Like worms through the collander

...so are the Days of Our Lives.*

Removing composted dirt from the worm bin for the first time late this afternoon, I couldn't help thinking about the polygamist ranch mess that keeps growing. On my commute home I'd heard the NPR "All Things Considered" story about the FLDS children and teen mothers now in foster care. In the drive-through bank lane I listened to the problems in store for school districts receiving the FLDS children as new students.
I'm just moving dirt out of the worm bin because it is so full, and because it was the sort of day that leaves a teacher unable to do anything more challenging than picking earthworms out of dirt. My method for taking dirt from the worms is primitive and inefficient, and quite satisfying. I'll put the wormless vermicompost in the container plants out on the patio.
Worms don't like light, so I opened the bin and set it under a bright light. I scooped some of the vermicompost into a collander, and set that on top of the worm bin. I pulled out the large materials that had not yet decomposed to put back into the bin. I plucked out all the worms I could catch without effort, and set them back into the bin. Then I watched the rest of the worms wiggle down through the collander holes to get back to the shadows again.
A tired teacher separating dirt from worms in a contained tub environment after a long day is a fairly low-keyed, spontaneous event with minimal impact. Law enforcement officials going into a religious cult compound to remove over four hundred minors based on an anonymous phone call need to have better plans in place.
I can't draw too fine an analogy here, but I did try to do no harm to my worms. Could the Texas officials have considered taking the dirt from the worms, instead of the worms from the dirt?

*I admit I used to watch the afternoon soaps back when Macdonald Carey was still alive.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Worming Its Way Into Snack?

Fresh vegetables were a tiny fraction of our diet back in Lincoln in the early Sixties. Except for carrot sticks and corn-on-the-cob, I thought the Jolly Green Giant and Del Monte put all veggies into tin cans. I willingly ate canned green beans, wax beans, niblets, cream-style corn, sauerkraut, and diced beets. Under duress I ate the minimum amount of canned peas. Sometimes Fritzi would serve canned lima beans or butter beans. Those were always suppers that led prematurely to bedtime. At Christmas and Thanksgiving we ate fresh celery sticks.

Nearly all my little students eat a wide range of fresh vegetables on a regular basis. Lunchboxes often hold sliced peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, edamame, broccoli, cauliflower, bean sprouts, sugar snap peas, and jicama.

In the upper elementary grades after 1964, I learned to eat chopped iceberg lettuce with Kraft Italian salad dressing, stewed tomatoes, and canned spinach with lemon or vinegar. It was high school before I ate baked squash. In college I pushed the limits trying fresh spinach, asparagus and mushrooms in some quiche/crepe fern-decor restaurant downtown. It was a wild and crazy time!

Sometime after I got married, but before I had kids I encountered eggplant and avocado. The charms of eggplant still escape me.

Tomorrow will be a challenge. My little students harvested the garden broccoli heads today. I've expended much attention removing the green caterpillars known as Imported Cabbage Worms from the broccoli plants over the past few weeks. The caterpillars are fiendishly camouflaged. When the broccoli florets are served with a dip of Ranch dressing, I will want to holler to the caterpillars, "I know you're in there! Come out with your hands up!"

Barbara Damrosch writing in the Washington Post, 7/5/07, calls those green larvae of the cabbage butterfly, "unintended garnish" and says they are harmless if accidentally consumed:

The green worms hide so well in the broccoli heads that you rarely see them until they are cooked, at which point they turn a conspicuous, incriminating white .... But there will always be a moment when you've just served an honored visitor a beautiful plate of homegrown broccoli and there's that little extra ingredient. Proper etiquette requires a guest to move it inconspicuously to the side of the plate and exclaim "Good protein!" if caught in the act .... Soaking produce in a sink full of salt water before cooking will send most worms flocking to the bottom.

Fritzi told me over the phone long distance that a salt water soak brought all the little creepies crawling out of a broccoli head. I can't recall why she actually began to use fresh broccoli in her kitchen. I was already married and living in Omaha, but we still had to live through Reaganomics before the first President Bush would proclaim his dislike of broccoli. By then my dad had decreed that he would not eat any salad that didn't have at least two ingredients besides the iceberg lettuce. That would be not counting the cabbage butterfly larvae.

"I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." George Bush, U.S. President (1990)

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Chinaberry tree

Out of the corner of my eye I realized something was going on in the chinaberry tree behind my patio. Turned my head to see the tree full of cedar waxwings munching on the berries. Where was my camera?

Just the motion of my head set the birds flying off to the north with the wonderful moment uncaptured. Fifteen minutes later the tree was again flocked with cedar waxwings, but my photo isn't great.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website calls the cedar waxwing, "one of the most frugivorous birds in North America." What a great word! Fru·giv·o·rous--aren't you just dying to use it in a sentence??? Don't you just have the shivers!?? The first preschooler to eat all her grapes at lunch tomorrow is in for a treat!

