Pushing the vatrine

The Dallas Opera's current production of Donizetti's "Roberto Devereux" makes use of large, lighted glass display cases on wheels to showcase the psychological suffering of Queen Elizabeth I due to beheadings before and during her reign. At least that is the best pop-psych explanation I've come up with to explain the circle-the-wagons feature. (I flunked Tudor self-help.)

In Act I three glass display cases pop out on stage ending a fairly clever quicky recap of the Elizabethan era. William Shakespeare climbs out of a wicker chest to direct Elizabeth in a scene from "Midsummer Night's Dream" on the stage of the Globe Theatre. A lovely map unfurls for a backdrop. A cardboard cutout Spanish Armada is blasted by a cardboard English Navy.

Alas, the glass cases must signal that it is time to get capital S serious or italicized m mystified. Are they museum displays? Store windows from Neiman Marcus? Lenin's tomb? One case contains a hefty Henry VIII; another must hold Elizabeth's mother, Ann Boleyn. The center case holds a young redheaded princess doing the mime-in-a-box act while looking distraught. Yes, we get it. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" : Henry IV, Part 2; act 3, scene 1.1.31. Shadowy figures propel the lighted cases around the stage and off.

At the end of the opera, the three boxes go rolling around the stage again. One seems to contain a clearly deceased Roberto Devereux. One must hold Mary Stuart. Who is in the third?

One of my friends is a shadowy figure. He's hardworking. He claims the glass box he pushes is called a "vatrine".

My American Heritage Dictionary has no entry for "vatrine". "Vitrine" doesn't appear, either. I have better luck online with Merriam Webster:

vi·trine \və-ˈtrēn\ noun French, from vitre pane of glass, from Old French, from Latin vitrum:
1880 : a glass showcase or cabinet especially for displaying fine wares or specimens

So, depending how it's embellished, a vitrine could hold collections of porcelain chickens, owls, or mushrooms. A vitrine might display curios, knickknacks, aged sirloin, Braniff stewardess hot pants at the Frontiers of Flight Museum, or the A. B. Normal brain from "Young Frankenstein".

So many questions. So little time. It's quiz time:

1. In what Laura Ingalls Wilder book did Pa build a corner display case for Ma's porcelain shepherdess? By the Shores of Silver Lake

2. What was the display case called? A whatnot

3. Who was Lurleen Wallace? Not a Tudor. The first wife of George Wallace, and first female governor of Alabama, although a stand-in for her spouse. She just popped into mind between vitrine and the six wives. I was remembering a family in NE Nebraska who had named all their daughters Erlene, Sherlene, Darlene, Karlene, Murine...

4. What happens to the brains of NFL players who suffer head hits and concussions? Heard on NPR about a new study.

5. What was Emily Kaitz's hilarious wedding song about housing a hideous porcelain poodle collection in expensive glass cabinets? I Will Stay with You

6. Name each wife of Henry VIII and her chronological fate, and imagine how the Village People could dance to divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived:

7. Where can I get a cool name like Mary, Queen of Scots? I want a comma. I'll pass on the glass box, though. Collagemama, Queen of Blogs...

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Walking Cane Letters

Handwriting on hold--Another Wall Street Journal book review has enticed me to reserve the library's copy of Script & Scribbles, by Kitty Burns Florey. Cullen Murphy's review, "Handwriting Is on the Wall: Penmanship skills are being slowly erased in a typing and texting age" is fun if you have memories of elementary penmanship exercises or enjoy a lovely handwritten note.

Somewhere in one of my too, too many boxes, there's a small piece of paper with my great aunt Emma's examples of the Palmer Method's "walking cane letters". Aunt Em resolved to improve my awkward fourth grade cursive by convincing me of the beauty and legibility of nice penmanship. She also convinced me the discipline to master the skill was worth the effort. I believe it still is. Smooth cursive is faster than block printing, and causes less arm and hand fatigue when you set your paper correctly. Yes, I'm a right-handed female! How did you know?

The Walking Cane letters are the upper case H, K, M, N, W, X. Forming those letters began by making the loop of the cane handle, then its stick sitting nicely on the line.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Flame on, Johnny!

Worked at the library today and got to use the remote control for the gas fireplaces. If I'd been wearing a Spandex unitard I could have been part of the Fantastic Four comic book superhero team. Feel the power of Johnny, the Human Torch!

Flame on, Johnny!
Flame off.
Flame on, Johnny!
Flame off.

During the 1967-1970 run of the Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four cartoon show I was already allegedly much too mature to be watching Saturday morning tv. Younger siblings and babysitting charges were really the viewers.

Holding the remote control AND feeling the heat is a lot more exciting than most of my marriage. That was more of a falling anvil cartoon for Invisible Girl.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

The Royal Ten Bars

Golden beads are a basic Montessori math manipulative. Children work with the golden bead thousand cube, hundred square, ten bar, and units to gain the concept of place value. They gradually realize that eighteen means one ten bar plus eight units, while eighty-one means eight ten bars and one unit.

