Sunday, January 29, 2006

Going Going Gone

Going, Going, Gone….

In our never-ending quest for new stock, my E-bay bookselling buddy and I went to our first auction. Oh, yes, we’d known about auctions for years, but we’d never been to one.

Thanks to my column in Bookthink I received an e-mail from an Austin bookseller telling me that L.L. Auctions had one on their calender that promised “children’s books”.

Since we were total auction novices, I e-mailed Lisa, the owner and asked her some rather basic questions. Her response was so friendly and welcoming that we decided to give it a whirl.

The inventory list said their were four “lots” of books. We had no idea what a lot consisted off, but we emptied my car and on a grey, cool Sunday, we took off for La Marque, a small town south of Houston. La Marque is a small town consisting of down at the heel buildings, failed businesses and many trailers, all in poor repair.

We pulled up to the auction site, a small warehouse / small business park. The tenants seemed to have forgotten to pay their electric bill and their rent, hence the auction. They also hadn’t paid for plumbing – the facilities consisted of a porta potty. We were assured there was no running water on site (wrong – more on that later).

The interior was dim and dusty and stacked almost to the ceiling with everything, including the kitchen sink. School desks, old air conditioners, antique furniture, a canoe, football uniforms, dusty toys, old clothes, dishes, the valuable, the trivial, the worthless and the forgotten.

We found our first “lot” in a corner -some 50 unwieldy boxes of books, books and more books. We dug into a few and they appeared to be the cast offs of an old elementary school. The other lots were equally large and the contents appeared to be similar.

Most of the folks were regulars – they stood around chain smoking and chatting of past auctions and bragging on their E-bay sales. Many had the “ex biker look” - beards, gimme caps, beer bellies, bad teeth accompanied by that “dipped lightly in grease” aura. Everyone was quite friendly and it was interesting to listen to their stories.

The list of goods was long we settled in for a long wait. Lisa was efficient, organized and amusing and she moved along quickly. Most of the items went for pennies on the dollar – it was definitely a place to pick up some bargains.

While there was a great deal of interest in some tubs of old videos, nobody appeared to want the books and we ended up with 3 lots. By this time, it was 3pm and we could see a storm brewing on the horizon.

We ripped open the first box and started culling. Some gems, much, much, much chaff. Due to space and time constraints, we knew we could only take the books worth listing and that we would have to consign the others to a dumpster. Luckily, for us, many of the other buyers had a serious case of Packrat and started gathering up what we’d left behind. We happily told them to take whatever they wanted. My friend made a quick call to her husband and he gamely agreed to drive down and help us out.

In the midst of it all we discovered there was indeed running water in the building. A cheap PVC spigot broke off a pipe and water shot out in a 50 foot stream. People scurried to grab their items, ran for buckets and searched futilely for the shut off valve. This did not exist because there was not supposed to be any running water in the first place. One inch of water soon covered the floors and started streaming out the doors and into the parking lot.

A rumble of thunder sounded and became apparent there was going to be water both underfoot and overhead. We loaded up our cars – the increasing dim light made it impossible to continue sorting and headed out as the first drops began to fall.

Said drops quickly became a downpour, a deluge and a monsoon. Hunger had set in so we crept along the freeway until we saw a promising looking Mexican restaurant.

Chips, queso and a potent Margarita quickly improved our outlook on life.

Would we do it again? In a heartbeat, only this time we are bringing our own book boxes, a box cutter, a dolly a flashlight and our rubber boots!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Bit of Levity

When it comes to the Education Biz, January is such a drab month. Winter Break is over and done with, Spring Break is so far away and the TAKS test looms. The shine is off the new shoes and the backpacks are frayed, as are the teacher’s tempers and nerves.

We needed a bit of levity, frivolity and general silliness. One day I caught our new Assistant Principal wearing some funky bear paw slippers. Back in his kindergarten days, he wore them when it was time to “Slip into Books”.

