New Friends On the Playground

It was a Libby Lula Hula Hoopy day doing playground duty in the late afternoon. What looked like bright yellow tiny Libby and Lulawere playing tag around my ankles in the sun-soaked grass. These weren't yellowjackets, though. I kept my eyes on the children, but also on these vivid yellow flying insects. Eastern Amberwing Perithemis tenera: Libellulidae seems to be our new playground friend. Perithemis tenera sounds like a psychosomatic illness related to writing final exam essays in Blue Books, but "Amberwing" sounds gentle, wise, and tolerant in a British way. Odonata Central helped me solve my mystery of these delightful dragonflies.


Hot Collage Gals

Misspellers* around the globe search for explicit photos of university coeds and stumble onto this blog. That's the problem with Boolean keyword search engines. Even during nineteen straight days of temps over one hundred degrees (Fahrenheit not Celsius), there's a world of difference in this big old Lone Star State of Texas between UT Longhorn sand volleyball bikini babes, and hot-flashing middle-aged Collin County mixed-media artists with three grown sons.

Four skills never go out of style:

  1. Spelling
  2. Keyboarding, or, as we warm gals call it, typing
  3. Proofreading, or attention to detail
  4. Punctuation (meaning cannot exist without form)

You can't depend on Spell Czech. Those Prague Mamas are probably hot, too. The Kingdom of Bohemia may be one of those European countries lacking in ice cubes, but I can't research that right now. My main concern is the age at which a woman crosses the line from girl to gal.

Wikipedia doesn't consider age connotations of female synonyms:

The word girl has many synonyms, including "belle", "chick", "doll", "gal", "lass" or "lassie", "maiden", and "miss". The slang word "gal", as in "Buffalo gals won't you come out tonight", is a variant pronunciation of girl.

In my search for enlightenment, I slogged through a mucky slough of academic jargon before finding a flicker of clarity:

In all University settings, members of the University community should:

1. Use gender equivalent construction. Equivalent or parallel construction should be used for males and females. Thus, if males are referred to as “men,” females should be referred to as “women,” not as “girls” or “ladies.”

2. Use alternatives to the masculine singular pronoun for generic singular. The masculine singular pronoun traditionally has been used as the generic singular. Such usage fails to acknowledge the participation of women in human activity unless they are specifically identified. Alternatives to the use of “he,” “him,” and “his” for the generic singular are he/she, she/he, her/him, him/her, hers/his, his/hers or one’s. Some individuals may prefer to alternate the use of the male and female singular pronoun to indicate generic singular. While some alternatives may seem awkward when they are first used, they become comfortable with usage and will, as any other language construction, become second nature in time. It is this natural incorporation of women into language on an equal basis with men that is the purpose of non-sexist language usage. [I don't have the slightest idea what this means, but it sounds kinkier** than the title of this post!]....

...6. Exhibit non-patronizing, non-condescending ways of describing and addressing women, particularly women in traditional occupations, e.g., secretaries, clerks, nurses. Both men and women should be sensitized to the negative effects which result from usage of terms such as “girl,” “gal,” “coed,”, “girl Friday,” the “girls in the office,” and the like.

I'm happy to report my discovery of Ruth Walker's "Words On the Move" column in the Christian Science Monitor***. I'll be checking in often for my language usage fix:

There are plenty of colloquialisms for "female person": They start with terms like "chick" and go on through terms you aren't going to read in this space. What they have in common is that they define women as "the other," in a way that terms like "guy" or "bloke" do not define men. When Simone de Beauvoir called her book about women "The Second Sex," people knew what she meant.

There's "gal," which isn't to everyone's taste. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a "vulgar or dial. pronunciation of 'girl.'" (The
Compact Oxford is somewhat more forgiving, defining it as an informal, chiefly North American term for "girl or young woman." In practice, "gal" has a rather flexible upward age limit; see "Golden Girls," above.) "Gal Friday," or " girl Friday," has worked its way into the language as a takeoff on "Man Friday," itself a phrase of dubious political correctness. Nowadays "his girl Friday" may well be the executive vice president for strategy and human resources. But why was it ever OK for the counterpart of "man" to be "gal," anyway?

*Yes, I checked two dictionaries on this one! Gals, your dictionary is your friend in a way that the masculine singular pronoun for generic singular never could be. Now excuse me. I have a volleyball game at seven.

**This blog has no opinion at the moment on the independent candidacy of Kinky Friedman for governor of Texas. I've read some of his books, but didn't think them as funny as he did. By the way, that's what my dad says about the guys on Car Talk.

***Some other day we will ponder the resemblance between 2004 Inductee Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, one of my favorite players, and monitor lizards, who swallow their prey whole.


The Picture Show

From Grandma's house at Court and Fifth Streets it was just two blocks to the Picture Show. Cross the deep gravel of Fifth and head over to Main. Stroll east down the block to the Home Filling Station with the drinking fountain out by the sidewalk for a sip from "the best water in Pierce". We believed it. Listen to the ching-ching as a car drove up to the pump, wheels rolling across those pink rubber hoses, and to the locusts droning in the elm trees. Inhale the aroma of leaded gasoline. The driver cranks down his window and says, "Fillerup!" At the corner, cross to the south side of the street. There's no street light, but it's still early in the evening. The teenagers aren't cruising up and down Main yet, honking and showing off. The Ford dealership is closed. Just past it you'll come to the Picture Show. Dad will tell about riding in the truck to take the film reels from one town to the next late at night, after the Saturday screening. Walk on by, maybe headed to see Grandma down at the nursing home, or just getting fresh air and walking off a big meal. If you're lucky, you'll get a soft-serve cone at the Dairy Sweet.

