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Posts Tagged ‘minnesota’

 

920x920Photo: Bill Hanisch
A Johnson & Wales alumnus and his bakery lift spirits during the pandemic.

An upbeat kind of story comes from Red Wing today, a small Minnesota town I visited when we were living in Minneapolis in the ’90s.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “When bakery owner Bill Hanisch heard traditional high school graduation ceremonies would be canceled this year, he figured he could help sweeten the day for the disappointed teens. He made a free personalized cake for each of the 220 graduating senior at his alma mater, Red Wing High School. …

“As soon as the owner of Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop posted his intentions on Facebook, he was surprised at the response. Business owners, school administrators and parents in surrounding towns like Cannon Falls, Minn., and Plum City, Wis., reached out asking if they could send him donations to make cakes for graduating seniors at their schools.

Now, he has 800 orders to fill — one cake for every senior graduating in a dozen small towns along the upper Mississippi River in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“ ‘It’s a crazy idea, but it’s really taken off and we’re all loving it,’ said Hanisch, 40, who is using the donations he has received, a total of about $10,000, for labor and ingredients only.

“The ovens at his downtown bakery are going full-time, and his ex-wife, Robin Hanisch, an ace cake decorator who works at the shop, has helped to answer the call to complete 800 graduation cakes by June 4. …

“Hanisch has already delivered about 400 cakes to six high schools. Students pick out their choice of flavors in advance (vanilla, chocolate or a mixture of both), then the cakes are decorated in their school’s colors and inscribed with their names, a mini diploma and ‘Congrats.’

“With local farmers and businesses hurting, ‘there are people who might not be able to afford a graduation cake right now,’ Hanisch said.

“Principals and teachers arrange for seniors to pick up their cakes with the caps and gowns they ordered months ago but now have to be worn at home during virtual ceremonies.

“Hanisch arrives at his shop — the only bakery in Red Wing — each morning by 2 a.m. to coordinate the day’s baking of dozens of two-layer, 7-inch cakes. Each cake costs him about $28 to make.

“ ‘It’s not a huge cake — but it’s something simple and sweet that they can have all to themselves, or they can have dinner with their family and they can all enjoy a nice slice of cake afterwards,’ he said.

” ‘These cakes are a way to let the kids know that we’re proud they made it through 12 years of school,’ he added. ‘Even though they can’t all graduate together, they deserve to be recognized. High school graduation is a big deal.’

“Hanisch, who mopped floors and rang up sales as a teenager in the bakery (then named Braschler’s), has fond memories of the cake his co-workers made for him when he graduated from Red Wing High School in 1998.

” ‘They gave me a sponge cake, and I do mean that literally,’ he said. ‘They found a giant sponge and decorated it with characters from the South Park cartoon because I lived on South Park Street and loved that show.’

“After he discovered he’d been pranked, his friends brought out an authentic graduation cake with his name on it, decorated in Red Wing’s purple and white school colors.

Hanisch enjoyed his first bakery job so much that he went on to earn a degree in baking and pastry arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., in 2000, before returning to Red Wing. …

“He bought the bakery from the previous owners, Bob and Nancy Braschler, in 2007 and now has more than 30 employees, including Robin and their two sons, ages 12 and 15. Thanks to all the graduation cake orders, he’s been able to keep 21 full-time employees on the payroll, he said, and the bakery has sold takeout orders as an essential business in the community since the start of the pandemic. …

“Hanisch’s efforts have led others in Red Wing to chip in for the 2020 graduates, said Tracy Hardyman, 50, whose son, Jacob, received a cake from Hanisch. As a volunteer with Red Wing’s nonprofit Downtown Main Street group, Hardyman said she knew that closing small businesses in the town, even temporarily, would be devastating.

“ ‘But then the “bunman” [Hanisch] stepped up and became our community bright spot with his free decorated cakes,’ she said. …

“Many of this year’s graduates started coming to his bakery for treats in grade school, said Hanisch, and more than a few have worked a mop or ran the cash register like he used to. …

“Among those who are graduating this year is Mya Benway, 17, who worked at the bakery for a year while attending Red Wing High School. …

“ ‘It’s just such a super nice thing for him to bake so many cakes for us.’

