Primed for disappointment

We have been seriously facilitated lately, with the pyramid of accountability, communication skills, Glenn Parker's Team Players, and True Colors. Are you most:
  • stressed by appearing incompetent?
  • stressed by disharmony?
  • stressed by disorganization?
  • stressed by lack of excitement?
  • stressed by forgetting to cancel free Amazon Prime trial before 30 days were up?
Just before the lunch break in the all day team-building session I realized I had missed the deadline to cancel my 30-day free Amazon Prime membership before being charged $99.99. Oops. Not sure I can make that membership a financial win. It would be better if Prime included a year of free socks to meet your every need. Amazon knows absolutely everything about me, so drones could deliver perfect socks to my front door. I hate buying socks! 

  • Why do they cost so much? 
  • Why can't they be more fun?
  • Why are they never quite the right color? 
  • Where is the mate?

What have I learned, besides the socks? I seem to be a private, planning, punctual, slow-processing cynical idealist, telephone-phobic contributing challenger uncomfortable with conflict, easily annoyed, amazingly curious but never bored, Put me in a closet and I will make art out of coat-hangers. Put me in the kitchen and I will use my knowledge of historic migrations with my appreciation of texture and color to make many interesting dishes, two-thirds of which will be edible, and 80% unrepeatable. Put me in a long departmental strategic planning meeting, and I will be unable to find a comfortable position on those chairs. Tell me I can't take notes, and I'll be itching for a fight. Don't hug me, and I won't hug you.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


"as an ook cometh of a litel spyr"

It's Day Four of the acorn cap/pretty leaf gathering, and I'm feeling the effects. This workout involves walking around with a big tote bag selecting optimal acorn caps, bending down to pick and inspect, standing up and putting acorn cap in the bag. Repeat for one-half hour, with variations for sweet gum leaves and spikey balls, bur oak acorns, twigs with tiny yellow leaves attached, any red leaves, big leaves, variegated leaves, dry umbel stalks, bark, dry coneflower and Mexican hat flower tops, and hopefully no ants of any type. The follow-up/cool down portion of the workout requires a great many more bends, plus taking a Dustbuster to the office so Alice the cleaning lady will not get mad at me about the autumnal craft class prep mess.

Little kids will like making our nature "fantasy islands". The armless clothespin person on the paper plate island is not shouting, "De plane! De plane!" .

As for the little acorns from which those mighty oaks will grow, I report the following conversation between a first grader and a pre-K student.

1st:  Is that noise bothering you?
Pre-K:  No.
1st:  It's not bothering me either. As you get older you don't hear stuff so well, and I'm seven.

The little girls proceeded to tell me their life stories which involved an island, Maui, but not a nature island on a paper plate sea. Then a little guy not much taller than the desk where I worked walked up and asked me, "So how're y'all doin'?"

I'm good. Darn good. Just a few aches and pains from my exercise program.

Eh? What's that you say? When you get older you don't hear stuff so well, and I'm....

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Dooby du Bois

I admit I don't know diddly about W.E.B. Du Bois, except my friend's son is writing a paper about him. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Du Bois as a pragmatic philosopher, among other things, but not as an author, artist, or illustrator. 

Guy Pène du Bois was an artist whose "Beach" series hung in the Sheldon Museum's permanent collection gallery during my Wonder Years. The series of three small oils showed groups of people in 1924 swimming attire, a matter of some interest for a 10 year old student of history, costume, swimming, and the human form. The subjects do not appear to be having any fun at the beach. I was always intrigued by the woman wringing out the skirt of her bathing costume. What would she think about shopping the Lands End swim catalog?

Guy was a student of William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. He was named for his father's friend, the writer Guy de Maupassant. Much as I don't know diddly about W.E.B., I am clueless about Maupassant. I've reserved a library book of his stories. 

Guy had a large family to support, and wrote for a newspaper besides being an artist. He reported on the police beat, and was a music critic. He was the subject of Peggy Bacon's 1933 portrait etching entitled "Hangover".

