Monthly Archives: July 2012

Ramadan Begins as Bachmann Spews Her Venom

This evening as the sun sets I went for a very long walk – in part to  divest my spirit of the hatefulness that has marked this day.  The tragedy in Colorado is unspeakable beyond written words, of course.  My deepest hope is that we as a nation cope, even as we grieve.

Still, it’s Michelle Bachmann’s vitriol that surpasses even that incident, in part because it is an incident, the act of a mentally disturbed individual who has wreaked havoc on a community and some very good people.  Still, it is an incident.

For me, Representative Bachmann’s  outbursts, representing her deep-seated convictions, are even more disturbing.  They are not only the inane and misinformed utterings of an ambitious woman.  They are words chosen to fuel the flickers of fear that reside within the souls of good people who deserve far better from their leaders.

Bachmann’s ugly comments cause particular pain as they spew forth on the eve of Ramadan, the most peaceful and loving season in which Muslims everywhere celebrate love and generosity and friendship.   Bachmann’s is a mean-spirited slap in the face that speaks volumes of the venom within the Representative and her fellow travelers.


Wiser and more articulate observers of the political scene will eloquently refute Bachmann’s misguided rants.  Though I endorse their views,  I am not willing  to commit  precious time and energy to bashing those who don’t deserve the attention and who will be cussed out by those more articulate.  My thoughts turn instead to those who may be lured by the falsehoods she espouses – and to my friends and neighbors who must rise above – again. 

 My hope is that this Ramadan season will remind us all, including Michelle Bachmann, of Mohammed’s wise counsel:  “Much silence and a good disposition, there are no two works better than those.” 

Scott County Fairgoers Share their Stories at First-Ever Mobile Oral History-mobile

Some Scott County old timers have an overflowing backlog of stories about their visits to the Fair over the decades.  They stroll through the ever-changing exhibits, ponder the impact of technology, learn about new programs and ideas from Extension, admire the beautifully groomed animals, reflect on urban sprawl  and past excursions to the County Fair.

Other visitors to the Fair are new to Scott County, to Minnesota, and definitely to the uncommon characteristics of a real County Fair.  Newcomers may at times been overwhelmed by the crowds, Fair fare, the music, the relative merit of a purple ribbon – and yes,  even more food .

What all of these Fair-goers share is that deep reality that each has a story to share.

Still, the county Fairgrounds is not the  ideal setting to stop and bend a neighbor’s ear with  memories of bygone days .

Not to worry.  Scott County Fair visitors have a unique opportunity to capture and record  their stories for tomorrow’s Fairgoers.  All are welcome to stop at Minnesota’s first mobile oral history booth where they will find equipment and trained technical support at the ready to ensure that the even old stories find new life and widening circles of listeners.

Originally the dream of Kathleen Klehr at the Scott County Historical Society, the Mobile Oral History project is shaped by a partnership between the Scott County Historical Society (SCHS) and the Scott County Agricultural Society and funded in part by a Programming Grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

With the Fair just days away project planners and volunteers are working with an interior designer and builders to construct the mobile unit.  These front line workers describe the recording booth on wheels as  “a weatherproof, comfortable room on a road-worthy, tow-behind trailer.  It will be ADA compliant for easy access and ability because the entire trailer will drop with hydraulics to the ground. Though it’s a rush job on a unique project and a sparse budget, all will be in readiness by the Fair’s grand opening on Wednesdat, July 25 – soon!

As project planners expressed in the grant proposal “This oral histories project will increase understanding between and among long-term residents and new immigrants; increase participation in a historical project from new audiences, gather and preserve memories from an aging population; promote an appreciation for cultural traditions; and offer a forum for open, in-depth discussions.”

The work continues after the close of the Fair on July 29.  The recorded stories of Scott County Fair visitors will be preserved with great attention to technical standards, transcription, high quality archival services and accessibility for community members and researchers alike – now and in the future.  Through a special collaboration with the Shakopee Women’s Prison residents at the correctional facility will transcribe the recorded stories because, as one planner observed, “this is all worth very little if the substance of the stories can’t be retrieved later.”

