Saturday, September 28, 2013

Seminar Day

I went to my Great Valley Writing Project seminar today (a Saturday!).  Hauling my bones out of bed at 7:00 am on a weekend was difficult (I think I'm coming down with the first sickness of the year that's going through my classroom), but it was strangely wonderful to see everyone from the summer institute again.  The day just kept getting better.  Angela, Hauna, Kali, Kari, Diane, Carol, Chris, Amber, Beth, Daryl and I: it was good.

After a morning of workshops, a group of us ate our bag lunches at our "usual" table by the pond.  We talked, ate and were attacked by hungry mallard ducks -- just like during the summer.  Ahh, tradition.

Tonight, though, I'm tired and am off to bed.  Fingers crossed that I'm not getting sick.  I don't have time for that!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Long Week

How can it be Thursday already?  It feels like the week just began, even as I'm feeling the effects of a week that seems endless.  I just counted on my fingers and discovered that I worked 13 hours today.  I'm tired and ready for the weekend.  I'm not complaining (honest), but am wishing I wasn't committed to attending an all-day Writing Project workshop on Saturday.  Ooff.

Despite my school-driven schedule, I've started up again with one thing that I'd dropped doing early last spring for lack of energy:  I'm back to going through my German lessons on Rosetta Stone.  Ja!!!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gutters and Rainbows

By Saturday morning, the forecast was up to 60% chance of showers.  That's over-the-top exciting news if you live in Calaveras County, CA where we've had depressingly dismal rainfall amounts for the past two years.

The gutters, which have sat stuffed with decomposing leaves for months and months, could wait no longer.  Time to clean.

So, up I hopped onto the barn, house and garage roofs and got to work.

I was well supervised.

Three hours later, I was wet, filthy and tired -- but the gutters were clean.

And then...


...it rained.

It only totaled about 0.18" on our rain gauge, but we'll gratefully take what we can get.  A summer's worth of dust, dirt and soot washed down through my lovely cleaned-out downspouts.

Towards evening, we went shopping in Jamestown.  The rain had stopped, but a double rainbow spanned the horizon and the glow of light was unearthly.  Car after car stopped by the side of the road as people stood looking at it and taking pictures.  Of course we pulled over too.  Who could ignore a show like this?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Storm Clouds

Friday at school did not end so positively.  It was a mistake to get caught up going over my students' reading goals in the afternoon.  In theory, each child has a book of their own choosing that is at their reading level.  In theory, each child has determined a goal of when they plan on being finished with the book.  In theory, this book is to be with the child at all times in the classroom so that they can pick up and read a few pages during any free time throughout the day.  In theory, they are also to read 30 minutes a night from this same book and keep a reading log of their thoughts generated from the pages they've read.  My job is to keep track of all of this and spur the class along in their reading.

The reality is that the children who enjoy reading get the hang of our system and soon are zooming along with their reading.  The middling readers are becoming more and more engaged and successful with their reading as they realize that all they have to do to make steady progress is READ.  So they cheerfully settle down and get down to it.  Checking in with these two groups of students is quick and easy and fun.

It's the group of students who are making little or no progress with reading (and this is half the class) who cause me anguish.  There are a variety of reasons that children don't/won't read and all of them need to be effectively dealt with by me.  By "effectively" I mean dealt with in such a way that each child is motivated to read for all the right reasons and has an inner belief that they will be successful.

A Friday afternoon, after an exhausting week, was not the time for this teacher to check in with those students most in need of encouragement.  Because, I'll be the first to admit, I was in no mood to hear from student after student variations of: "I left my book at home."  "I lost my book."  "I finished my last book and have been sitting for two days before starting my next one."  "May I get my book from my backpack?"  "I haven't read my book this week because I started cheerleading."

And so, to my regret, I let my frustrations get the upper hand and the last half hour of school became decidedly negative for a certain segment of my class.  I'm pretty sure that none of them got on the bus with the attitude of, "All righty, then -- I'm going to go home and do some reading this weekend!"  Sigh...

I must change my tack.  There's a method of teaching literature called "Literature Circles" that gets students discussing with each other a common book that they're reading.  I must learn how to do this.  This weekend.  The thing is, if I can be clever and creative enough create a climate where the children enjoy what they are reading, I can then just step back and let them read.  This is my goal.

Yesterday evening a fresh breeze was blowing in and the dark smudges on the horizon were clouds, not smoke (happy day!).  The weather for today forecasts a 50% chance of showers after eleven this morning.  Looks like I'll be on a ladder clearing leaves out of the roof gutters as soon as it gets light.  This is exactly the sort of activity this teacher needs in order to get her equilibrium back after yesterday's stumbles in the classroom.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Well, well, well

Yesterday afternoon I watered the gardens.  Just a normal sort of watering...ok, perhaps just a bit longer than usual.

When I turned on the faucet to wash the rice I was putting in the cooker for dinner nothing came out but the dreaded hissing sound.  No water.  Just air.