The magic of the names, or maybe it's the music of the names against the bass of locust buzzing and even walking tempo. I reinforce the map of those evening walks in my memory, afraid of forgetting that sense of safety, and stories, and interwoven local history. Steinkraus notions, Rosenkoter Rexall Drug with the revolving racks of comic books in the front window, Cones State Bank, the Co-op and Creamery, Turek Shoes, German's Market, Dr. Deevers, Ulrick Meat Market, Buckendahl's garage, the Council Oak grocery, the Pierce County Leader, maybe past Mrs. Lundak's house.

Only went to see The Picture once. Visiting Grandma without my parents, my aunt sent me off to see Elvis Presley in "Kissin' Cousins" with some local kids I didn't know from beans. Part way through the motion picture I decided my parents wouldn't approve of Elvis, plus I couldn't find a restroom in the theatre. Funny, I was more afraid of my folks hearing I'd seen an Elvis movie than of walking back to Grandma's house by myself in the dark.

Elvis Movie "Kissin' Cousins" (1964)
In Kissing Cousins movie you see Elvis in double role, as a soldier (Josh Morgan) and in a blonde wig as a hillbilly, Jodie Tatum. The army wants to take over a backwoods mountain that the Tatum family owns, and use it as a military base. The soldier, Josh Morgan, is sent in as he is a distant relative of the Tatums. Jodie is against the intrusion - so the two distant cousins get to fussing and fighting in a comedy-style. Romance is brought in with Yvonne Craig as another Tatum family member trying to steal Elvis' heart.

The film includes the Elvis songs "Kissin' Cousins", "Smokey Mountain Boy", "One Boy, Two Little Girls", "Catchin' on Fast", "Tender Feeling" and "Barefoot Ballad", "Once Is Enough".

Went to see "The Illusionist" Friday. Loved it, and the theater even had a restroom! Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti were wonderful. The con was almost as satisfying as "The Sting". In the middle of the night, waking up to worry about my dad, I worked my way back through the movie, enjoying the artistry, figuring out the plot twists. Not Elvis gyrating hip twists! Back to sleep, but with teenagers cruising Main Street and the county truck driving down the alleys spraying for mosquitoes. Get your rest before the mourning doves start cooing.


Holst Your Horses!

I've been demoted to dwarf planet status! I accepted long ago that I wasn't the center of the known universe and would probably never appear in an MTV video. Now I've been kicked out of the planet club, and my styrofoam mobile orb has been confiscated.

Dennis Overbye wrote in the Friday New York Times, "Vote Makes It Official: Pluto Isn’t What It Used to Be":

Under the new rules, a planet must meet three criteria: it must orbit the Sun, it must be big enough for gravity to squash it into a round ball, and it must have cleared other things out of the way in its orbital neighborhood...Dwarf planets, on the other hand, need only orbit the Sun and be round.

Gustav Holst didn't compose music for Pluto in "The Planets". Pluto was discovered in 1930, but the suite was written in 1917. Holst died in 1934 without adding a musical Pluto.

This old gray mare ain't the celestial goddess she used to be. I am big enough for gravity to squash me into a round ball. You would be wise to visualize that particular round ball as a fuzzy yellow tennis ball! Former celestial goddesses can be somewhat irritable.

The real reason for my demotion is I've not cleared other things out of the way in my orbital neighborhood. Mister Rodgers would not be impressed with my efforts to cull the contents of my file cabinets. I keep tripping over stacks of stuff when I try to orbit my the condo. It's not a beautiful day in my solar neighborhood, and the system is broken.


Wasting away again in Bloggeritaville

The Dewey Decimal side of my brain craves subject classifications easily accessed for my blog (and every other blog in this great land of ours.)

The librarian is dead. Long live the librarian! It shouldn't be all that difficult to sort the blog, but I seem to be wandering about in the dark, musty, old stacks without my library card, instead of quickly downloading a free service and immediately bringing order out of chaos.

This Itty Bitty Blog will just have to keep flowing along in stream-of-conscious mode. I'm searching for my lost shaker of salt. I've wasted way too much time trying out Del.icio.us and Technorati Tags for subject classifications. There will be no frozen cataloging concoctions tonight. This blog will have to keep simmering in the primordial stew crockpot, much as it pains me. Jimmy Buffett must not have any librarian ancestors:

But there's booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on

Wasting a day again in Bloggeritaville
Searching for my lost catalog cards
Grouping my little posts in tiny subject groups
I bjust know it shouldn't be all that hard

Merlin Goes Mod

Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian tales, has been portrayed as a time-traveler. My students discovered that Merlin had spent some time visiting the last half of the twentieth century, a time most mod, hip, and groovy, when they interior decorated their wizard towers last week. They also gave his tower a moderately mad scientist look with a telescope on the roof and a chemistry lab by the fireplace. The spells and potions books they made were quite similar to Texas roadkill recipes. I just wish we'd had enough time to make little Oster blenders so Merlin could make nutritious/delicious [eye of] newt smoothies.

History may look back on the past forty years of architecture and interior design with a critical newt eye. I've lived through flocked wallpaper, foil wallpaper, and flocked foil wallpaper. Do-it-yourselfers put crinkle veined mirror tiles on bathroom, living room, and allegedly elegant dining room walls. Both VWs and bathtubs got groovy daisies. The bathtub ones were non-slip, at least. Law students studied in eyeball chairs at the University of Nebraska. Student apartments were hung with black light posters. New construction homes and ancient mildewed basements both got very scary shag carpets in red, burnt orange, and avocado green.

