Saturday, June 28, 2014

Golden Splendor

The potted lilies on the back deck have opened into full bloom.  They are sun lovers, but here the heat is so dry and intense that I have them under dappled shade of the tupelo that grows through a cutout hole of our deck.  Unfortunately the same shade that allows them to survive also causes them to grow tall and leggy and they tend to flop over.  But alive is better than dead, so here is where they stay.

I didn't even realize they were blooming, as all of their noses were squashed down on top of the other potted plants.  What gave their presence away was the unmistakable sweet scent of newly opened buds that came to me in waves as I weeded nearby.

I got three bamboo stakes and carefully tied them up.  A hot, dry summer wind is blowing so they won't last very long.

I accept that most years they are here and then gone very quickly.  But not too quickly because they are so worth it.  Golden Splendor -- they are well-named.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kayaking at Last

Today Bruce and I took the kayaks out on their maiden voyages on Lake Tabeaud.  I stayed up late the night before attempting to gain knowledge on how to hold the paddles and maneuver the boat around.  I did my best, but after multiple paragraphs about such topics as the correct angle in which to hold the paddle, I gave it up and went to sleep.

Just as well.  We figured things out the old-fashioned way -- put the boats in the water, climbed in, and gave it a try.  It turned out to be similar enough to paddling a rowboat that we were able to get going without too much traveling in circles.  I was, however, grateful that we had the lake to ourselves when we started out.

My technique may not have been correct, but I discovered that my rowing muscles were identical to my weeding muscles.  Due to my daily stints of ripping up weeds, my arms have apparently attained superhuman rowing strength.  I felt like I could have paddled all day.  There are benefits to being a Frogpond laborer.

I learned two important things that I hadn't read about in the kayak manual.

1. Do not wear your wide brimmed garden hat when kayaking.  The top of the life jacket will keep shoving the back of the hat upwards which causes the front of the hat to dip across one's nose.  I finally gave up on the hat and was slightly sunburned, but much happier.

2. ALWAYS put those little plugs you didn't know what to do with into the round holes beneath one's seat.  I was having such a good time that I didn't realize that my butt was getting soaked from the water splashing up into the kayak.  I had dry shorts in the truck, so I was saved from having to promenade about with a wet spot in back.  I try to hold on to my dignity.

Afterwards, Bruce and I had our lunch at a picnic table by the truck and it was so nice to just sit and eat and chat.

Such a lovely, lovely day.

Oh, and when we got home, I had a bit of a rest and then went outside to do some more weeding.  Gotta keep those kayaking muscles toned up.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chicken Dinner

So, as promised, here is how Julia Child came into our kitchen for Sunday dinner.

                                                                                                      On Friday morning I got up early and helped Bruce load the 19 chickens into cages for the trip to slaughter.  We'd raised them for this.  Perhaps people would eat less meat if they, just once, were faced with looking their meal in the eye.  I'll admit that I felt sad.  However, they had good lives as chickens at Frogpond -- sunshine, fresh air, dust baths and kindness during their short time on Earth.  Also, they were calm and unstressed, even now.

I watched the truck leave and then had to go inside inside to change out of my farm clothes into my teacher clothes for the day's meeting in town.  When I got home in the late afternoon, the chickens had also returned.

They now looked like this.

Bruce and I spent several hours getting them prepared for the freezer.  He was in charge of cutting off the necks and preparing them to be vacuum-sealed in bags.  I cleaned and packed the livers and them made a soup stock out of the necks, gizzards and hearts.  We had a good system between the two of us (would love to have had another sink and faucet in the kitchen, though).  We weighed each bird as it was bagged and the average weight was 7 pounds.  The total for all 20 birds came to 127.5 pounds. That should last us for at least four months.

This transformation from living creature to food on the table is still a hard one for me to come to terms with.  But I did -- with the help of Julia Child and her recipe for Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon.

It was my first-ever attempt at any recipe of hers, but I decided that if ever there was a day to blow the dust off that cookbook, today was that day.  What I was looking for was a dish that featured succulent, melt-off-the-bone, fragrantly seasoned chicken.  When I turned to the Tarragon Chicken page, I knew I'd found what I was looking for.

