Fiddlehead Coffeehouse Co.~ community, compassion and good coffee

Photo by Bonnie Robinson – Creme Brulee Latte from Fiddlehead Coffee Co. Licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

On Friday afternoon, I sat down with Sarah, one of the owners of Fiddlehead Coffee Co.  My first question addressed the name of the shop. She explained to me that the fiddlehead is the name of a baby fern.  When a new fern emerges, it is tightly wound, like a snail’s shell.  This coil is called the fiddlehead. She told me that in Minnesota and other woodsy places, people will forage (a direct connection to The Forager, the adjoining brewery and restaurant with which Fiddlehead Coffee Co. shares their space) for these baby ferns.  The fiddleheads get sauteed and eaten.

Chalk art by artist Cassandra Buck outside of Fiddlehead Coffee Co. Photo by Bonnie Robinson. All rights reserved.

Now I understood the chalk art on the outside of the building and the abundance of ferns adorning the interior space – both captured in images in my previous post.  There were also fern designs printed on each table top.  To extend the fern metaphor, the business is also newly sprouting.  They have only been open for about seven months – just “fiddleheads” themselves, really, and hoping to grow their company.  One vision they have is to be successful enough to be able to contribute philanthropically to the preservation of woodsy habitats where ferns grow wild and to also contribute to charities that promote gardening with kids.

I asked Sarah to describe the customer base here.  “We have a unique relationship with many of our customers because of our proximity with Mayo Clinic,” she said.  “Many of our customers are patients and out-of-towners.”  She expressed a sincere compassion and understanding for patients and their loved ones who may be going through a difficult treatment or diagnosis.  Fiddlehead Coffee Co. wants to be a place of comfort and relaxation and a home away from home.  Sarah also told me they attract more affluent people from out of the country whose cultures hold the coffee ritual in high esteem.  Fiddlehead Coffee Co. has a high quality product, and for many customers, it’s about enjoying an expertly crafted drink.  The Coffee Review describes it this way,

” …a ritual is not only a gesture of hospitality and reassurance, but a celebration of a break in routine, a moment when the human drive for survival lets up and people can simply be together.”

Of course, Fiddlehead Coffee Co. wouldn’t be successful without their regulars.  Sarah provided the names of several people who “office” at this shop on regular weekdays.  She told me a little about each person, demonstrating the authenticity of the shop’s core mission – to build community and foster relationships.  Along with the regular individuals, they host several groups on a regular basis.

When I asked if strangers freely interact and engage one another in conversation like the coffeehouses of the 18th century where socializing with strangers was the norm; she said, not typically.  However, some of the regulars have gotten to know each other over time and have abandoned their laptops for stimulating and congenial conversation.  To further foster community, the owners and employees of the shop like to facilitate mingling and networking by introducing customers to each other to help make connections happen. “We’re matchmakers of sorts,” Sarah quipped.

“Are there any rules for the coffeehouse?” I asked. She shook her head.   “There are no ‘rules’ per se, but everyone is just very polite and friendly.”

“Tell me about the Hate Free buttons,” I said. Sarah explained that their desire is to be inclusive – a judgement free zone.  Again she expressed the main reason for having the coffeehouse is to have a meeting space where people feel welcomed,  loved and cared for – all the while partaking in the ritual of coffee.

We finished the interview.  Sarah went back to washing dishes and serving customers – always with a friendly smile, often by name.  I stood up and approached the counter and asked Charlie what drink he would recommend for the afternoon.  “Creme Brulee Latte,” he said without missing a beat.  “Let’s do it,” I answered.  I went back to my laptop while he made my drink.  A few minutes later, he called me by name, “Bonnie.”  He’d gone to the effort to remember my  name from my previous visits.  These little things make this a special place.

The drink was beautiful. The perfect souvenir from my week here: a lovely fern design melting into the thick, creamy froth of the coffee. I took a sip. There are no words.  “Perfect,” I mouthed to Charlie who had glanced over from his work behind the counter.  “You betcha, ” he smiled back.

Ferns at Fiddlehead by Bonnie Robinson Licensed CC- BY-NC-SA 2.0




A Brief History of Coffeehouses: Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy the tour

Photo provided by CCO Public Domain

Let’s begin the tour of coffeehouses with a little time-traveling back to the hay day of coffeehouses. Seventeenth century.  London, England.  The history is vast and detailed, and well worth taking your own trip.  Here are a few highlights from my trip.

