Recycling in the wheel

Not being confrontational, I still wanted to speak with my new neighbor.  I knew her name and address because she put a giant box with a shipping label into the recycling cart.  Inside the box was a styrofoam cooler of the sort used for shipping holiday hams.  Inside the cooler were strange thawed and leaky cold-packs and bubble wrap, plus the soggy remains of some form of food.

Back in 2004-05, it was a struggle to get the condo homeowners to accept a recycling program at the complex.  The city was going to provide recycling collection at no cost to our complex, something no other multifamily complex, apartment or condo, received. 

Over the years participation has grown for this completely voluntary effort.  We started with four carts emptied biweekly, and now have a dozen carts emptied weekly.  Many enthusiastic residents help move the full carts into position for the weekly collection by the city truck.  My responsibility is still making sure the carts are in position, and keeping track of holiday schedule changes, plus educating residents about the city's accepted materials for recycling.  It's a way to serve my community that sure beats a three-year term on the condo association board!  It's also self-serving, because I would otherwise have to save and haul my recyclables to a central city collection point. 

Deep down I know that people don't read signs.  Still, I was perturbed that the new neighbor hadn't noted any of the recycling requirements listed on the cart:
  • Flatten boxes to conserve space. 
  • Make sure lids on the carts can close so paper stays dry and doesn’t blow.
  • Only clean, dry cardboard.
  • No plastic wrapping, toys, or bags in the carts.
  • Styrofoam is not recyclable. No packing materials, “peanuts”, or cups.
  • Glass, metal, and plastic should be free of food.
Psyching up, I gathered the styrofoam cooler, a recycling flyer, and the shipping label.  I ordered my thoughts about welcoming the neighbor and explaining our recycling program.  This would be a pleasant chat, and then I would happily take her nonrecyclables to the trash dumpster. 

Part of me worried I might receive a classic playground challenge like, "Says who?" or " Gonna make me?" or "So what?"  Guess I'm still the littlest kid at recess.

My new neighbor has at least two preteen daughters.  The one who answered the door never stopped talking on her cellphone while I explained my wish to talk to her mom. 

The door closed, then reopened.  The daughter, still on her cell, said the mom was "working on her wheel" and "on the phone".  I handed her the cooler.  Could she please tell her mom these items were not recyclables?

Many questions come to mind:
  • Is my new neighbor a potter?
  • Is she a hamster? 
  • How can a person working with clay on a wheel use a phone?
  • How can a hamster in a wheel use a phone?
  • Can hamsters throw pots?
  • Why can't a preteen set down her phone to talk to a real, live human?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Night and day comma

You are the one dash...Dad has disturbed sleep issues with reversed night and day to go with his dementia.  At 12:45 p.m. he called to check in with me before he went to bed.  I talked him into believing that he just ate lunch, and it would be many hours before bedtime. 

While Dad is generally confused about days, dates, and time, this is the worst his sleep disturbance has been since his hip break in 2007.  During the five days and nights I spent in his hospital room, Dad went way past fruitcake in nuttiness.  He was awake most of the nights either trying to rip out his IVs or chatting with the night aides about favorite ice cream flavors. 

Finally the lowest paid peon on the hospital totem pole switched Dad's tv to a night and day cable channel.  All night it showed constellations and phases of the moon.  All day it ran photos of horses frolicking in sunny pastures.  Amen!  Dad got his circadian rhythms realigned.  Dad needs that tv channel again to get reset. 

Dad may need a dose of Allan Sherman's "Night and Day with Punctuation Marks".  I do.  Just hoping it won't take more pharmaceuticals to get Dad back on track with the sundial.

Night and day, comma.

You are the one, dash.

Only to you comma beneath the moon comma and under the sun.


Whether near to me or far, dot dot dot,

It's no matter comma darling comma where you are, dash.

I think of you, comma.

Night and day, period. New paragraph.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Fleeting and barking

My clean kitchen won't last unless I never set foot in it again.  Trouble is, the kitchen is the only route to the laundry room.  Well, I could go around back and climb over the privacy fence and pick the lock on the back door, but that would set all the condo dogs barking.  Someone might call the cops.  Jumping over the fence with a basket of dirty clothes would be a true-life Olympic sport.

As soon as the drip pans are out of the dishwasher, I will reassemble this into a model of efficiency and cleanliness.  Even the top of my refrigerator is fuzz-free!  I'll be keeping it clean until after my sister's visit.  She's never seen my condo, even though I've lived in this complex since 1997.  A big sister needs to set a good housekeeping example, therefore my major cleaning efforts.  True, I've never been in her current home.  Maybe it would not pass the white glove test and we would be even in the sibling ledgers.