And after the Fair, the mobile story collector, now field tested and road-ready, will hit the pavement.  The Scott County Agricultural Society is providing a pass-through grant to the Scott Historical Society to purchase the technology and to own and maintain it.  The Agriculture Society will own, insure, maintain and store the trailer.  Together they will prepare an operating agreement that will permit other organizations to rent the trailer and the technology so that the model developed and tested in Scott County can visit other sites to collect more and diverse stories that capture the essence of a community and the reflections of Minnesotans’ personal experiences.

For Scott County Fairgoers, the challenge is to dip into their personal reservoir of stories to breathe life into the tales that others have not yet heard, the stories that will help neighbors new and old to understand each other and the shared heritage that is common ground for 21st Century Scott County neighbors.

Amy Fields Builds Eastside Food Co-op as a Vital Community Resource

When you think Eastside Food Co-op – think ROOTS.  First come images of root vegetables – carrots, beets, yams, parsnips, radishes and all of those staples of the summer garden and the winter dinner table.

When Amy Fields speaks of roots it’s about the roots of the EFC itself, the core values that have shaped the community resource since its beginning,  Like those vegetable roots, the vision of the Coop is sometimes buried, more visible in a flourishing program than in the ideas that  lie beneath the surface 

When the first shoots of EFC sprouted in 2003 and for the first few years of operation, the focus was on the tangible — the plant sale, the farmers’ market, building a revenue stream and a sense of community among the thirteen neighborhoods, the schools, nonprofit civic and service organizations in Northeast.  Always at the root were the implicit core principles of training and community building.

As the store has grown and the revenue stream has stabilized EFC is able to focus on the less tangible but no less real goals of the cooperative.  The developments are visible.

  • Outreach opportunities, particularly with education and training programs.  EFC’s services now reach an area that incorporates Columbia Heights, Roseville, and St. Anthony Village with programs such as the Senior Wisdom Program in Roseville, classes at Northeast and Pillsbury Schools and start-up support for the new co-op on the Northside.
  • Expanded collaboration with a wider range of community organizations, such as the Northeast Regional Library and Neighborhood Healthsource and the University of Minnesota on a shared approach to identifying and meeting the health and nutrition needs of the area.
  • The success of the Recovery Bike Shop which has led to meeting the interests and shopping interests of a common customer base.
  • The popularity of the Yoga  Studio and the wellness program as prime services of the EFC.

By far the most visible is EFC’s development of the Granite Studio as a major community gathering place for learning and community building. 

  • The popular Indoor Farmers’ Market. 
  • Monthly movie nights, third Thursdays at 7:00 p.m, have become a community staple.  EFC has hosted a powerful program of community film screenings for adults and children – all free and open, complete with popcorn!
  • Northeast Network sessions that meet the second Thursday of every month, 7:30 -9:00 a.m. offer a unique opportunity for Northeast neighbors to explore a range of community options and concerns – from development of the Mississippi, to the arts agenda, to the impact of Census 2010 findings.  Northeast Networks provide a venue for concerned residents to learn, to share experience and ideas – not to mention energy.  Elected officials participate as learners and listeners.  All ideas are welcome.  Again, free and open to all, complimentary tempting treats provided.  Though the program ends by 9:00 sharp, the discussions continue and the ideas that flow are better informed and often reinforced and expanded as they mature.
  • The Granite Studio has also been the venue for countless groups ranging including a USDA hearing on meat safety, meetings of the Northeast Investment Cooperative and the Sierra Club, Art-A-Whirl events and a recent kickoff for Altered Aesthetics.

 One subtle service of EFC that caught my imagination was the Co-op’s support of local musicians.  Because the music played on the market’s audio system must be licensed, EFC offers an easy option.  Local musicians are free to upload their digital offerings to the Co-op which will then play the music on the in-store system.   

The fertile minds of Amy Fields, her staff and board seem to know no bounds. 

Right now they are planning EFC’s participation in August Eat Local Month.  One feature of EFC’s participation will be a special thank you to Co-op members – a generous bag of EFC groceries for members participating in National Night Out , August 7, 2012 – one way Amy wants to thank the people who share by supporting the Eastside Food Co-op on a regular basis.

The harvest of services, programs and ideas implicit in the  seeds of those original core principles is plentiful indeed.  This community is enriched by the Eastside Food Co-op.







