Too many answers, not enough questions

I have an idea that kids need mysteries as much as they need answers. They need unstructured time to ponder the mysteries, to let their questions steep like a jar of sun tea on the front step. Mysteries fuel our imaginations, spur our studies, and add layers of richness to our human experience.

As parents it is often easier to give a snap answer to a child's question than to ask, "What do you think happened?," "What ideas do you have about that?," or "How would you fix that?" We often feel like we have failed as parents when we see our kids lying on the floor staring at a sunbeam, or digging a canal in the dirt with a stick. We rush to enroll the kids in yet another adult-structured activity to "better use their time".

My third grade teacher read a chapter about Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb to the class every day after lunch recess. She was reading a chapter when we learned that JFK had died. My curiosity about ancient Egypt helped me through that difficult time, and I may have linked JFK with the "Boy Pharoah" for several years. I wondered if other tombs and treasures awaited my patient and meticulous discovery in Egypt. I still read both fiction and nonfiction about ancient Egypt over forty years later, even though I didn't become an archaeologist. Maybe it is a romantic notion, thinking that our life is enriched by a sense of wonder about other places, other times, but I think it helps us find both our life's work and our most restorative leisure.

The mysteries that intrigued me as a child were not very scientific or mechanical. They were mostly historical or mythical, with an occasional dose of biology--Atlantis, Knossos, Incas, Easter Island, Odysseus, Roanoke Colony, wagon trains to the West, cave paintings in France, Viking exploration, the Anasazi...butterfly cocoons and praying mantids, family trees. Finding out for myself how many different greens I could mix with a simple set of watercolors, or how many ways I could rearrange a set of square tiles set me off on my path as an artist and teacher. Reading narratives and journals of women pioneers headed west colored the way I look at our modern lifestyle and conveniences.

This week I got to chat with a group of kids about the Anasazi cliff-dwellers of the Four Corners region. The kids had so many great questions. Their brains were really storming! They are obviously aware of hurricanes and flooding, but quickly latched onto the ideas of drought and irrigation. They got intrigued by the ideas of the wearing down of teeth by the sand and grit in the corn flour diet, and of the T-shaped doorways for people carrying backpacks or heavy baskets on their backs. They have questions about why people used to be so much shorter (5' 4"), and only lived to be forty or so. They wondered if cancer killed the Anasazi. They began imagining mesas--teeny tiny people living on table tops! They liked the "camoflague" stone buildings and wondered about how the Anasazi trapped food, and why they grew corn, beans, and squash, because ew-ick they don't like those vegetables. And they loved the idea of standing at the corner of four states.

I intended to tell them about the Wetherill family finding the cliff dwellings in the late 1800's, but I'm still reading a biography of Marietta Wetherill. ...Then I need to read Nebraska author Willa Cather's novel about Mesa Verde, The Professor's House. In about 1964 I read a story in National Geographic, or maybe National Geographic School Bulletin, about Richard Wetherill riding off looking for stray cattle on the mesa and discovering Cliff Palace. The image I created in my mind of that moment of discovery is still there, even though I know it probably didn't happen quite that way. I also have a strong memory that I read the story while lying on the living room carpet with sunbeams pouring through the window. I'm betting I had Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite playing on the hi-fi. I'm thankful that my parents gave me that time to wonder and hear my own questions.

There's are hummingbirds, lizards, and butterflies out on the patio. It's time to do some restorative recreational wondering.


Doppler Mama

First order of business this morning was folding up all the plastic drop cloths covering our computers at work. They hadn't been needed. Our area received not one single solitary drop of rain from Hurricane Rita. My son in Indiana saw more Rita rain than we did.

Second order of business is kicking the Weather Channel habit. For the last month I've spent way more time in front of the tv than normal, mostly looking at reporters wearing hooded raingear and standing knee deep in dark, oily liquid.
It never occurred to me while perusing the Occupational Outlook Handbook in the early Seventies that live disaster reporting would be a growth occupation.

I look at these soggy cub reporters saying, "I can barely see my hand in front of my face," and, "we've been unable to verify the reports of a downed street light in the next block," and wonder what special qualifications they have. Do they just show up for the job with a willingness to have buckets of cold liquid dumped down their neck like a football coach?

I grew up with Barbie dolls and Dare Wright's books about the Lonely Doll. For better or worse, these still influence me.

Houses, hotels, pets, automobiles, and ships were all caught up in the disaster.

This is not a comment on the Halliburton subsidiaries' lucrative contracts to clean up after Katrina, even though it is "Monopoly".

Who is this chicken? Is he here for a photo op?

Back to you.



The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.

Mark van Doren, American writer and educator, 1894-1972

What are we teachers up to? What role are we playing on our best day?

Art provides preschoolers the laboratory for developing essential fine-motor, thinking, and social skills needed in elementary school. It enhances visual awareness and appreciation, individual expression, and creative problem-solving. Through art we have the chance to inspire connections with our world. Preschoolers develop the capacity to observe and wonder at our rich and varied world, and enjoy life in it.

Dates, figs, and prunes

What is it like to be single at the age of fifty? For the first time in a gazillion* years, I have the time to contemplate my status as a single female. No kids at home. No soccer games. No lunches to prepare. Not even that many checks to write.

Who am I? Can I be who I am by myself? Do I want to savor my long-delayed and richly deserved peace and quiet? Should I be panicked about getting older alone? Do I want to try an internet dating service?