Coffee became popular during a time that drinking water was unsafe to drink. In this article, we learn that in 1651, a trader named Daniel Edward, along with his Greek servant Pasqua Rosee, established the first London coffeehouse. It took awhile to catch on because the taste and smell was so repulsive (often compared to human excrement),  yet, Londoners were impatient and frustrated with the effects of alcohol, so coffee was a welcomed exchange. Londoners found that coffee provided mental clarity, giving them additional energy and the ability to focus –  a quality that earned coffee the nickname of the “think drink”(McComb 19).  Coffee soon became popular and coffeehouses sprang up quickly.  Historian, Markman Ellis claims that over 82 coffeehouses infiltrated London in less than 10 years.

Coffeehouses usually consisted of long tables where strangers would gather and engage in conversations.  There were a few single tables where one could retreat to read or write.  Patrons were invited to participate in vibrant discussions and debates about everything from limericks and literature to politics and social issues. Science and innovation were also common topics for discussion, and often times, local scientists would give lectures at the coffeehouse.  It’s even rumored that Isaac Newton (and his cronies) dissected a dolphin on the table of a coffeehouse for an interested audience (Green).  They were often the hot spot for the most updated news.  Some coffee shop owners employed  messengers to bring the latest news from the ports.

The coffeehouse was criticized by some as being a place where the loafers congregated but was praised by others for being a “penny university” – a place where one could get a tremendous education for the price of a cup of coffee, a penny (Cook and Santos).

Licensed by Wikimedia Commons at,_1474.png

It seems that coffeehouses were quite lively little hubs of activity. They were revolutionary in ushering in democratic ideals as they were the first public spaces to welcome people of any social class and status.  Customers “managed to collect and express this public opinion through constructive discussion as the coffeehouse provided a setting where individuals could freely speak their mind as long as they were rational and concise” (McComb 24).  The rules for engagement became widespread across coffeehouses with the composition and production of a poem/pose-like piece that was published on pamphlets in 1674 and distributed.  The poem described that no man should have a place of prominence, no quarreling would be permitted, no single individual should monopolize the conversation, no dice games or wagers would be made, etc…  all of this to ensure a democratic and civilized exchange of rational ideas. (McComb 25).

The communities were highly inclusive, expanding to include all social classes – and inviting people from all walks of life; however, despite the attitude of equality and inclusiveness, the majority of the customers were middle class white males.  This relatively homogeneous crowd did not share homogeneous opinions, so there was plenty of animated discussion and debate, particularly about politics and ideas for social reform.  Green writes, “People from all walks of life swarmed to his business to meet, greet, drink, think, write, gossip and jest, all fueled by coffee… coffee came to be portrayed as an antidote to drunkenness, violence and lust; providing a catalyst for pure thought, sophistication and wit.”

Screenshot from the app Pocket Guide –   I recommend this interactive audio tour if you’re interested in a little time-travel back to the coffeehouses of old!

Historical coffeehouses were open to the public regardless of social class or status; however, women were not among the patrons, and lower class men, although theoretically welcomed, were not strongly represented.

Women were divided in their affections for the coffeehouse craze.  Some women complained that their men were becoming effeminate and lazy by spending idle hours at the coffeehouse.  In 1674, these feelings were widespread enough that the women collectively developed the Women’s Petition Against Coffeehouses, requesting the ban of coffeehouses in an effort to get their men back to productive work (Green).  Other women saw the coffeehouses as a positive alternative to the brothels and taverns.  Still other women, simply didn’t show an interest one way or the other.  Many women kept their own social circles, meeting most often in one another’s homes and parlors to enjoy a cup of tea – a more palatable drink (McComb 29).

Both McComb and Ellis report that women were not the only ones who had a problem with coffeehouses.  King Charles II attempted to pass the “Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffee-Houses” in 1675 out of fear that the masses were congregating to hatch treasonous plans.  The King was overruled, and it became established that coffeehouses were a valued and influential part of Britain’s democracy.  The coffeehouse was a place for thoughtful, respectful, innovative and rational conversation among men who embraced human rights, creativity, and social equality.

Source not available in hyperlink:

Cook, John and Patricia Santos. “Social Network Innovation in the Internet’s Global      Coffee Houses: Designing a Mobile Help Seeking Tool in Learning Layers.” Educational Media International, vol. 51, no. 3, Sept. 2014, pp. 199-213. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/09523987.2014.968446.

Fiddlehead Coffee Co.

I stop at my first shop at 1pm on Tuesday. The parking lot is full.  I notice right away the art painted on the sides of the building.   Whimsical chalk art of a coffee cup filled with ferns and other leafy plants. The visual representation of the coffee company’s name, (but I won’t discover this until later).

