Actonel advent calendar

You wouldn't expect that a once-a-week medication could ruin your life. Then again, you might not think your life was ruined because your mom made you take fourth-year French in high school [see YRMLM].

For two and a half years Actonel has been ruining my dad's life every Thursday morning. Actonel is a prescription medication for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. It's taken with 8 ounces of plain water when you first get up for the day, before any other food, drink, vitamins, or medicine. Then you have to stay sitting up or walking around for half an hour. No rolling over and going back to sleep. You can read the newspaper, watch birds in the backyard, argue with a teen about why he should take that fourth year French class, wash your face, get dressed, make coffee, do the Sudoku, surf the cable tv channels, and cook breakfast during that half hour. Just don't recline.

Trouble is, for two and a half years, every Thursday morning, Dad does it backwards. He gets up, washes his face, gets dressed, makes the coffee, looks in his pill organizer, and then takes the Actonel pill with 8 ounces of plain water. He spends the next half hour thinking that Actonel has ruined his life. He keeps thinking along that line the rest of Thursday.

At least Dad remembers to take the Actonel and the calcium supplements for his osteoporosis. For this we thank the Ezy-Dose Four-A-Day Weekly Practidose Medication Organizer #91350 from CVS, the best $9.99 I ever spent. The pill organizer is $14.99 online now. It's pretty sturdy, having survived a couple years of heavy use. We call it the "Advent Calendar."

There's a note in the Thursday morning compartment of the Advent Calendar that reminds Dad to take the despised Actonel. The only thing Dad despises more than his Thursday morning Actonel is the Boniva tv commercial with Sally Field. Boniva is a once-a-month osteoporosis medicine, so it probably has four times the life-ruining potency of Actonel. Dad is not alone in his life-ruining opinion of Actonel. His rehab roommate, Melvin, carried on at lenghth on the same subject.

Every few months I make the bold suggestion that Dad set his Actonel pill beside his bed on Wednesday night. He could take it when he gets up on Thursday morning before he even washes his face. What I really need is for Santa's elves to put a new note in the Wednesday evening slot of the Advent calendar. It just needs to say, "Set the Actonel by your bed and take it when you get up tomorrow." The note does not need to be written in French.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Cheaper by the Dozen

Most intriguing in today's stack of book reviews is The Overflowing Brain, by Torkel Klingberg. The Wall Street Journal review by Christopher F. Chabris, "You Have Too Much Mail" , describes a time-attention study of an average office manager. Not that long ago, time-motion studies led to improved efficiency.

Most of our motions are "clicks" of the mouse these days, and our efficiency is suffering. As a sixth-grader I was fascinated reading Frank B. Gilbreth's Cheaper By the Dozen. The Gilbreth's twelve children provided inspiration and practicums for their parents' management consulting business.

According to the WSJ review, Klingberg's book suggests our Stone Age brains are in conflict with the present information overload. There's much to ponder as this relates to my school environment.

Our brains predispose us to shift our attention whenever novel events occur in the present moment. In Stone Age applications, we needed to be ever-vigilant for saber tooth tiger threats and unfamiliar situations in order to survive. Alas, that programs our brains to check every new message to our email inbox, every fluorescent light tube flicker, and HVAC blower cycles. We haven't evolved the skill to discriminate between life-threatening and trivial situations.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

And a bee?

Yesterday's record-setting high of 83 degrees led to photos of sunbathers in this morning's newspaper. It was in the mid-sixties when I retrieved my Dallas Morning News from the front stoop, and rising.

Cold front brings rain, hail to Dallas-Fort Worth area

The cold front rushed through town dropping temperatures from the mid-seventies at 8:30 a.m. to the windy mid-fifties at 9:30. That was the hour when I left home, drove through my bank, realized the Buick's window that won't roll up was part-way down, bought a tank of gas, had a bee flying around inside the car, drove through the post office, commuted fifteen miles, arrived at work, and covered the one-inch window gap with packing tape seconds ahead of the downpour.

The downpour lasted only a few minutes. The good news:
  1. Danger Baby got the window closed.
  2. There have been so many things to worry about in the middle of the night lately, that I completely forgot to worry about pollinators. Declining bee populations might foretell the end of life on Earth as we know it. A bee in the Buick is a good sign.
  3. Did you know there are solitary bees who live in tunnels underground and only pollinate members of the squash family? Antisocial bees? What a concept! Thank a squash bee for your pumpkin pie from the Victoria [TX] Advocate brought this revelation. The world is a strange and wondrous place, but let's keep it on the outside of the Buick, please.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Mom ears in gear

My sons must be in town! I'm aware of sirens at all hours. Don't usually notice sirens, but those super hearing powers that were activated when my boys became drivers at sixteen have resumed their attention.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


18-Hour Bailout

We are each doing whatever we can to stimulate the economy. In a giant leap of positive thinking, my walking buddy ordered three bras online. I bought socks, and you can't get more upbeat than that. When the going gets tough, the tough buy underwear.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Possum chunks and chimney pucks

The sound first appeared when I lit the gas fireplace. I was dancing around the Christmas tree adding ornaments on a surprisingly cold evening. When the chunking sounds began I thought they were coming from the chimney. Exploding bricks? Falling chimney? Charred nest? Roasted rodent?

What year did I hire that chimney sweep? What century or millennium? Sure hope the Grinch isn't wedged in there. Chunk. . . . Chunk. . . . Chunk.

