Boy I Saw – poetic foray

16 Jul

Small bare feet, smoking, no shirt,
Reading a heavy paperback –
Fantasy I think
Too big jacket, member of what exactly?

Tattoos on stomach
Why wear a shirt when
You’re rockin’ the m.o.

Talking to self,
Who’s worthy of garbled intelligence?

Cool breeze refreshes.
When will it be too cool
For bare feet, bare belly, bare all?

Eyes blank, sad and smart.
Moving past,
Another planter to lean on.


Day 1 of summer fun!

8 Jun

Day 1 of summer fun!.

The Library Lizard

1 Jul

The Library Lizard

Billy emptied the scoop of rabbit food into the library bunny’s dish. Velvet lived in the reading garden outside, but sometimes got to hop around the Media Center on special occasions. Alana wasn’t sure why Billy volunteered to help in the Media Center. All he ever wanted to do was go on the computer, and she wasn’t sure he’d ever read a book. Alana loved to read and knew the Dewey Decimal System better than Ms. Hudson, the teacher-librarian. Claire, helper number three, was late again. She was probably in the bathroom putting on lip gloss. Claire spent most of her time in the library talking with her friends and reading magazines. Alana, Billy and Claire were Lincoln Intermediate School’s library helpers.

Alana was looking at the library fish, Thesaurus, when she saw something wiggling along the floorboards behind the aquarium.

“Billy, what’s that?” she said pointing to the brownish, blackish, smallish critter.

She and Billy rushed over, crouching on the floor as the panicked creature tried to climb up the wall, helplessly sliding back to the floor every time.

“It’s a lizard,” Billy exclaimed.

“No, it’s a gecko,” said Alana.

Claire came around the corner, “What is that?”

“We don’t know,” they both said.

Ms. Hudson followed close behind Claire. “What don’t you know?” she asked.

“We don’t know what this is,” Alana said pointing to the creature.

Ms. Hudson looked at the trio, and lizard, “Well, how are you going to find out?”

The ABC team all began talking at once.

“I’ll ask my Uncle Ed. He works for the Department of Natural Resources,” said Alana.

“I think we should look on the Internet,” said Billy.

Claire rolled her eyes. “Billy you want to do everything on the computer. Why don’t we look in a book? We’re in the library….duh.”

All three looked back at Ms. Hudson to see who was right. She was the librarian after all. Surely she knew the best way to find out about the critter.

Ms. Hudson replied, “Those all sound like great ideas, but maybe we need to catch the little guy and then we can get a good look at him.”

Claire squealed while Billy and Alana picked up the critter using a piece of notebook paper and carefully placed it in a glass jar on Ms. Hudson’s desk.

“We’ve got it Claire…girls,” Billy groaned, rolling his eyes.

“I’ll put some holes in the lid so he can breathe, but I don’t have the foggiest idea what this little guy or girl eats or needs to live,” said Ms. Hudson.

“We’ll find out,” the ABC team answered in unison.

“What do we need to know?” asked Claire.

“Let’s come up with a plan,” said Billy.

The ABC team sat around the table to work on their plan while Ms. Hudson put the creature under the document camera so everyone could see him enlarged on the big screen.

“OK, Claire, you have a good handwriting. Will you be our note taker? What do we need to know?” asked Billy.

“Well, first of all, we need to know what it is,” said Alana.

Claire wrote in big letters at the top of the page, What is it?

“Then, we need to find out what it eats. Is it poisonous? How big will it get?”  [add illustration – student note]

Ms. Hudson called from her desk, “What kind of habitat does it need? If this is going to be a proper zoobrary, I need a good place for him to live.”

Now they had the questions, but what next? The trio agreed to look in different places and see what they found. Now their plan included what they needed to find out and where they would begin looking. Brrring.  Brrring. The bell rang and they packed up for their next class.

“Let’s meet back here during recess and get to work. We need answers fast if we’re going to keep this little guy in our library,” said Claire.

After gobbling her lunch, Alana logged into her e-mail account. Ms. Hudson sent her a digital photograph of the critter. Yes! She could send a copy to her uncle.

Billy began surfing the Internet. Since he didn’t know what the critter was called, he googled “lizard.” 3, 987,000 hits! WOW! Then he tried, “gecko.” 3,427,000 hits. Oh my. He began looking at images, and found three different gecko species that looked a lot like the critter they found. He narrowed it down to a Leopard Gecko, a Common Gecko and a Mediterranean House Gecko. He clicked on the links and found care information. All of the geckos needed a warm environment, water and tiny insects to eat.

