June 2015
May 2015
April 2015

Ironstone Vineyards


Sorensen's Resort

Red Johnson's Novel

Diet Drops online

New York Fitness

Mountain Auto

McEnroe& Turner
Law Office

WOOF Grooming

Amador Farmers Market 2015

Motherlode Appliance

Jackson Creek Dental




An Exclusive ongoing Plymouth School Garden series
By Michael & Little Amber Spinetta


2008 & 2009

Crabs Walk Sideways, Lobsters Walk Straight  
Springing into Spring  
Working to Play

Just One More Game
Winter's End
Honey of a School

Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
Fourteen Days of Spring
Vista Seating and Garden Sitting
A Swine on the Lamb goes Well with Drytown Wine
Now, Now my Good Mantis is no Time for Making Enemies
UCCE Central Sierra Four-County Partnership
Learning from History
The Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish
How to Build a Better Library

Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#31  How to Build a Better Library

Once again, I did not want to read the rules of Arthur Shapiro’s ‘beer-for-a-butterfly’ contest. I know now that the contest does not apply to my county – nor to my butterfly. The blog post "Pop Goes the Pieris" by Kathy Garvey on http://ucanr.org states it’s all over anyway.

The good professor captures a cabbage white specimen and wins again. He must wash his car with Gatorade and drive around attracting the flittering things. And here I sit stupidly in the middle of my own butterfly garden with a Satyr Anglewing mocking me, landing in my friend’s hair, teasing my cat, tasting my calendulas. So you don’t end up like me, please visit:
http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/butterfly/Pieris/rapae and read, read, read.

UCCE & Our School

Readers have asked how the Master Gardeners are involved with Plymouth Elementary School. Teacher Toni Linde asked Chris Taylor to plant a butterfly garden in 2004, and students kept records of plant growth and cycles. The garden has since flourished, diminished, and reached a happy medium. Students are more aware of their environment: one in particular demanded better food in the cafeteria, and now there is breakfast program with a salad bar coming soon. Thanks, Brook Velasquez.

Plants that were bad for the school have been taken out – like the Cyprus that would have broken up the school’s foundation, and the impossible-to-maintain junipers in which I found a Pepsi can from the 1960’s. Two test plots of UC Davis’ "Arboretum All-Stars" are thriving on and off campus.

When the kids helped to prune the plants yesterday, we left the cuttings in the beds so parents and teachers can take them home to hold back an eroding slope, fill in a bereft yard, or simply make a spouse happy with beautiful roses.

Flowers & Paintings

The "Bulbs for Books" program succeeded. The 1100+ bulbs are in the ground in front of the school and will hopefully give yellow blooms on March 2nd, 'Read Across America Day'. Why then? That’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday (and the release date of the Lorax movie, too)!

Right now, I’m sketching out about 20 canvasses large and small with the Cat in the Hat and balloon themes in them. Why balloons? Yellow balloons with tags for pen pals were the rewards for my mom’s reading program. Why paintings? Be-cause the students are good at it, as evidenced in this month’s photo. And yes, the paintings will not at all draw from my mom’s library fund mentioned below. Please read more and help out if you can.

Laura Spinetta Library

Plymouth Elementary School will double the size of its library this winter, and the Laura Spinetta Library Fund has been established to fund this project. Supporters will raise $25,000 to expand the school’s library, and Charles Spinetta initiated the fundraising with a $7,500 donation. "We ask the community to help with this project because improving the school library is important for our children", said Mr. Spinetta. "Several people will make significant donations, and everybody agrees that enriching the library is a wonderful tribute to my wife as well as a great asset for our students and their teachers."

The library will be named after Laura Spinetta, who volunteered as a librarian at Plymouth Elementary School for many years. She organized the library, recruited a volunteer staff, and made the library a comfortable place for students. Laura’s work encouraged teachers and students alike, and she taught the fundamentals of using a library for research and enjoyment to countless children. She also helped establish reading programs at Plymouth Elementary School and appreciated support from many local businesses and neighbors who donated time, money, and supplies whenever the library needed help.

Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Amador County School District, explained the specifics of the library’s project. "We are going to double the square foot-age of the school’s library and purchase a wide assortment of new books as well as shelving and supplies. Our students will discover a welcoming room with an abundance of books!"

She explained that the theme of the Laura Spinetta Library would be inspired by Dr. Seuss’ "The Cat in the Hat". The Laura Spinetta Library Fund has been established with the Amador Community Foundation. Donations should be made payable to Amador Community Foundation with Laura Spinetta Library Fund noted on the check. Please mail your donations to P.O. Box 1154, Jackson CA 95642. You may also donate at http://www.amadorcommunityfoundation.org/spinetta.html

The butterfly, a cabbage-white, (His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight.
~Robert Graves, "Flying Crooked"

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#30 The Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish

My daughter Amber and I take out Christmas decorations after Thanksgiving, and put them away after Epiphany – out of respect to the local Serbian community’s traditions. But we leave the icicle lights up all year in case Amber needs a special day. That’s just an aside to a greater thing happening in Amador County...

Our New Parish

The last evening in November saw an important celebration at the (formerly named) Amador Catholic Center in Martell. Bishop Jaime Soto presided over a liturgy that blended our three Parishes into one in name, community, and location. The former Parishes of The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Conception, and Saint Patrick are now the Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish with Father Lawrence Beck as pastor. Photo courtesy: A rainbow arcs behind a stone cross atop a mausoleum on Good Friday in 2009 in the Plymouth Catholic cemetery.

Saint Katharine Drexel

What a wonderful woman to identify with our local Catholic family. The banker’s family she was born into breaks all current stereotypes of that industry. Born in 1858, just six months after one of the last horrific events of Bleeding Kansas called the Marais des Cygnes Massacre, St. Katharine could easily have been physically and financially sheltered from the violence and resultant poverty of the on-coming Civil War.

However, for example, her family chose to regularly support and feed the poor in their own home, and she thus learned what was right and wrong at an early age. From the time in her youth when she secretly used her clothing stipend to buy a statue of the Blessed Virgin for a church, through the legacy of 96 years of a well spent life, she and her two sisters gave what is valued today in the hundreds of millions to schools, missions, and other community centers through St. Katharine’s belief in the Holy Eucharist.

The Blessed Sacrament

During the late 1880’s, St. Katharine and her two sisters traveled through the miasmatic situations of the peoples most affected in the post Civil War era. At the Pope’s suggestion, St. Katharine entered the Religious life in 1891 and founded a new group based on combating racism through education and hard work. To quote the website: "As Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, we believe God calls us to be a sign in the world of the power of the Eucharistic Christ to effect unity and community among all peoples.

