A Book Lover’s Dream: Little Free Libraries

Have you seen one of the little free libraries that for a past few years have been sprouting up like spring flowers across the country? If not, they’re an inspired testament to a son’s love for his mother and generosity at its best.


It all started in 2009 when a man named Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin built a replica of a one room schoolhouse to honor his mother, a former schoolteacher and passionate reader. He placed it onto a post in his front yard, filled it with books and attached a sign that read “Free Books”.  The little schoolhouse delighted his neighbors and friends. The positive response inspired him to build more little structures and give them away to people wanting to place them in their own front yards. His little project soon caught the attention of Rick Brooks at University of Wisconsin – Madison. They collaborated to begin building a project that would stretch from coast-to-coast and ultimately, world-wide.

By summer 2010, the project’s mission was beginning to materialize. After mulling over many possible names eventually they settled on “Little Free Library”. They tasked themselves with the following objective and they aimed high:

To build 2,510 little free libraries, as many as Andrew Carnegie’s free public libraries at the turn of the 20th century (the beginning of public libraries we all use today in every city and town across the country.) Actually they hoped to surpass Mr. Carnegie’s achievement and in so doing to promote a love of reading and literacy worldwide. If this sounds unfathomable, keep reading.

Christine Bride and her Little Library
Christine Bride and her Little Library

That same summer the first Little Free Library outside of Hudson went up on a bike path in Madison, WI. People took notice and began asking for little libraries. About that time the organizers had taken on an Amish carpenter, Henry Miller, of Cashton, Wisconsin to build the little libraries out of recycled wood salvaged from a 100-year-old barn destroyed in a tornado. They began to give away the little libraries with official charter numbers. This generated even more curiosity and interest, giving birth to a movement to build little free libraries around the country. Between a dedicated cadre of volunteers, a new website and word-of-mouth, they reached people who took it upon themselves to build their own little free libraries, people who have come to be known as “stewards”, and who are understandably some of their biggest supporters. Alliances, informal partnerships and some small grants helped the little movement to keep up with demand from a public that thought this was an incredibly cool idea.


In 2012 they established the Little Free Library as a Wisconsin non-profit with a board of directors. A few months later the Internal Revenue Service granted them tax-exempt status as a 501 (c)(3).

The movement grew and it grew fast. In August of 2012, roughly three years after Todd Bol built that first little schoolhouse to honor his mother, the Little Free Library organization met their goal of building as many libraries as Andrew Carnegie (2,510) but, it didn’t end there. As of January 2015 the total number of registered Little Free Libraries throughout the world was estimated at nearly 25,000. Impressive, huh? Not the end of the story. By January 2016, they added another 11,000 for a total of 36,000 Little Free Libraries.

If you were to visit the libraries in various communities you would see that they differ considerably by region and neighborhood. I’m pretty sure that the ones in Sweden look vastly different than those in India and the one in Key West, Florida. While the schoolhouse theme is popular so are log cabin designs; in New Orleans they have built structures out of Hurricane Katrina wood debris, some of which they decorate with Mardi Gras beads. Regardless of where a Little Free Library resides the checkout honor system presides; people get it.

I’m sure you’re wondering, how does this work? I mean, what’s to keep someone from stealing the books?  It’s simple. You can’t steal something that’s free. The libraries do hope that people will honor the system of “take a book, return a book”, and that’s pretty much what has made it such a successful phenomenon.


The other aspect that has endeared people to the project has been the camaraderie the little libraries have developed among its users. When a Little Free Library goes up in a front yard, along a walking or bike path, or in front of a market or school, people stop. They browse books, they meet neighbors they may never have spoken to before, they talk about great reads, and their neighborhoods, and life, and before you know it, the little libraries are inadvertently helping to build friendships and bring people together.  People also drop off books they want to donate to their neighborhood Little Free Library. Everybody gets involved in one way or another.

If you’re interested in locating a Little Free Library in your community to visit, click here.  When I did a quick check in my neighborhood I found three that I didn’t know were there!

Feeling inspired? Want to build your own? Instructions are here. Okay, so you’re really excited about this, but you’re not the DIY type and you don’t mind the cost of purchasing a pre-made structure, you can order one here and have it installed.