Well, at least I know the answer to the last question! No.

I don't usually look for relationship insights in the Business section of the Dallas Morning News. It's a rare day when I read more than the headlines in that section. Somehow I was enticed into a feature by Scott Burns, "American Generations: Part 2" this noon. Mr. Burns (not the Simpson's Mr. Burns) is a generation half step between myself and my parents, and I enjoy his financial columns. His thoughts about the enormous "investment in human capital" known as the G. I. Bill were intriguing. And then, suddenly, he was talking to me:

"Relationships at 50 are a lot more difficult than at 25, Bobby realized.

"'It's the hormone-to-identity ratio,' the algebra lover liked to say. 'When you're 20, it's nearly infinite. Who you are hardly matters. What matters is finding a plausible excuse to get naked. But at 50, the hormone-to-identity ratio is less than 1. You're actual people.'"

Really getting to know the actual people of both genders that I meet is way more important to me these days. Really getting to know myself is essential, too. I'm not dried out and wrinkly, but I'm sweeter, smarter, and more complex with aging.

*An elderly woman and her son are listening to the news on the radio. "Twelve Brazilian soldiers were killed today," they hear. "How many zeroes is a Brazilian," she asks her son.


Getting windy

An hour ago I was watching a hummingbird visit the red cannas and butterfly weed on my patio. Now, when I walked outside to go get the mail, I could hear a little screech owl calling. Screech owls aren't very loud birds, so I knew it was very close. A few steps across the parking lot, and I could tell it was in the tree above me. It flew off to the north, probably still annoyed at being awakened midafternoon.

Now the sun is back out. It's still windy. I wonder what will happen next.

The Emergency Preparedness Diet

If Rita doesn't arrive in the DFW metroplex soon and knock out all the power with Category One winds, I'm going to be stuck with the six cans of tuna fish, the large bag of charcoal briquettes, the Tang, and that big jar of creamy peanut butter ("Choosy mothers choose Jif"). Now that I consider the menu options, it sounds just like the miracle three-day diet my friend is trying, except without the cottage cheese.

I figured I would use the charcoal to broil the frozen chix boobs, petite sirloin, fish, and hamburger that would go bad in the freezer during a prolonged power failure. When that was gone, I would start in on the canned tuna fish. Spoonfuls of PB would be my high-pro breakfasts, washed down with Tang. Maybe I would lose ten pounds the first week!

While none of us want to be a storm evacuee, and we would not wish the loss of home and community on any person, some folks are experiencing disaster envy. What people in North Texas could really use is three to five days snowed-in by a major blizzard! Inability to leave home by the forces of Mother Nature could be such a gift! What opportunities to finish projects, relax with family, or listen to real weather itself, not weather radio. In the spirit of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I could burn all the magazines I don't have time to read in the fireplace to keep from freezing! Of course, I would worry about the hummingbirds and butterflies that were flying around my patio just now...

Yaupon Conspiracy Theory

A condominium complex is much like a tin of sardines each wearing a teeny tiny cowboy outfit and spurs. That's right. Closely packed eccentrics with the shoewear to be very irritating.

My condo complex is currently embroiled in the Rottweiler-Pruning scandal, as I learned while going door-to-door with the recycling program leaflets. Some condo owners allege that when they complained about a large dog leaving sizable unscooped deposits around their shrubs, the dog-owner retaliated by ordering a "hatchet job" of bad pruning on the aforementioned yaupon shrubs. The dog owner is alleged to be a member of the powerful Landscape Committee mob family. The Rottweiler poop victims also believe Neo-Nazis may be involved in espionage.

Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of attempting to explain that the Landscape Committee is not recognized by the bylaws of the condo owners association or the management company and has no authority to make personal requests to the landscape company employees, let alone order hits. Do not, I repeat, do not suggest to anyone that the shrubs might have been pruned because they hung way out over the sidewalk. Don't suggest "getting over it and moving on because it will grow back" [just hum "I'm Gonna Wash That Poop Right Off of My Shoe" to yourself] unless you want to experience counter-retaliation. AND, be exceedingly careful not to step in that Rottweiler mess the size of a cow patty! That would smell just like the Iran-Contra Affair.

This is a yaupon [ilex vomitoria] that has not received a retaliatory "hatchet job", at least not yet. Yaupons are ridiculous looking on their best day. Small ones look like they have been styled by Fifi's Poodle Grooming. Large ones look like the mythical ostrich with its head buried in the sand. Contrary to popular opinion neither ostriches nor poodles bury their heads in the sand. They just lay their heads against the sand in sadness and nausea about the appearance of the shrubs outside their condominiums.

Yaupons do have red berries that birds feast on in the winter. I don't have the energy to report on recent intensifications of hostilities between the bird-feeding owners and the owners who allege that little birdie's dirty feet are scratching the finish on their cars. I kid you not. I'm expecting to hear reports of greasy grimy gopher guts on doorknobs, and all-purpose porpoise pus being left on leather car upholstery sitting out in the hot Texas sun.

Yaupon holly's official name reminds me of my high school Greco-Roman History teacher. She loved the shock value of teaching about "vomitorium":

1754, "passage or opening in an ancient amphitheater, leading to or from the seats," from L. (Macrobius, Sat., VI.iv); see vomit. Erroneous meaning "place where ancient Romans (allegedly) deliberately vomited during feasts" is attested from 1923.

