TSA ate my socks

If you stayed home for Thanksgiving, be grateful you still have warm feet. I had to travel by air this holiday, and it was a devastating experience for my favorite socks. When my single carry-on wheelie suitcase went through the pre-flight screening at DFW, Superman didn't know his own strength. Two pair of footsies and some tights failed to stay the course due to his x-ray vision. When I tried to don my feets apparel, the yarn of my favorite crew socks separated like the dry sinews of Lewis and Clark's overcooked pot roast.

It's the thought that counts. Maybe some son will think to get me super strong Christmas stocking stuffer socks with a strong sci-fi force field for future airport scrutiny.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Gray, in the nicest way

Thanks to laryngitis and a very overcast weekend, I'm feeling amazingly relaxed. Between attending workshops and substituting at the library this was the first free Saturday I've had since mid-June. My recent Sundays have been busy with the symphony or opera or volunteering, plus the requisite laundry.

Taking a sick day Friday wasn't part of the relaxation plan, but twelve hours of sleep really turned my cold around. The grayness made it easy to repeat with another twelve hours of sleep the next night.

My outings were to the store for Fresca and chicken soup ingredients, and to pick up the new novel by Steph Kallos. The only noise was the ocasional steam escape thump of the crockpot lid.

Today was gray again, and I just assumed it was still chilly. Finally thought to go pick up my mail, and was surprised to find it warmer outside than in.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Tut, Tut, it looks like rain

My compelling visual memory of the blockbuster King Tut exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art is the thirty dollar Kleenex box cover on sale in the gift shop (and online, of course). You too can be the first kid on your block to have the Made in China pseudo-experience of wiping your nose on unwinding mummy linens pulled out through the Boy King's nose. Dang! If only you could extract your Kleenex with a crochet hook the way the ancient Egyptians removed Tut's brain through his nostrils!

I wanted to love the exhibit, and expected to buy tickets for my sons and their friendgirls to see it at Christmas. I really, really wanted it to be as mind-blowing for them as my trip to the 1977 "Treasures of Tutankhamun" exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago was for me.

The "King Tut & the Golden Age of the Pharoahs" exhibit is spaciously arranged to allow for the movement of six hundred visitors per hour. It flows pretty well, and individuals aren't impeded by clusters of audio tour users. It has more objects overall than the late-Seventies Tut exhibit, but fewer important objects. The final room of the exhibit about autopsies performed on Tut's mummy feels like an overhyped History Channel segment where Geraldo Rivera might pop out.

This exhibit moves to San Francisco after the Dallas show. A second exhibition called "Tutankhamun the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" just opened in Atlanta. It will move to Indianapolis in June 2009.

Perhaps I've been to one too many blockbuster Egyptian exhibits. Like the "Treasures of Tut" in 1977, these all shined far brighter than the current Dallas show:
  • "Ramses II" exhibit at Dallas' Fair Park in 1989
  • "Egypt's Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World" at Ft. Worth's Kimbell Museum in 1992
  • "The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt" at the Kimbell in 2003

I'm home from work today with a head cold, but I still don't want a Tut tissue box. And, please, no Geraldo!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Thankful for leftovers already

Teaching art is like always being on the fourth day after Thanksgiving, and trying to make something fresh and appetizing out of the same old leftovers. Today I'm grateful for donated leftover items, though it may take years for me to find the right combination to use them.

Thanks to the Woolly Mammoth for getting caught in the rain with a bunch of colored tissue paper in 2004. The colors bled in ways that look much like fall leaves.

Thanks for the bountiful okra harvest, no kidding! We used okra and tempera paints to make the prints.

Thanks to the school that quit using Tektronix Phaser 200 Series Printers Transparency Film sheets "with perforated tab". We are whittling away the stack making our school feast placemats.

Thanks to the woman who gave me three giant boxes of fancy scrapbooking papers in 2006. We photocopied an autumn leaf paper for the backgrounds of our placemat collages.

Thanks for the chance to use that brittle and faded construction paper to make crayon leaf rubbings. Now how else can we use that up? I'd be grateful for the storage space.

Thanks for folks who save old magazines and catalogs. Thanks especially for my former job that invites me back to work in a lovely library surrounded by beautiful fall foliage just ready to be pressed.

A song stuck in my head can be as unwelcome as the contents of that Tupperware way, way back on the refrigerator shelf for who knows how long. This time, the leftover song helped me realize the science potential for the preschool placemat project.

Cling-cling! Ding-ding! The Duettino from Act I of "The Marriage of Figaro" stayed in my head after the splendid Dallas Opera performance Sunday afternoon. Static cling is just the thing for science this week. The transparency film lets the kids experience static electricity. The film lifts, moves, and holds the tissue paper pieces as if by magic as we assemble our placemat collages. No glue is necessary, and neither is a technical explanation of the phenomenon.

