Little green Martians and snakes please hush

Didn't get the memo that this would be green snake week in the blog?  Neither did I, but spotted this skinny snake in a tree while I was waiting out a thunderstorm in the picnic pavilion at Oak Point Nature Preserve. The rough green snake at the top of the photo was larger than this second snake, but the second snake was more disgusted with the lady and her camera. Are the snakes trying to tell me something? Maybe reptiles don't get no respect.

Meanwhile, Martians with pink antenna have landed and are holding a press conference.  The news is being broadcast by this katydid from a secret location.


© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Losing my mind? No just my brisket!

To thaw or not to thaw? That is the question for GrillMama, or whether it would be nobler to finish the brisket and black beans I made in the crockpot before I try to make teriyaki pork chops.

Now where did I put that brisket?  I took it out of the crockpot Saturday and put it in some Tupperware and it should be right--  No!

  • Is it behind the lettuce or that darn honeydew melon that makes me sneeze?  No.  
  • You gotta be kidding.  Did I stick it in the freezer?  No.  
  • In the veggie crispers or the cheese drawer?  No.  This is getting weird.  
  • Check the trash.  
  • Check the cupboards for canned goods, Tupperware, crackers, First Aid. No! 
  • Laundry room. No. 
  • Recycling bin. No. 
  • Car trunk?  Well I once did forget a bag of groceries with a nice rump roast in the trunk of the Skylark. It took awhile to get rid of the smell. 
  • Repeat searches except for the car trunk. 
  • Check the cupboard of doom that holds a weird mix of parmesan, cottage cheese, hummus, and yogurt containers. No.  
Oh! There wasn't any Tupperware that fit the leftover brisket so I put it in the vanilla yogurt container. Phew. Glad I didn't buy any blackberries to go with that vanilla yogurt. Let's just put the honeydew in the dumpster and not have an allergic reaction that might cause further memory loss because we've got bigger questions.

Wonderful visit with good friends sitting around at Cafe Brazil. [My daughter-in-law makes better empanadas, though.] Then a noon-ish walk at Arbor Hills Nature Center. Good to see so much water in the mossy pond, and look, there's a blue heron, and another!  Put the camera on zoom. One has a blue bill. One is short. Wait one has a black and white mask with goofy head plumes. One is writing words in the mossy surface of the pond. It's spelling:

   K I S S  T H E  R E S T  O F  Y O U R  A F T E R N O O N 
B Y E  A N D  G E T  O U T  Y O U R  F I E L D  G U I D E S 

Who knew herons could write and predict the future?

  • Field guides out. Check.
  • Enlarging photos. Check.
  • Online sources bookmarked. Check.
  • Afternoon shot. Check.
The heron with the blue bill seems to be an adult Little Blue Heron, possibly with brighter breeding season colors.

The short blue heron with yellow legs, blue body, and purple throat is illogically a Green Heron.

The heron on the other side of the fallen tree that I didn't even see at the beginning is not either of those two.  It is a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, only the second one I've ever seen.

That's all the mysteries I can handle for one day, even if I'm on vacation from school. Maybe a nap now and some leftover brisket later!

Crockpot Brisket with Black Beans
(Because you've got bigger mysteries to solve):

  • Dump a bag of black beans in 3 cups boiling water. Turn off heat, cover, leave overnight. Drain. 
  • Put an eight-dollar beef brisket, trimmed of most fat, in a big crockpot. (Packaging removed, but then I don't have to tell you that!)
  • Might be smart to plug in the crockpot
  • Add 2 stalks chopped celery, 2 cloves smashed and chopped garlic, 1 can of beer, 1 chunk of pineapple from a teacher appreciation edible bouquet (At this point eat the grapes, raspberries, and strawberries from the bouquet and write a thank you note)
  • Juice of one lime or not.
  • Lots of chopped cilantro since what are you going to do with it otherwise?
  • A peeled and diced potato
  • Maybe an onion, chopped
  • Three sliced mini sweet peppers or one-half sliced bell pepper
  • Maybe another can of beer
  • The rest of that can of Rotel and half a can of diced Hatch chiles (Hot).
  • What the heck, peel and chop that last carrot. 
  • Add 2 cups water
  • Dried parsley--Note: Is shaker lid securely on parsley jar? Oops. Not a problem, just fish out the plastic lid
  • Tablespoon of molasses
  • Add water to fill the last of the bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue Sauce. Shake. Stir in
Set crockpot (already plugged in) on Low overnight, then on High when you wake up. Try some over a flour tortilla, but it's not just for breakfast anymore. Add more Sweet Baby Ray's if you've got it. Turn crockpot to Warm. It kind of perfumes the whole house, and smells lots better than potpourri.  

