The big pot of turkey soup is on the front burner, so it must be the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. No one much cares for more turkey in any fugue or variation, thank you very much, but I still have to make it. The soup may never be supped, but making it is my patriotic duty. I put in a lot of chopped zucchini, this year. We don't want to be overrun by those green veggie-terrorists.

And now I hear Tom Ridge has resigned. Late last Thursday afternoon I knew Tom's days were numbered. His agency had done absolutely nothing to stem the flow of matching Tupperware containers and lids from my kitchen cabinets. I live in Texas, so it is possible the containers were pulled across the border with a Ross Perot NAFTA sucking sound. Or they may have disappeared in a humongous Tupperware "burp".
'Scuse me!


Kindergarten Day One

Still musing about Miss Inez Baker, my elementary school principal, who passed away at the age of ninety-three. I dug out my earliest scrapbook from a box that smells like Mentholatum. What would I find to jog my memories of this influential figure in my life? I had already been through my earliest photo album, and was surprised to find no record of Miss Baker in the annual class photos. [I was always in the front row of short kids.]

Miss Baker did have a page in my scrapbook. There is a typed postcard dated September 2, 1960 informing us that I would be due at the morning session of kindergarten on Monday, September 12. It is stamped with Miss Baker's signature, and the name of my school, Eastridge. Imagine that! We didn't start school until September 12! My kids have started to school as early as August second. Did they learn more? No way.

There is an undated clipping from the Lincoln Journal with a photo of Miss Baker when she was elected president of the Nebraska State Elemntary School Principals Association. It is pasted in next to a Huckleberry Hound Happy Birthday napkin pierced with three animal cake decorations most likely from my sixth birthday. Turn the page to see my first corsage from a Dad-Daughter banquet at church all dried, pressed, and wrapped in Saran Wrap. (Neapolitan ice cream was served.)

Miss Baker was VERY OLD when I started kindergarten, forty-seven. Younger than I am now! She seemed to be carved of stone in a wise and benevolent way, like the statue inside the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. She seemed very tall and aloof, and I associated her with the Greek goddess Athena. To a small student, she seemed to have all the answers, in the way that a grown-up should. I was very disappointed to eventually become a grown-up myself and not have all the answers, to not feel the clarity of thought and action Miss Baker modeled.

When Miss Baker stood in the school foyer as students were arriving or dismissing, I never remember kids running up to hug her. I always had the sense that kids tried to be their Very Best Selves when they walked past her.

Because our birthdays were just a day apart, I shared a special bond with Miss Baker. I eventually learned that she had a lively sense of curiosity and humor. The statue became more human as I grew up. I do still try to be my Very Best Self whenever I think of her. When you consider the number of children who passed through the doors of Eastridge Elementary between 1955 and 1976, that is a lot of individuals striving to be the person Miss Baker believed they could be. What a wonderful gift she gave us!


Optional consumerism

As a very young Cornhusker football fan, just after the dinosaurs died out, I was impressed that the Kansas State fans had lavender toilet paper to toss down onto the football field at Memorial Stadium. Nowadays I am frustrated by the search required to find some plain white or recycled brown paper towels amid the tacky purple drawings of herbs and tea cups. It's just a paper towel for wiping up spills, not a personal aesthetic statement for heavens sake!

My young students often come to blows just to get the pairs of hot pink Fiskars scissors. "Scissors are a tool," I say. "It doesn't matter what color they are. It matters how you use them." I tell my high school senior son that it doesn't matter where he goes to college. It matters how he applies his abilities when he gets there.

We are overwhelmed with choices that are so often insignificant. In my spells of depression I've been unable to choose between cans of stewed tomatoes or Milton Bradley games for birthday party gifts. I've been sucked into panic attacks when I had to order from a menu. The first time I saw a "designer" switchplate cover I felt a jolt of future shock. We are so caught up in choices for meaningless items that we accomplish nothing. Go to a mall, and you will see the buzzards of meaningless choice soaring on the hot air up-drafts above the asphalt parking lot watching for dead meat.

I wasted time today searching out personal checks that reflect the real me. I have been reflecting the real me with Audubon bird checks for several boxes now, but they were a luxury I can't really justify. Just for one day it would be interesting to work the check-out lane at the grocery store to see what checks people buy----Sponge Bob with Bible verses. Most of the choices look like the cheapo kitchen towels at the Dollar Store. I ended up with some dragonfly checks that don't contribute any money to a nonprofit cause. I couldn't find any checks with perimenopausal women peering over their bifocals telling the baggers to carry the $108 of groceries out to the Buick. I'd like to mail my gas bill off with a check proclaiming "Hot flashes save energy", but I can't even find checks that Shave the Whale.

What I really wish is that all checks would remind us that we vote our conscience with every dollar we spend. Choose wisely.

