Fantasy Meteorologist Camp

Who knew how many grown-ups secretly wanted to study meteorology or give the weather report on t.v.! Since I started making the felt board weather dramatic play station for the family club, I've had more than the normal number of office visitors to my windowless cubicle.

My office mate seriously considered returning to school to study hurricanes. The guy down the hall is into cloud-spotting. The people organizing the landscape tour want to know if it will rain Saturday. The water experts are into lake levels. I just want to relax and debate whether the clouds look more like bunny rabbits, popcorn, or Donald Trump's hair. An arctic cold front moved in around noon when I added glitter to the felt snowflakes.

I found some little clips to be pretend microphones. Wishing I had a clip-on bow tie to add realism to the kids' play. What's your five-day forecast?

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Brooching the subject?

[This post-brunch report did not harm any pooches or poached eggs.]

Sad to report I failed my brooch certification test. I am old enough to wear big jewelry pins, but I cannot reliably pronounce the word. So let us broach this subject.

Why, over brioche, I asked, are broach and brooch pronounced the same way if poach and pooch are not? Brioche, that light slightly sweet bread made with a rich yeast dough, is sensibly said, "bree ausch".

A participant at the nature art workshop designed this elegant brooch:

Nature art brooch design

Just last week I wanted to wear my mother's acorn brooch. It must be here somewhere, but I didn't find it on a first pass through all the boxes and storage tubs in the apartment.

Fritzi's brooch missing in action.

Fritzi's brooch, of course, is a piece of jewelry held on a woman's clothing by a pin near her neck. As always when I go off course on these searches, I thank the Online Etymology Dictionary!

Broaching the subject of brooches led me off-track, as usual: 

brooch (pronunciation American English)

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

early 13c., from Old French broche "long needle" (see broach (n.)). Specialized meaning led 14c. to distinct spelling.

While broach can be a noun, the verb is on my mind:

broach (v.) Look up broach at Dictionary.com

"pierce," early 14c., from the same source as broach (n.). Meaning "begin to talk about" is 1570s, a figurative use with suggestions of "broaching" a cask or of spurring into action (compare Old French brochier, 12c., "to spur," also "to penetrate sexually"). Related: Broached broaching.

And as for the pronunciation, click here.

Who wears brooches? Madeleine Albright, Margaret Thatcher, Kate Middleton, Coco Chanel, and early childhood educators. Albright used her pins to communicate diplomatic statements. 

At the Montessori school we used pins and brooches to communicate study subjects--dragonflies, bees, flowers, fall leaves, spiders, ducks, mammals--even if we wore jeans. We did not make a big fashion statement, but children noticed and commented on our jewelry. 

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Merrily we roll along

Not the slowest commute ever, but definitely in the Top Ten for the not-caused-by-my-vehicle-failures, it only took eighty minutes to travel 18.5 miles this evening. My inner calm had not so much to do with Pope Francis' voice on NPR as to the outstanding cloud-watching as I rolled forward.

On a good day the 19.2 mile drive takes 27 minutes. On Saturday mornings it's more like 18.5 minutes with NPR's Scott Simon and Tom Goldman discussing sports.

I should have exited the expressway when the ambulance went by in the HOV lane, but no, I was listening to Pope Francis in Congress. By the time I took evasive action everybody and their dog had the same urge to get off.

Rolling on over, I ended up at the annual Greek Festival traffic jam still in the early stages of gelling. Avoiding the next obstacle of closed lanes due to construction sent me smack into the pent up cars behind a two-car, center lane crash.

Last weekend pushing the grandbaby buggy on the bumpy sidewalks of Hoboken we followed a family of four. Mom with pram baby, dad, and preschooler with a dachshund doggy pull-toy. It is so clear in my memory, but I can't find the toy online. The doggy was sliced like hard salami, and the sections were a rainbow of colors. The pull-toy dachshund hit a sidewalk bump, and fell over. Block after block we followed the little guy dragging the doggy toy on its side. My ribs hurt, but they were not painted rainbow.

Study review questions:

1. "I coulda just walked." Could I? Would I? How long would that really take?

