Friday, May 6, 2016

A Saratoga County day afoot and on horseback

First: Apologies to readers of All Over Albany's What's Up in the Neighborhood. The post they linked to here regarding the Albany History Fair was accidentally deleted by me whilst trying to make a completely unrelated change to a post. I have not been successful in retrieving it. I am sorry. But since that post was snarky, maybe it was karma. I will try to be kinder in future.

It has been a good long while since I have been able to go out botanizing with the Thursday Naturalists. But yesterday brought a free day for me and a nearby outing planned by them in the Boice Family Park.
Along the Kayaderosseras Creek in Milton, spring hasn't yet quite caught up to some of the other woods and waterways of Saratoga County. We saw a lovely crop of Red trillium, pictured above.
More subtle and easier to miss were the delicate white wood anemones. 

The Thursday Naturalists are an intrepid group of mostly retired folks of a certain age. Their collected wealth of knowledge about the natural world makes a simple stroll through the woods into an educational experience I am always grateful to share. 
And so I wish to address here a lesson about getting into the woods,  with preventative measures, yes, but not with fear. Do you see that small insect perched on the leaf's edge above? It is a tick. There it sits, just waiting for something to brush past it so it can grab on. 
Please do what these venerable naturalists do: take precautions but don't let ticks keep you out of the woods. Wear long white socks and tuck your pant legs into the socks. Get a good bug spray and spray the outside of your pant legs. Check yourself carefully when you get home.

I have been on many a Thursday Naturalist hike into "ticky" areas and have never gotten a tick bite. The few tick bites I have received came after working in my own garden and when I have not been careful. 

So don't avoid the woods. There is so much to see and enjoy there. 

These fiddleheads charmed me yesterday. Those above are the unfurling fronds of a Christmas fern.

I am not certain what kind of ferns these reddish fiddleheads above will become, but they looked lovely against the bright green leaves of false hellebore. 
One sad find was this beautiful blue thrush egg, fallen from a nest we couldn't locate. The egg had probably been left too long unheated to save, but one of our group planned to take it home to try to do so.

The list of plants and flowers identified yesterday is a lengthy one. The Thursday Naturalists have kept records of their walks through many seasons, over many years. I treasure my times tagging along with them.

Late yesterday afternoon, I had my final riding lesson for this spring. Here is sweet Dolly, a rescue horse I rode my last two times at Rolling Oaks.
Dolly is a Morgan mare who spent the first 15 years or so of her life as a buggy horse. Under owner Sue Friday's tutelage, I got to help "re-school" Dolly to be a riding horse. She is very sweet mare and I am happy to report that she is making great progress. 

Although I won't be taking any more riding lessons for a while, I am planning to spend some time at the farm this summer in a different capacity. It turns out that owner Sue Friday is a Certified Special Olympics coach and she will be coaching some aspiring Olympians this summer. This program needs volunteers. I am a retired special ed teacher who loves horses. Hmmm, seems like a pretty good fit for me, eh? 

How about you? Do you have any experience around horses? Have any free time this summer? Here's the scoop:

The program begins June 2 and will run Mondays and Thursdays from about 4-6 pm. (You don't have to commit to coming every single time.)

Duties: Walk alongside a rider and help groom and tack up the horse.

Rolling Oaks is located just north of Saratoga Springs, not far off of Northway Exit 16. Interested in volunteering? Contact: Sue Friday at
 or at for more information.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Native and Not:Two iconic spring flowers of the Hudson Valley

 When I see shadbush in bloom anywhere along the Hudson Valley, I always think of my father. 

In the 1950's we lived in Poughkeepsie where my father worked as an engineer for the then thriving IBM. My dad was a transplanted Maine coast man who loved seafood. So in spring, when the shadbushes bloomed, he looked forward to eating shad roe fresh from the Hudson River. 

Shad (the fish) are an anadromous species, meaning the fish live in the ocean and come back to spawn in freshwater. For generations, as the Hudson River warmed in spring, the annual run of the shad would begin. Fisherman caught them in nets, mostly to sell their roe. My dad loved this seasonal delicacy 

Shadbush or shadblow got its regional name because their bloom time coincided with the spring shad run. This fact was likely the first bit of nature lore I learned as a child. 
Here in our backyard, I planted a shadbush along the edge of the woods a couple of years ago. This is the first spring that has brought many blooms. Also called "serviceberry" the blossoms of this shrub are subtle and soft against the greening haze behind it.

As for the fish, shad haven't been doing so well in recent years. New York had a moratorium on commercial and recreational shad fishing in the Hudson but I do not know if that is still in place. I might be brave enough now, in my ripe old age, to actually try this seasonal dish. Maybe I will have a chance one spring.