Got worried enough to put on a parka and walk out to stare at my chimney. No roasted marsupials or mammals. No flames or explosions. Just a new kid in the neighborhood practicing roller hockey. He's been hitting the puck into a big Rubbermaid tub every night with a regular rhythm. He seems like a nice kid, and self-motivated. Chunk.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

A good excuse

The first of the sons has arrived. His plane got in a bit late. He ate spicy soup and watched tv. About two a.m. it became clear that he had fallen asleep on the couch because I could hear an old musical on the tube. I'm betting it was in black and white, and definitely not his choice of viewing while awake.

After dropping fifty degrees yesterday, it wasn't worth going out to the living room to turn off the tv. The flannel sheets were too toasty, so I just rolled over and let the musical become part of my dreams.

Danger Baby is still asleep. I've read the paper and finished the crossword. The sudoku was way too difficult. Now I'm reading Devil to Play by Jasper Rees while all wrapped in quilts, being quiet. It's good to have an excuse for a relaxed morning.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


I can't get no Chex satisfaction

I'm driving in my car and a man comes on the radio, but he doesn't tell me at what store they still have Wheat, Rice Chex, and Corn

I can't get no, oh no no no.

Hey hey hey, that's what I say.

...baby better come back later next week

'cause you see I'm on losing streak.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

The Ghost of Acne Past

Scrooge that I am, I'm loathe to throw out the prescription bottles and lotions. The drawers and the medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom are giving me a dickens of a time. Can I toss the zit Rx with the warning label, "Do not consume after 2003"? What about the large tube of ointment that expired in 1999?

Bob Cratchit and I are cleaning up the condo. A revolving assortment of sons and their special females will be visiting here over the holidays. I worry about the special females. The condo upstairs was the domain of "the guys" for so many years. They don't live here now, but that bathroom still has teen guy cooties. Maybe I should add a cute little basket of shaped soaps!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Persian lug riquidator

Ben Franklin didn't know diddly about Persian rugs and old farts' toenails. Ben said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

Nothing can be certain except that Persian rug dealers will be going out of business and liquidating with incredible bargains. Who knew the most recession-resistant occupation would be rug liquidator? Jettie North, my high school counselor, never saw that when she peered into her Occupational Outlook Handbook crystal ball.

Back then Jettie advised me to apply to Bryn Mawr. The name was a tongue-twister--Myn Brawr. So is lug riquidator.

"His toenails were so long they had curled around and down under his toes. His children never visited him anymore." That was the big news flash at my grandma's nursing home in Pierce one weekend when we went to visit back in about 1968. The aides told us about the new admission. I never saw the neglected old farmer, but the terrifying mental image has haunted me for forty years. Twilight Zone toenails...

The poor man needed a drive-by podiatrist--a toenail clipper who made house calls. In between taxes and death, toenails keep growing, sometimes out of control. Much of the service industry is laying off workers in the current economic LaBrea. I'm betting drive-by podiatrists are a secure sector.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Dancing With the Snowmen

They make me feel like dancing! Especially since the project is finished well ahead of schedule and under budget.

Texans don't plan their mental calendars allowing time for blizzards like Nebraskans. You just can't cut it too close in the high pressure world of preschool Christmas gift art projects up north. People who keep a shovel in the car trunk year-round know to factor in construction delays on major projects. Neither snow nor a little Dallas black ice will stay my little couriers from the swift completion of their holiday art projects.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Put the candle back!

IN a hectic week the search for plastic bottle lids may seem somewhat minor, but it was huge. My students are making crazy colored snowpersons for holiday gifts. I saved lids all year, but we were running short. Like any nutty art teacher, I did my grocery shopping list based on the recyclables I needed for class:
  1. Buy juice
  2. Pour juice into pitcher
  3. Wash lid
  4. Recycle bottle
  5. Take lid to art class

Time was running short, so I went through the condiments in the refrigerator. Poured the lime juice into a glass Ragu jar just to get the green lid. Same with the salad dressing. What year was this tartar sauce made? Ewww! Throw that scary stuff out, but save the lid.

On to the pantry cupboard. Two jars of parsley flakes! Bonanza! Combine them to score a large yellow lid. How long has that bottle of Karo corn syrup been stuck to the shelf paper? You don't want to know how many years it's been since I made peanut brittle.

Now it's slash and burn through the top shelf of souvenir squeeze bottles. I didn't know I had this stuff. Back behind the Tupperware popsicle molds (my youngest child is twenty-one, for heaven's sake!)... Look! It's Grandma's candleholder!

I was doing a double-take. Halma had a candleholder at each end of the big wooden buffet in her dining room in Pierce. For years I've felt guilty because I could only find one of the candleholders. I feared I'd lost the other in one of my moves from house to condo to condo. But now, here was the second one. Had to hold one in each hand to convince myself I still had both.

It's silly, really. They each hold two candles that never stand up straight, and have no particular aesthetic appeal. But at least I wasn't the descendant who was negligent. I didn't lose the family treasure, I just misplaced it behind a bunch of Texas Summer Reading Club water bottles.

A great weight has lifted. I'm lighter than Igor without his hunchback. As Gene Wilder so emphatically instucts Teri Garr, "Put the candle back."

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Knight in shining armor insect

Check out this handsome insect that flew across the playground and landed on the sandbox cover! Haven't had time to identify it yet. The body was at least as big as a quarter.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


The Fire-Breathing Dragon Swishes Its Tail in Honalee

Kindly set your computer monitor over on its right side to view this post. You are entering Dragonsbreath Bay, and viewing the panels for the giant dragon mural installation at the Mile 16 aid station for the Dallas White Rock Marathon on Sunday, 12/14.

