Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mist on the Hudson

Mist on the river is something pretty special. So atmospheric. Normally, it happens at the beginning and end of the day. When the sun rises, the mist looks like a ballet being performed on a river stage. Dancers swirling, twirling, shifting their shape in what looks like a choreographed formation, drifting in the same direction (as if on a conveyor belt) while lifting ever so slowly and rising into the air.

In the morning, the mist lifts. In the evening it seems to descend, slowly filling the space with low clouds. Sometimes it looks like a magic carpet stretched across the river. 

Here are a couple images of a misty evening last week:



Moonrise over misted bridge (on left)

Yesterday afternoon, the river was filled with mist by 5:00, which was unusual. The bridge wasn't even visible. 


A pontoon boat going past our dock could barely be seen, either.


A little later, I learned there were severe thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings in our region. 

I am no storm chaser, but as I drove home from a school event hearing a rumble of thunder in the distance and seeing an occasional thunderbolt, I felt a strong pull to go exploring. First, I stopped home to check the weather alerts, and upon learning that the most serious ones had expired, I jumped in the car to look for beauty.

A friend had mentioned recently that a particular graveyard on the river looks quite eerie at night when the mist rolls in. Although it wasn't dark, I wanted to experience the mist in the graveyard. 


The sun had burst through an opening in the clouds and, filtered through the mist, cast the kind of golden light that is a photographer's dream. It was such a thrill to be there at that time.

But even more beauty awaited down the road where there was a clearing that revealed a rainbow - and several geese lined up on the shore as if pausing to savor it.


When I walked back to my car, I came upon a snapping turtle lumbering across the road. 


And then, around the bend, a sky that was shockingly bright and golden for that time of night.


I drove home filled with excitement, wanting to get out on the dock as quickly as possible to experience the vibrant, dynamic sky before the day's light was extinguished for the night.


The river stage was beginning to fill with mist again for another spectral ballet.

And after I thought all was done for the evening, it became even more astonishing.


What I experienced this evening was not bliss; it was euphoria. I think I got a little too excited! And in my excitement, my lens cap dropped, rolled, and plopped into the river below our steps. (It was bound to happen sometime.) After some consideration, I decided to go ahead and retrieve it from the immersed rock on which it had come to rest. However, I might replace it anyway...


It was like a dream world on the river! And after all the colors of the sky had faded to bluish black, all that could be seen were the lights of the dredging boats and barges maneuvering through the night. 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Star of the Week: Celebrating What's Special

With only three weeks left in the school year, this is a post geared toward teachers. Today I want to celebrate and share something that works really well in my classroom: my Star Student of the Week program. It has evolved over the years as the kindergarten curriculum has become much more rigorous and full, and I am very happy with the simplified version, which preserves the integrity of my original vision for Star of the Week as a character- and community-building program. It's a means for celebrating friendship and what's special about each child and carries a large writing component as well. The children really enjoy our Star of the Week activities, even when they're not the Star!

Here's how it works:

Each of my students is scheduled to be the Star Student for one week during the school year, beginning in January. If possible, I let children be the Star Student during their birthday week, but sometimes more than one child has a birthday during a given week, and in many cases birthdays fall outside of the Star of the Week portion of our school year. When I get my class list during the summer, I pencil in birthdays and each child's Star week.

In past years, I would do something different each day of the week to honor the Star Student. One day, the child would get to do a photo show-and-tell based mostly on an "All About Me" Block that I ask them to create and bring on the first day of school as our first family project of the year. Another day, the child could do a show-and-tell about something s/he created or was proud of (i.e. an award or some kind of recognition). On other days, the child would bring in or choose a book for me to read aloud to the class and choose a song for a movement/dance break. On Friday, we would create a book about what we like about the Star Student.

In my streamlined version of Star of the Week, I let go of everything except for the "All About Me" block show-and-tell and the class book. It works beautifully, and the children are so excited for their Star week. My goal for the Star of the Week program is for children to experience both what they have in common and how they are unique - and to appreciate their similarities and differences. We find something to celebrate about every child, which is especially important for children who have trouble with peer relationships and/or lack confidence. Some children have told me that being Star of the Week is their favorite kindergarten memory.

I put a Star of the Week schedule on my class website and send home a letter describing the program the first week in January. The week before each child's Star week, I send home a sheet for him/her to fill out with parents/caregivers. 



During the child's Star week, s/he gets to sit in the teacher's chair and show-and-tell about the photos on his/her "All About Me" block. As this is going on, I create a T-chart on the SMART Board as a graphic organizer for writing about the Star of the Week. I write down things the child likes, as illustrated on his/her block.


