Twenty five lemmings a day

A little perspective on parenting and grandparenting if you please! Living with a human toddler for a week has refreshed my memory of the endless demands for food, the seismic upheaval of adult habits, and the often mind-numbing repetition involved in the job of parenting. It could be far worse, though. We could be parenting snowy owl chicks.

Snowy owls have been in the news, causing problems at airports. I caused a little problem myself by walking around to the WRONG side of the conveyor belt to retrieve my scanned belongings in the airport yesterday. My tote trays were behind the large amount of baby equipment required by a young human family, and I didn't want the parents to feel rushed. Those parents had to strap on baby carriers, stuff diaper bags into a stroller and an infant car seat, and put on shoes. Oops. TSA tough ladies escorted me back to my proper place in line, and put a mark on my permanent record.

After a full day with the new wooden train set, the wooden puzzles, the board books, the realistic toy Dirt Devil vacuum, the toy drill, and the basketball hoop a toddler went night-night in his fleece jammy suit. Three adults flopped into chairs and settled on streaming a PBS Nature video about snowy owls and consuming Ghirardelli chocolate squares.

When the mother snowy owl successfully hatched five chicks, the dad was forced to spend every waking hour hunting for lemmings. His search area quickly expanded as his owlets each needed five lemmings per day and the economy was bad. Minimum wage had not been raised for covered, non-exempt snowy owls since 2009, not to mention climate change. He was a seriously stressed father. Sometime the mom got frustrated with his take-home lemmings and had to go hunting herself. She's bigger, but not necessarily more successful, and the unguarded owlets are at risk of being eaten by arctic foxes and polar bears. Being a human is seeming better by the moment!

As a kid in the Sixties I remember a great excitement when we looked out the living room window and saw a huge white owl sitting in one of our snow-covered pine trees. Do snowy owls really show up in Nebraska backyards? It's possible, but the Cornell Ornithology website suggests it was more likely a barn owl. Immature snowies do migrate to the mid-section of the United States to perfect their hunting skills in a less harsh climate than the arctic, but a city sighting isn't likely. Not many lemmings in Lincoln.

This is a Grancy approved train set from KidKraft.

When the parental going gets tough, just wear the train set bucket for an astronaut helmet.

Bonus round:

Recipe for Lemming Meringue Pie

Creepier than that is this National Wildlife Federation recipe for hard-boiled egg snowy owls.

Recipe for Lemmings Leap cocktail

How to make a Lego snowy owl

Arriving home I find no lemmings in my refrigerator, but my youngest owlet and his pals have left some Jubelale, a festive malty celebration brew from Bend, Oregon, with a barred owl on the label. A barred owl brew beats a chilled lemming any day.

Happy 2014 to you, and your hungry owlets, too!

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Waltz of the Pinnipeds

In love with sea lions, he is, my twenty-one month-old grandson. The only thing he loves more than "TEA LIE-LINS" is pancakes.  And now he is big enough to help stir the batter.

This calls for a truly stellar chef's apron, tiny size, with an appliqued and embroidered sea lion. Mr. Short Stack's sea lions are California sea lions, not Steller's. A few years back I read an intriguing book about Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German zoologist and the first European naturalist to name several species in Alaska.

Sea lions have such stellar whiskers and droopy eyes. They look ever so much like Count Basie. It has been 3.75 decades since I last heard Count Basie perform at the Pla Mor Ballroom, but I've never forgotten the sense of being in the presence of the Grand Beneficent Pinniped. Om. Such grand walrus whiskers!
Who is the bouncy whisker? That would be my grandson, but what is a bouncy whisk? Yes, A. In a simpler time before apps, even before color t.v., children used to stand on step stools at the kitchen sink using a bouncy whisk to make bubbles in a quart of water with one drop of Joy. If their mommies were feeling beneficent they might add a drop of food coloring to the basin.

pinniped (n.) Look up pinniped at Dictionary.com

1842, from Modern Latin Pinnipedia, suborder of aquatic carnivorous mammals (seals and walruses), literally "having feet as fins," from Latin pinna in secondary sense "fin" (see pin (n.)) + pes, genitive pedis "foot" (see foot (n.)).