My art students, age 3-9, worked together on the paper mosaics. They helped tear construction paper scraps, and I brought torn papers from my color-sorted collage materials. The background material is brown butcher paper.

True, there is a large component of teacher artistic control on paper mosaic murals. The instructional goals:

  1. Introducing the mosaic medium with historic examples
  2. Considering permanent and short-lived materials
  3. Experiencing for ourselves that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
  4. Observing magical shimmering effects of different papers
  5. Working together without spilling too much glue on the newly-stripped and polished linoleum
  6. *Recognizing the right side and wrong side of papers
  7. **Imagining an edible mosaic

    (The installation gets a bit tricky in the neck/wings intersection.)

    (Each panel is 2'x3', or 3'x2'.)

    *My dad's golfing buddy once told a joke about a boss yelling out the window to his sod-laying blonde employees, "Green side up!" The children have pieces of paper for the mosaic, but they must determine which side is up for their colored section of the picture.

    **We considered fruit slices on a layer of cream cheese, and bell pepper squares on peanut butter. I was stunned when a kindergartener made the connection between mosaics and gingerbread houses!

Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea

And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff

And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff, oh

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


My what bad handbags you have!

Didn't realize how long it had been since I'd shopped anywhere but the grocery store or CVS. It was time to do my personal bit to stimulate the economy, but the stores were like alien clones from an alternate dimension. They seemed jammed with merchandise sloppily arranged under 50% off signs, short on customers, and even shorter on android employees. A lone, pimply male was manning the only open register at Kohl's when I bought my bargain crew socks.

I blame the decline and fall of the economy on all the fashions made of slimy unnatural fabrics cheaply finished in foreign countries to resemble maternity tops. Can you spell "U G L Y"?

Just for old times sake I wandered through the purse department. My friends and I have spent many frustrating but happy hours searching for the elusive perfect purse in well-lighted stores. Today I was dog-paddling through gray Jello. The current handbag offerings are huge metallic patent leather bulky blobs with snap-closures instead of secure zippers. You could throw in a trendy teacup dog, a hamster enclosed in its exercise ball, and two retro sock monkeys, and still have room for your iPhone.
Lucy Locket lost her pocket. Kitty Fisher found it. Don DeLillo predicted it.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Park'N Fly

I'm grateful I flagged down the Park-n-Fly shuttle on the lower level of Terminal A when I did. Funny thing to be thankful for on a long Thanksgiving weekend, but there you have the word of the day:

"good nature," from Fr., from bon "good" + homme "man."

bon·ho·mie \ˌbä-nə-ˈmē, ˌbō-\ noun
French bonhomie, from bonhomme good-natured man, from bon good + homme man
1779 : good-natured easy friendliness — bon·ho·mous
\ˈbä-nə-məs\ adjective

When I clambered aboard there were already six passengers. They were comparing notes on the baggage claim situation in Terminal A. For some reason, known only to the gnomes deep beneath the terminal, the luggage from six flights was being sent to a single claim carousel. The other carousels were empty. Travelers were packed around the carousel so tight if they spotted their luggage they couldn't get it out through the crowd.

Shared misery started an esprit de corps that carried into the parking lot shuttle. As another half dozen people boarded the shuttle, an eternal optimist jovially asked if we all had a good Thanksgiving. We all nodded, but the man with the toupee sitting across from me piped up, "Yes. We liked the boyfriend!"

Ah, that's very good, we all agreed. "You are lucky," I said. "Maybe you would have had better luck convincing my dad to move into assisted living than I did."

"How did that go?," others asked.

"He's not budging," I said.

The eternal optimist chimed in, "I'm ready to move in right now--activities, meals, manicures!"

"Me, too."

"Me, too. Assisted living is wasted on old people!"

"Not me," a quieter woman commented. "It gives me the heebie jeebies."

"It will be fun," the optimist opined.

"You think having six flights' baggage at one claim carousel is fun!"

"Liking the boyfriend is good. We are meeting the girlfriend at Christmas," someone told the first dad.

"Me, too, at New Years," I said.

"It's serious. The boyfriend is coming to our house in three weeks," the first dad said. Turns out the daughter is a fashion design student in California. Maybe she can design the wedding for her final project and save her folks a bundle.

The conversation turned to the smaller holiday crowds at airports, and to flight delays. "We got out of John Wayne on schedule," someone reported. Geez, that sounds like an elderly bowel update! I had no idea John Wayne was an airport. Will John Malkovich be next?

Talk turned to the topic of finding our cars. We had given the shuttle driver the cards marked with our parking space numbers. He was playing 88.1 KNTU jazz on the radio to add to the party atmosphere.

Like the first call of a bingo game, the driver yelled over the music, "18-53."

"I win!," I hollered, "but I can't see my car."

"That's okay," the smiling optimist said. "They just let you out somewhere in the wilderness."

"You would think that's fun. You said you'd love assisted living."

"That's right," she said. "I find fun wherever I go."

