Dave Brubeck live at University of North Texas

Brubeck was epic. Perfect. I smiled and grinned and even had a few tears. I saw men wiping tears, too. Dave is 88 years old. Everyone there felt both the intimacy and the history of the event. Dave thanked UNT for the residency, and said it had been one of the best weeks of his life.

The hall was sold out, and I don't think there were any empty seats. The Murchison Performing Arts Center is a very interesting facility. My seat was in the Choral Terrace, and I was thirty feet from Brubeck, looking at his face, although not able to see much of the keyboard. The man radiates joy and humor. The communication between the quartet members was a delight to observe.

They played over two hours with just a short intermission. Sometimes it was a strain for Dave to push himself up from the piano bench to stand. A few times someone helped steady him walking on or off the stage. Still, there were two encores. The sax and flute player, Robert Militello, was incredible.

I happened to be surfing through radio stations in the car Tuesday morning, and heard an announcement on 88.1, UNT's jazz station, that the Dave Brubeck Quartet had added a second performance due to high demand. I was anxious to get home that night to buy a ticket online.

Although I went to the concert by myself, I've seldom felt less alone. I was accompanied in enthusiastic spirit by my dad, sister, and Woolly Mammoth son. I sat between two UNT student bass players who were as excited as I to be in attendance. The anticipation made us gabby, and we were soon comparing the complications of transporting bass violins, art portfolios and canvasses across campus.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Don't fence me in

Drove past a former Braum's ice cream store where my family spent many happy hours when the guys were younger. The building has been home to many short-lived ventures since a fancier Braum's was built across the street.

Today the building had a temporary sign proclaiming it the "Lone Star Fencing Center". Does that mean it will be a club for thrusting and parrying? Or headquarters for privacy and chain-link installers?

A couple of my sons enjoyed Parks and Recreation fencing classes for exercise. They were in a phase more involved with creative drama and stage sword fights than physical fitness, so I had to sneak exercise into their schedules. It seemed counterintuitive, given all the time a mother of boys spends saying things like, "Don't point that stick at your brother! Don't wave it near his eyes! Do NOT bring those sticks into the house!"

As a lifelong crossword puzzle junkie, I assumed that the sign meant epees and rapiers, and not termite-treated lumber.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Junior Chiropractors of America

The four year old girls have started playing junior chiropractors on the picnic table benches. Don't worry. This isn't "playing doctor", in fact it's a welcome change after months of listening to them play kitty cats.

The kids lie on their stomachs on the benches while one girl goes around pressing knuckles along their lumbar regions and lifting their legs in the air, flutter kick-style. I could use an adjustment myself, but I would probably fall off the bench.

Some of the girls may have futures in massage therapy. We've got a playground full of gravel warming under the Texas sun. Placing heated stones on the spine and between the toes is supposed to expand blood vessels and improve blood flow. Benefits are said to include reduction of stress, anxiety, depression, and concerns about bank nationalization.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Zero waste lunch with the president

I want to explain what I mean by "zero waste". A comment poster on the previous item suggested worm composting by schools to handle leftover food from lunch. I'm all for vermicomposting, doing it both at home and with students.

My idea of "zero waste" also means no paper or plastic to add to garbage or recycling. Individual packaging of food servings is incredibly wasteful and expensive. It's very common for a child's lunchbox to contain a plastic container of fruit, plastic utensils, a plastic yogurt cup or bottle, a plastic drink bottle, and a Lunchable plastic container. Those are all recyclable in my community. Then there are the nonrecyclable containers--foil drink pouches, beverage boxes, microwave-safe soups and pastas(marked recyclable, but not actually recyclable anywhere in Texas), napkins, and plastic sandwich bags.

Our students take the food they did not eat back home in the hopes that parent lunch-makers will adjust for appetite and preferences. This helps reduce waste when the adjustments are made. It also encourages family discussions about food choices.