I love books, always have. Finding a good read is as close to heaven as I’ll get on this earth. That’s why the Little Free Library concept spoke to me. Good books, building friendships and strengthening communities, it doesn’t get any better than that. Seems to me that it’s a perfect example of the goodness principle, don’t you think?

Gotta go now. I have to check out those three Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood!

Carol and Tiki Tackle a Daunting Mission

What compels a woman to ride her horse 800 miles along the sometimes perilous, steep Arizona Trail, full of risky passes, such as the Crest Trail that traverses Miller Peak at over 9,000 feet? Never mind that she is the first person to attempt to ride the entire trail by horse. No one has been able to do it, but that doesn’t seem to faze Carol Fontana, an accomplished endurance rider. And her 11 year-old, Arabian horse, Tiki Barber? He may just be along for the ride or it may be fun for him. After all, the two of them won the 25 mile horse division of the Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, Arizona in 2014 i thought about this. Just in case you think that 800 miles may be more endurance than any horse should bear, Tiki is up for the ride. This horse can rock it. Last year he won Best Conditioned Horse in the 50 mile McDowell endurance race near Phoenix. In the world of horse endurance races, this is a big deal. Yep, he’s up for it.

So while it sounds like both horse and rider are as well prepared as anyone to undergo such a ride, why do it? It’s personal. Carol’s mother was a single mom who raised three daughters. Carol knows only too well the hardships of a single mother.

“I know firsthand the challenges,” Carol says. “I have been very fortunate and I want to give back.”

She decided that she would use her and Tiki’s skills to raise money for Saddle Up!, the organization sponsoring the ride. The money raised will go to the Prescott Area Shelter Services (PASS ), an organization that receives no government funding; it is the only emergency and transitional housing shelter for women and families in Arizona’s Yavapai County. Quite remarkably, 100% of donations go directly to support their services. Not many non-profits can make that claim; kudos to them.

On April 2nd Carol and Tiki began their historic ride, with a little help from the U.S. Forest Service. You see, the trail starts at the border with Mexico, a place off limits to horseback riders. Fortunately the Forest Service saw the wisdom of granting a special exemption allowing Carol and Tiki to ride the first two mile portion of the trail, beginning at the border. Of course that took some choreography, paperwork and the purchase of a $100 special use permit from the U.S. Department of Interior to travel along the rocky switchbacks from Montezuma’s pass to the Mexico border.

The second day the duo faced late season snow, ice and fallen trees across the trail which required Carol to physically clear the trees and branches; sometimes she had to stand on lower limbs to raise others, allowing Tiki to climb through.

Carol and her team expect the ride to take more or less three months. Yes, she has a team. How could she not? Carol is supported by her husband and a few fellow veterans who drive from base camp to base camp in a specially equipped RV that’s self-sufficient and capable of navigating jagged forest roads to the base camps. You didn’t really think she was going to do this out in the wilds of Arizona entirely on her own, did you? Naw, didn’t think so. They also anticipate that on occasion Carol may be accompanied by experienced endurance riders.

If you’re not familiar with the 800-mile Arizona Trail, it stretches from the Mexican border near Sonoita to the Utah border near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  Romantic as it sounds, it’s nothing to sneeze at. It crosses over Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, over the precipitous Mogollon Rim, in and out of the Grand Canyon and through some very rough, secluded country. It’s divided into 43 passages, each with a designated base camp (thank goodness).  While some of the base camps feature camping facilities, others are a wide spot on a forest road. Each day, Carol and Tiki leave their base camp and head back out on the trail. The team members break camp and drive to the next base camp and set up. For the most unmanageable passages, where vehicles cannot reach, Carol and Tiki will camp out for the night.

As you can imagine, this operation takes an incredible amount of coordination. Planning and groundwork has been underway for over a year, including every aspect of Tiki’s care. Lest you think Tiki’s welfare is at risk, the ride plans were reviewed by the Yavapai Humane Society, which has endorsed the ride. In addition to special high-performance diets and supplements for all the animals, Tiki’s own veterinarians from the Prescott Animal Hospital are overseeing his care. But just in case it’s needed Carol has contact information for local veterinarians along the route. And to make sure that his hoofs stay in tip-top shape, Carol’s farrier will meet the team at base camps along the way to ensure that Tiki’s shoeing remains intact. So many details went into the preparations. For example, when and where needed along the trail, stewards will supply water to Carol and Tiki, and will report on current trail conditions. Nice.