Guided by the spirit of Katharine Drexel, we are called to share the Gospel message with the poor, especially among the Black and Native American peoples and to challenge the deeply rooted injustice in the world today." Personally, it seems to me this is a pure, active, daily form of what Thanksgiving in America should be. St. Katharine survived with her vow of a poverty of spirit, while her family’s wealth was used to bring disparate groups around our nation together.

The Sacramento Diocese

Some in our Parish say that St. Katharine’s name is appropriately associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. Sacramento’s name means "Sacrament" or "Lord's Supper." The first Catholic mass in California was held in 1850 in a house on 5th and L St. in Sacramento. In 1852, the first Catholic priest was recorded traveling through our local missions, leading to the subsequent founding of the St. Bridget church in 1854 – the same year Amador County was created.

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The Parish Center

The Parish Center in Martell symbolizes the unity of Amador’s long standing Italian, Irish, Californios and other cultures’ Catholic community. Historically, there were active churches in our now small cities – but remember – even Drytown used to have tens of thousands of people set up in tents, however many of those going to St. Stephen's, because it was impossible to travel to a central point every Sunday. In modern big cities, collecting Parishes together would seem a thing of progress, but in our ‘small town of a county’ we are so connected to our old churches and Parish boundaries, this is more of a marriage of the Parishes.

For example, living on the "far end of the county", I know many people in Jackson who have never seen Shenandoah Valley. Now, maybe the new norm will be meeting new friends around the county and ridesharing with neighbors. It may not bring everyone to extremities, but bring all to the middle. The building itself is coalescing into the beauty of a church. The spirituality of the newly consecrated grounds will come about through artwork and architecture, like the Crucifixion mural by Leona Garibaldi in Plymouth and the Pinotti Steps in Sutter Creek.

The parishioners’ spirit will show externally first with the display of the Cross on rock facing. The building currently has a small chapel inside, where Mass is currently celebrated on Thursdays and Fridays at 8 AM. My daughter and I eagerly await going to Mass there on Sundays.


Visit www.amadorcatholics.org  for updates; www.kzub.com/stdrexel  for a well-produced video; www.katharinedrexel.org for more information. Please contribute to: Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish, 11361 Prospect Drive, Jackson, CA 95642, (209) 223-2970, M-F, 9 AM - 4:30 PM.

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#29 Learning from History

Amber’s ‘Baba’ – my Mom – passed away last month. My brother Jim ‘volunteered me’ to work at my old school and Mom told me to write this column (formerly titled Plymouth Elementary School Gardens) as a way to have a positive hobby with Amber. If you knew her and want to learn more, you can find two pages online. One is written by my brother Tony and the other is by Mike Dunne of the Sacramento Bee. Both celebrate the dedication she had to children and to the land. Photo courtesy Mike Spinetta

Mom the Librarian

She volunteered as the librarian and K/1 music teacher at the elementary school for over two decades. The sound of kids stomping up the metal stairs leading up to that drab-colored, single-wide full of books is one of a dozen lingering memories there.

Another is the pictographic sticker system she applied to the book spines that showed if they were a romance (a heart) sci-fi (a rocket ship) or whatever other genre. Poring over the encyclopedias (NOT Google), re-shelving and repairing books, reading newly delivered periodicals like Cricket, Highlights, and World. The Dewey Decimal System, specifically 741.5 for comics, and resultantly labeling my Scholastic order books FIC BLU for Superfudge, FIC ALEX for The Black Cauldron, and so on, and so forth.

Reading Programs

Mom was well known to encourage communal education. She created a reading program in 1982 in which students had to read a certain number of books, depending on grade level, to receive one balloon. (The photo above is from the year-book showing her in November of that year with an enthusiastic student.)

Each balloon carried a tag so pen pals might find the student's name with the school’s address and write back. Students participated to such a degree that the principal, Rick Carder, looked lost in the thousands of balloons hovering in the school cafeteria. And yes, multiple dozens of pen pals were made from the experience, some across state lines.

About six months ago, my brother Jim came up with "Bulbs for Books" that he’s going to use for the seventh and eighth graders in Ione. I kind of stole the idea, and with a thousand daffodil bulbs from Amador Flower Farm, we’ve implemented it here in Plymouth. The after school reading clinic kids and the extended learning kids, about 60 in total, are participating. Once the goal of a thousand is reached, the bulbs will be planted by the kids on the Amador County Fair-grounds and on campus. Mom thought this was a pretty cool idea. I have no idea how she did things with the entire school, but there was a lot less of a time restraint in the school day back then.

The cool thing is that the daffs should be blooming come 'Read Across America Day' – March 2, and 'National Grammar Day' – March 4. Surely the kids will remember exactly where they plant their bulbs and maybe read a few more books now and then. My mom’s past volunteer efforts will be honored at one of the planting sites at the school, and I’d like to thank the teachers there very much for that. Another point of recollection is that my mom made it mandatory for my eighth grade and senior class write thesis and research projects. If the Class of ‘92 didn’t have the highest cumulative grade point average by the time we graduated, it sure felt like it.

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Mimeographed Music

The smell of that old blue ink paper pushing machine in the office is tattooed in my nose. Sooo many sheets of lyrics for kids to put in order and so many songs learned through osmosis in classrooms and on the piano bench at home. All that back then and watching Mom and Amber play and sing the same songs, especially Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf... and all our Christmas music means more because of all the programs she played for at the school... it’s all an endless loop of good times.

Cookies in the Vineyard

Always, always, always giant bags of granola side by side with cookies ready for us to eat in the garage freezer when we were working in the fields. Biscotti, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, M & M, Hershey Kiss, sugar cookies, and most of all, peanut butter cookies. I have the last two fork-pressed peanut butter cookies (Amber ate the third one when she saw the bag in my truck) and I’m going to keep them in my freezer like all good Italian kids do with their relatives’ best recipes. Sometimes those cookies would appear in our lockers at school along with Whoppers and fries, too. The best thing, though, was the smell of sweet rolls for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Cups of drizzled sugar all over them, yum! Candied walnuts from the trees of our ranch – all these things made sure we weren’t cold in the winter. And no matter what happens, I don’t think we ever will be cold.

Support Local Schools

Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642. 257-7800 to donate materials or time.

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#28 UCCE Central Sierra Four-County Partnership

This month's article is mostly dedicated to informing you about the University of California Cooperative Extension Central Sierra multi-county partnership serving Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and El Dorado counties. Here are Q&A quoted (and modified to fit this format) from a flier sent out recently. Photo by Michael Spinetta, A Swallowtail ready to alight upon a "Pink Delight" buddleia davidii (butterfly bush) planted at Spinetta Family Vineyards.

What’s New, CE?

