Monday, July 30, 2012


"...some principles, no matter how cliched they sound, really do mean something.  Hard work is its own reward.  Integrity is priceless.  Art does feed the soul."
                                                                            -Marcus Samuelsson (from Yes, Chef: A Memoir)

The above quote set me to thinking about my brother, Michael.  I started reading Yes, Chef on the plane over to Europe, but am only getting around to finishing it now.  It's a fabulous read.  I was struck by the quality of the life this man lives every day.  He's done a lot.  Some of it remarkable, some of it inspired and some, admittedly, stupid.  But everything with passion that is always guided by a strong moral code.

And this is what brought Michael to mind. 

Right now, he's plunged headlong into researching our family tree.  Nothing by halves, Michael has, in a few short weeks, researched our roots back almost 450 years to our patriarch, Georg the Elder (born 1552).  The tree Michael has constructed now spans 15 generations, and contains 346 individuals (I'm thinking he hasn't bothered with inconsequentual things like sleeping lately).  This is how Michael does things -- meticulously and correctly, but always with passion.

I will always feel wistful that Michael and I have so little shared history.   For much of our childhood, we were apart -- he with our grandparents in Austria and I with my mother in the US.  Not surprisingly, we came out of this with vastly different lives. 

That said, it is a source of wonder to me every time we come together, how much we truly are kindred spirits.  We look at each other and see our alter-egos.  That's about the coolest thing I've ever experienced.

I do believe that we would give Georg the Elder reason to smile.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Santa Cruz

You know how sometimes when you go somewhere, everything just clicks?  When you, by chance, stop by a little restaurant and the meal is incredible and by a stroke of amazing luck, you're given the perfect booth where the window overlooks the water?  When  you're charmed by the music in the art gallery and there are so many books you're in love with and must read in the bookshop that you can't buy less than six?  Or eight.  Where every time you turn your head, there's another delight?  And you never, ever want to go home because everything has this magical quality?  And you know that the world really isn't this perfect, but it's so wonderful how, just for this day, it seems like it is?

I've experienced all of these feelings when visiting places in the past.  Actually, on many occasions I've experienced these feelings when visiting Santa Cruz.  But yesterday wasn't one of those days.  Eh -- it happens. 

Calamari appetizer.  Meh.
The drive down was nightmarishly slow -- it took five hours to travel what should have taken three hours.  In one memorable spot, it took an hour to travel six miles.  Once in Santa Cruz, it became clear why the highway was so clogged -- everyone who'd been on the road at the same time was here.  The streets were packed with cars and there was absolutely nowhere to park.  It took another hour to have the great good fortune to be on a spot on the wharf when a car finally left just as we approached.  As it was past two in the afternoon, we were very hungry so we ate at a little restaurant where I've enjoyed the food before.  This time it was...so-so.  Not awful, but not particularly good.  We did have a nice view of the water though.

Sea Kitty
Afterwards, we walked around the wharf a bit.  Cute sea lions were barking underneath the pier.  One was standing on a trestle while luxuriously rubbing his jowls on the wood piling, like a very large, aquatic kitty cat.  That was cool.

OK, another fun thing was that there were three young people standing across from us on another part of the wharf.  They were not in a position to see the sea lions, and one of them called over to ask if I could see anything from where we stood.  "Yes, come over here!" I shouted back.  They came over to where we were and I happily put on my sea mammal tour guide hat -- not only pointing out the one rubbing his chin, but also the ones swimming nearby and the ones perched farther away, under the dock.  Then I got out of the way so that they had a better view.  As we strolled off, they were chattering away, snapping pictures and having a wonderful time.  I think this was the high point of my day.  Really!

There also was this pelican.  He completely ignored all the people passing by and settled in for a thorough grooming session.  I really liked this guy.

We'd planned to go to the boardwalk and go on some of the rides.  But as we stood on the wharf and looked over at the flood of humanity across the water, the rides whirling and going up and down with all the screaming that went along with that, we realized that we really didn't want to do that anymore.  Not even the cotton candy could tempt me.