My son conveniently took these vomitorium photos in Rome last weekend:

I'm giving my stomach a few days to settle before I venture back out into the lion's den with my recycling pamphlets. Just look at those pruning shears laughing their diabolical laugh!


My grilled cheese never looks like the Virgin Mary

Sigh. I was hoping that when the shower wall dried out after the tiles fell off, there would be a clear image of a major saint so I could sell my condo to a Vegas casino on eBay. Now I will have to repair the shower so my dad can come for a visit, and a son or two can come home for Thanksgiving.

The tiles started falling off the wall just before my youngest took off for college in Albuquerque, and my middle son headed off for his junior year in Italy. Some of the tiles broke when they fell into the bathtub. We couldn't deal with it right then. More tiles fell off later.

There's a window in the shower, so I can't put in a handy dandy Home Depot "tub surround". The tiles have to be replaced.

My condo building will have some siding replaced next week. The notice I received informed me that I should remove "valuable wall hangings due to possible vibration of the walls". Will more tiles fall down?

The wall is not a hidden pirate treasure map or guide to Atlantis, either.

This is the bathroom in the Italy dorm. It looks pretty good by comparison. My son knew enquiring mamas want to know.

If you look up a definition of hubris, you'll see it means overbearing pride or presumption. I'm presumpting that I can replace the tile all by myself. Sure, I don't have all the tiles to fill the space, since some broke. Sure, I don't know what I'm doing. But I do have three boxes of ceramic tile samples that date back forty years or more. I want to make a mosaic!

A coworker suggested that I have a postage stamp fetish. That sounds more kinky than she means, as I don't lick & stick! I just like stamps and squares, and arranging them. I've liked tiles and paint samples since I could barely talk. It's time to create. And the Lord said, "Let there be grout." Aesop said, "Pride goeth before the caulk."


The Ill-Tempered Beast Wakes and Growls in Her Cave

The four o'clock class of kindergarten/first grade kids was explaining Fun Racing. Fun Racing is when you take a magazine around to grown-ups and ask them to sign. You take the magazine back and get a toy. If a lot of them sign it, you get an electric scooter. There's Fun Racing at school, and Fun Racing at Girl Scouts.

Heaven knows there's Fun Racing at Little League, French club, debate team, marching band (ESPECIALLY marching band), Cub Scouts, and every other activity or organization children are involved in. Serving on the board of a public school parent-teacher organization, I became very skeptical about Fun Racing. The funds raised too often went for happy face sticker and candy "incentives" for teachers to give students. They frequently paid for annual appreciation gifts for the school principal, or the board members (and fundraising chairpersons) of the very same organization.

Fun Racing creates ridiculous competition between students and grade levels, while taking time away from homework and family togetherness. Fun Racing does not create young entrepreneurs or teach poise. Worst, most Fun Racing gives only a tiny percentage of the sales money back to the organization.

Somewhere along the line of having three kids in three schools, and each in a minimum or three sports or enrichment activities, I shorted out. Blue smoke came out of my ears. I started writing a check, one hundred percent of which went directly to the organization, and a note that I declined to give permission for my children to participate in Fun Racing. I admit that sometimes when I was extremely harried as a single parent, I wrote that Fun Racing was against our religion.

I know it's harsh, but the only ways to curtail the endless Fun Racing is to decline to participate as a student/family, and decline to enable as a giftwrap purchaser. When you notice something positive in your school zone or district, send a note and a check. A child may say "thank you", and a worn-out mom may hug you!


Sci-fi Day

Sci-fi guys will be guys. The preschool boys got into a typical guy activity [as applied to movie tie-in action figures]--"My Yoda is bigger than your Yoda."

As Mae West might have said, "Is that a light saber, or are you glad to see me?" There's no record of Mae West ever appearing on "My Favorite Martian" with Ray Walston, but she did make a guest appearance on "Mister Ed" ("Mae West Meets Mister Ed" Episode: #4.21 - 22 March 1964).

When the students were arriving for the four o'clock class, they were discussing where I might have "learned art". One kindergarten girl offered the theory that I learned it "on the Planet Ars". She laughed hysterically, and I really wished I had Ray Walston's antennae.



It finally rained in Dallas on Thursday after a long dry spell. This was the first rain since Katrina. My students, age 5-8, looked out the window saying it was flooding and we might have to be rescued. Did my best to reassure them, but I have to write a new lesson plan for this week. Big rain storms are not a good topic at the moment!

I'd planned to use Joyce Rossi's book, The Gullywasher, as an introduction to watercolors. The illustrations in the book are lovely and after-rain fresh. The story of the elderly vaquero and his granddaughter is very cute. It's a cowboy tall tale about how getting caught out in a giant rain storm is the cause of old people's wrinkles. Grown-ups get fat because they eat corn and hot chile peppers at the same time. The heat from the peppers makes the corn pop in our stomachs, which get larger and larger. If we take a siesta outside the hummingbirds will pluck out each dark hair on our heads for their nest, causing old folks to have gray or white hair. It explains so much!

I must have taken a long nap on the patio! Might need to stop eating the chile peppers, too.


Dislocated Persons

There are so many things to consider in the Katrina disaster, and the magnitude is so far beyond my comprehension, that I get hung up on small things. There are refugees, evacuees, and displaced persons, some of whom are being relocated from domed stadiums. I can fathom all that. It's the newscasters' use of the term "dislocated persons" that throws me. When I hear it I land in a heap of distracted collarbones far away from the breaking news I was intended to understand.

