Long Weekends

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by Isabella Milacnik, sophomore writing coach

Let’s face it: everyone loves MEA weekend. The break from stress, homework, and
basically everything gives us a chance to relax. We all need these extra few days, regardless of how we spend them. Some people find relaxation in hanging out with friends, free from the restraining chains of deadlines and rubrics. Others enjoy curling up with a good book, traveling with the characters to unbelievable destinations. Some even travel for a short vacation, maybe to a warm place or their cabin, not having to worry about waking up everyday at 6 AM. MEA weekend is just an extra 2 days on top of our regular weekend, but everyone seems to treasure those Continue reading

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La Rotonde No. 3: The Depot Coffee House

by Katie Ward, senior writing coach

What: The Depot Coffee House

Where: Hopkins

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Minnesota known for many things, lakes being only one of them. With hundreds of bike trails and the recent unveiling of Nice Ride, those green bike rentals all over the Twin Cities, we have some of the best locations for cyclists in the country. A fan favorite, especially in the autumn months where leaves blanket the water, snap softly under your wheels, and fringe the multimillion dollar mansions that are about 60% of the reason you’re there, is the string of paths connecting Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, and Lake of the Isles. On the outskirts of this network is the Depot Coffee House.

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The Depot, as you may guess from the name, was once a railway depot converted to a coffee house in the late 90s. Three Rivers bike trails wind literally ten feet away from its door, making it a popular spot for cyclists to stop pre or post ride. Whether or not such a close link to athleticism is a pro or a con is up to you (although if biking becomes the new cricket, this could be the cradle of the new Allahakbarries. If you aren’t familiar with that, Google it. Trust me.). Regardless, it’s all left on the bike racks outside, because inside could be straight out of a Portlandia short.

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The shop is split in three: the coffee bar, a traditional café seating area, and the events room, complete with stage. Back here, live music spins atmosphere (during my visit, a seven piece strings ensemble played Irish roots, and local indie pop group Bad Bad Hats were on the schedule for later that night), with tables to listen from during the day and a dancefloor for concerts at night. The Depot is targeted at chemical-free teens, and this is more than achieved in its contentedly grunge, recycled decor (currently complete with cobwebs and ghosts for Halloween).

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So where does that leave the Depot in the eyes of Ernest?

(To review La Rotonde’s criteria, click here!) 

 

  • Le Goût- In an uptown coffee scene dominated by chocolate croissants and Dogwood coffee (I’m not a fan), it can be hard to find a unique drink for under $5. The Depot is an oasis in that sense. The coffee is deep and roasted without the is-this-what-the-cool-kids-drink sourness. And for something new, the Depot’s original menu has unparalleled advances (try the Mexican mocha). 5/5 Hemingways

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  • Le Style- Depending on which room you sit in and when you sit there, this can change. The middle café room is perfect for hours of homework help, as long as you start early enough. And you’ll have to start early- there’s no abundance of seating. The back room isn’t the most conducive to productivity, but it’s not supposed to be. ⅗ Hemingways

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  • La Rotonde- While, sure, the Sun Also Rises over the Depot, the Lost Generation would be lost here. Created by and for millennials, the Depot is modern and charming, but resurrects none of Hemingway’s Paris. ⅖ Hemingway

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So the Depot Coffee House weighs in at ⅗ Hemingways, though to be sure, by any other standards it would score higher. Whether you’re there for the music, the creativity, or the bike trail, the Depot is well worth a visit.

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For the Depot’s menu, click here.

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Thoughts or reviews on the Depot? Let me know! Check in soon for slightly less sporadic posts and (you guessed it) another cafe.

Cordially, your host, Katie Ward

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Trending Words on Merriam-Webster

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by Max Meyer, sophomore writing coach

Merriam-Webster is a commonly used dictionary in the United States, and the online version is very convenient. Along with this convenience, it has another very interesting feature: on the side of the screen, you can see the top words that have been trending (based on recent online lookups on the Merriam-Webster website) over both the past twenty-four hours and the past seven days (From this point forwards, I will be talking with respect to the Unabridged version; the Abridged version simply lists some of the recently trending words and has more limited features). If you click on “View all,” you can also see words that have been trending over the past four months. If you search a word, you will also see a column on the right that includes trending words from the subject area that that word is in.

There are some definite mainstays in the past seven day column, including potentially ambiguously-defined words such as “love” and “empathy.” This is intriguing, as it clearly shows how people like to know what the actual definition of these profound words are, at least according to the dictionary. Some other words that repeatedly show up as trending in the last seven days are words that are related to systems of governance, including “democracy” and “federalism.”