Perhaps strangest of all were the early-1980s personalized custom travel vans with shag carpet on most surfaces. These family vacation get-away van exteriors were done up with airbrush paintings that were part NRA hunting billboards, part carnival midway caricatures, and part drunken truck driver tattoos. A Nascar vehicle looks sophisticated and understated by comparison. That may have been too much for Merlin, as the fad seemed to disappear from the face of the United States as if someone said, "Abracadabra, please and thank you very much!"

Peter Harlaub wrote in the 10/04/05 San Francisco Chronicle about this mysterious disappearance. His story is, "Once, custom vans ruled the road" is worth a read.

My students didn't have to travel through time to style their wizard towers. We received a goodly batch of gift wrap samples that took the place of foil, flock, and crinkle veins. It was a magical riot of cut and paste, plus glitter tempera paint! If only we'd had some shag rug samples--and a disco ball or two.


Condo Hostile/College Hostel

This evening I'm hosting migrating Tulane students in the condo. This may not make my condo neighbors ecstatic, but they will live through it. The Tulane students were displaced by Katrina, and ended up in my son's dorm in New Mexico last fall. For a cultural exchange, my son's high school lunch gang is here, too.

I've never been a care-free world traveler. I've never even been an extremely tense world traveler. I may have been the last mother to haul cloth diapers and a stinky diaper pail on a road trip. Funny thing, the diaper pail seems like year before last, but it was really 1983. I can still smell the Desitin diaper rash cream.


Do You Know Where Your Hummingbirds Are?

It's seven p.m. My hummingbird has arrived at the red canna just outside my back door right on time. At 6:58 p.m. the little anole lizard atop the fence scurried off. It seemed like he knew his appointment had ended, and it was time for the next client. Is this managed care? They are both good medicine for me.


The Return of the Foodie

Met my foodie TTU Red Raider son at the airport yesterday, home from a summer internship in Germany. He'll only be here a few days, so we went to Central Market second thing this morning. He loves to cook, he's good at it, and it was fun to share the shopping trip. We got delicious Texas peaches, items for Greek salad, Italian cookies, tomato/mozzarella with fresh basil, Smart chicken, and some very nice pork chops that we made for lunch before the outdoor temp reaches 100 again and makes the kitchen unbearable. We glazed the pork chops, carrots, mushrooms, and green pepper with "Austin Slow Burn" Green Chile Jam. Went great with the Texas peaches.

I've grown rather fond of Central Market for the occasional nutritious/delicious inspiration. I've never again met the foodie lamb puppet that traumatized me on my first visit, thank you very much. It's the Hatch chile harvest festival at the store, but the chiles are quite mild this year because of all the rain. "All the rain" is a strange phrase to use in connection with New Mexico. The village of Hatch is near Las Cruces in SW New Mexico, and it's the Chile Capital of the World. This brief from today's Dallas Morning News:

Flash-flood watches were issued for much of New Mexico as monsoon rains continued Monday. The governor sent a formal request to the White House asking for a presidential disaster declaration for the southern New Mexico village of Hatch, where more than 400 homes were affected by the floodwaters last week. Officials warned of more flash-flooding there Monday evening.

Very bad news for my UNM Lobo son with his acquired fondness for spicy chiles. Wish we could sit down with Al Gore at the Frontier Cafe across from the UNM campus for a good breakfast and bizarre global weather update! By the way, Al, if you're near Dallas, we are going to have a really good Greek salad for supper tonight. There's enough for Tipper, too. The Foodie is in charge, and it will be delicious.


Liberal arts and inevitable maternal mailing

When the human genome scientists find the gene causing mothers to mail newspaper clippings to their grown children, we can set up a foundation to fund research for a cure. I'm stuffing a fat envelope for my eldest who is gainfully employed in the realm of higher education administration at a nameless respected institution in the breadbasket of the United States. Today's Dallas Morning News has two stories about students without soul and institutions without education. The first essay by Thomas Hibbs, philosopher and dean of the Honors College at Baylor University begins:

You are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul? – Plato, Apology

The second DMN story considers the value of the classic liberal education.

Let me put it like this: I have two large books on my desk. One is The Complete Works of Shakespeare; the other is a phone book. One is a great work of literature; the other mere data. They differ greatly, despite their physical similarities.

Will I regret reading Shakespeare? Yes, if a broken pipe is flooding my basement. I might want to hold off on Hamlet and find a plumber instead. But if I want to know what it means to be human, if I want to open my heart and mind to the best that has been imagined and written, if I think that doing so is necessary to my soul – then the Shakespeare is incalculably more valuable.

Included in the first story was a reference to a book by psychologist Madeline Levine, Ph.D., The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. I was pleased to find an online interview with Madeline Levine at Eye On Books. It was ten minutes well spent. A long excerpt from the book is available online, too. I'm intrigued enough to track down Levine's book.

Our society across all economic levels must find ways to raise children to be curious and creative, to have empathy, to be self-motivated, self-controlled, and self-sufficient. It is good to live in a country where any child can grow up to be President. I would feel better if every child grew up with some inkling into the insights of a philosopher/king.


Swan boats in the Public Gardens

During this drought it is nice to have a place like the Dallas Arboretum to go for a dose of green. A few watered public gardens can keep a metroplex from going crazy.

Our yards are crunchy, and the packed earth around our home foundation is full of cracks. The leaves on my patio plants are beginning to look a lot like pork rind. Everywhere you go it's the same, except for Highland Park. Thanks to the Dallas Morning News, I see that some residents of HP pay over $5800 per month for water to keep their private emerald oases dewy fresh. For some people conservation, fines, and restrictions mean nothing.

