Inside New Orleans

10:10 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I did some conference stuff today (finished my scouring of the convention hall – three boxes going home! – and a great conversation with the Syracuse University representative about their Ph.D. program), but I mostly wanted to talk about New Orleans and the experience I’ve had here. Everyone I’ve met has been so friendly, but the disaster of Hurricane Katrina is still very much a real entity. The shuttle bus driver on Friday was telling one of the other librarians that the company he worked for lost 20 older buses that just got demolished in the lot because they didn’t have drivers to get them. All the drivers that were in the city were given a bus, told to load up their families and their belongings, and then directed to hospitals and nursing homes around the city to pick up passengers. Our driver said that it was a grueling drive that his children still have nightmares about – I gather that several of the elderly passengers died on the bus en route to their Georgia destination just because the drive was over 8 hours.

I’ve also been seeing a recurring ad on the local channels of an older woman talking about she, like many other women, was raped at a school during the hurricane and encouraging the women living with this experience to come forward and seek help from one of the many rape crisis centers in the city. Another shuttle bus driver, when asked by one of the passengers what the most startling difference in the city was post-Katrina, responded the lack of stray dogs. He said that when it was too hot out, the dogs would put their paws up on the doors of the buses and often the drivers would let them hop on to cool down and then let them off at the next stop. Canal Street, he claimed, used to have tens if not dozens of stray dogs traveling up and down it prior to the hurricane. Of course many of these animals drowned, but he said most of them were shot by the police and National Guard to help prevent the spread of disease because they were eating the human bodies that had perished during the storm since their normal sources of food were gone.

Pretty much downtown things look normal, but then you happen upon a shell of a building with broken windows and no roof. (The picture is from a building directly across the side street from the Sheraton.) Up on my floor of the hotel, you can glance down at the city and see, even on Canal Street, all the rooftops with no roofs, or piles of debris (little bits of blue tarp can be seen everywhere). Six months later, and the people who owned these buildings have not returned. I could be projecting, but beneath the friendliness and gratitude of the tourism workers (and so many people have said in that Louisiana drawl, “We love librarians, baby!”), people’s eyes look shadowed and you know that they have only begun to deal with the true aftermath and trauma of this storm.

I think what it comes down to, is that so many people think of New Orleans the way the Demco booth depicts it – that jazz playing, mardi gras celebrating town, but I really have such a warm feeling about the complexities of this city. Complexities that I have only begun to touch on. I was scheduled to meet Elizabeth Kahn, librarian for the McMain School, at 5 pm in front of the hotel and I have to say that men in New Orleans seem to really appreciate a well-dressed woman. I had gotten spiffed up in my new Talbots sundress with matching pink shrug and little kitten mules and I got a “You are CUTE, darlin’, really CUTE” and a “Baby, you look seriously fine – love it when a woman looks good” from two very old men (why is it okay when an older man says something like this, and sexual harassment when it comes from a younger one?) and I have to say I really felt bolstered to know I looked nice.

Elizabeth was right on time in her rental car (hers was having work done) and she is SO nice – she is chock full of energy and talks with her hands, which I appreciate, being a chronic hand talker myself. She took me to various areas of the city that were affected by the storm, and I have to say, as prepared as I was by all the city coverage, it really is not the same as seeing it yourself. I commented that I think the people who have managed to gut their houses and clean up the yards must be totally depressed to see nothing but abandoned houses with scrubby landscaping and broken windows on all sides of them. This house was just a few doors down from the in-renovation house of a teacher friend of Elizabeth’s and we both thought that the message spray painted on the side of the building to be just heart wrenching.

She took me to see the main levee that had been broken through and that was being repaired with two huge cranes. There were these two cars in the parking lot with a boat thrown on top of them from the marina near by (there are cars everywhere silted over and abandoned, some of them still sitting in the middle of the road where the water pushed them, that still need to be picked up and disposed of by the city). Where I was standing had been a favorite restaurant of Elizabeth and her husband, but you wouldn’t even have known a building was there except for the two stairs and little railing that led up to…well, nothing.

We went to a “New Orleans” style restaurant picked by Elizabeth, which had delicious food and neat murals and chandeliers everywhere. The owner’s original restaurant was next door with the plywood still up on the windows and had rented this space to another business, but figured it would be easier to open up using this place, which looked really nice and fun. We had the waitress take our picture, and while a little blurry, I think you can tell we were enjoying talking to each other!

Elizabeth was a tireless tour guide and, being a New Orleans native, she has such a wonderful sense of history of the area – it was really neat to hear her point out a school and mention that a relative had graduated from there. We saw her school, the McMain School, (pictured) which is a neat Art Deco building and drove around Tulane University and the Garden District and gaped at all the stunning architecture. I can’t believe how so much of the city is still out of commission. There was no electricity at several of the stoplights, so the people just have informal rules about who gets to go first, the streetcar still wasn’t coming out all the way down St. Charles Street, and they still aren’t getting magazines or catalogs in their mail. I am such a magazine junkie that this seemed totally cruel to me – how can you not get your magazines?!

But she, like everyone here, really seemed to believe in her city and celebrated every restaurant reopening or building renovation like a mini-Christmas. Elizabeth is actually moving to a new school that is beginning (and will be serving an underserved population) and she actually just finished some interesting training in California offered by the foundation begun by Bill Gates, since her new school will give every child a laptop through his foundation’s largesse. I think it sounds really exciting and if anyone can do it, she can will all that energy and drive! I can’t wait to follow her career and I offered to continue to partner with her if her new school needs items as well – I’m sure the LAB has fundraising ideas to implement!