Political fall-out

Spent time at AskJeeves finding info suitable for eight-year-olds about the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. I asked the kids to find out all about it before our class on Wednesday, and they are pumped. We are going to use the Bermuda Triangle idea as an introduction to positive/negative flip-flops (cutting a bite out of a triangle piece of paper along its edge, then pivoting the bite out into the negative space). For the last forty years I've always heard and called these art projects "flip-flops", but now Karl Rove and the Swift Boat guys have ruined that term forever. I don't know what to call those cheap rubber beach sandals formerly known as "flip-flops" either. When I was a kid we called them "thongs", but that is a pretty scary term these days, too.

This wouldn't be an issue, except that I spend a lot of time asking students to refrain from wearing cheap rubber beach sandals (CRBS) and other shoes that won't stay on during rehearsals and shows. It's a safety issue when kids are wearing costumes and climbing up and down the steps to the stage. I get a lot of mileage telling how my son broke his arm falling off the stage in summer school once, even though that accident didn't actually involve CRBS.

My elementary school principal passed away recently at the age of ninety-three. Miss Baker was a very sensible person, and I wish she could have been cloned. We learned so much at Eastridge Elementary in the Sixties, partly because she didn't allow time to be wasted with shoes that fall off, Valentine cards with candy, or the silly "incentives" (stickers, candy, and toys) thought to be essential in teaching today. We knew from Day One of kindergarten that if we brought toys in our pockets to school, they would be confiscated as "nuisance items". Our parents understood from Day One of kindergarten that learning is a child's job, and that school clothes should reflect that on-the-job attitude. "School clothes" were changed for "play clothes" when we got home. We understood that different behaviors and wardrobes were needed for different activities. It wasn't a torture chamber. We just knew that the fun of school was derived from learning and applying what we learned. I wonder what Miss Baker thought about the changes she saw in schools after her retirement in 1976.


Hot time in the old town

Emerged from turkey-induced inertia to a restlessness this afternoon. There had to be a way to scratch this itch without going to the mall. My sons were all doing a late Thanksgiving at their dad's. The sun was shining, so I hit the open road up to the county seat, McKinney, Texas.

McKinney is a lovely old town with hills and many historic homes, unlike my city of Plano. The town started in 1841. I walked around the old courthouse square, as opposed to the new and already-outdated courthouse where I got my divorce. I'm kind of fond of both!

It was McKinney's annual Dickens of a Christmas tree-lighting festival, but I didn't even need a jacket. In fact, I walked around eating a butter pecan ice cream cone. Bet I haven't eaten an ice cream cone in ten years! Popped in and out of some cute antique stores, but I'm not really a cute antique mama. Got into a narrow aisle gridlock with a platoon of Red Hat ladies in one shop, and nearly swooneded from extended exposure to potpourri fumes.

Driving around looking at old Victorian and Queen Anne homes is my favorite thing about McKinney, divorce aside. McKinney's not big enough to get really lost, so I just wander. Tonight I finally found this historic neighborhood driving guide too late.

In my occasional fantasy of owning a very small older home, it is always a frame house with a front porch. I've imagined it being painted yellow with black and white trim for at least thirty years. The porch floor is light gray, of course, but lately I've been seeing the porch ceiling painted a sunset coral. The back porch off the kitchen should be screened. After cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner, the cook should be able to sit out there in a green metal lawn chair to cool off, protected from the late November Texas mosquitos and moths.


Parental failure

Ack! I have failed as a parent! It's all because I had to move to Oklahoma and then Texas with my children when they were in their impressionable Wonder Bread years. They were born in Omaha where people know what is what and how to say so. There is only so much a mom can do in the battle against peer pressure in a clearly misguided, and perhaps dilusional state like Texas.

I can accept that the national beverage of Texas is Dr. Pepper. Any Yankee knows that Dr. Pepper is really fizzy prune juice, but some people unaccountably seem to enjoy it. You offer them a pop, and they request a DeePee. I'm not a Pepper, (Don't you want to be a Pepper, too?), but I support the Constitutional right of any American to be a Pepper. That's what makes this country great.

My grown sons have lived too long in this silly Lone Star state. Against my wishes and advice, they have taken to calling all non-alcoholic carbonated beverages "Coke", even when they are referring to the Anti-Coke, Dr. Pepper. I could almost stand it when they stopped saying "pop" and started saying "soda". Their father tended to use unnecessarily formal terms for common items, so I blamed it all on him and assumed I could correct the situation over time. It would be a fight, I knew, since the Plano school district and the Dr. Pepper corporate headquarters were more than just kissing cousins. Plano school concession stands can only sell Dr. Pepper-bottled soft drinks.

Trouble is , nobody in this red state even knows about soft drinks and sodas. Even though they all mean Dr. Pepper, they ask for a "Coke". Would I ask for an iced tea if I really wanted lemonade? Would I ask for a "Bud" if I wanted a Shiner Bock? This is the fuzzy kind of thinking and intelligence that landed us in a new "Viet Nam" called Iraq.

