Lost civilization of the Bottle People

"This year, Americans will drink more than 30 billion single-serving bottles of water."

This staggering figure should scare all of us into reading the full story, "The Unintended Consequences of Hyperhydration," by Jon Mooallem, in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine (05/27/2007). Where are all those discarded bottles going to go?

The story includes a history of bottle deposit laws in the several states, and a brief history of beverage packaging. It considers whether the cost of recapturing and reusing the plastic from those thirty billion bottles should be borne by the manufacturers, the grocery and convenience stores, municipalities, or consumers.

Each time I volunteer at a race, as I did at the recent inaugural Heels and Hills women's half marathon in Las Colinas, I get all in a dither about the wastefulness of plastic bottles. It's not just running races and soccer tournaments that pile up the empties. The little bottles are taking over planet Earth faster than the tribbles filled the Enterprise.

Imagine this scenario:

Once upon a time no one at all had a bottle of Ozarka constantly at hand, not kings, not peasants, not dragons. No one died for lack of a bottle. Nobody yelled, "My kingdom for a little plastic bottle of pure spring water!" Not even in the heat of battle... Sure, the occasional rube licked the pump handle on a January school recess dare, and got his tongue frozen in situ.

Future archaeologists from a more environmentally-conscientious culture begin digging in our old landfills seeking insights into our alleged civilization. Because of the enormous mounds of plastic containers, the researchers label the period beginning in 1990 as The Bottle People to describe our long-lost throw-away society. The archaeologists would ponder how the high priests of this era convinced the entire population that bottled water was absolutely essential to life as they knew it:

This year, Americans will drink more than nine billion gallons of bottled water, nearly all of it from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic bottles...Americans will throw out more than two million tons of PET bottles this year. Even when recycled, it is hard to turn scrap PET into new bottles. More virgin material is always necessary. PET is a petroleum product; it comes from oil. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that 18 million barrels of crude-oil equivalent were needed to replace the bottles we chucked in 2005, bottles that were likely shipped long distances to begin with —from Maine or Calistoga or Fiji.

When we pay a deposit on a bottle or container, we have "a contract binding us to our garbage":

The bottle bill created an economic incentive for something its authors felt we ought to do for its own sake. It was a mandate to recycle rather than litter but, more broadly, to stay mindful of the tension between convenience and conscientiousness — to stay tethered to our waste as, more and more, that connection slackened.

Let's all meditate a bit on that tension between convenience and conscientiousness. Maybe then we won't become a lost civilization!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


I haven't had a good night's sleep since Hector was a pup.

Twas a hellacious night of mental three-headed dog-walking, dental drilling dreams, and idiothermostatic irregularities. Somewhere between the hotter-than-Hades throwing off of blankets, the post-flash chills, and trying to remember if Dr. Deavers was the dentist or the doctor in old-timey Pierce, Nebraska, I got hung up on Dad's phrase, "since Hector was a pup."

My Auntie Em used the expression "since Hector was a pup" often, so I sense it came from the early 1900s. In Miss Madsen's seventh grade English class we studied Edith Hamilton's Mythology and Homer's Iliad. Hector, as everyone knows, was the true Trojan hero slain by Achilles and dragged all over tarnation in front of his parents, Priam and Hecuba. Dr. Louise Pound expounded in her 1927 work, The Etymology of an English Expletive, on the origin of "tarnation".

Feeling dragged through the cycle for yet another night, I'm wondering what's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba that he should weep for her. Maybe Hecuba is tossing and turning, and keeping Priam awake all night. Maybe Hecuba is considering asking her doctor if hormone therapy is right for her. How did hellfire and damnation get twisted into tarnation? How do carnations get dyed all those tutti-frutti colors for bouquets for sorority initiations?

When was Hector a pup? Was Hector a bully? Why is Heck a nickname for Henry? Who were the other two lawmen known as the "Three Guardsmen"* of the Oklahoma Territory besides Heck Thomas? Was Heck the one who killed Bill Doolin? What Led Zeppelin song had the howling dogs of doom?

No Quarter (Jones/Page/Plant)
Close the door, put out the light.
You know they won't be home tonight.
The snow falls hard and don't you know?
The winds of Thor are blowing cold.
They're wearing steel that's bright and true
They carry news that must get through.
They choose the path where no-one goes.
They hold no quarter.
Walking side by side with death,
The devil mocks their every step
The snow drives back the foot that's slow,
The dogs of doom are howling more
They carry news that must get through,
To build a dream for me and you
They choose the path where no-one goes.
They hold no quarter. They ask no quarter.
The pain, the pain without quarter.
They ask no quarter.
The dogs of doom are howling more!

