Tag Archives: MN

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.


Pillsbury School Readers “Targetted”

Later this week several hundred members of the American Association of School Librarians will be gathering for their annual conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  The program covers the rapidly expanding outpouring of books that depict and reflect the diversity in the schools, improving reading skills, all manner of technology, information literacy and the inexplicable joy of reading and learning.  I hope to spend some time learning myself.

Even more, I wish I could organize a contingent of these learning librarians to visit my nearest school library media center at Pillsbury School, 2250 Garfield Northeast in Windom Park.  Pillsbury is a K-5 school in which some 650 emerging scholars are just becoming acquainted with the richness of their school library media center, recently rehabbed and restocked through the generous financial contribution of Target Corporation, the redesign of a national partner organization, Heart of America,  and the contributed services of scores of Target employees.

In a 2010 talk to Grantmakers in Education Reba Dominski, Target’s Director of Community Relations Education Initiatives, describes her corporation’s broad commitment to reading and literacy, the commitment that led to the grant to Pillsbury.  School Principal Laura Cavender saw a need to revamp the twenty-plus year old library – and she saw the possibility of Pillsbury applying to Target Corporation for funding.

The result was a $200,000 grant that spiffed up the media center and added 21st Century technology including IPads and computers, new furniture and redesigned reading nooks, and a school-wide buzz about what was happening in the school media center.  Most important, the library collection was the focus of the make-over;  over 2000 new books reflect the time and the student population.

I was fortunate to be on hand September 28 for the Grand Reopening of the Library Media Center – and I was not alone!  Some 175 Target employees who had worked on the project were there to enjoy the fruits of their labors.  Mayor Rybak, Councilman Kevin Reich and Senator Amy Klobuchar stood out in the overwhelming mass of parents and siblings, Pillsbury students, neighbors, teachers and red-shirted Target workers.

One of the most touching aspects of that day was the fact that every child, Pillsbury student or sibling, received a generous stack of age appropriate books – and a canvas bag in which to tote their treasures.  Families in need were also invited to share a plentiful bounty of good food.  These same families will continue to receive food, including fresh produce, throughout the school year.

There were cheers and tears, beaming teachers, proud Target employees and above all young folks reading, showing off their new digs to their friends and families.  This was a day to remember – I replay the event and the idea every time I pass the school.

If the librarians visiting from around the nation – and the readers of this post – don’t have the chance to visit Pillsbury, this video snippet:  http://www.kare11.com/news/article/940125/26/Big-library-makeover-for-Minneapolis-school]

captured by television KARE 11 offers an honest and informative overview of the project, their spirit and energy of the students and volunteers,  and its long term impact on a much deserving school.

Sarah Muench, Pillsbury School librarian, also found time to snap some great photos of appreciative young learners exploring their new media center.

Celebrate American Archives Month!

The very term “archives” conjures images of dust and decay accompanied by acrid aromas and tended by bespectacled history geeks.  All wrong.  And anyone who has ever explored family or house history, faced a legal dilemma, or wondered about local lore has had a brush with paper, digital or other archives.


October is American Archives Month, a season to be celebrated by the most tempero-centric – a time to think for a minute that those preserved photos, clippings, stories, public records and more didn’t just happen but have been collected, organized, preserved and made accessible through the deliberate and committed work of individuals and the commitment of institutions. 


At the time of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial I skimmed the state’s archival surface to compile a random list of irresistible lures to the world of archives.  Over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit – and was amazed to find it posted (sans attribution) on the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information website.  I have not checked to see if the original was edited by that group.


For some time I have wanted to share this listing and concluded that American Archives Month 2011 might be a propitious opportunity to resurface the whimsical list, slightly pruned and otherwise modified – not significantly updated because the month is just too short for a serious revision.


Many of the materials and descriptions here are accessible online; the print listings suggest a link to digital options. Because the digital resources offer an absolute minimum of the preserved record, we need and always will need multiple access options. Though digitization is growing at an exponential rate, its main contribution is to lure the armchair searcher into a passion to know more and to make the minimal effort to learn more.


This random list is absolutely arbitrary and whim-biased  with links to minute bits of Minnesota history.  Each of these guides, descriptions, stories was prepared by a Minnesotan, an organization or a state agency that cared enough about the state’s stories to collect, preserve, organize or otherwise help create the legacy.  Not everything is digitized or on the web – websites are just the most accessible right now.  These sites exemplify the ways in which Minnesotans have used the public records to plumb the depths of their particular interest or passion or legal encounter. 


Tending to the record of Minnesota is a collective responsibility and a public trust.  It takes personal conviction, time, talent and public support.  Without these and hundreds of thousands of other records, carefully organized and preserved, the Sesquicentennial would signify the passage of time rather than the values, the experience, the public record, and the recognition that access to information is at the very core of the democracy we share.  The challenge of today is to embrace that principle so that 21st technology enhances access to the building blocks and expands the embrace of this diverse, informed and sharing culture.


The disorganization is absolutely arbitrary – draw no conclusions. The omissions are legion.  Though a comprehensive and authoritative list would be a wonderful tool, the universe of possibilities is well nigh infinite and digitization is having a daily and profound impact on the possibilities. 


Pick a topic, probe a bit, and pause to think a bit about why and how we  preserve the data and the stories of our state.  Some places to start, bearing in mind that each of these tools reflects the commitment and labor, past and continuing, of an archivist and, in many cases, an institution:


Minnesota Archives, Minnesota Historical Society – MHS, along with several state agencies, is taking a lead at the national level in preserving the state’s own information digital resources.  It’s a monumental undertaking that does Minnesotans proud!  The depth of resources and the collaborative efforts of state agencies deserve an American Archives Month commendation. 


Minnesota Reflections, an overwhelming and growing collection of documents, photographs, maps, letters and more that tell the state’s story – a great starting point for any age.


