Alligators for Sunday breakfast

Illustration by Maurice Sendak
Trader Joe's Haas avocados four for $2.99
Just once or twice over the years, I've identified with the oft-interrupted and still wise Cousin Joan in Else Holmelund Minarik's beginning reader, No Fighting, No Biting! Each weekend I cherish the meals I get to eat without the company of preschoolers, just as Cousin Joan cherishes a chance to read in peace.

Sunday breakfast

I call this Sunday breakfast treat "Alligator Toast", but it is really a toasted English muffin topped with mashed avocado and Tillamook cheddar slices, then popped back into the toaster oven. The avocado is seasoned with a squeeze of lemon juice and some Mateo's salsa. Lance Armstrong said it was a healthy breakfast.  Would he lie?

Being allergic to bananas is a good justification for eating avocados.  I NEED the potassium, so the fat must evaporate!

When Cousin Joan tells a story we learn if a big alligator is hungry even little alligators are not safe. This is an effective cautionary tale for the little alligators, Light-foot and Quick-foot. The world needs more effective cautionary tales!

Why are avocados also called "alligator pears"? Because of lawyers and testicles! The Spanish word for lawyer is one I actually remembered from those required four years of foreign language study--abogado. Count to ten, state your name, ask directions to the restroom, and call a lawyer, all useful in any language!

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

1763, from Spanish avocado, altered (by folk etymology influence of earlier Spanish avocado "lawyer," from same Latin source as advocate (n.)) from earlier aguacate, from Nahuatl ahuakatl "avocado, testicle." So called for its shape. As a color, first attested 1945. The English corruption alligator (pear) is 1763, from Mexican Spanish alvacataalligato.

Need to embroider an alligator pear or three with words of wisdom? Two sources for creating free online stitch pattern are Stitchpoint and Coricamo.

That is all I have for today because I had, had, HAD to read the rest of Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For the Time Being uninterrupted. You will love it, and you know who you are.


© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Harry gave his sweater to the bird!

In the classic Gene Zion picture book, No Roses For Harry, our favorite dirty dog unintentionally gives his sweater for a bird's nest. In a case of life imitating art, we discovered the mysterious missing knitting high in the playground tree. Squirrels had unyarnbombed the lightpost and dragged the knitting up to their nest.

Most of the preschool students know the stories about Harry the Dirty Dog, and immediately caught the excitement. What a lot of work it must have been for the squirrels to get the swatch all the way up there without snagging it on a branch!

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Naked breakfast, new view

I'd been wrong so long I was sure I was right. The messy tree on the backdoor neighbor's patio that shaded my patio was not a desirable soapberry. It was an invasive chinaberry. And was is the word.

Got home to find my neighbor had cut it down. The view out back seemed mighty bleak that gray afternoon.

People sometimes confuse Western soapberry with the non-native, highly invasive Chinaberry tree, which also has yellow berries and pinnately compound leaves. However, the berries of Chinaberry are opaque, never translucent, the flowers are lilac in color, and the compound leaves are twice-compound rather than once-compound.  *

Red admiral butterfly groovin' on April blossoms
When a shade tree fell over, knocking down my fence a dozen years ago, this new volunteer grew rapidly in its place. The newcomer tree lacked a pleasing growth pattern and dropped clusters of golden berries, small sticks and leaves. Much as I grouched about the tree's messiness, I loved the wild party action in this tree.

Each spring red admiral butterflies celebrated a bacchanalia, high on the fragrant lavender blossoms and in the mood for...

Hummingbirds rested ever so briefly on August branches preparing their next aerial dogfight around the nectar feeder.

Do not disturb!
Squirrels chewed and stripped away the bark, used the tree as a leap launch to my shed roof in winter, and chilled on hot days. Anole lizards sunned. Ringneck doves and mourning doves demonstrated their combined IQs.