Then, of course, we must consider why heck is a euphemism for hell. Hell is a euphemism for having to walk the three-headed dog before you've had three mugs of black coffee. Cerberus is the three-headed hound guarding Hades. A cold day in hell is when Cerberus licks the pump and freezes his tongue on the handle.

*Chris Madsen and Bill Tilghman
© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Hot asphalt

"The Buick's air conditioner isn't cooling much", I told Dave at Goodyear. "Not at all?", he asked. "Not nearly enough to drive across Kansas", I replied. Dave spoke from personal experience when he said the only way to get any relief on that drive is to get your clothes soaking wet, roll down all the windows, and drive over eighty m.p.h., preferably at night. This is not a particularly appealing visual image for a woman of my AARP age, although it might have been fun in the mid-Seventies! I had Goodyear add lots of freon instead.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Picnic with a fully enlightened being

The wise little Yoda across from me at the picnic table wears pink crocs shoes. Her feet don't quite reach the playground gravel. She's enjoying her peanut butter and jelly. Her sentences are spare, calm, informed, and reminiscent of haiku as she converses with the other children:

I'm happy, she says;

Birds are building a nest

in my yard.

She informs the other kids:

DisneyLand was first.

It is in California.

DisneyWorld was second.

It is in Florida.

A practical meditation:

That is a sugar ant on your banana.

Just flick it off.

It will not hurt anything.

After lunch I want
to hang a teeny tiny
tire swing for her
from my coffee table
miniature bonsai tree.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Don't Let It Be Forgot...

...Before there was a spot,
For one brief shining moment,
I had clean Carpetlot!

Looking forward to seeing Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot" at the
Dallas Summer Musicals this weekend. I'll be leaving my Spot-Shot carpet stain remover at home. My favorite mud-tracking knights are grown up now. I could only find armored photos of two of the guys. Any Guenevere would fall for them. Still, over the years, they've been pretty tough on carpets.

Went to see the 1967 movie version with my junior high girlfriends. Seems like it played at the Varsity Theater, and it may have had an intermission. Movie intermissions went the way of the dinosaurs not long after.

The 1960 Broadway production starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet. Two out of three of them could sing. That was many more than in the movie with Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, and Franco Nero.

Richard Harris also "sang" the weird 1968 hit song, "MacArthur Park". That song pops into my head when the preschoolers leave loosely-capped drinks and unsupervised choices to melt and ooze in their lunchboxes:

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down--
Who thought it was a good idea to pack a popsicle in a lunchbox anyway???

Someone's crumbled cupcake made a stain. I don't think that I can take it...

Oh, no!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Magic Ovens

"Gooschy Bread" was the name my younger sibling gave to Wonder Bread* back when we were growing to 90% of our adult height and eating lots of peanut butter sandwiches. We were building strong bodies 12 ways with a product that was almost as good as Play-doh for molding and didn't dry out as quickly.

When I saw the photos of items created by a 3-D printer known as Desktop Factory in the May fifth New York Times story, "Beam It Down From the Web, Scotty", I remembered shaping the Wonder Bread. Why didn't we ever think to bake the gooschy bread in the Creepy Crawler Thingmaker molds by Mattel? It would have been cheaper than Plastigoop, and just as edible!

What is 3-D printing? You put a picture of a pizza into the machine, and a real pizza comes out hot and ready to eat...Close, but not exactly. According to the Desktop Factory website, a 3-D printer "turns digital data from computer-aided design (CAD) programs, 3D graphics and animation software, and scanners into sturdy physical models." This process is "commonly referred to as 'rapid prototyping'." And here I thought that was something police weren't supposed to do.

It's still easier and cheaper to obtain a vintage Easy Bake Oven or a Mattel Vac-U-Form, but prices for 3-D printers will be dropping below $5000 soon:

Bill Gross, chairman of IdeaLab, says the technology it has developed, which uses a halogen light bulb to melt nylon powder, will allow the price of the printers to fall to $1,000 in four years. “We are Easy-Bake Ovening a 3-D model,” he said. “The really powerful thing about this idea is that the fundamental engineering allows us to make it for $300 in materials.”

