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


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