Ruh-ruh-ruh, puh-puh-puh

You might be a pre-K teacher if you tell your coworker you need to ruh-ruh-run to the ruh-ruh-restroom. It's been a busy week in the wacky world of initial word sounds and beginning readers. I think I might have "Sounding-Out Syndrome" or phonicositis.

Not feeling puh-particularly puh-pleased with the painted paper plates for our peacock art project, I felt the need for pretty patterned paper pieces to create royal palace gardens. The students began puh-puh-puhhing along with me. Soon they were drawing a prince and princess on the path from the palace to peer at the peacock. They drew in other peafowl, pear trees, and a pond. Pretty soon we had petunias, pines, palm trees in the garden, and piranhas in the pond.

Wait, wait! Wuh-wuh-one of the things that snags the students is the difference between a letter's name and the sound that letter makes. That's wuh-why a child brings me a W card and says, "duh-duh-duh-double U, wristwatch". Another child brings the F card, and says, "eh-eh-ehfuh, fish", while pointing to a picture of an eh-eh-elephant.

One of my dad's classic tales of a one-room country schoolhouse involves a spelling bee. You know the rhythm and routine of a spelling bee. Say the word. Spell it. Say the word again.

So a nervous country kid steps up to the front of the classroom, stands by the blackboard, and says,

"Fish. B-O-X. Fish."

Sometimes the teacher chuckles and makes herself a note. Other times, she just wants to put her head down on the table right there in all the graham cuh-cracker cuh-crumbs.

I enjoy Tom Bodett on the quiz show panel for NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" This particular peacock picture seems to be leaving the palace nightlight on for him.

Ehfuh-fuh-fuh-fuh can't help but lead to Funiculi, funicula. This was the theme song for the local weekend children's talent show broadcast on black and white KOLN/KGIN tv. Harken, harken, listen to our song! We'll save Annette fuh-fuh-Funicello for another day.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder



Microwave. Measuring spoons. Sink. Sponge. A five year-old student is doing kitchen vocabulary words. He has matched the photo cards with the printed words so far. Then we get to "Schridgerator".

Whoa! No wonder he can't match up the beginning letter sound for "refrigerator" with his unique pronunciation!

I've got problems of my own. All this time I've been expecting Richard Strauss' "Salome" to be Rimsky-Korsakav's "Scheherazade" under my veils of delusion.

Hush. Now I must contemplate the 1001 Dances of the Seven Electric Appliances!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Seven veils of Salome stuck to your shoe

You're interviewing for a job, and realize your fly is unzipped. You're walking down the red carpet at the Academy Awards, and someone yells that you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe. You are trying on bras at Home Depot! Yes, all these are the stuff of nightmares--yours, mine, and my walking buddy's.

An inconsiderate person has moved out of an office near my school and left tons of stuff in and around our dumpster--desks, computers, boxes, printers, holiday popcorn tins, paper, a door... The regular trash bags are piled up on top of all this junk, and the wind is gusting up to forty miles per hour.

The Tuesday garbage truck arrives and empties the dumpster. Somehow one of those continuous-feed multi-form printer paper stacks gets wrapped around one wheel. The paper just keeps unfolding and trailing along behind the garbage truck like toilet paper stuck to a giant's shoe! As the truck lumbers through the neighborhood, the paper flaps and twirls in an impressive dance.

I'm thinking about seductive, nightmarish dances with trailing and twirling diaphanous veils because the Dallas Opera is about to perform Richard Strauss's "Salome". How will the opera be staged? What creative visual interpretations will be imposed on this intense music? I pray it won't be updated to our current time with veils of Bounce, Charmin, duct tape, and printer paper! What would Mr. Whipple do?

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Dude inflections

I love the Bud Light "Dude" ads. The target audience is males 20-30 years old, but the ads resonate with mommies of the target audience. Having lived with three frequently monosyllabic sons, and hosted their friends for so long, I don't speak or necessarily understand their utterances, but I do recognize the language when I hear it.

The ads are like having my guys home for sixty seconds. There must be a perfect guy to roommate "dude" inflection that conveys the concept that your mom called and left a long message on the machine asking you to phone home. Bet it's accompanied by an eye-roll.

One son emailed me the A- Slate ad report card for "Dude". I give the ads an A, as I've personally retained the brand name Bud Light in my faulty menopausal memory banks, AND even purchased some Bud Light to have in the fridge in case a dude comes home.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


When the down escalator is down

Missed the train after the rehearsal this evening. The escalator down from the Park & Ride level to the track was broken. Plus, the elevator was unavailable because repairmen were moving loads of escalator stairsteps down to the track level. By the time I found the stairs and went down the three or four flights, my train was pulling out of the station.

With a half hour to wait, I moseyed over to watch the action at the repair site. I did not say, "Pardon me, boys, is that the broken escalation? Woo-o-woo!" They were very polite and glad to talk about their work, but I didn't want to scare them breaking into a song and dance routine.

An escalator step looks much bigger laying on the sidewalk than it does when you are standing on it. The repair guys told me each step costs five hundred dollars, and they were going to replace fifty steps. That amounted to half the steps on the Mockingbird Station down escalator.

As subway escalators go, Mockingbird Station's is a baby. I've never been down the Wheaton Station escalator on the DC Metro. It descends 230 feet, making it the longest in the Western Hemisphere. DART's longest escalator descends ten stories at the Cityplace Station, and has 213 steps.

Dupont Circle is my favorite Metro escalator. I love riding up into the Circle. Best of all, I love the anticipation of going to the Phillips Collection nearby. An afternoon at the Phillips can't be beat.

Growing up in the Sixties, I watched shopping mommies in pointy-toed/pointy-heeled shoes ride the escalator at Miller and Paine department store standing on their tiptoes so their heels wouldn't get stuck on the steps. In those days one still had the option of telling an elevator operator, "Three please," instead of riding a "heel-catcher".