In addition to raising funds for northern Arizona’s homeless, Carol is taking notes for the trail managers on how they can make areas such as the Huachuca Mountains Pass more equine-friendly. As trailblazers they hope that their efforts will make it easier for future trail riders.

By the time they reach Utah they hope to raise $25,000 to $50,000 for PASS. As of the middle of April they had raised $15,000. If you’re interested in helping spread a little goodness to the homeless of northern Arizona, please visit their website here.  Then, if you like to ride or never have and would like to give it a shot, find a local stable and go on a group trail ride. As you and your horse meander through the countryside for a mile or two taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the back country just imagine what it would be like to ride like that for 800 very long, very challenging miles. That’s when you’ll realize what an incredible feat this is for Carol and Tiki to undertake. Not everyone has it in themselves to embark on such an effort. Obviously Carol is an extraordinary woman and Tiki, quite an extraordinary horse.

Birth of a Hospice Nurse

In my search for stories that exemplify The Goodness Principle I came across the following narrative penned by a nurse, Sara Conkle. It originally ran in Pulse – voices from the heart of medicine. As I read the story, I’m pretty sure that my heart skipped a beat. I’ve never read anything quite like this before and once you read it I think you will agree. Rather than try to summarize the events of this story I thought it best to reprint it as Sara Conkle wrote it, with her permission. And while it definitely has an element of sadness to it there is also an element of goodness here, how what happened compelled Sara to change her professional direction and become a hospice nurse.

Reprinted with permission from Sara Conkle and Pulse – voices from the heart of medicine. Pulsevoices.org

Sally photo

By Sara Conkle

The woman lying on the transport cot in the examination room was terrified. I could see it plainly in her eyes, but there was no time to stop and comfort her.

I was a young, recently graduated nurse in a busy urban emergency room, struggling to keep up with its daily array of shootings, stabbings and crises. ER nurses hustled. We dealt with life and death, and we did it quickly. That may be why I paid so little attention to the pain and fear in the woman’s eyes.

I asked her to get onto the examination table and duly recorded the facts: her last menstrual period had taken place several months before; her bleeding and cramping had started earlier this evening.

Tossing her a gown, I told her to put it on and get back onto the cot so that she could rest until the doctor could come and examine her. Then I left, forgetting about her the moment the door closed behind me.

Finally, after who knows how long, a doctor was ready to see her. He and I walked back to the room where she waited. I imagine that she must have felt cold and lonely, lying there covered only by her skimpy gown and little white sheet.

I helped her off the cot and onto the table, and then stood by, ready to assist the doctor as needed. When he silently handed me a closed specimen container, I labeled it and deposited it on the shelf with the others.

The patient went back to the cot and her skimpy sheet. Her chart went back onto the rack. I wheeled her out of the examining room and into the noise and chaos of the ER. I pulled the curtain around her and paged the ob/gyn resident.

He arrived soon after. I handed him the patient’s chart and saw his eyes widen slightly, as if he recognized the name. I expected him to tell me to take her back to the examination room.

“Can you please bring me the specimen?” he asked quietly.

Luckily the lab tech had not yet made her rounds, so I was able to retrieve it from the shelf. I handed the container to him and watched curiously as he slowly pried open the lid. He gazed into the container, and then reached in with a gloved hand.

Puzzled, I moved closer. In his hand I saw a tiny form, so small that it fit easily in the palm of his hand. Little arms, little legs and hands and feet and the brightest blue eyes.

Hospice Nurse

I staggered back, shocked. I’d had no idea that I had tossed a perfectly formed fetus into a pile of bodily fluids. When the doctor stepped behind the curtain, I followed. The woman’s frightened, sad eyes darted from his face to his large hand gently cradling the tiny form.

She drew back, then leaned forward slightly. He held out his hand.

“Here is your baby. Look how beautiful. It’s okay–you can look.” She nodded, her eyes locked onto his hand.

“You can touch. It’s okay. This is your baby.”

