Sorry, folks, but the discussion got out of hand on this post. If you need to read any of this, it should be easy to find them archived somewhere on the Interwebs. But not here. I’ve never had to do this on my blog before, and I’ve written far more controversial posts (e.g., about clergy misconduct), but my health still isn’t 100%, I’m dealing with Sunday school start-up, and I need to focus on what’s going on in my congregation. I’m sorry.
My sister-the-children’s-librarian keeps telling me how much fun it is doing process art and sensory art with kids. So this Sunday I decided to do jello-painting in Sunday school. (The term “Jell-o” is a a registered trademark of Kraft Food Groups, but I’m using “jello” as a generic term for any gelatin-based sweet dessert.)
At the local supermarket, I found jello in all the colors of the rainbow: cherry for red (it looked like a deeper red than strawberry or raspberry), orange for orange, lemon for yellow, lime for green, some random berry flavor for blue, and grape for purple. Since I was expecting 8-12 children, I got six ounces of each color — er, of each flavor — whatever you want to call them.
I figured jello-painting would take about twenty minutes, so we did some other activities first. Then we went outside to the picnic tables, where I had already set up a can full of paint brushes, a whole bunch of little cups to mix colors in, wooden stirring sticks, and several cups of plain water to clean brushes in. The packages of jello powder were on a separate table, along with a big pot of very warm (but not hot, for safety’s sake) water with a couple of ladles.
I gave a quick demonstration: pour some jello powder into one of the little mixing cups, add some warm water, stir with one of the wooden stirring sticks, then paint on the paper. Then I gave each child a piece of watercolor paper, and let them figure out the rest for themselves. It took them a moment to realize that Barb and I were just there to facilitate the process, but we weren’t going to tell them how to do things. Then they liked the idea that they could just play with the materials. Barb helped this process — he quickly started making his own painting, asking the other children if he could borrow some of their orange jellopaint for the sunset he was making.
Below is a photo of Barb mixing some of his own jellopaint — you can see the pot of very warm water with a ladle in it, to the left:
(I really like the fact that I have a photograph of a Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association — the highest elected office in our denomination — mixing jello to use as paint.)
A follow-up post to Illness.
A big recovery milestone: on Monday, they had me stop taking anti-coagulants. I say “they” because whoever called to tell me to stop wasn’t from my primary care physician’s office, it was some person from the health plan’s anti-coagulant group. Every time someone has called about the anticoagulant drug, it’s someone different; they all seem to be reading from a script, and I imagine these people sitting there in a windowless office wearing headphones making call after call after call: “Hi this is So-and-so from Kaiser mumblety-mumble anti-coagulant mumblety, and I want to confirm that you have stopped taking your mumble-bumble.”
I was glad to confirm that I had stopped taking the anti-coagulant on schedule. And I was glad to be no longer taking that drug. Some of the fog cleared out of my head within twelve hours of taking the last pill, and suddenly I only needed nine or ten hours of sleep each night, instead of eleven hours of sleep plus an hour or two nap; I have suddenly gained two or three hours of waking time. It’s a good thing, too, because vacation ended on Sunday, and with the end of vacation I needed all my energy and all my waking hours to go to work and come home and recover enough to go to sleep and get up the next morning to do it all again.
It continues to astonish me the extent to which my energy has been sapped by this illness. Yesterday, I started organizing our tiny storage room, something that has never gotten done after we moved in November. I worked away for a couple of hours, and it wasn’t particularly strenuous work, and suddenly I was done. I had to sit down. Part of the problem, Carol pointed out, is that I’ve lost a lot of muscle tone — I just didn’t have the energy to exercise. I lost five or ten pounds, and it’s not like I had a lot of extra body mass before I got ill.
Mostly I’m writing this to remind myself that I have indeed been ill — not really ill, it’s not like I had cancer or major surgery — but ill enough to affect most aspects of life, ill enough that it’s going to take a long time to get back to normal.
Oddly enough, I don’t feel this illness is a waste of time. I certainly have lost a lot of time to sleep and lack of energy. But it has been good to slow down. I tend to work fifty or so hours at my job, and another ten or twenty on projects that relate to work but that aren’t part of my actual job, and then another ten or twenty hours on hobbies and volunteer activities that sometimes feel like jobs. Because I cut back on everything, and because I haven’t had a lot of energy, I actually have had time to sit out in our tiny little back yard and just stare into space.
It’s been a very long time since I spent any amount of time doing nothing, and it turns out to be quite enjoyable. While I can’t recommend developing a pulmonary embolism, I certainly can recommend doing nothing.
Carol and I went to Pescadero Natural Preserve today. It was delightfully cool (about 70 degrees) with high fog blocking much of the sun. The tide was quite low when we arrived, so I wandered around looking at the variety of organisms in tide pools: sea anemones, crustaceans, molluscs, seaweeds, etc. Then we decided to walk to the mouth of Pescadero Creek and head up into the marsh.
As we followed the creek upstream under the Highway 1 overpass, Carol noticed that there were dozens of jellyfish washed up along the high tide line, translucent organisms looking a little like plastic bags filled with water. Most of the organisms were damaged; some had obviously been stepped on, some appeared to have broken in pieces, some no longer had a definable shape. I walked closer to the water, and began to find a few organisms that looked less damaged; one in particular, shown in the photograph below, retained a good deal of its structure:
When we got home, I did some online research to find out what kind of Cnidarian this was. I concluded it was a Moon Jellyfish, the common name of Aurelia species; most likely Aurelia labiata, which the authorities I consulted online agreed was the Aurelia species found along the San Mateo County coast. More specifically, what I saw was most likely the central morph of Aurelia labiata, the type specimen of which came from Monterey Bay (M. N. Dawson, Macro-morphological variation among cryptic species of the moon jellyfish, Aurelia [Cnidaria: Scyphozoa], Marine Biology  143:369-379).
Based on this tentative identification, I made two drawings of some of the structures that might be seen in the photograph. The first is based on Dawson (2003), and shows the organism from the underside; this approximates what you see when the jellyfish is lying flattened out on the sand, as in the photograph. The second drawing, based on a drawing by Richard Fox of Lander Univ., shows the organism as if it were alive and floating in the water.
The gonads are clearly visible in the photograph (note that the gonads and gastric pouch are right next to one another, so the gastric pouches are also visible). The manubrium and stomach in the center show fairly clearly. I did not see any tentacles when I looked at the organism, and none are visible in the photograph; this is not surprising as they would be quite small. Some of the radial canals are visible, enough to give the sense that the organism has radial symmetry. But the organism in the photo appears to have disintegrated somewhat.
The organism I photographed, and most of the Moon Jellyfish I saw stranded along the creek, were clear to translucent. One of them, though, was amber-colored; others had dark red or purple structures. The Encyclopedia of Life Web page on Moon Jellyfish, citing an article by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, states that Aurelia labiata are translucent when young, turning “milky white, sometimes with a pink, purple, peach, or blue tint” at maturity. So most of the individuals I saw were, apparently, young jellyfish.
Carol and I walked around the marsh for a couple of hours, and came back to the creek as the tide was beginning to flood again. I watched the tide pick up some of the stranded jellyfish, hoping to see some signs of life. One or two of the jellyfish floated away, looking intact, with their bells extended; perhaps they survived their exposure. But most of them sank beneath the water, or crumpled up, or seemed to be coming apart; it seems very unlikely these individuals survived.
Drawings revised, July 20.
More info: Article on Aurelia labiata on the Animal Diversity Web provides links to several academic references.
Note on my drawings: In making the drawings, I began with the cited sources, then consulted various online photos identified as Aurelia labiata. I saw significant variation in online photos, especially as regards tentacle length; since my drawings are not made from living specimens, they should be taken as schematic drawings, not accurate representations of live individuals.
In among the errands I had to run today, I managed to find time around noon to take a walk at the Concord unit of Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. It was hot and humid with a light breeze (8-11 mph), enough wind to keep the temperature bearable. The breeze and the time of day meant the birds were keeping under cover, so I spent half an hour looking at damselflies and dragonflies (Odonates).
I managed to get close enough to photograph three species reasonably clearly. As I tried to identify those species from photographs, I got introduced to the chalenges of Odonata identification. One species was easy to identify:
The above photograph shows a Common Whitetail (Libellula [Plathemis] lydia), in the Skimmer family (Libellulidae). This was a straightforward identification. According to Blair Nikula et al., A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts, “identification of most species [of Skimmers] is possible in the field based on a combination of body, eye, and wing color and pattern.” And this is a particularly distinctive species.
The next taxon, however, was more difficult. Based on the photo below, I’m willing to place this individual in the genus Enallagma, the Bluets. But I’m not willing to make any determination as to species: “The bluets (Enallagma) … are very difficult to identify without examining the male terminal appendages under a hand lens or loupe” (Nikula et al., p. 31). That would mean capturing the insect with a net, holding it the hand, and examining it; I don’t have an insect net, and, not being particularly coordinated, I’d worry about damaging the insect while trying to examine it.
The next taxon, shown below, was even more difficult. All I’m willing to say is that this individual is in the family Corduliidae, or Emeralds. To take the identification to the level of species, once again I would have needed to capture the insect. According to Nikula et al., “although genera can often be recognized in the field with experience, identification as to species is very difficult, typically requiring in-hand examination of subtle body markings, male terminal appendages, or the female subgenital plate.” I’ll be happy if I ever get good enough to identify the Emeralds to the level of genus.
At this point, I don’t feel the need to make specific identifications of every individual; it’s enough for me to appreciate the unexpected diversity of the Odonates.
Published a day later than the date on the post, due to travel.
Just before noon, Abby and I took a walk along the recently-opened Bruce Freeman Rail Trail that runs from Chelmsford, Mass., through Acton. The part of the trail we walked, around the Route 2A crossing, passes through several wetlands, with a few small areas of open water and some nice cattail stands. I was mostly looking (and listening) for birds, and even in the heat of the day there was a nice variety of birds, from Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Yellowthroats, and other swamp-loving birds to forest-nesters like American Robins and Chipping Sparrows. Abby was most interested in the Red Squirrel population. However, it was hot enough that there weren’t enough birds or Red Squirrels to keep us occupied, and we both began noticing insects in the order Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) along the trail; I do not know much about about Odonates, but it sure looked like there were quite a few different species flying around us.
I am intimidated by the challenges of identifying Odonates; I find them hard to track in my binoculars, and I find it difficult to observe the level of detail required for identification down to the species level (sometimes you have to be able to see the shape of the male sex organs to get a definite identification). But my new camera has a really good zoom lens, and I find it easier to try to make an identification from a photo. I managed to get one reasonably good photo of an Odonate. A tentative identification might place this insect in the Aeshnidae family, or Darners, according to A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts by Blair Nikula et al. (Westborough, Mass.: Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, 2003), p. 69. Unfortunately, the photo does not show how the insect’s eyes come together, a key identification point for this family.
Later the same day:
After taking care of some business we had to deal with, Abby and I went for a short walk at Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, one of our father’s favorite places to go for a walk. I did a little birding, until Abby and I both became fascinated by the dragonflies and damselflies flying around us. I was able to get pretty good photos of a few of these odonates.
The photo above shows, I believe, a young female Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis); I’m fairly certain about the genus, less certain about the species. I’m basing my tentative identification on the species account in Nikula et al., p. 56. And I’m somewhat more confident of this identification because on p. 30, Nikula et al. state that the Eastern Forktail “is probably the most widespread and common odonate in Massachusetts.”
And above is a photo is of an older female of, I think, the same species; older females of this species, according to Nikula et al., “become extensively pruinose blue-gray.”
The photo above shows one of the many Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) patrolling the marshes and the edge of the river in Great Meadows. I’m fairly certain of this identification, and this is quite a common dragonfly in Massachusetts.
We also saw a couple of Monarch Butterflies, and an unidentified sulphur butterfly. I didn’t find many birds today, but the spectacular Odonata and Lepidoptera we saw more than made up for the lack of birds.
In Salem, Massachusetts, yesterday, we spent a half an hour wandering around the old burying ground. There are some seventeenth and eighteenth century stones there, and I could have spent a couple of hours looking at them. While I’m most interested in the carving, the inscription on one of the stones caught my attention:
In Memory of
Miss SALLY GRANT,
daughter of Cap. SAMUEL
& Mrs. ELIZABETH GRANT,
who died Sept. 16th 1789:
in the 26th year of her age.
I long[,] she faintly cries[,] to lose my breath
And gently sink into th’embrace of death
Adiue [sic] vain World[,] a long adiue[,] I go
Where joys that have no bound forever flow.
I have been unable to find a source for the short verse on this gravestone. It sounds like it might be a verse from a late eighteenth century spiritual song or hymn, perhaps remembered not quite accurately.
We went up to Swampscott today to see the memorial at the train station for the 1956 Swampscott train wreck. The memorial reads:
IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED IN THE
SWAMPSCOTT TRAIN WRECK
FEBRUARY 28, 1956
WALTER D. ALLEN WALTER B. LEE
RUTH F. BEAN PAULINE PAVLO
FRANCIS E. BOETTNER GEORGE S. SILLARS
ALBERTA L. HALEY DONALD K. TAYLOR, JR.
RAYMOND F. JONES ERNEST A. TOURTELOTTE
PENELOPE KOTSOVILLIS GARDNER S. TRASK, SR.
GEORGE V. WARREN, JR.
DEDICATED NOVEMBER, 2005
The memorial is relatively small, and sits at the bottom of the wheelchair access ramp that leads from the parking lot up to the train platform. The actual wreck took place about a half mile farther up toward Salem, along an inaccessible stretch of track.
Our grandfather’s name is the first one on the list: Walter D. Allen. He died before my mother had children, so neither my sisters nor I knew him. Even so, I found it affecting to see his name there.
Tide pool at East Point Sanctuary near Biddeford Pool, Maine. Tentative identifications of organisms in this tide pool: Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea), a snail that is an invasive exotic species introduced in North America in the nineteenth century; limpets (mollusc spp. in family Lottiidae); Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis); barnacles (crustacean spp. in subclass Cirripedia); Knotted Wrack, a seaweed (Ascophyllum nodosum).