Outside Fiddlehead Coffee Co.

When I enter, the atmosphere is breath-taking.  It feels like a step back in time.  Large wooden beams frame out the long coffee counter.  Industrial light bulbs in black iron cages drape from the beams.  Beautiful leaded antique windows are the backdrop, and a gateway into a large room storing wooden barrels of beer for the adjacent brewery.  An oversized oak and glass hutch sits off to the left side.  IMG_1664Another wooden countertop runs along the back of the shop underneath a long window facing south.  Stained glass church windows lean against the larger window, creating a soft glow of color as the afternoon sunlight streams through.  Several small tables, sitting close together fill the center space.  The tables are moveable, allowing people to push them together as desired.  Another lovely and unique aspect to this space is an array of ferns and other green leafy plants sitting along the window’s edge, hanging in the window, and sitting along the coffee counter. The live foliage is replicated in art prints adorning the walls. The botany theme harkens back to  old coffeehouses in London that were often frequented by scientists. I am drawn to this vintage space.  I’ve always loved antiques and the nostalgia drummed up by these relics from the past.img_1666.jpg

The coffee shop is awake.  Two clergy sit having a late lunch together in one corner.  Another middle-aged man in a flannel shirt is working on a laptop at the counter facing the outside windows.  The only other customer is a college-age man sitting alone at a table also working on a laptop.  A young couple enters at the same time I do.  They order and take a small table near the center.  I order a house coffee, black.  I’m lucky today.  The owner is there to take my order.  He’s a tall man with a thick, full beard, wearing a wool beret and a plaid shirt.  I notice a small, round, pink button on his chest that reads, “Hate Free.”  A quick scan around lets me know all the employees wear this button.  He smiles and welcomes me to shop.  I introduce myself and tell him what I’m up to. He seems genuinely interested and enthusiastic to help me with my research. He introduces me to the crew.  Everyone exchanges names and is very friendly.  There is a warmth here.  I take my cup of coffee, served in a think, cream ceramic cup and saucer, and move to a single table near the back window to set up shop.

Tuesday afternoon appears to be quiet. I sip my coffee – it has a unique flavor — sweet on my tongue; charming like this space.  I’m suddenly aware of the music.  It’s folksy – much like I anticipated.  Unpredictable harmonies of two female singers, heavy strumming of acoustic guitars and a pulsating drum.  It’s a lively, energizing vibe.  The reliable harmonica is playing  its required solo.

This shop is unique because it is located within a brewery and eatery.  *Interesting side note: The old coffeehouses of London were always segregated from the taverns, while in France, beer and coffee were frequently served in the same venue (The Coffee House by Markman Ellis).  It appears from a few posters pinned up that Fiddlehead Coffee Co. and The Forager strive to bring the community together by hosting a variety of events from live music, book club discussions, art shows, vintage living classes, and artistic workshops.  Customers are free to roam from the coffeehouse side to the brewery side with a few seating spaces in between.  There is a library room, a fireside room, the main restaurant area, and when the weather permits, an outdoor seating area. There is also a small retail space featuring local woodworkers, soap makers, jewelers and other artists.

As the afternoon unfolds, a few people drift in and out.   A mother and daughter, a father, mother and young college student, a single business woman.  Each group sits quietly talking a short distance away.  The atmosphere is quiet – conducive for working independently.  There is a constant sound of dishes clinking as they are washed or re-stacked or put back in their proper places.

So… this is what it’s like to work in public.  The environment is lovely. The vintage decor here takes me back to seventeen and eighteen century coffeehouses. I could get used to coming here.  I’m excited to see what happens here this week.

If you are in the Rochester, Minnesota area, be sure to stop in and meet Patrick, Samantha, and Sarah.  If you’re lucky, like I was, Charlie will be behind the counter to take your order and make you a deliciously crafted, top-quality coffee.




Reflecting on Week 1 of the Project

What I Did~

The first week of the project was very intense work.  I spent several hours searching for articles and texts I could use to help me with the research of my project.  This involved a lot of reading, sorting, organizing, discarding some things and moving on to others.

The next step was to set up a sort of itinerary or timeline for my project, plugging in certain benchmarks and topics that I wanted to hit while arranging time into my schedule to do the field studying on location at local coffee shops.

Finally, I was ready to dig in and get to work.  I began by reading two longer works,

I also read a few shorter articles, mostly about coffeehouses.  These included:

In addition to the readings, I came across an audio tour of historical London coffeehouses!  I downloaded the tour from a cool tourism app called, Pocket Guide.   I took notes on all of these texts on my wiki pages. And I began writing drafts of posts to be posted in the upcoming days and weeks.