Feeding on fruit; fruit-eating.
[Latin frx, frg-, fruit + -vorous.]

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

When patios talk

Speech bubble

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Progress report time again

Digital cameras are a terrific tool for teachers. We use them to create classroom materials, to record special moments, and to communicate with parents. Unlike film cameras, there is little expense beyond the camera itself, and images can be available for use within minutes. Images can be stored as long as needed.

This is the first time I've had access to a large photo file of student art when it was time to write semester progress reports. Without the physical space to store portfolios, it can be tricky recalling a student's success on various projects. To young children it's important to be able to take their art home to their parents. This time I've been able to store the images without storing the art. We use a scanner to record some artworks. Many are too large, or are three-dimensional, so the camera is better.

Progress reports still take time, but I like having this new tool to improve them.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Who's that trippy tromping?

Little Billy

Having determined that three sizes of gruff, neck-puffing anoles are traveling across my fence, I began to wonder if I could get them to go across a bridge. This will be a very unscientific experiment, but it could provide some entertainment, and the price was right.

Over the years, many friends, relatives, and parents of students have donated wine corks for use in art class construction, collage, and print-making projects. I have a small bushel basketful at the moment, so I wired up this swinging bridge.

No Troll So Far

No lizards yet, as it is a rainy morning. My only fence visitors are two clueless mourning doves waddling along the top rail. They seem to be saying, "The sky is going to fall; we must go and tell the President," but that is a different story.

I will have to wait for a sunny afternoon to give a lizard bridge traffic report.

Big Billy

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Wendy, Michael, John!

This cabbage butterfly flits about the broccoli leaves in her layered chiffon dance costume looking ever so much like one of Dracula's undead wives in the recent Texas Ballet Theater production at Bass Hall in Fort Worth. So delicate, beautiful, and evil, and ready to suck the life out of our spring garden. Fiendish...

Sitting in the box at the Bass, I turned around and whacked the nearly-snoring males of our party on their knees with my rolled-up program. Wake up, you village oafs, youths, and innkeepers! The undead wives are flying!!! D'that ever happen at your crypt?

"Flying by Foy," I learn, is the industry standard for theatrical flight rigging. That Peter Pan television special starring Mary Martin and Cyril Richard that I loved far more than brussel sprouts back in the 1950s was managed by Peter Foy.

Judanna Lynn's costume designs were perfect. Dracula's gorgeous batwing cape alone was worth the drive to Ft. Worth. I wish I knew more about the process of inspiration, research, design, and construction for it. The velvet and brocade costume weighs thirty pounds, and has a fifteen foot wingspan! The details are as luscious at the images of moths in Joseph Scheer's Night Visions, and as powerful as an evening at Austin's Congress Avenue bridge!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


In one Dip Cone and out the other

"Teachers don't really want to play police officer all day," the teacher explained to the preschoolers.

"What is poli soft serve?," the kids clamored. "How do you play poli soft serve?"

"We aren't talking about playing ice cream parlor," I unhelpfully interjected. "Teachers don't want to spend their whole day being police officers !"

"Can we play scream parlor?," the kids hollered. "What is scream parlor? How do you play?"

That is why teachers get those ice cream headaches and go Dilly Bar! I bet police occifers have the same problem. Brain freeze, never mind!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Reptile ramps and overpasses

Leaping lizards in the HOV lanes! It's crazy traffic out on the patio this afternoon.

The anoles are using the horizontal cross pieces of the wood privacy fence to scurry from one condo patio to the next at three different levels. The lizards travelling on the top board of the six-foot fence seem to be the largest reptiles, and they do lots of neck-poof bling-displaying to make sure everyone knows they are Very Important Lizards. Sort of like Hummer drivers.

The mid-level lizards crisscrossing on the four foot horizontal seem to have the most personality. They vary from bright green to copper. They skulk, twirl their mustaches, swish their capes, and add dramatic pauses to their commutes. They seem glad not to be driving their wife's minivans, and pretend they are cruising in the batmobile. They leap into the shrubs when a Hummer lizard decides to take a power detour on a vertical fence post.

Very small lizards venture out on the lowest cross piece from behind the shrubs. They are mostly stressed and brown in color. They travel as fast as they can, but still look as if they left their coffee Go-cup on the top of the car and completely forgot their briefcase. Some of them still have toilet paper stuck on their shoe. When a lizard on the next crosspiece up does a Vincent Price impersonation, the low level lizards leap down into the ground cover.

