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Arts and Wellness activities in full bloom

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Lyngblomsten Mid- Summer Festival took place on July 21 on their campus at 1415 Almond Ave. According to Andrea Lewandoski, Director of Lifelong Learning and the Arts, at least 1,200 guests attended. She said, “We had a great mix of ages, and it was clear that people were enjoying the inter-generational nature of the festival.”

Photo right: Hermes Floral has been in the neighborhood since 1906. Current owner  Sandy Biedler (right) helped community members make “Make Someone Smile” arrangements for residents who were unable to attend the festival. This was the fourth consecutive year that Hermes Floral was a booth sponsor.

The Mid-Summer Festival was a day to celebrate artistic exploration and lifelong learning for all ages. In that spirit, there truly was something for everyone to try their hand at. Make-and-Take art activities were provided by Northern Clay Center, the Polymer Clay Guild of Minnesota, Art with Heart, painter Jan Gunderson (sponsored by Wet Paint), COMPAS, and the Weaver’s Guild on Minnesota.

Photo left: Cortez Lemon (front) and Elijah Davis (back) cooled off as afternoon temperature rose to the mid-80’s.

Lewandoski emphasized, “One of our goals at the Mid-Summer Festival is to showcase how older adults are participating in the arts, and how they’re living vibrantly. We want all of our residents to thrive, not just survive. There aren’t many places where you see people living and learning to this extent throughout their lives.”

The Mid-Summer Festival used to be a stand-alone event, but has become part of the month-long experience of Como Fest.

Photo right: Resident Susie Robinson brought granddaughters Sophie and Ella through the Arts and Lifelong Learning Showcase in the Newman-Benson Chapel. The showcase was sponsored by Blick Art Materials of Roseville.

More than 140 volunteers made the event possible and, like the attendees and participants, they represented the whole spectrum of age. Youth volunteers were especially prevalent: featured as musicians in the art showcase area and the wellness lounge, and leading games and activities both inside and out.

“We welcome this chance to invite the community into our facility to meet our teaching artists,” Lewandoski said, “and to see the quality of the work displayed in the Arts and Lifelong Learning Showcase. Many of our classes are open to people in the community who are 55+, as well as residents of Lyngblomsten. We offer art classes with outstanding teaching artists, wellness activities, and special events through our 2nd Half with Lyngblomsten Program.” Go to www.lyngbomsten.org to view their extensive catalog of upcoming classes.

Photo left: The Weaver’s Guild of Minnesota brought volunteers and teaching artists to help festival goers weave bookmarks on a small loom called an Inkle Loom.

Lyngblomsten is a non-profit Christian organization serving older adults and their families through healthcare, housing, and community-based services. Their services nurture the whole person—body, mind, and spirit.

Other sponsors included Piche & Associates Real Estate, Griffith printing, the Northern Clay Center, and FastSigns of Roseville. The main stage was sponsored by McGough, a construction company with national headquarters based in St. Paul.

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Simona Zappas

Frogtown Radio WFNU 94.1 FM opening up airwaves in St. Paul

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Calvin

Line-up includes 40 music and talk shows representing all sorts of race, class, culture, and religious backgrounds

Radio station 94.1 FM WFNU, located in Frogtown, is allowing the St. Paul community to speak for itself. The station covers approximately a 5-mile radius and includes all of the Midway Como Monitor delivery area.

Check out the 40 original shows, ranging from funk, metal, gospel, oddball country, experimental, jazz, and local hip hop music shows. Plus there are talk shows covering many varied experiences from fatherhood, sobriety and recovering, finding self as a Korean adoptee, local businesses, conservative and liberal political talk, high school sports, and spoken word.

“We have a show for everyone!” stated WFNU-LP Frogtown Community Radio Station Director Simona Zappas (photo left, provided).

“Our programmers come from all sorts of race, class, cultural, and religious backgrounds, and bring their own experiences and taste to their shows.”

They are always looking for new people to join the team.

“I’m starting to work on recruiting more women and LGBTQIA folks to join the station because right now most of our programmers are male,” remarked Zappas. “I’m really looking forward to more folks joining our growing station, and I’m grateful to everyone who is already part of it. Everyone puts so much of themselves into their shows, and it really pays off.”

The WFNU broadcast range covers downtown Saint Paul, most of St. Paul’s west side, and a snippet of South Minneapolis. Those not in the coverage area can stream at wfnu.org or on the app which you can find by searching WFNU on either the App or Google Play store.

Four years in the making
It took about four years to get WFNU an FM license. In 2011, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act, which opened up a finite number of low-power FM licenses, allowing for new frequencies to create community stations across the country.

“The exciting opportunity caught the eye of the Sam Buffington, the head organizer of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association (The FNA),” recalled Zappas. “Sam was the driving visioning force behind the effort to get Frogtown a radio station. At the time, Frogtown was the only neighborhood in Saint Paul that did not have a free community newspaper to share local news. Radio offered a cheaper, dynamic way to organize the community.”

To drive this project, Buffington brought on WFNU’s first, pioneering director, Julie Censullo.

It was clear the FCC would not do this again, pointed out Zappas, so organizers from Frogtown and Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis formed the Twin Cities Community Radio Initiative and began working with community members to submit applications to the FCC.