How it Went~

The research and reading was fascinating, and I felt rewarded every study session as I would learn something new, affirm suspicions I had, found new connections or just had some tremendous surprises.  Collecting and gathering was going really well, but it soon became overwhelming!  What do I do with all this stuff?  How do I organize it?  How will I be able to condense it into something post-worthy?  How should I proceed?  Sooo…. those questions still have not been answered other than to say, I decided to begin where coffeehouses began.  My first posts will be about the history of coffeehouses as a foundation to build from.  From there, I have a plethora of topics I want to explore and no idea how I plan to manage it all.  If I were designing a web site, I guess I would put them all in a drop down menu – or create an interactive menu like the artistic chalkboard menus displayed at our contemporary coffee shops.

This week I also started my tour of local shops, beginning at Fiddlehead Coffee Co.  I’ll save my comments about Fiddlehead for another post.  Suffice it to say, it was a lovely beginning to the tour!

I can sum up some of the mountaintop experiences from this week.

“Perks” of the Project ~

  • Finding out that Jill Walker Rettberg composed most of her book while working at a coffeehouse!  She thanks The Wormhole Coffee in her acknowledgements section. (I definitely want to try and contact them during this project). This was a “perk” because it revealed a link between coffeehouses and blogging – just what I’m trying to investigate for this project!
  • The discovery of the rules of the coffeehouse broadsheet poem – reprinted in part in Sofie McComb’s scholarly article.  This discovery was a “perk” because the rules so closely resembled what I’ve been learning about The Wiki Way!  While I haven’t compiled my research on The Wiki Culture yet, I know this will come in to the project later.
  • Learning about the democratic ideals that were fundamental to the very existence and success of coffeehouses. This was a “perk” because it is another link I was hoping to explore to connect coffeehouses and digital communities.
  • Perhaps the best “perk” was when I was reading the chapter about selfies in Rettberg’s book and ran across a name I recognized.  Rettberg spends much of one  chapter discussing an artist whose work Rettberg admired when she visited a “Life-logging” exhibit in Chicago.  The artist’s name is Suzanne Szucs.  I KNOW Suzanne!  She works at RCTC with me, teaching photography! (Now, I definitely have plans to meet up with Suzanne to talk about this!)
  • Meeting the staff at Fiddlehead Coffee Co., spending time in their beautiful space and enjoying delightful coffee drinks – and I may or may not have eaten the last blueberry scone.;)

Looking Ahead~

I found a whole stack of books that looked too good to pass up at our local library, so I will tackle those (including Markman Ellis’s entire book on the history of coffeehouses), I will visit another local coffee shop, and I will find a way to integrate my research into blog posts.  I imagine the posts will still be more of a hodge-podge of ideas for now – sort of scrapbook of sorts.  My posts will probably resemble more of a diary blog for now. But rest assured, there’s more brewing!



Source: Cook, John and Patricia Santos. “Social Network Innovation in the Internet’s Global Coffee Houses: Designing a Mobile Help Seeking Tool in Learning Layers.” Educational Media International, vol. 51, no. 3, Sept. 2014, pp. 199-213. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/09523987.2014.968446.

Photo credit goes to Andika Murandi for this piece called Moore Coffee Shop, Seattle Licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two things I love: writing and coffee.  These two things are best when combined. Which I do. Often.  I rarely sit down to write without a strong cup of Sumatra mellowing within reach.  I’ve been passionate about both for most of my life, certainly all of my adult life, but both passions have one thing in common: I don’t do either publicly.

I mean, sure, I’ve sat at a coffee shop with a friend a time or two to catch up and gab the afternoon away, but these visits are just on occasion.  I’m not one of those people that brings her laptop to the coffee shop, clicking and sipping the hours away.  I write and drink coffee at home at my kitchen table. Mostly out of practicality.  When I write, I write A LOT.  When I drink coffee, I DRINK A LOT.  Coffee is cheaper at home, and the bathroom is only a few steps away. Plus, as a mom of two active boys, I can pop in and out of the laundry room to move the laundry along, or throw dinner in the crockpot. It’s the perfect set-up for multi-tasking moms.

