The $5.00 and five mile challenges

The Woolly Mammoth's car needs a new alternator. It wouldn't start Saturday, and is sitting outside one of his places of employment. He's working really long hours this summer, but has to have quick and reliable transportation between his jobs. So, the old Skylark has stepped up to the challenge. For a few days, the old mom is stepping up to the challenge, too.
I leave the condo at 6:30 a.m. and walk to the bus stop. For $3.00, I can ride DART all day. The bus takes me to the train. The train takes me to another bus. That bus gets me to work. My five-mile (as the crow flies) commute takes 1.25 hours. After work, the process is reversed.
Humans are built to walk. Five miles is a healthy walk, and shouldn't take much more than 1.25 hours in the early morning. Before this year is over, I intend to walk to work some day, and home again. It's the "home again" part that concerns me in the late afternoon heat. Still, it's a goal I want to achieve.
I met a woman at the transit center this morning while waiting for my bus to work after the light rail train ride. She left her house in a suburb of Fort Worth at 5:30 a.m., and purchased a $5.00 ticket. She rode a "T" bus (Fort Worth Transit Authority) to the station to ride the Trinity Railway Express train to downtown Dallas. There she jumped on a DART light rail train to my transit center where she would take the bus to her morning destination. In the evening she would reverse the process. Her commute was taking a bit over an hour and a half. She said that when she drove it took at least thirty dollars for gas every day, and much more if traffic was bad. For her, the home-to-work distance was over thirty-five miles (as the crow flies).
I'm charged up about the possibility of taking mass transit to the art museums in Fort Worth and back for five dollars. It won't be on a Sunday, as the Trinity Railway Express doesn't run on Sundays. It's a challenge I want to meet soon. I'm grateful for my chance meeting with this pleasant young woman, and for sharing a laugh as we compared costs, times, and distances for our commutes.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Tourists in our own hometowns

Gas prices, airplane fares, and other economic conditions are causing many Americans to rethink the traditional summer vacation. Our workday commutes are pushing lots of to use mass transit where it's available. Some of us have the option of using mass transit to become tourists in our hometown. It just takes a little mindset shifting.

In an area like the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex there are an amazing number of possible attractions and events to see on any day or night of the week. Most residents never sample even a fraction of the possibilities, myself included. Many residents travel the same route everyday in their car, and never experience it on foot or by train, myself included We are always going and going, driving past the pretty little park, but never getting out of the car to walk past the flowers to sit on the bench.

Last evening I had the chance to ride the light rail to downtown Dallas to hear a "casual concert" by the Dallas Symphony. The ride gave me chances to see the impressive amount of construction going on along the DART rail corridor.

A brisk walk from the Pearl Station brought us to the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center with views on every side of new construction in the Dallas Arts District. The concert itself was "a gem," and I'm still hearing the Allegretto non troppo movement of Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 64, in my head.

Afterwards, we intended to walk to catch the McKinney Avenue Trolley for a ride through Uptown and a late supper. The walk up Pearl took us past the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank building. I had only the foggiest notion that Dallas had a Federal Reserve Bank, and that it might have a building with art in its lobby. I wasn't sure it was really art, as it looked like a giant fiberglass model of a heart from the sidewalk.

Walked up the steps to the bank. From this vantage we could begin to see a bull seeming to plow through curving waves with a male figure following. Bull... sea... male...Poseidon? Was Poseidon the Greek god of banking and U.S. monetary policy? I've always been vague on the bull markets, but clearer on Theseus, the Minotaur, and returning home with black sails!

Or maybe this was a conceptual representation of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the early Spanish explorer of the New World whose surname means either "head of cow," or "in charge of vacations," depending whom you ask. Walking closer to the lobby window we could begin to tell it was a man plowing behind a yoke of oxen:

The Dallas Fed's art collection comprises contemporary works, including sculpture, oil and acrylic paintings, photographs, lithographs, collages, pen and ink drawings and a sound sculpture. The collection represents a diverse group of artists from Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico whose expressions reflect the Eleventh District’s historical and cultural diversity. The cornerstone of the collection, Luis Jimenez's "Sodbuster", is located in the main lobby. This fiberglass sculpture, depicting a farmer and two oxen, is a tribute to the spirit of the American West.

At this point the building security guard came through the lobby to wave us away with absolutely no sense of humor. I know I looked like a terrorist in my sandals and floral skirt! Must have been my purse that set him off.

On up Pearl, we waited at the stop for the McKinney Avenue Trolley. The trolley is known to tourists with guidebooks, but exists only as a vague concept to a long-time resident of suburban Plano. In theory, we could ride the trolley, get supper, then ride the trolley back near the DART light rail station. Sounds like a vacation itinerary!

A warm night with a cooling breeze and the occasional sprinkle, it was pleasant standing at the trolley stop. And standing. And standing. Looking back south at the lighted skyscrapers from this new vantage point and waiting. My stomach was starting to growl in a manner that would alarm the Federal Reserve.

Look! Here it comes! Here it comes! And there it goes! What's up with that? Guess I won't be singing about Rice-A-Roni or Thomas the Tank Engine anytime soon. I'll just hang onto that violin concerto in my head for awhile.

Walking on it was fun to see girls' volleyball teams and trendy loft dwellers passing on the sidewalk. Over seven hundred VB teams are in Dallas for the Junior Olympics championship, probably seeing more sights between games than most locals.

