Sunday, September 30, 2012

Frogpond Frolic

Twenty furry legs in action!
A great shot snapped by Bruce just before the camera batteries died.  A moment later, the spider overtook the dogs, wrested the stick from a surprised Murphy's jaws and took off running in the other direction. 


Friday, September 28, 2012


The odor of dead rat in the classroom has been gradually dissipating as the week progressed.  By today, there were actually times when I forgot about the smell.  It's the little things...

Meanwhile, back at Frogpond, I've gotten into the autumn spirit and planted several dozen Chrysanthemums in the two front flower beds. 


To do this, I had to get Bruce to refence the areas in order to keep out the chickens, who had quickly learned how to get over, under and around the old fence.  They made a disaster of this garden, and I finally gave up and sadly watched it go downhill as the summer progressed.  Now that we've got both the chickens and the garden more securely penned, I can get back to growing flowers there. 
When I saw the mums for sale for $1.49 each, I couldn't resist. They're in all the rich autumn colors: dark and light purple, bronze, orange, clear yellow, deep yellow, russet and white. When I get home from school, they glow in the afternoon sunlight.

Max, in his own way, helped me the entire time -- he also glows in the sunlight (in a furry sort of way).  It occurred to me: if this cat were a flower, he'd be a Chrysanthemum. 



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dead Rats and Spiders

The dead rat is still holed up in my wall.  Bright and early on Monday morning, after a chilly, early autumn night, the district superintendent and our principal walked into my room to check out my teaching.  The room, while not wholesomely fragrant, was bearable.  Both men stood in the back, watching my lesson and looking benignly pleased. 

By afternoon, the temperatures had climbed into the low 90's again and the room once again reeked and rocked with the stench of decomposing rodent.  Incredibly, after over a week of an ever rising tide of rotting rodent, no student has yet mentioned the suffocating odor.  Actually, one boy asked yesterday morning if I'd brought a snack for the class -- he said that he could smell something like tomatoes.  I give up.

I've accepted that this rat and I are bound together for the foreseeable future and am resigned to bearing the odor until the passage of time takes care of problem. 

Meanwhile, Sue (my teaching partner) is freaking out more and more because she can hear mice/rats running about her ceiling.  I'm stern about demanding that she keep her lively rodent population to herself.  At this point, however, I'm pessimistic about the whole thing and am sure that they plan to party in the ceiling over her room and then crawl through the pipe over to mine to die. 

Back at Frogpond, it's tarantula season again.  On Sunday evening, as Bruce and I were watering trees by the pond, this pretty spider crossed the path.  We never, ever see them except in the autumn -- and then it's generally a single spider purposefully trekking across the dirt.  I think that we see females that are off to lay their eggs.  One year I caught one and brought her into the classroom to show the children.  She promptly curled up in a little ball and died, so I haven't done this since.  Instead, Bruce took pictures and I put her image up on the big screen.  The class was majorly impressed.  I've become an expert in wowing nine-year-olds. 

Too bad they can't smell a dead rat worth beans.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I smell a rat...

Literally.  It's in my classroom, and (unfortunately) I more than smell it; I'm sent reeling by said very dead rat's powerful stench.

As I've mentioned before, my ancient portable classroom has traditionally been a kind of Mecca to the hordes of rodents that populate the nearby fields and orchards.  They have no problem at all getting in: the walls, ceiling and roof are as riddled with holes as a piece of Swiss cheese (there's a crack in one corner where, if you stand at the right angle, you can actually see a sliver of blue sky).  Until last week, things had improved, as I now forbid any foodstuffs from being brought into the room for them to nibble on and I have two gizmos plugged in that emit ultra-sonic clicks that are supposed to drive them off.  I knew that things were better because I wasn't having to clean up mouse droppings from my counters and shelves first thing every morning when I got to school.  Also, my current class wasn't being entertained by the sound of tiny feet scampering across the insulation in the ceiling.

Sue, my teaching partner, teaches in a portable two feet away from mine.  The walls don't touch, but they are joined by a single pipe up by the roof line that apparently contains wires of some sort.  Sue has had absolutely no mouse problem at all in her classroom and she wants to keep it that way.  She's mentioned several times that she'd like me to keep my mice to myself and is nervous about "my" mice finding their way over to her room.  I tell her that I practice an open door policy and that no rodent will be prevented from leaving for greener pastures -- especially if that greener pasture happens to be the one right next door to me.  Naturally, I wouldn't wish my mouse problem on anyone, least of all Sue.  It's all moot anyway, as the mice appear to have no interest at all in entering her room.