Lots to ponder from a ten-minute ride. Fortunately, I found my Buick once I was let out in the wilderness. Life is good. I bet I'll like the girlfriend. Maybe she will choose my nursing home!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


TSA ate my socks

If you stayed home for Thanksgiving, be grateful you still have warm feet. I had to travel by air this holiday, and it was a devastating experience for my favorite socks. When my single carry-on wheelie suitcase went through the pre-flight screening at DFW, Superman didn't know his own strength. Two pair of footsies and some tights failed to stay the course due to his x-ray vision. When I tried to don my feets apparel, the yarn of my favorite crew socks separated like the dry sinews of Lewis and Clark's overcooked pot roast.

It's the thought that counts. Maybe some son will think to get me super strong Christmas stocking stuffer socks with a strong sci-fi force field for future airport scrutiny.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Gray, in the nicest way

Thanks to laryngitis and a very overcast weekend, I'm feeling amazingly relaxed. Between attending workshops and substituting at the library this was the first free Saturday I've had since mid-June. My recent Sundays have been busy with the symphony or opera or volunteering, plus the requisite laundry.

Taking a sick day Friday wasn't part of the relaxation plan, but twelve hours of sleep really turned my cold around. The grayness made it easy to repeat with another twelve hours of sleep the next night.

My outings were to the store for Fresca and chicken soup ingredients, and to pick up the new novel by Steph Kallos. The only noise was the ocasional steam escape thump of the crockpot lid.

Today was gray again, and I just assumed it was still chilly. Finally thought to go pick up my mail, and was surprised to find it warmer outside than in.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Tut, Tut, it looks like rain

My compelling visual memory of the blockbuster King Tut exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art is the thirty dollar Kleenex box cover on sale in the gift shop (and online, of course). You too can be the first kid on your block to have the Made in China pseudo-experience of wiping your nose on unwinding mummy linens pulled out through the Boy King's nose. Dang! If only you could extract your Kleenex with a crochet hook the way the ancient Egyptians removed Tut's brain through his nostrils!

I wanted to love the exhibit, and expected to buy tickets for my sons and their friendgirls to see it at Christmas. I really, really wanted it to be as mind-blowing for them as my trip to the 1977 "Treasures of Tutankhamun" exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago was for me.

The "King Tut & the Golden Age of the Pharoahs" exhibit is spaciously arranged to allow for the movement of six hundred visitors per hour. It flows pretty well, and individuals aren't impeded by clusters of audio tour users. It has more objects overall than the late-Seventies Tut exhibit, but fewer important objects. The final room of the exhibit about autopsies performed on Tut's mummy feels like an overhyped History Channel segment where Geraldo Rivera might pop out.

This exhibit moves to San Francisco after the Dallas show. A second exhibition called "Tutankhamun the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" just opened in Atlanta. It will move to Indianapolis in June 2009.

Perhaps I've been to one too many blockbuster Egyptian exhibits. Like the "Treasures of Tut" in 1977, these all shined far brighter than the current Dallas show:
  • "Ramses II" exhibit at Dallas' Fair Park in 1989
  • "Egypt's Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World" at Ft. Worth's Kimbell Museum in 1992
  • "The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt" at the Kimbell in 2003

I'm home from work today with a head cold, but I still don't want a Tut tissue box. And, please, no Geraldo!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Thankful for leftovers already

Teaching art is like always being on the fourth day after Thanksgiving, and trying to make something fresh and appetizing out of the same old leftovers. Today I'm grateful for donated leftover items, though it may take years for me to find the right combination to use them.

Thanks to the Woolly Mammoth for getting caught in the rain with a bunch of colored tissue paper in 2004. The colors bled in ways that look much like fall leaves.

Thanks for the bountiful okra harvest, no kidding! We used okra and tempera paints to make the prints.

Thanks to the school that quit using Tektronix Phaser 200 Series Printers Transparency Film sheets "with perforated tab". We are whittling away the stack making our school feast placemats.

Thanks to the woman who gave me three giant boxes of fancy scrapbooking papers in 2006. We photocopied an autumn leaf paper for the backgrounds of our placemat collages.

Thanks for the chance to use that brittle and faded construction paper to make crayon leaf rubbings. Now how else can we use that up? I'd be grateful for the storage space.

Thanks for folks who save old magazines and catalogs. Thanks especially for my former job that invites me back to work in a lovely library surrounded by beautiful fall foliage just ready to be pressed.

A song stuck in my head can be as unwelcome as the contents of that Tupperware way, way back on the refrigerator shelf for who knows how long. This time, the leftover song helped me realize the science potential for the preschool placemat project.

Cling-cling! Ding-ding! The Duettino from Act I of "The Marriage of Figaro" stayed in my head after the splendid Dallas Opera performance Sunday afternoon. Static cling is just the thing for science this week. The transparency film lets the kids experience static electricity. The film lifts, moves, and holds the tissue paper pieces as if by magic as we assemble our placemat collages. No glue is necessary, and neither is a technical explanation of the phenomenon.

Supposing my lady
Calls you at night:
Ding ding: in two steps
You can be there from here.
Or if it should happen
That his lordship should want me,
Dong dong: in three bounds
I'm there at his service.

And supposing one morning
The dear Count should ring,
ding ding, and send you
Three miles away,
Dong dong, and the devil
Should lead him to my door?
Dong dong, in three bounds ...

Our creations are ready to be laminated. Somewhere out there Wolfgang and Leonard Weisgard are rubbing party balloons on their hair.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


P.S. I love you

Frolicked this noon through the Ginkgoopsida outside the library. Collected leaves for the preschool placemat project. The kids and some elderly volunteers are making the keepsake placemats for the all-school Thanksgiving feast. I need flattened golden ginkgo leaves, and I need them quick.

