The Big Picture

By Kevin Tankersley

Q&A with Ashley Thornton

Ashley Bean Thornton is a busy woman. She has a full time job at Baylor University with a title that is eight words long. She’s the creator and driving force behind Act Locally Waco (ALW), a website and newsletter that talks about what is going on around town.

She attends countless community events with her big orange picture frame and takes photos to use on the ALW website. She’s involved with Prosper Waco, and she and her husband Craig — who is a high school math teacher about to begin his first year at Robinson High School— are members of Lake Shore Baptist Church.

Thornton was born in Mississippi and grew up in Baytown. She and Craig both graduated from Baylor. After living in Houston for several years, they returned to Waco a couple of decades ago. Thornton and Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley sat down in the living room of her home to talk about her various endeavors around town.

WACOAN: How long have you been in Waco?

Thornton: We’ve been here closing in on 20 years. I keep saying 15 years, but I’ve been saying that for five years now. After I graduated, I went to what was Southwest Texas — now it’s Texas State [University] — and got my teaching certificate. Then Craig and I got married and moved to Houston. We lived there for 12 or 13 years. I taught school for a little while.

WACOAN: What brought you back to Waco?

Thornton: We loved Houston while we were living there. Then all of a sudden one day we were tired of it. We still had friends in Waco. My best friend stayed in Waco the whole time [after graduation]. Another good friend had just become the pastor at Lake Shore Drive Baptist Church, which is where Craig had gone. We came down for homecoming and wondered, ‘If we brought our resumes, I wonder what our chances would be?’ By January, we were moved.

WACOAN: And what did you do when you moved back?

Thornton: My first job in Waco was at CORD. Do you know what CORD is?

WACOAN: Center for Occupational Research and Development, right?

Thornton: Very good. That was a really good move-to-Waco job.

WACOAN: And what was Craig doing?

Thornton: We had both been English teachers, and he had quit doing that because he hated grading. He went back to school in Houston and got another bachelor’s degree in math. He had been working for an actuarial firm.

When we moved back to Waco, it was the middle of the school year. He took the test to teach math, and he got a job at the [Waco ISD] Ninth Grade Center. It’s now Indian Spring Middle School. He taught there for several years. It eventually became A.J. Moore Academy. He taught out in Mart for a while and liked it out there, but he had a little car accident driving back and forth and decided he’d rather stick closer to home.

In fortuitous timing, someone said there was a job open at Vanguard [College Preparatory School], so he was at Vanguard for nine years. Just this year he decided it was time to get back into public schools, and he’ll be at Robinson next year. He’ll teach precalculus. That’s what he’s taught for several years, and he’ll also teach one class in engineering math.

WACOAN: So what’s kept you in Waco for the past 20 years?

Thornton: You know, I moved around a lot when I was little. This is by far the place that I’ve lived the longest in my life.

To me, it’s the perfect-sized town. We used to joke around because when we moved here from Houston, we would be 20 minutes too early for everything. Waco is a small enough town where you can be active. Houston was so big that I felt like everything was being done. Here I feel like I can be a part of things. In Houston, if you want to get together with a bunch of friends, it was like a whole, big strategic planning project. In Waco, I can call my friends at 5 o’clock, and at 5:30 we can be in the middle of dinner. I love that.

WACOAN: What do y’all like about Waco? You’ve seen a lot of change in 20 years.

Thornton: I feel like Waco is the right degree on the casual-to-fancy scale. There’s everything here that you could ever possibly want to do. When we get a baseball team, there will be [everything here] for Craig. If I want to go see a show, there are several theaters in town. And the added benefit of that is that when I go, it’s people I know who are in the show. I could be in the show, probably, if I wanted to be in the show. That’s a whole other level of engagement than we ever would have had in Houston.

Of course, I like working at Baylor.

WACOAN: You have a new title there. What is it?

Thornton: It’s really long. The actual title is senior director for informed engagement and continuous improvement. Usually, I just usually say director for informed engagement.

WACOAN: And what do you do in that job?

Thornton: I kind of have three jobs right now. One job is I work for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, which is responsible for SACS [Commission on Colleges] accreditation. I chase down all the SACS reports from all the parts of the school that are not directly academic.


Thornton: Southern Association for Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. They’re our accreditor. Our accreditation has be reaffirmed every 10 years in order for our students to get federal financial aid. That’s not all there is to it, but that’s a good motivator. That’s one part of my job.