Parents can save hundreds of dollars per year by purchasing food in quantity and portioning appropriate amounts into resealable, reusable containers for lunchboxes. Safety issues are addressed with adequate washing, thermal containers, and frozen "blue ice" inserts.

Waste in school cafeterias providing a "hot lunch" program must be more than my mind can fathom. I haven't had to visit a school cafeteria since my youngest son left middle school in 2000, and I've almost recovered! There are innovative school districts that involve students in the cafeteria process to improve nutrition and decrease waste. Features of these programs include:

  • Student involvement in gardening.

  • Student involvement in menu decisions.

  • On-site meal preparation.

  • Emphasis on fresh foods.

  • Student involvement in aspects of food preparation and meal presentation.

  • Nutrition education.

  • School-wide recycling and reuse programs.

  • Student participation in composting and vermicomposting.

Some interesting sources of information:

California Integrated Waste Management Board/Zero-Waste Lunch

EPA poster for schools

Start a waste-free lunch program at your school.

Tips for Packing a Nutritious, Waste-free Lunch from Green Living Ideas

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


"Manhunt", quilthunt

This post is for Winnowings. She is making a quilt with Presidential fabric for posterity. She has fabric with portraits of all the presidents through Dubya, but needs a fabric image of Obama.

I like the idea of kids pouring over squares of presidential portraits. We didn't have a quilt, but we had a set of encyclopedias my mom got for buying groceries at Safeway. The P-R volume was our favorite, and it popped open to the presidential portraits due to heavy use for school reports. Back then there had only been thirty-five presidents, and Grover Cleveland only got one portrait. The magical power of this encyclopedia centerfold was the eerie arrangement of presidents who were assassinated. Those presidents all appeared in the same column of the matrix, skipping only one row. In Ouija thinking, we believed the future was foretold for presidents with bad layout positions.

In the past forty years there have many sleepless nights when I tried to reconstruct the page layout of that encyclopedia. How many rows? How many columns? Were the portraits the same size on both pages? How was it the assassinated presidents appeared in a straight line? I just finished listening to Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, a riveting story, but still can't correctly visualize the encyclopedia page.

John F. Kennedy was MY president, as only your third grade Commander In Chief can be. I don't remember Eisenhower, and my preschool students probably won't remember Obama. They don't have enough understanding of current events beyond the playground yet.

Kennedy was MY president, and he wanted ME to help beat the Russians to the moon by achieving the President's Physical Fitness Challenge. JFK and his successor, LBJ, would be checking my progress on chin-ups, sit-ups, the 50-yard dash, and a torture known as the 600-yard run/walk if memory serves me.

I practiced like crazy on a chin-up bar my dad hung in a doorway so I could meet our president's expectations. I was such a short, skinny, wimpy kid, that my effort stunned the PE teacher, even if no one noticed at the White House.

Presidents play an important role in our education. They are equal parts powerful mythology and current events to kids. Each President has the chance to inspire a generation of schoolkids to go beyond what is expected. It's been a long time since our president was also a parent of young children. I'd like President Obama to offer schoolkids a lunchbox challenge for zero-waste lunches that include fresh produce! Someone at the White House will be checking your lunchbox...

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Starry Nights and Nevelson Days

Having lots of fun collaborating with the music teacher for this year's spring festival. The theme is a visit to the art museum. The preschoolers will sing songs about the sun and stars, so they have created a 40"x96" paper mosaic mural version of Van Gogh's "Starry Night". This is a 1 1/2' square section of the mural:

The children also made radiating form designs for styrofoam prints. This week we printed their "stars" onto the mural, so each child has a star on the group project.

The older kids, age 6-9, have made radiating form constructions to hang on the wall behind the singers. The results look mighty fine as stars, suns, or flowers.

Next up, a water lily mural and primitive masks.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Junco job fair

Most of today has been spent napping or staring at the birdfeeder. Just now, after twenty-four hours with penicillin, I feel more human than zombie.