However, the most interesting aspect of this already interesting tool is, in my opinion, how the trending words oftentimes reflect the current events going on in the world. For example, after Prince passed away, one trending word was “icon.” Recently, the word “dotard” was trending after president Donald Trump was called one by Kim Jong-Un. A lot of the time, when a particularly strange or unusual word is trending, Merriam-Webster publishes a story that further elaborates on the word and gives you a better understanding of the word and specific details or peculiarities about it that may affect how it was used.

The twenty-four hour column therefore should contain words from top stories of the day, whereas the seven day column would show words from top stories of the week, and the four month column would presumably contain words from huge, important, consequential news. The four month column also generally contains words that are some of the most commonly-searched words in general. These words are some of the most debated words, whose meanings are frequently discussed. Numbering among them are words such as “ethic,” “culture,” “diversity,” “communication,” etc…

Words are everywhere; they’re how we communicate with other people. If you don’t know what words mean that are in the news or really popular, you’re not going to be able to communicate as well. In short, I highly recommend taking a look around at this immensely intriguing feature of Merriam-Webster (although to use all of the features I mentioned above you might have to do a free fourteen day trial).

Click here to visit Merriam-Webster’s website!

I Have to Say I Love Sherman Alexie

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by Katie Ward, senior writing coach

Anyone who knows me to even the smallest extent knows that my love for Sherman Alexie is paralleled only by my love for breathing. The Spokane/Coeur d’Alene author is one of the most influential voices in the contemporary canon. I credit him for my realization of the bridge between politics and literature. Watching Smoke Signals is an inaugural part of being my friend. My Common App essay is about the poem “Evolution.” Needless to say, my expectations for his most recent publication, a memoir entitled You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, were high.

The glass ceiling in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory was high too, and that was shattered and surpassed in about the same way.

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The dazzling author himself

The memoir, a blend of poetry and prose, recounts Mr. Alexie’s very complex relationship with his mother, Lillian, written in the raw aftermath of the rapid succession of her death and his own brain surgery. But Mr. Alexie does not shy away from making massive tangents about his childhood, his career, his family history, and countless other anecdotes, often repeating himself because “great pain is repetitive.” While the memoir is centered around Lillian, Mr. Alexie characteristically uses his own story to further messages about the nature of grief, of family, of America, of the indigenous world, of people, of pain, of life and death.

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Mr. Alexie, right, on the set of Smoke Signals

If you are familiar with Mr. Alexie’s previous work, you know that his subject matter is rarely light. However, humor is commonplace in his writing, as a tension breaker, perhaps, but more as a generational coping mechanism dating back to the dawn of Manifest Destiny. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is genuinely laugh inducing (I recommend “Scatalogical”), scarringly disturbing (“Prayer Animals”), and, always, desperately genuine. This is Mr. Alexie’s most revealing, brutal, personal, beautiful work. Whether this is the first you’re hearing of Mr. Alexie or if you, like me, have a tattoo of him across your heart, this modern classic is well worth the read.

 

Click here to buy a hard copy or the stunning audiobook!

Mr. Alexie’s tour for You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me was canceled for the wellbeing of his mental health, but he did speak at MPR’s Talking Volumes first episode this season. I was unbelievably lucky enough to attend. Listen to the broadcast here.

 

Love Your Library

 

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Central Library, Downtown Minneapolis

by Anna Heinen, senior writing coach

I approach the 128s in the reserves section at the library, and sure enough, there are my books! I grab all five of them and on my way to check out I pick up a few more. I know that I won’t read all of these in my allotted two weeks, but there’s always renewals and after that, the fees. Fees build up at an alarming rate on my library card. But once a year, October rolls around promising relief. The library recognizes our disorderly brains and busy schedules and grant each teen one ten dollar fee waiver every October. Also, they offer us a free library card replacement (you can save a whole dollar!).

