Celebrating Condo Caulk and Grout Season

I never got the official notice, but Caulk and Grout Season is becoming an annual event. This year I'm being forced to deal with the deteriorating tiling of the downstairs shower/tub. Last year it was the tile in the boys' bathroom upstairs. That project took four months. Back in fall of 2004, the kitchen sink had the caulk problem.

Wish I had attacked the downstairs tile as soon as I finished the upstairs project. Then I might have remembered how to start. I'll be rereading my notes while letting the bathroom completely dry:

My Grilled Cheese Never Looks Like the Virgin Mary

Take a Picture. It Lasts Longer.

They Came, They Showered, They Conquered

If your family has a special tradition or recipe at this festive time of the year, please share it in the Comments!


A cautionary tale from the insect world

Mavis carefully catalogs a new addition to her television remote control collection.

The praying mantis is a fascinating species, and offers wonderful opportunities for young students to learn about biology. It only occurred to me recently, however, that the species also offers practical, no-nonsense relationship guidance for those of us allegedly mature. Mavis may need her own cable channel.

When my elementary class studied Our Friend The Praying Mantis back in the mid-Sixties, my dad constructed an insect house in the style of Philip Johnson's famous Glass House. It was made from a 7" x 9" piece of plywood, and some nicely folded wire window screen. We experimented spray-painting the house silver and black for optimum mantid visibility. As I recall, it was a rare moment when we were the envy of the neighborhood.

Some mornings we would go out to the carport to check on the Mantis House, and find our praying mantis specimens happily coexisting. Other mornings, we would find one mantis and assorted body parts.

If a praying mantis goes to the hypothetical Cluck'n'Chuck Big K Bucket drive-in restaurant in Norfolk, Nebraska, it will know to not eat the crunchy shimp tail when it orders the jumbo deep-fried shrimp basket with the side of cole slaw, plus biscuit and honey. My grandma did not, but that is a different story. The mantis will leave the tail pieces, and the leg pieces on the waxy paper in the basket. Depicted in blown glass, this is rather impressive:

If you would like to keep mantids as pets, there are things you need to know:

After two or three weeks as adults the mantids can be mated. Both should be fed as much as they will eat for several days before the male is introduced to the female's cage. It is advisable to use a large cage for the mating and feeding them well beforehand is essential otherwise the female will eat the male. Mating may occur immediately or it may take the male a day or so to make his approach during football season. Mating may last a day or more so it is a good idea to keep the cage supplied with food so the female can eat while mating. The male should be removed as soon as mating has finished, otherwise he will start groping around for the tv remote control to resume his annoying channel surfing.

According to the Texas Cooperative Extension insect field guide:

The lore related to female mantids eating the heads from males in order for them to successfully copulate has more recently been questioned. Apparently, the original research was conducted with starved specimens. Only the most foolish Mr. Mantis would channel surf in the presence of a starved female. That is how males of the species learned to bring lovely boxes of chocolate to their special lady friends.


Trees and Valley

Looking forward to the next exhibit at Valley House Gallery, opening Friday, October sixth. The show will be recent paintings by Mary Vernon. Her works are painterly oil and paper on masonite collage paintings. I hope to attend the Artist Talk Saturday morning at eleven.

After another visit to the Dallas Arboretum, I am ready to announce my favorites of the Ultimate Tree Houses. The designs are great for families, and will be in place until the end of 2006.

FlutterBy was designed by a team from HDR, Inc. The large wings seem to sail through the trees. The structure at the base is reminiscent of a boat's prow. What a dream to sail in a ship of wings!

Framework, but Kippen Schect and Jonathan Wood, is a lovely design for contemplation and meditation. The view through a series of frames changes with the viewer's position. It's a lovely explanation of perspective for young people, but very difficult to photograph with its alternations of bright light and dark shadows.

Leaves Imagination does not impress on first approach, but deserves attention. Designed by HNTB, its curved forms of pale green mesh reminded me of four leaves curled into cocoon shapes. Within the curved forms hang leaf decorations made by school students, that shimmer and sway like an inside out Christmas tree. There's a wonderful sense of safety and potential for magic, of being inside a place where a lowly caterpillar might become a radiant butterfly.

Ultimate Blooms is a big hit with the preschool set for burning off steam in a shady spot. Designed by Sebo Shim and R. Kelly Giddens of The Beck Group, it features elevated wood pathways between and through three large latticed tulip forms. Although "treehouse" creates the expectation for structures requiring ladders and ropes, the Arboretum's Tree Houses are all structures at the bases of trees.

Although difficult to find, Reynaldo Herreros' Tree House, is interesting, mainly because it is under the branches of a 220 year old bois d'arc (Osage orange) tree. The trunk must be over twelve feet in circumference. I think it would be a lovely place if a little fishing stream were nearby instead of traffic on Garland Road.

Most of the Ultimate Tree Houses are north of the main entrance to the Arboretum. Perhaps the most magical house, Casa Musgo, is south, at the far end of the Arboretum's Fern Dell. If your children are likely to get worn out, start your visit there. Or maybe spread a blanket, and let the whole family doze or watch the migrating monarchs overhead.