Hark, hark, the condo dogs bark!
It's been a great week for bark, particularly cedar and sycamore:

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Cougar in pale green pants

I had to do an errand, and at least the sun was out.  Thought I'd visit a park in Addison on my way to Lakeshore Learning.  Winnwood Park and White Rock Creek Trail are just south of Beltline and Jake's Burgers.   

Winnford Park has a nice gazebo and a pond with ducks, but no parking.  I had to park at the Town of Addison Finance Office.  It's almost like the public isn't invited to the public park.  There's no map at the Town website, so take a big piece of paper and crayon to make a rubbing of this map in the sidewalk near the gazebo:
Winnwood Park connects (if you can find it) to the White Rock Creek Trail.  If you get mildly lost you will wander into a neighborhood where every house probably has you on its security camera.

I met a woman walking two large, lean hunting machine dogs.  She told me the dogs were ranked the top of their line.  I'm sure they were fabulous animals, but their color reminded me of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix powder.  The woman told me she wouldn't walk her dogs on the trail "in the forest" because of the cougar.

Cougar?  Isn't that slang for an older woman chasing younger men?  Would there be desperate housewives wearing thongs in the forest?

"The forest" was a narrow shaggy fringe on the bank of White Rock Creek.  The trail was an easy, wide sidewalk.  On the other side of the sidewalk from "the forest" were mighty large and lovely homes.  The woodpeckers and chickadees weren't impressed.

Didn't spot a cougar, or even a bobcat, so I didn't have to hide in a brickel bush.  The concept of cocoa mix was more dangerous.  I did see how White Rock Creek got its name, with the tall banks of white chalk.


And, yes, I had to buy cocoa mix after the invigorating walk.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


The box-room

No sightseeing home tours of this venue were conducted on Christmas Day.  Might look into the possibility of selling tickets, though.

My youngest's former bedroom has become the "box-room" of my condo.  This word popped into my head with a memory of an upper story or attic room painted pale green and full of trunks, crates, and boxes.  The memory is old, but not nearly so old as that house.  Where was this place of storage?  Why can't I find better explanations of boxrooms or box rooms or box-rooms online?

A docent in period costume explained that the family stored winter items in the box-room for the summer, and summer items for the winter.  I store Christmas tree ornaments in Rubbermaid tubs above the laundry room cupboards year-round. 

Traditionally, and often seen in country houses and larger suburban houses up until the 1930s in Britain, the box room was literally for the storage of boxes, trunks, portmanteaux, and the like, rather than for bedroom use.

Wandering a maze of remembered tours of historic homes, I'm wondering which had the box-room docent.  Bugging me for over a week, I begin to think I just read a story of a box-room, maybe with a murder...

At work, the library director tapped me to assist her in retrieving the very tall ladder from the Town Hall basement.  We took the key to "the cage" when we went down, but the cage was already open. 

The Town Hall was constructed in the 1920's in a Spanish Colonial Revival style.  The building spans a creek.  It is a splendid setting for a mystery, but we saw no corpse.  Maneuvering the very tall ladder into the elevator was more Keystone Kops than scary classic page-turner.

Pulling a list of historic homes I've toured out of my mental portmanteau:

New Orleans seems like a good place for a box-room docent.  My visit to that city in the very late '80s had lots of visits to historic homes:
Nebraska homes:
  • Fairview, the home of perennial presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, best known by Lincoln schoolchildren as the home of the bizarre elephant leg umbrella stand.
  • Arbor Lodge, tNebraska City home of J. Sterling Morton
  • Kennard House
  • Ferguson House, the Second Renaissance Revival style house of William Henry Ferguson, Lincoln businessman and investor, built this house in 1909-11.
  • General Crook House   in Omaha
  • McGuffey House on the Miami University campus.  Yes, those McGuffey Readers
D.C. area:
  • Callahan House, Longmont, CO, site of the famous Ruder/Foley wedding in 2009
My eldest is in need of storage space.  He and his lovely wife need a box-room, but mine is a bit out of the way for them and already full.  In the precious declining resources of the future, closets will need their own carbon emissions trading.  

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

I've got a duck, and I'm not afraid to use it

Obsessing about duck fat may not be healthy, but it's been fun.  Got a frozen King Cole duck at the Sprouts grocery store.  Set it in a big bowl in the fridge to defrost. 