Billy jumped up.  “I’m going outside. Tell Ms. Hudson I’ll be back with lunch.”

“Didn’t he just eat,” Alana thought as she typed her e-mail.

Dear Uncle Ed,

I have a mystery I need your help with. Attached is a photograph of a lizard we found in our library. My librarian says we can keep it if we can figure out what it is and how to take care of it. Can you help?

Your favorite niece,


(P.S. Ms. Hudson says you are an expert – don’t let me down )

Claire went to the online card catalog. She wrote the call numbers for three books in the Media Center. She crossed out Amazing Lizards though; it was checked out. That left two other books, and Alana helped her find them. They were looking through the books when Billy came back into the Media Center with a paper cup.

[add illustration – call numbers on scrap paper] – Lizard and Gecko books: 639.395  Bjo   Lizards,  597.95    Smi     Amazing Lizards, 597.95 Vos     The Leopard Gecko Manual

“I still don’t know what it is, but I narrowed the search down to three geckos. All of them eat small insects so I caught these sand gnats outside,” said Billy as he opened the jar and tapped the sides. A half-dozen tiny gnats fell to the bottom of the jar. One landed right on the gecko’s nose, and a bumpy, pink tongue snapped out and back in; the gnat was gone.

“Gross,” said Claire.

“Cool,” said Alana, “that was so fast.”

The bell rang and the three merged into the river of other 5th graders in the hall. At least the mystery lizard had lunch. They’d see if Alana’s uncle had replied to their e-mail and Claire had the books she needed too. They would have their answers today – or so they hoped.

Ms. Hudson was closing the jar lid when the ABC team rushed through the library doors again. They flung their gigantic backpacks onto the floor by the round table.

“Is the little guy alright?” Alana asked.

“Yes, honey. I just put this bottle cap full of water in so he could get a drink. I’m afraid he’d drown if I give him a big dish.”

The two looked as the lizard as it crept to the water and put its face near the surface.

“Great idea, Ms. Hudson. We gave it the gnats at lunch, but I forgot about water. Everything needs water — duh,” said Billy.

“The gnats were a great idea. Looks like you have one question checked off of your list,” Ms. Hudson motioned to Claire’s list, “Now what?”

Alana called from the computer. “Yes! Uncle Ed replied to my email. I hope we have an answer to our BIG question very soon.”

“And I have narrowed it down to the Mediterranean House Gecko or Leopard Gecko using the books I got earlier,” said Claire.

“I think it’s a common gecko. It must have been a pet that got out,” said Billy, looking at the web pages he’d printed. “Once again, the Internet is the best source of information.”

Just then, Alana exclaimed, “Wow,” as she reread Uncle Ed’s reply. “Well as usual, Billy took the fast way and he was wrong! Uncle Ed says it is a Mediterranean House Gecko, a non-native species that hitches a ride on ships coming from the Mediterranean Sea.”

Ms. Hudson brought the globe over to the team. “That is on the other side of the world. That’s amazing.”

Claire looked at her Lizards book. “It says here their range is the countries around the Mediterranean Sea and the east coast of the United States and Texas. These little guys have sure gotten all over the place. They’re spreading all over the coast of the United States.”

The ABC team and Ms. Hudson all leaned their chairs back and looked at their. . . gecko. “WOW,” they all thought. Finally, Ms. Hudson exclaimed, “Mystery solved team! Now what?”

“Uncle Ed says they are not poisonous and they are not invasive – that means bad for other local species like anoles,” said Alana. “He’ll only be 3 inches long when he is grown.”

“Great, so we can keep him, I think, if we can take care of him,” said Ms. Hudson.

“Uncle Ed didn’t tell me about that. Sorry guys.” said Alana.

“That’s okay, I’ve got that. Every gecko website I found said they need a heat source and a temperature of about 85 degrees, but some need it a little cooler at night,” said Billy.

Claire nodded her head in agreement, “That is what I found too, and I also found that you can buy flightless gnats for them to eat. That way the library doesn’t fill up with flying gnats.”

