The Kinglet on the Eightfold Path

My 365 photo project is getting me out for a walk most days. These are not the long, fast, aerobic walks my doctor recommends for my blood pressure. Nor are they the weekend venting waddles that have sustained my walking buddy and me for more than a decade. These are slow, seeing, sensing, solitary walks.

I walk the perimeter of the one-block radius that is my preferred source for 365 photo inspirations. When I get away from the traffic sounds, I'm surprised by the bird calls and flow of the creek. Wind rattles the dry leaves. My senses wake up step by step. It's the gradual rebooting of an older computer whose operating system isn't updated or supported by the company anymore. Still, it is opening windows.

I'm probably searching too much on these walks, hoping for obvious photo ops. Letting go of desire and control would lead to fresh surprises. Today I went looking for cedar waxwings, but found a woodpecker and several robins.

Spent ten minutes with a teasing ruby-crowned kinglet in the thorns, vines, and eye-poking branches without ever getting a good photo. The tiny greenish bird hopped about too quickly although it was often within six feet of me. It could hover like a hummingbird for a second or two. "Ruby-crowned" sounds too pretentious. The bird is less than four inches in length, and the "crown" is really a little red dot to help camouflage it in a berry bush.

As soon as I got home, started downloading my photos, and took off my shoes, the soapberry tree beyond my patio fence filled with cedar waxwings. Guess it is good I didn't go looking for gorillas to photograph, or I might have found a kitchen full of primates on my return.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


One-block radius

I took a slow walk around my one-block radius, being surprised by flocks of robins and cedar waxwings. I love cedar waxwings for their dramatic eye make-up, and their flash mob behavior. I love the way a flock will land in the bare branches of a winter tree and seem to be only yellow leaves hanging on late into winter. I adore the way the ends of their tail feathers look like they were dipped in bright yellow Testors model enamel paint. A cedar waxwing could inspire some excellent Olympic figure skating costumes.

The robins and cedar waxwings were taking turns drinking at a spot where fallen branches make a nice perch just above the water. I was surprised they were so close to a trio of pre-adolescent boys chopping and pounding. I tried to look like I wasn't spying on the guys. They are building a hide-out with scavenged rotten fence sections amidst exposed tree roots at the creek. They were just around a bend from the spot where my sons used to ride a rope swing across the creek a dozen years ago. This gives me hope for the future!

Got home at dusk to find this anole lizard on my front stoop. He seemed to have just molted, and was dark-colored, showing stress. I took several bad photos with my camera settings all wrong before he got perturbed enough to crawl sluggishly back to the shadows below the siding. It's only fifty-five degrees, breezy, and gloomy. Doesn't seem like anole weather at all, and not a good day to shed one's skin.

Last night the moon was a Cheshire cat smile when I took the recycling to the cart in between the men's figure skating performances. The moon reminded me of Harold and the Purple Crayon. Harold's line follows wherever he goes, and the moon goes along. Harold likes nine kinds of pie. Some of my students are learning about the silent E that makes vowels say their names .... pie ... nine ... line ... skate ... shave ... smile.

How strange for a lizard to be roused out of winter slumber just to shed its skin. Talk about wanting to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock! I feel your pain, Mr. Anole. I was awakened by the recurring snooze alarm knowing I'd been invited to a sensuous paisley party, but had forgotten to shave my legs.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Nutrition experts debate food pyramid

The first preschooler announces that Cheerios are in the Crust Group. The second student is sure the base of the food pyramid is the Brain Group. We've been talking about breads and grains.

Preschoolers have been prejudiced against bread crusts for generations. I bet the prejudice goes back to the true crusts of home-baked bread, and was held over during the Wonder Years. The crust was often drier and more difficult for a youngster to chew. Still, it could be useful for leaving a trail away from an evil stepmother.

Now, if you tinted bread crusts neon turquoise, added Sponge Bob zinger exploding crystals instead of oats and seeds, and packaged the entire sandwich in a plastic squeeze tube you would become famous. If you could freeze-dry it, then reconstitute it with added sugars, run a steam-roller over it, roll it up, get a celebrity endorsement movie tie-in, and package it in a single-serving plastic container with a tiny dollop of Ranch Dressing dip you would make a fortune.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Capital P and that rhymes with T and that stands for true

Comedians are keen observers of our daily existence. That's why they can deliver those zinger punch lines that hit where we live. I read the best parenting advice in a long time in the Sunday Parade magazine's celebrity interview, a source I rarely give much credence. This time, I found it spot on:

In the deli, the server makes a “yada yada” joke, and Seinfeld good-naturedly says, “Hey that’s my line.” Sitting down over a cup of coffee, though, he stops making cracks and starts talking about one of his favorite subjects: raising children.