Photo right: Diverse representation and actually reflecting who is part of the Frogtown Community are fundamental to why WFNU exists. The station actively works to recruit and train folks to run their own radio shows. For more information, browse wfnu.org. (Photo submitted)

In December of 2014, the FCC granted the FNA a permit to build a community radio station and broadcast on 94.1 FM. By April of 2015, WFNU had recruited and trained enough volunteers to broadcast its first show. Initially, WFNU only existed online, as money was raised to get an antenna and build a studio.

In August 2016, the antenna went up, and WFNU began broadcasting on FM.
“In most cases, large media groups or corporations administer and project an identity onto a community by either positive or negative portrayals on TV, press or radio. Usually, these portrayals are built from racist, classist and sexist assumptions,” pointed out Zappas.

“Local radio is a great way to buck off those assumptions by having actual community members speak up about what is going on in their lives, their neighborhood, and their world. It’s a great way to share authentic identities by inviting neighbors to share their thoughts and play really good music.”

Using media to share stories
Zappas was hired to work at the station in February 2017. She has loved radio for a long time.

Her high school actually had a small station where kids could DJ during lunch for the rest of the student body. “It was controlled by a group of older boys who thought they were a lot cooler than they were and despite my repeated asks, they would not let me DJ. I figured it was since I’m a girl,” said Zappas.

“So, I spoke up and reminded the group that the station was for the whole student body and not just a select few. That’s really been my mentality and approach to media since then—decentralize the exclusionary power and share it with more folks.”

She studied media and cultural studies at Macalester while climbing the ranks at the radio station to ultimately become a co-director. She also interned and produced an original show at the St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN). Next, she worked in the Youth Department at Neighborhood House as a CTEP Americorps worker and added media-literacy elements to the existing curriculum.

“In my career so far, I have been fortunate to be part of a number of organizations who have been doing fantastic work in community media and media justice,” remarked Zappas. “This work is important to me because using media to share stories, and gain technology skills is an amazing way to feel empowered.”

Since joining WFNU, she has been working to expand the station and build stronger internal policies.

Opening up airwaves to all
“What’s really cool about radio is that the transmitters used have a limit of how far they can transmit sound,” said Zappas. “I know that sounds like a negative, but for WFNU we’re really trying to be St. Paul’s radio station, so with that in mind, how cool is it that our transmitter is strongest in St. Paul!”

Radio is also valuable because it’s one of the cheapest forms of media for listeners to use, and it doesn’t require much digital literacy she pointed out.

Diverse representation and actually reflecting who is part of the Frogtown Community are fundamental to why WFNU exists and why it is so good, according to Zappas.

“Radio is historically dominated by cisgendered, white men, and the ability to move upward in the field is really limited by access to higher education,” she said. “WFNU is determined to challenge those practices by making training in broadcasting accessible to anyone regardless of their background, and to opening up the airwaves to all folks.”

Anyone interested in having their own show can apply on the website. A number of volunteer committees are open to the public to join, including show selection and fundraising, or the general steering committee. To learn more, email simona@wfnu.org.

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Reading Partners image1 slider

Reading Partners: One child. One tutor. Infinite possibilities.

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Calvin

Midway nonprofit Twin Cities Reading Partners builds one on one to benefit hundreds, one student at a time

One child. One tutor. Infinite possibilities. This is the motto of Reading Partners, 2300 Myrtle Ave., a nonprofit designed to increase the reading level of children in Title 1 schools. By using tutors to work one-on-one with children in K-5th grade, Reading Partners has made a great impact on these students and their ability to read at or above their grade level.

“The program started in California in 1999,” said Karen Casanova, executive director of the Twin Cities Reading Partners. “The first decade was about working on a program model and testing the curriculum. Once that was ready to go, there was a rapid expansion after 2010. “Federal funding helped bring the program to other cities. We are now operating in 14 cities nationwide, Minneapolis-St. Paul became the 13th location to adopt the program.

“We launched the program in schools in the fall of 2015,” Casanova said. “We started in six schools, four in St. Paul and two in Minneapolis. We added five more for a total of 11 this year, and next year we will be in 13 schools in the Twin Cities.”

Photo right: Reading Partners was started in California in 1999. Twin Cities Reading Partners, 2300 Myrtle Ave., started with six schools in 2015, and hopes that next year they will serve 13 schools. (Photo provided)

Reading Partners served 470 students in the Metro this past year, with 570 volunteer tutors. “Typically, we have 1.5 tutors per student,” Casanova said. Students get tutored twice a week for 45 minutes.

Teachers refer students to the program, and a child may be as little as a month behind in reading or up to two years behind, according to Casanova. “We serve both those who are moderately behind and those profoundly behind,” she explained.

For older students who may have consistently fallen behind year after year, the goal is to close that increasing gap. The next goal is to accelerate the reading process so that they can catch up.

“There is no secret sauce or silver bullet,” Casanova said, “but just really good literacy instruction.” She said the curriculum is broken down and laid out so that a non-teacher can do the instruction, step by step.

“We meet the students where they are,” she noted. “If a third grader is reading at a first-grade level, the child is not getting much out of it. We rely on teachers to refer students who can benefit the most from one-on-one.”

Casanova said that typically at a new school, Reading Partners serves 40 students a year with twice-a-week sessions. At schools they have been in longer, upwards of 60 students are served.

Although nationally Reading Partners has pulled back from working with fifth graders, the Twin Cities organization does extend to this age group. “We do this for a couple of reasons,” Casanova explained. “The Minnesota Reading Corps has its focus on younger children. And after fifth grade, kids go off to middle school. They will not teach them to read in middle school. We hope to invest resources in students before that. Ideally, the younger you can catch the students, the easier it is for them to get caught up.”

