Little Free Libraries and building community

When my husband and I came to California to house hunt, we had two days to look at 16 houses. One of the moments that stands out in my mind is passing by a Little Free Library on a street near one of the houses for sale. I got really excited, and I’m pretty sure my enthusiasm surprised both my husband and our agent. Any neighborhood that had a Little Free Library was more than all right with me.

Not familiar with the Little Free Library movement? Its basic premise is to share books within a community. People build a box to hold books, put it in their yard, and then their neighbors start sharing books. I love this!

LFL sign_2015FT

Exchanging books: The point of a Little Free Library

On Friday my husband reminded me of that Little Free Library by sending me an article about some small-minded folks who are hassling the owner of a Little Free Library. I read the article and immediately wanted to start building a Little Free Library of my own to stake in the front yard. Of course, I’d have to check with the homeowners’ association first (I recognize the irony). And, more to the point, I have no wood-working skills. So there went that idea.

My temper cooled when I skimmed the article’s comments, something I don’t normally do because, well … trolls. As I scrolled down, I saw a long comment from the director of marketing for Little Free Libraries. She asserted that most of these little neighborhood gems are not in trouble and pointed out the complexities of the specific (unofficial) library in question.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention in our own communities about how Little Free Libraries flourish, or stir up trouble, or bring neighbors together or bring out the trolls. We should know, and we should celebrate Little Free Libraries’ successes. If you read the first paragraph or two of the CityLab article, you’ll see why Little Free Libraries deserve positive attention and why they deserve our protection. They play a small part in creating community.

Little Free Libraries play a small part in creating community.

So to celebrate Little Free Libraries and get to know my way around my new community a little better, I drove around in search of Little Free Libraries near me. There’s a handy map of them all over the world, and I used the map and its more complete appendix to plan the places I would visit. The tour gave me a fun reason to learn my way around roads I might not otherwise ever see.


Someone took a lot of care on the shingles for this cute Little Free Library


A wide collection of reading material, but I was sad there weren’t any children’s books here.


A happy yellow Little Free Library, this one with an asphalt shingled roof


Yay for children’s books (especially Star Wars) and for adult lit books such as Toni Morrison’s Paradise, one of my favorite reads from last year

My favorite Little Free Library of the trip was this one for its whimsical decorations:


Someone(s) must have had a lot of fun decorating this one.


Not just books for adults and kids, but crayons and toys, too, along with a log book and a note pleading for the return of log book #1. Not cool, log book thief, not cool.


I love that the octopus is reading two books at a time, both “classics.”

I encourage you to look at the map for Little Free Libraries to find some near you. Don’t have one? Consider building your own. What books would you most like to share in a Little Free Library?

Speaking of free books, Saturday is the last day to enter for your chance to win a free copy of The Flourishing Tree on Goodreads. I also need to figure out what to do with some copies of the book that arrived damaged—maybe add them to Little Free Libraries? What do you think?

Grits and other grains of truth

And let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:24-25

I’ve been reading and thinking (and writing) a lot these days about friendships and community. How does community look from the outside and the inside? How do we delve and connect more deeply to shift from being strangers to friendly acquaintances to true friends?

In talking with several friends about what keeps this connection in place, I hear again and again the common thread of reaching out and making time for new friendship.

Two weeks ago, my new next-door neighbor rolled down her car window and called out “Hello” to me. She said we should have lunch, and so last week, we drove to a sweet little cafe and spent a couple of hours enjoying good food and getting to know each other. She reached out, and we both carved out some time from busy schedules to make a connection.

Just the other morning, I got an email from one of my cousins (whom I also consider a friend). She’s semi-retired from a career as a family physician, newly remarried, and living in a different city from where she raised her three now-grown children. Her words resonated with me:

I have had to do a lot of thinking about creating “connections” outside those arenas. … It’s interesting—once I realized what that vague emptiness was I felt better because I could be more proactive and seek out other friendships. It’s not easy—but I feel it slowly working.

Friendships don’t come easy, and past elementary school, strong bonds rarely happen quickly. They can take time, and I wonder if we as a society aren’t losing patience with things that take time.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with grits.

I walked down the pasta aisle of my new “regular” grocery store this weekend and stopped dead:

Pre-cooked grits? No, California, just no.

Pre-cooked grits? No, California, just no.

To any self-respecting southern girl, this is a horrifying sight, a thing that shouldn’t even exist but does. I stood and stared, perplexed. Ummmm, pre-cooked, slice-and-serve grits rolled up like a sleeve of sausage? No, no, no, no, no. Grits cook so quickly, especially if you buy the quick cook kind. Even the slow cook kind only take twenty to thirty minutes. They don’t hold up all that well as leftovers. So why, oh why, would you need these pre-cooked grits, essentially packaged leftovers?

