The air is just faintly crisp. Fall has officially arrived. My creative energy is coming back, but sadly, the hummingbirds have left the patio.

Back to the design problem of the Kansas car window storm quilt blocks. I have decided to use two or three of the blocks as stand-alone wall-hangings to work out design and technical questions. I received some great input on fabric and color options, including using headliner car fabric or trying a batik pattern.

Although I've worked near Kay's Fabric Center in Richardson, Texas for a long time, I'd never visited the store. I don't sew clothes for myself any more, and no longer make childrens' theater or Halloween costumes. Still, I felt like I'd entered Aladdin's cave when I found the incredible designer fabrics in this thirty-eight year-old, family-owned store at 518 W. Arapaho Rd,. Suite 113, Richardson, TX 75080.

Maybe a more timely analogy would be Howard Carter telling Lord Carnarvon that he could see "wonderful things" as he peered into Tut's tomb in 1922. These were fabrics fit for pharoahs, fairy godmothers, overpaid professional athletes, and Mozart's Queen of the Night. King Tut's treasures will be on display at the Dallas Museum of Art beginning this month.

When I reached visual stimulus overload, the store's staff led me on a tactile tour of luxurious wools. Like a tasting of fine wines, this experience took me far beyond my station in life! These fabrics were finer than those sewn for the Emperor's New Clothes. Even my inexperienced fingers could tell the difference between $150/yd. wool and $295/yd. wool. Three and a half yards would make a suit for a normal-sized captain of finance. It could take six or more yards to create a suit for a Dallas Cowboy or Dallas Maverick.

Sadly, I had to admit I was looking for a flat-fold remnant priced near $1.99/yd. to test color and construction techniques for my Kansas blocks. My price range is closer to Laura Ingalls Wilder's dugout on the banks of Plum Creek than Aladdin's jewels or Michael Irvin's closet. It was on up the trail to the sewing/craft chain store for me.

This gray quilting cotton could pass fairly well as the interior of a slightly rusty '96 Buick. It wouldn't detract from the intense colors of a July thunderstorm over lush green Kansas fields.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Well, we're back in business, boys and girls, just like the old days.

Last week I went meandering in the garden store down the street for a little change of pace. A slow afternoon in the greenhouse, so an employee came over to spend time with me. Is it too late to plant this? Will that come back in the spring?

Whenever I plant a little rosemary, I told the woman, it's a goner. She disagreed, proclaiming anybody can grow that herb. I bought a little rosemary, just to be an optimist, along with a mint plant and two brussel sprout plants. Maybe I could exorcise my childhood brussel sprout trauma by growing some of my own!

"Of course," I told the garden store woman, "the white butterfly will find these brussel sprout plants before you can say, 'Butch and Sundance." She gave me a look that said she was too darn perky to poison her mental outlook by prolonging her exposure to me, and went off to water ornamental peppers.

Am I a pessimist? Or am I a realist? I'd like to think I'm just in awe of the abilities of Mother Nature's creations to find their favorite food source. Don't mark me down as a party pooper on my cosmic permanent record!

So it was no surprise when the white cabbage butterfly arrived on the patio this afternoon to do an Isadora Duncan version of egg-laying on the little brussel sprout plants. I hadn't seen her for months, but she was back in business, boys and girls.

I'm thankful to Paul Newman for his gift of precious cinematic moments that color my take on life. It helps to imagine old Butch entering a heavenly Union Pacific boxcar to chat with Woodcock, aka George Furth, who is still in the employ of Mr. E. H. Harriman.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


If you brew it, they will come

Dateline: Iowa--This could be the best Halloween story of the year. The economy, presidential campaign, and natural disasters have given us so many terrors that we've reached catastrophe overload. We are desensitized, and feeling pretty helpless to make a difference.

Enter the field of screams from stage right. Can't you see Mrs. Olson with those Folgers' fangs? I vont to dwink your coffee and hang upside down all night until my brains are cooked. [Not that this resembles any college student sons.]

Each morning I drink several mugfuls of coffee, then add my used filter full of grounds to the worm bin. I'm not all that awake, and I've never checked for boiled bat brains in the filter.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa used to seem like the safest place on earth. Powdered non-dairy creamer seemed like one of life's most frightening aspects.

Sending my best wishes to this unfortunate woman who had to endure rabies shots. I hope she got to watch one of Kevin Costner's better movies in the treatment room.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) _ It wasn't just the caffeine that gave an Iowa woman an extra jolt after she had her morning coffee. It was also the bat she found in the filter.
The Iowa Department of Public Health says the woman reported a bat in her house but wasn't too worried about it. She turned on her automatic coffee maker before bedtime and drank her coffee the next morning.

