Good fences make good neighbors. Bad cursors make for cussing.

Survival under one roof in a long marriage, sharing a condo with teen sons, having a joint checking account or a shared minutes cellphone plan requires finding basic areas of agreement, and fencing known issues of disagreement outside the playing field.  The same is true for business partnerships, and that most dangerous zone of the shared computer.

To get along persons in any partnership must agree, or else agree to disagree and avoid the topics of

  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Tidiness standards
  • Vegetarianism vs. grilling big hunks o' beef
  • Paper vs. plastic
  • Cat or dog
  • Recycling vs. being an irresponsible blight upon Mother Earth
  • Manual vs. automatic transmission
  • Apple vs. PC
  • Planning ahead vs. frolicking frivolously in the present
  • Thanksgiving at my parents'/Christmas at your parents'
  • Talk radio vs. NPR
  • Whether children can wear cowperson boots with Hawaiian print shorts
  • Being perky before coffee vs. staying wisely silent until coffee kicks in

The choice of a screensaver and desktop theme should be right up there with the worst partnership/buddy breakers. An office passive-aggressive power struggle between fishy themes with seashell cursors for one, and falling autumn leaf screensavers and acorn pointers for two is threatening to maim the small business where I work.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Maybe I'm still a larva

There's just so much I didn't even imagine I didn't know! Here I am, almost all grown up, and I'm just learning the life cycle of ladybugs.

We've discovered a ladybug tree at school.  All the stages are busy on this one crepe myrtle tree just outside the school office. Here's an adult emerging from its pupa. My larva photos did not turn out. For extra fun, there are black ladybugs with two red spots. Holy metamorphosis, Batman!

Crepe myrtle trees provide reliable landscape color through the hot season  in north Texas. You can spell it "crape", too, but it never looks as classy in my humble O. Crepe myrtles have interesting bark.

This morning I woke to news of a fast-flowing hip-deep Martian stream. Billions of years ago it deposited rounded gravel that became cemented together to form a sedimentary conglomerate rock. Not that my little students ever sit there like clueless lumps staring up at me with all the spark of soggy pasta...

I had to look it up, but gneiss is not a sedimentary conglomerate. Gneiss is a nice way to describe a metamorphic rock. It's gneiss to have nieces. Both my nieces are gneiss.




a metamorphic rockgenerally made up of bands that differ in color and composition, some bands being rich in feldspar and quartz, others rich in hornblende or mica.

I love that the Mars rover is named Curiosity, and I hope curiosity is contagious! Every teacher would love to ignite more sparks of curiosity.

Gneiss probably comes from German and Old Norse for spark. It's an igneous rock transformed by heat and pressure. And, of course, igneous derives from ancient word roots for fire with a sacrificial connotation.

It's hard to explain "knife" to young readers, you know? And now it seems that "gnocchi" is more closely related to knuckles than ignition. The pasta is pronounced either nockey rhyming with hockey, or nyuckey, which doesn't sound all that appetizing.

gnocchi Look up gnocchi at Dictionary.com
1891, from It. gnocchi, pl. of gnocco, from nocchio "a knot in wood," perhaps from a Germanic source akin to knuckle. So called for their shape.

Gnow don't get me started on rhymes, as I've got to go talk to Gepetto.

head and shoulders gknees and toes
head and shoulders gknees and toes
eyes and ears and mouth and gnose
head and shoulders gknees and toes
gknees and toes

And to complete this ramble, here is Andy Williams singing Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Gneiss To Come Home To"... you'd be so nice by the fire...

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Universal reptile insomnia

Image from eHow 
Waking up at two a.m. to ponder the freshness of your supper salmon based on particular intestinal clues is not so good. It lets the mind wander too much among the recent past and future what-ifs. If you have recently spotted a large snake on your patio you might have way too much information and way too little home maintenance. That is, if you've learned that said Texas Rat Snake can climb walls, you may be nudged by a vague unease about the flap on the dryer vent up there under the eaves.

And if, what if... the snake is not in the dryer vent, but the mice are living large in there, then what???

Reference points for anxious wee a.m hours pondering:

  1. Childhood buddy's gerbil escaped while I was at her house for a sleepover.  Gerbil was finally found in their clothes dryer the worse for the adventure.
  2. Discovering a nest of snakes in the fuzzy, linty dirt below the dryer vent at the house when my sons were small and the dryer ran 24/7 all winter.  Baby snakes slithering under the front door or into the delivered newspaper.
  3. Finding my dryer vent duct tubing impacted with lint.
  4. Years of reading Ellen Stoll Walsh's Mouse Count to children...  "Little, warm, and tasty, fast asleep."