If you are reading this post, you probably googled "ten royal bars," and are disappointed. If you were on a class bus trip, you could sing "Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall". That is another way to learn about numbers and place value, as well as drive adults crazy.

I've never been to a royal bar, but I rented two houses in Suburbia, Oklahoma built during the wet bar/great room craze. Both design amenities were highly overrated.

I can't hum a bar of music, or carry a tune in a bottle. It will be fun to attend the Dallas Opera's production of Donizetti's "Robert Devereux" tomorrow. The photo of the opera's Queen Elizabeth I appeared on the front of the Dallas Morning News weekend entertainment "Guide" section on Friday.

That was the same day a student carefully placed ten bars between his fingers to form claws, a creative but clearly unauthorized use of Montessori materials. I had to put on my teacher scowl at the same time I was imagining the costuming possibilities for Elizabethan math teachers.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Flush twice ...

... Omaha needs the water.

Somebody was likely to repeat this ancient joke any time you headed to Grandma's old-fashioned bathroom during my childhood. I believed it was a joke until I began reading Rose George's entertaining and mind-blowing new book, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. Holy crap, Batman! Sanitation ain't nearly as smooth an operation as you hoped even in our allegedly civilized nation. And talk about your crumbling infrastructure!!!

After laughing through the chapter on the high-tech world of Japanese toilets I needed first hand experience. Most Americans are disinterested in toilets that "think". We figure this isn't a product that needs bells and whistles. We just want the lowest-priced model from Home Depot. That's why I've never given my Sims game households the high-priced upgrades. Would a Sim be happier, healthier, and on a faster career track with the $1200 Flush Force 5XLT ?

So far I have only anecdotal information about my Sims, Bertha and Fiord. I've upgraded their potties. They spend more time in the bathroom due to the heated toilet seats.

Heated seats would not be a good option for the preschool children. They already spend a lot of time in the potties. Their idea of a sanitation upgrade is having a colorful poster of alphabet animals on the restroom wall and better karaoke accoustics.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Bonus kitty cat art

Cats that shed and scratch up your couch?

Tap-dancing cat plus mouse.

Skateboard cat?

Super Cat changing capes in a phonebooth?

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Fiskars for Friskies

[Feline ballet for stripes, spots, solids, and extra legs--by preschool artists]

Last week's fold/cut art lesson was the starting point for this week's kitty cat climbing tower composition. I told the students a fairly plausible story about watching mama cats and kittens playing on a carpet-covered climbing tower with scratching posts in a pet store window over the Christmas break.

It's true there was a pet shop on the upper level of the Collin Creek Mall when we moved to Plano in 1990. My sons liked to watch the puppies and kittens in the store window. We were usually en route to the Mervyn's kids department to buy Cheetah brand sweatpants and sweatshirts. Adding furry pets to our household of asthma sufferers was out of the question.

Fast forward eighteen years. This student drawing is surely the mama cat with returned college-age kittens home for the holiday break. She is tired, and not sure whether it is safe to shut her eyes and go off duty. Parental instincts are earth's most powerful forces. Here she can't quite relax when her grown kittens are out driving after midnight.

Nancy L. Ruder


Find a good stopping spot

For years we've used the instruction, "Find a good stopping spot, and get ready for snack," in the preschool class. The children didn't have much trouble with the concept. The instruction meant that they didn't have to drop what they were doing that very instant, but it wasn't a good time to start something new. Older students involved in more complex projects could ask to leave their work out to resume after snack. The goals were a nontraumatic transition and preventing a traffic jam of hand-washers at the sink.

This year's class doesn't get it. They wander the classroom in search of a magical place to stop and sit down for snacktime. I keep searching for a good way to demonstrate the concept.

Obviously, the expression often refers to a location. When the kid in the backseat gets that queasy green look, the driver knows "a good stopping spot" means the very first point to pull off the road without going into the ditch.

Just as often, "find a good stopping spot," means a point in a process. I'm going to stop for a caramel after I sort the bills into stacks, but before I write the checks. Or maybe two caramels and a fresh pot of coffee...

I'll check my email when I get to a good stopping spot with this blog.

I'll help you with your homework when I get to a good stopping spot making supper. Right now I've got to get the potatoes into the oven. Otherwise we won't eat until midnight!

Perhaps parents don't use this expression now. Do kids believe parents are perpetually interruptable? Maybe kids' one-on-one time with their parents is frequently interrupted by cell phone calls. Maybe they don't see their parents doing tasks that should not be interrupted.

