October 7, 2018: China Day!

Great Wall
It was China Day at the Front Porch Library. My singing partner, Craig, who lived in China for many years came with cool activities and props. First we found China on the map and looked at its placement in relation to the US–both are in the Northern Hemisphere so we have that in common. He then put up a silhouette of the two countries–roughly the same size, then with cut out paper figures we compared populations, each child taping up a figure to represent a 100,000 people. Hmmm…they’re pretty crowded in that same-sized country.
He shared artifacts and gave away coins. “What are these worth?” Kelby wanted to know. Something less than ten cents. Still–Chinese coins!
For me one of the best moments was unscripted. Miss Betty, who drops off baked goods for the food pantry–a Chinese immigrant–and Craig began speaking Chinese. I watched the kids blink. Chinese sounds as far from English as the human mouth is capable of going.
Betty then talked about her own family, about foot binding and how girls never went to school, the families were too large and the boys had priority. Then a “grey beard” came to the door, a missionary, who offered free schooling for her mother, and the family grabbed the opportunity. Betty then exhorted the kids to study hard! “They can take money from you! They can take possessions from you! But they can’t take your skills!”
I had wondered why she often, when dropping off food, pointed at a kid and said, “Nine times three! Seven times six!” She knows firsthand the power of education.
Craig then showed photos of iconic Chinese sights and cultural figures from Bruce Lee, to the Great Wall, to caligraphy, to the Terracotta Warriors. He turned it into a Bingo game. “RIce paddies? Guardian Lions? Dragon Boats?
It was such a great program. Thank you, thank you, Craig!
After Craig left, Sequoia, Klark, and Kelby tore out to shoot hoops. Olivia, Brianna, Lizzie and I stayed inside to write poetry, which of course began with decorating the paper–poems didn’t necessarily get written, but the papers were beautiful.
Olivia wrote a complete poem called Sweet Dreams about a nightmare. I think the opening line was, “A spider walks down your spine, thousands more stand in line.”
It was a super day at the FPL!

September 30, 2018:Seed Walk Day.

A belated report from the Front Porch Library (our modem got zapped by lightning).
It was a great day at the library! We did our annual seed-walk around the neighborhood. It is a Fall thing where we break up into teams and gather the seeds of as many different species of plants as we can.
We had an added advantage this year–some new kids–Serena, Sequoia, and Lizzie, whose mother is a highly qualified gardener/botanist. Much of that rubbed off on the kids, especially Serena, who knew the names of every plant.
Two teams headed off in different directions, each holding a big pan and some really ratty scissors (where do all my good scissors go?). Our team was Lizzie, Brianna, Olivia, Mr. John and me. Olivia had just attended an all nighter slumber party. Despite being asleep on her feet she managed to find seeds.
The other team: Dove, Klark, Sequoia, and Serena took off. We were supposed to rendezvous on the other side of the neighborhood, but never saw each other again till we returned to the house.
Our neighbor, Karen, handed us some wisteria seeds, and pointed us to some seeds further down the street. We gathered everything from Chinese Tallow to Bitter Chamber (a name I learned from Serena).
In the past we have gathered 30+ species. This year? 81. As Mr. John remarked, “That’s 15 species per block.”
We were also going to write haiku poems, but ran out of time. Library never goes exactly as planned, and the scissors are often lost, but still, a good time was had by all.

September 23, 2018: Small to Big.

The Front Porch Library and the latest food delivery for the food pantry overlapped–tomatoes and kids everywhere!
We managed. Charlie and Alex picked up the Scrabble game that has been sitting on the bed waiting for them to return. True, some of the words migrated in the intervening days….
Olivia made butter icing for the cupcakes I’d baked (chocolate–good looking too) and all the kids iced their own–we have quite a sprinkle collection. Too bad Brianna doesn’t like chocolate (who doesn’t like chocolate?)
Zoe came wearing a bead head covering Cleopatra would have envied.
We did a couple of interesting exercises. Every person wrote a noun on each of six slips of paper, then we ordered them from smallest to largest. Smallest was the atom, largest was the multiverse, but in between we had things like “my big brother,” an ant, T Rex. The slips paraded across the table.
So, we sorted by size. Then we sorted along a time line. I brought many of the family treasures that collect dust on shelves from a fossil fish, to the immigration declaration that let my Swedish grandfather and his family into the country, to a Roman clay lamp. We lined the objects (about 30 of them) up on the table.
After that, things became exuberant. Klark, Charlie, and Briana shot hoops and terrorized each other outside. Two new little girls came halfway through library. They wanted to paint–so paint we did. While they were painting I read aloud to them; several Elephant and Pig books. Sometimes I think I have a library as an excuse for doing voices like Elephant and Pig’s.
Another wild and crazy day at the FPL–I’ll clean up in the morning–and sort tomatoes.