James K. Hosmer Special Collections, Hennepin County Library – actually a collection of collections on topics ranging from Minneapolis history to club files to World War II and Abolition.  Much is digitized but, as always, that is but the tip of the iceberg – a tip worth checking out however.


Minnesota Place Names; a geographical encyclopedia, by Warren Upham.  A classic, originally published in 1920 and now available on line through the Minnesota Historical Society.   Overflowing with wonderful stories. 


West Bank Boogie.  If you were around in the 60’s and 70’s you’ll be reminded – if not, see what you missed!  Cyn Collins is the collector and storyteller.


Holland, Maurice, Architects of Aviation, 1951.  William Bushnell Stout 1880-1956.  One man’s determination to record the stories of our aviation history.


A knack for knowing things: Stories from St. Paul neighborhoods and beyond, by Don Boxmeyer.  BiblioVault.


The Cuyuna iron range – Geology and Minerology, by Peter McSwiggen and Jane Cleland.


Ron Edwards, The Minneapolis Story Through My Eyes: A Renaissance Black Man in a White Man’s World. Continued by a bi-weekly column from The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder  and a TV show on Channel 17.


Center for International Education (The CIE) – a self-proclaimed “media arts micro-organization” the goal of which is to “make poetic media with people of all ages from all over the world.”  Videos including interviews with Robert Bly, Tom McGrath, Jim Northrup, Frederick Manfred and documentaries on Eugene McCarthy, Paul Wellstone, Robert Bly, and much more. The world of Media Mike Hazard.


Alexander G. Huggins Diary and Huggins Family Photographs, Collections Up Close.  This is just one of numerous podcasts and blogs describing in depth the individual collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.  Re-live the day-to-day travels of this mission family in Minnesota 1830-1860.  Just a sample of the podcast/blogs from MHS.


Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository – built as part of the settlement with Philip Morris, Inc. et al.  26 million pages of documents.


Frances Densmore  Prolific writer and chronicler of the cultures of the Dakota and Ojibwe and other Native American Tribes.  Densmore also recorded over 2,000 wax cylinders of Native music.


The Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection.  The largest non-seminary Bible collection in the Upper Midwest.  Donald J. Pearce, Curator.

Rhoda Gilman, historian extraordinaire,  The Story of Minnesota’s Past, just one of several books by Gilman.   “The Dakota War and the State Sesquicentennial” is a more current blog representing her ongoing contributions to preserve and elucidate Minnesota’s story.  Google Rhoda Gilman for more glimpses of her writings over the past several decades.


Evans, Rachel.  Tribal College Librarians Build Map Database, Library of Congress Info Bulletin, Oct. 2002

The Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Perfect Porridge.  A good compilation of the TC’s Electropunk scene and lots of information about what’s happening on the broadly-defined media scene.


Saint Paul Police Historical Society, Saint Paul Police Oral History Project.  One man’s (Timothy Robert Bradley’s)  passion shared with the public.


William Watts Folwell,  Though  Folwell was best known as the first President of the University of Minnesota from 1868-1884 he moved on from that post to serve as professor of political science and continued as University Library until 1907.  The Folwell family papers, 1898-1944, can be found in the U of M Archives.


This Sister Rocks!  Thirty years ago Joan Kain, CSJ wrote a small book Rocky Roots: Three Geology Walking Tours of Downtown St. Paul.  The book, which  resurfaced during the 2006 International Rock Symposium, is now being edited for reissue by the Ramsey County Historical Society.


Lowertown, a project of the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, interviews artists who live, work and exhibit in Lowertown St. Paul.  The website also provides links to the websites of the individual arts.  A rich celebration and close-up view of this area’s art community.


Park Genealogical Books are this community’s specialists in genealogy and local history for Minnesota and the surrounding area.  Their list of publication includes how-to’s on genealogy, research hints and unique assists for anyone working on Minnesota genealogy, records and archives.  The life’s work of Mary Bakeman.


Fort Snelling Upper Post is a labor of love on the part of Todd Hintz.  Todd offers an historical timeline, a description of the current situation, wonderful photos by Mark Gustafson and an intro to related resources.  Great for anyone who cares of preservation of Fort Snelling.


Minnesota Historical Society, Oral History Collection.  Pioneers of the Medical Device Industry in Minnesota.  A sample of the rich oral history collection of the MHS.


Scott County Historical Society, Stans Museum.  Minnesota Greatest Generation Scott County Oral History Project.


Haunted Places in Minnesota.  Scores of deliciously spooky sites you’ve probably visited – but never will again – without trepidation.


Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi. Postcards and lots of memorabilia that tell the story of the river.


Special Libraries Association.  MN SLA: Early Chapter History (1943-1957)


Land Management Information Center – zillions of maps and mountains of data, plus people to help.


Minnesota Legislature, Geographic Information Services – maps of legislative and congressional districts, election results, school districts and much more.


Minnesota State University, Moorhead, Library.  Maps and Atlases – great guide to government produced maps and atlases


Minnesota Public Records Directory.  A commercial listing of Minnesota’s public records sources.


Minnesota Senate Media Coverage – live and archive coverage of Senate floor sessions, committee hearings, press conferences and special events.


Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes – statutes, indexes, rules, drafting manuals and more.


Minnesota State Law Library, Minnesota Legal Periodical Index.  A practical guide prepared by the state’s law librarians.


Minnesota Historical Society Press, Minnesota History.  Quarterly publication featuring original researched articles, illustrations, photographs and other treasures from the MHS.


The Civil War Archive – more than you ever needed to know about the Union Regiment in Minnesota.

George, Erin.  Delving deeper: Resources in U’s Borchert Map Library, Continuum 2007-08. description of the massive resources of the U of M’s Borchert Library.

Shapiro, Linda.  Art History Goes Digital..   Description of the digitizing initiatives of the University of Minnesota’s collections.


Drawing: Seven Curatorial Responses.  Katherine E. Nash Gallery.  Curators’ perspectives on the challenge of organizing and make accessible this one art format.


The Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums.  A forum for peer assistance among over fifty county, city and other local historical societies.


Minnesota Historical Society Collections Up Close.  Beautifully illustrated podcasts about what’s new at the MHS.  Regularly updated.


The Tell G. Dahllof Collection of Swedish Americans, University of Minnesota Libraries.  The collection encompasses American history seen from a Swedish perspective, the history of Swedish emigration to America, Swedish culture in America, and general descriptions by Swedish travelers to America.


University of Minnesota Media History Project, promoting media history “from petroglyphs to pixels.”

Ten Years of Sculpture and Monument Conservation on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall, compiled by Paul S. Storch, Daniels Objects Conservation Laboratory, Minnesota Historical Society.  Just one of dozens of similar conservation studies you’ll find at this site.

Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records.  Live access to federal land conveyance records for the public land states.  Image access to more than three million federal land title records for Eastern public land states issued between 1820 and 1908.  Much more!

Minnesota History Topics, a list of Minnesota-related topics to get you thinking about exploring Minnesota history.


Minnesota Government, an excellent guide to state government information sources compiled by the Saint Paul Public Library.


Minnesota History Quarterly.  Publication of the Minnesota Historical Society Press.  Available as subscription or with membership.  This one sample will give you the flavor, but there are lots more where this came from!


Revisor’s Office Duties – publications duties.  The Office of the Revisor of States covers many bases, particularly during the legislative session.  This list of publications offers a good overview of the Revisor’s domain.


New!!  Library Search, now in beta test phase.  A web interface for locating print (including articles), databases, indexes, electronic, and media items. Try it out and offer your unique feedback!


Geographic Information Services, State of Minnesota.  Includes scores of interactive maps of population, election results, school districts, legislative districts and more.


Children’s Literature Research Collections (Kerlan Collection), University of Minnesota Libraries, Special Collection.  A unique and inspiring collection of books, illustrations, manuscripts, notes and other records of children’s writers and illustrators.  The Kerlan also offers a robust series of presentations by children’s authors, writers and critics. 


Family History Centers in Minnesota.  One small component of the massive resources of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints.


Historic Museums in Minnesota.  Prepared by the Victorian Preservation of Santa Clara Valley.  An amazing resource with tons of information and in incredible wealth of links.  They offer this self-deprecating introduction:  “This is all pretty high tech for a bunch of people living in the past, but then you probably know our valley by its other name, Silicon Valley.”


Minnesota History Along the Highways, compiled by Sara P. Rubinstein.  Published by the Minnesota Historical Society.  Locations and texts of 254 historic markers, 60 geologic markers, and 29 historic monuments in all corners of the state.


Ramsey County Historical Society, the officially-recognized historical society of Ramsey County.  The Society’s two primary programs are the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life and the quarterly magazine on Ramsey County history and St. Paul.


The Regional Alliance for Preservation, formerly the Upper Midwest Conservation Center at the Minneapolis Art Institute.


Minnesota HYPERLINK “http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind/index.html” Lakefinder, sponsored by the DNR, provides in-depth information about 4500 lakes and rivers in the state – surveys, maps, water quality data and more, including a new mobile app for the water or ice-based fisher.


North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral History, a database including 2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information re. immigration to America and Canada, 1800-1850.  Produced in collaboration with the University of Chicago by Alexander Street Press.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Finding Aids to Collections Organized by Topic in the Archive of Folk Culture, compiled by Ross. S. Gerson. Minnesota Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture.  Library of Congress.   Sound recording in various formats.  You won’t believe the recordings they have preserved. The American Folklife Center


Minnesota Spoken Word Association, formed to create an alliance among spoken word artists and a resource center. Emphasis on youth.

Rumors about independent used book sellers’ demise are just that – rumors


As every Minnesotan  knows

You crave a good read when it snows

Forget the Kindle and the Nook

Stay warm instead with a pre-read book.


The good news is that Minnesotans have near infinite options for second-hand books.  There are used book chains, thrifts stores, garage sales, friends’ hand-me-downs and, best of all, a magnificent mix of committed independent booksellers who know and love their books and their customers with equal passion.   A bibliophile’s dream would be to visit each, to spend time with the shopkeeper, and to stay in contact.  I know folks who pretty much do just that.


Though time and weather limited the possibilities to meet and browse, the Twin Cities Daily Planet nudge to write about independent second-hand book stores opened doors through which I hope to pass soon and often.  The tumult started when the media tolled the death knell of used book stores, a report that brings to mind Mark Twain’s comment when,  hearing the report of his own death,  he dismissed the rumor as “an exaggeration.” A quick check of the web proved that readers can exhale.  With a few painful exceptions their much beloved treasure troves of reading pleasure are standing tall and creating new ways of sharing their wares.


Inevitably, the virtual tour ignited a yearning to visit the shops, meet the dealers, talk about the issues of the day and the challenges of tomorrow.  Fortunately, my friend Suzanne, frequenter of used book stores, was willing to tackle the snow banks for a brief but delightful day of exploration.  Because time was short and travel was well nigh impossible, our horizons were curtailed a bit.


Virtually everyone who heard about the proposed tour had a cherished favorite and passionate defense of the preference.  Folks know their second-hand book dealers – and with good reason, we soon learned.   Bowing to the reality of Winter 2010 we opted for proximity, variety, and accessibility – and we lucked out on every score.   Each stop on our exploratory mission introduced us to a unique facet of reading options available to Minnesota bibliophiles of individual predilection. By day’s end we knew, when we dig out next spring,  we will expand our pilgrimage to independent used booksellers that dot the map of Minnesota.