However, I’m curious about coffee houses.  They tempt me.  I have a preconceived notion about them being subdued, energetic and innovative hubs where self-driven, independent thinkers go to feed their creative souls.  I imagine there are several customers sitting solo, sipping their brew, fingers flying over their keyboards or tapping away on their tablets.  Small clusters of close-knit comrades, philosophizing or extrapolating on existential issues, coffee cake crumbs clinging to the corners of their mouths.  Business executives converging to go over statistics and strategic plans.  All the while, the barista keeps the place buzzing with the constant whir and grind of the coffee machines and  folksingers, playing acoustic guitars, haunt the space from invisible speakers.  That’s how I imagine it.

It was my mom, actually, who got me thinking about the connections between blogging and coffee drinking.  She suggested I blog about coffee during one of our frequent phone conversations because I was uncertain what to choose for the final project.

     Aside:  If you’ve read much about my blog, you know that this is content for a class I am taking.  We’re at mid-terms now, and the instructor has assigned THE BIG PROJECT. In my last post, I wrote about the process of defining the project. This post is The Project Launch.

Here’s a version of the Project Proposal:  Since starting the class about two months ago, I have ventured into the arena of public writing via blogging and wiki pages, and for this project, I plan to become a tourist of a few local coffee shops, all the while honing my green blogging skills. I’m interested in researching coffee shops as public spaces with an emphasis on coffeehouse culture and community. At the same time, I will continue to research blogging and wiki writing, allowing me to compare what I learn about coffeehouse communities and culture with what I’m learning about digital communities and culture. I intend to find interesting overlap, unique parallels, and perhaps some distinct differences as well.

If you choose to accompany me on this journey, you can expect to do some time traveling back to the first coffeehouses of London, visit a few of the local shops here in my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota, and engage in some discussion and idea sharing about what it means to write/work/learn/participate in public spaces.  I’ll be bringing along some reading which I look forward to sharing and discussing while we sip a nice, delicious coffee.  I love a simple cappuccino – with lots of foam!  If you’re a coffee connoisseur, and have a coffee drink recommendation for me to try, please leave a suggestion in the comment area!






Goldilocks returns to grad school; gets advice from the Bears…

…whose family has expanded since their last encounter to include three additional cubs.

              Illustration Credit:janwillemsen CC BY-NC-SA-2.0

Once upon a time,

Goldilocks, now in her (very) late thirties, decided to return to graduate school.  “It will be great for my career!” she chirped to her husband as she clicked submit on the online application.

She bounded in to her new adventure, exploring every trail, turning over every leaf, skipping along, unaware that her expedition was taking her deeper and deeper into the forest.  About two months later, she found herself lost again in the woods.  The professor had assigned an open ended project – related to some aspect of weblogs or wikis – and it was worth 50% of her grade!  “Oh my!” sighed Goldilocks as she sank down to rest against the trunk of a towering oak tree.  “I just don’t know where to go.”

She looked up and saw paths leading in all directions.  Her head began to spin.  Which path should she take?  Suddenly she heard rustling and footsteps, laughter mixed with low growls.  She froze and scanned the area for a place to hide, but it was too late.  A family of bears came into view, swinging small metal pails of berries at their sides.  She let out a shallow breath when she recognized them.

“Hello Bears!” she called out, standing up to greet them.

“Why Goldilocks!” Mama and Papa Bear said in unison.  Mama Bear stepped forward to give her a hug.  “What brings you out here?”

“Well, I have a big school project to do, and I kind of got lost thinking about it.  I just don’t know which way to go.”

“Maybe we can help!” said a bright-eyed young female bear.

“That would be great,” Goldilocks admitted.  “How about if I tell you my ideas, and you let me know what you think?”

The Bears nodded.

“My first idea is to re-design my college composition course, integrating the material we’ve learned so far in the class,” Goldilocks stated. “You know making the class more focused on online writing.”

“That’s very practical and sensible,” nodded Mama Bear.

“Sounds like you’d be copying what your teacher did instead of doing your own project,” interjected Big Brother Bear.

“Sounds too boring,” Sister Bear said while checking her appearance in her cell phone camera.

“Okay.  My second idea is not boring.  What if I sneak around and spy…”, she dropped her voice to a whisper the next part, “…of the net to analyze the rhetoric and behaviors of those online communities compared to Wiki communities?” Goldilocks asked.

“That sounds too dangerous,” Big Brother Bear said.

“Too risky,” Papa Bear confirmed.

Mama Bear, wide-eyed, immediately agreed.  “Tell us your other ideas.”

“Well, I’m interested in participatory media… bystander effect…er…um… social discourse.  Maybe I could do some research on that.”

Little Bear scratched his head as if to say, “Too confusing.”

