Thursday, May 31, 2012

Farewell to Spring

We're only in the last week of May, yet spring is quite over around here.  Today the temperature is supposed to reach the mid 90's.  I've been watering them like crazy, but this heat should finish off the sweet peas which have valiantly been hanging on through this warm spring.  After transplanting them, tying them to teepees, and nursing them along through the winter, I'm sorry to have to have them leave after only these few weeks of bloom.  But, with  their fragrance and luscious colors, they would have been worth the effort, even if they'd only bloomed for a day.

I'll be pulling them all up by week's end.  As I pile them in the garden cart, I cut off as many seed pods as I can for planting next year.  Then they get dumped on the compost heap where they gradually become part of next year's soil.  I like this continuity: more of a "See you later" than a final "Good by." 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Monday sort of day

Yesterday, which was a Monday, was a holiday. So that makes today, Tuesday, the first day of the week. So today was a Monday. And it lived up to its name, in the petty little annoyances that crept in all through the day.

Which started just before I set off for school to clean up my classroom. I turned on the tap and no water came out. This necessitated the long trip down to the well to see what was going on this time. And, yes, water was once again spewing from several pipes. I called Bruce (he'd barely been at work for 20 minutes), broke the good news, sent pix from my iPhone and left for school. Bruce, as usual, was in charge of coordinating the well guys to come and fix things.

At school I first cleaned up the stage area where we'd put on our ocean play. It takes time to take down a kelp forest, but it was done. Then I went to my classroom, opened the door....and was sent reeling by the unmistakable odor of dead mouse. Breathing through my mouth, I frantically searched all the obvious places where the custodians could have set a trap, but to no avail. Incredible amounts of dead mouse smell, but no mouse. The custodian himself came to check things out and he couldn't find the mouse either. He thought that it must have died behind a bookcase or behind the ceiling panels. Joy. By this time it didn't matter -- my nose could only take so much and I could no longer smell anything. I just propped the door open and worked fast.

When I returned home, the miracle was that we had water again -- at least for the time being. Bruce was home so, after a little rest, we both went down to the orchard garden to finish off the new raised bed. Before anything was even started, Bruce yelled that there was a baby quail in the garden and Max was trying to get it. So I lured the cats back to the house and fed them.

As I reached the garden for the second time, Bruce was again yelling -- this time for ice. He'd given his finger a mighty wack with the hammer and this, apparently, hurt. A lot. So, once again, up I traipsed to the house. Bruce, with finger immersed in ice, set to work on the garden bed. Almost immediately the mama quail, pip-pip-pipping like crazy, came looking for her baby. And the cats all rematerialized, looking for that baby too.

At that, we threw in the towel and called it a (Mon)day. All the cats were rounded up and we all came inside. Tomorrow is Wednesday, which is a kind of Tuesday. I think.

Memorial Day Weekend

It is so very good to be home.  The frenzied rush and all the drama (and there was drama)  of the past weeks are quickly fading into the past. 
I now have another, but much quieter, frenzied rush going on as I try to get the garden sorted out before the first blast of high summer hits.  Me (being me), I set about getting it all done in the first three days of summer break.  Not surprisingly, this didn't happen. 

"Bad" weeds (eg, thistle) loaded up for a trip to the County landfill

However, working outside for three days did me a world of good.

A table of seedlings and plants to get in the ground 
Massive amounts of watering - it's so hot
More weeding - with a bit of rock-hauling thrown
in for good measure
The unfinished vegetable bed in the orchard garden

                                                                                                                                                                            One cannot fret about things like school when occupied with vast amounts of grunt labor in the garden.  It's impossible.  I did lots of grunting, and less and less fretting as the long Memorial Day weekend passed.

However, we also had the sense to take a few minutes to sit back, enjoy the cats, smell the roses...

Smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches

...and eat the salmon! 

This morning I'm off down the hill to school to begin cleaning and organizing the chaos that is my classroom.  I'm ready!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

School's Over!

