It's really going to happen! I am going to meet my parents in Santa Fe in August. We have talked about this for a long time, and we are really going to do it. They will drive there in a leisurely fashion, and I will fly there with the wonderful free ticket I received for my birthday.

Once we meet up, we will take it slow. That's the Santa Fe way, right? We will go to the O'Keeffe Museum, the International Folk Art Museum, maybe Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and Taos. My dad wants to see some of the acequias. The engineer is still curious at eighty-one. I am hoping to go to the Santa Fe Opera, perhaps for a performance of Don Giovanni. I have been curious about the opera in Santa Fe ever since my aesthetics professor, Nelson Potter, first talked about it in 1975.

We have the whole summer to fine tune the plan. For now I need to figure out the plane ticket. What a delightful gift for all of us!

Timing belts?

I have wasted about three hours fooling around adding something called Technorati to my blogs. It is free, at least. I'm still confused about the manual pings. Sounds like something my car would have that would be really expensive for Darryl and his other brother Darryl to repair.


Clean-up detail

Brrakkk! I know there are misspellings and choppy sentences lurking in the muddy, fetid waters of my blog. I am horrified and mortified and alligatorized.

Apparently some Vulcan on the Blogger Stardeck has decided there will be no editing today. I can post, but not edit.

Don't expect me to sleep well tonight. Whenever I manage to drift off, I'll be visited by the nagging, nipping reptiles of revision.

Did I ever mention my 7th-8th grade honors English teacher, Miss Madsen? She's the one who used to throw collegiate dictionaries at us. Her mustache would twitch and her eyebrows would do the Groucho Marx thing. She would stomp her old lady shoe heels, and glare the Samuel Jackson glare. Heaven help you if you dropped a pencil on the floor in her class.

I'm sorry, but IT'S NOT MY FAULT. Please give me a pass to the nurse. I feel a nosebleed coming on.

Old fat guys in Speedos shouldn't throw stones

Every Sunday I swim laps with my exercise partner. We get to the aquatic center ten minutes before it opens so we can grab a lane.

Two Sundays in a row we have been joined in our lap by a young Asian mommy who swims without wetting her hair, doing a really wimpy breaststroke. Last week we accomodated her, trying to "swim circles" with her, or at least X's around her.

Today it seemed dang pushy for her to disrupt our routine again. After all, we get there early, swim our half hour, and leave. Can she not wait the ten minutes until we are finished? We would do the same for her. Why our lane? Could she butt in on somebody else this time?

Enter stage right the old fat guy in the Speedo and the blue swim cap, looking straight out of "Sherman's Lagoon". He is in the next lane over, and he feels morally righteous in pulling us aside to explain that we need to "swim circles" so nobody gets hurt. Right. The woman swims at a different speed. She always picks the All Girl lane to butt in. I tell the old fat guy in the Speedo that he is welcome to invite her over to his lane to "swim circles", but otherwise it's not his deal. He swims off. He is a guy. Guys don't swim circles with wimpy breaststroke mommies. Eat my dust, he seems to flutter kick.

His lane partner finishes. The wimpy mommy could have waited for this spot, of course. But, no. I duck under the lane divider to share the lane with the old fat guy in the Speedo while my buddy shares with the wimpy mommy (1) and an additional wimpy mommy (2). I swim the hardest and fastest I've done in at least ten years, leaving the old fat guy choking on my wake. I'm not sorry when I accidentally kick him during a frogkick lap.

Old fat guys in Speedos should not mess with menopausal women. I'm thinking Ursula the Sea Witch could be my next role model.

Please review the instructions for Walrus Anger Management!

Gershwin, Ira

Summer time, and the living room's crowded
Fish bowl's algae-y, but the clutter's not mine.

Yes, I do need to clean the aquarium again, but I want it made perfectly clear:

The rest of the mess is not mine!

My living room is about 15x15'. Besides the sofa, two rocking chairs, one armchair, a bookshelf, two large house plants, and three matching tables, it currently contains:

Jeff's computer
Mike's laptop
Steven's current automotive redecorating project
Six clay projects
Three boxes of Steven's not-so-great AP sculpture projects
Two other nice large-scale student sculptures
Mike's face moisturizer
Two flashlights
Two screwdrivers
Two Quentin Tarrantino DVDs
One box of stuff to take to Goodwill
Two mobiles
Three bank statements
Mike's comforter and pillow from the dorm
Three remote controls
One cordless phone
One cell phone set on vibrate
Two pairs of shoes, size 11 1/2
Two papier mache lizards on a bus stop bench (O.K., those are mine)
Last December's Christmas cards, letters, and photos (mine, too)
One bowl of York Peppermint Patties, a low-fat food

It is a good thing I go off to work, hi-ho, hi-ho.

A day with in-laws

There are circles of kindness in the world where you can never pay back the person who helped you. You have to help someone else, and they help someone else, and so it goes. This seems to me a mostly female concept. Women know to wave at the kind person who let them merge into the heavy traffic on the expressway. They hope to receive a wave when they let someone else in ahead of them next time. Men, and Lexus drivers, rarely wave. They don’t have to. It is their road.

I have had good friends in different cities who would pop in for an hour during my parents' visits to my home. They would sit down and listen to my parents’ Pie Report of every place they stopped on their drive. Carole, Kate, Cheryl, or Sue; they all knew I needed that hour without my mom at my elbow, watching me load the dishwasher, and saying, “Oh, I never knew you could load front to back.” I love my mom dearly, but I reach a screaming point when she asks if she should cut the sausage 1/4" or 3/8" thick. I’ve been able to play the role of designated distracter for some of these friends in return, but some no longer have living mothers or mothers-in-law. I must return the favor by distracting another woman's visiting mother-in-law.