Cedar waxwing

Whenever the tree was filled with cedar waxwings, the high whining of the flock felt like a chronic sinus infection! I love cedar waxwing style, but you can't ever love just one.

That avian whine might have been what drove my neighbor to the chainsaw.  James Thurber would understand.


My most exciting experience with the not-soapberry tree was in early March when a young hawk stared me down with its yellow eye from the low branches. The hawk's eye is the same yellow as these realio translucent soapberries on a tree down by the creek. The patio tree berries looked more like scorched scalded milk.

The new view has more clouds and sky.
So I'm looking at a new skyview with dramatic clouds and sunrises beyond the boring condo windows.  Closing this post with a surprising December sunrise with bare tree branches and cannas still in bloom.


As for the  "Naked Breakfast" title, I never read William Burroughs' book, Naked Lunch. I did see the 1991 film of the same name which gave me the creeps about insect exterminators and typewriters, but in a good way.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


A kid'll eat ivy, too.

Learn to trust your gut, the therapist told me. She was not talking about goats, or even lonely goatherds high on a hill. Why are those goatherds high on the hill?  Have they been trippy tromping over a troll's bridge?

Brown bag goat by 6-year-old.
Today's mental meandering and munching took place, as usual, during my nap room duty. I sit in a darkened room a couple hours every school day trying to get nine or a dozen little kids to sleepyland. Should I succeed, within minutes it is time to begin getting them awake again.

Sometimes I ponder deep and meaningful secrets of life. Other days I do the Sudoku puzzle in the newspaper by the light of a tiny clip-on book lamp.

Today I ruminated on goats:
  1. What does it mean if someone "gets your goat"?
  2. Why can't people "get your goat if they don't know where it's tied"?
  3. How can a problem be "really eating your lunch"?
  4. Why was Gregory such a terrible eater?*
  5. Who wrote the song about "Mairzy Doats and Doezy Doats"?
  6. When should we spend a half hour looking for lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green?**
goat (n.) Look up goat at Dictionary.com
Old English gat "she-goat," from Proto-Germanic *gaitaz (cf. Old Saxon get, Old Norse geit, Danish gjed, Middle Dutch gheet, Dutch geit, Old High German geiz, German Geiß, Gothic gaits "goat"), from PIE *ghaidos"young goat," also "play" (cf. Latin hædus "kid").
There are some silly stories about goats and racehorses and prison slang at Sing Sing to explain an origin for "gets your goat". My gut tells me that the expression "that really gets my goat" has more to do with stomachs than silks.  Angers and anxieties show up in our innards, disrupting our digestion as well as our peace of mind.
Get your goat? Make you annoyed or angry.

  • "Wouldn't that get your goat? We'd been transferring the same water all night from the tub to the bowl and back again."
  • The expression took a few years to cross the Atlantic. The first non-US citation isn't found until 1924 in the English author John Galsworthy's story White Monkey, and even there it is clearly seen as a recent innovation:--"That had got the chairman's goat! - Got his goat? What expressions they used nowadays!"
  • The following year, The Times printed a piece in memory of the then recently deceased Friedrich Baedeker. This included a side-swipe at American tourists and uses the phrase as a typical piece of Americana--"... goggled Americans whispering aloud, 'Wa-al Sadie, these durned three star things get my goat'!"

Grandpa Goat and Lost Sheep

Big Billy

Little Billy Goat Gruff

It's gonna eat my lunch 

Used when faced with a difficult challenge. Came from the common instance when a school yard bully would take lunch money from a smaller kid and use it to by his own lunch.
I have to write a 50 page report on the state of our global environment this weekend. It's gonna eat my lunch!