From that “Slip into Books” day was born. We kept it a deep dark secret from the kids. The wall were papered with signs saying “Feet = Books”, “Something Odd with Happen on Friday”, “What did the Teachers Forget? “, “Blame it on Mr. A” and “It’s all Mr. A’s Fault. The kids helped make the signs, which heightened the excitement since they had no idea what was going to happen.

Wild rumors swept the school. The teachers weren’t going to show up, Dr. Seuss was coming for a visit, we were going to invaded by aliens, Mr. A was going to walk around books glued to his foot or the teachers were all going to wear chicken suits. We never did figure out the logic of that last one.

They resorted to bribery. “Oh, you’re the best librarian ever. You can tell me, I promise not to tell anyone”. Several budding con men claimed they did know and that they would, for a price divulge the secret.

Friday rolled around and most all of the teachers exchanged their shoes for fuzzy wuzzy slippers, the more outrageous the better. That morning the hall, where the students wait for the breakfast lines to open rang with giggles as they admired their teachers choice of footwear.

We’d told the kids that there was a pizza party for the first ones to figure out the slogan.

Their minds started whirling and twirling. Again, some were utterly outrageous “Stomp on Books”, “Stamp Out TAKS” (we wish) but as the morning progressed and we started giving out hints, some got pretty close.

5 of my morning library kids were determined crack the code.

“Let’s go to” one suggested.

“No, we’d better try” said another.

“Ms. M, how many words? “ pleaded another

“3” said I, the instigator of the event.

“Books, one of the words must be books” chorused another.

“Yes”. I was being very cryptic that day.

“What’s the rest of it? “ they asked, hopefully.

“It’s got a verb”

“Verb, what’s a verb” they inquired.

“Figure it out, you learned that last year”. Mean old librarian knows the TEKS all to well.

Quick group consult and verbs begin to bandy back and forth. One comes to the conclusion that it has something to do with slipper.

“Slipper with Books?”

“Slipped on Books?”

“Slip on Books?”.

“Wrong preposition”

“What’s a preposition?”

“Anything a plane can do to a cloud”. That one is courtesy of my own 4th grade teacher.


Quick grammar lesson and I’m caught in the middle of an Outburst game or I’ve time traveled back to the days when I used to watch Password on TV.

“Slip through Books?”

“Slip Over Books?”

”Slip Under Books?”

“It’s a compound preposition.”


”As in compound word”

“Slip around books?”

“Slip into Books”.

“You got it!”.

The team members break into wild cheers and high fives and rush out to tell all the other students that they “know” but that they are not telling!

By 9am I have a winner for each grade. With one exception, all the winners are teams of 2 or 3 kids who got together and brainstormed.

And amongst all that fun we actually accomplished some educational objectives.

The kids practiced prediction, had a real life lesson in reasonableness, expanded their vocabulary, reviewed grammar and most importantly learned the value of cooperation and teamwork.

Two heads really are better than one.

Anyone care to join us for pizza on Wednesday?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Grumpy or Things That Annoy Me

I’m feeling feisty tonight – maybe it’s hormonal, maybe it’s just the after the holidays doldrums. I amused myself while driving home this evening by making lists of things That Annoy Me. I make lists, I can’t help it, I’m a Virgo.

Drivers who miss their exit and rather than going to the next one, choose to veer across 3 lanes of traffic, ignoring the other cars swerving to get out of harms way. Why are there never police cars around when you need them?

Loud cell phone conversations. Trust me, if you life is that interesting and noteworthy you’d be on the cover of People Magazine. Until they come calling, please lower your voice!

Shoddy bindings on library books. More specifically shoddy bindings on all the Harry Potter books, even when said books are bought from a library jobber and said publisher knows that said books are going to end up in a school library. The signatures should not fall out of the books on the second circulation. While they are at it, said publisher can improve the bindings on the Captain Underpants books too.