She discovered the bat in the filter when she went to clean it that night. The woman has undergone treatment for possible rabies.

Health officials say that the bat was sent to a lab but that its brain was too cooked by the hot water to determine whether it had rabies.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Practicing 5s

A small student is struggling to write the number five. I feel her pain! Next to eight, five is the most difficult number. Making a handsome 5 was a huge endeavor for me back just after the dinosaurs died out. This was slightly before I learned to zip my jacket, and well prior to my struggles spelling "kitchen" and "squirrel".

You can find memory devices and practice worksheets for 5 on the internet. Some lucky kids are able to master this fiendish numeral by remembering "straight neck, fat tummy, wearing cap". Forty-five years later, I can't recall if my beloved first grade teacher, Mrs. Erickson, helped me personalize the writing process, or if it was one of my schoolteacher aunts. Maybe I was inspired by the frequent sight of my dad sitting on a metal rocking lawn chair wearing his hat and counting the time between lightning flash and thunder boom.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Wednesday attitude adjustment

This in from the You Just Thought Your Day Was Rough Department:

When I left work at 5:15 or so, I turned on the car radio. My NPR station was still in its fall pledge drive, so I switched over to WRR 101.1 for some classical music. But, no, my favorite soap opera was still on the air. The Dallas City Council convened today at nine a.m., and WRR was still broadcasting live from the meeting.

The Council was considering Agenda Item 55 at that moment, and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem, Dwaine R. Caraway, was calling for the men "with the motails in the back row to please stand up." Now Councilman Caraway from District 4 is best known for his anti-sagging pants campaign, and he once appeared on Dr. Phil's t.v. show to promote it. The slogan for that campaign is, "Grandma says: Pull 'Em Up!" That's why I thought a "motail" was likely either a fashion statement or a bad hairdo.

The Deputy Mayor Pro Tem was actually asking the men in the back to rise so he could commend them for their plan to build "an unseedly motail," an extended-stay hotel that "meant quality." Don't know about you, but just contemplating this Candlewood Suites in all its unseedliness brought a smile to my tired face.

Next, Agenda Item 54 was reopened for consideration. Seems there hadn't been a proper request for speakers opposed to a drive-through bank in Subdistrict B-2 of Planned Development District 749, aka the Baylor Hospital Special Use District, the first time around. The opposed speakers were even more agitated than they would have been if they were called the first time, if that is possible, and even further off the topic.

The first woman directed her fury at the Council for "sitting up there eating your grapes and your prunes and not letting us comment..." The next speaker went off about Baylor Hospital, and how "they are killing people up there with surgeries they don't even need and the security guards threw me in jail when I walked out the back door of the lunchroom with a plate lunch even though I had a paycheck in my pocket and $8000, so I didn't even need to cash my paycheck, like I couldn't pay for the plate lunch, and they're killing people in there, I know 'cause I worked there."

I spend a lot of time trying to get my preschool council members to eat their grapes and their prunes. They tell rambling stories that often have nothing to do with the agenda item. Some of them have a lot of trouble pulling up their pants and remembering to flush. Still, most of them can tell the difference between a drive-through bank and a hospital.

I'm humming a little WWI ditty:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.
Tuck in your motails, and smile, boys, that's the style.

And [Note To Self] next time, remember to buy the unseedly grapes at Albertsons!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Small Hadron Kitchen Collider

Recently received some granite counter-top samples from a remodeling friend who knows I'm incapable of throwing such stuff away. The granite squares have been surprisingly useful as teeny-tiny trivits, and particle colliders.

I gotta say that after a long day with preschoolers, it is very satisfying to smash a clove or two of garlic between cool, smooth, palm-sized blocks of stone. Haiiii-JYAH!!! Splat!

Saturday the CPR instructor explained that there is nothing to be done for a broken toe except to tape it to the next toe and hobble on about life. If you happen to be a karate student or even a black belt, don't whine to your wife about your broken toe. That only gets sympathy the first time. If your wife happens to be at home with three small children while you are off kicking and breaking boards with your foot for fun, you should probably send her a dozen roses and never ever mention your foot pain. Speaking from experience here...

We moved to Texas in 1990. The Superconducting Super Collider being built underground near Waxahachie was big news. I was vaguely concerned about a Big Bang occurring so close to my home, but the day-to-day realities of parenting three boys were more atom-smashing than particle physics.

The boys needed to get to school on time with their lunchboxes, homework, permission slips, and those darn fund-raising order forms each morning. They needed to have their clothes on right-side out, eat a healthy breakfast, and take their asthma/allergy medicines.

Getting to school on time is so important. If you are late you miss the announcements and instructions, and also the settling-down-to-learn part of the morning. This was brought home to me during a truly comic day in sixth grade.

