More on swordfights

We have fencers roaming the condo complex. Unfortunately, they are not wearing those attractive white suits and masks. They aren't lunging or parrying, feinting or generally waving epees. Their construction dumpster, stacks of lumber, and storage units are taking up lots of parking places. When they tear down a building's old fences it is like the condos are wearing hospital gowns.

I have to watch "The Princess Bride" and "Pirates of the Carribbean" fairly often for the good swordfights. Please recommend your favorite swordfights in the comments!


Baseball highlights reel

A friend is attending an Orioles/Royals game in KC tonight. I've been showing my students a clip from the baseball time travel movie "A Kid in King Arthur's Court". Baseball is on my brain, so maybe I've been beaned. These are special baseball memories for me:

Wilson Alvarez throwing a no-hitter against the Orioles during one of the last games at old Memorial Stadium in 1991. After arriving in the majors with Texas in 1989, it took Alvarez a while to get his act together. He gave up two homers and three earned runs without retiring a batter in his major league debut with the Rangers and, five days later, was traded with Scott Fletcher and Sammy Sosa to the White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique. In just his second major-league start -- on August 11, 1991, at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium -- Alvarez showed his potential by becoming the eighth-youngest pitcher in history to toss a no-hitter.

We were sitting up really high with our backs against the chainlink. The boys all had on blue Texas Ranger caps. (That was how we kept track of them on the Metro and at the museums on the Mall.) My sister drove us up to Baltimore. We were plagued by yellowjackets the entire game, and were afraid to eat or drink anything because of the bees. We had spent the morning at Ft. McHenry. It was Jeff's ninth birthday. I had forgotten that. Mike was six and Steven four. It was an unusual vacation because no one broke their arm or required stitches.

I think Jeff was four when he went to his first Major League game in Kansas City. It was my first, too. Mike was maybe one, so '85 or '86. I had been to Royals Stadium before for a Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young concert with the Beach Boys back in '74 or '75. I am pretty sure George Brett hit a triple at the game. We mostly watched the fountains and scoreboard as I recall. A fan three rows behind us got excited and flipped his beer and hotdog with sauerkraut into the air. It all landed on me. As soon as the boys got cranky I was real glad to go back to the motel and take a shower.

When we first moved to Texas we attended lots of Rangers games at the old Arlington Stadium. Little Steven would usually fall asleep in my lap. Jeff would count all the airplanes that flew over. Mike would eat fruit roll-ups, raisins, and jalapeno nachos. The Rangers had Bobby Valentine managing back then, Julio Franco 2B, Rafael Palmieio 1B, Steve Bueuchele 3B "Boooosh"!, Nolan Ryan, Pudge Rodriguez (age 19)C, Jeff Huson at SS, Ruben Sierra, Juan Gonzalez, and Gary Pettis in the outfield, Brian Downing at DH, Kevin Brown, Jose Guzman, Bobby Witt, Brian Bohanon, Oil Can Boyd, Rich Gossage, Kenny Rogers pitching...

I remember an especially scary night when all the fans were told to exit to the concourses. The sky was dark and very green. I was sure we were all a-gonna die in a tornado at the ballpark. The weather was too bad to attempt the long trek across the parking lots to our car with three tiny boys, so we just had to hang out as the temperature dropped about thirty degrees and golf ball-size hail fell.

The boys each had a radio in their bedroom, and I would let them listen to Rangers games until they fell asleep. It takes amazing concentration for anyone to create a mental picture of the action of a baseball game just from radio descriptions while wrapped in blankies in a dark room. I figured they were either being lulled to sleep as pitchers tediously reviewed the signals, or they were developing impressive skills that would last a lifetime, and either way they were being quiet after a long day. They also developed math skills figuring out baseball statistics that make absolutely no sense to me to this day.

When Mike played T-ball he would put a clip-on earring on one ear so he could be Ruben Sierra. We would play a cassette tape of "We Are the Champions" on the way to the field so he could get psyched. I was supposed to imitate the KRLD radio announcer saying "Roooo-Ben Sierra!" when Mike walked up to the plate. Always fashion-conscious, Mike had to have a batting glove even for T-ball. He didn't like soccer because soccer players don't wear caps.

Steven spent many hours during his bigger brother's T-ball, coach-pitch, and kid-pitch baseball games playing in the dirt behind the backstop. He would bring a case of GI Joes or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and hang them all from the chainlink backstop. Even then he appreciated members of the opposite sex if they had brought sidewalk chalk to the games.

Some other day I will post about the meaning of the '68 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals to an eighth grade girl in Lincoln, Nebraska. I can't write it just at the moment. I'm having a bad flashback of 3B Dean Palmer's arm tendon rolling up like a window shade underneath his skin.

My dad used to tell a story of breaking his arm during the Depression. He didn't let that put him on the DL. He just used the plaster cast on his arm as a bat. Amazingly, he grew up to have pretty good sense later on.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Wo wo wo).
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
"Joltin' Joe has left and gone away" (Hey hey hey, hey hey hey).

Dizzy Dean and PeeWee Reese on a tiny black and white t.v. My dad snoozing on the couch with the newspaper over his face after a lunch of saltines, summer sausage, and cheese, priceless.


Sea Creatures of Habit

Or better, sea nymphs! My swim buddy and I did laps both days this weekend. We are such mermaids these days. We now swim in lane #4, which is away from the lane-crasher mommy and the bossy old guy in the Speedo. It took some getting used to, since lane #4 is far from the ladder. We realized today that I always have to swim on the west half of the lane, and my bud has to swim on the east. We would fall off the end of the earth like Columbus if we switched! I've heard tales of the magnetic forces of the Earth's poles reversing and causing mass extinctions of species. I don't really understand magnetic forces, but I know they are really powerful because I had a Wooly Willy toy when I was a kid! When we walk together we always follow our circular route clockwise. Going counter-clockwise seems impossible. We would fall down. Our legs would go numb. It would be oh so Through the Looking Glassish.



In a post back on 4/25 I pondered the meanings of the word diva. Since then I have worried about the term for the male version of a diva. Finally, after the Crossroads Guitar Festival, I was feeling comfortable that a male diva is a "guitar god". That supports the use of "diva" as a positive term. Now I have support for the term as a negative term, and for the male version, too!

Dallas Morning News, 6/19/04 pg. 3A

"Actor Russell Crowe has now been labeled a "superdiva" after furiously fencing off his entire trailer during shooting on his upcoming boxing movie in Toronto, IMDb.com reports. The famed bad boy stunned the cast and crew at the shooting of The Cinderella Man--in which the star plays celebrated pugilist Jim Braddock--by blocking people out of his dressing room with black curtains, forbidding the crew to use his gym and giving no warning when he chose not to turn up on the set.

Count Basie

Last evening I got to attend the free concert by the Branford Marsalis Quartet on the lawn at the Dallas Museum of Art with my son, his friendgirl, and folks from his soccer team. It was fantastic to see the appreciation these young people had for jazz. This note is to all of them:

Guys--I sure enjoyed visiting with you last evening. I love that you came downtown for an evening of jazz under the stars. Branford Marsalis created this music as a tribute to the jazz and art of the Harlem Renaissance. I hope you will be part of a new Renaissance.

I love that you tell me you like Count Basie. I got to see him perform three times, way back when I was in college, at an old highway roadhouse/dance club called the Pla-mor (play more!) Ballroom outside of Lincoln. The venue made it possible to stand within ten feet of Count Basie up there on the little platform stage.

It was a spiritual experience to watch the Count. He would be dressed in a double-breasted dark jacket and a hat like a ship's captain. His whiskers gave him the appearance of a serene walrus. His eyes were full of ancient soul and life wisdom and humor. The music was so full of gentleness and power! I knew then that I was just a little hippie chick pretending I was "grown up", and not really having a clue about life or art. May you all have such wonderful college experiences that the memory still knocks you out thirty years later.