In 1963: America's first working toy oven, was turquoise and had a carrying handle and fake stove top. It was invented by designers at Kenner Products (now a division of Hasbro). In its first year, over 500,000 lucky kids talked their parents into spending $15.95. By its fifth birthday, the EASY-BAKE Oven was a household name.

The toy oven used an ordinary light bulb as a heat source. I didn't have one, of course, but the first kid on our block did, and we were invited over to make brownies that tasted like cardboard. She had the Chatty Cathy doll and the Schwinn Stingray bicycle with banana seat, too. Still, it was an era of amazing possibilities and turquoise Ford Mustangs...

Our first molding model experience was creating a hollow rubber model of a Mercury space capsule using a science kit my dad got at the toy store and saved for a snow day. I still have the mold, and use it as twin paperweights. (Many things in my house fall into the euphemistic "paperweight" category.)

We had a Mattel Vac-U-Form/ThingMaker, a toy for molding little plastic race cars and burning ourselves on the 110-volt hotplate. We also made lots of Creepy Crawlers, Creeple People, and Fun Flowers. I don't know why we never baked fishhooks into the Creepy Crawlers to make our own artificial bait. At the neighbors' we could make Incredible Edibles out of Gobble-Di-Goop, and those were as tasty as the Easy Bake brownies.

Vac-U-Form enabled you to melt a sheet of styrene plastic and quickly make a mold of any item. This toy is not only desired by collectors, but by model makers to make molds of small parts. The original styrene sheets, called "Material Paks" are difficult to find these days. "You can tell it's Mattel, it's swell."

*The term "Wonder Years" was coined by the Continental Baking Corp. (Wonder is now made by Interstate Bakeries Corp.) in conjunction with its "help build strong bodies 12 ways" advertising campaign. Wonder Bread defines the "wonder years" as ages one through 12, when children grow to 90% of their adult height.

By 1967 I was in junior high. The magic of ovens was being replaced by 4-H and Home Ec class. I trudged home each afternoon to eat French Vanilla Creme cookies (made by Keebler, I think), and watch Perry Mason, Star Trek, and Gilligan's Island reruns before doing homework for an hour or two.

The original Keebler "jingle" reads like this: "Man, you never would believe where the Keebler® Cookies come from. They're baked by little elves in a hollow tree. And what do you think makes these cookies so uncommon? They're baked in magic ovens, and there's no factory. Hey!" (Lyrics by Tom Shutter, copywriter, Leo Burnett, 1967)

I'm sure owning a home version of a rapid prototyping 3-D printer is just around the corner. I know it will be just as useful as the office laminator at the hardware store where the teen evening staff encases pizza slices and cockroaches...Incredible Edibles and Creepy Crawlers!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Memory Seven

It started simply--just a few tired teachers and worn-out moms discussing embroidery and quilting while students made the transition from school day to home evening. The kids were taking apart the space stations they built of bright plastic construction pieces.

"Reminds me of those Star Trek characters with the embroidered faces and quilted eyebrows," I said. My kids used to watch that show all the time while I was making supper. It was bad enough hearing it, but when I watched bits of shows the make-up gave me piercing headaches (speaking of needlework faces)! Trapunto might be a more descriptive term for the bad alien skin conditions.

We after-school adults pondered which Star Trek incarnation had the most annoying characters, and tried to remember names, while the little students located their lunchboxes and changed into soccer and gymnastics outfits. The parents aren't much older than my own sons, so we grew up in different Star Trek generations.

This evening I'm adding a list of the Star Trek shows to my bathroom drawer of insomnia reminders:

Star Trek (The Original Series) 1966-69 I can name seven of the eight main characters, and I still look for tribbles when I clean under the bed...Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, McCoy, Chekov... (Chapel)

Star Trek: Next Generation 1987-94 Our Reading Rainbow hero, Lavar Burton, became Geordi, wore weird sunglasses, and hung out with Data and Capt. Picard...

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1993-99 I couldn't bear to watch the Worf'n'Quark show...

Star Trek: Voyager 1995-2001 One unnamed son had his first celeb crush on Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway and wrote her fan letters. He still goes for strong, decisive women!...