“Hanisch said the spring of 2020 will forever be etched in his memory not only as the time of the pandemic, but also as the time of 800 gift cakes with mini diplomas.”

More at the Washington Post, here.

I think if I were graduating in this time of turmoil, I’d be very grateful for a cake with my favorite flavors and my name on top, baked by a kind stranger.

Photo: CNN
Bill Hanisch, right, with a customer of the the Red Wing, Minnesota, bakery.

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You have undoubtedly discovered on your own the healing qualities of a walk in the woods, but it seems that increasing numbers of doctors are actually prescribing it.

Sarah Barker writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Your blood pressure is a little high. You could stand to lose some weight, and, yeah, you’re stressed. You leave the doctor’s office with directions to a park near your house and a prescription for 30 minutes a day out there breathing fresh air among the trees and the birds.

“Until recently, doctors encouraged patients to get more outdoor exercise but stopped short of writing a prescription. Soon, in collaboration with parks and trails organizations, community and athletic associations, some Minnesota doctors will be handing patients prescriptions for that dose of nature.

“ ‘The data is there. We’re wired to be connected to nature,’ said Dr. Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. ‘Cool things happen when you’re exposed to nature for two hours a week — inflammation is reduced, stress, anxiety, heart rate.’ …

“Bauer founded Mayo’s complementary and integrative medicine program 20 years ago grounded in the theory of biophilia — that humans have an innate need to connect with nature. That people spend 90% of their time indoors, most of it sitting, has resulted in negative consequences: obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, to name a few. The last 10 years have seen a ‘scientification,’ as Bauer called it, of our need for nature. It’s been studied, measured.

“At the same time, there’s been a shift toward preventive medicine — lifestyle choices like food, exercise, spirituality — and efforts to make health care more efficient. There has been collaboration between communities that haven’t overlapped — parks and the Department of Natural Resources with public health; health insurance with health clubs; sports events with hospitals. Since 2010, doctors have worked with a nonprofit called Wholesome Wave to prescribe patients fruits and vegetables.

“Bauer signed on with one of those collaborations, Park Rx America, a national nonprofit established by Washington, D.C., pediatrician Dr. Robert Zarr in 2017. … According to Zarr, there are 22 registered Park Rx health care providers in Minnesota and 96 parks listed. …

“Receiving a nature prescription from your doctor here in Minnesota is still maybe a year away. Unless you’re a child. In which case, this is old news.

“Some Twin Cities children have been leaving the pediatrician’s office with a Sweat Rx since 2014. Sweat Rx was the first formal outdoor prescription program in the country, its creators say. … Betsy Grams and Tony Schiller co-founded CycleHealth as a way to improve kids’ health through training programs, activity challenges and fun adventure races. The events were outdoors, a little bit nontraditional (the triathlon is swim-bike-run with obstacles thrown in), and noncompetitive. …

“Focusing on health rather than competition was a natural tie-in to the medical community. Through a connection with one of the doctors, Grams and Schiller met with at Central + Priority Pediatrics in Woodbury in 2014 to talk about their upcoming kids’ triathlon. …

“ ‘We were really surprised when they said they would actually prescribe the triathlon to their patients that summer. We didn’t know how hungry doctors were for a concrete tool for encouraging kids to get outdoors, to live the lifestyle they’d been talking about,’ Grams said.

“The two quickly printed a prescription-ish pad of paper with a space for the patient’s name and a link to training materials and race registration. That was the start of Sweat Rx. CycleHealth now works with 52 pediatric clinics in the Twin Cities area. …

“Cheap, readily accessible, and side-effect free, Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and vaunted parks and trails are shaping up to be, quite literally, what the doctor ordered.”

More here.

My husband and I are lucky with where we live because if you go in one direction out of the house, you come quickly to a busy village with a library and attractive shops. If you go the other way, you are in conservation land in no time. Best of both worlds.

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Photo: Brian Peterson
Hmong writer Kao Kalia Yang with her father, Bee Yang. The daughter’s lyrical book about Bee Yang’s unconsciously artistic storytelling,
The Song Poet, will be turned into a youth opera in Minnesota.