I was married for nearly nineteen years, which is very similar to being taken aboard the aliens' spaceship. My mother-in-law bought collectible plates of Young Elvis and Old Elvis as retirement investments, and wanted a doorbell that played "Bridge Over the River Kwai". She also wanted to move into a trailer in her own backyard*. She was pretty much crazy as a loon. Holiday family gatherings in her home were bizarre events. Her only real talent was figuring odds to bet the horses at the Ak-Sar-Ben** racetrack. In the kitchen she could create havoc, but not actually put a meal together. One of her four daughters or I would have to go off and sit with her while she chain-smoked to keep her out of the way (and to make sure she didn’t set a fire in a wastebasket). Eventually she would escape, and go off to rearrange the arms of sleeping babies because they "didn’t look comfortable", get them all awake and crying, then go back to impede food preparation.

While she was out of the kitchen, my father-in-law would microwave the meat into a uniform flavorless gray substance, and then make creamed turnips.

Dating Hint: If you ever go to meet your boyfriend's family for the first time, and they serve creamed turnips, run, run like the wind!

One of my sisters-in-law would have brought edible food over from her house; another would maybe get it together to set the table; the twins would stand around in doorways doing those preteen cheerleader arm motions--OUT, CROSS, DOWN, SLAP! I would be carrying stuff from the kitchen to the table around the cheering, or else be changing diapers and trying to decide if that rash just might be chicken pox. Occasionally my spouse would be willing to watch the kids. Then I would sneak downstairs to the beer fridge with the other "out-laws" to step away from the weirdness and exchange war stories. We shared the bond of survivors.

Finally, the family would sit down to dinner. My mother-in-law would announce that I had something special to tell everyone. I would say, "Huh?" She would then announce that I was expecting. This would be somewhat dumb-founding, since I never happened to be at the time. The family would then engage in arguing about everything under the sun, especially politics. Finally when everyone had eaten all they could stand, the true plotting would begin. What was the best way to storm the mall when doors opened on Dec. 26th in order to corner all the half-price giftwrap? How early would we need to arrive? Who would carry all the boxes of sweaters that needed to be exchanged? Who would run to customer service to be first in the exchange line?

I can't tell you more specifics because then I would never be returned to my home planet. I can tell you to please let that lady on the entrance ramp in ahead of you. She may have spent the day with her in-laws. Let the circle of kindness continue.

*This has seemed less crazy since my kids became teenagers.
**Nebraska spelled backwards.


Homesick for Omaha, of all places

Perhaps this is a day for me to reclaim parts of my personal history. Currents of memory and energy are flowing through me, or maybe it's the Corona with lime and an afternoon on a warm, but shady porch. I enjoyed every moment of a graduation open house in the Kessler Park neighborhood of Oak Cliff. I loved seeing one of my spare sons savoring the moment between major phases of his life.

Imagine if you swam out to the island in the middle of a big lake and paused to sit in the warm shallow water at the shore, soaking up the sunshine, wiggling your toes in the mud, and joking with your fellow swimmers. You know you will be swimming on toward the other side of the lake through water more chilly and choppy, but for the moment you are just happy to be alive and where you are. Sun and joke.

Kessler Park reminds me of Omaha. I lived in north Omaha for six years, and western suburban Omaha for two. My three kids were born in Omaha. I spent precious hours at the fantastic Henry Doorly Zoo, hiking in Fontenelle Forest, using the good public libraries, eating lots of corn-fed beef in wonderful, local family-owned restaurants, sipping afternoon wine in the Old Market, eating catfish at the Surfside Club, and walking in historic neighborhoods. Have stroller, will travel.

When Cliff got a job doing bankruptcy work for a law firm in Omaha, we bought our "starter house" for about $31K. It was a 1950's tract house just north of the delightful neighborhoods of Benson, Country Club, and Dundee. Our house was a one-story three-bedroom with a full basement. Deck on the back, but no garage. Moisture problem in the basement. Snakes. Lots of policemen and state patrol guys lived in the neighborhood. Also people with cars held together with duct tape and ropes. Cottonwood trees, and red lava rock "mulch" straight out of a 3-D sci-fi movie. The house was painted in stripes of three shades of green--lime, avocado, and pistachio. The living room was a pale blue, and the J.C. Penney brocade drapes went oh-so-well with the dead cowhide multi-brown carpet. The kitchen featured a pink sink, pink built-in oven, pink range, and BIG PINK refrigerator with the freezer at the bottom. The kitchen walls were Pepto Bismal pink, I kid you not. Down the stairs to the moldy basement, and you would find an old washing machine, a clothesline, a punching bag, a dangerous furnace, and walls painted in vertical stripes of lime and blue semi-gloss. Not a Martha Stewart look, but a safe spot during a tornado warning.

The bathroom was a classic. The fixtures were yellow, and the wall tiles were brown. One wall had those frightening peel&stick "crinkle" mirror tiles. On down the hall, past the wall safe, were the bedrooms: mint green, orange, and blue.

If you went into the other houses on the block you would find turquoise kitchens and pink bathrooms, or yellow kitchens and turquoise bathrooms. Most houses had a home-improvement sliding glass door from the dining area to the deck addition. We put a giant wading pool on the deck, and spent many afternoons splashing with neighbors. I hate to admit it, but we had macrame plant holders.

While we lived there, the major problem was pesky Jehovah's Witnesses. Later on, our friends had to teach their kids to hit the floor when they heard gunshots.

A mile away, as the stroller flies, were more historic neighborhoods. Benson first, then Country Club, Dundee, and even Happy Hollow. Beyond that, if I was too impatient to wait for a bus, I could walk down Saddle Creek, past the Target, to my volunteer job at Planned Parenthood of Omaha/Council Bluffs.

On the rare days that I had a car, I might take little Jeff and Mike to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum downtown. On those days I would chant to myself the litany of street names: Dodge, Douglas, Farnum, Harney, Howard.


