Ball joints

This is a classic holiday. My '96 Buick is in the shop awaiting a new $865 fuel pump. The Buick should probably be on its way to the auto smasher, but I received a nice bumper sticker for Christmas. Seemed like a good reason to repair it yet again:


My parents always seemed to celebrate holidays and anniversaries with expensive automotive repairs when I was a kid. So many years of snow tires for Christmas! I didn't even understand the humor the year they gave each other ball joints for their wedding anniversary. Mom and Dad certainly gave each other the steering and suspension for their lives.

It seems fitting to agonize over what to discard, and what to fix on the last day of the year. Rust adds a certain character to people and vehicles. The deteriorating exterior of the Buick hides the frequently expensive improvements to the operating mechanism. That's something to keep in mind when I look in the mirror. Whom do I owe, and whom do I credit for these improvements in the big scheme beyond credit card plastic?

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

A Lunch Bunch New Year's Eve

I learned shortly before they arrived that I was hosting a Lunch Bunch reunion video, games, and blender margaritas party. It's a way more crazy New Year's Eve than I planned, but possibly just what I needed. The PHSH Class of 2005 is ushering in '08 around the table where they used to scarf down a hot lunch on Fridays while scribbling out their French homework. The friendgirls and card games have changed, along with the vehicles. The guys all take time to chat with me about their semesters abroad, changes of majors, and newspaper internships. They make sure to put cans in the recycling and napkins in the trash. Best of all, they give me hope for the future of our nation and planet!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder



Just starting a stitching project on a fabric background composed of overlapping white and brown burlap, gray satin, hand-dyed and discharged pieces of cotton, and a delicate floral former chiffon scarf. I'll post progress reports on my Mama Collages blog.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


His boy Elroy

Got a big bag of Jetson spacemobiles ready to zip off to Spacely Sprockets! My dear Loofah Goat Lady (LGL) has saved up a bunch of Desert Glory/Nature Sweet cherry tomato containers for my art classes.

I always try to avert my eyes from the cherry tomato section of produce in my Albertsons grocery store, because I might drift off into a long fantasy, especially after a day with the preschoolers. The containers are so obviously the creation of a person who watched lots of Jetsons cartoons back in the Sixties and never recovered.

Not having a George Jetson finger puppet in my teaching aids drawer, I present a wind-up penguin to ride in the spacemobile. The penguin is glad to not be a Peep. Those eerie supersweet botox Easter chicks could ride in spacemobiles to their date with the microwave, or to Disneyland for a spin on the classic Mad Hatter's Tea Party ride of giant cups and saucers.

In a more Seventies frame of mind, the tomato containers remind me of restaurant all-you-can-eat salad bar "sneeze guards". The lids would make fine Jello brain molds for Igor's Young Frankenstein Ab Normal scene.

What will my students do with their tomato spacemobiles? It may take a few months before we know!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Hearing voices

In my rundown Albertsons grocery store, in the soup aisle, I heard a voice. A most emphatic and energetic voice telling me how I could have the most fabulous holiday ever. I looked around, but there was nobody but me and my creaking cart. Was I receiving transistor radio broadcasts in my braces? Nope, no braces. Was it an archangel finally reaching down to make me pay for never really reading all of Paradise Lost in twelfth grade? Was it the Mother Ship informing me I was about to be beamed up?

Wait. I kinda recognize the voice. It's a woman--I alway knew God had to be a woman! No, wait. It's Rachael Ray! Oh my gosh (OMG). Rachael Ray in my ratty Albertsons giving me culinary peptalks activated by motion detectors. She sending me subliminal foodie cult messages. Next thing you know, I'm buying shredded parmesan, brie, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar instead of Nature Valley granola bars, Rotel Original, and grated cheddar.

My sons will return from their dad's house soon. They will smell the roasting pork tenderloin stuffed with marinaded chicken breasts, fresh sage, mushrooms and garlic, rolled in rosemary and fresh ground black pepper. (It is cooking under two heavy cast iron skillets which is as close as I could get to Rachael's foil-wrapped bricks.) They will marvel at the fresh cranberry clementine relish, the cilantro-seasoned stuffing, and the Italian asparagus/artichoke salad. The fresh cranberry clementine relish will be the real clue that their mother has been kidnapped by extraterrestrials. They know that I'm a firm believer in serving Ocean Spray cranberry jelly straight out of the can just the way God in Her Infinite Wisdom intended. And why can't they smell the sauerkraut the minute they walk in???

"Who is this person?," they'll demand. "What have you done with our mother?"

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Hanging ornaments

The class rabbit, Norton, appreciates his Christmas ornament made of veggies.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


1971 Yearbook

Sorely lacking in holiday spirit, I listened to my son tell of his Goodwill quest for a really ugly Christmas sweater to wear to a campus party. I haven't wanted to decorate the tree, fuss with giftwrap, or do anything else to acknowledge the holiday season. Maybe a trip to the land of ugly sweaters was what I needed to get in the spirit. Why isn't there an annual tv special of silly Seventies holiday attire?

