"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


The Light Rail

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. ~ Martin Buber

This past Saturday morning started bright and beautiful, he with tea and me with coffee, sitting on the top floor deck worshiping what brief summer sun Minnesota still has to offer. For the first time in two months, there were no small or large children present, no parents, no chores, no groceries to be shopped for, and no schedule. Then he looked at me and posed the question:

What should we do today?


I voted for an afternoon adventure on the newly built light rail. And off we went.

Metro Transit now has a Green Line light rail connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis. In addition to connecting the Twin Cities by public transit, other goals included 1) providing college students an easy way to travel to the University of Minnesota, 2) revitalizing St. Paul’s University Avenue, 3) providing people living in the area who do not own cars a means of travel to and from shops, and 4) working toward a greener forms of public transportation.

Our trip from St. Paul to Minneapolis took approximately 45 minutes on the light rail. Traveling the entire length of the Green Line takes approximately an hour. The stations are clean, easy to find, and have heat lamps for the winter months. You can pay by cash or credit card, and while tickets are usually not checked, every now and then security monitors passengers to ensure everyone has paid.

The Green Line traveling east along University Avenue.

The Green Line traveling east along University Avenue.

On our way to Minneapolis, I noticed that a lot of the stores along University Avenue are vacant. I also saw some of my favorite places to eat, shop, and play, which rolled by every few minutes. Before we dive into my personal best of the best locally-owned locales, major stops along the light rail include

I noticed several passengers on the rail with shopping bags, books, and other assorted items that one would find at a larger store. The light rail already appears to be extremely useful for people who may not want to drive or who may not own a car yet need to get their week to week shopping done. There were also several bicycles, wheelchairs, and strollers present, which again convinced me that this is definitely becoming a convenient and hopefully preferred form of transportation around the Twin Cities.

Now time for the list of my must-see, must-do loves along University Avenue…next time you are on the Green Line, consider stopping to check some of these out.

Bangkok Cuisine

Bangkok Cuisine…mmmmm.

Bangkok Cuisine Thai Food (432 University Ave W, St. Paul) – Words do not exist to describe how delicious this food is. Bangkok Cuisine is easy to miss, so I included a photo. A large lot behind offers free parking, and a bakery is also immediately adjacent to the restaurant. While everything on the menu is delicious, our favorites include the Green Curry, the Garlic Dinner with beef, Pad Prik with chicken, and their Pho.

Shuang-Hur Oriental Market (654 University Avenue W, St. Paul) – Shuang-Hur is my favorite grocery in St. Paul. The produce section is enormous with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are well-priced. The selection of meat changes frequently, and over the years I have found everything ranging from whole shrimp to pork steak to goat to chicken breasts that cost half of what the neighboring groceries charge. The frozen section is well stocked with spring rolls and dumplings of all sorts, and we also purchase our rice here.

Midway Used and Rare Books (1579 University Ave, St. Paul) – This is a dangerous store for me to step into because I tend to lose myself. For hours. The book selection is enormous with over 50,000 titles and contains almost anything you can imagine. I dare you to go and try to set a 15-minute time limit on your browsing.

Ax-Man Surplus Store (1639 University Ave, St. Paul) – The sky is the limit for what you can find here. This store sells surplus merchandise from other retailers and odds ‘n’ ends of all sorts. The inventory changes, so of course you need to go on a regular basis. One of my girlfriend’s most recent find was a piece of $0.88 of open-cell foam that she is going to turn into a backpacking pillow and a $1.95 table map to turn into wrist wraps.

Espresso Expose (600 Washington Ave SE, Minneapolis) – I have been going to this Stadium Village coffee shop ever since I moved to the Twin Cities in 1997. Located on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota, Espresso Expose is across the street from the Fairview medical complex, which includes the hospital, dental school, research laboratories, and classrooms. While the decor has changed over the years and sandwiches have been added to the menu, what keeps me coming back are the unique coffee creations. Try a Roadrunner for a quick pick-me-up or a Rocket Fuel if a dire need for a shot of caffeine arises.

Weisman Art Museum (333 East River Road, Minneapolis) – The Weisman Art Museum, which opened in 1993, has a wide diversity of exhibitions. Permanent collections include Modernism, Korean Furniture, Ceramics, and Mimbres Pottery. There is also a program for Public Art on Campus, which can be found at over 30 locations around the University of Minnesota. The museum also offers internship opportunities and student job positions throughout the year.

