The ducks at the end of the tunnel

The bereavement counselor assures me I will feel much worse soon, but she will be available to assist me for the next thirteen months.  This fails to dampen my general mood of relief bordering on resurgence.  I feel like I'm emerging from a very long tunnel. I already have two more hours in every day, and an enormous weight off my shoulders.

Did Dad see the light at the end of the tunnel?  I don't know.  He was not able to provide hints to those of us monitoring his crossing.

My ducks are not in a row.  I still don't know diddly about probate, except that it's beneficial for some attorney$.  My ducks are under Custer Road up by Schimelpfenig Library.  Make way.

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


If you're okapi and you know it

Clap your hands!

WARNING:  This will be a long commentary vaguely resembling that potpie in the oven when you realized your heating element bit the dust.

Hauled the box with the boys' baby things down from the top closet shelf, and an okapi fell on my head. This okapi is losing its fuzz, so I'm not going to save it with the Fisher Price Zoo for posterity. And, FYI, this is how you pronounce okapi.

Here are the baby things I saved for Mr. Speech and Debate. The tiny yellow Speedo will fit in a standard size mailing envelope. The hoodie will be right in style. There's a beautiful white blanket knit by one of my aunts that I will mail along with the fashions.
Turning pages in the latest Lands' End catalog I was stunned to find I could look like the bobble head gal in the Progressive Insurance ads for $40.00, just not in white.  Why would anyone want to do that?  I guess the Progressive ads are successful since they are burned on my retinas, but they never make sense.

In that same catalog I caught my breath on the page with the rope chair in the background.  What rope chair? The same rope chair in the background of a hundred photos of my young sons.

Everything old is new again!

On the left, a deedly dumpling Danger Baby, winter '85-'86. On the right, Lands' End crop leggings with the chair. We got the rope chair in 1980, and had it at least a dozen years, along with a matching ottoman and rocking chair. That takes my family through the births of three sons and moves to five houses.

No matter how you search, you will not find this Lyle the Crocodile Halloween costume/fleece jammie suit in the Lands' End catalog. It is modeled by Mr. Speech and Debate in 1984.

The Woolly Mammoth lounges in the rope rocking chair, circa 1990. Obviously a good way to relax after a nunchucks workout!

When my life passes before my eyes, there will always be chairs in the background.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder




4/23/1923 - 1/28/2012




© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Today a different pink

I would go get some Pepto Bismal but it seems like way too much trouble. The preschoolers have shared their stomach virus, so here I am under two sweatshirts and six blankets waiting to see how the slice of toast and warm tea will sit.

Yesterday before the arrival of the intestinal insurrection, I began reading Stephen Glain's State Vs. Defense : The Battle To Define America's Empire. If I can make it through it may be as upsetting and eye-opening as The Omnivore's Dilemma.

My mom seems close. There is a busy junco out on the patio looking for soggy treats between the potted plants. The sun is finally out. Oh, now there are three juncos. It won't take many more than that to lift  Dad and fly him away.

A nurse called to tell me the skin on Dad's heels is breaking down. Hospice says this is part of the process.

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


and outside the window, falling rain

Directed elsewhere.  Looking for information about fingers and toes in the final stages of life.  Instead I found myself reading "Aristotle" by Billy Collins.

Dad held his left side with his right hand when he wasn't raising that arm to help clear his airways.  He got down a 4 oz. protein shake in tiny sips.  His fingers look oddly red inside a translucent skin--raw hamburger in a latex glove.

An elephant crashing through the roof? Should I go upstairs expecting a leaking disaster?  We had five inches of rain since school dismissal Tuesday.  It seems better to stay downstairs in the condo and ignorant.

Swallowing a bit better, Dad got down three ounces of applesauce with cinnamon.  The thunder and rain bands have move east.

