Need Some April Reading?

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I’m hoping the March showers will bring April flowers here in Lower Alabama. In the meantime, here’s some links to an article on relationships, the great global nonfiction versus fiction debate, and links for amputees, poets, and librarians.

For Amputees

This month is Limb Loss Awareness Month. (#LLAM) The Amputee Coalition of America’s National Limb Loss Resource Center is a great place to find information for anyone with limb loss, from born amputees like me, to those recovering from amputation surgery.

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Relationships

My wife Susan and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last month. In a Facebook post, my cousin Gayle asked, “What’s the most important thing to share about your time together?”

“Friendship, empathy, forgiveness, funniness, and affection are a few important things,” I posted. About a week later, I read the article below. No matter the relationship, I think understanding one another is profoundly difficult and infinitely more challenging to sustain.

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For Readers and Writers

The next storm that crossed my path is the relationship readers and writers navigate between fiction and nonfiction. This global multilingual discussion will have you wondering about the origins of the word nonfiction and questioning the meaning of story.

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Student Librarians and Poets

Since it’s also National Poetry Month, I’ve included a link to an article that I netted for a library school assignment about Charles Bukowski. It’s not his poetry at the other side of the link below. A well-written (if a bit raunchy) profile from a 1976 Rolling Stone magazine interview has motivated me to go and read some Bukowski this April.

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Don’t forget, next week (April 10-16) is National Library Week, so visit your library, online (Fairhope Public Library) or in-person, to learn how Libraries Transform.

 

 

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Blogging While Building a Home and Going Back to School

Stump the Librarian is branching out. This space has always been geared toward my creative writing, my work at Fairhope Public Library, and the amputees that populate my literal and figurative world. Fear not followers, Stump the Librarian will continue with two posts each month about books, movies, libraries and amputees. I’ve added “Question” and “Answer” pages to extend an olive branch to “Stump the Librarian” Google searchers. Stump the Librarian is a universal search term, so if you land on my site for that reason, great! I’ve got some questions for you and I encourage you to browse around and read more, especially if you are an amputee or a librarian.cropped-dscn1098.jpg

Building a Home Downtown Fairhope

Our builder, Delia Pierce of Lemongrass Custom Homes, has over a decade of experience and her homes in Fairhope and Point Clear are beautiful, but she knows and appreciates that we are on a much tighter budget, We went to TK Cabinets on Friday where we started to design our kitchen. We have already changed our garage location which is setting us a back a week. Thank goodness we came to this conclusion while we’re still on paper. This will give us a nice private back yard. I’ll be posting photo essays of our progress. If you want to stay up to date and “follow” our construction process go to Alan Samry. I plan to post once a week

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Back to School

Later this week I will be attending orientation for the University of Alabama’s Online Masters of Library and Information Studies program.

I’m looking forward to beginning this program, and a bit apprehensive about the amount and type of work that will be required. I’m one of 43 students in Alabama’s 11th MLIS cohort. We have self identified as “Elevenses.” (AKA Elevenzies, or 11zs) My suggestion, from This is Spinal Tap, “These go to eleven,” was soundly rejected. I’m taking two courses, Organization of Information and Introduction to Library and Information Studies. I’m receiving the Friends of the Fairhope Library Scholarship and I’m grateful that it covers the cost of one course. Thanks to my coworker Rob Gourlay (Alabama MLIS ˈ15) for letting me borrow two of his books. The classes take place in real time on Blackboard. If anyone cares to follow my educational experience, you’ll find it at alansamry.wordpress. I’m told by several people who have been through the program, there could be some required blogging for future classes, but my goal is to post my experiences about the program once or twice a month.

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Change is the only constant in the world. I’m trying to embrace it. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.

Do You Write in a Library?

For two hours on the last three Mondays I was in my element teaching a class on creative writing at Fairhope Public Library.

Nine wonderful library patrons paid the $20 refundable deposit and showed up for “Great Readers Make Great Writers: A Crash Course in Creative Writing.” It was a true crash course as each two-hour session covered creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.

Creative Nonfiction

In the first class, we got to know each other a little. My students ranged in age from thirty to ninety. The ninety year old is writing a gossip column for her community newsletter. The youngest is a coworker, sculptor, and installation artist. Many were retired, including several teachers, but I also had a stylist from a local salon.

