Candid Camera

My eighty-two year old dad's take on the bare midriff phenomenon is a lesson in making the world a friendlier place. Whenever he sees a female with an exposed navel he imagines that she is taking a photo of him with her navel cam. He always smiles so the picture will turn out nice. She always smiles back.

Does that mean that facial piercings are really voice recorders? Am I on the air? Testing. One. Two.


Sorta Supper, Kinda Cuisine

I am auditioning for my own cooking show on the local cable access channel, or at least that's how I feel. Dad is here for an extended visit. I am cooking. A lot. At least by my standards. Normally, I am good for one home-cooked meal per day, preferably breakfast; one fresh fruit smoothie; one salad; and then one Bonus delicious meal per week for the Lunch Gang.

Dad sits at the table to visit with me while I cook, but sometimes he just stares as I attempt to put together a meal with wholesome sidedishes. "And what would that be called?," he asks.

[I need to work up more patter for my cooking show. Witty banter with the celebrity cohost. Product placement. Testimonials for smoke detectors and grease-cutting cleansers.]

A. "Well, Dad, this is my famous Kinda Chinese Chicken Without Cashews." Dad had already eaten the cashews to go with his beer.

B. "Well, Dad, this is my famous Tostita-less Spanish Pork Chops With Canned Black Beans, 2 for $1.00 On Special".

C. "Well, Dad, this is my world-reknowned Roast Beef With Spackling Paste Mashed Potatoes", so you need to sing the song about "Scram Gravy Ain't Wavy". You've always said Scram Gravy was made with cornstarch.

The closest I get to gourmet ingredients is the jar of Lyle's Golden Syrup given to me by the dear ex-wife of my organic cousin. It is GOOD STUFF. Put some in a little Tupperware container that still has a matching lid. Add the last of the soy sauce, some vinegar, some lemon juice, a shake of cayenne pepper and of ginger, and 2T of cornstarch. If you use a measuring spoon, go back two spaces and do not collect $200. Put the matching lid on and shake it all up. My preschoolers would say, "shake your booty," which is another sign that our culture has gone to hell in a hand-basket. Cook some cut up chix boobs in the electric skillet in hot Crisco oil. Add cut up celery, summer squash, red pepper (or other colors), mushrooms maybe, frozen peas, and leftover Minute Rice. When it all seems warm and crispy, pour the Golden Booty Shake Mix over everything, and stir as it cooks for about two minutes. As an afterthought, set the table. Get out the chow mein noodles for crunch.

Back in the Wonder Years, I was a Camp Fire Girl. In sixth grade we had to have a progressive dinner to meet a basic requirement. The girls divided into three groups to plan for the dinner. My group chose a Mexican theme. I was blasted out of my sheltered childhood by this introduction to Doritos and pinatas. The next group chose to cook Italian. I learned about the joys of candles stuck in wine bottles, spaghetti, and Ragu. Last in the progressive dinner was the Hawaiian group. Terrifying stuff of coconuts, pineapples, and Jello.

The next year in 4H Club I learned of another cuisine--the one made from canned corn, Quaker Oats, ground meat, and cream of mushroom soup. This is the second tier of comfort food, after food actually made by my mother and grandma. 4H cuisine is down-to-basics satisfying. My "4H You Learn To Bake" pamphlet is grease-stained, water-rippled, and held together with yellowed Scotch tape. We were learning to bake in 1967-68. It was a tense time for our nation, and I was a very tense junior high student. Garrison Keillor can carry on about ketchup solving all our problems, but I think 4H cuisine might work better.

In college I learned about Chinese food at the Hong Kong Pizza King just south of the UNL campus. The only link I can find on Google leads to a conservative forum discussing gay Norwegian elk, immigration, and Minutemen. As a student in the mid-Seventies, Hong Kong Pizza King was an inviting spot the size of a postage stamp just beyond campus for meeting friends and eating egg rolls. The windows would steam up from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick's Day against the solid layer of packed snow and ice on the sidewalk.

Steamed windows make everything taste better. Make a note to the set designer for my cooking show.


