Not in this museum you don't!

My little students are passing around a nasty intestinal bug. I should be getting used to daily episodes of spewing from hither and thither all over this and that, but so far I can't. I haven't reached that point of desensitivity and acceptance.

I've tried distracting myself with memories of my Graeco-Roman teacher, June Williams, using the phrase "ad nauseam". June had such a way with vomitorium, coliseum, pepto, and bismal.

Mostly it's embarrassing when I misspell "ad nauseam" like a museum instead of an inseam. This is an important distinction when someone barfs on their elastic-waist jeans in the hall of ice-age mammals.

Ad nauseam used to mean "to the point of disgust". Now it indicates such intense overexposure that we are completely accepting of an advertising message.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Wait, wait, don't tell me when the Met Opera broadcasts begin!

I am a quart short of Margaret Juntwait. I long for a Saturday afternoon of opera on WRR 101.1.

Running low on Peter Sagal, too. My NPR station has been on a long, long pledge drive, so Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. I hear a prerecorded greatest hits broadcast of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me: The NPR News Quiz". These particular shows are already perforated for easy tearing away to the station manager's pleas for contributions.

Jeff. The station manager always seems to be named Jeff. "Jeff" is one of my very favorite names. That's why I named my firstborn "Jeffrey". I had no idea "Jeff" would become the generic name of public radio station managers begging for money on the air.

Fall is finally arriving in North Texas. The air has a tease of crispness. Crows are mobbing redtail hawks, while tardy monarch butterflies lazy-daisy their way south to Mexico. It is perfect weather for driving my Jeff to UT in Austin down I-35, then lazy-daisying myself back up 183, 281, and 67 to Dallas listening to any public radio or classical music station my car radio picked up. That is how I discovered the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, then hosted by Peter Allen. Alas, my Jeff received his degree from UT in 2004, and no longer needs to be transported to or from Austin with hawk-watching out the windows of the Buick.

Margaret Juntwait became "the voice" of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts about the time Jeff graduated. Maybe that is why I've always visualized Ms. Juntwait as a very classy hawk perched on a power pole along 281 north of Lampasas. When Ms. Juntwait's voice reaches my Buick on a late fall Saturday it hints she could be an observant, soaring, upper-level food chain predator, with lovely chest plumage and vivid tail feather coloring.

I look forward to the December eighth resumption of Met radio broadcasts on 101.1 WRR fm. I'll learn much about opera from the "gracious, personable, and knowledgeable" host of the program. Even though it is not her job, I bet Ms. Juntwait will help me win Carl Kasell's voice on my home answering machine.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Spidey trading cards

Much as I wanted to make arachnid cootie-catcher/fortune-tellers for my students and coworkers this Halloween, the project kept getting more ugly every time I stabbed at it. I have great digital photos of the spiders in the school garden, but my Adobe Photoshop Elements program has ghastly hiccups and burps that make photo editing an ordeal since I'm now using the Microsoft Vista operating system.

Going upstairs to water the jade plants, and hacking through the artifacts, USB cords, and archives of three grown sons, I was reminded of Topps baseball and Magic trading cards. The upstairs condo repository is a scary place, but has more potential for greatness than a pending presidential library at SMU. [The jade plants and Christmas cactus may or may not survive.]

The Halloween spider trading cards are ready to print and give to my students. My own kids learned bartering and negotiating skills, and concepts of abundance and scarcity, not to mention a few carnival midway cons by trading baseball cards with each other.

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott
© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Tragic Secret Bubbles Over

On the double, I've got to toil. The first production of the Dallas Opera season is coming soon, and it's Verdi's first opera based on a Shakespeare play.

This is very embarassing, as I am macbethless. I don't know my macduff from a Camp Fire Girls sit-upon. Here I try to put a Liberal Arts face to the world, but the truth is, I've got this big gap on my Permanent Record.