Students enjoyed “Somehow Form a Family,” a personal essay by Tony Earley, and learned some lessons on craft from “On Keeping a Notebook,” by Joan Didion, and “This is What the Spaces Say,” by Robert Root.

The writing exercise I gave them for the first class was to skim through their notebooks, journals, or diaries, find an entry (a word, fragment, sentence, paragraph etc.) that interests or intrigues them and start writing.

“Reading fuels writing,” I said. When we read we are consciously and subconsciously learning and absorbing things we like and dislike. In this way, I believe each writer gleaned something from the readings and incorporated that little something into their writing, whether it was pop culture, a small detail, a setting, or a historic moment in their life.

For the next writing exercise, I handed out postcards from my collection and asked students to write to someone. After they finished writing, I told them to give the postcard to the person on their left. I instructed them to use the postcard given to them by a classmate as inspiration for a fictional writing journey for the next class.

Fiction

The fiction reading list included major amputee characters, a subject near and dear to my own heart.

“The Ironworkers’ Hayride,” from Robert Olen Butler’s collection Had a Good Time, was enjoyed by all the students for its humor but “Good Country People,” by Flannery O’Connor drew mixed reviews, mostly for being a bit too depressing. They did enjoy O’Connor’s ending.

We read aloud Chapter 3 from The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. “The story of a turtle.” I told my students, but it’s so much more. I called it “Steinbeck’s three-page metaphor for living.”

The flash fiction I assigned left most readers confused. Perhaps this was due to my selections, or the newness of the genre. In very short fiction you have to be able to make leaps in the reading and that’s something difficult to do, even for me.

The fictional pieces from postcards, which is how Butler wrote his collection of stories, Had a Good Time, were fabulous.

They used the postcard images (Cape Cod and Tiffin Motorhomes) or the words on the back to write an account and most of them responded to the writer in a letter, but with a fictional spin about blacksmithing, dieting, and traveling.

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Poetry

Students gave mixed reviews on a chapter from The Odyssey, by Homer and translated by Robert Fagles, and the nature poems by Robert Frost.

“Facing It,” by Yusef Komunyakaa and a “Poem Guide” from The Poetry Foundation, is where we spent the most time. Having the guide helped students understand the depth of poetry upon a close reading of a few lines.

In addition to Homer’s epic poetry, the nature poems of Frost, and the ekphrastic poem of Komunyakaa, I chose works from two actual amputees.

“Invictus,” Latin for unconquered, by William Henley was written from a hospital bed after doctors believed Henley, who already had one leg amputated, was at risk of losing the other. They saved the leg, and Henley went on to achieve what I can only dream of. With “Invictus,” he became a one-hit wonder, but to his friend Robert Louis Stevenson he was much more. Henley became the inspiration for Long John Silver in Stevenson’s classic pirate novel, Treasure Island.

Jillian Weisse’s poems of her amputee childhood brought back some memories of our experiences in “Below water,” and some humor in “Holman, Age 10,” from her collection, The Amputee’s Guide to Sex.

Read, contemplate, imagine, think, reflect, write.

Many said writing the poem was the most difficult exercise but they used song lyrics, humor, civil rights, rhyme and repetition to discover how writing is a form of artistic expression.

These never happen in order, but having a few steps to get the creative writing process going is useful to all artists, including creative writers.

I heard recently that creative writing is no longer offered at many public schools. While this saddens me, I would like to keep creative writing classes alive in the public library, an idea that dovetails with my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.

Let me tell you how fortunate I am to offer these programs. The leadership of Fairhope Public Library, recently named a “Gold Star” library by the Alabama Library Association (ALLA), encourages staff and patrons to share their expertise, hobbies, and passions with their communities. Sharing knowledge and information is the cornerstone of public libraries and I believe growing these learning, artistic, and continuing education opportunities is the future of public library programing.

Do you agree? If so, check out  Fairhope Library for what’s happening soon (Phil Klay author of Redeployment), and watch the “Events Calendar” for my summer creative writing series. I love sharing what I’ve learned with others, but there’s nothing more rewarding than hearing those voices read writing they have created.

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Are you Board with the Same Old Brew?