My mother sewed. Sewing, from a kid's point of view, involved holding sharp pins in your mouth, squinting, glaring, and occasionally muttering under one's breath. We learned from an early age to recognize whether Mom was at "a good stopping spot." Likewise, one doesn't interrupt a grown-up using a plunger on the toilet of a one-bathroom house. That would leave a whole family wandering in search of a magical place.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Winter cut-outs

Cutting paper dolls, snowflakes, and valentine hearts were annual activities in the long cold winters of my childhood. Life was harsh for children before Fiskars scissors, but somehow we survived. Funny thing--these classic fold-and-cut diversions helped us develop
  • Spatial awareness
  • Fraction and math visualization
  • Clock-reading skill
  • Calendar and season understanding
  • Storytelling and listening skills
  • Sequential and cause/effect thinking
  • Understanding of symmetry, density, repetition, proportion, positive-negative
  • Self control necessary to refrain from cutting our own hair or the "fruit loop" on our classmate's shirt.
Sure, it's dandy that there are initiatives like One Laptop Per Child. I'm just not convinced a $200 computer will accomplish as much in villages without running water as a daily nutritious breakfast and a good pair of scissors per child.

Weekend Edition Saturday

December 13, 2008

In Peru, there are 10,000 one- and two-room schools — and thousands of children who live in homes without running water or electricity. But now, many of those same kids are the proud owners of their own little piece of modern technology: a laptop computer.
The laptops are part of a huge educational experiment. Peru is purchasing hundreds of thousands of low-cost computers developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and leading technology experts as part of the One Laptop Per Child project.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder



In the early, wild, no-budget, primitive, html-intensive days of Blogger I could change the look of the Itty Bitty Blog at the drop of a hat. A blog was a starter home, possibly in north Omaha, where it was okay to repaint the bedroom with that leftover can of Minty Green you found in the basement. You could add some homemade polka dot curtains and tack up Jane Avril posters. Fun, free, garish, and optimistic that eventually you would have nice grown-up furniture--dang, how I miss it.

My blog has grown up, even if I never got the furniture. Blogger's layout widgets replaced my inept experiments with html code. Changing the overall appearance of the blog now would jeopardize the pageviews of hundreds of posts and photos. Rigid. Calcified. Republican. Maybe that's how it feels to wear a pinstripe suit and red necktie everyday.

At the drop of a hat--Something that happens suddenly, almost without warning. This expression probably comes from the American West, where the signal for a fight was often just the drop of a hat. I've got to take off my jacket and roll up my sleeves to get re-energized about blogging. Not sure whether I need to paint my bedroom green or watch Butch Cassidy's knife fight with Harvey Logan.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Lunch at the White House

Laura looked in the kitchen cabinet yesterday and shrieked, "I don't have enough water glasses! The only ones left have horrible water spots!" Dubya had invited his dad, Jimmy, Bill, and Barack to lunch. Laura had been using the inexpensive Homelife dishwasher detergent from Albertsons, and hadn't added any JetDry since Hector was a pup. Maybe the Secret Service guys wandered off with the rest of the tumblers. Maybe Cheney took them down to his undisclosed bunker.

It's difficult to bond and form a support group over lunch if you have distracting unmatched and spotted glasses. I mean, how do you decide which former prez gets the plastic kiddie cup from Dickey's BBQ? Who gets the jumbo souvenir cup from the Dallas Burn soccer game against David Beckham and the LA Galaxy? Who gets the spotted Flintstones Welch jelly glass?

Some Homelife products work fine. The unscented laundry detergent is good. But if you are entertaining once and future presidents, or potential daughters-in-law, it's worth springing for high-priced dishwasher Cascade.

I called my dad, not to be confused with Dubya's dad, to ask him just when Hector was a pup. Dad has been using the expression "since Hector was a pup" since I was little, and probably far longer.

N Who was Hector, Dad?

H Some old dog.

N When you used that expression were you thinking about the Trojan War?

H Definitely not.

N Was it a Twenties expression like "the bees' knees"?

H More likely from the Thirties.

N Was it possibly a baseball radio announcer's expression?

H I think I was saying it before I was listening to radio.

When I first encountered Odysseus, Achilles, Priam, Helen, Edith Hamilton, and Menelaus in Miss Madsen's 1967 junior high English class, I was surprised to find a Trojan hero named after my dad's pup, Hector. Hey, I wanted to raise my hand, hey! I've heard of Hector. He was my dad's dog in the Great Depression! Miss Madsen would have twitched her mustache in disapproval.

I hope the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue lunch group was able to give Barack some suggestions for an allergy-friendly White House puppy. Maybe name it Hector? Or Spot.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Hummus phobia overcome

It's only the third of January, but I've already added my new food of the year. Cue the theme song from "Chariots of Fire"! I've overcome my terror of hummus.

Running in cinematic slow motion through the Kroger olive bar to get some roasted red peppers (domestic), then down the canned beans aisle to get the chickpeas, I'm feeling the burn. Thank heaven I already had the cream cheese, olive oil, garlic clove, lime juice, and paprika, so I sprinted toward the tape.

The Woolly Mammoth tried to convert me to hummus in '08. "Until I know what's in the stuff, I'm not going there," I said. It took an interview with Nigella Lawson on NPR to convince me hummus might actually be edible if I made it myself.

And, oh, it is so good I say on Triscuits and boats and planes and trains! That Sam-I-Am is doing high fives and cartwheels at the finish line.

Next up--A friend believes kale is edible. Yeah, right.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


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