Monthly Archives: October 2011

All Hallow’s Eve Recalls Maple Hill Legends

A Halloween thought.  Some months ago I wrote about Beltrami Park and connection with the long forgotten Maple Hill Cemetery.  Tonight might just offer a good opportunity to revisit the story, perhaps the site.  It’s a bit ghoulish, perhaps, but also a reminder of things past in time, yet near in geography to those of us who life in Northeast Minneapolis.  I had a great time learning about Beltrami, of course, and was fascinating with the stories that surround today’s Beltrami Park.  Grab some cider, another Tootsie roll and think about the stories that haunt the neighborhood, whether they be historically correct or legend is not the point of Halloween.  Here’s a gentle invitation to explore the story.  Start the quest here before the locals of history get the idea that Halloween is their night to Trick or Treat in the neighborhood this evening!

Sue Johnson, Empress of Blueberry Pancakes, Rules in Columbia Heights

Though Sue Johnson wears many hats – and an occasional apron — I think of her as the Empress of Blueberry Pancakes and the leader in developing Columbia Heights’ fledgling Eat Street (my term)

For decades I have made the pilgrimage to Columbia Heights precisely for the blueberry buttermilk “scratch” pancakes and sausage at the cozy haven formerly known as Peterson’s Bacon and Egg Café.  Truth to tell, there’s more on the menu, but why mess with perfection!  Sue Johnson has always been on hand with bottomless coffee pot, a hearty laugh, and a keen recall of every customer’s name and regular order!

Three years ago Sue and her husband Steve purchased the legendary neighborhood gathering spot from retiring owner Bob Peterson.  They changed the name to Johnson’s Bacon and Egg Café with a friendly note on the chalkboard.

With her usual equanimity, sunny disposition and obvious management skills Sue somehow keeps her restaurant on an even keel while continuing to serve mountains of the world’s best blueberry pancakes – and more breakfast treats — to a steady stream of neighbors and “out-of-towners” like me and my friends, many of whom have joined me – never once, but many times – on the pancake quest to my favorite breakfast hangout.

In addition to her management and culinary skills and her warm welcome for every comer, Sue has a heretofore untapped flair for interior decoration that makes the meal just that much more inviting  The perky poultry figures that have long been the hallmark of the cafe have been joined by photos of regular customers in whimsical poses – accompanied by seasonal decorations mounted by the indomitable Sue.  Today I stopped by Johnson Bacon and Egg Café for a Halloween treat (many occasions do call for a blueberry pancake!)  What I found were ghosts and goblins, pumpkins, skeletons, and Chief Cook and Bottlewasher Sue Johnson finely attired as a stunning lioness – still chatting and laughing with customers, but with a gentle lion-ish demeanor.


Johnson’s Bacon and Egg is located at 513 40th Northeast, between Central and University.  They’re open Monday-Friday 6:00 -2:00, Saturdays 7:00-2:00, and Sundays 8:00–1:00.   Occasionally, especially Wednesdays and Thursdays, Sue and her husband take off or their Harley or then again Sue may curl up with a good read, often borrowed from the Columbia Heights Public Library, just down the road from the Café.


Al Jazeera in English at Your Fingertips

This may be old news to everyone who is interested, but just in case I wanted to reinforce the ease with which web browsers have access to Al Jazeera.  When we lived in Abu Dhabi it was a daily presence that explained the Arab world, just not in English to those of us whose Arabic was pathetic at best.  I missed and wished for an English language translation that would help me  understand the news and views of the Arab culture.

Tune in to watch Al Jazeera in English for another view of what’s happening in the Arab world.    It’s a far cry from Fox and a complement to the mainstream US interpretation of the world scene writ (televised?) large.

Settle Down to Celebrate National Novel Reading Month

It’s possibly the only Nationally recognized “month” to span regularly two months and two years, occasionally two decades, and even two centuries every hundred years or so.  It’s National Novel Reading Month, celebrated each year from December 15-January 15.

The days are miserably short, the holiday frenzy stifling, the sweets irresistible, the compulsion to max out the credit cards downright intoxicating. – when better to curl up with a really good novel and escape it all.

As with any proper significant celebration, there are rules – five to be exact except there is no #5 as it happens.  There is a rule about length (at least 50,000 words).  There’s a rule about reading “at least one novel from a new author or from a (sub) genre you don’t typically read (or may have even heard of, e.g. New Weird and Cyberpunk [or even New Weird Punk’}” The rules are on the NaNoReMo website, of course.