At Eastridge Elementary my sixth grade classroom windows looked out toward "L" Street. Two of my classmates, Ron and Dave, lived across the street from the school. They liked to shoot hoops on the driveway as long as possible before crossing the street for school.

When the first school bell rang, many students entered the school and sat down at their desks. As usual, we looked out the window at Ron and Dave shooting baskets across the street. The second bell rang, meaning students better hustle so they won't be tardy. Ron and Dave were still playing basketball, but they were known for cutting it close.

The tardy bell rang. The school day began. The roll was taken along with the lunch count. The sixth graders should have been sharing "current events", but we were all too mesmerized by the suspenseful drama taking place outside the window.

  • How long would Dave and Ron keep shooting baskets?
  • Would Ron's mom come outside and yell at them?
  • When would they realize that bell they heard was the tardy bell, not the first bell?
  • How stupid would they look when the realization kicked in?
  • How silly would they feel when they found we were all watching their personal blooper?

By now the entire fifth grade had figured it out too, and was staring out the window. Slowly, the awareness spread down the classrooms on the north side of the school to the fourth, third, and second graders. The awakening was everything we were hoping.

Suddenly dim lightbulbs flickered over the heads of the pair. Ron's mom appeared, hollering. Can you say "skedaddle" boys and girls??? Darryl and his other brother Darryl hitched up their overalls and came tearing across the street and into the school. They even bumped into each other while scrambling for their lunch boxes. Hinckley and Hadley were very, VERY tardy. The show was over.

It was a powerful, cinematic moment, right up there with "Gone With The Wind"-- like watching Harold Edgerton's strobe photography of a bullet hitting an apple--or seeing the Jellystone Ranger nab Yogi and Boo-Boo.

"Some think this Hadron project will create a black hole that will suck in the Earth." I read that in the "Points" section of Sunday's Dallas Morning News. A scientist who worked on both the Superconducting Super Collider project and the Large Hadron Collider answers:

It is not possible for the LHC to create a massive black hole. Massive black holes, which swallow everthing near them and are created by gravitational collapse, require enormous mass. Not even the sun's entire mass would be sufficient. Some theories speculate that the collisions at the LHC could produce miniature black holes. Even if they are produced, they will evaporate immediately. There is no possibility of gravitational collapse.

That's okay. There's no possibility of real science being heeded in a McCain-Palin administration, either. Just dress that moose, feed him a Pop-Tart and send him out to shoot baskets. The whole school is watching

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Rearing caterpillars & frass champions

It's been a poopy hornworm day on both fronts--school and home. Hornworms are those ENORMOUS CAMOUFLAGED DEVOURERS wiping your tomato and pepper plants right off the map.

Caterpillar poop is called "frass", and hornworms are the Texas State Fair champions of frass. They would hold the Olympic World Title of frass if they cared about anything besides eating. They are so good at what they do naturally that it's frightening to consider the possibility of hornworms training with coaches named "Bela" and using performance enhancers.

Tomato hornworms [which are actually hawk moth caterpillars, not worms] are a major garden pest, so I went to the source for pest info, Insects in the City, for a factsheet. Scrolling down through the insect pests I found:

Asps & Other Stinging Caterpillars
Rearing Caterpillars

This made sense in a confused super-cowgirl mindset. Hornworms do have those nasty pronghorns on their bezoozies. They rear up in a threatening manner then hold very tight when school kids are trying to pluck them off the tomato plants. I bet Slim Pickens could ride a rearing hornworm into a nuclear detonation, and it would still keep eating and creating frass.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Planning my week's lunches

We're starting the fifth week of school. Not that I'm counting, but that's eighteen sack lunches so far. On Sunday afternoons I need a little personal pep rally to get psyched up for another week. A perky theme, a skit, maybe a few cheers and songs, then I do an impressive jump with pompoms. It doesn't resemble a herkie.

Herkie is a vocabulary word I didn't learn until my second half century started, being more word nerd than cheerleading type. A herkie is a jump where your [and your is definitely a hypothetical here!] weak leg is bent towards the floor and your strong leg is out to the side as high as it will go. Named after cheerleading legend Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer.

This Herkie is not the same as the Herkimer who haunts the mixed up memories of the Captain Kangaroo generation. That Herkimer, depending who you ask, was Herkimer the Lonely Doll, Herkimer the Homely Clown, or even my off-base Herkimer the Homely Hound.

The homely bassett hound of my memory was probably the plastic walking dog named Gaylord, by Ideal Toy. That ugly "flesh"-colored hard plastic segmented pseudo-pet was of the same era as Marvel the Mustang, by Marx. Which is all beside the point.

Now what was the point? Getting psyched for packing lunches for school, of course!