Ms. Hudson nodded her head to that. She did not want to add gnats to her zoobrary. “Claire, why don’t you update your question list? Your team has a lot of good information, but we have to organize this into a shopping list before I leave here today. I don’t think an old pickle jar next to a lamp is the best habitat. I’d like to get his home set up.” [add illustration – student notes, with answers added]

Billy said, “I thought that the gecko smelled like pickles. I was kind of worried. I’m glad it was the jar.” Claire started giggling while writing down the answers to the questions.  Alana copied the drawing of a terrarium from Billy’s printouts.

[Illustration: drawing/diagram – terrarium with reptile sand or Calcisand (fine), house with small spaces for hiding in, 10 gallon aquarium, vented mesh lid, thermometer on side.]

“This should help with the shopping,” Claire passed the notes to Ms. Hudson and they all walked outside together. Billy was starting to like the way Library Lizard sounded, but he couldn’t think of a good name for a Gecko.

Ms. Hudson returned to school the next day with the new terrarium, lamp, a stacked rock house and best of all, a can of flightless gnats. The ABC team arrived right after her and helped set up the terrarium. Claire looked at the shopping list and drawing they’d made and began checking off the list: warming rock, check; hiding space, check; disgusting, flightless gnats, check.

Great, this Library Li… Gecko was going to have a great place to live, but Claire still wanted to call it Library Lizard. She’d have to start thinking of a good name for it.

Ms. Hudson began to tell them about a, “new, exciting opportunity.” Billy eyed her suspiciously; new opportunity usually meant work. But when Mrs. Hudson explained about the article for the school paper, he and Claire were excited.

Claire exclaimed, “We have all of the notes. We just need to put it together and then we’ll have a happy ending to our story.”

They agreed they would come up with a name, and divided the work for the article. Claire helped organize the article for the paper using the printouts, books, the e-mail from Uncle Ed and their notes. She also interviewed Ms. Hudson. “You followed the four steps we’ve studied all year long. You planned (writing your questions), acted (found the information from 3 places, an expert, the Internet and books), organized (made our shopping list and diagrams), and reviewed (writing the article and setting up the terrarium). You followed the research steps I’ve taught you.”

“We did?” the team said in unison.

“You sure did. I couldn’t have planned a better research project if I tried. I wish I could have a mystery lizard every week,” Ms. Hudson said. “Now what did you decide for a name.”

Billy, Claire and Alana looked at each other, hoping someone had an idea. They all admitted they couldn’t think of anything that worked. They looked at the gecko as his tongue flicked out at the tiny gnat crawling in front of him.

The next week, the ABC team came to the media center to find a copy of the school paper. A picture of the gecko was on the cover, with small pictures of each of them. The headline and article made them all laugh, and they were glad to see the Library Lizard’s new name. [Insert Illustration – student newspaper with article below]

Can you solve the mystery of the Library Lizard?

Three fifth-grade students, Alana, Billy and Claire discovered an unknown type of lizard in the Media Center last week. In honor of their discovery, Ms. Hudson has named the lizard ABC, but she needs your help to figure out what it is? Do you know? If you’d like to help solve the mystery, see Ms. Hudson after lunch today. Ms. Hudson says she needs a really good team of students to work on this special project. “If this is going to be a proper zoobrary, I need help finding out about the Library Lizard, I mean ABC.”

As Billy leaned back in his chair reading the other articles in the school paper, three fourth-graders tiptoed into the media center holding the school paper and whispering to one another. They zoomed over to the terrarium, pointing at ABC in his new terrarium. Ms. Hudson came out of her office and asked if she could help them.

“Yes,” Jake, the red-haired boy said, “we want to help you with your lizard.”

“Great,” replied Ms. Hudson. “How do you think we should start?”

The fourth-graders all began talking at once, interrupted by the Brrring, Brrring of the bell. As they grabbed their backpacks to go, Ms. Hudson called out to them, “Come back tomorrow so you can help me with our mystery.” Billy, Claire and Alana stared at Ms. Hudson as she pushed her glasses back up her nose, winking just a little to them.

“I wonder how many mystery lizards Ms. Hudson has found in our school, before we found this one? I think there may be many more in the future,” Claire whispered as Billy and Alana nodded their heads.

You Are a Writer: A Story in Two Voices

22 Jan

You are a writer.

I am a writer?

You write one word.

I can write one word. That’s easy.

You write another word.

Yep, two words. Got it.

You have your own special words.

Those are some good words.

You write a sentence.

I can do that. Start with a capital. End with a period. Easy Peasy.

You write a trio of sentences.

