The Trouble with Truffles

So many chocolates in fancy containers, so little time. The candy seems to keep multiplying, first taking over the kitchen counter, then the coffee table. The truffles seem harmless at first. Shiny wrappers. Tempting aroma. Impressive names and pedigrees. Soon they are filling and flowing out of the ventilation system.

Captain Kirk's Starship Enterprise is eventually overrun with fuzzy, cheeping rodinks. CollageMama's condo is overrun with cute truffles.

No more presents! Just let me play in the gift box!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Tiffany butterflies with my youngest

The Malachite butterfly flitted to the leaf and settled to pose for my camera. It's irridescent wings shone in the late afternoon sunlight inside the Sammons Butterfly House. I'd seen many larger, totally uncooperative Blue Morpho butterflies. This green gem wanted to be photographed, and then wanted to show off its underwings. Once I caught my breath again, the Malachite waited for me to fetch the Woolly Mammoth and his lady friend to appreciate the sight.

The underside seems to be fashioned of the thinnest slices of jade pieced together with copper in a lapidary jeweler's creation. "Metallic oxide" popped into my head along with "Louis Comfort Tiffany". This butterfly may have inspired Tiffany's glass designs.

I was fortunate to share the Dallas Museum of Art's splendid exhibit of Tiffany creations with my Woolly Mammoth son in 2006. Sharing an afternoon at the Sammons Butterfly House in Fair Park will be another wonderful memory. I am grateful to have this special connection with my son, nature, art, and with his new friend.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


I'm dreaming of a surfer Christmas

I'm glad the Obamas are spending a week or so in Hawaii. I hope the little girls are loving the island fashions. Maybe Michelle is checking out the Hawaiian quilting tradition.

When I was a child our very generous next door neighbor used to bring us Christmas gifts from Hawaii. We loved dressing up in shirts or muu-muus with bold floral patterns, leis and seed bracelets.

The guys behind the post office counter at 8:30 this morning looked like Maytag repairmen. This must be the slowest mail day of the year after a month of postal mania. When I told the man I couldn't stand any more Liberty Bells he was glad to show me some Hawaii statehood surfer stamps. I'm hearing that Hawaii Five-O theme song!

When the International Quilt Study Center opened in Lincoln, Nebraska, I saw my first Hawaiian quilt. It resembled a child's folded cut-out snowflake in red and white, but with island vegetation shapes. As a paper-cutter, I was intrigued. New England missionaries brought the idea of quilting to the Hawaiian natives in the early 1800s, along with new fabrics. There's something wonderful about the quilts that makes me feel a sweet aloha dream must be guaranteed for every user, Presidents included.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Runza-making as stress relief

My pre-Christmas to-do list has been jettisoned. All my intentions of super-cleaning have gone down the tube as I deal with my father's mandatory move from assisted living to skilled care. My sister will do the actual dirty work of flying into Lincoln and managing the physical move. I will handle the multiple daily calls to help Dad understand what is happening and why.

Garrison Keillor would prescribe catsup or rhubarb pie at a time like this, but I'm going with runzas. Danger Baby and I are making runzas together so that he can learn. Now that he lives in the Windy City he appreciates this winter food. He will take a batch of frozen runzas to his future in-laws as an offering of traditional comfort food from one family to another.

Runzas are a taste tradition in Lincoln, Nebraska. They have a German ancestry and are called bierocks by Kansans. The first Runza Drive-In was a little shack on the road out to Pioneers Park southwest of Lincoln. It opened in 1949.

Runzas are traditional Cornhusker football food. They are believed to cure winter headcolds and to get students through finals week.

For awhile the Runza location closest to the UNL campus was called “Rock and Roll Runza”. The servers wore rollerskates. That’s probably where Danger Baby ate his first runza.

A runza is a spicy meat filling baked inside a bread dough. Each year I work from two or three recipes to concoct my version. This is my best understanding to date:

In a large, heavy skillet brown 2 lbs. ground beef. As you chop them add in 2/3 head green cabbage, 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic chopped fine, 2 stalks celery chopped fine. Add 2 T water. Simmer, stirring often. Drain grease, then add 1 T worchestershire sauce, ½ t oregano, 1 t pepper, and salt to taste. Remove from heat and cool in refrigerator.