2. On a good day how long would my alternate route drive take?

3. How did that song go about roller-skating in a buffalo herd?

4. How do you get a tiny URL to a Google map of directions?

5. Is this the urban version of a fisherman's tale? How long was that commute really??


1. 5 hours and 51 minutes.

2. 41 minutes for the 18.5 miles.
Similar, but not quite right.

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egS1e0pE5pA

4. That is the coolest thing I learned this week! Get your directions on the map. Click the icon with 3 horizontal bars. Click "share and embed". Check the box for the short URL. Copy and paste the hyperlink.

5. The 18.5 miles took 80 minutes. 

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Lightning vs. Umbrellas

I'm traveling light this week, but not the in the manner of my amazing, determined friend who got back to her high school size 6 for the fifty-fifth class reunion. Big clouds of mental fretting have lifted because the educator workshop I'm sponsoring has filled. I don't have to present anything, but I do get to show off our outdoor "classroom" in the midst of the Monarch butterfly migration through the Metroplex to fifty early childhood and nature educators.

Any trip when I am only responsible for myself is still a gentle breeze lifting and swaying me through Terminals A and C. I've either packed wisely or not, and it just doesn't matter much as long as I remembered my meds and comfortable shoes. I'm not carrying travel guides, field guides, atlas or dictionary. There's an adorable child at the destination, but I don't have to do the logistics of diapers, car seats, asthma inhalers, or entertain kiddies en route. Life is light.

Got some library ebooks onto my Kindle, but don't ask me how! I forgot to roll Ariadne's thread through the labyrinth. As for my overdue library books and videos, I don't think I'll swing by the bookdrop at 4:45 a.m.



On the rare occasion when actual statistics are required, the little metric devils are elusive. For my upcoming family program about weather I wanted to say kids are way more likely to poke their eye out with a toy umbrella than to be struck by lightning. Not quite as likely as presenting at the emergency room with a fish hook through their eyebrow or earlobe, but it's still a big risk...not to mention the unnecessary burden on school staff when a kiddie brings a bumbershoot to preschool. Actually, statistics fail to show that kids are way more likely to poke out their little brother's eye with a rainbow sparkle Frozen trademark tie-in umbrella, but I'm pretty sure that's true. May Zeus strike me with his thunderbolts if it ain't! [No graphs were found comparing sibling umbrella eye injuries to plastic toy guitar injuries imitating Hanna-Barbera cartoons.]

There's all this talk in the media about banning people from carrying knives and guns and yet it appears perfectly legal to carry one of the most dangerous weapons imaginable. I refer of course to the umbrella.

Over the course of a 5 minute walk from the station to _____ today (in Leeds) I narrowly escaped having my eyes poked out on no fewer than 8 occasions; each time it was some clueless woman (and it always seems to be women) with a complete lack of awareness of anyone walking near her. You also run the risk of whiplash from ducking out of the way to avoid them, and you daren't say anything to anyone cause they could potentially take their umbrella down and stab you with it.

What on earth is so bad about getting wet anyway? It wakes you up, makes you feel more alive and, if you work or shop down the markets it's the nearest thing you'll get to a wash all year!

So let's ban umbrellas and create a safer and fresher society for all!

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Soggy Fish Toss and other simple pleasures

I've been in throwback heaven the past two days, teaching catch and release fish-themed family club sessions. This fishy flashback was educational, with fun information for parents as well as kids. That's always a trick, as any Hollywood exec will tell you.

At the end of the short presentation we sat in a circle and the kids told me their "fish stories". A couple were of the how-big-was-it-really variety, but most were of the we-used-to-have-four-fish-but-now-we-have-two sort. I heard about bettas and Siamese fighting fish, fish as big as refrigerators, and fish eaten by dinosaurs. Yes, we have no piranhas. We have no piranhas today.

To prepare for the session, I needed fish, real live fish, from the creek. This was not an elegant, graceful operation, but I didn't get eaten alive by chiggers. Amen. And I did not fall in. Amen, Lord! I netted over a dozen tiny fish and a whole lot of sediment.  If they took nothing else away, I hope kids learned that the smart, big fish swim too far out for old ladies to catch with a net!

