Eerie nature

Trick or treat? This dragonfly smiles and says "cheese". It seems to be wearing dentures, or maybe those flavorless wax teeth we used to receive for Halloween treats. The dragonfly also wrinkles its nose at me, winks, and looks over its shoulder like Felix the Cat in early cartoons.

Felix, aka the dragonfly lures me out to the patio by perching on the tomato cage. Felix must be working in cahoots with the rain and the hungry mosquitos. That's probably why he's grinning.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


bEEP after Ballet

Once upon a time in fairy tale land a princess pricked her finger on a spindle and slept for one hundred years. When I was a kid we placed our 33 rpm LPs on the spindle of Dad's HiFi record player, and slid the button that activated the needle arm with its diamond stylus. Not even Prince Charming could touch the HiFi without being certified in its use by my parents. I knew bumping the record on the spindle was A VERY BAD THING, but wasn't sure how it could put me to sleep. To a young princess like myself, the words "needle arm with diamond stylus" were every bit as magical as "mirror mirror on the wall", "glass slipper", "let down your hair", and "spin straw into gold".

After Texas Ballet Theater's lovely "Sleeping Beauty," I walked back to the Buick Skylark parked by the Dallas Museum of Art. I started the car, and pushed the power button for the radio. The digital screen lit up with


No radio. It wouldn't turn off. It wouldn't play. Sort of freaky, like someone sending a creepy joke. Eventually it played a cd. When I ejected the cd the radio worked. No further messages appeared.

What a relief!

I'm sorry Nancy, I'm afraid I can't do that...

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Unnerving squirrels

Walking merrily along the creek this morning, I admired the red fish in the shallow water, and listened to a chickadee serenade. A hissed warning sounded after each chickadee verse. Was there a snake? The hissing came from a squirrel on a branch above trying to scare me away.

Why? Squirrels aren't usually concerned when I do my slow photography walks along the creek. This one was trying to alarm me. On the other side of the creek, a creature rustled. Was it a rat? No, a bedraggled squirrel with a wet tail tried to pull itself up the bank. It's movements were odd. I stared despite the other squirrel's hissing. The bedraggled squirrel seemed entangled. No, it just couldn't use its back legs. Not at all. It was using its front legs to do a phys. ed. rope climb up the exposed roots along the bank. Sad, I moved on.

Took some flower photos, then tried to get a close-up of a spider. A rustling approached under the weeds of the bank. A squirrel dragged itself out of the weeds and tried to climb a tree using just its front legs. Again? Another? I don't know how that earlier bedraggled squirrel could have made its way up the roots and somehow across the creek. This must be another squirrel with useless back legs. This one isn't wet. Its tail is in better shape. Still, its back legs don't work. It's too close for comfort, and an unlikely coincidence.

I am unnerved. These aren't Disney squirrels teaching Young Wart about nature and love. These squirrels seem both related and damaged. Are they working together to protect a family or species? Too many questions. I'll try to get some distance at work.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Consonant blends and homemade hummus

There are wonderful landmarks in life that don't necessarily get put on your big sticker chart in the sky. Passing each one makes you closer to being a responsible citizen of the world, and more fun to be around. I am out there in the galactic bleachers cheering for you when:

  • You can blow your own nose
  • You consistently remember to flush
  • You learn to swallow pills (even if you are over twenty by then)
  • You master tying shoes and zipping zippers
  • You can rip a piece of Scotch tape from the dispenser without getting six inches and three fingers all stuck together
  • You can read consonant blends

This week I am all about the initial consonant blends. Or as my students would say, "BUH-lah-EH-NUHhunn-dah-siss". How many syllables you got there, or is that a crouton stuck in your throat?

If you are five years old the process of reading is much like making hummus. You open and strain the can of chickpeas, and duh-UH-mmmmm-pup them into the BUH-lah-EH-NUHhunn-dah-cough-RRR. You ssahah-MMM-tongue depressor-Sisshuh a Cah-love-huh of garlic. Then Skuh-kw-kw-kw-EEEZ-uh the juice from a lemon. Wade through 1 1/2 tablespoons of tahini and some olive oil. Push the button. At first the chickpeas don't move, and you wonder if you should have used garbanzos instead. Finally one bean is Tetris-ed out of position, and the mashing begins. Somewhere inside the child's brain, consonant sounds are being pureed and linked together, falling into place to build a foundation. The seeing, hearing, and speaking for a consonant blend is becoming an easy, quick, and nutritious food-thought to be relied upon for the rest of a lifetime.

Get some chips or pitas. Let's enjoy this meal together. And, yes, put a sticker on my cosmic chart for:

  • Learn to like hummus (even if you are over fifty by then)
  • And feta
© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Summertime and the quesadillas are buzzing

Fish are jumping, and the cotton is high. One of these mornings you're gonna rise up with a summer cold. You won't spread your wings. You won't take to the sky. You will mostly just sit there staring out the window at the heat shimmering on the patio, and nap to the sound of the quesadillas.

Yes, according to one student, those buzzing insects are "quesadillas". It knocked me for such a loop when she said it I couldn't come up with the word, "cicada," for hours. You would think this would put me off Tex Mex food for a bit, but the headcold made me very hungry. The buzzing insects told my snozzy head and growling tummy I NEEDED not just quesadillas, but sizzling fajitas, bulging burritos, and guacamole with chips. More on chips later.

I think we could also call those buzzing summer cicadas "vuvuzelas". They are incessant and tuneless, much like the plastic horns at the South African World Cup. The first week of games, the vuvuzelas were really bugging me, but like cicadas, I'm used to them now. I might feel slightly untethered if the sound was turned off.

My odd summer work schedule allows me to watch parts of the World Cup games that begin at 6:00 or 9:00 a.m. CDT. Underemployment has certain benefits. The day of the headcold I couldn't watch t.v. Staring out the window at the hot patio was all I could handle.

Should you like your summertime with a side order of surf music, please try this music courtesy of On The Flip-side. Need more buzzing with your quesadillas? YouTube has a soccer ball button to add a vuvuzela soundtrack to the inner video of your life. Or you could take a Benadryl.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Hospital delirium and dietary flashbacks

Pam Belluck's story in the 6/20 New York Times described to a tee my dad's hallucinations in the hospital following his second hip break in 2007. When I read it online, I instantly knew a half dozen people to forward the story. We all have terrifying experiences with elderly parents, hospitalized and completely out of their minds. For five days, while I stayed with Dad in his hospital room, he alternately believed I was my deceased mother, or the Devil running a small town Depression Era picture show projection booth. I watched Dad writhe and rip out his IV, then converse with the midnight aide about sandwiches and ice cream like a perfect gentleman.

According to Belluck's article, a spell of hospital delirium increases hospital stays, and the likelihood of being sent to a nursing home or rehab facility. It aggravates chances of future dementia. I would add that it undermines the relationship between an elderly person and his responsible children and relative.

Many factors contributed to my father's delirium. He'd been through surgery with general anaesthesia and serious pain pills. He was in an unfamiliar setting where it was difficult to tell night from day. He was awakened frequently for vital signs checks, IV changes, and increasingly difficult blood drawing for lab tests. Being a hospital patient is much like participating in a sleep deprivation study. The hospitalist doctors did not know my dad, or realize his confusion was abnormal. The eerie lighting and constant beeping were reminding Dad of his WWII foxhole experiences, not helped by the sounds of Care Flight helicopter landings on the roof and snowplows outside on the street.

Two things helped Dad move out his worst delirium. First, getting the anaesthetic and narcotics out of his system. Second, a very simple switch to a TV channel that showed lovely landscapes all day, and constellations and galaxy images all night. Did the doctors or nurses suggest turning on the TV channel for Dad? No. The aide who brought him a sandwich and some ice cream at 3 a.m. on the fifth day was the one who flicked on the TV.

Talked with my friend who cares for Alzheimer's patients. Her sweet, five foot tall, roly-poly client described fighting a Bad Man who was squeezing her arm, managing to "kick him in the groin and reduce him to a vegetable" before shoving his body into the "rolling black cart with the shelves".