Silver Threads and Golden Needles

Oh so many years ago, I went to a tavern for the very first time. The slightly older guy, a perpetual student, put money in the juke box, then let me pick the songs. I perceived this as some test of coolness, but I didn't recognize 98.5% of the titles. After what seemed to me an extended period of agony, I punched in "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" by Linda Ronstadt, and "La Grange" by ZZTop.

I know I picked "Silver Threads" because I was pretty good at embroidery, and I was praying this was some sort of omen. I don't have a clue why I picked "La Grange". Probably sheer social panic. Many, many chili dogs with cheese, and pitchers of beer later, I still like these songs. "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" seems like a defiant refusal to be victimized in spite of a raw emotional wound. After an inconclusive Dogpile search for lyrics, I wonder if I made up my own words, since none of the versions seem right. I have always loved the expression, "beneath the haloed moon". Now that I have my new cd player in the Buick, I can't play my old cassette. It may be time for a new cd.

When my friend Janie asked me to make some headscarves for her to wear during chemotherapy, I went off on a dye and discharge binge. I wanted that creative flow of energy to channel through her knocking out all the cancer cells. Buying dye at the craft store I was propelled into the thread aisle, and captivated by the silver thread. It was a bit of bibbity-bobbity-boo, and I knew I had to stitch that fight-back attitude into the scarves. My sewing machine doesn't have golden needles, but I hope Janie can connect to the fighting spirit of the silver thread. I hope she will know that every stitch is a prayer.

Not my thighs

Just received my new swimsuit in the mail. This is the second one I've purchased from swimoutlet.com. It's got the x-back I like for lap-swimming, and the lined front that enhances my delusion of holding my stomach in. Happily, it is also two sizes smaller than the suit I wore when we started swimming at Christmas. The colors are so bright, I'm not sure I want to wear it in the heavy chemicals of the public pool just yet. It will be waiting when my other suit disintegrates.

I didn't get my day going early enough to walk "briskly" in the Dallas morning, and I was feeling like a slug by lunch. Now, after swimming, I feel calm, focused, and more ambitious. Even though I'm not losing weight, I am losing inches, and I feel stronger. It is fun to put slacks away in the deep, dark recesses of the Too Big closet.

The photo is from the online catalog, so it's not my thighs. Swimoutlet.com ships quickly. The suits I've gotten have cost between thirty and forty dollars. That may sound like a lot, but I don't have time invested in running around to different stores looking for an elusive fitness suit in a flock of tankinis or scary old lady one-pieces. I don't have to look in the three-way mirrors, either.



Be sure to check out the new graphics on Worker Bee and Screaming Thighs...My frogs are jealous. They want unicycles right now!

Job description

What do I do besides teach? Ah, that is a strange cart of groceries! I am on hiatus from teaching this week, but many of my duties continue. For example:

1. Get the school's email.

2. Buy more plush elephant hobby horses and an "Aladdin" video. I have cornered the market on $3 clearance pachyderms.

3. Visit a factory to pick up recyclables to use in art projects. Try to get the manager connected with other companies involved in providing recycled items to artists and educators.

4. Go to Sam's to buy a picnic table, bottled water, prunes, dried apricots, and beef jerky for the Castle Fair.

5. Assemble the picnic table. Follow directions. This is one of my useful skills on a staff of artists and actors.

6. Arrange a stage set for introducing the theme of the camp. It is more a visual aid for teaching than a play set. It has a thatched jungle hut, and a table where an elephant, a giraffe, a flamingo, and a zebra are set to hack open coconuts with a machete, Hunter S. Thompson-style.

7. Make giant papier mache frogs look perfectly natural in the lobby of a financial services office.

8. Bid on a video of the "7th Voyage of Sinbad" on eBay. (1958
Sinbad battles Cyclop, skeletons and dragons in his quest to free a princess from an evil magician's spell. To create Sinbad's swordfight with a living skeleton, Harryhausen filmed Olympic fencing master Enxo Musmeci-Greco and animated the stop-motion model to his movements. He then matted the finished footage to Kerwin Mathews' live-action performance...)

9. Have the fun of cuing that video and others for summer camps.

10. Sewing together the thirty-two giant orange felt carrots.


Girl Friends

In a strange new development, Mike and I have been considering Steven's girlfriend and his posse of friend-girls. This is kind of weird/inevitable in that I am acknowledging my sons as sexual beings (and trying to recall being one!). I am all in favor of the current girlfriend, and yet terrified at the possibilities of a prolonged teen relationship. Mike is in favor of Steven dumping the girlfriend for any of the friend-girls that are skinnier and "hotter". All these girls have been hanging out in the big herd social life for three or four years now, and have done many class projects together in my tiny living room. I like the ones who will talk to me adult to adult, and to Steven as an equal. I prefer the ones who are up on current events, and who aren't drama queens whining about guys. I like it when girls seem comfortable in their own skin, and with their own wonderful brains. I'm not totally opposed to the risk-takers. I like the girls with sparks in their eyes.

My generation worked for equal rights, but got bogged down in marriages that were still confining. I don't want that for my sons and their wives. I do want them to believe raising their children is the most important task they will ever face.

Surely you vest

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and squirrels! Please give a big round of applause to that most versatile costume piece of all, the vest. Yes, there’s a thespian near you that would love to have your vest.

Remember how cute your son looked in that little three-piece Godfather suit when he played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the piano recital? Did he ever wear that suit again? Feel better about the great condition it is still in, and let some little kids wear it to be pirates, presidents, and father-knows-bests.

Ya know the brown vest Leroy wore to Alvira’s third wedding over at the VFW? It could be an explorer’s vest, or a pioneer's. The cute plaid flannel one that went with the denim broomstick skirt? I know you loved those apple buttons, but it is soooo last millennium. The seven dwarfs could wear it to when off to work they go. The silk one with the embroidered mirrors from your “ethnic” phase would look great on either Aladdin or a genie. Is it size 4T to forty? There’s a theater that can use it. And furry? Oh, my gosh, the Neanderthals will go bonkers.