It was easy to be annoyed that the trolley didn't stop, and that it was a long walk back to the DART station. There was a distinction to be discovered. The McKinney Avenue Trolley is a free attraction sponsored by local entities and manned by volunteer rail afficianados. It is not mass transit with a timetable and transfer points. Some other visit I'll sing the "Trolley Song"* with Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra:

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings
From the moment I saw him I fell

Chug, chug, chug went the motor
Bump, bump, bump went the brake
Thump, thump, thump went my heartstrings
When he smiled I could feel the car shake

That's all the vacation I can handle for one evening, but it sure was fun seeing the city in a new way.

*From "Meet Me In St. Louis," 1944, by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


A Jarful of Marbles

Just wanted to write about a successful art project, but I was jarred by a bombardment of spelling and usage questions. The summer school elementary students are learning to play marbles, or at least how to use their thumbs to shoot taws at a cardboard box with openings cut to resemble a Firestone garage.

I love marbles, but I never played the game. We used marbles to play Chinese checkers. As kids we spent time sorting marbles by color and style in the same way we "played" with buttons and polished rocks. I have a big jar of old-timey marbles just because I like looking at it. So I took the jar to school for this week's art project.

Marbles fit in well with the preschoolers' unit on outer space. The kids thought the marbles looked like planets in the solar system. I had a photo of a very fancy marble with a solar system inside it. We also considered how gravity holds the marbles down to the bottom of the jar. What would happen if the jar was spilled in the space shuttle? It's plenty scary if the jar spills on Earth!

I had a lot of trouble writing about squirrels recently. When you write a word, and then look at it in several different sizes and fonts, it often starts to look improbable, if not impossible. Today I'm having that same difficulty with jar, jarful, and jar full. Is my glass jar full of marbles? Is it half empty? Is it a jarful? Or was a "jarful" one of the creatures described by Lewis Carroll?

jar (n.)
"cylindrical vessel," 1421, possibly from M.Fr. jarre "liquid measure" (smaller than a barrel), from Prov. jarra, from Arabic jarrah "earthen water vessel" (whence also Sp. jarra, It. giarra).

jar (v.)
to startle or unsettle; to shock or jolt

jarful (n.)
as much as a jar will hold

I don't want to get involved in the tussle between those who claim the nursery rhyme Ring Around the Roses refers to the Black Plague, and those who debunk their assertions. Putting posies in your pocket makes more sense than putting monkeys in a barrel, but is it a "pocketful of poseys" or a "pocket full of posies"? Both seem to be acceptable.

A tussle, of course, is a rough-and-tumble scuffle, but a tussock is a clump or tuft of growing grass, hair, or feathers. A tussock is closely related to Miss Muffet's tuffet, which was either a clump of grass or a low stool. My grandma Halma had a hassock, which my 1973 American Heritage Dictionary defines as "a thick cushion used as a footstool, or a dense clump of grass.

An earful (n.) doesn't have anything to do with either grass or wax:

  1. An abundant or excessive amount of something heard, such as talk or music.
  2. Gossip, especially of an intimate or scandalous nature.
  3. A scolding or reprimand.

Getting an earful is different, and probably less effective, than having a grandma [with her feet upon a hassock] making the alveolar clicking interjection to exclaim her disapproval, disdain, contempt, or impatience. Tsk-tsk! For shame!

An anthem based on Psalm 98 from my old high school choir days is playing in my head ... Make a joyful noise*. Make a joyful jarful of marbles! These art works are by students ages four to eight.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. The Psalms 98
Praise for God's Righteousness
A Psalm.
1 O sing unto the LORD a new song;
for he hath done marvelous things:
his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.
2 The LORD hath made known his salvation:
his righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the heathen.
3 He hath remembered his mercy and his truth
toward the house of Israel:
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth:
make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
5 Sing unto the LORD with the harp;
with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
6 With trumpets and sound of cornet
make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.
7 Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof;
the world, and they that dwell therein.
8 Let the floods clap their hands:
let the hills be joyful together
9 before the LORD;
for he cometh to judge the earth:
with righteousness shall he judge the world,
and the people with equity.

Supplies needed: Transparency sheets, crayons, glue sticks, colored cellophane, colored plastic shopping bags, giftwrap, scissors, construction paper scraps, some scraps of coffee filters painted with liquid watercolors.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Tom Sawyer had it right

Some nights I crawl into bed feeling utterly defeated by one of Earth's simplest creatures. Other bedtimes I am too pumped with a sense of superiority to fall asleep. It's pretty pathetic that I'm doing an endzone victory dance to celebrate rounding up some red wigglers to move them to a new bin.

I've spent a ridiculous number of hours studying websites, blogs, and county extension pamphlets to learn the best methods for separating worms from dirt. I've joined an online community of vermicomposters, for heavens' sake! How much more serious must I be to get the worms out of the awesome dirt they created?

A worm and his dirt are not soon parted.

That doesn't sound right. Maybe a boy and his dog are too soon parted. No, no, no! That sounds like a bad episode of "Lassie".

A fool and his money are soon parted. Is that Aesop or P. T. Barnum?

I've tried so far:

  1. Herding worms by placing all the food at one end of the worm bin.

  2. Putting spoonfuls from the worm bin onto sheets of black plastic to encourage the worms to dive down holes to richer new colonies below.

