Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Tonight is another exciting New Year's Eve at Frogpond Acres.  Bruce and I don't do much of anything, but we don't have to -- the place gets more than enough shaking up when midnight arrives and every yahoo in the area celebrates by blasting away on their guns.  Gunshots don't seem to bother Corny, so he's out in the pasture. All the other animals are in the barn, coop or house, where they can be safe and sheltered at least a little from the racket.

This includes our Archy; the Last Fly of Summer.  I thought we'd lost him, but he turned up this afternoon, buzzing around me while I worked at my computer.  One wing is now slightly askew, but other than that the little guy looks pretty good for a fly.  For no particular reason I can think of, I took a picture of him taking a breather on my computer screen.  I think it's a rather good likeness.

Anyway, it looks like he'll be ringing in the new year at Frogpond.  If he wants to stay up, we'll leave the light on for him in the kitchen.  Bruce and I are headed for bed (but the neighbors will let us know when midnight arrives).

Wishing a happy new year to all!

Monday, December 29, 2014

First Freezes of Winter

Despite our lovely rains of November, the weather here has been unusually warm.  Until last week, the lemon tree in its big pot sat out on the bedroom deck along with the geraniums, amaryllis and jade plants.  The leaves on the mulberry tree in front turned gold but hung on through the storms.  They needed a good cold snap to get them to let go and drop.  And the houseflies continued on, merrily annoying us and getting swatted when they came inside.  That was last week.

This week, the temperatures finally dropped down into the mid 20's and our Northern California winter has finally arrived.  The lemon tree and all the other potted plants are on a cart in the garage.  The mulberry leaves (probably with sighs of relief) were finally able to tumble to the ground.  And the houseflies are gone except for one clever one who appears to have become something of a pet.  I suppose I'll have to name him.

It may feel like winter at night, but the days still reach the low to mid 50's and the sun is warm.  Here is Max, toasting himself on the bales of hay in front of the barn.  Rough life.


I think that I'll name the fly "Archie".

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Half a Cup of Coffee...

That's all it takes to keep me awake until 1:19 a.m. and counting.  A former neighbor and her grandson stopped by last afternoon to give Cornelius a gift of carrots and apples.  Corny remembered her (he refers to her as "The lady with all the Carrots"), and was suitably grateful.  After we came back inside, we had coffee and cookies as we got caught up.  It was a lovely visit, but it was the coffee that did me in.

 I finally gave up on trying to make myself fall asleep and got up to make a cup of herb tea. One of the many nice things about being off work for two weeks is that if I can't sleep I have no reason to be frantic about insomnia.  If I'm tired tomorrow, I'll lie down and take a nap.  Such a lovely solution (but one that can't be utilized when in a classroom with 27 students).  So I'm sipping tea and blogging and not worrying about tomorrow.


A rye loaf, ready for the oven
Our Christmas Eve was quiet -- just Bruce and myself feasting on shrimp cocktail and crab cakes.  We played Rummikub (our new favorite game in the world) and enjoyed the evening.  I also kneaded up two batches of bread dough.  One was a rich (four eggs and two sticks of butter!) sweet Christmas bread that is braided into a wreath-shape.  The other, a dark rye bread fragrant with molasses and caraway seeds.  Before going to bed, I set them both out overnight to rise.

On Christmas morning, I got up early and got the rye loaves in the oven.  By the time Bruce got up, the house was filled with the aroma of baking bread.

These are what the loaves looked like when they were cooling on the rack.

And here was Christmas breakfast just a little bit later; still-warm rye bread (lightly toasted) well-decorated with butter and good French cheese.  Nice.

Later in the day Mama, Ian and Becky joined us for Christmas dinner and we celebrated over  candlelight, music, conversation and laughter.  As I grow older, I'm learning to lean in to the joys that surround me.  Today it was bread and love.  Yeah, nice!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Oh, Christmas Tree(s)!

Note the glimmer of the pond in the distance!

For the second year in a row, we're going with living Christmas trees.  Admittedly, these smallish incense cedars are not quite the same as a massive pine filling the living room with it's spicy scent, but they make up for it by being, well, alive.

We drove over to Valley Springs to our favorite nursery last Sunday and found the larger of the two standing right up front like it was waiting for us.  We walked right past it towards the back of the nursery where the smaller, cheaper trees were.  One was chosen, loaded on the cart and wheeled back to the very nice cashier.  She told us that for this day only, all plants were 20% off.  The words were barely out of her mouth when I was dashing off to snag the larger cedar out front.

And then I picked out 3 blue oaks (at $2 a tree, how could I resist?) and 3 replacement blackberry vines.  I was very much in the "happy" zone.  I'll be out doing some hole digging before the new year hits.