When I was working at a magazine that focused on the concerns of lower-income communities, I sometimes tried to get the voices of immigrant authors in there. One such author was Kao Kalia Yang, a Minnesota Hmong writer whose work I greatly admired.

Yang spent her early childhood enduring the privations of a refugee camp in Thailand but eventually moved with her family to St. Paul, where poverty and a strange new culture made life difficult in whole new ways.

One of Yang’s lyrical memoirs focuses on her father and the way he sang stories about life in the old country that brought other Hmong immigrants to tears. Now it’s being turned into an opera for young people.

Jenna Ross writes at the Star Tribune, “Author Kao Kalia Yang’s father has been a farmer, a refugee, a machinist. But in a book about his life, Yang elevated his true vocation — poet. Soon, his story will be an opera.

“The Minnesota Opera announced [in April] that it’s creating a youth opera based on ‘The Song Poet,’ Yang’s acclaimed 2017 memoir about her father, Bee Yang, who composed and sang songs about life and politics, love and family.

“It’s the first time a Hmong story will be translated to the operatic stage, Yang said. … The book follows a young boy [Yang’s father] whose father dies, who grows up in a warn-torn country, who tries to find the place his father was buried. The tale begins in Laos, moves to a refugee camp in Thailand, then makes its way to Minnesota. …

“For its Project Opera, a youth vocal training program, the Minnesota Opera is scouting for stories that connect with young audiences and reflect the Twin Cities community, said Jamie Andrews, the company’s chief learning officer. When he sat down with ‘The Song Poet,’ he knew it would make an incredible opera.

“ ‘Kalia’s writing is just so lyrical and beautiful — so singable,’ Andrews said. … ‘The Song Poet’ becomes the third opera commissioned for Project Opera, which will premiere it at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis in 2021. …

“Bee Yang has performed traditional song poetry, or kwv txhiaj, since he was 12 years old, becoming a keeper of Hmong history. ‘When I began singing song poetry, I discovered I could share our stories of hurt and sorrow, of missing and despair, of anger and betrayal,’ he said in the book.

“This daughter’s telling of his story — and how it shaped her own — won the Minnesota Book Award for memoir and creative nonfiction. The 39-year-old author and Harding High School graduate is best known for her 2008 book ‘The LateHomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir,’ which nabbed two Minnesota Book Awards. After graduating from Carleton College, Yang earned an MFA in creative nonfiction at Columbia University. …

“To ensure that the cast is diverse, the opera company will reach into the Hmong-American community, Andrews said. It’s working with the Saint Paul Music Academy and talking with Theater Mu, an Asian-American troupe. ‘It’s not just a Hmong cast,’ Andrews said. ‘But we’re doing some strategies already now for 2021, to build those connections and find those kids.’ …

“When Yang was young, she took the occasional field trip to the Ordway or the Guthrie. ‘You’d go in knowing that you’d be entering into a different culture,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t have imagined, as a child, walking into a place and seeing something from the Hmong story represented.

“I hope that for those young Hmong people who get to see this, it opens up possibilities for them. Not just Hmong — but all refugee children.’ ” More.

I highly recommend Yang’s memoirs. Maybe some of you will check them out.

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Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
Bill Gossman is mayor of New London, Minnesota, and a potter who knows firsthand how arts can build community. Legacy funding from a law updated in 2009 has helped spur the town’s revival. 

The arts are often good for business, and the experience of towns in rural Minnesota provides a good example.

Jenna Ross reports at the Star Tribune, “One by one, they took the stage and told their stories. A man in his 80s, leaning on a cane. A teenage girl. A retired farmer.

“ ‘Times were good for farmers in west-central Minnesota in the 1940s,’ Ed Huseby began his tale about a tractor that went rogue.

“In the audience, residents laughed, cheered and, after one man described how lung cancer cut short his wife’s life, cried. They were gathered for a Sunday afternoon ‘story show,’ organized by the owner of the Flyleaf Book Shop. The one-page program didn’t mention funding from the Legacy Amendment. But like all shows onstage at the Little Theatre — and most arts events in this small but growing city two hours west of Minneapolis — that money played a key role.