All this patio needs is a live rush-hour traffic helicopter report....and maybe a tow-truck.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Flash flooding

The National Weather Service didn't issue a personal warning that my patio Q School worm bin might experience flash-flooding. Dang. The tray under the bin filled with water, and the aeration holes of the bin let water soak up into the compost. Worms who weren't smart enough to crawl to higher ground drowned.

I'm going back to an indoor-only, one-bin worm operation. If the PGA* Tour worms don't finish the compost for use in potted plants, they have still saved me many, many trips to the dumpster already. I just need to know everybody is home safe so that I can get a good night's sleep.

It's ten p.m. Do you know where your worms are?

*Professional Garbage Adventurers

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Smee or She?

Down came the rain, and washed the spider out. We had a pretty good rain last night, and this little spider's web came down. It seemed quite out-of-sorts about the loss today.

The cast iron garden hook is designed to hold birdfeeders or hanging baskets of flowers. This little spider, smaller than a ladybug, has claimed it for its web. I have no idea if the spider is male or female, but it does need to shave its legs before it puts on tights or pantyhose!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Beetle Belly

The big boys threw the basketball over the playground fence. Heading across the parking lot to retrieve their ball, I was stunned to see this beautiful, if deceased, beetle on the ground. Do we really have beetles this fabulous in Texas? Or is it a planted teaser for a Curse of the Mummy movie?

This gem is in a box in the elementary classroom now. Look at its belly! How exquisite! What a costume it would make. "Thank you" isn't usually my thought when I have to chase escaping playground equipment. I can see I'm going to have to expand my casual study of insects and other creepy creatures.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Worms write grocery list--Details at ten

Avocado, ummmm! Avocados on sale at Albertsons, umhmhmhm! Perfect excuse, priceless, as the tv commercials say. I must compensate for the shortage of banana peels in my worm bin to provide potassium for my little garbage disposers. It's a great excuse to put avocado in my lunchbox pita sandwiches, just so the worms can eat the peels!

Letting the worms dictate my grocery shopping list is probably a bit abnormal. It's not really into the range of the DSM-IV, though. The enhancement of the fresh fruit and veggie parts of my diet is worth humoring the worms. Worms are fond of avocado, but they save their major accolades for watermelon rind. Think rave wave worm faves!

Last week on Monday I gave the worms the rind of a quarter watermelon. On Friday night I found nothing left of the rind but the thin green veneer. It looked like a piece of bright green foil gift wrap. So I bought another quarter melon at Albertsons tonight.

If you must, think outside the bin!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Ma Barker in the cabbage patch

Surveillance cameras captured this composite photo of Ma Barker laying eggs under the leaves of a broccoli plant in the school garden. She was creating a diversion while one of her sons, probably Lloyd, was chomping a big hole in the leaf of the next broccoli plant [lower right].

The real gang matriarch known as "Ma" had three other nasty outlaw sons besides Lloyd--Arthur, Fred, and Herman. This cabbage butterfly must have hundreds of voracious criminal offspring. They are all Public Enemies Number One in my mind.

Different opinions about how involved Ma was with the Barker-Karpis Gang have floated for decades. Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, who did time with Fred in the Kansas Penitentiary, became the leader of the gang. If you look at the vintage Ten Most Wanted posters in the post office you will see that "Creepy" was a velvety green caterpillar, same as the Barkers.

So I called up my dad. Sometimes I get fiction and memories intertwined. It seems like I heard tales of an outlaw car in Pierce. Did Dad remember ever seeing the shot-up car of Bonnie and Clyde on display at the Pierce County Fair? He didn't, but he did remember that the Anderson Garage had a classy car belonging to an outlaw named Flannery on display in Pierce for a long time.

Dad remembers hearing about the Chicago gangs, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Barkers, and John Dillinger as a kid in the Dirty Thirties. Dillinger changing his fingerprints with corrosive acid was a big story back then. Dad could get the latest news by wandering two blocks down to the Skelly station, and hanging around the cold water fountain at the sidewalk. "The Best Water in Pierce" drinking fountain was also the place to exchange news and gossip.

I'm ready for J. Edgar Hoover's FBI boys to conduct a four-hour shoot-out against the cabbage butterfly and her pesky broccoli gang offspring. I'm a tad irritable because, hey! I resemble that remark about Ma in an online biography:

ARIZONA CLARK "MA" BARKER (1871-1935) Person: In her younger years "Ma" Barker was a rather dumpy fiddle player and Bible reader. In her 50s she was even dumpier, running to gray hair and fat.

But I don't chew holes in the garden plants!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Way back in the Before Caller ID Time

Once upon a time there was a telephone world without voice mail, answering machines, or caller ID. It was a world similar to Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear, but with a black rotary dial phone on the geologic kitchen wall. Ayla couldn't talk on the phone without all the Neanderthals eavesdropping on her conversations.