How much does the average Highland Park homeowner use? Residents average 27,000 gallons a month, including sprinklers and day-to-day use. The average Dallas homeowner, by comparison, averages 8,300 gallons a month...

Town leaders are careful, however, not to criticize any of the large estate owners. James Fisher, Highland Park's town secretary and director of public works, said it's hard to tell if they are using too much water because of the size of the estates. No one on the list has been cited for violations of town ordinances...

Bill Pollock, Highland Park's director of fiscal and human resources, said the town's proposed 2006-07 budget includes a provision to implement a year-round surcharge for homes that use more than 12,000 gallons a month...

Homeowners using more than 12,000 gallons pay a 30 percent surcharge six months of the year, but it's not much of a deterrent. "They don't care what you charge them," Mr. Fisher said during a recent public works meeting....

There's one deterrent to excessive water consumption that hasn't been tested:
  1. Determine an allowable number of gallons of water per square foot of property per month based on water levels at the lakes and other sources of municipal water.
  2. Require property owners exceeding the allowable gallons to choose between having their water supply cut off, or having their property declared a temporary Public Garden open for the enjoyment of all citizens around the clock for the next month as a civic service.


Cut and Paste

People are always dividing the world, populations, or history into two parts:

  • There are two kinds of people in the world; those who eat sauerkraut on Thanksgiving, and those who don't.
  • The United States has two parts; Texas, and the poor unfortunates (or lucky devils) who don't reside in Bush Country.
  • You were born early enough to remember the assassination of JFK, or you weren't.
  • There are the people who remember to switch their cellphones to vibrate before the performance, and the subhuman species who shouldn't be allowed to live.
  • There are cat people and dog people.
  • You've eaten white paste, or you learned to say "product liability" and "consumer protection" before you started kindergarten.
  • You went to "nursery school" or you learned "word processing".

My students have been reveling in an old-fashioned cut and paste the last few days. On their marks, get set, glue!


Snakes On a Plain

Sometime in the mid-1980's, about the time "Entertainment Tonight", Regis Philbin, Mary Hart, and John Tesh took over the airwaves, I got disgusted with network television. Cable became one long commercial, and PBS became a perpetual pledge drive occasionally interrupted by quality broadcasts. Beta lost the battle with VHS, and the trip to rent videos rarely recouped the aggravation. Finally, the remote husband/channel-surfer became a bad Twin Peaks episode. We won't discuss Howard Stern today, as I'm already feeling as sluggish as a rattler after a prairie dog all-you-can-eat buffet. I tuned out and dropped in, or vice versa.*

Instead of coming home from work and flipping on the tv, I usually take off my shoes, start a load of laundry, check my phone messages and emails. Then I click on a few blog bookmarks. Today I checked in on Prairie Bluestem, and read all about sand adders and other snakes of the Nebraska Sandhills. "Sand adders" calls up an image of an ancient toga-clad mathematician walking down the beach writing geometric proofs with a long stick.

Much as I would like to dilly-dally wondering if Peabody, Sherman, and Captain Peachfuzz ever met this particular sand adder back when tv was worth watching, I must find out about the Chaldean astrologers. A Chaldean was a member of an ancient Semitic people who ruled in Babylonia ... a person versed in occult learning; an astrologer, soothsayer, or sorcerer, according to my precious American Heritage Dictionary. The root word may have a relation to the word caldron, mentally brewing, bubbling and burping during our Wizard camp. Nebuchadnezzar lurks just off stage, too, because of the upcoming Dallas Opera production of Verdi's Nabucco. Dallas artists Tom Orr and Frances Bagley are designing the set and costumes for this new production in honor of Dallas Opera's fiftieth anniversary.

A Washington Post story informs me that most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, Eastern-rite Catholics whose church is autonomous from Rome, with its own liturgy and leadership, but recognizes the authority of the pope. Chaldeans trace their lineage to the Babylonian-Mesopotamian nation of Chaldees, where the patriarch Abraham was born. Did you know that? I didn't!

But then, there is the problem of chalcedony. Chalcedony is much more ancient than any mathematician, even my high school pre-Cal teacher. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey:

Chalcedony is a catch all term that includes many well known varieties of cryptocrystalline quartz gemstones. They are found in all 50 States, in many colors and color combinations, and in sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks. Chalcedony includes carnelian, sard, plasma, prase, bloodstone, onyx, sardonyx, chrysoprase, thundereggs, agate, flint, chert, jasper, petrified wood, and petrified dinosaur bone just to name a few of the better known varieties.

Because of its abundance, durability, and beauty, chalcedony was, except for sticks, animal skins, bones, plain rocks, and possibly obsidian, the earliest raw material used by humankind. The earliest recorded use of chalcedony was for projectile points, knives, tools, and containers such as cups and bowls. Early man made weapons and tools from many varieties of chalcedony including agate, agatized coral, flint, jasper, and petrified wood.

*Turn on, tune in and drop out.
Timothy Leary
(1920 - 1996)


Low-end wizardry

My young students are having a magical time thinking about wizards and dragons this month. Most of them are just learning to read, so they are aware of Harry Potter through commercials and perhaps the movies, but not the printed word. I admit I enjoyed the first three Harry Potter books, but then it became too onerous a task to keep up with the series.

My brother, and later my oldest son, were Tolkien junkies, reading the whole Lord of the Rings cycle around and around for years. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis left me cold. I read Little Women every year during Christmas break, books about archaeology, and my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder books many times. Given a good dugout roof over my head, a blizzard or two, and a plague of grasshoppers, I was a happy young reader.