The tv news is all about half-submerged SUVs under flooded overpasses.  Soggy upholstery unanticipated.  Weather reports unconsulted.  Preschoolers arriving in capri pants and short sleeves.  An elephant crashing?  Be forewarned and forearmed in prophylactic attire.  Dang cold in the sharp wind and mist at school dismissal.  Oh, did you mean that weather was for moi????

The preschoolers would love it if I read The Piggy In the Puddle every single afternoon.  The repetition helps them feel confident, and the language lights up all sorts of little twinkly synapses.  The piggy is in the very merry middle of the muddy little puddle, diving way down derry.  The preschoolers chime in, "What you need is lots of SOAP!"

The piggy may also be in the middle of a January NPR pledge drive.  Wait, wait!  Life is one long pledge drive, and then you finally meet your matching challenge grant?  

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder

Say that three times fast!

Severely diminished lower left lung lobe.  That is Dad's latest issue, and if it wasn't so sad, it would be a good tongue twister.  He started on a "prophylactic antibiotic" yesterday to ward off pneumonia.  I would be happier if medical folks just said "antibiotic as a preventive measure".

You put that pink Amoxil in what???  

Dad is breathing a bit easier this evening, so I let him sleep and came on home in the rain.  Big Red will try to spoon in some pureed supper gunk if Dad wakes up.

I walked yesterday while fooling with my newly rediscovered digital zoom and optical zoom features on my camera.  This did not make for an aerobic jaunt or good photos, but a January walk in shirtsleeves is a gift.  And sometimes reading the owner's manual is actually helpful.  Who knew?

This post was not about pink when I started, but these things happen.  Maybe it's time for Lucy in the sky to wear rose-colored glasses.

Stunned to find blooming camellias in a little garden at the Dallas Arboretum.  I listened to the The Elegance of the Hedgehog audiobook last year, but I didn't really understand about camellias.  There's still a note in my bathroom drawer brain from that book about "the always in the never."

Having a brain in a drawer is helpful for those three a.m. questions.  When Dad walked up the hill from the bus stop after a day at work, we kids would meet him.  Then we would watch him as he emptied the change from his pants pocket and the brains from his shirt pocket.  Dad's brains were printed in neat draftsman lettering on tiny folded bits of paper.  My brains are never so tidy.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Moving on up

Drainage is good.

Elevation is, too.

I am thinking about homes in the Fifties and Sixties after watching the powerful movie, "Tree of Life". As a Sixties tree-climber, I loved being able to see a long way to the east from the hill in our backyard. I loved riding down the hill from our house to the swimming pool on my blue Schwinn, but not pedaling back up.

Having a house on a hill was important to my mother.  Fritzi had vivid memories of flooding on the farm where she grew up.  The farm was in the vicinity of Marion, which was never much more than a "populated place" on Little Beaver Creek between McCook, Nebraska and Oberlin, Kansas in the Republican River Basin.  According to Mom, it was a dismal spot to be a child during the drought and Great Depression.  Her stories always included kerosene lamps, mean roosters, and stinky flood waters.

My eldest, Mr. Speech-Debate, is experiencing the soggy Joys of Home Ownership in a rapid immersion program.  After buying a starter home in Salem, Oregon last fall, he is dealing with flooding in Marion County in the Willamette River Valley.  More particularly, there is flooding in the HVAC ducts of his home's crawl space.  There is little I can do for him, beyond directing cosmic blow-dryer thoughts in a northwesterly direction.

Dad also needs cosmic blow-dryer thoughts directed his way, but he's a bit better today.  He swallowed tiny bites of chocolate pudding and Gerber baby peaches, but couldn't manage mashed potatoes.  He swallowed a couple ounces of water, then said, "little bit" when I asked if he would like to try some coffee.  He moved his arm to adjust his eyeglasses, lifted the Styrofoam cup to his lips, and pointed his finger toward the photos on his bulletin board.

