Monthly Archives: November 2014

Indy First Day/Small Business Saturday, November 29

Reading is such a personal thing to me, I’d much rather give someone a

gift certificate to a bookstore, and let that person choose his or her own books.

Writer & journalist, Erik Larson

A gift suggestion to consider as you work your way down this season’s holiday shopping list.  A best path  to the perfect book – – or the gift certificate — starts with a  visit to a favorite indie bookstores on Small Business Saturday, November 29, 2014 – a day now known to bibliophiles as Indies First day!

 The Indies First campaign was the brainchild of Sherman Alexie who proposed last year that authors celebrate Small Business Saturday by lending a hand at their favorite indie bookstore. Gaiman’s “audacious and imaginative” idea caught on – over 100 writers helped out at their favorite indie. Indies First became an instant Tradition!

This year, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) introduced Upstream, an independent bookstore-author partnership that builds on Alexie’s Indies First idea. (

And in anticipation of Small Business Saturday 2014 writers Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer joined the campaign. Earlier this year Gaiman and Palmer penned a delightful letter to their fellow authors in which they describe their personal love affairs with indies…. “Neil wanted to be an author when he grew up. But if he wasn’t an author, he thought, the best possible profession would be working in a bookshop, pointing people at books they might like, ordering books for them, divining with some kind of superhuman ability that the book with the blue cover that their granny needed was actually Forever Amber, and otherwise making people’s lives better while being in bookshops.”

Palmer’s affair began with a more casual encounter: “Before she started working on her first book, Amanda walked into the Trident Bookstore on Newbury Street in Boston. She wasn’t even in there to browse books…she was in there to go to the bathroom, like you do…On her walk through the store, she noticed a book called Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, sitting on the Staff Picks table. Amanda remembered seeing Brene’s TED talk about fear and vulnerability, and picked up the book, which she started reading and couldn’t put down. She bought it.   Two months later, Amanda wrote Brene a fan letter, and then Brene wrote the introduction for Palmer’s new book.”

Gaiman and Palmer conclude that “the Internet cannot make this magic happen. It cannot suggest books you have no idea you want. There’s nothing like the human, organic serendipity of an independent bookshop, where people who read and love books share their love with others.”

The Indie’s First campaign ( features an up-dated listing of bookstore events scheduled for Small Business Saturday. Conveniently arranged by author and bookstore the list offers location site and brief description of events. Minnesota Indie First participants include these – be sure to check the listing for more complete information and for last minute updates:

  • An Open Book – Wadena – Activities and authors: story time and free craft activities
  • Excelsior Bay Books – Author Molly Beth Griffin, illustrator Jennifer A. Bell of Rhoda’s Rock Hunt, 1:00-3:00
  • Magers & Quinn – Minneapolis – Will Alexander, Anders Nilsen and Charlie Quimby will be selling books all afternoon
  • Red Balloon – St. Paul –Personal shopping with William Alexander, Michael Dahl, Brian Farrey, Michael Hall, David LaRochelle, Carrie Mesrobian, Stephen Shaskan, Trisha Speed Shaskan and Anne Ursu.
  • Scout & Morban Books – Cambridge – Stan Tekiela, Holly Harden
  • Valley Bookseller – Stillwater – local authors
  • Wild Rumpus – Minneapolis – William Alexander, Michael Hall, Lauren Stringer





Walking – and Thinking – about how to end hunger


All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking

Friedrich Nietzsche

Which is why it seems to me that the Walk to End Hunger offers a chance to conceive some truly great thoughts about hunger – such as What’s wrong with a society that endures a system that tolerates hunger – that allows the albatross of hunger to hang around the neck of the body politic?

In this community thousands of good people, many of them volunteers, are working without stint to manage the crisis, to provide healthy food in a supportive environment, to reach out to seniors, families, children, homebound, immigrants, friends, families and neighbors in need. Corporations, grocers, people of faith, hobby farmers, coops, youth groups, community gardeners and others donate food and raise funds in creative and generous efforts to stem the tide of hunger.

And together we Walk to End Hunger on Thanksgiving Day. Hundreds of hardy walkers will gather near dawn at the Mall of America where the only commercial enterprise doing business will be the coffee shops that offer trekkers a welcome break along the way. I’ll be there walking for Neighbors, Inc. – and I’ll be trying to think “truly great thoughts” about whether this is the only option. I’ll remember a time not long ago when Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern put partisanship aside for the shared purpose of crafting ways to feed the most vulnerable members of our global community.

Truth to tell, the Walk is fun — good people, great kids, healthy exercise, a worthy cause. Soon the walkers go home to a hearty Thanksgiving feast, the exhibits are toted off, the politicians move on, the dust settles and the shoppers descend. Soon the proceeds will be totaled and credited to sponsoring nonprofits.

The Walk to End Hunger matters because people do care and they do make the effort to engage. My hope is that The Walk spurs some “truly great thoughts” about the prevailing conditions that make this display of support necessary. What would happen if each of us took time to think and share some “truly great thoughts” about the issues, the barriers, the possibilities and the countless good reasons we should not only walk but think and talk and act as a society to end hunger in this community, the nation and the world.

Please join me in the Walk or support me with a donation.



Post Office Closings Call for National Day of Action

For eons we have heard murmurs, then shouts, of post offices closings. No problem, we thought, as we skimmed lists of closings in towns we couldn’t find on a map. Not our problem – we’ve got e-mail; we can buy stamps at any big box or grocery store; we’ve more delivery drop offs than mailboxes; we pay the bills online. Folks just need to get with the times.

It wasn’t till I learned that four postal unions (the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the Rural Letter Carriers’ Association) are joining forces for a Day of Action on Friday, November 14, that I paused to consider the enormity of the cuts, the hardships on real people and real communities.

A story from my youth came to mind – the story of my beloved and appropriately named Aunt Nell Mahling, the ebullient postmistress and information hub of Randall Minnesota.

I thought, too, of something Winona LaDuke once said:

 Post office closures in the Dakotas and Minnesota will impact many communities, but the White Earth reservation villages, and other tribal towns of Squaw Lake, Ponemah, Brookston in Minnesota, and Manderson, Wounded Knee and Wakpala (South Dakota) as well as Mandaree in North Dakota will mean hardships for a largely Native community.

 Then I remembered a piece I had read not long ago in the Rural Blog about the flawed data-driven decisions to close rural post offices; the fact is that USPS rests its service studies on electronic scanning equipment on its automated mail sorters. Because rural newspapers mail to their readers, and because many newspapers are not sorted on these machines, those transactions simply don’t count when decisions are made about post office closings.

As with almost any issue, the more I thought the more complicated the questions grew – and the more resources I found. A quick search soon led me to Save the Post Office, an extraordinary site edited as a labor of love by an independent blogger, Steve Hutkins, who is by day a literature professor at Gallatin School of NYU. (

In no time I was immersed in the stories of historic post offices; I found amazing slides showing beautiful public art and grand buildings being retrofitted as posh shopping malls and eateries. (

I learned about the push for and purpose of VPO’s (Village Post Offices) and the multiple roles of the small town post office where the spirit of Aunt Nell lives on!

And I discovered ideas for income-producing projects that post offices could, but have not, even tried. I pondered a thoughtful essay by Ralph Nader that expands both the context of the issue and the creative options waiting to be tested.

Granted I have not been paying sustained attention to the issues – I doubt I am the sole denier. It is both timely and necessary for those who are closer to the hub of the problem, including the union members, to speak out on November 14.

My hope is that the press, especially the urban media, take heed and that we the people listen and learn. We all have skin in this game… It’s not just remote rural towns that are at risk – this is an issue that affects the economy, the flow of ideas and information, our collective concern for the public good.



Chicago’s Pullman Village Destined for National Park Status?

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning…proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Carl Sandburg

Sandburg’s Chicago – part of it at least – is about to go national. Before Thanksgiving 2014 President Obama is expected to name the historic Pullman neighborhood of Chicago as a national historic park. Though there is no such thing as political certainty these days, the President intends to use the Antiquities Act to fulfill a long-treasured dream of many preservationists in this Southside Chicago community. (

George Pullman for whom the neighborhood is named had a vision of a company town. As President of Pullman’s Palace Car Company, the luxury railroad passenger-car manufacturing company, he dreamed of developing a model village for his workers. By so doing he hoped to attract skilled laborers and create a healthy environment and productive workforce disinclined to strike.

Architect Solon Beman was chosen to design the planned community.Joining Beman were landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett and civil engineer, Benzette Williams. The concept was modeled on the towns of Essen, German and Saltaire, England.

The model town began on May 26, 1880, on a 4000 acre expanse of land along the western shore of Lake Calumet; Pullman paid $800,00 to buy the tract from 75 land owners. Pullman was 13 miles south of Chicago, linked to the loop by the Illinois Central Railroad and to the world by Lake Calumet’s connection to Lake Michigan and the Lawrence River.

Constructed by Pullman workers the houses of Pullman were built of brick; homes had indoor plumbing and gas lighting. There were private water and sanitary sewer systems. Houses had character, color, texture, facades and finishing touches that often reflected the status of the owner. Maintenance, even trash collection was part of the rental fee.

Like any 21st Century suburb Pullman sported parks, a shopping arcade, a library and the elegant Hotel Florence. 30,000 trees lined the streets and parks; 100,000 flowering plants graced the neighborhoods. The town was a paragon of industrial technology and mass production. In fewer than four years over 1000 homes and public buildings were constructed; by 1893 12,000 people enjoyed the good life in Pullman.

Then came the bust, ignited when Pullman cut employees’ wages, but not the cost of living in the Pullman community. The famed Pullman Rail Strike of 1894 ended the utopian dream. Pullman Palace Car Company was forced to sell its residential assets. Left to their own devices homeowners struggled to maintain their properties. In 1889 Pullman was annexed by the City of Chicago.

As a Southside Chicago neighborhood Pullman could not live up to the dreams of the founder. In time it became a less idyllic neighborhood, home of many 20th Century Pullman employees. It was the Pullman porters and waiters who, led by A. Philip Randolph, organized the historic Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

By the 1960’s, the Pullman neighborhood was threatened with demolition to make way for construction of an industrial park near a newly constructed shipping port on Lake Calumet. Knowing the history of their neighborhood, residents moved into action. After halting the construction they moved on to form the Beman Committee, an initiative committed to preservation of the architecture of the original town.

In 1969 the Town of Pullman was designated an Illinois Historic District. The following year it was named a National Historic Landmark District and, in 1972, the southern part of the District was named one of the first Landmark Districts by the City of Chicago. That designation was later extended to the entire District.

Determined to expand the preservation efforts already underway activists formed the Historic Pullman Foundation in 1973. In 1975 the historic Hotel Florence and all of its furniture and fixtures was nearly sold off at auction; the Foundation, with the help of George Pullman’s granddaughter Florence Lowden Miller, purchased the Hotel and its contents. Restoration of the Hotel Florence took 25 years. In time, the Foundation opened a visitor center and began weekly walking tours of the neighborhood.

In the early 1990’s the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency purchased Hotel Florence, the Pullman factory and the iconic clock tower, which perished in a 1989 fire.

Today, some 4000 Chicagoans call Pullman Neighborhood home. Some are preservationists; some revel in the unique history of their town; others are fifth generation descendants of original Pullman residents and employees.

In 2011 the American Planning Association’s annual “Great Places in America” series named Pullman one of ten “Great Neighborhoods” across the country. The citation noted that

Pullman’s timeless features have contributed to the renaissance of this handsome former company town. An experiment in industrial order and community planning, the neighborhood features a design that was intelligent in 1880 and “smart” today.

For a great visual tour of the Pullman neighborhood click here:




Northern Lights & Insights: Conversations Come Alive as Videotaped Interviews Go Digital

Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning.

The words of Marshall McLuhan, guru of an earlier time, came to mind when I learned that Northern Lights and Insights, a library of videos produced in an earlier time, has been added to Minnesota Reflections, the Minnesota Digital Library collection.

Conversations with Minnesota writers, political leaders, publishers, athletes, activists and more are now accessible to researchers, readers, students and Minnesotans who just want to know more about their heritage. There are interviews with Bill Holm, Carol Bly, with Evelyn Fairbanks, resident historian of the Rondo neighborhood, and with Genny Zak Kieley, chronicler of all things Northeast Minneapolis. Patrick Coleman chats with Governor Elmer L. Andersen while Freya and Frederick Manfred interview each other. Jon Hassler enjoys a lively exchange with J.F. Powers. Preserved in digital format are conversations with Will Weaver, Kay Sexton, Julie Schumacher, William Kent Krueger, Anne Bancroft and Eugene McCarthy – plus dozens of other Minnesotans of today and yesterday.

The saga of Northern Lights and Insights is long and occasionally bumpy, marked by changes in technology and provenance of the project. Begun by cable advocate and pioneer Dave Carlson, then on staff at Hennepin County Library, NL was originally taped in the well-equipped studios of the HCL; tapes were distributed and cablecast on local systems throughout the County and on the Metro Cable Network, the regional system carried on all metro area cable systems.

When HCL discontinued cable production, NL was adopted by Metronet/Minnesota Center for the Book where Dave Carlson joined the staff and continued to produce episodes into the early 21st Century.   Lacking production facilities, Dave and his equipment went on location, met interviewees in their homes or offices, or found a quiet after-hours interlude to record in the Metronet office. In the late 1990’s the Legislature funded a program to distribute videotapes of selected interviews through the state’s regional public library systems.

Enter the digital age… Video formats were rendered obsolete, production and playback equipment languished, and Northern Lights video interviews were yesterday’s news.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota History Center retained its archival collection of the irreplaceable tapes. Tapes were cataloged, annotated and made accessible to users who still had video equipment in working order… It is the tapes from the Minnesota History Center collection that have now been digitized and made accessible through the Minnesota Digital Library.  

And it is through the diligence and generosity of a committed chain of willing interviewees and interviewers, producers, sponsors, funders and archivists that the taped conversations have stood the test of time.

Thought for a perfect winter afternoon:  Reserve time to browse the collection from the comfort of a favorite armchair, read the annotations, remember the personalities of the interviewers and the interviewees and the accomplishments of both. Slow down to appreciate the legacy captured in the conversations.  Then select one or two of the interviews, sit back, click on the “view” icon, remember, reflect and make a plan to read or  re-read the work of a favorite writer.



Open data opens opportunities for small business

You know it’s holiday shopping season when the toy commercials start popping up to lure toddlers, Thanksgiving dinner has to be moved up so shoppers can get to the mall and small business owners remind the shopping public of their unique merchandise and contributions to the main street economy.

Saturday, November 29 is Small Business Shopping Day, a day to shop local and a prompt to highlight the data/information resources that government agencies provide independent business entrepreneurs and developers.

Admittedly there’s more information than small business people have time to ferret out; still, it’s a worth noting that wise use of good information pays handsomely in terms of time and investment saved and income produced. Bill Gates, who once qualified as a small businessman, has pointed out that good advice, combined with good ideas, is the secret of success.

Good advice is the purported business of several government agencies, programs and resources. Small Business Shopping Day offers a reminder to take critical look at the good advice, the data, the outreach, priorities, and online resources of the SBA and of other agencies designed to support small business.

The Small Business Administration is most obvious first step for advice. SBA is the nerve center of a vast distributed network of helping agencies, including Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, US. Export Assistance Centers, Minority Business Development Centers, programs for people with disabilities, for American Indians, even a web-based Young Entrepreneur Series. SBA also supports and works closely with SCORE, an independent nonprofit that matches retired executives with entrepreneurs.

Perhaps best known of SBA’s program is the small business loan program. For example, small business developers need to know that federal government procurement contracts for small businesses; 23% of prime contracts are earmarked for small business, with funds set aside for women-owned, disadvantaged and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

The SBA website offers a wide mix of chats, videos, training on how and why to start a business, the basics of entrepreneurship, how to hire and fire, taxes, contracts, regulations, lots about patents and copyrights, intellectual property rights, even a training session on how to “get out” with tips on how to close the door when the time has come.

With an eye to the nature of many digital age small business new sites have sprung up; examples include the Intellectual Property Rights Center ( and Stopfakes ( which deals in part with trade negotiations and international commerce.

Small business developers who are interested in knowing more about export opportunities can tap into Business USA, ( launched in October 2011 to make it easier for America’s small businesses and exporters to access government services.

For information seekers encounter problems or want to understand their right to know, SBA offers a useful online guide to the agency’s requirements and procedures as defined in the SBA’s compliance for the Freedom of Information Act.

Clearly, timely information is an indispensable tool for the entrepreneur. At the same time, keeping an eye on the quality and accessibility of government information is the business of any concerned member of the public who cares about a robust economy fueled by the energy and ideas of small business people.













Thoughts while living with the results of compliance

Though we are mere mortals we are the captains of our fate.

Sometimes we have to experience the consequences of our actions before we realize the importance of a decision. Sometimes we “get it” when we realize that we just consumed 1500 calories – and gained a pound. Or we adopted a cute puppy that turned into a long-lived menace. Or we splurged on a pricey car soon to be recalled because consumer safety advocates took action.

And sometimes we cast a vote for a school board member, a judge, a state representative, county noxious weed exterminator – or national leader — without thinking through that, once in office, the elected official will be making decisions that affect our property, our pension, our quality of life or that conflict with our values.

Back in the day we had  — and took — time to know how the candidate answered follow-up questions. We could check the record. We thought through what lay behind the decisions, what were the influences and who were the influencers, how the views of the candidate might play out on a grander scale. We  read the thoughtful commentaries of investigative journalists and editorialists – who had time and a mission to think things through.

Back in the day no one had enough money, much less the control of the media,  to buy our sources of information much less our thought processes.

Not that we always made the best decisions – but at least the decisions were ours, and we lived with the consequences. We held to account those we elected to do the same. We expected to keep on asking questions until we got the answers – directly or indirectly. We turned to the intermediaries – most often a free press – not to determine our thoughts but to help us figure out the implications of the rhetoric.

Bottom line – we couldn’t be bought. We had the tools, the time and the opportunity to govern ourselves. The challenge – to take charge of our own power to observe, learn, think things through, decide, demand accountability, deal with consequences, admit our complicity in bad decisions, reboot as necessary.