Every hat has a silver lining

This men's hat interactive learning tool for the chapeauly-challenged will use the same format as the electric quiz board I made for Camp Fire Girls in 1966, but without the dry cell, peg board, wires, and lightbulb.

Round #1

1. Many people born in the late Fifties name this flat cloth cap worn for driving on the road or golf course after which long-time Mattel Barbie boyfriend?

2. In Esphyr Slobodkina's classic children's picture book, the peddler demands that what animal give him back his caps?

Round #2

1. What two movie stars looked great in eight-panel newsboy caps?

2. A bucket cap can be worn with the brim flipped up or down. It can be worn while singing, "There is Nothing Like a Dame," or on a fishing trip with Colonel Henry Blake of the M.A.S.H. 4077th. Name two other famous and clueless bucket cap wearers. "Who are these people?"

3. Because of its shape, a bucket cap is often referred to by the trademark of what disposable paper drink holder?
Round #3

1. Usually a light, straw hat with a stiff wide brim and a flat shallow crown, but not necessarily named for the most common and colorful order of the dragonfly family, what silly plastic hats are worn at political conventions?

2. While similar to the hat worn by Mary Poppins' significant other as played by Dick Van Dyke, what different term designates the stiff straw hat with a flat crown worn by Renoir's lunchers and the young Bob Dylan at Woodstock?

3. "Who are those guys?" What hat convinces Butch and Sundance that Joe Lefors is on their trail?

Round #4

1. I'm too old to remember Buster Keaton wearing this hat style named after a thick-crusted pastry filled with chopped meat. What man's hat style having a low, flat crown and a snap brim is sadly invoked in Charles Mingus' elegy for jazz saxophone great Lester Young? [Listen free.]

2. Named for an 1882 work by French playwright Victorien Sardou, what soft felt hat with a brim that can be turned up or down and a rather low crown creased lengthwise is a symbol for both Frank Sinatra and Indiana Jones?

3. A slouch hat is a soft hat with a flexible wide brim and chinstrap most commonly worn as part of a military uniform. The Australian slouch hat is sometimes called a bush hat, and is worn with one side of the brim turned up or pinned to the side of the hat. What golfer joins Crocodile Dundee and the Man From Snowy River as familiar Australian hat wearers?

Round #5

The Daily Double! Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramius wears the traditional Russian fur cap called a Ushanka in what 1990 movie?

1. Perhaps you missed the NPR segment about Basque sheepherders and Dutch ovens in the western U.S. What round, visorless cloth cap originally worn by male Basques has a name derived from the Late Latin birrus, "hooded cape"?

2. Lyle Lovett would rather you steal his girlfriend than touch his John B. hat having a high crown and wide brim of what brand?

3. Hamid Karzai , known for his handsome peaked hat made from the aborted fetuses of Karakul sheep, is the president of what country?

Final Round

1. Not to be confused with a homburg, this stiff felt hat with a round crown and a narrow, curved brim is named after what event at Epsom Downs?

2. Having nothing to do with pins and strikes, this hat made by Thomas and William Bowler was a frequent symbol in the surrealist work of what artist?
I've got Sherlock's thinking cap, but need new flashlight batteries before we can consider trilbys, panamas, and gimmes.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Companion planting or online bad date

Marigolds are allegedly the front line in the organic battle against garden pests. They are supposed to be the companion plant of your dreams--The golden guy who just looks tough, and scares away nematodes and whiteflies.

Marigolds are the sort of guys who still hold doors open for tomatoes, and wait for those tomatoes to unlock the front door and turn on a light before driving off. Marigolds broil great burgers on the Weber. They prefer beer but can open champagne and wine bottles like connoisseurs. Marigolds give little kids piggy back rides, do their own oil changes, nap on the couch, and accompany you to any cultural event you request as long as there's a steak & baked potato dinner beforehand.

Marigolds love teaching a kid to bait a hook. They can be appropriately somber when that same kid buries a dead goldfish in a metal Band-aid box in the backyard.

Marigolds are not perfect. They forget to close the sunroof in the monsoon season. Marigolds leave the toilet seat up. They often smell like aged sweaty soccer socks, and ALWAYS overload the washing machine. Still, they play frisbee with dogs and in-laws at family reunions, even if it isn't their family. They rinse their dishes, but don't actually load the dishwasher.

Marigolds call their moms every other Saturday without being nagged. They are the sort of person you want to have the extra key to your house.

I've not tried online matchmaking sites. I've been misled too often! The perfect sensitive macho marigold that is supposed to ward off garden pests is the plant on my patio afflicted with pests.

What's eating the marigolds? Some pest is systematically mowing off my dream dates. Maybe the marigolds were creating fictitious online personas to attract gullible tomatoes.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Cat's pajamas and bee's knees bedrooms

This bedroom with tape-player is by a five year old girl. She has good taste in drawer pulls! The one below is by a five year old boy.

