Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Flowers of Autumn

The longed for rain storm never really materialized.  Armies of grey and cream clouds enthusiastically scudded over the hills and there was even the slight pitter-patter of a bit of rain hitting the dust, but that was about it.  Oh, well -- it's a beginning.

Sunflower Head
We're now in that waiting period after the heat of Indian summer has passed, but before the first frost hits.  This is the time when the annual flowers are in their blazing glory.  The time of year when I've given up with dead-heading, weeding and barely even water any more.  Yet suddenly the garden has woken up in one last energetic burst of color.

Tithonia and Zinnias




The promise of spring is glorious, but I've always been more taken by the promise of autumn.

More Chrysanthemums

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In Praise of Pomegranates

There is the hope of a storm tomorrow.  Only a 49% chance, but that's enough to get hopeful about seeing wet stuff come down from the sky.  This afternoon the sun was out but the wind was picking up so Bruce and I went around outside doing stuff that needed doing.

The pomegranate tree's branches were dipping low from the weight of the fruit, so the two of us got them all picked.  I think that pomegranates are one of the most amazingly beautiful fruits there are.  Ours had sort of languished, pale and rather small, over the summer, and then (seemingly from one day to the next) they plumped up and glowed red.

After picking, I sat on the back porch and did some eating.  Pomegranates are as stunning on the inside as the outside -- their translucent seeds are the color of rubies.  I nibbled mouthfuls of jewels and it was bliss to bite down into their tartness and feel them squirt and the seeds crack.  Eating them is quite the sensuous pleasure.

They also look very pretty in a bowl…


…and even prettier in a bowl with a cat positioned in front.

Tonight the wind is gusting hard and the leaves are clattering and whirling around the house.  I took down the glass wind chimes, the hay is covered with a tarp and the dogs are inside.  It may now (Please, please, please!) commence to rain.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Nah, just a bag of cheese curds.

I do love working at a rural school.  One of my student's father works on a large dairy, but also has a small herd of cows of his own.  As a side income, his wife makes traditional Mexican cheeses from the milk.  I've been buying her queso fresco, queso blanco and a tart sour cream from her since last spring.  Melissa, who was in my 4th grade last year, and her little sister are the delivery people and carry cheeses on the bus to me once or twice a month.  They deliver them to my classroom, I hand over the money for the cheese and then our ritual is that I offer them a tip of about fifty cents which they politely but adamantly refuse.  I insist they take it, they gradually give in, and finally they have their tip and everyone is happy.  

Last week I asked them if I could ever buy a gallon or two of milk so I could try making my own cheese.  Two days later Melissa arrived at my classroom lugging a gallon of fresh, sweet milk with the cream floating on the top.  I'd assumed that I'd pick it up one afternoon after school and never would have asked them to bring it to me.  Nevertheless, I was delighted.  Big tip!

The milk is now well on its way to becoming a fresh French cream cheese called Bondon -- a simple cheese of whole milk, starter and rennet.  I started it last night and let it set in the pot for 24 hours forming curds.  This afternoon I drained off the whey and now it hangs in the laundry room from the rod above the sink.  By tomorrow morning it will have stopped dripping and I'll put it my my cheese press for the day.  

My plan (if the cheese turns out) is to bring one of my cheeses to school on Monday for Melissa to bring home to her mother.  I hope that she likes my cheese half as much as I like hers.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Dreamy Sort of Weekend

Autumn is slowly, but surely stealing in.  The days are still reaching into the low 80's, but the nights are  cooling down do the mid 40's and the early mornings have a bracing, crisp freshness to them.  Still not a sign of any rainstorms, but surely they will be rolling in by next month.  Please.

The weekend was a strange one -- both relaxing and busy.  I woke up early and scored the last 18 of my students' Writer's Notebooks.  This always takes hours -- I simply can't read them quickly.  Then I went on to grading other student homework.  I didn't get a chance to do much around the place as I had to drive down to the Valley both days.  On Saturday afternoon I attended a memorial reception for the father of one of my long-time coworkers.  I'd never met him, so there was no personal sadness of my own to deal with.  I ended up sitting on the porch step of an old house set in an almond orchard talking and eating with a bunch of friends from school.  It was a warm, lazy sort of afternoon and the almond leaves drifted down as we sat.  After an hour or so I went back home.