And this is why we had to go out searching for a heavy pot (with a lid) that was big enough to hold a 6 1/2 pound chicken.

After braising it in butter and olive oil and then giving it a long simmer in the sealed pot with carrots, onion and tarragon, the chicken looked like this.  You will have to imagine the incredible fragrance of the chicken infused with butter and tarragon.

Bruce then made the tarragon sauce from the pan juices.  I boiled noodles.

I suppose that we should have sat at the dining table for a more formal dining experience, but we decided to serve the chicken in bowls.  As hoped for, the chicken was tender and succulent and fell off the bone.

We ate sitting in front of the TV,  watching an old silent film from 1920.  Somehow, Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling about in "The Mask of Zorro" was a fitting accompaniment to eating the best chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life.  Bruce agrees.

So, no regrets.  Thank you, Julia!

Chickens, Smoke and Another Snake

Today was the first real day of my summer break.  I finished my leadership conference (which I'd been surprised and very pleased to be asked to attend) at 3:30 on Saturday.

Sunday was an exciting day -- one that definitely diverted my mind from dwelling about school matters.

It started out quietly enough.  We took a drive up to the little town of Jackson to buy a cooking pot.  The 20 chickens that we've been raising for meat were processed on Saturday and it was imperative that I immediately cook one as beautifully as a chicken could ever be cooked.  So I took Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking down from my bookshelf and (for the first time ever in my life) bravely set about following one of her recipes.  I will write more about her "Poulet Poele A L'estragon" (Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon) tomorrow.  I will admit, however, that I've gained a pound since yesterday and blame it entirely on Julia.  The reason we had to buy a cooking pot is because our home-grown chicken weighed in at almost 6 pounds -- double the size of the one in Julia's recipe.  I had no casserole pot large enough.  So we drove up to our favorite cooking shop in Jackson to buy a pot for our chicken to cook in.

With our brand new, dark orange enameled, cast iron pot in the back seat of the truck, we drove a little further to check out a small lake for trying out our kayaks.  It's a humble little lake, but very pretty.  No motorized boats are allowed on it and there were very few people.  Just what we were looking for.

On the way back, we saw a smudge of smoke from a fire.   We stopped at the grocery store in Angels Camp for tarragon for Julia's recipe and then set off on the winding highway home.  By now the smoke was roiling up over the hills and it was evident that the fire had grown much larger.

Spotter plains, helicopters and tanker planes were already at work and fire crews in their red trucks zoomed past with their sirens blaring.

By now we were less than 10 miles from home and my heart was racing with worry.  The breeze had picked up and these blazes can travel very quickly.

At home, the smoke from the fire looked farther away and not as immediately threatening.  I'd just gone inside to lay down and rest for awhile when I heard a plane overhead.  The sound of its engines gradually died away and then came roaring back.  And died away.  And roared back. I rushed outside and the plane was very low and close and circling around our house and pond.  I ran all around the house looking for smoke or flames.  There was nothing except the far-away smoke from the other fire.  Bruce was certain that the plane was simply in a holding pattern as the pilot waited for instructions on what do next.  I believed the logic of this, but I was on the edge of panic anyway.

And Bruce was right.  A few minutes later, the plane left.  A short time later I went down to the pond to water the baby oaks we'd planted there.  I was joined by Poom, Max, Bruce and Murphy.  And a rattlesnake.  I ran for the snake tongs and bucket.  Bruce grabbled with the tongs and got it safely put in the bucket.  It's now been safely relocated a ways from us.

Tonight the fire seems just about out.   The snake is gone.  Let's hope that tomorrow things stay very, very boring.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Almost Summer...

Two weeks ago was our last day of school year.  Two days later I began a two-week workshop of teaching writing through science observations.  The third graders' focus was on snails and they researched all about them and then wrote short reports on what they had decided to learn about them. This class proved to be a success -- after two short weeks, the students had produced one research paper (short, but still...), a poem, and a short story all on the theme of snails.  Today was the last day of the class and after the last child left, I almost immediately got in the car and drove to my last school-related workshop of the summer.  Tomorrow will be the second - and last - day of this leadership workshop.