Even with the pressing deadline, it was fun to be out in a brisk, chilly wind, enjoying a species that dates back to the dinosaur days. Not the dinosaur days of cellphones as large as Maxwell Smart's shoe... Not the days of living room cabinet stereos for playing vinyl Beatles 45s and LPs. Real Permian Age dinosaur days.

Ginkgo biloba, I learn from Answers.com, is the only surviving Ginkgoopsida. Besides being a fabulous word to say and spell, ginkgoopsida is "a class of largely extinct gymnosperms (Pinophyta)."

Tyson Woods, an arborist for Moore Tree Care in Dallas recommended ginkgo trees in a November 5, 2008 Dallas Morning News story about fall color:

The ancient majesty of Ginkgo biloba is magical when its fan-shaped leaves turn golden. Its leaves are shaped like the lacy segments of maidenhair fern.

The ginkgo is a slow grower, but its beauty and its storied past as one of the oldest trees on earth make it a top choice, says Mr. Woods. It's a good urban tree because it tolerates drought, heat and poor soils.

Texas Tree Planting, a Texas A&M extension website, recommends planting ginkgo biloba because of its pest and pollution resistance. Female trees produce stinky fruit, so male cultivars are preferred.

Those fruits, are more accurately seeds with a fleshy covering, and give the tree its name. Sometimes called the silver apricot tree, ginkgo comes from the Japanese ginkyo, from ancient Chinese ngien hang (Mandarin yin hsing), "silver apricot" - ngien, silver, and hang, apricot.

My good old dictionary says both ginkgo and gingko are acceptable spellings. Ginkyo is also used.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Crunch financials

"Cereal Crunch," was the answer when I asked Danger Baby what he wanted me to make for Thanksgiving. "Cereal Crunch," was the answer when I asked my dad, "and good sugar cookies." A turkey dinner doesn't seem to be a big issue for either of them.

Think I'll make Crunch, aka Chex Mix, and mail it to Dad and my three sons, then make another batch when I'm at Dad's for the holiday. It freezes well.

If only in 1977 I had started saving the grocery receipts whenever I bought the makings for Chex Mix or mailed it to my guys. By now I would have an Economic Chex Mix of Leading Indicators And Oleo with enough plots on the graph to make Warren Buffett sit up and take notice.

Today at Albertsons in the midst of the financial crisis:

Any 3 boxes of Chex cereals for $7.50, less a $3.00 peel-and-redeem coupon--$4.50 (Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Wheat Chex)
Cheerios, 8.9 oz. box--$1.59
Imperial Margarine, 4 sticks--$1.25
Rold Gold pretzel sticks, one lb. bag--$2.50
Store brand can of cashew halves and pieces--$3.99
Store brand can of party peanuts--$3.19


Basically, I've invested $17.00 in the batch so far. I already have the Worchestershire Sauce and the Lawry's Seasoned Salt. I'll have to buy garlic powder on my next shopping trip.

The Crunch Shipping Record has far more variables, but is interesting none the less. The CSR is the total annual domestic postage spent mailing multiple batches of homemade Crunch around the country. Variables include number of sons in college, whether any sons were studying abroad (they were out of luck!), my parents' health, shipping container weight, and my general kitchen outlook. We will not discuss the sanity of the person who records these amounts for future reference.

2008--YTD $0.00
2006--$77.50 That's a heckuva lot of Crunch, Dubya!
2001--Data not available, although we all needed the comfort food.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder




I shouldn't be telling you this, as it will soon make my inexpensive Dallas Symphony tickets the most desirable, and costly, show in town. When Jaap Van Zweden is conducting, the Choral Terrace of the Meyerson Symphony Center is the greatest show on earth.

Last Sunday afternoon my Choral Terrace seat was just to the side of the horns and the triangle. It's absolutely fascinating watching Jaap. He's so intense I expected him to transform into a ferocious wolf at the end of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E-minor, Op. 98's first movement and leap into another dimension. The conductor is fX, Mr. Special Effects! He commands the musicians by his force of will, and they love it. Brujo is the word that comes to mind. Shaman isn't strong enough.

Choral Terrace seats behind the orchestra are the backwards upside-down view in most folks' minds. The sound quality is somewhat distorted. We never get to see the front of the solo oboist's backless gown. Instead we get to know which balding musicians opt for the comb-over. Best of all, we get to face the conductor.

To top off Sunday's concert, Van Zweden led the orchestra in an encore of Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5. Shivers went down our arms up there in the cheap seats. We felt like Jaap was giving each of us a personal gift. That big audience out there in the plush seats, tiers, and boxes is seriously misguided and sitting upside-down and backward.

My sons loved Karla Kuskin's picture book, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, for it's magic use of numbers and for Marc Simont's illustrations. It's always a joy to share this book with a new group of students. Sitting behind the musicians, I always wonder how they each got dressed in black and arrived at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Look for this book at your library, or buy a paperback copy. Your kids will want many encore readings.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Finding a voice

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, by Fred Kaplan is on my must-read list. Michiko Kakutani's 11/6 review for the New York Times successfully hooked me. I've got to learn how writing helped the young Lincoln "articulate an identity of his own". In fact, as Mr. Kaplan sees it, language “was the tool by which” Lincoln “explored and defined himself.”

I write to figure out what I think. I don't form opinions quickly or articulate them well in my self-perception. If my middle name wasn't Louise it would be Unsure.

