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Local author hits the “full EBAM”

Posted on 14 January 2015 by robwas66


“Honestly, I think ‘Ordinary Grace’ is the story I was meant to write,” Krueger said during a recent interview at the Como Park Grill, a neighborhood spot where he sometimes does his afternoon writing. (Photo by Jan Willms)



2014 was a a big year for local author William Kent Krueger, the creator of Ojibwe-Irish private investigator Cork O’Connor novels.

“Ordinary Grace,” published in 2013 as a coming-of-age story, earned Krueger an extraordinary four awards, including the top award, the Edgar, from the Mystery Writers of America. The book also garnered the Barry Award, the Anthony Award and the Macavity Award. The four together are known as the “full EBAM.”

Since publishing his first novel, “Iron Lake,” which introduced readers to O’Connor, Krueger has been no stranger to writing awards. But “Ordinary Grace” has a special meaning for him. The story is narrated by Frank Drum, a boy growing up in southwestern Minnesota in the 1960s whose father is a pastor in a small town, and Frank’s remembrance 40 years later of a special summer in his life. The book is not without mystery, but focuses more on the life lessons a 13-year-old boy is faced with during a turbulent time.

“Honestly, I think ‘Ordinary Grace’ is the story I was meant to write,” Krueger said during a recent interview at the Como Park Grill, a neighborhood spot where he sometimes does his afternoon writing. Dressed in a jeans jacket and a baseball cap, he seems unruffled by his literary success and comfortable in his own skin.


“Ordinary Grace,” earned Kent Krueger an extraordinary four awards, including the Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America.

“I am not Frank, but the Drum family really is my family. Frank is a cross of my older brother and myself. The younger Drum brother Jake is more like me, but Frank is who I wanted to be, more rebellious and ready to take risks,” Krueger mused.

He said his father was an English teacher in a small town, and like positions of a banker or a minister, the position was held in a little higher esteem. As a result, his family was scrutinized closely.
Krueger said his mother is very much like the mother character in the book. “She was not at all happy with the situation she found herself in,” he noted.

Krueger makes it a point to find redemption in his characters. He based one of them in “Ordinary Grace” on a crew boss he once had at a cannery. “Sometimes he was the world’s greatest a-hole, and other times he stepped up to the plate,” Krueger said.

He said his books are a way for him to convey his feelings: “‘Ordinary Grace’ is a really profound selection of the things I believe in life.” He said the excerpts on war came out of his own experience with his father and his father’s friends. “War is horrific, sometimes in body and sometimes in spirit.”

As to what “Ordinary Grace” symbolizes, Krueger said he has never considered it a religious book, but a spiritual one.

“I set out from the get-go looking for a story that would allow me to talk more deeply about the spiritual journey I’m on,” he noted. “When I decided to make Nathan Drum a minister, it was a very natural thing that allowed me to do that. Those of us who write fiction are often accused of writing lies, but if that’s true in my case, at the heart of those lies are truths I believe in profoundly and try to reflect in my work. And one of those truths is this—there really are heroes in this world. There are people who stand by their ideals despite the ramifications and all the pressures to abandon those ideals. And these are the people whose courageous words and courageous acts show the rest of us the way. And that’s Nathan.”

“A good story is a journey,” Krueger continued. “At the end of the day, the characters in it ought to be at a different place than before. And the reader ought to feel like he or she has experienced a journey as well.”

For Krueger himself, his journey to becoming repeatedly a New York Times best-selling author got a late start with his first book published in 1998 when he was 48. But the writing started long before that. “I started writing seriously in my mid-twenties,” he said. “Success didn’t come to me at a young age, so I had a good idea who I was long before I became successful as a writer. Writing is just a part of my life; I’m a father, a husband, a member of a church. I stay balanced.”

He still gets up early and writes in area coffee shops, like the Caribou on Larpenteur Ave. or the Underground Music Café on Hamline Ave. N. Before he moved to the Como Park area he lived in Hamline-Midway, and he would write at the St. Clair Broiler.

One thing has changed. He used to always write in longhand, but four or five books ago he started to use his laptop. “I was dreadfully behind deadline,” he explained, “and if you write longhand you have to transcribe it, an extra step. I thought if I wrote directly to the laptop I could meet deadlines, and it worked.”

Krueger said he only writes longhand now if he is having difficulty with a book, just beginning a project or if circumstances keep him away from his laptop.

“I was in Europe for a couple of weeks and didn’t want to bring my laptop, so I wrote longhand. It felt really good going back to the old way. There’s still a lot of value in the magic of that long process.”

As well as achieving his grand slam of awards this year, Krueger has sold a million copies of his books. He has written 16, with his latest one, “Windigo,” published last August. He has just completed touring with that book, another Cork O’Connor mystery.

He said reaching the point of a million sales is something everyone hopes will happen for them, but it is not a very realistic expectation. For him, even if that had never happened, he kept persevering because he loves the writing—the whole process of it. “It’s the love of words and being able to play with the language. And if you’re not under contract, nobody expects anything of you and you can do anything you want to do.”

“Part of what I loved so much about ‘Ordinary Grace’ is that it wasn’t under contract,” Krueger said. “I really didn’t think my publisher would be interested in it because it wasn’t a Cork O’Connor novel, so I could do anything I wanted.”

Krueger has completed the first draft for a companion novel for “Ordinary Grace” called “This Tender Land,” and he is very excited about it. He also has a contract for another Cork O’Connor novel, but he is taking a year and a half break before his next book will be published.

He will step back from touring and just focus on his writing. But even with this extra time, he will most likely be writing every day. ‘

“If I don’t write every day, something feels off,” Krueger stated. “I wrote every day this year while I was on tour, and I made great strides with “This Tender Land.”