A very long day...but a good one

8:04 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

Oh my goodness, I am SO tired. Whenever I'm tired, I wear bright, nice clothes, and my polka dotted skirt with yellow top, definitely qualifies as a pick-me-up. I got up at 5:30 am this morning so I could grab some delicious continental breakfast (hello, chocolate crossaints) before hopping on the bus for the convention center at 7 am. At least, that was the plan. When I emerged at 7:05 am into the sweltering heat (it was around 84 and unbearably humid at that hour), there were several buses in view on the next block queuing up to come to the Sheraton. Excellent, I thought, sipping my creamy hot chocolate from the club lounge (please ignore logic discrepancy of my drinking hot chocolate when it was so hot out. Thank you.). So I waited. And waited. And waited. It was over 10 minutes and the buses were still down there, double parked, no drivers, nothing and a big airport shuttle bus waited in front of the hotel, next to another convention center bus with no driver. Very strange. Another librarian and I finally decided to cross the street to the Marriott where a bus came in a few minutes.

I got the convention center and schlepped over to the Hampton Inn, where, in keeping with so much of this conference, I had to use my psychic ability to figure out where my ballroom was. I got up there (it was chilly, luckily I've been carrying the pashmina shawl my Mom gave me a few years ago for a light layer) and proceeded to sit through the session on Online Tutorials. Suffice it to say, that in a session on online tutorials, I would have liked to see examples of online tutorials, talk about online tutorials, and learn about tools that help make online tutorials, none of which happened in this session, which was full of other information. Regrettably, there was no feedback form.

Over to the adjoining ballroom for the Independent School Section "Tea" which was really a delicious brunch full of lovely indigenous foods to New Orleans and lots of tea stuff like scones and biscuits. (This was a much better event than the ISS Tea at AASL, at which, blog readers might remember, there was so little food that I was forced to eat the grape garnish of the empty cheese platters and groveled for the bartenders to get a tiny glass of water from the cash bar.) I sat next to the librarian from St. Mark's School, the arch-rival of Groton, so we had a nice talk about mutual acquaintances and New England boarding schools.

I toodled back over to the exhibit hall where I picked up where I left off yesterday and managed to get another whole box of Advanced Reader Copies and tote bags and pens. I sat in on the Lexis-Nexis demonstration which regrettably was for one of their business products which was indescribably BORING, but I got a really nice little notebook and pen and was entered in a contest to win a flat-screen television! I had to sit down anyway, so it wasn't a problem. My arms were approaching orangutan length today with carrying all the bags to the far end of the exhibit hall to the UPS store, but I always packed the bags in the box, so I could have stuff in my arms in an aisle in order to exclaim, "Oh, my! I do not appear to have a convenient tote bag to carry my things and advertise someone's company shamelessly!" at which time some gallant vendor would hustle forward with a durable nylon bag with screenprinted logo and proclaim, "Madam! Fear not! I, fabulous vendor of a product all must have possess a lovely tote bag that will solve all your problems while accomplishing my own advertising goals. Please, please take it!" And, being a polite young woman, I would. Or something like that.

I went to the Independent School Section Committee meeting (what a fabulous group with tremendous energy!). My favorite thing was that I got to meet up again with Alison Ernst, the library director at Northfield-Mt. Hermon, who I had meet four years ago when Ethan and I did a best practices visit out there. We kept thinking that Alison looked familiar and it turned out that she went to Hampshire College (with slight overlap with us, hence the familiarity) and she also went to Simmons for her MLIS! Sisters under the skin, I guess. She was at the conference with her 13-year-old daughter, who was SO lucky - she got a ARC of a new Meg Cabot book, brought it back to the hotel room, read it, and then MET Meg Cabot the next day!! Alison said there was a huge line but Meg Cabot kept talking enthusiastically to her daughter, so I came away with the idea that Meg Cabot must also be a super nice person, just like my good friends Sarah Dessen and David Levithan. (Giggle!!)

I also attended my NBPTS Committee (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards) and then finished for the day. Thank heavens. I got on the bus and headed back to the hotel to have a nosh in the Club Lounge, which as usual, sated my hunger. I took some pictures in my hotel room to show the view, and so Ethan has a picture of me to see, since he says that it makes him feel better. I was psyched checking my email that Kelly and Sean Dickinson, as well as Emily and Sam (who is in Russia, no less!) are checking the blog and super excited that I met Sarah Dessen and David Levithan. Finally, some enthusiasm! They'll be happy with all the advanced reader copies I got - I've thought about them as I've picked them up, "Fantasy and science fiction for Sean, historical fiction for Kelly, new David Levithan for Emily". I've been so envious of some librarians who got the coveted Captain Underpants tote bag from Scholastic - they ran out when I got there! Damn, my Saturday morning headache!! Ethan just can't get as excited as my LAB since he hasn't read their books and the other librarians I meet up with are simply not appreciative of my author conquests!! I can't wait to get home - I miss everyone so much.


7:27 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I could not believe how noisy the people next door were – crazy librarians yukking it up at midnight for over an hour while I tried to get back to sleep! Granted, I’m crazy go-to-bed-early girl here because I’m so tired, but what is the deal? That is so inconsiderate and something I expect from teenage boys and not grown women. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are from California and having some kind of clock-resetting problem. Perhaps with alcohol being a factor (I heard people stumbling and I don’t think jet lag makes you that clumsy.)

I went to the continental breakfast, which was yummy as always and then headed across the street to the Marriott for my Google session. It was very interesting – a nice representative of Google (who said he is one of the many librarians that work for Google) gave an in-depth talk about their Google Book and their Google Scholar products. It was interesting to hear their take on the scope and depth of the projects and how the idea came to their individual creators. Highlight was me winning a Google ball cap for identifying the picture of Jane Austen (Jane helps in so many ways).