The kids learning to read were hilarious as they sounded out the names of Texas game fish. One little fellow caught a "Ready Are". That would be a redear sunfish. We were using fishing poles with magnets to catch fish in an imagination river made from my friend Kokila's beautiful blue sari fabric. Magnet fishing was a favorite feature of birthday parties in the Sixties. You should not practice fly casting while magnet fishing. You could really hit somebody in the head. On the good side, you will not have to go to the emergency room with a fish hook caught in your earlobe!

Today's paper fish were images from Texas Parks and Wildlife, laminated, and with a paperclip attached. For added realism, we measured our catches with a ruler before throwing them back in the river. We didn't step into the sari "river" since we were not wearing life jackets. Safety first!

A sub-theme of this lesson was patterns/templates. If you want to make a set of tangram shapes, there is a template, and there are several ways to use the seven shapes to form a fish.

The whole session was inspired by the pattern of that Sixties birthday party, right down to the fish cake courtesy of Baker's Coconut. Memories of my mom, Fritzi, and her creative preparations for low budget birthday parties made me smile. Remembering how my dad, Howie, got all teary-eyed during those Take Me Fishing tv spots made  me wish I could time travel back to when his dad took him fishing in Willow Creek.

But what about the Soggy Fish Toss, you ask! Soggy Fish Toss is a totally free-form activity everybody loves on a warm day. All you need are a couple tubs of water, some hula hoops, and some cleaning sponges cut into fish shapes. The hula hoops on the ground can be the tees or the greens in this game, or both. Tossing fish is fun. Squeezing fish sponges is good for motor skills, but mostly fun. Hitting your daddy with a soggy fish sponge is terrific fun for every generation.

On a different throwback note, I read this book review Saturday. Good thing I was not drinking a carbonated beverage, as it would have shot out my nose.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Windshield wipers for googly eyes

"What do you know about emotional intelligence?," the trainer asked us bright and early. 153 probably wasn't the answer she was trawling for, but it's pretty close to the Dewey decimal shelf location for Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence. Stephen Covey is upstairs too, just a few library shelves over at 158.

"Would you eat anything with eyes?," a coworker asked. I had a flashback to rainbow trout dinners in Estes Park. No, I would not eat the eyes, but grilled trout was served with the head as proof of freshness. And grilled rainbow trout with a loaded baked potato is very fine dining.

So, while setting out the brunchy-munchy emotional food for the team-building session the devil made me set a few googly eyes on the apples, strawberries, and cheese cubes. It was not my intent to cause a coworker to choke to death on a googly eye, but I could put that into my never-to-be written mystery, first in a compelling new series, as we say in the book review biz. I was expecting a different coworker to have a severe reaction to the non-GMO crunchy peanut butter on the apple slices, and maybe swell up like a Macy's parade balloon before suffocating.

Forgot to factor my unfamiliarity with the venue kitchenette when planning these Deaths by Departmental Meetings. My fiction is no pulp, like the OJ.

Thirteen hours of survey data, strategic planning, goals and objectives, signage text, visions and mission statements, personal strength and weaknesses, drought-tolerant landscape design, and an emotional intelligence trainer using her index fingers to be pretend teeny windshield wipers in front of her eyes could drive a usually sane person to open the Hatch.

So thank heaven for those Hatch chile cheddar cheese cubes from Market Street, and for the coworker who knew where the coffee was stored--right next to the bodies in the freezer!

Okay, no bodies. No apple corer/divider in the kitchenette drawer, either.

Just balloons and funnels drawn on the white board with scented markers. The balloons were the emotional (big and stretchy) and rational (little and rigid) containers in our brains reached by stimuli that have made it through our funnels and filters.

What behavior change or action did I take following the emotional intelligence team-building training session? I went right home and filed an apartment maintenance request for a change of furnace filter. The super installed a new thermostat, but left the dirty filter in place.

