Slogging through wet cement

Warning: This is not a metaphor. This is Real Life with a bonus six dollar see-through car wash.

My dad, Howie, might be turning in his grave over this misuse of the term "cement". Cement is a powder, like flour. Powder cement mixed with aggregate and water makes concrete. Dad taught his grandkids that recipe at the earliest possible age.

My office is reached by a curvy two-lane drive currently undergoing road repairs. One lane of the drive is being replaced, and each morning brings a new obstacle course. By lunch break the cones and the detour signs have fallen over. It's just like life.

In the middle of my life I came to a place where the straight way was lost and the cement worker walked off the job. His helpers were just standing there to one side, so I drove out around them, crossing over into the left lane that was actually freshly smoothed concrete. International gestures for You Idiot Driver and I'm So Sorry So Embarrassed Please Don't Yell At Me ensued. And then the What's Up Doc flashbacks began.

Abandon all hope, you who enter here, because the road not taken has made all the difference. Sometimes it's better to just brown bag it.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Baby names and birding

It's going to be a Big Year in the family when the first baby girl is born since pteradactyl days. I'm not pinking out. I Am Not Pinking Out. My concern is baby names, and how not to alienate my daughter-in-law or her mother over this sensitive matter.

This was a Big Day as we finally realized most of the adorable birds in the garden were Yellow-rumped Warblers, Dendroica coronata. Cute as they can be. Still, I bet they wish their mom had named them something more dignified.

Just a few pages back in the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America there's another cute little bird I saw today, but it doesn't have the same issues. Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula, is a name a bird can proudly wear through life.

Parents were hollering for their kids to slow down. Elliott and Eustice seem like perfect names for Great-horned owls, but for human preschoolers? Elly started hollering for Eusty, too. I was sure Eusty would hack up an owl pellet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Up the trail a Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, was pecking away at a pergola post.

Pergola doesn't seem like such a bad baby name compared to many popular choices.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Smoke and mirrors

Hey, it's been a rotten week what with an idiotic movie getting elevated to a freedom of speech blockbuster, fracking earthquakes in Irving, and that cold wind off the lake at work. So I just want to say thank you to Pope Francis for taking conversations to a different place. Atheists, Catholics, old folks, young adults, and just about everybody I met was contemplating questions of spirituality, Alzheimers, bureaucracy, corruption, greed, and even hope in this Christmas week because of the Pope's addresses.

Cardinals are on my mind, not so much as part of the Church hierarchy, but as part of the bird entertainment I receive as a bonus on the job. A lovey-dovey pair of cardinals have discovered their own reflection in the mirrors of the math/science exhibit. The male and female prance around in front of the mirrors, challenge the rival in the mirror, posture and poop. That's nature for you.

Saw the amazing El Greco portraits at the Met last month. The Biblical scenes don't work for me, but the portraits have powerful emotional depth. So here is a different sort of cardinal:

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


On Dasher and DewDeer

The deer was at the end of the kimonos. Yes, the gorgeous kimono exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I kid you not, as my mom would say.

At first glance it appeared to be a Rudolph-shaped collection of giant soap bubbles or maybe glass beads. It was mildly disturbing, and that was before my son realized there was an actual deer inside the glass. A taxidermied deer. A taxidermied deer covered in artificial crystal glass. Way more than mildly disturbing, and unforgettable.

Thank heaven I don't have to write a report on my visit for a sophomore art history class. I read the artist's statement, and am even more confused. Maybe Santa did not bring him what he wanted when he was a child in Japan. Maybe he never got a sled. Maybe deer ate all the bok choy in his garden.

An MFA student did have to write a criticism of the sculpture, and ended it, "By not giving answers to my many troubling questions Pixcell Deer #24 forms a chasm of worry in my mind that stirs an instinctive reaction—fear." That I understand!

For a couple weeks I couldn't go back to my holiday art project involving photos of dew and rain on plants in the garden where I work. The dewdeer kept popping to mind. Then I had flashbacks to a student who sang, "Dudolph the dead-dosed deindeeh," a decade ago.

Finally got the project finished and it is safe to watch. No taxidermy was involved.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Before this year is out...

...we will send a worm to the High Line and return it safely to the worm bin.

Hey! I'm  way behind on Christmas, but I've got that New Year's resolution done and signed in ink. Yes, in 2015 I will build a Lego replica of the High Line for my red wiggler demonstrations. No more of that floss daily, get fit, read Russian novels, save the world, clean out closets stuff. It's time for the big aspiration.

The worms love the challenges of Lego maneuvering almost as much as kids love the combo of composting worms and Legos. And I love amazing architectural replicas made of mashed potatoes, sushi, and recycled boxes. It's time to push myself to infinity and beyond.

Are you with me? Do you secretly need to make Lego landmarks for invertebrates more than you need to fight lime and mildew? To go where no eisenia foetida have gone before! To the big Lego gelato stand above the Manhattan hustle and/or bustle!

I'm going to have to pace myself, breaking the resolution into manageable sections spread over twelve months. After all, I still have two to three jobs. I need to deposit paychecks and unload the dishwasher. This stuff takes precious hours from work toward my goal.