September 16, 2018: Sign Day


Today was a sign-making day at the Front Porch Library. Ostensibly. We looked at the shapes of road signs and what they meant–that part went according to plan. We were making signs for the Food Pantry, things like NO BANANAS IN THE FREEZER (bananas go in, but they never come out) and Klark did make a couple (Circular with the slash across the banana).
Kelby made a “Smoking Area” sign for the end of the driveway. Olivia mad a no smoking sign (again, circle with the red slash) for the area near the porch where we do our distributions, and Olivia made a really great sign for her bedroom door: No Idiots Allowed In. Charlie made a sign we hung on the cold room door : The Granny Elliott Share Pantry commemorating Klark and Olivia great grandmother.
After that things went rogue. Brianna decided she wanted to draw something else–although the something else never quite materialized. Then we gave up and took the basket balls and the two hula hoops I found on a neighborhood discard pile and hit the street. Let me just say, you can do a lot of things with a hula hoop that don’t involve wiggling your hips.As light as they are, you can get a lot of loft on those puppies.
We ended with me (my arms were the longest) reaching into a neighbor’s recycle bin and fishing out water bottles. Am I the only one who remembers clothes-pinning baseball cards to the spokes of a bike to make that cool popping sound? Let me just say that a squished water bottle makes a sound easily as cool.
The last view of the library gathering was a flock of chirping bikes speeding away down Marcia Avenue. A fine, if crazy day at the FPL.

September 9, 2018: Botany Day!

It was botany day at the Front Porch Library–some days I feel ridiculously ambitious.
We began with a non-botanical read aloud, “The Water Gift and the Pig of the Pig,” a title so long I was amazed the publisher allowed it. It was a book about a man with the gift of finding water with a dousing stick and the offspring of the pig (the pig of the pig) that had gone around Cape Horn with the man when he lived on water. That brought on a discussion of dousing…and pigs.
I then boldly set out images of the different types of leaves from simple, to compound, to bi-pinnately compound. Palmate leaves, alternate and opposite leaves–then we went out to collect. Olivia found a leaf long enough to double as a jump rope–one that could easily accommodate two jumpers. Brianna found the bi-pinnately compound, Nandina–a fairly invasive plant but a great example of bpc leaves.
leaf_arrThe leaf collecting was enthusiastic. Identification followed with the same devil-may-care enthusiasm, and then, I gave each kid a one square foot frame to drop on the ground and then see what could be found within that space. Ants. Ants could be found, leaf skeletons, mold. One caterpillar.
Some of the kids have a love-hate relationship with nature. It is hard work creating enthusiasm for mold, collapsing acorns, worms, but I tried.
Time to change direction. Alex and Charlie cleared a table for Scrabble. Charlie worked the add-an-S angle beautifully.
Briana, Olivia and Klark sat at the other table and I broke out food colors and tubes of marzipan (told you it was a real shift). Briana made an ostrich with a chick in the nest at its feet (a pair of chopsticks died in the making of the legs)/ Olivia made a mermaid tail that sat upside down on the table as if the tail was just breaking the water. Klark made a brown blob and a purplish blob. He mashed the two together and went back to experimenting with the (okay, I have no idea what it is called, but it is that glass-ball thingy that looks like it has lightning in it) The boys enjoyed the mild shocks and passing the shocks on to each other.
It was an exuberant gathering, and I have the upside-down and leafy living room to prove it!