Holy cow, stuff that squeezing man in the cart! He's the blood pressure cuff. I've had a few anxiety attacks when I was trapped in the grocery store pharmacy self-check blood pressure machine. I've wanted to kick that cuff into vegetable status myself.

I worked in the hospital kitchen for five years beginning in 1970. We had big carts that were black and stainless steel. We served the patients' trays in an assembly line, then loaded the trays into the carts. The trays slid into grooves. It seems like the carts were plugged in and the hot sides were preheated, and the cold sides chilled before we loaded the trays. Each cart probably held thirty trays. The doors closed. Then some teen boy would drag the cart away to the elevator.

After patients ate, the nurse aides would load the dirty trays of dishes back in the carts and the process reversed. We unloaded the carts onto a disassembly line that fed to the giant dishwasher. Then some teen girl would steam clean and disinfect the cart, dry it, and shove it back to its parking place.

We did all this as fast and with as much flirting and banter as teenagers can. We were the supper shift, 3:30-7:00, and we wanted to get out of there early. We were making $1.21/hr., and wearing hairnets and white uniforms. When we worked on the weekends or school vacations, 6:00 to 2:30 we couldn't understand the full-timers who made the work last as long as possible to fill the shift.

Anyway, I'm quite sure a person could be shoved in one of those steamy carts if they'd been kicked in the groin and reduced to a vegetable. Especially a soft, canned vegetable with Low Salt.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Ballet Perspective

Little girls in pretty dresses knew what to do in the shallow reflecting water feature at the Winspear Opera House. As they arrived for Texas Ballet Theater's "Sleeping Beauty", they pulled off their shoes and waded out with pointed toes and controlled steps to assume first, second, or third position. Some parents shot photos, and other scolded.

The water is so shallow you can walk out in your shoes. It's just enough to make a silver mirror surface to reflect the building and its great louvered sunshade. It was a day to be grateful:

  • I don't have to teach perspective in my art classes, as the kids are mostly way too young.
  • I'm lucky to have friends who share their tickets to arts events.
  • I can enjoy the billowing clouds over the small triangle park, and retreat quickly to my air-conditioned job.
  • I found a free parking spot, which always makes me feel like a lottery winner.

It was a gorgeous production of "Sleeping Beauty", and fun to share it with young dance students. Eddy Tovar was perfect as the prince.

The evening ended with the most memorable scene of all. I walked behind a precious group on Flora Street. Grandma was forging ahead leading two sleepy little girls in Full Tutu. Grandpa was bringing up the rear carrying two tiny pink purses.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Catalpa morning

I'm grateful to work near lovely tall trees. They set my mind on a pleasant path walking under the gingko, sweet gum, and catalpa trees with their distinctive leaves.

My gratitude is unlikely to be sufficient to save the catalpa trees along the curb when the builders of the faux castle monstrosity get past their stone exterior work. A native species with messy flowers, big seed pods, and lots of caterpillars is unlikely to fit their landscaping fantasy. Chances are better for a topiary shaped like a poodle.

The ancient previous owners of the property were satisfied with myrtle groundcover, tall trees with cigar seedpods, and their poodle. The uncoifed poodle endeared them to me.

In the Sixties I desperately wanted an unstyled, care-free poodle puppy. Back then, kids pretended catalpa seedpods were long cigars. We could quote the tv commercials for "cigars, cigarettes, Tiparillos", and ask, "Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a lady?"

Nature was unhealthier then, that's for sure. Locust trees provided piles of "bacon" pods. Maples gave us swirling "potato chips". We spent lots of time picking the round blue "berries" from juniper bushes, adding acorns, grinding them rogether with rocks, mixing in mud, and smushing the results into foil chicken pot pie pans. We were smart enough not to actually consume our concoctions.

Back in Nebraska we had to use pine cones for hand grenades. My own sons were able to use the vastly superior seedpods of the magnolia tree in Texas.