Stop Number One was at Sixth Chamber Used Books on Grand Avenue, near Hamline in the Mac Groveland area of St. Paul.  There Tom Williams proudly shared his collection and, with equal enthusiasm, the ways in which he and his co-owner and spouse ___ are harnessing today’s technology to improve service.____


Our second stop was at Once Upon a Time Crime Bookstore, a delicious sub-terranian treasure in South Minneapolis, on 26th Street South, just East of Lyndale, owned and operated by husband and wife team Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze.  Pat, who was tending the shop when we visited, appears to know every chapter, verse, author and publisher represented in the rich stock of new and used books in the shop and in the adjacent annex where used books wait to be adopted.   The shelves teem with signed copies, by Minnesota authors and national authors on tour – and the schedule of author readings is staggering.  Pat and Gary have just learned that the Once Upon a Crime bookstore is being honored with a 2011 Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America which they will receive at the Edgar Awards Banquet in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2011.


With considerable effort we extricated ourselves from Once Upon a Crime and headed for North St. Paul where we checked out Paperbacks Plus, an inviting haven on 7th Avenue, the mainstreet in North St Paul.  Unfortunately the store owner, Katherine Harris, was off that day – probably home reading the latest paperback.  That didn’t stop us from relishing the tens of thousands of paperbacks neatly arranged on what seemed like miles of shelves.  It would have been just too easy to grab a good read and sink into one of the plush stuffed chairs tucked into inviting nooks throughout the shop.


The final stop of our tour was at The Bookshop in Roseville, on Lexington North of Larpenteur.  Though the shop at this site is of relatively recent vintage, owner Melissa Olson explained that it had lived at HarMar for 24 years – no wonder it felt so familiar.  The Bookshop has an open feel, with well stocked shelves of general interest, most often recent, paperbacks, audiobooks and an inviting mix of children’s materials.  Melissa Olson, a woman with ideas, spoke of the costs she faces as an indie – space is the major cost, of course, but advertising costs are staggering.  Booksellers who depend on scanners and online transactions succeed in the business by avoiding overhead costs.


The challenge of the day of exploration was to refrain from buying, hoarding and finding time to read the tempting tomes.  Still, the task at hand was to extrapolate the essence and find words to express the wisdom of the book dealers with whom we had visited.   Like all small business owners these entrepreneurs think and worry about the future, at the same time they keep an ear to the ground to spot trends, threats, options and opportunities.  Though every indie would have added a unique perspective to the conversation the ideas expressed by this small sample no doubt reflects the thoughts of many.    Some themes emerge – more lie just beneath the surface:


  • Without question the common theme is customer service – whether it is reserving titles, notifying purchasers, tracking purchasers’ interests, selecting the best titles on the market, describing, organizing and displaying the merchandise, the customer calls the shots.  The extent to which these book dealers and their independent colleagues will go is awesome.
  • Technology in all its manifestations is a prime mover of change in the used book business.  The profound impact of technology is ubiquitous – online book databases such as Alibris and ABE (Advance Book Exchange), Print on Demand publishing, Gutenberg, audio books, e-books and an irresistible invention hyped on the market every week.
  • Though the media are inclined to point a finger at e-books and online shopping the booksellers spoke more often of pricing policies that cut out the independent.
  • The independent book dealers are passionate people, especially when it comes to the future of the book as book.  They waste little time bemoaning the reading options of the day, concentrating instead on the content of a good read.  They laud the ways in which technology can remove barriers for some readers while they are confident that writers will continue to commit their words and ideas to print on paper.
  • Publishing conglomerates are reshaping the book business.  The big guys are baying at the lucrative reader market.  A personal story from today’s e-mail illustrates the situation in which indies find themselves.  A cheery note from Amazon invited me to sell back, at low-ball prices, the books I had purchased for friends and family holiday giving.  Most of the books are not only un-read, they are not yet delivered to the readers!  Still, Amazon has a deal for me.  The mega-bookstore should know that I don’t read that fast and that my pre-holiday book buying spurt probably has more to do with gifting and a miserable Minnesota winter than it has to do with commitment to Amazon..
  • The indies’ analysis of their customers and their book stock is meticulous.  In this age of information glut someone has to separate the wheat from the chaff.   Readers depend heavily on their indie to provide this indispensable service.
  • Independent bookstore owners recognize and applaud the unique niche of each individual shop and shopkeeper.
  • Indies are to be found in unexpected places.  Peripatetic bibliophiles might want to start, but not end, here. Serious shoppers and collectors are prone to check the shelves at local thrift shops that probably don’t meet generally accepted definitions of the trade.
  • Necessity being the mother of invention, indie second hand booksellers are exploring a host of options.   A recent example is an article by Alyssa Ford in the December 27 Strib“Shopping for e-books goes local via indie sellers” describes a partnership between Google and the American Booksellers Association whereby ABA member bookshops will sell Google e-books from their own websites and “claim a piece of the retail pie normally reserved for the big boys of e-book selling.”  Not every indie has signed on to the Google-ABA plan.  Interesting to note, the Strib article describes how this works at the Book Shelf in Winona, a local independent that has also entered the publishing business with publication of Winona: Minnesota on the Mississippi.
  • Though this is one possibility, creative approaches to serving the public and turning a profit are rich – readings, coffee shop cum bookstore, diverse merchandise.   More to the point is a piece by Irwin H. Bush, an intriguing character who opines as a reader turned book acquirer and book collector:  Bush asks  “What if the bookstore as simply a seller of books is entirely too narrow a vision”  He describes a bookseller in his area who “envisioned a collective. One that not only sells second-hand books, but houses publishers, reading groups, writing classes – a whole spectrum of the reading experience housed under one roof…an opportunity for us to think of a book as not a thing in and of itself, but as part of a larger process.”  In his article on “The Future of Used Bookselling-An Observation” Bush offers keen insights and some creative options for indies.


Skimming the mere surface of independent used book dealers was as frustrating as it was mind-expanding.  I want to know these people better – I want to chat with their colleagues who know in the depth of their hearts their books, their customers, and their unique niche in the dynamic world of books, reading and collecting.  The commitment of the indies to the profession of sharing books is an inspiration.


