Mozart's earwax reveals secrets of the universe

What a joy exploring today's New York Times online! Everything will be revealed in it's own due Times. Breathe in and breathe out through the top of your head. Let the energy flow!

My morning's first delight is Arthur I. Miller's essay, "A Genius Finds Inspiration in the Music of Another" about Einstein and Mozart. So much was written about Mozart last week during the 250th anniversary of his birth. Some critics seem to rate his music as lightweight wallpaper classical Muzak. Mozart's music feels effortless and obvious, which is either a sign of a hack or a sign of nirvana. For me, it is a channel of cosmic order and energy. Oh, that my art compositions would seem that beamed down from the stars! The essay discusses Einstein's inspiration from Mozart's music, described as "plucked from the air."

I'm also exhilarated by the news that scientists have found the gene that controls whether your earwax is moist or dry. The earwax gene is, "known to geneticists as the ATP-binding cassette C11 gene." Read on, and find that earwax, "seems to have the very humble role of being no more than biological flypaper, preventing dust and insects from entering the ear." I don't want to spoil the surprise, so read it for yourself.

You can also learn about NASA's Stardust Mission, and the collection of comet dust on a gunky substance known as aerogel, science lingo for Mozart's genius earwax, in today's New York Times. Matter. Energy. Space. Earwax. Beauty. Truth. Truth. Beauty. Q-Tips. Comet dust. Calculus. Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear. Put some Mozart in the cd player, and do a bit of stargazing.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

John Keats. 1795–1821
Ode on a Grecian Urn, from high school English class


If it's too loud, you're too old

Roll me on over to the shoulder of the road, and text-message right on past. I'm history now, part of an era to be studied in Music 217: Rock and Related Music.

I can see me and the rest of my generation relegated to two pages in the high school American History textbook (without a doubt full of misspellings), and maybe a 1.5" square black and white photo of Woodstock in a sidebar.

People try to put us d-down (bloggin’ ’bout my generation)
People try to put us d-down (bloggin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get frustrated text-messaging around (e-mailin’ ’bout my generation)

How do I know I'm history? Composing a text message one sentence long takes fifteen minutes and makes me really grumpy. My friends never check the text message mailbox on their cellphones anyway because the thought just never occurred to them. We all have enough trouble pushing the teeny tiny buttons to make a call squinting through our bifocals. If it's too difficult, you're too old!

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train
And I's feelin' near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained
It rode us all the way into New Orleans
I pulled my Nokia out of my dirty red bandana
I's text-messagin' soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah
Windshield wipers slappin' time,
I's holdin' Bobby's hand in mine
We sang every song that driver knew, yeah
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

Words and music by Kris Kristofferson
Popularized by Roger Miller in 1969 (#12 Country hit)
Lyrics as recorded by Janis Joplin on the 1971 album "Pearl" (Columbia VCK-30322)


What's Inside Drawer Number Three?

Preferred Provider lists for 1999
Benefit Outline for an insurance company I had in 1997
Warranties for appliances that bit the dust before 2000
Envelopes for mailing contributions to my retirement savings account--yeah, sure
Day-by-day peak flow meter readings for two sons with asthma beginning in 1988
A fat notebook of members and rules for the babysitting coop we grew out of in 1993
Patty cake hand rhymes from Omaha Public Library storytimes in 1985-87
Time sheets and expense records for a job I left nine or ten years ago
Numerous booklets from high school guidance counselors about college applications

It's clean-out-the-file cabinets weekend at the CollageMama House of Clutter. I've made a dent, but there are miles to go before I sleep. Then, next weekend I hope to tackle my teaching files and sample boxes. Those image files will be tougher to cull.

My brain is a strange battle between everything in alphabetical order and save every inspiring scrap. A paralyzing effect has kicked in. I've lost the ability to be either organized or creative. God knows what this junk is for:

Mary Chapin Carpenter
Almost Home

I saw my life this morning
Lying at the bottom of a drawer
All this stuff I'm saving
God knows what this junk is for
And whatever I believed in
This is all I have to show
What the hell were all reasons
For holding on for such dear life
Here's where I let go

I'm not running
I'm not hiding
I'm not reaching
I'm just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I'm almost home

I saw you this morning
You were looking straight at me
From an ancient photograph
Stuck between letters and some keys
I was lost just for a moment
In the ache of old goodbyes
Sometimes all that we can know is
There's no such thing as no regrets
Baby it's all right

I'm not running
I'm not hiding
I'm not reaching
I'm just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I'm almost home

Music to my ears

Saturday's wonderful rain on this region so very parched was a fabulous sound for dozing in and out, and finally getting up and going. I was glad to run my weekend errands in the rain, as if I'm as much in a drought as the yards and fields.

I could not get enough of Janácek's Glagolitic Mass at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's performance Thursday evening. The piece is only thirty-nine minutes long. I wished the glorious music would have continued twenty more at least.