Photo left: Twin Cities Reading Partners typically serves 40 students per school in twice-a-week sessions. (Photo provided)

“Our goal is to prepare them to be successful on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, once they get to third and fourth grades. But we really want to give them everything they need to move on to middle school successfully, and that’s why we have kept the program going in fifth grade here.”

She said Reading Partners operates only in Title 1 schools and is working mostly with children of color to narrow the achievement gap. “We call it a literacy achievement gap,” she said. “Reading is everything. You can’t be successful in math if you don’t know how to read. More and more, math is word problems. And if you have a strong science background, you still can’t do science if you can’t read. It is the key to everything.”

Casanova said she wished the program had more volunteers than it needed, but it doesn’t have quite enough. “We have been able to attract 570 in two years, but there are 17,000 kids in Minneapolis and St. Paul who could benefit from the tutoring, so we are just scratching the surface right now. The only things that limit us are funding and human capital, our volunteers.”

She said that Reading Partners pulls out all stops in its recruiting of volunteers. The organization advertises online, and in the fall and right after the holidays it advertises on Facebook. A couple of Americorps employees reach out to the colleges, universities, community organizations and faith-based groups. “We talk to people about what we are doing, and we cast a wide net through the Internet and social media,” she added. “We go to festivals, and open streets and anywhere people are gathered so that we can talk to them.”

Tutors receive 1.5 to 2 hours of initial training. They can do a shadow session if they like to get a sense of how the program works. When they get assigned, the student and the tutor take the time to get to know each other and start building a relationship.

“A big chunk of the lessons are very scripted,” Casanova stated. “Volunteers can follow the script until they have an idea of how everything works.” She said Americorps members serve as site coordinators and can help tutors if they are hitting a wall or don’t understand something about the curriculum. “There is onsite support all the time,” Casanova related.

She said that typically a reading center is an unused classroom with tables and chairs. “We bring in everything else, the curriculum and the books we are using,” she said. “Every session starts with the tutor reading aloud to the student for 10 minutes. They ask the students questions, teaching them that they read to learn and acquire knowledge.”

Casanova said Reading Partners is very data driven and assesses students before they enter the program as a baseline. “We also assess the students midway through the year, so we know that what we are doing is working, or if we need to change things a little bit,” she said. At the end of the year, there is another assessment. “Tutors also keep weekly notes, and the staff looks at the notes to see if there are any red flags.” The students are not only taught to read but to comprehend and enjoy the ability to read.

“We also have two full-time program managers who oversee the Americorps volunteers,” Casanova said. “They are former teachers or have teaching degrees. They know how to look at data, talk with teachers and make sure we are doing our best by the kids.” She said that teachers, principals, and volunteers have all been surveyed, with all groups giving high marks to the program. This year, students were surveyed as well. “We don’t have the results yet, but I’m anxious to see them,” Casanova said.

“The most challenging part is working with schools and school districts, which I understand,” Casanova said. “They get a lot of programs thrown their way. We are not coming at it like we are a savior or a game changer, but we try to build that support from within. We start small and build on our reputation and the difference we are making with the kids. Funding is also always very challenging.”

“But the most rewarding part is the kids,” she continued. “Two years in, we are just seeing those results and hearing stories from tutors about how remarkable it has been to see the students they are working with making progress.”

Volunteer tutor does his part to bridge the ‘opportunity gap’

Colin Anderson was looking for a way to be more meaningful with what he was doing in his life. He had been looking at the school system, and he said that he came across research that indicated 75 percent of educators and administrators and 75 percent of freshmen agreed that the freshmen were not prepared for college.

“Throwing money at free tuition is like throwing money away,” he said. “Where does it start to go wrong?”

Anderson said he did not think there was an achievement gap, as so commonly stated, but rather an opportunity gap. “All these children can achieve, but not all have the same opportunities.”

As he walked his dog one day, he came across Hamline Elementary, 1599 Englewood Ave. “I realized there was a school right here in my neighborhood, and I just reached out to them,” he noted.

“I told them I have a love for reading, and that is what I would be most passionate about.”

So in April 2016, Anderson became one of the volunteer tutors for Reading Partners, an organization dedicated to improving the reading skills of elementary students and bringing children up to their class reading level.

“I did one session, and when the year ended I was waiting to start again,” he said. “I really enjoyed it; it was so much fun.”

He said in August of that year he was ready to sign up again. He was told by Reading Partners not to worry; they let the kids get settled in school before they started up the tutoring.

“I decided on two hours a week,” Anderson said. He said that Sarah, the site coordinator at Hamline, made him much better as a volunteer through her teaching. “Now I am impacting two students, and it is even more rewarding,” he said.

Anderson said he was really blown away with Reading Partners. “I grew up in a small town in Illinois, and my parents were very involved,” he said. But he was tutoring kids who might not be able to get help with homework at home.

“A lot of it is that the parents are not English speakers,” he explained. He cited one example of where most of the communication for the family was done by the second grader he was tutoring or his 8th-grade sister. “The parents are providing, but they are all working,” he said. “Or one dad is a single parent and a personal care assistant. He’s a great guy but has a very intensive job, and there is a limit to what he can do.”

Anderson said the volunteering is very easy. “If you just go in there and read the lesson they provide, it is meaningful. But you build rapport with students, provide the narrative and lesson of a story and want the student to give answers.”

“I am amazed at how much the male students get from having a male role model,” Anderson said. He talked about students he worked with, who improved not only in their reading but their penmanship and behavior.