He said that not long ago he gave a talk at the Hennepin Methodist Church, and he was asked how his writing affected him spiritually.

“I told them that when I write I feel like I go to a place deeper in myself than my conscious thought, and when I come up from that place I feel peaceful. That sounds like prayer, so I think there is a spiritual aspect to what writers do. Writing certainly is a way I center myself in a day.”

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Jody’s Fresh Picks and Wednesdays @ 1:00

Posted on 14 January 2015 by robwas66


Jody Huber, creator of Jody’s Fresh Picks at the Merriam Park Library. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)


Walk in the doors of the Merriam Park Library (1831 Marshall Ave.) and, opposite the service desk, you’ll usually see a patron or two perusing a small shelf. This shelf is the only one of its kind in the library, a building which, of course, is full of shelves.
The shelf has a catchy name, and it has a curator. The curator is Jody Huber, a local resident and longtime library volunteer who says, “I’m very opinionated about books and movies.”

The shelf, called Jody’s Fresh Picks, contains an assortment of choices from the library’s permanent collection and Huber stocks it with different materials every week. She likes to stroll through the stacks grabbing books and films that catch her eye.

Huber keeps a low-profile for someone in such a position of influence. Many regulars at the library, including those who never miss what’s on her shelf, wouldn’t recognize Huber by sight. But her choices are recognizable and consistently engaging. She steers away from obvious book titles and block buster movies, figuring people can find their way to those easily enough. By her own admission, she prefers materials that are “quirky, odd and open-ended.”


Jody’s Fresh Picks at Merriam Park Library. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Merriam Park is one of 12 branch libraries in the St. Paul Public Library System. Huber’s official volunteer day is Wednesday, and she visits the library at least twice a week on other days. Huber has loved being in libraries since she was a child growing up in Duluth, smitten by the Betsy Tacy books.

“Reading was my first love,” Huber said, “but in addition to the books, I just loved the physical space of my neighborhood library, the peace and the quiet.”

Huber is a free-lance advertising writer by day and an avid short story reader by night. Her current favorite authors are:
—William Trevor, an Irishman sometimes referred to as “the hibernating bookworm’s best friend.” His recently published volume of selected short stories is one of Huber’s favorites;
—Yoko Ogawa, a short story writer and novelist from Japan, is the author of “The Housekeeper and the Professor,” and “The Diving Pool;” and
—Chloe Aridjis, a Mexican-American poet/author well-steeped in international culture and language. “Book of Clouds,” and “Asunder” both brought her acclaim.

In addition to these three writers, Huber has a penchant for authors named Alice: Alice Munro, Alice Adams, Alice Elliot Dark and Alice McDermott to name a few.

Where does an influential viewer of movies such as Huber go to see the latest films? “I don’t go to theaters anymore,” Huber laments. “I never thought I would give up on the dark room and the big screen but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate my own small screen with pause and playback features.”

From the comfort of her living room, Huber recommends the following documentaries:

— Afghan Star is Afghanistan’s answer to American Idol and an honest appraisal of the political situation there (as of a few years ago);
— Inheritance is a heart-wrenching look at two women survivors of opposite WW II experiences, one the daughter of a concentration camp commandant and one a Jew; and
—The Hobart Shakespeareans, an inspiring documentary about theater, language and an inner-city Los Angeles grade school.
Janet Van Tassel, library specialist at the Merriam Park Library noted that “Jody has been a volunteer with us for 5+ years, contributing 240 hours in 2014 alone. Her recommendation shelf is so popular, that many people pass by the 2,500 or so films on our shelves and make their selections only from her ‘picks.’ We are so fortunate to have Jody with us. She is an invaluable help to both the library staff and patrons.”


Mark Kile, branch manager of the Hamline Midway Library, and co-creator of the Wednesdays @ 1:00 series. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

What motivates Huber to do what she does? “I just love knowing that there are kindred spirits out there,” she said. “We’re a little group of like-minded souls, even if we don’t know each other.”

In this world of myriad and sometimes overwhelming choices, Merriam Park Library patrons are lucky to have Jody’s Fresh Picks up on the shelf. If you’d like to hear Jody Huber in action, she’ll be showing films and leading discussions in the Wednesdays @ 1:00 series at the Hamline Midway Library on Jan. 28, Feb. 25, Mar. 25, and Apr. 29.

Located at 1558 Minnehaha Ave., Hamline Midway Library is another gem in the public library system. Branch manager Mark Kile will continue hosting the weekly Wednesdays @ 1:00 series there this winter that is free and open to the public.

Kicking off the series on Jan. 14 will be William Kent Krueger, local author-extraordinaire talking about the importance of books in his life and in the lives of us all. The series will continue through the end of April, with varied speakers and presentations to spark the imagination of all ages. The program was co-created with Hamline Midway Elders’ director Tom Fitzpatrick as an informal learning opportunity. It runs from 1-3pm each week with a break for tea—in real china cups—and cookies. No reservations are required.

According to Kile, Wednesdays @ 1:00 serves as an important outreach to the community. Since self-checkout of library materials was instituted in 2006, it has become harder for library staff and patrons to engage. There simply are fewer conversations. But Kile says, “Almost everyone has an ‘itch’ about something, a question they want answered. If they know what their ‘itch’ is, my job is to help them scratch it. If they don’t know, then my job is to make them curious about what it might be.”

Stop in and talk with Kile if you have a skill or interest you might like to share as a presenter. The winter series is already scheduled, but it’s not too early to start thinking about the fall. Past Wednesdays @ 1:00 have included talks on crime prevention, wildflower identification, tai chi and the history of chocolate.

