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.

Last Call for Winter Wear to Share

The cold breath of winter is blowing in – and the sun is on winter vacation – so warm winter gear is an absolute necessity for every man, woman and child who is challenged by the elements.

Knowing the special suffering of neighbors in need East Side Neighborhood Services will sponsor its 15th Annual East Side Coat Giveaway on Monday, November 7, 2-5 p.m.

Actually, it’s more than a coat giveaway.  Friends and neighbors may drop off gently used coats, gloves, mittens, hats and boots – especially children’s items – at the East Side Thrift Store, 1928 Central Avenue NE or East Side Neighborhood Services, 1700 2nd Street Northeast.   October 31 is Monday, so it’s not too late – yet.

The ESNS Thrift Store has also put out a call for volunteers.  Call 612 789 0600 for more information.

This is a great service, a welcoming and well-stocked store, and a great chance to unload the closets by helping a neighbor.

Halloween Stats – Tricks, Treats and 4.1 Million Costumed Kids

In the midst of all of the anti-Washington sentiments that pour forth from the pundits and seem to be lapped up by the public, it’s good to see that the information wheels of our federal government continue to gather, interpret and ultimately spew forth immense quantities of usually essentially, sometimes just plain fun, information.

The Census Bureau, which continues to process the inestimable data collected in the 2010 Census, takes time now to share some fun facts about Halloween.

Did you know?

Some 41 million children age 5-14 hit the Trick or Treat trail in 2010 – Add to this number the 0-4 and 15+ generations who seemed be part of the crowd on my front steps particularly before and after “rush hour.”  (U.S. Census Bureau)

The T or T crowd has their pick of some 116.7 occupied housing units.  I have observed of late that the sophisticates – and their parents – tend to have checklists of criteria by which they judge the generous spirit of the homeowners so there are no disappointing treats. (U.S. Census Bureau)

1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins brighten the Halloween festivities;  a small fraction even turn up in pies, puddings, soups and cookies.  Illinois produces an estimated 427 million pounds of the gourd.  California, New York and Ohio are also major pumpkin producing states.  (U.S. Department of Agriculture

1,177 U.S. manufacturing establishments produce chocolate and cocoa products and employ 34, 252 people.  California leads the nation with 135 followed by Pennsylvania with 111 (including Hershey which probably gives PA a leg up in the chocolate marathon)

409 U.S. establishments manufacture non-chocolate confectionary products; they employ 16,974 people.  Again, California leads the sugary pack.  (Note: My informed-by- consumption opinion is that some of those chocolate/cocoa manufacturers should be reclassified with this group)

24.7 pounds per capita is the rate of Americans’ candy consumption – I assume that’s an annual figure, in which case I probably should stop now…..

Where to spend the day:

The Bureau thoughtfully suggests some places around the country “that may put you in the Halloween mood.”  Consider these possibilities, or add your personal favorite:

  • Transylvania County, NC
  • Tombstone, AZ
  • Pumpkin Center, NC
  • Cape Fear, NC
  • Skull Creek, NE

You may want to consider including or substituting these factoids with the M&Ms and Twix – the digital data dump is pre-paid by the public, readily accessible, and clearly better than sugar for those high spirited young beggars who are already on a sugar high – or those teens who show up late after you’ve run out of candy and are desperate to give them something just to keep them at bay.

Or then again you may want to stick with the safer tradition and avoid the consequences of withholding treats.  Even the President expressed his concern that the White House will be egged if Michelle insists on handing out veggies.


Don’t Dump on Northeast Redux


“Don’t Dump on Northeast” signs that once marched boldly across Northeast have faded and faded from view.  The threat has not.  In fact, the Minneapolis-Hennepin County proposal to construct a “recycling and drop-off center” in the Holland neighborhood, at 340 27th Avenue NE near University Avenue, is currently boiling on the “front burner” at City Hall. The “Don’t Dump on Northeast” campaign has engaged all of the Northeast neighborhoods.


Though Holland residents are most immediately affected, other neighborhoods, including my own Windom Park, are concerned about a host of issues including pollution, truck traffic, and the inclination of City officials to dismiss the concerns of Minneapolitans who happen to live East of the Mississippi.

Spring 2012 is the proposed start of construction of the site which is projected to be fully operational by spring 2013.  The project as outlined by the City will include two buildings that will house separate functions:  The first building, approximately 26,000 square feet, will contain the Hennepin County Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Center (HHDC) and support offices.  The second building, termed the Voucher Program Building (VPB), is approximately 22,800 square feet and is planned to operate as a drop-off point for construction and demolition materials and clean up debris for the City of Minneapolis voucher program whereby residents receive City vouchers to unload “household debris.”

More details re. the City-County plan for the Recycling-Drop-off Center  are laid out in a recent detailed document with copious links to detailed reports, maps, studies, and other government-produced information.

And then there are the opinions of the affected Northeasters who have consistently and persistently organized and protested the City-County plan.  When local residents sued to stop the project, largely on the basis that the dump does not meet zoning requirements, they were held at bay by the City Attorney’s contention that “the city will move to dismiss the lawsuit because no application is yet pending for the facility with the city.”

Another major bone of contention between Northeasters and the City of Minneapolis concern the very purpose of the facility.  The City and County prefer the more benign “recycling and drop-off center” terminology.  At the same time, plans seem to call for the move of the Hennepin County Southside Transfer Station to the site.  Statistics indicate that only 1/3 of the materials at the Southside Transfer Station are recycled.  Residents’ challenge on this issue could put a crimp in the plans for a joint City-County venture.

In spite of City officials’ assertion that there are no definite plans, residents argue that the taxpayers have already invested $2 million in the planning process.  Opponents also object to the fact that several City staffers with whom they had been working have been reassigned.

The facts are indisputable:  1) The City continues to work on a recycling-drop off center (whatever it’s to be named) and 2) opposition to what is locally known as “the dump” in Northeast is alive and well.  In today’s E-Democracy post local activist and Holland resident Bruce Shoemaker writes:

It’s time for the City (or the few proponents for this that are left among City staff) to face reality,[to] stop wasting their time and our money, and give up on the current plan.  The opponents – who have won every neighborhood vote that has taken place in Northeast by substantial margins – aren’t going away.  Every step of the process is going to be under intense scrutiny.  We have a strong and compelling legal argument and a substantial majority of our community on our side and we are going to prevail.