Though there are some sad and recent tales of second hand indies closing their doors, the committed booksellers of Minnesota will craft innovative strategies, collaborate in new ways, reach out to appreciative readers.  They won’t get rich in the process.  Still they know that keeping ideas and information flowing will mean that Minnesotans will continue to create information and ideas, even as they settle down with a truly good pre-read that promises to get them through the perils of this wicked winter.  Most of all, independent used book sellers are committed to the noble cause of sharing a good read with all comers.


William Windom – as in Windom Park


William Windom


Windom Park is just the right name for the Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood that reflects the life of its namesake, William Windom, Minnesota Member of Congress and Senator and U.S Secretary of the Treasury.  The neighborhood encompasses Windom’s life  – from the administration of Franklin Pierce through the presidency of Benjamin Harrison,  Windom Park  residents  might reflect on the life of William Windom as they walk Windom Park down Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Ulysses, Hayes, Garfield, Cleveland, Benjamin and Harrison Streets.  Windom’s life,  impact, struggles –and parallels with politics today — come readily to mind with each block and each administrative era in which Windom was a powerful player.


William Windom was born in Belmont County, Ohio in 1827, the son of Quaker farmers Hezekiah and Mercy Spencer Windom.  In 1837 the family moved to Knox County, Ohio, where Windom was admitted to the bar in 1850.  He practiced law in Mount Vernon, Ohio and was elected Knox County prosecuting attorney in 1852.  In 1855 Windom moved to Winona, Minnesota, where he established a thriving  law practice and a reputation as a political force..  In 1859 Windom was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served five terms as the Republican representative of Southeastern Minnesota during the administrations of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.


In 1869 Windom was appointed to fill the US Senate vacancy caused by the death of Senator Daniel S. Norton. Two years later, in 1871, he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served until his March 1881 appointment as Secretary of the Treasury under President James A. Garfield.  Following Garfield’s death in November 1881 death Windom resigned his position.  He was then elected to fill his own Senate vacancy and served until 1883 when he failed in a re-election bid.


What’s missing from this synopsis is the full story.  William Windom did not just hang out with the DC solons.  His legacy is quite amazing.  The untold story of his political presence  is that he might well have been President William Windom.  During his years in the House Windom gained a reputation of one of the foremost advocates of activist government, promoting a program of intervention by the federal government in the nation’s economic, political and social institutions.  In his massive biography of Windom Robert Seward Salisbury observes that “Windom supported such policies  as protective tariffs, subsidies to business, and public works projects to promote economic development; assistance to various discriminated-against groups including blacks, Indians, and women; regulation of private behavior includingtemperance and anti-pornography laws;  control of patent monopolies, and the supremacy of national authority over the competing dogma of states’ rights.”An anonymous correspondent to the Daily Pioneer Press mentioned the senator’s entire congressional career as “a continuous struggle for the rights of the masses against rings and monopolies.

Convinced that government improvement of water routes was the best solution to the problem of excessive rates charged by railroad monopolies Windom was active in political action  related to transportation.  From 1873 to 1874 he served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Transportation Routes to the Seaboard.


In his role as Secretary of the Treasury Windom was also an activitist.  The Department of the Treasury biography of Windom notes that his “expansionist beliefs combined with his Minnesota roots made him personally sympathetic to the new Western states’ desire for a currency backed by silver.  Although he advocated a gold standard, he effected a compromise in the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 which authorized the Secretary [of the Treasury] to buy silver and gold bullion and to issue notes of full legal tender.”


Salisbury writes that the first mention of Windom as a possible candidate for the national ticket occurred in February 1876 when a number of Minnesota newspapers began touting the Senator as the Republican nominee for vice president.  Newspapers in Windom, New Ulm, Waseca, Redwood Falls and Winona all put in a word for Windom as did the Daily Pioneer Press.  Most promoted an electable ticket with James G. Blaine of Maine for president and Windom for vice-president.  The St. Peter Tribune noted “there couldn’t be a better man found in all the land…He has a national reputation and we believe his nomination would give general satisfaction.”  The New Ulm Herald observed that his Senatorial record, particularly his work with transportation reform “placed him at once in the front rank of statesmen and thinkers of the country.”  Windom indicated he would prefer his position as Senator representing the State of Minnesota.  In the end, his name was not put in nomination for the vice presidency in 1876.


That was not the end of the national buzz, however.  When it became clear that the presidential incumbent, Rutherford B. Hayes, would not seek re-election in 1880, Windom’s name re-surfaced as a candidate for the Republican presidential candidacy.  A spate of pro-Windom editorials touted Windom’s credentials.  Minnesota newspapers sang his praises, while the Washington Star commended his “freedom from personal antagonism within the party, his clean record and lack of scandal, his great popularity among Southern Republicans, his intelligent conception of the nation’s industrial questions, and his straight record as a Republican, satisfactory alike to the stalwart and independent elements.” (quoted in Salisbury, p. 294.


Windom seems to have taken the presidential talk in stride.  He did concede, though, that the deciders of the day “might go farther and fare worse, and they probably would.”  The self-deprecating Windom, nonchalant on the surface was no barnstorming politician.  Vying with the understated Windom for the presidential nomination were Ulysses S. Grant running for a third term and Senator James Gillespie Blaine of Maine.  The Minnesota press, while highly supportive of Windom’s character and political acumen, was a bit dubious about his chances.  The Chicago paper, the Inter Ocean, observed that Windom had “many warm friends here who believe that as a candidate he would carry the Northwest solid in the convention…He is..spoken of as having a perfect, straight and correct report.  Salisbury includes a delightful personal note, quoting a Senate page who wrote that Windom was “more highly respected than any other in the senate.  The boys stand more in awe of Windom than any other senator.  He is polite but not familiar.  We look upon him as a very correct man.  Never heard of lobbyists approaching him, or even thinking of such a thing.  He is a sort of a model fellow.”


