Monthly Archives: July 2013

Reading & Weeding as the Garden Grows

Children and gardening is a match made in heaven.  They are both about starting small, growing, depending on others, and finally turning into something very special.  Still, not every parent, grandparent or care provider has a green thumb.  Nor does everyone have a backyard primed for planting.  And some of us have little gardening wisdom to impart.  Still, we have stories to share, tons of resources and glorious books to read with kids.  Virtual gardening is a great option.

Experienced gardeners and those who remember the farm or stories of rural life know the routine.  Though life experience is always the best teacher, book stores and libraries offer rich collections of good reads that introduce kids to the many facets of gardening – books that tell the garden story at a pace kids can comprehend, with options for experienced gardeners to elaborate on the text and illustrations.

Though authorities would probably promote connecting kids and gardens during the spring planting season, I think harvest season works as a good alternative.  A rich harvest shows the result of plant growth coupled with the caring hands of the gardener.  Kids appreciate the beauty of a blooming rose and the great taste of strawberries and corn on the cob.  Knowing the ROI they can track back to learn about the process that transforms the inert seed into an edible product or visual treat.

As with any list, this a pitifully inadequate representation of the possibilities – just a nudge to remind us all that a good story can be the best teacher:

Alison’s Zinnea, by Anita Lobel. Alison gives an amaryllis to Beryl who bestows a begonia on Crystal.   You get it – an alphabet book about plants.

Beautiful, by Susi Gregg Fowler.  A story about the gift of gardening and watching that gift blossom.  Centers on the relationship between a garden, an uncle and his nephew.

Isabella’s Garden, by Glenda Millard.  A picture book

And Then It’s Spring, by Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead. A picture book

The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krause.  A picture book

And the Good Brown Earth, by Kathy Henderson.  A grandma and a young boy go through the planning, planting, weeding/watering, gathering seasons.

Flower Garden, by Eve Bunting.  A family creates a window box garden in a city apartment.

Farm, by Elisha Cooper.  Life on a family farm in the Midwest.

Caterpillar, caterpillar, by Vivan French.  Nettles aren’t just nasty weeds, they provide shelter and food for caterpillars that turn into butterflies.

The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle.  Check for the beautifully illustrated YouTube supplement.

Yucky Worms, by Vivian French.  Grandma and child explore how earthworms help plants grow.

Good reads for grownups

The shelves are loaded with books for grownups – ideas, resources, advice.

A Child’s Garden: 60 ideas to make any garden come alive for children, by Holly Dannenmaier.

Gardening with Children, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Guide for a Greener Planet.  Ideas for 40+ garden-related projects.

Geography of Children; Why Children Need Wild Places, by Gary Paul Nabban.  Making sure your garden is “where the wild things are.”

Touch a Butterfly: Wildlife gardening with kids, by April Pulley Sayre.  Creating a garden that invites wildlife.

The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids, by Todd Christopher.

Lots of websites

Green Grandparents

Children and Nature Network  (

Junior Master Gardener  (  a 4-H youth development program sponsored by Extension.

Kids Gardening  ( ‎ The National Gardening Association site.

PBS Victory Garden: Gardening with kids (  Accompanies the public television program.

National wildlife: 16 Tips for Wildlife Gardening with kids (

Thyme 4 Kids,  Site sponsored by the Herb Society of America.


Shoutout for Spoutstock – Thursday, July 25, at Mario’s in Northeast

For some bibliophiles Spout Press is known less for a unique title list than for a great annual fundraiser.  The eleventh annual Spoutstock extravaganza is set for Thursday, July 25, 2013.  Again this year it’s at Mario’s Keller Bar, 2300 University Avenue NE in Northeast Minneapolis.

Spoutstock is a cover song contest that each year showcases a new roster of rock star performance.  Featured this season are Black Diet, The Hollow Boys, The Sudden Lovelys, Reina de Cid, Magneto Effect and a host of surprise guests.

Any song is up for interpretation as artists vie for “Best Artist” or for the prized “Audience Choice Award.”  Judges this year are Lori Barbero, Dylan Hicks and Peter Scholtes.  Past “Best Artist” winners include The Cactus Blossoms, Venus DeMars, Dana Thompson and Happy Apple’s Michael Lewis.

Attendees will all have a chance to vote for their favorite performer for the “Audience Choice Award.” At Spoutstock, every guest has a right to vote – and the votes are counted just once.  Previous audience choice awardees include JoAnna James, Annie Rossi, The Dad in Common and Amy Jennings.  DJ Hapka will spin the dance tunes following the cover song contest.