Elizabeth Smidt's design is a perfect place for fairies and elves. If you stepped inside and found Snow White tidying up for the Seven Dwarfs and singing duets with a bluebird it would seem completely believable. The octagonal house is covered in spagnum moss and sprayed with mist. Ivies and plants grow from the moss, and hanging prisms and crystals at each corner of the roof add to the magical light effects. The morning I was there, glittering dewy spider webs added to the charm.

Pick a cool day, and head to the Arboretum. You don't have to go with kids! Adults need magic, too.


Power of black and white

Must have prayed for a black and white answer within three days. My life has been all pixelated in shades of gray for too long. The answers weren't clear cut. I received three days in black and white. Maybe it was a bad idea to shake the Magic 8 Ball before asking the question.

Was fascinated by the hundreds of beautifully composed black and white photographic portraits of Andy Warhol on the first half of the PBS show "American Masters" late Wednesday evening. My thoughts turned to Whistler's mother, the Arrangement in Grey and Black. Sometimes life seems more like a disarrangement in grey and black. Form, order, and composition are difficult to see. Reminded of the Joseph Cornell films I saw at the DMA last year...

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra's program this weekend celebrated Shostakovich's centenary by piecing selections from his symphonies into an accompaniment for Sergei Eisenstein's famous 1925 silent movie, "Battleship Potemkin". With the musicians all in black and white, and the projected movie in grayscale, the effect was dramatic.

Arriving home quite late, I found a package on my doorstep. My cousin had sent a box of photos that once belonged to my great aunt Emma. The images of four generations, identified or unknown, faded or stark, led to another day of powerful black and white. Not owning a scanner, I photographed the photos with and without flash, often dappled by the late afternoon sun on my living room floor. I have just begun working through the collection. Perhaps my answer awaits within. Until then, some photos from my son conclude this post.

Brain Hair

I was jumping through flaming hoops trying to get the preschoolers to tell me the difference between lions and tigers after we looked at photos. I really just needed one student to tell all of us that tigers have stripes, or even "stwipes," but it wasn't happening. We looked at more photos. One student piped up that daddy lions have "brain hair," and they all nodded in agreement.


Playground Games--Changed and Same

Do you want to go to the Tank Playground, the Rocket Playground, or the Ninja Turtle Playground over by Schimelpfenig Library? That used to be the question for my young sons on a nice afternoon like this. The City of Plano Recreation Department had different names for the parks--Liberty, Copper Creek, and Memorial--but the boys knew them by their favorite games on each playground's equipment.

Burning off energy was the main goal of playground outings. Put a check by each outing objective:

Gross motor skills--Coordination, balance, strength.

Social skills--Coexisting with other groups, collaborating with your group, giving every child a role.

Imaginative play--Designating the play space, developing the characters, considering conflict, sequence, and consequence. Assigning specific abilities to each character. Respecting each character's ability.

Sensory awareness--Rocks in shoes, splinters in fingers, sunshine on shoulders, chilly breeze on ears, rhythmic swinging, watching tadpoles, throwing rocks into the pond...

Game skills--Taking turns, following rules, persevering from start to finish.

Bodily functions--Learning to use the bathroom in a preventive preemptive practical way. Go now so you don't have to go then. Maybe this was cruel psychological repressive inhibiting bladder tyranny that will require years in therapy, but I suspect it is just learning to plan for future contingencies.

Delaying gratification--Finishing the juice box and sandwich before playing. Eating the candy and chips after the sandwich, placing trash in can.

Handling disappointment--Accepting that thunder, rain, lightning, bees, and fire ants are facts of life. Learning to brush off minor injuries and get on with life. Most boo-boos do not require band-aids. Most bumps don't require tattling.

Getting really tired before naptime.

Twenty years ago when my sons were small, the main playground games involved becoming one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and making the right mouth sound effects for that Turtle's favorite weapon.

Main article: List of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters

Leonardo - The de facto leader of the Turtles, Leonardo is courageous, decisive, and a disciplined student of martial arts. As a strict adherent to Bushido, he has a very strong sense of honor and justice. He wears a blue mask and wields a pair of katana. He is named after Leonardo da Vinci.

Raphael - The team "anti-hero", Raphael has an aggressive nature and seldom hesitates to throw the first punch. His personality can be alternately fierce, sarcastic, and full of angst. He wears a red mask and wields a pair of sai. He is named after Raphael Sanzio.

Michelangelo - The easy-going and free-spirited Michelangelo provides much of the comic relief. While he loves to read comics and eat pizza, this Turtle also has an adventurous side. He wears an orange mask and wields the nunchaku. He is named after Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Donatello - The brilliant scientist, inventor, and technology geek, Donatello has a reputation as something of a smart aleck. He is perhaps the most non-violent Turtle, preferring to use his intellect to solve conflicts. He wears a purple mask and wields the bo. He is named after Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi.

This week I've been on playground duty. I've watched elementary school girls trying to jump rope. Bet it's been forty years since I jumped rope or twirled. Had to travel way, way, way back in Mr. Peabody's Way Back Machine to find the long-term memory for jump rope. Once I got there, I remembered how we "choked up" on a rope to make it the correct length for our height.