Kile concluded, “This is Hamline Midway Library’s response to the interests and the talents that exist in our neighborhood. This is about being in relationship with one another – and welcoming everybody in.”

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Development Roundup

Posted on 14 January 2015 by robwas66



Old stadium site cleanup could cost $5 million

Midway Stadium has hosted its last ball game and is ready for transformation, with additional assistance from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). DEED announced Dec. 23 that it is awarding $1.25 million to clean up the site.

The grant was part of $4.16 million in grants awarded. The grant for the former stadium will be used to help cover pollution remediation costs that have been estimated at $5 million.

The St. Paul Port Authority and united Properties will jointly own the property and will develop it with a $15 million light industrial building. The building will have four to five tenants and could bring as many as 300 jobs to the area. It will increase the property tax base by more than $814,000.

If everything goes as planned the project will be completed in fall 2016.

Part of the 12.9 acre site was once a dump for the Minnesota State Fair. It’s in an area with a history of industrial and commercial use. The property was acquired for redeveloped in a land swap with the city. A new ballpark will open in Lowertown in the spring.

Mini-golf locating in Midway late 2015

Mini-golf is coming to the West Midway as Can Can Wonderland prepares to open an artists’-designed course in part of the former American Can Company complex (on Prior Ave. N. at W. Chelton Ave.). Can Can Wonderland was formerly known as Blue Ox Mini Golf and had eyed a site at the former Schmidt brewery before relocating to Midway.

A call for artists has gone out and the course will open later this year. The business is one of the first in the state to incorporate as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). As a PBC, Can Can Wonderland will have a legally binding social purpose (to be an economic engine for the arts) in addition to its general business purpose.

The business partners were involved in artist’s mini-golf courses at Walker Art Center and at installations at Minneapolis’ Soap Factory.

Green Line still a focus of PED

Redevelopment along Green Line light rail will continue to be a focus for the city in 2015, according to St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director Jonathon Sage-Martinson. He reviewed upcoming projects this fall as the St. Paul City council prepared its 2015 city budget.

A number of projects are on the docket for the city in 2015. These include large redevelopment projects that are already underway, including the work on the Hamline Station, Prior Crossing and Model Cities Brownstone/Central Exchange housing and mixed-use projects along the Green Line.

Although Green Line light rail has been up and running for six months, Sage-Martinson said a number of PED and HRA (Housing and Redevelopment Authority) initiatives are still ongoing. Along with working with developers, the city will lead parks and open space planning along the line rail line and will complete the parking program.

2015 will also be the final year for the “Ready for Rail” program, which helped businesses make investments to get through two years of rail construction and prepare for new customers.

Several key studies will continue into 2015, said Sage-Martinson, including Complete Streets policies, work along neighborhood commercial corridors, the streetcar network study, and action on the recently completed West Midway Industrial Study.

Old library building to be redeveloped

City officials are putting out the “sold” signs as the former Lexington Branch Library building (1080 University Ave.) was sold by the city to its own Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) for $334,288 in December. Its site will be redeveloped, possibly as part of a larger project at the southeast corner of University and Lexington Pkwy.

The building was originally built in 1940 as the Centre Theater, opening with the Bing Crosby movie “If I had My Way.” It operated as a movie theater until 1965. It was purchased by the city and then converted for use as a library. The library operated there until 2006, when it was replaced by the Rondo Community Outreach Library at University and Dale St.
After the library moved out, the building housed many land use and community planning meetings for the Green Line light rail, and was the office for the District Councils Collaborative, a group that works on rail-related issues. The property has been vacant for more than a year.

Proceeds from the sale of the building will be used to purchase needed library materials and resources for the Highland and Sun Ray branch libraries that have recently undergone major renovation, said Library Director Kit Hadley.

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Como Park rock cellist launches new series of shows at Underground Cafe

Posted on 14 January 2015 by robwas66


“I was 16, and that was the first time I had improvised, and it changed my world. It made me want to learn more, … compose music, … learn all different styles of music – in that one moment,” said Como resident Aaron Kerr.



If you live in the Como Park neighborhood, and, in particular, if your children go to Chelsea Heights School, then you have likely seen Aaron Kerr around. Riding his bike with a pedi-cab attachment, Kerr, by day, is a stay-at-home dad who hauls his youngest kids around in the pedi-cab. But at night, Kerr is a rock cellist.

Rock cello. Two words that seemingly do not work as a pair; that is, until you meet Kerr, who has devoted almost his entire life to playing cello and, in the last two decades, refining his most important work of composing and performing music that changes what for many is a preconceived notion of the cello’s genre.

“Rock cello is a slowly expanding style of playing,” said Kerr. “You play differently, you bow differently, you use different sets of notes. It’s not classical. It uses a simpler set of notes, but they have to be composed and played the right way in order to be effective. And it can be very, very powerful.”

Varied experience

Kerr started playing cello at age 10, and when he was a teenager, he experienced a seminal moment in his music career. “I was already playing in a rock band, but I hadn’t experienced jazz. My brother had learned to play jazz when he was an exchange student in Germany, and he came back and said, ‘We’re going to learn how play “All Blues” by Miles Davis.’ I was 16, and that was the first time I had improvised, and it changed my world. It made me want to learn more, it made me want to compose music, it made me want to learn all different styles of music – in that one moment.”

Kerr studied cello and composition at Loyola University of New Orleans. After college, Kerr relocated to the Twin Cities, where his girlfriend – now wife – found work. Kerr eventually landed a job with Half Price Books, which he credits for being a “nesting ground for artists,” and whenever he could – in between working and raising a family – Kerr “created a life that feeds my soul.” He composed music, he taught cello, he wrote a cello curriculum, he has made numerous recordings, and he has traveled the country performing his unique brand of rock cello.