I've gotten creeped out about poultry after reading Omnivore's Dilemma and also hearing Joel Salatin, and Barbara Kingsolver speak in recent years.  Still, I am unwilling to give up the foods and flavors traditional to my family. 

Got out Joy of Cooking and went online looking for info about duck fat.   I studied the King Cole website and  wrote an email to the King Cole duck company asking for duck fat suggestions.  I found a recipe for brussel sprouts cooked in duck fat with almonds and cranberries that sounds fantastic, and brussels sprouts are my least favorite vegetable!

Then Monday I needed to roast the thawed duck.  Decided to just save the fat from the bottom of the roasting pan.  Made dressing, mashed potatoes with turnips, and sauerkraut.  Very tasty, but collecting the drippings from the roasted duck isn't the proper way to collect duck fat.

Rob emailed me from King Cole the day after I roasted the duck:
Hello Nancy,

Thanks for your letter, we sure hope our standards exceed the industry averages!
Duck fat is a wonderful thing, and the best way to save it would be to start with raw fat and skin. This can be collected from the neck skin and the “leaf fat” that appears just inside the cavity. One duck may not yield enough to make it worthwhile, so (here comes the sales pitch) you may need to get a few ducks to get enough fat.

Then put the fat/skin in a heavy bottom sauce pan, add about 1/3 cup of water for 1 pound of fat and skin, and slowly heat it so it liquefies. This could take several hours, depending on the quantity. Leave the lid off to allow the water to evaporate, and stir occasionally. Strain into a solid container and refrigerate...it’s that simple! It will store for two months in the fridge.
Using the fat that collects in the bottom of the roasting pan as the duck cooks is not the best idea, as the fat will be “contaminated” with the salt and spices that you likely used when preparing the whole duck.

Alternatively you can purchase rendered fat online at: http://www.morethangourmet.com/ They have great products, I use them regularly.  There is an interesting book on fat available through Amazon online: “Fat”, by Jennifer McLagan. She also has a book titled “Bones” but I haven’t read that one.
Good luck, and the best of the Season to you!



King Cole Ducks, Ltd
Ph. 416-580-6930

I hope Rob would be pleased that I made duck stock and used it in a lentil soup.  Be assured I won't be slathering duck fat on Wonder bread, but plan to keep experimenting with it in cooking.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Christmas pansies

A little splurge, a little light, a little color, a little sharing--Christmas.  Swung into the garden store on the way to the Albertsons.  No one around except two elves.  All the poinsettias and frosted natural trees had been retrieved earlier. 

The long tables of pansies, primroses, ornamental cabbage, and cyclamen glowed against the gray sky outside the clear plastic roof.  Raindrops began to tap on that plastic, more and more, and then it's a downpour.  Such a silly moment.  Two young women in knit caps and parkas watering all these plants and drinking Starbucks.  Me with one each yellow, golden, and blue violet pansy pot in my arms, unable to resist a miniature pink cyclamen. 

We need color and light and laughter at the darkest time of the year.  How ancient is that need?  Does it predate the human harnessing of fire?  Is there a biological imperative for color and light?  Is it psychological?  I'm no scientist, but an artist fond of black, charcoal, gray, and white.  Still I need the spot of red that is the cardinal among the snow-covered branches.

For a moment I wonder if these young elves have the best job on earth.  My four little plants are in a brown paper sack.  The elf offers me a cardboard box to hold over my head.  She even offers to help me carry my purchase.  No need for us both to get soaked. 

We wish each other a Merry Christmas and I head to the parking lot under my box.  The wind is catching it, and I've forgotten to get the car keys out of my purse.  Not a scientist AND not a juggler!  Rain is running down my nose.  I hope the elves are laughing, too.  Six dollars very well spent.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Friendship with translucent berries

Life is just a bowl of cherries, or else it's the pits.  Friendship, though, is the berries. 

Berries - That which is attractive or pleasing; similar to bee's knees, As in "It's the berries."

My friend in the winter of her life gives me such a Christmas gift.  I can glimpse into her heart while we laugh together about the Seussian bugs on life's surface.  I am awed by her humor, curiosity, graciousness, generosity, and serenity.  I am honored that she peruses my 365 photos and comments about her favorites.  She views my photos on her son's old laptop and types her comments.  That keyboard is missing its "W".  She is unflustered and innovative finding words to write and search without that letter.  Together we Google a tree with blue, football-shaped berries.  Southern black-ha?  Black-da?  Southern black haw.