The first winter of my parttime job serving up cream of wheat in the hospital kitchen, the dishwasher boys were wearing platform shoes, "baggies" high-waisted, wide-leg pants with extreme cuffs, and reindeer ski sweaters. These were the guys we wanted to cruise alongside through McDonalds, accompany to a movie, or, GASP, go bowling. Why were perfectly normal Nebraska corn-fed beef boys wearing Elton John shoes???

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Males asking directions?

Two preschoolers were seated at the Lego table building a house for Duplo dinosaurs. The girl announced, "I'm going to bed now," and moved her dinosaur into a red and yellow block room with a color-coordinated bedroom set. The boy responded, "Um, Honey, where's the garage?"

The little girl did not say, "Darling, you've been trying to change tv channels with the garage door opener for the last ten minutes. Follow the sound of the door going up and down!"
Where ya gonna park that thing???

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Get my goat

This holiday season I feel honored to know that a gift has been made to Heifer International in my name. A family in need will receive a goat to help them economically and nutritionally. That family will agree to give one offspring of their gift goat to another family in need. In this season of giving and shepherding, "my" goat makes me happy.

E. F. Schumacher's book, Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered influenced my thinking more than most books I read back in college. The concept of human-scale economics and technology to build sustainable communities while respecting the environment seems as important now as then, and maybe more.
So many of the systems controlling our lives lack any relation to human-scale. We have education systems where children don't matter except as they produce acceptable test results. Ask anyone who has spent time dealing with healthcare and health insurance lately, and they'll tell you they felt like the patient didn't matter. Billions and gazillions of dollars are being spent on wars where the people who should matter need clean water, adequate shelter, and the peace and stability to raise their goats and crops.

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd pondering how we can change the systems, and bring them back to human-scale, to change the focus so people matter. How can one person make a difference? What can be the impact of one goat?

In my year working with a small group of preschoolers, I hope that I have shared some moments that will impact their relationships with each other and with the environment. Those are big words to say that we held hands and watched a spider spin a web together. And we came back the next day and the next to check on the spider and its web.

On a different note, one might ponder the impact of the goat on so many words and phrases in our language. Give yourself the holiday treat of a moment in the Online Etymology Dictionary goat department!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Frosty's New Years Eve party

You are invited to the hottest cold party to usher in 2008. Frosty the Snowman and all his friends will be doing the Limbo, the Bump, the Twist, the Frug, the Moonwalk, the Pony, the "White Man's Overbite"*, and some New York City Music Hall Rockettes and Kilgore Rangerette numbers later in the evening.

Take the tarp off that lighted Bicentennial disco dance floor. Do you know how to party??? Can you spell D-o-r-i-t-o-s? Can you spell In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida? Can you spell chocolate-frosted sprinkle donuts??

Frosty and friends are so Jumbo Tron! They've got Velveeta, refried beans, and original Ro-tel melting together in the Harvest Gold crockpot. They are having snowball fights out in the front yard.

The elementary art students took the concept of a snowman's party and ran with wonderful results. Some of Frosty's guests may melt just past midnight. We liked learning that Dean Koontz wrote a story about where snowmen go when they melt that is included in his THE PAPER DOORWAY: Funny Verse and Nothing Worse.

My students weren't contemplating "the white man's overbite." Most of them are missing so many teeth they can't bite an apple. Still, disco snowmen brought to mind Billy Crystal's line from "When Harry Met Sally."

*Harry : You meet someone, you have the safe lunch, you decide to like each other enough to move on to dinner. You go dancing, you do the white man's overbite; go back to her place, you have sex, and the minute you finish, you know what goes through your mind?"How long do I have to lie here and hold her before I can go home?""Is 30 seconds enough?"
Sally : That's what you're thinking? Is that true?
Harry : Sure. All men think that. How long do you like to be held afterwards? All night, right? That's the problem. Somewhere between 30 seconds and all night is your problem.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Three Little Ducks SRO

In a simpler time with fewer electronic screens, our handheld diversions were more likely to be the buttons in our mother's sewing basket, or the pins and earrings in her jewelry box. Playing in Mom's jewelry box was a rare treat, usually connected with her preparations for an evening with the bridge club.

A jewelry box is like a theater, but the audience is the star attraction. Open the jewelry box, and the tiers of burgundy velvet seating appear with little compartments, sections, aisles, rows, even a loge and an orchestra pit. As children, we would spread the necklaces and bracelets out on the bedspread around where we had set the jewelry box. The Sixties costume beads were the footlights around the stage. Mom's wild red glazed pin and earrings were the Spanish "Chocolat" dancers of "The Nutcracker". The duck pins danced "Peter and the Wolf", and ended up quacking in the wolf's stomach about the time Mom served dessert to the bridge club.

The duck pins will be played by the oboes!

Three little ducks that I once knew,

Fat one, skinny one, fair one, too.

But the one little duck with the feather on his back,

He ruled the others with his Quack Quack Quack.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Naughty or Nice? Clamps, but no Vise!

Santa's workshop must be a place of furious industry and creativity this time of year. I love the idea of making gifts while keeping the endeavor a surprise. While I never caught sight of any elves in the basement, I loved "working" with my dad on his "projects" as a preschooler.

