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


The Purse Gods

The purse gods were with me when I walked into Kohl's today to hunt for a purse for the wedding. Earlier this week I lunched with my style advisor and my muse. Both of them should really be elevated to the pantheon. They have steered me well in all wedding matters.

I have never been a mother of the groom (MOG) before, nor have I rowed a trireme in Athens' war against Persia. I'm listening to John R. Hale's audio book, Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy in the car. Long dormant history lessons and the Theseus myth are coloring my thoughts.

The Greeks invented gods and myths when politically or militarily expedient. I don't know which members of their pantheon would be in charge of purses, but I'm pleased to have those dieties on my side as I paddle the wine-dark sea to my firstborn son's wedding.

Homer's "wine-dark sea" merged with "plum" in my color thoughts as I searched online for colored Jordan almonds to match the wedding's official color. About as easy as killing the Minotaur! I was making the traditional bittersweet wedding almond favors that wish health, wealth, happiness, children, and long life for the wedding couple. I've got a little navy of fru-fru purple almond vessels ready to set sail.

Thankfully, my purse oracles were less ambiguous in their specifications for the perfect handbag for next weekend's events than Themistocles wooden wall advice from Delphi. "Find a black/brown combination and a wrist strap." At Kohl's I found exactly that, not all advice in one, but fifty percent off on two. The omens are auspicious!

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


Lost my hippo, what'll I do?

Skip to my lou, my darling.

Couldn't find the little Metropolitan Museum replica of the Egyptian faience piece in my teaching tote bag when it was time for art class. Did I put "William" in my purse? Did the hippo fall out in the car, or even fall under the bed while I was looking for the National Geographic mammal book to add to the tote bag? I must be losing my marbles, as well as my hippo. Which reminds me of Vice President Dan Quayle twenty years ago.

I paraphrase here, but what a waste it is to lose one's hippo. Or not to have a hippo is very wasteful. How true that is. At least I got to school with the print-out illustrations of hippos and crocodiles.

The preschool art was as invigorating as a river trip with Bogart and Hepburn onboard the "African Queen". It's always good when we can draw animals starting with a baked potato. Hippos are about as close to a swimming baked potato as you can get.

For fun we also drew some crocodiles starting with french fries. We drew ladders for lifeguard chairs last week, so we drew palm trees today. Palm trees look a lot like ladders.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


"On the Trail"

The rain dripping off the eaves onto the upturned plastic bucket and flower pots played the rhythm of "On the Trail" from Ferde Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite". I smiled, burrowed down, and went back to sleep glad that my Sunday options for could-do and should-do were cut in half by the rain and wet ground.

I watched enough bits of Ken Burn's "National Parks" to drift into a scenic dream of canyons, boulders, twisty trails, and mountains. Getting to the bottom of the ironing basket today should be easier than a trek to the bottom of the canyon, if not so picturesque.

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder


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