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.