Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pretty Rags and Bears in the Hills

Autumn breezes have arrived and even the cleaning rags on the line look lovely as they flutter in the morning light.

On another note, this evening as I was watering in the orchard, Corny began snorting and trotting about his pasture, I could hear people yelling and a gunshot of two.  I put down the hose and moved towards the noise but it was all too indistinct for me to make anything out.  When I went up to turn off the hose, it was almost dark and the dogs were barking at the gate to the pond.  I opened it, thinking they saw deer and was fine with them chasing them away.  But the barks didn't sound normal -- they were a little too high-pitched and hysterical.  So I called the dogs back and closed the gate.

When I got inside there was a message on our machine from our neighbor, Lena (owner of the dogs who killed the llama).  She called to tell me that a bear had been spotted heading towards our property.  I realized that this is what the dogs had been barking at.  I feel badly for any bear down so low out of the mountains.  Poor thing doesn't belong here -- it's probably hungry and thirsty.  It deserves better than being shot at.

Please let it rain this winter.  Let things be normal again.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Catbird at the Birdbath

This is one of Poom's favorite drinking spots.  Bruce has been trying for quite awhile to catch him in the act, but Poom (as usual) has refused to cooperate.  Until yesterday, that is.  I think that Poom was so engrossed with lapping that he didn't realize his dad was behind him with the camera until too late.  "Click!"

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Our home-grown chicken that I defrosted earlier in the week has been slow-simmered into one of the finest chicken meals I've ever had.

Actually, the slow-simmering in the oven was the fastest part of this long process.  The meal actually started on the afternoon that I brought the twenty Cornish Cross chicks home.  They were healthy, happy and very cute.  From the beginning, they were destined for a short life as they were bought for the purpose of fattening up to be eaten.


 They gained weight with enthusiasm -- a single-minded focus on continuous eating has been bred into them.  They reach adult weight in eight to nine weeks.

The growing chicks lolled about their pen, sunbathing, munching down grain, snapping at flies and sipping water.  Very soon they were full-size and the weather grew hot.  It was time.

I helped Bruce load them up into cages for the trip down to the slaughtering facility.  I stayed home.
The people who run this facility are from Southeast Asia and are skilled and humane at what they do.
One of the women asked Bruce if he wanted the feet, and when he said, "No," were delighted to take them.  Chicken foot soup -- waste not, want not.  A good thing.

The chickens came home on ice and we prepared them for freezing.  It took several hours to do a final cleaning vacuum seal, weigh and freeze all of them.

Last week I defrosted a 6 1/2 pounder.  I found an Alton Brown recipe for Coq au Vin which looked good.  It also looked labor-intensive, but since we'd already put quite a bit of labor into producing the chicken that was the star of the show, it seemed very well worth it.

Last night, the chicken was braised and then marinaded overnight in a mixture of red wine (2 bottles!), herbs, vegetables and seasonings.  The house smelled heavenly.

This morning the pot went into the oven for 2 1/2 hours.  What came out was nothing short of a miracle of deliciousness:  falling-off-the-bone chicken -- tender, succulent and fragrant.

Mama came up for lunch and we sat down to a meal to remember.  Before we took a bite, we raised our glasses to the chicken that made this possible.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chicken and Eggs

I never get over my pleasure at eating food we've raised or grown.  This afternoon I gathered eggs from the coop and then stopped by the freezer in the garage to pick up one of the chickens we raised.

Come Friday night, that chicken will be the star of Julia Child's Coq au Vin recipe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

First Day of Autumn

 Happy first day of autumn, and not a moment too soon.  The hills are brown, the leaves are tired of the heat and so am I.  Give me cool weather and rain.  Lots of rain.

I planted both of these grey pine trees from one gallon pots 3 years ago.  They were the same size back then.  Now one of them is four times the size of the other one.  They are spaced maybe 100 yards apart, but it's obvious that one of them has deeper soil and more access to water than the other one.  Still, the good news is that both of them are still alive.

Rainy winter!  Rainy winter!  Rainy winter!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two Words: Fish Tacos

Bruce and I have been blessed with a plethora of fish.  Son-in-law Kiichi loves to fish -- and he's very good at it.  I, on the other hand, do not fish at all but I am very good at eating it.  Last of all, daughter Liz is very good at doing extremely nice things for her mother and is also skillful at toting around heavy ice chests.  Now we have a section of the freezer stacked with salmon, tuna, cod and other finny delectables that I can't remember the names of.

It's extremely fortunate that I'm married to a man who loves to cook and was willing to tackle fish tacos because I thought the recipe looked good.

And thus, the circle is complete -- and it a large flour tortilla heaped high with spicy braised ling cod, peppers, avocado, tomatoes, sour cream, cabbage and lime.