Bruce was down in the depression that used to hold our pond, dredging out dried mud with the tractor.  The opportunity to remove this buildup is, as far as I can see, the only silver lining to several years of drought.  Bruce was happy moving piles of dirt so I left him to his fun.  I did some watering and then went back to school work; this time reading up on pendulums for a science investigation we'll be doing with the 4th and 5th graders tomorrow.

Today I did more reading for school; this time to learn more about how to run our classroom book clubs that are called Literature Circles.  That came together well -- it feels good to figure things out.  Then Bruce and I drove over to Oakdale to watch one of my students ride in a gymkhana.  He's only been riding for about a month, but his horse is kind and the two of them looked good cantering around the arena.  I must admit that I don't often take time to go watch my students in activities outside of school hours.  But I'm glad that I went to this and was touched by how much it meant to my student and his mother that we came.

After that, we went down to Modesto for sushi, grocery shopping and then home again.  By then it was almost dark and we did a little watering, collected eggs, herded the geese into the barn and fed Corny.  Then I came in and wrote up lesson plans for next week and answered emails.  Now I'm blogging.  As soon as I'm done with this, I'll be going to bed.  And thus endeth another weekend.  I was busy, busy, busy and yet it somehow feels like I didn't rush around like I usually do.  I'm not exactly rested, but I am content.  It's an odd sort of feeling.  And so to bed.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Project

We've been entangled in one of those long, slow projects that starts small and modest but just keeps growing and stretching out until it's pretty much taken over the entire universe.

 It started when we decided that we needed a more comfortable bed in my office for Mama to sleep in when she comes up to visit.  It also seemed logical to replace the 20 year old carpet before moving in a new bed.  So we ordered carpet, ripped out the old stuff, moved everything out of the room, washed the walls, shopped for a bed at Ikea (love that place) and then impatiently waited for the carpet guy to come to install the new one.

I couldn't figure out where to put all the contents that were packed in the closet.  I finally just threw it all in the back of my car.  Anyone looking inside would think that Bruce had finally kicked me out of the house.

The carpet guy came on Friday and a lovely new carpet was installed by the time I got home from school.  Once the carpet was in, the walls looked dingy and in need of a fresh coat of paint.  I resisted and am glad I did -- there's no such thing as a "small" paint job.  The walls look good enough.

On Saturday morning we began putting the bed together. We had copious amounts of help from various Frogpond inmates:  dogs, cats, geese and a chicken or two.  Fun times.

By Saturday afternoon, despite the best efforts of Bruce, myself plus all the animals, the bed was still being built.

We resolutely continued with the work on Sunday morning.  It was a happy moment when, in early afternoon we finally slid the drawer section into the main frame.  Until we discovered that it didn't quite fit.  We puzzled over this for many minutes.  None of the animals knew what to do.  Finally we watched an Ikea video on YouTube where two competent Swedish people in yellow shirts assembled the bed in front of us.  Bruce eventually saw that he'd put one strip of metal in upside down.  Once that was rectified, the bed slid together just like in the video.

The room now looks like this.  It's a humble room --small and simple.  Only took two months to complete!   But it's so snug and cozy that it's now very possibly my new favorite room in the house.

Happy day.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Waiting for the rains to come

Behold -- here is why I incessantly dream of rain,  talk about rain (or the lack of it) and am on my knees for rain.  The pond has shrunk to a large puddle of green down in the lowest corner.  This is what two years of well-below average rainfall does.  Since the water in the pond comes entirely from the runoff from the hill above it (also on our property), after several dry winters the pond becomes a sad looking crater lined with dried, cracked mud.  This has happened twice in the 20 years I've lived here.  All the lifeforms that congregate in or around the pond either die or leave.  Frogs, fish, turtles, dragonflies and the like are now gone.  There are fewer birds too.  Even the trees that line the banks are suffering.  We need rain.  One nice, juicy wet winter would do the job.  

Methuselah and Afrikaner standing at the back door
 All of our waterbirds sleep out on the water at night, safe from predators.  They have a choice of floating, or getting up on an anchored raft or sheltering in the willows on the island we built.  None of that is of any use now so last week we brought the two older geese up to the house and locked the gate to keep them here.  They aren't too happy about this, but last time I waited too long and lost a goose before I realized how unprotected they were.