After our "Cat's Pajamas" art class, one girl came to school in her kitty cat pajamas for Crazy Day, and another wore a pink leopard hat. Other kids had some outfits that were truly the fish's galoshes.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Three-cornered cats

By a four year old boy.
© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


The Cat's Pajamas?

What to wear for Crazy Day? I don't know what to do for the last day of school.

Last week we made cats out of triangles in art class. The children had been singing "My Hat It Has Three Corners" in music class with the hand signs. So we changed it to "My Cat It Has Three Corners," and "My Corner Has Three Cats".

My own little condo corner seems quite full with the three of us prowling around at contrasting hours of the morning and night. I started thinking about cats for art class during a spell of two a.m. insomnia when no pajamas seem quite right for the thermostatically-challenged woman of a certain age. If I had cat's pajamas, I could wear them on Crazy Day...but it is entirely too hot, humid, and windy today to venture out to the mall in search of pjs.

The expression "cat's pajamas" seems to date from the flapper era, along with the "bee's knees." The Random House Word Maven, Valerie Stecher, wrote on 1/2/01 that the "cat's pajamas":

...means 'a wonderful or remarkable person or thing'. But it nearly always implies stylishness and newness-it's 'the greatest thing since sliced bread'....pajamas were a relatively new fashion in the 1920s.

There are many similar expressions combining an animal with a part of the body or article of clothing inappropriate for it, such as the sea lions' capri pants. And no, I won't wear capri pants for Crazy Day. I do have a three-cornered hat left from many sons' history projects that I might wear.

Ted Tjaden, a Canadian lawyer and law librarian, has put together a website with ragtime piano sheet music and sheet music covers, including a section on animal-themed rags. The Cat's Pajamas, a "novelty piano solo," was written by Harry Jentes in 1922. It's fabulously fun stuff. It'll make you feel like strutting down the alley, so check it out!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Memorial Day picnic brunch

This Memorial Day weekend I am finally writing last winter’s Christmas letter. Perhaps arriving at the beginning of summer it will be seem less bloating than roast turkey with stuffing and sauerkraut--still newsy, but more like fresh fruit ambrosia or a melon boat.

Ah, yes, the nectar of the gods!

Ambrosia, favored food or drink of the Olympians, from the Latin ambrosia, from the Greek ambrosios, literally “of the immortals,” from a- “not” + mbrotos, related to mortos “mortal”.

In the early Sixties a neighbor over on “L” Street had a holiday brunch open house in her backyard. My memory is a Technicolor scene of green grass, swing set, card tables, and kids in bright sunsuits and sundresses. The centerpiece was a splendid watermelon boat cut with dramatic zigzag edges, filled with fresh watermelon wedges, cantaloupe balls, green grapes, and canned pineapple “tidbits” and mandarin orange sections.

Sometimes Aphrodite demands cut strawberries, and Hermes hollers for honeydew in Olympus. In Nebraska in the Sixties nobody knew about kiwi, although it does add nice color in the melon boat.

I have no idea what else was on the menu at that backyard brunch--maybe muffins, donut holes, and Little Smokies. The family’s obese long-eared dog waddled around the lawn looking for dropped goodies under the card tables. It was quite the most elegant event I had ever attended!

This holiday weekend my condo is the cut and hollowed watermelon boat for the ambrosia. The boat is very full of immortals from the Latin and Greek, or at least a junior home from a year in Italy.

My year with the Montessori preschoolers has been filled with daily delights and insights. I love photographing school happenings and the insect visitors to our playground garden. We help introduce the children to nature at its most basic level, including worm composting, and I get to teach art with an emphasis on nature. Next weekend I will attend the Ft. Worth Opera Festival’s “Turandot” with friends in the very elegant Bass Hall. There probably won’t be a melon boat or a long-eared waddling dog, but it will be lots of fun.

Have a great summer!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Captain Kangaroo helped me learn the days of the week with this song:

Today is Monday

Monday -- string beans

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!
Today is Tuesday

Tuesday -- spaghetti

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!
Today is Wednesday

Wednesday -- soup

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!
Today is Thursday

Thursday -- roast beef

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!
Today is Friday

Friday -- fresh fish

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!
Today is Saturday

Saturday -- chicken

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!
Today is Sunday

Sunday -- ice cream

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

It's probably time to update it for the foodie generation:

Today is Monday
Monday -- hummus

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Tuesday
Tuesday -- feta
All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Wednesday
Wednesday -- edamame

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Thursday
Thursday -- Mom's posole

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Friday
Friday -- Red Stripe beer
All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Saturday
Saturday -- fresh fruit smoothies

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Sunday
Sunday -- bagels
All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

The hungry grown children and I are gradually adjusting to sharing the Nest Formerly Known as Empty for the summer. Seems I forgot to change the locks on the condo. Maybe the guys had super-sized bread crumbs to mark the trail.

