Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Third Place City- NYC

If another city could be your Third Place, which one would beckon you back time and again?

Perhaps it would be hard for you to choose, but for me NYC continues to woo me back, for all the same reasons that the Dunn Bros down the street continues to be my 'go to' cafe.  New York is reasonably close given our 15 minute drive to the airport from St. Paul.  The city is familiar and comfortable, with sights and smells that are nostalgic and yet still bring a thrill.  Not many cities can rival the raw energy and excitement of New York.  I can count on eating well and being witness to the old and the new every visit.  A favorite pleasure is striking up a conversation with a person or multiple people who will get my juices flowing, either through their entertaining gestures and point of view or just thoughtful friendly banter.  I even find the challenging interactions to be life affirming, a little squabble with someone who comes at the world from another angle is refreshing and keeps me on my toes a bit.  It is also something Minnesotan's generally frown upon, they would rather end any overt signs of conflict, which can be dull at times.

One of my favorite activities in NYC is looking down on it from on high, both from the plane as I arrive but also whenever I can enjoy the vista from a rooftop, a hotel room, a restaurant overlooking Central Park, etc.  That perspective makes me feel like I know the town, that it's scale isn't as daunting as it sometimes seems on street level in the hustle and bustle in amongst the noises, fumes and need to keep my wits about me.  Instead I can listen to it's unique commotion and watch it like a performance, maybe a symphony, delighting in the various players like the oboes or cellos and the crash or roar of unexpected drums.  

Queens was my home from 4th to 6th grade and we spent many evenings and weekends exploring Manhattan.  I remember some of my impressions from those days and it was wonderful for me to bring my own kids to New York when they were about the same age and watch them respond to the city.  The sparkle and gums on the sidewalks, the perfect cheesy crisp slice of pepperoni pizza late at night, gorgeous display windows, fancy waiters, climbing boulders and spinning around the subway car poles.  What a joy to relive certain memories and to share them and refresh them for myself while perhaps planting the seed for a lifelong third place for my children too.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Rotunda, Minnesota's 3rd Place

Perhaps one use of the blog format is to serve as a public confessional. The Catholics have a new pontiff this week and this leaves me wondering about what his influence will be on our world.  Although I was baptized Catholic, I was not raised as one except perhaps in a second hand way.  By that I mean that my mother was Catholic and was excommunicated upon her divorce; so like the second hand smoke I inhaled when my mother smoked cigarettes, I was infused with her religious or moral compass just by being in her presence.

Pope Francis the first has a unique opportunity and global influence and the Catholics are not the only ones with hopes and expectations that come with this major changing of the guard. Our elected world leaders seem to have trouble with leading according to a big moral picture and frame their decisions based upon the high alter of "the Economy". Many leaders refer to a religious motivation for their actions and often gain support because of these claims.  In all fairness, our politicians have many obstacles to bring about the changes they envision and they are not sequestered in marble towers studying and meditating without the daily survival requirements of family life in the trenches of the secular world.

After years of visiting Washington Square park I only learned this past weekend that a verse taken from the family Coat of Arms of George Washington was used on the Washington Arch in Washington Square park. In the sculpture Washington is flanked by a figure of Peace on one side and Justice on the other, and in the open book held by Justice is the latin phrase 'Exitus acts probat' translated in English to mean ' the outcome justifies the deed'. Perhaps some will say, yup, that's where the rubber meets the road, the difference between idealists and realists or the difference between business and elected officials versus spiritual leaders, but I wonder.  Is that the motto we really want held aloft on our monument to our 1st President's achievements?

So back to my 3rd place blog, Washington Square park is a 3rd place for so many but how many have wondered what that phrase means to them and to all of us when it comes to our leadership?  I confess that I have grown impatient with the belief that the elected leaders or for that matter religious leaders will do what is right based upon their own scholarly research and meditation. My faith is messier to be sure, but I feel called to exert my influence and education and years of reflection and meditation upon our leaders who get their moral authority from we humble citizens and our laws which thankfully can be changed as we humans grow and shape the world we want to inhabit together.  So therefore, I have been visiting our State Capital and it's beautiful Rotunda and the offices that flank it in order to claim our rightful 3rd place in the halls of power. Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trotter's Cafe

There's still time for a blog post in 2012, so here I go. Trotter's is at the hub of Merrium Park's "business block" at Cleveland and Marshall. It serves as the middle ground lunch location for a friend who lives in Highland and myself in the Mac/Groveland neighborhood. In the summer we like to sit at one of the few curbside tables and soak up the sun while we visit. This friend tends to be very particular about what she eats with various dietary restrictions and she is undoubtably the one who introduced me to Trotter's with their tradition for local, fresh, healthful fare. When I'm in need of some omega's I will order their grilled tuna sandwich and I'll feel energetic for the rest of the day.