(There's even a newer series, Star Trek: Enterprise. Thank heaven I was spared that! 2001-05)


Effa Dale
Alice June -- my mom's aunts

Eric Clapton
Ginger Baker
Jack Bruce
-- the members of Cream

Bobby Gentry --the Ode to Billy Joe

John Glenn
Wally Schirra
Gus Grissom
Deke Slayton
Gordon Cooper
Alan Shepard
Scott Carpenter --the Mercury astronauts

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


OMG! I don't lol. I had to look up emo on Wikipedia. I don't use winking punctuation marks. But, hey, when something really useful comes along, I say thanks to Rachel Ray for shortening extra virgin olive oil.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Mourning Cloak

"Look! There's a mourning cloak by the sandbox," I told the elementary students. We were having lunch at the picnic tables on the playground. The butterfly was being very cooperative, almost posing for our observation.

"Do you know what a cloak is?" Alas, the children are not familiar with Charlie Needs A Cloak, by Tomie dePaola, a wonderful picture book about a shepherd who shears his sheep, cards and spins the wool, weaves and dyes the cloth, and sews a beautiful new red cloak despite comic interference from the sheep.

A cloak is like Superman's cape, but big enough to wrap around you to keep warm. It's not like a coat, because it doesn't have sleeves. The elementary teacher and I were making progress explaining the butterfly's peculiar name.

"Mourning is when you feel very sad after someone you care about dies. People used to wear black clothes for a long time when someone died. A mourning cloak is a big black cape you would wear to a funeral," I explained.

The butterfly isn't actually black, but a very dark brown with hints of purple in the sunshine. Remember those stories of young brides wearing mourning clothes at their weddings before they left their families forever to set off on the Oregon Trail? Mourning cloaks also remind me of the movie "Amadeus" and the grieving common folk following Mozart's cortege.

Our butterfly sunning its wings by the sandbox seems dramatic, not gloomy. I was afraid of mourning cloak butterflies as a child. My parents made butterfly nets for us so I could earn a Campfire Girl bead by catching and identifying butterflies. Chasing butterflies was great exercise and fresh air whether we caught anything or not. Why was I afraid of mourning cloaks?

I wanted to check my facts before I said any more to the children. Mourning cloaks are quite unusual because they live up to ten months, longer than any other species. They can be seen on warm winter days when they come out of hibernation from under tree bark and other sheltered places. They settle on high, sunny spots to absorb heat through their outspread dark wings.

When we used to hike in Fontenelle Forest beside the Missouri River south of Omaha, we would see mourning cloaks flitting about in early February when snow was still on the ground. Mourning cloaks are the state butterfly of Montana, so I found some useful teaching information at www.montanakids.com. I also recommend the Butterfly Lab site for pictures of mourning cloaks and other butterflies every child should learn.

Mourning cloaks were scary, but not nearly as scary as miller moths. Now that I think about it, I probably first learned about "mourning" after the assassination of JFK when I was eight years old, about the same age I became a butterfly-chasing Camp Fire Girl. Going with my mother to pray silently in the nave at First Plymouth Church and trying to understand this national sadness and fear must be entangled in my butterfly memories. How does an eight-year-old understand grieving and mourning?

Miller moths are scary because when you get up in the night to go to the bathroom and turn on the light, they fly at you!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Condo Collapse Disorder

Maybe, just maybe, beehives are condominiums. Living in the close quarters of a hive can be stressful. If I could just fly on out of this condo association, I would.

First we learned that frogs are early indicators of Global Doom. Frogs don't live in condos. They are single-family dwellers. Some frogs have McMansions and drive convertibles. The coolest frogs live in tropical rainforests and appear on "Dancing with the Stars."

Now we are learning that another early indicator has taken a ride and never come back. The media is abuzz about honeybee disappearances. The cellphone as culprit theory is fading. Bee rapture is another theory. I will refrain from bad puns about the Second Humming. The tribble/trouble with this hypothesis is its disregard for Scotty's bee me up ability.

The "Over the Hedge" comic strip suggests that the honeybees are living it up in Las Vegas. Maybe Firesign Theatre and Elmore Leonard have been trapped in an apian cable t.v. poker championship. Maybe we have an Animal Planet reality show to piggyback on Meerkat Manor!

In the middle of the night, stuck in my thermostatically-challenged middle age insomnia, I've added the honeybees to my worry list. They join the missing Anasazi, the vanished colony of Roanoke, and the lost civilization of Atlantis buzzing in my mental honeycomb.