  3. Creating a hedonistic fruitopia in a bin within the bin hoping young worms would be upwardly mobile and self-motivated.

  4. Luring worms down through a plastic colander like errant spaghetti.

  5. Shining a bright light to encourage worms to hurry under the nearest shady beach umbrella.

So far, the only time-efficient method is sitting down, stirring the compost with a garden fork, and pulling out the worms by hand. It's not disgusting. It's pretty amazing realizing how many thousands of living creatures can occupy such a small place. Probably I could let you have a turn if you paid me a nickel.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Permanent vs. temporary

Digging into the clay soil with my garden trowel, ever so sweaty last Sunday afternoon, I pondered the concept of permanence. My two tomato plants needed bigger pots on the patio, so I went on the rampage creating space "out back".

The condo "backyard" is about 7' x 11', with maybe thirty-five square feet of dirt, and the rest concrete. When we moved in as renters, I stuck some red canna bulbs, myrtle groundcover, ivy, and wandering purple stuff into the mud around the four silly shrubs. We were "just renting," aka "temporary," but I couldn't live with the mud and dead leaves out by the patio slab. A mismatched collection of pots holding miniature roses, dusty miller, and eighty-eight cent mums and Home Depot lantana gradually encroached onto the patio slab in the years since. When you feel temporary, you don't plant things in the real ground.

"Permanent" in the early Sixties meant something briefly stinging, drippy, and smelly "given" to you by your mom to cause your hair to break off and frizz for several weeks. I received the occasional Tonette permanent wave on weekend afternoons while sitting on the tall kitchen stool watching roller derby, Mr. Wizard, Jon Gnagy drawing lessons, and Green Bay Packers games on the small black and white t.v.

"Permanent press" was an advertising phrase of the early Sixties. Women's sportswear maker Joseph Koret developed the permanent-crease process in the late Fifties. Fabrics were coated with a resin solution and baked to set a crease. Koret used this marketing phrase to proclaim the emancipation of homemakers from their ironing boards. My mom sewed our clothes, so they were not "permanent pressed". She spent two or three hours every week ironing clothes for our family of five.

Digging and sweating, my tomatoes are in the big pots, and my herbs are replanted together in a dish-shaped pot. How will the mums, dusty miller, and lantana cope with being plunked into the seriously unimproved soil around the patio?

Kelly Girls temporary services were advertised on 1960's KFOR radio. It's strange to consider the heavy load of baggage packed into the words "Kelly Girl". My gosh! Bad enough that a woman wouldn't have the time to iron her family's clothing, she might have to get a job, but not a real job, just a temporary staffing job popping in and out of offices to do typing, and having to buy permanent press clothes and nylons! Sheez! This was the sort of woman who might phone in an order to Chicken Delight, the only delivery food in town. "Don't cook tonight! Call Chicken Delight!"

In college I used Permanent Pigments paints. The Permanent Pigments Company developed the first water-based acrylic gesso in 1955, and called it Liquitex. Like permanent-press store-bought garments and temp service stenos, acrylic paints weren't considered the proper way to do things!

In Gail Butt's composition and watercolor classes we used the combination of cadmium red #2, cobalt blue, and permanent green light to solve many creations. This green paint is semi-transparent due to it's recipe of phthalo green and hansa yellow.

I've never given myself a permanent green traffic light. But I've replanted the mums into the unimproved dirt of my "out back". It's been six years since I became an owner instead of a renter, but I still feel temporary. Maybe the experience of divorce makes my inner understanding of permanent vs. temporary less clearcut.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Montessori PreSquirrels

Bountiful maple seed helicopters aka twirlybirds make Lincoln, Nebraska in early June a paradise for squirrel families. That same bumper crop clogs gutters and downspouts, then sprouts in the wet weather, creating a problem for most homeowners.

LadderMama I am not! An itty bitty misstep climbing down from a gutter inspection proved that. My dad grounded me and took away my ladder privileges. I can't be any help to him if I fall. If I fall, he can't be much help to me. These concepts were brought home to both of us in the few Major Oops seconds that knocked the wind out of me and messed up my back.

The maple seed disaster was also a gift. I couldn't do many of the tasks on my list, but I could sit by the patio picture window with an ice pack and Aleve, staring out at the big maple tree for hours at a stretch. [I couldn't actually stretch or bend or twist...]

The upside of my misadventure was the opportunity to do a lengthy professional observation of a true master class. I just had to make notes of applications for my own teaching. Dad's patio is actually the continuing educational research laboratory for applied squirrel development.

Mother Nature has prepared the perfect learning environment for little squirrels. This particular backyard family has five youngsters enrolled in Squirrel School. The kids were born blind and hairless in April. Their mother nursed them while they lived in a cavity in Squirrel Campus Maple Tree that formerly housed a family of owls. My oldest son, a higher education administrator, would certainly view the maple tree as a living/learning community residence hall!

Peeking out of the nest hole.

My observation period began just as the baby squirrels started spending time out of the nest for their next stage of development. These were clearly preschool squirrels, and just try to say that three times fast!

preschool squirrels
preschool squirrels
preschool squirrels

The Squirrel Tendencies: The practical application of the Montessori method is based on human tendencies— to explore, move, share with a group, to be independent and make decisions, create order, develop self-control, abstract ideas from experience, use the creative imagination, work hard, repeat, concentrate, and perfect one's efforts. The squirrel baby tendencies are the same.

