Creating space

Our first elementary art project of 2010 is finally finished. We made it into space!

When a project takes four class periods, it's a relief to have it be worth the effort. I wasn't too sure we'd get past the first morning doing a reprise of the the shaving cream printmaking the kids loved in December. The second time the kids loved wallowing in the mess even more, so I need some space and a few light years to recover before I try it in a large group again. We got great marbled effects on some old, faded construction paper, though.

The second morning we did a calm color-mixing experience while painting to the space music mix cd the Woolly Mammoth made for me years ago. A little Star Wars, some Star Trek, Holst, and a final frolic with the Purple People Eater were a treat while trying for a a wide range of tints and a soft, feathery brush stroke. Using some freebie overhead transparency sheets for palettes made for easy clean-up, plus we used the last of the paint on each palette for a couple of monoprints.

By the third week, each student had several interesting papers to use, tracing and cutting circles to make planets, asteroids, and other orbs of various sizes. At ages six to nine they feel competent at tracing and cutting, so that class had a relaxed mood. They could trade their leftovers with classmates to get different colors.

Now for the tricky part--how to introduce composition to get the best space, the best illusion of depth, so the circles wouldn't be glued on like polka dots or domino spots. Our eyes and brains play such wonderful tricks on us. The small circle seems more distant than the big circle. The circle that interrupts the picture frame seems closer still. The overlapped circle is automatically more distant than the overlapping one. A small shape interrupting the edge of a large circle seems to be moving in front of it!

The kids were delighted with their results. Their planets and moons weren't just in space. Some seemed to be rotating and revolving thanks to the patterned papers. We even had a few eclipses, and we got safely back to Earth.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Annore what ignoys you

That's my resolution for 2010. A month late, but still useful. The preschoolers demonstrated the concept. We have choices. We can buy into the game when something or someone is bugging us. Or we can walk away. Or we can milk the situation for its entertainment value. The preschoolers usually choose a third option. They wallow for a time with the annoyance, checking to see what diversions it might offer. Does the ignoyance have the potential to get the annoyer in trouble? Does being an agnorer promise brownie points?

What position am I playing in this game?

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Walking down Memory Lane in new shoes

Smell those well-worn saddle shoes covered with dust from the gravel playground? Sniff that polish used to revive them? Patent leather Mary Janes and T-straps for Sunday School have a sharper smell.

I get a headache just remembering searching through heaps of Skips tennis shoes on tables in the aisle of Montgomery Wards near the escalators. The acrid odor of rubber soles combined with sibling bickering, a flickering flourescent light fixture, and the anxiety vibes from my budget-strapped, frazzled mother complete the bad flashback.

Shoe-shopping experiences of the Sixties keep popping into my mind when Dad refers to his bank as "Wells & Frost". That was the name of a Lincoln shoe store for several decades. Aside from penny loafers, we don't keep money in our shoes.

Wells and Frost Shoe Store was on the north side of "O" Street between 11th and 12th Streets. It had big show windows with a set-back entry. Toward the back of the store, a loft overhung the shoe department. Orthopedic shoes and clothing departments were up there. My crew of memory joggers think Wells and Frost had a budget basement like many stores in Lincoln.

Wells and Frost sold Red Goose children's shoes. Kids got to spin a wheel and receive a golden egg prize after buying shoes. We didn't shop at Wells and Frost, but the Red Goose shoes tv jingle is seared in my brain. "Half the fun of having feet is Red Goose shoes!," ran often during the black and white cartoons of the late afternoons, opposite the "Open wide for Chunky" candy bar ads. Those ads showed a trapezoidal foil-wrapped candy floating through a big-eyed drawbridge.

Sitting on the cork tile floor of my neighbor's basement, close enough to the tv to ruin my eyes, I was unnerved by both these commercials. A Chunky bar had raisins and Brazil nuts. If I got one on Halloween, I definitely planned to trade for something else.

"Half the feet" got into my brain instead of "half the fun" after listening to scary Grimms fairy tales. Those Grimm Brothers were always having maidens cut off their toes or feet, dancing away until they froze to death or were roasted by hags.

Later in the Sixties, Wells and Frost had a store at the Gateway Mall. It was adjacent to and set back from the Kresges' storefront near the stairway to the lower level community meeting space.

Nowadays even little kids carry cellphones for "emergencies". Most emergencies a kid could encounter in the Sixties could be handled by retrieving the dime from one penny loafer to make a pay phone call. Still, it is better to keep ones bank account at Wells Fargo, and not in ones shoe.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Deep Bath

Sitting on the child-size chair listening to the child psychologist, my mind started wandering to the possibility of a long, relaxing bath. The speaker was doing a great job explaining the emotional tasks at each developmental stage of childhood, but my feet hurt. Her outlines for promoting independence, dealing with sibling rivalry, and parenting with consistency were clear. The school parents were soaking up the information, but we were running out of time for the Q&A section of the evening.

"How can I get my 4 1/2 year-old into the bathtub in the evening? She wants to act like a kitty cat and play around instead."

What a flashback question! Not to my own parenting of young sons, though. I seem to have blocked out those memories. I can barely remember the bathrooms in our various homes, no pun intended.

Instead I remember being a child at bathtime. It probably helps that the bathroom in the house where I grew up hasn't changed much since I was three. When Mom announced our bathtime we would beg her for a "deep bath." She would remind us that we had to get ready fast if we wanted to have that treat.

A deep bath was not the norm. Mom didn't start running the water in the tub until we were in the bathroom ready. If we had dilly-dallied, there wasn't time for her to run the water more than the few inches needed for actual cleaning of children in assembly-line fashion. We could only play in the water until it got chilly.

If we had been "obnoxious" or "belligerent" during the day, there was no chance of a deep bath. We knew not to even ask.

A deep bath was a reward for getting ready quickly after a day when we didn't frazzle our mother. She kept the warm water running, filling the tub so full we could float boats, blow bubbles, and make shampoo-suds hairdos and beards. Mom would even hold the mirror for us to admire our sculpted hairdos. The mirror steamed up while our relaxed mother leafed through a magazine or filed her nails. We played until our fingers turned to wrinkly raisins and the water cooled. Washed, dried, and into our PJs, we made towel turbans and paraded to the living room to model them for our dad.

Just remembering a "deep bath" is a relaxing soak for my tired brain. "What is a natural consequence?" That's a great parenting question. Tonight I'd say a short chilly shallow bath is the natural consequence of dilly-dallying at bathtime.

And now, I need a hot soak and some relaxing time making shampoo sculpture antlers and antennae. Thank heaven my kids are grown up!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


MLK Day stuffed green peppers

Monday I really needed to make stuffed peppers. I have no idea what triggered this craving beyond the bag of beautiful peppers I bought at Braum's. The only recipe in my box was a vegetarian one from my newlywed days, combining brown rice and sesame seeds to make a complete protein. It mentions Diet for a Small Planet on the reverse side. I hauled out Joy of Cooking for more info, and then hit the internet.

Shifting between several recipes makes me dizzy, but the results were very satisfying:

4 beautiful, very large green bell peppers with tops, seeds, and membranes all removed. Rinse the seeds out. Have a big kettle boiling with enough water to submerge the peppers. Add a dash of salt. Push the peppers down into the boiling water and cook on MedHigh 6-7 minutes. Drain.

Cook 3/4 cup brown rice in 1 3/4 cups water according to pkg. directions. [Basically, bring them to boil, boil one minute, reduce heat and simmer covered 45-50 minutes.]

Brown ground meat (about the size of one patty) in a large, heavy skillet.* Drain grease or add oil to make about 1 T. Chop 3 stalks celery and mince 3 cloves garlic. Add to skillet with ground meat and stir 4-5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup sesame seeds. [That was the size of a bag for $1.29 in the Latino spices section at Albertsons. It was money well spent for flavor and texture. You could probably substitute sunflower kernels.] Stir the seeds and brown another 3-4 minutes. Add 3 chopped Roma tomatoes and 1/4 t basil, 1/4 t oregano, and 1 t parsley. Keep stirring. Add 1 T soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, plus a dash of red pepper flakes. Add water just to keep from burning, or some liquid from the can if you substitute canned tomatoes. Simmer until the rice is done.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir the rice into the skillet, mixing well. Grease a 9x9 baking dish. Stand the peppers in it. Fill each pepper with the skillet mixture, and compress well. Cover the top of each pepper with grated cheese of your choice. Make a foil tent over the top. Bake 25-30 minutes. Let cool 5-10 minutes before serving. One pepper is enough per person, so serves 4. Reheats well in the microwave, although you might want to add more cheese.

*Obviously I'm not a vegetarian, but this was plenty of meat to give flavor to the stuffing. The rice and sesame provide the protein for the meal. You could brown chopped onion instead of ground meat.

It was so delicious that I'm trying stuffed eggplant tonight.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Needlenose needs

Thank heaven we all had cell phones. How else could we call each other to enquire regarding the whereabouts of the needlenose pliers?

This Christmas the pliers were in high demand. First the headlights knob in the Buick broke, not for the first time. Visits to several auto shops failed to find the standard package of generic replacement knobs, so we were had to turn the lights on and off with the needlenose pliers. Three grownup drivers sharing one '96 Buick, plus one pair of pliers.

It was my turn to drive the Buick to Barnes and Noble when I got the call. "Mom, when can you be back here with the needlenose pliers? My key just broke off in the front door lock." I'm on my way to save the day.

My nephew is turning sixteen. Sure, he wants a car. It might be better if he got his own pair of needlenose pliers. Maybe I could have them engraved.

Sixteen is all about feeling invincible. Real life is all about breaking down that illusion, and dealing with the breakdowns.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Relieving Buster

Buster needs to go out back to the patio at least twice each night. Buster is the faithful fluffy dog companion of my eighty-six year-old eccentric next door condo neighbor. In dog years Buster may be almost as old. He certainly has the frequent urination problems advertised endlessly on the Golf Channel.

In the close confines of a condo community, we become aware of our neighbors' little issues, but generally don't acknowledge them. Life works best if we create an invisible force-field of privacy larger than the actual physical space of our units.

My neighbor is the same age as my father, so I sometimes transfer my worries between the two and break down the force-field. Dad falls down often, so I fear W.B. will also. Somehow W.B. gets up in the night to let Buster out to the patio. The door opens and closes just through the wall from my bedroom. I rouse, and half-listen for Buster to go back inside through a sleepy fog.

Buster is well-trained. When he is ready to go in he whimpers a barely audible muh. W.B. is usually well-trained, too, and lets Buster right back in. As soon as they get back inside, I'm back in deep sleep.

Alas, sometimes W.B. doesn't respond to muh. As soon as Buster amps his polite request the tiniest notch up to meh-meh, my adrenalin kicks in. Where is W.B.? Has he fallen asleep?

Mehmeh! Has W.B. fallen down? Should I call him on the phone to wake him up and see if he is okay?

Mwah-mwah! Buster, is W.B. out there in the cold with you? Has he slipped on the ice?

Arrrgh-MWAH! Oh, Buster! Should I call W.B.'s daughter or 911?

Mwah Mwah Mwah!! Okay, Buster, I'm coming out there. [Door slams] I'm climbing up on the air conditioner to look over the fence.

MWORK BWORK BORK! Oh, you poor doggie! Yes, I look very scary with my bedhead hair and breathing steam in this cold.

BORK BORK BORK!!! Please little Buster, don't have a heart attack! I'll call W.B. (Please, God, don't let W.B. have a heart attack, either, or fall going to answer the phone.)

RKWARK RKWARK RKWARK!!! And please let someone be listening if my dad falls 650 miles away. Amen. And thank you, W.B., for waking up and letting Buster back inside. I'm relieved. Buster's relieved.

semper vigilans

semper fidelis

semper timmy down the wellis

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Fantasy Opera

I probably should have watched the Cowboys-Vikings game, but the Fox channel had annoying wavy lines through it. I couldn't identify Tony Romo in a police line-up, but Brett Favre always looks good in those Wranglers. How would Brett look in pink stockings and a toreador costume?

Instead of reality football, I was playing fantasy opera. It's a good imaginary desert island diversion, and the price is right. Yesterday friends treated me to viewing the Metropolitan Opera live broadcast of "Carmen" in High Definition at a movie theater. Today I'm assembling my own production.

In the role of the gypsy, Carmen, I can choose from Elina Garanca (Met in HD), Julia Migenes-Johnson (1984 DVD filmed in Andalusia), Jessye Norman singing sweetly on my Decca CD, or the entirely unconvincing Ekaterina Semenchuk in her 2004 Dallas Opera debut. Elina and Julia will have to fight it out in the cigarette factory. Julia is earthier--more real. Elina is just the tiniest iota too perfect, and I rarely forgot she was acting.

Roberto Alagna clearly leads the pack for the role of the naive, and then obsessed Don Jose. His chemistry with Elina Garanca in the Met broadcast was spellbinding. Runner-up is Neil Shicoff on the Decca CD. Placido Domingo has never convinced me that he wouldn't rather run home to his mama on the DVD. Mark Thomsen made no memorable impact in the Dallas Opera.

