No cake for breakfast

At least no red velvet cake before noon. Never mind about red states and blue states, the United States can be divided into two groups:

  1. People who think eating red velvet cake is like dying and going to heaven.
  2. People who find red velvet cake aesthetically alarming and too sweet. It's kind of like watching Boise State play on blue astroturf. Just plain wrong.

Until 1996 I had never been exposed to red velvet cake, but office birthday parties on that new job seemed to always feature this flavor. Coworkers would rub their hands together and say, "Ahhhh, uuuummm, there will be red velvet cake at three [p.m.]." And I would remember reading Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown. Eye of newt...tincture of beets.

Just recently two Texans have whispered to me that they also find red velvet cake creepy. One is from Kansas, the other from Wisconsin/Illinois. I'm from Nebraska, that bastion of sanity and good taste. So there you have it, or not. Please comment with your region, opinion of red velvet cake, and preferred cake flavors.

Oh... I do like pink lemonade cake, spice cake, and Sara Lee orange cake.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


New glasses or more coffee?

What are these weird little insects on the cactus near the sand pendulum? I'm sure they weren't there last Sunday. Are they an event, or an unfortunate infestation? Or should I keep trying to wipe that sunscreen off my glasses?

With only my crummy cell phone camera, screen smeared with sunscreen, I attempted a shot to document the invasion of these black-legged insects with perfectly cactus green abdomens.

Mid-afternoon I got another weird cell phone photo, but it makes me happy. The sidewalk shows white hot behind the tumbling bowling pin cacti with backlit fuzzy spikes. The intended subject of this documentation is not very clear, but it's a larger version of these same cacti invaders.

Chelinidea vittiger is my best ID for the cactus insects. They are plant-eaters, and a type of leaf-footed bug. If you want to get rid of cactus they are your allies. If some of your best friends are cacti, these insects are bad news.

Sunscreen is an occupational hazard these days. I get it in my eyes, on my eyeglasses, my camera, my phone, and occasionally on the body part most endangered by continuous exposure to sun rays.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Toasty sea oats

Chatted with a visitor from the Carolinas who asked about one of my favorite ornamental grasses. She wanted to know if we called it "sea oats"? Yes. "It's growing everywhere here," she said, "but back home we have a Save the Sea Oats campaign because they are endangered." Obviously, this required a bit of research.

I just love the shape of the seed bracts, and the way they look braided. The design would make beautiful earrings. But since I see these grasses along many trails and in the beds at the garden, they don't seem endangered at all.

That's because my "sea oats" are inland sea oats also known as wood oats, Chasmanthium latifolium. This grass gets two feet tall, grows in shade, and prefers riparian areas. It's useful in preventing erosion along stream beds.

The Carolina coastal sea oats grass is Uniola paniculata L. Whether or not it is endangered is disputed, but it is definitely desirable. The grass gets six feet tall and its root prevent dune erosion. The seeds are apparently tasty.

One of my favorite rants is that children don't know that food comes from farms and gardens. I am humbled to admit I know nothing about where or how oats are grown, even though I ate Cheerios for breakfast six mornings a week during my Wonder Years.

And, if I embroidered a design from this photo, I would be sewing wild oats....

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder

Odd sunflowers

The two sunflowers growing in a big pot on my balcony have finally opened, but only halfway.

The second one has opened now, also halfway. They didn't have the perfect growing conditions as the giant sunflowers in the school garden last year, the source of the seeds for these two. Still, they are good examples of Fibonacci numbers.


© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Hot time in the Wetlands

Itty bitty red-eared slider
Yeehaw! Each "Wetlands Wonders" presentation is more fun and successful than the one before. It doesn't seem to hurt that I'm just as jaw-drop astounded at the critters we find as the little kids and their parents.

Yesterday two tadpoles volunteered for the event by swimming into my bucket. They added a lot to the experience, as we could really compare fish vs. tadpoles.

See my little leggy?
For some reason this damselfly naiad reminds me of Cher.