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

Old English guttas (plural) "bowels, entrails," related to geotan "to pour," from PIE *gheu- "pour" (see found (v.2)). Related to Middle Dutch gote, Dutch goot, German Gosse "gutter, drain," Middle English gote"channel, stream." Meaning "abdomen, belly" is from c.1400. Meaning "easy college course" is student slang from 1916, probably from obsolete slang sense of "feast" (the connecting notion is "something that one can eat up"). Sense of "inside contents of anything" (usually plural) is from 1570s. To hate (someone's) guts is first attested 1918. The notion of the intestines as a seat of emotions is ancient (cf. bowel) and probably explains expressions such as gut reaction (1963), gut feeling (by 1970), and cf. gutsGut check attested by 1976.

Gregory the Terrible Eater, by Mitchell Sharmat
Q:  Do goats really eat tin cans?
A:  Only if forced to watch the "Lawrence Welk Show".

*Gregory just wanted scrambled eggs, orange juice, and two pieces of waxed paper for breakfast.

**Only on lazy weekend mornings while in your pajamas.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


The cat is out of the bag

Actually the cats, plus the dog, and mouse are all out of the bags. Brown paper sacks, lunch size, are the starting point for these silly animals.

We can get the cats into the sacks, meeting them on the way to St. Ives.  It is a bit more tricky to get them out of the bags, so stand back!

Explanations of the idiom "letting the cat out of the bag" seem insufficient. Yes, the secret is out, but we aren't letting a worm out of a bag, or a sloth. We are letting a scared and seriously pissed off clawed maniac out of the bag.

And don't even get me started on sack-toting wives!

As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits,
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many where there going to St. Ives?

These are not calico cats, nor gingham dogs. I am indebted to the parent who donated all the designer swatches for art class use, as they made perfect cat tummies and puppy ears.

Eugene Field's poem, "The Duel" tells the story of the gingham dog and the calico cat

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t'other had slept a wink!

The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state

What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)
The gingham dog went "bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "mee-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico...

Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats and Marjorie Flack's The Story of Ping were favorite stories on Captain Kangaroo's tv show. Children's literature fifty years ago was harsh, but also lacked the underwear and sassy attitudes of many picture books today. It was less grim than bread crumbs, hags, and frozen match girls. Spanking wayward ducks was still okay on the Yangtze River.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Dams, Hamm's, Grahams, but no more Graeme

February 18, 2013 Oak Point Nature Preserve 
A beaver dam in Plano, Texas? Is that even possible? Don't beavers live in Jellystone with Yogi and Boo-Boo?

On my walks at Oak Point Nature Preserve I've slowly realized that there's a dam on the stream flowing under Jupiter Road. Haven't spotted a real live beaver beaving, but after the incident of the real live bobcat bobbing, a beaver sighting would be welcome.

As for Hamm's, that beer was brewed in the "land of sky blue waters".  It was Hamm's, the beer refreshing! I still see the revolving Hamm's lighted sign above the darkened bar in Columbus, Nebraska.  The Hamm's bear was paddling the canoe The beaver was slapping its tail.

Susan Graham was wonderfully eerie in the finale of "The Aspern Papers" performance of the Dallas Opera yesterday. The opera music and libretto are by Dominick Argento, loosely based on the Henry James novella of the same title. Last fall I struggled through the novella waiting and waiting for something to happen!  I loved Argento's reimagining of the story interwoven with a fictional opera about Medea. Yup, hell hath no fury...

Hell hath no s'mores either. Surprised to find several preschool students call graham crackers "s'mores". The graham cracker is just the foundation for a "s'more". Sylvester Graham, a preacher on the temperance lecture circuit in Jacksonian America, was the father of the food movement.

[Martha Graham was one of the seven creative giants detailed in Howard Gardner's Creating Minds : An Anatomy of Creativity. Stravinsky is another of Gardner's subjects, and I've got "Rite of Spring" in the cd player. I get it mixed up with Debussy's "Afternoon of  a Faun". A spring afternoon is a very good thing as long as one looks carefully in the rearview mirror.]