Feeling oddly guilty at abandoning out boardwalk plan, we went back to the parking spot that we'd fought so hard to acquire, got back in the car, and drove into the older shopping area of Santa Cruz.  It was nice there, but the day still lacked that magic quality -- at this point, it felt like we were both gamely going through the motions.  We did, however, visit a fabulous bookshop where we bought some books, cards and writing paper.  There also was a harpist playing Irish airs on her harp outside and the music was lovely.  I put money in her box, hoping that the tide had turned, but no.  This particular day just didn't have that special quality that I was hoping for.  We were relieved to finally get back in the car and head for home.  Thankfully, the drive home went much more quickly.

One of the best parts of the day was how even when we both realized that the magic wasn't happening and we wished we'd stayed home, we still made the best of it.  If we'd bickered or fought, the day would have been abysmal.  As it was, it was a bit of a disappointment, but such is life. 

Today was a lovely day at home (Bruce finally beat me at cribbage!  About time). 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A View Back: Workshop Week

The week long leadership workshop is over.  It's been quite the experience: so intense, in fact, that I burst a blood vessel in my left eye.  Not once, but twice -- two days in a row.  It didn't particularly hurt, and isn't serious, but  I conferenced all week with one eye stained bright red so I glowered like a vampire.  It's an interesting look, but not as flattering as one might think.

Professionally, I've never been comfortable with the whole concept of being singled out as "a leader", or anything else for that matter.  I've tended to shy away from anything that may appear to be self-promoting or give the impression that I'm stuck on myself.  I'm hyper-sensitive to even the merest hint that this may be the perception.  To be honest, I also have a fear that being recognized paints a target on my back for others to shoot at.  Yes, I have trust issues.

However.  Now that I've been on this planet for over half a century, I've only very recently (within the last two years) stood up relatively straight when receiving compliments.  It's still my first instinct to duck and deflect any sort of commendation, but my eyes have been opened to the realization that being silent, staying back and hugging the shadows severely holds back any real good I can do within my school.  I think that going through cancer helped change my perspective on this -- it's just taken awhile for my actions to realign with this gradual paradigm shift.

This past workshop gave me both the rational and the tools needed to become stronger and more confident in how to create an environment where every child at our school learns.  I'm keeping my eyes on this prize because this is a cause worth any amount of personal angst I may put myself through.  I still have a long way to go with this.  I'm OK with that.

Having said all of that (and I believe every word with my whole heart), and on the last day of a workshop centered around our skills as leaders for change, yesterday I had a conversation with our district's assistant superintendent and scarcely said three sentences before I'd managed put myself down.  He rolled his eyes and so did I and then, thank God, we both laughed.  Old habits are hard to break, but I'll be glad when this one is snuffed out for good.

Today is Saturday and I'm ready to get away from school for a little while.  Bruce and I set off for Santa Cruz in a little while.  We'll play on the boardwalk (really looking forward to splashing down the rails on the Log Ride) and then visit some shops and bookstores.  There's the beach and also some good restaurants where we plan to stuff ourselves on fish.  I'm happy.

Arby giving a lesson on how to dispense with false humility.  Look at that face!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More Duck Soup

This trundling off to a workshop every day this week is messing my summer routine up.  That's not to say that it's not a very good workshop.  We're learning how to build up our school community through a shared vision, which is pretty cool.  However, after sitting all day in a large room with other teachers from my school (as well as the upper levels of our district's administration), developing our school's mission, it's hard to let go of it when I get home.  Getting to sleep at night is a problem.

Anyway, when I got home yesterday, I did manage to finish a duck soup I actually started last Friday by taking our last duck out of the freezer in the garage.  As it was almost an 8 pound drake, it took three days for it to defrost in the fridge!  The recipe, Herb-Brined Duck Breast was from The French Farmhouse Cookbook, by Susan Loomis.  She has a number of duck recipes, but I chose this one because it included brining the duck in a salt/herb mixture overnight and then slowly stewing it in an intense flavored herb broth. The recipe also includes a side dish of lentils, which I also prepared.

This is what the duck (which I'd quartered before brining) looked like when I got it in the pot with the broth mixture.  The herbs and vegetables included carrots, leeks, shallots, onion (with cloves stuck in it!), fresh thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns and parsley.  I set it on low heat to simmer for two hours and went out to water the garden and tie up my blackberry vines.  Every time I came in the house to check on the soup, the aroma from that soup with all those herbs just about had me swooning.