Joyful elephants

This may be the cutest piece of childrens' art I have ever seen, excluding works by my own sons, of course. The two green elephants are dancing through the rainy jungle with kings riding on their backs. It was painted by a kindergartner mixing all her colors from a set of Crayola So Big watercolors (just red, yellow, blue, and green). The painting was inspired by a reading of 17 Kings and 42 Elephants (Dial Books for Young Readers) (Hardcover) by Margaret Mahy, Patricia MacCarthy (Illustrator)

"Seventeen kings on forty-two elephants Going on a journey through a wild wet night, Baggy ears like big umbrellaphants, Little eyes a-gleaming in the jungle..."


Hair Club for Men

The resident teen male just flew out of here to rent a tux at the Men's Warehouse! Amen! Prom is ten days away, and I've tried very hard not to nag. I did mention that his hair was starting to look like a wolverine again. He claims if he got it cut before prom it would look really weird. Not as weird as if I trim it while he's sleeping...

When my sister went to prom back in '77, her date was a Lincoln East High Spartan varsity all-rounds/floor-X gymnast who shall remain nameless. He rented a unitard tux so he could do handsprings, splits, and other amazing feats at the dance. I hope there's a pommel horse at Southfork just in case someone shows up for prom in a unitard tux! I can almost see Miss Ellie out in the stable stroking the pommel horse's nose when up prances Pam Ewing in her johdpurs...


Don't smoke that Oobleck!

Spent a luxurious weekend in Austin being totally pampered as the guest of my cousin and her husband. It lulled me to a level of relaxation I don't attain often. For years now as a single mom I have been the Parent On Duty, the Official Decision-maker/Worrier/Driver/Enforcer/Grocery-Shopper/Chief Cook, Bottle-Washer and Scullery Maid. It's part who I am, part my situation, and part how I got in this situation (if I have to be honest). In short, this weekend was like being transplanted to Xanadu where someone else takes care of me, makes the plans, feeds me well and often, and I just have to show up, ride along and enjoy.

Back at Dallas Love airport this afternoon, fifty-two hours after I left, I was half dozing, half reading the NY Times Book Reviews. On the shuttle back to the "Parking Spot" I observed my fellow passengers through gritty, runny eyes. Having parked the old Buick in the cheapo part Friday, I was the last dropped off, and by then I was getting really groggy. Threw my bag in the car, figuring if the flower vase inside hadn't already broken it probably wouldn't.

Ran late driving to the airport Friday morning, and didn't stop for gas. Had to head for the first Chevron to fill up, and squint through the two-day tree pollen accumulation. Instead of fixating on the dollars, cents, and gallons whirling past at the pump ($2.19/gallon), I washed the windows. And washed. And washed. Adding water seemed to reconstitute the dry green scum into a gooey green film that resisted my efforts like Slimer in the old Ghostbusters cartoons.

The king of Didd would be so pleased. He was tired of snow, rain, fog, and sunshine in Dr. Seuss's Bartholomew and the Oobleck. He had his magicians create something different--a green and gooey all-new form of precipitation. Wreaked havoc in the kingdom of Didd, as I recall, much like the time little Bradfinkel brought Silly Putty to preschool art class in the pockets of his McWee Schwisms, but on a global scale.

Drove on home, and my pool shark son entered, stage right, reporting that "something was on fire down by the mailboxes". We each carried a pitcher of water down to the other end of the condos. Someone had tossed a ciggie butt into the drifts of dried yellow-green tree fluff, and it was smoking and spreading. Didn't smell like sage or incense, but more like punk for lighting fireworks.

Remember, only you can prevent Oobleck fires.


High heels and pearls

Wore my hiking boots and princess hat to teach today. You will be relieved to know I wore clothes, too. When my sister was very little she reported that her Sunday School teacher had worn high heels and pearls to class. That visual has stuck with all of us for over forty years.

This is a cute book, with fresh watercolor illustrations. Kids like to watch for the goofy things the dog does, like selling lemonade, or hiding in a tree when the princess has a grumpy bad hair day. Our projects have involved drawing, lacing yarn through poster board boot cut-outs, texture rubbings of the bottoms of our shoes/hiking boots, and more practice using watercolor paint sets.

