Underneath the cart in the shade to surprise...

...Lived a bumpy mother gecko and her little gecko guys. "Keep cool!" said the mother. "We're cool!" said the guys. But you've got to scurry fast should the shade minimize.

After a very rough day in the world of child development, it was nice to find a family of geckos living underneath the recycling carts at the condos. On Wednesdays I roll the carts out to the curb for the Thursday collection truck. Unfortunately, I rolled away the shady home of a lizard family. Mom lizard was very quick, heading off under the nearest leaves before I could find my camera. She was three inches long, or a bit more. Her kids weren't as fast. Some of them froze in the sudden sunny glare like miniscule deer in the headlights, making them easy to photograph. Others made a pretty quick getaway. Kid lizards were barely one and a quarter inches long.

The baby geckos remind me of middle-schooler goth wannabees. They want to be dark and nocturnal, but they are really just soft and bumpy. I've never understood why some condo residents consider our day and night lizards to be pests. They've got personality, and they eat bugs. I feel like they are the nighty-night gummy guardians of the recycling carts.

Ezra Jack Keats' illustrations for the "Over In the Meadow" rhyme were a joy to me in my young mommy career. Somedays you bask, somedays you shade:

Over in the meadow,
By the old mossy gate
Lived a brown mother lizard
And her little lizards eight
"Bask!" said the mother;
"We bask!" said the eight
So they basked in the sun
On the old mossy gate

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Sir David up the Tollway and in my corner

On the hottest day of the year, so far, the Woolly Mammoth took his old mom to see FC Dallas play the LA Galaxy. We had been looking forward to the game for a couple weeks. Sure it was a hundred degrees in the shade, but what's a little heat when you've got good soccer and David Beckham?

Odd, really, sitting in the stands with my youngest, but I enjoyed it completely. I loved being a soccer mom, watching him play for so many years. We watch bits of an occasional game on t.v. together now. Still, I think of him as a player, not a spectator. Of course, I expect his soccer socks to reach his shorts, and am sometimes stunned to find we've all grown up, even me. Heading up the Tollway he told me the wild tale of his trip to see Lazio v AC Milan in Rome last fall. Language and transportation confusions played more prominently in the tale than sport.

On the drive to Frisco's Pizza Hut Park we also reminisced about a hot shared experience in the presence of stars--Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival at the Cotton Bowl in 2004. So what is the big deal with David Beckham? Is he a "guitar god"?

The deal with Beckham is he's part of our cultural awareness in the same way as Tiger Woods. I don't even watch much soccer on t.v. and couldn't pick out a Spice Girl in a police line-up, but Beckham's walk, posture, manner of wearing clothes, and movements are instantly recognizable to me from clear across the field. How did this recognition seep into my working memory? Not sure. At least with Tiger, I've done my time watching golf with my father. Although I can't verbalize it, I would know Tiger by the way he adjusts his shirt before a putt even if I was standing at the opposite end of an airport runway from him.

The sell-out crowd loved booing Sir David, but also cheering and photographing him. He is good for Major League Soccer. Beckham had the lead role for the LA team, but wasn't particularly effective, even though he got three tries on one corner kick. FC Dallas won 4-0. Kenny Cooper had two goals within one minute of play. The Dallas goalie, Dario Sala, had eight saves. You can look it up, as James Thurber would say.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Déjà Fondue All Over Again

My gosh! This photo was on the front of the homes-for-sale section of my newspaper classifieds yesterday. Thought I had stumbled into a time machine to 1976. All this kitchen needs is some macrame plant hangers and a color-coordinated retro Rival crockpot full of melted Velveeta! You just know there's a foosball table in the next room. The woman's blouse screams "Quiana", that strangely slimy AND foamy synthetic non-breathing fabric I hoped we were over and done with forever.

The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Quotations attributes "It was déjà vu all over again," to Yogi Berra. It doesn't mention fondue forks.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Dance of the Sugarplum ISBNs

Last Saturday at the literacy workshop we played with Wikki Stix to form letters. Wikki Stix are basically pieces of yarn coated with colored wax. They have endless kids' craft uses, but I hadn't considered the teaching possibilities before. At the workshop we used Wikki Stix to form letters and numbers on a flat surface, then make crayon texture rubbings on paper over the formations. Wikki Stix adhere to the table unlike most texture rubbing craft materials, making it much easier for preschoolers.

The possibilities for creating animation and flip book sequences with the Wikki Stix rubbings really recharged my brain's dry cell battery. What if a marching band of red wiggler worms formed mutating numerals a football halftime show? With the Wikki Stix it was so easy to make incremental changes and produce quick rubbing images.

This Saturday I worked at the library preparing order forms for books, large print materials, and audio books. ISBN numbers danced around in my head like a proofreading nightmare version of "The Nutcracker".

International Standard Book Numbers used to be ten-digit identification codes that had a good beat you could almost dance to or type from memory. Now they are cursed thirteen-digit headaches that identify each individual media format for a particular title. As the day progressed, the ISBN numbers began to wiggle and shimmer, uncurl and travel when I tried to type, like enthused wax-dipped yarn dervishes. If they didn't all begin with 978, I would never have been able to corral them on paper!