September 2: Code Day at the FPL

It was code day at the Front Porch Library–and boy was it fun. We had keys for three different codes. One was the obvious, run the alphabet backwards under one that runs A to Z and replace the letters in what you are writing with the ones from the reverse alphabet.

The second one involved a grid and letters were translated to a binary from the horizontal and vertical axes, for example, A2 would be the letter B.


The third was my favorite–take a look above. The parts of the grid that surround each letter create angular shapes (the second letter in the grid enclosure is expressed by the shape and a dot). Make sense? Sure, you’re smart.

It was just me, Mr. John, Brianna, Olivia, and Klark, but we were enough. We sat around the old folding table and wrote our names in the three codes. Then we took a puzzle and hid the pieces, writing a clue in code for each of the hidden pieces–there was a lot of “Close your eyes!” involved.

Pieces were in places like behind a pillow behind Mr. John, in the turtle shell, behind a drawing made by a library kid who has since grown up.

As we coded, the scheduled storm moved in, soaked Olivia’s bike and Briana’s scooter and knocked the Front Porch Library sign flat on it’s back.

As they left with their mom, I heard Klark say Library was really cool today. And it was!

August 12, 2018 School Eve.

It is school-eve today and the Front Porch library was at full-shout. As always the twins, Harper and Danny rushed in shoeless but wearing white crew socks–how does their mom keep those socks so white when they always manage to leave their shoes behind–even the socks were sprawled on the library floor by quitting time.
Along with the twins we had Brianna, Kelby, Klark and Olivia, but we made noise sufficient for a much larger crew–Mr. John will back me up on this.
We began with watermelon and cheese melts in the driveway, which was not much hotter than the house (dang the AC is on the fritz again) and it kept the vintage used-to-be-hotel rug from suffering any more indignities.
We then did a game in which each of us had to find something in the house that met the criteria of a question; ie, something made by hand, or something that was both hard and soft, something held together with screws. You only scored a point if no one picked the same things. This made for some creative answers–although not always unique creative answers. Both Harper and Brianna said the human body was both hard and soft. Olivia won with a perfect score.
We then walked the neighborhood (again, only slightly hotter than the house) leafleting mailboxes. Every box got one about the food pantry, houses with kid-evidence, or ones at which any in the troop claimed to have seen a kid, got invites to the FPL.
Brianna requested that someone carry her. The rest of us ignored the request–we were hot too. On the way back the twins were being their usual exuberant selves. To quote Brianna, “You don’t act like kids, you act like adults who are drunk!” Guess she was a little miffed that no one would carry her.
Back at the library house: cake, basketball, celebratory scooter rides in front of the house–and when picked up, Danny had to go back inside and find his socks.
A great school-eve gathering at the FPL.

August 5: Spider Day!

It was spider day at the Front Porch Library. We sat down on the floor around the giant pad, drew a line down the middle and wrote down everything we knew about insects and spiders–there were eight kids today and among us we had a surprising amount of knowledge.
But today was spider day so we concentrated on them, and their superiority to their 6 legged competition. We had a few arachniphobics in the group–I worked on it, I love them. Forty thousand species of spiders and only 12 that can harm humans? I think spiders are getting a bum rap.
We then walked down to Miss Jen’s house, but before leaving the library we placed bets on how many spiders we would see on the very short walk. No one came close to the total which was 24.
Miss Jen set out a HUGE batch of snacks before we looked at her very large Golden Orb Spider–it was right outside the window and had caught two dragonflies it was skillfully dismembering (Dragonflies have the best vision in the insect world; spider’s vision is ten times better–bet you didn’t know that–I didn’t either until today).
After snacking royally we went into her back yard and collected nature to draw–lots of plants, no spiders. Tamiya did some beaiutiful flowers. Brianna skipped nature and went for a drawing of Miss Jen’s fountain. “I’m making the water blue.” It wasn’t–it was just clear, but blue seemed right to Brianna.
We walked back to the library for cake–except Brianna and Klark. Brianna rode her motorized scooter and Klark chased her at top speed (on foot). Almost caught her too.
I hope spiders rose in the kids’ estimation today. They are so cool! A fine day of spider promotion at the Front Porch Library.

July 29th: Songwriting Day.