I hustled over the convention center around 12:15 to start my exhibit hall trek. I decided to be methodical and start in the 1000 aisle (it goes up to aisle 3700). I visited a great kiosk with print/copy management software (and got some great ideas for preventing the crazy printing and copying waste we deal with), got a more in-depth demo of Sagebrush InfoCentre, saw some great library furniture that has some real possibilities for our renovation, and picked up hordes of ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) from HarperCollins. I even visited the ETS booth and learned all about their new ICT exam which lots of kids will start taking and, hello, it's mostly library skills with lots of related technology skills in between! At some point, I felt really tired and thought my arms would fall off with all the free stuff, so I hiked to the UPS store and filled up one box and rented another to hold all my freebies. And I only finished the 1200 aisle!! I bothered to look at my cell phone for the time and realized it was 3:30!

Realizing I was borderline dehydrated and that Ethan would yell at me (he really lectured me about remembering to drink water with the ridiculous heat here), I dashed to the café and got a liter bottle of water and a pastry (I’ve told you everywhere has good pastry here). Then I swatted my head – David Levithan was supposed to be here at 3:00! What if I missed him! It was 3:45 and I had to get all the way across the huge exhibit floor!

So I ran to the booth he was supposed to be in, and there he was in all his curly-haired glory, calmly signing his Nick & Norah book (yes, folks, I have it ordered) and discussing someone’s upcoming marriage. Clutching the stitch in my side, I gasped out, “’re…still…here. I was worried I missed you!” He smiled graciously as I started telling him how we can’t keep his books on the shelf, how we read them during the Banned Books Week reading marathon, how I think he’s such a lyrical writer. Remembering what an ass I made of myself for Sarah Dessen, I tried to stay lower-key, but I don’t think I really succeeded. His publisher got me two ARCs of his new books (one he authored, Wide Awake, and he edited the other, The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities) and he personally autographed Wide Awake to me! “To Courtney, Thank you for helping keep readers wide awake” and he put a smiley face next to his name! David Levithan drew me a smiley face!

I asked his publisher to take our picture, but she must be a little challenged when it comes to digital cameras because she ended up taking a little movie of us posing. I was able to make a frame into a jpeg, but it’s a little blurry. I think I look slightly less maniacal than yesterday, however.

Being very tired, I figured that I would just grab the bus and go home, but as I passed the ALA Bookstore in the lobby, I remembered that they were giving little tutorials on making the READ posters with the software, and since that is a long overdue project, I stopped in. I am so glad I did – the tutorial was great. Thirty minutes of great information and a great demo from the ALA people, who were super friendly and helpful. I feel very empowered to go home and start cranking out read posters. They have a second CD with even more great backgrounds, so I think I’ll end up getting that (they gave us all a coupon for a conference discount for it) just to have more options.

Home on the bus and up to the club level for snacks. This time they had as the hot appetizer, Beef Wellington in Puff Pastry, so between that, the cheese and crackers, the potato chips, several glasses of lemonade and the huge cookies the size of my head I brought back to my room, I’m all set for the night. I will need at least four days of the South Beach diet to wean myself off all this sugar!! Maybe I’ll go to the gym tonight and use the treadmill – wait a minute…I easily walked five miles today! Bring on the cookies!!


7:59 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I woke up with such a headache this morning – in retrospect I don’t think that I drank enough water yesterday to keep up with the heat. It is so unbelievably hot here – 97 degrees and tremendous humidity. If I wasn’t putting about half a pound of Aveda Anti-Humectant Pomade in my hair, it would be frizz city and I would resemble little orphan Annie. I decided to stay in bed a couple of hours (after all, I was just going to go to the exhibit hall and it isn’t as if they had a new BOBBLEHEAD (are you listening Greenwood Press) for me to get. I’m sure all the pens will wait.

I had a lovely continental breakfast in the Club Lounge (this city might be a little seedy but it can do pastry just fine). I headed to the convention center to do a little reconnaissance and figure out where my afternoon session would be. So I’m toodling around and I hear a name, “Sarah Dessen”. Excuse me? A kind stranger mentions that Sarah Dessen is in the Scholastic Booth. Right now. Cut to crazy turquoise streak of light (me) running through exhibit hall (the size of three football fields) to Scholastic Booth.

I expected there to be crowds of people around her, but there she was, just like her pictures on her book jackets, sitting at a table with a pen and no one around, looking a little self-conscious. “Oh my God, are you Sarah Dessen!?!” I burst out. She perked up, “Why, yes, I am!” I won’t hide it; I gushed. I told her all about my Library Advisory Board girls, about how they fight for her books, about how they don’t even get to fight over them until I read them because I have first dibs, about how “Someone Like You” is my favorite, blah, blah. Authors must be okay with people blathering about how great they are since she just smiled and laughed in all the right places. I told her that I thought she was a lyrical writer who really touched the lives of her readers and she said, “You know, I never get tired of hearing that. Thank you so much for saying it – it will help me write when I feel stuck.” She also said, “Be sure to tell all your Library Advisory Board girls ‘thank you’ for reading all my books – they sound really cool.” Did you hear that, girls? Sarah Dessen thinks you are cool!! And she’s right!! She let me take my picture with her, which was really nice. I look like someone who has been tortured by hell-like heat and has no make up and an idiot smile on her face, but whatever. It’s Sarah Dessen!!

I got on the different bus that would take me to the Hilton so I could get to the Margaret Edwards luncheon and hung out in the lobby reading the companion book from my budgeting pre-conference yesterday (I had paid a visit to the ALA Bookstore after Sarah Dessen). I looked over to the Hilton gift whop and was stunned to see that they sell wine and liquor – in the gift shop! What is with this city? On Canal Street near my hotel there is a store called “The VooDoo Mart” that sells (brace yourself) liquor, fresh fruit, and feather boas. I’m not kidding. Do people really require feather boas for scotch and/or banana consumption here? I mean, it seems festive, but weird.

