1/19/20: A commemorative poster.

Today at the FPL we tried out a new game from our stack ‘o games. All are missing a few pieces. This one, Quirkle, should have had 108 pieces. It had 104, which I’d call statistically complete, so we gathered around the folding tables and began matching colors and shapes (Mr. John claims he was whupping the rest of us when, for some reason there was a sudden desire in the group to go outside).
I grabbed our least-flat basketball and we started a game of Horse (BIll, the pump you so graciously sent has vanished, probably our own darned fault). While Klark, Olivia, Brianna, Vivienne and I were playing a pair brothers on a bike and a skateboard tooled up and down the street adding conversation. Then Ariana walked by with her parents. She ended up coming inside with us for the weekly project, which was a sad one. A neighbor died recently and we wanted to send something to his daughter to tell her a little about his life here so we began a large poster with drawings of things from the neighborhood: the basketball hoop, a palm tree, the food pantry, cats, a cheerful figure holding up a sign saying her dad was the best. It will take us another gathering to finish it and we hope to add notes from neighbors sharing their memories.
I had baked cupcakes so the kids decorated them–we have a near record number and variety in the sprinkle department (who decided that tiny, brightly colored chicklets are good cake decorations?). The kids ate some and brought some home for family. Another fine gathering at the FPL.

1/12/20: Floridingers.

The holidays closed the FPL for two Sundays, then last Sunday I was on St. George Island for a writer’s retreat (thanks to Miss Jennifer for taking over for me at the library). Today, we are back to business as usual–as usual as we ever are, that is.
We had a great program with Gordon and Perdita. They have been traveling from library to library teaching a very cool art project (we are probably their smallest library to date although they were too polite to mention it).
First we had to move things around, make it less like a food pantry, more like a library (we couldn’t do anything about the refrigerator in the middle of things). They rigged up a sheet-screen to project videos on. Olivia and Klark arrived about the same time they did having read the clock wrong. It’s 2, not three?
It was fine. We tried out the 3-D glasses, the black light. Olivia brought her drawings and happened to have one that had many colors in it. Man alive! Suddenly each color appeared to be sitting at a different distance from the viewer.
Vivienne blew in like a redheaded dervish and, small as we were as a group we watched the video and began designing our own Floridingers. Never heard of a Floridinger? If you want to see what we were up to you should check out Gordon and Perdita’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/floridingers/photos/?ref=page_internal
Each of our creatures combined three other (real) creatures. All got colored in vividly, mainly so we could look at them under the black light and watch them turn multi-dimensional.
It was a lot of fun, and after we pulled out some of the landscape photos I’d used as a prompt at the writing retreat and discussed them–mostly deciding whether the location might be France, or Italy–I’m not sure what we based our opinions on, but we all acted like we knew what we were talking about. Then Vivienne demanded a towel so she could put it on Olivia’s skateboard and cruise, belly-down on Marcia Avenue. I sure do miss the FPL when things like Christmas get in the way.

12/15/19: Cookies and Fredbrick.

It was the last library before a two week holiday hiatus–and we did it up right.
Mr. John and Miss Vicky rolled in with the ingredients for gingerbread cookies and their three year old granddaughter, Savannah (she really held her own with the bigger kids while enjoying the twirly office chair more than the others have for years now).
Before the kids came the dough was made–it did that usual balky thing where it stuck to the counter, then spread to make a batch of monster-men, but with added flour the gingerboys began to look appropriately cute.
Vivienne was dropped off, and displayed that uh-oh response. Am I the only big kid? But O and Klark came, then Brianna and Jayda and we were off and running, playing a couple of quick rounds of Bingo while waiting for the cookies to cool. Then we did some serious cookie decorating at the big white table in the driveway. Jayda was the most conscientious (she left with the fullest plate of cookies). We also made some Christmas cards.
Vivienne made a new headstone for Fredbrick. (Since the old one was the lid of one of the buckets we use for the pantry compost someone had used his headstone to cap a bucket or decomposing vegetables). We had another moment of silence for Fredbrick. We seem to have them weekly.
Then we cut to the speculative part of the gathering. We had three label-less cans in the pantry, which we can’t give away, so each of us shook the cans, felt their relative weights, and speculated. We even wrote our guesses down. Our final act of the gathering (not counting eating brownies) was the official opening of the cans.
(Drum roll please). Pinto Beans. Black Beans. Stewed tomatoes. Both Klark and Olivia guessed two correctly. The only reward was bragging rights (and now we have to figure out what to do with pinto beans, black beans and stewed tomatoes). Chili anyone?
A fine last gathering of the year at the FPL.

