‎"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Steven Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Rampart Guards by debut author Wendy Terrien

Are you bemused by Bigfoot, nuts about Nessie, and fascinated with faeries? Mystical and mysterious creatures have captured our imagination since humans first began to swap stories over campfires. The world of unexplained and unverified lifeforms now falls under its own fringe scientific category – cryptozoology. Debut author Wendy Terrien has her own ideas about this secret world and has turned them into an action-packed, magical mystery.

When Jason Lex arrives home with his dad and siblings from his afterschool basketball game to find his mom missing, he isn’t sure what to think. Has she abandoned them or did something terrible happen to her? Night stretches into the next morning and the police arrive on their doorstep with her bloodied shirt in hand. While they never find a body, the conclusion based upon the amount of blood on the shirt is that she was attacked by a mountain lion and can’t possibly have survived.

The family mourns for several months before Jason’s dad finally decides it would be better for all of them to pack up and move several hours away to be near his mother’s family. As the moving van is pulling away from the house, Jason looks back at it one last time and he is convinced he sees his mom walk past a window. Everyone seems convinced Jason is simply consumed with grief.

The mystery continues to deepen when he meets his mom’s brother – an uncle he never knew existed. His uncle is known around town as a quirky oddball who wanders about gathering data for his research on mythical creatures as a self-proclaimed cryptozoologist. As he begins to build a relationship with his uncle, he learns about the secret role his mother’s family has played in maintaining balance between cryptids and the human world; his mother was a Rampart Guard.  

Terrien has crafted a fun romp that is sure to please middle grade readers clamoring for a new series after devouring Rick Riordan, JK Rowling, and the 000 section of their elementary and middle school libraries.  



The Rampart Guards was released February 25, 2016 by Camashea Press. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Would you like to go to National Library Legislation Day in DC May 2-3, 2016?

Every Spring, librarians from all over the country swarm Washington, DC to speak out for libraries and our patrons. It is a sight to behold! In 2014, a group of librarians even coordinated a flash mob "Happy" dance on the steps of the Capitol! Many of us serve patrons who, for various reasons, can't advocate for the services we provide. Perhaps you work with homeless teens or students in high poverty school districts with no school libraries. Maybe you work with college students working multiple jobs just to afford their education. Perhaps you run a a maker space that provides opportunities for anyone to explore technology, art, and innovation simply because they are interested. Whether you are a school, public, or academic librarian - or any myriad of other specialty librarian - we all have stories to share that can help lawmakers understand the value Americans gain from strong libraries. And stories from the trenches speak volumes. 

If you are a member of YALSA who has never participated in this exciting event, you can apply for the chance to be selected for a $1000 stipend to attend this year's National Library Legislation Day (NLLD) in Washington, DC on May 2-3, 2016. In order to be considered, members must have not previously attended NLLD must apply via website application by February 1For more information and to access the application form, go to the advocacy section of the ALA website at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/nlld

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jennifer Longo writes about ballet, the Ice, and figuring out how to live when your dreams don't pan out...



Despite my love of YA fiction, it is rare that I come across a book that is truly surprises me. I initially picked up an ARC of Jennifer Longo’s upcoming release Up to this Pointe with my own little teen dancer in mind expecting a light romantic read that might capture the interest of a dance-obsessed young girl. What I discovered is a more complex and layered novel that far exceeds a simple dance infused romance. Up to this Pointe is ultimately a coming of age story in which a teen confronts an uncertain future of derailed dreams.  Performing arts collide with science, history, and adrenalin pumping adventure through a fast-paced and well-staged cast of characters. And although it most certainly will appeal to the multitude of young dancers I know, it has elements that will appeal to a much wider and more diverse group of readers as well. As part of a blog tour leading up to the release of the novel, I was able to ask Jennifer a few interview questions.

Suburban Barnyard:

I read that you did an MFA in theater and wrote a play for your thesis. What led you away from playwriting and into writing YA novels?

