Masculine, feminine, and young

The preschoolers are learning about farm animal families. Horse families have stallions, mares, and colts, for example.

At the same time, my middle son has questions about his Bohemian ancestry. Our family is traced back to a person referred to as The Unknown Liska. "Liska," I told my son, means vixen. "Vixen" means foxy lady to males of a certain demographic. It took some effort to clarify that a female fox is called a vixen in the same way a female horse is called a mare. ... hen; ewe; cow; sow.

At least from 1970, "vixen" was slang for an attractive female that might do harm. Earlier and more traditional dictionary sources suggest quarrelsome, malicious, ill-tempered, and shrewish without the attractive connotation.

The Online Etymology Dictionary helped me understand that the "v" spelling used to be "f" until the late 1500s:
O.E. *fyxen (implied in adj. fyxan), fem. of fox (see fox, and cf. M.H.G. vühsinne, Ger. füchsin). Solitary English survival of the Germanic feminine suffix -en, -in (cf. O.E. gyden "goddess;" mynecen "nun," from munuc "monk;" wlyfen "she-wolf").

Thank heaven! Otherwise I would have to explain the Texas expression, "I'm fixin' to go get some sweet tea and chicken salad."

A male fox is sometimes called a dog-fox. Fox young are called pups, cubs, or kits by different sources. In Paul Galdone's version of Henny Penny, Foxy Loxy's family includes Mrs. Foxy Loxy and the little foxes in order to circumvent the entire vexing problem.

I'll have to read Patricia McKissacks wonderful book, Flossie & the Fox, to the children soon. F or V, M or F, "a fox be just a fox. That aine so scary."

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Charley Harper at The Public Trust

Attempted a lunch hour visit to The Public Trust to see the vintage Charley Harper serigraphs and original paintings. Due to central Dallas' disregard for the rightness of ninety degree angles and North/South and East/West axes, I managed to get lost while listening to Thunderstruck on cd.

Chief Inspector Dew of Scotland Yard was solving the murder at 39 Hilldrop Crescent faster than I was finding 2929-C Commerce Street. He had Harvey Crippen as trapped as Charley Harper's "Last Aphid".

Once I arrived, I adored the prints. The raccoon works were my favorites. "Barn Owl and Harvest Mouse" with its milkweed pods fit well with my students' seed studies this week.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

The Stars Will Be Aligned!

Just some interpretations of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" by four and five year olds for your enjoyment. The last one just needs a drum major.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Pickled Pigs' Feet

It's two a.m. Do you know where your toes are?

My toes are sending frequent updates and protests. They are unhappy. Their working conditions are poor. Their luxury bonuses are not making headlines. They don't care that this corporate executive needs to get some sleep.

My ancestors ate pickled pigs' feet. This gave me some heebie-jeebies as a child. It gives me greater concern now that my toes are so old and vociferous in the middle of the night. Each phalangial knuckle has an opinion. At two a.m. I am open to the idea of consigning the whole bunch of complaining toes to a crock of brine so I can get some sleep.

Like most teachers, I have explained to children that the Plains Indians used every part of the buffalo. Did the Sioux make pickled bison feet?

Dad says pickled pigs' feet were mostly gristle and fat with a little bit of meat. "A tasty oddity; better than head cheese or blood sausage," he remembers.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


American Impressionism

You have until May third to view the exhibit, "Transcending Vision: American Impressionism 1870-1940" at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. You will want to pack a gourmet picnic hamper and your camera, so as best to enjoy Stuart Park down the hill from the Gilcrease, unless it is Sunday. The museum's Osage Restaurant offers a fine Sunday brunch buffet. The dining room overlooks the ravine and Stuart Park where redbuds and naturalized narcissus bloom in mid-March.

"Transcending Vision" is an extensive exhibit of art in Bank of America's corporate collection, augmented with some pieces from the Gilcrease collection. Unfortunately, most of the art is displayed in a warren of dark rooms painted a milk chocolate color. Works hung in the light and spacious central court of the Gilcrease are shown to better advantage. With over one hundred paintings by seventy-five artists, you may wish for a gallery brochure with artist names, artists' colony explanations, and examples for later reference. I found only a "gallery guide" with scavenger hunts and crossword puzzles for children, and nothing related to the exhibit for sale in the gift shop.

Two of my favorite American Impressionists, Edward Redfield and Birger Sandzen are represented in the exhibit. I'm hoping to track down a documentary film, "Art Colonies in America: The American Impressionist" the museum showed recently to increase my understanding of the resident artist colonies:

This film studies four colonies: Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut; Shinnecock, Long Island; and Laguna Beach, California. Each colony had a devoted core of resident artists working in distinctive geographic locations, connected by the rise and spread of Impressionist practices in America. Painting en plein air, these artists explored the landscape around them, whether domesticated or primitive, taking the emerging style of European Impressionism and making it uniquely American. Directed by Albert J. Kallis, 2004, 46 minutes. Documentary, not rated.

Birds and turtles were enjoying the sunshine last Sunday afternoon, as were a great many photographers. Tulsa's Audubon Society offers a birding guide to Stuart Park.

It would have been fun to sketch the photographers!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Spring fever in Tulsa

Plans for a stroll appeared straight-forward when I stood beside the column of the Gilcrease house overlooking its Victorian garden. Another step toward the shady porch stairsteps, and I found myself encroaching on a very public display of affection. Young Lavender and his lovely Thyme were entwined, completely oblivious to my amateur Canon digital photo progress around the curved path.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Galleries for gray, spring days

This is a painter's time of year with the hopeful green of new leaves nearly neon against our silvery-gray rain-heavy sky. The wet tree trunks and branches are dark inside their cotton candy fluffs of white, pink, mauve, and rose blossoms.

My attention span is short these early spring days, and galleries are more enticing than museums. A visit to the Valley House Gallery refueled my inner artist. That poor girl must have been running on fumes!

Valley House has increased its exhibit space without altering its building. Henry Finkelstein's brushy oil landscapes always speak my language. This year his show also includes two still lifes and a lovely interior.

Also on view at Valley House are Gail Norfleet's hand-colored monotypes of people at gallery openings. "Looking at Art" is the Dallas arts scene version of a play within a play. Wish my schedule allowed me to attend her gallery talk tomorrow:

Artist Talk: Saturday, March 14, 2009, 11:00 a.m.
Where: Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden
Address: 6616 Spring Valley Road, Dallas, TX 75254
Phone: 972-239-2441
Hours: Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: Free

The cover of T H E, an oddly named periodical of arts in the Metroplex, caught my eye on the Valley House entry table. I'd been teaching bird identification much of the afternoon, and here was Charley Harper's distinctive cardinal. There's an exhibit of original paintings and vintage serigraphs by Charley Harper at The Public Trust gallery in Deep Ellum through April. I've got to get there, as my inner artist needs new spark plugs, too.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Life Lists

Birdwatchers make life lists. Butterfly enthusiasts, opera afficianados, Grateful Deadheads, mountain climbers, and marathoners compile lists as well. And now, for your consideration, this admission; library junkies keep life lists, too.

The Curious Expeditions blog has a fabulous photo collection of the world's most beautiful libraries. I can only claim to have visited two of the featured libraries.

Some insomniacs count sheep. I occasionally count libraries in the middle of the night when I'm feeling entirely too hot, too cold, too old, and too broke. It's better than enumerating all the parts I've replaced on the Buick.

Perhaps it is a bad idea to put the library list into writing, as I might have to find something new to consider at 2:48 a.m. CDT.

The South Branch of the Lincoln City Libraries is the very first library I can remember. Then came a bookmobile at Lefler Junior High, and a combined city library and school library inside Lefler. I would help my mom choose picture books for my little brother who was particularly fond of a story about the pigs, Roly and Poly.

The main library for Lincoln at 14th and N Streets opened when I was a young reader in the early Sixties. I was quite fond of saying, "Bennett Martin". My class took a field trip to the library, and each student got a library card. Then we rushed to the shelves to check out our first book. Obviously only because it began with "A", I took home a biography of Jane Addams of Hull House, a most depressing book from the Bobbs-Merrill Childhood of Famous Americans series.

I spent many pleasant hours in the Bethany branch in sixth grade doing make-up work after a long illness. I was trying to complete my "February Folder," an assignment to research a different topic for each day in February. Bethany was a quiet branch, and my mom was comfortable leaving me there to do my work for hours at a time. No cell phone. No tutor. A dime for the payphone in case of emergency.

Gere Branch is another nice Lincoln library. Lincoln City Libraries total: 6

The most important library in my life was the Carnegie Library in Pierce, Nebraska, where my grandma was the town librarian. Every visit to Pierce meant being Grandma's little assistant until 1966 when she broke her hip. Pierce total: 1 Subtotal: 7

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Library System 8, or 7 (depending how you count Special Collections) Subtotal: 15 or 14

Engineering which had previously housed the Undergraduate Library known as UGL(y).
Geology which had an appropriately subterranean feel.
Special Collections including the Mari Sandoz Collection

Omaha Public Libraries 4 Subtotal 18 or 19
Benson Baby Jeffy's first library
Swanson Preschool Jeffy's first storytime
W Dale Clark

Libraries on vacation 12 Subtotal 30 or 31
National Institute of Health Library in Bethesda, MD
Library of Congress One of Curious Expedition's favorites.
Folger Shakespeare Library Another Curious Expedition favorite.
Chicago Art Institute Library, not voluntarily, to research Giacometti
Red River, N.M. Public Library lets tourists borrow books
Luling, TX
Salado, TX
Port Isabel, TX
Michigan State
Memorial Library at U Wisconsin-Madison
U New Mexico Zimmerman Library
Bunting Visual Resources Library (slide library)

Presidential libraries 2 Subtotal 32, or let's just call it 33
Johnson A free, clean public restroom after a long drive to Austin!

Oklahoma Libraries 2 Subtotal 35
Edmond Preschool Mikey's first storytime

School libraries 7 Subtotal 42

Lincoln East

Libraries close to home 12 Subtotal 54
Richardson, TX
Irving, TX
Forest Green
Plano Library Branches--
Highland Park Library
UTD McDermott
Wylie Smith

Libraries for dreaming in the future, but I'm feeling pretty sleepy now.

Louis Kahn's Exeter Library at Yale

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Extracurricular Lobster

It's pretty silly looking back. I put "Art Club Treasurer" on my college, award, and scholarship applications like the title demonstrated leadership, fiscal responsibility, organization, and peer esteem. Lord knows, I hope Tim Geitner wasn't his high school art club treasurer!

Art Club was mostly an opportunity to mess around with eight or nine other students while listening to Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" on a small turntable. At any time a good half of the membership served as officers. We spent most of our business meetings approving the purchase of officer pins for each other.

Our other activities were making rings out of spoon handles; drawing little chickens, owls, and frogs to sell; and manning the Art Cart sales venue. We actually found customers for our drawings of little chickens which were displayed on tiny easels we made from drapery pleater hooks.

At the end of each spring semester we organized an outing to a gallery and a restaurant to spend all our Treasury funds. All year we talked about eating lobster like it would be an initiation rite for the youngest members. Indeed, I ate my first lobster as an Art Club sophomore at The Knolls Supper Club in Lincoln. The next spring I ate lobster at Steinhart Lodge in Nebraska City.

As for the useful ability to make tiny easels from drapery pleater hooks, it's come in handy many times:

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Columbia House Record Club

Dave Brubeck's "Adventures in Time" LP was one of my early Columbia House Record Club purchases. The year was 1971. Back then every Sunday "Parade" newspaper section had a large record club insert with an "amazing offer" exceedingly difficult for any teen with a part-time job to resist. "Purchase 24 albums in the next two years, and get Three Dog Night for just one penny!" Although I exaggerate, I do so only slightly.

My musical friends advised me on jazz artists they enjoyed, and I selected Brubeck with great anticipation. From my record club experience I learned that Dave Brubeck's music was one of life's great pleasures. I also learned it is essential to study the contractual details.

Last Friday, before the Brubeck Quartet played "Someday My Prince Will Come," Brubeck himself joked about the old Columbia Record Club. His "Dave Digs Disney" album was a record club Selection of the Month. Back then (and maybe still) the club mailed out a catalog each month. If you didn't send back an order, you automatically received the Selection of the Month. Plus, if you didn't send that record back within two weeks you owned it and would be billed for it through all eternity. Like many teens, I composed my first aggrieved and disgruntled consumer letter to the Columbia House Record Club about its abuses of the terms of my membership purchase agreement. The positive outcome nudged me toward creative nonfiction writing, but it pushed other students into consumer protection law school classes.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Learning to Drive with Mondrian

OR When Triangles are Wrong, Not Right

I grew up with Mondrian. Not with Piet himself, but with his visual influence. I'm pretty sure he's the guy who taught me to ride my blue bicycle around the block with four right turns, and to spread out my beach towel on the concrete squares at the swimming pool so it didn't overlap another towel.

If I hadn't grown up with a large Mondrian reproduction on the living room wall, I might not have understood aerial point-of-view, or how to walk from the YWCA after my swim lesson to the public library next door while eating a Tootsie Roll. I might never have navigated from Miller and Paine to Golds department store.

The palette of Mondrian obviously represents the intense primary color celebration when my mom successfully parked the '54 Chevy in downtown Lincoln after what seemed like hours of circling blocks fortified with barricades of dirty gray refrozen snow. Hell is being bundled for all eternity clad in a fuzzy parka, snowpants, boots, scarf, mittens, and knit hat into the backseat of an overheated Chevy next to a carsick sibling with no means of influencing the vehicle, the weather, traffic, or the timid driver at the wheel. Few people are adept at parallel parking, but straight-in was also agony for my mom.

My preschool art students have learner's permits to drive on the linoleum tile squares in the lunchroom. We have already covered these drivers' ed concepts:

  • Coming to a complete stop
  • Signaling your turn
  • Staying in your lane
  • Not being piggy in the WalMart by lot taking more than one parking space
  • Not parking so close you can't open the car door without dinging the next car

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


My Favorite Invertebrate

That "giant sucking sound" you hear might not be the one Ross Perot warned us about back in 1992. Perot claimed that NAFTA would suck away American jobs.

The sucking sound might actually be caused by a tiny lady octopus overly curious about a tank valve. Her efforts resulted in an office flood at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Did the octopus have willful intent to flood the office? Probably not. A cat might have willful intent to damage personal property, but it doesn't have suction cups on its arms. An octopus has the intelligence and curiosity of a cat, but not the attitude.

I've always heard that an octopus can open a peanut butter jar if it sees something sparkly inside. An octopus will collect shells and bits of sea glass to make a fence outside its den. Even the largest giant octopus can get its body through an opening the size of an apple. And it doesn't shed or walk on your kitchen counter.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


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