A six year-old student progressed to reading the story of Hansel and Gretel aloud to me this week. The story seems so deeply woven into our culture that I forget some children are encountering it for the very first time.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Ants day and date night

With no rats this time, and only one snake, the fourth Indiana Jones has to rely on insect vermin. We enjoyed the "Crystal Skull" movie immensely. It's taken a few hours for little nagging nitpicks to cut through the euphoria. Mostly I'm grateful for one last date with the dashing unmarried archaeology professor in the fedora. I'm willing to ignore some flaws for the chance to reminisce about our past adventures.

Indy's Russian foes have splendid difficulties with large computer-generated Peruvian ants. Certain parts of the movie seemed like Indiana Jones Joins Men In Black. I was hoping the "crystal skull" would resemble a Mayan inlaid stone mask more than the "galaxy in Orion's belt" cat collar!

Just the other day we learned of an invasion of "Crazy Rasberry Ants" in Houston. Crazy Rasberry is an indication of the ants behavior, and a salute to Mr. Rasberry, an exterminator who did battle with these ants.

The preschoolers have been checking the progress of the black swallowtail caterpillars eating the dill in our garden. When the caterpillars began disappearing, we hoped they were crawling off somewhere to make their cocoons. Unfortunately, the beautiful caterpillars are being attacked and eaten by fire ants. Nature can be such a bummer! The caterpillars need fedoras and whips against obnoxious ants.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Story-starters, fagot-finders, and flame-broiled whoppers

"Did you attach the key onto the outside of the Buick with a Band-Aid?," I asked the Woolly Mammoth. It wasn't a good start to the morning. He had left the car at the train station for his brother in the wee hours by my standard--after eight p.m. The three of us are sharing one working vehicle, one non-working vehicle, and a mass-transit system that leaves something to be desired for these few summer weeks. Our jobs and schedules are not yet braiding together in seamless harmony like the warf and woop of the cosmos, but the candle of hope flickers still.

In the evening, waiting for the charcoal to reach the perfect degree of orange and gray to cook the marinaded chicken, I drift into a Camp Fire Girl reverie:

Burn fire burn
Burn fire burn
Flicker flicker flicker flicker flame

My baby Weber is still six briquettes short of a flame-broiled whopper. Should I feed it tinder or kindling? Should I paint the heads of wooden matches with nail polish, and store them in a metal Band-Aid box? That was one of the survival skills I learned in Camp Fire Girls in the mid-1960s. So far, I've never needed a waterproofed match to survive, although I did fantasize once or twice about painting my spouse's head with nail polish and then stuffing him in a metal box.

I have a fondness for vintage metal boxes, Band-Aid and other. It's funny what sticks, and what doesn't. What sinews bind us to things and to people?

At one a.m. I fret. Did my son collect the Buick at the train station? To ward off worry I try to remember the girls in my Camp Fire Girl group so many years ago. The names sound so old-timey compared to my students' names:

Nancy, Nancy, Nancy, Prissy, Julie, Julie, Judy, Jody, Wendy, Wendy, Hilde, Debbie, Laurie, Donna, Janice, Dee-Dee, Linda, Susan, Margaret, Pam...

Margaret's mother taught us the "Burn Fire Burn" song:


(Adante moderato)
Burn, fire, burn! burn, fire, burn!
Burn, flicker, flame!
Whose hand above this blaze is lifted
Shall be with magic touch engifted,
To warm the hearts of lonely mortals
Who stand without their open portals.
The torch shall draw them to the fire,
Higher, higher, higher, By desire.
Who so shall stand by this hearthstone, flame-fanned,
Shall never stand alone;
Whose house is dark and bare and cold,
Whose house is dark and cold;
This is his own!
Flicker, flicker, flicker, flicker, flame!

Such tiny diversity within our group! One girl with a divorced mother, one girl living in an apartment, one Jewish girl, one Unitarian... Five daughters of engineers, two daughters of doctors plus one veterinarian, one daughter of a minister, at least five daughters of university professors. All of us save two walked home from school for lunch with our moms everyday, and then walked back for the afternoon class. When school dismissed at 3:15 we walked together to our Camp Fire meeting at one of our homes.

Camp Fire Girls worked their way up from Wood Gatherers to Fire Makers and Torch Bearers. The way was perilous, hidden under tinder and kindling, fraught with fagot-finders, and mired in the classic contest between wiggly loose front teeth and homemade popcorn balls.

WOOD GATHERER's DESIRE (1914) (spoken)

As fagots are brought from the forest
["Fagot" here means "a bundle of sticks tied together."]
Firmly held by the sinews which bind them,
So cleave to these others, your sisters,
Wherever, whenever you find them.
Be strong as the fagots are sturdy,
Be pure in your deepest desire;
Be true to the truth that is in you;
And--follow the Law of the Fire.

