Thyme for new shoes

My new walking shoes are so clean they may emit ultraviolet rays. At least today they have enough poofiness to make my feet happy, which is a super power. I was glad to get the birthday discount at the shoe store.

Next stop on the birthday gift card adventure was Barnes & Noble. I got two field guides, one for trees, and another for Texas wildflowers. Slow walks for my 365 Project have made it clear I don't know diddly about trees. The internet is a wonderful resource, but sometimes I really need to page through the illustrations in a book.

My family gave me a Kindle, and I'm working through the field guide to that previously unknown species. Still have a way to go on the learning curve!

A dear buddy gave me a gift card to Northhaven Gardens, a Dallas treasure. A nature photography lecture by Keith Crabtree was scheduled for this afternoon. Seemed like a nudge from the cosmos! His presentation gave me lots of ideas to pursue in my photo work.

At Northhaven Gardens I got thyme, rosemary, lemon balm, and verbena. Set them out in pots, and now my patio is at maximum capacity. It's been a wonderful birthday. Thanks to all my wonderful friends!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


When I grow up

I don't want to rush into a decision, but maybe when I'm older I could make photo learning materials for preschool Montessori classrooms. All the fun of the creative learning process without the nose goobies and flushing forgetfulness.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Math man

My dad is turning eighty-seven this weekend. It's sad. He can't do the math to figure out his age. He only vaguely remembers that my mother was five and a half years younger. Our shared birthday once added to our deep emotional connection. Now we just "check in" daily if Dad can hold the phone right-side-up.

This is the man who taught me to do square roots to pass the time on long car trips in the '54 Chevy with no air-conditioning. We practiced whistling, too, and reading maps. Way before the energy crunch, Dad helped me understand miles per gallon. He taught me to draw floorplans, and to delight in the pristine beauty of a multiplication table written on graph paper. Our after supper strolls around Pierce, Nebraska, made it easier to comprehend story problems about people living in the white house with the pet giraffe.

Eighty-seven is not a prime numer.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


What's my line?

The recently-turned four-year old is telling me about something new in her lunchbox. I feel like I'm on another planet in an old black and white tv show. Everything sounds right, but nothing makes sense. A code is in place, and I haven't cracked it.

"I have a new timer."


"It's made out of glass."


"It sounds like coconut."


The student demonstrated patiently, as I was clearly differently-abled. She clinked her fingernails on the side of her shiny new aluminun Hello Kitty wide-mouthed Thermos. The clinks did sound "like coconut" somehow, but my time was up. I never would have decoded her story in time to win the Thunderbird convertible. Instead I had to suggest she finish eating the macaroni and cheese in her new "timer".

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Case of the Missing Vertebrae

Sometime between when I rushed home to straighten out a billing mess with my dad's psychiatrist (Sshhh! Don't tell him!), and when I went out to move the recycling carts, the anole vanished.

It sounds like a Hitchcock plot, but I blame it on the lawn servicemen with hedge-trimmers and leaf-blowers. I was saving the little anole's skeleton as a reptile example for the science shelf. The snails had cleaned it up, but I wanted to see if the bones would get whiter before I boxed the skeleton for school. Now I can't find it anywhere around my doorstep.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

What would Fess Parker do?

Back in my day, kids built forts with Lincoln Logs. My students seem to be constructing faux-rustic resorts and Great Wolf Lodge waterparks.

Three seven-year-old boys build Lincoln Log cabins with "really good beds". They are comparing the quality of a night's sleep in each cabin. One boy says, "My cabin has the Sweet Number bed." He probably means a "Sleep Number bed" since he explains choosing a number to go to sleep. To one-up him, the next boy says his cabin has a Select Comfort mattress. Is this for real, or a weird dream on my saggy, lumpy mattress? I couldn't hear for sure, but I think the third boy had a "duck bed" in his cabin.

What's next? A coonskin cap with built-in Bluetooth? And mints on your pillow?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


"If you didn't use your back-up plan, you played it too safe."

You just thought that quote came from the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man ad campaign. Where did he get that insight? From his budget-strapped art teacher, of course.

I just thought I knew what I was doing when I had the preschool students create fish tank aquarium collages on 8.5"x10.5" infrared transparency films. I got the boxes of transparency sheets at a recent WASTE giveaway.

My inspiration was a greeting card received a couple years back that was a combination snow globe and fishbowl. Been puzzling possibilities for an art project from that concept.

Last winter the preschoolers used their rolling pin motor skills to crush lots of eggshells. We dyed the shell bits with diluted pink glitter paint, and spread them out to dry over Spring Break.

Our materials for the fish tank collage included glue sticks, stringed sequins, fabrics, tissue paper, silver Sharpie pens, honeycomb packaging paper, tempera paints, along with the transparency films and dyed eggshell bits. I've sent a lot of weird collage materials through laminators to be sealed, but I must have pushed the envelope. With so many variables, I have no idea what made the first two collages turn black in the laminator. Oops. Those fish must be swimming at night after the aquarium light has been turned OFF. This mess didn't harm the laminating machine or set off the smoke detector, thank heaven.

Sealed the rest of the kids' projects with clear packing tape, and displayed them around the classroom windows. I like the shadow/silhouette possibilites, and will pursue them with older students tomorrow.

My students like this board book:

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


A is for allium in April

Alas, poor Allium. I knew them, Horatio. This week the condo lawn service ventured down along the creek and mowed off all the allium. When I got there, the scent of wild onion was gone.

"Plants are smart", the nature guide at Connemara told us last fall. Plants learn how fast to mature before the mowers arrive. The allium on the flat part of the creek bank flowered at a height of six inches max back in March.
That's an easy spot for mowers to chop. Mowers attack easily-accessible and billable areas.

On the steep banks, the allium plants grew over a foot tall before doing elaborate, slow openings of pods and flowers on twisted alien stems.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

The Carolina Wren Spot

The wren spot is a place I'd like to stay on a trip for either business or pleasure. It's not large, but comfy. It has a back balcony with a pretty view, but no silly extras. The manager is a gregarious little fellow named Chucko Heeder. He told me his name several times, sensing I'm getting a bit hard of hearing even at the close range of ten feet. Then he went to put the kettle on for tea.
Chucko-chucko; heeder-heeder.

With each of my one-block walks for the 365 Project, I am more amazed by the world so busy living wild and crazy lives just beyond my day-to-day awareness.


Anoles of the King

Watching the spring lizards appear on my condo fence to show off their rosy neck flaps, I kept hearing my internal narrator announce, "Annals of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson".

Yes, I played the Whitman card game of Authors with my younger siblings, crouched under the high brass bedframe in the "pink bedroom" at Grandma's house. I can see her chenille bedspread hanging down all around our hiding place.

Alas, Alfred, Lord did not write "Annals of the King", or even "Anoles of the King". Tennyson wrote something called "Idylls of the King". To collect all the Tennysons in the game of Authors you had to get:

  • The Brook

  • The Crossing

  • The Charge of the Light Brigade

  • Idylls of the King

I'm pretty sure Tennyson's work had something to do with King Arthur, but my education never filled in the blanks. Everything I know about the Light Brigade's charge in the Crimean War comes from George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels. No patio lizards in those, but plenty of reptilian characters...

Doing the NY Times crossword puzzle this morning, I knew that Thackery was born in Calcutta. "My head is full of such trivia", I told Alfred, Lord, as I sent his card into my scanner.

Next time:

Louisa May Alcott's Little Anoles--(small lizard sisters eating apples in the attic).

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Condo Patio of Verses

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Chicken cups and songs

Listening to the students practice their chicken songs for the music festival, I remembered that Dad's chicky cup and cereal bowl were now high up in a kitchen cabinet.

The "chicky bowl" has lost much of its decoration due to generations of spoon scrapes. The "chicky cup" has a small crack, but the exterior images are clear. Filled with daisies, the cup would make a good still life for the elementary art students to use for a quiet line drawing.