“Legacy funding cuts the cost of renting the theater to $100. It pays the part-time salary of the manager who greeted audience members and pulled closed the curtains. Soon, it’ll fund a new projector and screen. …

“New London, like small cities across Minnesota, has felt the influx of dollars from the Legacy Amendment, passed a decade ago. …

“ ‘In the Twin Cities, there’s a pretty established arts infrastructure,’ said Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board. Now Legacy grants are helping build that in communities across the state, she said. …

“In New London, pop. 1,355, such grants have funded a summer music festival. A 10-foot-tall sculpture that stands near the Middle Fork Crow River. And a wood-fired kiln in Bill Gossman’s backyard.

“Gossman is a potter, one who whistles while he digs his thumbs into a piece of porcelain clay. He’s also the mayor. …

“In 2010, Gossman won a $7,000 Legacy grant to add a large new chamber onto his kiln, which is fueled by firewood, giving his pots, vases and vessels an earthy glow. Last month, as they do each year, potters from across the state trekked to Gossman’s place. They drank coffee, chopped wood and packed the massive chamber with hundreds of their pieces. …

“When Gossman took office in 2008, [the] recession had weakened a local economy in flux with the consolidation of family farms. The grocery store had closed, and the hardware store was about to. For-sale signs hung in Main Street windows.

“Today, not a single empty storefront remains. Galleries and gift stores line the compact downtown. …

“A Star Tribune analysis of Legacy dollars shows that from fiscal 2010 to 2017, the biggest recipients of funds via the state and regional arts boards was the Guthrie Theater. …

“Outstate Minnesota has received its fair share of Legacy dollars [largely] because of the 11 regional arts councils, established in the 1970s, that broadened the reach of public arts funding. …

“Speaking at rural conferences across the country, [John Davis, executive director of Lanesboro Arts,] always mentions Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment, which other places regard as a model. …

“But the amendment isn’t perfect, Davis said. He believes that some arts funds should be set aside for rural capital projects, as many small cities struggle with infrastructure challenges in the wake of waning tax revenue and cuts to Local Government Aid.

“ ‘Right now an organization could get money to host a ballet, but if their roof is caving in … they can’t access it,’ Davis said. ‘I think that was something that just out of the gate was a structural flaw.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: http://www.mlive.com/
Seitu Jones, a St Paul, Minnesota, artist who teaches urban food systems at the University of Minnesota is behind the community meal that won an art award.

Minnesota is home to many cutting-edge artistic endeavors, and the one described by Jim Harger at mlive.com is no exception. It’s neighborhood picnic as work of art.

“The ArtPrize Nine jurors — each of them experts in art — went for a neighborhood picnic in awarding the $200,000 juried grand prize for ArtPrize Nine.

” ‘Heartside Community Meal,’ an outdoor meal for 250 guests in Heartside Park on Sept. 23, was entered by Seitu Jones, a Saint Paul, Minnesota, artist who teaches urban food systems at the University of Minnesota.

” ‘This is a project that came out of love,’ said Jones after the award was announced on Friday, Oct. 6.

“The meal, served on a 300-foot-long table in Heartside Park, was aimed at engaging residents of the mixed-income neighborhood with each other over a table of locally produced foods. …

” ‘Seitu’s work speaks to some of the key issues in America now,’ [juror Gaetane] Verna said. ‘Access to food, access to community and people being able to create a space of conversation, exchange and synergy for everyone. He speaks to what is important in the context of the “now” in his practice, not just the ability to paint or draw.’

“Juror Scott Stulen, director and president of Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, nominated ‘Heartside Community Meal,’ saying he was struck by the event, where

‘people were sitting down and talking to people they would never talk to otherwise.’ …

“Inviting residents of condos and luxury apartments to dine with homeless residents who live beneath overpasses was a challenge for both groups, Jones said.

“Guests, both rich and poor, were moved by the experience, said Jones, who declared, ‘Of course this is art!’ when asked about the artistic nature of the big meal.”

More here.

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Map: Nations Online Project
Fergus Falls didn’t need much money from the National Endowment for the Arts to create both economic benefits and constructive conversation across the political divide.

As Victoria Stapley-Brown wrote recently at the Art Newspaper, the arts benefit communities in many ways, and in rural America, a little funding can go a long way.