Although his own children obviously want for nothing, Seinfeld works hard not to be too indulgent. He bemoans the way some people cater to their children’s every whim. Seinfeld has three rules of parenting, what he calls “the poison Ps.” The first is Praise—“We tell our kids, ‘Great job!’ too much,” he says. The second is Problem-solving—“We refuse to let our children have problems. Problem-solving is the most important skill to develop for success in life, and we for some reason can’t stand it if our kids have a situation that they need to ‘fix.’ Let them struggle—it’s a gift.”

Just as he’s explaining the third P—“Giving your child too much Pleasure”—a woman comes in the deli with her three young daughters and buys them all huge cookies. “Can you believe this?” Seinfeld says, gesturing like his TV counterpart used to. “It’s 5:30 p.m.—when will they have dinner? At 8?”

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


The trouble with tuna

Yes, the tuna salad was filling the ductwork here on the Enterprise. Captain Kirk didn't know what to do.

Tuna salad isn't as soft and fluffy as a tribble, and it doesn't make annoying chirps. I was making really excellent tuna salad with pecan bits, chopped celery, green grapes, and green olives, while going easy on the mayo for the staff dieters.

I knew when I whipped up the tuna salad I was tempting Mother Nature. That was the whole idea! If I made a big tub-O-tuna, I was sure we would have a Snow Day.

Be careful what you wish for, or you might have to eat tuna salad for four straight days all by yourself.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Basking above the creek

Our amazing snow will soon be a memory. The dripping sound of melting lasted all night and all day. Early this morning it was joined by a chorus of screeching grackles in the soapberry tree across the alley. Grackles can make a particularly annoying call that sounds like the winding of an old-fashioned alarm clock. Okay, I'm up!

We stood squinting and blocking traffic in the parking lot of Corner Bakery after lunch, just three fifty-something ladies slowly realizing snow glare had been replaced by sunshine. It was vaguely familiar!

The condo hawk had the same experience. It was getting back to its job sitting on the highest tree above the creek. It didn't seem to be surveying all that it rules. I think it was just squinting into the sun, glad to warm its breast feathers.

The hawk is a regular this month. I'm practicing my binocular skills on it. My neighbors must think I've gone crackerdog and flopbot, standing out in the driveway trying to focus. Where did the hawk go during our snowstorm?

My camera can't capture what I observed with binoculars. The hawk's breast feathers look so soft, colored golden brown and white, sometimes ruffled by the wind. The hawk uses its beak to smooth some feathers. Its brown head seems flat-topped, due to my viewpoint. I watch the head swivel back and forth, and know the hawk sees me far better than I see it. Once it opens its wings and spreads its tail. Both look banded with gray and black. The moment is gone. My arms are shaky.

I go back to the curb, lean against the Skylark for support, and refocus the binoculars. The hawk's yellow legs don't have feathery knee socks or knickers. To my astonishment, the hawk raises its leg and stands on one foot for some very long seconds. The move looks just like that of a woman who has worn uncomfortable but stylish yellow shoes for too many hours.

Who will blink first? The hawk decides to fly. It swoops low before high, then far off into the neighborhood. Not much for making an identification, except it keeps its tail closed, not fan-spread like a red-tail.

Enough basking, facing the sun, for the condo hawk. What is basking? Exposing oneself pleasantly to warmth... from the Norwegian baska, according to my old American Heritage Dictionary. The Online Etymology Dictionary adds this Shakespearean hint:

Modern meaning "soak up a flood of warmth" is apparently due to Shakespeare's use of the word in reference to sunshine in "As You Like It" (1600).

When we lived in Edmond, Oklahoma in the late Eighties, our Ripple Creek neighborhood had a street named "Basking Ridge Trail". Were the residents supposed to go out into the street in their Norwegian buff to bask and survey all they ruled?

If you bask, wear sunscreen.
If you squint, get out of the road.
If you binoc, keep practicing.


BIG snows

I started this post a week ago in solidarity with my sister's family and the Woolly Mammoth at the beginning of the Washington, D.C. area's Snowpocalyse. It never occurred to me that the DFW area would have its own record-setting snow. Our nine inches yesterday tied a record for the most snow in any one calendar day. Nevermind that it will be long gone before the pot of split pea soup.