Now I've got to become persuasive. The Dallas Morning News writing workshop told me so. To be persuasive, one has to have an opinion, explore a problem, and offer a solution. I'd feel a lot better if Abe were coming along with me on this journey of four squirrels and seven years.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Pressing issues

Thank heaven I don't have to decide whether or not to bail out Detroit. I don't have to name a Cabinet, choose a pound puppy, or even a White House staff.

I'm busy flattening leaves. The pressure is on. The time available is crunching into the job at hand. That job involves making Thanksgiving feast placemats for the whole school. That's why on this rainy afternoon I parked the Skylark and went galloping through Rustic Park collecting fallen leaves like a demented autumn elf.

Now those fall leaves are layered between phone book pages, stacked, and weighed down beneath Shakespeare's Complete and Art of the 20th Century. I often rant about our needless duplication of phone directories, but today they are just what I need.

It's sad and disgusting that the U.S. auto industry is its current crisis. As a young married couple we bought our first car in 1979. It was a Toyota Corolla. I wish I still had that car! At that time we couldn't afford a Honda Civic.

Detroit wasn't making a car for our budget and needs in 1979. Detroit was pretending Toyota and Honda would disappear if management covered its eyes with its hands. This is egocentric toddler thinking--"I can't see you, so you aren't there." The sad thing is Detroit executives have been playing this preschool game for thirty years. They kept playing instead of uncovering their eyes to see gas price fluctuations and the growing demand for fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles.

Do I want auto industry workers to suffer? Not much. Do I want affiliated industries to gasp and writhe? Only a little. Do I want management to be held accountable for its ostrich outlook? Absolutely.

Since I'm often awake at 2:48 a.m., I spend too much time pondering these pressing issues. My middle-of-the-night feeling is that the auto-making corporations should be cleaved with a big axe. Government bail-out funds should be injected only into those segments that currently create or can be quickly retooled to make highly fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles.

Truth is, my real middle-of-the-night job is making sure leaves are flattening inside the stack of phone books. The outlook for success is realistic!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


The Three Rs...

Relax reading book reviews!

What a lovely day at the library reading nonfiction book reviews from recent issues of the Wall Street Journal--and even getting paid to do it! If I had all the time in the world to read, I would find these books at my library. Not having that luxury, I recommend reading these book reviews. They piqued my curiosity. A well-written book review informs the reader about the subject of the book. It also critiques the author's writing, research, bias, and conclusions. A really excellent review brews the synopsis and evaluation with some spicy writing to make a quick and potent shot of intellectual salsa.

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, by Mark Lindsrom. WSJ review by Andrew Stark. While "neuromarketing" has an Orwellian aspect, it is intriguing to learn how marketers are using MRI brain scans. Those cutesie-wutesie Mini Cooper cars actually trigger the part of our brains that responds to human faces. That's why you want to call Minis "iddle widdle wuzzums".

Lili Marlene, by Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller Norton. WSJ review by Daniel Ford. The review explains briefly how a poet's synthesis of two experiences in WWI impacted troops on both sides during WWII.

Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914, by Philipp Blom. WSJ review by Arthur Herman. It's unlikely I could actually read this book, but I love reviewer Herman's phrase, "the economics of panicky elites," and his hints at parallels to the current financial situation.

Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, by David Wolman. WSJ review by Cullen Murphy. Wonderful eccentrics have tried to reform English spelling over the centuries. Now spell-check, email, and text-messaging are changing our orthography habits for good or evil.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Recipe for a dragon

1 baked potato

1 big S

2 2s

triangles and zigzags

The threes and fours have been drawing dragons this week. The older students worked on analyzing the human figure by drawing knights in armor. We all enjoyed Tomie dePaola's wonderful book,The Knight and the Dragon.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Open the pea pod bay door, Hal

Do cell phones dream of electric sheep?

One of the hazards of teen dating that receives very little press involves the reading habits of guys. A guy asks a girl out, or vice versa. They go bowling. They eat chili dogs. Then they sit in a parked car talking about good books they've read. This is where it gets dangerous. A teen guy may pressure your daughter to read his favorite book because he really likes her. He's done his best to share her enthusiasm about Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "The Over-Soul". Now he wants payback. He wants your daughter to read, gasp, science fiction!

There's the trouble with tribbles, girls! You like a guy. He says he is totally into the Transcendentalists and long walks on the beach. Next thing you know, he's insisting you buy his personal favorite by Philip K. Dick. It's a slippery slope from there. Make sure your cell phone gets a good nights' sleep.

Good Design: For Halloween I received a driinn Mobile Phone Holder. It works great, plus it makes me laugh. The driinn hangs between the battery charger and the wall socket like a futuristic cryogenic futon/cupholder. It is so simple and keeps the cord neat. It is good design!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Fizzies Fountain

Fizzix carbonated Go-Gurt by Yoplait, a General Mills brand, is my new Moriarty. Even with Watson's help, Sherlock Holmes could not open these darn plastic packages without explosive results. Kiddies, can you spell, "Nemesis"?

Fizzix looks just like Plastigoop. Instead of baking it in your Creepy Crawler Thing-Maker by Mattel, you are supposed to eat it. It's Pop Rocks candy with a little bit of dairy calcium! Reminds me of the good old days when I watched middle school students shoot aerosol Cheez Whiz down their throats in the cafeteria.

It's amazing how far 2.25 oz. of yogurt loaded with over three teaspoons of sugar can spray when it is carbonated, frozen, then slowly thawed. And it feels great between your toes for the rest of the day.