Supposing my lady
Calls you at night:
Ding ding: in two steps
You can be there from here.
Or if it should happen
That his lordship should want me,
Dong dong: in three bounds
I'm there at his service.

And supposing one morning
The dear Count should ring,
ding ding, and send you
Three miles away,
Dong dong, and the devil
Should lead him to my door?
Dong dong, in three bounds ...

Our creations are ready to be laminated. Somewhere out there Wolfgang and Leonard Weisgard are rubbing party balloons on their hair.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


P.S. I love you

Frolicked this noon through the Ginkgoopsida outside the library. Collected leaves for the preschool placemat project. The kids and some elderly volunteers are making the keepsake placemats for the all-school Thanksgiving feast. I need flattened golden ginkgo leaves, and I need them quick.

Even with the pressing deadline, it was fun to be out in a brisk, chilly wind, enjoying a species that dates back to the dinosaur days. Not the dinosaur days of cellphones as large as Maxwell Smart's shoe... Not the days of living room cabinet stereos for playing vinyl Beatles 45s and LPs. Real Permian Age dinosaur days.

Ginkgo biloba, I learn from Answers.com, is the only surviving Ginkgoopsida. Besides being a fabulous word to say and spell, ginkgoopsida is "a class of largely extinct gymnosperms (Pinophyta)."

Tyson Woods, an arborist for Moore Tree Care in Dallas recommended ginkgo trees in a November 5, 2008 Dallas Morning News story about fall color:

The ancient majesty of Ginkgo biloba is magical when its fan-shaped leaves turn golden. Its leaves are shaped like the lacy segments of maidenhair fern.

The ginkgo is a slow grower, but its beauty and its storied past as one of the oldest trees on earth make it a top choice, says Mr. Woods. It's a good urban tree because it tolerates drought, heat and poor soils.

Texas Tree Planting, a Texas A&M extension website, recommends planting ginkgo biloba because of its pest and pollution resistance. Female trees produce stinky fruit, so male cultivars are preferred.

Those fruits, are more accurately seeds with a fleshy covering, and give the tree its name. Sometimes called the silver apricot tree, ginkgo comes from the Japanese ginkyo, from ancient Chinese ngien hang (Mandarin yin hsing), "silver apricot" - ngien, silver, and hang, apricot.

My good old dictionary says both ginkgo and gingko are acceptable spellings. Ginkyo is also used.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Crunch financials

"Cereal Crunch," was the answer when I asked Danger Baby what he wanted me to make for Thanksgiving. "Cereal Crunch," was the answer when I asked my dad, "and good sugar cookies." A turkey dinner doesn't seem to be a big issue for either of them.

Think I'll make Crunch, aka Chex Mix, and mail it to Dad and my three sons, then make another batch when I'm at Dad's for the holiday. It freezes well.

If only in 1977 I had started saving the grocery receipts whenever I bought the makings for Chex Mix or mailed it to my guys. By now I would have an Economic Chex Mix of Leading Indicators And Oleo with enough plots on the graph to make Warren Buffett sit up and take notice.

Today at Albertsons in the midst of the financial crisis:

Any 3 boxes of Chex cereals for $7.50, less a $3.00 peel-and-redeem coupon--$4.50 (Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Wheat Chex)
Cheerios, 8.9 oz. box--$1.59
Imperial Margarine, 4 sticks--$1.25
Rold Gold pretzel sticks, one lb. bag--$2.50
Store brand can of cashew halves and pieces--$3.99
Store brand can of party peanuts--$3.19


Basically, I've invested $17.00 in the batch so far. I already have the Worchestershire Sauce and the Lawry's Seasoned Salt. I'll have to buy garlic powder on my next shopping trip.

The Crunch Shipping Record has far more variables, but is interesting none the less. The CSR is the total annual domestic postage spent mailing multiple batches of homemade Crunch around the country. Variables include number of sons in college, whether any sons were studying abroad (they were out of luck!), my parents' health, shipping container weight, and my general kitchen outlook. We will not discuss the sanity of the person who records these amounts for future reference.

2008--YTD $0.00
2006--$77.50 That's a heckuva lot of Crunch, Dubya!
2001--Data not available, although we all needed the comfort food.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder




I shouldn't be telling you this, as it will soon make my inexpensive Dallas Symphony tickets the most desirable, and costly, show in town. When Jaap Van Zweden is conducting, the Choral Terrace of the Meyerson Symphony Center is the greatest show on earth.

Last Sunday afternoon my Choral Terrace seat was just to the side of the horns and the triangle. It's absolutely fascinating watching Jaap. He's so intense I expected him to transform into a ferocious wolf at the end of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E-minor, Op. 98's first movement and leap into another dimension. The conductor is fX, Mr. Special Effects! He commands the musicians by his force of will, and they love it. Brujo is the word that comes to mind. Shaman isn't strong enough.

Choral Terrace seats behind the orchestra are the backwards upside-down view in most folks' minds. The sound quality is somewhat distorted. We never get to see the front of the solo oboist's backless gown. Instead we get to know which balding musicians opt for the comb-over. Best of all, we get to face the conductor.

To top off Sunday's concert, Van Zweden led the orchestra in an encore of Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5. Shivers went down our arms up there in the cheap seats. We felt like Jaap was giving each of us a personal gift. That big audience out there in the plush seats, tiers, and boxes is seriously misguided and sitting upside-down and backward.

My sons loved Karla Kuskin's picture book, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, for it's magic use of numbers and for Marc Simont's illustrations. It's always a joy to share this book with a new group of students. Sitting behind the musicians, I always wonder how they each got dressed in black and arrived at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Look for this book at your library, or buy a paperback copy. Your kids will want many encore readings.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Finding a voice

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, by Fred Kaplan is on my must-read list. Michiko Kakutani's 11/6 review for the New York Times successfully hooked me. I've got to learn how writing helped the young Lincoln "articulate an identity of his own". In fact, as Mr. Kaplan sees it, language “was the tool by which” Lincoln “explored and defined himself.”

I write to figure out what I think. I don't form opinions quickly or articulate them well in my self-perception. If my middle name wasn't Louise it would be Unsure.

Now I've got to become persuasive. The Dallas Morning News writing workshop told me so. To be persuasive, one has to have an opinion, explore a problem, and offer a solution. I'd feel a lot better if Abe were coming along with me on this journey of four squirrels and seven years.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Pressing issues

Thank heaven I don't have to decide whether or not to bail out Detroit. I don't have to name a Cabinet, choose a pound puppy, or even a White House staff.

I'm busy flattening leaves. The pressure is on. The time available is crunching into the job at hand. That job involves making Thanksgiving feast placemats for the whole school. That's why on this rainy afternoon I parked the Skylark and went galloping through Rustic Park collecting fallen leaves like a demented autumn elf.

Now those fall leaves are layered between phone book pages, stacked, and weighed down beneath Shakespeare's Complete and Art of the 20th Century. I often rant about our needless duplication of phone directories, but today they are just what I need.

It's sad and disgusting that the U.S. auto industry is its current crisis. As a young married couple we bought our first car in 1979. It was a Toyota Corolla. I wish I still had that car! At that time we couldn't afford a Honda Civic.

Detroit wasn't making a car for our budget and needs in 1979. Detroit was pretending Toyota and Honda would disappear if management covered its eyes with its hands. This is egocentric toddler thinking--"I can't see you, so you aren't there." The sad thing is Detroit executives have been playing this preschool game for thirty years. They kept playing instead of uncovering their eyes to see gas price fluctuations and the growing demand for fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles.

Do I want auto industry workers to suffer? Not much. Do I want affiliated industries to gasp and writhe? Only a little. Do I want management to be held accountable for its ostrich outlook? Absolutely.

Since I'm often awake at 2:48 a.m., I spend too much time pondering these pressing issues. My middle-of-the-night feeling is that the auto-making corporations should be cleaved with a big axe. Government bail-out funds should be injected only into those segments that currently create or can be quickly retooled to make highly fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles.

Truth is, my real middle-of-the-night job is making sure leaves are flattening inside the stack of phone books. The outlook for success is realistic!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


The Three Rs...

Relax reading book reviews!

What a lovely day at the library reading nonfiction book reviews from recent issues of the Wall Street Journal--and even getting paid to do it! If I had all the time in the world to read, I would find these books at my library. Not having that luxury, I recommend reading these book reviews. They piqued my curiosity. A well-written book review informs the reader about the subject of the book. It also critiques the author's writing, research, bias, and conclusions. A really excellent review brews the synopsis and evaluation with some spicy writing to make a quick and potent shot of intellectual salsa.

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, by Mark Lindsrom. WSJ review by Andrew Stark. While "neuromarketing" has an Orwellian aspect, it is intriguing to learn how marketers are using MRI brain scans. Those cutesie-wutesie Mini Cooper cars actually trigger the part of our brains that responds to human faces. That's why you want to call Minis "iddle widdle wuzzums".

Lili Marlene, by Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller Norton. WSJ review by Daniel Ford. The review explains briefly how a poet's synthesis of two experiences in WWI impacted troops on both sides during WWII.

Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914, by Philipp Blom. WSJ review by Arthur Herman. It's unlikely I could actually read this book, but I love reviewer Herman's phrase, "the economics of panicky elites," and his hints at parallels to the current financial situation.

Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, by David Wolman. WSJ review by Cullen Murphy. Wonderful eccentrics have tried to reform English spelling over the centuries. Now spell-check, email, and text-messaging are changing our orthography habits for good or evil.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Recipe for a dragon

1 baked potato

1 big S

2 2s

triangles and zigzags

The threes and fours have been drawing dragons this week. The older students worked on analyzing the human figure by drawing knights in armor. We all enjoyed Tomie dePaola's wonderful book,The Knight and the Dragon.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Open the pea pod bay door, Hal

Do cell phones dream of electric sheep?

One of the hazards of teen dating that receives very little press involves the reading habits of guys. A guy asks a girl out, or vice versa. They go bowling. They eat chili dogs. Then they sit in a parked car talking about good books they've read. This is where it gets dangerous. A teen guy may pressure your daughter to read his favorite book because he really likes her. He's done his best to share her enthusiasm about Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "The Over-Soul". Now he wants payback. He wants your daughter to read, gasp, science fiction!

There's the trouble with tribbles, girls! You like a guy. He says he is totally into the Transcendentalists and long walks on the beach. Next thing you know, he's insisting you buy his personal favorite by Philip K. Dick. It's a slippery slope from there. Make sure your cell phone gets a good nights' sleep.

Good Design: For Halloween I received a driinn Mobile Phone Holder. It works great, plus it makes me laugh. The driinn hangs between the battery charger and the wall socket like a futuristic cryogenic futon/cupholder. It is so simple and keeps the cord neat. It is good design!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Fizzies Fountain

Fizzix carbonated Go-Gurt by Yoplait, a General Mills brand, is my new Moriarty. Even with Watson's help, Sherlock Holmes could not open these darn plastic packages without explosive results. Kiddies, can you spell, "Nemesis"?

Fizzix looks just like Plastigoop. Instead of baking it in your Creepy Crawler Thing-Maker by Mattel, you are supposed to eat it. It's Pop Rocks candy with a little bit of dairy calcium! Reminds me of the good old days when I watched middle school students shoot aerosol Cheez Whiz down their throats in the cafeteria.

It's amazing how far 2.25 oz. of yogurt loaded with over three teaspoons of sugar can spray when it is carbonated, frozen, then slowly thawed. And it feels great between your toes for the rest of the day.

Fizzix Go-Gurt is not to be confused with Fizzies, that Sixties carbonated drink made by dropping a flavored tablet into a glass of water. Imagine a cross between Alka-Seltzer and KoolAid. In 1961 my parents won a trip to New York City. They had a grand time visiting F.A.O. Schwartz, and brought back a toy for each of us kids. My gift was a Fizzies Fountain. This play soda fountain was fun for my dad, who had been a soda jerk in Grand Island, Nebraska. Root beer Fizzies were my favorite flavor.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


Working for Change

Studs Terkel's Working was my introduction to the philosophy and poetry of labor. My love of oral history was born around Grandma Halma's dining table in Pierce, Nebraska. I wish I'd had a tape reel in the Craig 212 recording more of those family stories. Studs Terkel did record his conversations with ordinary people about life's labors. At NPR.org you can listen to actual cassette recordings of some Terkel interviews for the book.

Studs died in Chicago this week at the age of ninety-six. Danger Baby now lives in Chicago, that brash city of Terkel and Carl Sandburg. I may have to get him a copy of Working for Christmas.

Terkel's book made me realize the meaning of my life would be largely defined by my philosophical relationship with my work. That realization came in the 1975 "Work Project" in Centennial College. UNL's Centennial College was a living-learning community for self-motivated students to choose and design their own individual and group study projects.

Much that I allegedly learned in regular college classes is long lost from my brain. Not so these quotes from Working:

"Jobs are not big enough for people."

"Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit."

Having work that uses our abilities is a blessing. Having a job that respects our efforts is a gift. These words from the Chicago Tribune, 11/1/08:

...Working, a book that welded him [Terkel] to the lives of common people by telling their stories. Even though it was not his first book, it defined his style, his compassion and his talent, all at the same time. No one ever used a tape recorder and a few questions to better effect.

America's next administration must make its educated citizen workforce a priority. The needed "Change" rocking this election campaign should focus on a new frugalitly while realigning employee compensation to ensure that ordinary citizens can provide for the nutrition, health care, and education of their children. Adam Cohen said it far better than I could in his New York Times op-ed on the thirtieth anniversary (5/31/04) of Terkel's Working. His piece ends:

When America begins to pay attention to its unhappy work force — and eventually, it must — "Working" will still provide important insights, with its path-breaking exploration of what Mr. Terkel described as "the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people."

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

Día de los Muertos

Styrofoam prints by five year olds.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder


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