Midwest Mountaineering (309 Cedar Ave South, Minneapolis) – Immediately west of the West Bank of the University of Minnesota, Midwest Mountaineering is your store for the outdoors. The calendar of events includes yoga, educational classes, bouldering, and much more. Sign up on the store’s mailing list to receive promotions for sales and specials which happen throughout the year. My favorite coupons are the ones for a free pair of SmartWool socks with an additional purchase.

Brit's Pub, Minneapolis

Brit’s Pub, Minneapolis

So where was our final destination on that sunny Saturday afternoon? It was Nicollet Mall in Minnepolis. After arriving at our stop, we walked six blocks southeast down Nicollet Avenue to Brit’s Pub, where we enjoyed a Strongbow Cider and a Fuller’s ESB on the rooftop patio. This was the first time we had been to Brit’s in four years. What had prevented us from going was the idea of driving from one Twin Cities downtown to another, then finding and paying for parking, then walking, then doing it all over again on the way home. The light rail provided us with a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to travel from St. Paul to Minneapolis and home again all in an afternoon.


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First Flight

Run my dear
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.
~ Hafiz

Last week Tim had an early morning doctor’s appointment, after which he had his blood drawn. Everything was first thing that day because Tim had been fasting since the night before. Once a year we do a fasting check on his blood to make sure his levels of All Important Proteins, Chemicals, Molecules, And Anything Else is normal, and Tim dreads the overnight fasting more than the actual pinprick the next morning.

After taking Tim out to breakfast, as I drove him to school, my mind automatically checked for butterflies in my stomach. To my surprise, there was nothing but calm. Usually dropping Tim off at school makes me nervous because I am letting go of him. I am putting him in an environment where he does not thrive well, where he is targeted by his classmates, where his teachers lose patience with him, and where I have seen doors of opportunity close one by one over the years.

Not this time, however. Tim has been having an amazingly wonderful year at school this year. This part of life finally feels on track, and much to my delight my child’s needs do not consume my every waking thought. My little one is starting to leave my nest, and I am his most enthusiastic supporter.

I realized that the tide of my son’s challenges in life has permanently changed when he announced to me that he needed to bring a copy of his social security card to school. When I asked him why, Tim told me that he needs it so the school can pay him for working in the school store. Tim started working in the school store last September, and after a two month trial period, his supervisor has decided to hire him as a paid employee. I started jumping up and down and told Tim that he should be proud, very proud indeed, of his job. Tim replied that it’s just at the school, and it’s just for an hour each week.

My son missed the point, didn’t he?

I explained to Tim that not many 15 year olds have a paid job. It doesn’t matter where it is, what you’re doing, or how many hours you work. It’s still a paid job. The kicker is that Tim beat me to it age-wise. I started working my first paid job when I was 15 years, 4 months old. Tim started his when he was 15 years, 3 months old. He beat me by one month. When I put it that way, he puffed up with pride and informed me that he is now bringing money home earlier than I was. I said yes, my dear, now you understand why I am so proud of you.

After working his first paid day at the school store, Tim came home and informed me that he made $6.50. All for restocking shelves. He couldn’t believe it. I asked him if earning his own money makes him feel good, and he replied yes, it does. Then he told me how he is bargaining with his supervisor to pick up an extra shift. Tim is quickly making the connection between earning money and independence. It’s one thing to watch your parents or spouse go to work each day. It’s quite another to do it yourself.

The idea that my child, whom I have ferociously protected and defended for over 15 years, is going to have a successful, fulfilling, independent life as an adult is solidifying in my mind. I don’t need to be ferocious anymore, which isn’t part of my nature anyway and exhausted me. I can relax and think about other parts of life, such as where Tim and I should go for supper to celebrate his new job.

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Tim chose Asia Bistro in Woodbury. Asia Bistro has a fantastic happy hour menu, parking is usually available directly in front of the entrance, and the ambiance is lovely with low lighting and benches containing silk pillows to lean against. Tim ordered sesame chicken and a Coke, I ordered sushi and a glass of red wine, and we had a wonderful celebratory supper.