He said all the volunteers bring their own experiences to the table. “One of the other tutors is bilingual,” he said. “I have tattoos, and the first and third graders I was working with were impressed.”

One of the things that blew him away was how easy the Reading Partners program is. “Any time a problem developed, if it wasn’t something they directly had an answer for, they would get the answer,” he said. “You see how this program works as a community builder itself, and you are glad that’s how somebody knows you.”

“You demonstrate who you are, and what you are there for,” he said. “I’m a big baseball fan, and I wore a baseball jersey and got them asking questions. I have a dog, and they ask to see pictures of him.”

Anderson said if kids get distracted during the tutor read-aloud, he asks them questions. “Just do what’s there in front of you, and it makes you look like this seasoned language teacher.”

He said that sometimes, if a child is having problems, there might be something else going on in his/her life. “Reading Partners will find out what is going on,” he said.

“I cannot endorse this program and this opportunity more for people,” Anderson said. ”We can all find somewhere during the week for an hour. Just arrange it with your workplace and ask if you can come in late one day.”

He said the impact of the program is so apparent and so meaningful. “It is such an amazing way to see what a diverse community we live amongst and can impact.”


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20161125_Asante_Totimeh_03 slider

Family Resemblance Photography Project points out our genetic similarities

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Calvin

Photographer Eric Mueller has been at work on a personal project called Family Resemblance since 2016. “My goal is to document and celebrate people who are genetically related,” Mueller said, “and who bear a strong resemblance to one another.” To date, Mueller has photographed almost 300 people in 120 sittings, and he plans to do many more.

Photo right: Eric Mueller, photographer and creator of the photography project Family Resemblance in his St. Paul studio. In addition to running a commercial photography business, Mueller teaches iPhone photography classes at Independent Film Project Minnesota, the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, and the Minneapolis Central Library. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Why the interest in family resemblance? “I was adopted as a kid,” Mueller said, “so I don’t look like anyone in my family.” He was quick to add that his adoption experience was extremely positive; he just finds himself drawn to explore the terrain of family through the lens of this project.

Why the interest in family resemblance? “I was adopted as a kid,” Mueller said, “so I don’t look like anyone in my family.” He was quick to add that his adoption experience was extremely positive; he just finds himself drawn to explore the terrain of family through the lens of this project.

Photo left: In each Family Resemblance session, Mueller shoots three different types of portraits. The first set is looking at the camera straight-on without much emotion. Pictured left to right are daughter Stefani Asante-Totimeh and father, Kwame Asante-Mensah. (Photo by Eric Mueller)

Mueller said, “While I don’t yet know if the work will evolve into a book, a gallery exhibit, or an electronic platform, I feel invigorated by the sessions.”

Photo left: The second set is taken while the subjects are talking or otherwise interacting with each other. Pictured left to right are mother Tara Kolberg and daughter Mikaia Kolberg. (Photo by Eric Mueller)

The project started, as most projects do, as a somewhere-out-in-the-distance thought. Mueller explained, “In 2010, I started searching for my birth mother. I learned that she had passed away, never married, and had no other children. It seemed like kind of a dead end—but then I learned that she had a cousin, and that woman was still alive.”

Photo left: In the third set, Mueller asks the subjects what they want to do. Pictured left to right are father Lee Whiting and son Ike Whiting. (Photo by Eric Mueller)

“I was able to arrange a meeting with her, with the help of Lutheran Social Services. The cousin brought a big box of things to our meeting that had belonged to my birth mother, including photos, and I could see a strong family resemblance between us.”

The project got a jump-start when Mueller was approached by TPT to be featured on their television show, MN Original. He explained, “I shared the story of my search for my birth mother with the producer. She wanted to film me shooting what would become the first session of the Family Resemblance Project, which I had mentioned was something I was just thinking about exploring. That was about right around Labor Day 2016, and I’ve been rolling ever since.”

To sign up for a session of Family Resemblance, visit https://slotted.co/famrespro. A session lasts 30 minutes, and participants are asked to come dressed in white. All of the sessions take place in Mueller’s studio, on the second floor of the 550 Vandalia Building. Mueller uses a white background and flat lighting, so there’s nothing to detract from the power of the faces and the family resemblance they share.

As a thank you for participating in the project, Mueller makes each participant an 8×10” enlargement of their favorite shot.

“I think that people have responded really well to this project,” he said. “Some have traveled significant distances to participate, or have requested special dates around holidays like Mother’s Day (when all of the available slots filled in a flash.)

Mueller concluded, ”I would love viewers to look at these photos one day and say, “Hey, there’s somebody who looks like me!”

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Dickerman Open House.indd

Saint Paul breaks ground on new Dickerman Park along Green Line

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Calvin

City leaders broke ground in mid-July on Saint Paul’s newest park. Dickerman Park is a quarter mile stretch of land located north of the green line on University Ave. between Fairview Ave. and Aldine St. The first phase of park construction—between Fairview Ave. and Wheeler St.—will conclude this November.

The land that will become Dickerman Park was originally donated to the City of St. Paul in 1909 by the Dickerman family in the hopes of it one day becoming a park. The space has had many makeshift uses over the years, including a parking lot and playground.

Photo right: This rendering of Dickerman Park was presented at the design process open house in 2015. The park will be built largely based on the rendering, but certain features have been altered or omitted. (Photo provided)

“Saint Paul has one of the best park systems in the country,” said Mayor Chris Coleman. “We have a system that serves all of our residents in every neighborhood. We have always planned for green spaces along the Green Line, and I hope that Dickerman Park will become a community landmark, and a catalyst for further investment and development in the area.”