Fizzix Go-Gurt is not to be confused with Fizzies, that Sixties carbonated drink made by dropping a flavored tablet into a glass of water. Imagine a cross between Alka-Seltzer and KoolAid. In 1961 my parents won a trip to New York City. They had a grand time visiting F.A.O. Schwartz, and brought back a toy for each of us kids. My gift was a Fizzies Fountain. This play soda fountain was fun for my dad, who had been a soda jerk in Grand Island, Nebraska. Root beer Fizzies were my favorite flavor.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Working for Change

Studs Terkel's Working was my introduction to the philosophy and poetry of labor. My love of oral history was born around Grandma Halma's dining table in Pierce, Nebraska. I wish I'd had a tape reel in the Craig 212 recording more of those family stories. Studs Terkel did record his conversations with ordinary people about life's labors. At NPR.org you can listen to actual cassette recordings of some Terkel interviews for the book.

Studs died in Chicago this week at the age of ninety-six. Danger Baby now lives in Chicago, that brash city of Terkel and Carl Sandburg. I may have to get him a copy of Working for Christmas.

Terkel's book made me realize the meaning of my life would be largely defined by my philosophical relationship with my work. That realization came in the 1975 "Work Project" in Centennial College. UNL's Centennial College was a living-learning community for self-motivated students to choose and design their own individual and group study projects.

Much that I allegedly learned in regular college classes is long lost from my brain. Not so these quotes from Working:

"Jobs are not big enough for people."

"Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit."

Having work that uses our abilities is a blessing. Having a job that respects our efforts is a gift. These words from the Chicago Tribune, 11/1/08:

...Working, a book that welded him [Terkel] to the lives of common people by telling their stories. Even though it was not his first book, it defined his style, his compassion and his talent, all at the same time. No one ever used a tape recorder and a few questions to better effect.

America's next administration must make its educated citizen workforce a priority. The needed "Change" rocking this election campaign should focus on a new frugalitly while realigning employee compensation to ensure that ordinary citizens can provide for the nutrition, health care, and education of their children. Adam Cohen said it far better than I could in his New York Times op-ed on the thirtieth anniversary (5/31/04) of Terkel's Working. His piece ends:

When America begins to pay attention to its unhappy work force — and eventually, it must — "Working" will still provide important insights, with its path-breaking exploration of what Mr. Terkel described as "the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people."

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Día de los Muertos

Styrofoam prints by five year olds.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


If the election were held today...

Preschoolers love to raise their hands. They are unclear on the one child/one vote concept. Preschoolers subscribe to the vote early, vote often theory.

The kids held an election today to select a pretend costume for the class pet rabbit. It was difficult to devise a polling arrangement for fair and accurate voting with this unregistered group. We had several nose-pickers with hanging chads exercising their right to vote. Preschoolers don't wait for a better option very well. To get the foursies vote you want to be high on the ballot!

Nine children chose the fortune teller costume with plastic crystal ball for Norton. All analysts agree ballot position was a large factor here.

Thirteen children voted for the traditional, conservative, tested but unimaginative ghost costume for the bunny.

Four children opted for the Aesop's tortoise costume. These children give me hope for the future of America. Their candidate was not fast, flashy, or magenta sparkly. The kids had to understand a bit of history, philosophy, and humor.

One boy waited to raise his hand for the plastic glasses and fake mustache. This kid knows what he likes. He can be a bit aggravating, but in twenty years I bet he'll be convincing his network of friends and classmates to vote for his candidate.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


The new printer's devil

Took my lucky pen to the persuasive writing workshop at the Dallas Morning News today. So many pointers to record!

Yesterday the kindergarten students made styrofoam prints of their skeleton drawings--black ink on white paper. Bones made a perfect match for their ability and the linear necessities of drawing into Styrofoam. Alas, my choice was made because of my calcium musings and not brilliant teacher insight. Still, success is good!

Don't know when the pen began to leak. The ink on my hands seemed leftover from the printmaking, not fresh during the writing workshop. None of the editorial writers or volunteer contributors mentioned that I had odd, rapidly-multiplying black spots on my face. Maybe they thought I was going to a Halloween party as the bubonic plague, or else they were awfully polite.

This brings to mind the phrase, "printer's devil". A printer's apprentice was always covered in black ink from head to toe, like an art teacher. Wikipedia offers other explanations for the expression.

Looking in the mirror, I wondered what happened to our media-fueled obsession with black mold. Stachybotrys was the asbestos of the mid-Nineties, but when did it last make headlines? This is what the Center for Disease Control currently advises:

What should people to do if they determine they have Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) in their buildings or homes?
Mold growing in homes and buildings, whether it is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) or other molds, indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. This is the first problem that needs to be addressed. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Mold in or under carpets typically requires that the carpets be removed. Once mold starts to grow in insulation or wallboard, the only way to deal with the problem is by removal and replacement. We do not believe that one needs to take any different precautions with Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), than with other molds. In areas where flooding has occurred, prompt drying out of materials and cleaning of walls and other flood-damaged items with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water is necessary to prevent mold growth. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. If a home has been flooded, it also may be contaminated with sewage. (See: After a Hurricane or Flood: Cleanup of Flood Water [external link]) Moldy items should be removed from living areas.

In summary, Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) and other molds may cause health symptoms that are nonspecific. At present there is no test that proves an association between Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) and particular health symptoms. ...

