The grass is always greener...

...out the window of the rental car.

The sky has that Technicolor Panavision glow. Garden gnomes wave and shout hello. I'm in the Hollywood fantasy fairyland of "My Car's In the Shop". I'm sure when I say "Open sesame," I'll discover a golden tray loaded with fruits made of cut gems. I will sell the jewels in the market place to pay for my car repairs, but a jealous magician will whisk me away to a palace on a mountaintop. Believe me, I'd be glad to give the Buick to the magician and be forced to live in that mountaintop palace in exchange...

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Cool cats and copy kittens

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I'm flattered that the preschoolers pay so much attention to my brown bag lunches, and that they go home and tell their parents. This past week I took two Old El Paso corn taco shells in my handy divided stacking plastic box, with some cut-up Kroger rotisserie chicken in the little section. Microwaved that box for thirty seconds. In the second box I had lettuce, plain yogurt, grated cheddar, salsa, and part of an avocado.

The kids gave their total attention as I built my tacos. They found it hilarious that my tacos fell apart as I ate them. Sometimes adults are just as messy eaters as kids.

Two days later two preschoolers brought their own version of a "healthy taco", sliced meat, cheese, and lettuce in a taco shell. The next day a child brought homemade taco fixings in her Hello Kitty Bento box.

What happens in preschool doesn't stay in preschool. It goes home. Good or bad. What a motivator to be the best influence for each child every day!

Attended a seminar at eight a.m. Saturday morning with three hundred other preschool educators in a hotel ballroom. Not much was available beyond vending machine snacks, but it was scary to see so many in attendance consuming a breakfast of Coke and Cheetos. I've got to hope they don't eat like that in front of their students.

Heard the reknowned One O'Clock Lab Band of the University of North Texas perform a jazz concert on the University of Texas-Dallas campus Friday. That's nutrition for the soul! So fantastic to see the college students playing at this level, and to hear several of their own compositions and arrangements.

The Jazz Studies Division in the UNT College of Music was formed in 1947 with one teacher and a handful of students as the first program of its kind. The UNT Music Library holds the Stan Kenton bequest of the famous band leader and early jazz educator's entire orchestra library of charts plus photos(and wouldn't that have been fun to catalog!).

If you need a nutritious soul lunch of jazz about now, try KNTU-FM online. I borrowed the Lab Band photo from the UNT website.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


I've got a Capri-Sun, and I'm not afraid to use it.

Go ahead. Make my lunch.

Over twenty years ago Kraft figured out how to package an alleged juice drink in a foil pouch and market it to harried parents. Capri-Sun drink pouches and similar products are even more annoying than Lunchables and juice boxes.

Bad enough that a Capri-Sun drink pouch contains mostly high fructose corn syrup and water so kids careen around the classroom like pinball wizards with small bladders all afternoon. The packaging is EVIL:

  • Straw can't be extricated from plastic wrapper without adult assistance.

  • Straw can't be poked into the foil pouch without adult assistance.

  • The poking process usually involves leaks of sticky liquid, even when grown-ups do it.

  • Straw may be chewed beyond usefulness before it makes it through the poking process.

  • Straw may have gone AWOL so foil pouch must be cut open with scissors, and the contents carefully poured into Dixie cup.

  • Pouch can be inflated. Some kids find the temptation to quickly consume all the highly sweetened drink so they can spend much of the lunch period inflating the foil pouch like a balloon instead of eating the rest of their lunch.

  • Pouch can be launched.

  • Pouch can be used as a squirt gun to shoot drink into faces of tablemates.

You'd think a Capri-Sun would come with build-it-yourself bagpipe instructions, but NO! The only good thing about drink pouches is that they take up less room in the nonrecyclable lunchroom trashbag than juice boxes.

All rights reserved 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Folding laundry with Gordon McRae

There's a thick linty fuzz on the condo.
There's a thick linty fuzz on the condo.

Went looking for clean, matching socks in the basket. The pile of unfolded clothes was getting as high as an elephant's eye. Time to bite the bullet and fold the laundry.

It slowly dawns on me that everything in my tiny laundry room is coated with gray dryer lint. It looks like we had a little eruption and ashfall from Vesuvius. My woolly mammoth son visited Pompeii and Herculaneum last week. What would happen if my whole condo filled with dryer lint. Would archaeologists and tourists come to see the devastation?

Nothing like a workout shoving, pulling, and climbing over major appliances to reconnect the dryer flex hose and clamps to start your morning.


There's a bright golden haze on the meadow,
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant's eye,
An' it looks like it's climbin' clear up to the sky.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Bob the Bird's Bad Day

Bob the Bird is an uncooperative patient. Bob is an impatient photo subject. He doesn't want photos taken of his broken leg in its cast. Bob had an unfortunate encounter with a mesh laundry hamper. Further details are classified.

Bob the Bird broke his leg.
He was not in his cage.
His leg was in a net.
Bob was a sad pet.
Bob went to the vet.

The vet set Bob's leg.
The vet made a cast.
He used tape.
The vet used bits of kabob skewers.
The skewers kept Bob the Bird's leg straight.
Bob's leg had to get better, but
Bob did not like the cast.