Goldilocks felt the anxiety creeping back in.  She needed to find her way and get going soon.  “Ummm…. Memes are funny, right?  And GIFs?  We read this article in class by Marshall McLuhan about how people are “unconscious consumers of the industrial landscape” and how media is “symbolic landscape.”  Maybe I could track the memes that come across my Facebook feed and deconstruct each one as a symbolic cultural artifact.”

Sister Bear looked up from her phone and snapped her gum with her tongue, “Don’t you have like five Facebook friends?” *Snap*Snap*Click* “Sounds unrealistic.”

Goldilocks’ face fell, and she saw path after path closing off to her. One path  was well-trodden.  “I guess I could just do a blog.  I really like blogging.  I’m just not that interested in choosing a specific genre.  I want the freedom to pursue different topics.  Most importantly, I want to connect the topic of the project to the academic scholarship we’ve been doing in class.  This is too hard. Maybe I’m just over-thinking the whole thing.”

“Well,” Mama Bear put an arm around Goldilocks’ shoulders.  “I think you need a strong cup of coffee to clear your head.  Let’s drop the family off at home, and then you and I will go for a nice coffee at Honey’s Coffeehouse.”

“Coffee,” nodded Goldilocks.  “That sounds just right.”

And the story ended happily ever after

– at least for that day.

Goldilocks still has to submit her project proposal to her professor for approval.  She’s hoping he thinks it sounds just right as well.

Bear drinking coffee
who’s been drinking MY coffee?  – sammydavisdog – CC BY 2.0


what I tell my kids about dying

My parents taught me death wasn’t something to fear. With the recurring regularity of mass shootings, a deadly flu season, indiscriminate diseases and other impending dangers,  I feel compelled to impress this same confidence upon my own children.

When I was growing up, my father’s favorite song was the gospel hymn, “I’ll Fly Away.”  It was almost a daily occurrence to hear my dad humming, whistling or banging out a lively version on our family piano.

“Some glad morning,when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away…”

Dad was a pastor, and when he got older, he eased into retirement, passing several of the church duties to his younger replacement.  My dad packed his belongings and moved to a small office in the attic of the old rural church.  He joked about his promotion to the upper office – “Just moving on up from here,” he’d tell people with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.

Death was an issue I confronted as a very young child when my mom fought a hard but victorious battle with cancer. Doctors had given us no hope. As an eight-year-old, I spent many afternoons alone in a hospital waiting room while my dad stayed with my mom. Kids weren’t allowed in. Mom’s life was too fragile.  And so I spent those hours praying fervently, silently while nurses and doctors and visitors padded by.

My parents knew God. They taught me about Him my whole life, so even at the tender age of eight, God and I had a pretty long-standing relationship. He gave me a verse during those days of my mom’s sickness. He told me to “cast all my care upon Him, for He cares for me” (I Peter 5:7 – slightly personalized). That verse held me together as I sat alone on the orange vinyl loveseats in that sour smelling hospital, wondering if I would still have a mother the next day. Those words hold me together often still.  Finally, the day came when we got to bring Mom home with us. The doctors said it was a miracle.  We all knew God had given my mom more time, and for that we were grateful, but I learned something from my parents through all of this. They understood the paradox the apostle Paul wrote about when he said, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

“To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away…”

After the school shooting in Parkland, everyone has been talking about gun control, mental illness, school surveillance systems, metal detectors, more social workers in the schools, banning violent video games, teachers carrying guns…  We are all mourning the loss of these innocent lives that we were not able to protect.  Everyone is frantically trying to implement a solution. To fix this problem. So we won’t have to go through this pain again and again.

But I’ve noticed a shift in the conversation I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe it was there, and I missed it. I heard moms saying they are buying bulletproof backpacks for their kids and coaching them how to use them as  shields. I saw an article written by a Florida teacher who arms her elementary students with scissors as part of a routine lock-down procedure. In a podcast about making schools safer, parents shared what they are doing to prepare their children for an armed shooter situation.  I heard the fear in these teachers’ and parents’ voices, but that wasn’t new.  What I noticed was that we were telling the children they had to be responsible for their own safety.  They had to take measures.  I can’t judge these parents or educators whose hearts just want their kids to come home safe to their families. No one asked for this reality.

I don’t know the solution to the violence.   I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “In this world you will have trouble; Take heart! I have overcome the world.”  I do know the conversation I need to have with my kids.  It’s one we’ve had several times before. A conversation about what it means to die.  I always tell my kids, very matter-of-factly, “Dying is not the worst thing that could happen to us. In fact, it’s the best thing,”  I say.  “We know where we’re going, and we know Who is waiting for us when we get there.  It’s not something to be afraid of.  Of course, it makes us sad to think about being separated from the people we love, but the Love that’s waiting for us is big enough to take care of all that.”