The second edition of Mary Appelhof's Worms Eat My Garbage has just one ISBN:

Judith Viorst's new book, Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days, has all these ISBNs for various formats:

Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope has twice that many number assignments. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has thrice just in English. Form those numbers, my little red wigglers, between the yard markers and the hash marks.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Cincy Verdi

My oldest is attending his second production of the Cincinnati Opera's Summer Festival this weekend, a premiere production of Verdi's "La Traviata" in the historic Music Hall. Nobody's twisting his arm. He enjoyed "Madama Butterfly" in June, and is going back for more. I think that's very cool!

The Cincinnati Opera website gives a preview of the costume designs, which is great fun. At the masked ball in Act II the partygoers are dressed as different operas. See if you can guess them!

Dallas Opera's 2004 "La Traviata" was one of my first operas, my first Verdi. I didn't know enough to prepare before attending to enhance my appreciation. It seems to me the Dallas production had giant chairs and gilded picture frames suspended over the stage.

The Dallas Music Hall at Fair Park is home to the Dallas Opera for one final season. The facility has the same charm as my high school's auditorium, circa 1970. The exterior of the Hall dates from 1925. Cincinnati's Music Hall dates from 1878, and is an impressive brick structure with a beautiful chandelier. I'm awaiting a Monday cultural review from Mr. Speech-Debate.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


We Heart Larry!

Back-to-back sessions at the Larry Book Festival led to another good discussion about jobs. After a reading of Ice Cream Larry (which I consider the least successful picture book in the the series), I told the kids we would read a bonus story. We want to get through all the books before I have to return them to the library, I explained.

"Whoa," one kid said, "I hope my library has Larry books!"

"Whoa, me too!," the rest said.

I explained that a librarian's job is to help you find the books you want. You can go right up to the librarian and ask for help finding books about Larry the polar bear. Even better, you can ask for help finding books by Daniel Pinkwater, so you can check out the Wallpaper From Space book, too. We closed our eyes and imagined a glass of water turning pink so we could remember Pinkwater. A librarian gets money to buy blueberry muffins by helping children and grown-ups find the books they want to check out.

The children loved Sleepover Larry. Most kids have gone on a sleepover with grandma or friends by the time they are four or five. They were excited to find a bunny in the book along with Larry, his brother Roy, Bear Number One, and Bear Number Three.

The dress-up party in the hospitality suite of the book festival was a big success. Kids took turns wearing a beret, dark sunglasses, and my mom's London Fog raincoat, pretending to be our favorite bear. That's what Larry wears when he goes walking around Bayonne, New Jersey to meet Roy at the zoo or have blueberry pancakes and sundaes. Other kids wore groovy beads and snapped their fingers like the bongo beatnik bears at Cafe Mama Bear. The teachers snapped digital party pics for this adventure in pretend silliness.

I refuse to serve codfish ice cream bars at snacktime on the final day of the book festival. We'll have blueberry mini-muffins instead. We'll make a collage poster with the party pics and magazine clippings of real polar bears. Then we'll wind up the festival with Dancing Larry.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Day Three at the Larry Book Festival

The Larry movement is building momentum. If Barack Obama had a lick of sense, he would name Larry the polar bear as his running mate.

Larry is the Classroom Motivator. He's about Change and Making Things Happen. I tell a preschooler in a low voice, "Hey, I hope you can get this work done so we have enough time to read about Larry." The work gets done!

Today we read At the Hotel Larry. It is difficult disguising a nine and a half foot tall polar bear to take him to the Pancake Palace. You have to dress him in a very big coat, hat, and sunglasses, and pretend he is your uncle from Milwaukee. Preschoolers understand pancakes!

Tomorrow, I will take a very big coat to school, along with a beret, so the kids can put on a disguise. We will look for Milwaukee and New Jersey on the map. Now I just need to find some dark sunglasses.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Larry Festival Day Two

Backtracking to the beginning of the story, we shared Young Larry during afternoon line time. Larry, the polar bear creation of Daniel Pinkwater, was a middle-sized bear when his mother indicated he should fend for himself. Larry and his brother, Roy, were each nine and a half feet tall.

How tall is that? What does nine and a half feet look like? We found that it looks like two and three quarters preschoolers placed head to head and toe to toe on the rug and measured with a ruler. A full-grown male polar bear would be about three and a half preschoolers tall standing up on its hind legs.

Charged up from attending a weekend literacy workshop, I'm ready to let the students sit closer to the picture book when I read, and intent on reinforcing listening comprehension after stories. We spent a lot of time discussing jobs--Larry's job as a lifeguard, our parents' jobs, our own classroom jobs. Then we spent time considering swimming and muffins. Larry wanted a job so he could get money to buy muffins. What do parents buy with the money they earn at their jobs?

One student has learned to alphabetize simple words, giving my cataloging heart great joy. To demonstrate the power of his new skill, we spent time in the index of the great big book of animals. We looked up lemurs and polar bears. I'm very fond of both animals, as I spent so much time watching them with my little sons at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo.

It is only Day Two of the Larry Book Festival, and already I'm feeling cool and refreshed. If I can teach just one child to use an index, it will help preserve civilization such as it is. Remember the ancient proverb:

Give a kid a fish and he can feed a polar bear.
Teach a kid to alphabetize and he can look up "polar bear" in the index.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Sand dunes and armadillos

Ed the Armadillo went to school this week to help the children learn about Texas animals. Edmond, or "Ed" for short, is actually a Beanie Baby, but, shshshshsh! Don't tell.