My sons argue that all facial tissues are "Kleenex". Okay, maybe. They say, therefore, furthermore, and ergo, all sodas are "Cokes". That is SO WRONG! How can we turn our country over to a new generation that can't even discriminate and differentiate between pops? Never mind the No Seven-Up Left Behind exit exams and Nehi school vouchers. Get these kids competent to order from the carhop at the A&W drive-in. I'm going to say "curly fries" when I really mean brains!

Naming conventions
Pop vs. soda vs. coke in North America
North America
North America is the third largest continent in area and the fourth ranked in population. It is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 9,355,000 square miles (24,230,000 square kilometres). In 2001 its population was estimated at 454,225,000.
..... Click the link for more information. , "soft drink" commonly refers to cold, non-alcoholic beverages. Carbonated beverages are regionally known in the
The Midwest is a common name for a region of the United States of America. The term originated in the 20th century, along with 'Middle West' and 'Heartland', and referred to generally the same areas and states in the middle of the country. The heart of the Midwest is bounded by the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, the 'Old Northwest' (or the 'West') referring to the states..... Click the link for more information. and most of Canada as "pop." In
Quebec Qu├ębec(In Detail) (In Detail)National Motto: Je me souviens (I remember)
CapitalLargest city Quebec CityMontrealArea - Total - % fresh water 2nd largest(1st lgst prov.)1 542 056 km²11,5%Population - Total (2004) - Density Ranked 2nd..... Click the link for more information. they are called soft drinks. In the Northeast, parts of the South (near
Florida) and Midwest (near St. Louis), and California, they are known as "soda." In Atlanta and some other parts of the South, they are generically called "coke". (Atlanta is home to the Coca-Cola Corporation). The Pacific Northwest, being a melting pot of America, uses both "pop" and "soda," however, for most people, "pop" comes in a bottle, and "soda" comes from a fountain or can. Elsewhere they are called "soda pop." See The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy for maps and geographical trends.
Internally, the
Coca-Cola Company (and probably other such corporations) uses the term "non-alcoholic carbonated beverage".


Non-specific existential interior decorating dissatisfaction

Didn't recognize the Early Warning Signals, and slipped into one of my spells where I want to haul nearly all of my worldly goods out into the condo parking lot and set them on fire. Then I want to rip up all the carpet, roll it up, and add it to the fire.

What holds me back?
  • If I rip out the carpet the cracks in the concrete slap will show.
  • I'm pretty sure the fumes from the carpet would be carcinogenic, if not mind-altering.
  • If I burn the furniture, the biggest spots on the carpet will show.
  • If I burn the couch, where will I put the under-the-bed storage boxes full of Magic cards and role-playing game books that are holding it up?
  • If I get rid of the mattress and box springs stuffed under the stairway, the terrorists will have won.

I haven't actually looked in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-IV for this debilitating form of recurrent davenport dysthymia. If it's not there, it should be!

My ex used to say I was having one of my "Buddhist Attacks" when I had an episode of NSEIDD. He was one to talk. His idea of a clean house was a Japanese shogun's retreat built of sliding rice paper walls, with grass mats on the floor, one low table, and one vase holding a plum blossom, and absolutely nothing else. Needless to say, we had serious culture clashes over my desire to hang art work on any wall, and the Legos, toy soldiers, and Hot Wheels of three small sons.

This holiday I will have a large assembly of able-bodied males in residence to lift and move. Now if I could just find a charitable organization with very low aesthetic standards to haul everything away!



Magical Museum Time

If I could wave my magic wand, I would give every family a year's membership to a local museum! We are so lucky to live in a city with many museums. Sharing a museum with a child is a very special joy.

In art class we try to become better observers. We look closely at pictures and objects, we discuss and analyze what we see and how it makes us feel, then we express our own ideas in our art. Visiting a museum is a chance to practice those skills, and to have fun as a family.

Many museums have become hands-on and interactive, which is fantastic. I hope you will also visit hands-off museums, and I will explain my reason. As a young mom I invited an acquaintance to go see a special exhibit at an art museum. She responded, "Why? You can't buy what you see at a museum!" It's been twenty years, but remembering that still makes me sad. Are the only things worth seeing and experiencing in life for sale? Even preschoolers can learn that there is much to enjoy at a museum without touching or buying. They can learn, too, that they need to behave appropriately in different places. Collagemama is always dismayed when children of all ages behave at an orchestra concert as if they were at a football game. Who let the dogs out, indeed?

What we see at a museum can energize and inspire us long after a Happy Meal toy has been forgotten. A museum visit might be a special one-to-one parent-child outing for the "big sister" or "big brother" at your house while the younger children (and other parent) stay home and take naps.