Next, we play a "guessing game" based on the information recorded on the child's "Star of the Week" sheet. The Star Student, still in the teacher's chair, calls on classmates to try to guess his/her favorite color and food. If they have trouble, I offer clues, such as a category or what letter it begins with. This is a wonderful way to learn about the child and to allow the child to speak in front of an audience. Even shy children are excited to do this!

While the guessing game is going on, I continue to add words to the T-chart. I ask the class what they notice about the Star Student: What is s/he good at? What are some kind words that describe him/her? We see if the class can come up with words that match what was written on the "Star of the Week" sheet, but in the process generate other ideas, as well. The whole time, the Star Student usually sits beaming in the spotlight. Periodically, I'll ask classmates to raise their hand if they also like something the Star Student likes so they can appreciate what they have in common (and they often get quite excited to learn that they like similar things, places, etc.). But I don't allow other children to steal the Star Student's spotlight.

I print out the T-chart because it will be used to generate sentences for our class book about the Star Student.

Every classmate will contribute a page to the book and write a sentence about what the Star Student likes or can do, or a quality s/he appreciates about the Star Student.

In the beginning, the class book activity might be an exercise in printing, with the children copying what I write and paying attention to proper formation, size, and placement of the letters. Before long, the children "sound-spell" their sentences as independently as possible. Advanced learners might be encouraged to write more than one sentence. I try to do the class book pages as a small group literacy work station over the course of two days (meeting with two of my four "guided writing" groups each day). The Star Student creates the illustration for the cover of the book, and the other children illustrate their pages after they finish writing a sentence. The children may draw a picture of their favorite thing to do with the Star Student, a time they were together, or something they'd like to do together. This is where a lot of creativity comes out.



In past years, I also contributed a page; however, I haven't done that this year due to a shortage of time.



Instead, I make sure that the positive qualities I see in the Star Student are listed on the T-chart.

When each child's book page is completed, I collect them and write the "grownup" spelling of words that might be difficult to read. I staple the book together with the cover followed by each classmate's page, and the Star of the Week sheet and T-chart at the end. I put a strip of colored masking tape or duct tape along the spine to give it a more finished look.



On Friday, we read the class book, and each child has the opportunity to explain his/her illustration and the story it tells. Sometimes I label parts of pictures so the Star Student will remember what the picture is about when sharing the book with family and friends. The Star Student is very proud of his/her special book, and in some cases children have carried the book around the whole day. They get to bring home and keep their special book as a reminder, I hope, of what is special about them, and the relationships they formed in kindergarten.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Improvising and Foraging

I have been in a back-to-nature mood with food this week. We have a forest of spearmint that has popped up outside our door with the intention of laying claim to the entire garden space if we permit it. 


Last summer, the mint meandered, too - as it does - and I looked up recipes but didn't find any that sounded terribly interesting. My favorite way to utilize our abundance of mint is simply to make minted water. I bought a great thermos last year that keeps ice water icy for nearly the whole day (and keeps it cold into the next day), and I'd take a thermos of minted ice water in the kayak for a refreshing drink on hot days. For me, minted water is the taste of summer.

Until the weather became warmer recently, I was in the habit of starting the day with hot lemon water. I'd squeeze the juice of half an organic lemon into a cup or more of hot water and finish it with a drop of agave nectar or honey. It felt like a wholesome way to start the day.

I like both lemon water and minted water and came up with a new idea last night to make minted lemon water to sip throughout the day. This is always a busy time of year for teachers, but this year our workload seems to have tripled. Bringing a lovely mason jar of minted lemon water is a healthful way to pamper myself during the final, very hectic, month of the school year. It's simple: I either fill a mason jar about a quarter of the way with water the night beforehand and stick it in the freezer, or add several ice cubes in the morning. Then I put a few organic lemon slices in the jar along with a few sprigs of spearmint. Then add local spring water. Simple as that! I could just as easily put it in my super efficient thermos, but it looks so beautiful in a mason jar! I keep it in my mini refrigerator during the work day and take a refreshing sip when I feel thirsty or want to elevate my senses.



Last year, my husband discovered the culinary virtues of lamb's quarters (also called pigweed), an edible plant that grows wild. I let him enjoy his pigweed all by himself last year (I think I was turned off by the name) but decided to give it a try this year. It tastes similar to spinach but apparently is even more nutritious as long as it's harvested from good soil. 


It was tasty steamed without anything on it. (We did not eat the roots.)

Sunday was a rainy day, and I was in the mood to make spinach lasagna with some of our canned tomatoes. However, I didn't have enough spinach or any ricotta cheese on hand. So I decided to improvise, substituting a creamy vegan white sauce (from a Cauliflower and Corn au Gratin recipe I posted previously) for the ricotta and lamb's quarters for the spinach. It was delicious! My husband commented that it was probably the best lasagna I've ever made.



While my husband was harvesting pigweed last year, I turned my attention to chive blossoms. 


It must have begun with me photographing bees pollinating an abundant garden patch of chives and scallions that had bloomed with purple flowers, and then doing some online research. 


In the process, I learned the flowers are edible. I've added them to mini frittatas, cream cheese, and - most recently - hummus. 


Here is a hummus recipe I created. You can stir chive blossoms into the hummus or sprinkle them on top for a garnish - or both!

Quick and Easy Hummus (food processor required)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup bean liquid or water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cumin (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 chive or scallion blossom, stem removed and cut so the tiny flowers separate (optional)
Procedure:
  1. Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender, and blend until it's a creamy purée. Add more water if needed to achieve the desired consistency. Stir in chive blossoms, or sprinkle on top. Let stand for about 30 minutes to give the flavors a chance to develop. You can serve it as a dip with crackers, pita bread, vegetables, etc. or use to stuff cucumber logs (my son's favorite).
  2. To make cucumber logs, peel cucumbers, and cut into 1-inch cross sections. Scoop out most of the seeds with a spoon, creating a little cup inside the cucumber log. (Be careful not to scoop all the way through because the hummus would not stay in place.) Fill to overflowing with a spoonful of hummus. Dust with paprika, and perhaps garnish each filled cucumber log with a tiny chive blossom or two. 


Speaking of chives, have you ever tried garlic chives (also called garlic greens)? They look similar to regular chives but have flatter, broader blades and a subtle garlic taste. They are available at farmers markets in my area around this time of year and make the best pesto! The twirly, tougher garlic scapes also can be used for pesto.

Garlic Greens Pesto

  • 1 bunch (2 cups) garlic greens (or 1 cup garlic scapes), chopped, packed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or more if you like it oilier)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
Combine ingredients in a food processor, and blend until smooth.



Day lilies are the next wild edible I'd like to try. My husband and father-in-law insist they are delicious. Nearly the entire perimeter of our yard is lined thickly with day lilies when it's their time of year. I'll let you know how that goes!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Tree Stump Map

This morning, I was sitting on our porch looking at the river, and I noticed that it was uncharacteristically quiet on the water. Then all of a sudden it struck me: Today is Sunday! And if I'm not mistaken, that means no dredging! The sky was overcast, but the water was calm, and I jumped in the kayak. 

It felt so good to be back on the water!

After a couple minutes of paddling, I noticed several tree stumps on the opposite shore and decided that today was the day to survey the aftermath of the tree cutting. Here is what I found:




Tree stumps all along the shore.





Yes, the tree cutters have been busy. All of the trees under which we found shade and privacy are gone. It's a whole new landscape. I can't remember which tree stumps are the remains of willows, maples, or countless other trees that were so familiar along my route. I just know that they're all gone.



Patrick Cottonwood still stands tall on the shore, and I'm grateful that he's still there even though I can no longer photograph the sunlight passing through the leaves of his low-lying branches.

Patrick Cottonwood



One of our river neighbors seems to have made use of the trees taken down in front of his house. A nice supply of firewood!





Before today's outing, I never knew the exact locations of the PCB hot spots awaiting dredging. However, now the tree stumps provide a map of them. The hot spots run the entire length of my kayaking route on the opposite shore and a short stretch on our side of the river.





When I returned home (right before it started raining for the rest of the day), I looked at the map of our section of the river in a publication I received from the Environmental Protection Agency, and sure enough, the tree stump "map" matched the EPA's map perfectly.

I realize that this is not a feel-good post, but I felt it necessary to illustrate the stories of the trees along the river. The stumps left behind will tell the tale of dredging for many years to come.

My next post will be more upbeat, I promise. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Friday, May 17, 2013

An Up Close and Personal View of Dredging

It has been an eventful week on our stretch of the Upper Hudson. Monday evening, there seemed to be more barge and boat traffic than usual, and it continued through the night. It was like a parade of large, lit up vessels passing by our house. My son and I went out for a drive to see what we could see. The tree cutting barge was lit up on the other side of the river, which surprised me because I'd been told by a project rep that the tree cutters only worked during the daytime. (There was activity on it that night, but it's been uninhabited every night since - although they keep a nightlight on.)

Then we drove south along the river. The locks were closed at night, and I expected to find a flotilla of barges approaching Lock 5, given all the traffic on the river. However, we couldn't see anything in the darkness. Obviously, large equipment had mobilized, like tanks moving in during the night. In the morning, we would wake up and see where everything was placed.

On Wednesday, I went to a local park to walk the labyrinth, and as I got out of my car, I saw an older man - obviously a local - who appeared perturbed as he walked toward his car. As I got closer to him, I heard him exclaim to a female companion, "It's disgusting!" I heard a motor sound beyond the labyrinth and knew immediately where all of Monday evening's commotion had ended up: at the north entrance to Lock 5 just beyond the labyrinth. I talked with the couple for a few minutes. The man was dismayed to see how sloppy the excavator looked coming out of the water. He was not convinced that it was containing the PCBs and was worried about resuspension. (This is a widely held fear amongst locals.) He mused about how the wildlife had returned to the river in recent years and was thriving. Why bring up all this stuff after it had settled?