This year the last week of school was more frenzied than usual.  Every day I had more things scheduled to get done than I could possibly get to (plus more things kept getting added on as we remembered them), so they'd get bumped to the next day.  By the time Friday arrived, everything HAD to be done.  A lot of this involved shopping, so took place after school: gifts for my parent volunteers, rewards for our science fair winners, thank you cards, picking up photographs of the students, and the like.  Every year I vow that I'll start all of this earlier.  And every year I don't and end up with this insane mad scramble that doesn't stop until the final bus pulls away at the end of the last day of school.  Except this year, it was worse (a huge added element was deciding to perform a musical with 43 students last Tuesday). 

In the midst of all this activity, a frog decided to come to my classroom for a visit.  I'd potted up flowers as gifts for my parent classroom helpers and given them a good watering the night before.  In the morning, I put them in a box, loaded them, plus a Pacific tree frog hiding in the foliage, into the car and brought them down to school.  When I set them out on the bookshelf in my classroom, the frog popped out, hopped down and led me on a merry chase, much to the hilarity of my students (they all wanted to help, but were sternly ordered not to move -- I could see the bedlam that would have ensued, and I'm pretty sure the frog would have been unintentionally flattened).  I eventually caught the frog (this one act at last earned the respect of several students who, up until that moment weren't, I don't think, all  that impressed with my abilities).

At the end of the day, the frog and I drove home together.  I sat in the driver's seat while he worked at escaping from the bucket he was in on my lap.  At one point, he squeezed around the bag I'd rubber-banded around the top of the bucket and hopped up on the steering wheel.  I'm glad that I was on a country road because there was a bit of swerving around before I pulled over to the shoulder and got him deposited back in his bucket.  This excitement continued all the way home.

When I finally pulled into the carport, the first thing I did was haul him out in his bucket and invite him to return to a potted plant.  At first he wasn't sure he wanted to do this and just sat on the edge of the bucket.  I eventually convinced him otherwise.  And so the frog has returned home and is back in a plant on his carport. 

Life at Frogpond.  Always exciting.

And so begins my summer break.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Last Week of School

I've missed my little blog!  All of the activity that crashes up in one last frenzied rush during these last few days of the school year has descended.  I'm staying barely a step ahead of every deadline as it looms right ahead of me.  In addition to the usual flurry of activity involving report cards, boxing up books, sending names of student award winners to the office, buying gifts for parent volunteers, etc, etc, etc, another was added: the other 4th grade teacher and I (in a moment of questionable sanity) decided that putting on a musical production would be a good idea.  So we got to add play tryouts, rehearsals, scenery, shopping for props, costumes, more rehearsals, cleaning out the old cafeteria (which turns into the general "junk" room because it isn't often used), moving in risers for the children to stand on, printing out programs, setting up a sound system and rehearsing yet again.  We had lovely parent help, but, in the end, we still had a lot of extra things on our lists of things to do.  We gave four performances over the past three days.  They were well-received by an appreciative audience (parents are a pretty easy crowd to please - especially when their kid is in a sea star costume).

I wish that I could post a picture of the students in their sea creature costumes (they looked pretty cute!), but that wouldn't be a good idea.  So here is a portion of our stage.  It doesn't look like much without the stars of the show, I'm afraid.  The thing in front is a "tide pool" we constructed from paper crumpled over boxes. 

I'm beat!  And now that it's all over, we have to take it all down (but that won't be until next week).

On top of everything else, I'm on the potential juror list for another two weeks.  Tomorrow evening I call again to see if I must make the long drive to court again.  Keep fingers crossed that they give me another pass -- driving the 160 miles to Fresno would be a dismal way to begin my summer break!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eclipse -- Really???

Bruce has been so excited these past few days.  A rather impressive solar eclipse was scheduled to occur between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. this evening.  Bruce set off to Salt Springs Resevoir with Murphy the dog and camera paraphinalia to take pictures of the momentous event. 

I, because I'm still laboring over report cards, stayed home.  Around 6:00 I went outside to the pond to water the trees and see whatever there was to see.  Which wasn't much.  But the light turned strangely orange and the coyotes began howling.  That was about it.  Oh, and Bruce had given me a card with a hole punched in it so I could see the image of the eclipse without blinding myself.  Amazingly, this low-tech thing worked -- I saw the dark image of the moon over the sun.  Pretty cool.  However, we were expecting a lot more.  Such is life. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chicken Dinners

Our little Cornish Cross meat chickens are growing at a phenonmenal rate.  Following the hatchery's instructions, we take out their feeder every evening at 7:00 pm.  Doing this slows down their growth and prevents a lot of problems (including sudden death).  They are, to put it mildly, enthusiastic eaters -- especially after "starving" for the entire night.