The five year olds are beginning to write stories. They choose a photo from the box of story starters, then make two to four sentences about the picture. Usually they write who is in the photo, what they are doing, and where. Sometimes they tell when, but rarely why. I keep trying to get them to spice up their stories.

Surprise me. Tell me something I don't already know. Tell me something exciting. Make me laugh. What did the flamingos play?


And no, the Woolly Mammoth did not use the Band-Aid to stick the key on the Buick. The Band-Aid wrapper was left on the car seat because he cut his finger while hiding the key.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Tres Perro Noche

The assembled repatriated juniors were discussing the disgusting trend toward dogs being taken everywhere in North Texas. I agree with them that it's very annoying, but don't Italians take their dogs to the sidewalk restaurants? Certainly, the returning students say, "but Italian dogs are so much better trained!"

Not being really connected with celebrity trends and gossip, I don't know who to blame for the teacup dog craze. Last week I watched a woman smoosh her dog down into her totebag before she walked into Chipotle to order her lunch. My weekend lunch buddy and I are displeased when diners on the La Madeleine patio retrieve their dogs from the car, let them off leash, and leave them unattended while they go inside to get more coffee and jelly.

It's an arrogant assumption that everyone dining on the cafe patio will be as enchanted with your precious wuzzum woggy-doggy as you. I don't want to share my dining experience with your uzzy-wuggy muffy-wuzzum.

The college students all applaud my oration on the subject. They add that if children can't behave in a restaurant, their parents shouldn't bring them! Bold opinions from the upcoming generation of parents, so I'm noting the date on the calendar. We will check in with them on that subject in another four years!

In 1982 my spouse decided that we should take our six month-old son to a trendy fondue restaurant in Omaha. Geez! "Trendy fondue restaurant" sounds sooooo long ago! No wonder that baby has a master's degree. It was named "The Golden Apple" (the restaurant, not the baby). When we walked in with our baby, a collective gasp of horror went up from the dining customers and the waitstaff. Did we get the hint? No. Did we make that mistake again??? No.

I've been plagued by mangled mental music from Three Dog Night, circa 1970 :

Want some wuzzums at your restaurant,
Teacup doggie by your knee
What's all these crazy questions they askin' me
This is the craziest party there could ever be
Don't turn on the lights, 'cause I don't want to see
Mama told me not to come
Mama told me not to come
That ain't the way to have fun, no

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Culture Shock

It is wonderful to have two sons back "home" with me. The first week hasn't been totally smooth, but we are getting used to togetherness and coordinating mass transportation by DART rail.

The refrigerator is in shock because it is filled with food again--roast beast, fresh fruits and veggies, Feta cheese, and gallons of milk. The dishwasher is stunned at its new workload. I pulled an inch-thick deposit of Transatlantic dryer lint out of the trap, and gave it to the worms to make feather boas. The Buick is asking for time-and-a-half overtime pay.

The Woolly Mammoth has the biggest time change to make, coming home from Italy to a place with orange cheese. He needs a haircut, a job, and a diet with lots more fresh fruits to fight a nasty cough. I can help with the fresh fruits, but not the job.

His need for a haircut is sufficiently pronounced that his brother and I both had ours cut. Danger Baby is talking Woolly Mammoth through some of his post-Italy depression issues. I never had a junior year abroad, but I'm sure most of real life is not quite as wonderful, scenic, exciting, empowering, or impoverishing.

Fortunately, we are still allowed to diagnose returning students with Post Junior Year Abroad Syndrome (PJYAS) and Haircut Disorder. Our returning vets may not be treated as kindly with their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Just another day opening the newspaper and being embarrassed to be an American living in Texas in the Bush Era!

Much of the old high school Lunch Bunch showed up to sit on the patio on a perfect late spring evening, drink beer, and recount their various junior year adventures. It was fun to hear them chatting out back, but I need even more beauty sleep than before. When this CollageMama invites all the gang to look in her wormbin, it's probably a hint to move the reunion to another venue! Vermicompost is not vermicelli.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Raiders of the School Cilantro

Harrison Ford and I needed more fresh cilantro for the chicken posole. Fortunately Sean Connery had mailed me his diary detailing the whereabouts of the secret source of bountiful cilantro.

So, after I picked up Danger Baby at the DART station, Indiana Jones and I stopped over at my school's garden to pick a bunch. Thank heaven there were no snakes. Indy hates snakes.

My recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Posole comes from Weight Watchers by way of a co-worker. It doesn't even call for cilantro. Come to think of it, the soup I'm making is actually a cross between the posole recipe and another recipe for "white chili". But Indiana Jones and I take risks in pursuit of spicy, satisfying, inexpensive stews to feed my currently large household.

