Lyle Finds His Mother

It's been over a year since the opportunity presented itself for a preschool book festival. The last time we celebrated the silliness of Daniel Pinkwater's polar bear named Larry. This time we are delighting in Bernard Waber's brownstone-dwelling crocodile, Lyle.

Lyle came to students' attention when he saved the drowning Clover Sue Hipple during our swimming art unit. Children, the true enquiring minds, wanted to know more about how Lyle came to live with the Primm family in The House On East 88th Street. I wanted to get reacquainted with Lyle's mother now that my own little crocodiles have grown up.

The oldest photo in this group is a mind-blowing quarter century old. I sewed a Halloween costume for a major Lyle fan in 1984. His younger brothers wore the costume in 1987 and 1989. Cousins carried on the crocodile tradition.

While all the boys loved being Lyle, only one transformed Lyle into a firefighting stuntrider.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


My home doesn’t have to become a repository of all family history

Many strangers have written to me about my final column as a volunteer Community Voice for the Dallas Morning News. Some comments have been from members of my generation. An equal number have come from my father's generation. The column ran on September twelfth.

Each trip to visit my elderly father makes me contemplate what I can only call our “human accumulation tendencies.” Dad’s basement contained enough National Geographic magazines to construct a small step pyramid in his driveway.

Neither your public library nor Half Price Books want your old magazine collection, so why not build something special with them?

Have you needed to consult your 1953 federal tax returns lately? Anything that was ever marked “Please retain for your records” during the course my parents’ long marriage remains in its archeological stratum. My sister and I have begun the massive work of clearing out our childhood home. We’ve shredded canceled checks from the ’40s, along with those tax returns.

Humor is absolutely required in this job. A sense of wonder helps, too.

We found four coffee makers complete with receipts and instructions in their original boxes, each taped closed with a note, “Doesn’t work.” Why, why, why did they save them? For the same reason they never threw away a ketchup packet from McDonald’s or the twist tie from a loaf of bread, I suppose.

At Dad’s I unearthed what can only be called the “Grudge Dossier.” This file held the complete background information for every family feud, scandal, inheritance injustice or unpaid loan back to the Great Depression. Our family is lighter with that record shredded.

The summer wasn’t all mind-numbing hours with the paper shredder. Did Mom know the fun my sister and I would have finding favorite clothes from our childhood? The evening my niece modeled those outfits for us was a blast. So was our discovery of a box of elbow-length gloves that inspired Supremes imitations of “Stop in the Name of Love.”

I’ll have to cut my grown sons some slack about all the things they have warehoused in my condo. This summer I finally moved my college artwork out of Dad’s house just 32 years after I flew the nest.

In 2039 my sons will gather to clean out my condo and finally cart away their childhood treasures. They won’t care that I have dutifully preserved family photos and documentation of their ancestors who came from Bohemia to make a new life in northeast Nebraska.

When the guys stop by to visit my assisted-living facility, they’ll grill me about where I stored their treasured “good wood rifles.” It’s true. I let my young sons run around the back yard with toy guns. The boys turned out just fine, thank you, and they are sentimental about their toy guns. Those small objects hold the key to their sense of what it was like to be children.

Maybe my daughters-in-law will be interested in the current collector’s value of Grandma’s crystal, but I’ll be preoccupied ranting about the lumpy gravy and cold mashed potatoes in the nursing home. The crystal is precious because of Dad’s stories about the village where it was made, and how he sent it to Nebraska for his dear mother and future wife. I heard those stories sitting around Grandma’s dining table at her famous midnight suppers. Grandma could whomp up “a little something” with homemade steamed tamales and sugar cookies. It was the best eating on earth. Sadly, no one will remember those occasions, or use the expression, “whomp up.”

Maybe it is time to let go of the rocking chairs that belonged to ancestors I barely remember. My home doesn’t have to become a repository. I don’t want cleaning it out to be a burden hanging over my kids’ heads. I just want to save the small keys to their memories seasoned lightly with family history and served with a midnight supper. Let’s see what I can whomp up.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Stubby rocks and rules

Stubby's tail is still growing back, but he's the ruler of the patio canna leaves. It's been three and a half months since Stubby lost his tail in some unfortunate encounter. The little anole is a lesson in resilience. You can still see that the end of his tail is black where it is regrowing and reshaping. I'm feeling lucky to have a weekend for hummingbird observations and lizard reflections.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Grasshopper on the fence

As fascinating as grasshoppers are, I still don't want them jumping at me. This fellow posed politely on the playground fence when I was leaving work Friday. He's suggesting an embroidery project.

The return of my camera after its long trip to repairville coincided with the end of my year as a volunteer newspaper columnist. It's time for some visual artwork.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Green Line destination

Oops. I never got around to posting about the fantastic new Sammons Butterfly House at Texas Discovery Gardens. That was the destination for my Green Line DART rail trip, and one of the best eight dollars I ever spent.

I took 153 photos, of which fifteen were keepers. Butterflies aren't the most cooperative subjects. The ADHD butterflies with the pink wing stripes were the crowd favorite, but a photographer's nightmare. This was my luckiest shot of the small postman.