Another part of my job is I’m kind of an internal organizational development consultant. Different departments that might need some help with planning or have a process they want to work on improving or even, every now and then, conflict refereeing.

But the informed engagement part is fairly new. That is one of the five aspirations of Pro Futuris. All the other four aspirations, I think, already had a home in the university. But informed engagement didn’t. It’s still in the process, but I can tell you what I want it to be.

WACOAN: OK. Informed engagement. The goal of that is what?

Thornton: If you read about informed engagement in Pro Futuris, it’s about Baylor being committed to important systematic challenges in the community. In Pro Futuris, it’s described very broadly to include local communities, Central Texas, the nation, the world: How is Baylor engaged in addressing these systemic problems? The simplest way to say it is, ‘How are we making the world a better place?’

One of the most fun projects I’ve ever done at Baylor is I got to be the one who went around to 14 different cities and talked to Baylor alums and Baylor supporters about what they wanted to see in the strategic plan for Baylor. One of the things that came out of that, and one of the reasons it ended up in Pro Futuris, is [this question]: ‘What is Baylor doing to make a difference, to make the world a better place?’ That’s what informed engagement is all about. We incorporated it into the strategic plan, and when you talk to people, they say that’s what Baylor should be about. It’s directly in line with our mission. And the next breath is, ‘Oh, what do we really mean by that?’ That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

I feel very encouraged now that our new provost [Dr. L. Gregory Jones] is going to be very engaged with that. I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to him very much about it, but he’s written a book called ‘Christian Social Innovation,’ and I think a lot of what he talks about in that book dovetails perfectly with what we want to do in informed engagement.

The way I’ve kind of crystalized it in my head is Baylor is engaged in the community in many, many, many different ways. We certainly have a lot of students who are volunteering, faculty and staff who are doing things. We are a tourist attraction. People come and see our sports things. We buy stuff in the community. There are a lot of different ways we are engaged. And informed engagement is a subset of that. And what characterizes informed engagement is, first of all, it’s focused on systemic challenges with an eye towards strategic improvement.

A second really important component to it is that it involves a very strong partnership with the community, instead of being this notion of, ‘We’re a university, and we know what should happen.’ It’s much more of the notion that we need to be partners with the community. Certainly a university has gifts that it can give the community it’s in, but the community has an even bigger gift it can give the university because the community is what makes the whole university relevant. If we’re coming up with all these wonderful things and they’re not making the community better, what are we really accomplishing? Partnership in the community is a key component.

And then a third component of it is we are making use of our university-ness. In other words, yes, we do a lot of volunteer work. We do a lot of neat things. All of those things are really important, but Extraco Bank could be doing that. A church can be doing that. What is it about being a university that we have to put in the pot that’s different from anybody else? It’s our academic expertise. It’s our students we are trying to develop into informed, engaged [citizens]. That’s part of what characterizes informed engagement too. We’re leaving our university-ness toward it.

Then that last characteristic that defines the subset of engagement is that there’s an assessment component to it, and we’re using that assessment to learn to do things better. For example, our community engagement and service office, under Ramona Curtis, has been working with our public health department at Baylor and the public health department in Waco to do some community research. Ramona helped make that connection between the community and our academic public health department so that our students could help with the research, which is good for our students. And it’s great for the public health department because they wouldn’t have been able to conduct that research, necessarily, without our academic public health department. It’s good for the community because now we’re getting information that can be used to guide strategy for the community. A really good use of the strengths Baylor has in partnership with the community to accomplish something that’s good for everybody.

WACOAN: You mentioned that part of your Baylor job is being involved with the community. That ties in with your other gig, Act Locally Waco. So what exactly is Act Locally Waco?

Thornton: Act Locally Waco is a newsletter, website and channels of communication to help people in Waco get informed and involved in the community. That’s the purpose.

WACOAN: When did you start ALW?

Thornton: The very first little inkling of it was in about 2008. It was originally a round robin email among a group of people from churches that had food pantries to share information. It just grew and grew and grew from that.

WACOAN: And it’s grown into?

Thornton: Now the core thing is a weekly newsletter that comes out every Friday through email. There’s also a blog. Four or five times a week somebody writes for the blog. Those are the two main components of it. Then there’s the book club, where we get together and talk about books that are of relevance to issues that are important to Waco.
WACOAN: Who writes blog posts for you?