Bob is a sad pet.
Bob pecks and pecks.
Bob pecks all week.
Will Bob eat the tape?
Will Bob get sick?

Bob the Bird went back to the vet.
The vet made a new cast.
Bob likes it better.
But Bob's leg is not all better yet.

I bet Bob the Bird would get better if I put on the Hartz Canary Training Record. A big herd of birds would sing to Bob. They would sing with polkas, mazurkas, waltzes, marches, hat dances, and the Star Spangled Banner.

It is hard to write a beginning reader book! Hats off to Dr. Seuss.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Falling Into the Purses of Terrorists

Parents, it's 10:00 p.m. Do you know where your children are?
This often-parodied television PSA (Public Service Announcement) aired in the Seventies.

Parents, it's 3:00 p.m. Do you know where your children are?
This PSA was shown more recently to raise awareness about latchkey kids unsupervised after school.

Parents, it's junior year abroad. Do you know where your passports are?
The brochures for parents of college students studying abroad stress having a passport ready just in case of the unthinkable. I wave my passport in front of my son heading off to Italy. Trying to sound like Clint Eastwood's rattlesnake-handling, tobacco-spitting grandma, I snarl, "I've got a passport. Don't make me use it!"

My sum total experience of foreign travel consists of three hours in Matamoros, Mexico, wanting to get my young sons back across the border ASAP. The grown globe-roaming-gnome sons know that I'm ill-equipped for international rescues, so they had better mind their international Ps & Qs.

Still, I was fretting about the Woolly Mammoth heading off on his Big Adventure last time I flew to Nebraska to help my dad. Should I take my passport just in case? I juggled pros and cons while I packed my little red rolling suitcase and my purse.

Home from the trip I realized that my RescueMama passport did not return with me. Where could it be? Under the bed in Nebraska? In Dad's car? In the long-term parking shuttle bus? On the floor at DFW or the Eppley airport terminal? In a landfill somewhere? OR...dun-dun-dun...........in the hands of a terrorist identity thief!

"Don't panic," I told myself.

"You did something logical with the passport," I chanted silently.

"You did NOT shred and recycle the passport accidentally, and besides, what kind of terrorist would sort the cans from the paper and #2 plastic?"

"IT IS WAY TOO SOON TO PANIC," I scolded myself daily.

"Don't call Homeland Security yet! That passport cost seventy-five dollars, and IT WILL TURN UP!"

"If you worry about the passport, the terrorists will have won!," I channeled Dubya.

It's been a long month of internal monologues and fretting. Yeehaw! I woke up this morning and remembered where I put my passport. Now I can stop fretting about it having fallen into the hands of terrorists! It was inside that big, ugly tropical purse that I considered taking last time I flew to Lincoln before deciding it was just too darn big, jungly, and ugly even for me. The fashion police would wand me before I even got to the TSA queue. They would not be lenient even though the purse has plenty of room for the New York Times crossword puzzle and a large extended family of cockatoos.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Great performances

Saturday morning I self-diagnosed severe cultural deficit syndrome. I'm in a rut. Artist, heal thyself! Get thee to a symphony!

What a symphony it turned out to be. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra performed Mahler's Ninth under the direction of Claus Peter Flor. My spur-of-the-moment cheap ticket put me in the Choral Terrace of the Meyerson Symphony Center, behind the orchestra and facing the conductor. Watching Flor's communication with the musicians was as riveting as Mahler's music. Sitting on the narrow bench of the choir loft behind the sound may not be the optimum way to experience an eighty-one minute work. I can honestly say I was "on the edge of my seat" the whole evening (and will need Aleve for my back today).

I also watched Geraldine Page's Academy Award-winning performance in "The Trip to Bountiful". My library is going to withdraw this amazing video because it isn't checking out. What a shame. She had me both on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears.

on the edge of my seat

Definition: Feeling anxiety, nervousness or great expectation
Example Dialog:
A:Did you go to the US Open this year?
B:I sure did and saw Agassi play Sampras.
A:Wow, that must have been great!
B:Yeah, I was on the edge of my seat the entire match.

I had great fun reading the selection of mixed metaphors from Calvin College English Department.

Makes the hair stand up on the edge of my seat
(Pete Kneppel, contributed by Doug James)

I think I may be climbing up to the brink of my rut.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


My favorite Wild West characters

Why do cowboys need guns? Only to shoot the rattlesnakes disturbing the cattle. Why do bison need Tonka bulldozers? Why do alligators ride bucking broncos? Is Two Hat reading his Wanted poster? What do these cowboys eat? Beef, red beans, and coffee, of course!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Pony Rides

Spent the morning outside corralling twenty-eight preschoolers while they were having their photos taken on a pony. This once-a-year event requires standing in the grass slapping mosquitoes, making sure the kids don't run into the parking lot, making sure they hold onto their name card and don't cut in line, keeping them from touching and pushing everyone around them, all the while hearing them chant:

Inky Binky Bonky
Daddy had a donkey.
The donkey died.
Daddy cried.
Inky Binky Bonky.