The girls who weren't jumping rope were playing "avatars"! The leader of the girls was assigning the avatar roles--earth, air, fire, and water. Good grief! Whatever happened to playing Beatles' Stewardesses?! John, Paul, George, and Ringo?

According to Urban Dictionary, there are "elemental television series" out there somewhere--

... series where the central characters have the ability to manipulate the classical elements (water, fire, earth, air/wind, and aether/metal depending on the culture). Some series include extra elements, such as ice, spirit, darkness, light, thunder, metal, etc. in the series, the elementalists must battle an evil, and when one element is absent, they usually cannot carry out their objective. They are strongest when united. Also, each character's personality is usually reflected on their element. ex: fire is rash and impulsive; water is calm and collective; earth is nurturing and loyal; air is inquisitive and curious.

Some examples of elemental television series are:
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Sailor Moon
Captain Planet
Xiaolin Showdown

Thank heaven I don't have to watch the shows! Joseph Campbell would be able to find the connections between avatars, Ninja Turtles, and Beatles stewardesses. For now, though, I'm going over to the playground patio to try mastering jacks. Please don't ask me to hula hoop, no matter how holistic it is for the "circle of life"! I think the sound of the bouncing golf ball doing "pigs in the pigpen" on the concrete will be very rhythmic and therapeutic.

Haunting Nabucco

When the Overture to Verdi's "Nabucco" began playing in my dark five a.m. condo, I woke wondering what phantom was in the condo. Who was in my condo? How did they get in? Why are they playing an opera cd? Is this a dream, or am I awake?

Mothers of infants and toddlers awaken at the tiniest of sighs or whimpers. Mothers of children sit bolt upright from a sound sleep because their sleeping subconscious has momentarily misplaced the mental schedule of soccer practices, scout meetings, allergy shots, and play rehearsals. The web has to be rewoven before we can sleep.

Parents of teens don't sleep all that soundly or often. We are waiting for the phone call telling us the speech team bus will arrive back at the school at 1:30 a.m., so please be there to pick me up. Then it's just a few hours until another child needs a ride to board the bus for the 8 a.m. cross country meet.

Parents of teens with drivers licenses have new ribbons of anxiety braided into their daydreams and nightmares. If they happen to doze off before the car is safely back in the garage, they wake up in a cold sweat. I know my mother didn't sleep back in the Seventies before the invention of cell phones. My kids knew that ignoring the agreed upon return time would ensure taking an embarrassing cell phone call in front of their friends. "No, Mom, I'm not dying in a roadside ditch somewhere. No, Mom, please don't call 911! I'm dropping ___________ at her house right now, and I'll be there in five minutes! I'm sorry I made you worry."

In the empty nest phase our college kids return for the occasional weekend, but can't arrive before Friday midnight. Mine let themselves in quietly, or not, and I might only roll over and murmur a sleepy greeting. They watch some cable t.v., nuke some popcorn, receive phone calls, start their laundry. They DO NOT play opera recordings! Never, ever.

That's what confused me. Who is here, and why are they playing Verdi? It must be a ghost! This is completely unacceptable. I've got to drag myself out of bed and turn off the music before it wakes my neighbor in the next condo.

The cd is playing on my computer, so I close Windows Media Player, and crawl back to bed. Perhaps the "phantom" was an automatic upgrade download that required the system to reboot. Like those public service announcements, it's five a.m. Do you know where your children are? Do you know what your computer is doing??


News Digest at Dinner

Back to the magic word pertinent. A large chunk of the childhood education workshop I attended Saturday dealt with managing the nonstop talkers, questioners, and interrupters in the classroom. None of the techniques presented were as powerful as the concept of pertinence.

Once my younger siblings had joined me at Eastridge Elementary School, our family dinner conversations became the time for reporting the highlights of our days. We each got a turn to talk as long as we wanted, with very few interruptions or additions from anyone. This could be a very lengthy experience on any given evening, particularly if one of our teachers was reading a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle book to the class. [When my sons were in elementary school I prayed I would not have to relive the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle stories! The guys had other favorites, I'm glad to say.]

We could only comment on a sibling's evening news report if our comment was "pertinent". Once the rule of pertinence was explained, it was used to self-manage the dinner conversation. It did not take our family of five long to decide by consensus if any interjection was "pertinent", or if it had to be stricken from the supper record. It was better to mentally apply the pertinence evaluation to a thought before it was spoken than to have it judged not germane by the rest of the family. Not that there was any sibling rivalry in our family, but it was the pits to have my brother or sister judge my interjection irrelevant. Maybe this sounds harsh, but it was a strong civilizing force. No fun was harmed in these mealtime experiments. I will never forget my sister's imitations of a group of baby goslings roaming around her classroom and tripping over the desks.


Is it pertinent?

Pertinent is a very powerful vocabulary word. How does it pertain to your life? Do you live with children, or work with them? If so, pertinent is the word for you.