The girls who are addicted to Disney princesses want to argue with all the Q&A rhyming pages in the book. Still, the message wins most of them over. Yes, princesses are just like you, and you are a princess on the inside. I am waiting for the Charles & Camilla-inspired sequel, Do Princes Wear Kilts? I will use it to teach about plaid.

This is the review at www.barnesandnoble.com:
Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
What does it mean to be a princess? A young girl and her mother talk about what princesses are like in this delightful, rhyming book. Inspired by her own daughter's question, "Do princesses wear hiking boots?," Carmela LaVigna Coyle has written a fun, witty book that touches on themes of childhood and identity. The little girl asks if princesses engage in a variety of activities, from climbing trees and walking in the rain to drinking sparkling punch and even doing chores. Her mother has a good answer for everything. Ultimately, the pair come to realize that being a princess isn't a matter of what one does, but what one is—inside. This is a book readers are sure to enjoy again and again. 2003, Rising Moon, Ages 4 to 8.


A Gift for Coach

At the end of each season there's a tiny panic about giving an appreciation gift to the coach. I've been a soccer mom for a ridiculously long time now, pretty much since the Neanderthals first played the Sapiens. I know that people don't volunteer to coach youth recreational soccer or other sports in expectation of receiving an appreciation gift. True, some of them get roped into it the same way I got roped into being a Tiger Cub leader back in Edmond, Oklahoma. Usually they find they get at least as much out of the coaching experience as they put in. Hanging out with young children will supply a coach with whimsical comments and blooper moments to last a lifetime.

Encourage children to write a letter to their coach at the end of the season. You can prompt your child with questions. What was your favorite drill? What was your greatest moment of the season? What new skill did you learn? What new rule did you learn? What was the funniest thing your coach did?

Parents can write a letter to the coach, too. Thank the coach for keeping the emphasis on learning skills, being good sports, working as a team, and having fun. Enclose reprints of all the photos you took, even the ones of children picking dandelions, picking noses, getting entangled in the goal net, staring up at hot air balloons, or wearing their socks all the way up under their shorts.

While you are at it, be sure to thank the refs at your child's games. Model respect for rules and good sportsmanship for your young player.

For all you do, this goal's for you!

This can be an appreciation gift for your coach, or for your dad:

1. Get your family to eat all the cherry tomatoes from a red plastic net package. Cherry tomatoes are delicious, so this shouldn't be too tough.

2. Weave some pipe-cleaners through the net to form a soccer goal. Cut off the extra netting.

3. Staple the goal onto a piece of poster board so it stands up.

4. Draw a picture of yourself blocking a goal OR scoring a goal on another piece of poster board. Use crayons or markers.

5. Carefully cut out your picture being sure to not chop off any arms or legs. Leave some extra poster board around your feet. Fold that extra so that you can staple or glue your figure in front of the net goal.

6. If your whole team is working together, you can make a whole field of players with two nets as a way to thank your coach. You can make another one for yourself to play with and act out kicks and games. You might be able to sweet talk your soccer mom into baking a sheet cake and frosting it green. Then you could decorate it with goals and players for a team party.

Soccer Mom Appreciation Game Day

Plan ahead for May seventh, Soccer Mom Appreciation Game Day, aka the day before Mother's Day:

1. Save one small water bottle for each member of your young team. Cut the bottles off 3" from the bottom to make a tiny flower pot.

2. Put a jiffy pot in the water bottle "pot", and moisten according to instructions.

3. Have your little team members plant seeds in the "pots" for marigolds or sunflowers--something that sprouts fast.

4. Get some plastic straws, coffee stirrers, or skewers.

5. Use the coffee stirrer as a florist-style plant spike. Staple a little sign on the spike that says something like,
"Thank you for tying my soccer shoes, cheering for me, bringing the orange slices, and kissing my boo-boos. Thank you for being my very own wonderful Soccer Mom. Love, _______ XOXOX".