That's the favorite recess rhyme this week, but it seemed rather dismal next to the long-suffering photographer's ponies.

I'm sure the photographer and his wife thought it would be a fun business when they started taking Wild West kiddie photos years ago. Imagine how many times in a quarter century you could put a child on the pony, put the bandanna, vest, chaps, and hat on the child, get the child to look photogenic, take off the costume, and transfer the child to another pony for a three minute ride.

A quarter century ago I became a parent. Thank heaven the job of parenting has much more variety and a lot more laughing over the long run. On any given day it can seem a lot like pony ride photography though:

Change the diaper
Put on snowsuit
Buckle in carseat
Sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm" while driving
Get out of carseat
Take off snowsuit
Change the diaper

I was already having pony ride flashbacks when I opened my morning newspaper to read about the Texas State Fair is opening with a new sixty-five-foot high gondola Texas SkyWay ride. Pony rides and state fair gondola tragedies are forever linked in my mind.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Why spelling is still important

SpellCheck cannot tell you how to pack your duffel bag for a weekend getaway:

The Woolly Mammoth emailed his fretting mama from Italy to say he is alive and well. He wrote that he spent last weekend "on a beach near the town of Grossotto." I was quick to Google "Grossotto," which is in the mountains near the Swiss/Italian border. No beach in sight. High on a hill with a lonely surfboard, Layee odl, layee odl layee-oo!

Grossotto is the home of a solar park, a large array of solar photovoltaic collection panels used to turn sunlight into power. It's probably a good place to catch some rays, but not necessarily to watch bikini volleyball.

Studying the map of Italy hanging above the kitchen sink while loading my dishwasher, I'm guessing the Woolly Mammoth went to a beach near the town of Grosseto. Grosseto is near the sea and close to his study center. It sounds like a better place for swim goggles than for Google.

My travel budget is for a weekend getaway to Gross-out-oh, Texas. That's where you find old men in Speedos holding sheets of HyVee store brand aluminum foil while beached in webbed lawn chaises after the Senior Swim at the city natatorium. Do walruses get sunburned?

One little student is working on the phonetic "G" sound . He has pictures of a goose, a goat, and a garbage can:

Guh, guh, guh, juice.
Guh, guh, guh, goat.
Guh, guh, guh, trash!

The Woolly Mammoth might oughta maybe better check the spelling before he departs next weekend. He's going to look like severe juice goat trash wearing a Grossotto parka at the Grosseto beach.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Big game hunters, or maybe big purse hunters with matching shoes

I'm perversely intrigued with the tale of Gwendolyn Wunneburger, the 77+ Texas woman, 4' 5" tall, who killed two large bull alligators one afternoon in the Paradise Ranch bayou, as reported in an AP wire story. Gwendolyn and friends were spending their Wednesday afternoon trying to catch seven hundred pound alligators on hooks baited with whole chickens. I only do that on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, myself!

Once the gators were hooked and entangled in the line, Gwendolyn got out of the boat to shoot the gators right between the eyes from twenty feet. Did she use her twenty ri-two-fle? Did she sing, "You can't get a man with a gun"? Why on earth did Gwendolyn sing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" while sitting atop the deceased 750-lb. gator?

When I'm with a pistol
I sparkle like a crystal,
Yes, I shine like the morning sun.
But I lose all my luster
When with a Bronco Buster.
Oh you can't get a man with a gun.
With a gun, with a gun,
No, you can't get a man with a gun.

Shouldn't Gwendolyn have chanted the jump rope rhyme about the lady with the alligator purse?

Mumps," said the doctor.
"Measles," said the nurse.
"Hiccups," said the lady
With the alligator purse.

Back in the mid to late Sixties I had to attend what seemed like millions of Cub Scout pack meetings in the basement of Eastridge Presby Church. My favorite Cub Scout song was the one about the lady and the crocodile, which could be a cautionary tale for Ms. Wunneburger.

She sailed away
On a bright and sunny day
On the back of a crocodile
You see, said she
He's as tame as he can be
I'll ride him down the Nile
Well, the croc winked his eye
As she waved them all goodbye
Wearing a happy smile
At the end of the ride
The lady was inside
And the smile was on the crocodile (clap, clap)

Those were the years when I watched "The American Sportsman" on ABC Sports on winter Sunday afternoons. Narrated by Curt Gowdy, the show featured celebrities stalking big game, with lots of heavy breathing, whispering, bootsteps, and wavering tall grasses, all in black and white on our little television. As the winter sun set early, we might watch "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom".