11/24/19: What to do with three random lines and a roll of purple tape.

I don’t know about the other kids, but I had a great time at the FPL today. As we approach Thanksgiving, it was just me, Olivia, Klark and Vivienne. We continued with our pursuit of memory. Today we used a deck of cards for a game called “Blink.” We completely ignored the rules of the game and invented our own. There were three variables in the images on cards: number, color and shape. You had to remember what you saw and match at least one of the three categories. Let me just say, I had the weakest memory in the room. The others were so much better.
Then we did a drawing game. Each of us made three random marks on a sheet of paper, then passed our papers to someone else, then that someone else took the three marks and incorporated them in a drawing. The images were great. Klark did a drawing that looked as if it had been done by Shel Silverstein (so Klark signed it “Shel Silverstein). O drew a flying bull, Vivienne, a figure simultaneously willowy, feminine and creepy. I drew a bird shouting DOOM! I don’t kniow why.
We each drew several and we all kept saying “someone, make me three more marks!” They were so good I peeled down some of the old drawings (some of the kids who drew them now have kids of their own) and hung the new ones.
Then Vivienne found the purple tape and gave herself a mustache, eyebrows–she looked vaguely like Picasso.
Then we played Bocce. Klark prevailed. Then we came inside to eat pie. Then we remembered an improv game we’ve played before. Two chairs side by side, one person is the cab driver, the other is the passenger. Then we decided we needed to tackle a play after the holiday–we decided a Russian grandmother should be involved. Then Olivia said she’d write the play and it would be set in a donut shop. So, we have a plan.
We are all doing family things this weekend, but we will reconvene in the donut shop two Sundays from now–hopefully the Russian grandmother will be there as well.
Today was a lot of fun at the FPL–that much I DO remember.

11/17/19: Bogey man day at the FPL.

Mr. John arrived first, then our volunteer, Alex, who brought her brother, Logan to the FPL. He is exactly the same age as Klark-they were born the same day. Donna dropped Klark and Olivia off.The boys eyed each other–I couldn’t help but think about their moms. Olivia brought her best friend. Vivienne brought her own crazy self (or rather her dad dropped off her own crazy self). Brianna wandered in fashionably late.
We’ve been doing some memory games and today we did one where we had to repeat a series of gestures, adding a new one with each round. I was eliminated almost immediately, but the routine reached something like 15 moves, some of them ridiculous–and we gave up with three survivors. Who knows how long they could have gone on?
I am working on a book of poems about the things that scare, annoy, or bother kids. I read them a couple of my poems, then gave each or them a paper with the outline of a head on it then they wrote or drew the things that made them feel that way. Interesting…I see some new poems on the horizon.
Our volunteer, Isaac, came in in time to get his fears down on paper too.
Then Vivienne turned a giant palm frond into wings. Hoops were shot. Cake was eaten. Yup, it was another gathering of the motley crew known as the FPL.

11/10/19: Alien Worlds.