Anyhoo, the Margaret A. Edwards Luncheon started and I was so excited to see Jacqueline Woodson in person. She is such an amazing writer (and she was sitting with Walter Dean Myers and An Na – pretty illustrious company) and deserves such great recognition as this. I sat with nice people (of course, everyone is nice here) including a lovely librarian from a private school in Baltimore, Maryland and a public librarian who serves teens in the Hamptons on Long Island. Good food, nice company. I was sorry I had to duck out early in order to get to my afternoon session in the Convention Center. As I was schvitzing in the heat outside waiting for the bus, a friendly voice called me over to share a bench in the shade with her. We had a nice chat about the weather and then moved onto the bus and talked about the city, quilting, you name it.

I hustled to the session room (I felt like I was walking back to the Hilton, it took so much walking to get there) and took a seat in the back. What an interesting session! Nancy Everhart (fellow NBPTS member) was there, along with a library science professor, and a student. They all work together in Florida as part of a new project LEAD, which is funded by an IMLS grant, and basically seems to offer a core curriculum with a MLIS program (there are post-Master’s certificate and degree programs also) that prepares students to undergo the NBPTS process. It can even be done online, so it is definitely something I should look into when I feel ready to try for certification in a couple years (preferably after the library renovation). The student, Rachel, gave a great perspective on the reflective writing piece and how she feels that these classes (taken as part of her MLIS) will prepare her as a practitioner for Board Certification. A really great session.

I didn’t want to be tempted by anything in the exhibit hall until I figured out if I could ship it home (my suitcases were rather full – it turns out that 7 days worth of clothes and stuff is actually a lot!). I located the post office which is a UPS store that rents boxes (very important, since you can keep coming back and loading them up until they’re full and ready to ship). I’ll be all set to tackle at least part of the exhibit hall tomorrow. I saw these great stuffed alligators that I totally want to get for little Thaddeus.

I headed back on the bus to the hotel and realized that I felt exhausted (the heat again) so rather than go to my room (where I would never have the energy to leave) I headed across the street to The Palace Café again. I sat in my favorite seat with a view of the pastry chef working and ordered the Palace Potato Pie, which is shredded pork topped with mashed potatoes, topped with spinach and melted cheddar cheese, served on a bed of onion gravy with garlic breadsticks. Paging heaven – an angel just landed on my plate! Follow it up with the Creole Cheesecake (made with a soft Creole cream cheese) and covered with a local citrus preserves, and you have a meal to dream about. The creaminess of the cheesecake with the acid of the preserves was an unbelievable mouth combination. Back to the room to collapse in a heap and I’m all set.

Pre-Conference Day! Or Advocacy and Budgeting 101…

11:15 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I got up bright and early today. New Orleans has a great NPR station, so that helped me feel right at home as I was getting ready. I walked the three blocks down to the Astor Court hotel and found the ballroom where the pre-conference was taking place. The morning conference was on Advocacy for School Libraries and I really enjoyed it. There was a nice energy from the presenters and lots of great information and resources were shared. I sat next to fellow NBPTS Committee member and AASL Board Member Cassandra Barnett, who was her usual, cheerful, articulate self, and also saw Patt Moser from Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., who I had the pleasure of meeting at the AISL conference in Atlanta in April. There were lots of independent schools represented and we got together for the breakout session since our advocacy issues are different from those of public schools who deal with district issues and state funding recessions. I took copious notes and felt really good about the great ideas I got out of the workshop, so when it ended I felt really good heading out for lunch.

I didn’t feel like fast food so I headed two blocks up and popped into The Palace Café, which was recommended to me by a gentleman in the airport in Charlotte. They could only seat me at the “bar” which isn’t a liquor bar, but instead a bar that looks into the kitchen through a plate glass window – kind of like the Food Network with no sound. It was just fascinating watching this busy kitchen at lunchtime, and not feeling too adventurous, I ordered the chicken and lemonade. It took a little while, but it was worth it. My herbed rotisserie chicken on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus was UNBELIEVABLE – it was honestly the best chicken I have ever had. Ever.

I rolled back to the hotel and went to head up to the same ballroom I was in before, but ended up taking the wrong elevator. I wandered around soulless hotel corridors for 10 minutes, coming across the same non-English speaking housekeeping staff (why didn’t I take Spanish?!?) – it was a lot like the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where they are trying to find their way out of the basement to get on stage. I finally gave up, went back down to the lobby, and then found the right elevators and made it to the ballroom. Other people were delayed as well; so it hadn’t begun yet, thank heavens. I sat next to Patt Moser and learned all about this interesting method of student learning centered collection budgeting – the two presenters were professors from Drexel and they were very good – they certainly presented a ton of information in a compressed period of time. I am going to look for their book at the ALA Bookstore tomorrow.

I got back to the hotel and was so not hungry (that big lunch!) that I decided to just have something at the club level lounge and call it a day. Proceed to my riding in the elevator for 15 minutes trying to get the damn thing to accept my room key to get on the 42nd floor! It finally took someone else putting in their key to get me there. I am going to have to have my key looked at by the front desk tomorrow. Turns out that yesterday I missed the fact that there were the biggest cookies ever located in the lounge, so I casually took three of them back to my room and snacked while watching TV (the Oceans Eleven remake which is were I realize a certain Croatian boy might have gotten his inspiration for a certain duffel bag incident as one of the characters is smuggled out of a hotel in an athletic gear duffel – my God, he can’t even be original). The last half of the Bewitched remake (poor Nicole Kidman – I’m really pulling for her, more so after seeing this movie) and some Bill Moyers interviewing Salman Rushdie and I’m good. Off to shuffyland for me.

And I arrive in New Orleans!!

