slacker: ducks show up on the first day of summer if you a) have a pond and b) have fewer than six birds in your coop. Most people have too many birds. Don't worry, I'm pretty sure they'll show next year if you prepare.
Use Soap: There are six chapters in the game, based largely on the age of your kid. They don't affect your actual farm operation in any way at all, just the story and character interactions. The second chapter starts at the beginning of year 2, but different chapters last longer than others. There are six chapters spanning ten years.
BIG TIPS for all:
-Cooking is not irrelevant - you can sell it, usually for far more than the ingredients. That 30G fish can be turned into 150G Sashimi with little effort.
-Try to bargain with Van. Meals you've cooked, golden eggs, golden wool, butter, cheese, and maybe some other items can fetch a higher price if you say "no" when he tells you how much he'll pay. He doesn't always bite, but if he is willing to pay more, he'll usually make a second offer with just a few attempts.