And in fifteen years or so, they'll be looking like this one.  I'll try to be patient.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Water Mirrors and Singing Frogs

The water level of the pond has now crept higher than it's fullest last spring.  It's still only December, so I'm cautiously hopeful that more rains are yet to come.  Last year at this time, the hills were still brown, with only a hint of green.  Such a delight to have all this green with mushroom rings popping up all over.

Even with this humble amount of water in it, the pond is now back to reflecting the sky and trees.  Our views from the house are instantly doubled with return of our natural mirror.

The same goes for the lower pond, down at the bottom end of our property.  The culvert that diverts runoff to Little John Creek is flowing once again.

Murphy had a blast charging across the seasonal creek several times.  At one point, he came running back down the path towards us with an entire deer leg in his mouth.  He was one proud, grinning ear-to-ear puppy as he dropped the smelly thing at our feet.

The vernal pond also has water and its own reflections.

And, miraculously, the various ponds and creeks not only have reflections, but they also have frogs.  How could they have possibly survived the heat and dryness?  There aren't many of them yet, but their croakings are everywhere.

It's a happy Solstice.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Cards

I got my last three Christmas cards finished up this morning.  I so enjoy our annual ritual of creating them that I have a hard time understanding why so many people don't send them anymore.  I think that if we just bought them ready-made in a box I'd be less enthusiastic.  Making and sending these cards links me to the people I love.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Mr. Bah Humbug

Yesterday afternoon we began preparing for the annual Cornelius Christmas card photo shoot.  I'd suggested posing him up by a large pine that had crashed down on the far side of the pond several years ago.  Bruce, I and our rather grumpy horse went over there to do a few trial shots.

"You forgot the treats???"

Not quite a lake (yet), but... :)

It felt like Christmas morning; waking up before dawn and wondering what surprise had been left during the night.  It was still dark outside, so I just lay in bed, happily listening to the rain flowing through the downspout.  I did my best to tone down my unrealistic yearnings that the pond was now a mighty lake.

When it grew light I put a coat on over my bathrobe, slipped on my clogs and grabbed the umbrella and then an assortment of cats and dogs and I trooped down to inspect the pond.

While it's no mighty lake, we definitely have a pond again and I'm very grateful for that.  The far end is filling and the water is now creeping up to the culvert.

The island is officially an island again -- even though one side has only about six inches of water separating it from the shore.  Poom briefly became King of Hopperopolis (what we recently named our island) when he jumped across the water and scaled the rocks.


When it started sprinkling again, he apparently decided that being king wasn't for him and voted himself off the island.

Here's the island from another side...

...and the island from farther away.

As you can tell, I'm very pleased about this, even though the island is only a few hot summer days from being a non-island again.  It's a start.

I searched through my pictures of the pond from last spring, after the last of the few rains we had.  I didn't have many because I didn't have much desire to look at it, much less take pictures (now I wish I had).  However, I did find one:

May 5, 2014

Here is how it looked the last spring.  It was already drying up even though we had a few more light rains.  The scum on top pleased the few frogs that were left, but didn't add much charm for the rest of us.

December 12, 2014

Here was pond yesterday.  The angle of the shot is about the same, although it was taken from closer in.  Still, it's obvious that we already have more water now than we did last spring.  And we still have at least four more months of our rainy season left.

While standing on the edge of the bank, looking down into the pond, a movement caught my eye -- an insect (I think it's called a water skater) zig-zagged away from me across the surface of the water.  The little guy may have been small, but he is the first of the wildlife I've seen return to the pond.  A good omen.


I cannot end this post without acknowledging my early morning pond-documentation crew.




Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Bit of Pond Returns

It took it's sweet time, but the much-awaited storm has arrived.  It didn't start raining until around noon.
 (Note: I was in my classroom having my lunch when the skies went dark and the heavens dumped.  Simultaneously, the power went out and there were 27 soaking wet, shrieking with laughter 4th graders clammering at the door.  I let them in, gritted my teeth and allowed them to finish their Christmas art projects: out came the cups of glitter, the drippy glue, the scissors, the bags of pom-poms, buttons and beads and the felt and pipecleaners.  By the time the lights came back on, we had a line of psychodelic snowmen lined up and drying on the bookcase.  The children had a blast, but I don't think that the custodian who vacuums the carpet is going to love us.  But I digress)

To be honest, I was expecting to see a more dramatic amount of water in the pond when I got home.  But we've gotten almost 1.5" and the rain's still coming down.  Also, the culvert is starting to flow with runoff from the hill.  Bruce and I took a walk around the pond to see how things looked from down there.

From the far side of pond, the island really looks like an island.  It's actually more of a peninsula with a knob on the end (which is far better than a heap of rock and dirt sitting in a dry depression).

This is what it looks like from the house side.  It's expecting a lot, but maybe in the morning we'll have a real island once again.