The folks who make scents, candles, and potpourri for the Christmas season are missing the smells for Santa's basement workshop:



Old, dried-out newspaper


Dryer lint


Dial Soap bars

Varnish and shellac


Aging corrugated cardboard

"Gunk" orange hand-cleaner

Several of my little students are ready to learn blended consonant sounds. "Clamp" is a strange vocabulary word for them, so I took every clamp I could find in junk drawers, tool boxes, and art supplies to school. We added day-glo bright squeeze mini-clamps, some plywood and masonite scraps, and a plastic construction worker hat to create a very popular classroom work center. Maybe I'm not the only kid who thinks C-clamps are C-cool! The kids are knocking each other out of the way like Tonya Harding's goons for the chance to twirl the gizmo on the C-clamp!

Not brave enough to do preschool sawing at a mitre box next, but Dad's workshop vise and mitre box empowered my outlook on life. Dad let me pound nails into a bar of Dial soap "to build a better mousetrap" on our evenings in the basement. My mom must have been washing dishes and caring for my younger siblings while Dad and I spent quality time sorting nuts and bolts. Perhaps my favorite mystery was the long row of Gerber baby food jars hanging by their lids from a shelf on the workshop pegboard.

"If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbour," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door." And where is Waldo now?

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


The two seasons of the year

My little students are busy learning about the four seasons with puzzles, a set of rubber stamps of a tree through the year, songs, and stories. Out in the garden, they are picking the last green tomatoes. We are all amazed that our favorite spider is still living on the gourd vines on the other side of the fence. Does it have a warm ski chalet that we can't see?

When I go home from school to the condo, my year has only two seasons. For many months it took an NFL linebacker to open the front door. Suddenly, the front door doesn't stay closed unless it is locked, as I discovered when I took my recyclables out to the cart.

The older students are in the middle of an art project about warm and cool colors. We are imagining Frosty the Snowman's New Year's Eve party. What happens when all the snowdudes and snowdudettes start eating nachos with jalapenos, dancing to loud music under that flashy disco ball, and doing over-the-top touchdown endzone celebrations? What about all those over-stimulated snowkiddies chasing each other around the dried-out Christmas tree, bopping each other over the head with their twelve-inch talking Jesus dolls (or, in my oft-regretted past, the plastic toy guitar)?

Brrrrrr. Sisssss! I'm envisioning a new game of Sims Snowmen...

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Lightbulb joke

How many emails does it take to run a marathon?

I can only begin to fathom the number of emails, telephone calls, text messages, faxes, and old-fashioned face-to-face meetings it takes to organize a marathon race like Sunday's Wellstone's Dallas White Rock Marathon. As a tiny cog in the big wheel doing the advance organization for one aid station, I have amassed 330 emails in my "Running " file. Know I discarded many messages in the past month or so, but didn't have time to sift the rest of the keepers from the ones that can be deleted.

For every runner out hitting the road for training miles at five a.m. there's likely a race volunteer hitting the send button on an email at five a.m. to make the race happen!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


What Would Jesus Laminate?

I made two expeditions into unfamiliar territory this week in the pursuit of twenty-five cents per foot self-serve laminating. Laminating is a soul-searching effort for me, as I have to weigh the non-recyclable and non-biodegradable effect on paper against the sturdiness, weather-readiness, and preservation of the art or teaching items being laminated. Plus, I have to go to the friendly neighborhood Christian bookstore, home-schooling supply center, and vacation Bible school headquarters to get the best do-it-yourself laminating price.

It's a busy time at the bookstore. The woman ahead of me in the check-out line had her entire cart filled with identical ceramic nativity scenes that looked like Fred Flintstone's house spray-painted with gold glitter paint. The woman ahead of her wanted to use expired limit-one-per-customer coupons to buy three soft Christian rock music cds.

The three kids behind me in line were whining and badgering their mother because she had only said they could LOOK at the new "Veggie Tales" video, not that they would BUY it. Down the aisle another family values drama was being performed about a boy's desire for a Bibleman laser sword. I thought it was just kids in Target who threw tantrums over GI Joe, Star Wars, and Disney Princess videos. When my sons acted like that we knew it was time to read The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmes.

Bible action figures are hot toys. Who wouldn't want the Almighty Heroes action set? The characters have the physique of the Incredible Hulk, but cuter tunics and slingshots. I'm sure they can be entwined through the chainlink baseball backstop the same way my youngest posed his GI Joes. They can be buried in the playground gravel and lost just as easily as a Ninja Turtle.

We agonize as parents over the toys we buy and media influences on our children. If we let our children play with toy guns, are we raising the schoolshooters and mallshooters of the next decade? If we give our children plastic action figures with Bible verses, will they become the peacemakers, the philosophers, the charitable and ethical leaders we desperately need? If our daughters dress Queen Esther and Deborah the Warrior dolls in their fashion sets with they live with more purity and purpose than if they played with Bratz and Barbie dolls? If our son prefers dressing Joseph in his amazing coat to putting on the Full (silver plastic) Armor of God playset, will he become gay? Is there really any difference between wearing a Power Rangers costume trick-or-treating, or wearing a Samson Super-Muscles costume to the Sunday School fall harvest carnival?