It was a quiet day at the Front Porch Library, but such a good one! We began by coping with a HUGE delivery for the food bank. So much that we had Kelby repacking the greens out of what we fondly call “lettuce coffins” and into zip lock bags so they take up less space in the refrigerators.
Olivia arrived. In the mayhem of produce she iced the cake and made the weekly cheese melts. Mr. John came and he got right into the drippage of produce (not to mention the really excellent produce).
Our new volunteer, Alex, arrived with her dad, Tom and they were great help and company.
Brianna biked up and we finally got around to the project of the week, which was songwriting. We wrote a beautiful song. The opening line (thanks to Brianna) is “Wolves dream hope…” Olivia supplied, “Humans destroy the forest, leave them the poorest.”
John filmed the song so I hope that with my low techno skill I will be able to post it when he sends it to me.
Sometimes the smallest gatherings are the most fun. At least for me. When I get to play the guitar.
Another fine gathering at the FPL!

July 22, 2018: More stories!

Library and the food delivery from Lucky’s came too darned close together! All I can say is that being up to my elbows in strawberry juice as I sorted boxes of very ripe fruit and mayhem of the kid-exuberant kind are a near-explosive mix.
Yet we persisted. A potential volunteer and her mom dropped by. They saw us in all our shouting glory. I hope she will be back…
My good friend Bill Westervelt bought us bicycle pumps since I complained about the flatness of all our many balls. We pumped. It rained, but inflated balls will come in handy after the monsoons.
We read a book about Matthew Henson’s journey to the North Pole with Admiral Peary and a group of Inuits. It’s funny how all the credit seems to go to Peary. He could not have made it without the others–not to mention the dogs that did all the dragging.
We then went back to storytelling. We had a bucket of slips of paper with story elements in it, things like: a message in a bottle, a mermaid, something sticky (those were mine) the kids added some. “Infinite farts” was a Kelby addition. Needless to say the infinite farts and a legion of slugs were much more evocative than my prompts.
Toward the end, Kary, my pal and the co-founder of the FPL stopped by. She has since moved to Seattle and was back for a visit. She was reminded of the effects of centrifugal force as the kids whirred.
After, as we cleaned up we discovered we have a water leak–I wondered why that part of the rug was always getting a dusty white look. Mold will do that if given the chance. If I ever went barefoot in the library house I would have noticed. The kids knew all about it and seemed to take it as a feature of the house, that spot that was always wet on the other side of the bathroom.
It’s always something at the FPL!

July 15, 2018: Tell me a story!

It was a storytelling gathering at the Front Porch Library. I cheated by reading a book about a meteorite named Ahnighito. It was, in essence, the biography of a rock. But the kids were spectacularly creative.
Kelby’s delivery mirrored Rod Serling’s (a cool guy Kelby probably never heard of). His arms remained crossed throughout, his voice low and monotone. “Unknown by Timmy’s mother, Timmy’s father was hanging dead in the closet.” (Many of the stories were told with the lights out, although in the middle of the afternoon that was not too effective.)
Harper had a woman tall enough to see in a second story window and a girl who, for some reason, could not get off her bed. The warning was, “Whatever you do, don’t put your feet on the floor.” This led to an unfortunate bathroom-related accident–the story was still scary.
Olivia had everyone give her the components of the story, the character’s names and ages, the setting (Klark suggested an abandoned church). She is a very active storyteller, assuming the body language of her characters (no Rod Serling at all).
Mr. John told a “true” story involving his father, Wakulla Springs, and a diving death.
Klark told a story that ended with the “Boo!” that never grows old.
Danny and Brianna were audience (although Brianna wandered off to draw–she is always drawing).
I found one basketball that still had enough air in it to bounce so we had a get-out-your-crazies strategy. At the end of the gathering I made sure the ball was back in the house. A reasonably-inflated ball is hard to come by. Flat? The library owns a whole collection.
A really fine day at the Front Porch Library.

July 8: Improv Day.