Three sentences. This is getting harder.

There are details, subjects, verbs and a few adjectives.

There sure are. I did that.

You write a paragraph.

I did write a paragraph. That wasn’t so bad.

The next paragraph arrives on the page with a splash and you whisper “cool” to your pencil.

Wow, this is cool. 

The words pour out of your pencil.

Nothing to it.

Then they stop.

I’ve got nothing left.

You wait. The words are gone, hiding out. You rub your forehead to bring them back. You drink some apple juice, eat some potato chips. You watch TV. You play some video games.

I don’t want to be a writer. It is too hard. Video games are so much more fun. I am not a writer.

But you are. You wake up at night and switch on the desk lamp. You look for your pencil and paper.

Got the pencil and paper.

The words are back.

I’m writing like crazy.

They jump onto the page. Some are so fast. You scribble them down and they are messy.

Oh pencil lead, don’t break now.

The paragraphs get together for a party and they make a story.

Wow, I wrote a story.

You wrote a word.

It was easy.

You wrote a sentence.

It got harder.

You wrote a paragraph.

Sometimes it was very difficult.

You wrote a story.

I wrote a fantastic story.

You are a writer.

I am a writer.

Patsy Pickle, Library Designer

3 Jan

“There it is,” Patsy exclaimed as she pulled her library book out from under the sofa, the place all library books seem to end up. Patsy loved library day and was glad she found her book to return.

Mrs. Massey the teacher-librarian told her class about book awards and how to tell if a book was especially excellent by the gold Caldecott medal.

“How many books have won the Caldecott medal Mrs. Massey?” Patsy asked.

“I think it’s 75 Patsy.”

“Mmmm,” Patsy proclaimed, “I’m going to read every book that won a Caldecott!”

“That is a wonderful goal, Patsy. But I don’t think we have every Caldecott award-winning book in the library.” She didn’t sound like she believed Patsy would read all of the books either.

“My great uncle Ulysses will buy them for me. He says education is the most important thing in the world. He buys me books and science kits and art supplies..and one time, he bought…”

“That’s wonderful Patsy,” Mrs. Massey interrupted, giving Patsy and everyone in Patsy’s class a bookmark that listed all of the Caldecott award-winning books.

The next week during library time, Mrs. Massey announced that she was looking for a very special student to be on the Library Committee. That person would need to love reading and visiting the library. Patsy wrote her name in her neatest handwriting and put it in the choosing basket. She crossed her fingers and closed her eyes thinking lucky thoughts when Mrs. Massey picked a name.

“Patsy Pickle” Mrs. Massey called. “Come see me during your recess Patsy, and we’ll talk about your new job. Congratulations.”

Wow a job. Patsy had a job, and she was only six-and-a-half years-old. She was on the library committee.

On Monday, Patsy came to the library during recess to talk to Mrs. Massey about her new job. She had her brand new library committee notebook to write down important information.

“So Mrs. Massey, what are my jobs on the library committee?”

“Well honey, it’s not a very hard job. You just come to meetings and we talk about the library and sometimes I might ask your opinion about the library.”

“I’m really good at opinions. But going to meetings doesn’t sound like a real job. Mrs. Massey.”

“You’d be surprised how many meetings you go to when you have a real job.”

“I’ve been thinking Mrs. Massey.  Since one of my special talents is decor, I think that is what my job will be, making the decor of the library better. Decor is the decorations in the library Mrs. Massey, like pictures and pillows. I can help make our library an enchanting place.”

“I’d love to haven an enchanting library,  but our school doesn’t have money to make a lot of changes. I’m not sure what we can do for our decor,” Mrs. Massey said rolling her eyes a little.

On Tuesday, Patsy came to the library to read birthdays on the news show and tell Mrs. Massey about one of her ideas for the library decor.

“In A Sick Day for Amos McGee, there are all of these great zoo animals and I think we should have a library zoo, with a giant stuffed elephant, rhinoceros and penguin or maybe an owl. I’m not sure which one,” Patsy told Mrs. Massey.

“Of course, ” said Mrs. Massey as she sipped her morning juice and put books back on the shelves. “That sounds lovely.”

On Wednesday, Patsy returned the book, Kitten’s First Full Moon, and told Mrs. Massey, “I think it would be beautiful if we had a round skylight in the middle of the library and it looked like a full moon.”

“Oh Patsy, that is another lovely idea. You are quite the decorator.”

“Thank you. Like I said, decorating is my special talent.  I’ve been thinking of talking to my Uncle Ulysses about helping pay for the new library decor.”

“Patsy, it is nice that your uncle buys you books, but putting in skylights and buying giant stuffed animals could be expensive. It’s fun to just think of the ideas though, isn’t it Patsy?”

On Thursday, Patsy worked in the library straightening shelves in the S section of the everybody books. “I used to think black and white pictures were dull, until I read The House in the Night. Now I really like black and white. I think it would be nice to have black and white photographs of students in our library.”

“Maybe we could ask our principal if we can have some money for framing pictures,” replied Mrs. Massey.

“Or I could ask Uncle Ulysses. That might be easier.”

On Friday, Patsy brought a surprise to show Mrs. Massey. She unwrapped the brown paper and showed her The Little Island. “This book belonged to Uncle Ulysses. It won the Caldecott in 1947. He says reading all of the Caldecotts is a super, fantastic goal and he sent me this book to help. Isn’t it beau-ti-ful?” she stretched out the word.

“What a lovely book Patsy. It is beau-ti-ful. You have a very special uncle.”

On Saturday, Patsy went to the public library and sat in a comfy chair reading all of the Caldecott books she could find. She had read 25 and couldn’t wait to tell Mrs. Massey.

On Monday, Patsy saw there was a substitute teacher in the library. “Where is Mrs. Massey?”

“She had her baby over the weekend. She’s going to be out of school for a while.”

“What? But I’m on the library committee and I’ve been working on the library decor. I need her to be here so we can make the library an enchanting place in our school, ” Patsy whined.

“I’m sorry,” the substitute said, “but she won’t be back for a few weeks.”

Weeks! Patsy sighed. She could keep reading her Caldecott books and working on the decor. She’d show Mrs. Massey her ideas when she got back.

Patsy kept reading her Caldecott books and telling Mrs. Small, the substitute, about her decor ideas, like having a mural with fantastic characters on it like Joseph in Joseph Had an Little Overcoat, the lion and mouse from The Lion and the Mouse, and the window from The Hello Goodbye Window.  The more books she read, the more characters and scenery she wanted  in the mural she was planning in her library committee notebook. Library day wasn’t the same without Mrs. Massey, but Patsy kept reading her Caldecott books and had read 37 more books since Mrs. Massey had been gone.

The next library day, Mrs. Small, the substitute, had crayons, markers and poster paper for students to make welcome back posters for Mrs. Massey. She was coming back next week! Patsy knew exactly what she wanted to make. She used her library committee book and drew the library with all of her special decor. At home, Patsy was still drawing her poster at the kitchen table when who knocked on the door? Uncle Ulysses. He brought a special gift, the last Caldecott book that she hadn’t read, Animals of the Bible : a picture book, the first book to win the Caldecott medal. She’d read 74 books (and now had #75)  just in time for Mrs. Massey’s return to school. Patsy told Uncle Ulysses all about Mrs. Massey coming back next week, the Welcome Back Party that they were having on library day, being on the library committee and her special decor project.

Patsy wore her favorite blue sailor dress for library day. The dress reminded her of the one Mirette wore in Mirette on the High Wire. She couldn’t wait to see Mrs. Massey and show her the poster she’d made.

Mrs. Massey was excited to see her too and gave Patsy a big hug. She loved the poster and was surprised and proud when Patsy told her she had just finished her 75th Caldecott book.

“That is the best gift you could have given me Patsy. I am so impressed.” That’s when Patsy saw Uncle Ulysses walk into the library. He gave Mrs. Massey a small envelope and they both oohed and ahhed over Patsy’s poster and her Caldecott challenge.

“I am so glad to meet you Uncle Ulysses,” Mrs. Massey said. “Patsy talks about you so much and I wanted to thank you for helping her get the Caldecott books that we didn’t have.”

“That’s one reason I brought you this,” Uncle Ulysses said. “I’d like for all of your students to be able to read all of the Caldecott books, so I think this check will help you buy those books. There’s also some for your decor. I hear that you have a great designer on your library committee to help you spend it.”

Mrs. Massey opened the envelope and her eyes got huge as she looked at the check. “Why, ummm, yes Uncle Ulysses. This will help a lot! This is so generous of you. It’s the best…..I mean almost the best gift I could have gotten.” She looked at Patsy. “I’m glad I have a wonderful designer and reader to help me make our library’s decor more enchanting!”