Update: I was able to find the 2016-2017 New York Freshwater Fishing Guide online. It states, "Fishing for (including catch and release) or possessing American shad in the Hudson River or Marine District is prohibited." So I guess shad are still struggling in our beautiful Hudson. I am sorry to hear that.
While shadbush is a subtle native plant, tulips are quite the opposite. Yet both are part of the Hudson Valley's history and traditions. 
Albany's heritage traces back to early Dutch settlers. Each spring, Albany holds a Tulip Festival, which will take place next weekend. But yesterday, a week ahead of the festival, the Handsome Husband and I ventured into Washington Park to see bed after bed of gaudy loveliness.

 I appreciate that the tulip gardeners label each of the featured beds.

 Washington Park also features a rather dramatic statue of Moses. This time of year, one can imagine Moses not so much parting waters as crying out, "Let there be tulips!" and the riotous colors burst forth.
My handsome Husband also blogged about this and other Albany-centric events over at Planet Albany. Check it out.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

It was a good day : Washington County Fiber Tour

I like rural Washington County. I like yarn. I like the company of my friend Gretchen. So this Saturday's outing was a trifecta win for me.

We met in Greenwich (here abouts pronounced Green Witch)  a little after ten this morning and then set off on Washington County's 24th annual Fiber Tour. What you do is pick up a map (or download one here) and then drive from farm to farm through scenic Washington County in eastern upstate New York. You can admire and purchase yarns, knitted items, woven scarves, or buy locally raised cuts of lamb. You can see alpacas, bunnies, goats, and sheep up close. 

Along the way today, we also met lots of lovely people, rescued a turtle from the middle of a road, and saw a lamb being born, right in front of us, right then. 

We met many handsome and friendly animals, ate lovely baked goods from St. Mary's Episcopalian Sisters, bought two used books and some note cards. Gretchen bought some alpaca yarn. We both bought frozen lamb kidneys. For Gretchen's family, they will become kidney stew. For our family, a steak and kidney pie. More conventional cuts of lamb were also available, from local, humanely-raised livestock. There were also farm-fresh eggs. 

Washington County is farm country and in spring, it is a magical place. Vermont's Green Mountains rise up to the east and from certain high places, you can look back at the Adirondack foothills.You drive past freshly plowed cornfields, wood lots with a haze of new green leaves, and lovely old homes whose lawns are edged with daffodils and almost-opened forsythia.

The Washington County Fiber Tour is a good way to explore this beautiful place. The tour will take you up back roads and into a world that many people don't get to see much of any more: a place where neighbors know and help each other, where food is largely what you grow and raise yourself, where people still know ancient crafts like weaving and spinning.  

The 24th Annual Washington County Fiber Tour continues tomorrow, Sunday, April 24, 2016, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The tour is free. See more information at:


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Friday with Minions and munchkins

A few weeks ago, I started doing some volunteer tutoring in Clifton Park. CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services offers a number of programs and services through its outreach center at Cheryl's Lodge. After school tutoring is only one of them, but it is where I felt qualified to offer my services. 

The after school program is well-established and the paid staff at Cheryl's Lodge have a good system set up with the support and cooperation of the Shen school district. Elementary kids come in first and work for about an hour. When they leave, middle schoolers arrive, followed later by the high school students.

But on Fridays, the Shen elementary students don't get homework, so the staff at Cheryl's Lodge offer "Fun Friday" to those students who have come to the homework help all week. The students who have worked hard and behaved well get a ticket to attend on Friday.
If I am done with my own work early enough, I try to pop in to help with Fun Friday and then stay on to work with the middle school students, who usually DO have weekend homework. (I also volunteer on Mondays.)
 Can you guess what the theme was for this week's Fun Friday?  My goodness, did we have Minions! Many of the children wore Minion tee shirts and we had one nice Minion costume, perhaps re-purposed from Halloween.

There were Minion cupcakes and yellow juice for snacks, followed by a plethora of Minion activities. I think making Minion slime, above, was the most popular of those.
 When the slime was nicely set up, the kids decorated cups to take their share of the finished product home to play with later.

I have been retired from teaching for four years now. When I first retired, I confess to feeling that I had had enough of youthful angst to last me for a lifetime.  But gradually, I became aware that, despite being grateful for many blessings, maybe, just maybe, there was a little something missing in my life. Perhaps I still had some skills and experience that could be useful somewhere. And I think I have found that somewhere at Cheryl's Lodge.

Make no mistake: working with other people's children can sometimes be challenging. The children are often noisy, antsy, silly, or not perfectly behaved. But they are also often funny and smart and incredibly sweet and happy for adult attention. And when I can actually help an appreciative sixth grader understand her homework, well, that is just about the best feeling in the world.

There is an awful lot that needs to be done in this country. Finding a place where your available time, talents and skills match up well with the needs of an organization or cause can be tricky. But I urge you to try. To keep trying.

Last year, when I read a piece by David Brooks, his phrase about living your eulogy versus living your résumé stuck with me. It's not that I crave a glowing, lengthy obit. What I do need,  for myself, is to know that while I still have the luck of good health, enough time, and the resources, I am trying to do something, and to do it with love.

Ba na naaaaaaaa!*

*Ask any six year old. They will know.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Back in the saddle again

When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to be around horses. I doodled horse pictures throughout elementary school. I read every children's book about horses, from Misty of Chincoteague to The Black Stallion. I begged for riding lessons and latched on to school friends who were lucky enough to have a horse or even a bad-tempered Shetland pony.

I loved the smells and sounds of a horse barn: the leather, the hay, the quiet munching of a contented horse at his grain.

I never outgrew my dream of having a horse of my own. In my mid-twenties, I finally bought a horse, a chestnut "grade" mare I called Candlewick. (A grade horse is one of mixed breeding and no pedigree, like a mixed breed dog.)

I enjoyed that horse and have always been happy that I was able to have her for a time. But when my first baby came along and there was only so much time, energy, and money, I found the horse an eager new owner and moved on without regret. It was time to grow up.

But decades have now passed and my babies are all grown and gone. I still like horses and, goodness knows, here in Saratoga County, we are virtually surrounded by nearly every type of horse imaginable.

So when a work acquaintance mentioned taking riding lessons through a continuing education program at Saratoga schools, a seed was planted. I had some doubts. I am not young. Could I do this again, I wondered?
Well, the answer is yes. Yes, I can. Tonight, one week shy of my 66th birthday, I got back on a horse. Meet "Cedar Creek Olympia" (aka, "Fudge") a retired show horse from Rolling Oaks Morgans in Gansevoort, just north of Saratoga Springs. She was my lesson horse tonight and we two old broads got along like a house afire.
I tacked her up myself and before I knew it, owner Sue Friday had us trotting and cantering around the lesson ring. I didn't fall off. I did need a few reminders and corrections (it has been years) and I will no doubt have some stiff muscles tomorrow. But wow, I did it! And I had a ball.

The photo below is of Fudge in her prime, being ridden by a more skilled rider than I. We didn't quite make it to that level tonight, but we had fun.

                                                  Fudge — Cedar Creek Olympia

When I thanked Sue at the lesson's end, I confessed that I had worried about taking up riding again at my age. 
Pshaw, she said. She told me that one of her riders is 78. 
Good to know. I guess I can look forward to at least another twelve years of riding. And wouldn't that be awesome.

Happy trails, my friends. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

March garden blahs

 When we first bought this house ten years ago, I was working full time through the winter months and so I didn't give much thought to what our yard looked like at this time of year. I wasn't home enough to look at it much in the daylight hours.

 Also, we usually get a nice snow cover, which all by itself makes the little wooded patch behind our house look magical. 

 But not so this year. No snow and more time at home during the day have made me aware that our backyard needs some late winter oomph. So I pulled out my aged copy of Helen Van Pelt Wilson's "Color for Your Winter Yard & Garden" and re-read her wise words. 
 I have also been surfing the net, where all of these photos have come from. This yellow-flowered shrub is witch hazel. I have a red-blossomed variety in the front yard, but this variety might tuck in nicely at the edge of the woods in back.
 Peering at other folks' yards can be another source for inspiration. What looks good RIGHT NOW in my neighbors' yards? Yellow-ish evergreens glow nicely on a gray late-winter day. I think I will look for some of those.
 In the late winter, some shrubs, like red twig dogwood "color up" nicely before their leaves appear. Again, I have this in the front yard, but not where I can see it from inside. Helen Van Pelt Wilson advises planning a "look into" garden, choosing to place interesting plantings in places where you spend the most time looking out at them. She was a wise woman.
Conifers are not the only shrubs that stay green through the winter. I think hollies, rhododendrons, or similar shrubs will be on my shopping list this spring. Luckily, we are not bothered by deer here, as our backyard is mostly fenced in for the dogs, so I don't have that issue to deal with. Rabbits, though, are another matter. 

The features that have brought color and much pleasure to our yard this winter have been the bird feeders. Placed near our dining room window (just as Helen Van Pelt Wilson advises) we watch cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, finches, winter wrens, nuthatches, chickadees, juncos, tufted tit-mice (yes, those are birds) coming and going as we eat our breakfast. And now that the robins, bluebirds, and red-winged blackbirds are back, I know it's time to think about gardening again. 

North country gardeners, what looks good in your yard at this time of year? Please share your advice and inspiration.

Happy Easter to all.