Millions of kids have probably had escalator nightmares of forgetting to jump off an escalator and being sucked into the netherlands below the floor. Isn't that how Pinocchio ended up in that place where kids were turned into donkeys? My best friend, Janice, had escalatorphobia to the point that we ALWAYS rode the elevator, not just at the downtown department stores, but also at Gateway Mall. To balance that, my Danger Baby had elevatorphobia, so we always rode the escalator or climbed stairs.

Similar shoes are in vogue now, so I asked the repair guys if the escalator broke because obese women in pointy-heel shoes got sucked under the floor to donkey land. No. It's the wheely briefcase carts that get stuck. No, obese white-collar workers don't usually get sucked under to donkey land holding onto their wheely carts. The white-collar workers yank their briefcases free at the bottom of the escalator, damaging the stairsteps. If you see those people, better warn them about the donkey ears.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Technology peachick yelps

This week's art class project was about peacocks, continuing our bird unit. I needed a good, quick introduction to peafowl, which I found in the Plano Library. Colorful Peacocks, by Deborah Underwood, published by Lerner, was an excellent start, and the children retained the information. They especially liked learning the terms for the peafowl family--peacock, peahen, and peachick. Kids are kids, and they will forever like to snicker about bathroom words. The students were also impressed that a peacock grows its tailfeathers and becomes a grown-up at age three. I bet they get possession of the remote control, too.

My little students were born into a completely different technological world than their teachers. We have trouble rewinding the VHS tape about birds using the "universal remote". It's definitely a universe removed for me. If we handed the remote off to our college interns they'd have the video set instantly and tell us we were using an outdated media format.

In 1960 we went on a Colorado vacation and visited the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The strongest memory is of the peacocks hollering "yelp" as we walked among the animal cages. I was amazed that a bird so beautiful could have such an ugly call.

Wanting to share the call of the peacock with the kids, I went Googling. Finding peacock sounds online was easy. Getting one saved and burned on a cd was a struggle. Windows Media Player rejected my burning proposals on grounds of copyrighted materials. My cd player rejected my burnt offerings with no explanation. After an hour of effort, I had one peacock yelp burned on a cd that only played on a computer.

All over the world billions of people are legally and illegally downloading copyrighted music and videos. They do it as easily as I flick a light switch ... or dial the kitchen rotary phone!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Charley Harper's Desert

There we are in 1992 inside La Ventana, the grand stone arch in El Malpais National Monument. Danger Baby is on the left, then me, the Woolly Mammoth, and Mr. Speech and Debate. If ever I was going to post CollageMama's legs online, the 1992 legs are probably the best. Back then I was running 10K races and weighed about 120 pounds. True, I was suffering debilitating insomnia, eating disorders, and panic attacks, and my marriage was beginning to shatter.

Otherwise, it was a great New Mexico vacation! In the visitor center shop, my youngest and I were fascinated by a poster of birds and animals around a desert cactus. Although it would add to the complications of the flight home with three young sons, we had to have the poster.

Charley Harper's poster of desert animals for the National Park Service remains one of our favorite things. Later that summer of '92, the Woolly Mammoth would break his arm, and then start kindergarten. Pretty amazing that the poster is tacked up in his bedroom, three homes and sixteen years later, as he's now a junior in college. More than his brothers, he has chosen and arranged everything in his space, so I know he is still fond of the poster design.

We have an identical Desert poster in our preschool classroom, and it has the same intrigue for the students. They love finding the nocturnal and diurnal animals and naming the birds. I'm amazed to find that the poster is still available through the National Park Service for only nine dollars. Maybe I should order some back-ups for future generations!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Sleepless Walking Down O, P, and Q

More thoughts on moving mental furniture:

By the time I was seven, I was spending lots of mental energy fighting off sleep by visualizing the route from Lincoln to Pierce, Nebraska. I would imagine walking the 120 miles from my house to Grandma's, by way of Seward, Columbus, Madison, Norfolk, and Hadar ("Hello Hadar, See Ya Later!"). I would visualize the Blue Boot shoe store signs and windmills along the two-lane highways just in case I ever had to run away from home, or perhaps be called upon to assume the role of my parents just like Bert Park's description of the duties of Miss America's runner-up.

What are my little preschoolers visualizing to keep from surrendering to a nice afternoon nap? What mental furniture are they rearranging? What routes are they reviewing? Why do they fight so hard against the after-lunch siesta cherished by everyone from college freshman to senior citizen? It's the sort of thing that makes me lose my marbles...

We all have things we fret about to ward off sleep or to retrieve sleep at two a.m. I review the Seven Dwarfs, the Seven Deadly Sins, the strange names of the Goss sisters (Loy, Billy, Vin, Effa Dale, and Alice June), the three members of the superband Cream (I forget Jack Bruce). "The whole nine yards" refers to machine gun ammo. It was Bobby Gentry who sang "Ode to Billy Joe". Igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. The Greek alphabet--pi rho sigma tau upsilon phi chi psi omega won't ya go to sleep!

Yesterday at the post office after writing out the Express Mail and customs forms to mail the camera battery charger to Italy, I couldn't remember the four number PIN for my debit card. Yet I can blurt out the fourteen numbers of my library card with ease.

My dad and I have tried mental strolling down the main street of Pierce from the 1920s through the 1970s. Other times I contemplate the shimmering, revolving Hamm's beer sign with the bear in the canoe I saw walking into the package store in Columbus, Nebraska, that time when the public restrooms in the park along the river were locked. Must have been my first time in a tavern, as I can still see it clearly over forty years later. Maybe 1963... Hamms the beer refreshing...Hamms the beer refreshing...

