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.

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.