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


It isn't easy being _____

a.  green
b.  quiet
c.  alone
d.  all of the above

It 's a matter of perception and acceptance.  My blogger friend at Hummus Anonymous proposed a quiz about the trials of Cubs fans.  They have it rough.

On the right please note a rough green grass snake that was hanging its head way out into the trail space like an unruly vine Sunday morning. I was just getting going uphill on my hike at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center when I realized I was inches from this fella/gal. Was he just lying in wait for me to stumble along? Was she venomous? Did he have lots of friends nearby? Were they inclined to drop down on me from the branches like in my rain forest nightmare?

There wasn't another person on the trail that early. It was heaven to have the place to myself except for the snake, a wolf spider, a cute lizard, lots of swallowtails, hordes of hackberry butterflies, awesome moths, singing birds, and my own thoughts or lack thereof.

Our culture often seems aghast that a few oddballs actually want to be by themselves sometimes. That's because so many of us are trying to fake it as extroverts in a business world that demands team players and people persons. Maybe that lyric about people who need people being the luckiest people in the world is just envy of those for whom togetherness comes easy.

And now a coworker has thrust a new book upon me, sure that I will find it interesting.  She has seen through my  flimsy disguise! This afternoon I've begun reading Susan Cain's Quiet:  The Power of Introverts In a World That Can't Stop Talking. And more, I've watched Cain's TED Talk. How refreshing!

It's time for educators to realize kids don't necessarily learn or work well in the small groups that have been the devil of me since about eighth grade.  You put seven kids together to brainstorm over two joke-filled sessions.  Three kids are just too busy because of football and cheerleading to help write up the report. The remaining two introverts write up the project or experiment, find or create the visual examples, and carefully follow the required bibliographic format so everyone in the group gets an A+. All the while those two are internalizing the message that they are somehow defective for not being go-go social animals. Not that I'm bitter, except it isn't just high school. Employers need to reexamine this whole collaborative process to respect those who need time alone before they bring their ideas to the project.  What about the worker who would rather slowly consider, painstakingly document, and strive for clarity in a written analysis instead of blurting a reaction that sounds all yo-ho-ho me hearties at the time?

This Memorial Day I am thankful for the servicemen and women who keep us safe. But I am also grateful for two parents who respected and ensured time for solitary thought and quiet creation in my childhood.

Thanks to www.colourlovers.com for this perfect image!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Recommendations needed?

Ask me what book to take to the beach.  Ummm?  A history of con artists?  A family memoir of assimilated Jews in Berlin mixed in with North Carolina potters? The overwhelming world of garbage or the pretty strange lives of math prodigies? I'm just not your source for sunburned chick lit. Not good with fiction fluff either, but I did read all about Feathers last year.

When did we start asking others to make our choices? Are the stakes really too high to just pull a book off the shelf based on the spine design and the amount of dust on the edges? Do we really need expert advice about such minor matters? Do we need a concierge to tell us whether to go with the hash-browns or the sweet potato fries?

And when we get expert advice, do we pay attention? When children started demanding white owls for pets because of Harry Potter, the experts said "not a good idea".  Parents obtained owls anyway!

Duh. Owls are nocturnal, need a lot of space, have sharp beaks and  talons meant to tear flesh and bite through bone. Owls don't want to be cuddled, and cough up pellets of mouse bones and hair. So now who can those parents blame?

Wander the dimly lit stacks.  Smell the worn bindings and disintegrating paper. Read reviews if you must. Sniff out your own reading material and just let the librarian stamp the date due. If you don't like the book by page twenty-five, return it. In the big scheme of things this is not a major deal!

Danger Will Robinson

Ran out of gas before I told the whole story of Crazy Day. In the grocery store I had to settle for a bouquet of yellow daisies. The school garden has white daisies that just didn't happen to be blooming on demand. We were trying to fake it with store-bought so the preschoolers would think they "grew" the flowers. Honestly, I don't think they are that observant. But the grocery store employees and customers were definitely observing!  I hope I gave them good laugh to start their day.

As for the bank and the estate account, that has been the ordeal of the week.  Spent three afternoons after work with my personal banker, who happens to be named Chase, at Chase Bank. And believe me, there are good reasons why I didn't go to Wells Fargo!