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Flat man and robin

No! Not a robin! The bird down at the creek this afternoon is not a robin although the colors mislead me at first. White spots on its black back isn't seem right, and the head is too black. The bird's tummy is a lovely cinnamon color. Unwilling to be photographed, the mystery bird flies to the other creek bank and is instantly camouflaged.

Hurried home to pull out the bird field guides, and google "bird similar to a robin". So the creek beyond the condos is the winter range for spotted towhees. Yippee! O, say can you see?
Spotted Towhee, Richmond Nature Park, Westminster Highway, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
A student completes a set of rhyming words. We high-five, then do a mock cheerleading routine

O, say can you see Flat Stanley? Variations on the Flat Stanley project have been part of early elementary school experience for almost fifty years. Had my picture taken with a child and her class stuffed animal in front of the library puppet theater recently. Watched a big, burly flight attendant pose with a Flat Stanley by the cockpit on a Thanksgiving flight.

Just a side note: It pains me to report I have had to revoke my life-long declaration that redheads should never wear pink. My little wild redhead preschool student arrives most days in a variation of coral-turquoise-gray-white-navy, usually with silver sparkles. So here are Midge and a bewigged Barbie in pink knit and silver lamé for the holidays. On Towhee, on Stanley, on Barbie and Midge!  Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!


© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Peace of mind and goodwill toward men

Pretty excited to have some health insurance starting January first. Thank you Mr. President, and no thanks to all the Scroogies in Congress.

This insurance won't change much in my day-to-day life since the deductible is more than I've typically spent on health care in my uninsured years. Now I know that I have some coverage for catastrophic health events, and that's a good feeling. Ratchet the stress level down one little notch!

Working through the healthcare.gov website took me an hour and a half.  That's less time than finding transportation to visit Mr. Short Stack over Christmas.  It's less than the time spent figuring out how to make tea sandwiches for my young art students next Tuesday. Right now I'm leaning toward cucumber sandwiches on honey wheat bread with store brand whipped cream cheese seasoned to resemble Hidden Valley Ranch. Ninety percent of preschoolers adore Ranch, and the other ten percent won't try anything different anyway. On the side there will be very thin ginger cookies (store bought). And no tea at all, as caffeine is the last thing they need the week before Christmas break.

And now I must just test the cucumber sandwiches and have a little spot of tea with Algernon. And again, thank you Mr. President.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Pulling Santa out of the bag

Cue the Jose Feleciano!

I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
From the bottom of my heart cart

Get ready to pull these sack factoids out of your conversational cart at holiday gatherings:

  • ·     The concept of a bag, a pouch, a pocket, a sac or a sack is extremely ancient, moving into many forms and languages.
  • ·     Since the 14th century “poke” has meant a bag. Now it means a paper bag; a small sack; a beggar’s bundle (obs.); or a bagful.
  • ·     A pig in a poke is a con trick dating from the Middle Ages. An object for sale is concealed in a sack from the buyer allowing for substitution of inferior goods.
  • ·     European travelers to the Americas in the 1600s reported indigenous people using bags and pouches made of tanned leather, hides, and animal bladders.
  • ·     “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full” protests the British wool tax of 1731. The nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep” does not have a racial connotation as sometimes suggested.
  • ·     The expression to “let the cat out of the bag”, meaning to reveal the secret, dates from 1760.
  • ·     First sack race attested. 1805
  • ·       Clement C. Moore’s St. Nicholas carries neither bag nor sack in 1822.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

