Quietly Abundant Gratitude

This post was all Patrick Remer’s idea. Because what can anyone say at a time like this? Everything is just so heavy. And yet, to look outside at a pristine spring day, at a still, serene world that looks so beautiful and so ripe with possibility. The mountain is still green, deep into spring. All around us, our environment is all verdant and bursting forth, while we are sheltered in place, tethered to our immediate vicinity, distanced from each other.

This week, if life were normal, I would have been winding up a busy spring break with my son, juggling the work in two graduate school classes with launching the two-week Valhalla Elementary Read-a-thon fundraiser and literacy event. I planned for this event (my first time running it) for over a year, writing up a lengthy marketing proposal as a project for library school. Pleasant Hill Library’s amazing Patrick Remer was scheduled to perform two launch assemblies on Monday April 13, and the Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library and The Multicultural Children’s Book Store promised to supply our prizes: 10 bookstore gift certificates. The Multicultural Children’s Book Store was also going to host a Valhalla storytime and donate a percentage of the day’s profit to our school. I would’ve hung the first Read-a-thon banner outside of the school on March 21. I would right now be assembling press kits for the teachers, and I would be frantically adhering 578 stickers to 578 notebooks, one for every Valhalla Elementary student in which they could track their time spent reading.

Instead, I squirreled away that banner, those stickers and posters and I am instead posting to social media all the “would have beens” as a public gesture of gratitude to those willing to support my son’s school community. And those 578 students? They aren’t likely to see each other until the start of the next school year, if we are lucky.

In some ways, I knew balancing my April agenda would have been a challenge and so the unexpected closing of my son’s school for the rest of the academic year and the subsequent canceling of the Read-a-thon, I’ll admit, lifted a logistical puzzle from my shoulders. Instead we are all shouldering this unbearable weight of this global pandemic. Of people sheltering in place; of instability and uncertainty; of job loss and academic gains lost; of sickness; of death; of very real and very appropriate fear the likes of which most of us have never known. There is so much loss. And yet…

How can a global pandemic be both tragic and enriching?

Don’t get me wrong: the sickness and death toll that this virus is inflicting is beyond tragic. It is unfathomably heartbreaking. There is nothing that can sugar-coat or gloss over this part of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I cannot even imagine how those with sick or deceased loved ones must be feeling and experiencing, especially when held at social distancing’s length.

When I stop to think, with a dose of sobering humility, about my own set of circumstances, for which I am immeasurably grateful, I realize that it is possible for me to create the following light-hearted list at how losses and gains can balance each other out. Note the emphasis here is on light-hearted.

I know I am incredibly blessed and incredibly fortunate. And part of the reason I am humbled by my good fortune is because I have a daily gratitude practice, verbally with my family and journaled for myself, that changes how I see the world. It shifts my perspective toward the little glimmers of goodness in each and every day.

Oren Jay Sofer, a meditation teacher I have turned toward in this difficult time (check out his resources for COVID-19), pointed out in my meditation last night that “gratitude is a quiet kind of pleasure”, a “subtle enjoyment”. He points out that we only need to be open to allowing ourselves to “fully receive the nourishment of gratitude.” The meditation concludes with Oren explaining this:

You don’t have to do anything to feel gratitude. Simply bring your attention to a specific moment and let your attention dwell there and the heart will naturally find gratitude. Taking the time to practice gratitude in [a] very deliberate, intentional way helps our minds learn how to access the positive emotion of gratitude, and strengthen it.