Raiders of the School Cilantro Soup

Place in large (4.5 quart) crockpot on high heat:
2 cans of Great Northern Beans, undrained
1 can of diced green chilies, undrained
1 can of "original" Rotel tomatoes and chilies, undrained
1 box of Kroger organic chicken broth
1 big can of hominy, drained
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 T lime juice
1 t cumin
1 t cayenne

In a skillet on medium heat brown in 1 t oil:
1/2 cup ground sausage
3 chicken breasts
1/2 orange bell pepper
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
lots and lots of fresh cilantro cut with Fiskars round-tip scissors

Remove from skillet and cut chicken into small bite-size pieces.
Add to crockpot. Cook on high for several hours. Turn to low and simmer several more. And yes, I'm looking forward to the "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" release.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Squeaky Clean Peaceable Kingdom

Cleanliness is next to godliness, it is said. This wasn't a spiritual mission, just a disinfecting one. A preschooler licked and sucked the pinkish bear's feet. I don't want to contemplate the reasons for this action. I just want to send the whole jungle through the carwash.

Now that the plastic animals are disinfected, please join me in singing, "The pink bear went through the dishwasher, the pink bear went through the dishwasher, the pink bear went through the dishwasher to see what she could see.

Quaker preacher Edward Hicks painted over a hundred versions of "The Peaceable Kingdom." 1820 and his death. The theme for the paintings was Isaiah chapter eleven. If you squint just right, you can see the box of Cascade in about thirty-three versions.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Christmas spider and New Years back-up

Almost stood on my head to get a photo of a small spider inside a big flower pot of sedum. The angle of the web made it impossible for me to see the spider's marking with my own eye, so I did photographer contortions to get an image. What a fun surprise to discover the Christmas tree shape with snow on the ground!

Back in January I made two New Years resolutions. These were not save-the-whales-and-lose-fifty-pounds lofty goals, although I did plan to follow through on them with "firm determination". My planned course of action called for improved care of my teeth, and frequent backing-up of my computer files.

Four-plus months later, I'm amazed that I've really implemented those two little resolutions. Bet this is the first time I can even remember my resolutions by mid-May!

Now when I wake up at 4:40 a.m. and can't go back to sleep, I make back-up cds of my computer files. Sometimes the thought of hauling myself out of bed to back-up the computer is enough to solve the 4:40 insomnia. If it isn't, at least I'm eliminating computer crash anxiety as a wee hours worry.

"Take better care of my teeth" is a pretty subjective resolution. My dentist's hygenist will tell me if I've succeeded. My Oral B Vitality Braun electric toothbrush is definitely a step in the right direction. Okay, that's probably too much information!

Still, if I ever become the elderly blue-haired owner of an obese, low and long-haired, yippy, irritable condo dog of the Pomeranian or Spitz type, I will name it Gingivitis. Its puppies will be called Swish, Floss, Tartar, Plaque, and the runt, Hyperactive Gag Reflex.

Perhaps computer back-up insomnia is more to be desired than fat dental Pomeranian nightmares. Next time I see 4:40, I'll meditate on the Christmas tree spider, and pop Vince Guaraldi into the cd player.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Totebags Remove Anxiety

This is not a snake oil medicine show, boys and squirrels, mothers and otters! I'm not selling magic elixirs or tonics. I just want you to step right up and learn how you, yes you, or the woman you love, can get rid of Perfect Purse anxiety.

This cure doesn't have Twelve Steps. You don't have to admit powerlessness over purses, although you may willingly confess that Perfect Purse Anxiety made your life unmanageable.

I used to worry a lot about having the Perfect Purse, or an Appropriate Purse For the Occasion, or an Acceptable Purse Given the Situation, or a Not Entirely Dreadful Even Though Terribly Embarrassing Purse From An Aesthetic Standpoint. I was not alone. Every woman I knew, and even one guy, had the same anxiety. That's why I'm glad to report there is a road out of this stress, and that road is paved with ...


A totebag tells the world that you are much too busy, and have far too much to carry, to worry about a little thing like a purse. When the going gets tough, the tough stuff their purse into their totebag along with everything else.

The healing power of totebags:
  • The beauty of totebags is that they are all gifts and freebies. I don't have to make any decisions. Even the totebag I keep my totebags in was a gift.
  • Totebags can restore a sense of empowerment to those crushed down by decades of purse abuse. I get a jolt of powerful electricity every time I walk into Albertsons with my totebag full of totebags. The cashiers and baggers look at me with shock and awe (and try to finagle an extra smoke break to avoid me).
  • Totebags nestle within totebags within totebags. You can pull long strings of them out of your sleeve. "Rocky! Watch me pull a totebag out of my hat," says Bullwinkle.
  • Totebags are not the possession of the owner any more than children are the possession of their parents or an unmarked umbrella leaning by the door during a downpour is reserved for the forgetful person who left it. Totebags belong to the cosmos.
  • Totebags inspire generosity of spirit. You hand off a totebag to any visitor who has a lot to carry, knowing that someone will do the same for you. You are not personally invested in a totebag. Your self concept/ego/identity is not riding in a totebag like a third grade bully in a midway bumper car. You can afford to be magnanimous. Some other store will have a grand opening. Some other public radio station or magazine with reward subscribers.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I just finished reading Nora Ephron's piece about purses in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a paperback I had stuffed into my totebag.