I've lost the ability to name the counties of Nebraska by their assigned car license plate numbers based on population. Yes, Lancaster was 2, Douglas 1, Sarpy 3, Hall 8, and Platte 10. I've forgotten the rest, even Red Willow County. Colfax? That's something to worry about at two or three a.m.

Some nights I attempt an imaginary 1974 university pub crawl. These sleepless icy sidewalk treks begin at 13th and Q Streets inside the Hong Kong Pizza King, the spiritual home of ham fried rice. They head west to Casey's at about 11th and P with the chili dogs, then across the street to the tavern that had dime draws. What was its name? Across P again past Der Loaf Und Stein, the Greek hangout, which was later transformed into a quiche/french onion soup/spinach salad/fern bar. Then down the alley from 13th to 14th, from O to P to Barrymore's.

Barrymore's was my favorite space. The bar was in the backstage area of the old Stuart Theater. What could be finer than sipping a bourbon sour while staring up into the catwalks? Maybe having a sandwich of cream cheese, walnut, pimentos, and olives on rye?

Back into the icy alley toward 14th and the Zoo Bar. Paying the cover charge for live blues from Chicago. Or maybe a stop at The Watering Hole where the decor was peanut shells and lost car keys nailed on the wooden beams?

Do rabbits contemplate their fortune cookies after lights out? I've been dreaming that Norton, the class rabbit, got loose in the Walgreens where my sons used to work. The bunny would be better off picking up take-out from Hong Kong Pizza King and planning his next escape up Highway 81 through Humphrey and David City.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Losing my marbles

I just wanted some spares to keep in the glove compartment of the Buick. Haven't you ever wanted to rush out to your car in the parking lot when you felt like you were losing your marbles?

No? Then you might not work with children! My test group of teachers all reported experiencing this phenomenom.

It's not easy to find replacement marbles these days, probably thanks to consumer product safety litigation. No one wants a child to choke on an aspirated marble. We don't want anyone [especially middle-aged teachers] to slip on a marble on the floor.

Still, I needed some marbles. Will the world be safer if I can't find any marbles at Toys R Us on a Sunday afternoon? None to be had at Hobby Lobby either. Bet kids are still sticking beans, pencils, and Legos up their nostrils in this brave new marbleless world!

Now I was obsessed. I drove to Hobby Town, the store where my kids bought models, paints, and miniatures for tabletop battle games like Warhammer. Hobby Town only had little bags of serious marbles for players who know the rules--$3.99 for a dozen and a half.

Thank heaven for US Toy/Constructive Playthings new store in Plano. That is where you can still buy a little party favor bag of marbles for seventy cents.

These are the marbles from my childhood, and possibly some considerably older. Should you be nutty enough to wonder about the origin of the expression, "losing one's marbles," I recommend this column by Ian Mayes in The Guardian. Then you can spend your Sunday afternoon wondering if this expression comes from the Elgin marbles, the game of marbles, or movable French mental furniture. I didn't even know the French had mental furniture, but if they do, the rabbits will chew on it.

This is from Wikipedia:

The little boy's mother was off to market. She worried about her boy, who was always up to some mischief. She sternly admonished him, "Be good. Don't get into trouble. Don't eat all the cabbage. Don't spill all the milk. Don't throw stones at the cow. Don't fall down the well." The boy had done all of these things on other market days. Hoping to head off new trouble, she added, "And don't stuff beans up your nose!" This was a new idea for the boy, who promptly tried it out.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Survivor Rose

Hallelujah! My lead teacher has returned from her ski trip, and none of my little students are any the worse for the wear while I was manning the store, holding the fort, zipping the coats, and keeping the home fires burning. Things went amazingly well, and the class continued learning about backyard birds in her absence.

The barbershop quartet from "The Music Man" was playing on my mental cassette even before a sweet parent brought me this rose to help me hang in there! The rose smells fabulous. The song goes:

Lida Rose, I'm home again, Rose
To get the sun back in the sky.

The rose reminds me of my youngest, off in Italy, and without his essential accessory. Yes, my photographer son is a camera battery charger shy. He left it plugged into an outlet when he was here for Christmas. My "survivor rose" reminds me how much I miss the Woolly Mammoth, plus how much I'd like to tell him off for forgetting this important item. I'll be mailing it to him tomorrow, of course. If, and that's a big if, his camera was working, he would take a far better photo of my refreshing and replenishing orange rose than I can.

Lida Rose, I'm home again, Rose
About a thousand kisses shy.
Ding dong ding
I can hear the chapel bell chime.

This image is copyrighted, but the Woolly Mammoth must let his mommy post it OR he won't be getting his charger in the overseas mail!

Now I'll be sniffing a rose and chanting home and om!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


On top of spaghetti

I lost my poor meatsauce when somebody sneezed. It slid off the platter and into the silverware drawer. I'll be running knives, spoons, and forks through the dishwasher forever more.

Thank heaven for Soft Scrub, as it's cutting the tomato and grease combo to get the red stain off the white counter. The sauce splashed everywhere, so I'll be finding reminders for weeks!

It was a sad end to a culinary masterpiece, if I do say so myself. The sauce had ground Italian sausage, fresh cilantro, garlic, celery, zucchini, Roma tomatoes, and mushrooms, all sauteed in olive oil my son brought from Italy, parsley, basil, oregano, and a big can of crushed tomatoes.

This is the way we used to sing this favorite scout song:

On top of spaghetti all covered with cheese.
I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.
It rolled off the table, and onto the floor,
And then my poor meatball rolled right out the door.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


The parsnip stands alone

What would Beatrix Potter do this weekend to mollify the preschool class rabbit? Offer parsley and parsnips? Lettuces and salsify?