11:13 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

It was amazing flying into the New Orleans airport – you see lots of blue tarps on rooftops still, but the thing that struck me the most was the beautiful blue gray of the Gulf and the verdant green of the wetlands. The whole city looks surrounded by wetlands – I suddenly understand what all the scientists have been talking about in terms of this resource and its ability to protect the city from hurricane damage. The plane flies in very, very low over the Mississippi River (I thought we were going to land on a barge) and then it’s just the concrete shimmer of the hot tarp at the airport. It was easy to find the baggage claim and the airport shuttle was right there. Very organized, very efficient.

So I hop on the bus and chat with my seatmate, who gave me lots of great tips, including the biggie that there are satellite locations for registration today so I don’t have to hoof it 10 blocks in the heat to the convention center. My plane seat buddy George was sitting up front, and suddenly I hear the man next to him say, “Lewis? Courtney Lewis?” and turn around – AND ITS DR. BAUGHMAN, my library science school advisor!! It turns out he is also staying at the Sheraton and we had a nice catch-up talk on the check-in line. It sounds like the Simmons School Library program is thriving and he looks great. I’m thrilled to have been able to see him!

Lots of problems checking into the Sheraton, unfortunately. I didn’t realize that they wanted me to have a signed letter of authorization to use the school credit card because it doesn’t have my name on it. The staff was very polite and apologetic but it took a long time – thank heavens Ethan was able to take a faxed form to an administrator to sign and later find the wonderful business manager, my savior, who said he’d take care of faxing the hotel a letter first thing in the morning.

I was totally exhausted when I finally made it to my room. It’s on the 45th floor so my view is amazing – I can see most of the city and out to the Gulf and all the furnishings are brand, spanking new. The bathroom is really spacious and has a well-lit granite vanity with a magnifying mirror on the wall. Score one for calculated eyebrow plucking! The tub doesn’t have a slanty back for comfort, but everything is marble tile and there is a very big seat that is great for toweling off or storing supplies. Good closet with lots of hangers and a new iron and ironing board. I did my anal retention thing where I put away everything in its place and symmetrical and then I can relax. I hit the club level for hors d’oeurves but realized I needed something a little more substantial – and that I was so tired I better get it fast before I fall asleep. So I headed out onto Canal Street.

Canal Street is a little, well, seedy. There is some damage from the hurricane, spots of sidewalk damage, supported palm trees with suspension wires, etc. The thing that strikes me the most is the people – so many men and women just hanging out on street corners, which isn’t a problem, but they look so unhealthy – really thin and haggard. These look like people who have been through a traumatic disaster. I went across the street to a Wendy’s where it took twenty minutes to get some chicken strips and fries despite there being only one person ahead of me in line.

I went back to the hotel and ate my dinner while watching Law & Order episodes. I took a bath to scrub my legs (my self-tanner was getting a little built up around my ankles and my knees were too white) and then reapplied my tanner. I painted my toenails (fresh sandal feet!) and then collapsed with the lights off at 8pm. Of course, I got sucked into a show – in this case, an Independent Lens documentary on the children of Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Cancer Ward. Cue crying. Yes, I was sitting in a strange city hotel bed, sobbing over these three beautiful children who died of cancer. Lots of nose blowing necessary. It’s my usual problem where I watch 10 minutes, realize that it’s going to be really depressing, change the channel to try and watch something else, and then flip back because I am so super worried about what’s going to happen to the kids.

Scranton to Charlotte, NC...and beyond!!

11:18 AM 0 Comments A+ a-

It was fun leaving for my conference from the new Scranton/Wilkes-Barre airport - it's a nice improvement on the old, grungy airport but still manages to be small and easy to navigate. I love an airport that thinks that three people ahead of you in the security line is a traffic jam! There was a nice little breakfast area where I got some cereal and orange juice and the oldest, little lady behind the register - this woman was God's older sister and she didn't seem too comfortable with technology. The family ahead of me was getting a couple magazines and some drinks and were paying cash - and this flustered the lady so much! She referred to notes from her pocketbook, looked through her glasses at the screen several times (as if by viewing the register screen through different angles, new information would emerge), and finally gave the receipt to the family saying very matter of factly, "Well, we just don't sell a lot of those (referring to magazines) and so I can't give you change." The family, who were desperate to get to their gate, just nicely agreed (they had over $8 coming to them by my tally) and headed out. In New York, there would have been 20 minutes of yelling and security would have been called. I love northeastern PA.

Bonus for me that I got to meet up with Bill Summerhill, one of my school's administrators, who was on the same flight to Charlotte (en route to a meeting in Nashville) and so I had someone to chat with before the flight boarded. Once on, I was seated next to a very tall, big man who was seated separately from his wife and son (they were headed to Orlando - shudder - and had gone through two canceled flights). I always feel so sorry for tall men (especially the huskier sort). I know I'm uncomfortable on a plane and this poor man barely fit into his seat, with his knees up against the tray table and his head about a foot over the headrest. There really should be some kind of rule that some 4 foot 2 inch person in the bulkhead seat has to switch!

We landed in Charlotte and disembarked on the tarmac (Note: Charlotte is a hot place in the summertime) and then flew through the airport, thinking I only had a hour before my connecting flight left. Nope. It was pushed back to 1:05 pm, so I have lots of time, which is a very good thing, considering that they have in the food court a CAROLINA BBQ stand!!! Yeah-huh!! Hello, pulled pork sandwich with BBQ sauce and steak fries with key lime pie for dessert. Heaven on earth, particularly after almost crying over the dining hall's version of this sandwich yesterday. Not even close.

