Hot running water

Yeah, I know. There have been some great moments in the history of mankind. Moments which changed life for the better, and which created a benchmark. I never want to experience what life on Earth was like before the invention of the hot water heater.

Friday morning I dragged my carcass into the shower after being awakened by the sound of my oldest son showering upstairs. NO HOT WATER! What's this about? Who used all the hot water?

Stuck my head out of the bathrooom enough to holler at my son. "Did you have any hot water?"

"Well, uh, not exactly," says my brilliant college graduate. "I figured it had something to do with the rain."

I could not explain the concept of water heaters that early in the morning, without shampoo and coffee. (Two of mankind's other great achievements.) I normally don't speak to anyone before I read the newspaper, have a hot shower and shampoo, consume a pot of coffee, and work the NY Times crossword puzzle. This whole morning was out of alignment. It was 7:30 a.m., and the newspaper hadn't even arrived. I was getting irritable and unreasonable.

There is a splendid moment in the original movie of "The Producers" when Gene Wilder loses it completely and starts yelling, "I'm cold; I'm wet; I'm hysterical!" That is how my morning was going. I gave it a good try to light the pilot light. Flame on, Johnny! But, no. I just want to thank the gas company technician who got to my house so fast.

If you would like to contribute to the Fund for a National Water Heater Monument on the Mall in D.C., complete with the eternal clean blue flame of quality, please mail your checks to....



I am reading through nearly thirty-year-old notes written in Professor Butt's classes. Some are written in Ebony pencil on brown paper towels from the classroom dispenser. Others are written in ink on scraps of quality drawing papers. All are loaded with memories.

"Stop your work when you don't have to do anything else: don't do all that you want to do to it. Pull off prior to compulsive/therapeutic!"

Often parents of my little preschoolers ask me if little Buffy or Skippy will ever paint anything besides edge-to-edge swoops of mud. I try to explain that their child had a pretty fierce T-Rex in that painting at one point, but the enjoyment of the tactile experience of painting eventually submerged the T-Rex. The tactile experience is developmentally important. Then I explain that my professors told me that getting a student to stop work on a painting was the most difficult lesson of all. Sometimes I can smell Mr. Butt's cigar when I give this little speech.


Mary Lou Williams

The three calligraphy brush strokes I learned are "bone", "needle", and "growth & decay"

Just last night I wrote a little story about the three college painting professors in the art department at the University of Nebraska thirty years ago who influenced my life. The story wasn't quite ready for prime time, so I only sent it to my college friends. By email reply I learned that the last surviving professor passed away yesterday. My reaction was immediate and physical--goosebumps, a sense of neon energy shooting through my arms, and a kick in the gut.

All day my mind has replayed scenes from Mr. Butt's classroom where I studied drawing, composition, and watercolors. In my mind's eye, the day is an overcast April Saturday. The air is heavy with tornado potential The sculpture garden below is rich in greens and pinks. The trees Mr. Butt has taught me to read are swaying and floating. I draw them with cobalt violet, and trace over the lines with a watery brush.

I have a privileged key to the classroom. The room is my sanctuary. I add silver ink and rubbing alcohol into the Windsor Newton "Neutral Gray" washes to create the loaded storm clouds above the paths of the sculpture garden.

Mr. Butt arrives. He lights a cigar, and unlocks the stereo cabinet to play some Mary Lou Williams piano jazz. I am mixing olive washes with hints of gold ink. Mr. Butt is watering his bromeliads. Bromeliads line the shelves in front of the windows, in all their varied greens. The clouds outside turn to charcoal and resemble a pregnant woman ten days after her due date.

To Mr. Butt for teaching me to know when the painting is finished, and to strive for clarity within richness.


Gnarly troll houses

gnarly adj 1. very good, excellent; COOL. ("That trick on your skateboard was gnarly!") 2. used to describe something that looks painful or dangerous. ("That was a gnarly car wreck.") 3. gross, disgusting. ("Check out that gnarly old homeless dude.")
Online Slang Dictionary

gnarly Original from 70's surfspeak - to describe waves that are violently breaking without the form that would render them more rideable. Can also describe less than ideal females.