Ed is not just a fad collector item. Ed has a job and has assisted in numerous class lessons and storytimes over the past decade. You could call him an adjunct professor of listening and digging. Unlike me, Ed doesn't seem to be wearing out.

There's something endearing about an armadillo's poor vision and tenacity that charms children. I don't have any proof, but I hope learning with Ed about armadillos helps my little students remember to look both ways before crossing streets! We are sad that an animal who can swim rivers, roll up in an armored ball, expand its range north into Kansas,and jump two feet in the air to surprise predators can't safely cross a highway!

A dear friend gave me this beanie armadillo in the winter of '97 when divorce and child custody struggles were grinding me into the dirt. In the dirt is where armadillos dig for grubs and insects. 1997 was the beginning of my own digging-out process

In March of 1998 I took a solo road trip to Palo Duro Canyon. Energized by the experience I took just my Danger Baby son on an Easter weekend trip to Monahans Sandhills State Park. It was a place both of us wanted to revisit. The other two guys were stayed with their dad for the holiday as decreed. Edmond was the mascot in the Mazda MPV minivan as Danger Baby and I listened to classic rock cassettes, dumped sand out of our cuffs, and kept our eyes peeled for a Denny's grand slam breakfast on the drive home.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

The Larry Book Festival

As it is not possible to spend this week floating on a chunk of ice about as far north as one can go from Texas, I have reached the only logical conclusion. It is time to host "The Larry Book Festival" in the preschool classroom.

This event won't be patterned after the Texas Book Festival I was fortunate to attend two years ago in Austin. For one thing, Barack Obama and Maureen Dowd won't be speaking. There won't be any authors signing books, or vender tents selling Lemon Snow and Brats-On-A-Stick.

"The Larry Book Festival" won't be McMurtry, either. Driving back from Lubbock in the fall of 2004, I went out of my way to visit Booked Up, Larry McMurtry's collection of stores selling used and antiquarian books around the town square of Archer City. To be honest, all Booked Up did for me was activate my dusty moldy book allergy with a vengence.

The namesake of "The Larry Book Festival" is the charming, smart, clueless, preadolescent polar bear creation of Daniel and Jill Pinkwater. Larry the polar bear is the lifeguard at the Hotel Larry, owned by Martin, Semolina, and Mildred Frobisher. Larry is the brother of Roy, one of the polar bears at the Bayonne, New Jersey zoo. Ever since Larry and Roy's polar bear mother hit each of them on the head and told them to "Get lost. Go and fend for yourselves," I have had a fond, chilled place in my heart for this fending bear.

I discovered Larry, Roy, and their mother polar bear at the library where I worked when my three sons were charming, smart, clueless preadolescents, more or less. It was a good reminder that a parent's job is to prepare teens to get lost and go fend for themselves for the most part. Nature is harsh. It makes sure parents and children keep that end goal in mind. Seems to me a lot of human parents these days need a hit on the head to remind them of the end goal, which is self-sufficient adult offspring.

So this week I'll be sharing a Larry picture book with my students each day, while I give my brain a little iceberg floating time. We started with Bongo Larry today, and practiced cool beatnik finger-snapping. Tomorrow we'll learn about blueberry muffins. Maybe on Friday we can have them for a special literary Larry snack!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Center for Creative Connections

Feeding the artist's soul is sometimes tricky. The artist's soul doesn't always admit it could use a new plate of inspiration. When it does, it has to overcome the power of afterwork inertia, the tendency for a body that has taken off its shoes to keep its shoes off, and pocketbook depression.

That's why I renewed my Dallas Museum of Art teacher's membership this week. A teacher's membership is only forty dollars, but it lacks the frills of a regular membership. Still, it gets me to put on my shoes and take a three dollar DART ride downtown to refuel my artist soul and teaching spirit at least once a month.

The new Center for Creative Connections exhibit, "Materials & Meanings," is inspirational fuel for teachers and artists. It is in the space formerly taken over by the children's exhibits at the DMA, but now shared. The 12,000-square-foot interactive learning environment lets visitors of all ages experience works of art and artists with a focus on the Museum’s collections. Two walls of the center were designed by architecture students and faculty at the University of Texas-Arlington, and they got me really pumped. My favorite was the wall divider below:

From the DMA website.

The glowing white section on the far left is made of clear drinking straws poked through all the holes in a metal grid like an oversized window screen. The grid has been curved, and then lighted. It's similar to the idea of sticking Dixie cups in a chain link fence to spell out "We support our troops," but more aesthetically pleasing.

The second panel from the left is made of shiny nuts linked together with copper wire to make an interior decorating version of chain mail. My hardware store fantasies are reignited.

Third from left is a panel of sea anemone in a vertical tide pool until you look close. Bunches of heavy duty white plastic zip ties have been attached to the metal grid resembling an albino Pebbles Flintstone's hairdo.

Fifth; a latchhook shag carpet made of one-inch wide strips of splattered painters' plastic dropcloths. Sixth; a splendidly simple divider of folded paper. Next; curtains of paper clips, walls of binder clips, rainbows of wrapped thread...

I am reenergized! True, I want to go immediately and rent a large former industrial space with large windows, exposed ductwork, concrete floor, and go crazy building and weaving my own screens and dividers from recyclables.

So why isn't there a Sims: Artist Studio Loft game?

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Walk and talk, Suzy

Since the 1995 installation of Dale Chihuly's colorful glass swirls in the Hart Window of the Dallas Museum of Art's atrium, I've imagined the pieces as swirling flowers and sea creatures. They usually remind me of the amazing twirling plates act on the Ed Sullivan Show in the Sixties. Last night, for the first time ever, I contemplated square dance skirts and petticoats, Dr. Pepper and Shiner Bock bottle caps while staring up at the art.

Image respectfully reproduced from the Chihuly website.

The DMA was celebrating Texas bluebonnets and swing music, and showing the classic movie, "Giant" with James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor. Grandpas in western shirts were twirling little bitty granddaughters on the dance floor to the music of Maurice Anderson and his band, "The Dukes of Western Swing". The event had pulled in a different demographic for a Friday evening of special activities. Sharp marketing!

My companions were adamant about their allergies to "country music," and afraid they would break out in itchy rashes from prolonged exposure. Once upon a time I would have rejected it without listening, too. Now I just wear a great big smile, and never do look sour.

Sitting around the table and watching the dance floor, stages of life twirl before me. How wonderful to be those lucky little girls dancing with their attentive grandpas. Party and dance in the evening, and have a dish of butter brickle ice cream, too. Swirling in your dance skirt, you are the center of the known universe, pulling everyone into your personal movie with your amazing gravity!

Another guy, hopefully a gentleman, holds your elbow on your first encounter with inebriation. It's a funny dance, but the steps are tricky. He makes you a cup of Folger's freeze-dried instant coffee and sings softly, "Oh, walk and talk, Suzy; walk and talk Suzy. Walk and talk, Suzy; walk and talk Suzy." How does he know this incongruous dose of Bob Wills is the best way to sober up?

Three sons and a freeze-dried if not instant-divorce, it is time to get out of Dodge. A solo road trip to Caprock and Palo Duro canyons in the Texas panhandle yields and unexpected connection to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Spend a little time in Turkey, Texas where Wills was a barber by day and musician by night.

When the boys were little we had a cassette tape of railroad songs, truck songs, and songs about Oklahoma and Texas. It had "San Antone" and "Take Me Back to Tulsa" by Bob Wills' band. They probably don't remember it at all, amidst all the "Wee Melodies" and singing multiplication tables we listened to on road trips. Maybe a little fondness for Texas swing will show up in their eclectic music tastes eventually. And, psst! Their mommy still says they are too young to marry!

Take Me Back To Tulsa - Bob Wills/Tommy Duncan

Where's that girl with the red dress on? Some folks calls her Dinah;
Stole my heart away from me, way down in Louisana.

Take Me back to Tulsa, I'm too young to marry;
Take me back to Tulsa, I'm too young to marry.

Oh, walk and talk Suzy, walk and talk Suzy;
Walk and talk Suzy, walk and talk Suzy.

We always wear a great big smile, we never do look sour.
Travel all over the country, playing music by the hour.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Nibbling away the plus signs that make up a dull day

The classroom rabbit appeared in a dream eating all the green plus and equal signs the students use for addition manipulatives. It was an extremely vivid dream, to the point that I believed it really happened, and checked the math center the next day. Norton nibbles on the occasional shoe or pant leg, but addition isn't really his cup of tea.

Like many of Phil Gramm's whiners, I feel like the plus signs have been eaten in my household budget, and the equal signs are showing tooth marks. My Albertson's is selling the store brand of milk for $4.99/gallon. I won't carry on, as you can probably sing along with different words to the same song.

Time Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run,
you missed the starting gun.

Pink Floyd (Mason, Waters, Wright, Gilmour)

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Elvis Skipped Hobby Lobby

I met up with him in the beads and doo-dahs aisle at Michael's Craft Store this afternoon. He had the sideburns, the hairdo, the slimy black outfit. I knew it was him. The King. Elvis.

I was looking for doo-dahs to commemorate the preschool summer school study of the United States and our state of Texas, and possibly our future unit about the Olympics. Elvis seemed to be looking for sequins and sparkly stars. He seemed nice enough, for a deceased rock icon, but a bit preoccupied.

I'd already browsed JoAnn's Craft Store, the Dollar Store, and Hobby Lobby in my unsuccessful search. At Hobby Lobby the employees were setting up the Christmas display. That kind of nauseated me, so I was feeling a tad "peaked" when I got to Michael's. Elvis didn't resemble his later life postage stamp, so he must have been off his feed. Neither of us could be described as "puny", although we might not have been "up to par". Elvis and I aren't exactly wearing petite sizes these days, even if he is a mere shadow of his former self.

puny adj. Of inferior size, strength, or significance; weak.

peak-ed adj. Having a sickly, pale, or emaciated appearance; drawn.

off one's feed Have no desire to eat, have lost one's appetite. Originating in the early 1800s and first used only for animals, this colloquial term later was applied to humans as well.

up to par At the usual or expected standard. When your work is up to par we can review your salary again. Are your computer skills up to par?
Usage notes: often used in the form not up to par: She hasn't been up to par since the beginning of last week.

Kind of scary, really. Ashen Presley impersonators golfing and shopping for baubles.
Sure hope Elvis had more luck on his shopping trip than me.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Peter Rabbit On Steroids

I love sitting in as Crowd Control in the summer music classes. The last time I felt this good about my musical aptitude was in Mrs. Ballard's morning kindergarten class of '60-'61. I could play a mean pair of red sticks in rhythm band back then, but it didn't lead to a recording contract.