Marlin Perkins was the host of those Sunday evening broadcasts of "Wild Kingdom", and Jim Fowler was his sidekick. It seemed like Jim hollered, "It's got Marlin!," at least once each show as a large and dangerous animal threatened dear Mr. Perkins.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean
My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean
Oh bring back my Bonnie to me
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me

We kids all sang the song as an white-light-in-the-tunnel experience--Now I lay me down to sleep...If I should die before I wake...Bring back my body to me, to me. Not to be confused with Michael Row the Boat Ashore Because I'm Being Eaten By a Boa Constrictor and I Don't Like It Very Much!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Blokus Pocus

Blokus is a great game for kids and adults. Alas, it does not rhyme with hocus or pocus. It's still magic. The board is a grid, and I love grids. The pieces are colored transparent plastic contiguous squares, and I love colored transparent rectangles and squares. Preschoolers can play it, and AARP members won't be bored:

Blokus is an abstract strategy game with transparent, tetris-shaped, colored pieces that players are trying to play onto the board. The only caveat to placing a piece is that it may not lie adjacent to your other pieces, but instead must be placed touching at least one corner of your pieces already on the board.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Moth of the Day

Audrey Hepburn would look great in this style! Nature is the greatest fashion designer of all. This beautiful moth was outside the door of the Highland Park Library when I went to work this morning. I'm very excited about the macro possibilities of my inherited camera.

It's nice to live in a city with a 24-hour classical music radio station. WRR 101.1 fm is owned by the City of Dallas. You can listen to its streaming broadcast. One of my favorites is the 7:35 a.m. weekday March of the Day. It helps the Buick and I both head off to work!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Dropping like flies

(Flies are on my mind, but this blog is still rated PG.)

Many of my little students are doing work related to insects using larger-than-life plastic figures. Bee, butterfly, spider, beetle, termite, scorpion, ladybug, praying mantis, dragonfly, ant, grasshopper, and house fly are represented. The house fly has creepy red eyes, and the model is even larger than the horse flies that scared me on my first horse ride in Estes Park, Colorado when I was about ten.

There's a stomach bug going around--nausea, chills, low-grade fever. Students were "dropping like flies" yesterday. Many of our students and their parents do not speak English as their first language. They probably wouldn't understand the idiomatic expression.

Idiom Meaning - Falling down ill and in large numbers, often associated with a highly contageous illness. One possible origin is the Grimm Brothers' story of "Brave Little Tailor". The little hero strikes seven flies dead with one whip of his belt.

Speaking of flies and belts reminds me of raising my preschool sons. Seems like I spent most of 1984-1990 toilet-training the three of them. After a day asking, "Did you flush and wash?," it was difficult relating to my spouse's adventures in the outside working world of finance and law, business travel and Embassy Suites.

Small boys seemed to lack Early Warning Systems for restroom emergencies. I told my kids, "__________, you're doing a heckuva job!," any time they made it to the toilet, so basically, Dubya was quoting me after Katrina. Cute as they looked in overalls or little Levis, they just couldn't manage the buckles, belts, snaps, and zippers in what we might call a "timely fashion" when the need arose.

Living in Oklahoma in the late Eighties, I was able to buy sweatpants and other elastic-waist pants for the guys at the Anthony's store. In the early Nineties in Texas, the Mervyns Cheetah brand sweatpants made fly-less operations simple and swift, and probably saved my sanity.

I love this example of the idiom:

The words were so difficult that the spelling bee contestants were dropping like flies.

For my tenth birthday I received a dragonfly-blue fishing rod all my own. There is something transcendant in casting a line in a perfect arc and dropping the fly on the surface of a pond.

An even better gift was when my sons all managed their own flies and cast perfect arcs in a timely fashion for my thirty-fifth birthday. They even washed their hands with soap!

Perhaps our next preschool language exploration will be "dropping our drawers".

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Life is short. Don't spend it erasing.

I teach thirty minute art classes. During those classes I prohibit using erasers. It's cruel and unusual, I know. Erasers may be appropriate for addition and subtraction problems that have one correct solution. Erasers are counterproductive in most creative efforts. In a half-hour class, erasing can take a big bite out of the time needed for thinking, practicing, rethinking, imagining, and enjoying the experience.

In our half hour class we:
  • Get lined up with our group.
  • Transition to a different room, get settled, and ready to learn.
  • Listen to a short story or the introduction to an art concept.
  • Look at an example by a famous artist.
  • Have a group discussion where everyone has a chance to contribute ideas.
  • Review instructions for the project.
  • Learn to use a new material or technique.
  • Enjoy making the project.
  • Talk about our creation.
  • Make sure our name is on our work.
  • Put the art work into the drying rack.
  • Wash our hands.
  • Line up again!

Much in life doesn't have one correct answer. We've all got to teach our children decision-making skills and creative problem-solving in a very brief period. The process of teaching young artists isn't very different from the process of parenting anywhere on the continuum from toilet-training to teaching your teenager to drive. As parents we can't let our kids get bogged down in erasing. Our parenting/teaching process involves:

  • Helping children make their own good decisions by providing them essential information, frequent opportunities to make choices, and an essential underlying sense of safety and consistency.
  • Helping children evaluate the outcome of their choices and decisions. Using questions to learn how they would like to change their decisions.
  • Letting kids revise their work and explain their reasons for revisions. Applauding their improved choices.
  • Saluting their effort, thought-process, exploration, contributions to the group, self-motivation, creativity, and perserverance.
  • Patiently offering opportunities to improve skills through repetition while gradually increasing challenges and responsibilities.
  • Respecting our kids' doubts and quandries; refraining from providing instant answers and evaluations.
  • Letting them know that many situations have more than one possible choice, but that some choices are completely unacceptable--painting on a classmate's picture, drawing on the wall, not washing hands after flushing, or squeezing nine friends into the family car to drive to South Padre!
  • Allowing children their private world of imagination. We all like to imagine being on the beach at South Padre sometimes.
  • Challenging children to carefully observe what happens around them, and to be CURIOUS.
  • Stepping back and letting them feel CONFIDENCE, MASTERY, PRIDE, and JOY!