Don't interrupt me now, unless you have something relevant to contribute to this discussion!

per-ti-nent adj. Of, relating to, or connected with a specific matter; apposite: a pertinent fact. See Synonyms at relevant

per-tain intr. v. -tained, -taining, -tains. 1. To have reference; relate: evidence pertaining to the accident. 2. To belong as an adjunct or accessory: the farm and all the lands which pertain to it. 3. To be fitting or suitable.

rel-e-vant adj. 1 Related to the matter at hand; to the point; pertinent ... Synonyms: relevant, pertinent, germane, material, apt, apposite, apropos

ap-po-site adj. Fitting; suitable; appropriate

"Relevancy" was a major higher education buzzword in the student activism of the Sixties and early Seventies. As an elementary student in the Civil Rights era, and a secondary student in the Viet Nam era, it was difficult telling the good guys from the bad guys. "Relevance" got a slightly muddied connotation.

Education at every level from preschool to grad school is on my mind today. What is the purpose of education? Is it to create philosophers, or to ensure employment for every graduate? Is it to warehouse kids so their parents can go to work? Is it about life skills and self-sufficiency, or about Ivy League admissions? Should it be about carrots and sticks, or about curiosity and self-motivation? Should education give students tools for appreciating the human experience, for expressing their ideas, for documenting their histories, for testing their theories, for challenging the status quo? I don't know, but I lean toward SSLL--self-sufficient lifelong learners.

If you have something pertinent to add, please comment! If you want to tell me about your band-aid or your super-hero powers, please don't interrupt.


R.I.P. cord

"The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Mark Twain
New York Journal, June 2, 1897

It is mid-September, always a depressing time in North Texas. Summer shows few signs of abating, with our humidity and temps creating heat index levels over one hundred degrees. Students are still wearing those *@#%! flip-flops and spaghetti strap tops. The hummingbirds are gone, but the rats are happy and healthy. I've spent half an hour trying to track down a television public service announcement I remember from childhood. It was a very dismal black and white video of a small child calling, "Here, kitty, kitty" to the rat in his crib.

I assumed that rats were something found only in folk tales and ghettos for most of my life. In recent years I learned that large rodents don't just flee the sinking ship. They live equally at home in our lower middle class condo complexes and in your hoity toity country clubs. Rats will be living large on Earth, along with cockroaches, many millennia after we humans have ceased choosing between paper and plastic. Still, that's not as personally depressing as the delay of corduroy weather, and the death of proofreading.

If it's too hot for spectators to wear corduroy pants to the high school football game, the season has started way too early. If the Dallas Symphony Orchestra website has spelling errors, again the season has started way too early. Shostakovich did not compose "Word War II" symphonies using Scrabble tiles. He wrote symphonies about World War II.

Most of the early childhood teachers and care-givers attending the Appelbaum continuing education workshop at the Mockingbird/I35 Radisson today were unmoved by the typographical errors in the workbook for the session. What is going on? Guardians of the arts and education can't put a professional product out there for we itty-bitty, mighty tired parents and customers?

I'm hoping the reported death of proofreading has been greatly exaggerated. Probably can't fit in my corduroy, anyway.


The pilot has turned on the seatbelt sign

What's the big hub, bub?

When I was in kindergarten, or maybe the first grade, my parents won a trip to New York City. This was an enormously big deal because it was the first, and maybe only, time they went on a trip without we three kids. I remember the fabrics my mom sewed to make outfits for her trip. If I dug my Rubbermaid tub of fabric scraps out of the closet I would still find a tiny piece of the shimmery weave of purple, gold, and rust she chose for her cocktail dress, and a piece of the coordinating purple velveteen for her stole. My Barbie had outfits made from scraps of Mom's other trip outfits.

Mrs. Schiedler was our babysitter while my parents were gone. I remember her as a slightly older version of Alice, the Brady Bunch housekeeper, played by Ann B. Davis. Of course, back then, Ann B. Davis was known as Schultzy from "The Bob Cummings Show". Mrs. Schiedler was a pancake artist. She could pour the batter to make a pancake of anything we might name. I never got anywhere close to her skill, though I made thousands of pancakes for my sons.

When my parents returned from NY, NY, Mr. Schiedler took us to meet the plane. We stood on the outdoor observation deck, and watched the DC-something taxi right up to Lincoln's municipal airport terminal. We watched someone roll the stairs out to the plane. I don't think it was one of the airplanes where the door opened out and down to form the stairs for disembarking. Mom and Dad came down the stairs, Mom slightly weak from being airsick, and Dad carrying the navy flight bag each passenger received in those days. The flight bag was a tiny duffel that contained a barf bag and a deck of playing cards, and maybe a book of matches. We played with the flight bags for many years, and kept them in the "dress up" box.

I didn't receive a tiny flight duffel with playing cards on my Frontier Airlines flights last weekend. Air travel offers very few amenities these days. It's a luxury that we can still choose whether to have ice cubes in the tiny glass of tomato juice while we read the in-flight magazine. I never drink tomato juice when I'm not airborne. It's a lucky thing, like baseball players not changing their socks. The first time I ever flew without being a nervous wreck, just a few years ago, I chose tomato juice. So now I always do. Frontier Airlines has the worst in-flight magazine I've ever seen, but the flight attendants are generous with the already opened cans of juice.