To fully realize the original vision of the park, the space will feature walkways, seating, plaza space, public art, lighting, and planting areas. The existing white and burr oak trees throughout the park will be maintained and incorporated into the park’s design. Once completed, Dickerman Park will have low-growing, brightly colored gardens that span the park’s entire width and highlight the iconic oaks.

“The vision of the Green Line is not just about improved transit and additional development, but about spaces like parks where people want to stay and linger,” said Russ Stark, St. Paul City Council President and Ward 4 councilmember.

Dickerman Park is a part of the City of Saint Paul’s larger initiative to create vibrant gathering spaces along the green line corridor.

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Como garden scenes 08 slider

New gardens at Como Park harken back to historical concepts

Posted on 11 July 2017 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The formal design of the newly completed Minnesota and Circle Gardens at Como Zoo and Conservatory is a graceful nod to the past—and the future. When the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory was built over 100 years ago, in front of it was an extensive formal garden. The historic plantings there began to be removed in the 1920’s. Each decade that followed saw the diminishment of Aphrodite’s Garden, the Iris Garden, the Peony Garden, as they were called, and finally, even the signature pergola was removed.

Photo left: Michelle Furrer (on the left), Como Park Zoo and Conservatory campus manager; and Brett Hussong, landscape architect with St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department. Both agreed that, “With this project, it wasn’t about getting bigger – it was about getting better.” Furrer and Hussong were two of the primary members of the redesign team.

When Como Conservatory was built in 1915, visitors arrived by public transportation in the form of street cars. Street cars were retired in the mid-1950’s, and by 1974, the formal gardens—the first thing visitors saw—were completely replaced with a parking lot. That area became open turf in 2005 when the current Visitor Center was built.

Photo right: The new Minnesota and Circle Gardens have a formal geometry with plant lined paths connecting the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, the entrance to the Visitor Center, and the Carousel. All plant materials purchased for the project follow a City of St. Paul ordinance that requires plants to be grown free of pesticides, benefiting insects including butterflies and honey bees.

Como Zoo and Conservatory’s 1996 Master Plan recommended bringing back some of the early design elements and plantings. With the completion of the Minnesota and Circle Gardens in early June, this has been achieved.

According to Brett Hussong, landscape architect with the City of St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department, “The new gardens feature 5,000 Minnesota native cultivars including lupine, blazing star, black-eyed Susan, allium, trillium, serviceberry, bee balm, and red bud. All of the plants in the ground are native Minnesota perennials; hardy plants that will come back year after year.” Hussong concluded, “It was a challenging design project because of the scale, and because we needed to create strong seasonal variety.”

Photo left: Abundant, informal seating was created with several low, curved benches. Cast from colored concrete, the benches were made to resemble the Kasota Limestone which figures strongly into the design of the Visitor Center (visible in the background).

Funding for the new gardens came from the non-profit organization Como Friends and from the Legacy Amendments Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Campus Manager Michelle Furrer, said, “We knew we needed to make Como Park Zoo and Conservatory a more accessible venue. Incorporated into the new design is a circle turnaround that provides a safe, convenient loading and unloading spot for school buses, guests with limited mobility, and larger groups. Three buses can unload simultaneously, with enough room left over for cars to pass.”

“We’ve also relocated our Como Shuttle drop off spot,” Furrer said, “in hopes of easing traffic flow for both pedestrians and drivers. We estimate that the shuttle moves about 40,000 passengers from the State Fairgrounds to the Zoo and Conservatory each year, so that should be a big improvement.”

The Minnesota and Circle Gardens combine native Minnesota plants with flowing pathways, natural gathering spaces defined by comfortable seating, and more efficient access in and out of the campus. The enormous planter bowls stocked with flowers are reminiscent of those used in the original design of Aphrodite’s Garden at the turn of the last century.

Casto Solano’s 16’ tall sculpture (photo right) of prairie grasses and fireflies (whose tails are illuminated with LED bulbs), charts a path forward. “It will show us how important it is to follow a path of preservation and caring for the future,” Solano said. “Perhaps we too can become conscious of the grandness of small things.”

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Como fest scenes 27

Eighth annual ComoFest has something for everyone

Posted on 11 July 2017 by Calvin

ComoFest will be returning this summer for its eighth year, with something to engage all ages and interests. According to Michael Kuchta, director of the Como Community Council, ”The festival began in 2010 as a ‘stay-cation’ concept. We were on the heels of the recession that had hit a couple of years before, and there were plenty of people who just didn’t have the resources to take a summer vacation. We thought, why not come up with some fun, affordable activities to do close to home?”

What started as just one weekend of events has morphed over the years into the last three weekends of July. “From a District 10 perspective,” Kuchta said, “we thought it was important to schedule events in different parts of the Como neighborhood. There will be something going on every Friday and Saturday and, if there’s more than one event, the times won’t conflict. We’re deliberately keeping ComoFest small and manageable, so people can just come and go.”

The District 10 Ice Cream Social will kick things off on Fri., July 14 from 5:30-8pm at the Como Park Street Car Station (1224 Lexington Pkwy.). The Hubert Humphrey Job Corps Center is donating the ice cream, which will be served by their culinary arts students. Paul Seeba, folk singer, guitarist, and neighborhood resident, will perform. “Based on the number of ice cream bowls we counted last year,” Kuchta said, “which is the only way we can track attendance, more than 500 people attended.” Dairy and non-dairy treats will be served.