History shows that Windom’s fate was doomed at the Chicago Republican National Convention.  The Minnesota delegation went into the convention united in support of their native son. They anticipated that Windom was the second choice of a majority of the Convention delegates who would turn to him when and if there were the expected deadlock between Blaine and Grant.  Windom’s nominating speech by delegate E.F. Drake was a lackluster three minute snippet described by the Chicago Tribune as “a brief speech of simple eulogy.”   Drake’s limp effort paled in comparison with Roscoe Conkling gave a rousing endorsement of Grant for a third term.  Though the deadlock endured Windom was out of the game.  Even the Minnesota delegation caved when three delegates went to Blaine.  Post-convention rumor was that at one point the Grant delegation came close to throwing their substantial weight to Windom but fate got in the way.  After 34 ballots the Wisconsin delegation threw 16 or its 20 votes to Garfield who was nominated and ultimately elected to the presidency in 1880.


Though it seems unfair now, Windom’s rout in Chicago made him a favorite target of political cartoonists. Historian Roger Fischer wrote an in-depth piece on “William Windom: Cartoon Centerfold, 1881-91” for the Fall 1988 issue of Minnesota History, the publication of the Minnesota Historical Society.  Fischer reports that Windom appeared in about two dozen color cartoons in Punch and its rival Judge, the two most popular and politically influential illustrated humor weeklies of the age.  The cartoons lean to the vicious, lampooning Windom, an honorable man, as a “roly poly” Christmas ornament, a monkey, a chicken, a school child, and a circus performer.


In 1883 Windom moved to New York City where he opened a law practice.  President Benjamin Harrison  reappointed him Secretary of the Treasury in March 1889.  In 1891 Windom addressed a banquet of the New York Board of Trade and Transportation at Delmonico’s with the words, “As a poison in the blood permeates arteries, veins, nerves, brain and heart, and speedily brings paralysis or death, so does a debased or fluctuating currency permeate all arteries of trade, paralyze all kinds of business and brings disaster to all classes of people.”  This was Windom’s last pronouncement.  Seconds later he suffered a heart attack and died.  He was laid to rest in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.


Some William Windom factoids:

  • Windom married Ellen Towne Hatch (1831-1914) of Massachusetts on August 20, 1876.  They had three children:  Son William Douglas (b. 1859, d. 1926) Daughter: Ellen Hatch (“Nellie”, b. 1866, d. 1941) and Florence Bronson.
  • The USS Windom, a Treasury Department revenue cutter named for William Windom, served in the US Navy and was later named Comanche.  Constructed at the Iowa Iron Works in Dubuque, the USS Windom served in Spanish-American War, then reverted to the Treasury.  Renamed the Comanche, the ship also served under Navy Department control during World War I.  Serving out her years with the Revenue service the ship was placed out of commission on July 31, 1930.  The story of the USS Windom is a saga in its own right.
  • The papers of William Windom are held by the Minnesota Historical Society which has compiled an extensive catalog of the collection.
  • The town of Windom, county seat of Cottonwood County, Minnesota, was platted in 1871 and incorporated in 1875.  The name of the town was proposed by General Judson W. Bishop of St. Paul, chief engineer for construction of the railway ,
  • The post office for the city of Harmony, Minnesota, was once named Windom, in honor of the Senator.
  • Windom Township, organized in 1858, was first called Brooklyn, then Canton, and renamed in 1862 to honor William Windom.
  • Minneapolis has not one but two neighborhoods named after the sometimes radical Republican reformer – Windom Community in Southwest Minneapolis  and Windom Park in beautiful Northeast.
  • And yes, actor William Windom is the great grandson of Senator William Windom for whom this neighborhood is named.


Further reading:

Fischer, Roger A.  “William Windom: Cartoon Centerfold 1881-91)  Minnesota History, Fall 1988.  (available online)

Salisbury, Robert S.  “Presidential Politics 1880: William Windom and the GOP”  Minnesota History, Fall 1985.  (available online)

Department of the Treasury’s history of the Treasury Secretaries – William Windom, 1861 and 1889-91

William Windom: AN Inventory of His Papers, prepared by CHaryl N. Thies and Kathryn M. Johnson, Minnesota Historical Society.


Parade of Community Gardens

Whether you prefer begonias or broccoli, petunias or peas, roses or radishes , an ornamental, native, even a therapeutic garden, there’s something for you at the 5th Annual Parade of Community Gardens sponsored by the nonprofit organization Gardening Matters. “Community gardening isn’t just about growing vegetables and flowers.  It’s about growing community, both in and around the garden space,” says Margaret Shields, Communications Intern at Gardening Matters. “The Parade of Community Gardens presents the opportunity to connect the garden to the neighborhood and the neighborhood to the garden.”

To celebrate the riches of this community’s gardens, walk or bike to as many of the 66 participating gardens you can visit during the four-hour parade that stretches throughout the metro area from 10:00 a.m. till 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 21.

Gardening Matters has produced a Parade Guide that is loaded with details about the featured gardens.  There’s a great map divided by neighborhood.  Each entry has a brief description of the garden and the gardeners responsible.  The Parade is on rain or shine with backup plans in case of severe weather.  Everything is free and open to all gardeners, admirers and green thumb wannabes.

In addition to the Parade Guide, Gardening Matters offers a wealth of related information and communications and education tools.  “The mission of Gardening Matters is to connect gardeners with each other, with their communities and with the tools they need to ensure the long-term success of their community garden,” says Shields.  There’s an online garden directory, a virtual library of resources about gardening and more, a listserv to connect with community gardeners, monthly learning networks, a workshop on how to start a community garden and regular email and newsletters.

Look for Community Gardens on Parade throughout the cities – places of worship, parks, railroad land, senior centers, schools, businesses and vacant lots.  No matter who owns the land, “gardens, neighbors and novices are all encouraged to come out and celebrate the Parade of Community Gardens and feel the sense of pride and shared ownership in these important community spaces,” says Shields.