"This winter is like the big snows of the Sixties," says the helpful shoveler at Dad's house in Lincoln. On Christmas Day they got 9.5 inches, and it wasn't slushy and quick-to-melt like here. Lincoln has had 38" of snow so far this season, bringing it into the top ten winter totals, with weeks to go. That's the word from the High Plains Region Climate Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

I remember walking to Eastridge Elementary between piled up snow taller than me. It was like a snow lab rat maze. Other times we walked atop the hard-crusted drifts right down the middle of the streets. As a teacher, I try to imagine the logistical nightmares in those Sixties schoolrooms getting all the kiddies into their snowpants and galoshes and mittens-on-strings...
Life for my mother was pretty hectic in the early Sixties. When this picture of my brother was taken my sister was an infant and I had not yet started kindergarten. That the winter snow film wasn't developed until July 1960 is a good indication that time and money were in short supply. I was looking through a box for photos that only exist in my mind, but the images are very clear in my memory.

On February 11, 1965, Lincoln got 19" of snow, part of the snowiest month on record, with 26.1 inches. That must have been a rough year for parents of bickering children stuck inside with cabin fever. I know exactly what I was wearing (black stretch pants with foot stirrups, tan/white/black horizontal stripe knit top) when my mom hit her limit. We were all going OUTSIDE, and we were going to WALK up to Clark Jeary nursing home at Eldon Drive and A Street(Mapquest says it is 0.76 mi.) and back in the snow. Mom would pull the sled so my sister and brother could ride some of the time. At the time it seemed to be uphill all the way, both ways, which isn't true, of course. We were properly bundled, but the cold and exertion knocked a lot of obnoxious belligerence out of us. When my boys were young I was often near that parental point, but without the snow cure available!

Great snowfalls of my memory in Lincoln, Nebraska, according to National Weather Service archives:

--Jan. 3, 1971, 11.4"
--Dec. 18, 1973, 9.7"
--Mar. 19, 1977, 8.3"
--Mar. 26, 1983, 7.6"

Results of one blizzard are still very evident in the city. The October 26 storm of 1997 with 13.2" of heavy snow devastated Lincoln trees that had not yet lost their leaves.

I walked around the condominiums this noon and was glad to see only one tree with a big fallen branch. Last week's pruning probably helped spare us other damage.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Pinball dental

Nice to pop out of bed this morning to answer the phone. My jaw and I had slept well. Refreshed, I was glad to make my "phone tree" calls. I admit I was not displeased to have a snow day off from the classroom.

Out on the front step to retrieve the newspaper, my view of giant snowflakes floating down seemed almost as psychedelic as my recent nighttime headaches. Last weekend I spent sleepless hours with sharp pains shooting from my left jaw to my right ear, and then pingponging around my skull like an evil pinball wizard. Geez, I hate it when my junior high health class teacher is right about flashbacks. This was a bad dental trip!

My dentist alerted me that I'm storing stress in my jaw, and grinding my teeth during deep sleep. That was my wake-up call for the week, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to change and prevent further damage to my teeth (and to put his kids through college).

I got to make the wake-up calls today. My voice is so rarely turned on before eight a.m., that I sounded funny making calls to the seven school families on my branch of the phone tree at seven a.m. No school today:

SNOW DAY! Don't spend it all clenching your teeth.

Snowy walk on the wild side

...that would be the east side of Custer Street. There's an undeveloped tract across the street from our condos with no fast food pad site, nail salon, strip mall orthodontist, or car wash. Most of the year it is just grass back to the trees along the creek. Beyond the creek there are homes and apartments, shielded from the traffic noise. Nothing much happens in this tract beyond the occasional mowing, invasions of campaign signs, and temporary corrals of construction equipment. I've spotted coyotes over there two or three times, but in fourteen years I never walked OVER THERE.

Headed out into our slushy, fluffy snow this morning to move all the recycling carts back to the curb after the collection. Walked a loop around the complex a couple times with my hood up. The scrunch of the snow under my shoes was enticing. There were few cars on Custer, so I just walked across the street and into the wild.

With no traffic fifty footsteps brought me into a new awareness of sound. Two cardinals, a bluejay, a crow, and some small twittering birds were unphased by my approach. The cardinals seemed to be singing a psalm to a snowy creation. Children were giggling somewhere across the creek, glad to be out of school. The Plano recycling truck was working its way down an alley. Each dump of a recycling cart made a jingle of glass bottles and aluminum cans. The creek burbled and wet snow plopped off skinny branches. An emergency vehicle siren a mile away added to the music.

Back home and out of my wet shoes, it was good to have silence. Later I listened to the redemptive themes of Janacek's "Jenufa". A crazy squirrel hopped along the top of the fence straddling the 2" snow cap. Wouldn't that feel cold on his tummy and private parts?! The snow cap is carved in regular serrations by his jumps.