Bluetooth technology has made it desirably mainstream to walk around in public gesturing and talking to the air like the marginal members of society in the previous millennium. I'm becoming more sure that we are all bozos on this bus:

“Sure, living in today's complex world of The Future
is a little like having bees live in your head --
But... there they are."

Belonging to a condominium association is a lot like having bees live in your head. My elderly neighbor, Wild Willy, resembles an aging meerkat. Wild Willy has two cars, each with lots of VFW stickers and some parts held on with duct tape. Wild Willy wears his PJs all the time, except when he puts on a too-large vintage suit and a threadbare shirt with cuff links (no undershirt) for the condo association meetings. Everytime I meet him outside, he tells me how he flew bombing missions in WWII, and how he's licensed to carry concealed. I respect our Greatest Generation vets, but I don't want them shooting my visiting sons and friends. Since a recent burglary in the complex Willy has taken to walking to the mail kiosk with a loaded gun in his PJs pocket.

Another neighbor exhibiting symptoms of condo collapse disorder dug out all the landscaping outside her unit today. She wants to plant purdy widdle flowers. This would be so hunky-dunky, except that she has confused condo-ownership with single-family-dwelling-ownership. The main reason people buy condominiums is their wish to escape lawn chores. That's why condo associations own and maintain the common areas outside the units. Oops. She has basically removed an asset belonging to all members of the condominium association.

Having received notice of a significant monthly condo fee increase, I'm a tad annoyed about the gun-toters and shrub-whackers. If I could just buzz away and leave my condo obligations, I would.

Clearly the honeybees have been listening to Springsteen:

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that dont know where its flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Demolition Derby

Should you happen to need a 1999 Dodge Intrepid with peeling tinted windows which roll down but not back up, very occasional air conditioning, rear passenger interior door panels that fall off if you look at them, and a black exterior finish that has been sanded by the constant pummelling of teeny tiny asteroids that is the day-to-day unpolished gritty reality of Lubbock dust storms, please contact me. It is a big car with a huge trunk, just right for hauling all your worldly possessions to and from college. In that regard, it is not so very different from a 1961 Plymouth Sport Fury.

In Lubbock, you get small drifts of dirt on your patio, in your garage, inside your doors and on your windowsills. Back in 1987 my sons' father thought the little boys would love to see a demolition derby because they liked cars and crashing so much. The boys were four and two, and the baby was six weeks old. The derby was at night, somewhere in rural Iowa close to Omaha, and very loud. The two older boys did enjoy the smashing and crashing for awhile. Late in the evening, the wind picked up strong enough to blow over the concession tents. We were all coated with dirt from the derby track. We had dirt inside our eyes, ears, noses, and throats. Whenever the boys seemed deaf to the words of their mommy over the next two decades, and surely that never happened, I blamed it on the demolition dirt derby!

In our delightful Tech graduation weekend, the best meals were supper at Gardski's and Mother's Day "breakfast" at Freebirds. Gardski's is in a 1920s era home with a fine porch, and has an eclectic menu. We all found it hard to choose, and enjoyed our choices. Unlike the Dodge Intrepid, the a/c was on hyperdrive meat locker setting!

The Lubbock Freeb!rds World Burrito restaurant lacked the memorable visual of the guy with the tattooed Third Eye at the Austin restaurant. Still, it served up one mighty fine foil-wrapped burrito with avocado and roasted garlic on a cayenne tortilla. I love my occasional Sunday "breakfasts" at Chipotle, getting my Tabasco fix and reading the Dallas Observer. Freebirds has more choices than Chipotle for your special Sunday brunch!

When you think eye, think Intrepid!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Magical, enchanting Lubbock, Texas

Never would have expected that I would find these delightful fairies and elves just five miles from obsessively, level Lubbock, Texas. When you think Lubbock, you just don't think Fantasia!

Fabulous, yes. I was so very proud of my Texas Tech graduate at commencement. Enjoyed every minute with the graduate, his special friend-girl, and his younger brother--time spent dining, relaxing, and even cleaning his apartment for move-out day. The trip was great, and felt more like a vacation than a weekend.

For Mother's Day we went to the Llano Estacado Audubon Society's nature trail at the Buffalo Springs Lake wildlife refuge. You drive out 50th Street from Lubbock on that incredibly flat plain past fields of yellow wildflowers* and prairie dog towns. Then you suddenly drop off the earth into Ransom Canyon and Yellowhouse Draw. Walking down the cliff from the plain you go through a dry, rocky caliche zone that has cactus, wildflowers, wild grasses and scrubby little bushes.