Norton only wants to chew on items in my condo that are expressly forbidden. Most of the time he is quite happy sleeping in his cage with his head upon a parsnip. I felt bad about my tough love approach the first night of his visit, so I got a small bag of parsnips at Albertsons. This was a first, as I'm generally afraid of white root vegetables. It's a long story involving creamed turnips and future in-laws, but I'm out of therapy now, and we just won't mention it.

I cut up two parsnips for the ham-bone crockpot soup, and gave one to Norton. Then I went back to hoeing just like Mr. MacGregor. Norton snorted at the parsnip, and went back to flinging hay around his cage. Clearly, he was not placated. I offered him three delicious and nutritious cooked edamame, and he dumped them to the cage bottom newspaper. He'd already made his opinion of fresh green beans known. Nothing was going to do but a carrot, an apple core, and a celery heart, pronto!

Two days later, the parsnip is still vegetabla non grata. My soup was delicious, but Norton still snorts at his veggie. He would rather hide in a watering can than nibble on that parsnip. I haven't asked about his former in-laws since I don't want to search the Yellow Pages for a rabbit psychologist.

My young sons and I loved listening to cassette tapes of Bunnicula stories on long car rides. James and Deborah Howe's stories of the vampire rabbit presumed to suck the juice out of vegetables would have us laughing so hard our seatbelts hurt. The Celery Stalks At Midnight is one of my all-time favorite book titles.

Just as an aside, I was sad to read the obituary for Suzanne Pleshette this weekend. It seems completely plausible that her Emily Hartley would give Bob Newhart her support and sardonic advice for dealing with Norton's parsniphobia. Suzanne Pleshette ranks second to Barbara Feldon for favorite voices.

Montessori mat work observation

In a Montessori classroom students choose the work they will do, then prepare a space on a rug or table mat before retrieving the materials for the work. If the student has already had a lesson on the work, he/she is able to proceed. If not, the student waits for a lesson with the teacher before beginning the work.

This orderly process is one of the things that attracted me to my current job in the preschool classroom. It is a lesson I often need myself. For instance, today I am fiddling around the condo instead of

  • choosing to pay bills
  • preparing a table for that task
  • getting the checkbook, pen, box-o-bills, stamps, and household ledger
  • sitting myself down and doing the work!

Like many of the preschoolers, I would rather visit the US Postal Service website to find out about my new Jimmy Stewart and Jury Duty stamps, edit photos in Photoshop, or go with my walking buddy to Bath & Body Works at the mall (even though I'm not a fruity fragrant lotion cult member).

I'm so impressed that Norton, the class rabbit has been spreading his table mat before beginning new work this weekend. I haven't had to suggest work for Norton, although I have needed to redirect his attention when he wandered off to nibble on baskets and slipcovers.

"Observing One Child" notes from Montessori For Everyone:

• Is the child able to choose work independently? If not, who suggests the work, the teacher or another child?

• Do they get work out in the correct order - rug or table mat first, then the materials? Are the materials used for their correct purpose? Was the work complete, or did the child need to get materials from another area of the room?

It's a rainy day. It would be so much more fun to watch Jimmy Stewart in "Harvey" than to pay those bills! I think Norton would enjoy it, don't you?

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


"I got my mind right, Boss"

Norton, the class rabbit, was annoyed. His owner went skiing without him. He let us know his disapproval with the situation early in the morning by attacking his hay box with pro wrestling flair. The children loved the display as Norton flipped the cardboard box around his cage, bit it, tore it apart, tackled it, and held it down for the count. Maybe he should run for governor!

Norton let me know I forgot his apple core and romaine heart, and was not impressed with my story of taking my son to the DART station before work. He jumped up onto flower pots fifteen inches tall to bite the plants, and tested every opportunity to escape the room. The children were delighted with the rabbit rodeo.

Norton climbed all over one teaching assistant, and piddled on another. At the end of the day he sulked and snorted half in and half out of his pet carrier before the ride in the Buick.

I was sorry to do it, but this rabbit needed to spend a night in the box, Cool Hand Luke style, to get his mind right. He snorted at the carrot, green bean, and lettuce amenities I provided, but eventually sneak-ate the carrot and lettuce. Still grumpy, he shoved the green bean around his cage like a preschooler with a plate of brussel sprouts. I gave him a ragged old placemat, and he did a fine matador imitation with it. That seemed to wear him out, so we both hit the hay.

This morning Norton seems to have accepted the situation. He came out of his cage to inspect the living room, but did not venture into the kitchen. I think he got his mind right, but he may just be biding his time till he can escape to grin his Paul Newman grin.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Feels like painting in oils

This stitching project feels the most like painting yet. I'm playing with layers of opacity and translucency, with line and shapes. My goal is a backlit view of a gourd vine on a fence with a majestic orb spider and web among the browning leaves.

The colors are the earth pigments Richard Trickey listed for our Oil Painting 201 palette in the drafty Richards Hall classroom: raw umber, burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and ultramarine blue. Colors of rich compost, primordial stew, and fossil fuel meet mixtures of turp and linseed oil...

The design uses positive and negative collage concepts from Gail Butt's Drawing, Composition, and Watercolor classes. How many times do I contemplate his definition of drawing as "linear, monochromatic, or incomplete"? Whether I cook, write, or stitch, I think of his color lecture about "delicate, rich, or bold".

The process of stitching is my on-going internal discussion with James Eisentrager about saving and discarding parts of a painting. Eisentrager particularly warned about avoiding "the precious save" of the favorite section when it impairs the development of the whole form. In my mind he sits at that gray university desk in his smoky office patiently opening my mind to large decisive areas of creamy cake frosting or clear broth, instead of a picture full of anxious narrow strokes (or stitches).

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Birds, Squirrels, and God's Little Lice

What to name the two groups of children for preschool art class? A new semester means shuffling the groups as a few kids moved up to elementary class, and we have some new students. Because most of the children aren't readers, we post a symbol for each group with photos of the students in that group.