Now lets talk about weddings. We know you never wear the bridesmaid dress again. What your local children’s theater really needs is the flower girl and junior bridesmaid dresses. They’ve got to costume twelve dancing princesses who all want to look royal and twirly! And the teen troupe needs to costume everyone for the Ascot opening day in "My Fair Lady".

Witches pose special costume problems. Being the witch is very fun, but not as glamorous as the dancing princesses. Coaxing is often needed. Young witches love to wear the sequin chiffon floating things that go over your little black cocktail dress, or maybe figure skating outfits. What about the peignoir or Chinese robe your Aunt Millie never got up the nerve to wear?

Dr. Frankenstein, can you hear me? After that last little explosion you gave up your work in the laboratory, right? A children’s theater won’t mind if your lab coats have those little burn holes. They like your scrubs, too, and they will perform a special version of “Putting on the Ritz” for you and your neck bolt friends.

And dear President Bush--I heard Karl won’t let you wear the flight suit anymore. Please donate it to a theater group inside the Beltway. They would love to have your dad’s parachute suits, too. You could maybe get a tax deduction.

If you have too many green jackets from Augusta, I know some dragons that would like to breathe fire on you....


Ring around the rosy

Having lots of fun watching the rosy house finches that come to my thistle seed-filled feeder on the patio. I enjoy their songs and their occasional shows of macho one-up-birdship. Today they have found a garden saucer full of water from the sprinkler that is sitting on my little patio table under the umbrella. They have also found perches on the spokes of the umbrella. Try to imagine a bird carousel! I think the calliope would be playing, "He soars through the air with the greatest of ease..."

------Okay. My little feathered friends are house finches in the red finch family. Don't confuse them with rosy finches.

Are you ready to bungle?

In the jungle??? Our first summer camp starts next week with a jungle theme.

I've been asked to display some student art in a financial services office. I spent part of the afternoon doing name labels for the giant papier mache frogs and butterflies for the exhibit. Loaded everything in my car since I'm setting up the display early tomorrow morning. When I went into Mardel's Christian Bookstore to laminate some information about the frogs for the show, I was magnetically drawn to a display of Vacation Bible School supplies. There were stacks of what appeared to be do-it-yourself coconut bra halves!

There's is nothing like a dame, nothing in the world. There is nothing you can name that is anything like a dame!

Anyway, the coconuts turned out to be halves that fit together like a plastic Easter egg, only much bigger. Can't you see it? The monkeys steal the explorers' map, and hide it in the secret coconut?? So I got two coconuts at $1.49 each. We can always make them into bras after camp ends.

Then, because I was really dreading going to the grocery store AGAIN, I turned into Half-Price Books. There were these fabulous plush elephant hobby-horses on clearance for $3 each. True, they used to sing with lip sync motion when you squeezed the ear, but that was easily surgically altered. I only got two, but I could go back. The store had 3-4 more. Imagine the drama possibilities for the jungle and Magic Carpet camps. Think of the fabulous entrance to the palace that Aladdin could make riding on an elephant. I can almost hear Robin Williams singing! No wait, I can hear Robin Williams singing because I am cuing the video to show the kids at the second camp.

So, here is the visual: I am driving around Plano, Texas, with "Carmen" blaring on my new cd player (that Mike installed. He's a good boy.). The Buick's backseat is packed with seven giant frogs on their lily pads, the big stepladder, and two singing elephants. In the front I've got two giant butterflies with two and a half foot wingspans. In the trunk I've got the wheely cart and six bags of groceries. I do wish I had been wearing face paint and bug antennas.

I bought Jeff a Longhorn burnt-orange baseball cap embroidered, "Keep Austin Weird". I do my best to make Plano weirder, too. My kids often depart with the phrase, "Keep it real, Mom." But why????


Fretting and stewing

Talked to my parents in Nebraska this morning. It is tornado season there, and they are having wild thunderstorms and heavy rain. Lincoln's geography usually protects it from tornadoes, while small towns nearby are completely devastated. Lincolnites take those yellow-green storm skies as seriously as they take their corn-fed beef, and spend quality tornado-warning time in their basements every year. Apparently, last night was a wild one, with a very quick inch and a half of rain.

Spring storm season coincides with maple tree helicopter season. The backyard maple puts out Hefty bags full of seeds, many of which end up in the roof gutter. The frontyard maple seeds cover the driveway. My folks reported that their plan for the day was to clean the maple twirlies out of the gutters. Eighty-one year-old Howie would go up the ladder, and seventy-five year-old Fritz would stand at the bottom to catch him, I guess. This was not a reassuring image.

Mothering teen boys has given me some practice with going about my day and letting worries stew in a little mental crockpot all their own. I don't have to watch the pot or stir it, and the worries usually turn out okay. This crockpot approach let me go on about my errands and swimming, even though I knew Howie was up on the ladder. Like a teen boy, he's going to do what he wants to do.

My mom must know about slow-cooking. She left me a phone message that they had completed the gutter endeavor without incident. They have a bumper crop of soggy twirlies that will have to dry before they can be bagged for the trash. Soggy twirlies I refuse to stew. Does remind me of a lima bean casserole I had to make once for a Spanish class "fiesta". That was a real mess when the crockpot spilled in the car!

Tornado season causes me to have two odd food cravings.
I think it's the barometric pressure changes!

Howie's Stormy Ice Cream Sundaes:
1. In a tall drinking glass (absolutely not plastic) put as many scoops of vanilla ice cream as will fit.
2. Add a bunch of salted peanuts.
3. Pour on the Hershey's chocolate syrup.
4. Take it out to the porch with an ice tea spoon.
5. Eat while counting "one milk bottle, two milk bottles..." to figure out how far away the lightning is striking.