I, the eternal optimist, cannot think anything other than that life will continue to become better. To think any other way is destructive not only to myself but to all others who cross my path. Tim’s job is the start of great things for him. This tells me that the adults in his life away from me trust him, enjoy his company, and believe that he is a responsible person. I could not agree more because as his mother I see these parts of him every day. The time has come for him to spread his wings and show himself to the rest of the world.

Do you enjoy sushi as much as I do? While I’m not sure that’s possible, here are some sushi suggestions around the Twin Cities:

  • East Suburbs: Asia Bistro (http://www.asiabistrowoodbury.com/) – Excellent daily happy hour specials, including $3 sakes and glasses of wine.
  • Warehouse District and Uptown Minneapolis: Origami (http://www.origamirestaurant.com/sushi/) – Great martinis too…the Chocolate one is my favorite.
  • Grand Avenue, St. Paul: Saji-Ya (http://www.sajiya.com/) – Also has Teppanyaki (reservations required). Saji-Ya is where I take my boyfriend for his birthday, and we always have a nice time.
  • South Minneapolis: United Noodles & Deli (https://www.unitednoodles.com/store/) – Largest Asian grocery store in the Twin Cities and worth a trip Just To Gaze because it’s so big.
  • Mall of America and Uptown Minneapolis: Tiger Sushi (http://www.tigersushiusa.com/) – The MOA location is a quick, convenient break during a shopping extravaganza.

Cooking schools around the Twin Cities also offer classes on how to make sushi. After taking a few classes, with delicious results, I decided that sushi is worth the investment of going to a restaurant as opposed to making it at home. However, some of my friends and I get together a couple of times a year for a sushi making party, where we all help with the prep work and then devour our masterpieces.

I keep asking Tim to report on adventures at his job so far, and other than one day where someone tried to grab a bunch of candy and run, there is nothing too exciting. I’m sure he will soon have more stories to tell as he gains work experience.

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Squash For Sale

Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

~ Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married

Every now and then I take it upon myself to educate the general populace about Why I Love Living In Minnesota. I never intended to move here, and having never met anyone from Minnesota before said move, I wasn’t convinced it was a real place. Sure it’s drawn on the United States map, but who could tell me for sure that he or she had actually been there? No one in my life thus far.

Then almost exactly sixteen years ago I picked up from New York and relocated to the Upper Northernmost part of the Midwest. After getting over a decade of initial adjustment which included but was not limited to nine month winters, intricate downtown skyway systems, and The Minnesota Accent (Yes, Minnesotans, you have one. And now I do too.), I started to really enjoy myself. Here is one reason why:

Several local vendors around the area rely on the honor system.

Several local vendors around the area rely on the honor system.

How awesome is this? You should be answering to yourself, “Pretty freakin’ fantastically ah-mah-zing.” This type of sign does not exist in New York. Or anywhere else I’ve lived for that matter. How often is it that you can be out and about, tooling around on a Saturday afternoon, only to discover a small farm selling their fall harvest based on the honor system? I have seen these signs around my neck of the wood for maple syrup, lumber, hay, sweet corn, and vegetables of all sorts. It’s easy enough to do…simply park, get out of your car, choose your whatever, and leave your money in a metal box on the front porch / in an envelope weighted down with a rock / or simply drop it through an open window in the detached garage. Easy peasy.

Neatly arranged pumpkins for $5.00 each.

Artfully arranged pumpkins for $5.00 each.

This sign was for pumpkins and squashes, lots of them. One afternoon my boyfriend and I were running errands with our youngsters and drove past a small sign with an arrow advertising $5 pumpkins. Since we were out to purchase pumpkins anyway, we followed the sign until we came to a house surrounded by fields. There we saw several dozen pumpkins and a few buckets of neatly arranged squash, sitting out in the open, available for anyone who took the time to stop.

After choosing a couple of pumpkins, I started sorting through the squashes, which were marked $2 each. Squashes in the regular groceries are sold by weight, meaning that the healthier and heavier the squash, the more it costs. These were sold for a flat fee, so I took time to dig into the different bins and choose the biggest, rounded, healthiest looking squashes I could find. I bought a spaghetti, and acorn, and a butternut squash, each of which I adore for their different consistencies, flavors, appearances, and textures.

Neatly sorted squashes for $2.00 each.

Splendidly sorted squashes for $2.00 each.

Squash in my hands is the gift that keeps on giving. I cooked up the butternut squash first and used it in the following recipes:

Caribbean Squash:

Note: This can be made with any type of squash.