Enter one rat. He started out in the ceiling of, not my room, but (amazingly!) Sue's.  One afternoon after school as we were standing by the door talking, we heard a sudden scratching, scrabbling and thumping from the ceiling tiles  right above our heads.  It was so loud that we both jumped -- it sounded like whatever was up there was about to fall right through the ceiling.  And whatever that thing was, it was no mouse.  Sue was very upset.  Sue and I are very close, which is why I was able to kindly note that rats were far worse than mice and that I'd just keep my tiny mice, thank you very much, and she was welcome to her huge filthy rat.

And then do you know what Sue did???  She sent that rat packing over to my room!  The very next afternoon, while I was correcting papers after school, the same loud thumping and scrabbling that we'd heard the day before from Sue's ceiling was now coming from mine.  I might add that it wasn't nearly so funny now.  Both Sue and I are now pretty sure that the pipe that connects our rooms is how the rat must have gotten so easily from one place to the other.  We both told, Joe, our custodian.  His solution was bring a ladder, go up and lift a ceiling tile in each classroom and throw in some pieces of poison bait.  When I saw him doing this, I asked him if a poisoned rat wouldn't die up there and stink the place up.  He assured me that rats ALWAYS leave a building to die.  At the time, this sounded like a crock to me, but I was willing to believe him as I really wanted this rat gone.

And a crock it was.  The next day, I caught just the barest whiff of rotten flesh.  But I knew right then and there that Joe, bless his sweet heart, had no idea at all what he was talking about.  I also knew that Sue's rat had come to my room to die.  She told me that she felt terrible about that, but I'm certain that a part of her was laughing at me (I know this because if the rat had died in her room, I'd be doing the same thing).  The weather has been warm -- things ripen quickly.  By the following day, when I opened the classroom door, the odor that rushed out was strong enough to make me gag. 

All last week, the odor has been becoming progressively stronger with each passing day.  Leaving the door and windows open and running the air conditioner nonstop helps a bit.  I also have one of those scented air fresheners plugged into the wall to try to mask the odor (it doesn't).  On Monday, I dragged both my principal and Joe in to smell my room.  Astoundingly, they both claimed that my room didn't smell too badly.  By Friday, when the principal came in to visit my class, he finally had to admit that yes, it stunk.  He then tried to mollify me by saying, "But it's like living on a dairy: the odor is strong, but after you're in it for awhile you don't smell it anymore."  Luckily, it didn't occur to me to smack him until after he'd left. 

I Googled "dead rat in wall" as soon as I suspected that this is what I had and learned that the smell from a dead rodent apparently has no health risks.  I've had the option of conducting class in the old cafeteria until the smell dies away, but the idea of trying to set up shop way down there, with no board, Internet access, or desks, and having to lug all our books down there is daunting.  I guess I could also insist that maintenance cut a hole in my wall, find the rat and remove it.  But then I'd have another, larger hole to contend with and, once again, I'd have to conduct class in the old cafeteria while all this was taking place. 

I guess that one reason I chose to put up with the smell is that not one student has so much as mentioned the bad smell.  Not one.  And nine-year-olds will complain about anything -- especially if it can generate a bit of excitement.  So I shrugged and figured that if the smell didn't bother them, I would try to not let it bother me.  However, as I sit here at home, breathing in the clean Frogpond air, I realize that I should indeed have insisted, right from the beginning, that the body be removed.  Enough is enough.

We'll see what my classroom smells like on Monday morning.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Arby Drinks

I finally admitted that I was sick and stayed home yesterday.  I needed it.  The downside to being out of the classroom is that I must write plans for a substitute teacher.  On Monday afternoon (with a headache), this took four hours -- I didn't leave for home until seven o'clock.  The days of leaving a sub with a generic plan with, perhaps, a movie and a bit of PE in the afternoon are from days long past.  The time spent writing plans was well worth it though because having a day to just rest and move slowly was exactly what the doctor ordered.  Today, when I woke up, I knew that I was on the mend.  It's hard for me to slow down and take care of myself -- I'm getting better at it though.

This morning, as I got ready for school, Arby jumped up onto the bathroom counter and demanded his morning drink. 


It took about 15 shots to get one of Arby's tongue.  Here you go!

A great way to start a Wednesday morning.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Working Weekend

Quite the weekend: I had to go in to the County Office for a science conference all day Saturday and then spent all day Sunday reading student journals, correcting papers and preparing lesson plans.  To crown all this academic joy, I came down with a head cold on Friday evening and have been snuffling pathetically into soggy tissues ever since.

I considered staying home from school tomorrow, but preparing for a substitute (especially on a Monday) is simply more trouble than it's worth.  I'm past the infectious stage, so will soldier on tomorrow. 