  • ·      Bean bags are used in children’s games.  1871
  • ·     Tote bags are reusable open handbags or shopping bags.  1895-1900
  • ·     The shopping cart was invented in 1937 by Sylvan Goldman of Oklahoma City, owner of the Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores. 
  • ·     Bean bag chairs become standard elements of poor student apartment design.
  • ·     “The sack” is named in 1972. This U.S. football play combines the meanings of “sack” from the sense of “to plunder” with the notion of "to put in a bag."
  • ·     Brown-bagging means to bring lunch or liquor in a brown paper bag.  1970s
  • ·     Bag lady--American slang term from the 1970s describing women who roam city streets, carrying shopping bags in which they keep all their worldly possessions, and picking through trash containers to find useful items. Homeless, these women tend to sleep in doorways, subway stations, or any convenient place that affords them protection from the elements. They are seldom (if ever) beggars, and have become a symbol of independence. This expression is a shortened form of "shopping bag lady.”
  • ·     Plastic grocery bags are introduced in 1977.
  •       By 1996 eighty percent of all grocery bags used are plastic.
  • ·     Ninety percent of people agree raking leaves can be therapeutic, 99% detest bagging leaves.*
  • ·     “Poke” has a long etymology, but its use as a noun meaning a sack or a bag is chiefly used in the southern U.S. at the present.
  • ·     Tote-A-Poke convenience stores are in southeast Oklahoma near Poteau.  Their theme song includes the lyric “when I get so hungry I could almost eat a donkey”.

Use of bag or sack is very regional, and is crossed with the paper or plastic decision. In Lincoln, Nebraska you can ask for a paper sack or a plastic bag. In other places you might want a plastic sack or a paper bag.  Sack is more common in the Midwest, and bag is more common on the coasts.

Please tell me your toting poke, bag, or sack ideas.  Thanks!

*Okay, I made up these statistics. Also I forgot that Larry and his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl still carried a cloth sack in 1982.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Triple word score

The Scrabble dishtowel at Whole Earth Provisions is to blame.  That and seeing real English language words in the CAPTCHA boxes for screening blog commenters. Why no numbers? Why real words? Is this a case of monkeys typing Shakespeare?



I am not-a-robot, and I'm proud! Do I get a triple word score? A hot bowl of delicious alphabet soup maybe? And then a lecture on de-evolution! Click the LINK for DEVO's classic Jocko Homo video.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Concrete and sleet hubbub

Aggregate is the blueberries in your pancake. Cement is the pancake flour. What is the recipe for concrete?

Cement + Aggregate + Water = Concrete

What is the recipe for preschooler commotion? Loud construction equipment across the creek!

What in the hubbub is going on beyond the trees and fences? And what does hub mean anyway?


The student can read the word, but tells me a "hub" is a young boy lion. Enter Online Etymology Dictionary stage left:

hub (n.) Look up hub at Dictionary.com

"solid center of a wheel," 1640s, perhaps from hubbe, originally "lump," the source of hob of a fireplace and hobnail, as in boots. A wheelwright's word, not generally known or used until c.1828; it reached wider currency in connection with bicycles. Meaning "center of interest or activity or importance" first recorded 1858 in writings of Oliver W. Holmes, and originally especially of Boston.
"Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system." [O.W. Holmes, "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table"] 


hubbub (n.) Look up hubbub at Dictionary.com

1550s, whobub "confused noise," generally believed to be of Irish origin, perhaps from Gaelic ub!, expression of aversion or contempt, or Old Irish battle cry abu, from buide "victory."

hubby (n.) Look up hubby at Dictionary.com

colloquial shortening of husband, attested from 1680s, with -y (3).

hubcap (n.) Look up hubcap at Dictionary.com

also hub cap, 1896, from hub + cap (n.).

Hubby cat?  Boy lion?

And across the creek from the preschool playground the workers are pouring concrete into forms. They use shovels and trowels, then strike off the wet concrete. The drum of the cement mixer keeps turning while the concrete pours down the chute. A worker wields a long-handled fresno to smooth the concrete surface.

My mother used the expression "hotter than the hubs of hell". As a religion-challenged kid I thought if you were really bad you went to a car tire when you died. Heaven was even more confusing, but there would be cakes with the hole in the middle.  No rebar as far as the eye can see.

It sure is challenging to fly. We are having a winter weather event here at the hub for American Airlines, and hundreds of flights have been canceled. So grateful that my Thanksgiving flights were uneventful.

airline hub

For sale to a good hub--Acrylic on paper mounted on mat board under non-glare glass with silvery wood frame dimensions 25"x31".

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Yippee tie one on!

Turkey tie one on formal occasion
See ya on the FunWay...

Every year or so I provide a public service by collecting ugly neckties for use in kids' art projects. Generally, women donate ties they would rather never ever see again around their spouses' necks.