Jennifer Longo:

I still write plays, I love the difference in the skill sets – the writer Philip Hensher said it so well, “A playwrites’s tools are more refined; a novelist’s toolbox is bigger.” Playwrites must create a world, a life, using only dialogue and physical movements. That’s it. We aren’t afforded the luxury of inner monologues and pages of back story – and while a novelist can allude to characters’ inner thoughts, she must not only include dialogue, but create time passage, and give descriptions of location, the world, and what everyone and everything looks like; plays present all that, live, no writing required. Or wanted! Yes, plays have soliloquies, but I think most exposition is rough on stage. Check out Eugene O’Neill’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT; straight-up fact it is one of the greatest modern plays ever written, but the Mother character has this monologue that goes on for pages and is full of stuff about dead babies and past insults and whatnot, and I’ve never seen an actor  - no matter how skilled - make it work. Woof. And O’Neill is a genius! Anyway, that difference in how the world is created seemed really difficult and new and I wanted to try it. I was right – it isn’t easy. At all. Neither is, but I love both forms of storytelling so much.


Suburban Barnyard: 

Your background in dance is so clearly evident in the character development of Harper and yet I didn't feel like you were banging me over the head the entire time with the theme of dance. How did you make decisions about what details from the world of dance to include that would create that sense of how much Harper’s identity was intertwined in that world?

Jennifer Longo: 

Oh thank you so much, I’m glad it felt right! I have to give a ton of credit to my editor and my editorial agent, who both help me pull back when my informative/descriptive tendencies over-bloom. Again, it’s the playwrite in me, not used to writing so much exposition, over compensating. They give me very patient notes like, “Maybe we don’t need the entire history of the origins of pointe shoes…In the middle of a first date?” I hope I included the really visceral parts that are most interesting to people new to dance, and to seasoned dancers as well – the sacrifices, the nuts and bolts of the physical aspects and how auditions and rehearsals and dance careers work. In the end, I think we kept the details that the three of us personally found fascinating and maybe lesser-known.

Suburban Barnyard: 

Most of us, at some point in our lives, have to learn to deal with plans and dreams not working out quite the way we thought they would. I’ve encountered so many high-achieving hard-working teens who have these mapped out plans for their lives. Hitting the bumps of real life is particularly difficult for these teens. How did you keep that inner struggle for Harper central as you wove in the vastly different worlds and various supporting character roles?

Jennifer Longo: 

What a great question! I think as I mapped the story out, it was easiest to keep that struggle active in Harper by having her run away, supposedly to get some peace and a break from seemingly impossible challenges  - only to be met with new impossibilities, and new people who need help from her. It’s Ye Olde We cannot control chaos, we can only decide how we react. I think Antarctica itself is a beautiful, living personification of this notion: It’s how a person accommodates The Ice that lets them survive, because The Ice isn’t going to accommodate for anyone. Also, it’s always illustrative of that idea to have a person mourning a loss to then be with other people experiencing their own losses to keep things in perspective – not negating one’s sadness or fear, but more remembering that we’re all in this struggle together. It can be hard, as young people experiencing loss and obstacles in the face of preparation for the first time, to know how to go on. Resilience. It’s the best tool we’ve got.

Suburban Barnyard: 

Yes it is! Grit, as my mother used to say.

I loved the historical detail you included about Antarctic exploration as well as the current depiction of scientists working in the research station. This is not the first time you’ve written about Antarctica -- that play from your graduate thesis was about Antarctica's Age of Exploration. What initially sparked your obsession with the frigid isolation of Antarctica?

Jennifer Longo: 

You know what, it was an accident! I was originally writing a play about photography, and in my research on the history of the Kodak Company I came upon the Frank Hurley photographs from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 Endurance expedition. In a single afternoon I became obsessed with the Age of Exploration, with Antarctica, with Shackleton and Scott and Amundsen. The play became one about Antarctica’s singular unique beauty and ecosystem, it’s barometric measure of how humans must continually adapt to life on earth even as they influence it, but most of all (and forgive my getting esoteric and woo-woo here) as a dynamic, living metaphor for human existence in the universe. Seriously. That sounds ridiculous, but the entire concept of these guys, the explorers seeking to ‘conquer’ a continent? (Which really was them ‘conquering’ an idea, conquering Man’s own frailty, yadda yadda) And attempting to do this by outsmarting ice? Fascinating.


Suburban Barnyard: 

I totally agree! Fascinating! 

So reality vs. fiction… You created a very believable sounding story of life in the research station. How did you do your research and what sorts of details are based upon real experiences of people working in an Antarctic research station?