What should persuasive writing students with spotty faces do? The CDC recommends not worrying about it until after trick-or-treating.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Dem bones

My recent bone density scan showed a 9% improvement in my spine, although I'm still in a danger zone for osteoporosis. The improvement over a year and a half was not due to the expensive prescription I couldn't afford and eventually forgot completely. It was partly due to taking calcium supplements. Calcium is inexpensive. Take it!

I mainly credit my role model efforts at preschool lunchtime for my bone density improvement. Every brown bag lunch I make contains a food from the dairy group. Lately I've rediscovered cottage cheese with fresh tomato slices, black pepper, and dill weed. It's simple and delicious.

Been pondering how to sneak some nutrition education into a pre-Halloween art class about dancing skeletons. One group will use styrofoam and draw skeletons for block-printing. The youngest kids will work together to make a skeleton on the longest lunch table with Wikki Stix, then make a crayon rubbing on butcher paper. An older group will take turns posing while classmates draw toothpick/raisin figure drawings. The oldest kids will work together to make a skeleton paper sculpture by folding, cutting and curling paper strips.

DanActive yogurt drink is the popular new kid in the the school lunchroom. DanActive is milk fermented by Lactobacilus casei along with sugar and live yogurt cultures. Students usually bring a 3.3 oz. plastic bottle of DanActive contains 90 calories. DanActive is supposed to reduce cases of pediatric diarrhea and allergies. A bottle contains 10% of the daily value of calcium needed, while containing 17 grams of sugar, or about four teaspoons.

Do kids really need to drink Lactobacilis casei everyday? What's wrong with drinking milk? I'm not a dietician, but I am curious. Please comment if you know the answer.

The lunchbox thermos bottle can be a creepy source of bacteria if not washed properly everyday. That was not my favorite task as a mom doing the dishes after supper. Even if washed carefully, thermos bottles still get a certain odor that taints the flavor of the milk. I can understand parents wanting an easier solution for the daily lunchbox.

Most students bring milk in the form of a Horizon organic single-serve aseptic package, similar to a juicebox. The plain unflavored box (120 calories) has 12 grams of sugar, or about three teaspoons in 8 ounces. The flavored strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla 8 oz. drinks contain between 27 and 31 grams of sugar, or about seven teaspoons, and 180-200 calories. The drinks contain 30% of the daily value of calcium needed.

The bottle of 2% milk in my refrigerator has 12 grams of sugar, or about three teaspoons in a single 8 oz. serving. A serving provides 30% of the necessary calcium daily value, and clicks in at 130 calories.

Other kids bring Silk soy milk in 8.25 oz. aseptic drink boxes. These drinks provide 35% of the daily calcium requirement, and have 16 grams of sugar, about four teaspoons. 130 calories.

Many times in Grimm's tales, a child is sent off with a hunk of bread wrapped in a cloth. The lucky child, or the favored son might also leave home with a chunk of cheese. A kindergarten student was learning about mountains today, and vague recollections of Johanna Spyri's Heidi and Peter sitting with the goats on the mountaintop flitted through my mind. Cheddar cheese contains no sugar, but has a high level of saturated fat. A one-inch cube meets 12.3% of the calcium daily value. I'm thinking chasing goats around in the Alps might negate the saturated fat...

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Older and wiser owls

These lovely owl prints were made by seven and eight year olds. The owl sitting on the utility pole is an original solution. Hawks often perch on a utility pole near the school playground, visible to the students.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Chocolate flights

"Blimp", we might think after a delicious chocolate dessert, while forming the international hand signal for fatter-than-ever-thighs. "Blimp", we don't usually think in creating that delicious chocolate dessert. And so tonight I write about my favorite exhibit at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field.

The museum is a perfectly wonderful hangar salute to shiny airplanes. My sons would have loved it a decade and a half ago. As a MOBO I logged hundreds of hours listening to enthusiastic young males carry on about airplanes, aerial battles, and flight simulation programs. None of it stuck beyond the Cub Scout song about "Junior Birdman"--up in the air upside down!

"Oh, the humanity!" I do know a bit about zeppelins from Indiana Jones, the Hindenburg, and Led. The Frontiers of Flight collection includes a china service from the "Graf Zeppelin." Even better, it has a metal mold for making multiple chocolate zeppelins. Sweet Raiders of the Last Eclair!

Upstairs there's a fashion parade of Pucci-designed Braniff flight attendant uniforms from the Twiggy era. Downstairs, the command module from Apollo 7 invites inspection.

Thanks to the Dallas Opera's Figaro in Flip-Flops educational program for another excellent program. Dr. Stephen Dubberly's lecture about Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers" at the museum last evening had his small audience pumped for the upcoming season.

Instead of a zep mold, I have a Sixties era toy science kit metal mold for a Mercury nosecone. Planning to melt some chocolate in it before adding a Rossini farce froth creme filling.

Up in the air, Junior Birdman
Up in the air upside down
Up in the air, Junior Birdman
Keep your eyes upon the ground

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Three by fives

Whooooo00 inspired this owl art project?

My brittle copy of Garth Williams' Baby Animals, a Little Golden Book, is 1956, c1952. Turning its pages today, I was surprised to find that each illustration resembled one of my students. Williams had a gift for knowing the facial expressions common to both baby animals and little people. The baby animals have such personality and curiosity that this comparison in no way insults my students. If the book was in good enough shape for me to share in class, I know the kids would be as captivated as previous generations.

All the children adore Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson. Thank heaven October comes around every years so adults can read this book to the children they love!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


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