  • If it is a butternut or acorn squash, cook it in the oven like you normally do (peel the butternut before cooking) and mash it.
  • If you are using a spaghetti sqush, cut it in half, cook it, and then string the pulp into a bowl.

Ingredients I use:

  • Add 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp butter, and 2-3 tbsp rum. I used Appleton Estate rum that I purchased while in Jamaica.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

***Leftover squash?*** How can that be? If you didn’t eat it all in one fell swoop, here is another idea:

Butternut Squash Bread:

Ingredients I use:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup butternut squash puree
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup applesauce (I use this in place of vegetable oil)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans

How I use them:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F (Gas Mark 4). Place oven rack in center of oven. Generously grease a 9×5-inch loaf pans.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine butternut squash puree, sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and water until well blended. Add the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Lightly stir in the chopped nuts.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before cutting if you have enough self-control to wait that long. Or burn the roof of your mouth like I did.

***What – you still haven’t used all your squash?*** You can also turn mashed squash into croquettes:

Squash Croquettes:

Ingredients I use:

  • 1 cup mashed yellow squash (drain if watery)
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon basil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup coarse bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Vegetable oil

How I use them:

  • In a large bowl, combine mashed squash, onion, thyme, basil, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. The mixture should be quite thick; add more bread crumbs if it isn’t thick enough to form balls easily.
  • Heat oil in a pan until a small amount of batter floats to the top quickly, to about 370°. Form into balls about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.
  • Fry 3 or 4 balls at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan too much. Cook until golden, about 4 to 6 minutes; drain on paper towels.

That took care of the butternut squash, much to my stomach’s delight. Here is how I used my acorn squash:

Squash and Chickpea Stew:

This is an African recipe that I make each year. This stew sticks to your bones when the temperatures dip below freezing…in mid-September. We’re in Minnesota, remember? This vegan stew freezes well for future yumminess.

Ingredients I use:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 diced red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound diced yellow squash
  • ¾ pound diced red potatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices
  • Pinch saffron threads (if you’re feeling fancy)

How I use them:

  • Heat butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until onions are soft and translucent and the spices smell good, about 5 minutes.
  • Add squash and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir to coat, and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes and their juices, and saffron, if using. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until squash is fork tender, about 10 minutes.
  • You can also make this in your slow cooker after sauteeing the onions and spices. Transfer all your sauteed ingredients to the slow cooker, Add your squash and potatoes, cook on low for 6-8 hours. In the last hour or two, add the chickpeas, tomatoes, and saffron and cook on high or until done.

***Leftover stew?*** No worries…do what I did and turn it into a salad.

I brought this salad to a work potluck as a vegan dish to offset the multiple meat and cheese trays that the rest of my lab signed up for. The best part is in a morning meeting before our potluck, I invited the marketer on my programs to crash it. She, being of Indian heritage, responded “Well, I don’t think I will be able to eat anything that people bring.” To which I replied, “I brought a vegan dish! Will you join us now?” Which she did and had a wonderful lunch hour filled with socializing and free food.

Pesto Quinoa and Couscous Salad:

  • Start with a mixture of 50/50 quinoa/couscous. Cook 1 cup of each separately and then combine them in a bowl.
  • Add as much of your leftover stew as you wish. Mix it in well with the grains. If you don’t have leftover stew, you can still make this! What you want to do is add two cups of cooked chickpeas, diced tomatoes, onions (fresh or cooked – you choose), cooked potatoes if you want, and don’t forget to spice it up a bit.
  • Lastly, I stir in the pesto. I make pesto using basil and parsley from my garden and freeze it in small containers to use throughout the year. You can purchase pesto or make your own. To keep it vegan, I recommend using Parma! Vegan Parmasan Cheese (http://www.eatparma.com/).
  • Chill or serve at room temperature and enjoy.

Two weeks later, I still have the spaghetti sqush in my refrigerator, waiting for me to give it some attention. So far my total investment in half a month’s worth of delicious food has been $4 for the two squashes I have used. I am already thinking about how to prepare my last $2 squash and see how far I can stretch it. Excitingly enough, more squash adventures in cooking await for this coming week.