[illustrator note: library with murals, stuffed animals, etc. as described in book.]


Writing & Learning Simultaneously

20 Nov

I haven’t posted anything on EKL writes! since the summer (or thereabouts). I have been stalking my own blog, reading others and just trying to figure out how this blogging stuff works. There is also this full-time job, bathroom remodel, the people in my life who I actually like to spend time with, and my own laziness that gets in the way of writing.  So I’ve decided to write more and worry less about what categories I have on the blog, or if I’ve successfully connected to facebook? Do I really want to? I’ll continue to work, write, and blog with the grand idea that one of my children’s books will be published, and finally someone will recognize my infinite genius. Bronze statues on school lawns will be planned. I read recently an interview of a literary agent. She said that she likes to work with authors who’s main goal is not to GET published but to BE published as in a continuing state of being. Sounds good, but still have to jump the speedbump of GET before I can BE.

You Are a Writer

4 Aug

You are a writer.

You write one word.

You write another word.

You have your own special words.

You write a sentence.

You write a trio of sentences.

There are details, subjects, verbs and a few adjectives.

You write a paragraph.

The next paragraph arrives on the page with a splash and you whisper “cool” to your pencil.

The words pour out of your pencil.

Then they stop.

You wait. The words are gone, hiding out. You rub your forehead to bring them back. You drink some kool-aid, eat some potato chips. You watch TV . You play some video games. You don’t want to be a writer. It is too hard.

But you are. You wake up at night and switch on the desk lamp. You look for your pencil and paper.

The words are back.

They jump onto the page. Some are so fast. You scribble them down and they are messy.

The paragraphs get together for a party and they make a story.

You wrote a word.

You wrote a sentence.

You wrote a paragraph.

You wrote a story.

You are a writer.

Clams for College

23 Jun


Jake Massey loped toward the boat. His white boots did not quite mesh with the red “I’ve got tiger blood,” t-shirt. His long, perpetually-in-his-eyes hair beneath a red trucker hat is decorated with sharpie marker eyeballs. Jake is a 17-year-old senior at Wando High School, and except for the white boots, he looks like any other high school senior. Of the 3,265 Wando students beginning next year, he is the only student clam farmer, with a unique opportunity to pay for college tuition and maybe even a surfing trip to Costa Rica.  

How does a Charleston high school student become a clam farmer?

Jake is the fourth generation in his family to earn a living in South Carolina waters. This part-time job was bestowed upon him by the family seafood business, Livingston’s Bulls Bay Seafood, and the mother of all – necessity.  Jake will graduate in May 2012 with a special emphasis in surfing and skateboarding. With the ever-increasing cost of college, and a good but not superstar academic record, the Massey family decided that he needed to plant his own clams to help pay for college costs in just over a year.

The idea started germinating several years ago when a representative from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Farm Service Agency told Jake’s parents about the Rural Youth loans* that were available to their children as clam farmers. Aquaculture is regulated under the FDA and their program will loan up to $5,000 to rural youths age 10 through 20 to purchase seed and other necessities to begin farming. Although the family decided to pay for the initial investment themselves, they liked the idea of Jake planting his own clams and are banking on their sweat equity investment as a way to pay for college.

How do you plant clams?

Jake’s father, Jeff Massey, planted the tiny clam seed back in October

wearing a wet suit to protect him from the cold water. He purchased the seed from another South Carolina clam farmer who operates a hatchery where he spawns and grows the seed to about four to six millimeters in thickness. During the first stage of planting these clam seed, Jeff placed about 10,000 in small-mesh four-foot square nursery bags. He connected these bags to one another with tie-wraps and rolled them along the muddy bottom (much like laying sod) of aquaculture leases where they remained for four months and grew to be about nickel-sized.

When it was time to transfer the seed to grow out bags, the weather was warm, and the whole family was able to bring in the seed clams to the dock where they washed, measured and transferred them to grow out bags timing their boat rides to the aquaculture lease with the tides and the corresponding water level they needed. On this day, they were able to bring in the seed by mid-morning and take a lunch break before planting in grow out bags.

After lunch, the family, Mom Kim, Jeff, Jake, and his 12-year-old sister Katie loaded the boat and motored 20 minutes away to their aquaculture lease in Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge.  The work was muddy and hot and the horse flies were merciless, but the whole family had a taste of Dad Jeff’s days spent harvesting clams.  At 9:00 p.m., when they finally motored back in, they were sun burnt, salt-encrusted and sore.