People who buy “junk food” using Food Stamps. Yesterday I ended up behind a woman who spent $93 on assorted chips and sodas and then paid with her “Lone Star Card” (Texas Food Stamps). The Texas food stamp allotment is minimal at best so that $93 was most likely a large chunk of her monthly allowance If the computers can block out diapers and toilet paper, why can’t they block out Cheetoes and Pepsi? I wonder how much Frito Lay’s contributes to political campaigns? Are we feeling cynical tonight or what?

Parents who don’t bother to get up with their kids in the morning. It was cold today. Kids showed up at school in shorts and sleeveless shirts. No coats.
“Didn’t your Mom tell you to wear a coat?”
“She was sleeping. ”.
And no, Mom does not work the night shift, the day shift or any other shift.

Loud Commercials. It is not necessary to boost the sound on the ads. All that makes me do is scramble for the remote and search for the mute button.

Hallmark Holidays. Boss’s Day, Secretary’s Day, Grandparents Day, Step Grandparent’s Day, Sweetheart Day, Mother in Law Day, Nanny’s Day, Dentist’s Day, Car Mechanic’s Day ….what’s with all these days and since when do each of them require cards, flowers and a gift? It adds up. Though if you find a good car mechanic that would be worth a card.

Blogs that sing and dance. I surf blogs in the living room while My Beloved watches TV – or be more accurate plays with her new universal remote. Tinkling music emanating from my computer interrupts her concentration. Let your words do the talking. Do remember that sentances start with a capital letter and end with a period.

And just what annoys you?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Garage Saleing We Will Go

A Garage Saleing We Will Go

Thanks to my friend Pie and a stack of yearbooks, I meet up with another budding book seller and garage sale fanatic.

Being as Type A as am I if not more so, she’d organized and plotted out the sale locations on Mapquest. The weather was perfect so off we went.

Our first sale was a Phantom Sale, but undeterred we pressed on. Second sale consisted of several newly graduated college students selling the leftovers of their old life. Tossed in for good measure were some bits of pieces belonging to the mother of one of them. Mother appeared to be a craft aficionado and a bit of a cut glass collector. My friend, who knows about the latter, picked up some nice pieces. The sale was bookless- rather surprising considering the age of the students but I ended up with some storage baskets.

Following some signs we came upon another "college students entering into a a new phase of their lives" sale. The former phase was Hotel Restaurant Management and I spotted some likely looking tomes. I flipped them through ScoutPal and was well pleased with the results. In my eyes, the day was already a success and anything else pure gravy.

The next sale was a hop out and hop back into the car experience – thank goodness neither of us needed baby clothes. However, the Hispanic mothers were in garage sale heaven. Garage saleing is very popular with the Immigrant community- groups of women in mismatched double-knit and their small children pile into a battered van and set forth. There is usually one schoolchild along who functions as the translator. I’m not in the least interested in what they are seeking so we get along just fine.

Hunger set in after a couple of more sales so I proposed we take a break at El Rey.
El Rey is a funky little place on a bustling corner of yet another neighborhood in transition. The patrons sit on diner style stools and watch the day labors loitering on the corners while sipping lattes that cost half the price of those at Starbucks. El Rey started out a blue collar Cuban / Mexican greasy taco place but the clientele is becoming more and more upscale. Luckily, the prices have not.

Signs lead us to yet another unadvertised sale – this one in a metal warehouse surrounded by up and coming houses. The area inside the 610 Loop is undergoing a massive revival and building boom.

The goods had that flotsam and jotsam look of storage unit culls. I asked and it turned out I was correct – the man who owned the place specialize in buying the contents of foreclosed storage units. Boxes of battered Christmas decorations, piles of toys, tools, stacks of books and out of style but not old enough to be funky clothes were heaped about looking lost and forlorn. I found a few books, my friend found some collectibles and I may have a source for future book buys.