To set up an estate account as an independent administrator you need a federal EIN (employee identification number) from the IRS. The EIN I obtained showed up in Chase Bank records as the Social Security number of a guy in New Braunfels, Texas. The bank computer system freaked out. Was the guy in New Braunfels doing something illegal with a bogus SSN?  Was I doing something fraudulent? Thank heaven Chase at Chase has known me for many years and even though he is sure I am totally nutso he is also sure I'm not smart enough to perpetrate a financial fraud or steal an identity. Heck, I can barely open the pneumatic canisters for drive-through banking!

The bank system inputs federal ID numbers without those pesky hyphens, so it can't tell a SSN from an EIN. Apparently it is possible but very rare for duplicates to occur.  But when they do occur, it is best not to have weird spiky hairdos.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Spiked hair with errands and SSNs

Crazy Day is a favorite tradition for the final day of class. Most of the children arrive in their PJs wearing mismatched shoes and socks. Some wear tutus over their PJs. Some pee all over the floor as soon as their parents drive away. Sigh. A tutu is a soggy thing with waste. I think Dan Quayle said that.

Good thing I saved that tube of Got2b glued spiking goop from my sons' bathroom drawer when I threw out all the other guy stuff. Since the downstairs shower faucet is broken, I use the former guy bathroom each morning. This is all good, since the orchid in the upstairs shower window is still in glorious bloom.

My Mohawk hairdo looked great for Crazy Day. It was drying in all its water resistantness when I got the call from my boss. Could I please please pretty please with a cherry on top stop by the grocery store and buy a bunch of white daisies for the staff appreciation bouquets? Sure. What the heck. Live dangerously!

Tom Thumb at 7:45 a.m. with not a white daisy bouquet to be had. All the daisies were used in red/white/blue Memorial Day arrangements. The checker paged the manager, and the manager checked the back room. No daisies  Everyone checked the security camera. Fifty-seven year old woman impersonating marine iguana in Aisle 4...
And after a fun-filled day with product in my hair, the banker wants to meet with me about Dad's estate account. Sure? Maybe a quick shampoo before that fiduciary moment is in order!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Choreographing a swallowtail ballet

Inspiration plus perspiration plus going where angels fear to tread into the thistle meadow in search of the dramatic black swallowtail photograph.  The butterfly always one more giant prickly weed beyond the range of the sun-dazed photographer with her tiny camera. Digital click click click zoom point zoom out of focus tangled on thorns wondering about snakes click click swing zoom. Percussion mostly.  Vertical stripes pink black glaring white yellow greens.  A Seventies disco floor flashing backdrop. Exaggerated prickly prancing silhouetted photographer sharp shadow dancing spiky.

Corps de ballet in pink tutus.  Male corp in shades of green-- vertically striped tights. Photographer frames shots larger and smaller circles. Lighting changes from soft to stark contrast.

Floor a glowing pink light projection.  Back a bokeh of greens and bright whites. Dancers in yellow leotards and tights with black markings, orange and blue spots on the floor.  Legs open close angle point pivot from floor. Small shifts to other pink circles of light.

Solo.  Black swallowtail prince.  Slightly battered.  Short movements between vertical green translucent banners.  Sense of confinement.  Needing nourishment.  Corps returns in front with windy shielding and frustrated photographer.

Sphinx moth interlude.  Low to floor. Two moths with three fading thistle flower dancers.  Hovering with strobe.  Rosy hues and browns.

Color invert dance.  Black light effect.  Sharp wire sculpture wings with pearls and jewels.  Neon edges glowing.  Sphinx moths, dragonflies, damselflies, hornworms, wheelbugs, tiger beetles, orb spiders, weevil, caterpillars, praying mantis.  Grand, triumphant, dark. Sousa meets Pink Floyd.

Brown.  Roly-polies.  Millipedes. Snails--how to leave a sparkling silver slime trail??  Worms slightly pink by comparison. Cicadas. Dark background and floor.

Grand finale starring fabulous black swallowtail male in dances with strong, leaping yellow swallowtail female.  Occasional entrances of small groups of female yellow swallowtails. Prolonged threesome frolic with black swallowtail and two yellows.  Exit into dark woods.

Finale--Black swallowtail emerges from shadows and flies weightlessly toward the glittering crystal sunlight on the creek.  Ode to Joy?