Graeme Jenkins, Dallas Opera music director, has been a gem in the cultural scene for seventeen years. Damn, I'm sad to see him leave, but wish him the best.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Early to bed, early to rise

When you get right down to it, the image is pretty scary. There's a rooster as big as you sitting on the foot of your bed:

Cock crows in the morn to tell us to rise
For he who lies late will never be wise.
Early to bed, and early to rise
Is the way to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.

I admitted my childhood concern about the rooster to the elementary students. My mom had true terror  tales to tell of a mean rooster on the farm where she grew up. That might have colored my worries. The oldest students were intrigued that "wealthy" might mean "rich".

Mr. Short Stack observes the chickens on Easter.

The students want to know if Mother Goose is a witch. She's got that pointy hat and Dorothy's ruby slippers. But her apron is bubble gum pink...

Explaining that ganders are daddy geese, goslings are baby geese, I blanked out that a female goose is ... a goose.  I was leaning toward "ninny", but that just means a silly person. Oh, honk!

Don't make me watch those flying monkeys.
Thumb print duck
This duck is kinda down, and I don't mean eider either. Norton the Very Best Preschool Bunny in the Whole Wide World died this afternoon. He was eleven years old, and brought so many little people lessons in caring and responsibility. I am not ready to write more about dear Norton and funeral arrangements as I get too teary.

On happier notes:

These cheerleader chicks are overjoyed to be on the sidelines for art class.
A fat hen with a nest on her head?

"Bwuuuck!," says the rooster as the eggs roll by overhead.

And who was the star of today's art class show?  Bwuuuck, you are right!  It's Rudy the Rectangle Rooster.

Images and text © 2013 Nancy L. Ruder with all rights reserved.



Four buses, one train, and a gazillion dollars

I am so very lucky to have brand new hub assemblies and brakes on the front of my special blue Buick!

Been pretending that the "Service Vehicle Soon" dash light was not really speaking to moi, and turning the volume higher on the audiobook to ignore the noise.  It was just a tiny occasional noise, then a potential problem  noise, then a maybe I should ask about it when I get an oil change noise,  then suddenly a very BAD NOI$E

Left the Buick at good old Tidwell's Automotive Service yesterday, and hiked home through the tree pollen and wind. Felt virtuous. Spent the evening mapping the best mass transit route for the morrow.

Blasted out of bed at five a.m. Felt virtuous again, but somewhat groggy. Fondly remembered chilly bike rides through empty streets to my job in the hospital kitchen with the six to two-thirty shift. This morning just hoofing a mile to the bus stop and hoping I have the correct exact change.

I live six miles from my workplace with a fifteen minute drive through several slow school zones. It's eye-opening to commute by bus. Caught my first bus at 6:30 a.m. Reached the transit center at 7:11, and boarded second bus at 7:30.  Got to work at 7:55.  Fare $2.50. I'm estimating the route was thirteen miles, and took almost an hour and a half.

Who was on this bus in the early morning darkness? Fast-food workers, some accompanied by their children and reviewing schoolwork, also hospital aides, students with earbuds, wheelchair users, a few office workers, a woman crocheting a spring green shawl, and one lady wearing a bird flu face mask. The regulars chatted, and reminded the driver to wait a sec for the Panda Express worker running down the sidewalk with her two little girls.

When I first moved to Plano the Welcome Wagon lady gave me a coupon for a neighborhood hair stylist. During my haircut the stylist explained to me like I was a very slow learner, "If you work in Plano, you can't afford to live here, but if you can afford to live in Plano, you don't actually work here." The less you earn, the longer and slower your commute.

Headed the opposite way after work to reclaim my car from the mechanic took two bus rides and a light-rail train. I had plenty of time for my transfers, plus sensible shoes. Watched in horror as a woman in magenta platform spike heels tried to run to catch a bus, expecting to hear the loud crack of broken ankles. Watched happy to see mentally challenged individuals navigate the system. Wondered where the tiny immigrant mother in her head scarf was taking her three young children when they exited the bus. Felt very old when the intoxicated couple were attacked by hormones.