Looking at the book titles, I determined I was buying the former possessions of an African American school teacher or Elementary Education student. You can tell a great deal about a person by just scanning the books they owned – or once owned. Storage Unit sales always slightly depress me – someone once loved all those things and now they are gone from their lives, spread out on the driveway and being sold for pennies on the dollar. .

We finished up with a couple of thrift stores and called it a day.

Went home, listed the books and 3 sold by the end of the evening. 3 Wham, Bamm, Thank You Ma’am sales in one day. Wish all days were so productive!

And not only that, I’ve made a new friend. I’ve made two through helping Pie through her illness. Guess when a door closes another door, if not two really do open.

I have tomorrow off.

Life is good.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Houston (and America) We Have a Problem

My school is mostly ESL / Bi-Bilingual, which means we have numerous bi-lingual classes. Bi-lingual is sometimes a euphuism for mono-lingual and the lingual of mono is Spanish.

Intellectually and professionally, I understand the arguments that children learn best in their native language and that the transition to English will be smoother if they have a firm foundation in reading and writing in their first language. I understand we have to value their language and culture. I don’t want a repeat of the days when children were punished for speaking Spanish at school. With the Hispanic population in America growing by leaps and bounds it can only be to anyone's advantage to be fluent and literate in both English and Spanish. I wish I spoke better Spanish though I'm learning – my new words of the week are "Platypus" and "burrow".

But these children are being done a disservice since born in Texas , American Citizens are graduating from the 5th grade and aren’t capable of reading a newspaper or carrying on a conversation of any depth in English.

The recent immigrants (and no, we don’t ask their mode of transport) are not part of this problem. They apply themselves to learning English and are extremely motivated. Many of them pick up the language quickly and immerse themselves in books

In my district, children who enter bi-lingual education have an opportunity to “exit” at the end of the third grade if their test scores warrant the move. Those children do just fine; sometimes 4th grade is a bit rocky but by 5th grade they are on track with their English only peers. They have a future and a future that includes college and the American Dream.

However, there is also a group of about 15 or 20 kids from our 3 bi-lingual classes who don’t exit. They end up lumped together in a 4th grade and then in a 5th grade bi-lingual class. There are all sorts of reasons - they aren’t to bright, they aren’t motivated, they are lazy, their home life isn’t supportive of education, they miss many days of school or they frequently change schools. By 5th grade these kids, who have been together since PreK are a tight little world. They live in a 100% Spanish environment at home and it’s no different at school.

Most of them read on a 2nd or 3rd grade level at best and once they get to middle school they are tossed into ESL or English only classes where they encounter textbooks they can’t comprehend and lectures they don’t understand. No wonder the Hispanic drop out rate is so high.

It’s not for lack of good teachers. The bi-lingual teachers, all the teachers at my school are hard working and dedicated and really, truly care about all the children and want them to succeed.

Do I have a solution to this problem? No. Bi-Lingual education is a hot potato. There are so many stakeholders. You have the publishers who produce the materials, the university programs who train the teachers, the administrators within the school districts, the politicians who need the Hispanic vote and members of the Hispanic community themselves. They all want a piece of the pie.

The only ones are going hungry are the kids who, at the age of 10 are are on hot career track to being day laborers and hotel maids. There isn't a piece of that pie in their futures.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Meme of Seven

It's been awhile since I've been tagged and since I throughly enjoy Ms. Cornelius's blog I'm catching this one rather than ducking!

Seven Books (Or Series) That I Love
Number 1 with a bullet - The Betsy Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I've read them since I was 8 and can't count the number of way they have enriched my life.
The Shoe Series by Noel Streatfeild - another set of children's books I can & do pick up and read again and again. These are oh so very English.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Yes, I know it's racist and the history is inaccurate but nothing tops the battle of wills between Scarlett and Rhett.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. A turn of the century coming of age story that still speaks volumes today. I so was Francie while growing up.
The Beany Malone/Katie Rose series by Leonra Mattingly Weber. More kid lit. Can you tell I'm a children's librarian and book seller?
Susan Howatch's thick family sagas. My favorite airplane books.
Katherine by Anya Seton - one of the best historical novels ever written.