After that, it's no more school for awhile.  I'm ready for a break.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Six Weeks

Six weeks ago I brought home 20 Cornish Cross chicks that arrived in the mail.  This breed has been selectively bred to quickly grow to butchering size.

The first week, the chicks lived in a large metal water trough in a stall in the barn.  The second week we fenced off part to the stall and now they had room to run around.

By the third week, they'd grown large enough that they needed more room.  So we set up a dog kennel outside the double doors of the hayroom.  The chicks now had more room to move around in, plus dust to bathe in, bugs to chase and summer breezes ruffling their feathers.

By the fourth week, the chicks were already developing combs and some of the young roosters were trying out their crowing.

By the fifth week, all of the chicks were getting large and plump.  One of them somehow hurt its leg and was unable to walk.  We decided that, as all of them were going to be butchered the following Saturday anyway, it would be best to put this bird out of its suffering as soon as possible.  Bruce (bless him) has learned how to slaughter poultry quickly and humanely.

The bird weighed in at just over five pounds.  We brined it and then simply roasted it on a rack in the oven.   Mama came up for a pre-birthday lunch and we had a feast of roast chicken and potato/lentil salad (potatoes dug from the garden).

The chicken was delicious.  Home-raised birds have a more assertive flavor than the blandness of supermarket chicken. They also have more muscle tone, so the meat has more of a chew than a factory-raised bird.  Some people might not like any of that, but it's fine for us.

I'm gradually getting more used to eating animals I've raised.  On the chick's side; we gave it a good life -- dust baths, bugs to snap at, sunshine and views of the world.  On our side; we know what that chick ate.  It had no growth hormones or any other additives to its feed.  The truth is that if I had to raise every animal I ate, I'd eat a lot less meat (as it is, I still don't eat much -- but I'd eat less).  I think that most people in the US are so removed from their food that they really don't know what's involved in bringing an animal to the table.

The first week of summer "break"

School's been officially over for me for a week, but I immediately jumped into helping teach a workshop -- so I'm still working. Twenty beginning 3rd graders, 9 teachers and 6 terrariums of snails for the children to study and write about from 8:30-11:30 every day.   This class will be over this coming Friday.  In the afternoons I'm going in to my own 4th grade classroom to clean the cupboards, file papers and organize.

I'm ready to think about something besides school and teaching.  Soon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Potatoes are a miracle.  I planted some Yukon Golds in this bed two years ago and thought I'd harvested them all.  Since then, I've pretty much ignored this area but planted two bare-root apple trees in it this spring.  I saw several potato plants but let them be and planted around them.

Yesterday I decided to mulch the bed and went to work digging up whatever potatoes were there.  Going after spuds is sort of like searching for Easter eggs -- you only have to put a little effort into finding them.  I stuck in a shovel and - lo! - golden potatoes spilled out.  I must have harvested over ten pounds of the volunteers.

Last night for dinner we chopped some of them up , fried them in butter/olive oil and then added a bit of turkey sausage, parsley and beaten eggs (from our own hens).  A few pinches of sea salt and a grinding of pepper and we had a meal fit for royalty.

Here are the potatoes sizzling in the pan.  I have no pictures of them in their final form -- when we scooped them, steaming and fragrant, into the bowls, we forgot about everything but eating them.  Good eats!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Snake Relocation

Bruce came home this afternoon and by evening he'd caught one of the rattlers that showed up while he was gone.  It was right in the open, slithering across the driveway -- just waiting for him to nab it with the snake tongs (which, I might add, were hanging right where they were supposed to be on the door of stall #2).

A rattlesnake busily shaking his tail while on the ground makes an impressive noise -- but the racket reverberating from the inside of a lard bucket is truly impressive.

The snake was a mid-sized one.  It could easily be the one that went under the house two days ago.  I'm hoping it was.  Actually, it could also be the same one I heard in the potato patch yesterday.  Here's hoping.