They will wait about eleven months to harvest these clams and plan to begin harvesting in May of 2012. If all of these seed grow to maturity, the clams could sell for about $10,000, and earning this will require many more harvesting trips.  Jake will also need to reinvest at least $1,000 to pay for the following years’ seed, since college tuition will be due again. One hungry sea turtle or a few clam-hungry sting rays could wreck Jake’s best-laid plans.

Now What?

Like many 17 year-olds, Jake doesn’t know where he’d like to go to college or what he’ll study.  He is pretty sure he doesn’t want to be a clam farmer, but so were his parents twenty years ago.  The clam farming profits will be there when he decides where to go after graduation. Until he decides, Kim and Jeff Massey are pleased that both of their children are learning about hard work, the value of planning and taking advantages of the unique opportunities they have. Jake and Katie are learning that brains and college plans go well with marsh mud, sweat and even horse flies.

*United States USDA Farm Service Agency. Rural Youth Loans. , 2004. Print.

Ms. Libeary

12 Feb

Ms. Libeary

I was called Ms. Libeary for the first time last year by a new kindergarten student who had a hard time remembering my name. I didn’t correct her — or the subsequent students who have called me that.  Up until last year, I was a devoted middle school librarian. I have been called many terms of not-so-much endearment, and Ms. Libeary was my all-time favorite.

I never thought I would leave my middle school. But be careful when you are making plans and all that. Two and a half years ago, it was announced that the only school I had ever worked in would close. It was difficult to wrap my mind around. I had worked there for six years, longer than I had ever worked anywhere. I worked there through my discovery of my husband’s heart problems, his consequential surgery, through my daughter’s beginning school, and my colleague and friend’s breast cancer crisis and subsequent survival.

I rode my bike to school sometimes it was so close to my home. My students passed me on the bus, hooting out the windows like I was riding an elephant to school. They were so accustomed to all of their teachers coming “out” to our rural school, I was one of the few teachers that lived and worked in our community.

So back to closing my school.  My “feel good” file full of letters of praise  from the former superintendent, thank you notes from students or the other anecdotal success stories were not requested when the people from human resources came to our school to spell out our options. The options were that we would get to interview with principals who had open positions. These principals had been instructed they were “not allowed” to hire outside of the “displaced teacher pool.”  We were teacher refugees without a home.

Another bright note was that we were invited to a teacher job  fair much like those 18-year-old recent high school graduates who traipse around an auditorium wearing new suits and with all of their piercings removed for the occasion. Opportunities abounded.

Okay, so I found my resume, updated it, pulled out the now 7-year-old portfolio and began adding newer, better photographs, lesson plans and student work I had saved (not knowing this would be the occasion it would resurface). I told myself (repeatedly), “ I can do this. I am not some bun-wearing, shushing, washed-up librarian. I am the queen of technology. I read all of the current literature for middle school students. I was teacher-of-the-year by God. I will have no problem at all finding a job.”

Fast forward six weeks. I have repeatedly called and e-mailed the principal of a prestigious magnet school. I have heard through the grapevine that their librarian is actually retired, and therefore her position is officially open. I have also heard through the same vine that the same principal told her not to worry. He’d make sure she got her job back. Well, guess what? I have two kids, a mortgage, and tenacity baby. I am she-who-will-not-be-ignored. Except I was ignored, repeatedly. Didn’t he know I graduated magna cum laude? That I got my master’s degree while raising two children in rural with a capital R Charleston county – and by the way, they are fantastic, bright kids. Pretty soon, the tenacity morphed into high level resentment; bordering on homicidal rage. If that expletive-deleted ever calls me back, he’ll get a piece of my mind.

In the meantime, a lovely new principal in a small, crumbling (literally) downtown Charleston school called me within five minutes of me e-mailing my resume. She asked me when I could meet her, and she sounded genuinely excited about talking to me. She likes me, she really likes me. I can finally show someone my perfected portfolio.

I went to work for that lovely lady. She was supportive and introduced me to the world of elementary school, where I could help students get excited about cool books. I could wear Dr. Seuss clothes. I could stand at my morning duty post and help the adorable 3-year-old in our youngest class get out of the car seat in the morning and hold him on my hip while I greeted the students. Okay, so I am now driving an hour each way to work. The bicycle chain is rusted, but I could get used to this.

That was before the guys with khakis and ladders appeared. They removed ceiling tiles and looked with flashlights at the brick pillars holding up our walls. They made drawings and took notes as they walked around our school. I heard the term, “seismic study”…hmmm, but it’s now February.  If there was a problem, surely we’d know by now. I mean I was in a school that closed for Pete’s sake. We knew about that by December.

April is a beautiful time of year to announce that your school is going to be closed and your students and faculty are going to be moved to an un-named (or unknown) location. Packing, weeding (librarian clean sweep), followed by some more packing. Oh, and some teaching, storytimes and research interspersed between the boxes.

And by the way, that grant you received (what a feather in your cap) to remodel your media center — what exactly are you going to do with that $5,000 you are responsible for spending to make this media center (in a “seismic school”) more inviting? Another bit of breaking news – the librarian at the school five minutes away from your  house is retiring, and the location your downtown school is going to is 20 miles farther away with worse traffic than the school back in your community.

So, I chose to work closer to home. I chose to work with the kids I see at the Dollar General – the only place within 20 miles to buy poster paper, cream of mushroom soup or trash bags. I chose to work with the younger brothers and sisters of those kids I sadly sent from sixth grade to a high school campus when they no longer had a middle school to spend their next two years.

So now I am back in my town. When my husband had knee surgery, I was able to run home at lunch for a few days and make him a sandwich. I see my students at the gas station and at the homecoming parade. I did teach their brothers and sisters. I know the phone numbers of their parents’ places of employment.

Budget crisis strikes again. Somehow the laws of math have once again been ignored, and we are shocked and surprised that our president’s grant is running out and we need 28 million dollars to keep that status quo in place.  So now, the proposed plan is that the elementary school and high school be “paired” sharing a principal, book-keeper, other staff and drum roll please, media specialist. Students in my community might go from having 3 distinct schools, libraries and librarians to having 1 1/2 (maybe).

As much as I hate it for my students, I also selfishly have to consider my situation. I am once again in the land of limbo. I was teacher of the month two months ago. Doesn’t that count for anything? I have reorganized all of the books so the students and teachers can find them and learn how a library is organized. My students have participated in the state book awards program for the first time. My teachers are using ebooks – and using them well.  My kids like going to the library and I have plans for more exciting opportunities for them to read, have authors visit, read more, learn more and live better lives.

As I type this, I have ice on my back from moving furniture out of my office/the 85 degree server room. There is a silver lining to my current professional crisis – I am having a new presentation system delivered Monday. Only $15,000 and we’ll make fantastic color posters and have letters cut with a new computerized diecut machine. It wasn’t “optional” to take the system that the district purchased for us. I am not sure who will be operating it next year though, since our new budget considers my position “optional.”

I am not sure what the future holds. Will I be a librarian or not? I tell all of my students it is the best job in the school. I get to work with all of the students, and the ones I work with the most are in two camps: the ones who love to read and talk about books and the ones who hate to read and need more time, attention and encouragement than most. Both groups visit each week with their classes. They can also come to the library in their free time; they shelve books, have conversations and come to lunchtime book groups. The overachieving, more academically-minded students can be in their mecca, the school library. They prefer a recess of browsing shelves to playing basketball. I really want to be there next year for those recess visitors and to help my second graders discover Junie B. Jones and the world of chapter books.

Ms. Libeary would really like to see that new crop of kindergarteners too.

Update: At the end of the year, I was offered a full-time contract which I happily signed. Other teachers had their positions cut due to our current budget crisis, and my principal announced he was going to another school. I’ll spend next year justifying my full-time position; the school district allocated for only half-time, so my current principal used other funds to make up the difference. My new principal might have a different perspective.  I’m working on being the Incredible, Indispensable Ms. Libeary!

Highlights Chautauqua Writers Workshop (via Writing and Illustrating)

27 Dec

Highlights Chautauqua Writers Workshop Have you always wanted to go to the Writer's Workshop that Highlights runs in Chautauqua, NY, but have hesitated to pursue your dream due to finances. The Highlights Foundation offers scholarships and now is the time to apply for consideration. A lot of children's writers dream of the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. "Next year," they promise themselves. "Next year I'm going to Chautauqua!" Then reality sets in. The drive and … Read More

via Writing and Illustrating