Walking in the door of Fairhope Roasting Company, I was greeted by Roast Master Hanson Eskridge and Mackenzie Chandler, his marketing expert and logo designer. I wandered around, pumped a cup of coffee into a logo-ed mug, and got caught up with the personal and creative lives of my Southern Bloggers Jubilee friends.

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A graduate of Fairhope High, Hanson went off to “experience” college, and then headed north to pursue his passion to roast coffee. A talkative, animated, and single guy, Hanson worked at Bull Run Roasting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Last summer he was back in Fairhope pitching his investment idea of a roaster, the first on the Eastern Shore, to Will Carlton. It turned into a “good combination” with Hanson as owner/roaster, Carlton the local investor, and Mackenzie, Will’s daughter, handling all the marketing.

Three roasts were available, and I sampled them all. Morning (light), Medium (Fairhope), and dark roast were all delicious, and I found myself going back for the Fairhope, as it seemed to have the viscosity of a stout, a beer style I’ve been enjoying lately.

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Hanson led us to the roaster, which is located in the more industrial wing of the operation. We heard the Probat 1989 roaster whir to life. If Hanson had a nickname for his roaster, he didn’t mention it, so I’ll refer to her as Brassy, as that’s the way she looks, and may be what she’s made of.

“Timing and temperature,” Hanson said are critical in the roasting process. As the gas-fired roaster reaches the correct temperature, it’s filled with Honduran beans. During the roasting, he pulled samples at intervals to show us the darkening of  the bean. During the early part of the roast, the aroma filling the air was not the familiar scent of coffee. It seemed a bit more dank, a little peanut like, actually. Then we heard Brassy. Not a “pop” but a tiny blast. Hanson called it, “First Crack,” and it sounded like damp wood burning in the fireplace. After he spilled the beans from Brassy, the more familiar smell of coffee vapors filled the air. After cooling in Brassy’s spinner, he transferred the beans in a high-tech Rubbermaid bucket to the grinding and packaging area.

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Fairhope Roasting plans on doing cupping sessions soon, according to Hanson, and they already have plans to purchase a sample roaster specifically for these sessions. Cupping sessions are like wine tastings. Hanson will take people through each roast taste by taste, and encourage feedback and discussion. Until then, he plans to post dates and times on social media when he’s roasting so current and future customers can see how the green bean is transformed.

I was surprised to learn that, like a peanut has a red shell, a coffee bean (it’s really a seed) has a chaff. During the roasting of 20 pounds, Hanson said he loses about 15% of the weight in chaff and water. We each got a bag of Fairhope Roasting to go, which was very generous.

Fairhope Roasting Company coffee is delicious, fresh, and available locally or you stop by their location at 361A Commercial Park Drive. If you want to learn more and sip some local roasts, Hanson will be at Mobile Green Drinks at Fairhope Brewing tomorrow from 5-7. The two companies have fused their brews and a Coffee Painted Black India Pale Ale will be available.

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In my mailbox at the library later that day was a manila envelope. At first, I thought it was something from a coworker. Then I noticed it was addressed to me. I still love sending and receiving handwritten mail.

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The couple at the flea market saw me eyeing it.

“It still works,” the woman said, adding that it originally belonged to her mother. Her husband showed me how it collapsed and even included a wedge to make sure the contraption didn’t spring open in transport. Patricia said she had no room for the ironing board now that she and her husband were full-time RVers.

“Thanks for the story behind the board,” I told her before slipping it under my arm and carrying it away like a surfboard. I didn’t think much about the scraps of paper that lingered on the bottom. Until she mailed the label to me!

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The Rid-Jid ironing board, also from Minneapolis sits open in front of my office window.  Yes, I also use it to iron my clothes. I even went out and bought the most manly looking cover I could find. As advertised, the board still does not, “wiggle, wobble, jiggle, joggle, slip or slide.”

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On Saturday morning I brewed Fairhope Roasting’s coffee through my new Hario V60 slow pour coffee kit. When I visited Stumptown Coffee in Portland, my appreciation for the taste of coffee, not the cream, truly evolved. Since then I’ve become a big fan of slow coffee. The slow coffee movement is where you, the drinker, control the ingredients, time, and temperature of the brewing.