So I was interested to overhear the kindergarten kids talking about the wizard headmaster, Double Door. Not the wise, powerful, and possibly deceased Dumbledore of Hogwarts Academy--I think Double Door presides over the Hogwash Academy of Wizardry housed in the aluminum double-wides down at Uncle Cam's Trailer Lot. Before he became headmaster, Double Door was the professor of bug zapping, and K-Mart blue light spells. When Hogwash Academy has a Sorting Hat ceremony, the hat still has a price tag hanging on it.

Bring on the grasshoppers.


Le Tour de Rehab

"They won't do things for me, " my dad reports from the rehabilitation center where he's recovering from a broken femur. "I'm very busy!"

In the high speed, high stakes world of senior citizen recuperation the competition is cutthroat. While I'm chatting with my dad on the phone, his roommate sneaks out to get an early start on their wheelchair race to the dining hall. "He wants to win again," Dad says, and keep the yellow jersey, no doubt. I don't think either of them are taking steroids or performance enhancing drugs, but they do get a chocolate Ensure every afternoon.

On the weekend there's no physical therapy, and no occupational therapy. Dad has to think up his own challenges, so he spent the day experimenting with his new pick-stuff-up tool. He's testing what he can accomplish on his own, and surprised at his success. He can snag items from shelves and closet. Better, he can reel in the electrical power strip to plug in his razor and shave. Way to go! It's amazing. This is only Day Eight since his injury, and he is making great progress toward independence.

Reminds me of Marion Holland's beginning reader, A Big Ball of String, in which a young boy devises ways of amusing himself on a sick day. It's one of those Cat in the Hat "I Can Read It All By Myself" books, copyright 1958. You remember:

I can look at my book!
I can shoot with my gun!
I make my bell ring!
I can make my train run!

"Look, Mother!
Look, Mother!
I said.
"Come and look,
Come and look,
How I stay in my bed,
With my strings,
And my things,
And my cold in the head!"

They may want to change the logo to The Old Fart In the Hat--I Can Reach It All By Myself. After all, it was the good Dr. Seuss who wrote about the places we go! I've got feisty hummingbirds battling for territory and the yellow jersey around the red cannas on my patio. Thank heaven cannas are so drought resistant and Dad is so up to the challenge!


Losing my marbles in the cow

A memory can be a dangerous thing to let loose in a parking lot or grocery store to run around unsupervised. This is not the same as a mind being a terrible thing to waste*, nor is it like your toddler climbing out of the grocery cart. It is more like losing your marbles in a cast iron skillet.

I woke up from an afternoon nap remembering attending a Health Expo in Lincoln's Pershing Auditorium with my grade school class or Camp Fire Girls group in about 1965. The highlight of the expo was the cow with the porthole in it's side. Kids would dare each other to go look in the cow's stomach(s), and then go racing down the aisle of human body system plastic models and past the normally popular Resusci Annie. The auditorium was warm and crowded. The grass in a cow's stomach smelled funny. I expected it to be agitating like a load of laundry. A housefly traveled in and out through the window. A nursery song played in my head:

Go in and out the window,
Go in and out the window,
Go in and out the window,
As we have done before.

Go round and round the village,
Go round and round the village,
Go round and round the village,
As we have done before.

Stand and face your partner,
Stand and face your partner,
Stand and face your partner,
As we have done before.

Now shake his hand and leave him,
Now shake his hand and leave him,
Now shake his hand and leave him,
As we have done before.

Given my knack for locking my knees and fainting in the mid-1960s, I'm surprised I stayed upright. Must have been the peer pressure.

Neda Ulaby's report on Friday's "All Things Considered" probably set me off on this tack. It was difficult to ponder the ethical questions surrounding current science museum exhibits of plastinated human cadavers. The Dallas Morning News prints ads for the Houston Museum of Science engagement of Gunter Von Hagen's Body Worlds, the Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies. And I thought seeing the Dead Sea Squirrels at Omaha's Joslyn was scary! I admit I had to look up the definitions of flay and flail to get them straight. This kind of info checking takes up my time--time that normal people would spend watching "Dancing With the Stars," I guess.

Yes, dead bodies have been exhibited throughout history. I'm well acquainted with the photo of the shot-up Dalton gang after the Coffeyville raid. I was as fascinated with Egyptian mummies as most kids. I've been haunted this week by a print image I saw in some newspaper of large and small caskets draped with the Lebanese flag, lined up awaiting a mass burial. We are allowed to see these images, but not those of coffins arriving from Iraq draped with the U.S. flag.

Most of us can't hold onto all these images and current events around the clock. It's just too sad and infuriating. We have our everyday lives to lead, whether the fly goes in and out the window or not. If we didn't keep chewing our cud, we'd go crazy. The rhythm of the agitating washer drowns out the ethical questions and moral outrage.

About the same year as the bovine with the ruminal fistula, as cow portholes are known in the agricultural research world, I attended the Cub Scout Expo, also in Pershing Auditorium. My brother's scout den was exhibiting and selling the jewelry it made by frying marbles.

Fried Marbles
NOTE: This is a project that an adult should do FOR the child. The child should watch at a safe distance. This is an old-time activity.

Heat a single layer of marbles in a cast iron skillet on the stove until hot and then drop them in cold water. When you put them in water, you might want to try just a couple at a time in varying degrees of room temperature water to ice cold water.

What Happens
The glass inside the marbles shatters into shards and looks like shimmering crystal.
Why It Works
When glass goes from extreme heat to extreme cold, it cracks from the inside out.

I feel a bit like one of those marbles today, slightly cracked from the inside out. I hope no fifth grade boy picks up a marble and then races across the auditorium to drop it through the cow window. Boys can be like that. They put worms in Resusci Annie's mouth, you know. Then they grow up to be in a Yale secret society, doing pretend rituals with Geronimo's skull.