Today at the Front Porch Library we considered the possibility of life in places other than Earth. We looked at some of the theories that were popular, like a moon inhabited by all kinds of large mammals–there was a claim that they had been spotted through a telescope. You will be happy to know that they appeared quite bucolic and peaceful. Sadly, lunar cows have been disproven.
After a quick game that involved chalk lines on the road and teams facing off and trying to spike a ball over each other (our team won–me, Vivienne, and Samara) but it was pure luck. The other guys were darned good) we began designing habitable planets, even if they were only habitable to the creatures we created, creatures that could handle extreme cold, planets that were largely liquid–mostly though we had a good time talking while we drew and wrote.
As we were working we spotted an unusual mantis on the porch screen. That required me to go home and get Ray for a photo–you don’t see an unknown mantis every day.
Leaning against the door frame, Vivienne demonstrated how to make your hand go numb. Brianna one-upped with a trick that went like this: press your palm against a wall, hard, then take the hand away, rub your elbow and try to press your palm to the wall again. It won’t reach! There is no logical explanation, but it worked.
We shared a pan of warm brownies, then the game was picked up again at the end, the ball, once again, getting stuck up in the tree branches that overhang the street.
We are never good at ending library on the dot. Somebody always has to make a last shot, or climb a tree, or run around yelling. So we did. Another fine day at the FPL.

11/3/19: Short Attention Span Day.

Today I titled my Front Porch Library plan “Short Attention Span Day,” admitting that we’ve been a little hairy-crazy lately. I made up six activities thinking if we moved quickly from one activity to the next we could maintain focus.
WRONG! But it was still okay. Our volunteer Alex, brought her friend Sophie–and teenage girls are really entertaining for our kids who are just bumping double-digits (except for O, who is 13).
We got mostly through activity one, which was a memory game: “I’m going on a journey and I am taking…an armadillo.” Each person recited every letter and then added an item that started with the next letter. This was one weird journey as we packed things as diverse as butter sticks, koala poo, and Detroit. We got as far as P, then Brianna and her sister, Caroline arrived and the running began. Well, that was a good chunk of the alphabet.
I bought a new basketball and we played HORSE (thing 2 on the list–designed to blow off steam). Klark was the only one with any talent for hitting the hoop, the only one who was letter-free at the end of the game. The rest of us were horses for sure.
Meanwhile, back at the big white driveway table there was a whole lot of drawing going on, and a whole lot of chatting. A good time was being had by the non-horses.
Two was as far as I got on the list.
Caroline and Mr. John decorated the cake. The icing was green, the sprinkles plentiful.
Caroline and I drew a hopscotch board on the road with chalk. Only a few of the numbers were backwards. Then the second Alex (Vivienne’s dad ) came to get her and suddenly, everyone felt the need to play hopscotch. Library always ends with protests that it is not really time to go.
Items three through six? Maybe next time. Another wild day at the FPL.

10/27/19: Phobia Day at the FPL.

Thanks to our neighbor Miss Karen we always have the children’s section of the New York Times for our Library perusal. This week’s was THE FEAR ISSUE.
We ran through a smorgasbord of phobias–many I feel sure no one has ever heard of like Omphalaphobia (the fear of belly buttons), Taphaphobia (the fear of being buried alive), and Genuphobia (the fear of knees, or kneeling). Of the three the only one that worried us was being buried alive.
We kept score on each of the phobias and in the group the number 1 phobia was Acrophobia (the fear of heights), followed closely by Claustrophobia (which may also explain our negative reaction to being buried alive).
We made banana bread, which we ate hot and slightly liquidy (luckily no one was phobic about under-cooked baked goods).
We played bocce and drew–Olivia worked diligently in her sketch book, redoing and improving her drawings–while all around her there was a fair amount of tree-climbing, reckless running, and friendly mayhem.
Our old high school, now college volunteer, Isaac, helped us avert disaster (he was the one who yelled, “Not the hose!”).
Another lively day at the FPL!

10/20/19: Red Wolves and Lead Balloons.