There's a crossbar at the bottom of my birdfeeder hook that's the scene of major action. A pair of squirrels used the bar as a starting leap to climb up the hook to raid the birdfeeder. The pair took turns hanging upside down on the birdfeeder gorging themselves and knocking seed to the patio.

Enter the juncos. Although really sparrows, juncos wear handsome gray business suits, and have a pleasant song. My feeder has attracted quite a flock, so I've been calling it the "job fair". These busy birds could easily be dropping off resumes and networking in our current economic climate. While they occasionally eat at the feeder, they are more commonly scurrying around eating seeds spilled by the squirrel duo. They often hop over the crossbar, and visit the garden containers.

Mourning doves also prefer to eat off the ground. A pair has been wandering around the patio like mapless miniature golfers. When they wander up to the crossbar they bobble their necks and seem to say they don't have the wits to go under the limbo bar at this sock hop. They might mosey over to the hula hoops next.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Strep, with camels and steam

My trip to the clinic was informative, beyond my diagnosis of strep. The clinic nurse, named Nancy, so obviously of a certain age and wisdom, said several times that kids "don't know how to be sick any more". She said most of the stuff going around right now should have kids recuperating at home three to five days. Kids don't know how to lounge around in bed, sip ginger ale, look at picture books, and take lots of naps to get their strength back. They only know a high level of activity and stimulation. Because the child is bopping around demanding entertainment, parents think the child is ready to be back at school before he's really well. And, of course, it's more convenient for the parents to believe this.

Being sick was memorable in its length and dullness in the Sixties. No entertainment was provided. We stayed in our pajamas for the trip to the pediatrician and back home again. If we were well enough to sit up, we wore a bathrobe over our PJs. We stayed in our bed, breathing the warm steam from the humidifier all day and all night. We traced the embroidery on the pillowcase with our fingers and created stories about the flowers. We were happy to drink lots of liquids because a walk down the hall to the bathroom was a major change of scene.

The fourth day home from school Mom might make a blanket roll for us on the sofa so we could look out the window while she Mop & Glowed the kitchen floor. She might even let us watch an episode of "I Love Lucy" or a Bing Crosby movie on the tiny black and white tv. By then we might be well enough to eat a perfectly baked potato with salt and butter to go with the poached egg.

There were places where the bedroom's blue wall paint met the white ceiling paint in less than a straight line. I used to pretend those tiny, lumpy overlaps of blue were actually distant camels walking along a very flat desert in a spread-out caravan. They moved ever so slowly.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Rodolfo, the ringed dove

Today my fence visitor is a far more handsome and sharp specimen than the usual mourning doves. In fact, this ringed dove reminds me of the excellent tenor in the current Dallas Opera production of "La Boheme". No lumpy, nerdy poet this time! James Valenti brought power, height, good looks, and a convincing portrayal to a role that often goes to a doughier guy.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Dirt Therapy

My dear library friend asked me to be her guest at a fairy garden workshop today. Keeping this upcoming outing in mind gave me a light at the end of the tunnel of the hectic preschool Valentine's week, even through the Disney Tinker Bell/Pixie phenomenon.

I'm embarrassed to report my visits to east Texas can be counted on the fingers of one hand--actually just ringman, pinkie, tallman, and thumbkin. It's a surprise to find hills and pine trees just an hour's drive from Big D.

Our workshop was at Blue Moon Gardens in Chandler, somewhere between Tyler and Waco. To get there, one must have lunch in the cute artsy town of Edom, Texas. This day's lovely weather had brought out many romantic motorcycle couples for Valentine's lunch at The Shed, an historic cafe. We crossed the highway to eat at the Edom Bakery and Grill . The Strawberry Fields salad of spring greens, strawberries, mozzarella, and walnuts in a raspberry vinaigarette is inspiring food for thought.

Pine trees do not grow in Plano. At all. If you live here a long time, you forget how fine pine trees smell and look. Add to the scent and appearance the cushiony ground cover of needles, pine cones, and moss. It's magic.