If ever a time has called for a daily gratitude practice, it is now. We have done thankfuls with my son every night before bed for the past four years. Some days our lists are abundantly long: each other, our house, a full fridge, virtual piano lessons, holding hands, the rebroadcast of Klay Thompson’s 60-point game. Some days they are brief: each other, that it is bedtime. But at the end of the day there is always something for which to be grateful. Here is a sample of my ongoing COVID-19 thankfuls:

During this pandemic I am thankful for:
Essential service providers
My family’s health (and parents who reluctantly follow our requests to actually shelter in place and wear face masks)
A tri-level house, one floor for each person
That my mom’s house has enough room for all of us, should all else fall apart
Technology that enables us to see each other while we talk to each other
Social media that fosters connectivity
Bandwidth, like actual bandwidth
Reading and piano playing (and always and forever, Monica at Village Music for letting me get my son’s’ new lesson books hours before the shelter-in-place took effect)
Role models like Steph Curry with his Instagram interview with Dr. Fauci and his thanking nurses at Alta Bates (and giving us “Control your WABA”)
Our resilience and creativity
All the laughter in our family. So. Much. Laughter.
A heart that swells and opens over and over again
The fortitude to be still and cry as needed

I asked my son–after we rewatched for the bazillionth time the just-released Twenty One Pilots single called “Level of Concern”, a reflection of our current reality–what his favorite thing was about our day. He looked up pointed to our rainbow scavenger hunt artwork. I had needed a ploy to get him out of the house (he’s not much for exercise) and so I devised a rainbow scavenger hunt for us to collect at least one item for every color of the rainbow: we were taking a walk with good ole ROY G. BIV. He wailed in protest when I first mentioned it. I remained firm and agreed to his stipulation that if we found one thing that had all seven colors we could immediately return home. Armed with that quick escape, he hopped on his bike for our adventure.

We found all sorts of things: new vistas in our neighborhood that reminded us of the Big Island of Hawaii (there’s Mauna Loa behind that tree); where the sidewalk ends; new perspectives of the Gregory Gardens Reservoir & Pump Station (it’s so big and so little). My son tasted honeysuckle nectar for the first time, fell off his bike laughing at least three times, and split a rock just by dropping it. We managed to find all seven colors. And then some. Together, out in the still, quiet world of our immediate neighborhood, we collected so much beauty.

And so on this day, that is one of the main things we are thankful for: our rainbow scavenger hunt. And tomorrow it will be homemade brown sugar vanilla bean cookie dough ice cream (hopefully if things come together). And the next day? We’ll see. I know there will be at least one thing, if not many things.

We’ve got this, Pleasant Hill. Even when we don’t. Because we have each other. And because we have an unlimited capacity, if we allow it, for quietly abundant gratitude.


Originally published on April 13, 2020 on https://phlibraryfriends.org.

At Home in Our Community

The September/October issue of American Libraries Magazine features the 2019 Library Design Showcase. Whenever this issue is released, I say to myself “Watch out Pleasant Hill–our library will be featured on those pages one day.” The showcase issue is packed with examples of renovations and innovations, ways that communities prioritized, reimagined and showcased their beloved libraries. Turns out the interiors I found most attractive, the ones that made me pause and say audibly, “wow, that’s nice” were designed by … wait for it … Margaret Sullivan Studio, one of BCJ’s partners in the creation of our new library. 

This issue also includes a timely piece for our community, titled “How to Build A Library”, that traces three libraries from identifying a need for updated or facilities to securing funding to construction to lessons learned. It is a great perspective piece for where we are on the planning timeline: According to the City website, “Construction of the new library building, and infrastructure improvements are anticipated to begin as early as April 2020 and finish in the fall of 2021.” If you look on the back page of the latest Outlook newsletter, you’ll see that the City released the draft environmental impact report for the Oak Park Properties project, available at the library and online for community members to review. The wheels of progress are slowly rolling forward, Pleasant Hillians.