Air travel offers many opportunities to observe fellow earthlings at close range. On a night of dramatic lightning over Frontier's Denver hub, delays and gate changes afforded tons of material for someone's Great American Novel. We watched the departure times get later by fifteen minute intervals, while we rearranged ground transportation plans by cell phone. "We" began to regret eating that McDonald's meal in the A concourse food court. Flights stacked up, and seating in the terminal became nonexistent when departure gates were reassigned. I found a forgotten cell phone in a chair, and wondered if the airport would explode if I picked it up to take to the gate crew. Bring on that calming tomato juice!

Talk about your suspicious passengers! A man waiting for my flight was carrying three large boxes of Winchell's Donuts. Did Security scan those glazed twists?

I had a middle B seat assignment when we finally boarded. The woman with the window A seat was making herself at home despite the current limitations on carry-on items. She was settling in. Nesting. Interior decorating. She pulled a lovely hand-knit afghan out of her bag to wrap her knees. She dug under the seat to find the styrofoam box aka "doggy bag" from a health food salad lunch. She moved her billfold into the seatback pocket, then submerged under the seat ahead again to retrieve her paperback novel and her plastic clamshell box containing a piece of apple pie. After three bites of salad and one bite of pie, she closed the squeaking plastic boxes and returned them to the bag under the seat ahead of her, retrieving a bag of nacho-flavored Doritos. Three Doritos, and that sack was crinkled shut and placed in the seatback pocket. Time to dive for the pie again! She alternated between pie and Doritos for the forty-five minutes we taxied slowly and eventually sat "to allow the plane's brakes to cool".

Once we took off, a new sequence began. She hooked up the headphones for the free in-flight tv. Thank heaven she didn't have to swipe a credit card to pay for the tv, as that would have required another diving mission in seatback pocket and underseat bag. Instead, she retrieved the styrofoam salad box and paperback book. The flight attendant brought our drinks.

I began to worry that I would be showered with lettuce and juice if the pilot's warning about turbulence came true. A tray-table is not a big surface. This time the routine went:

  1. Turn page of paperback
  2. Move bookmark
  3. Glance at tv
  4. Adjust glasses
  5. Open box of salad, the lid now blocks the tv
  6. Take bite of salad
  7. Take sip of juice
  8. Close salad box
  9. Glance at tv
  10. Read page of paperback
  11. Return to Step 1

She was going to make it come out even, just like Frances the badger and her buddy Albert in Bread and Jam for Frances.

It was time for me to pretend to sleep, although it is difficult with such a spectacle being performed at such close range. Also, there was the sound leaking out of all the headphones. On the other side, in the C seat, was a man we will call "full-bodied", and maybe even "aromatically challenged". The three-year-old ahead of me was in a power struggle with her mother about which channel was appropriate viewing. Behind me a baby whale was spouting ineffectively and continuously between a couple conversing in Chinese. No one will ever compare spoken Chinese to a lullaby!

The baby whale was obviously in considerable distress. Poooph, poooph, poooph, poooph...open salad box...poooph...close salad box...poooph. What in the sky was making that dreadful noise? I wanted to stand up, turn around, and give the Whale my best Teacher Look. If I did, I would knock myself out on the overhead storage bin, though, if I could even get past Wide Body and Ms. Salad Box.

We began our final descent into Dallas, which always sounds somewhat Dante. The plane vibrated and rattled as it rocketed down the runway. "Ooh! That tickles," the three-year-old giggled.

It was very good to be home!


Barbie and Midge try this at home

It's been entirely too long since Barbie and Midge have had a photo shoot and blog post. I wish I had itty bitty lab coats for them to wear during this scientific fact-finding mission. Since that particular career choice is lacking from their combined wardrobes, we will have to make the Deluxe Lunchables Dijon Mustard Study more casual, more like a neighborhood ice cream social or a family reunion with overly warm potato salad.

Week before last I had an explosive encounter with a Lunchables condiment. Most of the stains have washed out now. I'm still curious about the mustard packet, of course. I'm holding onto some resentment. If I were in a lunchroom assistant gang, there would be a rumble after the dance at the gym against the condiment gang. You don't disrespect me and my friends and get away with it! I hear fingers snapping:

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.

When you're a Jet,
If the spit hits the fan,
You got brothers around,
You're a family man!

You're never alone,
You're never disconnected!
You're home with your own:
When company's expected,
You're well protected!

Then you are set
With a capital J,
Which you'll never forget
Till they cart you away.

...Here come the Jets
Like a bat out of hell.
Someone gets in our way,
Someone don't feel so well!

Here come the Jets:
Little world, step aside!
Better go underground,
Better run, better hide!

This time the mustard backed down. It squirted wimpishly onto the cheese, crackers, and Oscar Mayer meats. It acknowledged my lunchroom cred.

Midge and Barbie were horrified when I ate the Lunchables evidence. That is why they have such tiny waists, and I'm a science fair reject. Saving the Andes Mint for a special occasion.


Scavenger Hunt

I hadn't been on a scavenger hunt since I was in the high school youth group known as P.F., for "Pilgrim Fellowship", at First Plymouth Congregational UCC, in about 1972. So I was out of practice for my weekend in Lincoln.