They are now a little over three weeks old.  They seem very glad to be alive, and enjoy their stay in the stall.  Next week, they'll be outside in the dog kennel, under the shady pine.

If all goes according to plan, their short lives will end at 12 weeks of age.  All chickens raised commercially for consumption have a similar life span.  We do work harder, I think, to ensure that our chicks have a rich and happy life.  Believe me when I say that it's very different when you care for and know the creature that will become your meal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


One of the very best things about cornflowers (also known as Bachelor's Buttons) is that deer don't seem to like them.  Another best thing about them is that they come in such lovely shades of pink, purple, maroon, and blue, with the occasional white thrown in for good measure.  Cornflowers not only survive, but actually thrive in our hot, rocky, windblown hillsides -- seed that I scattered around the pond and up and down the driveway 15 years ago has multiplied and spread the plants into the hills.  That's probably their best quality of all.

Ironically, those legions of nasty thistles sprouting all over that I'm working like crazy to chop down before they set seed, possess many of the same sterling qualities as the cornflowers: the deer won't touch them, the flower has a pretty color and they're unfazed by anything our climate throws at them. All that goes out the window, though, because of the sharp spines running up and down their stems and from the ends of each leaf.

We were lax in our efforts to get rid of them last year, so this spring they're popping up everywhere.  We're able to mow them down rather quickly with the weedeater where they're alone or in clumps under the trees.  But the one's among the cornflowers, where they nestle in and grow beautifully, are another story.  These I insist on pulling out, one at a time, by hand. The thistle's spines frequently poke through my gardening gloves and into my hands, but I'm gritting my teeth and getting the job done.

It's worth a little pain.  It would be far more painful to cut down such a pretty tapestry.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Picketing Chickens

The majority of this weekend's work involved fencing in the upper vegetable garden.  In the past, it had produced fine corn, pumpkins and artichokes.  However, in recent years it's been invaded by gophers, who went to work chewing the roots off of most of the vegetables while ignoring the weeds.  The hens also took to excavating hen-sized holes in there and then jumping in to take long, luxurious dirt baths.  Last summer I threw in the towel and didn't bother planting anything at all.

Each pumpkin plant is planted in a wire mesh container to keep out gopher teeth.
We've spent the past few weekends reclaiming this garden by building a fence around it.  Actually, Bruce did most of the building, while I worked in new compost, weeded and planted corn and sunflower seed and pumpkin plants.  Bruce's got the pickets cut out so they travel right up against the cliff -- it looks so cute!

When we were finished late this afternoon, we were humbly pleased with what we'd created.

Max was satisfied with the new layout (especially once he discovered that he could squeeze between the pickets).

Then it was time for the final test: I loosed the hens.  At first they marched about, looking through the pickets into the garden that was no longer theirs. 

Three minutes later, the first triumphant hen (a white leghorn) was in -- she'd shinnied up the cliff and around the fence. 

OK, so we thought that this might happen, even as we hoped it wouldn't.  Plan B will be put into place: black netting to go from the ends of the picket fence all the way to the back fence on the top of the cliff.   Tomorrow. Or, perhaps, the day after tomorrow. 

It was a good sort of weekend.  I feel as prepared as I'll ever be for the hectic pace of the last two weeks of school. 


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Overnight Fieldtrip to the Ocean

The weather was lovely, the children (some who had never seen the ocean) ecstatic, and the universe a joyful place. 

Tonight I thankfully go to sleep in my own bed. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Potential Juror Goes Home

I sat with the other jurors in the jury box but the judge excused me when I told her that I had to take my class of 22 fourth graders on an overnight field trip to the ocean tomorrow.  I got back in my car and drove 160 miles back home.