Odd words come to mind looking through my berry photos over 2010:

frosted subtle  
  strength endurance
beauty berries
 glow rich mature seasoned

Disney  aerial weightless dance

How do we work around the knowledge of our own mortality? How do we get past the missing key? I pray at the end of my life I will still be Googling, consulting my American Heritage dictionary, and thumbing my field guides.

permeable translucent
papery radiant fragile crawling laughing

All is calm
All is bright
Be here now

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Mr. Clean Snow Globe

"Now Endust! now, SoftScrub! now, Clorox and Ajax!

On, Comet! On, SpotShot!, on Swiffer and Windex!

To the top of the mirror! to the stain in the hall!

Now Lime-Away! Lime-Away! Lime-Away all!"

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

The Big Clean

Started slow.  Organized my sock drawer by color, tossing out the holey loners.  Cleaned the lazy susans of spices, refilling jars in the rack.  Warmed up.

Tackled dusty slatted shutters.  I can almost feel the burn. 

Now the guest bathroom, formerly known as The Guys Bathroom.  I don't go up there much, making it a fine place for dormant Christmas cacti and orchids.  Amazing how dirty an unused place can become.  Maybe guy cooties still lurk just beneath the surfaces.

The Clorox Bathroom Disinfectant was inadequate.  Now I'm headed to the grocery store to buy Oxymoron, the cleanser for people who are too stupid to clean on a regular basis!

from Gk. oxy-, comb. form of oxys "sharp, pungent" (see acrid). Also used as a comb. form of oxygen.
1650s, from Gk. oxymoron, noun use of neut. of oxymoros (adj.) "pointedly foolish," from oxys "sharp" (see acrid) + moros "stupid" (see moron). Rhetorical figure by which contradictory terms are conjoined so as to give point to the statement or expression; the word itself is an illustration of the thing. Now often used loosely to mean "contradiction in terms."

Oxydol laundry detergent has been around since 1927. 

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Transmit Plan R

Watching our postal service deliver my Christmas presents with USPS Track and Confirm cheers me no end.  Imagine Santa and the eight tiny reindeer being tracked across the Big Board in the War Room. 

Plugged the old "Dr. Strangelove" VHS into the player.  Spread out the road atlas.  Piled up the tiny packages like colored cubes in the game of Risk.  Receiving status and location updates online.  Staying hydrated.  Taking good care of the precious bodily fluids.

My dad reports he was weighed today.  His reports aren't reliable, but he claims he weighs 165.9 pounds including his wheelchair.  Dad would not appreciate a comparison to Peter Sellers' performance.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Christmas of the birds

Our pencil holder is scrap wood, adding machine tape core, red felt, black bead, pipe cleaner, black acrylic paint, and a bit of pine greenery. 

The card is a Charlie Harper print. 
© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Barney the puppie

Yesterday was going to be My Productive Day.  Squeezing in a quick walk didn't work when my walking buddy and I saw a beagle puppy sniffing around.  It was cute enough to make even me talk babytalk.  Brand new red collar made it look like a Christmas present that unwrapped itself early.

The puppy was so glad to see us, and started following on our walk.  This was not good.  We were likely to lead it far from home.  The brand new tag on the red collar said "Barney".  I called the phone number and left a message about Barney's location. 

Maybe Barney came out of an open garage on the alley.  We walked up the alley with Barney sniffing along, sometimes in front, sometimes behind, frequently underfoot.  At the end of the long alley I called and left another message.

Barney was getting worn out, thirsty, and a bit worried.  Several people working outside admired Barney, but had never seen him before.  Now we were walking back toward where we first met Barney, slower.  A man came out of his house and offered to do a reverse search of the phone number.  Now we had an address for Barney.

Barney's mom had her nose poked under the fence where dogs had dug a hole big enough for Barney's escape.  Barney was glad to see her, but didn't actually want to go home.  I've known a few sons like that!

We curled Barney into a sausage, and slid him through the hole into the backyard.  Blocking the hole with a heavy planter and some bricks, we made one more call to the phone number.  We hoped Barney had a water bowl on the patio.  Maybe Barney's owner should put a cell phone number on his tag.  Barney may grow up to be a ramblin' man.