“I have done everything I want to do except make more recordings and play to a wider audience,” said Kerr. “What I would really like is for everyone to get off their computers and go listen to some live music. That would make me feel like I accomplished something.”

Upcoming shows

Kerr will be providing a chance for people to hear his music through a series of shows on the last Saturday of every month at the Underground Music Cafe, 1579 Hamline Ave. N. At the January show, Kerr will perform solo; in February he will perform with Kerr Kerr’s Dissonant Creatures, followed by performances with the Modern Spark Trio in March and Heavy Pedal Cello in April.
All shows begin at 7pm. For more information or to get tickets for music and a prepaid dinner, go to the Underground Music Café website at undergroundmusiccafe.com. Tickets for the shows will also be available at the door.

For more information about Aaron, visit www.aaronkerr.com.

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A Dream of a Theater

Posted on 14 January 2015 by robwas66


Zaraawar Mistry (pronounced za-RA-wa, also goes by “Z”) and Leslye Orr, co-founders of Dreamland Arts. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)




A family enjoying a Saturday morning performance of children’s stories from India. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Dreamland Arts is a 40-seat performance and teaching space at 677 Hamline Ave. N. It is right at home in this residential part of Hamline-Midway, blending seamlessly into the neighborhood. Attached to the small brick theater by underground passage is the home of Zaraawar Mistry, Leslye Orr and their son Sam.

The theater is the longtime vision of Mistry and Orr and it would seem that they have made their dream of “providing high quality arts programming in an intimate, accessible, community-friendly environment,” come true.

What could you hope to see and hear at Dreamland Arts? A sampling of past events includes: children’s stories from India; concerts the likes of The Enchanted Guitar Forest and Music from Around the World on traditional instruments; St. Paul Almanac Lit Fest; seasonal stuffed animal shows; and countless plays, readings and more.

The husband and wife team of Mistry and Orr goes back to 1991, when they met at the Children’s Theater Company (CTC). Orr was in a two year internship program there while attending theater classes at the U of M, and Mistry was an actor in the company.

Orr, who is legally blind since birth, had moved to Minneapolis from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and eventually worked for CTC for ten years as an actor, voice teacher and coach.

“Over time, I couldn’t help noticing that I was the only actor with a disability, and that audience members with disabilities were few and far between,” she said. She began to wonder about “the possibilities of disabilities”, and set in motion the early formation of her dream of welcoming all actors to the stage and all persons to the performance.


Mistry has a dynamic, physical style of storytelling. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Early on in her career she was cast as Annie Sullivan, the legally blind teacher of Helen Keller, in the Arkansas Children’s Theater production of “The Miracle Worker.” She was the first legally blind person to play that role anywhere, and the experience was vitally important to her development as an actor.

Orr created “Hand in Hand,” the story of what happened to Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller after “The Miracle Worker,” based on letters they exchanged and lectures they delivered. The play is part performance and part workshop, in which audience members close their eyes and learn to “see” using their other senses. Orr has performed it off and on since 1982 in the US, and internationally in Israel, Latvia and Lithuania since 2012 as a representative of the US State Department. She has become recognized as an “ambassador of inclusion.”

Mistry arrived in Minneapolis from India via Vermont, where he graduated from Bennington College, and California, where he earned his MFA at UC San Diego in theater. In addition to the work he did at CTC, Mistry has acted at MU Performing Arts, Mixed Blood and the Guthrie.

As the years went by, he became increasingly aware of his desire to work independently, and of his dream to mentor other actors in producing their own solo shows. To date, he has been a mentor to 15 artists from around the world and has drawn deep satisfaction from their successes. His own solo works, all of which are informed by his love of India, have been well-received by audiences of children and adults alike.

When Mistry and Orr purchased the Hamline Ave. property in 2005 that became their home and theater, it was “pretty dumpy,” but they agreed that the basic set-up was just what they’d been looking for. The couple decided not to operate Dreamland Arts as a non-profit but as something better suited to their independent personalities, more like a Mom and Pop business. That way, they’d have the freedom to produce the shows and offer the classes they really cared about. After a year of hard work, the theater opened in September 2006 with a solo production of Orr’s and they’ve just kept rolling since.

In their roles as married business and theater partners, Mistry and Orr identify themselves as either super-hero or side-kick.
Sometimes Mistry is the super-hero and sometimes Orr is—who the boss is depends on whose show it is. “We’ve learned,” Mistry said, “that ensemble creation is not for us.”


Orr says, “Blindness was one of the best things that happened to me. Through it I’ve learned to use the gift of my imagination.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

As they continue pursuing their dreams independently and together, the work coming out of Dreamland Arts keeps engaging audiences from the neighborhood and beyond.

“If I could pick only one thing that would outlast me,” Orr said, “it would be the book I wrote and illustrated called ‘The People on the Corner’.” The premise of the book is that “people are people first, not disabilities first.”
“Everybody’s so scared about having a disability, but if you have one, you just need to find your own way of communicating,” Orr said.

Mistry and Orr are delighted to have landed in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. To hear them talk, it was good when they got there eight years ago and it’s only gotten better. Because Orr can’t drive, being able to walk to the library, the grocery store and now the light rail are all big plusses. Most importantly, they live and work in a neighborhood that values the performing arts and comes out to support it.

Google the goings-on at www.dreamlandarts.com or call 651-645-5506 to inquire about booking “Hand in Hand” for your school, work or community group. The theater is available for rental at reasonable rates, tickets to performances are affordably priced, and parking on Hamline Ave. is free.

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Mighty fine studio sale

Posted on 10 December 2014 by robwas66

The annual tradition at a local pottery studio will feature 14 artists in multiple mediums



Passing the green facade of 1708 University Ave. W., you would never know there’s a thriving pottery studio inside.