A birthday party was in progress, with lots of little kids and parents oohing and aahing. What a refreshing alternative to bouncy houses, Chucky Cheese, and kiddie manicure parties! Yikes. I caught myself wishing for grandchildren!

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson from the 30th District was hosting an event out in the garden with international dance groups and great smelling barbecue. At first I though the varied rhythms I was hearing inside the Butterfly House came from the dance music. Gradually, I realized it was the varied rhythms of the little kids on the descending ramp, skipping, hopping, galloping, and running pretending to fly.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Mosquito personal trainer

The trainer collects the fee up front, meeting his student on my porch in the hours before sunrise. Now and then he asks the student to stop that incessant buzzing to listen:

Hear that? She hit the snooze button again.

Oh. This is good. She woke her computer from its hibernation and is lumbering to the coffeemaker.

Are you ready? When she opens the door to grab the newspaper you rush in. Follow her to the bathroom. She always take the newspaper bag to a box where she collects them. Stay out of earshot. Don't get impatient. She'll leave to flip through the front section while the coffee brews. You find a good hiding spot.

She'll be back soon for her shower, and, believe me, you've never seen a bigger target! This is big game hunting in an 8'x8'x8' Africa. It's a feast, I tell you! She should have an apple in her mouth.

This is it! The door is opening! Go, go, go!

Fifteen minutes later, a SWACK and a gnashing of teeth. The personal trainer lives to collect tomorrow's tuition.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Green Line to Fair Park

A marketing genius created the billboards promoting Dallas Area Rapid Transit's new light rail Green Line. So far the route only goes from downtown to the State Fair grounds, but the image will stick with me until the line reaches its final destination. Just one bright green squiggle of mustard on a corny dog says it all. No such visual mnemonic device exists for the line from my suburb to downtown Dallas. I've been riding it for several years, but forget sometimes if I need the red or the blue line.

All three lines pass through downtown Dallas, and the Pearl Station on Bryan at Pearl Street is a very busy place. Unfortunately the boarded up derelict old Dallas High School also known as Crozier Tech has been slowly decaying across the street from the station for the twelve years of light rail's existence. The building looks worse than usual with downed branches from our recent storms. Downtown Dallas is much more alive than this eyesore suggests to out-of-town visitors. Historic preservation and ownership issues haunt the place, but it is time for problem solvers to remedy the situation.

On a more positve note, the Deep Ellum Station has a fun take on the Tin Man, known as "Traveling Man". Each Green Line station has a unique design with public art. I like the rusted metal constructions that form an entry to the MLK Station. Looking toward Fair Park the shapes reflect the WRR radio tower and the Texas Giant ferris wheel.

For some children these rail station sculptures may be their first introduction to 3D art. I hope their teachers use this local art to begin discussions of design.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


First spelling test

"Spell see. We see with our eyes." The first-grader ponders, then writes a backward


"Spell we." The first-grader is excited because he knows this, and quickly writes

"Spell map." Okay, he's getting the idea.


"Spell big."


© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Snails and toads, but no puppy dog tails

How doth the snail scale my sliding glass door two feet from my chair? I really miss my camera, still in for repairs. Both the snail and its shell are translucent. It's climb is more subtle than the struggle into a girdle. Something seems to be rippling up and up like the credits for the best boy, gaffers, and grips, scrolling at the end of a movie.

While I've been working on somethings I deem important, the snail has moved five bricks up the window. Where is it going? Is it fleeing ahead of a deluge? It has passed a dried out snail shell stuck to a brick. The intrepid explorer must pass the relics of failed previous expeditions.

Now the snail is meandering on the surface of my scanner. It retracts into its shell the instant I turn the scanner on. It responds to stimuli. It avoids paparazzi. I take it back outside and regret interrupting its climb.

This morning I flicked on the light above the front stoop before venturing out to grab the newspaper. The tiny toad was there. Yesterday it was down by the sidewalk near the sweet potato vine. Or maybe not. I'm not a sophisticated amphibian observer. I may have one toad or twenty loitering on my sidewalk.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


DIY Emma and Ada in Verdigre

Make your own retro postcard and mail it to someone who appreciates hats and muffs.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

When the going gets tough, the tough count sporks

I work in a small private school where all the students and staff bring their lunches. Still, the school provides plastic spoons, forks, and knives, along with paper napkins for our lunchroom. We've started collecting the plastic utensils after lunch.

We also provide a morning snack that sometimes requires spoons or forks. At the end of the snack a staff member collects the plastic utensils to take home and run through a dishwasher. A few children and a few staff members bring reusable utensils and napkins in their lunches.

Now that school districts are so pinched, more brown-baggers may learn to bring their own utensils. A teacher friend reports that the public school cafeteria manager now keeps the plastic sporks under lock and key. The manager has to account for every spork, making sure the school uses not one more spork than it serves paid meals.

Counting sporks seems really petty at first. Still, it wouldn't hurt for us to relearn that old motto, "Be prepared." If you pack a yogurt, pack a spoon. You wouldn't want to pay for a black market spork in an under-the-table economy.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Shred or Savor?