In Auel's sequel, The Valley of Horses, Ayla didn't much need a phone since she was completely ostracized from the Neanderthals. She still kept paying for her landline though, since it only cost about seven bucks a month for local service.

Eventually, Ayla learned to ride a Paleolithic horse and appreciate the freedom of a cordless phone. Plus, she was raising a cave lion in her home, so it was good that she could call 911 for medical emergencies.

Ayla had trouble deciding between that reality tv fan-fave, Jondalar, the sensitive Cro-Magnon guy, and Ranec, the talented old black & white movie channel mammoth hunter/artist, (the son of a flint-knapper). She was working overtime with her shaman mentor, Mamut, concocting herbal-enhanced inner self-guided tours. The Mammoth Hunters was a good book for Ayla to discover caller ID, answering machines, voice mail, and anonymous caller-blocking.

Nowadays, Ayla lives in the Valley of Duplicate Services. She is tired of paying AT&T and Verizon for the same services. She's still an excellent slingshot markswoman, and she's seriously disgruntled with the complex billing procedures and incomprehensible statements for each and every type of telephone service. She's still got that trained killer cave lion living at home, so don't make her angry.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Q School for worms

When the day started, my lengthy To Do list did not include cleaning the patio. The list doesn't have many things checked off, but I'm feeling better. Stepped outside to move my little Weber grill back into the storage shed, and started pulling out some ugly old canna stalks left from last fall. One thing led to another, until I had filled two black trash bags with fall leaves and debris.

My worms are making lovely compost in the kitchen bin, and I want them to have a goal in mind. People are asking why I started the worm bin. They aren't sure if I'm quite sane when I answer that I just thought it would be an interesting project.

[Worms are difficult to photograph, but you never have to worry about flash "red eye".]

So now I will be saying that the vermicompost will go into my container garden. I stopped at Home Depot for two cherry tomato plants, two pepper plants, one dill, and one bag-o-dirt. My shed had a big stack of flower pots, and I put the new plants in the largest ones. They don't quite feng and shi with Sammy Kaye, but they will do. Divided a couple mums, whether or not it is the right season.

Enjoyed the blooms on my "miniature" rose bushes. One has pink roses, and the other has orange petals with magenta edges. I got them at the grocery store a few years back for a couple bucks each, when they were in four-inch pots, and four inches tall. The flowers are still "miniature," but the two foot tall rose bushes are ridiculously hardy and thrive on neglect.

But what about Q School and worm motivational goals? My worms have been eating my fruit and vegetable scraps for over two months now. It's time for me to stop adding food to the bin and let them finish turning what's there into compost for my container garden and house plants. It's time for these worms to go pro, bring home the trophies and the Green Jacket.

I don't want to go back to tossing all my garbage in the dumpster. I drilled aeration holes in an old, unattractive Rubbermaid storage container I found in the shed. It will be the patio bin. It has bedding, a bit of soil, and the largest and least decomposed materials I found in the kitchen bin. I've added a small fraction of the worms from the kitchen bin to the patio bin.

Called Dad while I sat out on the patio enjoying the improved scene. Dad, the lifelong golfer, is now a Golf Channel viewer. The name Q School popped into my head for the patio bin, where the worms will have rather primitive conditions and have to carry their own golf bags. The kitchen bin must be The Tour, a comparative vermi Palm Springs where the worms are playing for big money.

It's been a lovely day, but the To Do list is still waiting.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Well-traveled chicken

"Why does the biggest continent have the smallest name?," the five year old asked. No good answer to that one, but it set my brain awalking along the Silk Road with Marco Polo. I briefly considered telling him "Asia" was chosen by a kid named Stan who wasn't very good at spelling and wanted something short.

Spent a few minutes looking up etymology of continent names, and learned that toponymy is the etymology of placenames. "Asia" seems to derive from words for east, or rising light, referring to the sunrise.

If I head south on Coit Road, I pass a drive-through restaurant currently named "Marco Pollo Rotisserie". It sits next to a city bus transit center, and caddycorner to a large hospital, but the location has housed many different restaurants over the eighteen years I've lived here.

On down Coit Road there's a restaurant called "Feliz Pollo", but I never thought the chicken there had much reason for happiness. "Marco Pollo" gave me images of a tired chicken walking across Asia, which doesn't equate with tender and juicy.