This is the crew as photographed by Alex, Vivienne’s dad. Vivienne is the redhead with the devilish smile.
Today I actually found a story that all my jumping-bean kids sat and listened to–which is fitting since the title was “The Listeners” and it was about the lives of slaves. The listeners were the kids in the slave community who would crouch under the window of the owner’s mansion and listen to what was being said and report back to the adults. The book did a great job of showing what the day-to-day lives of slave children was like–I guess I never knew that cotton bolls were prickly and cut fingers. The book ends with the kids hearing that Abraham Lincoln has been elected.
After, we went on with our storytelling unit. Today we did improv. The exercise that went on longest was the two chairs that represented the front seat of a car. One kid was the driver, the other was a hitchhiker. Vivienne, one of our regulars who moved away was back to be the hitchhiking grim reaper. The best part was the way she threw her hair over her face and spoke in a threatening monotone from behind that screen.
Also picked up was a Russian potato farmer, an African prince, a dog, and when it was Mr. John’s turn, a guy who subsisted by eating flies, which he caught while riding along. Mosquitoes too, but, as he said, they are not as nutritious as the average fly.
Things were, periodically, dangerously loud–at which time we took one of our under-inflated balls (where the heck is that pump?) and tried to roll it into a chalk circle on the road. Turned out it couldn’t be done. The road crowns so the ball would go toward the circle, then veer off. But it was quiet.
Another dramatic day at the Front Porch Library.

July 1: Shucking and Storytelling.

The missions of my dad’s old house are beginning to shake hands. When the kids arrived for library we had just received piles of corn on the cob. We put a plastic table cloth down on the floor (protecting our thirty-year-old rug), and we shucked.
And shucked. The kids were new at the sport, the adults old hands. Some of the corn was a little tired so we started a chicken box. Olivia bagged expertly. Klark recommended a snap-off-the-end move.
Miss Shelley, a new neighbor, joined us. That girl could shuck.
We finally got around to the planned project, more story telling. I had a bin full of pieces of paper. Each had something that had to show up in the story, then we divided into teams.
Klark got the slip that said, “something stuck to the sole of a shoe.” It turned out to be a rock that cut Klark’s foot (which was bare, the shoe sole got edited out).
Briana chose “a broken water line.” Their story was a remake of Jurassic Park. The story ended with T-Rex breaking a water lie with his head and getting washed away.
Olivia chose “The King of Seminole Manor.” She and I created a story of a bunch of kids who decide to name one member of the group King of Seminole Manor, what they hadn’t counted on was kid brother Dave slipping his name into the bowl. Luckily, he had magic socks that allowed him to prove he was the true King of Seminole Manor.
From shucking to storytelling, another fine day at the Front Porch Library.

June 24th Storytelling!

It was storytelling day at the Front Porch Library. I started by telling a story from my life, and then read a scene from “Crossing Jordan” that was based on that event. I wanted to show how stories begin and grow–and sometimes become useful to a writer.
The kids told stories from their lives. Mr. John too. He told the story from the day at the FPL when we found a lizard stuck to a piece of tape and how he spent ages carefully, carefully freeing the lizard. “Everyone lost interest it was so slow.” When the lizard was freed it was only missing one toe.
Olivia was especially good at adding hand gestures, pauses, changes of voice–a natural storyteller.
I broke out my photo collection. These are pictures I use to teach creative writing. Each of us chose one as a spur to creating a story. Kelby had a photo of soldiers in a Humvee speeding away from an exploding horizon. He turned the men in the vehicle into himself and his friends from Brooklyn (some years down the road).
Brianna, of course, chose a photo with dogs. Klark, kept setting the timer–who knows why? There is no hope at the FPL of doing anything in a specified time frame.
Another day of stories at the FPL.

June 17th–The 10th year begins.

I swear, I just looked at the phase of the moon hoping for an explanation of the craziness at the FPL today. Dang! That wasn’t it. Let’s just say that the girls, including me, rolled their eyes a lot. Boy-chaos ruled.
The high point of our gathering was opening the box you sent, Jennifer Brown DeCuir . The books from this year’s Authors in April were just beautiful! Brianna grabbed and hugged all the animal books. Klark settled in with dinosaurs–briefly.
Next week I think we’ll do pole vaulting or maybe sword fighting–something to channel the shout-loud-as-you-can energy constructively.
Whew! I have a week to think this over (and order poles and swords).