Go often to the same museum with children, at least once every 2-3 months. Children learn through repetition. They feel safe and proprietary about the objects and building. Each time you go, be sure to see their very favorite thing, but don't try to see everything. You needn't bother about reading the labels on the art or science displays. Just sit down together on the floor or a bench in the middle of the room. Chat about each object. What does it look like to you? How does it make you feel? There's no right or wrong answer. This is a sensory refueling moment. If your child says the Mark Rothko painting looks like a "bandaid in orange juice" it's okay. In between talking, allow time to be quiet and just look. I can tell you that both parent and child will have an intense personal aesthetic connection to that painting forty years later because of the "bandaid" description.

One of my favorite Dallas museums is small, free, playful, and closely related to children's art endeavors. The MADI Museum is at the corner of Carlisle and Bowen. Take 75 south to the Blackburn exit, go west, then turn left on Cole. Cole becomes Carlisle.

*****5/5/07 Please note that the MADI Museum no longer has its wonderful facade. It has changed its focus and mission. It is still interesting, but a better choice for families might be the Valley House Gallery.



After reading a review in the Dallas Morning News about the Fort Worth Opera's production of "Salome", I went on about my assorted tasks of a weekend morning. Suddenly I realized I was remembering my mom fixing salami and cheese sandwiches on toast with lettuce, French's mustard, and maybe tomato with Weaver's potato chips on the side for Saturday lunches when I was a kid. Dad would be home, and we would all sit around in the living room watching the little black and white t.v. We might watch baseball or football, possibly bowling, the local station's talent round-up, or roller derby.

Next thing you know, I was trying to remember the name of a tavern in Omaha that had a really outstanding corned beef sandwich on St. Patrick's Day in the early Eighties. If I remember it, I will have to write it on a little piece of paper to put in the bathroom insomnia drawer. We used to go there to watch baseball pennant race games. It's not all that surprising that I can't remember. It was so far back Nolan Ryan was pitching in a Houston Astros uniform with those rainbow stripes that looked like seventh grade Home Ec. class Jello parfaits.

I'll add to this soon, but maybe someone out there will have a hopeful memory jogger, and leave a comment. Here's a site about Nebraska taverns and Midwest music venues.

And that's all for this Friday's Sandwich Report.


A Lesson in Symmetry

When I was in preschool, shortly after the Civil War, we dipped a piece of yarn tied onto the end of a pencil into a metal juice can* of tempera paint**. Then we flopped the yarn on one half of a folded piece of construction paper. We lifted the yarn away, then folded the paper closed and rubbed it. I still remember the surprise of opening the paper and finding the painted squiggle on both halves of the paper.

Since children don't use that edible paste these days, that first surprise of symmetry might be one of the most common art experiences across generations. The other would be the first clay snowman.

Today a student found a way to take the symmetry lesson to the next level. We are studying prints, making styrofoam, texture, mono-, sponge and spatula prints. We were taking turns printing circles of different sizes using yogurt, oleo, cottage cheese, and snack pudding containers. This lad was so pleased to find that the red circle he made on one half of the paper now appeared on both sides that he put the paper on his head like a tent. And, yes, he had very symmetrical bright red circles on each side of his little blond head.


*Frozen OJ came in metal cans that had to be opened with a can opener. The cans were just the right size to fit in the paint tray of our school easels.

**It was powdered tempera mixed with water, and either runny or lumpy.


Ish Wish Dish

I promised photos of the awesome metallic fish collages and the collograph prints. Just wave your hand in a big swish swish:

A largemouth bass, no doubt.

A very scaly use of the WASTE ziplock bags.

Remember that book, CDB? CDFish? OSICDFish!
Collograph print.
Seriously gorgeous!

Home Improvement Makeover

My condo has a new decor and special fashion accents thanks to a nationally known program. No, it isn't the latest project of the Queer Eyes. It isn't being gutted down to the load-bearing walls by This Old House, although I have invited Bob Vilas to stop by with his Craftsman flame-thrower for a special consultation. I'll give you a hint. In the past Collagemama has ranted about the Auto Zone battery and toolboxes in the living room, and the bucket seat from a sold-to-salvage-yard Geo Prism in a bedroom upstairs.

My new living room conversation piece/decorating accent is a half-empty case of Valvoline. Aren't you so jealous? Don't you wish Click and Clack would do an extreme makeover of your home, too?

Even my Sims families don't have the Car Talk design options for their houses. I haven't seen the new Sims game yet, I admit. It is supposed to be more realistic. Maybe it will have audio background noise of a washing machine running, running, running washing greasy rags.

Should your life need more excitement, I found a new way to waste time on-line. You can literally watch paint dry at the This Old House web cam archive time-lapse site.


Only you can prevent forest fires

Teaching preschoolers about the warm colors by creating 3D campfires for cooking all the fish we caught the last few weeks of art. We acted out the whole sequence of building a campfire on a campout. I was emphasizing the building of a fire ring of stones to keep the fire from burning grass and trees. Suddenly a four-year-old broke into this song doing an impressive Johnny Cash imitation:

I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
and the flames went higher.
And it burns, burns, burns
the ring of fire
the ring of fire.