According to its webpage, the restaurant was a Peruvian concept with saffron rice, black beans, and rotisserie chicken. I thought I would check it out after my doctor appointment at the hospital. Alas, the chicken had joined a caravan, and the building was for rent again. Maybe other potential customers had the same ethnic confusion with the name. "Marco Pollo" has gone the way of another culture clash restaurant, "Wok Bueno", on my old commute on Spring Valley Road.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Scene of the crime

My little sons used to fall into duck ponds, fishing lakes, and prairie dog enclosures at zoos. They survived, none the worse for wear, and don't even remember those soggy OOPS moments. One son tried hard to fall into geysers in Yellowstone National Park, and his mom's nerves are still frayed. Another son loved playing in the waves at South Padre, and I never relaxed a minute on those beach vacations being ever vigilant for an undertow.

On my last drive through Oklahoma I checked out Edmond's Hafer Park, the scene of a particularly memorable duck pond dunking. The park is lovely, well-kept, and well-used. Families were picnicking at every available table. A group was hosting an event in the pavillion at the duck pond. Teens were reenacting a medieval battle while dressed in cardboard armor and pillowcase chain mail.

Red marks the very best spot for falling into the pond.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Von't you be my neighbor?

"Boys and girls," Mr. Rogers would ask, "can you say, 'Vlad the Impaler'?" He would untie his shoes and put on his slip-ons, then tie that black batwing cape around his neck. Slipping the plastic fangs he got trick-or-treating last Halloween into his mouth, Fred would gradually morph into Vincent Price before sprinkling vishvood in the vishtank.

It's a beautiful night in this neighborhood,
A beautiful night for a neighbor,
Vould you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It's a neighborly night in this beautywood,
A neighborly night for a beauty,
Vould you be mine? Could you be mine?

Von't you please,
Von't you please,
Please von't you be my neighbor?

Spoken: Hi television neighbor, I'm glad we're together again.... Tonight we are going to play vindow viper, and vipe your vindows!"

Vell, not exactly, but I am looking forward to Texas Ballet Theatre's "Dracula" with crypt-chilling music by Liszt, choreography by Ben Stevenson, and danced in the incredible Bass Hall in Fort Worth. A ballet with sleeping beauties, but no fairy wings sounds qvuite intriguing.

Any vampire vindow viper dancing around here vill have to sleep in the vorm bin, as I have no Transylvanian dirt. I've got a bottle of Vindex ready, though. Next time I read One Fish Two Fish I'll use my vampire voice.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Go Tell Aunt Rhody

Exhibit(A) One lucky duck

Jaap van Zweden conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's Sixth and Fifth Symphonies one Thursday evening last fall, and I WAS THERE. I was a lucky duck. Sure beats being the old gray goose.

In second grade Mrs. Wolcott taught us to open our American Singer songbooks (Second Edition, Book Two) to the page with "Go Tell Aunt Rhodey".

Welcome to Mortality 101. We live. We die. Doesn't matter if you are a goose or a person. That's just the Dragnet facts. It was harsh, but by second grade most of us had experienced the death and flushing of a goldfish that had been so foolish as to leap out of the bowl. We were tough. We could take it. We were big. We were in second grade!

Exhibit(B) The American Singer, Second Edition, Book Four, c1954.

Go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody
Go tell Aunt Rhody, the old gray goose is dead
The one she's been saving
The one she's been saving
The one she's been saving
To make a feather bed

I don't own Book Two with all the verses we learned as kids. Just have the brief entry from Book Four. My recollection is of verses for the days of the week. Something along the lines of "died last Friday", "mourned on Saturday", "plucked on Sunday", "buried on Monday".

The students are learning in music class that folk songs are passed down aurally, and that folk songs have different versions. It's possible to spend an incredible amount of time googling about Aunt Rhody and the unfortunate deceased goose. You can even find verses where Aunt Rhody makes goose sausages. And that ain't pate de foie gras, baby.

You still won't be able to pin down the goose-slayer, the murder weapon, or even the scene of the crime. It was not Colonel Mustard in the parlor with the candlestick! Sources who prefer to remain anonymous will contribute tips about a millpond, a toothache, a perverse tendency to stand on one's head, a distraught gander, and emotionally-neglected goslings scooped up by Child Protective Services.

Folk songs change. They seem to grow, to travel, to woo, to wed, and then beget. They invite improvisation and parody to all their tailgate parties. Names change often, like your first husband's cousin Debi who married Dave when she was just out of high school, then divorced him to marry Bob who worked at the Chevy dealership. She ran off with Chuck, and then changed her name to Debbi, always dotting the i with a little heart. Eventually she divorced Bob, even before she finished her massage-therapy mail correspondence course, to remarry Dave. Nevermind about the twins she had with Chuck. But then she met Buck at the senior center bingo night/potluck and took up with him. He called her "Little Debby", and she didn't ever inform him otherwise. She just waved goodbye to Dave from the back of Buck's Harley. Last we heard, she was setting up amps for Grateful Dead tribute groups and wearing lots of tie-dye.