Next you walk through a shady hackberry forest and thickets with scads of butterflies. The fairies and elves were in tiny meadows filled with sunshine. The elves wearing pointy hats were waltzing with the fairies attired in gossamer wings and tutus! These dandelion-type fluffs were baseball-sized, the largest I'd ever seen.

A marshy ecosystem of cattails, reeds, herons, and bubbas fishing below the dam brings new vegetation and birds. The whole hike was accompanied by constant varied birdsong (and some annoying jet-ski noise).

I was following one son down the trail, and we were both taking photos. At some point the trail split. I kept walking down, thinking I would catch up with him. His fork looped back up the cliff. I took my fork on down to the dam spillway. When I got to the marsh, I used my cellphone! Where are you!?

Huffing back up the trail, I didn't puff on the beautiful seed heads or interrupt the fairy dance. I was still marvelling at the dark brown immature green heron that posed for a photo shoot. Alas, my camera doesn't have a magical zoom. Glad I didn't miss any of this on the fork less taken.

*The fields are stunning from the Southwest airplane arriving at LUB just before sunset. They glow down below like hovering cadmium yellow flying carpets awaiting their genie pilots for black light take-offs.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Swallows and Gulps

Went along on the afternoon nature walk with the students, bringing up the rear. They have learned so much from this daily exercise. They are quiet and observant as they walk now, since they know they will see more birds that way. Each afternoon they log how long they walked and what they saw.

We passed a purple martin house, but it looked to be inhabited by sparrows. Maybe not, because a block or so on I saw several fork-tailed swallows swooping in awe-inspiring flight.

Despite having sons who all went through the airplane fascination stage, I never progressed beyond basic identification of helicopters, jets, and biplanes, and those weird surveillance planes that look like they have a revolving restaurant on top. I would have been absolutely no help to Cary Grant's Walter Eckland spotting Japanese aircraft in "Father Goose".

I'm much better at bird-in-flight identification, but I don't know if these birds were purple martins or barn swallows. They flew with such carefree precision and perfect form, I could have watched them all afternoon.

No swallowtail butterflies this walk, but a lovely lesser fritillary posing like a centerfold. As always, I am grateful for my parents who shared with me the wonderful names of butterflies, birds, fish, and rocks. Must tell the students that the swallowtails are named for the forked tails of the birds, not for any chew-and-swallow, as I believed at their age.

It's been a long time since I pondered rose quartz, snowflake obsidian, amethyst, lace agate, or tiger's eye. And if I ever write a mystery novel, the female detective could be named Chimney Swift.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Will our first contestant please sign in

What's In My Lunch? is the new lunchroom gameshow. It was invented as a distraction for a preschooler having a major tantrum wanting to go home to mommy, and to not stay for lunch and a nap. I really, really, really didn't want the student to set off all the other young ones in a mass lunchtime tantrum. Even more, I didn't want the sobbing tantrum to escalate to the point of gagging, which is always an unpleasant possibility that is hard on my appetite and usually on my shoes.

Distraction is one of the greatest tools for managing small children. One hot summer day in 1982 I was beached like a huge pregnant perspiring inflatable manatee in a webbed folding lawn chair at Benson Park in Omaha for my mother-in-law's family reunion. Some competent and very distant relation was watching her two toddlers play nearby. The reality of impending motherhood was weighing very heavily on my mind and body, so I asked this related stranger about her secret to parenting. She answered, "Distraction and substitution." What other wisdom could she impart to my stewed aquatic mammal brain? This wise woman, this young part-time dental hygienist and mother I hadn't met before nor since, said, "Controlled choices."

I revere this elusive messiah who handed down the way I could keep my head attached to my body while parenting young boys. It helps me understand the John Frum cargo cult on the South Pacific island of Vanatu.

Controlled choices--Offer the child two choices, each of which are acceptable to the adult. Do you want to wear your striped shirt or your Ghostbuster jumpsuit? Do you want to select a yogurt flavor or a fresh fruit at the grocery store? Would you like to listen to the baseball game on the radio or have the "Little Mermaid" cassette playing while you go to sleep?