Our walk was so extended that a lunch out was required, just so we could wonder which President's dog was named "Barney".  The Obamas have Bo.  Clinton had Buddy.  Bush One had Millie, and yes, Dubya was the President with a Barney.  Except for taking Barney back home and making soup, I didn't get much done.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

And now for something completely different

Last night during a big cooking attack, I looked at the acorn squash on the counter and it looked back.  Quick, to the internet! 

There are lots of squash soup recipes, and they call for butternut squash.  Ignore that.  Some had nutmeg.  One curry.  Ooh.  That would be a bold move.

So, my soup turned out quick, easy, mildly curry, very pretty.  It didn't make an enormous amount, which is good since I'm running out of freezer space.

2 T butter
1 stalk celery--chopped
2 cloves garlic--smashed & chopped
1 medium carrot--chopped
1 medium potato--peeled & cubed
1 acorn squash--peeled, seeded, and cubed
16 oz. container of broth (I used chicken, but veggie might be even better.)
16 oz. water
1/2 t Mexican saffron
1/4 t curry powder
1 sprinkle nutmeg
1 shake salt
1 sprinkle cayenne

Start with butter and celery in a big pot.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, while chopping.  Add the potato and carrot.  Normal people would add a small onion.

Use a serrated grapefruit spoon to get seeds out of squash!  So glad I brought those grapefruit spoons back from Dad's house.  Add in and cook another 5 minutes.

Add stock or broth and water.  Stir in seasonings.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer half hour or so, until veggies are tender. 

Lift veggies out of pot into blender using a slotted spoon.  Add a bit of the liquid.  Blend on low speed until the consistency of applesauce.  Put back into pot and stir.

Never mind that it was in the seventies here.  This was a very wintery soup.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Facing America's problem

You see them almost everywhere, passed out in the front yards of houses big and small, well-to-do and not-so.  Sometimes they're alone.  Other times in big gangs.  We don't talk about it.  We're just glad they aren't puking or panhandling.  They show up in late October when it starts to get chilly, and linger until almost Valentine's Day.

Fraternity brothers?

Football fans?

The homeless?

Derelicts, addicts, and needle-sharers?


The uninflated.  Limp, ambitionless, uncared for Santas, snowmen, witches, Garfields, and other registered trademarks.

It's time to end the silence, America.  Blow 'em up, or move 'em out!  Rawhide!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Ridiculously triumphant


Just want to crow when I spy a chrysalis on my slow nature walks.  Didn't spot one at the Heard Nature Sanctuary this afternoon, but it was a good walk anyway. Had no idea I would see so many dragonflies this far into December. 


© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Now We Are Six

Six years ago this week I flew to Lincoln to see my mother and to give my dad a break.  Fritzi was dying, although we hadn't accepted that fact.  Howard was exhausted, depressed, almost numb, and in total denial. 

In hindsight it's clear Dad was in the earliest stages of dementia.  His issues were obscured by my mother's rapid failing. 

Broken hips, hospitalizations, anesthesia, and rehab relocations have added to the bumps of Pooh being dragged down the stairs.  In this part of my life, playing Christopher Robin to Howard's Pooh, childish mentor to a bear of little brain, we should be learning our sums.  Six years is a long time to a child changing from infant to acquiring early addition and spelling skills.  Instead Dad and I are dislearning everything about time and numbers.  We have been misplacing the names of people and things for quite some time.  Dad calls before six a.m. to enquire the day, date, time, and the name of his roommate.

It's never an easy sum to do. 

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Kinder, Gentler, and Tindling

Or Kindle and tindlers.  All very confusing, so I keep skipping through the forest in my red-hooded cloak carrying my bundle of sticks.

I love my Kindle for reading big, heavy novels that might make my wrists tired.  It was great for Moby Dick and The Poisonwood Bible.

The classics that cost $0.00 are hits with me.  This is an easy way to whittle away at my Important Books I Should Have Read But Somehow Didn't List.

Even back wearing my blue vest with all the beads and my red neckerchief, I never did get tinder and kindling straight.  In Campfire Girls we painted wooden matchheads with nail polish and kept them in metal Band-Aid boxes to keep them dry.  Survival skills are soooo important. 

What were those Campfire Girl ranks?

  • Wood Gatherer
  • Fire Maker
  • Torch Bearer
The symbol of membership in the Camp Fire Girls is the silver fagot ring. This is given by the National Board without cost to each girl when she becomes a Wood Gatherer.

And yes, you can spell that bundle of sticks with one or two Gs. As for combustible fiction, I just finished Djibouti, by Elmore Leonard, on my Kindle. 