Jennifer Longo: 

We listed the main sources of my research at the back of UP TO THIS POINTE because it’s all so amazing, I wanted to share what I consider the best of what’s out there. Because there is a ton. For years I’ve been reading any book I can find about the Age Of Exploration, and lately, for the real-time science station details, I love following blogs written by current residents. Also there are amazing Twitter feeds, and memoirs about people’s time at The Pole and at McMurdo Station. There are some really incredible documentaries I watch over and over. The best though, was having a friend who got Antarctica-obsessed around the same time I did, and he worked at McMurdo for two summers and Wintered Over once – he’s responsible for many of the details about the abundance of birth control and the zombie-like state the cold can put a person in. We wrote and spoke often when he was there, and I took copious notes.

Suburban Barnyard: 

That is cool! Finally, any words of advice for budding YA authors?

Jennifer Longo: 

Ernest Shackleton’s family motto says it best: “By Endurance we conquer”. The world needs your stories. Please, please write if you love it – write for yourself, write to work out frustrations and fears and worry and to celebrate and document joy and kindness and funny things that happen. You may not think what you have to say is interesting or new or needed but I’m telling you, something in there is. We all think our lives and stories are so typical and usual but that’s because we’re used to it – the minute you start talking about some random thing that happened to you one time when you were ten years old, like at a party or something, I guarantee at least one person will be all, “What? You did what? That happened?” It may seem mundane to you, but the rest of us want it. In this way you’ll find your voice, and then go learn mad technical writing skills, learn all the rules so you can break them, and give us your stories. Please.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about all the things I love so much, I’m thrilled you enjoyed UP TO THIS POINTE and I hope it finds other hearts to rest in as well. Have a wonderful rest of Winter!

Up to this Pointe publishes on January 19, 2016 from Random House. Her first book, Six Feet Over It, was published in 2014 and received rave reviews. Jennifer Longo lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter and writes about writing at jenlongo.com.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Using the Library of Congress Archives to Teach Visual Literacy

My favorite part of travelling to national library conferences is meeting innovative professionals and hearing about the remarkable things they are doing in libraries with young people. At the AASL National Conference in Columbus during the first week of November, I got to meet librarian Tom Bober and hear a wonderful presentation about using Library of Congress digital resources -- with elementary school students! Tom is an elementary school librarian from Clayton, MO currently serving as teacher in residence at the Library of Congress (http://captainlibrary.blogspot.com/).

There is still such a huge misconception among the general public about just what the role of a school librarian is, what sort of training goes into becoming one, and what we teach. Yes, we do curate collections of books, in all of their formats. We are champions of literacy, although not just in the traditional sense. What sets school librarians aside from other types of librarians is our role in teaching students the skills for ethically using, critically evaluating, effectively searching for, and successfully synthesizing information in an increasingly diverse variety of formats. What I loved about Tom’s AASL presentation was the way he is taking these critical skills and scaffolding them down to our youngest learners so that even Kindergarten students are building a base in research skills.

Just before Thanksgiving break, I had an opportunity to experiment with one of his lesson ideas with my 3rd and 5th graders. The lesson used a series of photographs from the Library of Congress digital archives. The photos depict scenes from a family Thanksgiving dinner in 1940. Most of the photos are taken from various perspectives of a single room. Students were tasked with examining the photos and creating a room diagram showing placement of furniture, doors, windows, etc.
It was fascinating to see students working through the thought process of trying to record only what they see and not what they think they are seeing. Many of them initially started drawing and labelling things as they saw them in relation to their own homes -- kitchen, dining room, family room, mud room, etc. It was a wonderful exercise in visual perception and point of view and quite different from what they are used to doing in school.

The biggest challenge I found was time. We only have a short 45 minute library class and that really wasn’t enough time to effectively complete the exercise. I would also have limited the photos to just the ones showing a single room. Overall, however, I count the lesson as a success and am excited to try more of the lesson ideas from the Library of Congress website in the future! Thanks Tom!





Monday, September 28, 2015

Evolving Libraries With STEAM: An Interview With Sarah Kepple


I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many wonderful librarians throughout my journey to becoming a school librarian. Some of the most dynamic have been my colleagues in YALSA with whom I’ve had the honor of working with on committees. One of the most forward-thinking and passionate librarians is Sarah Kepple, a former Cuyahoga County Public Library youth services librarian who is now taking her talent and services on the road as an outsource programming specialist. Sarah has been at the forefront of the maker movement promoting robotics and STEAM programs in the library. In the year and a half that I’ve been working with her, we’ve had many discussions about the evolution of libraries and librarians and the potential for the library as a center for not only information and literacy skills, but creating and learning in a social setting. Sarah has just finished writing a book, Library Robotics: Technology and English Language Arts Activities for Ages 8-24, set for release in October 2015, that talks about her experiences implementing tech programs in public libraries and gives practical advice and guidelines for starting and developing programs. I recently asked Sarah a few questions to learn more about this exciting new resource for library professionals developing maker environments in their libraries.