Kuchta underscored, “In addition to several tables we’ll have set up for neighborhood organizations, we’ll be promoting our organic composting site just north of the Animal Humane Society. Come hang out with your neighbors, and learn more about all the great things going on in the Como neighborhood.”

The ComoFest Art Fair will take place at the Como Lakeside Pavilion from 10-2pm on Sat., July 15, featuring the work of two dozen community artists. A free yoga class taught by Melissa Malen of Studio M will be offered at noon, also at the Pavilion.

That night from 6-8pm, tattoo artist Brandon Heffron and the staff of Beloved Studios Tattoo Parlor will host a summer party in the parking lot behind their business at 1563 Como Ave. Live music will be provided by Union Junction, with food and fun provided by Beloved Studios.
On Fri., July 21 from 2-8pm, the Lyngblomsten Mid-Summer Festival (1415 Almond Ave.) will showcase the work of dozens of artists living there. Darcy Rivers, community recreation director for the City of St. Paul, said, “This had been a stand-alone summer event for years, and it just made sense to include it under the umbrella of ComoFest.”

Photo left: ComoFest succeeds, according to Community Council Director Michael Kuchta, “because residents love living, working, and recreating in this neighborhood.” Pictured above are a group of four women, only two of whom knew each other, out for a walk around Como Lake. Their common thread of interest was the dog, Moppy, who was recently adopted from the nearby Animal Humane Society. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Lyngblomsten is a senior care facility that has been serving older adults since 1906. There will be make-and-take art activities led by organizations that Lyngblomsten partners with throughout the year including Northern Clay Center, the Polymer Clay Guild of Minnesota, Art with Heart, COMPAS, artist Jan Gunderson, and the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. Live music and entertainment will be provided by Lyngblomsten art partners including the Minnesota Opera, Lakeshore Players Theatre, COMPAS, MacPhail Center for Music, Kairos Alive!, Health RHYTHMS Drumming, and the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project of Minnesota.

That evening at dusk, the film “Sing” will be shown outside at the North Dale Recreation Center (1414 St. Albans St.).

Photo right: A blast from the past… a scene of ComoFest in 2013. (File photo)

On Sat., July 22, the ComoFest 5K Walk/Run for Everyone will take off from the Como Pavilion at 8:30am. Benefits go to the Living at Home Block Nurse Program. Registration for the run is $20 in advance for teens and adults; $25 on race day. Registration for youngsters 11 or younger is $10 in advance; $15 on race day. A second complimentary yoga class will be offered that day by Melissa Malen of Studio M at noon at the Pavilion.

For camping enthusiasts, the Northwest Como Recreation Center is hosting a movie night and campout on Fri., July 28 from 6pm until the next morning at 1550 Hamline Ave. A community baseball game will start things off at 5:30pm, with a jump castle and climbing tower for the young and the young at heart. The Northwest Como Booster Club will be selling concessions, and the movie ”Finding Dory” will begin at dusk. Tents will be set up before the movie begins; each family will need to provide their own tent, and the cost for camping out is $5/family. Staff people will be on-site all night, and the rec center rest rooms will remain open. There must be one parent or guardian staying overnight in each tent. Wake up is at 8am, and breakfast will be served as part of the registration cost. All activities will be moved indoors in the case of rain.

Photo left: A blast from the past… the crowds have grown substantially from this start of ComoFest back in 2010. (File photo)

ComoFest’s final event is a Community Appreciation Picnic sponsored by TopLine Credit Union (976 Lexington Pkwy.). Branch manager Diane Monson said, “We’re so happy to sponsor this event, which we see as a way of saying thank you to the neighborhood. There’s no cost to attend the picnic; we’ll be serving up food, games, and prizes from 11am-1pm. After the picnic ends, join us for the world’s shortest marathon: 26.2 YARDS (across the street) to Gabe’s by the Park Restaurant to continue the fun. We’ll be collecting free will donations, and any proceeds will be donated to the ongoing work of the Animal Humane Society.”

Darcy Rivers shared a closing thought, saying, “Como is a neighborhood that regularly hosts huge events, some of which have a national spotlight. At ComoFest, the intent is to focus on our own neighborhood organizations and services, and to get to know each other better. There’s a lot of pride in this community, and when people love their homes and their community—that’s worth celebrating.

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Vegan 1

A restaurant that guides you to joyfulness and the unexpected

Posted on 11 July 2017 by Calvin

One recent Sunday morning, it was a little chilly outside. Colin Anderson was doing prep work in his new restaurant, Eureka Compass Vegan Foods at 629 Aldine St.

“I had the ovens on, and it was kind of warm and cozy in here,” he said. “We were listening to music, and people were coming in and hanging out. I was getting a lot of work done.” Anderson said he asked himself why people were coming and staying around, in no hurry to leave. Then he said to himself, “Oh, I have a restaurant. This is what I want. I have actually created this nice space where people hang out and are having a good time. And I was tickled by it.”

Anderson, who opened his doors for business in May in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, said he wants to create more than a restaurant—he wants a space that will be a gathering place, where community members can get to know each other, and everyone will be welcome.