Doors open at 8:30 p.m. and the contest begins at 9:00.  The super-low cover charge ($7) will support local writers by helping to pay Spout’s productions costs.

Spout the magazine began as a quarterly literary journal in 1989, created to provide a forum for building a community of writers in Central Minnesota.   Spout magazine features poetry, art, fiction, and thought pieces with diverse voices and styles. Over the years Spout has attracted a national following by publishing the finest in contemporary experimental writing.  It is the longest running literary journal in the metro area.

In 1997 Spout expanded into Spout Press, a small press that has published a range of titles including A Definitive Guide to the Twin Cities; The Hotel Sterno; blink: sudden fiction by Minnesota writers; Beware; The Book of Arcana; LUSH, Blink Again and others

You’ll find the latest from Spout and about this year’s Spoutstock on Facebook and Twitter.  To really know the people and purpose of Spout and what’s happening on the fringes you’ll need to show up at Spoutstock  on July 25 – bring a fringy friend or flock of friends for an outside-the-box experience of what’s happening next on this area’s literary scene.


For more information contact John Colburn [612 782 9629] or

Michelle Filkins [612 618 9170]

Putting a Minnesota Spin on National Blueberry Month

Like many creatures of minimal physical stature, blueberries are hardy and nutritionally powerful perennials that have served the health and gastronomic needs of North Americans for some 13,000 years.  Something to ponder as we celebrate July 2013 as National Blueberry Month.

Native Americans enjoyed blueberries year round; they called the berries “star berries” because of the five-pointed star (calyx) formed by the blossom.  Native people carefully dried the summer harvest and added dried berries to stews, soups and a baked pudding they called Sautauthig, a mix of corn meal, water and blueberries; they used blueberries for medicinal purposes and powdered the blueberries to use as a meat preservative.  Legend has it that they shared the secret power of blueberries to help early settlers survive the harsh winters.  Some hold that the native delicacy Sautauthig was on the menu for the First Thanksgiving.

Today’s hardy and ubiquitous blueberry crop is the result of research of two intrepid researchers, Elizabeth White, daughter of a New Jersey farmer, and Dr. Frederick Coville.  The team produced the first commercial crop of blueberries in Whitesbog, New Jersey in 1916.

For today’s shopper blueberries rank second only to strawberries in popularity.  The humble fruit is also repeatedly ranked in the US. Diet as having one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables, spices and seasonings.

Minnesotans have a special fondness for and relationship with blueberries. Though at one time the climate hampered production, research, particularly through Extension Service, has improved the hardiness to the point where commercial production of blueberries is viable.  Of particular note is the fact that the plant’s short stature works as an advantage.

In 1988, the State Legislature, responding to the initiative of third graders in Carlton, MN, designated the Blueberry Muffin as the State Muffin.  The official recipe for the State Muffin is posted here:

July is the month for blueberry picking in Northern Minnesota.  There’s berry picking on the Gunflint Trail and berry gathering is permitted in the BWCA , Quetico Park and the Superior National Forest.

Lake George, near Park Rapids, sports a world class Blueberry Festival July 26-28, The three-day event features a blueberry pancake breakfast, a blueberry ball, and a blueberry square dance.  There is an educational booth with answers to all you ever wanted to know about blueberries.  If that’s not enough there’s a pie sale, a pig roast, and the Firemen’s Bean Feed, along with a quilt show, an arts and crafts show, a flea market and a host of kids’ activities.   On Sunday there is an outdoor Gospel concert and a parade.  Contact for more details.

At Whiteside Park in Ely the 33rd Annual Blueberry Art Festival will take place the same weekend, July 26-28.   There will be 300 exhibitors of original art and handcrafts with a rich array of ethnic foods and children’s events throughout the Festival.  There will also be a stage show each evening.   Contact

And take time to read Blueberries for Sal to a special child.  Even if it’s set in Maine it has a Minnesota-like feel that creates the right atmosphere for celebrating National Blueberry Month.





Secrecy Shrouds Trade Talks – Food Policy, Information Issues on the Table

Oats peas beans and barley grow, Oats peas beans and barley grow

Do you or I or anyone know, how oats peas beans and barley grow?

The toddler’s refrain hums in the interstices of my mind as I try to wrap my head around the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) on in progress.  Other regional trade talks, particularly Doha, have piqued my proclivity for perceptive paranoia.  Now, I am focused on two pivotal issues relating to TAFTA.