My online dictionary brings up the scary concept of being separated at the joint:
Adj. 1. dislocated - separated at the joint; "a dislocated knee"; "a separated shoulder" disjointed, separated injured - usually used of physical or mental injury to persons; "injured soldiers"; "injured feelings"

I will not get into dislocated musings about persons "separated at the joint", but it sounds like somebody went to the can at the tavern to read the graffiti, and all his buddies adjourned to the pizza place over in the next block, next door to the Toot'n'Tote'Em.

My high school graduation gift from Uncle Milt and Aunt Margie, the American Heritage Dictionary, c. 1973, that I have used at least once a day for over thirty years, supplies this entry:

Dis-lo-cate...1. To put out from the usual or proper relationship with contiguous parts; displace; shift. 2. Pathology. To displace (a limb or organ) from the normal position; especially, to displace (a bone) from the socket or joint. 3. To throw into confusion or disorder; upset; disturb.

"Contiguous" is joined at the hip in my mind with "Alaska and Hawaii". You got them there contiguous states, and then you got them there noncontiguous states...

My little students spend a surprising amount of time and energy in their "Finding Nemo" underwear manually verifying that their contiguous parts have not been dislocated. In the spirit of bipartisanship, I will refrain from mentioning the delay in the federal response to the disaster at this point.

Is your organ dislocated? Did you hear that piece on NPR about a woman in Mississippi trying to find her baby grand?

This funny Halloween book may be out of print now. It addresses dislocated dogs thrown into confusion, so it may be the story W was reading this time.

I'm discombobulated lately. I picked up the 2004 World Almanac and Book of Facts one morning, and took it to work instead of my sack lunch. And speaking of ham and cheese sandwiches left out all day in the hot sun, please compare the stink with the olefactory mess in Louisiana!

It's time for this evening's photo op and live broadcast of the Katrina Song'n'Gong Show:

Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubblin' crude.

Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea. ...

Head, shoulders, knees and toes,
Knees and toes.
Head, shoulders, knees and toes,

Knees and toes.
And eyes, and ears, and mouth,

And nose.
Head, shoulders, knees and toes,

Knees and toes.

(Place both hands on parts of body as they are mentioned. During the second term in office speed up, and get faster with each verse. )

Your toe bone connected to your foot bone,
Your foot bone connected to your ankle bone,
Your ankle bone connected to your leg bone,
Your leg bone connected to your knee bone,
Your knee bone connected to your thigh bone,
Your thigh bone connected to your hip bone,
Your hip bone connected to your back bone,
Your back bone connected to your shoulder bone,
Your shoulder bone connected to your neck bone,
Your neck bone connected to your head bone,
I hear the word of the Lord!
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk aroun'
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun'
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun'
I hear the word of the Lord!

Michael, row the boat ashore,Hallelujah.
Michael, row the boat ashore,Hallelujah.
Sister, help to trim the sails,Hallelujah.
Sister, help to trim the sails,Hallelujah.
River Jordan's deep and wide,Hallelujah.

Milk and honey on the other side,Hallelujah.
River Jordan's chilly and cold,Hallelujah.

Chills the body, but warms the soul,Hallelujah.


Time Zoned

I am sitting on my empty nest in Mama Meridian Time. It's nine p.m. CDT. Do you know where your kids are? Well, yes, but I'm vague on what time it is there. They are equally vague on what time it is here.

My youngest is in Mountain Daylight Time, but he is also in eighteen year-old internal clock warp zone. His day gets going about the time I crash. After two days of frustrating phone tag, he finally reached me at 11:22 p.m. last night as I was drifting off to sleep. We are negotiating a pact whereby I don't call him before 10 a.m. his time, and he doesn't call me after 10 p.m. my time.*

My oldest lives in Indiana, a weirdly time-challenged state. Hoosiers start to back out of their garages in one time zone, and by the time they reach the street they have to reset their Timex watches. I was delighted that he called to tell me about attending the exciting UT-OSU game in Columbus, Ohio at 7:22 Sunday morning, but I needed two more mugs of coffee before I could comprehend his report.

Did you ever see Robert Goulet in that 1966 black and white t.v. broadcast of "Brigadoon"? My middle son is studying and exploring Europe this year. He passes in and out of the fog and the idyllic villages of an over-the-top Broadway musical. He's swirling around the globe while I try to get a fix on the time. Swirling and mirrors are my weakest spatial link. That is why I flunked Curling Iron 101, and remedial Home Perming.

Is this a flashback to Sixties backyard games, like "What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?" Maybe it's just an incentive program for communication by email?

Now it is night.
Night is not a time for play.
It is time for sleep.
The dogs go to sleep.
They will sleep all night.

Now it is day.
The sun is up.
Now is the time for all dogs to get up.
"Get up!"
It is day.
Time to get going.
Go, dogs. Go!

P. D. Eastman sets my clock!


FEMA vacancy

Known many Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls with more ability to run a disaster relief operation than George W's horses assn. buddy Mike Brown. First thing we learned about survival as Camp Fire Girls was to paint wooden matches with nail polish and store them in a metal Band-Aid box.