The first tendency of the squirrels is to explore the immediate area around the nest hole, so basically the trunk and lowest, biggest branches of the maple tree. They looked for sunny spots to recline where the big branch meets the trunk, on the "deck" above a big gnarl, or on the big root at the base of the trunk.

Hard to see, but one squirrel sunning on the branch at the left and another squirrel lounging on "the deck" of The Big Gnarl.

Once they had discovered their sunny spots, the squirrels practiced returning to their spot after each new experience. They practiced flattening themselves spread-eagle on their sunny spot, and also cuddling up with their siblings at those locations.

The next day began with the baby squirrels repeating the various "sunny spots" works. Then they began to explore the tree trunk together, and later individually, often returning to the sunny spots or to the nesting cavity. They were excited to discover gnarls that catch rainwater.

The gnarls were also handy for practicing small jump and run techniques.

Development was uneven in the group. Three of the squirrels began chasing each other on the trunk of the tree, but the other two still wanted to hide in the nest hole or sun on the deck.

The squirrels spent more of their time eating maple twirlybirds on the nearby patio. When they got tired, they repeated earlier tasks. They rushed to the sunny spots or the nest hole when they were interrupted by a pair of rabble-rousing robins or a lady with a digital camera.

Where were the adult teachers of this living/learning community? The big squirrels were seen occasionally feeding nearby, but they mostly left the education of the youngsters to the prepared environment and the natural tendencies of little squirrels. Other times I suspect the adults went on a second honeymoon, as squirrels often have two sets of offspring a year.

The next day the little squirrels felt compelled to practice hanging from their back toenails. They went to their sunny spots and dangled! It was hilarious, and reminiscent of that Seventies-Eighties gravity boots fitness fad.

This day most of the squirrels also spent a great deal of time scratching themselves. I'll refrain from making the obvious comparisons to my preschool students! The squirrels ventured a greater distance into the lawn or onto the patio to gorge themselves on maple twirlybirds.

On the patio they discovered the big sticks and a substantial chunk of a branch that fell during the storm. This playground equipment encouraged curious exploration, and lumberjack logroll activities.

Running and chasing were the order of the day as the squirrels expanded their territories in the maple tree and in the lawn. As twilighted neared, they crossed paths with some baby rabbits hanging out at an adjacent summer enrichment camp. There was much playing of extraspecies "chicken" and leapfrogging about with mosquitos and fireflies. We all know that Flopsie, Mopsie, and Cottontail had blackberries, but Peter had chamomile tea for supper. I suspect the bunnies and squirrels all needed calamine lotion on their bug bites ...

The next morning was perfect for their new squirrel mission. Three squirrels embarked on a course running down the tree trunk playing follow-the-leader. Eventually the leader headed across the shady grass to leap onto the wooden swing, setting it in motion. Three leaps right, U turn, three leaps left, U turn, back to the right, and a big leap to the crossbar of the old metal swingset. From there up, up, up into the nearest pine tree! Holy smokes, Bullwinkle! These squirrels were flying. The last little squirrel, reluctant to choose work, followed slowly, then missed his leap to the crossbar. Dang! For a fraction of a second he tried to hang by his back toenails before completely muffing the dismount. Back he ran to his tanning deck on The Big Gnarl [the squirrel equivalent of the Montessori pink tower]! This squirrel needed to backtrack to the toenail hanging work.

I'm impressed by the natural sequence in the little squirrels' work. They were inspired to choose more challenging works by other students' efforts and by their own internal need to learn. What seemed like play was exploration, repetition, concentration, and perfecting one's efforts.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Holy Skiing Lemurs, Batman!

On the longest day of the year, it is good to have a cool mental image for refreshing inspiration. I share with you my niece's wintery slope fashion designs for a lemur.

As a MOBO, it's fun to have a niece who shares my interests in art and sewing, even if she lives very far away. I think she would like this tiny spider I discovered between two flower pots on my little patio. This arachnid fashion designer is less than a quarter inch long including legs. The crazy zigzag pattern at the center of its web is about the size of a dime. I worry that the little creature got one of its feet stuck on the pedal of the world's smallest Singer sewing machine!

My junior high Home Ec teachers, Mrs. Meston and Mrs. Starr, didn't let us zigzag, and neither did my mom. Zigzagging was considered kind of like cheating in those days. If you couldn't do it with a straight stitch, it probably shouldn't be done --decadent behavior unbecoming a young seamstress!

Maybe the little spider is just trying to fashion a cooling snowflake on this hot day.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Lunchbox gravity

This week I'm grateful to teach here on old feet-on-the-ground Mother Earth. As I begin to understand the complexities of dining in outer space, I'm so thankful not to have lunchroom duty on the space shuttle.

It's good to work in an environment where unzipping a lunchbox doesn't send Newton's red delicious apple floating about the room. And crumbs! Oh my gosh! Our newest preschoolers pulverized their Lunchable crackers and squooschy-mooosched the cheese slices. In space those cracker crumbs would be floating around the shuttle getting into vents, disabling sensitive equipment, and tickling astronauts' noses. I'll have nightmares about floating space cheese globs.