Last semester we had the Color Wheel Group and the Baked Potato Group. That's because everybody can draw a potato. Even the preschoolers who say, "I can't...," or, "it's too hard," agree that a potato is easy to draw.

When you break things down to the simplest part, the baked potato, drawing gets easier. That's my philosophy of life--find the baked potato, then take the decisions as butter or sour cream instead of life and death. It's warm, satisfying, simple, and sure takes away fear of failure.

Now it is time for new groups and symbols. Shirts and Skins won't do! Neither will Curly Fries and Hash Browns.

My dad told a memorable tale of his Pierce Congregational Sunday School class back in the late-1920s. His group was named "God's Little Lights" as opposed to "God's Little Lambs". Of course, the kids referred to themselves as "God's Little Lice". This story was recalled when the first President Bush used the slogan, "a thousand points of light." Now I remember "God's Little Lice" every time we have a case of head lice at school.

"Head lice" are two words teachers dread even more than "pink eye". Head lice are equal opportunity vermin, and no school is spared. By the time every child's scalp is inspected, most teachers feel itchy all over! I've been having waves of psychosomatic itchiness at a thousand points of lice for several days now. Oh, the power of suggestion!

No, no, no. We can't name the art groups The Head Lice and The Pink Eyes! That will never do. How about calling them the Birds and the Squirrels?

And so, I have out my copy of Everyday Doings At Home this evening, looking at Mother, Bobby, and Bettie Squirrel. My schoolteacher great-auntie Em used this book to teach courtesy on weekdays to the same kids who were "God's Little Lice" on Sundays. Kids haven't changed all that much in the past eighty years. I bet Auntie Em had her occasional thousand points of itchiness, too!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Nancy Lou and the East German judge

Talk about Olympic pressure! I did fine on the compulsories in the Albertson's self-checkout: carton of OJ beep; Ragu beep/bag; can of beans beep/bag; Rotel beep; bag of little carrots beep; bag-o-frozen-tilapia beep; dishwasher detergent beep/bag.

Just when I started my free-style performance of the choreographed items with their much higher degree of difficulty, the East German judge showed up behind me in line. He announced is disgust with my technique with loud "hvrumvphs" and steroid-packed sneers. I could do nothing to please him.

The roma tomatoes lacked a sticker so I had to Look Up Item. I stuck the birthday card into my purse, which set off demands from the checkout machine to bag the item. The plastic bags developed static cling and refused to open. The beer required store approval, and the attendant was off somewhere in la-la land and slow to key in the code. My purse bumped the machine, setting off the Unexpected Item In Bagging Area complaints, and then my debit card wasn't scanning right. That must be the grocery store equivalent of failing to stick the dismount. From the corner of my eye it was obvious the judge was marking down my scores and bristling with Cold War animosity. One more "hvrumvph" and I might have Tonya Hardinged the guy with my balky grocery cart.

Stick: To stick a landing is to land, and remain standing without requiring a step. A proper stick position is with legs bent, shoulders above hips, arms forward. Sticking consistantly takes regular practice. http://www.drillsandskills.com/definitions

Sticking a landing with two full grocery bags in each hand consistently takes nerves of steel. Now there's a reality show for the writers' strike! "Where are they now?'' Vote for your favorite Olympic skaters and gymnasts as they duke it out for charity dollars in the Albertson's

Check-Out With The Stars:

Mary Lou Retton

Michelle Kwan

Dorothy Hamill

Nancy Kerrigan

Olga Korbut

Nadia Com─âneci

Peggy Fleming

Jayne Torvill

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Cupholder Bamboo

For Christmas I received a "lucky bamboo" cutting. The giver explained that its three stalks would bring happiness. I missed the whole feng shi phenomenon, oblivious to the language of the stalks:

Three stalks for happiness; five stalks for wealth; six stalks for health. Four stalks, however, are always avoided since the word "four" in Chinese sounds too similar to the Chinese word for "death"!

It sounds a lot like the language of the sidewalk that I learned in kindergarten:

Two's company; three's a crowd; four on the sidewalk is never allowed.

I had a lot more to learn about my lucky bamboo. Interesting to find it isn't bamboo at all, but Dracaena, "a resilient member of the lily family that grows in the dark, tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and Africa." Sounded just like the upstairs of my condo when my sons were home taking multiple showers and heaping stuff all over the bedroom floors.

Now it's more of a desert up there, so I brought the bamboo back downstairs. I wouldn't want it to be lonely, just sitting up there plotting some sort of curse.

What I really need is a bamboo that brings luck to my Buick. How many stalks should I plant in the cupholder?


My Seussian Printer

This one, I think, is called a Yink. I've had so many printers over the past two decades, and they all drink ink. My Canon iP3500 prefers pink ink.

True, it could be I've demanded much of my magenta cartridge. I prefer to imagine one of the creatures from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is slurping all the ink.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

J p O x

Looks like I fell asleep with my head on the keyboard, but it was actually a very successful drawing project for the preschool and elementary students. Driving home at six o'clock Monday, I was admiring the winter sunset of dusty lavendars, pinks, and smoky blues. Against that background the traffic lights were glowing red or green. At each stop the birds were coming to roost on the telephone wires. They were twittering in such a loud, large chorus as to overpower my car radio. It was so loud I couldn't even think.

Ah. Those moments when we can't even think are often the best for receiving inspirations. Arriving home, I checked my favorite blogs. Randel Plowman had posted this collage of band-aids and telephone wires:

I check Plowman's A Collage A Day blog for visual refueling several times a week.