SB: Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book?

Sarah: Sure! I was inspired to write it because I started getting so many questions from library colleagues about what we had created at CCPL. Most of the folks who called were looking to justify for themselves or their stakeholders, why robots in libraries made sense. This is part of why I designed the activities in the book to align to not only the ISTE Standards for Students, but also the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner and the Common Core ELA Standards. Librarians develop both traditional literacy and technology literacy, so this book is designed to help them do both. The activities are all rooted in books, so that students are, for instance, reading about Alice’s adventures with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare while programming a robot to make tea. One of the school media specialists I interviewed for the book talked about how librarians are cross-curricular by nature, and I agree. Librarians could use the activities in the book in collaboration with a science, math or English teacher, an engineer from the community, or all by themselves!

SB: Why do you think libraries and schools have gone so crazy for the maker movement in the past few years?

Sarah: There are so many reasons. We’re responding to the cry from government and industry that we need more entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers. We’re participating in the push for locally and responsibly made goods, and we’re engaging folks by providing equipment that they may not be able to afford individually. Apart from all of these very valid reasons, though, I think we make and help others make because we are inspired by the process. The first time I saw students working with robotics, I was blown away. They were working in teams to solve challenges, such as programming the robots to move materials from one space into another, and they were so incredibly engaged and excited. They were independently investigating programming options, taking measurements, collaborating with each other, and discussing multiple creative solutions. The atmosphere was electric. All these years later, after leading hundreds of robotics classes, I still get energized by the students and the process. This is how we grow lifelong and connected learners. Creating is such a natural human urge, and creating together brings out the best in humanity.

SB: What do you see for the future of libraries 5, 10, and 15 years from now? What will they look like?

Sarah: Almost exactly five years ago, I went to a ground-breaking virtual conference put on by Library Journal and School Library Journal called eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point. At that time eBook sales and circulation was rising exponentially and there was a very strong feeling that libraries might be in trouble without some major overhaul, and not just in their collection development strategies. Though we’ve seen eBook sales and circ level off, the experience and subsequent cultural dialog has left us asking, “What is the point of a library? Why are we here? How should we move forward?” I’m encouraged by these questions. Libraries have always had to adapt to changing technology, but never before have we really looked so hard at our fundamental purpose. The past five years have seen a lot of experimenting, with makerspaces, business centers, media labs, writing centers and more. In the next five years, I would like to see us get focused on the science part of library science, and structure our experiments so that we can evaluate their effectiveness. Within ten years I expect most library systems to have moved fully into outcome-based planning. We’ll identify community needs, map out strategies to address those needs through classes, collections and services, and have ways to track our progress towards those goals. As we do this, I think we will be working toward codifying new best practices, and within fifteen years we’ll consider ourselves community learning centers rather than book repositories.

SB: There is still a huge stereotype out there of the shushing librarian and libraries as places of quiet solitude and stacks of dusty books. How can librarians squash the stereotype and create the image of libraries, and librarians, as leaders in emerging skills and technology?

Sarah: It’s true. Libraries need to do some major rebranding. ALA’s new Libraries Transform campaign emphasizes that libraries today are more about what we do for and with people, rather than what they have. I think this is the essential element on which we need to focus. It takes us back to the question, “What is the library’s purpose today?” or “What should we be doing for and with people?” To me, the overarching answer is we need to be community learning centers, and we need to behave and market accordingly. In both school and public libraries we need to think and speak in terms of learning objectives, think of ourselves as educators, adjust our language to “classes” instead of “programs”, and embed ourselves in our communities. Librarians have always been great at referring folks to the right resource at the right time. We need to recognize and celebrate that the right resources might sometimes be us and be bold enough to say so.