I don't know. My sons are grown now. They are already teacher, administrator, photographer, law student, volunteer, writer, artist, runner, chef, and traveler. They will work in many other fields in their lifetimes. They have a core set of values guiding their relations with others, a respect for nature, an inner motivation, an appreciation of art and the lessons of history, and they are kind to their mommy.

So what toys do they insist that I never give or throw away? The "good wood rifles" and the Legos. The toys of imagination, role-playing, empowerment, and construction--and of precious memories.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


My Inner Milliner

There's a hat-maker deep inside me hollering to get out, particularly today after I've seen the Dallas Opera's "Merry Widow". What fun someone at the San Franscisco Opera's costume shop had making all the wonderful hats for this production!

The hats are giant feathery confections whipped up in black and white, lovely blues, and lastly a splendid range of reds. They bring to mind Audrey Hepburn on Ascot Opening Day, and Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly".

Hat-making appeals to me as an individual textile sculptural design experiment. It revels in curves, layers, textures, opacities, embellishments, and eccentricities. It's over the top in more ways than one. Plus, it's a fabulous art project for young students I've forgotten to include in recent semesters.

"The Merry Widow" was composed a hundred or so years ago by Franz Lehar (and someday a hundred years from now I'll learn how to add the proper accent marks to his name). That's about the same time my young great-aunties in Northeast Nebraska modeled these non-Parisian millinery creations of their mother.

My great-auntie Ada, on the right, later had her own millinery shop on Main Street in Pierce, Nebraska. This was long, long before I knew her. I have only one real memory of her, but it is very vivid. Auntie Ada is standing by a bed of tall flowers, calmly waiting for the flitting butterflies to become still enough for her to pick them up by their folded wings with her fingers.

A hat, with all of its sculptural qualities, should still have that sense of a fragile, quivering butterfly held gently in the artist's fingers and being placed into the creation yet wanting to fly free.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


The Red Book of Birds of America

One of the most prized possessions in my extended family is a little and incomplete set of books far from mint condition published by Whitman in MCMLIV. Two generations have learned their birds at an early age by paging through these little guides just right for a child's hands. Two generations have been mesmerized by the poetry in a list of bird names when read aloud.

The Red Book of Birds of America is our favorite in what was originally a set of four tiny books. My thirteen year old nephew hated to part with this precious token of his childhood long enough for me to scan some of the loose pages. I understand completely.

My oldest son with his precocious auditory memory learned the duck names in order by age two, and was particularly fond of the "blue winged teal".

The Yellow Book of Birds of America vanished or crumbled before my kids were born. The Green, Blue, and Red books are held together with clear Contac paper. Some child teethed on the upper page corners of the Blue book with its "Jays, Larks, Orioles, Grackles, Finches, Sparrows, Grosbeaks, Blackbirds, Buntings, etc." The lower corners of the red-winged blackbird and the meadowlark show gnaw marks, too.

The Green book was the best at bedtime. The pages of the preface have been decorated with drawings of houses and apartment buildings in blue and purple crayon. A child has done some pencil arithmetic there, too.

In your insomnia consider:

Scarlet Tanager
Western Tanager
Summer Tanager
Cedar Waxwing
Bohemian Waxwing
Golden-Crowned Kinglet
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Red-Eyed Vireo
Blue-Headed Vireo
Yellow-Throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Black and White Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Blue-Winged Warbler
Golden-Winged Warbler
Black-Poll Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Orange-Crowned Warbler
Parula Warbler

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Long hair, very cute, and dangerous

No, this isn't about teenage girlfriends! It's about the darling caterpillar we found near a big oak tree. We coaxed it into a bug box, but couldn't identify it that night. It was quite distinctive with its orange fauxhawk Mohawk hairstyle, orange curled tail, and baby sloth face.

Not knowing what it needed to eat, we couldn't keep it until it formed a cocoon, so we released it at the foot of the oak tree. It curled into a cute, cuddly ball.

We kept a polite distance, and let it uncurl when it was ready. Off it went climbing the tree, with us watching until we could no longer see it moving camouflaged against the bark and about twenty feet high.

Thankfully, no one ever petted our cutie. Last night I finally had a chance to identify it. It is one of the most poisonous of stinging caterpillars, so we were very lucky that no one got hurt!

The "asp" or puss caterpillar of the southern flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis, is considered the most dangerous caterpillar in the U.S. The skin irritation can last from one hour to five days! It is found from Maryland to Mexico across the Southeast U.S. "Asp" is its Texas nickname, and the
Texas A&M Cooperative Extension field guide makes clear that it is more snake than puddy-tat. If, like me, you didn't even know there was such a thing as a stinging caterpillar, you'll be interested in the eMedicine information. As if we didn't have enough to worry about, there can be epidemics caused by airborne caterpillar hair dispersion! The North American Moth Photographers Group has excellent photos of the entire life cycle of the southern flannel moth.

And if one of them starts calling and text messaging your teenage son, be afraid. Be very afraid!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Wanted: Dead or Alive

Six elementary students were sitting around the table doing worksheets when one of them spotted a spider on the floor. The girl ran off to fetch the classroom bug-catching device, while the five boys debated whether it was a spider or a fly, living or dead.