The CE is funded cooperatively through the UC, and federal, state, and county government. This will continue, but instead of keeping the funds separate at the county level, multiple counties will pool resources, capturing efficiencies in administration and putting more resources into program delivery.

There will still be a CE office in each county with part time program staff serving the public. The El Dorado County office will serve as a central administrative hub and will be open full time. Each CE advisor will have a more defined area of specialization, allowing all advisors to better utilize their strengths. New advisors covering other subjects will be made available to you.

The general public will be able to draw upon an expanded pool of expertise regardless of county boundary. In fact, more resources could be available as larger populations and acreage may attract more or greater grant funds. Strong agricultural companies create new jobs. The re-search grants that UCCE brings into the county create job opportunities and an entrée for young scholars into the business world.

The community will continue to have access to educational programs and expertise in nutrition, healthy living, youth development, agriculture, home gardening, animal husbandry, forestry, and natural resources. Therefore, the Master Gardener, Master Food Preserver, and 4-H Youth Development volunteers will continue to serve at the county level. 4-H Community Clubs will maintain their local presence. Youth in 4-H, along with their parents, donate hundreds of hours to creative local community service.

We certify over 300 adults state-wide to work with youth, using the latest research on youth development practices to instill qualities our young people need to succeed. For example, the 4-H Program reaches out to military kids, offering them fun experiences while cultivating their coping skills.

Cooperative Extension’s multidisciplinary approach pro-vides leadership and innovation through applied research, education and service in addressing California’s decline in youth science achievement. The 4-H SET Initiative provides innovative out-of-school models, curricula, deliveries, and professional development for effectively engaging youth in self-directed learning and discovery.

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What More, CE?

CE collaborates with many UC researchers to help solve the current environmental, agricultural or quality of life issues affecting residents of Amador, El Dorado, and Tuolumne Counties. Techniques developed by the farm advisor keep tons of soil in place, preventing erosion and saving valuable topsoil. Farm advisors also teach farm and land owners ways to improve efficiency and to use less water.

UCCE was instrumental in the creation of the Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District – now in its 6th year of operation. Cooperative Extension is the neutral party bringing together entities who need to work together to find workable solutions to vexing issues. Locally UCCE facilitated changes in agricultural zoning in Calaveras to allow hundreds of agriculturally related business opportunities. UCCE worked with residents affected by the Angora fire to develop voluntary guidelines for replanting in the burn area and coordinated with other agencies to provide vouchers to residents to purchase plants at local nurseries. The UCCE diagnostic lab is often the first point of detection for new plant diseases and in-sects that could harm California crops. UCCE farm advisors inform farmers about the most effective ways to treat pests. Using scientifically tested treatments can save thousands of dollars.

UCCE worked with local agencies to create the Calaveras Garden-to-Family program that provides excess fresh produce from local farmers and gardeners to a local food bank. Trained Master Gardeners provide practical scientific gardening information, answering help lines, staffing information booths, creating demonstration gardens, and presenting workshops. They provide hundreds of  volunteer hours each year. Innovative practices can provide targeted local solutions.

Support Local Schools

Plymouth Elementary School's programs and classes like First Five Bridge, Special Ed, Extend-ed Learning, Kindergarten (and more) have art and ag projects completed and underway. BTW, Kudos to Karson, Jessie, and Charlie at ELP for laying out the red and white (school colors) checkered pavers for the container garden. Wait ‘til you read here in upcoming months about the sundial made from a potter’s wheel, Rotary pouring wine to raise school funds at the Farmer’s Market, and more...

Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642. Call the school at (209) 257-7800 to donate materials or time.

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#27 Now, Now my Good Mantis is no Time for Making Enemies

Apologies to Voltaire for the title of this month’s column. But I’ve learned from his words. Why make an enemy of the mantises that eat the caterpillars in my butterfly gardens? I shall neither make their life comfortable nor call a pied piper to take them away, but enough already. Photo by Michael Spinetta A monarch butterfly vigorously drinks from a thistle in the "Fun and Yummy Chenin Blanc" plot at the Spinetta Family Vineyards in Shenandoah Valley.

Mantis is Annoying!

Why is the mantis circle of life in my yard centered on my daughter’s little patio table? The mantis that jumped into her breakfast cereal – hard enough to splash us with milk – was leaping from its regular station near the "spider web bed". That bed is in full sun, and I regularly see up to three mantises at once stealing wayward bugs from their spider captors. Sometimes though, the food chain is reversed. Now, I have seen mantises in Spinetta Family Vineyards attack and be attacked by ants all the time. In the last month, I have watched ants carry two mantis corpses to that kiddie table and chow down. Really, I don’t know why. I don’t want to know why. I want them to stop and go away, but with what I’ve seen in nature, that’s not going to happen.

Mantis or Humantis?

Every year there is an enormous hatch of mantises at the hilltop plantings of our Chenin Blanc / Barbera vines. This year, the hatch was delayed past the typical early summer time. The big hatch happened in early August, and I know that because when I find mantises all over me on a daily basis, it’s kind of like being on another planet there. From miniscule 1/8" long babies to 3"+ adults, the pests out there stand no chance. Mantises will stay on me when I am driving the tractor. And from that vantage, I can see one mantis egg sac per post in the vineyard – at least. Amazing.

Oh yes, one more link in the food chain is felis domesticus. My cat cornered a mantis and was punching and teasing it enough to get the mantis to scream. It put chills down my spine, so I left the two alone. Both walked away fine. A week later though, another mantis was the aggressor to me, flying through the back yard to bite a bit of flesh out of my hand. That mantis survived, too.

So, morally, I believe my cat and I are justified letting these space aliens for insects survive. And the balance of our peace counters the army of ants attacking them. Just leave my butterflies alone (ironically, that one goes out to my cat, too.)

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Mantises on Film

I took a video about all this, too. You can also see the Monarch that was dive bombing me while I was on my tractor. I think he liked the orange paint on the Kubota. Check it out: http://youtu.be/45BZo5XfvF0

Pest Problems?

Not enough mantises in your yard? UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines and more information about managing pests, including University of California's official guidelines for monitoring pests and using pesticides and non-pesticide alternatives for managing insect, mite, nematode, weed, and disease pests. There’s also a great weed key. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/crops-agriculture.html Click "Grape". www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/selectnewpest.grapes.html Oh! "Black Widows": www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/r302302311.html  You can also see when the information was last reviewed.
Photo: Courtesy Mike Spinetta,
A praying mantis is rescued from my darling, dear daughter Amber's breakfast cereal

Support Local Schools

Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#26 A Swine on the Lamb goes Well with Drytown Wine

Runaway Baby
It’s not just the Amador County Fair that’s exciting. Even the ride to the fair can make lifetime memories. The 240-pound pig, Baby Edison, decided he’d take a pit stop before his ride to the big show. Owner Zach Conrardy didn’t know this was in store when he loaded his first ever Gold Nugget 4-H animal into the trailer earlier that afternoon.