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


DIY mystery on the playground

Who is making this fortification out of mud balls?  And why?

Standing around staring at the mudpile at the tunnel opening we were guessing the builder was a misguided crawdad. Instead, it seems to be a cicada nymph emerging. In the second photo the critter is pushing a mud-ball into place at the top of the tunnel.
But why would an emerging cicada bother enlarging its tunnel and making a fort around the entrance?  Is it planning to flip this remodeled home? We watched the critter come to the surface many times and push a slimy mud ball into place.  Then it would disappear back down into the tunnel for a long time.

Nature is just so very weird!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder

Hairy Raindrop

This is the hairy raindrop. The project was simple flower forms for the very youngest students, the threes and fours. We use raindrop shapes often, along with baked potatoes, in our drawings.

I talked about a bud, a flower just starting to open, but the kids only remember the hairy raindrop. Tomorrow I'll have to show them some photos of flower forms. But they will probably just remember the hairy raindrop.

If they remember anything at all. What a long, discouraging school year this has been!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Titanic going down

"To Ms. Nacy [sic] from Sophia"
reads the note on the back of the drawing placed in my teacher mail box. Nothing like a seven year old's drawing of the Titanic listing at a 45 degree angle and sinking fast in red, blue, and black crayon to summarize my week. Going down with the band still playing and the lifeboats overcrowded.

Yes, teaching is so rewarding! Dang, if I don't feel as perky as Debbie Reynolds in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". Or else not.

This has been a draining school year. My lead teacher and I have had so many major personal, life, automotive, and health stressors it is a wonder we can slap the snooze buttons on our alarm clocks, let alone get up, dressed, and to work each morning.

Four more class days, not that I'm counting.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder

There was a WormMama who swallowed a fly

I've been fussing around trying to make a worm blog on WordPress just to learn a little bit about making a website with pages and categories. Silly me, I still haven't figured out the new version of Blogger with its options for multiple pages. For the moment my efforts are WormMama's Travelling Worm Show.  I've got another vermicomposting gig June seventh.

At this late date in the school year some of the five year old students are figuring out rhyming words! Because why? fly? guy? eye? spy?

Because why I am also reading about Buzz and Fly Guy. The kids like the one fly in Lucy Micklethwait's I Spy Two Eyes, but they LOVE Can You Make a Scary Face?, by Jan Thomas.

We don't want our fly on the guy. We want the fly off the guy, and in the air. It's a positive/negative puzzle. Paul Klee does not rhyme with knee or buy, but sounds like clay, and he's our art guy!

So just a sample of our project masterpieces:

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


My three minutes in court

Having done printmaking in art class Wednesday morning I was dreading the swearing in oath part. The palms of my hands were bright magenta and orange. Do you solemnly swear that you can't get your hands any cleaner than that?!?

The reason I was coming before the county probate court judge was to be deemed sane enough to be the independent administrator of Dad's estate. Friends and family had cautioned me against mentioning my side career as a vermicomposting edu-tainer aka Worm Lady.  

The lawyer just told me, "Oh, by the way, you are sworn in now," before we ever went in the courtroom.  No raising colorful hand.  Not one bit like on Perry Mason.

Then we sat at a table with the judge, and I said yes or no (as appropriate) to questions like:  

  • Did your dad have or adopt any children after 1996?
  • Have you ever been found mentally incapacitated?
  • Does your family still have that meth lab down in the holler?
  • Will your brother Darryl or your other brother Darryl contest this will?
Raise your right hand and repeat after me ...  No, your other right hand.

I kind of wanted to stay and watch the probate judge's final hearing of the day as it was going to be a doozy. The old lady had already cussed out her court-appointed attorney in the lobby for never having contacted her, for arriving late with no necktie and no yellow legal pad, and for limping with a torn knee ligament.  She was scattershooting her disgust with the over-air conditioned courthouse. Her husband and daughter were with their attorney who had a mouth like Martha Raye trying to get some kind of guardianship over the woman so she wouldn't do something financially wacko.  

Maybe I just haven't watched Judge Judy since Dad died.

No, that is not me. That is Elena Kagan being sworn in. And Midge being sworn in to Barbie's court. And a magenta zebra puppet ready to tell the whole truth.  And some lady who is the new health commissioner of the US Virgin Islands. And an altered photo of Michelle Obama's glove on Inauguration Day.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Grocery Cart Lady

Took this snapshot through my dusty windshield.  I was struck by the sunny halo over Grocery Cart Lady when I was leaving the parking lot.