Go ahead and draw yourself a picture of your fantasy beach, but don't spend your time erasing. Life is too short!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Too-dee-Tah printer

My printer has a hard life. I want it to print on strange types of paper and do other collaging tricks I can't devulge here. Years ago an elderly salesman at Comp USA explained to me that I could buy a two-year replacement warranty on my $75 printer for $25. Then at any point in the two years I could return the printer to the store even if it was working just fine and receive a brand new equivalent printer as a replacement. Then I could buy a new $25 replacement warranty and begin the cycle again.

This has worked wonderfully. About every two years I get a new printer for the price of a new warranty. Just unplug the printer (and leave the printer cable at home), drive over to the store, bring home the new baby. Takes half an hour. I'm on my fourth Epson printer, but it's two-year replacement warranty is due to expire soon. It still prints, but it has started singing the preschool Too-dee-Tah song.

Too-dee-Tah or Tooty Ta is more of a repeated chant with body actions than a song. It's got a rhythm that seeps into your brain like a tapeworm. Hours after I get home from work I realize my brain is still playing a continuous loop recording of 2D-TAH. Worse, my printer has started playing the same song.

The chant reads like a college art major's schedule:


Art Two Dimensional Design, Tuesday Art History...

After that it gets weirder, like the first time the college students have a nude model in drawing class:

Thumbs up . . .Elbows back . . . Feet apart . . . Knees together . . . Bottoms up . . . Tongue out . . . Eyes shut . . . Turn around . . .

True, this is a body action imitation activity for preschoolers that is probably beneficial and age-appropriate except for the tapeworm mental damage to teachers. It's not a song I want my printer to chant:

A 2D Tah, a 2D Tah, a 2D Tah-Tah, ka-chunk
A 2D Tah, a 2D Tah, a 2D Tah-Tah, ka-chunk
A 2D Tah, a 2D Tah, a 2D Tah-Tah, ka-chunk
A 2D Tah, a 2D Tah, a 2D Tah-Tah, ka-chunk...

I trucked on over to Comp USA, and carried in the 2D-Tah Epson printer. The young man in the red shirt said they don't handle replacement warranties at the store anymore. He said I would have to ship my printer somewhere and wait to receive the shipment of a replacement. This did not make me happy. He insisted I never ever ever could have replaced my printer at the store, and I said you could, too, because I've done it three times before. He said basically, "G'won home now, lady, and call this toll free #. "

So I came on home fuming, of course, with my attitude aggravated by the mental tapeworm. Found my booklet that went with the replacement exchange program. Located the significant instruction; "You must carry the printer into a Comp USA store." Spent half an hour on the phone with some tech service gal. She eventually found a supervisor who had been with Comp USA more than six months and knew that, in fact, you did used to have to carry the printer into the store where it would be replaced instantly and with a smile. But, of course, they don't do that anymore.

So now Comp USA will "process my request" for another four days, and then ship my new printer. Then I'll have to ship the old one to them. In the meantime, I'm stuck printing with Ar-too D2 tooty-tah-tah. Haven't decided whether to buy another replacement warranty.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Trip to Bountiful

Each day that I head to school I feel like I'm going to a land of plenty, a place of abundant richness, curiosity, characters, subplots, and home-grown tomatoes. The playground garden alone supplies me with an hour's worth of research questions each evening. What was that spider? That moth?

This morning my drive to bountiful took forty-five minutes, even though it's only five miles. Rain poured down and drivers crept along bumper-to-bumper on 75. Plenty of time to watch dark clouds, and to remember Geraldine Page in the Oscar-winning 1985 movie, The Trip to Bountiful, written by Horton Foote. What a performance to reward any viewer with patience and attention! What a film to put guys to sleep for lack of explosions and car crashes! At the end of the videotape I was sobbing, and my spouse was snoring.

Working with preschoolers can't be confused with a life of ease, but it's never dull. The phrase "land of plenty" calls up Cockaigne, the fictional utopia, best known by the Bruegel painting of sated villagers napping on the ground "in a lazy, luscious land". I'm happy when my students eat enough of their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to settle quickly into a happy nap.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder



Everytime I've gone to the grocery store over the last sixteen years, I've said to myself, "As long as we can get beans, we're going to be okay." That must be well over a thousand trips to the grocery store, and probably seven hundred cans of beans. Must be about four hundred cans of Rotel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles.

Sixteen years ago I met a man who had a young family and had lost his job. Did we call it "being downsized" back then? He was very worried about keeping his kids fed and finding a new job. The beans were what helped him see his situation with a some detachment. I watched his face change as he voiced his new mantra, "As long as we can get beans, we're going to be okay."