No time to take photos of birds on the wires above the Walgreens parking lot across the way, and nothing right in my files, so I had to search online to prepare for my class. When I showed the students a photo, they clamored, "I've been there! I've been there!" Probably not, since it came from Britain. It's a copyrighted photo, so I won't put it in the blog, but if you follow the link and click through the slideshow you'll probably say, "I've been there," too. Birds crowd a crisscross of power lines in this bane of any urban business owners with lighted parking lots. The birds are loud and frequently messy, but they are NATURE to a child riding in a safety carseat and looking out the SUV window.

My goal is to help children become noticers and observers of their environment, as much as it is to draw or mix paints. It's nice to study meerkats and marsupials, but kids need a connection to the nature right here at home. If I can get them to notice starlings and grackles crowding onto a telephone wire, maybe they will catch sight of a cardinal on a bare branch some cold morning, or a mockingbird singing atop a chimney. If they look up they may feel privileged to see the aerobatic ballet of a scissortailed flycatcher or pause to note the red-tailed hawk surveying her world from the top of a power pole:

Much of the art project was a directed drawing, meaning that I drew samples to be copied. We were drawing birds on a wire, but using letters to begin our birds. Directed drawings help kids feel competent and confident to get started on a picture. I always build in opportunities for students' own creative additions.

J is for making jays and other birds with crests.

p is for birds who perch like the class parakeets.

O is for sleepy birds with their feathers all puffed up against the cold.

x is for a grumpy purple martin who doesn't want to be crowded.

[Is this one an opera libretto or a Looney Tune?]

We made our telephone wires by drawing a line across a sheet of colored letter-size paper, then cutting along the line. I still remember the awe I felt the first time I was shown how to slide the cut pieces apart to create a line against a black background paper. Right now I'm looking out my window at three power lines glowing flamingo pink in the late sunshine against a pale blue sky. To me the blue sky paper must have been cut and slid to let the pink paper show! You can imagine how I perceive jet contrails.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


SALT Talks After New Years

"You guys are fat!," I told my feet. "You, too, fingers! It's time to cut out the salt. You can't go around looking like grubworms, eating chips and salsa at all hours of the day and night!"

It was a darn good pep talk. I could give it in a locker room at SMU for the salary June Jones accepted to rebuild the Mustang football team. I like June Jones and his UHawaii style of football. Having Mike Leach and June Jones both in the Lone Star State could be interesting.

News broadcasts in the late Sixties droned on and on about the SALT Talks. Water retention was not the topic. Seems like much of the time I was unsure of the topic! You take the quiz--to a kid, these were mysterious entities:

U Thant
Cold War
Iodized salt
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
Assistant DA
Big 8
Top 40
Gaza Strip
Sack the QB
Zip Code
When it rains it pours

Tonight I'm puzzling about the tiny plates in the set of Bavarian china. Six of the eight are in good shape. As best I can remember, these little plates are for salt. They are smaller than the bread and butter plates. Maybe I am confusing them with cut glass salt cellars. My searching for table setting information hasn't yielded any clarification, iodized or otherwise. I feel like a Miller and Paine Charm School failure!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder



Should auld Plymouth automobiles be forgot and never brought to mind? In the nostalgic moments of a New Year's Eve I recall with exaggerated fondness the '61 Sport Fury of my college years. In a bitter winter in the early Seventies I learned that eating the citrus fruits floating in a rum punch was a bad idea. We won't dwell on that now, but my son hosted a fairly impromptu party for college friends at the condo.

In between the whirr of making margaritas in my blender and shuffling cards, I caught the sound of "Volare"! This was not Jerry Vale or Petula Clark singing the Italian ballad. It was not Sergio Franchi singing the jingle for the Plymouth Volare of the mid-Seventies. This was the Gipsy Kings on an iPod.

For auto lang syne, my dear,
for old Plymouth lang syne,
we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet, and a quart of oil
for auto lang syne.
To fly, Oh!, Oh!,
To sing, Oh!, Oh!, Oh!, Oh!
In the blue of your blue eyes
Happy to be there.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

The weather outside is frightful

Capris in January unsightful.

Inside the night is fitful

Might have to turn on the air conditioner

and let it blow, let it blow, let it blow.

Okay, it's a bad rhyme, and unsightly, too. It's been HOT here, for winter, and the condo has heated up to 77 degrees. It's been very windy, too, blowing all sorts of sneeze-makers around with the old leaves, so the windows have to stay closed. Makes for bad nights' sleep, what with those nightmares of walruses in capri pants and crop tops. And then the trouble falling back to sleep worrying about the plural of walrus. I had to chant this little mantra, "Walri don't shave legs, walri don't shave legs..."

Inflected Form(s): plural walrus or wal·rus·es
Etymology: Dutch, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Danish & Norwegian hvalros walrus, Old Norse rosmhvalr

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder



An excuse to rise so very early, I love driving to the airport for the first flight out. It's nice to be going, myself, but better to be taking someone. Someone special I love enough to jump out from the warm covers without hitting the snooze though it is pitch black. Start the coffee, quick shower. Listen for the awakening and groans of the traveler who reveled to the last moment with old friends, the clunking of the suitcase down the stairs.

Wait for the light at the corner. Vacant intersection. No one driving through McDonalds yet. No one at Sonic for the breakfast burrito combo with tater tots. Two cars in the Albertsons parking lot.

Will there be time? There will for a bagel after baggage check-in and security and cream cheese. Did you print out the boarding pass? Pack the phone charger? I only worry because I love you.

Dusty pink neon halos in the darkness. The tollway welcomes with widespread on-ramps. Flash through the toll plaza two left lanes toll tag only. The moon amazes.

Skating. So effortless just like a favorite dream. Floating through the darkness, hanging weightless on the interchange bridges, overlooking the whole world. Travel time to I35 at 5:55 is estimated at 5 minutes on the big computerized sign.

Chilly. Spare. So hard to say I love you please be careful. Sip scalding coffee from the travel mug and comment on the radio news. Planes approach through a grainy charcoal/lilac/faded denim sky. More taillights now.

Past the big shopping mall. Warehouse's open doors looking clear through. Office windows reflect rows of beautiful sunrise eyes.

Flat. Land spreading out a vast linen tablecloth. Remote parking lots for plates. Control tower goblets. Jets parked like silver chafing dishes. Anticipation the first bite after the amen, the first pitch after the national anthem.

Going. To. Away. Or back. Arriving at Departures lower level. Wheely luggage and escalators. But first a big hug for your old mommy. Quick. Unloading only no parking or standing.

Pride Love Relief Grief cloud my view of the signage for the exit looping around the terminals as the tarmac gets rosy, silver, Delft blue, and wool dress slacks black. A thin band of gold around the rim.

Heading home I can breathe now. Red-tailed hawks perch on highway lights over I635. Peering down regal. Self-contained.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Napkin ring cycle

No, it's not a sci fi/fantasy trilogy. Don't even sing, "Lord not thrice for the napkin ring!" When you look at the spelling too often, it seems unlikely that it could even be a real word outside of the land of cold trolls, lemmings, and hobbits:


napkin ring

Cloth napkins are environmentally-friendly no-waste lunchbox items. Unfortunately, my ex got custody of all the napkin rings in the divorce, speaking of your scary sci fi guys! I'm pretty sure Wagner wrote an early opera with this plot.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

And Eve said, "Let there be coasters."

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the remote control.
And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept on the comfy couch with the television droning on and on about the BCS, and his cold drink leaving water marks on the coffee table.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

The Aunties Roadshow

The guys looked with fear at the table set for them on Christmas Day. Their mom had gotten out The China. The younger two weren't sure if they'd ever even seen it before. Were they going to get stuck washing it all by hand????

The Bavarian china belonged to my great aunts in Pierce, Nebraska. Ada and Emma were spinsters, and I thank the Online Etymology Dictionary for its explanation of that term:

1362, "female spinner of thread," from M.E. spinnen (see spin) + -stere, feminine suffix. Spinning commonly done by unmarried women, hence the word came to denote "an unmarried woman" in legal documents from 1600s to early 1900s, and by 1719 was being used generically for "woman still unmarried and beyond the usual age for it."

I'm not aware of the Aunties spinning, but they certainly sewed, knitted, and quilted. Ada was a milliner, and Emma was a school teacher. Their mother was a quilter and seamstress. But now back to the china track.

Maybe families get out the old china on holidays to inspire full tummy rambles through knee-high dusty oral history and geneology. The Bavarian china had that effect, reminding me in the telling what a thin thread connects my sons to these strong women who influenced my life.

The Bavarian china is a cold white, more skim milk than cream. It is devoid of pattern or embellishment. As one son commented, it is "so modern." Although most, and maybe all, of it predates the Great Depression, its simplicity makes it timeless.

Some of the serving pieces have a handle shape that suggests Art Deco. A few others have rounded handles that are almost post-WWII Good Design. We don't know the dates, but it seems like the Aunties acquired the china in three phases.

My sons all know much more about identifying china than their mom. They've grown up in the "Antiques Roadshow" era. After dinner they would rather Google the porcelain maker's mark on the china than wash it!

My oldest determined that H&Co. under the crown was the mark of Heinrichs & Co. of Selb, Bavaria, Germany, a city now on the border with the Czech Republic. Founded in 1896, the company may still be producing china under the name Heinrich Porzellan, a subsidiary of Villeray & Buch. My china is not marked in red with an additional name of a department store. What I consider the later serving pieces are marked with the additional word, "Electra".

Some of the china was packed for about three decades in a foam that had deteriorated and adhered. After testing a few of the minor pieces in my dishwasher with the heated dry turned OFF, I scrub-brushed and sent most of the china through the dishwasher. No problem, but I wouldn't risk heated drying or microwaving!

My New Year's resolution is to unpack the china and the family stories at least once in 2008.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Rocky's Pancake Ranch

Not all that long ago, just forty-five or six years, our favorite Sunday morning restaurant in Lincoln was Rocky's Pancake Ranch on North 48th Street. In the Sixties dining out for any meal was reserved for special occasions. What a contrast to now when a sit-down meal at home is reserved for special occasions in many families.

Rocky's wasn't fancy, but it had "Fabulous Flapjacks", darn good golden brown waffles, three or four syrup flavors, and coffee for a dime. The cowboy decor appealed to my little brother, but the cast iron spurs on the hanging light chandeliers made me nervous. Growing up in an age of falling cartoon anvils and pianos, I worried about sharp spurs crashing down from above.

My walking buddy's retired dad is worrying about iguanas falling out of the trees during Florida's cold snap. I just hope the iguanas don't land in the syrup.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Cuff Shooting Gallery

My oldest needed dress clothes for work this Christmas, so a concerted effort was made by all gift-givers to get him items he can really use. My Mr. Speech and Debate has never been very interested in attire, partly because it is so difficult to don apparel while holding an open book. His dad and stepmom got him a sport coat and shoes. His brother, Danger Baby, and I took him shopping for khakis, a pair of wool slacks, a dress shirt, and socks at Jos. A. Bank. His Woolly Mammoth brother brought him a handsome neck scarf from Italy for Ohio's winter weather.

On his last day in Texas, Speech and Debate dressed up in his new duds for his flight. He struck poses for the camera, clearly enjoying himself. As I look at my photos*, I see the only thing forgotten was "shooting his cuffs". His shirt cuffs need to project a bit beyond his coat cuffs.

What a strange expression, "shooting his cuffs"! When we see it in print, we understand the meaning. Unlike "shooting oneself in the foot," or "shooting off your mouth," it doesn't involve ammunition. It's closer to "shooting the rapids", sending a whitewater raft full of cuff through the narrow canyon chute of the suitcoat sleeve.

Wisegeek.com explains cuff-shooting is "the male preening gesture that aligns jacket sleeves and shirt sleeves". Not being a guy, I can't pretend to accomplish this action, but it must make the arms and shoulders more comfortable. Nothing feels worse than having a sweater blobbed up at my elbow inside my winter coat.

Answers.com has help for the guy who doesn't have the moves of, say, Robert Redford, Sean Connery, or George Clooney:

One who is unable to throw his wrists gracefully may try another way to shoot cuffs: with the thumb and forefinger of one hand pull sharply on the sleeve of the other arm, to expose the cuff, and then switch hands and repeat.

The idiom also conveys a dandy suddenly showing off an unnecessary amount of cuff or a flashy cufflink.

About 1963 my brother received a "shooting gallery" for Christmas. It was a cardboard replica of the carnival midway game, intended for kiddie pop-guns. During cold winters we played in the basement, galloping around on stick horses, taking target practice, and writing on slates in the schoolmarm's classroom. Upstairs, we built with LEGO bricks. I don't think we ever made a LEGO shooting gallery, though. I'm trying to imagine a LEGO casino with guys shooting their cuffs and setting up the big Sting!

*My kids let me blog as long as I don't post their photos or otherwise blow their covers as 007 operatives.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Band-Aid Aisle

Wok with me to the Walgreens bandage aisle. It's a complicated place with far more choices than necessary. There are so many options that your wound will very likely be invaded by a staph infection before you can find the right sort of Band-Aid.

I had too many things on my mind the evening I poured the frozen broccoli into the wok's heated oil. We all know that is a no-no, and I'm sure my seventh grade home ec teacher, Mrs. Starr, is shaking her finger at me right now. Well, duh, the ice and oil exploded, giving me an ugly burn on my pinkie finger and wrist. Now that it has healed, I can share both my stupid moment and my amazement about bandage varieties.

For over a decade my minivan glove compartment contained a box of 1990 lime green Ninja Turtle bandages. One Ninja Turtle bandage remained in the zippered inside pouch of my purse until I had a son in grad school. After 1990, my sons had matured, if that's the word, with far fewer small Band-Aid-able kiss-to-make-it-better scrapes. They advanced to occasional major injuries requiring casts, crutches, x-rays, and collarbone contraptions

In my own preschool years I wore many Band-Aids on my knees. My favorites were shiny bandages in solid green, yellow, blue, and red. My parents called them "battle ribbons". Been Googling in search of those circa 1957 vintage bandages without success. Think they must predate both the Band-Aid "Stars and Strips", and the Curad "Battle Ribbon" tins. I've appreciated the unofficial online Band-Aid history museum and the Johnson & Johnson and Band-Aid websites.

Large antibiotic Band-Aids don't stick very well. I needed them because my wrist was irritated by sleeves and mousepads. Eventually, my wrist was irritated by the adhesive of those Band-Aids, too.

Tapered finger Band-Aids are a useful invention. The shape allows for wrapping around bends and knuckles. They are a useful addition to the home medicine cabinet.

I was really torn trying to project a boring, grown-up facade after my painful mistake. What I really wanted to sport were the Walgreens brand Crayon adhesive strips that reminded me of those old "battle ribbons" of my childhood. No Ninja Turtles from the glove compartment for me.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Look For the Silver Lining

My hat is off to Jerome Kern, who wrote this song for the musical "Sally" in 1929:

Look for the silver lining
When e'er a cloud appears in the blue.
Remember somewhere the sun is shining,
And so the right thing to do,
Is make it shine for you.

A heart, full of joy and gladness,
Will always banish sadness and strife.
So always look for the silver lining,
And try to find the sunny side of life.

My current stitchery project includes a piece of shiny gray lining fabric, so I can't help but hear Andy Williams or Judy Garland singing Kern's song about the silver lining.

Perhaps the first time I made the big journey to Omaha as a child, we dined in the fancy Silver Lining restaurant at the Omaha Municipal Airport. In that era of sophisticated airline travel one was more likely to dine on scallops or steak than McMuffins while watching planes take off and land.

Jumping ahead twenty years, my optimistic sister-in-law had a fabulous gift for mangling idioms. To her, "every hat had a silver lining." Guess my glass was half-empty on those frigid Nebraska nights, as I paraphrased, "every hat gives me static hair cling."

Every cloud has a silver lining
A poetic sentiment that even the gloomiest outlook contains some hopeful or consoling aspect. Cf. [1634 Milton Comus I. 93] Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night?

‘Every cloud’, says the proverb, ‘has a silver lining.’[1869 P. T. Barnum Struggles & Triumphs 406]

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

George MacDonald Fraser, 1925-2008

I toast today to the author who made an evening curled up reading historical footnotes exciting, George MacDonald Fraser. Opening a Flashman historical novel was one of my favorite literary treats, and I'm sad that I can no longer anticipate Fraser's next fictional packet of Flashie's memoirs. I learned more history in the details of Flashman's swashbuckling adventures than I did in any college course, and had vastly more fun doing it.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Packaging mystery

Home from sock-shopping at Target with a new mystery. Why does my nine-pack bag of crew socks have a ziplock resealable top? So I can preserve freshness?

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Christmas stocking

When I sat on Santa's lap I should have told him I wanted socks for Christmas. In the week since Christmas all my blue and black socks have been performing synchronized disintegration.

How do they coordinate the appearance of their heel holes? Is it the same secret signalling system that lightbulbs use to arrange their mass burn-outs? Is there music inaudible to human ears so they can count the beats, hold that ballet leg, take one last big breath, and go into that grand finale back dolphin?

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...