So if you don't see a new post for awhile, it's because I've dug out my Complete Works. Jose Carreras and Ruggero Raimondi will be singing in the background. If you catch me snoring, give me an elbow poke in the ribs. Time is short.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Charmed & Charmin

My annual ragweed allergies have crossed over to the Dark Side. My sinuses feel jam packed with steel wool and rubber cement. My ears have sharp twingies, and my throat is raw. My hearing is impaired by stuffed Hostess Twinkies. I'm hot, chilled, drowsy, and unable to sleep. My over-the-counter pills let me watch multicolored floating discs battle the forces of evil whenever I stand up too fast. Still, it's better than watching "Charmed" on TNT at the beauty salon.

"Charmed" airs on TNT at the afterschool hour, no doubt attractive to preteens. An alleged tale of three sister witches working for good in San Francisco, it is the only show that has ever made me wish I could change channels to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" for something more realistic. The sisters beam themselve up, conjure masseuse demons, and battle star-throwing hypnotized hellions in bustieres.

At the beauty salon you are trapped watching t.v. while listening to AM radio full blast. The stylists speak Chinese, and the salon owner carries on about hunky Dallas Cowboy football players, jet skis, and her mother's inoperable conditions.

I long for wholesome Samantha of "Bewitched", Captain Kirk, and Hostess Cupcakes. Many parents may long for the same now that over-the-counter cold medicines have been banned for kids under the age of six.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Failure to communicate

So many Monday afternoons the elementary kids slog through their homework. You remember those workbook pages photocopied on pastel paper, full of graphite and eraser smudges. The kids struggle to copy the list of vocabulary words, and that's just the appetizer for a meal of searching the dictionary and using the words in sentences.

This is the circle of Dante's hell where compulsive alphabetizers like myself are doomed to learn patience for all of eternity. Forget Chinese water drips. Forget nails on the chalkboard. Forget sitting through the Kevin Costner "Waterworld" and "Wyatt Earp" movies. True torture is waiting for elementary students to find words in a children's dictionary.

Should a student locate a vocabulary word in the dictionary, she must copy the entry onto the cantaloupe- or mint-tinted paper in her wobbly handwriting. He must decide if the word is a noun or verb, or, gag, both. Then it's time to use the word in a sentence.

Homework sentences always remind me of "Cool Hand Luke" in the rural prison. I'm sentenced to homework life without parole. It's good to know I'm not alone!

What we've got here is usually a failure to communicate complicated by some misguided expectations. Kids who have trouble singing the alphabet song are not going to be able to locate "coil" or "crest" in the dictionary.

When I am in charge of the world, all kids will sit on tall stools filing cards in those grand old wooden card catalog drawers. They will put an orange "check" card behind each one they file so a qualified grown-up could check their work. They will begin filing cards by first letter, then by two letters, then by three:


In the background the kids will hear the metallic swirrrrr-clink-swirrrrh of the institutional ceiling fans, and the batting of moth wings against the library screen windows. Tennis shoes will squeak on the concrete floor. Chronological stacks of decaying newspapers will scent the air. Librarians will stamp the date due on index cards.

Monday's homework is due on Thursday. It just seems generations longer!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Deciding where to crop

My honeysuckle/sphinx moths stitchery is going to take longer than the Bayeaux Tapestry at the current rate. Having set my self a difficult problem with several background fabrics, including a sari print, I'm now trying to pull the image together.

I'm using my new hand-me-down camera help me analyze how to crop and fix the composition. It's a new version of the old saying, "Measure twice, cut once." I can cut the photos, and not regret the finality of the decision!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Gone With the Wind

Walking along the trail, in and out of sunshine, I can't remember the name of Butterfly McQueen's character in Gone With the Wind. You know--Scarlett's maid with the funny voice:

Lawzy, we got to have a doctor. I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies.