"I'm bailing on this session-waves are too gnarly"
"I had to ditch her friend, she was lookin' gnarly"


gnarl - "contort, twist," 1814, a back-formation from gnarled, which appears only in Shakespeare ("Measure for Measure," 1603) but was picked up 19c. by romantic poets and brought into currency. It is probably a variant of M.E. knar "knot in wood" (1382), originally "a rock, a stone," of uncertain origin. Gnarly first attested 1829; picked up 1970s as surfer slang to describe a dangerous wave; it had spread in teen slang by 1980s, where it meant both "excellent" and "disgusting."
Online Etymology Dictionary

My favorite dictionary is the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language that my Uncle Milt and Aunt Margie gave me for high school graduation in 1973. Its red binding is really showing the wear, and sometimes it is a bit out-dated, but the thumbnail illustrations are still intriguing, and the page lay-out has enough white space to keep it visually restful. The entries invite browsing, and send me off on see also references to other words for perusing. To a word-lover, it is a ten-minute vacation, the equivalent of a power nap or hot shower.

I have a friend who reads phonebooks, and finds the same intrigue, edification, and relaxation. Other friends browse cookbooks. To each her own reference book.

American Heritage indicates that gnarl can mean to snarl or growl, as well as a protruding knot on a tree. Gnarled can mean misshapen, "crabbed in temperment", or "rugged in appearance".

How are you doing, darling? You seem somewhat crabbed in temperment....

It's so nice of you to ask, honey. I'm having difficulty refraining from browsing gnash, gneiss, and gnu, and thence to wildebeest or schist. I am worried that I might be gnathic, and maybe related to a jaw.

We are making quite delightful troll houses. They resemble tree stumps. I will get some photogs on the Itty Bitty Art Projects blog soon. We did papier mache with Ross Art Paste and covered our houses in crumpled and torn brown paper bags for a tree bark texture. [This is going better than the year we made the rock'n'roll trolls on stage at the Fairyland Bandstand complete with teeny tiny disco balls.]

Papier mache always brings out both the "excellent; cool" and "disgusting" comments. This time the soggy, sagging forms will also fit the contorted, twisted, misshapen connotations of "gnarly".

One of these summers we will finally create chia trolls. The time frame limitations have yet to be surmounted. I want to make clay trolls, dry them, fire them, and still have time to sprout the grass seed hair...It just doesn't work in two weeks.

Going to climb the rope ladder into my treehouse now for some reading time. I will lower a bucket for provisions and bug repellent.


The surprise party blog

During my week off I had great fun helping a friend create a Blogger blog to honor his godmother. That lady seems to be a very interesting character, judging from the many testimonials collected by my pal. Did I mention this lady is a nun and a long-time advocate for social change in the Detroit area?

I am putting a link over there in the sidebar to the blog for Sr Theresa Blaquiere. I enjoyed creating it with the recently improved Blogger, and the cool, yet dignified, new template options. It was fun, too, introducing a new crew to the possibilities of blogging.

Today is the day that Sr Theresa will learn about the blog. If you click on it, be sure to yell, "Surprise!"

In this election year there's a lot of talk about religion and leadership and social change and politics, and nearly all of it is hokum. It is refreshing to read about a person who has put her beliefs into action to improve life for many people, and stood up to politicians along the way. That's not the same thing as spouting puffy "God is on our side" rhetoric to create a smokescreen while sending young soldiers into combat.

Now, you may think I am full of hot air. That could be true. In which case, I refer you to the previous post about giant burritos.

Ya gotta love Austin

Drove to Austin today to pick up my youngest son, who was on a campus visit to UT. Then we went to my oldest son's apartment to load his worldly goods (i.e. books and dirty laundry) into my car to haul home. My oldest will ride home on the bus this week, then buy a used car, and load his worldly goods, plus his computer, and minus dirt in the laundry, to drive off to grad school in Indiana. My middle son has been scoping out used cars for his brother to buy. He's really good at it, should you happened to need a used car scoper.

Anyway, my youngest wanted to have lunch at Freebirds in Austin to see whether the new Freebirds in Dallas offers the same aesthetic and economic experience as the original in Austin, or some such thing. This son currently intends to study photography in college, but when he was younger he wanted to buy a restaurant franchise. Much younger, he wanted to be a hotel designer.

So we found Freebirds in a small mall with a Sears and a HEB grocery store. We stood in line to order giant burritos to our personal specifications. Steven was expounding on menu, ambience, and price differences. My personal burrito creator was working very hard to avoid any onions in my ingredients that could trigger my allergy. AND, the guy behind me in line was over sixty years old, with gray Jesus hair, the veiny body of a carnival ride operator, and a tattooed third eye. His girlfriend was a Rubenesque underdressed goth twenty-year old. All this was just a beautiful day in the neighborhood. A beautiful day for a neighbor. Could you be mine? Would you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?


"Please" and "Thank You"

Those are the most powerful magic words. You knew that. Your own fairy godmother made sure you knew them before you were five.