The Totebag Remedy is absolutely Lennon-esque in its simplicity and healthful beauty:

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Gather ye totebags while ye may. Whole Foods is still a-flying. But this same upscale organic gourmet demographic with excess disposable income today tomorrow will be crying and whining into its cellphones.

A book of verses underneath the bough,

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou,

A sturdy totebag that is mine for now,

O, wilderness were paradise enow!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Return of the Jedi

Mother's Day weekend was busy with phone calls to coordinate the return of the knights to my small space station. When all three of them get back here, I may have to send them outside to practice with their light sabers just like in the olden days.

The first Jedi returns tonight. The second returns Wednesday. The third comes to visit the first two in June. I hope I don't turn into a Wookie when I need my school teacher beauty sleep, and the Jedi are in Mos Eisley cantina mode!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Cam Phone Spam Scram Gravy Ain't Wavy

Here in Plano voter interest in the municipal election is up one mild eyebrow twitch above the usual total apathy. We have a, gasp, openly gay candidate for city council. We have a $490 million school bond proposal when many families are cutting their driving and eating lots more beans.

Speaking of gas, the candidates have ALL figured out how to use automated annoying phone calls. I was home this afternoon because of school conference day, and the phone rang every five minutes with a robo-candidate urging me to vote.

Somehow, I got off the campaign track into a discussion about gravy. Growing up, it was a given that during any meal served with gravy someone would remark, "Scram gravy ain't wavy." What did it mean?

Googling "scram gravy" I learned that the expression probably derived from an old-timey newspaper comic about a fireman called "Smokey Stover". If you happen to remember anything from "Smokey Stover" about Molly freezing on the trolley*, PLEASE leave a comment! Dad and I have been as far up and down the sidewalk of Memory Lane as he can go pushing his walker, and I barely remember the comic in the Omaha Weird Herald.

As a kid in the Sixties, I believed that "scram gravy ain't wavy" was a jab at our neighbors who made lumpy gravy with flour and milk instead of using the inherently superior smooth cornstarch recipe seasoned with brown sauce. I have to laugh, but we kids must have had playground taunts like, "my mom's gravy is smoother than your mom's gravy!" It was an era of Meat and Potatoes.

Fritzi's Gravy

Yield: 2 cups

2 Tbsp fat drippings
2 cups hot water drained off the boiled potatoes you are going to mash
2 Tbsp Argo® Corn Starch
1/4 cup cold water
1 tsp Gravy Master or other brown sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat drippings from roasting pan. Stir in hot water. Cook over medium heat, stirring to loosen browned bits. Remove from heat.

Put corn starch and water in a small jar with a tight lid, then shake until smooth; stir into pan. Add seasonings. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat and boil 1 minute.

*Dad is probably thinking of Walt Kelly's Christmas classic:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., and Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley
Swaller dollar cauliflower Alleygaroo!
Don't we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola Boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Country pickin' fingers

Don't park your double-wide in the Rose Garden, Bill. You weren't a horrible President, especially compared with Dubya. Nothing you and Monica did under the desk was any worse than what millions of good old boys and girls do in offices, Ford F-150s, and tacky motels every day. I just don't want another Tag Team Clinton mud-wrestling administration.

Should Hillary become the Democratic nominee by some weird twist of soap operatic amnesia fate, I will root for her greased pig in the 4-H grandstand against McCain's Hundred Years' War hog. But even then, Bill, please don't set your trailer up on cement blocks out there by that reflector pool!

I'll fix your flat tire Merle
Don't ya get your sweet country pickin' fingers all covered with erl
Cause you're a honky, I know, but Merle you got soul
And I'll fix your flat tire Merle

So, Bill, just set your Lazy Boy recliner out there on the lawn of your library and amp up the Pure Prairie League song. Leave the busted out washing machine on the porch. Don't make me cross state lines to explain it any clearer!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Credit Crunch Charleston

As we cut up our credit cards in this economic downturn/identity theft era, imagine what fabulous outfits we could create for dancing. Much better than sequins and fringe when twirling!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Great blooming blue-haired mommies!

I love the hairdos on the Mommy Seed packets. Now you can grow your own blue-haired mommy. You can even plant gray helmet hair. This next one looks like Donna Reed Show 1958 tv hair.

Cultivating real mommies is trickier than drawing mommy hair. Those thoughts will be in a future blog. Best wishes this Mother's Day weekend to all mommies and gardeners!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Blooming mommies

Growing blooming mommies can be done easily in most home gardens with the proper cultivation techniques. The preschool students love the idea of a blooming mommy with flowers growing out of her head. Today they each made a portrait of their own blooming mommy on the seed packets for our special Mommy Seeds.