Her hand reached out shakily. With one finger, she gently stroked the tiny form.

“You can hold your baby,” he said. Again their eyes met, then her fingers cupped beneath his, and he gently slid the small body into the mother’s waiting hands.

I stepped outside the curtain and stood there, tears rolling down my cheeks. In that moment, a very young nurse learned the importance of being able to say goodbye. The feeling was visceral–a lesson that no book or lecture could ever have taught me. As the young mother had said goodbye to her infant, I realized, something had changed inside her heart. Something had changed in me, too.

I began to understand just how powerful are the forces that bind us to one another. And I began to see that, even amid the chaos of an ER, a single moment can help to ease the pain and begin the healing for a mourning heart.

A single moment can also change the path of a caregiver.

Many years after witnessing that young mother’s grief, I heard the phrase “lean into the pain.” Instantly I recalled her two physicians. One, dealing with the chaos of the emergency room, performed his duties, snapped the lid on a specimen container and walked out of the room. The other literally leaned in, a precious form in his hand. Despite how differently each physician had responded, I had come to know them both as caring, competent and respected doctors, but the resident’s words and actions stayed with me.

A young woman’s dream died that night–but a seed was planted in me.

I spent a decade in the ER, then another decade as a home-care nurse. I listened to stories told in living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. As I became more attuned to the emotions beneath the stories, I began to hear the echo of the resident’s words. I found myself repeating variations of the theme: “It’s okay to look…it’s okay to touch…it’s okay to mourn…it is good to say goodbye.”

The resident had recognized the young woman’s pain and had stood in silence, giving a mother space to acknowledge her deep feelings. I remembered–and I learned that a quiet presence can be a powerful force for healing.

Out of that seed planted, out of that learning, a hospice nurse was born.

About the author:

A nurse for thirty-five years, Sara Conkle has spent sixteen of those years as a community-health nurse practitioner focused on end-of-life care, most recently in a home palliative-care program. She is married, with two sons and two granddaughters. “They’re my chief focus and joy when I’m not working. A long-dormant need to write surfaced about thirteen years ago–sparked, I’m sure, by the nature of my work. I benefited by much encouragement from my husband, my family and our hospice medical director. I’m very interested in writing as a reflective practice, enjoy my writing group immensely and love to read and walk in the woods.” This is her first story for Pulse; other published works include excerpts in 12 Great Choices Smart Moms Make (Harvest House Publishers) and in a devotional, Macchiato Moments. “A completed novel rests serenely on the shelf of my study; perhaps someday I will revisit it.”

Home Sweet Home

An 11-month-old Siberian Husky named Kiera and her two puppies suffered unfathomable cruelty that no animal should endure. It was remarkable that she was found on the brink of death and even more remarkable that she survived. Clearly she possessed a powerful will to live.

Local police in Oceanside, California found Kiera in a backyard, tethered to a steel ladder by a bike lock cable with less than 12” slack. She had no access to shelter, to food or to water. Furthermore someone had tightly bound her muzzle with duct tape for who knows how long, preventing her from eating, drinking or attending to her two 12-week old puppies. When found she was underweight and her fur severely matted. Law enforcement found her puppies confined to a garage, dehydrated, but otherwise in good condition.

Steve MacKinnon, Chief of Humane Law Enforcement for the San Diego Humane Society said that the condition of the duct tape, and her emaciated frame, suggested that she had been suffering for a long time. They could not figure out how she survived as long as she did, or how she was able to care for her puppies. What kind of monster does that to innocent animals?

After a thorough investigation, the law enforcement division determined that the cruelty was committed by people living in the household, but there was not enough evidence to establish who actually committed the acts of cruelty. All residents in the house had some level of knowledge of the cruelty, and everyone failed to act to protect Kiera. Without substantial evidence they could not press cruelty charges. Damn. Those people deserved to have the book thrown at them! Had the Oceanside Police Department not contacted the Humane Society Law Enforcement division when they did Kiera would likely not have survived.

Upon arrival at their facilities San Diego Humane Society veterinarians conducted thorough medical exams on Kiera and her puppies. Over the following weeks, given proper nutrition and a safe, warm place to recuperate, Kiera and her pups recovered to the point of being cleared to find their furrever homes. And find those homes they did.