Thornton: I started it, and we’re slowly merging with Prosper Waco. We aren’t 100 percent merged yet, but we’re definitely headed in that direction.

In collaboration with Prosper Waco, we applied for a grant from the Baylor Philanthropy Lab, and with the money we got from that grant we hired a part-time employee, Allison Abel. And the blog is written by community members. A lot of people contribute to that.

WACOAN: What was the inspiration to start ALW?

Thornton: What I thought it was going to be when I started it and what it is now is very different.

I would go to these meetings of churches that had food pantries, and there were probably 10 or 12 people there. We would go around the room and conduct whatever business we were doing. Then at the end everybody would do announcements. We would go around the room, and somebody would say, ‘We’re having an event on February 2. Everybody should come out.’ Then the next person would say, ‘Well, we’re having an event on February 2. Come if you can.’ In those conversations it was just really obvious that we didn’t all know what each other was doing, and we didn’t have a good way to share information. When I started it, that’s what I thought it was going to be.

That happened to be when WordPress was developing, and it was becoming easier to do a website. That was the original idea, to keep each other informed about things that are going on in the community so we wouldn’t stumble over each other’s schedules.

WACOAN: And what did it turn into?

Thornton: As I started to get more involved in the community and got involved with what was called at the time the Poverty Solutions Steering Committee, they had gone to the city council and said, ‘We have a high rate of poverty, and we need to be more intentional as a city about trying to address that.’ The city council said they were probably right. They had a series of focus groups where they invited everybody they could think of and said, ‘So why do we have such bad poverty in Waco?’ They just facilitated these conversations.

[Dr.] Larry Lyon from Baylor crystalized a three-part [response]. It’s a negative loop. We have low-paying employers, and then we become known for being a place where people can come and not have to pay very high. That means we don’t have much money to invest in, for example, our school system. That means our school system goes down. That means it’s hard for us to draw the jobs into town that would pay more. Then we have this bad cycle.

Then that group got some people from the schools and people from business and people from the nonprofit community to see how we can work together. That group made a presentation to the city and said there are things they can do but not as a loosey-goosey group. So the city appointed the Poverty Solutions Steering Committee, which I was on. And that took the whole conversation to the level of actually presenting a report and proposal. That proposal and several other things was what got the ball rolling for what is now Prosper Waco.

In the midst of all that I realized that in the different conversations that we had there was much more need for communication than what I had originally thought. What became important about it, to me, at least, was not so much, ‘Let’s not schedule on top of each other.’ I don’t think anybody realized how much stuff was going on. I was constantly finding out about things the day after they happened. We had this weird Waco low self-esteem issue. We thought, ‘There’s just nothing to do in Waco.’ There’s a ton of stuff to do. That’s what became more important about it. Pulling together this massive evidence that there’s plenty of stuff to do in Waco, and we can all enjoy it and participate in it and be part of it. It makes me feel good knowing there’s so much here to do.

WACOAN: You said you got more involved in the community. How did you get involved?

Thornton: I’d go to a lot of things because of the website. One of the things we do for our Facebook page is take pictures with the big orange frame.

WACOAN: That’s one of my questions: What’s the deal with the frame?

Thornton: I stole the idea from Art on Elm. It so happened that the first year they had Art on Elm, that exact same day the Habitat [for Humanity] ReStore had these big picture frames on sale for $5. I was trying to think of ways to get people to go to the website, go to the Facebook page. I was going to take the frame to events and take pictures and people would go to the Facebook page to see their pictures. That’s how that got started.

Another one of the neatest things I’ve gotten to do is, after I had been doing the big orange frame for a couple of years, I had thousands of pictures, a couple of thousand, probably. Susie Mullally, in photography at Baylor, said, ‘I love that big orange frame project.’ I had never thought of it as a project. There was an expo, the Waco [Community] Visioning Project, and Susie said, ‘Let’s have a display of the big orange frame pictures.’ We had a big display of posters that had 5-inch squares of all the pictures. We had 16 posters in all. When we laid all those pictures out and looked at them all at once, it was just so beautiful. Every different kind of person. Every size and shape. Kids. Grown-ups. Every race. Every color. Doing all different things. All these different events. It was just so moving to see beautiful Waco all together in this one big thing.

WACOAN: Besides the frame, how else did you get involved in the community?