I don't know nuthin' 'bout Queen butterflies, but the hike leader said she has seen these Monarch mimics at the Elm Fork Nature Preserve today. Jill Nugent of the University of North Texas Biology Department mentioned the Queen butterfly being present in the preserve, but I only saw the similar Gulf fritillaries. Checkerspots, hairstreaks, snouts, sulfurs, zebras, red admirals, and monarchs were all showing off for the hikers.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Arachnophobia and Other Fears

Spiders are cool. They pose for the camera in their designer outfits. They are so much more cooperative than flying insects in that regard. They are artists, too, or at least skilled craftsmen.

Sure, there are a few kinds of dangerous spiders. Texas has nine-hundred types of spiders (all of them working full time to fill my condo with cobwebs for that Miss Haversham wedding cake decor). Two or three of the types are dangerous to humans. It's always a good idea to shake out shoes and boots that have been sitting in the back of the closet or behind the garden door for months at a time.

The macro function on my hand-me-down camera has brought me up close with spiders, and I'm anxious to learn more about them. The more I learn, the more curious I'll become, and the more in awe.

Our teaching intern is arachnophobic, but she is getting bolder being exposed to our infectious enthusiasm for spiders. When she finally got to see a spider catch and wrap its prey in silk she was cheering like a sports fan. This is her spider in action:

Phobias are irrational and persistent fears that interfere with normal life, coupled with excessive avoidance behaviors. At times in my life I've been pretty irrational and afraid of making telephone calls, and of big cities. I somewhat jokingly called these fears phonophobia and metrophobia.

I still avoid making phone calls, but I can mostly function in regular society nowadays. There are many of us out there who would rather write than call. We have the ability to edit and also to control the speed of communication when we write. Some people are just afraid their fingers are too fat for the buttons on the cell phone, or more painfully, too fat for the rotary dial. I looked at the Reverse Index of Phobias, but didn't find "fat finger phobias".

"Metrophobia" seems to mean fear of poetry, which I don't have! Thank heaven there's hope for poetry-phobic folks if they use their fat fingers to dial the 1-800 number right now.

Maybe I had metropolitanophobia, BigApplophobia, or urbanophobia. Could have been a case of SMSAophobia (fear of U.S. Census Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas). Anyway, I'm mostly over it.

Back at Eastridge Elementary I suffered from Neapolitanophobia. The possibility that three-flavored ice cream slices would be served at a birthday party filled me with dread. I knew I could eat the chocolate and vanilla, but was afraid I wouldn't like the strawberry. I was paralyzed by fear that the mom next door would yell at me for not eating the strawberry ice cream. I was creeped out knowing the whole thing would melt into one very ugly color of goo while I was worrying. I'm a grown-up now, and I can just eat the chocolate and vanilla if I want.

For most of my Wonder Years, I was truly, persistently, and irrationally afraid of moths. That is Mottephobia according to the Phobia Index. [You just thought Mottephobia was the fear of apple juice boxes!] Fortunately, the more I learned about moths, the less fearful I became.

I took these photos at the Elm Fork Nature Preserve in Carrollton today. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I saw them on my computer screen, my brain started playing an ancient recording of Glen Campbell singing "Wichita Lineman".

(Written by Jimmy Webb)

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin' in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin' in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation but it don't look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

By the time I get to Phoenix I'll be over my Glen Campbellophobia!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


A little sad today, Nene

A friend writes that he's "on vacation", wearing Hawaiian shirts and building a deck on his house. It has suddenly turned to perfect fall deck weather here. Lows in the fifties and highs in the mid-eighties. How nice it would be to do the morning crossword puzzle out on the deck, writing in the requisite "nene" for the Hawaiian goose clue.

It's been nearly twenty years since I had a house with a backyard deck. Feeling generally sentimental and nostalgic today. My sons went through a very fun Hawaiian shirt phase as preteens and young teen. We had a large assortment of tropical flower, bird, and surfing motif apparel, and a crazy schedule of afterschool activities requiring Mom Mobile transportation. The boys outgrew the phase, and the shirts, and began to drive themselves. The shirts became costumes at a children's theatre. I'm not half as busy as I was then, but I still don't seem to have time for a crossword puzzle on a deck.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


How tall is a giraffe?