Adding perspective to my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was another thought from Judith Viorst's Alexander--Bus tokens!

So the front wheel hub assemblies/brakes for the Buick cost a fortune. My job pays very slightly more than that of the Panda Express worker, but my day was not all that terrible.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Becoming comfortable with decomposition

  • "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." -- The Wizard of Oz

  • "You only think you can eat a three-egg omelet." -- My stomach

  • "You haven't actually been putting food down that disposal, have you?" -- The plumber -- $156.00

  • "Please don't start hoarding worms." -- My sister begs

  • "The body always wants to live."--My opera buddy

I thumbs up like like LIKE lichen.

My favorite guys are fun.

Moss is good, but mushrooms are dandy.

This is a post I've been trying to write for months. And now the season has passed. On the trails I noticed so many fallen and broken trees this winter. I admired the varieties of rot, the gorgeous mushrooms, intricate lacy lichens, and fungi pulling energy from the dead wood.

Huge trees gradually crumble. I can't be scientific about this process, and certainly not eloquent. I can accept it as a gift, and wonder about the meaning. Then suddenly I can be a bit disappointed to find my favorite rotting logs covered under new greening vines and brambles, the process of decomposition screened from my view. The woods and trails are always changing too fast for me, all the clear spaces between winter branches filled with green and buzzing life.

The topic comes up in conversations with friends everyday. Death. There must be a better way of aging and exiting life than the current model in the United States. We would rather, we opine, drive off a cliff, float out to sea, or "just shoot me" than go through declines and dementia like our parents. But the body always fights to live. When we each reach the point where quality of life is nil, we also reach a point incapable of willfully altering the outcome.

Walking in the woods is bringing me acceptance of the concept of eventual nonexistence.  That would be my own personal eventual nonexistence. Being of a certain age, I am even grateful for the concept of my eventual nonexistence in momentary flashes.

Photos and text © 2013 Nancy L. Ruder.
All rights reserved.


Living on Nutella

What the H E double toothpicks is the food that has taken over preschoolers' diets? They eat it for breakfast and again for lunch. Sometimes they eat it with marshmallow creme or fluff for an extra boost of corn syrup, sugar syrup, egg whites, and vanilla.  
Yep! Spread Nutella on toast. Spread it on crepes. Spread it on crackers. Then send your kids to school or daycare for someone else to manage the results.
A food label that lists sugar as the first ingredient is a problem. The Nutella nutrition label shows twenty one grams of sugars in a single serving. A single serving of Jif peanut butter (regular creamy) has three grams of sugars. For both products a single serving is two tablespoons.
Bear with me, as the nutrition panels refuse to cooperate with my post layout. The first is Nutella's. Scroll down for the Jif. Thanks.
Nutella boasts:
           Over 50 Hazelnuts per 13 oz. Jar
           Contains No Artificial Colors
           Contains No Artificial Preservatives

Nutrition Facts

  • Serving Size 2 Tbsp (32g)
  • Amount per Serving
  • Calories 190
    Calories from Fat 130
  • % Daily Value*
  • Total Fat 16g24%
    • Saturated Fat 2.5g13%
    • Trans Fat 0g
  • Cholesterol 0mg0%
  • Sodium 140mg6%
  • Total Carbohydrate 8g3%
    • Dietary Fiber 2g9%
    • Sugars 3g
  • Protein 7g
  • Iron4%
  • Vitamin E10%
  • Riboflavin2%
  • Niacin20%
Not a significant source of vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium.
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.




Dam the tornadoes!

Full speed ahead!
Don't look back.

Been in a windstorm of old emails, calendars, advice from my ADHD accountant, and 1099 forms.  Manila file folders are flopped open arcing the floor around my computer chair, and swirled atop my bedspread a.k.a. credenza. No more excuses.  I've returned from my trip and must get to business in the tax shack.  Take me right back, Jack.