“A grant of $25,000 is not even a drop in the bucket of the US federal government’s spending, around $3.5 trillion per year. But it was able to effect visible change in Fergus Falls, a small rural community in Minnesota with a population of 13,000, which received $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the government agency that funds art and culture across every congressional district in the nation, in 2011. …

“With the $25,000 NEA grant, the St Paul, Minnesota-based arts non-profit, Springboard for the Arts, which calls itself ‘an economic and community development organization for artists and by artists,’ opened an office in Fergus Falls and was able to launch a multi-year cultural project. Since 2011, the organisation has been given a total of $145,000 in NEA grants — but has also received over $1.2m in funding from private donors, such as the McKnight Foundation. …

“The project explores ‘how artists can be a part of rural economies and rural communities,’ … to encourage young people to stay in the town and see it as a viable place to make a living and raise their families …

“Artists from other communities working across all media, from the visual arts to music to film-making, have also come to Fergus Falls for the Hinge Arts Residency, a programme that has hosted 45 artists for one to three months. These artists live in apartments on the property of the formerly disused hospital complex, which has spurred a local conversation about preservation and the use of historic buildings in the town, and local politics. …

“The artists-in-residence have carried out their own work during their residencies, which often involve the local community, such as the folk and punk musician Shannon Murray’s research into music and Minnesota working class history. They have also shown work in empty storefronts and organised community art projects, such as casting architectural elements of disused buildings, and giving art classes to local children.” More here.

Hat Tip: Arts Journal.

Photo: Rick Abbott
Kirkbride Art & History Weekend at the former Fergus Falls State Hospital Complex, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Photo: Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership
Hmong dance festival in southwest Minnesota. A Community Development Investments grant from ArtsPlace aims to give newcomers a voice.

Never underestimate the power of art and cultural events to improve lives.

As Amy Evans reports in the magazine Shelterforce (published by the National Housing Institute), the community development field has come to recognize that the arts are key to integrating diverse populations.

Evans discusses the issue with the McKnight Foundation’s Vickie Benson.

“More and more, it seems that arts and culture are being perceived as essential to the core fabric of what builds and nourishes communities — and that gives Benson enormous hope. ArtPlace America, a decade-old collaboration of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions, has been one of the driving forces for that shift, Benson says, by insisting that the arts must be in conversation with other sectors, whether community development, housing, or health.

“In Minnesota, the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP) has joined that conversation. With the support of a community development investment [CDI] grant from ArtPlace America, which will provide $3 million in funding over three years, SWMHP is exploring ways of building arts and culture into its operations.

“It’s a bold step for the organization, and one that Benson wholeheartedly applauds.

” ‘Music, dance, or visual art are forms of expression within many cultures. And just the weaving together of these many, many varied cultural traditions is a natural path for people to communicate with each other,’ says Benson. ‘That is what I hope to see, that communities will understand the importance of arts and culture not as an add-on but as a core piece of community development.’ …

“A couple of decades ago, [the future of the southwest Minnesota town of Worthington] future looked bleak. The farm crisis had taken its toll; the town’s population dropped from 10,243 in 1980 to 9,980 in 1990 as people left the area in search of better opportunities.

“The expansion of the meat processing industry in Worthington turned this trend around. JBS Swift and Co., a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods Inc., established what would become its principal plant in Worthington. The impact was far-reaching in the area, propping up small businesses like Smith Trucking Inc. and local hog producers.

“In 1989, increases in productivity led to an additional shift at the plant, attracting workers from literally around the world. … The so-called foreign-born population of Worthington jumped in parallel from 3.7 percent of the total population in 1990 to more than 15 percent in 2000.

“Mike Woll remembers when that shift took place. ‘Worthington’s history of immigration dates back to when I was in high school, when we had some early Lao immigrants,’ Woll recalls. ‘The community became incredibly diverse.’

“Walk into Woll’s high school today and some 50 dialects can be heard, from Central American to Southeast Asian to East African. Downtown on 10th Street, Woll says, ‘you’ll see people from all over the world. Myanmar, Ethiopia, Laos, all sorts of Latin American influence. It’s a remarkable place.’ …

“Woll hopes that one outcome of Worthington’s participation in the CDI Initiative will be preservation of one of the community’s strongest assets.