"Have you seen the giraffes in our garden?" The fourteen preschoolers looked at me with great expressions:

  • Four had wide smiles and giggles as they shook their heads no.
  • Two rolled their eyes to let me know I'm so crazy it's embarrassing.
  • Two did tough guy Tony Soprano imitations so I'll be too intimidated to question them further with or without a subpoena.
  • Four's eyes bugged out to ask, "You mean there are giraffes out there and nobody told me?" Of course that is the same look they have when I suggest they dry their hands with a paper towel.
  • Two held their arms up in the air and waved their hands because they have indeed seen the giraffes and want to tell me the saga of their personal experience.

Okay, most of the animals in our garden are much smaller. So how tall is a giraffe really? Fourteen to nineteen feet! How big is that in preschoolers?

Thank heaven for 12" floor tiles! The kids made a line, each one standing on their own tile. I flopped on the floor for another five feet. A tall mom volunteer stood at my head. We looked up and down the line. Nineteen feet is BIG!

What would you do if you were as tall as a giraffe? Most of the kids said they would eat leaves on trees. A few would watch rockets or talk to dinosaurs. One would be a pink giraffe princess. The answer that made my day was, "I would wear a black hat."

Sinatra sings Gershwin sings Giraffe:

The way you wear your hat...

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Fair Day

Cultural differences can lead to confusion. There weren't any classes at my little school yesterday because it was "Fair Day".

When my eldest son started school I was surprised to find "Fair Day" on the school calendar, and a free State Fair admission in his take-home folder. Kids get off school to eat cotton candy??? I didn't get it. In my own school days, classes didn't start until the first Monday after Labor Day, after our state fair ended.

Our international families struggled to understand this strange Texas holiday:

  • Was the school having a fair? No.

  • Were we taking the children to a fair? No.

  • What time should the children arrive on Monday? Not until Tuesday!

  • What would teachers be doing? Sleeping late, eating bagels, and getting haircuts.

Many students arrived today with fresh new handsome haircuts. A few were sleeping late after a rough day on the Tilt-a-Whirl.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Tom Howard

Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck give haunting and completely convincing performances as the title characters in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", a very long movie I'll remember for years. Broke my own rule and saw a movie based on one of my favorite novels. I can't recommend it to just anyone, though, because:

  • It is nearly three hours long.
  • It has a bad case of time-lapse cloud photography.
  • If you're not an outlaw junkie, you can't tell the players without a program.
  • At moments you may feel stuck in a cross between "Hotel California" and the History Channel.
  • It's not Marshall Dillon's wild west.
  • There are no good guys in white hats.

I can recommend it to people interested in the highly unsanitary 1880's, to photographers, and to folks who still wonder how John Hinckley, Jr.'s mind worked when he thought shooting Ronald Reagan might impress Jodie Foster. The photography is gorgeous:

  • Rocking chair shadows on a wood floor.
  • A locomotive's headlamp through the Missouri trees.
  • Cold pump water in a stoneware bowl.
  • A betrayer through a frosted window.

When everyone knows how the story ends, it is difficult to know where it should start or conclude. The movie needs more back story to understand the familial and psychological ties between the gang members. It needs either more or far less focus on the Ford brothers after Jesse's murder.

If you have the patience and endurance, this movie drags you into its world to observe the psychological drama between two legends in their own minds. If not, you might be better off borrowing a Hansen novel from your public library.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Found House

Hansel and Gretel found a house in the forest. It was built of candy and belonged to a witch with gourmet culinary aspirations.

The Dallas Morning News found a house, too.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Jethro Tull for Verizon?

Let's bundle in the jungle! Bundling is where the money-saving action is, but only if Verizon FIOS has come to your doorstep. If you are unsure of the availability at your address, the on-line and 1-888 telephone sources will give you plenty of chances for hacking vines with big machetes.