Polish Festival 2012 Welcomes All to St. Anthony Main Festivities August 11 & 12

The Twin Cities Polish Festival is about to bring music, dance, Polish food and a mighty burst of energy to the Mississippi riverfront.  Polka contestants are primed, bakers are braving the heat, traditional musicians and artists are counting the days till the Twin Cities Polish Festival 2012, scheduled for Saturday, August 11 (10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.) and Sunday, August 12 (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.)  All festivities are on Main Street on the banks of the Mississippi River and at sites in or near Riverplace, new home of the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota.

As always, music is everywhere at the Polish Festival:

  • Akordissimo, the classical accordion ensemble, is part of the larger, renowned Accordion Orchestra CHORD of Koszalin.  In 2011 Akordissimo won First Place at the European Youth Festival in Belgium and was awarded the Grand Prix at the International Accordion Competition in Russia.  This is Akordissimo’s first visit to America.  The ensemble will perform on the Cultural stage both Saturday and Sunday.
  • During the Festival young Minnesota talent and local professionals will perform the works of Chopin and other Polish composters at three Chopin Celebration Concerts.  The concerts are sponsored b Wells Pianos and hosted by Kieran Wells.  Performances will be held in the air-conditioned comfort of the Stone Arch Cinema at St. Anthony Main.

By tradition, planners of the Polish Festival introduce a new program each year.  This summer’s treat – literally – is a Polish Baking Contest in which fine bakers will compete in three baking categories: Makowiec, a sweet bread rolled up, jelly-roll fashion, with a poppy seed filling, Kolazcki, delicate cookie-like pastries traditionally filled with fruit, poppy seed or sweet cheese fillings, and Babka, a sweet, rich leavened cake traditionally baked in a classic Babka or other fluted pan.  The contest is open to all.  Deadline: postmark by Tuesday, August 7; details online

Throughout the Festival grounds dancers are showcasing traditional choreography.  Heading the dance program at this year’s Polish festival are Dolina Polish Folk Dancers and Mosaica.  The State Amateur Polka Dance Championship will also be performing during the Festival. The  Polonia Polish Folk Dance Ensemble from Regina, Saskatchewan, dates back to the 1930’s when a social club was formed for couples who had recently immigrated to Canada from Poland.  Dancing soon became an important way to preserve Polish cultural in the area.  Today’s Polonia Polish Folk Dance Ensemble, officially organized in 1970, is comprised of 16 dancers performing under the leadership of director Tamara Scrimbit and assistant director Lisa Abrahamowicz.

The “Little Stars” Theatre Workshop, founded in Chicago in 2004, promotes the Polish language through theater.  Originally begun to involve children who wanted to speak Polish, the Workshop later expanded to offer adult classes.  The “Little Stars” have recorded audio and television plays that have been aired on Chicago area media.

Those whose tastes run to professional sports will have a chance to meet the Minnesota Stars FC.   The Stars are looking to defend their 2011 NASL Championship.

Jim Krzewski, aka Spoon Man Jim Cruise, has performed for audiences and prominent politicians including former President Gerald R. Ford and Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, says his show is “part goofball entertainer, part faith-filled spiritual guy.”

As in the past, Polish film lovers will have the chance to enjoy a showcase of Polish films at the Twin Cities Polish FilmFest, presented in partnership with The Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  Seven days of award-winning films will be screened at the Stone Arch Cinema.  Watch for the schedule of films to be shown during the Festival.

The Polish Festival is free and open to the public – from wherever and of whatever heritage!





Celebrating My Independents!



A superfluity of wealth, and a train of domestic slaves, naturally banish a sense of general liberty, and nourish the seeds of that kind of independence that usually terminates in aristocracy.   Mercy Otis Warren, 1728-1814, political writing and propagandist

Back in June, when word came down that Celebrate Your Independents Month was the classy theme for July 2012, I made big plans to interview the independent businesses in my neighborhood.  After some futile calls around, to learn for one thing that the Northeast Neighbors and Business Association is currently dormant, I scrapped the interview plan and decided to focus instead on the great independent business owners with whom I, as an inveterate supporter, come in contact every day. 

Theirs are the stories I know, the people, the products and the services I want to celebrate! In the words of Mr. Rogers, these are the “people in my neighborhood”, the people I know not as vendors of goods and services but as friends.