I hope making pretend space meal trays and pseudo-dehydrated food pouches has helped the children get an inkling about gravity. The project gave the kids a chance to practice fine-motor cutting and twisting skills. We exercised our pretending abilities when we launched our imaginary shuttle on a lunch mission. The project let me use some of the W.A.S.T.E. materials I've stockpiled, like plastic boxes, mylar ziplock pouches, and blue spongy packing sheets.

All those Capri Sun juice pouches in Earth kids' lunchboxes seem ready for blast-off. Our school just discovered the TerraCycle website, and we're considering enlisting in the Drink Pouch Brigade. TerraCycle produces new office supplies from collected empty drink pouches.

Click here for info about food in space. I hope the astronauts are tidy lunchers. O, say can you say your PB&J won't float away?

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Make My Day

Winnowings gave me this award last January, and I'm glad to pass it on to a blogger who has made my day several times lately. Bentley Christie's Red Worm Composting blog is practical and down-to-earth on several levels, as I've learned while starting worm bins for school and home. Even better, Bentley actually answers my email worm questions quickly, and in terms I can understand. His enthusiasm for the subject is contagious, and his sense of humor shows up in his various worm experiments--

  • Dear Abby digs in the dirt with Mother Nature.
  • Al Gore goes backpacking with Willie Nelson.
  • The Lorax eats hummus with the Cat In The Hat.
  • Charles Darwin goes to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

My thanks to both Christine and Bentley for making my days and encouraging my pursuits!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Chickmumps at Bear Lake

The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. With each verse, the preschoolers named the animal in a photo held up by the music teacher. And all that he could see, and all that he could see was:

  • a deer
  • a baby bird
  • a chickmump
  • a what?

The bear went over the mountain and all that he could see was a chickmump!

Took these snapshots with my Kodak Brownie Starmite in August of '68. My little sister is feeding a chickmumps at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. My brother [not shown] is standing on a big boulder down by the lake trying to skip rocks. I'm thirteen.

The bear went over the mountain and saw my cute parents. I didn't know they were so cute at the time, just sitting there enjoying each other on a mountain picnic--a Budweiser, crackers, cheese, and salami from the Scotch cooler. Mom's wearing her brown Koret windbreaker and matching skirt. She was proud to be slim, and had treated herself to some new summer clothes.

The shopping trip to Simon's at Gateway is vivid in my memory. Must have been the first time Mom sent me out of the fitting room to fetch different colors and sizes. I got to offer my opinion. Then as now, I voted for brown.

I'm sad to be in my fifties and just realizing that my parents were cute. We must have to go over a mountain to reach the point where we can see what we can see.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


24 Worm Bin Salute

This is an update on the coffee-container miniature worm bin started on June third. The twenty-four brave worm volunteers entered their habitat just two weeks ago. They've received four coffee filters with coffee grounds, a few grapes and strawberries, and a blender puree of tough asparagus ends. Then they were completely forgotten for a week.

You know what can happen when the office administrator takes a week off. The copy machine starts pleating every document, before sending it into Toner Netherland (Retrieve Misfeed From Sector 8! Retrieve Misfeed From Sector 8!). The scanner and fax start imitating the copier. The phone system gets in cahoots with the security system to send false alarms to the Fire Department.

So, it seemed wise to check back with the worms. What a bunch of Dilberts! I dumped the contents of the Maxworm House can into a tub, and did a quick roll call. Twenty-two worms showed up. They were anxious to get back to their cubicles once they learned the meeting room lacked a tray of donuts, but seemed otherwise healthy. Maybe they still have employer-sponsored health insurance and a 401(k).

Dumped back in, I have to wonder about the two missing worms. Were they out on the loading dock for a smoke break? Didn't they get the memo? Were they hanging out in the handle of the plastic coffee container? Were they tweaking their resumes? Were they no longer employed at this location?? Yikes! What if they are disgruntled?

Checked the Word Detective to learn about the phrase "in cahoots":

... As a synonym for "conspiring with" or "collaborating with," "in cahoots" carries a loose, folksy tone that nicely softens what might otherwise be regarded as paranoia..."Cahoots" is a classic early 19th century American coinage, largely unknown outside the U.S. The origin of "cahoots" is a bit uncertain, but it can be narrowed down to two possible roots, both French words. The American scholar John Bartlett, of "Bartlett's Quotations" fame, felt certain that "cahoot" came from the French "cohorte," meaning "company or band." The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, theorizes that it came from the French "cahute," meaning "cabin," reasoning that to "be in cahoots with" was to be as close as two people sharing a small cabin.

Not surprising that twenty-four worms sharing a small coffee container might experience a loose, if organic, paranoia. Hey, dudes, mellow out. No more coffee grounds for you.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Sangria Seventies and smashed silos

Looking at my son's photos of Spain--Malaga, Valencia, Granada, Barcelona, Madrid--the Moorish art, the palm trees outside the fort, the Gaudi cathedral and the bullfight rings. Excuse me! Wasn't that a pitcher of sangria on the metal cafe table overlooking the beach??

Back in the Seventies in Nebraska drinking sangria and eating Doritos was considered multicultural awareness. It was a primitive time, I try to explain to the Woolly Mammoth. Diversity was deciding whether or not to put Everclear in the pitcher of jug red wine with the slices of orange and lemon from IGA and the carbonated soda.

What should one serve at a Seventies retro party?
  • French Onion dip made from Lipton soup mix and served with Weavers wavy chips
  • Knorr spinach dip made with canned water chestnuts and served in a bread bowl with Rye-Krisp and fresh broccoli florets
  • Hot cheese dip melted in the harvest gold crockpot made with Velveeta and Rotel
  • Fondue with beef cubes and peanut oil
  • Crepes with creamed seafood and spinach
  • Iceberg lettuce with alfalfa sprouts and Ranch dressing
  • Tab without cyclamates

Does one really need a lighted dance floor for a Seventies retro party?

  • Not if one has a disco mirror ball and/or a lot of citronella candles for an outdoor event.
  • Be sure to dig out those Grand Funk Railroad and Bachman Turner Overdrive LPs. Three-part names are very Seventies.
  • Fake ferns in macrame hangers are essential and cannot be switched out unless you are wearing leg-warmers.
  • Not if one has a Foosball table.
  • Persons with pseudo wood paneling in their basement rec rooms or chili red shag carpet are exempt from all sangria aesthetic regulations.
  • Not if one can fit in a Quiana shirt and waffle-soled shoes.

The images flash by quickly. So many talking heads on the tube tell of floods. ..tornadoes, declared disaster areas... the caved-in silo between the corrugated metal outbuildings looks just like a Frank Gehry masterpiece from a junior's year abroad Spain visit.

Sangria was introduced to the U.S. at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. It is basically a very inexpensive and efficient way to get you drunk with red wine, fruit slices, and 7-Up. An extra spirit is usually added--brandy, rum, vodka or gin-- to send you off bullfighting with windmills, or designing architectural masterpieces. It's authentic Seventies, so dip that Dorito in the Velveeta!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Lean and hungry pork chops

I've marinaded the potato slices in Caesar dressing, Newman's Own. They are on the tiny Weber cooking slowly with the sweet corn and pork chops. I call these potatoes, "Et tu, Brutaters." [Act III, scene i]

My youngest, just home from nine months in Italy, has a lean and hungry look. I doubt that Caesar would consider him dangerous, and I'm not sure his skinniness has anything to do with thinking too much. [Act I, scene ii] It's just his age. If I had eaten as much pasta as my son, you could use me as a doorstop at the Baptistry in Florence.

Woe, for I have gotten myself into a Shakespearean cauldron of confusion. Looking ahead in my book of quotations I find that Marc Antony speaks the phrase, "Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war." [Act 3, scene 1 of Julius Caesar]. Why can I hear Kenneth Branaugh shouting that phrase in my mind? What charge did he yell in Henry V?

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...? [Act 3, scene 1]

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Plexiglas party for three

Although trivia means unimportant, trifling things or details, especially obscure and useless knowledge, it's origin has been a signpost in my life since my Greco-Roman class back at old East High. Trivia derives from Latin for the meeting of three roads, from tri- "three" + via "road." The idea is that things at the crossroads are insignificant, ordinary, and/or vulgar.

When three ideas or events converge, it often means inspiration is waiting for me to take notice:

  • I picked up a large quantity of clear and light blue plastic boxes at the most recent W.A.S.T.E. recyclables giveaway for art teachers organized by Raytheon and Alcatel-Lucent. I need to use them for an art project pronto, as they are taking up a corner of my room.

  • La Scala commissioned an opera based on Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", and the NPR reported, "the drama won't be over till the polar bear sings." Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli says, "It will be about the tragedy of our present situation ... It is a great challenge, of course, to write an opera on such an unusual subject. It is certainly not the story of Romeo and Juliet."

  • Al Peppard wrote in a society piece for the Dallas Morning News about a party, " To complete the transparency theme, a Plexiglas bridge spanned the [Olympic size] pool where belly dancers ... performed for the crowd."

Pondering the set design possibilities for a global warming opera reminded me of the dreadful clear acrylic stairs used in the Dallas Opera's 2003 production of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades . Très Target!

So could the polar bears sing and swim in an Olympic size pool with Al Gore on the Plexiglas bridge? Has there ever been an opera production with synchronized swimming? Could my students build a bridge sculpture out of all the plastic boxes? Maybe we should stick with crystal palaces. And no, we won't be making clothespin belly dancers! I will be repeating some of the transparency drawing and painting project from 2006. We may have to read some of Daniel Pinkwater's books about Larry the polar bear who likes blueberry muffins. Think cool for summer school!

If you can't wait for the La Scala premiere, there's a fun parody of "An Inconvenient" opera at http://www.ecorazzi.com/2008/06/07/video-preview-of-an-inconvenient-truth-the-opera/.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


I got a Basketball Train

For Sixties kids it was a huge event if your mom or dad went to a seminar, convention, or bridge club. This is when we would get totally cool stuff like cocktail swords and parasols, or bridge tallies. You could be the momentary envy of the neighborhood with a tiny paper umbrella. Your Barbie was desperate to have new magazines on her coffee table, so bridge tallies were da bomb. Girls traded Barbie bridge tally "magazines" the way boys traded baseball cards.

Remember, this is an era when having a doll cake at your birthday party showed you were in the social elite with big spender parents. A teacher friend reports that the elite first grader girls were picked up in a magenta limousine on the last day of school Wednesday, then whisked off for a manicure spa party, leaving the uninvited classmates crying on the sidewalk. Scary!

Bridge club... in-crowd... tallies ... tally marks ...////

Counting and taking turns are goals of every prekindergarten teacher. A million years ago, I taught a weekly kindergarten readiness class at the local rec center. This game was created more by desperation than inspiration. It certainly wasn't part of a lesson plan, but it was one of the most successful and best-loved segments of Kindergarten Countdown.

Basketball Train

Materials--one miniature Playskool-type basketball goal, one ball, chalk, blackboard or sidewalk, chairs arranged in a line or squares marked on the floor with tape, and a copy of The Little Red Caboose.

Set up chairs or squares in a row leading up to a basketball free-throw line. (One less chair than the number of kids) Have a blackboard nearby or other surface for recording tally marks. Introduce the idea of trains, engine, and caboose. Explain the concept of making a tally mark when a basket is scored.

Play--Kids "ride" the train, moving up one car at a time until they reach the engine. The engineer hops out of the engine to take a turn shooting a basket from a line on the floor. All the other kids move up to the train car ahead of them. When the "engineer" shoots a basket, he/she runs to the blackboard and makes a chalk tally mark, then runs to the caboose chair or square. The new child in the "engine" chair hops out to shoot, and all the kids move up.

Enhancements--Add a rhythm band instrument at each train car/square so kids have turns ringing a bell, blowing a whistle, and rubbing the sandpaper blocks, etc. Other positions can say, "clickety-clack," "chug-chug-chug," "woo-A-woo!" Begin grouping the tally marks into fives and tens.

I always remember Basketball Train fondly, and to the tune of the mid-Seventies Cheech and Chong song, "Basketball Jones". I'm thinking it's time to tie some shoelaces and set up a Basketball Train on the summer school playground! If you don't want to play, you can read bridge tally magazines with Barbie.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Alamo cocktail swords

Waiting to pass through the security chute at the new Collin County Courthouse for jury duty, I wondered why this was the first event on my summer vacation itinerary. Shouldn't I be beached on the sand sipping a parasol-garnished frozen concoction?

Not the moment for applying sunscreen and searching for my lost shaker of salt; alas, I was on the case in McKinney. To be honest, I was hoping to be off the case, but staying philosophical should I be selected for a jury, the duty of every citizen.

There's a life-size bronze statue of Col. William Barrett Travis in the courthouse lobby, drawing his famous line in the sand with a life-size cocktail sword . "Bronze" plus "sand" should equal tan, relaxed, and buff, but those of us gathered in the Central Jury Room are chubby, irritable, and pasty.

The legend goes that Travis called the defenders of the Alamo together to announce that reinforcements would not be coming. The District Clerk announced there would be no coffee, let alone donuts.Travis drew his sword to make a line in the dirt, asking all who were ready to stay and die to cross the line. One person declined to cross, but escaped over the Alamo wall, and lived to tell the tale.

I've never made a clothespin Col. Travis, but I suspect it would be much like making a clothespin Captain Jack Sparrow. Wish I'd thought of that for all those times when my middle school sons had to do Texas history projects!

When my sons were about middle school age, they had a computer game called "Battle Bugs". The bugs marched around on a picnic blanket planting toothpick flags to a theme song forever implanted in my brain. I don't know if the battling bugs ever had cocktail parasols or swords. Maybe they drew their own line in the powdered sugar defending a box of donuts.

Two songs are battling now for control of my mind. Will the "Battle Bugs" theme conquer Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville"? Shouldn't this internal struggle render me unfit for jury duty? I don't even like donuts, but I'm ready to climb the walls to get a glazed one with a cup of black coffee!

...The alluring odor of last week's pizza lies heavy in the air. Antennae strain and agony etches lines of pain into the faces of the cockroaches. With monumental effort, these warriors raise the flag above the carnage in the pepperoni. This is Battle Bugs. A game of military strategy where insect troops rage across tabletops and storm junk food targets. Standing in their way are legions of enemy bugs, armed to the teeth. You - and your battle smarts - guide your troops to glory. Will your armada of spiders cross the cola lake in time to save the flag? Will the suicide run of a kamikaze mosquito take out the praying mantis? At what cost? At what price victory? We Will Fight In The Pizza. - We Will Fight In The Cookies. We Will Fight In The Coleslaw. We Will Never Give Up.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


MaxWorm House vermicomposting?

I don't know if this will work, but I've got a surplus of red wigglers volunteering to colonize new worlds. As teachers learn, it's all in how you phrase the question:

"I need someone really brave and strong for this job... "

The little kids are so desperate to be chosen that they use their left hand to support their waving right arm. Same with worms.

With the current success of our school wormbin, we are considering setting up bins for families, possibly as a school fundraiser. I'm wondering about the family that isn't really ready to commit to a regular bin due to space concerns or squeamishness. Could we hook them with an small introductory worm chalet, then reel them in for the big bin?

I understand parents who can handle the goldfish bowl, but don't want to walk the German shepherd or empty the kitty litter box. Heck, I've always been one of them. Worms have a lot going for them in the mini-pet competition:

  • Worms do not run in a squeaky exercise wheel all night like hamsters.
  • Worms do not die the second day like the residents of an Uncle Wiggly ant farm.
  • Worms do not molt.
  • Worms do not shed on your nice black slacks.
  • Worms never need a bigger shell like a hermit crab.
  • Worms don't require shoebox burials and backyard funerals.
  • Worms DO NOT STINK.
  • Worms are really very quiet.
  • Worms are perfectly happy to be neglected while you are on vacation.
  • Worms do not bite, scratch, or sting.
  • Worms are easy-going about being picked up the wrong way.
  • Worms do not need special accomodations to breed.
  • Worms are pleased to participate in all non-malicious amateur experiments.
  • Worms eat your sensitive double agent spy documents.

And so my intrepid volunteers are going to try living in a coffee can mini habitat, complete with handy handle, on the bathroom countertop. I drilled four holes in the lid, three in the bottom, and eight on the sides of the coffee can.

For this outpost, I've torn up half the lid of an egg carton and one tp tube. I shredded one each incredibly difficult Sudoku and NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle, and one credit card offer. I added a scoop of dirt, a dead petunia, and four leaves from last autumn, and sprinkled in maybe two tablespoons of water. You know those plates you always hoped your grown children would take to their first apartment, but they shopped at IKEA instead? I set the MaxWorm House on one of those plates.

Tomorrow, after they complete the rigorous selection process and written essay, I will add the best and brightest two dozen red wigglers. Thursday, I will give them a soggy strawberry. Maybe after that I'll teach them to write blog posts in their off hours, but they don't have the keyboarding skills of Archy the cockroach.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Returned to Forever

True, it would have been fun to hear the reunion concert of Return to Forever at Grand Prairie's Nokia Theatre Sunday night. Instead, I heard the fabulous Fort Worth Opera's "Turandot" on Sunday. Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, and Lenny White received a glowing review in the Dallas Morning News for their spontaneous fusion jams.

I had returned to those already uninspiring "Forever" postage stamps through the recent rate increase. Sure was nice to pick up some Frank Sinatra and Minnesota Statehood panes at the post office. The Woolly Mammoth is a big Sinatra fan, and he will have fun using the stamps when he writes his grandfather, soon I suggest!

I'll be even more excited about the Charles and Ray Eames stamps that go on sale June seventeenth.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Full-boring without a full-deck ... or Bored to be wild

Recently a motorcycle shop opened on my regular route to work. "Full Boar Cycles" slowly penetrated my foggy morning brain, and I began a brief daily fret that for all my years I might have been mistaken about the expression "full bore," as in "she's really going full-bore on that project." I always figured it was a sort of John Henry all out effort, and had to do with mining.

What if I've been mistaken all my born days, and the expression is really "going full boar," like a deranged razorback? That would be embarrassing!

Danger Baby rode with me one morning to be dropped at the DART rail station. He reassured me that "full-bore" is like "full-throttle," but "full boar" is like Harley Davidson hogs--although I'm pleased to report that he had an instant of self-doubt when we passed the cycle shop.

And so that is why I was twiddling my thumbs in the central jury room at the courthouse this morning, fully bored after completing the Sudoku, crossword, and wordsearch puzzles. And that's when I started to worry about Piggy in Lord of the Rings. Did Piggy get his glasses broken, or was he killed? What was the deal with the pig hunt? Did we read William Golding's novel in Mrs. Ehrlich's tenth grade English class, or in Mrs. Barry's eleventh grade class?

Thanks to an online synopsis, I've got those uncivilized boys straightened out, if not the English teachers. Thanks to a 1997 New York Times piece by William Safire, I've got a better idea about "bore," and thanks to the long morning spent not being selected for a jury, my brain is ready for naptime.

''Moving or operating at the greatest speed or with maximum power'' is the Random House definition of the adjective ... Where is it from? ''We are working on an entry on full bore,'' says John Simpson of the O.E.D. ...''and our evidence shows that it derives from the bore meaning 'cylinder.' Full bore is the widest capacity of a cylinder.'' Some lexicographers think the bore first measured an engine cylinder (and have a 1927 citation), while others think that the origin is from the measurement of the inside of the barrel of a gun. ''A .45-caliber gun can take a .44-caliber load,'' John Snyder of the gun lobby tells me, ''so full bore would be the maximum-size load. In another sense, it means 'maximum capable powder load.' ''

As for playing with a full deck, it's not a big deal working with the preschoolers. When we did our end of the school year clean-up, I found lots of long-lost Uno cards under rugs and behind cupboards.

This little piggy went to jury duty,

This little piggy stayed at home,

This little piggy had a dictionary,

And this little piggy had none.

And the last little piggy rode a Harley, all the way home !

Get your motor runnin'

Head out on the information super-highway

Googlin' for adventure

And whatever comes our way

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Acrobats add to "Turandot"

The news story of a Chinese acrobatic troupe stranded at DFW Airport tugged at our collective ravelled memories. Now these very young performers were adding to the exoticism of the fairy tale Chinese court of the ice-hearted princess Turandot. Fort Worth Opera's 2008 Festival-goers loved this happy addition to the already fabulous production.

The youthful gymnasts, flew into Dallas after performing at a casino in New York at the start of what was to be a nine-month tour of the U.S. Members of the Guanhua Acrobatic team from Shanghai spoke next to no English. The man who had arranged their trip was not there to meet them. They had no money, no job, food, shelter, and no plane tickets that day last February. After spending time in homeless shelters, they found a temporary home with a circus acquaintance living in Kauffman County.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram story of May 27th explains how the acrobats became "featured supernumeraries" in Puccini's opera directed by Kurt Howard. I only wish "Pagliacci" had also been planned for the Festival to give the acrobats more work!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


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