To bring this weekend story full circle, my youngest, the Woolly Mammoth, is moving to a new apartment in Washington, D.C.  After a year and a half in a basement apartment, he is excited to have windows and city views.  D.C. is, of course, the city of Marion Barry.  I'll be glad not to fret about basement flooding if the river of Republican presidential candidates overflows in an rush of hot air and polluted water.

Dad is awash in oral secretions that clog the back of his throat.  This problem has escalated over five years, although it is considered a symptom of the final stage of life.  We keep the head of his bed elevated to promote drainage.

And for the polarizing film "Tree of Life", there is much to admire in the sets, costumes, locations, and glorious photography.  Much, too, to consider about doing the best one can as a parent in any decade.

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Lavender pandas, Part II : Spirit guides

I really needed a walk before I visited Dad after school Friday.  A curve of the trail focused my attention on a red-shouldered hawk sitting on a low branch.  It sat and watched me as I tried to figure out the digital zoom feature on my camera.

Kept walking to the turn-around and headed back.  The hawk was still sitting there and willing to pose for photos until I took three steps off the trail toward it.  Then it flew to another low branch, still close to the trail.  Again we played photo op.  Again I took three steps from the trail, and the hawk flew.

From its third perch the hawk waited patiently while I walked to the trail junction and followed a new trail.  We played the three step game, and the hawk flew, but to a tree I couldn't reach.  I had to let go of the connection, but the feeling lingered that this had been an OTHER experience.  If you look between the tree limbs you can see the hawk flying away in the late afternoon sunshine.

Bothering both a hawk and a heron in one walk seemed significant.  A great sense of awe accompanied by support and light filled me.  I knew I needed to communicate with Dad in an honest, authentic way, to share that support and light.

I managed to tip a couple ounces of protein shake down Dad's throat only to provoke wrenching gurgles and rattles.  "I know, Dad.  I know."  He stared deeply into my eyes, and I felt a locked-in connection beaming absolute love between us.  "You don't have to be brave, Dad.  I will do everything possible to make it not hurt."  That is my solemn promise and responsibility. 

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder

Mystery lemurs, lavender pandas, Part I

Preschoolers have a lot of trouble distinguishing the colors and remembering names for tan, gray, lavender, and olive.  That speed bump must have provoked my construction paper choices for our latest art project.  We have been making directed drawings of black and white animals on lavender and olive paper.

Directed drawings are a step-by-step way for students to feel safe and confident working with simple shapes and lines.  It's also good vocabulary practice. "Make a circle in the corner" isn't as fun as "put stripes on your hot dog," or "begin with a question mark and add a sausage."

A lot of days begin that way.  I will go visit Dad before heading to work at the library in the morning with question marks.  We are in uncharted territory as his exit seems near. Or not.

Skunks wear four socks.  Dad kicks off socks.  Or did.  Dad doesn't have enough energy to kick socks off.  We take socks off to look at his feet for indications of approaching death.

Dad has lost the ability to move liquids or mashed foods to the back of his mouth for swallowing. He doesn't have the strength to suck a protein shake through a straw. He bites the straw. He bites the rim of a cup. A tiny bit of liquid tipped into his mouth just runs down his chin.

I will have to continue this later.

Put on your cheap sunglasses for the hot dog zebra drawing!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder


Bab-O eyes

Dad has taken a new step down his end-of-life staircase.  It is increasingly difficult for him to eat, drink, or clear secretions from his throat.  He holds his skeletal limbs in rigid poses to avoid the discomfort of movement.  His eyes look off into the far distant reaches of the galaxy.  His eyes... yes, it is the ... hmmm.  What is it exactly that is signalling the change?  Dad's eyes look just like my playmate's Tiny Tears doll's eyes after she scrubbed them with Bab-O.

Nurturing is so very out of style.  Kids of either gender do not rock or cuddle baby dolls.  Their parents are too young to remember a time of gritty cleaning products without tiny squirting dancing foam globules on t.v. ads.

"My mom is better than your mom" my playmate taunted.  "My mom uses Bab-O, NOT Comet!"