More and more, our society wants instant everything: movies-on-demand, quick meet-ups, fast-formed friendships and, apparently, faster-than-instant grits.

Some things are just better with time, though. Grits and friendships fall into this category. Real grits don’t take much time and only a little attention, but real friendships do. Friendships require effort: making space on packed calendars; spending time with others; hearing and speaking concerns, joys, hopes, dreams.

Of the early friendships I’ve begun building here, every single one has the same two essential ingredients: openness and time. Plus some food added in the mix for good measure.

These friendships will not all end up looking the same, like those pre-cooked grit patties sliced from a plastic tube. Just as grits are tasty with a variety of add-ins, friendships flower in many different, beautiful ways.

Hebrews 10 encourages the church community to continue meeting, but it applies to friends, too. Do not give up on meeting together. Are you missing a friend who hasn’t reached out in some time? Pick up the phone or send an email yourself. Have someone new in your neighborhood or at work you’d like to get to know better? Plan a coffee or lunch date. Feel a lack of friends in your life? Try a new hobby or rekindle an old one to see what new friends are waiting there for you. Whatever you do, though, make sure meeting with friends doesn’t involve pre-cooked grits (shudder).

Do you have a recipe—for friendships or grits—that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.

Hope and headbands

Despite still fighting a nagging ankle injury, I signed up for a cross-country 5K that was this past weekend: the Sweat Hope 5K. One of my dearest friends agreed to run it, too, and because it raised money for a great cause and promised to be my last race in my hometown for awhile (and because of its spectacular name, especially appropriate for me), I wanted to have as much fun with it as possible.

The fun started a day early.

I picked up my race packet Friday afternoon, and, having just come from a Girls on the Run (GOTR) event, was sporting my GOTR coach’s t-shirt. When I arrived, several folks greeted me with enthusiasm and remarked on my shirt. It turns out that the race organizer (Jessica Ekstrom—also the CEO/Founder of Headbands of Hope) and her sister had been in the very first Girls on the Run.

The very first season! The one that started it all. Both girls are grown now, and they were both at packet pick-up Friday. They joked that they must have been the reason GOTR kept going. I walked away wondering how many other success stories such as theirs had come out of GOTR.


My new “Sweat Hope” headband with a sticker from Saturday’s race. I thought my happy Fall mum was the perfect place for this shot.

On Saturday, the fun continued. Although I didn’t run as well as I had hoped and had to walk the big hills on the course, it was a beautiful day and a good excuse to spend time with my friend and her husband.

I emailed Ekstrom after the race to congratulate her on such a great inaugural race. This was a great race, in large part because it was so well organized. The race started on time (yay!). It had great volunteers along the course and at the finish (yay!). There were great sponsors who were present with goodies for all of us (including a yogurt parfait station complete with dairy and vegan yogurt — double yay!). There was even a sack race for kids after the main race wrapped up.

I don’t know if Ekstrom plans to organize future Sweat Hope races, but if she does (and I hope she will), you runners out there won’t be disappointed.

Ekstrom kindly agreed to share a little about her experiences as a founding member of the GOTR family and in her role leading her own company. Headbands of Hope makes and sells fantastic headbands (seriously, runners, these things do not slip while you’re running). For every headband the company sells, it donates a headband to a girl with cancer and also gives $1 toward cancer research.

Ekstrom is gaining national attention for her work, and I wanted to know more of her story. Continue reading

The good aunt’s family

In last week’s post, I talked with you about some questions to avoid when talking with someone who doesn’t have children. This week, I want to encourage you to ask a broader question beyond the typical, “Do you have children?”

When you learn that a person doesn’t have children, you may want to consider asking about that person’s family and friends. After all, good aunts have people in our lives we love (and love telling you about), but our family may not look like a conventional one.

A good aunt’s family may not look like this one

I don’t know when those little family stickers started popping up on minivans and SUVs, but I do know it’s hard to drive down the highway without seeing a few of them. Some of them are cute, some puzzling and some simply bizarre. (On a trip this past weekend, my husband and I saw one with goat stickers next to the rest of the family. Very strange.) Continue reading

The good aunt

Today marks the beginning of a new series on my blog. Each Monday during the next few months, I hope you’ll join me as we read the stories of women who don’t have children of their own and how they have created flourishing lives for themselves. (I’ll still post on Wednesdays with my usual fare about what makes life flourish: for me, that’s faith, music, running, art, gardening and books …)

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have children. That’s a story I’ll share with you along our journey, but not yet. Today, I’ll tell you a little bit about why I wanted to write this series and what you’ll find along the way.

But first, I want to wish my mother a happy birthday and a happy Mother’s Day. You may find it odd that I would do that here, in a post about good aunts, but if you knew my mother, you’d understand why it’s appropriate.  Continue reading