Hmong Village

Once we are, we will always be. ~ Kao Kalia Yang, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir

When I small, my parents did a lot of volunteer work with my elementary school. As a result, while they were inside I would often be sent outside to the playground as to not be in the way. That is where I saw the woman on the swing. She was tiny everywhere except for her tummy, where a baby was growing. She did not speak, but she smiled to communicate and was gentle and kind. So were her children. All five of them under the age of seven. I was starting first grade with the second oldest.

This woman’s family were refugees from Laos and had been resettled to Fort Wayne, Indiana of all places. I have no idea how the American government chose Indiana, but importantly, the city is a quiet, safe place surrounded by countryside. An ideal place to live a peaceful life and raise a family. As an adult, I now realize that this woman was probably around 20 years old. The five children she had were born approximately one year apart from each other, and she and her husband had already lived a lifetime.

As a child, when I asked my parents about this family who didn’t speak English at first and looked, smelled, and behaved so differently than the rest of us, they weren’t sure how much to tell me. All I knew for a large part of my childhood was that the adults had been rescued from an unhappy life. They were hard-working and expected the same from their children now that they were in a country where the opportunities seemed limitless. I attended elementary school and high school with several of the brothers and the one sister, where they constantly were at the top of their class. All of them grew up to become hold successful professional careers, including physicians, scientists, and lawyers. This example of making the most from every opportunity, no matter where you live or what you believe you are capable of, has been seared on my mind ever since.

These were the thoughts that flowed through my mind as my boyfriend and I stepped through the front doors of Hmong Village. Located at the corner of Phalen Boulevard and Johnson Parkway in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, you would never guess what this innocuous white building holds inside. There are no signs, and I have never seen or heard an advertisement for the location, but the parking lot is always full. I heard about this place from one of my coworkers, who lived in Thailand for two years and promised me that the food is authentic.

The entrance off Phalen Boulevard, St. Paul.

The entrance off Phalen Boulevard, St. Paul.

Hmong Village has three main sections to it:

1) Shops which sell everything from clothing to jewelry to DVDs. If you are a petite woman with small feet, pay these stores a visit. Many of the women’s clothing shops sell clothing that appeals to everyone, not just Asian fashionistas. My boyfriend, who detests shopping for himself, actually started picking out jeans and tights that he thought I should try on. There are also a few racks of men’s clothing in one shop which are well marked with a sign.

The retail section.

The retail section, with plenty of clothes and shoes for smaller sizes.

One store has a men's section. Look for the sign!

One store has a men’s section. Look for the sign!

2) A spacious market sells fresh produce of all sorts. If you don’t recognize a fruit or vegetable, the vendors are wonderful at helping you pronounce the name, how to prepare it, and what foods it pairs nicely with. There was a large stall of medicinal herbs, none of which were labeled. I plan on doing some research so I recognize some of them on my next trip. My favorite purchase of the day was a pre-made stir fry kit that I bought for $5.00. Add meat or tofu, steam some rice, and voila – you have a delicious supper.

The market.

The market.

Medicinal herbs are sold in the market.

Medicinal herbs are also sold here.

Stir fry kit...how smart!

Stir fry kit…how smart!

3) Finally…the food stalls. My boyfriend and I wandered up and down them for a good 15-20 minutes trying to decide What To Eat. To our pleasure, everything looked and smelled delicious. Even better, everything was extremely well-priced. Best of all, what we ordered was prepared fresh and samples were brought out to our table for testing the spice level before the final version was prepared. We ordered Lemongrass Chicken ($7.00) and Papaya Salad ($5.00), both of which tasted amazing. We have enough Papaya Salad for two more meals, which I am already relishing.

Food stalls sell everything  from Pho to fried chicken feet.

Food stalls sell everything from Pho to fried chicken feet.

Papaya Salad and Lemongrass Chicken

Papaya Salad and Lemongrass Chicken

We will definitely visit Hmong Village again. I have shoes and clothing to shop for, we both enjoyed the vast selection of fresh fruits and veg, and there are many more menu items that we need to taste. Here are details to help you plan your adventure:

Hmong Village
1001 Johnson Parkway
St. Paul, MN 55106
Hours: 11am-7pm every day
Look for the big white building with cars in the parking lot.

Life has been busy lately! In addition to a new job, there has been a lot going on. Here’s the wrap-up for the past few weeks. Some of these may become blogs, and some may fade into the ether. At any rate, I need to start writing again. It keeps me sane(r).