There are no signs, nothing to draw your attention. But this building, owned for years by potter Gary Crawford, will house one heck of a studio sale on Fri., Dec. 12 from 4-9pm and Sat., Dec. 13, from 10am-5pm.

This annual sale is something Crawford and fellow resident potter Mike Norman have been hosting together since 1993. Customers can easily find parking along Aldine and Herschel streets. Substantial refreshments, including what Norman called, “A feast of hors d’oeuvres,” will be served in the “Hospitality Room,” and the working studios will be turned into galleries.

Crawford and Norman have invited several of their artist friends to join them, including Jan Davies (specializing in old beads from around the world), painters Beth Joslyn, Hjordis Olson and Elizabeth Clay, weaver Julie Arthur, printmaker John Clay, paper artists Bridget O’Malley and Amanda Deginer, and fellow potters Willem Gebbon, Monica Redquist, Colleen Riley, Donovan Palmquist and Kelsey Rudulph.

This type of studio sale has been a long-standing tradition in our state. Warren MacKenzie, an internationally celebrated potter who has made Minnesota his home for more than half a century, greatly influenced both Crawford and Norman. MacKenzie had a tradition of an annual sale at his studio near Stillwater, featuring his work and that of his friends. Many of his former pottery students, like Crawford and Norman, continue to conduct business in this collaborative way.

Crawford started making pots in 1972 when he was a young attorney. He owned a farm near Cannon Falls and created his first pottery studio in the barn there. Crawford’s most frequent studio visitors in those early days? He says it was the cows who were most curious about his work as a potter and, for all purposes, were very supportive. He practiced law full-time for 12 years and part-time for more than 40 years, while he pursued his love of clay.

Peter Leach, already an established potter, had a neighboring farm in the Cannon River Valley. Using his knowledgeable of non-profit structure and ceramics, Crawford joined forces with Leach and MacKenzie and started the Northern Clay Center (NCC). The NCC, located at 2424 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis, has been a nationally recognized center for clay arts since 1990.

Norman took his first pottery classes from MacKenzie at the U of M. Norman was in his last year as a forestry student and, following graduation, joined the navy for a two year tour. He’s been making pots ever since.

Norman uses the same treadle wheel he started on, kicking the treadle with his left foot while his hands steady the spinning clay. The style of Norman’s pots is very recognizable. He says, “I probably spend as much time drawing on the pots as I do throwing them.”

Each of Norman’s cups, plates and bowls tells a story. The characters in his stories are often dogs, cats and rabbits on an adventure. Images of boats also appear frequently in his work, representing, Norman says with a smile, “the passage through life.” Norman also does sculptural work, notably his signature candle sticks (see photo above of unglazed rabbits), which are an extension of his surface drawings.

Ceramics is both a science and an art. While Crawford uses a high-fire gas kiln, Norman uses a low-fire electric kiln. The glazes used at different temperatures have varying colors, textures and sheens. With so many talented potters showing their work at the studio sale, it’s a great opportunity to ask questions about firing techniques, glazes, clays and more.

Neither Crawford or Norman were ever interested in being production potters (making the same forms over and over again without variation). “My pots come off the wheel and right away I start to think about how I can modify them by carving or scraping or pulling them into a different shape,” Crawford explained. “I don’t feel my pots are finished until I hear them sing.”

Come on down Dec. 12 and 13 to enjoy the work of Crawford, Norman and their many artist friends. Visit early for the best selection of pots, paintings, weavings, art papers, beads, prints and hors d’oeuvres!

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Como Dockside selected to manage Como Lakeside Pavilion

Posted on 10 December 2014 by robwas66

New operators to take over Jan. 5, re-open in late spring


Mayor Chris Coleman and Councilmember Amy Brendmoen announced last week that Como Dockside has been selected as the new management partner for the Como Lakeside Pavilion – with plans to open a newly renovated venue as soon as the spring of 2015. The tentative agreement will head to the St. Paul City Council for final approval on Dec. 17.

“Como Regional Park is one of the state’s most popular destinations,” said Mayor Coleman. “This proposed new venue will not only take full advantage of the unique space situated on the edge of Como Lake, but it will also offer services, food and recreation activities that will make it a vibrant destination for residents and visitors alike.”

Following a lengthy competitive bidding process and community-based evaluation, the selected proposal reflects significant public input and includes a full-service restaurant, catering services, outdoor summer recreation options on the lake, a summer concession stand with direct access from the adjacent walking trails and at least 100 events at a newly renovated outdoor promenade performance area and stage overlooking the lake.

“The Como Lakeside Pavilion is a beautiful and beloved public facility,” said Councilmember Amy Brendmoen. “Launching off the feedback of nearly 1,500 community members, these proven St. Paul proprietors bring the business acumen, creativity and positive energy that will help bring these visions to life.”

Under the tentative agreement, Como Dockside – whose owners also operate Amsterdam Bar in St. Paul and the 331 Club in Minneapolis – will be responsible for operations and day-to-day maintenance costs. Como
Dockside will also make capital investments totaling $200,000 by June 1, 2015, meet or exceed a series of performance expectations established by the city, and guarantee a minimum $500,000 commission to the city through 2020 – with conservative commission projections surpassing $780,000. With the capital investment and the commission projections combined, the City stands to gain more than $1 million over five years.

“This venue offers incredible potential, and the city successfully negotiated a solid deal in a competitive marketplace,” said Vice President/General Manager of the Saint Paul RiverCentre Jim Ibister, who was asked by the City to review the key tenets of the deal. “There are always two sides to every agreement, and the city has structured the agreement in a way that should allow both Como Dockside and the city to be successful.”