When Bruce came home, it was time to take the duck quarters out of the broth, dry them off and quickly fry them in butter/olive oil. This isn't a recipe for cooks who are faint of heart or eaters who are on a strict diet.  When the lentil's had been pureed and the rich, brown duck breast was served on top, it was a meal fit for royalty.  No pictures of this, though -- we were eating too quickly.

I will say that this is the best duck (by far) I've ever eaten. 

Now it's off to my workshop -- today's the halfway mark.  I'm glad of that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Workshop Week (Woot!)

I'm off to a workshop every day this week (sitting in a windowless room with a large group of teachers during summer break -- not as much fun as one might think), so my blog is suffering more than usual.  Will write this evening. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bag of Bones

Over on our absent neighbor's property, I've been walking by the remains of a very, very dead cow for seven or eight years now.  Every year that cow just keeps getting deader -- the carcass gradually transforming into bleached bones poking out of the weeds.  At some point, the skull disappeared (I think the new owners of the property took it).  The last few years, the bleached bones have finally given up the struggle with the weeds and are slowly being covered. 

I like these bones very much and have had designs on them for some time.  I brought home two of the leg bones as hand weights on a day I went walking and forgot my real weights.  I set them on the porch rail and looking at them every day, I came up with a brilliant idea to re purpose them and give them a second life:  cow bones as fence art.  Yes!

So yesterday I went walking with the dogs and brought a canvas bag along for hauling cow bones.  I first gathered the bones that were sticking up from the dry grass first and then rooched around with a rib to locate the buried ones.  When I got the bag as stuffed as I could get it, the dogs and I set off for home.

Bone transport to orchard garden

Bones are heavy -- really heavy.  I tried walking with the bag in my left hand.  Then in my right hand.  Then on my shoulder.  Finally I slung the bag over my back and there it was easier to carry.  However, the bump-bump-bumping of those knobbly bones left bruises all over my lower back.  I can say I suffered pain for my art.  Whatever.

The bones -- now in the orchard garden

My grand idea is to construct a low rock wall - 3 or 4 foot - at the base of the upper garden fence.  Then I will (somehow) attach the bones to the wire fence above the wall, where they will serve as art and a fireproof source of a little shade.  This last is important because there is an electrical pole with a transformer right there and we can have nothing flammable within 30 feet of it. 

This is sorta-kind-of my idea for the bones.  Somehow to be wired to the fence so that they can be seen and appreciated.  My hope is that this will not look ghoulish and bizarre, but natural and "right."  We'll see.

I must build the wall first.  A job for this evening, now that the sun has set and the temperature is at last under 100 degrees.  Once again I'm reminded that I'm not in Northern Germany anymore.  Sniff.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


These may have been end-of-season berries, but they were juicy and sweet
I thought that I'd waited too long and missed the entire blackberry season again this summer, but stopped by a fruit stand on Thursday afternoon on the off chance that there was still a berry or two to be had. 

And there was; just barely.   I caught the very tail end of the harvest and bought one of the last flats of blackberries.  They were washed, mashed, cooked and put up in jars by evening.


We ended up with a modest 12 half-pints of jam -- not a lot, but enough for our needs with a few jars extra to give away.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A (Short) Respite from the Heat

The weather has blessedly cooled down this week.  It's due to go up again to triple digits this weekend, but for now all of us are reveling in temperature highs in the low 90's.  Bliss!

My lemon-colored sunflower

The garden has taken a deep breath and is slowly coming back to life again -- green leaves, new flowers and ripening fruit and vegetables. 

Morning Glories in the orchard garden

Baby pumpkin
Cucumbers finally going up the trellis
Tomatoes at last

While not exactly the lush jungle of my dreams, I'm happy with what I've got -- especially when compared with how things looked last week. 

