Don't swallow the scarab, baby!

With my apologies to Petula Clark, Tony Hatch, and Jackie Trent, I had a mangled lyrics moment this afternoon.  The very large iridescent beetle I was photographing got annoyed and flew straight at me.  Thank heaven my mouth was closed!

  The weird world of insects continues to provide distractions from my humdrum existence.  When I spotted this insect on the stalk of a sunflower, I thought it was a cicada exoskeleton.  Getting closer, I found it was a worthy photo subject, and raced inside to get my camera.  I only got four photos before the beetle went "Sean Penn" on me.  Such is the life of an insect paparazzi.

My August slow walks in search of insects yielded one next-to-impossible water walker, and one trip to Jurassic Park.  The late graphic artist Charlie Harper made several designs of water striders. His alphabet series uses water striders for the letter X.  My creek has a shallow spot with tens of water striders, all defying my photo attempts.  A water strider has an X for a body.  Its feet create O ripples on the surface of the water.  xox   xox   xox...

Water striders are also known as Jesus bugs because they walk on the surface of the water.

This wheel bug made getting sunburned and dehydrated at Oak Point Nature Preserve one August Sunday all worthwhile.  I felt like I was in Jurassic Park photographing a triceratops:

The wheel bug eats caterpillars, even big ones like tomato hornworms. 

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


The spell is broken

Bubble bubble cellphone trouble.  Three friends have dropped their cellphones in liquids in the last three weeks, and now our dreadful, dry heat wave is over.  Coincidence?  I think not.  This is the rain dance for the new millennium!

I was ready to offer a sacrificial cellphone myself if it would bring relief from the triple digit temps.  Would you give up your August air conditioner in Dallas to save your cellphone?  Or would you give up the cellphone to save your a/c?

Let us carve caryatids to commemorate the three women who broke the spell:

The first demigoddess peeled off her sweaty exercise clothes, dropped them in the washing machine, and started the cycle.  Her phone met a sudsy end. 

Demigoddess Two lost her cellphone to what we will euphemistically call "Indoor Plumbing". These things happen.  Frequently.  How often?

Our third demigoddess, a Pythian homeschooler/prophetess, not to mention harried mother of teens, dropped her phone in her iced tea. 

And, LO!  Refreshing temperatures arrived on a divine wind.  And rain fell from Mount Olympus.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Seige continues

I almost got caught again heading out for an early walk.  I managed to go under the web to escape.  She must catch lots of yummy treats, because this spider's sure persistent.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Spider siege

The eensy weensy spider had gone a step too far.  I got up pretty early.  Needed something from my car. 

The eensy weensy spider had a lovely orb web completely blocking my sidewalk.   She spun it between the two flanking "ostrich" yaupon holly bushes.  If she hadn't been sitting right in the middle looking suspended in midair, I never would have seen the web.  I felt bad knocking the web down, but I couldn't go over it, and couldn't limbo under it.  I hope she takes it as constructive criticism, not a bad review.


Pilot lights and flight crews

On behalf of your flight crew, I'd like to welcome you to the Dallas area.  We hope you have hot water.  We know you have many choices when you travel, and we thank you for choosing Southwest.

My fabulous trip to Danger Baby's wedding was ending, but my pilot had work to do.  Yes, my pilot needed to worry about hot water. 

Did you ever wake up to a very cold shower when you had a leisurely day to reignite the pilot on the hot water heater?  Silly.  It only happens when you need to be somewhere fifteen minutes ago. 

Relighting the pilot requires lots of reclining on the laundry room floor squinting into the view-finder while panicked about gas and explosions. A cold shower lowers reading comprehension of Kenmore instructions.

Thank heaven for piezo igniters.  Alas, I still feel the anxiety that went with striking matches on old gas appliances.  And it is a wonderful safety feature to have a hyperactive particulate sensor to shut down the hot water heater should a foolish person sweep behind the washer and dryer.  Oops, I went looking for odd socks and found dust bunnies instead.

I've heard of flight attendants doing good deeds.  A Southwest attendant even returned a library book a passenger left on her plane.  No pilot would get down on the laundry room floor and squint into the view finder for me.

Most of the time while I squinted, with or without bifocals, I couldn't see the flash of the igniter when I pushed the button "4-5 times rapidly".  It reminded me of other vacations when my dad wouldn't give us a quarter to put in the coin operated viewers at scenic locations like Lake McConaughy or at the top of the Aerial Tramway in Estes Park. 

This is the view we like to see from the scenic laundry room floor:

Yup.  That's the "Clean Blue Flame of Quality", the long ago slogan of the Lincoln Gas Company.  Hot showers.  Clean dishes.

Glad to sort this out for the dear friend who emailed from a western time zone, "It's a little early and I was trying to figure out how your pilot (taking you back to Texas from St. Louis) needed to worry about the hot water heater on the plane."