Thaw one package (3 loaves) of Bridgford Ready-Dough according to package directions. Let rise according to directions. Punch down. Pinch off balls of dough as big as a large lemon. Roll each ball on a floured board with a floured rolling pin until it is at least 4”x8”. Add ½ cup of filling. Bring the sides of dough together, then the ends, and pinch securely. Place on greased cookie sheet pinched side down. Leave a space between runzas. Let rise again. Freeze at this point, or else bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
Makes 18 runzas.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Odor and texture memory

I caught just the slightest scent of a wet brown paper sack today, and was transported nearly a half century back in time to the brown singlefold paper towels in the restrooms at my elementary school. Those paper towels didn't dry hands so much as chap them. Then I could feel and smell the weird, gritty powdered soap that came out of the dispensers at the sinks. Don't know what that stuff was made of since it sure didn't lather. It just scoured the dirt, paint, nose goobies, and graphite off of us.

Elementary school was not for wimps!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


A letter of appreciation to my control-top pantyhose

The best discussion at the library today involved the proper way to thank a donor who contributes to an organization every year. Just in case the usage police were out in force, we weighed the pros and cons for appreciating "continued support" against "continuing support".

The longer I pondered, the more I thought about Leggs control top pantyhose. Do pantyhose provide continued support or continuing support? Mostly pantyhose are a source of persistent irritation. They sag and bag around my ankles, or the saddle migrates south toward my knees. I'm continually thankful for a job that rarely requires donning pantyhose.

Men should not wear pantyhose for many enduring reasons. Primarily, they can't distinguish between nude, "barely there", buff, beige, taupe, coffee, and suntan in the hosiery department. I'm constantly grateful that the popularity of "suntan" pantyhose and Yardley white lipstick peaked while I was in junior high.

When stuck in such a usage dilemma, I usually try to substitute a completely different word. So I suggested replacing continuing or continued with "constant". Thank you for your constant support... Another person suggested "faithful". Dogs are faithful, but annual contributors don't want to think they are the dog. As Sally asked Harry, "Is one of us supposed to be a DOG in this scenario?"

That dog is Lassie. What's up with the continuous yapping? It's so annoying. You say Timmy fell in the well again, and he's dropped the thesaurus too?

Somewhere between persistent and sustaining we can find the properly nuanced word for reliably donating to a worthy cause. Then we can acknowledge the donation in a proper manner.

"Persisting" sounds like an itchy rash that defies treatment. "Sustain" is what honey and condensed milk do for Winnie-the-Pooh. "Continued" has problems with being postponed, adjourned, interrupted or resumed at the city council meeting. "Enduring", "unfaltering", and "needing no renewal" are all synonyms for "continuing". Of course, we always want donors to renew, or none of us would get so many letters from charities this time of year.

I've never had a pair of pantyhose that endured. Even the ones with continuous support falter.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Cold-fingered latte drinkers and other birds

Our three-hour guided bird walk at Connemara Meadow Preserve yielded good views of ruby crowned kinglets, American crow, red-shouldered hawks, flocks of cedar waxwings and Eastern bluebirds, kestrel (sparrow hawk), house finches, goldfinches, cardinals, tufted titmouse, Northern flicker, red-bellied woodpecker, gull, mallards, Canada geese, mockingbirds, Carolina chickadee, robins, cowbirds, and starlings. This was my first ever bird hike with binoculars, and I got better as the morning went on. It was a dark, cloudy, windy, damp morning, so it was difficult to see bird colors. The temperature stayed near 37 degrees.

More experienced birders also saw Carolina wren, yellow-rumped warbler, ring-neck ducks, widgeons, and identified sparrows. After squishing through the swampy part of the lower meadow, we were blue-footed shiverers, but our best sightings were made in the pecan woods and the land conservancy area near the tree farm.

My companions were overjoyed with the flock of Eastern bluebirds flitting in the young trees. My most exciting views were the ruby-crowned kinglets at very close range in the brush by the road, and the tufted titmouse with its pinkish tummy.

The walk was a wintery attitude adjuster, and I feel more ready to tackle Christmas projects at home and with my students. A pleasant visit in the Market Street coffee shop was nice for warming inside and out.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Get smarter with nuked soup

The problem with American schools is soup. Our students are stunted in their education by Chef Boyardee, Campbell's Soups, and Kraft macaroni and cheese. There's only so much teachers can do when we are up against the dumbed-down microwave pasta powerhouses.