My people watching during lunch makes for fascinating contemplations. First, exactly how many young girls feel that capri pajama pants with the waistband rolled down to show the tag (wha??) is a fashion statement for airport travel? Those with little dogs in carrying cases, flip-flopping their way through the airport deserve particular censure. My Aunt Martha (who is never wrong about these things) always said to dress nicely when you travel because you never know who you are going to meet. I have found that to be true - what would Bill Summerhill have thought of me as an employee if I was in sweatpants and flip-flops carrying Bugsy in a bag? I don't think I would have been the same person in his mind. But I digress, back to the bored, poorly dressed girls. So they're thwok-thwoking along (toe disaster waiting to happen) and I think, what if there is a plane crash? The kind in water? With high winds? Those pants are going to come right off! They are barely on now! They might look scornfully at my tailored khaki capris and pink blouse (Talbots, of course), but when the coast guard comes, I will have pants on, thank you. And you and your little dog will be very, very embarrassed. Come to think of it, the dog is probably already embarrassed.

I need to go to my gate and watch the people going to Bermuda (already sunburnt families and smooching honeymooners) get out of the seats so I can stake out a position for my flight. I finished my Smithsonian, so I think I'm going to work on my sock. Yes, you can bring knitting needles on a plane now, thank heavens!

Committee Day!! Hoo-ha!!

8:32 AM 0 Comments A+ a-

One of the best things about today was I didn’t have any obligations until the afternoon, so I got up late, had brunch at Oro, and then walked around San Antonio taking pictures for my iPhoto collection. A ton of people were doing the same thing, particularly air force and navy personnel who were walking around in uniform and taking in the sights. Regrettably, the weather was rainy and cooler (in the high 50s/low 60s) but I was in my new Talbots suit and didn’t need a jacket. This was in high contrast to the Texas natives and visiting southerners who were bundled up like a blizzard was coming in. I even saw a parka! People are silly.

Anyhoo, I got over the convention center, scoped out the all-committee meeting room, and spent more time talking to vendors and getting free pens. Funny story (actually it’s terrfying) – I decided to go to the Baker and Taylor booth to see there new ordering softward demoed and I had carefully researched this because of my deep seated fear of the cat mascots who they always have being photographed by people (yech…shiver). Well, there were plenty of public librarians in the audience who were asking boring questions (for me who didn’t deal with branches, etc.) and it was extending the demo. A lot. And you had to sit through the entire demo to get the cat calendar and get entered in the DVD player raffle, so I felt I had committed myself to being there. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw what looked like a serial killer clad in an old carpet and I knew they were here. The cat killers. Dammit! I put my hand up to my temple as if I was getting a headache (which wasn’t far from the truth), but in actuality I was shielding my gaze so I couldn’t see them (although I had begun shaking, so much so that the woman next to said, “It is drafty, isn’t it?”). I finally had to leave the demonstration (hello, an hour is WAY too long!) but I sidled up to one of the reps and asked some questions about getting a free trial to the software (you have to pay for it) and having our area representative call us. I got my calendar and filled out the form for the DVD player raffle and scurried away all the while keeping the “cats” out of my sightline. It wasn’t easy, but luckily the walk to my committee room was lengthy, so I had time to compose myself before I got there.

The all-committee room is a really nice brand of chaos, with probably 50 tables with signs that display the committee name and people with tote bags crowded around them animatedly discussing issues. I found mine quickly and Michelle (the chair of the NBPTS Special committee) is just as professional, cheerful, and fun as her emails led me to believe! We have a great group of people from state reps, library science professors, and field level practitioners like me and I heard lots of great information and advice about ways I can contribute to my profession. We talked over a bunch of great ideas and I can’t wait to throw myself into really helping the committee!

We agreed to meet for dinner at the Republic of Texas restaurant with members of the SIG group for NBPTS (another example of Michelle’s excellent leadership) and since I had time to kill, I did another exhibit hall foray and then walked up and down the Riverwalk for a couple miles. What a beautiful area! I think the thing I liked best was that it wasn’t just tourists at the shops and restaurants – people who obviously lived in the city were there and older people, families with small children, and teens were all making great use of this wonderful space. The food was great at the restaurant and the people who came were wonderful to listen to – really fascinating (and funny) so I learned a great deal while being charmingly entertained.

I got back to the hotel around 8:30 and wondered why I was so tired until I realized that my body felt like it was 10:30. I’m becoming such an old woman! What happened to all those all nighters in college when I wouldn’t even feel it the next day. Ah, youth.

Best Practices Pre-Conference or Old Home Week

11:31 AM 0 Comments A+ a-

I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to go for my pre-conference session which will last pretty much all day. Intoxicated by the great food last night, I go down to Oro for breakfast and am not disappointed. I order the Brioche French Toast with bananas and raisins which is heaven on earth and the portion size is enough for three people. I ate as much as I could (thinking of the bus ride to the school’s later, one must be careful) and walked over to the convention center. About halfway there, I saw the shuttle bus, so I hopped on and I had a nice conversation with the bus driver. It was easy considering I was the only passenger! At the convention center, I stood in a very long line to register and get my badge and materials (P.S. – no tote bag at midwinter. Kitty would be horrified) and then hustled over to the Marriott for my pre-conference. I found the ballroom and settled in to a seat.

The was hosting the pre-conference for AASL which focused on best practices. And Northside should know considering that they won the National School Library Media Program of the Year! What a dynamic, fun group of libarians. They prepared a fun, interactive day for us with lots of demonstrations, group discussions, and a great tour of some of their schools. I had a lot of fun speaking with other librarians (several independent school librarians as well) and catching up with people from the past. Valerie Diggs, the director of library services in Chelmsford, MA where I did my practicum at one of the middle schools was there. (I was supervised by the ever-wonderful Joan Wright. Joan is retiring to Vermont with her husband - go, Joan!). Valerie has been helping out with the school library classes at Simmons to great reviews from students. It was so wonderful to see her!

Another pleasant surprise was the presence of Hotchkiss attendee Walter DeMille who I had interviewed with when Ethan and I were doing the search that brought us to Sem. I remember Walter as just the loveliest person and a real treasure-trove of information (he takes the somewhat controversial approach of intershelving media – DVDs and Cds are shelved amoung the books with the same Dewey number) and I enjoyed hearing about what he’s been up to the last few years. I look forward to seeing him again at AISL in Atlanta this year!

The pre-conference brought us back from our tours at just the right time – we were able to get back around 5 pm and the exhibit hall opened at 5:15. Imagine my delight when I found out that GREENWOOD PRESS HAD CHAUCER BOBBLEHEAD DOLLS!!! Readers of my blog will remember how elated I was in scoring all my Jane Austen bobblehead dolls at the Pittsburgh conference so I had no idea that Chaucer was going to be next in line!! Suddenly it was a high priority to be first in the exhibit hall and specifically the first at Greenwood Press’ booth. Fortunately, ALA Midwinter attendees are amateurs compared to the AASL mavens (and the security here at San Antonio is much better – there was a commanding security guard who was brooking no hedging forward). I was first through the door and actually ran to the Greenwood Press booth where I clearly startled the exhibitors while I gasped (it’s a big hall), “I….hear…you have…Chaucer bobbleheads…” while clutching the stitch in my side. A very nice woman listened to my tale of my wonderful Library Advisory Board and how they have come to expect a bobblehead from every conference, about how we decorate the bobbleheads for Christmas, about how we knit blankets for the bobbleheads, etc. Probably just to shut me up, she went under the counter and pulled out two of them and she said something which must have been, “Is two okay?” but she was facing the cabinet when she said it so I didn’t quite hear what she said and must have cocked my head questioningly. She took it mean that two wasn’t enough, and so then added (this time in my direction), “Oh, well, I bet three is better” and gave me three! In a snazzy totebag!! Score.

I walked around the exhibit hall some more and only managed to see probably one fifth of it before I was exhausted. The ALA President, Michael Gorman, announced at the ribbon cutting that this was the biggest exhibition hall for any Midwinter conference, ever, so it wasn’t just me being overwhelmed. The ProQuest people were really nice and let me go up onto the top deck of their double decker booth to take a couple pictures of the exhibit hall for the AISL newsletter which was much more effective than from the ground. Once I had a good three bags worth of stuff (mostly paper that I read that night), I limped to the shuttle bus and headed back to my luxe hotel room. On the way, I was talking up how great the Oro restaurant was at the Emily Morgan and I must have made an impression since one of my bus mates showed up behind me while I waited to be seated. We ended up having dinner together which was really lovely since I got to hear all about her work at a regional public library in Oklahoma. I love hearing about the work of other librarians – the whole profession is really interesting and just populated with nice people.

Early to bed after a call home. I was so tired I didn’t even take a Jacuzzi!

Where's the yellow rose? San Antonio is beautiful!!

5:30 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

My plane is once again the super small kind, so we disembark on the tarmac and the sunny 76 degree weather hits me immediately. Everyone is smiling despite our being cramped from the 3 hour flight and no leg room. And it’s January! It turns out that San Antonio’s aiport is the prettiest I’ve ever seen! It’s clean as a whistle, light and airy, and has inlaid Mexican style mosaics throughout the floor and walls that are so cheerful and pretty, I wish I wasn’t rushing past them to the baggage claim. Fiesta music is piped through the speaker system and they appear to have some folk art and southwestern jewelry stores in addition to the usual Brookstone and Sbarros. I get my checked luggage immediately (as I arrive in the baggage claim – no waiting) and pet the cutest golden retriever puppy (maybe 6 weeks old) who is attached to a long couple via a thin lead and who, they tell me, is going to meet his grandmother who is arriving from Maryland. D’oh.

I ask a bored looking Nationwide representative where the airport shuttle is (better signage would be helpful) and he directs me to go outside. Outside? Yes, it turns out a lot of things you don’t expect to be outdoors are, because of the balmy weather. An outdoor kiosk has a gibillion librarians in front of it, and three shuttles have already filled up with librarians now bound for their hotels. I begin chatting with the women around me at it turns out that the immediate two before and behind me are from Pennsylvania and are school librarians, so we have a lovely chat. The airport shuttle arrives and a friendly man helps us with our bags and takes off for downtown. In the brief drive (20 minutes and that’s with stopping at hotels), we talk to each other and listen to the driver’s friendly banter and fun information about the city. My favorite moment was when he was talking with a grave tone about the drought conditions in San Antonio and asked all of us to help as tourists by be careful with our water consumption – by drinking only margaritas while we are here! He got a lot of laughs with that one!

Downtown San Antonio is beautiful – it’s a juxtaposition of old historic buildings and high rise towers that actually reminds me of Boston, although the native architectural vernacular is obviously not saltboxes and brownstones! We see the Alamo, with its low stone wall, and soon we spot the Emily Morgan hotel with its stunning triangular structure and gothic details. I get dropped off with cheerful goodbyes from my shuttle buddies, and enter the lobby. It’s smaller than I expected and very, very elegant with marble floors, beautiful modern furniture and the old lighting fixtures and elevator doors from the original period. It makes for a stunning effect.

I get room 302 and find it easily at the end of the hall (right next to the stairs which I know will set Ethan’s fire safety oriented mind at ease) and open the door. My room is beautiful. All in shades of taupe and cream with dark wood and lovely modern art. Of course, I have my priorities and so I run into the bathroom and see it. My whirlpool tub. It’s huge. It’s stunning. I secondarily notice the granite countertops and my Aveda toiletries. Glancing out the windows, I can see that my view is lackluster (office building rooftops from the bathroom windows and the pool and streetscape from the bedroom windows) but the drapes are so pretty that I don’t think I’ll feel deprived without an Alamo view.