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


More squirreliness

I looked up from the computer to see a squirrel racing along my fencetop with a mouthful of blue-gray stuff. It looked like dryer lint. A LOT of dryer lint.  When I grabbed my camera the squirrel must have caught my movement in the window.  It stopped and tried to become invisible.

The squirrel hadn't cleaned out a dryer vent. It was making off with a torn up piece of an old bath towel from somebody's patio. I only got one photo before the squirrel jumped onto the shed roof.

Friends were just discussing special blankies, teddy bears, and other lovie attachments Saturday at Texas Discovery Garden.  I was remembering when the Woolly Mammoth lost "The Special Bunny" at the Texas State Fair.  I backtracked all over the blazing fairgrounds including the garden that is now Texas Discovery Garden in search of "The Special Bunny".  Turned out it was stuffed in a backpack, and never really lost.  It would really be lost later in Washington, D.C., on another blazing day.

You wouldn't think a squirrel would need a blankie when it is this hot.  You never know when you might need a little comfort, though.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Don't count your caterpillars before they pupate

Aesop* warned me, but I didn't listen. Last Friday I was ecstatic after discovering caterpillars on the sunflower in the school garden. Perfect timing. The munchers would be ready to make their chrysalises the first week of school. The summer school kids watched the bordered patch butterfly lay eggs on the leaf week before last, so we knew what the butterflies would be. This was going to be fabulous!

All weekend I spun art class projects to connect with the science observations of the caterpillars. Saturday I attended the Butterfly Festival at Texas Discovery Garden, further fueling my imagination.

Monday morning, no caterpillars. None. How could this be? While I watered the school garden, I searched every inch of the sunflowers. My little larval lesson plans had disappeared like the Roanoke colony or the Anasazi. To say my hopes were dashed is inadequate.  There was nothing to do but float despondently in the condo pool.

Late this afternoon I drove to school on the pretext of watering the garden. Really I was praying the caterpillars had just been playing hide and seek with me. Just as I arrived a sunshiny downpour started. Never mind getting soaked. Were there any caterpillars on the sunflowers? No!

I did feel like someone was staring at me in my wet t-shirt, and it wasn't the bald guy from the office building next door who drives the baby blue Honda. Hanging upside down from the highest sunflower leaf was our playground friend, the praying mantis, looking larger.

Two mysteries are solved. I know where the mantis goes when it rains.  Plus, I know who ate the caterpillars.     

Going to float in the pool.  Think I'll wait on making new lesson plans, though.
*570 B.C. "The Milkmaid and Her Pail" just in case you wondered.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Breakfast for my neighbors

I fell asleep on the couch early last evening, during Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" trip to Liberia. I meant to watch his new trip to Rome, but I was a drowsy travel companion. That meant I was ready to catch the early bird's worm.

The sun was just sneaking down to the creek between the condo buildings when I started the second half of my loop. That's the slow half for photos and activating the senses.

Maybe I looked hungry, because a squirrel on the ground grabbed half an osage orange fruit in its mouth and ran up a tree. That's the equivalent of you or I grabbing a bed pillow in our mouth and running.

Half an osage orange is the size of a large toasted sesame bagel from Einstein Brothers with tomato/basil cream cheese. Maybe I was hungry. Or the fruit is the same size as a small grapefruit if you are dieting.

My dad called Osage oranges "horse-apples". We used to see them near Willow Creek in Pierce, Nebraska, when he took us wading. My dad didn't think horses really ate them.

The strange yellow-green globes were more common when we lived along a creek in Edmond, Oklahoma. I tried to cut one open, and ended up with a rubbery, caulky substance difficult to remove from my kitchen knife. That must have been in early summer, as the fruits come apart more easily this time of year.

Each time I walk along my North Texas creek I find signs that animals are eating the osage oranges. Some animals must pick them apart while they are still on the tree. Little bits of yellow come floating down. Others wait to nibble the fallen fruit.

My Visual Reference Guides : Trees book by Colin Ridsdale has proven again to be fairly useless beyond the pretty pictures. It states osage orange fruits, or "syncarps" can be 14 inches in diameter! A men's regulation basketball is 9.39 inches in diameter. Syncarp is correct. That's an aggregate or multiple fruit like a blackberry or pineapple. The yellow bits falling down look like pineapple snow. They would be the "drupes", the individual fruits packed tightly together in the syncarp.

In the early morning light the fruit bits look more green. And the glare I got from another squirrel when I stopped to photograph this one was pretty mean. Believe me, I didn't want his breakfast.

The squirrel didn't feel safe returning to nibble on the ground. As soon as I reached an acceptable distance, the squirrel raced to the nearest fruit like a football player trying to recover a fumble. It grabbed the fruit in its mouth and raced up the tree.

Osage orange trees have several other names:

  • Bois'd'arc, pronounced bodark.
  • Hedge-apple, more accurate than horse-apple, as the trees were used to make hedges on the prairie.
  • Bow-wood refers to Native Americans use of the wood for making bows.
  • Maclura pomifera
  • From now on I will call it the Squirrel Bagel tree.