Bruce came home about an hour later and reassured me that the well would recharge soon.

It didn't.  Bruce brought in plastic jugs of water from the garage and I heated some in a pot and used this for a makeshift bath.  Not until you're taking a makeshift bath with a pot of lukewarm water with soap scum on the surface, do you realize the supreme, decadent luxury that is encompassed by the simplest of hot showers.  I was not happy when I went to bed.

I was even less happy when I woke up early this morning, turned on the faucet and, once again, was greeted by a hiss.

I sat and did schoolwork and then, oh happy day, heard the gurgle of water in the pipes leading to the hot water heater.  I had time to jump in the shower before leaving for school.

This evening we walked down to the well and I climbed up the ladder to the holding tank, unscrewed the lid and peered in.  The water had only filled upwards about one fourth of the way to the top.  The water table is so low that the recharging is very slow.  So I didn't water the garden this evening and only filled the troughs for the animals.  Hopefully, with careful conservation, the tank will refill and we won't have to pay for a tanker truck to come and pump in a load of water.

There's a 20% chance of rain on Friday.  I'm not holding my breath, but oh, I hope that it does rain.  I'm so ready for winter to begin and am hoping like crazy that it rains and rains and rains and rains...

I'm sick to death of heat and fire and drought.

To end on a more upbeat note; the moon was fine tonight.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Another Mouse

We have yet another rodent in the classroom.  A bold-as-brass, golden-brown field mouse moved in last Friday.  He lays low in the mornings (perhaps he's a late sleeper), but by afternoon he's scurrying around the classroom like he owns the place.  Try teaching a lesson on the regions of California to a class of 4th graders with a mouse scampering along the wall.  I can not compete with that.  By yesterday afternoon, after completely losing the classes's attention, I stopped and just leaned back against the whiteboard, utterly defeated.  The children finally looked back at me and began to feel sorry for their poor teacher who'd been upstaged by a mouse.

 The class wants to catch him in an empty soup can (?) and keep him as a pet.  This morning I snuck in two traps, a piece of orange cheese and some roasted soybeans as bait.  Joe, the custodian, hasn't set them yet, but there is no sign of the mouse today -- perhaps he took the hint and moved out.  I hope so.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


After a long week of searching, I found my camera -- and in a most amazing place.  While on the phone, talking about how I couldn't find it, I half-heartedly rummaged around for the umptieth time in the cabinet where I usually keep it.  Only this time, when my hand came out, it was clutching my little blue camera.  It had been there all along.  Sort of akin to finding your shoes in the closet or your wallet in your purse.

So here is a picture from my little blue camera, well-rested after its week off:

The apples in the orchard will always be small, but they are tasty and sweet.

As I was walking up the path from watering this evening, I looked down at the hose and there, right beside it, as still as still could be, stretched a baby King Snake.  I'm sure that it felt very safe and concealed as it hid alongside the equally immobile giant green rubber snake.

Nothing much cuter than a baby King Snake.   And it doesn't hurt a bit that this little guy will be dining upon rattlesnakes when he's bigger.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Catching up at the end of a hectic week

This part of California is still putting out flames.  The Yosemite fire to the northeast is now 80% contained while the Mt. Diablo one is pretty much out.  How strange to hear reports that at this moment, Colorado appears to be on the verge of being washed away in torrential rains.  What I wouldn't give for the sound of pattering raindrops... Instead, everything is coated with a summer's worth of dust -- a grey-brown film is layered on everything.  We are choked on the stuff.  When I pet Murphy on the rump, clouds billow out.  When I squirt the hose against the sides of the chicken coop, brown water sheets off.  When I take off my shoes at the door, powdery dust shakes off and leaves an outline around each shoe.  Give me mud, green slime, mold and dampness...that all sounds so very nice.

The Yosemite ranger who helped me organize last year's 4th grade field trip has written to me again.  It looks like she will Skype with the class to discuss and answer questions about forest ecology, regeneration and wildfires.  So it looks like this trip may indeed be taking place.  I'm still reluctant to drive through this destruction, but it should be a powerful learning experience for the students, so who am I to shrink from it?

Tonight is Friday night, but the weekend still isn't quite here as I'll be going to a writing workshop tomorrow morning down in Stockton.  The presenters will be some of the finest from the Great Valley Writing Project, and I want to see them again.  I'm also happy that three teachers from our school will also be there.  Getting home again at the end of it will be nice though.

I've been terrible about blogging lately and miss this outlet very much.  On top of everything else, I seem to have lost my little blue camera -- I haven't seen it in about a week.  I've been hunting in all the usual places and have realized that it must be in an unusual place.  I just haven't figured out which one. The worst of it is that I hauled out my old silver camera to fill in the void and now have managed to mislay it too.  Perhaps it's hanging out with the little blue camera, underneath some dust-laden tree in the middle of a dry field under a smokey sky...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I have no right to complain, being well out of danger, but let me go on record as saying that I'm heartily sick of fires.  Our latest is the one on the southern slopes of Mt. Diablo, 40 miles west of us.