The Mother's Day projects are nearing completion. Like the Little Red Hen, the preschoolers grew the plants last summer, collected the seeds last fall, saved the plastic applesauce containers from their lunches this winter, drilled holes in the containers this spring, then filled them with potting soil, planted the seeds for the flowers, and marked the flowers with plant stakes. The Mommy Seed packets are the Mother's Day cards to accompany the gift of flowers.

The children are learning about cultivation, which they define as "taking care of the things we plant". At the same time, the children are being cultivated.

I've spread out my old American Heritage Dictionary, turned to cultivate and cultivation. Preschool is all about forming, refining, educating, fostering, and nurturing. To educate, we improve and prepare, plow and fertilize, tend and till.

Cultivation can also mean "socialization through training and education to develop one's mind or manners". Preschool is a never-ending battle for acculturation, which is "the adoption of the behavior patterns and norms of the surrounding culture". We aren't talking about diversity and multicultural awareness here. That is the territory of my eldest son working with university students. We are talking about not picking noses in public, and remembering to flush the toilet, the behavioral norms of the surrounding population of human beings! It's often a harrowing experience.

Till means to prepare for the raising of crops by plowing, harrowing, and fertilizing. It means to work at, to labor. It is definitely hard work to get preschoolers to stop picking their noses and start flushing the toilet. The word "till" seems to carry the frustrations of hundreds of generations of farmers on its back.

My young sons each went through a John Deere phase of fascination with farm implements. As a MOBO, I excelled in the choo-choo railroad fascination phase, and performed bravely in the truck stop big rig phase. I could identify every Matchbox car pulled from the three-gallon tub by year, model, and color. I really knew my hook-and-ladder trucks in the firefighter stage. I was damn tolerant in the military vehicle phase, if I do say so myself, waiting out G.I. Joe. I was never very good at farm implements, aircraft ID, or motorcycles, though. If I crammed for the test I could pass, but I never retained the information!

Harrowing experiences sometimes require using a plunger instead of a farm implement. A harrow is used to break and level plowed ground. It's a farm implement with heavy disks and teeth. To harrow is to inflict great distress or torment on the mind. Or perhaps on the foot. My mom used to receive an annual Christmas letter from an old high school chum. The best year the letter recounted the farmer dropping a sharp harrow upon his foot, but having to pull the harrow teeth out of the punctured foot so he could drive himself to the regional hospital because his wife couldn't shift gears on the manual transmission pick-up truck.

Sometimes on the commute home from work I chant, "It was a tough day, but at least I didn't drop the harrow on my foot." Being a mommy is a tough job, too. There were a lot of days when I felt I'd dropped the harrow on my foot as a parent. The most difficult years were those when I felt unable to shift gears.

Fortunately, there were many more days when I felt like flowers were blooming out of my head!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Irresistible force meets immovable alphabet?

"Could we play the rhyming game again? Can we make pig wig?," the preK student asks.

"Absolutely! That would be fun," I say, impressed that she considers our recent word-building endeavor a game. "What do we need?"

"The at bat hat book and the immobile alphabet," she says, and scurries off to find them.

There's a funny mental image. It must be wheelchair day at the double A baseball game! I'm putting on my rally cap for this at bat.

Her "immobile alphabet" is really the classic teaching movable alphabet. Maybe writer's block is just a bad case of immobilized alphabet...
"Can I play, too? I played yesterday!," a second girl asks. She's a bit older, and can think of sat fat rat. Of course she may join us.

Speaking of fat rats and immobile alphabets, my Cingular cellphone service recently changed to "AT&T Mobility". What a silly name! The word mobility doesn't inspire thoughts of untethered phoning freedom. It instantly conjures its opposite, immobility. Oh, great. I've got a cellphone that needs a ramp, and I'm paying how much a month?!

Back with the rhyming preK girls, we play the "game" with at, it, ox, ig, og, ug. I'm delighted when they put their consonant heads together to figure out twig. Sure, they have some ideas that don't make words. The best is vog. "You know, Ms. Nancy, vog, when you can't see anything!" That vould be a Transylvanian fog.

Why am I wearing my at bat hat rally cap on this voggy day? CollageMama is celebrating in the dugout on the twenty-first birthday of her youngest son. Pour that nice ice lime rhyme cooler of Gatorade on her head!

Put the rhyme in the coconut, shake it all up. Put the rhyme in the coconut, call the doctor, wake him up.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Zits Pierce Caterpillar

My world is small. My students are small. Our discoveries and surprises are pretty big, especially with a digital macro camera setting. It's amazing how much life is going on inside the fence of a little preschool playground.