We've been making magic wands today. We used the cardboard tubes from trouser hangers. We wrapped the tubes in foil gift wrap, then stuck curling ribbon and sparkly pipe cleaners in one end. Shot in some hot glue and poked in three craft feathers. Drizzled with messy glitter and spangles to "boot up the magic". The kids chose their personal magic words, then went around the room poofing and shazamming things. One five-year old boy told me, "My wand does inside magic. Things still look the same on the outside, but they are changed on the inside." Isn't that fantastic?


Working on my project

"Project" is a fun word for me. When I was about two and a half my dad started building a playhouse for me down in the basement of our rental duplex. It was created in components so it could be assembled out in the yard. I would go down to the basement to "help" Dad on The Project, while completely clueless about its actual goal. The building was exciting enough! So "project" is loaded with creativity, construction, nurturing, hero-worship, mystery, trust, sawdust, enamel paint smells, primary colors, and letting go of the outcome. Now that I ponder it, love and construction are linked in my wiring from birth. Seems to me if you love a child you teach them to pound nails, and you let them experiment with the metal tape measure and the miter box.

The Super Smart Pig...

....built his house of kryptonite. We are fracturing fairy tales and scrambling stories super. Today the elem kids made Super Smart Pigs, complete with capes and x-ray vision glasses. Did a lot of brainstorming of super abilities for our pigs. This is going better than the year when we made Rock & Roll Trolls at the Fairyland Bandstand, complete with teeny tiny disco balls. Back to the stuffed pigs--no apple in the mouth! Buy pink paper sacks (brown bag lunch style) from Michaels, or an artsy/craftsy/party supply store. Open up the sacks by sneaking your hand in and wiggling your fingers all around to open the sack. These "pigs are very hungry. Can't you hear them oinking?" (Everybody oinks like crazy, and talented folks also grunt and snuffle) The pigs get fed with crumpled up double pages of the Dallas Morning News. Depending on the age of the kids, the teacher may need to do the "feeding" to avoid ripping the sacks. Roll down and scrunch the top of the sack as you would a lunch bag. You could also fold and staple. Glue on ears where the bag is scrunched. The legs could be pink felt, construction paper, or corks. Draw the face with markers, or get fancy gluing googly eyes and button noses. Curl pink pipe cleaners (cut in half) for tails, and poke them into the back. That had to hurt! While the preschoolers were happy just making pigs, we went for a more complex scenario for the elementary kids. When the Super Smart Pigs were done, the kids were "flying" them around and having comic book dialogues. A six-year old boy stopped making those boy shooting sound effects, and announced, "There! I got him! The evil Canadian is no more!" The middle school kids will create Personality Plus Pigs next week to connect with the characterization focus in drama class. I am getting the urge to create my own papier mache personality pig!


Cole Porter

Enjoyed looking at some road maps from the Fifties and Sixties last week. I got a kick out of the Skelly and Sinclair maps. We didn't buy gas at the Skelly station when I was a kid, but we did go to Jerry's Sinclair on the northeast corner at 48th and Randolph. As kids, we lusted after the Sinclair inflatable Dino dinosaurs displayed in the window.

The movie "De Lovely" has renewed interest in the music of Cole Porter. That was the music I grew up with. I would lounge on the wall-to-wall carpet near the hi-fi trying to memorize the witty lyrics. On Sunday evenings, very late, like eight o'clock, I think, after Ed Sullivan, we would watch the "Dinah Shore Show". Of course my younger siblings would already be asleep in crib or bassinet. This was Big Girl Time! This was time for Skyline Dairy Swiss Almond Ice Cream.

So, to get back on track, I bought a cd of authentic Cole Porter recordings last week. It included Dinah Shore singing, "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To". I really only remembered her singing, "See the USA in your Chevrolet!," and twirling about in a satin gown in front of a car the size of Delaware. I was little. I was pretty sure Dinah Shore was somewhere in the kitchen strumming on an old banjo.

During a big blizzard in about 1965, my dad had to get back to Eastridge from downtown Lincoln. He was able to inch the pea-green '54 Chevy to somewhere near 40th and J Street before it got stuck. He left the car, and headed out on foot wading through the over-the-knee drifted snow. He trekked through the Tabitha Home area and over to Jerry's Sinclair.

Meanwhile, back at the Strauss House Eastridge ranch, we were playing Chutes and Ladders and working jigsaw puzzles on folding card tables in the living room. We were very worried about Daddy, lost out there on the Siberian tundra! Remember the first time you watched "Dr. Zhivago"? It was a thrilling moment when we caught sight of an Abdominal Snowman slowly making its way from Cotner Blvd. through the poplar and pine trees into our backyard. Daddy was home! Our hero! Our frosty daddy, just as brave as those Friendship Seven astronauts we watched on the only tv* at Eastridge Elementary!