It's a jungle out there, trying to understand the plans for high-speed internet, cable t.v., landline and wireless phones. A person could almost long for the good old days when the rotary dial phone was on the kitchen wall, and the t.v. got three channels. That would be a person feverish from malaria trying to dig a canal across the swampy isthmus of intentional confusion and leech-infested obfuscation. Would you rather be trapped in the quicksand of health insurance jargon, or the Babel of cellphone rate plans???

My herd of cellphones are with Cingular, which now has the silly name "AT&T Mobility." The name conjures up wheelchair racers talking on cellphones as they careen down the ramps at Madonna Rehab. At&T bundling is as bungled as Verizon's. Wheelchairs remind me of Tom Robbins' Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. Check it out.

Let's bungle in the jungle --- well, that's all right by me.
I'm a tiger when I want love,but I'm a snake if we disagree.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Artists for Responsible Packaging?

Where are Christo and Jeanne-Claude when we need them? Our school lunchrooms and trash cans are full of drink pouches. How can we call attention to the waste created by this packaging? A Christo wrapping is needed!

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have famously shrink-wrapped Germany's Reichstag, and surrounded Miami islands in pink polypropane. They hung an orange nylon curtain across Rifle Gap in Colorado's Rockies. Why don't they start collecting empty Capri Sun pouches and stapling them together? They'd have enough material to wrap a school in no time, and at no cost to their C.V.J. Corporation.

"What is CAPRI SUN packaging made from? Is it recyclable? CAPRI SUN pouches are polyester reverse-side printed to aluminum then laminated to polyethylene (a plastic polymer). Unfortunately, this packaging is not recyclable."
Thanks for that, Kraft!

When will Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen create a giant soft sculpture Go-Gurt squeeze tube? The pair has created large public sculptures with school lunchy themes, including the Spoonbridge and Cherry at Minneapolis' Walker Art Gallery, the Typewriter Eraser in Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Torn Notebook at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Back in the Sixties they made giant vinyl BLT sandwiches, soft sculpture popsicles out of neon-colored fake fur, and scary four-foot french fries dumping out of a fast food sack. Go-Gurt, Yoplait's unit-of-use no-spoon-needed yogurt is far more disturbing than four-foot french fries.

Many brands market unit-of-use stick-pack (squeeze tube) yogurts now. The packaging is made from a linear low-density polyethylene/polyester structure of high barrier plastic film. Besides being non-recyclable, Yoplait Go-Gurt packaging is misleading. The tall squeeze tube contains only 2.25 ounces of heavily-sweetened yogurt, compared with a normal six-ounce yogurt container. You haven't truly lived until you've eaten lunch in a room full of kids glurping and slurping out of plastic tubes and arguing whether Shrek tastes better than Scooby-Doo. You better believe we say thanks, or something else, to General Mills for that experience!

Whether spanning the globe, covering the earth, or wrapping the school, artists might inspire us to try zero-waste lunching. We could use the Hi-C juice boxes discarded in one school lunchroom to reconstruct the late Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty . The individual-use aseptic cartons from juice, organic milk, and soy milk will be around in the landfills almost as long as Smithson's basalt stones in the Great Salt Lake.

Many students now bring Horizon Organic milk in aseptic boxes in their lunch box. Horizon Organic's FAQ website explains the packaging:

How are your Single Serve Milks packaged?
Single serve milks are packaged in aseptic tetrapaks and unopened will keep at room temperature up to seven months or until the date code. The milk is pasteurized using UHT or ultra-high temperature process which is similar to UP or ultra-pasteurization, in which the milk is heated to >280° F for 2-3 seconds, but packaged in a sterile environment thus extending its shelf life. The package itself is durable, lightweight, convenient for transport, and uses low energy and few materials. It is recyclable at any local program that accepts aseptic packages.

Sounds great, except that local programs don't accept aseptic packages for recycling. The Aseptic Packaging Council touts that 12 million U.S. households have access to a curbside recycling program that accepts the paper-and-foil juice boxes. That's only about 8 % of U.S. households.