As I photographed the dredging barge in action, a woman and her dog stopped, and we talked for quite some time. Like me, she was an avid kayaker, and I could tell she appreciated the river as I do.

Swing set adjacent to the dredging barge
Air quality monitor at Lock 5

When I got home from work this afternoon, the tree cutters were working across the river, and I went to the dock to capture some images.


At one point, another huge barge went by.


Then I drove to Lock 5 to get some pictures of the dredging. I arrived in time to see the barge that had passed me on the dock replacing a presumably filled barge at the dredging site. Powerful little tugboats push the barges to and fro up and down the river.


Dredging wasn't taking place at this time, so I sat and watched the barges being moved. A man approached me and asked if I was familiar with the dredging project. We started talking, and I learned that he was organizing an upcoming triathlon that would take place near the dredging. Like me, this man - upon learning that dredging would take place during this year's event - made it his mission to become educated. Like me, he learned a good deal about PCBs, and the more he learned, his fears subsided. Although I have always drawn the line with regard to swimming in our section of the river, there is a big difference between buying into the PR propaganda - whether for or against the dredging - and educating oneself by talking to the right people and doing steadfast research.

I arrive at the dredging site as a person who is going to have dredging barges in front of my house and wants to experience the process up close in order to know what to expect, and also as a writer and photographer bearing witness. As I sat at the picnic table about as close to the dredging activity as is possible, I found myself fascinated by the process and wondering how the project will go down in history. Will it be a net positive? Something in my heart believes it will. But it will take some time. Our generation will not be the final judge. Perhaps it will get worse for a time before it gets better.

I took a walk and returned a little later to the same spot. By then the dredging had resumed, so I began to shoot some video. "Take One" was ruined by a woman sitting close by who received a phone call and exclaimed loudly, "I am PISSED!" She went on to talk about how she and her husband brought a picnic and had no idea dredging was going on right there. I noticed that they also had at least one fishing pole, for catch-and-release angling.

The video below shows a mechanical dredge removing sediment from the river bottom with an environmental clamshell bucket. Although it looks sloppy, the Environmental Protection Agency website explains that the clamshell bucket "closes tightly and seals the sediments inside before bringing them to the surface." There is much more to the technology than meets the eye.


Email followers: Click HERE to see the brief video of the dredging.


While I was shooting the video, another woman approached and asked what's going on. Someone replied, "Dredging," and the woman's jaw dropped. She identified herself as a swimmer in the upcoming triathlon.


I certainly can understand the woman's reaction. Swimming in our stretch of the Hudson has always been outside of my personal comfort zone. General advice from the NYS Department of Health website includes not swallowing any water and showering after having physical contact with the water, to protect from potential exposure to harmful bacteria and microorganisms. This year, our area falls within a No Swim Area, although the triathlon course must certainly fall outside of it. Within the No Swim Area, there are additional safety concerns due to increased boat traffic, undercurrents, and potentially elevated levels of PCBs. How close is too close for comfort is a personal decision. It is my understanding that the primary risks of PCB exposure for humans come from eating contaminated fish and having contact with the sediment. Breathing contaminated dust is of particular concern. Despite being an avid kayaker on affected areas of the Upper Hudson, I have adopted a very conservative attitude with regard to having physical contact with the water.

Another interesting side topic concerns the kinds of cultural resources and historical artifacts and features that are being discovered as a result of the dredging. An archaeologist friend of mine commented that he would love to see what is being pulled up out of the muck and that prehistoric dugout canoes have been found in similar environments. Years ago, this friend excavated a preserved ox bow and beaver dam 10,000 to 13,000 years old not too far upstream.

It is so interesting to hear people's stories as we gather at the dredging site. Everyone I have run into lately has some kind of connection to the river, and the different perspectives paint such a rich story of the different roles the river plays in people's lives. 

And the lives of wildlife, too.


Sharing our stories is also a little like group therapy. Most of our lives will be inconvenienced in some way, and I find it interesting to experience different people's reactions. Pretty much the only thing I can be in control of with regard to the dredging is my attitude. Initially, my husband and I were shocked to learn that this is the year we'll have dredging in our stretch of the river; we weren't expecting it so soon. That was followed by a stage of information gathering. And now I'm trying to make the most of it by writing, photographing, and being interested and fascinated. This is not going to be much of a kayaking year (unless we want to hoist our boats on top of the car and drive somewhere), but it's only one year. Even two or three years would be but a drop in the bucket.

No pun intended. :-)

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.