Library was small but good. We began with a list of expressions like, “Don’t put the cart before the horse,” and “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.” The kids hadn’t heard these expressions so we talked about their literal meaning and then when you might use them in real-life situations that didn’t involve wells or horses. They were really engaged and we went through a long litany: “You’re barking up the wrong tree,” “That’s your Achilles heel,” “It went over like a lead balloon.”
Naturally that was followed by a presentation on endangered red wolves. Our neighbor, Penny, who has a long, long history of fighting for endangered species did the program. (Thanks Penny!)
Then we adjourned to the driveway to draw and just talk about the state of the world–we are all fairly worried–but it was the first day in months we could sit outside without invoking an idiom: “If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.” Okay, it is not an exact fit, but even idioms have limits.
And after library comes…Monday (did that just go over like a lead balloon)?

10/13/19: Pumpkin carving.

We began library in a semi-dignified manner, reading a book about Martin Luther King written by his older sister, Christine. It was a good story that contained lots to talk about, but we were diverted by Chris Soenpiet’s watercolor illustrations, they were so beautiful. We spent a long time looking at the painting of the black church. The kids claimed to see a few white faces in the mix, but I think that was wishful thinking.
Then we adjourned to the driveway table to carve pumpkins. Brianna did a cat…the others were…hard to identify. We pulled out the slimy guts (boy do I have pumpkin seeds to cook).
While we worked we did the kids’ crossword puzzles in the NY Times.
Olivia iced the weekly cake (she gave herself a super-good haircut). Caroline, our smallest, newest kid, didn’t like our driveway bugs and sat inside drawing. Vivienne continued to burnish the legend of Fred Brick (never has a broken brick received this much attention). Klark made some improv art with tape and paper.
Mr. John returned after some weeks away with family illnesses. We were glad to see him, and Isaac our high school, now college volunteer was there too.
Another good and crazy time at the library. Brianna and Christine walked home, each carrying a pumpkin. Vivienne’s pumpkin was loaded in the car. Olivia’s pumpkin is on the library porch, but I will deliver it to her door. The jack-o-lanterns are at their peak right now. With the food pantry I see enough failing produce, and this failing produce would have faces. Who could take that? It is almost as sad as the fate of Fred Brick.

10/6/19: Birds and Beads.

I was just fixing the cheese melts for the library snack when Brianna, Jayda, and Jayda’s five-year-old sister, Caroline wandered in, so we started a little early. Why not?
Then came Vivienne, Klark, and a very tired Olivia–she’d been helping with the coffee making at her family’s new coffee house all day.
In our read-aloud we moved from John James Audubon to Roger Tory Peterson, who was also a boy who watched birds, an oddball kid who preferred birds to sports, or just about anything else–he actually got a waiver from the mayor to be allowed to study the moths that mobbed the streetlights after the town’s 8:30 child curfew.
We then looked at his field guide. The library kids are interested in wild animals–especially Brianna. I got to show them the little arrows that pointed out the field markings on the birds, the things you would look for if you were bird watching.
Then we began a shambling, project with beads, hangers, feathers, wire and a variety of weird found objects. The results could kindly be called mobiles, or unkindly be called sinister threatening things you wouldn’t want to hang up.
We then played bocce on the lawn (short one ball, but we coped). It is finally almost cool enough to gather outside and not faint.
We finished with pound cake and sliced strawberries, and not too many beads on the rug.
Another fine gathering at the FPL.

9/29/19: Cleaning up our act.

It was an unusual day at the Front Porch Library–we were not the best show in town. Our great pal, Donna., her husband Ern, and her kids Klark and Olivia (and half of Tallahassee it looked like) were celebrating the fact that the family will be the new owners of Black Dog on the Square (as of October 1, the Square Mug). Everybody, check them out!
But we muddled on. Alex, Kayleigh and her mom, Stacy, great volunteers, came in and began helping to organize the joint (Penny there is plenty, plenty left to do). By golly, I can see the floor in the box room.
Brianna got in on the act, then Alex taught her how to play Mancala. They were doing that when Kelby blew in, announcing he hadn’t been to the library in a year, which might be accurate. In celebration we made pizzas.
I had a huge project spread out all over the drafting table, so, I don’t have to plan for next week–but I have to find a place to store all that stuff. Hmmm…the floor in the box room is clear.
At the FPL, there is no way to predict what will happen. Luckily, even the surprises are usually good. (What a surprise to find that the box room still had a floor).