It's time for a woman to take charge of FEMA, George, even if the Coast Guard's Thad Allen and the Army's "Ragin' Cajun" handle the actual muddy shoes stuff. Women prepare for every contingency, George, every worst case scenario, everyday. My walking partner and I explored this concept as we waddled along our normal route Sunday. "A woman," my buddy explained, "would have made sure their were plenty of toilets. She would have trucked in the porta-potties first thing!"

  • Most women have enough stuff in their purse to get a family through a weekend of lost luggage.
  • Most women pack the luggage for a trip so that they have survival attire for every temperature between -10 F and 110 F.
  • Many women can sing forty-seven imaginative verses of "Old MacDonald" for all the kids stranded on a freeway overpass at the same time they arrange transportation and carpools for the whole first grade class.
  • Many women can arrange the luggage in the car trunk so there is enough room for Grandma's soup tureen, carefully packed full of spare socks and undies. This is at the same time their spouses are helping with the emergency evacuation by putting a six pack of Diet Coke into the freezer so will be sure to explode before departure.
  • Women like to have important medical records at their fingertips. My kids have all left home, but I still have photocopies of their immunization records in my purse. I must admit I no longer have the bottle of Triaminic and the plastic spoon in the Ziplock bag in my purse. Just last year I quit carrying a photo of my ex in case I needed to ever show it to police. That is what I consider being prepared.
  • Women can think a full day ahead, and have supplies and a Plan B in case their pantyhose run or the baby spits up on their shoulder.
  • Women can plan a week ahead, and know which day the soccer team treats are needed. They can figure out which day is best to whip into Sam's to get the juice boxes and peanut butter crackers, with time to spare before preschool dismisses. They can keep a mental holographic chart of days, activities, field locations, transportation arrangements, and game times for up to six children.
  • Women can think a minimum of one month ahead, and be prepared for inconvenient surprises. Call it a biological logistics advantage.

I don't wish to make light of the situation in the Gulf States, but I do think most women are better at emergency preparedness than men. I know all moms have more experience with crisis management than Michael Brown. Moms always have that barf bag stuffed under the car seat for when the Road of Life is twisty, congested, and under stinky water. They've been that way since their toddler first smelled the feedlot on the way to Grandma's house.

Now let's all sing that song about the duckies in the rain while we pick up the litter and put it in Mr. Trashcan. Would you like a cough drop? I just happen to have one... If I dig deep enough, I can probably find the accordian-folded rain bonnet that I started carrying in 1964. Looks to me like that levee might need some reinforcing. I'll have the kids put mud in all my old pantyhose, and we can fill that breach.

Austinized honey bees

The Monday morning preschoolers were sharing their personal anecdotes about insects, arachnids, and superheroes. It was just a normal discussion while we all yawned and tried to get our week into gear. Believe me, preschoolers ALL seem to know someone who has eaten a bug. This doesn't impress me any more. I was impressed when a young girl informed us that she had a beevhive at her house with lots of honey.

No, that is not a typo! We are talking about a real beevhive! I don't know how entomologists have missed the resemblance for so long. One look through the microscope, and the relationship is slap-my-forehead obvious. Tiny flying longhorns!

Observe Exhibit A, the honey bee, then Exhibit B, the Bevo:

If you need to know if your bee colony contains Austinized members, you can follow these instructions for submitting bee samples for identification. It's true that the Texas A&M Department of Entomology and the Texas Cooperative Extension may be unwilling to admit the amazing strength and numbers of Austinized beev colonies due to traditional Texas bee rivalries.

For information about the unrelated Africanized honey bee, and bee smarts in general, TAMU is still the place to go.

And if you would like to learn about the world's largest scarab beetle, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty magazine, The Scarlet, August 25, 2005 issue is pretty amazing.


Feeding the artist

The art students were comparing notes on feeding the dolphins at Sea World during our popcorn break. Maybe that was what started it. Or maybe it was all the descriptions of devastated hospitals without food. My dreams are water-logged, and I realize that my inner artist has been without the foods on its specialized diet for too long.

My hospital kitchen job ($1.65/hr.) during high school and college involved making some special diets, as well as dishing up jello, mashed potatoes, cream of wheat, and beef consumee. We high school kids horsed around and socialized a lot, but we worked hard, and knew that our labor was important. Once during a big blizzard in '72 or '73 we were snowed in after our supper shift. Snow kept coming down and the wind chill kept going down. Parents couldn't come pick us up, and probably wouldn't be able to get the breakfast workers to the hospital.

It must have been Christmas time, because there were no students in the nursing school dorm across the parking lot. The head dietician asked us to stay in the dorm overnight so we could work the six a.m. shift. The patients would have to have breakfast.

After work, we plunged through the drifts and blasting wind over to the dorm, where we played basketball in the gym. Mostly, we stared out through the ice crystals forming fantastic designs on the windows at the drifts swelling in the parking lot.

None of this begins to compare with the dedication and ordeals of hospital workers in the Katrina disaster area. It might explain why I dreamed last night about one of the girls I worked with at Bryan Memorial thirty years ago, though.

My artist diet requires higher than normal visual roughage, time to read and to write, opportunities to see art, and to make art. I can get along on a regular diet of tater tots and folding laundry for the short term, but it's obvious when I need a nutritional supplement!

Besides visiting the DMA and listening to Glenn Gould playing Haydn's piano sonatas, I watched two opera videos this weekend.