Sue Johnson, the ebullient queen of all things breakfast-related at Johnson’s Bacon & Eggs Cafe in Columbia Heights, shares her culinary talents,  decorating bent, and unstinting hospitality with all comers – the daily gathering of locals and those of us in search of the perfect blueberry pancake. Great food served with a touch of class, a shared laugh and Sue’s warm friendship sends me on my way with a new take on the day to come.

Jeannie Rarick, who rules at Annona Gourmet in the newly-spruced-up St. Anthony Village Shopping Center, shares her energy and zest for life with an ever-growing cast of gourmet shoppers from the neighborhood and from far-flung environs.  Jeannie dispenses tasty samples of her wares, principally vinegars and oils, along with an encyclopedic knowledge of their histories and virtues, along with the latest tidbits from the hood.

Just next door is Corner Books, a totally irresistible bookstore owned and operated by one of the world’s great bibliophiles, Carol Urness.  Carol is a scholar, librarian, birder and traveler who knows and shares with shoppers and gawkers just about everything there is to know and share about books.  Customers know Carol is in if her brilliantly painted library cart, full of great reads, is parked outside the shop.

And then there is Jennifer Schmidt nnow reigning at Hair-O-Smith, a woman-run hair salon cum dance studio nestled in the Q.arma Building in the heart of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Area.  The funky setting is the ideal palette for Jennifer, hairdresser extraordinaire who is always at the ready with the right cut and the right take on the realities of life. 

Trish and Matt at Crafty Planet, 2833 NE Johnson, meet the talented crafter and those of us who struggle with the intricacies of dishcloth construction with equal  enthusiasm for the possibilities.  They and their staff add a personal touch to the charming shop that bursts on the seams with every conceivable pattern, material, yarn, thread, and learning opportunity. They share their knowledge with a host of classes and outreach activities, including their July 22 NoCoast Craft-O-Rama craft and art family fun event at Silverwood Park.

Though I’m not sure which comes first, I know that a visit to the Crafty Planet and a stop at The Coffee House Northeast, just across the street at 2852 Johnson NE, are inseparable.  The friendly neighborhood gathering spot offers not just coffee but a full menu of smoothies, sweets, salads, sandwiches and more.  The ongoing expansion project at The Coffee House Northeast testifies to the come-on-in spirit of this neighborhood independent business.

There are not enough hours to track my own steps through the neighborhood in order to chronicle the scores of independents I patronize – or at least visit – on a regular basis.  And there’s nowhere near the money for to help these fine businesses owners spur the economy.  Still, I am proud to tell the story of the role of independent businesses in my life neighborhood.  Through their very presence, their services and the unique products they provide, they and the scores of other independents in my neighborhood contribute immeasurably to the vitality of the community of which they are the economic and social hub.

For others’ celebratory thoughts, check the St. Paul Pioneer Press Twin Cities.Com article in which Twin Citians extol the virtues of their own favorite independent vendors of books, theater, movies, music and art. 

So much to celebrate, so little time! 





Matt Ehling, Intrepid Researcher, Invokes FOIA – and Waits

Midst the hoopla and expressed patriotism of the Fourth of July it’s easy to miss the celebration of a birthday – not of the Constitution but of the day that President Lyndon Johnson grudgingly signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) News media, researchers, bloggers and the general public love to employ – and to criticize – FOIA and its near half century of implementation. 

Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive (NSA), a major submitter tens of thousands of FOIA requests, strikes a positive note on the 46th anniversary of landmark legislation:  “We requesters always complain about the constant delays, the bureaucratic obstacles, the processing fee harassment, and the excessive government secrecy; yet the FOIA actually produces front-page rests every year that make a real difference to citizens and to better government.”

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), posted a positive blog on July 4th.  Entitled “5 Things the Public Wouldn’t Know Without FOIA, posted by Dana Liebelson; the list includes five long buried records of a mix of critical events ranging from the 702-page document detailing illegal CIA activity to insider training to the location of 122 levees identified but kept secret by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The problem, advocates for open government agree, is in the enforcement of what is good legislation, hard-won by relentless champions.

