this week at the FPL



It was nervous system day at the Front Porch Library, featuring that perennial favorite, the wrinkly 3 pound mass that floats between our ears, the brain.
As always we did some vivid demonstrations. Firing synapses? We sat in a circle, eyes closed and held hands and passed the squeeze–make that nerve impulse.
We did a test to see which eye was dominant–we were a pretty mixed group. I don’t think anyone was right handed, right eyed and right footed. Peering through the triangle isolated by hands, watching the image shift when looked at by the non-dominant eye caused quite a stir.
We squatted to feel the balance provided by the good old brain stem and whacked knees to check our reflexes.
We talked about how the brain builds memory using all the senses. then passed around objects, touching, smelling, and generally squeezing. Then each of us hid an object while everyone watched. The trick was to remember, at the end of the session where each object was hidden. The kids did great.
After the nervous system, art. We made banners using stencils. Kennedy did a beautiful fruit banner, each neatly labeled. Olivia did an image called “Fiery Heart.”
Kids and adults kept coming throughout library hours. It ended up being a great neighborhood gathering. Johannes brought Lexi and his Mom, who will make the 30 hour trip back to Indonesia tomorrow.
Miss Jennifer, as always, provided great snacks–man did we snack! And we all left with a banner and a greater respect for the under-appreciated nervous system. Perhaps you take it for granted too…
This was week 4 of our Body Shop project. Next week? We’re thinking about moving on to music. Thanks to Goodwill we have a fine array of small instruments. Plastic recorders anyone?
Another very fine day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the fpl


It is time to leaflet the neighborhood again and gather the new kids into the library–our kids come and go so fast–but the days when we are a small group are a different kind of fun.

The read-aloud was “Matthew’s Dragon,” which included “every dragon ever imagined.” They ran the gamut from Chinese dragons to traditional green dragons. We had a lot of fun creating their various vocalizations, wondering why some of them had no legs, and sharing what we knew about this rarelyobserved species.

Then we went on with our study of human anatomy. It was heart day. We did an experiment with a tennis ball, a sharp knife, a funnel and a glass of water. Cut an X in the ball, insert the funnel and fill the ball with water. Squeeze the ball and you can simulate the action of a heart valve. It gushes in a satisfying way and then closes.

The other trick–also from the internet–was a TOTAL FAILURE. Do not fall for the old Play Doh pulse meter. You know, the one where you put a glob of Play Doh on a pulse point,put a toothpick in it and then watch the toothpick jiggle and count the jiggles to get your heart rate. The tooth pick doesn’t even budge!

We also used a stethoscope that belonged to my sister-in-law Norma. I have terrible news. They don’t work either. That looking serious and concerned doctor’s do while “listening to your heart”? It’s all an act!

We then lapsed back to last week’s lesson, the human skeleton, and assembled the EASY TO ASSEMBLE plastic human skeleton. All I can say is, hah! Even with Klark, our master puzzle kid, at work knees seemed intent on bending the wrong way.

Jorge, who insists on going back to college before our next meeting, made a mobius strip for all to admire–a rather abstract farewell.

Miss Jennifer made sensational snacks, Olivia and Vivienne drew thank you cards.

The best line of the day was Vivienne’s. “I counted to infinity once.”

A quiet but fine day at the library.

this week at the FPL


An hour ahead of FPL opening time Joe, Killian and Anola were at my door. What the heck, what’s an hour? The program today was Body Shop 2: Them Bones, but I couldn’t start that until real library time.

Anola began building with Duplo Blox, Joe drew and Killian did the cool Killian-at-rest-thing, slouching in our aged and sagging Morris chair.

Olivia and Klark came early too–as soon as they’d finished cleaning their rooms. Olivia and I decorated the cake–a dirt cake (her idea). The crushed thin mints on top were perfect when it came to mimicking dirt.

Then Jorge, our longest-running volunteer who will be heading back to college in Chicago after next Sunday’s gathering, arrived. Vivienne breezed in and drew the hind quarters of a bobcat, then declared herself bored.

Isaac came next–and it was time to launch the bone lesson. I had a huge whale vertebra that was a great intro to the concept of the spinal cord. We found where bone ended and cartilage began in our noses. I showed them the hollow center of a fossilized bone. We discussed red blood cell production. We found hinge joints in our bodies and ball and socket joints.

And then we exploded in a frenzy of parallel play.

Joe had a fond memory of tower building so a massive tower building project got underway on the living room rug. Anola, Jorge and I made floor puzzles in the kitchen. Vivienne concentrated on serving plastic food.