It’s not common that live-stock is loaded in the midday heat – it’s usual for the creatures to come to fair early on Tuesday. Was that ten year old in for a surprise! "Since the pens were not ready that morning, we had to take Ed later in the day to weigh him in," said Jim Swift, the chauffer of the vehicle. "We were driving on Highway 49 through Drytown when Ed kicked the tailgate right off the trailer. I slowed down and pulled over near the driveway of Drytown Cellars."

Mayla Swift, 18, of the Sutter Creek FFA took over at that point. She drove the swine up the hill from the highway. Zach caught up with her and they both held sticks to guide the pig to the safety of the tasting room parking lot hundreds of feet up the hill. Once the junior agrarians reached the summit, they were greeted by Drytown Cellars winemaker Jon Campbell. Jon couldn’t believe what he saw at first, because typically one’s food is cooked when wine is at hand. Jon got a punchbowl full of water and gave the kids the hose to cool down the poor little piggy.

Since Drytown Cellars didn’t have a corral and a chute handy to reload Ed, a friend brought a lowboy by and made it to fair safely. By the way, Mayla’s pig stayed in the trailer, making this affair much easier to deal with.

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According to Zach Conrardy’s poster above his pig’s pen, Baby Edison, "...is a Pietrain Hamp-shire cross breed. The Pietrain breed is raised in many different countries. Edison was purchased in Iowa. The Pietrain breed is known to have big shoulders and like the Hampshire, produce a lot of meat. An interesting fact is that the birthplace of the breed was a village in Belgium named Pietrain."

"...When I first got Edison I thought he was going to be boring and lazy, but then I realized he was kind and social (for a pig). Over the past several months Edison and I have had great fun together. Even though sometimes we had our ups and downs, I know I still love him." "You know, someone had to teach me my skills and those people are Mayla Swift and Ed Fulton. Mayla taught me how to control my pig, feed my pig, bathe my pig, work with my pig and much more. Thank you Mayla and Ed!"

This is why we should always have the 4-H, FFA, Grange, Master Gardeners, and a variety of other agricultural resources locally. These children demonstrated through writing, action, and the love of what they do that agriculture is very valuable in the modern day. Visit http://ucanr.org/sites/AC4H/Community_Clubs/Gold_Nugget_4-H_Club

To the graciousness of Amador Flower Farm to supply dozens of daylilies and grapevines for the City of Plymouth Fair Booth. To the staff at City Hall – next year we’ll get first place! To Rochelle Cooper over at the Shenandoah Valley (of the Moooon) fair booth: nice painting of dancing steers! And they were not cows, they were definitely steers.

Those butterflies you raised in the Buena Vista Butterfly Farm booth, Lish Baylor, were put to good use. The hundreds and hundreds of little blue eggs on the potted cheese weed and plantain hatched on my dining room table. My box of Wheat Thins was conquered overnight. Some of the 30 or so Monarchs and Painted Lady butterflies in the cage you let me borrow were released at the first farmer’s market of the year in Plymouth a couple weeks ago. About a dozen kids stood still over next to the buddleias in the park on Main Street and the butterflies land all over them for over an hour.

No Thanks
To the preying mantises in my yard: stop eating my caterpillars!

Support Local Schools
Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#25 Vista Seating and Garden Sitting

Weather’s Good for 'Tempest'

Amador County’s modern music venue at Helwig Winery’s Amphitheater is a must to visit for sight and sound. Tempest, a professional Celtic band from Oakland, played to an intimate crowd the evening of July 8th. Clarity Sound did a wonderful job blending their talents with the band’s, and provided a very intense yet not loud show. It seems the acoustics of the amphitheater and the landscape work, and it makes me want to hear a concert from inside the cave. I did not need ear-plugs, and could carry on a conversation anywhere. The theater absorbed sound so well, I’m hoping they don’t plan to grow any vines down the main face.

While the sun was up, the snow crested Sierras (yes it’s July) looked spectacular. It was like the music was played to keep the mountains as sleeping giants, but then, maybe some of it was to give them a little night quake. Original tunes, including "Captain Morgan", were the first of many great stories to be told that night. Personally, the traditional song Eppy Moray was my favorite to sit and listen to with eyes closed (and mouth open to wine). The sun set during intermission, and the band gave a quiet, impromptu non-song to the end of the day. What a way to paint that dusk landscape with music that built slowly from then to a raucous yet controlled couple of last songs.

From another Mike in the audience falling in love with the "Queen of Argyle" to whatever was played last because I wasn’t taking notes anymore – I was on my feet. For a first effort, Helwig’s was applaudable. I’m encouraged by overhearing the staff figuring out during the show how to make folks more comfortable next time. For example, I learned how the plan for parking to accommodate a full house will work. It was smart for Helwig to try out a smaller crowd the first time, putting a toe in the water rather than jumping in blindly. And absolutely a first rate choice of music to bless the Valley – many happy returns, fellows. The next scheduled show is the Dave Russell Band on August 27, 2011 from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. For tickets, call (209) 245-5200, or www.helwigwinery.com 

Garden Sitting
Others' yards have greener grass and riper lettuce. O'er the fence oases provide a getaway from one's own garden duties. More than I like alliterative over the top paragraphs, I love sitting on my friend's porch (when she's on vacation) kicking back and eating her food while I water the plants. The best part is the irrigation system and hoses are manageable and not something only the 'management' gets. Unlike the entertainment system her front room that is maladaptive enough to keep me outside. But the outdoors had its cautionary ‘tails’ too, like dealing with the wandering dog getting into her garbage cans and cat food.

One bed at this old Amador homestead provided the first fruit of the year - a golf ball-sized tomato on July 18. Yep, that's what 54.40" of precipitation and a dozen snow events did to the grow days locally. The Shasta daisies seeded two years ago bloomed on the tenth and the black-eyed Susan's just winked their petals. The corn is below knee high - lower than a baby elephant's eye - and I heard from a tasting room customer corn also isn't doing so well above or below the Bible Belt.

Of interest here is the old ash pile garden. This land is well settled by old Italians, and its green rubbish and leaves has been burned in the same place for a dozen decades. The current owner spread out the pile and let it lay back in June at the end of burning season. A couple weeks later melons, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, peppers, chamomile, corn, and more sprouted! The nearby compost pile even has a nine-foot long mystery cucurbid springing forth, and lemon balm, kale, and other volunteers to boot.