This is a meal that I will long remember.  Thank you Kiichi, Liz and Chef Bruce!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

First Rain

This morning I went out early and took a few pictures of the sun rising.  It came up above the hills in a sultry orange glow -- very pretty unless you knew that the unusual hue was due to the presence of smoke from the huge forest fire to the north.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky -- just the smoky greyness stretched out over all the blue.

By afternoon, though, things had changed.  When Bruce and I were coming back from grocery shopping in Angels Camp,  there were lovely purple clouds popping up overhead like giant mushrooms.  On the way home, I said to Bruce, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if it rained?"  And about 2 minutes later the first giant splops of rain hit the windshield.  By the time we got home, it was really raining.  As I pulled tarps over the hay, thunder was booming.  Joy!

I grabbed my camera and took pictures of the rain, the sky, the gutters, the trees, the geese -- everything.  So did Bruce.

The rain gutter with actual water coming out 

The rain was magnificent -- there is no scent like the fragrance of the earth, dry grass, bushes and trees when they are touched by water for the first time in months.  In the end, our rain gauge measured out that we had a whopping 0.03" of an inch of rain.  Then it stopped.

But for us here in this dry, dry land, this 0.03" was a blessing of the highest magnitude.  We were ready to build an ark!  We take what we're given, and then say "Thank you."

So...thank you!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Lure of Water

It is so dry that many animals have taken to coming up to the house for water.  Here is a wild rabbit that crouched right outside the backyard door.  We have pans and troughs of water set out around the place for thirsty animals to drink from.  If this means I'm drawing rabbits to my garden, so be it.

For the second time in two years, large swaths of Northern California are burning.  Every time the fire crews mop up one fire, another starts somewhere else.  The latest, largest fire is called the King's Fire and is north of us in the Sierras.  From here, it's far enough away that we can't see or smell the smoke.  But I know that so far it's burned 110 square miles of two our National Parks and is only 15% contained.  They suspect that the fire was started by an arsonist.

We need water.  We need rain.  If we don't have a wet winter this year... I'm very worried.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Crew of Cat Therapists

We may not have much of a pond here at Frogpond Acres (actually, we no longer have any pond at all), but we sure do grow pretty cats.  This is Multi-Pass.  She's a princess.  Of course.

OK, maybe "pretty" isn't the word I'm looking for in Poom's case.  His coat was so matted and stuck together with burrs that we had him shaved (under anesthesia) at the vet's.  He came home looking like a Dr. Seuss creature.  Or, more exactly, a Dr. Seuss creature with a saggy belly.  Never mind -- he has a magnificent pom-pom tail.

And here's Arby, my schmoo-boy fast asleep on my purse.  The guy is 16 years old, but still falls asleep like a baby kitten.  I love that about him.

School careens along in its usual roller coaster way -- happy, exciting times in the classroom but also plenty of drama and angst amongst the grownups.  At the end of most days, I'm emotionally exhausted. Coming home to these guys is exactly the strong furry medicine I need to get back to my happy place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dorothea's Visit

Since retiring from the post office several years ago, my friend Dorothea has blossomed into the quilter she always longed to be.   Now that she has the time to devote to her passion, the results are stunning.

She and I only see each other once or twice a year, but since we are kindred spirits, we have an easy time of picking up right where we last left off.  She came up for lunch and an afternoon visit several weeks ago and brought along her latest works.  To use one of her favorite expressions, I was gobsmacked by her creations.

We sat back in our chairs at the dining table and talked, laughed and drank tea.  She unwrapped her quilts and I ooohed and ahhed (all the time wondering if it might not be time for me to retire too).  Then we ate lunch.  She contributed the smoked goat meat (delicious!) and a jar of artichoke tapenade.  I made my lentil salad and cut up several cheeses. It was, admittedly, an interesting menu but delicious.

Dorothea is one in a million.  I'm truly blessed to have such a friend.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Calaveras Big Trees

This evening I called the woman with the dogs who killed the llama to see how she was doing.  She sounded a lot better and I was glad of that.  She also told me that she and her husband had decided to see if they could keep the dogs in their runs at night and when they weren't home.  So none of them had been put down.  I'm cautiously pleased about this.  The truth is that once a dog has gone into the "pack mentality" killer zone, it can never be fully trusted again.  However, if the owners are able to keep them contained, everything should be ok.  I don't hate the dogs for what they did -- they reverted to a wild state when they formed a pack.  I didn't want any of them to be euthanized if there was a concrete plan to prevent this from happening again.  The owner sounds like she has this plan.  I told her that I would keep an eye out for if they ever were caught wandering and she appreciated that.  Fingers crossed that everything settles down.  Life in the country...