Jazz Sneaky Smock Attack

My dear, demented friend sent me a link to the Daily Nebraskan today about a university opera production of Madama Butterfly. I spent many years in Lincoln reading The Daily Nebraskan aka The Rag. That is how I became a NYTimes crossword puzzle junkie. The Kimball Recital Hall, where the opera will be performed, is a nice hall. I saw many music and dance performances there. It sits on the south side of the sculpture garden. The art department building, Woods Hall is on the north side. My dear watercolor professor's classroom windows looked out on the garden and toward the Kimball. I made countless drawings and paintings outside in the sculpture garden. The front of the Kimball Hall is designed to be a band shell for outdoor concerts in the sculpture garden, so it looks like it has a Neanderthal forehead. The third side of the rectangle is the simply elegant Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery designed by Philip Johnson.

The building is far more beautiful than his Amon Carter Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. The last side of the rectangle is formed by the oldest building on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, Architecture Hall.

This very funky 19th century building shows up in the movie "Terms of Endearment". It was while Debra Winger was in town to film the movie that she and our governor, Bob Kerrey, future member of the 9/11 commission, began their affair. At that time my boyfriend lived in a third floor apartment that overlooked the patio of the governor's mansion, and the driveway to the gubenatorial garage. The highway patrol officers would chauffeur Ms. Winger to the mansion.....the grill would be hot.....

The last time the boys and I drove up there, in 1999, we went to a Jazz in June concert in the sculpture garden. We got a t-shirt at the concert that is now the star of the Smock Sneak Attack. It sports an image of a giant mosquito playing the trumpet.

Nowadays that mosquito t-shirt provokes a new buzz. After years of expecting preschool kids to don a paint shirt without complaints, and having my expectations drowned in a sea of whining and resistance, I started a new game. I just have to announce that it is time for the Smock Sneak Attack, and each kid quivers with excitement about having a t-shirt popped over his head while he is pretending extravagantly to not expect it. The t-shirts are becoming costumes and characters! The jazz shirt from Lincoln is the star. Many kids also groove on my sons old soccer and baseball uniforms sporting the number three.

Elevens through tears

Howie says he will cry tomorrow. He asks us to all stop and think at the eleventh hour of November eleventh. I will be wearing my dad's pin representing the 406th Infanty Regiment of the 102nd Infantry Division. The regimental motto is "To the front." I will be holding all the sons and daughters in Fallujah in my heart and prayers. May they all survive to be octogenarian veterans.

Bobbie Gentry Strikes Again

My mom says that while she was in the hospital, frequently groggy and dozing, and sometimes mighty wacky from the steroids, she became tormented by the song, "Ode to Billie Joe". Oh my gosh! I feel her pain! I've been attacked by that song in times of extreme stress, emotional frailty, and physical weakness. It it cruel and unusual and sticks in your brain like rubber cement. [And remember how jars of rubber cement had those built-in brushes?]

I come from a long line of people who worry in the middle of the night if they can't remember all the Seven Deadly Sins, Santa's reindeer, the Disney dwarfs, and the weird names of my maternal great aunts. That is why I have little notes in my bathroom drawer, and probably why my dad always "carried his brains in his pocket". If insomnia provokes "the lion sleeps tonight" when I can't, I can go in the bathroom and look among the scraps of paper for my brain cues:

  • Malachite is a symbol/charm for balance.
  • Onyx is a symbol/charm for protection.
  • Jack Bruce was the third member of the supergroup Cream.
  • "The whole nine yards" refers to the length of machine gun ammo, not football.
  • Sloth, pride, anger, gluttony, covetousness, envy, and lust are the Seven Deadly Sins.
  • Uncompliant is a medical term for patients who ask a lot of questions.
  • The great aunts were named Loy, Effa Dale, Billy, Vin, and Alice June.
  • My grandfather's name for a meal concocted of leftovers, cold cuts, creepy miniature pickled ears of corn, herring, and sardines, was "catch-as-catch-can". William Safire explains that the term means "haphazard, unsystematic, hit-or-miss." Originally a sport wrestling term, it later had a sexual connotation.
  • The reindeers, of course, are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen, Comet, and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

Should you need those lyrics to figure out what Billie Joe was throwing off the bridge, please click on http://www.letssingit.com/?http://www.letssingit.com/bobbie-gentry-ode-to-billie-joe-g5xm893.html. In the meantime, just FYI, Wee-Mo-Whip is not a non-dairy whipped dessert topping.


Heavy metal

Back on Friday I posted a photo of fish-shaped collages using metallic texture materials. Today the class finished the scales and we made collograph prints. First we tried printing onto blue cellophane, but it didn't look particularly impressive. Quick switch to printing on black 18 x 24 inch construction paper, and the results were awesome. I will get photos posted ASAP because the prints are gorgeous. The project made use of lots of recycled materials, and taught cutting techniques for different materials. The collograph print and the texture collage are both neato keen.