Today I go down to school to work in my classroom for awhile (it never ends).  I'll have company -- I'm bringing ten half-grown chicks to our bus driver, Joe.  That will bring the number of chicks we have here down to 19, which is much more manageable.  I also managed to sell (!) four ducklings as pets to a nice family earlier this week.  Quite a novel feeling having someone put a twenty dollar bill in my hand for ducks -- I'd have given twenty to take them! (OK, actually originally I'd priced them at $10 each and the family was happy to pay it, but I just couldn't do it.  I almost just gave them the ducklings, but figured I may as well recoup a bit of the money I've spent shoveling food into them so wound up charging them $5 each.  Lucky I'm a teacher -- I'd never make it in the business world).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Copperopolis Summer: Dry, Dry, Dry

The gardens at Ludwigslust in Upper Germany where rain actually falls in the summer
Ahh, Ludwigslust...

It was inevitable that when I visited countries where it regularly rains all summer long that when I came home I should make comparisons.

More Ludwigslust

Coming off a very dry winter, with slightly more than half our expected rainfall, and no rain at all since May, things are looking severely baked around here. It didn't help that while I was gone Copperopolis was struck with a heatwave with temperatures up to 108 degrees. 

Not Ludwigslust (that's a thirsty Frogpond deer in the upper center

When I left, the corn looked like this...
...and, when I came home, it looked like this

Buckeye falling asleep in the heat

The sorry state of the garden wasn't Bruce's fault: he watered early in the morning before leaving for work and dashed home again in the evening to do it all over again. It just couldn't be enough.

Some plants, like the California buckeye to the right, have adjusted to our rainless summers by estivating -- when the weather gets hot, they just go dormant until the following spring. 

 It's a clever technique, but, sadly, they still look like hell. They may as well be my poor, fried hollyhocks.

Hollyhocks definitely past their prime

Of course, some plants thrive in all this sunshine

The worst part of all of this is that since we had such a dry winter, the water table is very low.  If I leave the hose running for too long (meaning about one and a half hours), the entire well runs temporarily dry.  Then the pump shuts down until the well has had time to recharge.  This is taking several hours now.  I've drawn down the well down like this three times just since I've gotten home. 
This is not a good sign of things to come.
It's going to be a long summer, I'm afraid.  Whining doesn't help -- I'll just keep doing my best to keep everything alive until fall arrives.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Castles and Castles

I'm home.  Actually, this is very early of my third day home, but it's only now that I feel like I'm really back.*

The trip to Germany and Austria gave me everything (and more) that I'd wished for. My original goal was achieved: I got my castles.

*edited to add: I think my computer is angry with me for deserting it for ten days -- it's been flaked out since I got home.  This one post has taken three additional days to get moderately right.



Anke and Leslie -- Cousins!

However, I came back with unlooked for gifts of a much greater magnitude - ones that still blow me away. The first is that I reconnected with my German cousin Anke, who I hadn't seen in many years (12?). We had such a good time and she and her husband, Wolfgang, were so good to take me out to see new sights each and every day I was with them. But more than that, they showed me a depth of kindness and love that still quite overwhelms me.

Wolfgang (jam-maker extraordinaire), was our hardworking chauffeur.  He also protected me from curators who insisted on payment for pictures taken within the castles as well as making sure that Anke and I stopped to eat at regular intervals.

Mareike and Leonie
In Austria, I also got reacquainted with my niece, Mareike, who is now 11 years old and absolutely enchanting.  She's another one full of love.  She did her best to teach me German in the three days I was there and, for her, I really tried.  I vowed that next time I visit I'll be able to speak more than cave-man pigeon German with her.  She'll hold me to it!

An unexpected bonus was meeting my other dear niece, Leonie, for the first time.  She's the same age as Mareike and came up by train to Ohlsdorf all by herself.  It's obvious that Leonie and Mareike are very close, even as their personalities are in sharp contrast: where Mareike gravitated towards center stage, Leonie was more reserved and preferred to observe others from the sidelines.  But from there, I don't think she missed a thing!
Nati, Leonie, me, Mareike, Aaron and Nicole

It was so good to see my brother, Michael, and his wife Nati again after so many years.  I laughed when I saw that their 16 year old son, Aaron was now taller than his father (he didn't have a girlfriend when I saw him last either).

I went across the ocean because I wanted to see castles.  But there are castles and there are castles --they can be rock and mortar and they can be flesh and blood.  I got both.