That's okay, because I can use my index fingers like teeny windshield wipers to clean dirty stimuli filters. I can reset my new emotional thermostat.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Poster child for loose parts

No, nothing has fallen off yet, although sagging is ongoing! The Buick is keeping it all together (for which I am very grateful). So what's up with "loose parts"?

Loose Parts is a big deal if you are an early childhood educator, unschooler, informal nature educator, child-play theorist, or possibly hoarder. This post is a big love letter to my parents for raising me as a loose parts kid before architect Simon Nicholson proposed the theory in 1972.

"Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Loose parts can be used alone or combined with other materials. There is no set of specific directions for materials that are considered loose parts. The child is the direction."

Loose parts differ from manipulatives in being irregular, and often natural objects. Loose parts differ from the lessons in the Montessori school where I worked because they can be combined with other materials. Montessori materials, in my experience, are finite sets for children to take out, use according to the lesson to solve a choreographed problem, and then put away complete.

As a Sixties kid, I thought our family was just poor, and that was why we didn't have Chatty Cathy dolls with limited conversational skills, or Flintstones/Jetsons Colorforms. What we had was a whole lot of loose parts and open-ended playthings! Plus, our playthings connected us to the work of our extended family and community.

Barney Rubble undressed is kind of creepy.
We were very lucky children in a time of rising education and affluence, We were not contributing manual labor to help our family survive as soon as we were weaned. We were not yet so affluent as to be deprived of unstructured playtime by endless lessons and activities, or sucked into the vortex of advertising, retail therapy, and mindless materialism. We constructed things by hand from plans devised in our own imaginations using whatever we could scavenge. We found new purposes for left-overs, hand-me-downs, bits and pieces. Our play often practiced adult work skills. Sewing button eyes on sock puppets comes to mind. And we used whatever we found to create structures and make up stories to play, to improv.

What happened? Much as I love Legos, I blame the marketing shift to Lego sets with movie tie-ins and model instructions. Lego began telling kids and the old folks with the credit cards that the pieces could only be used to build the exact model pictured on the box. We went from telling kids they could use the blocks to build ANYTHING they could imagine, to telling kids they could be the first on their block to collect every set. Santa brought the sets we could build using only the ability to follow diagrams. (Parents usually did the actual constructing.)

I blame schools and day-cares and stressed-out parents who insisted that the pieces of Set A be picked up and put away before getting out Set B. No, you may not build a restaurant out of large blocks, stock the kitchen with play cookware, get paper and crayons to make menus and order pads, then park all the Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars out in the restaurant parking lot. Forget about getting your hair styled with the hammer, wrench, pliers, and screwdriver before you go to lunch at the restaurant!

Loose parts can be natural objects:
  • stones
  • shells
  • nuts
  • leaves
  • sticks
  • stalks
  • blossoms
  • berries
  • acorns (should not be taken into a warm house and left in a closet)
Loose parts can be bits from adult work:
  • tile samples
  • upholstery samples
  • paint chips
  • fabric remnants
  • blueprint paper
  • canning rings
  • buttons
  • spools
  • hardware bits
  • clothespins
Some favorite loose parts come from adult leisure activities:
  • golf tees
  • matchbooks
  • bridge tallies
  • cocktail swords and umbrellas
Other loose parts were empties:
  • Rx bottles
  • packing materials
  • cereal boxes
  • oatmeal cartons
  • coffee cans
  • Kleenex boxes
  • shoeboxes
  • tp tubes and giftwrap tubes
  • egg cartons
  • potpie pans
  • bottle caps
Loose parts let us create our own stages and dramas.

Loose parts let us count, combine, sort, divide, and distribute objects.

Loose parts let kids assign values or meanings to objects.

Loose parts allow compositions and variations on a theme.

Today I received an email request to provide ten cardboard boxes of different sizes and shapes to be used in the upcoming educator workshop. Sure, I can do that blindfolded and with one hand tied behind my back!

Thanks, Howie and Fritz, for the open-ended objects of my childhood, and the unstructured time to use them. Eventually I did use some of the tile samples in a bathroom rescue renovation project.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Teaching art uphill both ways

You can just check out right now with an x in this box [   ].
This post is a nightmare.

