Thursday, October 8, 2015

He Gives You Butterflies

Thunder, who has been unfailingly supportive in my blogging endeavors since the very beginning, is the go-to guy for amazing butterfly pictures, though his moths are even more incredible than his butterflies. In his latest post, he put up a gorgeous photo of a monarch butterfly gracing a similarly colored flower. The monarch butterflies migrate north from their wintering grounds in Mexico to as far north as Canada, then return ahead of the winter cold:

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed plants and sequester toxins from the milkweed- the bright color of the monarch serves as a warning to potential predators that the butterfly is not good to eat (on a tangent, the viceroy butterfly was long seen as a perfect example of Batesian mimicry, but it turns out that monarchs and viceroys are both unpalatable, thus they are mutual Müllerian mimics).

At any rate, the monarchs are in the middle of their southward migration. I don't have any pictures of monarch butterflies, but I have a picture of a milkweed, probably the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca):

Note the fuzzy seed 'pods', more properly known as follicles. We have a bunch of milkweed plants throughout the grounds- our horticultural department is very knowledgeable, so they keep a nice balance of plants on our sites. The eradication of milkweeds with herbicides in much of their former range is a major factor in the decline of the monarchs. If you've got a yard, consider planting a couple of milkweeds.

Still no monarch pictures here- thunder gives you butterflies, I give you weeds. The weeds, though, give you the butterflies.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fashion Week

Little kids drop things, that's one of the few definite things in life. When your job sponsors family friendly events, there is invariably a collection of items which end up in the 'lost-and-found' bin- a hat, an odd mitten, a scarf, or a less common doodad like a plastic tiara. In honor of Tengrain's periodic fashion week feature, here is my own take on found fashion:

Let it go, let it go, it's not your knit cap anymore:

Now, a fabric rose by any other name would be as bastardy:

I'd feel bad for the kids who lost these items, but I'm sure they're not really missed, and, more importantly, the kids who dropped them were being active... they were running around doing interesting things, which is why they didn't notice dropping them in the first place. These items can be returned if the owners realize they are lost, or can be replaced if they don't, but the experiences the kids had while they lost the items are more precious than these mere things.

More importantly, I bet they look cuter on me than they did on their original owners.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Long Day, but Good

Today was the first day of the new season of the children's program for which I have coached for many, many years. Despite a brutal work schedule, I woke up after two and a half hours of sleep and traveled down to midtown Manhattan from the 238th St station in the Bronx on the 7th Avenue local, the "1" train. I always feel a bit amused when I travel down with my gym bag, like someone who's privy to a secret knowledge that most people aren't in on. I can't find the post now, but I chuckled when I read an article by a guy who participates in Historical European Martial Arts, who wrote about seeing other fighters on the subway, men and women with big gym bags and visible bruises- fencers, kung fu practitioners and the like- and feeling a kinship. For the record, a young lady exited at the same station I did, bearing a large bag which looked like it carried several fencing weapons. Yup, part of the secret society of fighters...

I also had another secret, I was bringing a 16oz bottle, originally filled with Snapple diet iced tea (I don't usually buy this, I wanted the bottle), full of homemade limoncello with me to give to my old friend Frankiebello. Somewhere around 116th St, I stopped telling myself, "You're carrying enough booze to get everybody in the car drunk." Yeah, sometimes a couple of secrets are good to harbor for a short time.

When I got to my destination, the kids were just lining up in their age groups, so I had time to shoot the breeze with my fellow coaches, most of whom I have known for a long, long time. I gave the bottle of booze to Frankiebello, who didn't immediately realize what it was. He gave me a quizzical look and joked, "So this is where our relationship has come to, you are giving me a bottle of diet Snapple?" When it dawned on him what I'd given him, he quipped, "Should I drink some of this before class?" I assured him that I never consider gifts to have strings attached, and that the bottle and its contents were his without any conditions.

The orientation went quickly, so we had an unexpected class of boys six-to-eight. There's usually four to six of us in the dojo, so we can accommodate unexpected groups if there's a problem in another area. We had one scheduled class, but what a doozy it was- over forty six-to-eight year old girls. There were five coaches on the mat this morning, so we split the group up into manageable groups and taught them ukemi, something which has been on my mind ever since my co-worker broke his arm in a fall. After a bit of grounding in falling techniques, I threw them all using tai otoshi, which is just scary enough to be exciting for the kids, who love to go flying as long as the landing is soft. I then taught my sub-group the basic grips, then went over the classic o soto gari, which is typically the first throw students learn. After the instruction session, we had the girls play randori with us. The key to playing randori with a bunch of grade-school kids is to balance throwing them with letting them throw you- you want them to get acclimated to falling, while building up their confidence so that they want to play. I still love it every time I look across the mat to see a tiny little pixie with a look on her face which says, "Yeah, I can take that guy..." The class was a lot of fun, but we had a hectic time organizing all of those kids- our athletic director assured us that they would split up the group into more manageable sized groups. Our student body is skewed young- if we do our job well, the older kids will get involved with school sports.

After class, I had to head to one worksite to help with the tail end of one of our fundraisers- basically making sure the property is vacated and the site is locked up. In a few hours, I'll be heading to another site to do the closing honors for another fundraiser. I left the house before 8AM today, knowing that I'd not be returning for almost twenty-four hours. I always joke with the upstairs neighbors that, this time of year, I am the ghost who haunts downstairs. As tired as I am, I have to say that I am perhaps the happiest ghost on the planet.

Friday, October 2, 2015

An Offer She Couldn't Refuse

This is the busiest month of my job, the month during which our biggest fundraisers of the year take place. There is a lot more running around than usual, and the amount of physical labor that needs to be done increases exponentially. This year, my department is short-handed, literally, as one of the guys broke his arm about five weeks ago. There are only three of us working in the department.

Earlier this week, one of the part-time guys gave notice after almost two years on the job. His wife, who had been working one day out of the week, received an offer of full-time employment from the company she works for. She was offered a wage she couldn't refuse, a literal game-changer for the family. My co-worker, who is on a twenty-hour schedule with us, has a full-time job... this job just provided him a little extra money to pay down bills. Now, with his wife working five days a week, he has to be home afternoons to take care of their young son.

He's an upstanding guy, so he's going to work through the month of October. He didn't want to leave us in the lurch during the busy season. I hit it off with him when we first met- we have a similar attitude and a similar work ethic, we even have an eerily similar work history. In the e-mail he sent to the department head, he mentioned how this job is like none other- he was taken with the place, with the experiences he's had... he was even taken with the cats. I'm going to miss him, I enjoyed the talks we would have during shift change, swapping observations about the various organizations we've worked for over the years.

He's not the sort of guy who walks off the street and into the HR office every day, and he's going to be hard to replace. At any rate, the position is not easy to fill, one of the prerequisites is not being scared of the dark.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

It Begins

October is our 'hell month' on the job- we have several concurrent fundraisers occurring simultaneously. My standard line about October is that I pull a Captain Nemo- I'm going into the submarine and I'll surface sometime in November. This month, it's particularly nutty because one of the guys in my department is recovering from a fractured humerus (that's no joke) and will be out for an additional two weeks under optimal circumstances.

To compound matters, my volunteer coaching gig starts this Saturday- I will put in a cameo appearance on the first day and discuss the upcoming weeks with the other coaches. There are usually four or five of us in the judo room, so I can take three weeks off if necessary. Things get really quiet come November. As things stand, I'll be working at one site from about 3PM to 7PM, then work another site from 10PM to 6AM. This schedule is pretty much set in stone, but hopefully will be adjusted if my co-worker is able to return to work.

As if this baseline craziness isn't bad enough, this weekend is supposed to be characterized by horrible weather- we are already experiencing a flooding rain, and Hurricane Joaquin might be making landfall in the vicinity (at any rate, we'll get a ton more rain from the storm). I have already stockpiled cans of sardines in case I have to camp out on the job like I did post-Sandy. I'll have to top off the gas tank in the car tomorrow when I finish the overnight shift- I still have over half a tank from my last fill-up, but I've been bouncing from site-to-site due to the manifold tasks I've been performing (luckily, I get reimbursed for mileage and drive a small car, so I make out nicely). On a smaller scale, one of the electricians working on site setting up for an event jumped a curb in the parking lot and knocked down a light pole that was crowned with a wireless router for our point-of-sales computers. GOOD TIMES!

The month is not exactly starting off on the most auspicious note, but it's adversity that makes one strong and resilient. In thirty-one days, things will get extremely quiet, and remain so for the next six months. It's a cushy job, except when it's not, and October is when I pay my dues.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Remember These?

Oddly enough, my most "popular" post by far has been a somewhat perfunctory post about some unknown fruits that I found and decided to taste before I knew they were edible. For some reason, this post seems to have attracted all of the spambot activity I get, and the post has gotten almost three hundred thousand hits as a result, hence the scare quotes around the word "popular". There is an edibility test for plants that I applied to these fruits, which turned out to be Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) fruits, which are, indeed, edible. Hilariously, at the same time, Jim of Wisdom of the West also ate one of these fruits, against the advice of his wife.

Anyway, 'tis the season, so I managed to grab a few while taking a stroll:

There's not a lot of substance to them, they have a leathery skin and are full of hard seeds, but there's a little bit of sweet pulp inside, comparable to a watermelon in taste. Isn't that what life's about, though? You have to find all those fleeting moments of sweetness whenever you can.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sacrifice in Support of Scholarship

When you find a puffball mushroom the size of a person's head, word gets out. A friend of mine teaches early American history, specifically folkways and foodways. She's the sort of person for whom Peter Kalm's Travels in North America is essential reading material. When she found out that I had found a puffball, she mentioned that she had been reading a primary source that included a receipt for puffballs, she wanted to know where she could get one. She likes to have samples of medicinal herbs and other material for hands-on demonstrations. Her current curriculum involves a discussion of the use of soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) in colonial American folk medicine. Please note that she is very careful about stressing that the information she presents is strictly for scholarly purposes and not for actual medicinal use, she underscores this point with an 18th century document that extolled the medicinal properties of mercury.

As luck would have it, I knew of the location of a second puffball bigger than my fist, approximately the size of a softball. I grabbed this second puffball and gave it to her so she could use it in her lessons. I also tracked down an article in the Journal of Ethnobiology listing Native American medicinal uses for puffballs. She's a scholarly type, so she'll track down additional sources for puffball information.

I have to confess that I didn't give up this fungus without a slight pang, but as someone who believes in the sanctity of learning (I swore an oath in this regard), I had to do so. There's a third puffball in the vicinity, another large one, with a deeply cracked surface, but I'm going to leave that one alone so it can spread its billions of spores. While I didn't swear a sustainability oath, it's something that I sincerely believe in... I'm not so greedy I'd spite my future self.