This evening the crockpot lid is rattling and letting off steam as the ham bone and split pea soup cooks. Snowfluffs have changed to freezing rain, and more snow plops off trees and roofs. Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock have the cd player. Who has the wild vacant lot?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Free time valentine

The first grader brought me this valentine he drew during his free time after lunch. Because we were talking about penguins during art class, he drew his version of a penguin on some scrap paper. I love that the penguin has a toll-free number to call to report problems!

The little guy didn't really know why he made the penguins inside the card blue, but he did say he wasn't happy with the hearts he drew. He thought they looked more like hats. One blue penguin holds his heart on a string like a balloon.

I gave him a hug and told him how much it meant to me that he used his time to make the card. Many valentine cards will be exchanged at the school party tomorrow, if we aren't iced out by the weather. This one beats anything from the drugstore or a class project made with fun foam.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Dip di-dip di-dip

Driving home from work I got a sudden severe case of "Grease" lyrics flashback [Med diagnosis code GLF]. One of the preschool students was working the puzzle of Things That Go Together. You know--bird/nest, rake/leaves, paintbrush/easel, paper/scissors, rock/lyrics stuck in my head!

We go together like
rama lama lama
ke ding a de dinga a dong

NO! NO! This can't happen right now! I've got to think of some easy valentine to make for each of my preschool students ASAP. I don't have time to get stuck in a 1973 warp.

We're one of a kind
Like dip di-dip di-dip
Doo-bop a doo-bee doo

What would the little kids understand about belonging together? Flash! Their idea of an inseparable match is a dip di-dip of carrot sticks in Ranch Dressing. It's a horse and carriage! You can't have one without the other.
Now I just have to do the paper cutting. Inspiration is weird. You know why Van Gogh cut off his ear? He had sockhop lyrics stuck in his head.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Fourth quarter downpour

The rain started in the last quarter of the Super Bowl and continued all through the night. Tooth pain woke me several times to listen to the rain, and wonder how complicated it would be to fit a visit to my dentist into the week. A couple times I turned on the patio light to see if I should start an ark. I hoped the newspaper deliverer wouldn't slip in the mud out front.

The rain continued until mid-afternoon, after the dentist made impressions of my upper and lower teeth. I would rather eat mud than do that again!

The rose quartz in my fairy garden looks particularly beautiful, cleaned by all the rain. I've had that piece of quartz since I was a kid. It's handful size.

Posted a different view of my rainy day on the 365 Project. I like the process of deciding which photo best describes the day.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Daily Shoots and Leaves

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

The Itty Bitty Blogger shoots; and, feeling vexed,
She cannot figure how her cell should Text
Not camera post: nor Tweeter Twit
Fights back the fears that bubble next.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

The Muse Knows Best

My muse offers two new projects to get my creative battery jumped. I'm in a deep funk. New projects seem like the last thing I need. My brain runs the hamster wheel, cycling and recycling suggestions, admonitions, resolutions, shoulds, and regrets until I get off the treadmill with no energy at all.

My blog muse knows me well, and she knows when I need an inspirational jolt. If I'm not creating, I don't feel much like tackling life's problems. Her timely suggestions are way cheaper than therapy. It's time for a 365 Project, and maybe a Daily Shoot.

Getting started on 365 Project was easy. I like the calendar photo, and hope it will be printable. I started with the Yahtzee photo from a current Valentine project, but want a theme for my 365 effort. The concept is to post an original photo each day for a year, learning to be a better photographer and a bit about myself in the process. I'm leaning toward a collection of photos taken within one block of my front door. It's time to pay more attention to my own spot.

When I walked down to the garbage dumpster this morning I was stunned to see the huge tree had been removed. Maybe the garbage truck had one close encounter too many with that tree, but the spot looks very strange.

Headed back to my condo, I saw a big hawk in a tree by the creek. It was sitting there yesterday, too. Got my jacket, camera, and binocs and headed down the drive. The hawk humored me for awhile as I practiced with the binoculars. A squirrel and a cardinal cooperated, too. I walked several times around the condominium complex and the little park that borders it on the creek side, without ever getting more than a block from my door.

This impressive unidentified fungus is the size of a paper plate. On this gray day it was tricky getting a photo of it on the tree at least ten feet above the ground. If I don't get poison ivy, I'll be pretty pleased with this photo.

As the muse knew, I'm feeling better already.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


What does a hedgehog feel like?

Having survived the 100th Day of School celebration, including a visit from the Creature Teacher, I got home and found a letter saying the insurer was about to cancel Dad's insurance AGAIN. Managing things for an elderly parent is challenging, but especially so when it comes to billing addresses that differ from places of residence. Dad's local agency never got the billing address corrected with the insurer, so I never got the bill. It is all groovy now, many phone calls and phone menus later. The curse of UNCWY continues!