Dear reader, the benefits of relaxing and caring for a vacationer's yard follow. I know a bit of brown trout was caught in another state's river and will migrate here to my plate in a cooler. I'll also have pretty good salad mixes coming at me from now 'til the grape harvest. She and her beau already left me some fresh plum jelly and a half gallon of day-old pesto his in-law made. And yum, a leftover marinated cheese and salami dish, too.

Support Local Schools
Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#24  Fourteen Days of Spring

I finally have a farmer’s tan! It even got hot enough to break a sweat this week. I have been home gardening at night the last couple weeks anyway, with my daughter deftly weeding away. We’re building a new bed for a winter garden – it was going to be for our summer garden, but we’ve been flooded out. The bed will be rustic and utilitarian thanks to some brain-storming with a friend. Quartz and marble from local mines will line the side facing the house. Flat concrete block will line the opposite side where the walkway is so no one gets stubbed toes. In theory, at least.

Mown Rows Grow Slow

But right now, I’m outside taking a break from mowing our family’s vineyard. We’ve promoted no-till treatment to our soil for decades, and our hills stay knit together in exceptionally rainy years. Dozens of acres of dandelions brighten the rows, but the grass is reedy, tall, and thick. I have to drive my brand-new Kubota tractor gently the first 50 hours anyway, but this is ridiculous – down at 3rd and 4th gear in June? More like the first pass through in March. The vines grew more this second week of June than in the previous two months.

Cane drop is just beginning in the Barbera vineyard atop our hill, and the grapes will surely bloom someday. Other than being a bit behind, our vineyard was spared major frost and hail damage this year and the crop looks okay. Our Mediterranean climate offers the calmest non-weather in the world, but let’s not be surprised by anything. I remember in June 1992 that a funnel cloud touched down on our property, and it snowed for three days. And these five years of cooling weather are tricky – don’t be fooled by the temperature – there’s potential for a bad fire season with all this grass. So keep things cleared out safely around your house.

A Rose of a Rosé

Our "fun and yummy pink wine" Rosé, affectionately termed "Rose" by our customers, took Best of Class Rosé at the Amador County Fair! The Rosé made it into the top four -- and maybe the top two? -- and barely missed Best of Show. Sweet wines are showing well nowadays, and we’ve made them like this since the mid-eighties. Come into our tasting room one weekend at 12557 Steiner Road in Shenandoah Valley and I’ll pour you a taste!

Vineyard Videos

We’ve ten years of vineyard stories online, and now we’re making iPhone videos. It’s pretty cool seeing my brother Jim show how to bud over a vine. Check them out at our website www.charlesspinettawinery.com  when you’re online next!

They’re at the Theater

There’s a new local venue in the heart of Shenandoah Valley. Near the intersection of Steiner Road, Shenandoah School Road, and Shenandoah Road stands the amphitheatre at Helwig Winery. Plan to be at the first-ever concert there on Friday, July 8th, when the Celtic band Tempest will play to an intimate crowd. Dinner and a wine glass are included in the $45 admission – and so is the drop- dead view of the Sierras. The theatre is North facing, so it will likely be comfortable in the summer.

For tickets, go online to www.helwigwinery.com or call (209) 245-5200. Doors open at 5:30 pm; Tempest plays 7- 9pm. Better yet, local people should come out and visit the Valley. Just buy your ticket over the bar at 11555 Shenandoah Road!

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Long-Lived Lavender

Speaking of famous local intersections, think about where Fiddletown Road and Shenandoah Road converge just outside of Plymouth. I’ve been watching for umpteen years a lavender plant grow in the ditch there. If I’ve ever seen a domestic plant naturalize, this surely has. It’s been run over, in a fire, frozen, through drought, and probably chewed on by a cow. Why is it there? Was it on its way to South River Lavender Farm or Amador Flower Farm when the delivery cart got upsot? I will never know, but it is a lovely yet savage plant in my mind and maybe it has a lesson to teach. Maybe through an accident, someone can adapt, survive, and thrive in the worst of circumstances, and be beautiful nonetheless. I don’t know what moral to apply, but maybe next time I’ll write about the palm tree growing in the same ditch two miles further down (not sure it made it through the winter).

As always, please donate to your local schools, and help us give more to the kids at Plymouth Elementary. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.

Plymouth Elementary School Gardens
#17 January 2010
Crabs Walk Sideways, Lobsters Walk Straight
By Michael and Little Amber Spinetta

Amber cannot pen this month’s column because she is playing with the "MusicNotes" and "Rooster Piano" apps on the iPhone.

Arboretum All-Stars
Six new plants are part of our UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars experiment at the school this year: Aster novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'; Bulbine frutescens; Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman'; Floribunda rose 'Korbin' or 'Iceberg'; Osmanthus x fortuneii 'San Jose'; and Ribes viburnifolium Evergreen Currant. These will be described in following columns.

At this point, I feel the aster and currant will perform quite well. I like looking at roses, but I am not a rose person; I prefer someone else to care for a thorn bush. I promise I will water this plant sometimes, Karrie, but if it gets powdery mildew ... arrrgh Heidi likes the look of the osmanthus – the budding leaves are very showy. The sage tastes very nice this time of year: it’s a bit sweet and I want to cook with it already.

We repotted these plants, and they will be kept out of the new Arboretum All-Stars bed (by the school cafeteria) until a bit later in winter. It’s a chilly year when the snow girl on my lawn lasts a whole week, and the aloes and geranium on my porch melt while under a shelter.

By the way, Amber and her cousin Sierra put six pink roses in place of the snow girl’s "hair." They also wanted to play outside when it was ten degrees on that cold December Monday. I said no, how about hot chocolate and marshmallows? Okay!!! Later, we and lots of others tromped down the middle of Main Street in the snow! Interested in local precipitation history? Visit my family’s winery website

PEP Club Crab Feed
The kids need playground benefactors right now – the photo from my October column shows a jungle gym that is no longer there. Almost 200 attended the 6th Annual PEP Club Crab Feed on January 16th at Pokerville Hall in Plymouth. The Esquires put the funky blues to everyone there, and even the crabs got up off the plates and did the eight- legged boogie woogie.

The fifth graders raised some cash for their Science Camp trip with the big tip jar and the sales of the yummy desserts they made with their parents. Everything went well – however – even after the tally from this event, the first phase of the improvements is barely met. If you, dear reader, are interested in lending your body, sponsoring a piece of equipment, donating some soil or other materials, contact Sara Dentone of the PEP Club at the number at the end of the article. There will be many volunteer construction days coming up. The PEP Club is very grateful to the MANY local folks and businesses who participated in this event – you really care, and the kids will know that. Think globally by acting locally, your dollar is bigger when it is kept closer to home. These kids are part of the "plugged in" generation, let’s get them outside in the garden and on the playground! PEP Club is a nonprofit now, like Plymouth Elementary School Gardens, so keep this in mind at tax time, too.

FFA Dinner in March
If you’re hungry now, Argonaut High School student and Future Farmers of America Historian Leanne Weese has got the solution. Leanne says, "Come to the First Annual Argonaut FFA Booster Club Dinner at the Evelyn Bishop Hall in Ione Sat, March 27, 2010. Social hour begins at 6:00 p.m., dinner follows at 7:00 p.m. Electra Road will provide groovy music for dancing. More details forth-coming next month in this column. Contact Ryan Mendosa for tickets at 209.257.7726."

iPhone Applications
A couple of apps are useful for UCCE Master Gardeners. "Google Earth" is handy for an MG taking a phone call (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at 209.223.6838) from a flora-concerned citizen. Audubon’s nature guide apps are useful, especially "California Wild-flowers." Independently produced "Butterflies" and "iButterflies" are good in the field for lepidopteraddicts.

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Visit Online





Gardens & Playground Funds

Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary School Gardens Fund" or separately for new playground equipment, note "PEP Club" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642. Volunteers, call PEP Club at 209-257-7800. michaelspinetta@yahoo.com

Plymouth Elementary School Gardens
#18 March 2010 Springing into Spring
y Michael and Little Amber Spinetta

Amber cannot help write this month’s column because she is busy watching her goldfish, Dorothy, swim around the bowl wide world. Dorothy came to us from Jenae, whose skillful hand popped the ping pong ball into the special big fish bowl at the 2009 Amador County Fair. Sadly, Toto, the gray fish from the school carnival, wasn't around too long. Click your silver slippers three times and wish the best for Dorothy’s next Toto. Yes, that’s right, silver (the standard the populist farmers wanted for credit access) combined with the yellow brick gold standard. Well, now everyone has the plastic standard, so we’re all good for it. Whoops, I digress. Let’s stop and smell the poppies, I mean...

Narcissus for the Missus
There are a few great spots to check out daffodils this year. Five thousand are in bloom along Main Street Fiddletown right now. Tens of thousands are showing their faces on Steiner Road in Shenandoah Valley. Sixteen thousand more were planted at Daffodil Hill, bringing the total to umpteen zillion planted there. They aren’t in bloom all at once in all three spots, so you’re going to have to take a few relaxing road trips to the country. Just another excuse for you.

Arboretum All-Stars
It is a good idea to acknowledge those who fund the statewide portion of the UC Davis All-Stars program. They are: The Elvenia J. Slosson Endowment for Ornamental Horticulture; Saratoga Horticultural Research Endowment; and the California Association of Nurserymen Endowment for Research and Scholarship. You can also support the project by becoming one of the Friends of the Arboretum, which allows you to pick and choose from their Member Preview Sale on March 13 on site in Davis. Non-member AA-S sales are subsequently on April 10, 24, and May 15, 2010. And thanks to everyone else involved, btw.

FFA Dinner in March
Again, you are invited to buy tickets for the First Annual Argonaut FFA Booster Club Dinner (Tri-Tip!) at the Evelyn Bishop Hall in Ione at 6:00 p.m., Sat, March 27, 2010. Contact Ryan Mendosa for tickets ($18 each, but down to $12 each when you by a large table’s worth!) at 209.257.7726. The FFA Floral Class is arranging the centerpieces in artistic metal sculptures the shop class is designing. There will be silent and live auctions and a raffle. Proceeds will go to students who want to go to the state meet and to a forthcoming scholarship fund.

The Playground Breaks Ground
I made a mistake in last month’s article – PEP Club raised more money for the new playground than I reported, but yes, they do need more. Also, call the school for the next volunteer day to build the playground! We’re going to need a lot of hands to help build everything, and we need them now. The primary installation of the equipment is going on as you read this, so why not call and ask what you can do? I even heard on TV that volunteerism is good for your health, so hey, it’ll benefit everyone!

Visit Online
AA-S: http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/plant_sales_and_nursery.aspx; Butterfly Garden Timeline: http://michaelspinetta.com; Previous articles can be found online at: www.goldcountrytimes.com/plymouth_main.htm 

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Gardens & Playground Funds
Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary School Gardens Fund" OR separately for new playground equipment note "PEP Club" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642. Volunteers, call PEP Club at (209) 257-7800. We are also looking into using the resource website www.refresheverything.com   to post projects for grants; E-mail michaelspinetta@yahoo.com

"Inspired by when William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, came across a "long belt" of daffodils. Written in 1804. 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud'

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

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Plymouth Elementary School Gardens
#19 April 2010 Working To Play
y Michael & Little Amber Spinetta

Amber and I just visited the kindergartners at Pine Grove Elementary School. She showed the kids the painted lady caterpillars (that were born on her birthday) that many students up there will raise this spring. The kids also planted peas, poppies, and wildflowers in their beautiful school garden. And Amber loved the handfuls of worms – it’s always the worms – the kids showed her.

Work Hard Now
With the Amador County Unified School District’s necessity to cover a near $6 million deficit for the 2010 - 2011 school year, funding for the Agriculture Department and its related classes and programs are in jeopardy. It’s up to us as parents and members of the community to think differently and act in a positive way to protect and preserve localized vocations. We especially need the nearly 500 students in ACUSD ag classes to spend their free time figuring this out (text each other about it, kids!) Ranchers like Ray, Robert, and Mary near Camanche are willing to help out with soil for school gardens, and possibly much more than that if asked!

Amador County government is honing the FFA students’ abilities to persevere and grow through this situation with on-campus meetings and making Amador County Ag Department staff available for assistance. Mike Boitano, the Agriculture Commissioner, offers some advice to the students. “What you students do now is not just for you, it’s for the kids that are following you. If you do not promote strong Ag programs on each campus, there is a good chance that there will be no programs in the future. It is also my hope that past students and parents will always support these Ag programs. Agrieducation also gives practical experience to students who may not have ag backgrounds.” Even the “Class of 2010” must support the youngest inductees into ag classes and programs. Student/community ag interest is maturing, with rumors of a centralized certified kitchen in the works for small growers – a great opportunity for Amador High’s culinary kids. Alter-native forms of ag related education are also in the rumor mill. Let’s make it through the down time with our heads up, aware of what we can do together.

Work in the Vineyard
Amador High School students from Millie Butler’s Floral Design and Art classes took the annual field trip to Spinetta Family Vineyards. They learned about the culture of wildlife art in America, where our vinegar originates from and how it grows, responsible water use, and good agricultural practices. I showed how to prune a grapevine and Millie demonstrated how to weave the canes into wreathes. This year’s class was spot-on with their questions and was quite fun to teach. Members of the Amador Bonsai Society were also on hand to help. One bonsaier mentioned that their fiftieth inductee received a skull and crossbones-shaped poison oak bonsai.

Work Hard to Play
Heather Ketel’s fifth graders earned science camp funds by weeding the butterfly garden. They also received a bag of goodies from the California Fertilizer Foundation, CA Grown, and the California Foundation for Ag in the Classroom. This is what the garden’s about. If the kids maintain it, it will be used as a teaching tool and instrument of school pride. Good job, everyone.

Hard Work to Play

On this column’s website version you can see folks raising the first of the playground structures. Call PEP Club and volunteer!

Hard Work about Play
One of baby Dionysus’ first toys was a bronze hoop that he’d drive forward with a stick. Though the sport never made it into the Olympics, the innate need to play hoop and stick pervades most of the world’s cultures. Our school gave a short stack of wine barrel hoops to a student at a neighboring campus for a report on the old time game. He wrote back stating he got a ‘4’ on his presentation. Good job, Anthony.

Wordplay's Too Hard
Here’s a 140 character (Twitter truncation pun) limerick I wrote that did not win ragan.com’s National Grammar Day “March Forth on March 4th” competition: “California's dynamics of word-play," Miwok, Valley Girl, Silicon say, "Like, I live off the land, With iPhone in my hand, And I text all my friends all through the day!” When next you know not what you say, ask Grammar Girl.

Play Too Hard
http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com for eggheads; for caterpillars, http://buenavistabutterflies.com and for emerging farmers, the “Amador County FFA” Face-book page.

Gardens & Playground Funds
Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary School Gardens Fund" or separately for the playground note “Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund” and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642. Happy Ag Day back on March 20, by the way. michaelspinetta@yahoo.com  www.michaelspinetta.com

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Plymouth Elementary School Gardens
#20 July 2010 Just One More Game
By Michael & Little Amber Spinetta

Amber’s ‘hands are tired’ (her real-life excuse not to do things) and can’t write this month’s column. Although, she just “wrote” a sentence on the fridge with magnets, “AMBER is 4 Ni GIRl SCoUTs”.

What’s Good for Mother’s Day?
1. Buy live caterpillars from local farmer Lish Baylor around March 28 to time their emergence for the holiday. Ours hatched March 21 and took flight May 3 & 4. The cycle varies with household climates and outdoor weather. Lish taught me if a chrysalis falls, barely dip its knobby tip in a bubble of hot glue that is cooling. Other glues are toxic.
2. Or, if it’s cold, get mom a nice...Snood
Way back in the 1900’s a video game named Snood came out that was so good, it had a “One More Game” option to be used only during an emergency when a player was having too much fun.

Dave Dobson is the creator of this happy face laden game that is still available for Mac and PC platforms. Game play revolves around the player “saving” Snoods by matching sets of three or more. Why name it Snood? The game was named after a hand-me-down renamed fantasy football team with predetermined initials that was named after an inspirational protective hair snood in a lab gear catalog. That's why!

Mr. Dobson’s history with programming goes back to the 44 pound, 6” x 4” screen Commodore PETs that he and his buddies signed up to work on after elementary school. On many occasions, he tweaked the parameters of the programs and figured out how to push the limits of the code. And after messing with computers at school, they’d all go down to the local arcade. Through the years and many cassette-loading VIC 20’s and IBM PC’s down the road, he eventually was also influenced by Macs. Thankfully for that, since many Mac users aren’t game heads typically, but we do like our quality games. And good for him, too, because his wife is a Mac person.

Mr. Dobson is now 40 and continues to teach Geology at Guilford College in North Carolina. His family of games has grown to include Snoodoku, which I love because I can substitute in a colored shape symbol for a number symbol and make a different part of my brain hurt while I solve it. Mr. Dobson says that he is so used to it, if he’s ever doing Sudoku on a plane, he often wishes for a green “Midoribe” or yellow “Sunny” instead of a number.

I started playing Snood when it was introduced in 1996. Soon after, during our biggest wine grape harvest in history, my mom started playing and we created dozens of Snood puzzle level sets still included with the game: “Mom’s Levels” I, II, and III! Hey mom, Mr. Dobson gives his regards.

Snooding Your Garden
Is this related to gardening? Somehow! In the year after the game’s release, players got a chance to vote for the names of the Snoods. The game had caught on in Japan, thus the light blue hairy Snood became “Geji”. A geji or gejigeji is a many-long-legged centipede, and I think I almost stepped on one the other day. It’s really a beautiful bug, and it looks like it glides rather than walks.

Another connection? Sometimes Snood is a reward for players, as recounted in Mr. Dobson’s words. “One woman compared making a good play in Snood to pulling a big weed in her garden successfully.”

But is it Art?
My friend Darren talked with me about video game creation as a way of expressing himself through art. Games are graphic and engage the viewer emotionally, physically, even verbally. There’s background music. All objects in the game have hidden architecture. Though not truly 3D, it’s surely mimicked with forced perspective and shadowing. And even the new Dante’s Inferno is based on a poem. In the past, the “fine arts” included grammar and arithmetic, then visual and decorative arts, and later split off auditory and performance arts. When I was in college, digitally created prints – both graphics and photographs – were eschewed by art judges. Definitions and media change...

Another friend, Elizabeth, says games will one day take kids through worlds of virtual reality to learn algebra, history, and more. My daughter Amber currently likes to play Weekly Reader and Super Why. What about apps like Farmville? Though that ag-based game is popular, I have a tangible food garden I share with friends. Besides, the power goes out quite often in the country - we better remember how to use shovels and sapas. Visit www.snood.com to check out the coolest games in the world.

Gardens & Playground Funds
Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary School Gardens Fund" or separately for playground equipment note “Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund” and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642. Thanks to Dewey, Ivvy, Charlie, and others for helping a lot this month putting weed paper on the flower beds. Happy Mother’s Day! michaelspinetta@yahoo.com

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Plymouth Elementary School Gardens
#21 August/September 2010 Winter’s End
By Michael & Little Amber Spinetta

On this Thursday, a long moment of lightning has made for foothills’ toes curling as my daughter watches TV. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a less month too early) whilst she has pasta dinner bites.

Rainy Days and Mondays
And Tuesdays. I wanted to see the beehives at Whispering Pines Christian School (WPCS) in Plymouth, but they should not be disturbed during inclement weather, however beneficial that weather is. The school sells honey to support itself, and their wildflower honey is from local flowers, so I encourage all to buy a bit of the golden stuff. Please call their office at (209) 245-4976 for orders.