Deal highlights

The following are basic deal points that take effect following an initial start-up period:

  • Initial capital investment of $200,000 by June 1, 2015
  • Monthly revenue commission payments to city totaling nine percent of monthly gross revenue, with guaranteed minimum annual revenue payments of $100,000
  • Responsibility by Como Dockside for all day-to-day interior maintenance costs of facility (City retains responsibility for all exterior maintenance)
  • A capital investment fund that receives three percent of monthly gross revenue above $150,000 during peak summer months
  • Full evaluation of Como Dockside’s performance by the city prior to any potential agreement renewal
  • Expanded minimum hours
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner options
  • Enhanced focus on community amenities and public access
  • New recreational amenities – including bocce ball courts, rental equipment and picnic tables
  • A summer concession stand with direct access from the adjacent walking trails
  • At least 100 events at a newly renovated outdoor promenade performance area and stage overlooking the lake
  • Therese Kelly, a former Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Commissioner and member of the 14 person review committee who helped select Como Dockside added, “We have seen the venues like Tin Fish and Sandcastle take off in Minneapolis and to really become destinations. As a community member, I am excited to see a similarly dynamic entity take hold in this unique setting.”

Como Dockside will take over the facility beginning Jan. 5, 2015, with its grand opening tentatively scheduled for late spring of 2015. Como Dockside will announce plans in the near future for how new event bookings can be made starting in 2015.

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Co-op remains optimistic despite financial challenges

Posted on 10 December 2014 by robwas66

The great recession, road construction on both University and Raymond, contribute to struggle

In 1979, the nonprofit St. Anthony Park Foods (SAP) acquired Green Grass Grocery, located at the 938 Raymond site. Green Grass was renamed SAP TOO and then became Hampden Park Foods in 1990. In June 1993 Hampden Park Co-op was legally formed and in 2009, the Co-op purchased the building it had been renting since 1978.

In 1979, the nonprofit St. Anthony Park Foods (SAP) acquired Green Grass Grocery, located at the 938 Raymond site. Green Grass was renamed SAP TOO and then became Hampden Park Foods in 1990. In June 1993 Hampden Park Co-op was legally formed and in 2009, the Co-op purchased the building it had been renting since 1978.


Although the first consumer cooperative was founded in 1844 on Toad Lane in Rochdale, England, its code of principles are still followed today by most co-ops. Hampden Park Co-op at 938 Raymond Ave. is no exception.

Voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, cooperation among cooperatives, concern for community and education, training and information are still the principles that govern the Hampden Park Co-op.

And following these guidelines has continued to make the Co-op stand out in the neighborhood, even as mainstream groceries are beginning to go organic.

Greg Junge, general manager of Hampden Park Co-op since August, said that the Co-op currently has three full-time employees and 20 part-time staff. There are 200 participating volunteers, and a membership base of 4000. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Greg Junge, general manager of Hampden Park Co-op since August, said that the Co-op currently has three full-time employees and 20 part-time staff. There are 200 participating volunteers, and a membership base of 4000. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“We listen to our members, and we adhere to our values,” General Manager Greg Junge explained. Junge took over his position in August of this year, at a time when Hampden Park Co-op has been struggling financially.

The recession, followed by light-rail construction on University and additional construction work on Raymond Avenue have all been contributing factors to the economic struggles of the store, but drawing on its strengths as a co-op is helping to turn Hampden Park Co-op around.

“We have seen a 6.5 per cent sales increase since mid-October,” Junge said. “We have had a very good response from the community, and our sales are growing.”

The store has been asking its members to voluntarily donate their discounts, and the 15 per cent senior discount is being considered for possible restructure.

“We have spread the word to our membership base,” Junge said, “telling our situation and what we need to do. We’re restructuring and listening to the voice of the community as to the direction we should take.”

“The community is responding; they truly want us to be here,” Junge said.

He said that co-ops continue to be a strong presence in their communities based on their history and values.

“As conventional stores step into the role of organics, I think that’s actually helping the co-op through exposure to these products,” he noted. He said he believes people have learned how buying locally helps sustain the local farming community.

Junge said the Hampden Park Co-op has also combined its efforts with those of local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. For many years, CSAs have been a popular way for consumers to buy local seasonal food directly from a farmer.

“We see CSAs as an advantage, and we support them,” Junge said. “We’re a drop-off unit for five CSAs right here in the Co-op. We put them in the front.”

Junge said a co-op relies on collective efforts.

(l to r) Volunteers Alex Newby, Mikaila Dahlseng and Mel Seeland spend an evening at the Co-op cutting cheese. (Photo by Jan Willms)

(l to r) Volunteers Alex Newby, Mikaila Dahlseng and Mel Seeland spend an evening at the Co-op cutting cheese. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“We conduct our business through the relationships we’re making,” he said. He emphasized the importance of the products the store buys and the joint action it takes. The store has started carrying items created by Soluppa Soups and Fred’s Bread, both local suppliers.

“We’ve always been a green institution,” Junge added. “We’re not just putting a fresh tomato in a salad to make it better—that’s always the way we have operated.”

The Hampden Co-op has two kitchens. One is more of a deli operation, where volunteers gather to learn and perform tasks such as cutting cheese. The other kitchen is a produce kitchen, where in-house soups are created.

“We serve as a source for a lot of local chefs,” Junge continued. He said the Co-op puts a guarantee behind the products it sells.

The roots of the Hampden Park Co-op began with St. Anthony Park Foods (SAP), a nonprofit that opened in 1972, across from the St. Paul campus at the University of Minnesota. In 1979, SAP acquired Green Grass Grocery, located at the 938 Raymond site. Green Grass was renamed SAP TOO and then became Hampden Park Foods in 1990. In June 1993 Hampden Park Co-op was legally formed and in 2009, the co-op purchased the building it had been renting since 1978.