Thornton: It was with things kind of stemming off of Act Locally Waco and the poverty solutions chain of events. I just started going to a lot of things. Those were probably the two things I felt responsible for, as far as getting them done. That was my local volunteer work. Where somebody else might be doing Meals & Wheels deliveries or tutoring children, that’s what I was doing — doing the website and the newsletter. I was out all the time, going to things.

WACOAN: I’ve heard the term ‘unconventional volunteerism.’ Does that apply here?

Thornton: This is kind of what it is. What I always tell people is that I am not really that compassionate of a person. [Laughs.] If you have little kids who need somebody to love on them and be nice to them, I’m not the right one to call for that. That’s not my thing. I’m really only good at two things. I’m good at getting little bits of information, putting them all in a pile and sorting them all out. And I’m good at facilitating meetings. I’m good at those two things.

So I have my volunteerism, doing those things I’m good at instead of things I’m not that good at. It’s not terribly easy if you have this unconventional volunteerism thing to find places to fit yourself in. A lot of the things we think of as traditional volunteerism are already set up where you can just sign up and go do it.

As I’ve gotten to know the community, I just see there are so many places where we need people’s skills. We need what they’re good at. Yes, we need people to serve lunch at the Gospel Café, but if you’re a lawyer, we need your lawyer-ness. If you’re a writer, we need you to write. Some people, the reason they do volunteerism is because they want to do something different from what they do all day. But if you have a business, it’s great for you to volunteer at Caritas, and we need that, but we need you as a businessperson to hire people who need work. We need people’s whole selves.

I guess that’s what unconventional volunteerism is, in a way. I would call it ‘citizenship’ and move it to that next level.

As I’m thinking about Baylor and our students and what we want for them, a very strong component of that is what we’re doing to develop informed, engaged citizens. Our students come to us now with hours and hours of community service and volunteerism. They’re really used to doing that, and that’s great because we need all that. But if somebody comes to Baylor and their notion of what it is to be a citizen is to be a volunteer and they leave Baylor and that’s what they still thinks it takes to be a citizen, we have not done our jobs educating them. We have to be able to take people from that question of, ‘How can I help at Caritas?’ to that question of, ‘Why do so many people need Caritas, and what are we doing as a society to have so many people who can’t make it to the end of the month and have enough to eat? What is my role in the community to build a community that doesn’t create [a rate of] 30 percent poverty?’ Those are the kinds of questions we have to get people to start wrestling with. That has folded into that notion of unconventional volunteerism too.

WACOAN: Is it even possible to get our hands around the poverty problem?

Thornton: It’s extremely complicated, but of course I believe we can or else I wouldn’t keep plugging away at it.

A key paradigm shift that has to happen, and that has happened in Waco, which gives me a lot of hope, is going from helping poor people, which we have to do, to thinking about how to build a community that does not create so many poor people. As we cross that bridge and start thinking about what we have to do to create that kind of community that’s going to have the kinds of jobs we need, that’s going to have the kind of education system we need, that’s going to have the support systems — like health — we’re going to need, we’re going to have to think a lot more big picture about what our community should be.

We have to have that kind of picture in mind, of what we want and not what we don’t want. We’re building toward something and not just trying to fill in a hole. And we have to get that vision into enough different people’s heads that everybody is working on it. No one organization is going to be able to do it. It has to be in the Chamber of Commerce’s mind. It has to be in the city of Waco’s mind. It has to be in the school districts’ minds. It has to be in Baylor’s mind, MCC’s mind, TSTC’s mind. What is the overall vision we are all working toward? We could never have enough meetings in the world to plot this out into a plan. It has to be that everybody is looking toward that and in their own space moving toward it.

Of course, we have to have communication too about what we’re trying to accomplish, concrete measures of whether we’re winning or losing. That’s where Prosper Waco can be hugely helpful in helping us clarify that vision of what we’re trying to accomplish and helping us keep score. Without that kind of centralized place to keep track of that information about how we’re doing, every year is a new beginning. We can’t see the trend. We can’t see if what we’re doing is working or not.

I have high hopes that that will be a good mechanism for us to coalesce around. There are other cities that have better rates of poverty than we have. Why do they have them and we don’t? It’s happening somewhere. If they can do it, we can too. I’m not unrealistic about there being poverty in the world. For all I know, poverty is one of the things that happens when you have capitalism, and it’s hard to fix. But we can have less [poverty] than we have. We can figure out ways to chip away at that.