Just thinking about sycamore trees sent me on a sneezing jag. Sycamores produce "Christmas ornament" seeds. Camp Fire Girls annually spray-painted assorted seeds, pinecones and with innocent uncooked pasta with gold or silver. Texas sweet gum trees produce seed pods from Young Bucky Fuller Visits the Galactic Empire. no spray paint required.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


We have nothing to fear but pink eye itself

Don't even say the words out loud. Don't. Just planting the idea in the mind of the preschool teacher is cruel punishment. I dug out the old thesaurus to catalog the woes alphabetically. Fill in the blanks with your #2 lead pencil to indicate your terror threat level.

[ ] apprehension

[ ] anxiety

[ ] distress

[ ] dread

[ ] fear

[ ] itch

[ ] moan

[ ] panic

[ ] sneeze

[ ] snurfle

[ ] tingle

[ ] whine

[ ] worry

Who put the junct in conjunctivitis? Who put the pink in the pinky dinky pink eye?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Belushi slugs in an Evite world

Like waking up with a hangover, I'm not feeling all that good about my garden slug battle. And like the host of a college kegger, I'm worried that I should have checked IDs.

Annoyed that circumstantial evidence placed slugs and snails on/about devastated dill, rosemary, and lettuce plant crime scenes, I developed an anti-gastropod policy. Emulating the little Guard Duck character in the comic, "Pearls Before Swine," I wanted to launch an all-out assault.

I started small. Gardening friends all recommended beer traps to lure slugs. Last weekend I set an assortment of jar lids and plastic bottle caps around my patio container garden and gave each a drizzle of stale Busch beer. Nothing happened. Okay. One elderly slug stumbled over the lip of a yogurt lid and died of dehydration.

Alas, two more nasturtiums and another marigold were nibbled to the quick. Little Guard Duck's evaluation of my efforts:
  • Too small.
  • Too unplanned.
  • Too low-tech.

After laying low for a few days, I sent out an Evite to the slug and snail Facebook members. These are hip, techno-savvy slugs, but they appreciate esoteric retro connections. Party highlights:
  • Projected the 1978 "Animal House" movie on the condo wall.
  • Snails and slugs crowded in for a better view and unlimited brewskis.
  • Some chanted, "Toga! Toga!"
  • Others stayed late for the second feature to see Kathy Bates in the "About Schmidt" hot tub.
  • Added tiki torches, Doritos, and a vintage Twister game.

Now I wonder if gastropods are our friends. Did the attendees of the beer party leave my patio ecosystem poorer?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Economy and efficiency in nature

I'm loving watching a bundle of okra pods weather on my patio. They become more sculptural as the browns fade to black and white. The seeds line up efficiently inside the long channels of the pod. It's one of nature's designs for fitting the most seed into the smallest space.

Tiny holes are lined up along the edges of the canna leaves. The hole-maker must be nature's own 3-hole punch.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Feng shui app

The very competent young woman in the office down the hall joined our table at lunch. It was crowded, and a bit jumbly. No worry, she took out her cell phone and used her feng shi app "in real time" to improve the seating arrangement. It's not often someone uses three phrases that make me nervous in just one sentence. I can't pronounce fong schwee, my understanding of apps in hazy, and I don't get what other kind of time there is besides real. If she could have fit "paradigm" into the sentence, I would have had to go home sick.

True, my condo home is sick. It's very crowded and super jumbly, and it's even blocking my creativity. Not in a Zen sense, though. I just have too many boxes of saved recyclables for future class projects, too many stacks of unfiled files, and all the stuff for managing my dad's care and bills. Trying app magic, I held up my cell phone and pointed it toward the mess. The mess did not realign serenely.

Now I've embarked on a Big Clean. This is scary territory causing interior and psychic turmoil. Everything has to get very bad, indeed, before anything will get better. To complete the distress, the World Cup in on the cable tv, with the constant tooting of plastic horns.

Please point your feng shui app in my direction any real time soon. Thanks.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Fluid intake in the circle of life

Tom Robbins wrote in Another Roadside Attraction that, "Human beings were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another." This week I've been transporting tea and beer from one place to another on my condo patio.