We mixed a potion of black tempera, silver tempera, and gold washable printing ink on the printing plate (actually an old school cafeteria tray). The ink is too sticky and thick to roll onto the texture collage without the tempera added in. We used sponge brayers to ink the fish, then set the black paper on top of the fish, rather than inverting the fish. The prints turned out looking like brass rubbings from English tombs, delicate Japanese prints made with real fish, and industrial schematic/robotic diagrams rolled into one.

Japanese fish prints are a really great idea if you aren't the art teacher. When I first started teaching, our school director got all gung-ho about the educational value of having preschoolers make fish prints. I'm thankful to this day that I dodged that bullet. My friend wasn't so lucky. She got stuck buying a very large and scaly fish from a fresh fish market, and trying to make prints with kids totally creeped out by the slimy, smelly fish. Nowadays you can buy fake rubber fish from the art and school supply catalogs to teach this alleged nature/art/cultural awareness project.

My friend went on to be a compost educator. I always wonder about that Thanksgiving story about Indians teaching the Pilgrims to put a fish in the hole for each corn seed planted. Okay, I'm kind of vague on the details, not being in third grade any more. Still, I bet she was glad to get rid of that big, inky fish in some dirt hole.

When I was actually married and a new mom to boot, my ex went into a transition phase back to vegetarianism. His diet included Diet Coke, M&Ms, donuts, homegrown garden vegetable gazpacho made in the blender and unfortunately sprayed all over the kitchen, fish and seafood from the "Fresh Fish Truck" found in a parking lot in downtown Omaha.

One evening he brought home squid. Some folks might get all rapturous and poetic about calimari. Indeed, I teach gourmet first-graders who compare and contrast kinds of squid. My experience was a like choking down sections of garden hose.

The squid was nothing compared to the Big Fish. My ex, in triumphant returning hunter mode, brought home a Big Fish. He attempted to de-bone and de-scale this monster. Things didn't work out. They REALLY didn't work out. He scraped the mess on the cutting board down the drain into the garbage disposal. The bones and scales got stuck in the disposal. REALLY stuck. Attempts to dislodge the bones were unsuccessful for DAYS and WEEKS. Imagine the aroma! Imagine it at breakfast time! Imagine it with no money to hire a repairman.


Consistency is all I ask. Immortality is all I seek.

This is a season for my favorite plays. A few weeks ago I saw "The Importance of Being Earnest" at the DTC. I knew the play inside and out, but I had never seen a professional performance.

Next weekend I'm going to see another favorite, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead", by Tom Stoppard. It's a production of the Risk Theater Initiative. I've seen the movie with Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, and Gary Oldman, but I've never seen Stoppard's play on stage. I claim an ownership in this play. Good grief! Thirty-one years ago my best high school pal and I did a readers' theater of a coin-flipping scene for our senior English class. Because our last names were Papenfuss and Mastalir we related to the interchangeability of the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Because we both had a love of words and writing, we savored Stoppard's wit and philosophical pondering. Because we were both frustrated with English class busy work assignments, we relished the chance to complete our project by performing a reading during class. Because we both had names too difficult to spell, we ordered our take-out pizzas from Valentinos under the name of J. Stewart, for Jackie the race car driver. Do not ask me about Milton, Spenser, or Chaucer! Those were the good old days of Billy Jean King, Chrissy Evert, and Martina, Bjorn, Ilie Nastase, McEnroe, and Connors. I doubt that life was really simpler in those olden days, but at least we didn't have tattoos and visible piercings.


Fish to scale

I've been on a mission to find art class uses for the heavy, silver-toned ziplock bags I got at the last Raytheon W.A.S.T.E. give-away. The plastic is too difficult for preschoolers to cut with scissors. I think it makes lovely fish scales, though. My elementary students have been making metallic fish using a variety of materials. Some of the fish will be double-sided, and filled with a stuffing to make "puffy fish". Others will be used as collographs to make interesting texture prints.

Good sleeping weather

It is finally cool here. I slept like a rock wearing sweats (not those hot flash sweats!) and wrapped in a comforter. The sun was out when I woke up, but my son wasn't up and getting ready for his 8:15 class. We both scrambled around, and he zoomed off in the Batmobile eating a Yoplait. I eventually ingested enough coffee to take a shower and get dressed. Then I realized my eyeglasses were missing one nose piece. Was that the chunky, hard-to-chew bite in last night's supper?

What's your number?

During some recreational googling, a dear demented friend found a reference to a person named Nancy 3. Hoffman who expresses her Jewish heritage by playing accordian in a klezmer band called the Maine Squeeze somewhere in southern Maine besides running the only museum of umbrella covers. It sounds like a busy existence. Nancy's middle name used to be Arlene, but she had it legally changed to 3 just because she liked it better than the other digits she tried. You know how it goes. You need something to do sometimes besides slapping mosquitoes or blogging, so you change your middle name.