The cup and bowl date to my dad's childhood in Pierce, Nebraska in the 1920s. There are no markings on the undersides to indicate origin. The baby chick images matched perfectly with the collection of nursery story books on the bottom shelf in Grandma's living room. I wish I had those little softcover books of the Billy Goats Gruff and Little Red Hen. It was a special event to eat from the bowl and cup on a weekend visit to Pierce when I was a child.

The children are singing a song called "Chook, Chook". It goes like this:

Chook chook
Chook chook
Good morning, Mrs. Hen.
How many chickens have you got?
Madam, I have ten,
Four of them are yellow,
And four of them are brown,
And two of them are speckled red,
The nicest in the town.

I don't remember that from my childhood nursery rhymes, but I did know two versions on another song:

Ever since Gene Hardy's "Childrens Literature" class in the UNL English Department in the mid-Seventies, I've been alternately annoyed and intrigued by those deep, hidden meanings in nursery tales. Is this Hickety Pickety rhyme an easy one for skipping, singing kids just learning to read with simple phonics? Or is it about racism and prostitution?

I'm teaching children who don't know that milk comes from cows, eggs come from chickens, and veggies grow in dirt. Did you know applesauce doesn't begin in handy three-pack individual servings?

I hope to post some of the elementary students' line drawings of daisies in Dad's old breakfast cup soon. The children liked hearing the history behind the cup.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Corks, quirks, and saving the world

In my escapist fantasies, I see myself living in a small cabin with a screened porch. The cabin interior is decorated in college town bar decor, but without the peanut shells on the floor. Every surface is covered with collected items--keys and license plates, especially, but also hardware, newspapers, vintage board games, maps, buttons. Tabletops and counters become an ever-changing collage of vintage sewing patterns, postage stamps, and magazine photos suspended between layers of clear polyurethane. The ceiling is hung with papier mache insects, wire sculpture lizards, origami, mobiles, Christmas ornaments and retro lamps. The floor is cushioned by mats made from thousands of donated wine corks.

My current abode has boxes, baskets, and jars full of wine corks (and no peanut shells). Friends and relatives have been saving corks for me for many years. Corks are useful for building art project palm trees on fantasy desert isles. Supply has exceeded demand in recent years, but I'll never turn down a bagful of corks. I appreciate the sacrifice that has gone into drinking the wine so artists can create.

Horror vacui is the abhorrence of empty space. Most art history students first learn about it when they study ancient Egyptian tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Tut and Nefertiti couldn't agree on wallpaper, so tombs are covered in wall-to-wall writings.

Tut was pondering large 3-D lotus sculptures entirely made of corks. Maybe Howard Carter should be my condo decorator. Tut. Stone. Silence. Inscriptions. Collections. Possessions. Overload. Alabaster canopic urns...

In my imagined abodes visual over-stimulation replaces excessive auditory noise. Since my sons have moved out, it is very quiet here. Quiet is good. In fact, I may have to track down George Prochnik's book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise. I heard an NPR "Fresh Air" interview with the author. He said studies show people eat less when the volume level increases, but they drink more alcohol...

When I went a-googlin' for other cork uses, I found an artist who covered her car with corks. The Skylark could be transformed into a CorkMama-Mobile.

With enough hot glue and corks we could aspire to far greater good. We could build shelters for earthquake victims in Haiti. We could mulch our organic gardens. Huh? I saw it on Google, so it must be true.


Spelling for $500, Alex

This super-spelling but techno clueless blogger needed help from a salesperson at the AT&T store to get loud 1812 cannons on her cell phone.

Who put the "tch-ai" in the "Tchai-tchai-kov-sky"?

Somewhere on my permanent record there's a check mark for spelling "Tchaikovsky" under techno-cyber stress, even if I couldn't get my phone to ring.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Cyber-challenged art teachers for $500, Alex

Without a teenager in the house, this cellphone account function defies comprehension by an aging Baby Boomer.

What is downloading ringtones?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Composers for $500, Alex

This composer created an opera about a hot-blooded gypsy and a matador, but the downloadable ringtone was too subtle to be answered in a timely fashion by middle-aged bloggers.

Who is Bizet?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


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