February 24, 2019 Conspiracy Day!

I have Kelby to thank for the main activity at the Front Porch Library today. He came to the food distribution last night and asked, “What are we doing at library tomorrow?” I told him I didn’t know yet. He said we should talk about conspiracy theories. He then went on to tell me one of his.
“Did you ever notice at pizza places that sometimes the edges of the pieces don’t really line up? That’s because they take the uneaten slices of pizza left on the table and assemble them into new pizzas….” Hmm, think about it.
That sent me into the dark corners of the internet. So, we began our discussion by talking about conspiracy theories that are widely held, but dubious, like the illuminati, the group that really rules the world, or the fact the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies are hiding the fact the cure for cancer exists, or the fact the moon landing was faked.
In order to be fair and balanced we looked at conspiracy theories that were true, like the fact that during Prohibition the government actually did poison alcohol, or that at least technically we have had a female president (after Wilson had a stroke his wife made all the presidential decisions for more than a year), and that, yes, the FBI did spy on John Lennon.
Then I had a list of topics about which we could make our own theories. Dogs? Another form of human (Olivia’s theory). They are smart, sympathetic, they prefer our company to that of other dogs. The number eight is the endless number–turn it on its side and it is the symbol for infinity. Mosquito bites are the way tracking devices are implanted–just look for the little red spot where the bite occurred–those tracking devices are tiny. Instant mashed potatoes? There are no potatoes involved. We sat in a circle like the bunch of conspirators we were.
We had a new boy, Adrian, we share that great name. He is four. He was more interested in the gravel in the driveway than conspiracy theories.
We also did two experiments about locating the center of gravity. My favorite involved balancing a yard stick on a glass, then putting something on one end and sliding the ruler until the new center of gravity was found.
We had a fine old time at the FPL. Devil’s food cake too.

February 17, 2019: Experiments, produce, and Spring flowers

Luckily, we got a new volunteer at the Front Porch Library today–and her mom. Library and a really large food delivery (our great neighbor, Kearns Hiett made his usual Sunday pickup) arrived at the same time. We had boxes and boxes of produce everywhere. Kayley and her mom pitched right in sorting and putting away. The kids arrived, but the put away went on.
We did two air pressure experiments. For the first we threaded a string through a straw, then tied the string to two chairs, taped a balloon to the straw and let go of the end of the inflated balloon. Man, did that balloon rocket! That was followed by an interlude of balloon-messing-around while the water boiled for the second experiment.
Experiment 2: We stretched an uninflated balloon over the mouth of a plastic bottle, then plunged the lower half of the bottle in boiling water, and, voila! the balloon inflated. We then did the same with a bowl of ice water and the balloon drooped–not as impressive as the balloon rocket.
We then walked the neighborhood collecting spring flowers. Kayley walked with us while her mother soldiered on in the food pantry. Olivia was the most dedicated to finding flowers. Briana talked about cheer leading. Klark and Kelby kicked a balloon down the street until it popped.
We found 21 species–nowhere near what we collected in the fall when looking for seeding plants. But we did stop at Klark and Olivia’s so we could all hold Klark’s new puppy, Binko, and say awwwwwww.
When we got back I brought out a pair of sneakers and each kid began imagining the life of the girl who wore them. There was much dispute about what she was wearing besides those sneakers. Some saw her as fashionable, others as shabby. Briana chose a second pair of shoes–this time cowboy boots and each kid had to create a second character, one who was important to the girl in the sneakers. Then they had to create a plot problem. As is true of all story tellers, there were many unfortunate deaths (parents, best friends). It was all quite satisfying.
Another surprising and varied day at the FPL.

Feb. 10: Volunteers and experiments.