Now, every evening, Methuselah and Afrikaner are herded into stall #3 of the barn to spend the night in a bed of straw.  It's yet another chore that needs doing, but such a relief when I slide that stall door shut and know that they are both safe for the night.  This means that we now have two sets of geese to put to bed every night.  I'd like to consolidate them, but they don't always get along with each other so I hesitate closing them in a small space together.  However, maybe we'll give it a try this weekend  -- it's going to be a while before those rains work their magic and the pond fills.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Jars of Summer

My three boxes of tomatoes from the produce stand in the valley have been dealt with.  Canning up 63 pounds of tomatoes didn't seem like it would be such a marathon (when will I learn?), but I found myself up to my elbows in tomatoes all Sunday afternoon and again on Monday after I got home from school.

Monday's tomato session lasted until a quarter past eleven that night.  Whoever came up with the saying that time flies when you're having fun surely wasn't thinking about washing, boiling, peeling, quartering, simmering, and ladling out tomatoes.

 But time definitely flew by as I labored in the kitchen -- I was astounded when I looked at the clock and realized that I'd been canning tomatoes for the past six hours.

I was beat when I fell into bed that night, but I slept the sleep of the virtuous:

We now have 26 quarts of crushed and stewed tomatoes in the cupboard.

Opening the jars in December and January will be like tasting summer.  Heaven!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Bruce stayed home today on account of the cold that I so generously shared with him.  A thing that is unfortunate in itself can sometimes wind up being a blessing:  because he was home sick instead of off at work, Bruce saw that Arlo would no longer eat and was in obvious pain.  So he was able to make that judgement call that it was time for our faithful boy to be released from his poor, sick body before things got too bad.   He called the vet and made an appointment to bring Arlo in later that morning.  Murphy came along for moral support on the way there and comfort on the way back home.

Only in the late afternoon, as I was getting ready to come home, did I have a chance to read Bruce's sad text telling me that Arlo was gone.  It all went easily -- Arlo was ready.  I'm blessed to be married to a man who does what needs doing when the time is right.

Good bye, sweet Arlo.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Getting Stewed!

I enjoyed the October loveliness of this Saturday.  Bruce and I decided to get our shopping in the Valley over with and headed down to Modesto in the morning. Naturally, we took the truck (which made Bruce's joy complete).

After sushi for lunch, we went grocery shopping and on the way home picked up three boxes of locally grown tomatoes at local produce stands.  Tomorrow I'm doing some serious stewing of tomatoes.  I'm ready!

Friday, October 4, 2013


Arlo's been feeling unwell.  At twelve, he's now become an old man of a dog, but he's been manifesting more than the normal creaks and aches of his age.  Today Bruce took him to the vet and we've learned that he has cancer.  It's a large mass in his abdomen and, at his age, surgery/chemotherapy is out.  He'll be on Prednisone to keep him comfortable and we'll put him to sleep when that's no longer possible.

Arlo's such a good, gentle boy.  It seems like only yesterday that he and his sister seal were tiny black puppies.  They grew into two of the most energetic young dogs we've ever had -- they would chase balls and sticks with an almost fanatic joy.  Seal still has some spunk, but Arlo's happiest when lying on his dog bed.  Now we know why.  Loving all these animals has its obvious drawbacks, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  Just look at that beautiful face.  :)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Two Littles and a Big

Out of an entire bed of pumpkins planted in the orchard, this little guy is the sole product.

We takes whats we can get.

Welcome, little pumpkin!

Last month I planted one of the front beds with Tithonia and Sunflowers.  This little guy -- all 8 inches of him -- is looking adorable.

The pomegranates are so huge and bulging that they're splitting as they hang from the tree.

I love this time of year.  Everything's a surprise.

The Night Visitor

We've suspected that a cat might be coming into the barn hay area at night. Bruce set up the Critter Cam last night to see what's coming in through the barn cat flap at night.

Now we know for sure that it's one of those humungous sorts of "cats" with the masks and striped, poofed-out tails. It's trying to chew through the plastic container where we store the dry dog food.  Looks like we'll be buying a metal one this weekend.

Trying to outsmart the resident raccoons is proving to be a difficult battle to win.  I still believe that we're smarter (although sometimes it seems like it's just by a tiny bit), but their persistence is impressive.