One of Guy's children was William Pène du Bois, the author/illustrator of my very favorite Newbery Medal book. That would be the 1948 winner for The Twenty One Balloons. Besides writing children's books, this du Bois was an illustrator for George Plimpton's Paris Review.

But what about Blanche, you inquire. There is no evidence that Tennessee William's fictional character was related to artist/reporter, writer/illustrator, or socialist/philosopher on the Du Bois family tree. I'm mean, she doesn't even have a space between her du and her bois!

And then you have to wonder about Bois-D'arc trees. What's up with them? Are they osage oranges or horse apples? They have a lot of names, but none are Maupassant.

The Twenty One Balloons includes the eruption of Krakatoa, also the subject of a fantastic book by 
Simon Winchester. And that is how I remembered the word "caldera" to answer 77 across, "Name for a depression at the mouth of a volcano."

So, ultimately, du Bois is an antidepressant. And always, dear muse, "Anxiety is the shallow breathing of a narrowed mind."

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Going to Tom Thumb with your inner artists

Walk through the automatic doors. You have a list. You have a vision. Your selections will weave, wave, fold into detailed entrees, casseroles, and lunchbox leftovers for the week ahead. Fish transform into swans. Tiny Lego figures climb infinite staircases to unload your dishwasher.

Shamble through the automatic doors. Go back and get a cart. Load up with containers of hummus, pimento cheese spread, mint chocolate chip, Greek yogurt, a Rubbermaid spatula, and a can of pink cake frosting. Grab a roll of masking tape in the checkout lane.

Take a plastic shopping basket. Peer through jars of jams and roasted red peppers. Pick up saran wrap and foil. Linger in the candy aisle.

Run in.Grab a loaf of French bread, an economy block of Swiss, five pounds of potatoes, and box of Bandaids.

Stride through the automatic doors. Go straight for the Cheez-Whiz. Reddi Whip, Barbasol, and gogurt. Find Silly String in the birthday party section.

Where is that robust Dutch artist? The bearded guy with the table of pears, beef roasts, sardines, tulips, onions, edam wheels, tall mugs of hoppy beverages, and grapes of every color hanging over the edge in the dimly lit hall, you know him. Where is his hefty debit card?

What was it I came in here to get?

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


You oughta be in pictures

The morning could not be captured in a Power Point or even a big screen movie. This moment was a motion picture projected in a drowsy classroom full of dust motes. The red-haired kid in his red baseball cap. Monarch butterflies and queens and painted ladies all flying and feeding at the purple mistflower, dipping and swirling just above the kid with the cap. His smile widening. The fluttery-puttery sound of the projector reels turning. Opie and Aunt Bea.

I've never been happy with explanations of the butterfly" word origin. True, butter-yellow butterflies are very common. Do they hang around milk pails? I doubt that.

The monarchs look so lovely on the flowers the color of...? The color of... Why, that is just the color of the purple shoes worn on its ears by the very vain tiger!

And that tiger ran in circles around and around a tree until it turned into melted butter for pancakes! The little red-haired kid in the baseball cap is unlikely to encounter resourceful Sambo, that Clever Boy Odysseus. It's kinda sad since kids today have so many more tigers to outwit than I did.


In the butterfly swirl there were many Painted Lady couples. Talk about having some explaining to do! I think I'll go with the Victorian house definition of a "painted lady" having three or more paint colors to emphasize the architectural details.

And the skipper sips on.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Shelf shifting, continental drifting

Work-out #1

Two days, two work-outs.What does peckish mean?  This English word meaning hungry dates from 1785 "literally disposed to peck". Other slang meanings dating from 1902 are outside the scope of this post.

My mission was to shift the periodical shelves down to get more magazines into the reach of more users, and to cull back issues so they would fit in the reduced spaces. For eight of the nine sections of the shelves this was a simple task. Count the holes. Position the brackets. Slide the wooden shelves onto the brackets. The wooden shelves were not light, though, especially not the front display shelves. Lifting stacks of back issues was a pretty good work-out by itself.