My playmate was jealous of the bright eyes on my Tiny Tears doll.  She had given her Tiny Tears a good scrubbing with Bab-O, and her dolly had weird gray unfocused eyes ever after unhappily.

Dad has those same weird gray unfocused Bab-O eyes.

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder

Waiter, there's a fly in my ointment.

Vanna is wearing a turquoise chiffon gown with shirred empire halter bodice, front slit, train, and Aurora rhinestone trim around waist.  So am I.  No, wait. Not quite, but I am sort of dressed up by my standards.  I'm attired in a knit top with 3/4 sleeves, shirred shoulders, and a draped neckline that shows a bit of actual cleavage.  Shh!  Don't tell.  I have on slacks, too.  I'm headed to the theater.

Except not.  Dad, the Great Minimizer, is reporting pain in his leg.  His pain is not relieved by Tylenol. Dad never reports pain, so this is significant.  It minimizes the annoyance of the malfunctional t.v. in his new shared room.

The t.v. is on.  The t.v. is off.  The t.v. is possessed. Gremlins.  Yup.

The t.v. stays on through a marathon of Judge Judy and Nightly News with clips of Newt chittering like a chunky middle-school hamster after a dozen Pixie Stix.  [I have the sound down realllll low.] Then, inexplicably, right when I'm ready to solve the lip-reading puzzle on Wheel and win a trip to tropical paradise, the t.v. is off.

I'm blurting out "A PRIVATE EYE SEARCHING FOR FLIES", then all dark.  Ten minutes later the t.v. is back on in the middle of "A KETTLE OF SEAFOOD GUMBO".


Some of Dad's discomfort may come from enraged eczema.  Thus the ointment is needed in his stew.

fly in my soup  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C8nl8eBoq0

fly in the ointment
Fig. a small, unpleasant matter that spoils something; a drawback. We enjoyed the play, but the fly in the ointment was not being able to find my hat afterward. It sounds like a good idea, but there must be a fly in the ointment somewhere.

Yesterday I rescued a June bug from the lunch room and "returned it to the wild!" I've been hanging out in preschool so long I can't even stomp on a overturned June bug with creepy wiggling legs, or at least not in front of the kiddies.  Soon I won't be able to flush a cockroach in private.

Dad is out of pain on a narcotic.  The x-rays showed no fracture or dislocation.  The soup is in the crockpot. My life has too much drama and too little theater.

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


Forced to eat chocolate ice cream

Dad did not want to awaken from his nap to eat the dip of ice cream, so I had to keep it from going to waste.  Sitting on the uncomfy chair in the corner reading about the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears, I licked the plastic spoon.

Good to get out of the condo with the dripping bathtub faucet after working through an online training course about recognizing child abuse. Dripping faucets are bad.  Catching drips = good.  Using caught drips to refill toilet tank or water houseplants is not such a bad thing.

Child abuse is bad.  Getting credit for doing free online training is good, especially while wearing my jammies and polar bear slippers.  Nuking the leftover spaghetti and meat sauce for breakfast is neither good nor bad.  It is just easy and comforting on the day off from school honoring Martin Luther King.

Moral or immoral? Legal or illegal?  Black/white clarity seems just the stuff of  fabric arrangements for my grandbaby play mat.

In 1977 we considered the world far too doomed to bring a child into.  We fretted about the demise of small towns in the Walmart invasion, acid rain, the inequality in our economic system, the dang military-industrial complex, quality of life issues, whether using a crockpot to make lentil soup was selling out, and the inherent evil of polyester double-knit. We put henna rinses in our hair, grew alfalfa sprouts on the window sill, and gagged down carob chips.  We read Wendell Berry poems.

Carob chips will never be chocolate.  Few puzzles have the answers on the back page.  Being an adult was not what we expected.  It was soooo gray and blurry!

Being a parent was unexpectedly wonderful.  Maybe being a grandparent will be as well.