WACOAN: I read where you wrote that ‘people need to work on what they want rather than what they don’t want. They should desire a community that is equitable for all instead of just not not wanting poverty.’ Does that kind of tie in to what you just said?

Thornton: It does. I think it’s really important the way you think about things. It’s really important to make that shift from just trying to fix poverty to trying to build a great community for everybody who lives here. When you stay on one side of that, you’re not thinking big enough to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

It’s like when people talk about football. You can’t play not to lose. You play to win. That’s the way it is with the city too. You can’t play not to lose. You have to play to win.

WACOAN: So if you look to build a community that is equitable for all, fixing the poverty thing is part of that, part of the bigger picture.

Thornton: Yes. I think a high rate of poverty is a symptom of mechanisms in your community that aren’t working right.

For example, it’s like the check engine light on your car. If the check engine light comes on, you can think to yourself, ‘There must be something wrong with that light.’ But chances are, that’s not the problem, and you’ll mess yourself up if you focus on the light and not on the engine. We need to focus on our engine, and I think we are doing that.

But we can’t just ignore the symptoms either. We have to deliver those services in as effective a way as possible but not believe that that’s the whole issue. It’s a big organizational development cliche, but it says that any organization is designed perfectly to get the results it’s getting. Our community is designed perfectly to get the results it’s getting. If we want different results, we’re going to have to change some things. Figuring out what to change is what we’re trying to do now.

WACOAN: You have a full-time job at Baylor, then you have Act Locally and Prosper Waco, and you go to all these events. How do you manage your time?

Thornton: Oh, I’m terrible at that.

WACOAN: That’s surprising to hear. You said that one of your strengths is getting all these bits of information together —

Thornton: [Laughs.] Organizing information and organizing time are two different things.

WACOAN: Why are you bad at organizing time?

Thornton: I’m not bad at organizing time. I just have way more to do than there is time to do it. There’s probably no amount of organizing I could do to make it all fit.

I have made some pretty intentional choices about priorities. For example, I don’t really do housework. I have a high tolerance for a messy house. And much to my neighbors’ chagrin, I have a high tolerance for a bad yard. We don’t really cook. Since I don’t have any kids, that frees up some time to do things.

It’s working out nicely that my job at Baylor and my interest in the community are starting to dovetail a little bit. Another of the reasons that Act Locally Waco became my volunteer work is that I could do it whenever I wanted to. I can do the actual work of putting together the newsletter a little bit at lunch, early in the morning, late at night. And Baylor is very supportive. They’ve always been supportive of me going to meetings, things like that, as long as I got my other stuff done.

WACOAN: You said you don’t cook. When you go out, where do you like to eat?

Thornton: We’re very devoted to Whataburger. I’m slightly obsessed with Whataburger.

WACOAN: How did that start?

Thornton: Craig was the one who was devoted to Whataburger before I was.

Here’s how I like my day to go: I like to get up early and go for a walk, and then I like to go someplace and have a little time to get my day together. That Whataburger right across from Baylor is the perfect place for me to do that. It’s my little quiet time with an unlimited supply of Diet Coke. Nothing good comes out of Ashley until some Diet Coke goes into Ashley. [Laughs.] Then I started to do that every single day, so I got to know all the people at the Whataburger, and they got to know me. At Christmas I would bring them cookies. It just got to be my little alternative office. To me, Whataburger is like my little kingdom of heaven on earth. There’s every different kind of person. When you go into Whataburger, you never know who you’re going to meet. It can be a homeless person. It can be Chet Edwards. You never know who’s going to come into Whataburger. Everybody comes into Whataburger.

WACOAN: When you go to Whataburger, do you order the same thing every time?

Thornton: My breakfast is very established. And I’m grieving the loss of this Whataburger by Baylor. It’s been horrible. It’s because my breakfast is very established. It’s a sausage biscuit [sandwich] with a jalapeño biscuit. The only place you can get it is Whataburger.

WACOAN: Is it closed right now?

Thornton: It’s torn down! They’re rebuilding. I go to Taco Cabana. It’s not the same. The Taco Cabana people are very nice. But no jalapeño cheese biscuit.

WACOAN: What about at dinner?

Thornton: At dinner, I alternate between a No. 7 [Whataburger Jr.] with only mustard, ketchup and pickles, with apple slices, or a chicken fajita. They have surprisingly good tortillas at Whataburger. Taco Cabana also has good tortillas.