“ ‘Diversity brings challenges, but it’s put Worthington ahead of the curve. It gives us a broader scope of the world,’ Woll says. He is proud to know that his college-aged son, who grew up in Worthington, can take living in a multicultural environment for granted, even more so than his peers from places like Minneapolis and Chicago. But making space for multiculturalism to truly thrive means giving voice to communities that often haven’t had a seat at the table. Woll hopes that the CDI Initiative will help expand leadership roles to segments of the population who have so much to say, but haven’t had the platform to say it.

“ ‘If not for a program like [ArtPlace], those cultures do get lost,’ Woll says. ‘Having a bit of institutional strength and a financial boost from ArtPlace can help take what are challenges and turn them into positives.’ ”

More at Shelterforce, here.

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Photo: Star Tribune
Ojibwe poet Jim Northrup

I have been trying to learn something about tribal cultures in the United States. I liked Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member Sherman Alexie’s Thunder Boy (a charming picture book for young children) and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (an early, painful collection of short stories). Now I am reading some Native American poetry.

One poet, Jim Northrup, recently died. Here is a beautiful obit by Jana Hollingsworth in the Duluth News Tribune.

“Jim Northrup was a ‘tough man’ who taught his eldest sons to survive in the elements by living in a tepee on the Fond du Lac Reservation for several years, when money and jobs were scarce.

“But it was more than physical survival, said his son, Matthew, on Tuesday, the day after his father died from cancer-related complications. He taught them how to be strong in a world that didn’t treat everyone the same, he said, using humor — and education — as tools.

” ‘ “When you have really nothing else,” he said to me a lot, “you have your humor,” Matthew said. ” ‘When you grow up poor on the rez and when you grow up a lower class in society, you realize that.’

“Northrup, an award-winning writer of books, columns, plays and poetry — and a prominent member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa — died [in July]. He was 73.

“Northrup was a storyteller, known for his stark and honest writing about his experience as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and his early years at a federal boarding school. He was funny and pointed in his writings about everyday life on the reservation, politics and change in Indian Country. He wrote as a way to heal himself from some of the trauma he experienced during the war, he said earlier this year.

” ‘I knew my poetry was being used in vets’ groups to help people open up (and) maybe even write their own poetry as part of their healing,’ he told the News Tribune in March. ‘It worked for me, so I hoped it helped (others).’ ”

More here, where you can hear Northrup read a poem in Ojibwe about passing along the culture. Read the whole obit. It’s really lovely. I hated to cut it.

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What a weekend for entertainment! On one day, we saw the musical The Wild Party (LaChiusa version) at  Moonbox Productions in Boston. (Very good.) On another, we attended a flamenco concert in a church.

The flamenco headliner, guitarist Juanito Pascual, was joined by flamenco percussionist and singer José Moreno and singer and dancer Bárbara Martinez. Such exuberant and mournful fun! It reminded us of fado concerts we’ve attended, although that happy-sad tradition is Portuguese and flamenco is Spanish.

The music included pieces that go back centuries plus Pascual’s own compositions, which are a fascinating blend of old and new. Challenging at times, but pretty intriguing. One was dedicated to the person back home in Minnesota “who persuaded my mother to let me take guitar lessons.”

An article in the Concord Journal notes that Pascual,  who is just beginning a 15-city tour to promote his latest CD, “skillfully weaves such influences as Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Bach and many others into his original compositions.” The Journal also quotes Boston Globe critic Steve Morse, who admires how Pascual “combines vivid colors, rich imagination and a yearning, never satisfied mastery of his art.”

Even in pieces without Moreno’s percussion support, Pascual’s virtuoso performance sounded like he was simultaneously playing two guitars and a set of bongos (flamenco involves slapping the wood as well has playing the strings). Very dramatic.

More at the Concord Journal, here. And you can hear samples of the music at all three artists’ websites.

Photo: www.juanitopascual.com

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The past couple holiday seasons, I’ve heard of acts of charity such as paying off a stranger’s layaway items. In November, a Minnesota couple deposited half a million dollars in a Salvation Army bucket.

As Lonnie Shekhtman notes at the Christian Science Monitor, “More than Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the Salvation Army’s iconic and ubiquitous red donation kettles, accompanied by bell-ringing volunteers, signify that the holiday season is upon us.

“This year, the century-old tradition got a major boost by an anonymous and unprecedented donation: a $500,000 check slipped into a kettle …

“This was the biggest single kettle donation ever deposited in a Salvation Army kettle in the Twin Cities, reported the Tribune

“In a statement from the donors the charity provided to the Tribune, the [donors] said they made the generous donation in honor of their father, who served in World War I and was grateful to Salvation Army volunteers who brought soldiers free coffee and doughnuts.

“The two also said they were inspired by challenges earlier in their lives that forced them to collect food discarded at a grocery store to feed themselves. …

“This was the same spirit that inspired Manhattan philanthropist Carol Suchman to buy an entire toy store and donate its contents to underprivileged children earlier [in November].

“The mother of three has preferred to donate anonymously in the past, but this year agreed to go public to inspire generosity in others.

” ‘I know everyone can use a gift around the holidays,” Ms. Suchman told the NY 1 News.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
A Salvation Army donation kettle sits outside a shop on 5th Avenue in New York.

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When the MBTA subway system decided to rebuild the stop called Government Center a couple years ago, it began a search for the artist who created the original murals there to see if she would like them back, and if not, if she would be OK with selling them.

It wasn’t easy to find her.

As Malcolm Gay writes at the Boston Globe, she was baking pies as part-owner of the Pie Place Café in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

“ ‘I got a phone call one day,’ [Mary] Beams explained, ‘and a voice I didn’t know said, “How does it feel to know that all of Boston is looking for you?” I had no idea what to say.’

“Beams, it turned out, hadn’t disappeared at all. An animator who had been a teaching assistant at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, and whose work has been collected by the Museum of Modern Art, she’d simply left the art world …

“With her blessing, the MBTA plans to hold an online public auction of the artworks, giving Bostonians a chance to own a piece of the city’s history.

“The online auction and display of murals will run Oct. 20-29, with a kick-off event at the state Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza on Oct. 21. … The event will be something of a homecoming for Beams, who left Boston soon after completing the murals. She has never been back.

“ “I am so curious to see them again,’ she said. ‘I’ve gone on and lived this whole other life. But to be able to confront something that you made 35 years ago and ponder what they’ve been through? It’s quite amazing.’ ”

Pictures of the murals — and more information on the artist — here.

Mural by Mary Beams, for sale at Skinner

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I liked this Marketplace radio story on Duluth, a very cold place where people are managing to grow lettuce and fish in the same water year-round.

Chris Julin reports, “Tony Beran is standing in the kitchen at the Lake Avenue Restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota, with a head of romaine lettuce in one hand and a clump of curly lettuce in the other.

” ‘They’re beautiful,’ he says.

“Beran’s the executive chef, and one thing he likes about these bunches of lettuce is how clean they are. ‘They’re grown aquaponically instead of in dirt,’ he says. ‘Which is wonderful in the kitchen. It’s less labor for us.’

“Another thing he likes about this lettuce is that it was grown just up the road. The restaurant features local ingredients, and Beran serves locally grown lettuce all year, which is a bit of a trick in a place like Duluth. Last winter, the temperature was below zero 23 days in a row.

“But it’s always warm in the greenhouse at Victus Farms, where Beran’s lettuce came from. It’s about an hour’s drive from Duluth in a little mining town called Silver Bay.

” ‘These are all our babies,’ says Mike Mageau, as he shows off his latest lettuce crop. [He’s a] professor of geography at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He runs a program in environment and sustainability, and this indoor farm is a research project. …

“Most of Mageau’s lettuce is floating. Each plant is stuck into a hole in an inch-and-a-half-thick sheet of polystyrene foam. The foam rafts float in pools in the greenhouse, and the lettuce roots dangle through the foam into the water.

“The fish live in a neighboring room. They’re tilapia, and they swim in nine round plastic tanks, each one about six feet tall. Waste from the fish gets pumped over to fertilize the plants in the greenhouse, and some of the pools in the greenhouse grow algae and duckweed that come back into this room to feed the fish.”