But for one section of shelves this was a woodpecker-drilled nightmare. Perhaps the section was installed upside-down. The bracket holes did not line up with the other sections vertically. So someone, probably a woodpecker, drilled many more holes. These holes were spaced too far apart front-to-back. The brackets were not long enough. The installer must have been the poster child for Measure Twice, Cut Once.

Woodpecker work
I had to look up peckish again. It never seems to fit its meaning when I see it in a book.

Work-out #2

Craving autumnal food despite the temps in the low nineties, I had an attack of recipe posting on Pinterest, then wrote a very long grocery list based on the recipes. Never mind my failure to ever actually follow recipes.Then I went digging for quarters to use at the car wash.

After the wash, the grocery list was nowhere to be found. I would just have to shop by memory! The answer sheet for this test was probably on the kitchen table.

garlic fail sweet potato pass chicken broth pass ginger thought better butternut squash pass can of chickpeas reassessed Greek yogurt pass fruit for smoothies pass zucchini pass couscous pass tomato paste pass canned tomatoes pass fresh mint fail fresh sage partial credit for a jar of dry sage potatoes pass lemon pass parmesan pass rice vinegar pass bread pass eggs fail fail milk fail butter fail sparkling grapefruit soda partial credit birthday card partial credit gift card short ribs fail partial credit for getting close pork roast partial credit pie crusts partial credit for a bargain chicken thighs fail bratwurst fail turnip fail breast cancer donation fail yellow squash

The real work-out will be convincing myself I want those breakfast fruit smoothies.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Detain that bag lady!

Got a lead on bur oak acorns at a specific corner in an affluent neighborhood. I needed those acorns for the seedy kiddie class, along with sweet gum prickly stars and pecans. So there I was wandering in the park with a plastic bag and no poopy canine to clean up after.

There's a handsome specimen of a bur oak tree in a lawn, so I walk up the middle of the street to find nuts by the curb and on the public sidewalk. A man comes out of a nearby house to walk his labradoodle doggy, but instead watches me. He takes a smart phone photo of this nutcase autumn leafy homeless bag lady loitering and jaywalking in his neighborhood.

No, I am not sleeping in my old Buick. I have jobs. I don't mutter much, at least not audibly, and only in English. Smell? I pass the sniff test. Shoes? Functional, not stylish.

If the resident calls the police to report me this could get weird. "You gotta whole lotta 'splaining to do." I've never been frisked, except by airport security. "Frisky" is a word for teaching preschoolers about squirrels. I just want to teach kids about the bounty of fall and the fascinating shapes of seeds.

Being just a bit outside the comfort zone seems scary. How does it feel trying to get by, to stay under the radar as a daily strategy?

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Aaron and the porcupine eggs

For spelling questions I start with the which-looks-right test before trying Spellcheck, Google, or the dictionary. Two of us were dueling through all the options trying to sort out "bur". We had seen "bur" and "burr" so many times they both looked wrong and were both likely correct. With prickles in my brain I headed home.

After a deep cleansing breath I opened the dear old Big Red Dictionary. Had to dust it off and apologize for my long neglect. A true servant should not be relegated to the bottom shelf. I had forgotten the sensory pleasures of the indented letter tabs and the light, thin pages.

The lesson plan under construction is using our senses to learn about seeds, seed pods, and a bit of seed dispersal for young children. They will not care if "bur" or "burr" wins. They will be unimpressed by the rough trilling of the letter r, as in Scottish pronunciation. Floating bur oak acorn caps in the water tub is more their style. And yes, bur oak seems to need only one r.

What burs attach in the memory? What hooks on the seed pods? I know exactly what I was wearing the day my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Rollie came to visit us in Edmond, Oklahoma. I bought the outfit at Anthony's on Broadway, not the Bryant store. That pink shirt is in the Great Shirts of the Late Eighties Museum collection. It was a stripe print over-dyed. Rollie, ever the bull**** storyteller, brought my kids a small box of carefully cushioned ancient "porcupine eggs". The boys were appropriately impressed, and did not touch the artifacts. We kept that box of cocklebur prickles in a drawer for at least a decade. Bur. is the abbreviation for bureau and Burma.

cockle n. Any of several plants often growing as weeds in grain fields

cocklebur n. Any of several course weeds of the genus Xanthium bearing prickly burs. 2. The bur of any of these plants.