WACOAN: If you venture out of your comfort zone and go eat somewhere besides Whataburger, where might you go?

Thornton: There are a lot of places I like. I’m a person of routine.

I’m devoted to World Cup Café, and World Cup has meatloaf day on Thursday. I’m very devoted to meatloaf day. I like Bangkok [Royal]. We’re very devoted to El Conquistador on Fridays. Fridays are set aside specifically for cheese enchiladas. I’m developing a taste for Sascee’s; that’s one of my favorite downtown places. I like barbecue: [Tony] DeMaria’s, Uncle Dan’s. Uncle Dan’s is where Craig and I went on our first date. Kitok’s is one of my favorite places of all time. It’s pretty easy to avoid cooking. [Laughs.]

WACOAN: You said you start every day with a walk. Why is getting up and walking in the morning important?

Thornton: Walking has always been my main form of exercise. Give credit to my junior high PE teachers for getting me started as a morning walker. I went to Cedar Bayou Junior High in Baytown. They had the Cedar Bayou Junior High Joggers Club. We would get up every morning and go to the track and jog around. I gave up jogging years ago, but I still get up and walk in the morning.

WACOAN: How far do you walk?

Thornton: I’ve kind of changed my routine a little bit. Instead of walking around in a circle for exercise, I wanted to make walking more of my default form of transportation as much as I could. I drive my car to school on Mondays, and then pretty much throughout the week I try to walk back and forth from home to school. That’s about 3 miles. Then I try to have my lunches and things organized so I can walk to them. I’m trying to walk a lot more as transportation. I’ve lost 50 pounds since January and still had plenty of jalapeño biscuits along the way.

WACOAN: How long does it take to walk to work?

Thornton: It takes about an hour. But coming from Houston, an hour is not that bad of a commute. And I’m not sitting in my car. I would have probably spent 45 minutes walking just for exercise anyway. Fifteen more minutes and I’m at work.

WACOAN: How many pair of Converse shoes do you have?

Thornton: These [red high-tops] are my fancy Converse that I wear to work and church. And then I have one level down that is kind of my yardwork Converse. And now I have invested in a pair of low-tops for when I have to go somewhere on an airplane because it’s such a pain getting in and out of high-tops.

And that’s another thing when you’re talking about how you balance your time. I do not worry about clothes anymore. Black pants. Red shoes. Different colored T-shirt and a jacket. I’m good to go. There was a time when it was a suit every day and hose. Till somebody yells at me, I’m pretty much going to wear what I wear.

WACOAN: What are you reading right now?

Thornton: We have this awesome book club, the Act Locally book club, and for that I’m reading this little book called ‘The Gardens of Democracy’ [by Eric Liu]. For my book club at church we’re reading ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. And then I just got done reading ‘Christian Social Innovation’ [by L. Gregory Jones]. Another book I just finished was ‘Walkable City’ [by Jeff Speck]. That was fascinating.

Going back to this issue of how to build a community that doesn’t create a bad level of poverty, I’ve started reading a lot more books that are [about] city planning, urban planning, which is fascinating. I love to read books where it’s something I never would have thought of on my own, but when I read it, I think it makes so much sense.

The walkability book is more about how the city has to be arranged to make it walkable and how that also leads to other good things. Like having a downtown area where people can work, live, eat and worship, close enough where people can walk to all those things makes for a very rich environment for ideas. Being walkable is kind of a marker of that.

[Speck] talks in the book about a pedestrian-friendly place where a walk has to be useful, comfortable, perceived as safe and interesting. He says to look at the places where you have a few little shops that are interesting to walk by. Could we plant a tree and make it shady and make it a little more comfortable? Will there be enough traffic to encourage other shops to open up and get a good cycle going? I had never thought about the planning that would go into that aspect of a city.

WACOAN: I noticed you have a little front yard library box. Have you had success with that?

Thornton: Yes, It’s been fun.

I came home one day and there was this box of books on the porch and this sweet note that said, ‘I lived in this neighborhood when I was growing up, and the people who lived in this house were always nice, and I’m glad to see that the people who live here are still nice.’ Wasn’t that sweet? We’ve definitely had people take books, had people leave books. There’s somebody out there who is doing cookbooks with me. Just ‘cause I’m not cooking right now doesn’t mean I’ve never cooked. And it doesn’t mean I won’t ever cook again.