The Blue Moon workshop students each created a container garden with a miniature shrub and two perennial groundcovers. The gift shop offered fairy figurines, tiny garden furniture, fences, trellises, gardening tools, and tea sets to enhance our arrangements. Participants were encouraged to bring other items to use in their fairy gardens.

Blue Moon Gardens is a very cool place, with many sources of inspiration. We had a great time, but our creations were also inspired by Tracy Kane's Fairy House Series. Kane's delightful books and videos promote nature awareness by using only natural materials to create fairy environments. They are a wonderful place to start if your family wants to create a fairy garden.

My garden has Dutch lavender, tiny sedum, and a gate into the land of pixies. My host's garden has a pretend beehive, and a real germander plant. Germander smells divine, and is reported to be a bumblebee magnet.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Valentine results just in

Just opened my Valentine bag from school:

  • Tinker Bell 3D animated movie 4
  • Tattoos 3
  • Insect/spider 2
  • Homemade by parent 1
  • Created by child 1
  • Race cars 1
  • Disney princesses 1
  • Madagascar movie 1
  • Hello Kitty 1
  • Baseball 1
  • Dora the Explorer tv show 1
  • Backyardigans tv show 1
  • Kung Fu Panda movie 1
  • Olivia the pig books 1
  • Hanna Montana celebrity 1
  • Tweetie Bird cartoon 1
  • M. C. Anderson Cancer Center Children's Art Project 1

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder



After a rough day rushing to finish the preschool Valentine cards before the holiday party, it was reinvigorating to look at the day's results. The birds seem to have personalities, and the bird couples have relationships. Haven't you hosted these couples for bridge club or supper parties?

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Facebook Facebook everywhere

Two mourning doves are standing on the top of my patio fence looking remarkably clueless. They want some bird or squirrel to show up and knock seeds out of the birdfeeder and onto the ground. Birdfeeders are too high-tech for mourning doves. They have to eat at ground level.

Sometimes the doves stroll along the fence top showing off their bright coral colored feet. Other times they turn around and around like a dog getting ready to sleep. One coos. The other doesn't. One does silly rotations of his neck. It must be the male because it's the same motion my ex used to do, twisting and popping his neck. One is lacking tail feathers.

My recent excursion into Facebook must look as clueless to insiders of the online social networking phenomenon as the mourning doves look to me. I'm pretty much opposed to the concept of online social networking except in the case of worm composters. Alas, I'm being dragged to Facebook by my newspaper and public radio.

When I tuned in "Weekend Edition Saturday" I was warned, "You ignore Facebook at your own peril," by Andy Carvin, NPR's Social Media Strategist. It sounded like a hokey horoscope from my junior high newspaper, but I had to check it out. The Dallas Morning News op-ed page had columns by Farhad Manjoo and Mark Davis about Facebook, and by Jeffrey Weiss about the online explosion of "25 Random Things About Me" this week.

"Remember when our kids were into instant messaging? Remember how there were so many beeps?," asks my walking buddy. Oh, yes. I couldn't get through a simple set of instructions to a teen son about transportation arrangements and meal provisions without two or three IM interruptions. It all seemed a lot like passing notes in Social Studies class.

When I learned to type the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. When kids learn to keyboard now they begin with emoticons, I'm sorry to say. They will grow old without dreaming of interspecies leapfrog. : - (

IM users and text-messagers devised abbreviations to oversimplify the human experience with LOL, OMG, WTF. The only really useful abbreviation was the one created by kindergarten Danger Baby to describe carpet cleaning with the VQM.

At the urging of a Muse, I started this blog in the summer of 2003, a little before Facebook began. At the time I didn't even know what "blog" meant. Up to that point, I thought the greatest use of the internet was being able to search library catalogs and reserve books in the middle of the night. I'm still not entirely convinced otherwise (ECO).