He grew up in a small community in Illinois called Richmond that had as its slogan “The Village of Yesteryear.” Anderson’s family operated a candy store that has been for the past 90 years and is still there today. “We weren’t much of a processed food kind of family,” he recalls. As a Boy Scout, he learned to cook, preparing food in relatively primitive conditions. In high school, he started working for Daylight Donuts, since his older brother was working in the candy shop. “I learned patience and some of the best practices of baking and running a kitchen at the donut shop,” Anderson remarked. Later, when his brother went off to college, and he worked at the candy store, he learned the science and chemistry of cooking. “I learned specifics and a lot about the importance of ingredients,” he said. “We bought cream for caramel from a local farmer and separated the cream from the milk ourselves. I could taste the difference between caramels made from cream the first day from caramel made with cream a few days old.”

He said that when he and his wife moved to the Hamline-Midway area, he found some of that same small-town quality he remembered from childhood in the metropolitan neighborhood.

Photo left: Colin Anderson, owner of Eureka Compass Vegan Foods, is proud to have “created this nice space where people hang out and are having a good time. And I was tickled by it.” (Photo by Jan Willms)

Before moving to St. Paul, the Andersons had lived on an organic farm, where he got into minimally processing food. “We let a tomato just be a tomato, and I discovered kohlrabi for the first time. It was a period of great personal poverty for me, a self-inflicted monastic existence. “We were eating a lot of raw food we had on the farm.”

Anderson said he became a vegetarian in 2000, following a time of “pretty bad health habits.” He said he was a cigarette smoker ate Taco Bell for 60 days in a row just to prove he could.

But as he adopted the vegetarian lifestyle, he enhanced his cooking style, creating dishes with what he had on hand. “Cooking has always been a passion of mine,’ Anderson said. About nine years ago he became vegan. While working in the food industry in St. Paul, he had an initial plan for creating vegan recipes that didn’t need a lot of investment and could be done in a small way.

“I wanted to make a good vegan croissant,” he explained. “We had been on the West Coast celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, and we went to a vegan restaurant owned by the performer Moby. We had the most wonderful Sunday afternoon meal, and we had a croissant there.”

In early March of this year, Anderson began exploring what his vegan creations might look like. He took a non-vegan recipe for croissants and fooled around with it. “I made enough dough so that any mistake I might make with the first batch could be fixed. The second batch was ideal. Croissants were something I just knew there would be a good response to.”

Anderson said he had pop-up croissant offerings, and realized he could make a good living just making the croissants at his home and selling them to various coffee shops around the cities. But then he discovered Eden’s Pizza on Aldine had some hours they were not using their establishment, and he talked to them about serving some vegan food at the Aldine location when they were closed. The pizza establishment agreed, and he was set to do that. But then Eden Pizza closed for business, and Anderson found the owner of the property to talk about setting up a vegan restaurant.

Photo right: Colin Anderson said it all started when he wanted to make a “good vegan croissant.” (Photo by Jan Willms)

Now he is serving ticketed dinners on Monday nights, offering lunches during the week, and having pizzas Sunday evenings. He lists the hours for the week on the restaurant’s Facebook page. He has launched a Kickstarter to help defray some of the expenses of opening the restaurant.

“I had confidence in myself I could pull it off,” he said. “I don’t have very many expectations except that I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to learn a lot, and I’m always going to be amazed and encouraged by the kindness and support of total strangers.”

Anderson said he offers a sober restaurant. “People have told me they have been uncomfortable with places serving wine and beer, and they feel welcome knowing they won’t have to sit down by some folks getting buzzed.”

Although the restaurant is not entirely gluten free, because there is still a lot of pizza dust remaining, it is peanut-free. Anderson wanted parents to come in and not have to worry if their child had a peanut allergy.

Since Anderson is owner, operator and sole employee of Eureka Compass Vegan Foods, he spends much of his time at the restaurant either serving meals or prepping for dinners. Although his Monday night dinners are fine dining, he does not consider his business to be a vegan fine-dining restaurant. “I would call it a counter-service restaurant,” he stated. He harkened back to little places where he has ventured. “There’s one guy cooking over a grill, and maybe eight seats. You could sit there, but for the most part, you took the food with you.”

Anderson said it is very nice when people sit down inside at Eureka Compass, but he finds it more rewarding to see people sitting outside. He said it shows that something is happening, people are gathering.

He noted that a lot of thought went into the naming of the restaurant. “It came from brainstorming words of deeper meaning,” he said. Anderson wanted to offer scratch prepared food, something in which the consumer would feel his care. “You would be in a space that is guiding you to something else; a space where everyone is welcome. So the compass becomes your guide, and it is the root word of compassion.” He said Eureka describes someone doing some work to find something, but when you have found it, there is an unexpectedness to it. And it is joyful.

Besides his croissants and scones and pizza, some of the dishes Anderson offers for his dinners include raw melon and peach salad, okra gumbo, herbed dropped biscuits with white bean gravy and peach and mint cobbler. Those were some of the foods he planned for his last ticketed dinner on July 10. And they will never be served again. No matter how good it tastes, Anderson never makes the same dish twice.

“This is an experience-based restaurant,” he said with a smile. “You have to be adventurous.”

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Escape Room 3 slider

Tired of dinner and a movie? Try an escape room adventure.

Posted on 11 July 2017 by Calvin

Tired of your usual entertainment venues? Want to try something different than going to a movie or play, attending a concert, or visiting a bar or restaurant?

You might want to try your luck with a fairly recent phenomenon and spend an hour with friends in an escape room.

A group spends an hour in a locked room, solving puzzles to escape by the time that hour is up.