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I didn’t roast the coffee. I didn’t make the iron or the board, but there is something satisfying in participating in these rituals with new tools and techniques that harken back to old ways. I brewed a quality, fresh cup of coffee from beans roasted locally. My shirts are ironed on a board made in the 1930s. Whether you use new, bright, and shiny, or antique, dull, and rusty, the way we get things done affects us emotionally and opens us to change. As I pour the coffee, press the wrinkles, or push the ink onto the page, I think about the people who  made the coldest day of the year quite personal, comfortable, and warm.

Is Every Halloween a Family Search for Life and Death?

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Carolyn Berga was born New Year’s Day, 1917. Mildred told me this over the phone a few days ago at work. Carolyn died just a few years later from burns and injuries she sustained after she wandered to close to the fireplace and her dress caught fire in the family farmhouse in the Belforest community. Carolyn is buried in the Belforest Catholic Cemetery.

Mildred was chasing the toddler’s date of death, which she had learned was between November, 1919 and January 1920. I offered to go through back issues of the Fairhope Courier, which we have on CD.

I did not find any mention of this family tragedy in the Courier. I was stumped! So I recruited my coworker and resident genealogy expert Pam McRae to help in my search. She went to several different websites, only to be snakebit on any death date at Family Search, Ancestry, and Find a Grave. Pam praised Mildred’s research, harkening back to her teaching days and said, “she’s really done her homework.”

When I spoke to Mildred last night, I told her we were not able to find a date of death for young Carolyn. Undaunted by the bad news, Mildred vowed to continue the search and said she would contact the Baldwin Times newspaper. If Mildred was related to Carolyn in some way she never mentioned it. Before hanging up, she said the cemetery committee wanted to, “add the dates to Carolyn’s headstone.”

Losing a family member on a holiday or your birthday is tempered by reflection. Yet we are bound together by time shared and distanced only by dates on a perpetual calendar. As the collector of the record, this blog is not about cataloging legs this time. It’s an attempt to connect two families through one holiday; Halloween.

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Frank Joseph Samry was born on September 30th, the year of the Great Mississippi River Flood, 1927. Pam’s father Gerald Martin was born the same year on May 12, which is my father-in-law John Cherkofsky’s birthday (1939). (Pam and I hope to attend the free outdoor screening of The Great Flood at the downtown branch of Regions bank in Fairhope on Nov. 7, at 6 PM. Live music by Modern Eldorados will accompany the film)

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My dad, the one whistling with one hand on the wheel, was in the Navy during WWII. Pam’s Dad Gerald also served in the Navy during WWII and the Korean War. The man in the photograph with my dad is “Rebel.” With a name like that, I’m hoping he was from the south.

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Wedding Day. August 30, 1953. Joseph Samry, Mary (Walouke) Samry, Frank J. Samry, Joan (Hannan) Samry, Lillian (Tuell) Hannan, Walter Hannan. Can’t wait to see my mom this Thanksgiving. She’s coming to visit us again.

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Pam McRae’s daughter Megan with her fiance James. Megan’s celebrating a birthday today. They are getting married in July in Baldwin County. Happy Birthday Megan!

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My father (Notice the name difference?) died on Halloween 20 years ago today. Pam’s father died June 1, 2007.

How do we commemorate a holiday, celebrate a birthday, and mourn a death all on the same day? By sharing words, moments, pictures, and documents with family and friends we are asking others to contemplate those being honored. If we are fortunate, we have committed moments to our minds, people to our hearts, and conveyed the value of life’s memories. If we are successful, the next generation will continue to cherish, collect, and preserve their family histories.

Happy Halloween.

How to Pay it Forward

I had 18 people attend my class, “Starting a Blog with Stump: the Librarian.” It was a wonderful mix of familiar and new faces, including library patrons, business owners, artists, photographers, and writers.

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My class at the library was an introduction to blogging. Patrons did not create a blog and start posting in my class. There was not enough time. It was a not-too-serious, but informative, learning environment. I told them to think up a clever name that combines who you are with what you want to say, but cautioned some of the good domains may already be taken. “Without a leg to stand on” was my first choice, but Stump: The Librarian is actually better, since I’m writing about amputees and libraries. I hope my passion for blogging was evident in my enthusiasm for sharing what I’d learned about blogging. I wanted each person to determine for themselves if they should start a blog.