There are still two huge puzzles on the kitchen floor: pirates and a coral reef scene, and the dirt cake was downright excellent! I drove Joe, Killian and Anola home. The rest of the dirt cake went with them.

Another fine, chaotic day at the Front Porch Library.


Hurricane Hermine leaves FPL without power for a Sunday


Fortunately, there was no damage to the library,  Here’s Adrian’s note of thanks when we were connected again:

“I want to thank Mayor Gillum and all the tireless, exhausted workers who have put in incredible hours to bring our city back to life after Hermine. It is easy to complain about the discomfort of heat and darkness, but the task of returning Tallahassee to normal was monumental and I am so grateful to those who made–and are still making–it happen. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

this week at the FPL


Today at the Front Porch Library we took a leisurely cruise down the alimentary canal–or as the sandwich board in the driveway advertised, “From Food to Farts.” Hey, you gotta bring ’em in.

We simulated the digestive process starting with a slice of bread. By the time we’d added the artificial bile and stomach juices and were squeezing it down the leg of a pair of tights (I mean, the small intestine) everyone was fairly grossed out. Which is a testament to the human imagination since the ingredients were bread and water in various colors.

But boy, did we get down with the process. Then we took out my yarn visual aide. There was a length of colored yarn for each of the following: mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine–each cut to the correct length and tied together. That sucker stretched all the way down the driveway.

We also did a very bad tracing of Olivia, then cut out all the digestive organs from colored paper and glued them to her silhouette.

And then we celebrated my birthday–I have FB to thank for that. I think I would have snuck past the fact the odometer had rolled over again, but the end-of-library party was so nice. I was led out to the driveway (party site) by Jorge, who isn’t due back at college in Chicago for a while. When he told me to open my eyes I beheld the driveway, which was a little disappointing until he turned me around to face THE PARTY!

Miss Jennifer got me a cake and chrysanthemums–enough for everyone to give me a stalk of flowers adding up to a colossal bouquet.

There was an informal conga line on the lawn dancing to the banana boat song. And then Olivia did an incredible dance she’d choreographed–and when I turned around I saw that her mother, Donna, was doing it too. Among the celebrants not already mentioned were Klark, Mr. John, Kary, Leyla and Sam, Isaac, Heather and Hanna. What great neighbors, volunteers and book buddies I have. Thanks guys!

this week at the FPL

I have been away from the Front Porch Library for three Sundays, depending on the kindness of wonderful volunteers, Miss Heather, Miss Donna, Miss Penny, Mr. John, Miss Kary, and always Miss Jennifer–and if I left your name out it is because we drove for two days straight to get home.

Today we had a happy/sad gathering. One of our big families is leaving the neighborhood so this was probably their last Sunday at the FPL. It seemed like the right day to cover important things like, who has more bones, babies of adults? (babies) How many farts does the average person manufacture in a day–I’ll leave you to speculate. These are just a couple of the highlights as we launched into our in-depth study of the human body, How many hairs do you lose in a day? If you touched your brain, would you feel it?

After that, we did a blind scavenger hunt. Each searcher was led around blindfolded and had to perform various tasks, like find all the rocks scattered on a table, count them then put them in a glass. The sighted kids quickly discovered how easy it was to mess with the searcher by moving the rocks around as they were felt for.

We all had a great time being both the stumbler and the guide.

Mr. John made brownies that were served hot with ice cream. In order to get served each child had to memorize the definition of an unfamiliar word. This is my latest tricky discovery. WILL WORK FOR FOOD can be restated: WILL LEARN FOR TREATS.

We will all be sad to see Elleina, Nalani, Connor and Keith leave the house at the end of the street. The hardest thing about having a library is watching our patrons throw their bikes in the back of a family truck and go. I miss every one of them–even the ones who quit coming because they had the audacity to grow up.

Another fine day at the FPL.

this week at the FPL


What a great day at the library! It was Mystery Day (which could have been called many other things, but Mystery Day sounded the best).

I set up stations like the tool table. Kids had to say what each tool was used for. The offerings ran the gamut from a prehistoric ax head to a railroad spike.

The animal table had a manatee vertebra, a cow skull, some armadillo armor, a hawk feather, and coral. The manatee vertebra caused the most confusion.

The kids also had to identify objects by feel, read sentences written backwards, find words in the dictionary that they didn’t know and write out definitions, find the non-bean items in a jar of dried beans without opening the lid, and memorize the opening line of a book to be recited before they would get the usual end-of-library piece of cake.

As for the cake, they had to find it by following a trail of written clues like: look in a very small room with a flag and a door (the mailbox).