One Sunday I broiled chicken breasts. My lunches were either Caesar salads with chicken and grated Parmesan, or chicken and black bean soft tacos ready for the school microwave. These were lunches worth cheering.

Last week my theme was "healthy salad trio". Give me an H. Give me an S. Give me a T! I made coleslaw with caraway and yogurt dressing, watermelon and green grape ambrosia, and romaine with sliced broiled steak. That lasted three days, then the leftover steak was gone.

Taking its place was an easy substitute that took less than ten minutes to make. It would score a two-point conversion after touchdown:

Put frozen edamame in a microwaveable bowl with 3T water. Cover. Nuke for 3 min. Let stand 2 min. Drain and shell edamame.

While edamame is cooking, put frozen cocktail shrimp in colander in the sink and run water on it to thaw.

Slice some fresh red bell pepper. Cut ripe avocado.

Place everything in a plastic storage container. Squeeze juice of 1/2 lemon through a strainer into the mixture. Add shake of fresh black pepper. Season according to your tastes.

I added some of my friend Rosa's chili sauce. Her recipe is a concoction of peppers, garlic, and cilantro put in the food processor, then mixed with olive oil. Wish I knew the details, but it was delish with the shrimp!

Pack a serving of the salad in a thermal lunchbox with a frozen Blue Ice pack, or store in the school refrigerator until lunch.

I sure hope some spirited inspirations pop into my head soon for the coming week. It's going to take some Spartan cheers to get me pumped.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


No plagues for me, thank you

My walking buddy is rarely so happy as when she has a juicy book about a plague, horrible medical condition, or natural disaster (preferably with egotistical males trying to prove they are smarter and stronger than Mother Nature). I cannot read these books. I shouldn't even read reviews of these books. Onset of symptoms is rapid.

Except for arterial bleeding, I could currently have every condition covered by the first aid/CPR instructor at our certification class this morning. Okay, maybe I haven't been poisoned by plants, snakes, insects, as we sort of skipped over them. I'm not actually choking, and the instructor helped me understand and feel confident about using the Heimlich. It was when he got to concussions and objects poked into eyeballs (don't pull them out) that I started to lose it! Instructions in using Epi-pens for severe allergic reactions hit too close to home. We still had to get through major burns (spray foam shaving cream over the entire burn area to prevent airborne infection--no gels), bones protruding through the skin, and seizures.

I did everything wrong when I suffered a back injury this summer. Asking a friend to lift him probably made my dad's hip breaks worse.

Am I sweating profusely and experiencing confusion yet? Is my smile crooked? Is there a great weight on my chest? Does your Kroger have a defibrillator?

Geez, the recommended way to treat a nosebleed has even changed. Lean forward, not back. Pinch the bridge of the nose. Fold a brown paper bag over and over until you have a tiny square, then place it between your top front teeth and inner lip. I kid you not.

After all that, the resuscitation and chest compression practice was comparatively easy, but the damage had been done. My head is throbbing. The usual restorative beef burrito did not help at all. It may be time to take the preventive measures of putting on my pajamas and hiding under the blanket until a new day dawns.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

After this exhausting week of natural disasters and economic catastrophes, it is good to remember the day is beautiful if I'm paying attention.

I'm trying to remain a cockeyed optimist about the possible foundation repair to my condominium building. The water shut-off valves outside each unit were inspected to ensure they would survive a major building repair. The shifting in my part of the building is minor in comparison to the other half. Visualize wringing out a washcloth. That is the twisting that has occurred between the two halves of the building. The washcloth wring twist pretty much describes the current economic situation, too.

Still, the sky was a gorgeous pink and purple accented by the red neon Walgreens sign from the store across the street when I took my recyclables to the carts at six a.m. When I left for work an hour later, hot air balloons were floating above the city in advance of this weekend's Plano Balloon Festival. Arriving at school, there was a perfect sunflower open to catch the light of this lovely North Texas day.

Stopping by my public library after work to pick up picture books about occupations for the preschoolers, I was wowed by this fabulous angular-winged katydid sunning on the wall. Impressive in person, I'm even more amazed since I downloaded the digital photo and can notice details my human eyes couldn't see unaided. Isn't he a handsome dude!? Okay, he's got some green tattoos, but I'm still asking him would you be mine, could you be mine, won't you be my neighbor?

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Preschool Occupational Outlook Handbook

My students are learning about occupations. Occupations are what grown-ups have so they can pay for groceries.

Occupations are different from "work". Work is what Montessori students choose, receive individual lessons on, and do much of each school day. Work is both a noun and a verb for the students. They may repeat a work as often as they need until they master it.

Occupations are different from "jobs". Jobs are responsibilities in the classroom that the older preschoolers do for about ten minutes at 1:35 each afternoon. Jobs are feeding the fish, pushing the carpet sweeper, passing out papers, watering plants, wiping around the sink and making sure the toilets have been flushed, dusting, straightening books ... No heavy lifting required. All the members of the class depend on each student to perform his/her job.

Work requires initiative. A student must take action to choose a work from the shelves, receive instruction, and follow through with the required learning task. Work ranges from stringing wooden beads to learning about biomes and continents, or carrying in addition. Work is a personal responsibility for growth. The students who continually challenge themselves in their work choices are usually the happiest kids.

Occupations are for grown-ups. When I was a kid each school year seemed to include a unit on "Our Community Helpers"--firemen, policemen, teachers, garbage men, doctors, and dentists, plus Mr. Toothbrush. My classmates were briefly impressed that my dad (and at one time my mom) was an engineer. Then I had to explain that he didn't drive a choo-choo train. Bummer.

The best I understood it, my dad went to a smoky-smelling office where he drew on big paper to figure out how to make buildings stand up. He got to use mechanical pencils and a T-square. I knew he kept his "brains" in his shirt pocket, with all sorts of block-printed letters and numbers. When he left the office to catch the bus home he said good bye to Faye, a strange lady with odd yellow hair and a candy dish on her desk who wasn't a mommy. Sometimes Dad brought big rolls of sweet-scented blueprint paper home for us to draw giant pictures. Other times Dad took me along when he went to watch construction workers to see if they were doing a good job following his instructions. I was sure that failure to follow instructions led to building collapse.

Dad was still an engineer when my sons were born, but not when they were old enough to appreciate blueprint paper and construction sites. My sons had a tougher time understanding what their father did at the office. Based on visits to their father's place of employment, their dad got money to buy our groceries by burning popcorn in the microwave and drinking Diet Coke.

Although I was a homemaker, I got to speak at the first grade Career Day once. I was very involved designing and sewing costumes for the local children's theater. It was an avocation, something I loved doing.

During the calm afternoon "Line Time" before the classroom jobs today, we chatted about occupations. I told students the names for occupations, and they guessed about the jobs involved. We started off with -ologists, and moved on to -icians. Mathematicians, musicians, and magicians, dieticians (who do not bury dead people!), herpetologists, geologists, and paleontologists...

One student explained his parents' occupation thus:

They get a bag of broken money to fix. Then they fix it. They make it better. Then they put the money back in the bag and give it back.

It sounds like an easy work-from-home laundering job, and better than wiping up around the sink and making sure the toilets are flushed. So, basically, if you are the parent of a preschooler, it might be good to help your child understand what you do for a living before the FBI is called in!

Self Evaluation:

Occupation **

Job **

Work ****

Career *

Avocation ***

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Don't touch the hot _________!

Guess that appliance!

The preschoolers are struggling with the kitchen nomenclature work this week. "Kitchen" is a vocabulary word you surely must know, and don't call me Shirley. "Nomenclature" is a weird vocabulary word that should be defined as "some darn chunk stuck halfway down my throat," as in "We had to slap Joe Billy Dean on the back when he couldn't swaller Ma's deep-fried nomenclature."

Actually, nomenclature means a system of terminology. The word derives from the job description of a Roman steward, the Nomenclator, who announced visitors [called their names] and prompted stumped politicians to recall names and pet causes of constituents. You just can't make this stuff up in a Presidential year.

It's difficult to prompt politicians if you've got some greasy chunk of hush puppy stuck beyond your uvula, which is also known as "that hangy-down thang" in your throat. Because I'm learning the Spanish names for fruits along with the students, "uvas" is my word for the day. Uvas = grapes. That hangy-down thang is named for a "fancied resemblance of the organ to small grapes."

The point of this story is that our young-uns these days are better at naming the current president [George Washington] than they are at naming that hot thing with four burners and a Tollhouse cookie-baking oven. The kids can name measuring cups, microwaves, sinks, pans, and sponges. They know that refrigerator begins with Fffff -- fuh, fuh, fuh, fruh, fridj. So far, no child age 3-5 has been able to name that stove.

Home-cooking ain't what it used to be back in Bobbie Gentry's day!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Cupcake destickification

Miss Inez Baker would never have allowed it. The purpose of school is education, she would have explained. Birthday parties are not a function of education. The realm of education does not encircle frosted cupcakes. Amen!

I do wish the former principal of Eastridge Elementary School could have been in command this week. Three preschoolers were celebrating their birthdays. Three days parents sent hyper-iced cupcakes. Three days we dealt with stickiness and post-pastry crabbiness.

A cupcake is a nice thing to share for a birthday. At your home. Or your neighborhood park. Or roller rink. Your swim pool is good. Kids can jump in and wash off.

At school kids can't jump in and wash off. There are no fire hoses to spray down the classroom after two dozen preschoolers have sensory cupcake experiences. Cupcakes are the birthday equivalent of Dr. Seuss's Oobleck.

Let me enumerate the ways that preschoolers consume frosted cupcakes at school although they surely eat like little ladies and gentlemen at home:

  1. The Face Plant is a technique for smashing one's face full-contact down into the frosting until hitting the cake layer. Danger of suffocation noted.

  2. The I Want To Go Play Now method requires stuffing the entire cupcake into one's mouth. It usually leads to a prolonged period of sitting in one's chair until chewing and swallowing are completed.

  3. Paper And All is for bold, yet undiscriminating eaters. Like my grandma who ate the tails of shrimp at Norfolk's Broasted Chicken restaurant, eaters are not deterred by a bit of roughage.

  4. You Got Chocolate, But I Got Vanilla--nothing gets past these observant preschoolers. They also notice that you got a Disney Ariel Mermaid ring in your frosting, but they got Mulan. There is a circle in hell reserved for parents who send a mixed batch of decorated cupcakes to school. Just ask Disney Dante. The darn rings must be exhumed from the frosting, washed, and dried, then distributed. Nobody wants the princess they were dealt in the luck of the draw.

  5. Total Paralysis occurs in children who are terrified of getting something on their fingers. They cannot remove the paper muffin cup from the cupcake. They cannot pick up the cupcake. They cannot pass Go or collect $200.

  6. Circuitous Nibbling is for children who can remove the muffin cup, but want to eat the cake part in a revolving manner while getting the frosting stuck on their nose. This method reaches an inevitable infrastructure cave-in. Preferred by future geologists.

  7. The Smear Campaign is a share-the-wealth policy of some students who manage to spread their frosting largesse onto an amazing number of classmates and teachers. They will be the glad-handing politicians of the future.

Should your preschool child have an approaching birthday, please invest in a mini-muffin pan or a shaped cookie cutter. The teachers will love you!

Good birthday classroom snacks:

  • Mini blueberry, cranberry, or banana muffins

  • Cheese cut in shapes, with pretzels and an apple slice

  • Oatmeal raisin or ginger snap cookies

  • Two graham crackers with frosting in between

  • Fresh fruit kabobs

  • Apple juice with fresh-popped popcorn

  • Unsalted blue corn chips and slices of bell pepper

  • Toasted English muffin quarters spread with peanut butter or honey

  • Very small servings of fresh fruit smoothie

  • Trail mix with seeds, pretzels, raisins, and about 2 M&Ms per child

  • Something you grew in your home garden

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

"Out of touch"

All week the preschooler sang this vaguely familiar song. Her version is lacking almost all the consonants. She sings it during lunch, before nap, and the instant she wakes up, on the playground, in class. It makes her very happy, although it seems to be about a bad day, and she does a special walk when she sings it, taking very big steps, and bending forward.

My current lifestyle is blissfully ignorant of pop music, and of most television commercials. Still, her tune was vaguely familiar.

Thanks to the wonders of Google and Wikipedia, I know just how totally out of it I am! Daniel Powter's song, "Bad Day", was the Billboard #1 song of 2006. BBC News says it was the most played song in the UK during the period 2003-2008. It's been used for Coca Cola commercials, sung at the last FIFA World Cup, and matched to basketball videos on You Tube. There is even a version, heaven preserve us, by Alvin and the Chipmunks in their 2007 animated feature movie.

I may be even more out of touch than John McCain!

I can't write the preschool version without consonants, so I'll just color the lyrics the favored pink of three year old girls:

Cause you had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know
You tell me don't lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day
You've seen what you like
And how does it feel for one more time
You had a bad day
You had a bad day

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Ruby-throated telenovela

It's a soap opera, for sure, but with grand opera possibilities:

A tiny green anole lizard has taken to patrolling the red base of my patio hummingbird feeder in search of yummy insects attracted to the sugar syrup. He parades around the circuit, and occasionally shows off his red throat flap. If he had a top hat he could be the ringmaster at the Barnum and Bailey Circus. So far, he refuses to pose for my photos.

The green hummingbird has frequented the feeder for the past month. This bird, no bigger than the lizard, rightly believes the feeder is its personal open-air cocktail lounge. On discovering the anole at its favorite watering hole, the hummingbird performed some irritable aerial maneuvers with prominent beak posturing. I'm thinking Hamilton and Burr will be dueling just before Ike's winds arrive tomorrow morning.

Last night I surfed through my cable line-up twice, not knowing any goal. Encountered many telenovelas. A telenovela is explained as a Latin American TV soap opera, often having a limited number of episodes.

Don't know how many episodes. For the present, the hummingbird has chased the lizard away. They are both still wearing their green suits with red cravats. The Dallas Opera has many operas scheduled this season with plots just as sketchy.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Ike warnings

Perhaps it is fortuitous that we are waiting this weekend to see what an Ike will bring. "Ike" should call to mind a warning this election year. A hurricane named "Ike" can remind us that much of tv weathercasting is hype designed to get all of us a tad hysterical. An earlier Ike warning would alert us to look behind the facades and sound bites of both campaigns to examine their real strategies for the serious problems we are facing in our families, communities, nation, and world.

I'm insulted that the campaigns have regressed to pigs and pitbulls, with or without cosmetic products. It's like being trapped in a high school pep rally watching cheerleader skits and the chanting adoration of the jocks. Could we please, as individuals and as a nation, grow up?

The earlier Ike warned us that "only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing" of government and business interests for the security, peace, liberty, and democratic process to flourish. President Eisenhower was speaking about the dangerous influence of the military-industrial complex at his farewell address in January of 1961, but his warning applies to every aspect of our national life today.

The real "change" that must come about in this election is not a buzzword, but an electorate demanding more from it's politicians than it does from the grocery check-out aisle magazines. We must show that we can understand ideas, ask difficult questions, and recognize the difference between a "reality show" and reality. We must show our understanding that we as a nation are playing for keeps.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Carrier recoil

Why must I pay the labor to replace my two-year old Carrier Performance N Coil-Vertical Evaporator Coil? The defective coil has caused my HVAC system to leak Puron and waste expensive electricity this whole hot Texas summer. I've paid for service calls and replacement Puron for the system that was supposed to save me money. My clothes and belongings in the closet downstairs from the defective coil have been ruined by condensate dripping through the ceiling. The ceiling and carpet are both stained.

In early June the serviceman couldn't find the Puron leak caused by the bad Carrier coil. He replenished the Puron, but it's just been leaking ever since. On hot and humid days the a/c ran almost continuously.

Today's serviceman located the leak in the coil. My Carrier warranty will provide a new coil, a $1600 part. The warranty won't cover the labor cost. On my upflow system the replacement of the evaporator coil requires removing the furnace just to get to the coil. Two or three big, brawny HVAC techs for several hours at an estimated labor cost of $795.00.

I'm learning that my Carrier coil experience is far from unique. Should you need to replace your HVAC system it would be wise to recoil from a Carrier.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


O, say did your day

start off this bad way?

At three a.m. the sound of the air conditioner dripping down through the ceiling of my clothes closet roused me from my fitful slumber. Not sleeping well, too warm, and vaguely aware that the a/c was running and running.

Hauled myself out of bed to take everything out of the closet that could be damaged by the dripping, then tried to go back to sleep. Fretting about scheduling a service call, not to mention paying for another one made relaxing difficult. This is the second time this summer with this problem, and my entire heating and a/c system was replaced two years ago. Grrrrrr.

Leaving my warm, muggy condo at 7:30 after running out of cream cheese for my bagel, the front door key broke off in the lock. Guess it's a good thing the door was still unlocked at the moment of breaking, or I'd be a homeless person on this rainy evening. With my trusty needle-nose pliers I could extricate the key piece from the lock. Where O where was my spare Francis Scott condo Key?

O'er the ramparts I swore, and started primal screaming

I'm too broke for this to happen! I am a broke lock. I am a broke key. It's a low profile nursery rhyme from my childhood Mother Goose book. Could anything else go wrong this day?

Well, yes. An irritating whiny 1971 Bee Gees song much beloved by my college roommate could become trapped in my head:

And how can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?
How can you mend a this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Extreme Okra Arts & Crafts

It's been a tough summer in the school garden. The pepper and tomato plant flowers didn't set. The squirrels ate the tops off the sunflower plants.

The basil and salvia took over their corner, but the real monster is the okra plant. It's taller than I am, and far, FAR wider. The preschool class is drying okra pods to make okragators/pod lizards for fall Open House, but that barely dents the supply of okra.

That's why I'm so excited to discover block-printing with okra to make a flower/star pattern on fabric. This will be the second year for the school to create a quilt to raffle at the spring music festival. It would be very cool if the students could print the fabric for part of the quilt with the bountiful okra.

What kind of child-safe, non-toxic paint or dye could be used that would be fairly permanent? It can't break sewing machine needles when the fabric is pieced and quilted. Please send suggestions!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Geologic Memory Build-up

The juicy part of life is discovering we are always students and never really "grow up". Still, it would be nice to have a few basics nailed down at this stage in life:

  • Those vexing speleothems aka cave dripstone deposits. Like cousins both played by Patty Duke, stalactites and stalagmites are just a flip away from a pageboy. In third grade we learned "stalactites hold tight, but stalagmites might fall." This seemed idiotic and backwards then, and hasn't improved. Stalagmites are the speleothems that resemble sturdy grounded traffic cones. They might reach the cave ceiling, but don't hold your breath.

  • Concave and convex It is beyond vexing to downright infuriating, but life beyond fifty offers far more examples of poofing convexing than slimming concave-ins. This is not the moment for considering sinkholes.

  • Roman numerals shouldn't be that tricky. L means 50. Life begins at 50. D means 500. By 500 you are deceased.

  • I've given up hope of ever really understanding the concept of offsides in soccer.

Concave and convex are on my mind because of this box I got for a worm bin. The concave bottom of the box allows air to flow underneath it without being set up on blocks. The convex lid opens like a pirate's treasure chest. Not sure yet how the worms will like the clear sides.

Alas, some things hold tight in memory. For forty-three years the tune for "Jingle Bells" has been linked to a page in the John W. Schaum Piano Course, Book A--The Red Book in which the lyrics were changed to sing about breakfast cereal. There's never been room in my brain for offsides, because somewhere out there a piano teacher is singing, "Crunchy flakes, crunchy flakes..." I'm as stuck with that now as I was sitting on the hard bench at the Hobart M. Cable piano.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Driving a walrus in the Rose Bowl Parade

This week the Buick got a new intake manifold gasket, starter, battery, and coolant flush, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

Well, not exactly. I didn't get a t-shirt. Instead I got vivid dreams of having a pedicure while riding atop a petal-decorated Tournament of Roses parade float.

Three days driving my walking buddy's giant walrus of a Ford Explorer altered my consciousness, but I'm proud to say I never fell down out of the driver's seat onto the pavement. I want my small, low vehicle back, despite its flaws!

Two weeks of sharing lizard stories with preschoolers had me in full gecko velcro toe mode. Gecko toes are inspiring scientists to create new adhesive products, but all I got were these lousy nightmares of Warren Zevon cross-pollinating with Rosie in Bye-Bye Birdie!

Well, I saw Lon Chaney waving like the parade queen, doing the walrus of London.

I saw Warren Zevon riding on the float, doing the walrus of London.

I saw a gecko drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's, and his toenails were perfect.

I saw Rosie dancing with Dick Van Dyke on the upper level of the Trinity River Express train.

Ahhhooooo, wake me up, please! Ahhhooooo, wake me up, please!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Woodcock worked for Mr. E. H. Harriman

On some level I sensed a shift along the cosmic train track. No one was guarding the Union Pacific safe now. I'm betting that big softy Butch Cassidy sat down on the siding and wept when he learned Woodcock had gone to his final great reward. George Furth, the character actor who gave us such great moments, passed away August eleventh at the age of seventy-five. Mr. E. H. Harriman never did pay him nearly enough for the joy he gave us.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Hockey mom

She's smart, over-worked, over-extended, sarcastic, and from a small, chilly town. Her kids offer challenges to her best parenting techniques, test her patience, push the limits, have special needs, and pull at her heartstrings. She makes great loose-meat sandwiches. But does that really qualify Roseanne Conner to be the vice president of the United States?

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Heckle, Jekyll, and pleats

What is kilter, and why am I out of it? I had plenty of AA Energizers to replace the thermostat batteries, but the temperature sensor still seems out of whack. It's quite comfortable in the condo, but the thermostat is displaying the temp as 80 degrees.

The expression "off-kilter" uses the word kilter, which means "good condition". To be off-kilter is to be faulty. The word is first seen in the 1630's and 40's, as the English word kelter. Other than this, the origin is unknown. The related expression "out of kilter" indicates being way into disorder and confusion, and does NOT mean dancing without one's pleated skirt! You can be thrown out of kilter, and you can be thrown out of some bars for dancing on a table without your skirt, whether or not you have tattoos. It's a Tricki-Woo world!

Maybe kelter is kin to helter and skelter, hurly-burly, harum-scarum, and pell-mell. They all appeared in English usage in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to express uncontrolled motion and direction.

My preschool girl students are on-kilter, not off. Pleated skirts seem to be their new favorite style. Most of their pleated skirts are skorts with built-in shorts. The term skort is much more recent than helter, kelter, or skelter. Part culotte and part miniskirt, skorts were a huge improvement on bloomer gymsuits for active females beginning in the 1960s.

Since the Buick went cracker-dog and flop-bott this weekend, I don't want the air conditioner to be out of whack. Out of whack means confused and not working as it should, although I'm still unclear about the origin of whack. Whatever it is, I bet I can't afford the repairs right now!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


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