Houska and fossil of Christmas past

In this digital age I am thrilled to have a grandson collecting rocks, something real, tactile, weighty and usually scooped up from a gravel playground. In honor of this new interest, I mailed him a box of rocks for Christmas, providing U.S. postal workers some good laughs.

At the same age as my grandson, I discovered rocks. My Uncle Bill gave me a piece of rose quartz. Family friends presented me with this awesome fossil. Why would the Soderholm family have brought me this fossil from California? Who were the Soderholms? What was the family connection?

Waking at 3:45 the other morning, I let my memory roll around like a hamster ball in a big back yard. I recalled playing under a huge weeping willow tree with Paul Soderholm and his two sisters, possibly Kristy and Kathy. Once I was presented a box containing a glass wind chime on a winterized porch lit with multicolored lanterns. The fossil gift memory has a car pulling up in the driveway, and a hand-off being made.

Why? Who? What was the connection? It was almost, but not quite family.

Every Christmas we visited Martha Leuck at her little house at 3720 "A" Street in Lincoln bringing houska. [Houska is a Bohemian braided bread with raisins, walnuts, and mace, and I never could get it to turn out right.] Once inside, we kids sat on a large round ottoman and zoned out watching the revolving lights on her aluminum Christmas tree. Some years Martha visited our house when Auntie Em and/or Auntie Ada came from Pierce for the holidays. These were good times playing board games and being snowed in.

When I was really little we would go see Martha Leuck and Leo Soderholm at Leuck Radio Supply on L Street south of the state capital building. Back then Howie was building his own mono record player, tuner, and pre-amp with tubes and doo-higgies from Leuck.

Leo and his wife Mary Ann Soderholm were college friends of Howie and Fritz in the engineering department at the University of Nebraska after WWII. Howie and Leo were veterans. Mary Ann Marshall Soderholm was the niece of Martha Sucha Leuck, originally from Verdigre, Nebraska like my Mastalir ancestors. Martha and Louis F. Leuck did not have children, and doted on Mary Ann. My unmarried great aunts, Ada and Emma, were most likely childhood friends of Martha Sucha in Verdigre. Like Auntie Em, Martha Leuck (pronounced "like") was a primary school teacher. They would get together every year during Teachers Convention, an annual fall conference also known as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season on "O" Street in Lincoln.

I'm not sure of the connection between Mary Ann and Fritzi, but they probably had classes together and similar design aesthetics. Their first children were born about a year apart.  Paul was older than me. I was sure that the popular calypso song, "Marianne," was about the beautiful Mary Ann, whom I adored. I liked Leo, too. I remember him as very tall and skinny, prematurely balding, and laughing.

Snooping around on Google and Ancestry.com I learned that Louis F. Leuck, Martha's husband was born in Wisner, Nebraska in 1895 and went to Wayne State College. He served in WWI, and played an important part in communication technology during WWII:

During World War II the Army Signal Corps approached Louis Francis Leuck about running a laboratory to make radio transmission crystals. Leuck Crystal Labs of Lincoln was formed as a result. The entire output of the company during the war years went to the U.S. government. After the war the company became Leuck Radio Supply, which sold radios and radio repair parts, sound, communications, and recording equipment.

Crystal Clear: The Struggle for Reliable Communications Technology in World War II 

by Richard J. Thompson, Jr., 2011

Some of the defining leaps in technology in the twentieth century occurred during the Second World War, from radar to nuclear energy. Often left out of historical discussions are quartz crystals, which proved to be just as pivotal to the Allied victory-and to post-war development-as other technologies. Quartz crystals provided the U.S. military, for the first time, with reliable communication on the front lines, and then went on to become the core of some of the most basic devices of the post-war era, from watches, clocks, and color televisions, to cell phones and computers.
In Crystal Clear, Richard Thompson relates the story of the quartz crystal in World War II, from its early days as a curiosity for amateur radio enthusiasts, to its use by the United States Armed Forces. It follows the intrepid group of scientists and engineers from the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army as they raced to create an effective quartz crystal unit. They had to find a reliable supply of radio-quality quartz; devise methods to reach, mine, and transport the quartz; find a way to manufacture quartz crystal oscillators rapidly; and then solve the puzzling "aging problem" that plagued the early units. Ultimately, the development of quartz oscillators became the second largest scientific undertaking in World War II after the Manhattan Project.
Bringing to light a little-known aspect of World War II, Crystal Clear offers a glimpse inside one of the most significant efforts in the annals of engineering.

As for the long cherished fossil, I hope it will inspire a new wannabe paleontologist!

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Christmas Eve at your neighborhood Walmart

Might be time for a tin foil hat to block those brain swiping rays from the extraterrestrials. I've remained disturbed by the wacky messages I receive when my prescriptions are ready to pick up. Again today I heard the voice say,  "nose not getting Libby."

Since Christmas Eve is a perfectly reasonable time to wear a tin foil hat in Walmart, I drove on over to the jam-packed parking lot. It was obviously two-for-one nutty fruitcake day, and many fruitcakes were driving the motorized shopping carts.