So, could we conduct a survey? I think it could be an interesting survey question. If you were to replace your middle name with a number between one and nine, what number would you choose? Then we could analyze the choices by age, gender, birth order, astrological sign, political and religious affiliation, tax bracket... I bet there are some significant differences between people who choose odd numbers and those who choose even. Why didn't I think of this when my kids had to do those ridiculous Science Fair experiments? This survey wouldn't have involved dyeing, burning, or exploding anything, and would cost less than the ecoli fast food burger project. (That one did have a great Led Zep soundtrack, I have to admit.)

Steven said it felt really weird when he had to be number 4 on a soccer team, because he had always been an odd number before. When I told my dad, he said he couldn't imagine being an even number. Two sons usually choose number three. I'll have to ask my oldest, and my mom, and other family members. Then I'll ask my coworkers.

I would pick five. I have inexplicably felt that five was my personal number my whole life, and especially so in certain fonts. 5 5 5 5 5 5

We moved here when Steven had just turned three. We moved on a very hot Memorial Day weekend. We had come down here on Steven's birthday, May sixth, to celebrate with his dad, who was living in fine style at Embassy Suites all that spring while I was single-parenting in Oklahoma. We had birthday cake at the elementary school playground the boys would attend in the fall, and then we went to the renaissance faire. Steven's big brothers had played t-ball in Edmond. I'm sure I have recounted my parental horror story of having them playing on different fields at the same time at different ends of Edmond when the tornado sirens sounded.

Little Steven was desperate to "be on a team". For his birthday my college friend sent him a little purple t-shirt with the pawprint of the Pickerington, Ohio high school team, and the number 3 on the back. Steven was thrilled. What he had actually wanted all along was a shirt with a number. Anytime he wore that shirt he was "on a team".

So, what is your number? What would you choose for your middle name? What made you decide on that number?


I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.

Will RogersUS humorist & showman (1879 - 1935)
I have to believe the Big Kahuna Life Force is amused by our inept self-centered mortal rodeo clown attempts to lassoo the wily bucking cosmic comic energy using Will Rogers-wanabee rope tricks. Like the high school chemistry teacher who was really just the varsity basketball coach equipped with a slide-rule, a winning record, some toothpicks and styrofoam balls, let's deliver impressive imitation Gene Wilder laboratory lectures on how to clone ever-lasting bionic Supreme Court justices. Acid etch a world in which we are not the most disgusting, wasteful, arrogant, despised Modern Stone-Age Family. I need to believe we can do that far more than I wish to believe the words of the preschooler who told me I looked really beautiful today, "just like a teenager".

Naughty Little Monkey

Was there childhood before H. A. Rey created Curious George? Remember when George wanted a balloon from the balloon seller but instead of one, "The whole bunch broke lose"? I love how this boy painted George floating away with the whole bunch of balloons.

Coo Coo Ca-Choo

Last Sunday Dave Barry wrote about that tasty paste we ate in kindergarten and at Sunday School. Robert Fulghum explained that all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten. Today I'm laughing about the equally important things I learned babysitting.

In sixth grade in 1966 I discovered pop music. I moved beyond my red crystal radio kit to a little transistor radio in its vinyl case. Every Saturday afternoon I would listen to the top 49 countdown on KLMS, 1490 AM with my earphone that looked like my grandmother's hearing aid. I could listen while I dug dandelions in the front yard. Any time we complained of boredom, my mom told us we could chose whether to darn our socks or to dig dandelions. That was excellent incentive to learn to entertain ourselves. [Imagine that! We didn't even have a VCR in the backseat of the Chevy. Heck, we had just gotten seatbelts.] And, thank heaven I had a mom with a constructive cure for boredom!

Cue the memory soundtrack:
  • Georgy Girl
  • To Sir With Love
  • What's It All About, Alfie
  • Penny Lane
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • I'm a Believer
  • Don't Sleep in the Subway
  • I Dig Rock and Roll Music
  • I Think We're Alone Now
  • Feeling Groovy

I bought 45s for eighty-eight cents in Kresges at the only mall in town. My allowance for four weeks was enough to buy a 45. I put those plastic swirly adaptors in the record centers so I could play them on our hi-fi. I wore Yardley white lip gloss and blue eye shadow, and read both Sixteen and Seventeen magazines. My PaperMate pen was designed by Marimekko, and I was introduced to pizza and Doritos.

The next year I started babysitting for a couple with two daughters during all the Cornhusker home games and the chamber music concerts. This is significant in that

  1. I began developing my skills entertaining and educating kids which have served me well as a mom and art teacher
  2. I was introduced to the lifestyle of a more affluent socio-economic group
  3. I was the beneficiary of football tickets when they couldn't attend
  4. They convinced my mom that I was old enough to see Franco Zefferelli's beautiful Romeo and Juliet
  5. I developed the ability, now long lost, to visualize the action of a football game from the radio announcer's descriptions
  6. I was paid a whopping seventy-five cents an hour, when most of my other "clients" paid thirty-five or fifty cents
  7. I had the opportunity to read their copy of The Graduate, or I might still not have a clue what sex is.