Available online

Speaking of wheels moving, my family of three attended this year’s Tinkers & Thinkers Innovation Faire, a co-sponsored event that started as the Night of 1,000 Inventions at the Pleasant Hill Library and, when it partnered with Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District, grew into a full-fledged maker faire geared toward families. This was our third year attending (and sadly, our first without my son’s best friend whose adorable image appears on the Tinkers & Thinkers website) and once again it was packed with engaging S.T.E.A.M. activities and organizations and–thankfully–a lot more air conditioning than years past when it was mostly set in the park with AC respite in the Teen Center (people hear this: it is always hot on Tinkers & Thinkers weekend). This year also included food served from the Senior Center event kitchen, a life-sized R2D2 and an amazing 113-year-old printing press from Kinetic Steam Works. This year my son enthusiastically took control of multiple robots (a big robot from College Park High School, a replica of the Curiosity Mars Rover made by a librarian via her 3D printer, and Bash Bot robot called Little Shark in a robot battle) and he clanked away on old manual and electric typewriters. He made two pins but decided to forgo this year’s duct tape rockets and dragonfly drones. We came home with another awesome bag, a t-shirt and an origami planter/wall basket. And some yummy snacks.

Tinkers & Thinkers swag

The Contra Costa County Library Tinkers & Thinkers exhibit was full of VR, Cubelets, three Code-a-Pillars, and an impressively confident and energetic tween demonstrating how to build those origami planters. While my son worked to get the Code-a-Pillar to travel in a circle between attendees’ feet, I had a chance to chat with Pleasant Hill Library Manager Patrick Remer. He said he envisions future Tinker & Thinkers exhibits staffed with more young innovators and entrepreneurs like the girl with the origami planters and the robotics students from College Park High School. We talked about how they would network and trade business cards, tween to teen to twenty-something. I predicted that they would be crafting their own cards, with inspiring mission statements and clever taglines, as needed right on the spot.

The County Library, which will soon be releasing an updated strategic plan has the following mission: “Contra Costa County Library is the pulse of our community. Working together, we spark imagination, fuel potential, and connect people with ideas and each other.” Its vision is: “The Contra Costa County Library brings people and ideas together.” And today it had a new tagline on display: “The family place to be.” While I connect with the mission and vision, it is this last sentiment that really resonates with me, especially as I basked in the sea of families who came together at the Tinkers & Thinkers event. 

On display at Tinkers & Thinkers

Last week, when I told my son the new Contra Costa County Library cards were finally released, he insisted we go that afternoon to get our new ones. We looked at the choices online, and then once at the library, asked to see them in person. We both selected the card featuring Mt. Diablo and California poppies. How many of us love that magnificent mountain? It’s another example of how the library is once again reflecting the beautiful landscape of its community. 

The new cards come with a keychain card. My son first learned about keychain library cards when we visited his best friend in her new home in Santa Barbara, CA. Our time together took us to the Santa Barbara Public Library because of course it did. These kids spent many hours together in the Pleasant Hill Library and his friend wanted to show off her new library. Once he saw her keychain card, he wanted his own. Now he has one. His new keychain card was the first thing he told his dad about that evening when asked about his day. There really is something so comforting and exhilarating about having a library card on your keys, at the ready wherever you go. We both feel giddy thinking of the access it provides. 

With these keys come access…

The library, for those who use it–and also for those who don’t–is home, the third space open to us all. It is such a privilege to have such a responsive community institution that provides us with education and access, information and connectivity, all for free, without asking for anything in return, except perhaps that we come back whenever we want or need to. Because what is a library without its community? A library IS its community. 

At Saturday’s Tinkers & Thinkers event, where my husband and I mostly sat back and watched our first grader ask politely for his turn, I looked around at all the people, from infants to seniors, the wide, beautiful swath of our community and I thought to myself, “Look at us all together here. Look how we came together today, to play and learn, to connect. This is our community. We are at home here.” 

It’s a beautiful thing, Pleasant Hillians. And it’s all ours. 


Originally published on 9/16/19 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/vertical-file-at-home-in-our-community/

Adjectives and Verbs

whisper whisper

THERE IS SO MUCH TO SAY! Where do I start?

Maybe with: When I ran into Patrick Remer at the Light Up the Night tree lighting, the first thing he said to me was something along the lines of: you guys are going to get the coolest, most amazing library, and this was only after the first two days of intensive meetings with the architectural team.

Maybe with: When I see all of these notices in my inbox and in my nextdoor.com feed from Public Information Officer Martin Nelis about the building of the new Pleasant Hill Library I feel so delighted by the momentum and outreach. A student design contest?! A town hall meeting?! A focus group with seniors?! And to hear of even more outreach announced by Patrick at storytime, even outreach AT storytime? It makes me giddy.

Maybe with: As seems to be the trend with me and all things Pleasant Hill related, I experienced another first–I attended my first town hall meeting on November 27, along with 140 fellow Pleasant Hillians. This meeting was the start of several community engagement events that the architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ), along with design firm Margaret Sullivan Studio, are conducting to learn about our community’s unique needs that will shape the space where–as Patrick puts it–“the community comes to see itself”: our new library!

Other library-design community events have included meetings with seniors, tweens and teens, and storytime patrons, along with surveys handed out at the Light up the Night tree lighting. The BCJ team is also planning more town hall events this month and in January, as well as additional focus groups. And if you cannot make it to a live event, you can leave your comments and suggestions at http://www.newphlibrary.org.

Mayor Harris, who opened the evening, described the team at BCJ as “engaging, creative and collaborative”, saying that their approach “reflects our community.” According to David Andreini, Associate Principal at BCJ, the building of our new library is a “wonderful opportunity to do something special.” He used adjectives like “intrigued” and “excited”. Andreini said the team will “back away from design for the next few months” and “just listen”. Listen to why we love Pleasant Hill. Listen to what we value. Listen to what we envision, for our community and for our future library.

I admit it, I welled up. A bunch. It’s kind of my thing to cry at civic events.

Andreini shared the Contra Costa Library vision from the County Library’s latest strategic plan and emphasized its verbs as guiding principles: ”Contra Costa Library is the pulse of our community. Working together we spark imagination, fuel potential, and connect people with ideas and each other.” A good starting place, Andreini noted. Then he turned the evening over to Margaret Sullivan of Margaret Sullivan Studio, by asking, “What is Pleasant Hill about?”

Margaret Sullivan will most definitely find out. Her presentation was the first time (another first!) that I witnessed a marriage between my brief stint in the Bay Area tech scene as a writer and studio manager for a design company specializing in natural user interface, and my soon-to-be vocation, librarianship. I fully understood both languages spoken in the Pleasant Hill Community Center that night: user-centered design and community library love.

Sullivan, considered a leader in innovative library design, pointed out that the biggest change to libraries in the 21st century is the dramatic increase in public programming. She said librarians, like Patrick, with innovative ideas and programs that bring the community together to foster the connectedness we value often “fight with their buildings”. If you’ve ever attended the 11:15 AM Friday storytime with Patrick, you’ve seen what Sullivan means. Sullivan described Pleasant Hill Library’s programming and community as “playful and joyful” but pointed out that those adjectives do not accurately describe our aging and worn facility.

Because libraries serve both individual and community needs, Sullivan described out some friction that can be encountered in such a project: excited citizens vs. uncomfortable citizens; accommodating books vs. making space for making; carving out solitude vs. leaving room for gatherings. Sullivan provided the examples of libraries that have redefined themselves for their communities. My favorites: A Philadelphia library’s The Culinary Teaching Kitchen and a Las Vegas library’s DJ Training Program. All of her examples, she assured us, represented a unique response the library had to its own community. Then Sullivan shared her library design metaphors, different ways of thinking about and/or using the library’s space, such as “Library as vibrant cafe” or “Library as classroom”. Real-life inspiration and metaphors help designers, decision makers and stakeholders think outside the traditional confines spaces occupy physically, mentally and emotionally. Sullivan shared them because they get people thinking creatively together, outside of the library box.

Sullivan emphasized that her work is to discover the “unique aspects that are Pleasant Hill”, our “needs, curiosities, and aspirations”, and to help design a library space that can “create the customized experiences” that our community–and each individual–seek when they walk through the library’s doors.

“How does the space support the activities to create the customized experiences?” Sullivan asked. She pointed out that the paradigm of library service has shifted from the 20th century’s “come in and read and be quiet” to the 21st century’s “come in and learn and be heard.” Today’s library empowers its patrons in all sorts of new ways, which requires new ways of thinking for present and future library users. Then Sullivan posed two crucial questions: “What kind of community do you want to create?” and “What kind of library do you want to create?” The asking and answering of both questions is a “luxury, and a responsibility”, she pointed out.

Those questions and their answers are both grave and dizzying. And I love that it is, really, up to us.

And so the answering began.

When Sullivan turned the microphone over to the Pleasant Hill citizens so that we could tell her what we love about Pleasant Hill, the excitement was palpable. The crowd–from seniors to teens–was a robust cross section of our community and included some of our leaders, members of various organizations, citizens and families. We all had great things to say about the town we call home. One citizen summed it up best when she said, “it lives up to its name!”

When Sullivan asked us to imagine the new library, the crowd (with some prompting) took off with her “Library as garden” metaphor. Clearly we value the outdoors here and participants dreamed up ideas from outside campfires to an attached playground “like none we’ve ever seen” to outdoor classrooms to educational trailhead maps along the creek and canal to a seed library.

Pleasant and hilly, and green in the winter.

Sullivan called out other community values as we went along, sometimes diverging from the “Library as garden” idea. Whatever the topic, people spoke up and Sullivan, and the BCJ team listened. I was enjoying the discourse so much, I didn’t take many notes. Except for this nugget: When Sullivan hears the adjectives “flexible and adaptable” in reference to buildings, she rephrases the sentiment like this–“a building that ebbs and flows in how it’s being used throughout the day and throughout the year.”

Swoon. That’s me now swooning at a civic event.

But wait! There’s more!

There was that one adjective that Margaret Sullivan used that sent shivers up my spine. She prefaced it with “fabulous and” and it resonated deeply within me and my feelings toward the new library and its potential impact on our community: specific. As in, a library experience that is specifically transformative to each individual member of our community, and at the same time, to the community at large. Specific: to Pleasant Hillians, our needs, our interests, our desires, our dreams, our potential, our identity.

But here’s the thing: the only way BCJ can get specific is if we give them specifics.

While I believe Project Manager Michael Kross when he said, “we are all confident we can do something extraordinary” here, there really will be no magic built–no specificity, no uniquely ours–without our input.

So, Pleasant Hillians, we all have until February to be heard.

Originally published on December 7, 2017 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/vertical-file-adjectives-and-verbs/


Pleasant Hill, we have an architect!!

The announcement arrived in my inbox days ago that the City of Pleasant Hill has selected architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ)–whose team includes design firm Margaret Sullivan Studio (MSS), the “national leader in the visioning, programming, and interior design of public libraries of the future”, according to the City’s Public Information Officer Martin Nelis–to build the new Pleasant Hill Library.

I’ll admit, there may have been some light to moderate mist in my eyes upon reading the news.

It’s really happening! It’s really really happening!! This is so exciting for our city and for all of us library lovers and library users, and even for all those elusive non-users and non-user library lovers out there. It cannot be overstated how valuable the library is to our community and how deeply it impacts our quality of life. And in a few years, we get to enjoy our most public of institutions in a brand new building that our community will help design. Pleasant Hill, there are so many exciting things in store for us.

But wait! There are already a ton of exciting things happening at our good ole library as fall programming amps up. September happens to be #LibraryCardSignUp month. Quick! There’s still time to get yours (actually, there’s no need to rush–a library card is always available and always free).

From http://www.ilovelibraries.org/library-card

While you’re getting your always-free always-available library card be sure to check out some of the program offerings (which are free whether you have a library card or not), such as:

Maker Monday
Tinker Tuesday
Pajama Yoga Storytime
Pleasant Hill Citywide Reads
Lego Creator Club
Mike the Magician
Afternoon Yoga for Kids
Anime @ the Library
Latin Jazz Concert
Immigration Laws Class
Build a Book on Tinker Tuesday
Storytime, 4 times a week
Monthly Book Discussion Groups
Medicare Workshop
Eco Studio for up-cycled sewing
ESL Conversation Practice
Adults Learn to Read and Spell
1-on-1 Computer Tutoring
Teen Tutoring
Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library Book Sales

I mean, seriously. Look at that list! And that’s just the next month and a half.

Here are some of the things my 4-year-old son has learned at the library recently: how to build robotic Lego creations powered by remote control at Lego Creator Club, one of which appeared in the showcase in the library’s foyer; how to make LED, fabric die-cut, and regular old fashioned button pins (we have quite a collection going) and how to make and launch duct tape rockets at the Tinkers and Thinkers Innovation Faire; how to make (and then race) a car out of a shoe box, cds, tape and various odds and ends at the Junkyard Derby on Tinker Tuesday; and of course, he’s practicing his reading. Yup, at 4 my son can read due in large part to how much time we spend at the library and how many books we check out and read at home: our current record is 51 at one time. My son gets SO excited about the library–about the books and about the activities. And “soon” he will get to get super excited about the new space.

Our takeaways

Video by C. McPherson, age 4 (that’s yours truly driving).

Pleasant Hill Public Information Officer Martin Nelis reported that “it is anticipated that the complete design phase of the library will take approximately 18-24 months to complete. Construction of the new building is expected to begin late 2019 or early 2020 with anticipated completion in 2021.”

Remember, we citizens of Pleasant Hill and Contra Costa County, have a chance to weigh in on what we want to see at our new library through upcoming workshops and public meetings. The first one is slated for November.

Still on the fence about why we need a new library in the Digital Age? Well, while awaiting the City’s news, I happened to read a great article by Oleg Kagan on Medium about how library visits have been steadily increasing: “Between 1990 and 2014, visits to public libraries grew by a whopping 181%,” Kagan wrote. He highlighted all the fantastic reasons to visit your local library such as “responsive, unique, and high-quality program offerings; more open professional and institutional attitudes; and the embrace of a user-centered approach to technology.”

Then I read another great article titled “You can do WHAT at the library?” by St. Augustine, Florida mom Alexandra Phillips who points out you can (I love this) “celebrate your inner nerd” at libraries as well as find the “elusive mom friend” and “read to a dog.”

Need more reasons why we should be so excited about our library? Consider this conclusion by Kagan:

Libraries will continue to be the place where curiosity comes to grow and thrive, where every person will always be welcome, where the freedom to read and explore shall always be protected, and where the private intellectual and spiritual pursuits of the public will always be respected. That is why libraries and librarians will continue to serve their communities with dignity and honor.

Libraries are important, so so important. So important, in fact, that I recently applied to library school. I should be finished just in time for the completion of our new library. When I told my son my news he said, “Mommy I don’t want you to go to school to become a librarian because I like hanging out with you and I won’t be able to if you work in the library.” I pointed out to him that we already spend so much time at the library that this is a really a win-win job situation for us. He seemed okay with that.

One afternoon while I reading about the San Jose State University’s Master of Library and Information Science program, my husband sent me this GIF:



That my husband sends me perfectly perfect GIFs is one of the many many reasons I love him. I mean, this clip says it all, right? Well, almost. Darren Criss could be walking through a storytime or a room full of Legos or sewing machines or 3D printers or kids doing yoga. Because libraries are so much more than books these days. Holding a library card–or even simply visiting the library–is empowering. It is life changing. Guaranteed. Quietly. Or loudly. But definitely perfectly.

Originally published on 9/26/17 at https://phlibraryfriends.org/vertical-file-perfectly/