6. Tie a sports shoelace around the flower pot.

7. Have the kids make an arch for the moms to run through! (Do not dump cold Gatorade on moms.)

8. Present the flowers to the moms, and give them sweaty, muddy hugs.


Night vision

I've been doing an art project this week using the book, Night Driving, by John Coy. The picture book is too long for most kids under age five, but younger ones like to find circles and half circles in the illustrations. The story is about a boy and his dad driving to the mountains at night in the Fifties. Elementary school kids are intrigued, and go on to imagine other things you might see driving at night.

Black construction paper 9x12", or 9x6" for little kids.
Stickers--white circles, silver stars, hole reinforcers, eye stickers, alphabet stickers.
White crayons.
Glue sticks.
Kinko copies of black and white patterned circles.*

Teach kids how to cut circles out of copies. Show them it's like driving a car. The scissor hand cuts right on the line/"highway" of the circle edge. The other hand turns the paper like a steering wheel.
The littlest kids (3) also walked/"drove" around the room using Chinet plates for steering wheels. We pretended it was getting dark, so we turned on our headlights and saw lots of bugs flying around the lights.
I love this owl that looks like Groucho Marx!
Older kids relate to playing alphabet games in the car. "A is Abraham Lincoln, B is Babe Ruth...", or "B is bridge...Y is yawn...Z is zero on the speedometer".

The kids cut out lots of circles and snip some of them into half circles. The half circles can be VW Beetles/"slug bugs", which look similar to the old-timey car in the illustrations. Half circles can also become the moon, the tummy of a mule deer, the arches under the bridge, a baseball cap, the wings on a beetle or moth, or a dome-style tent. The eye stickers can be the eyes of the deer, or you can go off on a UFO tangent.

Use the crayons to draw more details. One girl used circles to create a boombox for the campers in the tent. Another kindergartner correctly made all the constellations she knew (I was very impressed!). Kids made Cinderella's carriage out driving at night, igloos, skunks, raccoons, deer on roller blades, hibernating bears in caves, and some very Seussian aqueducts with hiding trolls.

*You have to go to Kinkos because this project will use up all your toner! Make photocopies of patterned papers--zebra prints, crossword puzzles, buttons, bubble wrap, want ads, snakeskin, etc. Cut out circles of various sizes from the black & white patterns tracing CDs, jar lids, etc. Glue cut out circles onto contrasting patterns, and assemble an 8.5x11" page of black/white circles of various patterns.


No, No, Cyrano!

The last few minutes of a preschool art class get a bit hectic. The first kids who finish the project and wash their hands need something constructive to occupy them so they won't tackle each other. A few kids are still finishing their art, and need my encouragement toward that end. The line of kids waiting to wash hands needs my attention so they don't wipe their painty hands on each other.

Usually I place a couple activities on the big floor rug for people with clean hands; a building toy, a book, finger puppets, a puzzle, or the ever popular bucket of dinosaur postcards. We also have some lovely smooth square samples of marble counter tops to stack or sort.
Today, though, the kids asked me to get the Drama Nose. Since our program is half art and half drama, my brain veered off on the theatrical instead of the practical. What the kids wanted was:


Family Tree with Flair

This is the first revised edition of my family tree originally drawn up in 1965 at the dining table of my Grandma to earn a Camp Fire Girl bead and become a Faggot Finder or Torch Bearer, I'm not sure which. That first family tree was created during an oral history moment and sketched out on blueprint paper in pencil.

For eighth grade American Studies class we had to compile a neater and more detailed family tree. I had just received my very first set of colored felt pens. The twelve pens were in a black box that opened and folded back to stand ready to comply with my artistic wishes. This family tree is written with my op-art Papermate pen, and underlined with green, yellow, and red violet felt pens. I am proud to have grown up with the Beatles and the first felt pens. Where would we be without them?!