“When the shadows of this life have gone, I’ll fly away!

Like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away!”

I don’t remember how old my boys were when we first had this conversation, but I do remember one time specifically. We attended a church service, and the pastor spoke about heaven.  What he said, deeply unsettled me.  He proclaimed it existed and described it as wonderful, but then he said, if he was completely honest, he wasn’t anxious to go there any time soon. He kind of liked it here, and he still had things on his bucket list.

After church, we got in the car, and before I even got my seatbelt clicked, I went to work repairing the damage I was afraid that pastor had done to my children.  I looked at my children and said firmly, “If you know God, the way I know Him, you would never trade a second on this earth for an eternity in heaven.”  I can’t remember their reactions.  I think they just blinked back at me, and one of them asked if we were going to eat.  He was hungry.  He wanted a grilled cheese.  I probably responded with, “You think grilled cheese tastes good here?  Wait ’til you have one in heaven! That sandwich is out of this world!”  I’m usually amused with my own lame jokes.  The boys typically give me a courtesy nod of their heads.

“Just a few more weary days and then, I’ll fly away!”

We continue this conversation.  Whenever we see a beautiful sky or visit a breath-taking place, or see a majestic animal in the wild, I remind them.  God created this – and this world we live in, this is the broken one.  He’s got a perfect one,  He’s prepared it for us, and when we get there it’s going to be better than anything we imagine.

Some people may find my parenting problematic.  They may say I’m brainwashing my kids or indoctrinating them with a false belief system.  Feeding them fairy tales.  I understand this point-of-view. I wrestled with these same arguments as a college-student. When my kids grow up, they will intelligently sort through these issues, critically thinking through them all just like I did. I have a Masters Degree; I’m aware of what the critics say.  As long as children are being asked to carry a bullet proof shield or use a school supply as a weapon, I’m going to let my kids know they can hold on to Jesus.

“To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away!”

This week another big event made national news: Reverend Billy Graham’s death. I saw several posts come across my feed, paying tribute to the great American preacher.  The first one I saw was posted by a close friend of mine who lost her own sweet mama to cancer only a year ago.

My home is in heaven.  I’m just passing through this world – Billy Graham

*              *             *

My mom is still around. She is alone now though at 77. She stays very busy driving her sixty-something-year-old friends to their doctors appointments.  We talk daily on the phone.  My dad got that final promotion nine years ago. He suffered a massive heart attack, but it didn’t take his life immediately. My dad was conscious when the ambulance arrived and still when the helicopter came. I wasn’t able to be there, but my sister and her daughter were there – and my mom. They told me that my niece started to cry when they were lifting my dad up in the helicopter, and then my dad, in some of his last conscious moments, smiled and winked at his granddaughter, giving her a thumbs up. See, my dad knew where he was going. He knew Who was waiting for him. My dad had lived a full life, but he knew the best was yet to come.

This is what I tell my kids about dying.

“I’ll fly away! Oh glory!  I’ll fly away!

When I die Hallelujah by and by!

I’ll fly away!”


Put a Fork in it…before it’s done?

In the class I am taking, we are learning about Wikis.  I am going to let you know right now, Wikis are new territory.  I have never participated on a Wiki before this class, and I still have not used a Wiki collaboratively.  We have been assigned to keep some of our own personal notes on a Wiki page, so I’m learning some of the formatting rules, but that’s been the extent of it so far.

As I read about Wikis, I find them really fascinating.  I’m drawn to the democratic values of the Wiki – the sharing and collaboration and mutual respect.  The concept of “Soft Security.”  The emphasis on collaboration not competition.  It sounds rather utopian.

The original Wiki is still in operation, but its inventor, Ward Cunningham, created a new wiki called The Federated Wiki that operates on an even more democratic level by dismantling the hierarchical mode.  The move takes the wiki from one owner to shared ownership.  This new version of the wiki includes “putting a fork in” a document when a contributor wants to take the project in a new direction. It’s more like a fork in a road than an eating utensil, but people seem to like the idea of putting a fork in something.

Something Wiki users appreciate about the platform is the flexibility and lack of constraints that are in place in other social media.  They feel the wiki allows contributors to think and write outside of the box in ways these other media do not.  When other online platforms seem to push the contributor to perform the way the designer expects them to, Wikis have no expectations – other than an attitude.  One must share the values of the wiki or risk being ousted by the community.  While they are welcoming to everyone, they are protective of their communities.  Their neighborhood watch programs work pretty well.