Grocery Cart Lady weighs about 105 lbs. She is somewhere between thirty and sixty years old, nationality of origin unknown. I don't remember her ever speaking, and I've probably never verbally acknowledged her presence even though I see her at least three times a week. Her eyes are dark, bright crow's eyes. Her face makes me think she was horribly burned at some time.

This grocery store is on a hill. Pushing a long train of carts up from the parking lot to the store must be extremely hard work in all kinds of weather. Sometimes she wears a plastic rain poncho.  She always wears a cloak of invisibility, existing outside the range of awareness of those she serves.

Her presence, her work has scratched my consciousness now. I have taken her picture if not her portrait. I need to be a better human!

What does Grocery Cart Lady do at the end of her shift?  Does she ride a bus to another part-time job, putting on a different shirt with a different logo to scoop ice cream cones or clean offices?  Does she have a home?  A family?  Does she save her earnings and send them to her family?  Can she walk safely down her sidewalk after dark?

What about all the other workers laboring on the hazy fringe of my consciousness?  That's the trouble with with letting that little ray of awareness in!  You get a shot of responsibility with a call to action on the side.

Call for public morality or Christian kindness.  Call suffering inevitable.  Call me with a personal arrogance foul for assuming Grocery Cart Lady is unhappy, overworked, or underpaid. Maybe her life is vastly more authentic and sublime than mine.  My house is built of flimsy cards.

 © 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


School gardens & the future of education

On the plane back from Oregon I still got the middle seat, but my aisle neighbor was a delightful, not-too-talkative young mommy who found her own seat belt and had no service dog. My window neighbor was a large man drinking Heinekens who ate a whole can of Pringles, then snored and drooled. But the delightful mother of five had children attending Stonewall Jackson Elementary in the Dallas school district. We talked about the value of school gardens to inspire kids in studies across many subjects.
Stonewall Jackson's 20,000 square foot garden is one of the most acclaimed school gardens in the country, but in 2008 the Dallas Independent School District eliminated the position of Mark Painter, the gardener/outdoor lab science teacher. School parents and area businesses had to form a 501c nonprofit, Stonewall Gardens, to keep Painter employed and the garden going.  It figures. If something is working in our schools, cut the funding, quick!

Remembering the in-flight conversation I stopped at Wilson Middle School just down the street from home. The school already has a butterfly garden along Custer Road, but I wanted to see the new vegetable garden that's taking shape this year. All these photos are from my walk-through in the early evening last Saturday. Life Skills teacher Sharon Russell was nominated for Plano Teacher of the Year 2012.  She is obviously a woman with a passion for connecting kids with learning through gardening. Do teachers get to have passion and model creativity and problem-solving for kids? Or is it all about measurable performance?

My little Montessori school's garden is about seventy square feet if I can trust my three a.m. calculations. It's basically the same size as the dirt area next to my back patio at the condo.  In this space the kids are growing tomatoes, peppers, radishes, dill, basil, red salvia, daisies, zucchini.What are the preschoolers learning?

Plants need water and sunshine. We can take turns with the watering cans. You have to hold the watering can underwater in the big bucket to fill it. Carry a watering can so your shoes don't get all wet. We don't waste water by sprinkling the sidewalk.

We can see how plants change.  They start little and get bigger. We can draw the sequence. We can make a story about what we see. It's fun to tell our friends when we notice something different in the garden.

It tastes good to eat the fruits of our effort.We can be brave and taste new things. If you pick a green tomato your friends can't ever eat it at snack time. Food isn't always cellophane-wrapped in a styrofoam container. If you pick a green tomato your friends can't ever eat it at snack time.

It feels good to dig and take rocks out of the dirt. Worms and grubs live underground. We wash our hands after we work in the garden.

Bees help plants grow. Bees are not really interested in you. Spiders make pretty webs. Spiders and ants are not that interested or dangerous, either, and it is fun to name them. It is more fun to watch an insect than to step on it.

Caterpillars eat dill. Dill smells good! It is fun to cut dill, basil, and rosemary to feed the class pet rabbit, Norton. It feels good to think of others. We have to remember to carry the bucket of food inside!

Animals visit our garden at night! What animal stole the whole strawberry plant?

Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators : The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World writes about developing a culture of innovation based on collaboration, interdisciplinary problem-solving, and intrinsic motivation.  Even at the preschool level that sounds like the job description for a school garden!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


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