Houston native Latonia Moore gave credibility to Micaela in the Dallas production and won the hearts of the audience. Faith Esham looks and sounds wonderful on the DVD, Mirella Freni sounds excellent on the CD. Barbara Frittoli at the Met looked old enough to be Don Jose's mother.

Teddy Tatu Rhodes subbed the bullfighter role, Escamilla, in Saturday's Met broadcast, learning he would sing just a few hours before the performance. He sang the role in 2004 in Dallas, a year after he gave my heart a flutter in La Boheme. I seem unable to choose Simon Estes from the Decca CD sight unseen. I lean toward Ruggero Raimondi's arrogant rock star portrayal in the DVD over Teddy's more human if still egotistical interpretation.

I don't know if Brett Favre can sing, but Keith Miller can. I had no idea Keith Miller played football for the Colorado U Buffaloes before becoming a knockout as Zuniga on the Met stage. He has no competition. This is a fantasy opera, after all.

DVD wins with atmosphere, filmed with real dust and rocks. The Metropolitan Opera set rotates and transforms from act to act creating a unified form that is dramatic and effective in each arrangement. One of the greatest joys of the HD broadcast was watching the set changes from fantastic camera angles.

My first exciting onstage tour of a Dallas Opera set was 2004's "Carmen". I will create the costumes for Frasquita and Mercedes, Carmen's gypsy friends, in my fantasy production.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Short Buicks get no respect

Payday! Yippee! Just going to drive through the new bank down at the corner to make a deposit, get some cash, and make a mortgage payment.

Whoa. Where is the Six Flags sign about being this tall to ride this ride? My Buick is not tall enough for the Wells Fargo drive-up window. When the teller drawer glides out, it almost grazes the roof of my car. I've got long arms, but lack a giraffe's neck to see into the drawer to get my cash.

In this SUV town the Skylark needs an Americans With Disabilities Act modification. As if my self-esteem wasn't low enough already, my car don't get no Dangerfield respect. Next payday I'll have to borrow the educational periscope toy from school.

Short Buicks got no reason...

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Can you or I or anyone know?

Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow,
Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow,
Can you or I or anyone know
How oats, peas, beans, and barley grow?

Can you or I or anyone really know where our food comes from now? My students don't believe milk comes from cows. Milk comes from a box, just like high fructose corn syrup juice drinks come from a box or a pouch. You pull the straw off the side of the box, remove the wrappers, and poke it into the box. That's how you get milk.

In our cold weather I just wanted to wrap up in a quilt and read the Kimbell Museum Cookbook or The Omnivore's Dilemma. The 1986 Kimbell cookbook was a favorite of my mother. She loved Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum, and the soups served in its Buffet Restaurant.

Michael Pollan's book was a Christmas gift from the Woolly Mammoth's special lady friend. Reading about genetically-modified Round-Up-Ready Monsanto corn seed gives me scary nightmares. Soup is more comforting.

The preschoolers are singing about "Pease porridge hot" this month. "Pease porridge" is such a weird concept for a kid. If Sam-I-Am should ask, I will not eat it hot or cold. I will not eat it in the pot nine days old.

Sam-I-Am can ask all night. Sam can ask all day. I will not eat his "curds and whey". Don't bring them on a silver tray. I will not eat them on a tuffet. I will not eat with Warren Buffett.

Tell Sam-I-Am I won't eat gruel. Unless you're Scrooge it isn't cool. I will not eat it at my school.

In fact, I'm fond of cottage cheese with black pepper and fresh tomato slices, and often eat it at my school. The soups I made in the cold weather improved the longer they simmered and blended flavors. When I froze portions, and then reheated them, my soups made of peas, beans, and lentils got simply splendid. If winter drags on, I might start eating oatmeal and cream-of-wheat in the mornings. But not gruel!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Barbershop Quartet Blindsided Me Outta Nowhere

The six-year-old held his lunchbox in his left and reached out to shake my right. "Good-bye," he said with a certain timing that stirred a song deep within my LaBrea tarpit memory.

"Good-bye," I sang as I shook his hand, "my Coney Island baaaaa-byyyy. Farewell my own true love, true love my honey. I'm gonna go away and leeeeeeave you...never to see you any, never gonna see you anymore."

Google has not been much help this evening as I tried to understand my straw boater flashback. It's useful to remember that the internet is not the most reliable of sources. A quick search led me to sites claiming the song was written by Les Applegate or Les Appleton in 1924, or 1945, or 1948, possibly, but no, not really for "No, No, Nanette".

