Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Well Woes

    As is the way of things at Frogpond, this place is constantly falling apart.  Yesterday was the well.  It is always such a treat turning on the tap and getting a trickle, then a whoosh of air, and then nothing.  I did get my afternoon exercise trekking up and down through the horse/llama pasture numerous times in my attempt to figure out what was wrong (by the way, it's 0.21 miles there and back, with a slight detour to pet the horse along the way).

The good news is that we had a storage tank filled to the brim with water and the pump seemed to be working fine.  The slightly less good news is that at that point I was stuck and had to wait until Bruce got home to figure out what was wrong.  Ants.  A large colony of them had built a nest nearby and they had gotten into a panel and clogged up the connectors with their corpses. 


Minutes later, Bruce had cleaned them out and we had water again.  Hallelujah!  It’s always a good day when we don’t have to call the well guys (next time this happens - and there will be a next time - I’ll be able to do this myself).  We also put ant bait down there to do away with our little friends. 

This morning as I'm sitting here thinking about our water situation, I'm so grateful that the tank was full and the problem wasn't that our water level had gone down farther.  We can't drill any deeper as we would then reach salt water.  My hope is that our almost-normal winter rainfall replenished our aquifer and we won't have to haul in water this year.  This probably isn't realistic, as it's only June -- but we'll see.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Clear Skies

I'm into my second week of retirement and everything feels the same...but different.  The sameness is that, just as it is every summer, I'm working like a dog to clear the overgrowth of brush, weeds and tree limbs from around the house before fire season is in full force.  Also, I'm trying to get all the deferred garden and home projects done at once (hah!).  And,  just like every summer for the past three years, I'm preparing for Writer's Camp -- an intensive two week program for teaching writing skills to children. (4th to 6th graders).  The part of this program that makes it so much fun is that a group of teachers (6 this year plus me as the facilitator) collaborate and combine talents to teach a small class of students (less than 17).  This year our theme is nonfiction writing using mentor texts and preparing for this has my creative juices flowing.

So everything is pretty much the way it always is in the beginning of June...except that this time around I do not have the start of a new school year looming like a monster on the horizon.  It does speak volumes that for quite some time now every new school year has been felt as a threatening force just waiting to do battle.  It didn't used to be this way -- summer was a simply a time to recharge the batteries, maybe take a class or two, and actually get happy and enthusiastic about the promise of another year in the classroom.  However, now what we have to look forward to is standardized testing and a picking apart of student scores, performance reviews, masses of paperwork, an unending stream of usually nonsensical  after-school meetings, teachers and administrators on ego and power trips, angry parents, and the endless series of hoops teachers are now required to jump through to repeatedly prove that they can do their job.  

If one has a passion for the art, teaching has a way of taking over a person's life.  I accept and even embrace this fact -- I'm proud that I am/was one of those kind of teachers.  However, over the years, all of this mountain of garbage that is force-fed to teachers is what has taken over.  It has nothing to do with teaching or joy or children's well-being and everything to do with power, ignorance and lust for bureaucracy.

So this is why this June, even though everything so far is the same, everything is different.  This year, when August arrives, I'll be free of that particular monster.  I'm already celebrating.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Retirement: Day 1

This is what the first day of retirement looks like at Frogpond Acres.  It's very pretty.  Yet sort of sad.  And sort of... nebulous ("What just happened???").  

Bouquets of flowers light up the house, along with cards, a bottle of champagne, plants, a framed poem (about me!), gift cards, and even tickets to the theatre.

I'm overwhelmed with love and gratitude.  The generosity of my coworkers and administrators has me reeling.  Suddenly I'm wishing like crazy that I'd been better at my job.  That I'd tried harder.  That I'd been more everything for my students. I realize that this is a silly feeling, but there it is.

But that part of my life is over now.  This has been such an interesting school year.  It started in August with the death of my daughter through suicide.  That was also a time of flowers, incredible generosity from friends, family and even strangers.

And then it finished off in June with the end of my teaching in the public school system.  Again accompanied by flowers, gifts and the kindness of friends, family and even strangers...

Even though I'm still at the deer-in-the-headlights stage of all of this, I know that I'm blessed.  I'm so very blessed!

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Best Part of Winter

The best part of winter: Coming in from a walk in the rain to toast by the fire in the company of critters.

Last winter was so warm and dry that we didn't often even bother lighting the wood stove.  There really was no reason to.  Oh, such a difference this year!  After four years of drought, there is no sweeter sound than the patter of drops on the roof, the rush of water through the gutters and the distant roar coming up from the seasonal creek at the bottom of the hill.

On a stormy evening, Bruce and I will go out a dozen times just to revel in this miracle that's falling from the sky.

Back inside, we've got this.
The aptly named Max

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Damn Dam Dead Trees

El Nino appears to have arrived -- happy day!  We're getting storms at regular intervals and the forecasters are saying that this should continue for the next few months.  Today the rain came down in a steady rush as I taught in my tiny, very old portable classroom.  The gutters are clogged so the water comes down in front of the door in steady streams and there are cracks in the corners of the room where daylight shines through.  But the roof doesn't leak (yet) and it is lovely to hear the rain battering against the roof and windows.  It's almost, but not quite (thank God) like being outside.

Back at Frogpond, Bruce and I have been hard at work clearing out the dead trees that are falling over at artistic angles on the dam.  Two years of drought have done their work, and most of cottonwoods and willows gave up the ghost last summer.  It's a mess out there -- falling, rotting trees amidst a sea of poison oak and wild blackberry brambles.

I suppose it isn't exactly accurate to say that Bruce and I were the only ones struggling to clean up the mess.  We had help.  Lots.

Max came down and sat on just about anything he could plant his butt on.

Chance chewed on tiny sticks like crazy.  We were grateful.  Really.

He also helped carry branches.  Sort of.  Murphy just watched on the sidelines.  We were grateful for that too.

We also had the geese intermittently supervising from the water.

 We sawed, dragged, pulled, carried and pruned for three days.

We were moderately proud of our progress, even though we knew we had a long, long ways to go. But we were making headway, plus it just felt good to be outside working, surrounded by the things we love.

Another storm hit late last night and went on throughout today.  There was more rain; this time accompanied by strong winds.  When I got home from school this afternoon, this was waiting for me.  Up and down the dam, more trees had decided to lie down.

Can dead trees smirk???

It may be time to throw in the towel and call a tree service to finish the job.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Birthday

It's January and the pumpkin still sits on the porch railing.  It's been joined by four gorgeously lumpy  rocks that Bruce brought back from one of his rambles on Rock Creek Road.  They are my birthday rocks and I'm charmed all over again that I married a man who understands what makes me happy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Twelfth Day (I think)

Today was the first "real" El Nino storm of the season.  We got over an inch of rain and the pond has just about doubled in size from last week.

I'll be very happy when the pond reaches the size if was last year at the end of the rainy season.  Soon.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Eleventh Day

Criminy.  When I started up my blog again on the day after Christmas,  I had just read an article on the significance of the twelve days following Christmas:  this author explained that these twelve days were "empty" and that, by being observant, a person could find symbols (usually in the natural world) in each of the days that could provide a glimpse of what was to happen in each of the corresponding months that year.  So something that might strike me on the first day would be a foreshadowing of a larger event in January; something I noted on the second day would prepare me for something occurring in February and so on.  I'm pretty sure that I garbled up what the author meant, but anyway, I was intrigued, so jumped in give it a try.

Tonight I went back to try to refresh my memory on the meaning of the twelve days. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the original place where I read about the twelve days, but found a vast jumble of facts in a whole lot of other websites on the subject.

As it turns out, I knew even less than I thought -- most importantly, that the first day of Christmas is actually Christmas Day, December 25.  As I began my twelve days on the 26th,  I actually started reblogging on the second day of Christmas but incorrectly titled it The First Day of Christmas.  How do I correct this error?  Do I change the dates?  That seems wrong.  Change the titles completely to wipe away my mistake?  That's even wronger.  Leave it as-is and hope no one from the Days of Christmas Police notices?  Probably:  the chance that anyone would ever notice is other-galaxy remote.  And if someone did note my mistake, it's even remoter that they would care.  And even if they did care, so what?

More to the point, I am laughing to see how anxious I am to get everything "right".  It bugs me that I'm a day off.  It annoys me that I can't figure out how to salvage the observations I made for each day so that I can apply them to the correct month.  I realize that the whole thing is silly, but I can't help that.  I have nothing for the first day (December 25) and all the rest are a day off.  The only one who cares is me.  Soooooooo....

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, I toyed with the idea of fixing a mistake and decided instead to pat it on the head and move along.  So this is me moving along.

(Thank God that tomorrow is the twelfth - and last - day of Christmas).

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Ninth Day

There are a series of storms lined up to move, one by one, into California over the next week or so.  A fair amount of rain is forecast (three cheers for that), which gave us the push needed to tackle a project that we've put off for far too long

Several years I had the idea to place a large flat rock to serve as a bridge over the drainage ditch that leads to the pond.  At the same time, I had the less-bright idea to put in two 12" metal culvert pipes for the water to go through.  I don't remember why I thought this was necessary.  But the worst idea of all was planting willow cuttings all up and down the banks.

The willows loved their new home and each year have taken over more and more of the ditch.  I tried to keep up with the pruning, but let it slip by me last year.  Blame it on the drought.  This winter we discovered that willow roots had almost completely clogged both pipes under our stone bridge.

