Thursday, September 9, 2010

Kansas CIty Again?

Waaaay back on August 21, Chris and I flew into Kansas City and met Mike at the airport. After a nice visit with Dr. Wu, we argued over where to eat at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. We usually have a food agenda but it is even more important when Mike is with us. Mike didn't feel hungry enough to go to Stroud's. He claimed he needed to "prepare" for the feast. We tried for Oklahoma Joe's but the line was out the door so we hopped on the freeway to Bryant's. Yeah, Bryant's for a "light" repast. Chris and Mike downed a pitcher of beer and some MEAT. I joined them for fries and turkey.

The next morning, Dr. Wu told us all about his dream: He was working in the hospital and saw a woman trying to buy cigarettes but the machine was empty. She begged him to go get her some cigarettes but he said he was working. She claimed that a cigarette would do her more good than all the medicine could. So, after his shift, he went out and bought her some. He wondered if he had done the right thing. It was a pretty lengthy speech - and complex.
We took him to Stroud's for lunch. He loved the chicken soup and tried the "mixup" of livers and gizzards. He didn't eat as much as we thought he would but he still ate me under the table. Sometimes I think we are exaggerating how good the fried chicken is. Then we bite into that crispy skin and remember why we are not vegetarians.

We went to Lin and David's for a fabulous dinner. How can one woman be such a great cook, so beautiful, and smart and a successful doctor? Sometimes life isn't fair. But then she has to live with David, who is certifiable, so it all works out.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Birthday to Chris

Chris's birthday didn't start out too promising. He had fasted for a blood test and, although we got to the lab by 7:35, he had to wait for about 90 minutes. He was hungry, coffee-deprived and cranky. After a stop at Starbucks for the cure for what ailed him, we drove to San Francisco and arrived too late for the Early Bird parking.
I took my vintage lunch box full of jewelry to the Asian Art Museum's gift shop in the hopes that they might be interested in selling some on consignment. The floor manager sniffed her disapproval and told me I needed to make an appointment with the buyer (which I had tried to do via email with no response.)
Several people had recommended that I approach the museum thinking my jewelry would be a good fit but that lady's attitude completely deflated me. If I want to sell my jewelry (and I need to make money if I want to continue to make jewelry), I need to be a lot tougher and more persistent.

Chris and I walked in the freezing wind and mist to lunch at a Thai restaurant and to Hooker's on Hyde for treats afterwards. Hooker's Sweet Treats  is a tiny shop that specializes in sea salted dark chocolate covered caramels. The interior looks like a general store from the turn of the century with vintage photos displayed on an old armoire. We got one of everything that was on display in their tiny counter. The peanut butter cookie was pretty good, the sweet cheddar corn biscuit was OK and the praline cookie was a diabetic nightmare. Dodging homeless people asleep on the sidewalk and the hoodlums hanging out by the liquor stores of the Tenderloin reminded me why I like living in Pleasant Hill.

Back at Chris's office, I spent some time playing with old scanned images that I think might make interesting cards. Diet Coke battled with sudafed and lost sleep and I struggled to stay awake in the quiet office.
We stopped at Orson for a quick bite before a concert at Yoshi's.  It is a really interesting looking space, modern and clean industrial chic. We ate at the bar and marvelled at the innovative drinks menu.  The bartender explained that a mastic-fig concoction worked because the mastic's pine flavor allegedly played well with the sweet figs. We passed on that.
We shared an "explosive caesar salad" that included parmesan streusel laced with "pop rocks,"  lacy strips of crouton and encapsulated droplets of caesar dressing. We also shared a tasty pizza with grilled corn, corn puree, summer squash, leeks, and basil.

Then we zipped off to Yoshi's for a bargain concert by Willie Jone III, an amazing drummer. His hands moved so fast, I think he must be related to Superman. The quartet also featured Eric Reed, who played beautiful piano.

All in all, the day ended much more pleasantly than it began. I hope it was a nice day for Chris and it will be a good year.