"It's moving!"
"It's alive!"
"It's getting away!"

The girl comes back with the bug-catcher and sets it over the big spider. She slides the trapdoor, to capture the creature, then lifts it up to look through the clear plastic. Oops! She bumps the trapdoor, and the creature escapes, causing much shrieking from the boys. She retraps The Giant Bug, and sets the bug-catcher on the table for a good look before they all take The Giant Bug outside to release it into the Wild.

"Wait a minute."
"That's not a spider."
"That's not a bug."
"That's a piece of tape with hair stuck to it!"

Everyone in the room including the brave bug trapper starts laughing so hard they can scarcely breathe. Another one of life's moments when you're glad you're not drinking root beer, as it would surely shoot out your nose.

The sliding trapdoor bug-catching device can be found in PETA's catalog. It really works, although I have bumped the trapdoor once allowing an actual big spider to escape. It's called the Katcha Bug™ Humane Bug Catcher.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


You make me feel like dancing

Forget dancing with stars, and go to dancing with leaves!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Blog of virtues

This Thanksgiving I'm grateful for the entertainment value of honesty. The students have been writing or dictating their gratitude lists:

I'm thankful for cookies without raisins.

I'm thankful for my bothers. (From a girl who lives for opportunities to pester her male siblings.)

I'm thankful for pizza.

Amen, and please pass the stuffing!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Gratitude by the sand bucketful

How very fortunate I am to spend time in a garden with small children! Everyday has such opportunities for wonder.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Stone Tables and weird sisters barbecue

I love fall, and have to wait an extremely long time for it to really arrive in North Texas. We are teased with a morning when we need a jacket, and think our air conditioning days are over.

Two signs mark the season arrival for me. The Dallas Opera season kicks off, and my involvement as a Dallas Running Club volunteer kicks in.

Verdi's Macbeth was the first Dallas Opera production. The production was created by the Seattle Opera in conjunction with the Arizona Opera. It had its problems, most noticeably with the fake rocks that were a main feature of the set. The chorus, witches, and supernumeraries did a lot of rock rearranging, without acting like the rocks were any heavier than an empty shoebox.

Early in Act III of Macbeth, the witches, or "weird sisters" had a barbecue. No, wait. It was some kind of ritual prior to showing Macbeth the clues to his future. But the set looked like a semi-circular fake stone barbecue that could have been built by the CCC if the CCC had used white shoeboxes. Sorry to say, that broke the magic spell known aesthetically as "suspension of disbelief" for me. I started thinking about Margie's marinaded chicken, and how good it smelled when it was broiling, and how it might be just the thing for a fall picnic at White Rock Lake.

At Dallas' White Rock Lake there are many structures that were built by the CCC in the late Thirties with real stone, not shoeboxes. I volunteer at races because it's a great reason to get out to the lake on crisp mornings.

Went to a volunteer appreciation get-together at the lake's Stone Tables area yesterday. Pizza was served, not Margie's broiled chicken, but that's okay. The site has a wonderful feel that has attracted picnickers for seventy years.

I am respectfully borrowing this photo from a wonderful website about White Rock Lake and the CCC.

My next volunteer effort is the Dallas Running Club's Mile 16 Aid Station for the Wellstone's Dallas White Rock Marathon, aka "The Rock". The aid station is at Sunset Bay, not far from the Stone Tables. The structures at the site were also built by the CCC, and in April 2004 the For The Love Of The Lake organization placed a bronze statue of a CCC worker at the Bay. The statue is nicknamed "Buff Biff", and the organization has recently had it cleaned so it is looking really impressive.

Daylight was fading when I stopped at Sunset Bay after the picnic. Many families were there feeding bread crusts and popcorn to the pelicans, ducks, and geese. Photographers were as abundant as waterfowl.

This may not be the best place to insert a recipe for basting sauce, but this is the national week for all things fowl. Nevermind about Margie, as that's a whole different story, and I'm out of therapy now!

Margie's All-Purpose Basting Sauce (for excellent broiled chicken)

1/2 cup salad oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp MSG (optional)
Combine ingredients in a jar. Add salt, fresh-ground pepper, and herbs to suit yourself. Shake.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Padlock Spider

Isn't this the cutest little yam/pumpkin/carrot spider for Thanksgiving? It's the latest resident on the metal gate to the playground, probably having eaten the previous occupant. Its abdomen is the size of my pinkie fingertip.
© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Counting on Norton

Six preschoolers gathered round when I got out the box of sandpaper numbers. Sandpaper numbers are multisensory tools for teaching counting, number recognition, and numeral formation. The little students love to drive their index finger along the gravel road to trace the sandpaper number, beginning at the top.

Learning to count is amazingly hard work. These kids can all say, "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10!" But it doesn't mean anything. They don't have the connection between the sound and concept of the number. They don't grasp one-to-one correspondence in counting, or connect the symbol of the numeral with the concept of the number.