According to Wikipedia, squirrels only tear the fruit apart to get the seeds. Also, the fruits are not poisonous to humans but would cause vomiting. And, interestingly, the fruits float. We can test that last bit of information in preschool next week.

As usual the Tree Notes blog has intriguing information on the subject of osage orange trees. The tree provides a very good firewood.

My breakfast was hashbrowns with fresh cilantro, mild salsa, a fried egg, corn tortillas with a black beans and pepper jack cheese, avocado, Greek yogurt, coffee, and orange juice. Don't tell the squirrel.

Have a lovely day, and eat more breakfasts.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Lay flat to dry

The care instructions in the Mother of the Groom dress are apt for the Mother of the Groom as well. I should not be dry cleaned. I need hand washing in cold water, but I especially need "Lay Flat To Dry".

It's been a week since the wedding, but I'm still in a mental fog. I've been on a fabulous trip, but I'm feeling a tad like Flat Stanley under the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

Although I tried to explain to my summer school students why I would miss the last two days of class, a few of them were convinced I was running off to get married. The real honeymoon couple is basking on the beach in Antigua. I'm reclining on my laundry room floor trying to relight the pilot of my hot water heater.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Hiding in plain sight

It's been way too long since I did a slow walk around the condo complex and the creek. Summer heat is the main reason for my lapse, but finishing a book for my son and his bride took much of my free time lately.

The little frog trying to hide under a blade of grass by the creek was smaller than a pencil eraser. It reminded me of toddlers playing peek-a-boo. If I cover my eyes, you can't see me!

The turtle is as big as a luncheon plate. I can't get a good photo of him. He's zipping back to his hide-out under the big tree roots.

The funny bunny was playing freeze tag trying to decide if I was a threat. I was definitely scary until I had a shower. Even a slow walk at seven a.m. is a dripping experience.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Energy expending and refueling

We had to refill the tank of the Dodge Journey SUV before returning it to the National rental car lot. The combination of social events and Mapquest directions over the long, fabulous wedding weekend had zapped my energy reserves.

I don't mind being lost by myself nearly as much as being lost when I'm driving other passengers. Here I was in a long tunnel to nowhere west of Lambert-St. Louis International with my last companion riding shotgun.

Four passengers had already been delivered to their airport terminals. Lots of luggage and hugs had been unloaded. Thank heaven there are no meters for good-byes like those for diagonal and parallel parking. I didn't have enough quarters!

This tunnel is not a refueling cave. Nor is it a route to an automotive gas station. I may be lost, but within hours I'll be home to my cave for some serious solitude.

My heart is full of love, joy, and gratitude. My mind is full of images and conversations. Still, I am completely exhausted. The bags under my eyes could conceal Jimmy Hoffa. My limbs are as brittle as the unwatered sweet potato vine baking on my doorstep since Wednesday. Plus, I've used up all my monthly cell phone text messages!

I don't feel like a social failure today. I'm not kicking myself twice around the block as I would have a few years ago, The Myers-Briggs and True Colors personality tests have given me insight and self acceptance.

Families are so amazing and contradicting. My sister needs social interactions and talk to refuel and process her experiences. I must have solitude and quiet to process the same experiences and find the energy to continue.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


Nap room wave lengths

The current group of preschoolers taking afternoon naps includes some very light sleepers, a small Whirlwind, and one Belle Lugosi:

Miss Lugosi [not her real name], is three. She falls asleep with her arms crossed on her chest like the Boy King Tut.

The Whirlwind requires my assistance to fall asleep. I place dividers around his nap mat. I hold my hand on his back. It's like gradually moving the barbed wire fences closer and closer on all four sides of a Kansas tumbleweed.

Two three year-olds fall asleep with great difficulty, and only when I pretend to fall asleep in my beanbag chair between their nap mats. Their breathing and wiggles slow. Unfortunately, pretending to be asleep can lead to a very drowsy state of affairs.

Suddenly Miss Lugosi sits bolt upright with her arms extended rigid in front of her. Has Vincent Price called her to his Transylvanian castle? Eyes wide open, she murmurs something incoherent but loud enough to set off a wave of restlessness around the room. Then her body slumps, and it's obvious she's not really awake. She turns over and is sound asleep again.

This ripple sets off a wave of nappers sighing, changing position, tugging at blankies. The little Whirlwind is still out for the count, but others are closer to wakefulness.

As the children roll over and resettle, I'm reminded of waves. Sines. Cosines. That 1973 calculus class in the tiny, overheated subterranean classroom. Shifting bodies under blue fuzzy bunny blankets, each roll over in turn. I vaguely wonder how we used our slide-rules and logarithm tables, before returning to a near-nap state.

Why haven't I taken my camera to the SMU campus to photograph Santiago Calatrava's moving sculpture, "The Wave"? I'm often nearby, and will put it on my artist destination list, with an ETA before naptime.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder


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