Thankfully, the students have finished singing "Did You Ever See a Lassie/Laddie" in music class. The kids took turns imitating a peer leader who either stood still while staring into space, or went totally berserko dancing in the middle of the circle.

Now the kids are doing a call and response folk song about "John the Rabbit":

John the rabbit, OH YES!
John the rabbit, OH YES!
He has a mighty bad habit, OH YES!
Of jumping in my garden, OH YES!
He ate all my tomatoes, OH YES!
And sweet potatoes, OH YES!
And if I live to see next fall, OH YES!
I just won't have any garden at all. OH YES!

This is an old play party song, so there are many different versions. John the Rabbit seems to be both trickster and Everyman, pro- and anti- tagonist. John isn't Peter Rabbit, or Peter's cousin, Little Benjamin Bunny. John is Peter Rabbit crossed with John Henry, Casey Jones, and Paul Bunyan. John the Rabbit is "Big Bad John," the mythic, mysterious giant miner hero of the 1961 song* recorded by Jimmie Dean, Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and many others. I kid you not.

John the Rabbit is a steel-driving spinach leaf thief.
He's been pumping iron, but giving no grief.
Drove that golden carrot spike and had a big ox.

Big John the Rabbit, OH YES!
Big John
Big bad John

One Sunday morning, in the driving rain
Around the bend came a passenger train.
In the cabin stood Big Rabbit John
Noble engineer but he's dead and gone.

Big John the Rabbit, OH YES!
Big John
Big bad John

This old engine makes it on time
Leaves central station bout a quarter to nine
Hits river junction at seventeen to
At a quarter to ten you know its travlin again:

Peter Rabbit don't you call me, 'cause I can't go! I owe my soul to the company store.

As far as I know, John the Rabbit is not linked to the recent murder-suicide-love triangle of the female weight-lifting champ, the steroid dealer, and the former Cowboys player here in my own North Texas suburb. Still, I'm having nightmares about big blue bicep bunnies, freight trains, coal mines, and brussel sprouts.

*Big John
Big John
Every morning at the mine, you could see him arrive.
He stood 6 foot 6, weighed 245.
Kind of broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hip.
And everybody knew you didn't give no lip to Big John.

Big John
Big John
Big bad John
Nobody seemed to know where John called home.
He just drifted into town and stayed all alone.
He didn't say much, kind of quiet and shy,
And if you spoke at all, you'd just said hi to Big John.

Big John
Big John
Big Bad John

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine,
When a timber cracked and men started crying.
Miners were praying, and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought they had breathed their last
cept' John.

Big John
Big John
Big Bad John
Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell,
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well.
Grabbed a sagging timber and gave out with a groan,
And like a giant oak tree he just stood there alone.

Big John
Big Bad John
Big John
And with all of his strength, he gave a mighty shove.
Then a miner yelled out, 'theres a light up above!'.
And twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave
now theres only one left down there to save,
Big John.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Beach Bums

Talk about a low-budget beach vacation on less than a tank of gas, how about these student art works? Got it in my head that it was time to use up some very old and faded construction paper, odd-sized cut pieces of paper, stubby crayons, and past-their-prime markers. As these things happen, I'd also saved up just enough styrofoam meat trays to do some print-making when I received a big bag of heavily-scented seashells meant for a bathroom potpourri.

Student, age 3

In the first class session we made crayon texture rubbings of the flattest shells. We looked at shells to find spirals, and drew white crayon spirals. Then we imagined the waves coming onto the sandy beach and receding, using arm movements, inhaling, and exhaling. We talked about the gentle curves of waves, and drew them with the old markers, then traced them with wet paintbrushes. Last, we used some diluted blue glitter paint over our crayon rubbings and spirals.

Student, age 5

In the second class session we used some foam paint stamps of sea creatures, and cut a bit of seaweed. We drew some fish, too.

Older kids observed and drew seashells with pencil, and then drew into the styrofoam pieces. We made marker prints by coloring the styrofoam with washable markers, then printing them onto damp construction paper.

I always love styrofoam marker print projects because almost all kids can use the same technique with materials they have at home. For the seashell project, it gets even better when we start using the styrofoam plates with washable white printing ink. The ink picks up the traces of marker colors left on the styrofoam, and gives the prints a perfect shell quality and color. And the final addition to the art work is gluing the styrofoam print plate onto the paper.

Styrofoam plate, lower left. Marker print, upper right. Student, age 6

That's the closest I'll get to a barefoot walk down the beach this summer, but it was very relaxing and successful.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Peeps on a raft, a bus, or light rail

It isn't polite to eavesdrop, but there we all are riding mass transit to save gas money, and Peeps all around us are conducting their lives very loudly by cellphone. Last week I rode the train home from work with a rowdy group discussing their court-appointed lawyers, their Peeps, and their parties.

Sure, they weren't really talking about marshmallow Easter chick treats, but it did give me some funny images of Peeps in court, on the witness stand, in the jury box, and rising for objections. I even imagined a black-robed Supreme Peep Court.

Next train ride, I start imagining all the passengers as marshmallow chicks. I was trying hard not to appear too interested as the lady Peeps ahead of me told a series of escalating stories on the theme of husbands who lose stuff. The best story by far involved a husband losing his set of car keys when they were moving out of their house. The husband and wife Peeps searched everywhere in the house and yard, but to no avail. Six months later the new owners of the house found the car keys under the bin that catches the automatic ice-maker cubes in the freezer.

Excuse me, Peeps, but aren't you supposed to defrost and turn off the ice-maker when you move out? I'm probably crazy, but I don't think I could use the ice cubes automatically made during the tenure of the previous owner, except on a sprained ankle. Still, it's a new location to search for lost items.

When the next President is sworn in, don't you think the White House refrigerator/freezer should start fresh with an empty and clean ice-cube catcher? It would be a good time to replace the baking soda box for odor control, too! The next Prez should have Peeps who can see to this.

Rode the bus one morning with an agitated man cussing out someone for not having his Cadillac repaired and returned to him. I got the feeling the negligent person was a relative or in-law. I loved this line; "Do you think I go to work at 10:30 P.M., and fix Greyhounds all night so I can RIDE A *#@*%">* BUS HOME???!!!" This man really needs some Peep to return his personal vehicle in working order. He might need some soothing pink Peepto Bismal for his indigestion.

Peeps On a Raft is a microwave adventure celebrated annually at my former place of employment. Much like making Smores without the campfire, Peeps On a Raft requires graham crackers, Hershey bars, and marshmallow chicks. When you nuke a Peep sitting atop a cracker-and-Hersheys raft on the revolving surface of the microwave oven, the marshmallow chick expands and twirls in a most entertaining way, much like an orating Presidential candidate--or two.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Entering kindergarten in the fall

The birthday slipped past me unnoticed, but my Blog Muse reminded me. The Itty Bitty Blog is five years old now, and can zip it's own zipper, remember to flush and wash, and almost tie its shoes. It's on its second presidential election, for heaven's sake, and remembers Blogger way back before widgets, in the good old days of the blog frontier.

I thought maybe I should switch the blog archive dropdown menu to a year selection, rather than a month. That option doesn't even exist yet. Blog history doesn't have those ancient dragonflies with thirty-inch wingspans.

The Itty Bitty Blog now amounts to 1420 posts. Its sister blog, Anchorwoman, adds 206 posts, and its cousin, MamaCollages, adds another 56. That works out to about 336 posts per year. Guess CollageMama takes a month of vacation incommunicado each year. I don't have a clue where she goes, as she never mails picture postcards.

I just started a blog on Vermicomposters.com when my dad told me he didn't want to hear any further details about my worm bin adventures. Vermiphobic or not, I must thank Howie for housing the official paper repository of the CollageMama blog posts in all those boxes in the blue bedroom. I'll refrain from making any bad joke comparisons about a future presidential library down highway 75 from CollageMama's condo.

My sons have been tolerant of their occasional appearances in the blogs. In 2003 Speech-Debate was finding his future career by working summer freshman orientations at the University of Texas in Austin. Danger Baby had just finished high school, and was heading off to Texas Tech. The Woolly Mammoth and I still had two years of soccer games and Lunch Bunch Fridays to share. My mom, Fritzi, was fretting about Dad up on the ladder cleaning the maple seed twirlies out of the gutter. Yes, that would be the same gutter I was inspecting when I fell off the ladder last month.

My Blog Muse, Ms. Juliet, has provided a hummingbird's garden of technical expertise, pep talks, funny stories and esoteric insights. She has generously hung feeders full of pink artistic nectar for constant inspiration and nutrition. My life is richer for her hyper sugar-sweet friendship!

The Itty Bitty Blog wouldn't exist without the little people--my endlessly entertaining young students--and their daily challenges to my world view and vocabulary. Their average age is the same as this blog. They each have their rhythm, color, and voice. My writing would be better if I spelled it out with a movable alphabet on a rug the way they do.

Thanks to my walking buddy/soccer mom friends, Carole and Shawn, who became bloggers with me in 2003. Life has taken you both on paths that inspire me daily. You are the real deal.

To my Chumley's Rest condominium homeowner association, I thank you for being the fly in the ointment, the burr under the saddle, the tempest in the teapot, the air travelers who need wanding, the pea beneath the mattress, and the recycling eccentrics in close proximity. It's not just the buildings that need their foundations leveled! I only wish I could blog half the stories these walls could tell.

To my sons' father, I have to be grateful for the fantastic adventure of divorce, shared custody, and single parenthood. That experience underlies the creative and practical pursuits of CollageMama and your sons.

Much thanks to Woolly Mammoth's soccer coach who pointed the way to new hobbies in the empty nest transition. Opera has become a wonderful framework for exploring new territory.

And to Norton, the class rabbit, I thank you for helping me rediscover CollageMama's softer side.

Good grief! I'm writing like CollageMama will be climbing out of the limo soon, and walking the red carpet past Joan Rivers. And maybe she will.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Lemongrass Dressing

It's possible to spend a huge amount of time looking at recipes on-line, as I discovered when I decided to make a spinach and orange salad with lemongrass dressing for a festive occasion. First I looked at variations of spinach/orange salads, or "spinage" as I just typed. Yikes. I wanted the salad to be really colorful, with red bell pepper, green sugar snap peas, and sunflower seeds. I was planning a red wine vinegar dressing for the salad, but couldn't find a recipe that seemed quite right.

Then I went off on a lemongrass tangent, to see if the herb could be used in a salad dressing. I needed basic information about what parts of the stalk should be used, how much to peel away, and what quantity might be appropriate.