I have to conclude this post, with further reports from the frontier of Facebook as events warrant. If you have thoughts about mourning doves or moms on Facebook, I'd love for you to comment!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Standing O for Alvin Ailey at 50

I'm absolutely delighted to learn that the President and First Lady took Malia and Sasha to the Kennedy Center Friday evening to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. How exciting to have a president who appreciates the performing arts, enjoys sharing them with his wife, and wants to expose his daughters to the fabulous cultural opportunities in Washington, D.C. What a role model!

Friday night's program included fiftieth anniversary highlights of the dance company, and a performance of its most famous work, "Revelations". Alvin Ailey created "Revelations" in 1960, but its impact is undiminished in the new millennium.

I wish that Barbie, Midge, and I were in the audience at the Kennedy Center Friday. It's been nearly a quarter century since I saw "Revelations" performed at Omaha's Orpheum Theater, but the experience was memorable.

Mattel introduced the Barbie doll in 1960. Mattel is offering an Alvin Ailey Barbie dressed in the flowing white lace costume of dancers in the "Wade in the Water" segment of "Revelations". The doll honors the vision and talent of Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater "to inspire and unite people of all backgrounds through the universal language of dance".

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Civil Engineering

There's some question how long the condo residents will remain civil when their building foundation repairs are delayed. AGAIN. We thought we had a date certain, but received a vague notice of postponement from the homeowners association board of directors.

I believe that the foundations will be repaired about as much as I believe in leprechauns. The community has known the repairs were needed for nearly a decade. My building has four condos in a row. At its midpoint the building is twisting the way you would twist open an Oreo cookie.

If the Spanish conquistadors had known about foundation problems and termites, they would never have considered Texas suitable for human habitation. Termite elimination requires divine intervention. Foundation repairs require "hand-digging 2'x2'x3' holes then using small hydraulic equipment to install piers directly under the perimeter grade beam of the foundation". I have no idea what this means, but understand that residents are not to allow small children to fall into the holes.

As the daughter of two engineers, it's probably inexcusable that I don't understand hydraulics. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with fluid pressure, similar to having root beer shoot out your nose when a seventh grader tells a really good joke.

Once or twice a year I drive through Wichita, Kansas, and wonder about the exit signs for Hydraulic Street. Why is this major north-south road named "Hydraulic"? I asked a friend who grew up in Wichita, but she had no idea. I spent an embarrassing amount of time this week wondering about the history of Wichita.

The street already had its name by 1886, but I'm stuck. Does the street name relate to the city waterworks? The March 6, 1879 Wichita Eagle reported that the Wichita Water Mills burned down the previous Sunday. The cause was a mystery. There was hope the water mill would be rebuilt.

Wichita was a booming young city in 1879. Its Turner Opera House was constructed that year. Was "'hydraulic" just a buzz word for all things technologically up-to-date?

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Furnace Filtering

I usually wake up at least briefly when the furnace kicks on. I also wake up when the furnace doesn't kick on. Due to our weather changes, some nights the furnace runs almost continuously. The last couple nights, the furnace barely ran at all.

Then there are the ads for the boat show in the Dallas Morning News with the waving blond waterskier in her vintage bikini adding to my nightmares. She seems to be skiing in a Nebraska gravel-dredge lake.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


One hundred days

I bet Barack feels like he's herding cats and turtles. Everyone asks what he should or can accomplish in his first one hundred days in office. He's working with Congress, and that's a lot like a class of preschoolers. It doesn't matter if they are for you or against you, it still takes forever to get them to flush and wash their hands. They stand at the sink, not really rub-a-dubbing away partisanship, pork barrel projects, or petty slights. Usually they make faces at their reflections in the big mirror, and make a long line of people wait.

Tomorrow is our hundredth day of class, so we're having a big celebration. The kids have been bringing in collections of 100 objects, and counting by tens. I contributed a collection of 100 postage stamps of living things for children to count. Thanks, Dad, for saving stamps for me!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Harem eunuchs

"Trust you won't have to be a harem eunuch," I wrote my friend. He got a teensy part in a spring Dallas Opera production of Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers".