Empty dragonfly exoskeletons collected from the pond ecosystem exhibit earlier in the morning.

This brand spanking new Viceroy butterfly positively glowed on the sidelines of the presentation.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Not just for breakfast!

My favorite black and yellow Argiope, also known as a zipper orbie, caught a grasshopper in her web and wrapped it up Friday. This is a big job even for a big girl like her. She has been showing off for garden visitors for a week now, and mostly getting oohs and ahs and photos. Some folks cannot be enticed to walk down the little trail to see her, no matter how I explain that she is good luck for a gardener and won't hurt people.

Yesterday the web was sparkling with raindrops. After almost an inch of wonderful precipitation a family watched in awe as a metallic green fly got stuck in the web. All four family members were sad when the fly fell out of the web while the spider was rushing over to wrap it.

The rain did not deter the hummingbirds from swooping through the garden to the vibrant red cannas. This pipevine swallowtail waited until the rain let up to visit the lantana.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Visiting Pangaea Algaea with Mr. Escher

Our health teacher warned us about flashbacks! He said our brains would be melted, fried, and crispy. Our memories would dissolve in a crockpot of primordial stew, he warned. Crawly, slimy, big-eyed bumpy reptiles would crawl out of the woodwork and slither up the velvet-covered bell pulls. We would gorge ourselves on salty-sweet munchies in our substance-induced states until we were too fat for our shorts.

Well, at least he was right about the shorts. I had to go to Cabela's to find big-enough moisture-wicking shorts, and the stuffed hunted animals all through the store were a bad trip. You may want to start a pool on the date I will accidentally send my new pedometer through the laundry cycle.

In the Earth Cycles exhibit we have a Pangaea puzzle sort of like this:

As a lover of jigsaw puzzles, the whole continental drift/South America meets Africa concept of always tickled me. Plate tectonics less so. Patterns and tessellations amuse me on an aesthetic level, playing tricks with smoke and mirrors. A wetlands of Texas video warns about alligators in the Caddo Lake swamp over and over in its three-minute loop.

Adult dragonflies emerge from the exoskeletons of their nymph stage in the pond ecosystem. We wish our health teacher had faith in this process instead of only dire warnings right before the lunch bell.

The algae clumps, falls over the waterfall, breaks apart, drifts back together. The lizards tesellate and shimmer in the bubbles on the surface. Mr. Escher is polite, but he has seen it all before. He suggests a water bottle refill and some salty pretzels. Stay under the shade umbrella, he advises.

Back home and puzzling the maze of flights to LaGuardia, a squiggle in the carpet puzzles me. That health teacher warned the wallpaper might boogie even after many years! It's just a 1.5" gecko playing optical illusion tag and suggesting it's way past time to dustmop.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder

Chronkillogical order

A visitor brought me his wrinkled garden map to ask how to get to 16. Not having much noticed the numbering other than to look up the titles of the galleries, I was perplexed. We were standing at the Exploration Center, number 15. To get to Earth Cycles, number 16, the visitor would have to take his family through 17, Living Cycles.

But what about the "chronkillogical order", he wondered. It's okay. You don't have to follow the numbers in order.

So much for treasure maps and dance steps and that direction drilled into our heads by elementary school teachers.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Association of Imaginary Attire Advisors convenes

Okay, some attire is required. A lady, even a Worm Lady, can only go so far with slathering high SPF on every square inch of flesh.

Dragonflies assume the obelisk position to cool themselves, basically a sustained handstand to minimize the amount of surface exposed to the rays. Again, not a practical solution for beating the heat on the job. No one ever called me "Olga Korbut"!

And so, here we are at the first digression. Forty years ago yesterday President Nixon resigned. That was about two years after he met with Olga Korbut and the Soviet women's gymnastics team after the Munich Olympics.