Instant Basement Tornado Party:
1. When the sirens sound, grab your little kids and head for the basement.
2. On the way through the kitchen to the stairs grab the 2-litre bottle of root beer and a bag of pretzels.
3. To keep the kids from panicking, tell them "it's PARTY TIME!"
4. Sit everybody on the old double bed in the basement and giggle a lot.
5. Open the pretzels and pig out.
6. After the kids stop bouncing on the bed, pour the root beer and toast to the occasion.
7. After each boom of thunder, get the kids to yell, "That was a good one!", or "Wimpy-wimpy, you can do better!"
8. Keep up the giggling and laughing until the kids start falling asleep on the old bed, or the storm ends.

The first tornado party menu was just what happened to be in the kitchen. After that, I learned to stock up for the season, and kept the pretzels, paper cups, flashlight, and transistor radio ready in the basement. The kids did not appreciate change or innovation in the tornado party menu. Root beer and pretzels were a security blanket. At one point we even had a little dorm-style refrigerator in the basement loaded with root beer.

Aggressively tacky

Steven is recovering the interior walls of the 300ZX with new vinyl. He is doing it one section at a time, of course, and is still on section numero uno. The interior will be white instead of maroon. Right now he is translating the directions on the can of spray adhesive from instructionese to real English. We are debating the meaning of "agressively tacky", as in "the product is agressively tacky for 10 sec.-15 min." I've known dinette sets that were aggressively tacky for fifteen years...

After all the driving last week, and sewing the thirty-two giant carrots together, my essential tremor has kicked in. Any time I use my right arm to the point of fatigue, my arm shakes enough to hurt. Using a weed-whacker, handheld mixer, or the sprayer at the coin-op carwash escalates the tremor from amusing nuisance to real annoyance. My handwriting will be pretty illegible for a couple days.

Living in a condo has some downsides. Sometimes I really miss having a yard. Today I am remembering how sore my arm would be after mowing, and feel grateful not to do yard work anymore.


Egg Head and the Green Stripe

One hundred years ago Henri Matisse painted a portrait of his wife with a green stripe down middle of her nose. In the last month I've been chatting with students age 3-11 about this portrait. I used the portrait as a starting point for drawing heads, and as an asymmetrical conclusion after our symmetrical butterfly projects. Since the students are also in drama class and use face paints, they assume Madame Matisse is wearing face paint to act out a story. They think she is wearing a strange blue hat, or at least a wig, and also that she is probably a boy. We visit a little about Fauvism. Matisse was one of the artists dubbed a fauve, or wild animal, because he used wild colors. Madame Matisse's face is a different color on the left side than the right, and so is the wall behind her.I let a plastic Easter egg teach the rest of the lesson. "Egg Head" tells the kids that heads are ovals, not circles, and the heads are taller than they are wide. Egg Head can demonstrate this easily, and the kids also see the top is rounded, but the chinny-chin-chin is a little pointed. Even though he is brainless, Egg Head can pop his top to remind kids that our skulls are structured to protect our brains. That is a good thing for all of us to remember!Egg Head can also show students that when he pops his top, his facial features all appear on the bottom part of the egg. In fact, where the plastic egg separates is where the top of your ears and your eyebrows should be to make a face look right. We practice drawing some egg heads of our own, putting in the line where the egg opens, then we are ready to paint.I have lots of 18x24" paper left at the end of this year, so we are going to paint Giant Egg Heads With Green Stripes!

The kids all want to play Pass the Paint* one last time, so I fix up 14 cups of "wild animal" Fauve temperas. We review the "rules" to Pass the Paint, and emphasize that when we get the green paint we will paint the green stripe down the nose of our Giant Egg Head. We are all ready to create some of the most exciting paintings of the whole year!Displaying these portraits has been great fun. They are not copies of Matisse's portrait, but it's easy to see how the kids applied the lesson to their own creations. I just returned from a trip to the McNay Museum in San Antonio where I saw two portraits by the Russian artist von Jawlensky. They looked so much like the students' Giant Egg Heads with Green Stripes that I had to smile. Two places to find the Portrait of Mde. Matisse are over there in the links.


Terror of the Japanese Koi, rated PG-13

This morning I drove from Austin on down to the Marilyn Koogler McNay art museum in San Antonio. It is one of my favorite museums. Got there early enough to spend an hour walking around the estate grounds taking pictures, and watching brides have photos taken. One bride weighed at least 400 lbs. At one point the photographer had her walk on this 10" wide stone bridge to the little "island" in the middle of the lily pond. You can imagine the terror of the Japanese koi! Plus, the assistant carrying the hem of the dress had to somehow leap around the bride on the bridge to arrange the dress.

Really related to the special Richard Stankiewicz exhibit. Many of the found object assemblages were very witty. It's frustrating to me as an artist, a teacher, and a tourist when museum shops don't have postcards, posters, or pamphlets of items on exhibit. I had many ideas for sharing these works with my students, but the only book available cost $40 and had black and white images.

Drove home through the Hill Country to counteract driving down on I35. Highway 281 seems to refill my creative tank. At one point the driver of a Bronco behind me got his undies in a bunch, even though I was making VERY GOOD TIME. He sped around me, and had just pulled back into the lane when a turkey vulture soared down from heaven and collided with the Bronco. The big bird flipped and twirled back toward my car. I was able to weave over onto the shoulder, but it was a strange and elaborate visual experience with the black feathers all fanned out like a ceremonial headdress. Having just watched "Kill Bill" with Mike, there were certain cinematic parallels


Covert Carrots

Your current security level does not give you access to the plans for thirty-two giant carrots. You will just have to wait.

Pass the Paint

Pass the Paint is a variation on Musical Chairs that allows all the kids in the class to paint with every color, practice their passing and listening skills, and cuts down on the number of paint containers required. It gives the art teacher some control over the outcome without seeming controlling.

To play Pass the Paint, you need as many colors of paint in margarine tubs as there are students plus two. Each tub has one brush. If you want kids to cover large areas with a color, put in a big brush. To limit coverage, put in a fine brush. Arrange all tables in a continuous line, and place chairs only on one side of the line.