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Are we there yet?

Bad traffic tonight driving home from work.  Big accident on the expressway.  Redirected and stuck behind a car with a pink helium balloon bouncing around inside.

I suspect our New Years trip driving Dad to Texas will be a major lesson in the illusion of control. It will be payback time when our father starts nagging, "Are we there yet?" Maybe I will buy him a helium balloon on a string to take in the car.

Poor guy. I remember a road trip in our un-airconditioned '54 Chevy in about 1961. We ate pancakes at a restaurant, and each of us received a balloon. Each balloon was attached to a stick instead of a string, the better to poke ones' eyes out.  Getting back into the Chevy and onto the highway, we were bopping and flomphing each other with the balloons and blocking Dad's rear-view mirror. All of a sudden he swerved onto the shoulder and opened the car door. The balloons flew off into the sky. Our little kid jaws dropped. You can only push a parent so far!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Celebrating without candycanes

The youngest music group, students ages three and four, stood up to sing their holiday songs.  The children sang (well a few sang, one rang a triangle, one pounded on a xylophone, and the rest just stared at the music teacher like deer in the headlice) a song about candycanes wrapped in cellobrain.  Or maybe they were in celebrains.

Their second song was about a Christmas train coming down the tracks loaded with sacks.  The pattern was, "Susie wants a dollie" or "Jimmy wants a drum".  Being able to come up with an idea, any idea, when your turn comes around is pretty challenging at this age.  Santa please disregard these requests for carrots, skates, and big cats.  Skates in Dallas?

Outside of the holiday music performance the children have been singing "Here We Go Round the Dining Room Table" to the mulberry bush tune.  They each get a turn to name something they will bring for a feast.  Amazing how the child who has resisted tasting any vegetable all semester suddenly contributes "sugar snap peas". 

When they handed out brains, I thought they said trains, and I missed mine. 

In kindergarten I always had to play the red rhythm sticks.  I wasn't deemed with it enough to ring the triangle, swish-swash the sandpaper blocks, clang the cymbals, or tap the tambourine.  Still not, but I know many good things to bring to the dining room table on a cold and frosty Christmas.  Ms. Nancy will bring green beans almondine, green beans almondine, green beans almondine.  Ms. Nancy still wants the sandpaper blocks...

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


What in the hey-ho should I do with the jicama?

  My class gave me a gift card for Sprouts, a natural foods grocery between school and my home.  It's fun to have time to shop for foods instead of dashing into Albertsons to grab tortillas, Miller High Life, a rotisserie chicken, and a can of Rotel!

Spent lots of time at Sprouts lately buying the ingredients for my homemade trail mix (more on that later).  Every visit I vow to buy a new food.

Wild and crazy, I invested $1.90 in a big, lumpy jicama.  The jicama was on display right between the turnips and the rootabagas. 

Nibbling on jicama slices tonight while I put together a salad.  Jicama is sweeter and lighter than radishes.  Not as dense as carrots.  Chopped into white strips, it lets other vegetables show their colors.  Read some recipes online, then started combining ingredients.  Tomorrow morning I'll taste test after the flavors combine:
  • jicama slices
  • honey crisp apple chunks
  • diced red bell pepper
  • orange, peeled and sliced
  • celery stalks sliced
  • carrots slivered
  • caraway seeds
  • 2 T orange juice
  • 1  T raspberry balsamic vinaigrette
...Also called the yam bean root, jicama ranges in weight from a few ounces to 6 pounds. Its crispy white flesh is hidden under a fibrous dust-brown skin, which must be completely stripped off. Like potatoes, jicamas can be steamed, baked, boiled, mashed or fried. Unlike potatoes, however, they can also be eaten raw. Sliced into wide sticks, jicama makes a crunchy carrier for guacamole and highly seasoned dips. Cut up into squares, it enhances fresh fruit salad, absorbing and reflecting surrounding flavors. It is equally versatile as a cooked vegetable -- sauteed with carrots or green beans, stir-fried with chicken or shrimp, or simmered in savory stews. Low in starch and calories, jicama is satisfying, flavorful and nowhere near as strange as it looks.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Red Hot Bad Napper Chili

My temper tantrum student brought a most appropriate gift of Firehouse Chili mix.  She has come a long way in our consistent environment since entering school, but she is still red hot more often than not. 

When she is bad she is horrid, just like the little girl with the curl.  She resists napping even though she is smart enough to know a good nap would make her feel better.