The tea is the leachate from my vermicomposting bin. I'm diluting the run-off with water to fertilize my patio container garden. The worm bin is full of red wigglers of all sizes, having a big family hoe-down, and converting watermelon rinds into high quality compost.

The beer is stale suds left out in shallow containers. Yes. I'm a slug-hater. I wanted to peacefully coexist, but the marauding hordes of nocturnal slugs wearing their saggy pants and backward caps have devoured my dill, cilantro, rosemary and nasturtiums. I want these underage gastropods to drown in Busch way past its born-on date. Cease chewing graffiti tags into my leaves!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Saying good-bye to an old friend

Right up until the second I became a mother-in-law last fall, I considered myself a non-weeper. Since that sunny Colorado I-Do moment, I've turned into a sentimental old lady. Beyond turning into my mother, I've turned into my grandma.

I see Halma clearly, standing on her little kitchen porch beside the white lattice covered in orange trumpet vine flowers. Although backed by the vivid blue summer sky, Grandma is in Kodak black and white. My memories come through my Brownie Starmite view-finder. Halma is crying and waving while wiping her tears with her apron as we pull out of her yard in our pea green '54 Chevy. I wonder how my dad stayed dry-eyed at those departures.

Just guessing we stay casual until the realization creeps in that this could be the final leave-taking. Or maybe not this one, or the next one, but middle age proves there will one day be a last.

This week I got misty just spying a trumpet vine blooming on a fence. Last week I cried half-way to York after leaving my father. He can't wave from the front step anymore, and each leave-taking is closer to the last.

Today my sons and I say our good-byes to Wally, our old family friend. This reptilian character of paper and cloth over a coat hanger framework has been part of our home and family for thirteen years, hanging above the condo stairway ever since he crawled out of the storm sewer.

Wally attended many Lunch Bunch gatherings. He made special appearances at the library and schools. Wally even attended a summer camp, earning an honorarium for his guest appearance.

Wally suffered along with my youngest son through my early opera fascination, listening to "Carmen" and "Don Giovanni" until he considered biting the leg of his creator. Wally wore Santa hats and clutched roses in his teeth. He lost several teeth over the years.

Nothing made Wally as happy as shocking a repairman arriving [finally!] to fix the a/c or disposal. The later the arrival, the scarier face Wally wore.

We knew the truth. Wally had a heart of gold. Unfortunately, he accumulated a body full of spiders and spider eggs. My sons each granted permission for Wally to leave, heading toward the dumpster. I'm teary while taking a last few photos of our friend crawling out the door.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Crazy Day tornado drill

Crazy Day is the fabulously popular tradition for the last day at my school. The children love wearing their clothes inside-out or backwards, with mismatched shoes, and ponytails smack in the middle of their foreheads in a My Little Pony meets Medusa style.

This year the big thrill of Crazy Day was the spring disaster drill. To a preschooler it doesn't get any better than hearing a loud whistle and heading rapidly to the lunchroom to huddle on the floor and cover ones head. "Can we do that again? Can we do it every Crazy Day?," they clamored. Who said entertainment has to be expensive?

My own Crazy Day was delayed. I didn't feel properly crazy due to dental problems at the end of school. Instead I waited until I was working at the uncrazy library to wear my clothes backwards, although unintentionally. I'm sure I went to work this morning with the skirt zipper on my left, but when I got home the zipper was on my right. Is a sheet of Bounce hanging out of my sleeve to complete the look?

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


June severe weather watch fashions

The search for perfect Mother of the Groom shoes has been this vacation week's prioritiy. After several purchases and returns, I'm feeling good about the latest choice. The shoes seem steady for standing in a reception line, and for being ushered to my seat without tripping. I would not want to wear them in severe weather, though.

During Weather Watch Radar radio broadcast interruptions I realized my dress for Danger Baby's big event is the color of a threatening Nebraska June thunderstorm. On the tag, the dress color is "Pacific". Since I've never been west of Moab, Utah, I don't know diddly about "Pacific". It's about the same for the new collegiate athletic conference realignment.