This caterpillar reminds me of Pierce, the much-punctured friend of Jeremy in the comic strip Zits. I don't know if it is an adolescent version of the stinging puss/asp/southern flannel moth caterpillar we found last fall. Pretty sure "Stinging Flannel Moths" would be a good name for a garage band, though.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Quail, driggle, enSkypeplopedia of knots

Rhyming words with the kindergartners is an enlightening exercise.

"Sun, fun, run, can you think of another word that rhymes?," I enquire.

"Quail", the student boldly avows.

Okay, but can you name these tools?

"Hammer, saw, clamp, screwdriver, driggle."


You know, for making holes.

Plugged in my headphones and made a leisurely call on Skype. Chatting away, I swiveled and skootched my wheely desk chair until I got the headphone cord completely wrapped around the chair wheel. Is Ma Bell in hell knotting macrame plant holders and cackling at life's complications since her breakdown? Will it take a driggle to get the cord untangled from the chair?

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Not so eensy weensy

This spider's body is the size of my thumbnail, and is patterned like a beautiful turtle shell. It's legs are very furry. The tension line for its web comes out of the end of a piece of rubber hose protecting a small tree's bark from the wire that braces it. Although I've seen the web almost daily since last summer, this is the first time I've actually seen the spider.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Midnight adrenalin

Long week with two annoying songs stuck in my head. David Bowie's "Ground Control to Major Tom", and John Cougar Mellencamp's "I Need a Lover Who Won't Drive Me Crazy"* were playing continuous loops and would not hey hit the highway.

Went to sleep early, but had dreams with whimpering children. I finally came awake at midnight realizing the whimpering was the dog next door. He's never left outside and rarely barks, but now the whimpering was escalating to barking.

The dog's owner is eighty-five years old, and his balance is poor. Had he taken the dog outside and fallen? Was Lassie trying to tell me Timmy was in the well?

The only way to see over the privacy fence is to climb up on top of my air conditioner unit. The poor dog was frantic seeing my head pop over the fence. The bedhead hairdo probably didn't help. My neighbor wasn't lying on the section of patio I could see.

Back inside I had to dig up the neighbor's phone number. Please answer, I thought. Don't make me call 911!

The story had a happy ending. My neighbor had just dozed off, forgetting to let his little dog back inside. He apologized, but I just thanked him for not being injured! Couldn't get back to sleep for a long time. I'm so grateful for the neighbors who have come to my parents' aid in recent years.

Timmy never was in the well, of course. Jon Provost, who played tv's Timmy for many years has a new autobiography, called Timmy's In the Well.

*I need a lover that won't drive me crazy
I need a lover that won't drive me crazy
I need a lover that won't drive me crazy
Some girl that knows the meaning of a
Hey hit the highway

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


I say flamingo, you say flamango

Montessori teachers and Scrabble junkies just can't help it. We see a group of movable letters, and we have to make new words. The sign originally had birthday wishes for the recipient of the shocking flamingo flocking, "WE FLEW IN FOR ____'S B'DAY".

A movable alphabet

The children were thrilled to find a pink flamingo flock in front of the school when they arrived. Some really believed the flamingos flew to school. Some fell in love!

A few plastic flamingos migrated from the front lawn to the playground. One preschooler wrapped her arms around a bird's neck and proclaimed, "mingo baby mine!"

The second morning we rearranged the sign letters to spell, "WE BIRDS PLAY NOW". We fixed a group of plastic birds inside a sparkly hula hoop. Plans to have jump-roping flamingos met technical difficulties.

"Mingos play!," the preschooler shrieked with glee. Usually we worry about baby birds imprinting on human rescuers. This time we were concerned that our little student had imprinted on the plastic flamingo. Would she be distraught when the birthday birds were collected by the rent-a-flock folks?

We didn't get a chance to arrange FLY BIRDS NOW on the sign this morning before the plastic flamingos were gone. Heading out to the playground for a session digging in the garden dirt, the preschooler lamented, "mangos gone, mangos gone". So sad, so sad. Mango must be the past tense of flamingo.

My sons never fell into a zoo flamingo lagoon, not even Danger Baby. Quite surprising, come to think of it. They had no accidental close-up encounters with roseate spoonbills or scarlet ibis in any aviary either. We were lucky to live near good zoos when the boys were little, and to receive family zoo memberships from generous grandparents so we could visit often.

The boys drew many maps of the zoos they knew so well in Omaha, Oklahoma City, and Dallas. They also designed some fantasy zoos based on their preferences and the need for frequent pit stops. They knew to put the picniks by the Aveary, Ellafuts, and Zeberas, but not too far from the rest rooms. The KagaRoos and Crokadils and Pigs should definitely be close to the Gift Shop (and more rest rooms)!

The Mingos and Mangos should be placed close to the playground and petting zoo! Should you need to draw a flamingo, the recipe is raindrop+S+4. Try blending purple, red, orange, and white with your pink for feather variations.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


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