We had the fraction upside-down today. Loads of volunteers, just two kids–the wonderful Klark and Olivia–but we made good use of everyone’s time. Library began with lots of food that needed putting away for the Granny Elliott Food Pantry.
Our three young volunteers, Alex, Abby, and Jean seemed to enjoy trying to figure out what some of the more obscure produce was. Chayotte? Jicama? One or two are still a mystery to me.
Jean was a special treat. She is an exchange student from France who landed in Tallahassee just this morning. How she stayed on her feet, I don’t know.
Mr. John and Miss Vicky helped us finish. We finally got the last unnamed, hairy piece of produce put away and moved on to library-as-usual. My friend Sharon Ketts sent us a couple of science experiment books so we performed three experiments.
For the first we predicted the trajectory of a rolled ball and a rolled egg (yes, I boiled it). The ball rolled straight. The egg was less predictable.Rolled on its equator it rolled straightish, but cock it even slightly, and it rolls in a circle (then there is the wobble). We talked about the value of rolling in a circle, then I shared a photo of the eggs of cliff-dwelling birds, which are far pointier than chicken eggs, then we looked at a drawing of murres nesting on ledges barely wider than one murre butt.
Then we tried the amazing-memory-paperclip-trick. Its memory needs strong coaxing. The clip has to be colder than room temperature before you distort it, the water you drop it in near boiling, but man, meet those conditions and the return to clip-shape is so fast you can’t even see it happen.
The third was a color experiment: Two glass containers with water in them, one sitting inside the other. Put yellow dye in one, blue in the other, look through the side and, voila! Green!
With Jean there we did the obvious, we asked her how to say this and that in French, then we all talked about our domestic political woes. Then Donna brought over Klark’s new puppy and all rational talk ceased. Everyone took a turn holding the sleepy pup.
Une autre belle journee a la Bibliotheque du Porche. (I don’t know how to do the accent marks–please imagine them).

February 3, 2019: Klark’s Birthday Party

Boys at Klark's b'day

A late breaking report from the Front Porch library. I slid back into Tallahassee after leading a second week-long writer’s retreat on St. George Island. I was somewhat relieved to find out that Klark’s birthday party had been moved to the FPL. That meant that Donna was in charge of all the doings, the eatings, the mayhem.

We set up food tables in the driveway–Donna had cooked herself silly. Our library volunteer, Alex, and I set out drawing supplies, and Donna provided what she said was two hours worth of boy entertainment. Nerf guns. She was right. When not eating, the boys shot at each other and tore around. I think they burned off all the calories they took in.

Girls at the party

The girls were more circumspect. They drew, took walks around the neighborhood, talked–and ate.

Alex drew with Diesel. Diesel was the one boy who wanted to draw more than nerf. What a beautiful unicorn, rainbow picture! He explained that the foot of the rainbow was outside the frame of the picture, if only we could see it.

Deisel and Alex

Next week it will be business as usual at the FPL, but what a great party it was. Thanks to Donna for letting me rest my weary self.

January 20, 2019: Puzzle & Game Day

The plan for the weekly gathering at the Front Porch Library was to do some science experiments–I found some killer experiments online, things like distorting a paperclip and putting it in warm water where it would promptly turn back into a paperclip! Whoa! It looked so cool! Problem was the paperclip had to be cast from a metal with memory and my paperclips were as forgetful as I am. They just lay there in the warm water all bent out of shape–and so it went. Not one of the several experiments I tried in preparation for the arrival of kids worked.
So, it was game and puzzle day at the library! But first we had to make the traditional cheese melts and ice the traditional cake. Ilex, Olivia, and Klark worked on the snacks. We were doing the read aloud “Lost and Found” when Violet, Jasper, Fox and Jen came through the door. Also there were Mr. John and our new volunteer, Abby. We were on a roll–and Briana and Cyrus had yet to arrive.
The kitchen floor became the spot for making floor puzzles (hence the name). We discovered that the birds of the world were missing quite a few birds so we will remove that one from our epic puzzle collection. The underwater puzzle was missing just one piece. We all have days when we are a piece shy of the full puzzle; we voted to keep that one in the collection.
Meanwhile, in the living room, Abby was leading a brisk game of “In a Pickle,” followed by “Twister.”
Brianna arrived in time for bocce on the lawn–my gosh it was cold–then came cake. After, the kids climbed the ligustrum.
Ilix was up at the very top. He assured me that he was 95% sure he would not fall, and 99.5% sure he could climb down safely. I suggested he go with the 99.5% and get down.
It was a great day at the library, even if the paperclips behaved like the inanimate objects they are.

While I was away…

Every year I lead a couple of writing retreats on St. George Island, but library goes on. This time Miss Donna was in charge–and she owns a phone much smarter than mine so here are the pictures!

working on the plane

Klark and Olivia are working on a plane that ended up needing an adapted plastic Easter egg for a nose cone–crashing being the plane’s preferred activity.

the plne

This is the plane before the need for a protective nose cone was discovered.


And why not end Library with a race in the street? See, this is what makes the Front Porch Library so much better than those other libraries. The ones that rely on books and computers and never serve snacks, let alone a weekly cake.

Thanks for covering for me, Donna!

January 13, 2019: New Books!