This is not a home maintenance project to tackle at two a.m. After work I rushed to Home Depot. There I found a "universal" Deflect-O dryer vent bird guard. Back home I got the memo that  "universal" usually means the product fits every situation except MINE!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Compound eyes and overstuffed sinusii

I'm so very thankful to have a teaching job that does not depend on outcomes of standardized tests. The teachers who inspired me as a child, and those who jump-started my sons were not constricted by requirements to teach to the test. Their motivation came from their gut to make a profound impact in children's lives.

Current expectations for teaching take all the joy out of a profession that used to thrive on creativity and deep connections with individual children. It's a testament to the heart of so many educators that they are still working in schools without support from their administrators and districts, and without essential involvement from parents.

Our teachers have become the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. primary caregivers for this generation of children.  Teachers are so bogged down dealing with basic nutrition, hygiene, health and behavior problems it is a miracle that kids are still learning to count and to read. Teachers are providing emotional support and parenting guidance to a needy generation of parents lacking basic understanding of child development stages and the consistent sleep and meal routines so essential for healthy families.

Still have a stuffed up snout, but I must get on with planning the art classes for the semester. My goal is to link observations in the school garden to art projects and concepts across the age groups. Working with kaleidoscopes, wire kitchen strainers, spyglasses, colanders to prepare "visual aids" about the compound eyes of blue dragonflies.

Attended an all-day workshop Saturday for  required clock hours. The morning session bogged down with roll calls and registration snafus.Glad I'm not on the student side of the chart five days every week.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Asp not what your condo can do for you

Glanced out the laundry room door to the patio when I got home. Worked some yesterday out back removing canna plants and sweeping away the soapberry tree debris. I was motivated by the mice... yes those spots before my eyes during my headcold.

No matter how Beatrix Potter cutesie you might look in the book, I got no use for yoose mousies running up the legs of my gas grill. You are going down!

Instead of mice, my little laundry room glance eyes spied a snake in the canna bed. Had it enjoyed a nice mouse brunch? Was it a condo neighbor's escaped pet, "Fluffy"?

Thanks to my high school buddy, Rosencrantz, for the likely ID. Texas rat snake seems to fit.

And yes, asp is a good crossword puzzle word when viper and cobra are too long.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Little black spots before my eyes

The headcold came on slowly, just raw throats in the nighttime for a week.  Easy to blame on ragweed pollen.  Mild earache and slight stuffy nose, just job-related germ-sharing in the preschool room.  Dragged myself through a day at the library Saturday, cursing students and hanging on for a round-the-clock snooze.

Sunday the spots started.  Fell asleep while doing the crossword puzzle to wake up with newsprint on my cheek.  Fell asleep on the couch until a text message from my boss woke me:

We found this snake on our walk, 

caught in the erosion control netting. 
We set him free. Can you ID?

Just a bit of groggy field guiding and googling to identify the speckled king snake. It's a mighty handsome snake I don't really want to meet. Or maybe I do, ah-choo! King snakes are constrictors that eat other snakes, lizards, rodents, and birds.

Things deteriorated from there despite a Skype session with my intergalactic stellar grandbaby. My youngest texted asking what movie he had watched as a child with a silver spaceship and time travel. 
That would be "Flight of the Navigator".

I wondered why I was seeing zipping black dots while I stared out the patio window for a couple zombie days. Was this headache a migraine? Brain cancer? Decongestant side effect? Orange juice overdose? The slow-moving green specks that occasionally jumped from fence to plant were anole lizards, not side effects.

First sick leave day with zinc therapy, vitamins, cough Rx, inhaler, saline solution, ibuprofen and decongestants I was only able to nap and play online Legos at Build With Chrome. Second sick day, I'm lots more perky, still snozzy, but able to see that those rushing black dots are tiny scurrying mice on the patio. No OTC meds will get rid of the mice. Maybe I can borrow the speckled king snake!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Color commentary

It's a beautiful almost Fall battle of the complementary colors. Cheerleaders shake their pompons for the yellow and purple teams.  It's good to be outside watching the cosmic competition for bees. Just when it seemed purple would be the clear winner, yellow forced the game into overtime.