Have the kids help you review the "rules" for the game. Four-five year-olds LOVE rules:

1. You only paint when you hear the music.
2. The music doesn't begin until every student has some paint.
3. Everyone gets to use every color.
4. When the music stops, you put your brush back in the tub, and pass the tub to the next student in the agreed-upon direction.
5. Try very hard to pass without spilling.
6. The caboose student hands the tub of paint to the teacher, and the teacher jogs with that tub over to the first student in the engine. This is known as "The Art Teacher Exercise Program".


1. If there is an empty chair, skootch the kids so the empty place is on the end. Designate this the chair of "The Invisible Ghost", or "The Invisible Dinosaur". When students ask what the ghost is doing, say, "drinking the paint like a milkshake", or "cutting his toenails", or "taking a nap".
2. I like to use cassette tapes like Putamayo World Music, opera overtures, or carousel calliopes. Classical music selections are fun because you can tell the kids that Holst's "Planets" represent different kinds of dinosaurs, or pretend to dance around like a flamingo ballerina.
3. As a tub of paint runs out, I add a primary color or white to have a new color to put back in the rotation.
4. When kids reach overload or paint holes through the paper, I let them go wash up. Other kids will keep going for a long time. This staggers the congestion at the sink.
5. If a student refuses to paint with pink, for example, he can just jolly well wait until the paints are passed again. Most kids would rather paint than wait for a color that isn't sissy, or whatever. 6. Please let me know what innovations you add!

Easy installation

Mike is installing the cd player in my car. So far it has taken five trips to stores because we have been sold the wrong parts three times (at two different stores). Now Circuit City doesn't have the right panel kit to fit around the cd player, so Mike is modifying the wrong one with power tools. It is too scary to watch.

Since I have some short jaunts planned on Texas highways and byways, I dreaded having only the radio. I used to plug a little cd player into my car with a cassette adaptor. A couple weeks ago the cassette player went berserko and noisily ground up the adaptor and threw a rod so no cassettes can be played.

I am supposed to go to Terrell to see my friend who's having chemo, but I can't go until the dash panel is back into position in the car. In the meantime, I've plowed down through the stacks of stuff on two desks, and started filing my art images and plans. I really need another two drawers of file cabinets, since my current six are packed like sardines. Filing has become an upper-body workout, which is part of the reason I have procrastinated on this task.

Trying to make room to set up my sewing machine so I can sew up thirty-two giant orange felt carrots. What I did on my summer vacation....



Last year I had the delight of teaching a little guy named David who couldn't pronounce the V sound. Dabid lobed watching DBDs. I am so old that boy's underpants were called BVDs when I was a kid, so I had trouble squelching the giggles wheneber Dabid talked about his favorite DBDs. I also had trouble pronouncing the V sound by the end of each Wednesday class with Dabid. It was absolutely contagious. My team teacher and I, then the director and other staff, then the other kids and their parents...all of us falling bictim to this birus of pronunciation.

The only other experience that comes close is the little girl who couldn't pronounce the R sound. So instead of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, she sang loudly of Dudolph the dead-nosed deindeeh. The memory of Dachel singing about Dudolph haunts my holidays like Scrooge's ghosts.

Today I took a big technology leap and bought a DBD player. I want to be able to watch my new "Triplets of Belleville" dbd, and show it to Steben's bideo-making friends. I also want to cue up a funny spot in "The Gods Must Be Crazy" for our jungle camp, and I could only find that old mobie on DBD.

I will report as soon as I regain control of my consonants on my adbenture with Mike to get a cd player for my Buick. Our shopping trip was a comedy of errors, but we were busy discussing how to grill chicken, and the recent history of health insurance in the U.S.

Must sign off. Hab an emergency appointment with Professor 'iggins.


Travel guides

I'm not really a blue-haired old lady yet, but I do enjoy taking the guided tour. Life needs more Grey Line Tours in my opinion. I can handle the tour narrations over the PA, but not those exhibit tapes requiring headsets.

My personal railroad has acquired an outstanding crew of engineers and conductors. I'm so grateful for these mentors who push me out of my comfortable suburban cocoon.


Chilling out

Beginning a splendid and much-needed two weeks away from teaching before blasting into our intense summer program. It is time for nurturing my inner artist, washing my outer automobile, filing my expanding papers, dealing with my imploding finances, making fire ant sculptures, while making the real McCoy feel unwelcome.

My budget and parenting responsibilities keep me physically close to home. My brain keeps me traveling, and I ought to be accumulating "miles". I've been so often to the great gray-green greasy Limpopo River of the Elephant Child due to my insatiable curiosity that the bicolored python rock snake and I are considering buying a Kipling timeshare.


Do you want me to be a bear with you?

All the preschool classes are doing creative drama performances this week. Our performances are wonderful, because they are so non-threatening. There's no pressure to memorize lines, because in preschool story drama, the teacher is on stage narrating the story. The kids can listen to the teacher, then say the line. If they are ready, they can listen to the teacher, but anticipate and say the line on their own. The kids are in groups, so they don't feel all alone. The cast might include two mice, three squirrels, four princesses, two detectives, and four rainbow goblins. The show is all about having fun.

Now any Goldilocks knows that you need three bears. In a darling story about a king who went into the woods and ate a big cheese sandwich, there were only two bears hibernating in their den. One of the bears got worried, and wanted his mommy. He went behind the den to sniffle. Then he went behind the curtain. Then my Spidey Sense alerted me that he was going down the dark,dark steps to the dark, dark Green Room (the dressing room for older students). I had to spring into action, and without a phone booth to change. If the bear fell down the dark, dark stairs it would be traumatizing. If the bear went down the steps safely, but freaked out in the dark, dark dressing room, it would be traumatizing. I snuck (sneaking while scuttling) over to the side of the stage to stay out of the video, then up some steps to arrive behind the curtain. I crawled over to the bear and rubbed his back a bit. Then I asked him if he wanted me to be a bear with him in the story. He said okay, and stopped crying. We scuttled back on stage and into the overturned box that was the bears' den. I tried to be as little as a three-year-old, but as safe as a mama. The little bear and I chatted reassuringly and quietly. When the story bears came out of the den to sniff for cheese sandwich crumbs, the two little bears went sniffing while the mama stayed in the den.

There I will be on the video. I hear the camera adds ten pounds. And I didn't even eat the crumbs.


Mother/Son Bonding

"OOH, SWEET!" My swim buddy's son has spotted another groovy car. Nearly 99% of cars on the road or in parking lots meet this qualification. I don't understand most of his comments about the cars, or why this fascination starts so young in males of the species. This fascination lasts forever, unlike the dinosaur, railroad, farm implement, and space exploration phases.

My youngest is seventeen now, and the world has gone very high tech. We are both vaguely curious about Billy Joel smashing his '67 Citroen. What is a '67 Citroen? It sounds like a cross between a sump pump, an aqua VW Karmaan Ghia, a roll-your-own ciggie, and a terrific investment. We have been on-line looking for photos.

I have been in the "OOH, SWEET!" phase for nearly twenty years. You talk about your longest running sitcoms! You consider the "Friends" final episode, and the one for "MASH". Remember the ninety-nine years you spent toilet-training your kids?

Force fields and black holes

In the art classroom we have a set of construction straws. The kids build with the straw pieces connected by plastic pieces that look like jacks. To the youngest students each straw is an object. For boys, the straw is a gun or sword. For girls, it is a flower stem. You may think that I am stereotyping and exaggerating, but I don't get involved in this "free building" activity very much. I just observe while I wipe tempera paint off small elbows. Girls bring a handful of straws to me to sniff. Boys sword-fight.

All the kids gradually learn to connect the straws to form crosses and the number four. Girls begin to act out wedding processions, and boys launch rockets. Occasionally a coed team tries to make "a very long snake" or "a road".

When they are ready to move into the third dimension, they do. I don't think this step can be rushed. For a long time they are happy making "stars" and "twirly things". I begin to ask, "Can you build something that stands up by itself?" I sit on the floor and connect the straws to form tripods, four-legged animals, and cubes. I don't push or preach. I just play. They soak it up. Suddenly, they get it! It spreads like pink eye. They can work together to make cubes and towers taller than they are. They can build Mars rovers and dinosaurs. Peer pressure kicks in to force the younger kids to catch up with the older one's skills, and to prevent overwhelming destructive impulses.

Divergent thinkers make my day. Kids who create arches and jungle gyms for flamingos are my inspirations. My all-time favorite was a boy who stuck straws into his sandals to make claws and wore a cube on his head (while shooting a laser gun, of course).

Having gotten a late start on a career and retirement savings, I have realistic plans. Between meals of generic tuna, I will be in my room building with Tinker Toys and Legos, thank you very much. I'm still surprised that my dad didn't build a geodesic dome in the backyard in his retirement.


Polly Want a Tic-Tac?

Each year we have a summer camp related to a pirate theme. I love to have the kids make shipwrecked pirates drifting on tongue-depressor rafts. This year it has been tougher than usual to locate cocktail swords for the teeny tiny clothespin pirates. I was doing a little victory dance in the check-out lane at Albertsons until the computer refused to recognize the UPC for the swords. Since the checker had no idea of the cost, and I had only a vague feeling of $4.99/40 swords, I told the young man about making teeny tiny pirates. He was quite impressed, and invoked the Law of the Sea. He scanned a pack of Tic-Tacs for sixty-nine cents for each pack of cocktail swords. I’m betting he goes home tonight and considers himself with an eye patch in the bathroom mirror.

Avast ye cowardly scum!


Is the spell broken?

In March my son was in an accident while driving his father's van. In April my son bought his precious Nissan 300ZX. In May my ex-husband's wife backed into my son's precious Nissan 300ZX.

When I call my Farmer's agent and tell them my name, I hear a click-click-click in the background. LeAnne has set the desk stress pendulum balls in motion.

I know a ridiculous amount about LeAnne. I know her work schedule and her days to attend classes. I know her dog, Cassius, and can enquire about his surgery. I know that the stitches didn't dissolve, but Cassius was very cooperative when LeAnne decided to remove the stitches herself. I congratulate LeAnne on getting her degree with honors this week after six years.

Things rarely go smoothly in my auto insurance experience, so I am glad to have the same cast of characters when I have a problem. They owe me, and I owe them.

When I divorced, I dealt with car insurance for the first time. In this sci-fi frontier I encountered Jerry. Jerry set up my policy on my Mazda MPV. This seemed to be pretty painless and straight-forward. Alas, Jerry had typed my name as "Uncwy" instead of Nancy. After a few months I received a double rejection notice. Uncwy was rejected because she didn't actually exist (a minor detail), and Nancy was rejected because she drove her car into a neighbor's swim pool. I was thrown into the insurance dungeon, chained to the wall, left alone with the rats and a crust of bread.

It took about six months to get Uncwy rehabilitated and renamed, and Jerry nearly got fired in the process. Then it took six more to convince the insurance gods that Nancy's ex was the one who let his car roll down the driveway, across the alley, and into the neighbor's pool. While this was just a normal day for him, Nancy actually had a spotless driving record, and should be reinstated.

About this time, my oldest son became a driver, and I was introduced to Male Driver Under Age 25 insurance reality. Within a month of obtaining his license, Son One drove the van into the support post of the carport. Having done the same thing at the same age, I sympathized. Alas, I also paid, and paid, and paid.

Everytime I add or subtract a Male Driver Under Age 25, or a male driver's vehicle from my policy I hear the click-click-click. Cassius has to wear the veterinary lampshade around his neck, and LeAnne has to set the pendulum balls in motion.