By the way, I am so old I remember Gas Wars and 21 cents a gallon gas. Usually the guy who pumped our gas also offered us free steak knives, or tropical-hued thermal tumblers, mugs, and pitchers.

*Yes, Eastridge School had a tv. For all NASA space launches the students would gather in the library to sit on the floor and watch. Some other day I will share my favorite memories of early educational television

The cheese stands alone

We started a fractured fairy tale camp today, so I got to have my moment in the spotlight looking like an overgrown dwarf in a green sport coat and green elf hat. (I was talking about all the stories with a Jack...beanstalk, giant killer, house that Jack built, the Masters tournament at Augusta...) Also got to wear a pink fairy tutu, a Wisconsin cheese head, and a rat hat. Later in the afternoon one of the five years olds came up to me and said, "I think I saw you before. Was that you on up stage or somebody else?" A six year old told me, "If you are kind to me, I will come work here when I grow up."

On the way home another one of my car windows refused to roll back up. Now I am down to two windows that can be opened with any hope of closing again, and the driver's window is not one of them. "No drive-throughs for you", said the automotive troll.

Another opening, another show,
another window that will not close...


Is that a Nokia in your pocket, or are you glad to see me?

I'm not sure when I first got a cell phone. It was sometime after I started working at the library in 1996, and had a flat tire on the drive home. Walking to the nearest 7-Eleven in a strange neighborhood at night convinced me that having a cell phone was a justifiable safety measure. I felt like I was talking into Maxwell Smart's shoe or Dick Tracy's watch for the first few years I had the phone. That phone was six times the size of the ones I looked at this week.

At some point around Y2K I had to replace my phone, and one of these days I'll get used to this new one. It is the size of baked potato instead of a brick. When I pull it out of my purse in public I get stares usually reserved for Babylonian scribes writing cuneiform on wax tablets. I still consider my cell phone a peace of mind budget item. The roadside assistance has gotten me through automotive crises.

Thursday I went to the Cingular store and determined that my phone was due for a new contract and a discount on a new phone. Even with the discount the store didn't have any phones available for less than $150. I did get the Cingular guy to change the ringer on my ancient phone so it rings loud enough for me to hear it. He talked EXTRA LOUD to me, and kept an enormous smile on his face, as if I had escaped from assisted living and lost my hearing aids.

In a duplication of efforts, Steven went to a different Cingular store Thursday, and determined that his phone wasn't due for a contract renewal or discount. He also found he couldn't buy any phone for much less than $150. His phone no longer has a visual display, and only rings when it feels like it. This could be due to that time it fell out of his pocket when he climbed out of the Nissan 300ZX and it spent several hours face-down in the parking lot during a torrential downpour. Some other day I will write the tear-jerking chidren's story of the Velveteen Nokia...

Steven and I went together to yet a third Cingular store today. We are finally happy. I renewed the contract on my phone, and got the discount for a new phone. Steven got the new phone. He paid for the phone, which will be about $50 after he receives the $50 rebate, and I paid $19 for the privilege of renewing my contract. In February when Steven's phone is up for a new contract maybe I will be able to have a new phone. My current phone is a lot like a pet we had many years ago, Harriet the Hamster That Would Not Die. It doesn't vibrate or send text messages. It doesn't run on its exercise wheel, and it bites fat fingers.

I have recurring nightmares in which I am in various dire straits, but my fingers are too fat to "dial" my cell phone's tiny buttons. Last night I was stuck at a nature center in McKinney, Texas, because someone stole my 1972 yellow Schwinn ten-speed. I kept trying to call someone to pick me up, but my fingers were too fat. I finally had to walk home in my earth shoes through the mud--about twenty miles. So, there is a whole untapped market out there for cell phones for the mature woman with chubby digits. Small, flat phones, with big print visual displays, simple menus, and the biggest buttons possible. Burgundy, navy, taupe, and mauve, but with white covers to use between Easter and Labor Day.

My teens need a special feature on their cell phones. It would be worth a buck a month for a very loud alarm that would blast any time their phones were left in pants pockets headed into the washing machine.

If my ex is at all typical, adult males need alarms that sound when a phone is left on the roof of a car. The owner is probably putting a briefcase, gymbag, Starbucks, or blonde bimbo into the car. Without an alarm he will drive off and the cell phone will fall into a snowbank. That is what happened with his dress shoes, and you couldn't even talk into them.