The Front Porch Library took a break over the holidays, and then I led a writing retreat on St. George Island (Thanks Donna, for covering last Sunday).
While I was away we had a box of new books delivered from my publisher, Peachtree, so of course, the first thing we did was open the box and look at all the books–some beautiful illustrations! We sat on the red rug and flipped through the pages.
I did one of the books, “The Three Armadillies Tuff” for the read-aloud. It was a Texas take on The Three Billy Goats Gruff. The armadillies get a makeover for the wolf then take that poor, lonely gal to a honky tonk to kick up her heels.
Then we got out the kid’s pages from the New York Times and did the crossword puzzles–we did pretty darned well.
After that, we moved out to the big table in the driveway with a pad of tracing paper to steal bits of illustration from the books and create new pictures. I have to admit that worked only for Olivia. Basketball and basketball variations carried the day for the guys.
Next Sunday I will be more organized, less tired and a little more imaginative. Still, good to get back to the FPL!

December 9. 2018: Bag it!

This is a late-breaking report from the Front Porch Library. This week my pal, Donna took over–Craig and I were playing for the Democratic Party’s holiday gathering.
As you can see from the photos the project was painting canvas bags (off camera was the eating of cheese melts and chocolate cake).
Thanks, Donna Elliott! Another great gathering at the FPL.

Dec. 2, 2018: Happy B’day Isaac Newton!

Isaac Newton
It was a rather smart day at the Front porch library, heavily weighted toward science–and riddles, a form of creative thinking (inside the box thinkers rarely get riddles).
First, for the read-aloud I read from a book of questions about the mysterious workings of the human body–stuff I didn’t know, like the fact the shape of your hair follicles determines whether your hair is curly, wavy or straight (boy, must I ever have round follicles).
Then came the riddles. Here are a couple:
(Speaking of hair) A man went walking in the rain. He didn’t bring an umbrella or a hat. His clothes got soaked, but not a single hair got wet. How is this possible? *answer at the end of the post.
How do you spell “hard water” in only three letters? *answer at the end of the post.
We’ve been working on gravity for a while–which Olivia effectively defied. We talked about the center of gravity of the earth–it is round, the center of gravity is the center of that big ball, but everything that has mass has a center of gravity. The proof that humans have one was to stand with your legs pressed against the wall, then bend over and pick up a pencil about a foot away on the floor. Since the person who does that is no longer over their center of gravity the task was impossible. Unless you are Olivia, who could do it–three times. Her secret? “Strong calves.”
Then we moved on to Isaac Newton and his laws of motion (by the way, he was born on Christmas day). Working on the laws of motion involved rolling balls, talking about those equal and opposite reactions, potential energy (yes, we rubber band shot a poker chip across the room).
The most dramatic test required a trip to the street. Hold a small ball on top of a large ball and let them drop on the road–man that little ball on top flew!
We had a good old time. Who knew Sir Isaac could provide so much hilarity and fun?
Another fine day at the FPL.
* The man was bald.
* Ice.

November 11, 2018: So much produce!

It was one of those unexpected days at the library–oh heck, they mostly are. It is just the way they are unexpected that changes. Today Violet, Jasper, and Fox returned to the library! I am terrible at having kids vanish from the library, so when they come back I am that delighted grandmother whose grandkids have come home–and these are three wonderful kids.
Since they missed the Halley’s Comet discussion last week we revisited it and figured out how old they will be when the comet returns. Fifty-two, fifty, and forty-six. And from what we read this next pass is going to be spectacular because the comet will be on the same side of the sun as planet earth. Something to look forward to!
Then the two functions of the library house crossed streams and Kearns rolled in with half a ton (that is a literal amount) of produce for the food bank and we all began sorting. Mr. John did heroic lifting–the backs that work on this project have been blowing out left and right. Jen, mother of the three kids sorted like crazy.
Briana fell through the door–oh joy! She and Violet, Jasper, and Fox used to be neighbors. They exuberantly decorated the weekly cake in blue, yellow, and green icing. “We might have used too many sprinkles.” Is there such a thing?
Joe arrived and lay on his stomach on the rug, drawing on our page of Halley’s Comet calculations. (He also helped unpack produce–his back is still good).
The kids ended library climbing the lagustrum hedge. We are very traditional at the library and climbing the hedge (which is 25 feet tall) is traditional, as is cake delivery! We walk some of the cake over to the neighbors across the street and when they open the door we yell, “Cake delivery!”
Mr. John locked his keys in his car and had to get a locksmith to let him in, but things were otherwise, chaotic but great at the FPL.