Maybe not as selfless as serving mashed potatoes to the homeless with an ice-cream scoop on Thanksgiving Day, but we all do what we can. This time around we used tongue depressors, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, fun foam, felt glue, and upholstery samples to make our festive formal feast attire for the holiday celebration at school, turkey ties.

And yes, it does tickle when someone traces around your fingers! I was tickled pink when my son invited me to dinner at Cucharamama in Hoboken, New Jersey. The restaurant's name translates as "Mother Spoon". Spoon can have many meanings, but my visit seemed most like cradled, ladled, sampled and pampered.


Gran Cocina Latina : the food of Latin America, by Maricel E. Presilla; photography by Gentl & Hyers/Edge; illustrations by Julio Figueroa

Gran Cocina Latina unifies the vast culinary landscape of the Latin world, from Mexico to Argentina and all the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean. In one volume it gives home cooks, armchair travelers, and curious chefs the first comprehensive collection of recipes from this region. An inquisitive historian and a successful restaurateur, Maricel E. Presilla has spent more than thirty years visiting each country personally. She's gathered more than 500 recipes for the full range of dishes, from the foundational adobos and sofritos to empanadas and tamales to ceviches and moles to sancocho and desserts such as flan and tres leches cake. 

I was enchanted just pushing aside the heavy Andean blankets to enter the restaurant space and spy the horno. The blankets blocked the freezing winds slithering into the nourishing, cramped space. Yes, womb and kiva would be apt comparisons. The lighting was low and warm, the space tight but organized. Conversations in several languages circled our party. Dr. Presilla moved through the space greeting diners.

One could spend hours pondering the ripples and waves of the menu, but it seemed best to dive in. Drinks were ordered--Pisco sours and Argentine pinot noir. The space seemed cozier after a few sips, but more difficult to hear or carry on a conversation. I felt hooded in a warm cocoon.

Piqueo is a splendid word for spurring the appetite, to pierce, to prick, to arouse, from woodpecker! The Latin root picus means woodpecker according to the old red dictionary. We sampled fried plantains with garlic butter sauce, and a corn cake topped with salmon roe and a Venezuelan sauce.

Swapping and sampling, we entered the one world/one tummy/om consciousness. We traded bitesies of pizza de chorizo for those of fresh corn tamal with marinated and roasted slab bacon. I loved the Venezuelan Ají de Leche on the Humita Chilena (a milk and cilantro sauce that would taste great on many foods including the Andean shrimp kebabs. Wish I could remember everything, but I seem to have drifted into a happy reverie of family and flavors.

I ordered a side of yuca gratinada. Yuca is cassava, a tropical tuber crop and carbohydrate mainstay.  After a long day of bulldog puppy wrangling it is good to enjoy tastes, aromas, and conversation.

You can bet your roots, toots.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Bailing me out of chia pet trouble

My confusion is too big to fail.  The bales set out for Halloween decorations have sprouted little green chia hairdos. If I had teeny-tiny scissors I would give each bale a trim.

The trouble started when I could not spell baling wire. Could it be bailing wire? Could somebody bail me out here? Maybe I should go with duct tape and hot glue for a fix.

 Yesterday I heard a clunk. When I walked out to the kitchen I saw a cabinet door had pulled out of the cupboard under the sink. Screws were rolling around on the linoleum. It was too dismal out to go to Home Depot. Could I fix the door with baling wire, duct tape, hot glue, or maybe some toothpicks?

Don't give me that baleful look just because I can't spell any more. That bale comes from Old English balu for mental suffering and evil influence. The hay bale is from Old French for a large bound package of raw or unfinished material. A baleful look must be the squint of a satisfied cow.

Bailing out is such double fun! I was thinking of removing water from a leaky boat, not providing security to get somebody out of jail. When did government bail-outs begin?

If I wear a balaclava you won't see my chia pet haircut, but it will be difficult to eat the baklava. I did recall the balaclava's connection to the Crimean War, to the "Charge of the Light Brigade", and especially to Flashman at the Charge. If anybody still cares, there's a new biography of Tennyson coming out soon.

Since I'm already up to mid-calf in water in this rickety boat, I'll admit that I had balalaikas and ocarinas reversed. One has three strings and an important role in "Dr. Zhivago". The other is called a "sweet potato" and had a bit part in "Call Me Madam".