What a day of wicked witches and whacko kiddies, some of each with gastrointestinal ailments. Speaking of which, what? Admiral David Farragut is famous for saying, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

School kiddie tummies are spewing station Farragut North and Farragut West with several days of unhappy aftershocks, and many loads of washing. My little dog Toto, too--  Alas, my granddoggy had gastroenteritis last weekend. That's bad news if you only weigh seven and a half pounds. I don't think I'm in Oregon or Kansas any more, and I'm paying no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Oh, wait!  That man is my accountant wizard.

This is the first anniversary of an outbreak of tornadoes in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We had a school tornado drill recently, with whistle blasts and kids scurrying into the windowless lunchroom.  Doing it for real is still on the minds of the staff a year later.

  • Fire alarm = get out of the building. 
  • Tornado alarm = get in the building. 

We teach and reteach and reteach anew. Get out to the playground, and the preschoolers are playing "tornado".  They gather in the playhouse, then shout "tornado" and go running to the far end of the playground.  "Wait," I say, "that is not the safe place to go." No amount of reteaching and redirecting can compete with shrieking and running. Okay then, maybe Mother Nature is culling the herd. A few minutes later the kids are playing a new game of Devastator Transformers. When naptime begins, they are still bending and slashing their hands and arms like living Happy Meal movie tie-in toys, or high school cheerleaders.

Besides napper Transformers, we have Velcro stunt men in class.  Bouncy houses and trampolines are notorious causes of kid injuries. A boy in a Velcro stunt man cape can wipe out on his training bike and need lots of biggie Band-aids. Two boys in capes can wipe out the whole school Band-aid budget.

Over in the meadow in a cozy, wee den, Lived an old mother beaver and her Little beavers ten. "Beave," said the mother, "We beave," said the ten, and they Beaved all day in their cozy, wee den.

After beaving and gnawing and googling etymology sites, it seems to beave is to work hard.

gnaw (v.) Look up gnaw at Dictionary.com
Old English gnagan (past tense *gnog, past participle gnagan) "to gnaw," a common Germanic word (cf. Old Saxon gnagan, Old Norse, Swedish gnaga, Middle Dutch, Dutch knagen, Old High German gnagan, German nagen "to gnaw"), probably imitative of gnawing. Related: Gnawedgnawing.

And now I gnash my teeth having once more failed to reach the beaver dam part of this blog trail. Full speed ahead.

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder


Happy Puffs for Breakfast

[No, not those aging hippie happy puffs.  This is a responsible grown-up blog!]

This little piggy ate gluten-free sweet potato Happy Puffs for breakfast.

By the time I got my camera, Mr. Short Stack had plucked all the crisp and cheerful puffs off the highchair tray and popped them into his mouth.  He was equally adept at grasping tiny sliding bits of banana and scrambs of scrambled egg.

And so, I will only show his happy piggy toes. Swish- swashed with the dreaded washcloth, de-crumbed and de-goobed, my grandson hit the floor running as soon as released from the highchair.  Organic Os seem to pack as much "Go Power" as the Cheerio finger food of previous toddler generations.

This little pig went to market;
This little pig stayed home;
This little pig had roast beef;
This little pig had none;
This little pig cried,
"Wee, wee, wee," all the way home.

I did not cry "Wee, wee, wee," on the way home. I was very grateful just to have an airplane departing without maintenance issues, delays, or gate changes. Annie Prouxl's Bird Cloud was easy reading that gradually became annoying. The skinny guy in the next seat was reading Jack London's sci fi tales.

This morning was another story altogether. I cried, "Wee, wee, wee," but still had to get up and go to work. Our new student, age three, is from France, but has been living in Germany, and mostly speaks Spanish. Oui, oui, oui.

This little piggy had coffee, black
This little piggy ate toast
This little piggy better get to market
or it's gonna be a long week of PB&J
Oy vey!

© 2013 Nancy L. Ruder