For the book I interviewed colleagues from school, public and academic libraries who are also using robotics with students, and all of them gave examples of how their experiences leading robotics has affected how they are perceived by others. After leading the school robotics team, one media specialist talked about how he is now in near constant communication with the physics teacher and practically co-teaches an English class. Fellow teachers see him as a vital resource, coming to him for tech help and to collaborate and his principal loves him. Another school librarian gave the phenomenal advice, “Don’t wait to be asked!” When it comes to emerging skills and technology, we need to just go ahead and lead. Recognition will follow.

 
www.sarahkepple.com
@MsKallDay

Friday, September 4, 2015

Your Voice Matters in Advocating for Libraries



In our highly connected digital world, libraries are more important than ever. I can hear you saying, “Of course you say that! You’re a librarian and want to protect your job!” Yes, that’s true, but hear me out. Libraries have been a part of civilizations since the birth of writing itself as places to house, preserve, and disseminate information and as meeting grounds for information seekers. They have evolved continually over time to meet the changing needs of not just scholars, but all people seeking access to information. Libraries, in conjunction with widespread public education, have created a far more level playing field for modern societies. And as societies have grown and evolved, so too have libraries. With exponential increases in information available and developments in technology, they have continued to support access and opportunity for all citizens, arguably better and more efficiently than any other time period.  The Internet alone cannot provide such support; it only creates the connectivity. Libraries with space for collaboration, access to the most innovative technology, and yes, information, in all of its various formats, and staffed by people highly skilled in finding the right information for individual needs and teaching skills for finding, evaluating, and using information independently, are an essential need in today’s modern societies. Indeed without libraries and information professionals who can curate, cultivate, and make accessible quality information, the Internet and its connectivity become useless.

I can hear the naysayers; “Public education? What a broken mess! And my library has nothing for me!” While neither is perfect, they are shifting in the right direction. And I would argue that they should never truly be perfect. What we have now should be completely different 5, 10, 15, or 20 years from now. Both libraries and public education are in the business of creating and supporting life-long learners and should continually seek to evolve as society learns and grows. Neither profession should wake up one day and say “Well, we’re perfect now. Time to stop evolving and keep doing what we’re doing for the next 2 decades.” And I do believe that the vast majority of schools and libraries are not only doing good things, but amazing things today. But those darned naysayers are loud and squawky. They grab headlines – over and over and over again. It is libraries and educators, however, who have been the voice for open access to scholarly research and equal access to literature, technology, and the Internet. They have spoken up on behalf of all of us in the battle against censorship. They have been a voice arguing for privacy and individual rights in balance with societal needs. They have been the protectors and preservers of our cultural heritage and history – in all of its formats.  

So what can we do? Advocate to keep and expand libraries – and for finding ways to properly fund them. Who should speak up for libraries? Everyone, because that’s who they serve. There are few professions that truly speak for each and every one of us, even among the variety of public services.  The mission of libraries has always been to meet the needs of the communities they serve, whether school, public, academic, or specialty. They are driven by a sense of equal access. In recent surveys of public opinion, more than 80% of respondents place high value of the role of libraries – and yet they have been voraciously cut back and eliminated in schools and communities. In conversations with parents, teachers, and community members over the last few years, I regularly hear the lament, “They just don’t have the money for libraries anymore.” The blame is almost always on a nebulous “they” who are cutting the funding. Ultimately, we are our public servants, whether elected or hired. Advocating for improving and evolving public services, for finding and ensuring adequate funding, falls on the shoulders of each and every citizen. It is not “us” versus the nebulous “them” but rather a “we the people”. We all need to act to preserve libraries. Not doing so will just send us reeling back to the dark ages of vast inequity.

How and for what should we advocate? First, ask lawmakers and leaders to stop trying to find magical solutions in the for profit world for services that are public in nature. Keeping schools and libraries in the public non-profit sector does several things; it reduces the likelihood of individual gains taking precedence over public good and needs, it keeps hierarchy to a minimum allowing more collective (and patron driven) decision-making, it ensures that these institutions remain committed to equal access for all rather than shifting to a pay-for-play model that increases class inequity. If public services have to follow the mighty dollar, they cannot serve everyone equally. Rather than serving the public, they become servants to those that can pay the most. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be fiscally responsible with the funding they receive, just that the funding should not be tied to individual profit and gain.

Second, ask lawmakers and philanthropists to invest heavily in both libraries and education. Each and every school in America should have a school library with appropriately trained administrative assistance and a minimum of one full-time certified teacher librarian who collaboratively teaches information literacy with other teachers. Less than that and the school library is ineffective. Well-funded libraries deliver enormous value for each dollar spent. In schools, they not only prepare students with the skills for self-motivated independent learning, but connect each and every subject and discipline to encourage true interdisciplinary learning. They foster school cultures and environments where serendipitous discovery can happen naturally and in conjunction with the educative process.  They are a bridge between academic, archival, and public libraries and a link between each grade through elementary, middle, and high school. How do we know this? Solid data from two decades of more than 60 state studies show a definitive correlation between school libraries and student achievement. That kind of data is unequivocal. 

