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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe

Before kids, Eric and I used to love to discover breakfast locales in Seattle. We were less successful after our move to the Twin Cities but we are still always on the hunt for a great breakfast spot. On the rare vacations without the children along we feel like we have struck gold when we find a perfect match, a third place in our home away from home. We found such a place this past week in Hilton Head.

I must say I was dubious when we drove up to the mall location with unremarkable architecture and no view. We walked inside and were happy to see a bustling business on a weekday morning during the off season in a resort town. The decor was cozy, cheerful and funky, displaying the personality of real people rather than the sanitized version of theme decor so typical of chain restaurant design. I always appreciate the expression of personality in a restaurant because it feels more intimate. Similarly, when you are invited to someone's kitchen for an informal breakfast, you become a member of the family, not just a guest. To take this mood one step further we sat up and the bar seating next to the cooks and servers, in on the action, without having to do the work.

Eric commenced on the crossword puzzle and I read the front page of USA today as we waited for our menus. Check out for their full spread of options. I love a nice simple one page laminated menu, who needs 5 pages of choices, especially for breakfast. We were off to a good start. Our waitress came over to fill our classic coffee mugs and take our order. When I ordered the Sunrise, an eggs benedict concoction with avocado, red onion and tomato; the waitress politely asked if I was a vegetarian. When I replied with a no, she smiled and gestured delightfully befitting a food network cooking show host and demonstrated how I should add some bacon to the mix for the perfect combination. I ordered a side of fruit instead of grits or some other option and she nodded approvingly and added that the fruit cleansed the palette after the rich hollandaise sauce. Our coffee was delicious and was promptly refilled. The cooks and staff behind the counter were clearly enjoying themselves. Some were singing along with the 70's music on the radio, others were joking and sharpening knives, they were having fun with one another and their customers. When Mary Ellen our waitress, delivered my Sunrise, she glowed and announced "it's a thing of beauty isn't it?" I agreed, eager to dive in. Meanwhile Eric was giving his grits the taste test and waiting for the appropriate moment to ask for a taste of mine. We lingered for awhile contented and well cared for until our exit when our waitress was the model of southern hospitality and made sure to say goodbye and thanks for coming.

Sure enough, the next day we were back and I ordered the Sunrise again and was equally satisfied. Mary Ellen looked pleased to see us. Her enthusiasm for the food was contagious and I recommended that she start a cooking show. Eric asked if she was the owner, she said no and gave us the name of the owners. On day three I opted for the stuffed french toast which was good but a bit too sweet for me. I would have preferred a quarter sized portion along side some eggs and meat. To return three times was a high compliment since we are unlikely to be back in Hilton Head anytime soon. There were plenty of other breakfast places to try out, but our experience was so comfortable and we knew we were in for a good time, so Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe became our Third Place for a few days. When on vacation it is nice to introduce something that feels familiar to "try on" what it might be like to be a local someplace else. If you are ever in the neighborhood give Sunrise a try and ask for Mary Ellen.