To be honest, I didn't follow any of the recipes, but the salad turned out pretty tasty. Just a few days ago I made the world's worst pesto by attempting to follow a recipe. For some reason, I confused "clove" with "bulb", and put about twenty times too much garlic in with the basil, pine nuts, and olive oil. I also didn't know that using a garlic press results in a ten times stronger flavor than slicing cloves with a knife. We sure haven't seen any demons, werewolves, or vampires around the condo this week.

This was my concoction for a lemongrass dressing, but don't follow it too closely. Like a big truck, it might make wide turns.

In a blender:
Juice of a lime
2 whole cloves of garlic
3 peeled stalks of lemongrass about 4" long
A big dribble of soy sauce
A lot of fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
4 fresh basil leaves
Add more sugar, salt, and black pepper to taste after blending.

The preschoolers were playing a choosing game by telling their favorite color, finding something that color in the classroom, and thinking of rhyming words for their color. In a survival of the fittest evolution, this game weeds children who prefer orange or purple out of the breeding pool.

According to the Oxford Rhyming Dictionary, "Orange is one of those words that famously has nothing perfectly to rhyme with it. The other one is silver."

I've never met a preschooler who prefers silver. Silver is an acquired taste. Just ask any woman over fifty if she saw Bjorn Borg sitting in the front row of the Wimbledon men's final last weekend!

Purple is problematic, with no rhymes in the vocabulary of most English speakers. Thanks to the wttygrrl blogger for reminding me that door hinge rhymes with orange. Tasting my pesto effort was like pinching your forehead in a big door hinge. Spinage! Yikes!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Two New Windows

Two new Buick "quilt windows" bring the total to sixteen. I still had a lot of the same or very similar dyed fabrics in the big box in the closet, so I've pulled them out and made a heap in the middle of the bedroom floor. The sewing machine is up and running, along with the ironing board. You could call my decor Eclectic Obstacle Course.

The comments from readers were so well-thought out. I'm very awed and grateful that you took the time to write your design ideas for the spacing, configuration, background fabric, and quilting. I definitely won't be stuffing the project back in the box now!

The window blocks need considerable background space around them to breathe. Size is a major consideration, as each block is twenty-seven inches wide, and sixteen inches tall. I tried giving the blocks more space, and arranging them by horizon line and storm development. Unfortunately, I ran out of living room floor!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Arabella Miller

Found this fresh, fun picture book on the New Book Shelf at my public library, and checked it out for my preschool class. The kids loved it, and I couldn't wait for them to ask me for an encore reading. You might say, "It has a good beat; you can dance to it," if it were on Preschool Bandstand with Dick Clark. The large format and clear, vibrant illustrations made it perfect for circle time.

I returned the book before I learned that "Little Arabella Miller" is a favorite British nursery rhyme and finger play. Clare Jarrett's picture book expands on the nursery rhyme to show the life cycle of the caterpillar.

There are several online sources for the words and actions of the nursery rhyme:

Little Arabella Miller had a fuzzy caterpillar (Tickle palm with two fingers)
First it crawled up on her mother (Walk fingers up left arm)
Then upon her baby brother (Walk fingers up right arm)
They said, "Arabella Miller! (Walk fingers up over head)
Put away your caterpillar!" (Hide hands behind back)

It would be fun creating a finger play for Jarrett's new verses. I hope Arabella arrives on your library's New Book Shelf. Check it out!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Dangerous salmonella chips

My littlest student was telling me her playground tale of woe. She had "peskito bites" on her "yegs." I sympathized. I had peskito bites on my arms, and they were yitchy.

"Peskito" sounds like a good name for TexMex chips in the current salmonella outbreak. Salsa is our main food group, and we need 2-4 servings/day of tomato and jalapeno peppers.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Postcards from the grocery store

Bought a bunch of lemongrass stalks at Super H Mart in Carrollton last weekend. Carrollton is the next suburb over to the west, and Super H Mart is what's happening! They should sell picture postcards in this summer of close-to-home vacationing. It only takes a couple gallons of gas to find an exotic destination with dried anchovies, enormous root vegetables, and ninety-nine cent watermelons.

Some people go to Madame Tussauds' and rip off Hitler's head. Others go to Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Some go to grocery stores. This week I went to two new grocery stores.

After my fingerprinting appointment in McKinney, I stopped at the Market Street store in Allen at Bethany Drive and Highway 75. I'm still pouting that the Montgomery family has developed this area into another P.F. Chang-ville upscale trendy marketing venue with surrounding residential areas.

I loved the Montgomery family's Connemara Nature Preserve with its annual spring sculpture installation northeast of my city. It was a great place to hike, listen to birds, fall down in the mud, fly kites, take photos, smell the wildflowers, and let three wild boys get some nature time. There was something irrationally satisfying to me about climbing over the stile into the meadow. "Stile" is such a crossword puzzle/Peter Rabbit sort of word!

"Stile Self Portrait" 1997.