With rain on it's way, it was time to remove the pipes so that the water wouldn't flow over the road

It took us the better part of the day to get those pipes out of there.  Bruce used the Kabota tractor to do the heavy lifting and pulling, but we also attacked the pipes with shovels, log rollers, loppers (to cut willow roots), and even a small serrated trowel.

We finally managed to drag the stone bridge out of the way, get both pipes lifted out and the stone moved back.   It was almost dark by then, so clean-up must wait.  But now the runoff from next week's rains will run under the bridge.

Tomorrow I put on my teacher hat again.  Lesson plans are finished and, while not as ready as I'd like to be (I rarely am), I'm ready enough.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Eighth Day

I woke up at three in the morning and lay there worrying about life, school and all the things I hadn't done over break.  Silly thing to do: lying in bed and fretting.  After half an hour of this and feeling more miserable with every minute, I decided DO something: go my classroom for a few hours today to check it over and just make things a bit more welcoming for the students and myself come Monday morning.  With that settled, I got up to feed the cats, made coffee and brought a cup back to bed with me.   There I relaxed and read my book with Arby cuddled next to me.

The classroom was still, dark and cold when Bruce dropped me off at school around noon (we had a sushi lunch beforehand, so I was well-fortified).  He left to get a haircut and I marched over to Room 7 and walked through the door to my "teacher" life.  The plants in the window looked droopy and sad and one very possibly had withered away.  I switched on the heat and, then watered all the plants (the one that looked dead actually seemed to have a bit of life right at its base after all).  I threw away last year's calendars and put up a colorful new one:  photographs of horses.  Then my friend Sally stopped by with a bag of oranges.  It was so good to see her and just chat for a little while -- that is the blessing of a friend.  After she left, I changed one of my bulletin boards.  And that was all I did -- it wasn't much, but it was enough.  I left the heat on very low so the room would be warm on Monday morning when I came in from yard duty.

Bruce came to pick me up and we decided to drive the long way home, along the Stanislaus River.  It was the only sight-seeing journey I made over the last two weeks, but I enjoyed gazing out at the landscape of water, trees, cows, egrets, clouds and houses.  On reflection, observing the world rolling past as I looked out the window was a lot like lying in bed with my coffee while reading A Circle of Quiet.

There was a point during these winter days at home when I was acutely disappointed by their dullness and sameness.  I also felt guilty for not wishing to celebrate Christmas this year.  Yet I lacked the energy or will to do more than just rest and be still.  So that's what I did.  And, without consciously realizing it,  I  built the space to begin coming to terms with the sorrow of Becky's passing.  In the process, I've begun to appreciate again the sorts of things that I love:  books, music, fire glowing in the woodstove, birds on the feeders, ice on the pond, some lovely rain storms, pruning trees,  warming my hands at the burn pile, Scrabble in the evenings with the love of my life...

 Oh, and of course, coffee in bed.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Seventh Day

New Year's Day:  I spent it cleaning the house for a visit from an elderly former neighbor, Faye, and her great-grandson, Kel.

I had no idea what I wanted on this first day of the new year...but was certain that I did not want to spend the morning dusting and vacuuming.  Or putting on make-up and fixing my hair.  Or dealing with company of any sort.  But Faye has been a faithful admirer of Cornelius from back in the days when she lived on the other side of the road and fed him carrots on a regular basis.  And Kel had been with her sometimes when she stopped to feed treats.  I didn't know him very well, but when he was about nine, I let him get up on Corny bareback.  His little legs almost stuck out sideways on my broad-backed horse, but he perched up there like a small, very enthusiastic sultan.

Kel lives in the Bay Area with his mother, but visits Faye every Christmas.  In spite of my doldrums, I decided to get Corny cleaned up and saddled today so that Kel, if he wanted to,  could really ride for the first time.  When they drove up, he hopped out of the car I saw that he'd turned into a long-legged almost teenager.  I wondered if this sixth-grader had turned too old or too cool to want to ride.  I needn't have worried.  He dashed up to us and, without even taking the time to say hello,  begged to ride.  I think he might have actually hopped up and down a bit.

I smiled and told him, of course -- that Corny had been waiting for him.

My horse was bemused by this  enthusiastic human.  He liked this kind boy who chattered on about everything, but who also intuitively knew how to stroke a horse's nose so very gently.

We didn't do much except walk around the arena and then head across the pasture back to the house.  But the sky was very blue, the sun shone and the dogs frolicked.

Kel beamed down at the world from the back of his noble steed.  Corny was obviously delighted to be carrying this young man.  And I --  I was just happy to be surrounded by such happiness.

A good beginning to a new year.