Thanks to a student who calls Roman numerals, "Ramen noodles" this solution became clear to me. We need macaroni that teaches! We need Campbells vegetable soup with Roman numerals instead of ABCs and 123s. We need Kraft mac and cheese with Greek columns instead of Scooby Doo and Sponge Bob.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Led Zep leaf bags

"How can I remember that Scott is the name of the van driver?" I don't have a good answer for Dad's question. He likes the man who drives him to his doctor appointments. Remembering is tricky business for Dad, and he creates a circus of flaming mental hoops to jump through for retrieving the names of people around him.

"How can I remember that I need to go to Ace Hardware to buy brown leaf bags next Thanksgiving break?" Thank heaven my son helped me cut through my mental clutter to find the necessary bags at Ace. I'd wasted time looking for bags at the grocery store and Shopko each time the Big Rake Event rolled around.

Raking Dad's yard requires a whole lotta leaf bags. Way down inside, mama, you gotta remember where to buy those bags. Bring on the mnemonic air guitar device!

Ace is the place with the helpful leaf bag man, but the man is not all that memorable. He said if the big stack on the shelf in Aisle 6 was not enough, he could bring up another whole pallet of leaf bags for me.

Need a pallet of bags. Need a pallet of bags. Maybe even Robert Plant and Jimmy Page rake their backyards in the fall. It shouldn't be that difficult to get their okay for Ace Hardware to use the music of "Whole Lotta Love" to make a leaf bag tv commercial. They already let Cadillac make the "Breakthrough" ad.

Ace is the place with the whole lotta leaf bags. Can't you see the helpful hardward man playing air guitar on a rake?

Great Scott! I'll have to tell Dad that expression is a minced oath that might help him remember about his van driver. I'll send him the illustrations of Superman saying, "Great Scott!"

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Formal attire for Thanksgiving feast

We're going formal for our annual school lunchroom feast. Besides the table runners depicting turkeys running races, and the decorated brown bags, the preschoolers have made turkey neckties for everybody to wear.

The turkey feathers are made from that dreadful craft material known as "twisted paper cord". Even places that sell it admit the stuff is an arthritic pain to untwist, so it is often donated to art teachers! The preschoolers liked having purple turkeys on their neckties.

I'm always thankful for the folks who donate neckties for art projects. Have a happy holiday, everyone.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Fabric designer of the future

Here's one last sample from the woolly bear art project. This student often surprises me with designs that would make fabulous fabrics. She is eight years old.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


I need an org chart for woolly bears

Thank heaven one of my students has provided a silvery snail trail that looks like an organizational chart. This art project had so many branches it needed a chart, but the results show why it's my absolute favorite type of class project.

(age six)

"Woolly bears" aren't sheep or bears. They are caterpillars credited in folklore for their weather predictions. A true woolly bear is a black-brown-black caterpillar with dense, hairy spikes. When you see one, you want to dig out your knitting needles and go to the nearest specialty yarn store with your Visa or Mastercard.

Sighting a woolly bear with a wide brown center section is supposed to predict an easy winter. A woolly bear with a thin center "sweater" of brown spikes predicts a harsh weather in folklore. This splendid caterpillar is the larva of the Isabella tiger moth, which is mostly golden yellow and not a fashion show-stopper.

Familiar since Colonial times as the "Woolly Bear," the caterpillar is often seen crossing roads and paths on warm days in late fall. According to superstition, the amount of black in the caterpillar's bristle coating forecasts the severity of the coming winter. Actually, the coloration indicates how near the caterpillar is to full growth before autumn weather stimulates it to seek a winter shelter.

Serendipity brought a hairy black caterpillar to the school playground the day before our art class about fall leaves and acorns. When it curled up we could see red bands between the black "hairy" segments. The immediacy of the children's experience with the caterpillar added magic to our already purdy darn good project called, "What's Under the Leaves?"

The caterpillar wandered across the playground during our picnic lunch. It was determined to go east no matter how we gently redirected it to keep it from going under the fence and into the car lane to be smashed by an oncoming garbage truck.

