Saturday, January 31, 2009

Starry, Starry Night


My class has just finished a study of the Earth and sky. I like to add a piece of fine art into study units and Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night is one that is nice to become familiar with. From another study they had already met the painter, so this time we started out with a discussion of what they see in the picture. This is a rather lengthy discussion as there is a lot to talk about. On the next day,  I demonstrated pastel (colored chalk, not oil pastels) technique and then they worked where they could see a print of Starry Night, four or five children at a time. I think their products are pretty amazing and want to share some here. Remember, these were produced in a regular public kindergarten, by five- and six-year-olds.







Of course, I am quite prejudiced, but I think their work is nothing short of stellar!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Closer Look At Logs

On our wet walk on Sunday, we saw many old trees, dead and down in the woods.  They were in various states of decay, on their way to becoming soil and were providing shelter and food for creatures. This pine log was reduced to  fibers.





This oak shows a similar effect.


But further down the oak offered an even more interesting glimpse into the life of trees. See the patchwork pattern in the wood?


You can see the vertical fibers but also the horizontal vascular rays that serve as veins from just under the bark to the core. These radiate from the center of the tree and serve to move water and nutrients horizontally.

It was B who noticed this and explained it to me; and now I am sharing it with you. In addition to the  main purpose of the rays, it would seem to also add strength to the wood.

And tell me that log doesn't have an eye on that far left near the middle! It's looking right at you!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The China Cabinet

It is sad when you have been married over 30 years and still have some of your wedding gifts stored in boxes. Like many young couples we were given crystal and china, but have always lived in small houses or apartments. We still live in a small house, but with the empty nest, we now have more flexibility in arrangement. About a year ago, we began shopping in earnest for a china cabinet in which to store and display some of our pieces. For my birthday, last spring, my mother gave me money to buy the china cabinet she knew we were looking for.

I love the open hutch look, but was determined to not be spending time dusting these items, so glass was the option we looked for. Our decorating style could be called eclectic---read "no two items came from the same place and most of it is used but it 'works'." That meant that a variety of pieces could be considered.

We looked at new ones and were not really impressed. They were pricy and fake wood or thin veneers. We also looked at antiques. Some were so primitive, they were missing boards. I kept thinking I would know it when I saw it. We got real close on that little trip up to Bainbridge when we went to Lake Seminole. We found a nice pine one, but it had a large knot on the front and I thought it might drive me crazy.

Last weekend we went to a little furniture consignment shop here in town for the first time. Well, actually we didn't. It was closed Saturday morning until ten. But later, we came back right as they were closing at four and found IT.  We bought it and agreed to return on Tuesday with our truck to bring it home. (They are closed on Sunday and we had commitments for the hours they were open on Monday.)

Thankfully, our friend came out to help unload it. It is solid wood, along with mirror and glass. It is clean and looks new. The price was amazingly good. We could have bought 3 or 4 of this one for the price of some we looked at.





Now, finally, the "good stuff" can be readily available to use. And I do believe in using things and not just saving them for.....for what?  ....the next generation?  They may not have the same taste as we do. They may not even want it. It is much better for the original owners to go ahead and enjoy it, as the wedding gift givers intended. And now it is easily accessible.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Year of the Ox

Happy Chinese New Year! We have been celebrating in my kindergarten class for the past two school days. A dad came in and told how the holiday is celebrated. We had green tea in cups from China, dumplings, rice and sesame crackers and fortune cookies. Each child was given the traditional red envelope. These are fancy little red and gold envelopes decorated with symbols of good luck. They are meant to contain money, but ours had chocolate coins in them (from the Netherlands--as the ones from China have been found tainted). We practiced writing numbers from one to ten in both English and Chinese. I took each child's picture in some really gorgeous embroidered silk outfits that used to belong to some of my former students. I will email the pictures to each parent.

But the biggest hit was the dragon dance, performed by three or four children at a time until all had had a chance. I have a CD of energetic Chinese music that was perfect for the dance.


The dragon was made for me many years ago by a white American dad.


We have a few more activities in the coming days, but they are having to be worked into the all-important (to kindergartners!) Hundredth Day of School in which we do tons of activities honoring the number 100. This Thursday is the Hundredth Day. But even when these celebrations arrive in the same week, we will still do our best to complete many fun and educational activities for them both.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hiking in Wet Woods

We were invited to go hiking in Gadsden County with our good friends after church today. We took our picnic and headed to Bear Creek, a place B and I have been several times, but it was a first for one in our party. On the drive over, it started to rain. It continued to do so off and on  for most of the afternoon. I guess that 10% chance must have been sitting on top of us. We have hiked before in rain, but we have gone prepared for it. B and I, clearly, were not today.  It never poured, but it was enough to get us wet. I was mostly anxious about keeping my camera dry. The park had a pavilion for our picnic, which was nice. Until we left, we did not see a soul. Two other cars had arrived after us, but we never saw anyone.

Irises were growing  by the little dam that creates a pond. The new growth was a beautiful deep purple and the combination with the greens was striking. I suspect this last week's freezing temperatures may be responsible for the purple. This picture's color, unfortunately, does not do it justice.


We saw many lichens, mosses and fungi as we walked. This large (grapefruit-size) fungus was in a log.



There was quite the variety of shelf lichens. Here, a large log was covered in them.



Sphagnum moss is not all that common here, but it was abundant in places near the stream.


A bird had made use of it in this very small cup-shaped nest I found on the ground. It fit easily in the palm of my hand.


This lichen was sending an early  Valentine message.


Now that I consider it, all of these plants are moisture loving and for us to get a little wet was just part of the whole scheme of this environment.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

High and Dry-ish

Yesterday, the son sent a picture he took last Thursday of the dock in the previous post. Yup, the wind had sure blown that water out of the bay.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

St. Marks Time Warp

On MLK Day, there was no school, so after lunch and the chores and errands had been completed, we made a run down to the lighthouse at St. Marks. It was a gray day and some of the critters seemed to have been a little confused as to the time. We saw three deer and a small bobcat ---deer and cat were not together---at three o'clock in the afternoon. Here are two of the deer, or possibly a two-headed deer. I thought it was a nice pose.


There were more wading birds and ducks than we have seen lately.

An eagle was near its nest.

The no-see-ums were out in force, despite the brisk breeze and cool temperatures.

Our son had been down there leading a group from UF on Thursday and said the strong north wind had blown the water out of the bay and there were just mud flats for further out than he had seen before. He said he was able to walk out on the old pilings of this dock.


As a Christmas present for B this year, I took a carousel of old 35mm slides and had them copied onto a CD. Here are two from the bunch.



This is how that dock looked in the mid 1970's. Time has taken its toll.

I guess we have also had our share of wear and tear and weathered a few storms in the past 35 years, but we too are still standing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mashes Sands

Mashes Sands is a little county park beach on the Gulf at the wide mouth of the  Ochlockonee River. We did not walk around to the river side of the curving beach, but the other way. On this cold, windy day, there were times when we were the only people we could see. This is not the Florida of condo-land fame, but our little bit of Florida, where we feel at home. However, as you will see in pictures below, the beach houses are across the bay and there are also quite a few along the river.

The white in the distance is not breakers, but the sand bar where the black skimmers were.


The shoreline is interesting and there was a lot to explore.



A little tidal creek feeds and drains a large marsh. The tide was coming in fast and the water was feeding the creek from two directions here.


There were many animal tracks that were quite clear in the soft sand and mud. In addition to the many shorebird tracks, we identified great blue heron, fox, bobcat tracks and what we think was a horseshoe crab.

The contrast of this little crab digging caught my eye. It had dug down to pure white, powdery sand and deposited it on the gray mud. There were several of these around.


This tree was close to the gulf shore and B noticed that it has had the sand washed away from its roots. See the lateral roots are now at least six feet above the present ground.


I looked at this sand and thought "contour plowing," farm girl that I am. B looked at it and thought of the Japanese gardens where the sand is raked to resemble water waves, poet that he is.


We saw several large nests, but we thought all of them were really too small to be eagles, and were probably ospreys. This one posed for me.


It was a wonderful little jaunt south.

When we go off on these little day trips in the winter, we almost invariably carry a large, Stanley thermos bottle of boiling water. By the time we need it, it has cooled a little. We carry that day's choice of hot tea or chocolate or spiced apple mix, mugs and spoons. We have found it the perfect way to thaw out in the car or truck. On this day, it was truly a blessing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Skimmers and the Mermaid

From Otter Lake, we went on to Panacea, a small waterside village that specializes in seafood. The town Christmas tree was still up. It was decorated with full-sized lanterns, nets, plywood anchors, and other items.


Atop was no angel, but, appropriately enough, a mermaid instead. Or maybe a merangel. These Panaceans are clever folks.


It had  been some time since we had driven out to Mashes Sands, which is a little county park beach-- so we decided to explore out there.

We were so glad we did.

It was cold. The wind went right through everything, but there were a few folks out enjoying the sun and birds.


I was excited when I saw these guys, hunkered down and facing the wind on this little sand bar. They are black skimmers, along with a couple of ring-billed gulls and there was a herring gull or two.


I would have loved to see them feeding as they soar just above the water and skim for fish with their longer lower mandible open. I also love their colors. B says the red-orange stripe around its beak serves as its waterline mark, that shows it just how far to puts its beak in the water so as not to get too much drag! He made that up, but it sounds good, doesn't it?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You Otter Go

We took a little car ride this afternoon after having been inside all morning waiting for the sun to warm us up from the 20 degrees we started with. It eventually inched its way up to 50 but with the wind, it was still cold. In the car, though, it was heaven on this sunny day.

We decided to visit Otter Lake, a 100 plus acre  lake very near the coast in Wakulla County south of here. It is another part of the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, but not connected to the land at the lighthouse, where we often go and so we had not been here in many years. It is officially in the community of Panacea.


We found it much as we remembered and we had it to ourselves. During our visit of about 45 minutes, three cars came down to the dead end and turned around and that was the only souls we saw. It was clean, and though the bathrooms were locked, it showed signs of recent upkeep.


These cypresses showed a water level about five feet higher than the present.


There were signs warning of gators and we saw three, one of which even at a distance we could tell was "good-size."

We drove around to the boat ramp and sat out in the sun for a bit, enjoying the beauty, but disturbing a great blue heron and a great egret, who squawked their annoyance.


As you can see the cypress trees completely surround the lake. We will have to go back in the fall, when they are rusty.


While we were checking out the woodpeckers and migratory songbirds in a swamp near a picnic table, we were surprised by the beating of strong wings as a large bird landed in a pine above us. The eagle had landed! I only managed to get two pictures before it was gone again. Here is the decent one.


Otter Lake is for day use only, but it was free and just maybe two miles from US Highway 98 that runs along the coast--and so easy to find. You otter see it!

Friday, January 16, 2009

An A-Plus MLK Day

As I have written before, I have a nice class of kindergartners this year. I have also written that they are a unique group. One of the unique features of this class is that I have ten boys and seven of those have a name that starts with the letter "A." Some days, I stutter.

This week I was reading a picture biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was explaining about segregation and some of what that meant. I told them that neighborhoods and restaurants were separate. I told them that white children did not go to school with black and brown  children, as well as with children from other countries whose skin was not white. They were clearly stunned. One boy, I'll call "A", remarked,

" How would we have ever found our best friends?"

A is white. His best friends in our class are A, who is Black, and A, whose family is from China, and A, whose family is from India.

They are a unique class ---and a really sweet and thoughtful one.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lake Seminole State Park

We went up to Bainbridge, Georgia with two objectives this afternoon: to check out the antique stores for a piece of furniture I've been looking for for about a year, and to visit the state park on Lake Seminole, 20 miles west of there, for the first time. Round trip was 145 miles.

We did do quick run-throughs of five antique shops, all of which warrant a much closer look, but we were trying to stick with the shopping list that consists of one item: a china cabinet. We found a number of them, but none were IT.

On to Lake Seminole. It is a pleasant enough drive through the country around the north side of the lake to the park. The park was fairly spread out around a small finger of the lake. It has its merits. It was clean. The ranger was pleasant. If you wanted to take your boat, you could keep it at your campsite on the bank. There are 14 two-bedroom cottages on the lake that look worth looking into further. We missed the privacy that we are used to at campsites. There was none. It was all very open under large pines and a few turkey oaks.

This little pavilion (we guess) is used for chapel services.


We "be" in the Bible belt, you know.

Another rather unique feature is what they call their treehouse. It does have privacy. It is down an unpaved road with a lockable gate. It is set in a large and lovely area of wiregrass and longleaf pines.


It is actually a large screen room on stilts. It had a picnic table and a fire grill.


It is meant to sleep 15 in its 30'x30' area.


It looked like a fun concept except for the large hole ripped in the screen by the locking door, no doubt by vandals. The skeeters probably get pretty bad.

This display in the little commissary cracked me up.


You can actually buy a s'mores kit for some ridiculous price; I think it was about ten dollars.


Of course, you do get campfire songs!

On the way home we were in the path of flock after flock of birds heading south toward the lake. All totaled, there more than a thousand. The light was all wrong and they were just above the treetops, so I am not sure what they were. I saw a flock at a puddle that were starlings, so this may have been what they all were. That is the right size and shape. It was pretty amazing to have them just keep passing overhead like that.

We stopped in Bainbridge and bought gas at $1.49, which was also fairly amazing, considering what we were paying just weeks ago.

Mission accomplished and a fine afternoon.