Slow down. You move too fast. Got to make the morning last.


Senior Sandwiches

Every Friday I make lunch for the high school gang. At first I tried to make something different every week. Now I know that the guys look forward to my sandwiches. These aren't your mother's PB & J. This is the recipe for my most popular sandwich:

Whole wheat kaiser rolls
Deli-sliced Sara Lee oven-roasted chicken sliced thin
Deli-sliced Sara Lee brown sugar ham sliced thin
American cheese slices
Swiss cheese slices
Sliced rings of an orange bell pepper

Load sandwiches. Place in 250 degree oven for about twenty minutes.
Set out a festival of condiments!

Getting the sympathy vote

The kindergarteners got into a shoving and shouting match at five p.m. during the popcorn snack break over which presidential candidate was The Real Liar, Liar [Pants On Fire]. Just before I outlawed the discussion topic for the rest of art class, one girl told me she had voted for George W. at school. I asked why, and she explained that she felt sorry for him because his teeth hurt so much. What??? You, know, Ms. Nancy! They are made of wood.

Dang. I didn't realize Rummy chopped down the cherry tree on the ranch in Crawford. We all know Karl Rove has been throwing a lot of silver dollars across the river.


Never Smile At a Crocodile

Once a year I turn into a wild woman for the camera. It's not quite those aura polaroids at the metaphysical bookstore. Still, each year's photo shoot reveals something about me.

We dress in costumes for the staff Christmas card photo, and for individual photos for the school calendar months. Yes, I'm a calendar girl. I worry for 360 days about what I will wear for this event. Then I plan and collect everything I need.

This may have been my best. I was the crocodile in Kipling's The Elephant's Child. I had the green Master's Championship look-alike blazer over a poison lime green shirt. Then I wore a truly reptilian donated necktie, a leaf lei, a split pea soup green fishing net from Oriental Trading Co. over my shoulders, a plush elephant puppet, a large and bendable bicolored python rock snake, and a straw safari hat with a leopard print band. Instead of saying, "Cheese," the photographer let me snarl, "I collect really BAD neckties."

Fishing lines, tackle boxes, and small fry

Browsing the new book shelf at the library is sometimes the best way for me to think up new art projects. One day I found this book by James Prosek with lovely watercolor illustrations of fish and fishing gear. There's not much of a story, but it fit in with lines, hats, and watercolors, all themes we've been exploring in preschool classes. I like the punch line of the book. What the child really needs for "a good day's fishing" is a hat. Hats are good things. They keep the sun off our faces and ears, and shade our eyes so we can see where the fish are hiding under water.

When my kids were five, two, and newborn, we went fishing at Aunt Phyl and Uncle Bob's cabin. I still laugh remembering Uncle Bob's pronouncement about little Michael, age two and a half: "I like Mike. He eats fish. He wears hats. And he's ornery!"

The first week of this project we did crayon line drawings of ourselves fishing. We glued coffee stir straws for poles and buttons for bobbers. We practiced cutting some metallic ribbon to make the shiny fish under water, and then painted our pictures with liquid watercolors. We pantomimed a fishing trip with casting, watching the bobber, reeling in the line, and even releasing the fish carefully back into the pond. Might as well teach some fishing etiquette while I have everybody's attention!

The second week each child made a can of worms and a tackle box. Most of the tackle boxes were egg carton halves, but some were boxes from the Raytheon W.A.S.T.E. give-away. The worms were cut of soft foam. The bobbers were mismatched plastic Easter eggs that so many people have donated. We cut "fishing nets" from the plastic nets that held the eggs or fresh cherry tomatoes. We made hooks from donated bright-colored wire. The kids' little fingers were working on all kinds of fine motor skills, but they didn't know it. They were too into the pretending. It was time to make spinner lures for catching perch. We threaded buttons, and pieces cut from clear plastic report covers and from mylar packaging (again W.A.S.T.E.) onto wires, and twisted the wire ends together. Threading and twisting are tricky. You have to concentrate and persevere!

Fly lures for catching brook trout were the best. The kids poked small feathers into pony beads. Talk about your steady eye-hand coordination practice! I hope someday these kids will be tying real flies!

Next week we'll read Curious George Goes Fishing. Then we will make little frying pans out of clay for a teeny tiny fish fry. If you ask real nice and bring homemade cookies, we will invite you to the picnic.

I was sad this afternoon. An eight-year-old told me he couldn't tie anything. He said his mom and dad always tie his shoes. Good golly! He's got a tv in his room, all the video games on earth, and a limo ride for his birthday. Please parents! Give your child the time and the need to develop basic competencies for himself! If you always tie the shoes or zip the jacket because you are in a hurry, how will your child ever gain the skills?

Now excuse me. I've got to put a new worm on my hook.


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