  • As mentioned above, I got a new job! Same company, but now I work in the Consumer Group instead of Basic Research. My first project, as usual, is something that I know almost nothing about. Also as usual, I am excited about the challenge of learning a new field of science. My new lab comes complete with some rather freaky-looking mannequins for modeling product prototypes.
  • I bought a new car. Well, not new, but slightly used and in better condition than my 2005 station wagon that has 150,000 miles on it.
  • One of my cats died rather suddenly. After a mourning period, her life partner has adjusted well to being the only kitty in our home, and one well-loved and doted on kitty at that.
  • We took a vacation to Grand Marais, Minnesota. There is a ton to see and do in this town of 1300 residents on Lake Superior’s North Shore.
  • I ran my first half-marathon. It was on one of the hottest mornings of the summer and I was fine until the eleventh mile. A big hill with no shade did me in, and I finished 10 minutes later than my goal time. A slight disappointment but, as everyone reminds me, I finished.
  • Tim passed his learner’s permit examination and is learning how to drive. The old station wagon, not the new car.
  • I hosted a wedding reception at my home for the couple I stood as witness for last August. Read all about the ceremony here.

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Little Free Library

A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return. ~ Salman Rushdie

Our building's little library.

Our building’s little library.

The building where I work has a lending bookshelf. People have donated books of all sorts…a year ago I was having a particularly stressful week at work and picked up Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I needed something fluffy and fantastical that I could read before bedtime to clear my head and help me fall asleep. Harry and his compatriots did the trick, and upon returning the book I donated a few of my own that had been lying around my home.

I perused the shelf last week on my way to a friend’s office and noticed that there had been a lot of turnover in the books. The same approximate number of books are always on the shelf, but the subject matter changes depending on what people feel like reading and what people feel like donating to our little library. Since most of us who work in the building are scientists, a large proportion of the books are about fantasy, science fiction, and philosophy.

The Stillwater Lift Bridge, heading east into Wisconsin.

The Stillwater Lift Bridge, heading east over the St. Croix River into Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, if you don’t work for my company, you don’t have access to our building and our bookshelf. A non-profit solution exists, however, which originated across the St. Croix River in Hudson, Wisconsin and is rapidly spreading worldwide. The program is called Little Free Library (www.littlefreelibrary.org), and its mission is to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges. A Little Free Library is an outdoor, weatherproof shelter that is maintained by a steward and contains books, all of which are free, that anyone can borrow. People are also encouraged to donate their books to the Little Free Library, and the beautiful part is that each Little Free Library is about people in the community sharing books with each other.

One more photo of the Lift Bridge over the lovely St. Croix River during the summer. Wisconsin is on the left and Minnesota is on the right.

One more photo of the Lift Bridge over the lovely St. Croix River during the summer. Wisconsin is on the left and Minnesota is on the right.

You can order a Little Free Library kit from their website or build your own if you are handy. Whichever way you choose to go, you can add personal touches to your Little Free Library before mounting it and filling it with the first round of books. In order to join the Little Free Library movement, you will need to register your Little Free Library and include it on the Little Free Library Map of the World. I used the online map to check and see if anyone has set up libraries in Stillwater, the small river town in which I live, and currently none are registered. This made me start thinking about the idea of setting one up in my neighborhood. Since the elementary school Tim attended is a two minute walk from our house, this also would give children and parents the opportunity to borrow books for free on their way to and from school.

You do not need to pay for a Little Free Library entirely on your own. You can raise funds through neighbors, friends, and family or coordinate with your local school district. The Minneapolis Public School District has started a program to institute 100 Little Free Libraries by and for neighborhood children who live in the city. Already 20 have been committed, and donations have been made by organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, North Country Woodshop, Coffee House Press, Reach a Child, and numerous individuals. One of my friends from high school started a site on social media to generate the funds needed to purchase a Free Little Library for his family to post outside their home.

Between my home and Daniel’s we definitely have enough books to start a Little Free Library. My next steps will be contacting our school district and community to see how we can raise funds to purchase one. A Little Free Library is truly a gift that gives back in many different ways.