So now I'm going to bed because I'm exhausted and must take my class of 22 fourth graders on an overnight field trip to the ocean tomorrow!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Prospective Juror

Here I sit in my Fresno hotel room.  Not one of my friends in high places was high enough to get my name off that prospective juror list -- so the time came to buck up and accept that I was going to have to drive 160 miles and show up in court tomorrow.  I must be there by 8:00 and was warned not to be late.  I'm such a wannabe people pleaser that it goes against the grain to want to NOT be chosen for something -- but I really, really hope that I don't appeal to the attorneys and they send me packing back to Frogpond.

I'm rather impressed with myself for getting to the hotel (it did take a few minutes to figure out exactly how to get in the parking garage), checking in, and ordering an in-room dinner.  However, I did manage to lock myself out of the room when putting the meal tray outside my door.  Who knew that the door would slam shut behind me?  I had to make the long elevator ride back down to the lobby to get a duplicate key from Mitchell, the front desk guy.  I'm grateful that I was dressed and even had my shoes on. 

Life is just one adventure after another for me.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jury Duty

I got a jury summons two weeks ago for the Federal District Court in Fresno.  The drive from Copperopolis to Fresno is 160 miles, one way.  I wrote a letter, hoping to get off.  The court was not amused.  I called the first time to see if I had to go in, but the answer was no -- wait for a week.  I called the next week and they said, yes, come in next Tuesday (unless they changed their mind).  The problem (for me, at any rate) with going in next Tuesday is that on Wednesday I'm taking my class on an overnight fieldtrip to Monterey.  Everything's rather complicated and up in the air right now -- my principal has called his friend the District Attorney to see if he can get me off.  Since I'm being summoned by a Federal Court that appears to complicate things. 

As it stands now, I've got people making phone calls in an effort to save me from having to drive to Fresno and spend the night.  I must call tomorrow night after 5:00 to see if my services are still required.  I'm packing an overnight bag and making a hotel reservation, just in case.

I'm done worrying about this -- what happens, happens.  I do hope that tomorrow night I'm able to drive up the hill to my little home instead of to a motel in Fresno.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Twilight and Bush Lupines

Springtime is such a mind-frazzling sort of month, with so much to do after the long, slow dreamy sleep of winter.  This particular spring, coming so early and so warm, everything has been accelerated to warp speed -- there is no hope of keeping up with the weeds, the watering or the gophers.  Every pest has mushroomed into uncontrolled excess and I want to wring my hands and cry every morning that I must get in my car and go off to work, even as Frogpond is going to wrack and ruin.  Or so it seems.

But then I come home in the evening, and there is Bruce waiting for me with the dogs (and a cat or two) eager for a walk.  We set off, silent and lost in our own thoughts for some of the time and then suddenly launching into tirades about this and that for the other part.  This evening was such a night.  Lots of unsettling stuff zinging around for both of us -- it felt good to talk and get it out. 

Just as the sun sank below Gopher Ridge, we reached the dam where the bush lupines glowed in high bloom.  Their sheer, humming purpleness quieted us right down. 

Against the darkening sky, sometimes they looked more purple, and sometimes more blue.  Whatever their color, they were wonderful.

And, at least for a little while, the woes of the world (and the weeds) could wait.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cornish Cross Chicks

Meet the newest (and most temperary) residents of Frogpond Acres.  They are twenty-one Cornish Cross chicks -- the same kind of chicken that is produced in large numbers for sale in grocery stores as "broilers.".  They will only be with us a short time (7-8 weeks), as they are destined for the table.  We've been thinking about doing this for a long time, and now here we are.  I'll admit I'm feeling uneasy, because this particular breed of chicken is a genetic hybrid that is specifically bred for phenomenally fast growth so they can be butchered as early as possible.  I've done a lot of reading about the pros and cons of raising them vs some of the older varieties of dual purpose chickens (egg layers/meat).  The main concern with this bird is that they grow so quickly that their bodies begin to break down after about 12 weeks of age.  This is the part that troubles me.

In the end, Bruce and I decided that we needed to give this a try if we were ever to figure out if this is the way to go.  The chicks are bright eyed and seem comfortable and happy.  And, yes, they are cute. 
So we'll see how it goes.  In a few weeks, we'll put them outside in an enclosed run.  There, they'll have bugs and vegetation to eat and can do chicken things like scratch in the dirt.  The goal is to make their short lives as pleasant as possible.
And on the other end of this, our hope is that we'll have good-tasting, humanly raised chicken for the table.