For my little students I ask if they would prefer to be a game contestant or to start eating their sandwiches. I usually pack a salad for lunch, and put in every possible item. That gives the contestants more chances to guess right or wrong. Today my salad had lettuce, carrots, almonds, sunflower seeds, tomato, celery, snow peas, red and orange pepper, mushrooms, cheese, ham, avocado, crumbled blue corn chips, and dressing. I usually make a yogurt dressing because many of the kids have yogurt in their own lunches. The more things to guess in my lunch, the more foods they add to their mental bank of acceptable edibles. The more guessing, the more distraction for the sobbing student. The lunch gameshow is a more appealing choice than crying until you barf on your Lunchable.

Back in the deep, dark, gray, black, and white cavern of 1950s television, I got "To Tell the Truth" mildly entwangled with "What's My Line?" Kitty Carlisle died April 19th at the age of ninety-six. She was a panelist on "To Tell the Truth" along with Polly Bergen, Johnny Carson, Bill Cullen, and Don Ameche. The show, hosted by Bud Collyer, had three contestants all claiming to be the same person. The panel asked questions to determine which contestant was telling the truth.

"What's My Line?," was hosted by John Daly. The panelists included Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Steve Allen, Fred Allen, Ernie Kovacs, and Louis Untermeyer. Sometimes the panelistS had to don blindfolds. The object of the game was for four panelists to try to guess unusual occupations of contestants or a product associated with them.

To tell the truth, I'm losing weight on this nutritious role model diet.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Recording reading to toddlers

Unearthed a box of cassette tapes deep in the closet today, and found a joy. When my oldest son was about eighteen months old I made a recording while I read several of his favorite stories and poems to him. The goal was to make a good tape for settling down at naptime. I also wanted to record one particularly annoying book about Bert and Ernie and a wrong telephone number so I would never, ever have to read it again, and wouldn't feel too guilty if the book somehow disappeared.

The joy was hearing tiny Jeffy talking as I read. He was pointing out some of the pictures, naming the animals and characters--"lamb", "children", "pweeceman small". It brought back wonderful memories. I wish I had recorded more, and done the same with my other sons.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Needle endeavors

I've recently completed two very different needlework projects for birthday gifts. The top one began as the teaching sample for my art students. The students painted their muslin with watercolors, and are rushing to complete their stitching before Mother's Day. I'll put some samples of their work at the bottom. This piece is very traditional in its use of stitches, but lively in its depiction of a giraffe family.

By contrast, the second project is very textural. It involved hand-dyed fabrics, applique, and trapunto techniques. If I had been making an oil pastel drawing of four dried gourds, the result would have been very similar.

The student works-in-progress are as different as the kids themselves. The stitchers are age 5-9. They made sketches from photographs that interested them, then transferred their drawings onto muslin. They outlined their drawings with tropical fine-point Sharpie permanent markers, and painted the fabric with basic Prang watercolors.

Watermelon slices and animals of the Serengeti:

...Ducks on a log and a lily pond.

A lighthouse on a rocky penninsula, blooming cactus, and Mad King Ludwig's castle...

The same students just completed these one foot felt squares with all sorts of recycled items. We didn't stitch the kitchen sink, but we used hardware, keys, cds, buttons, sewing notions, pipe cleaners, playing cards, Indian sari fabric, net, beads, postage stamps, metallic punch ribbon, and mylar packaging. This was a free-form complement to their other precise compositions. Most of the kids plan to use these squares as Father's Day gifts. One wants to have his creation become his family's crest.
© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Velour Caterpillar

After the big storm of Wednesday night, the students found an impressive caterpillar on the playground retaining wall Thursday. Over three inches long, it looked like it had been sewn of dusty gray velour exactly the color of the nozzle attachments for my mother's 1950s cylinder vacuum cleaner. Down each side was a soft gray fringe that could have been the mustache of the Muppets' Swedish chef. Never imagining the caterpillar would be easy to find again on Friday, I didn't take my camera. It had only crawled two feet.

The search for identification led me to two very useful sites. The first is Discover Life, which can be used to ID all sorts of living things. The search function of the IDnature section let me choose up to four characteristics. It took me awhile because I didn't know that the "fringe" is very aptly called "lashes". The only close photo was the larva of the American lappet moth. Our playground visitor had two bands of dull, rusty gold, instead of the bright red bands.