You’ll also find a Fact Sheet on the website – definitive answers to probing questions, e.g. “Do I have to have a list before I start?  What happened to spontaneity?”  Turns out it’s not recommended you have a list but you are not absolutely required to do so  Another important fact is that the instigators of NaNoReMo are facing head-on the fact that some readers want to be able to relate with fellow readers of the same book – they are working on a forum to facilitate those essential links.

The rules and fact sheet are pretty straightforward, probably enough to get you over the 2011-2012.  Readers plagued, stymied or otherwise distracted by unanswered questions can email for quick and lucid response.  Better yet, ask an independent bookseller or a friendly librarian for tips on a good read.

Libraries Invest Legacy Funds to Share Stories and Build Community

The other shoe has fallen and my wrath has erupted.  I knew it was coming, that the tapping the Legacy funds, once a mere gleam in a legislator’s eye, would focus, then hone in on the vulnerable funds, those reserved for arts and cultural activities.  When the Legislature passed the Arts and Cultural Heritage pot in 2008 it was an organized arts community, not the Legislature’s deep  commitment to arts and culture, that authorized minimal support, under 20% of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, for arts and cultural activities.  It is also worthy of note that the fund itself is just .8 of 1% of the state’s sales tax.

The breakdown of allocated funds, as passed by the Legislature, looks like this:

33 percent to a clean water fund,
33 percent to an outdoor heritage fund,
14.25 percent to a parks and trails fund, and
19.75 percent to an arts and cultural heritage fund

For starts, I don’t see how that’s going to lure Ziggy when he’s obviously out for land development and not so much for the arts and culture….

More important, too little attention has been paid to the profound impact that the Cultural Heritage funds have had.  Because one is advised to write what one knows, and what I do know something about, is libraries.  During 2010 and 2011 public libraries in Minnesota received $4,250,000  in Arts and Cultural Heritage Funds.  Those funds were expended by the regional systems, passed down to or received directly by local libraries to implement programs and enhance resources.  Library-designated funds have also been spent by state agencies, particularly the Minnesota Historical Society which has established a working partnership with the Council of Regional Public Library Systems to collaborate on specific Legacy funded projects.  The expenditures and program descriptions, through 2010, are listed and described in detail on the Legacy website.

Libraries, particularly libraries in small towns and communities, operate on a shoestring, often dependent on volunteers and Friends, always trying to hold their own on the budget of municipalities and counties that are pulled from every direction.

The more salient fact is that those same libraries are preservers of the community’s culture, responsible for tending the record, reaching out and for assuring that those who care about their history have access to the stories.  Libraries also provide a sort of arts and culture lifeline for the communities they serve.  They have space for meetings, staff and volunteers who are in touch with learning opportunities, means to promote, interpret and focus on public events.

Statewide Legacy funds have funded an amazing mix of library programs including the very popular event and museum passes and bus trips, author visits ranging from Alison McGhee to Barton Sutter and a host of other, folk dance,  a celebration of National Poetry Month and dozens of other initiatives that highlights the arts, local history and the stories and activities that build a community.

When I asked for stories of what’s happened with Legacy funds in the metro area I received some great stories.  This report submitted by Anoka County Library is so local and so timely it serves as a great sample of what a small grant can unleash when energetic folks make connections to improve access for the public served by the local library:

Once again ACL has collaborated with the Coon Rapids Senior Center to provide seniors and their grandchildren with a Legacy program over MEA break. 45 people attended the program at the Senior Center last Friday, 30 seniors and 15 of their grandchildren. The program was Ghosts of Anoka County and was presented by Sarah Given, from the Anoka County Historical Society. ACL sponsored the program using our Legacy funding.

Many of the seniors attending the program used walkers. One of the ladies using a walker made it a point to thank the library for providing the program at the Senior Center. She had always wanted to go on the Ghost Walk in Anoka, but wasn’t able to handle the distance. She couldn’t believe she could finally take the tour—virtually! She really enjoyed the program as did the rest of the audience. The history program was 80 minutes long but the children stayed attentive and many adults stayed after the program to talk about their “ghostly” adventures. Personally, I was intrigued by the local Anoka history that was mixed in with ghost stories. I can’t wait to go the 7th floor of the government center for an aerial view of City Hall—I had no idea the building is shaped like a handgun and I want proof!