It doesn't matter. The student is mildly stunned, but resting comfortably at his home. He doesn't know what will happen the next time he shakes my hand. I don't either, but I'm not telling him.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


January attitude adjustment

A three year old girl is learning the names of different boats. She names the sailboat, tugboat, tanker, canoe, and the "summertime spring". Yes, we all live in a yellow summertime spring! We just thought we were the fish on the January hook of an ice fisherman in Quebec, but our chilly attitude needs adjustment.

I don't know if my student is channeling the Beatles or Raffi, but her wonderful mangled "submarine" propelled me through a ridiculously cold day in North Texas. If you feel submerged in Arctic waters, try singing

[So we sailed on to the sun,
Till we found the sea green,
And we lived beneath the waves,
In our yellow submarine,...]

We all live in a summertime spring
a summertime spring
a summertime spring...

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Out of Control

So many lesson plans and calendars for the new semester to cut and paste. So many websites to link. I've been out of control for several days, unable to Ctrl+C, Ctrl+X, Ctrl+V, or Ctrl+N. The Ctrl key bit the dust on the Compac keyboard I found in a closet when my "real" keyboard died many months ago. I've become accustomed to limping along, just barely hanging on. I've coped with the quirks in this age of austerity. The latest failure, though, a total lack of Ctrl, was too much to bear. I'm already dealing with a parent in a skilled nursing facility. I shouldn't have to cope with an incontinent and demented keyboard, too!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Frosty gets a glimpse of his own mortality

Sorry for all the posts about fickle fame and fleeting forever! Time to get more upbeat for the new decade.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Mix Forever

The post office has "Forever" stamps that make you think you are investing for your retirement. Seems like the time is here for a "Forever" music format.

Some people want Jetson flying cars and colonies on Mars. I want to buy a Layla recording that will keep updating to new technology forever guaranteed.

Like Tommy Lee Jones' character, Kay, in Men In Black, I keep buying the White Album again. And Workingman's Dead and Dave Brubeck's Take Five.

The US Postal Service announced Cowboys of the Silver Screen stamps for release in April, 2010. I get a kick out of the Tom Mix stamp because Mix allegedly tended bar at the Blue Belle Saloon in Guthrie, Oklahoma before his movie career. We spent a lot of time in Guthrie a couple decades ago. My sons barely remember living in Oklahoma, and rarely use snail mail. Movie cowboys were already disappearing from the silver and technicolor screens when I was in elementary school.

Have movie cowboys made the many technology transitions from the Silver Screen to DVD and beyond? Becoming postage stamp idols probably won't create a new generation of fans. Forever is getting more elusive all the time.

Tom Mix from the USPS website:
Tom Mix (1880-1940) was one of the most celebrated Western film stars of the 1920s. He wowed movie crowds and live audiences alike with his daredevil riding, expert rope handling, unerring marksmanship, and rugged good looks. He also served as a role model for a generation of schoolchildren, maintaining a wholesome screen persona that involved “no cussin’ and no drinkin’” by his characters. A legend in his own time, Mix wore oversize Stetsons, fancy suits, and handmade Texas boots with engraved silver spurs. He rode “Tony, the wonder horse,” who also became an audience favorite.

The stamp art is by freelance illustrator Robert Rodriguez, whose work has been featured on more than a dozen previous stamps. Rodriguez based his portrait of Tom Mix on a likeness of the actor that appeared on the Cupid’s Round Up (1918) movie poster.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder



I never played the game, as Howard Coselle would say, but I've found Mike Leach an interesting character. He's provided lots of entertainment on and off the field through Danger Baby's Texas Tech years. It's been depressing to follow the rapid implosion of the Pirate's coaching career this week.

Major family events coincided with round-the-clock coverage of famous demises and faux news all year:
  • Michael Jackson died the day we moved my father into assisted living in June.
  • The balloon-boy hoax held the nation's attention the weekend of my son's wedding.
  • My last trip to see Dad at Thanksgiving was marked by the Tiger Is A Flawed Mortal drama.

None of these stories rocked my world. But, this week as we moved Dad into the skilled care wing, LeachGate pulled me in. I became part of the onlooker delay on the freeway, gaping at the massive collision of celebrity, fame, poor choices, notoriety, and ego. Mike Leach crashed and burned quickly, instead of leading a slow Bronco chase.

I blame it all on O.J. and Kato.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


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