Or maybe that was Aunt Roadie. Aunt Rhody is just as likely to be using an alias--Aunt Tabby, Aunt Susie, even Aunt Nancy.

The mysterious part of the song is the identity and role of Aunt Rhodey, aka Rhody or Rhodie. Who is she? Why must we go tell her? Who is Aunt Rhody to the old gray goose, or the old gray goose to her? Are we supposed to weep? Should we rejoice that Aunt Rhody can now pluck the duck for the feather bed? Is this some sort of Madhatter Hamlet? And do geese have teeth? Maybe they just have serrated steak knives they got at Jerry's Sinclair station back during the Gas Wars of the Sixties. Goat tell ant Rhody how I loved the aroma of leaded gas in those day. That was before the goose had that aching in her head.

"What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?"
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.2

Having spent two 1966 dollars in Estes Park, Colorado for a touristy giftshop rock set, I know that rhodonite is a pinkish mineral that often has black spots. Aunt Rhody might be a baby name from the time when folks named their girls "Pearl", "Opal", "Ruby", and "Diamond". Or pyrite, fools' gold.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Chewed paper for worms

Worms, I read in various on-line vermi-chats and vermi-blogs, like dryer lint. This is splendid news, as I've always wanted something to do with dryer lint after comparing and contrasting the color and quantity from laundry load to laundry load.

It must be a family fascination. My dad pours his hot breakfast bacon or sausage grease from the frypan into a glass jar each day to ponder the strata variations as if they were in agate or onyx.

So, from now on my dryer lint is going in the worm bin. True, I worry about my moist little redworms slithering into a furry collection. Does the lint fuzz stick to them, and make them look like little feather boas?

Dryer lint is very flammable, my cub scout son once explained. If you are rubbing two sticks together, it is good to have some dryer lint to catch the sparks. You can also give your lint to the birds for nesting material, but not for new outfits.

Penguin chicks look like they are covered in fuzzy, gray lint. When I was in my papier-mâché penguin phase, I tried covering chicks with dryer lint. It was a total disaster. The lint turned too quickly to goo, and slid right off the penguin forms. Maybe it slides right off the redworms, too.

"Papier-mâché means 'chewed paper'," we introduce the 3-D art project. Little art students gasp, fearing the next instruction. It's a moment easily-amused art teachers savor:

1753, from Fr. papier-mâché, lit. "chewed paper," from O.Fr. papier "paper" + mâché "compressed, mashed," from pp. of mâcher, lit. "to chew," from L.L. masticare "masticate."

A material, made from paper pulp or shreds of paper mixed with glue or paste, that can be molded into various shapes when wet and becomes hard and suitable for painting and varnishing when dry.

You'd think a papier-mache artist would realize that getting a large amount of shredded newpaper soaking wet, then squeezing it out to the moisture level of a well-wrung sponge would create a pulp too dense for a redworm habitat. Alas for one pound of worms, no.

My second worm bin was made with a bedding of torn cardboard t.p. and paper towel tubes, a bit of corrugated box cardboard, and several broken-up gray cardboard egg cartons. Even when these materials have the moisture level of that "well-wrung sponge," they retain enough shape to form air-pockets in the compost. So far, it seems to be working great. The worms have enough breathing room in the compost to stage runway fashion shows. Dryer lint is what the trend savvy worms will be wearing this spring!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Not your middle-aged Olympic torch relay

If I were the Statue of Liberty, Tom Bodett would have to leave the light on for me. Having a terrible time turning twist-knob switches at the bottom of lamps lately.

I've given up a few times and just crawled under my desk to unplug or plug in the lamp cord. That limbo-limbo solution may be temporary. So far, I can still twist knobs at the tops of lamps, but my professional underhand pitching career is probably over for good.

"The first things to go are the_____." We've heard that phrase since Phidippides ran the first Marathon in 490 B.C. Fill in the aging blank with knees, eyes, hearing, memory, neck, sex drive, stomach muscles, shoulders, or ankles. For me the answer seems to be "wrists". Did this ever happen to Chubby Checker? Come on baby, let's use that wrist:

Come on baby let's do the twist
Come on baby let's do the twist
Take me by my little hand and go like this
Ee-oh twist baby baby twist
Oooh-yeah just like this
Come on little miss and do the twist

Actually, this is my third thing to go. First I lost my ability to thread needles. Then I lost all interest in ...






© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Cato Fong

Fumbling for my house key as I juggled my lunchbox, purse, and totebag, I suddenly realized my arrival was being watch by an inscrutable anole lizard. I will call him Cato. He is an expert in martial arts, and he is instructed to unexpectedly attack CollageMama, to keep CollageMama's combat skills and vigilance sharp. Inside the door, it's time for some Henry Mancini Pink Panther music. I'm usually Preschool Teacher Clouseau, but some days I have Herbert Lom's Chief Inspector Dreyfus eye-twitch!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Your supermarket checkout tabloids

Celebrity Worm Week paid Verm-Gelina a ridiculous sum of money for the exclusive rights to publish the first baby photos from the worm bin. This tiny fellow, barely a half-inch long, is one of several crawling on the wall of the worm bin tonight. He was a little fussy when the paparazzi aimed their cameras at him, so it's not the clearest photo.

Like tabloid cutest couples, compost bin redworms are hermaphroditic. Their names are shortened and hyphenated, but they have both male and female sex equipment. Still, it takes two redworms to tango.

So, I'll just have to surmise that those weekend assemblies up in the bin handles were really tango lessons. If you've never seen a worm clench a long-stemmed rose in its teeth while clicking castenets, you've just never truly composted!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Standing at stud

North of Edmond, Oklahoma on I-35 there are signs for a breeding farm:

"Lost Opportunity standing at stud"

Clearly this horse doesn't have Cialis for performance when the moment is finally right!

Headed either direction, the sign is not to be missed for brainstorming creative racehorse names, breeding confusion, bogging down in misguided notions, or begetting rumors and innuendos.

Pull off to refuel at Guthrie, and set aside dreams of Marvel the Mustang. He's almost for real...

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

A & Why root beer in Wymore?

Headed south from Beatrice, Nebraska on Highway 77 a strange, powerful, and mysterious force took over. I was still in control of my vehicle, but all I could think about was A&W root beer. Did that ever happen to you???

It's been years since I even had a root beer float. What was going on? By the Gage County town of Wymore I thought I might die if I didn't have an A&W.

Thank heaven Wymore has a local convenience store selling bottles of root beer, along with other more essential items. Wymore was a hub for Welsh immigrants who arrived in Nebraska to build railroads in the 1880s.

A & W was a drive-in with car-hops in the 1960s. I'm not sure, but I think the Lincoln A & W was on south 48th Street. In 1963 A & W drive-ins welcomed the arrival of the Burger Family. Papa Burger, Mama Burger, Teen Burger with bacon and cheese, and Baby Burger arrived on the tray hooked onto your car window. Root beers and floats arrived in heavy glass mugs or strange conical waxed paper containers.

For only a summer or two the A & W drive-in was our family spot. Moving up from a Baby Burger to a Teen or Mama Burger was a sign of maturity. Being able to resist the rare siren song of a root beer on a road trip would be superhuman.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Check out next time through Kansas

I'll be going to Lindsborg the next time I drive. I need to visit the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Little Sweden USA. Birger Sandzen painted gorgeous, exuberant landscapes and created block prints of great vitality.

This Swedish painter came to the campus of Bethany College in Lindsborg in 1894 at the age of twenty-three to teach art, art history, French, and to sing tenor while assisting the vocal music classes. Although he exhibited extensively and was offered other positions, he loved Lindsborg and lived there until 1954.

I've had many years to enjoy two of Sandzen's large, vibrant oil paintings, "At the Timberline", and "Mountain Lakes" at the Highland Park Library here in the Dallas area. Ten of his lithographs are also on display in the upstairs Reference Room. Several of the lithographs remind me of my hikes, campsites, and attempts to draw in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The works urge me to put on hiking boots and a backpack and breathe in! The brush strokes suggest the power of geologic forces, while the colors bring the tension of ice melting on a mountain pond. It's partly the cobalt violet, of course.

Sandzen's landscapes are probably from Estes Park and Colorado Springs, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, not South Dakota. He taught summer classes at the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado. In mid-1930s, as part of the Federal W.P.A. program, Sandzen painted post office murals for Lindsborg, Halstead and Belleville, Kansas. I'll try to visit the post offices too, next time.

The Sandzen art was presented to the Highland Park Society of Arts in 1926 by Mr. and Mrs. E. T. Moore. The Society had a gallery in the Highland Park Town Hall. After the Society disbanded, its art collection became part of the Highland Park Library.

On school photo day, several of the students dressed up in their Sunday best. "I like your bow tie," one five year old told another. "It's not a bow time," he responded, "it's a next time."
© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Snap, crackle, pop OR a belated April Fools

Arriving home from work last evening, I walked into my hallway and started sliding the closet door.


It sounded like a string of Black Cats, so I leaped behind the bathroom door in case of flying explosives. The pops stopped.