As a mom, I read the Mother Goose rhymes with certain personalizations.  Once you do that, you have to use the same personalizations every single time you read the rhyme.  Who knows how "smack dab" became part of the reading?  It must be pronounced like a hissing/chomping reptile with a backhand to the forehead:

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Smack DAB in the middle of her forehead.

And when she was good
She was very good
And when she was bad she was horrid.

Just what does "smack dab" mean
In essence, the phrase means "slapped precisely in the center." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, smack-dab showed up in print in 1892: "He hit him smack dab in the mouth" [Dialect Notes I, 232].

The "at" symbol, @, always looks to me like the curl smack dab in the middle of a forehead.  The chili is looking mighty fine simmering on the stove.  Not a bit like a tantrum...

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

On my first trip to Target, my gift cards bought for me

Today is a festive day not marked on any Hallmark calendar. This is Spending Teacher Gift Cards Day, a ritual appreciated and hallelujahed by most teachers.

Don't get me wrong. I like every gift from students and their families. I especially like the kids' handmade cards and ornaments accompanied by hugs. The parents who stop long enough to ask how my dad is doing or if my sons will be here for the holidays are equally wonderful. One of the sweetest things a parent can do is acknowledge receipt of the gift made in class by the student. It doesn't happen very often.

Every teacher has just run a marathon whether they gave finals, read essays, and wrote progress reports, or just got little kids to line up straight for the holiday pageant. In the three to six year old classroom:

  • Each child made a hand print in clay for a parent gift. The clay was fired, then painted, wrapped in bubble wrap, then tissue paper. At times teachers threw their bodies between the fragile hand prints and swinging lunchboxes or karate kicks.
  • Each child made a card for parents.  And a lovely snowflake card it was.
  • All the students collaborated on a gift for the lead teacher, the assistant, each staff member, each room mother and volunteer. That means they helped sew, wrote their names, made thumbprint pictures, signed their names again, and wrapped.
  • The preschoolers made gifts for the elementary students and managed to deliver them to everyone.
  • The preschoolers ate holiday cupcakes that were lovely frosting works of art.  Of course they all had green icing mustaches, and somebody had to clean up!
  • The kids all performed in the music presentation.  More on that later.
  • The lead teacher, the assistant, and the class pet rabbit collaborated on gifts for all the preschoolers.  More on that, too.
  • Each child decorated a bag for carrying home all the holiday things.
And so, teachers like to receive store gift cards, and also wander like zombies in Target on their first day off. You might think it isn't in the true holiday spirit, but we are sooooo grateful! We want to collectively say, "Thank you so much for acknowledging that we've put off our personal Christmas efforts, seriously need some peace and quiet to read or have a thought, and could use a tiny bit of pampering."

Go ahead. Sing along.  On my first trip to Target, my gift cards bought for me:

A challenging Sudoku book
Fresh, new lunchbox
Greek yogurt
Boring black socks
Buick headlight bulb

Winter pajamas
Jicama and eggplant
Dried cranberries
New York Times crosswords
And a giant jug of Drano

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Reading cookbook reviews

Reading the Booklist and Library Journal cookbook reviews with greater interest lately.  After my effort writing a compendium of kitchen disasters for my sons, I'm interested in the idea of cookbooks as social history.  This find dates from 1922, before my father was born.  It was his mother's:

  Hot button topics include arranging a butler's pantry, and whether finger bowls are needed when fruit is served at breakfast.

Dad's mother knew to put a spoonful of duck fat in the holiday sauerkraut to make it shine.  Williams Sonoma's catalog offers gourmet duck fat for the discerning shopper.  I feel vindicated, empowered.  Across generations duck fat will prevail! 

The world's population can be divided into two groups--those who appreciate the culinary contributions of duck fat and those who do not.  Just before serving, a tablespoon of duck fat is added and a little sprinkling of flour to give the kraut a nice shine.

The first Christmas we were married, my spouse announced having a jar of duck fat in the refrigerator was disgusting, and he was not going to allow it. If I’d shot him then, I’d be out of prison now, but I wouldn’t have three wonderful sons who have learned to enjoy sauerkraut with roast turkey or pork roast. Should they need advice on arranging their butler's pantry, I'll be prepared.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Fire drill discoveries

Friday's fire drill was not the best safety performance by the preschool class.  The first child opened the door, but stood holding it open instead of putting down the kick stop and heading out the sidewalk.  Other kids stopped to say "thank you" and wait for her "you're welcome" reply before going through.  That's all nice manners when we are going out for recess, but not fast enough for a fire drill.