Interested in reading more? Here are some links to check out:

Little Free Library homepage:


For live coverage, watch the video CBS Minnesota made last fall about our local Little Free Libraries:


Little Free Libraries are going all the way to Africa:



Little Free Library breaks Carnegie’s record:


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Dear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

Thank you so much for standing up for what you believe in, and for believing enough to make progress for an entire group of people. I cannot imagine how nervous you must have been before giving a public speech, not knowing who would be in the audience, how you would be received, and whether your loved ones would suffer any fallout from you speaking your mind. What I love most is how you use nonviolent means to achieve progress above and beyond what anyone thought was possible.


Peanut on a much warmer day this past fall.

The city of St. Paul named a road in honor of you. Sometimes I drive by it on my way to Daniel’s house, and when I pass it your image jumps into my mind. St. Paul also has a Martin Luther King Junior Recreation Center, and Daniel and I have taken Peanut on his bike on several sunny summer afternoons to play on its playground. When we play together on the playground, I often find myself looking at the Center and thinking about how many people loved you and what you stood for. What you brought to their lives, how you impacted their future and their children’s futures.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when fighting for Tim’s rights. His right to an appropriate education. His right to learn at his own pace. His right to have equal job opportunities no matter what is written on his medical records. His right to drive a car, own a home, and live up to his full potential within his abilities. His right to be heard when he is upset. His right to be safe at school. His right to be accepted for the human being he *IS*, not the human being the majority in power thinks he should be.

Finally, thank you for giving me hope.

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Go Raibh Míle Maith Agat

“Go raibh míle maith agat” is a hearty Irish Gaelic phrase which means “Many thanks” or “Thanks for everything”. One literal translation is “May you have a thousand good things”. I would probably combine the literal with the idiomatic and translate it as “A thousand thanks”.

Tom from Ireland, seller of uniquely fab finds.

Tom the former-pub-owner-turned-rare-hard-to-find-wares-seller sent me these wishes scrawled in Irish on a photograph of himself along with Daniel’s Christmas presents, straight from a closed-down pub, hopefully not his own, somewhere across the pond. Daniel will undoubtedly be surprised and demand to know how I made this year’s Yuletide acquisition. As with last year, when his main gift was an autographed Jared Allen Minnesota Vikings jersey, I will keep mum and tell him I have no idea where it came from. Must be Santa’s elves working overtime.

During the month of November several of my friends are listing what they are thankful for each day. What a wonderful idea! By Thanksgiving they will have a cornucopia of gratitude. I have the usual running litany of what I am thankful for year-round, including but not limited to my beautiful son Tim, the right to an education, the ability to practice my vocation as a scientist, and the freedom to vote, which I am going to do tomorrow.

Aamodt’s Apple Barn

When fall rolls around I become especially thankful for apples, and lots of them. Aamodt’s Apple Farm is down the road from my house, and it is always a fun and delicious place to visit. During the apple harvest, you can pick your own apples among their acres of orchards. You can also purchase apples of all varieties, apple cider, apple pies, apple doughnuts, and almost any kind of apple incarnation you can think of in their Apple Barn. In addition to apples, Aamodt’s sells jams, jellies, pickles, and honey made locally in our town of Stillwater. Tim enjoys picking out caramel apples and watching the little beehive full of buzzing bees inside the barn.

Aamodt’s orchard makes for a lovely walk.

I usually pick up some bags of Seconds, which are apples that are bruised, irregularly shaped, or have a cut or a bug bite. Imperfect apples that are considered lower tier. I am fine with seconds because they usually get turned into applesauce, pie, preserves, jelly, or apple butter within minutes of crossing my front door. The preserves, jellies, and butters become Christmas presents for my family members. The best part is that this becomes a present for me as well, since I think of the recipients while I am cutting, cooking, and canning the apples.

Apple pie fresh from the oven!

Tonight I am making a pie with the last four apples from my most recent trip to Aamodt’s. I will drop this off at one of my friend’s houses tomorrow morning while she is in surgery. It will be waiting at her front door when her husband drives her home at noon, and thankfully apples keep well so the pie can sit out for a bit.

The thankful thoughts I was thinking while making the pie is that her doctors have a good idea what is wrong and how to fix the problem. She should be feeling better after recovery and able to resume the life that she has lost over the past year due to her condition. Her husband has repeatedly turned down offers from our circle of girlfriends to bring food, puppy sit, or run errands, which reminds me to be thankful that we are such a close-knit group.

A thousand thanks indeed! If you live in the United States, please vote tomorrow. Our freedom of voice and choice is definitely something to be thankful for, in addition to all of our other blessings.