When you visit Gardens on Parade, ask the community gardeners on hand about their reasons for participating.  Some want to improve the neighborhood and enhance the involvement of neighbors.  Others see community gardening as a pleasant and productive road to health.  An increasing number find that one answer to the rising cost of groceries, coupled with today’s focus on nutrition, inspire them to dig, prune, weed – now pick and enjoy – their own produce.

Don’t forget your camera on Saturday.  There’s a Community Garden Photo Contest sponsored by  Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC), an initiative of Transit for Livable Communities.  Sponsors encourage you to submit photos of you, your shoes, your bike, your family and friends enjoying the Parade and touring the gardens.  Deadline for photo submission if Friday, August 27th.  Winners will be drawn on Monday, August 30th.  Prizes include a Burley Travoy, a NiceRide MN subscription, t-shirts, reflective arm/leg bands, and a bike light set.

BWTC also created special walking and biking routes for select self-guided tours to gardens on the Parade.  So, put on your comfort shoes, slather on the sunscreen and bug spray, then head out to walk or bike to meet your neighborhood community gardeners at as many of the 66 participating gardens you can visit during the Parade.

Check it all out online or call Gardening Matters at 612 821 2358.

And have a glorious ride or walk through your neighborhood – or learn about another community – by joining the Parade of Community Gardens next weekend.

Ramadan Reflection

A decade ago I lived in Abu Dhabi during Ramadan.  It was a beautiful, peaceful, meaningful experience that has shaped my life.  I rejoice that I live now in a community in which I can share Ramadan with neighbors.

When I googled Ramdan 2010 (which was a foolish thought at the core) I learned that Minnesotans seem more concerned with the rules re. breaking the fast at Electrolux and Viking Hussain Abdullah’s preparations for the season than we are with the essence of Ramadan.  Still, we are learning and willing to learn more.

Admittedly, we have some basic gaps in our knowledge of Muslim practices during Ramadan.  One has to do with the most obvious, i.e. fasting.  Fasting itself is virtually universal among the world’s religions.  It’s not just about avoiding food and water but about mental discipline.  It’s about living a quiet, loving, peaceful life in a very public way.  Muslims are not suffering so much as observing a faith built on peace and good will and a season that is not so much about sacrifice as about joy. Though the fast is from sunrise to sunset, breaking the fast brings family and friends together to enjoy not only a meal but a time of shared celebration of the holy season.

The beginning of Ramadan can be a bit problematic, especially for Muslims in the US and for those of us who try to understand.   In Abu Dhabi we waited until the elders watched the skies for the first appearance of the crescent moon.  Though we were pretty sure of the date, everything was on hold till the word came down.  In this country there is division among Muslims and Islamic organizations about moon-sighting as the determinant of Ramadan’s beginning.  Some ethnic groups want to coordinate their sacred observances with their homelands.  Others want to have a date that is firm, in synch with political and economic realities if a global environment.  It seems clear that the trend is to a global standard – which is why we all know that Ramadan begins August 11, 2010, in spite of when the crescent moon appears.  Personally, I liked the ambiguity of moon-sighting….

As I write this it is Primary Election Day in Minnesota.  Though my thoughts here are tangential to Ramadan, there is a connection.  This election season Muslims are playing a major role as voters and as candidates – and this is new to our state.  There are 150,000 Muslims living in Minnesota now.  Many have roots here that go back for generations.  Others have enriched our community in more recent times as they have arrived from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey and scores of other nations.  Candidates are paying attention.

Even more, Muslims are themselves candidates for office.  Congressman Keith Ellison leads the pack, of course.  Farheen Hakeem is running for Governor on the Green Party ticket.  In District 51A Omar Merhi (DFL) is running for the House of Representatives.  DFLer Trayshana Thomas is running for State Senator in District 67.  Muslims are on the local ballot for city council and school board seats around the state.

And so I think about those quiet days of Ramadan with the young women at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.  And I think about the Muslims in my Minneapolis neighborhood.  It’s time to go vote, then head for the Holy Land for a cup of good coffee and, with luck, a chance to have a word with Majdi Wadi or his mother who so often greets guests with a smile that radiates serenity and good will.

Bridges Spans a Diverse Network

As a newcomer to the Bridges Network I am learning with every message about the breadth and depth of this dynamic system.  I posed a series of questions to Larry Walker, a committed volunteer who provides the energy, ideas and daily effort that forge the links and build the network. Larry answered these questions so completely that I learned and want to share what I learned by forthrightly presenting a Q&A we conducted via email.  Larry’s enthusiasm for the project is evident.  I want to share the information and that spirit.  Please note that membership in the Bridges Network is free and open to all.  An email to Larry Walker (lwalkerKMI@aol.com) is all that’s required.  MT

What are the roots of the Bridges project?  Did it grow from some sort of grassroots push?

Larry: In 2000 or 2001 Hector Garcia attended a meeting between immigrant groups and the INS.  (now the US Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS)  When it was over, he was dismayed as both sides were louder and angrier than when they started.  He went to Curt Aljets, the INS Director for Minnesota, and suggested that they begin an Immigrant Community Roundtable dedicated to respectful dialogue.  This was done, and the Roundtables have operated on a quarterly basis since then.  They achieved the goal of smoothing the conversation between the government and the immigrants.  Minnesota now has the best relationship (measured in terms of complaints to the INS) in the country.

Besides moderating the Roundtables, Hector instituted the brilliant idea of initiating Action Groups at each Roundtable.  An Action Group could be started on any issue that two or more people were interested in.  Over 30 Action Groups have operated with good results, and two generated national solutions.  One created the Immigrant Orientation Guide which the INS adopted and created a more generic version and which is distributed in 12 languages.  Another created the InfoPass system which enables immigrants to make online reservations to meet with INS officers.