 The food is less interesting to me than the commitment to a local establishment run for 20 years by a husband and wife team who clearly care deeply about the mission behind their work. To the immediate left of the front door is a map which shows the local organic food sources they buy from and their employees give a portion of their wages to causes of their choosing which are listed on the website. Trotter's also provides monthly food donations to Keystone Food shelf! To top it off they encourage walking/biking on locals night with a 10% discount to locals within 2 miles of the cafe and an additional 5% off if you walked or biked to the restaurant! Live music is another offering on Saturday nights and once a month they host a reading night for local writer's to share their work. This year a collection of poetry from the year is available for purchase($7) with the proceeds going to the food shelf. They have a monthly newsletter posted on the front door which tells of the various happenings including mention of the monthly artist whose work is on display. FOR THE MONTH OF DECEMBER- UNTIL JAN 6TH- THAT ARTIST IS ME! I put up my photography series called Hands at Work as well as an eclectic mix of watercolors to fill out the display space. It is fun to share my work, but as with this blog I'm not much interested in the promotional aspect of showing my work; it's just nice to know that people will enjoy it during their time at Trotter's this month.

Besides supporting a great local business and getting to see or hear local artists, you might run into the mayor of Minneapolis who tends to drop in to get some work done on the fly. I've seen him twice, once last week as I finished putting up my work. He was rather focused on his laptop so I don't think he noticed the display on the walls. If you find this blog because of my sign at Trotter's - thanks for taking a moment to check out the musings of a fellow "Third Place" frequenter, feel free to share your own words if so moved.

Photo from my Christmas tree- Happy Holidays!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Jennifer Kimball Gasperini c. October 1, 2011

For weeks now, I have been driving past the bright yellow banner screaming “Store Closing” at Borders. Each time I pass, I feel a small part of my heart breaking for this loss. Not just for our community to lose a treasured bookstore, but for the loss of a second place, a place that helped foster a mother-daughter tradition. Just today I received a text from our daughter, a sophomore in college in Washington State: “I woke up this morning and all I wanted to do was go to Borders and drink Chai with you.” The last time we gathered there, in July, we were blissfully unaware that the store would soon be filled with screaming white sale signs and bargain hunters gleaning the shelves like locusts.

I love books and photos and words on the page. For the price of a cup of tea, all of these could be enjoyed for hours at Borders. The store was a place where we both felt relaxed and at peace. In this space we were free of heated discussions about curfew or chores, or the distractions of telephones, TV and dirty dishes. We started our tradition when she was 12. At first, it was not easy for me to go. She would suggest the outing and I would hesitate, conflicted about leaving the demands of home and our two younger sons. It got easier after a while and we created a pattern. When we would arrive at the store, we wordlessly separated, searching for treasure among the stacks. After 10 or 15 minutes of collecting our materials, we reunited at the coffee shop counter to order our beloved Chai tea. We felt lucky when we found the matching brown leather chairs or the couch that sat against the walls of the coffee shop unoccupied. There we would nestle in, warm drinks by our side, and peruse photo books, art books, books on felting or teenage mysteries. Occasionally, one of us would laugh out loud, or quietly chuckle, then share what amused us or moved us. We stayed for hours. I relished the time to be still and to read, two things that were too often relegated to just 20 minutes before bedtime.

We never set out to actually purchase books, although we did our fair share to keep the place in business. In our house, books are overflowing on shelves in our bedrooms, living room and hallways. The draw to Borders was about bonding, escaping to another world for an afternoon. For me, it was about letting go of all my responsibilities as a parent and wife and employee; about being in the moment, sharing a passion with my only girl.

On several occasions, the boys begged to come along. Neither of them liked to read much, but they were jealous of our time away and didn’t want to miss out. They would ask for hot chocolate, talk loudly while sipping, then skim through a magazine or two. All too soon, they were asking if it was time to leave. We were just settling in. They could not understand the draw to sit and read for pure pleasure. They were foreigners to our world.