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


The Ice Cometh Not Yet

If there are too few spaces, you are too old.  And miles to go before I sleep ...  I still have the nightmare where I didn't leave enough room at the bottom of the page for the footnotes and I'm typing two carbon copies and I've got at least ten pages left to type tonight and it's New Year's Eve and I work tomorrow morning at six a.m. and the paper is due the second of January and there's an ice storm and I'm missing the party.

Dang. That's when I wake up with heart palpitations and visions of a citrus slice ice life preserver floating in rum punch.

Blogger wants a measly one space after a period. No pause, no breathing room, no grace, no chance to hear the river ice cracking. It's back to the STOP days STOP of STOP telegrams STOP. My little horse must think it queer to STOP without a farmhouse near.

True, no carbon paper for the topic:  Cuba After Castro.
How many spaces after the colon? We are all hunkered down waiting for an ice storm with the potential for a school "snow day" tomorrow.

Real true sheet of carbon paper, not mint condition

Weather Dot Com and the tv stations have got us in a flirl of freezing drizzle anticipation. The waiting is rough, the wishing is a road not taken. Do I want to stay home tomorrow? Sure. Do I want to start calling the families on my phone tree list at 6:30 a.m. trying to explain the "snow day" and "late start" concepts to non-native speakers from tropical climates? The telephone doesn't work very well for pantomime notifications.

This is the first time I've gotten it straight that the January 1888 blizzard in Nebraska known as the "The Children's Blizzard" was a different weather event from the March blizzard of '88. The January blizzard is depicted in a mosaic in the Nebraska State Capitol, perhaps as a warning to teachers, parents, and children. to check the forecast and dress appropriately. I couldn't send that reminder loud enough in English with carbon copies or by tableau vivant no matter how many spaces between sentences.

Drama queen of Verdigre in red velvet photo album

Neither of these are the blizzard described by my great-great grandfather in his handwritten life story. That was the Easter Sunday blizzard of April, 1873. reported by Prairie Bluestem. I'm feeling like a winter weather wienie!

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder

Special K

To Kindle, or not to Kindle.  That is the question.

Whether tis nobler to snap crackle pop with technology, or to tote fresh-off-the-cataloger's-desk library books that do not require recharging but take up space and add weight to the carry-on bag, Thanksgiving travel is going to require reading material for the inevitable delays.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, as we pushback from the gate the flight attendants are demonstrating safety measures, so look up from your books and lend them your ears. You might not even have to power down your ebook reader.

Packing is a fine exercise where the what-ifs meet the essentials, the potential improvs, the weather events, and the future in-laws. It is always good to have all your medications readily accessible in case you end up sitting between a big bucket collecting roof drips, a sweaty man holding a giant box of donuts, a nursing mom with one boob hanging out, and bickering preteens as the delays pile up. Yes, you will be ready to check your luggage at the gate for free when the airline gets sufficiently desperate. Yes, you will be willing to take a later flight just so there are no shrieking red-head preschool twins on the passenger list.

The trouble with immortality is eternity. The fountain of youth starts looking like an infinite afterschool detention with the eighth-grade English teacher of your worst nightmare. She would not just let me say this novel is like People of the Book with a splash of Jitterbug Perfume.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and leaves books in the seat compartment or overhead bin.

To sleep, perchance to dream, no doubt:  A page or two, and this self-loading freight's out. If I'm stuck in the center seat, I might snore and drool.

Full upright and locked I come not to carry-on Caesar, but to get my 3-1-1 liquids through security and my shoes retied. Doesn't look like the owls are going to fit.

I already got a minor adjustment haircut for the holiday.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Golden moment, sepia daguerreotype

Let's play dress-up tea party with the Queen! We had our make-believe photo shoot Tuesday, and it was a total hoot. I costumed the preschool and elementary students in vintage garments, jewelry, and hats, gloves, beaded bags, and brought in vintage table linens and tea cups. A $3.99 bouquet from Trader Joe's completed the ambiance.

Alas, student privacy rules prevent me from sharing photos, but the moment was what ad writers call "priceless". Since I can't post those, I will add these gems from the treasure trunk:

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder