New! Online Workshops

Many Library Programs across the country now offer workshops online. This is a new way of thinking and presenting that allows Libraries to burst out of their walls and encourage independent learning. This workshop explores imaginative poetry, using your own ideas. The Library will share nine tips to begin your poetry writing adventure. There is no time limit, grade, or certificate of completion. Your own growth, achievement and enjoyment are your rewards. Materials needed are few: notebook and pencil, and you may need a dictionary to look up unfamiliar poetry terms. After you complete all of the nine tips, or only the ones that peak your interest, you will be encouraged to carry on with your poetry writing and learning with another option located free on this website. Explanation to come! Good luck, and welcome to this unique opportunity.

Tip 1: Explore Your World:

  • Go for a walk: Go for a stroll and bring your notebook. Look around and write down what you see: a tree, a bird, a neighborhood. Try starting a poem by using some of these descriptions. Make a decision about its structure: what will the stanzas look like? Will you use enjambment or will you use punctuation? Do your want to use long or short sentences?
  • Focus on an object: Whether you’re in an unfamiliar building or your kitchen, a park or your own backyard, choose an object you see and describe it. Does it remind you of an event or bring back personal memories? What emotion or feelings does it stir? Try starting a poem with this object and let it guide you.

Tip 2: Brainstorm a theme: Try these exercises to ignite ideas for writing a poem.

  • Use flashcards: Think of a topic. Take ten blank flashcards (homemade is fine) and on one side of each card, write a line about your topic. Use a mixture of emotional detail, concrete detail, and images when writing these lines. Put all the cards face down in front of you. Turn five of these cards over, face-up. What kind of poem is this: What questions remain? Experiment with which five cards should be turned up in order to create a poem that is both mysterious and clear enough for the emotions of the poem to be expressed.
  • Listen in: Carry your notebook with you as you go about your day. Write down interesting things you overhear. At the end of the day, go over the bits and peaces of conversation, musical lyrics, traffic noise,  or birdsong you wrote about. Use these sounds to inspire a new poem.
  • Record your every move: In the evening, write a list of twenty things you did that day. Use this form: “I washed the dishes, I ate an apple, I read a book, and so on. The only rule is, don’t list the things in chronological order. Review your list of twenty everyday activities and see if any of them spark an idea for a poem. 
  • Free Write: Take your notebook and give yourself ten minutes to simply write whatever comes to mind. After ten minutes have passed, review what you wrote. What stands out? Is there anything you might want to use for a new poem?

Tip 3: Play With Structure: Play around with the form of a poem, and experiment with words to add or change meaning.

  • Think about stanzas as stories inside of the poem: Imagine that the poet is showing readers independent parts of a story in each stanza or paragraph of the poem. Now, read one of your own poems and look at the stanzas: in the margins of your poem, write down what each stanza or part of the story is revealing.
  • Play with elliptical language: Look at one of your poems, and play with elliptical language. Are there any words you might want to omit to heighten the sense of mystery? How does the omission of different words change the lines’ potential meanings?
  • Play with your own interpretive  meanings: Create a sentence that could be interpreted at least two ways. Think of the word “blue”- is it indicating color or mood? Or consider using qualifiers like “perhaps” or “should.” Let this sentence make up the first few lines of a new poem, and keep playing with this concept of double interpretation throughout.
  • Make a mess: Write your next poem in long-hand in your notebook and feel free to make a mess with mark-outs, sketches, and notes in the margin, before you type it up on a screen. how does the typed up version look on the page? Is it thin, uninspiring, even or jagged? Are you moved to make adjustments in the poem, such as shortening or lengthening lines, for the sake of giving your poem an acceptable shape? Consider editing for pacing and clarity. Even consider cutting the nonessential lines and phrases.

Tip 4: Play With Form: Try writing different types of poems that have different ordered patterns of rhyme.

  • Write a haiku: The subject can be on any topic you want, but must follow the haiku form: three lines with the first line having five syllables, the second containing seven syllables, and the last containing five. How did this exercise change  your use of words?
  • Write a poem of any length: It can be on whatever subject you choose (and it doesn’t need to rhyme), but try to make each line have the same rhythm. 

Tip 5: Transport your poetry to different time periods and locations:

  • Write a few lines setting a scene that is easy to believe: Think about the example of snow falling or a dog sleeping on a porch. Create a scene of your own. Then have your poem take a twist.
  • Write the unexpected. In the Elizabethan period, the popular poetry subject was romantic love; during the time of the English Romantic poets, the subject was nature. Poetry advances when these rules of style are acceptably violated. Think about Walt Whitman: when he should have been writing about nature, he wrote about machinery. Thom Gunn wrote a poem about Elvis Presley when pop stars were not considered proper subjects for poetry. Both poets broke the rules of poetry of their time. In choosing what to write about, nothing is too trivial. Don’t feel that you have to be serious or sincere. You can be playful, or even sarcastic in your poems. Think of a subject that might be outside today’s “rules” of poetry and write a poem about it.

Tip 6: Play With Titles: Titles can inspire a poet, and a reader.

  • Guide the reader- but surprise them too: Write a poem whose title lets the reader in on how the poem is going to proceed by guaranteeing what lies ahead. Then, write the poem, making sure to deliver on the promise of the title, while complicating it’s meaning.
  • Play with capitalization: Write a first line that could also work as a title, and write a poem under this line. Play with the capitalization in nontraditional ways: try giving power to unexpected words by capitalizing them.

Tip 7: Play With Literary Devices to produce unexpected outcomes:

  • Play with words: What are some words that, for some reason, seem funny when you read them? Write a poem that deliberately uses these words to create a tone.
  • Use assonance: On a sheet of paper, brainstorm a handful of words that use a similar vowel sound. Now, using these words, write a poem that utilizes assonance in one or several places. As you read over your draft, ask yourself how these sounds add a musical quality to the poem, acting as a kind of sound-glue that holds the poem together.
  • Try Alliteration:  A fun sound device to play around with. When used well, you can create a standout phrase in poetry. It is a simple yet effective repetition of initial consonant sounds. An example might be “the cerulean sky” or “the flighty fox.”

Tip 8: Look Inward: You are the greatest muse for your own poetry. The following exercise will help you mine ideas from your personal life.

  • Does your personality make its way into your poems? Think of how you react socially  and consider the feedback you get from others about your personality- from family, friends, and others. Write a poem that is spoken in your natural speaking voice. This poem does not need to express your best self. Try allowing the poem to be controlled by a voice other than the one that shows you in the best light. Write a poem that lets the edgy part of your persona drive the voice.
  • Start a letter to someone you know, would like to know, or once knew: The rule is: assume they won’t ever see it. Start this letter by addressing the person directly. After you have written a few lines or sentences, begin breaking your letter into poetic lines and finish the poem.

Tip 9: Imitate Poets: Imitation is the best form of flattery. Look to poets you admire for inspiration for your own poetry.

  • Mimic style: Think of some of the poets or poems you admire. These could be poems you just discovered or long time favorites. Pick one of these poems and read it over and over again, noting methods the poet uses. How does the poem develop line by line? See if you can write a poem that follows a similar style. Open yourself up to the influence of the poet.
  • Describe disturbing events with a uninvolved or distant voice. Remember the point of poetry is to make the reader feel something, not for you, the poet, to get emotional. The best way to do this is to write “cold.” If you are doing the feeling, the reader will pull back because all the emotional work has already been done by you.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the workshop. Would you like to move on to a poetry course that offers a certificate of completion, graded assignments, quizzes, and an instructor to communicate with? Universal Class offers “Poetry Writing 101” a course that offers a deeper understanding of the art of poetry. Universal Class is a free database, sponsored by the Kansas State Library . A link is available right here on this website. Set up your own account and delve into Poetry Writing 101, a self motivated class that you can take up to six months to complete. When you are finished, check out any of the 500 free courses offered on Universal Class.

Ready for online workshop number two? Do you have a camera that sits in the closet because it’s just too much effort to learn how to use it? All the dials and buttons could help you create masterpiece photographs if you knew what they were for. This workshop gives you simple instructions to help you develop new skills and abilities in photography. At the end of the workshop, a list of other free learning opportunities will be shared. So dust off that old camera, don’t forget to remove the lens cap, and let’s begin!

Move the dial off AUTO mode. Most people never venture past the Auto or Auto with the flash off option. If you want to take average pictures, leave it on auto. Say you want to pick one person out of a crowd of people, auto will try to focus in everyone, and your person will be “lost in the crowd.” Have you tried to take a picture of someone with the sun behind them in auto mode? They will always turn out pitch black, even if the sun isn’t shining brightly. What should you do?

Try P mode. Move the camera’s dial to P(rogram). You are now in charge of the flash when there are shadows on faces in the middle of the day, or at night when needed. You can also control metering. If you have a subject with backlighting from the sun or a window, the camera automatically meters off the background, not your subject. If you tilt the camera slightly down, so your subject fills the frame more than the background, then hold the shutter button half-way down, it will lock in the settings to that metering. Then pan back up to center your subject and take the shot. Your subject should be light and in focus. P mode has other options, check your manual and practice what it has to offer. 

When to use A mode. A(perture) mode has an amazing effect on your photo images. A mode controls how things are in focus.  The lower the “f” number (shown on the bottom of your screen) the less things are in focus. The higher the number the more things are in focus. This is a way to make subjects stand out in your photos. Practice using this mode adjusting the focus for different effects.

How to use S mode. S mode emphasizes movement by controlling how much things are blurred. At 1/10th of a second, motion starts to blur in interesting ways. If you want to stop something from moving, a faster shutter speed is better. Fast moving objects typically need a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second or more. This number is controlled with a front dial that more than likely is on your camera (check your manual to make sure.) An example: 1/800th shutter speed can capture a vehicle in motion and stop it sharply in frame.

Get close. Don’t move so far back when trying to shoot a subject. Get close, forget about trying to include surrounding background in focus. This makes the photo flat. The closer you move to your subject, the more it stands out. Remember, you are working on a masterpiece, not a typical tourist shot. So now it’s up to you, practice these tips and see if your photography skills improve dramatically. If you want to continue learning, Universal Class offers free photography classes on this website: Photography 101 Beginner to Intermediate; Digital Photography 101, and Photography with the iPhone. 

Ready for online workshop number 3?

We all used to draw as kids. It was natural back then, no matter if you used crayons, a stick, or your finger on a steamy window. But  then you might have noticed that some children drew better than you. What you drew suddenly didn’t measure up in your mind.  Eventually, you may have given up on drawing, your inner critic too loud to ignore. 

Maybe you have grown since then, and are willing to try again. Perfection isn’t your goal, and you won’t give up so easily this time. There’s a renewed dream about you drawing what you want, in any style you want, and with some guidance and practice, you may be surprised with the results! This workshop is a starting place, a way to develop a new skill. Follow along and complete as many of the steps as you can. Take your time, there’s no limit or reason to rush. After completing the workshop you may be ready to try an instructed course with a teacher, lessons, and a certificate of completion. If so, Universal Class offers “How To Draw 101.” It’s effective and a great way do develop your new drawing skills further. It’s available here on this website, and it’s free! 

Copy and paste this link to begin the workshop:

Yes! It’s online workshop #4!

So you’ve had some success with your vegetable garden or gardening containers and would like to reap year around rewards from the bounty.  You might like to offer gifts of your  produce to your neighbors and family so they can share in the healthy and delicious benefits. Maybe you haven’t actually tried gardening, but would like to learn more about food preservation before the next growing season. The Grant County Library offers a Heirloom Seed Library with free vegetable seeds for the community during the spring months. Naturally, the Library provides books and materials to aid you in garden planning, vegetable recipes, pest control, and every challenge you might face as a gardener; so a workshop on preservation seems like the next step in the process. 

Let’s focus on canning in the reading portion of this workshop. Canning used to be common in nearly every household before the modern grocery store. After a few generations, food preservation became a thing of the past. Over the last few years, food preservation has made a comeback and is growing in popularity. Here are a few of the reasons:

Saving money: Food prices have gone up, this is an unfortunate fact of life in the current economy. Growing your own foods in season or buying fresh produce and canning  for future use can save you money. Another added benefit is the high quality of food and the flavor your home canned food can offer.

Preserve harvest:  First you plant the seeds, then you wait and hope for plants to break through the soil. Finally your plants are thriving, but soon you are swamped with an abundance of vegetables, usually more than you can deal with. You give everyone you know  the extras, but you still have more. Canning is a sensible way to avoid waste and enjoy your produce all year. 

Prepare for challenging times: Being prepared is always a good idea. No matter what the economy throws our way, or life change happens unexpectedly, you can count on your preserved food supply to help you through the tough times. 

 Good for the earth: Canning jars reduce waste; they are reusable (except for the lids)  and will last for years. 

Back to ” The good ole’ days”: Canning is an art from a simpler time. Maybe your mom or grandma had special canning recipes you remember from childhood. Canned food makes wonderful gifts. Time and care goes into the homemade goodness. 

Exceptional taste: Canning your garden vegetables gives you the opportunity to experiment and produce recipes that are appealing, healthy and tastier than their grocery store counter parts. 

Health: Freezing  preserves the most nutrients in your vegetables, but canning has many benefits. When you can control the freshness and quality of your food, and avoid additives and preservatives, you are on the right track. 

It may take a few more hours preparing, but preserving vegetables is a convenience you may grow to love. 

Enjoy the link below (copy and paste the link) to Instructables; one of our favorite sites, and then consider signing up on this website for : How to can, freeze, dry and preserve food. Located on Universal Class.

Online Workshop #5

I don’t want to scare you away, but this online workshop is on (gasp) learning to make pie from scratch. Don’t worry! I have tips to help you avoid disaster and secrets that will make it simpler than you ever thought it could be. After you learn a few techniques, and with a little patience, you will be able to make any pie recipe perfectly; even if you never have before. 

Tip 1: Equipment matters, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Your hands are your most important tools to make pie, you also need a big mixing bowl, a rolling pin and a pie plate. An anodized aluminum plate is the best choice. (Not the disposable kind; the kind you get online or at a kitchen specialty store for around $6)  Pie crust contains fat, usually butter, which is heat-dependent. Perfect crust depends on the fat going from cold to hot as quickly as possible. Aluminum conducts the heat perfectly. Glass and stoneware pie plates can work, but they heat up slowly and retain heat rather than transferring it. Aluminum heats up super fast and conducts heat efficiently so your pie starts cooking right away. 

Tip 2: The colder the better! Even if you’ve never made pie from scratch, you’ve probably heard that the butter needs to be cold. Professional bakers are known to chill their crust ingredients, tools, and even their countertops with ice-packs; keeping everything as cold as possible. This prevents a crust from melting. You don’t have to go to the extreme, but keep in mind the colder the better when making your crust. When it’s time to actually mix the dough you will succeed with this easy trick: handle the butter as little as possible. I know, recipes instruct you to cut the butter into the flour until it “resembles course meal”. (Whatever that is) Don’t do it! Just smoosh it with a fork until it looks like chubby flakes. That’s it. Next, add the (ice cold) water your recipe calls for  and gently knead the dough in the bowl or on a floured surface only until it holds together. This should only take 30 seconds or so, tops. Divide your dough up as needed,  and wrap lightly in plastic wrap. Follow the directions of your recipe for chilling. High five! You’ve just made pie dough!

Tip 3: Roll out your crust like an expert. Pie dough is easiest to roll out if it’s straight from the fridge, so let it chill for at least an hour before proceeding. Flour your countertop or easier yet, you can use parchment paper; tear off a piece bigger than the top of your pie-plate, and another the same size to go over the dough. Next, flour your rolling pin if you are using the countertop method and unwrap the dough. Lay the dough on the counter or between the two pieces of parchment paper and begin rolling. Keep the pressure light and keep rotating  to form a circle. Add a little extra flour to your rolling pin if the dough starts sticking for the countertop method. If you are using parchment paper, rotate as you roll and when the dough looks about the right size, measure by laying your pie plate upside down on top of the dough. If it is the right size, with a little extra around the edges, pull the top piece of parchment off carefully, and lift the dough with the lower paper attached and plop it into your pie plate, pressing it down to fit. Crimp the edges of the crust if it is a one crust pie, or follow the same method and roll out the top crust for a two crust pie. If you have the filling prepared you are ready to fill, if not, keep the pie crust in the freezer until your filling is ready. 

Tip 4: The perfect filling. There are gillions of pie fillings, but choosing a simple filling initially can get you going in the right direction. Canned pie filling is easy, but after you’ve created a fabulous crust, why not try a fresh fruit pie? Cram as much fruit as possible in, because it will shrink in the oven. It’s going to look crazy, but it will turn out so good. Apple pie is a good suggestion. Everyone loves it, and the filling is simple; thinly sliced apples, sugar, cinnamon, a little flour, and a few chunks of butter. What could be better? A little cinnamon and sugar, or plain sugar sprinkled on top of the crust before baking adds a delicious touch. Be sure and poke a few holes in the top crust with a fork or knife before baking to let out steam. 

Tip 5: Time to bake. Preheat your oven to the appropriate temperature. It’s a good idea to slide a cookie sheet on the rack below your pie just in case it bubbles over a little. Follow the recipe to bake. If the crust starts to brown around the edges before the center is done, carefully lay a few strips of foil over the brown areas for protection. When your pie is done, let it cool for a half an hour to an hour before slicing. Look at you! You just made a pie!

Universal Class offers  Pie Baking 101 on this website if you would like to continue your pie baking adventure. It offers self-paced lessons on sweet and savory pies and in-depth directions on how to make pie crust. Best thing, it’s free to all Kansas residents.