Rose-colored goggles

Most years I get my niece a swimming-related birthday gift. It is a big treat for me to look at girl swimsuits, beach towels, and funny hats. Today I found simply lovely Jr. Speedo goggles with coral straps and watermelon pink lenses. I wish they came in my size!

It is exciting to see the emergence of sports for girls over my lifetime. I hope all girls can grow up enjoying recreational sports, and have some experience of a team sport. I hope they all find a lifetime fitness activity that they love. I hope I will still enjoy a good swim at age eighty-one the way my dad enjoys his golf.


Feeling eight-legged

CollageMama is spinning a new web. A baby blog is being born at www.ittybittyart.blogspot.com. The new blog will focus on art projects for preschool and elementary students.

Eerie Beauty

Steven's team played a late game last night. In the open space beyond the soccer fields, and out of the direct light from the fields a girl was flying a kite. The kite appeared as a shape-shifting grayness against the black sky. The effect was equal parts bat, spirit, dancer, and void. We were captivated and mystified. The soccer mom next to me said, "If it starts talking, we're leaving!"

The girl finally reeled the kite down, and we could see it was a white plastic "delta wing". I've got to get one. It has never occurred to me to fly a kite at night, and I imagine it would connect the flyer to invisible elements in and even more profound way than day-time flying. Plus, sunscreen would not be required.

Steven and I used to fly kites at Dinosaur Valley State Park, sitting or standing in the river. The kites would catch the thermals and confuse the vultures soaring above the cliffs. We also like to fly kites on the beach at South Padre. The hazard is sunburning the underside of our chinny-chin-chins.

Maybe we could make a video of the night kite flight. It would be at least as beautiful and powerful as the sleeping David Beckham video at London's National Portrait Gallery.


Trophy Hunt

There will be a new C. J. Box mystery about game warden Joe Pickett in late June/early July, just when I need it the most. See the link.


Gauguin's Shadow, by Fred Curchack

Greatly enjoyed a play at the Undermain Theatre (www.undermain.com) last weekend. It was a one-man show about the painter Paul Gauguin, based on his letters and other writings. The performance was a collage of recordings of the letters and of music, slides of Gauguin's paintings and family photos projected onto a gauze screen and onto the actor and his puppets. As a collage artist I loved the layering of collected images and sounds.

I also loved the basement performance space with exposed structural supports, pipes, and wires. The effect made me wonder again about the cave paintings of Lascaux. I imagined shamans dancing in torchlight before the marvelous animal images.

What I got out of the play was a strong reminder that the aesthetic experience for each art viewer is as much a function of the accumulated experiences that viewer brings to the performance as it is a function of the experience of the performance itself.

This is important to me. As a teacher, I am always bringing different experiences and observations to an art example than my students. One of my main goals is challenging kids to increase their observation of the sensory world. If they have never paid any attention to a tangerine harvest moon in a Prussian blue sky, how will they marvel at the beauty of complementary color schemes? If they have never seen a time-lapse photograph of car lights in an intersection, how will their race car paintings be limited? If they have never looked out the window to see a rose sky reflected in a river, how will they ever get beyond drawing those damn smiling suns in the corners of their pictures?

One of our biggest challenges in teaching art and drama is working with kids who have not experienced books and stories, music and museums. They do not know story themes, sequencing, plot conflicts and resolutions, life in other cultures, anything beyond their personal experience and tv viewing. They are bringing a very limited bag of experiences to their viewing and making of art, and that bag is overloaded with adult-theme shows, lyrics, and images. Still worse, the kids are bringing a serious shortage of curiosity. They are not noticing and wondering.

Think about it. Are the kids on the airplane looking out the window observing the curvilinear variations of the earth's surface and the geometric marks of civilization, or are they playing their Gameboys? Are they looking out car windows at the homeless person on the corner, or are they being jollied by a video in their SUV?

Our experience of a play, art work, or musical performance is as much a function of every aspect of our life up to that moment, as it is of the art event. Our kids need lots of enrichment. They also need time and space to do their own observing and wondering.

Can't tell the players without a program

I'm still pretty new at this opera stuff. I attended four of Dallas Opera's productions last winter, and surprised myself with how much I enjoyed them. My son and I have purchased nosebleed section season tickets for next winter.

Thoughtful friends are guiding me on this new adventure. I now have a copy of Fred Plotkin's Opera 101: a Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera, and it is very readable. I have recordings of all the operas in the upcoming season so I can become familiar with them. I have the promise of a backstage tour if I can ever find the stage door at intermission.

I'm acustomed to reading subtitles at foreign films, and nowadays we're all used to reading streaming weather warnings, stock tickers, and news bulletins on our computer and tv screens. I barely notice that I am reading the opera translation projected above the stage during a performance. One friend informs me the LED translation appears on the seat ahead at the Met.

The problem is listening to opera recordings in the car. The view through the window becomes the action to accompany the fabulous music. I keep glancing up at the sunvisor and map light expecting to see the translation projected. It's never there. Maybe if I rode in the backseat it would appear on the Buick's headrests.


Overlapping and floating

I received a very cool photo frame for my birthday. It allows rechangeable photo arrangements at different depths within a shadow box. The possibilities are endless. At the moment I am envisioning a collection of strange photos from my parents: extreme icicles, the largest baked potatoes they ever ate, clean mini-blinds hung outside to dry, shrimp louis salads on multi-colored placemats, shadow of clothesline on snowy ground as an omen to travel to Minnesota, a progression of annual photos of my dad wearing the same forest green flannel shirt over his pajamas while holding various small grandsons on Christmas Day, aluminum cans in the pickup bed of the next door neighbor...

I know. It explains a lot!


Weird Side Effect

This is day two on new blood pressure medicine, and the strange thing is I already feel TALLER. All my limbs seem longer, and my joints more loose. My ankles even feel a bit floppy. What might this mean? Have I gone through the Looking Glass? Checked my bp and it was about the same (too high) as usual.


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