Thanks to those who have inspired me to begin this mission:

  • The son formerly known as the Woolly Mammoth for sorting the family collection of Legos by color into handy plastic storage drawers.
  • The crazy storytime lady who introduced me to the High Line.
  • My siblings for participating in hundreds of hours of Lego camper construction for Tonka pickup trucks and Liddle Kiddle dolls, plus Lost in Space Chariot astro-RVs.
  • My preschool director and Bentley for humoring my creative endeavors with composting worms. You might still be able to get a Red Worm Composting tee shirt in your stocking.
  • The Carrollton children's services librarian for convincing me kids would enjoy a worm program and bringing out my hidden stand-up (yet invertebrate) comedian.
  • Howie, my structural engineer father, for keeping it practical.
  • Fritzi, my mom, for her early commitment to recycling prescription bottles in the service of early childhood art.
  • The son formerly known as Danger Baby for his dedication to dumpster diving in the pursuit of excellent styrofoam for building replicas.
  • To my son formerly known as Speech and Debate for his keen sense of humor from birth pretty much.
  • To my grandson, Mr. Short Stack, for convincing me the next generation needs recycling and crazy grandmothers.
  • And to all the little red wigglers... who want to visit the big, decaying apple.



© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


One last tamale thought to come out even

Grandma used to make chicken tamales with a green olive in the middle up there in chilly Pierce, Nebraska. We ate the steamed tamales with Tabasco and jellied cranberry sauce at her famous midnight suppers all cocooned by the steamed over windows.

Grandma always tied her tamales with string instead of strips of corn husk. Halma knew what worked best! She was a culinary artist slash efficiency expert. I'd like to think I have a bit of her right brain/left brain combo.

Halma liked to come out even when she ate. If you don't come out even on the mashed potatoes with the turkey, you might have to have another helping of stuffing, sauerkraut, and gravy to try again. This is as good a reason as any for another helping.

I didn't come out even making tamales. I still have two pounds of fresh masa, but only four corn husks. I know now that one pound of fresh masa yields one dozen tamales. So I have to make another batch, beef this time, and tied with string. I might put a green olive in each just for fun. Got a little collapsible veggie steamer at, shudder, Walmart. Got an Oster mini-prep chopper for twenty bucks, but I might return it. Halma didn't need one.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Short list due to falling asleep with the light on an awful lot

Picture book most likely to inspire art class projects:

  • Some bugs / words by Angela DiTerlizzi ; bugs by Brendan Wenzel.

  • Movie of the year. I've seen it five times. It delights every time.

 Most Addictive Series 
with a note from the prize committee

In stressful times, I read series. Life stress. Extreme. Full to the brim. Moving. Divorce. Junior High. Finances, don't ask. Multiple job changes. Death in the family. That kind of stuff. Sue Grafton mostly alphabetically. Janet Evanovich in numerical order. Tony Hillerman probably saved my life. Thank you, too, Nancy Drew. Clive Cussler cured my fear of flying, so don't be dissing Dirk Pitt. Pre-adolescent chemist, Ottoman Empire eunuch, and Scandinavian hoodie detective, Thank you very much for taking me away better than Calgon in 2014!

When life is most stressful, I revert to sudoku and crossword puzzles. Will Shortz becomes my favorite editor. 

Most convincing narrator as an autism spectrum character

Dan O'Grady for The Rosie Project

Hoping to sell gold foil stickers for book jackets in 2015. I'll be rich!

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Hunting the elusive corn husk in New Jersey

It's another tamale Sunday. Gray morning outside. Nice steamy windows inside. The masa and husks were much easier to find in Plano, Texas than in New Jersey, but not nearly the adventure.

Everything available at my Albertsons grocery
No getting the car out of the world's most difficult parking space. No trip to the bodega in Jersey City with the bins of waxed yuca. No sitting in the back of the car while smart phone users search for a store that sells corn husks. Yup, the Jersey City Save-Rite. And then the gridlock near the Holland Tunnel, and getting the car back into the world's most difficult parking space.

Our Hoboken tamales were a little bland by Texas taste standards. So were my first Plano effort. The Sunday tamales are the best by far. I still have two pounds of fresh masa to make up next Sunday. Gotta pick up more husks though. And maybe a new steamer gizmo.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


How to make tamales: Step 2

NYC is all about style and so I've lined a runway with tamale models. The look this year is very individual, combining function, natural materials, and a DIY pioneer chic vibe.

Chicken tamales wrapped by instructor chef's assistant
Tamale style is fabulous on all body types. Corn husks with self-ties look equally fabulous on short plump, or tall slender models.

Students try sheath dress look first
Creations by new tamale wrappers are a highlight of the fashion show. Husk wraps transition easily from 9-to-5 office into evening looks. That might be because it takes about six hours to steam five dozen tamales in a small NJ kitchen.

What will be new in 2015? Tamale tutu ultra-minis? Yellow ribbed knee-high boots? Fashion forward focus on belts and obis? Asian fusion tamales inspired by the history of the kimono exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Celeb tamale hairstyles?

Stefani Tamale
What will Owen Wilson do? He's got that corn husk hair all ready for a top knot.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder


Tamales continued: Julia plays Hollywood Squares






Joe Shanghai soup dumplings matrix

For graphing purposes only chopsticks

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder

How to make tamales: Step 1

First you have to fly into LaGuardia late at night to beat the rotten weather and flight delays arriving on Wednesday. Watching the chaos of the passenger pickup confirms that you have entered an alternate galaxy.

Be sure to have some turkey left over from the big feast. Drive through tunnels and urban canyons to Sur La Table for the cooking class. Learn to chop onions the RIGHT way:

Push the pause button. You will have to return to these instructions in a later post. In the meantime, practice your chopping technique. A sharp knife is essential.

© 2014 Nancy L. Ruder