As an added bonus our volunteer Jorge, back from college in Chicago, showed up (after a shaming note from me asking where the heck he was). Jorge holds the record, volunteering with us all four years he was in high school.

In addition to Mystery, we all read, kids and volunteers alike and reported on what we had read, in case anyone else might want to know “Ten Ways To Make Your Sister Disappear.”

It was a good send off for me. The next three Sundays while I teach creative writing and be a grandmother others will be baking the cakes, coming up with the activities and setting the reading timer (and watching eyes roll at the thought of compulsory reading). And hopefully I will come back refreshed and with new wacky ideas for library programs.

this week at the fpl

maybe something beautiful

Of course it poured right before Library yesterday. The usual “bill of fare” I post on the chalk board at the end of the driveway became a ghost of itself and the kids stood in front of it trying to figure out what we were going to do by reading what was left. “Vanilla Cake” was the only part that was still really legible.

The read-aloud is usually something funny, but today the read-aloud was “Maybe Something Beautiful’ by Isabel Campoy, the story of a gray inner-city neighborhood brought to life by the spontaneous painting of murals. It gave us a chance to talk about our own neighborhood and our efforts at The Front Porch Library. One thing I want to give the kids is the feeling that they are important and that they are part of something big, that we are a community.

We had our individual reading time. Many kids read aloud to a listener. Our reading time is anything but silent.

Then we took turns pulling letters out of a Bananagrams game and acting the letters out while everyone guessed what the letters were–sometimes with the help of a partner. Try acting out an M on your own.

Then each kid pulled a letter and made a poster using only things that started with that letter. Dictionaries were deployed.

We do the organized activities each week and then the disorganized activities take over. Klark found the package of water balloons left out from last week when we filled a few and then it rained so hard anything involving water seemed redundant. We played water balloon catch and blew some up with good old air and stuck them to our hair with static electricity. We ate that vanilla cake, and then all the bikes lying in the driveway were stood up again and the kids scattered out into the neighborhood to bike around, visit each other’s houses and eventually eat supper.

Another fine day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the FPL

Bill in a china shop

Library had barely started when the sky opened up–and of course we had to save the cartons of books outside, and the Spot It cards. And the padded folding chairs. It took all our towels to dry everyone off.

Damp, we continued indoors. We had 8 kids, Miss Jennifer, Mr. John and me. We were not a big group unless you consider we were doing library in less than half of a 900 square foot house.

We started out restrained. The read aloud was Bill in a China Shop. As you can imagine Bill is a Bull and things turned out about like you’d expect.

We then talked about the fourth of July, looked at a globe and considered how unlikely it was for tiny Great Britain to hang onto those rambunctious colonies. We learned that the Declaration of Independence was actually a Dear John letter to King George (the third, Mr. John added).

Then we did all of the following: a chess match between Dee Dee and Mr. John, Twister, Chinese jump rope, cat’s cradle, drawing and puzzle making, a failed attempt at assembling the human skeleton and puppetry.

And all the while the rain fell and the lightning struck. Dee Dee kept turning out lights on the theory we would tempt the lightning to strike us.

Even though they were still damp, Miss Jennifer and I drove the kids home. Another intense day at the library!

this week at the FPL


It was a quiet day at the Front Porch Library, the turnout small. I read the first three chapters of The BFG out loud–our next goal is to take our kids to the movies, probably the BFG.

We re-instituted our summer tradition of a reading time. You can read silently or read to someone, but everyone reads.

And we got to try the great puzzle challenge. We set up tables and started easy with 24 piece puzzles (kittens and chimps). We ran Ray’s old dark room timer. At the ding everyone switched puzzles.

Warmed up we went on to 48 pieces (superheroes), then 100 (also superheroes). 100 pieces whupped our butts, not because we are terrible at assembling puzzles (Klark is a puzzle champ), but because the puzzles were bad. Seriously. There were only about four shapes to the pieces so the pieces fit just about anywhere. We, ended up with the Hulk’s fingers growing out of, well, places fingers don’t grow out of, even on superheroes.

We had a good time–sometimes a low turnout is not a bad thing. Few but focused. Another good day at the FPL.

this week at the FPL


This is Father’s Day, yes, but it is also the eve of camp for many of our FPL kids. That meant making sure that all was ready. Snacks? Check. Closed shoes? Check. Drop off at 9? Check. I think we are good to go. Vivienne was our first camper, boldly going solo, but our other eight are all joining the Zoo Crew. Those animals are in for a real treat.

During library we sat out at the round table in the driveway and made puzzles. I printed puzzle patterns off the good old internet and glued them to cardboard. Draw on the blank side, cut them out and voila! A home made puzzle!

We told father stories–some very sad. Not all kids get great dads. Mr. John told about his father working as a code-breaker. I talked about my Dad, the original owner of our library house. A couple of the kids had a bad-dad smack-down. It was hard to say which dad was the baddest.

We made some beautiful puzzles and talked and talked–there weren’t as many of us as usual. Most were off celebrating Dad. There were bounteous snacks for all and leftover library birthday cake–quite delicious eaten frozen.

Kweli arrived with the beginning of dreads. Killean wore a shirt that said: In Memory of When I Cared. Dee Dee came to the library for the first time in years–that sure was hug-worthy. Joe sang enthusiastically, although not exactly on key. Klark and Olivia rolled in after their family’s dadfest. Miss Jennifer got stung by a wasp. Isaac passed the sign in sheet then settled into the puzzle-making.

It was a little like a quilting bee, but one that required a lower skill level.

Another fine day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the fpl — new champion watermelon seed-spitter crowned

FPL June8

It is beginning to seem like the norm. Sunday, library day–throw a dinner for all the neighbors! Actually this week was Olivia’s birthday party which started at 2 and went through the end of library time. Past actually. The carport that was cleared for our birthday shaded the Olivia-fest and in addition to neighbors Olivia’s home school group came, plus loads of friends.

The food was great. But what part of it was library? I am proud to say the library provided the waterworks. We mounted a rainbird sprinkler on top of a stepladder and got the kids wet — especially Olivia’s brother Klark, who spent a huge amount of time standing on the ladder messing with the water flow.

We also had Miss Heather and Miss Jennifer in the back feverishly sorting books to give away–our latest theory, give some of the books away and then we can imagine everyone at home reading. We like that mental picture.

The library finished its official duties with the annual watermelon seed spitting contest in the street. It begins with a chalk line and kids standing, barefoot, behind it. There is technique to seed spitting. Rear back and hock it.

We have a string for each of the previous year’s record-setting spits. Our longest 24 1/2 feet was launched by a volunteer perhaps four years ago. We stretched the string on the road so everyone knew what they were shooting for.

I am proud to say that Keith , 11, exceeded the old record. Yes! That boy can spit! We haven’t measured his string officially, but I’ll bet his record-setter went 26 feet.

I know that libraries are diversifying to stay relevant as books follow the path of the dodo. But I’ll bet we take the cake in the diversifying department: getting kids soaked, giving them books and encouraging them to spit for distance. Top that Leon County Public!

Another fine day at the FPL.

this week at the fpl


Big thanks to all who made the 7th birthday of the Front Porch Library such a success! The party was several Sundays in the making when you think about the saucification of our community garden vegetables, cookie baking, and gluing paper crickets on our official invitations–six on the front of each, one inside for the seventh year. “Hop on over to the celebration!”

Our party began with the behind-the-scenes prep at first light and went on until we were put out of our misery by the arrival of our first guests. We had plenty of kid help from Klark, Olivia, Keith, Nalani, Elleina and Connor. They alternately helped decorate and tote plates and silverware and strayed into the building supplies, compelled to create something on the rug that had to be walked around.

The weather being iffy, Ern cleared out the family carport next door and we set up our motley array of tables made beautiful with an assortment of red and white tablecloths (Miss Jennifer insisted that for spaghetti we needed Italian restaurant style tablecloths).

We assembled the ice cream sandwiches (homemade cookies, vanilla ice cream), heated the sauces. Maya cooked the noodles. We ran around like crazy people, beautifying with bouquets of hydrangeas on the tables and a snappy parade of books on the cross brace in the carport.

Neighbors came and came. I think we counted 49, including Greg Mannheimer, a neighbor long gone from Seminole Manor, but back for the festivities.

We did the usual read-alouds. “When Dinosaurs Came With Everything” was the biggest hit. “You want a box of donuts? A free dinosaur comes with it.” Everyone got the name of a book character or famous person slapped on their back and by asking questions they had to determine who they were.

We had volunteers on the street shooting hoops with the kids, volunteers overseeing the book giveaway table, volunteers lighting cake candles, running melting ice cream sandwiches back to the freezer, carrying food to some neighbors too busy with a medical crisis to come by. Too many volunteers to name, but I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

We did everything with china plates, cloth napkins, the usual library mugs for drinks. No plastic or paper died for the cause, and that meant that the cleanup without a dishwasher was pretty big. Thanks John R. Woodwardand Vikki and Lillian McGee. The cost of our principles is sometimes a lot of hard work.

Another fine year at the Front Porch Library.