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


Unplant a Bush

Enjoyed a quick trip to the Texas Discovery Garden at Fair Park this afternoon to just take in the butterfly action. Such variety of species in a small plot of butterfly favorite plants had me feeling I'd stepped into a popcorn popper of butterflies. Most of them did not cooperate with my amateur photo attempts. I do like this photo showing the long proboscis of a cloudless sulphur. I love when the camera can get in close and with far more detail than my eyes can see. Seeing butterflies slurp up nectar at the Garden made me drive ASAP to Sonic for a limeade!

"Save the Earth, Unplant a Bush" was on a bumper sticker in the TDG parking lot.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


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