I peered into the dark closet, but couldn't see anything unusual. When I slid the door a bit more, the popping resumed. What on earth!?!

Turns out my art teacher box of plastic bubble wrap had overflowed, and a big piece was caught in the track of the closet door. If you need an April Fools joke for next year, you might try it!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Worms on Church Retreat

Spring is in the air. The worms are disobeying the all wormbin official lights out and cabin checks. Some are sliding up to the forest fire tower overlook for the scenery. Others are rendezvousing up in the Rubbermaid bin handles for the vermi-equivalent of speed-dating. The naughtiest worms are sneaking out, thinking they have oh so totally conned the confirmation class advisers. I'm finding them on my kitchen floor in various states of writhing spiritual reevaluation and rapture.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Cat in the cream jar

We'd only been married a few months when my spouse went into a Doc Watson/John Fahey acoustic guitar/bluegrass phase. I was totally unprepared for this jog in the newlywedded-bliss road. Suddenly, the Charlie Daniels Band held the stage in my harvest gold apartment kitchen right next to the avocado green crockpot and the free toaster we got when we opened our account at the Savings & Loan downtown.

As if being married wasn't surreal enough, my spouse was sprawling there in the black vinyl beanbag* chair actually studying the Slim Whitman "Yodeling Cowboy" K-Tel commercials on our tiny black & white tv between the "MASH" and "Barney Miller" reruns. It was as jarring as the spilled popcorn on the Husker red shag carpet.

My spouse rushed the stage at a Charlie Daniels Band concert in the then-new Bob Devaney Center at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds. Dang, but if mosh pits had been invented back then he would have been squeezed into apple cider! ***

These days my little students are singing "Fire On the Mountain" for their spring music festival. This traditional folk fiddle song was known to me only from those Charlie Daniels** years. The devil went down to Georgia and engaged in a fiddle competition to gain a country boy's soul.

The kids sing, "Fire on the mountain, run, boys, run. Hey, get along, get along Josey. Hey, get along, get along Jim. Cat in the cream jar, run, girls, run. Hey get along, get along Josey. Hey get along, get along Jim." Two boys made this poster of the cat in the cream jar:

They sing a new-fangled verse, "Chicken in the crockpot, mulligan stew," to Skip-To-My-Lou. Thank heaven they didn't have to put the chicken in the George Foreman Grill!

*The littlest kids like to sit in the "bing-bang chair" while I tie their shoes after naptime.

**When the devil finished
Johnny said well you're pretty good old son
But just sit down in that chair right there
And let me show you how it's done
Fire on the Mountain Run boys, run
The devil's in the House of the Rising Sun
Chicken in a bread pan picken' at dough
Granny does your dog bite No child, no

***Just FYI, our sons turned out pretty normal. Only one listens to Pat Green.

Thinking now of the Marshall Tucker Band--more of a marinaded and grilled chicken tender song:

Fire on the mountain
Lightnin' in the air
gold in them hills
and it's waiting for me there

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Preschool organic control of ICW

At recess the preschoolers rush over to the garden to examine the lacy damage to the broccoli and brussel sprout plants. They are excited, at least for these few days, to search for the offending imported cabbage worms (ICW), and quite willing to pick them off the leaves. Cupping the caterpillar in their palms, they run to the other end of the playground to release the very hungry caterpillars on different sorts of plants.

ICW are soft and unthreatening. If you were going to sew one, you would use a spring green sueded polyester fabric of just the sort your great granny might have for a special occasion pantsuit with elastic waistband for bingo nights at the assisted living center. Then you would stuff the polyester worm with old snagged knee-high nylons.

The preschool girls aren't the least bit squeamish about touching these cabbage granny caterpillars. The trick is to find the darn things! ICWs are perfectly camouflaged against the leaf veins. They are just as hard to see when they are an inch long as when they were at a quarter-inch. The five year old girls are getting better at this tricky sport. I can almost hear Curt Gowdy's breathy "American Sportsman" delivery commenting on the hunt.

The smaller girls are glad to hold, cuddle, and relocate the caterpillars. Interestingly, the preschool boys are only interested in this process if they can put a caterpillar in their pants pocket and take it home. O, ye snips and snails!

Like most of March Madness, I don't care who wins this game. Unfond as I am of brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli, I just enjoy watching the competition. I'm putting some J. J. Cale in the cd player. Eric Carle is playing Eric Clapton in the semi-final! I'm a lucky mom to have attended the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival at the Cotton Bowl with two of my sons!

Kale or Borecole is a form of cabbage (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group), green in color, in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms. The species Brassica oleracea contains a wide array of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. The Cultivar Group Acephala also includes spring greens and collard greens, which are extremely similar genetically.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


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