All three dogs went home with their new families on January 26th.  Eric Vanaselja adopted Kiera and he says that she has been a great addition to the family.

“She lives with my grandfather and I,” he says, “and though she’s still a puppy at heart and can be a handful, she listens and follows directions very well. She gets a lot of love from both friends and strangers. It’s hard to resist that face of hers, and she receives it well–she loves the attention, no matter who it is.” He adds that when he first took her home she was very malnourished, thin, and shedding heavily. “Since then, the shedding has slowed a lot, and she’s back up to a healthy weight. Overall she seems to be a happy pup!” Absolutely remarkable for a dog abused as she was who stood at death’s door.

Shannon Gearing and her boyfriend, Yuri, adopted the puppy Johnny, who they renamed Brewski. She says he’s completely healthy now. He had a kennel cough and a bad stomach when they adopted him, but medication cleared up those issues. He’s been fully vaccinated and is growing fast, recently weighing in at 25.4 lbs at 19 weeks old.

“He’s very sweet and social and always wants to stop to say hi to people and other dogs,” she says. “Fear is not really in this guy’s personality.” Considering the horror this puppy experienced in the first three months of his life it’s really incredible that fear has not marred him. At the time of this writing Brewski was returning to the Humane Society to begin puppy training.

Brewski’s sister, June, was adopted by a gentleman named Maurice Wrighten, who renamed her Junebug. Cute, huh? Love that name.  She has gained about eight pounds and is undergoing puppy training. Maurice says Junebug is making lots of friends at the park near his house. “She loves the water at the beach but is not crazy about the waves yet.” Ah, Maurice, give her some time. She will be a surfing dog yet. The bug interacts with his 12-year-old daughter Gabriella, his close friends Lily, Dannie and his neighbors. He says that she plays with lots of kids, and  judging from the photo of Junebug, that’s not hard to imagine. Junebug obviously found a great home and great dad.

Animal cruelty stories are tough to write and equally tough to read. But once in a great while they have a happy ending like the one that these sweet dogs found. Thank goodness for the Oceanside police officers who rescued these innocent dogs and the San Diego Humane Society who cared for them and found them new homes with kind, loving pet parents, Eric, Shannon and Maurice. Talk about finding a furrever home and a happily ever after. I love stories like this!








Tim, a Remarkable Young Man

Tim Harris and his story warms my heart. I’ve never met Tim, though I always meant to. You see, Tim is the first person with Down Syndrome to open and operate his own restaurant. Tim was as good a restaurateur as anyone. He’d wanted to own his own restaurant since he was a kid. To pursue that dream he attended Eastern New Mexico University and graduated in the summer of 2008 with certificates in food service, office skills and restaurant hosting.

In 2010 when he opened “Tim’s Place” in Albuquerque he became something of a local and national sensation. A true celebrity, for all the right reasons. Not only did he break barriers by doing what most people figured that someone with Down Syndrome could not do, he did it with a smile. You see, when you walked into Tim’s Place he greeted you with a smile so infectious that you couldn’t help but grin back. On the menu you could order a free hug. And boy did Tim give them out. As of the end of 2015, he’d given out approximately 75,000 hugs. To make sure his tally was accurate he put a counter on the wall to keep track of the hugs. How cool is that? It wasn’t long before Tim’s Place took on a slogan: “the world’s friendliest restaurant”.

I lived in Albuquerque for nearly 10 years and though I’ve been gone a long time (since before Tim opened his place) I frequently return to visit friends. On every trip I say that I’m going to swing by Tim’s Place and meet the man behind the smiles and hugs, but to my own loss, I never did. I waited too long because I recently learned that Tim closed down his restaurant in late 2015. I was a little devastated when I heard about the closure, for my own selfish reasons that I never got one of those magical smiles or hugs, but also because I wondered what happened. I’d read that the restaurant was his dream, his dream-come-true and it was successful, so why close? It seemed such a blow, however I learned it was anything but.