The Market Street store had a nice mix of grocery basics at reasonable prices, special prices on selected meats, and organic/specialty items. It had a really rare feature, polite young persons who insisted on carrying out my groceries. Employees were in the aisles offering to help me locate items. Although it was the hot Independence Day weekend, I was looking for items to make a spicy soup, and was glad to have the assistance. I didn't see a rack of nickel picture postcards, but

...Wish you were here!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder



Clean and magical, the bathroom at Grandma's house could be entered through the doors from two bedrooms. That made it excellent for games of hide and seek, but less than optimum for privacy. We kids romped through the rooms, hiding under the dining table, behind the rocking chair, under the brass bed, beneath the treadle sewing machine, inside the closet with the aprons and corsets, behind the bedroom door, and crouched down low in the clawfoot bathtub.

Painted all in white from wood floor to ceiling, the bathroom had a diagonal fascination. The room seemed to exist in an alternate dimension. I never met a lion or a witch in the bathroom, but I can appreciate the magical properties of C. S. Lewis's wardrobe. I don't know if the scent of lemongrass came from Grandma's soaps, from sachets, or from a cleanser. I do know it is one of my strongest early scent memories, along with sauerkraut

A few years ago I received a gift of lemongrass-scented soap. Unwrapping the package sent me back to the hide-and-seek and clawfoot bathtub of childhood adventures. It was the first time I had a name for that scent.

Last winter I became absolutely crazed about finding another bar of lemongrass soap just to experience that magical childhood memory. The smell is close to citronella candles, but tinged with dry lawn mower clippings, gravel roads, and line-dried linens. I finally found a soap at Central Market. The scent reconnected me to chenille bedspreads, down pillows, wedding ring quilts, chintz rose curtains, porcelain figurines, creaking wood floors, and grown-ups chatting in the next room long past my bedtime.

It's a busy week, and I can't track down the sources for studies of smell memories and Alzheimers patients. Seems like I once heard that aroma memories imbed in our most primitive, reptilian brain part beginning earliest in our lives and holding on longest at the end. Someday my sons will need me to sign over Power of Attorney, or my last will and testament. If they want me to be of sound mind, they should probably waft some lemongrass my way.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Design tools and toys

About forty years ago my dad gave me this little plastic set of triangle tiles in a box three by three-and-a-half inches. I used a color spectrum set of fine-point felt markers and a package of graph paper from the Ben Franklin 5 & 10 to experiment with four-cornered design. Other times I just doodled while lounging in the backyard treehouse.
Now there's a more sophisticated way to explore quilt-making online. The International Quilt Study Center's Making a Quilt program lets you play around for hours with six basic quilt patterns and endless variations of shading, fabrics, numbers of blocks, and pattern variations. It's fun, but you can't hear the cicadas. You can't feel your skin against the sun-baked boards, or smell the mildewed rope of the bucket dumb waiter. You haven't heard the colored plastic triangles being shifted and rotated in the clear plastic framework. Ants aren't crawling into the oozing sap of the weeping willow tree.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder



I was thinking ink in anticipating my fingerprinting appointment. Because my school is also a licensed child day care center we have a new state regulation that all employees and volunteers have an FBI fingerprint check. That is in addition to the DPS background check.

My previous experience with fingerprinting includes Sixties toy detective kits, making fingerprint bunnies, bugs, and monkeys in preschool classes, and the occasional check-cashing thumbprint. I wasn't aware how high tech the process is, and the fabulous images that would appear on the digital screen. Clearly, I don't watch enough police forensics shows and crime thriller movies!

The inaugural exhibition at the International Quilt Study Center included a group of quilts chosen as "expressions of identity". Three of Barbara Watler's art quilts from her fingerprint series were inluded. Each only a yard square, they were still striking enlargements of a single fingerprint. When the biometrics technician rolled my fingerprints and the image appeared on the fifteen inch digital screen, I wanted to have giant copies to use for textile art. Alas, I just had to enjoy the view for a minute.

A few years back I read Panama, by Eric Zencey. It was a very satisfying historical novel. The development of Alphonse Bertillion's classification and identification system for fingerprints played a major part in the story. Look for it at your library.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder



Stumbling upon a book of Nancy Crow's improvisational quilts over a decade ago got me interested in quilts and art quilts. It was a thrill for me to experience the visual intensity of her quilts in person at the International Quilt Study Center when I was in Lincoln in June.

The building is very attractive. The twelve million dollar facility was privately funded. Contributions from quilting guilds all over the world are recognized on panels on the first level.

The IQSC has two large areas for seminars, bees, or other events. I wish it had more than the two upstairs gallery spaces. The curators have done a nice job incorporating complementary paintings and prints from the Sheldon Art Gallery, and baskets and pottery from the anthropology collections of the Nebraska State Museum to enhance understanding of quilt design and construction.

You can watch the work in the quilt conservation area through a huge window on the first level. Later in the summer the virtual gallery and computerized quilt design programs will come online at the center's website. There are two booths for making audiovisual recordings of quilt stories to be archived. If I made a quilt for a grandchild, for example, I could make a recording about the quilt. In theory, my great-great grandchildren could access that recording in the distant future. You could also record something telling what you know about your great-great grandmother's quilt. I could tell the story of my Kansas storm quilt.

There was an all black quilt from Japan that blew me away, and one from India with a totally different type of stitching. One group of quilts explored the relationship between quiltmaking and scherenschnitte papercutting.

Listening to the comments of the men and women in the gallery was interesting. Obviously, some of them had planned their vacation travel through Lincoln specifically to visit the IQSC. The men visitors were not just humoring their wives. I could tell they were very informed collectors, and one man was definitely a quilter himself. The center will be good for Lincoln's economy.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Other windows

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


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