With The Federated Wiki, participants have even more freedom and flexibility by putting a fork in it.  Like I said before, these are like forks in a road for when you want to travel in a new direction.  The project is not over, and other folks may continue on the main road, but others may follow you down this new path, or forge a separate forked path of their own.

Frances Bell blogs about his experiences with “forking” and provides some insight on how it can go. His description is meant to help newbies understand the process a bit better.

I am a newbie.  I don’t understand what the wiki is or how it works, but I’m intrigued by the promises I have heard it can deliver to the creative community – and our world at large.  I’m looking forward to seeing a wiki in action – maybe even participating in one.  Alan Levine (aka CogDog) references the Federated Wiki in his post, and brings up a question about Wiki projects.  In his reflection, he seems to be asking whether the purpose of the Wiki is to arrive at a final polished product or if there is more that could be done in the collaboration stage?    And he asks how collaborating on a Wiki is different from other forms of collaboration.

Maybe I’ll get to dive in a little deeper to the Wiki Web.  If I do, maybe I’ll write about my own experiences in a later post.  Right now I really don’t know what’s on the Wiki menu, but I sure do have an appetite!




I want to grow old with you.

Photo credit: “I’ll Give You All I Can” by Brandon Warren  License: CC By-NC 2.0

This week I’m celebrating the one-month anniversary of the new love in my life: my blog!  Since I started the blog, the two of us have been almost inseparable. I check in daily, sometimes multiple times a day either to write, research, revise, craft, tweak, ping, check my comments/stats, or just gaze at it, waiting for something to happen.  We’ve had lunches together, fancy coffees, rich desserts.  Sometimes we go on adventures to take photos for the next post or just to have something to write about later.

I’m happy.  But I’m a little unsettled too.

The whole relationship feels vulnerable – like a crush at summer camp.  When this class is over, what then?

The whole thing makes me nostalgic for a good Adam Sandler and Drew Berrymore romantic comedy.

I know, I know.  It’s sappy and clichè to write a romance-themed post on the eve of Valentine’s Day, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

The main problem is, I am so inexperienced.  I don’t even know what types of blogs there are or what real bloggers do. This class has provided structure, boundaries, guidance and inspiration.  Can the two of us make it on our own?

I read about how Danah Boyd began her blogging career. She started blogging as a teen. As she matured and gained new experiences, her blog transitioned with her. Both of them underwent a type of metamorphosis.

Where does that leave me?  I’m middle-aged, just starting a blog, and feeling the pressure to catch up.  I don’t have time for growth and development.   I have to choose what kind of blogger I’m going to be by the time this class ends in May.  Maybe sooner if the professor assigns that next. If I don’t, this relationship is in danger of being just a fling I had while on sabbatical.

Maybe you can help me out. Maybe if I find something I like, I can take my blog to the next level.

I started hunting for academic blogs, particularly in the field of English.

I did find one called, “Explorations of Style” by Rachael Cayley, Associate Professor of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. I noticed a recent post on her blog called, “Yes, you are a writer!”. In this post she talks about the problem of identity as a unique problem for graduate students who are still developing their scholarly identity.  She explains that having writing anxiety is common for graduate students, and she gives some helpful advice about pitfalls the graduate student tends to fall into when writing.

Cayley’s post also introduced me to Academic Writing Month found here. This looks like a way to connect with a network of academics who want to support each other in their writing efforts.  It looks like this group has their own Twitter hashtag and Facebook page, so they can stay in touch using multiple platforms as they read and provide feedback on each others work.

Cayley’s blog also pushed me in the direction of Hook & Eye – a network of academic women working in the Canadian University system.  Their group blogs about a variety of issues from academic work to raising kids to fashion.  This looks like something I’d like…I wonder if there’s a Minnesota group like this.

I also found a blog called Patter by Pat Thomson, Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham – who says she’s been doing some work with another blogger, The Thesis Whisperer on the topic of academic blogging.  So… this looks promising!

I’m not sure academic blogging is where I want to end up though.  It seems like maybe just more work and not as creative of an outlet as I’m looking for.  Although, it does look professional and sophisticated, and that never hurt anyone.

I’d love some advice about taking my blog to the next level and recommendations of blogs you enjoy – that you think I might enjoy too.  Please add to my comment section. Thanks much!

And happy blogging anniversary to all of you!


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