Click on the Refresh icon

Checked out a cd at the library last night while waiting to attend the condo association meeting in the library multipurpose room. Glenn Gould playing Haydn's piano sonatas, HOB xvi: nos. 42, 48-52. I'm sure listening to the music is making me more calm, focused, smart, creative, and witty. I may have to renew it beyond the due date!

Our condo complex recycling effort is picking up new converts. The recycling carts were full for today's city collection. We may have to increase our collections to weekly. What a wonderful problem!

The new "Dialogues" exhibit was my big refresher today. The Dallas Museum of Art has assembled an exhibit exploring the shared artistic themes and vocabulary of Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg. My collagemeter is charging, and my tank is nearing full.


Would you, could you on a plane?

The existence of penguins on Earth just makes me happy. Ever since Eastridge Elementary School and Mr. Popper's Penguins, I've had a bemused attachment to these amazing animals. I imagine them in scenarios--playing electric guitar or bebop sax, dancing in a poodle skirt, delivering pizza, or frosting wedding cakes.

This summer's hit movie, March of the Penguins, spread penguin fondness to a great many more folks. Watching the movie my Seuss-brain kept thinking,

I would never walk.
I would take a car.

Today it's good to know that the penguins from New Orleans' Audubon Zoo are being evacuated. They are traveling by refrigerator truck to Baton Rouge. From there, the penguins will be "airlifted out" to zoos around the country.

I can't help it. I imagine a plane full of penguins buckled into their airplane seats and watching the flight attendant demonstrate the seatbelt, oxygen mask, and use of the seat cushion as a floatation device. As soon as the plane reaches cruising altitude, flight attendants push the beverage cart up the aisle. "Would you like some ice, or some fish?" My gosh! Penguins returning their tray tables to the upright and locked position! One fish, two fish? Red fish, blue fish?

*The moon was out
and we saw some sheep.
We saw some sheep
take a walk in their sleep.

By the light of the moon
by the light of a star,
they walked all night
from near to far.

I would never walk.
I would take a car.


At Home With the Armadillo

I wanna go home with the armadillo
Good country music from Amarillo to Abilene

Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues" is the popular theme song for Public Television's long-running Austin City Limits, and has been for nearly thirty years, which makes me feel pretty old. Sometimes when I get into my car to drive home from work, I spontaneously burst into the chorus. Many Katrina evacuees now in North Texas want desperately to go home to a home that probably doesn't exist any more.

I found James Arnosky's children's book, Armadillo's Orange, at the library recently. I'm doing a rootin' tootin' series of bovineperson art projects to start off the semester--boots, bandanas, broncos, lariats, coyotes, Russell & Remington.... I like to read Jan Brett's Armadillo Rodeo, and Armadillo Ray by John Beifuss, but was glad to find a book to introduce armadillo lines and shapes.

Armadillo's Orange worked well in the morning to get a group of preschoolers practicing circles and ovals. In the afternoon we had a new student displaced from New Orleans. I started reading the cute book about the little armadillo who can only find his burrow because there's an orange on the ground next to it. When the orange rolls down the hill, the little armadillo is lost. Ack! I've just described this little girl's life!! Her orange has definitely rolled down the hill! She gasped and had a look of panic. Thank heaven I was able to tell her that the story would work out for the little armadillo when he realized his neighbor animals, the lively green snake, the shy rattlesnake, and the slow tortoise, could help him find his home. She made a wonderful painting of all the neighbor animals from the book, and couldn't stop giving us hugs.

Armadillos are bizarre creatures. They seem slightly younger than dinosaurs, and barely smarter than possums. They eat bugs and grubs, which makes them an attractive subject for pre-K boys. They are splattered all over the fast lanes of Our Nation's Highways, yet their range is expanding northward every year. They are as blind as that kid in your class who forgot his Coke bottle eyeglasses. They are chased by dogs and broiled by Irma Rombauer, but they survive. Kind of inspiring for those of us who lumber out of our burrows each morning for the perpetual search for grubs. In a weird way they are oozum-pookums cute, like a baby photo of Lyle Lovett or a Galapagos tortoise.

The Natural Science Research Laboratory, a part of the Museum of Texas Tech University, offers this useful armacyclodillopedia, but you can skim over it nearsightedly if you want:

The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition
Description. About the size of a terrier dog, upperparts encased in a bony carapace with large shields on shoulders and rump and nine bands in between; front feet with four toes, middle two longest; hind foot five-toed, the middle three longest, all provided with large, strong claws; tail long, tapering and completely covered by bony rings; color brownish, the scattered hairs yellowish white. There are 30 or 32 peglike teeth. External measurements average: total length, 760 mm; tail, 345 mm; hind foot, 85 mm. Weight of adult males, 5-8 kg; females, 4-6 kg.

Distribution in Texas. Occurs throughout much of the state; absent from the western Trans-Pecos.

Habits. Soil texture exerts a definite influence upon the number of armadillos present in a given area. Those soils that are more easily dug, other factors being equal, will support a greater population density. In the sandy soils of Walker County, a population density of about one armadillo to 1 ha is common; in Brazos County, where the soils are more heavily impregnated with clay and become packed during the dry seasons, density averages one to 4 ha. In the rocky terrain of the Edwards Plateau, the animals tend to concentrate in the alluvial stream bottoms and den in the cracks and crevices of the numerous limestone outcroppings in that area. In the blackland section of Texas, where the soils are heavy clays, the animals are extremely rare and restricted to the vicinity of streams where they can burrow into the banks and probe for food in the relatively soft soils near water. Perhaps the most important factor contributing to the distribution of armadillos is the hardness of the soil during the dry season, because the food of the animal is obtained largely by probing for insects and other forms of animal life in the ground.