I walked around downtown to get my bearings and the convention center is actually very close by. They weren’t ready for people to register over there, but I appreciated being out and enjoying the weather. The Alamo is actually very peaceful – it has a garden area out back with a steam and koi in the water lazily swimming. I also can’t over that there are actually things blooming everywhere – and that San Antonians keep apologizing for how brown everything is from the drought. For goodness sake, I sat next to a bed of blooming fuschia petunias today and couldn’t get over it!

The day of travel totally caught up with me when I got back to the hotel so I ordered room service (only $2 extra) and had a delicious meal – two appetizers, a bowl of butternut squash bisque with marscapone cream and macaroni and cheese with wild mushrooms and a drizzle of truffle oil. Both utterly amazing. I think I actually whimpered with pleasure during the bisque. I followed it up with the chocolate volcano cake and it is now my life’s mission to figure out that receipe. I fell asleep at 7:15 pm San Antonio time and slept all the way through until 6:00 am the next morning. Go Emily Morgan bed!

In Cincinnati ... or prayers against pooping

2:26 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I made it to Cincinnati where I’m waiting to change planes. My flight from Wilkes-Barre was uneventful, if slightly uncomfortable. The teeny plane was packed like a sardine can and I was sandwiched in the last row right near the bathroom. (Every time someone went back there I offered up the slight prayer, “No poop, no poop” lest I be overpowered by the smell emanating from there. Prayer works.) I couldn’t recline my seat at all, but luckily my recent weight loss held me in good stead and I was comfortable. A very nice man sat next to me – he works for a mechanical engineering firm that is a subcontractor for Proctor & Gamble so he regularly flies from Cincinnati to some little town above Tunkhannock that has a huge P&G plan to check on the machinery. He also has a 15 year old son, so we discussed teenagers for most of the last 40 minutes of the trip. There was an ADORABLE little girl about 3 years old, blond, all in pink, who had her own little, bitty rolling carry on bag with a sparkly My Little Pony on it. I helped her carry it on the plane since I was behind her and helped her find row 7 (she knew her numbers, she told me, she just wasn’t big enough to see the row markers, but I shouldn’t worry because one day she’d be big). This little cutie had to go potty (see prayer, above) in the middle of the flight and her mom took her back there but they had a bit of dilemma when the girl was a little frightened of the bathroom and wanted her mom to come in. I think most people know how unbelievably small an airplane bathroom is and the little girl was probably the only one who could actually fit in it comfortably, so getting her Mom in was pretty much a lost cause. Luckily, the little girl decided midway through piddling that it was pretty cool, and she kept saying, “Mommy! It’s like having potty adventure!!” which provoked the three rows closest to the bathroom into a fit of giggles. Thank heavens someone was having a positive potty adventure.

The man across from me (I was in the aisle) was not having an adventure. The poor man clearly shopped at the “Big & Tall” store (can any Simpson’s fan think of that phrase without picturing the episode where Homer becomes a country music manager and shops at “The Corpulent Cowboy” for his suit made out a “space age material invented for Elvis. Sweat actually cleans this suit.” This poor man and his wife/girlfriend were pretty wedged in and I felt so terrible for him every time he shifted his weight uncomfortably.

Good landing and it was warm enough on the tarmac that I didn’t need to put on my raincoat. The Cincinnati airport has an odd design (which E. Blaum doesn’t care for) where it is made up of weird circular concourses. I actually had to take a bus to get to a separate building to reach my gate. Freaky.

But it’s average airport material (although they play strange Musak here – some kind of weird Euro Jazz Fusion that I find very disturbing) and I had a good lunch at Quizno’s – Country French Chicken soup in a bread bowl. I would accept anything presented in a bread bowl! They’re boarding the flight, so I better head out.

Against inappropriate salesmen

12:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I start my trip at the Wilkes-Barre airport and I’ve gotten here nice and early. I do like the smaller airports – you can always watch your luggage actually get on the plane (hence my propensity for electric blue suitcases so I know that mine is in the hold) and the people are relatively unrushed and friendly. The security person tells me to not go through the line at 8:30 for a 10:00 am flight because the security team is closing (?) to “calibrate the machine and eat lunch”. Well. I sit out next to the Hooters gate (quite the advertising scheme judging by the posters) and read my Barbara Stripling book on creating a culture of inquiry. I’m pretty into it when a gentlemen sits in the chair behind me with a thump, jolting me from my reverie. Just as I’m settling in, I hear the tell-tale beeping of his cell phone directory. Uh-oh. A cell phone talker. Yikes.

I have major issues with cell phone talkers in airports. You know, the people who rather than read, eat, or talk to someone near them (not that I’m advocating chatting up strangers), will instead pester everyone in their phone list with, “Hey! Guess where I’m calling from!” As if the jumbo jets taking off in the background won’t tip off the recepient. So this jocular gentlemen settles into his numerous phone calls (I counted 12 in an hour) and he MUST be a salesman based on his combination of inappropriate humor and utterly boring discourse on the weather and “plant conditions”. His first words out his mouth (which were never “hello” or “this is Hank”, not that I know his name) were, “Well that’s the last time I take your advice. You told me to give myself a hug last night and I got so excited that I couldn’t sleep!” Wha??? Maybe this is sensual banter for a wife at home, I thought. Until I realized – he is talking with his boss. Other topics, “Rachel got drunk as piss and starting spouting off about Jack Murphy’s daddy and you know why that’s funny.” May I never see what “drunk as piss” looks like. Yech. Thankfully he sits elsewhere when we move into the gate. I have to go watch my luggage being placed on board now.