a lovely hand which was all I needed to dash across the finish line ahead of him.  I think that my peg was thumbing its nose at his pegs.

Ahh, sweet and glorious victory! 

    In case you hadn't noticed, not only am I rotten loser, but I'm an insufferable winner too.  I'm incredibly fortunate to have such a kind  husband to put up with me.  And he made breakfast too  (however, just for the record, I did wash the dishes).