In 2003, I met Hector and began attending his Roundtables.  At one of these, two action groups were formed, one to address improving immigrant education and the other to address improving information flow to immigrants.  They quickly realized they were addressing very similar issues, so they merged.  I volunteered for this group.  About 10 people met three times and conceived the Bridges Email Network as a method to proactively reach out to the immigrant communities.  Being more ‘technical’ than many of them, I ended up running it.

How do you describe the reach of the Network – I know it’s very inclusive which makes it unique

Larry: Anyone can join Bridges, so it is totally open.  In the beginning we had six members, only 60% of the action group joined!.  From that modest beginning, we have grown to just under 500 individual members.  Over 200 organizations involved with immigrants belong.  All our messages come from our members.  Key to this membership is that we have engaged the power players, USCIS, US ICE, IRS, SSA, United Way, Lutheran Social Services, Legal Aid, etc.  At the other end we have regular citizens from any walk of life, e.g. one undocumented student has joined and shares his blog even though I warned him that I have several ICE members.

Membership grew slowly initially.  One thing I would do is when I saw an email with a load of obviously immigrant names in the email list, I would copy the whole list and send an invitation to join Bridges.  If the list was about 50, I would usually get 3-5 members.  Then at Roundtables I would invite everyone there to join and usually got another 3-5 members.  Slowly, but surely, the membership grew.

Now, I get most of my new members through referrals.  For about a year now, we are ‘stuck’ at just under 500 members.  We have lots of new members, but we also lose a lot on the way as people move, graduate, lose interest, or plain can no longer handle our volume.

I believe I have a ‘hard core’ of 200-300 who have now been in for a long time — and who rely on the Network for a continuous flow of good information.

In terms of ‘reach’, I am sure that some messages reach thousands of people as our members share the items with their own lists.

Do you have plans to use available social media to build more of a community about the Bridges participants?

Larry: I am aware of this option, but for now have my hands full.  I spend 1-2 hours a day, seven days a week on Bridges — and still am part of two companies — supposedly working full time.

Right now, I am the ‘gatekeeper’, i.e. Bridges is not a listserv where anyone can send anything at any time.  This may not be essential as the quality of the messages we get is extraordinary.  I have likely rejected less than 10 in 7 years.  On the other hand, we have evolved an email protocol that seems to make a difference.  Some of the ‘rules’

  • there is a single message in each email – to help the reader focus on that one thing.
  • each email is ‘clean’, e.g. no FWD, etc.
  • each email has a useful topic/subject in the subject line.to enable members to quickly delete those of no interest.
  • incompatibility across email systems is acknowledged, e.g.NEVER make a phrase a hot link, use the full http:// etc. address because links often get lost across email systems.
  • acknowledge who the item is from by including their name, email address.
  • thank individuals who submit their first items (when I notice).
  • let individuals know when an item is particularly good.

I am now hitting our members with 150+ emails a month.  That appears to be near some limit that people can stand, so not sure what they would do with even more messages.

Social networking, of course, would enable subgroups to form and focus on items of particular interest.  So there are advantages — but that will come at some later time.

Are there gaps in the Network you would like to fill?

Larry: Absolutely.  We do well with Africans, Asians, and Latinos.  We have few from Eastern Europe.  There are likely entire ethnic groups that have no one at all.  So more outreach and connections would be very valuable.

Funding?  I’ve never even asked about that.  Is this all gratis (I think)?

Larry: Basically, it is gratis.  One gentleman I have done work with pays me $250/month.  A better personal income would be nice, but at the same time such things usually come with strings attached.  As it is, we are very independent – which carries it own rewards.

In your dreams what is the ultimate goal of the Bridge?

Larry: A nation of Bridges Networks running locally in their own communities and sharing nationally useful items with the other ‘bridges’.  I feel badly that every city and/or region does not have a Bridges Network.  How do they ever know what is possible and what is going on?

I have offered this to one gentleman in NYC.  But as I explained the steps to him, he disappeared.  I have set up a similar network here in Minnesota to address issues with abused children.  It is operating, but is not as far spread as Bridges.  I trained a woman with little computer experience to run it, and she is doing a good job.

At a more generic level, I believe this journey has established a robust knowledge ecology consisting of:

  • The Roundtables – for face to face contact.
  • Website – for an accessible repository of the more valuable items.
  • The Email Network – providing pro-active outreach.
  • The Action Groups – providing a process for dynamic solutions to issues.
  • Persistence.

This knowledge ecology would have a role to play with large numbers of situations where it is desirable to establish an ‘engaged community of interest’.

Do you see emerging issues on the horizon?  Shifting priorities, mergers, cuts in services, impact of technology, etc.

Larry: I think I can operate a useful Network for a long time the way we are doing it.  It is low key, low expense, low tech.

The emerging issue would seem to be more one of missing related opportunities, e.g. our  website is now dated, and I do not have time to put into it.  So the larger knowledge ecology is making little progress.  The Roundtables are also struggling as Hector now has a busy job and struggles to find time to keep the Roundtables moving.

At some point then, the smaller piece we have working well may become irrelevant and obsolete — but that will take some time.

You once mentioned your vision of Minnesota as a gateway for immigrants – do you want to expand on that?  I personally like the image and think it was real possibilities for sharing a narrative.

Larry: Yes, this is a very big idea.  My impression is that immigrants are coming to Minnesota (in spite of the weather) because overall we have the infrastructure that supports their arrival, orientation, and integration.  Our infrastructure is robust: non-profits, churches, government agencies/councils, etc.

There must be an opportunity to make all of this very explicit and a visible resource of our state.  We should promote it, encourage immigrants to come, and benefit from their energy, diversity, etc.

Once they are solid here, then they become our platform to reach back into their countries for mutual trade, travel, etc.  This should propel Minnesota to the forefront of globalization.

For additional information about the Bridges Network contact Larry Walker at lwalkerKMI@aol.com . With a simple email you can become a member.  Membership is free and open to all concerned with providing services and a welcome to new Minnesota residents.