We live in an incredibly affluent country, but there are millions of families in the U.S. who just want to get beans. Around the world, the majority of families just hope to get beans.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Reading the instructions

Finally had time to sit down and study the manual for the Canon camera I inherited from my Woolly Mammoth son. Been using it for three weeks, but there are features I don't understand.

Maybe I never will. The instruction manual he left me is in French! A picture is worth a thousand words, but I thought the words would be English.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Why your cart squeaks and won't steer straight

It starts with a casual bump and shove. The second bump it gets a little personal, the shove back harder. Outside on the steaming asphalt there's a retaliatory slam in the cart return chute about four o'clock when the middle-schoolers are cutting across the parking lot with their saggy pants and bad haircuts, skulking to McDonalds for fries and acne. Bad that there are so many witnesses. Now the grocery carts' friends get involved. There's taunting. A cart gets run through a discarded stinky Pamper. Sun bakes the leaked meat and fruit juices to a sticky skin on the metal bars of the carts.

The mentally-challenged grocery bagger girl who looks like a linebacker comes out of Albertsons with the tiny ancient bagger man from an impoverished unknown country. They collect the disgruntled carts in an enormous conga line, and somehow push them up the hill and into the store. Nothing is said, but this business isn't over. Carts aren't bright, but their memory for slights is long. There's gonna be a rumble, a poundin'*, as soon as the shoppers leave. Get them out of there. The employees, too!

The butchers and pharmacists left hours ago. The deli counter woman with her permanent odor of fried chicken and sweat, and her big right arm from slicing the Virginia baked ham on special for $3.99 a lb. went home to her latchkey kids. The guy whose job seems to be breaking one egg in every dozen caught the last bus on 15th Street. Crickets gather mostly outside the doors adding their static sound. Starlings, grackles and martins are standing room only on every wire at the intersection, raising the heat index with their din and droppings.

Lights go down in Albertsons, thermostats are set higher. Soggy rolls of paper towels are left by the coolers and freezers to absorb more leaks and create tomorrow's atmosphere of chronic low-level depression. A ring of quivering fluorescent tubes lines the perimeter of the store. Memory scents from the days of the live lobster tank seep up from the tired linoleum.

At first there's feigned friendliness. The carts trawl the carnival midway and freak shows, the chips aisle, and the drain cleaners.

There's a fiftyish woman sitting wedged in the basket of a cart, knees crammed under her chin. Not sitting in the flop-down seat for toddlers--even in a dream that would be impossible. She's tired and cranky, and she's been sitting in that uncomfortable wire basket ever since Charlie Hamilton managed the Safeway on Cotner Blvd. She doesn't have a penny for the gumball machine. She doesn't have a dime for the horsie ride. She has a twitch above her right eye. She's wearing light-up shoes with Velcro straps.

The carts begin playing bumper cars. It's fun at first; a little dark; shrieking; a little scary; increasingly jarring. It's battle-of-the-playground-bullies dragging the other carts in their posses into the fight. Round and round the store, a jaded roller derby of carts slamming each other, faster and faster, knocking down the cans of Rotel tomato and pepper, tearing cases of Ramen noodles four for a dollar.

Midway ride becomes demolition derby. The carts need to settle the score. The noise is deafening. The cops pull up out front, cherries flashing ugly pink light. Get out! Get out! The carts push out the automatic doors, roll and crash out of control all the way down the hill to Custer Street, slamming into each other.

The woman's head is throbbing. She wakes up and can't get back to sleep. She takes an Aleve for her aching shoulder, but it doesn't help.

It's 2:28 a.m. Do you know where your grocery cart is?

*As we called it at Millard Lefler Jr. High in the late Sixties.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Bordered Patch

"Bordered Patch" sounds like the name of a quilt pattern. Instead it's the name of our emerging butterflies. Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia) is one of the most varied butterfly species, I'm learning. Bordered Patch has "gregarious caterpillars" who "skeletonize the leaves of sunflower plants". That certainly describes our class experience.

gregarious caterpillars skeletonize
skeletonize gregarious caterpillars
caterpillars skeletonize gregarious

I'm thinking a nine-patch quilt block!

I didn't take photos when the children released our butterflies this morning. There are many good "Bordered Patch" photos of adults and those gregarious teenage caterpillars hanging out playing billiards on Flickr. Feel like I lived with skeletonizing gregarious caterpillars and their sweaty socks in a small condo for most of the past decade. Loved nearly every minute, especially watching widely-varied teens emerge from their chrysalids and start pumping their wings.

From Texas A&M:

The bordered patch, Chlosyne lacinia (Geyer), is one of eight closely related "patch" butterflies on the family, Nymphalidae, called the "brush-footed" butterflies. Also found in southern Texas, this species is highly variable but characteristically marked above with a wide curved yellow-orange band and small orange spots on a dark-brown background and with white dots along the wing margins. Larvae feed on a variety of Compositae including sunflowers and cocklebur. The Janais patch, Chlosyne janais (Drury), also occurs in south Texas, but has distinctive large red patches on the bases of the upper hind wing surfaces on otherwise black-brown wings and with front wings and wing margins marked with white spots.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Perfect timing

Ten beautiful butterflies emerged from their chrysalids inside the net tent this morning providing a fabulous experiential lesson for the preschoolers. They are absolutely gorgeous, and very wise!