D'you have "Don't tell me what you dreamed last night!" tattooed on your neck right behind your ear? You can order the t-shirts, hoodies, and bumper stickers on-line.

I'm not saying I've got a technicolor dreamcoat, but all of a sudden the dream struggles teaching art became the real-life nightmare of managing the refugee crisis. My old counselor would advise the dream is never about Them. Dreams are always about You. For the moment, this dream meaning is the uphill struggle of the refugee crisis, and not so much about whether I am symbolically cleaning the paintbrushes of my life.

My teaching dreams often tumble from an almost-manageable classroom to an overwhelming slanted situation. I'm instructing from the pit of a sloped lecture hall, but more and more students keep arriving tardy through the doors at the top of the hall. They are unruly and loud, but the problem is my lack of amplification to deliver the art project instructions. We will be painting with poster paints and cheap brushes with the bristles all worn down. There's no way to distribute the papers and paints and brushes, especially with the continuing influx of students. We don't have enough tables, and the crowded children are beginning to bicker and wrestle. There's no time to explain the choices the students must make outlining shapes in their compositions. There's no procedure for cleaning the brushes or putting art in the drying racks, especially not before the school bus schedule begins. I didn't even have enough art smocks for all the kids. Nobody writes their name on their paper. I can smell the powdered tempera paints and the crumbling, faded construction paper. The sink is clogged again.

Oh, Lordy, we's all a gonna die. And, yes, we all are. That we ever get to make art or express ourselves is a miracle.

The refugee crisis is a recurring nightmare nearly as ancient as mankind. We are never prepared, supplied, able to communicate, or to handle the clean-up. We can't decide how to outline the shapes in dripping black with worn-out brushes.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


First job/Worst job

Broke the ice sharing our childhood hobbies, first jobs, and worst jobs at the first early morning meeting in a week of meetings.  Nobody on staff was a tv child star. No one admitted to collecting chicken drumsticks in their sock drawer. Instead we collected rocks, Beanie Babies, elephant and frog figurines, stickers, and erasers. We chased butterflies with big nets, read a lot, and played outside in playhouses. We liked hiding more than seeking.

What captured moment from your skewed memory of childhood do you share with the kind, good, bright people in your office in 30-45 seconds to explain or excuse who you are and have always been? Memories bubbled up of hiding behind the Christmas tree watching the lights and shadows on the ceiling, of reading archaeology tales in the treehouse, of sorting the smooth rocks from the tumbler, or drawing floorplans on graph paper tablets, and writing letters, always writing letters.

Every Christmas we kids each received a package of 12 x 18 inch colored construction paper. I looked forward to this all year. I had to plan, organize, and budget the colored sheets in those three packages for myself and my two siblings to allocate the appropriate colors for every holiday in the year ahead. That way we would still have red sheets to make the placemats for our family's Christmas Eve supper. Red has so many demands upon it, what with Valentines and Fourth of July. It takes discipline and creativity to use a limited resource wisely. What are the other Valentine options? Will we regret at Easter using all the pink in February? And what about Cornhusker football games against those Sooners at Thanksgiving? Go Big Red! I believe my siblings were willing participants in this holiday creativity, but you'll have to ask them after their therapy sessions.

Staff members' descriptions of worst jobs involved being frightened, sticky, bored, isolated, or silent. This group is obviously not afraid to find out how the sausage is made or the recyclables sorted. We have dug plumbing trenches, babysat toddlers, played bluegrass gospel music, packaged cinnamon rolls, and felt demeaned by micro-managers.

When did my coworkers begin working? We took jobs playing music, babysitting, waiting tables, cleaning houses, slinging oatmeal, organizing start-ups, working Black Friday mall retail, and managing bridal registries before we were out of our teens. Sharing these stories created a surprising bond.

We need to share these stories with coworkers and with the generations of family gathered around the holiday tables decorated with kid-created placemats. Understanding the work we each do builds respect. Respect builds community, cooperation, and collaboration.

Don't use all the orange at Halloween, because you will need some at Thanksgiving.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder