Monthly Archives: October 2015

All Hallow’s Eve 2015 – Global perspectives on a common theme

It may be that my mini-obsession with Halloween speaks to a need to explore the real roots of what has become a bit of a farce, coupled with franchisee costumes and the race to fill the biggest pillowcase with sugary loot. I think I miss the mystery, maybe even the tricks (like the cow deposited on the second floor of the high school.) In any event, I always repeat a 2011 blog that explores my fascination with the lore.

Two years later I plumbed the depths again:

This year I thought to take a more global perspective to explore the many of faces of All Hallows Eve in other cultures: One modern story I had not realized is that some Irish-Americans continue to preserve the custom of hiding a coin in a fruitcake. The one who receives the piece with the coin is rewarded with good luck for the rest of the year.

Today the Irish, originators of the custom, still decorate their houses with turnips, candles and jack-o-lanterns, a temptation of hooligans who hold true to the bonfire tradition.

Because my grandson is a first grader in Yinghua Academy, the nearby Chinese immersion school, I checked to learn about Chinese customs.   I learned that in Hong Kong the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts was a feast on which the people gave gifts to the evil spirits so that they would be safe and comforted in their travels. The Hungry Ghost Festival was celebrated during the seventh month of the Chinese year. (

The story of Japan’s efforts to adopt Halloween customs is an unfortunate tale. Modern Japanese will continue to honor their forebears in less destructive ways. (

In Germany people hide their knives so the evil spirits are not armed for violence.

My google search led me to a range of references, several of them that described a mix of customs. Lacking the knowledge to question the various authorities, I settled on this one project called “Pumpkin Patches and More” which seems a good overview of today’s Halloween options. It’s a good starting point to a broad range of options representing a mix of ethnic mores:

These are just some of the myriad ways that people honor our ancestors, mixed with a bit of scaring away the evil spirits with a flourish of spookiness. I still hold to my niece’s theory that “the Irish thought it up,” though I do love to add to the luster of Halloween by exploring others’ traditions.

Bottom line: The roots of All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day are planted deep in the human psyche. The customs reflect but do not shape what must be an innately human response to the change of seasons.

Fun to ponder as I examine bags of wrapped candy to assure the absence of peanuts and forbidden flavor enhancers – not an easy task for one untrained in contemporary food chemistry.




World Food Day – Global Challenge, Local Perspective

The Right to Food is a basic human right, affirmed by countless civic and faith organizations. The challenge is to affirm that right for the millions of our fellow humans who are unable to exercise their right. Today, October 16, is World Food Day, an unrecognized occasion to explore the reality and the possibilities.

In fact, the reality is that the world produces enough food to feed every person on the planet.

The theme for World Food Day 2015 is “Social protection and agriculture”, a call to underscore the role that social protection plays in reducing chronic food insecurity and poverty by ensuring direct access to food or the means to buy food. Social protection is a viable theme to stimulating agriculture production and local economic activity.

On the one hand, this highlights the essential role of farmers. As any thoughtful person knows, farmers are the key players in the challenge to fight hunger. Farmers are at the center of meeting the challenge to craft concrete remedies that address issues affecting food security and nutrition.

Still, the challenge is to all of us to take a systemic approach to addressing this complex issue. Though absolutely necessary, food shelves are a stop-gap measure, created by good people and caring organizations to deal with the immediate. Though essential, they are pro tem solutions to a greater challenge that must engage a broader network of concern.

We need to look to the complexity of today’s agriculture infrastructure. We need to see where ag funds are going, what research is initiated, who is calling the shots related to research, support for overall development of the agriculture sector. The possibilities for the financial growth of the ag industry must be matched with the reality of hungry people.

At the same time, at the local level, we need to link essential interim life services with comprehensive approaches to meeting human needs. Families in need of food need a mix of support, not always integrated at the delivery level.

Those who are passionate about the immediate needs of families must be more attuned to and concerned with the political factors that ultimately influence the lives of the individuals and families about whom they care.

These are the voices that must be heard in the ongoing political debates. Candidates need to hear that there are personal ramifications of their high level decisions re. agriculture and food policy. So far I have heard none of these questions surface in the presidential debates.

With recognition of the irony, I think what we need is “grounding” in the basics of the several faces of farming/agriculture at the hyper local level. As one grounding resource I would suggest the series of recent interviews conducted by Peter Shea who talked at the kitchen table level with a mix of individuals and families in Southwest Minnesota who are backbone producers and purveyors of the world’s food. ( Herein lies many of the  answers to the global and local challenges of food security.





Voices of Northeast Minneapolis Captured and Shared on Video

Kudos to Allie Shah for a fun piece in the Strib about day tripping in Northeast Minneapolis. (

Though some of us worry that NE is becoming just too trendy we are pleased that the writer included the neighborhood’s bookish gems among the treasures. In fact, bibliophiles and their ken can actually take a virtual trip to a growing number of Northeast’s gems literary via a video project with which I am engaged. The project-sine-nomine aims to shine a light on the breadth and depth, and invisibility, of Northeast’s broadly defined “community of the book” and the diverse voices of the community.  Find the existing tapes here – more to come on a regular basis   (

The initiative is based on the long-time work of Peter Shea who for several years has produced videotaped conversations with people who have much to say; tapes of his series, enigmatically entitled Bat of Minerva, are cablecast on the Metro Cable Network and archived at the University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Studies. I wrote about Peter in an earlier post ( Together we are now producing a series of video conversations with bookish individuals who live or work in Northeast Minneapolis and who give voice to that vibrant community.

We started this project several months ago when Peter taped video interviews with Chris Fischbach, 20-year veteran and now CEO of Coffeehouse Press, noted writer Sarah Stonich, and publisher Michelle Filkins. During the time Peter also had a conversation with storyteller and librarian Jerry Blue whose untimely death shook the storyteller community as well as patrons Jerry served as librarian at Bottineau and St Anthony Village libraries. We took a break when Peter received a grant to study and travel in Austria and Germany – and I was full-time outreaching to further the cause of open government.

We have reconnected, re-focused and re-located this effort to give voice to the literary arts in Northeast. Best of all, we have made arrangements with the library at the American Craft Council, another Northeast treasure, to videotape the conversations from that elegant site. In fact, our first conversation was with our hosts who speak with experience and vision of the ACC. The ACC and the library are gems of Northeast – and the people with whom we have worked are committed to this community. The first conversation from the ACC was with ACC Education Director Perry Price and Jessica Shaykett who is the librarian at the ACC Council, a unique global resource.

Every Friday afternoon we share the joy of learning with folks who give voice to those who have deep thoughts and much to say about the literary life that lies somewhat beneath – sometimes inspired by – the breweries and pubs that are the draw of today’s Northeast.

Among those hour-long conversations are recent chats with Scott Vom Korghnett of Eat My Words bookstore, storyteller Larry Johnson, Key of See Storytellers and Veterans for Peace, who spearheaded a recent gathering of public access pioneers, local author John Jodzio, video animator/producer John Akre and Carolyn Halliday whose studio is in NE and whose beautiful fabric art is on display in the ACC Library.

Fun forthcoming tapings include conversations with local celeb “Mary at Maeve’s” the congenial proprietor who provides both a platform and a hangout for local and emerging writers and bibliophiles.   We will also be talking with Holly Day and Sherman Wick, authors of Walking Twin Cities and a helpful digital guide to walking tours of Northeast, as well as Jaime Gjerdingen of LitKnit, all of whom have Northeast and bookish connections.

As we continue to learn more and to connect with the expanding breadth and depth of the reading/writing community in artsy/trendy Northeast Minneapolis we welcome ideas. So many stories to tell, so little time;  we are inspired by viewer interest, technology and thoughts of how to build the Northeast Minneapolis community.