It has been a struggle to let go of our girl, to see her off on her college adventure halfway across the country. Just as I was coming to grips with this loss, I must now let go of the place where we found solace and tranquility in difficult parenting years. I wonder when we will ever have endless hours to simply “be” together again. I thank Borders for the tradition that kept our relationship from sliding into the tormented years I so often read or hear about, and for the memories of sharing precious time and books that will stay with us forever.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jeff and Randy's Porch

Our Third Place for the summer has been our neighbors' front porch. Jeff and Randy moved in across the street almost two years ago and they exude hospitality the likes of which I have rarely experienced, especially on a regular basis! Once the weather cooperates their porch decor makes it's way back outside. A round dining table with overhead wine bottle lamp made by a very handy friend, a wicker bench, coffee table and chairs, and gorgeous lush plants make for a lovely oasis. The late afternoon sun is the first to make an appearance on the porch and then Jeff usually heads out with a glass of wine. Randy joins Jeff once he gets home from work and on many evenings I'll simply wave as I head off to one of Ian's soccer games. Luckily there were many beautiful evenings to beckon them to the porch and I found myself looking for excuses to head over to visit. Initially I was a bit hesitant, wondering if I was intruding on the afterwork decompression time that might not lend itself to company. But their big smiles and friendly assurances that I was welcome soon made me a bit of a fixture on their comfy porch. Each time I'd be offered a beverage and sometimes Jeff would run inside only to return with a tray filled with elegantly presented appetizers. Of course if my glass needed replenishing it was instantly taken care of as though I were in a fine restaurant. After several evenings of this I started to bring my own wine, and some small offering like a book or DVD to loan or perhaps a few flowers from my garden. The length of our porch sittings would vary, depending on the comings and goings of our family but the open invitation was always there, even when they were hosting guests. This past week when Randy's parents were in town Eric and I went over to introduce ourselves and sure enough we were there for two hours passing the time and getting acquainted with their family. Perhaps we'll still get in a few porch visits before the hanging ferns come down for winter, I'm hoping we can reciprocate and offer up our basement for movie nights with some warm soup, but it won't compare to the casual seasonal open invitation of their presence on the porch.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dog Park

We added a new member to the family about a month ago so the dog park has become another Third Place for me. Mya knows how to have fun and the dog park is a great place to show off her roll over move. I'm not sure I would recommend getting a puppy mid winter in Minnesota unless you already love exposing yourself to the frigid weather no matter what each day, several times a day! The dog park helps by adding another entertainment factor. The dogs and their owners get some great laughs just like going to the playground.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Swede Hollow Cafe

A great name never hurts a Third Place, it can lure you in when you would otherwise not discover it. Swede Hollow sounds like something out of a fairytale, and indeed in the summer the garden with its lovely tiered fountain and cobblestones and rambling terraced area is magical. Luckily the cafe faces south and west with enormous windows and a wonderful brick interior wall which gives the place a warm feel even if the frigid air blows in with each new customer during the winter months.

Despite the great name, it was two new factors which have created a shift in my daily routine that made Swede Hollow a Third Place for me this year. The first was that both children started attending the same school again located just a few blocks from the Swede Hollow. The second is that my mother, who just retired this spring, also lives within a few blocks from the cafe. This coincidence has turned into the perfect excuse for a new Third Place for me.

I will often pick up my mom and then we will head together to split a piece of quiche for breakfast, and we each get a latte, hers decaf mine regular. The display case is full of other options for those who prefer a sweeter launch into the day, gorgeous sticky carmel rolls and a variety of scones and beautiful granola, but generally we stick with the quiche because it is delicious, a large portion, and each of us tries to put forward a healthy image for the other's sake. Besides, the bar of dark chocolate on the latte cup makes you feel decadent anyway. The latte is served in a heavy large cup that warms my always cold hands and they make sure to have the perfect decorative wave across the foam, just so. The servers are friendly and remember our standard order and stop to chat with us about our knitting projects, etc. The owner is very congenial too, checking in to make sure everyone is doing well and he seems appreciative and genuinely happy to have created such a warm community spot.

My mom is off traveling now so I drop by Swede Hollow less frequently, but I will call her on occasion from my cell phone when I'm there to check up on her and have a little rendez- vous as though we are having coffee together. I look forward to the warm spring days when she returns and we can sit outside and get a hint of sunburn.