This has been a valuable collaboration for the library. One of our goals for our Legacy funding projects was to bring our Library to unexpected places. Many of the seniors I spoke with at the program were not library users, but they took our hours brochure with them as well as the flyers for the upcoming history programs.

There may seem to be a major stretch between the experience of these Anoka elders and youngsters and the development concerns of one team owner.  It is worth noting, however, that the developer’s eyes are on the very land in which these folks are living, learning and voting.   Granted these people and the Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund are vulnerable, ill-equipped to lobby their concerns in the marble halls and quiet backrooms where lobbyists, financial giants and the political Deciders gather.  I can only hope against hope that the Governor remembers what really matters to many Minnesotans whom he may not know personally but who still matter.



Clay Squared Opens Holiday Shop at Gavidae Common




If downtown doesn’t come to Northeast, we will go to downtown.  That is the attitude of two artist/entrepreneurs who have long worked in their Northeast studio and who are now testing the downtown waters by opening a “seasonal” shop at Gavidae Common.  The artists are husband and wife Josh Blanc and Layl McDill and the studio/shop, Clay Squared to Infinity, has spawned a skyway gift shop, Suite 129 of Gavidae at 551 Nicollet Mall.  When I stopped by today the couple were busily putting the vibrant finishing touches on the shop which is right at a most propitious crossroads location.

ClaySquared-on-the-Skyway (my name)  will open November 1 and remain open until December 31.  Hours are Monday-Friday 10 AM to 7 PM, Saturday 10 AM-6 PM and Sunday Noon-5:00 PM.  Theme of the shop is “made in NE Minneapolis” with an emphasis on clay artists.

Artists include Sue Christensen of Nameless Wildness, Martha Enzler of Martha Enzler Designs, Stephanie Kaczrowski, Wendy Penta of Stone Hollow Tile, Emily Dyer of Dyer Ceramics, Kirsten Walstead of SoMi Tileworks, and Jane Swan.  Furniture maker Kirsten Arden will “create an environment where the work will be shown and for sale.”

Proprietors McDill and Blanc are brimming with special features incoming an artist trunk show highlighting artists from the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.  On November 18 they will host a “NE Artists Invade Downtown” party – details TBA.

In the spirit of the season McDill and Blanc will donate 5% of their sales from the downtown location to the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.

All Skyway roads lead right past the shop – stop in, spread the word to friends and family, and don’t forget to pick a “made in Northeast” holiday gift that will charm the recipient and support NEMAA.

Congratulations and best wishes to McDill and Blanc on this bold, exciting and timely adventure!



School Librarians Convene – A Gawker’s Perspective

Lacking “press credentials” was summarily blocked from attending programs at the American Association of School Librarians meeting this weekend at the Convention Center in Minneapolis.  The program, which I did manage to filch, did look excellent – a robust agenda of authors and storytellers, the predictable abundance of sessions on technology, particularly social media and e-books, speakers and panels addressing ethics, standards, reading promotion initiatives, information literacy and much more.  Some little nuggets caught my eye – e.g. “One Book, One Conference, a comprehensive virtual conference with mobile app and tips for attendees on creating a Green Conference.

As a rejected non-attendee I had a great opportunity to observe the hundreds of school librarians and media professionals who filled the meeting rooms, the exhibits and the hallways.  What I observed was an energetic swarm of committed, inquisitive, learning professionals who are meeting the needs of young people in a desperately challenging time.

For example, in most cases, the librarian/media professional is the sole educator in a learning environment that serves an entire school with a rapidly changing mix of traditional and 21st Century tools – if the librarian is cut, there is no library program.  And library media are vulnerable not because they are inessential but because focus is on student/teacher ratio and desktop learning as opposed to development of independent skills such as information literacy and reading for enrichment.

At the same time, these professionals who are responsible for selecting appropriately materials face a proliferation of format options and, much more important, the imperative to select materials that are culturally appropriate to young learners who come to school from very different environments.

It was clear to me that the educators gathered in Minneapolis are ready to learn and, perhaps more, to share their experiences with colleagues who share the daily challenges each one is facing solo on the front lines.   As a left the conference, clutching my purloined program and my camera I snapped a few more photos that tell the story of the attendees if not so much about the scores of fine presentations I missed – and I was very pleased how my aborted visit to AASL had turned out in the end.