3/15/20: How do you like this book?

A late breaking report from the Front Porch Library:

We were a small group; just Klark, Olivia, Astrid, Vivienne and me, but it was good to have some of our normal weekly craziness amidst the more general and scary craziness.

For a change I made a sort-of pizza in place of the usual cheese melts (it was sort-of because I had no mozzarella and had to use cheddar). It was surprisingly okay.

The project for the day was staging an “acquisitions meeting.” That’s what they do at publishing houses when deciding whether to acquire a title. In our case we had been given a stack of picture books for our review. All our kids were older than the target audience, but they took the job quite seriously, evaluating things like cover design, rhymes and repetitions, the overall message of the book.

Then we made a few rhymes of our own (the books had main characters who were things like clocks and goats–both words with good rhymes.

Here is one we wrote for that rarely seen creature, the crocoduck.

The crocoduck sat in the muck

He took a suck

of that horrible muck

and then said yuck.

After, we shot hoops in the street and created a pet food store, which mostly involved cutting up grass, grinding the end of a rotting log to pulp, scraping a piece of chalk to dust, mixing them all together and calling them pet food.

The cake was German chocolate, decorated tastefully by Olivia. Then the dads came and eventually pried the kids loose with Astrid and Vivienne begging to be allowed to have dinner together.


An especially fine gathering at the FPL.


3/8/20: Field trip!

Today was a field trip day for the Front Porch Library. We went to Seepersaud Studios on Tennessee Street to hang out with Chris Seepersaud (aka Seep). He gave us a hands-on tour of his rooms full of instruments. Vivienne was particularly taken with the sitar. “This is my dream,” she said softly. The sound of a sitar is so different from the instrument we all know so well, the guitar (of which there were many hanging on the wall).

Olivia tried out a twelve string, a mandolin, an electric guitar. O is learning to play guitar so she could do more than just plunk the strings.

Brianna sang into the mike backed up by Seep on the keyboard. Klark drummed.

We made noise and almost-music in two downstairs studios, then went up the winding stairs to the attic where the drum kit is–and the recording studio. Watching the music go by as bands on a computer screen was a first for the kids. O is ready to learn how to do it herself.

Seepersaud Studios is a local treasure, a place to take vocal lessons or lessons on nearly any instrument. Just in case you have an itch to make music, check them out at seepersaudstudios.com.

After our field trip we came back to home base and ate cookies… ran around…created mayhem. You know…the usual. Another fine FPL gathering.Klark playingVivienne with sticksDrumming 2Olivia playingDrumming

3/1/20: The Juice.

Library started today with do-it-yourself orange juice. We have so, so many oranges, all local, all small and a little un-grocery-store (truth be told the skins have a slight greyish cast, but their insides are so sweet). So we all squeezed oranges and drank real Florida OJ.
Then we picked up our last reader’s theater script, the REAL story of the Big Bad Wolf. All that huffing and puffing? He just had a cold–once the house was blown down and the pig inside dead, of course he ate ham. Who wouldn’t? Olivia brought a puppy, Oscar, who thought the highlighters we used to mark who played what part looked decidedly edible. Don’t worry. He didn’t swallow one.
We then did an alphabet scavenger hunt (I wrote the letters on our big white table in dry-erase marker) and we began gathering things. Of course O was an orange (make that orange peel–we’d drunk the inside). Some letters were really hard. We ended up using Vivienne’s last name for the letter Z. Klark was the most diligent scavenger.
Then there was a little of the usual spontaneous mayhem. Somehow, in the midst of it Olivia found a genuine arrowhead on the ground–a really beautiful one. We have no theory as to how it came to be lying in the yard. She put it in her rock collection.
When Astrid’s dad came to pick her up the kids were in the street, Astrid belly-down on Klark’s long board looking like she was swimming. Yup, we had fun.

2/23/20: Whatchamacallit?

If it is Sunday it must be Front Porch Library Day, so I made up the cheese melts–Mr. John took on the next pot of frozen tomatoes.
Vivienne and Astrid have been inventing their own language (make that languages) so when my husband stumbled across a list of the way that great, ambiguous concept, the whatchamacallit, is expressed in other languages I typed them up to share (naninani, zamaazingo, dingsbums, etc.) then we made up our own ( jinglehopper, wiemimebob, nishawamba, bimpledimp). We gave ourselves some good laughs, then went over to working on Reader’s Theater.
We had five scripts–and actually got through four–I heard some voices I didn’t know could inhabit small bodies, they sounded like something that would come out of the crypt in a creepy movie.
We did one based on nursery rhymes. We acted out “Where the Wild Things Are,” and one about a lion and a lion tamer (the chair action was downright scary), and one about Katie who went shoe shopping (we have small shoes, tall shoes, walk-on-the-wall shoes).
We traded parts, traded scripts–our two high school volunteers, Alex and Sophie,were great! Then we cut to the part when everyone runs around, climbs trees, shoots hoops and (inexplicably) grinds chalk with a chunk of stone.
Another fun, relaxed, dramatic gathering at the FPL.