Several people signed up after hearing about the class from fellow blogger Karyn Tunks, the guest speaker at Pensters, a local writing group. Library volunteers, Nonfiction Book Club members, Genealogy Club members, and a couple of co-workers sat in on the session. In my last post, I wrote about connecting with community. I could swear these people had read it because that’s exactly what we had in the computer lab yesterday.

Since I had such a convergence of community, I’m paying it forward to another local organization that provides educational opportunities. The Eastern Shore Institute for Lifelong Learning (ESILL) bills itself as “school for the fun of it.” The classes are not free, but they are very reasonable. Four ESILL instructors attended my blogging class who are also part of Pensters. Gene, Jane, Fred, and Rosanne teach photography, art, ancient wisdom, and writing, respectively. Bloggers and future bloggers should check out Blogging 101. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to continue my leg-ucation. Fall is a great time to learn something new.

Why Oregon?

That was the response from family, coworkers, and friends when I told them Sue and I were going to Oregon for vacation. I told them all the state had to offer and mentioned a few must dos, which we did.

Now that I’ve been back for a week, I asked myself the question again. Here’s a few of the moments that made my vacation such a fun, amazing, and unique experience.

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Portland’s downtown library is a historic landmark. It was buzzing with activity the day I went. I happened upon a skateboarding exhibit on the third floor by Cal Skate, a local skateboarding shop that’s been in business since the early 1970s.

After going through the history of skateboards and checking out the old decks, trucks, and wheels, I wandered into the Literature and History Room and walked up to the information desk. I complimented the two library guys on the library and the exhibit, and followed up with a question.

“How did Portland get the nickname Stumptown?”

“I don’t know,” was the reply by the man my age. It didn’t seem to me like a difficult question. However, this is often a reactionary response. I say it too sometimes because, even though people come to the reference desk for information, no one likes a know-it-all. Perhaps we were just annoying out of towners, but providing answers or at least attempting to find answers to questions is what makes librarians librarians. I waited for the librarian to say more, like, “let me research that for you.” He didn’t. It was the first time since starting my blog that a librarian didn’t know, and was satisfied with not finding out.

I Stumped the Librarian!

Still burning for an answer, I joined a walking tour, Secrets of Portlandia, a free tour not including tip, led by a guy named Travis. He was a wealth of information on the culture and history of Portland, even though he told some really corny jokes along the way.

The city got its infamous nickname during the mid 19th century. Portland was built for it’s timber and proximity to the river. However, when they took these massive trees down, they left the stumps in the ground. And there they stayed, for decades, rotting away, slowly. Leaders in other frontier cities lured settlers away by giving the city the derogatory moniker Stumptown.

During that time, one Portlandian said, “Portland has more stumps than people.”

“We embrace the nickname now,” Travis told his group of ten tourists.

One company has cashed in on it.

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Mountain

Aside from my own, I didn’t see any stumps in Stumptown. I even checked the Japanese Tea Gardens, International Rose Garden, and Forest Park. I took a day trip and a hike to Mirror Lake, which offers a reflected view of Mt. Hood on its surface. According to a Timberline Lodge volunteer I chatted with on the hike, the older trees were “notched” along the base of the trunk so platforms or scaffolding could be built around the tree. This created a level surface for two loggers to stand on while they cut down the tree using a two man handsaw.  The stumps with notches are over 100 years old, according to our volunteer.

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Sea

Just like Lincoln City’s motto, I did “try something new.” I made a glass starfish at Jennifer Sears Glass Art. This hands on experience is a must do for any artist or tourist. (Also don’t miss a whale watch on a Zodiac boat)

Each step is hands on, from heating, shaping, cupping, pulling, and cutting.

After I finished my starfish, a flat-topped man in the audience (I didn’t know I had one while I was making my starfish) stopped me and said, “I like how you customized your starfish. Is that carbon fiber?” He was pointing to my prosthesis.

“Thanks, and yes it is,” I said.

“A friend of mine back home has a carbon fiber prosthesis too. His AR 15 has a carbon fiber barrel.”

“That must make for a cool Facebook photo,” I told him and he waxed on about guns.

“He’s modified it so there is no recoil when you fire it.” He spoke with the experience still fresh in mind, his hands cradling the make believe rifle.

“Sounds like you’ve got rifle envy,” I said.

“Yeah, I do, but hey, I’m gonna tell my friend about your starfish. That’s an original there.”

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