Learn more about this continuous loop and the cost to set one up at Marketplace. People commenting on the website say the concept isn’t new, but it was new to me.

Photo: Chris Julin
Mike Mageau, a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, grows lettuce year-round — indoors.

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My husband’s new favorite news source is the US edition of the Guardian, and I can see why. It covers national and world affairs well and has some really unusual articles.

This one by Johanna Derry on Native American cuisine appealed to us both because of several years spent in Minneapolis. Back in the 1990s, there was no Native American food truck, but there was a nice restaurant on Franklin Street next to a Native American store, and we ate there a few times.

Derry writes, “Travel across the US and the cuisine doesn’t change much from state to state. It has a reputation for being sodium-filled, sweetened and glutenous (though, arguably, delicious) food. But chef Sean Sherman, known as the Sioux Chef, is hoping to redefine what we think of as ‘American’ food.

“At his newly launched Minneapolis food truck Tatanka, named after the American bison, dishes are made with ingredients that could be found living or growing locally before the arrival of European settlers. So you can forget processed sugars, wheat flour, beef, chicken and pork, Sherman serves wild rice and taco-style cornflour cakes with bison, turkey or rabbit, topped with wild greens and washed down with maple water. As well as being truly American, the food is super-healthy, organic – and local.

“ ‘We’ve worked with a couple of native-run farms to grow back some heirloom varieties of beans, squash, melon and corn,’ says Sherman.

“As well as introducing Minnesotan foodies to indigenous foods, the truck – which is supported by Little Earth, an urban Native American community – will head out to reservations, too, to reintroduce native populations to the healthier diet of their ancestors.”

Read more at the Guardian.

Photo: The Guardian
Tatanka Food truck, Native-American cuisine in Minneapolis

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Here are a few recent photos from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I took all but the shivery January 1 New Shoreham plunge, which is the work of Sandra M. Kelly. I doubt I would have been brave enough even to go watch these hardy souls freeze on such a cold day.

What can I tell you about the other photos? The Hmong church near my grandson’s play school was a surprise. I knew about Hmong refugees in California, Minnesota, and Central Massachusetts. Didn’t know they were in Providence. A wonderful book about the Hmong immigrant experience is The Late Homecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang, who grew up in St. Paul.

I include a porcine household god from Providence, a bathrobe in the guest room where I awaited the arrival of my new granddaughter in December, and two aspects of the Seekonk River on January 1.

The photo I call “In Trial Realest, a Message from Beyond,” is one I was determined to capture while the sign was broken. It called to me from my office window as it lit up at dusk. I’m glad I caught it when I did, because the neon letters are now all working, and its message is no longer as interesting.

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Did you catch the NY Times article before Thanksgiving featuring a special recipe from every state? Asakiyume says she made the wild rice recipe and the persimmon pudding, “both of which were fabulous.”

Since my husband and I lived in Minnesota for a few years in the 1990s, I had to check out that state’s recipe. If you listen to Garrison Keillor’s radio show A Prairie Home Companion, you know that food in the “hot dish” capital of the world is often a little … different. (“That’s different!” as the book How to Talk Minnesotan teaches us to say when we’re feeling skeptical.)

Anyway, the Minnesota Thanksgiving dish is grape salad. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be delicious, but some of the other state recipes look positively luscious.

Here is the grape salad recipe. It gave me a chuckle.

  •  pounds seedless grapes, removed from stems and rinsed, about 6 cups
  •  cups sour cream
  •  cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup toasted pecans (optional)
  1. Heat broiler. Put grapes in a large mixing bowl. Add sour cream and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, making sure all grapes are well coated.
  2. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart ceramic soufflé dish or other baking dish. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top. Place dish under broiler as far from heat source as possible and broil until sugar is caramelized and crispy, about 5 minutes (be vigilant or you’ll risk a burnt black topping). Rotate dish as necessary for even browning. Chill for at least one hour. May be prepared up to 24 hours ahead. Just before serving, sprinkle with toasted pecans, if using.

More state recipes here. Save the collection for a special occasion — or next Thanksgiving.

Photo: David Tanis/NY Times

More here.

Photo: David Tanis/NY Times

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