Armadillos are fond of water; where climatic conditions tend to be arid, the animals concentrate in the vicinity of streams and water holes. Tracks in the mud around small ponds give evidence that the armadillos visit them not only for purposes of drinking and feeding, but also to take mud baths. Excess water, however, has a limiting effect on them because they avoid marshy areas.

Few animals of comparable size have so many dens per individual as the armadillo. The length, depth, and frequency of occurrence of their burrows depend somewhat upon soil conditions. In sandy areas the animals are extremely active diggers; in addition to numerous occupied burrows, one finds many that have been abandoned or are used only occasionally as shelters. In central Texas, the majority of their dens are along creek banks whereas in the sandy soils of eastern Texas they are found almost everywhere. On the coastal prairies the sandy knolls are especially sought as den sites more because of protection from floods than because of ease of digging. In the Edwards Plateau natural caves, cracks, and crevices among the limestone outcroppings afford abundant shelter; excavated burrows are few in number and usually shallow.

Dens vary from 1 to 5 m in length and from a few centimeters below the surface to a depth of 1.3 m. Averaging between 17 and 20 cm in diameter, their plan is usually simple, with few turns except those caused by obstacles such as roots, rocks, and so forth. Many of the shallow burrows serve as food traps in which insects and other invertebrates take refuge and to which the armadillo goes on his foraging excursions. Burrows that are used for breeding purposes usually have a large nest chamber 45 cm or more in diameter and containing the rather loosely constructed nest of dried leaves, grasses, and other plant items. These materials are merely stuffed into the chamber and the animal pushes its way in and out each time the nest is used. Usually, each occupied burrow is inhabited by only one adult armadillo.

Because of their almost complete lack of hairy covering, armadillos are easily affected by climatic conditions. In the summer season they are more active in the cool of the evening and at night, but in midwinter their daily activities are reversed and the animals become active during the warmest part of the day, usually in mid-afternoon. They do not hibernate nor are they equipped to wait out long periods of inclement weather. Long periods of freezing weather effectively eliminate armadillos from an area.

Of special interest is the behavior of this animal in the water. Its specific gravity is high and the animal normally rides low in the water when swimming. Apparently, it tires easily when forced to swim for any distance. If the stream to be crossed is not wide, the armadillo may enter on one side, walk across the bottom, and emerge on the other side. If the expanse of water to be traversed is of considerable extent, the animals ingest air, inflate themselves, and thus increase their buoyancy. The physiological mechanism by which the armadillo can ingest air and retain it in its digestive tract to increase buoyancy is not known, but it appears to be under voluntary control.

Many legends have arisen concerning the food habits of armadillos. Among the rural folks in the South they are commonly called "gravediggers" and are thought to dig into human graves and dine upon the contents. Also, they have quite a reputation as a depredator of quail, chicken, and turkey eggs. A study of their food habits by examination of more than 800 stomachs revealed that no fewer than 488 different food items are eaten. Ninety-three percent (by volume) of their food is animal matter, chiefly insects and other invertebrates. Among the insects, nearly 28% were larval and adult scarab beetles — forms that are highly destructive to crops and pastures; termites and ants comprised about 14%; caterpillars nearly 8%; earthworms, millipedes, centipedes, and crayfish appeared conspicuously in their diet at times. Reptiles and amphibians comprised only a small part of their diet; these were captured usually during periods of cold weather. Birds’ eggs were found in only 5 of 281 stomachs.

Observations by field workers strongly indicate that the armadillo, which usually leaves conspicuous signs of its presence, often is accused of the destruction of quail and chicken nests when the culprit is actually some other animal. More than two-thirds of the slightly less than 7% of vegetable matter in the diet was material ingested with other food items and represents nothing of economic importance. Berries and fungi made up 2.1% of the entire diet. Reports indicate that at times the armadillo may feed on such fruits as tomatoes and melons but the amount of damage done to these crops is relatively small. Carrion is readily eaten when available, and dead carcasses of animals frequently are visited not only for the carrion present but also for the maggots and pupae of flies found on or near them.

Reproduction in the nine-banded armadillo is marked by two distinct and apparently unrelated phenomena: the long period of arrested development of the blastocyst prior to implantation (delayed implantation), and the phenomenon of specific polyembryony, which results in the normal formation of identical quadruplets. In normal years about half of the females become pregnant by the end of July, which is the beginning of the breeding season. At 5-7 days the ovum forms a blastocyst and passes into the uterus. At this point development ceases, and the vesicle remains free in the uterus. Here it is constantly bathed in fluids secreted by the glandular lining of the uterus, which supplies enough nutrition and oxygen for survival. Implantation does not occur until November, about 14 weeks after fertilization. During this process, the blastocyst divides into growth centers, each of which very shortly redivides to produce four embryonic growth centers attached by a common placenta to the uterus. Development of each of the embryos then proceeds normally, and the four young are born approximately 4 months later in March, although some females have been noted with new litters as early as February and as late as the latter part of May. Young are born fully formed and with eyes open. Within a few hours they are walking, and they begin to accompany the mother on foraging expeditions within a few weeks. The nursing period is probably less than 2 months, but the young may remain with the mother even after weaning until they are several months old. Normally the young born in one year mature during the winter and mate for the first time in the early summer of the following year.