A 1966 marble is a terrible thing to fry. This is your 1986 brain on decongestants! This is a wasted afternoon in 2006.

*"A mind is a terrible thing to waste" was the excellent public awareness campaign for the United Negro College Fund beginning in 1971. The phrase was mangled by then Vice President Dan Quayle in May of 1989:

What a waste it is to lose one's mind.
Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful.
How true that is.


"What's that aftershave you're wearing?"

I'm going to a big happening tomorrow, by my standards, so I had my hair repaired last evening--sort of a lube and tune, with a Maaco $39.99 paint job. It's sad that I put beauty treatments in the same mental category as oil changes.

Under the hot dryer for prolonged periods of Hot Carnuba hair reconditioning, I got to fantasizing about a Sam and Janet Evening with Prince Charming and glass slippers. Across a crowded room Emile de Becque asked me, "What's that fragrance you're wearing?"

"What's that aftershave you're wearing?," was the slogan for Hai Karate t.v. commercials back in my Wonder Bread years. Nerdy guys wearing dork glasses required martial arts training to fight off over-sexed chicks in a memorable ad campaign. Hai Karate was up against the Mennen Skin Bracer ads involving a slap, and a "Thanks, I needed that!"

That fragrance I'm wearing is actually Aroma de Fabric Crayon Drawings. My students use Crayola Fabric Crayons to make a drawing, and I iron the drawing onto their tie-dyed camp t-shirts. After ironing fifty-six transfers, I can't get that smell out of my head..., or my clothes, or my hair! Will Emile de Becque whisper in my ear that I smell just like an unairconditioned first grade classroom when second semester used to last well into June? Grilled Binney & Smith with hints of dried bath towel! Great. I could probably attract some sixty-ish male who never quite got over the crush on his first-grade teacher!

My hair looks like it was transformed with Crayola Multicultural Washable Markers (aka brown felt pens). I've got your raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber, and yellow ochre!

The fabric crayon instructions:

Turn crayon drawings into colorful fabric art. Simply draw with these special formula crayons (on paper). Iron onto fabric for brilliant, permanent fabric designs. Works best on white fabric, synthetic blends.

Use to make personalized T-shirts, fabric quilts, tablecloths, pillowcases, banners, kites, aprons, scarves, kitchen accessories, and holiday decorations. Drawing, rubbings, stenciling and lettering techniques are easy to do.

8-count box contains: magenta, violet, burnt sienna, blue, orange, green, black and yellow.

Please have an adult use the iron.

I'm that adult.

Knock! Knock! Who's there?
Sam and Janet! Sam and Janet who?
Sam and Janet evening?

Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side,
And make her your own
For all through your life you
May dream all alone.

Once you have found her,
Never let her go.

Once you have found her,
Never let her go!

Once you have colored it,
Never let it grow!


Watch how you flick that wand

Wizard camp is in full gear. We were horsing around pretending to do trick shots with magic wands, shades of our Annie Oakley Wild West camp sneaking back in.

Don't try this at home! We were wand-zapping behind our backs. "You wouldn't want to accidently turn your mother into a frog," I said. A preschooler piped up, "Maybe you could turn her into a crab!"

Forget the magic wand! I'm sure every kid in this camp has the power to change Mom into a crab any day of the week.

Any afternoon we arrived home from Eastridge Elementary School and found my mother vacuuming or cleaning my brother's room, we knew she would have been magically turned into a crab. On such occasions, it is good to retreat into your wizard cave. Maybe practice those most excellent magic words--Please, Thank you, and I'm sorry!


Have you reached the party?

"Ernestine, we have a problem."

My oldest called me last night to let me know he was reading my email updates about his grandfather in the hospital. He told me I had obviously flipped the switch and gone into my heavy duty Mission Control mode.

I'm a mom. I've been in Mission Control training most of my adult life. I've got badges for Time Coordinator, Planning Specialist, Logistics Engineer, Communications Hub Advanced Training, Terrain Tech, and Encoding/Decoding Operations, although not for Weightlessness Counseling. If I could just get my hands on one of those Mars Rovers, there'd be no problem programming it to sift through the debris on my youngest's bedroom floor in search of evidence of life.

My sister and I could team up to out-FEMA any Bush appointee on crisis and disaster relief. Homeland insecurity? Put the wagons in a circle! When we got word that Dad had fallen and broken his femur, we were instantly marshalling forces from all across the country's time zones, setting up communication chains, and procuring emergency transportation. She was in charge of children, pets, and paratroopers. I was in charge of MREs--Maybe Recognizable Edibles, fact-checking, and press releases. Thank heaven none of this was necessary, but we could have had banks of porta-potties set up outside any sports arena in this country AND ensured that each one would have both Northern Quilted toilet paper and a Purel dispenser.

My dad's mother worked as the night telephone company operator in a small, northeastern Nebraska town in the middle of the twentieth century. I felt Halma's presence as I did what I could long distance for her son. She might have been surprised at the technology, but not at the motivation.

I used to be phone-a-phobic, and I'm still phone-adverse most of the time. When it really matters, though, I can talk on my cellphone, check messages on the home phone, type lower case emails, and wear my Skype headphones all at the same time!

It was good to hear about my oldest's progress at his new full-time position. He turns twenty-four this week. He seemed a little down about it. Every phase of his life until now had a specific time allotted; seven years of elementary school, three years of middle school, two years of high school, two years of senior high, four years of undergraduate, two years of grad school. Now a very long road stretches before him of grown-up full-time responsibility; over forty hours a week for over forty years. He has crossed the line into the middle stage of life, where we are citizens, members, parents, and worker bees, subscribing to the governing rules for family, job, community, and nation.