That will take a solid night of rain.

I'm so over-the-moon joyful to see the dry cracked mud that I walked over a week ago gently settling beneath water after such a long time.

Bruce says that four mallards came down to bob around on the pond for awhile this afternoon.  I'm happy!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Still waiting for the storm that's been on the news as the most powerful to hit Northern California since 2008.  The gutters are cleaned.  All the potted plants are safe in the barn, house, garage or carport.  The cat's litter box is inside (sigh...). The garden tools have been put away and a tarp is over the hay.  We have food, umbrellas and firewood.  In short, here at Frogpond we have everything except rain.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Getting Ready for the Storm!

At last!  The storm we've been longing for has appeared on the horizon and should be here by this coming Thursday. We haven't had a storm of this magnitude come our way in several years.  If all goes as predicted, we can hope for five or more inches of rain.  Happy day!

Our plans for our Sunday took a radical shift when we learned about the amount of rain and wind that is scheduled to hit our area.  So instead of grocery shopping and getting Cornelius ready for his annual Christmas photo shoot, we spent the day readying Frogpond for the storm.

Fortunately the twin boys who come over to help with chores came today.  They are only 13 years old, but are hard workers and eager to earn money for the sports programs they participate in.  So they spent four hours working to help us clean out the culvert that leads to the pond (willow roots and branches had it clogged) and then muck out the gutters.

They are good at working, but also good at playing.  In between digging out the culvert and cleaning out gutters, they hopped up on the duck raft and there was actually enough water in the pond for them to pole around with sticks.  I'm not sure who had more fun:  the boys scooting around the pond and trying to unbalance each other, the dogs plunging after them and searching for underwater sticks or Bruce and I watching them and laughing at the water circus.

What is so wonderful about these boys is that they DO things.  They know how to play.  Mark Twain could easily have used them as prototypes for characters in his books.

In addition to their skill at working and playing, they also have extremely hearty appetites.  I mistakenly thought I'd boiled up too many hotdogs when I put in the entire package.  Hah!  With only a little help from Bruce and I, they made short work of them.  They also are mighty cookie eaters.  It's fun to feed teenage boys.  Who knew?

We are so fortunate to have these fine young people as neighbors.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Rebirth of the Frogpond Pond

We've had off and on rains (to be honest, more off than on...but still) this week so water is finally beginning to collect in the pond.  However, I've come home just as the sun was setting each evening so couldn't get much more than a tantalizing glimpse of reflected sky before the light was gone.

Today is Saturday so I indulged in reading in bed while sipping coffee.  Suddenly a golden light washed in and I looked up to find the sun had broken through the clouds.

Happy geese flapping around the yard after being let out of the barn

Naturally, I had to run outside in my red bathrobe to take pictures of the radiance that set all of Frogpond glowing.

Behold!  Our pond is gradually coming into being again.  We still have a long way to go, but even that modest shimmer of water transforms everything.

Here is a view from the heap of rock and mud that will be an island when the water finally surrounds it.  Until then, I'm working on building it up.  In my red bathrobe, I chucked a few clods of muck up to the top.  Life in the country.

We're expecting another, bigger storm towards the end of next week.  Keep 'em coming!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Island, Dried Mud and a Little Rain

At last we've had some measurable rain; not much by most standards, but after three years of drought, our bar is set rather low.  It's time to take a look at that sorry depression in the earth that used to hold our pond.

In late August it looked like this.  The water had disappeared several months earlier and the willows on my island had finally given up and died.  The cottonwoods and willows along the dam were also going brown and fading out. The fish, frogs, dragonflies, egrets, grebes and other wildlife were long gone.  A dead pond is a sad thing.

The dried muck on the bottom was fascinating though.  At almost a foot thick and baked brick-hard, it cracked into a million crazy puzzle pieces.

After the first small October rains, the weather had cooled enough that we decided to clean up the island.  We cut down and removed all of the dead willows.

Then Bruce got on his Kubota and began scooping some of the dried pond mud up against the island in order to add some mass to it.  I worked with a shovel, lard bucket and my bare hands to haul dirt to the top.

There is something oddly satisfying about creating an island.

The mud "bricks" lift right off the rock.  The broken pieces went into the lard bucket, while I carried the larger pieces up to the top one at a time.  Good exercise, island building!

Even after several gentle rains, the mud was completely dry except for the very surface.  I think we have our own natural adobe bricks.  I neatly stacked some of them on top of the island.  Others I just hurled up to land where they would.  As I said, great fun.

The last few days have given us about an inch of rain.  We are celebrating even this modest amount and hope that this is the beginning of a very wet winter.

It's still only a tiny bit of water, but it's so good to see  glimmer and shine begin to creep over all that dried mud.