I was drawn to the concert by its Czech Night program which also included Dvorák's Seventh Symphony. I'm an itty-bit Bohemian, one quarter to be exact. My great-grandparents left Bohemia at the time when Dvorák, Smetana, and Janácek were all alive and composing.* Patriotism, national identity, and speech patterns of the language play important parts in these composers' music.

I learned to love "The Moldau," by Smetana, as a little girl watching Captain Kangaroo. About once a year his show featured the music accompanied by a film of the brooks growing into the river and flowing to the sea. I thank The Captain for this beautiful multisensory explanation of the water cycle. The film and music often come to mind as I work on my pet recycling project, and when I hear of my son's visits to Prague. The Moldau river is also called the Vltava, and flows through Prague.

How wonderful to hold that lesson combining music, beautiful photography, and science for forty-five years! What more can a teacher hope to impart?

But back to the Glagolitic Mass. I just love Janácek's music. It seems to mine into my core, and then sends white light down the shaft. That was my feeling when I first heard Jenufa, and still when I listen to it. I've been listening to some of his music for wind quintet lately, and have the same sensation. This performance was spine-tingling. The organ postlude was mind-blowing.

Glagolitic Mass is not something your surgeon removes and sends to the lab. Glagolitic refers to an alphabet created by St. Cyril and St. Methodius in the Ninth century A.D. to translate the Bible into the language of the Czech region of Moravia. It is related to the cursive Greek alphabet.

You can read the full text of Scott Cantrell's review for the Dallas Morning News. It's not written in Glagolitic. He writes eloquently about the music, and I wonder if he is just an itty-bit Czech, too:

I can't remember a musical experience more thrilling than the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's performance Thursday night of Leos Janácek's Glagolitic Mass.

What stunning music this is, a wondrous kaleidoscope of sound. To the traditional texts of the mass, but in Old Church Slavonic, brasses bray wild fanfares, strings churn, winds burble, the organ rumbles and roars. It's a score made for the generous acoustics of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center...

*Smetana, Bedrich (1824-1884), Dvorák, Antonín (1841 - 1904), Janácek, Leos (1854-1928).


Further evidence of the impending apocalypse

Albertsons no longer carries Wheat Chex cereal. There aren't enough mamas making darn good Kriss Kringle Krunch now that an expensive inferior ready-made Chex Mix product is widely available. I pick up containers of mixed nuts, cashew halves, and dry roasted peanuts.

There's no substitute for Wheat Chex. Albertsons and Kroger both have generic pretzels, cheerios, rice chex, and corn chex. Albertsons has no Wheat Chex whatsoever. At Kroger it takes a private detective to track some down.

I'm thinking of hoarding the Wheat Chex I found at Kroger. I have an extra bedroom where I could stockpile about a thousand boxes.

Got a new bottle of Worchestershire sauce, plenty of garlic salt and Lawry's seasoned salt. I stir lots of other seasonings into the melted oleo...Tabasco sauce, dried parsley, dried cumin, dried cilantro, paprika, cayenne. There's no recipe beyond the notes of my great aunt Emma. I just throw everything into the roasting pans and bake it at 250 for three hours, stirring every half hour. Then I turn off the oven and leave the pans inside until morning.

Some families give extravagant gifts. Other do excessive hugging. My sons and father know that I love them because I mail them packages of the world's greatest Kris Kringle Krunch throughout the football season, and whenever I miss them. It's going in the mail Monday morning, guys!


Rooney Rants

All week, like listeners to NPR and classical radio stations all over the world, I been hearing about the special programming for Mozart's 250th birthday bash in Salzburg today. I like Mozart a lot. I'd enjoy a birthday cupcake, particularly if it was devil's food chocolate with homemade frosting. Given Wolfie's era and proclivity, one of those doll cakes so popular at birthday parties in the Sixties might be appropriate.

All week during my commute to work I've been irrationally annoyed by the radio advertising phrase spoken in that nostril flaring I'm-such-a-cultured-wine-snob announcer voice, "The intermission is timed to coincide with the exact time of Mozart's birth. More than 100 churches in Salzburg will ring their bells for seven minutes. " How in the hey-ho do they know the exact time of Mozart's birth? Was it in the newspaper, or on the birth certificate? Was there a bright star shining above No. 9 Getreidegasse? A solar eclipse?

For nearly a decade I've had Andy Rooney attacks any morning when my radio commute was brought to me by Pockets Menswear. Just put a cocklebur under my saddle blanket, or a pea under the stack of mattresses. When I hear, "brought to you by Pockets Menswear, educating Dallas men to dress better than they have to since 1973," I just want to hurl. Pockets Menswear features "designs by Ermenegildo Zegna", which sounds like an untreatable illness characterized by itchy, oozing froo-froo cufflinks, pink neckties, and bright green liqueurs.

For a decade and a half I've been irrationally repulsed by Nicole Kidman. Sure, I hear she's a great actress, but when I see her face I have the fingernail-on-the-blackboard reaction. Maybe it's the spacing of her eyes in relation to her other facial features...Maybe it's something more sinister..Maybe she looks like the doll in a lime green frosting cake.