My dress for the upcoming wedding resembles my '96 Buick Skylark with potential hail up to golf ball size. This weekend I get to attend the Texas Ballet Theatre's version of "Sleeping Beauty". I don't want to look like Maleficent, the bad fairy in Disney's "Sleeping Beauty", but maybe if the mother-in-law looks like a tornado watch, the marriage will have fewer storms!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Numb and dumber

When the psychiatrist wanted to evaluate Dad's mental acuity, he asked Dad to count down from 100 by sevens. Dad can't drive, walk, be polite, or tell left from right, but he can count backward by sevens. Not bad at eighty-seven.

When I was suffering extreme anxiety attacks in the mid-1990s, I learned to count and to breathe. Counting backward from 200 one breath at a time was a very effective panic-fighter.

Thank heaven I don't suffer from panic disorder now, but having major dental work still curls my toes. It's taken all my relaxation techniques to get through the many dental appointments this year. Okay, all the methods except that huffing-puffing Lamaze railroad breathing I learned so many years ago. Gotta say, the most effective technique was counting backward by sevens. Dad's psychiatrist would likely say I am in early-stage dementia, as this is a very challenging concentration exercise.

Try it!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Blue hair no more

The defining look at the senior residence dining hall is white pants. Sure, there were lots of red, white, and blue tops for Memorial Day weekend, but the senior ladies' white pants stayed after the holiday.

A childhood visit to Pierce or McCook meant seeing elderly ladies with distinctly blue, and sometimes purple, rinses on their white hair. That's why I resist any suggestion by my hairdresser, Scary Hair Tammy, to hide my gray.

When we first moved to Texas, twenty years ago this month, the whole family went to Ponytail Eddy for haircuts. We started going to Tammy at least fifteen years ago when I could still order #3 clipper cuts for three boys. So Tammy knows why my hair is gray.

Returning from my week at assisted living, I thought I'd clean out my closet. Found a pair of white capris in the back that I hadn't worn in several summers. Clearly, they should go in the Goodwill bag, but first I tried them on. Amazed that they zipped, I was too lazy to change into something else. So now I've got the white pants look, and I'm ready to go to bingo!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Wake up caws

Crows have been my alarm clock this week. They do not cock-a-doodle like those strutting orange roosters in picture books. Crows caw from the tops of tall pine trees and telephone poles, starting early and getting more and more insistent like an unscratched itch.
I couldn't be sure in the dark of each 5:15 CDT whether it was one crow gradually perching closer to my window to badger me awake, or a mob taking turns tormenting. One morning I outlasted the caws to sleep two more hours, just like a real summer vacation sleep-in. Another I got out of bed to stalk the crows like paparazzi, but they were always too high for a tabloid shot. One dawn I gave up and tied my shoes for a long walk.
The walk gave me time to ponder "as the crow flies" and wandering "wondering eyes". Perhaps the rats are leaving the ship. I don't care if the crows are flying or otherwise leaving the Big 12 conference, but this is major news for hard-core Husker fans. Instead I wonder who is wandering and who is editing.

Might the Big 12 Thursday or Friday ask member schools for a statement of commitment?

Such a proclamation might slow or even cease rampant speculation about Big 12 members with (alleged) wondering eyes. It also might elicit the biggest “never mind” in history of mankind.

Lack of fidelity in a relationship is so common as to be little cause for wonder. I am nostalgic for the days when Nebraska was in the Big Eight and Pluto was a planet. Did Mr. Sipple really mean enquiring minds or wandering eyes?

In my edge-of-morning dreams I won't just hear crows many weeks to come. Across the hall from Dad's room an ancient woman with remarkable lungs hollers all day everyday. Like the crows she starts quiet and builds:

Help me.
Please help me.
God help me.
Dear God help me.
Dear God please help me.
Dear God I implore you.
Man-age-ment, help me.
I can't
I can't
O, God, please

The poor woman is not in pain. She is just not in. Her caregivers compassionately tend to her needs, but her screaming doesn't cease. How do we wish to wander? How do we leave? It's been a difficult week, and so hard to leave my dad in this place of crows, caws, wanders and wonders.

Quoth the sports writer, "never more".

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


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