Lordy, I barely poked my nose outside this weekend, other then to drive down to the County Office.  I did plant some chrysanthemums in front earlier this week, and they're looking happy.  I just realized that I forgot to take any pictures of them.  Tomorrow!

Friday, September 14, 2012

California Kingsnake

Earlier this summer, I saw a huge kingsnake stretched out across the straw in the end stall of the barn.  With the burgeoning mouse population out there for a snake to feed on, I imagine it's an ideal place for a hungry snake to take up residence. 
I didn't see it again until the other evening when I was planting chrysanthemums in front of the house.  Bruce was startled to see this lovely yellow-ringed boy (or girl) laying languidly on the concrete in front of the stalls.  I ran for my camera and the snake obligingly stayed put so I could take its picture.  He/she is very fat and sleek and one of the longest snakes I've seen around here -- this is what comes from the fine dining to be found in our barn!

Eventually the snake grew tired of being admired and slowly sidled over to the barn siding, where it slid along the crack, towards the edge of the concrete.  From there it dropped down, inch by inch, to the ground and then disappeared around the corner. 

A lot of snake
Kingsnakes get their name because they are the only snake that will kill and eat rattlesnakes -- a major reason why they're so enthusiastically welcomed by people in these rattler infested foothills.  I appreciate them for this reason too.  But mostly I think that they're just really pretty. Reptilian eye-candy, you might say.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Of Brooms and Gophers

Frogpond is quite the hopping place while we're away at work, slaving to earn the money to keep all the hungry mouths here fed.

This morning, before we left, Bruce and I herded the oldest brood of ducklings on the long trek from the barn over to the dog run across the yard.  I picked up our spanking new outside broom to help guide our wayward group.  When they were all settled in the run, I made the mistake of propping the broom against Corny's pen.

When I got home, the broom looked like this:

Not surprisingly, Corny claims to have no knowledge of how said broom entered the horse pen or who could have stepped on it.

A bored horse is not a good thing.  And idle hooves are the devil's workshop.  Just saying.

So we now have one less broom.

Meanwhile, inside...

Poom was busy with something in my office.

"Whatcha got there, Poom-Bot?"


"It's a gopher, Mom!!!" 

So we now have one less gopher.  Good kitty! 

And so endeth another Frogpond Monday.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Jars of Summer

It's been such a hot summer that I wasn't expecting a lot from my tomatoes.  Actually, I don't ever expect much from them because they almost always fall far short of my expectations.  But this summer they flowered lots of their tiny yellow flowers and then the flowers turned into small green fruits which grew larger until, finally, I was looking at eight plants loaded with bright fruit. 

Yesterday I picked tomatoes.

Poom was right there, lending  a paw.

Then Bruce and I canned them up.  Fifteen pounds of tomatoes equals six quarts of crushed tomatoes. 

Come December and January it will be wonderful to open up a jar of summer.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Arby's Big Night Out

Last week was a short week but a long week.  It was a short week because Monday's Labor Day holiday chopped off one whole day.  It was a long week because I didn't get home until after dark on two of the remaining four days. 

Late day #1:  I stayed late on Tuesday because the school board was having its first meeting of the school year that evening, and our principal had asked me to give a short presentation.  This was a relatively easy assignment because all I had to do was show a PowerPoint I'd put together last year on some funny/eloquent/wise quotes I'd lifted from my 4th graders' Writer's Notebooks.  Showing off students' work is as easy as showing off a really cute puppy -- you just have to hold it up and everyone in the room is smiling and going, "Ahhhh..."  Still, I did have to do a bit of talking on my own and my stress level was, shall we say, rather elevated.  The clicker to change the slides remotely didn't work, and the multi-purpose room echoed like a cavern (could anyone actually hear me?);  but it all went well enough.  There was some laughter and a number of, "Ahhh's" as I read the student's quotes and polite, but genuine, applause at the end.  I see this as humble but solid success.  That and a commute home in the dark.

Late day #2:  My teaching partner, Sue, and I do our next week's lesson planning after school on Thursday afternoons.  Some weeks we're able to keep our conversation strictly to lesson planning and then it's a fast and efficient process that's over in less than 45 minutes.  Most of the time, though, we sprinkle in conversation about other things and lesson planning stretches out accordingly. Very occasionally (thank God), our conversations turn into marathons, and then the actual lesson planning is shoe-horned into the tiny slices of time between our enthusiastic rants and ramblings about everything under the sun except what we'll teaching the following week.  Thursday afternoon's session was such a planning session and we sat at our laptops in my classroom for two hours, happily yapping away.  This wouldn't have been so bad if we also hadn't planned to drive to Modesto afterwards to buy some fish to put in our new classroom aquariums.  It wasn't until almost six that we left school for the pet shop, and not until seven that we were back in the parking lot, each clutching a bag of five tiny fish.  Sue lives near the school, so she offered to settle both sets of fish into their respective aquariums so I could get home.