This phenomenon of delayed implantation may, in part, account for the successful invasion of the armadillo into temperate regions. Without this characteristic of the reproductive cycle, the young would be born at the beginning of winter, when their chance of survival would be greatly reduced. Apparently, the reproductive cycle is easily affected by adverse environmental conditions, particularly drought conditions. This probably is due to the shortage of ground insects or the difficulty of obtaining these in sandy or hard dried soils.

Armadillos are believed to pair for each breeding season, and a male and a female may share a burrow during the season. Because of the bony carapace and ventral position of the genitalia, copulation occurs with the female lying on her back.

Armadillos are frequently utilized as food in parts of Texas and Mexico. The meat is light-colored and when properly cooked is considered by some the equal of pork in flavor and texture.

Remarks. The common occurrence of this species in eastern Texas is a phenomenon that has developed largely since 1900. When Vernon Bailey published his Biological Survey of Texas in 1905, he mapped the distributional limits of the armadillo as between the Colorado and Guadalupe rivers with extralimital records from Colorado, Grimes, and Houston counties. By 1914 the armadillo had crossed the Brazos River and moved to the Trinity River, and along the coast had already reached the Louisiana line in Orange County. The northward and eastward range expansions continued over the next forty years, and by 1954 the armadillo was known from everywhere in eastern Texas except Red River and Lamar counties. By 1958 it was known from these latter two counties, and today is abundant everywhere in the region.

Apparently pioneering was most successful in a riparian habitat, and invasion was especially rapid parallel to rivers, which served as dispersal conduits. Average invasion rates have been calculated as from 4 to 10 km per year in the absence of obvious physical or climatic barriers. Possible reasons for the armadillo’s northward expansion since the nineteenth century include progressive climatic changes, encroaching human civilization, overgrazing, and decimation of large carnivores.

Glyptodonts are a whole other story. Imagine an armadillo ancestor the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. My favorite museum as a kid, and still, the State Museum housed in the University of Nebraska's Morrill Hall had a fossil glyptodont on display.

This is from my bridal shower copyright 1975 Joy of Cooking, page 516:

Under its shell this small scaly creature has a light meat, porklike in flavor.

Draw and cut free from the shell:
1 armadillo
Discard fat and all but the back meat. Wash thoroughly in cold water and soak overnight refrigerated in cold water. Drain and dry. To cook, cut into pieces. Brush well with:
Butter or vegetable oil
Broil until the meat is a rich brown.
Season to taste
and serve at once.


Good medicine

There are times in our lives when we all need fast-acting, long-lasting, deep-healing Laugh Therapy. If I were in charge of FEMA or the Red Cross, I would be showing the Muppets First Season dvd on the JumboTron in every basketball arena or domed stadium turned refugee center. And I would have people reading James Herriot stories aloud 24/7 in some quiet hallway. If you've ever been "crackerdog", or gone "flopbot", you know that a story may be just what you need. We are never too old to benefit from listening to a well-read story.

I have never been as ill as I was ten years ago with pleurisy. The memory of my son reading James Herriot stories to me during that horrible time is one I will always treasure. It hurt to laugh, just as it hurt to cough, but every laugh he and I shared gave me strength to heal.

To stay healthy, we all need the RDA dose of laughing every single day, along with that apple to keep the doctor away, the dried apricot for cowboy regularity, and the carrot so we can see in the dark. We all need the Muppet Swedish chef as much as we need real comfort food.


Audubon Park Zoo

My youngest was born in the spring of 1987, and we moved to Oklahoma at Thanksgiving of that year. The next spring my ex and I went to New Orleans for a convention while my mom traveled to Oklahoma to care for our little guys.

The stars of the New Orleans zoo that year were the tiny baby white alligators. These babies weren't albinos. They were cute as buttons, or more aptly, cute as zippers.

Counter Productive

Slept soundly last night. That's not to say I slept well or restfully. My sleep was one long dream that I was plagued by chronic insomnia and wandering in a very creepy shopping mall circa 1972.

one sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four sheep, five sheep...

Open Season

Nobody told me it was the first day of Craft Season. I went out to Michael's to buy a Xyron cartridge and a cowboy boot cookie cutter, but the store was mobbed. People were snapping up homecoming mum, Halloween decoration, and Christmas gift project supplies.

The next hobby megastore was almost as congested as the first. The third was nearly impassable because this is the second day of National Sewing Month. Who knew?


A Shampoo Day

Made my fifth annual visit to the Plano Invitational Cross Country meet at Bob Woodruff Park this morning. It was more subdued, but also a tad cooler than most years. Maybe there was a malfunction with the amplifiers for the pump-you-up music selections, or maybe the Katrina situation dwarfs everything by comparison.

After a trip to the post office, and to the Spee Dee Lube for an overdue oil change I settled back home to stay out of the ninety-seven degree afternoon with the latest Evanovich from the library.



What's the story this time?

Having just seen the Uncommander In Chief tell reporters on the White House lawn that federal response to the Katrina catastrophe has been "not acceptable", I have to wonder what book he's been reading in what classroom this week!

"...I'm looking forward to my trip down there and looking forward to thanking those on the ground and looking forward to assure people that we'll get on top of this situation and we're going to help people who need help.
Thank you. That's it." Transcript


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