At almost exactly his age, I hit an emotional speed bump. I was sitting at a table at an outdoor wedding reception when I suddenly realized I was "grown-up", but that the status did not have any of the wisdom or privileges I'd always assumed. It was like searching for nonexistent answers in the back of the math book. Shouldn't at least the odd-numbered questions have the answers?

Though the thresholds aren't as clearly demarcated, "grown-up" adulthood gradually shifts into wonderful mature stages of learning, loving, being internally governed instead of externally controlled, becoming traveling minstrels, sages, crones, and fools. Yes, Ernestine, I have reached the party. The answers still aren't in the back of the book, but I can choose my own questions.

Happy birthday, son.

Measurable Precipitation

It isn't raining rain, you know,
It's raining violets!

North Texas actually got some lightning, thunder, and light rain this afternoon, accompanied by a fifteen degree drop in the temperature. Not enough to thumb our noses at Al Gore and chant nanny-nanny-boo-boo, you're drought theory is all wet, but we'll take it--the first rain in over a month. Kind of magical hearing the pitter-patter of tiny raindrops on my new baby a/c unit. I can write the date in Little Carrier's baby book, right there on the First Precipitation &/or Baptism page. After I check the newspaper tomorrow, I can add the rainfall total.

What a weekend this has been! Lincoln, Nebraska received much-needed moisture Saturday morning, and my dad went to check the raingauge. Rainfall measurement is always a concern for the children of the Dust Bowl, and to a lesser extent, the next generation. I pray I pass a bit of that obsession to all of my sons, and to their future children. If we don't pass on the wisdom of history through family tales told around the dinner table, we will be destined to pick the windblown grit and grasshopper parts out of our teeth again. Water is going to be the great issue of this century, and you can write my prognostication down right now.

Trouble was, when Dad checked the raingauge attached to the top of the yardlight, the honeysuckle vines reached out and grabbed him. He fell, breaking the neck of his left femur. A lucky, lucky man, his neighbors saw him immediately, and took him to the emergency room. While they waited, he was pretty grumpy that the raingauge showed less than two one-hundredths of an inch. He was in surgery less than four hours after the accident. Two more hours, and he was out of surgery, alert and coherent.

It's very nerve-wracking worrying long-distance about a parent, but this story has a big rainbow. Dad is doing amazingly well, thanks to his dear rescuers and good medical care, his own fantastic attitude, and lots of luck. That's the pot of gold.

I'm able to relax, and to appreciate the return of the hummingbirds to my patio after the rain. I've had such a shower of support and love that my raingauge is overflowing. I'm sending my gratitude out through the mist and light.


Weather advisory for southern Collin County

A large mass of low energy is being pushed out of a fatigue trough by a stabilizing front of powerful antibiotics. This sudden change in atmospheric pressure could produce volatible weather for persons south of a line known as Park Boulevard, and west of a line known as Custer Road, due to rapidly increasing frustration with status quo unaccompanied by disipating breezes and measurable precipitation. Particularly at risk during this storm event are male persons between the ages of eighteen and twenty with pack rat tendencies and low interior aesthetic motivation, not to mention sweaty baseball caps. Said persons are instructed by the National Mother Service to move to higher ground, turn down the bass, and clean up their acts. This large mass could become a Category Three at any moment. Stay tuned to Mother Watch Radar for new developments. In the event of an emergency, you may be advised to move quickly to a trailer court.

Calcutta Summer

During my recent air conditioning problems I thought often of a wonderful commentary I heard on NPR's Morning Edition Wednesday. Listen to Sandip Roy's "Summer Season Sizzles in Calcutta", and have a vacation from August in Texas.

Roy's essay took me back to hot summer days spent sprawled on the coolest patch of floor reading Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. This experience could never be confused with watching Disney's cartoon video with Phil Harris voicing Baloo the Bear. Reading Kipling is to savor the glorious use of the English language, and to imagine the exotic setting of colonial India.

It's time for a trip to the library--air conditioning for your mind!


Free B Gee

"Free B Gee" is the nickname I'm going to assign my credit card. Never thought I'd be nicknaming a charge card, but the Pony Express asked me to do it. Sure, I've nicknamed cars, uncooperative major home appliances, toy bison and armadillos, but not My Buddy Visa. If you sign in at the USPS site to order stamps delivered to your mailbox, you'd better have a nickname ready for your Discover!

After I got all charged up about the new motorcycle postage stamps, I went to the USPS website to look at all the commemorative releases for 2006. The motorcycles are not even the grooviest! That title would belong to the August 24th release of Gee's Bend quilt stamps, photographs of ten quilts created between circa 1940 and 2001 by African-American women in Gee's Bend, Alabama.

Ben Franklin is getting some handsome new stamps, too. I'm squinting into my crystal ball, but I can't see any members of the current administration being honored with commemorative issues in 2206.


Benjamin Franklin was vital to the organization of the American postal system, serving as postmaster of Philadelphia and a deputy postmaster for the American colonies before being appointed postmaster general by the Continental Congress in 1775. He marked postage-free letters with his unique personal signature: "B. Free Franklin."

Growling engines and forgetful minstrels

My feverish naps have recalled a strange memory of a childhood illness. I must have been home from school several days already, because I'd improved enough to get out of bed and move to the green sectional sofa to watch the tiny black and white t.v. There wasn't much on in the daytime in the early Sixties, and being allowed to watch was a real oddity.