While we are on the subject, could we maybe make Cingular plans easier to understand? I am thinking the billing could work like this:

All calls anywhere any time are free UNLESS
  • you forget to call your mom once a week if you are over eighteen $25
  • you forget to call your grandparents on their birthdays, anniversary, and Veterans Day $25
  • you don't check in before midnight if you are under eighteen $25
  • your ringing phone wakes your hardworking mom between midnight and six a.m. $25


Mental vacation

How strange. I feel remarkably refreshed and relaxed. What have I been doing on my vacation? Helping a friend create a new blog! You didn't actually think I was lounging on a beach on some island paradise drinking beverages with miniature umbrellas, did you? I did get to practice my foreign language, though--an elementary form of html.

Now, I took those four years of Spanish. I can still count to twenty and ask directions to the potty. I can still tell "Miguel" that I don't like vegetables at all, should that ever be an issue. But the power, the choices, the beauty of a blog vacation are hard to match.

Years ago I read a book called Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "sticks in my eye"). To the best of my recollection, a flow experience occurs when one's challenge and one's ability are closely matched, thereby creating a situation requiring focus, but also giving pleasure.

Creating this new blog required intense concentration, but I also got to use the many new skills I have gained in my year of self-taught blogging. I still feel like a secret agent when I change the html codes in a template. I love clicking "preview" to see where I sent that photo of Granny this time.

Someday soon I will be able to reveal the secret map to the new blog. Right now it is a surprise party waiting to happen. Put on your party hat, and hide behind the sofa.


Cue up Steppenwolf's "The Pusher"

I read David Broder's editorial in the Seattle Times this morning http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2001979607_broder15.html about the health care crisis. That has been one of the subplots of my week, with my own crummy insurance. My doctor has lost touch with the reality many people face now. The small business where I work is paying more and more for insurance while our copays and deductibles double every year. Our prescription costs are skyrocketing. I'm a reasonably healthy middle-aged woman, but I've maxed out the annual limit on one medication, so my Rx costs are now $100/mo. My doctor, whom I've known since 1990 and always respected, is ordering tests and procedures that put me deeper and deeper into debt, without clear need for those tests.

Seems to me that I became a health care junkie during the years when my family had excellent coverage and low out of pocket costs. I doubt I'm the only one. Our doctors became accustomed to patients (and parents of little patients) who would agree to any test, procedure, specialist, or medication with very few questions. Doctors who were already paying for expensive malpractice insurance became dependent on test results to cover their bizoooozis against liability. Sometimes there were even more pharmaceutical company reps in the waiting room than patients, with briefcases full of incentives for doctors to prescribe the newest, most costly drug available.

Once we were hooked on health care, the insurance companies could start jacking up prices and decreasing coverage. And they sure did, and they will keep doing it.
The US health care arrangement (system seems like a euphemism) needs radical change, but instead we are sending billions of dollars to Iraq. Has anyone noticed that Halliburton has two evil stepsisters in insurance and pharmaceuticals?

Where is the Twelve-Step rehab for health care junkies? I know I am ready to admit powerlessness over medical expenses, and my finances have become unmanageable.


Primitive societies

I have a bunch of teen guys in the living room eating broiled chicken legs and watching poker on cable tv. I am glad they are hanging out instead of driving around or riding a camel to the nearest village in the Gobi desert.

Went to see "The Story of the Weeping Camel" at the Angelika Theater. The comfortable seats alone were worth the price of admission. The movie, though, the movie was fabulous! I love being transported to other places and lifestyles without special effects. I'm not actually an animal person, so don't let that keep you from enjoying this film. I didn't even notice that there were subtitles, because I was so charmed by the Mongolian family in their yurt. I loved the elderly couple playing cards and relying on each other for support and companionship.

Now I have teen girls with silver shoes and miniscule skirts in the living room with the guys. Our primitive subsistence agrarian society has been transformed into something else indeed!


I had to retire my Perfect Purse today. It could no longer fulfill its duties, and the runner-up will have to assume the tiara and somehow get us through the year. Bert Parks was weeping.

The runner-up purse isn't all that bad. It's the same brown as my sandals. It has all sorts of compartments and an adjustable shoulder strap. The lining is still intact. The only bad thing I can remember about this purse was I could never hear when my cell phone rang. Since that happens maybe once a month, it might not be a really big deal.

The Cuteness Factor

Many people have asked the CollageMama for guidance in determining who and what is "cute". Here is her answer:

If someone is truly CUTE, you can pinch both their cheeks (not those cheeks) and say unselfconsciously, "How's my widdle izza wizza wuzzom?" If you can't do that, "cute" is not the appropriate word.