Spiny Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, Heard Nature Sanctuary, McKinney, TX. Note tiny spider cheering for purple.

Water lilies, Dallas Arboretum.

Purple findings while walking Prairie Creek Park, Richardson, TX. (Over an inverted photo of a passion flower at the Heard.)

Morning glories, Arboretum All American Selections Trial garden.


 Tiger swallowtail on lantana at the Heard.

One of seven sunflowers along the fence of our school garden, Richardson, TX.

 Spider cheering for yellow.

Mystery eggs on one sunflower.

Overtime--Opening school sunflower vs. Dale Chihuly glass art installation at the Arboretum.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Little Ms. Muffet finds gregarious, tufted caterpillars

So, just what is a tussock?  My grandma had a hassock. She put her feet up to relieve her bursitis. I'm relieved to find an ID for the fabulous caterpillars I spotted on my walk after work.

Thanks to the Discover Life page at the University of Georgia, I was able to eliminate several possible suspects. I also found an interesting blog, Living With Insects to follow.

Euchaetes egle (Drury, 1773)
Milkweed Tiger Moth; Milkweed Caterpillar

So, tell me again, what is a tussock?
tus·sock  (tsk) n.
1. A clump or tuft, as of growing grass.
2. A tuft of hair or feathers.

Ms. Muffet had a tuffet. Is that like a tussock, or like a hassack?  Is it a grassy hillock or knoll?

Grandma never called the hassock an ottoman.  I'm sure Miss Muffet never sat on Grandma's hassock. Time for a check with Wikipedia:

tuffetpouffe or hassock is a piece of furniture used as a footstool or low seat.[1] It is distinguished from a stool by being completely covered in cloth so that no legs are visible. It is essentially a large hard cushion that may have an internal wooden frame to give it more rigidity. Wooden feet may be added to the base to give it stability, at which point it becomes a stool or a footstool. If the piece is larger, with storage space inside it, then it is generally known as an ottoman.[2]dral Hassock has special association with churches, as it is used to describe the thick cushions employed by the congregation to kneel on while in prayer. [3]


 noun \ˈha-sək\

Definition of HASSOCK

a : a cushion for kneeling hassock

b : a padded cushion or low stool that serves as a seat or leg rest

I attended pay-what-you-can-night of "Second City Does Dallas" at the Wyly Theatre Center.  Improv doesn't do much for me, what with the anxiety of knowing audience members could be escorted up on stage at any moment to be embarrassed.  I would rather a spider sat down beside her!  The stranger sitting next to me was picked for a stage moment, poor dear, and had to sing some song about balls.  Second City did a long skit about the JFK assassination, something that will never be humorous in Dallas, and should not be elsewhere.  I'm not the only one with inflamed bursa* over that, as the Dallas Morning News critic Lawson Taitte made the same criticism when the show opened.

Not to be funny, but I have been wondering who invented the term "grassy knoll", a phrase that surely says Dallas.  Urban Dictionary calls the phrase, among other things, "a metaphor and a source of irony when referring to a suspicion, conspiracy, or a cover-up of some type."

Alas, I must go to work without solving the age-old question of why tuffet doesn't rhyme with buffet.
*Bursitis is the inflammation of one or more bursae (small sacs) of synovial fluid in the body. The bursae rest at the points where internal functionaries, such as muscles and tendons, slide across bone. Healthy bursae create a smooth, almost frictionless functional gliding surface making normal movement painless. When bursitis occurs, however, movement relying upon the inflamed bursa becomes difficult and painful. Moreover, movement of tendons and muscles over the inflamed bursa aggravates its inflammation, perpetuating the problem.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Writing on the surface of a lime

The preschoolers were enjoying a birthday snack of blueberry muffins with OJ at the playground picnic tables when a red car came racing through the parking lot.

"It's going too fast," the kids told me. "We need a speed lemon!"

I wanted to make a speed lemon, but there was just a tired lime in the fridge. It's really hard to transform a lime into a car with a Sharpie pen. Ask.com and eHow.com offered no advice for my trouble with lime writing, just suggestions for making invisible ink.