Why Babies Matter: Defending Children's Librarians

I admit it. It wasn't just the crazy drunks, loud teens and urine in the elevator that sent me running from Hayward Library. It wasn't just furloughs and budget cuts and wild children left in the library all day without supervision either. Or the fact that I was spending more time on seeking grants and outside funding than I was providing service to patrons.

It was a disagreement over the fundamental question of what a library should be.

We are in desperate need of community. People live far away from their extended families. Both parents have to work longer hours farther away from home. People don't know their neighbors and it's not safe for kids to play outside unsupervised. Parenting classes and playgroups are being eliminated from community colleges and community centers. Recreational programs and cooperative preschools are being slashed because of the economy. People need a gathering place where they connect with others. New parents especially need this support. They are taking on the most important role humans can accept, raising the next generation. No one should do that in isolation.

Libraries have been filling this gap for years. Free story times and play groups and child-friendly spaces allow parents to get to know each other, share resources and create communities. But as budget cuts force libraries to reassess their programming, pressure mounts to eliminate these valuable services.
Babies Don't Need Stories
Research has repeatedly and emphatically shown the importance of reading aloud, singing and talking to even the youngest children. Children who are read to have an easier time learning to read and achieve greater success in school. Singing and fingerplays develop essential pre-literacy skills as well as enforcing the child-caregiver bond that is so vital to emotional growth and stability.
In times of economic hardship, services to young children and their caregivers are vital. Providing caring support to parents helps them prepare their babies to succeed in school and in life. Waiting until children are in 3rd or 4th grade to address their deficiencies is wrong. It may never be too late but earlier is unquestionably better than later.

Anyone can read a story, right?
Many libraries are using volunteers to replace trained staff at story time. Reading aloud is a skill. It can be taught but it requires a certain innate (possibly theatrical) talent to excel. Choosing appropriate books and reading in an appropriate style requires specialized knowledge. Librarians also learn how to incorporate dialogic reading and other literacy-developing techniques. A successful story time is much more than reading a book aloud.
Para-professionals and volunteers can be great story tellers. My friend Jill has run a very successful and exciting story time for years without a MLIS. But she has dedicated years to honing her skills. Although some wonderful volunteers (like retired teachers or librarians) have developed amazing abilities, asssuming that volunteers can provide the same quality story times demonstrates a lack of respect for the skills and knowledge of staff. Assuming that story time quality doesn't matter demonstrates a lack of respect for the community.
Consistency is vital to the creation of a community. We cannot expect the same dedication from a volunteer that we demand from paid staff. To form bonds over time, people need to know that the same people will be providing similar services at the same time in the same place with the same group. A certain level of predictability in fundamental to our comfort.
It means something when the first place a family goes with their second child is library story time. It means something when a child's first steps are across the library floor. It means something when a child buckled into a carseat is singing the songs she learned at story time. It means something when families greet each other at the library entrance. It means we have created a coommunity.

In Defense of Library School
Not every person with an MLIS is a genius. Not every library school provides a great education and no  library school is as rigorous as medical school or competitive as law school.

Research says that the most important thing in determining the quality of a caregiver (for young children) is the education of that caregiver. More important than the caregiver's relationship to and love for the child, the desire to seek knowledge demonstrates a desire to provide the service. In other words, a stranger who has made the effort to take classes provides better care than a grandmother or aunt who is forced by circumstances to accept the role. Not every librarian is lucky enough to receive TouchPoints training at the Brazelton Institute like I did. But every one who has a library degree cared enough to spend the time and money to get one.

On-the-job experience is wonderful and indispensible but rarely allows us to really think about what we're doing and why. Without at least some philosophical framework, we'll just be reacting to current circumstances without seeing the whole picture.

I love what I'm doing now. I enjoy making things and being surrounded by beautiful colors and shapes and trying new things. But I miss the experience of being part of a community with small children. I miss the parents who ask me for advice. I miss Jessica's hugs and babies who smile when they see me.
Will I ever go back to libraries full-time? I would have to be part of a team who believes that the library can be the heart and soul of a community, that understands the needs of that community and realizes that children are the most important members of a community, that comprehends the importance of nurturing those children starting from birth, that knows that the best way to help children is to provide support for their parents and cargivers with trained, professional staff. Is that too much to ask?