In a future Q & A session we will explain the words for those situations where subjects have failed the cuteness test. For the moment, the Answer Mama can be reached at collagemama@gmail.com where she is testing the new gmail from Google.

My Poor Babies!

Oh my gosh. The finches are upset with me. My condo has a small patio. In order to prepare the charcoal in the broiler I had to fold up the umbrella that the finches use for a trampoline. Then, since I kept bumping my head and getting my hair full of thistle seed, I moved the feeder to a different hook. The finches have already had to cope with the removal of the old fence and building of the new fence this week. This seems to have put them completely over the edge. I am wondering if I should dissolve a couple Zoloft in the birdbath. It's all going to be okay. (Don't mention to them that I'm going to broil chicken.)

When I am in charge of the (art) world

No museum will host a special exhibit unless its gift shop has postcards or small reproductions of every work in the show. No exceptions.

Drove to Ft. Worth this afternoon to see the "Caravaggio to Dali: 100 Masterpieces from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art" exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum. I love the Kimbell. I loved much of the art in the exhibit. I wanted to be able to remember it without having to buy an inflated, wordy volume on the complete collection of the Wadsworth, which is really loaded with religious paintings and Surrealist stuff that makes me crave Mylanta. I wanted to be able to show my students the dozen pieces that blew me away, and would fit into my class lessons. Do people really buy all those expensive art books and gimmicky, allegedly art-related toys in the museum gift shop? I would spend at least twenty dollars at every special exhibit I attend if the gift shop ever had postcards of every single piece. GRRRRR

This just in from our Austin bureau:

Working in the Student Affairs Office

A student came into the office today. She had planned to register for a course during the second summer session but mistakenly registered for a course during the first summer session instead. The result was that she never went to the course or took an exam.

Everybody's worst nightmare come true! Fortunately, once it all gets cleared up she won't be penalized.


I am wondering if it actually happens to you, do you still have the nightmare the rest of your life?


Don't ask about mustard!

Flashback to 1981 The Reagan administration calls for cuts in the school lunch program, prompting the USDA to allow ketchup to be counted as a vegetable.

Flashback even further to those fiendish SAT analogy questions that went:
X is to Y as
(a)Z is to Q
(b)C is to D
(c)Q is to M
(d)K is to J?

Well, I propose to you that Catch-up is to Vacation as Ketchup is to Vegetable.

I have a week off. That is not the same thing as a vacation. I have so many things to catch up on, and tasks I have just postponed until this week. During summer classes my schedule doesn't allow for doctor appointments, comparison shopping of colleges for my youngest, deep-cleaning, major financial considerations, rejuvenating treatments for chlorine-damaged hair, chatty phone calls or long-overdue letter-writing. Most evenings by the time I get home from doing my dancing art fairy routine and buying groceries, I am pretty tired and brain numb. Big jobs like watering houseplants, feeding the aquarium fish, and toasting a bagel take the rest of my energy. So, I set even greater challenges aside...

And now, VOILA! It is Catch-Up Week! I don't want to catch up. I want to lay around reading fluffy fiction, or sunbathe on a pool float. I want bronzed natives to bring me cold beer, although, in the interests of health, I am willing for it to be Lite beer. I think other bronzed natives should vacuum the condo, do the ironing, and balance the checkbook so I can just drift off into my island fantasy. Maybe I will ponder what books and music I would like to have with me on my desert isle...

Today's Vocabulary Question
If I clean up something disgusting, have I de-disgusted it? We are talking about teen boys here. Is de-disgusting a double negative? Have I actually gusted? Or maybe even regusted? And who was this Gus anyway, and why can't he ever clean up after himself???

A Cautionary Tale

In the mid-Seventies I worked in a hospital kitchen and wore a white uniform. In the summer I either worked the six a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift, or went to work from 3:45 to 7:30. Once, after a leisurely morning and sunbathing all afternoon in my bright blue bikini, I had to go to work at 3:45. I needed to iron a uniform. The ironing board was in the basement, and it was comparatively dark down there after sunbathing. Somehow I managed to iron my stomach. The burn was about four inches long, and right where all my bell-bottom hip-hugger waistbands hit. It took weeks to heal. Please be careful when reality intrudes on your island fantasies, especially where small appliances are concerned.

Now put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up!


Feel the burn

My kindergarten class taught me a new workout routine this week. The five and six year olds had completed all their camp projects, and were just ready to relax before the dress reheasal of their show. I got out the pony beads and 18" long Twisteez wires so they could string beads into royal jewels. I knotted one end so the beads would not come off as they were stringing. As almost every child neared completion of their string of beads, they dropped it. We had plastic pony beads rolling all over the floor of the art room. I even dropped one string myself while tying the ends together. Let me tell you, a forty-five minute session of picking up beads off the floor is quite a workout. Maybe not quite as strenuous as the Six Count Burpies we used to do in elementary phys ed. class, but I could feel the burn.