The list went something like this:

1. Find something edible in the A concourse of the Denver airport. (50%) Don't go with the McD's!

2. Find a station on the rental car radio playing music to keep me awake on the drive to Lincoln at midnight, but not too incredibly annoying.

3. Find something to swat that really big spider in the bathroom at one a.m.

4. Find and remove creepy things from the refrigerator. Thank heaven my brother had weeded it out earlier.

5. Find Dad in the dining hall of the rehab center among all the silver-haired folks with wheelchairs and walkers. Thank heaven he looked like himself! I was worried that he would appear to have aged ten years from this broken hip ordeal.

6. Find blunt-end infant/child manicure scissors for trimming nose and ear hair.

7. Find the brush for cleaning the electric razor.

8. Find batteries for the Walkman. (Failed)

9. Find envelope containing the money that was in Dad's pocket when he fell, strategically hidden by a caring neighbor in order to pay that neighbor's son for mowing the yard.

10. Find mock turtlenecks my sister ordered from Lands End and had shipped to Dad when he was with Mom in Minnesota at Mayo. (Only found 50%)

11. Find the green-striped pair of drawstring sleep pants. (Failed)

12. Find something to swat more big spiders without making stains on the curtains.

13. Find the kids who have been doing the mowing and negotiate payment.

14. Acquire answers to multiple questions about Dad's eventual return home, and what health and housework services he would have available then.

15. Find someone at Dad's bank to help with a minor, yet nagging, bill payment issue. (60%)

16. Find Dad's across-the-street and next-door neighbors to exchange news. (66.6%)

17. Find a quiet place in the rehab facility. (Next to impossible)

18. Find all the bills and notices of automatic bank drafts in the accumulated sacks of mail.

19. Find way around on all the new one-way streets and construction detours.

20. Find the right staff member to express concerns about Dad's liquid intake, and about his anxieties related to what we will politely call excretory system issues.

21. Find out if Dad's car will start (and if the power window will go up that last half inch). Yes, and (no)

22. Find time to go to La Paz on North Cotner Blvd. for a great $7.75 lunch!

23. Find which item on the extensive menu I want to try this time. (Very difficult)

24. Find the toilet handle bars and booster seat, and the right screwdriver to install them.

25. Find all the canned goods and paper items in the basement to take upstairs. Dad won't be making trips to the basement for a long time!

26. Find out if the dishwasher can handle month-old dirty dishes. (95%)

27. Find a way to stop watching "Father Goose" on late night cable t.v. to get enough sleep. There's never a good time to stop watching Cary Grant!

28. Find out if the bargain breakfast at Hy-Vee is as good as advertised. Bring on those over-easy eggs, sausage patties, and hash browns!

29. Find tennis balls, drawstring sleep pants, and long-sleeved knit shirts to meet Dad's new wardrobe/laundry needs in under fifteen minutes at Target.

30. Find a way to leave without either of us crying.

Scavenger hunt: Priceless, and the chimichanga was very yummy, too!

Tom Dooley

My brother is replacing doors at his house. This has brought on another attack of unrelenting lyrics. Mr. Peabody and Sherman are ready to travel back to those glorious mid-Sixties, to the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, when acoustic folk artists could be found on prime time network television. Imagine it! They were just singing, not dancing with the stars or bumping each other off an island! Those were the days of the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Peter, Paul, & Mary...

The Kingston Trio recorded "Tom Dooley" in 1958. The record's enormous popularity fueled the folk music revival:

Frank Warner/John Lomax/Alan Lomax
(Spoken recitation over musical accompaniment)
Throughout history, there have been many songs written about the eternal triangle. This next one tells the story of Mister Grayson, a beautiful woman, and a condemned man named Tom Dooley. When the sun rises tomorrow, Tom Dooley must hang.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley. Hang down your head and cry.
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley. Poor boy, you're bound to die.
I met her on the mountain. There I took her life. Met her on the mountain. Stabbed her with my knife.
This time tomorrow. Reckon where I'll be. Hadn't-a been for Grayson, I'd-a been in Tennessee.
This time tomorrow. Reckon where I'll be. Down in some lonesome valley hangin' from a white oak tree.

My brain is singing a variant version:

Hang up your doors, Clint Dudley
Hang up your drawers to dry
Hang up your doors, Clint Dudley,
Oh Lord, I'm going to cry.

The real Clint Dudley is hazy in the elementary school memory. So, too, the real Tom Dula story is obscured in the many versions of the traditional North Carolina ballad. Clint was the cutest boy in sixth grade. The vote was unanimous. Clint had a drop-dead smile, a good passing arm, and he wore his Levis in a way any female could appreciate, even though we sixth grade girls weren't sure just exactly what we were appreciating. Clint moved away after that school year, and he never returned. But that's another Kingston Trio song about the M.T.A.:

Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Well did he ever return, no he never returned
And his fate is still unlearned (what a pity)
He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned

"Tom Dooley" is on page eighteen of Teacher's Choice for the Young Pianist , arranged by Allan Small, copyright 1965. I didn't like practicing piano for my sixth grade lessons. I've saved this piano book for forty years, though.