Nadir is one of those crossword puzzle words. Lemon law is a crossword answer, too. I read an unflattering review of Ralph Nader's Seventeen Solutions in the Kirkus Review 8/15/12 issue.

nadir (n.) Look up nadir at Dictionary.com
late 14c., in astronomical sense, from M.L. nadir, from Arabic nazir "opposite to," in nazir as-samt, lit. "opposite of the zenith," from nazir "opposite" + as-samt "zenith" (see zenith). Transferred sense of "lowest point (of anything)" is first recorded 1793.

Just for a sec I misread that low point as 1973, the year I finished high school.  Our principals kept telling us we were the worst class to ever darken their school door, but I don't think we were all lemons.

Several of my little students are unsafe at any speed, especially when they don't settle down and take a good long nap. Accidents happen when they are tired, but they are not all lemons, either.

Had a flashback to the days of Chevy Corvairs, Ford Falcons, Dodge Darts, Plymouth Valiants.  Exploding Ford Pintos, the Tylenol tampering scare, and tampon toxic shock syndrome profoundly changed our collective U.S. mindset.  We became consumers who expected to be protected by government from dangers in the products we buy and use. Yes, consumer advocacy and litigation made government bigger. Do we want to go back to the "let the buyer beware" era?

"Every time you open a bottle or package (of medicine, food or drink) that has tamper evidence features, a band around the lid or an interior seal, it is because of the Tylenol case," said Pan Demetrakakes, executive editor of Food & Drug Packaging magazine. 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children. The CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products - such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals - contributed significantly to the 30 percent decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products since 1972.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Professor Plum in the Preschool Potty with a Plunger

For only the second week of school, we already have a lot of body fluids in play. Any day that begins with a plunger is likely to be underpaid and skiing downhill fast.

You don't want me to elaborate.  Really.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Red orbit

Struggling with my approach for art instruction with an incredibly young group of students this semester.  The smallest kiddies can just barely hold a pencil to scribble circles, and are inconsistent naming colors.

Stop worrying. Start with RED. That's what the voice said.

That voice is just the deep, stewy crockpot in my head, slowly simmering inspiration from seemingly random leftovers.

Can't tell my prefrontal cortex from my automatic ice cube maker, but I'm listening to the audiobook of Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide. The audiobook is fascinating, although reading the paperback kept putting me to sleep. How, oh how, am I going to teach art tomorrow?

Really red?  Just yesterday I posted about meaningless alliterative intensifiers, and "really" might be one in this situation.  What is the slow-cooker recipe for tomorrow's lesson? Stir it all together and see what happens!

  • A new Mars rover--Curiosity
  • My grandbaby reminds me of his dad's Red Rings toy from Johnson and Johnson back in 1982.
  • Outside my sliding door, Dad's colored rings hang from my birdfeeder hook. They used to hang in the dining area window. Pretty sure I bought the rings at the Dallas Arboretum and gave them to my folks.
  • Inside the condo, I unearthed a ziplock bag of red plastic peanut butter jar lids and other nesting lid sizes.
  • Paper-Pro Easy Punch 1-hole punch from Office Max chomping through ten sheets of paper. I'm impressed!

  • So, tomorrow night I hope to have photos of our art class red rings.

    © 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


    Hotter'n blue blazes

    98° and it's only two o'clock. Just finished cooking out burgers, corn, and skewered veggies. Pretty tasty. Cleaned up inside, then went back out to clean the grill. I picked up the tongs, spatula, and skewers. Yowzah!
    What in blue blazes was I thinking?!

    So now I'm temporarily detoured from my nap plan by searching for origins of "blue blazes", and also the proper spelling of yowzah, which is not in my big red dictionary.

    I knew blue blazes was a Grandma-speak euphemism for Hell, and didn't have much to do with gas flames or water heaters. I'd never considered the expression "blazing a trail", and had long since forgotten about a blaze on a horse's face. My horse-crazed little brother always wanted a horse with a star, not a blaze. And then there's the blast or blare of a trumpet to consider.

    I won't reprint the explanation of all this by the Word Detective. You can read it here should you happen to burn your fingers or lose the trail. But, wouldn't "you meaningless alliterative intensifier" be a good euphemistic insult? And, I hope your library hasn't withdrawn all the classic Billy and Blaze books by W. C. Anderson enjoyed by generations of horse-crazed young readers.

    © 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


    The scratch that itches

    Is it okay to scratch where it itches?  Is it okay to scratch your head continuously while spending your day at a public library?  Why are you scratching?  Do you have head lice?  Are you off your anxiety medication?