We love books in the Writing Center. Our community is incredibly lucky to have such a fantastic library system here in Hennepin County. In honor of Hennepin County Library Teen Month, here is a list of some things that make our libraries great:

  • Reliable air conditioning and internet access
  • Visit the second floor of the Central Library downtown to explore tons of cool documents like sheet music, old newspapers, photos, and genealogy books. If you haven’t been to the Central Library, make sure to devote a few hours just to finding random books and reading them in the aisles of shelves. It is huge, beautiful, and packed with information.
  • Also on the second floor of the Central Library , check out the moving bookshelves – you can’t ride on them or get squished between them, but they’re still fun. You may feel intimidated by their industrial, gray color. Set all hesitation aside and walk into the moving bookshelf section. Press the little buttons on the sides of the shelves and find everything from stamp collections to Minnesota law books.
  • Helpful programing like Job Search Assistance, Homework Help, and the Work Of Art series that helps artists not be starving artists. To access this programing visit the library website (hclib.org) and click on the tab labeled “Programs and Services.” From here you have access to classes, workshops, and one-on-one help, usually for free.
  • Events/displays to celebrate Pride Month in June, Black History Month in February, the solar eclipse, Chinese New Year, Northern Spark all night festival, and multiple other occasions. For example, at the solar eclipse parties, librarians gave out eclipse viewing glasses and coloring sheets for kids with an artistic flair. At Northern Spark librarians created a huge cardboard structure called “The Night Library.” They acted as people and robots from the future and guided “Patrons,” as they called us, through a maze of stories and tasks so that we could save the future earth from being unlivable. Only librarians could think up something as creative as that.

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    The Night Library at Northern Spark

Whether you’re a teen and eligible for this generous gift of ten dollars, eleven if you throw in the library card replacement, or you’re an adult, take advantage of the great resources the library has to offer. Check out the moving bookshelves or try to find your ancestors in a genealogy book. Attend Northern Spark next summer to visit “The Night Library” and enthusiastically participate in each challenge. If nothing else, offer the librarians a smile and thank them for all they do for our community.

Semicolons: The Sequel

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by Luke Bunday, senior writing coach

Ethan tempted me too much with his post on a certain punctuation mark—it couldn’t go without a response because, while his takeaway message is spot on, a single blog post could never do justice to the magnificent figure of controversy that is the semicolon. Two won’t do the job either, but following up was too good an opportunity to miss.

Let’s start with a refresher on usage. Most often we use semicolons to separate independent clauses in place of a comma and conjunction; for example, you could change the sentence

The tentacle pie was unappealing, so she threw it at the waiter.

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The tentacle pie was unappealing; she threw it at the waiter.

The other most common usage is to separate items in a list that already contains commas, such as in this one:

Their favorite things are velociraptors, which are cute; kittens, which are ferocious; and trees, which are wise.

(You can also find all kinds of more detailed guides on semicolon usage online. I enjoy this one by The Oatmeal quite a lot, and this one by Grammar Girl provides a comprehensive and approachable look at situations where semicolons are appropriate.)

 

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Now let’s get to the meat of the issue: why would you want to use a semicolon? If we’re being honest, you can almost always find a way around using a semicolon—they’re not unavoidable in the same way periods and commas are. Besides, they seem really pretentious. Among punctuation marks, they’re about as esoteric and flowery as you can get, and who wants to come across as esoteric and flowery?

But when used carefully, semicolons have nothing to do with flaunting your fancy punctuation finesse; semicolons should be all about practicality.

Try listening to the way you talk: do you only ever have two ways of pausing in a sentence? If you’re trying to convey your thoughts and feelings as accurately as possible, semicolons become indispensable. They’re useful in that they occupy the gray area between commas and periods; using them gives you more control over the way your writing sounds in your reader’s head, and also provides a great way to link ideas together.

But ultimately, it just depends on what your aims are. Sometimes, it’s better to end a clause with a period for emphasis—or, maybe using a colon would bridge two thoughts more strongly. The point isn’t to stick semicolons around arbitrarily—that is pretentious. But if you start trying them out in different situations, you’ll realize that they’re extremely versatile. Semicolons give you one more level of control over your voice as a writer; they’re one more paintbrush with which to paint a picture for your reader.

 

Chasing the Leaves of September

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by Mrs. Hitchcock, Minnetonka Writing Center co-director

With the onset of fall, walking Tilly has become a challenge. A five month old golden retriever, she strains at the leash to chase each and every leaf drifting down the street. And when a breeze comes up, that’s a lot of leaves and a lot of unbridled, golden retriever energy. She rarely catches a leaf, and when she does, she simply shakes her head and drops it. It’s the thrill of the chase that fuels her.

It reminds me a little of the rat race that we all find ourselves in, especially at the beginning of a new school year. Finish a task? On to the next one. The target is always moving. Yet, Tilly isn’t frustrated by her leaf chasing. The constant motion thrills her, and I must admit, it thrills me a little too.