Though Americans are regularly affected by records liberated by federal watchdog agencies such as the National Security Archives and POGO, relatively few have the experience of submitting and tracking a real-life request for information. Matt Ehling, Twin Cities documentary producer, president of Public Record Media, journalist and intrepid researcher, is one citizen who has exercised his right to access: 

Here is Matt’s story in his own words:

Here’s my experience with FOIA in the couple years that I’ve used it intensively:

The federal FOIA law is, for the most part, having major enforcement problems.  While I can get Minnesota government agencies to respond to our state level Data Practices Act, I have had real trouble getting material back from federal agencies.

For example – for two years, I have been trying to get a series of documents out of the Coast Guard, with no success.  After seeing an Associated Press article in early 2011 about the federal DHS subjecting FOIA requests to political scrutiny, I sent a request to Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which the Coast Guard is a component, to see if they had interceded in my Coast Guard request.  

DHS initially denied having any documents related to my request.  I told them that – at minimum – they must have the request itself on file, as well as processing paperwork.  They eventually sent me six pages of documents related to the processing of my DHS request, with an e-mail recipient’s name blacked out.  

I submitted an administrative appeal to contest the redaction of the recipient’s name, and waited for several months for a reply.  Eventually, I received a letter from an administrative law judge who had reviewed the appeal, and ruled in our favor.  He remanded the issue back to DHS, and urged them to review their redaction.  As of today (another several months later) DHS has not acted on this matter.  

In addition, the Coast Guard has still not produced any documents after two years.

I am currently in federal court on another FOIA matter, trying to get the Justice Department to release legal opinions about the use of lethal force via UAVs [Unarmed Aerial Vehicles] within the jurisdiction of the United States.  They denied my request for these documents at the end of last year.  There are several related suits currently underway (by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Times, and the First Amendment Coalition.)

Documents are here:



 Coast Guard


At last report Matt was in a quandary about mixed – actually contradictory – messages from the Justice Department concerning the disposition of this more recent case. 

As anyone who has submitted a FOIA request knows, Matt’s experience is typical.  Time will tell the outcome and its ramifications – and Matt is a patient and persistent requester with a positive mental attitude.  The articles by Tom Blanton at NSA and Dana Liebelson at POGO engender hope and affirm that, though the system may be slow, FOIA states unequivocally that freedom of information is a basic tenet of an open democracy.

A great help to those who may lack the knowledge or chutzpah to submit a FOIA request would be an opportunity to hear from individuals and organizations in this community who have made the leap into the bureaucratic abyss.  If you have experience you are willing to share, please contact me (  If you are willing to share the story of your quest, regardless of the outcome, your experience will be shared with others who have an information need and a right know.  It would be a great way to celebrate the 46th birthday of the Freedom of Information Act.

Selected listing of articles on FOI issues previously posted in Poking Around:·




To Quote Is to Honor — and Usually to Agree

I always have a quotation for everything – It saves original thinking

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)

One joy of a Monday morning is the illustrated quotation on the editorial page of the Star Tribune.  Yesterday’s delightful editorial “cartoon” struck a chord in light of my most recent blog post – a post that featured not one but three quotes.  Though  inclined to agree with my beloved Sayers, I assured myself that those quotes from Emily Bronte, Heraclitus and Christopher Robin reflect not so much the limits of my original thinking as a robust range of quotable sources.

Truth to tell, I love quotations.  First, the thoughts of wise men and women spark my own thought processes.  They help me focus, to drill down on a fuzzy idea until it takes shape and form that can be expressed in words.   Quoting Louisa May Alcott, “I like good strong words that mean something.”

Quotes help me untangle ideas that are tied up in knots, that yearn to be free of the web I’ve woven around them, to express themselves.

A cardinal virtue of quotes is that they invariably affirm what I am already thinking.  Of course I skim through the lists of quotes in my head and in my handy book of quotations  until I find articulate bon mots from those with whom I agree.  Along the way I consider briefly the ideas of those with whom I differ, silently countering their misconceptions  by quoting those with whom I agree.  And so I write on, confident that my ideas are time-honored by some of the best.

My fondness for quotes may be in the DNA.  It was my Irish Grandpa Treacy whom I never knew who was oft quoted as having said:  “the man has good ideas – at least they do be my ideas….”