Favorite Movies - I haven't been to movie theater in eons. To expensive, to nosiy and to many rude cellphone addicts. My movie tastes are frozen in time
All About Eve with Bette Davis
The Best of Everything with Joan Crawford
Rebecca - the Alfred Hitchock version
Gone with the Wind (no big surprise there!)
Anything with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Singing in the Rain - Gene Kelly
The Wizard of Oz - Judy Garland

I Just Can’t Do (Or Don’t Wanna)Stop
Visiting thrift stores
Loving My Beloved and our cats
Buying good quality kitchen/ kitchen equipment
Buying books
Eating Vietnamese Food
Living in transitional neighborhoods

Things to Do Before I Die
Sell books on E-bay/Amazon on a full time basis
Revist Paris & Amsterdam
See my children happy and well established
Get out of debt (see what I can't stop doing!)
Learn French
Spend a month in London

Things That Attracted Me to Blogging:
I've always wanted to keep a journal and now I am!
The chance to share
The opportunity to be part of an internet community
Honing my writing skills- I'd gotten sloppy
I needed another time wasting passion (yeah right!)
Personal satisfaction
It's got a spell check! Of course it doesn't always work to good!

Seven Things I Say Most Often
Deal with It
Just a second!
Turn that down!
Hey, you guys!
Where's your library book?
I love you
What are you watching on TV tonight?

Seven Impractical Things I Think Would Be Really Cool Anyway
That the defense department and Education department be required to exchange budgets
Never having to drive a car ever again because mass transit in Houton was so reliable & convienient
All children would be welcome and loved and nutured at home
Mandatory good manners & consideration in traffie, resteraunts, school, stores and theaters
Banning of all hand guns and sub machine guns.
Honset athletics, no faking of grades and taking of illegal drugs.

Now comes the hard part - tagging others. Memes can be trickly to lob forward.
I'll tag:
The Library Lady Rants - Pithy comments on life as an overworked working mother
The Other Mother - With a new baby in the family she has too much time on her hands!
Bookworm - Who designed my blog and some others I admire
Anything Said - Just because I love the way she writes
Karbon Kounty Moose - I miss her writing and hope all is well in her up there in the north 40
Chalkdust - The kind of teacher every first or second grader should have
Travels in Booland - Fellow librarian and a darned good writer

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Beautiful People Drop-Out

We ate our first meal of 2006 at La Strada , a Houston institution and the #1 see and be seen restaurant of the Gay Community. Normally I'm not worth seeing and I know precious few people who qualify as worthy of being "seen"so needless to say, I don't match their customer profile. The music is loud, the food decent, and the service acceptable. However the people watching is second to none, especially for someone like me who spends most their time in either thrift stores or school settings. The people watching at those 2 places is sub par at best.

No so at La Strada. Many, many twinkies - skinny queens with 6 pack abs and the bubble butts- poster children for the metrosexual look. Tight pants, equally tight shirts and expensive haircuts. The hair cut du jour is short on the side, longer on the top and spiked to a point at the top of the forehead. The place appeared to be populated by a bunch of pencil heads, each with a cell phone growing out of one ear.

The women on the other hand had pencil toes. Teachers and librarians wear sensible shoes so it's been quite some time since I've seen fashionable footwear. Just when did 4 inch heels with impossibly pointed toes come back in style?

These were worn with camisole tops, very tight, low cut jeans and thongs. No, I'm not guessing they wore thongs, I know they wore thongs. I also know the color of said thongs. And the brand.

The women not wearing jeans wore flannel pajama pants. What's with that? Not only was the temperature 78 degrees but PJs really need to stay at home.

Definitely an experience that fell into the "something new and different".

But why, oh why did they have to have the music so impossibly loud? Perhaps that was the reason for all the cell phones. The only way you could have a conversation with your tablemate was to call them!