Kids started cheering, "GO, caterpillar, GO!" We finally got it safely into the grass, and the children went back to their PB&J sandwiches and juice boxes.

(age three)
(age four)
I found black chenille stems, also known as pipe cleaners, in the cupboard. They made nice caterpillars, but won't turn into giant leopard moths.

(age five)

Techniques include cutting, rubbings, painting, drawing, folding, and rolling.

Materials include liquid watercolors and salt, glitter temperas, metallic Sharpie, crayons, various papers, glue sticks.

(age seven)

I think this is a giant leopard moth. I took the photo in Highland Park, Texas, a year or so ago.

This is my favorite type of art project. Lots of skills, lots of materials, lots of brainstorming, and creating symbolic representations in both two and three dimension. Add a connection to nature that makes kids better observers, and I'm thrilled.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Funny food craving

This weekend I wanted dill and caraway, but not necessarily rye. My experiment is in the oven while I write this.

My mom used to make dilly bread after Thanksgiving because it made such good sandwiches with the leftover turkey. Dilly bread is a good way to use cottage cheese when you have too much.

When I was first married I clipped some vegetarian recipes out of the newspaper that came from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. My spouse had vegetarian tendencies like the Seventh Day Adventists at the college. The asparagus and cheese casserole became a favorite food for me, but not for my kids. It was also a way to use cottage cheese.

Dilly Bread
1 package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup cottage cheese heated to luke warm
2 T sugar
1 T minced onion
1 T butter
2 tsp. dill seed
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 unbeaten egg
2 1/2 cups flour

Soften yeast in water. Combine in mixing bowl cottage cheese, sugar, onion, butter, dill, salt, soda, egg, and softened yeast. Add flour to form a stiff dough, beating well after each addition. Cover & let rise in a warm place (85-90 degrees F) until light & doubled in size (about one hour). Stir down dough. Turn into well-greased 2-qt. casserole. Let rise in a warm place until light, another 30-40 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes until golden brown. Brush with soft butter and sprinkle with salt. Makes one round loaf.

Union College Asparagus & Cheese Casserole
1 cup cooked asparagus (canned or frozen)
4 eggs, well-beaten
2 cups evaporated milk
6 oz. grated cheddar cheese
1 cup cottage cheese
2 slices bread, cubed & toasted (this is never enough, so double the amount)
1 t salt
Cut asparagus into 1" pieces. Combine all ingredients. Bake in a greased casserole at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Tonight my casserole was

2 cups chopped celery and 1/4 of a red bell pepper chopped
1.5 cups cottage cheese
1 cup grated cheddar
1/4 T butter
1 tsp. dill weed
1 tsp. caraway seed
1/2 cup milk
4 slices wheat bread toasted and cubed

Cook celery, pepper, and butter in a covered Pyrex bowl in the microwave for 5 minutes. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Pour into greased 9x9 casserole and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. It was darn tasty.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Leaf no child inside

My library friend prepared a story time for children about autumn and leaves. She had picture books about changing colors, raking, the sights, smells, and sounds of playing in the leaves. Halfway through her presentation she realized most of the children had never seen a rake, or had a pile of leaves for crunchy play. Landscape companies use leaf blowers to remove every trace of this fun play material before the kids even experience it!

We've got to add natural wonder back into the mix for children. Thank heaven when I went walking at Plano's Arbor Hills Nature Preserve this afternoon I found lots of families tromping through the leaves.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Adding the sound effects

Seven a.m. yesterday, I was already sitting on the floor building Super Octons with a four year old. It was school conference day, and I was the distraction while his mom and dad met with the director.

I was building a flux capacitor transmogrifier. He was building an x wing fighter from the Clone Wars, but it wasn't quite done. He hadn't put on the "pews". What are the "pews?" I should have known! The pews are the part of the airship that shoot out "pew-pew, pew-pews" when it gets near another airship.

I love the translucent plastic Super Octons from the late Eighties, but they are getting brittle. Galt Toys has newer versions, probably safer from product liability lawsuits, but not quite as gorgeous. You have to add your own pews.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Gee whiz gi moment

Each Wednesday I help the preschoolers get ready for their karate class. We pop their uniforms over regular clothes, then I help them with ties, belts, and keeping their pants from blobbing up inside their uniforms. Nobody likes blobby pants!

I started telling the kids about winters in Nebraska in the olden days of my childhood, and how we wore snow pants over our school clothes for the four-block walk to school (yes, uphill both ways). We stuffed our dresses and scratchy petticoats into our snow pants, put on coats, boots, mittens, scarves, and then stocking caps to walk to school through snowdrifts up to our tummy-buttons. Life was hard on the frozen prairie, as velcro and cell phones hadn't even been invented.

The third week I told this story while they were donning their uniforms I realized six kids were staring at me wide-eyed.

"What!?," I asked.

"Oh, Ms. Nancy, where was your car?," they said with compassion.

"Cars couldn't drive safely through all that snow," I answered, "and besides, the kids all walked to school together every day."

"But, Ms. Nancy, what was wrong with all the cars?," the kids, now incredulous, wanted to know.

What was normal is now an aberration. Children walking to school--what a concept!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Old goats pitching with Miller & Paine birthday cake

Dad and I laughed about the "old guys" pitching tonight in game six of the World Series. Andy Pettitte and Pedro Martinez are not yet forty, which is basically still in junior high in the big scheme of things.

Dad said he almost remembered turning forty. Since we share our birthdate that was a favorite memory of mine. When I turned eight my mom threw a big birthday bash. First all the girls in second grade came over to my house for cake and punch. Miss Baker, our school principal even came because her birthday was the next day. All the girls got flowery handkerchiefs for favors. Imagine kids today getting excited about cloth handkerchiefs! To this day I'm amazed that my mom ordered an extravagant decorated sheet cake from the Miller and Paine bakery.

That evening grownups came over for Dad's fortieth birthday open house. It was MAJOR. I was still twirling in my party dress, but proud that Dad now held the seat of honor.

Dad vaguely remembers that celebration when he turned forty, but tonight we talked about how forty seems like junior high. "Only once before has there been a World Series matchup between two pitchers past their 37th birthday," according to Sports Illustrated. "This is how Martinez defined the matchup: 'Two old goats out there doing the best they can, and having fun with it.' ...Isn't this grand: Upon Game 6, Martinez, 38, and Pettitte, 37, will have pitched in exactly 1,000 career games between the two of them."

Many evening phone calls I feel like I have 1,000 career games. Dad and I are two old goats doing the best they can. Dad needs a handkerchief, and I need more cake frosting.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Sendak recipe with oil change

All seasons of the year are nice for having chicken soup with rice.

I'm thankful today for the wonderful hours I've shared with children reading the Maurice Sendak Nutshell Library. I may need to give a copy to the pregnant young woman at my local car repair shop. She knows my Skylark From Hell well, and gives me the best customer service and friendliest discounts possible.

We've chatted about the glorious relief when North Texas days stay cooler than the mid-nineties. While it's still too hot for her to use the blow-dryer on her hair, my automotive acquaintance is craving chicken and dumplings.

I'd never eaten chicken and rice before my junior high Spanish class, but "arroz con pollo" is a very satisfying sound for a meal. Tonight I'm trying to recall the name of a restaurant in Lincoln that served chicken and dumplings and dessert dumplings back in the Seventies.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Beaded bag, Bohemia, and bedazzled

My sister brought me this beautiful shawl from her trip to Prague and Vienna. We found the beaded bag in a trunk of things from our great aunts. The two items go together perfectly. I can't wait to doll up for a Dallas Opera performance at the new Winspear Opera House with them.

We love our new and very red opera house. Opera-goers were dressed for the Sunday performance of Verdi's "Otello" in their scarlet and crimson finery. I hadn't seen so much red since my last Cornhusker football game in the Seventies.

Halloween hike at Connemara Meadow

Thank heaven it was a bright, crisp morning for my hike at Connemara Meadow. If it had been another dark, rainy day I might have burrowed deep under the covers and skipped it. We had thirty-two days of rain during September and October, resulting in 14.5 inches of precipitation and a whole lot of crazed preschoolers who couldn't go outside for recess. My frame of mind was getting overcast and mildewed.


Our naturalist guide mentioned several times that prairie ecosystems are dependent on disruption for survival. Without fires, droughts, and grazing, a prairie would be overgrown with forest. Because the meadow preserve is surrounded by development now, a controlled burn is out of the question. Mowing is the only way the ecosystem can be disturbed. Mowing is a way to stunt the invasive, non-native Johnson grass to let native plants have a chance.

Wood-oats, or inland sea oats

I'm feeling like my mental meadow is getting overgrown and might be due for some disruption. It could be time to mow back some invasive, agressive non-natives.

Flower structure for the carrot family

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Halloween night in the classroom

James Howe's Bunnicula stories were favorite books on cassette for roadtrips when my sons were little. Bunnicula is a vampire rabbit, similar to our preschool bunny, Norton.

The children were so charged imagining animal visitors to our playground on Halloween night, I had to do the next project about those animals who stay in our school most nights. Norton, the fish in the aquarium, and the birds in their cage made the basic elements for the drawing, with our jack-o-lantern added. That gave us four shapes for the composition--rectangle fish tank, square rabbit cage, round pumpkin, and an arch for the bird cage.

Hope you enjoy our spooky results.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Longmont Public Library

Following the signs for the historic downtown, I drove my cute rental car into Longmont, Colorado. It was exciting to spot Long's Peak, but I needed a chance to get oriented and find a restroom. When the sign for the library appeared, I knew it was a good omen.

This is the delightful entrance to the Longmont Public Library, built in 1993. The figures are surveyors, sugar beet farmers, people of Longmont, and railroad trains from 1871-1910. Once inside, I found an even better surprise. Hanging above the lobby was a bookshelf quilt made for the library's centennial in 2007.

We worked with the same basic design to make last year's raffle quilt at my school. I don't have a photo of the finished product, only an early draft I made for the design. Our books were embroidered by students with their names. The Longmont quilt books had the signatures of Colorado authors.

I parked the little blue Ford Focus rental car around the corner by the old Longmont Carnegie Library build in 1912. That building has a new life as the office for a cable access tv channel. The Pierce Carnegie Library in Nebraska where I spent so many childhood hours was built in 1911. I don't know how the Pierce preservation effort is going, or if the building has a new purpose.

The Longmont Public Library brings my library life list to fifty-nine.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


88 cent eggplant

It sure helps my diet when fall really arrives in North Texas. I'm suddenly interested in cooking and recipes and vegetables. The Dallas Morning News printed a recipe for ravioli with buttenut squash and spinach.

Following recipes is nearly impossible for me, but I do find them inspiring. My version was made with acorn squash, garlic, eggplant, polska kielbasa, fresh parsley, mint leaves and lemon juice, over spaghetti. I tossed the ingredients in a little olive oil and bread crumbs. I baked them on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees, stirring every ten minutes.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Playground deficiency annotated

Jacks pigs in a pen CHECK


Braiding plastic lanyards CHECK

Folding paper fortune tellers CHECK

Jump rope rhymes CHECK

Hopscotch CHECK

One potato two potato counting-out rhymes CHECK

Kick the can CHECK

Clothespin attaching playing card in bike spokes CHECK

Dodgeball CHECK

Chinese jump rope CHECK

Twirling on the jungle gym CHECK

Hanging from knees on the jungle gym CHECK

Hula hoop SORTA



NOTES: Study participant claims no previous knowledge of string games. Possible memory loss due to Red Rover playground trauma.

Maybe I blocked it out. Could be a repressed memory. Or maybe nobody at Eastridge Elementary played string games in the first half of the Sixties. Maybe we were watching Mercury and Gemini splash-downs on the black/white tv in Mrs. Kelleher's library. Did we prefer playing "Beatles' Stewardess Girlfriend"?

Maybe I was reclining on the school nurse's cot having a nosebleed when everyone else learned to make Jacob's Ladder and play Cat's Cradle. It was quiet there in the nurse's office. Sometimes surrounded by small children showing their string game accomplishments, I wish for one of those long ago moments removed from the chaos of "free play".

"Look! I made oliver," the first-grader announces while holding up stringy fingers. Please say it again. On top of my string failures, I seem to be going deaf. Oliver?

"Oliver, I made oliver. You know, Ms. Nancy, those pants with the tops attached!" Oliver? Oh, overalls.

Grandpa's overalls! If you drop a string on Jacob's Ladder you get a configuration resembling overalls.

Beam me up, Green Acres!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Spudnik: Transforming outer space into a baked potato

Well, it would have been smarter to dig out the instructions for using the timer on my camera, but recording my transformation into a baked potato for Halloween didn't seem all that SERIOUS. I'm beginning to look spud-like.

Last year I made a galaxy skirt from tie-dyed and discharged fabric. This year I've washed and bleached the skirt in very hot water, then turned it upside down. Now I'm working out the bugs for the stuffing, and the neck and wrist openings.

My little students will immediately understand my costume. We start most of our directed drawings with a baked potato shape because everyone can draw a baked potato. I'll probably have to rush home after school for a sour cream fix. I've never worn comfort food before!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Who visits the playground at night?

Some of the night visitors at the school playground are humans unfazed by fences and gates. They deface the picnic tables, and leave trashy souvenirs from their incursions.

Each morning staff members check the playground for indications of overnight visitors. We clean up the human mess. We pick up the scat left by the gray fox pair and the opossums.

We marvel at the number of worm castings, and the shiny trails of snails on the basketball court. See the dew shining on spiderwebs between fenceposts? See the toad just waking up under the lambs' ear plant?

In art class we are imagining the animal visitors to the playground when no humans are around. The children loved this idea, and it fits nicely with Halloween.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Plum and eggplant

My son's wedding last weekend was very purple and yellow, those autumn mountain colors for asters and aspens. Color vocabulary and recognition are on my mind because we are wondering if one of our preschool students may be colorblind.

When I got home from the wedding I was tempted by the blueberries, plums, and red cabbage in my grocery store produce aisle. I considered the purchase of an eggplant.

I needed to read the history of purple and it's royal connotation. It's good the mums around my patio are beginning to bloom, as I've not yet met my purple quota!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Hike for habitats

I'm going on a habitat walk with Texas Master Naturalist and environmental scientist, Rich Jaynes at the Connemara Meadow Preserve next Saturday. I want to soak up new ideas for teaching about local habitats. How can I integrate that subject into art projects for my preschool and elementary students?

Our family discovered the Connemara Preserve shortly after moving to Plano in 1990, and took many outings to hike, view annual sculpture shows, fly kites, and fall down in muddy spots when my kids were younger. Along with our annual Plano Balloon Festival, Connemara added to the quality of life for Plano residents.

The first Thanksgiving after my divorce, I spent the morning at Connemara, walking alone in the quiet. I found great solace and gratitude. My ex had the boys that holiday. Friends argued for me to be surrounded by people, but I was especially thankful for the solitude, the beauty of the meadow, and time for reflection.

We have to heal in ways that fit our personalities. That particular holiday tramp in the preserve helped me find a new interest and purpose connecting my art lessons with nature and ecology.

We also have to celebrate in ways that fit our individual natures, but it is good to have a little help from our friends. My weekend in Colorado for my son's wedding was a lesson in accepting emotional support from generous extroverts. That gift was offered to me on that long ago Thanksgiving, but I needed the restoring solitude first.

Our school staff recently tried the True Colors personality evaluation. We might have also found our true habitats, if I stretch the idea a bit.

On the Halloween walk we will explore and understand the management plans for the four habitat areas of the Connemara Meadow Preserve:

  • riparian zone along Rowlett Creek that is important as a wildlife corridor
  • floodplain grasslands and wetlands in the lower meadow
  • hedgerows along perimeter and interior fence lines established during agricultural use
  • upland grasslands located in the upper meadow which has a terrace system from earlier agricultural use.
I like the word "riparian". It means the interface between land and a stream or river. Maybe it also means there are wildlife corridors between extroverts and introverts. Who knows what might be in the hedgerows and fence lines? I'm in much better shape for falling into muddy spots than I was a dozen years ago, but I'm still more comfortable in the upland grasslands.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


How's Your Focus?

Danger Baby crossed the rehearsal dinner room to ask his mom about my focus. I was insulted until it clicked that he wasn't implying I had enjoyed too many wedding weekend toasts. He was just curious about my rental car's performance on the scenic drive up to Estes Park, past Long's Peak, and back to the mid-sized city of Longmont.

My rental Ford Focus with the sun roof and Sirius radio added to the spoiled vacation feel of the wedding weekend. It was a cute little car with enough get up and go for the journey. The bright blue helped me find it in the King Sooper parking lot.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


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