    What is the evolutionary function of itching?  How does scratching relieve an itch?  Why does watching someone else scratch make us feel itchy?  How does scratching send a signal to other people? Do we want to sit where a scratchy person has been sitting....?

    I have two jobs.  Monday through Friday I work with preschoolers. Most Saturdays I work at a public library in an affluent neighborhood.  Still, we have regular library users who may not have a permanent home address, timely hygiene opportunities, or who may not be taking medications regularly. They may offend  sensibilities of the local residents. While these users may be eccentric and entertaining characters, the library staff worries and prays for their health and safety when they leave the stacks. In most public libraries users only need to be residents of the area to obtain a library card for borrowing privileges.  Libraries offer many services for non-borrowing visitors. And those visitors using internet computers and restrooms, reading newspapers, drinking coffee with sugar, and staying in air-conditioning on 100+ degree days are part of the marvelous, civilized, public-supported concept of libraries. Sometimes those visitors itch and scratch. Other times the privileged local kiddies have head lice. Itching crosses economic borders.

    Back in the Monday-Friday classroom we attempt to teach children that nose-picking, hair-sucking, underwear-exploring and other scratching habits are socially unacceptable. We watch for the telltale scratching that signals a case of head lice. If a case is suspected or reported, the lead teacher straps on her spelunking head lamp and begins searching every student's head for nits. While she does this, I try to maintain normal class routine. Usually I begin to wonder if I might actually have head lice. Sometimes I want to scratch all my hair right off my head!

    If you read these words, can your refrain from scratching?

    • mosquito 
    • eczema
    • chicken pox
    • stress 
    • anxiety
    • fleas
    • lice
    • crabs
    • hives
    • jellyfish
    • chiggers
    • poison ivy
    • poison oak
    • diaper rash
    • Oklahoma*

    NORRIS: Is there such a thing as sympathetic itch, just by talking about it, you can actually trigger that sensation?
    Dr. YOSIPOVITCH: Oh, that's an excellent point that has been shown in study where people, healthy people, sitting in a auditorium seeing a patient scratching and itching, about 60 percent of the people in the audience started scratching themselves. And it was documented
    *The months between Thanksgiving 1987 and Thanksgiving 1988 are my Year of Itching Dangerously in Edmond, Oklahoma.  My three sons had chicken pox in succession, inside their noses, ears, and every other orifice. Our rental house was infested with fleas and then mice. I was pretty sure I was stressed to the max and  lousing my mind....  No, I meant losing my mind! Typo alert. Take Benadryl. 
     © 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


    My watermelon tastes like chlorine...

    Individual watermelons make me mildly cheerful, so I brought one home from Market Street on Sunday afternoon.  It's been a hectic few days, but last evening I halved the melon and made melon balls with my trusty Tupperware utensil. That's as sharp as an object as I should hold during the GOP convention broadcasts.

    Usually I give a third of a watermelon to my elderly snaggle-toothed neighbor. Put a good portion into a covered container for Wild Bill, and lunchbox servings in small Rubbermaid lunch containers.

    At lunch I very slowly noticed that I wasn't enjoying the watermelon. I tried to ID the problem, and finally figured out there was a chlorine taste to the fruit. If the outside of a melon is washed with chlorinated water, can the taste permeate the inside?

    True, I listened to a Diane Rehms show about food safety regulations recently. It focused on listeria in cantaloupes. I looked up the transcript:


    Well, you know, it is like almost every other outbreak that I deal with. There are mistakes that are made in production. In this instance, there was not chlorinization (sic) of the water, which is -- you know, frankly, I think under anybody sets of rules, under anybody sets of regulations, those would've been, you know, put out by the FDA. And, in fact, you know, the regulations or the voluntary regulations the FDA has has those in them, and they just chose not to do it.

    So now I've got a lot of melon balls that I'm not all that anxious to eat. I won't be giving them to my neighbor. Perhaps their best use is as photographer's models.

    A happier discovery was the 100 Gallons project at UNC-Chapel Hill's Powering A Nation. I found the project through Kelly Izlar's blog post "Smelling the Rain", a delightful, evocative, and informative piece.

    One hundred gallons is the average amount of water used by each person everyday in the U.S.  Check out the wonderful interactive film, and sample some of the journalistic storytelling and intriguing videos. Eventually I'll sample some of the more scientific sections at the site.
    © 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


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