I asked three children to work with me, but three more immediately joined the group. Three more lurked nearby, but we were already standing room only. Part of the attraction of the sandpaper number work is being sent on finding missions. Each time we trace a number and say the name. We form our fingers to show the number. Two children look for the number in illustrated counting books. One student is sent to find the number on the big number poster in the math center. One goes to get that many smooth, polished stones, and another to get sunflower seeds from the science center. One goes all the way to the writing center to bring back that many colored or striped pencils. Sometimes they are sent on missions to find paper clips, finger puppets, buttons, or dried gourds. These missions are serious work. Somehow the walking and finding helps connect the number and counting in the brain. The kids stay on task, and don't start ricocheting around the classroom, but I'm pulling every trick I've got out of my sleeve to keep the six of them engaged.

Thank heaven for the class rabbit, Norton. He came galumphing over to the group as only a nine pound rabbit can galumph. He just wanted to check out the action as the children were taking turns tracing the sandpaper number 2. I picked up Norton and held him on my lap. When we trace the sandpaper number, we start at the top, I explained. But when we stroke Norton's ears we start at the bottom. Each child got a turn to sit by me and stroke the big bunny's ears, counting slowly, "one, two". For Norton it was just another day on the job as preschool classroom rabbit. For the kids, it was number magic. In six brains they've linked the sandpaper tracing of the number, the slow speaking of "one, two," as they stroked the soft fur along the rabbit's long ears. Maybe next week we can feed him three carrots!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


DN is nigh

Ms. Nancy, how do you spell DN?


Yes. How do you spell it?



Do you mean 'the end'?

No. DN. Like at the end of a story, you know.

Okay. You spell it:



© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


ACT IV, Scene 1 supertitles

Three times hath the brindle cat mewed
Three times hath the owl wailed
And the porcupine has thrice whined

Say that again three times fast!

The porcupine has thrice whined
The porcupine has thrice whined
The porcupine has thrice whined

Verdi's version of Shakespeare's Macbeth witches were getting ready for their big cauldron scene at the Dallas Opera. The eye of newt looked more likely to be broiled on a stone state park fireplace built by the CCC than stewed in a black cauldron. The scenery was heavy on lightweight fake stones. What really gave me the giggles at this inopportune moment was the mental image of whining porcupines.

Working as I do with very young students, I have heard the occasional whine! In my recreational quest for knowledge, I've learned that all porcupines shuffle along the ground. Porcupines of the New World can climb trees, but Old World porcupines cannot. But do they whine? My National Geographic Book of Mammals, Volume Two K-Z, doesn't say anything about their vocal abilities. Thank heaven the National Geographic website has seventy-eight seconds of recorded porcupine singing. I wouldn't call it a whine. It sounds more like one of Gladys Knight's Pips. Huh-huh. Uh-huh.

Speaking of cauldrons, the Woolly Mammoth wrote me from Italy to request my recipe for Texas chili. The international students were preparing a taste of home cooking for each other. It's still too hot in North Texas to get inspired to make a big pot of chili. In fact, I had to turn on the air conditioner today when it got up to seventy-eight in the condo. It's enough to make a utility bill-paying porcupine whine!

And now I'll be in double trouble if I don't shift the laundry from the washer to the dryer.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Tiger Cub Field Trip of '88

A hundred years after the famous blizzard, Cyndi and I took eleven first-grade Tiger Cubs to the 45th Infantry Museum in Oklahoma City. The boys loved the museum with its helmets, uniforms, tanks, artillery, and dioramas. The 45th is a fascinating history museum no matter how you feel about wars and the military, power and force.

I like to think we didn't create any little hawks or future military dictators that day. My sons all grew up with a love of history and an abhorance of war, even though they wore every camo "flage" item they could find for a few years.

Perhaps the most significant thing the Tiger Cubs experienced on that field trip was a lunch at the McDonald's across the street from the museum. Each boy brought money for a Happy Meal, and I know for a fact that this was not their very first Happy Meal! I do not carry a burden of guilt for creating any Super-Sized fat Americans.

Cyndi and I talked to each Tiger Cub:

Do you know what you want for lunch? Great. You told me so clearly that I know you can give your own order. You are big enough to carry your own tray to the booth, too.

The looks on their faces and the squaring of their shoulders when they received this gift of empowerment was magical. None of the boys flubbed their orders or dropped their trays. It was as if we had knighted them with Excalibur!

Nearly twenty years later, I note that parents are still doing too much for their kids. That day was an eye-opener for me as a parent who tended to do too much and anticipate too many needs for my sons. We must give our children that permission to attempt new tasks, our patience as they gain self-sufficiency, and our vote of confidence. "I know you can do it yourself," is a far greater gift than, "I will do it for you, my precious iddle-widdle boy."

Sorry about the preaching. I'll now push my soapbox over to the sink and load the dishwasher all by myself.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

In udder news

The bottle on the left is an Ozarka eight-ounce bottle of fluoridated spring water. It has a "non-removable child-safe twist-cap". The cap is not recyclable, although the bottle is. The only way to remove the cap is to crush the bottle, which also means you can't refill the bottle with the fluoridated water from your own tap! Why does the cap need to be child-safe and non-removable if the bottle just contains water? Is it so the child doesn't swallow the cap? If so, someone needs to be paying closer attention to that child! Why are we so afraid of our tap water that we would spend $2.99 for sixty-four ounces of fluoridated Ozarka in eight difficult to recycle bottles?