According to Obviously.com:

The square boxes used for liquids are called "Aseptics", the most common brand of which is "Tetra Pak". Aseptics are made from complex layers of plastic, metal and paper. The aseptic industry has spent millions in public education on the issue of aseptic recycling, including distribution of classroom guides and posters like "Drink Boxes are as Good on the Outside as They are on the Inside" and "A Day in the Life of a Drink Box". The actual recycling process, unfortunately, is very expensive and awkward, and is therefore only available in a very few places. Coca-Cola maintains a list of aseptic recyclers, call 1-800-888-6488 for information. Because of the difficulties, only an insignificant fraction of aseptic packages are currently recycled.

That phone number is business hours only at Minute Maid. You can find out if your community has a recycling program for these containers by going to the Aseptic Packaging Council website and clicking the link for Recycling Programs. No Texas communities appear on the list.

My blood pressure is really great this week, so I'm not going to discuss how large an assemblage the late Louise Nevelson could have made from the plastic Lunchables containers. The packages have the recycling symbol on the bottom with the word "Other". Your community website will note which numbers of plastics can be recycled. "Other" is not a number! In North Texas you can check the plastics accepted in your community's program at Time to Recycle.

We need a new Andy Warhol to help us understand just how much unrecyclable waste is involved in Campbell Soup At Hand microwavable single serving cans, as well as the similar Chef Boyardee Mini Bites microwavable single serving pasta products advertised for kids. Those nuke-in-a-bowl products are marked for recycling HDPE Other (high density polyethelyne). Packaging Digest reports the rigid white plastic is a combination of plastic resins with a metal rim and pull-ring end. It's described as being coinjection-molded with high-density polyethylene, polypropylene and a barrier layer of ethylene vinyl alcohol...Topping the bowl is a metal lid fitted with a metal pull ring that reads "remove metal lid before microwaving." Over that, a red plastic overcap with four vent holes snaps onto the bowl.

Let's create some works of art for waste-free lunchrooms. Think vacuum insulated lunch jars and bottles. Please!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Addition Solutions

Tired teacher flips through Mitt Romney issue of Newsweek on the train. Most of the printed material isn't really sinking in. The magazine is just a prop to yawn behind and to create a sci fi force field against unacceptable seatmates. Then a recognized word. Addition. Addition solutions. A special advertising section of "Addition Solutions" is proclaimed for abaci? Flash cards?

Why are the expensive ads in the middle of this slick weekly national news magazine all for substance abuse clinics and treatment centers ? Where are the ads for No Child Left Counting On Their Little Piggy Toes?

About five a.m. she'd sent out an email for near and dear about the site wear [sic] her spider photos could be viewed. So embarrassing to realize the misspelling! Wishing she'd been paid as much for her mistake as the maker of the Newsweek goof. Proofreading is so very important!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Rodeo Spider Ropes and Drinks Juice Box

This spider made a wonderful web between two tomato plants in the school garden. We had just arrived at the garden to release a very hungry anole lizard from a student's show-and-tell box. Twenty-five preschoolers were arranged in a semi-circle. Suddenly, a bee flew into the spider's web. Faster than you can remember your ten-digit home phone number with area code first, the spider sensed the disturbance in the web, scurried out from under the tomato leaf, wrestled the bee, and roped it with loop after loop of silk until the bee was completely mummified. After secreting digestive juices onto the bee, the spider resumed its position under the tomato leaf.

About fifteen minutes later the spider went back out into the center of the web to retrieve the encased bee. It took its package back under the tomato leaf and began consuming its now liquified catch by holding the case and tipping it to its mouth. Spiders don't have teeth. They use their strong sucking stomach to slurp the pureed bug smoothie out of the box. I'm so sorry I didn't have my camera! I will never ever watch a preschooler drink from a juice box in quite the same way!

Four hours later the spider was still under the tomato leaf, but most of its web was gone. That's when I took the photo.


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