Such a funny word, eunuch. Back in high school, during the last Ice Age, the males in my social group formed an intramural flag football team called "The Eunuchs". Why exactly they chose this team name isn't important, just as most of what happens in high school isn't important.

We had yearbooks in those paleolithic days, but no Facebook. It was just as well.

Well = eu. That's what we learned about Greek and Latin root words: Eugene, Eunice, euphoria, eulogy, eucalyptus...

Eunuch has a different etymology. Eune = bed. This from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1387, from Gk. eunoukhos "castrated man," originally "guard of the bedchamber or harem," from euno-, comb. form of eune "bed" + -okhos, from stem of ekhein "to have, hold." The Gk. and L. forms of the word were used to transl. Heb. saris, which sometimes meant merely "palace official," in Septuagint and Vulgate, probably without an intended comment on the qualities of bureaucrats.

Good grief. Let us not comment on the qualities of bureaucrats in or out of bed!

Instead I comment on my abbreviated adventure in Facebook. The Dallas Morning News ran a large double op ed about Facebook today. As a DMN Voice I've had a couple questions from the editorial board about online social networks.

For research only, I created a Facebook account today. My sons have bravely allowed me to blog as long as I didn't have a presence on Facebook, so this was dangerous territory. As quick as possible I logged out, but not before one of the Lincoln East High Eunuchs showed up on the list of people I might know. If I've been happily unconnected with high school eunuchs for over thirty-five years, why would I want the wonders of the Internet to reconnect us now?

Do you Facebook? Sitting around the dining table at New Years I quibbled with sons and girlfriends about whether "Facebook" could be a verb.

Do you Auroch? We are considering Ice Age animals in the preschool class. We are discovering saber tooth tigers and woolly mammoths. Aurochs were the giant wild bison depicted in the cave paintings at Lascaux. Maybe the cave paintings were a social networking site for the Ice Age.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Weird week, good walk

North Texas spent the early part of the week awaiting a much hyped ice storm. Although temperatures were still above freezing, most schools closed early on Tuesday. Roads were expected to be too slick for late afternoon bus runs.

I refilled the feeder for the juncos, chickadees, cardinals, and finches when I got home, then waited for the freeze. In the middle of the night I awakened to the sound of frozen precipitation hitting the skylight. Sleet is too impressive a word for it. Frit or slizzle sound about right.

Knowing I'd either have a slippery drive to school or have to call a phone tree if school was cancelled kept me from sound sleep. I worried about how layoffs at Texas Instruments might impact our school families, and therefore enrollment. About 4:30 I heard the crunch of the newspaper deliverer's car tires on ice and gave up on sleep. After my Dallas Morning News I started reading The Big Necessity. That gave me more to worry about, what with most of the world lacking the most basic sanitation facilities, antibiotics flushed promoting superb bacteria in our rivers, and inadequately treated sludge being dumped on farms.

As soon as the sun came up, the ice was dripping off my roof onto the patio. No school meant time to catch up on email, work on the draft for my next volunteer newspaper column, and participate in an online discussion about the future of newspapers, all wearing my jammies. I can understand the attraction of cyber-commuting!

Wednesday night the moisture on streets refroze, and we awoke to freezing fog Thursday morning. Freezing fog is quite beautiful if you can stay in your jammies. The world looks soft and fuzzy, but it makes for a dangerous drive back to work.

"Freezing fog" seems to be the description for the returning students. The preschoolers were in a daze, wandering the room then becoming catatonic. The kids were more discombobulated after one day off than they were after the long Christmas break.

Today it's a gorgeous sixty-seven degrees, and perfect for walking. My exercise buddy and I needed an extra mile just to vent and compare students and schools. It's good to know her students had a bad case of "freezing fog" on Thursday, too.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


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