Jake Klompien and his friends, Kenny and Tessa Hubbell, have created PuzzleWorks, located at 550 Vandalia, Ste. 311, to entice you to solve your way out of their escape rooms.

“Kenny and Tessa proposed the idea, and I came on board,” Klompien said. “We started the company last summer and opened in March.”
Klompien said it all starts with designing a room, which has to have a theme. “A common theme is that you are trapped in a crazy person’s basement, but that was a little dark for us,” Klompien explained. “Other common themes are a detective’s office or a laboratory.”

Photo left: Jake Klompien sits at the entry to the bank vault in one of the escape rooms. Klompien likes to build, so he does all the construction and physical building for the various escape rooms. (Photo by Jan Willms)

PuzzleWorks has the Vault, a room with a built-in bank vault. Players must pull off a bank heist and then escape. The other current escape room is the Loose Sleuth, a detective’s office in which participants need to piece together the clues to figure out what happened there. A third room, the Hospital, is under construction.

Klompien said that based on the theme, they start working on the puzzles. With the vault, for example, some puzzles have to do with exchanging of money. And there are a lot of keys and locks within a bank, so those may be part of the puzzles for that room.

“There is a lot of trial and error,” Klompien continued. “For every idea that makes it into the room, there probably were a dozen puzzles that are either too difficult for us to build on our own or are just too hard to solve. Rather than making the room too difficult, we want people to have fun. So we want puzzles that make sense.”

He said the three divide the labor that goes into the business. Klompien likes to build, so he does all the construction and physical building for the escape rooms. “Kenny does all the electronics and wiring involved, and Tessa comes up with a lot of the puzzles,” he added. All of them also work additional jobs. Klompien is a freelance business writer for a company in Montana, Kenny works as a baggage handler for Delta and Tessa is a nurse practitioner. “Kenny also was at the University of Minnesota last summer studying mechanical engineering, but things got too busy here, and he had to postpone that for a while,” Klompien added.

Photo right: Tessa Hubbell monitors the screens showing the interior of the escape rooms. Tessa is the one who comes up with many of the puzzles that make the escape rooms a challenge. (Photo by Jan Willms)

He said people walk in with no more direction than to figure out a way to get out. “You find some numbers, find a lock and try the numbers. The puzzles progress. People go in with some cluelessness, but they usually pick up pretty quick, especially if they have done escape rooms before. They know everything is there for a reason.”

Participants sign up for an escape room on the company’s website, puzzlemn.com. There’s a drop-down calendar, and you pick which room you want and when you want to do it. You pay and come in, sign a waiver and get a brief introduction to the room. You have an hour to solve the puzzles to get out,” Klompien stated.

“Signing a waiver is a requirement for insurance purposes,” he noted. “Escape rooms are a new enough concept that the insurance industry has a hard time classifying us. At first, they wanted to put us in the same category as carnivals. But there is nothing physical in the room; it is all mental.”

He said they do ask people not to take photographs in the rooms, and visitors seem to understand that.

The usual number for a room can vary from four to ten. “We have had just two come, but it usually proves to be a little too much for them. We have tried groups of 11 or 12. In at least one of the rooms, there just isn’t enough space for that many. And there is also the element that there are too many cooks in the kitchen,” he joked.

He said the success rate for people solving the puzzles and escaping from the Vault is 30 percent, and a little under 50 percent for solving the Loose Sleuth. The business has also connected with Lake Monster Brewery next door to give puzzle participants a token they can use for a free brew. “They can celebrate their escape, or drown their sorrows if they weren’t able to solve the puzzle,” Klompien commented.

Klompien said what drew him to the business was the creativity in developing the rooms, as well as the mental challenges of it. “I don’t

particularly like sitting down and doing Sudoku or anything, but the creativity of this also drew me in,” he acknowledged. “People who seem to do the best are people who think a little bit in that way,” he said, referring to puzzle players. He also said younger people do well, based on all the video games they might play.

He said they might adjust the rooms a little bit for holidays like Halloween, but there is a limit to how much they can alter a room.

He said the escape rooms are popular in Asia and Europe, where they are more established. “It seems like it has only been the last five years or so the trend has come to North America,” he noted. “It has erupted in the last few years. When we were kicking this idea around, there were three in the area, with a fourth in production. Now there are at least a dozen locally.”

PuzzleWorks stands out from the others, according to Klompien, because they design and create their own rooms and build everything on the site. “We’re local and proud of it because within the industry there are some chains and props are purchased.”

“The business has continued to grow each month it has been open,” Klompien stated. “I have been surprised at the interest in the escape rooms. For a lot of people, it is still a novel idea. They have read about them, and this is their first time coming to one.”

But a lot of customers, he noted, have tried escape rooms before and want to keep trying them. “I think that speaks to a lasting trend,” he said.

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Neighbors meet, greet, and chalk up the sidewalk

Neighbors meet, greet, and chalk up the sidewalk

Posted on 10 July 2017 by Calvin

Hamline Midway neighbors gathered at Blair and Syndicate on Sat., July 1 for a Sidewalk Chalk Art Party. It was a localized neighborhood planned and coordinated event creating the opportunity for kids of all ages to get together and beautify the neighborhood sidewalks with art. Chalk was provided. Kids made chalk drawings, climbed trees, played hopscotch, ate cookies and cake and drank apple juice. Grownups had a nice time watching and visiting with one another. The weather was perfect. It was a great opportunity to meet neighbors that had never met before. Even Dixie the dog got involved by patiently waiting to greet the local mail truck driver.

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