Love. Tim closed his dream restaurant for love. He met a wonderful woman, Tiffani Johnson, at the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention. The two started dating the summer of 2015, a real challenge because Tiffani lived in Iowa.  Even so, Tim and Tiffani fell in love, fell hard. It was tough on Tim and Tiffani, ultimately they decided to move to Denver. They picked the Rocky Mountain city because Tiffani had already been planning to move to Denver to be near family, but for Tim, the stakes were higher. Ultimately, love won. Tim made the decision to close the restaurant and move to Denver to be with Tiffani. His decision was not lost on Tiffani who recognized what he was giving up to be with her.

Sad as this seems, there is a happy ending here. Not only is he now with the woman he calls the love of his life, but he plans to open a new Tim’s Place in the Denver area. And when he does, I will definitely visit. You see we have family in Denver and get up there every year. Personally, I can hardly wait for Tim to open his new place so I can order a hug off the menu. Maybe I’ll order more than one to make up for lost hugs.





Beating Alzheimer’s

JamieSeven years ago Jamie Tyrone of Ramona, California seriously thought about taking her own life. To look at this 55 year-old attractive, intelligent, savvy woman full of kindness and grace, you can’t help but wonder why. It seems hard to believe because she has a loving husband and family, friends who think she walks on water and a positive outlook on life. But seven years ago the world came crashing down on this retired nurse.

Since childhood Jamie has witnessed four family members develop and die of Alzheimer’s disease, and then in her adult years her father developed it. Once again she watched a loved one fight, but lose his battle with the brain-ravaging disease. At the time she never thought that she too could be afflicted by the devastating, fatal disease. She didn’t get the genetics connection. Then she participated in a research study to find out her risk for another, unrelated disease. She was shocked to learn that she has two copies of the ApoE4 allele gene (one from each side of her family), which puts her at a 91% risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. She is part of an exclusive, albeit unwanted, club; only two percent of the population inherit two copies of the ApoE4 gene. Developing Alzheimer’s is pretty much a foregone conclusion when you find out something like that.

Jamie’s life came to a halt as anger, despair, fear, and anxiety consumed her. She describes that time as living in a deep, dark hole. Her chances of developing Alzheimer’s is 12 times more likely than the general population; she is also at a very high risk of developing early Alzheimer’s, which usually hits before the age of 60. She had good reason to be depressed. She shut herself off from her husband and everyone else. She began drinking excessively; her anger took a toll on her marriage. Then her husband, Doug Tyrone, an executive at Scripps Health, said “Enough”, telling her that she had to figure out a way to deal with the risk and depression before it destroyed what was left of their marriage.

Jamie knew he was right and that he was giving her a wake-up call, one she couldn’t ignore if she was to save her marriage, and herself. She pulled herself up out of her black hole and pushed herself to get help. She learned that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition brought on with finding out her double gene status. She made a decision. Rather than let herself be consumed by both her probability of developing Alzheimer’s and the PTSD that was ruling her life, she went into therapy, leaned on friends and family and turned to science. She joined a program at the Total Health Center in San Diego led by Dr. David Clayton; a program shaped by a study out of UCLA that showed lifestyle changes can reverse memory loss in dementia patients.  At Dr. Clayton’s urging she began a Paleo diet, began taking numerous supplements, and exercising both her body and mind. She also began volunteering as a lab rat, knowing that her unique gene status could help researchers learn more about the disease and find a way to either stop or prevent it. She joined a long-term study at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix. She spends three days every other year undergoing brain scans, cognitive and memory testing. Jamie also agreed to have her brain donated and autopsied after she passes.

While that seems like a lot of change, Jamie wanted to do more. In 2012 she founded a non-profit group, Beating Alzheimer’s By Embracing Science (BABES), to raise money for research and to educate the public about the insidious disease. Has all this activity helped? Jamie says that making personal changes and founding BABES created a renewed sense of direction and purpose that soothed her wounded soul. Even though she knows that her efforts will not likely save her own life she is content knowing that she is helping others. I’d say that’s about as good an example of The Goodness Principle as I’ve ever heard.

If you met Jamie, who can only be described as giving and loving and compassionate with a smile that lights up the dimmest room, you would never imagine that this woman once stood precariously at the brink of suicide, ready to give up. Maybe it takes standing at the brink to find one’s purpose after learning your future is paved with heartache and uncertainty. For Jamie that brink pushed her to find her purpose, to find her future and at least for the present, a way out of quagmire.