Finally, vote. Vote in every election. And understand that good politicians have to balance their decisions based upon not just your voice, but the voices of thousands of constituents, some of whom are very vocal and have substantial financial backing. Wealthy squeaky wheels, however, drown in a sea of less-well-off masses. You will never agree with every choice that elected official has to make, but if you are a passive grumbler who never votes and never communicates with elected officials, then your voice is merely static. Choose to be an educated, informed, part of “we the people.” And support widespread educated and informed citizenship through well-funded, accessible, professionally staffed, quality American libraries.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"While other things fade, stones and souls endure."


This has been a sad year. After having just lost my Mom to cancer 2 ½ short years ago, my Dad suddenly passed away last month. I’ve found myself thinking profoundly over the past few weeks about legacy, pondering deeply what my parents left me with, not so much physically as metaphorically. I am grateful for the solid foundation they gave me through encouragement, support, education, and sometimes a firm hand and boundaries that enabled me to become who I am today.  As a child, my parents fostered a love of reading, learning and books. They took our family to museums where we could steep ourselves in history, science, and art. They encouraged us to try our own hand at playing instruments and filled our house with music ranging from jazz to classical to the occasional foray into folk and pop music. They took us on vacations to beautiful national parks. They made sure we all learned to swim during summer vacations.  They gave me and my siblings the gift of college educations. We had regular family dinners, homemade and at the table together.  We discussed what we learned at school, politics, and the world. We watched the nightly news and the Muppet Show together in the evenings.  We laughed a lot and sometimes cried. I wonder often how children grow and prosper when they don’t have the luxury of being raised by parents like mine.

In the 2 ½ years since we lost my Mom, I began going to my Dad’s house to help with some chores and make dinner. We had some wonderful conversations over those dinners and I became much closer to my Dad. Frequently our conversations in that first year were on the topic of stones. The headstone on their grave was not a quick decision.  Dad mulled over multiple designs and types of stone for months, deliberating with all of us as to which one would best serve as not only a marker, but a memorial. We decided that a piece of poetry or writing would make it all the more special and Dad perused multiple possible excerpts before finally settling on a portion of John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud.” Once the stone, design, and words were settled upon, drafts and revisions circulated among family members until, finally, many months after Mom was laid to rest, the perfect headstone was set in place at Lower Brandywine. 

Throughout those months and discussions about the headstone, Dad and I also talked about the predominantly Jewish custom of leaving stones when visiting graves of loved ones. There are multiple explanations for this custom in Jewish lore. The oldest historical connection actually comes from ancient times when people would mark graves with simple piles of stones. It was a practice that ultimately evolved into grave markers with inscriptions and was not solely a Jewish custom. Aside from the historical significance of piles of stones, there are multiple stories that emerge explaining the custom. The associations Dad and I talked about most were 1) the idea of stones symbolizing endurance 2) the leaving of stones as a sign that “I was here” visiting this memorial and 3) stones left as a tribute meaning “you were remembered”. Once the headstone was in place, Dad and I both began leaving stones when we paid a visit to the gravesite. Dad left a stone he collected at Trinity University in San Antonio as well as stones from family vacations to Graves Mountain and Lake George. I left stones from various places I visited as well as stones I just liked. 

Unfortunately, some well-meaning soul has cleared away all of our stones. Maybe someone who recalled Mom’s dislike of kitschy disorder left as memorials or maybe just someone trying to keep the cemetery clean and orderly. I feel certain Mom would be just fine with this custom of leaving stones, however, and I invite any and all of you to leave your own stones if you happen to visit. Both Mom and Dad were filled with fortitude and lived rich, full lives. The legacy they left is solid as stone; it endures and lives on in the memory of everyone their lives touched. 

Holy Sonnets:  Death Be Not Proud
By John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s deliovery,
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shallt die.

(Spellings in the original Donne poems are slightly different and the inscription on my parents’ gravestone uses the original Donne spellings.)


Photos of The Suburban Barnyard

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Me and some of the authors I've met...

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