I'm into cole slaw.  Cabbage.  Down to basics.  Stone Soup!  No frills, except:

Dad eventually awoke to swallow his afternoon meds and drink a 4 oz. protein shake.  His new roommate groaned about cold lotion being applied to his itchy diaper region.

"Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts."

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Wendell Berry (1973)

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


Resting places

Cutting and sewing like a mad fiend, I let go of Dad's transition issues.  Dad will have to adjust to having a roommate, and I already feel a bit sorry for the roommate. We had to shoot Dad with a tiny tranquilizer dart Saturday. First time I ever saw Dad tear his hair out for real. The move had him very agitated and aggressive, hitting his aide. When he calmed down he was able to ask me a question with himself in the third person,"What does this mean for Howard?"  It means for Howard that he is still in Texas, still has the same caregivers, and will still be visited daily by that annoying woman who claims to be his daughter!

And so, I sew 2.5" strips around 9" squares. Spray with diluted starch and press seams open. Arrange squares on the living room carpet.  The project is a black/white grandbaby play mat. I have such wonderful memories of my tiny sons doing their first push-ups to better see the pattern of a blanket.  Getting things in focus and tracking movement are big incentives for an infant's development of neck strength and head movement. Yes, babies are looking for faces, but they are building more nuanced visual perception almost from birth. They are imprinting their parents' faces, but also the high contrast patterns around them.

My first square fabric blocks have plenty of pattern and contrast. From a composition standpoint, the layout needs more quiet, solid visual resting places, chances to stand still in the snow and listen to the wind in the pines before following the footprints.  And then my sister texts me reminding it is the seventh anniversary of our mom's death.

What does this mean for CollageMama? Well, she should probably clean and oil her sewing machine. Then she should spend some time in her quiet resting place...

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder

A Three Hour Tour

Darting away from school at three-thirty, I headed to the nature preserve for a walk in the woods.  Without the leaves I'm more aware of the land.  The trails on each side of the creek have seemed so far from the other.  Now I can see how close they are, and spot landmarks on the other side.

This has been a year for learning about decline and decay and approaching death.  Out of the loss I am trying to see the transformation of vital energy into a new form.  I can't express it very well, but in the forest for that hour it made sense.

This barely clothed leaf is a Venus de Milo.  How can humans transform stone into art of classic beauty?  Mushrooms descend a staircase like Duchamp's nude as they dance of the living out of the dead.


Short trip

By six-thirty we had moved Dad into a shared room three doors down the hall.  I have upset his tiny island world again.  Gilligan and the Skipper will have to make him comfortable and secure again.

On a lighter note I offer these Tammy Faye mushrooms in the haunted Muppet forest.

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


Mud thoughts

No, not musing on ugly campaign tactics, walking under the freeway.  Wednesday was so beautiful I made another trek  under Over World.  And there was joy in Mudville when mighty CollageMama looked up.

With color on hiatus, texture is much more visible.  The many installations of mud tubes on the concrete support columns and beams under the freeway ramps impressed me with their structural precision and beauty.  Thanks to a former teacher/365photographer in Tennessee, I've learned they are made by organ pipe mud dauber wasps.  [No, that was not Mork's wife.]  Male mud dauber wasps guard the nest while the females go hunting for orb spiders to stuff into the pipes to feed the little ones.  Okay, I'm not going to make the manicotti for supper tonight...

There are many mud bird nests under the freeway access ramps, but not any under the main lanes of US 75.  Too much noise and vibration?  Or maybe to far a first flight to open sky?  There is a shortage of graffiti, too.  Will the birds and spray paint artists return to nest in the spring?  What can I learn about teaching clay projects for children from the birds, the wasps, and the tire tracks?

Heading back toward the trailhead, a word that sounds ridiculous in this urban setting, I annoyed a great blue heron in the creek on beyond the graffiti column.  The heron flew away against the traffic.

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


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