The competent kid with the Bloom County Steve Dallas hairstyle was at the desk wearing his blue Walmart vest covered in pins and buttons in protest of his soul-sucking job dealing with germy nutsos. When I told him the outgoing Rx notification voice message was goofed up he just shrugged me off. No doubt he'd waited on several dozen deranged old ladies by then, and it wasn't even one-thirty.

I shuffled off to buy trash bags and Woolite. [Let me be clear, I was not wearing slippers or pajamas, but real dressed-for-the-day clothes.] Picked up some more rolls of Reynolds Wrap, as one can't be too careful. Putin probably controls the space invaders, too.

Wandering past the pharmacy again on my way to check out, there was Brenda at the drop-off prescription window. Brenda has been there forever, since at least 2010 which is very long in Walmart years. She remains sane and helpful because she used to manage a day care. This is a walk in the park by comparison, she's said. When I told Brenda my story of the Libby's nose message, she was polite, intrigued, and in good humor. She was apologetic, and listened several times to the short voice mail on my phone that I hear as:

...nose not getting Libby.

So nice to be taken seriously! I wished her a merry Christmas, and she assured me she would get the message fixed.

Back home without my foil hat, I listened to the message again. It doesn't mention noses or Libby, nor my prescription being ready. It's a fragment, to be sure, but it says:

... ñol, marque nueve.

Ah. "For Spanish, press nine."

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Let the games begin

Lunching with friends before their holiday travels we discussed family game traditions. Board games have gotten folks through excessive holiday togetherness, blizzard snow days, August power outages, tornado warnings, Presidential elections, and family feuds, King Arthur devised the round table so his knights could play Yahtzee. It's way too difficult to play Twister in full armor.

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


A partridge in a pineapple tree

Not limiting bird ornaments to the partridge, so there are hummingbirds, cardinals, owls, bluebirds, roadrunners, meadowlarks, and origami cranes on the pineapple. It only held a fraction of my bird ornaments. My mom loved birds, and she loved ornaments, so this little "Christmas tree" reminds me of Fritzi.

Maybe I should have left the pineapple outside on the stair landing when the frigid weather hit, but this silly plant has been outperforming expectations since July 2015 when I chopped it off the fruit and stuck it in dirt for a nature kids class.

The pineapple is also a bromeliad, a plant I've painted many times. If I keep this baby alive for another year and a half it might produce fruit. The two of us still have adventures ahead.


© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Walmart dropping

So many reasons to resist a trip to Walmart, but there it is. I feel Wendell Berry angst every time I go pick up a prescription at the small rural community killer, thanks to Bert Evans, Studs Terkel, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Centennial College.

Mostly I dread the post-apocalyptic flocks of mutant grackles grackling at full blast in the parking lot and taunting me from the roof of my Buick. Plus, one never knows what one will step in alighting from one's carriage.

Last night the grackles could not be heard over the howling wind. Steering my shopping cart against the gale was nearly impossible. Wind chill was eleven degrees.

Just six hours earlier I strolled in balmy seventy-degree air snapping phone photos of glorious leaf colors. And what weirdness propelled my mission to Walmart's pharmacy?

The voice mail said only, "Noses. I'm not getting Libby." It had to be code.

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Me & Paula Dean quiche

Me & Bobby McGee
Busted flat in Baton Rouge
Waitin' for the train
Feelin' nearly faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down
Just before it rained
Rode us all the way to New Orleans
I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna
And was playing soft
While Bobby sang the blues
With them windshield wipers slappin' time
I was holdin' Bobby's hand in mine
We sang every song that driver knew
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free
Feelin' good was easy, Lord,
When he sang the blues
And feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and Bobby McGee
From Kentucky coal mines
To the California sun
Bobby shared the secrets of my soul
Through all kinds of weather, Lord
Through everything I done
Bobby baby
Spinach and Bacon Quiche
Total Time:
1 hr
15 min
45 min
Yield:8 servings
6 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper
2 cups chopped fresh baby spinach, packed
1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust, fitted to a 9-inch glass pie plate
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender. Layer the spinach, bacon, and cheese in the bottom of the pie crust, then pour the egg mixture on top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the egg mixture is set. Cut into 8 wedges.
Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder

Cramped quarters -- freedom within structure?

Image result for gentleman in moscow

  • Amor Towles' novel, A Gentleman in Moscow begins with Count Alexander Rostov sentenced to lifetime house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel for the crime of writing a poem. The count is removed from his suite in the hotel and sent to a sixth floor cubby of a room with a low ceiling and barely enough square footage for a pirouette. 
  • When the Woolly Mammoth and I visit the Whitney and I am fascinated by Andrea Zittell's 1993 "Living Unit." Everything one needs for life packed in a box!
  • For twenty years my walking buddy and I have been scouting places where we could live in a cardboard appliance box when we are old or broke.
  • My walking buddy just got a new refrigerator. Where is the box?
  • Also at the Whitney, a corrugated cardboard and notebook clip geodesic dome. Aw, Howie, why didn't we try that?!