I've checked with my recycling experts, and they report that the bottle crusher machine at the recycling plant causes the caps to pop off the bottles so they can be sorted out of the recycling stream. I bet the Cub Scout dens that tour the Allied Waste’s Material Recycling Facility in east Plano will love that part of the show! Taking my oldest son's scout group on that field trip was a riot. It was really loud. It was smashing and crushing. It had big machines. If it had shooting, the boys would have swooned with rapture. And now I find out about this bottle crusher that pops the caps off bottles making them shoot around. How fabulous is that? Where can we get the video???

Just an aside here. We took the Tiger Cubs on a tour behind the scenes at the grocery store. Then we stood out in the January Oklahoma wind feeding aluminum cans into the Golden Goat Can Bank, listening to the cans clunk down the chutes to the crusher, and waiting for coins to shoot out. This was also on the scout top ten list of favorites, but lacked the visual impact of the recycling plant.

The bottle on the right is also an Ozarka bottle--an eleven-ounce Aquapod that resembles a Hanna-Barbera cartoon rocket. I saved mine from volunteering at the Half marathon last weekend, washed them, and have been reusing them in my brown bag school lunches. One of the preschoolers informed me it looks "just like a cow's penis." Gack! Nevermind that cows...bulls...I don't want to explain gender differences to a three year old at lunchtime!

I hope the student really meant a cow's udder. One of the elementary students explained that we get milk from a cow by "pulling the strings". Kind of a reverse marionette, I guess.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Baffled, bobbled, and birds

Solutions present themselves free of charge when we forget to worry about the problem in the middle of the night. Last night I forgot to wake up and fret about the broken birdfeeder at school. The birdfeeder is a tube. At the feeder holes with their little perches, the sunflower seeds are deterred from spilling out by little curved plastic pieces inside the tube. Imagine the front door bubble awning outside a chic miniature French boutique or hotel. Now imagine the awning inside the door of the boutique instead of outside. The missing parts of the birdfeeder are the awnings inside the tube. That's why the sunflower seeds are pouring out unimpeded from the broken feeder.

I'm baffled. How can I fix the feeder? It would be a shame to spend money on a new feeder, as this one is autographed by the students from a few years back.

Maybe I need to think like a guy. My ex believed anything worth fixing could be fixed with duct tape, WD-40 or SuperGlue, including, but not limited to, cars, briefcases, relationships and winter Army surplus coats. My sons believed in the restorative power of hot glue and clear packing tape even on eyeglasses. My dad tends toward a lengthy mental approach to problems:

  1. Deny the existence of a problem until evidence is overwhelming.

  2. Cogitate the nature of the problem once acknowledged over a geologic period of time.

  3. Devise the lowest cost, lowest tech solution.

  4. Make something out of nothing.

  5. Remain oblivious to criticism of aesthetic aspects in #3 and #4.

Dad would manage to eventually repair a nuclear submarine with rubber bands, one-by-twos, cardboard toilet paper tubes, and empty three pound coffee cans saved from the late-Sixties. The sub would work, no question. It would probably keep lying off the coast of Newfoundland for another forty years while making the occasional Crazy Ivan turn. Still, it would never quite be the submarine of your dreams.

Baffled on the birdfeeder front, and wishing for a gelid North Atlantic mental escape to beat the reality of mid-nineties on the playground. Hunt for Red October. Submarines. Fred Thompson with the theory of dumping Ruskies. Running silent? But what about baffles:

Baffles are the place in the water directly behind a submarine's propeller where conventional sonar cannot see. The blade's motion through the water creates acoustic distortions and noise which an enemy ship can follow and not be detected. Baffles can be cleared by executing a Crazy Ivan. Shadowing Soviet submarines, in their baffles, was a popular technique used by U.S. Navy submarines during the Cold War.

A little late afternoon daydreaming about Sean Connery and the frigid waters off the coast of Newfoundland. Solutions percolate from the cold North Atlantic. Could new baffle awnings be devised from plastic Easter eggs or the lid from a cottage cheese container? It won't look great, but it will regulate the flow of sunflower seeds. The price is right.

tr.v. baf·fled, baf·fling, baf·fles
1. To frustrate or check (a person) as by confusing or perplexing; stymie.
2. To impede the force or movement of.
1. A usually static device that regulates the flow of a fluid or light.
2. A partition that prevents interference between sound waves in a loudspeaker.

Baffled isn't Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered, a Pal Joey song by Rodgers and Hart. It's not Baubles, Bangles, and Beads from Kismet.

My baffle device didn't fix the birdfeeder. It will be time for a new one this winter--when it is very cold off the coast of Newfoundland. See you then, Sean.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Harry Shakespeare's House of Horror

What to wear? What to wear? With a November high temp in the eighties, my dress-up grown-up wardrobe is challenged for the Dallas Opera matinee tomorrow. And now Scott Cantrell's review of "Macbeth" in today's Dallas Morning News suggests that attire for a hayrack ride and haunted house might be more appropriate.

Heard the DO's technical director, Drew Field, speak last Saturday about the upcoming production of "Salome". At the end of his talk he announced he was heading off to mix up thirty-five gallons'o'blood for "Macbeth". On the tour of the costume shop we spotted the box marked "Lohengrin Cone-heads", which brought to mind one of the low points of last season. Thank heaven each season is filled with so many highs! Each design effort gives me great fuel to ponder, and fabulous memories. It's fun to play the How Would I Have Done It Differently game.

From the word master, Mr. Cantrell:

Then there's the matter of the production, from Seattle Opera. ..Designer Robert Israel's set is a sterile institutional interior, with bluish panels and roll-up garage doors. Scrims come and go. Piles of big stones appear here and there. When Lady Macbeth laments her blood-stained hands, what's supposed to be blood oozes from the walls; alas, it looks more like streaks of printer's ink. Marie Barrett's lighting is unsubtle. ...The witches are done up half as veiled brides in white, half as veiled mourners in black. That, according to stage director Bernard Uzan, is to represent life as all about beginnings and endings. (Wouldn't have guessed that, would you?) That, too, is supposed to be the "message" of the stones: things being built and torn down. An apelike skeleton stenciled on a wall is similarly supposed to represent development. It, dear reader, has come to this.

Now if I just knew what to wear.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Tarantulas in saddle shoes

The preschoolers liked my tarantula shoes on Halloween. A dollar well spent, they had a "velour" texture. I attached them to my shoes with the same black twist tie that had held them too their packaging, and I was good to go. The effect reminded me of my high school Pep Club saddle shoes.

The classroom rabbit checked out the spiders for taste and texture. He bit off two legs, but didn't swallow them.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Halloween role-call

Dad had only a handful of trick-or-treaters to enjoy the candy bars. The kids on his block have suddenly grown too old, or else attend church alternative costume parties.
Halloween was pretty simple when I was a kid. We decorated a paper grocery sack with orange and black crayon drawings. We wore a mom-made costume from a McCall's or Simplicity sewing pattern. Raggedy Anns had braided yarn wigs. Ground Folger's stuck to the cheeks of hobos. Kids all walked like Frankenstein's monster due to wearing snowpants and parkas under costumes. A designated dad went with us, or a mom in her winter coat and holding a flashlight.

What ghouls came to the preschool class at school?

  • Two knights
  • Dora and Diego, the explorers
  • Two ballerina/fairies
  • One Home Depot guy
  • One pumpkin girl
  • One religious objector to Halloween
  • Spiderman
  • One Gypsy girl
  • Buzz Lightyear
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • One each cowgirl, surfer dude, and witch
  • One firefighter and one police officer
  • One Disney princess
  • One royal queen with her king/All Star baseball player
© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Reporting progress funneled into the chute

Such a short time to soak up true autumn weather in North Texas! Such an explosion of events and performances on the calendar! Add in the new Daylight Saving change day. And it's time to write student progress reports (aka report cards), too. I fell back, but I want the chance to fall back further... We've already reached the narrowing of the course as we approach the finish line for 2007.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Race, don't waste!

This photo shows only a tiny part of the four thousand water bottles ready for runners crossing the finish line at a local event. I love the energy at races, and enjoy being a volunteer at a finish line, at an aid station along a course, or distributing timing chips in the predawn hours before a race. But four thousand unrecycled plastic water bottles makes me crazy! To see what 4000 water bottles looks like, click here. Multiply that by the thousands of race events just like this one across the United States every year.

Runners don't fit the old stereotype of "dumb jocks". They are, by and large, well-educated, self-motivated, disciplined, health-conscious, responsible and successful in the real world. Spending such a big chunk of their life running along the roads, trails, and sidewalks of America, they are usually disgusted by the litter they see. Even when they've run 6.2, 13.1, or 26.2 miles, the vast majority of runners place their water bottles in trash receptacles rather than litter. Unfortunately, most races don't provide any on-site opportunity for runners to recycle those finish line water bottles. If it's convenient, runners will recycle. If I can get crotchety condo residents to start recycling, races can get runners to recycle!

It surprises me that organizations sponsoring race events aren't required by municipal parks departments to provide on-site recycling to keep all the bottles out of city landfills, and to keep parks clean. And why don't race organizers require the water sponsor for the race to provide recycling services? Would it really hurt Ozarka to haul those four thousand empty bottles to a recycling facility after such a captive audience advertising opportunity?

Interestingly, a little race called the New York City Marathon was also run today. Lance Armstrong was there, apparently running strong. More exciting, Poland Spring Brand Natural Spring Water was there. According to The Final Sprint, Poland Spring, as the official water sponsor for the race, arranged the recycling of all 75,000 of the one-gallon water bottles used at rehydration stations along the race course for the 38,000 participants in the premier 38th ING New York Marathon. Last weekend Poland Spring provided for the recycling of 13,500 water bottles at the finish line of the five-mile Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff Race.

Of course, Poland Spring was advertising something to those 38,000 participants. It was the company's Eco-Shape bottle that is 100% recyclable and made with 30% less plastic than most bottles. And that's progress.

Aquafina will be the official water sponsor of the December 9, 2007 Wellstone's Dallas White Rock Marathon benefitting Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. I wish when I scan through the list of sponsors and organizers, I would spot a coordinator for event recycling. That would be something to cheer about!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


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