This op-ed by a gifted high school student ran alongside my piece today. In a different section of the Dallas Morning News I found this great story on art sculpted by a local artist using the same old documents I rant about shredding.

My year as a volunteer columnist is ending. Applicants for Community Voices have until October fifth to submit a writing sample.

When I was selected to be a Community Voice I worried that I didn't have enough opinions about my city, and that I couldn't be a persuasive writer. During the year I've gradually realized that community is not necessarily geographic. My community is defined by the responsibilities of my generation. I connected to the most readers when I wrote about experiences with my elderly father.

Some communities don't belong under my byline even when they offer great material. It was tricky writing columns related to my job. I never ventured to write about the wacko world of my condo complex.

My columns didn't generate heated online comments, but my involvement with the newspaper made me aware of the hateful things people write when they can post anonymously. Thoughtful discourse and respectful arguments have disappeared from public media.

It's a sad situation when an inappropriate outburst during a presidential address encourages campaign contributions to the speaker. So far, no one is sending my dad monetary contributions for his inappropriate outbursts to the assisted living staff and residents. This man who was once the epitome of patience, manners, consideration, respect, and duty, has lost the function of something in his frontal lobe that filters and civilizes his behavior at age eighty-six.

Where is the hope for our nation when elected federal representatives, local officials, school administrators, rabid media commentators, and overwrought parents all behave like a cranky octogenarian in Depends?
We each have an inner editor. Let's push the reset button and reboot that program. Thanks so much, Michael Landauer.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder



Today's word comes from the nurse at my father's assisted living facility. It hits me hard on several fronts. I was just wondering if my continued blogging was going above and beyond the reasonable span of perseverance. Has my attempt to log online crossed into something besides writing practice? When my muse suggested I start a blog back in July of '03, she probably didn't mean I had to keep posting forever. What would I do without my blog?

I love to tell deserving students how impressed I am when they persevere. Kids love that this big word describes the big effort they put into finishing a task

Perseveration is an aberration of perseverance. It's a useful word to describe Dad's uncontrollable repetition of words, phrases, gestures, and fixation on certain thoughts. Dad perseverates on time, hours, minutes, waiting, delays, punctuality, and tardiness. Every event from breakfast to bathtime has the stress level of a Superbowl kickoff or NASA blast.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Interspecies warfare

Stubby, the anole lizard, climbed leaf by leaf through the Asian jasmine to reach the wrought iron birdfeeder hook by the patio. Up the hook he went to reach the hummingbird feeder. There he coiled himself along the rim to catch insects attracted to the sugar water.

The hummingbird did not find this reptile incursion amusing. She flew down and hovered menacingly until Stubby leapt back to the wrought iron hook. Generously, she allowed Stubby to slowly slink back down to the patio under her guard, then took full control of the feeder.

Alas, I haven't developed a successful analogy for Afghanistan to send to General McChrystal. I can only pray that American troops will be safe this holiday weekend.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Stubby's delighted

The little anole lizard with the damaged tail is ever so pleased with the latest patio development. My worm bin developed an unfortunate odor, probably from over-feeding, and I had to move it from the laundry room to the patio. I have it sitting in front of the sliding door, just on the other side of the glass from my computer table. Gnats are buzzing around the worm bin lid, attracted by the odor. Stubby has set up watch on the tan brick wall where he can spring onto the lid and eat lunch. His tail is still slightly shorter than a normal tail, and dark at the tip, but reshaping itself nicely.

I suspect the night shift at this post will be held by a spotted gecko. The geckos live in a crevice between the condo slab and patio slab. If I flick on the patio light in the night, I see them scurrying for the nearest cover.

The patio plants look scruffy. Leaf rollers arrived to deform the myrtle and cannas. The rosemary and thyme died while I was in Nebraska last time. The yarrow and mint are tired of the heat. I'm embarrassed to admit I killed a lantana.

On the good side, a hummingbird is visiting the canna flowers with a very familiar flight pattern, arcing between the chinaberry tree, my cannas, and a tree down the alley. It's almost like a dance I've seen often, but not recently. The hummingbirds that have been hanging around for a couple months don't fly this pattern. This bird just arrived. I like thinking he's been here other Septembers. Hummingbirds in the wild can live 3-5 years. Good things are possible.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Fruit bear boats

The children are playing restaurant in the kitchen, asking all the adults for their orders. We have revamped the play kitchen so all the pretend food is soft fabric. I love having this center just a tad more quiet at the end of a long day.

A small herd of waitstaff encircles and enquires what I would like. An idea pops out of my mouth before it hits my brain--a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich on toasted whole wheat with a root beer float. How good that would taste.

The five year-olds don't seem to know the joy of an A&W root beer float. They want to know how to make a "fruit bear boat".

"What do I owe you?," I ask the kindergarten cashier. "Fifty," he says, and then hands me a promotional Your Name Here credit card. "This is good for your next eleven thousand eighty," he says like a proud start-up entrepreneur.

"Thanks," I say. It's a good deal. Unlimited free fruit bear boats for pretty much the rest of my life.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...