Phyllodesma americana, larva Dave Wagner / Discover Life

Once I had a name, I was able to find this photo by Jo McGavin on BugGuide.net, another useful site. You have to look at it awhile to realize what you're seeing!

I can't publish John Davis' photo of the adult stage lappet moth, but Phyllodesma americana has some nifty camouflage tricks. Davis is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. He has a Flickr gallery of excellent moth photos, and contributes to the Digital Guide to Moth Identification's North American Moth Photographers Group.

I hope we can all identify the Swedish chef making chocolate mousse!

Mom's vacuum was silver gray and just right for little kids to ride. It is not as easy to identify as the caterpillar, although I spent too much time trying. Her well-used copy of Guide to Easier Living taught her that vacuuming was a once-a-week task to be done on Thursday. I'm sure she selected it with this explanation in mind:

The choice of model--whether it's upright, canister, or cylinder--depends on the amount of carpeted area versus hard-surface floor area in the home. The two latter types have swivel arrangements that permit one to reach all parts of a room from one central position. For large carpeted areas, the upright is preferred because motor-driven brushes get deeply embedded dirt out of the rug fibers.

From the Great Achievements page of the National Academy of Engineering:

In 1907 an American inventor named James Murray Spangler created a vacuum cleaner that basically consisted of an old-fashioned carpet sweeper to raise dust and a vertical shaft electric motor to power a fan and blow the dust into an external bag. Manufactured by the Hoover Company, which bought the patent in 1908, it was hugely successful, especially after Hoover in 1926 extended the fan motor's power to a rotating brush that "beats as it sweeps as it cleans." Meanwhile, the Electrolux company in Sweden grabbed a sizable share of the market with a very different design for a vacuum cleaner—a small rolling cylinder that had a long hose and a variety of nozzles to clean furniture and curtains as well as carpets.

Our vacuum was similar to the Electrolux at left, but not quite the same in my memory. For one thing, no kids are riding on it.

Links cited in this post:
http://www.discoverlife.org/nh/ DiscoverLife.org

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q? DiscoverLife's ID Nature Guides

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q?guide=Caterpillars DiscoverLife's caterpillar search page

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q?guide=Caterpillars © Dave Wagner, 2002 photo

http://bugguide.net/node/view/63153 BugGuide.net caterpillar photo by Jo McGavin

http://bugguide.net/node/view/106402 BugGuide.net moth photo by John Davis

http://www.flickr.com/photos/johns_pics John Davis' gallery of impressive nature photos

http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/MainMenu.shtml Digital Guide to Moth Identification

http://www.electrolux.com/node15.aspx Electrolux history

http://www.greatachievements.org/?id=3775 Great Achievements history of modern appliances

http://anchormama.blogspot.com/2006/03/good-design-and-easier-living.html Thoughts on the Guide to Easier Living

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Memorable staging

In my dream I stomped about in purple spike-heeled knee-high microfiber boots, ready to impale grapes, not just mash them. Alas, I had to bleach a Chef-Boyar-Dee stain off a table in the school lunchroom. Some of the Comet cleanser dusted down onto my boots, leaving faded spots. What a metaphor for womanhood! Bathtub cleanser ruins sexy boots--I can just imagine the verismo soprano aria! Welchismo Squelchismo... Okay, maybe it's time for jelly opera glasses...

The most memorable stagings by the Dallas Opera since I began attending in 2003 follow. Some had boots. Some had purple. A few had cleanser. All had amazing women:

Jenufa 2004
Cosi fan tutte 2003
Nabucco 2006
Pagliacci 2005
Magic Flute 2006
La Boheme 2003

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Doodly Darn

I don't give one about professional basketball, but I've nestled on the couch a few times lately to watch the playoffs. Since I promptly fall asleep until the first hot flash hits, I score the games a success. On the downside, I have a deep desire to poke Charles Barkley with a hat pin to see if he deflates.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


A Bresh of Freath Air

Took the garbage to the dumpster to get a bresh of freath air. It was exceedingly muggy, just waiting for the approaching thunderstrom. Yes, thunder strom. Maybe that's what happens when one watches too much C-SPAN3 and the Weather Channel--your electricity gets knocked out by the long-time senator from South Carolina.

Life is good. When I count my blessings I make note of James Thurber's What Do You Mean It Was Brillig? On my rather short list of tv worth watching I salute the 1969-1970 Emmy-winning show starring William Windom, My World--And Welcome To It.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


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