Sitting up in my itty bitty highchair...

...and smearing cake in my hair! My main BlogMuse has informed me that this is the first birthday of CollageMama's Itty Bitty Blog. CollageMama herself couldn't be with us for this special occasion, as she has anchored her fantasy pirate ship in Mermaid Cove, but the Itty Bitty Blog is hosting a celebrity pro-am diaper race in honor of the anniversary.

Just remembering funny moments when my enormous sons were itty bitty themselves. In the immortal words of little Jeff, "I believe there's a fork in my diaper."

The Wells Fargo wagon is a'comin' through

Sitting here surfing through my usual after-work email and web haunts, and noticed I was singing a little ditty to myself:

Happy Feet, keep thinking Happy Feet
Think about toes you'd like to move
If you can't move your toes
You've got to buy new shoes
How you gonna ever buy new shoes?

If you don't think Happy
Then you're gonna have sore feet.
How you ever gonna paint toenails?

It is nice to think of Our Human Brain as the finest moment yet of either Divine Creation or Evolution. Most of the time Our Human Brain is really a primordial stew slow-cooking on low heat in the Cosmic Crockpot. It's just a way to use up those sound-bite leftovers to create some "savory" new entree that doesn't really do it for anyone. Store it in Tupperware in the fridge. Throw it away in about ten days without guilt (or your money back).

These lyrics are from a little-known collaboration of Oscar Hammerstein and Dr. Scholl in the tradition of all Great American Musicals. Sure, much of it was borrowed from South Pacific and the "Think System" of Professor Harold Hill in Music Man. The same could be said of the next song in the uncut production:

I'm gonna think that ache right outta my toes,
and lay around all day...


Building the Raytheon Castle

I am a fortunate beneficiary of a corporate recycling initiative. Raytheon has organized giveaways of recycled materials for art teachers and other educators. The events are held in a Texas Instruments parking lot, and art teachers go wild scooping up boxes, tubes, packing materials, lids, and other goodies that aren't easy to describe. These events promote art teacher brainstorms, encourage employees to participate in the company recycling effort, and cut costs for art class materials. The quantities of materials are sometimes tricky to control. I will cart a Buick full of boxes back to my classroom, then spend weeks figuring out strange ways to use all the materials.And so, my preschoolers are building Raytheon castles. We are gluing together boxes for throne rooms, thrones, and windows, with dimpled sponge packing foam pieces for the "stone" walls. The kids are especially excited about the gray sponge foam block we are using for a stone. Not just any stone, but the stone for the popsicle stick sword. Whosoever pulleth forth this sword from the stone in crowned rightful King of England!Today we played Pass the Paint while we painted the castles. Tomorrow we will make clothespin people for the castle. Thursday we will add a magical dragon to the castle. The clay dragons have been fired, and are ready for painting!


Seventy-six trombones

Went to a brass chamber music concert Sunday afternoon for that Fourth of July bandstand feeling without bugs and sweat. The concert was in the delightfully air-conditioned Texas Discovery Gardens building at the state fair grounds. The concert hall is walled in glass, so you look out at all the gorgeous trees and gardens behind the musicians while you listen to the music. I toured the hothouse conservatory of exotic plants after the concert. Even took a very slow walk through the gardens, and enjoyed the swallowtail butterflies.

Part of the concert was serious, and some was silly. The quintet played "The Flight of the Bumblebee", but in the middle it morphed into the theme song from the Flintstones. Yabba-dabba-do. Raising the boys I've often felt I was the Wilma of a modern Stone Age family.

Judging from the conversations in class today, my students had busy, patriotic weekends. Boys tried to out-do each other with the number of hours they had spent in the swimming pool. Girls did the my-country club-is-better-than-your-country club,-and-my-lakehouse-is-bigger-than-your-lakehouse routine.

I was glad when the kindergarten kids began to discuss presidents, even if they were deceased. Their first topic was Ronald Reagan*:

"One of our presidents died. His name was Ronald Reagan."
"Ew! He's the mean one. In the war!"
"No, that is Donald."
"No. Someone shot him."
"But he didn't die."
"But he's dead."
"The first president ever shot was John F. Kennedy."
"A guy shot at Reagan, but he aimed too low."
"He didn't hit him."
"But he's dead."
"George Washington is the president now."
"Did someone shoot him?"
"If George Washington dies in office, who will be president?"
"Chang. P.F. Chang."