On Sunday, Bruce and I decided that we needed to get away from here for awhile.  So we picked up sandwiches at the local deli counter and drove up to Calaveras Big Trees to walk the trails amongst the redwoods.  And it was good!

Yup.  Bruce and I have turned into Ma and Pa Kettle.  When this happened is a mystery, but the transformation is complete.  I am mortified to admit that I spent many minutes on making fun of my spouse's too-small and extremely ridiculous hat.  I only realized how unflattering and lopsided my own was when I downloaded our pictures.  I now must humbly admit that my beloved husband and I match.

Long sigh.

We ate our sandwiches at a table surrounded by pines.  The breeze was blowing through them and it sounded exactly like shushing of waves moving across the sand.  Exactly.

The water in Beaver Creek was low, but we saw trout darting in the shadows and the sound of the water was music to our parched ears.

A kind of tree squirrel called a chickaree racing up a tree trunk.  Bruce snapped this turbo-charged shot and somehow actually managed to capture the image of the squirrel before it disappeared into the canopy.

We had a very much needed fun day.  No chores (until we got home),  no school work, no computers.  Just us wandering around the woods.  Nice.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Sad Day

I'll start by telling about the sad thing that happened yesterday morning.  Bruce went out to do chores and heard dogs barking in our lower pasture.  When he went down he saw that a pack of dogs were savaging one of the llamas that we let roam on our property.  He recognized them -- one of them was a Great Dane that we have often seen.  The llama was down and they were pulling hunks of its fleece out as it lay.  Bruce shouted at them and they took off, but returned almost immediately.  He went inside, got a gun and shot it close enough to frighten the dogs away and this time they ran home.

He came inside to tell me what had happened.  I was reading a book in bed and had heard absolutely nothing -- not even the gun shot.  The window was shut, but still...how could I not hear a gun shot from outside our bedroom window?

The llama had no blood from any wounds, but didn't seem able to get up.  It was breathing hard and had obviously been run to exhaustion.  I brought it a bucket of water and it drank.  A good sign.  We left it to rest and went inside to call the neighbors who owned the dogs.  The wife was devastated when Bruce told her what her dogs had done.  At first it seemed like the llama would recover, but when I went down to check on him, he drank more water but then groaned and rolled over on his side.   He looked like he was dying.  Our neighbor came over in tears.  She called her vet.  She called a friend who came and brought a sedative to relieve some of the animal's stress.

But the llama died with the neighbor sitting next to him.  He was an old guy and I think that his heart just gave out.  She stroked his face and neck and cried as he lay stretched out.  A little later on the neighbor who owns the llamas came by to see it before it was hauled off by the man who takes away dead livestock.  Later, the woman called to tell me that she was taking two of her dogs that to the vet's to be put to sleep.  She said it was one of the worst days of her life.

And that's the story of why Saturday was not such a good day.

Today Bruce and I went up into the mountains in the truck to get away for a little while.  It did us good.  I'll tell that story tomorrow.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

I'm Back

It's been awhile.  I'm not absolutely certain of why I stopped blogging.  Could be that I've started doing Facebook more -- not so much posting there, but reading all the trivia, watching the cute cat videos and "liking" the many (both sublime and inane) things that were likable.  This has taken a huge swath of my free computer time.  It's easier (much less thought required) than blogging.  Facebook is a bit like sitting down with a glass of wine and watching Project Runway:  enjoyable but not terribly productive or substantial.

It also could have something to do with the fact that the summer has been has dreadfully, depressingly dry as feared after yet another rainless winter.  I lost my enthusiasm for writing about Frogpond when all there seemed to write about was how the pond was now a crater of dried, cracked mud, the willows and cottonwoods were yellowing and dropping leaves and the turtles and frogs were nothing but distant memories.  The well is failing as the water table drops.  It is a struggle keeping the trees and gardens going -- all the plants are regularly stressed and drooping as I can't water any of them as often as they need.  I run myself ragged trying.  I'm tired of seeing dusty leaves slowly turning brown and dropping.  It's not fun to watch; less fun to write about and (I'm sure) even less pleasant to read about.

That said, I've missed this blog.  I'm ready to come home to it.  Ready to embrace the sad for what it is.  Ready to look for the loveliness amidst all the dust and dryness.  Ready to write!

Flowering Amaranth

The birdbath

Ripening Pomegranates

Today something sad happened at Frogpond.  I'm not ready to tell the story -- not on the day I come back to blog.  It will wait until tomorrow.  For now, I'm glad to be back here.  Hello to anyone who still checks to see if Frogpond Chronicles is still around.  It is, and thank you so much for coming by!