  • I'm wishing for a snow day to hunker down under a quilt dome and read in a very condensed version of home. Om. Instead we get a the coldest temperatures in two years. I must bring in the ridiculously huge pineapple plant from my balcony. Its circumference is the same as my dining table. 
  • Nina, a major character in Towles' book, drops a pineapple off the Metropol's ballroom balcony to test Galileo's theories.
  • Like a Christmas tree the novel is a structure for hanging bright ornaments of philosophy, Cold War history, literary criticism, etiquette critiques, and Russian culture observations.
  • Where on earth would I fit a Christmas tree, fake or "real," in this apartment? Besides the giant floor space-eating pineapple plant there's the sweater drying contraption in the living room next to the ironing board.

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Drove my Chevy to the levee

It is/isn't going to be a good year for green. I am totally over my old College View Seventh Day Adventist asparagus casserole recipe. Maybe crushing the last of the garlic rye Gardetto's and throwing them into the mix in lieu of bread cubes was not the best choice. Intuitive cooks do not achieve consistent, repeatable (or edible) results.

Don McLean's anthem, "American Pie," was a mystery within a jingle in 1972, but when it burbled to the surface of my mud geyser brain it seemed to fit the collision of Trump's pick to head the EPA and Pantone's pick for the color or the year, Greenery (green).

Lee_Eisemann Pantone Color of the Year 2017 GREENERY
Well, the good news is we still have seasons for the time being. I already miss 2016 Rose Quartz.

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Fir tree financials

Financial philosophical conflicts can rear their fire-breathing dragon jaws in marriages during the holidays. Financial manipulation in a relationship can be subtle at first and seem caring, sparing financial worries to a harried spouse. It might appear as penny-pinching prudence for young students and newly weds. It can masquerade as a political statement against blatant commercial excess.

But if it feels like a one-sided move to separate you from your family holiday traditions pay attention.  A victim likely feels ashamed and apologizes for spending deemed frivolous by the controlling person in the relationship.

Financial abuse may only be visible in the rear-view mirror. Objects may be much closer than they appear! I urge everyone to check out the financial abuse information at the website of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Not all forms of domestic abuse are physical or violent, but the effects of financial manipulation can have long term impacts over generations.

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Screened porch painter's fantasy


"I know that woman," I thought approaching the large painting of people on a screened porch. The woman looking in from outside on the far right was the lady I'd met before, but where?

The Woolly Mammoth and I were celebrating Black Friday with ever so many New Yorkers. in the "Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney's Collection" exhibit. The last time we'd seen the woman was at the Hirshhorn in D.C., but I knew her from way back at the Sheldon Art Museum in Lincoln where she was acquired in 1962.

All that time it never occurred to me the artist Fairfield Porter might be a man. The Sheldon's painting seemed a descendant of Mary Cassatt to me with my inaccurate assumption. Various online sources tonight explain Fairfield was the brother of photographer Eliot Porter. The Woolly Mammoth and I shared an amazing Eliot Porter exhibit at the Amon Carter. The sources cite Vuillard and Bonnard as influences on Fairfield Porter, two of my favorites. I also see some Diebenkorn. Life is good. Art is fine. I'm so grateful to have a son who likes to visit art museums with his mom. 

AND how cool would it be to paint family portraits on a screened porch after a breakfast of hashed browns, scrambled eggs, polish sausage, and strong coffee in the chilly morning?

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder


Ptah and the Four Nums

Princess Peony, my granddaughter, created the universe through the thought of her heart and the utterance of "Ptah." She is totally in the toddler moment, and her special utterance happens to be the name of an ancient Egyptian god, one of those tightly wrapped dudes I vaguely recall from Peter Worth's art history class at UNL. You don't need a lot of words if you use one word with wisdom and generosity. I wanted to know what "Ptah" meant in toddler-speak. 

"Ptah" is a useful expression conferring multiple meanings by way of different tones, volumes, and punctuation. It's like "Dude," but without any negative connotations.

From Wikipedia:  

Ptah (ptä), in Egyptian religion, great god of Memphis. He was one of the important gods of ancient Egypt and, according to Memphite theology, created the universe through the thought of his heart and the utterance of his tongue. As master craftsman, he was a patron of metalworkers and artisans. The Greeks identified him with Hephaestus.

Pronunciation alternatives:

Anecdotal usage:

Received a "Num num num NUM" approval score.
  1. Peony recognizes a favorite object, points, and says, "Ptah!"
  2. Peony offers a favorite object to Grancy saying, "Ptah."
  3. Grancy gives it back, and Peony says,  "Ptah."
  4. Peony sees a favorite food on her highchair tray and excitedly demands a boost into her seat with, "Ptah!"
  5. Peony wants a favorite food or toy delivered quickly...
  6. She wants visitors to know she is favorably impressed with their presence in her realm,,,
  7. Daddy gets home..."PTAH!!"


Princess Peony utters "Ptah" to express pleasure, approval, significance, interpersonal connection, appreciation, the offering of a gift, wonder, the making of a request, recognition, adoration, and acknowledgment of existence in the present. Her "ptah" is pretty much the toddler equivalent of Ram Dass's BE HERE NOW.

© 2013-2016 Nancy L. Ruder