Technology Disparity

"Roving Mars" opened at the IMAX today. I admit to having an anthropomorphic fondness for Spirit and Opportunity. They are each such a charming and amazing cross between a praying mantis and a Lego construction, that they tug fond memories from my childhood.

The movie is great fun, and should be a hit with families. I know my kids would have loved it when they were younger, and will be intrigued even in their twentyish sophistication. The footage of engineers in their white industrial Teletubby suits building the rovers, and later awaiting the landing on Mars are fascinating. The explanations are clear enough for my unscientific mind.

What an accomplishment! The scientists were able to build these incredibly complex robots and safely transport them on a seven-month journey through space, unfold and direct them to motor around the rocky surface collecting data long after their expected ninety days.

This brings me to my question: Why can't I buy a crockpot built to work longer than ninety days?

Philip Glass composed the soundtrack, but I was unaware of it, unlike his soundtrack enhancing the 2003 Robert McNamara documentary "Fog of War".


Turning into my mother-in-law

Yikes! There's a scary thought.

A million years ago we took my in-laws to see Alvin Ailey at Omaha's Orpheum Theater. After a stunning performance that included "Revelations", we settled into the car for the drive home. My mother-in-law announced that the dancers, "must do Jazzercise everyday."

Tonight I watched Mary Preston, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's resident organist perform the postlude to Leos Janacek's "Glagolitic Mass" in the gorgeous Meyerson Symphony Center. A thought bubble appeared above my head with the words, "That girl's getting an aerobic workout."

Good golly. Maybe Richard Simmons will be the next featured soloist.


Where the Wild Things Arles

Did Maurice Sendak have Van Gogh in mind when he wrote and illustrated the classic picture book, Where the Wild Things Are? Bet so, at least off on the fringes of consciousness. The fictitious Max and the painter Vincent have almost the same bedroom. Vince painted the bedroom at Arles in a way that helps me introduce perspective to my kindergarten students. They understand the room--bed, table, chairs, mirror, pictures on the wall, floor. It just needs a nightlight and a "special bunny" stuffed animal. The strangeness of Vince's bedroom painting fits with the dream quality when "that very night in Max's room a forest grew... and grew..."

These are our first efforts imagining a connection between Max and Vincent. We hope when you find your supper waiting for you it is "still hot."


Things that go beep in the night

About a month back I decided I was going crazy. This time for real. I was waking up in the night hearing small electronic beeps. Or really just one beep. At a time. At a wake-up.

The beep was soft, but it was IN MY ROOM, and nearly every night, like a cricket working for the KGB. Was it Dick Cheney and HRH The Dubster doing a bit of illegal spying on Cream of Wheat/Nick At Nite Democrats? Or was it some diggity dog instant message thing caused by having college student sons home for the holidays sharing my computer?

Worse! What if it was endobeepia? What if I was hearing beeps that weren't really there? Just learned about endomusia, the hearing of music that is not really there. Are they coming to take me away?

They're coming to take me away, Ha-ha
They're coming to take me away, Ho-hoHee-hee-haa-haa
To the funny farm
Where life is beautiful all the time
And I'll be happy to see those
Nice young men in their clean white coats and
They're coming to take me away, ha-ha!

No, thank heaven. I switched from Norton Antivirus to McAfee Antivirus in December. McAfee's default settings include beeps and bonks when updates are available--usually in the middle of the night. I can change the defaults, and turn off the beeps. Now if I could just get rid of the Cheney cricket KGB images.


Cosmic character defect

Dear Ms. Universe,

Has anyone ever mentioned that you are way too patient? You don't seem to mind sending the same message over and over and over, whether we mere earthlings catch on or not. Have you considered stepping up to the One Swift Kick method of getting our attention?

I have these dreams where I'm packing for a trip, or for the moving van. I've been having them for about twenty years, so you would think the message would have sunk in! I'm packing and packing. No one is helping. Sometimes Jerry Garcia is asleep in the room, so I have to be quiet. Other times I'm moving in or out of a high-rise dormitory with Satanic elevators. We are late for the plane, but I just discovered the contents of many cupboards that still need packing. The moving van is crammed to capacity, but I am still worrying about the garden gnomes, whirligigs, and large blue-glazed Mexican pottery on the patio left by the previous owner. No one is helping. Duh.

I have too much stuff of both the physical and emotional varieties. I used to dream about the drawers for nails and bolts in old-timey hardware stores. The counselor who helped me find sanity and my self during my divorce explained that I was subconsciously trying to store all the emotional baggage. Don't even get me started on overhead storage bins!

That was ten years ago. You would think I would have all the previous owner's garden gnomes packed like sardines in brine and shipped on out of here. Maybe I do. Now I'm bogged down in an anti-creative swamp of my own making. I have too many drawers of collage materials (nicely sorted by color), and too many files of images for teaching (nicely alphabetized). It's all too jumbled to be fun or inspiring.

Friday I woke up after a bad packing dream filled with energy and purpose. The message of the universal ms. had clicked! If I had half as much stuff I would be twice as creative. If I had half of that, I would be even more so... less is more... Go forth and throw out stuff, just be sure to recycle whenever possible.


Only you can prevent

....werewolf expository writing. My youngest writes home after the first week of second semester:

It turns out that every Expository Writing prof. has a different
theme for their class, which I didn't know when I registered. My class was
all about werewolves, so I dropped it. We would have had to read four books
about werewolves. Some of the other classes looked really cool, so I'll take
it some other time.

This is my favorite method of teaching and learning, but I can understand his not wanting to read four books about werewolves. I love getting students to examine a subject from every dimension and in every medium.

Warren Zevon's Excitable Boy album has the classic howling "Werewolves in London"

I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's... his hair was perfect...

How cool! A global Wikipedia-style critique of tiki bars! Critiki I have only one Trader Vic's on my life list. When I went to the King Tut exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute in the summer of 1977, I had a pina colada at the Trader Vic's in the Palmer House.

Sent my middle son a "Mike's Pirate School" t-shirt to wear on his European wanderings. Texas Tech's Red Raider football coach, Mike Leach, is totally into pirates, and relates that interest to coaching. Oh, my gosh. I get recharged thinking about a Pirate School style of teaching!

New York Times Magazine, December 4, 2005
Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep

''Your body is your sword. Swing your sword.''

Each off-season, Leach picks something he is curious about and learns as much as he can about it: Geronimo, Daniel Boone, whales, chimpanzees, grizzly bears, Jackson Pollock. The list goes on, and if you can find the common thread, you are a step ahead of his football players. One year, he studied pirates. When he learned that a pirate ship was a functional democracy; that pirates disciplined themselves; that, loathed by others, they nevertheless found ways to work together, the pirate ship became a metaphor for his football team. Last year, after a loss to Texas A.&M. in overtime, Leach hauled the team into the conference room on Sunday morning and delivered a three-hour lecture on the history of pirates. Leach read from his favorite pirate history, ''Under the Black Flag,'' by David Cordingly (the passages about homosexuality on pirate ships had been crossed out). The analogy to football held up for a few minutes, but after a bit, it was clear that Coach Leach was just . . . talking about pirates. The quarterback Cody Hodges says of his coach: ''You learn not to ask questions. If you ask questions, it just goes on longer.''
Hodges knows -- the players all do -- that their coach is a walking parenthesis, without a companion to bracket his stray thoughts. They suspect, but aren't certain, that his wide-ranging curiosity benefits their offense. Of all the things motivating Texas Tech to beat Texas A.&M. this night, however, the keenest may have been the desire to avoid another lecture about pirates. Even now, their beloved coach had his left arm in the air, wielding his imaginary sword.


NPR's Bailey White coaches much younger students--first graders--to read with the bait of the Titanic disaster. She writes about it in the "Maritime Disasters" chapter of Mama Makes Up Her Mind.

Learning is about seizing the imagination and challenging students to push themselves up to the next level. Two of my sons had a wonderful first grade teacher pushing them to read so they could move up to "Hank the Cowdog"! Wherever Miss Sacone is now, I send her my thanks!

1584, from Gk. lykanthropia, from lykos "wolf" + anthropos "man." Originally a form of madness (described by ancient writers) in which the afflicted thought he was a wolf; applied to actual transformations of persons (esp. witches) into wolves since 1830 (see werewolf).

late O.E. werewulf "person with the power to turn into a wolf," from wer "man" + wulf (see wolf; also see here for a short discussion of the mythology). The first element probably is from PIE *uiHro "freeman" (cf. Skt. vira-, Lith. vyras, L. vir, O.Ir. fer, Goth. wair). Cf. M.Du. weerwolf, O.H.G. werwolf, Swed. varulf. In the ancient Persian calendar, the eighth month (October-November) was Varkazana-, lit. "(Month of the) Wolf-Men."

Department of English Language and Literature
English 220.006 Expository Writing

MWF 1200-1250
MH 217
Legends of the Wer Wolf
Why have wolves and werewolves fascinated many cultures throughout history? Why does the myth about lycanthropes fascinate the human culture still? What is it about the symbol of the wolf, both as a symbol of evil, war, and lust and as a symbol of dawn, light, and protection that attracts people continuously throughout the ages?

We will trace humankind's belief in the werewolf through selections of such ancient and modern myths and texts as: the Greek myth that Zeus turned King Lycaon of Arcadia into a wolf, thus originating the term Lycantrhope; Shakespeare's contemporary John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, depicting lycanthropy as a pathological condition of melancholia and delirium; the Franciscan text, Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) used during the Inquisition; Blackfeet, Pawnee, and Cheyenne wolf stories, which depict the ability to shape-shift into a wolf as a powerful responsibility; and 1933 Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris-- the counterpart to Bram Stoker's Dracula; the 2005 illustrated novel Cry Wolf by Douglas Crill; and much more.
This will be a writing intensive course. We will write journal entries every week to help us explore how to write about the function of werewolf outsider narratives in different cultures. We will write a creative narrative about our own perceptions or experiences with marginalization. We will write four short essays critiquing the cultural constructions of the symbolic wolf-man as the outsider or “other.” In these shorter essays we will learn how to incorporate secondary critical texts with our own ideas and arguments, thereby expanding our knowledge of writing research papers. We will learn how to analyze and argue with and against the grain in our primary and secondary texts. We will engage in the draft writing process, revising and expanding our four shorter essays into four longer ones in order to master the rules and structure of the closed form, academic essay.

Transmission of viruses from animals to people

I've got a bad case of the Primate Samsonitis A virus. This dangerous virus has made the jump between species and is evolving faster than Asian Avian Influenza, according to the CDC. The Bush administration has not stockpiled doses of the vaccine. In fact, there is no known vaccine. The virus must be allowed to run its course. Quarantine is the only method of stemming its spread.

I don't just want to stomp and throw luggage. I want to throw file cabinets and chests of drawers. My kids took away my saw after the sofa incident, so I haven't destroyed anything in the living room yet.

I'm having fever-induced flashbacks to memorable tv ad campaigns of the Sixties and Seventies. "Mikey likes it." "Mama mia, that's a spicy meatball." "It's the real thing." "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." "I always keep two in my tutu."


In the frigid winters of adolescent memories I arrived at the high school entrance before daylight in alternating pale green Chevrolets for M-W-F and T-Th. Our dads took turns driving Janice and me. My dad drove a 1954 Chevy automatic. Her dad drove a 1951 three-speed on the column with a windshield visor. A dad would start the car to warm it up at least fifteen minutes before we were to leave. Often, the batteries were plugged in overnight, or they wouldn't have started at all. Both trunks held a snowshovel, a container of sand, jumper cables, and a blanket. The '51 had chains on the tires. The '54 had snowtires. The '54 had an AM radio, but I'm not sure about the '51. Having lived in Texas for fifteen years, I finally quit keeping sand and a shovel in the trunk. The jumper cables are still there, but that's because I have sons. Those sons acquired the sort of cars that needed jumping many times.

When I was teaching preschool classes at the local rec center I was stunned when kids would "play hospital". They would slap "the patient" on the chest with a toy frypan, and yell, "Clear!" I always want to yell, "Clear!" when I use jumper cables. The preschoolers caused my confusion about defrybulators and defibrillators. The kids would also play "Lamaze" and coach each other about breathing and pushing. Then Mr. Potato Head would birth a mini-Potato Head from his rear storage pod bay door. The preschoolers took this in stride, but I was traumatized.

Janice and I have been reminiscing about practice driving with our dads. She wrote, "...I tried to turn the steering wheel (with no power steering) ... This was, of course, after I had killed it a couple times getting to the corner to turn. " Ah, yes. Killing the car. A common experience learning to drive!

When I was teaching my oldest to drive my stick shift minivan up at his high school parking lot, he killed it many, many times. Alas, this is Bush Country. We can carry concealed, but we can't fess up to "killing the car," or "killing the engine". The car "dies". The engine "dies". No one takes verbal responsibility for these inconvenient and unfortunate automotive murders perpetrated by stupidity or inexperience. No one is accountable. I've been laughed at many times in Oklahoma and Texas for using the expression, "I killed the car".

In Nebraska we own up to our transgressions. If the banana barf-yellow rusty 1970 Chevy Nova dies at the corner of 27th and Holdrege everyday on the way home from work due to a mechanical problem that requires opening the hood, unscrewing the butterfly wing nut, and poking a screwdriver into the air intake valve while being honked at by unsympathetic motorists, (not to mention trying not to get your muffler* stuck in the engine causing driver demise by strangulation), we say that the "car died". By contrast, if we have done some really dumb driver move, we admit we "killed the car".

*In this example, "muffler" means a long knit or crocheted scarf worn around the collar of a winter coat. It has nothing to do with Midas. I don't know if it is called a "muffler" down here, because you can almost get through January without even wearing a coat!


Thing One and Thing Two

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold, wet day

I sat there with Sally.
We sat there, we two.
And I said, "How I wish
We had something to do!"

Too wet to go out
And too cold to play ball.
So we sat in the house.
We did nothing at all.

In this part of the country a cold, cold, wet day would be cause for dancing in the streets. In Seattle, though, it would be a bummer, man.

In all my years of teaching, I've never used The Cat In the Hat as the starting point for a lesson plan. This month is all about using scissors, and manipulating shapes. The results have been entertaining.

Twin sister created these images of the Cat and the Fish:

Mosaic Vase

More Palmolive art! Students aged 5-8 made some lovely mixed media pictures about a green glass mosaic vase of flowers. Beside the monoprints, this project used pencil, Sharpie pens, and oil pastels on light blue construction paper.

Palmolive Princesses and Mysterious Measures

A fortnight ago I wrote about mixing dishwashing detergent with liquid watercolors to make monoprints on top of oil pastel face drawings. This is a fun example of those nice, clean-smelling preschool pictures.

A "fortnight" does not refer to a night spent in a fort, I'm sorry to say. Hearing that word as a child had such fabulous possibilities... Alas, it has nothing to do with the French Foreign Legion. .. There's no such word as oasisnight, but, ah, what would Maria Muldaur have to say about that? Just to give you a little earworm action!

(David Nichtern)
Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Shadows paintin' our faces
Traces of romance in our heads

Heaven's holdin' a half-moon
Shinin' just for us
Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
And kick up a little dust

Shave and a haircut:
two bits
"quarter," 1730, in ref. to the Mexican real, a large coin that was divided into eight bits (cf. piece of eight; see piece); hence two-bit (adj.) "cheap, tawdry," first recorded 1929.
bit (1)
related O.E. words bite "act of biting," and bita "piece bitten off," are probably the source of the modern words meaning "boring-piece of a drill" (1594), "mouthpiece of a horse's bridle" (c.1340), and "a piece bitten off, morsel" (c.1000). All from P.Gmc. *biton, from PIE base *bheid- "to split" (see fissure). Meaning "small piece, fragment" is from 1606. Theatrical bit part is from 1926. Money sense in two bits, six bits, etc. is originally from Southern U.S. and West Indies, in ref. to silver wedges cut or stamped from Sp. dollars (later Mexican reals); transferred to "eighth of a dollar."

Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar. All for dictionaries, stand up and holler!

I love you a bushel and peck
A bushel and peck and a hug around the neck
A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap
A barrel and a heap and I'm talking in my sleep
About you, about you

from "Guys and Dolls"

US bushel plus (1 US peck) = 44.04884 liters

c.1330, measure of capacity containing four pecks or eight gallons, from O.Fr. boissel, probably from boisse, a grain measure based on Gallo-Romance *bostia "handful," from Gaulish *bosta "palm of the hand" (cf. Ir. bass, Bret. boz "the hollow of the hand"). The exact measure varied from place to place and according to commodity, and since c.1374 it has been used loosely to mean "a large quantity or number."
peck (n.)
c.1280, "dry measure of one-quarter bushel," of unknown origin; perhaps connected with O.Fr. pek, picot (13c.), also of unknown origin. Chiefly of oats for horses; original sense may be "allowance" rather than a fixed measure, thus perhaps from peck (v.).

"Butter the size of a walnut"
(from several of my grandma's recipes)


Earworms and other bait

Howie knows that I often have songs stuck in my head, and he rushed me the info from the January Discover magazine explaining the phenomenon of "earworms".

Certain songs—simple, repetitive, or oddly incongruous—have properties that act as mental mosquito bites in that they produce a cognitive "itch." The condition also arises when people struggle to remember forgotten lyrics or how a song ends. To scratch a cognitive itch, the brain repeats the song, which then traps the hapless victim in a repeated cycle of itching and scratching.

I was glad to learn that earworms are "unrelated to both obsessive-compulsive disorder and endomusia, the hearing of music that is not really there." Maybe I'm not so crazy after all. Don't have an earworm at the moment, but just thinking about worms recalls one of the creepiest stories I read last year. If you want to test your wormy-squirmy quotient, try this from Outside magazine's November '04 issue. Thank heaven my parasitic "Lion Sleeps Tonight" is not Ancylostoma braziliense physically crawling around just under my skin.

Scientific name: several species (Dermaptera)
Facts: Earwigs are of little importance except that they frequently become a nuisance in and around homes. They emit a disagreeable odor when crushed and are quite sinister in appearance. Common Texas species are predaceous, capturing smaller arthropods with large pincers located at the end of their abdomen and devouring them with their chewing mouthparts. The average length is about 1 inch, but some individuals may be 1-1/2 inches long.
Photo credit: Extension Entomology, Texas A&M University

Half the folks I encounter at mall, airport, library, school, restaurant, bank, and grocery store have ear attachments to keep them perpetually connected. They often look like the raving, gesturing marginal persons under the highway interchanges in the large cities of this technologically advanced society. Others look like they escaped from a sci-fi convention. A third group may have significant repressed anger issues about 1960s ancestors with hearing aids.


Easily amused

In the cold northern climate where I grew up, kids learned to quietly amuse themselves in the winter months. It was a matter of survival not unlike eating whale blubber to stay warm. You take a family of five, place them in a small suburban ranch-style house with three bedrooms and one bath, add one blizzard after another, the inability to even get the car out of the driveway, and you better know how to not annoy the bezoozies out of each other.

Cabin fever is not a joke. According to the wonderful Online Etymology Dictionary the expression is first recorded in 1918, and it may have referred to being cooped up in the cabin of a ship. I bet it is older than that. What would it have been like to be a large pioneer family living in a one-room sodhouse on the Nebraska prairie in the famous blizzard of 1888?

I have some inkling because I possess a photocopy of the beautifully handwritten memoirs of my great-great-grandfather, August Sasse. He and his wife homesteaded in 1873, and he writes of their efforts to keep their children alive in a freak April blizzard before they had a chance to build their cabin. This was real life, not a computer game!

Remember Laura and Mary from the wonderful books of Laura Ingalls Wilder? What fantastic children! They weren't perfect angels. In fact, they were high-spirited, curious kids. I wish I could have them as art students. I wish all my art students could have the books read aloud to them by their parents. Pa and Ma Ingalls taught me many lessons in parenting when I read the books to my small boys.

A sod house can be built so they are real nice and comfortable. Build nice walls and then plaster and lay a floor above and below and then they are nice. Uriah is going to build one after that style this fall. The one we are in at present is 14 X 16 and a dirt floor. Uriah intends takeing [sic] it for a stable this fall. --letter of Mattie Oblinger to her family, June 16, 1873 Women of the West Museum

The average square footage of new construction homes continues to rise as the size of the household decreases. It is over 2300 square feet for a family of 2.59 persons, with McMansions in the Dallas area frequently over 4000 square feet. We rarely get snowed in here. Why do family members need so much space to spread out? Why do families need to heat that large a house? Is it because people don't learn how to get along in a small space? Is it because they don't learn to avoid annoying the bezoozies out of each other?

The Donner Party has been in the news this week. Scientists are still puzzling out whether the smaller camp of pioneers survived the winter of 1846-47 by practicing cannibalism. This always brings to mind my seventh grade English class at Millard Lefler Junior High School ("Sons of the Pink and Black"), taught by Miss Helen Madsen (who threw unabridged Websters Dictionaries when we annoyed the bezoozies out of her). I learned a lot in that class because I was mightily afeared not to! In the winter of 1967-68, we studied American short stories about freezing to death, being stoned to death, and being snowbound in a cabin with outlaws. It was pretty stark and scarring material, but we did evaluate whether being a sassy, aggravating early adolescent was a smart survival strategy:

Bret Harte's "Outcasts of Poker Flat"
Jack London's "To Build a Fire"
Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

One of the things I learned was to entertain myself reading a dictionary. And so, today, I wonder whether Miss Madsen's class was "inflicting" or "inflecting". Was I tortured, or was I flexed and bent?

c.1425, "to bend inward," from L. inflectere (pp. inflexus) "to bend in, change," from in- "in" + flectere "to bend." Grammatical sense is attested 1668; pronunciation sense (in inflection) is c.1600. To turn from a course or alignment; to bend..to alter in tone or pitch .. to modulate...

1566, from L. inflictus, pp. of infligere "to strike or dash against," from in- "on, against" + fligere (pp. flictus) "to dash, strike" (see conflict). You inflict a plague on someone; you afflict someone with a plague. To impose.. "malignant Nature, who reserves the right to inflict upon her children the most terrifying jests" (Thornton Wilder).

Much thanks, as always, to the Online Etymology Dictionary, and to my trusty, not so very aerodynamic American Heritage Dictionary!


Where is Ken?

According to Bruce Springsteen, Ken went out for a ride (in Barbie's car), and he never came back. All that dressing up finally got to him. Between acts at the Dallas Opera, he hijacked the luxury Maybach on display. Ken was so very, very tired of driving around in that Kleenex box powered by imagination, and he was sick of Barbie's demands. Complying never seemed to get him what he wanted. Maybe he finally inherited the estate!

Today's vocabulary words:

cummerbund--a broad, pleated sash worn as an article of men's formal dress (from Hindi & Persian roots)

encumber--to weigh down unduly, to hinder, impede, or clutter

[adjective] free of encumbrance; "inherited an unencumbered estate"
[adjective] not burdened with cares or responsibilities; "living an unencumbered life"

encumbrance--one that encumbers, a burden, impediment, obstacle, lien or claim on property; an impressive crop of cucumbers

cucumber--a vine cultivated for its edible fruit that makes one ever so burpy. SEE ALSO Burpee's Yellow Submarine

encucumbered--having more edible fruit of the cucumber vine than your neighbors desire

disencumber --from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. SYLLABICATION:dis·en·cum·berPRONUNCIATION: dsn-kmbrTRANSITIVE VERB:Inflected forms: dis·en·cum·bered, dis·en·cum·ber·ing, dis·en·cum·bersTo relieve of burdens or hardships. ETYMOLOGY:Obsolete French desencombrer, from Old French : des-, dis- + encombrer, to encumber; see encumber. OTHER FORMS:disen·cumber·ment —NOUN

detux--to remove the attire after a cummerbund occasion SEE ALSO disencummerbund.

boutonniere--a flower worn in a buttonhole, usually on a lapel

Tune in again tomorrow for syllabication and lapel, Scylla and Charybdis, pickle recipes, and an update on where Ken last used his Visa card.

Ken. Who knew he had a hungry heart?

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack

I went out for a ride and I never went back

Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing

I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

Everybody’s got a hungry heart

Everybody’s got a hungry heart

Lay down your money and you play your part

Everybody’s got a hungry heart

After Colts vs. Steelers

The large and sleepy UNM Lobo who has been living in my house the past month and I were watching NFL football. He was watching. I was doing the NYTimes crossword puzzle. We were watching people coming and going at the realtor's open house next door. We were psyching up to go to the mall to exchange a pair of jeans for a smaller size (so you know they weren't my jeans).

After the wild ending to the game, the Lobo began channel surfing because he is a male. Fortunately before he found billiards on tv, he found the 2005 USA Jump Rope National Championships from Orlando, Florida, on ESPN2. We both stared slack-jawed at the synchronized performance of amazing stunts in the pairs competition. Then we started laughing until I had tears running down my cheeks. Tried calling my dad and my sister. Seemed like this was worth sharing. We watched highlights of the jump rope relays, double dutch, and the small group with musical accompaniment competitions.

This was not just hilarious. It required impressive stamina, coordination, cooperation, and about five bucks of equipment. Competitive rope jumping is way more exciting than that Olympic sport of rhythmic gymnastics.

Reading The Berenstain Bears and the In Crowd to my little sons was the first I learned of Double Dutch jumping. Thought it was a Wrigley's Doublemint Chewing Gum version of my personal best in rope-skipping, circa 1964:

I'm a little Dutch girl dressed in blue,
Here are the things I like to do.
Salute the Captain,
Curtsy to the queen,
Turn my back on the mean old king!

I've been googling about jumping rope and the development of competitive Double Dutch.

Check out these video clips and jump rope rhymes, as well as the XBox 360 ad.

Wondering how I can see "I Was Made to Love Her", an award-winning documentary by Nicole Franklin about the Double Dutch Divas...."In it we see energetic women of all ages whose teamwork and love for one another keep them together through thick and thin... And interviews... examine the Double Dutch phenomenon...Winner, Best Documentary, Atlanta’s Night of the Black Independents Film Festival, 2000, Best African-American Documentary, Brooklyn Film Festival, 2000, CiNY Award, Outstanding Filmmaking, CINEwomen, NY, 2001, Best Documentary, Hollywood Black Film Festival, 2001, Gordon Parks Award Finalist for Directing a Feature Documentary, N.Y., 2000."

It's two, two, two mints in one!

Double your pleasure, double your fun,
With Doublemint, Doublemint, chewing gum!


Getting a Handel on things

Dallas Opera's next production is a Baroque opera, "Rodelinda". I'm listening to a 1959 recording of Joan Sutherland, and wondering where I might get a powdered wig to wear to opening night. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords! This will be a very different experience than either of the operas I attended last weekend.

"Rodelinda" premiered in 1725. Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmelites" debuted in 1957. Richard Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos" in 1912.

Attending Fort Worth Opera's "Dialogues des Carmelites" in the elegant Bass Recital Hall was the goal I set for myself last winter. Based on an historical event during France's Reign of Terror, the opera examines faith, fear, and commitment. Fort Worth's production was an achievement in form--mindful setting, mindful lighting, mindful action, mindful voices.

Dallas Opera's "Ariadne" had some nice moments, but won't be on any top ten lists. My experience would have been enhanced by a luxury automobile on display outside Fair Park's Music Hall!

I've made powdered wigs for elementary students out of quilt batting, toilet paper tubes, and shower caps. I've made young Baroque courtier hair out of shredded "suntan" pantyhose. I've even made bicolor tights for Montagues and Capulets. Tomorrow I'm taking the easy way out. I'm having another perm. My look has gone from buoyant fluff to hungover Oscar Wilde in the blink of an eye. Hope this perm will be something to sing about.


Triankles and Awfulgons

Shapes and cut-outs were the class subjects this week. We were looking at Lois Ehlert's brightly-colored book, Color Zoo, with it's layered cut-outs to inspire our creations. Things were going great with circles and squares. When the preschool students started talking about "triankles and awfulgons," I got the flying monkey heebie-jeebies.

Remember when the witch was squashed under the house, and only her striped-socked ankles stuck out? I get this "triankle" mental image of striped socks steam-rollered into perfect triangles.

There's no place like home. If you Google "wicked witch dead", you get a photo of Dick Cheney. Makes sense. Even if you happen to be in Kansas, Dick is one of the reasons I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. It's time to pay more attention to the man behind the curtain! Let's get this awfulgon and his flying monkey henchmen, too, Toto.


Wauk This Way?

I have often walked down this street before,
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before.
All at once am I several stories high.
Knowing I'm on the street where you live.

Freddie Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady

Perhaps that street is Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth. Went with my youngest for a terrific afternoon of art in Fort Worth's Cultural District. He needed to see the Richard Avedon exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum, and I wanted to see the "Lost Impressionist" exhibit at the Kimbell Museum.

I used to get twinkly stars on my school spelling tests, but I have great difficulty with three of my favorite artists. Paul Gauguin is surprisingly h-less. Wayne Thiebaud has burned his l. Richard Diebenkorn surprises me by being more staightforward and simple than I expect after dealing with Wayne and Paul.

This painting from the Kimbell Gauguin show reminded me of excellent exhibits at the old Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth up the hill on Camp Bowie. I got to share a wonderful Richard Diebenkorn exhibit with my parents and children in 1998. The 2001 Wayne Thiebaud retrospective there was another treat, although I had seen a 1988 Thiebaud exhibit at Museum of Art, Oklahoma University.

Roads over the hill and down in the valley we go...
a strenuous hike if the pavement won't stay beneath your feet!


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