In a word, I am appalled at 1) the influence of corporate interests on the talks, and 2) equally, at the impenetrable cone of silence that encapsulates the process.   Because international trade agreements seem arcane, remote, irrelevant chats among trusted elite, the vast majority of us are easily duped; in fact, we quietly choose to opt out – we lack the time or interest to keep up.  This in spite of the fact that TAFTA agreements will regulate all U.S. and EU trade and 30% of world trade in goods.

Concerns about the food issues are seminal; talks could formalize low standards for years to come.  Those standards relate to food safety, GMO’s, environmental impact, workers’ rights, packaging, procurement politics, labeling, and other details in which the well-paid devil has his way.  Though consumers do care deeply about such implicit concerns we don’t connect the dinner table reality with the endless chain of regulations over which the clandestine negotiators hold sway.

Furthermore, there are two information threats inherent in the TAFTA talks.  One is the issue of public access to information about what’s going on.  Pre-TAFTA talks have all been held in secret, as have parallel deliberations of other regional trade negotiations. The deciders are enthusiastic about the option to “fast track” the talks, in large part to stem any tide of interest or press coverage.  The second information issue waiting in the wings is core, the potential inclusion of copyright, patent and trademark issues in the talks – the subject of future coverage as the story unfolds

In a powerful protest to the chilling effect of secrecy on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal Senator Elizabeth Warren (Dem, MA) wrote, “Trade agreements are important. They affect everything. – our imports and exports, wages, jobs, the environment, financial services, and even the Internet.  But if people can’t follow the basic outline of the negotiations, then they can’t have any real input into the process. I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant.  In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it.  This argument is exactly backwards.  If transparency would lead to widespread public opportunity to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States. “  (Letter to Michael Froman, then nominee now U.S. Trade Representative appointed by President Obama)

Similarly, voices from the other side of the pond have been raised.  Natacha Cingotti, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, has written that ”the negotiations must be opened up for public scrutiny.  It is unacceptable that the deal is being negotiated behind closed doors, without timely and full access to the draft documents long the process, and consultation with civil society – all the more since US business groups have access to negotiation texts.”

Officially, TAFTA talks began July 8 in DC.  In fact, corporate leaders and government officials from the U.S. and the European Union have been meeting and have already identified issues deemed to be “trade irritants, “ public interests such as the environment, health concerns, worker rights, small farm concerns, consumer rights and other impediments to trade.  Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy at the University of Minnesota is one of the vocal critics of the process.  “We should be raising standards to protect our health and the environment and improve our food system, not lowering them.  Perhaps if so much of the negotiations weren’t being held in secret, these issues would hold more weight.” Kuhn-Hansen’s words are included in a letter written to trade representatives by a broad-based network of organizations representing a range of public interests.

There is precedent for public concern that reflects the words of Senator Warren.  Writing in Guardian UK Joseph Siglitz cites the history of the Doha talks as an example of what goes wrong behind closed doors.  Given this recent history, he writes, it now seems clear that the negotiations to create a free trade area between the U.S. and Europe, and another between the U.S. and much of the Pacific (except for China) are not about establishing a true free trade system.  Instead, the goal is a managed trade regime – managed, that is, to serve the special interests that have long dominated trade policy in the west.”

So, though I have no idea how oats peas beans and barley grow, I do know that everyone has a right to these and to a full plate of wholesome food essential to life;  I also know that, absent transparency, the rights and interests of the public never make it to the table, no matter the venue. Concerned citizens must demand that the talks be open.  In this era of reduced investigative journalism, we must support a free press that will cover, report and interpret the negotiations from a position that is both informed and fair-handed.



Nonprofits SHOULD Influence the Vote

More than ever it is imperative that concerned citizens pay attention to mounting efforts to suppress voter rights.  Though the recent Supreme Court ruling may not have immediate impact in Minnesota, but it is the proverbial sparrow in the electoral mineshaft.

Many times people involved with nonprofits shy away from getting involved in anything relating to elections.  Though it is true that nonprofits cannot support or oppose candidates, they are free to take a stand on ballot measures, many of which have direct and powerful impact on their constituents.  Nonprofit VOTE is a national initiative to promote better understanding of the ways in which nonprofits can advocate for their community and its interests at the ballot box.

To clarify the election rules Nonprofit VOTE is sponsoring a national webinar:

Laws on the Ballot: Ballot Measure Advocacy for Nonprofits

Thursday, July 25, 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time (local)

Featured presenter is Nayantara Mehta, Senior Counsel with the Alliance for Justice, Oakland CA.  Ms. Mehta works through their Nonprofit Advocacy Project and the Foundation Advocacy Initiative to strengthen the capacity of the public interest community to influence public policy.  She also manages the Immigrant Advocacy Initiative of the Nonprofit Advocacy Project.  The speaker holds a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, an M.A. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

To register webinar, click here:



Nation’s First Publishing Hackathon – Definitely One for the Books!