In my third year as Minnetonka’s Writing Center Co-Coordinator, I’m taking pleasure in my to do list this year because it is filled with things that excite me: training new writing coaches, conferencing on college essays, collaborating with colleagues. It’s work, but I feel pretty lucky to be working with students who are as sincere and dedicated as our writing coaches. I’m also impressed by the openness of the seniors who come to the Writing Center to work on their college essays. Many of them I’ve never met before, but they are eager to share very personal writing with me – writing that captures who they are.

In addition to its students, Minnetonka’s staff embodies the best of the best, personally and professionally. The Writing Center welcomed a new co-coordinator this year, Shannon Puechner, who brings with her a wealth of experience from her writing center work at the University of Minnesota. Shannon and I have already spent time working in a number of teachers’ classrooms, from Technical Communications to Composition for College, and truly appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with our fellow teachers and conference with their students.

 

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A snapshot from last Thursday’s 2017-18 year all coach training day!

We have big plans for the Writing Center this year. Our thirty-eight writing coaches have hit the ground running, online writing conference scheduling debuts in October, and we will participate in the first ever Minnesota high school tutors conference in collaboration with the University of Minnesota next spring. As I chase each of these leaves around, I am energized. The Writing Center evolves constantly, and come spring, when the snow melts, there will be new and exciting things for us to run after…and for Tilly, perhaps baby bunnies.

I’m So Pun With You Right Now, Mom

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by Mei Gong, junior writing coach

Like cilantro, mayonnaise, or black licorice, puns seem to divide people into two camps: either you love ‘em or hate ‘em.

I used to be part of the pun resistant half of humanity. My mom, ever the goofball and word nerd, was a joyful punster for all of my childhood. My brother and I, too young to understand her genius, would groan and grumble at her word play, then dramatically shake our heads at her semantic silliness. Somehow, there was no way around it; she couldn’t help puns from rolling off her tongue, and we couldn’t stop our eyes from rolling in our heads.

 

Then I found this book: The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics by John Pollock.

 

I’ve got to say, at first, I just kind of squinted at the title. Could puns really do all that? But eventually I bought it, and after my mom read it and started raving about how it was her new favorite book, I finally decided to give it a shot.

Full disclaimer: I am now a complete convert and true believer in the power of the pun.

As you might imagine from a book by an O. Henry Pun-Off World Champion, The Pun Also Rises is full of creativity, insight, and, yes, lots and lots of very clever puns. But beyond that, I was so impressed by the amount of genuine thought and in-depth research that went into this book. From linguistics to psychology to history to philosophy, in just over 150 pages, Pollock establishes an impressive scope and examines the pun in almost every light.

Pollock’s description of “The Rise and Fall of Puns Through Time” is one of my favorite parts of the book. From the solemn double meanings in ancient Babylonian religious texts, to the senator’s persuasive speeches in Ancient Rome, all the way to Shakespeare’s censorship evading plays in Elizabethan England, Pollock shows us how puns have had so many different mainstream uses throughout history than their current position as low-level humor.

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The face of William Shakespeare, one of literature’s most notorious punsters

And after reading his book, I totally get it now. I’m not saying that every knock-knock joke is a work of art, but if you set aside this idea that puns are always bad, you can instead enjoy them as little celebrations of language that can spark delight and laughter in your daily life. I guess this makes me a traitor to those still part of mainstream pun resistance, but what can I say? Pollock managed to dissolve any misgivings in my heart and replace them with appreciation.

If you love puns with a passion, this book is definitely for you. But even if you think you have a deep dislike for word play, I’d encourage you to set aside your bias and give this funny little read a chance.

Eloquently Insane

Writer's Block Vintage

by Priscilla Trinh, senior writing coach

Writer’s block otherwise known as creative inhibition prior to the 40s-50s, was considered trademark sufferings of an “estranged neurotic” aka a writer (Barrett, Writers and Madness 1947). The Romantic era of literature especially brings to mind images of the mad genius, the anguished poet driven to the brink of insanity in the pursuit of originally capturing the essence of the world. To this day, the phenomena known as writer’s block (coined by Viennese-American psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler), is still widely contested. The roots of its cause may lie in the frayed ends of neurotransmitters, artistic fear, or it could just be a modern marketed idea labeling writers who believe nothing they write now is worth publishing – who knows?

This summer as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at a doc labeled “College Essay,” I found myself entrenched in a state of recollection with the inability to articulate my thoughts. Images and memories bounced around in my mind. Back and forth, back and forth, conjuring, dismissing, tapping, deleting.