 Bruce tied the bucket upright in the back of the truck and we drove about a quarter of a mile to the creek.  I decided to release it there because of the presence of water.  A happy, well-fed, well-watered snake stays put.  

This area looks like the kind of place that would have lots of good-eats for a snake.

At first, the snake wasn't too sure of it's new digs.

Eventually it decided that life outside the lard bucket was preferable to life inside the lard bucket and crawled out.

This picture demonstrates why I couldn't see the snake last evening, even though it was rattling up a storm.  They are masters of camouflage without even trying.

We got back into the truck and went home.  I hope that the snake does well here.  I also hope that this takes care of the snake problem here at Frogpond for awhile.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rattlesnake #2

The second rattlesnake of the year has shown up in the potato patch.  I just don't know where.  I had come up from watering the orchard and heard that angry sprinkler sound that tells me that someone is very, very angry.  I grabbed the snake tongs and a lard bucket and tried to locate it.  But the sun had just set and, although I could hear it just fine, I couldn't see it.  A brown snake against brown dirt in the twilight.  Part of me didn't want to quit, but I realized that hunting rattlesnakes in broad daylight is not a good idea but hunting them in the half-dark is just stupid.  So I stopped and went inside.  Now I have a snake under the house and one in the potato patch to worry about.

I think that they are coming to the areas around the house because of the lack of water everywhere else.  Even the snakes suffer in the drought.  We're all just trying to survive.

It looks to be the start of a very long summer.

Friday, June 6, 2014

End of the School Year

The last day of school.  It's the ending of a sad, roller-coaster sort of year: one of our students died on Christmas Eve, our principal suddenly resigned under a dark cloud and the most beloved teacher at our school retired because of a return of cancer.  Our end-of-the-year assembly today was in some ways like always -- a happy celebration of the achievements of our students.  But for many of the adults, there were tears as well as some anger from some.  I came home feeling exhausted and sad.  A good night's sleep will help put my world to rights.  Bruce is away back east right now.  I miss him, but maybe it's better he's away -- I'm not much fun right now and need to regain my equilibrium.  Which I will.

I'm looking forward to a quiet Saturday at home.  It'll just be me and the animals.  I think I'll ride Cornelius -- that'll divert me!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Full Circle

Today was a milestone sort of day. The sweet young checker at our local grocery store asked me (very hesitantly) if I might be a senior citizen. 
I answered, "I don't know. What is the age of a senior citizen?" 
"55," she said. 
"Oh, then I am!" I said, feeling slightly confused that 55 would be considered a senior citizen. But, whatever. I got $1.69 off my purchase.
Ok, the funny thing about all of this is that this is the very same store where I was carded for the last time (I'm pretty sure) in my life. That time, 14 years ago, it was a young man who was checking and he asked me to show him my ID. I absolutely could not believe that there could be a doubt in his mind that I was under 21. I stood there with my bottle of vodka and was insulted. But I showed him my license and proved that I was old enough to be his...older sister. Oh, alright -- his grandmother. Sheesh. Life is funny.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Blue Oak

This afternoon I discovered something wonderful and very unexpected on this baby blue oak tree.  I'd planted it just outside the orchard fence in February and it soon leafed out vigorously and had every appearance of thriving.  And then literally from one day to the next, every leaf on it was brown and dead, dead, dead.  There were no signs of gophers and it hadn't been watered too long ago.  Feeling a bit silly, but in the hope that there might still be a flicker of life in the tree, I gave it a long, slow soak from the hose.

It took three weeks, but today when I was watering, I noticed tiny green buds on every twig.  The tree got another soaking from the hose, a ring of rocks and a good thick mulch.

If we can hold back the really hot weather until the leaves have grown a bit and toughened up it just might have a chance.  I'm glad I didn't give up on it.

It's been two days since my right eye was lasered.  The doctor had said that my pupil would be back to normal within six hours, but it remained dilated for the entire day and the world was blurry.  It took until today for it to get down to a normal size.  Unfortunately, I now have a very large floater right in front of my line of sight...always something!