Junge said the Co-op currently has three full-time employees and 20 part-time staff. There are 200 participating volunteers, and a membership base of 4,000.

Becoming a member requires purchasing a share of stock at a cost of $30. A member can volunteer or participate in the governance of the co-op and share in the distribution of allocated profits at the end of the fiscal year.

“The Co-op is a culture we have created,” Junge said. “People feel at home.“

He said the Co-op is considering better ways to open up the building and use it, possibly looking at adding a café. There is also room for office space and meetings.

“We want to become more of a community asset,” Junge noted. “We are leveraging ourselves to become a better steward of the area.”

He added that Hampden Co-op is exploring ways to create and grow, add to its product offerings and make people aware of its existence.

“We are still the small engine that could,” Junge said. “We have been here a long time and will continue to be. People truly believe in what we are doing.”

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Packing up Leonardo’s Basement

Posted on 10 December 2014 by robwas66

One-of-a-kind learning program leaves Midway after losing its lease



Leonardo’s Basement, a one-of-a-kind learning environment for “kids” of all ages, is packing up and leaving the Griggs Recreation Center at 1188 Hubbard Ave. They have offered classes and workshops there for the past five years in all areas of hands-on engineering, art and technology. Effective mid-January, the space will be leased to a new tenant by the City of St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department.

In 2009, the City of St. Paul embarked on an experiment, re-partnering some of their park buildings because it was too expensive to maintain them all. Non-profit organizations were able to apply to use existing park buildings for their own purposes at reasonable rents.


Founder and executive director Steve Jevning in front of the emptied out piano cubby. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

According to Brad Meyer, Public Service Manager for Parks and Recreation, “Similar to other facility agreements, we didn’t contractually address performance measurements with Leonardo’s Basement to ensure that community needs were being met. We focused more on eliminating some of the budget pressures we were facing at the time.”

Steve Jevning, founder and executive director of Leonardo’s Basement explained that “the experience with Parks and Rec has not been without problems.” In his view, the lack of a transparent leasing process has worked to everyone’s disadvantage. Neighbors were unhappy that his non-profit charged a fee for their programs (despite the fact they gave away more than 100 scholarships annually). Jevning and his supporters were frustrated that Parks and Rec changed the terms of their lease and the leasing process.

In a nutshell, Jevning said, “We learned last spring that Leonardo’s Basement would have to submit a proposal to have our lease re-considered, along with any other interested non-profits. The rent at the Griggs Recreation Center would have increased to a point where we couldn’t afford it. We opted to not file a proposal for the site, hoping that no one else would either – and that the original terms of our lease would stay the same.”

From Meyer’s perspective, “We opened up every facility with existing agreements to give interested non-profits an equal opportunity to apply. Included in the application would be a statement of their ability to meet minimum performance measurements. Unfortunately, even after multiple attempts to get Leonardo’s Basement to submit an application stating their interest, they declined. Therefore they could not be considered based on public procurement and bidding laws.”

Leonardo’s Basement took a bet, and lost.

So what comes next?

“Since we started running classes 16 years ago, our program has tried to be all things to all people,” Jevning said. This move from St. Paul will bring us back to operating out of one workshop, our Minneapolis site at 4301 Nicollet Ave. It’s okay that we’re leaving Griggs. The move will encourage us to re-define our focus, and to concentrate on strengthening our relationships with school partners.”


A student uses design and construction skills to help with a summer festival project. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo’s Basement)

The non-profit has cultivated strong relationships with several schools in St. Paul, including College Prep Elementary, Maxfield Elementary, LEAP High School and Gordon Parks High School. They hope that some of those connections, especially Maxfield Elementary where the teachers really value kinesthetic learning, will continue despite the move.

Leonardo’s Basement is an unusual name, and one that was chosen for several reasons. Leonardo Da Vinci remains one of the very best examples of a curious and observing mind—a mind capable of integrating engineering, art and technology. The basement is where tinkering occurs that leads to creative discovery and experimentation of an informal nature. Instructors with this program are partners with students, helping them learn by doing while developing personal and technical skills. The methods of instruction used in classes and workshops respect all learning styles.

There are a lot of materials to pack up in the next few weeks: art supplies, electronic parts, tools and all the stuff needed to make an organization work.

An instructor assists a student in completing a plexi-glass project of the student’s design. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo’s Basement)

An instructor assists a student in completing a plexi-glass project of the student’s design. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo’s Basement)

When everything is said and done, Jevning would like to thank those who made it possible for Leonardo’s Basement to come to St. Paul in the first place. “We couldn’t have done it without significant help from Philanthropy Partners, formerly the St. Paul Foundation,” he said. “Their contributions were crucial to getting us up and running. The Midway Men’s Club was fantastic. They have a beer and burger stand at the State Fair every summer, and give all the proceeds to support kids programs in the neighborhood. They donated to us so generously that we were able to create a substantial scholarship fund. A grant from the City of St. Paul’s Neighborhood STAR Program enabled us to host three major neighborhood festivals, which we thought really brought people together.”

According to Jevning, the new tenant, as of mid-January, will be the offices of the St. Paul Urban Tennis Program.

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After 120 years, Episcopal Homes on cutting edge of senior living

Posted on 10 December 2014 by robwas66

New apartments almost filled; anticipation builds for first Greenhouse model of care in Minnesota to open next month


Wade Tobin takes time out from unpacking to pose with Deborah Veit, director of community relations at Episcopal Homes. (Photo by Jan Willms)



A major project is taking place on the campus of Episcopal Homes at 1850 University Ave. A seven-story building that is being constructed in three phases has already opened to residents and should be completed by January 2015.