I did not pull out my hair, but that is only because the Creature Teacher brought a hairless guinea pig for today's presentation. Yes, there are people out there who intentionally breed bald guinea pigs that look ever so much like hippo embryos. We love the Creature Teacher, aka Robyn Wheeler. The kids have a favorite free-time game in the puppet theater where they take turns being the Creature Teacher and giving a show with the animal puppets.

For extra excitement during the presentation, the pygmy hedgehog escaped from her cage and ran across the classroom. The student who got to pet the hedgehog reported it felt like "sporks".

If today was an episode of "Let's Make a Deal" I would hope to get the sporky hedgehog behind Door #3. I don't want the insurance agent or the hairless guinea pig.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Marmot Day, 1978

Wish I could fit in those jeans, but so glad I'm not that clueless! Considering how uninformed we were on this backpacking trek in the San Juan National Forest above Durango, Colorado, I'm glad to have survived with only the occasional recurring lost marmot nightmare.

It's Greta Groundhog Day, a silly holiday I never forget. In my elementary school class, my friend Greta celebrated her birthday every Groundhog Day.

In Alaska, today is Marmot Day. My personal Marmot Day [pMD] was in the snowy mid-summer. It was the first real vacation with my law-student spouse, and our budget for the two weeks was slightly over $200. My mom slipped me another hundred in case something broke on our puke-yellow Chevy Nova.

In the photo I'm smiling because no bears ate me through the whole night while I tried to sleep on the crunchy vegetation and steep slope. As you may note, I can see my shadow. That meant eighteen more years of marriage!

We were somewhere in the vicinity of Kennebec Pass, and about to encounter an abandoned mine area populated by a couple hundred chirping live fuzzy hand-puppets. They were watching our every clumsy move across the snow, and singing a warning that we were way off the beaten trail. I figured these creatures were a Greek chorus of groundhogs warning of impending tragedy.

Only after I returned to civilization and my library did I identify these creatures as marmots. My students are having some Groundhog Day ID troubles, too. We made groundhog stick puppets today, and learned groundhog poems. We reinforced concepts of months, seasons, cloudy and sunny, hibernation, and shadows. We talked about tunnels and living underground. At the end of the day the kids waiting for their rides in car line said the puppets were prairie dogs and brown dogs. Oh, Greta! We really tried, but it just didn't sink in.

A topo map of preschool will lead to many abandoned marmot mines!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Mercury memories

I have a favorite childhood memory from the Sixties, back before we knew that absolutely everything is dangerous. I remember playing with mercury bubbles on the blue bathroom linoleum after a thermometer broke, chasing the bubbles, merging and separating them. It was so cool and well worth working around the glass slivers!

Friends report similar experiences. One wrote:

I did the same thing! It was such fun to collect those tiny balls together, almost like magic the way they melded into a large ball. Don't remember telling Mom that I'd broken the thermometer, just the simple pleasure of playing with the mercury.

That's probably why I can't wait for my May trip to Chicago--well, aside from Danger Baby's law school commencement and meeting his future in-laws. I can't wait to finally visit Millennium Park to see "Cloud Gate". Anish Kapoor's sculpture is like a giant reflecting blob of liquid mercury. Sounds like my childhood dream come true!

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA are busy protecting today's kids from lead and cadmium in cheapo Chinese toys, and that's a good thing. Alas, in the trade-offs between safety and wonder, wonder usually loses. In the Sixties we often got small plastic maze games containing a drop of mercury as birthday party favors. In the late-Seventies a fancier elemental mercury maze toy called "Quicksilver" was popular.

Another mercury memory from the Sixties still doesn't have anything to do with the Friendship Seven astronauts. When you skinned your knee, your mom was likely to paint the scrape with a fabulous stinging, smelly, magenta, microbe-killing concoction of mercury plus bromide or sodium. Mercurochrome and Merthiolate are now known to inhibit healing, and aren't used much. There was a strange rush to having your knee painted with merthiolate. The knee scrape and the sting were often worth it to smell the pungent odor and be decorated with the gorgeous stain. Both products were pulled from drugstore shelves late in the last millennium.

Sixties moms chose up sides based on their preferences for merthiolate or mercurochrome. Later parental popularity contests pitted Bactine against Jaohnson & Johnson's First Aid Cream and Neosporin.

Kids today have a better chance of learning about mercury at the EPA's superfund cleanup site than by breaking an oral thermometer. Practical clean-up instructions can be found at this Colorado website. I sure hope kids get to visit Chicago at least.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


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