I’m impressed with the students’ gardens and orchards at WPCS. Those children are lucky to be getting an education with an emphasis on agriculture. I lectured to the fifth through eighth graders about the prices per ton of fruit in different regions – how some get three times the amount of money for their product compared to our region, and how local farmers could demand more if they cared to. We discussed the positive impacts of quarantines – for example, how farmers find ways to have their crop utilized in cities nearest them. We also talked about the “magic line” on the map near Madera regarding invasive bees, and rules for beekeeping above and below that line. Lots of things! Once again, kids in Plymouth know about farming.

While I was lecturing and touring, Amber was learning to play the bells with the kindergartners. I was the audience for their impromptu concert. I am totally wowed. There will bee more from WPCS in this column soon, but I will bee taking a break next month, so bee patient.

The New Mural
“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” The sketch looked fit for print and the finished painting best for www.goldcountrytimes.com “College - Trade School - Business Opportunity” is splayed on a banner among a world of possibilities. Nearly every square foot of the school cafeteria’s wall are covered with murals now. Good job, sixth'ers!
Photo courtesy to the Gold Country Times: Tyler Bardin holds a sketch of the mural that Coleman Gambrill helped the sixth graders paint. Nice to see the sun, even if only in a painting.

Amador County Fair!

There will be a Butterfly Exhibition at the Fairgrounds this year from July 29 to August 1. The UCCE Amador County Master Gardeners will have a chrysalis hatching exhibit and Plymouth Elementary with Buena Vista Butterfly Farm will have a 8’x8’ cage full of the fluttering ones! There will be a butterfly release the first day of the fair! The 4-H garden next to us will have a perfect tie-in theme that I can’t divulge here because of a special pact us farm groups have to not give away the other’s secrets for Fair exhibits. You’ll have to visit!

Playground Dedication
Monarchs and painted ladies were released for the dedication of the first phase of the new playground (we still need money to build the rest!) There were a lot of people there for Open House, and lots of cake to feed them. As for my job in this, I’ve got to get a couple kids to help me move five flowering pear trees to the west of the play structure, because the trees will soon interfere will a new sprinkler system for the school lawn where they are now. Always more...

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Ag “Teacher Feature”
No longer a rumor, Toni Linde is the “Teacher Feature” for Cream of the Crop, the newsletter for the California Foundation for Ag in the Classroom. Congratulations! Without you, there would be no butterfly garden.

Toni Linde: Ag teacher of the month!

Gardens & Playground Funds
Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary School Gardens Fund" or separately for playground equipment note “Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund” and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642

A Hopi song from the collection The Path on the Rainbow (1918)

Korosta Katzina Song

Yellow butterflies,
Over the blossoming virgin corn,
With pollen-painted faces
Chase one another in brilliant throng.

Blue butterflies,
Over the blossoming virgin beans,
With pollen-painted faces
Chase one another in brilliant streams.

Over the blossoming corn,
Over the virgin corn
Wild bees hum!

Over the blossoming beans,
Over the virgin beans
Wild bees hum!

Over your field of growing corn
All day shall hang the thunder-cloud;
Over your field of growing corn
All day shall come the rushing rain.

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Shenandoah Valley Ecclectetcetera
#23 December 2010  Honey of a School
y Michael and Little Amber Spinetta

Amber is busy reading Winnie-the-Pooh to me chapter by chapter. She told me to stop reading the book and that she wanted to read the rest to me – who am I to argue? But, she isn’t busy enough to ignore this month’s column about honey!  

A Local School

Whispering Pines Christian School has worked for two decades with a small group of students to provide them with the best education and personal attention that each one of them deserves. The school is located at 240 State Highway 16, #1 in good old Plymouth California - you pass by their signs every time you go to Sacramento. If you want to order the honey we review below, call them at (209) 245-4976 for hours when they have the honey available to sell. Photo: What better present for the holidays, or any time of year, than food from a local farmer? Especially if the funds support agrieducation! Photo by Michael Spinetta

Agriculture Class

Earlier this year, Amber and I visited the school. The kindergarten teacher was nice enough to take Amber in for the day while I toured the school and taught ag class. Yep, ag class – taught right here in Amador County where it should be. I had a somewhat prepared topic to present the students before I met them.

After I got the gist of what they knew, I pumped the lecture up to college level. I also told them that they have a greater opportunity than most in the county who want to prolong the rural atmosphere that we as a local culture present. If just one or two kids from each grade stay on and help the school in the future, it will be one of the great-er local modern agricultural success stories.

A True School Garden

Before we talk flavors, I must say, the best part of the trip was watching everyone work as a team, getting ready for the holiday rush. Labeling the containers, counting off inventory, filling out orders, packing up boxes. We even learned that there are plans to have a new building on campus where honey will be produced on site. And, since the last time we visited, the school went from 4,000 to 6,000 hives! Wow! Soon (not yet!) they’ll be ready to invite public school students to tour and see what kids can really do to support their own good education. The gardens and orchards are so inspirational, too – what an absolutely wonderful opportunity for everyone.

Hunny Pots for Presents

Unlike Pooh Bear who ate all the hunny on the way to give Eeyore a present, a group of friends snuck only a wee bit from each two pounder I bought as presents for my family.

Wildflower: Above and beyond, this is the purely local honey of the eight varieties. This is the one I recommend everyone buy because I believe it’s beneficial to eat local honey. We should all have a steady supply.

Buckwheat: We all smelled its bouquet when we opened it. We loved its drizzliness and thought it would be good with something like lamb.

Sage: It seemed the more traditional honey, somewhat tart maybe, a bit more viscous, and likely good with everything. Our favorite. Yummmmmm.

Mint: We couldn’t agree how it was different. It is more crystallized than the others at room temp. Maybe Bruschetta or hard crackers with dried tomatoes. I like crystallized honey to melt atop meat dishes like chicken once they’re one the plate. It’s cool to see a cube of honey melt on your food, and it adds a crunchy texture. Spreadable. Amber’s favorite.

Clover: Super sweet, and a yummy mouth feel and finish – a good aftertaste. A good work-out for the salivary glands. Good on toast. Our third favorite.

Cactus: Another that seemed a more traditional honey (what-ever that means) that has a quick taste and no aftertaste. Good with figs and walnuts. Amber’s second favorite, and she wonder-ed how they took out the thorns.

Orange Blossom: Absolutely perfect for tea. We argued if we liked this more than the clover. Great texture, addictive.

X-Mas Berry: Smoky and the little bit of bittersweet that we perceived would go really well with a fish dish. The most runny honey that got everywhere be-cause someone (not the youngest one) was messy.

Make sure to visit online: www.whisperingpinesschool.com Donate to them and buy honey. I always promote my alma mater, too, so here goes: Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. Write checks to "Amador Community Foundation"; note in the lower left, "Plymouth Elementary Improvement Fund" and send to ACF at P.O. Box 1154, Jackson, CA 95642.

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