“An important reason we looked at this is that it allows people to age in place,” said Deborah Veit, the director of community relations who has been with Episcopal Homes for the past eight years.

“We broke ground for this project in May 2013,” she said, with the land being purchased about a year earlier. But conversations began long before that about bringing a Greenhouse model of care to the campus.

The Greenhouse model, called the Gardens, opens the second week in January, the first to be offered in the state of Minnesota in a skilled nursing setting. “We’ll have home-based care, with six households, one on each floor,” Veit explained. “Our new building is a seven-story building, so there will be one house per floor, starting with the second floor. And each house, just like in your home, will have a living room, dining room, kitchen, four-season porch and reading nook. There will be 10 residents per house, and all will have their own private room and bath. They will be lovely nice-sized rooms where they can bring in their belongings and make it very homey.”


Kay and Ken Kistler recently moved to The Terrace at Iris Park after selling their home of 42 years. “We are where we should be,” Ken said. (Photo by Jan Willms)

The first phase of the project opened Nov. 1. The Terrace at Iris Park features catered living apartments. “This is a model for folks who are independent seniors all the way through seniors who need home health services,” Veit explained. “We will cater to whatever the needs of the residents are, so that they can stay in their homes and not have to move to a different level of care.” These apartments have nearly all been filled.

Dave Girard, 91, is one of those individuals who have just moved into Terrace at Iris Park. A former Marine officer who worked at IBM for 20 years, he moved to Minnesota in 1972 to install an air traffic control system. He has been living in Iris Park Commons but decided to move into the new complex.

“I really like it so far,” he said recently, after eating dinner out at one of the local restaurants. “It’s small, but cozy.” Girard has several volumes in his apartment of a family history he has completed.

Another new resident at the Terrace at Iris Park is Wade Tobin, 91, who moved in after recently selling his home. He was able to choose an apartment that is in a corner and right under a rooftop garden.

“I’m still unpacking,” he said, “but I like it.”

Ken and Kay Kistler recently moved to the Terrace after selling their home of 42 years. “The snow just kept getting deeper every year,” Ken joked.

Kay said she had never realized how much work was involved in selling a house and its belongings, and she is happy to be settling in at their new location.

“We are where we should be,” Ken said. Although it is different going from a house to a three-room apartment, the Kistlers said they were impressed by their surroundings. And both are looking for an exercise group to join at Episcopal Homes.

The second phase, which opened Nov. 28, is called Midway Pointe and is affordable housing, independent living. “Those are 50 independent living apartments, and seniors pay based on their incomes,” Veit said.

She said the $45 million project has three completely separate buildings under one roof. “We’re basically building three separate entities, which is unique,” Veit stated.

She said a project of this nature has involved a lot of researching of the models that are being brought into Episcopal Homes. “It means training a lot of staff,” she noted. “The majority of staff will be in the Gardens, and an extensive amount of training goes into bringing the Greenhouse model on campus.”

She said there has been hiring of new staff, training, the actual construction and the planning and implementing of programs.

“We want to make sure we are developing new programs that will benefit our residents,” Veit explained. “We looked nationwide to research ideas and top-of-the-line models of care.”

Episcopal Homes, which first began offering senior living options 120 years ago, has been at the University Avenue site since 1916. Its campus already offers independent living, independent living affordable housing, assisted living, assisted living memory care, nursing home care and transitional care for short-term rehab.

“We will now have two independent living, affordable housing on campus and two offsite,” Veit said. “And we will have a second nursing home building.”


Dave Girard checks his email as he settles in to his new apartment. He had been already living in Iris Park Commons, but decided to move into the new complex. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“When our new building is done, we will have seven separate entities on campus,” Veit said. “It is so beautiful, and it is fun to see people moving in and enjoying life. Lots of community is very important for seniors, and there are dangers to being isolated.”

She said she enjoys watching people making new friends. They can also hop on a campus bus and go to the store or a theater.

“Being on the light rail is good, too,” she added. “Many have made the decision to move here based on our excellent reputation, but also based on the light rail being right outside the door. It offers a lot of independence and freedom without having to drive a car.”

She said the current 350 residents on the campus will increase to 500 when the rest of the new building project is completed, and there will be 350 employees.

“We’re looking at a progression of things we have already done,” she said. “The catered living is a progression from our assisted living model. And we are looking to provide a level of care that is higher than assisted living if folks require it, so they can stay in their homes and not have to move to another building or level of care. We have already provided top-of-the line model of care, but this is just taking it up a notch.”

She said that people appreciate that.

“When people make a move like this, it’s a big change. Many have lived in their homes for 45 years before they decide to downsize from a large home to an apartment, and to be in a community where there are other seniors and social activities,” Veit said.

“When they make this move from home to apartment, they would like to be able to stay there for their life, with services brought to them so they can avoid a second move,” Veit continued. She said that besides looking at this project as a way of people being able to age in place, all their current residences have waiting lists. “Even our campus residents sometimes have to wait to be able to move,” she said. “By bringing in catered living and adding an additional nursing home, we’re hoping to avoid those waits for our campus residents, so they’ll be in a place where they can stay.”

She said that resident participation, no matter at what stage a person is at in his or her journey of life, is important.

“If someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s, or if they are physically not capable of doing some of the normal household things, there are still ways for them to be participating and be engaged. Those with dementia still have memories of many of the tasks they can do in their home and still enjoy that. How we help them be able to fulfill those enjoyments is very important.”

Veit is excited about the new models of living that are going to be offered at Episcopal Homes.
“Getting older has enough challenges,” she said. “Whatever we can do to make it pleasurable and engaging and fulfilling for people is good. We want to be able to make a difference in their lives, and it’s fun to see that happen for people.”

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