My walking bud wants to know why I am into this genealogy stuff. Maybe I just want to feel like I'm sitting to the left of Grandma at the big dark table in the light green dining room. I can smell the dark wooden buffet. I see the day's mail in the big glass bowl on the buffet, and the little pots of African violets and baby's breath on the shelves by the window. I can feel the anodized drinking glass at my place and see the tiny salt shaker with the bluebird design. Forty years ago, and we would have been anticipating cold pressed chicken, cukes & onions, mandarin orange jello salad, sugar cookies, and sweet iced tea from a cut glass pitcher.

Grandma would tell a bit about teaching in a one-room school near town. I would get more of the story from Dad as we walked off our big lunch. I especially liked the story of my great-great grandmother, Susa Smith, who was disowned by her parents for eloping with John Lee, the [handsome] gardener of their estate in England. The next generation had a different Cinderella spin, and Grandma had to go live with her aunts when her new stepmother came into the picture.

Behind the door to the kitchen were the shelves of games. Marbles for Chinese checkers were in a heavily waxed cottage cheese container. The Tinker Toys were in their original cylinder. Mom told us not to trip on the electrical cord running under the area rug. The figurine on the corner whatnot stressed, "Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil."

Age lines

Went to see a performance of "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue. It ran long for me. My companions said certain sections dragged. That wasn't my problem with it. "The Foreigner" just hooked more cars onto the long blurred train of country-house dramas that I've seen performed in high schools, middle-schools, community colleges, dinner theaters, and suburban repertory theatres over forty years. I'm trapped in "The Hollow" and I can't get out.

You know the country-house drama routine. An assortment of guests assemble for a weekend at a hunting lodge, rural inn, country house, or even beach house. They are not all who they pretend to be. There are deceits and manipulations. Sometimes there's a murder. Often the guests have to help the owner raise money to avoid foreclosure. In a frightening number of these plays, the guests decide to put on a musical talent show to raise money and/or solve the murder. Romantic pairings reshuffle. Inheritances are decided. The bad guys are run off, true lovers survive misunderstandings, the crime is solved by the town fool or an outside detective, and the country house is saved until next season.

You've been to these performances, so don't pretend you are from some different culture. The set always has three entrances; the left to the guest bedrooms; the center to the outdoors; the right to the kitchen and servants quarters. The elderly roles are played by the youngest actors wearing bad gray wigs, mustaches, and beards that look like they came from the Halloween aisle at Hinky Dinky. The kids have drawn on fat black age lines that could be seen from across a football field, and just look like weird facial grafiti in a small theatre. The young female characters are dressed in bright outfits from the junior department at Target, even though costumes for the other players hint at a time period or region. Too often there's a guy stuck wearing lederhosen. Actors of all ages attempt accents that obscure understanding of their lines.

Howard Cosell was criticized because he had never played football. I have never been an actress, except a few times in my marriage that I won't get into in this blog. Still, I've been known to speak in Transylvanian vampire mode while dancing to Buddy Holly and imitating the hairstylist of Fluffy the Paintbrush for my Tuesday first-grade art students. Without hammering my point, the combination of sets, make-up, costumes, and accents in these plays make about as much sense.

Country-house dramas are safe. They take us out of the business and politics of real life, send us on vacation with people we don't know, and serve us the dramatic equivalent of banquet rubber chicken and green beans. They make sure we don't trouble our pretty little heads with contemplating the human condition, moral or philosophical issues.

Bad accents...country setting...biscuits or grits...not who they seem...manipulations of finances...distraction from all philosophical and ethical issues...safely unquestioning audiences...

Good golly, Buddy Holly! The President is entertaining foreign dignitaries down in Crawford again this weekend!


Auntie Myrtle

Discussing groundcovers with coworkers has led me off on a new genealogical hunt. I'll keep posting about the search, but for now this is its origin.

The myrtle planted around my patio is blooming with pretty, precise blue flowers. Sparrows are tearing off shoots of the vine for nesting material. With myrtle, the sparrows often get more than they counted on. One poor bird sat at the top of my fence with three long strands of myrtle hanging from its beak, but couldn't figure out how to fly with all this carry-on luggage.
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
In Texas the term "myrtle" refers to crape myrtle trees (Exh. A) which provide color in our hot summers. In Nebraska "myrtle" is the name for a ground cover (Exh. B) also known as Vinca minor or periwinkle.