It isn't raining rain, you know

...it's opening our doors. Thank heaven for a wonderful day of steady, gentle rain. Since about three this morning it has been soaking into our parched soil. This is the best gift we could receive for Labor Day. Our labors hauling soaker hoses around our homes to water our foundations have gotten a reprieve.

Texas foundations still annoy me, although I've lived atop this clay soil for sixteen years. We've landed a man on the moon. We've built earthquake-resistant buildings in California and Japan. Lowe's is selling Katrina Cottages for hurricane regions. You would think we could build homes to withstand the shifting clay soils of North Texas.

Want to know when your teen arrives home late at night? Move to North Texas! No door will ever open without a loud grating sound that would wake any mama. Worried about security? Any burglar who attempts to budge the front door will be in the emergency room with shoulder injuries. We don't get carpal tunnel syndrome. We get portal struggle syndrome.

Some parts of the country are believing the old Morton Salt slogan, "When it rains it pours." The world seems upside down with flooding in El Paso and in the Hatch valley of southwest New Mexico. Maybe Al Gore has it right when he talks about our extreme weather in recent years being related to global warming.

An alternate explanation for our extreme weather may be that normally sane people have begun to do the unthinkable. Yes! Folks have started throwing away their accumulated of National Geographic magazines.

Your mom told you not to ever, ever, ever cut pictures out of the "National G" about the same time she taught you not to run with scissors. Your father assumed a bearing of gravitas when he explained that it is each generation's duty to retain and add to the family's chronologically arranged collection of The National Geographic. Unfortunately, he didn't explain why.

It was many years later when I first heard what I thought was a joke:

If everyone threw away their National Gs, the earth's axis would shift, the poles would reverse, the force of gravity would be altered, and the planet would be thrown out of its orbit.

We slapped our knees and said, "Woo-hoo, that's a good one!"

It got so libraries and schools didn't accept donations of National Gs. Half Price Books wouldn't pay you for them, even after you hauled them up from the basement, loaded them into the trunk, drove across town to the store, and hoisted them up to the sales counter. It was darn right discouraging, and so you said, to heck with your father's warning. You threw them in the nearest dumpster. Who could blame you?

I hear creaking and moaning. The sounds of an axis shifting. Tsunami and cataclysm, deluge and other spelling words! I hear Pluto's faint voice across the redefined solar system explaining that Plutonians had arrogantly discarded their amassed National Geographics. I hear similar bubbly warnings from the submerged sages of Atlantis.

The creaking and moaning are actually the sounds of my fireplace trying to migrate from this condo to the one across the parking lot. The building is twisting like a wrung-out wash cloth. I'm not alone, as the Dallas Morning News reports in "Foundation Firms See a Shift in Business". The whole region is cracking and creaking. It's a mess.

Amassed magazines might provide a solution. Those heavy stacks dating back before Sputnik could be used to weigh down our concrete slabs, or submerged under the foundation as recycled periodical piers. Put down those scissors. I'm being serious here!

Gravitas is from the Latin gravitas, "heaviness, seriousness," from gravis, "heavy, serious."

Playground games, blogging games

Playgrounds and writing are on my mind this week. I've become the Playground Lady from my favorite comic strip, Rick Detorie's "One Big Happy", although I will always identify with Ruthie's storytime Library Lady. Watching the recess dynamics at my second job stirs up all sorts of irritating memories. They sit there nagging for attention like pea gravel inside my old Buster Brown anklets and saddle shoes.

If you missed Susan Stamberg's interview with short story writer Karen Russell on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday morning, you can hear it online. The title of Russell's story collection is St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. After Russell reads an excerpt from the title story, Stamberg says, "You have such a vivid imagination. Is this something you cultivated from childhood and channeled into your writing?"

Russell replied instantly, "I directly credit being terrible at sports. If I'd had even an ounce of skill at kickball I'd have been out on the field with the other kids...It was safer to be sitting in a corner imagining things than dodging a ball." Ooooh, baby, do I know what she means! Can you say "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Nancy Lou right over"??

My blog was "tagged" by Prairie Bluestem on the cyber-playground today, so I'm It. Normally, I'd decline to participate in this game, as I declined to participate in many sports activities over the decades. My thinking is along this line: If a business has a company softball game at the annual picnic, I won't apply for a job there. This isn't particularly healthy, I admit.

This cyber-game of tag is similar to a chain letter, but it doesn't promise that I'll receive a picture postcard with a printed recipe from every state in the Union. Been waiting for those to arrive since 1966. I thought "blog tag" had to do with subject classifications, so I'm already feeling insecure!

We are all shaped as much by our perceived inadequacies as we are by our strengths. Because I've always felt inadequate speaking to people, writing a letter to clearly express my thoughts became my modus operandi. I believed I could not think on my feet or say what I meant. This belief probably dates from the time my grandfather phoned me long distance to wish me a happy birthday while my birthday party with classmates and friends was in progress. "Happy birthday," he said. "And happy birthday to you, too," I said, immediately realizing it wasn't his birthday and turning bright red.

I began writing letters so I wouldn't ever repeat that moment, I guess. People expressed appreciation for my letters, so I wrote more. Positive feedback is lots more satisfying than repeatedly failing to break through the line in Red Rover. Plus, I loved the luxurious feeling of note paper and pretty stationery! Sealing wax and postage stamps enhanced the letter-writing experience.