The first day of school we found caterpillars devouring the leaves of our sunflower in the school garden.

The second day of school we collected the caterpillars inside a bug box.

The third day of school we fed the caterpillars in the bug box more sunflower leaves after we looked at the butterfly eggs on the leaves with a magnifying glass. We got out the butterfly books and tried to learn what these caterpillars might become.

The fourth day of school the caterpillars crawled to the top of the bug box, hung upside down like the letter j, and made their chrysalids. These caterpillars were writing the lesson plans!

After the three-day weekend, the lessons continued.

The fifth day of school we tried to dismantle the bug box so the butterflies could emerge into our class butterfly tent made of netting and wire. The screws were too rusty, so we cut away the screen, and put the whole bug box into the tent. We tried to be very gentle. The students chose to do work about the life cycles of butterflies and sunflowers, and every other insect project and puzzle in the classroom.

The sixth day of school we waited and wondered when or whether we might see butterflies. We talked about artists; how they observe, analyze, document, research, interpret, and add imagination. We observed the remaining sunflower plants, then made drawings.

The seventh day of school the first butterfly emerged just as the students were arriving. It hung very still for awhile, then slowly began moving its wings. The other nine emerged over the next hour and a half. They crawled around on the net as they gained strength. They visited the blossoms and sugar water, and began to fly around the tent.

Then a butterfly escaped and flew right onto a student's cheek! It was caught gently, and released out the door. Another escaped during storytime! We put a strawberry basket over it, then released it.

Two more got out, and one flew into the restroom. The lead teacher and at least a dozen curious preschoolers jammed into the two-stall restroom to rescue the butterfly. We took it to the playground to release, and it flew two circles around the kids. The caterpillars wrote the lesson plan, and the butterflies gave the demonstration!

The eleventh butterfly did not survive. It seems to have emerged missing some essential parts, fallen to the bottom of the bug box, and died. We will retrieve the wings, and save them in the class insect center. We will have to talk about death and survival in another caterpillar lesson plan, and answer questions for awhile. That is a gift, too.

All the parents came to our back-to-school meeting this evening, and got caught up in the butterfly excitement. Again, the timing was perfect. The class experience became a shared family experience.

Tomorrow morning we may have six checkerspots to release from the tent out on the playground. Or we may find that some have escaped, and are flying around in the school. We will hold open the doors and sing, "Glory hallelujah!" What a blast into the school semester!

Many preschoolers have already viewed hours and hours of marching penguins, crocodile hunting, meerkat family feuds, animal rescues, Galapagos tortoises, shark specials and poison dart frog features. Most first graders know they should worry about rain forest devastation and melting polar ice. Not many of them have spent significant time chasing fireflies, watching roly-polies, holding ladybugs, or looking for caterpillars. Nature is something they see at its most extreme and distant on television or computer programs. It's not wiggly or warm or wondrous or personally experienced in the grass near their toes.

It's likely to rain tomorrow. The kids expect the tornados of the Storm Tracker videos, with a hurricane, tsunami, or a West Nile virus epidemic. Rain is for sitting on the front stoop and smelling the change in the air, for listening to the approaching thunder, for noticing the light as it becomes more greenish-gray, for twirling about in the yard as the first drops cool your arms and forehead. Rain is for washing away the sidewalk chalk and for wondering where the butterflies go.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Pack up your troubles in your frass leaf bag

Can't get all that worried about the munched canna leaves on my patio. A leaf roller caterpillar is having a splendid feast. Once I've identified it, I'm glad to sit back and enjoy its show. Plus, I got two plastic resin Adirondack chairs for $6.44 each at Home Depot this morning. My old plastic patio chairs migrated to a student apartment in Lubbock, but didn't complete the return journey. Now I can sit out on the patio and contemplate what to have for dinner instead of fresh asparagus.

This caterpillar will roll up to create a lovely leaflike chrysalis. I hope it will pupate in my glass jar, but it is filling the jar with frass at a disturbing rate.

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that’s the style.
What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worth while, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.

Been having flashback nightmares to late Seventies weddings lately. Qiana. Jim Croce. Doubleknit. Powder blue. Platform shoes. I don't want to save time in a bottle. I just want to keep the caterpillar in the jar until I know a little bit about it for my files.

We'd like to know a little bit about your for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself.
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save every day 'til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Caulk and grout season returns

Here it is only the third of September, and I'm replacing the flush and refill mechanisms on a toilet. Home Depot loves me every September when my condo bathrooms seem to fall apart. I was there twice before noon today. Please, please, please let all the tile stay on the shower walls this September!