2/16/20: More improv.

We began library staring in disbelief at the New York Times kid crossword puzzle. It was a full two page spread with hundreds of acrosses and downs–so many they needed a separate page to give the clues. We opted to turn the page and look at the macro photos of small parts of things and trying to identify them: a blackberry, fruity Pebbles, staples!
Then we launched into our improv program. I had a jar of opening lines. The kids paired up. One kid would read the line and the other respond. Being a fairly chaotic bunch, audience members would jump up and join the skit at will.
One of my favorites was Astrid asking Olivia what she planned to do with her lottery winnings. Olivia did a great milquetoast voice, asserting that she would buy mayonnaise and pickles. Jars and jars of them.
We did an interview skit, in which Olivia was asking the runners at a fundraiser for “homeless and desperate kids” about why they were running. All the runners were famous people: Beyonce, Justin Beiber–even Michael Jackson (being dead was no impediment to running this race). Michael Jackson (played by Jayda) followed every answer with a piercing, “Woo!”
There was, of course, time outside, despite the spitting rain. Klark and I played HORSE. Olivia, Jayda, Brianna, Astrid, and VIvienne disappeared into the back yard to pick camellias.
Meanwhile, inside, Mr. John was playing mad scientist,with three boiling pots of tomatoes–with the food pantry we sometimes freeze tons of tomatoes to keep them from deciding to be compost–the palls of steam rose–and on the other counter Klark and Jayda were making icing for the cake (one bowl of purple, one bowl of green) and drizzling it on the confetti cake.
It was a boisterous, fun gathering at the library. We definitely overcame the dreary drizzle.

2/9/20: Mind reading day at the FPL.

Library was really fun today–and good-crazy. Vivienne brought her friend, Astrid, along, and a pad with the new language they were creating written on it (it sounded vaguely Russian which makes sense since Vivienne’s father is Russian). Not satisfied with simply creating a new language they created a new alphabet as well and were transcribing their new language into the new (and improved) alphabet.
Brianna came, then Klark and Olivia. We began the “formal” part of the program by doing the NY Times kid’s crossword puzzles (we aced ’em). Then I read them a book that took up after the “Happily ever after” of the Frog Prince. Evidently the “ever after” was not going so well. There were some regrets on the part of the princess over marrying a frog, some regrets on the part of the prince over not spending much time in the pond any more. The next “ever after” at the end of the book had two happy frogs leaping off into the sunset.
I put out drawing materials for us to do something similar, but climbing the giant ligustrum hedge and playing hide and seek were more attractive–and I thought, heck, kids don’t climb enough hedges or hide and seek enough.
Our neighbor, Randi, brought her pup Vinnie over. He caused some aww… moments in the flurry of climbing, hiding and seeking.
We then tried mind reading, picking up the numbers in each other’s minds. We weren’t bad at it. Really. I especially liked watching the number-sender (Klark comes to mind for his Houdini-like stare) telegraphing the number using nothing but brain waves (oh, there was that one time when Klark was nodding and shaking his head in a pattern that resembled the 7 he was thinking, but no one picked up on it). Everyone but Vinnie got in on the mind reading.
Then, cake. We had a great time today at the FPL. It was fun having Randi and Vinnie in the mix, along with Astrid, and watching kids rushing around like kids.

2/2/20: Quiet but good!

For a while it was just me and Vivienne at the library. “Awkward,” said V. But we went out to shoot hoops while we waited. To add to our mojo we made up pre-shot chants: (hers) “By the power of the leaf blower and farting cats!” (mine–definitely modeled on hers) “By the power of the leaf blower and barfing dogs!” We were hitting the hoop fairly often so, if you are having trouble making your shots feel free to use our chants.
Mr. John arrived. He kept the cheese melts from burning. After appealing to the gods of farting cats and barfing dogs we went in to play concentration (I bought a new deck of cards so we had all the cards for a change). Mr. John, Vivienne and I were playing when Klark and Olivia jetted in on their skateboards (Klark just got his for his birthday). Both Klark and Olivia have great memories. Vivienne could hold her own just fine. Mr. John and I pretended (convincingly) to be memory-impaired old people.
Then we did one of the exercises I just used at the writer’s retreat that ended yesterday. We drew words from jars (a verb, a noun, an adjective) and created short, ridiculous scenarios.
Then there was a surge of interest in the two skateboards (Vivienne once again went down Marcia Avenue on her belly as if paddling out to catch a big wave). By then it was time for chocolate cake in the driveway (more elegant than it sounds). Vivienne ate hers while standing on a skateboard rocking back and forth–a quiet but good day at the FPL.

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!