We had to get tough.  "If you can't push the door open and put down the kick stop, it isn't safe for you to come to this school," our director said. 

When the going gets tough, even our smallest three year olds could push and walk the door open, then put the kick stop down.  We know, because every child practiced.  Some of them aren't as tall as the push bar on the door, but they could still do it.  Not only that, but they felt like superheroes when they did it.  Talk about empowered!
It was a great reminder why we need to back off on the things we do for our children.  Sometimes when we think we are protecting them from the Big World Where Bad Things Can Happen, we aren't letting them develop the common sense, thinking skills, and muscles to be truly safe.

The other discovery is blooms on this plant along the sidewalk.  I've never seen the plant bloom and make seeds in at least three years.  We don't know what it is, but some specimens seem to be male and others female.  The blooms are intergalactic, although it wasn't a good day for photography.


© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Transporting old farts across state lines

Contemplating our upcoming road trip driving Dad from Lincoln, Nebraska to Plano, Texas, my sister and I have divided up the worries.  There are plenty to go around without duplication of efforts.  While MJ frets about blizzards, I fear multigenerational broiling.  To keep a frail, skinny old guy warm enough to ride 650 miles we will have to run the rental car heater on the perpetual Circles of Hell setting.  Yes, we will be driving through Kansas and Oklahoma in a toaster oven on wheels.

When we arrive in Lincoln, MJ and I will have to pack Dad's few belongings and obtain necessary supplies.  Remember the early versions of the Oregon Trail computer game?  It will be much like provisioning a wagon train.

That analogy doesn't bode well.  Through much of the Branch Davidian seige in 1993 my youngest was playing Oregon Trail.  The kindergarten Woolly Mammoth couldn't read, but he could defeat me every game.  My pioneer family never ever made it to the Dalles, and I was a college graduate! 

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Modern dance mushroom dirndls

  Encouraging news from the modern dance scene here in Dallas/Fort Worth--Bruce Wood may be back.  Sunday when I spied these fungi growing on a dead tree at Oak Point I was reminded of a Bruce Wood Dance Company production five years ago.  Subdued colors.  Swirling skirts.  Intricate patterns.  How would Bruce have choreographed these mushrooms?  When will I see his work again???

In our junior high 4-H club we learned to sew "dirndls".  These were the simplest possible skirts made with a rectangle of fabric and elastic to gather the waist. 
"Dirndl" is an even stranger word than "drivel". 

Our 4-H efforts were much simpler than this Folkwear pattern: 

I'm hoping that pre-teens still wear their sewing efforts to school, but especially that I'll see some Bruce Wood choreography soon.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Rare sightings

Cold wind all day Sunday made an easy excuse to not walk.  Instead I walked down along the creek, sheltered by the banks from the gusts.  The birds rewarded me for my effort.  A downy woodpecker put on a wonderful show.  My National Geographic field guide calls this bird "somewhat unwary", and that is apt.  Backlit by the afternoon sun, its red head reminded me of the woman who works in the building across from my school.  She is at least my age, and quite large.  Most noticeably, she keeps her hair spiked and henna red.  From now on when I see her on the sidewalk, I'll think of the downy woodpecker and smile.

 This busy, tiny bird behaved just like the field guide description for a brown creeper.  It moved in a spiral from low on the trunk to high, then flew to low on another trunk.  If it stayed still, it could have been perfectly camouflaged.  To my delight it was hyperactive.

Perhaps the strangest sighting was a large white dove high up in a tree.  My neck is still stiff from craning my head and squinting up at it.  No olive branch of peace shows up in my 12x zoom photos.  The field guide does describe an all-white rock dove. 

The most surprising sighting of the day isn't listed in the guide--a young man staring at the trees and holding a field guide!  Turns out he owns a house in the neighborhood on the other side of the creek, and was trying to learn about trees.  We visited for a bit about butterflies, birds, using native plants in landscaping.  I wish I'd mentioned the Tree Notes blog. 

My slow photo walks are usually solitary.  I was downright glad to find another member of my species engaged in a similar pursuit. 

I hadn't thought of this song in years.  Just wondered about the distinction between "delighted" and "glad".  Maybe more on that a different day, but for now my efforts to blog myself out of a funk are helping.  As Emily Dickinson wrote, "Hope is a thing with feathers."

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


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