Myrtle grew all around my grandma's house in Pierce, Nebraska. Being a kid, I was oblivious to it until my mom decided to dig up a bit to plant around our house in Lincoln. We wrapped these horticolonists in newspapers--probably The Pierce County Leader and the Omaha Wierd Herald--and fretted about whether they would survive the three hour, 120 mile drive in the trunk of the '63 Pontiac Catalina.

My parents weren't prone to gardening. We kids were brought up with the idea that if you didn't water or fertilize, you wouldn't have to mow very often. The original owners of our house had planted a few chronically depressed rosebushes on the south side of the house, outside my bedroom window. It's all a bit jumbled with my kid understanding of the 1964 Alaska earthquake, but our parched lawn sometimes had big cracks during the hot summers. I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books about the hardships of life on the prairie and the horrible infestations of grasshoppers in those days. Big, ugly grasshoppers jumped over the cracks, surprising my bare legs, and spitting tobacco at me. To this day grasshoppers creep me out. Making a sculpture of an adult winged grasshopper did not help me overcome this aversion. (This photo and the next two are by Steven.)

The transplanting of the myrtle from Grandma's house to our house seemed like a big step toward making our yard more lush and friendly. I was all for it, and happy to be Mom's "big helper" on the project. That myrtle still grows happily in the shadier parts of my folks' yard.

In turn, I transplanted new colonists of that myrtle around the apartment building I managed as a newlywed at 1822 H St. in Lincoln, and later around our two homes in Omaha. I wonder if it is still growing around these spots. To plant myrtle around three houses in Oklahoma and Texas, I had to buy small pots from the nursery. When I moved to the condo complex, I brought myrtle, ivy, canna, and "purple stuff" colonists from my old yard. This is "purple stuff":

Grandma's sister was named Myrtle. The baby name website call Myrtle a "neglected horticultural name deserving of consideration". Grandma's middle name was Fern, probably also deserving of consideration. I'll let everybody know when I get a batch of three year old students with horticultural names. This wave of deserved consideration has yet to reach shore! For now, I'm awash in Carolines, Graces, and Claires.

The myrtle
c.1400, from O.Fr. mirtile, from M.L. myrtillus, dim. of myrtus "myrtle tree," from Gk. myrtos, from same Sem. source as Gk. myrrha (see myrrh).

genus of plants, the vervain, 1562, from L. verbena "leaves or twigs of olive, myrtle, laurel, or other sacred plants employed in religious ceremonies," from PIE *werbh- (cf. Lith. virbas "twig, branch, scion, rod"), from base *werb- "to turn, bend" (see warp).

The word "verbena" time zaps me back to Mrs. Barry's eleventh grade English class. We are reading Faulkner for the very first time, and trying to make some sense out of Light In August. We are all making fun of the writing, and saying, "Verbena, verbena, verbena," in high falsetto voices. I remember absolutely nothing else about Light In August, and I didn't know verbena was myrtle. I have read other Faulkner novels of my own volition. The Reivers is my favorite.

of or in the manner of Anacreon, "convivial bard of Greece," the celebrated Gk. lyrical poet, born at Teos in Ionia (560-478 B.C.E.). In ref. to his lyric form (1706) of a four-line stanza, rhymed alternately, each line with four beats (three trochees and a long syllable), also "convivial and amatory" (1801); and "an erotic poem celebrating love and wine" (c.1656). Francis Scott Key in 1814 set or wrote his poem "The Star-Spangled Banner" to the melody of "To Anacreon in Heav'n," the drinking song of the popular London gentleman's club called The Anacreontic Society, whose membership was dedicated to "wit, harmony, and the god of wine."

To Anacreon in Heav'n, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition;
That he their Inspirer and Patron wou'd be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian;
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I'll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine."

The tune is late 18c. and may be the work of society member and court musician John Stafford Smith (1750-1836).

Myrtle is a symbol of the goddess Aphrodite in Greek mythology. Yertle needs a few shoots of periwinkle in his mouth.


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