There are many repairs that can be ignored for so long they become invisible to the homeowner. Flushing toilets are not in that category.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Packing a waste-free lunch

Found some handy dandy stacking divided containers at my Albertsons. They are Rubbermaid Snacker Take-Alongs, sold in a package of five. The containers are square with a diagonal divider, and a lid that fits really well. When I pack a dip for veggies in the little section, it doesn't slosh over into the half sandwich on the other side. My walking buddy reports that juice from melons didn't leak over to her garden wrap. I stack two of the containers in my insulated lunch bag, but three would fit easily.

This product doesn't show up on the Rubbermaid website. I only found it on the Ace Hardware site. The product number is 7A16RDFCLR.

I've started buying Sara Lee turkey or ham for my lunches because it comes in a sturdy plastic container that keeps the meat fresher. The container is very reusable with or without its lid. I'm saving them for use in my art classes. Since I buy about one package per week, I'll have a class set soon. They would be just as useful for packing a sandwich or salad for lunch.

Shopping and packing a waste-free lunch doesn't take any more time than shopping, packing, and often microwaving a lunch of single-serving prepackaged disposable items. Over the course of a school year, a family would save at least $250 per child by packing waste-free lunches. That money can go into the college funds! http://www.wastefreelunches.org/ has lots of suggestions for making healthy lunches that are better for kids, wallets, and Mother Earth.


Mail-Order Brides and Butterfly Shells

A tiny student returned from San Diego with a "butterfly shell" for Show and Tell. The mussel shell was nestled in a nice red fabric box, padded with crumpled plastic grocery bags. Some of his classmates thought he had California muscles in his special box--shades of Schwartzenegger.

We studied the butterfly life cycle in summer school, and observed a jar of mail-order Painted Lady caterpillars. The butterflies emerged from their chrysalids over a weekend, of course. We released them in the school garden on a Tuesday.

My parents filled our home with prints by Matisse, Klee, Van Gogh, Roualt, Modigliani and Lautrec in my Wonder Bread years. I loved the print of Jane Avril, but La Goulue gave me more reasons for curiosity, foreboding, and delight. Such an introduction to symmetry, curves, taboo, revelry, color, brush strokes, and line! La Goulue's dress was the color of luna moths.

"Mail-order Painted Ladies" bring other sorts of painted ladies, mail-order brides, courtesans, and dancers to the imagination. Returning from break, we found our school garden sunflower plants being devoured by caterpillars. The kids plucked the caterpillars to put in their screened "bug box". Good luck led to a lovely assortment of tiny chrysalids inside the bug box. These brides won't be as predictable as the mail-order Painted Ladies. The anticipation and mystery are heightened. The forces at work are beyond us. The experience may remain with us for the rest of our lives.

To be married to observations of nature, to curiosity, and to wonder, to acknowledgment of forces outside our control, to questioning, and documenting, to recognizing the similarity of the butterfly and mussel, and even to a sense of moist, brushy sensuality and fecundity beyond our understanding--Ah! To be the ring-bearer or flower girl!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Greased pig wrestling

Don't tell PETA--it wasn't an animal at the county fair! I wrestled a greasy, deceased over-the-range microwave oven out of the wall and down to the dumpster. Yes, my Sharp is riding that big Carousel turntable in the sky.

It had been installed on the cheap by a previous condo owner. The electrical cord was cut, and the wires stripped and twisted under connection caps tucked behind the drywall. The wiring probably went to a harvest gold range hood back when the condo was built around 1980. That's a bit too scary for me.

There's a hilarious greased pig photo in the Bloomington, Indiana Herald Times of July 8, 2007. I'm not interested in debating the cruelty of this old time county fair event. I just want to have a hot shower.

Installing a replacement shouldn't be as greasy an operation. I get my Rosie The Riveter Meets Helen Reddy mindset going, but I probably shouldn't install a grounded outlet or try to lift a fifty pound appliance while attaching it to a mounting frame! I am woman, hear me roar, hear me call for a handyperson. I am strong, I am invincible, I am not an electician.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

It's a Jungle Out There

The hummingbird aerial battles are heating up in the condo patio airspace. Closed the big patio umbrella to give the combatants more maneuvering room. The entertainment will more than make up for the loss of shade.

A lovely yellow butterfly, probably a cloudless sulfur, checks out every red canna blossom. A small skipper leaves tiny white eggs on each canna leaf, but a strange insect that looks like a big black waspy ant or anty wasp scurries about eating the eggs and declining to pose for photos.

Another big black insect whirs in from my left just over my shoulder. It settles on a bush for a photo op once the shivers leave my neck.

I've got a couple chrysalids from my vinca caterpillars in a jar. Unfortunately, I ended up with a very tiny caterpillar in the jar as well. These guys have already demonstrated the ability to get out through the holes in the lid and practice their leafrolling in my blue bedroom curtains.

In the deep shade of the cannas, a beautiful white moth sleeps. It's wingspan is less than an inch. I'm really enjoying my newly inherited digital camera with its four megapixels. My woolly mammoth son upgraded to a seven megapixel for his photography classes just as my one megapixel bit the dust.

All this action and beauty distract me from my latest failing appliance, the over-the-range microwave with its deceased touchpad Start button. I can't spare the time to nuke anyway, and can barely remember to eat!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


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