Thanks to Maria Muldaur

I spent my week at a moonlit oasis in an orgy of glitter and glue. I managed not to break into song while we made oasis dioramas in the elementary classes, and the preschoolers painted their "rainbow" genie lamps. An Arabian Nights camp can't help but go a bit overboard on the gold and sparkles.

All this special effects excess reminded me of a major rule of teaching and parenting and adult self-discipline: Structure Before Freedom.

SBF is essential at any age. With a structure in place humans are safe to explore free choices. When freedom dominates a classroom before a structure is established, there is a constant salvage operation against the ravages of chaos: Unsuccessful way to make art. Ineffective way to manage a classroom. Lifelong damage for a child. Horrible personal finance approach.

I did not give my all-girl class of 7-9 year olds enough structure before diving into the construction of our desert oasis dioramas. Not enough guidance about building a shelter from the boxes and cardboard tubes. Not enough background information about deserts, caravans, oases, and architecture. Instead of relying on my lesson plans, I saw the project as an opportunity to use up an oversupply of materials. Clearly, I demonstrated a lack of SBF myself. I gave the girls the boxes and turned them loose. When they opened the boxes they found the packing foam I forgot to remove ahead of time, and started planning mattresses for their tiny desert sleepovers. It just got worse from there. The paper towel tube towers were topped with halves of plastic Easter eggs, just because I had an oversupply of tubes and eggs. I had an oversupply of plaster of Paris and play sand, too, and with some brown paint thrown in to coat the projects with "sandstone and stucco" we quickly had a dreadful mess of mattresses and phallic symbols. Not an art project we want little girls to take home! The rest of the week was spent trying to salvage the project, and I had no one to blame but myself.

In my next group with 5-6 year olds, I managed to avert this crisis. I gave a better explanation about shelters, towers, arches, and mosaics. We practiced specific folding and cutting skills. We considered our dioramas as tiny stage sets for a desert drama. Our tiny clothespin people became actors in the roles of sheiks, carpet merchants, princesses, and magicians. Tag board arches allowed the actors to enter stage left. Stars reflected in the precious well water, and the moonlit sand became a fabulous collage of cool blues and purples. The clothespin acting was wooden, but it took place beneath fabulous date palm trees made of wine corks and green construction paper fronds all cut and curled. The midnight desert fairy danced through the classroom with magenta glitter to shrieks of enthusiasm. Rather more special effects and less substance than I prefer in my clothespin dramas, but it was popular at the box office.

Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Shadows painting our faces
Traces of romance in our heads

Heaven's holding a half moon
Shining just for us
Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
Kick up a little dust


Blues falling down like hail

Robert Johnson is singing in his falsetto, "Hellhound on My Trail," but that's not what is falling down on me. For a change it's a dry shower this week. The day started off with installing new suspended ceiling panels in the theatre after the water damage I wrote about before. Nothing like spotting for the Kahuna while she's up on the 14' ladder, with dust and chunks of ceiling panel falling down on us both.

The a/c at work is still defiant and manipulative. Much of today I was overheated and "glowing", so the art class glitter clung to me. The chrome wasn't just in my hair for a change.

I won the janitorial nightmare triple crown this week: Sand; plaster of paris; glitter. If I had managed to use raffia I would have been a legend in my own time. They would have retired my number!


In the Harleys of your mind

Just made the Steverino and his friendgirl fresh fruit smoothies with ripe bananas, an orange, Twister, strawberry Yoplait, a Gala apple, and frozen peaches. I was humming a bit of Steppenwolf as I whirred the blender, imagining myself in black leather as I shifted from chop to puree. Did that little rev-rev handlebar gesture, and Steven told me I was on the Harley of my mind. He was grumpy because I put in a few almonds for protein.

like a circle in a spiral
like a wheel within a wheel
never ending or beginning
on an ever spinning reel
like a snowball down a mountain
or a carnival balloon
like a carousel that’s turning
running rings around the moon

like a clock whose hands are sweeping
past the minutes of its face
and the world is like an apple
whirling silently in space
like the circles that you find
in the windmills of your mind !

like a circle in a spiral
like a wheel within a wheel
never ending or begining
on an ever spinning reel

as the images unwind
like the circles
that you find
in the windmills of your mind !

Most of my students haven't the foggiest about windmills. They are too busy watching in-car videos to actually look out the window...I'll wear my helmet and leather jacket!

Ancestor envy

Dang! One of my dear, demented, ADHD friends has a realio, trulio pirate in his family tree. I'm having an Ogden Nash moment! I may swoon.

I've got my share of homesteaders, French/Indian War guys, rich girls who ran off with the gardener, horse thieves, Mayflower babies, wheelbarrow pushers, school marms, switchboard operators, and hat-makers. No pirates, though. What can I get with trade-ins and rebates?

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called hum Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.
Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio daggers on his toes.
Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.
Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.
Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
and Blink said Weeck! which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.
Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.
Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.
Belinda paled, and she cried Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.
But up jumped Custard snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm,
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.
The pirate gaped at Belinda's dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets, but they didn't hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.
Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim.
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pirate.
But presently up spoke little dog Mustard,
I'd been twice as brave if I hadn't been flustered.
And up spoke Ink and up spoke Blink,
We'd have been three times as brave, we think,
And Custard said, I quite agree
That everybody is braver than me.
Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio little pet dragon.
Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.

I grew up with this poem, as it was one of my brother's favorites. I use it as the stepping stone to art projects. But mostly, I still want a pirate climbing in the winda...


"Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!"

That's the title of a children's book by Patricia Thomas that I don't really recommend. The title is great, though. For weeks now, I have sensed that the elephant was going to sneeze, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. Yes, "Stand back," said The Mama, "I'm going to rearrange!"

The only time I deep-clean and dust is when I rearrange the furniture. It takes a major disturbance in the force to provoke this activity. Like storm clouds in tornado season, I have an inkling that the rearranging disturbance is coming. All I can do is stock up on plywood, duct tape, and bottled water.

Rearranging is usually provoked by emotional and hormonal typhoons. It probably indicates a need to reaclaim control over my psychic tract house. In the most oppressive years of my marriage I would push major home appliances around the basement to vent this barometric crisis. Never mind that I was seven months pregnant. I would still shove the washer and dryer around, then go upstairs to attack the hideous hand-me-down sofa.

I've rearranged the dining area this afternoon, and even dusted the ceiling fan blades. Pictures are rehung. The room is happy, but I have dislocated the cosmic alignment of my bedroom and the living room.

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that feng [shui]
Doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah

List Stress

The 1,000 Best Movies Ever Made

This list is drawn from the second edition of "The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made" (St. Martin's Griffin, $24.95), edited by Peter M. Nichols and published in 2004.

Today at nytimes.com you can read all one thousand movies titles in alphabetical order. If you are like me, you will have to count how many you have seen. It became clear early in the alphabet that I was not going to score very high, so I included all movies that I'd seen part of, and movies I was pretty sure I'd seen but couldn't exactly remember, and maybe some that are just in the collective consciousness. Even with that padding, I scored less than twenty percent of the movies.

On my ground floor, movies aren't terribly important to me, and my time is very limited. In the anxiety basement, I have a new box of inadequacy stored.


Siege mentality

The Mama has been holed up behind a sandbag barricade of technological resistance. Against a bombardment of begging, pleading, and threatening, she has held out for many months against the insurgents' demands for cable internet.

It isn't just the Mama's young gun sons who are campaigning for this radical change. The Mama's Security Council is strong-arming her to make this leap and liberate her phone line from the despotic grip of dial-up access in order to coordinate walks, swims, and lunches.

I feel like some Russian leader who has been exiled to his dacha for the winter so that the proletariat masses can seize the means of production and the decadent capitalist pigs' chat rooms.

I am letting go. I will struggle no more against the advance of technology. I will visualize Omar Sharif and Geraldine Chaplin in the frosted wonderland.

The Cable Guy will be here next Saturday morning. I'll be waving the white flag.

The word for the day is "sandpaper"

Yesterday a small female preschool student brought a piece of sandpaper to class to rub. Over the years my students have brought many security blanket/loveys to class--Toofie the Dinosaur, a washcloth, a wallet with family photos, mermaid figures with "real" hair, pirate treasure maps, naked Barbies, superhero capes, live bugs, gravel, pretty fall leaves, and plastic sharks. These are all good things, and help kids make the transition into class without tears most of the time. My own sons hauled around The Special Bunny, and the shredded remnant of a blanket known as The White One. Kids also bring things to class that cause major problems, such as rubber bands, Silly Putty, and a popsicle in a Power Ranger lunchbox, but that is a different story. I have never had a child bring sandpaper to class before. What does this mean? What are the tactile stimulation issues here? Does she have a crush on the daddy with the scratchy face in the Pat the Bunny book?

On a different note, I attended the Romare Bearden exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. It exceeded my wildest collage dreams. I will have to go back several times to take it all in. Bearden used surface abrasion in many works. I'm not sure that he did the abrasion with sandpaper, but it's possible. The effect is like distressed furniture. He also used bleach to remove color from some papers and paints. I use bleach to discharge color from fabrics before or after dying them, but I have not used it on paper works.

After the exhibit leaves Dallas it will travel to:

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, October 14, 2004 - January 9, 2005
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, January 29 - April 24, 2005

The exhibit was organized by the National Gallery of Art, and you can learn more about it at:

Cuddle Camels

We can't all fly on magic carpets across the desert. Sometimes we have to travel by camel caravan. It's a hot, dry, smelly way to travel. The camels get tired. The riders get tired. Using your imagination is very hard work. After lunch the preschoolers should get to chill out for awhile with their new friend, the Cuddle Camel. We made the camels from tan men's crew socks, polyfil stuffing, yarn, felt, googly eyes, Sobo glue, and hot glue. Oh, yes, and plastic Easter eggs for the hump in the sock heels.


In the Dubya Era

It is no longer important for proclamations by those in high office to have any basis in reality, and so I must beg forgiveness for posting a family story hanging from the wrong branch of the tree. Apparently it was my dad's mother's mother's sister's husband who was offered the puppy stew when he was out lawyering in the Rosebud Territory of the Lakota Sioux. One way or another, the story needs Heinz 57.

The protagonist would happen to be the husband of the same great-great aunt who once hollered out the screen door to the meter-reader, "You can come in if your nose is clean." She was expecting a visit from my young dad or his older brother. They weren't any cleaner in the Twenties than small boys are now. I often want to tell my small students that they may enter my classroom if their noses are clean. I don't though.

Inspirational niche books

Went into Half-Price Books recently and saw the display of "Chicken Soup for the Crone Soul". I am thinking there's no niche too small for an inspirational soup book, and just because I'm 49 years old, it shouldn't eliminate me from this bonanza.

The NY Times offers this QUOTATION OF THE DAY for today:

"Just because I'm 50 years old, it shouldn't eliminate me from the equation."
JAY HAAS, who shares the first-round lead at the United States Open golf tournament.

I spent wonderful hours as a child in the middle pink bedroom at Grandma's house. The room held a brass bed high enough that we kids could play paper dolls in the secret hide-out underneath, a cedar chest, an old treadle sewing machine, a dresser with porcelain figures of a bride and groom standing on a lace "doily", and this framed motto on the wall:

It's easy enough to be pleasant
When life goes by like a song.
But the man worthwhile
Is the man with a smile
When everything goes dead wrong.

Out in the kitchen with the bright blue walls and the worn linoleum, the red plastic watering can on the window sill, and the colored anodized drinking cups that made milk into a magic potion hung another pithy reminder:

We grow too soon oldt
Und too late schmart.

Here's a tasty family history story for you to munch on:

My dad's great grandfather brought his family to NE Nebraska from Bohemia sometime in the 1870's. They arrived with about $5.00. Sometimes the men and boys went out hunting. This was mostly laid-back Ponca Indian territory, with occasional feisty Lakota Sioux from farther west. Anyway, family lore goes that the menfolk hunters met some Indians, and were invited back to their village for a meal. As the hunters dipped into the communal pot, they were told, "Dig down deep. There's puppy in the bottom." Tricky etiquette moment for the guests, and family story for generations whenever stew is served!

And so, this old crone is thinking of the book deal--"Puppy Stew for the Pioneer Soul".


Big doin's ahead for CollageMama

Saturday afternoon this CollageMama is heading to the members-only viewing of the Dallas Museum of Art exhibition, "The Art of Romare Bearden". I have never been to a members-only anything in my life, but this is a big deal to me. Romare Bearden, 1911-1988, was a Harlem artist best known for his collages. I love his collages of musicians the most.

In conjunction with the DMA exhibit, the Valley House Gallery will also have a Romare Bearden show this summer. I have added a link to the Valley House, www.valleyhouse.com, and you can see twenty-seven examples of Bearden's art at the site.

The DMA will also host an outdoor concert by jazz legend Branford Marsalis celebrating Bearden's life and works. The free concert will be Friday, June 25, 8:00 p.m. The museum will be open until midnight. I hope to see you there!


Nearing the anniversary

About a year ago one of my dear, demented friends suggested that I write a blog. Naturally, I had no clue what she was talking about. Now I'm a poster child for Bloggers Anonymous. I admit that I'm powerless over Blogspot, that my life has become unmanageable. But it's a nice kind of unmanageable! Things accumulate in stacks and piles around the condo, and I don't much care. My priorities have been realigned. Many things I used to obsess about are now just small blips on my radar. Really important stuff still gets done, but marginal stuff has to take a number and wait in line. Fifteen years ago I preached that "stuff doesn't have needs". Now I can finally live that philosophy. Soft focus transition to the slow motion video of me running through the meadow wildflowers while gradually disrobing, toward my true soulmate, Mr. Peabody....in the background the theme song from Kismet plays, "Stranger in Cyberspace"...

"Baubles, bangles, bright shiny blogs, ding-a-ring-ding-ling..."


Father's Day

I've been getting a gift for my dad on the internet, but not by shopping. Howie is eighty-one now. He doesn't need stuff. He needs connections and memories, challenges and things to anticipate.

Everyday this week, Howie will receive at least one envelope in the mail. I am meeting my parents in Santa Fe in August, so I have sent the information about the O'Keeffe Museum and the MOIFA (Museum of International Folk Art) schedules and special exhibits. We'll be attending the Santa Fe Opera, so I sent all the info about the opera venue, and about "Don Giovanni". I also mailed info about Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, but I'm not sure if my parents will be able to get around on the trails to see the petroglyphs.

I'm planning to reread Willa Cather's Death Comes For the Archbishop before the trip, and to visit the Santa Fe Cathedral. My ancestors were Catholic a few generations ago. That got me to wondering more about particulars of their change to the Congregational Church. I've been researching in http://www.rootsweb.com/~neethnic/czechs/. I wrote my questions for Dad on post-it notes on the print-outs.

You may know I posted some of my dad's WWII letters and stories, and I thank you for your comments. I've collected them for him. He will appreciate knowing that many people still understand why Americans fought in the war.

I found information on-line about the young Czech Nebraskans who died in the WWI fighting and influenza epidemic. My dad had two delightful spinster aunts who lost their boyfriends to that horrible war. Just reading all the Czech names transports me back to sitting around my Grandma's dining table telling stories after a wonderful dinner of roast duck and sauerkraut...Mastalir, Liska, Synovec, Turek, Havlicek, Hvorka, Kovanda, Korinek, Novak, Folda, Kubysta, Lundak, Broz, Pospisil..

I hope this will give us lots to talk about when we get together. Besides, what would he do with a necktie?

Texas Trendsetter

Ten days ago I reported on one of my preschool students who had gone over to the Dark Side with a pair of Fiskars scissors. She had given herself a John Deere contour farming haircut, which at least is cool in the Dallas mugginess-plus climate.

For performance day she arrived dressed in her pine green velveteen Chrismas dress with the white lace color. Her legs were covered with well-scratched mosquito bites. Each bite was circled with Bic pen, then the circles were connected dot-to-dot style. Her mom must be pleased she didn't choose a Sharpie. I am pleased that she didn't create her personal style in my classroom.

When the new version of The Sims comes out, I think this should be an appearance choice for the Sim children. I also hope the little Sims can stand around stomping their heels so their shoes light up. I pray there will be a special sound effect when they put on their Velcro shoes and adjust the straps fifteen times. If you need me, I'll be in the lab working on the prototype for The Sims Preschool.


Welcome to the Condo California

This story is two years old now, but has been called to mind by events at work and home in the past week. I wrote it three months after I purchased my condo.

Thursday evening I walked in the door at six and hollered for Steven because the condo smelled like gas. He said he had spilled the gas can when he mowed his dad's yard. We got the stinky clothes into the washer, then he says, "By the way, the carpet upstairs by the furnace closet is a bit wet." I go up there, and can't figure out why it's wet, but it's not a major deal. I come back downstairs and finish putting away groceries, then head to my bathroom. In the hall by my closet, there are six pans catching water pouring out one of the recessed lights. Steven says, "Oh, I thought you knew about that. They were there when I woke up." I figure out that the air space underneath the furnace is soaking wet and dripping downstairs, so we set the a/c for 85 degrees, and start running fans to dry out everything that's wet. The home warranty people claim that I don't exist, so I work my way up through their supervisors until one finally admits that I do exist. The repairman can't come over until Monday noon. Mike comes home from work for his supper break and tells me he didn't call me about the water mess because he didn't know when I would be between classes. That's what I get for teaching the guys not to call me unless there's blood on the carpet.

Told the guys to go to their dad's Friday, but they chose to lay around in wife-beater undershirts watching DVDs and drinking gatorade. It was only 93 degrees inside, after all. Marlon Brando would be proud. Guess it will be a cold day in hell when they hang at their dad's. I spent Friday evening figuring out how to get to the a/c drain pipe, opening it, snaking out the drain with sculpture wire, and pouring gobs of clorox down the drain. The gunk then comes out in my downstairs bathtub, but we are able to run the a/c, and get it down to 83 in here. At 3:28 a.m. the outdoor compressor/condenser(?) starts making incredible shrieking noises, so I turn off the a/c and set fans all over the house. Shrieking noises tend to upset my next door neighbor. She's the German masseuse, weight-lifter, Wagnerian opera fanatic, anti-rabies shot dachsund owner, former cop with anger-management issues who freaked out over my offensive windchimes.

For fun today I've been dealing mostly with cleaning the outdoor unit to make it happy enough to get the inside temp down near eighty. Have to turn it off every time the shrieking starts. Also have to deal with the clothes in my closet where the rusty water mess also leaked.

Jeff got a ride back from Austin, so at least I didn't have to go move him out of the dorm today. As soon as he arrived he had to rush over to his dad's for the 1-yr. old's birthday party. The boys got her a talking Elmo ball. It is really annoying, and should drive my ex right up the wall. So the weekend hasn't been a total loss.

"...and I'll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats, and they're coming to take me away..."


Soggy Show Day

My day at work began with cleaning up fallen soggy ceiling panels and insulation, and helping place buckets up in the exposed space under the air conditioner condensation unit for our theater that apparently froze up after our last big electrical storm. I may never dunk cookies in milk or coffee again.

It was the jungle summer camp performance day, and we were expecting 150 people in the theater at 11:15 with the stage lights heating up the space, but we had to turn the a/c off. There I was climbing the ladder with buckets and plastic tubs while wearing my natural linen suit and turquoise shell, with coordinating sandals and matching turquoise toenail polish.

Did I mention that we have new neighbors? The back half of our building has been rented to an Orthodox Jewish high school, and they were moving in today. The moving vans were blocking our parking lot exit. The portable classrooms that the school has set up in the parking lot have already taken out twenty-five parking spaces, and we have the 150 parents and grandparents who need to park for Show Day.

I am grateful for the Orthodox school guy who helped lift the trash bags of soggy ceiling panels into our shared dumpster. That wet stuff was very heavy, the dumpster was really full, and I was still trying to not look totally filthy and sweaty in my linen “dress up” outfit. Maybe he was hypnotized by my awesome toenail polish.

Thank heaven the a/c repairman arrived during the final rehearsal on stage. Four enormous moving men also arrived looking for a coke machine, which we don’t have. The preschooler who was supposed to be the jungle explorer in the play decides not to participate. This was okay, but kinda inconvenient. The jungle birds were doing a fabulous job, though, fluttering across the stage singing “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lions sleeps tonight…”

Our Big Kahuna decided I should give a little speech at the end of the performances. Between the borderline autistic kid who could only stay calm if he could stroke the dragonfly pin on my jacket, and the diabetic kid needing an emergency snack, I didn’t have much time for public-speaking anxiety.

Our first camp is over. Amen. Monday we start our magic carpet ride camp. We’re born to be wild…

A Good Year For Plums

My cousin wanted to know what kind of plums to use in the dumplings. I think they were originally made with wild plums from the windrows. The Bohemian Alps area of Nebraska has lots of wild plums with pretty blossoms in the spring. I think my mom made the dumplings with most any kind of plum except the very black ones. Lincoln has a family-owned grocery store called Ideal, and when I was a kid the grocer still hand-selected the fruit, put it in a brown paper sack, weighed it and marked it with a grease pencil. Each year Ideal had a Plum-a-rama sale when plums were in season. That whole wonderful shopping experience is linked into the taste memory of the dumplings. Therefore, I think the plums should come from a farmers market, or else you might have to time travel back to a different grocery era.

The supermarkets in my current neighborhood are such unpleasant places that my interest in food and cooking is nearly wiped out. So, in a way, blogging is a weight loss program.

This is a wonderful book about life, seasons, hobbies, wisdom, and food in the Bohemian Alps part of eastern central Nebraska:

Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, by Ted Kooser, University of Nebraska Press, 2004, paperback.

The Prune Song

The Prune Song translation I typed up before made me think of an Andy Kaufman routine. This is a more lyrical version, for which I thank www.kovandasczechband.org, the translator, and the publisher:

English interpretation by Robert Ermis. This is a literal translation of Prune Song rather than a translation designed to be sung.

Verse 1:
Beyond our village on the state highway
plums are growing.
With Annie I searched. We used to eat plums.
It was always so nice.
We always sat near each other.
We gazed at the stars and heavens.
And now, so alone already, I recall everything
I would like to be near you.

In our lane, plums are rolling.
I don't watch them today.
My eyes are burning.
If I had a girl, I would go after her.
I would give her a kiss on the cheek.
Nobody would know.

Verse 2:
Beyond our village on the state highway
plums are like fists.
Annie said nothing. She ran away from me.
Now I have no good luck.
Annie now watches the plums with somebody else.
She no longer watches our plum jam.
The stars used to see things.
One doesn't talk about that.

This presentation Copyright © 1998, 2004 George W. Jolly. Permission is granted for use of this information provided that you observe all rights of the original author, publisher or other legal copyright holder of this song. Without those writers and publishers we would have no access to beautiful music.


Svestkova Alej

My dad didn't learn to speak Czech, but he did sometimes sing this song, particularly when we were feasting on plum dumplings:

The Prune Song: A Tale of Plums

Back of our village, on the main highway
Bosensky grows plums--oh yes!
Ann and I watched the plums
We ate the, it was so nice.
Always we sat beside each other.
Upon the stars, we gazed at the haeavens.
And now I, I do everything alone.
I think about wanting to be near you.

Chorus: On that avenue
Plums are rolling
I, today, am not watching.
I, today, am not watching.
My eyes are burning.

Back of our village, on the main highway
Plums are large as a fist--oh yes!
Ann said nothing and ran from me.
I have no desire for happiness.
Ann watches plums with another
Now our plum jam she will not see.
Earlier here stars saw little things
Of which one does not talk.


Back of our village, on the main highway
Plums are gathered--oh yes!
Clothing I have in the wardrobe
And I met with the parson, we have it signed.
Surely after I'm married I'll forget--
Then you, Ann, will remember what you did,
That you deceived me.
Plums now have no value.


(I will copy the rest of the background info & mail it upon request)

This is the recipe for Plum Dumplings (or Cherry Dumplings).
My grandma's recipes are always short on the details.

The recipe is for twelve dumplings, to feed two people. I have a contradictory note saying to make a half recipe for a family.

3 eggs well-beaten
1/2 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp baking powder sifted into
3 c. flour (plus 1/2 c. for rolling out)
Mix and turn out on a board and knead until smooth.
Roll out into a sheet about 1/2 inch thick and cut into twelve 4" squares.
Add plum and a little sugar to each square and fold and seal, being careful not to let sugar touch edge of dough. For cherry dumplings put about eight cherries into each square.
Drop in large kettle of boiling water (a little salt in the water) and boil, covered for twenty minutes.
Remove from water and open each dumpling and add 2 tsp. of sugar and a tbsp. of browned butter. Then rinse the butter skillet with about one cup of the water from the dumplings and pour it over dumplings and mix gently.

Scoop dumplings into bowls. Serve as the entree. Make orgasmic moans while eating and don't think about carbs or calories. Fan yourself.

United in Marriage

Two of Pierce's popular young people, Miss Halma Burkhead, and Adolph J. Mastalir were united in the holy bonds of matrimony last evening, December 5. The marriage took place at Sioux City at the home of the bride's sister, Mrs. H. J. Palmer [my Auntie Myrtle], at 8 o'clock p.m., Rev. E. H. Gaynor of the St. Paul's Episcopal church officiating. On Friday or Saturday the newly married couple will return to Pierce and go to housekeeping in the Tawney hoiuse, recently vacated by the L. P. Tonner family.

Both of the contracting parties are well know to Pierce people. The bride is one of the estimable young ladies of Pierce. Up until this year she taught in the public schools of Pierce and previous to that she taught in the rural districts. She is blessed with a sweet and happy disposition and will prove a useful helpmate for the man she has chosen as a life partner. The groom is one of Pierce's popular young men. He is intelligent, moral and a gentlemen in every sense of the word. Five years ago he came to Pierce and started in as bookkeeper in the Pierce County bank, and he has made good, and now holds the position of assistant cashier. He is popular and has the good-will of everybody.

It is a pleasure indeed for the Leader to join with the many friends of this worthy, young couple in wishing them a long, prosperous and happy wedded life.

I have a wonderful photo of the happy newlyweds joking together at the lot where their home was being constructed. They look very relaxed, and are horsing around for the camera. Adolph did not serve in WWI. He was married with a young son, and responsible for his widowed mother and two sisters. During the Depression he argued against the bank's foreclosure of farmers devastated by the drought, and lost his job. He died at age fifty. Halma managed to support their three children working as the night telephone operator and taking in boarders. Later she became the librarian at Pierce's Carnegie library. And she was an incredible cook. She could effortlessly "whomp up" an impromptu midnight snack for a dozen people that might include chicken tamales, cukes and onions, prune and apricot kolaches, or ginger creme and sugar cookies.

Eat more prunes!

Steamy and exotic

The rain finally ended after 3 1/2 days, and now Dallas is a steambath. The roof is leaking in the theatre, the drama classroom, the adult potty, the intermediate art classroom, and onto the stage. A guy kayaked in the flash flood rapids on the creek across the street. It all bodes for a very bad skeeter summer.

We have been making tiny jungle safari campsites with tents, awnings, yellow cellophane fires, camp stools, mosquito netting, paper towel tube trees with dead hula skirt raffia for leaves, and little clothespin Stanleys and Livingstones. Some campsites have exotic birds made out of the lids from dead magic markers. Others have clothespin monkeys in the trees. Most of the explorers are roasting marshmallows, but a few are boiling in large pots made from liquid laundry detergent lids. We used striped pipe cleaners for poisonous snakes, and green craft foam to make crocodiles.

I wanted to show the kids the funny Land Rover scenes from "The Gods Must Be Crazy", but naked bushmen got into the scenes. Still, that is a wonderful movie.

It's not the heat, it's the humidity.


Spectator SAXophone Online

Yes, indeed, we have reached a new low at the condo. Mike and his friends are upstairs keeping tabs on the EBay bidding for Mike’s old saxophone. It is a beginner saxophone, only good enough for grade 6-7 band. By eighth grade Mike was playing the school’s baritone sax instead, and it had a case the size of a coffin. In tenth grade Mike had the horrible experience of playing in the high school marching band, being screamed at for several hours a day by a band director bent on getting another perfect rating at the UIL competition. That pretty much killed Mike’s interest in band and saxophone, and mine. Where’s the fun of marching in the 4th of July parade playing Sousa, doing a Star Wars medley on the football field, or playing “We Are the Champions” at the basketball game? This is Plano, Texas. We don’t have fun learning about music, we conquer the hell out of it.

Anyway, the bidding is up to $280 with four hours to go. I hope the $280 will cover the cost of shipping.

World Domination, Parker Brothers, and Milton Bradley

Way back when we lived in Edmond, Oklahoma, I used to watch a 6:30 p.m. tv show with Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson drawing on dry-erase boards with celebrity teammates. It was on during that calm half hour after the kiddies were fed, their daddy came home, and mommy was briefly off-duty but completely brain dead. The tv game wasn't Pictionary, but something similar. Not as annoying as Hollywood Squares, though.

A dear, demented friend and I have been brain-storming a team parlor game about redrawing the political map of the world. You know, redraw the Kurds into Turkey, or add the Turkish Kurds and the Iraqi Kurds to create an independent Kurdish nation. Make the Kurds try it out for a year, which could be a spinoff reality show. Circle gets Red Square. And for Eastern Europe, nobody gets to buy a vowel! I am dieting so I will look good in those Vanna White outfits.

Please tell me you have read Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg. We often design board games in my art classes. We make card games, too.

My favorite part of playing Risk as a kid (who was finally old enough to play with the big kids) was grooving on all the tiny colored wooden blocks for the armies. I loved how the colored blocks fit in their little plastic boxes. World domination was secondary.

I really loved playing Clue. I first played it at a friend's house in fifth grade. When I got home I recreated the game board on corrugated cardboard from an old box, and drew all the cards from memory. The game fit so well with my obsession with drawing floor plans for houses on graph paper, and my Nancy Drew/Cherry Ames book favorites. It was Professor Plum in the billiard room with the candlestick...

The students at my Montessori school sometimes play the old-fashioned game of Life. You remember the little cars with the pink and blue pegs for people. At the school the kids are allowed to choose same-sex marriages if they just want pink pegs or blue pegs. It's very open-minded.

We used to play Monopoly on school snow days. Texans don't understand the incredible snow glare headaches we used to get when the sun would come out after the blizzard. Texas winters are so gray and wimpy. Thinking about Monopoly gives me a snow headache sometimes.

Yahtzee isn't a board game, but we always played it during Christmas vacations. We might have 8 or 10 family members and friends around the dining table laughing, telling family stories, and rolling the dice until midnight, then eating sugar cookies. Howie and I prefer our sugar cookies very thin and dark brown.