Even so, it was almost completely dark when I finally pulled into the carport.  I changed out of my school clothes and then hurried through the outdoor chores before the last of the daylight was gone.  I quickly gathered eggs from underneath grumpy chickens, refilled their water dishes, closed up the coop, fed a starving Corny his meager flake of hay, and herded the ducklings from the dog kennel where they spend the day back into their nighttime quarters in the barn.  Then Bruce came home and we came in for dinner and then on to bed.

Those first moments when I'm finally safe in bed and my head hits the pillows and my toes wiggle under  the blankets are always some of the best of the day.  But this night something was missing -- no Arby settling in, carving out a small cat-sized space between my right side and the edge of the bed.  I knew I should get up and go outside to call him, but I was so sleepy that I decided to let it go.  He'd come inside later and it was silly to worry. 

I was awakened a little before 2:00 a.m. by the howling of a coyote pack somewhere very close to the house.  I felt along my side for Arby's round little cat head, but his spot was still empty.  Very occasionally Arby will feel the need to march down the driveway or go down to the pond all by himself.  I dashed outside, calling Arby's name and the coyote's instantly became quiet.  I called and called -- I woke up the other four cats and they came to me from the house, stretching and yawning.  But no Arby.  With a worried heart, I finally went back to bed.  I lay there awake until almost 3:00 a.m., and then gave up, got up, made tea and sat down at the dining table to do schoolwork.

At 6:00, Bruce got up and I told him that Arby was missing and I'd heard coyotes very close to the house.  He didn't say much, and went outside to do morning chores.  A few minutes later, he came back inside and, smiling a big smile, asked, "So, why did you lock Arby in the chicken coop?"

My fuzzy boy had followed me into the coop when I refilled the chicken's water pans and then had been locked in the pen after I closed the gate behind me when I left.  He'd been there all night and must have been quite upset when he heard me calling for him but couldn't get out to come to me. 

Despite the traumatic night, he still had the fortitude to tuck into two breakfasts.  When I got home from school, he was curled up, fast asleep, in his special spot on our bed.  No doubt making up for lost time. 

I do so love a happy ending.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Up a Tree

Poom scooted up the alder tree this afternoon while we were watering. 

As is the way with cats, he made it up in grand style...

...but coming back down again was a different matter.

No matter which way he tried to rearrange himself in the tree,

he simply couldn't get himself situated in a position where he felt comfortable jumping down.

All ways seemed equally wrong.

Until Dad came, put up his big bear paws, and cradled him right down to solid ground. 

Poom was very grateful and gave him only a very small scratch on the way down.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Frogpuddle Chronicles?

As promised, the pond.  Such as it is.  Which, sadly, isn't much.  Our water table has dropped so far that the trickle of water that comes in from
our solar powered well evaporates into the rock before it ever reaches the pond.  My great hope at this point is that it has enough water to keep the geese and remaining ducks safe from predators until the first winter rains replenish it. 

The island has almost become a peninsula and the water is the color of yellowish pea soup.  Today was the first time I've gone down in almost a month.  I don't suppose that turning my back to it makes much sense, but there is something so very sad about watching a pond slowly dry up.  However, I don't want to be just a fair weather chronicler -- even if all that remains by summer's end is a dry bed of cracked mud.  Besides, the rains will come again and when the water returns, it will be more appreciated than ever.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

End of Summer Blues

I've been asking myself: Why has it been so difficult to blog lately?  There are, it turns out, several reasons.  The most obvious, of course, is that I'm always so crazy, wacked-out consumed by school at the beginning of the school year.  This is a reason, and an accurate one.  But there's more to it than that...  To be honest, the thing that keeps me from blogging the most is that everything here is so end-of-summer dusty, stagnant and parched that it's hard to want to focus on writing on any of it.  It's a lot more difficult at this time of year finding things that inspire me to write.  Poor Frogpond is looking at its worst and I don't want to immortalize this by writing about it.  But the underbelly of Frogpond is as worthy of being written about as the pretty parts. 

So tomorrow I'll take pictures of what is left of the sorry, thick, green slurry we call our pond.  And we'll take it from there.

The mornings are getting cooler, the sun slants more every day and I'm already dreaming of winter rain...