Cockleburs are poisonous to livestock in the seedling stage, and were used in Greece as hair dye. I'm guessing we are trying for blonde, since xanth- indicates the color yellow.

Burrs (or burs) are an amazing adaptation for seed dispersal. The curriculum guide suggests I put a big sock over one shoe and leg of each preschool student and send them out to wander in the meadow to unwittingly pick up Velcro-esce seeds, The guide doesn't explain what to do with all the stickers in their jeans on the other leg.

bur oak  A timber tree. Quercus macrocarpa, of eastern North America, having acorns enclosed within a deep, fringed cup. The Big Red Dictionary is positive about the spelling of this name.

burn. Also burr. 1. a. The rough, prickly, or spiny fruit husk, seed pod, or flower of various plants, such as the chestnut or the burdock. b. A plant producing burs. 2. A persistently clinging or nettlesome person or thing. 3. Any of various rotary cutting tools designed to be attached to a drill. [Middle English burre, probably from Scandinavian, akin to Old Swedish borre.]

bur2 1. Variant of burr (rough edge). 2. Variant of burr (guttural trill). 3. Variant of burr (washer)....a washer that fits around the smaller end of a rivet... Not your Maytag.

Bur and burr keep dancing around doing variations on a theme. For most situations you can spell it whichever way passes your looks-right test.

Burr, which follows burp gun, is the name of the Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson (1801-05). That would be Aaron Burr, 1756-1836, who famously fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Burr (copyright 1973) was the first novel by Gore Vidal I ever read. Checked it out at the Benson Branch of the Omaha Public Library in about 1984.

Xanthippe  the wife of Socrates; proverbial as a shrewish and scolding woman....You could say she was a prickly presence in the philosopher's life, or a burr under his saddle. Page from my Greco-Roman notebook project with Xanthippe in a VW:

Nuts!? Am I nuts?! Surely not, Shirley. We will discuss seed dispersal by wind, water, gravity, and scat some other time.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Weather and traffic on the 8s

Your 5 day forecast according to the kids at the felt board "weather tv studio" today. Yes, much of our weather is upside-down due to climate change, flipping magnetic poles, or felt board challenges. I especially like the purple octopus tentacle winds on the East Coast.

Beware the bunny rabbit mashed potato popcorn cloud formations and the wintry mix on roadways.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder


Firing the imagination

Book reviews with bacon, what could be better? Library Journal and Kirkus reviews of Christopher Rothko's new book* about his father's art kicked me to make my first ever bucket list. No plans to kick the bucket anytime soon, but I was reminded that I've wanted to visit the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Being unable to breathe in Houston, the horrible drivers there, plus little details of work and finances have kept this goal on the hazy someday list for a quarter century or so.

The baker's dozen items on this evening's first bucket list draft are pretty tame. I still hope to visit Crystal Bridges in Arkansas with my old buddy, Library Janie. Caring for elderly parents have postponed this for years now, first mine and now hers.

Six destinations surprised me with a common theme:
  1. Ashfall Fossil Beds in Nebraska in honor of my mother, and a site on Smithsonian's Evolution World Tour
  2. Mount St. Helens should be doable with a son in Oregon.
  3. Knossos on the island of Crete has fascinated me since about 1966 along with
  4. Santorini/Thera in the Aegean Sea
  5. Iceland
  6. Krakatoa 
Never realized I was a frustrated geothermal volcano seeker until now!

If I actually learned my demise was looming, I would ask to have bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs with salsa, fresh-squeezed orange juice, bottomless hot black coffee, gooey cinnamon rolls with pecans, and hash browns with mushrooms and bell peppers served on a screened porch every morning. It would be a fine countdown. Oh and maybe some watermelon and cantaloupe balls, not to be greedy.

© 2013-2015 Nancy L. Ruder