I'll never forget Bing Crosby forgetting his lit pipe backstage, and burning the theatre down. Not just once. Several times. Until the miraculous age of Google, I couldn't be sure if this old memory was real or a fever, but I worried a great deal about fires for years afterward. Now I know the movie was "Dixie", a 1943 musical biopic of the Old South, and the subject of an article in the Spring 2004 Journal of Popular Film and Television, by Michael Dunne:

Abstract: In Mississippi (1935) and Dixie (1943), the wildly successful Bing Crosby acts, croons, and clowns--in and out of blackface--in Southern roles that exemplify the unquestioned racism as well as the imaginative escapism that characterized other highly successful popular cultural artifacts of the era....

...Dixie is, at once, a musical biography, a narrative romance, and a Hollywood musical. As biography, the film has been justifiably indicted as inaccurate. Daniel Decatur Emmett was actually a native of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and he first successfully performed "Dixie" at the Bowery Amphitheater in New York City on February 6, 1843. (10) For reasons of narrative effect, most of these facts were changed in Dixie. As Michael Rogin points out, for example, "To hide minstrelsy's roots in northern, proslavery idealizations of the South, which it was repeating, Paramount moved Dan Emmett from New York to New Orleans for Dixie" (179). Furthermore, the plot provides Emmett's character with a behavioral forgetfulness about laying down his still-smoking pipes to set up the finale in which his debut performance of the tune "Dixie" in New Orleans must be speeded up to its current lively tempo because his discarded pipe has set the backstage on fire. To develop this narrative thread, Emmett accidentally burns down the family home of his fiancee early in the film, and later Millie Cook barely avoids another disastrous fire when she snatches up Emmett's smoldering pipe in the theatrical boarding house that she runs with her father in New Orleans. Not too long after this, Emmett's discarded pipe destroys the theater in which his new minstrel act is on its way to becoming a phenomenal success. As so often is the case in musical biopics, the available historical facts are subsumed by the narrative exigencies of the genre. (11)

I bring this up partly because of new feverish images, and partly because we adults forget the power of media impressions on young children. I don't know what understanding I had at that age of the Civil Rights movement then sweeping the U.S. I was too concerned about forgetful pipe-smokers to align the Hollywood minstrel romanticism with Life Magazine realities of racism. Afterall, I was only seven. Maybe I obsessed about fire because that was the only worry from the movie that I could even put a name to.

On a much lighter note, I read in the New York Times, Their Motorcycles Are in the Mail, that the Postal Service is releasing a new commemorative stamp set on Monday. The motorcycle stamps are groovy!

I'm a Collage Mama, not a Motorcycle Mama. I've ridden a motorcycle three times in my life. Motorcycles have different associations for me. My son collected some detailed cycle miniatures about ten years ago. At times, I have used the tiny cycles for a drawing project. Kids are as intrigued as I am with the cycles. They've been willing to observe them closely to make excellent drawings, and have respected the rule not to touch. Each time I've explained that the mini motorcycles belong to my son. Then I've showed the kids a photo of my three sons all grown up and dressed in suits. They are always amazed that I have sons, or so I've thought. Maybe they are amazed that I have sons so tiny they can ride the miniature motorcycles! Can you say "Tom Thumb?"

One time I brought the cycles back home after a strenuous drawing class, and left them on the dining table. After a few weeks, the cycles made it to the window sill. Now the cycles on the windows are a sign to friends, letting them know that they've found the right condo in the complex. If you get up to the front door, and don't see the motorcycles, you are at the wrong place!

It's back down to 86 in here

Eighty six degrees is feeling pretty good at the moment after two feverish days. I'm recovering, but the air conditioner didn't. I've never had strep throat in the summer in Texas before, and it's not a fun-filled theme park. I slept twenty-six of the last forty-eight hours. In between strange dreams of poached eggs, Campbell's beef barley soup, and Earth Mother archetypes, I'd wake up, "force fluids", and gradually realize that the a/c wasn't cooling. Then I'd fall asleep again.

The a/c repairman slapped defibrillators on it and got it running again for a couple hours yesterday, but after that it just couldn't say "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can" anymore. Please, Little Blue Engine! Please take us to the top of that cool mountain again, cried all the dolls and toys together! Please make it cool for the good little condo boys and girls! Yes, the dreams were pretty weird again last night.

So today two a/c techs installed a new system that will be much more energy efficient, and a good selling point for the condo. It took them seven warm hours to do it. The worst part was testing the furnace! Now, the new a/c is chugging and puffing along. It has a big job to do. We're at 86, but that's a long way from the top of the mountain!

The new arrivals:

Blue booties for him. Pink booties for her. No chocolate booties until it gets a lot cooler in here!


The Lone Ranger's Regret

The elementary kids are making toy theatres again. After making theatres with royal boxes last time, I was seized with the idea of making a stage set for Romeo and Juliet. The kids understood immediately when I started a melodramatic recitation of the balcony scene. It was time for the french fry boxes again!

I keep deep-frying my brain to come up with uses for the french fry boxes. When we bought the case of them six years ago I had to promise to find ways to use all 5000 of them. It would be a snap at McDonald's, but it takes awhile in art class. Alas (swoon), I wasn't able to take any photos of the balcony scenes, but here is one of the theatres with its Playbill. I love that the six year old girl won't let children under ten come to her show!

As the class got more amped up, I got more tongue-tied. "Wherefore art thou," became, "Where fort out there?" Or "Kemo-Sabe, Kemo-Sabe. Where fort out there, Kemo-Sabe?" And that's when the Lone Ranger knew that loaning his Complete Works of William Shakespeare to Tonto was a bad idea!


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