Problems buzzed in my brain once I was offered the job:

  1. How to keep from getting sunburned to an irritable peeling mess and dying of skin cancer?
  2. How to cover up flabby upper arms so as not to scare little children?
  3. Why don't they make those socks with the bunny tail pompoms any more?
  4. Where to get golf shirts that breathe?
  5. Why do lawn care guys wear long sleeves, long pants, hats, and bandanas?
  6. What brand of walking shoes give best poofiness?
  7. How dorky of a hat can I stand to wear?
  8. What wardrobe wisdom can I glean from female explorers, scientists, athletes, authors, artists, archaeologists, real and fictional?
So I assembled an advisory team for adult beverages, guac and chips, hummus and carrot sticks. Seated on the living room floor around the coffee table were (clockwise) Jane Goodall, Margaret Mead, Georgia O'Keeffe, Nancy Lopez, Mary Leakey, Ann Garner, Ms. Frizzle. Seated on the couch were Joy Adamson, Nevada Barr, and Amelia Peabody. Since they were imaginary, I got all the guacamole.

And now for the second digression. Ann Garner was my Camp Fire Girl leader in 1965 or 1966. She was the smartest woman I had ever met at that point in my life. My mother was the assistant leader that year. When we had to write essays in sixth grade about who we wanted to be when we grew up, I didn't write about a celebrity. I wrote about Ann Garner

Mrs. Garner had been a Camp Fire Girl herself when the organization (founded in 1910) was very young. I have no doubt Ann would suggest long navy culottes, a long-sleeved white blouse, a neckerchief and a sensible hat. To this day I can hear her recite:

Whether the weather be cold
or whether the weather be hot
Whether the weather be bold
or whether the weather be not
Whatever the weather
We'll see it together
Whether we like it or not

My team of advisors had several suggestions, some more practical than others. I am still finding my own functional, protective, and not too scary look. 

And speaking of dorky hats, I am not up for the solar powered fan hat with solar panel, even in the Pure Energy garden!

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


News flash: Water essential. Who knew?

Fair is not the rating I would give today. Blistering and brutal would be more accurate.

It took me a quart of water per hour to be outside today. I wasn't running, practicing football, or doing physical labor. I was just standing in the shade wearing a big hat and telling folks about pollination, metamorphosis, decomposition, erosion, evaporation, nutrition, and the location of the nearest restroom.

It was scary to me how many visitors arrived mid-afternoon with one little water bottle for a whole family. Of course there are drinking fountains.

If you are coming to the Garden this weekend, plan to start your science adventure early in the day and bring lots of water. Watch for symptoms of dehydration and salt depletion. Pay special attention to the youngest and the elderly, and don't push anybody past the point where the outing is fun. Come back again a cooler day!

  © 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Summer reads and listens

Stayed up until one reading Roz Chast's graphic memoir about MY LIFE. It sure seemed like my life caring for my dad. I chuckled, wheezed, and got teary.

Listened to Ann Patchett's State of Wonder on my new, longer commutes. Fits in well with my current curiosity about fungi. The audio book was very well read.

And for something light but intriguing, the reprint edition of Jean Echenoz' I'm Gone.

Now it's time for a classic, Sissy Spacek narrating To Kill a Mockingbird. Aren't libraries wonderful?

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Do you know the way to spell sachet?

It has been quite the day. Please excuse me while I haul my chassis up to the chalet.

Sachets are small fragrant bags of herbs used to perfume your lingerie and handkerchief drawers, should you be old enough to remember cloth handkerchiefs.

Sashay is a dance step etymologically mangled from to hunt, chase, catch.

Chassé is a gliding dance step...

But what about chassis

That seems to be a box of eye sockets, jewel settings, snail shells, or the base frame an automobile. 

And cachet? Something can lend a certain cachet, a bit of prestige, as sachets lend a certain fragrance..

I will not be gallivanting or sallying forth. Quite likely a snooze will come on just sitting here at the computer. Traveling in the Amazon and wrestling anacondas on the automobile audiobook takes a lot out of a girl.

Do you know the way to San Jose?
I've been away so long
I may go wrong and lose my way
Do you know the way to San Jose?
I'm going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose
L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder