Sunday, June 30, 2013

Nothing but Hot

Arby lying where I've just watered
Today, the temperature got up to 107.  When it gets this hot everything -- plants and animals alike -- are stressed.  I can't run the hose for too long at any one time for fear of running the well dry, so I went out intermittently throughout the day to water whatever parts of the garden looked in most need.  In the afternoon I turned the sprinkler on in the tomato bed and a goldfinch flew down and perched on a sunflower right in front of me.  It was so close that I could almost have reached out and touched it.  I think it might have let me -- the poor thing was so hot that its beak was open and it was panting.  As the droplets of water fell, it ruffled its feathers and settled down.

Tomorrow and the Tuesday are supposed to get up to 110 degrees.  After that, the weather is supposed to go back down to the 90's.  Please let it be so.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Heat

The pleasant temperatures of a week ago are a thing of the past:  we are officially into hot.  The temperatures have soared into the 100's the past two days and it's supposed to reach 107 on Monday.  Hot.  Right now, at 9:30 at night, the weather gauge reads 98 degrees.  The garden's doing pretty well, though -- most of the plants are well-mulched and they've got enough leafy growth up top to shade beneath them.

The oldest plum tree has a bumper crop of fruit on it this year.  The birds have already started to feast on the partially-ripe plums -- I'll have to be quick to pick what's left as soon as they're ready.

Lately Poom has been looking scruffier than ever -- he's now covered with stickers dirt.  If I didn't know better, I'd think he was a stray.

The quince tree and rosemary bushes in the lower garden are thriving.

The lemon tree I planted this spring was recently pruned by the deer.  It now has a wire cage around it.

I recently planted Indian corn in the front of this bed in the orchard garden.  The sun is so strong on it in the late morning that I lay reed fencing down to shade the seeds.

I peered underneath it this morning and was pleased to see that we had sprouts.

 My week two at the Writing Institute was better, although it's been good to be outside, surrounded by my little world.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


                                              Summer afternoon stroll: Murphy and Poom

Cool Interlude

Yesterday I bravely went back to the Writing Institute.  I wish I could say that everything was dramatically better -- that this horrible fish-out-of-water feeling I have sitting in the room with the other teachers was gone and that I felt confident and sure of my abilities.  I'm simply not there yet, but still hold out hope.  I've decided to view this experience as a learning opportunity -- not only as a way to become a better teacher but also as a way to test my inner convictions about the worth of perseverance. So tally ho to Tuesday's Institute.  I also am curious to see if anything changes inside of myself before the next 12 days is over...

The last several days have been blessedly cool here -- temps in the mid-eighties with drizzle and even a bit of rain.  The garden has loved it.
The chrysanthemums appear to think it's autumn

Almost-ripe Santa Rosas on the old plum tree

Nectarines (they need thinning before the branches break)

The forecast calls for temperatures back up to the low hundreds by the end of the week.  We're all enjoying this while we can.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Birthday Mama

The much-hoped for lightening of mood had set in when I woke up this morning.  I'm not exactly leaping about singing, "Tra-la-la!", but no longer crouching in the pit of despair either.  I'm ready for whatever the second week of the Institute has in store for me and am ready to do my best.

Yesterday's party for Mama was a success.  Mama loves lemon cake, so I decided to make one from scratch. The recipe (once again, from the Smitten Kitchen food blog) called for two sticks of butter, 6 lemons, 4 large eggs and buttermilk.  It was a very, very good cake.

So good that Mama briefly contemplated just eating the batter -- no baking needed.

But reason prevailed.  It turned out to be a very pretty (as well as tasty) cake.
Mama thinks that Bruce is absolutely wonderful in all ways...

...but when she sees this pic, she'll finally be convinced that he's rotten to the core

Happy Birthday, Mama!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Gentle Saturday

Week one of Great Valley Writing Project Summer Institute is behind me.  To be honest, this is harder than I thought it would be.  Not because of the writing involved (and there's LOTS of it, but I take to that like a duck to water) but because I'm beginning to question if I was as good a teacher as I thought I was.  I'm left soul searching and self-evaluating and am not at all happy with a lot of the way I've been doing things in my classroom.  In my efforts to please my school administration, I've made a concentrated effort to incorporate huge swaths of what they wanted into my teaching, grading and classroom in general.  And so, got applause from my "bosses."  I also managed to do some of what I myself thought was important, so got praise from other teachers for that.  Things felt pretty good and I thought I was doing OK in balancing things...all right; I had my doubts, but was able to look the other way.

This week, there was no chance of looking away -- I realized that I've veered so far off of good teaching that I'm wondering if I have the time this late in my career to reinvent myself as a teacher.  It's that bad.  I'm embarrassed for myself. Isn't that an awful way to feel at the end of the first week of the Institute?  I thought I'd feel warm and fuzzy and validated...

I know that I must and will get back into balance again.  That change and growth is generally uncomfortable and can be painful.  That I am a good teacher.  I just need to be a better one.  We'll see how I feel after a weekend of being blessedly home.  Right now, my heart is heavy and I'm still licking my wounds.  I was so tired and out of it when I got home yesterday afternoon that I couldn't find my car keys to hang them on the hook by the back door.  I went back out to the car to see if I'd left them there.  Indeed I had.  They were still in the ignition and the motor was running.

However...I'm home, and that's doing me all the good in the world.  Every afternoon I'd get home just in time to water the gardens, take care of the animals and then set to work on lessons for the institute as it grew dark.  I've been neglecting Frogpond.

One thing though: I'm filled with gratitude that yesterday our two wonderful cleaning ladies came and got to work.  When I got home, the floors gleamed, the furniture glowed and the bathrooms sparkled.  Such a blessing!

Today I'm just catching up, but at my own pace.

This afternoon Mama is coming up and we'll be celebrating her birthday with lentil salad, steak, and homemade lemon cake.

For some reason, I decided that today was the day I'd sort through the mess of cds and dvds that had piled up in our TV cabinet.  I matched the cases with the disks for all of them except four.  If you'd seen the pile I was working with, you'd understand why this was such an achievement

Two loads of laundry washed, hung out to dry, and then folded and put away.

It appears that the boy-cats had a tiring week too.  Here they are together on the bed, recuperating from whatever.

Bruce went to town this morning and will be returning home with sushi for a late lunch.  I still have a lemon cake to bake and the house will smell delicious. In a few hours Mama is due to arrive to spend the night.  We're all safe and together and I'm surrounded by love.

I'll feel better soon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Bruce got this picture of the quail just as they exploded into flight
On Sunday we had a few moments of high excitement down by the pond.  I'd noticed a group of quail standing absolutely stock still by the willows -- so much so, that I started to go down to see what was up with them.  Then I changed my mind because I didn't see the point of walking all the way over to them just to scare them.

As it turned out, they didn't need me to scare them -- Murphy racing after a large bobcat did that perfectly well without my help.

Murphy and the Bobcat Sprinting Down the Road

Bruce had the remarkable good fortune to be standing right there with his camera when the bobcat made its move after the quail.  Murphy was right there too.  The quail took off in one direction, while the bobcat with Murphy right behind it in hot pursuit took off in the other.  Bruce just pointed his camera towards the action and clicked over and over again.  The above picture is the best of the ones he took.  An instant later, the cat turned and took a swipe at Murphy's nose.  Murphy ducked just in time, so the claws missed.  The bobcat then turned and took off up the hill while Bruce called Murphy back to him.  And then it was all over.  

I've started my four-week workshop on learning how to be a writing coach for other teachers.  It's a full, tiring day at the college (plus an hour's drive each way), but I'm relieved that this is finally underway.  I must have a demo lesson ready to teach to the group by Friday.  Bobcats aren't the only ones racing around here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Raccoon, Part 2

Seal and Arlo aren't too thrilled with the new sleeping arrangements and grumble a bit when they're put to bed in the laundry room.  However,  they are the perfect welcoming committee for any furry intruders -- they don't even have to wake up.  

I'd have loved to have seen the look on that raccoon's face when he stuck his pointy little snout through the cat door flap and discovered two snoring dogs curled up in their beds on the laundry room floor.

Let's hear it for simple solutions.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thief in the Night

If fish could talk, they'd have tales to tell about the goings-on in the laundry room last night.  This morning, Bruce found all the fish food containers knocked off the bench, scattered artistically across the floor.  He announced that one of the cats (probably Poom) did a bit of partying in there while everyone was asleep.


Poom, for once, is safely off the hook -- not in his wildest dreams could his dainty teeth make holes like that in a plastic can.  This is the work of a raccoon.  More specifically, a pissed off raccoon who squeezed through the cat door in hopes of raiding the cats' crunchy bowl.  When he realized that the bowl was empty, he set to work scavenging as only a hungry raccoon can.  The fish food, in all its glorious stinkiness must have smelt delicious.  He did work mighty hard to get to those flakes, but in the end had to give up.

He did, however, have more luck with the packages of Algae Wafers that I periodically drop in the tanks for the sucker fish that keep the glass clean.  Our little bandit had better luck with this and ate all the wafers but one.  That's a lot of dehydrated algae to put away in a sitting.

When I shook out the rugs and swept the floor to clear out the critter dirt and debris he'd left behind, I noticed several small raccoon handprints on the other side of the sliding doors.  He'd actually come into the hall, and made it as far as the pie safe.  He must have smelled that dog treats that we keep in there.  Luckily, he changed his mind and left before trying to break through the screens that front the cupboard doors.  Perhaps the dogs (in the bedroom right across the hall from the pie safe) heard something going on and made a noise that scared him off.

What I do know is that neither Bruce nor I heard anything during the night.  Nothing troubled our slumbers.  That's sort of scary.

We haven't had a raccoon come into the house for over a year and had gotten lax about putting away the dried cat food at night.  Several weeks ago we noticed that the food bowl was empty in the morning and knew we had a nighttime  visitor.  Since then, we've been locking the bowl in the hall bathroom when we go to bed, but I hadn't bothered to last night because it didn't have anything in it.  It never crossed my mind that a raccoon might be tempted by fish food.  It's going to be a pretty easy fix locking these packages and cans away every night along with the cat food.  What has me worried is wondering if a motivated raccoon on the lookout for fresh sushi might not try to get the fish out of their tanks for a little midnight snack.  I have no enthusiasm for moving these tanks yet again -- especially as I'll have to be hauling them back down the hill to school when class starts up again in August.

I'm very much afraid that if a raccoon attempted to go fishing during the night, Bruce and I (along with assorted dogs and cats) would sleep right through it all.  What to do?  It has just occurred to me that perhaps we can solve this problem easily enough by putting the dogs to bed in the laundry room for a few nights.  Come to think of it, this is a brilliant solution -- besides, isn't protecting the house from masked intruders the sort of thing that dogs are supposed to do?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Big Horse -- Small Saddle

Day 2 of the new saddle.  On Monday, Mary came over and it was taken on an extensive test ride in both the arena and the neighbor's trail.  Mary loved it.  A lot.  I was still on the fence about the look of it, but I trust her opinion on all things equine...so the saddle...stays.  Sigh. Not only that; it appears to have moved into the house (actually, I think it looks sort of cool by the front door).

When saddles are new, they squeak like crazy.  While riding in it, every time Mary said something to me I hollered back, "What?" because I couldn't hear her voice over the deafening creaking of leather.  Once I'd made the decision to keep it, I got out the leather soap/conditioner and liberally rubbed the stuff in to try to quiet things down.  This helped a bit, but it's going to take awhile -- this is one noisy saddle.  I also think that the conditioning might have toned down the orangey brightness somewhat.

Leave it to a draft horse to make a large Western trail saddle look petite.  Compared to Corny's sizable butt, the thing on his back looks about the size of a postage stamp.  Be that as it may, the saddle fits his back well and he's moving comfortably under it.  This is all the more surprising because it's designed for Quarter Horses, which are a much smaller breed (although they can be chunky).

In the late afternoon, Corny, the saddle and I went merrily squeaking around the pond together.  The three of us had a good time.  It looks like Mary (as usual) was right.

Monday, June 10, 2013


Every year the turkeys around here get braver and braver.  I think they have our number.  We have gotten used to them nonchalantly strolling about the barn area, nibbling at the grain pan and hanging out under the bird feeders.

This morning, however, their chutzpah climbed to a whole new level.  When it was time to move the sprinkler,  I went to open the back door and discovered three turkeys brazenly peering in (note: this is what comes of having full length windows in every outside door of the entire house.  Bruce and I have become the humanoid zoo exhibits for every curious animal looking for a bit of entertainment).  I'm not sure who was more startled, myself or them.  I do know that it was an excellent method to cause coffee to slosh out of my mug.  Then I went off for my camera while they slunk off towards the garden.

By the time I got back, the three made it over to the raised beds -- not exactly hurrying, but not sticking around either.

I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye, and there was a tom followed by two more youngsters strutting across the driveway.

Murphy came around the side of the house, saw them, and gave a half-hearted bark.  The turkeys, in turn, gave a similarly half-hearted effort to walk the other way.  Murphy sat down and everyone then ignored each other.

Over by the hollyhocks, one more was pecking at the grass.  I'm sure there were more than I actually got pictures of...

The whole flock merged behind the garage and proceeded down to the lower garden where, I assume, they settled down to forage away from the camera-clicking paparazzi.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Old and New

Today, as promised, was cooler.  What a difference just ten degrees cooler makes and both Bruce and I were able to work outside for most of the day.  We both decided to clean things -- he chose to wash his bike and then got really ambitious and cleaned both cars, inside and out.

I went after my tack  room, which hadn't been thoroughly cleaned in over two years.  It was, to put it mildly long overdue.  The mice had been having parties in there for quite awhile and droppings were everywhere.  I'd known about this sorry state for a long time but just couldn't bring myself to devote a day to hauling everything out and dealing with the mess.  Today was the day -- I cleaned saddles, washed saddle pads, sorted through cans, jars and packages of grooming products and medications; keeping some, but throwing most away.  When everything was out and organized, I dragged in the hose and blasted away the spider webs and mouse poop and then swept out the filthy water with a broom.  I was not looking at my radiant best by the end of this.

The earthshaking event that got me to finally commit to rolling up my shirt sleeves and getting to work was bringing home a new saddle to try out.  It spent the night in my office with the dogs because there was no way I was putting it, in all its showroom shininess, into that filthy tack room.

The old reining saddle
My old saddle is a reining saddle, designed to allow a horse to move fluidly in arena competition.  Unfortunately, it's not very comfortable for the rider.  I do like it's darkened leather and worn silver conches, though.  It has character (it also looked right at home in my filthy tack room, but we won't go there).

The new trail saddle

The new saddle is still a blank slate and I'm not sure if I can learn to love it.  The thing is, the new saddle is a little too glossy and new for the likes of me.  It's lighter by six pounds, so I'll be able to more easily hoist up onto my tall boy.  It's also got a very comfortable seat and is specifically designed for trail riding.  Still...

Tomorrow morning Mary is coming over to take a look at the saddle and give her opinion.  She's also bringing her horse, Jaime, along so that we can ride out and I can test how the saddle feels.  To be honest, I'm almost hoping that she doesn't like it.

Tonight I had to close the windows because a chilly wind has kicked up and is moaning around the house.  Strange weather.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Salad Days

A hot day -- actually hotter than predicted, as the forecast said 104 but it got up to 108.  The plants that I mulched with a shredded bark called gorilla fur were able to handle the oven-like heat much better than those I haven't gotten to yet.  We got a small mountain of the stuff delivered earlier in the spring but I'm still in the process of spreading around the gardens.  Coinciding with this mini-heat wave, a troop of baby toads (or maybe it's froglets) suddenly appeared all over the front yard and carport.  I was so worried about the tiny things that I dragged the hose around and squirted as much dirt down as I could in an attempt to cool things off.  I don't see how they could possibly survive in this heat, but they seemed oblivious.

When it's this hot, it's salad weather.  I'd drooled over a recipe for Lobster and Potato Salad in a recent entry in one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  When Bruce and I went grocery shopping in Angels Camp, there in the ice of the meat case lay two lovely lobster tails.  I do believe that they called my name.  The fact that they were $10 apiece only made me hesitate for an instant...actually, I don't think I hesitated at all.  I didn't have the recipe with me, but was able to look it up on my phone.  The way everything was working out, this was obviously a salad whose time had come.

Yukon Gold potatoes (dug from the garden earlier in the week), lobster, Dijon mustard, capers, green onions, celery, red onion, fresh tarragon and an emulsified vinaigrette.  A perfect meal to enjoy on a hot Saturday night.  We played Scrabble while we ate -- winning this game is always fun, but I discovered that it's even more so when the victory is accompanied with lobster and potato salad.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A hot day and Poom drinks

Today the temps reached 102 --tomorrow 104.  Joy.  I worked in my classroom again today, throwing out, organizing and reacquainting myself with all sorts of stuff I didn't even remember I had.  After working for seven hours, I'm still not finished.  But I'm closer.

When I got home, I went outside and watered the various gardens until the sun set and evening set in.  Tomorrow will be even hotter than today.  But on Sunday, the temps will be down to the upper nineties and next week will only be in the 80's.

To be honest, I would give anything for one day of the deluge that hit central Europe last week.  I dream of rain.  Our pond is almost dry and we're not even into the first day of summer.  I'm already dreaming of next winter and praying for storms.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Still waiting...

...for summer break to begin.

Friday: Last day of school
Saturday: All day writer's workshop
Sunday: Clean house for company.  They arrive and we have a wonderful time.
Monday: Guests leave in mid-afternoon.  Mary and I go riding towards evening
Tuesday: Go into classroom to clean, throw away and organize
Wednesday: See above
Thursday: Quick ride on Corny in early morning.  Stockton in afternoon for errands and lunch with Mama.
Friday: Will be same as Tuesday and Wednesday

And so ends the first week.  We do have some small visitors who've taken up temporary residence in the laundry room for the summer.  On Tuesday I lugged home the 20 gallon fishtanks from the two 4th grade classrooms along with the bagged up assorted guppies, danios, algae eaters, tetras, etc  and all their fish paraphernalia.  I shouldn't be surprised by how many hours it took to get everything hauled home and set up, but I was.  However, we now have the two side-by-side tanks on a bench along the wall and the fish seem pleased by the change of view.

 When I was all finished, I dried my hands and stood and watched the fish glide about the tanks.  I was satisfied for about three minutes.  Then, at the three minute mark, it occurred to me that I'd be doing this all over again, in reverse, in a month and a half when school starts again.  I need a break.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


It's only two days into my summer break and I've already attended one Saturday workshop for one day and spent another cleaning out my classroom.  Alright, I'll admit it -- I'm feeling sorry for myself.  I need some time away from school, but that can't happen quite yet.  I have weaving projects waiting in the wings, a horse that needs riding, several gardens in need of tender loving care, and kitchen cupboards waiting to be reorganized.  But not quite yet.

We did have two wonderful houseguests for several days:  Andrew and Maria.  They are both artists and their visit brought two days of wonderful conversations.  Andrew went on such interesting tangents on topics that I know next to nothing about that I took to listing them on a pad of paper so I could Google them later:
1. Movie: The Train (with Burt Lancaster)
2. Richard Scully (a contemporary painter)
3. David Hockney (artist)
4. Fibernocci Numbers (probably spelled wrong)
5. Giclee ( a printing technique from a photograph)

By the time they left yesterday afternoon, I felt as though my brain had grown several sizes larger.  Seriously.

Maria also helped me in the garden.  With her help, we harvested all of the potatoes and had a rollicking good time digging them out of the dirt together.

I also worked Cornelius in the arena on a lunge line and she sketched him as he trotted and cantered around me in a circle.


Oh, I'll just come right out and say it -- Corny looks stunning as a quick sketch.


She also sketched the geese when they gathered around her as she sat on the porch.  She captured them perfectly, big mouths and all.

Today I was back in the classroom, putting order into chaos.  It feels like an almost hopeless task (hence my sour frame of mind), but I'm just setting my mind to doing what I can.  I plan to be finished tomorrow (whether I'm finished or not).

Saturday, June 1, 2013

First day of summer break

Yesterday was the last day of school.  I survived.  Today was the first day of my summer Great Valley Writer's Institute.  I thrived.  I love the mix of teachers (most half my age) and the general spunkiness of the cast of characters.  Today was just the coaching day to prep us for how we'll be presenting for the other teachers.  We now get two weeks off and then will be meeting every day for the following four weeks.  I can hardly wait -- I've been ready for this for years.

The workshop in Turlock started at 8:30 this morning and the drive from Frogpond took a little under an hour.  I decided to notice things along the way.  Here they are:

1. Right at the Calaveras County line, there was a highway patrol officer with a radar gun clocking car speeds.  I was a little over the limit, but not so much so that he noticed me.  I was infinitely grateful.

2. On the small highway between here and Oakdale, I passed three people wearing neon green vests.  Two were riding a horse by the side of the rode -- a woman with a child hanging on to her waist behind.  Walking beside them was a man.  They looked happy.

3. In Oakdale itself, while stopped for a light, I watch an older man smoking a pipe cross the street.  It's been many years since I saw a pipe smoker.  Where does one even buy a pipe these days?''

4.  A dead dairy cow lying right next to the fence by the road caught my eye on the way to my workshop and again on the way home.

An interesting day in many ways.