We are planning a write-in campaign in November for P. F. Chang.

*Didn't anyone but me read in the newspaper that it is time to stop flying flags at half staff?

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Working on the Monday after the Fourth had one advantage. My commute took twelve minutes instead of forty or more. I owned the expressway. I was the queen of all I surveyed. You may kiss my ring. My students love their castle days art projects. They feel like knights in shining armor. Powerful preschoolers. Invincible.

My son did not have to work at the bank, of course. He got up around noon. My condo was a mecca for teen guys all day, due to the cupcakes I baked last night. Now it is night, and they have left the bat cave like other insectivores.

The teen guys have been lounging around the living room channel surfing between the 007 Bond-a-thon, and the poker cable channel. They imagine themselves as Sean Connerys PLUS ready to beat all odds. Testosterone. Invincible. Heaven please protect their chariots.


Forget investing in Cisco Systems

Buy stock in citronella candles. Someone has to get rich in every war, and it is going to be war against the mosquitos and gnats in North Texas this summer. Halliburton has probably cornered the market on citronella.

We had eighteen straight days with rain in June setting a new record, but failed to hit the rainfall total record by about an inch. I had to use a machete to hack my way from the laundry room door through the patio vegetation to the storage shed to put away the ice chest. Came back in covered with bites. I can't decide whether to read Lord of the Flies or Heart of Darkness.



Five weeks down, five to go on summer camps. Today we had our Castle Faire, an annual event during Knight's Quest camp. We turn the theatre into a medieval faire with booths selling food, swords, horses, and jewelry for a few hours. There's a tent and crystal disco ball for the fortune-teller. The kids and staff all dress up in costumes. The king welcomes everyone to the faire. We let kids with July birthdays be the kings and queens. The oldest kids perform an improv drama. The middle kids dance. Everyone has play money to purchase things, and we all go around bowing to each other. The little kids think the faire is the most fun since Halloween. We have bread and cheese, Pepperidge Farms Goldfish just caught fresh from the moat, dried fruits, and jerky. Everyone suspends disbelief for half an hour. Sometimes a kid goes crazy for prunes, and we have to warn his mom or nanny. Today I got to be a ragged lame hunchbacked beggar with lice, fleas, and rheumy eyes. I collected a lot of alms and a few rodents from the Pied Piper. It was a splendid faire!

Click on the link to Itty Bitty Art Projects to see how our crowns and castles are going.


Pink-Eye Panic

Woke up at 5:15 this morning, way too early for my taste. Wandering to the bathroom for water, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. My eyes were the color of Barbie's princess gown. They didn't feel too good, either. Itchy, gunky, watery. Went back to bed, and before long my eyes began to feel like they had chunks of gravel in them. Very pointy chunks of gravel. I wanted to go back to sleep, but my mind had strayed off onto a spooky, dark, dusty, unmarked country road detour from Memory Lane: college boyfriends who owned cats, so I was always meeting potential in-laws with tears running down my cheeks; the piano teacher with many cats and icky perfume who thought I really hated music because I cried through every lesson; my frequent bouts with conjunctivis when we first moved to Texas equally due to waterproof mascara and mimosa blooms. And then, MY BIGGEST FEAR. Yes, Pink-Eye! (Can you hear the horror movie music yet?) Dun-dun-dum-DUMMMMM!

I am a person who cannot read about diseases without developing the symptoms. Don't tell me the possible side effects to a medication unless you want me to have them. It's not really hypochondria, explained a very patient, understanding allergist. He said it was not uncommon for intelligent, artistic people to convert words into sensations. Don't eat onions, he advised, and don't read bestsellers about outbreaks of horrible diseases.

Still, at 5:25 a.m., it is easy to slip into Pink-Eye Panic. Those of us who teach the summer camps cannot be sick. It is not possible. There are no substitutes. There are no sick days. There are no make-ups. We know it going in. In five summers I have never been sick. I've not had so much as a nosebleed. So, even if the chunks of gravel in my eye are an artist's overreactions, I can't have Pink-Eye.

Pink-Eye is the worst. You can't hide it. It is hideously contagious. You can't teach if you have Pink-Eye, but it's summer camp. You can't be absent, either. I had a dear friend who tried to explain non-zero-sum game theory to me nearly ten years ago. I never did understand the Prisoners' Dilemma, but I propose to you that the Teacher's Pink-Eye Dilemma is an equally difficult puzzle, especially at 5:30 a.m.

The good news is the hay fever eye drops cleared my eyes. No Pink-Eye. Just short of sleep all day with the students.


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