9/22/19: Let’s draw like Audubon.

Today, our old volunteer, Isaac, returned. When he was last with us he was a High school student–now he’s in his second year at TCC. I swear, he is half a foot taller than when he last herded kids and shot hoops in the street. It was great to have him back.
We began with a rather long and detailed book about James J. Audubon. Who knew that the theory when he began studying birds was that small birds did not migrate? No, the thought was they gathered in a ball and hibernated under water. Fishermen claimed to have netted these balls of birds. Audubon banded some birds with silver wire and was able to prove that no, birds did not become aquatic in the cold.
We looked at some books that showed the kinds of illustrations that appear in field guides. We made some ourselves, drawing things picked in the yard. We tried to be accurate.
Before that we did a big scavenger hunt to burn off energy–we do not have an energy shortage at the library. I thought it was interesting that for the “something that starts with H” every one of the kids snipped off a sample of their own hair–Brianna cut off one of her braids, and then for good measure harvested a sample from Isaac.
A fine day at the library!

9/15/19: Create a character…

Another Sunday, another gathering at the FPL. This one was particularly mayhemenous (and fun). Don’t bother looking that word up. It is just my way of turning a noun into an adjective.
First, we made pizza.So far so good. Then we began creating characters using an exercise I created for my writing workshops. I had a whole bunch of pairs of shoes. Each kid chose a pair and then I asked questions about the characters. It started small with questions about things like the character’s stance–and what that shows about the person wearing the shoes. Gradually, we ranged into things like, what is in the character’s house?What do they want most?
Klark created a 76 year old female spy in very snazzy, sparkly shoes. Olivia’s character was tall and lanky, a girl with an ambiguous name. Vivienne chose the yellow patent leather spike heels. Her character spent her evenings at The Flirt Club. Brianna had an attitudinous young woman trying to clear her father’s good name. It was the loudest character creation session I have ever had–but the characters were unique–even if they required a serious suspension of disbelief.
Oh those kids! I love every last one of them.

9/8/19 Improv at the FPL.

Another fine gathering at the FPL. The kids trickled in late–which worried me as I had made a full tray of our traditional cheese melts and a chocolate cake.
Our volunteer, Alex came first, driving one car, her father in another. “I’ll meet you back here for the drive home,” he said. She assured him that she could do it solo.
I was ready for us to start sorting books–there is always chaos to tame at the FPL, but then Brianna and her cousin Jada strolled up the driveway. They decorated the cake with pale blue icing and a sample of nearly every sprinkle in the cupboard.
Then Vivienne and her father, Alex (I know double-Alex), arrived, one of them running. We began working on improv–our reader’s theater was so much fun last week I figured we’d do theater for a while. Klark fell in during the first exercise, then Olivia.
We tried telling a story one word at a time, each person tagging their word to the ones that had come before it. We ended up on Pluto.
I think my favorite exercise was the one in which two people spoke in fake foreign languages following each other’s emotional cues. They were angry, conciliatory, surprised. They argued and consoled. I swear, they all sounded like they were speaking genuine languages.
We sat on the floor, ready do do another improv exercise when Vivienne suggested a game of Telephone. Mine were not the only defective ears in the circle.
Olivia had a new collection of markers so we set up tables and broke out art supplies. We agreed that the art on the walls needed some updating. I now have a small stack of fresh art to replace the yellowed drawings of yesteryear.
We then dug up and reburied Fred Brick. (It was suggested that we now call him Dead Brick). Someone suggested we dig him up again in a year–not sure where that tradition would fit into the whole burial thing.
The kids went home, Olivia carrying a chunk of cake for her dad, Brianna with some colorful peppers to snack on.
A lot of fun.