Playing Scrabble is how we honor my mom. She enjoys it, and my dad won't play. I love when 3 or 4 generations are playing Scrabble. We set the board on a lazy susan. It's fun to look back through the scoring notepad to see who was old enough to add the scores in a particular year. Again, I have this thing about the little wooden tiles.

And, dang, if real life isn't a whole lot like Chutes and Ladders.


Keeping things in perspective

This is a mind-blowing report my dad sent back to his local newspaper during WWII. The date is 5/10/45, the Pierce County Leader (Nebraska):

V-E Day means many things--but one thing that cannot be wiped out by the signing of the peace pact is the crimes of the German prison camps.

Our soldiers who have viewed these atrocities will not be satisfied with an "easy" peace.

St. Sgt. Howard Mastalir is one of these soldiers, who has written a vivid description of what he saw in Gardelagen, which he wanted published in The Leader so that those at home could know why they are fighting.

His letter follows:

"Somewhere deep in Germany"
April 18, 1945

It has been a long time since I last wrote. But you know as well as I that there have been good reasons. I am happy to say that I have received a good deal of mail for which I am grateful.

Now, I have something rather gruesome to relate but it is on my mind and I feel I must write it to somebody. You will read about it in the papers and see pictures but mine will be a first-hand account. You can hand it to The Leader if you like.

I have just returned from Gardelagen, Germany: just a typical German village, but one that is in the news. Out of that village comes another story of Nazi brutality. This is an account of their latest infamous crime.

About six weeks ago the Nazis started moving a large group of prisoners from the area threatened by the Russian advance. One group, numbering about 1,800, was a mixture of political prisoners and Russian and Polish war prisoners. These doomed men were making the march on a ration of six potatoes a day. They were guarded by a few trusted prisoners, who were promised freedom for their work, several more Wehrmacht and SS troops.

These prisoners reached Gardelegen last Friday, the 13th, on their way to Hanover. By now there were ony 1,100 of them. At this time their escort discovered that Hanover was in American hands. Late in the afternoon they were herded a short way from the village to a large hay barn. The barn is a brick structure approximately 120 by 40 feet. This, supposedly, was to be their sleeping quarters for the night. But inside, the prisoners found the floor spread with straw and soaked with gasoline or kerosene. At about 6 o'clock that evening, with the prisoners inside and the doors bolted, the straw was ignited but the prisoners beat out the fire. So the Nazi maniacs threw in several concussion grenades, followed these with white phosphorous grenades, incendiaries and flares. That did the job.

The imprisoned men rushed for the smallest of openings, forced a brick out here and there, tried to squeeze under the doors or dig out under the foundation. Two or three men did free themselves and escaped. At one time about 50 men stormed the back entrance and broke out into the open. Here they were immediately mowed down by machine gun fire. The Nazis did the job well.

The next morning several hundred of the victims were removed and thrown into huge trenches around the buildings. Some were only partially covered.

The village of Gardelegen fell to the American troops Saturday evening but the scene of this atrocity was not discovered until Monday morning. This morning I visited that building--stepped into its entrances, walked around the mass graves, looked over the bloody open ground. I am still sick and furious from that sight.

Why did this horrible thing come about, what was accomplished by this mass murder? What sort of man is it who can do such things? The same men who expect mercy and gentle treatment when they throw up their arms and yell, "Kamrade." Let no one wonder why we fight.

It isn't a nice story nor a pleasant one to read, but it will remind you how important the job is we are doing. It will also explain why the job must be completely and thoroughly done.



Making a list and checking it twice

Since I was first old enough to read a newspaper (we are talking about over forty years ago here), I've been pondering what four famous people I would invite to my fantasy dinner party. You know those kind of newspaper columns about some local person-of-the-hour: What kind of car do you drive? A rusted-out puke-yellow Chevy Nova with a defective air intake ...What kind of car do you wish you drove? The Rhinemaiden always wishes to drive the 1961 Plymouth Sport Fury...What would you choose to eat at your last meal? A Nebraska corn-fed beef T-Bone, of course, and a baked potato with sour cream...Your all-time favorite TV show? If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life, what four books, four movies, and four LPs would you want to have with you? (Ignore the absurd premise of the question).

For much of my life of worrying about these major philosophical questions, I've been inviting Dr. Seuss, Alexander Calder, Jerry Garcia, and Henri Matisse to my fantasy dinner party. Sometimes I decide that I have to invite at least one woman, and that leads to lots of guilt and anxiety. Henri Matisse gets dumped, and I feel just horrible about that. The women I've considered inviting over the years include children's author Margaret Wise Brown, quilt artist Nancy Crow, novelist Louise Erdich, NPR contributor Bailey White, Bonnie Raitt, Hillary Clinton (when I thought she was going to change the health care system), and writer Nora Ephron. I can't ever seem to find a woman with the playfulness, creativity, humor, and impact to fit in with the guys. And who is supposed to cook and clean up at this fantasy dinner, I ask you that. It better not be me. I was planning to retire to the study for port and cigars with the men.

The desert island LP list has two constants; Derek & the Dominoes, and Dave Brubeck's "Take Five". A recording of Mozart's clarinet, bassoon, and oboe concertos is usually on the list. I used to sit out in the front yard digging dandelions and listening to the Top Forty countdown on my AM transistor radio with the earphone on Saturdays in the mid-Sixties. A 45 rpm recording of Petula Clark singing "Downtown" cost 88 cents, and a vinyl LP of Peter, Paul, and Mary cost $3.98 plus sales tax. I made between thirty-five and fifty cents per hour babysitting. Even then I worried about the fantasy dinner guests and the desert island.

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
always leads the movie list. I would be quite willing to trade places with Katharine Ross/Etta Place even if I had to stay forever on the desert isle (or in Bolivia) with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Let me ride just once on Butch's handlebars! I often list "Dr. Strangelove" and "What's Up Doc?" They have mysterious curative powers.

, by Ron Hansen, is always the first book. I know, I know. It's some kind of outlaw attraction that goes along with Butch and Sundance. The outlaw attraction is powerful, and can lead a good woman to marry a no-good gunfighter or a bankruptcy attorney... Pussywillow, by Margaret Wise Brown is next. After that I always decide I should get to choose at least ten books for the island.

I do have my heroes, despite my fondness for outlaws. "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" is my favorite TV show of all time. Mr. Peabody is sooooo my type!

I am hoping if I confess all this I will be relieved of my life-long obsession. Maybe I'll just be too embarrassed to ever mention it again.


Died & gone to heaven

Mind-boggling day at the Cotton Bowl for the Crossroads Guitar Festival. Ten hours of music, never mind the uncomfortable seats and cramped space! Larry Carlton, Pat Methany, John McLaughlin in a zen jam, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan, a run to the porta-potties, Booker T & the MGs, Bo Diddley (WHO do you love?), a guy from Los Lobos, Joe Walsh, Vince Gill with Jerry Douglas on slide guitar, some awesome duo from India, James Taylor (disrespectfully upstaged by Joe Walsh), BB King (everyday & everyday I have the blues)....

...joined by Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy, and eventually John Mayer. Taking turns. Jamming. Call & response for over an hour.

Then Santana. Carlos. I love you. Joined by EC. I love you. Then EC with Doyle Bramhall II doing Robert Johnson songs. Busting loose with "I Shot the Sheriff", "Have You Ever Loved a Woman", "Badge", "Layla", "Wonderful Tonight", and "Cocaine".
EC & Jeff Beck jamming.

The weather is getting weird. Lots of lightning. ZZTop comes on, but I am still so wowed by "I Shot the Sheriff" that I can barely inhale. And should I ever catch my breath, there's a pervasive whafting of ..

Called my parents after work today. I was worried that they would be worried because I didn't call all weekend. My dad informed me I misspelled Slowhand's name. "There's an M before the P," he says. It's Clampton. Eric Clampton.

Did I mention that my dad's ship came in. All my life I've heard the expression, "When my ship comes in". Well, Howie, come on down(!) You've won the Miller Genuine Draft drawing at the
Hi-V grocery store. You've won the portable Weber tailgate gas grill and the hundred dollar beef shopping spree!

Dad. Dude. Jed was on the Beverly Hillbillies. Dude. Peace. And Alleve for old ladies the next day.


Toilet trouble

A few days back I wrote about our first house in Omaha, Nebraska. I'll now attempt to answer questions raised by Gentle Readers regarding the bathroom with its yellow fixtures.

The house was a little tract house, built in the late-Fifties. The brown wall tiles were original to the house. The brown tiles went half-way up the walls behind the yellow bathtub and sink. The crinkle mirror tiles above them were probably added by the same aesthetically-challenged previous owner who painted the green stripes on the exterior of the house. The brown went with the pastel fixtures better than some of the other colors the builder used, like swamp green tiles with pink fixtures...

Sometimes you have to work with no budget. By the time I got the bamboo window shade, and put a 3 foot square oil painting of fossil turtle shells on one wall, it got to be a cute bathroom. Then one night the yellow toilet tank spontaneously cracked apart. The only credit card we had was Sears, so we rushed to Sears and bought a yellow toilet. Sears would bring it the next day and install it, but they had no yellow toilet seats in stock. They would order one, and let us have a "loaner", which is a pretty bizarre concept.

We waited for months for the yellow toilet seat. I would call Sears every few weeks to check on the status, and they would say it was back-ordered. Finally one store clerk realized that something was wrong with the order. The clerk who originally wrote up the order for us entered the store number, 256, in the space for quantity ordered instead of one. Can you imagine if a truck had pulled up and delivered 256 yellow toilet seats?

Jump to last evening. My toilet was running and running. I asked Mike what he did to it. He said he took the lid off, and messed around with the handle and float and flapper.

This morning the toilet was running laps again, plus, it wouldn't flush. I headed off to Home Depot to buy a new flush valve flapper and flush handle. I installed those, did the plunger dance, burned incense, prayed for forgiveness for offending the 256 yellow toilet seats. Mike finally woke up and mumbled something about "the black thing in the hole being upside down maybe". I had no clue what he was talking about. He staggered downstairs, and took a black cup from the pipe below the flush valve flapper. He inverted it, and went back to bed.

At this point the situation deteriorates further, and the little black cup thingie won't come back out of the pipe. I start reading instructions for removing the tank from the toilet. My vocabulary heats up. I try one last removal attempt with a screwdriver, and the black cup thingie pops out. Lo, and behold, it is the little hat that belongs on top of the fill valve column. The toilet is happy. I am happy. Ten dollars and two and a half hours of how not to fix a toilet. At least nothing was back-ordered.

That is my salute to Mr. Clapper, inventor of the flush toilet. Now we are leaving to hear Mr. Clapton at the Cotton Bowl.


A Life-Changing Purse

I sing here the praises and powers of the truly perfect purse. Six months ago I was seduced by a purse at the Plano East craft fair. I didn't need a purse. I wasn't looking for a long-term relationship. I didn't have any discretionary income.

Still, the purse had stolen my heart and my senses. This purse was the Real Me. It was my destiny. It challenged me to do something on intuition not reasoning. I suspended reasoning, and bought the purse. It began to change my life almost immediately.

I'm not a trend-setting person, to say the least, but I was suddenly the object of blatant purse envy. Total strangers at the art museum and opera began commenting audibly about my purse. Homeschooling moms and Wiccas saw the purse and saluted me as a woman of impressive creativity.

The compliments came from women age 22 to 72. All this positive energy inspires me to go off on new adventures and trips. My youngest child will go off to college in another year, and it is time to change my focus from full-time mom to creative traveller.
The purse pushes me to a greater acceptance of opportunities and self-knowledge. It holds a lot of stuff, too!


This week someone in the UK let me know that he had scored a Googlewhack searching chutneys and scarab on Google. The only search result was this blog, where jellied beetles are a tasty way of life. This was my introduction to the challenge of Googlewhacking. So far it seems to me the main challenge imposed by Googlewhacking is quitting and going off to do some real work. The time-wasting possibilities of this game are enormous. I am proud to report there is only one Google search result for wookie chutneys. I should probably quit while I'm ahead, before I end up in Googlewhackers Anonymous.

Managing my money

I have made a lot of mistakes managing my money. I haven't squandered billions of dollars, mainly because I've never had enough to squander. The dumb things have always been because I didn't have enough money. Specifically, enough to pay the bills when they came due.

Quite possibly my dumbest money moment occurred in September of 2000. My oldest had just started college. His father suddenly decided that he would not pay ANYTHING for college. I can't really get into the complexities here, but it had something to do with vasectomy reversal and Armenia...

Anyway, I needed to deposit my paycheck and have money in my account REALLY BAD. Please learn from my mistake:

Should you ever happen to drive up to the night deposit drop of your bank with a deposit of checks that might keep your account above the drowning mark, and you find no deposit envelopes in the night deposit box, and you walk to the ATM and find no deposit envelopes there, either, don't succumb to the urge to dump out your Altoids in order to have a container for your deposit. It seems to goof up the bank's system, makes them think of bombs, and generally slows down your desperately needed deposit.

The deposit did not show up in my account. On the fourth day I was forced to call the bank and tell them that I was the idiot who put the Altoids box in the night deposit slot, and beg them to open the box and deposit the checks.

"Where did you deposit the, ahem, Altoids box?"
"In the night deposit at Parker and Custer Roads."
"I'm sorry, but we have closed that location."
"What? Huh? There's no sign or anything!"
"Well, it is closed. Let me see if anyone has checked the night deposit over there. Please hold........I'm sorry, ma'am, but they say the box isn't even there any more."
"But I put my checks in it on the thirty-first!"
"At Parker and Custer?"
"Yes! At the branch bank at Parker and Custer!"
"The branch bank?"
"Yes, the branch bank on the southwest corner of Parker and Custer. There weren't any envelopes in the drive-through ATM..."
"Oh. That branch bank. I'll call over there and ask them about the Altoids box. Please hold...."
"But, huh, what?"
"Ma'am, they say your checks were deposited this morning, and they did wonder about the Altoids box."
"But you said the branch was closed."
"That was our desk inside the Bag & Save grocery store on the northeast corner of Parker and Custer. It was closed, and the grocery store was closed."
"So the money is in my account? I am so confused."
"The money is there. Can I be of any other help?"
"I'm so, so, so, so sorry about the Altoids box...Were they afraid to open it? Was it stuck in the night deposit drop? Could they be sure to leave out plenty of envelopes at night from now on?"
"Thank you, ma'am, and have a nice day."


Going over to the Dark Side

My calling is to train young Jedi warriors to use Fiskars scissors. Using scissors is a powerful force for change. Mastering the skill involves not just coordination, but focus and imagination. The young Jedi must become one with their inner crocodile.

Sadly, there comes a time when most Jedi must flirt with the Dark Side. They have mastered the power to use Fiskars. Now they must prove they have the mature judgment to use that power.

Often, a young warrior or warriorette will exercise the power without the judgment. These are the sad days when I must send ponytails and bangs home to mommy in a ziplock bag. Then I want to zoom off in my landspeeder to the cantina.

My current group of Jedi-wannabes includes a four year old warriorette who has used the force for evil. She has snipped sections of her hair down to the scalp in rows. Try to visualize the wookie after a John Deere convention.

Make a Crocodile Your Cutting Buddy

Mastering scissors is an exciting moment in every preschooler's life. It takes a small investment of an adult's time and attention to reach that mastery safely, but it doesn't have to be torture for either child or adult. The two best friends of the child learning to cut are a pair of Fiskars round-tip scissors, and an imaginary crocodile.

Why Fiskars? I find the extra expense over other round-tip scissors to be worth every penny in reduced frustration. Also, lefties usually experience success with Fiskars as well as right-handed children. This is important when hand preference has not yet been determined.

Why the crocodile? Ah, that's a good question. Preschoolers sense that mastering scissors will make them more powerful little people. A crocodile is a powerful animal that can bite the way the child wants the scissors to bite the paper. Grown-ups forget the thrill of personal power that comes with being able to cut snowflakes, paper lanterns, valentines, and "play money". The crocodile imagery helps the child remember the correct way to hold and manipulate scissors.

Help your youngster place his thumb in the small round hole of the scissors, and then two or three fingers in the larger hole. Say that the thumb is the crocodile's eyes. The crocodile can only bite if it stays awake, so the thumb needs to stay on top when the child is cutting. Children usually try to roll their hand inward, and their thumb down when beginning to cut. Tell the child that rolling the thumb under makes the crocodile fall asleep and then it can't bite anything.

Before trying to cut, have the child make the biting motion of opening and closing the scissors. If your child doesn't have the hand strength to open and close the scissors, delay learning to cut, and instead spend some fun time together squeezing and shaping with Play-doh or clay to increase strength. When the child is ready to make the crocodile bite, you can help hold the paper and say, "Bite, bite, bite" along with the child.

Crocodiles are very hungry, so stock up on construction paper. It is easier to cut than copier paper or newspaper (or sibling's hair). Soon your young crocodile will be ready to expand its diet.

We often jokingly compare risky behavior to "running with scissors". What's the best way to carry scissors? Have your child put their fist around the crocodile's closed mouth, with the scissor blades pointing down, as if you were going to peek through the handles or use them for a microphone.

Share these wonderful books with your young snipper: Imagine You Are a Crocodile, by Karen Wallace; Bernard Waber's Lyle the Crocodile stories; and The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling.


Terra Cotta Masks

We have been looking at African mask examples this week in preparation for making clay masks. The examples help illustrate how students can make their masks more three-dimensional, how they can use incised lines and patterns to add interest, and how we can add raffia, feathers, and beads when we complete our fired masks. The examples also inspire the kids to add features from different animals--horns, beaks, ears, etc.

Each summer I teach two-week thematic camps. Right now we are on a jungle theme. Two weeks is enough time to make a clay project, let it dry, and fire it, but not enough to glaze it. I have to fire seventy pieces in one load, so projects that can nest and "spoon" in the kiln are easier than bulkier objects.I took my sample to inspire the kids, but not to limit them. I used it to explain the steps in the process:

1. Making the mask.
2. Letting the mask dry over a toilet paper tube to give it a rounded form.
3. How firing changes the color of the clay.
4. The painting of the clay.
5. The unpainting of the clay.
6. The decorating possibilities.
7. How the mask looks if left outside for months.

This project works for age five and up. The materials needed are low-cost and readily available:
1. The clay, of course. I gave each child enough to form an "apple" ball and a "golf" ball.
2. A Chinet plate for each child. The plate doesn't have to be new.
3. A plastic drinking straw, plastic fork, and a craft stick for each child.
4. A toilet paper tube for each child.
5. A kite string for cutting, and a toothpick or stylus for writing names.

I push all the tables together to seat seven children on each side of a 10x6" surface. After demonstrating the ever-magical slicing of the clay with the kite string, we have the Clay Race. The Clay RaceFamilies don't sit down to those big meals and pass the plates and bowls anymore, so kids don't know how to pass. Passing is a skill, and passing without spilling is a really useful skill. The Clay Race is also a time choreographing tool for the teacher, allowing stretching or squishing to fit the time available. It helps if the teacher has ever observed the bizarre pitching motion used in cricket games.

The Clay Race can be used with age three and up:
1. Explain that each team has a Starter and a Stopper. The Starter stays the same, but the Stopper changes with each round.
2. Do an elaborate get set-go display of grabbing a chunk of clay in each hand, twirling it about, and plunking it down before the Starter of each team. The kids start yelling, "Pass! Pass it! Pass it!" Get the teams to stop passing at the Stopper.
3. The Stopper, obviously, changes to the next person on each team. The get set-go display can become even more crazy. The kids are learning The Clay Stops Here, with apologies to Harry S. Truman. They are also overcoming whatever aversion they have to touching the ooey-gooey clay.
4. There's lots of energy and excitement without actual winners.

Now it's time for aerobic squeezing, but first, The Two Rules of Clay. The Two Rules are easier than the Eight-fold Path of Buddhism, yet still guide us in our daily search for Nirvana:
1. Don't Eat It!
2. Don't Pound It!
Rule One reminds us to care for ourselves.Rule Two reminds us to be considerate of others.Doesn't that pretty much cover it?

Aerobic Squishing and SqueezingWarning! The art teacher should not actually put on a leotard. Our goal is not to traumatize youngsters. Our goal is to increase their hand strength. [Right now I have a student who practiced with scissors to create a Susan Powter meets John Deere hairstyle all her own.]...and squeeze and squish. And squish and squeeze. And pass it. Left hand. Right hand. Left hand squeeze. Right hand squeeze. Left hand. Right hand. Up-squeeze. Down-squeeze. Behind your back-squeeze. Over your head squeeze. Other side now! Repeat....And pat and pat and push and slap. Now pull apart, and 1-2-3-4 Slap! Now roll and roll and ROLL it! Feel the burn?....[Try to end up with an apple-size ball, and a golf ball-size blob] Set aside the "golf ball".

Remind everyone of the distinction between patting/pushing and "The Forbidden" pounding. Pat and push the apple into a pancake. Use the toilet paper tube to "cookie-cut" two eye holes in the pancake. Show the kids how to use the craft stick to poke the clay out of the tp tube, then give the tube a mildly crushing squeeze. (The tube needs to compress as the clay shrinks during drying.) Save the circles of clay. Use the fork, Luke, to incise a design on the surface of the clay. Scritchy-scratching turns out bad, so go for something more controlled, texture-wise.Now it's time to put the crunched tp tube on the old Chinet plate. Carefully pick up the pancake with eyeholes, and drape it over the tp tube on the plate. Use the cut-out clay circles to form monkey ears or baboon mouths. Use the extra "golf ball" clay to create other strange features.The drinking straw is for poking holes around the edges.

When the clay is fired, thread raffia and other decorations through the holes. Add a wire or leather thong for hanging the mask.Oh, no! Wait, wait! Back up a step! After the clay is fired, we will paint it with black tempera, then wait a few minutes. We'll take turns washing the paint off the surface at the big art sink, leaving the black paint in the crevices like a patina. Each child decides how much paint to wash off.My sample mask has been hanging on the patio fence for 3-4 months. The lizards have been using it as their clubhouse/kiva. Even though it is drenched in downpours and spritzed with the automatic sprinklers, it still has the black contrasts in the grooves.

Groovy, baby. And the art teacher has been sweating with the oldies.


More excitement than necessary

In the living room I have many teen guys watching "Reservoir Dogs". This is one of the last movies I watched with my former spouse, and so, I am repulsed and close to breaking out in hives. Nevermind the whole "Stuck in the Middle with You" thing.

Out back, behind the privacy fence, I've got the TXU utility guy trying to find the smelly gas leak. I've also got my neighbor, Sheila, who must have played the Addams family's grandmother. She is accompanied by the petit Napolean of the condo mutiny.

Overhead we have a tornado watch with expected hail. It smells like a big one. I had the teens move the old Buick out in the open, and put their nice Honda Civics under the carport.

I sure hope the storm washes away the pollen.


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