“Cognitive dissonance” some might observe, a book publishing hackathon.  Not so fast .  The first ever publishing hackathon was a big deal event that led up to Book Expo America in late May where it exploded as a trend-setter for bibliophile/technophile attendees and the book community in general.

A group led by the Perseus Books Group, Librify, Book Expo, the AlleyNYC and William Morris hatched the idea.  In mid-May they invited digital designers, engineers, programmers and entrepreneurs to spend 36 hours together during which they worked in teams to develop new approaches to digital book discovery – Note: this is not discovery of digital books but using digital technology to explore the world’s literature.  Some 200 participants showed up.

Briefed by a cross-section of book publishing players participants teams set out to create apps, websites, programming or businesses that can – and likely will – play a role in “book discovery”, an adventure that potentially involves booksellers, writers, travelers, librarians, and, most important, the reading public writ large.

The innovative teams tackled the challenge from a host of creative angles.  At the end of the weekend of intense collaboration the most promising finalists were selected to pitch their solutions at Book Expo America.  There a panel of judges reviewed the results and selected recipients of some handsome monetary prizes.

Book Expo America event director Steve Rosato warmly embraced the concept saying “hosting the Publishing Hackathon finals at BEA not only brings attention to how important technology is in publishing and that tech is such an important aspect of BEA, but this also brings together venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, publishers, agents and others at Book Expo to discuss the digital future and the multitude of opportunities.”

And so it did.  Though the original lure was a single $10,000 prize, the impressed judges decided on the spot to  broaden the field.  Coming in first was the time that created “Evoke,” an approach to discovering fiction through characters.”  Team member Jill Axline explained, “A lot of what it means to love a book has to do with your relationship with a character—that’s at the core of what you describe when recommending a book to a friend.  Evoke allows readers to find new characters based on ones they already know and love.”  One critic observed that Evoke won “because it’s both plausible and totally out of left field.”

A second-place award went to Captiv created by the team from New York Public Library.  Captiv’s prototype was recognized for the best integration of library data, specifically mining Twitter posts to “bring you better book recommendations at the speed of life.”

Other finalists include Book City, a way to find books set in the place you plan to travel; Coverlist, a discovery solution focused on the joy of browsing book jackets, KooBrowser, a app for making better book recommendations based on browsing history, and LibraryAtlas, a book discovery solution based on geolocation.

HarperCollins, declaring these digital discoveries an “industry trend”, has announced a sequel.  Their BookSmart lures software developers to “unleash the book” by offering a $25,000 software competition for the “best reading/book discovery apps.”

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing to Meet in Minneapolis

During the coming weeks Minnesotans will be hearing the name “Grace Hopper” with unaccustomed frequency.  The reason – The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center October 2-5.

The Grace Hopper Celebration is the world’s largest gathering of technical women in computing. It is the venue in which technical women gather to network, find or be mentors, create collaborative proposals, and increase the visibility of women’s contributions to computing. The Celebration was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994.

Though the namesake of the conference may be legend to participants, it behooves the rest of us to brush up on our knowledge of stellar women in computing.

Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) was a pioneering computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the United States Navy.  She joined the Navy Reserve during World War II and worked as one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer.  In 1952 she wrote the first computer programming compiler and later worked on development of the business language COBOL  Hopper’s work played an enormous role in creation of the basic structures that still undergird digital computing.

Throughout her life Hopper multi-tasked in multi-settings.  She went back and forth among institutions in the military, private industry, business and academia.  She was regarded in each setting as a strategic futurist in the rapidly advancing computer environment.  Hopper is probably best known for her work on making computers understand ordinary language, the root of her work with COBOL She worked on a practical language, she said, because she was “lazy” and hoped that “the programmer may return to being a mathematician.”

Upon her retirement Harper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award given by the Department of Defense.

Howard Bromberg, another computer pioneer, described Hopper as a “mathematician, computer scientist, social scientist, corporate politician, marketing whiz, systems designer and programmer – and visionary.”

Keynote speaker for the Celebration is Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, author of the blockbuster book Lean Forward: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

Traditionally the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing has commissioned a poster to commemorate the conference.  The posters have focused on depicting a mix of technical women gathering at the site of that year’s conference.  This year planners chose Ecuadorean graphic artist Jose Ortega to create a striking poster that builds on the Celebration’s theme “Think Big, Drive Forward.”