I needed to concisely answer and make a point in 650 words. With that in mind, I told myself to disregard the limit. Forget criteria. Delve deeper. Ignoring the word count relieved some of the pressure to create a poignant mini bildungsroman and allowed me to explore my ideas without worrying if it’d fit in. The first draft of my common app essay was over 1,000 words. I tried to include a dramatic opening scene, a flashback, and a personal anecdote with extended metaphor in a 650 word limit essay. Obviously that didn’t work, but it did work for me in the long run in terms of answering the question and organizing my ideas.

By going back to other memories and writing them down, I provided context for my main point, which greatly helped with my flow because I found transitioning between connected memories easier than trying to pinpoint a pivotal moment in my life to address after a clever intro. Once I laid it all out, I was forced to go back and shave off a few hundred words but it was totally worth it.

Granted this is only possible when one has the time and luxury to relive multiple memories via text, I would still encourage those writing college essays to avoid putting too much emphasis on finding a critical memory as most of the prompts require. Instead, think about the various undertones of your story and don’t be afraid to develop those in paragraphs or just a few phrases. Then, pick out impressions to formulate a richly layered response with crazily profound Edgar Allan Poe-esque sentiments. Easier said than done, but that’s why one should go to the Writing Center college essay workshops next week! Best wishes to seniors and all those who ail from “writer’s block.”

 

Writer's Blog Meme

La Rotonde No. 2: Barnes and Noble Kitchen

by Katie Ward, senior writing coach

What: Barnes and Noble Kitchen

Where: The Galleria, Edina

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Since the early 1990s, Barnes and Nobles across the country have hosted Starbucks cafes and bakeries to provide bookbuyers with a calm, cultured, and increasingly mainstream place to take a coffee break. Until a few years ago, Barnes and Noble in the Galleria, Edina, was one such place. During their recent major reconstruction, however, Starbucks moved out, and in its place, the Barnes and Noble Kitchen was born.

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The Kitchen has successfully struck the balance between modern comfort and retro atmosphere usually found in SoCal second hand record stores. The dark brown and green distantly reminiscent of a gas station cafe that most Barnes and Noble Starbucks possess is completely absent from the Kitchen. Earth tones, modern furniture, and warm mood lighting (along with the impeccable aesthetics of the remodeled bookstore and the rest of the respectfully bourgeois Galleria) gives the Kitchen a neighborhood coffeeshop vibe despite its underground location.

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There’s bar seating, a large wood table complete with outlets, lounge seating with built in tables, and couches scattered around the rest of the store if you’re only looking for coffee and a pastry. There’s also a full restaurant whose menu is a far cry from a microwaved frozen panini a la the Kitchen’s predecessor. But that’s not what I’m writing about.

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How does the Kitchen hold under the Hemingways?

(To review La Rotonde’s criteria, click here!

Le Goût- In my relatively limited experience, slow service equals good food. While the very accommodating staff will not win any contests for fastest cup of coffee, do you really want them to? Every mocha I’ve had here is a perfect blend of sweetness and strength, and the syrups and sugars available at the bar will placate any shortcoming. ⅘ Hemingways

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Le Style- Personally, I could sit here for hours. Actually, I have. Half of the gorgeously modern space is designed especially for studying, reading, or deep philosophical conversation. Jack White is a regular on their overhead playlist, which is a huge pro. While technically, yes, the Kitchen is a chain, there’s only three in the nation, so if you’re going to condone a capitalist corporation, this isn’t that bad. 5/5 Hemingways

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La Rotonde- While the Kitchen is beautifully designed and decorated, it is still in the basement of a glorified mall. It exceeds expectations taking into account the space it was given, but at the end of the day, one of its wall of windows overlooks a parking lot, and there’s nothing This Side of Paradisiacal about a row of Lexuses (or is it Lexi?) as you write the next great American novel. However, if you’re facing the Village-esque bar and maze of books, that’s easy to forgive. ⅗ Hemingways

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Which brings the Barnes and Noble Kitchen, Edina, to a grand total of ⅘ Hemingways. No small feat. This weekend, grab a friend or your AP Euro textbook and experience New York ingenuity for under $10.

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For the Kitchen’s menu, click here.

Thoughts or reviews on The Kitchen? Leave a comment! Check in soon for a café a little closer to home (and farther away from hunger).

Cordially, your host, Katie Ward