November 4, 2018: The Scientific Method.

Halley's cometToday at the Front Porch Library we did a little bit of thisa and a little bit of thata.
We began with science and the history of human beings figuring things out. We talked about Edmond Halley who decided that the comet he was seeing in 1682 was the same comet that had been sighted in 1531 and 1607.
How did he figure that out?
We did the math and discovered it was the interval between the appearance of the comets.
They were the same (well, one year off–nothing is all that tidy). He then predicted its reappearance in 1768. Of course he didn’t get to see his hypothesis proven true, but it was.
We talked about hypotheses, and I posed questions like: if you found sea shells in the rocks at the top of a mountain, how might you explain it? Olivia went to higher sea level as an explanation immediately.
Then we got out the big rock and the little rock. Which will hit the floor first if dropped from the same height? We generated three (and we thought, all the possible hypotheses): big rock hits first (heck, it’s heavy), little rock hits first (no good explanation, but it was a possible choice), or third, they hit simultaneously, falling being in some way a uniform event.
C won! But the belief that had acceptance for years was Aristotle’s. He said, if the object is twice as heavy it falls twice as fast. He had the hypothesis, but he never tested it. Galileo did. He got the same result we did. Mr, John, our expert on everything, explained that gravity acts equally on all matter. The size is irrelevant. It was a good exploration of the scientific method.
About then, Joe, Killean, and Anora fell through the door. We were all happy to see them, “Hey, where have you guys been?”
Quick change: I opened my word jars (noun, adjective, verb). We took turns drawing one out of each jar, then each of us had to create a sentence using the words. It generated some really hilarious sentences.
Then Klark and Joe grabbed the basketball, Olivia, Briana, Anora and I moved on to art. First we created a random pattern by dripping ink on cardboard and blowing it into crazy, branchy patterns using bendy straws, then we drew into the pattern. Olivia made a beautiful thicket, then drew butterflies on the branches.
It was a great day at the FPL–and it ended with lemon cake.

October 28, 2018 Halloween !

The weather was so beautiful today that we took the Front Porch Library outside–accompanied by a book of gross facts. It is, after all, almost Halloween, the gross holiday. We took turns reading each other gross facts. Many were about the things eaten in other places. You know, insects, monkey paws, curdled blood.
Then we began decorating the driveway for the holiday. Ray found a life-sized skeleton at Goodwill (our go-to place). Klark named him Mr. Jaunty Bones. We forgave him for being short an arm and set him up in a rocker, one of the chairs folks sit in waiting for the food pantry distribution. Mr. Jaunty is wearing a black silk scarf, a handsome black hat and a rose tucked between his rib bones at lapel height. We plan to give him a shopping bag tomorrow so he really fits in.
We also made spiders and glued googly eyes to pumpkins (they are pie pumpkins and we like pie, so we didn’t want to actually carve them). The eyes started out high on the pumpkin faces, but slid down. They now have big brows and a streak of white Elmer’s glue above each eye.
The best part of library is just listening to the kids talk about what they are thinking about, debating things like, do furry animals actually have private parts, and how to repair a broken guitar string?
If it doesn’t rain Mr. Jaunty Bones and all the paper napkin ghosts, dangling spiders, and the black witch dress luffing in the wind will look good for the upcoming gross holiday.
Another creepy day at the FPL.

October 21, 2018: Invent a Holiday!

Library was small and relaxed. Klark pedaled over first. We stood the basketball hoop up–and it promptly fell forward (good reflexes Kark). The base is a giant water container (the water provides the ballast). Unfortunately, there was no water in it. We were filling it when Olivia biked in.
Once we’d decided the hoop could stand safely on its own we went inside to make banana bread. Mr. John arrived and we all got into the act: sifting, measuring, “lightly” scrambling the egg.
Brianna ran in. Neither her bike nor her scooter are exactly working so she fell into the library winded. I read “Peeping Beauty,” then we went on to the main event, which was talking about holidays–yes, we are entering that season. We tried to name the 10 official national holidays (Labor Day eluded us), then we created our own holidays and made posters for them: Unicorn Day, One-Sock Day, Velociraptor Day, Make Up A Song Day, Chicken Nugget Day. Mr. John did Harry Houdini Day, then claimed he had illustrated it, but the illustration had disappeared.
It was our first cool clear day in, oh, eight months. Brianna actually wished for a sweater. It was so nice to sit at the big folding plastic table to work–even if what we did disappeared.
After the storm, a welcome small, calm gathering at the FPL.

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.