Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Clogtown: Sofia Of Heredia, Richfield's Sister City!

I was walking to the Richfield Farmer's Market last weekend, and decided to cut through what we kids used to call Memorial Park (with the water slide that cut up half of Richfield), and is now called Heredia Park. It's the little park behind the Richfield Cop Shop/City Hall, and I had no idea when its name as changed - or why.

Then I saw a bronze statue of a little immigrant girl soccer player called Sofia. The only piece of public art in the park and it's of a child from another country making their way in Richfield. I was delighted, surprised, and honestly, a bit relieved - that Richfield holds such reverence for our immigrant neighbors, and chose to celebrate them in this lovely way.

The work is accompanied by a poem from Guillermo Hernandez , also the sculptor, from what I learned is Richfield's sister/peace city, Heredia, Costa Rica - since 1991! They even have a "Boulevard Richfield" in that town! I had no idea. But I'm super proud of my hometown, recognizing that we are a country of immigrants, and it is something to be celebrated. Excellent.

Pura Vida Sofia!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Clogtown: The Minnesota Loons At Allianz Field!

I hadn't been to a professional soccer game since the Minnesota Kicks days, so when my friend Christian called up and asked if I'd like to join his family to see a Minnesota Loons game at the new Allianz Field in St. Paul, I was all the way down. They're really called Minnesota United, I suppose to sound like a British football club that is already super established, but to me, they're the Loons. And I love that (and that they play a loon call when they score!).

Allianz Field is lovely and modern and cool, and SUPER hot when you're on the sunny side before the sun sets. The heat didn't put a damper at all on the very impressive team spirit that was in effect the entire game. The chanting ("M.N.U.F.C!!! Minnesota Black and Blue! Come on, You Loons!!") and singing and flag waving didn't let up ONCE during the entire game, and even though they're a new team, the Loons have very clearly already found a place in Minnesota's hearts. They love their Loons, waving their scarves in support throughout the whole game.

The area where all the flag waving and chanting begins is called "The Wonder Wall" and if there is a victory (which there was not for our game vs. Vancover's Whitecaps - it was a draw), I guess the whole crowd sings the Oasis song, "Wonderwall". I don't really get that, as it would be cooler if there was a victory song by any number of awesome Minnesota bands ("Let's Go Crazy" at every other Minnesota sports team score, for example) to celebrate, but it sounds like it's pretty fun when everyone sings along - and the Loons win!

There's good food, good looking men (and women, to be fair) in the stands, good drinks, good sight lines, and it's all a pretty affordable night out, with a gorgeous view of the Minnesota sunset to top it off.

It's exciting that football/soccer seems to be gaining more fans here again, and you can count me in as a Loons fan, because my first experience was a complete blast! I'm impressed. Thank you, Doten Family, and GO LOONS!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Clogtown: Minnesota - All Are Welcome Here!

Man, it's been so nice - and such a relief! - to see little signs all over the Twin Cities about how everyone is welcome, everyone is accepted, that YOU are what makes our city and state great, and that here, we love our neighbors.

In recent days, there have been outrageous attacks by the joke of a President in office toward our Blue State's Senator, Ilhan Omar. I've never seen or heard or a sitting President being so classless and actually dangerous. It's disgusting, and Minnesota isn't having it.

Crowds came out to meet Omar at MSP Airport when she returned to town the other day, showing that we support her, and hate is not welcome here. I see little girls in full dress and hijabs playing in the sultry heat here, and know how very much it must mean to them to see this remarkable and brave woman representing them - and us all.

I read a quote from a woman the other day who said it was interesting (and sad) that "The Squad" of Democratic female Senators being told to "Go back where they came from" (disgusting racist speak) are considered "Radical Left", when they're just sticking up for what most developed countries already have. WE are the backwards country now. They are just trying to catch us up. Their ideas are not radical, they are humanist, and merely supporting basic human and civil rights (like health care, reproductive rights, and not putting kids in cages). It's time to grow the hell up as a nation. Well past time, in fact.

I'm proud of my home state of Minnesota for showing in yards, schools, businesses, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and by their own welcoming and "Minnesota Nice" conduct, that ALL are welcome here, as they are supposed to be in every part of this country.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Clogtown: All Square - Don't Judge, Just Eat!

The United States is a country of many problems, and while everyone complains about them, few are offering solutions. One major problem in this country is the mass incarceration and privatized jails that have kept generations of our citizens down - AFTER paying their debt to society. No one seems to want to hire ex-convicts, so they're often forced to commit crimes again just to put food on their tables. All Square in Minneapolis is trying to change that - and their solution is a baller grilled cheese restaurant (square sandwiches) staffed 100% by people who have served time (and are now square with society).

The brainchild of founder and civil rights attorney, Emily Hunt Turner, All Square's motto is "Don't judge, just eat!", and from the looks of it on the busy Friday evening that I was there, that's exactly what everyone was doing. Born out of another successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017, Hunt Turner's hope is to "empower those historically excluded, while dismantling the divides that are isolating and destabilizing communities nationwide" (so, another idea that can work everywhere, like Urban Forage).

Located on a sunny, tree-lined corner of Minnehaha Avenue (next to Adams Park at 41st Street), All Square is a bright, neighborhood spot with folks seated outside enjoying the late sunlight of summer. The workers (here called "Fellows") were all super friendly, hard working, and looked happy to be there. It was so busy that I didn't really get a chance to talk much to Hunt Turner, as I'd dropped in unannounced, and she was all the way in the mix, hauling buckets of ice, putting up umbrellas outside, and generally spinning all the Friday night plates of a popular restaurant.

I did speak to one of the fellows, Natalie, who had done time while waiting for her case's appeal - which was eventually dropped. Her serving any time, however, still made it hard to get a job. She heard about All Square, came in and applied, and is now happily making a living - as well as her own signature sandwiches whenever there's a lull. She was super cool, and I was happy for her that there is a place like this ... happy for anyone who needs it that there is a place like this, actually.

A mirrored sign inside says: A Response - to widespread exclusion of those impacted by the justice system. A Brand - that embodies social sustainability, racial justice, and economic inclusion. A Solution - fueled by law, entrepreneurship, social capital, and baller grilled cheese. That sums it up pretty neatly.

And those grilled cheese ARE baller. I had the jerk one, which has shredded jerk chicken, guava jam, and cheese, of course. YUM. There are several sandwiches to choose from, and no one looked mad at any of them. All are served with greens, and you're gonna want to order fries, also of course.

There is an "Institute and Dream Lab" next door, where mental health and wellness services are offered on site. The All Square fellows can also attend classes on personal and professional development, civil rights, and things like social media, marketing, and making budgets ... all stuff that can lead to even better jobs. The goal is not just to get these employees a paycheck, and not just to reduce the chances they'll go back to jail, but to create new leaders.

The whole operation reminds me a bit of my friend Brother Wayne Kramer's excellent organization, Jail Guitar Doors. They give guitars to inmates so that they might have that awesome skill when they get out, creating new opportunities for them when they get out. Again, it's good people coming up with actual solutions to help our fellow citizens, and it's a beautiful thing.

You can help too. You can donate to their cause. You can attend the play Floyd's at The Guthrie Theater on July 26th (one night only!). It's a story about formerly incarcerated men and women who rebuild their lives in a sandwich shop, and all proceeds will go to All Square. You can volunteer. Your business can sponsor them. And you can go and get your own delicious grilled cheese any Wednesday through Sunday at All Square. Neon lights and Civil Rights! And Los Angeles ... We need this too! Every city does.

*Shout out to Michelle Larson for another great story tip! Keep 'em coming, Mpls!

All Square
4047 Minnehaha Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Clogtown: Urban Forage Winery & Cider House - This Cider House Rules!

While I'm in Minneapolis this summer, I want to find as many cool, unique things as I can for the people, just like I do in Venice. I love it when friends say, "Oh, you have to do a story on this!", and tell me about some new awesome thing happening in town. That happened when my friend, Michelle Larson, visited my Mom in the hospital and told me about Urban Forage Winery & Cider House on Lake Street in Minneapolis. She said that it was a wine bar that made all of their own wine and cider from the produce foraged from the city neighborhoods nearby. I had to know more, and made an appointment with Urban Forage owner, Jeff Zeitler, to go check it out.

I spent a lovely afternoon last week learning about Urban Forage, and how they make their magic. I met Zeitler at a house a block off of Minnehaha Avenue in the heart of the city that had called him to come and pick all of their sour cherries. The homeowner, Brian Nelson, told me that he was one of the original contributor's to the Urban Forage Kickstarter in its infancy, and donates all of his yard fruit to the cause.

The tree was bursting with bright red cherries, and Zeitler pulled his equipment out of his truck to go get them. A tall ladder, a hook on the end of a pole, and tarps to lay on the ground to catch the bounty are the main tool of the trade, and Zeitler had been making his rounds around the Twin Cities all day in order to harvest all of the fruit that people are now calling him to come and get. "Growers are finding ME now," Zeitler told me, happily, after years of basically knocking on doors to ask people if they were going to use their urban produce. Apples, pears, cherries, rhubarb, black currants, raspberries, blackberries, honey, dandelions, lilacs ... all of them are used to make lovely wines and ciders, or as Zeitler puts it, "I make country wines in the city." Imagine the wines and ciders that could happen in Venice! Pluot! Apricot! Passion fruit! Can someone please get on this?

Fruit's life expectancy is not long, however, and Zeitler was a day or two late to get these gorgeous cherries that had fallen victim to a little maggot that loves cherries and they were all rotten. Bummer. You have to act fast with fruit ripeness, and you could tell that both Zeitler and Nelson hated to see them all go to waste (thankfully there were gallons upon gallons already harvested in the truck).

Nelson is also growing black currants from a plant Zeitler gave several neighbors around town to propagate especially to keep up with the demand for the very popular black currant cider, so all was not lost. Nelson is now a member of the "Cider for Life" club, after donating cash to keep them going when they started in 2014, and that now looks like it will be a heck of a bargain. Everything is SO good. But let's back up ...

Zeitler is a Midwest guy, bouncing around between Wisconsin and Minnesota all of his life, and between St. Paul and Minneapolis the last 15 years (yes, you can like both!). He made wine for fun, and even nearly blew up his dorm room making cider while at college. Back then it was more like, "Hey Man, I made booze!" but now that he's been doing it for 27 years ... the man knows his brewing. He explained how he's using fruit from older trees, as the ones he has planted himself won't bear fruit for years. The city offers more shade, people water their yards, pets chase away pests, and "You don't have to worry about deer in the Longfellow neighborhood", so it's almost easier to grow fruit in the city. Which got him thinking ...

After being laid off from his job as a landscape architect, he had some time to do more thinking. The idea to get the neighborhood connected through agriculture - and wine - just came to him, and soon a business plan was drawn up, and a Kickstarter fund was up and running. He thought of it as a political campaign, only he was running to make a business happen - and it worked. People at the kickoff party loved the idea, and a video was made to raise awareness, and that's really what sold the idea to the local masses.

The Kickstarter goal was soon met, and Urban Forage found its home in a converted old jeweler's building on Lake Street (open Thurdays-Sundays). The Cidery is in the basement (where people come to the side door to pick up their bottles), and the Tap Room is upstairs in a cozy room with a polished wood bar, a recycled door ceiling, and local art on the walls. After bidding farewell to Nelson and his cherries, I met Zeitler back at the Urban Forage space.

We bellied up to the bar, where the bartender, Nick, set us up with a flight to taste the results of previous foraging. I tried the Dry Cider (super crisp and refreshing - my favorite), the Black Currant Cider (tasty, high in Vitamin C, grows like weeds in Minnesota), the Mead (basically honey wine, very sweet, "warms your core", but not my favorite), the Cherry Melomel (cherry and honey wine - summer itself!), and the Dandelion Wine (weird, but I had to try the "Rural legend" wine).

There are no additives, there is zero sugar, it's all gluten free (you can tell your friend that always asks), there is no waste, it's super local, it promotes community, and I couldn't love it more. This is a concept that could and should be copied in every city to promote gardening, zero waste, eating and drinking locally, and building your community in an extra positive way - which is why I'm doing this story about it. Positive, unique, cool things are what I'm interested in, and this certainly fits the bill. Plus, as Zeitler told me, "It's a blast ... you spend a beautiful day with your wife (Gita) and kids, picking fruit and dandelions, then make it into wine and cider ... there's nothing better."

After our tasting, Zeitler brought me downstairs to the Cidery to see how it's done. "Basically, you wash the fruit, it infuses the water, you add yeast, put it into tanks, and it turns into wine," said Zeitler, downplaying how labor intensive it really is. Someone had brought in 20 pounds of rhubarb the day before, so that was being made into rhubarb wine, and an odd-sounding pineapple/banana experiment was fermenting nearby. "I want to do weird, edgy stuff you can't find anywhere else," Zeitler explained, so be on the lookout for a blueberry melomel and an artisan, literal Rootbeer (beer made from roots) coming in the months ahead.

It's all taking off, with people ordering special wines for their weddings, and locals regularly dropping off their yard yield in exchange for bottles of wine and cider. "I'm in it for the long haul," Ziegler told me. "I want to be a 65 year old man serving my cider behind that bar upstairs." As Urban Forage is celebrating it's five year anniversary - and thriving - I'd say that's a goal that Ziegler will  easily meet.

As that bar upstairs got busier on that Friday evening, with customers coming in to buy their retail bottles for home picnics, but also staying put to kick it at the bar. I kept thinking about what a great gift any of the bottles would make for something truly super extra local - from yards mere blocks away! "We make stuff that's REAL, from the backyards of our neighbors. We are really, REALLY Minneapolis," said Zeitler with evident - and deserved - pride. And I left thinking that this was really, REALLY wonderful.

Drink REALLY local!

Urban Forage Winery & Cider House
3016 East Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 584-4398

Monday, July 15, 2019

Clogtown - The Richfield Sidewalk Poetry Celebration

What a beautiful morning we shared together in Richfield this past Saturday. The Richfield Arts Commission and Crossroads Panorama put on a celebration to honor the poets and poems that won the Sidewalk Poetry contest this year - and I was one of them! I hadn't planned on being in town to be able to attend, but then my Mom went into the hospital, and I'm still here ... so we made it the goal to be Mom's first outing after having her leg amputated two weeks before.

The day was already emotional for sure, because of all Mom has been through, and just having her be able to be there with me was already making me cry. I mentioned to the poet, Emily Gold, seated on the new Bandshell stage beside me that I was not sure how I was going to do reading my poem looking at my Mom sitting there in the front row in her wheelchair. Then, she told me that she was struggling also, as her poem was about her eight year old daughter who had passed away only two months ago. Whoa. The strength she had to do that ... was humbling and inspiring. There was a performance by the young ladies from the Crossroads Panorama theater group, and then it was time for the poetry reading. Space on the sidewalk limits the lines and characters you could use, so mercifully, the poems were all short as we listened under the blazing hot sun. Gold read her beautiful tribute to her daughter, Lizzie, right before me, so after crying over her poem, I had to get up and cry about my own - but we did it, and I felt so happy to look out and see Mom there, smiling away.

All of the poems were wonderful, and all of them exemplified how we feel about our hometown of Richfield - it's special. The one by Bo Mitchell about HIS Mom (who died five years ago) fully wrecked me, and warmed my (already boiling hot) heart that a man would be so vulnerable in sharing about what his Mother meant to THEIR Richfield family.

It was incredibly moving. It was also SO hot out, however, that tears could easily be mistaken for sweat. I pointed out before reading my poem that I live in Venice, where poetry is historically very celebrated. There are poetry walls at the beach. The Free Venice Beachhead paper's motto is "This paper is a poem." But I never really felt poetry was any big deal here when I was growing up in Richfield, so I was happy to see so many people out at 9:00 a.m. on a hot Saturday morning in celebration of poems!

The wonderful new Mayor of Richfield, Maria Regan Gonzalez, was there - in fact, she rode her bike there. Awesome. We took a photo together with Mom, and you can tell how happy we all are in the celebration of both beautiful poems, and the triumph of the human spirit that allowed Mom to be there. The poems this time will be installed in the sidewalks along 66th street - I'm hoping mine goes in by the Richfield Pool (as is mentioned in my poem as a kind of bribe). My first one is on Portland in front of the Fire Station and City Hall, and I told the crowd gathered that I'm going for a hat trick next year (as the celebration was adjacent to the Ice Arena). It's pretty cool to have something I wrote actually be set in stone/concrete.

Thank you to Richfield, for this delightful honor, and to everyone who cares about poems!

*Group Poet photo by Thomas Eder

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Clogtown - The Smallest Museum In St. Paul

"This museum is for the beloved public."

I love that. And I love this little - truly, The Smallest Museum In St. Paul! - museum made out of an old fire-hose case outside of the Workhorse Coffee Bar on University Avenue in St. Paul. A few years back I did a story for Thrillist about the tiniest places in Los Angeles ... and this darling museum would have fit right in.

I was doing my little coffee break exploration of the Twin Cities, and decided to cross the river to see what new coffee stuff was happening over there. While the coffee was good, and the staff was super friendly and cool at Workhorse, I was mostly charmed by the creative museum (established with funding from The Knight Foundation in 2014!) just outside their door.

Artists submit their work and a panel decides on who gets what month, AND the artists get paid! THAT is how you support your local artists. July's featured artist is Sheila Smith (who also happens to be the Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and Chair of Creative Minnesota - so she might have been a ringer!) and her exhibit of Weird State Capitol Souvenirs. The reception for Smith will be held at Workhorse on July 27 from 12-2 pm, where visitors can draw their own weird state capital souvenir and add it to the collection. *The garters were my favorite.

This is just the kind of thing that makes me happy that I came from the Twin Cities, and also what always makes me happy to be back in them. Creativity. Fun. Whimsy. Art. Inclusiveness. Kindness. And the kind of place that does things for "the beloved public".


The Smallest Museum In St.Paul/Workhorse Coffee Bar
2399 University Avenue West
St. Paul, Minnesota 55114