I'm in contact with a Yosemite park ranger about bringing my students through the burnt out fire zone.  Looks like we'll be going...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Yosemite Questions and Cleaning Stall #3

Today the smoke from the fire didn't seem quite as dense, but it hung around longer -- well into the afternoon.  Even with the windows shut tight, the odor manages to invade the house.  This evening I wrote a letter to the Yosemite ranger staff in their educational branch.  I asked for their opinion of whether they thought of our classes visiting the park in late October, as we have for the past four years. Assuming the fire is out by then (and it's still slated to be by September 20), the trip there would be as safe as before -- we'd just be traveling through miles of burned out forest.  The children want to go and part of me says that this would be dramatically educational.  Another part of me says that this may be too dramatically educational and not a good thing for some of them to witness.  Just for me, I don't want to see it because I know it will make me very sad... Well, we'll see what the rangers say.

  I'm in the process of developing a whole new set of upper body muscles:  Bruce and I have spent the past two weekends cleaning out the third stall of our barn -- this is where we store all our feed except hay, animal cages and carriers.  This is also the stall where we stupidly stood by as six or so Muscovy ducks nested, raised babies, pooped, scattered feed and generally trashed the place.  The mouse invasion of last year didn't help much either and the whole stall just reeked.  So we decided the only solution was to scoop out as much of the gravel flooring as possible.  Today we finished scraping and shoveling out the last of the gravel-laced-with-stinky-stuff into the front loader of the Kubota and dumping it over the side of the dam.  The next step is ordering a load of decomposed gravel to replace the stuff we took out.  And then we get to shovel it in and finally get the displaced contents (now thoroughly washed) settled back in.

This is a lot of work to put into a small space (which is one reason we've put it off for years), but it's satisfying to be finally getting this area in order.  Plus I get new muscles in the bargain.  Win.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Smoke-filled Morning

This morning I had the kind of scare that causes the heart to race and the brain to freak out.  I'd been focusing intently on finishing up a tricky email to a parent and when I was finished went into Bruce's office to chat.  Only then did I notice that the strong odor of smoke was coming through the windows. 

 I ran out to the carport and saw that the sky was brown and the hills were blurred.  I yelled, "There's a fire!" as I raced back through the house to scan the hills on the other side -- the sky was as brown and blurry as the one's seen from the carport.  

The same was seen drifting heavily through the hills in back of the house.  Same for the front.

The smoke was everywhere and I couldn't tell where it was coming from.  For all I knew, a fire was completely encircling us.

Bruce got on the phone and called 911.  I can only guess that many people were calling at the same time, because he was quickly told that the wind had shifted and this was smoke from the Rim Fire.  He was told to call back if he saw a column of smoke or actual flames.  The smoke is so dense that it burns the eyes, but it comes from miles away...

Even as I'm weak with relief that our own hills are not burning up, I'm upset anew by the thought of what's happening in our Sierras.  Ironically, with the fire now over 80% contained, today is the first day we've actually been in the smoke -- the wind always blew it towards the northeast. For my own inner well-being, I've made myself not check in on the fire for the past few days, but I need to get on the satellite sites and see what things look like now.

On a much happier note, yesterday Bruce and I drove to Sacramento for my bi-annual cancer checkup and my nurse practitioner gave me an "A+" for everything.  My health is excellent and every sign points to my cancer being completely gone from my body.  As fate would have it, this is (almost to the day) the five-year anniversary of the surgery to remove my ovarian tumor.  Bruce, I and the new truck had quite the festive ride home.  It is a blessing being alive!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Week of September

This tupelo couldn't wait to color up -- it started the last week of August
I think that this is the longest I've been away from my blog.  I feel all disconnected not posting my little slices of life on a regular basis.  School has been a mountain of work this year -- every evening I come home, water the garden, feed the animals, do a bit of weeding, put the animals to bed when it gets dark and come inside.  Then begins my second shift of school for the day -- I eat dinner while answering emails, try to figure out educational computer programs, create new lessons and organize my binders.  It sounds like I do a tremendous amount of work, but, in actuality, I just spend a tremendous amount of time getting very little accomplished.  But I just keep plugging away.  Hopefully I'll be able to settle into some sort of routine before too much longer.

On the plus side, I have started my two-mile walks through the hills again, which will feel great once my shin splints stop aching.

The new truck not only delights us, but also our goose, Afrikaner.  He spends a lot of time admiring his reflection in that shiny chrome.

This weekend the sun shone through clouds that drifted above a layer of smoke.  It made for a strange light

The Rim Fire was 80% contained as of this morning.  I'm still debating on whether or not to plan a field trip to Yosemite in October.  I'll write the ranger and see what she says...