This blog, and my Anchorwoman blog are extensions from that birthday phone call. Part of the reason for writing blogs is to clarify and express my thoughts so I don't blurt out something dumb and have to be teased about it later. Another part is to entertain my parents and friends particularly through illnesses. A little part is to work out the same sort of childhood experiences as Red Rover, a bit of inexpensive bloggotherapy. I write posts, too, for the pure joy of playing with words, and for the discipline and craft of improving each entry. Some people go bowling, some go bar-hopping, others sing in the choir. I blog. Writing about the beautiful and funny aspects of the human experience reinforce those positive observations and improve my outlook on life.

I send paper copies of my entries to my parents, now just my dad. It's reassuring to me that a physical copy of my effort exists. Maybe someone will appreciate it in the future the same way I appreciate the cursive handwritten autobiography of my great-great-grandfather homesteading in Nebraska. My sons don't read my blog unless I send them a link to a particular post. It is too soon. At twenty I didn't have any idea that learning continues through life, questions persist, experiences bring wisdom, and grown-ups feel sadness...

I'm not quite willing to participate in this game of tag. If you would like to copy the following questions, go for it. If you would like to send me a picture postcard of your state capitol building with your favorite recipe, please write a comment!

1. Are you happy/satisfied with your blog's content and look?
2. Does your family know about your blog?
3. Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog? Do you consider it a private thing?
4. Did blogging cause positive changes in your thoughts?
5. Do you only open the blogs of those who comment on your blog or do you love to go and discover more by yourself?
6. What does a visitor counter mean to you? Do you like having one on your blog?
7. Did you try to imagine your fellow bloggers and give them real pictures?
8. Do you think there is any real benefit in blogging?
9. Do you think that blogger's society is isolated from the real world or interaction with events?
10. Does criticism annoy you or do you feel it's a normal thing?
11. Do you fear some political blogs and avoid them?
12. Were you shocked by the arrest of some bloggers?
13. What do you think will happen to your blog after you die?
14. What do you like to hear? What song would you like to link to on your blog?
15. Five bloggers to be the next "victims"?


On Nasher & Dancer & Prancer

Finally made it to the annual Dallas Dance Festival. The festival, sponsored by Dance Council, showcases six area dance troupes, giving them a chance to promote their upcoming seasons. This year it was held at the Nasher Sculpture Center in conjunction with NSC's Saturday Night in the City series.

The dance performances were inside the downstairs Nasher Hall in front of the wall of windows. They could be watched from inside the Hall, or from the slope outside the windows. Seated inside for two pas de deux by Texas Ballet Theater, I could barely see the other audience outside in the dark. The windows created a mirror effect. You remember that mirror effect! It's the reason your parents made you sit with your back to the window during supper so you wouldn't make faces at yourself. Texas Ballet Theater also performed "One" from "A Chorus Line", which was cute, but didn't rock my socks.

For the Bruce Wood Dance Company performance I wanted to be outside on the slope. It seems too little to call the space an amphitheater*. Sitting outside in the dark meant that the indoor audience and dancers seemed to be inside a lighted aquarium. The audience was very visible, and the experience felt a bit like spying.

I'm so much more impressed with the Bruce Wood Dance Company. They performed a duet based on Pablo Neruda poems set to Vivaldi music, and then their fabulous "Lovett" ballet to songs by Lyle Lovett, of course. That filled me with great joy--the ecstatic aesthetic experience. Bruce is an incredibly creative choreographer. His ballets powerfully communicate layers of ideas and emotions. I understand his work as capital A art. I understand classical ballets as costumes and pointy toes with lots of flittering, not that those are bad things.

One thing I don't understand about BWDC is why its web site isn't up to date. I guess it's a money issue, but it makes me frustrated. Nowadays an out-dated web site makes searchers think an arts group no longer exists. It fails to attract donations and ticket sales. When Ed McMahon delivers my million dollar check, I'll send some to Bruce Wood to keep the web site current. Until then, this is the 2006-2007 season at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth from the flyer I got at the Dance Festival:

Monday, October 9, 2006 "Harmony"

Monday, January 15, 2007 "Hope", featuring singer/songwriter Hal Ketchum, on the theme of fathers and sons.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007 "Happiness"

Thursday, June 21 "Heart"

For tickets, call the company at 817-731-3221. All performances begin at 7:30, and Bruce himself says they're "over so you can be back in Dallas tucked into bed by 11:15, guaranteed."

According to the Dance Council's online performance calendar single tickets are $20-65, and series tickets are $68-221, at 817-212-4280. "Join the Bruce Wood Dance Company enthusiasts who delight in the company's repertoire ranging in expression from ecstasy and spirituality to smart, sexy, and lighthearted." Amen to that!

Try the Nasher at night sometime, and you might be inspired, too:

1546, from L. amphitheatrum, from Gk. amphitheatron, neut. of amphitheatros "with spectators all around," from amphi- "on both sides" + theatron "theater," from theasthai "watch, look at." Classical theaters were semi-circles, thus two together made an amphitheater.


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